General

It’s Not About Baseball

I think my favorite Yankees-Red Sox moment had nothing to do with a game result. It was the night that Joe Torre returned from cancer treatments to manage the Yankees. The game was at Fenway and I was there. The Boston crowd was absolutely perfect, cheering Torre and giving him ovations whenever he came out of the dugout.

I thought of that last night when I heard the awful news about John Farrell. Cancer is an awful disease and it has affected both sides of this blog profoundly. I hope John Farrell gets well very soon. I hope that we see him managing the Red Sox next season and that Yankee fans get to give him a long ovation.

 

It’s Just Probability

There has been a lot of press about the fact that last night was the first ever time in baseball history that all 15 home teams won. It was written about a bunch this morning and even made the national news casts. It’s a neat thing, but the fact that it has never happened before isn’t a surprise.

Start with the fact that baseball has had 30 teams since the 1998 season, meaning this is the 18th season that you could have 15 home teams win on the same night. Now estimate the expected winning percentage for a team at home. Let’s say 60% is probably the highest average you could justify. You would therefore expect all 15 home teams to win 60% raised to the 15th power. That’s would put the odds at roughly 1 in 2,500. If you assume that all 30 teams played on the same night 162 times a season, you would have had 2,916 times that all 15 home teams could have won on the same night since the expansion in 1998.

But it is worth remembering that if you have odds of 1-in-2500, trying something 2500 times doesn’t guarantee you will experience it. Vegas makes a lot of money off of people watching roulette wheels and expecting that eight-consecutive reds will result in the ninth spin being black, but it doesn’t work that way. Each spin has the same odds as the last. (And Vegas diabolically has two green numbers so your odds of black and red are not even 50-50 but about 47.5%-47.5% with a 5% chance that green comes up and ruins you.)

All of this is another way of saying I am bored and too depressed to talk about the Yankees right now. Hopefully, that changes tonight.

154 Games?

Reports are that Tony Clark and the MLBPA would like to look at a 154-game schedule the next time the CBA comes up for negotiation. Like the author of the article I linked to, I am very skeptical that this has a chance of being approved by the owners. He points out the three biggest obstacles:

1- Reduced game revenue

2- Reduced product for TV partners.

3- Reduced product for municipalities.

Even if the players agreed to roll back their salaries by 5% (roughly the reduction in the number of games) The loss of gate revenue and TV revenue would make the owners very unlikely to do it. I suggested a number of years ago that MLB should incorporate the WBC into the middle of a 154-game season, but I still don’t think that will happen.

I also question the comment by Tony Clark about the hardships the players face today schedule-wise. Yes, there are some grueling trips, and short turnarounds, but let’s not pretend that these players are not given every amenity possible when traveling. They travel almost exclusively on chartered planes, usually something like a 757 that has been modified with fewer seats. They are put in first-class hotels and they are driven to and from the ballpark in buses when on the road. It’s a pretty comfortable way to travel and certainly beats the trains of yesteryear.

So, I don’t see the need, and I certainly don’t expect to see the schedule roll back to 154 games. What are your thoughts?

Why Not Net It?

A season ticket holder for the A’s sued MLB Monday to get them to install nets from foul pole to foul pole in all ballparks. The suit is not seeking any monetary damages, just the installation of the nets. My question is, why wouldn’t MLB do this?

I have been racking my brain on this issue, and I am having a hard time coming up with a reason. I think every park in the league has put screens in front of the dugouts. That was a sensible move. There is already a net behind home plate, which means in front of the most-expensive seats. I really don’t think it would cost that much to install. Maybe player safety from crashing into the net? But wouldn’t that be preferable to crashing into the stands?

Most importantly, it would protect people from getting hurt. MLB has insulated itself from lawsuits because the back of every ticket tells you “The bearer of the Ticket assumes all risk and danger incidental to the sport of baseball … including specifically (but not exclusively) the danger of being injured by thrown bats, fragments thereof, and thrown or batted balls.” But MLB can’t possibly be that callous about fan safety can they?

I think the lawsuit language also highlights a hugely important fact- people are more distracted than ever at ballgames. Smartphones are everywhere and people are not paying as much attention as they used to. Beyond that though, plenty of fans simply can’t get out of the way. A screaming line drive into the stands, over the dugout, is a potentially deadly missile- no matter how much attention is being paid to the game. So why not add a net and protect the fans?

