This is an introductory bit to a “study” that will manifest over the next couple of days at NotGraphs.
The Aim of the So-Called “Study”
What it aims to do is guide readers (and thus, baseballing fanatics) who might otherwise feel ambivalent to results these waning days of Major League Baseball’s regular season and during the postseason especially. It seeks to guide such readers towards enthusiasm for a team or teams for which they would not have otherwise have had enthusiasm for in said waning days.
I don’t guarantee, of course, that if you are one of the aforementioned ambivalent parties, that this “study” will be imbue a new energy to you. I cannot ensure that the “findings” or any suggestions that I might make based on the findings will be surprising or insightful, merely that they will be interesting or fun. Further, I am aware that some of you will not like whatever these findings — or their author — suggest, because you, like almost all fans, I imagine, will be prejudiced against certain teams to begin with, or because you will disagree with my methodology, or because you dislike me, or because you dislike your life and thus dislike most things that comprise it.
Rather, this “study,” while it aims to direct ambivalent readers towards energetic fanaticism once again, mostly aims to provide fun info.
This “Study” Assumes a Number of Things
The most basic premise here is that your team — i.e. the team that you normally cheer for — is all but mathematically out of the hunt for a playoff spot. For my money, I’d say roughly half the league is already “out of it.” Yes, my beloved Brewers could rattle off 15 straight wins and make a run for a Wild Card berth or even the NL Central title. But given that they traded their ace and that, even though they’ve been slightly unlucky in terms of how their run differential corresponds to their W-L record, they’re still only a .500 team at best, and that’s not going to cut it.
I’m also starting with some assumptions about the North American fanbase as a whole. First, that it loves underdogs. Like, if you don’t love the New York Yankees, you hate the New York Yankees, or something like that. I also assume that this fanbase loves youth. Hope springs eternal, a new hope, the great white hope, etc. That said, the fanbase also respects tradition. A player like Derek Jeter, though in the twilight of his career, satisfies many desires for “old school” players who hustle and display baseball intelligence.
But also: the fanbase loves stars; it loves dynasties. These preferences seem antithetical to the aforementioned preferences for youth (most younger players haven’t had the opportunity to become superstars yet) and underdogs, but such preferences do create an interesting bell curve, and it allows a team like the Yankees to not be dismissed from consideration before the “study” even begins. With apologies to Canadian fans, America is partial to its underdog, revolutionary roots and to its more current “world power” status. O! Land of Multitudes! O! Land of Contradictions!
These assumptions will guide the “methodology” of this “study.”
What That Methodology Is, Then
Regarding the preference for underdogs, I’ll consider — and attempto to measure — a few factors. One thing is market share. The smaller and less lucrative a team’s market share, the more “points” they will score in this “study.” I was also considering including the quality of the city that a team plays in, but that seemed to be too arbitrary, even for this NotGraphs “study.”
Another factor that I will consider assuming a preference for underdogs is how well a team has done in the regular season over the last ten years (2002-2011), and whether or not they have won a playoffs series in that time. Teams with worse records and with fewer playoff series wins will receive higher ratings for the purposes of this “study.” I’ll also consider teams’ most recent playoff and World Series appearances, with more distant appearances/wins being preferable — unless the team is a reigning League Champion or can otherwise be considered to be in the midst of building a dynasty.
This study will treat the hypothetical fanbase’s love of youth, but also its love of superstardom and tradition, by considering each team’s “sweetest” hitter and pitcher. This does not necessarily mean its best hitter/pitcher, though it might coincidentally mean that, too. What “sweetest” hitter or pitcher here is the player that the author perceives to be the player that might provide the best “story” or the most excitement or who best represents that team to the public. The selection of these players is the most subjective part of the “study,” but the author does have some awareness of baseball zeitgeist in that the author is not Murray Chass, at least.
How the players are to be measured, however, is slightly less subjective.
Hitters will be measured by:
Position: Fewer points awarded as a player moves down the defensive spectrum (C, SS, 2B, CF, 3B, RF, LF, 1B, DH). Players that spend significant time at more that one position will have all of those positions considered.
Age: Where younger is better, in most cases.
P/PA: For some reason this was really important to me; it indicates patience, which is very important to the saber-minded fan, and/or an ability to foul off pitches and wear down a pitcher, which should be appreciated by all observant fans.
ISO: Because power is exciting, even if it “kills rallies” sometimes.
LD%: Because people like to see balls hit hard. Even if they end up as outs, line drives create exciting plays.
CLUTCH: It may be a volatile stat, but it aims to objectify something that could otherwise run away with our imaginations.
Spd/BsR: Speed is also fun to watch. By considering both SpeedScore and BaseRuns we get both sides of speed: how fast a player is, and how well he uses that speed.
Intangibles: This is very subjective, but it will allow us to consider how players can be exciting for non-statistical reasons. Like, if a player was acquired in a big trade, or in a big off-season signing, or if he is a foreign-born phenom, or if he is a cultural icon, or if he is doing things no other player has done at the same age — those players are exciting for those reasons, too.
Pitchers will be measured by:
Age: Where younger is better, in most cases.
Position: Where Starting Pitchers are given more weight than Relievers.
Velocity: Where the velocity of their fastest/slowest pitch is considered. People love fast pitches (what Bruce Springsteen called “speedballs”), or they love really, really slow pitches.
K%: Because it doesn’t always take velocity to strike out hitters, and people like to see their favorite pitchers strike out opposing hitters.
Clutch: What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Quantifies “big game pitcher,” which is relevant to the postseason in as much as it can ever be relevant.
P/PA: Efficiency can be fun.
When I Will Present the “Findings” of This “Study” Instead of Merely Rambling at Length About It
I’ll address the National League tomorrow (Tuesday, August 14), and the American League the day after tomorrow (Wednesday, August 15).