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Just The Sports: 2006-07-23

Just The Sports

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Why Jared Jeffries?

Isiah Thomas the coach I was able to defend, but Isiah Thomas the president of basketball operations for the New York Knicks I cannot. His desire to not make a sensible, rational basketball transaction is still running strong as evidenced by his signing of restricted free agent Jared Jeffries to an offer sheet for what will probably be the mid-level exception, $30 million over 5 years.

The problem with the signing of Jeffries is that there is very little Jeffries can do to improve the Knicks. Jeffries has a repuation as a defensive stopper and while that may be true, as a result of the kind of defense he plays, he is unable to make his teammates around him better defensively. In the three seasons he played a significant amount of games in a Washington Wizards uniform, the Wizards were near the bottom of the league in defensive efficiency. Also, Jared Jeffries does very little defensively in the way of creating turnovers and blocks and because of that his defensive rating has been above the league average during his tenure in the NBA.

To maximize his defensive ability, Jeffries needs to be placed on a team who is already good defensively. When placed on a team where defensive play is an afterthought, like the Knicks, Jeffries may play good defense, but it will not translate to his teammates. In essence, Jeffries is a defensive role player and the kind of player who can be on bad defensive teams and good defensive teams without changing the way he plays defense.

A prudent question Thomas should have asked himself before he signed a fellow former Hoosier is if the contribution Jeffries will give him on the defensive side of the ball will outweigh the fact Jeffries approaches scoring the way I approach making up my bed: I do it so rarely as to make no difference at all. The answer to that question is probably no since Jeffries has had a negative PER rating for the past three seasons, meaning his opponents have outproduced him in most facets of the game.

Unless the Knicks can find a way to allow Jeffries to dominate more possessions on defense, then any contribution he makes to the team will be minimal.

If the Wizards do decide to match the Knicks' offer and they most likely will if for no other reason than maintaining roster stability, then this write-up becomes a moot point, but until then, it is still relevant.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Do Managers Properly Use Their Relievers? Pt. III

After thinking about my last post on the ability of baseball managers to properly leverage their best relievers, I realized that I had been unjustly critical of managers because of errors I had made.

The first error was in only looking at a half-season's worth of data because managers
are most likely unable to know what they have in the bullpen until relievers rack up enough appearances to give a clear picture. To correct this, I looked at the past four seasons (2002-2005) to see how managers do in a full season and also to see if any teams show a consistency in being able to put their best relievers in the highest leverage situations.

My second correction to what I did previously was to eliminate pitchers who pitched for more than one team because after transactions are made for relievers, sometimes right before the trade deeadline, managers feel pressured to use the newly acquired relievers in high leverage situations without thought to how good the new pitcher is in relation to the relievers the team already possesses. This leads to low wins above replacement level (WXRL) and high leverage scores, which is not indicative of the pitcher's true talent level. Eliminating these sorts of players also disregards the teams who do benefit from the relievers acquired mid-season, but the effect of that was something I was ready to absorb.

Also, trying to find a overall correlation like I did was an exercise in futility because leverage scores are not uniform for every team and so the results are skewed and end up looking worse than they really are.

However, everything else remained the same. I again looked at the correlation between relievers' WXRL and Leverage scores (only relievers who made no starts were considered), both Baseball Prospectus statistics. The correlation between weighted on-base average (wOBA) and Leverage is also something I looked at, but I had already been convinced teams give no thought to the batters coming up in the inning and only care about what number inning it is when deciding which reliever to signal for out of the bullpen.

As for the results, I will be listing the top five and bottom five teams in terms of correlation between WXRL and Leverage of each year from 2002-2005 in reverse chronological order.


