Friday, September 03, 2004

Refuting Dayn Perry

Mike Thompson at the P-I Blog points us to Dayn Perry's argument that Ichiro is just good, but not an "elite" player. Read Perry's article, and you'll find, as I did, that he's conveniently ignoring some things:

Perry says that Ichiro doesn't hit for enough power for a right-fielder, but says his career OBP is "merely good." In other words, he chooses to compare Ichiro to other right-fielders when looking at his power, and at the entire league when it comes to his OBP. If we look at both statistics in the same context, we'll see that while Ichiro doesn't hit for as much power as some RFs, he has a clear advantage over other RFs in OBP.

Perry says that Ichiro's OBP isn't as impressive because most of it is because of his batting average. Here, he completely misses the point of preferring OBP to BA. Batting Average isn't bad, it's just incomplete. OBP is a more effective measure of offensive contribution, and Perry's argument essentiall says that more walks are preferable to more hits. I have yet to see anyone make a case for a high walk-to-hit ratio, and it would make more sense that hits are slightly more valuable for their ability to drive in runners. Ironically, Perry himself makes this case when he argues that Ichiro's infield hits decrease his value because they don't score runners. Would Perry prefer that those infield hits be walks? That's absurd!

Perry says that stolen bases aren't all that valueable. I'm aware that Bill James also thinks that stolen bases don't factor significantly into run-scoring, although my recollection is that James' argument is based on large sample sizes for teams. The James-influence philosophy of the Oakland A's, as profiled in Moneyball, is NOT that speed is irrellevant, merely that it is over-valued. If Dayn is going to count infield singles against Ichiro--a very case-specific criticism--then he also should count his stolen bases for him.

Let's combine these two problems: let us say that every stolen base for Ichiro is the same as if he hit a double instead of a triple. Therefore, each SB counts toward his total bases. Conversely, each time he is caught stealing, Ichiro makes an out and removes himself from the basepaths. Therefore, each Caught Stealing should be subtracted from both his total bases and the numerator (H+BB+HBP) of his OBP. (Notice that getting caught stealing is doubly bad.) If we adjust Ichiro's OBP and SLG accordingly, his marks this year are .397 and .507. His career adjusted marks are .364 and .487. Would this more typical OBP and SLG make Perry happier?

Finally, Perry bases a number of his arguments that Ichiro is in right field, and therefore his defense isn't as much of an asset. Fine. (By the way, this is exactly why Ichiro should have been in center field all year long.) But we should at least allow that Ichiro is a center-field quality outfielder. If Perry is arguing not about Ichiro's ability, but his actual contribution, then I suppose we should start introducing other context-dependant statistics, like RBI. It's not quite the same thing, but it's a fine point that Perry didn't bother taking the time to make.

I think perhaps the most absurd line I read was that OBP, when compared with batting average, "is the more evocative statistic." Ooooh, big words! I should note that Perry isn't wrong about everything, but he seems so bent on debunking the Ichiro myth, so to speak, that he uses sloppy arguments.

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