Our understanding of what it takes to win baseball games has undergone swift change in the past decade. Moneyball (2003) was a book about market inefficiency where the central insight was simple – the under-appreciated importance of walks in run creation. Analysts like Bill James challenged front offices and fans to rethink much of what we knew about winning games on a wide range of topics.

More recently, data collection in baseball has skyrocketed. The sport has moved from radar guns, to PITCHf/x (2008) and then Statcast (2015) — technologies now installed in every major league park. MLB collects and turns the data over to each organization. What a club does with that gusher of raw information depends on the priority it places on looking for small advantages from new sources.

Teams hoping to capitalize on the newfound wealth of information are investing in data science experts who can create algorithms to figure out what’s important and make sense of it. That’s data architecture and it’s like building the Matrix compared to publishing Moneyball.

But some people conflate modern baseball strategy with advanced statistics. Sabermetrics is part of the equation, but not nearly all of it. It doesn’t take an advanced statistic to prove that evaluating hitters by RBI and pitchers by Wins isn’t smart. What teaches that lesson is the concept that we should isolate individual contributions to run scoring and prevention. Statistics don’t get much older or simpler than strikeouts and walks. It turns out, that as individual measures go, K and BB are great stats to predict a pitcher’s success. For a batter, it’s how hard and far he hits it plus the skill of taking a walk.

So modern thinking about baseball is part conceptual and part statistical.

The good news is the Reds have begun to meet the structural challenge of Big Data.

Ownership has put in place a young, data-oriented general manager to run the team beginning in 2017. You have to think as the 2016 season progresses, that Dick Williams’ influence will grow in relation to Walt Jocketty’s. The assistant GMs are now younger, analytics-oriented people like Sam Grossman, not Bill Bavasi or Kevin Towers. The front office has expanded the analytics department by adding two new staff members, Michael Schatz and Pete Melgren.

The Reds have created a new position, Director of Sports Science, to bring the organization up-to-date with the latest research on injury prevention. They promoted Charles Leddon, who worked as a trainer with the Pensacola Blue Wahoos affiliate to that post. Leddon has also been a Sports Medicine Research Associate at the Andrews (yes, that Dr. Andrews) Research and Education Foundation, where he oversees the biomechanics lab and manages the research initiatives for the physicians of the Andrews Institute. Leddon has a Ph.D. in sports medicine from Oregon State University.

These hirings are enormously positive steps. Dick Williams has spoken in welcome and unambiguous ways about the front office’s commitment to taking analytics seriously. The Reds, from Williams on down, have started talking the talk. And from a front office personnel standpoint, they’re backing it up.

But a new article from Jayson Stark (ESPN) yesterday reminds us just how far the Reds still have to go.

For the past few years, the Pittsburgh Pirates, led by their own young general manager Neal Huntington, have shown the way forward in adopting smart baseball practices.

First, it was their greater use of defensive shifts. Then, acquisition of catchers skilled at pitch framing. Next, the development of a pitching staff that emphasized producing ground balls. Those moves are examples of what passes now as modern baseball strategy. The Pirates, known as a data-heavy, forward-thinking organization, were among the first to get it.

The Pirates don’t stop with collecting and sorting data. They brainstorm for what’s next and get ahead based on doing what the data shows will work.

Over the past few seasons, the Pirates have put their limited free agent money where their state-of-the-art thinking has led them. It began with signing catcher Russell Martin, a pitch-framing wizard. They inked A.J. Burnett when his FIP and xFIP told a different story than his ERA. They picked up Francisco Liriano off of scrapheap based on what they saw in his strikeout numbers.

Leading-edge thinking has altered the way manager Clint Hurdle prepares for games and conducts strategy. For example, the Pirates no longer provide Hurdle data on hitter-pitcher histories, because studies have proven those small samples are unreliable predictors of the future. The Pirates get that. Instead, they prepare for match-ups by mapping how a hitter has performed against 15 pitchers similar to the one he’s facing that day, based on handedness, velocity and pitch types.

Next on the Pirates’ agenda: the batting order. Stark lays out what the Pirates are thinking — and doing — in the context of their overall process:

You may have heard this week that the Pittsburgh Pirates are thinking about moving Andrew McCutchen up to the No. 2 hole in their lineup. OK, that’s totally true. Nevertheless, it isn’t totally accurate.

Because what the Pirates are really thinking about is, well, everything.

If you just focus on this one maneuver, you’re missing something. Something larger. Something landscape-changing. Something that opens a window into what the Pirates have become here in the 21stcentury.

To say they are now one of the sports world’s great think tanks doesn’t quite capture it. What they’ve actually become is one of the sports world’s great re-think tanks.

