Monday, March 26, 2007

Math Lesson

I don't know how long this link will work, but if you go there and click on "Video: Seeing Joel Zumaya's fastball up close," you'll see 2 things, an equation for velocity and some really sweet looking tattoos for a smoke-throwing reliever. The equation presented is velocity = speed / time. Speed divided by time gives you the units distance divided by time squared, namely acceleration, not velocity.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Whatchu Talkin 'Bout Mnookin?

Hot off the presses, some stinking mlb garbage from Seth Mnookin. Basically the point of his blog is to say hey, based on some seemingly sober projections of both Papelbon and Tavarez this year, maybe Papelbon actually is more valuable as a reliever. Actually some of the theory behind it is plausible to the point of intrigue. He kind of stumbles backside first into showing how VORP can be used somewhat as measure of reliever use efficiency. But he doesn't run with this and examine how Papelbon could be more useful as a roving relief ace than a starter. Instead he ineffectively throws some stats at us that he obviously doesn't understand and then concludes with some contradictory and befuddling final statements. Or as my bee said "It's a barrage of half-baked "statistical" "analysis" finishing with him saying that none of that matters and it's a good move because poor widdle papelbon might cry more if he were a starter."

My basic criticism of this is his ignorant usage of PECOTA. First he tries to predict Tavarez's starting success based on his PECOTA 2007 relief Won-Loss and ERA, two quantities that tell us very little about what we should expect from him as a starter. Quoting us the Won-Loss record says absolutely nothing. Also it's been shown statistically that one should expect about a 1 run differential in ERA between starting and relieving. A reliever should on average expect about a 1 run increase in their ERA. Suddenly Tavarez goes from solid back of the rotation starter to disaster. This is a major point when considering the ramifications of Papelbon closing this year. If the Red Sox had 5 ace starters and then Papelbon, well at that point him closing seems slightly sane. But like any major league team, they need all the quality arms in their rotation that they can get. Plenty of teams would thank their lucky stars to have Papelbon start for them, and are shaking their heads over the Red Sox refusing the opportunity.

He then follows that up by quoting Papelbon's PECOTA verbatim and doesn't even think twice about why the predictions are so conservative with him. Now I've just shown that even at 10-6 with a 4 ERA Papelbon will still be a drastic improvement over Tavarez, but really the reason the projection is so conservative is that it is based on a database of thousands of 1 or 2-pitch relievers who were forced into starting by their team due to lack of better options. Most young relief pitches (who PECOTA is comparing Papelbon to) don't have the stamina, experience, or pitch selection to be above average starters. Papelbon is really a starter who briefly worked as a reliever, but PECOTA doesn't know everything about him. It knows he did well in the minors, but he was old for almost every level he pitched at, which significantly undervalues you nomatter how good your stats are. Based on predictable learning curves for late teen, early 20s minor leaguers, being old for your level usually results in very low expectations by any reasonable projection tool. PECOTA sees him as a 4A starter turned reliever who is now being forced into the rotation, I don't blame it for being conservative. Those type pitchers tend to fail. See Leonard DiNardo.

Two other incorrect things he has sprinkled this irrelevant piece with are "There's undoubtedly a big psychological boost that comes with having a lights-out flamethrower set to slam shut the door at the end of the game" and "Borowski looked like an elite reliever last year." Referring to the former, I'm not sure how psychologically sound a team would be which had an excellent closer but no leads to protect. Oh wait I do know the psychological state of a team like that, I saw the Pirates play last year. It's a team so disinterested that teammates call each other out for not focusing on defense. I do understand what was meant to be his point, but I don't think our first order of business should be making Francona's late inning job easier, it should be having our best pitchers pitch the most innings possible so we can most effectively crush our opponents. Referring to the latter statement, Borowski had a 1.94 K/BB ratio last year. For reference, here are what some legitimate elite relievers had for K/BB last year: B.J. Ryan - 4.30, Mariano Rivera - 5.00, our boy Papelbon - 5.77, Joe Nathan - 5.94, J.J. Putz - 8.00, Pat Neshek - 8.83. Joe Borowski did not look like an elite reliever last year. His 3.75 ERA in a huge ballpark in the National League didn't even make him look that way. Honestly if Mnooken can't see this, why is he writing about baseball in the first place?

