Archive for November, 2004

SIR: Rafael Furcal

2004 BA/OBP/SLG: .283/ .347/ .404

What a shame that we have to spend the offseason discussing what Furcal did off the field rather than on it. A second DUI and a trip to jail, not to mention that he was out drunk at 4am the day before a game. I understand that young guys do dumb things, but that’s an excuse that only flies on crappy Braves fan sites. Let me just say how disgusted I am with Furcal. Most 26-year-olds lose their job after doing something like that, but Furcal will likely get a pay raise. I feel sorry for Raffy only in the sense that I hope he gets his life back together. Is he sorry for what he did or sorry that he got caught? I’m unsure what Atlanta plans for him in the future, but with the SS market out of control I would find it hard to believe that he will not be back for the 2005 season. Guzman gets $4 mil a year and he can’t hit or field. The good news for Furcal is that he is on the right team if he wishes to turn his life around. Hopefully, during his strolls through “the yard” this off-season he’ll realize how lucky he is to be on the Braves.

Now, I’ll write about Furcal the player as if none of the unpleasantness occurred. This was another good season for Furcal. It’s hard to remember that he lost a significant amount of time to injuries. He started the year hurt, and just as he seemed to be coming out of an early funk, Bobby (I assume Cox ordered this) had Furcal attempt to steal third at Coors. This was not one of Cox’s better ideas. Furcal is tagged out, plus he jams his wrist and is out of the field for a month. Though he never went on the DL, he was limited to pinch-hitting duty for while. And with DeRosa at third, this meant plenty of playing time for Jesse Garcia, ugh. But, despite all of this Furcal recovered to have a good year, and I expect an even better player to emerge in 2005. One thing that was very good about Furcal is that his power from 2003 continued. His Iso-Power was .135 and his AB/HR was 40, compared to .151 and 44 in 2003. His walk-rate was up to 9.3%. If he gets much better, he’s going to get one heck of a free agent deal after next season.

I’m still not sure if Furcal ought to be a leadoff hitter with that OBP, but his offense is very good for a SS. Is his defense suspect? I’m not so sure it’s as bad as people make it out to be. He does bobble some balls, but he seems to have great range (I say this from visual observation since I don’t buy any current defensive metric.) But, more important is the gun this guy carries. Not only is he deadly for runners on their way to first, but he is a fantastic relay man. Furcal made several good throws to the plate this year, and I’m sure he deterred some attempts as well. I’m not sure how you begin to measure something like that.

I suspect 2005 will be Furcal’s last season in Atlanta, so I’m going to enjoy it. Having Giles and Furcal up the middle is hard to believe really. To get that much offense from your middle infielders is something most teams don’t have. I prefer to enjoy him while he’s in Atlanta, rather than miss him when he is gone.

Stop the Vinny Pile-On

Earlier this week Washington Expos GM Jim Bowden made a big splash in the free agent market by signing Vinny Castilla and Christian Guzman. The term “splash” is appropriate to describe Washington’s bellyflop, as opposed to a graceful dive, that made waves throughout the baseball community. I have seen very few people praise these signings, and for the most past I agree with the critics. But for some reason, everyone’s jumping on the Castilla signing rather than Guzman. The average yearly dollar damages are $3.1 million for Castilla (2 years) and $4.2 million for Guzman (4 years).

The reason for the the asymmetry in the criticism is easy to see. Vinny is 37 with Coors-inflated numbers. Guzman, though weak with the bat and no better than slightly above average on defense, gets somewhat of a pass, because he is ten years younger. Guzman is just entering his peak and may improve some. Vinny is on the downside of his career and his numbers away from Coors were dreadful last year (.218/ .281/ .493). On Guzman, I think banking on his prime is a stretch. Certainly, almost any AAA SS would be a better deal. Guzman’s .274/.309/.384 is just too weak to command that kind of money. However, I think Vinny may not be so bad. The problem is that people are being oversensitive to his Home/Away splits. Let’s look at the 2004 Coors Field effect in several categories.

