Sabermetrics, at their core, should always be changing. A few years ago we were using VORP, win shares, and the like. Most stats we used 10 years ago are gone or obsolete. A lot of the posts at Dodgers Digest will have obsolete statistical lingo down the road. We still have to use the best tools available at the time, but there is always room for innovation and refinement of knowledge. That might come via new mathematical methods or via new technology. Most recently, since 2007 Pitch FX has completely changed the way we look at pitchers.
MLBAM’s Statcast system probably has the most potential to revolutionize what we know about baseball since Pitch FX data was made available to the public eight years ago. Statcast tracks each player’s movement on the field with accuracy that we have not seen before. Statcast was announced before last season, and MLBAM installed trials in several parks and released some test footage with data overlaid. I parsed some of the data from these videos and wrote about it for the Hardball Times last December.
Last week, MLB announced that Statcast will be installed in all 30 ballparks this year. They still have not indicated what raw data end users will receive (other than videos), but it sounds like it will be available in some form at some point in the future. This is a lot more clarity than we had at this time last year, and is extremely exciting.
I really like Statcast because the promise of what it can deliver causes deep thoughts about baseball. This leads to the generation of questions. The tools might be in place to answer these questions with more fidelity than we have been able to use previously. With that in mind, the fact that Dodger Stadium will have Statcast installed has caused me to think of some Dodger-specific questions:
Why is Puig so bad at stealing bases? Statcast should be able to give us a full set of data, such as lead-off distance, time from pitch release to first step, and how long it takes to accelerate to full speed. The league average data will need to be known in order to get an accurate comparison, but after that the Dodgers should have an idea of where he is lagging behind in a more specific way. This would give coaches a better idea of where to look in order to help him to improve.
Pederson has been regarded as a potential average defender in center, but so far there is no major league data to back this up. Statcast tracks things like defensive route efficiency (how far a player runs, compared to the actual distance between where he was positioned and where the play was completed). This, along with things like arm accuracy, might give a quicker idea of his defensive capability than pre-existing metrics like UZR. However, even these methods will suffer from the fact that the “borderline” plays made by defenders are rare. The sample sizes will still be small, which will lead to big value fluctuations like the current metrics, but hopefully the results will be more clear.
The perception has always been that Crawford is very good at making plays in front of him and not good at making plays going back. How true is this, and does it show up numerically in route efficiencies and speeds? Could there be more optimal positioning while he plays defense?
One of the major issues Grandal has had so far is throwing out base runners. What portion of these issues are due to pitchers, and where specifically does he struggle? How does his average “pop time,” release speed, and throw accuracy compare to other catchers?
Bolsinger’s Pitch FX results last season looked like pitchers much better than what he is perceived to be? Is this due to anything specific in his delivery? Statcast can’t track full mechanics since each player is viewed as one “point” at their center of gravity, but it can track things like extension towards the plate at release, which we haven’t had before.
I am sure there are more examples out there. There are a lot more baseball-wide questions that can be answered too, like the power of defensive positioning. Can you think of anything to add to the four examples listed here?