I can't say I really understand the confusing argument he transitions to towards the end of his blog, but suffice to say thinking that Red Sox Nation will be complacent with 4-5 inning below average starts from Julian Tavarez next year shows how out of touch he is on the issue.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Who Wants to Boycott the Red Sox With Me?

This is pretty much the worst news I could have heard today. Putting Papelbon back in as closer costs this team 5 wins at least this year, continues the organization's 20 year stretch of complete mismanagement of young organizational pitching talent, and plays roulette with the health of the best young arm on the Red Sox. Not being able to see through the ignorant naysayers to the real value of Papelbon really calls into question the intelligence of this organization. Even without taking into account how many fewer games over the next however many years we'll win, it's just common sense that if a pitcher has prepared all offseason and spring to start, you don't switch him out of the spot with 2 weeks to go before the season starts. This move offends me as both a Red Sox and baseball fan. It's absolutely unbelievable how reactionary and arbitrary the decision making has been in the last couple years under Epstein/Francona.

I don't care how good they are this year. This team could have been great. And this year could have established a core group of 4 starters to dominate the AL for the next 5 years. Now I guess I'll have to watch Tavarez suck every 5 days. Because of course also remember that apparently Lester's going to be wasting bullets on AAA nobodies for the foreseeable future.

Updated AL East standings:
1. New York Yankees: Unless Mussina is moved to long man.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Preseason Cheat Sheet Straight from Bud Selig’s Desk

AL East
1. Boston Red Sox: Too sexy for 2nd place.
2. NY Yankees: Sorry, keeping a couple random prospects doesn’t make your team young again. 3. Toronto Blue Jays: They just never are going to make it are they.
4. Baltimore Orioles: Couple bright spots keep them out of last.
5. Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Only team with more young talented hitters than the D-Backs. If they had the Marlin’s luck they’d probably win the World Series this year. But they don’t, and they won’t.

AL Central
1. Minnesota Twins: The Tigers are primed for a drop-off, and the Twins will have just enough to pull it out.
2. Detroit Tigers: Offseason moves keep them from dropping off too much.
3. Chicago White Sox: How did so many innings-eaters and all or nothing hitters get on one team?
4. Cleveland Indians: The top of their roster could compete with any team, but the bottom is pretty awful.
5. Kansas City Royals: Teahen, Greinke, and pray for Alex Gordon.

AL West
1. Oakland: It’s going to be a close race again this year but Crosby, Chavez, and Harden will finally lead the way instead of holding them back.
2. Anaheim Angels: Lots of good pitching, not a bat to be found.
3. Texas Rangers: This team bores me. C’mon Teixeira win an MVP already.
4. Seattle: Sorry Felix, you’re destined to be the Kevin Garnett of baseball.

NL East
1. NY Mets: They’ve got that competitive spirit that wins games! Also money. Lots and lots of money.
2. Atlanta: Still teetering between playoff threat and complete collapse.
3. Philadelphia Phillies: To Jimmy Rollins, you ain’t winning squat this year. Have you looked at your pitching staff?
4. Florida Marlins: Not far from the Phillies, but will regress some.
5. Washington Nationals: Very far from the Marlins. Oh my the pitching is bad.

NL Central
1. Milwaukee Brewers: My craziest prediction ever. This is the year, the Brew Crew’s taking it.
2. St. Louis Cardinals: Remind me of the Braves in a lot of ways, they will struggle to make the playoffs.
3. Chicago Cubs: Hard to gauge this team, so many new, shiny, expensive players must mean more wins right?
4. Houston Astros: Stop pretending! You’re not contenders any more, and you’re not really that close.
5. Cincinnati Reds: Ditto, except you were never contenders.
6. Pittsburgh Pirates: What’s tougher than being a Pirates fan?

