Preview: The Nats Blog
The Nats Blog
Ever-faithful Anonymous, who has been with us from the beginning, pokes
the lifeless hulk that is Nats Blog.
Yes, we are, in fact, dead. I haven't posted in over a month, dexys and SuperNova haven't since the Brandon Watson era. Don't expect much in the future either. Nick Carr, talking about something else, said
it best when it comes to blogging: "It's a fun diversion for a while - and then it turns into drudgery." I admire those, like many of those on the sidebar, who can keep it up. I can't.
One thing I've learned is that the phrase "user-generated content" is a euphemism of the worst kind, because it both obscures and denigrates its subject. It obscures the real hard work that creative writing and thinking require, as if good writing just emits from natural processes, like heat or CO2 from an organism. If we called it journalism, commentary or even just writing, it would connote the effort required in a way that is more accurate that "generating content", Bloggers do themselves a disservice by calling themselves bloggers -- they should start using the word "writer". I know, it feels funny, sounds pretentious and all that, but that's the point. Being a "writer" conveys a sense that you are committed to a craft and art that is likely difficult and nonremunerative. Why not use it, especially for serious bloggers? Why would you want to be known as a "generator"? These guys
, and those on the sidebar, certainly aren't just generators, and I wish my only choice was not just to free ride off of their creative genius.
Anyway, "teh Internets" is great and all, but writing of any quality requires work, and that requires time, which requires money, the last two of which I do not have nearly enough of to support this hobby. I'll probably still hang out here
to make fun of Bowden. Thanks to all of you who read and commented.
We're Not Dead Yet
The title refers to this blog, not the Nationals, unfortunately. The 2006 season is very much dead, and I didn't want to wait until October to do the autopsy. Apparently we had the best OBP of any team for July, and we've been enjoying the offensive exploits of our new cornerstone LF all year, so a defective pitching staff clearly killed this patient. I went looking through the Hardball Times Win Shares
database to see where it all went wrong.
Below is a list of pitchers from 2005 that had non-zero pitching Win Shares for the Nats, the first number listed. The next number is their pitching Win Shares (for the Nats) for 2006. For guys who went to other teams I tried to fill in a new guy for 2006 who is comparable. The color scheme is Red means lost pitching value, Green means gained pitching value and Yellow means a wash.Patterson_14.7/1.8
Loaiza____12.6/0 (Ortiz 4.5)Cordero___11.8/5.1
Carrasco__9.8/0 (Astacio 0.3)Majewski__7.2/4.4
Ayala_____7.2/0 (Bray 1.4)
Ohka______3.7/0 (O'Connor 3.1)
Bergmann__2.0/0 (Bowie 1.3)
Rasner____0.3/0 (Hill 1.3)
Conclusions: Basically the workhorses of our starting staff last year completely deserted us this year -- Patterson to injury, Livan to suckiness, and Loaiza to the A's, replaced meekly by Ortiz. Chief's value is down but mostly due to opportunity, I guess, and by the end of the year will probably be close to a wash. We never replaced Carrasco and Ayala. Rauch and Armas improved, but only slightly, and the green at the bottom is a bit misleading, as all of those numbers are so small to be immaterial.
It is probably impossible for a team to essentially lose its starting rotation and expect to win. Perhaps that will make some feel better.
More Intuitive ERV
Tangotiger over at the blog for THE BOOK--Playing The Percentages In Baseball
points out that Carl Crawford's steal of home earlier this week was a very smart play, as he risked relatively little for a bigger gain. A few weeks ago I pointed
to a interview with Jamie Moyer that revealed that he had an intiuitive understanding of the costs and benefits of men on base that matched the ERV table.
Bill James in his New Historical Baseball Abstract came up with a rough way to estimate "intelligence" of a ballplayer from the basic baseball stats. A more direct way of measuring that might be to assess different decisions of players based on the risk/reward as determined by Win Value or Win Expectancy or some other measure. Baserunning presents clear examples of such instances, but I bet there are others.
What Was Not Said (Cont.)
throws some Platonic cold water on our collective hyperventilating about Bowden's permanence by pointing out that we only see vague shadows on the cave wall -- the truth is not within our vision (Buck sez the "dawg" hand-shadow is Bowden's, though). This sobering post has prompted me to provide some clarification about my thoughts on the news.
First, it may be the case that Bowden actually has the qualities listed in the "Not Said" column. I doubt it, but I could be wrong. One piece of evidence in my favor is that Kasten didn't mention any of them, and if they didn't exist, he couldn't mention them.
But if they did exist, he still might not mention them. Under what circumstance would he not mention characteristics that seem to be more compelling to justify the selection of a General Manager? When he doesn't really care whether he convinces the audience or not.
And this is the more important point I was trying to make. Kasten could care less whether the media or the fans are convinced that he made the right move -- he picked a GM that has some experience, including some minor success, which doesn't make his boss a laughingstock among the members of the dining club Lerner just paid $450M to join. (Though some of the new guard like Beane and Epstein aren't losing sleep over it and might be licking their chops). We won't know if it's the right move for a few years, and if it isn't, Bowden will be canned and replaced by a Dombrowski, Coletti, Duquette, ... hell, even a Minaya. And guess what? The Nats will still be in the big leagues, will be in a new stadium, will be drawing at least 20K per game, and the value of the franchise will be appreciating ... even if we remain mired in the 70-win slums of the National League.
