Archive for June, 2006

Indirect Insult

In today’s The Chicago Sun-Times, Gary Crouch discusses last weekend’s article on luck in The Wall Street Journal, which featured yours truly. He views the article positively, but he insinuates that I wasn’t such a good baseball player in my youth.

It’s always fun when professors, scientists and experts explain sports and how they can be broken down not into sweat and hard work, but rather into scientific equations. Remember the kid who always was forced to play right field, standing there pushing the glasses back up off his nose? Well, he had to grow up and do something. In this case, though, several teams are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for his research.

First, I don’t wear glasses…not that there’s anything wrong with that. Second, I was a power-hitting first baseman who once hit two home runs—the kind that go over the fence— in one game. I batted third and made my league’s All-Star team.

Just setting the record straight. 🙂

Mazzone Homecoming

I’ve been looking forward to Friday for a long time: the O’s come to Atlanta for the first time since Leo Mazzone took his magic bag to Baltimore. I’d planned to go to at least one game, but it looks like I won’t make it. Since I published my study on Leo’s effectiveness last year at The Baseball Analysts, I was curious to see how he and Braves pitchers would do away from each other. The interesting development of Russ Ortiz making his first start under Mazzone against the Braves on Saturday is going to put Mazzone in the spotlight even more.

It’s very hard to get a sense of what has really happened since Mazzone left. For one, there’s the sample size issue. There are so many factors involved in ERA differences across teams, and ERA is a statistic that varies widely; this requires a larger sample than half-a-season. Second, the two teams play in different leagues with very different pitchers. Straight comparisons of ERAs would tell us very little even if we had an adequate sample.

One way to look at this is to compare the pitchers Leo coached last year on the Braves to their performances this year. I looked at this in this post, and found that those pitchers were doing considerably worse this year. Although, I didn’t look at the Orioles.

Another way to look at the issue is compare how the overall staffs of the O’s and Braves are doing this year versus last year. While both teams have experienced some turnover, there are many constants on both teams. So, here is a second way to look at the teams. The table shows the differences in ERAs between this season and last season, with a few corrections.

      		BAL    ATL    Difference
2006 (Raw)    	5.18    4.67    0.51
2006 (RC)    	4.96    4.37    0.59
2006 (LC)    	4.76    4.37    0.39
2005 (Raw)	4.57    3.99    0.58
2005 (LC) 	4.37  	3.99 	3.38
Difference    	0.37    0.38    -0.01

The first row is the raw ERA of both teams in 2006. The second subtracts the difference in runs between this year and last year, as both leagues are yielding more earned runs than last year. The third row corrects for the differences in ERA between leagues, by subtracting the average difference in ERAs between leagues from the Orioles (I could have added it to the Braves). The fourth row lists the 2005 ERAs of both clubs, and the fifth corrects for the difference between leagues. The last row reports the difference between the roughly-corrected 2006 ERAs to the 2005 (LC) ERAs.

As everybody knows, both clubs’ pitching staffs have not done well this year, and their fortunes have been quite similar. What does this show? I have no idea, probably not much at all. It’s likely that both clubs are struggling to adapt to new pitching coaches.

It’s also interesting to look at the ERAs over time. As of late the O’s and Braves have been moving in opposite directions.

Month	O's 	Braves
April 	5.54  	4.56
May 	5.54  	4.48
June 	4.43 	4.98

The O’s have done much better in June, but is this a random fluctuation or a sign of things to come? It’s interesting to note that back in April, Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo suggested June as the time Mazzone’s influence would show.

All along Orioles Manager Sam Perlozzo has tried to temper people’s expectations about Mazzone. He wouldn’t work miracles right away, warned Perlozzo, who believes that by June people will see tangible evidence of why Mazzone is considered the best pitching coach in baseball.

“I don’t think that’s unreasonable,” Perlozzo said. “Right now with many of the guys being away at the [World Baseball] Classic they’re learning on the job right now. You have certain habits you’re used to. And it takes practice. I think you’ll see [Mazzone’s effect] later on.”

Obviously, it’s too early to tell what is going on, but I watch with great anticipation.

Addendum: I’m going to link to stories discussing Mazzone’s return here. If you see others, I’d appreciate it if you would please pass them along. Mazzone returns to roots vs. Braves Welcome back, Leo

AJC (Stinson): Mazzone Busy in Baltimore

Baltimore Sun: Mound of Difference

AJC (Moore): Mazzone Not Appreciated Enough

Capellan Is Voldemort

If you’re not familiar with Harry Potter, this will make no sense. Even if you are, it’s a stretch.

