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Just The Sports: 2006-06-25

Just The Sports

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Jeff Francoeur Update

It is that time again. When we last left Jeff Francoeur, he had finally ended his career slump and bettered his previous month's hitting totals. At the end of the post, I asked what it was about Jeff Francoeur that kept him from being sent down to the minors for someone who can actually play right field at an above replacement level pace.

Nothing would have made me happier than for the answer to have been that Francoeur has pictures of Bobby Cox and Leo Mazzone in compromising positions, which led to Mazzone's departure to Baltimore, but that is not the case. The real answer is absolutely nothing.

Fresh off the end of his slump, Francoeur has decided now June was the perfect month to start himself off with another slump, hitting .239/.269/.398 after hitting .280/.295/.496 in May and a month that is probably more in line with what kind of hitter Francoeur really is. Even Francoeur's isolate power, his one saving grace, has taken a hit in June, falling from .216 all the way to .159. So just how bad a player is Francoeur?

Right now, his VORP (Value over Replacement Player) is -8.8, good for last on the Braves. He is still a below-average right fielder despite his arm strength with -2 FRAR. On the bright side, he does have 1 BRAR.

The most troubling aspect of Francoeur's resume (apart from his meager 3.17 P/PA) is that he has also seen the most plate appearances among all Atlanta Braves, 11% of them to be exact. When your worst hitter is also the one getting the lion's share of your team's plate appearances, mediocrity is sure to follow.

If the Atlanta Braves had not already mailed in the season, maybe we should see the leash on Jeff Francoeur pulled a little tighter.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Math 101 Pt. 3

When ESPN made this mistake (twice), I wrote about it (twice) and had hoped that by writing about it (twice), I had eliminated this mistake from ever happening again. Well, it turns I was wrong.

To be honest, I expected such idiocy from ESPN. By virture of who they hire, idiocy is basically the only result one will ever get from ESPN when all is considered. However, the latest person to commit a faux pas when it comes to determining how many games above .500 a team is trouble is someone I never thought would make such a second grade mistake: a sabermetrician. SABR is an organization I hold in high esteem because they have revolutionized the statistical approach taken towards baseball and so it is with great pain that I bring you this.

On the SABR-L mailing list, it was noted that Tom Glavine now has 100 more wins than losses. Bill Deane responded: "One hundred wins over .500 is indeed a notable milestone. Since the current pitching distance was implemented in 1893, only 20 pitchers have won 100 more games than they lost. Fourteen are in the Hall of Fame, and the other six are still active:"

185 Christy Mathewson (373-188)
168 Roger Clemens (341-173)
165 Grover Alexander (373-208)
164 Cy Young (439-275; also 72-41 before 1893)
159 Lefty Grove (300-141)

137 Walter Johnson (416-279)
134 Eddie Plank (327-193)
130 Whitey Ford (236-106)
129 Greg Maddux (325-196)
129 Randy Johnson (271-142)

118 Warren Spahn (363-245)
117 Pedro Martinez (204-87)
116 Jim Palmer (268-152)
113 Kid Nichols (269-156; also 92-52 before 1893)
106 Tom Seaver (311-205)

104 Bob Feller (266-162)
103 Joe McGinnity (247-144)
103 Mike Mussina (233-130)
101 Juan Marichal (243-142)
100 Tom Glavine (286-186)

To his credit, Bill Deane is correct. A pitcher being 100 wins above .500 is a notable milestone. It is such a notable milestone that no pitcher who has ever stepped onto a major league mound 60 feet, 6 inches from home plate has accomplished the feat. The one who comes closest is Christy Mathewson, but even he falls 15 games short of being 100 games above .500.

Glavine certainly is nowhere near what Deane wants to give him credit for because he is only 50 games above .500. You'll probably asking yourself how I plucked that number out of the air so I will tell you. To figure out how many games above .500 something or someone is, you subtract the losses from the wins and then divide by 2. You do not (I repeat: Do Not) subtract the losses from the wins only and call yourself done. Doing so will result in you being called a moron by me.

Bill Deane, you are a moron.

(UPDATE: I replied in the comments section to a commenter, but I decided to post my answer in the actual post as well to make it easier for you.)

I will have to disagree with you as well. .500 is the mark at which successes are equal to failure. In this case a win is a success and a loss is a failure.

Therefore, it cannot be defended if a team is 20-10 and someone says that they are ten games above .500. This is mathematically impossible since the point at which their successes and failures are equal is 15-15, five games away from their wins and losses. It is the same logic which is applied to finding how many games behind a team is in the standings.

Also, you cannot treat wins as if they exist in a vacuum. The loss is the complement to the win. You cannot increase the one without decreasing the other when it comes to talking about being over .500.

