Sunday, March 28, 2010

2010 Predictions, because someone has to be wrong

AL East
1st - Rays - They could screw this season up, finish 3rd, lose 3-5 major leaguers, and be just as competitive next season with their army of prospects coming up.
2nd - Yankees (wildcard) - I see regression all over the place. No way can Rivera, Posada, Jeter, and A-Rod ALL put up 2009 seasons on 2010 bodies; which is what it'd take to win the division. Vasquez's AL numbers won't equal his NL ones, but at least they're finally starting Hughes.
3rd - Red Sox - This division is a complete crap shoot, three 94+ win teams is possible. A downturn in corner power and a possible mid-season Beckett contract controversy may leave this team looking in from the outside.
4th - Orioles - 20-30 wins later we have the bottom of the division. Lots of intriguing prospects here, but still not ready to take a run at the mountain.
5th - Blue Jays - RIP Blue Jays for the next few years, will anyone in Toronto be watching by the time you turn it around?

AL Central
1st - Twins - they were || to messing up and putting Liriano in the 'pen. Thome looks great buried in that lineup.
2nd - Tigers - if like 5 things bounce their way, they can win the division.
3rd - White Sox - how can a team appraise pitchers pretty well but hitters so stupidly? I love their bullpen.
4th - Kansas City - If only some intrepid intern could clean this roster up, it'd be a decent squad.
5th - Indians - Do they fire Shapiro this season? It'd be too bad, but maybe it's time.

AL West
1st - Mariners - I suspect most sources will say Texas will win this division, and they very well might. However once Bedard comes back the Mariners have possibly the best Top 3 rotation in baseball, and a deceptively solid lineup. Record vs. the rest of the division will be key in the AL West.
2nd - Rangers - Best lineup this side of Yankeetown. If Harden ever throws 200 innings again, he'd be playoff-bound. And will Feliz's bullpen explosion last year translate to the rotation?
3rd - Athletics - will be much improved from last year's forgotten season, but still not close enough to contention again.
4th - Angels - If everything goes well for them, this pick will look ridiculous. But I see regression in the outfield, Pineiro != Lackey, and a bullpen controversy in the making with Fuentes.

NL East
1st - Phillies - Ho hum, to the playoffs we go. Halladay maybe has the best season since Pedro? Wait scratch that, best season since Greinke in '09??
2nd - Bravos (wild card) - I'm fawning over that lineup, and if Hudson bounces back the rotation will be pretty nice.
3rd - Marlins - Already 1 year behind their "win WS every 6 years" pattern, will need Hanley to get back on track in order to contend for the playoffs.
4th - Mets - they definitely win the "most boring roster" award; it looks like a fantasy team that someone stopped paying attention to 1.5 months into the season.
5th - Nationals - my bet on Strasburg call up - June 1st.

NL Central

1st - Cardinals - least competitive division award goes to...
2nd - Cubs - their core is rapidly aging
3rd - Reds - I'm uber-high on this team in 2011-2013, especially if they get rid of Baker first
4th - Brewers - I will give them all kinds of Kellys and Westmorelands for just one fat Fielder
5th - Astros - zzzzzzzzz
6th - Pirates - get a fresh look at tomorrow's contender trade deadline-acquisitions, today!

NL West
1st - Rockies - This lineup won't be half-bad, even at sea-level.
2nd - Dodgers - If someone looks to dump an ace starter this season, Dodgers need to pounce like whoa.
3rd - Giants - for every intriguing young hitter/Lincecum, there's a smelly Rowand or Zito gumming up the works.
4th - Diamondbacks - if they had a full year from Webb, maybe a different story.
5th - Padres - Adrian's gonna get bored this year.

Friday, December 18, 2009

So I won't be making any more posts about baseball, but here's a chart of monthly global temperatures since I've been born.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Playoff Opportunities(?)

Mr. Zimbalist at the WSJ is one of a sizeable number of mainstream writers who, in the wake of the Yankees 2009 championship, have recently argued against payroll as the source of New York's advantage. By extension they also argue against the need for a salary cap-like system in MLB, something the other major American sports all possess. Instead, these writers argue alternatively that low market teams pocket revenue money, that other teams outspend too, or in the case of Zimbalist, that parity exists already. In the case of the WSJ piece, in addition to a couple bailout/Geithner jokes we get this gem of Yankee justification -- since 2004 twenty of the thirty MLB teams have made the playoffs! Hurray for parity!

