Sunday, December 21, 2008

How should we value closers?

J.C. Bradbury, a man who writes a blog that combines two of my favorite subjects, baseball and economics, has put up a couple of posts so far this offseason decrying what he believes are the inordinately large salaries being given to closers.

His chief problem is that relievers, even the best ones, save so many fewer runs than starting pitchers that it seems ridiculous to offer relievers salaries that even approach the salary of a comparably elite starter. The usual response to this is that relievers pitch in "high leverage" situations, which is to say that the best relievers often pitch in situations where each run is of magnified importance. I think we can all agree that it is less damaging to give up a run when you are leading by 15 in the top of the ninth than when the game is tied in the bottom of the ninth.

J.C. does not agree that leverage, which amounts to a simple usage pattern for relievers, should factor in to their salaries:
I have considered the impact of leverage, but I don’t think leverage can explain the vast differences in my estimates and what is happening in the market. Leverage is a product of outside factors when a pitcher faces the same rules during all times of the game. The quality of his pitching is the same in the 5th inning as it is in the 9th.
He concludes (emphasis mine):
Another factor is that better pitchers in earlier innings affect the leverage in later innings. So, a good starter preventing runs as an impact on reducing leverage later in the game by creating bigger leads. I’m not sure exactly how to value that. So, I believe that the proper method is to treat all pitcher innings the same, while acknowledging that some elite relievers have some extra value in that they could be used in more valuable spots. But this value doesn’t necessarily come from when they pitched in the past.
J.C. is certainly right that it doesn't matter when a reliever has pitched in the past. All that matters is how a reliever can be used in the future. I will also admit that I myself have struggled with how to deal with the question of leverage when assessing player value, both in a past sense (how much reliever X contributed to a team's success) and in a future sense (how much reliever X will be worth to me next year).

I want to leave aside the question of past performance for now. I think that J.C. is in error to not factor leverage into future player value. Let me offer an analogy.

Let's say that I have been offered a prize of $1,000,000.00 if I can win a race from New York to Los Angeles. After a couple days of driving, I'm only a couple hours from Los Angeles and comfortably in the lead, by perhaps an hour or two. Suddenly, I find that I have a flat tire. Worse, I have no spare, since I dropped it to lighten my load and increase my fuel economy. I'm stuck in the middle of nowhere with no way to get going again.

But wait! Just when it seems that all hope is lost, a man pulls up beside me with tires for sale. He knows about my predicament and the prize waiting for me at the end of the race. If I act now, my lead will still be comfortable and I can cruise to the finish line in peace.

So I ask my savior, "How much for a spare tire?" He replies, "Only $750,000.00."

Obviously that tire did not cost that much to make, nor would it be worth that much at just about any other point in the race. Nonetheless, that tire is almost certainly worth that much at this point in time because I have no other options. I can either accept a prize of $250,000.00 or receive nothing. In fact, one might say that my enterprising benefactor is giving me a good deal, since I should probably be willing to accept almost up to the entire $1,000,000.00.

The situation is slightly more complicated when there are multiple tires (or relievers) on the market and multiple people bidding for them, but the principle is the same. How you intend to use a tool and the situation in which you might use it most certainly impacts how much that tool is worth, even if that tool is a pitcher.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Best. Shape. Ever.

And it's not even Thanksgiving yet!
[New York Yankees second baseman Robinson] Canó, Long said, has dedicated himself to physical fitness and is in “immaculate condition.”
Let the good times roll!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Pujols and Howard

From Thomas Boswell in the Washington Post:

Thirty years ago, I created the statistic Total Average. Now I'm almost ashamed to have been one of the original baseball geeks. Where did we go wrong?

This week, Albert Pujols won the NL MVP Award. Why? Mostly because he had a better OPS and VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) than Ryan Howard. Say what? Meanwhile, back in the real world, the Phils' first baseman had 48 homers and 146 RBI to Pujols' 37 homers and 116 RBI.

Earth to my baseball writing buddies: We all love the new numbers, but lets not worship false idols. When I published my Total Average numbers, I'd always emphasize that while stats were wonderful, common sense was better. When stats WILDLY contradict common sense, always doubts the stats. In the case of the goofy gap between Pujols' VORP of 96.8 and Howard's 35.3, my reaction is "Time to revisit VORP. If it can be this wrong, it's not as good as I tought it was."

Let me pull the key sentence out of that quotation:
When stats WILDLY contradict common sense, always doubts the stats.
No. This is very, very, very wrong. I know I've emphasised this over and over and over again, but it bears repeating: the proper way to use statistics is not to break them out when you already agree with them. The proper way to use statistics is to develop a model or a test that describes something useful a priori and then to let the results speak for themselves.

Let's be clear about this: anything less than that level of rigor is simply catering to your own predispositions. It's engaging in an activity that adds nothing useful to any discussion anywhere at anytime. If you only use a statistic when it validates your point of view, you are being either naïve or intellectually dishonest.

Ah, but what if it's not your opinion that the statistic contradicts? What if it contradicts COMMON SENSE?

Rubbish. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, there is no place in analysis for "common sense." All "common sense" means is that you believe that an idea is so basic that it does not require further argument. It fits some arbitrary set of criteria on which you have been conditioned to evaluate things. It says something about the person making the claim of "common sense" and nothing about the idea itself. "Common sense" is not an argument. It is a plea to avoid having to make an argument in the first place.

Common sense has its place, of course. One would rather not have to make an argument to one's self about why one should walk with the scissors pointed down or look both ways when crossing the street. But when ideas are being challenged, when ideas that you may think are common sense are being called into question, you cannot simply scream COMMON SENSE and expect that this is a rational rejoinder to your challenger. It just doesn't work that way.

Boswell has fallen back on common sense because that's the only argument he has left. He can't tell you why the numbers he hates are wrong from any real analytical perspective, so he has to claim that there is no reason to tell you why they are wrong. It's simply common sense.

The evidence that Boswell does provide forms only a narrow view of the two players. This type of mistake is easy to make. It's easy to focus on one or two of the most important issues in an argument and forget that all the other small issues, while lesser indivudually, may tip the balance in the aggregate. I've made this mistake on this blog many times, I know.

In this case, Boswell focuses on home runs and RBIs to argue that Howard's commanding lead in these categories is all you need to know. In fact, he explicitly exhorts his readership not to think beyond Howard's RBIs, simply because his lead is so large that nothing could possibly make up for it. He has to do this, because the moment you do the analysis you realize just how wrong that view is.

It's true. Ryan Howard had 48 home runs and 146 RBIs to Albert Pujols' 37 HR and 116 RBI. That is a large gap. If the only way to score in baseball were the three run home run, Howard would be the MVP in a landslide.

What happens when you look deeper? Pujols had 187 hits, Howard only 153. Pujols had 44 doubles, Howard only 26. Pujols walked 104 times, Howard only 81. Pujols made 364 outs. Ryan Howard made 475.

And that, friends, is the real kicker. Ryan Howard made 111 more outs than Albert Pujols last year. That is a ton of outs. Albert Pujols didn't just produce runs himself. He provided 111 more opportunities for his teammates to produce runs as well. Think of what your baseball team could do with 111 extra opportunities.

That's why the VORP numbers that Boswell disdains are so whacky. Yes, Ryan Howard produced a lot of runs himself, but he also drastically reduced his teammates' opportunities by using up a gigantic number of outs. In the end, that hurts run production. VORP accounts for that. Boswell's common sense does not.

The numbers don't get better for Howard as you keep digging. Pujols is one of the best fielders at first base. Howard is probably the worst. That counts. Boswell maintains that Howard was the king of the game-changing home run. Yet, when you account for the importance of the situation in the ball game systematically, you find that it's Pujols who was the better bet in the clutch with 6.39 Win Probability Added* to Howard's 2.37.

So in a perverse way, Boswell is right to complain that the difference between the two player's VORP is not accurate. In fact, it's far too kind to Ryan Howard. Once you get past the home runs and the RBIs it is crystal clear that Albert Pujols absolutely dominated Ryan Howard this year.

It's tempting to try to focus an argument down to one or two key sticking points. It's easier, clearer, and more concise. It's also poor analysis. One must account for everything. And when one finds one's opinion or common sense to be at odds with a more complete analysis**, only two legitimate options remain: demonstrate how the previous analysis fails or accept the results.

Boswell, like most contemporary baseball journalists, chooses instead to bury his head in the sand and complain about those geeks that are ruining baseball.

**EDIT** Joe Posnanski has written essentially the exact same post as I have over here, only his is better because he is a talented and professional writer and I am not.

* Win Probability Added is calculated by determining how likely a player's team was to win the game before and and after their at bat. The difference is credited to the player as WPA. You can think of WPA roughly as a raw number of wins that a player contributed to a team through his performance. Personally, I do not think that WPA demonstrates a useful skill (for reasons to lengthy to go into right now), but it does demonstrate that in those situations where the game could be greatly affected, Pujols was much more of a threat than Howard.

