Saturday, August 29, 2009

Dear MVP Voters...

...if you must vote for a player on a playoff team, please vote for Derek Jeter. You guys go on and on all the time about how valuable he is to New York, and this may be his most valuable year yet. His defense has been very good: by UZR, only two shortstops have saved more runs this year with the glove. He's hit for average (0.329) and, for a shortstop, power as well (17 HRs). He's stolen 22 bases and only been caught 5 times. He's got all those intangibles.

You may be tempted to vote for Mark Teixeira. Mark's been a better hitter than Derek, but not by as much as you probably think. Don't be swayed by his RBI and HR totals. They are not spectacular totals for a first baseman. Furthermore, who do you think he's been driving in? Derek Jeter, that's who. First baseman who can do what Mark does are much more common than shortstops who can do what Derek's done this year.

Look, things can change in the next month, but I implore you to look beyond a few somewhat gaudy numbers and appreciate the man who really makes the Yanks go. You assure us all the time that the game isn't about numbers. That it's about people. Prove it. Vote for the guy whose value is tied up in more subtle things than RBIs and HRs. Vote for Derek Jeter.*

* Personally, I'd vote for Joe Mauer and then Ben Zobrist before Derek, but if you think being on a playoff team is important, Derek's your man.

**UPDATE** Never mind. Derek just sacrifice bunted with a two run lead in the second inning, no one out, runners on first and second, and Jose Contreras struggling. This is a terrible, terrible play, for which Michael Kay is rightly excoriating him, noting that Derek is a great hitter having an MVP type year. Al Leiter is trying to defend him, but it's a real reach. It doesn't matter that Derek leads off now (not that lead off hitters sacrifice bunt a lot anyways, Al). It doesn't matter that it's small ball. You can't give up outs in that situation. You just can't.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Atrocious Wednesday Night Broadcast

I've been watching (on my DVR) tonight's broadcast of the Yankees and White Sox on ESPN2. The broadcast team is Dave O'Brien and Rick Sutcliffe. I mean no offense to either of these guys personally but...

This broadcast is seriously awful. It's completely unfocused and disjointed. Sutcliffe just rambles about whatever the hell he feels like, throwing out random and asinine assertions left and right. Every correlation is a causation. Every random anecdote "tells you something." It's just stunning to me that these guys can blabber on for three hours and say nothing important or relevant.

If I'm not mistaken, Sutcliffe chose Derek Jeter as his pick for greatest shortstop OF ALL TIME. I love DJ, and that's just flat out insane.

Also, it seems like A-Rod has fielded every single ball in this game. That's weird. And now Jorge Posada is hurt. That's just awesome. Crap.

Anyways, let me apologize for this post. I assure you it is more informative than tonight's broadcast.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The White Sox fail horribly

In the bottom of the second inning against Boston today and leading by the score of 2-0, the White Sox found themselves defending against a first and third situation with two outs. The runner on first, J.D. Drew, attempted to steal second base and the White Sox had him thrown out by thirty feet.

So what happened? They got him in a pickle and while they wasted a bunch of time trying to tag Drew out, the runner on third, Jason Bay, scored. The second baseman, Jayson Nix, even checked the runner on third before continuing with the pickle.

Now, it's not clear to me from the replay when Bay started running or how close the play might have been. It doesn't really matter though, because it's horrible baseball. If Bay was stealing at the same time as Drew, then the catcher should have simply held on to the baseball and put Bay in a pickle. Bay knows this. Everyone knows this. Thus, it stands to reason that Bay waited until he saw that Drew was in trouble. This is standard baseball fare: when a runner gets caught in a pickle, other runners try to advance.

What's really surprising is that the White Sox appeared to trade the run for the out. Let's look at the math:

Run Expectancy for possible outcomes:

Runner on 2nd, 3 out, 0 runs scored: 0.0. In this scenario, the White Sox throw home and get Bay out. I expect that this is what usually happens.

Runners on 1st and 3rd, 2 out, 0 runs scored: 0.54. In this scenario, the White Sox simply chase both runners back to their respective bags and fail to record an out. It is also our baseline scenario.

Runners on 2nd and 3rd, 2 out, 0 runs scored: 0.58. In this scenario, the White Sox prevent Bay from scoring, but allow Drew to take second. Note that it is almost no worse than the baseline and far, far better than any of the next two outcomes.

No one on base, 3 out, 1 run scored: 1.0. This is what actually occured.

Runner on 2nd, 2 out, 1 run scored: 1.32. In this scenario, the White Sox fail to get either runner and they both advance, scoring Bay.

