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Just The Sports: 2006-07-16

Just The Sports

Saturday, July 22, 2006

A Dose of Reality

Before you demand a trade to another team make sure there is a team out there who would actually want your services. That is the kind of sage advice Chris Brown and his agent, Wynn Silbermann, would have been wise to follow before they demanded a trade from the Tennessee Titans. For the life of me, I cannot think of any other NFL team that would be kind enough to put Brown atop their depth chart the way the Titans were.

The problem with Chris Brown is the same problem most athletes have when they suddenly overvalue their talents. He has switched agents from Bralyn Bennett to Silberman and Silberman has been filled Brown's head with lies and fantasies and pipe dreams while Brown has been eating it up because every athlete loves to be told how good he is. Also, the new agent has to pull off a transaction as soon as possible in order to build a bond with his new client and ensure that he will not be unceremoniously fired like the previous agent. In addition, the agent wants to hammer out a new deal as soon as possible so he can collect commission because he will not see a dime of the old contract. Because of the agent's greed, the truth is not told to the player.

Well, here is the truth. Chris Brown has had two years as a starter in the NFL and both of them have one thing in common. Brown was a below-average running back in both years. Even in 2004, the better of the two years, when he rushed for 1,067 yards and a 4.9 yards per carry average was just a ho-hum year when compared to the other running backs. In fact, his defense-adjusted points above replacement (DPAR), a Football Outsiders statistic ranked him 34th out of the 52 qualifying running backs, those with a minimum of 75 rushes. His defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA) of -6.4% paints a beautiful portrait of his below-averageness. He was also unsuccessful with his runs, despite his high yards per carry average, as evidenced by his 43% success rate, which is a player's successful running plays (ex. getting 4 yards on 3rd and 2) by his total running plays.

If you guessed that Brown's 2005 season was no better, then you were right. His yards went down by 200 at the same time his attempts went up by 4. Along with his decrease in yards, his DPAR also decreased to -1.4 points, meaning the Titans could have gotten more production out of a scout running back. His -15.4% DVOA is also nothing a player demanding a trade will want to write home about. Brown even managed to have a lower success rate (41%) in 2005 just to put an exclamation mark on his declining skills.

On the plus side, he did show significant value as a receiver out of the backfield so if any team is looking for a running back who is a below-average runner who can catch out of the backfield, Chris Brown is your guy.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Nene, You're No Karl Malone

After signing his six year, $60 million contract with the Denver Nuggets, Nene proclaimed that he "wanted to be like [Karl] Malone." Good luck with that, Nene, since you are no Karl Malone.

There are myriad reasons why Nene is unlikely to mimic Malone's career, starting with the fact Nene has not shown the promise in his early career that Malone showed in his, mostly because Nene has been unable to stay healthy. Malone was able to keep himself healthy and progressed rapidly from his rookie season to his third year in the league. He increased his offensive rating over those three years while also handling the lion's share of the Jazz's possessions, an impressive feat for any player. His defensive rating was well below the league average when he first stepped on the court so that needed no improvement. Nene also improved from his rookie year to his second year in terms of his offensive rating, but saw little improvement from his second year to his third year, which was injury-shortened, and that improvement came in the defense he played. Nene does have Malone's ability to shoot over 50% from the field, but since he shoots much fewer field goals it is simply not as impressive.

Perhaps the main reason why Nene's career will not mirror Malone's is because of the differences in their teams. For the Utah Jazz, Karl Malone was the superstar. The offense ran through him and he dominated the team's possesions and because he was able to score so efficiently, Malone also dominated the games. No matter how efficient of a scorer Nene may become, the likelihood of him getting as many offensive touches as Malone is basically non-existent. This is because the Nuggets already have their superstar, or at least hope they do, in Carmelo Anthony someone who is getting paid even more than Nene.

As if it could get no worse for Nene's quest to be like Karl Malone, he is also has to deal with the disadvantage of playing with a point guard who is below the caliber of John Stockton. Andre Miller is about 60-65% of the player John Stockton was and is much less concerned with racking up assist totals or being an efficient scorer or playing defense. It is hard to point a finger at anything Andre Miller is interested in, but he is probably not interested in helping Nene become the next Karl Malone.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Did Beckett Really Get Paid?