If you believe this, it might depress you. But I'm reading a book
that suggests that when you've "bought in" to something and it becomes yours, your mind helps you through it by accentuating the positive and making you think you made the right choice, and in the end, most people who face an inescapable situation end up happier than those with options. Well, we did win 9-1 tonight ....
What is Said, What is not Said
Let's take a look at what Stan Kasten and others said about Jim Bowden Friday
, and what they did not say.What They Said"Jim is very smart. By smart, I mean analytical."
This distinguishes Bowden from the guys who sell DeezNats t-shirts, Phillies fans and Bob Boone, but not any of the other 30 GMs or better candidates for the job."I also think he's very resourceful. . . . And right now, as we're building this -- needing to speed the process up as quickly as we can, needing to shave any unnecessary steps -- I need someone resourceful. I think Jim is really good at that."
This describes a candidate who would be good when "resources" are limited. What does that say about our new owners approach to the club? This is usually said in reference to Bowden's time with the miserly Marge Schott, who once gave her staff "Welcome to the 1990 World Series" chocolates on Opening Day 1996. Is Lerner thinking "If it worked for Marge ..."?"He established a relationship with the winning group very early on. He was very smart about that, and he showed them how hard he worked at this"
He's very good at sucking up. How many people do you know who are good at sucking up are also good at their substantive job? Aren't they mutually exclusive?"It's time for this franchise to have some stability," Tavares said. "This is a good step in that direction. You've got somebody who's smart, somebody with a plan, somebody who's been involved with building things here, who's going to keep it going in the right direction."
The right direction? Since July 2005, we've been heading for the bottom of the National League. Perhaps he's talking about keeping player salaries low.What Was Not SaidHe has a proven track record of success.He has the respect of the other General Managers in the league.He is expert at spotting and developing baseball talent.He knows how to negotiate with player agents.He is good at running an organization, and his employees respect him and would move mountains for him
Back in May, I asked
what exactly did the Lerners buy with their $450 million, and pointed out that it was part of MLB's monopoly, not the on-field success of the Nats, which is economically rather low on their priority lists. This decision provide further evidence of that assertion.
End of the First Half, with the Score 33 to 48
So a milestone has been reached. 81 games, one half of the season gone, one half remains. Time to take stock.
The Nats finished the half 33-48. Many will compare that to last year's first half, where we went 50-31, seventeen games better. What I'd like to do, though, is to look at our record over the past 162 games, the first half of this year plus the second half of last year, where we went 31-50. That provides a full-season record of 64-98.
That is a terrible record. Only 13 out of the 150 "team-seasons" in the past 5 years (30 MLB teams, 5 seasons each) had that record or worse, less than 9%. Let's look at those teams, and what happened to their managers:
2005 KC 56-106 (Tony Pena fired during season)
2004 KC 58-104 (Tony Pena keeps his job, probably because it was only one year removed from a 83-79 season, and because it's the Royals)
2004 ARI 51-111 (Bob Brenly fired during season)
2004 SEA 63-99 (Bob Melvin fired after season)
2003 SD 64-98 (Bruce Bochy keeps job, probably because he'd been to the playoffs and World Series)
2003 TB 63-99 (Piniella keeps job, it was his first year)
2003 DET 43-119 (Trammel keeps his job, it was his first year)
2002 TB 55-105 (Hal McRae fired after season)
2002 DET 55-106 (Phil Garner fired during season)
2002 MIL 56-106 (Davey Lopes fired during season)
2001 PIT 62-100 (Lloyd McLendon keeps job, it was his first year)
2001 BAL 63-98 (Mike Hargrove keeps his job -- it's the O's , who knows why.)
2001 TB 62-100 (Larry Rothschild fired during season)
So basically a non-first-year manager who compiles such a record gets fired, or keeps his job thanks to the wisdom of the baseball geniuses who run the Royals and Orioles. An exception is San Diego, who actually made the right call, as Bochy would lead the Padres -- yes, the 82-80 Padres -- to the playoffs in 2005. None of the other retentions worked out.
It is conventional wisdom that Frank Robinson will not be fired this season. It would make a lot of sense to do so, however. We all know what kind of manager he is, and how much he can get out of this group of players. We should replace with someone who does things differently, even an interim manager, to see what we have left in this team, to know better what to do in the offseason.
It only makes sense, but it won't be done. I wake up this morning to find that "stability"
is the vision of the new owners. Though that article hints that Robinson might not last after this year, we will have wasted the next 81 games as an information gathering session. But hey, we'll be "stable" -- stable like the Royals.
