Sunday, June 28, 2009

First guessing

Joe Girardi just brought Mariano Rivera in in the eighth with two on and two out in a one run game. I have no idea how it will turn out, but I support this move 1000%. I just want to be up front about these things. I'm not always second guessing.

**EDIT** Mo got the strikeout. It looked like strike three was a ball inside according to's Gameday. Now we'll see how the ninth goes.

**EDIT #2** Mariano just picked up his first big league walk, time on base, and RBI! It's 4-2 Yanks after Mo walks with the bases loaded against K-Rod in the top of the ninth. Here's hoping Tex can ice this one.

**EDIT #3** Mo gave up a dinky two out hit in the ninth before locking it down. Again, at no point was the game more on the line in the ninth than it was in the eighth. That's why you have to be flexible enough to use your best pitcher when it really matters. Tonight, Girardi was, and he was rewarded for it.

**EDIT #4** Just watched the video of Mo's RBI. He took a nice hack at a 2-2 pitch. He certainly doesn't let himself get cheated. Awesome.

**EDIT #5** Mariano Rivera is one of the few athletes to whom I can remain attached on a personal level without the jaded cynicism that seems to permeate my relationships with other athletes. Go watch his ESPN interview. Mo has an almost childlike demeanor throughout. He isn't out there trying to get a message out or trying to deflect criticism (as if there were any). For the best player ever in his role, he practically radiates humility. Indeed, he almost seems embarrased to be interviewed. Yet, he loves talking about the sport he loves playing. I will probably cry when Mo retires.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


It's the bottom of the eighth inning. The New York Yankees lead the Atlanta Braves by a score of 6-3. Brain Bruney is pitching for New York. He's been good this year, but tonight he starts out the inning by walking Chipper Jones. Not to worry, he promptly strikes out Brian McCann and induces a groundball to first from Garret Anderson.

Then things go south. Bruney walks Casey Kotchman and then gives up a run scoring single to Jeff Francoeur. Suddenly, it's 6-4 with two on and two out. The go ahead run is coming to the plate. The Yankees have been scuffling. They can't afford to let this one get away. So...

They go get Mariano Rivera.




Why wait!? He's rested! He's awesome! He can get four outs! Don't let him rot while the game slips away. Go get him. You have him pitch to Kelly Johnson right now. Not tomorrow. Not next inning. Now.

And the result?

Mo struck him out.

Then he struck the next guy out.

Then he struck the next guy out.

Then he struck the next guy out.

Game over.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

A must read

Malcolm Gladwell adresses issues of strategy, social convetion, ability, effort, and taking Goliath down here. It truly is an excellent read.

I quibble with only one small part of Gladwell's piece. He puts too much emphasis on the fact that David wins with effort over Goliath's ability. This is true of the examples he provides in his story, but the real message is that, as Gladwell says, "when the world has to play on Goliath's terms, Goliath wins." Recognizing what your strengths are and using them to attack an opponent's weakness, especially a weakness that he exposes because of simple convetion, is the essence of the story. If your strength happens to be effort, so be it.

Think about this story the next time you hear someone complaining about breaking up a no-hitter with a bunt, or about not "playing the game the right way," or about how big sluggers "clog up the bases." It's just Goliath complaing that David won't play by his rules.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Does the AL have an inherent advantage in interleague play?

Rob Neyer addresses the question of the American League's superiority in interleague play here. Then, the crowd at the Baseball Think Factory slams his post here.

A common argument against Rob's claim that the American League teams are superior to National League teams is that AL teams have an innate advantage in interleague play purely as a matter of rules. Some seem put off by the idea that the American League simply has more talent that the National League right now. Therefore, they are looking for a way to explain the AL's interleague dominance without admitting that the AL might just be better at the moment.

The argument goes like this: American League teams must have a designated hitter throughout the season, so they make an effort to acquire a good one. The National League teams do not do this, and so bat a much inferior player as a DH when they play AL teams in AL parks. However, AL pitchers generally bat nearly as poorly as NL pitchers, so the advantage is not returned when AL teams visit NL stadiums. Thus, NL teams are at a net disadvantage when it comes to playing AL teams.

On its face, this argument seems sound. I believe that it is also incorrect. Allow me to elaborate.

Certainly, if the only difference between two teams were the quality of their DHs, the team with the superior DH would be at an advantage. Certainly, we would expect the American League to have better DHs than the National League. Others have tried to argue that the DH rule does not give American League teams an advantage, but in the long run, if the only difference between the American and National Leagues is the quality of their DHs, the American League must be said to have an advantage.

But should we assume that American League teams and National League teams ought to be equally talented apart from the DH position? The question here is solely that of whether or not the existence of the DH gives American League teams an advantage in the total accumulation of talent. In other words, does the existence of the DH allow American League teams to field teams genuinely superior to National League teams?

What do I mean by "field a superior team?" I mean simply that unless the existence of the DH rule allows American League teams to accumulate more expected win production on their teams, we will have no reason to expect them to be superior to National League teams. On average, the teams will be of equal quality. The DH rule will not bias talent distribution towards the American League.

