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Just The Sports: 2006-04-30

Just The Sports

Saturday, May 06, 2006

What A Great Idea

In a flash of brilliance, German and US security officials have decided to leave the American flag off the US team bus during the World Cup, the only team bus out of the thirty-two which will not have the nation's flag on it. Supposedly, the decision was an effort to increase the safety of the US men's soccer team. Now, instead of the bus being easily identifiable by its national flag, it will be easily identifiable by its lack of a national flag. And its police escort. And the fact that the bus is predominantly blue in color. Oh, and the fact anyone who can log onto the Internet now knows the US team bus will be the predominantly blue one without a flag on it.


Thursday, May 04, 2006

If I Hear The Word Clutch One More Time

Joel Sherman is the latest sports writer to jump on the Alex-Rodriguez-Isn't-Clutch bandwagon and make a fool of himself. Since very few sports writers even try to validate the points they make with actual data, I am sure he will not be the first.

David Ortiz tormented more than the Yankees again on Monday night. He bedeviled Alex Rodriguez once more, as well.

He did not bedevil Alex Rodriguez at all. Rodriguez is not a pitcher so David Ortiz has never faced him in a one-on-one situation. Please stop typing now before you set the world record for ignorant statements in one article.

Ortiz restated, on the first day of May 2006, the best argument why he - and not A-Rod - should have won the 2005 AL MVP.

You cannot possibly be serious. Joel, please tell me you don't really think that how a player performs in 2006 should have any bearing on an award given out for the 2005 season. By that logic why we don't rip the 2005 AL Cy Young from Bartolo Colon, who is winless and on the DL, and give it to Jose Contreras, who has a 4-0 record with a 1.45 ERA this season.

But when it comes to the big moment, Ortiz's successes now feel as if they are on endless loop.

They are only on an endless loop because the media keeps harping on his late-inning hits instead of putting them into perspective by comparing them to all the times he fails to get a hit in the same situations.

Rodriguez's late-game Yankee highlight reel is not as dense.

But his early-game Yankee highlight reel is pretty damn impressive.

"The voters got it wrong," an AL manager recently told me unsolicited. "I would do almost anything to avoid facing Ortiz late in a close game. I don't feel anything close to the same fear with Rodriguez. What is more valuable than that?"

Thank you for asking that very astute question, AL manager. Please allow me to answer your question, which is in all likelihood a rhetorical one. Rodriguez being more likely than David Ortiz to hit a home run last year when the game was scoreless or tied is more valuable. Having a higher batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage could also be seen as more valuable. Not to mention Rodriguez, in 2005, had an RC/27 of 9.53 compared to Ortiz's 8.90. This means that a team composed of Alex Rodriguezes would defeat a team made up only of David Ortizes. Lest I forget, Alex Rodriguez also had a WARP1 of 10.4 higer than Ortiz's own WARP1 of 8.0, indicating having Rodriguez on the Yankees was good for two more wins over a replacement player than having Ortiz on the Red Sox.

And all that is without mentioning Rodriguez actually plays a defensive position while Ortiz is a designated hitter. All Ortiz has to do is concentrate on hitting and he is still not better statistically than Rodriguez.

Oh, and the AL manager shouldn't be so afraid to face Ortiz late in the game. While he is more likely than Rodriguez to hit a home run when his team is trailing, last year, Boston's record was 6-53 when trailing after seven innings. The Yankees were 13-58 under the same conditions. Therefore, Boston received no appreciable benefit from Ortiz's supposed clutch play.

Rodriguez's biggest hit of 2006 was probably opening night when his grand slam off Barry Zito blew open the game. That was a second-inning homer in a 15-2 game.

If you are going to use the term clutch, at least use it correctly. What is more clutch than scoring runs to keep your team ahead of the opponent? If a first inning home-run that gives your team the lead isn't clutch, then what the hell is? Joel, I want you to remember this last tidbit the next time you foolishly plan to write another article on a perceived intangible. The team that gets ahead first usually wins the game.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

You Don't Know Me Like I Know Me

If you didn't get that reference, revelation is only a click away. You can thank me later.

With the news of John Daly's reported gambling losses of $50-60 million still commanding headlines for at least the next week, I had a dilemma ahead of me the size of Mount Everest. Which voice of idiocy would I turn to in these morally presumptuous times? Who would dare become indignant at the first syllable of the word "gambling?" After much deliberation, one constant voice of imbecility rose above the rest. That voice belonged to Mike Celizic.

