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King of Little Things 2012

That’s right: end of the season, time for me to hand out awards based on semi-goofy. questionable stats. Along with the Carter-Batista Award, this is one of the first I started publishing.. In fact, my very first post at FanGraphs (three years this week! Time flies when you’re wasting it.) back in 2009 was a King of Little Things award presentation. You can also check out the 2010 and 2011 versions for the thrilling results. So which 2012 hitter contributed to most his teams wins in ways not measurable by traditional linear weights?

I used to spend a lot of time explaining this metric, sothe reader can refer to previous seasons’ editions (linked above) for more detail. The short version is that this stat is simply difference between a hitter’s seasonal WPA/LI and Batting Wins (park-adjusted offensive linear weights [implemented here as wRAA] and converted to a wins scale to match WPA/LI). What does this measure? As I wrote in 2010:

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 is a walk is always valued at about .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.

I do not claim that this stat is something great, nor that is measures a repeatable skill. In fact, I actually thought about making some revisions to how I calculated it (using RE24 instead of WPA/LI, for example) or just dropping it altogether. However, I finally decided that I write this stuff (and I assume people read it) primarily for fun (meta-entertainment), and this is not such a big deal that I should mess with one of autumn’s most beloved traditions.

To avoid too much confusion, a few reminders: “Little Things” covers two different aspects of the game under the name “little things”: a) stuff like grounding into double plays, bunts, etc. not currently incorporated into to wRAA, and b) the potential for a player to respond appropriately to the “game state” (e.g., fouling off pitches until the pitcher misses enough to force a walk with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth rather than trying to hit a homer). Since I’ve used the name for a few years now, (it was originally coined by a commentator who suggested the stat long ago) I am going to stick with it. I did make a little adjustment this year to account for the change in how base stealing is handled on the player pages.

Let’s begin with the four 2012 King of Little Things runners up:

5. Paul Goldschmidt, 1.241
4. Garrett Jones, 1.339
3. Drew Stubbs, 1.554
2. Andre Ethier, 1.647

Goldschmidt had a nice season in an otherwise down year for Arizona — power and patience probably also help him avoid the double play, which may have been a factor here. Garrett Jones did not do much other than hit for power this year, but he definitely avoided the double play well (in only 3% of opportunities), which I would guess was a big factor here. Drew Stubbs had a miserable season at the plate, although it probably did not hurt his team as much once one considers the game context. Too bad this does not seem very predictive. Maybe the Dodgers reconsidered their rumored desire to trade Either after calculating their own version of Little Things. Yeah, that is probably what happened.

And now, your 2012 King of Little Things:

1. Jason Heyward, 1.958

One could write all sorts of things about Heyward’s recovery from a sophomore slump, swing mechanics, surprising value on the bases, fielding, and situational skill this year. However, I think the best thing to do here is to cede the floor to the guy who knows more about Heyward than anyone else: Bill “Scout’s Honor” Shanks:

It would not be the Internet if we did not at least take a look at the five worst. Again, keep in mind the qualifications given above.

139. Alcides Escobar, -1.011
140. Kendrys Morales, -1.014
141. Denard Span, -1.025
142. Ryan Doumit, -1.324
143. Corey Hart, -1.675

Escobar had something of an odd year for the Royals: his hitting improved a great deal and he stole bases like a madman, but his defensive metrics seemed to be way off of the “eye test,” and now this — whatever it is. Morales finished the season strong and looks to be the Angel’s DH in 2013. The Angels are smart enough to not worry about 2012 issues connected with some ill-timed double plays and problems with productive outs (yeah yeah… that’s the thing with this metric). Ryan Doumit had a decent year for the Twins, and it makes me feel a little silly for making fun of him (I called him “Doh Mitt,” which was super-duper clever). He was not exactly a situational master, though. No way I can make fun of a guy named Corey Hart, it’s just too mean.