“In our constant evaluating, we don’t just say, ‘This is the way it’s always been done,’” said their free-thinking manager, Clint Hurdle. “Tradition can be a wonderful thing. But it can be a vision-killer.”

Batting orders may not matter much. But every inch, every rotation of the ball, every mile per hour off the bat can make a difference in winning a game. Successful teams don’t ignore any edge they can gain.

Something else. This off-season, the Pirates signed veteran free agent John Jaso, a former catcher and designated hitter, to play first base.

And to bat first.

That surely seems odd to Reds fans, who have become conditioned in recent years to see their club value speed to the exclusion of all other qualities in a lead-off hitter. In seven seasons, John Jaso has stolen a total of 15 bases. Billy Hamilton could do that in a month. If he got on base.

Here’s the Pirates reasoning on signing Jaso: In more than 500 plate appearances in the lead-off spot, he has an OBP of .380 while slugging .487.

It’s that kind of creative and modern thinking — and action — that has landed the Pirates in the post-season three consecutive years. They won 98 games in 2015.

Hurdle’s decision to move Andrew McCutchen up in the lineup is based on the theory that the #2 hitter has roughly 20 more at bats than the #3 hitter over the course of a season, with about as many important ones. Hurdle sold McCutchen on the idea by showing him how often a #3 hitter bats with no one on base. McCutchen hit 158 times last year (second in baseball) with the bases empty.

That brings us back to the hometown team.

Anyone who has watched the Reds the past few years knows the Reds face a similar predicament with Joey Votto. How many times has the Reds best hitter batted with no one on base, usually with two outs? That number was 138 plate appearances just last year, ninth highest in baseball. Bryan Price has already announced that Votto will bat third again this year. And, by the way, Price uses individual batter-pitcher histories all the time.

When it comes to smart baseball, there’s talking the talk and acquiring the walk, so to speak.

Even with the data buttoned down by new staff members, decision makers have to interpret it correctly in context in relation to the big picture. Tactics vs. strategy. A major part of the strategic environment is the decline in run scoring. Even a cursory glance around the major leagues indicates that clubs are emphasizing speed and defense. But it’s vital to understand why that’s happening. They’re doing it because speed and defense are what’s out there, a byproduct of the relative scarcity of power hitting.

That doesn’t mean power is less important. Just the opposite. Scarcity makes power hitting even more valuable to develop or acquire. Meanwhile, speed and defense are becoming easier to find.

Jose Peraza may turn out be be a solid major league infielder with plus speed and defense. But should the Reds have squandered their most valuable trade chips to focus on those qualities? The scouting report on Peraza says no power and few walks.

Even if you squint real hard, it’s difficult to imagine the Reds front office signing a former catcher who isn’t speedy to hit lead-off. But that’s the kind of insight and willingness to act on it they need. It’s a shame they didn’t or couldn’t adopt that kind of thinking this year, because it’s the right time. The rebuild-reboot-recycle gives them, in the words of Mike Maffie, infinite cover.

Yet, the Reds think and act like speed and defense are The Future of Baseball.

When, really, they’re just the future of baseball.

The Pittsburgh Pirates continue to show it’s not only data collection that matters, although that’s an essential component. It’s understanding what that data tells you about baseball, putting it in context and then making it central in the club’s decision making. Pittsburgh proves it doesn’t take a lot of money to be smart and successful. It’s pretty inexpensive to change the batting order or stop using unreliable match-up numbers.

Meanwhile, John Jaso has drawn six walks in 24 plate appearances this spring. Billy Hamilton is yet to take his first. Jaso walked and scored on a home run by McCutchen (batting second) yesterday.

Overall, there is ample reason to be encouraged about the direction the Cincinnati Reds will take when the transition to new leadership is complete. But that fresh, youthful front office will face its own learning curve, made steeper by the ownership’s in-group bias. The hard reality is, you can hire as many number crunchers as you want. If top-level decision makers don’t value the output or if they misread the strategic context, all the analytics in the world won’t do a byte of good.

About The Author

Steve grew up in Cincinnati a die-hard fan of Sparky's Big Red Machine. After 25 years living outside of Ohio, mostly in Ann Arbor, he returned to the Queen City in 2004. Contemporary Reds thrills: witnessing Jay Bruce's 2010 homer and Homer Bailey's 2013 no-hitter in person. The only place to find Steve's thoughts of more than 280 characters about the Reds is Redleg Nation, although you can follow his tweets @spmancuso.

