Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I haven't talked about Mariano Rivera's usage pattern in a while...

...so I'm gonna let Rob Neyer talk about it for me.

I lied. I'm also gonna talk about it.

Bottom line: I think Rob is correct: Joe Girardi did the right thing by not using Mariano last night in a (superficially) close game. Perhaps, perhaps, there's an argument if the Yankees were only down one run, and certainly he should have and would have been used if the Yanks had been tied or ahead.

But down two runs in the ninth inning is not a terribly high leverage situation. In fact, it's a very low leverage situation (see here). The Yanks have games today and tomorrow. In my opinion, it's worth more having a rested Mo today and tomorrow than it is to try and keep a two run deficit at two runs, especially when your reward for doing so will just be more Cliff Lee.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

When will the madness stop?

One of these years I will actually manage to disengage the MVP discussion. This is not that year.

During two broadcasts today, I heard the same sentiment expressed: that Miguel Cabrera was obviously the MVP so far this year. This is crazy. Let's run down the list of contenders using BPro's WARP and Fangraphs' WAR, both of which measure wins above replacement:*
  • Josh Hamilton, 5.7 WAR, 5.2 WARP
  • Justin Morneau, 5.2 WAR, 4.3 WARP
  • Robinson Cano, 5.1 WAR, 4.8 WARP
  • Carl Crawford, 5.0 WAR, 4.0 WARP
  • Adrian Beltre, 4.7 WAR, 4.8 WARP
  • Evan Longoria, 4.4 WAR, 4.8 WARP
  • Miguel Cabrera, 4.4 WAR, 4.5 WARP
Note that WARP and WAR vary a bit due to methodological differences. I prefer Fangraphs' WAR; whatever. The point is that Cabrera is not obviously the MVP by these objective measures.

Let's grant for a second that Cabrera is clearly the league's best hitter, though clearly Morneau and Hamilton have cases too. He still is not clearly the league's Most Valuable Player because there's more to playing than hitting. Cabrera plays first base and not particularly well. Morneau on the other hand is an excellent fielder at first base. Hamilton plays left field, a more important defensive position (though not much) and he plays it better than Cabrera plays first. Thus, even if Cabrera were clearly a better hitter than these guys, and he isn't, he still probably doesn't deserve the MVP over them. That's why they have higher WAR scores than he does.

And what about Robinson Cano? He plays a premium defensive position, plays it well, and has been raking all year. Sure, he's not a Cabrera/Hamilton/Morneau caliber hitter, but: second base. It matters, people.

So why are people talking about Cabrera with Bondsian reverence? The triple crown stats. Cabrera has a shot at the triple crown. And if he wins it, or is close, he's probably a lock for the award.

So where are all the sportswriters out there blowing a gasket, tripping over themselves to excoriate the numbskulls who don't get out and watch baseball, who just look at numbers in Mommy's basement, who compute their Chadwick Batting Average and their Runs Batted In and don't appreciate the little things? As of right now, they are nowhere. It's absolutely insane. Once again, the people who can't wait to congratulate themselves for watching every game and appreciating the ins and outs of the sport are simply going to be blinded by three of the stupidest statistics in baseball.

If you watch a lot of baseball here's what you know: defense matters, playing a premium position matters, that there's more to the game than AVG, HR, and RsBI. WAR and WARP actually help capture these things. You know why Crawford does so well? Because his insane speed puts his defensive numbers through the roof. You know why Cano does so well? Because he's a slick fielding, sweet swinging second baseman. Miguel Cabrera is a (ahem) rotund slugger who plays first just well enough not to have to DH. Why do our self-appointed guardians of the holy baseball not see this? I have no idea.

Look, there's still two months to go. Anything can happen. Cabrera could wind up passing all these guys on the strength of his hitting. And I've ranted and raved about the MVP before only to have the writers get it right. I probably shouldn't be lumping them all together just because Michael Kay and Mark Grace haven't thought this through. Sorry, sportswriters who are competent.

Still, I just want recognition from these guys that there's more to an MVP award than triple crown hitting stats even when a guy has a chance to win it.

* I'm limiting this to hitters. Yes, I know pitchers can win, but: who cares?

Friday, July 30, 2010

Lance Berkman

Rumors have the Yankees set to acquire Lance Berkman. Whatever. He'd be a DH for the Yanks and he's still got a useful bat, even if its not quite as potent as it used to be. Here's the thing though: the Yankees really should not have to give anything up to get him. He's due $15M this year with another $15M next year or a $2M buyout. And given his past performance, that's roughly what he's worth.

But what's the upside for the Yankees? They're already the best team in baseball, on pace to win 104 games. So Lance isn't going to get them over the hump. He's not under a favorable long term contract. The Yanks already rotate guys like Jeter, A-Rod, and Posada through the DH slot on a regular basis, so his impact there is muted. There's almost no upside in the regular season for the Yanks.

And I'm sure they know this. Getting Lance Berkman would be about October. But given that the Yanks are already loaded and that the postseason is such a crap shoot, how much value does he really add there? Still not that much, though, of course, with an extreme amount of variance, given how elevated the stakes are (note, of course, that this variance cuts both ways).

