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Home Runs Per Game: A bit more in-depth December 23, 2011

Posted by tomflesher in Baseball, Economics.
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I know I’ve done this one before, but in my defense, it was a really bad model.

I made some odd choices in modeling run production in that post. The first big questionable choice was to detrend according to raw time. That might make sense starting with a brand-new league, where we’d expect players to be of low quality and asymptotically approach a true level of production – a quadratic trend would be an acceptable model of dynamics in that case. That’s not a sensible way to model the major leagues, though; even though there’s a case to be made that players being in better physical condition will lead to better production, there’s no theoretical reason to believe that home run production will grow year over year.

So, let’s cut to the chase: I’m trying to capture a few different effects, and so I want to start by running a linear regression of home runs on a couple of controlling factors. Things I want to capture in the model:

  • The DH. This should have a positive effect on home runs per game.
  • Talent pool dilution. There are competing effects – more batters should mean that the best batters are getting fewer plate appearances, as a percentage of the total, but at the same time, more pitchers should mean that the best pitchers are facing fewer batters as a percentage of the total. I’m including three variables: one for the number of batters and one for the number of pitchers, to capture those effects individually, and one for the number of teams in the league. (All those variables are in natural logarithm form, so the interpretation will be that a 1% change in the number of batters, pitchers, or teams will have an effect on home runs.) The batting effect should be negative (more batters lead to fewer home runs); the pitching effect should be positive (more pitchers mean worse pitchers, leading to more home runs); the team effect could go either way, depending on the relative strengths of the effects.
  • Trends in strategy and technology. I can’t theoretically justify a pure time trend, but I also can’t leave out trends entirely. Training has improved. Different training regimens become popular or fade away, and some strategies are much different than in previous years. I’ll use an autoregressive process to model these.

My dependent variable is going to be home runs per plate appearance. I chose HR/PA for two reasons:

  1. I’m using Baseball Reference’s AL and NL Batting Encyclopedias, which give per-game averages; HR per game/PA per game will wash out the per-game adjustments.
  2. League HR/PA should show talent pool dilution as noted above – the best hitters get the same plate appearances but their plate appearances will make up a smaller proportion of the total. I’m using the period from 1955 to 2010.

After dividing home runs per game by plate appearances per game, I used R to estimate an autoregressive model of home runs per plate appearance. That measures whether a year with lots of home runs is followed by a year with lots of home runs, whether it’s the reverse, or whether there’s no real connection between two consecutive years. My model took the last three years into account:

\hat{HR}_t = .0234 + .5452HR_{t-1} + .1383HR_{t-2} + .1620HR_{t-3} + \varepsilon_t

Since the model doesn’t fit perfectly, there will be an “error” term, \varepsilon , that’s usually thought of as representing a shock or an innovation. My hypothesis is that the shocks will be a function of the DH and talent pool dilution, as mentioned above. To test that, I’ll run a regression:

\varepsilon_t = DH_t + logbat_t + logpitch_t + logtm_t

The results:

\begin{tabular}{c|ccc}  Variable & Sign Predicted & Estimate & P \\  Intercept&0&-0.011070&0.1152 \\  DH&+&-0.000063&0.9564 \\  logbat&-&-0.000245&0.9335 \\  logpitch&+&\bf{0.005550}&0.0489 \\  logtm&?&\bf{-0.006854}&0.0237 \\  \end{tabular}

The DH and batter effects aren’t statistically different from zero, surprisingly; the pitching effect and the team effect are both significant at the 95% level. Interestingly, the team effect and the pitching effect  have opposite signs, meaning that there’s some factor in increasing the number of teams that doesn’t relate purely to pitching or batting talent pool dilution.

For the record, fitted values of innovations correlate fairly highly with HR/PA: the correlation is about .70, despite a pretty pathetic R-squared of .08.

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