A wonderful bit of baseball writing passed in front of me yesterday. It is about the ways in which advanced statistics fall short written by someone who is also very conversant in advanced statistics. Here it is. You should go read the whole thing.

What really struck me in reference to the Reds was number eight in the list of ten beliefs: Diversity is good for batting lineups.

It’s not something I’d thought about before, but it makes sense. The article puts forward that if there are hitters with different kinds of approaches sprinkled throughout the lineup, it makes it harder for the pitcher to get settled in. Last year, when they were busy being terrible at hitting, there was no diversity in the Red lineup. Mesoraco and Frazier both had solid walk rates, but generally speaking, the Reds lineup operated on a “close your eyes and swing hard” program. And really, Todd and Devin both do that too from time to time. And while that might not be the best procedure, it can work. I mean, Vladimir Guerrero happened, and he was always awesome to watch.

But Votto is totally different. Votto doesn’t swing much and he pretty much doesn’t swing at anything out of the zone. Even in the zone, he doesn’t swing unless he feels like he can really thump it. Obviously, that makes pitchers uncomfortable. But, I’d wager it makes them even more uncomfortable when they’ve just been pitching to Phillips or Cozart or whoever.

This also articulates why the Reds need to be looking for a patient hitter on the open market. It’s not just that you want a good hitter, but you want a hitter who is differently good from the rest of your lineup. Or at least maybe you do, if the article is right. And it sounds right to me.

How’s it sound to you?

22 Responses

  1. REED BERGEN

    Like someone has too much time on their hands

    • Kurt Frost

      Well yeah. It’s the offseason.

  2. droomac

    Thanks for the link, Jason. It was an interesting read and aligns with my basic sense that we can fall in love with sabermetric minutia that, while valuable, does not always provide a total picture of a player’s abilities, a situation in a game, or how likely a lineup of players is likely to be productive. In short, I think there are some very significant limits to what sabermetrics can tell us about these things and there is, indeed, something intrinsic in the minds of some folks who have been around the game that can add to what sabermetricians can tell us.

    I think of it this way. At one point in my life, I was a pitcher (I pitched through college, closing for three of my four years). I relied on two fastballs and a curve and I was often in love with my two seamer. When I did throw a curve, it was usually for show/chase when I was ahead in the count. However, in some cases, I would recognize subtle things about a batter’s swing (usually basic front foot/shoulder movement) that indicated that he would be susceptible to the curve. Can I quantify what I saw? Would I be able to, with enough sample size, demonstrate that this guy could not hit a curve? The answer is no to both questions. However, I do know that I was seldom wrong.

    In my estimation, the same thing applies to baseball analysis. The old “he wins games” and “he drives in runs” arguments are archaic and useless. However, swimming through sabermetric minutia at the complete expense of what trained eyes see in a batter’s swing or pitcher’s delivery is problematic as well.

    When it comes to Argument #8, I think there may be something to this. The “rhythm” of a starting pitcher is a real thing and we know that late inning specialists (with perhaps the exception of those guys throwing 98 and higher) often specializing in getting particular kinds of batters out. So, yes, it would be a good idea to get a high OBP/patient guy, which makes me pine for Winker’s arrival even more.

    • sultanofswaff

      Good thoughts, I agree wholeheartedly. More to your point, #2 in the article says this:

      Pitch sequencing is at the heart of the very sport of baseball, yet it is woefully understudied in current public analysis…..
      There is a whole industry now dedicated to the statistical analysis of baseball using these set-based SQL tools. But SQL does not have a recency bias clause in its syntax that you can apply to a query. Because these tools don’t handle the ordered data well, they basically ignore The. Very. Core. of the sport: the sequencing battle between pitcher and batter.
      Let me say that again: statistical analysis (that we in the public are aware of) takes the most important element of the sport, and ignores it.

      I’ve railed about this in the game recaps from time to time—that we as fans spend inordinate amounts of time hashing over lineups and pitching changes, yet no one talks about the elephant in the room because their knowledge of pitch sequencing is so limited.

    • Steve Mancuso

      I’m not sure that article is making an argument against sabermetrics. It’s pointing out that perhaps the single most important aspect of baseball – the pitch sequence and how batters anticipate it – isn’t being studied much now because of the frameworks that are used.

      That’s not an argument against statistics. It’s a call for rigorous use of statistics in additional ways. A pitcher’s instincts are of paramount importance. The goal isn’t to get inside the pitcher’s head, it’s to see if there are patterns that can be discovered and abilities quantified. Pitch sequencing can be studied, it just hasn’t been tried much.