** It would be wrong to construe from my argument that VORP is the end all be all of analysis, nor is it meant to construe that there is only one way to perform a complete analysis. There can be many legitimate ways to analyze a problem that attempt to form a complete picture. They may even disagree. However, to not attempt a complete analysis is to pull the rug out from under yourself.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Rob Neyer on a roll

Great stuff from Rob today, though it is behind the Iron ESPN Curtain as usual (apparently Rob's blog is free now; awesome!):

What I'm not willing to say -- what I'll probably never be willing to say -- is that Joe Mauer deserved to finish behind Justin Morneau in the MVP balloting again. Two years ago, there was virtually no evidence that Morneau was more valuable than Mauer, yet Morneau finished first and Mauer finished sixth. This year, there is virtually no evidence that Morneau was more valuable than Mauer, and yet Morneau finished second and Mauer finished fourth.

Maybe that's a sign of progress. But for as long as I've been doing this, I've been told that I don't see enough games, that I don't know what it really takes to win, that I don't appreciate the little things that don't show up in the box scores.

And for as long as I've been doing this, every time the MVP voters have a choice between the guy with the power stats and the guy who does the little things, they pick the guy with the big numbers.

This is spot on, and represents perhaps the most absurd aspect of the false dichotomy between the old-timey, out-in-the-sun, scorecard-filling, sunflower-seed-chewing, team-bus-riding, player-interviewing journalist and the new-agey, basement-dwelling, cheese-puff-eating, Internet-surfing, stat-crunching über-geek, a dichotomy created entirely by those same journalists.

Journalists use numbers too. They have to. Everyone has to. They just use different (and inferior) numbers. It's left to the stat geek to attempt to pull the little things out of the vast expanses of data routinely ignored by the mainstream MVP voter. And what's the result? The result is that despite the whining by baseball journalists about how little baseball we watch, it ends up being the stat geek that advocates for an MVP candidate by trying to obtain a complete view of the player and the MVP voter who votes on the basis of gaudy numbers.

Monday, November 3, 2008


It's become a common cliché, an oft-cited but unverifiable quote, but it remains relevant in baseball: "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

Why bring this up now? Because you can expect to see the sentiment Tim Kurkjian expresses here echoed a lot during the offseason (emphasis added):
But the Red Sox, one way or another, will contend next season because they have lots of money, lots of young pitching, lots of resources and a much healthier Josh Beckett.
What makes anyone think that Josh Beckett is a good bet to stay healthy over 162 games? I get tired of bringing it up (nb: not really), but Josh Beckett has had exactly one full, healthy, productive year in his entire career. Sure, when he's healthy he's generally effective and sometimes brilliant, but the fact is that he is always battling some ailment or another.

At some point, you have to stop counting on Beckett to be healthy and instead recognize that to continue to make a healthy Josh Beckett the keystone in your quest for a championship is essentially insane.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Winning baseball

Question: Why did the Tampa Bay Rays make it to the World Series?

Answer: Because they hit a ton of home runs.

Question: Why did the Tampa Bay Rays lose the World Series?

Answer: Because they did not hit a ton of home runs.

It's passé in baseball to harp on doing the little things during the playoffs: bunting, sacrificing, hitting to the right side, stealing bases, etc. If you do these things well, the theory goes, you will be successful in October. Yet time and again, we find that it's the team that out-pitches or out-slugs their opponent that emerges victorious. That happened again this year. The Rays simply ran out of slug, and when they did, they lost. 

In fact, they lost despite stealing a record number of bases and scoring on not a few small ball plays. That's the irony of the whole situation. I'm sure not a few columnists will take the time to point out that home runs are fickle and that the Rays simply relied on them too much to be a winner. The problem is that this is true of virtually all teams, even (or especially) championship teams. When you don't hit for any power (with men on base), it's really tough to win.

Naturally, if someone could find the fountain of hit-home-runs-all-the-time, they could practically guarantee success in the playoffs. Since this is reality, where chance governs so much of the events that make up sporting events, sometimes the power just doesn't come when you need it. So it goes. All you can do is put the best team you can out there and hope that you get some breaks. That's not a flawed strategy or one-dimensional approach to the game. It's just The Way Things Are.

Hit for power and win; don't hit for power and lose. That's the lesson of these playoffs, even if the talking heads decide that the exact opposite is true.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


4.1 IP, 9 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 3 HR


Pete Abraham notes here (by way of this MSNBC article) that the Yankees paid 2.3 million dollars per win last year. The Rays paid only $451,000 per win.

This is actually misleading. In reality the situation is much worse. It's not possible for a baseball team to field a roster with zero payroll and it isn't likely that the worst roster a team could field (while still trying to win) would win zero games. In fact, the minimum a team could pay its players for one season is roughly 10 million dollars and the lowest win total they could possibly have is around 40 wins.

When you factor this in, what you realize is that the Yankees really paid about 199 million dollars for 49 wins, an embarassingly bad 4.1 million dollars per win. The Rays go up too; they really paid about $593,000 per win.

This distinction is actually important. For example, the Yankees are last in dollars per win, but when you adjust for the proper baselines, the Seattle Mariners are far more inefficient. Seattle paid 5.1 million dollars over the minimum payroll for each win over 40.

Inefficiency isn't just about spending tons of money. The real key to inefficiency is to pay a lot and get almost nothing for it. That's why the 40 win baseline is so important. Teams should not get credit for efficiency for winning games that they were going to win no matter how inept they were. Hell, even the 2003 Tigers managed 43 wins. They probably hold the record for inefficiency. By my back of the envelope calculations, they would have paid nearly 17 million dollars per win. If you fail to adjust for the proper baseline, they would appear to have only spent 1.4 million dollars per win.

Proper baselines: always important.

I would remiss if I didn't mention Doug Pappas in this post, since he is the man who pioneered this line of thinking, at least among those of us who follow baseball analysis on the Internet. Doug died in 2004 at the age of 41 while hiking on vacation. His presence and analysis is sorely missed. You can read his take on payroll analysis here and view his blog here. Rest in peace, Doug.

**EDIT** Fixed some egregious typos and reworded an awkward sentence.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A couple postseason thoughts

  • Buck Martinez kept going on and on during tonight's Angels - Red Sox game about how hard closing was relative to setting up. He spouted nonsense about closers being able to pitch "with the game on the line" while setup men can't and how closers "want the responsibility" and feel like they're "carrying their 24 teammates on their shoulders."

    Sucks to be a set up man, eh? Not only do you somehow not know how to pitch with the game on the line (because, as we all know, runs in the ninth inning count twice or something), but you are also an irresponsible coward. Honestly, what compels people to talk about closing this way?

    Naturally, it gave me much satisfaction to see Jered Weaver, certified non-closer, close out a one run lead in the bottom of the twelfth against the heart of the Red Sox order. Closing: it just isn't that hard.

  • Dustin Pedroia is now something like 0 for 17 in the postseason. He is coming off an MVP caliber season. He will not be accused of choking. Why? Mostly because he's short, white, scrappy, and low-paid. People will point to earlier postseason success instead of dwelling on his current slump. I hope someone can explain to me how this is fair to Alex Rodriguez.

  • The bottom line with these two previous thoughts is that people on both sides of any argument can find anecdotal evidence to support their position. This is why eventually it becomes necessary to either prove a point logically from a set of common assumptions or to provide evidence from a rigorous examination of data. If you cannot do either of these, your argument deserves no respect.

    Interestingly, this rigorous examination of data is called "statistics." It is the science of science in a certain sense. It exists preciesly so that arguments can be settled instead of devolving into an endless series of platitudes and anecdotes. They aren't evil. They exist because sooner or later a question has to be settled from an objective basis. For the life of me, I don't understand why more people don't realize this.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


I'd like to tell you that words cannot express how happy I am for Mike Mussina on securing his 20th win of the 2008 season. I'd like to, but it's not true. Here, let me show you how easy it is:

I'm really freakin' happy about this.

I'm mostly happy because people have unjustly branded Mike an inferior pitcher because that magical confluence of events that goes into reaching this particular arbitrary milestone never materialized for him until now. Those people are now forced to recognize The Moose as one of the best pitchers of his generation. This likely sows up a well deserved Hall of Fame spot. That makes me happy.

On the other hand, it should also give us all pause to reflect on how silly it is that for many, the key cog in Mike Mussina's Hall of Fame case was a meaningless game in September of his 18th Major League Baseball season. To many, Mike Mussina's career is now somehow significantly better because he won a game today; that his previous 535 starts are now somehow more meaningful because of his 536th.

That's a load of crap, and I hope everyone reading this realizes that. Before today Mike Mussina was a great pitcher. He didn't need this to be great. He needed it for other people to recognize his greatness. This win is a drop in the bucket; the garnish on an already excellent season; the signature on a masterpiece of a career.