The White Sox would have gained .42 expected runs by simply hanging on to the baseball and letting Drew steal second! Then, after throwing through, they chose not to throw back home, preferring not to risk 0.32 expected runs for the chance at -1.0 expected runs (the difference between the best and worst outcomes and what actually happened, which was itself the second worst outcome). In order for that to be a good play, you would have to believe that you had only a 25% chance at throwing Bay out. This strikes me as fantastically unlikely. It honestly seemed as if the White Sox were consciously trading a run for an out. If so, that is a gross misunderstanding of the costs and benefits involved.

And as I am typing this, the epic FAIL continues. With the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the third with the White Sox now up 4-1, David Ortiz dribbles a ball up the 1st base line. It's a fantastically easy play for the first baseman, who can tag Ortiz out by about 15 feet with plenty of time to field the ball... ...except Jose Contreras, the pitcher, runs over and muffs the play by trying to field the ball himself depsite the fact that he has a terrible angle on the ball and the runner. Run scores, no one out. It's actually stunning how bad a decision this is. Even if he picks up the ball cleanly, he has a tougher play than the first baseman.

He then walks in a run, throws a wild pitch to tie the game at four apiece, and servers up a three run bomb to Basil Rathbone Mike Lowell for good measure. Thanks for nothing, White Sox!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Why do we believe any given proposition? To my mind, there are two valid reasons for belief in any proposition. First, your belief may be logically derived from a set of axioms and other derived true propositions. Not many beliefs fall into this category because truly axiomatic propositions are not in great supply.

So what is the other valid reason for believing in a particular proposition? In my opinion, it is also valid to believe in a proposition if the balance of evidence shows it to be likely to be true. For many propositions, it is appropriate to consider both the truth and falsehood of any particular proposition according to the likelihood that each is the correct value of the proposition. For other propositions, the nature of the evidence is such that it is not worth the effort to consider the likelihood that it is false because this possibility is infinitesimal. Whether or not one should factor the likelihood of a proposition's truth value into any decision is directly related to the costs and benefits of the possible consequences of the decision.

However, even when it is highly likely that a proposition is true because of the nature of the evidence for it, you must go one step further if you desire to be truly veracious. You must be able to identify those conditions that are sufficient to disprove the proposition you believe. You must show how the proposition is falsifiable.

If you cannot identify these conditions, then you do not have a reason for believing in that proposition. You must admit to yourself that the evidence that you are using to support your proposition is simply confirming a preexisting bias because no evidence would convince you to change your mind.

Indeed, the ideal is to identify the full set of conditions that falsify the proposition. It is quite easy to identify a highly improbable criterion to falsify a proposition. We should not take satisfaction in this. If there are other falsifying conditions, we need to identify them too. Otherwise, we will build a disingenuous shield around our cherished biases by finding only ridiculous falsifying conditions. This will give us the misguided self-satisfaction of believing that we are intellectually honest while stacking the deck in favor of not rejecting the beliefs we cherish.

Identifying a set of falsifying conditions is not easy. Indeed, it is likely that we will never fully identify the set of falsifying conditions for any particular proposition. Nonetheless, by seeking to know those conditions that will cause us to validly reject the things we now wrongly believe, we maximize the likelihood that what we believe will be true. That is the best we can do.

Monday, August 17, 2009

A-Rod is so clutch

Contrary to his reputation, Rodriguez has actually been quite clutch this year; twelve of his 21 homers and 34 of his 63 RBI have either tied the game or given the Yanks the lead.
Of course, this has as much importance as all those statistics that people throw around when A-Rod fails to hit in the clutch: none whatsoever. It's just random, people. It's just random.

Rob Neyer on the MVP case for Mark Teixeira

Rob Neyer absolutely crushes the argument against Mark Teixeira for MVP. He's right in almost every way, from the general tenor of the argument to its finer details:
You know what? Let's just be honest. The argument for Teixeira is an argument for doing it the way it's always been done. Teixeira is just another big RBI guy on a team with a great record. If he were a Twin and Mauer were a Yankee, Teixeira would hardly be an afterthought.
Look, Teixeira's been great, but he's not even the most valuable Yankee: that would be Derek Jeter. Joe Mauer, despite missing a month, has been far and away the most valuable player in the league. That's what happens when you hit .377 with power as a catcher.

Look at it another way: Joe Mauer is the only player in the AL with an OPS over 1.000 (currently 1.071). In fact, it's nearly .100 higher than the guy in second place, Kevin Youkilis, who has a 0.988 OPS. Only nine players, Mauer included, have an OPS over .900. Again, Joe Mauer is a catcher.