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87 Responses

  1. WVRedlegs

    I mentioned this in Nick Kirby’s CI column about Pittsburgh, that McCutcheon (age 30 season this year) is signed through the 2017 with a team option for 2018. Does Pittsburgh’s front office dole out a huge contract extension on McCutcheon for his age 33 season and beyond?? What they do with McCutcheon will tell alot about where Pittsburgh is heading. Marte, Polanco, and Garrett Cole all will be near free agency when McCutcheon’s contract expires.
    What will the Pirates do with McCutcheon? Let him go to free agency? Trade him before his contract is up to garner lots of prospects? What will they do?

    • Patrick Jeter

      It will certainly be interesting. My bet is they don’t re-sign him, a la Pujols.

      • lwblogger2

        Yes, I’d be surprised if the signed him unless it was at a substantial discount.

      • WVRedlegs

        McCutcheon already has given the Pirates a team friendly contract. He is on a Jay Bruce-like contract now. But the Pirates have two outstanding OF prospects who’ll both start out at AA this year in 21 year old Austin Meadows and 22 year old Harold Ramirez.
        I don’t think the Pirates just let McCutcheon walk at the end of his contract like St. Louis did with Pujols. A .400+ OBP player is hard to let go of, especially for a small market team. They might add 3-4 years on for an extension, but not more than that. Or they trade him for a haul of prospects.

      • Chuck Schick

        Your points are good, but unless the Pirates offer an extension at
        “Market Value” I don’t see him being willing. Also, the Players Union is going to ” encourage” him to test the market.

        Pirates are in a tough spot. If they wait until next year to trade him….as great as he is….the return is likely modest since it’s a 1 year rental.

      • lwblogger2

        Mostly replying to Chuck here. Keep in mind that they’d be trading a year of McCutcheon and a draft pick (assuming the CBA still allows for some sort of compensation for losing a top free-agent even if there is no more QO system).

      • Patrick Jeter

        A 3-yr extension for McCutchen would look something like 3/$120M I bet. Chances are he’ll be looking to get a nice 6/$200 sort of deal. After all, he’ll likely only have 1 short at a huge FA deal. Unless the Pirates pony up, I don’t see any scenario where he stays in Pittsburgh.

  2. Chuck Schick

    Last year, many wanted the Reds to be more analytically inclined….then criticized them when they didn’t evaluate players the exact same way as Baseball America. I’m encouraged that despite an avalanche of criticism, ownership hasn’t panicked.

    Retaining Price was a good sign…. as firing him would fire up the fan base, but not actually improve the team’s fortune in any major way. I’m happy they didn’t sign any Free Agents for PR purposes. I was terrified that Dexter Fowler would be the Star of Reds Fest and the missing piece to that all elusive 74th win.

    They have a plan….maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t….but at least they’re trying to do something.

  3. sultanofswaff

    Excellent piece Steve! As much as I’d like to think otherwise, but Price seems like the tip of the spear when it comes to not implementing sound strategy…….that he is generally marching lockstep with the higher ups who are comfortable with Hamilton at leadoff and Phillips in the middle of the order. I get that it’s not everything, but it’s not nothing either. The totality of these little things really add up.

    • sixpacktwo

      Management has seen like six years of Hamilton switch hitting and STILL will not let him change. I believe that is a failure of management, Price?

  4. Patrick Jeter

    Good stuff, Steve. Enjoyed the read. Of particular interest to me was that the Pirates use other similar pitchers when thinking about batter-pitcher matchup data. Makes decent sense. A 95 MPH fastball from one lefty is likely to exhibit similar characteristics to a 95 MPH fastball from another lefty. What a concept!

    The saddest part about batting Votto 3rd is the complete lack of understanding shown by Price that events happening at different times during the game have different values. For example, walking to lead off an inning (or with 1 out) is a more valuable event than walking with 2 outs.

    By batting Votto 3rd Price is minimizing Votto’s biggest strength, rather than maximizing it.

  5. big5ed

    Two lefties throwing 95 mph are not necessarily similar. They may have different arm angles or be built different physically, may use different secondary pitches, may have command of different sides of the plate, etc. One may have late movement, and the other as straight as a string. I do like the concept of using similar pitchers to get a bigger sample size, but it probably is tougher to do than you might think.

    Jeff Bagwell, for example, couldn’t hit Aaron Harang to save his life. But there probably weren’t many 6’8″, short striding pitchers with so-so fastballs that would enhance that sample size.

    My guess is that Price led off with Billy Hamilton yesterday because he wanted to give him as many ABs as he could, because Hamilton needs them now. Who knows if he will bat leadoff much this year, or where Votto will generally hit.

    • Patrick Jeter

      “Likely to exhibit similar characteristics.” I think that is still a fair statement.

  6. greenmtred

    I was going to say let’s see how Jaso works out, but realized that that is missing the point of your, as always, insightful and well-written article, Steve.

    • Patrick Jeter

      Hopefully Pittsburgh understands Jaso’s numbers are basically devoid of hitting against lefties.