But a Picasso would still be transcendent even if Picasso never signed it. The signature on a work of art has nothing to do with its inherent quality. It merely signals to otherwise uninformed that it is worthy of their respect and admiration.

People now respect Mike Mussina's career more than they ever have, even if they're only doing it because they saw his signature on what was already a masterpiece before he signed it. Sometimes you have to accept that people will do the right thing for the wrong reasons. Today, I can live with that.

Congratulations, Moose, from a fan who didn't need to see you sign your opus to know how special your career already was.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A-Rod sucks

So say Michael Kay and Al Leiter. It's more of the same "You gotta watch the games" garbage that always gets thrown around.

People, get this through your skulls: perception is not reality. Just because you perceive a pattern does not mean it exists. If I could communicate just one idea to people when it comes to analysis, this would probably be it.

A-Rod hasn't hit with men on base this year. So what? He'll probably finish 25 RBIs off his excellent-even-by-his-own-lofty-standards 2007. The Yankees are going to finish nearly 200 runs shy of their total from last year. Were you expecting Alex to drive in 300+ runs?! Surely there must be some other explanation. In fact, not only is it impossible to find any real evidence that hitting with men on base is a separate skill from simply hitting in general, but the difference between A-Rod's so-called "clutch" numbers and his overall numbers is vanishingly small.

What's the difference between A-Rod's pathetic .232 average with RISP and two out and a .300 batting average?

Five hits.



What could we expect those hits to net the Yankees? Five runs? Seven? Ten? If A-Rod's five missing hits give the Yankees ten more runs, they'd likely be only five game behind the Red Sox instead of six. With six to play. Yeah. That's a huuuuuuuge difference.

With RISP regardless of outs, A-Rod is hitting only .261, a mammoth seven hits away from .300. Yeah. Seven whole hits. A truly gigantic difference.

With runners on base, regardless of scoring position, A-Rod is hitting a pedestrian .274, still seven hits away from .300.

Notice a pattern? Not only is the difference about as far from significant as possible, but as we increase the sample size, A-Rod's numbers become closer and closer to his overall numbers.

Do you want to know something else perhaps even more telling? A-Rod's OBP with RISP and two out is .424. That's higher than his overall OBP. His OBP with RISP regardless of outs is .398, still higher than his overall OBP. Perhaps no one wants to give A-Rod a pitch to hit when he can really do damage. Note that again as we increase the sample size, his OBP retreats to his normal level. This regression to the mean is the hallmark of random statistical noise.

Does this look like the profile of a choker or someone who had "it" last year and lost "it" this year? Or does it look like random statistical variation perhaps coupled with some very cautious pitchers?

Of all the Yankees' problems this year, A-Rod's performance is probably the very bottom of the list (OK, it's more of a problem than Mike Mussina). There is no reason, there is no reason, why we should ascribe A-Rod's "struggles" to anything other than the capricious whims of Lady Luck.

I'm sorry if that makes a worse story.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Is this blog dead?

Nope. Or at least, I hope not. Currently, and probably for the extended future, I am being crushed at work by a large project that does two things to me. First, it takes up more of my time than it used to. Second, it saps my mental energy to the point where I just don't want to think about analysis in any serious way. Whether or not you think serious analysis has been a requisite for posting here in the past, I certainly do not have the heart for it right now.

Nonetheless, there are still things I want to talk about, and I hope that in the future I will again be able to care enough to write about them here.

Some quick thoughts:
  • So much for everyone who thought the Tigers were world beaters.
  • So much for everyone who thought the Rays weren't.
  • I would not worry too much about the New York Yankees going forward. Every team experiences years like this. New York is in an excellent position to recover.
  • Joba Chamberlain must remain a starting pitcher.
I'll catch you all later.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Summing up RBI

Keith Law in a chat today on ESPN:
Todd (MA): Perhaps the RBI stat is overvalued, but it's hardly meaningless. The team that scores the most runs wins the game, and the RBI stat helps to identify what players succeed at tallying runs for their team. The ability to hit with runners on base is arguably one of the most important abilities in baseball, perhaps second only to proficiency in getting on base.

SportsNation Keith Law: All it does is tell us who happened to come up to the plate with men on base. This is not valuable information. And there is no evidence that "the ability to hit with runners on base" is at all distinct from "the ability to hit."
It's that last sentence that basically sums it up. Every single time the issue is really studied, one of two conclusions is made:
  1. There is no ability to hit with men on base that is in any way distinct from simply the ability to hit.
  2. There is an ability to hit with men on base, but its discernible impact is so small, that you're better off just proceeding as if #1 were true anyway.
I'm not sure if it can be summed up any better than Keith did.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

But who will pitch the eighth inning?!?!

Over at the RLYW, SG notes that since May 29th, seven relievers in the New York Yankees bullpen have combined for 128 innings of 2.53 RA baseball. May 29th was the day that the New York Yankees moved Joba Chamberlain out of the bullpen and into the starting rotation.

It's only been a couple of months, but already Joba, with an assist from the baseball gods, has shown people why it was absolute lunacy to consider keeping him in the bullpen. Not only has he maintained his dominant stuff throughout his starts, but the bullpen hasn't really missed him. The team hasn't been hemoragging late inning leads. In fact, as far as my admittedly spotty memory can recall, they haven't blown one game that they might have won if Joba had been available in the bullpen (confirmation bias warning).

That's obviously not going to continue, but the larger point remains: it's just not that hard to pitch one inning of baseball. The difference between Joba and some random reliever pitching the eighth inning is dwarfed by the difference beween Joba and some random starter pitching the first seven. Case closed.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Uncanny Valley

In robotics, there exists a hypothesis known as "the uncanny valley." In short, the hypothesis is that humans respond with increasing empathy to robots (and other objects) as they become increasingly human up until a point where they are almost human. At this point, humans will instead experience strong repulsion as they now perceive those characteristics that make them un-human instead of those that make them more human. However, this repulsion only lasts for a little while because as the robots become even more human we once again begin to identify strongly with them.

This hypothesis tends to ring true to me. Just look at the reaction that most people have to computer animated characters. We tend to obsess over the things that make them less human. We find them creepy, even if technically they are superbly animated. We don't have that reaction to simple hand-drawn animations. Indeed, much animation is designed to create truly unrealistic characteristics that are designed to elicit a truly empathetic response.

This, of course, has nothing at all to do with baseball. Not obviously, anyway.

I began thinking about this concept with respect to baseball as it pertains to baseball analysis. All baseball analysis is designed to simplify our view of baseball so that we can more easily extract information from it. As statistics become more and more complex, they begin to capture real baseball more and more accurately.

But will we reach a point where the models involved will be so minute that they miss the big picture? Can we create models that are too detailed? Will baseball models reach a point where they are so close to real baseball that they actually cease to tell us anything useful, instead providing us with either totally obvious or totally false conclusions?

One of the advantages of statistics is their coarse-grained nature. By not being bogged down in details, we can cut right to some important if general truths.

Obviously, I don't have an answer to these questions. And really, I probably don't need one. As long as we can measure the efficacy of the models we create, we should be able to discern between useful and useless models. Nonetheless, it's a question that's been eating at me for a few weeks. Thoughts?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A realization and another piggyback

I keep meaning to do something worthwhile in this space, to explore some area of baseball research that I'm curious about or to develop some new way of thinking about a problem. In reality though, that stuff is far more involved than I'm usually willing to commit to, so I end up piggybacking off of other people's blogs, which essentially makes me like every other blog on the Internet (not that there's anything wrong with that).

Today's piggyback is from Rob Neyer, who is unfortunately behind the ESPN Insider curtain:
The "anti-scout stat geek"? He's a straw man. Doesn't really exist, at least not in any meaningful numbers. As for scouts doing "a better job of projecting prospects than the numbers do" … Well, we don't really know that, do we? When scouts evaluate players, even Class A players, they can't help but notice the numbers. And when number geeks evaluate players, they read the scouting reports.
This is a marvelous point and it points out a flaw on both the objective and subjective realms of baseball analysis.

Not only are scouts, the subjective analysts, not impervious to the influence of numbers (after all, they have to use some data to back up a projection, even if it's height, weight, age, bat speed, fastball velocity, or whatever), but they are not forced to quantify their projections into any meaningful set of numbers. Thus, unlike purely objective projection mechanisms, it's really hard to evaluate how well they've done at projection. If I were paying scouts, I'd have them rigorously quantify their projections along the lines of providing basic stat lines at various percentiles for important ages at the major league level. Then you would be able to actually grade how well your scouts do project and give them valuable feedback.

