The Indis (Part 1)
My friend Tom Tango has more ideas than he can keep up with. One of those ideas is something he calls the Indis -- to be pronounced IN-dees. The idea is that the name would sound like the nickname everyone used for Indiana Jones. The logo for the Indis is the Indiana Jones hat. I have told Tom that The Indis would look better from a purely superficial perspective if he called them the Indees or even the Indys. So far, I have not convinced him.
Indis is shorts for Individualized Won-Loss records, and it is something that he came up with years ago. He described it like so: "I have a simple method to convert Wins Above Replacement (WAR) into an individualized Won-Loss record for each player, such that the sum of the players' individual Won-Loss records on a team will match that team's Won-Loss record."
Simple, right? I can give you a basic (and only a basic -- I'm not very smart) explanation for how he does it.
Each player gets what Tom calls "game spaces." I like to call them opportunity spaces because that's what we are talking about -- these represent the opportunity that this player has to contribute to the team. We all understand that baseball is a rare sport because the manager has only a limited ability to put players in what you might call a winning position. In the NBA, if you are down one, you can and will absolutely set up the play for James or Curry or Harden. At the goal line, time running out, you will call for Brady to throw or Gurley to run or Brown to get open in the end zone.
But down a run with two outs in the ninth, you can't just have Trout or Harper or Stanton hit. It has to be their turn. You can't just start Kershaw or Scherzer every time out either. So each player only has a limited opportunity to help the team. Joey Votto doesn't get substantially more of a chance to help the team than Adam Duvall or Scott Schebler. Corey Kluber only got three more starts this year than Josh Tomlin.
So each player gets opportunity spaces. Tom divides them up like so.
Position players get 4/7 of the games -- adding up to 93 opportunity spaces for all position players.
Pitchers get 3/7 of the games -- meaning they have the other 69 opportunity spaces to divvy up.
Tom gives each player his individualized spaces based, for now anyway, entirely on playing time. There are other very interesting ways to divide the opportunity spaces, and we can talk about those later. But let's explain where the Indis are right now.
Let's look at four everyday players from last year: Joey Votto, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge and Jose Altuve.
Votto had the most opportunity spaces of the four with 11.7. Ths is because Votto played all 162 games and got 707 plate appearances. Giancarlo Stanton, who played in a career-high 159 games, was just behind with 11.5 opportunity spaces.
Judge and Altuve both played fewer innings, so their opportunity spaces were a bit less at 10.4 and 10.2 respectively.
So what next? Tom uses WAR to determine how much value the player was able to squeeze into his opportunity space. Votto was so good he stuffed 10.8 wins in his 11.7 opportunity spaces.
That makes his record a sparkling: 10.8-0.9.
Yes, it is weird to see decimal points in won-loss records, but it's hard to work around it. You certainly could round the numbers, and that works pretty well when talking about a whole player's career. But for one year, when you round up or down, it doesn't always work. In Votto's case because of how close his totals are to the round number, it's fine, he would be a sensible 11-1. But a player who went 11.4-0.5 would also be 11-1, and that's not quite the same thing.*
*Bill James in his Win Shares formula fixes this problem by multiplying the numbers by three, which would make Votto 32-3. This gives you the advantage of not having to round off the numbers and having them look much more impressive. But Tom is not crazy about that idea because one of the things he loves about the Indis is that the numbers actually add up to a team's win-loss total. You can say, somewhat reasonably, that Votto was responsible for 10.8 of the Reds' 68 wins while only contributing .9 to their 94 losses.
OK, that's Votto. Stanton was even better. He stuffed 11.1 wins into his 11.5 opportunity spaces.
This makes Stanton: 11.1-0.4 (or, multiplying by three, 33-1).
Now, there's something about Stanton's record that needs to be discussed: The Marlins won more games than the Reds, 77-68. This means that there are more wins for the Marlins to allocate. The simple but powerful idea here (and behind WIn Shares) is that the reason a team wins more games is BECAUSE the players offered more value. This will become clearer (and a bit more controversial) when we look at Altuve and Judge.
