Archive for August, 2006

Is Oswalt Worth It?

Yesterday, Roy Oswalt signed a 5-year, $73 million deal with the Houston Astros, which averages out to $14.6 million per year. That’s quite a contract, and the obvious question is: “how much is Roy Oswalt worth?” Last year, I developed a method for valuing players based on player contributions to winning and what those wins translate into in terms of team revenue. It’s a method that I detail in my book, which will be out in March. Whenever I see a contract like this signed, I pull up the numbers to see what I’ve predicted he’s worth. In 2005, my model predicts that Oswalt was worth $14.9 million dollars, which is pretty darn close to his new annual salary. That made him eighth most valuable player in baseball that year, and only $50,000 less than Roger Clemens, who threw 30 fewer innings.

Oswalt has been consistent over the past three seasons, so I think it’s reasonable to expect him to continue at his current level of performance over the next few years. The bad news for the Astros is that they didn’t get a bargain. The good news is you get what you pay for, and Oswalt is pretty darn good.

Steroids in the NFL

I’m surprised that this story isn’t getting more press. There’s too much in the story to summarize, so I’ll just quote a few paragraphs. But, you really ought to read the whole story, which names names.

The federal steroids case involving members of the Carolina Panthers Super Bowl team provides an unprecedented look at what some athletes risk to play professional sports, including one player who may have gambled with his life.

Medical records made public in court documents reveal that players were given multiple refillable steroid prescriptions and that some suffered unwanted, appearance-altering symptoms, prompting more prescriptions.

The medical records also raise questions that undercut the National Football League’s claim that its steroids testing program is the best in pro sports.

“Several of them were using disturbing, particularly alarmingly high amounts with high dosages for long durations — some in combinations,” said steroids expert Dr. Gary Wadler, who reviewed the medical records and prepared a report for the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “This wasn’t just a passing flirtation with these prohibited substances.

“When I see (prescriptions) `renewed five times,’ I say, `What are you trying to accomplish?’ ”

Wadler’s report was used by prosecutors in the case against Dr. James Shortt, formerly of West Columbia, S.C., who was sentenced last month to one year and one day in prison after pleading guilty to illegally distributing steroids and human growth hormone (HGH).

I found this fact a bit disturbing.

Williams becomes the second Panthers player, joining Sauerbrun, linked to stanozolol in the Shortt case. Stanozolol is a powerful, highly detectable steroid that cost Ben Johnson his world record and gold medal in the 100-meter dash at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

Steroids expert and recently retired Penn State professor Dr. Charles Yesalis said it’s hard to fathom how two Panthers players could have used stanozolol without failing an NFL drug test if the system works as well as the league suggests.

Sounds to me like someone was being tipped off about the tests.

Addendum: Sean Forman does a little poking around and finds the Panthers steroid scandal isn’t getting much attention from any of the media outlets. And he adds this in the comments:

What do you think would happen if a large steroid ring were uncovered in the 2004 St. Louis Cardinals?

Heck, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa taken much more heat for steroid rumors. The Panthers scandal has the medical records of a doctor in jail.

My Tooth

So where have I been all week? Well, mostly I’ve been busy with the first week of classes, but also I had my left-front tooth removed after years of trouble. It was ankylosed (fused to my skull) and decaying below the gum line. Here’s an X-ray.

JC's tooth

As you can see, it was quite sick. Lucky for me, it’s been dead for years, so it never caused me pain. Also lucky, was that the extraction procedure went smoother than expected. It was the most pleasant dental experience I’ve ever had, although I was a little scared to have dental surgery done in Lilburn—Jeff Francoeur’s home town. Thanks to Dr. Forest Butler for his excellent work. I recommend him to anyone.

Anyway, I just wanted an excuse to post this really cool digital X-ray.

Bagels and Steroids

I find myself in an awkward position in discussions on steroids. I’ve written quite a bit on the subject, mostly critical of those who claim steroids are ruining the game. The reason for this is that I don’t see anything in the stats that shows players are getting much help from PEDs. However, this is a different issue from whether or not players are using them.

I understand that the incentives are such that if steroids do improve performance that we ought to expect players to use them. If you think you can get a boost over your competitors, many of whom you suspect of juicing, why not? This leads me to wonder: how many players use steroids? Ken Caminiti suggested a at least 50%. Tony Gwynn estimated it’s 20%. At a minimum, MLB’s tests from the 2003 season show 5-7% of players “failed” steroid tests, though “failure” included those who refused to be tested.