Of course, Rob exposes a problem on the objective side as well. Objective analysts too often fool themselves into adding their own subjective point of view to a supposedly objective evaluation. It drives me crazy every time I see Nate Silver hedge his PECOTA projections. Which is it, Nate? Are your PECOTA projections "deadly accurate" or do they need subjective adjustment? It completely defeats the purpose of objective analysis when the analyst starts adding his own view point.*

* Yes, I realize that BPro articles are for entertainment first, and they do entertain me, but I still reserve the right to get annoyed. I'm sure Mr. Silver understands my point without needing a correction from yours truly.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Twelve hits

I'm gonna cherry pick from the boys at River Ave. Blues again, mainly because they buried this gem in an analysis of Joba Chamberlain's brief first start.
Now, we know Cano is struggling, and we know he’s swinging at everything. But here’s the reality: At this point last year, Cano’s batting average was .050 higher than it is now, and the second baseman had just 12 hits more than he did now in the same number of at bats. 12! That’s hardly anything.
This really underscores just how much small samples distort reality. If you scatter just a dozen singles into Robinson Cano's line, he's back to where he was at this point last year. Robby can make that up with a couple of hot weeks.

This is the ultimate reality of baseball: the season just is not long enough for all the breaks, bounces, injuries, good luck, bad luck, and blown calls to even out. The difference between a .300 hitter and a .280 hitter over the course of a year has more to do with chance than it has to do with skill. That's what makes baseball fun, but it's also what makes it frustrating.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Why stats are important

Because I just watched LaTroy @!&*#%!*%#!&^$!(*@#! Hawkins blow a one run lead in the bottom of the 11th inning and statistics are the only thing capable of providing me with an objective point of view to prevent one excruciatingly painful moment from permanently warping my perspective.

Even LaTroy @!&*#%!*%#!&^$!(*@#! Hawkins was likely to convert that save. He didn't. It happens.


Why don't we see complete games anymore?

Craig Calcaterra over at Shysterball has a brief post up about why we see fewer complete games in the present than we did in the past. His thesis, and that of the gentleman to whom he links, is that because teams have more money invested in young pitchers now than they did in the past, they are more careful with their arms. They don't push their arms to their limits for fear of losing their investment entirely.

I think this is mostly true, but I want to make a finer point: it doesn't really matter how much you paid for the services of a particular pitcher. All that matters is how to extract the best value from that pitcher, or rather, from your system of training pitchers.

Once you've signed a young pitcher, the money that you have paid to him is a sunk cost. You cannot get it back. Thus, the money that you have already paid to pitchers should not factor at all into the training and usage of your pitchers. If the best way to extract performance from your pitchers is to have them all throw 300 innings immediately upon leaving high school and see which ones survive, then this will be the best way no matter how much you paid them. Thus, it would not be correct to alter your system of pitcher training and usage just because your pitchers cost you more money than they did in the past.

However, there is a cost to determining which system of pitcher training and usage is the most efficient. In the past, it is entirely possible that this cost outweighed the cost of paying young pitchers. Thus, teams simply hired as many young arms as they could, worked the hell out of them, and thus found which ones would stick. This may have been cheaper than actually determining how to maximize that value of any given set of pitchers. I think that this is highly plausible when you consider the relatively high cost of data analysis (no computers) and the relative inexpensivenesses of pitching.

Now that it costs a lot more to hire a pitcher (and a lot less to analyze data), the rewards for having an efficient system are much higher. Thus, teams are more willing to invest in research to determine which systems of pitcher training and usage are the most efficient. In the process of doing so, they have apparently determined that it is better for your pitchers to not ask them to throw twenty complete games every year.

Whether or not this is the correct conclusion is a completely different question.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The narrative fallacy

The boys over at River Ave. Blues have absolutely nailed it:
The Yankees are losing now. Many people are trying to fabricate reasons why the Yankees are losing. But there is one, just one reason for their losing games:

Their pitching is allowing more runs than their offense is scoring.

That’s it. That is the reason, in totality, why the Yankees are losing games. Pretty boring, huh? So it’s no wonder why people create these narratives to explain the situation. Narrative is far more interesting, far more engaging than facts. It’s a shame that it gives us zero insight into the game.

This is so amazingly correct that I'm kind of ashamed I didn't post on it earlier.

We love baseball because we love the narrative. There's nothing wrong with that. I love the narrative too. However, it's a mistake to assume that the narrative in any way has any bearing on the decision making process associated with running a baseball team. To run a team correctly, one must be immune to the narrative. One must learn to ignore the story and analyze only the facts. That's hard, especially when it seems obvious to everyone that insert team name here is playing lifeless, uninspired baseball and is in need of a "spark."

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Hank: Shut up

Dear Mr. Hank Steinbrenner,

You know nothing about baseball. Spend your money on people who do know something, and then STFU. Your team will actually be better off if you do. For reference, please study the last thirty-five years of Yankee baseball.

Your Pal,

John P. Lynch

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Tim McCarver making sense

I like to rag on Tim a lot, so I want to give him some props for his refusal to play along with Joe Buck's idiocy in regards to jinxes and curses during the Cubs - Cardinals game on Fox Saturday afternoon.

Since the Cubs were playing, Joe started rambling on about their supposedly cursed past. That Kosuke Fukudome appeared recently on the cover of Sports Illustrated also served as fodder for Joe's discussion of famous jinxes. Joe remarked that Fukudome had gone 4-4 the day after the his cover issue hit the stand. After musing over Fukudome's ignorance of Cubs history and the variety of curses associated with them, he then asked Tim if he believed in curses or jinxes.

Now, it would be normal for Tim to play along with this silly idea. Tim however chose to rather bluntly shoot it down. "No," he said, "I don't believe in curses or jinxes or anything like that."

Buck then decided to bait McCarver by talking about how poorly McCarver had played after his two appearances on the cover of SI. McCarver responded again bluntly: "Can't a guy just play badly? What can't a guy just not play well? You don't need some curse or jinx to play poorly. Haven't we come far enough as a society not to believe in those things?"

Buck disagreed. He was probably being facetious, but I don't care. This whole superstitious curse nonsense is junk. It was junk for the Red Sox and it's junk for the Cubs. Yeah, it's marginally funny, but only for so long. I'm tired about hearing about the freakin' Billy Goat. I don't want to hear about black cats.

Tim McCarver, at least for five minutes, was a stalwart defender of the scientific way of looking at things, of reason and common sense, of not being an idiot.

Thanks, Tim. I'll lay off the next time you make want to tear my hair out.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Confirmation bias

From BPro's Kevin Goldstein:
Well sometimes prospects just explode, and small sample sizes sometimes are damned, as here is one player from each of the full-season leagues who is exploding, but also has the scouting reports or existing potential to confidently up their stock.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.

This is classic confirmation bias. "I thought these guys were going to be good, and, hey, they are good." Small samples are always small samples. They do not add anything to the discussion.* These guys may still be excellent prospects, but that has nothing to do with their performance in a limited set of games and everything to do with the fact that they were already great prospects. This mindset has absolutely got to be stricken from baseball coverage.

* OK, technically they add a small sliver of evidence. If a prospect was 90% likely to be awesome, the small sample tells us that he is now 90.01% likely to be awesome.** If you want to hitch your analysis wagon to that, that's your business.

** Numbers are totally made up for example purposes. You get the point, I hope.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Bullpen strategy

Some thoughts on baseball, having just returned from Jacobs Field (yeah, you heard me) in Cleveland where I watched my Yankees lose 4-3 to the Tribe and a one out single on the bottom of the ninth:
  • If you go to a ballpark, and they offer you a choice of a "hot dog" and a "kosher dog" it is incumbent upon you as a lover of the baseball experience to choose the "kosher dog." It will be a much higher quality dog and better cooked too, not one of those pale, limp pieces of garbage you get at the normal concession stands. If this is not the case at your local ball park, you should consider some sort of protest. Furthermore, if you happen to be eating your dog in Cleveland, you get to enjoy this superior kosher dog with their stadium mustard, which kicks the crap out of the normal yellow stuff. Simply put, if you are not having this experience with your hot dog at a ball game, it simply means that you are trying to fill the hot dog sized hole in your heart with cheap imitations. I had two. This may not have been enough.
  • The Jake is a great place to watch a baseball game. The park was built with a vertical emphasis, which is how stadiums should be built. It keeps fans close to the action. Tiger Stadium was like this, and unfortunately Comerica Park is not. Between this and the hot dogs, I may start watching the majority of my baseball in Cleveland.
  • Finally, the real topic of this post. This one is real simple. In fact, it's so simple that it blows my mind that every MLB manager does not understand it. It's like this:


    For emphasis:


    You see, when the game is tied in the bottom of ninth inning, giving up any runs means losing. Always. No exceptions. If you give up a run you will not win. You will lose. It cannot happen any other way. However, many managers prefer to not deploy their best pitcher in these circumstances, preferring to use their closer after they have acquired a lead. There are only two completely fatal, totally obvious, elementary flaws to this thinking.

    First, you may never take the lead, losing with your best pitcher unused. Awesome. Second, you may take a large lead, rendering the use of your best pitcher meaningless.

