Archive for October, 2006

Rotary Speech

Thanks to the Rotary Club of Etowah (in Cartersville) for inviting me to speak this morning. I enjoyed meeting those who attended. I gave a brief autobiography, talked about my job, and previewed by upcoming book. I will post a text version in a week or so. If you listen to 1450 AM in Cartersville, they plan to replay it soon.

The $20 Million Man

Yesterday, in an interview with Andruw Jones’s agent, Scott Boras, David O’Brien suggested that the Jones may be expecting $20 million/year from his next contract. I’m not sure whether O’Brien’s words were based on speculation or an off-the-record numbers fed to him by Boras, but in any event, it’s interesting to think about what Andruw Jones might be worth this offseason.

As I’ve hinted at here on a few occasions, I’ve developed a method for valuing players, which I will release in my book. I haven’t done the 2006 numbers yet, only 2005. Luckily, Jones’s 2005 and 2006 were very similar. I estimate Andruw’s offensive output was worth about $10.5 million in 2005—I’m still working on a method for capturing defensive value. Let’s assume that his defense is good enough to make him worth exactly what his contract pays him, $13 million, although I think that understates his worth. Can we get AJ to $20 mil? Well, a few recent events make me think that $20 million isn’t so far fetched.

First, MLB attendance and revenues have been rising. The MLB Advanced Media is an example of the league’s recent success. As the league brings in more money, there is more in the pot for owners to spend on players. How much is this going to affect player salaries? Well, let’s look to two players: Tori Hunter and Gary Sheffield.

A few weeks ago, the Twins decided to pick up Hunter’s $12 million option for 2007. When I saw that, I about fell out of my chair. The Twins aren’t a dumb organization, and Hunter isn’t as good or as young as Jones. I have Hunter pegged at $4 million in 2005, but he only played two-thirds of what he played in 2006; but, ajusting for that only gets him to $6 million for a full season of play. He was better by a little in 2006, but not by a lot, let’s put him at $7 million.

Gary Sheffield is upset that the Yankees are picking up his $13 million option for 2007. Sheffield claims that he doesn’t want to play first base, but I think the real reason is that he’s been told by his agent that he’s worth a lot more than that…and I think the Yankees know it. According to my estimate, Sheffield was worth $10 million in 2005. And though he missed much of 2006 with injuries, he should be back producing in 2007. Why else would the Yankees have picked up his option? They are not desperate for a first basemen or a right fielder.

This brings me back to Jones. He’s always been a much better player than Hunter, and he’s younger. He has not reached Sheffield’s heights yet, but I think he’s better than the 38-year-old model that will take the field next season. These guys will make $12 and $13 million next year. I think that there is that possibility that Andruw rises to the next level. He’s a low-risk-high-reward guy, and I suspect many teams view him in the same manner.

I expect that the free agent market this year is going to be exciting, and that Andruw Jones, may be get his $20 million. Whether it will be through an extension with the Braves or for another team in 2007, he’s in for a nice payday. I hope that the Braves hold on to him for one more year. Right now, he’s looking like a steal.

Where Is the Outrage?

For all the flap about steroids that has surrounded baseball for the past few years, I have been surprised few people are complaining about the blatant use of performance-enhancers used in the post-season this year. While we’ve heard a lot about Kenny Rogers’s smudge, the response has been “oh well, that’s part of baseball.” His teammate, Todd Jones, actually defended Rogers by stating he has cheated with pine tar in the past. Of course, it’s not cheating because it’s “accepted”—everybody’s doin’ it. The thing is we have better evidence that Kenny Rogers used pine tar than we do for most of the players the media condemns for using steroids, and there’s no doubt about what the rules say. Rogers should have been tossed and suspended (this is coming from a guy who is rooting hard for Detroit).

Then we have the Scott Rolen “controversy”—not his feud with TLR, but his getting a cortisone shot in his shoulder so that he could play. Cortisone is a steroid, but the kind that is accepted. Why is it accepted? It just is. There is no doubt that it is a PED and that it has potential negative side effects in the long run.

What’s the difference between these actions and using PEDs like HGH or anabolic steroids? “We” have just decided that “we” don’t like it. Pine tar and cortisone get to sit with the cool kids, the others are called out for ridicule.