So to say Glavine is 100 wins above .500 is to ignore the fact if you took 100 wins away with his total, this would mean the wins were now losses and you would then have to transfer them into the loss column. This would do nothing but reverse his win-loss record. .500 is not a baseline where you can add one to it like a win total. It is a rate statistic, not a counting one.

I look at the incorrect math the same way I look at misspelled words. Yes, I can tell which word the person was trying to spell, but that does not keep it from being a mistake.

Brief Guide To The WNBA

You are a basketball junkie. After the culmination of the NBA Finals, you felt an undeniable void in your life. Even the enthusiasm you managed to muster about the NBA draft was tempered by the fact you had to deal with hearing Stephen A. Smith, Greg Anthony, and Dick Vitale. Now, faced with the threat of five months without being able to watch competitive basketball, you are beginning to ask yourself the question all basketball junkies ask themselves at some point. Is the WNBA that bad?

The simple answer is no, the WNBA is not that bad. While women's basketball is not still as efficient as men's basketball, this is not to say that there are not still great teams. However, if you are going to check out the WNBA, you should at least do so with some sort education about who the best teams are to watch.

Since you are a basketball junkie, it is safe to assume that you love offense. True, defense is necessary, too, but watching a team who plays great defense means having to deal with missed shots and turnovers.

Overall, the Western Conference is more offensively efficient than is the Eastern Conference, having five of seven teams with a higher offensive rating than the league average while the Eastern Conference only has two of seven teams with above average efficiency. So if you have a choice between the Western Conference and the Eastern Conference, always go West.

Even though the Eastern Conference overall is the lesser efficient conference in the WNBA, the conference does sport the team with the highest offensive efficiency in the league. The Connecticut Sun have an offensive efficiency of 112.3 so from a purely offensive point, this is the team to watch in the NBA. You might want to watch this team against the lower teams of the NBA to ensure you will get an offensive explosion.

The other teams who are more offensively efficient than the league average are the Washington Mystics (107.8), Los Angeles Sparks (102.7), Minnesota Lynx (101.5), Phoenix Mercury (106.1), Sacramento Monarchs (102.9), and the Seattle Storm (105.3).

Of those teams, perhaps the most exciting, probably in the WNBA, is the Phoenix Mercury, but not because they have the best players in the league or even the best record (at 6-7, they most certainly don't). The reason is because the Mercury score a lot of points (106.1) and they also give up a lot of points (108.9), ensuring a high-scoring, efficient affair.

Under no condition, unless you enjoy watching blowouts, should you watch the Charlotte Sting or the Chicago Sky. If their records of 3-12 and 2-13, respectively, are not enough to scare you away, then perhaps their offensive efficiency ratings of 90.4 and 90.6, also respectively, will.

If you are watching television and someone comes in and switches the channel to a game where the Sting are playing the Sky, then you should punch that person in the mouth, take the remote and turn the channel back, and then punch the person again lest they forget why they were punched in the first place.

Should you be one of the few who enjoys watching a team that plays great defense and okay offense, then look no further than the Houston Comets, with a defensive efficiency of 92.6. The Indiana Fever are not far behind at 93.4, though.

Now, you should have a better idea of which WNBA teams are worthy of being watched. Good luck, basketball junkie.

(UPDATE: I foolishly called the Chicago Sky the Chicago Fire. Forgive me, but still don't watch their games.)

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Gary Cohen Was/Is Wrong

Sometime during the last two innings (either the eighth or ninth inning) of the Mets-Red Sox game, Gary Cohen, play-by-play announcer for the New York Mets said that Boston has the best defense in the major leagues this year. Of course he was basing this on the fact Boston has accumulated the least amount of errors and of course, he was also wrong in anointing the Red Sox as the team with the best defense.

The fact that Cohen has made this point repeatedly demonstrates that the memo about errors has not been circulated nearly enough and so I will do my part to spread the word about why looking at errors is an idiotic way to judge how good a defense is. That so few people will actually read this blog is superfluous.

An error is one statistic that baseball needs to rid itself of. It is ridiculous to attach so much weight on a statistic that is essentially a subjective value judgment about what a player should have done given the circumstances. Also, errors punished fielders for having the ability to get to a ball in the first place because to get an error, the fielder first has to be in the position to field the ball. Therefore, a player with limited range could conceivably go through a whole season without being charged with an error, but cost his team runs because of his inability to get to many balls.

In an effort to help Cohen avoid making the same mistake a fifth time, I will point him to the Baseball Prospectus website. There they have many defensive measures, but the one I will look at to refute Cohen's claim is a team's defensive efficiency. This statistic measures the rate at which a defense converts balls put into play into outs. By this measure, the Red Sox are not number one and are not even in the top ten. They are actually 12th with a defensive efficiency of .703.

