05 April 2010

Noah Webster and the Red "Sox"

from Stanford.edu

Have you ever wondered why the Red Sox are the "Red Sox" instead of the "Red Socks"? I'm sure you have because you've also probably wondered about what to call a singular player on the team. Is he a "Red Sox" or a "Red Sock"? Well, I have some answers for you.

Noah Webster was born in Connecticut in 1758, and while attending Yale, he also fought in the American Revolutionary War. Unable to initially afford law school, Webster became a teacher, and these years as a teacher greatly influenced his life and American history.

You see, after fighting in a war with Britain to gain independence from Britain, the United States has never really been "independent" of Britain. Once the country gained its independence, it still needed all sorts of things from Britain -- manufactured goods, spices (from the rest of the British Empire), a stable banking system, etc. The US could never really separate itself from the strongest country in the world, and the fledgling country even benefited from the connection.

There was still quite a bit of resentment, however. The US longed to make itself a separate identity, and one of those areas became the English language. While teaching, Webster hated the American school system. It was overcrowded, underfunded, and, worst of all, it used British textbooks. His initial book, A Grammatical Institute of the English Language, was a three-volume text published in 1783 that included, of course, the first American dictionary called the Blue-backed Speller (the colloquial term anyway; it underwent about 400 name changes). Instead of a traditional dictionary as we understand it, this was more of a textbook, teaching students the basics of spelling and its general rules.

Webster began writing a dictionary, as we understand it today, in 1807, and it would take him 27 years to complete. It would become The American Dictionary of the English Language, and the title was key. Webster wanted the American English language to differentiate itself from British English. Why this was is up for some debate. Was it because the English spelling rules were too complex? Or did Webster hold a grudge against the British and wanted an "American" language? I'm not qualified to answer that, but the end result is the same -- the language changed.

You ever wonder why we spell "color" instead of "colour"? "Wagon" instead of "waggon"? "Center" instead of "centre"? Well, you can thank Mr. Webster.

But what does this have to do with the Red Sox? He died in 1843, and most people didn't even know who he was at that time in history (I doubt most people know who he is today). Ah, but here's where you need to know a little more US history. For as much as this country is known as the "Land of the Free" and as a melting pot (it's more of a tossed salad if you ask me), it's had a strange and evolving definition of who is "free" and who gets melted into the pot. Nativist movements (xenophobic movements) have been a large part of American history. Just 11 short years after the Constitutional Congress of 1787, John Adams proclaimed the Alien and Sedition Acts in part to prevent French influence at the start of the French Revolution (which we sparked, by the way). The mid-1800s saw the Know Nothings who were alarmed at the amount of German and Irish Catholics immigrating to the country. And the late 19th century was riddled with immigration restrictions that tried to prevent "undesirables" (religious, political, and economic radicals or Asians, mainly Chinese) from gaining entrance to the country. What this did was foment the idea of being "American" and making an American identity. So again, how does this pertain to the Red Sox?

Well, the "patriotic" movement spread to all parts of society, and because language is a powerful tool for any government and a common thing which everyone uses, Webster's ideas resurfaced. People began shortening words in order to a) make them easier to spell, to b) further differentiate American English from British English (also spoken by those terrible Irish Catholics), and to c) utilize in propoganda. The actual transformation of the word "socks" to "sox" is difficult to pinpoint, but when the John Taylor (owner of the Red Sox) named the team in 1907, he called it the Red Sox to shorten the colloquial "Red Stockings" name for the team. "Sox" was simply the spelling that had become common at this point in time.

The spelling campaign, and many other nativist movements, began to die down after WWI. The country was tired of fighting and just wanted peace, and any "undesirables" just assimilated to avoid the chaos of the 1910s. Over time, the spelling of "sox" reverted back to "socks", but by the time it did, the Red Sox and White Sox weren't going to change their names. Funny enough, I think the reversion had to do with one of the first questions I asked at the beginning, though not specifically (it probably had nothing to do with the baseball team, just a word inside the nickname). What is a singular player on the "Red Sox" called? 

Red Sox or Red Socks, the grammatically correct way is to call him a "Red Sock"

I would like to thank this article from Slade. It was very helpful, but I thought it left some things out that I brought in here. This article was spawned by the very fun HBT chat and my roommate asking the big question.

04 April 2010

Rockies and 'Past Prejudice'

 from Denver Times

I try to be fair, and I try to take my feelings out of analysis as much as I can. Unfortunately, this isn't entirely possible. As much as anyone might try, our subconscious plays tricks on us, and because it's our "sub"conscious, it takes a bit of introspection to find our inner thoughts or motives. When one finds that one might have been a bit unfair (or wholly unfair), one should then try to address it. That's what I'm here to do.

I wrote my NL Predictions post, and Bill took exception to my Rockies pick. This is fine. I welcome comments, be them criticism or praise (especially perfectly sensible ones like Bill's), but his comment stuck out to me for some reason. Why? I wasn't sure at first, but it bugged me a bit. I thought about it, and I thought about my general perception about the Rockies.

After making the playoffs as the initial NL Wild Card team in 1995, they've only made 2 more playoff appearances (2007 and 2009). Traditionally, they're not a very good team. Of course, we shouldn't use a team's past reputation against them (You have to a bit, but saying they won't make the playoffs because they've only made 3 out of the last 15 is a bad reason), but I wonder how much that hurt them in my prediction of them. The Rockies seem to be a trendy pick for the NL West crown, and the projection systems also seem to like them. Why don't I (granted, I'd give them 85 wins, but most people like them for about 90 or so)? Was my prediction based on past prejudice?

Offensively, this team scored 804 runs last season (good for second, which actually surprised me a bit), and they even rid themselves of some dead weight in Garrett Atkins. Ian Stewart, Atkins' replacement, should improve based on his .270 BABIP. Chris Ianetta should as well and for the same reason (.245 BABIP). Dexter Fowler's production might have been a bit high, but his .351 BABIP wasn't out of line with his minor-league numbers. I might expect Todd Helton and Brad Hawpe's production to slip a bit, but their decline might not be too bad. And Troy Tulowitzki is just amazing. All in all, they shouldn't slip too much offensively, though PECOTA gives them 20 less runs.

