The Cards and the Commandments of Sabermetrics

by on August 12, 2008 · 4 comments

I’m sure a lot of you have seen this list before, but I just saw it yesterday for the first time, so I’m going to force it upon you again.

Now, obviously Sabermetrics is something not every baseball fan necessarily follows nor understands, but nevertheless, some of the basics ring true for basic baseball knowledge.  That being said, the list I am referring to (and posted below), is a Ten Commandments of Sabermetrics by the widely-acknowledged “father” of Sabermetrics, Bill James.

The Ten Commandments of Sabermetrics
By Bill James

1. Thou Shalt not Bunt.
2. Thou Shalt Have no Low On Base Percentages Before the Cleanup Hitter
3. Honor the three-run homer and the leadoff walk.
4. Thou shalt not steal at anything less than a 70% success rate.
5. Thou shalt make no idol of the light-hitting middle infielder.
6. Thou shalt not count to the credit of the pitcher that which is done by his fielders or by his hitters, nor charge him with their failings.
7. Thou shalt not abuse thy starting pitchers.
8. Thou shalt make no effort to ride the hot hand, for the hot hand is but a shape in the wind.
9. Place thy faith not in veterans, when youth be available to ye.
10. Thou shalt not pass freely thy opponent’s number eight hitter, nor his cleanup hitter, nor his left-handed pinch hitter, nor any hitter that is thy opponent’s.

Read that list once more, and let them all sink in.

Now let’s address this in the view of the Cardinals.

  1. Well, not everyone believes in this, especially playing National League-style baseball.  Good luck trying to convince Tony LaRussa of this one.  Doesn’t necessarily apply.
  2. For their part, the Cardinals are all over .371 OBP from lead-off to cleanup (with the exception of Brian Barton who has the second-most appearances in the lead-off spot this season – which I would’ve never guessed).  Not too shabby.
  3. The Cardinals are still close to the MLB lead in walks and have taken 86 of them leading off an inning.  Pretty good ratio, from my admittedly amateur point of view.  The Cardinal starters have been good about not giving up a lot of walks, but the bullpen has been horrendous.  I wish I could break out how many of the leadoff walks issued by Cardinal pitchers was by the bullpen.  The Cardinals have 13 three-run homers this season out of a total of 133.  Conversely, the pitchers have surrendered 12 three-run shots of a total of 126 allowed.  Not too bad comparatively.
  4. The Redbirds are 56 of 78 this season, good for 71.7%.  An acceptable percentage, but lots of folks (read: the author) would like to see them run more, situationally.
  5. This one is what really got me thinking about this list and how it pertains to the Cardinals.  Let’s go through the litany of players rotated through the St Louis middle infield in recent years.  Aaron Miles, David Eckstein, Adam Kennedy, Cesar Izturis, Brendan Ryan, Miguel Cairo, Felipe Lopez, Hector Luna, and on and on.  You could go back many years to find a middle infielder with much pop.  Edgar Renteria is the closest in recent history that I can think of.
  6. This one really hasn’t applied to the Cardinals until the last week or so as fielding goes, as their defense has been pretty impressive team-wise, a good reason for their success to date.  You could argue that the offense has had its share of unimpressive performances, leading to undue losses for the pitching staff – but I might extend this commandment a bit further to include not faulting the starting pitchers who have been victimized by the bullpen allowing inherited runners to score at an alarming rate.
  7. LaRussa and Duncan have a minor tendency to push starting pitchers beyond their limits and not pull them at signs of distress and trouble getting hitters out.  In their defense, it is hard to justify pulling  a starter who has cruised through six innings only to go to questionable arms (and mental states) in the bullpen.  To look at this a different way, you could argue that the pitchers have been abused by the consistent letdowns of the bullpen, costing them wins.  The Cards’ ‘pen has 25 losses on the season, exacerbated by 27 blown saves, the most in MLB.
  8. Tony and his merry band of Redbirds would never be accused of riding a hot hand.  It took almost two months before Ryan Ludwick could find himself a regular spot in the lineup, and all he’s done is put up MVP-quality numbers this season.
  9. This appears to be the biggest Cardinal sin (yuk yuk) committed this season (well, and who am I kidding, every other season in LaRussa’s tenure).  The same bullpen retreads are run out every night while youngsters like Chris Perez are “forced to earn their keep” or “made to earn their job” while guys like Jason Isringhausen and Ryan Franklin seemingly can’t do anything horrible enough to lose theirs.  Jason Motte has been filthy on the mound at triple-A Memphis this season, but can’t get a sniff with the big club, despite the massive amounts of shuffling being done this year.  Meanwhile, Kelvin Jimenez continues to get call-ups.  There appears to be a real rift in the organization between what the front office of John Mozeliak and Jeff Luhnow are trying to accomplish and what Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan want to trot out on the field every night.  Anthony Reyes pitched brilliantly for Cleveland the other night, was anyone surprised?  They allowed him to pitch how he was comfortable pitching and he had a great outing.  It will be interesting to see where this team goes next season as more youth is developed and more of the stopgap veteran players depart.  It will be perhaps even more interesting seeing what LaRussa does following next year, when is contract comes due again.
  10. This one kind of follows with number one – I don’t think there’s a team in baseball that would buy into this philosophy – especially if they had to face Albert Pujols at any point.  Of course, this also takes on special meaning when applied to a team facing the Cardinals, because as we all know – Pitchers Hit Eighth.