He's right, technically speaking. Nine of the fourteen AL teams (64%) and 11 of the 16 NL teams (69%) made the playoffs in the past six years. Here's the list if you're curious:

AL: Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, Twins, Oakland, Indians, Tigers, Rays, White Sox
NL: Dodgers, Mets, Cardinals, Braves, Phillies, Cubs, Brewers, Padres, Rockies, Diamondbacks

That actually seems pretty good ... in isolation. Here's the NL parse:

Dodgers - 4/6
Cardinals - 4/6
Phillies - 3/6
Astros - 2/6
Braves - 2/6
Cubs - 2/6
Padres - 2/6
Rockies - 2/6
Brewers - 1/6
Diamondbacks - 1/6
Mets - 1/6
Wild Card spread: West (3), Central (3)

The picture here is pretty rosy. Eleven teams have made the playoffs the last 6 years, and the spread is fairly even. I'm actually a little surprised that no NL East team has won the Wild Card the last six seasons since it's considered the most competitive division in the NL; the teams must cancel each other out via divisional play. All this aside, none of these teams have to contend with the Yankee leviathan until the World Series (besides the yearly interleague drubbing); so it's a little disingenuous to use the NL as evidence of parity if the argument is about the Yankees.

Let's turn our attention to the American League.

Yankees - 5/6
Red Sox - 5/6
Angels - 5/6
Twins - 3/6
White Sox - 2/6
Tigers - 1/6
Indians - 1/6
Athletics - 1/6
Rays - 1/6
Wild Card split: East 5/6, Central 1/6

So, three teams in the American League (the Red Sox, Angels and Yankees) have won 15 of the 18 postseason slots available to them (83% -- they can't win the Central). The only AL parity that actually exists is in the AL Central, where four teams have made the playoffs from that division the last six years. Oh, and guess which are the top three AL teams by average payroll during that period too?

Let's expand our sample size a little further and see if Zimbalist's contention works better on a larger timeline (I doubt it). Here's the AL picture in the wild card era, the past fifteen years.

Yankees - 14/15

Red Sox - 9/15
Angels - 6/15
Indians - 6/15
Athletics - 6/15
Twins - 5/15
Mariners - 4/15
White Sox - 3/15
Rangers - 3/15
Baltimore - 2/15
Tigers - 1/15
Rays - 1/15
Wild Cards: East 11/15, Central 1/15, West 3/15

Now I know that playoff appearances is kind of a silly metric for examining parity (something like winning percentage or run differential is superior without even wading very deep into the sabermetric pool) , but come on. Look at the top spot (and to a lesser extent the Wild Card breakdown). Seems fair to me! How any self-respecting journalist can use playoff appearances to argue that baseball has parity with a straight face is beyond me.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Double Edged Plate

Watching the world series I developed the impression that Yankee pitchers were more effective at keeping the ball on the outer and inner edges of the plate than the Phillies pitchers were. I investigated with pitch f/x data. First, I defined my 2 "edges" of the plate. The pitch f/x strikezone stretches from about -0.8 ft to 0.8 ft in their coordinate system, so I defined the right edge (inside for righthanded batters) as -1.5 ft to -0.5 ft and the left edge as 0.5 ft to 1.5 ft (inside for lefthanded batters). During the entire series Yankee pitchers hit these edges with 55% of pitches to the Phillies 48%, suggesting that yes, the Yankees were more adept at keeping the ball near but not over the plate. To see if these percents are important, I then graphed opponent on base percent against percent of balls thrown to the edges for each game of the series.

As shown above, there was literally no correlation between hitting these edges and the offensive production of the opposing team in this series. This somewhat surprised me but then again I'm not taking into anything like count, type of pitch, stuff, so maybe it shouldn't have. Looking at the edge data however did reveal at least one pretty clear signal. In the series the Yankees pitchers hit the right edge 242 times and the left edge 245 times (out of 889 total), whereas the Phillies hit the right edge 272 times but left edge only 157 times (out of 886 total). The Phillies were much less balanced, as it seems they were trying to keep the ball away from the lefty power on the Yankees. The only game where the Phillies were balanced was game 1 where Cliff Lee hit the right edge 27 times and the left 31 times, which of course was an excellently pitched game.

So was balance actually important in the series? First, I defined balance as the difference between right and left edges hit divided by total edges hit (the smaller the number the better the balance). Then I plotted this against opponent on base percentage in the series. The results are below.

Now there is a correlation, albeit a weak one. The point which appears to be somewhat of an outlier in the top left is the Yankee pitchers in game 1, which was probably due to Sabathia having great balance and then a small sample size of Yankee relievers giving up a ton of baserunners. If we just look at the Phillies pitchers for the series, balance appears to be very important indeed.

In any case, this correlation doesn't prove causation, but it is interesting to see how Phillies pitchers mostly pounded one side of the plate after game 1. Theoretically this just doesn't seem like a recipe for success to me, as it allows the Yankee lefties to sit on the outside corner (Damon's 2 out single off Lidge in game 4 and Matsui's 2 run single off Pedro in game 6 both come to mind).

If anyone wants to investigate the data further, I uploaded it here (note: my if statements are in open office format, not microsoft)