Introducing Team NERD

This is a post introducing and explaining NERD scores for teams. I’m including the results first and then the background, methodology — all that junk — second.

Curious as to what NERD is? The short answer is: it’s a number, on a 0-10 scale, designed to express the “watchability” of teams for those of the sabermetric persuasion.

For more information, consult the index right after the results.

The Results
Here are the results for team NERD:

Index
1. The Results
2. Introduction
3. Components of Team NERD
4. Calculating NERD
5. Why I Counted Youth Twice as Much
6. The Final Equation
7. Future Considerations
8. Using NERD to Preview a Game

Introduction
If you’ve read this site with some regularity over the last couple-few months, you know that one particular concern of mine has been to develop a method by which the sabermetrically oriented fan might be able to choose, with some accuracy, the most compelling game of any particular day/night.

It was with that goal in mind that, at the beginning of June, I submitted for the readership’s consideration a metric called NERD. The object of NERD was/is to grade on a 0-10 scale each starting pitcher’s likely interest to those of the sabermetric persuasion. Adding together z-scores (or, standard deviations from the mean) for a number of categories — xFIP, swinging-strike percentage, age, etc. — I was able to approximate the entertainment value (again, to the sabermetrically oriented) of each pitcher with 20+ innings as a starter.

Because much of the readership is composed of curious and occasionally not-that-cruel nerdicators, a number of thoughtful suggestions were given towards the improvement of NERD, some of which (i.e. the suggestions) were incorporated into a newer iteration of the metric. Thus, NERD was refined into something more or less useful.

Over the last few months, I’ve used those pitcher NERD scores to inform the One Night Only game previews I submit here. It’s worked well, I think.

Or, I should say, it’s worked well except for its obvious weakness — that is, the fact that it entirely omits everything besides starting pitching. Of course, one can eyeball the relative pros and cons of these other things. One knows, for example, that, because they’re young, fast, talented, and constructed by a progressive front office, that the Tampa Bay Rays are bumpin’ like the City of Compton. Likewise, there’s this year’s iteration of the San Diego Padres, who began the season with a new GM and the league’s second-lowest payroll, and currently sit atop the NL West standings.

On the other side of things, there are teams like the Astros and Royals: teams whose roster-building we’ve decried here with such regularity that it would be indecent to enumerate their flaws once again.

But recently, I’ve begun to think that eyeballing such factors isn’t enough — that, if we’re gonna get this NERD party started, we better get it started right.

So it was, this past Friday, that I broke out my disgustingly sleek netbook, double-clicked the crap out of the Excel icon, and set to work on a team-level NERD.

It was also about that time that I issued the following SOS via the Twitters:

Hey, help. Trying to make a NERD score for teams. What do people like to see? I have Avg. Age, for one. HR/FB? O-Swing%? Team UZR?

It needs to be said: the responses were enthusiastic and bountiful. To everyone who played along in this sordid game, I salute you.

Now, does that mean I took them all (i.e. the suggestions offered by the Twitterverse)? Hell, no! But — truly, no BS-ing — even the suggestions that I didn’t take were helpful, and helped inform the components that ultimately ended up in the present version of NERD,

What are the components, then? Here they are:

Components of Team NERD
• Age (AGE)
Young players are more fun to watch — for a couple reasons, probably. For one, their peak years are still in the future, so it’s possible to dream about what they might do. For two, younger players tend to be cost-controlled. That’s bad for them, of course, but it’s a fact: talented, cost-controlled players tend to populate well-constructed (and, thus, nerd-friendly) teams.

• Park-Adjusted wRAA (BAT)
In an early version of the team-level NERD, I didn’t take actual, you know, production into account. The results were fine, but the A’s were like third. This looked odd to a bunch of people, and I couldn’t blame them.

• Park-Adjusted Home Run per Fly Ball (HR/FB)
Home runs are great. (If you don’t believe me, watch what Russell Branyan did to a baseball the other day in the Bronx. The ball literally disappears.) Why park-adjusted HR/FB? To neutralize the effects of the team’s ballpark*, is why. I used Dan Turkenkopf’s four-year weighted numbers.

*I discuss it down below, but will also mention it here: it’s my intention to eventually add a NERD “park factor,” too, based on average attendance, home run park factor, perhaps broadcast team, etc.

• Team Speed
Team speed certainly needs to be part of a watchability index, but the question is how to incorporate it into a team-level NERD. Like this, I think is the answer:

Stolen Base Attempts per Opportunity (SBA): This is a measurement of how often a player attempts to steal when the base in front of him is unoccupied. Obviously, teams that attempt more stolen bases are creating more action. Action, generally speaking, is pleasant to watch.

