Yesterday the Orioles held an event at Camden Yards with Bloomberg Sports to show off the Bloomberg Baseball Data Tool they’ve started using (you know, the one that makes those graphics we see on the broadcast showing that Brian Matusz throws 55% fastballs, 15% change-ups, etc.). I unfortunately forgot my notepad, so the recap is all from memory.
Dan Duquette* spoke briefly at the beginning, talking about the O’s using all the data available to improve the club (for example, with Buck Showalter employing the infield shift this year) and mentioning that part of the reason the O’s pulled their advanced scouts (who traditionally go to scout the clubs the team is about to play) is that the Bloomberg Tool provides them all kinds of data on those clubs (much of it things the scout wouldn’t even pick up).
* It was the first time I’ve seen Duquette in person and, though this sounds stupid, it seemed like he was an actor playing ‘Orioles General Manager Dan Duquette’. Maybe it’s the voice or the hair?
Next up was the head of Bloomberg Sports (who has also the guy who started SportsVision), whose name I don’t remember. He showed us the publically available Bloomberg Fantasy Baseball tool (which does stuff like suggest trades for you to make based on the strengths and weaknesses of your team as well as the other team) and, much more interestingly, the Pro tool used by Major League clubs (25 of 30, I believe).
Now that was neat. The interface seemed well built and relatively easy to use, though we mostly just looked at PitchFX data; what pitches Adam Jones has seen this year, the fastballs Jones has seen, the pitches he’s seen with 2 outs, the pitches he’s seen from Justin Verlander, etc. Pretty standard PitchFX stuff, but easy to chop up and it looked nice – clicking on a pitch that Jones hit for a home run brought up a video clip of it. There was also some cool looking pitch sequencing graphics. None of it was something that I couldn’t put together myself, but drop-down menus are just a bit easier to navigate than writing code to run against a PitchFX database and their graphics looked a touch better than what Excel would spit out. Those were only a couple tabs out of somewhere between 5 and 100 though, so there are surely more aspects to it.
Rick Peterson then gave his own presentation focusing mainly on – basically – the importance of not falling behind in counts as a pitcher. Peterson came off as a good guy, but the presentation was not the best*. One of the first slides in the PowerPoint was of batting average and slugging percentage when a ball is put into play in each count, and he said those numbers haven’t changed in 10 years. That immediately set of alarm bells, since offensive levels overall are way down from where they had been (slugging has dropped almost 30 points). Maybe he meant that the numbers were the same relatively speaking (between the counts), or maybe he hadn’t updated his table recently. Either way, at least some people took it seriously (one person started a question by referencing the point as true).
* I’m being somewhat nit-picky. Sue me.
Peterson also talked about batting average on balls in play on pitches at the bottom of the strike-zone (the “220 line”*, since the batting average there was .220). Not terribly surprising as the batting average on groundballs was .237 last year (via Baseball-Reference). He didn’t mention any sort of line for up in the strike-zone though – and the batting average on flyballs was actually even lower at .218 (obviously line-drives muck around with these distinctions). The audience probably wasn’t the right one for it, but this is where using wOBA would have been much better (or even OPS, since the gap for 2011 was almost 300 points). Liked the line about a “hot hitter” being one who’s been getting a lot of balls thigh-high in the middle of the plate recently, and a “cold hitter” is one who hasn’t.
* Apparently one of the reasons Jim Johnson has been one of the best closers in baseball this year is because his batting average on balls down in the zone is really low. Well yeah, a crazy low BABIP tends to lead to fewer runs allowed (JJ’s is .140 overall and .131 on groundballs). The thing that makes Johnson good isn’t so much that he has a low BABIP on pitches down asthat he keeps pitches down (and limits free passes). Thus the 66% groundball allowing him to post a pretty good xFIP (~3.40) despite a low strike-out rate. That xFIP ranks Johnson just 55th among qualified relievers** and 13th among pitchers with at least 5 saves. though.
** A few spot behind Alfredo Simon, who’s posting a 1.91 ERA, 2.56 FIP, 3.32 xFIP line for the Reds – sure glad the Orioles cut him so they could hold on to Kevin Gregg (amongst others).
This led to a graphic saying the most important things for a pitcher are groundballs and swings and misses though, and I can certainly get behind that. I was thinking about asking him about the tension between the two – since fastballs down are more likely to get groundballs, but fastballs up are more likely to get whiffs* – but didn’t think it was worth holding things up and assumed I’d just get an answer about how you want both. Peterson said one of the reasons the Orioles staff has been so good this year is that they get a lot of groundballs and swings and misses**.