DMB News February 2005

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February 24, 2005
Written by Tom Tippett

Welcome to the first edition of the Diamond Mind email newsletter for the year 2005. Through these newsletters, we will try to keep you up to date on the latest product and technical information about the Diamond Mind Baseball game, related player disks, and our ongoing baseball research efforts. Back issues are available on our web site.

Topic for this issue:

2005 Projection Disk
2005 Bill James Handbook
Winter mailing
In the pipeline
Massive 306-player trade rocks baseball world!

 

2005 Projection Disk

Last year, our projected team standings (produced using our 2004 Projection Disk) ranked 4th in accuracy out of the 48 predictions we culled from newspapers, magazines, and web sites. They also ranked 22nd out of 195 entries on Gerry Hamilton's Baseball Predictions web site. You can find the details at these locations:

http://www.diamond-mind.com/articles/tmpred04.htm
http://www.tidepool.com/~ggh1/index.html

We want to do even better in 2005, so we've made some improvements in our projection methodology. Among the improvements is the expanded use of A-ball stats in projecting the performance of top prospects who have yet to accumulate much playing time at AA and above.

We're right on track to begin shipping our 2005 Projection Disk on March 10th. It will include more than 1600 players and will be released in both version 8 and version 9 formats.

Anyone who buys the 2005 Projection Disk prior to March 31st will receive two editions of the disk -- the March 10th edition and a free update in early April that reflects the opening day rosters and events from the remainder of spring training. After March 31st, you'll receive only the April edition.

After the first disk is issued, we'll create a few new players if some long shots make the opening day rosters, and we'll update the rosters and manager profiles to reflect late player moves. But we don't plan to make any changes that would affect the performance of players included in the March edition.

Before the first edition is released, we'll post a new image for RFK Stadium and updated images for Dodger Stadium (where new seats have reduced foul territory) and the newly-renamed Rogers Centre in Toronto (where FieldTurf is being installed).

2005 Bill James Handbook

Don't forget to order your copy of the 2005 Bill James Handbook. The regular edition is only $17.95 and the convenient lays-flat-on-your-desk spiral-bound edition is just $22.95. Hardly a day goes by when we don't reach for the Handbook as part of our work.

Among the many great features of this book are career registers for every active player, including minor-league stats for players with little big-league experience; complete 2004 fielding statistics; expanded pitcher stats that include hitting, fielding, and holding runners; park factors and rankings; left/right splits for all batters and pitchers; conventional and sabermetric leader boards; team standings, augmented by many team performance splits; and team rankings for batting, pitching and fielding.

Winter mailing

In the past, we have announced the availability of the new Projection Disk in a letter or postcard that was mailed to all registered owners of the game in the second half of February.

This year, we've already done two large mailings since October and are reaching more and more of you through this newsletter, our web site, and the online forum we launched a few months ago, so we're not going to do a special mailing for the Projection Disk.

We are taking advance orders for the Projection Disk, so when you're ready, you can order by phone (800-400-4803) or through our web store (www.diamond-mind.com). If you prefer to order by mail, you can visit our web site and print an order form that you can mail with your check.

In the pipeline

We're working on a number of projects other than the Projection Disk, and while we're not ready to announce release dates for many of these items, we want to let you know where we're headed.

Regarding the game software itself, we're developing a 9b patch that will clean up some bugs that have been reported in recent months. If all goes well, it will be available by the end of April. As with all of our patches, it will be compatible with any seasons you're currently playing, so you'll be able to install it without skipping a beat.

We've begun working on an update to our All-time Greatest Players Disk. At a minimum, this update will add and modify a small number of players based on the 2003 and 2004 seasons. We're pondering the addition of a couple of hundred more historical players as well, but that decision has yet to be made. Obviously, if we go for the larger update, it will stretch out the schedule.

We have started to add real-life transactions and/or game-by-game lineups to some of our Classic Past Seasons. We'll have more on the seasons involved and the release dates in the coming weeks and months.

Finally, we're working on version 10 of the game, too. As most of you know, we don't talk about release dates and new features until we're ready to start field testing a new version, so we're not going to say any more about version 10 at this time. But we know from experience that if we don't mention it at all, a few people will leap to the conclusion that we're not working on it. We are.

Massive 306-player trade rocks baseball world!

OK, now that I have your attention, let me tell you what this essay is really about. We'll get back to those 306 players in a moment.

It has been my contention for many years that the level of talent in the two leagues is about the same. AL and NL teams draft from the same pool of amateur players, compete for the same international players, and trade freely. Players switch leagues through waiver claims and free agency. The system allows for, even encourages, the flow of talent between leagues.

That's why I often chuckle when I hear baseball commentators and writers go on about how the leagues are so different. They'll say that one is a fastball league and the other is an off-speed league or that the AL parks are smaller.