Top 5
1. New York Yankees .995
2. Texas Rangers .953
3. Los Angeles Angels .926
4. Cleveland Indians .925
5. Minnesota Twins .920

Bottom 5
1. Detroit Tigers -.311
2. Atlanta Braves -.115
3. Pittsburgh Pirates -.109
4. San Francisco Giants .203
5. Boston Red Sox .317


Top 5
1. New York Yankees .934
2. New York Mets .920
3. Boston Red Sox .919
4. Texas Rangers .913
5. Florida Marlins .903

Bottom 5
1. San Francisco Giants -.236
2. Colorado Rockies -.183
3. Cleveland Indians -.111
4. Chicago Cubs .008
5. Kansas City Royals .071


Top 5
1. New York Yankees .990
2. Houston Astros .931
3. San Diego Padres .904
4. San Francisco Giants .893
5. Minnesota Twins .834

Bottom 5
1. Kansas City Royals -.630
2. Philadelphia Phillies -.331
3. Colorado Rockies -.229
4. Boston Red Sox -.004
5. Cleveland Indians .149


Top 5
1. Detroit Tigers .983
2. Atlanta Braves .970
3. New York Mets .928
4. Oakland Athletics .913
5. Chicago White Sox .902

Bottom 5
1. Tampa Bay Devil Rays -.160
2. Chicago Cubs -.145
3. Washington Nationals -.003
4. Texas Rangers .172
5. Kansas City Royals .454

A few teams reappear on this list, most notably the New York Yankees who had the highest correlation three of the four years, but do not fall too much in love with their high correlation because two years it was a result of having only three relievers to look at after eliminating the relievers who made spot starts or were acquired from other teams.

One of the most interesting teams to me is the 2003 Boston Red Sox because their correlation between WXRL and Leverage matches what actually happened during their season. 2003 was the first season Theo Epstein was the general manager and had a plan to have a bullpen where the manager was suposed to use relievers based on pitcher-hitter matchups, handedness, and other strategies which would have maximized the bullpen. Unfortunately, the Red Sox manager was Grady Little, whose pedestrian IQ rendered him unable to process so much information at the same time and this was a failed experiment. The plan also suffered from having poor relievers to begin with. The overall correlation of -.004 showed how badly the plan failed.

A pattern I did notice was that the teams with the highest correlation are also the teams with good relievers overall while teams who have a couple good relievers and a couple bad ones do not have a high correlation. What I took this to mean is that managers do fine when the relievers they rely on are doing well, but when a closer is doing worse than his set-up man then managers are unwilling to allow the two players to trade places, perhaps trying to avoid bruising a closer's fragile ego.

Rangers-Brewers Trade Thoughts

With the trading of Carlos Lee from the Milwaukee Brewers to the Texas Rangers in exchange for Francisco Cordero, Kevin Mench, and Laynce Nix, both teams have fulfilled needs.

For the Texas Rangers, the need they had to fulfill was a short-term need and Lee does seem to be the answer to that since he is an improvement over the play they were getting from outfielder Kevin Mench. The two players have similar batting averages (.286 for Lee and .284 for Mench), but Lee has shown himself to be more proficient at getting on base and has hit for more power this season, giving him a .295 GPA to Mench's .247 GPA (remember to read GPA as you would a batting average). What should also be considered is that Lee has put up his power numbers in Milwaukee in a home park that is largely neutral. Since Arlington ballpark is a severe hitter's park, his slugging percentage has a chance to increase over his Milwaukee numbers, but will 60 games be enough for Lee to contribute the significant value the Rangers need in order to win the AL West division title?

Also, the Rangers foisted a struggling reliever in Francisco Cordero (-.888 WXRL) onto the Brewers and removed any temptation to call on him for a relief appearance.

On the other hand, the Milwaukee Brewers finally came to the realization that they had no chance at making the playoffs and made this trade for the long-term. Carlos Lee was going to be a free agent after this season and the Brewers knew the chances of re-signing him were non-existent so they pulled the trigger. Because they did this, it is evident that the organization is much more comfortable with major league players who they have already seen play against other major league talent than they would have been with the two compensatory draft picks they would have received had Lee left as a free agent in the offseason. Their recent track record in the draft proves their decision to be an astute one.

