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Just The Sports: 2006-08-06

Just The Sports

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Why Does Everyone Hate Notre Dame?

More importantly, why do the sports media become so indignant when coachs and players refuse to answer their questions. As I write this I am feeling extremely hyperbolic so I am going to say that 100% of the questions asked by reporters do not deserve answers. These questions are infantile, asinine, and so elementary half of them could be answered by anyone who took the time to watch the action on the field. The other half could be answered by employing even an ounce of common fucking sense.

I have been a live witness to a couple post-game player interviews and watched in shock as accrediated media members posed such imbecilic queries. One instance in particular sticks out in my mind. After Arizona State scored a last second touchdown against Carolina, a reporter asked Carolina safety, Dexter Reid, I kid you not, "What happened on that last play?" The answer is obvious, of course. There was a defensive breakdown, the other team scored, and won the game, but the reporter still asked as if Reid was going to regale the reporters gathered with a story of how aliens possessed his teammates' minds for a few seconds, rendering them unable to stop any opposing receiver.

Even worse is the "How do you feel about the game?" after a team suffers a crushing defeat. Gerry McNamara was asked this question after he scored only two points against Texas A&M in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and his last collegiate game. His reply: "I feel great about it. My last game that we lost, probably because of me."

And then reporters wonder why no one has time to answer their questions.

Tom Dienhart is one such reporter who is sticking up for two of his fellow brethren who asked: "Can Notre Dame maintain principles and athletic dominance?" Weis, in a great move, banned the two reporters from asking him any more questions, but later allowed them to waste his time. His behavior prompted Dienhart to refer to him as a bully and Biff Weis, a mature reaction indeed by a journalist.

That question could have been answered without the help of Weis, but that would have required the reporters to think and reporters hate thinking. Canned responses will suit them just fine, though.

Dienhart then goes on to report this story told him by a head coach who faced Notre Dame last year.

"Weis is arrogant as hell," the coach told me. "I couldn't even talk to him before the game. I tried to. It was a one-sided conversation. After asking him about six different questions and getting little to no answer, I went to the other end of the field."

Keep in mind that this was before the game and not after it and Weis probably could care less about shooting the breeze with anyone. He is getting paid to win football games, not make friends with opposing coaches who are only distracting him with their pointless small talk.

I can only surmise as to the identity of the opposing head coach, but I am willing to bet someone else's money it was either Pete Carroll or Philip Fulmer. Pete Carroll just seems like the type who would ask you a bunch of questions pertaining to the weather and your health and call it conversation and Philip Fulmer already has a reputation for tattling on others.

Not Yet Ready To Love Again

When the 49ers drafted Alex Smith with the number one pick in the 2005 draft instead of Braylon Edwards, I decided it would be best if the two of us went our separate ways. The break-up was long in coming, but I took the drafting of Alex Smith to mean the 49ers were not serious about winning football games any time soon and I did not want to waste my time with a team who would not even give the appearance of trying. Smith's abysmal play last year only served to give me more credence as to why I was right in dumping the 49ers. Not only drafting but playing Ken Dorsey certainly did not help the situation.

However, even though I broke up with the 49ers and had a one-night stand with the Cincinnati Bengals, I still held out hope that they would take the first reconciliatory step and show they were ready to give it another go. Since my latest pasttime has been to read too much into pre-season games, it is with cautious optimism that I say the play of Alex Smith tonight against the Chicago Bears showed me the 49ers may indeed be ready to rekindle our flame. Smith, tonight, played superbly even if it was only against a team who took out their first-string sooner in the first half than did the 49ers. Still, Smith had a 76.1% completion percentage and his passes were not just completions for completions' sake. Eleven of the sixteen connected throws were for first downs. His 6.5 yards per attempt could use some work, though. Yes, I know it is only the first game of pre-season and I doubt he will be able to match this level of success during the regular season, but like I said, this is my newest pasttime.

On another note, the 49ers ignored my draft demands yet again, making me think we still have our communication issues. I expressly told them to draft Reggie McNeal, Travis Wilson, and Brodie Croyle and they expressly refused to do so, allowing Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Kansas City to swoop in and whisk the players away.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Re: Randy Johnson Not An Ace

Obviously the New York sports media has yet to get this memo since they still refer to Johnson as the ace of the Yankees so I will do my part to spread the word in the hopes of imparting a slice of reality to these disillusioned people. The term staff ace is one usually based in past performances and commonly ignores what the present is shouting at us. The bigger the name and the contract and the faster the fastball was (in the past, usually), the more of an ace a pitcher becomes, data to the contrary be damned. Such can be the only foundation for even thinking to refer to Randy Johnson as an ace.