NL West
1. San Diego Padres: Picked ‘em in a close call last year and they won so I’m doing it again this year. Peavy will bounce back.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers: Red Sox west misses the playoffs this year.
3. Arizona Diamondbacks: They will own this division in due time.
4. Colorado Rockies: They’ve got more young talent than you think.
5. San Francisco Giants: They pay Zito $100 million and finish last. Barry Bonds breaks the most hallowed record in baseball and everyone boos. What a year…

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Ben's Preseason Predictions

Somehow I feel like they aren't much different from last year, but I'd have to check.

AL East

1. Boston Red Sox - this is it. If this team doesn't unseat the Yankees, I think the Braves streak is in serious jeopardy. If Pineiro can serviceabley close, the bullpen will be a lot more solid than the deluge of criticism suggests.
2. NY Yankees - Unfortunately their ability to assemble any lineup they want hides most of their pitching woes. Cano and Wang come back to earth.
3. Toronto Blue Jays - keep tryin' J.P. Ricciardi. Very close to wild-card range here, maybe give them another year of tweaking.
4. Tampa Bay Devil Rays - contraction please.
5. Baltimore Orioles - when you sign Traschel to replace Benson, you've got plenty of problems.

AL Central

1. Cleveland Indians - I'm just going to keep picking them until their run differential pans out the way it should. Only Foulke is able to screw over two teams in a matter of months.
2. Chicago White Sox - If Konerko/Dye/Thome didn't exist this team is a laughing-stock.
3. Detroit Tigers - Please let Zumaya close, you'll pick up wins!
4. Minnesota Twins - Pass a collection plate every game to raise money for Santana's extension.
5. Kansas City Royals - I love the '80s!

AL West

1. Oakland - Harden and Haren and pray for .... no elbow catastrophes?
2. Anaheim Angels - man that's a bad lineup with a chewy Guerrero center.
3. Texas - I feel like they've missed their opportunity to take it to the next level with their current core. If Gagne's close to who he was, they could have an interesting season.
4. Seattle - Let's hope year two of his reign is kinder to King Felix.

NL East

1. Atlanta - their lineup is competitive with the Mets despite half the press, and their pitching is probably deeper.
2. NY Mets - Pedro's going to be a reliever in a year or two.
3. Philadelphia Phillies - Close but perennially short.
4. Florida Marlins - They'll be breathing heat down the rest of the division's neck all year.
5. Washington Nationals - cherry trees?

NL Central

1. St. Louis Cardinals - book it.
2. Chicago Cubs - that's a lot of money they spent to possibly miss the playoffs.
3. Milaukee Brewers - if Sheets is finally healthy.
4. Houston Astros - Losing Pettite and possibly Clemens in one offseason is going to hurt.
5. Cincinnati Reds - I actually forgot them when I first did my list, I guess that sums it up.
6. Pittsburgh Pirates - whoa, Jason Bay's already 28.

NL West

1. Los Angeles Dodgers - in the largest pitching-friendly division, they have the most of it.
2. San Diego Padres - if only their lineup was a little deeper.
3. Arizona Diamondbacks - if this team keeps Webb, they could be somebody in a couple years
4. San Francisco Giants - they should've been rebuilding 3 years ago.
5. Colorado Rockies - sigh.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The 2007 AL East Division Winning Boston Red Sox.

Last March I correctly surmised that the Yankees would win the division once again barring a lot of major injuries. They did win, and they even won taking into account some big injuries. I also thought the Blue Jays would easily win 90 games, with the Red Sox right in between the Yankees and them in a close race. The Jays only won 87, but things played out generally how I expected save for the Red Sox “collapse” late in the season, with collapse in quotes since it was more a regression to their expected win-loss than a result of some external unluckiness. The key thing to take from how the season played out though was how closely matched the top three in the AL East were, so close that the performance level from a few select players were enough to drive the Red Sox and Blue Jays out of the race.