1.235 1.24 1.24 1.316 1.655 1.181

Let’s take Vinny’s Away numbers and inflate them by the average Coors inflation values.

Field HR H BA 2B 3B BB

Away 21 62 0.218 13 1 21
Home 14 96 0.321 30 2 30
Home* 26 77 0.271 17 1.65 25

The last row (Home*) lists Castilla’s predicted Home stats based on the Coors park factor for all of these events. What does this tell me? Well, while Vinny did play better at Coors, some of that was do the something other than Coors. Although Castilla was obviously not as good as his Coors stats indicate, he is also better than his Away stats indicate. In fact, one bizarre stat is that Vinny has about half as many homers at Coors than predicted. He played better at home in every area except hitting HRs. How odd! Does this mean Vinny was worth the contract he got? No. But, I don’t think it was too out of line. When I put his 2003 Atlanta numbers in the Salary Estimator, he came out to be a $4 million player. But what about Vinny’s hitting style? Maybe his swing is more suited for Coors than the average player. Well, thanks to the new Hardball Times Baseball Annual, I can see that Vinny is average in respect to ground-balls, fly-balls, and line-drives, so I don’t think this is the case. Also, let’s not forget that Vinny is a good defender. He stays healthy and seems to be a decent clubhouse positive.

SIR: Marcus Giles

2004 BA/ OBP/SLG: .311/ .378/ .443

There is no doubt that 2004 was a disappointing follow-up to Marcus Giles’’s 2003 All-Star season; however, it’’s hard to get down on a second baseman who puts up the numbers Marcus did in 2004. The biggest decline from 2003 was in his power. In 2004 he posted a .131 Iso-Power, which was about an 80-point decline. Was this decline the result of that awful collision with Andruw Jones or was it indicative of some mean reversion? Well, it seems clear to me that his power decline was temporary. Except for 2004, his MLB AB/HR has been about 26; this year it was nearly 50. The good news is that Giles’s OBP was only 12-points below the previous year. I think this is quite amazing, considering he certainly was not the threat he once was. Pitchers could have challenged him at a much lower cost, yet he still seemed to find a way to earn a free pass. He’’s got great, if not improving, plate discipline, which can only lead to a brighter future. And don’’t forget this guy loves to take one for the team. He managed to get 9 HBPs, compared to 11 in 200 more PAs in 2003. Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention that the guy hit .300…that’’s gotta help the OBP.

In short, I believe 2005 will be a MONSTER year for Giles. I think his 2004 struggles were clearly the result of his injuries, which will surely heal over the winter. On top of his power going up, I suspect the Braves can finally get 150 games out of him. There’’s no way he can have another freak injury for the third year in a row, is there? It’’s not like he got a nagging hammy. But as I write now, trade winds are blowing that have Giles going to the A’’s for a Big-3 pitcher. Is this a good deal? I doubt it. For a guy who produces as many runs as he does, according to the Sabernomics MLB Salary Calculator, he will probably still earn under $1 million in arbitration.

On Baseball Blogging

It’s easy to write a post on blogging, but it’s very hard to write a good one. Jon Weisman at Dodger Thoughts has just posted a fantastic piece on the Baseball Blogosphere. Here’s a small sample:

The brief history of baseball blogging has been a land rush – acres and acres of virgin www out there for the pickings like an online version of the old American West, requiring only a little moxie to stake a claim. But just like the dark side of Manifest Destiny, not every homesteader hangs on. Some stick it out for only a few months, or weeks, or days, or – you’ve seen it, no doubt – hours.

The tattered remnants of their domains can still often be found, scattered about like ghost towns or crosses in the dirt. It’s been axiomatic in the genre that even very intelligent voices are better suited to be regular readers than regular writers. And some cityfolk never had any business being out in that wilderness to begin with.

Weisman covers not only the demise of some great baseball blogs, but also on the different blogs and blogging strategies. This post is so good that even Instapudit picked it up.