Gamble in baseball, and you’re finished for life. Gamble in golf, and nobody cares.

Gamble on baseball, and you're finished for life. Very few people care about golf anyway.

“What’s the deal?” a friend wanted to know. “Is this a double standard?”

No, it's not, but your friend is probably too ignorant to know the difference. Otherwise, why would he be your friend?

Daly claims to have dropped somewhere between $50-$60 million in casinos over the years, and, he observes, if he keeps it up, it’s going to ruin him. Makes you wonder how long it took to come to that conclusion. Most of us probably would have figured it out by $5 million in the red, maybe less.

Whoa, Mike. Don't be so quick to assume people learn from what others deem to be their mistakes. For example, if I were to write fifty atrocious and erroneous articles on sports, I would conclude I was a bad sports writer and should probably quit my job so as to not subject unsuspecting readers to my idiocy. But obviously, you are as slow to reach a conclusion as John Daly is.

If he were in baseball, he’d have been thrown out of the game.

A blatant misrepresentation of the truth. And do you want to know why, Mike? Because there is no rule in Major League Baseball that says a player cannot gamble away from the sport. John Daly did his gambling damage at casinos, not at golf tournaments.

If you need a concrete example of a baseball player being allowed to gamble away from baseball, look no further than Alex Rodriguez. Last summer Rodriguez was warned about playing in illegal poker games, but MLB did nothing to him because they could do nothing to him. Mind you, the link I am providing for this story comes from the very online site you work for.

Beyond that, I’d like to know how somebody can “fix” a golf tournament. It’s relatively easy to throw a baseball game, but I don’t how you’d throw a golf tournament.

First, it is not easy to throw a baseball game because one player usually does not have that great an impact on the game to win it or lose it for his team. It would take a collective effort from players who have no fear of being banned from baseball for life. Good luck on that one, Celizic.

Second, there would be no reason, none at all, for a golf player to throw a golf tournament. Perhaps you don't know this already Mike, but there is a distinct difference in how baseball players and golfers are paid. Since MLB players' contracts are guaranteed, whether the team they play for loses or wins, it really has no bearing on their bank accounts. Therefore, if they were to throw a game, whatever money they received would be a bonus.

Conversely, golf players' salaries are based on how well they do from tournament to tournament. What this indicates is there is no reason for a golfer to throw one tournament because he/she is not assured of doing well in another tournament and reaping the benefits of a top finish. To convince a golfer to throw a tournament, probably on the last day of a tournament when the player had a small lead, would require a person to not only pay them for the difference for the money they would lose in said tournament, but it would also have to be financially lucrative enough for the golfer to give up any exemptions which may come with the tournament win. All in all, even attempting to fix a golf tournament is not a feasible proposition.

So there’s no double standard, only the golf standard, which is that if you want to throw your money away, the Tour doesn’t care which vehicle you choose to do it. You can spend it on women and boats, or you can feed the slot machines. It’s your choice.

You can also do that in every other professional sports league in the world. Maybe we should call it the wealth standard.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Overheard Idiocy

Overheard during the Cleveland Indians-Chicago White Sox game.

One of the three announcers (I think Steve Phillips) said with a straight face that if Joe Crede batted .300 for the season, it would improve his chances of winning a Gold Glove.

I cannot even begin to elucidate for you just how ridiculous a statement that is, especially considering the Gold Glove is strictly a defensive award. So I will take the only course of action available to me. I will go to the stats.

Of the sixteen every-day position players who won a Gold Glove last year, five players hit .300 or above. Five. Out of sixteen. Thirty-one percent.

Monday, May 01, 2006

The Longest Slump Ever

Either that or Jeff Francoeur is an absolutely horrific hitter. With the first month of the baseball season behind us, it is time for the monthly Francoeur update to see if he has finally broken out of the "slump" John Donovan thinks he was in. When we last checked in with Francoeur, he had started the season 3 for 37. Since then he has raised his batting average to .216, a mark still well below the average for major league players. In addition, he continued his trend of seeing his offensive statistics decline across the board. For the month of April, Francoeur's stats were god-awful: .216 BA, .230 OBP, .371 SLG, .601 OPS.

