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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.