I suspect that many of these so-called experts fail to see how the DH rule affects the stats compiled by a league's players. Fact is, when you take out the hitting stats for pitchers and designated hitters, the two leagues look pretty similar. From time to time, I've run the numbers for large groups of seasons, and it's not an exaggeration to say that the adjusted league rates are essentially identical. Dave Smith of Retrosheet did the same thing, reaching the same conclusion.

In any single season, of course, there's room for variation, random or otherwise, so the adjusted totals are not always an exact match. In 2004, for example, the league rates without pitcher hitting and designated hitters were as follows, expressed on a per-1000-plate-appearance basis:

                       AL    NL 
--- ---
Hits                  244   241 
Doubles 48 49
Triples 5 5
Homers 29 30
Hit batsmen 10 10
Unintentional walks 78 82
H + HBP + UW 332 333
Strikeouts 162 165
Sacrifice bunts 6 6
Sacrifice flies 7 7

Not much difference, is there? In fact, intentional walks are the only major source of differences in the league rates. We can remove pitcher hitting from the totals, but we're left with the effect of walking #8 hitters to get to those pitchers. That's why intentional walks are excluded from the walk totals and plate appearances in this table.

Of course, similar league rates don't guarantee that talent levels are the same. For instance, if one league has more than its share of star players but that extra talent is evenly divided between pitchers and hitters, the league totals wouldn't be affected too much. Another possibility is that a league's surplus of hitters could be offset by a collection of parks that favor pitchers.

Still, the fact that the adjusted league averages have been very similar for the last thirty years lends weight to the argument that the leagues are far more alike than different, especially when you combine that with the knowledge that baseball has long operated with rules that facilitate the distribution of talent.

But isn't it possible for the talent base to shift for a period of time even in a system that tends to push things toward an equilibrium state in the long run?

During the winter between the 2003 and 2004 seasons, for example, more star players moved from the NL to the AL . Vladimir Guerrero, Curt Schilling, Javier Vazquez, Jose Guillen, Javy Lopez, Ivan Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, and Kevin Brown joined AL teams via trade or free agency that winter. Other players headed to the NL, but they weren't as good as this group.

Money had something to do with that, of course. The arms race between New York and Boston pushed the payrolls for those AL East rivals to unprecedented levels, and the new owner in Anaheim wasn't shy about bidding for top free agents.

For years I've wanted to examine the off-season movement of players a little more systematically, and I finally got around to it this month. To that end, I generated a list of players who spent at least part of the 2004 season in one league but are now heading to spring training with a team in the other league. (Team affiliations are based on rosters from our Projection Disk as of February 15th.)

This list includes players who changed leagues during the 2004 season, so it's not just a look at off-season player movement. Carlos Beltran was in the AL for half the 2004 season, so he's on the list. Same with Nomar Garciaparra.

It turns out that 306 players fit this pattern. That's where I got the headline proclaiming a massive multi-player trade, as if the leagues were just two teams swapping players.

The players now in the AL racked up 15,065 plate appearances in the 2004 NL, while those on the spring rosters of NL teams stepped to the plate 13,279 times in the 2004 AL season. That adds up to about 15% of total playing time. Meanwhile, the league-changing pitchers account for about 14% of the innings thrown in 2004. That's a significant amount of player movement.

But this is clearly a case where quality is more important than quantity. We expect fringe players to move from organization to organization, looking for their next opportunity to play a utility role or fill out a bullpen. What about the really good players?

Before we start looking at individuals, we can get a sense for the overall quality of the players moving from league to league by adding up their 2004 stats.

Players now on AL rosters posted a .260 batting average with NL teams in 2004, reaching base at a .318 clip and slugging .398. All of those figures are below the league averages, indicating that many of these transients are indeed fringe players.

Players now on NL rosters fared slightly better in their 2004 AL appearances, hitting .257 with a .327 on-base average and a .404 slugging percentage. That's not a big edge, to be sure, but if the 2004 stats are any indication, a little more talent flowed in the NL direction this winter.

It's harder to compare pitchers because of the DH rule, but it seems as if the AL gets the edge in newly-acquired pitching talent. Pitchers in camp with AL teams posted a 4.29 ERA in the NL last year, while those moving in the other direction allowed 4.89 earned runs per nine innings.

Furthermore, the group of pitchers moving to the AL allowed a batting average of .259 and a slugging average of .421, while those joining the NL were at .282 and .449, respectively. That's a big difference, bigger than the DH can explain.

Moving on, let's see how things look when we identify some of the top players who changed leagues.

The ten hitters now on AL rosters who had the most plate appearances in the NL last year are Scott Podsednik (now with Chicago), Steve Finley (Ana), Jason Kendall (Oak), Adrian Beltre (Sea), Edgar Renteria (Bos), Tony Womack (NY), Shea Hillenbrand (Tor), Danny Bautista (TB), Richard Hidalgo (Tex), and Sammy Sosa (Bal).