Stolen Base Runs (SBR): Of course, stolen base attempts alone shouldn’t be what we regard as great and good. No nerd worth his TI-82* is gonna ignore stolen base efficiency. For example, the White Sox are second in the majors with a 10.3% SBA, but are second-worst in the majors with -4.6 runs (per linear weights, that is) on said attempts. Smart Ball, indeed.

Extra Base Taken Percentage (XBT): This is a measurement of the times a player takes an extra base on a hit — like from first to third on a single, for example. Or first to home on a double, also for example. League average is about 40%.

*Is that what the kids are using these days?

• Bullpen Strength (BULL)
How exactly to measure the value of a bullpen is still a matter of some debate among the sabermetric community; however, the aesthetic virtues of a shutdown bullpen are not. The measure here is the xFIP of the bullpen as a whole. Padre relievers have a collective 3.05 xFIP, over three standard deviations above the mean!

(Note: I was unable to find, per Drew Fairservice’s request, BMI numbers for all the major league bullpens. Sorry, dude! Would’ve worked great.)

• Team Defense (UZR)
Defense is this year’s black. Actually, it was last year’s black, too. It’s probably gonna be next year’s black, as well.

• Luck (LUCK)
I’m quoting myself when I say, “Nerds like watching regression happen.” It’s as true now as it was all the way back in June of this year when I first wrote it. The question is: How do we define “luck” here?

In this case, I’ve subtracted actual runs from Base Runs, or:

Base Runs – Actual Runs Scored

If you haven’t seen it yet, internet denizen John Wright maintains a spreadsheet with BaseRuns standings at his site.

• Payroll (PAY)
This just in: Moneyball was neither written by Billy Beane, nor is it about filling a team’s roster with plodding walkmeisters exclusively. It is about building a ball club as efficiently as possible, and — especially in these WAR-filled days — such a thing has become of paramount interest to the nerd. Hence, its inclusion.

Calculating NERD
To calculate NERD, I found each team’s z-score (standard deviations from the mean) for all the categories above (except Payroll, which I’ll mention post-haste). I multiplied AGEz by 2, multiplied each of the speed factors by .33 (so’s to have one fully weighted speed category), and then added all the z-scores together.

As with pitcher NERD, a couple of categories act as bonuses only (i.e. no negative scores included): age and luck. In the case of age, it occurs to me that it’s not necessarily bad watching older teams; it’s just more excellent watching younger teams. With regard to luck — well, this might be a case of editorializing on my part. I’m certainly not above deriving pleasure from another’s misfortune, but I like to reserve that sort of joy for people I really dislike — not, you know, Livan Hernandez.

Also, note: I capped the Luck “bonus” at 2. Otherwise, the Orioles creep up like 3.8 points.

Adding a constant (in this case, 3.21) gives all 30 teams a score between 0 and 10, with average exactly at 5. I had to round the top two teams down to 10 and the bottom two to 0, but that’s it.

Why I Counted Youth Twice as Much
Probably for a bunch of reasons, but mostly because of the Pittsburgh.

The Final Equation
Looks like this:

(AGEz*2) + BATz + HR/FBz + (SBAz*.33 + SBRz*.33 + XBTz*.33) + BULLz + UZRz + PAYz + LUCK

Discussion
It’s important to remember that this is strictly a measure of what has happened. Like, I personally enjoy watching the Phillies, as Jayson Werth and, in particular, Chase Utley are very clearly kings among men. But Utley (along with Placido Polanco and Shane Victorino) has missed time this season. The addition of Wilson Valdez and whomever else in Utley’s place — well, that’s not nerd-friendly viewing. The Phillies’ score reflects that fact.

As for the top few teams, I think they’re pretty inuitive. The Rays are not only young and well-run, but — in case you haven’t heard — the subject of a forthcoming book written by a nerd! The Diamondbacks have made some very questionable moves of late, but remain young, athletic, and power-y. The Rangers have a low-ish payroll, a serious MVP candidate, and some pretty serious glovemen.

Nor ought the bottom teams surprise anyone: the Royals and Astros finished 29th and 30th, respectively, in our organizational rankings. The Dodgers are 11 games out despite an old-ish, well-paid roster. (Note: Giving over 500 combined PAs to Garret Anderson, Brad Ausmus, and Jamey Carroll is not good for watchability). The Orioles have Matt Wieters, yes, but they’ve also been terrible in almost every way imaginable. Additionally, Garrett Atkins.) The Mariners? Well, they’re kinda fast. That’s about it, though.