Conversely for 2007 I think the Red Sox are so well positioned in the AL East that it would take a massively disappointing season-long underperformance or an avalanche of injuries to prevent them from winning the division. In fact as much as I think expecting playoff success is faulty, anything less than a trip to the ALCS would really be a disappointment as well. I’m not going to go player by player trying to project their baseline 2007 performance level because for one, it is tedious and takes a while, two, I did that last year and now it is plainly recorded how far off I was on Beckett’s performance, and three, I don’t think it’s necessary.

The lineup is stacked up and down with above average expectations, along with a middle of the order in Ortiz, Manny, and Drew which, if/when healthy, is the best in baseball. I think they’re even the best if Drew does his normal “80% effort is good enough for me” thing. The sole lineup spot where minimal production is expected would be out of Dustin Pedroia. As powerful as the offense will be, the starting pitching is definitely the strength of the team. No other team in the majors has 4 possible ace type pitchers, who if nothing else will get you into the 7th inning most nights. That’s not even counting the innings eater Wakefield or the talented Lester who would both be 2-3 starters on many other teams. I look at a rotation like this (and don’t tell me Papelbon is a question mark as a starter because there has never been an inkling of reason to suggest he shouldn't excel as a MLB starter immediately) and just wonder where the losses are going to come from. It’s the kind of rotation that could string together long winning streaks over and over.

This leaves out the bullpen, which is sooooo bad that the doomsdayers are saying it could rival the epic bullpen collapse of 2003. You know, that 2003 bullpen which was so horrible, so ineffective, that the team only won 95 games and brought a 3 run lead into the 8th inning of the 7th game of the ALCS. Ninety-five wins with a comparable lineup on paper to the 2007 version and an inferior starting rotation, and a bullpen that was obviously worse than anything that could happen this year. Think about the 2007 bullpen this way: it’s the same group of pitchers from last year except minus an average sometime-contributor Keith Foulke and minus Jonathan Papelbon. The bullpen was pretty good last year as a result of the dominating closer, by which I reason the bullpen this year is also 1 good closer away from being good. And there is no way anyone in management will allow 5 blown saves a month with a team this talented. Either someone will emerge or someone will be acquired. The closer is the easiest “important” position to fill on a team, and there are always plenty of bad teams in June and July willing to part with relievers enjoying career years. I haven’t been this sure the Red Sox would win the division since 2004, when they somehow ended up missing the division by 3 games, but hey they did win 98 and the World Series.

But why am I so excited about winning the division that I wrote a blog on it? It’s because in a game like baseball winning over a full season is much more representative of a team’s ability and also much more in the spirit of the game. Having 2 dominating starters steamroll through October is not in the spirit of the team game of baseball, as effective as it is in the playoffs. I would love the Red Sox beating the Yankees in the regular season as much as I loved them beating them in the playoffs since it would mean so much.

If it happened this year, it would also accomplish the task at hand in stopping the Yankees division winning streak at 9 consecutive years, leaving them well short of my beloved Braves 14 year streak, and would make the Braves streak pretty much untouchable for all intents and purposes. I say that because to win the division over 5 years in a row you need both a very strong group of young players all reaching star or superstar status at the major league level (which is a rare and largely luck-based proposition), and you need nearly unlimited resources to fill in all the holes that come up. The Yankees had Jeter, Williams, Rivera, Posada, and to a lesser extent others leading the way from the mid 90s to the mid 00s along with Steinbrenner’s bank account. The Braves had Glavine, Smoltz, Jones, Jones, and others leading the way for over a decade along with Ted Turner’s bank account.

There are few owners out there who will spend with no regrets (I can list them on one hand), and for a team to win a division every year for 14 years again will take one of these major market teams developing a superstar core group of players themselves to build around. It is just not that likely to happen again anytime soon, to the tune of 14 straight years at least. Of course the Yankees could pull off number 15 in this streak if Steinbrenner is able to keep bringing enough new players in to hold the division as the old stalwarts slowly breakdown. Translation: someone needs to beat them to keep the Braves record safe, and soon.

My Red Sox expectation for 2007: 100-62 record, 6 games ahead of the Yankees, 10 games ahead of the Blue Jays. ALCS playoff exit.

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