King of Little Things 2010

I have done a number of posts since end of the 2010 season ranking players and plays based on stats not normally given prominence. But I haven’t yet done one of my “classics”: the season’s “King of Little Things.” As the name implies, it is an attempt to quantify a player’s contribution with regard to the game state beyond average run expectancy. Who were the best and worst in 2010?

I’ve explained the origin and nature of this stat various times (read 2009’s post for more detail.) Basically, traditional linear weights (wRAA/Batting at FanGraphs) measure the average change in run expectancy for each event. WPA/LI scales linear weights to the game state while removing the leverage aspect (which is what makes it different from straight WPA or Clutch). The classic situation for explaining the difference between traditional linear weights and WPA/LI is two outs, bottom of the ninth, and the bases loaded. For traditional linear weights, a walk and a home run have the same value in every situation; that isa walk is always valued at .3 runs, a home run about 1.4. For WPA/LI, events have different values for each situation relative to base/inning/score state and are valued according to wins rather than runs. Thus, with two outs in bottom of the ninth, the bases loaded, and the score tied, a walk and home run have a the same WPA/LI value — either wins the game. WPA/LI also includes events that wRAA doesn’t at the moment including (but not limited to) reached on error and double plays,

The “Little Things” stat subtracts traditional linear weights (converted to wins scale) from WPA/LI to see how many wins above (or below) those weights a player has added (or substracted). The idea is that some hitters might be better at adapting their approach at the plate to the game state better than others. Whether this is a skill or not is a more complicated and drawn-out discussion. In the meantime, we have the numbers, and let’s find out who the King of Little Things for 2010 is.

Here are the 4 runners-up. Only players qualified for the batting title were considered. The number after each name is Little Things Wins (WPA/LI minus Batting Wins):

5. Ian Desmond 0.872
4. Jason Heyward 0.983
3. Carlos Pena 0.987
2. B.J. Upton 1.106

Nationals rookie shortstop Ian Desmond didn’t exactly set the world on fire at the plate or in the field, but if you believe Little Things are a skill, he did better than you might think. Jason Heyward, by contrast, well, he doesn’t need more superlatives cast his direction at this point, does he? Pena and Upton are probably surprising to some. Pena had a bad season, but his plate approach, while generating tons of strikeouts, also means he does a good job at avoiding the double play, which is probably a factor here. I haven’t taken a detailed look at Upton’s play log, but given his reputation, it is interesting to see him on ranked this highly.

And now, your 2010 King of Little Things:

1. Bobby Abreu 1.440

Abreu may be getting long in the tooth, and his defense is pretty bad. But he can still get on-base and has decent power. Add in his Little Things this season, and that’s a pretty nice year for a guy who many thought would be washed up at this point in his career. Congratulations, King Bobby!

Naturally, we should take a brief look at the five worst.

132. Billy Butler -0.920
133. Kelly Johnson -0.979
134. Nick Markakis -1.009
135. Garrett Jones -1.075
136. Adrian Beltre -1.370

Billy Butler is probably on this list because of his big problem with double plays. Kelly Johnson’s number should not detract too much from his very nice bounceback season in Arizona. Nick Markakis continues to find ways to be disappointing. Garrett Jones’ terrible season looks even worse. As for Beltre, he also had double play problems, and brief look shows that he’s been below average in Little Things the last three seasons. He got the big contract with the Rangers because he’s good with the bat and great with the glove, but if players do have repeatable skills with regard to game state, his offense might be worse than traditional measures show. But repeatability is the big question here, isn’t it?

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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

31 Responses to “King of Little Things 2010”

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  1. Heather says:

    When I saw the title, I thought this would be another article about David Eckstein.

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  2. MTK says:

    I’m very interested in the quantification of the ‘little things’ and enjoyed reviewing the best and worst on this list from a visual standpoint.

    The 2 names that stuck out to me on this list from my eye test were Kelly Johnson and BJ Upton (but of whom, incidentally, were on my fantasy team last year).

    With an ample catalog of both their at-bats throughout their seasons thanks to, I can recollect a number of situations where Upton kept innings/rallies alive by taking a walk rather than knocking a hit. It seemed that the bases loaded came up a handful of times for Upton and he eventually took the free pass. His speed and penchant for dribblers down the 3rd base line when beat by an offspeed pitch undoubtedly neutralized the double play ball from negatively impacting this metric with multiple runners on (and in theory a higher leverage index, or affect on ‘winning’).

    On the other hand, Johnson’s approach always appeared to be taking the XBH and his early success at the plate in 2010 may have contributed to an aggressive approach as the leverage index increased. What’s interesting is that Johnson hit into 1 fewers DPs than Upton. I guess they moreso occurred when it mattered the most by comparison?

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    • Barkey Walker says:

      Using retrosheet data I get Upton with 52 ground balls when there is a runner on first in 2010. Of those he grounded into a double play 38% of the time. The league average was 20.5% of the time.

