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Saturday, January 21, 2017

The math behind hitting in baseball when the game's not on the line | Baltimore Sun

Photo: Jonathan Pitts
"Now 34 and preparing for his 13th year in major league baseball, Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy is perceived by some to be in a state of athletic decline."according to Jonathan Pitts, Contact Reporter | Baltimore Sun.

Photo: Baltimore Sun

The player who slugged 30 home runs as recently as 2011, for example, belted just eight last year, and injuries have forced him to miss about 30 percent of his team's games over the past two years.

But there are many ways to measure success in a sport as complex as baseball, and if a team of computer scientists at the Johns Hopkins University is to be believed, Oriole fans might have reason to feel hopeful about the two-time All-Star.

A new statistic measures how well a baseball player hits in clutch situations vs. "low stress" situations.
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A study led by Anton Dahbura, a research scientist in the computer sciences department at Johns Hopkins, revealed a striking dichotomy: While Hardy was all but useless as a hitter in 2016 when the outcome of games was already more or less decided, he hit nearly 200 points higher — more than .290 — when the results hung in the balance.

The finding is among the more interesting nuggets to appear in "Padding the Stats: A Study of MLB Player Performance in Meaningless-Game Situations," a 55-page paper that Dahbura made public in December. A lifelong baseball nut, Dahbura wrote with the help of Jaewon Lee and Evan Hsia, student researchers and engineering undergraduates who also love the game.

The project examined how every major league hitter performed last season when, by the authors' calculations, either team in a given game had at least a 95 percent chance of winning.

Dahbura said it's beyond the study's scope to assign definitive meaning to such figures, but the baseball fan in him can't help speculating that they open up new lines of inquiry in a sport that is already one of the most rigorously analyzed in the world.

"What does it tell you that Hardy did so poorly when a game was already decided, batting a mere .100 in those situations, but so dramatically better when it wasn't?" he asked. "It's hard to say with certainty at this point, but the numbers are so striking they're very likely telling us something."

The goal of the study, Dahbura said, was to raise awareness about the fact that not all at-bats during a season are equally important.

Hardy's performance was actually a striking exception to the trend the team set out to explore.

"Some players have been able to significantly improve their overall season statistics by maximizing their performance" in so-called meaningless game situations, the article reads.

Dahbura, 56, is one of those baseball geeks lucky enough to have a passion and a gift for mathematics and statistics. It's a blend of talents in growing demand in baseball front offices as franchises increasingly seek to blend the benefits of computer-aided analytics with the intuitive wisdom of more old-fashioned scouting.

Source: Baltimore Sun