Sunday, March 16, 2008

In Which Mr. Boswell Discovers Baseball Reference

Boz writes a fun little column using Baseball Reference's similarity scores to compare today's players to old guys who are probably dead.

The team indicates that they futz around with similarities from time to time.
Last winter, Manager Manny Acta consulted with a stat-fanatic friend who suggested that inconsistent starter Joel Hanrahan should be switched to the bullpen because other power pitchers with similar minor league statistical progressions had made the switch. Last week, Hanrahan struck out eight Braves in three innings. "He was throwing 95 to 98 [mph] and made some good hitters look real stupid," Bowden said. "It's too early to tell with Joel. But when you find career parallels, pay attention."

The key is that the BBRef similarity scores are toys more than hardcore examples of analysis. The big flaw is evident:
In the case of the Nats, some of the answers are shocking. It's no surprise that Zimmerman's offensive numbers after two seasons are virtually identical to hitters such as Cal Ripken, Ron Santo, Eric Chavez and Greg Luzinski. However, who would think Pe¿a's career, through age 25, compared plausibly with Albert Belle, Willie Stargell, George Bell and Jermaine Dye?

These sim scores don't adjust for era. Given the offensive explosion of the last 10-15 years, today's above-average player is going to look like a great player from the '60s.

I love Zimmerman, but he's not Ron Santo -- who had the misfortune of starting his career in the low-scoring '60s. Same thing with Lopez. Further in the column, Boz compares him to Bobby Grich, a border-line Hall-of-Famer. Nope!

About a week ago, I looked at the similar players from Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projections. Those are adjusted for era so that a great player in the 60s is the same as a great player in the 90s.

There, Ryan Zimmerman is compared to players like David Wright and.... Ron Santo.... So forget what I said!


  • On another note-will this be the year that the team gives up on John Patterson? We don't need Mark Prior, we've got our very own version right here.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3/17/2008 12:39 AM  

  • Once we have guys like Carlos Zambrano and Rich Hill to fill Patterson's shoes, then we can give up on him.

    Otherwise, I'll take a not-living-up-to-his-potential John Patterson over Mike Bacsik

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3/17/2008 1:05 AM  

  • Patterson's not Prior. You have to have talent in order to lose it and I'm doubtful that Patterson ever had the talent that Prior did. Prior was bona fide gold. I'm leaning towards Patterson's good year being a fluke. Also, to be fair, Patterson never had Dusty Baker pitching him until his arm fell off--he just fell apart on his own.

    With regard to Bos's column, I lol'ed too, although looking at things from the bright side, at least Boswell actually looked at in itself is an achievement and should be lauded. He probably didn't have anyone there to let him know that the similarity scores didn't compare across time, so even his mistake is probably something to applaud--at least he's making an effort to understand those terrible and complex interwebz (or as Dubya would say, the internets). Plus, he focused on the Nats and didn't write about the O's or about baseball in general or about any number of non-baseball related things. In fact, this is his 2nd Nats column in as many weeks I think.

    Give the man the credit he deserves. Let's just break down what he's doing for a second--he's:

    1)Doing the job he should have been doing for years now by writing about the Nats.
    2)He's not doing something abundantly stupid like complaining about Nick Johnson's OBP clogging up the bases.
    3)He's trying to embrace what is for him, a relatively new technology and sports related tool.
    4)He's writing about the Nats, for like the second week in a row, did I mention he's actually writing about the Nats?
    5)He's trying something vaguely statistical by using similarity scores, and trying to use it to relate to the average Joe crowd, even though he gets it slightly wrong.

    This is almost majority whip territory for Boswell considering what we usually get out of him and Post coverage in general.

    By Blogger Michael Taylor, at 3/17/2008 1:11 AM  

  • Jesus Flores. And Boz gets paid for this?

    By Blogger Trapper John, at 3/17/2008 8:49 AM  

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