Archive for December, 2006

Links to Pre-Order The Baseball Economist

I’m taking a break from blogging for the next few days, so I just want to thank all of you for a wonderful 2006 and wish you the best in 2007. I enjoy the feedback I get—well, 99% of it 🙂 — and I’m flattered that people check in to see what I have to say. 2007 looks to be a busy year for me, with the publication of my book and the birth of my second child, both in March. There may be some slow posting periods on the blog, but I will find the time to write. It’s something I have to do to keep my sanity.

And now, here comes the shameless plug. The publication date (March 15) for my book, The Baseball Economist, is fast approaching, and several bookstores have made it available for pre-order. So when you’re thinking about what to do with that gift card you got for Christmas or Hanukkah, please consider using it on The Baseball Economist.

I’ve placed links to the book for several bookstores on the left sidebar (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, Chapter 11, Powell’s). If your favorite bookstore has a link to the book, and I haven’t listed it, please pass it along so I can add it.

Happy Christmas!


How Much Is Too Much?

In today’s New York Times, Murray Chass expresses his feelings about free agent contracts signed during this offseason.

Matthews, at 32, is too old to be called a child, but he is a poster child for the latest economic excesses of the owners. Gil Meche is on the poster with Matthews, and there’s enough room on it to include a bunch of others as well.

The owners are out of control and, as usual, they have no one to blame but themselves….

Like workers in other industries, professional athletes should be able to earn as much as they can, with no artificial restraints, like payrolls caps, limiting their pay. Rock singers and rappers can do it. So can actors and television anchors. Why not athletes?

But in their desperation to add a lusty hitter or an effective pitcher, the owners lose all perspective and spend exorbitantly and foolishly.

So, my question to Chass is this: How much should Gary Matthews and the other players mentioned in the article—Gil Meche, Ted Lilly, Vicente Padilla, Jason Marquis, and Daisuke Matsuzaka—be paid? If you know that these contracts are too high, then you ought to know what the right contract is. So please, share that information with us.

I understand that these contracts are much higher than we’ve seen in recent history, and I can’t say that any of these contracts are optimal. However, MLB has experienced an increase in revenue growth, so the up-tick in salaries is expected. How much of a rise is a difficult question to answer; therefore, stating that these salaries are foolish, without any support for why, is a bit of a stretch.

Dominican Baseball Agents

There is an interesting article on the agent system for putting Dominican kids in Major League Baseball in The Washington Post. The article focuses on Nationals prospect Esmailyn Gonzalez and his agent (buscone), Basilio Vizcaino. Buscones are agents who find talent before MLB teams can sign them (after their 16th birthday). They groom, feed, and clothe them so that they can make the big leagues. In return, buscones receive a 10-30% share of the signing bonus.

Of course, there are problems with this method, because the agents are in a position where they can do all sorts of things, such as juice players steroids (or worse) and sign contracts that give the agents much more than 30% of the signing bonus. While MLB acknowledges the problems with the system, there is not much it can do. And at least the incentives encourage agents to improve the lives of Dominican’s with baseball talent.

“I hate to say it, I hate to admit it: It really do work in [the players’] favor,” said Jose Rijo, a native of nearby San Cristobal who pitched 14 years in the majors and now serves in the Nationals’ front office. “Now, we got kids 13 years old, 14 years old with talent. [The buscones] feed them, give them some better instruction, give them a chance to develop every day. If you go back to the old system, nobody would discover them, nobody would help them.”

“We do have a concern,” MLB’s Peralta said. “But I have to be honest with you, and I want to state for the record: Buscones, or independent scouts, are a very important part of the industry. They help fill a gap, because there’s not a lot of organized baseball in the Dominican Republic. They provide a service.

I’m not sure what can be done to improve the situation, but I haven’t heard too many complaints from Dominican players in the big leagues. I’m curious to see what happens to this system over time.

Braves Add Woodward

Yesterday, the Braves signed Chris Woodward to a one-year, $850K contract.

General manager John Schuerholz said the versatile veteran, who spent the past two seasons with the New York Mets, would fill a bench role and not be a candidate for the second base job that was vacated when the Braves didn’t offer Marcus Giles a contract. Woodward, 30, figures to be the primary backup to shortstop Edgar Renteria.

