Nationals Baseball: Fun with endpoints

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Fun with endpoints

Why are people voting for Mike Trout for MVP?

Some jerkface rookie spent Sept 7th to the 23rd hitting a measley .241 / .313 / .431. He watched his team get swept by the team they were fighting with for playoff position and lose 3 games in the standings at a crucial time of year. You want us to celebrate him?  The guy had already tanked coming out of the All-Star break hitting .195 / .266 / .314 for over 40 games. Under .200 for 42 games! Four homers and only 12 RBI in a month and a half of baseball? Hell, even his vaunted speed wasn't much of a factor. The kid only stole 3 bases during that stretch and got caught twice. He was KILLING his team.

Ok now back to the opening question. People are voting for Mike Trout because... shhh now... you see he had a great season from the start. Since the Angels brought him up they've gone... hmmm? What do you mean I already addressed the opening question?  No no no. You misunderstood. I segued. That 2nd paragraph was all about Bryce Harper.

Yep. Bryce Harper, he who carves his bats from fallen branches of the Norse World Tree Yggdrasil, did those things I spoke of. It's funny right? Because all you've heard about him recently is that he's the best thing since bread (not sliced bread, bread bread) carrying the team single-handedly into the playoffs while lesser talents have withered under the glare of September spotlights. In reality though, all that talk about him being the best player in the league that's just a trick, same as the one that I pulled, in making Bryce look like the worse thing since... I don't know... rice cakes.

You might have noticed that when Boz (or anyone) is talking about Bryce's awesome finish to the season that they say "since August 29th" or "in the past 5 weeks" (basically the same thing). Why? Because on August 29th Bryce went 2-5 with 2 homers. The next game he'd go 2-5 again with another homer and all in all it was a hot 8-18 stretch with 3 homers a double and 8 RBI over 4 games. Miss those games and Bryce's recent weeks are a tad less impressive.

There's no harm in including them though.  At this point all they are trying to do is capture how well Bryce is hitting since he got out of his funk. August 29th is inarguably when he broke out. End of story... except it isn't. The problem is they then equate it with something bigger, like the pennant race. They want you to believe that Bryce is leading the team through the most important games of the year. (We'll ignore the truth that the games in May count as much as the games in September) The "pennant race" is a nebulous time frame. Did it really only start on the 29th of August? Why not September 1st, or Labor Day? Why not post All-Star break?  Of course the reason is obvious - the pennant race needs to fit when Bryce Harper was hot.

I did the opposite. I molded the important time frame to be Sept 7th through the 23rd, which included the Braves sweep, because Bryce wasn't hitting well then. It's the classic mistake of fitting the data to your assumptions rather than making an assumption and seeing what the data tells you.

In the interest of full disclosure

July13th - August 28th : .195 / .266 / .314
August 29th - Sept 6th : .400 / .462 / .943
Sept 7th - Sept 23rd :  .241 / .313 / .431
Sept 24th - Sept 29th : .500 / .538 / .917

So how should you look at game by game stats? Well, first make your assumption. If you think Bryce has hit well during the pennant race, define the time frame first, without looking at his stats. Once that is done look at his stats, but don't make it a cursory glance. A .350 average with 5 homers and 15 RBI over 13 games can be accomplished with a big hit in every game or it can be one phenomenal series followed by a complete tanking. Those two scenarios mean different things and would inspire different interpretations of how a player is doing.

What do I want to say about Bryce? Well I think we were worried during that long stretch after the All-Star break that he had fallen into a funk that he couldn't get out of. It's apparent now that's not the case. He can still break out for periods of time, 5,6,7 games, with stats that are as good as anybody can produce. He also did this against some good teams and while it was mostly against bad pitchers (which is to be expected if you look at good stretches for ANY player) he did hit against some playoff quality starters. I'd take that to mean he could possibly win you a post season series. That's all you can ask of any star player.


Anonymous said...

Don't get too worked up about Boz's use of stats. He's perfected this "fun with endpoints" into an art form, always finding the right way to cut stats so that they support whatever point he's pushing.

Harper said...

Anon - I know what Boz is doing and don't even really mind it because I know he's crafting a story, but other people don't see it as that. They read, believe, retweet. I want more people to think critically. Maybe I reach someone, maybe I don't. But I think it's worth pointing these things out.

BlueLoneWolf said...

That's why there are three kinds of lies: Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics. You can take any set of numbers over any specific frame of time and claim a trend, but that's only until the data starts reading something else. Bryce Harper should probably win NL Rookie of the Year because in the world of 'What have you done lately?' and 'Are you in the Playoffs?' of baseball awards, he's got both checkboxes ticked. But does that mean that there weren't months were we all groaned when Bryce was up at the plate because we knew he was going to strike out on a curveball or slider down and away? Yes. I's all a matter of when and where you're talking about to focus on.

Donald said...

