Monthly Archives: January 2012

Introducing the Weighted Net Steal

We’ve seen an absolute array of statistics revolutionized by the sabermetric era of baseball. All sorts of acronyms that confuse the average fan–UZR, wOBA, and FIP–are becoming more and more accepted among baseball communities. But those statistics only cover defense, hitting, and pitching–leaving out one of the major baseball tools. The statistical side of the final segment of baseball (base running) has hardly been changed since Day One when the stolen base stat was drawn up.

As an advanced thinker of baseball, this bothered me. Sure, there was the net steal (simply stolen bases minus times caught stealing) and the newly-christened Ultimate Baserunning, but neither covers the whole story. Net Steals don’t appropriately value the damage done by being caught stealing, and UBR doesn’t even factor in stolen bases.

Many teams–including the much publicized Moneyball Athletics–have stopped trying to steal bases in general. Why? Because the risk is so high, taking an extra base is often a gamble with a low return. Successfully stealing one base in every two tries doesn’t break even, that extra out created ultimately doesn’t justify taking an extra base. Having a man on second is clearly much more valuable than having a man on first, but there is value enough in just having a man on base–without using up one of your 27 outs.

According to studies done by James Click on stealing bases, a runner needs to steal successfully about 73% of the time to break even. Now, this number fluctuates depending on which base is being attempted at and how many outs there are. But the point is that the rate you need to make it into the black is much higher than the previously used 50%.

In simpler terms, this means that for every three times a runner is caught stealing, he needs at least eight stolen bases to not be hurting his team. Even eight out of twelve swipes is a failure. And with that in mind, it gives us the formula for Weighted Net Steals (abbreviated wNS):

wNS = SB – (8/3)CS

Before we break down the leaders in weighted net steals, let’s take a look at the top 10 base stealers of 2011 based on stolen bases:

Michael Bourn 61 14 23.67
Coco Crisp 49 9 25.00
Brett Gardner 49 13 14.33
Matt Kemp 40 11 10.67
Emilio Bonifacio 40 11 10.67
Ichiro Suzuki 40 7 21.33
Cameron Maybin 40 8 18.67
Drew Stubbs 40 10 13.33
Jose Reyes 39 7 20.33
Jacoby Ellsbury 39 15 -1.00

From just looking at stolen bases, Michael Bourn is by far the best runner, followed by Gardner, Kemp, and a pack of seven equally good runners. But once you weigh the disadvantage of being caught stealing, the rankings shake up dramatically. Kemp, Bonifacio, and Stubbs fall out of the top 10, and Ellsbury is so inefficient that he receives a negative grade for wNS.

Here are the top twenty base stealers of 2011 based on net steals:

Michael Bourn 61 14 47 23.7
Coco Crisp 49 9 40 25.0
Brett Gardner 49 13 36 14.3
Ichiro Suzuki 40 7 33 21.3
Jose Reyes 39 7 32 20.3
Cameron Maybin 40 8 32 18.7
Drew Stubbs 40 10 30 13.3
Emilio Bonifacio 40 11 29 10.7
Matt Kemp 40 11 29 10.7
Ryan Braun 33 6 27 17.0
Ian Kinsler 30 4 26 19.3
Jason Bourgeois 31 6 25 15.0
Angel Pagan 32 7 25 13.3
Ben Revere 34 9 25 10.0
Elvis Andrus 37 12 25 5.0
Erick Aybar 30 6 24 14.0
B.J. Upton 36 12 24 4.0
Jacoby Ellsbury 39 15 24 -1.0
Will Venable 26 3 23 18.0
Eric Young 27 4 23 16.3

Net steals are much better than pure stolen bases when it comes to assessing the best base stealers in the game. But as discussed earlier in this article, it doesn’t put enough importance on being caught stealing. Gardner, Stubbs, Bonifacio, Kemp, Andrus, Upton, and Ellsbury were all caught stealing double-digit times, yet they remained in the Top-20. Unfortunately, Net Steals doesn’t exactly measure efficiency for steals, it just slightly penalizes overly-aggressive base stealers.