Future Considerations
Is NERD complete? No. Adding a team-level variety is definitely an improvement, but there are at least three stones that remain unturned, as follows:

• Home Park Adjustments
What about a park makes a game watchable (on TV, in particular)? That’s a good question. My guess is, the answer includes the following factors: (a) attendance as a percentage of stadium capacity and (b) the park factor of the field in question.

• Broadcasts
Vin Scully makes a game better. Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy, I’d argue, make a game better. Joe Buck makes a game borderline unwatchable. How do we integrate that into NERD? That’s the question that we’ll need to answer.

• Individual Player NERD / Adjustments
As I mention above, the absence of Chase Utley, et al., really hurt the Phillies’ NERD score. Ideally, it’d be possible to represent Utley’s return immediate, rather than waiting for the team totals to catch up.

Using NERD to Preview a Game
I’ll discuss this in a post later today. Probably. I think.




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Carson Cistulli occasionally publishes spirited ejaculations at The New Enthusiast.


34 Responses to “Introducing Team NERD”

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  1. Beer me! says:

    Just doesn’t seem right that walks aren’t a bigger element of NERD.

    Other than that, well done Carson.

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    • dutchbrowncoat says:

      while not as exciting as hits, walks are still interesting. or frustrating, if you are rooting for the team on defense at the moment.

      maybe a factor included for pitches per plate appearance? beyond walks, it is more enjoyable (i think) to see a guy battle through an 8 pitch at bat than it is for the hitter to ground out the first pitch he sees.

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    • Sass says:

      When your team walks, it is a Good Thing. If you are just talking about how exciting a team is to watch, it’s not. It is boring to watch a team that takes a ton of walks. It’s much more fun to watch them hitting dingers and stealing bases.

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  2. TFINY says:

    Can we get a weekly updating list of NERD scores, both team and starting pitcher? Or a link to a google docs that will be updated? That would exponentially increase the awesome factor of NERD.

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  3. Jdub says:

    Man, it’s hard to believe the Diamondbacks are the third most “watchable” team in baseball. That really says something about the rest of the MLB, because the D’Backs are unwatchable if I’ve ever seen it.

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    • Drew says:

      Their lineup is legit NERD fodder. Their bullpen is so bad it might actually enhance the NERD score, as you’re guaranteed fireworks once the starter leaves the game.

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  4. firnie14 says:

    Any telecast associated with Hawk Harralson should be considered Sabermetric (or that of any other reasonable veiwer’s) pariah.

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  5. Nick says:

    Not sure if this is feasible, but it would be nice to see some consideration taken in the NERD scores for the standings of the various teams. For instance, the current NERD scores have the D-Backs ahead of the Rangers, but I’d probably rather watch the Rangers because they are making a playoff push, etc.

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    • dutchbrowncoat says:

      seconded

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    • I think the idea of adding a “playoff race” adjustment makes sense.

      I also think there will definitely be instances — and this may be one of them — where a degree of “scouting” is required to complement the numbers.

      Like with the Phillies, for example: I think they’re more interesting than their NERD numbers suggests. And you’re right: teams in playoff races (Reds, Cards) should probably get a boost.

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  6. Clayton h says:

    I would suggest something involving the number of close games/wins a team has. The Braves are very watchable because you know that they are due to ninth inning drama every couple games. Excellent nonetheless.

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    • I agree that late and close games are enjoyable. The question is: is there any way to predict for which teams those high-leverage situations (bc that’s what we’re talking about, right?) will be most frequent?

      My guess is the teams that both score and allow the fewest runs — those are the ones most prone to late-inning hijinks. I’m not sure if it’s predictive enough, though.

      Any ideas?

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  7. Kevin R says:

    I agree that broadcast teams make a difference when watching a game on TV, but I think that may be too subjective to be used in a NERD score. I mean, everyone agrees on Vin Scully and Joe Buck, it’s everyone in between that might be hard to quantify.

    (I agree with you on Orsillo/Remy being a very good team, but I know some who don’t like them, even Boston fans.)

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    • Dr. Strangelove says:

      I agree that any ranking based on who is doing the broadcasting is bound to be subjective but it seems to me that like fan scouting of fielding we can use the power of the crowds (in this case the slice of Nerds within the crowd) to get a rough determination of who makes game more enjoyable. Not sure exactly how you would do that Carson but I assume a poll that requires people to rank the various broadcasters would work.

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    • lifewontwait says:

      “everyone agrees on Vin Scully and Joe Buck ” My wife and I disagree with you on Vin Scully. We used to live in LA and she would beg me to mute the TV and complain about him droning on constantly about stupid stuff (i.e. so and so is a remarkable fisherman/artist/musician/nose blower/decoupager). She had never been a baseball fan so it was absolute torture while I was able to suffer though it better. Now that we’re in the SF Bay area, she’ll actually turn the game on when I’m not home.