In Harry Potter, Tom Riddle (a.k.a. Voldemort, “he who must not be named”) approaches Albus Dumbledore about the Defense Against the Dark Arts teaching vacancy at Hogwarts. Dumbledore denies his request, and Voldemort curses the job. No future teacher of the subject ever lasted beyond the year, and Voldemort goes on to do great, but terrible, things.

It seems that Jose Capellan seems to have done the same thing to the Braves. Instead of installing him as closer, the Braves traded him to Milwaukee. Ever since, the Braves closer job has been cursed, with previously good pitchers having a tough time with the job: Dan Kolb, Chris Reitsma, Kyle Farnsworth, Reitsma again (apparently the curse gets worse), Ken Ray, and now Jorge Sosa.

OK, so Cappy hasn’t been so hot in Milwaukee, and maybe he wasn’t exactly next in line to be closer. But hey, it’s only a blog.

Putting Francoeur in Perspective

It’s hard to get mad at Jeff Francoeur. He’s flashy young player with speed and power. The stat-heads of the Braves community have been criticizing Francoeur for his plate discipline. This of course drives most baseball fans crazy. “He’s on a pace to hit over 30 home runs and 100 RBI! How can you complain about that?” Well, it’s true that Jeff has done some things well. But the thing he’s been most exceptional at is not knocking in runs but making outs.

While we’re talking about outs let’s see how many outs Francoeur projects to produce compared to the entire history of baseball.

Rank	Player			Team	YEAR	OPS	Outs
1	Horace Clarke		NYA	1970	0.595	514
2	Juan Samuel		PHI	1984	0.749	510
2	Tom Brown		LOU	1892	NA	510
2	Sandy Alomar		CAL	1971	0.621	510
5	Omar Moreno		PIT	1980	0.631	508
6	Jose Reyes		NYN	2005	0.687	506
7	Frankie Crosetti	NYA	1939	NA	503
7	Sandy Alomar		CAL	1970	0.596	503
9	Bobby Richardson	NYA	1965	0.609	500
10	Omar Moreno		PIT	1979	0.714	499
10	Woody Jensen		PIT	1936	NA	499
10	Roger Metzger		HOU	1972	0.547	499
10	Bill Virdon		PIT	1962	0.631	499
10	Jeff Francoeur* 	ATL	2006	0.710	499

*Projected for 2006 through 6/26/2006

Francoeur is on a pace to produce nearly 500 outs this season, which would be one of the top-10 out-making seasons of all time. And Horace Clark’s record is within reach.

In terms of home runs and RBIs, Francoeur’s numbers do look good; however, that’s only because people who put up those types of numbers don’t make as many outs as Francoeur does. If all you had was his projected traditional batting line of .250/ 32/116, you’d be right to guess that the player was having a good season. Of players who hit more than 30 but less than 35 home runs in a season, they average an OPS of .893 and produce 389 outs. That’s a HUGE difference: an OPS of 180 points higher and 110 fewer outs.

All of this reminds me of a quote by 19th century French economist Frederic Bastiat in his essay That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen.

In the department of economy, an act, a habit, an institution, a law, gives birth not only to an effect, but to a series of effects. Of these effects, the first only is immediate; it manifests itself simultaneously with its cause – it is seen. The others unfold in succession – they are not seen: it is well for us, if they are foreseen. Between a good and a bad economist this constitutes the whole difference – the one takes account of the visible effect; the other takes account both of the effects which are seen, and also of those which it is necessary to foresee. Now this difference is enormous, for it almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favourable, the ultimate consequences are fatal, and the converse.

As fans, we see the home runs and runs batted in. They are visible good events that we recall fondly, because they directly produce runs. In a game where an out is the most common outcome, outs do not have the same visible impact on run production and they don’t stick in our memories. Furthermore, players who tend to do the good things Jeff does don’t normally do the bad things. In fact no player who has ever hit between 30 and 35 home runs in a season has posted as many outs as Francoeur projects to produce this season— the highest out total was 479 (Leon Wagner, 1964), and the lowest OPS was .728 (Tony Batista, 2004).

I don’t mean to pick on Francoeur, but he has a serious deficiency that needs to be addressed. I understand that he’s young, but I would like to see some signs than the Braves are working with him to solve the problem. I understand developing plate discipline isn’t easy, but it’s something that has got to happen.