The Detroit Tigers have the best team defense in the major leages with a defensive efficiency of .729.

Ref Who Can't Count Retires (From FIFA, That Is)

FIFA will now have one less horrible referee for people to make fun of. Graham Poll, who gained notoriety for giving Croatian footballer Josip Simunic three yellow cards when a player can only receive two before being sent off, has decided to retire from international officiating. The move is undoubtedly unnecessary as it is not likely that FIFA would have asked Poll for another go-around, but he is obviously operating under the employee creed that it is always better to quit than it is to be fired.

But for those who still want to see a referee who does not realize the writing down on a booking for a card is not just for ceremonial purposes, have no fear because Poll will not be retiring from the English Premier League.

When asked to elaborate further on his reasons for retiring, Poll showed he is not only bad at simple arithmetic, but he is also unable to form a coherent thought.

"Certainly what happened a week ago is something I deeply regret. Inexcusably, I made an error in law, and most mistakes, most discussion, most controversy, surrounds opinion, and they are things we can always debate."

If, as is the case for myself, your Graham Poll dictionary and decoder ring set have not yet arrived in the mail, then you don't know what the hell that is supposed to mean, either.

"But what I did was an error in law, and for that there can be no dispute. It wasn't caused by a FIFA directive or because I referee differently than what I do in the Premier League," Poll said.

Oh, so FIFA didn't tell you to give three yellow cards to a single player in one game? I'm glad you cleared that up for me, Graham.

Keep your ear to the ground because given Poll's track record, there is no telling exactly how many times he will retire from FIFA in the coming days. One can only hope he wrote down what he did this time.

UPDATE: Maybe Graham didn't retire before he was fired after all.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Colin Cowherd's Dumb Statement of the Day

Today on Colin's show, he managed to make three dumb statements and that was just in the one hour I listened to the show. He may make more than that many dumb statements every day, but I usually either stop listening after the first one or don't tune in to ESPN Radio at all.

His first dumb statement was when he said that a player's clutch-performing ability was determined by the time said player was seven or eight years old. Before you read further, you may want to take the time to wrap your head around Colin's mind-numbing declaration. I wouldn't have believed he actually said it, but he said it again when he came back from a commercial break.

I am not sure when this movement glorify this idea of "clutch" began, but I sincerely wish it would stop. And it is not because I have any problem with praising players who come through under pressure-packed conditions, but because of the way of the way it is presented by the sports media who for the large part write or talk from their gut instead of doing research to find out how good a player is. Anyone who knows anything realizes a person cannot trust his or her eyes alone to judge anything, let alone the performance of an athlete.

That being said, there are players who come up big for teams. These players are called good players. In no sport is there a good player who has not come up clutch at some point in his career.

The biggest problem I have with the use of clutch is most sports pundits have limited the term's applicability to only the final minutes or last half-innings of a game. Doing so is simplistic and wrong. This is a direct result of people usually only being able to remember the events of the final minutes or last half-innings and so they incorrectly put more emphasis on them and think they are more important. There is a psychology lesson in egocentrism there, but I am no expert on that subject.

In actuality, most games are decided long before the late stages of a game and clutch statistics should reflect that. A home run which creates an insurmountable lead should be considered no less clutch than a single that drives in the winning run for a team. Also, it is odd that the player who got himself on base to be driven in is not deemed as being as clutch as the hitter who drive him in.

Furthermore, if a basketball player chips in with 12 points in a win while his teammate hits one shot which just happens to be a game-winner, which one would you say is more clutch? Well, after Game 3 of the NBA Finals, it was Gary Payton everyone was talking about while no one mentioned Jason Williams' contribution.

Cowherd's second dumb statement of the day came about when he said that after Billy Beane came with Moneyball, baseball purists hated his guts. This statement is only half-wrong, but the most important half of the sentence is the part that is incorrect.

Billy Beane did not come out with Moneyball. He was the general manager of the baseball franchise that was spotlighted during the book and only a small part of the book overall. Michael Lewis, the actual author of Moneyball and not just a ghostwriter for Billy Beane's thoughts, is the one who came out with it. If Colin had actually read the book, then he would knew Lewis spent just as much time talking about Paul Depodesta, Scott Hatteberg, Chad Bradford, and Jeremy Brown as he did talking about Beane.

