« Archive for February, 2008

Caught this in an interview Josh Byrnes did with Jonah Keri:

Keri: If you had a choice of playing in any type of park you wanted, pitcher’s park, hitter’s park or neutral, which one would you choose?

Byrnes: Pitcher’s park. The hardest thing to do is find guys to throw 1,400 or so innings. Depth, defense, advance scouting, health, all of that and more goes into building a pitching staff, into getting all those outs you need to record over the course of a season. The stability of the pitching staff — when you can gear your innings toward the right guys, starters and relievers — that’s easier to do in a pitching environment.

I’ve always believed this as well, although it’s always been based on pure logic since I haven’t seen any real evidence. Your starters should collectively give you better innings than your last guys out of the bullpen, who are most often needed when a starter has to leave early. In a park that favors pitchers, starters should be able to go longer, allowing the team to better leverage their top relievers.

I took a very, very, quick look at this to see whether run environment has a real effect on starters’ innings. Using the 2007 National League, I ran the r-squared correlations for ERA, ERA+, park factor, and K/BB ratio against each team’s starters’ innings pitched totals:

  • ERA+: .653
  • ERA: .497
  • K/BB: .374
  • PF: .209

So the simple answer is yes, run environment does appear to have some effect, although not nearly as much as the quality (or luck) of the pitcher. This all makes sense. All other things being equal, it is probably a bit easier to build a roster in a pitcher’s park.

Could there be something larger here? Circumstantially, the teams that have played in the traditional bandbox stadiums (Wrigley, Fenway) haven’t been nearly as successful as those that have played in traditional pitcher’s parks (Dodger Stadium, Yankee Stadium). Could this just be the “Devil’s Theory of Park Effects” at work?

My eyes could very well by lying. If anyone has taken a closer look at this, or wants to, I’m all ears.

All data courtesy of B-Ref. Not that you didn’t know that already.

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Horribly cliched title. Anyway…

Just for the fun of it, I took Dave Pinto’s Marcel team offense estimate for the Rays and plugged Barry Bonds in for Jonny Gomes, using last year’s rates of .480/.565. With a 4-5-6 of Upton, Baldelli, and Gomes, Dave had the Rays scoring 5.45 runs per game, fifth in the Major Leagues. With a 4-5-6 of Bonds, Upton, and Baldelli, that figure goes to 5.87, second behind the Yankees at 5.89.

I’m fully aware of the faults of this method, but it’s interesting nonetheless. Bonds could give them a fairly legitimate shot to compete. If it was my team, I would have trouble not taking that chance.

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Bill BelichickWhy do athletes and coaches cheat?

Given a large enough sample, cheating will always be prevalent when the perceived benefits outweigh the perceived costs. Taking steroids is a good example of this (assuming, for the sake of argument, that you consider taking steroids to be cheating, which I do not); athletes take steroids because they feel the rewards (better performance, leading to more money) exceed the costs (health risks, negative effects on reputation, and, more recently, suspensions and loss of income).

Morality does factor into the equation, on the costs side. Stealing a catcher’s signs isn’t quite as morally questionable as drugging the catcher the night before the game, so we would expect the former to be more common than the latter. In the same sense, as Vito Corleone once said, “I have a lot of friends in politics, but they wouldn’t be friendly very long if they knew my business was drugs instead of gambling, which they rule as a harmless vice.”

The answer to “cheating,” then, is to disincentivize it by raising the costs to the point where it is impractical. Major League Baseball seems to have done this for many known, testable steroids. But remember, until their testing/punishment policy was in place, the only material (i.e. not moral) costs inherent in taking steroids were health risks. Clearly, this failed to deter hundreds of players, even though they were not necessarily guaranteed any return.

Turning to the Spygate case, the gains shouldn’t have been overwhelmingly great. Consider the difficulty in translating complex defensive signals within a single game. And even if the Patriots were to play that opponent again later that season, or during the next season, shouldn’t every team mix around their signals anyway? Much like a third base coach, these signals are given in plain sight. Any team that doesn’t change them up has very little right to complain.

This all tells me that Belichick either never thought he would be caught, or figured that the penalty would be light. As it turns out, he was caught (largely because of another coach’s animosity towards him), and the penalty was fairly stiff (at least on a personal level, if not on a team level).