Like my last post, I'm still thinking about last year. (Do you blame me, after the past two weeks, in which we are 3-12, having been outscored 101 to 55, and having scored more than 3 runs only 4 times?) In that one I compared the Mets' current record with ours from the 1st half of 2005, because I was surprised to find that the Mets did not have a better record than that. But that got me thinking about our second-half collapse, and wondered how the pre-All Star Break 2005 Nats stack up against the Mets in other categories besides wins and losses. Also, I decided to throw the "surprise" team of the year, the Tigers, into the comparison for fun (as of Tuesday's games).Records and RunsNats 2005, 50-31, 4.13 RS/G, 4.11 RA/G, Pyth 41-40 (+9)NYM_ 2006, 47-29, 5.33 RS/G, 4.32 RA/G, Pyth 45-31 (+2)DET_ 2006, 53-25, 5.23 RS/G, 3.71 RA/G, Pyth 51-27 (+2)Here, the obvious difference is offense, as our runs per game is more than 1 run below the Mets and Tigers. As a result, our Expected W/L was nine games below our actual, prompting the skeptics to predict our fall last year. As we'll see below, it was the power in our offense that was anemic, and in the second half it got worse, not better as expected, which caused the bottom to drop out. (I have not adjusted the numbers for ballpark, but all three teams play in pitcher's parks, so it should not make much difference).As for 2006, note the Tigers and Mets defenses, the big difference between the two clubs. This bodes well for Detroit.BattingNats 2005, .261/.332/.404/.735NYM_ 2006, .268/.335/.461/.796DET_ 2006, .275/.330/.461/.791When it came to getting on base (the second number in the series -- AVG/OBP/SLG/OPS), we were just as good as the 2006 clubs, but our power was awful, which left a lot of those runners on base. I also suspect that the hit and runs and bad baserunning cost a lot too. We were 50% succesful on steals, about 25% less than you need to be to actually generate runs. In the second half we dropped to .243/.313/.373/.686. Thank you, Preston Wilson!Note that the Mets and Tigers have very similar offenses this year.PitchingNats 2005, 3.88 ERA, 0.76 HR/G, 3.39 BB/G, 5.60 K/G, 1.65 K/BBNYM_ 2006, 3.90 ERA, 1.12 HR/G, 3.37 BB/G, 7.50 K/G, 2.23 K/BBDET_ 2006, 3.50 ERA, 0.98 HR/G, 2.96 BB/G, 6.27 K/G, 2.12 K/BBHere you see another weakness of the Nats last year -- the pitching was good, but not dominant, as indicated by the relatively low K/G and K/BB numbers. As a result, it could not save us when the offense went completely sour. One of the most depressing and telling stats from last year was our July team ERA, which was the best month of the year, at precisely the moment when we lost all those games and our lead.As for the 2006 clubs, pitching is where the Tigers have excelled so far, nearly half a run better than the Mets in ERA, and under 3 walks per game.Bottom LineAs I see it, both the Tigers and Mets have more solid fundamental numbers to support their records than the Nats had last year. If either club is to make a slide backwards in the second half, I'd bet on the Mets, and I'd predict it is a pitching problem that causes it. I doubt it will be 31-50 dramatic like ours last year, and the rest of the NL East is so weak that it won't cost them the division. The Tigers strike me as the real deal, and the bold prediction by some that the AL Wild Card will not come from the East is looking better and better.[...]
By any measure, the New York Mets are having a superb season. The sit atop the NL East, 11.5 games ahead of the second place Phillies, and have controlled the division from Opening Day. Even their Tradesports
contract for winning the division has gone from about 50 before the season to around 95 today, meaning the Mets likely have a 95% chance of winning the division.
But there is one measure that us Nats fan can take some pride in.
If the Mets split with the Red Sox and Yankees this week -- no small feat -- they will be 50-31, the same first-half record as our beloved nine in 2005.
Baseball on Television
, which appears to reprint a Thomas Sowell column
from 2002, has a lot of good thoughts about baseball on television. My favorite point asks why we never see a camera angle that shows the whole field. I'd be perfectly happy if the standard angle was from high behind the plate, perhaps with an inset showing the traditional "behind the pitcher" angle so you can see the pitches. I'm looking forward to this weekend's game between the Nats and O's because I'll be sitting behind the plate upper deck, which has become my favorite place to watch a game, because you can see the whole field, and judge the distances and angles best among runner, fielder and ball, which are indispensible to evaluating many plays.
