2009 Spring Training catch-all look back post

March 5th, 2009 → 1:06 pm @

It’s been an eventful off-season: there’s the whole A-Rod ‘roid thing, the just-completed Manny negotiations, and the Yankees $800 trillion signing of Mark Texeria. In honor of all this, let’s–as Phil Lesh used to say–take a step back…and relive some moments from years gone by.

In honor of Scott Boras’s always-entertaining deal-making: an FTM excerpt about Johnny Damon’s dishonest decamping to the Yankees.

In honor of the ever-growing PED scandal: Bill James’s stance on steroids, the possibility of Jose Canseco being a great prophet, and the sheer lunacy of the MLB Players Association stance on drug testing.

And finally, in honor of the most entertaining third-basement playing today: the oft-overlooked connection between A-Rod and Jon Lester and the union’s stupidity vis-a-vis the 2003 A-Rod contract circus.


Post Categories: A-Rod & Bill James & Feeding the Monster Outtakes & Feeding the Monster Sneak Peeks & Grateful Dead & Johnny Damon & Jon Lester & Jose Canseco & Manny Ramirez & Players association & Yankees

Papelbon’s September stats and closer fatigue

September 16th, 2008 → 11:28 am @

In case you haven’t noticed, the Sox’s most enthusiastic dancer has hit a rough patch the last week or so. (Papelbon himself has noticed–and he’s noticed that Eck and TC have noticed over on NESN as well.) In fact, according to Nick Cafardo’s piece in today’s Globe, hitters have a .414 BAA for Paps since Aug 28, and he’s seen his ERA jump from 1.71 to 2.11.

What else has happened in that time? Papelbon has been used a lot, and used on consecutive days a lot – on Sept. 7, 8, and 9, and then again on the 13th and 14th.

This reminded me of an essay on closer fatigue in The Bill James Gold Mine 2008 that looks at Mariano and his use over the years. There are lots of variables, and Bill, being much smarter than I am, figures out all sorts of ways to parse thousands of games worth of data, but the take-away is essentially this: for the Yankees, the difference between a rested and a tired Mariano has been the difference between a 103 win season and a 93 win season.

Intuitively, this makes sense, and I assumed that if I went back and looked at Pap’s game logs for this year, I’d find data that mirrored what we’ve seen in the past week or so. I was wrong. From April through August, Papelbon pitched on consecutive days 13 times – and didn’t give up an earned run on the second day once. (Interestingly, on the first day of those pairs, he’s given up 4 ERs and 7 runs total, which translates into roughly 41 percent of his total runs and 36 percent of his earned runs in 22 percent of his games. (Keep in mind: This is pre-September stats only.))

Does this mean fatigue doesn’t have anything to do with Pap’s 6.0 September ERA, or his 1.83 WHIP? Well, no, not necessarily. If you dig a little deeper, you find that Papelbon entered September with 58 innings pitched, well over the 47.1 he’d amassed through August 31, 2007. In fact, Papelbon’s total innings last year, playoffs included, was only 69 innings, which is just five innings under where he is now. (In 2006, Pap pitched a total of 68 innings…and was shut down for the season after he gave up 2 hits and a run in a third of an inning on Sept. 1.)

I’ll be curious to see how Papelbon is used for the rest of the year. I, for one, was mildly surprised that he was brought in with 1 out and a man on in a 7-1 game back on Sept. 7, (although it’s true that he hadn’t pitched in six games at that point, and the 2 hits he gave up could have been as indicative of some rust as anything). And I’m obviously in favor of pretty much anything that keeps Mike Timlin out of all games in which the Sox are neither winning nor losing by a minimum of ten runs.

Post Categories: 2008 Season & Bill James & Closer fatigue & Jonathan Papelbon

Shine on me crazy lady luck

August 6th, 2007 → 2:08 pm @

For folks interested in how the Yankees are now just a half-game behind Detroit in the Wild Card, let’s look at what’s been happening over the last several months. Since July 1, New York has gone 23-10, good for a .700 winning percentage. (For the record, that’d be good for a season total of 113 wins, just off the record of 116 set by the (19)06 Cubs and the ’01 Mariners.) Add in June, and the club’s record is 39-21, which works out to a .650 winning percentage. To do this, they’ve averaged about 800 runs per game over the past several weeks.