Externalities of Sports Teams

I’d been wanting to comment on a post by Daniel Akst at Marginal Revolution on the external benefits of sports teams. But, I just haven’t had time to research it all. The idea Akst discusses is that though sports teams may not provide direct monetary gains to citizens, they do yield some positive value to the community. These benefits are not captured by the private market, therefore if the value is large enough this might justify public subsidies for sports stadiums. Luckily, I can stop thinking about it. Skip at The Sports Economist just posted an excellent summary of the relevant literature. He understands the whole debate and lays it out quite nicely. Be sure to check it out.

Predicting No-Hitters

On Rob Neyer’s page, Bill James tackles an interesting question (Also, see the discussion on Primer):

Rob, when we were at Fenway you posed the question, Who was the most likely pitcher to have thrown a no-hitter not to have thrown one. On the plane home I thought of what I assumed had to be the correct answer, which is Roger Clemens. Clemens has never thrown a no-hitter at any level: majors, minors, college, high school, amateur, little league.

But actually, Clemens is not the answer to the question, amazingly enough.

To find the answer to his question, James looks at the likelihood that a pitcher will throw a no-hitter based on his career out percetage [ (3 * IP) / ((3 * IP) + hits)] and the number of starts. The simple logic behind this is that the higher a pitcher’s out percentage and the more starts, the more no-hitters a pitcher should throw. Using this method James finds that Don Sutton, not Roger Clemens, is the answer to the question. Clemens is number three, behind Pedro Martinez.

But, I thought of another method to predict no-hitters. No-hit games are simply the product of the out percentage; however, the likelihood of a pitcher throwing a no-hitter may depend on how pitchers tend to get those outs. Players who strike out lots of batters (like Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson, and Roger Clemens) are less dependent on their fielders to get outs. Might not these guys have a better chance of throwing no- hitters than pitchers with identical out percentages but lower K-rates? Well, I decided to check it out using a Poisson regression procedure. Using DIPS/FIP as my motivator for pitchers’ abilities to prevent runs I estimated the number of no-hitters as a function of strikeouts, walks, home runs, and games started. Ks and HRs are obviously indicators of pitcher success in generating outs, with the former generating outs and the latter preventing them. Walks are a bit iffy. I included it largely because it is one of the “big 3” stats in FIP, but pitchers who walk more batters pitch more out of the stretch and open up infield holes. But, in the end walks did not seem to have much of relationship with no-hitters.

Here is the list of the Top-25 predicted no-hitters:

Rank First Last Debut Predicted Actual
1 Nolan Ryan 1966 6.97 7
2 Randy Johnson 1988 2.06 2
3 Roger Clemens 1984 2.03 0
4 Walter Johnson 1907 1.95 1
5 Cy Young 1890 1.74 3
6 Steve Carlton 1965 1.72 0
7 Don Sutton 1966 1.23 0
8 Tom Seaver 1967 1.21 1
9 Bert Blyleven 1970 1.20 1
10 Pedro Martinez 1992 1.15 0
11 Tim Keefe 1880 1.14 0
12 Gaylord Perry 1962 1.12 1
13 Rube Waddell 1897 1.04 0
14 Greg Maddux 1986 0.98 0
15 Christy Mathewson 1900 0.95 2
16 Eddie Plank 1901 0.95 0
17 Sam McDowell 1961 0.95 0
18 Phil Niekro 1964 0.89 1
19 Bob Gibson 1959 0.89 1
20 Pud Galvin 1875 0.80 2
21 Tommy John 1963 0.78 0
22 David Cone 1986 0.72 1
23 Pete Alexander 1911 0.70 0
24 Bob Feller 1936 0.69 3
25 Sandy Koufax 1955 0.67 4

And here are the Top-27 pitchers without no-hitters (Why 27? To get Tom Glavine on the list, of course.):