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      • Barkey Walker says:

        Argh, wrong Upton. Anyway, it was 28% of the time for BJ Upton in 2010 with a runner on first and he hit a ground ball.

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  3. Matt says:

    I like this a lot. Is data available for years prior to 2008 so we could get a more telling sample size without having to wait decades?

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  4. Travis L says:

    What are the year-to-year correlations here? Is it a skill or luck?

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  5. studes says:

    This is cool, but I don’t think your interpretation is right. “Little things” get lots of credit in Run Expectancy. Getting on base and having decent power are good; double plays are bad.

    The difference in the two stats is *when* you do those things. Linear weights don’t take timing into effect at all. WPA/LI does. It takes out the inning, but leaves in the non-inning-specific context of each event for each player. It’s just like Clutch, only on a different level.

    You’ve got an interesting number, but it’s hard to know what it’s really saying without more explanation.

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    • will says:

      agreed. i think we have to leave the fact that there are some things in the game that can’t be measured. it’s part of the beauty of it

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    • studes says:

      By the way, my “non-inning specific” explanation isn’t technically correct. This is a complex subject. But it’s definitely not about “the little things.”

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      • Well, the name might be a bit problematic (I simply took it from the commenter who originally suggested it), but like Tango, I do think it _might_ tell us something about whether or not a player is adapting to the base/out/score/inning state (i.e. being more willing to take a walk in the situation described in the post, there’s a great example of Amos Otis forcing on back in about 1980 that Bill James likes to bring up), which is the main thrust.

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      • Barkey Walker says:

        @Matt, but doesn’t it also then “adapt” to how often they come up to bad when there is a runner on first (allowing a DP)?

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        • Right. We had a discussion along these lines in my 2008 version of this post at the now-closed Driveline Mechanics. That’s why I present this more informally with qualifications about skill, etc.

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  6. MoreHR's&LesNorman says:

    I’ll take Billy Butler’s GIDP’s

    The following are the only 10 players in the last 60 years to have 125 doubles, 50 homers, 500 hits and 200 runs scored at the age of 24:

    1. Hank Aaron

    2. Orlando Cepeda

    3. Carl Yastrzemski

    4. Eddie Murray

    5. Albert Pujols

    6. Miguel Cabrera

    7. David Wright

    8. Grady Sizemore

    9. Hanley Ramirez

    10. Billy Butler

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    • Patrick says:

      Huh… Um.

      Cherry picking much? Butler’s fine – he’s pretty good, in fact – but he’s nothing amazing. He’s the worst player on that list by a lot.

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      • Jon says:

        Isn’t that the point of those kind of lists? To make people think someone who clearly isn’t, is a peer of a bunch of HOFers?

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      • Dave S says:

        definitely cherry picked!


        most similar thru age 24 (per BB Reference):

        John Olerud (954)
        Kent Hrbek (942)
        Nick Markakis (922)
        Chet Lemon (915)
        Carlos May (912)
        Delmon Young (912)
        Carl Yastrzemski (911) *
        Ellis Valentine (910)
        Tony Horton (910)
        Keith Hernandez (909)

        No Aaron, Pujols, etc on it… but still… a pretty good list.

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    • Barkey Walker says:

      There lots of “buts” here. i.e. why not look at the first four years as a batter, I don’t remember 125 doubles being a big milestone. And why penalize a faster runner who doesn’t get stuck at third? I mean even Jim Thome hit more triples last year than Butler.

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    • Jason says:

      This list isn’t even right. Just off the top of my head, it seemed as though Griffey Jr and A-Rod would have to be on the list…and they both should be. They easily had these numbers.

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  7. Vaga says:

    I’m not sure if this has come up in the past or not, but is there historical information on RISP data? I like to think that hitters may have a significant difference to their approach with runners on, or the bases empty; but would not have as much of a significant difference with RISP, whether it be the first or the ninth.

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    • Barkey Walker says:

      Yes, retrosheet keeps complete play by plays (from which you have to find the runners on base) back to… well, I’d have to look, but off the top of my head, I think the 1950s. I don’t know what the quality is that far back.

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  8. CircleChange11 says:

    Pena had a bad season, but his plate approach, while generating tons of strikeouts, also means he does a good job at avoiding the double play, which is probably a factor here.


    Pena did a good job of avoiding GIDP’s …. by striking out.

    As a batter, this was BY FAR my best skill. With a runner on 1st with 1-out, I could strike out with the best of them … and keep the inning alive.

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  9. Bud says:

    I’m wondering If BJ Upton’s speed has anything to do with this. I know he’s tagged as a “lazy player” who doesn’t always hustle, but his ability to beat out infield singles came to mind. Couldn’t find any stats readily available, but it could be a jumping off point.

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  10. neuter_your_dogma says:

    No love for Werth’s 186/353/314 RISP?

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