The Human Element


Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology.

We have the capability to make the world’s first bionic umpire. K-Zone will be that umpire. Better than he was before. Better… stronger… faster… more accurate‑er.

And then we will ignore him. Because The Human Element™


Leaving Guys On and Scoring

When many televised ballgames go to or return from a commercial break, they will flash up each team’s runs, hits, and errors, but sometimes they’ll throw in a bonus number: The number of runners each team has left on base. The inclusion of that number seems to indicate that stranded runners are an important aspect of the game. But is this actually true?

It does not come up often—announcers will bemoan a team leaving the bases loaded—but it seems that nobody talks about leaving guys on being bad because it is so obvious that failing to knock in runners will cost their team runs. In other words, a high number of runners left on will result in fewer guys crossing the plate. Analysts don’t tout teams for leaving another ten guys on tonight!

Here’s the thing: If we look at every MLB game from 2010-2014, we find that as the number of runners left on increases, so does the number of runs scored. Exactly the opposite of what everyone thinks!

Left on Base, 2010-14

Our conventional thinking is as if each team has a finite number of base runners each night, and the job is to knock them home. This is obviously not the case. A pitcher prevents a team from scoring runs by preventing runners from getting on base. From this perspective, the two clearly go hand-in-hand. There is a snowball effect at work; the more guys who get on base, the more are going to score.

But the number of runs scored comes down to the timing of the hits, not just the number of hits. It is obviously not the goal to leave more guys on base, it is the other way around. The teams who score runs are putting more guys on base and so they are stranded when the timely hit is not there, but at least they gave themselves a chance to hit with runners on base.

So don’t be too concerned the next time your team leaves a dozen guys on; not that you will necessarily be thrilled, but more baserunners is better than less.

Earlier related post

In Which Martin Hart and Rust Cole of True Detectives Announce A Baseball Game

Martin Hart: Welcome back folks, we’re in the 18th inning of a 2-2 marathon between the Houston Astros and the Toronto Blue Jays. Glad you are still hanging in there. I’m Martin Hart, joined by my partner Rust Cole. Looks like the Jays are going to bring in righty Brandon Morrow to face Grossman, Altuve, and the DH Carter here in the top of the frame.

Rust Cole: Well, some might call me a pessimist, but Robbie Grossman does not look like a good ballplayer.

MH: *under his breath* Oh no. *clears throat* Now now, he is still young at 24 and still improving.

RC: Perhaps, but tonight he’s oh for six and he was picked off at first base when the Astros were threatening a man on third in the 12th inning. The newspapers are going to be tough on him for that, and a locker room is very, very tough on guys who get picked off. He should probably kill himself.

MH: Not sure he has to go that far, Rust, Houston has had many chances to break this tie it would be a bit harsh to put the whole thing on Grossman, who will take the first pitch of this at-bat for a ball, low and away. I mean, there is no real need to dwell on that play in particular is there?

RC: Someone once told me that time is flat circle. Every play is going to happen over and over and over again, and he’s going to get picked off of first base again and again and again. Forever.

MH: Grossman with a sharp ground ball, but it’s right at the shortstop Reyes who throws on to Lind for the out at first. That’ll bring in second baseman Jose Altuve. He is 3-for-4 tonight with a double, he scored one of Houston’s runs after swiping second base in the 3rd. In fact, Altuve is only a few stolen bases away from a bonus.

RC: If a ballplayer needs a promise of a million dollar bonus to perform to the best of his abilities, then that person, Marty, is a piece of shit. Kind of like this whole Astros team, for example.

MH: When I talked to Houston manager Bo Porter before tonight’s game, he was pretty optimistic about the club moving forward. He does not think they will be a poor team forever, regardless of flat diamonds and whatnot.

RC: Have to say I disagree on that one. I think this Astros team is a tragic misstep in human history. Baseball has created a team separate from itself. It is a team that should not exist. They labor under the illusion that they are a real team, when in fact they are nothing.

MH: I’m not so sure abou—

RC: The honorable thing for them is to deny their programming. Stop hitting. Jog around the bases until extinction. A final few innings of ballplayers opting out of a raw deal… That is what I mean when I’m talking about time and death and futility.

MH: Oh, yes, if you weren’t with us in the 15th inning you missed a doozie, folks.

RC: Eight straight hours of watching the Astros and Blue Jays and these are the things you think of, Marty.

MH: I guess I can start to see your point there, Rust. Altuve fouls one back to the backstop. Do you ever wonder if you’re a bad analyst?

RC: No, I don’t Marty. The world needs bad announcers.

Introducing Salary+

A few days ago, we found that that the relationship between wins and salary among MLB teams in 2014 was not that strong. Today we’re going to see if that was a fluke or the norm.

Salaries Over the Years

Graphs get bigger with one click!

Because the average team salary has increased by about $40 million over the past decade (and $80 million over the last two), we can’t compare wins to money spent straight up. To address this I have created Salary+, making the league-average salary for each season is 100. If you’re familiar with stats like OPS+ and ERA- you probably get it, skip the next paragraph. If not:

Like salary, most stats change over time. The average hitter in 2000 had a .345 OBP, but the average hitter in 1968 had a .299 OBP. In order to better compare players from those years, we take the player’s OBP, divide it by the league average for that season, and multiply it by 100. So if your OBP+ is 100 you were an average hitter for that year. If you’re above 100 you were above average, if you are below 100, below average. That goes for any stat you see a + after. Conversely we have ERA- because the lower the better, so an ERA- of 100 is average, but 60 is awesome.

Salary+ keeps things proportional, so the R-squared value is the same for each season whether you use the actual dollar value or the Salary+ value. In 2014, the R-squared for salary compared to wins was 0.087, which is not all that strong of a relationship. If we expand our pool back to 1988 (that’s all USA Today had in its database), that gives us 724 team seasons and an R-squared of 0.163. So this season was below average, but clearly there is more to a winning team than spending a lot of money. I left out the 1994 and 1995 as they were shortened due to the lockout.

Salaries vs Wins, R-sqared

I wanted to see how much the relationship fluctuated from season-to-season, so I found the R-squared of each season and plotted them out. In the early 1990s there was virtually no relationship, but it rose sharply toward the end of the decade.

Yearly Salary R-squared

Part of that I would credit to the increasing range of salaries, which doubled from 1992, when the R-squared was at its lowest, to 1999, when it was at its peak. This would seem to lend credence to the thinking that the Yankees (who won the AL from 1998- 2001) bought their way to the top. Since 1988 the Yanks’ R-squared for salary and wins has been stronger than the League-average at .295.

Over the past decade though, the relationship between salary and wins has again been on the decline. Teams with smaller budgets have been able to compete by minimizing their cost per win. Oakland has managed to average 88 wins on an average Salary+ of 66 since hiring Billy Beane. Still, in 2014, five playoff teams in 2014 came from the League’s top third, three from the middle, and two from the bottom. Spending money helps, but it does not guarantee anything: Four of the five highest salaries did not make the playoffs in 2014.

While we’re at it, here are a few more graphs using Salary+. Everyone knows the Yankees like to spend a lot of money, but I never realized it was this much.

Highest Salary+ Teams

And in the interest of symmetry, here are the lowest spenders.

Lowest Salary+ Teams