No Nohitters Rank Overall Rank First Last Debut Predicted
1 3 Roger Clemens 1984 2.03
2 6 Steve Carlton 1965 1.72
3 7 Don Sutton 1966 1.23
4 10 Pedro Martinez 1992 1.15
5 11 Tim Keefe 1880 1.14
6 13 Rube Waddell 1897 1.04
7 14 Greg Maddux 1986 0.98
8 16 Eddie Plank 1901 0.95
9 17 Sam McDowell 1961 0.95
10 21 Tommy John 1963 0.78
11 23 Pete Alexander 1911 0.70
12 27 J.R. Richard 1971 0.66
13 28 Bob Veale 1962 0.63
14 30 Mickey Welch 1880 0.60
15 31 Jerry Koosman 1967 0.60
16 33 John Smoltz 1988 0.58
17 34 Chuck Finley 1986 0.58
18 35 Lefty Grove 1925 0.57
19 36 Mickey Lolich 1963 0.56
20 37 Fergie Jenkins 1965 0.55
21 40 Early Wynn 1939 0.54
22 42 Rick Reuschel 1972 0.54
23 44 Toad Ramsey 1885 0.53
24 45 Tony Mullane 1881 0.53
25 46 Frank Tanana 1973 0.53
26 48 Kid Nichols 1890 0.53
27 49 Tom Glavine 1987 0.52

This method has Clemens not just the most likely no-hit pitcher never to throw a no-hitter, but he is third on the all-time list of predicted no-hitters. This is a little more supportive of James’s intuition. And I suspect this intuition is nurtured by a belief that Rocket’s pitching style is conducive to no-hit games.

One thing I like about the model is how well it predicts Ryan. Even when I throw Ryan out of the sample when estimating the regression, it still predicts Ryan should throw about 7 no-hitters. However, my model misses Koufax badly, but so does James’s. What that tells me is not that either model is bad, but that he was really lucky to throw 4 no-hitters.

On a final note, I estimated the regressions based on all pitchers with at least 100 games started, but that ended up kicking out a few guys with no-hitters. That may have affected the results. Also, I have not double-checked myself as much as I would have liked due to my busy schedule. I really would like to have put a little more time into double-checking my numbers, but I just don’t have the time right now. I would be happy to share my data with anyone who wants to proof what I did. Finally, I did run some of the standard tests used for Count regressions and, generally, a straight-up Poisson model seemed the right way to go. The results with a negative binomial regression were not much different.

As always I welcome thoughts and suggestions.

SIR: JD Drew

BA/OBP/SLG: .305/ .436/ .569

I’m not really looking forward to JD’s season in review entry. Why? He had a great season didn’t he? Well, yes, and I’d hate to see him leave after one year, but it looks like that is going to happen. Unless JD values playing in Atlanta a lot more than some teams are willing to pay him on the free agent market, I just don’t see the Braves signing him. And I’d prefer not to think about it. The Braves have too many low cost options. The list of players able to replace enough of what Drew brought to the Braves, at only a fraction of the price, is just too long for Schuerholz to consider keeping him. Charles Thomas came out of nowhere in his rookie season. In the minors, Ryan Langerhans, Andy Marte, and Jeff Franceuor all need a place on the big club really soon. In particular Langerhans looks to be a nice surprise. His 2004 in Richmond is too good to ignore for a 24 year-old lefty:

Langerhans 2004:
.298/ .397/ .518/ .915
AB per HR/ Iso-Power/ Walk rate/ K-to-BB ratio:
22.8/ .220/ 0.13/ 1.61

Compare this to Adam LaRoche’s final year (at age 23) in Richmond:

LaRoche 2003:
.295/ .360/ .466/ .826
AB per HR/ Iso-Power/ Walk rate/ K-to-BB ratio:
33/ .171/ 0.09/ 2.15

If Schuerholz thought LaRoche was ready, think it’s likey that he thinks Langerhans is ready too. The word on the street is that he’s a fine defender as well. Can we really expect him to match JD Drew’s 2004 numbers? No, but he comes cheap. If Schuerholz picks up a low-priced platoon partner (possibly even bringing up Marte), he could get enough out of the position to free up cash to spend on pitching. If things don’t work out for Ryan, there’s a decent chance that one of the other prospects can step in. The conventional wisdom seems to have doomed him to 4th outfield purgatory, which caused his stellar 2004 season to go largely unnoticed. But, I think Ryan may surprise some people.