Now, they have players they can hold onto for a while and will probably get more value out of over the last part of this season and next season. Kevin Mench is a serviceable outfielder who will provide a defensive upgrade over Carlos Lee even though he is an offensive downgrade.

In Laynce Nix, the Brewers have themselves a good, young, and cheap player who was given up for dead by the Rangers after hitting 3-for-32 in nine games in April. If every team treated their players the same way after 32 at-bats, there would be a lot of star-caliber players in the minor leagues. Right now, Nix is twenty-five and would no doubt benefit from consistent play in the major leagues. Let's hope he gets it from the Brewers.

Francisco Cordero should be used this season in low-leverage situations and in nothing else.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Second-Guessing Willie

With the score tied at zero in the bottom of the ninth and after David Wright has drawn a leadoff walk, Jose Valentin steps into the batter's box. Valentin has a .282 GPA (Gross Product Average) for the season and is slugging, mind you, .530. Against right-handed pitchers (Michael Wuertz was pitching for the Cubs), he has a .288 GPA and .534 SLG. Willie Randolph, the Mets manager, obviously laughs in the face of high slugging percentages and relays the signal to his third base coach who then relays it to Valentin that he wants him to bunt. Randolph makes this decision despite the fact that he knows he has Xavier Nady and Ramon Castro coming up after Valentin.

Nady is not awful against righties this season possessing a .264 GPA and slugging .495, but Valentin is the better of the two and should not have been asked to bunt no matter what Willie Randolph has seen other managers do over the course of his baseball life. Ramon Castro's bat is not even worth mentioning so I won't.

The end result? Valentin fouls out on a bunt attempt, Nady flies out to center, and Castro grounds out to second.

And no, I am not just typing this after the fact. After Valentin first angled his bat in a bunt attempt, I began writing this post and I was going to continue even if the Mets have scored because even if this foolish stunt had succeeded, it does not change the fact a team would be better off letting their best hitter out of the next three swing away, especially when the next two hitters are successively worse.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Reggie Bush, You Lied To Me

Remember when Reggie Bush adamantly instructed his agent, Joel Segal, to avoid a training camp holdout at all costs? You may not so let me refresh your memory. Two weeks after the draft when the investigation into how his family lived in a house worth $757,237 virtually rent-free was still going on and with the threat of a lawsuit from the marketing company who paid for the house under the premise that Bush would let said company represent him after he declared for the draft and no doubt in a desperation move to garner some goodwill among his new fan base, Bush said this...

"I told my agent I want to be in here in camp on time ... whatever it takes, I want to be in camp on time," he said Saturday at the team's minicamp. "I think it is important to start off on a good foot and a good note, not only with the team but the city."

While Bush should be applauded for trying to get himself off to a good start with the city of New Orleans, there can be no doubt now that he was spewing out a pack of lies. Bush is the sort of player who says the right things, but says them not because he particularly thinks these words represent the truth or has any intention to honor his words, but because they are the most politically correct statements he can make at the time.

Now that journalists have stopped digging up new information about his agreement with the marketing company so his family could live comfortably for nothing, the Downtown Athletic Club is no longer threatening to take away his Heisman Trophy, the NCAA has done nothing to declare him ineligible or take away victories from USC, and the media have moved on to their newest story, Bush obviously feels free to be the person he really is, which is just another athlete who wants to be paid as much as possible and who will hold out for the contract he wants. There is nothing wrong with holding out for a contract that will not be entirely guaranteed anyway, but there is no reason to make insincere statements about how you want to be best friends with everyone in the city when what you really mean is you want to deflect attention away from the fact your college eligibility was non-existent for at least one year.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Welcome Back, Peter

Peter King is finally back from vacation and ready to put his idiocy back on display for myself and the world to enjoy. The odd thing is I actually agreed with a few of the points he made during his article so either King got smarter during his month-long vacation or I have gotten dumber. However, there is one thing that Peter King thinks that demonstrates that even if he has gotten smarter, there are still vestiges of idiocy left in him.

