Saturday, January 15, 2005
I have yet to read the old school mount a truly effective assault on the ideas of Moneyball. There's a lot of sputtering about "resentment" on the part of the old guard and venom towards Billy Beane, but the basic intellectual ideas of sabremetrics haven't been challenged. Can you really dispute things like DIPS and the newcomers skepticism towards high schoolers vs. college players? Until the old guard mounts an intellectually clear and vigorous counter-attack, they are going to continue to lose the battle of ideas with the sabremetricians.
Friday, January 14, 2005
Aaron Gleeman has a nice bit at THT about the new-look Diamondbacks. Their collapse last year was really stunning stuff. I doubt their veterans strategy is going to pay off in the long run.
Prospectus covers the Phillies, White Sox and the A's. To those critical of the Phillies off-season moves, note that Prospectus thinks that Lieber will be a better pitcher than Millwood (and we all know Lidle will be better than Milton). Prospectus also weighs in on the Polanco / Utley situation, by stating that their PECOTA prediction program says that Utley is the superior player to Polanco at the plate, but that the Phillies will luck out having Polanco in the lineup because he'll give the Phillies the depth in their infield that they need to pursue the Braves and Mets. (What about the Marlins?)
Random personal observation: My wife ordered me a white #81 T.O. jersey from eBay to go with my green McNabb jersey. It's amazing the stuff you can get from eBay. I've been looking at asian art prints to redecorate our office and it looks like you can get very inexpensive stuff from there. My wife is thinking about sttarting up a side business of selling home-made ear-rings on eBay: over the last month, as a hobby, she began making ear-rings and her product is department store quality stuff. When she starts selling I'll include links if anyone is interested.
More Monday. Go Eagles!
Thursday, January 13, 2005
Projected Starting Lineup: Games / Injury Risk
SS Rollins: 158 Games / Low Injury Risk
CF Lofton: 105 Games / Low Injury Risk
LF Abreu: 156 Games / High Injury Risk
1B Thome: 137 Games / High Injury Risk
LF Burrell: 151 Games / High Injury Risk
3B Bell: 148 Games / Medium Injury Risk
2B Utley: 155 Games / Low Injury Risk
C Lieberthal: 125 Games / High Injury Risk
IF Polanco: 136 Games / High Injury Risk
Some thoughts: Lieberthal isn’t much of a surprise. Catchers are injury prone and need to take some time off to rest their weary knees. I looked it up and the NL’s most durable catcher in 2004 was the Dodgers & Marlins Paul Lo Duca, who played in 143 games. Lieberthal himself played in 131, which was one of the best. Mercifully, the Phillies have one of the best backup catchers in the biz, Todd Pratt … The number(s) that did jump out at me were intertwined: Thome’s projected 137 games, and the “high” injury risk attached to the Phillies Big Three of Abreu, Thome and Burrell.
First, Thome. He played in 143 games in 2004 and turns 35 next August. Thome is still enormously productive (42 home runs, .396 OBP, .581 SLG), but this will be his 15 MLB season. I tend to agree with James, there is an enormus liklihood that he’ll suffer a serious injury in 2005.
Second, the Big Three. While Burrell and Abreu are projected to be more durable bats for the Phillies in 2005, the fact that all three are rated high injury risks is troubling. Where would the Phillies be without any of them? They accounted for 44% of the Phillies home runs, 36% of their RBIs, and 28% of the team hits, despite missing a total of 57 games (Thome: 19, Burrell: 35, and Abreu: 3). It seems likely that Thome and one of the other two will suffer an injury in 2005 that will require a long stint on the DL. With the Phillies luck, Abreu will be the one who goes down with an injury.
But, as I said, these are just projections. Nobody can see the future. (I loved the quote from Yogi Berra that James stuck on page 385: “Prediction is difficult – especially of the future.”) But I think the lesson I’ve been getting is that you can’t fight the probabilities. If a player is likely to decline statistically, he will. If a player is likely to strike out in X situation, he will. If Thome is projected to miss 25 games, he’ll miss somewhere between 20-30. If the Phillies big three are high injury risks, they’ll probably lose one.
Just play the numbers.
Wednesday, January 12, 2005
The big news of the 2004-2005 offseason for the Phillies (so far) has been Placido Polanco’s surprise decision to accept arbitration with the Phillies instead of testing the free agency waters (particularly baffling decision given St. Louis’ likely interest in him). Polanco’s return gives the Phillies five infielders for next year. Polanco’s old spot at second base is now occupied by Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins and Jim Thome have firm holds on short and first base, so the likely spot for Polanco is at third base, where he played in 2002 when he joined the team, replacing Scott Rolen. The problem is that the Phillies have a third baseman, David Bell, entering the third year of a four year deal with the team. Who would be a better third baseman for the Phillies?