Hat tip: Dan Agonistes
Baseball, Blackouts and Buyouts
This weekend I was finalizing our summer vacation plans, and noticed that the house we are renting in the Outer Banks has WiFi. "Cool," I thought, "I'll bring the laptop and watch the Nats on vacation." But then I hesitated -- a few weeks ago I was in Princeton, NJ and tried to watch the Nats on my laptop, but was told I was in the blackout area. Wondering whether Corolla, NC would be subject to Nats blackout, I found a relevant Zip Code and checked out "the list," and sure enough, the Outer Banks is part of the Nats' empire, which we now know stretches from Eastern North Carolina to the middle of New Jersey and to Central Pennsylvania. So it looks like I won't be watching Nationals' games on vacation this summer.I am not alone. This story on Yahoo chronicles similar frustrations of fans around the country. As Capitol Punishment points out, the reason for the blackout rules is not to protect ticket sales (well, not anymore), it's to protect advertising revenue, which is still the predominant way baseball telecasts are paid for.Most clubs earn revenue from telecasts of their games by selling exclusive rights to the local broadcasters; "exclusive" being the key for the broadcaster, who wants to make sure that if you watch the Nats, you see the advertisements it has sold. If you can watch the Nats without seeing those ads, advertisers will soon take their money elsewhere. Also, because the broadcaster is local, the area of exclusivity is measured geographically -- Koons Toyota would pay WDCA-20 to reach people in Arlington, Bethesda and Landover, not people who are "out-of-market" in far away places. So no one cares whether someone in Texas watches Nats games on the Internet -- the advertisements have little value to those viewers. (Blackouts can also theoretically protect the attendance at RFK -- if I can watch on TV I won't go to the park -- but most people agree that TV actually promotes attendance, rather than detract from it.)But there are several areas where this theory gets mangled by practice in the case of the Nats and MLB.tv. First, of course, is that there are no local broadcasters who paid anyone anything for exclusive rights to Nats games in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. If there were, I'd be perfectly happy watching those games on the local TV like I do here in the D.C. area. The blackout lists for MLB.tv are, at this point, little more than a game of Risk, where the U.S. has been divided up in concept, without any real marketplace analysis behind the assignment.Second, even here in D.C., watching the games on the MLB.tv, you would still see the advertisements from the local advertisers (assuming MLB.tv didn't cover them up or replace them). The problem for MASN and DC-20 is that those viewers don't get counted in the Nielsen ratings, and thus they won't get paid by the advertisers for those viewers.But that leads me to my main point -- since this is all about money and not about spite, why can't I choose to "buyout my blackout", or pay extra to watch Nats games anywhere I want, regardless of the exclusive rights sold to a local broadcaster. That premium I paid could go mostly to the local broadcaster affected by my viewing on MLB.tv, to cover any potential "losses" from me not watching on television.To help me understand why this option is not presented by MLB.tv, I tried to figure out how much that premium would cost. To do this, I started with the basic metric for selling ads, the CPM, which stands for "cost per thousand" (the "M" is the Roman numeral for 1000). According to one website, the average CPM for broadcast television is $20 for a 30-second spot -- in other words, for every 1,000 people that watch that ad, the advertiser pays the broadcaster $20. I think that is a little high for the Nats, but I'll use it here for[...]
I'm not as bad as Needham
. Sure, I too watched the USA-Italy match instead of the Nats on Saturday, but yesterday I listened to the game on radio as I built a basketball hoop in the driveway with Little DM and his brother. (And when I say "with", I mean it; at one point I said to myself, "Where's my mallet?" and Little DM said "It's in the shed. I'll get it. You focus on the hoop." A five-year-old supervisor.)
I had heard the Nats first run, but then lost track of the game and how the Yankees went ahead. Then I started to listen a bit more closely when the bottom of the ninth began. But of course some socket mishap distracted me, and the next thing I heard was Charlie's voice rise as Zimmerman hit the ball. I ran to the radio, heard "...Cabrera going back..." (a good sign) and then knew it was a walk-off. Charlie did a neat thing by not saying anything as the crowd roared, and for once I didn't care that he didn't tell me the score -- I knew what had happened, the details could wait.
Little DM was right beside me, even he knew it was good and we exchanged several high fives. Later I made a point to show him the highlights on ESPN, and this morning, in his room, when he thought he was alone, I caught a glimpse of him doing a Ryan Zimmerman impersonation: a swing, looking up, holding his fist up as a he ran, then jumping onto an imaginary home plate and being clobbered by his imaginary teammates. Bang, Zoom !!
Pitchers, it seems to me, are like anyone else; they have good days and bad days. Sometimes they have their stuff, and sometimes they don't. One would think that the main job of the manager, pitching coach and bullpen coach is to figure out whether a guy has it or not in any given day.
Based on this, I've often wondered about managers who like to bring in lots of relief pitchers. It seems to me that by doing that, you are simply increasing the chance that you'll bring in a pitcher who is having a bad day. Maybe, just maybe, the fact that a particular relief pitcher has his stuff today is more important that the lefty-righty matchup, or whether he is coming to bat the next inning.
I don't think Frank ever considers this. This is an obvious second-guess, but I was really hoping at the time that he would have left Jon Rauch in last night
after he struck out A-Rod and Cano to end the seventh. Those were huge outs, and Rauch has been struggling lately, I thought it would have been a good confidence boost to send him out there in the 8th to help keep the lid on the game.
But, of course, that didn't happen. Frank, as usual, brought in three more relievers, none of whom had anything, and we blew the game. Frank appears to expect that all of his relievers must be able to perform at the highest level in every game. While that is a reasonable expectation in general for professionals who get paid a lot of money to play this game, the reality of our bullpen requires more nuanced management that appears beyond the ken of our current skipper.
