Sunday, May 17, 2009

Numbers don't lie, but lies can be entertaining

Memory fails exactly who said Selena Roberts' Alex Rodriguez takedown was a book-length National Enquirer article, but her former newspaper, blew the accusation about pitch-tipping out of the water:
"If a tipping conspiracy were in place, one would expect that Rodriguez and rival middle infielders in games he played to have hit better in low-leverage situations than in high-leverage ones. Using a fairly loose definition of high leverage as a L.I. above 1.5 and low leverage as below 0.7, the data provide a resounding answer: either no tipping was going on or it was pathetically ineffective.

"Contrary to his reputation as a choker, Rodriguez was actually at his best when the game was on the line as a Ranger. According to data compiled by Sean Forman of, his combined on-base and slugging percentages (O.P.S.) from 2001 to 2003 was 1.076 in high-leverage situations, compared with 1.017 for medium leverage and .982 in low leverage. Opposing second basemen and shortstops showed the same pattern. They registered an .899 O.P.S. when leverage was high, .825 when it was middling, and .817 when it was low. Unless Rodriguez’s behavior was even more nefarious — tipping only when it mattered most — the numbers give no reason to believe he was involved."
At the end of the day, Roberts can always fall back on what Yankees fans have so often during the Alex Rodriguez era, by yelling, albeit in not so few words, "Score-board! Score-board!" The advance alone was probably more money than you or I will see any time soon. (Subway Squawkers had the definitive takedown of the Roberts book.)

Rodriguez Didn’t Tip Pitches, Numbers Indicate (Dan Rosenheck, The New York Times)


Subway Squawkers said...
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Subway Squawkers said...

Thanks for the shoutout!

What gets me about the Times' review of the numbers is that there is no reason they - or somebody else in the media - couldn't have written that story two weeks ago. It took me 10 minutes, tops, to see that A-Rod's numbers were actually worse, not better, in Ranger blowouts.

I know A-Rod is an easy target, but it seems unconscionable to me for the MSM to repeat Selena Roberts' smear without even checking to see if Alex's numbers reflected her accusations.


Andrew Bucholtz said...

No, numbers don't lie, but these numbers also don't necessarily vindicate Rodriguez. Consider Joe Posnanski's post on the situation where he examined the stats of several middle infielders in the AL West against the Rangers. Posnanski didn't come to any conclusion from it, but he found some interesting stats (particularly those of Miguel Tejada and Bret Boone, who were outstanding against the Rangers). Rosenheck's analysis looks at all middle infielders, which seems unreasonable especially given the severity of these accusations; it's tough to imagine that everyone would be in on it. A few players in the AL West who played each other all the time is a much more plausible scenario.

I'm not saying Rodriguez definitively tipped pitches; I'm more in Posnanski's corner when he says "it would almost be impossible to find the answer in numbers". There are so many factors in play (What's a blowout situation? Which players do you consider? How much better would you expect a player to do if he knew what pitch was coming?) that I don't think you can definitively prove his guilt or innocence this way, and I certainly don't think you can prove it with an incredibly broad study of the sort Rosenheck produced. For the moment, I'll take Roberts and her sources over Rodriguez.

sager said...

How can you take Roberts' sources when she wouldn't identify them?

Andrew Bucholtz said...

She works for a trusted news organization. A great deal of the important stories these days are via anonymous news sources; it's the only way to get the information. Yeah, it's not as good as on-the-record quotes, but I don't choose to disbelieve something just because it uses anonymous sources.

sager said...

Well, sorry, Sports Illustrated is a mass-produced commercial magazine, susceptible to highers-up with agendas and the bottom line. It is only as a trusted news source as much as people are willing to accept it is as such. They're fallible, just like you, me and Dupree.

I'm not skeptical just based on that, but I would say the pitch-tipping allegations are at best ambiguous, and poorly supported.