      .178/.309/.232 career against LHP (only 226 PA).

      • lwblogger2

        Yeah always been a big fan of his. He’s a good ballplayer, was a catcher, and is exceptionally likable. He doesn’t look pretty hitting against those LHP though.

      • Steve Mancuso

        I think they probably noticed that. They’re planning on platooning him. Although Shin-Soo Choo had a similar awful split against LHP and the Reds used him to lead off those games anyhow.

      • Patrick Jeter

        Ouch. .215/.347/.265 (80 wRC+) for Choo against LHP in 2013.

        It’s funny, though… that’s still better than what we have been getting since he left!

  7. lwblogger2

    Great stuff Steve… I’ll add that in an interview with Allen Rowin, Director of Minor League Operations for the Astros, he mentioned that they’ve been putting a lot of focus into nutrition. Each minor league team has a nutritionist and the nutritionist works with a chef to put together the clubhouse meals. The nutritionist also works with players on what to eat and when they should be eating it. One example was talking about what a player should eat pre-workout and then during recovery after a workout or game. It isn’t all about sabermetrics. It’s about everything and trying to get every ounce out of every player.

    I didn’t get the analytics job with the Reds (no shock there), but it seems like they hired two strong candidates and I’m very happy that Sam Grossman was promoted to assistant GM.

    • Patrick Jeter

      Minor league nutrition is an interesting topic. It would seem on the surface that most minor leaguers aren’t paid enough to eat anywhere near healthy. Lots of McD’s dollar menu’s I’d bet. I always found it appalling, given that nutrition and physical performance go hand-in-hand.

      • lwblogger2

        When I played for Lancaster we used to get Dominos both at home and on the road. There was a lot of pizza, beer, and Arby’s. The Arby’s was because a local radio station used to give us coupons for free sandwiches.

      • lwblogger2

        I can’t lie, one of my biggest issues was once I was out of the military, I stopped being the workout fiend I was when I was in. Also, in high-school, the military, and afterwards, I didn’t exactly eat healthy and nutritious meals. I got away with it more in the USAF when I worked out a lot but there is little doubt that I would have performed better, even then, had I eaten better.

      • WVRedlegs

        The LA Dodgers Director of Player Development, Gabe Kapler, is big on the nutrition deal. He has a food spread set up for every level of the minors they have. No fast food allowed.

      • lwblogger2

        Can’t stop them from eating it if they really want to eat it but you can keep it out of the clubhouse and provide them with a very healthy (and team provided) alternative.

      • lwblogger2

        It wouldn’t surprise me if Reds’ minor leaguers were still pounding Whoppers.

      • greenmtred

        I wonder how Frazier’s legendary fondness for french fries will play in Chicago?

  8. lwblogger2

    I must note that Votto did have 70 starts and 320 PA batting 2nd last season. I will also note that Price had Hamilton hitting 9th last year quite a bit. These are both good signs, even if the initial thoughts from Price are that Hamilton will leadoff and Votto will hit 3rd this year.

    • Steve Mancuso

      Good point on Votto batting second last year. Price also was willing to cross the streams and have Bruce bat after Votto back-to-back.

      • lwblogger2

        Let’s just hope he doesn’t regress to the “safe choice” because last year was such a stinker.

  9. JB WV

    Thanks for the well written and informative article, Steve. The Reds front office can’t be assumed to work in a vacuum, especially with the new-found emphasis on analytics within the ranks. I anticipate more fundamental changes within the organization moving this way. And though Price certainly has his faults (Peter Principle may apply, moving from a highly respected pitching coach to manager), LW makes valid points about his willingness to change the makeup of the lineup. He’s certainly bright enough, and with WJ easing out, I don’t foresee the same old stodgy logic predominating.

  10. Tct

    The Pirates signings of Martin and Cervelli worked out so well because those guys were undervalued offensive players. Not because they were great pitch framers, IMO.

    A lot of evidence coming in suggesting that pitch framing isn’t nearly as valuable as it was made.out to be several years ago. And there is a very low correlation between the best framers in 2014 and 2015. It may just be randomness. But it’s also possible that framing is a skill that can be taught and the worst framers have gotten better and made the best ones less valuable relative to their peers. It’s also possible that umpires.are finally adjusting and having a reputation for stealing strikes may get you fewer calls now.

    Either way, I wouldn’t pay a dollar for pitch framing on the open market. If the Pirates signed Martin and Cervelli solely for their pitch framing skills,.then they got lucky. If they signed them because they thought they were undervalued both offensively and defensively, then they made a shrewd move that has worked.out.

