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Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Computer simulations sometimes offer surprises

Alan Schwarz on the utility within baseball of computer simulations:

The first of those is no real surprise; we know there's a real difference between lineups, but there's no real difference between reasonable lineups. You would score many fewer runs with A-Rod batting ninth (rather than fourth) because batting him ninth costs him roughly 90 plate appearances and a fair number of RBI opportunities. But the difference between batting him fourth and third or fourth and fifth is negligible, and worth worrying about only after you've figured out everything else.

On the other hand, the note about the Rays' steals is truly surprising. The generally accepted break-even point for steals is something between 70 and 75 percent (depending on the scoring environment). Well, last season the Rays stole 142 bases and were caught 50 times for a 74 percent success rate, comfortably within that break-even range. I don't know how to square 74 percent with those theoretical 47 runs … but if I were running the Rays, I sure would want to know.