Starting pitching doesn't usually come to mind when one thinks of the Rockies, but last year, they were decent (8th of 16). Ubaldo Jimenez is a stud, and he should do roughly what he did last season and the season before. But the rest of the rotation is a bit sketchy for me, and here's my main criticism of the team. Jorge de la Rosa (3.91 FIP) was better than he appeared for the second straight season, and Jason Hammel also had chance go against him (3.71 FIP). With those FIPs, their results should be better this season, right? I'm not so sure, and Aaron Cook is my main example (something about having one example should warn you, shouldn't it?). After a 3.76 FIP 2008, Cook slipped back into his mid-4s ways in 2009. I'm not here to discredit what de la Rosa and Hammel did last season, but I question their ability to repeat their performance this season. Hammel's FIP has been in the low-5s in his 170+ innings over three seasons, and de la Rosa has only done so well in one other season but only in 130 innings (2008). Can they repeat their 2009s in 2010? Sure, but I wouldn't count on it.

But why wouldn't I count on it? The statistical evidence states that they were legit, but every projection also has them going backwards this season. But here's my question -- why? Am I basing my analysis on what I want the Rockies to do (not in the least because they might be the Braves' main competition for the Wild Card)? Do Bill James, the Fans, and I underestimate Rockies pitchers because Rockies pitchers are usually bad, and therefore, 2009 was a fluke? Do the projection systems, who are supposedly more "objective" but are harsher than James or the Fans, hate them because of the same biases? Could the projection systems include the Coors Effect even though the humidifier seems to have helped? Do we prejudice our analysis (make up our minds beforehand) on their past results? And do other people overcorrect and give them more credit than they deserve because they want to believe in Rockies pitchers because no one else seems to want to?

Or do I give de la Rosa less credit because his career has been a bit odd? Do I not see progression in Hammel because he's an older player and not a hot-shot prospect? Is it the particular person? Is it their relative obscurity? Is it because they aren't flashy enough?

I don't know the answers to these questions, and even after the season, the only question we'll have the answer to is if I underestimated them. But I'll maintain that I'm not convinced that the Rockies are that good. I didn't include the bullpen, but will it be better than last year (13th of 16)? I didn't include the defense, but will it be better than 11th of 16 like it was last season?

But here's the thing. The Rockies won 92 games last season, and unless one thinks they will drastically decline, they should win 92 games again, right? Well, their expected win total was only 90 wins, and I expect that Hammel and de la Rosa will lose a win together. That's 89. But who will take over for Jason Marquis' 3.8 wins? Jeff Francis? Are you really going to count on a guy coming off a major surgery who is on the DL to start the year? 3 wins less, and we sit around 86, or PECOTA's projection. 

Although this exercise didn't change my mind, was this still useful? You bet. I'll admit that my predictions may have been based more on my perception of the Rockies than an actual analysis of their talent because I didn't go through this much trouble the first time. The idea isn't to be perfect every time, but once you figure out the problem, you should work to correct it. And I'll try to do that. If I have an initial "feeling" about a team, I'll try to look at the supporting evidence -- statistics -- to back me up. And it's up to you to call me out whenever you see it. 

I don't think Bill meant to call me out on this, specifically, but he saw an inconsistency in his analysis and mine and sought to find out why. While trying to answer his question, I stumbled upon another and ended here. I'm all the better for it, and I hope that I'm not the only one who's learned something from this. Keep asking questions. It makes us responsible for our answers.

01 April 2010

NL Predictions

 from MLBlogs

Predictions don't really mean anything. You really can't predict injuries, breakouts, breakdowns, etc., but I like making them anyway. It's a fun exercise. What do you think is going to happen? What actually happens? We always have excellent reasons for why we think something is going to happen, but we're usually dead wrong. This is just an exercise. Feel free to disagree with me, but please realize that you're just as likely to be wrong as I am.

NL East
Philadelphia Phillies --> I'm a Braves fan by trade, but even I can't come up with a reason the Phillies will lose the division. The offense might be better than that of the Yankees, and the defense is pretty good all the way around, as well. The starting rotation looks swell, and the Lee trade looks better by the strained abdomen (though it still doesn't make much sense that they made that trade). The bullpen should be fine, and I wouldn't bet on Lidge being that bad again. All around, this looks like a good team with the bullpen appearing to be the only real threat to collapse. Final Prediction: Chase Utley does enough to deserve the MVP Award and doesn't even come in the top 10 in the voting. Life just isn't fair.

Atlanta Braves (WC) --> I'm a Braves fan, so you know I won't have them out of the money. But I don't think this is a stretch, and I pride myself on not being terribly biased. The rotation looks like the best in the National League from 1-5, and the bullpen restocked with the addition of Wagner (I remain unimpressed with Saito, but Wagner will be just fine). The defense should improve, especially in the outfield, but it probably will be middle of the pack, at best. Offensively, there isn't too much pop, but there's a decent chance that Chipper, Glaus, McCann and Heyward hit 25+ bombs. Final Prediction: Bobby is ejected 9 times during the season.

New York Mets --> The offense comes alive again, but much like the Indians, there just isn't enough pitching to get them anywhere. The bullpen should be fairly good, and although they're misusing Mejia, that doesn't change the fact that he can be effective as a reliever. They could make a run if all goes well, but they don't have much wiggle room. Final Prediction: Jerry Manuel rips off his shirt in an effort to motivate his players, and they just laugh at the white, wispy, and uneven hairs.

Florida Marlins --> They should have a good offense (at least until Uggla is traded), but I'm not terribly excited by the defense. As for the pitching staff, they have a nice 1-2 punch in Johnson and Nolasco, but I worry about the rest of the rotation. The bullpen may not end up a whole lot better. They're like the Rays in some ways -- tons of potential and youth -- but with less chance of realizing that potential. Final Prediction: Florida doesn't break the 1.5 million attendance mark despite the added payroll.