      If you were to include broadcasters, you’d have to do some pretty intense polling and take in to account people’s preference for their favorite team’s broadcaster. In my opinion, the really big nerds among us have means of having a choice on who we’re listening to broadcast a game, and at least one of the team’s broadcasters should be tolerable.

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      • 3rd Period Points says:

        Heresy, I say! Vin Scully’s dulcet tones and rambling recitations are pure Americana. May the deuces be forever wild!

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  8. David says:

    I think it would be wise to include the average length of game for each team as, in general, a faster-paced, 2.5 hour game is more enjoyable than a game that drags for 3.5 hours. Just a thought.

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    • Preston says:

      Seconded. Long games always drain me – I find Yankees-Red Sox games almost unwatchable for more than a few innings. Along the same lines, I could see adding in a component such as average number of relievers used per game, average length of reliever outings, or even ideally, number of mid-inning pitching changes.

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  9. Bill@TPA says:

    Awesome, but a bit disappointed that you ultimately went the park-adjusted route. It seems to me that the team’s ballpark has a lot to do with the team’s watchability, so removing those effects makes no sense. Guess I’m not sabermetrically advanced enough to stop and think “well, that was a park-aided home run. I’ll just go ahead and derive less enjoyment from that one.”

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    • TFINY says:

      I don’t know how this fits in, but at Target Field, where home runs are a bit rarer, when I see one, it’s a bigger deal. Maybe this is where the park-adjustment comes in.

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  10. Ivdown says:

    Lol, damn, some people have A LOT of time on their hands :P

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  11. Guest says:

    1. I don’t think that the numbers should be adjusted for park effects. While they make sense for evaluating a player’s true talent, they don’t make sense for team watchability. A home run is a home run even if it is only out because the wall is closer in that particular park, and a fly out is still a fly out even if it would have been gone in Cincinnati.
    2. I don’t think payroll is a good factor. It doesn’t really have an effect on the watchability of a game aside from any payroll effect on team talent which will already be included in the other factors.
    3. I think that a playoff race adjustment should definitely be included because that definitely has a large effect on watchability. I’d rather see Cards/Reds (NERD 5 and 7), than D-Backs/Brewers (9 and 8).
    4. I see that starting pitching is not included here, I know that you have a separate NERD for them, but they are a big factor for watchability. Maybe including something like K/9 for the team’s entire pitching staff would work.
    5. I find it interesting that some have mentioned Pitches per plate appearance as a good factor, and others length of games. I would think that these factors would work against each other as teams who see alot of pitches would tend to play longer games.

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    • lifewontwait says:

      1. But if a team hit’s a bunch of home runs at home because they play in a park where that sort of thing happens, and then they go on the road, they aren’t as exciting of a team as they are at home. So I think park factors factor in to some degree.
      2. I agree with you for the most part. I’d only penalize teams with payrolls over 200 million, that starts to annoy me.

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  12. Kinanik says:

    Listening to Ron Santo gives a +3 to Cubs fan listening, a -3 otherwise.

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  13. #6org says:

    what about streaker potential.

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  14. John H. C. says:

    What might be really interesting is to do a “retrospective NERD” and see if teams in the past with high NERDs have been more or less successful going forward. Are NERDy teams more successful than anti-NERDs? Are they likely to become more successful? (Of course, we’d want to keep the pennant-race factor neutral for that calculation).

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  15. Shatterhand says:

    Maybe instead of adjusting for park effects the NERD scores should be separated into home NERD and away NERD

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  16. hairball says:

    I find it hilarious that the A’s being ranked third requires a re-working of the formula, but the D’Backs being in the same spot doesn’t.

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    • It’s a little strange, yes, but also remember: the reason the DBacks are so highly ranked is because they’ve been unlucky with run scoring. Take away their 1.73 LUCK number and they’re right on the cusp between 7 and 8.

      That and their pretty significant power advantage — those are the differences. Not crazy, I think.

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  17. jokar15 says:

    As a D-Backs, I can attest that they are not that much fun to watch right now. When young players loose a lot, they seem to forget how to play with intensity.

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  18. AthleticsBraves says:

    Why does everyone hate Joe Buck? I haven’t listened to him that much but he doesn’t seem too offensive. Does he not like new stats and wants everyone to sac bunt like Joe Morgan and Chip Caray? Also John Scaimbi was the best he reads Fangraphs.

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  19. A DC Wonk says:

    I like watching old crafty vet pitchers. It’s amazing to me to see Jamie Moyer or Livan Hernandez pitch. How do they do it? But they severely depress the NERD scores, no?

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