Here are what James has projected for each player in 2005:
Bell: .325 OBP / .402 SLG / 74 Runs Created / 16 HR / 32 2B
Polanco: .335 OBP / .427 SLG / 76 Runs Created / 13 HR / 27 2B
The numbers made me take notice specifically for something I said in my year in review: David Bell had an unusually good year in 2004. His .363 OBP is significantly higher than his career .313, as is his .458 slugging percentage (career: .401). Bell didn’t merely rebound from his awful, awful 2003 campaign (.195 BA / .296 OBP), he established some career highs at the age of 32. James projects Bell’s numbers will take a dive in 2005 and I don’t see any reason to disagree with him.
Polanco had an injury plauged 2004 campaign and ended the season hitting .298 (.345 OBP). The numbers were actually slightly ahead of his career totals (.295 BA / .339 OBP), as was his .441 slugging percentage (.410 career). Polanco has the image amongst the fans as a light-hitting, "get on base" kind of guy, but the numbers say he has as much pop to his bat as Bell: his career slugging percentage is .009 higher. Polanco is also one of the finer defensive infielders in baseball:
Bell: 3.6 Fielding Win Shares per 1,000 innings
Polanco: 5.6 Fielding Win Shares per 1,000 innings
The decision to accept arbitration caught the Phillies off-guard (I assume they made the offer to get compensation for him when he left), but the Phillies could look to spin Polanco’s return as a positive. Trying to deal Bell would be a start. He’s probably just had his career year and his numbers will likely decline in the big way. Polanco, who is three years younger than Bell, is still in his prime and playing close to his potential.
Let’s see what happens.
Tuesday, January 11, 2005
As I said, Phillies bloggers disliked Bowa for his focus on small ball with a team built for getting on base and hitting home runs (aka, Moneyball) in a sluggers park like Citizen’s Bank Ballpark. I doubt a tear was shed in the blogosphere for Bowa’s untimely demise as manager, but how accurate was Bowa’s professed love of “small ball”? Paging through the 2005 Bill James Handbook, I found something surprising:
Larry Bowa may have preached small ball, but he really didn’t practice it in his last season as Phillies manager.
James lists a lot of things he kept track of during the 2004 season, like lineups used, defensive substitutions, etc. James also kept track of two stats under “tactics”: attempted stolen bases, and sacrifices attempted. Both are small ball tactics for advancing the runner: in the case of a steal the team takes the risk that the runner will be called out, losing an out and losing a potential run (I saw a nice illustration of this in September at a Pirates - Cards game when I saw Tony LaRussa send Edgar Renteria to steal second with Scott Rolen up. Renteria was called out, Rolen walked and Jim Edmonds homered. Wasted run). In the case of the sacrifice hit, when a team surrenders the out to advance the runner 90 feet they have essentially played for a single run, and run themselves out of the opportunity to play for a big inning.
AL Moneyball teams (Red Sox, A’s & Blue Jays) typically don’t attempt small ball tactics: the three teams were last in the AL in attempted steals and were three of the four AL teams that attempted the fewest sacrifice hits. I expected to see the Phillies lead the NL, or be near the top, in small ball tactics. Amongst managers who coached 160+ games, Bowa was sixth of thirteen in attempted steals with 127. How did Bowa rank with sacrifice hits? Thirteenth of thirteen. Dead last. Here are how the managers who coached all of their teams games did in a small ball index:
Small Ball Index: (Attempted Steal + Sacrifice Hit = Small Ball)
1. Robinson (Mont): 266
2. LaRussa (Stl): 245
3. McKeon (Fla): 241
4. Cox (Atl): 221
4. Howe (NYM): 221
4. Tracy (LA): 221
7. McClendon (Pit): 202
8. Hurdle (Col): 201
8. Bowa (Phi): 201
10. Baker (Chi): 200
11. Miley (Cin): 180
12. Alou (SF): 168
13. Bochy (SD): 152
Bowa tied for eighth on the list out of 13 managers. Bowa’s managing in 2004 was hardly a clinic on small ball: the Phillies tried a lot of steals but they have potent weapons in that category with Abreu (40 of 45 attempts) and Rollins (30 of 39 attempts), so we should be thankful that the Phillies resisted the urge to run more in 2004. Simply put, I don’t think that the numbers support the conclusion that Bowa was a small ball manager in 2004. He managed the Phillies more in the letter (if not the spirit) of a Moneyball team.
I think what made Bowa a bad manager were his leadership skills rather than his tactics: leading a veteran team like the 2003 and 2004 teams requires a lighter touch than Bowa was capable of giving. I look forward to Charlie Manuel coaching the Phillies in 2005 and I think that he had been the Phillies skipper these last two years, things might have been different (I certainly think they would have been the NL wildcard in 2003). But Bowa’s gone and he’ll likely be torturing us in 2005 on ESPN as a baseball analyst (I forget: did he turn down the Marlins offer or not?), talking about the importance of “manufacturing runs” and “creating opportunities” to score. God help us all.
Monday, January 10, 2005
What do I think of the Beltran deal? If he’s healthy, this is a good deal for the Mets. If he isn’t then the Mets have signed their death warrants. Deals of this magnitude make or break franchises. If Beltran isn’t 90% or better, then the Mets could be hamstrung for a long, long time. Between him and Pedro, the Mets have a lot of cash locked up in long-term deals that could come back to bite them in 2007 and 2008.
