By Jason Wojciechowski on October 23, 2014 at 9:37 PM

Aaron Gleeman has helpfully compiled the list of Gold Glove "finalists" -- I still haven't figured out what "finalist" means in this context except that we know the list at each position contains the eventual winner. Just one A's player appears, Josh Donaldson, though Yoenis Cespedes is also a left field finalist and most of his defensive work (i.e. most of his splendiferous throws) was done for the A's.

Nor do the A's really have anyone who was slighted. Sam Fuld is a very good outfielder, but his 517 innings in center were the most he played at one position. (162 games x 9 innings = 1,458 innings, to give you a sense of scale.) Eric Sogard is above-average at second base but only played half a year of innings there. Craig Gentry is a part-timer. Josh Reddick missed 50 games.

And Coco Crisp ... well, that's an interesting one. He's been known as a good defender for a while, or at least as a good flycatcher with a limp noodle arm, but his numbers took an absolute dive this season: -13 FRAA, -17 DRS, -14 UZR, -7 Total Zone. Those aren't the be-all end-all, but when FRAA and Total Zone agree with the ball-in-play-based metrics, I tend to give the whole package a little more credence.

It's not hard to see where the drop comes from: Crisp caught way way fewer balls this year than he has in the past:

Year Putouts + Assists per game
2010 2.5
2011 2.4
2012 2.4
2013 2.8
2014 1.8


The Inside Edge numbers, which break chances down into probability bands (0%, 1-10%, 10-40%, 40-60%, 60-90%, 90-100%), show Crisp declining in every band. The numbers only go back to 2012, but, most precipitously, and also most intriguingly, check out the 1-10% band, which Inside Edge calls "Remote":

Year "Remote" plays made "Remote" chances %
2012 2 6 33%
2013 1 5 20%
2014 1 19 5.3%

Okay so there are some things to think about here. One of them is scorer bias. In 2013, Crisp had 47 chances labeled "impossible" and in basically the same number of innings in 2014, that declined to 30. So it's entirely possible that Crisp had something like 10 borderline balls switch ratings.

On the other hand! Inside Edge and BIS (which provides the data that forms the basis of DRS and UZR) presumably have different people watching/classifying the balls in play, and the drop in balls caught registers in the BIS-based metrics, so that might be an indication that it's not just error. (Unless, and let's here take some lessons from Colin Wyers, the classification systems are so alike that error is likely to be replicated across those systems.)

So I don't know. Coco caught fewer balls this year. That part is indubitable because we register one entirely objective statistic: putouts. He caught balls. He didn't catch balls. (That, incidentally, forms a large basis of FRAA.) On the other hand, how many air balls did the A's allow?

Year TBF In-play % In-play Air% Air balls IFFB% IFFB OFFB
2013 6069 70% 4248 59.9% 2544 16% 407 2137
2014 5971 69% 4120 53.8% 2215 14% 310 1905

(These stats are from Baseball Reference. If I knew off the top of my head where to get the raw stats, I'd just use those. Instead I have to work backward from the percentages.)

That's not an insubstantial difference. It's about 1.4 fewer outfield chances per game, which means 140 fewer chances to Crisp and his outfield mates in his 900 innings in center field. Breaking down the league range factors (there's probably a better way to do this), about 40 percent of those chances would go to center, so Crisp probably saw something like 55 fewer chances over the course of the year than he did in 2013.

Now, the statistics, especially the ball-in-play ones, account for this in the sense that they're only dealing in the first place with balls in Crisp's zone. He's not penalized for not catching those 55 balls that weren't hit to him. But in decreasing the sample, you're increasing the possibility that Crisp got bad luck on a weirdly skewed sample of difficult baseballs to catch. Which means that it becomes harder, despite the magnitude of the apparent defensive cratering we saw this year, at least in the numbers, to say "Crisp isn't what he was on defense" (and to therefore bemoan his contract).

There's also good reason to think Crisp's neck injury, which you'll recall began all the way back in May, had something to do with his defense. (Note as well his drop in steal attempts compared to 2011 and 2012, though double note that his rate was about the same as 2013.) On the other hand, he's always hurt. Always has been and, more importantly, always will be. If his injury was the reason he was -15 in the field this year, then we should probably count on that being the case until he hangs up the spikes unless there's some reason to think this injury was somehow special.

Maybe it was! I don't really know. It's all heuristics and guesswork and back-of-the-envelope math. There's only so far you can go with those. How far? Right about ... here.


