Bergstrom: Rethinking Rockies outfielder positioning

From SABR member Richard Bergstrom at Rockies Zingers on April 22, 2016:

One of the things I’ve done for fun the last few years is attend the SABR Analytics conference that takes place in Arizona during Spring Training. Though this year’s conference was sponsored by the Rockies, unlike the prior two years, the Rockies didn’t have representatives on any of the panels. However, the Rockies players were often mentioned during the conference. Carlos Gonzalez‘s name popped up quite a few times on the subject of hardest hit balls. There was also news that Charlie Blackmon was trying to get more information about spin rate and other Statcast data, which he had mentioned is something he was interested in at Rockies FanFest. Then, of course, there were quite a few references to Coors Field in addition to the effect, if any (Sorry, Trevor Story!), the new fences would have at Coors Field. So, overall, the conference was far from starved on Rockies content.

While there, I had the chance to meet and talk quite a bit with Voros McCracken. He originated the concept of Defense Independent Pitching Statistics (DIPS). His basic theory was that pitchers have little effect over hit balls once they are in play. To better evaluate pitching performance, he suggested, it was best to focus on areas the pitcher had direct control of, such as walks, strikeouts and home runs. Many metrics and concepts today such as BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) and FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), evolved from his work. Since its inception, the theory has been refined as other researchers have investigated his findings. One presentation that he and I were looking forward to was Brian Cartwright’s presentation on “Solving DIPS by Deconstructing BABIP“. I’ve known Brian online for years, back since his Baseball Prospectus Idol days. For the real stat-savvy of our readers, Brian created the Oliver Database, a projection system used by FanGraphs as well as other projection systems that predict the performance of what college and foreign-league players would do in Major League Baseball. He knows his numbers, and Voros and I were both eager to see what he had to say about DIPS.

The focus of Cartwright’s presentation was that BABIP is a noisy stat because it’s made up of a lot of different things, such as how hard a ball is hit and where a ball is hit. He believes that there are some elements that pitchers actually have some control of, such as the vertical angle of a hit ball. Other aspects, he believed the hitter has more control of, such as exit velocity. This is a fascinating, very deep presentation with a lot of concepts being discussed. The math is pretty advanced, but Brian methodically steps through each part of the process he uses. Feel free to click the audio, flip through the slides and listen in.

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Originally published: April 25, 2016. Last Updated: April 25, 2016.