Friday, June 24, 2011

The Vindication of Josh Willingham in 20 Plate Appearances

Don’t EVER get into internet arguments with idiotic baseball fans.

I spent about an hour gathering stats to prove a stupid argument in which I don’t even believe because the OTHER guy is making an argument even dumber. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I came thisclose to arguing that Josh Willingham is clutch.

I don’t actually think Willingham is clutch, but I also don’t think he is anti-clutch, and not just because I don’t believe in clutch as a concept. I think he’s probably just like every other major leaguer in that he performs roughly the same in close-and-late situations as he does in the rest of the game. Which I guess is actually just not believing in clutch as a concept.

That would be simple to argue, that Willingham performs the same in stressful and non-stressful situations. But that wasn’t what was on the table. I won’t quote here exactly what was said, since the Facebook group from which this issue originated is not public (you can join, however -- formerly known as Fire Bob Geren, it is now known as Now that Geren’s Gone, It’s time for some Hope! -- beware of terrible spelling, cringe-worthy grammar, and idiocy), but I will give you assertions and parameters eventually given to me by, well, we’ll call him AJ:

Assertion 1: Willingham does nothing but strike out in clutch situations.
Assertion 2: Willingham strikes out in late game clutch situations. Every time AJ has seen Willingham hit in the 7th inning or later, he more than likely strikes out or gets out in general.*
Assertion 3: Willingham is one of the league leaders in strikeouts. (True!)
Assertion 4: Most of Willingham’s strikeouts come late in the game.**
Assertion 5: According to AJ’s eyes, Willingham has hit better when the team is winning than when the team is losing.
Assertion 6: If you looked at Willingham’s last 10 at bats with the team losing, and his last 10 at bats with the team winning, he probably strikes out more with the team losing.

This is where I come in. This seemed too good to pass up. I had AJ define ONE LAST TIME what he meant by “late” (I didn’t want to do a bunch of research [no baseball-reference sub] and then have him move the goalposts again) and started in. He said the 9th inning, maybe 8th depending on when he came up in the order. I added in the 7th because … well, if I didn’t, I could be looking at games back into April and I am not that dedicated to this argument.

In order to find the last 10 Willingham plate appearances*** with the A’s losing, I used the games played on June 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 14. He played on June 15-17, but no plate appearances while the team was losing.

In order to find the last 10 Willingham plate appearances with the A’s losing, I used the games played on May 14, 22, 24, 26, 27, 28, 29, June 3, 4, and 16. June 15 and June 17 had no eligible plate appearances, since he was injured on June 17 and did not come to the plate in the later innings on the 15th. Since the A’s have been terrible lately, you can see it took a lot more games to get those plate appearances in winning situations.

Okay, results. I’m sure you’re all waiting with bated breath. Not baited breath, because that would be gross.

In games that the A’s were losing, Josh Willingham struck out 5 times, hit one single, walked once, and flew**** out thrice to right field. Eight of Willingham’s plate appearances while losing resulted in outs.

In games that the A’s were winning, Josh Willingham struck out 3 times, reached on a fielder’s choice once, hit one double, one home run, walked twice, lined out to short, and popped out to first. Six of Willingham’s plate appearances while winning resulted in outs.

The first of those losing strikeouts was on June 14th in the 9th inning to end the game. Willingham saw 6 pitches, the last of which was a called strike. I took score in that game and noted that the called strike was actually a ball. There’s no way of knowing what Willingham would have done in what would have been a 3-2 count, but that brings the strikeout ratio a little closer.

On the surface, with these ridiculous parameters and definitions, AJ is infuriatingly right. But that’s like saying someone is right who says Barack Obama is a bad president because gas prices are too high. Yeah, okay, maybe he’s a bad president, but it’s not because of gas prices! This is when someone can be right but also so trrbly, trrrrrrrbly***** wrong.

Small sample size, first of all. No one besides, like, Tim McCarver should care what Josh Willingham has done in his last ten plate appearances while the team was winning or losing. I briefly considered going through and logging what he’s done in those situations for the entire season, but then I realized I could make shit up and it wouldn’t make a difference to AJ.

Second of all, for this to really be effective (rolling my eyes here, because honestly, what am I trying to prove?) I should look at the same stats for another Athletic, preferably a fan favorite. Ryan Sweeney? Hideki Matsui? Matsui might be fun, because he had a stretch there under Geren where he didn’t play very often and when he did play, my eyes tell me he was bad. In fact, on June 4th after Willingham struck out looking with one on and no outs losing 3-5, Matsui didn’t strike out. No, he grounded into a double play, ending the inning. Which at bat was more costly? The Willingham one, or the Matsui one? Well clearly the Matsui one, since he made two outs and Willingham only made one. Perhaps we should be looking instead at which of the Athletics ground into more double plays close and late? Or have the most “unproductive” at bats. See Willingham’s 9th inning F9 on June 14th, moving Conor Jackson from second to third. Jackson scores on a single in the very next at bat, but the A’s still lose.

Over a thousand words, plus footnotes, to say that 20 at bats is not a large enough sample size from which anyone can extrapolate anything meaningful about Josh Willingham’s close-and-late performance.

Of course, you knew that.

Thus ends my best imitation of a collegiate psychological study, where no conclusive evidence is found to support the hypothesis. As they tell us, inconclusive results can be just as important as conclusive ones, they’re just not as flashy.

Oh, and AJ made a post to say he quit the group because he was tired of arguing with me because I can't seem to shut my mouth. Perhaps it escaped his notice that I typed everything? I could be a mute, for all he knows.

Alas, I should stop taking people so literally.


*To which I say, no shit! When failing 7 times out of 10 is considered good, even the best are making outs “in general” in the 7th inning or later. But that, I have learned, is taking things too “literally.” But damn, even Skye is not psychic!

**Previous definition of “late” by AJ is 7th inning or later, and also, false!
Innings 1-3: 18K
Innings 4-6: 30K
Innings 7-9: 27K

*** AJ said at-bats, but I’m pretty sure he meant plate appearances.

**** I HATE “flied out” as the past tense of fly out. No.

***** Say this like Charles Barkley would say it.


Anonymous said...

Also generally when your team is losing the other team closer (a likely better pitcher) will be on the mount so, as a hitter, you should have worst results...

Ayasha Kieth said...

Yes indeed that was true, but at least you give your best to play the game and you really have fun while playing!

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