Sunday, January 30, 2011

Q & A with Adam Darowski from Beyond the Box Score

I'd like to thank Adam Darowski for taking the time to answer some questions about HOF player evaluation and wWAR. You can see his personal page here or check him out at Beyond the Box Score.

1.) Can you tell us a little about yourself? Feel free to include anything you deem relevant (include which baseball team you are a fan of)

Let's see, I live in the Providence, RI area—deep in Red Sox Nation. I have an incredible family—a wondeful wife and three awesome kids. I'm a web developer for an amazing company called PatientsLikeMe where I get to build cool stuff for the web while changing the world.

2.) How did you get involved in the baseball blog world? How did you become a writer for Beyond the Box Score?

Interestingly, I started researching and writing baseball probably around 2005 when I (in retrospect, foolishly) wondered why Lance Parrish got no consideration for the Hall of Fame while Gary Carter walked in with relative ease. This, of course, was pre-WAR. I then took a bit of a break before starting a new site (BaseballTwit) at the end of 2008. It was then that I also opened a second Twitter account (@baseballtwit) just for baseball-related info.

While writing for BaseballTwit, I became an avid reader of Beyond the Box Score thanks to the excellent work Sky Kalkman did with Sean Smith's WAR database. Historical WAR really raised my level of interest in sabermetrics up a notch. I've always been drawn to history and the Hall of Fame more than anything. And WAR was the first tool I could use to effectively compare players across eras. I really have to thank Erik Manning, Sky, and Dan Turkenkopf for getting me in at Beyond the Box Score. They were into my work at BaseballTwit and I told them I'd love to write for Beyond the Box Score. Rather quickly, they made it happen.

3.) What gave you the idea for wWAR? How did you decide on 3 and 6 for your WAE and WAM levels?

4.) For the uninitiated, could you give us a simple breakdown of exactly what you intended wWAR to be a measure of?

WAR is great and it does a great job of showing who provided the most value in their careers. But the Hall of Fame is about more than total value. Hall voters love to see peak performance. They love to see that you were among the best in the game. wWAR is simply a version of WAR that rewards peak performance.

Wins Above Excellence was actually created by Sean Smith. I thought the baseline was nice, but I wanted to see which players exceeded MVP level, more than just the "solidly above average" level. Hence the creation of WAM in addition to (the very useful) WAE. To get wWAR, you just add WAR, WAE, and WAM. What it breaks down to is wins above 3.0 getting double credit and wins above 6.0 getting triple credit.

5.) How do you feel about dWAR calculations? Does it worry you that Barry Bonds is 6th all time in dWAR?

dWAR is a weird stat. If it was truly meant to be "Defensive WAR", it would have the positional adjustment in it, no? Really, it should be called "the difference between our version of WAR and a version of WAR that strips out Total Zone because I don't trust it". I never look at that stat.

As for Barry Bonds being sixth... the eight Gold Gloves show that he's generally been considered a great defender. Total Zone seems to back that up. Other outfielders in the Total Zone runs top ten include Andruw Jones (10 Gold Gloves), Roberto Clemente (12 Gold Gloves), Carl Yastrzemski (7 Gold Gloves), Jesse Barfield (2 Gold Gloves), and Paul Blair (8 Gold Gloves). The only one that ever made me say "huh" was Barfield, and over 40% of his Total Zone runs come from his arm. Kind of a different beast from the rest.

6.) Could you explain the differences in the two different WAR calculations? Which do you prefer and why?

From a position player perspective, Fangraphs uses Ultimate Zone Rating for defense while Rally's WAR (on Baseball-Reference) uses Total Zone. That's the biggest difference. Fangraphs WAR also has a lower replacement level, so their figures tend to be higher.

Pitching is where it differs greatly. Fangraphs is based on Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), which strips all defensive contributions out of a pitcher's record. For this reason, Fangraphs WAR is a good measure of the results a pitcher "should" have gotten rather than what he actually did. Luck is stripped from the equation.

Rally's WAR actually starts with runs allowed by the pitcher. Then a series of adjustments are made, most notably for the defense behind the pitcher. So, Jack Morris takes a big hit because WAR acknowledges that a lot of his success should be (and is) attributed to guys like Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell. Of course, Hall of Fame voters are slow to catch on to this, as Morris gets about half the vote, Trammell apparently has no shot, and Whitaker was tossed aside after one "look".

Since I work primarily from a historical perspective, I use Rally's WAR. It is based more on what actually happened, but applies credit (or blame) where it can. If I was looking at what relief pitcher I'd like to acquire for my team in the coming season, I would most definitely use Fangraphs WAR. It is a much better projection tool.

7.) I am a big fan of the interactive graphics you've become well known for, any new ones currently in the works? Any ideas for future interactive graphics?

Why thanks! In the short term, I'm planning some minor tweaks to the Hall of Fame Timeline (that one's my favorite). I'm slowly but steadily working on a larger project and I'm sure some graphs will be involved with that. There's nothing else really started right now, but they do tend to come together rather quickly. Whatever comes next, I can pretty much guarantee that it'll have something to do with the Hall of Fame.

8.) Name the one player not in the Baseball Hall of Fame that you feel is most deserving. Why?

To me, the best position player is Jeff Bagwell. There are only 32 Hall of Famers with a better wWAR than him. Five (Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Roger Conner, Cap Anson, and Dan Brouthers) are first basemen.

Bagwell has only been on the ballot once, though. I'm fairly certainly he'll be inducted soon—possibly even next season. I'm holding out hope that voters were just giving him an exaggerated version of the "not on the first ballot!" treatment. After Bagwell, the easy choice is Ron Santo. Not only is Santo the best position player to fall off of the BBWAA ballot, he also played third base. And third base is the most atrociously underpopulated position in the Hall of Fame. The writers and the vets really blew it on this one.

Bert Blyleven was the consensus "best pitcher not in the Hall" for so long, I'm curious who the next one will be. Honestly, with all of our Bert support, we probably let the next best slip by just this season. And that's Kevin Brown. Rick Reuschel leads in WAR, but Brown passes him via wWAR. The wWAR list also shows some 1800s pitchers leapfrogging Brown, but much of that is due to pitcher usage of the time. However, if you count those 1800s pitchers you get Jim McCormick. Who's after the 1800s pitchers, Brown, and Reuschel? That'd be Luis Tiant. Then, David Cone.

Who do I believe it is? I'm not really sure. That's a great question.

9.) Name the one player in the Baseball Hall of Fame that you feel is least deserving. Why?

In all honesty, I only *just* realized that Tommy McCarthy is in the Hall of Fame as a player. We're talking a sub-20 WAR player. That's just ridiculous. Rick Ferrell, Ray Schalk, Lloyd Waner, George Kelly, and Bill Mazeroski are also crazy choices.

Among pitchers, there's a difference between "worst pitcher" and "least valuable". The "least valuable" label would point to the relievers, specifically Rollie Fingers and Bruce Sutter. But, of course, they were damn good pitchers. I'd throw starters like Rube Marquard, Jesse Haines, and Catfish Hunter under the bus before Fingers and Sutter.

10.) Give us your predictions for the 2011 baseball season: AL and NL Champs and WS winner.

Wow, somebody wants me to talk about the present? :) Today's game hilariously is not my forte, but my gut says Red Sox and Phillies (although that's the easy route). I have to pick the Sox to go all the way.

But if you want a real prediction from me for the coming year, I'll say that Barry Larkin is inducted to the Hall of Fame with 78% of the vote. Jeff Bagwell jumps up to 72%. Bernie Williams leads new candidates—but falls off the ballot with less than 5%.

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