Washington Nationals --> The offense looks decent. The rotation looks decent. The bullpen looks decent. The defense looks decent. It's just that decent doesn't get it done. Strasburg will make an appearance by June, and he'll give the team some excitement for a few months. That'll be about it. Final Prediction: They won't have the first pick in a supposedly-loaded 2011 draft.

NL Central
St. Louis Cardinals --> They have a helluva 3-4 punch in Pujols and Holliday, and Colby Rasmus is due for a breakout. The rest of the offense is good enough. The starting rotation is a bit top-heavy (there needs to be a snide remark about Brad Penny and the bottom of the rotation), but the bottom is solid enough. I don't really know what to expect from the bullpen, but Franklin will do just fine as the closer. There's really not much other competition in this division. Final Prediction: McGwire and Pujols have a home run derby during a pre-game BP, and McGwire wins.

Cincinnati Reds --> This ought to get me some funny looks. The rotation should be fairly decent, but it won't be better than middle-of-the-pack. The bullpen will probably be a major strength (rip on Cordero's contract if you want, but he is effective). The offense should be due an improvement with a six months of Votto and a better version of Jay Bruce, and the defense could be a major asset. The more I looked at the team, the better I felt about this decision. Final Prediction: Something about Dusty Baker and Mike Leake and Aroldis Chapman's arms falling off.

Chicago Cubs --> Some of their players (Zambrano and Soto) will rebound, but some of them just aren't that healthy anymore (Soriano and Ramirez). Unfortunately, they need everyone to make a run at this. There are just too many questions in the rotation, bullpen, and offense to accurately assess this team. Final Prediction: Soto wins Comeback Player of the Year Award but doesn't make the All-Star team. It happens.

Milwaukee Brewers --> I've seen way too many stories about how "nasty" the Brewers rotation can be. While I agree, it's not the compliment that the journalists usually mean. The bullpen may not be any better, especially when Trevor Hoffman loses his invincibility. Luckily, the offense and defense will be helpful, but they just aren't deep enough to get much done. Final Prediction: Rickie Weeks plays in a career-high number of games.

Houston Astros --> I bet they make things interesting at some point because they always seem to. There isn't much to like beyond Oswalt, Rodriguez, Lee, Berkman, Bourne, and Pence, but there's an awful lot of money tied into those guys. Everything else is iffy at best, and there is no help coming up the pipeline. If one or more of those guys goes down, the team might cross the 70-win threshold the wrong way. Final Prediction: There will be all sorts of stories about Brad Mills and teaching the "Red Sox way". That's fine and all, but it won't make a bit of difference.

Pittsburgh Pirates --> Just wait a little longer Pirates fans. I like what Neil Huntington has done, but it's going to take another season. Nothing looks special, and most of the team looks less than so. The fans won't like it, but this is progress. Final Prediction: Huntington makes his first major splash by jumping in on one of the major free-agent starters in the off-season. You heard it here first.

NL West
Los Angeles Dodgers --> The offense should be just fine as there hasn't been a major turnover, and there's more upside than down. I imagine the bullpen will remain stellar and with incredible depth. Critics seem to hate the rotation, but I don't know what the problem is. Kershaw hasn't lost anything, Billingsley had a rough second half but he's still incredibly talented, Kuroda should be solid, and Padilla could be league-average. There's still a lot to like about this team. Final Prediction: They win the division by the largest margin of any division champion.

Colorado Rockies --> Their spot here is more about how bad the rest of the division is than how good the Rockies are. I expect the rotation to give a lot back, and I don't think the bullpen will be much better. I'm also not incredibly sure how many runs they are going to score, but the defense should be good enough to save some. I just don't see it. Final Prediction: They narrowly eclipse the .500 mark.

Arizona Diamondbacks --> I'm tired of believing in this team. Of course, that means they'll actually come through this season. I like Haren, but I remained unconvinced that Webb and Jackson will be healthy and effective, respectively, all season. The bullpen will probably be a strength, but usually, that's the last thing you worry about. At this point, the "young D-Backs" aren't really young anymore, and they are who they are. And they just aren't that good. Final Prediction: Adam LaRoche and Kelly Johnson's WAR won't combine to equal Justin Upton's.

San Francisco Giants --> Well at least they have Lincecum and the Panda. After just getting an extension, Cain will also start to give up more runs, and the rest of the rotation won't really pan out all that well. It's too bad because the offense isn't going to be good enough to carry the team. It's Lincecum, Cain and pray for rain and an offense. Final Prediction: Lincecum pitches extremely well again, but he'll fall by the wayside this time because the Giants just won't be any good.

San Diego Padres --> I actually think the Padres could end up being better than the Giants, but I just don't have the stones to put them any higher up. Gonzalez, Blanks, and Headley could make for an interesting offense, but I doubt they'll score very much. The rotation should improve fairly dramatically, and the bullpen will be pretty good. They're moving up in the world, just not very far. Final Prediction: Adrian Gonzalez and Heath Bell remain Padres through the season. Just a hunch.

MVP --> Just don't bet against Albert Pujols. You're just throwing money away.

Cy Young --> I hate saying it, but I think this is the year Halladay finally gets his due.

Rookie of the Year --> I didn't want to choose Heyward, but I can't think of a good reason not to take him.

31 March 2010

AL Predictions

from MLBlogs

Predictions don't really mean anything. You really can't predict injuries, breakouts, breakdowns, etc., but I like making them anyway. It's a fun exercise. What do you think is going to happen? What actually happens? We always have excellent reasons for why we think something is going to happen, but we're usually dead wrong. This is just an exercise. Feel free to disagree with me, but please realize that you're just as likely to be wrong as I am.

AL East
New York Yankees --> It pains me to say this, but they are probably the best team in baseball. The offense is stellar, and why anyone would complain about Swisher (.357 career OBP) and Gardner (.346 OBP last season) hitting in the 8-9 slots is beyond me. The rotation has been a bit overrated (Sabathia is a stud, but the rest are better bets for ERAs around 4), but it's way more than enough to win for that offense. The bullpen should be fine unless Rivera decides he's 40, but I wouldn't expect that. Defensively, the outfield should be fairly close to amazing, but I wonder if the infield isn't due for a serious letdown. Regardless, this team will likely win 97 games. Final Prediction: Once the Yankees make the playoffs, debate will rage as to whether A-Rod can repeat last year's "clutchness".