Yesterday, the Boston Red Sox announced that they had given Josh Beckett a three-year contract extension worth $30 million and a club option for a fourth year. If he meets incentives, which no doubt have something to do with innings pitches and starts made, he can work himself up to $40 million in all. Taking into account that Boston is tied with New York for the biggest baseball market in the country, Beckett at age 26 is supposedly entering his prime, and contracts are getting bigger every year, the contract given to Beckett seems to indicate the Red Sox still have reservations when it comes to his future with the team despite what Theo Epstein might say.

Even when Epstein says that "we (the Red Sox organization) think his (Beckett's) best days are ahead of him," he really cannot be serious because there is no evidence in Beckett's body of work to suggest he is getting any better. Beckett had a reputation for being a brilliant pitcher when he was healthy, but this season that repuation has to have taken a hit because he has been both healthy and bad putting up some of the worst numbers of his career in addition to being the least consistent Red Sox pitcher with at least five starts. Do not pay attention to his 12-5 record because it is a sham and is mostly the result of his teammates giving him an average of 6.62 runs per start. That certainly helps cover up his 5.15 run average and his 5.33 fair run average.

Beckett's expected win-loss record with his stats is 7.6-7.2, right around .500 and demonstrating he has been an average pitcher this year. Since his 2.0 HR/9 is no doubt an aberration, I will not criticize Beckett too harshly for it, but that home run rate is off-the-charts bad.

If his overall season stats were outliers, then maybe I would agree with Epstein about Beckett's future, but they are not. Yes, his strikeout-to-walk ratio increased from 2001-2005 and his walk rate also decreased during the same time span, but lost in getting excited over those two things is his strikeout rate has also been on a slippery slope since 2003 to the present.

In addition, for the large part of his career, Beckett has been a neutral pitcher when it comes to groundball-flyball ratio and still is, but he has become less neutral every year since 2003, become more flyball and less groundball. There is nothing wrong with a pitcher who is a flyball pitcher; these pitchers are usually better than groundball pitchers. However, becoming more of a flyball pitcher is only a good thing when the player's strikeout-to-walk rate is going up, which Beckett's was but is not anymore. If he is able to improve it over the rest of his career, then his flyball-giving propensity will not hurt him, but if it continues to go down, it will not be good for either Beckett or the Red Sox. All you have to do is look at Randy Johnson's last four seasons.

Beckett does have three seasons to regain his control (he has already hit 6 batters this year) by getting his walk rate down again and to prove he is durable enough to pitch in the AL East first and the entire American League in general.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

He Can't Be Serious

Phil Taylor has the reputation (and if he doesn't, he deserves it) for being the worst writer for That is saying something when you consider that Peter King and Tom Verducci also write for the site. Still, Taylor is far and away the worst at his job and his incompetence was on full display in his article on Barbaro. Now, I also wrote an article about Barbaro, but mine focused on the fact that Barbaro is just one of many horses who gets injured in horse racing and should not be treated with any sort of special attention. Unless you are looking for that last reason to off yourself, you probably won't read Taylor's article in its entirety, but let's just say he took a different approach to the Barbaro matter.

You are not alone. The rest of us feel it, too -- the need to stop what we're doing and pay attention, at least for a moment, every time we hear Barbaro's name in a news report or see it in a headline.

You're right. Every time I hear Barbaro's name, I hope that it is followed by the words "was put down last night." So, if that is what you meant, then yes, I do feel that need.

There is something about this horse and his fight for life that touches us.

Ummm...not really.

Every update brings either a sense of dread, that the end has arrived, or of relief, that he just might survive after all.

Actually, you have those two emotions reversed.

Why has this horse that was just an image on a screen to most of us tapped into our emotions this way?

One reason is because the media has mercilessly beat the story to death about this one horse. He is not even a big story in the whole scheme of how race horses are treated, but no one in the media wants to point that out. Also, people assume that anything put on television is automatically important than anything that is not put on television, which reinforces the fact humans are emotional, reactionary fools for the most part.

After all, human tragedy takes place every day and most of us simply shake our heads and move on.

Once again, the reason for that it is not on television. If someone found a way to broadcast live scenes of rape, domestic violence, child molestation, war (with bodies being blown apart), and little children wandering all over the sidewalk and getting in my way, then people would care more about those things. Oh, they wouldn't try to change anything of course, but at least the victims would get more greeting cards.

Since none of those acts are televised, people are immune to them because words for all their power are not powerful enough to get people to change.

Barbaro isn't human, so he exhibits none of the human failings that disappoint us in our athletes and coaches.

Very astute observation, Phil.