The Benefits of Maturity

Back in May, I wrote about how age cut-offs for Little League baseball might influence talent in the majors. It wasn’t my theory, I was just inspired by some work on the NHL and World Cup soccer players over at Freakonomics. Also, here is an article that the two Steves wrote for the NY Times Magazine. They were using data to examine the work of psychologist Anders Ericsson.

Levitt and Dubner argue that age-cutoffs can can give the impression that older children in the same age bracket are better than younger children. The older children may be viewed as better by outsiders, and may also enjoy what they are doing because they excel.

Since youth sports are organized by age bracket, teams inevitably have a cutoff birth date. In the European youth soccer leagues, the cutoff date is Dec. 31. So when a coach is assessing two players in the same age bracket, one who happened to have been born in January and the other in December, the player born in January is likely to be bigger, stronger, more mature. Guess which player the coach is more likely to pick? He may be mistaking maturity for ability, but he is making his selection nonetheless. And once chosen, those January-born players are the ones who, year after year, receive the training, the deliberate practice and the feedback — to say nothing of the accompanying self-esteem — that will turn them into elites.

It turns out that parents are now catching on, not just in sports, but in education. In an article in today’s NY Times, Elissa Gootman writes on how parents are now holding their children back from starting school, so that they will be the oldest, rather than the youngest.

Children who turn 5 even in June or earlier are sometimes considered not ready for kindergarten these days, as parents harbor an almost Darwinian desire to ensure that their own child is not the runt of the class. Although a spate of literature in the last few years about boys’ academic difficulties helped prompt some parents to hold their sons back a year, girls, too, are being held back. Yet research on whether the extra year helps is inconclusive.

Fueled by the increasingly rigorous nature of kindergarten and a generation of parents intent on giving their children every edge, the practice is flourishing in New York City private schools and suburban public schools. A crop of 5-year-olds in nursery school and kindergartners pushing 7 are among the most striking results.

“These summer boys have now evolved to including girls and going back as far as March,” said Dana Haddad, admissions director at the Claremont Preparatory School, in Lower Manhattan, referring to children who turned 5 in those months but stayed in nursery school. “It’s become a huge epidemic.” In some corners, the decision of when to enroll a child in kindergarten has mushroomed from a non-issue into an agonizing choice, as anxiety-generating as, well, the private school kindergarten admissions process itself.

I have a September birthday and so does my father. He started school early, and though he rose to the top of his class—valedictorian of his high school and graduated from Duke in three years—he didn’t like being the youngest kid in his class. So, I started school late. What did it get me? Well, let’s just say I was nowhere near being valedictorian (like both of my parents …what a let down that must have been 😉 ) and Duke wouldn’t have taken me even as a legacy. Lucky for me, I got my act together in college.

Checking Up On My Predictions

Back in March, I made a few Braves-related predictions about the 2006 season. How did I do?

— Oscar Villarreal will pitch less than 30 innings.

Well, I missed this one badly. He threw 92.33 innings after the Braves said the D-backs had killed his arm with 98 IP in 2003. OK, some of his Braves innings were as a starter. I figured that Arizona was willing to part with him because he would never regain his rookie form due to injury. The Vulture had quite a bizarre year, throwing atrociously in the first half—if Reitsma hadn’t been so bad I think more people would have noticed—but looking decent in the second half as a long-reliever/spot-starter. I don’t know what to expect in 2007. As long as he’s cheap he’s worth keeping around, but I don’t think he’s anything special.

— Horacio Ramirez is going to have his worst season yet.

No, just more of the same, but not quite. After giving up 1.3 HR per 9 IP during the previous two seasons, HoRam cut his long ball propensity to 0.7 HR per 9IP. Will this trend continue? I doubt it. HoRam is the kind of guy you can live with if you have a decent pitching staff. He’s not great but he can eat some innings. Right now, the Braves need more than that, and the team is seeking to trade him.

— Lance Cormier will be the most-reliable middle-reliever in the pen.

Not even close. At one point he was so bad they sent him to Richmond. I really thought the Braves saw something in him, and I believed he was really the guy they were after in the Estrada deal. I went to see two games this year, and Lance started both of them. In one he struck out ten, in the other he sucked. I think the latter game was a better indicator of the type of pitcher he can be. I hope the Braves are smart enough to keep him out of the rotation in 2007.

— Chris Reitsma will be a solid set-up man or closer.