Tampa Bay Rays (WC) --> They have the best defense in the East, and the offense may really break out if BJ Upton returns to form. Pitching-wise, there's plenty of depth and plenty of potential upside, but they've failed to realize that potential so far. Here's to Garza, Price, and Davis figuring things out. As for the bullpen, Soriano should be excellent, but the bullpen, including Soriano, has injury issues. Luckily, the Rays have plenty of depth to make up for whatever injuries they encounter. This team could be the major's most talented, but you can only dream on upside and youth so much. Final Prediction: Team chemistry is destroyed when the clubhouse splits on who has the most ridiculous chin hair, Garza or Soriano.

Boston Red Sox --> The defense will be excellent, and the offense will be better than most expect. But I think the Rays are better in those two aspects. Consistency and dependability in the rotation is where the Red Sox have an edge, but I have a feeling that Garza and Price are going to really grow and become monsters this season (I get to be subjective; these are my predictions). Otherwise, the Red Sox will win 91 and fall short of the playoffs by a few games. Life's just not fair. Final Prediction: Disregarding the fact that the team won 91 games and that Mike Cameron is still worth more, Red Sox writers will condemn Theo for not re-signing Bay when Bay's first season in New York goes extremely well.

Baltimore Orioles --> Adam Jones, Nolan Reimold, and (of course) Matt Wieters step up to compensate for Markakis' inability to get close to his 2008 season. The rotation won't look pretty, but it's hard to be worse than they were last season. Brian Matusz becomes the best pitcher in the rotation by June, but it's more because Millwood and Guthrie are "innings eaters" and because Brad Bergesen just isn't that good. Final Prediction: The divisions re-align themselves in the middle of the season because Matt Wieters says so, but the Orioles still finish out of the money. Deities can only do so much.

Toronto Blue Jays --> The pitching will be pretty good, but I just don't see how good the defense and offense are going to be. The outfield will probably rank among the worst in the majors defensively, and the infield will hardly begin to make up for it. Offensively, Lind, Snider, and Hill do decent jobs, but there's just nothing else to get remotely excited about. But the pitching will be good. Final Prediction: Alex Anthopolous regrets signing so many scouts, not because they are useless, because he'd like an excuse to watch Kyle Drabek instead of the crap he'll throw out in Toronto.

AL Central
Minnesota Twins --> You just don't bet against Gardenhire. The team should improve with the additions of Hudson, Hardy, and a better season from Liriano. Nathan's injury hurts, but even as good as he is (he's one of the few relievers that you pay actual money for), I don't think it will hurt as much as people think. The bullpen will pitch well enough, and the offense will be much better with a full season of Mauer and having Hudson and Hardy. Final Prediction: There's a snow-out in Baltimore, but people will still bitch about an open-air stadium in Minnesota, in which there are no weather problems in April.

Detroit Tigers --> The front of the rotation looks really good, and it's easy to get excited about their young arms. Offensively, they'll be decent enough, but Damon will be a massive disappointment while Magglio's increased production forces an interesting debate as to whether to give him the at-bats to vest that option. The bullpen makes for an interesting watch. Lots of them can throw ridiculously hard, but none are particularly adept at throwing pitches for strikes or for keeping their arms intact. Final Prediction: The Tigers give enough ABs to Ordonez for his massive option to vest. He'll hit enough to justify giving him so many ABs (though not $18 MM worth), but the Tigers will narrowly miss the playoffs again. Life just isn't fair.

Cleveland Indians --> The offense really comes alive, and it makes up (somewhat) for the lack of pitching depth. Sizemore, Choo, Cabrera, LaPorta, Branyan, and the June arrival of Carlos Santana bash enough for some people to reminisce about the mid to late 1990s Indian offenses. The defense, somewhat under the radar, increases their productivity. Unfortunately, Fausto Carmona, who bounces back, isn't enough to make up for the utter lack of decent options for the rest of the rotation. Final Prediction: Grady Sizemore wins Comeback Player of the Year and will get overlooked in the MVP race because his team won't win enough.

Chicago White Sox --> There's no disputing the rotation. It's the best in the division, and it will make an argument for best in the majors. Unfortunately, they pull a reverse-Cleveland and can't score nearly enough. Konerko declines, Rios continues to disappoint, and the Jones-Kotsay DH platoon works out predictably poorly. I love Ozzie Guillen, but just no. Final Prediction: Ozzie gets pissed enough about the lack of offense that he puts on a uniform to improve run production. Someone then points out that he was never very good even during his peak. That someone is then killed.

Kansas City Royals --> Zach Greinke does extremely well and will garner support for another Cy Young Award. Billy Butler hits a few more home runs but remains in relative obscurity. Joakim Soria wonders how his career would be different if he was a starter as he sits in the bullpen for weeks on end without being used. The rest of the team predictably sucks. Final Prediction: Dayton Moore finally loses his job as GM. Not because the team sucks but because he's arrested for giving the owner tainted water from one of the fountains in the outfield in Kauffman Stadium. Everything is finally explained and reason reigns again. Kansas City remains stuck with Yuniesky Betancourt. Life just isn't fair.

AL West
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim --> For all the hoopla about the Mariners' offseason, the Angels remain the team to beat. The rotation will be one of the best in baseball as Santana and Kazmir rebound to be quite effective. Offensively, the team remains strong as Morales is for real, Kendrick finally stays healthy and productive, and Wood has a pretty good season in his first full season. In a weird turn of events, the bullpen goes back to being the major's most productive after a poor 2009. Final Prediction: Thousands of people get lost on the way to the All-Star Game when they are unsure if they should go to Los Angeles or Anaheim.