    Today, in Cleveland, Joe Girardi, like his predecessor, opted to use an inferior relief pitcher, Ross Ohlendorf, instead of Mariano Rivera (or, I should add, Joba Chamberlain, who may have been being rested for other reasons) in the bottom of the ninth in a tie game and predictably lost.

    Let's go over this one more time: if Ross Ohlendorf surrenders even a single run, YOU LOSE. YOU MOTHERHUMPING LOSE. YOU CANNOT WIN. The only reason that you would not use your best available pitcher in the scenario is if you think that using him now will cause him to be unavailable for a more critical situation (which really doesn't exist anyway) in subsequent days. Mariano Rivera can pitch on back to back days. Sometimes, he can pitch three in a row. He was rested. By not using him in this situation, you are essentially betting that you can't use him tonight because you might need him two or three days in a row in higher leverage situations (which really don't exist anyway) immediately after this. This is a nearly impossible bet.

    I just can't get over this. Necessarily, run prevention is more important in the tie game in the bottom of the ninth than in any subsequent inning in which you have the lead. This is fact. This is not speculation. It is a mathematical necessity. The laws that govern the entire universe would have to disintegrate for this to not be true.

    Pitchers exist to prevent runs. They exist for no other purpose. Therefore, the best pitcher should always be used to prevent the most critical run. And no run is more critical than the run that guarantees a loss.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Tampa Bay attendance

Over on his blog, Shysterball, Craig Calcaterra notes that the Devil Rays are having a hard time attracting fans:
The Rays are again playing games at Disney World as part of an initiative "designed to bolster fan support in the Orlando area." Last night's attendance: 8,989. You're doing it wrong, Tampa Bay.
Naturally, for those of you who know something about lolcats, after I read that I had to create this:

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Please do not think this way

Via Tyler Kepner's blog for the NY Times (hat tip to River Ave Blues):
Speaking of Chamberlain, here’s Johnny Damon’s take on his role. It seems to be the majority opinion of the veterans in the clubhouse: “Joba as a starter, he has a chance to help us out once every five days. Him coming in and bridging the gap to Mariano, he’s got a chance to do that three or four times during those five games."
Two things are egregiously wrong with this viewpoint.
  1. The "chances" that Johnny talks about are not even remotely equal. The best starting pitchers in baseball game exert vastly more influence on the outcome of a game than the best relievers. In the last few years, only the top five to ten relievers are worth more than five additional wins above replacement over the course of the year. The top 30 starting pitchers are always worth more than that. The top five to ten starters are usually worth over seven wins above replacement. Joba has the ability to be a top five starting pitcher.
  2. There is no way on God's green Earth that Joba can pitch out of the bullpen four times in five days with regularity. Hell, even pitching him out of the bullpen three times every five days is borderline reckless. As a reliever Joba will have an opportunity to make a difference in at most half of the Yankees' games, not the 60 to 80 percent that Johnny thinks it is.
Remember, the issue is not that Joba is guaranteed to be more valuable in the rotation, it's that he has the potential to be more valuable. No team in their right mind does not first try their stud, ace level, pitching prospect as a starter. If, after two or three years, he is unable to make that cut it in the rotation, then put him back in the bullpen.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


If you're a Yankee fan, you really ought to be conditioned enough to the ups and downs of the baseball season to withstand some bumps. Pete Abraham thinks so, and this post socks it to the crazies pretty hard.

Try, just try, to be a little cognizant of the situation your team has been in so far. Some of the comments on the blog tonight appeared to be written by 8-year-olds after sucking down three Mountain Dews.

Brian Cashman didn’t promise you a wire-to-wire joyride. There’s a plan in place and there are going to be some bumps.

Brew some green tea, take a nice sip, put some jazz on your iPod and calm down. It’s April 19.

Thanks, Pete. Those of us who aren't crazy appreciate the support.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The new wave of player contracts

According to ESPN, the Devil Rays have locked up Evan Longoria for six years. Or seven. Or nine, if they feel like it.
Rookie third baseman Evan Longoria and the Tampa Bay Rays agreed Friday to a $17.5 million, six-year contract, a deal that could be worth up to $44 million over nine seasons.
Essentially, Longoria gets $17.5 million for the six years that he'll be under control of Tampa Bay anyway. At that point, he'll be 28, and the Rays can pick up an option for his first free agent year. The following year, he'll be 29 and the Rays can essentially lock him up for the remainder of his prime, the next two years, bringing the total value to $44 million.

This is an awesome deal for both sides, and we've been seeing more and more of these recently. Teams have figured out that a couple million dollars a year is chicken scratch to them but means an enormous amount to a player who is still not yet eligible for arbitration.

Essentially, Longoria is now set for life. No matter what happens, he can bank on receiving $17.5 million. Before he signed this deal, if he had gotten hurt during the next three years he would have made less than a million dollars. He does give up the chance to sign an outrageously lucrative contract when he's 28, but for any young player, divesting yourself of all that risk is too great an opportunity to pass up. This is a deal he should take ten times out of ten.

The Rays have assumed all of Longoria's injury and performance risk, but at a very affordable rate: less than three million dollars a year. Longoria is as "can't miss" as prospects come, but even if he does "miss," the Rays would have to make five bad deals of this nature for every success in order for them to be substantially hurt. On the other hand, if Longoria doesn't miss, they have a potential All-Star locked up for nine years at less than five million dollars a year. That's an absolute steal for them.

This is the new baseball market. I think it's awesome.

** EDIT ** The discussion going on here, in which I am a heavy participant, is worth reading, if only to see other people's reactions.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Does Manny kill Yankee pitching?

From Pete Abraham's Yankee Blog:
Manny Being Manny is an insane 52 of 110 (.473) against the Yankees since the start of the 2006 season with 12 homers and 35 RBI in 32 games. He has 53 homers and 153 RBI against the Yankees in his career.
Later in the same post:
He’s .320/.408/.615 in 193 career games against the Yankees and .319/.397/.597 at Yankee Stadium. A .408 career OPB against one team? That is not a small sample size, either.
Two points:
  1. Believe it or not, the evidence from the first selection still constitutes a small sample. One hundred and ten at-bats is not enough to sufficiently eliminate the statistical noise present from random variations.
  2. Manny is a career .313/.409/.593 hitter. He's hit a few more singles against the Yankees, certainly nothing that would cause us to suspect that he kills them.
Manny kills everyone. It is a treat to watch him bat (and field too, but for different reasons). This is not a Yankee related phenomenon.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Tim McCarver: Still doin' his thing

Tim McCarver, while inexplicably defending a horrible baserunning gaffe by Jason Varitek, on how baserunning mistakes are made (paraphrasing):
Most baserunning mistakes happen when a runner does not try to take an extra base, not when he gets thrown out trying to take an extra base.

Got that? Not making an out: bad. Making an out: not as bad. Somehow, I really think that this is not the case. In fact, even if it is literally true that the greater quantity of mistakes are passive, the enormous gap in the magnitude of the mistakes makes the point totally worthless. Given that you are going to make a mistake, make the mistake that doesn't cost your team an out.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Journalistic integrity

From Rob Neyer's ESPN Insider blog, comes a link to a Philadelphia Inquirer editorial about the costs and benefits of publicly financed stadiums:

Why, then, given the overwhelming academic research challenging stadium-centered economic development do political leaders (if not average citizens) still support such projects? In a just-released article in the Journal of Sport and Social Issues, my colleagues and I studied media coverage of 23 publicly financed stadium initiatives in 16 different cities, including Philadelphia. We found that the mainstream media in most of these cities is noticeably biased toward supporting publicly financed stadiums, which has a significant impact on the initiatives' success.

This bias usually takes the form of uncritically parroting stadium proponents' economic and social promises, quoting stadium supporters far more frequently than stadium opponents, overlooking the numerous objective academic studies on the topic, and failing to independently examine the multitude of failed stadium-centered promises throughout the country, especially those in oft-cited "success cities" such as Denver and Cleveland.

I'm shocked - shocked - to find that people tend to be biased towards views in which they have a significant vested interest.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Low hanging fruit

I try to refrain from directing my readers to the various mainstream media fiskings over on FJM. While often hilarious, they don't constitute (and are not meant to constitute) serious baseball analysis and are generally heavy on profanities. This particular send up of an almost astonishingly ignorant view of baseball (and perhaps life in general) is no exception to these rules, but if you were just thinking that the one thing you could really use right now was an outrageous dismantling of an even more outrageous piece of horrible baseball writing, your wish has been granted.

As my only comment on the substance of the article itself allow me to simply say that I think that baseball is big enough for everyone who wants to like it, regardless of how one derives the the most enjoyment out of it. So for those of you who want to talk about RBIs, Ws, Ls, and AVGs, have at it! We all love the same game, we just talk about it in different languages!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

It's early, people.

