King of the Little Things 2009

We’re happy to announce the addition of the newest member of our team. Matt brings his particular style to the site beginning today.

I’m the new guy. Six or seven of you may have previously read my work elsewhere under a different name. I won’t tell you what it was, but it was something like… “devil_f.” No, that’s too obvious; let’s go with “d_fingers.”

We often hear that certain hitters “just do the little things” to help their team win. Can these things be quantified? Some would say no, but in last offseason’s epic Confused Says What? thread with Tom Tango, a user suggested that if one subtracted traditional linear weights (wRAA) from game-state linear weights (WPA/LI), one would get a measure of the “Little Things” the player contributed to his team(s) during the year. And so I checked it out.

What exactly does that mean? Briefly, while wRAA is decontextualized linear weights runs above/below average, WPA/LI takes into account how much a player helped his team win in context. While RE24 (with which we could do a similar post) goes further and takes the base/out state into account, WPA/LI also takes the game state (the score and the inning) into account. In nuce: for WPA/LI, in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded, a walk and a home run have the same value, while for traditional linear weights and RE24 a walk and a home run have very different values in that situation. For an explanation at (extreme) length, see my post about 2008′s Little Things (read this if you want an explanation of how this differs from “clutch.”)

To get the Little Things stat, I simply converted each player’s “Batting” stat from runs to wins, then subtracted that number from their WPA/LI. What all is included in this measure? Leaving aside the issue of whether “playing to the game state” is a repeatable skill, we’re measuring two sets of things: (1) as detailed above, how much the player’s contributions at the plate contribute to his team winning (or losing!) in context, and (2) those events that can happen when a player is at the plate but that aren’t measured by wRAA as implemented here. Examples of (2) would be sacrifices, reaching on error, and grounding into double plays.

Who is our 2009 King of the Little Things? Here are the top five (I only calculated for qualified players):

1. Casey Blake 1.50
2. Jorge Cantu 1.39
3. Joey Votto 1.25
4. Derrek Lee 1.22
5. Brian McCann 1.21

Last year it was Jack Hannahan, which was fun, but Casey Blake is no surprise. I mean, look at that beard! He’s not great at avoiding the double play, but he’s not terrible, either. Hitting in the middle of a good Dodgers lineup behind Manny Ramirez and Andre Ethier probably gave him a lot of opportunities as well. Congratulations, Casey. Your box of Nirvana is in the mail.

You know what’s almost as fun as figuring out who is the best at something? That’s right: finding out who is the worst. Here are the bottom five out of 154 qualified 2009 batters:

150. Alex Rodriguez -1.04
151. Magglio Ordonez -1.12
152. Michael Cuddyer -1.17
153. Derek Jeter -1.42
154. Robinson Cano -1.52

It’s surprising that three members of the Yankees are on this list, given that WPA/LI maps pretty directly onto wins. A-Rod’s number is obviously way off, considering how relaxed he was this season and was able to focus on baseball, thanks to Kate Hudson or getting the steroid thing off his chest or something. Cano and Jeter both have big problems with GIDP. Perhaps the Yankees played in so many blowouts that the individual contributions of these players often occurred when the outcome wasn’t in much doubt. It’s difficult to say exactly how each player got the score they did without going through individual game logs.

How about some Little Things Totals from 2007-2009. First, the leaders:

1. Matt Kemp 2.50
2. Brad Hawpe 2.34
3. Aramis Ramirez 2.04
4. Jason Kendall 2.00
5. Derrek Lee 1.97

At least Matt Kemp is good at something (sigh). I’m happy for Brad Hawpe, given his other… issues. Jason Kendall is smugly chortling even as I type.

Here are the trailers:

128. Nick Markakis -2.59
129. Alex Rodriguez -2.81
130. Robinson Cano -2.93
131. Brian Roberts -2.99
132. Magglio Ordonez -3.79

Here is a spreadsheet with all qualified players ranked for both 2009 and 2007-2009.

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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.

32 Responses to “King of the Little Things 2009”

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  1. Patrick says:

    Well, that bottom list is… fun. Very, very fun.
    The top list is eh, but I love seeing A-Rod on the bottom list. The fall out from that should be a lot of fun.

    And it’s nice to have you, Matt. Your first article is a nice one, at least!

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    • Tom B says:

      Wouldn’t the natural order of things be for the team that wins the most games to be in less “high-leverage’ situations? Can someone do that math for me?

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      • PhD Brian says:

        I would think, teams that won and lost a lot of blowouts would be on the bottom of this list. For example if a player always hit a homerun when his team was ahead or behind by 6 or more runs, then he might get a bunch of homers, but they would rarely result in helping his team win.

        Teams that won a bunch of close high scoring games would have hitters on this high list (ie wining a 9-8 game that was always close and the losing team several different leads). The key is having many opportunities to come through in close games.

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  2. neuter_your_dogma says:

    Imagine if Jeter, A-Rod and Cano start doing those little things. Whoa!