It’s possible that the gains were much greater than I’m assuming, but we’ll never know for sure. We can be fairly certain, though, that if stealing your opponent’s defensive signals is a major advantage, everyone else is likely doing it in some form.

Although I am generally sympathetic to the “cheaters” in these cases, I do understand why certain practices should be eliminated, if possible. But the bottom line is this: if something is not considered “just” or “fair,” the only way to eliminate it is through disincentivizing it. Remember, “cheating” is inevitable if the benefits outweigh the costs. This is the main reason that crime exists.

So before we castigate athletes and coaches, we need to put ourselves in their shoes, and realize that many or most of us would act the same way given similar circumstances.

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Make sure to check out a quick Q&A I did with David from Brock for Broglio (definitely one of my favorite blog titles, by the way). Check out the rest of his site too, definitely some good stuff if you play fantasy.

I mentioned Tuesday that I was particularly interested in the Rays, AÕs, Brewers, Yankees, and Nationals heading into the season. So to expand on that a bit:

Rays: This one shouldn’t need a lot of explanation. Chone Smith has them winning 89 games, PECOTA predicts 83 wins, and Dave Pinto (via Marcel the Monkey) has them ranked fifth among all projected offenses. Frankly, I’m buying it. This is a pretty good team. They’ll need some serious breaks to actually compete with the Yankees and the Red Sox, but, incredibly enough, I don’t think it’s impossible.

The sleeper unit on this team is the starting rotation. I really like Andy Sonnanstine, he of the 130.7 IP, 97/26 K/BB, 5.85 ERA line in 2007. He’ll be slotted in behind Scott Kazmir, Jamie Shields, and Matt Garza, forming a very solid group (if they can find someone other than Edwin Jackson for the fifth spot, that’s a huge plus).

There’s also a lot more attention to detail on this year’s roster. The bottom end, which has been pretty disastrous over the years, may actually be pretty good in 2008. Cliff Floyd is around, as well as Eric Hinske and John Rodriguez (a personal favorite). And guys like Willy Aybar and Justin Ruggiano aren’t nearly as objectionable as Josh Wilson and Damon Hollins.

Team defense should be the biggest issue, but that’s nothing new. Having B.J. Upton off of second base should help, but it will take a miracle for this team to be above average defensively.

A’s: They will almost always be on my list of interesting teams, but this year they really deserve it… I guess. Granted, their rotation will be pretty boring. And so will their outfield, if Emil Brown and Chris Denorfia end up in left and center.

But there’s still enough here to make me curious. Daric Barton will start from day one, as will Kurt Suzuki. Travis Buck is moderately exciting, and Jack Cust is pure fun. And things will get very interesting if we get to see the kids acquired this winter, namely Carlos Gonzalez and Aaron Cunningham.

And how about Jack Hannahan as a sleeper, in case Eric Chavez continues to do his best Grant Hill impression.

Brewers: Like the Rays, the Brewers’ biggest problem in 2007 was team defense. Bill Hall didn’t work in center, Ryan Braun may as well have been Frank Thomas at third, and Rickie Weeks continued to be Rickie Weeks at second. They fixed two of those problems at once by signing Mike Cameron to play center, moving Hall back to third and Braun to left. Whether that creates a whole new set of problems is anybody’s guess.

Aside from all that, Weeks and J.J. Hardy have always interested me offensively, perhaps because I’ve been eternally bullish on both. And I can’t help rooting for Jason Kendall, who was about as fun to watch as any player I can remember when he was at his best.

Yankees: I’m bearish on the Yankees. Read my note from Tuesday for a full explanation.

Nationals: As dreadful as half of this team is, the other half is extremely fun. That side includes Nick Johnson, Wily Mo Pena, Ryan Zimmerman, Lastings Milledge, and Elijah Dukes. We know the caveats that come with Johnson and Dukes, and Zimmerman is somewhat of a known quantity at this point. As I mentioned Tuesday, Wily Mo is a personal favorite, but it’s hard to be quite as high on him as I was two years ago.

The wild card is Milledge. If he can stick in center, he could be an all-star caliber player very quickly. If he has to shift to a corner, his value takes a tremendous hit.