I still like Chris, and I hope his injury was the cause of his awful pitching. He has been the victim of some bad luck over his career, and I think he’s been treated very poorly by Atlanta fans. But there is no arguing that he had a season that was beyond bad. I expect the Braves will not offer arbitration and he’ll sign with another team for less. I also think he’ll be no worse than the league average reliever. Look for Chris to sign with Cincinnati or Baltimore, where he might find a comfort zone.

— Andruw Jones will make 2005 look mediocre.

Nope, he just repeated 2005, which was pretty good. PrOPS thinks AJ is getting some bum luck. I still think he is capable of having one of those awesome seasons.

— Chipper Jones will continue his excellent play. If he stays healthy, he is an MVP candidate.

I got this one right. Unfortunately, he didn’t stay healthy. Chipper is really overlooked by the baseball establishment, but he’s on the path to the Hall of Fame. I think if he can stay healthy for an entire season he can nail it down.

— Marcus Giles will have an OPS of less than .800.

Nailed it! But, let’s not forget he started the year dealing with some family issues. Marcus is still an above average second baseman. The Braves are going to trade him, and he’ll be happier elsewhere. I’ll miss him when Prado is booting double plays and sporting a shinny .650 OPS.

— Adam LaRoche will have an OPS greater than .800 (does not apply if he isn’t platooned).

Well, he wasn’t even platooned, and had a pretty nice year that PrOPS says wasn’t a fluke. PrOPS also says his poor 2005 was a fluke. I’m still not opposed to trading Adam to get Chipper to first, but if he’s going to be this productive I guess I can live with him. He really deserves a pat on the back for a great year. He’s one of the few people who had been known for his good glove and bad bat, despite having a bad glove and good bat.

— Kelly Johnson will out-hit Jeff Francoeur (assuming KJ stays healthy and isn’t sent to AAA).

NA, because KJ had Tommy John.

— Andy Marte will out-hit Jeff Francoeur (the Indians will find room for him).

Wrong, but this was actually close up until the last week of the season. Marte didn’t adjust well to AAA-Buffalo, which is why he spent much of his season there. But after Aaron Boone sucked his way out of a job, the Indians didn’t have any choice but to call him up. Marte just couldn’t get anything going. I think it was just one bad season. His numbers up until this year lead me to believe he’s still a better prospect than Francoeur.

— Brian McCann will out-hit Jeff Francoeur.

Well, duh. That was an easy one. Sir swings-a-lot did seem to gain some patience towards the end of the year. I’ve given up trying to predict Francoeur. He’ll be Juan Encarnacion or something special, I don’t know. Let’s talk about something else. But it’s time for the Braves to adjust their marketing campaign to focus on McCann, who is a far superior player.

— Johnny Estrada will have an OPS greater than .750.

Johnny finished the season at .773, and PrOPS has him at .763. I think Josh Byrnes has to be happy with the way the trade turned out, but it looks like Johnny will be moving on again.

I thought Estrada’s trade value would have been higher, as PrOPS had him as very unlucky, not to mention that he played most of the season injured.

— The O’s ERA will drop and the Braves ERA will rise. Their ERAs will be within 0.25 runs.

Didn’t happen. For both teams’ sake, I hope that there is an adjustment year for coaches. Mazzone had a tough year, but it doesn’t erase what he accomplished in the past. And we now know that he wasn’t part of Atlanta’s problem. I think Tim Hudson could use a few more egg shells to walk on. You can’t pin the poor pitching on Roger McDowell either. I have no idea how good or bad he is, but it was just one year. The Braves minor league system isn’t producing pitchers, and that’s the real problem. Roger has inherited the same crap Leo had, and I suspect it caused him to be more open to looking elsewhere.

So, there you have it. I’m about as informative as the nickel in your pocket.

Stealing Second

Brian Goff points to an interesting play-by-play study (using Retrosheet data) of player/manager decisions to steal second. The paper, A FIELD TEST OF PROSPECT THEORY: STRATEGIC BEHAVIOR IN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL, 1985-1992, is an example of how social scientists can use the excellent data sets in baseball to test theories of human behavior. I don’t have time to comment on it—I barely had time to glance at it—but, I wanted to pass it along.

Here is the abstract.