Here are the top twenty base stealers of 2011 based on weighted net steals:

Coco Crisp 49 9 25.0
Michael Bourn 61 14 23.7
Ichiro Suzuki 40 7 21.3
Jose Reyes 39 7 20.3
Ian Kinsler 30 4 19.3
Cameron Maybin 40 8 18.7
Will Venable 26 3 18.0
Craig Gentry 18 0 18.0
Ryan Braun 33 6 17.0
Eric Young 27 4 16.3
Jason Bourgeois 31 6 15.0
Brett Gardner 49 13 14.3
Chase Utley 14 0 14.0
Erick Aybar 30 6 14.0
Drew Stubbs 40 10 13.3
Angel Pagan 32 7 13.3
Gerardo Parra 15 1 12.3
Jordan Schafer 22 4 11.3
Jayson Werth 19 3 11.0
Shane Victorino 19 3 11.0

What we see now is that raw stolen base totals aren’t so important. Craig Gentry cracked the top 10 list, and he didn’t even swipe 20 bases all year. He just was never caught. Will Venable and Eric Young made it in at #6 and #10 respectively, despite only taking 53 bases combined. But they were only caught 7 times all year.

Your strength as a baserunner doesn’t really depend on how many times you steal a base. Runner X who steals 40 bases and gets caught 15 times has the same wNS score as a runner who takes eight bases while getting caught three times. It’s about efficiency.

Weighted Net Steals also somewhat takes a page out of the book of Simpson’s Paradox. The stat doesn’t revolve around just efficiency, or Adrian Gonzalez would be the best baserunner in the league with one steal in one attempt. The aforementioned Craig Gentry may be 18-for-18 in steals, but he’ll get a lower wNS score than Cameron Maybin, who went 40-for-48, since Maybin has stolen many more bases, even after being caught eight times. Of course, the difference between their scores (18 and 18.7) is minute, but it shows that it takes more than never being caught to be a good baserunner.

Base stealing is one of the last fronts in baseball that still has room to grow in terms of advanced stats. But I believe that wNS is a step in the right direction. The stat doesn’t measure speed; home-to-first times are more valuable if that’s what you’re looking for. Rather, wNS shows just how much value a player adds to his team. Each whole number is an extra base added (just like stretching a single into a double), and a score of zero means the player had no impact (positive or negative) on the basepaths.

Is Jacoby Ellsbury an efficient base stealer? In 2011, no. But for his career, very much so.

These values, though, are not meant to be predictive. In fact, they can even fluctuate greatly between seasons. But what they do illustrate is the efficiency of the player’s baserunning.

For example, you can read into Jacoby Ellsbury’s 2011 wNS score of -1 and see a tick-below-average runner. That may be true for last season, but you can’t extrapolate that number to say he’s an average runner overall. In fact, for his career, he’s a wonderfully efficient runner with a career wNS of 71–good for 14.2 per season. Before last season, he posted wNS scores of 4.3, 38, 20.7, and 9.

Some teams have sworn off stealing because of the repercussions of being caught stealing. But that’s not the best strategy. When done efficiently, stealing is an easy way to compensate for a lineup that may be lacking in pop. Maybe that’s why the Moneyball A’s never won anything.

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Bobcats Baseline

I haven’t been writing too many blog posts recently for a couple of reasons. One, I’ve been distracted with whatnot related to college. Two, I can get a little lazy/procrastinate-y. But third and most importantly, I’ve started to write for another blog, Bobcats Baseline.

I’ve been blessed with this opportunity to write for this blog, which I mostly thank Bobcats Baseline’s own ASChin and Dr. E for. Hopefully, I’ll contribute twice or so per month.

I can’t thank these guys enough for this new writing chance. Of course, I’ll still be posting on The Knuckle Blog, but I’ll also put any posts I have for Bobcats Baseline on a newly created page for those posts.

Below are my first two posts for the site. The first is my new post on how the Bobcats can possibly trade Boris Diaw. The second is a post from way back in July about what to expect from Kemba Walker’s rookie season.

