King of Little Things 2011

With a classic World Series — the most exciting in a long time, if not the best-played or best-managed — now over, it is time to hand out individual awards for the 2011 regular season. Sure, some people are anticipating the Cy Young, MVP, and Rookie of the Year announcements, but I bet true baseball fans really pumped for stuff like today’s award, which attempts to measure how much a hitter has contributed to his team’s wins beyond what traditional linear weights indicates. Who is 2011’s King of Little Things?

Rather than going on at length to explain this stat and corresponding award, I will refer the reader previous seasons’ editions from 2009 and 2010. In short, the stat measures the differences between a hitter’s seasonal WPA/LI and Batting Wins (park-adjusted offensive linear weights [implemented here as wRAA] and converted to a wins scale to match WPA/LI). What does this difference measure? As I wrote last season:

Basically, traditional linear weights (wRAA/Batting at FanGraphs) measure the average change in run expectancy for each event. WPA/LI scales linear weights to the game state while removing the leverage aspect (which is what makes it different from straight WPA or Clutch). The classic situation for explaining the difference between traditional linear weights and WPA/LI is two outs, bottom of the ninth, and the bases loaded. For traditional linear weights, a walk and a home run have the same value in every situation; that is a walk is always valued at about .3 runs, a home run about 1.4. For WPA/LI, events have different values for each situation relative to base/inning/score state and are valued according to wins rather than runs. Thus, with two outs in bottom of the ninth, the bases loaded, and the score tied, a walk and home run have a the same WPA/LI value — either wins the game. WPA/LI also includes events that wRAA doesn’t at the moment including (but not limited to) reached on error and double plays.

I do not make claim that this stat is a perfect measure or that it represents a repeatable skill. As pointed out previously, it combines two different aspects of the game under the name “little things”: a) stuff like grounding into double plays, bunts, etc. not currently incorporated into to wRAA, and b) the potential for a player to respond appropriately to the “game state” (e.g., fouling off pitches until the pitcher misses enough to force a walk with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth rather than trying to hit a homer). One would have to do much more work to account for “chances” and to show this measures a skill. Nonetheless, I’ve used the name for a few years (originally coined by the FanGraphs commentator who actually suggested the stat long ago) so I am going to stick with it.

With all of that out of the way, let’s look at our top four runners-up. The numbers listed are “Little Things Wins” (WPA/LI – Batting Wins). I carried it out to three decimal places because in the past I have needed to do that to get the sort order right. Only hitters qualified for the batting title were considered.

5. Chipper Jones, 1.274
4. Evan Longoria, 1.354
3. Raul Ibanez, 1.258
2. Ryan Howard, 1.714

What more is there to say about Chipper, the second-greatest switch-hitter in the major-league history? Longoria did not accumulate all of his WPA/LI on the last day of the season — indeed, the difference between clutch and “Little Things” (statistically) can be seen in that Longoria’s 2011 “Clutch” score is just about average (0.03). Two Phillies round out our runners-up. Raul Ibanez’s 2011 Little Things score, if you want to count is part of WAR, skyrockets his value all the way to, uh, replacement level. As for Ryan Howard, well, I am glad he did well, as the next few years probably are not going to be much fun. He can’t be too upset, he already won a big prize.

And now, your 2011 King of Little Things:

1. Aubrey Huff, 1.758

In light of this, Huff’s disastrous, below-replacement-level 2011 is somewhat less disastrous, I suppose. I imagine that his nine sacrifice flies have a decent amount to do with this. Giants fans can take solace in the hope that Huff’s “good every other year” trend will continue. They probably need to given his $10 million salary in 2012.

Here are the 2011’s five worst to finish up.

141. Jay Bruce, -1.156
142. David Ortiz, -1.215
143. J.J. Hardy, -1.268
144. Asdrubal Cabrera, -1.273
145. Brett Gardner, -1.328

While Bruce had a decent year, he did not keep up his path to superstardom as I and others thought he would, and apparently he did not do too well situationally, either. Big Papi did not exactly respond to game situations brilliantly, either, going into his walk year. I am not sure what happened with J. J. Hardy — maybe the Orioles got blown out so much his home runs did not add that much win expectancy to the cause. (Remember how Buck Showalter “transformed their pitching” in the second half of 2010? Whatever happened to that story?) If you think WPA/LI and Little Things measure a repeatable skill (I am currently agnostic on that topic), then Asdrubal Cabrera’s big year with the bat looks less impressive in this light. As for Brett Gardner, well, regression with the bat in general seems to have taken hold this season in general. I wonder if looking at the game logs more closely would reveal that his early-season troubles getting caught stealing really hurt him here.

Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

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11 years ago

Cool. Any trends over the past three years?

Also, please don’t give Phillie fans any more “Ryan Howard is elite” ammo. Thank you.