Texas Rangers --> The rotation does fairly well, but Harden is either ineffective, unhealthy, or both. Some of the prospects really step up to put together a run at the division until it falls a little short. The offense continues to hit, and Max Ramirez becomes the starting catcher by mid-season. The defense isn't too shabby, either. They become the only other AL West team over .500. Final Prediction: Jerry Jones buys the Rangers and builds a new stadium with the first scoreboard that overhangs the field. The scoreboard is also bigger than the field and with better definition.

Seattle Mariners --> The defense is certainly impressive, but I have to wrench my neck to find something else to be excited about. King Felix is certainly awesome and Cliff Lee should be fine once he gets back in late April, but the rest of the rotation is terrible. If David Aardsma realizes that he's a flame-thrower without any control, the bullpen isn't great. The offense gets on-base at an above-average clip to score a few more runs than predicted, but too many at-bats wasted on Griffey/Sweeney kill any actual productivity. They're a better team, but it won't come with better results. Final Prediction: The Mariners trade for Russell Branyan when they get tired of watching Kotchman slap the ball all over the infield.

Oakland Athletics --> Ben Sheets hasn't been consistently healthy since 2002-2004, and he won't be this season. The rest of the rotation is decent, but the only above-average starter is Brett Anderson. The offense remains putrid, but the defense is pretty solid. There are worse teams than Oakland, but I can't imagine that they win more than 75 games. Final Prediction: Kurt Suzuki is traded to the Boston Red Sox mid-season. Just sayin'.

MVP --> Evan Longoria leads the Rays into the postseason and finally becomes the star he should be.

Cy Young --> Josh Beckett says no to the Red Sox extension offer, has a monstrous season, and still ends up back in Boston next year.

Rookie of the Year --> Justin Smoak explodes when the Rangers finally realize that they're better off platooning Chris Davis and Vladimir Guerrero at DH with Smoak's glove and stick at first.

30 March 2010

Not Feeling a Draft

 from MLB

I'm going to steal an idea from Keith Law for a moment. I don't know when he first came up with the idea or when he first publicly stated the idea, but the first time I saw it was last summer during the Stephen Strasburg debates (I found it funny that there were vehement arguments stating he should have gotten more money and others barking that he made too much considering he had never thrown a major-league pitch; both seem fairly legitimate to me, but I side with the former). 

Initially, I thought it was a terrible idea, but it has grown on me the more I’ve thought about it. We've been taught that the draft was the solution to the Yankee domination from the 1920s to the 1960s (they won 20 World Series during that time; only one other team has even won 10 in all of baseball history!). The Yankees had essentially been buying up some talented prospects and using the Kansas City A's as a farm team, and with everyone tired of it, they instituted the draft (okay, that's not exactly why it happened, but it's what we've been led to believe; perception is reality). Instituting the draft in 1965 was supposed to redistribute talent throughout baseball, making the game fairer. And you know what, it did (or at least appeared to). It was the right solution. The Yankees have only won 7 World Series since, and the Cardinals have only won 3 (the Cardinals are the team with 10 World Series Championships). 

But just because it worked then, does it mean it continues to work now? It's odd how we perceive things. In this instance, the draft initially worked to create (better) competitive balance, and now as we search for more competitive balance, we can't let go of the draft. Free-agency for amateurs is what caused the problem necessitating the draft, so how can it be the answer now? How can the draft have been a solution and now be part of the problem? The answer is that times change.

Today isn't the same as yesterday. The reasons that the draft was a good idea in the 1960s no longer exist (some variations exist -- people believing other teams to be farm systems of the Yankees -- but the situations are so drastically different that it's not worth mentioning, really – better scouting, scouting more players, institution of free-agency, Latin America). In fact, it might actually make quite a bit of sense to go back to a time without a draft. When one looks at politics, for example, one often sees a pendulum of sorts -- after a period of Democrat rule, Republicans take over -- because one side usually goes a bit too far, and a natural correction, of sorts, takes place. It’s a necessary maneuver to reduce abuses of power and maintain some focus on public interest. It's never a complete swing back (today's liberals are tomorrow's conservatives) as adjustments have been made to learn from mistakes. After a period of time where the draft has been implemented, used, and manipulated, it might be time to get rid of it with the addition of a few tweaks. If that doesn't blow your mind, then this might -- after a few decades, we might have to go back to a draft, and it won’t mean abolishing the draft was a mistake.

Anyway, does a draft-less MLB work? What are the perceptions and questions? What are the problems with the draft-less proposal that need some tinkering?

Won't the Yankees just buy everyone?
I'll make some Yankees fans happy, for once. No, they won't buy everyone. Look at the international market now. Aroldis Chapman, Michael Ynoa, Edward Salcedo, Elvis Andrus, etc. were not signed by the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, or Angels. What people tend to forget is that prospecting carries a lot of risk, even enough to make big-market teams wince. The large-market teams will scout players and decide whether they believe the player is worth the risk. And as much money as the Yankees have, they're still playing with opportunity risks. If they spend an abundance of money on amateur free-agents, they will eventually have to spend less on their major-league roster. With the payroll they have, it might actually make more sense to spend money on established free-agents than prospects (they have enough money that spending more for established production outweighs spending money for upside in risky prospects). Let's use Strasburg as an example. Some believed that he would have made $50 million if he had been on the free-agent market. While $1-2 million won't make much of a difference to the Yankees, $50 million would have quite an impact, even on them. And then, the Yankees have to consider the risk of signing him. We have high expectations for him, but a blown elbow could be around the corner. Additionally, they then have to weigh signing Strasburg and not signing other players ($50 million could buy a lot of prospects). The Yankees seem to have an unlimited payroll, but they don't. And the big-market teams’ money already helps them accrue better talent when a team in the front of the draft sticks to slot and avoids a big talent, who then falls to the big-market team later, so sticking with what we have isn’t solving that problem.