Don’t forget to check them out and read from the site in general, too. Also, you can follow ASChin on Twitter @bobcatsbaseline and Dr. E @BaselineDrE.


Trading Boris Diaw

Kemba Walker — Expect Big Things

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The Road to the Super Bowl

I didn’t post a blog about the playoffs last week since I was out of town, but have no fear, my picks are here! Home teams in CAPS.

PATRIOTS (-7) over Ravens

You could call the Patriots lucky. The Broncos knocked out the Steelers, the Giants took down the Packers, and the Niners shocked the Saints. All of a sudden, the Patriots could win the Super Bowl by beating Tim Tebow, Joe Flacco, and Alex Smith. Then again, you could call the Patriots unlucky because they’ve never had this much pressure on them to win the Super Bowl.

Of course I have to include Tim Tebow in a football column!

Not only are the Patriots by far the best team left in the playoffs, they possibly have to exorcize demons from their 18-1 season. They’ve also just won one playoff game since that fateful loss to the Giants. But let’s not get too caught up in minor details; let’s get to the breakdown.

The Patriots are clearly the more talented team. Plain and simple. But one thing scares me about this game: New England has a strange propensity to spot the other team big points early. In the last three regular season games, they’ve spotted the Broncos, Dolphins, and BillsĀ  7, 17, and 221 points before putting points on the board themselves. The last two games were even at home. And this would become even more problematic if they do this against the Ravens.

It’s not just that they’d be giving up points to the Ravens, spotting Baltimore points early on would put the Patriots right where the Ravens want them. Their offense works best when Ray Rice is getting most of the touches. If the Ravens are way ahead, they’ll want to control the clock by pounding the ball–straight into the 17th ranked rush defense. The way the Patriots can nearly assure a win is if they can force Joe Flacco to beat them. Which he can’t.

But I don’t expect the Patriots to fall behind early. As tough as it will be for the Pats to contain Ray Rice, I can’t envision any way the Ravens can stop Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Their linebacking core is too old, and the secondary is too small. And even if they do find some magic powder and cover those two, they won’t have enough players to stop Wes Welker.

In the end, Tom Brady just doesn’t lose at home, and he doesn’t lose in the snow. The Ravens are a little too old on defense, and I can’t see them stopping Tom Terrific.

Giants (+2.5) over NINERS

Right off the bat, I’ll tell you this: I think the 49ers are going to win this game. I’m taking the Giants with the points, however, because I think this game will be very close.

After Cam Newton, no player surprised me more this year than Eli Manning. I’ve made more than my fair of (mostly-deserved) Manning jokes, but to his credit, he has completed most of his passes. Tim Tebow can’t say that. He has the sixth best passing yardage in a season, which is a surprise considering his lack of Brady Hair.

This Giants team was a big surprise to me. If Jason Garrett didn’t ice his own kicker, they wouldn’t even be in the playoffs. Yet, they made it. And they even have the same formula as the 2007 Super Bowl Champion team. I still don’t love the team, though, because I don’t trust the running game, I don’t trust the quarterback, and I don’t trust their red-faced coach.

But let’s not forget about the Niners. After all, I am picking them to make the Super Bowl. Coach John Harbaugh has turned Alex Smith into Andrew Luck-lite: a QB who can hand the ball off to a great running game and make all the passes when he’s needed. That may not sound like Andrew Luck, but look up Stanford’s games, and that’s exactly what his role was.

The Niners were as shocking as any team, yet they really shouldn’t be a surprise. They have an outstanding defense, and great running game, and enough offense through the air to beat you. It’s what the Giants should have, except Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs have just disappeared this year.

This game should be close, and I’m not sure it’ll be a lot of fun. My best guess is that with about four minutes left, there will be less than 35 total points on the board, and one team will have to make the winning drive. And I believe that team will be San Francisco. Harbaugh has his team playing so hard for him–I think he has one last magical run in this overachieving team. I think the Niners will pull this one out in the last minute–not so far off from what they did against the Saints–but they’ll win by two or less.