ERV Renovations -- Update
As you know, last month I shut down the ERV Boxscores to redesign the process that creates them. The work has been going pretty well, and this weekend I finally constructed the guts of the new database that will hold the information. It can now calcuate the basic RV and WV for each event. Right now it ascribes all of the value to the batter and pitcher, even if the play has errors or other aspects that should be given to other players involved. I have to code the parts that account for errors, fielding and baserunning.
But the real advantage of this new system is that I have data for every
team, not just the Nats. So we'll be able to compare RV and WV with other players in the league. For example, here are the 2005 NL Batting WV Leaders:
|Name||Total RV||Total WV|
Where's Albert? Pujols was 14th, with 44.76 RV and 30.42 WV. Nick Johnson was 11th, with 24.89 RV and 33.00 WV.
Here are the best NL pitchers:
|Name||Total RV||Total WV|
What's interesting to me is that most of these guys are starters. I had thought that because closers pitch in high leverage (i.e. high Win Value) situations, the system would be biased in their favor, and they'd cluster near the top. But apparently that's not necesarily the case.
Keep in mind that these numbers are rough and I haven't checked the data thoroughly. But I do think it tells me that when I'm finished that the data will present some interesting things to think about.
The Draft -- Where Do You Stand?
I don't have nearly enough knowledge to provide any meaningful commentary on the Nats draft selections, so please visit Nationals Farm Authority
, Capital Punishment
, and Federal Baseball
for real information on that. But I will use it as an excuse to comment on an interesting segment I heard last night on XM Radio. Chuck Wilson, who is quite good and is vastly under-utilized on MLB Home Plate, replayed quotes surrounding the controversy over Luke Hochevar
, the first overal pick of this year's draft. Hochevar was drafted by the Dodgers last year and nearly signed with them, but then swtiched to agent Scott Boras at the last minute, didn't sign, and opted to re-enter the draft this year.
First, Wilson played a quote from Hochevar's former agent (I didn't catch his name), who complained that Hochevar left a voicemail for some Dodgers executive 45 minutes before he backed out the deal saying how happy and excited he was to be a Dodger. He painted the picture of a kid who went back on his word at the last minute purely for more money. Then Wilson played Scott Boras' reaction to that quote, who argued that the former agent was inexperienced and, in doing the deal with the Dodgers, was essentially putting his interest in establishing relationships with the Dodgers and build up a stable of MLB players ahead of Hochevar's interest, and would have left, in Boras' view, millions of Hochevar's dollars on the table. Then Wilson played a quote from Hochevar, who pretty much echoed Boras' points by saying young players should go with experienced agents like Boras. To me, he'd been coached pretty well on that answer.
Who's right? Who knows. Economically, we'll find out if Hochevar made the right move when we learn the size of his contract with Kansas City, but it seems that being picked first overall will get more $$ than being picked 40th like he was last year. So Hochevar may have made a good gamble, which was largely good because of the weak draft this year. I will say that my first instinct was to side with the former agent, and to view Hochevar as a spoiled greedy kid, but I have to say Boras made a good argument to my rational side that the Dodgers' deal would not have been the best for Hochevar, and his claims about the former agent had the ring of truth to them.
But what struck me as really interesting was this question: On which side of the line, management or player, do we fans typically fall? We obviously identify with the players first and foremost, because we watch them all the time and root for them. But we typically only like players on our team
, so when it comes to contract disputes, we can be quick to say that player is greedy if they are threaten to leave or not sign with our club. We also like to complain about large salaries and agents like Boras. On the other hand, if the player is beloved by most fans, then we curse management for not giving in to every demand he makes. In the end, I'm not sure there's a clear answer to the question, but I do think we are not careful enough to consider the different perspectives of the parties involved, and Chuck Wilson's segment on XM helped me understand where guys like Hochevar and Boras are coming from in making the decisions they make.
I heard an interesting interview on XM Radio this morning with Jamie Moyer of the Seattle Mariners, who pitched a 2-hit complete game shutout
on Friday night. Here it is from memory:
Obviously you'd like to go out there and put 9 zeros on the board every night, but you can't do that. You give up a hit, then a run, then you have runners on 2nd and 3rd with less than 2 outs, and your trying to get that second out, and while you may let the runner on third score, you work hard to keep the runner on second from scoring.
(emphasis added). The expected run value with runners on second and third and 1 out is about 1.4 or 1.5, depending on which table you use. I like Moyer's quote because it shows he's developed a feel for when runs score over his 20+ years in the big leagues -- he knows, intuitively, that if only the runner on third scores, you've beaten the expectation by 0.4 runs. If the runner on second also scores, you lost by 0.6 runs. He also appears to have a good understanding of sunk costs -- runners on third with less than 2 outs usually score, so it may be better to focus on avoiding a big inning.
P.S. Wanna feel old? Buck Martinez on XM pointed out that the last time
Moyer threw a 2-hit shutout, Ronald Reagan was President.
The Future's So Bright ...
