Being a baseball manager is rather exciting compared to what most other 70-year olds get to spend their afternoons doing, but it’s still rather boring. There just isn’t that much to do.
In basketball you can call a timeout and scream at the bunch of seven-footers. You have your own little Etch-A-Sketch pad. You can substitute all you want. All you want. Imagine LaRussa under such circumstances.
In football you get to pick one of 200 plays that you drew up, minute after minute, all while simultaneously communicating with NASA satellites and avoiding streams of 350 lb bodies rushing to and away from the field. People really shouldn’t weigh 350 pounds.
And I am certain that there are various forms of entertainment that hockey coaches can engage in, and I would gladly mention them if I cared about the sport enough to know anything about it.
But as a baseball manager, you are left out of all the fun. First, you are called a manager and not a coach for a reason. You can not outsmart the other guy by secretly preparing a new play. You can’t teach a killer 3-2 zone. You don’t really teach or coach anything at all. And worst of all, even when the games start, well, there still isn’t much to do. And if you look at the following data, you’ll see that they have to wait for hours for what limited fun they might have.
And yet some people expect the Oakland Athletics to score runs. I mean, they really do – and they have the numbers for it.
Most of you are probably familiar with the concept of run expectancy. It is a fancy expression telling us how many runs scored on average between a certain baserunners/outs situation and the end of that particular inning. That number tells us what we should expect, or better said, it tells us what other teams did when facing a similar situation in the past.
It is helpful, as there are only 24 different situations in baseball and roughly 200,000 plate appearances every year. Structuring the data and being able to analyze so many events helps us try to answer some of the very basic questions about strategy in baseball. Is it helpful to bunt that runner over from second base? Walk that slugger with the first base open? It also gives some indications why we lately saw the shift from evaluating on-base and slugging as being equally worthy (OPS) to accepting on-base to be more important (wOBA).
Let’s look at them graphs.
PxP stands for both play-by-play and pitch-by-pitch, although if judged by how procrastinatingly* slow I go about it, the best description is probably peu à peu.
* I think I just made up a word.
Nowadays, baseball data is easily available, freely and abundantly. You want FIP, wOBA or WAR? You can get it, often in more than one flavor. Useful additives included, like adjustments for leagues and parks, baselines and weighted factors. While the precision and the functionality of said stats continue to rise, their complexity often only allows for acceptance, not for in-depth understanding of how they function.