Let us assume that every team has an equal budget at the start of each year. Let us further assume that every single player is a free agent at the start of each year. Finally, let us assume that teams make correct determinations of player value. Clearly, each team should end up of equal quality since they all have the same resources, the same pool of players, and have all valued each player correctly. So, how will the DH rule change the talent distribution between the American and National Leagues?

The American League will certainly have better designated hitters. After all, they are worth more to American League teams. However, they also consume resources that could have gone to acquiring non-DH talent. The National League does not have to budget for a DH. Thus, they can devote more resources to acquiring superior non-DH talent.

There is an opportunity cost to spending money on a DH. National League teams do not have to pay this cost. American League teams do. Thus, while American League teams should have superior DHs, the National League should on average be superior everywhere else. Thus, while American League teams will have a superior team while the DH rule is in effect, this should be balanced by the fact that when the DH rule is not in effect, National League teams will tend to have superior players at every remaining position, this giving them the advantage.

What if our assumptions did not hold? Well, if the first assumption, that of equal budgets, isn't true (and it isn't), the conclusion doesn't really change. If the American League is superior because its teams can purchase both high quality DH talent and high quality non-DH talent, the cause is not the existence of the DH. If the DH went away, the American League would still be superior because its teams could devote more resources to non-DH players.

If the second assumption, that of perpetual free agency, is not true (and it isn't), the conclusion still does not change. There may be fluctuations due to timing in the talent market that give American League teams a temporary advantage. However, this same timing could also swing the pendulum the National League's way. If too many American League teams end up with too many resources committed to underperforming DHs, this would definitely be the case. On average, this should not cause the DH rule to favor the American League.

Finally, if the third assumption, that of perfect talent valuation is not true (and it isn't), the conclusion again does not change. If National League teams are inferior because they are inferior at evaluating talent, this is not a strike against the DH rule. It is a strike against National League front offices.

So what can explain the current gap between the two leagues? Who knows? Perhaps this is simply some cyclical variation. Perhaps American League teams have cultivated a resource advantage over National League teams (the AL is home to the Red Sox and Yankees, after all). Perhaps AL teams have been luckier in the draft.

The bottom line is that wins are wins, no matter how you get them. Therefore, teams should be willing to pay the same amount for a win no matter where it comes from on the diamond. The American League simply has to allocate its resources differently, but this should change the fact that, like National League teams, they are simply trying to maximize the number of wins they can accrue with the resources they have.

Over the long run, the DH rule cannot explain the difference between the two leagues.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Let's make sure this horse is really dead

Last night, the Yankees lead the Boston Red Sox 3-1 with six outs to go. There was a man on first base and the top of the Red Sox line up was coming to bat. C.C. Sabathia had been cruising. He's an ace. I have no problem with having him face Dustin Pedroia in that situation.

Then Pedroia walks after a gritty* ten pitch at bat. Now it's first and second, no one out, in the bottom of the eighth inning, with a two run lead. Joe Girardi went out and asked C.C. how he was feeling. C.C. waved him off and Joe went back to the dugout. Again, C.C. had been cruising. He's an ace. I have perhaps only the smallest of quibbles with this move.

But then he gave up a single to J.D. Drew. Now it's a 3-2 lead with the heart of the order coming up. C.C. is clearly tired. He's up near 120 pitches. It's unequivocally time to go to the bullpen. Joe Girardi agreed with me. And he summoned... Alfredo Aceves.

I just... I just don't know how else to put this: you must bring in your best relief pitcher. This is it. This is the game. This is without any reasonable doubt the most critical situation you will be facing in any of the next two or three games.

This is where I get fried by bullpen usage. WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU WAITING FOR?! You have the Death Star of baseball, Mariano Rivera, in your bullpen. He's like that guy from The Seventh Seal, only he doesn't fuck around with a game of chess before he separates your soul from your body. He is the ultimate weapon in the baseball universe. USE HIM! USE HIM!! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, USE HIM!!!

Last night, Mariano was well rested. He hadn't pitched in either of the series' first two games, games against the team you are battling for first place. Even if you don't want him to pitch two innings, you can't save him for the ninth. You can't save him for the bottom of the Red Sox' lineup with no one on base at the start of an inning. You do not have that luxury. Why?

Because if you don't go get him, Kevin Youkilis and Jason Bay could both single, snatching the lead from your grasp with the best relief pitcher in the history of baseball left unused for an entire three game series against your biggest rival with first place on the line. And this is exactly what happened.

I ask you, is there really more pressure pitching the ninth with a one run lead against Jason Varitek, Rocco Baldelli, and Nick Green than there is pitching the eighth with a one run lead with two and and no one out against Kevin Youkilis, Jason Bay, Mike Lowell, and David Ortiz? I cannot see how this could be the case. It would make next to no sense.

I don't have anything else to say. I am completely dumbfounded.

* Hi, Cous!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Sentences to ponder

From Lawrence Lessig:
Words have meaning. We don't get to choose their meaning. If you call something "X" people will hear the equation. They won't read the fine-print which says ("By X, I mean really not-X).
(So it's not baseball related. Shoot me.)