Much of the insights and advances in the decision making literature have been
based on lab studies. The scant literature that applies the findings of this literature to
field settings does so at the aggregate or organizational level. Since decisions are made
by individuals but not by organizations per se, research is needed to shed light on the
intricacies of individual decision making in the real world. This study examines decision
making under risk in a field setting. We compare the predictions of prospect theory for
making a risky choice with the predictions of expected utility theory. Using a sample of
Major League Baseball (MLB) teams and a decision situation involving whether or not to
attempt to steal second base, we conclude that prospect theory provides a better
explanation of the decisions that are observed. We argue that, since decisions in the
game of baseball are made under uncertainty, are complex (i.e., rely on a number
interrelated parameters), and require quick actions, our results have important
implications for decision-making in organizations, as within a wide range of
circumstances most business decisions share similar characteristics.

Francoeur Game Winner

The other day someone asked me “Who won the Francoeur Game?” Sorry, it’s taken me so long to get to this. I’m having a very busy October. I am hopeful that I will finish up a big chunk of work before November. I have a lot I want to say about the 2006 season, and I’ll get to it as quickly as I can.

Anyway, I won the game on OPS with a projection of .260/.275/.465 ==> .740 OPS. Francoeur finished with a .260/.293/.449==>.742 line. However, I think Chris Constancio’s projection was the best (.257/.295/.458 => 753 OPS) because he nailed the higher OBP and lower SLG. My prediction just happened to cancel out just right.

If you’re not familiar with Chris, he runs the website, and I’m a big fan. Given that his projection was so close this year—and he made his projection before the season started—I’m a bit worried about his prediction of Jeff’s future.

2007: .263/.301/.468 ==> .769
2008: .264/.303/.475 ==> .778

So, You Want to Be a Sabermetrician

You ought to take a couse in econometrics. You’ll get theory and empirical tools, which are necessary. But, that’s not practical for most, so why not teach yourself by reading one or more of the following.

Studenmund: Understanding Econometrics — A mostly verbal introduction to econometrics by a baseball fan. Well-written and not intimidating.

Kennedy: A Guide to Econometrics — A quick and practical guide that is affordable.

Wooldridge: Introductory Econometrics — My favorite intro book.

Stock and Watson: Introduction to Econometrics — I like this book a good bit.

In Case You’re Interested

Phil Birnbaum isn’t too happy with me.

But to J.C. Bradbury, that research might as well not exist.

As he writes, all that research was done only by the “analytical baseball community” – not by reputable Ph.D.s in economics. It has not undergone “formal peer review.” Further, “it has not been tested with sufficient statistical rigor” and “has undergone very little formal scrutiny.” It does not use “proper econometric techniques.”

And so Dr. Bradbury sets out to correct this. How? Not by reviewing the existing research, and validating it academically. Not by finding those studies which have “insufficient statistical rigor” and analyzing them statistically. Not by summarizing what’s already out there and criticizing it.

No, Dr. Bradbury’s paper ignores it. Completely. He mentions none of it in his article, not even in the bibliography. Instead, Dr. Bradbury’s explains his own study as if it’s the first and only test of the DIPS hypothesis.

This happens all the time in academic studies involving baseball. Years of sabermetric advances, as valid as anything in the journals, are dismissed out of hand because of a kind of academic credentialism, an assumption that only formal academic treatment entitles a body of knowledge to be considered, and the presumption that only the kinds of methods that econometricians use are worthy of acknowledgement.

What kind of person would I be if I didn’t acknowledge my critics? I’m not sure why Phil is so angry with me, and I don’t think he chose the best forum to address his concerns. I guess I should apologize for knowing some econometrics, since it’s only useful for out-credentialing other scholars. If you read the paper, I think it’s very clear that I’m not claiming to have invented DIPS, just trying to replicate it for an academic audience, then to test how well the labor market values DIPS. I’m not sure that it warrants a detour through a few studies on the Internet. I think it’s a pretty pro-sabermetric paper.

The paper he’s discussing is an earlier version of a paper of mine that is forthcoming in Journal of Sports Economics. I don’t own the copyright to the newest version, so I can’t post it, but I’ll tell you that the cluster of years where BABIP seems to matter disappears when I make some slight changes to the model. Also, the results hold for runs allowed as well as ERA. These modifications were the result of some excellent suggestions by an anonymous referee. If you’re reading, thanks!

Sometimes I wonder, if everyone is just going to assume I’m a professor ass-hat, maybe I ought to just act like the real deal. And now I’m off to devour my sons.

Addendum: More comments at BTF.