Tag Archives: ESPN

Poor Man’s Analysis: Uggla and Utley

We here at the Curious Mechanism are no analysts.  We’re dabblers, certainly, and we understand the analysis of others, even when the Baseball Prospectus crew starts tossing around acronymlike candy at a small town parade.  We’re also no critics, nor metacritics, as FireJoeMorgan, and others, have done that work admirably.

However, we recognize bullshit when we see it, and as passe as it may be to point out flaws and dummy-work at ESPN, it’s late on Friday night, Mrs Thursday and I just got back from a Phillies game which saw the hometown team clobber the Marlins to take over first place in the NL East, and, damnit, I need to defend my guy.

On ESPN’s Three Things (Insider, sorry) today, Inside Edge, which is some kind of scouting service, compares Dan Uggla favorably to the new Jeebus, Chase Utley.

To quote:

1. Uggla chasing Utley

The Marlins and Phillies open a key three-game series in Philadelphia tonight. Not only are the two teams a half-game apart and contending for first place in the NL East; their second basemen are waging a close statistical battle. Even casual baseball fans have been made aware of the season Chase Utley has been putting together in Philly. Marlins fans are quick to point out, though, that Dan Uggla‘s stats are nearly identical across the board, from homers, RBIs, and batting average to runs, slugging percentage, and OPS. However, a quick comparison of the data behind those stats shows that Uggla has been the more “hit or miss” of the two.

Strikeout % Miss % of swings In-play % of swings % of swings chased Well-hit avg.
Uggla 30.2 29.8 34.1 21.1 .281
Utley 15.7 14.0 44.6 21.4 .333

The table shows that Uggla holds his own against Utley in percentage of pitches chased out of the zone, which is a little surprising since his strikeout rate is so much higher. But Utley has clearly missed less, put more swings in play, and gotten the barrel of the bat on the ball more often. Still, it is worthwhile to applaud Uggla’s overall improvement. He has always demonstrated power, but has really increased his batting averages by getting good wood on fastballs:

Well-hit avg. BAVG SLG OPS
2007 .274 .269 .583 .955
2008 .333 .342 .730 1.153

Utley is no slouch against hard stuff himself, batting .324 with a .647 slugging percentage and 1.060 OPS, but Uggla betters him in all three measures. Since batters typically see more fastballs than other pitches, Uggla should have a good chance of going toe-to-toe statistically with Utley all season long.

This, from what I can tell, is crazy sloppy analysis.  They look at some numbers–that first chart there, and determine that Utley misses pitches half as often, strikes out half as often, puts the ball in play more often, and hits it hard way more often–and comes to the conclusion that Uggla should “[go] toe-to-toe” with Chase all year.

Now, Uggla is a fine player.  He slugs the hell out of the ball, especially for a second basemen, and he keeps his on-base high enough that he’s not exactly an Incredible Out-Machine.  Reports vary as to the quality of his defense, but I’d guess that he’s about average.  But, he’s no Utley.  Let’s compare a few more numbers, shall we?

Slash Stats

Utley: .310/.394/.638
Uggla: .307/.386/.667

Those numbers are through yesterday.  As we can see, they are pretty similar, with Utley having a slight edge in OBP, and Uggla with a modest one in slugging.  The edge, overall, so far, probably goes to Uggla, as he’s done his work in a tougher park for hitters than Utley has.

But the question here is to who is more likely to continue hitting this way, or, at least, who is likely to drop off more.

Here are Utley’s numbers for the past three years:

2005 – .291/.376/.540
2006 – .309/.379/.527
2007 – .332/.410/.566

So, at the moment, Utley is slugging above his head, but the rest of his numbers are in line with a reasonable expectation of performance.  Tangotiger’s Marcel the Monkey projected Utley to sport a .383 OBP and a .526 slugging.  So, again, he’s slugging higher than expected, but otherwise, he’s okay.

Meanwhile, however, here are Dan Uggla’s slash stats over the past two seasons, as he didn’t play 2005:

2006 – .282/.339/.482
2007 – .245/.326/.479

Marcel expected a .334 OBP and .469 SLG from Uggla.  Uggla is over any sort of reasonable expectation in any department.  So, either Uggla has gotten lucky, or he’s developed a new skill.  Let’s look at one of my favorite luck indicators: BABIP.

Now, your average major leaguer will sport a BABIP just over .300.  Uggla’s career average is .302.  Utley, however, registers a somewhat astonishing .323 BABIP for his career, over nearly 2700 plate appearances.  Let’s look at this season:

Utley BABIP: .293
Uggla BABIP:  .358

Now, .358 is a crazy high BABIP, but it’s not unheard of.  Last year, for instance, Ichiro and BJ Upton a plenty of other regular and semi-regular players posted higher numbers.  However, it’s well above Uggla’s established norm.  Ichiro and Upton also have something in common.  They both hit more  grounders than anything else, and they hit a lot of line drives.  Line drives become hits more often than any type of batted ball, followed by grounders, and then finally fly balls.  Generally, the more flyballs you hit, the more outs you’ll make, unless your hits are leaving the park.