I was all set to post some optimistic thoughts about our hometown club. Something along the lines of "If the Mets go 13-13 the rest of the first half, and we just win 2 out 3 over the same time frame, we'll be five games out at the break, and anything can happen then." But then I read the pessimistic crap
over at Capitol Punishment, and my heart's not in it anymore. Needham, you are the wind shear on my wings! Even the company men over at Nats Triple Play
couldn't cheer me up. It really sucks when your season was effectively over May 15.
So now we're left with individual accomplishments to watch. Alfonso Soriano leads the American League in HRs, and with Albert Pujols headed to the DL, he could soon lead the majors. That'll be cool to watch. Speaking of Pujols, his injury becomes a dramatic new chapter in the long-running litigation of Non-Baseball Fans v. Baseball Fans
. We can envision the cross-examination, and it won't be pretty:
Non-Baseball Fans Lawyer: How exactly did Mr. Pujols hurt himself?
Baseball Fan: He hurt his side going after a foul ball.
Lawyer: So, he was diving into the stands full-speed and bruised it against a seat, like Jeter?
Lawyer: OK, so he fell into the dugout and banged it against the steps?
Lawyer: He must have hurt it on a dive stretching out for foul pop headed down the RF line, right?
Fan: Ummm .. No.
Lawyer: Well, then, what exactly did he do?
Fan: [nervously] He just hurt it, that's all.
Lawyer: [beginning to shout] How did he hurt it ?!?
Fan: Ummm ... he turned to his left and started running.
Lawyer: "He turned to his left and started running." How old is Mr. Pujols, 87?
Fan: No, he's in his late 20s.
Lawyer: Late 20s. Is he obese?
Lawyer: He's one of the worst players in the league right?
Fan: No, he's the best player in baseball!
Lawyer: So, the best player in baseball can't turn to his left and start running without hurting himself, right?
Fan: Well, he just turned too quickly ... it was the cross-over step ... it's a thinking man's game ... it's designed to break your heart ... [begins sobbing]
Lawyer: Nothing further. Your honor, I won't need to offer the videotape.
Another Project I'll Never Complete
Back in November, I had an idea
to create a database of statistics for General Managers, linking win shares data to transactions data to general manager tenure data to help evaluate the performance of GMs based on whom they signed, traded for and traded away. Despite the helpful tips from folks like Simon Oliver Lockwood, that project never got off the ground, given that I have a full-time job and three young kids.
Yesterday, I thought of another project that I'll never have time for when I stumbled on Retrosheet's Umpire Data
. While Retrosheet tells you how many games
the umpire worked at each base, they do not relate the umpire's presence to the result of the game. You can get the daily game log for each umpire, but it would be better if we got each umpire's "record" per team. For example, from this page
you can tell that the Nats were 2-4 when Paul Schreiber worked their games. Some interesting stats to run would be (1) the home team's record when the ump worked the game; (2) whether teams fared better or worse when an umpire was behind the plate or in the field; and (3) number of strikeouts and walks in games when the umpire was behind the plate. Wouldn't it be interesting to find out that some teams performed better with certain umps? In the early 1990s, Barry Jacobs's Fans' Guide to the ACC use to publish data like this for all ACC referees -- it showed this Duke fan that we actually performed better with the villified Dick Paparo or Lenny Wirtz working the game.
I poked around Retrosheet but could not find data presented in this fashion. It does not seem like a difficult task to create a database from which these questions could be answered. If anyone knows of a place where this data can be found, I'd love to hear about it.
Sports & Economics: Further Reading.
For the four of you who actually read my diatribe
on reinventing baseball, you might be interested in a couple of blogs that talk more about the economics of sports. The Sports Economist
looks to be very good, and has a lengthy post
comparing MLB to the English Premier League that goes into more detail than my comments. See also The Wages of Wins
blog, which is an adjunct to the new book
of the same name (which I plan to read soon) analyzing the connection between the economics of sports and the performance on the field.
Random Thoughts at the 50-game Mark
In no particular order:
-- Last year there were 1.38 HRs hit per game in RFK. So far this year there have been 1.78 HRs per game. One is tempted to call it "The Soriano Effect", but I'm just inclined to blame small sample size and media hype -- RFK isn't _that_ big and it's just regressing to the mean. On Soriano, I have learned that hitting is a lot more dynamic a process than our stats can measure. As Capital Punishment presciently explained
back in December, Soriano hits the kinds of balls that can get out of RFK, unlike our "sluggers" from 2005. He is also just a better hitter than Jose Guillen, period, and perhaps by a long shot.
-- John Patterson last pitched on April 20. The Nats have gone 14-21 (.400) since then. They were 7-10 (.411) with him in the rotation. I know, I know, small sample size and silly to correlate record to a guy who plays every 5th day, but I found this a sobering reminder that the baseball is a team game, and the reason it feels like we don't really miss some players is because we're not that good a team.
-- Speaking of which, anyone else confused by all the good feeling from last week's tearful success and yet we're still 10 games below .500?
-- Speaking of tears, if Frank cares so much about his players who are likeable and work hard that it pains him deeply to put them in positions where they can't succeed and will embarass themselves, he must really hate
-- Mrs. DM's comment from Saturday's game against the Dodgers "I always thought Nomar was a scrawny dude, but he's pretty buff." I just noticed that his hair was much more Fonzi-like than TV leads you to think.