If he’s healthy, it is hard not to like the deal. Here are Beltran’s projected 2005 stats (thank-you, Bill James), along with Mike Piazza:
Beltran: .296 GPA / 120 Runs Created / 31 HR / 33 2B / 38 SB
Piazza: .288 GPA / 73 Runs Created / 22 HR / 21 2B
They could be a fearsome twosome, provided that Piazza is healthy. In terms of his career, Beltran has a bright future ahead of him. I hardly think Beltran’s presence swings the NL East to the Mets, but this makes the division an honest-to-goodness four way race for supremacy. I think the Mets need an RBI guy (Beltran is a two-hole hitter) to close the gap and I can’t see them signing Delgado, and I can’t see Sammy being the difference-maker.
Studes at THT likes the deal and has a nice write-up here.
NFL: I have to admit surprise at the way the NFL playoffs have unfolded. The road team won three of the first four games? Well, I batted .500 in week one: I got the Jets and Colts right, but the Vikings and Rams surprised me.
First, my two cents on Randy Moss: I was shocked when I watched Moss’ interview with Andrea Kramer and he criticized Mike Tice. Then I was shocked when the Vikings won. Then I was shocked and pissed off by his endzone celebration. I was reminded of a scene from Bull Durham when Nuke (Tim Robbins) complained to Crash (Kevin Costner) that he didn’t understand why he didn’t like him, Crash replied:
“Because you don't respect yourself, which is your problem. But you don't respect the game, and that's my problem.”
Randy Moss is used to having people kiss his ass and tell him how wonderful is he all of his life. When he messes up, people make excuses for him and give him second, third, fourth and sixteenth chances. At some point he needs to grow-up and realize that actions have consequences, that having an amazing vertical leap doesn’t save you from being an ignoramous whose immaturity and stupidity stain the game, disrespect the fans and shouldn’t be tolerated by the Vikings or the NFL. Randy Moss doesn’t respect himself and behaves like a spoiled seven year-old. That’s his problem. That he disrespected the fans of Green Bay and of the NFL, that should be the NFL’s problem. And no mere fine of $50,000 is sufficient here. The NFL needs to fine Moss $1 million or suspend him for regular season games. If Randy Moss can’t get it through his thick skull and into his pea-sized brain that he’s a cancer to the NFL, then they should explain it too him in the only way he'll ever know: his wallet.
Divisional round predictions: Falcons over Rams 19-17; Eagles over Vikings 34-24; Steelers over Jets 31-7; Colts over Patriots 28-27. I don’t think the Falcons are that great, but they are a better team than the Rams. As for the Stillers (I mean, Steelers), I’d be shocked – shocked – if they lost to the Jets. The Steelers are the better team by a landslide and people around here know it and fully expect them to end up in the Super Bowl. If they lose to the Jets, there will be mass suicides in Western Pennsylvania. The game of the weekend will be the Colts and Pats. I like both teams, I believe that both are well-coached (the Pats especially), but I think Manning is too hot and Brady is still going to be rattled by what happened in Miami. I think Manning will tear up the Patriots secondary (especially now that Ty Law is gone) and that the Colts will face-off with the Steelers in the battle of Armageddon on January 23rd for the Super Bowl.
The Eagles and Vikes. This will be a good game and I suspect that the entire NFL world is now pulling for the Eagles to win. I heard Sean Salisbury, ordinarily a commentator I respect, give the Vikings the edge and I wonder what he’s smoking: yesterday morning everyone on ESPN said that the Packers were a lock to win the game. Now that the Vikings won they are the ciche choice to go to the NFC title game. I don’t buy it. One, the Eagles beat the Vikings 27-16 in week two. Two, the Vikings offense is explosive, but not consistent. Consistent teams beat the Eagles: the Bucs and the Panthers both ran the ball and controlled the clock. Those are the teams the Eagles have trouble beating. The Vikings are very turn-over prone: Culpepper made few mistakes against the Packers, but the Eagles are much more aggressive on defense. They’ll pressure Culpepper, frustrate Moss and force the Vikings to cough up the ball a few times. O.K., the Eagles are without T.O., but I think this will unify the team and make them play stronger. And you never know: someone might step up and have a monster game. Westbrook might rush for 150 yards. Greg Lewis could catch a 150 yards worth of passes. Chad Lewis and L.J. Smith might shred the Vikings LBs all game long. I like the Eagles in this game and I expect them to advance to the battle of the birds in the NFC title game.
Weekend: Didn’t get to see 24, but we taped it and we’ll tape tonight as well. I hope it was good. My wife rented Garden State, which was written by, directed by and starred J.D. from Scrubs (Zach Braff). I liked the movie a lot, but my wife was disappointed. I hung out with a close friend on Sunday and he gave me an endorsement of the A&E presentation of MI-5. I watched the first season and I was impressed, but I have little-to-no time these days.
Tomorrow a post I expect everyone to have an opinion on: “Blowa: a Re-evaluation”.