    • Steve Mancuso

      Martin and Cervelli had enormous defensive value for the Pirates the years they played for Pittsburgh. The theories about why correlations are declining from one year to the next concern learning by umpires and catchers. That just proves the importance of teams being ahead of the curve on smart strategies. Eventually, the game adjusts but in the short run, the teams pushing the envelope get an edge.

      • ohiojimw

        The concept is about anticipating the next bomb crater before the ball falls rather than chasing after it once the bomb has it hit to borrow from several military history authors i haved read.

      • tct

        Yeah, the goal is to be the first to identify the trends and market inefficiencies. Because the league, as it always does, will adjust.

        My point about Cervelli and Martin was that they hit much better than most people expected. Their value wasn’t all tied up in framing and defense. Also, I think the Pirates realized that the market had maybe overreacted a bit to aging curves. Both Martin and Cervelli were catchers about to be on the wrong side of thirty when they were signed. It scared a lot of teams off and the Pirates got them for cheap. See the Cardinals signing of Beltran and Berkman for cheap in their mid thirties as another example. Or Nelson Cruz. Everyone ages differently, and I think the best free agent values are often guys who are undervalued because of age.

    • VaRedsFan

      I am on board with pitch framing having some benefits. One need only watch Devin Mesoraco butcher pitches behind the plate to get an idea. It’s why Hannigan got so much playing time over Mez a few years back.

      • Patrick Jeter

        Your eye test is backed up by the first stats Google provided me!

        In 2014, StatCorner gave Mesoraco credit for 8.1 runs below average (or -8.1 runs above average).

        In a strange turn of events, Hanigan was given credit for 8.1 runs above average in 2013 (and in fewer innings!) The leader that year (Lucroy) was at 29.7 RAA. That’s 3 wins. I have a hard time believing framing can be worth 3 wins alone. Yeesh!

      • VaRedsFan

        What a great stat…thanks for sharing. It’s the little things that keep adding up to a win here and a win there.

  11. Dave Moore

    Steve, seems like you read Big Data Baseball about the Pirates. Great read. It will be interesting to see if the Reds go this direction. They are definitely behind in this regard. Nice article.

  12. peter ponds

    Congratulations Pirates and Beane – the Moneyball poster kid- on those WS rings they have won thanks to sabermetrics. You got something to learn Brian Sabean and Dayton Moore.
    By the way, I really hope this new office based on so much stats, computers and formulas will at least provide a run like old school Jocketty did between 2010-2013.

    • BigRedMike

      How did the Reds get into the position they are in now if Old School Jockey is such a great GM?

      The A’s won several divisions and have several playoff appearances under Beane with one of the lowest payrolls in baseball.

    • Steve Mancuso

      Theo Epstein’s two World Series with the Red Sox.

      Best yet, you criticize Pirates and A’s for not winning a World Series then *two sentences later* imply Jocketty’s Reds had a great “run” without winning a single post-season series.

      Again, are you saying you want the Reds to ignore “stats, computers and formulas” ?

      Such a tired, lazy argument.

    • greenmtred

      I’ve made the same argument, but have been persuaded by RLN that I was viewing the issue in an over-simplified way. Analytics are, I think, really about broadening the criteria used for player evaluation and game theory and, as Steve points out, getting ahead of the curve and spotting undervalued players and skills before everyone else does. The rhetoric, born of enthusiasm, from early proponents of analytics could lead you to suppose that they believe nothing else is needed to create a championship team. I’ve come to realize that nobody is really saying that; what they’re saying is that, yes, it takes good players to win, so let’s maximize our ability to identify them and the particular skills most useful to winning games. A hard sell for me, due to a moderately severe case of old-fartism, but I’m creaking in the direction of changing my ways.

      • peter ponds

        My friend, analytics didn’t start with Gates or Jobs or in the case of baseball, with Bill James. Analytics has been used for decades in every aspect of decision making and of course in Baseball. It is related to the way you build your team and baseball data is just one single part of it. How do you measure make up or personal issues a guy is going though or the weather or just jet lag?.
        Moneyball lies from the beginning making people believe that stolen bases or bunting for instance, are just bad baseball decisions. And that my friend is just unbearable and false as the reigning WS Royals just proved last year.
        But the worst part is to have to read that if you know all the formulas you know more baseball than a guy who has REALLY won a world series ring, done it for over 35 years while being paid millions in the process.

      • Patrick Jeter

        Bunting, in almost every situation, is a bad decision. Based on real-life, empirical data.

        The only time(s) it’s not a bad decision involves being tied or down 1-run in the 9th inning with 0 or 1 outs, I believe. Don’t feel like looking it up now.

        All this is based on what actually happened in real games. It’s not Play Station and its not theoretical.

        Bunting is bad in almost every case. It’s fact. You can’t argue it. Unless you just want to be wrong for the sake of being wrong.