Last Week: 2-2

Playoffs: 4-4

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Do You Remember?

What a great season we just had. A team nearly went undefeated, and another almost went defeated. Brett Favre declined an invitation from the Texans and Bears to come back, and Mark Sanchez declined an invitation to be a starting quarterback next season. Oh, and do you even remember there being a lockout? It seems like ages ago.

I’ll just cut to the chase, here are my NFL Wild Card Weekend NFL Picks. Home teams in CAPS.

TEXANS (-3) over Bengals

As an NFL fan, it’s really sad that the season Houston finally makes the playoffs, they lost their start quarterback and pass rusher for the year. Defensively, they’re still fine with Brian Cushing, J.J. Watt, DeMeco Ryans, and Johnathan Joseph, but the offense is hurting considerably.

The Texans had the second best rushing attack in the game to match Matt Schaub’s prolific air attack, giving Houston one of the best rounded offenses in the league. But now with T.J. Yates at the helm, teams can put seven and eight and nine men in the box to force him to pass. Yates is 2-3 as a starter with 158 yards passing per game and 3 touchdowns to 3 interceptions. He’s far from good, but he’s not Jake Delhomme bad.

With that in mind, you’d think that the Texans would be a pushover at home. But they’re not playing the Steelers. They’re not even playing the Broncos. They’re playing the Bengals.

Most people thought the Bengals were headed to another year of mediocrity, and if you had suggested they’d make the playoffs, I’d have called you crazy. In fact, I may or may not have picked them to go 3-13 this year. But their 9-7 record is deceiving, and I’ll tell you why.

The 17-week NFL season is a marathon, but since each team only plays sixteen games, a couple of wins can really distort a team’s record. Cincinnati had a horrific strength of schedule (facing the Browns twice, the NFC West, and the AFC South), while only beating one team with a winning record: 9-7 Tennessee.

The Bengals had seven games against playoffs teams and struck out. In fact, they were out-scored 171-113. Andy Dalton isn’t good, he’s a fine game manager with a great defense. Cedric Benson isn’t a good running back, he just gets over 19 touches per game. The Bengals aren’t good, they’ve just feasted off of sub-par competition.

SAINTS (-9.5) over Lions

What’s more embarrassing than losing to a team that lays down in front of you? Letting their backup quarterback set a franchise record with 480 passing yards. So now I pose this question to you: if the Lions let Matt Flynn walk all over them, how much damage will Drew Brees do to them?

And you thought I couldn't work SpongeBob into a sports blog...

To be frank, I don’t think that this game will be very close. Then again, I thought that the Saints would absolutely run over the Seahawks in the first round last year. But that’s beside the point. The Lions defense is more porous than SpongeBob right now, and Drew Brees is more precise than an LA plastic surgeon. So instead of discussing why the Saints will run away with this game, I’ll discuss which team has a better shot at downing the Packers: the Saints or Niners.

It sounds almost crazy, discussing Drew Brees and Alex Smith in the same sentence. But the discussion is not exactly which quarterback is more likely to take down the Packers, but rather which team has a better show. These teams are very different: the Saints are an overpowering offensive team and the Niners are a pound-you-till-you’re-out aggressive team. We’ve seen the Saints already lose to the Packers in Week 1, but they came as close to beating Green Bay as anyone did without winning.

But while we’ve seen the Saints against Green Bay, we haven’t see San Francisco take on Green Bay, let alone a juggernaut offense all year. That is unless you count pre-Week 7 incarnations of the Lions and Eagles. They’ve mostly played average (or worse) offensive teams, which has allowed them to stay on their game plan: run the ball, run the ball, and run the ball. They’ve never fallen behind by more than 20, and haven’t trailed by more than seven since Thanksgiving. But I think if and when they fall behind big to the Packers, they’ll have to leave their game plan and will end up running into trouble.

In the end, I’ll give the Saints a better shot against the Packers than I will the Niners. They’ve got a very similar team to the Packers, but they’re just about completely healthy. While the Packers ended the year a bit shaky, the Saints were firing on all cylinders. I won’t give you my pick yet, but I’ll say that it’ll make one helluva Championship Game.