If Francoeur's hitting woes were a result of poor mechanics, I would be far less concerned about it than I am. But the problem lies in his approach at the plate. His most glaring weakness is his uber-aggressiveness and his propensity to swing at bad pitches, which, in turn, keeps the pitcher from having to work too hard to get him out. Yet, Francoeur is on the record saying that he needs to be more aggressive, not less. Maybe if he took a look at his on-base percentage, he would start singing another tune. To get some idea of how little patience Francoeur has once he steps into the batter's box, he sees on average 3.08 pitchers per plate appearance. That is good enough to rank him 189th out of 190 major league players with at least seventy plate appearances. Compare that to the median average of 3.85 pitches per plate appearance. When a player sees as few pitches as Francoeur does, he will be unable to learn anything about the pitcher's stuff or get his timing down leading to bad at-bats throughout the game.

Furthermore, Francoeur's inability to lay off pitches means he is not going to take walks and therefore, his on-base percentage will be solely tied to his batting average. Since he is not hitting well, he is not getting on-base, and is therefore hurting him team more than he may be helping it with his above-average defense. After 100 plate appearances, Francoeur has walked a total of zero times. For a player to go up to the plate 100 different times and not manage to walk at least once, he has to really hate to get on base. Or maybe Francoeur hasn't learned that being a good hitter isn't always about getting home runs and that is as as much if not more about simply finding a way to get on base.

With that said, even I think Francoeur will be hard-pressed to continue his regression. The bottom for him has to be somewhere, right? In a month, we will know for sure.

Blue Monday

I knew this day would eventually come, but knowing that does not make it any easier to bear. Anyone who is familiar with this site is aware who my favorite whipping boy is (Peter King from Every Monday I wake up, palms sweaty with anticipation of recording whatever imbecilic statement or idea Peter decided to put in his article. Well, today after reading his article, I was left flabbergasted because Peter had written nothing insanely idiotic.

My hat is off to you, Peter King. You may have won this battle, but the war is far from over.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

I'm Not Convinced

Maybe I am wrong in bashing this article. Maybe this is going to be the statistic that re-revolutionizes the way the world looks at walks and on-base percentage and slugging percentage and I am just too stupid to get it, but even still, this article shows a poor understanding of baseball statistics.

In this walk-happy age, bases on balls are routinely seen as victories for the hitter.

And they are because the hitter gets on base, which is the whole point of going up to bat in the first place.

On-base percentage rewards those who draw the most walks, and the most popular new statistic, on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS), neatly reflects the hitter's ability to get on base and the skill of driving in runs.

Well, you are half right, Alan Schwarz. OPS does reflect a hitter's ability to get on base because of on-base percentage. However, OPS has nothing to do with measuring a hitter's skill in driving in runs. That is what RBI is for. Perhaps you think slugging percentage has something to do with the number of RBI a player has. If you think this, you would be incorrect. Slugging percentage is a measure of the total number of bases a player accumulates per at-bat and only takes into account what the individual hitter is doing. Whether or not the player inadvertently drives in a run while he is hitting a double has no bearing on said player's slugging percentage. Are we clear on that now? Yes? Good.

But walking and slugging are not independent of each other;

Except that they completely are. Walks are not a factor in the slugging percentage formula. Only singles, doubles, triples, homers, and at-bats are. This means a player could get a walk and neither increase nor decrease his slugging percentage. That is what we in the statistical field like to call mutually exclusive.

the best batters, like Barry Bonds and Pujols, often find their on-base percentages artificially raised by pitchers walking them to sidestep their dangerously high slugging percentages.

In no way do walks "articifically" raise a baseball player's on-base percentage. On-base percentage determines the rate at which a player gets on base in relation to his at-bats. And since walks are a part of getting on-base, it really doesn't get any more real than that.

Neft prefers to view walks somewhat backward, through the eyes of the pitcher. In figuring what he calls on-base advantage, walks (and times hit by pitch) are weighted not as full-unit successes for the batter, but by their marginal benefit beyond the batter's sidestepped slugging percentage.

There is a logical fallacy behind this argument. Walks, unintentional or intentional, are always successes for the batter because as I mentioned previously, the basic point of being a hitter is to get on base. A walk of a particular hitter may not be a success for the team because the team may have a lesser hitter behind the player who gets walked who will be unable to get a hit, but should the hitter who gets walked have to see his stats suffer because of that? Of course not. Slugging percentage is not a team statistic, unless it is the slugging percentage for the whole team. Otherwise, slugging percentage is purely about the individual batter.