But don't they still have more money to spend than anyone else?
Yes, but it's not so simple. If the Yankees simply set aside $20 million for amateur free-agents, they could go after the top prospects only and end up with Dustin Ackely, Tyler Matzek, and Shelby Miller instead of worrying about 11th and 12th round picks. Again, there's a lot of risk there (a lot of money tied into fewer prospects), but they might do that for the potential upside. I have a few ideas on what to do, but I’m not sure if any of them are any good. One, place a ceiling on how much a team can spend depending on where they finish (bad teams get to spend more than winning teams), but that might prevent the Yankees (or someone else; I’m not trying to pick on the Yankees) from making a crippling mistake. Two, place a limit on the number of prospects they can sign, but if you do that, they'll just go hog-wild on the top guys. Three, create a points system based on talent level of the prospect and place a cap on how many "points" a team can sign, but there are so many logistical issues with that that it's almost not worth mentioning. Yes, the Yankees can spend more money, but they would also be taking on a disproportionate amount of risk while also dipping into the major-league budget. 

Is it really all about the money, stupid?
This will really get you going. It's not, though money obviously has a significant effect. But let's take a look at the decision-making process. An amateur has two missions -- to make a mountain of money and to make it to the major leagues. Money only solves one of those desires. The road to the majors also has an effect. If I really want to make the team, would I choose a big-market team that constantly overlooks its prospects, often trading them, for established major-league players? And what happens if the Yankees do actually initially load up on prospects? Do you really want to fight through all of those other highly-touted prospects when you could get through another system much faster? I realize that there are such things as "wanting to play for your childhood team", but self-promotion is often a powerful force. I'd rather be a major-league star for the Giants than a 26-year old AAA guy for the Red Sox. It even might make financial sense (give up money now for the chance at more later when you reach free-agency quicker). And sometimes the “childhood team” is the Orioles.

But won't signing bonuses for prospects skyrocket, thus limiting small-market teams’ budgets?
Probably not. It's supply and demand. The really good prospects (like the top 15) will probably see a jump in what they can demand from teams because a lot of teams will want them and their talent separates them into the truly elite, cant-miss guys. The next 50 players or so become more interchangeable, and while they are talented and desired by many teams, they won't separate themselves as much from each other. They'll likely end up garnering as much as they get now and maybe a little more. As for the rest, they might actually see their bonuses tank or, more probably, stay the same. If most of the top 100 can't separate themselves, then once you get past them, there's really little separation in talent. If you have a lot of similar quality guys, players lose leverage. They'll take less just to make a team. As for the small-market teams, they probably won’t have to pay much more than they do now.

But what about the difference between Americans and non-Americans?
This is where something really needs to be done. Right now, it's nowhere near fair that a Latin American can choose where to go and for how much money when an American has no such luck. This isn't a xenophobic remark of "Those foreigners shouldn't be treated better than good ole' American boys." It's that each player should be treated the same. There should be equality. No player should receive advantages over other players simply based on their country of origin. Does the amateur free-agency solve this? Almost but not completely. The ability to choose has been granted. We still have, however, the issue of age (foreigners can sign at 16, but Americans have to be out of high school, usually at 18) and college (Division I players have to wait three years out of high school to re-enter the draft whereas it doesn't matter for foreigners). How do we change this? One, eliminate the college rule. If they want to be one-and-done, let it happen (If you say something about killing the college game, I’ll slap you and refer to the fact that the only college games on TV involve the CWS and no one really watches those anyway; plus, metal bats are stupid at that age). Unfortunately, the age issue is a bit testier, but I think it's easier than one might imagine. I would either make a universal age-16 or age-18 rule. The Age-16 Rule (making everyone eligible at 16 no matter their country of origin) will anger those in favor of education. However, if a player can get serious money at age 16 to go play baseball, they can come back to get their GED, but I can see a worse stigma than someone now has with going back to college. I would, therefore, advocate the Age-18 Rule (the same as Age-16 but now at age 18). It nullifies the advantage of foreigners who can get into the systems two years earlier (a major advantage and reason that the Caribbean is scoured so heavily), but again, we're going for some semblance of fairness. Maybe the MLB can create some leagues in foreign countries that promote better competition for 16-18 year olds. Or maybe we can compromise. Players can sign as early as 16, but they can't officially enter the farm system (rookie leagues or above) until 18. For the age 16-18 seasons, the MLB can create developmental leagues for the summer (much like AAU). I'm open to suggestions, but they have to make it fair for Americans and non-Americans.

But won’t their be abuses here as well?
Sure. There usually are. This is why we need tweaks to the original system, or we need to understand how the other changes in the game since the draft was instituted will eliminate the original abuses of a draft-less MLB. But remember, if there are problems, you can make tweaks after a few years. Just do it for a good reason. It’s hard to predict the effects of a social theory. Soft slotting may have seemed like a good idea in theory, but we’ve seen how that worked.

Not having a draft isn't as ridiculous as some believe. We don't need a draft to aid competitive balance, even though it helped 45 years ago. Times have changed, and the draft actually creates problems now (not being able to trade draft picks, free-agent compensation, soft slotting system, difference between Americans and non-Americans). Free-agency for amateurs will open things up. If teams want to pour money into prospects, they can buy as many as they want. If prospects don’t make as much sense for a team, then it doesn’t have to waste its time. Signing prospects doesn’t make the same sense to everyone. There might be an initial bout with fairness (maybe a rush to be with the Yankees or Red Sox), but it will undergo a self-correction (there are only so many spots on a 25-man roster – 25, in fact). Then, we'll let it go for another 30-40 years, and after technology and scouting change yet again, we might have to go back to a draft. Sometimes creating stability means creating flexibility, and it means realizing that going back to a previous arrangement doesn’t mean that the current one was a mistake originally. Let's not be too hard-headed and cling to what we know just because we know it.

29 March 2010

Relief Pitchers and "Appearances"

 from MLBlogs

If you look at last season's leaderboard for most appearances by a reliever, you will see four Braves in the top 10. It's the thing about Bobby that gets me the most -- his usage of the bullpen. He absolutely abuses his relievers while clinging to his righty-righty and lefty-lefty matchups. Peter Moylan, who was 11 months removed from Tommy John surgery, made 87 appearances, which was good for second in the majors behind Pedro Feliciano's 88 (At the beginning of last season, Cox talked endlessly about protecting Moylan, but instead, he gives him a career high in appearances. WTF?). Mike Gonzalez finished right behind him with 80. Eric O'Flaherty and Rafael Soriano finished off the top 10 with 78 and 77, respectively.  Moylan, Gonzalez, and Soriano each pitched over 70 innings, but I'm more interested in O'Flaherty only pitching 56 innings. 