Falcons (+3) over GIANTS

On a personal note, I’ve always like the Falcons and disliked the Giants. But I’m not going to let that get in the way of serious football logic with this pick, I actually do think the Falcons can win this game. Matt Ryan may not have taken The Leap this year, but as a whole, I think the Falcons are the better team.

The Giants are a funny team to say the least. They’re known as a smash-mouth team, yet they’re 32nd in rushing. There are holes across the defense, yet they’re 3rd in the league in sacks, mostly sending only four pass rushers. Citizen Eco-Drive claims that Eli Manning is unstoppable, but, well…

Atlanta, on the other hand, is very predictable and explainable. As Football Outsiders’ Aaron Schatz pointed out, the Falcons had the most consistent defense this season according to their defensive metric DVOA. Ever. They beat up on bad teams, outscoring teams 314-201 in their ten wins–against teams with a record of 60-100. The six losses came against teams with a combined record of 63-33 by a combined score of 159-88. They beat up on the poor and lose to the rich.

Each team is clearly flawed–I don’t see either team putting up much of a fight against the Packers or Niners. But I think the Giants lack of a run game and inability to stop the pass will ultimately lead to their downfall. Atlanta can drop seven players into coverage and force Eli Manning to pull a Mark Sanchez and throw away the game. This one should be close, but I think the Falcons offense will be too much for the faulty Giants D.

Steelers (-8) over BRONCOS

There are too many Tim Tebow/Ben Roethlisberger jokes, I’ll be the bigger man and stay away from them. No, I’ll give you just one: Tim Tebow is such a good citizen, he makes Ben Roethlisberger look like Kobe Bryant. No, wait, Lawrence Taylor.

At first glance, this game looks like a blowout. And it probably will be. But the Steelers lost stud running back Rashard Mendenhall for the year, safety Ryan Clark is out for this week, and Big Ben is still banged up. Pittsburgh is clearly a step behind the Ravens, but you can never count out a team run by Ben Roethlisberger.

Similar to Baltimore, Pittsburgh has always been known for a stingy defense and adequate defense. But in the last couple of seasons, both teams have transformed into very nice offensive teams. With the emergence of Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown as very good deep options, Pittsburgh can beat you through the air. But we’ve seen so much of this Steelers team that we often get tuned out to just how great they are, turning our attention to younger, more exciting teams.

Pittsburgh may be banged up, but their offense is betweeen 3 and 14 times better than the Broncos. We’ve all talked for ages about the merits of Tim Tebow, but for now, he’s not going to take down the big boys without better weapons. Eric Decker couldn’t even tear it up at Minnesota his senior year. The Broncos win games by pounding the ball, and the Steelers are eighth in the league at stopping the run. Not to mention being tops in pass defense.

I’d pick the Broncos against the Bengals and Texans. I really would. But the Stillers are in an entirely different league compared to the Broncos. Weirder stuff has happened in the Mile High air, but Pittsburgh should run away with this game. As a final thought, the Broncos scored 17 combined points to close the year against the vaunted Chiefs and Bills D. How well could they possibly do against Pittsburgh? This is your Lance in my Pants Lock o’ the Week.

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I Hate Week 17

I’m just going to throw it out there: I hate Week 17. And not just because it’s the last week I’ll get to see Cam Newton in a game for about seven months. From a betting prospective, this is the worst week ever to put money on games. Starters sit, normal injuries get extra rest, motivation changes, and more starters sit. This week has the weirdest lines (Green Bay is a home underdog) because so many playoff seeds are already set.

Why is this week different from all other weeks? Are teams actually going to tank for one game? We’ll find out by watching, but find out below in my Week 17 picks. Home teams, as usual, in CAPS.

PATRIOTS (-12.5) over Bills
If there was any coach to run up the score in Week 17, don’t you think it would be Belichick?