What does all this mean?  Eh, virtually nothing, other than I found the list interesting and thought I could throw together some entertaining comparisons and ideas as they apply to the Cardinals.

How would you apply these axioms of Sabermetrics to the hometown club?  Leave a note below…

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Writing about the Cardinals and other loosely associated topics since 2008, I've grown tired of the April run-out only to disappoint Cardinal fans everywhere by mid-May. I do not believe in surrendering free outs.
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{ 4 comments }

Alex August 13, 2008

I know this list and so should more major league managers. These arent just things he pulled out of hi ass, these are things he, and other sabermetrics experts, have proven by looking at historical data.

PHE August 13, 2008

Alex-

For clarification, I’m not disputing the list, and I am fully aware that this is all backed up by research.

I’m pretty disappointed in how blatant the Cards’ disregard for some of these items has been.

I think it will be interesting to see just how much organizational focus changes as the front office gets deeper into the Mozeliak-Luhnow years.

StLCards August 14, 2008

Sabermetrics are fun and attempt to quantify subtelties of the game not captured in normal ‘stats’ that we are used to seeing. Some are commonplace now like obp and ops but others still remain obscure. I’m no sabermetrician by any means and tend to yawn at many of these, most likely because they are too time consuming to understand many of them and I’d rather watch games then do math!

Even still, I’ve read Money Ball and some Bill James articles so understand the concept. One thing I’m unsure in all of this is if these models are predictive of the future or just tell us what happened in the past? One arguement I make sometimes is that looking at say 14 day or 30 day stats doesn’t tell you anything about a player’s future, only about his past. In fact, you could argue the opposite, that a player coming off of a good 14 day period may be due for a regression to the mean. OK, that doesn’t pertain to Sabermetrics, but you can still ask the same questions. Sure, you can argue that opb is a better predictor of runs than average and slugging % predicts rbis better and that stealing doesn’t lead to more runs. But does knowing those stats from the past really tell you more about the player’s future? Maybe some other stats tell you more, such as age?

