Are sabermetrics revolutionary or evolutionary at this point?
That's the question Christina Kahrl asked in writing about the end of the annual SABR conference. The consensus seems to be that expanding knowledge of the game was more more the latter than the former.
Moneyball, the most often (mis)used term to refer to sabermetrics, was entirely devoted to the Oakland Athletics' attempt to find market inefficiencies. All teams have now incorporated objective analysis into their baseball departments and knowledge growth in the field is only building upon things we already know. So are there still market inefficiencies left to be exploited?
A little over two years ago, Theo Epstein was officially introduced as the Cubs' President of Baseball Operations. At the time, Jon Greenberg remarked that the market inefficiencies the Boston Red Sox front office pounced on do not exist today. The Red Sox were one of the few teams that valued OBP correctly and managed to snatch up quality players for pennies.
Instead, today, Shin-Soo Choo receives $130 million on the open market. The front office promised to find new market inefficiencies, but how successful has the club been in that area? On the eve of the third campaign under the Epstein regime, is the Cubs front office close to finding any such undervalued commodities?
Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have publicly identified pitcher health as a potential new market inefficiency. The Cubs were actually doing well in this area in the years between 2010 and 2012, during which time they had the second lowest amount of days lost. Only the White Sox had a better run during this time frame. 2012 saw the Cubs suffer the sixteenth most days lost for pitchers in 2012 though, and this trend would only continue to grow in 2013.
The Cubs made a conscious effort to take on high-ceiling pitchers with injury questions since Theo Epstein took over. Arodys Vizcaino was acquired in trade and was only available due to the considerable injury risk his talented arm carries. In 2012, the Cubs drafted several arms that fell to them due to medical red flags like Pierce Johnson and Josh Conway. Scott Baker’s slow return from Tommy John Surgery in 2013 was another example of the Cubs gambling on health.
The result of this strategy was that the Cubs suffered the ninth most days to the disabled list in 2013; the vast majority of those DL days were spent on pitchers. This should not be a surprise, considering that previous arm injury is the greatest predictor of future arm injuries. The front office is clearly aware of that fact and decided that the upside offered by the various deals outweighed the risk of future injury. Unfortunately, in the case of 2013, those gambles did not pay out for the Cubs.
Groundball Tendency and Defensive Shifting
The Cubs implemented a plan that the Pittsburgh Pirates had used to dramatically improve their run prevention. That plan compromised of two simple components. The first was to increase the amount of groundballs the pitchers generate. That part of the plan was successful for the Cubs as Chris Bosio is apparently groundball magic. The Pirates managed an even greater feat by generating the most groundballs since Fangraphs started keeping track of batted ball data.
The other key part of this plan was to shift the infield defense a lot. The Cubs and Pirates both shifted their infields more than the average team. The Pirates shifted the fourth most times and the Cubs employed the sixth most shifts. The problem is that the Cubs were not as effective in their usage of their shifts like the Pirates were; they actually lost over 6 runs due to shifting. The Pirates, on the other hand, managed to save over 2 runs. The Cubs were once again unsuccessful in exploiting an inefficiency to gain an advantage.
In part two, pitch framing and power will be analyzed.
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