-- Little DM wanted to wear his San Francisco Giants cap to the game Saturday, but, with hopes a Dodger might throw him a ball, I had to explain the concept of a "rivalry" to him. He listened carefully and then asked "Who is the rivalry with the Nationals?" I was stumped, and just said "Bowie".
-- Mrs. DM asked if Saturday's start was Shawn Hill's MLB debut. I said yes, but was hesitant in answering. Then the RFK Jumbotron confirmed that is was, in fact, his MLB debut, which made me feel confident. I should have known better
than to trust the RFK scoreboard operator.
Tears of a Clown
There are times, to be sure, when a grown man crying about sports is both expected and accepted. The aging veteran, finally hanging up the spikes in retirement, usually can't make it through the press conference without choking up. The college hoops star, walking off the court in his last game -- usually a loss in the tournament -- often hides his tears by burying his head in the coach's shoulder. Cory Gibbs, who just learned his knee won't let him play for the United States in the World Cup, understandably shed a few tears at the news. Even cynical old me bawled like a newborn while watching the video of J-Mac, the kid with autism who finally got in a high school basketball game and scored 20 points.
Having to take the mask from a fat guy who can't play catcher, doesn't really want to play catcher, and shouldn't be playing catcher, should not, I submit, make anyone cry. Well, maybe his over-protective mom who has always been quick to feel her son's failures a little too closely, or his grade school child after being teased by classmates. But the last person who needs to be crying about the decision to replace LeCroy with a less awful catcher in a close game is his manager, Frank Robinson.
Yet, that's exactly what Frank did today after the game yesterday. He said he "trusts his veterans," but that "he had to do something" when LeCroy kept throwing the ball to Damian Jackson in CF when trying to get runners out at second. Apparently, Frank considers being pulled by your manager mid-inning a tragically sad event, especially for a veteran ballplayer. I think every other person in the park, even LeCroy, thought it was welcome, necessary step towards the Nats winning the game, and that any bruise to LeCroy's ego would be salved by a few Krispy Kremes in the clubhouse and the $850,000 he'll make this year.
This should have been a total non-event. But Frank's antics prompted ESPN SportsCenter to treat it as newsworthy, even though by any measure it was ordinary. Did you know the last time a catcher had 7 guys steal bases on him in a game was 2002? For those readers who weren't alive in 2002, it was a crazy time when MLB actually had 2 teams in Canada, the All-Star game did not "count", and Benny Agbayani was still playing.
This little awkward moment does confirm, however, what we've all thought -- that Frank is first and foremost a player, not a manager, and has a hard time seeing the world from a perspective other than that of a Hall-of-Famer who hit nearly 600 home runs and is probably still a little bummed that the time when he could grab a bat and send one into the seats passed away over 30 years ago. If Frank was pulled mid-inning by Earl Weaver, he'd have considered it the greatest indignity, as he apparently still does. But a manager who worries how a guy like Wil Cordero will take being replaced deserves the under-.500 career record he has.
How far did that one go?
Lance Berkman crushes a ball into the 400-level in dead center earlier this week. Jose Guillen finally bombs one into the mezzanine in left field off of Zach Duke. Alfonso Soriano crushes a ball against the Braves. And Barry Bonds sends one to the back of Section 468 last September.
You may have noticed that for each of these dingers the announcers did not give an estimate of the distance they traveled. Apparently that is because the Nats have been too cheap to subscribe to the service that provides the measuring guide for home runs. No surprise there, but thanks to Studes over at The Hardball Times
, I've learned of a new site, Hit Tracker
, that does the work for us, and apparently in a much more thorough and accurate way.
According to the site's founder, Greg Rybarczyk, Berkman's blast went 466 feet, fifth longest in MLB for 2006 (that's under his measure of "True Distance," which accounts for
altitude, atmosphere and other things to make comparison's more apt). Guillen's went 434 feet, and Soriano's 429 feet. The 2005 data does not yet contain Bonds' homer from last year.
Studes points out the interesting comparisons and lists you can make with Hit Tracker's data. I've only begun to explore the site, which looks like a real pleasant timewaster. They say "chicks dig the long ball", and if you dig the long ball, you'll dig Hit Tracker.
Random Thought on the Designated Hitter
The interleague play this weekend always prompts a discussion of the designated hitter, given that many AL pitchers are forced to hit this weekend, and some DHs like David Ortiz of the Red Sox are forced to play the field. I am not a fan of the DH, but not primarily because it means the pitcher does not hit, and the double switch no longer becomes relevant. Bill James has argued that the DH might actually increase strategy by giving the manager more pinch-hitting options late in the game, and that the decision to pinch hit for the pitcher is usually obvious in most cases, as is the double-switch (unless, of course, you are Frank Robinson).