Neft, the creator of the on-base advantage statistic, also seems confused as to what slugging percentage measures. It is almost as if he thinks slugging percentage is the percentage a player will get an extra-base hit at any given at-bat. Like if a player's slugging percentage is .500, then the player will get a extra-base hit 50% of the time. What it really means is that a player's total bases from his hits come up to only half of his at-bats. Neft is confusing batting average with slugging percentage.

Batting average is the number one reason why walks are really so fatal. Let's say a batter a pitcher is facing is a very good one and he is hitting .330. Well, that means that 67% of the time the batter will not even get a hit and can get on base only after being walked or hit by a pitch, the exact things Neft is applauding pitches for doing. He is actually advocating walking more hitters instead of pitchers going with 65-75% rates of success in getting a hitter out.

For example, walks for Pujols are worth only .110 to him (1 minus his gargantuan .890 slugging percentage entering Friday's games). To a less brawny batter like his St. Louis teammate Yadier Molina, walks are worth .792 (1 minus .208).

Again, ridiculous. Walks are still worth 1.000 in on-base percentage to Pujols and Molina, no matter what they are slugging.

What the walks are worth to the team is another matter.

However jarring to those riding the modern walk bandwagon, Neft's refinement makes perfect sense.

No, it does not.

From the pitcher's standpoint, a batter expected to slug 1.000, on average, should always be walked because his average hit is more damaging than a walk.

Albert Pujols goes 1 for 4 in a game and he hits one home run. His slugging percentage is 1.000 (1*4/4). His on-base percentage is .250. His batting average is .250. If he is walked four times, his on-base percentage is 1.000, meaning that every inning Pujols is walked, the pitcher will be pitching with at least one baserunner. I am not even taking into consideration what could happen if Pujols's teammates were to get any hits or walks behind him. In other words, walking a batter can be just as damaging as a hit.

True, his average hit, in this case a home run, would be more damaging than a walk. However, his average at-bat would not be. His average at-bat would be an out. See the difference?

The higher the slugging percentage, the less costly the walk.

Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong. No one knows how costly that walk will end up being. You are presupposing that the pitcher will automatically get the next batter out and I am presupposing that before you wrote this article, you were an idiot.

In contrast, players who rarely walk, like the Blue Jays' Alex Rios and the Rangers' Kevin Mench, move up in the rankings because their slugging is unleashed more often.

Their likelihood to record an out is also unleashed more often.

Neft said that because pitchers can choose whom to avoid to set up a lesser challenge, "rating them by OPS allowed doesn't work."

Wrong again. OPS allowed is a great indicator for how good a pitcher is. The best pitchers in the game will have the lowest OPS allowed.

Maddux exemplifies how the successful pitcher reallocates risk. With men in scoring position and two out since 2003, Maddux has allowed a lower slugging percentage — despite pitching from the stretch — while his walks have skyrocketed. Hitters have a higher OPS in those situations against him, but he has walked the right batters.

Mr. Schwarz probably doubted anyone would double check these stats to make sure he was painting an accurate portrait. If so, he vastly underestimated my desire to point a finger at his idiocy.

Still, his wording leaves me a little confused because I have no idea what he is comparing Maddux's numbers to. His OPS is higher than what? Higher than when runners are just in scoring position?

Scoring Position, Two Out: .729 OPS
Scoring Position: .734 OPS

No, I guess not. Maybe he meant higher than when there are runners on base.

Scoring Position, Two Out: .729 OPS
Runners On: .777 OPS

Guess it's not that one either. So he's probably comparing it to when no one is on base at all, although to do so is a little like comparing an AK-47 to a pea shooter.

Scoring Position, Two Out: .729 OPS
None on: .707 OPS

Remember how I told you how OPS has nothing to do with reflecting a player's skill in driving in runs and that Schwarz was wrong for thinking it did? Just looking at the two OPS's, one wouldn't think there'd be that big a difference in runs scored. But here are the runs Maddux gave up in the two situations, after he "walked the right batters." For the record, with no one on base, Maddux walked a batter every 50.5 at-bats. With runnings in scoring position, he walked a batter every 7.3 at-bats.

None On: 127 runs allowed in 1616 at-bats (1 run/12.7 at-bats)
Scoring Position, Two Out: 151 runs in 262 at-bats (1 run/1.7 at-bats)

Oh yeah, Maddux really walked the right batters.