The only way for Mauer to not be the MVP at this point (remember, anything can happen in the next month and a half), is if you believe that an MVP should come from a team in contention and that the Twins are not sufficiently in contention. Of course, you still wouldn't get to make Teixeira the MVP at that point. You'd have to find a way to get Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria disqualified too. And, of course, then the MVP would be Jeter. Good luck getting him out of the way without disqualifying Tex at the same time.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The final word on New Yankee Stadium?

It does not appear that the ball carries well at New Yankee Stadium. In fact, it appears that it carries poorly. Nonetheless, it is very easy to hit a home run there. This implies that the fences are shorter than suspected. Details here (highly recommended).

I will note that this does not address how well the ball carried at the old stadium. It's possible, though I suspect not likely, that the ball carried very, very poorly at the old stadium so that the new stadium, while not absolutely high on the carry scale, still rates highly relative to the old stadium.

My bet is that the dimensions are slightly wrong. That seems to be where all the evidence is pointing.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Jorge Posada stat of the day

Granting that this is some pretty hardcore data mining, I thought I'd note that there are only seven players ahead of Jorge Posada on the list of catchers who have caught at least 1,000 games when sorted by OPS+. Of those seven, only one, Mike Piazza, has a significantly higher OPS+. The other six are within four points. All seven are in the Hall of Fame, as are the next two guys behind Posada on the list (Campenella and Fisk).

Naturally, there are better ways to analyze a Hall of Fame candidacy, especially for catchers. Nonetheless, Jorge is in elite company offensively. Guys who hit like he has hit for the last decade and stick at catcher for the course of their career come along once in a generation, if that.

The truest thing ever said about steroids

Bronson Arroyo sounds like a jackass in the interview cited here, but this quote is pure gold:
"If Mark McGwire is hitting 60 homers, the only thing that matters is his performance," Arroyo said, according to USA Today. "People don't own teams to lose money. If you ask any owner whether they would rather make $20 million and come in last place or lose $20 million and win a World Series, there's only one guy who honestly would take that championship: George Steinbrenner. Nobody else."
This is why Yankee fans can't help but love George M. Steinbrenner III. It hardly matters if Arroyo's statement is literally true; the fact is that George is the only owner who aggressively maintains the image that he's more concerned with winning championships than making money. And he spends like he means it. That's why even when he's getting under your skin, it's almost impossible for any Yankee fan to truly hate The Boss.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

David Ortiz

It's old news now, but in case you had not heard, the New York Times has reported that David Ortiz was on the list of players that tested positive for performance enhancing drugs back in 2003. This was the preliminary testing put in place to determine if regular testing was to occur. This is the same list that Alex Rodriguez was on.

Ortiz has now commented on the situation. He flatly denied using steroids and attributed the positive test to his "carelessness" purchasing legal supplements and vitamins. It has long been speculated that foreign born players, and those from the Dominican Republic in particular, are more likely to accidentally consume banned substances because regulation of these substances and other legal substances is more lax in Latin America that in the United States.

As I've talked about in the past, there is a deep epistimological problem embedded deep within the steroids issue. Who knows what one can believe with any confidence?

While on the one hand I recognize that the players here have every incentive to cheat and every incentive to lie about cheating, I also do not find it plausible that every player who was on the 2003 list was attempting to cheat by taking performance enhancing drugs. There are bound to be some mistakes. Nor do I believe that any player who may have taken now-banned substances prior to 2003 is necessarily a vile human being who should be cast out of of Major League Baseball into some fiery pit where there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Therefore, I think that we need to examine more than just whether or not a player was on the 2003 list. For example, with Alex Rodriguez, I thought that his admission to more than was publicly known was important for establishing credibilty. Similarly with David Ortiz, his past statements on the issue and his reaction to the current incidient seem credible to me. Furthermore, neither Alex nor David has failed a test since 2003. This is a large piece of evidence that must count for both of them. Otherwise, what is the point of mandatory drug testing?

We must remember that very, very few people, a group that does not include many, if any, members of the media that break these stories and drive the coverage, really know what did and did not happen. Their inferences and speculataions are perhaps only slightly more valid than my own. I don't need some moralizing columnist whose overarching goal is to sell newspapers or generate hits telling me why this player or that player is a disgraceful, lying cheat. Therefore, my position is to give the benefit of the doubt to players who appear to me to be behaving credibly.

I think David Ortiz still deserves the benefit of the doubt and I'm going to give it to him. Certainly, my trust could be misplaced. If more information comes to light and it appears that Ortiz or Rodriguex have been less than truthful, then I will reevaluate my position. Until then, I do not feel inclined to rush to judgement.