Fifty-six innings! In 78 appearances! My mom complains about paying money to a guy who only gets one out a game, and while O'Flaherty really gets two people out a game, he still fits in that category. Honestly, I like O'Flaherty. He's effective, and because he's still making the league-minimum, I really don't mind having him as a lefty specialist (he actually did fairly well against righties with a .282/.375/.301 line, and his BABIP against them was .325 -- or their BABIP against him, whichever). I wonder, however, if he doesn't waste more energy in the bullpen than on the mound in the actual game.

And then I thought a little harder about the situation. Does the reliever expend more energy in the bullpen than in the game? Does he expend a similar amount? I imagine they throw something like 30-40 pitches in the bullpen before they're ready to come in, and when they come in, they usually last an inning (about 16 pitches on average) or less (fewer than 16 pitches, obviously). I guess they don't use as much energy to throw each pitch in the bullpen as they do in the game, but you can't exactly just soft-toss it in there.

When the reliever actually makes an "appearance" in a game, I don't really think it matters all that much. By the time you enter the game, your arm is pretty warm, and the extra pitches don't make a substantial difference unless you stink up the joint by allowing a few runs and throwing another 30 pitches (and then you kind of deserve the extra discomfort, right?). But what about when you don't make an "appearance" but still warm up? If the answer to one of those questions above was "yes" (and I think it is to at least the second question), then I think we might want to pay a bit more attention.

Again, the one thing I really can't stand about Bobby is the way in which he uses his bullpen, and his need for orthodoxy is only one part. I don't have the proof (though I hope this sparks some research for the proof), but I would put money down on Bobby being one of the worst transgressors in blue-balling relievers. Because of his need to stick to his R-R and L-L matchups, he has to get multiple pitchers up at once just in case, but the inning does not always require the extra reliever(s) to be used. Then when he gets to the eighth or ninth and could bring in Soriano and Gonzalez to finish off the game, the reliever(s) never made it into the game (It really bothers me when Bobby does this. When you get a reliever warm, you should try to use him, and a lot of times, he could have but decided to bring in someone else anyway. Kills me). 

If it takes as much effort to warm up as it does to actually pitch, then a reliever who warms up but does not pitch still makes an appearance, at least in terms of effort. We measure appearances in order to measure how much a manager abuses a certain reliever (or in Bobby's, and Jerry Manuel's apparently as well, case, multiple relievers), but as I've mentioned, appearances don't measure all of the abuse (or use; "abuse" is maybe a bit harsh). Instead, I advocate that we also count times when the reliever warms up but does not get in the game. If they get in the game, then only count it as one appearance (not one for the warm-up and one for the actual appearance). So as soon as the pitcher gets up to warm up, mark it down as an appearance.

"Does this matter?" you ask. I'm not sure yet, but I also don't know the results of any research. Moylan made 87 appearances last season, but I'd be willing to venture that he made another 20 "appearances" or so, giving him 107 now for the season. I'd also argue that Bobby is worse about this than other managers. Let's use a hypothetical example (I don't know if Mike Scioscia is worse about this or not, but let's assume he is). Brian Fuentes made the most appearances by an Angel last season with 65. If we allow that Scioscia is better about getting warmed up relievers into the game, then we could say that Fuentes made an additional 10 "appearances". He now has 75 for the season. Instead of the initial 22 appearance difference between he and Moylan, it's was actually 32. Is that a significant enough difference? I'll let you decide.

26 March 2010

JA Happ and Building Bridges

from Sports Illustrated

I was watching the Braves-Phillies game on ESPN Wednesday, and JA Happ took the mound against Tim Hudson. Seeing Happ reminds me of a lot of things wrong in the advancement of sabermetrics. It's not his fault. He really has nothing to do with it, but his performance is a symbol of it.

Phillies fans love him, and why wouldn't they? The 27-year old comes in and goes 12-4 with a 2.89 ERA in 166 innings, and everything baseball fans have ever been told portrays this performance as a masterpiece of sorts. It's hard enough to have an ERA under 4 in the majors, and this guy just had an ERA under 3! If he had done it after just three starts, Philly fans would have known that he probably couldn't continue doing such an impressive job, but after 23 starts, it becomes more difficult to believe that he isn't that good.

Of course, sabermetricians have other ideas. They've come to realize that wins and ERA are context-dependent and don't properly value a pitcher's performance. Wins do somewhat measure a pitcher's performance (he is the one pitching), but they also depend on run support, how long the pitcher pitches, defense, etc. ERA is similar. It does reflect, somewhat, a pitcher's performance, but it's also dependent on defense, where hit balls fall, scorer's decisions, etc. So when sabermetricians see the above statistics, they've been trained to be wary.

Instead, they use things like FIP that are based on K/9, BB/9, and HR, which Voros McCracken determined (through rigorous research) that are the only statistics that pitchers have control over. The idea being that a pitcher's stuff determines how many bats they miss (K/9), his command determines how many batters get on strictly because of him (BB/9), and his stuff and tendencies determine the amount of fair balls struck that a defense can't get to (HR). According to FIP, Happ isn't such a good pitcher. His FIP (which is made to look like ERA) was 4.33, a full run and a half higher than his ERA. This disconnect between the sabermetric and traditionalist perspective causes a little rift between the two groups in a few ways.