The Sox, meanwhile, have gone 19-13 since July 1 (.593) which is still good enough to lead every division in baseball. (They’ve gone 32-27 since June 1, for a .542 winning percentage, which would only bring them to the top of the heap in the NL Central.)

So: are the Sox lucky to have a 7 game lead, or are the Yankees lucky to have gone through this torrid hot streak? The former, actually. The Sox’s Pythagorean W-L is 69-42 (they’re actually 68-43), while the Yankees P W-L is 68-42 (they’re actually 61-50). (The Baseball Reference link above explains P W-L, which is “an estimate of a team’s winning percentage given their runs scored and runs allowed,” a stat developed by Bill James that uses a team’s runs scored and runs allowed.)

That doesn’t mean that entire seven-game lead can be attributed to luck; one thing the Yankees’ record shows is the importance of a bullpen. And Torre’s continued abuse of his pitchers wouldn’t inspire much confidence in me if I were a Yankees fan (which, of course, I am not). Exhibit A: Mariano was called on yesterday to, for the eighth time this year, record more than three outs…this after Torre said in spring training that he wanted to limit the 37-year-old Rivera — who strained a muscle in his right elbow last September — to pitching in the ninth: “I’m not of a mind to use him in the eighth inning.” What’s that saying about best laid plans?

Post Categories: 2007 Season & Bill James & Oblique References to Pink Floyd Songs & Red Sox & Yankees

Extra crispy…

May 6th, 2007 → 9:00 am @

More on Coco’s defensive proficiency and his effect on the Sox: yesterday, Baseball Musings’ David Pinto took a more statistically-minded look at the number of plays CC has been making in the field and found that, over the previous seven games, Coco’s been averaging about five putouts per game, compared to about three per game in his first 15 starts of the year. As Pinto points out, there’s not a lot of context there; a chart Pinto puts together goes a good way towards providing that context…and does, indeed, show that, as Bill James observed, Coco’s pulling down everything hit anywhere near him.

A couple of hours later, Pinto added to this knowledge base by examining the probability of his putouts using last year’s probabilistic model range and found that thus far this year, “Crisp caught nine balls that weren’t caught last year” (or wouldn’t have been caught, anyway); after further parsing the data, Dave found that the vast majority of these plus catches were in the past two weeks.

Even if the above sounds like elfin to you (unless you happen to speak elfin…and yes, I’m looking at you, Eric), know this: based on a couple of weeks, Coco’s been playing significantly better defense than at any other time since he’s set up shop in Fenway. It’s hard to know what to pin this on: last year’s injuries? Discomfort on a new team? But it strikes me that, unlike an offensive tear, it’s harder to “hot” at a defensive position like centerfield, a position that requires a good read on balls, excellent athleticism, and no small sense of self-confidence. Whatever the cause, it bears watching…

Post Categories: Bill James & Coco Crisp & David Pinto & Defensive metrics

Bill James: Say hello to CC…this year’s AG? The secret of the Sox’s success…

May 5th, 2007 → 12:44 pm @

Last year, lots of time was spent discussing Alex Gonzalez’s defense…and indeed, in the several decades I’ve been watching Red Sox baseball, I’d never seen a shortstop make so many challenging plays look effortless. (I’m not the most trained viewer, but at times Gonzalez’s grace reminded me a bit of the beauty that was Carlos Beltran when he patrolled center field for the Royals.) A-Gon was, in the field, a sort of anti-Jeter, who should get some kind of lifetime award for making routine plays looking insanely difficult.

Coco Crisp, on the other hand, received a fair amount of criticism for his play. Outside of at least one mind-blowing, game-saving, head-first diving catch, he looked a little lost (which mirrored how he looked at the plate). In late August, Baseball Think Factory rated him dead last among AL center fielders (tied, oddly enough, with Gary Matthews Jr., who also made an all-time highlight reel grab in early July); around the same time, ESPN’s Zone Ratings also had him at the bottom of the heap.