“We’ve been working on a lot of things you might characterize as bigger [than this signing],” Schuerholz said. “But Chris will play an important role for us. Our thing has always been to define guys that fit in and make the fabric of the team stronger. He fits that.”

“We’ve been working on a lot of things you might characterize as bigger [than this signing],” Schuerholz said. “But Chris will play an important role for us. Our thing has always been to define guys that fit in and make the fabric of the team stronger. He fits that.”

Why? A player like Woodward is worth about what he is going to get paid, but it’s hard not to find better alternatives in your minor league system for about half the price. Both Tony Pena and Pete Orr are cheaper utility men; and with Aybar in the mix, there are plenty of internal back-up options at shortstop.

All I Want for Christmas Is’s Play Index

Have you ever had a particular play from a baseball game long ago that you can’t quite recall? My memory of baseball events is always hazy. I can remember what sort-of happened, but the details are gone. For example, I was just thinking the other day about a Braves game against the Nationals in which the Jones boys hit back-to-back home runs to win the game. But was it just late in the game or extra innings? Why does this game stick in my head?

Well, now with Baseball-Reference’s Play Index (PI), it’s easy to find out. Sean Forman, the creator of the greatest baseball statistics website, has created the ultimate tool for baseball fans. By putting a front end on Retroseet play-by-play data, finding out minute details of games up to 50 years ago takes only seconds, and requires no special software or programming skills. Sean offered me a limited-time comped subscription so that I could take a full tour, and I’d like to share with you my experience.

So, how does it work? Let’s return to my memory of that Braves-Nationals game. It was either 2005 or 2006, and I know Chipper hit the first home run. So, I go to the PI, type in “chippe” into the search box—the auto-complete displays the text “Chipper Jones”—and then I click the “Batting Event Finder” box. The site then takes me to a page where I can search for every time Chipper stepped to the plate, walked, homered, scratched his crotch, etc. O.K., the scratching isn’t there, but you get the idea. I decide to chose home runs.

Here I see a list of every home run Chipper Jones has ever hit, all 357 of them: 36 against the Mets, 8 off Steve Trachsel, 99 to dead-center…you get the picture. Then I scroll down the list to 2006. I see the game situation of every home run he hit. I scan the Nationals homers for close-and-late situations, but I don’t see any matches. I scroll up to 2005, and there’s a possible match. Chad Cordero was on the mound, the score was 6-7 when Chipper stepped to the plate in the ninth with two outs, a runner on first (Pete Orr), and he belted a homer to right-center to put the Braves on top after working the count to 2-0. I click on the link to the expanded box score, and I see that Andruw Jones padded the Braves lead with a solo shot to left, just as I had thought. Why does this game stick in my mind? Well, the box score tells me: Blaine Boyer, John Foster, and Chris Reitsma had just blown a four-run lead in the bottom of the 8th. A devastating loss became a victory. A sour memory is replaced with happiness, and thanks to Baseball-Reference, I was able to relive it.

So, there is one small example of what the PI has to offer. I plan to use it a lot in the future. Unlike the rest of Baseball-Reference, a paid subscription is required to utilize all of this tool’s features. But, the fee options are reasonable, and it’s the information provided is well worth the price. I encourage you to take a tour, and I expect you will be as wowed as I am.

Reviewing PrOPS

About a year ago, I published an article on my PrOPS system in The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2006. While the article did get some positive media attention (here, here), I occasionally run across skeptical comments from baseball fans. Some people feel the system hasn’t been tested, but that’s incorrect. The fact is, the PrOPS formula is derived from observed correlations in past data. And I reported the results of how well the formula captures over/under performance in the article.

There is a highly statistically significant relationship…between a player’s over/under performance and his decline/improvement. And the greater the the deviation between PrOPS and OPS, the larger the reversion is the following season. For every 0.01 increase/decrease in a player’s over/under performance, his OPS is likely to fall/rise by 0.008 the following season. For example, a player with an OPS 10 “points” above his PrOPS, can expect his OPS to fall by eight points in the following season. That is quite a reversion.

I also generated lists of the top-25 over and under performing season from 2002-2004. And what happened to them?

Of the top 25 over performers, 20 players had lower OPS in the following season.