Review: Game of Shadows

Over the weekend, I sat down and read Game of Shadows from cover to cover. And, while I have a few problems with the book, I think it’s very interesting and informative about the influence of BALCO. When I first thumbed through it in the book store, I wasn’t impressed. But as a whole the book works, and I’m glad I decided to read it. I will admit that I know nothing about the chemicals discussed and their effects on the body. This stuff could be entirely wrong, but I haven’t seen any scientist dispute this yet.

Fainaru-Wanda and Williams, the SF Chronicle reporters who broke the BALCO story, have put together an easy-to-read narrative of the history of BALCO—with particular emphasis on it’s founder, Victor Conte—based on their own investigative reporting. The authors paint Conte as an intelligent but slimy entrepreneur who set up a side business of helping athletes use performance-enhancing drugs and beat drug tests. The Clear, the Cream, EPO, and HGH were all offered by BALCO with the intent to help athletes break the rules without detection.

The BALCO story has been reported through baseball, but Conte’s impact on track and field was much greater. Contrary to his baseball persona, where he operated largely behind the scenes through Barry Bonds’s trainer, Greg Anderson, Conte was the man with the little black bag on the field at most important track and field competitions. His ties to Tim Montgomery and Marion Jones are direct and much more incriminating than his relationship with Bonds. And it should be no surprise that Conte was ultimately busted by a bitter track coach.

The baseball connection appears to be real. Several sources point to use of BALCO products by a handful of major leaguers, with the biggest names being Bonds, Jason Giambi, and Gary Sheffield. If the grand jury testimony is true, and I don’t think there is reason to believe it isn’t, then BALCO was selling its product to a few baseball players. But here is a big problem. I feel extremely guilty reading a book that uses leaked grand jury testimony. The problem is that these are just accusations, and the accused have no way to respond until this goes to trial.

Another problem I have with the book—although it’s not distracting because I’m used to it—is how casually the authors throw around accusations as facts about athletes not involved in the BALCO scandal. Mark McGwire supposedly achieved his heights because of steroids, which simultaneously caused him to quit. This is just mentioned casually, as if it must be true. There is no evidence of this. The same goes for Sammy Sosa. Maybe Bonds thought they did, and that motivated him to use, but I don’t put much stock in Jose Conseco’s word. And while Maris’s home run record has been broken six times since 1998, this is not proof of anything. And I don’t like the way the old game is painted as innocent, either. Steroids are older than all of the players in the game, including Julio Franco. I don’t know when they entered baseball, and we’ve known for some time amphetamines have been used by players.

Another contribution of the book is that it shows steroids aren’t just some magic bullet. Bonds’s workout regimen is amazing. He works hard, every day. Maybe the drugs help him do so, but it’s not easy. The question is, how much of Bonds’s success is a product of PEDs (assuming he used them) and how much is effort and talent? I don’t know, but try this little thought experiment: Would Maris’s home run record have been broken without the aid of steroids? Without a doubt, my response is YES. And given Bonds home run prowess, he was a likely candidate to break the record, even without help. Players not involved in the steroid speculation have demonstrated the ability to come close. 36 times players have hit 50 or more home runs in a season, 17 occurred before 1990. 18 occurred after the league expanded in 1993, I think it’s very likely to be the main factor. And if you want to blame steroids for these new home run highs, then you’re accusing Brady Anderson, Ken Griffey, Jr., Luis Gonzalez, Jim Thome, and Andruw Jones, too. Some people have, and that’s just wrong. Of course, maybe the juice was enough to put McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds over the edge. I don’t know, but neither does anyone else. For the most part, the media has been very irresponsible about this, and it ought to be more careful in its coverage.

Another interesting thing I noticed is the paltry dollar sums the athletes paid to Conte. If the benefits were so large, why were players paying only a few thousand dollars for them? I guess part of the reason is that he used these athletes to promote his legitimate nutritional supplements. But still, it sounds like the development, distribution, and testing costs are pretty hefty.

Like I said, it’s an interesting read. I look forward to seeing how this plays out in a full trial…if there is one.

WSJ on Luck in Baseball

Russell Adams discusses extracting luck from baseball statistics in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal.

By tallying minute details about every hit ball, statistics gurus say they can compute how much of a player’s accomplishments stem from random factors. The results could affect which free agents should get top dollar after a great season and suggest which teams are likely to hold up in the pennant race.

I make an appearance to discuss ProPS (2006 numbers at The Hardball Times).