He never put his hoof in his mouth like Ozzie Guillen, or fell in love with himself like Terrell Owens. He never held out for more money, stiffed us for an autograph, tangled with the authorities or coasted when he should have been playing hard.

He can't put his hoof in his mouth and Ozzie Guillen didn't put his hoof in his mouth because he doesn't have a hoof so that simile failed you. Horses don't know what love is. If he did get more money, how would he spend it? He can't sign an autograph since he can't write. And he can't coast because he has a jockey whipping him whenever he does.

These are all things you should think about before you put together a string of idiotic sentences.

But mostly it is because we know that Barbaro deserved better than this. Competitors who perform so valiantly and so well are supposed to be rewarded, not saddled with life-threatening injury.

There is nothing valiant about running around a circle because someone is making you before your body has time to fully develop.

Octavio Dotel Is No Savior

Octavio Dotel may be ready to pitch out of the Yankees bullpen, but his arrival is really nothing to get excited about. Coming off Tommy John surgery is bad enough for a pitcher, but Dotel was not necessarily performing at a consistently high level when he was pitching.

For all intensive purposes, Dotel has been in a steady decline since 2001. His fielding-independent ERA has been steadily going up, starting at 2.46 in 2001 and going up to 3.62 in 2004. His 2005 season where he only pitched 15.3 innings before having to undergo Tommy John surgery will not be used against him, but it doesn't really need to be in order to point out Dotel is in a decline.

His home run rate has also increased over the same span, another red flag for a relief pitcher who is a flyball pitcher or any pitcher for that matter. Flyball pitchers are usually better than groundball pitchers, but not when the flyball pitchers give up a lot of home runs relative to innings pitched.

Another thing that bears mentioning is the Yankees bullpen has not been horrible this season. No, it has not been great, but it has been serviceable. Actually, the bullpen this year has been more consistent than it was in 2005 when it was led by Tom Gordon and Mariano Rivera and followed by no one else.

Mariano Rivera has been a worse than last year, but worse for Rivera is still pretty good. Farnsworth hasn't been as bad as people think. His .929 Wins Above Replacement Level (WXRL) is good for third on the Yankees, slightly behind Ron Villone's. Mike Myers has been very effective in his job to get out the opponents' left-handed batters.

What Torre needs to do is to make absolutely sure he allow his best relievers to pitch in the highest leverage situations. One way he can do this is to make sure he uses Ron Villone in the situations where the game matters the most and keep Scott Proctor pitching innings that have a lower leverage score.

There is no evidence that Dotel will help the Yankees or that they particularly need him.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Is Alex Rodriguez Too Impatient?

After watching a number of Yankees games this season and watching Alex Rodriguez struggle at times at the plate, it seemed to me that when there were runners on base, he seemed to be more aggressive at the plate and swing after seeing fewer pitches than he did in other at-bats. This, I thought, was why he sometimes struggled in so-called clutch situations, if batting .305 with runners in scoring position can be called struggling. However, I was uncomfortable with merely thinking that this was the case so I actually took the time to look at the data.

Instead of looking at every at-bat when runners were on base and Rodriguez was in the batter's box, I compared Rodriguez's at-bats where runners were not in scoring position to thos where runners were in scoring position. At-bats that resulted in him being hit by a pitch, sacrificing (fly or bunt), and fielder's choices were discarded. The pitch-by-pitch data I used is available on

What I found was not exactly what I was expecting given what seemed to be the case. Actually, there is no consistent trend overall to conclude that Rodriguez is any more or any less aggressive when there are runners in scoring position. There are aspects of his hitting where he does seem to be more aggressive and not worry about plate discipline as much.

On the singles Rodriguez hit with in those at-bats where runners were not in scoring position, he saw an average of 3.62 pitches. Conversely, when there were runners in scoring position and he hit a single, he did so after seeing an average of 2.73 pitches, almost a pitch less.

The same decrease occurred on the outs he made, not counting his strikeouts. When he made an out in regular appearances, Rodriguez 3.16 pitches on average. With runners in scoring position, he saw 2.72 pitches before making his out.

What did not fall in line were his strikeouts and non-intentional walks. In strikeouts, he saw 5.00 pitches when runners were in scoring position and 4.68 when they were not. For non-intentional walks, it is almost the same story with 5.37 pitches on average in run-scoring positions and 5.03 pitches without.

When he hits home runs, runners in scoring position or not, he sees about the same number of pitches (2.78-RISP to 2.75-non-RISP).