1) Sabermetricians generally attribute the gap between ERA and FIP to "luck", and oh, does that cause problems. Here in America, we don't like "luck". We get what we get because we "deserve" it. Of course, the world doesn't really work that way, but when it comes to criticisms of ourselves or of our team's players, don't even go there (I wonder how many Philly fans agreed Kevin Millwood was having a fluky season but disagreed about Happ). The problem is that the difference wasn't necessarily due to luck, per se. Part of it was probably due to Philadelphia having an above-average defense (that was intended), thus making plays on balls in play that other defenses wouldn't have (Thus, with other pitchers on other teams, the runner reaches base and has an additional opportunity to score). Part of it was due to Happ's out of average .270 BABIP. But even that doesn't mean he was "lucky". He might be able to hold hitters down to that level, though it's very unlikely, but we won't know for a few more years. Regardless, "luck" really isn't the right word, though there likely is some luck involved. Instead, let's try "due to difference in team support and chance". "Luck" implies that Fortune smiled on Happ giving him an unfair advantage, but "chance" doesn't have a connotation and implies that it just happened to end up the way it did, which is what most sabermetricians mean anyway (language is a funny thing).

2) What's a small sample size? Most fans realize that a pitcher won't pitch the same every time out. If he throws a complete-game shutout, he likely won't do it again the next time out. Most people even realize that a month's worth of starts don't properly indicate what a pitcher is. But what about a full season? It seems so long that bounces should even out, right? 162 games of 54 (sometimes 51 and sometimes more) outs will likely see everything even out, right? Sorry, but it doesn't. There's been a lot of research done, and there's a lot of fluctuation from year to year. Happ's 166 innings are impressive, but we need a couple more seasons to get a real indication of his performance (really more like an entire career).

3) Even if people understand all this, the popular comparison to Happ is Tom Glavine. Superficially, neither throws particularly hard and both have good change-ups. Statistically, Glavine wasn't all that impressive. He struck out 5.32 per 9 and walked 3.06 per 9 for an uninspiring 1.74 K/BB. But he had a way with home runs (0.73 HR/9). If he could do it, then why can't Happ (6.69 K/9, 3/21 BB/9, 2.08 K/BB) do it as well? The problem is that we don't really know. Glavine, however, was an exception, but unfortunately, we don't know why. He outperformed his FIP (3.95) by a half run (3.54 ERA), and pitchers just don't do that. Around 95% (someone correct me if I'm wrong) of pitchers' FIPs end up +/- 0.2 away from their ERA for their career, but Glavine seemed to have some ability to suppress runs. Finding this ability would help explain the difference (possible) between Happ and Glavine, but not having it leaves a hole in the argument. (To be honest, I've always considered Glavine the worst of the Big Three, and I've often wondered if he really wasn't a Hall of Fame pitcher and just a very good pitcher that benefited from a good team and almost no injuries, which allowed him accumulate counting stats in a manner similar to what Andy Pettitte could do). Happ could be that good, but the odds are against it.

4) Even knowing this, Happ will regress. Glavine, with his "special abilities", couldn't sustain sub-3 ERAs, and neither will Happ. Bill James and CHONE see major regressions to the 4.30 ERA range. A few things, however, can happen. One, Happ regresses to this level, and someone will claim that he got screwed on the luck scale (which may or may not be right). Two, he regresses a bit to the 3.60-3.70 range, and we'll need some further evaluation. Three, Happ repeats, and we're left to wonder whether he's that good or if he just received the positive side of "team support and chance" (even that phrase is somewhat colored; damn). In any matter, we won't really know. Unfortunately, you have to wait a few more years, and really an entire career, but we don't really like to wait that long even though it's the only way to gain historical perspective.

5) Traditionalists take this to mean that sabermetricians don't think Happ is a good pitcher, and that just isn't true. Happ's ERA indicates an ace, but he just isn't that good. He's a solid pitcher, and there's nothing wrong with that. It still makes him better than most major-league pitchers, and he's definitely better than 99.999% of all pitchers in the USA. Unfortunately in the effort to prove that Happ wasn't ace good, sabermetricians might have gone overboard. It's also very possible that Happ fans overreacted to a bit of criticism. It's most likely that a bit of both happened.

6) It's also entirely possible that Happ improves. Hitters improve -- learning the strike zone, what pitches they can hit, etc. --, and pitchers can, too. Happ could strike out a few more batters by a) learning a new effective pitch (he's apparently learned a cutter, which didn't help when Prado raked it for a home run but that's a really small sample size, isn't it?), b) re-ordering his pitches and learning to change speeds better, and/or c) throwing his pitches with increased consistency at a high level. He could also stand to walk a few less hitters (3.04 BB/9 is okay but leaves something to be desired). If he does this, his FIP will come down and his ERA won't elevate so much. This might cause a few problems, though. One, it doesn't mean sabermetricians were wrong about 2009, but Happ fans might not see it that way. Two, it demonstrates the weakness of statistics -- they can't predict new variables like that (yes, ladies and gentleman, intangibles exist, but yes, they will also be measured). Either way, improvement won't look good for sabermetrics, which really isn't fair.

7) The word "regress" is another nasty word. It has a few definitions. One is "to go back; move backward", and another is "to return to a previous, usually worse or less developed, state". Most fans identify these definitions with what sabermetricians mean by "regress". This, then, implies that Happ will somehow lose talent, and fans, rightly, don't see how that would happen. Of course, this isn't what sabermetricians mean. The other definition of regress is "to have a tendency to approach or go back to a statistical mean" This definition has no connotation like the other two do. Statisticians just mean that Happ's statistics will go toward a mean, or average, but regress doesn't necessarily mean that in a bad way. Ricky Nolasco will also "regress" this season, but his statistics will likely go the opposite way. Fans need to realize this. Sabermetricians also need to realize what most fans will think, and when they use the word "regress", they should also mention what they mean by that word. It helps. Happ's talent won't regress, in the sense of the first two definitions. It's just that the results were a little better than his talent implies.

My point in all this isn't to prove whether or not Happ is a great or just good pitcher. Other people who understand these stats better have done that, and I assume that a Google search will lead one to one of those explanations. The point I'm trying to make is that there are certain misunderstandings that occur between traditionalists and sabermetricians. In order to build bridges instead of burning them, we have to be constantly aware of what we say and their underlying meanings and connotations. It takes more work to do this, but to get somewhere in this little dilemma, we have to be willing to put in a little extra effort.