In any case, getting back to the 10 commandments of Sabermetrics.
1) don’t bunt. Certainly not going to fly with Tony and didn’t fly with Whitey either. If you never bunt then the idea of a ‘fake’ bunt where you intentionally try to draw the infielders in probably will never work either. I doubt any national league team would subscribe to the no bunt theory and I wonder if that rule is meant just to apply to the AL?
2)no low obp before the cleanup hitter. Tony doesn’t seem to adhere to this one as he likes power in the #2 slot. I doubt Ankiel or Duncan would qualify as high obp guys, yet those are prototypical #2 hitters for Tony. I would rather see high obp with speed in the first two spots.
3)3 run HR and leadoff walk. Ideally you would like that, and having the pitcher hit eighth and a power hitter 2nd kind of subscribes to that theory. In the first inning you get Pujols batting 3rd for the 3run HR shot, and then later in the game if the 9th spot leads off when the pitcher makes the last out, then you have a shot at your power two batter to cork one.
4)70% SB rate. Maybe as a general rule, but clearly there are times that dictate running. Billy Beane doesn’t like to run at all, but to me team speed including SBs are essential and something the Cards sorely lack. Lopez at least brings that component with him. I still think the Cards would have won the WS if Coleman hadn’t gotten roled up in the tarp and Brock was instrumental prior to that. They both probably had greater than 70% success rates, but I think getting steals is huge. Puts tremendous pressure on pitchers and infielders and forces errors.
5)Don’t idol MI. Certainly a gold glove SS is nothing to sneeze at and the Cards had a pretty good one in Ozzie although he did improve his hitting later. I think the Cards have made wise moves in the middle infield department since you can’t tie up every position with a big money stud. Better to go for fielding and preferablly speed there, IMO.
6)credit pitcher. I think Tony does a good job of this but maybe overdoes it. Really more about protecting the player. I think this one goes more about ‘valuing’ a player and isn’t strategy related. Some of the sabermetric stats look at things like ground balls in play and outs vs hits etc. With the extensive notebooks that Duncan has he probably has stats we’d never even think of.
7)don’t abuse starting pitcher. I’m not sure what this one means, but it could mean in terms of innings pitched in a season. Clearly there are correlations between 200+ innings and a fall off in performance the following year. Not sure how the Cards fare there, but seeing as how we’re happy if a SP goes 6 or 7 innings they are probably safe.
8)hot hand doesn’t exist. I guess this is saying that past performance doesn’t predict future success, or at least recent performance. This is true of Tony in that a ‘hot’ player could ride the pine, however, that could be because the ‘cold’ player is ‘hot’ against a certain pitcher, or better against a lefty, etc. This rule would seem to suggest that would have no merit. To me it seems like it does have merit at least in certain situations as you might get inside a pitchers head and cause a less than stellar performance. I know there is supposedly no such thing as a ‘clutch’ player either. Maybe that is what Tony is thinking when he puts Looper in to pinch hit or lets the pitcher bat for himself and then doesn’t even have him pitch the next inning?
9)Definitely not a Tony/Duncan rule of thumb although there have been an awful lot of youngsters playing for them this year, so maybe they are coming around. I like a mix of youth to inject energy and veterans to instill discipline and maturity. This might come back to the ‘clutch’ thing, but when the going gets tough I’ll take the one that has been there before.
10)I wish other teams would subscribe to that so the Albert could get some balls to hit!

PHE August 14, 2008

Good follow-up StLCards.

I’d argue that the past can be a predictor of future performance, just in terms of determining a player’s performance levels.

Now, obviously, like you said, there will be hot and cold streaks, but I think the idea is to try and determine how a player will perform over the course of the season.

Naturally, you have to have a pretty large sample size to accurately predict these things (see Ryan Ludwick this season), but given the correct circumstances, I think Sabermetrics are a fine predictor of future performance. For instance, OBP is a pretty universally constant statistic. A guy could be in a horrible hitting slump, but maybe he’s still seeing the ball really well. He’ll still take walks and keep that OBP afloat that way before the balls he’s hitting right at people start to drop in.

Either way, as I stated, my original intent was to have a little fun with it and see how these tenets of James’ applied to this year’s Birds.

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