This graph shows Uggla’s batted ball data for the past two years, as well as 2008.  The graph comes from the remarkable Fangraphs website, so thanks to those guys.

While Upton and Ichiro hit line drives about 20% of the time (and Utley even higher than that), Uggla’s down at a pedestrian 15%.  He also hits a lot of flyballs.  So far, this season, a great number of them have left the park, and a great number more have found creases in the outfield defense, and gone for hits.  Of course, the balls that leave the park aren’t counted in BABIP, so that means Uggla’s numbers, similar to his 2007 digits, are likely a product of luck so far.  A hot streak, certainly, as he’s been hitting homers left and right, but the official prediction of this blog is a serious cool-off sometime soon, while Utley continues to leave all the other major league second basemen in his considerable wake.

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Talk About An Underdog

The Flyers, of course, are in the Eastern Conference Finals, the third of four rounds in the Stanley Cup playoffs.  ESPN, for the playoffs, has Barry Melrose and the other experts chiming in on who they thought would win each round.

In the first round, everyone picked the Capital to topple the Flyers, except John Buccigross, who held the solitary correct pick for the round.

In round two, Barry Melrose gave the Flyers their kiss of death, as he alone picked them to advance over the Canadiens.  Amazingly, everyone but Barry was wrong, and the Flyers now face the Penguins.

So, after getting no respect for two rounds, you’d think a couple people would come around, especially after the Flyers had shown themselves up to the task against the Penguins in the regular season.

Well, no dice:

Well, screw all you guys.

ESPN: Flyers Are Toast

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Schrutebag, What Have You Done?


I have no doubt that the title gives away the game here. I’m about to discuss a topic that’s been flying around these internets for nearly the past week. If you’re sick of it, well, we’re talking about Iraq today, too. That’s fresh, right?

So, just to review, in micro: ESPN radio host Colin “Schrutebag” Cowherd instructed is listeners to overwhelm The Big Lead with hits, shutting it down. The Big Lead was out of operation for 2 days, while Schrutebag gloated. Everyone got mad about this, and ESPN radio has, apparently, instituted a new “zero tolerance” policy about this kind of malicious behavior. Schrutebag, meanwhile, faces no punishment, and has offered only the most meager of apologies.

There are questions as to intent. Was this a hit from the suits at ESPN, or is Cowherd just an idiot? I’m inclined, personally, to think that as a radio host, Cowherd is probably an idiot, and ESPN is far too ubiquitous and arrogant to trouble itself by shutting down one weblog. More compelling than the idea of Cowherd’s bosses telling him to attack a website, I think, is that there is such a conflict between the mainstream media and the increasingly vital blogosphere.

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He Doesn’t Even Do THAT Well

Buster Olney, a baseball writer for ESPN.com, keeps a fantastic little blog in which he (daily) links to baseball articles about every team in their respective major newspapers. Reading his blog every day is one of the best ways to keep abreast of what’s happening in the league.

Buster is a Vanderbilt fan. I know this because he mentions it. A LOT. But, it’s not a problem. He’s an alum, and the sum total of his frequent allusions to his alma mater are only a sentence or two long, often tongue-in-cheek, and at the very end of his considerable posts.

Jim Caple is a baseball writer for ESPN.com’s Page 2. He writes articles about, ahem, nothing. I don’t even read him when I can help it, as I frequently find him infuriatingly dumb. That, and his ugly mug appears on the page, and no one wants to see that. For your misery, I’ve included his standard pic here. Ugly, ain’t he?

Anyway, Caple’s developed this nasty habit of mentioning his distaste for the war in Iraq and the way it’s being handled a lot of columns. Now, I’m not exactly a gung-ho supporter of all that nonsense, but I’m ESPN to hear about baseball. So tell me why Bonds won’t hit 22 taters this year, and let’s move on.

Dear Mr. Caple,

About your anti-war advocacy on ESPN.com:

STOP. Please, stop.

Sincerely always,

The Curious Mechanism.

(See how I signed from the Curious Mechanism? Sounds official, doesn’t it? Like it’ll work, right? Right?)

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ESPN Make-Over

As reported by The Big Lead and elsewhere, ESPN is making some changes. ESPN.com’s editor-in-chief, John Papanek has been removed from his position, and the Worldwide Leader is off searching for new blood to fill the post. Meanwhile, the powers that be for ESPN’s broadcasts of Monday Night Football have, thankfully, dispensed with Joe Theisman and replaced him with the Polish Popgun, Ron Jaworski.

Speculation is certainly rampant about both moves–though in the case of MNF, it seems people are just relieved that Joe is out and Jaws is in, and the question of why ESPN is doing this is secondary. The Curious Mechanism isn’t one for actually reporting news, but there’s a few things to be gleaned from these maneuvers, I think, and conjecturing from other people’s reporting is something more up our alley.

After the break, the Curious Mechanism’s speculation on both moves. (By the way, this is a pretty substantial post. I mean, lengthy. Fair warning.)

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