Quantifying dishonest behavior is difficult. Even when you promise amnesty for revealing bad behavior, people just don’t like to cop to it. So, all we have to go on in baseball is information from three sources. First, we have the testimony of players with every incentive to bias their estimates upwards (i.e., Caminiti and Conseco)—”hey, everybody is doing it, I’m not such bad guy.” Then we have the guessers like Gwynn, which reminds me of smelling marijuana in the in high school locker room. You smell a funny smell so you know it’s going on. You have a general idea of who’s responsible, but you don’t want any problems so keep your head down and don’t ask any questions. Names and numbers are based on hunches. Then we have the “anonymous” tests—tests that everyone knows are coming with logistics that make instant testing impossible. And let’s not forget that these tests can be beaten.

I think between 10-15% of major league baseball players use some type of illegal PED. Where do I get this number? From looking at cheating where we can identify it: the bagel man from Freakonomics. If you haven’t read the book or don’t recall, Paul Feldman is the economist who quit his job to be a full-time bagel supplier on a quasi-honor system in Washington, DC. And like an economist should, he payed close attention to the data he was generating. For the specifics of his findings read the book or the linked article, but the in the end he found that about 13% of his customers didn’t pay for his bagels. It seems to me that this is a good place to start in looking for the percentage of players willing to juice in MLB. If 87% of the population is honest enough not to steal bagels, that’s probably close to the percentage of players who are unwilling to use steroids to get ahead.

Certainly, the rewards are higher for juicers than for bagel thieves, but I believe that the ethical constraints that prevent cheating are similar despite the reward. Though I think there is some moral wiggle room, either you are honest or you are not. And I don’t think ballplayers are any more or less honest than the general population.

Thorman Sent Down

Yesterday, the Braves sent Scott Thorman back to Richmond. It’s an interesting move, but understandable given available options, injuries, and the horrendous pitching. But, when looking at the stats, I also noticed this:

Thorman: .255/.290/.461/.751
Francoeur: .256/.281/.447/.728


Sabernomics passed the 200,000 visit mark this morning. I’m not sure exactly what constitutes a “visit,” but I’m happy that people stop by to see what I have to say. I’ve been doing this for two and a half years, and it’s still fun. Thanks to all of you.

Marcus Giles Is Standing Up

A college buddy of mine used to always be the butt of the joke whenever having his picture taken. “Stand up, Rob” someone would always say. And you see that was supposed to be funny because he wasn’t sitting down, just shorter than everyone else. (You’re right, that’s not very funny.) I’m sure Marcus Giles has heard it during every team picture he’s posed for, because it’s a really old joke. Though Marcus is short in stature, he has a reputation for carrying a big bat, that is, until this year. For the previous three seasons (all as a full-time player) he’s posted OPS of .921, .821, and .826; not bad for a second basemen.

His 2006 season hasn’t gone so well. After getting off to a slow start, he’s posted an OPS of .756. Early on, some Braves fans attributed his drop-off to going off steroids (jerks). Others suggested the premature birth of his second child during spring training slowed him down. I have my own theory: Marcus is the exactly the same. Here are Marcus’s last four seasons in OPS and PrOPS.

Year      OPS       PrOPS
2003      .911       .825
2004      .819       .774
2005      .831       .750
2006      .756       .776

Mean      .829       .781

Marcus has been a bit hit-unlucky in 2006, but his OPS is closer to his PrOPS lines of the previous seasons than his previous OPS. Also interesting is that prior to the 2006 season, I projected OPS for all MLB players. The model predicted Giles would hit .776. It’s partly an eerie coincidence that his PrOPS is exactly what the model predicted, but the point is that though Marcus Giles is a decent offensive second baseman, he hasn’t been as good as his numbers. Furthermore, he’s hitting the ball this year the same as he always has, and the on-field results reflect this even though he’s hit a little better than his numbers indicate.

What does this mean for PrOPS? Not much. I’m just screwing around with the numbers of one individual. The model isn’t nailing every player. However, when I tested the model on past seasons, it predicted reasonably well.

What does this mean for Marcus Giles? Don’t ask him to stand up, he already is.

Addendum: Jeff at SwingTraining notes that Marcus is literally standing up more now than he used to.

Do Southpaws Get a Fair Shake in MLB? Part 2: Pitchers

My first attempt to look at the compensation of lefties in the big leagues focused solely on hitters. I found, contrary to findings in “the real world,” that lefty hitters earned about a quarter of a million dollars less than equally skilled right-handed batters. However, there are few problems with the analysis; the biggest one being that I only used hitting stats and lefties don’t play a few positions of high defensive importance. I can think of some ways to control for this, but all of them are a royal pain. Instead, let’s look at pitchers.