7. I think it's insane that the Vikings haven't given Brad Johnson a bump up from his $1.2 million deal. Teams with legitimate playoff hopes don't let a Super Bowl-winning quarterback play for the lowest veteran starting salary. Pony up, Zygi.

That is reason number one why no one should ever hire Peter King as their general manager. The Vikings should do everything in their power to avoid giving a raise to Brad Johnson. Professional sports franchises are not around to play players what the players think they are worth; if they did that, they would find themselves hemorrhaging cash. Instead, a smart franchise will get as much production per dollar out of their players as possible and the Vikings have a good shot of maximizing their dollar by paying Johnson the veteran starting salary.

Also, Trent Dilfer won a Super Bowl so King's reasoning behind the suggested pay raise is suspect at the least.

The Red Sox and Long At-Bats

David Ortiz fouls off pitch after pitch and finally on the ninth pitch of the at-bat, he launches a home run that lands in the upper decks. Was the outcome of this at-bat representative of what happens during long at-bats? In other words, do the longer at-bats give an immediate advantage to the hitter over the pitcher? Conventional baseball wisdom suggests that during longer at-bats a hitter will get to see a pitcher's entire repertoire and therefore will be able to have his way at the plate when the next pitch comes, but is that really so?

The team I chose to look at is the 2006 Boston Red Sox, who at 3.93 pitches per plate appearance are the most patient team in the major leagues. If any team would benefit from longer at-bats, I figured it would be the Red Sox. Keep in mind that this is only one team through only 95 games and the data should not be used to draw any broad conclusions about the rest of baseball history, but it does provide a glimpse into how long at-bats affect the match-up between a hitter and a pitcher.

To begin to answer the question, I broke the Red Sox at-bats into three categories: 1-4 pitches are regular at-bats, 5-7 pitches are long at-bats, and 8+ pitches are really long-at bats. I recorded 2,232 plate appearances that fell under the regular-at bat category. In these, the Red Sox batted .302 BA/.335 OBP/.480 SLG with a .271 GPA. GPA, or Gross Product Average, is a Hardball Times statistic, that is a more accurate version of OPS (OBP*1.8+SLG/4) and the beauty of it is that it can be read just like a batting average.

For the long at-bats, there were 1,570 plate appearances for which I had reliable pitch-by-pitch data and the Red Sox hit .200 BA/.341 OBP/.328 SLG and a .235 GPA. If you consider hits to be the only outcome of a successful at-bat (and you probably don't if you're reading this), then there is a very large drop-off in batting average between the long at-bats and the regular ones. In addition, their slugging percentage fell off precipitously.

You may be asking yourself how the Red Sox's on-base percentage can remain high with their batting average being so slow. The answer is fairly simple. Instead of getting on base as a product of hits as they did in regular at-bats, they have a much higher walks-to-at-bat ratio because walking a batter in 5-7 pitches is much more common than doing the same in 4 pitch plate appearances. Strikeout-to-plate appearance ratio also increased for the same reason. So in long at-bats, the Red Sox's ability to get on base remains largely unchanged, but their hitting ability does take a hit.

As for the really long at-bats, the conclusion we draw from them should be taken with a grain because of the small sample size of 127 plate appearances. The Red Sox hit .193 BA/.472 OBP/.398 SLG/.312 GPA. This is the only at-bat category where walks were the highest occurring outcome and that is reflected by the ridiculously high on-base percentage. Over the long run, I doubt this will keep up.

Overall, the evidence does not suggest hitters are any more advantaged during longer at-bats. A good team in regular at-bats will usually be a good team in long at-bats, although the chances of maintaining a high batting average across the board are slim because walks will replace hits as the higher means of getting on base.

Note: I used at-bats and plate appearances interchangeably during this post. This is incorrect. At-bats only take into account hits and outs. Plate appearances encompass hits, outs, walks, hits by pitch, and sacrifice hits.