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    • PhD Brian says:

      I think this just shows that most of Jeter, Arod, and Cano’s web gems, runs and RBIs happened after the Yankees already had a big lead. This is probably a testament to the deadliness of the Yankee pitching and a statement on the Yankees not slacking off once they got a big lead.

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      • Yeah, this is what I was trying to get at when I wrote “Perhaps the Yankees played in so many blowouts that the individual contributions of these players often occurred when the outcome wasn’t in much doubt.”

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  3. Greg F. says:

    How dare you say Derek Jeter doesn’t do the little things well!!!!

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  4. duder says:

    so what you’re saying is is that Casey Blake is underpaid?

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  5. Al Dimond says:

    It might be interesting to break this down by PA result. That is, for every PA there’s a contribution to WPA/LI and to wRAA. What types of results cause this for each player? Is A-Rod hitting lots of home runs in situations where they’re not more valuable than other hits by as much as most homers are? If he’s batting with lots of runners on base this could be the case. Hitters that stretch lots of singles into doubles would find that their teammates did not advance as many bases on their doubles as slow runners (this is, fundamentally, a problem with the categories of single and double — given the same hit trajectory the faster player is more valuable, but the categorization overvalues the fast player very slightly). This is especially true of guys that hit with slow runners in front of them. Then there are makers of productive outs, guys who hit to the correct side of the field for the situation regularly.

    It’s funny to see Derrek Lee on the three-year list; in 2008 he hit into tons of double-plays.

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    • Al Dimond says:

      Another question this brings up is whether different out types (K, GO, FO) have significantly different average values. If so, linear weights formulas should probably account for that, whether it’s true that some players are more productive with their outs or not. Google isn’t turning up any research on either question, and I can’t think of a publicly-available data source that would give me the necessary data (I could be missing something, I don’t know them all).

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  6. matthew says:

    matt kemp does no little things right…

    he cant ever move over a runner… he doesnt do SF… all he does is strike out… hes number 1 ???

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  7. Ryan says:

    “Let me remind you of something…Asshole.”
    You’re talking about Derek C. Jeter. The C stands for Clutch.

    Sorry anytime a Larry David quote can be used I’ll use it. I think you’re on to something but I think there is something missing if more than half of the 132 that qualified have negative values in the 2007-2009 data set.
    Any ideas what could be done to better the stat?

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    • Bradley says:

      Excllent critique. I would like to second it.

      Because so many rate poorly, could the metric use an equalizer, like the ~3.2 in FIP? Of course, that may prove counter-intuitive if the metric is meant to objectively determine runs created/lost through “little things.”

      I don’t know the answer, but keep up the good work! I want to see more!

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    • Joe R says:

      That doesn’t matter, if you want to standardize it, it should equal out to zero.

      Or better yet, the Little Thing stat per PA’s for everyone should equal zero, so that the league aggrigate is also zero.

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  8. Joe R says:

    This number is blasphemy, Derek Jeter cannot be quantified in any way, shape or form.

    He plays an other-worldly form of sport than us mere mortals cannot begin to fathom. I mean, remember when he became Mr. November? Sure, his 2001 playoff OPS was just .566, but once again, you mere mortals don’t understand how uplifting and magical a .566 OPS from a very wealthy man is, and the intangible effects it had to help those gritty Yankees grind their way to a game 7 in that World Series.

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  9. Michael says:

    Great work d_f… I mean, Matt. Now, I don’t want to necessarily look at the spreadsheet, but I wonder if the Royals are any good at the “little things.

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  10. Brent says:

    + points for excellent Simpsons reference

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  11. vivaelpujols says:

    God, David is really reaching if this yutz is gonna be writing here for now on ;)

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  12. I can;t believe you remember that!
    I created it as a way to get my dad off my back, and it was a fun little metric.
    Maybe we could add it to the “Fun but Irrelevant” section of Fangraphs stats :)

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  13. Doug Melvin says:

    Great start.

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  14. glassSheets says:

    Obviously the little things are why the Twins picked up Cuddyer’s contract.

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  15. Jeff Zimmerman says:

    Another reason to fire Hillman. He is not giving enough at bats to Willie Bloomquist to take his God given place at the top of this list.

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    • AxDxMx says:

      Hillman had to worry about working Josh Anderson into games and when to pitch Farnsworth. He totally forgot about Mission Numero Uno for Bloomers.

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  16. Jon Williams says:

    I hope this new gig won’t hurt that d-fingers guy’s production on other sites that I like reading a lot.

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  17. Pete says:

    Doood… Derek Jeter is a winner. He drives teams to winning through his steely winning-winningness. Winners do little things whether those little things appear or not. His sweat simply reeks of triumph and greatness, and when his teammates smell that sweat they just WIN! He’s all about winning, winning-ness, and winnitude and if you don’t understand that then just shut up!!!

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  18. Logan says:

    Nice first article Matt. Look forward to more.

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  19. Dan says:

    How can Jason Kendall be on a good list for anything? The guy is just anemic! In the first half of the year all the pundits loved him, saying he handled the pitching staff well. Where are the pundits now that the Brewers finished with the worst ERA in the majors? Gawd, give me Henry Blanco back.

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