Just like in the analysis of hitters, I include only pure left and right-handed players—no switch hitters or players who throw and bat with opposite hands. I estimate the impact of pitching performance (estimated through strikeouts, walks, home runs, and innings pitched), age, and handedness on yearly salary for free agent eligible pitchers. I used two samples: more than 100 innings pitched and less than 100 but with a minimum of 30 innings pitched. This should roughly capture starters and relievers. I care less about that starter/reliever designation than I do about getting an adequate sample size.

The results are interesting. For the starters sample, lefties earn about $233,000 more than equally skilled right-handed pitchers. This fits with the findings from the general work force. Again, the relationship is not statistically significant, but it’s close, with a t-statistic of 1.55 (p-value of 0.12). This is about 7.5%, which is about half as large as the effect found in the general labor force. I find it interesting that you often hear left starters described as “crafty.” Maybe there is something to it. These guys are deceptive and smart, and have higher opportunity costs outside of baseball. I’d be curious to see the handedness of pitchers turned TV commentators, scouts, instructors, etc.

For relievers, the findings are nearly the mirror image, and the estimate is statistically significant. Southpaw relievers earn about $209,000 less than equally skilled right-handed pitchers, which is similar to what I found for position players. Hmm, maybe this has to do with LOOGY duties of lefty relievers. Because many left-handed relievers are used only against other lefties there are a lot of marginal pitchers who hang around. This may reduce the bargaining strength of each other because teams can just say, “look, if you don’t sign this contract I’m just going to bring up some random kid from triple-A or sign Mike Remlinger.” And because there are very few ROOGYs, marginal righties are more likely to find a real job if they are on the margin. OK folks, this is what is called a stretch, but it seems somewhat plausible.

I post the results below. Feel free to add comments.

Var.	Coef.		T-stat
K9	$408,358	7.29
BB9    	-$294,948	-3.78
HR9    	-$865,822	-3.65
Age    	$371,375	1.59
Age2	-$4,417		-1.27
IP    	$8,410		5.37
Lefty	$230,654	1.57
R2    	0.47	
Var.	Coef.		T-stat
K9    	$219,657	6.92
BB9    	-$186,071	-3.74
HR9    	$269,649	1.81
Age    	$645,741	2.52
Age2	-$9,295		-2.43
IP    	$8,468		2.41
Lefty	-$209,337	-1.98
R2    	0.25
(Constant and year effects not reported)

Albert on Andruw

Jeff Albert of, whom you may remember for his video analysis of Jeff Francoeur (Part 1|Part 2), is this week’s DH at The Baseball Analysts. In his two part series, he takes a look at Alex Rodriguez and Andruw Jones.

Let me just say that this is just really cool, and Jeff is doing some great stuff. I don’t understand the mechanics all that well, but these pictures show the power that Andruw gained in 2005 (on the right).

AJ at the plate

Jeff’s analysis is very interesting, too.

We see in the side view that his weight and upper body are distributed more toward his front leg which will provide a more stable base (as described in part 1). The description of spinning hips in part 1 also asserted that good movement into the front leg will help keep the front hip from “pulling off” (remember the pen example?). Judging by the stripe on his pant leg in the front view, this is the case for Jones. I do not imagine that Jones hit 22 more HRs because he had became significantly stronger over the off season, but he did figure out a way to get more out of what he already had. Strength is relatively useless if it is not applied through an efficient swing.

We now have an idea about the new position he was in that enabled him to hit with more power, but there has to be a reason why his position in 2005 is better than 2004. This is another area where the front view is helpful because it shows Jones with a little more flex in the knees and more loading in the area of his hips and upper legs. If you want to get a feel for it, stand straight up with your feet directly under you. You can stand there all day because your muscles are basically doing nothing. Now spread your feet out and squat slightly and there will be much more tension created by active muscles that are now working to support your stance. When you do a squat in the gym, this is why it is much more difficult to get up from the bottom of the squat than it is to just stand straight up with the bar across your shoulders. It’s the difference between your muscles being eccentrically stretched/loaded as opposed to doing nothing.

This general comment on hitting is also quite useful for analyzing all hitters.

The real significance of adjustment for A-Rod’s and Jones’ adjustments has much less to do with how far they are moving forward or how wide their stance is and much more to do with how those things allow them to initiate the swing. A-Rod and Jones can change their stance, stride, or anything else they want as long as they are prepared to launch their swings like they did in 2005. Once this is established, the right phrase or thought can bridge the gap between graphic details and actual on-field adjustments that produce major league results.

Keep up the good work, Jeff.


Several people have sent me e-mails saying that the comments are messed up. I think I identified the problem, but please let me know if the problem persists.