Things have looked different this year. Coco’s been on a bit of a hot streak at the plate — a fact that’s been much discussed. He’s also been on a bit of a hot streak in the field. I’ve seen this mentioned a couple of times in the internetoblogosphere, but it hasn’t gotten much mention elsewhere.

That’s about to change. This morning, Bill James wrote in an email, “It seems to me that the BIGGEST factor in our team’s performance over the last week or so has been that Coco has been just unbelievable in center field…he’s just catching EVERYTHING that looks like it might be trouble. There’s been no gap in right center, no gap in left center, nothing getting over his head and nothing has been landing in front of him.” Want an example? Take the ninth inning of last night’s game. The first batter Papelbon faced was Justin Morneau, who crushed a ball to dead center. It could have headed out…except Crisp made a nice play at the fence. It didn’t look spectacular, but it sure as shit had a huge impact. If Morneau’s ball had been a four-bagger, suddenly Pap’s given up two home runs in his last two outings; Okajima is on ice for the night; and Romero and Donnelly are already out of the game. Oh, and now it’s a one-run game with no outs. (If the Sox had lost the game, that arguably would have been the least of their problems, because the entire region would have been gripped in a frenzy of Papelbon-induced panic. Also, Tim Wakefield might have shot himself in the head due to lack-of-run-support induced insanity.)

As Bill wrote, “It’s not that he’s been making spectacular catches; it’s that he’s been making plays that had me scared shitless look they were no problem.” Sort of like A-Gon did last year. The thing is, nobody expected A-Gon to have anything but a noodle bat. That’s not the case with CC; perhaps that’s why his performance has gotten little-to-no recognition.

At least not from the hoi polloi; the same obviously isn’t true on Yawkey Way. “If Coco had been 11-for-20 with the bat over the last week, everybody would be talking about that,” Bill wrote in his email. “If he’d had a few good games as a reliever, like Okajima, everybody would be talking about that. But he’s just had this unbelievable streak in center field, and…nobody has noticed. Nothing about it in the papers, guys on TV haven’t said anything about it (that I’ve heard), radio guys haven’t said anything that I’ve heard. I tried to find his defense day-by-day to see how many putouts he has had in the last week, and I couldn’t even find THAT, let alone some up-to-date information about how many catches he’s made that were difficult plays that could have killed us.” (Baseball Musings author David Pinto points out that Crisp currently has a centerfield rating of 123 from Baseball Prospective, which translates into Crisp being about 38 runs better than average over the course of a 162-game season.)

It’ll be interesting to watch how this plays out, both on the field (is the first month of the season an accurate indicator of Coco’s true talent level in the field?) and in the press. Stay tuned…

Post Categories: Bill James & Coco Crisp & Defensive metrics

More distractions: Manny’s best year ever, the absence of “clutch” in VORP, and more fun with numbers

August 7th, 2006 → 11:28 am @

Last night, the enigma known as Eric Van wrote that Manny Ramirez was having the second-best year of his career, as measured by VORP.

(A very quick primer: VORP stands for Value Over Replacement Player, and measures the number of runs a given player produces over a replacement-level backup at his position, with replacement level being more or less defined as a scrub you can promote from AAA for minimal value, or, to put it another way, someone slightly better than Kevin Millar, circa 2006.)

So far this year, Manny’s clocking in at a 55.1 VORP, tops among batters on the Red Sox* (and fifth in all of baseball). Since VORP measures both quantity as well as quality, this figure needs to be multiplied by 1.47 (the Sox have played 110 out of 162 games; 162/110=1.47) to get the projected VORP for the season, bringing Manny to 80.0 (and David Ortiz to 77.61). The only time Manny has had a better VORP score in his remarkably consistent career was in 2000, his last year with the Cleveland Indians, when he put up a VORP of 81.3, which means that Eric’s right when he says Manny’s having the second best year of his career. And it also means that it’s Manny, and not Ortiz, who should be the team MVP…never mind the league MVP. Right?