 

Royal Flush?

MLB announced the latest All-Star vote totals today and if you are not a Kansas City Royal, you should demand a trade to them if you want to play in this game. Eight of the nine starting spots for the AL are now held by Royals. Only Mike Trout breaks up a clean sweep for KC.

I have complained about the All-Star Game before and this vote reinforces my gripes. You can’t keep telling me that the game “counts” but allow the lineups to be selected by biased fan bases. (Please note, I would make this same complaint if 8 Yankees were leading the voting.) I get it, the Royals fans want to reward their players for last season and are voting for them like crazy. The only fix I would ask for is that baseball drop the preposterous plan that home field advantage in the World Series goes to the league that wins the All-Star Game. Switch it back to rotating every other year or, and here’s a novel idea for a league that prides itself on a 162-game season, award it to the team with the best record!

But that won’t happen because FOX has convinced MLB that this helps them get more viewers and that allows them to pay MLB more money. MLB has always been willing to sell its soul for another buck, but this is getting silly. They have neutered the concept of AL and NL through the years by eliminating the separate league offices, standardizing the umpires to call both leagues’ games, and finally forcing interleague play on us year-round. My National League friends don’t want to hear it, but I will bet anybody the DH will be the standard in both leagues very soon. (Pitcher salaries are reaching the point where owners won’t want to pay them to take any unnecessary risks) How about you throw the fans a bone and let us enjoy the EXHIBITION game that the All-Star game was created to be? Then I won’t care who gets put in the starting lineup. Well, unless some of my favorite Yankees don’t make it!

 

Signature Significance

If there is a theme to my April baseball watching and writing it is this- beware small sample sizes. We have seen time and again players who get out of the gate quickly only to fall apart after the calendar turns to May. Joel Sherman provided  a good example the other day with Vernon Wells. Another good example from that 2013 Yankee team is Travis Hafner. Hafner had 6 HR’s and a line of .318/.438/.667 when April ended and he finished with 12 HR’s and a line of .202/.301/.378 for the season. Those two examples are why we should be very, very, careful to avoid making any conclusions about the rest of the season from the results so far, and why the following should be looked at with a skeptical eye.

In an Economist blog post the other day the author took a look at Alex Rodriguez’s 477-foot home run on Friday and what it means for the rest of the season. I encourage you to read the article, but the key takeaway is the concept of signature significance- an idea named by Bill James that says that certain rare results have much higher predictive power than one game or even one swing normally should. Hitting a 477-foot home run is that type of result. The key quote:

The fact that Mr Rodríguez propelled a single baseball 477 feet means there is a very strong chance he is not the player we thought he was. Guys who are washed up just don’t hit 477-foot homers. Not even once.

I’m still wrestling with this idea and its predictive powers, but I find it a fascinating concept.

Happy Birthday to a Classic

30-years ago today, Sports Illustrated published “The Curious Case of Sidd Finch” If you have never read it, enjoy it now. If you have, re-read it.  George Plimpton was one of the greats and this ranks right up there with “Paper Lion”.

Enjoy!

The End of an Era

While I freely admit to not caring about the All-Star Game for years, and hating the home field advantage component of it, the news that MLB is getting rid of paper All-Star ballots makes me nostalgic.

I get it, we don’t need them. We can vote online and save trees. (Though no one ever seems to account for the electricity we use to get online in that statement.) It’s less messy, etc.. But there was something remarkably simple and satisfying about walking into a ballpark in May or June and in-between innings punching some holes next to your favorite players’ names. Even better, if you were at the game with a buddy, you could have an informal debate right there about why player x was a much better choice than player y.

I will adjust, but there are limits to how much technology I am willing to accept in baseball.

The Value of Prospects

Rob Neyer nailed something I have been struggling with for awhile- the value of prospects. Neyer makes two really great points.

1- It’s not that prospects in general are overrated, it’s that it is very hard to identify the ones that will succeed. His example of the 2011 evaluation of the Royals’ system by Baseball America is perfect.

2- There is no real system for checking or evaluating the ratings. Nobody goes back and grades the prospect reports. (Take a look back at NFL draft evaluations from year’s past sometime if you want a good laugh. They are generally terrible.)

