Wednesday, June 28, 2006


After reading The Stats Geek's article yesterday, I realize that I need to add The Fielding Bible to my reading list this summer. Brian's article offers an entirely different explanation for the Pirates' underachievement than the Wall Street Journal article I cited here. Both explanations are persuasive when looked at separately, but both can't be correct.

What is it that we are looking at here? Is it poor fielding, evidenced by the team's poor defensive efficiency rating? But defensive efficiency rating is neutral with respect to the phenomenon discussed in the Journal article--the fact that sometimes, randomly negative events, because they are random, don't get distributed equitably and end up affecting some teams and some players disproportionately. If you accept that life is sometimes not fair, then that unfairness could show up in defensive efficiency ratings and represent not bad fielding, but bad fortune.

I understand that this is an emotionally unsatisfying argument--just look at the comments thread on the original post. But if you're going to base decisions on performance, it's important to know whether the performance you're looking at is genuinely bad or is the result of a disproportionate number of bad breaks. And from what I've seen, fielding stats are still too imprecise to allow you to answer that question with any certainty.

As with any of these kinds of questions, there's always a danger in drawing conclusions from a sample size that is too small. Last year at this time, everyone was raving about the success of the surprise team of the year, the Washington Nationals, in one-run games. Today, I can't even remember the name of the closer who was being credited for the phenomenon. As things often do, they evened out over the course of the year, and we now remember the 2005 Nationals as an unsuccessful team.


Anonymous bucdaddy said...

During the few briefs moments I was able to look at the game last night, I saw the potential DP ball that got past Jack Wilson in the first inning. It seemed clear to me that Jack got screened on the ball by the runner from second, and that by the time he could pick it up again it was past him, or at least too late for him to react. If you see what happens on the field in terms of good and bad luck, then yeah, I'd probably agree with you that it seemed an unlucky play. But in general I don't think I buy the notion of good luck/bad luck. Most of what appears to be bad luck for the Pirates would disappear if their pitchers would throw 96 mph strikes at the knees and on the corner all the time.

9:57 AM  

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