      • droomac

        The article is certainly not an argument against the use of sabermetrics. I do believe, though, it contains and implicit argument that the limits of sabermetrics be recognized. Let’s consider this “most important element of the sport” for a moment. I contend that the sequence of events in one at bat is but one level of analysis. Let us also think of the sequence of at bats for one player in one game, the sequence of batters faced by a pitcher, the sequence of starts made by a pitcher, or even the sequence of games played by at team. Now, we talk about these things all of the time. We use old timey baseball talk like, “in this count,” “in his first at bat,” “the third time through the lineup,” and “after stops in San Francisco and LA, the Reds have to go to San Diego” and these are the things that provide a kind of literary context to the narrative of an at bat, game, month, and even season. We can quantify how a pitcher does “the third time through a lineup,” but can we really use sabermetrics to quantify how he does (or what to throw) “on a 2-1 count to a particular left-handed hitter (who has had his own “sequences”) the third time through a lineup in San Francisco after experiencing a bit of dead arm in his previous two starts?”

        My point is this, I don’t believe sabermetrics is or ever will be as precise as any “hard” science,” though I do agree that it is always useful to try to find out more. The preciseness of analysis is limited by sample size problems (how many times will the aforementioned situation occur) and the utility of analyses is often overstated. I think of the study of baseball as more of an exercise in social science, given that people are the actors being analyzed.

        I believe that pitching is not an art or a science, but a craft. When I watched Bumgarner mowing down the Royals one after another in game seven, I was watching a craftsman at work. His velocity was a bit down and there can be no doubt he was sore and tired. However, he was able to find a rhythm, read what hitters were telling him, focus to the exclusion of any extraneous noises and movements, and perform. This ability and performance, I think, cannot be quantified no matter how much we try to look for patterns. It can only be described.

  3. GomerPyle

    Articles about Votto are really not that valuable because 1) Votto is historically odd in his approach so there is no fair comparison 2) Votto will be a Red for life no matter what. Hence, just ASSUME Votto will be a part of the lineup for the next 9 years and go from there.

  4. wvredlegs

    I’d just change your headline around just a wee bit from “Another Reason the Reds Need Votto” to “Reason the Reds Need Another Votto”. Another hitter, RH or LH, that is a student of the science of hitting like Votto. A high OBP guy. Bruce doesn’t seem to be that player.. Frazier is the closest thing the Reds have.

    • BOGO

      Agree, but not for 25 mil a year for 9 more years. I is enough of those.

      By the way, Winker should be Votto-like in most ways including the poor defense.

      • lwblogger2

        Winkler is indeed the same kind of hitter. We’ll have to wait and see rather it will translate to MLB but so far, you gotta like what you see.

    • lwblogger2

      I’d love to see that. I don’t think Frazier is particularly close either. He’s a known and admitted “guess hitter” who has a decent walk rate partly because he was pitched around quite a lot.

    • Jason Linden

      That’s fair, when I wrote it, I was thinking about how important a healthy Votto is for the team.

  5. reaganspad

    Votto was very good defensively a few years ago. he got lazy in the past year (injury?) and is not moving his body in front of ground balls. I still love the way he attacks the runner on first ground ball. He plays that as well as anyone.

    Devin Mesoraco swings harder than anyone on the planet. And with that hard of swing, it is amazing that he has such good plate discipline. He will only improve with more abs against pitchers versus seeing them for the first time.

    Super Todd doesn’t necessarily swing hard like Mesoraco (like he is trying to break his bat over the pitcher) but he sure does generate awesome power with a sometimes ugly swing. Of course when the ball goes over the fence, I cheer

  6. lwblogger2

    Excellent article from Mr. Arneson. He sees a lot of things that seem to be hard for some others in the analytics community to see. He is pointing out where there needs to be more study and there are many in the analytics community who believe that sequencing requires more study. The tools are starting to become more widely available too. What Mr. Arneson is also seeing is the fact that there is always going to be some soft of a human element to the game that may never be quantified. I think as the field of analytics as it applies to baseball continues to mature, more questions will surface and those questions will be probed and studied. While analytics will be able to model outcomes better and better as the years go on, there will always be room for the people who understand that human factor. The more traditional thinkers as I like to call them. The people who have played and/or watched lots and lots and lots of baseball and at different levels. Analytics has come a very long way and the beautiful thing is that it’s still growing and evolving. Where the mistake is sometimes made, is in dismissing the human element completely as luck. While luck certainly plays a part in the game, it doesn’t explain away everything the analytics are missing. Sometimes it is a pointer to more research of more of the mystery of that human element being uncovered.