But anyway, back to JD. Drew finally put up the kind of season that everyone thought he was capable of. His on-base and power are simply dreamy. I especially liked his plate discipline. Fourth in the NL in walk rate (at 18.3%), his signature bat-flip after drawing a walk is about as patented as the Sammy Sosa HR skip. He has plenty of power to be a starting corner outfielder (Iso-Power of .264) with the defensive ability of a center fielder. He has likely played his way out of Atlanta and into a big fat contract. However, JD still has not 100% shaken his glass jaw image. This may scare away some teams, but his injury problems, though chronic, have never really limited him that much. Excepting his call-up year, he’s never played less than 100 games in a season. If the injury fears scare away some suitors and JD values living in Georgia enough, he might end up staying. Personally, I think JD’s year was what we should expect out of him for the next few years, so I’d like to see the Braves find a way to hang onto him.

On a final note, I would like to congratulate John Schuerholz on another great move. Acquiring JD seems to have been a good thing. The Braves did give up some good pitching for only one year of JD. But, without him I doubt the Braves would have made the postseason. He certainly made the difference as he was the teams clear MVP of 2004.

2004 Hardball Times Baseball Annual

I just placed an order for the 2004 Hardball Times Baseball Annual. I’ve been waiting on it for a while, and I’m looking forward to its arrival. The guys over at THT do a great job covering baseball, so I look forward to their retrospective of the season. I encourage everyone to check it out.

Thoughts on the 2004 Election

I’m going to deviate from baseball for a moment to blog about the election. I enjoy elections like sporting contests. I have my favorites I root for. As early polls and commentary trickle in, its like watching a team get men on base. Incorrect predictions being reversed are big plays like having a runner thrown out. When a state is called, another run is in. Last night, Kerry had a triple-play turned on him with the bases loaded. As early exit polls buzzed across the net, newscasters could hardly help but tip their hands that they thought it would be a big night for Kerry. Even pro-Bush pundit Pat Buchanan (on MSNBC) tried to piece together several strange back-door ways Bush could still win. Bush could still win at 7pm, Pat? If you had not been following the internet buzz you might have been thoroughly confused.

But things began to shift when Bush started taking the states he was supposed to — like VA, SC, and NC — despite the fact that exit polls were making things murky in these die-hard Bush-states much earlier. When Missouri, Colorado, and Arkansas went Bush, and then Florida, I knew things were back to normal and you could see the confidence fading among the newscasters. This would be a long night. The exit polls were flawed, and the election was going to be as tight as the pre-election polls predicted. Brit Hume on Fox couldn’t hide his disgust with the pollsters, bashing them before every break. Even a PA call for Kerry couldn’t stop the “momentum” shift of the pundits attitudes. I mean, was this really momentum? The game had already been played by this point, with all of the swing-state votes being cast. The outcome was not known — some stubborn pundits say it is still unknown — but it sure felt like Jeff Suppan being picked off third base. Carville on CNN was visibly shaken. I would describe Reagan Jr.’s and Dee-Dee Myers’s attitudes on MSNBC as conciliatory. Bill Kristol beamed on Fox, acting like he actually knows something when it is obvious to everyone that he is just a Republican cheerleader.