I think Bryce is almost a lock to win ROY at this point, despite the slump. The selective use of statistics helps -- in this case it's his winning of rookie of the month of September, which just happens to single out a period in which he was hot -- but so be it. I think he deserves to win it too, not just due to a randomly selected stretch of good hitting. He's had a fundamental impact on this team in a critical way. Imagine this season if he were still in Syracuse and Ankiel still patroling CF.

As for manager of the year, I read an article, I think at bleacherreport, that said Fredi Gonzalez was the front runner for how he 'managed' Chipper Jones. What a load of junk. The Nats beat out the Braves when almost everyone expected their positions to be reversed and Davey was 'managing' one of the youngest teams in the league. What's easier -- managing rookies or an established, low-maintenance veteran. I think Davey's a near lock to win this award too.

Josh Aebischer said...

BlueLoneWolf hit on exactly what I saw as the problem with Bryce. Living in Braves country, time and time again people would say "How about that Bryce Harper?" when they weren't saying "Gonna catch your damn Gnats". And it frustrated me to no end that people focus on Bryce but don't see the gazillion times he struck out on curves down and away. He's talented to be sure, but this Nats team is much more than just Bryce.

Harper said...

BLW - Agree with everything but the first sentence. As a statistician I hate that phrase. It's like saying "There are three kinds of lies : Lies, Damned Lies, and Sentences."

Donald - ROY should be his. Miley is right there though, but I can't imagine him overcoming the Bryce buzz machine with out solidly better stats.

bleacher report = nonsense. Davey is a lock unless they decide Baker should get sympathy votes.

Josh - if you don't like that about the media you are not going to be happy with the next 6 years.

ameero2 said...

Hey Harper, I just wanted to say that ever since I discovered your blog early in the season I've enjoyed it a lot.

Also I'm not sure if you're a nationals fan or not (doesn't matter), but if you are then you're without question the most objective one around, its actually kind of impressive.

Anonymous said...

Let me take a country detour around the stats and get everybody prepped for the media whirlwind that is coming... Perhaps Harper can give us a lead up blog tomorrow?

The next season highlight I am looking forward to is the release of the 25 man playoff roster. Should Strasburg be on it? And, if he is, will we see him in action? I say yes and yes - if Nats face an elimination game. He does have 20 or so more innings to reach the high cap and has had a nice, probably planned by Rizzo but never admitted to, layoff.

Now back to your regularly scheduled blog post.


Kenny B. said...

@ Anonymous: Mark my words: The only way you see Strasburg in the playoffs is in the dugout.

Otherwise, perhaps the best think about Bryce is the energy he generates among fans. The media buzz is a little annoying. But if the energetic, competitive young rookie puts butts in seats at Nats Park in the dog days, then he helps his team on some level. It shows the owner that putting up the money for exciting players that fans want to see is a great way to run a team.

Donald said...

I don't think Strasburg makes the 25 man either. The only way he makes it is if they actually plan on using him as a pitcher. As well as he hits, I don't think they'd ever carry him for his bat since he'd be replacing a comparable or better hitter that could also field and run. As cool as it might be to see him come in late in a game, I think there's a perception about the closer role that they wouldn't experiment with that -- particularly given how well Storen is doing and the 0 experience Strasburg has out of the pen. I don't see them using him in middle relief either, maybe just because it would be anti-climatic. There's a chance he could get a start in a must win game if the option is Detwiler or Jackson, but it seems unlikely they'd go from no work to 5 or more innings after being shut down for so long.

Still, imagine the scene -- it's into extra innings of game 7 and the Nats have already used Storen and Clippard. The star hitter for whoever we're playing is due up in the next half inning. The camera pans to the bullpen to see Strasburg pulling off his jacket and grabbing a mitt...

Donald said...

I have a question about stats, if anyone on here knows. In today's game, Zimmerman walked and Harper came in to pinch run for him. Morse homered. Does Harper get credit for a run scored? I think he does, though it seems a bit unfortunate for Zimmerman, no?

Froggy said...

Yep, Harper summed up Harper all right. Except for one thing, there is a reason why you sum up a player by the body of his work. Bryce Harper's work has been over the last six months not from Aug X to Sep Y. So, pointing out this stretch here or that stretch there as being somehow more indicative of the real Bryce and his value is shit.

Bryce Harper has made great adjustments in ways the stats don't always reflect. It's called 'a spark' and there are no decimal points for that.

Bryce is RoY.

BlueLoneWolf said...


My apologies if I sounded insulting, but that is the quote. Statistics are statistics; it's just a matter of how you frame them and how you gather them and represent them is what matters- my history professor had a whole discussion with us about the misuse of statistics and percentages to frame arguments. The numbers themselves are the numbers, but the framing, as this article says, is what matters. Again, my apologies if I insulted you.

Harper said...

BLW - no harm, didn't think anything by it