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Tuesday, September 21, 2004
Can we get rid of this with Aqua Net too?

MLB debuted a new 'stat' today. It seems MLB wants to jump on the Sabermetric bandwagon. To put it mildly, they missed the boat on this one. Mike's Baseball Rants seems to be the first, of what I'm sure will be many, to torpedo this submarine of uselessness. I'll get to my own take in a minute, but ask yourself why MLB felt the need to even come up with a new 'stat' in the first place.

It seems to me they are trying to cater to those on the cusp of the SABR movement, trying to harness those who got their feet wet reading Moneyball. The problem is, with the wide availability of statistics and game logs on the 'net, anyone who was at all moved to learn a little more about baseball, and what stats specifically correlate with winning percentage would have already encountered a better source for their information. Baseball Prospectus, Baseball Think Factory, The Hardballl Times, Sabernomics are just a few of the many sites out there that I've found just in my passing interest in the study of baseball. I don't consider myself a hardcore 'stathead' -- I love numbers, I have an affinity for math, but that's about where it ends. -- this stat would seem to be marketed directly to me. But I'm not buying it.

MLB already has me; I'm a captive audience. Hell, I just watched most of the Sox game despite it being played opposite the World Series of Poker Tournament of Champions, Law and Order season premiere, and the Gilmore Girls. I know Bud Selig is going to crow about the growth of the game, trotting out record attendance statistics, but this stat, in addition to being useless, just shows their misplaced marketing again.

The last time I was at the park, I had a great conversation with older gentleman in the seat in front of me for much of the game. He was impressed with my ability to decipher the connection between the jingles that Nancy Faust played on her organ and the player/situation in the game. I was drawn to his ability to recognize some of the finer points of the game. He was explaining the values of a hit-and-run, and upon saying "now is the perfect time for one", the White Sox actually executed one to perfection, drawing the SS towards the second base bag, creating a large hole for a single. The two of us conversed for much of the game, for the most part ignoring those who we actually came to the game with... I was there with my brother, who has never been much of a sports fan, and has only recently begun to follow the sox with any vigor(he stopped sometime in August); the older gentleman was there with what appeared to be his daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter.

These people are casual fans. They should be MLB's main demographic. They are not going to care which team has a better Net-RS-RISP-%. I don't care who has a better Net-RS-RISP-%. It's just another example of where MLB has missed the mark. $5.95 for computer wallpaper; That should be free. I've made 5 of them this season. (I wonder what the revenue stream was for those.) MLB needs to market the ballpark experience. They need to market to families across the board. Those are the fans of tomorrow. Those are the season ticket holders of tomorrow. The only sure fire way to draw fans is winning, but in one respect the White Sox actually have it right. They do a great job with the kids, and despite what some reporters would have you believe, they provide a great family atmosphere that caters to kids.

I don't know how I got on that tangent, but that was a long way from where I wanted to end up. I'm not a professional writer, for the most part this blog is a stream-of-thought-type operation. I may have missed my mark with that whole thing, but so did MLB.

And if you've actually made it this far, here comes the science.
What is O-Zone Factor?
O-Zone factor is derived from calculating a teams ability to score runners from second and third base(scoring position) vs. a teams ability to prevent runners from scoring from scoring position. Here is the current O-Zone factor standings

Where do the White Sox rank?
The White Sox are 14th in O-Zone Factor. However, in the two sub-stat's that go into calculating O-zone factor the sox rank first and last. In Offensive-RISP%(renamed for ease of use), the sox are the best in baseball. They score runners from scoring position more often than any other team in baseball. In Defensive-RISP%, the Sox are the worst team in all of baseball. They allow runners to score from scoring position more often than any other team in baseball.

So is the O-Zone Factor an accurate predictor of winning percentage?
This is the best. I didn't even have to come up with that question. It's right there in the article linked at the top of this entry. So here is MLB's answer.
After running a few numbers, it was discovered that a greater correlation exists between recent O Zone success and winning percentage (.726 correlation from 1999-2004) than between red-zone scoring and victories in the NFL (.657 correlation last two seasons). In other words, how a team performs both offensively and defensively with RISP has been just as, if not more important, than an NFL team's red-zone success -- when comparing recent data.

NHL scoring data offers similar results when looking at the past two seasons. If you take a team's success on power plays and subtract the rate they allow power play goals, there is also a strong correlation (.587) when comparing that number to winning (in this case team points), but still not as high as O Zone data from the past six seasons.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term correlation, the closer the correlation is to 1 the more accurate a predictor the item is.

And here is the inherent problem with 0-Zone factor. MLB is trying to sell it as a predictor of success, which it's not. It compares it to the NFL's red-zone scoring, but neglects to mention that Rushing Yards, Time of Possession, and turnover margin all correlate better than does red-zone scoring. Similarly, there are plenty of other baseball statistics that correlate with winning perctage better than O-Zone factor. OPS minus OPS allowed, has a correlation of .911, Runs Scored minus Runs allowed is .951, compared to O-Zone's .726.

O-zone is flawed because it's a rate stat. It's essentially Offensive BA w/RISP minus Defensive RISP BAA. A team could allow 1 run all season, but allow it to score by being driven in from scoring position, and they would automatically have a negative O-Zone, unless they plated every one of their runners who reached second base. It doesn't take into account the amount of times a team puts runners in scoring position, or allows runners in scoring position. For some reason they failed to see this error.

This stat doesn't recognize that a run scored by a double with a runner on first is just as valuable as one with a RISP. Similarly it doesn't account for HR's without runners in scoring position, which are very valuable. A run is a run, it counts just the same, no matter the route taken to get there.

They did, however leave some raw data, which is fully sortable, and can be used to better evaluate a teams chances of winning. The column labeled 'Net-RS-RISP', is a better indicator of winning percentage than O-zone. 'Net-RS-RISP' is essentially the number of baserunners who reach scoring position minus the number of baserunners a team allows to reach scoring position. This stat correlates much better than O-zone at a correlation of .8967

On the whole it's a pretty useless stat that MLB trotted out there without much thought to try and capitalize on the whole sabermetrics craze. The plan backfired, and I'm sure anyone with a little sense is laughing at the dinosaur that is MLB.

MLB has done some good things, streaming all games over the internet at a relatively cheap price is probably among the best of them. That was ahead of their time, but they should allow the study of baseball to be led by those that truly care about the game, not those who are looking to turn a profit on it.

The Big Inning
There was a little bit that I was going to write about tonight's game, but I've rambled for far too long. I'll just leave you with this. DJ put some poor statistician to work to calculate what percentage of Jon Garland's runs came from "big innings", which he described as 3 or more runs. The result was that JG had allowed 42% of his runs this season during the 'big inning'. It's long been my belief that JG does not, in fact, allow the 'big inning' at a significantly greater rate than other pitchers, but Hawk and DJ have chosen to harp about it. I'll wait until the end of the season, but I'm going to go through the box scores and compare JG to Mark Buehrle. My gut feeling is that MB will be nominally better, but not significantly. Not as much as Hawk and DJ would like you to believe.