The plate appearance leaders who moved in the other direction were Matt Lawton (Pit), Carlos Lee (Mil), Omar Vizquel (SF), David Eckstein (StL), Jose Cruz (Ari), Cristian Guzman (Was), Jose Guillen (Was), Carlos Delgado (Flo), Joe Randa (Cin), and Jose Valentin (LA).

The players moving to the AL hit 24 homers per 1000 PA with NL teams last year, while the new NL players hit 25 per 1000 PA in the AL in 2004. The most notable moves to the AL are Beltre (48 HR), Finley (36), Sosa (35), Hidalgo (25), and Keith Ginter (19). The NL gained Delgado (32), Lee (31), Valentin (30), Guillen (27), and Cruz (21).

Scott Podsednik takes his 70 steals to the AL . Of the others, only Womack (26) and Lawton (23) swiped more than 20 bases in their former league.

Five players with 90+ RBI call a new league home this year, with three of them joining the NL and two the AL . Beltre takes his 121 ribbies to Seattle and Finley his 94 to Anaheim , while Guillen (104, Was), Delgado (99, Flo), and Lee (99, Mil) head the other way.

Looking over the totals for league-changing hitters, I don't see much of a shift in other batting categories. The new NL players have a slight edge in doubles and unintentional walks per 1000 PA, and they grounded into double plays about 10% less often. Except for Podsednik, the stolen base and caught stealing totals are similar.

The AL pitchers who threw the most innings in the NL last year are Randy Johnson (NY), Carl Pavano (NY), David Wells (Bos), Jaret Wright (NY), Matt Clement (Bos), Jose Lima (KC), Casey Fossum (TB), Kevin Millwood (Cle), Dustin Hermansen (Chi), and Paul Byrd (Ana).

The innings-leaders among pitchers who no longer have to face the DH are Mark Mulder (SL), Pedro Martinez (NY), Javier Vazquez (Ari), Mark Redman (Pit), Tim Hudson (Atl), Darryl May (SD), Esteban Loaiza (Was), Derek Lowe (LA), Jon Lieber (Phi), Ramon Ortiz (Cin), and Victor Zambrano (NY).

It's hard to say which league gained more front-line talent because there are question marks about a lot of these guys. Johnson and Martinez are studs, obviously, but one is getting up in years and the other has had to baby his shoulder for several seasons. The AL newcomers must prove that they can handle DH lineups. Meanwhile, Mulder had a horrible second half, Hudson 's strikeout rate was way down, and Lowe is coming off a poor season.

A few more quality starts landed in the AL , with the leaders being the three new Yankees -- Johnson (26), Pavano (23), and Wright (22). Next on the list, with 18 each, are Boston 's duo of Clement and Wells. The leaders among new NL pitchers are Pedro (22), Mulder (18), Lieber (16), Redman (16), and Vazquez (16).

If Holds are any guide, AL teams gained some ground in middle relief. Five pitchers now in the AL had at least 16 NL holds last year. Mike Stanton (NY) leads this list with 25, followed by Luis Vizcaino (Chi, 21), Felix Rodriguez (NY, 20), Kyle Farnsworth (Det, 18), and Steve Kline (Bal, 16). Only one pitcher, Jim Mecir (Flo, 21), who is now in the NL had more than 10 AL holds last year.

Overall, the win-loss record of the new NL pitchers was 174-175 in the AL last year, while those moving to the AL were 172-203 in the NL in 2004. A total of 44 saves (mostly Hermansen and Octavio Dotel) moved to the AL , with only 19 going the other way. Thanks to Mulder, Lowe and Hudson, the GDP rate for the new NL pitchers is much higher. The pitchers moving to the AL had higher strikeout rates, but they walked 8% more hitters, too. And a quick look at pickoffs and opposition stolen bases shows that the new NL pitchers are quite a bit better at shutting down the running game.

I had a lot of fun compiling and reviewing these numbers, but I'm quite aware of their limitations. More than the 2004 stats, what matters is how these players will perform for their 2005 teams. I thought about ranking these players based on projected 2005 stats, but that would have told us less about how these players impacted their former leagues in 2004. Some combination of 2004 stats and 2005 projections might be the best way to assess talent migration.

In any case, we'll be back next month with our annual projections article, the one where we simulate the season many times, average the results, present projected team standings for the 2005 season, and comment on the outlook for every team.

In that article, we'll talk about the impact of these league-changing players at the team level, and we'll tell you how these players performed in our simulations. Of course, by then many of you will already have our 2005 Projection Disk, so you'll be able to see those projections for yourself and play out your own seasons.

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