Just a reminder that in the baseball season a week and a half in April matters just as much as a week and a half in May, June, July, August, or September. It just seems like everything is more significant because because there's no context. Nothing you have seen, think you have seen, or feel has any significance whatsoever yet!

Overreaction to super small samples: fun for the whole family!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Charlie Manuel flouts statistics (or does he?)

From this BBTF thread about this Philadelphia Inquirer article:
[Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel] will continue to consult statistics when considering matchups, but he will trust his eyes more. So what if a hitter is 0 for 6 against a particular pitcher? Manuel saw those six outs, and they were all hard-hit line drives. Eyes win. And so does the gut.
This is totally illustrative of the inability of the mainstream to grasp what statistical analysis is. Manuel is here portrayed as flouting statistics to go with his gut feeling, but in reality he is demonstrating an implicit understanding of proper use of statistical analysis. 0 for 6 tells you absolutely nothing. No self-respecting statistician would try to draw any sort of conclusion ever on the basis of 6 trials.

Now, you shouldn't actually use the fact that your guy hit the ball hard six times either. That's just another statistic. However, I suspect that what Manuel is really saying here is "I know based on my vast experience observing baseball players that my player is well equipped to deal with this pitcher, I just don't have the numbers to back it up yet." And you know what? That's what you have to do in that situation.

Now if you find that your opinion is constantly leading you to choose hitters for specific situations who are generally inferior, it may be time to question your baseball experience. It should take a lot of experience to choose Neifi Perez over Albert Pujols, for example. Pujols should be your choice 99.9999% of the time, not because he has performed better or worse in a specific situation a small number of times, but because he has performed well in a general sense many, many times. Therefore, the number of situations in which Perez is a better hitter must be exceedingly small (or non-existent). If it were not, the general gap between them would be smaller as hitters.

People who do not understand statistical analysis are the ones who constantly abuse it. The people who think stats are garbage and say that "spreadsheets don't play baseball" or that "players aren't stat generating robots" are the same people who turn around and use small samples both as the tools of confirmation bias and as a straw man to attack those number-loving geeks.

For the love of God, people, please stop using small samples for any reason whatsoever.

** EDIT ** Changed use of the word "flaunt" to "flout" because I care about the English language.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Alex Eisenberg takes up the scouting mantle

A few months ago, I praised the work of Carlos Gomez even as I realized and bemoaned the fact that he would no longer be able to write publicly. I expressed hope that someone would pick up where he left off. It appears that Alex Eisenberg has decided to do so.

I have no idea what Mr. Eisenberg's credentials are, but he certainly sounds like he knows his stuff. It's certainly worth keeping an eye on. Good luck, sir.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Costas clarifies

By way of Deadspin comes a clarification from Bob Costas on his comments in last week's Miami Herald article:
I don't have any problem at all with the mainstream media being challenged or supplemented by new media. No entity has a monopoly over good writing from a valid point of view. In that sense, the more the merrier. In fact, many bloggers, on numerous subjects, sports included, are talented, humorous and bring fresh perspectives.

My commentary was aimed solely at a portion of Internet sports discourse, an unfortunately large portion, that consists of nothing more than potshots, ad hominem arguments, ignorance and invective. No one who is familiar with the general tone of public discourse, whether it be sports, politics, whatever, can honestly deny that much. It comes from that direction.

I was absolutely not saying that most or all bloggers were losers. It just seems so often that commenters use insults in the place of arguments. Is there a lot out there that's also well-written? Or course. But forgive me for not placing the exact same value on an comment on a political blog that I would to something said by Ted Koppel. Sure, they have the equal value in a voting booth. But you have to assume that if you've done something reasonable well for an extended period of time, you have some notion of what you're talking about.
I appreciate Mr. Costas' clarification. I've always liked him as a commentator, so I was particularly disappointed to see his comments last week.

That being said, I still have a problem with a portion of what he's saying. He is in essence saying that we need to filter out the good bloggers from bad bloggers, as opposed to credentialed journalists who we can accept because, hey, they are credentialed journalists.

To my mind, the process of determining the worth of someone's opinion has nothing to do with the platform by which one is enabled to speak. It has entirely to do with the content of the opinion. Mr. Costas believes that a large segment of the blogger community is full of invective and ad hominem attacks, and this is true. Unfortunately, so is the journalistic community.

That's the key point and my chief criticism. There are plenty of mean-spirited, illogical, name-calling journalists out there. They deserve the same treatment as mean-spirited, illogical, name-calling bloggers.

Finally, I think it's telling that the chief source of Internet community garbage is to be found on mainstream sports media websites. If you want a mostly intelligent, mostly polite, mostly rational, mostly entertaining community, you look elsewhere.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Et tu, Bob?

Bob Costas in the Miami Herald, by way of Shysterball:
I understand with newspapers struggling and hoping to hold on to, or possibly expand their audiences, I understand why they do what they do. But it's one thing if somebody just sets up a blog from their mother's basement in Albuquerque and they are who they are, and they're a pathetic get-a-life loser, but now that pathetic get-a-life loser can piggyback onto someone who actually has some level of professional accountability and they can be comment No. 17 on Dan Le Batard's column or Bernie Miklasz' column in St. Louis. That, in most cases, grants a forum to somebody who has no particular insight or responsibility. Most of it is a combination of ignorance or invective.
Dear Mr. Costas,

I am sorry that you feel that your opinion is worth more than mine because you have a career in broadcasting and I have a career in computer science. I can assure you that, contrary to what you may have heard, I do not live in my mother's basement and I that I do indeed have a life, not to mention a job.

You apparently have been informed that all blogs are places where people spout uninformed, irrational, irresponsible opinions. While many blogs are like this, not all of them are. To paint all bloggers with the same brush is itself an irresponsible opinion. Many blogs are run by people with far more knowledge of their subject than their counterparts in the media.

Do bad blogs exist? Without question. However, the opinions of bad bloggers are not more worthless than a responsible journalist's because of their medium of communication. They are worthless because of their content. That you have failed to grasp this point illustrates that you do not understand why journalists exist in the first place.

Who made the established media the guardians of public opinion? What law says that someone with a degree in journalism is more important than someone with a degree in art? What divine decree established that only the anointed purveyors of mass media were allowed to express their ideas?

Journalists have had their position because in the past the tools of communication required special training and access. Journalists were not given a position of influence because their opinions were of extra importance. Their opinions gained extra importance because of their position of influence. You have put the cart in front of the horse.

Now the barriers to communication that have always existed between people are crumbling. Economists can communicate directly with the masses they study. Programmers can communicate directly with the people who use their programs. Ball players can communicate directly with their fans.

The journalist now finds himself without control. Understandably, he is scared, afraid that this information revolution will render him obsolete. And it has. People are now getting their information from people with actual knowledge, not from people with a degree in parroting other people's opinions.

It's a new world, Mr. Costas. Suddenly, journalists can be directly challenged by people who possess more knowledge than they have. They can no longer spout lazy opinions and meaningless rhetoric with impunity. The responsible elements of the blogosphere have shown exactly how lazy and arrogant the journalistic community has become.

Those journalists with real knowledge, real substance, and real communication skills will still find themselves with a real audience. I expect that you will find yourself in this group. Those who do not will find themselves in the same situation as the bad bloggers: a right victim of the natural selection process that is constantly working for the betterment of society.


John P. Lynch

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Chien-Ming Wang and why he should fascinate you

From this Jonah Keri interview of Angels' second baseman Howie Kendrick:
Keri: Who's the toughest pitcher you've ever faced?
Kendrick: Chien-Ming Wang. It's that sinker ball. He's one of those guys that you definitely have to be a little more patient against. He can throw two different sinkers. He has one that has a little more sink to it, where he takes a little speed off. Then he throws you a hard one also. So you have to be patient and really try to elevate the ball. He's pretty much the only guy that I've had some problems with in the major leagues.
Chien-Ming Wang is the most fascinating pitcher in baseball today, and Kendrick, who can probably hit .300 in his sleep, illustrates half of the reason why. Wang is well known for throwing what analysts have termed the "power sinker," a sinking fastball that is thrown a few miles an hour faster than a traditional sinker. Hitters hate hitting the pitch, and Wang has been effective throwing it.

Yet if history is any guide, Wang should not be able to continue his success. It is near impossible, if not entirely impossible, to find pitchers with sustained major league careers who strike as few batters as Wang does. If strikeout numbers are indicative of good "stuff," then Wang should not have the "stuff" to continue succeeding on a high level.

However, the argument is that he does have good "stuff," it's just not "stuff" that induces strikeouts. The argument that pitchers should pitch to contact has been made time and again, even in the face of evidence that as much as coaches have preached this philosophy, the pitchers who have succeeded are those who made batters swing and miss.

If you look at most guys who were supposed to be the exception to this near-rule, you aren't going to be looking at a group of guys who are going to be making anyone's "toughest pitcher" list. That's what is fascinating about Wang: he is purported to be that rarest breed of pitcher, one who has great stuff, but no strikeouts to show for it.