Of the top 25 under performers, 21 improved their OPS in the following season.

The article also lists the top-25 over and under performers for 2005. What happened to those players in 2006?

Of the over performers, 12 players declined, 7 improved, and 6 did not deviate more than 20 OPS-points from the previous season. Of the under performers, 11 players improved, 7 declined, 3 had no change, and 5 didn’t garner serious playing time. It’s not an air-tight projection system, but there seems to be some information there.

PrOPS is not a stand-alone projection tool. You should not look only at a player’s PrOPS and assume it’s exactly what the player should be doing. When I look at it, I also consider the player’s recent hitting history, injuries, aging, and all that other stuff we sometimes use to evaluate hitters. But when I see a player have a career year, and his PrOPS don’t show it, I start to get suspicious.

If you’re curious about the over/under performers of 2006, see The Hardball Times.

NL over performers
NL under performers
AL over performers
AL under performers

Random Thoughts

— An explanation for McGwire hate:

If you ask a random sample of friends how they became friends, they will probably tell you that they like a lot of the same things and, perhaps more important, that they like the same people. So they may. But one of the surest routes to friendship is disliking the same things about other people, according to Jennifer Bosson and three colleagues, who published “Interpersonal Chemistry Through Negativity: Bonding by Sharing Negative Attitudes About Others” this past June in the journal Personal Relationships.

— David Pinto of Baseball Musings has now posted defensive charts of his Probabilistic Model of Range for all players. Very nice!

— Sean Forman has somehow found a way to make Baseball-Reference better. Pages now include box scores, gamelogs, and splits. And there is much more on the way. Unbelievable.

Vernon Wells needs to hurry up and sign the Blue Jays contract offer of $126 million over 7 years. My most optimistic projection (assuming no decline in play from 2006) has him at $107 over 7 years. Wells’s PrOPS for the past three seasons have been .825, .835, and .867.

The money the Red Sox are paying for Daisuke Matsuzaka ($103 million) is right in line with what I project Barry Zito to get, 6 years, $100 million.

Don’t Blame Ownership

With the release of Marcus Giles and the Braves failure to even make an offer to Tom Glavine, many fans have been complaining about the $80 million payroll constraint that Time Warner has imposed on John Schuerholz. This isn’t a bad ownership problem. It’s not like John Schuerholz was handed a memo to cut payroll last week. He’s been complaining about the constraint since he cut Kevin Millwood lose after the 2002 season—which was an excellent move to avoid overpaying Millwood.

$80 million isn’t too paltry a sum to run a ballclub. Eight NL teams had payrolls less than that in 2006. One of them made the playoffs (San Diego) and another won 78 games—one game less than the Braves—with $15 million (Florida). In the AL, Minnesota and Oakland made the playoffs on $60 million payrolls. And Cleveland and Texas won about the same number of games as the Braves with payrolls under $70 million. Now, this doesn’t mean that a larger budget wouldn’t make things easier. I could do a lot more things if I had more money, but there’s not much I can do beyond working within my constraints.

If the Braves are so limited limited by their budget that they can’t afford to pay Marcus Giles what he is worth, or even pay Tom Glavine less than he was worth—he was willing to take a significant discount to play in Atlanta—then I have to wonder about some of Atlanta’s recent personnel moves.

My point isn’t that these aren’t defensible moves—I actually liked some of these deals at the time they occurred—and Schuerholz has made some other good deals. And it’s unfair to look back on these deals with perfect hindsight. But, these aren’t the type of moves that a team tightening its belt should be making. We see a lot of cheap young talent going out for more expensive veteran talent. Unless Time Warner was orchestrating all of these moves, ownership is not to blame for the Braves present situation. If you think John Schuerholz deserves a lot of credit for the success he had with the Braves when the budget was big, then he shouldn’t be held blameless since the budget has diminished. Because if all that matters is budget, then the GM is nothing more than a mascot.

So Long, Marcus

It’s official.

A few minutes after hitting a game-winning grand slam in 2001, John Rocker “creamed” him during his post-game interview. When he returned to the dugout, Giles learned he was being sent to Richmond. I guess it’s kind of amazing that Giles lasted as long as he did in Atlanta.

Best of luck to you, Marcus. Thanks for everything.