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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?