Whether or not Wang can continue bucking history is on the short list of things to keep an eye on over the next decade or so.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Best Shape: One Last Time

Actually, I had not planned to post another "best shape" roundup, but then my sister cleverly goaded me into it with one of her typically slow developing, yet well worth the read anecdotes from Germany.

Away we go!

Joba Chamberlain:
Saying that he believes he is in the best shape of his life, Chamberlain focused his offseason workouts on dropping body fat and strengthening his body's core, putting special attention on his legs to generate power and drive.
Yadier Molina:
Molina enters the season recovered, trim and singularly focused on the Gold Glove that went to Dodgers catcher Russell Martin, who started 42 more games than Molina last year. The off-season was designed to put him in the best shape of his career, he said, and now he's ready to show it with the Cardinals.
Russ Adams:
Buried on the depth chart of the Jays roster is former shortstop/second baseman Russ Adams. The first-round pick in 2002 was an everyday player in 2005, but has since bounced between the minors and the bigs. He's in arguably the best shape of his career, and has impressed his coaches during batting practice and in the batting cages. Jays manager John Gibbons admits it will be hard to "find a home for (Adams)," which is why the 27-year-old will see some time in the outfield during spring training.
Eddie Kunz:
After signing with the Mets last July, [Kunz] joined Class A Brooklyn, pitching in 12 games, before going to the Arizona Fall League to refine his changeup. All that pitching wore him out, and he returned home to Portland exhausted. Soon, he resumed training with the Oregon State team, losing 15 pounds, to put him around 250, and is in what he called the best shape of his life.
I'm sure there are more, but I can't spend all day trolling local papers, so I just get what Google News brings me. I'm sure my faithful readers won't mind too much, seeing as how you: don't care.

Also, since I mused last time about how journalists swallow this standard line (with hook and sinker), I thought I'd give some props to some brave skeptics out there.

Tom Verducci:
Joba Chamberlain is only 22 years old and has thrown just 24 innings in his major league career. Javy Lopez is 37 and has caught 1,351 major league games. What might these two players possibly have in common, considering the tremendous gap in age and workload? Both of them are in the best shape of their lives. Don't believe it? Just ask them, not to mention just about every other player in any camp this season who gladly helps a desperate beat writer knock another non-news day off the spring training calendar.
That's the opening paragraph to his column on the top ten spring training falsehoods.

Childs Walker:
That said, spring training is not an entirely helpful exercise for fantasy purposes. The swarms of reporters in Florida and Arizona don't have much to write about some days, so out come the tales of veterans who reported in the best shape of their lives and youngsters with as many tools as Mickey Mantle. There's always some obscure dude who hits .800 with four homers in the first two weeks and suddenly seems like a viable fantasy pick.
There were spring training games played today, and since tomorrow is March, this will be our final roundup.

But who cares?

Baseball's back!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Daily "Best Shape" Roundup

Who else is in the best shape of their career?

Jeff Bennett:
Bennett has dropped more than 50 pounds in the last seven months, reporting to spring training in probably the best shape of his life and giving himself a legitimate chance to claim a job in the Atlanta Braves' high-profile rotation.
Russell Martin:
"Yep, no question," [Martin] replied when asked if he was in the best shape of his life. "I feel stronger, faster. I feel athletic. I feel balanced, I feel strong in the right places."
Ryan Doumit:
Doumit admits being overweight contributed to his poor health history. Thanks to a strict offseason diet and workout routine, he reported to camp in what he said is the best shape of his life.
Paul McNaulty:
To ensure that wouldn't happen again, McAnulty dedicated himself to getting in the best shape of his career in the offseason. He worked out three times a day -- that's right, three times a day -- six days a week, an arduous mix of weight training, conditioning, riding the stationary bike and, of course, hitting, at his home in Oxnard, Calif.
Kevin Millwood:
Kevin Millwood threw out of the stretch for the first time Monday and he said he was feeling good after his second bullpen session of the spring. "Both of my hamstrings were tight after running, but that was everybody," he joked. Millwood went on the disabled list twice last season with a hamstring injury. "I think I'm in the best shape of my life," he said.
Dioner Navarro:
“I’m in the best shape of my life,” Navarro said. “But hopefully what I did will pay off and help me get through the regular season.”
Why do I get such a kick out of these quotes? I think it's because they're silly from two different perspectives.

First, the players are so outrageously optimistic heading into the new year. Yeah, it's what makes sports so great, but it also is just another bullet point in the list of things that demonstrate why we need objective analysis: there's just no way that every player who says "I'm in the best shape of my life" really is. Or, perhaps, even if they are, there's no way it will translate into superior performance. That it's always brought out in spring training as reason for optimism despite the dubious nature and ignominious history of the quote is amusing.

(Side note: the above also applies to every veteran who shows up and says something like: "We got a good team. We have good guys here, talented guys. If we do the things that we're supposed to do, we're gonna be real good." Yeah, sure. Now how likely is this?)

(Side side note: the best part about the vets talking about doing the right things is that they never mean working the count, hitting for power, striking batters out, and walking few opponents. No, they always mean bunting, hitting and running, stealing, and the ever nebulous "fundamentals." Seriously, I think hitting home runs is pretty damn fundamental, but I digress (from my digression withing a digression). Your team will not score if it can run and bunt, but has no one on base and don't hit homers. Don't tell the Giants, though.)

Second, the fact that sports writers parrot the line so completely without ever bothering to acknowledge the ubiquitousness of the quote is almost astonishing. If you're a writer, and a player says that to you, and you want to use it in your article, how can you not mention the unlikelihood of the truthfulness of that statement? The apparent lack of awareness on the part of Joe Media Man is also amusing.

And just think: position players haven't even reported yet!

Saturday, February 16, 2008


Lookout Landing has an even more comprehensive look at this year's "best shape" parade of quotes than I've been able to collect. Some of them are borderline, but most of them are gold. Have all my efforts been for naught?

Never fear, faithful reader, I will press on in spite if this fairly significant pwning. My hat is off to this gentleman.

Hi, my name is Chad Cordero...

...and I'm in the best shape of my life.
Closer Chad Cordero was working out on Friday, and said he is in the best shape of his life, having lost 10 pounds during the offseason. He hopes that losing the weight will help him keep his stamina throughout the season.
Keep 'em coming, boys!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Ray King, come on down!

You're the next contestant on "Best Shape of His Life!"
Reliever Ray King arrived in camp in the best shape of his life. He lost 23 pounds and hardly has a gut. King decided to stay away from junk food and sodas and start working out with son. He said instead of going to In-N-Out Burger, King ate salmon instead.
Oh, man... baseball is back!

Putting the nail in the steroid coffin

Many people don't remember this, but back in the mid 90's, when everyone was gearing up for someone to break Maris' home run record, the most common theory for the large increase in home run rates was that the ball was juiced, not hitters.

Unfortunately, especially for those who prefer things like "research" and "science" over speculation, once steroid-mania hit, that theory died a quick death. That death was premature.

There's is a growing body of evidence that there have been substantial and significant changes in the baseball used by MLB. Today, Tom Tango adds his observation to the mix, concluding that while expansion and changing ballparks do not explain the increase in home run rate, a changing baseball appears to account for nearly all of the change.

This meshes quite well with the findings of other researchers, who have claimed that there has been a physical change to the ball itself.

Steroids, unlike HGH, increase physical strength, no doubt about it. However, the link between steroid use and baseball performance is tenuous at best.

This is why the steroid issue frustrates me so greatly. The whole issue has become nothing more than a soap box for old writers and old commentators and old players to break out that old saw about how players used be tougher and smarter and more competitive. This has been going on since baseball began.

Yet, we don't consider any of the other possible explanations for the increase in home run rate. I'm not saying steroid use didn't have some effect on that rate. I'm saying we don't know what that effect is. The best available evidence is that the effect, if any, has been small.

There has never been a period in baseball that could be analyzed apart from the context of the era itself. If you want to look at unadjusted statistics, you must accept that they will always be tainted by context, regardless of the cause of that context. If you look at adjusted statistics, the reason for the context is irrelevant. The day that the majority of baseball fans realize this will be a great day indeed.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

It's cool to just hand New England teams championships before playing a single game, right?

It is? Cool. Just checking. See, everyone seems to be handing the Red Sox the 2008 World Series before spring training really gets under way. Normally, I would be opposed to this, but I guess it's safe to assume that teams from New England will seal the deal, especially this Red Sox team.

I mean this is the same teams that outscored the New York Yankees by -101 runs last year. That's a lot by which to outscore the next best team in the league! Plus, last year, the Yanks had three exciting young pitchers to eat up some of the innings that will now have to go to AAAA scrubs. They're gonna allow way more runs this year.