      • wkuchad

        Just curious Patrick, are you excluding pitchers bunting?

    • lwblogger2

      I don’t think anyone said there is no room for traditional thinking. I think what people have been saying is not to ignore data and to use all available information that’s out there. This includes traditional analysis as well as advanced statistical analysis, and it runs as far as nutrition, sports science, sports psychology, and physical training. In today’s game, I don’t think a team can consistently win without using every resource available to them; from the eyes of their scouting department to the data-warehouse and algorithms used by their analytics department.

      • lwblogger2

        That article Chuck Schick posted the link to about the Royals is a good read and really points to where the game is right now.

      • peter ponds

        Yes my friend, it has been said and done. Every time I post my opinion, some kind of disrespectful answer has been coming back. Not that I care, but it is just to clarify it.

        And to make it right, I do support the use of ALL the tools available, but please don’t try to sell the idea that a a team has to be constructed on what 5 fine mathematicians that probably never played a little league game say.

      • MrRed

        But if you respond to perceived slights and disrespect with your own snide commentary and attacks, what does that really accomplish? You’re spending most of your time crafting false arguments rather than discussing any particular nuances that you disagree with. Seems like you should just find a forum that is more agreeable to you, no?

      • Matt WI

        Please cite anyone, anywhere that has suggested that a team be constructed with “5 fine mathematicians.”

        Don’t complain about respect if you aren’t willing to give. If it “doesn’t matter” than please don’t mention it at all. Cake and eating it and what not.

    • Patrick Jeter

      Cash money plays a big part in all this.

      It’s likely the Pirates and A’s would be out of contention without the forward thinking. Instead, they are in the picture.

      The idea that you aren’t successful unless you win the WS is pretty outlandish.

      • peter ponds

        Well, you have stated the Reds front office is as primitive as it comes. Again, they did EXACTLY what those forward thinkers are doing. The Pirates have a 4 years window that is rapidly closing as the Reds did. The Beane boys? please look were they finished last year. Outlandish isn’t it?

      • Patrick Jeter

        You didn’t even respond to what I said… Not sure what you are trying to accomplish here.

        Everyone knows (and agrees) that a mix of lots of types of though are what creates winning baseball. But your point seems to revolve around “forwarding thinking” organizations not winning WS titles being some proof that “forward thinking” isn’t valid.

      • Streamer88

        Additionally we’re talking about very small differences in output over large sample sizes. We all know the “massive” difference between a .275 and .350 OBP but perhaps undervalue that difference when its .350 and .425. Even still, that’s only getting on base 7 additional times per 100 PAs- if you didn’t have the numbers and just watched the games you may not notice that difference comparatively.

        The life source of baseball statistics is the sample size. Do 7% differences matter in the NFL? I argue most probably not, and if they do, not reliably enough to trust their effects. And thus I arrive at my point. Even with an n=162 there is a margin of error on every predictive value. The Royals won the WS because they either had the best chance to win, and won, or they had some collective chance to make the playoffs, when all of their individual output chances were summed and put into reality, that was greater than zero percent chance.

        Analytics is trying to find those 7% improvements. As many as can be found. Add them to your pile of 7% advantages with the hope that it either increases your chance for a successful outcome, shrinks the margin of error on your predicted success, or both.

        And remember, copycatting actually works. If the pirates shift and we don’t, they have that 7%. If we start shifting then advantage neutralized.

        OK I’m done.

  13. VaRedsFan

    Very good article.
    I will say that batter vs. pitcher matchups should not be as dismissed as you make it out to be. I will concede that conclusions shouldn’t be drawn on 10-12 AB’s or less (like Price did last year.) Once you get 15-20 AB’s, and up, a pretty good pattern has developed. I see it time and time again. I made a good amount of money playing Fanduel for the last 2 years. So I know there is value to be had looking at it.
    There’s is not enough time to get 100 AB’s or more vs. a pitcher to develop a statistical mean. Sometimes the games have to be played on the field. Everybody knew Jay Bruce couldn’t hit the great Xavier Hernandez, whether it was 10 AB’s or 50.

  14. dan

    my rebuttal every 300 game winner is in hall of fame. sample size matters
    fans enjoy watching a strikeout trying for the fences than wearing a pitcher down worth high pitch counts. walking is boring to watch when it makes a game last over 3 hours
    advanced stats take away from watching a game live

    • Jeff

      Thanks for speaking for all of us fans. I actually love watching Joey Votto work a pitcher. I guess that means I’m not a fan. I would reply to your first line, but I’m not sure what you are trying to say there.