Well, that depends. First off, there are plenty of problems with VORP. (One of the biggest ones, in my mind, is the assumption that the replacement for a player will be a scrub. There are plenty of cases — injury history, an inability to hit left-handers, etc — in which a club prepares for a player not being able to suit up for 162 games.) For the sake of this discussion — which is considering whether 2006 is actually the second-best year of Manny Ramirez’s career — let’s focus on the problems with combining quality with quantity. If you look solely at the stats Manny put up in the games he did play (and average out a full season of Mannyness to 155 games, which is exactly what he’s on pace for this year), 2006 is actually the fourth best year of his career, trailing 2000, 1999 (projected 155-game VORP of 82.5), and 2002, when Manny put up a 75.4 VORP in just 120 games, which projects out to 97.4. (Since we’ve only played about 68 percent of the season, it seems more than fair to extrapolate out past years in much the same way we’re extrapolating out the rest of this season.)

As far as MVP goes, one thing VORP does not take into account is the kind of situational hitting that David Ortiz does so well, those situations being the bottom of the ninth inning with the Red Sox either tied or trailing. I’m convinced that there is such a thing as “clutch” hitting; just because we haven’t figured out a way to precisely quantify it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be considered. (There’s obviously the inverse: instances where a batter presses and therefore doesn’t perform as well. Last year, when Jason Varitek hit his first career grand slam, John Henry let out an audible sigh of relief…not only because of the four runs, but because Tek had finally gotten that monkey off his back. See also Rodriguez, Alex.) Another thing VORP doesn’t take into account–and admittedly doesn’t try to take into account–is bang for the buck. Ortiz is making $6.5 million this year while Manny’s pulling in $18,279,000, which means the Red Sox are paying Manny $228,487 for every run he scores over a replacement player, while paying Ortiz $84,440. (There are some reports that indicate the four-year, $12.5-million-a-year contract extension Ortiz signed this past April also bumped his 2006 salary up to $12.5 million. If that’s true, he’s being paid $162,337 for each run he’s worth over a replacement-level DH.)

So is Eric right? Only in a world in which stats are considered more or less devoid of context. And, as Bill James told me for Feeding the Monster, “I believe in a universe that is too complex for any of us to understand. … It is one thing to build an analytical paradigm that leaves out leadership, hustle, focus, intensity, courage, and self-confidence. It is a very, very different thing to say that leadership, hustle, courage, and self-confidence do not exist or do not play a role in on real world baseball teams.”

* All of the links to VORP comparisons (but not VORP definitions) lead to Baseball Prospectus pages in which you’ll need a subscription.

EDIT: Brain fart of the day (thus far): there actually is a formula out there to measure how much a player is “worth”: marginal value over replacement player, or MORP, which, before the season began, showed Ortiz to be worth $8.85 million this year (and Manny to be worth about $9.5 million this year). This figure averages out all players; I’d like to see something that only took into account players who have already reached free agency. In either case, as BP’s Paul Swydan pointed out in an email, if you calculated Manny’s and Ortiz’s projected end-of-year MORPs based on what they’ve done so far, they come out almost identically, with Manny performing almost exactly as expected at $9,242,560 and Ortiz bettering his forecast at $9,526,500.

Post Categories: Baseball Prospectus & Bill James & David Ortiz & Eric Van & Manny Ramirez & sabermetrics

Outtakes: Bill James on his work with the Red Sox, steroids, and what makes a successful baseball player

July 17th, 2006 → 7:52 am @

This is the eighth in a series of outtakes done for Feeding the Monster, available in stores now. These interviews with Red Sox special consultant Bill James were conducted over the course of the 2005 season.

On his role with the Red Sox: Well, it can involve anything that involves an issue about the player. Whatever question arises about the player I would try to research. I remember at one point we had some interest in acquiring Adam Piatt from Oakland. Piatt had looked like All-Star material a couple of years earlier, but then had viral meningitis and had more of less lost two seasons. The question arising [was], what are the odds that he can get his career back on track? … First of all, it was hard to find out what the hell had happened to him, but I finally found out that there was a diagnosis of viral meningitis. Well, OK. . .what is “viral meningitis?”

It turns out that both “virus” and “meninges” are very broadly defined terms, with the result that there are hundreds of different diseases, from mumps to West Nile Virus, which can be described as some type of viral meningitis. It’s a clothes-hamper diagnosis. Anyway, what are the odds that a player will come back from some vaguely defined illness like this? I wound up recommending that we try to acquire him and find out. Fortunately we didn’t.

