Thursday, April 30, 2009

Craig Calcaterra hits it out of the park

What I do care about -- and the reason I have quoted all of this stuff by and about Selena Roberts -- is the culture of character assassination that has become inextricably linked to the subject of steroids in baseball. Every big name who has tested positive has not only been branded a cheater by the media, but a dirty cheater with evil and chicanery in his heart. Every assertion of innocence -- even to subordinate allegations -- has been met with scorn. In addition to censuring players under the rules of baseball, the media (and the public at large following the media's lead) has further demanded that high-profile steroids users be ostracized, and that the historical record be expunged, as best it can be, of their very existence. It has been a shameful few years in this regard, and I hope and pray that one day some semblance of perspective on the subject of performance enhancing drugs in baseball prevails. But we're certainly not there yet.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Maybe it's not the new stadium...

From here:
The distance of the home runs being hit this year (the true distance, i.e where they actually land, as well as the standard distance, which factors out weather and altitude) is significantly higher than last year, with the average standard distance being 8.5 feet longer this year than last. 
The p-value actually works out to 0.0000341, which is a very strong indicator that something is making 2009 home runs fly farther than 2008 home runs, in isolation of the weather, and to me that implicates the ball. 
Ball speed off the bat is also up. And, as you would expect, so are home run totals. I will say that, as others have observed, the ball has appeared to me to be exploding off bats this year. I've been amazed at some of the balls that have gotten out at Yankee Stadium. Maybe my observations are being influenced by other people's commentary, but I thought I'd throw that out there. Apparently, this phenomenon is going on everywhere.

One of the most underreported stories of the so-called "Steroid Era" is that the spike in offense was not the gradual increase that one would expect if steroids were slowly permeating the game. It was a very sharp spike in the early 1990's (starting in 1993, if my memory serves; could be 1994). If we are to accept that steroids caused the surge in output, we must accept that hitters all started using simultaneously. This is highly unlikely. The much more likely explanation is that something changed about the playing environment, something universal.

The most likely culprit is the ball, and indeed there is empirical evidence demonstrating that the core of the ball changed and changed enough to cause a spike in home runs. It appears that something fishy is going on again this year. I'll be very interested to see how this plays out.

UPDATE: Apparently Brian Cashman reads the same blogs I do. ESPN reports that "Cashman also said home runs are traveling about eight feet farther so far this year compared to last season." Furthermore, Cashman is quoted as saying, "The ball is going farther in every park, not just ours." Fascinating.

**EDIT** Fixed typo noted in comments.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Joe Sheehan confirms my bias about confirmation bias

Sometimes being right isn't all that much fun; as arrogant as it is to say this, I'm fairly familiar with the concept. Let's be clear, too, that this applies when the first week of the season confirms my biases. The Astros are a bad baseball team that probably has the worst bottom 20 roster spots in MLB; that they're 1-5 with the worst run differential in baseball doesn't tell us much more than we knew a week ago. Just because a small sample confirms your pre-season analysis doesn't make it any more valid.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Correct reasoning

So much of what I write here is really about correct reasoning with baseball as the example. This is because I love baseball and also want to reason about it (and everything else) correctly. Thus, this post, while not explicitly baseball related, naturally piqued my interest. Indeed, I saw it because it was linked by J.C. Bradbury over at Sabernomics, a baseball economics blog. The whole thing is well worth reading, but I will excerpt just a small amount.
If we don’t sometimes defer to the expert consensus, we’ll systematically tend to go wrong in the face of one-way-hash arguments, at least our own necessarily limited domains of knowledge.  Indeed, in such cases, trying to evaluate the arguments on their merits will tend to lead to an erroneous conclusion more often than simply trying to gauge the credibility of the various disputants. The problem, of course, is gauging your own competence level well enough to know when to assess arguments and when to assess arguers. Thanks to the perverse phenomenon psychologists have dubbed the Dunning-Kruger effect,  those who are least competent tend to have the most wildly inflated estimates of their own knowledge and competence. They don’t know enough to know that they don’t know, as it were.
Yes! Correct reasoning is hard. As much as I love it, I do it wrong all the time. Indeed, this blog serves to enshrine all the times I have reasoned incorrectly. I keep meaning to do a post summarizing all the analyses I've f***ed up, but I keep not doing it (insert Freudian crap about ego and id and all that jazz).

In any case, since we really don't have the time to reason correctly about every last thing, we absolutely must adopt the position that other people likely know more about any given issue and that we should generally defer to their judgement. Yes, this creates the problem of identifying who the experts are, but this is probably a more tractable problem.

The more I learn about computer programming or guitar or economics or baseball, the more I understand how little I truly know about any of them. This is why it is so important not to commit to a particular position just because you feel like you need to choose a side. You should never commit to a position until you have to, and even then you should commit to it only for as long as is necessary, at which time you should "uncommit" and continue to examine all evidence for every position. This is not easy to do.*

Finally, from the same post:
Addendum II: In the comments Pithlord lives up to his moniker:

Most fallacies aren’t really fallacies when you reinterpret them as Bayesian reasons to give an idea more credence rather than iron-clad syllogisms. Without the “argument from authority” and the “ad hominem fallacy”, you would either never get lunch or you’d give all your money to Nigerian spammers.
Bingo. Probabilistic reasoning is insanely hard. In propositional logic, it is a grave fallacy to say "A implies B; B is true; therefore A is also true." However, probabilistically, when you say that "if A is true, B is more likely to be true; B is likely to be true; therefore A is more likely to be true," you are 100% right. That's messed up.

* Please note that I am not saying that no position is ever right or wrong. Rather, I am saying that knowing which position is right and which is wrong can only occur with increasing degrees of certainty. Nor am I arguing that one should never advocate for a position or argue a particular viewpoint. Indeed, if we did not do this, we would never be able to communicate positions or viewpoints to people that need to hear them. Rather what I am saying is that the appropriate attitude when advancing a position is to remember that you could be wrong and to try to learn how you could be wrong from the opposing position.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Bill Simmons, Product of the Enlightenment?

I'm gonna start this post with two asterisks: (*), and (**). Now, onward!

Bill Simmons has a great article up on ESPN right now. Strangely, it's great from an analysis point of view and not a humor point of view (some of you might have found either one strange). Bill, known for his almost fanatical devotion to the idea of chemistry in football and basketball, slams the idea that chemistry is important in baseball.
But baseball … baseball is an individual sport masquerading as a team sport. You are a worker bee. You have a job, and it's up to you to execute it. Yeah, it's always better to get along, but couldn't you say that about any work situation? Ultimately, it's just you. You're the one pitching, you're the one hitting, you're the one fielding. If everyone is pulling for one another, fantastic. You can even win a division that way -- good karma invariably leads to goofy bounces and luck. On the other hand, the deliriously happy post-Manny Red Sox mustered just three hits in their biggest game of the season (Game 7, 2008 ALCS). At some point in baseball, talent trumps all.

I am in near complete agreement with this (not so much the karma part). Football and basketball are both sports in which teammates must actually cooperate to win. The idea that the relationship of teammates to each other is important is not that far fatched. In baseball, guys have to cooperate to turn a double play or make a relay throw or something. There just aren't that many ways in which good or bad chemistry can have an effect.

I never thought I'd be linking to Bill Simmons here. Weird.

* Did I really not post at all in March? I'm shocked (but not, you know, shocked, shocked).
** My apologies to those who don't get the post title. There are maybe four people in the world who really do.

**EDIT** Fixed a weird typo.