One interesting thing was the response of the online betting markets. Entering the election on Tuesday morning , the Iowa Electronic Market (which trades on the popular vote) had the voter virtually even, though it had leaned slightly Bush the day prior. Tradesports had Bush winning the Electoral College at a small but solid margin (about $0.55 for a $1 share) with the popular vote share market a little lower ($0.53). For some more on Tradesports read The Sports Economist’s take. But on the day of the election both markets began to tank for Bush. At one point Kerry shares were selling at about $0.70 in both markets (and may have risen higher after I stopped following). Tradesports’s individual state markets were giving all of the battleground states for Kerry. It looked over for Bush. But, I was perplexed. How could the markets, which had been leaning Bush along with most of the national polls, have been so wrong? Well, it turns out this was just noise or some very bad responses by traders who blindly followed the exit poll data. When the dust cleared, on Tradesports every state that was selling for over 50-cents for Bush went Bush and every state under 50-cents went to Kerry as of 8:20 EST went the way of the prediction. EVERY ONE.

One thing I find odd is the networks’ reluctance to call the race for Bush. He clearly took OH before I went to bed at 12:30 am CST. Only NBC and Fox (which had been more conservative in calling states than the other networks) had given Bush OH. Nevada was going his way, and was soon called by some networks, but inexplicably not NBC and Fox. I guess everyone was being overly cautious to avoid 2000 retractions. But it was clear to me from the raw data in all of these states, especially OH, that Bush was going to win even if Kerry took away a close state or two. With a Republican majority in the House, Bush would win even with the 269 votes (a tie) he finally picked up with OH.

Well, it was a fun night. I enjoyed the suspense of it all. I see that several outlets are reporting Kerry has called Bush to concede. That’s certainly the gracious thing to do. I mean, even Yogi knows it’s over. It’s another four years for Bush.

One final note. Tradesports may miss on one of it’s projections. Bush +280 Electoral votes was selling for $0.42 on Tuesday morning. If Bush takes Nevada, Iowa, and New Mexico he will have 286 Electoral votes.

SIR: Chipper Jones

2004 BA/OBP/SLG: .248/ .362 / .485

Chipper Jones is the heart and soul of the current Braves team. He’s the leader of the team, and even when times were tough Braves fans could always count on Chipper…or so they thought. Chipper’s batting average was a career worst, 22-points below league average. For the first time in 8 years, he hit fewer than 100 RBI. A troubled hamstring limited the 155-game regular to a career low 137 games. As a Braves fan I have something important to say on this, 2004 was my favorite Chipper Jones season of all-time.

Chipper’s 2004 season was a disappointment to many, including Chipper; but, if this was a down year, wow this guy must be good. With an OBP of .362 and a SLG of .485, Chipper’s OPS of .847 was second only to JD Drew among the Braves everyday players. If you ever want to explain to someone why batting average is a poor metric of player performance, Chipper’s 2004 is a fantastic example. As a rule, team-OPS explains about 92% of variance of run per game, while team-BA explains only about 70%. This means that OPS captures more of the good things players do to produce runs. And while Chipper may have hit 8% below the league average BA, he was still 17% above in OPS. I think that is truly amazing, especially considering that Jones could have easily taken two months off to heal the hamstring that pained him all season. How did Chipper do it? Well, with 14% walk rate and a .237 isolated-power, he made the most of his plate appearances. When he didn’t hit, he walked a lot. When he did hit, he hit the ball hard. If he had been healthy enough to get his normal 550 ABs, he would have had 35 homers. Had he hit HRs at his 2002-2003 pace, he would only have had 23. As Chipper closed in on extending his streak of 100 RBI seasons, with runners on base he patiently avoided pitches sailed outside the strike-zone. Walks are valuable to your team. If you care about your team and winning, you may sacrifice opportunities for personal glory when personal goals conflict with the team. What an unselfish player.

2004 also marked the return of Chipper to third base, and boy did he look a lot more comfortable. Considering the Braves outfield depth, and Adam LaRoche playing well at first, I think Chipper will play 2005 in the same place. I think that is a good thing. Hopefully, his power resurgence is real. Maybe he learned something from that aching leg. A healthy Chipper with more power to too much to think about with spring training several months away.