Taking all the situations in account, Alex Rodriguez sees 3.85 pitches in plate appearances without runners being in scoring position compared to 3.72 pitches with runners in scoring position, not a great difference. The numbers do not take into account when he hits a double since he has hit no doubles with runners in scoring position this year.

As for Rodriguez being more impatient in opportunities where he could knock in a few runs, it seems that my eyes and brain were lying to me.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Optimal Batting Order

In their book, The Book: Playing the Percentage In Baseball, the authors Tango, Lichtman, and Dolphin devote a chapter to what kind of batters would make the optimal line-up for baseball teams so I wanted to see what the optimal line-up would be for a few teams. The teams I chose not at all at random are the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, Cleveland Indians, Minnesota Twins, and Oakland Athletics. It does bear mentioning that line-ups do not matter that much, but if a team can squeeze a few more runs out of their hitters, there is no reason not to at least give it a try.

From their research, they have concluded that the best three hitters on a team should bat in the #1, #2, and #4 slots. As a tiebreaker among these three spots, the #1 and #2 hitters should draw more walks. Then the #3 and #5 slots should be where your next best hitters are located. After that, the batters should be ordered in descending orders of mediocrity. I will be basing the batters' quality on wOBA (weight on-base average or OBP*2+SLG/3).

There are other variables which could be considered when putting together a line-up such as a player's baserunning ability or his propensity to ground into a double play, but I will not be focusing on those aspects.

Here are the results, based on the players' season data that I chose to look at. When other players are in the line-up, of course the alignment will change.

New York Yankees (Optimal)
1. Derek Jeter .441 wOBA
2. Alex Rodriguez .428 wOBA
3. Johnny Damon .403 wOBA
4. Jason Giambi .479 wOBA
5. Jorge Posada .414 wOBA
6. Robinson Cano .382 wOBA
7. Melky Cabrera .366 wOBA
8. Bernie Williams .357 wOBA
9. Andy Phillips .332 wOBA

Boston Red Sox (Optimal)
1. Trot Nixon .424 wOBA
2. David Ortiz .467 wOBA
3. Mike Lowell .409 wOBA
4. Manny Ramirez .488 wOBA
5. Kevin Youkilis .419 wOBA
6. Mark Loretta .365 wOBA
7. Alex Gonzalez .349 wOBA
8. Coco Crisp .349 wOBA
9. Jason Varitek .346 wOBA

Detroit Tigers (Optimal)
1. Carlos Guillen .426 wOBA
2. Magglio Ordonez .405 wOBA
3. Curtis Granderson .396 wOBA
4. Marcus Thames .457 wOBA
5. Chris Shelton .405 wOBA
6. Ivan Rodriguez .381 wOBA
7. Brandon Inge .351 wOBA
8. Craig Monroe .340 wOBA
9. Placido Polanco .326 wOBA

Cleveland Indians (Optimal)
1. Grady Sizemore .416 wOBA
2. Casey Blake .434 wOBA
3. Victor Martinez .403 wOBA
4. Travis Hafner .524 wOBA
5. Ben Broussard .412 wOBA
6. Ronnie Belliard .361 wOBA
7. Jhonny Peralta .354 wOBA
8. Jason Michaels .347 wOBA
9. Aaron Boone .324 wOBA

Minnesota Twins (Optimal)
1. Michael Cuddyer .401 wOBA
2. Justin Morneau .433 wOBA
3. Torii Hunter .378 wOBA
4. Joe Mauer .473 wOBA
5. Nick Punto .396 wOBA
6. Jason Bartlett .397 wOBA (would be 5th, but only has 87 at-bats)
7. Shannon Stewart .354 wOBA
8. Luis Castillo .346 wOBA
9. Lew Ford .308 wOBA

Oakland Athletics (Optimal)
1. Eric Chavez .378 wOBA
2. Frank Thomas .422 wOBA
3. Jason Kendall .333 wOBA
4. Nick Swisher .425 wOBA
5. Dan Johnson .342 wOBA
6. Jay Payton .330 wOBA
7. Mark Kotsay .329 wOBA
8. Bobby Crosby .311 wOBA
9. Mark Ellis .299 wOBA

Since I did these line-ups based on this season and not the players' career, they may not be as optimal as possible, but if the teams did switch to these line-ups, maybe they would be able to score a few more runs. Although, it is not as if their actual line-ups are hurting them.