For J.C. Bradbury, economics professor at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., the desire to understand the role of chance in baseball started with a slump. In 2004, Atlanta Braves star Chipper Jones’s hitting numbers were suffering. Even though Mr. Jones appeared to be hitting the ball well, he wasn’t getting on base or hitting for power at his normal rate.

So Prof. Bradbury looked for statistics that would isolate the hitter’s role in each at-bat — and exclude the performance of the pitcher and fielders. The starting point was a mound of data on the characteristics of each ball put into play by Mr. Jones. Based on historical data on balls hit in similar ways, Prof. Bradbury estimated what should have happened, statistically speaking, in Mr. Jones’s at bats.

In this approach, a ball hit on a trajectory that would typically send it past the fielder for a base hit counted as a hit for Mr. Jones regardless of whether he was called out in real life. Turns out, there were many such instances for Mr. Jones. Prof. Bradbury concluded the Braves star was suffering from a run of bad luck — an indication he was likely to perform significantly better the next season. Indeed, in 2005, Mr. Jones’s batting average bounced back to .296 from .248. “I was quite surprised at how well it predicted player performance,” says Prof. Bradbury.

This topic interests me very much, and think Russell does an excellent job of covering the topic. I’d like to thank him for including me in the article.

Why Moving Sosa to the Bullpen Won’t Help

Yesterday, Bobby Cox announced that he is moving Jorge Sosa to the bullpen. It’s sort of a strange move considering that both Sosa and the bullpen have been bad. [Insert Titanic-deck-chair cliche here.] Some people have high hopes for Sosa in this role, possibly as a closer, because of his “stuff”—a quality that always makes me roll my eyes when it’s mentioned. By putting him in one-inning situations, Sosa can throw harder for a shorter period of time. There’s nothing wrong with that logic, either. You could also point out that Sosa pitches better in the first inning than in any other inning that he pitches. Take a look:

Inning 1	0.234	0.250	0.511	0.761
Inning 1-3	0.283	0.321	0.507	0.828
Inning 4-6	0.341	0.367	0.619	0.986
Inning 7-9	0.333	0.500	0.444	0.944

While a .761 OPS-allowed isn’t necessarily something to be proud of, he’s clearly pitching better earlier in the game than later. The idea is that he gets fatigued as the game goes on; thus, he should he should pitch better in short relief stints. But before anyone gets too excited, take a look at his first inning numbers a little more closely.

Inning		AB	HR	BB	K
Inning 1	47	4	1	10
Inning 1-3	152	9	10	26
Inning 4-6	126	8	8	19
Inning 7-9	9	0	2	0

The strikeout-to-walk ratio is nice, but the FOUR home runs is not good. That’s about 3 HR per 9 IP, which is Travis Smith bad. But the news only gets worse. Look at his numbers by pitches.

1-15	44	4	1	9	0.273	0.283	0.568	0.851
16-30	51	4	5	6	0.216	0.281	0.451	0.732
31-45	54	2	4	11	0.370	0.407	0.611	1.018
46-60	42	1	4	7	0.310	0.354	0.429	0.783
61-75	44	2	1	4	0.318	0.313	0.568	0.881
76-90	31	2	4	6	0.258	0.343	0.548	0.891
91-105	23	2	2	2	0.478	0.519	0.826	1.345
106-120	3	0	1	0	0.333	0.500	0.333	0.833

In his first 15 pitches he’s been pretty darn bad. When I see him running out of the bullpen, I’m not going to have any more comfort than I have had. I doubt the Braves are expecting much either. This move is more about improving the starting rotation than improving the bullpen. Chuck James needs a place to pitch, and it was either him or HoRam. The bottom line is that Sosa just isn’t a very good pitcher. He’s certainly better than some, and he does have some value, but there is not much here to get excited about. Hopefully, he’ll prove me wrong.

I Think I See the Problem

From the AJC.

“[Jorge] Sosa did alright,” Cox said of the Braves starter, who allowed four runs in six innings. “Four runs against that team is not bad. But we gave them two extra runs after we tied it. That was the difference.”

Four runs in six innings—an ERA of 6.00 off two HRs and a 5/3 K/BB ratio—is alright? Those are some pretty low expectations. Well, at least he’s being realistic.

New Logo

Thanks to my cousin, Charlie, for designing the new logo for the site.

The Mood in Bravesnation

Braves Cartoon

From today’s AJC.

When I was growing up, jokes like this were in the paper every day.