Again, I am not arguing that prospects are overrated as a group. But teams are increasingly treating prospect development as a scientific fact when it is much more like a lottery. More prospects will end up as fringe guys, get hurt, or wash out, than truly develop into stars. For another example, take a look at the 2009 top-10 prospects for Tampa.

David Price is the top guy. No shock as he was coming off a great postseason and he certainly is one of the best pitchers in the game so I can’t really credit a lot of insight in this ranking, but then work down the list.

Tim Beckham is still young, but he hasn’t hit in years and he looks like a fringe guy at best.

Wade Davis became a very good bullpen arm in KC, but he was projected to be a top starter.

Reid Brignac is a fringe player at best.

Demond Jennings looks to be an average ML-er. Nothing more, but probably nothing less. Certainly not the replacement for Carl Crawford they thought he was.

Matt Moore was very good, but got hurt and had TJ surgery.

Nick Barense never made the majors and was in independent ball last year.

Hellickson started really well in the bigs, but he has regressed the past two years to below-average.

McGee was a very good closer for the Rays this past year.

Niemann’s career was derailed by injuries.

So we have one bonafide All-Star,  three fringe All-Stars (Davis, Moore and McGee) two possibly useful ML’er in Jennings and Hellickson, two guys who are fringy at best, and two guys essentially out of the game. That’s not bad, but remember this was essentially the best system in the game when this was published.

If you had gone to Tampa as Cleveland in 2008 and asked for the #2,#3,#4 and #7 guys in the system for CC Sabathia, you would have been laughed out of the room. Yet, that trade might have won the World Series for Tampa at almost zero future cost. In fact, if you look back at the Sabathia trade that was made, Cleveland came very close to missing out entirely without the benefit of some luck.

What this underlines to me is that prospects are fun to dream about, but you have to be very smart in how you use them. If your team is a clear contender, trading prospects for surer things is a smart move. If you are in sell mode, by all means trade for prospects, but remember that there is a lottery aspect to this. Teams seem to be hoarding them more than ever before, the smart GM’s will use that to their advantage.

 

Your All-Time Line-Up

We haven’t yet arrived at Spring Training but baseball is around the corner.  That got me to thinking about the Red Sox line-up and that got me to think about the best line-up ever.

Let us know your best line-up ever.  Price is not an issue.  The players in your line-up need not be living.  And in a nod to baseball purists, perhaps things like personality, effort and other intangibles can be included.  After all, a team of Ty Cobbs might all be murdered by season’s end, a team of Pete Roses in trouble with a bookie and a team of  Barry Bonds unable to fit their heads through a door.

We are looking for the line-up order too.

Hers is my first crack at it and I’m using a DH:

1.) Rickey Henderson – DH – The best lead-off hitter of all time.  A blend perfect blend of on-base skill and speed.

2.) Rogers Hornsby – 2B – Hit .400 or more 3 times with a career 1.010 OPS.

3.) Ted Willams – LF – Not much of a fielder but you can hide that in left field at Fenway, but his hitting was otherworldly.

4.) Babe Ruth – RF – Best baseball player of all-time.

5.) Willie Mays – CF – Tough choice between Mays and Mantle, but I think the defense here is too much to ignore.

6.) Lou Gehrig – 1B – Impossible to get out and I realize it is insulting to him to have him bat 6th, but so be it.

7.) Mike Schmidt – 3B – A brilliant combo of power and fielding.

8.) Johny Bench – C – Not quite the hitter Mike Piazza was but 10 times the fielder, the only person to consider at catcher.

9.) Honus Wagner – SS – Ozzie Smith was considered here as his defense was better but offensively, no comparison.  I had to hit someone 9th.

Some interesting notes, it is very difficult to gauge defensive value with old-timey players as they used far different equipment and as a result their fielding percentages were almost always lower  when compared to modern players using modern equipment.  And the ability for defense to be evaluated using visual evidence is something not afforded older players, so reputation is playing a part here for me.

But getting past the fine print, how great would this line-up be?  Putting 2 lefties in Williams and Ruth back to back isn’t ideal, but hey, it’s Williams and Ruth and I think they’ll be just fine.  There are some defensive liabilities in this group, but the offense just cannot be overlooked.

What does your line-up look like?