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King of Little Things 2013

Although the end of regular baseball is sad for both fans who blog and those who do not, for the former it at least provides a time to look back on the season and write about certain achievements. For me, it is a nice time to whip out some silly awards based on toy stats. On Monday, we looked at 2013’s Joe CarterTony Batista Award winner, which compared RBI totals with linear weights runs created. Today, we look at a more specific situational stat that someone (not me) suggested a few years back and that I have looked at annually. It is not the same thing as clutch, but does use situational metrics to see how much a player contributed on offense beyond what is measured by traditional linear weights, in this case by looking at the specific game states the player faced. For better or worse, we call the winner of this award the King of the Little Things.

Rather than go through a lengthy explanation as I used to do with this annual post (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012), I will give the short version here: The “Little Things” metric is the difference between a hitter’s WPA/LI and his Batting Wins (park-adjusted wRAA plus wSB converted to a wins scale). Does this actually measure anything? Some will agree or disagree about that question, but here again is my basic explanation from 2010 about what it intended to measure:

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.

Some people like WPA and its derivative metrics like WPA/LI, and some do not. That is fine, this should be taken with at least a grain of salt. In addition, I am not claiming this is represents a repeatable skill. In the past, I have thought of changing it in different ways (e.g., using RE24 in place of WPA/LI) or making this a more serious, research-oriented post. Those are worthwhile ideas, and might be worth pursuing later, but that does not mean we cannot at least acknowledge this way of measuring Little Things out of respect to a five-year-old tradition. One thing that is a bit different this year than in past seasons (I am not sure how I did things last year) is that stolen bases and caught stealings are included both in batting runs and in little things, to acknowledge their incorporation into WPA (and thus WPA/LI).

Two reminders about what “Little Things” (now the name for better or worse) covers here: a) things like grounding into double plays, sacrifice bunts and flys, and other things not currently incorporated into wRAA; b) the player’s response to the game state beyond what traditional linear weights measure: base/out situation, relative score, and inning.

Before we get to the winner, here is your 2013 Court of Little Things (e.g., the four runners-up; a minimum of 500 plate appearances to qualify):

5. Ian Kinsler, 1.371
4. Todd Frazier, 1.545
3. Zack Cozart, 1.569
2. Giancarlo Stanton, 1.622

Ian Kinsler has not been able to replicate anything like his tremendous 2011 since then, and with Jurickson Profar ready and Elvis Andrus pretty much set, this has naturally led to trade rumors. Kinsler does seem to have responded to the game state, this year, perhaps in part because he did a good job avoiding the double play, grounding into them in only about six percent of his opportunities as opposed to 15 percent last year. Todd Frazier’s appearance on this list is more difficult to pinpoint, he probably just timed (ahem) his hits better than most players. Zack Cozart (the Reds are dominating this list just as they did the Carter-Batista standings) had a predictably miserable year at the plate, but did things well enough to rack up some Little Things value — the guy did have more than his share of sacrifice bunts and other productive outs, but that probably was not all of it. Giancarlo Stanton, sometimes called “the anti-Cozart,” had a down season by his standards. But he added value beyond standard linear weights by hitting better in the appopriate game states and avoiding the double play.

This year’s King of Little Things will be a name familiar from the list of this year’s Carter-Batista runners up:

1. Pedro Alvarez, 1.779

I thought that Alvarez would be another power hitter who hits the ball into the air enough to avoid double plays, thus getting him on this list. Alvarez does have impressive power, but he actually grounds into double plays fairly often (15 percent this season), and he is not an extreme fly ball hitter like, say, Brandon Moss or Chris Davis. WPA/LI removes the leverage from the situation, so Alvarez was not “clutch” in that sense, and, indeed, was actually at his worst in high leverage situations this season. Whatever it was, according to WPA/LI he did add value beyond what typical linear weights measure, which would be nice for the Pirates if this was a repeatable skill. I doubt that it is, though.

Nonetheless, congratulations to Pedro Alvarez on his good year individually, the Pirates’ long-awaited playoff appearance, and, of course, being crowned 2013’s King of Little Things.

For those of you who need your dose of schadenfreude, here are 2013’s five worst Little Things performers (500 plate appearance minimum) presented without comment:

137. Victor Martinez, -.653
138. David Freese, -0.691
139. Jacoby Ellsbury, -0.762
140. Mike Napoli, -0.791
141. Jose Altuve, -1.047