      • dan

        Agreed it is my opinion and my rebuttal I don’t speak for everyone. I’m a guy who has worked in IT all of his life and i used to find the non analytical aspects of baseball as a refreshing getaway. Sadly i don’t even have baseball to escape to anymore.
        I love a 2 hour game versus a 3 hour game because life is busy. Batters that walk a lot more than likely help their team but for me…. it makes the game take way to long. I almost wish baseball would adopt a 3 pitch in the strike zone rule and your out and completely remove the walk from baseball in order to make the games faster. of course i’m also in favor of time limits on pitches as well. 10 seconds to throw that ball. If you don’t throw it in 10 seconds the batter goes to first. There is your walk.

      • lwblogger2

        It’s a neat idea but where it breaks down is pitchers likely would throw several pitches outside that zone as there would be no repercussions (the walk) for not throwing pitches into the strikezone. Right now offense is down but that does speed up the game in general. If you wanted to speed up the game more, I’d suggest actually making the strikezone bigger. Of course you would also suppress offense further and likely remove a lot of fans that really, really like to see a lot of runs on the board.

    • Chuck Schick

      Are you suggesting that players-teams should just swing away because it’s more fun to watch?

      • dan

        Well fans pay for the ticket so yeah I guess that I am. If the game becomes to boring nobody will show up and then who is going to pay for these millionaire athletes?

      • peter ponds

        Not at all, walks are a big part of the game, just like a good sf bunt or a stolen base or a great catch. But don’t make the walk the El Dorado in baseball. Working the count is fine, not swinging at bad pitches is fine, but not swinging at a meatball right down the middle with the game on the line because “OBP is all that matters” is as harmful as being a free swinger.

    • greenmtred

      It’s probably tv ads and butt-scratching that makes games last so long. 300 game winners are in the Hall because the voters have always valued wins for a pitcher, and because a pitcher probably doesn’t win 300 without looking pretty good to non-traditional analysts for other reasons. The homers, strikeouts and high pitch counts (which also lengthen games) aren’t going anywhere.

      • dan

        Well i guess I am the only one that believes in order to win 300 games that it takes more than good luck. it takes at least a 15 year career. It takes being able to go deep into games. It takes not throwing 200 pitches before the 3rd inning. Things that I value that i guess analytics doesn’t value.

      • lwblogger2

        300 win pitchers, judged over their entire career are most certainly going to be among the top pitchers ever to play the game. The more detailed analytics are going to verify that. You can’t stay in MLB as a starting pitcher long enough to get that many starts unless you are doing the little things right. In other words, the rate and non-team oriented statistics are going to also show that these guys are excellent pitchers. They are also going to show it more quickly than it will take for a pitcher to produce high win totals year after year.

      • peter ponds

        300 game winners mean many things, some in your hands or some not (like in every non/individual sport): your teammates were good, the pitcher was good enough to endure a long career and to keep your team in a position to win many games. Sabermetrics guys disdain these facts just as they dispise RBIs.

      • lwblogger2

        Did you see what I said above Peter? I’m saying that the “advanced” metrics are going to agree that a 300 win pitcher has been an exceptional pitcher. I’m also saying that the more “advanced” metrics are going to identify that pitcher before the wins pile up. An individual “Win” is pretty much a useless stat but as they start to pile up over seasons, yes, they become reflective of talent. The same is true about RBI over the course of a player’s career. The guys who are near the top in career RBI are also the guys who’ve probably been some of the best hitters. What that doesn’t mean is that driving in runs is some sort of specific and repeatable skill.

        Look, as a former player who played a long time and at a decently high level, I see a lot of things from a more traditional standpoint. Dismissing a lot of the more analytical viewpoints however is dismissing a tremendous amount of data that can be used to build better teams. You still want guys with good makeup. You still want to build a strong clubhouse. You still want guys who hit. You just don’t simply look at RBI, Wins, and batting average to evaluate who those guys are, especially over a single season or a couple seasons. There are better indicators of what makes a good player in a neutralized environment. There are better things to look for than the “RBI guy” when building your team. There is enough data out there now to know that a guy who consistently maintains a high walk-rate, high isolated average (a measurement of power), and generally makes hard contact is going to be a better bet to produce those runs that are so important in winning the game. These measures are much more repeatable than simply looking at the RBI and AVG of a player over the past couple years and thinking he’s going to repeat those numbers, especially in a different environment.

  15. vegastypo

    Votto just crushed a two-run homer … I don’t care what the count is, more of those, please.

      • Patrick Jeter

        On a nice, easy, compact swing. Looked like a fly-out to me on contact, but he sure got ahold of it.

  16. vegastypo

    And speaking of working the pitcher, the Padres got a leadoff hit against Cody Reed in the fourth inning, then amid some throws to first, Reed gave up a two-run homer to Will Myers. Reed didn’t survive the fourth inning.