    • User1022

      You basically said what I have been saying on this site for years. Statistics certainly have come a long way in quantifying the game, but I do feel that there is such a thing as over-reliance to the point where we are beginning to miss or overlook certain facts that can only be gleaned from the human element of the game.

      It’s sort of a “can’t see the forrest for the trees” syndrome, and I think as statistics continue to reach a point of over-saturation, more and more people will step back and question if these stats that are being held as of paramount importance really are all they cracked up to be.

      • lwblogger2

        I don’t know if I’d really agree with that. What I’d say is that although analytics are very powerful, there is still a part of the game gets missed. As the metrics get better and better, that part of the game is smaller and smaller. Analytics are still extremely important in evaluation. The old “eye test” and conventional thinking however still have their place in today’s game, but analytics at this point should probably drive evaluation more than some of those more traditional thoughts.

    • VaRedsFan

      Well said LW. The mental aspect to the game is way overlooked in today’s saber-world. The ability to out think the opponent is one thing, and the skill to react on that thought is where the saber-stats take over.

      We all know Jay Bruce has the ability to hit the ball 400 feet. But, IMO, he doesn’t have the mental attributes to out think a pitcher to his advantage. He seems fine, when the pressure is low (if there is such a thing… thus decent overall number before this year). But in the higher leverage situations he seems to fold up under the pressure….Even before this past year.

      The ability to focus when the pressure is the highest, can’t and shouldn’t ever be overlooked. Take a golfer standing over a foot putt. Nothing on the line, he makes most of them. If there’s something at risk (money), you can see the tension build and the misses start to happen. Mental focus exists everywhere, some do it better than others, you just can’t quantify it.

      • lwblogger2

        I disagree about Bruce breaking down in the clutch. His career with RISP for example .250/.359/.442 is very close to his career hitting line of .251/.323/.467. The slugging is lower but the OBP is higher, both a factor of him being pitched around in those situations. Tie games: .258/.344/.476

        Then there was his final AB in the 2012 NLDS. An epic AB that ended in a long flyout. He just missed being a hero.

        I’m a Jay Bruce fan though, so using anything I say about metrics vs. traditional to attack him is probably not going to sway me.

  7. Dale Pearl

    Ted Williams will go down as one of the very best hitters of all-time and deservedly so. How many world series did he win? ZERO. He played in one and lost to the same team we are always chasing. My reason for bringing this up is that Joey Votto is just one player. Even if we had 2 Joey Votto’s it isn’t going to be enough to make for an elite offensive team. The Reds need to take a look at what St. Louis and San Francisco are doing and emulate emulate and emulate. Neither of those two teams are built around a single guy. Both teams are built on patient hitting discipline and solid pitching. Aside from Votto and Winker there are no other “patient” hitters anywhere near our organization. If you decide to bat Winker 1 and 2 or 2 and 3 it won’t matter because 3-4-5 hitters still have to have the patience to look for their pitch. I”m calling it now. If the Reds start the season with their current offensive as a carryover from 2014 they finish in 4th place. If the Reds call up Winker and have him start LF the Reds finish in 3rd place and no higher. 2B,SS,3B,RF,CF all need to learn the art of patience and until then it is a lost cause to even debate what to do next.

    • doctor

      I am curious about what stats you look at to state SF is so more of being patient hitters compared to Cincy as it cant be strike outs and BBs as the difference is less than dozen in both stats between the teams. To me, seems more like SF just has better hitters overall and more depth in lineup.

      St Louis, for all their ability not to K and have league average walks, still scored only 24 more runs than Cincy. Is it just the eye test that makes them look better? which I can get ok with.

      • HELLSBELLS

        I wonder if baseball stats are too focused on “averages” in other words the mean of samples. Given my limited knowledge, there should be a way to look more at the ranges of stats. Bruce for example has a huge range of performance (large standard deviation).

        Ultimately, the variablity is not able to be fully accounted. Example, the Red Sox and GIants have alternated between WS champs and nearly last place multiple times recently.

  8. Steve Schoenbaechler

    Good idea. However, I believe the Reds are going to look at the actual production first. For, a player could still be a patient hitter. But, they could still also be a poor hitter.