A question for stat enthusiasts

Was I just lucky for 21 years? (No)

And I mean this sincerely — why the reliance on BABIP? How is it so much better than ERA? Some pitchers, like Greg Maddux, pitched to contact with great effectiveness. All balls batted in play are not equal. BABIP assumes that everything is a line drive and it’s partly luck as to where they land.

How many dribblers were hit off Mad Dog and Glavine? Were they merely lucky for two decades or are there other ways to retire a batter than a strikeout?

There’s plenty of other examples. Hall of Famer Jim Palmer averaged just 5 strikeouts per 9 innings over his career — Warren Spahn, only 4.4 K/9. That’s a lot of BABIPs. Granted, Palmer had Belanger and Brooks Robinson behind him, but Maddux and Glavine had some of their best years backed by mediocre defenders like Jeff Blauser. I don’t have Johnny Logan’s UZR on me but one can assume that Spahn wasn’t backed by Gold Glovers for the duration of his 21-year career.

Perhaps I’m being too simplistic. If so, correct me, but please leave the Keith Law-esque snideness at the door.

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14 Comments on A question for stat enthusiasts

  1. roadrunner // February 16, 2012 at 6:22 pm //

    One word: knuckleball.

  2. Jack Straw // February 16, 2012 at 6:33 pm //

    Whitey Ford is another HOFer who was not a strikeout pitcher but won, and in a big game nobody was better.

    There is a huge difference between getting wood on the ball, and getting GOOD wood on the ball. Spahn moved the ball around and changed speeds. Maddux could pitch to contact because he was usually ahead in the count and the hitter was going to have to hit Maddux’ pitch. His walk totals illustrate that.

    As for the comment that started this a couple days ago, Freddie Freeman had a very good rookie season. He will cut his strikeout total and just get better.

    Babip? Pitches for the Mets.

  3. Jack Straw // February 16, 2012 at 6:35 pm //

    And I see Gary Carter died, only 57. Loved him until he became a Met. Great baseball player, period.

  4. The way I use babip is mostly as a predictive tool. If a pitcher has a career babip of .210, then I can tell that he probably induces weak contact like a Maddux.

    However, if that pitcher has had a babip of .300 and ERA of 4.00 for the past several years before he suddenly has season with a babip of .210 and ERA of 3.00, then it suggests that he got lucky with defense behind him, may not have actually become a better pitcher, and that he will probably perform close to .300 babip again in the future.

    it’s not a measure of how effective a pitcher is at getting outs, but rather an insight into the type of pitcher and, over a large sample, a way to quantify some of the luck aspect that goes into pitching.

    hope that wasn’t too snide.

  5. I can’t speak for CB, but that was a model post, in my opinion. The key word you used is “probably.” That has always been an issue for me with a lot of other people who employ certain sabermetric measurements, namely the lack of nuance that’s often on display when it comes to calculating probabilities.

    There is, to my eyes, a far too mechanical reliance on the idea of regression (by which I mean that I see worlds like “will” and “inevitable” rather than “likely” or “unlikely to continue” far too often.) It’s a relatively small matter but it speaks to a larger set of attitudes and it tends to really rankle me.

  6. Well said Ben and Pepe.

  7. Maddux could make a guy hit a ball where he wanted him to hit it — he was known to tip outfielders about upcoming flyballs to the warning track. That’s a far greater talent than blowing three 100-mph fastballs by him. As the great Chipper has been known to say, you can eventually time and get the barrel on the nose of a jetplane. I’d actually like to see someone stand on a carrier deck and prove that one.

  8. Maddux’s lifetime ERA was 3.16. His Fielding Independent Pitching was 3.26. That is a very small difference. Maddux din’t rely on an exceptional Babip. He had excellent control and didn’t allow many home runs. In a 10 season span from 1989 to 1998 he was 1st in FIP. Even ahead of Roger Clemens!

  9. The average BABIP and k/9 was much lower in Spahn’s day. He isn’t really the extreme outlier he looks like when you compare him to the modern game (though he still beat his FIP fairly solidly).

    BABIP isn’t an absolute; the Glavine’s and Hudsons of the world have shown that they can beat their FIPs consistently over their careers, and this is because they are very good. But the principles of regression are still important, even in they apply to certain pitchers more strongly than others.

  10. rankin' rob // February 17, 2012 at 10:36 am //

    Buncha fippin’ babips.

  11. I think Logan was considered a pretty good SS for his era, but the 2Bs the Braves rolled out in the ’50s, the likes of Jack Dittmer, Danny O’Connell, a past-his-prime Red Schoendienst, an even more washed-up Bobby Avila and Chuck Cottier, weren’t much. In the early ’60s, they had a good fielding (and lousy hitting) double-play combo of Roy McMillan and Frank Bolling, but by then Spahnie was pretty much done.

  12. First, I don’t look at babip as a rival to ERA. ERA tells us what happened. What happened happened, babip doesn’t change it. What babip does is give us a clue why it happened so that we can make an educated guess as to what will happen going forward.

    Using Maddux is a great example: in 1999 he posts a 3.57 era, his highest since his rookie year in in ’87. There were probably a bunch of people after 1999 that said “here it comes, Hitters are catching up with him, Maddux has hit the wall. He’s going to be finished soon.” But when you look at his babip and see that it jumped from .262 to .324, you could see that he probably just had some bad luck. His skills hadn’t fallen off. It falls back to .274 the next season, he posts ERAs of 3.00, 3.05 and 2.62 the next three years and we knew what we all know now, Maddux was not done.

    There are certain things that affect a pitcher’s and a hitter’s BABIP. Inducing ground balls, defense and for a hitter a swing geared to hit line drives instead of fly balls and speed. Fast runners beat out infield singles. Doing this 15-20 times a year can give guys like Ichiro and Bourn babip’s significantly over the average. But the biggest factor has been and will always be luck. Just saying a guy knows how to get weak contact isnt enough. How many times do you see broken bat flares fall behind the infield. A pitcher can induce weak contact. He has no control whether or not that weak contact gets turned into an out or not. Thats out of his control. Not a part of his skills. No saber guy wants to ignore luck or separate it from the game. They just want to know when they see it so they can adequately adjust their expectations.

  13. PepeFreeUs // February 17, 2012 at 6:30 pm //

    “BABIP isn’t an absolute; the Glavine’s and Hudsons of the world have shown that they can beat their FIPs consistently over their careers, and this is because they are very good. But the principles of regression are still important, even in they apply to certain pitchers more strongly than others.” – Alex

    I can accept that, wholeheartedly. All I’ve ever looked for is an acknowledgement that there are exceptional guys who beat the odds consistently. I’ve encountered people who essentially refuse to acknowlege that in these discussions.

    In re Spahn’s defense, I’ve mever looked up his GB/FB rates but I did want to point out that in addition to the good rundown that Tokyokie provided above, he had pretty solid OF defenders in his time (Bill Bruton in center, Bad Henry in right) and an above average guy at third. I don’t see this as a cudgel to use against him, largely because he was good at using the gloves he had behind him to good effect.

  14. WillieMontanez // February 18, 2012 at 12:27 pm //

    Didn’t Babip Roberts play for the Padres and Reds?

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