The third dumb statement involved a bet between Colin and his producer who goes by the radio name of Compass. Before the show began, Compass bet Colin a free lunch that the Toronto Raptors would draft Andrea Bargnani with the first pick in the NBA draft. Colin accepted the bet only to have Compass come to him a few minutes later and inform him that the Raptors had hired Maurizio Gherardini, former general manager of Benetton Treviso (Bargnani's Italian team), as assistant general manager and team president, which cam as a shock to Colin.

The Raptors hired Gherardini six days ago. Six days. But a nationally syndicated sports radio host didn't know about it until today.

Monday, June 26, 2006

FIFA Wakes Up

(Helpful Hint: Fast forward to 39 seconds. If at work, mute.)

FIFA president Sepp Blatter has finally awoken to the fact that the poor performance of his referees is diverting people's attention away from where it should be, on the games and the players. After defending the mediocrity of the referees in the group stage (mediocrity most famously exemplified by Jorge Larrionda and the inability of Graham Poll to do the simple math of one yellow plus one yellow equals one red), Blatter realized that such mediocrity in refereeing in the knockout stages where the games are more important is much harder to defend.

Therefore, after reviewing Valentin Ivanov's love affair with his shirt pocket during the Portugal-Netherlands match, Blatter has said "there could have been a yellow card for the referee."

Could have been? The man sent four players off, two from each team. At the very least, he should be given 8 yellow cards, half the number he gave out, which would effectively end his World Cup reign.

Another thing which caught my eye in the write-up was how FIFA is dealing with Luis Figo.

Portugal captain Luis Figo was lucky to escape ejection, getting a yellow card for a skirmish with Mark van Bommel when TV replays clearly showed him head-butting the Dutch player in the 58th minute -- a direct red card offense.

FIFA communications director Markus Siegler said Monday that the disciplinary committee would not review the incident because Ivanov had taken action, on the field, on advice from his linesman.

Figo "was sanctioned immediately by the referee," he said. "The referee's report came in last night and is being analyzed by the relevant people. But it is very unlikely anything will happen as he has been sanctioned already on the spot."

"It is only where there is a clear disciplinary issue which has not been acted upon by the referee that the (disciplinary) committee can look at it," Siegler said.

That smell in the air after you finished reading that segment is bullshit. The real reason FIFA is not going to do anything is because any action would require them to suspend Figo for the quarterfinals at least and since Portugal will already be without Deco, they didn't want Portugal to suffer further from the absence of another of their best footballers.

And as for Siegler's claim that when a clear disciplinary issue cannot be looked at if the referee acted upon it, perhaps he is forgetting how FIFA handled Daniele De Rossi and Pablo Mastroeni after the Italy-US match.

In essence, the FIFA disciplinary committee reviewed the players' red cards and added further penalty to their punishment by suspending De Rossi for four matches and Mastroeni for three matches.

It seems that FIFA's inconsistency with player infractions starts at the top and the referees' performance on the field is the result of a trickle-down effect. Whenever human subjectivity is involved, inconsistency and mediocrity are sure to follow.

(UPDATE: At least someone thought Ivanov did a good job. His father.)

Sunday, June 25, 2006

MLB Parity

With the All-Star Break approaching and my obsession with parity in sport, here is a look at which divisions in baseball have the most amount of parity and also the least amount. To arrive at these conclusions, I looked at the Pythagorean winning percentages of the teams and then looked at the standard deviations of the divisions to see how closely the teams were closely grouped around each other. The reason I did it from the Pythagorean winning percentage and not the actual winning percentage is because a team's actual winning percentage is not always a reliable indicator for how the team will do in the near future. Just ask the Colorado Rockies about that.

Say what you will about the National League, but it has more parity than the American League. Overall, the National League has three of the four divisions with the most parity.

The division with the most parity is the AL West (standard deviation of 0.027) probably because it is the only division with four teams and does not have to worry about a bottom-feeding team to make the standard deviation higher. Also, no team in the division has particularly distinguished itself in run differential.

There should be no surprise as to the division with the least amount of parity. It is the AL Central with a standard deviation 0.123. This is a direct result from the dubious distinction of having the best team in the major leagues (Detroit Tigers) right now and the worst team in the major leagues (Kansas City Royals) for right now and the rest of their 162-game season.

For the purposes of investigating parity, I did not only want to look at the standard deviations of the whole division, but also the standard deviations of the top three teams in each division.

Again, the AL West leads the way with 0.011 and this time it cannot be said to be because of having the least amount of teams. This really is a tight division.

Oddly, under the new criterion, the AL East, which had the second least amount of parity when considering the whole division (0.076) shoots up to having the second most parity among its top three teams (0.023).

Conversely, the NL East, which had the fourth most parity now has the least amount of parity (0.070), demonstrating again just how much of a hold the Mets have over the division.

So there it is, your look at parity through June 25.