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.