My main problem with the DH is the aspect related to guys like David Ortiz, which I like to call the "Greg Luzinski Dilemma." To me, it is a much more interesting strategic dilemma for a manager to be forced to play every guy he'd like to hit, and how he must "hide" good hitters with bricks for gloves in places like LF or 1B. I don't like it when this worry is lifted by the DH, which lets the manager send a guy like Ortiz up there 4 times a game without any cost. (The Post did an interesting story
on how much time Ortiz actually spends on the bench in a typical AL game).
So that led me to this thought. What if the "DH" rule wasn't that you get to substitute a hitter for the pitcher, but that the pitcher simply did not hit, and you only had 8 batters in the lineup? In other words, you can't hid a bad fielder anymore -- if David Ortiz wants to hit, he must play somewhere in the field. But you would still have no "bad spots" in the lineup.
I don't think there is any magic to the lineup having 9 hitters. Having 8 would only give more plate appearances to everyone in the lineup. IIRC, the average game has about 42 plate appearances, meaning about 4.67 PAs per lineup spot. With an 8-man lineup, each guy would get, on average, 5.25 PAs. In other words, rather than giving the pitcher's plate appearances to one guy like Ortiz, you would spread them out over the 8 players, which seems, for some reason, more equitable to me.
What would be the effect of such a change? I'm not sure. Obviously, the counting stat records like hits or HRs in a season would be affected, as batters would get around 80 or so more plate appearances per season. I have not read of anyone discussing this option -- I wonder if it was considered back in 1972? I imagine that it would have been rejected because the primary point of the DH was to add offense, and this approach would not necessarily do that, because you could not add a good bat to the lineup. On the other hand, it would give some of your other hitters more at bats, so the effect is not that drastic. Perhaps it would reward teams with deeper lineups, and hurt those who need that extra bat.
Anyway, I had never thought of this before, and wonder if it has ever been discussed. If you know of any information on this approach, please let me know. And if I am missing something here, let me know that too.
ERV Boxscores -- Closed for Renovations
You might have noticed that I have not been providing ERV boxscores the past few days. The time has come for me to bite the bullet and convert to a database program instead of using Excel to keep the data and produces the boxscores. The bad news is that this will require me to develop a database in MySQL and convert my Excel code, which I cannot do an keep updating the boxscores on a regular basis. The good news is that after this is complete, the system should be a lot more powerful. Some advantages I anticipate include:
- more timely publication of boxscores
- more complete fielding values assigned
- more interesting analyses of the data
- historical ERV boxscores and analysis (possible, not certain)
- ERV values for teams beyond the Nats (possible, not certain)
Unfortunately I do not have an estimate of how long this will take. But my first experiments with MySQL have gone well, and if I can devote serious time to it, I am optimistic. Thank you in advance for being patient.
Revolution, Revisited (Part 4)
[Note: This is the fourth and final part of the series. Part 1 is here, Part 2 is here, and Part 3 is here.]I can anticipate some common questions and criticisms about an "open" major league baseball system. In this post I'll try to set them out and respond.1. More teams would dilute the quality of play among the "major" leagues.There's no reason to believe that the clubs in the top league won't be able to attract and buy the best players. It hasn't hurt the Premiership in England. In fact it may be the case that an open system would allow talent to flow more efficiently to the top league, through both promotion and more free transfers of players from the minors, rather than be funneled through farm systems that may be managed poorly. Note also that in England it is possible for good players to negotiate a "relegation-release" clause in their contracts, so that if their club drops, they become free agents available to other top tier teams. These help ensure that the best talent remains in the top.2. The rich teams would dominate even more than they do now in a "more free" market.This is the competitive balance issue I touched on in earlier posts. With promotion and relegation, those rich successful teams don't get to beat up on the Royals and Pirates every year, but must face new competition that would dearly love to unseat them and prove their worth in the top league.3. It would diminish the value and excitement of the playoffs.If this turns out to be a problem, you could grant the World Series winner one year of being protected from relegation. Winning in the playoffs would, as it does now, make your club more attractive to everyone, players, fans, advertisers, so there are natural incentives to succeed there. Plus you are adding excitement of the relegation competition at the end of every year, which would keep interest in many more teams down the stretch.4. The players would suffer, and they are the ones who make the game great.I am not one to begrudge players a large, even obscene, income -- they undertake a demanding job which lasts only a short time, under intense scrutiny and pressure -- and among those involved in baseball they should receive a healthy portion of the revenues generated from the game. However, to the extent those profits are borne of monopoly power and anti-competitive behavior, they don't deserve them any more than the owners. Jim Bouton said a lot when he noted that the 1994 strike was the "first labor dispute in history to pit billionaires against millionaires." There is no doubt that the owners for decades kept the players from getting a fair share of the spoils, which in large part they created. But the MLBPA has only succeed in broadening the privileged class to include the players -- like many labor unions, it is not primarily concerned with free and open competition. The experience of European soccer demonstrates that player salaries do not suffer from open league structures, so in the end I doubt the players will suffer, and might even make out better, and more players will have a chance at success. Most importantly, we would end the pointless death struggles we've seen every few years between two monopolists trying to divy up billions of dollars.5. It would destroy the beloved minor league system! What would happen to player development?There would still be a fair amount of player development in the minor leagues, it just wouldn't be directly [...]