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Right to it:

  • Maury named the Red Sox MLB Organization of the Year for 2007, and really this is a no-brainer. For decades, the only ways an individual team could significantly expand its business were 1) win, 2) build a new stadium, or 3) encourage league-wide growth policies. With Fenway Sports Group, the Red Sox have completely redefined what a sports franchise can be. An old world company if there ever was one, the Sox have become dynamic, creative, and perpetually innovative, led by a management team that is always thinking outside the box. That goes for the baseball side as well, of course, which also had a reasonably successful year.
  • PECOTA has the Yankees scoring 885 runs this season. I’m betting the under, which I guess is somewhat bold considering they scored 968 last season. But the system expects full time play out of almost all of their regulars, and what I would consider optimistic projections for Jorge Posada, Johnny Damon, Jason Giambi, and Bobby Abreu. All are projected near their recent baselines, but that in itself may be too much to ask for the group as a whole.
  • I’ll admit, the hearings last week made for some interesting television. If it had any actual significance, or was even regarding something that mattered in the least bit, it would have been off the charts. In a five hour congressional hearing about human growth hormone, there was no mention of whether HGH actually helps performance (it decidedly does not, when taken on its own). Congratulations, Henry Waxman. Your next five terms have truly been earned.
  • If you’re a compulsive box score reader, you understand that empty feeling of having to finish an Astros-Giants game before you go to sleep (for point’s sake, we’ll assume Barry was sitting it out). There are some teams I look forward to more than others, and the teams I’ll be most interested in early in 2008 are the Rays, A’s, Brewers, Yankees, and Nationals (there’s my Wily Mo fetish acting up again). Expect more on each in the near future. On the other end of the spectrum: the Astros, Giants, Twins, White Sox, and Pirates. But with that said, God help the Orioles if Adam Jones gets hurt.

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George W. BushStadium construction is always a hot topic amongst sports economists, particularly when it comes to public subsidies. Right or wrong, the general consensus is that the benefits for municipalities rarely outweigh the costs. Since the teams keep almost all of the revenue generated from the facilities, and often pay extremely low rent fees, this shouldn’t be a great surprise.

But the next question seems to be generate more emotional responses. Namely, who is most at fault: the rich, “greedy” team owners, or the politicians that enable them?

The real answer? Neither. [...]

Right to it:

  • Not much to say on the Erik Bedard trade that hasn’t already been said. Baltimore gets a very strong return, certainly better than the Twins got for Johan Santana. Those who read this blog regularly already know my preference for position players over pitchers, so I won’t rehash here. But consider this question: of all the young outfielders traded for established players this offseason, who would you take? That list includes Adam Jones, Cameron Maybin, Carlos Gonzalez, Carlos Gomez. I would be hard-pressed not to take Jones.
  • I hope Brian Cashman leaves the Yankees when his contract runs out following this season. I would love to see what he could do in a different situation, with the autonomy and control that he deserves. That he had to spend months fighting against the Santana trade is outrageous, particularly since any productivity lost due to that battle will inevitably be pinned on Cashman himself.
  • I’m more and more convinced that the free agent market has dried due to economic concerns. Kyle Lohse, Josh Fogg, Livan Hernandez, and others are still looking for jobs. Say what you want about them, pitchers of that caliber were getting multi-year, big money contracts a year ago (i.e. Jason Marquis).

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If you’re looking for an ultra-quick rundown of what’s going on in the news and around the web, check out Alltop.com, a new project from our friend Guy Kawasaki. The sports page contains headlines from sources as varied as ESPN.com, Fanhouse, Deadspin, SB Nation, the New York Times, and Kissing Suzy Kolber. Personally, my favorite section is Egos, which features recent blog posts from the likes of Mark Cuban, Donald Trump, Brian Williams, and, of course, Guy Kawasaki.

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It’s time for MLB Advanced Media to admit that MLB.com is seriously behind the eight ball.

This isn’t a very popular viewpoint, particularly since many have already anointed the site a magnificent success for the thirty clubs. But while other big media companies are rapidly opening up their sites, MLB.com continues to hold much of its content behind a pay-wall.

As we’ve discussed before, digital media is undergoing an unstoppable shift towards free and open distribution. All of the major television networks, as well as numerous cable stations, have made full episodes of their shows freely available online, with limited commercials. Even the major music labels, after years of filing lawsuits and persecuting many of their own costumers, finally appear ready to accept an ad-supported model of distribution. [...]

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