I have little to do with preparing for key series, honestly. That’s [current scout and former video advance scouting coordinator] Galen Carr’s area, and I think he’s extremely good at it, but he knows so much more about it than I do that I would be wary of saying very much. I will say something occasionally if I think it might fit into his presentation.

On the type of work he does for the team: I do more work on my own than responding to requests. I am trying now to create an organized or “formal” structure to grade prospects. In other words, here’s this kid who hit .318 this year at such-and-such a stop in High A ball, he’s a first baseman, he can’t run, he’s 22 years old: what are his chances of being a successful major league player? I have the work 90% done, but, like writing a book, the last 10% of the job will kill you.

I’d say it is 75% [of what I do] is on my own initiative. When I first had the job, Theo said something like, “We need to see you in Boston more often,” which I think was profoundly true. My contract calls for me to come to Boston four times a year, but it just doesn’t do the job. I lose contact with what is happening; I don’t know what the guys are thinking about. I need to be in the office sometimes to talk to people to find out what is bothering them. The longer I am out here [in Kansas] on my own, the harder it is to figure out what I should be working on.

On the impact of the steroid-testing program on evaluating players: The new steroid policy is more of a media focus than a looming factor in analyzing what has happened or is likely to happen. I’m not saying it is nothing; it’s a legitimate concern. If you’re looking at a player whose production has dropped suddenly or has, sometime in the past, accelerated suddenly, you have to be concerned about the possibility that there may have been some steroid use involved.

But on the other hand, you have to worry about 500 other things, too. It could be an injury, or he could have put on weight, or he may have been going through a divorce, or his parents may have been going through a divorce. Stan Musial had an off season in ’59. He attributed it later, in a biography, to the fact that they had a newborn baby who wasn’t a good sleeper, and was keeping him awake nights. You could be dealing with a back injury, or with a player who has just suddenly figured something out, or with a player who has been exploiting some edge that will disappear in another year. It’s not that the steroids aren’t a legitimate factor, it’s just that there are a very wide range of legitimate factors, so that adding one more to the equation doesn’t really change anything very much.

On what makes a successful major league player: It is my general belief that a highly successful player is supported by a “network” or “scaffolding” that must be built up gradually over time. In other words, to play successfully in the major leagues requires a great deal of athletic ability, but also a great deal of knowledge of how the game is played, training habits, self-motivation habits, self-confidence, and a wide variety of skills.

Sometimes, in a simple example, a pitcher will develop a new pitch, and take a great step forward in effectiveness, [like] Esteban Loaiza in 2003. But when the player takes that great leap forward, he finds himself in a new role–pitching many more innings than he ever has before, for example, and also being counted on to pitch critical games. In most cases where that happens, the entire structure of the man–his knowledge, his self-confidence, his training habits, etc.–will not support the new level of effectiveness to which the player has been pushed, and this will lead, in most cases, to an inevitable collapse. A player who hasn’t been hitting home runs starts hitting home runs, the pitches that he sees are going to change, and he’s going to have to adjust, so then you’re back to the question we asked before: Does he have the ability to adjust so as to sustain this new level of production? Occasionally this is not true; occasionally there is a player–David Ortiz in 2003–who reaches a new level because he should have been there all along, but something was holding him back.

[With steroids], whether you have steroids involved in it or not, the basic question is the same: Will the entire structure of the man support this level of productivity? Or has the player gotten his production ahead of where it should be? It’s a very tough question in all cases, but it’s essentially the same question with or without steroids.

On developing minor league talent: If you have a Dustin Pedroia, who comes right out of college and takes all those transitions in stride. . .obviously, he has a lot of things going for him beyond talent. But then there is a danger of relying too much on that, and pushing him along until he does fail and you find out what happens there. So the answer there would be, I guess give the player the opportunity to succeed, but hold back as much as you can on the pressure to succeed.

On his public persona: I have been ripped to shreds in some books; I have been praised far beyond my real accomplishments in many others. I don’t get into trying to shape what people write about me.

Post Categories: Bill James & Feeding the Monster Outtakes