Jose Altuve, as noted above, had 10.2 opportunity spaces. But here's where it gets spacy; he actually "won" 11.3 games. He was so good he contributed MORE WINS THAN HIS OPPORTUNITY ALLOWED. The greatest seasons and careers are like that. A few examples:
In 1923, Babe Ruth was so good he fit 19 wins in 12 opportunity spaces. Barry Bonds in 2004 had 16 wins in only 10 opportunity spaces. Willie Mays was so absurdly good for his career that he had 210 wins in 183 opportunity spaces.
So, how do you denote that sort of crazy goodness? That's tricky and I'll be interested to hear your points of view. One way to do it is to use the negative number:
Another way to do it is to simply replace the hyphen between the wins and losses with a plus sign.
Again, your comments are welcome below. But the point is that a player can be so good that they basically go above and beyond their space is a very cool concept. In their cases, Altuve and Judge BOTH went above and beyond.
Now, here's where it gets interesting. Judge and Altuve had essentially the same WAR; Judge actually had a higher fWAR. And yet, Altuve has the better Indi. Why? Well, you know why: Because the Astros won 10 more games. The Astros had more wins to divvy up among players. Now the question is: Should Judge be docked or Altuve given extra credit because of how many games the team won? This was at the heart of Bill James' criticism of WAR because it does not attempt to look at specific wins and losses. It is a context neutral statistic, and the Masters of WAR have made a powerful and convincing case that this is exactly how it should be.
But isn't there room also for the Indis? Tom has latched onto a phrase that does a nice job of explaining what something like the Indis can determine: "Extracted value." If you believe that Altuve and Judge put up the same value -- a fair assumption -- it is also worth knowing that the Astros EXTRACTED more value from Altuve than the Yankees did from Judge.
We can see this in all walks of life. Let's say you have two authors who write equally good books; I'm not sure how you would judge this, but let's say there was a WAR formula for books and each book was 8.7 wins above replacement book. They're both wonderful, funny, charming, fascinating.*
*One of these books is about Harry Houdini, by the way.
The first book gets a better cover, is edited better, has a better title, gets a few huge publicity breaks and sells a million copies.* The second book has a boring cover, is sloppily edited, is called "Blah blah blah blah," publicity just doesn't connect and it dies on the vine, selling only a few thousand copies.
*This is the Houdini book.
I do want the WAR formula to tell me about the quality of the book, absolutely. But I also want something to tell me that, yeah, the first book was much more successful than the second. You can argue, "But the authors had little to nothing to do with the difference, one just got lucky." Maybe so. But reality is reality. Let's go to the Indis!
The Indis say that Astros won more games and got more out of Altuve's performance than the Yankees did out of Judge. I mentioned above that the opportunity spaces are now divided up by playing time, but Tom says they could in the future be divided by something else, like RE24 (Run Expectancy) or WPA (Win Probability Added). That could give an even fuller picture. The truth is that Judge DID hit much better in low leverage situations (.299/.442/.673) than in high leverage situations (.219/.361/.500). He DID hit 28 of his 52 home runs with no one on base. We're not placing fault here, but because he did those things, the Yankees won fewer games than they would have if his hitting had been better spread out.
And that's what the Indis show.
We'll talk next about pitcher Indis which are fascinating in a whole other way, but in the meantime I want to repeat the request that you offer some of your thoughts in the comments. Tom has too many things going on to spend a lot of time on the Indis now, but I really think that this type of won-loss idea -- added to the beauty of WAR -- would be hugely helpful in judging baseball players each season and over their careers. I think it's kind of raw now, and I'm not entirely sure how you get around some of the awkwardness of negative losses and decimal points. But I think we should encourage Tom and others to keep on working with this concept. It's pretty fun.