There's just no way the Yanks should be giving up something of value, like a decent player under team control at cut-rate salary for the next three to six years, so that maybe Lance Berkman might have a big postseason hit. I know it seems crazy, but given Berkman's salary, age, and performance, he's just not worth that much in a trade.

In any case, the current rumors have the Yankees sending Mark Melancon and Jimmy Paredes to Houston. If so, I suspect it's a reasonable deal. Melancon could become a useful reliever, but as far as young relievers go, he's not high on New York's list. Paredes is a C prospect but still too far from the big leagues to really have a good read on him.

Anyway, I hope these rumors are true, not because it would be a good deal (it seems pretty balanced to me), but because when I heard the rumors initially, I was scared half to death that the Yankees would actually give up a top 10 type prospect, which (again) would be a ridiculous overpay for a few months of Lance Berkman at this stage in his career and with his salary. That does not appear to be the case. Phew.

** UPDATE ** It now appears that the Astros would pitch $4M in as well. That pretty much makes the deal as even as it could be.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Yankees I loved to watch

For no reason and in no particular order, here is a list of Yankees that I've loved to watch play:*
  • Derek Jeter: I could watch him shoot the ball to right field all day.
  • Robby Cano: When he's right, he makes everything look so easy.
  • Gary "Ultimate Team Player" Sheffield: An ass, but probably the scariest looking swing I've ever seen.
  • Nick Swisher: If he and Brett Gardner were rookie space marines, Nick would be the naive, amped-up show-off who can't wait to get into the action and kick some alien ass; Brett would be the taciturn, duty-first jarhead. One of them would get eaten by a giant space bug on their first mission and the other would spend the rest of the film learning to deal with the tragedy. Also, Jeter would be the veteran field commander with the stern demeanor who actually deeply cares about his men. Yes, I have thought too much about this.
  • Alex Rodriguez: I've spent so much time defending the guy that I enjoy his every success.
  • Mariano Rivera: Death.
  • Mike Mussina: So under-appreciated. Wish we could have got you that ring.
  • Ted Lilly: One of those guys I just liked for no apparent reason.
  • Joba: We'll always have 2007.
  • Phil Hughes: Keeping my fingers crossed for the future.
  • Edwar Ramirez: Does he win the worst pitcher with the best pitch competition? If he had two more miles per hour on his fastball, he'd have been unhittable.
  • Bobby Abreu: Never seen a guy work the count full from 0-2 so much. If I had a list of Yankees I hated to watch play, he'd make that list too for his fielding.
  • El Duque: There was something just so magically old school about his pitching.
* NB: Not the same as a list of favorite Yankees.

Dear Broadcasters

Dear Broadcasters,

Please stop giving us players' batting statistics against a particular team as if it were actionable information. Batters do not hit against teams. They hit against individual pitchers.

That is all.


Monday, July 26, 2010

Enjoying baseball

Every now and then, you watch a baseball game that reminds you why you love it so much. Last night's Cardinals-Cubs game was one such game. It had just about everything you could want: power, speed, good defense, plays on the bases, pitchers working out of jams, clutch hitting, strategy, and extra innings.

Hell, I even though that the broadcast crew was fantastic. Orel Hershiser and Bobby V. engaged the viewer all evening with information that is not available with a simple Google search. Orel talked about pitching strategy and mechanics. Bobby emphasized little managerial considerations that might not occur to the viewer otherwise. There were a couple inevitable rough spots, but all in all they delivered a package head and shoulders above normal color commentary.

There's really no way to describe how sublime it is to simply kick back and watch two teams play an exciting regular season baseball game. It's exciting, but not tense. It makes you smile, but not leap for joy. It's engaging, but not riveting. It was perfect.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

What am I missing?

Rob Neyer has been one of the few people defending Bud Selig's decision not to overturn Jim Joyce's safe call. Here he quotes Craig Wright who I will also quote:
You now know that the Commissioner is not going to change the call, which is absolutely the right decision. That would have been totally unprecedented and it would not really be in the spirit of the broad powers given to the Commissioner. The rules are very clear that this decision is to be the judgment of the umpire at that point in the game. What if it had been the other way around, that umpire Jim Joyce had called the batter out but the replay showed he was safe? Would you take away the perfect game and replay the game from that point somewhere down the road? No, of course not.
I love Rob and usually agree with him, but I do not understand people who are hiding behind the precedent argument.

First, as noted by Keith Olbermann, league officials have overruled umpires' calls on the field in the past. They've even done it when it means erasing the results of games and replaying them from the point of the bad call. Pine tar game, anyone? So the idea that this is without precedent is nonsense. You may not like the precedent, but it's already there.

Second, it's easy for the commish to overturn this call without establishing unwanted precedent. Simply say that you reserve the right to overturn any call that would not require the game to be replayed and would not alter the outcome of the game. There! Simple! The number of situations when this would apply are limited by definition to those situations when what's at stake is merely of historical interest and not of importance to the outcome of the game.

Note that this kind of rule means that you would not reverse the incorrect out call that preserves a perfect game. And that's fine. People clearly understand the difference between overturning a call that means a game has to be replayed and the outcome potentially changed and overturning a call that has none of these implications.

So I ask people who are using the precedent argument: what the hell am I missing?