Bears (-0.5) over VIKINGS
We’ve seen so many young quarterbacks this year. Between five rookies, all too many injuries, and a couple of bad starters, there have been more backups playing than days in a Kardashian marriage. But only two have been really bad: Blaine Gabbert and Caleb Hanie. The rest have been great (Cam Newton), good (Andy Dalton), or serviceable (Dan Orlovsky). On the other hand, the Vikings are missing Adrian Peterson; I think I’ll be taking the Bears.

PACKERS (+1.5) over Lions
I don’t care what the Packers are playing for, I’m not giving points taking the Lions here. Also, how much extra motivation is it really to move from the 6th ranked team to the 5th ranked team?

Never before has Peyton Manning rooted so hard for a win.

TEXANS (+2.5) over Titans
I just don’t think the Titans are that good. But they’ve still got a shot at the playoffs. All they need is a win, a Cincinnati loss, and a either a Jets win and one AFC West team losing or both AFC West teams winning while the Jets lose. Or Moses to part the Red Sea.

Colts (+4.5) over JAGUARS
Do you think the Colts players love Peyton Manning so much that they’d purposely un-blow a game to keep him around? I’m not sure if they would, but I can’t rely on Blaine Gabbert to win by five under any circumstances.

Niners (-10.5) over RAMS
If you can beat the Steelers 20-3, I hope you can go on the road and beat the Rams by 11.

Jets (+1.5) over DOLPHINS
As weird of a turnaround as it’s been for the Dolphins, I just can’t pick them against the Jets when New York has the playoffs to play for. Deep down, I’ll be rooting for Miami just so Rex Ryan will either a) say something really stupid or b) never make a bold proclamation ever again. We both know a) is far more likely, though.

Panthers (+7.5) over SAINTS
If you consider that this off-season the Panthers will be adding the 2nd best linebacker in the game (Jon Beason), a near All-Pro linebacker and tackle (Thomas Davis and Jeff Otah), plus a top-12 1st and 2nd round pick at the bare minimum, it’s not to crazy to say that this team is headed to the playoffs next year. Cam Newton is just that good.

EAGLES (-8.5) over Redskins
For a moment, I wanted to go with the suddenly-tough Redskins, but then I remembered that they have Rex Grossman. I really hope they either land Robert Griffin III or Peyton Manning this off-season because then I can really jump on their bandwagon.

Buccaneers (+13.5) over FALCONS
The Falcons are essentially playing for the same thing that the Lions are: to move up one spot in the playoffs. But no matter how awful the Bucs are, I just can’t see the Falcons going all-out to beat them by two touchdowns.

Ravens (-2.5) over BENGALS
Sure, the Bengals have more to play for, the the Bengals might want some momentum headed to the playoffs. I still love Baltimore this year because they get up for the big games (6-0 against the Steelers, Niners, Jets, Bengals, and Texans). They won’t have to face the Seahawks and Jags in the playoffs.

Steelers (-7.5) over BROWNS
The Browns were bad to start with, so when Colt McCoy left it just turned unbearable. As a side note, you know your team is terrible when you’re hurting for a future career backup QB to return from injury.

BRONCOS (-3.5) over Chiefs
Are we forgetting that Kyle Orton is not good? He was 12-21 as a starter in Denver, including 4-14 the last two years. He’s the very definitely on an average quarterback. Denver can make the playoffs with a win, so I’ll put my faith in Timmy Tebow. (See what I did there?)

Chargers (+2.5) over RAIDERS
I’m not giving 2.5 to take the Raiders.

Seahawks (+3.5) over CARDINALS
For this game, go with my usual rule of thumb: In an NFC West game without San Fran, TAKE THE POINTS! It’s 3-2 on the year.

Cowboys (+3.5) over GIANTS
I don’t think there’s a single play more career-altering than Tony Romo’s botched hold against Seattle in the playoffs. Because of it, everyone thinks of him as a choker and a loser. But really, he’s the best 4th quarter QBs all year by quarterback rating. Better than Brady. Better than Tebow. In fact, he has 18 touchdowns to 2 interceptions in his last seven games.

Last Week: 7-9

Season: 119-121

Lance in my Pants Lock o’ the Week: 11-4


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