  17. WVRedlegs

    Cody Reed pitched well at first last night, then so-so for a couple of innings, then took it on the chin in the 4th. Even so, it had to be a great learning experience for the 22 year old. Just a spring game.

  18. Steve Schoenbaechler

    I have to say, we have plenty of power. We have no one to get on base, besides Votto. We need that. One of the reasons why both BP and Bruce were able to drive in 100 RBI’s in the same season a while back, they had 2 of the league leaders in OBP batting in front of them.

    Now, assuming that Devin will be back with a good bat, also, Votto is fine in the 3 hole. Bruce could even provide some power. We need people to get on base in front of them, just like we had with BP and Bruce. Peraza? Suarez? Can they do it? Hey, from what I saw, anyone with an OBP of over 300 would be an improvement, pretty poor when you are talking about starting ballplayers in the major leagues.

    Yep, for the offense, OBP in the 1-2 holes, that’s what this team needs. I actually couldn’t give a lick if they could hit with power; I just want someone up there who can hit.

    But, this isn’t the biggest need or most important aspect of this team, I believe. I believe it’s going to be the pitching, especially the starting pitching. If we don’t get that, we aren’t going to have to worry about the offense.

    I wouldn’t worry about the defense that much, either. We have shown that having great defense doesn’t mean that much. And, the Cards have shown not having a great defense but great pitching can work wonders. It’s a lot different playing defense and they only have to field easy grounders they can easily get to rather than trying to field a constant barrage of line drives 10 feet to the left or right of them.

    I never said I would nor wouldn’t work with the sabermetrics. At times, you have to use strategy, though. At times, it’s a gut instinct. Even using the sabermetrics, if you have two players with all the same metrics, but you can only use one in a certain situation being called upon right now, who are you going to use? Remember, everything is the same about them. Who? You have to make that “gut call”. I’ve always said, it’s a combination of the two. You can’t manage without considering the numbers of the players you are putting out there. You can’t manage without considering “who” you are putting out there, in what situation, etc. After all, these are all human beings first. Human beings don’t follow numbers. Numbers don’t consider situation. It’s a lot easier for any player to hit in the bottom of the ninth with a man on 3rd, two out, in a mid-season game than it is being the 7th game of the World Series. Both the same situation, man on third, bottom of the 9th, 2 out. But, a huge difference when you talk about a regular season game and an AB that can cost the WS.

    Bottom line, you have to use both. Bottom line, the Reds haven’t been using both. Even Billy Beane’s Moneyball hasn’t brought a consistent winner every season. Out of the last 9 seasons, the A’s have only had a “500 or above record” 4 seasons. But, before Beane, the A’s weren’t a consideration for potential division winner since the Bash Brothers.

    Funny, I seem to remember having stated something about how possibly some injury prevention is needed and being dissed for it. And, here, the Reds hire a “Director of Sports Science, to bring the organization up-to-date with the latest research on injury prevention.” To the dissers, make sure you know what you are talking about next time.

    • MrRed

      Who “dissed” you for saying injury prevention is needed? That doesn’t seem like a controversial or revolutionary statement. Wasn’t the discussion instead about your diss of the Red’s medical staff, made apparently without any backing facts or research? Talk about making “sure you know what you are talking about next time.”

      I mostly enjoy your contrarian take on various subjects here but sometimes you go too far out of your own way.

  19. WVRedlegs

    Today’s lineup vs. the Cubbies.
    Hamilton CF, Suarez 3B, Votto 1B, Phillips 2B, Bruce RF, Mesoraco C, Cozart SS, Schebler LF, Simon P
    Simon already gets his first start. Looks like an opening day lineup almost.

    • WVRedlegs

      Moscot’s start was scratched again today. This is not a good development.

  20. Chuck Schick

    Analytics serve a few purposes. They help a team identify ” why” things happen. They help identify ” ways” to improve and ” when” to make lineup, strategic adjustments.

    Advanced analytics serve to identify inefficiencies that allow a team to get ahead of the curve. Eventually, everyone will catch on and you need to find the next thing. The A’s identified certain things and the Red Sox eventually used that info and mixed in smarter people with unlimited resources to negate the A’s advantage…..it now happens all the time.

    Traditional scouting is essential….but there are limitations to it’s effectiveness. Bob Howsam and Cheif Bender built one of the greatest organizations of all time…..however, from 1970-1983 9 of their 15 #1 picks never made it to the big leagues and Kurt Stillwell was the best player. Analytics are just a complimentary tool.

  21. Red Giant

    Great piece, Steve, and I believe your conclusion is spot on. Thanks!

  22. DeltaXray468

    I hope the Reds are looking to include Muscle Activation Techniques (MAT).