By Jason Wojciechowski on October 20, 2014 at 8:28 PM

Probably the answer to the question in the title is "no," but Mike Axisa has a writeup of Korean shortstop Jung-Ho Kang, who appears set to be posted after an absurdly monster year with the bat in the Korean league. Seriously: .360/.463/.756. Granted, it's a high-offense league (5.68 R/G, .813 league OPS), but that's fantastic. Some of this, from Nick Cafardo, may sound familiar to A's fans who struggled through the Hiroyuki Nakajima years:

there is still some pushback from scouts who have seen him play on whether he translates to major league baseball. Some of the alarms include the leg kick in his stance that’s very pronounced and lasts deep into his swing. There also has always been skepticism over his ability to play shortstop in the majors, even though he won the Korean version of the Gold Glove.

In theory it was the abandonment of Nakajima's leg kick that caused him problems:

Nakajima's delayed leg kick, the source of much of his timing at the plate, was swapped for a small lift with his front foot. The right-hander lost torque on his swing and was late on pitches, often fouling balls off to the right side

but surely Kang would face the same pressure and the same doubts, and then also

Scarsone said that Nakajima's developed a habit of letting the ball come to him in Japan, which is problematic on natural grass fields; while Nakajima's arm strength isn't a concern -- if anything, Scarsone said, it's stronger than anticipated -- the shortstop position in America is one that demands athleticism.

There's something sorta racist about making the obvious Asian shortstop comparison, and one wonders whether the scouting itself isn't affected by these biases (which is not to say the scouts are racist so much as that we're all prone to mental shortcuts that may not be justified by cold rationality). The A's have to continue to hunt for bargains where they can find them, and if that bargain is in buying the negotiation rights to a Korean shortstop who just had the biggest year of his life, well, Nakajima isn't going to stop them. What's the alternative? Paying market rates for Jed Lowrie when the Yankees are also in need of a shortstop and less willing to gamble on upside vs. paying for the sure thing?

That Cafardo article, which by the way is over a week old, so blame me for being out of date, not him, has this "tidbit":

A few Athletics officials were surprised that Jon Lester fell apart and allowed six runs on eight hits over 7⅓ innings in his wild-card playoff game against Kansas City. “After all,” said one A’s player, “I thought his purpose was to win us that game and beyond.”


Also, Cafardo has a note about the Red Sox liking Jeff Samardzija and John Jaso. The Sox do have a good farm system, for whatever all this is worth.


By Jason Wojciechowski on October 19, 2014 at 5:11 PM

The title doesn't make any sense. It's like it's almost trying to be a Gone Girl reference except it isn't really and also what does Chili Davis have to do with that pile of thrilling mediocrity? In any event:

The actual story by Bradford makes clear that this is all according to a source, with no official announcement yet, but this isn't some rando Twitter attention-seeker reporting this, so one would guess that Bradford's source is solid, especially since we knew that Davis was interviewing with the Red Sox.

So: goodbye to Chili Davis, goodbye to my Chip 'n' Chili platter, which is now for sale as a vintage item for the low low price of $2,000.

Hitting coaches matter, surely, at the very least in the sense that there's a baseline and some number of guys who are at that baseline and most of us would not perform at that baseline. And they surely matter in the sense that some hitting coaches will click with some hitters where other coaches would not.

But if we think we can tell which coaches are which, we're fooling ourselves, regardless of what data we're looking at -- the samples are simply too small given the amount of noise and given the other variables we'd want to account for (a player's winter work, say, which may or may not be with that hitting coach; teammates; physical growth or degradation). And that includes griping in the media about a coach, which nearly always happens anonymously, which means we can't evaluate the motives a player might have for whining, not to mention how many different players are actually complaining and whether those are important or unimportant players on the team. (Do you really care what Nick Punto thinks about the team's hitting coach, for instance? An anonymous quote wouldn't allow us to tell whether it was him or Brandon Moss complaining.) And it also includes (non-anonymous) hosannas to the immaculate job performance of the coach! Players think all kinds of things that may or may not be true, and their attribution of their comfort at the plate and level of success to a coach may or may not be fallacious. We can't know without combining in-brain access to the player with rational, objective, outsider evaluation of that brain. Which, hey, that's impossible!

All of which is to say that while I liked reading Chili Davis' quotes and it seemed like the players got along with him, and it says something that the Red Sox wanted to steal him away, I'm not going to declare any falling skies forecasts for 2015 based on Davis' absence.


By Jason Wojciechowski on September 29, 2014 at 11:31 PM