It's even more of a slam dunk when you figure that the Sox creamed the Yanks by winning eight of the eighteen head-to-head contests with their main rivals. That's impressive. Furthermore, they got stronger as the year went on, adding -12.5 games to their lead over New York from May 29th until the end of the year.

And as if they needed anymore help, the Sox will have a healthy Curt Schilling right from the start in 2008.

Yup, the Sox are obviously the best team in baseball this year. Who could even possibly think to hope of maybe dreaming to someday pretend to almost imagine to challenge the glimmer of the shadow of the Platonic form of the little toe of these Boston Red Sox?

Spring training is here!

What more really needs to be said?

Baseball is back!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Spring training is almost here! (Part 4)

It was subtle, but not even a slightly different take on inthebestshapeofhiscareer can escape my watchful eye:
"I feel more alive more than any other year," said Crawford, who plans on getting organic meals shipped to him throughout the season. "This new regimen, it's been having me feeling like I have more energy."
Congrats, Carl!

Spring training tomorrow!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

HGH: Useless

The evidence continues to mount that Human Growth Hormone has no performance enhancing effect on athletes. Will the media finally stop bitching about it? Only if misguided, self-righteous tirades stop selling newspapers!

(As is increasingly the case, hat tip to BBTF.)

Monday, February 11, 2008

Writers, please be consistent

As the Roger Clemens steroid saga gets stranger and stranger, I have one simple request for all sports writers out there: please be consistent.

Already, we are seeing rumblings about how Clemens' vigorous defense is embarrassing and makes him look bad. This from the same people who believe that not vigorously defending yourself is proof that you are guilty.

Look, you can't go around telling athletes that they must sue their accusers if they are innocent and then condemn them for doing just that. A little consistency is all I ask.

Note: The stories linked her came from Buster Olney's ESPN blog. Every day, Buster provides a near exhaustive laundry list of stories from the print media, along with some of his own observations. It's a great resource, but you have to pay for it. Today, he shares a wonderful story about his encounter with Deion Sanders when Deion was in the minors and Buster was a young reporter. For Buster, sharing this story is a rite of spring. It's another indication that for us, like Carl Crawford, spring training is almost here! If you have an ESPN Insider subscription, it's well worth the read.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Spring training is almost here! (Part 2)

As regular readers know, my favorite spring ritual is reading all of the articles talking about how Player X is "in the best shape of his life/career" and is therefore optimistic that last year's struggles are behind him.

This year, one man has gone above and beyond the call of duty to provide us with a look back at how these men fared last year.

Jesse Spector, you have my eternal gratitude. (Hat tip to BBTF).

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Hall of Fame Postmortem: Andre Dawson

With luck, this post will be much shorter than the other postmortems I've written.

Andre Dawson played for the Montreal Expos, Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, and Florida Marlins in a 21 year Major League Baseball career spanning 1976 to 1996. He won an MVP award in 1987, though he probably did not deserve it. He finished in the top five in MVP voting three times. He made the All-Star game eight times. He never won a World Series (after all, he played for the Expos, Cubs, and Red Sox; he retired from the Marlins in 1996, just before their first World Series title). He finished with a career line of .273/.323/.482 and an OPS+ of 119. He accumulated 1373 runs, 1591 RBI, 2774 hits, and 438 home runs.

In 2008, Dawson fell short of being inducted into the Hall of Fame with 65.9% of the vote (75% is required for induction).

Complicating Dawson's candidacy is that he split his career between center field and right field. As a young player in Montreal, he played center field full time, but by the time he left for Chicago, he was exclusively a right fielder. This muddies his case a great deal because the offensive standard for admission to the Hall of Fame is much higher for right fielders than center fielders, as it should be.

Also of interest is that there aren't really any contemporary center fielders from Dawson's prime in the Hall of Fame (excepting perhaps Robin Yount, who moved to center field from shortstop). Dawson followed after the heyday of Mantle, Mays, and Snider in the 1950's and 1960's and shares minimal overlap with modern elite center fielders like Ken Griffey Jr. and Andruw Jones. Further complicating the picture is that center field is home of some of the most dominant players of all time, like Mantle, Mays, Cobb, DiMaggio, and Speaker, but also some of the more dubious Hall of Fame selections, like Earl Averill, Earl Combs, Edd Roush, Lloyd Waner, and perhaps Hack Wilson.

Dawson accumulated 107.1 WARP3 during his career. His career EqA, a metric that measures total offensive contribution on roughly the same scale as batting average, was .286. Neither are explicitly adjusted for the position that the player plays, though WARP3 incorporates runs saved on defense, which gives a large boost to players playing prime defensive positions. EqA has no adjustment for defense of any kind.

For comparison, the elite center fielders mentioned above Hall of Fame center fielders performed thusly: Mickey Mantle (148.6 WARP3, .340 EqA), Willie Mays (214.0, .328), Ty Cobb (197.9, .330), Joe DiMaggio (120.8, .322), Tris Speaker (179.6, .322).

All of these center fielders crush Dawson from the perspective of EqA, indicating that they all produced at a much higher rate over the course of their careers. The only player he's even remotely close to in terms of career WARP3 is DiMaggio, despite playing for eight more seasons than Joltin' Joe (who lost a chunk of his prime to World War II). Each of these players had a massive peak where they put up multiple MVP caliber seasons. Dawson put up only one season in which he was MVP caliber, 1981, which was unfortunately shortened by a strike. Dawson certainly does not belong in this group. In fact, the only player even close to this group who is not in the Hall of Fame is Ken Griffey Jr. (136.2 WARP3, .312 EqA), and he's still playing. Andruw Jones (101.6, .282 EqA) may also join this group by the time he's done.

Dawson is clearly better than the group of scrub Hall of Fame center fielders listed above, so much so that I will leave it to the reader to investigate just how much Dawson was better.

No, if Dawson is to be elected it will have to be shown that he meets the standards of the next tier of Hall of Fame center fielders. Let's take a look at them, ignoring the Negro Leagues and 19th century players.

Duke Snider checks in with 93.3 WARP3 and a .309 EqA. Richie Asburn has 108.1 WARP3 and a .290 EqA. Max Carey nearly qualifies for the bottom feeders with his 94.4 WARP3 and .275 EqA.

This leaves us with two special cases: Kirby Puckett, a contemporary of Dawson's, and Larry Doby. Puckett and Doby are both marginal cases on a statistical level. Puckett has 93.0 WARP3 and a .296 EqA. Doby has 70.1 WARP3 and a .301 EqA. Puckett dubiously receives credit for having his career abruptly terminated due to a case of glaucoma and subsequent loss of vision in one of his eyes. Doby receives extra credit, and rightly so, for being the first black player in the American League. Though he was only 23 when he made his Major League debut, he had been playing in the Negro Leagues for years, and it is conceivable that he may have lost some of his early career to the color barrier that existed in baseball at that time.

Regardless, Dawson would not appear to deserve an special bonus points for his career. Some have argued that he would have performed better later in his career if he had not spent the early part of his career playing his home games on the artificial turf in Montreal. While this may be true, I do not in general subscribe to the belief that players should be given credit for hypothetical performance due to baseball related injuries or wear and tear. Introducing hypothetical performance into the equation leads to an endless string of "what ifs" that make it impossible to achieve any sort of objective standard.

What then to make of Dawson's career?

Certainly, Dawson would not be the worst member of the Hall of Fame were he to be elected. You can see him settling down quite comfortably with the Ashburn-Snider-Carey group.

No, the real problem with Dawson's candidacy is the implications that it would have for other Hall of Fame candidates.

Can you vote for Dawson and not Bernie Williams? Bernie Williams had 106.2 WARP3 and a .301 EqA. At his peak offensively, he put of MVP quality numbers as the rock of the Yankee teams that won four of five World Series in the late 1990's.

Can you vote for Dawson and not Jim Edmonds? Edmonds has 106.9 WARP3 and a .306 EqA and is still active. He's a fantastic center fielder and also has a higher offensive peak than Dawson.

Are you prepared to vote for Carlos Beltran? He sits and 74.1 WARP3 with a .291 EqA and is still in his prime.

What about Kenny Lofton? He's got 102.9 WARP3 and a .288 EqA and he's still kicking.

So Dawson looks like a marginal center field candidate. His career EqA of .286 would actually be below some other guys, like Williams and Lofton, who probably don't have a prayer.

Here's the problem though: as mentioned before, he wasn't a center fielder for even half of his career. In fact, he spent most of his time in right field (1281 games in right, 1027 games in center). That's why I couldn't vote for Dawson. If you're a marginal center field candidate with Dawson's numbers, you have a chance. But if you're actually a right fielder, I couldn't vote for you.

Ultimately, Dawson is undone by his astonishingly low .323 on base percentage. That kind of offense just isn't acceptable in a Hall of Famer, unless it is coupled with outstanding defense at a prime position and epic power. Dawson doesn't quite make that cut.