Randy Johnson is not the ace of the Yankees pitching staff. Right now, Mike Mussina is, narrowly edging out Chien-Ming Wang for that honor. Johnson is not even the second-best starter on the team or the third. He is the fourth-best and if not for the Yankees bestowing upon him the fourth-best run support in the majors (7.46 runs a start), his record would be much worse than the 12-9 mark it is right now. Based on the historical win-loss records of pitchers who have turned in similar performances, Baseball Prospectus has Johnson with an expected win-loss of 8.3-10.6. My basis for ranking him fourth, last among pitchers who have started regularly for the Yankees this season, is founded in his SNLVAR, which tells how many wins a pitcher would contribute over a replacement pitcher if he had received league average run support, but Johnson is fourth in other categories such as run average, fair run average, and pitching runs above average.

One of Randy's biggest problems, as far as results go, is his strikeout-to-walk ratio of 2.86, the lowest it has been since 1994 meaning more balls are being put into play. Johnson has also allowed a high batting average on balls in play (career .301 BABIP) so the more balls are being put into play, the more hits he is going to give up. Another failing of Johnson is his inability to strand runners this year. His 61.1 LOB% is the lowest of his career. And if that were not bad enough, his home run rate is the highest mark since he first started pitching in the majors. Suffice it to say, Johnson has found a way to set career highs and career lows in all the wrong categories.

If Joe Torre were smart, when the playoffs game, he would have Mussina as his Game 1 starter and Chien-Ming Wang as his Game 2 starter and maybe Johnson as his Game 3 starter. Otherwise, he would be hard-pressed to prove to me that much about winning the series. Like my opinion counts to him, though.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Alfonso Soriano, Meet Adrian Beltre

Alfonso Soriano received a lot of publicity in major league baseball's off-season after he was traded from the Texas Rangers to the Washington Nationals and told the team was going to move him to the outfield, a less defensively intensive position. He balked at the position change and claimed he was a second baseman only even when defensive metrics showed that while he was a second baseman in theory, he was not a particularly good defensive one and was costing his teams runs by lining up in that spot. After Soriano's refusal, the Nationals told him they would pay his salary and keep him off the field entirely for the whole season. No doubt, Soriano at first thought paying paid to do nothing was not such a bad proposition, but then he remembered or he was told by his agent that this season was more special than his others. The 2006 season was going to be his walk year, the year that at least one foolish team would look at it only to decide how much money to offer him after he became a free agent. So Soriano picked up the phone and dialed Adrian Beltre's number to ask him how he should approach this most holiest of years and here is what Beltre told him...

Okay, maybe that last part did not happen, but it might as well have because Soriano is taking a page out of Beltre's book as well as a page out of every player who has had a monster year while playing for a contract and most players have had such a year. Soriano is not quite done with this year so he has the chance to improve or regress, but let's compare his walk year to Beltre's to see how similar the two seasons are to each other.

The big difference between the two are their ages. Beltre decided he would play his one good year of baseball at age 25, right around when a baseball player enters his prime. Soriano is putting in his best season at age 30 and any team that gives him a big contract after the season is over will get to reap his decline years.

Before this season, Soriano was a .280 BA/.320 OBP/.500 SLG, not bad except his on-base percentage is tied to his batting average making him an inconsistent hitter. In 2006, he has hit .290 BA/.364 OBP/.595 SLG, which marks an increase of 16% over his career gross product average (.313 GPA to .269 GPA).

Beltre saw an even more dramatic increase over his career average GPA and his walk year one. Entering the season where he was playing for a new contract, Beltre's line read like this: .262 BA/.320 OBP/.428 SLG. He finished 2004 with .334 BA/.388 OBP/.629 SLG on the strength of his 48 homers, a 32% increase over his career GPA (.251 GPA to .332 GPA). Since then, Beltre has played in 1.68 seasons and fallen back to his middling ways, .258 BA/.314 OBP/.419 SLG and a .246 GPA, very much in line with his career average if a little below it. All told, Beltre has hit .270 BA/.328 OBP/.453 SLG. To get some perspective as to how much of an outlier Beltre's season was, let's look at the standard deviations of some of his numbers. Like I mentioned before, Beltre hit 48 home runs in his walk year, which are an amazing three standard deviations away from his career average of 19.1 home runs a season. Correcting for his first season where he only appeared in 77 games, his 2004 year saw him hit a home run every 12.5 at-bats. Compare that to his career average of a home run 25.2 at-bats. His slugging percentage and gross product average in 2004 was also three standard deviations away from what he has slugged in his career.

Soriano has not quite repeated Beltre's prowess in having an outlier season and most of his 2006 year is within a standard deviation of his career average. Only his slugging percentage is two standard deviations away. But his standard deviation is much higher than Beltre's, making it easier for his numbers to fall within one standard deviation. Soriano's batting average variance (standard deviation squared) is four times higher than Beltre's and his on-base percentage variance is seven times higher. This makes sense since the two are so closely tied for Soriano. Even though Soriano is a good hitter, he is so inconsistent a team can never know what to expect from one year to the other. Soriano has taken another page away from Beltre's walk year and is hitting a home run this year in six fewer at-bats than it has taken him for his career (12.8 to 18.8).

Part of his success could be attributed to him seeing more pitches per plate appearances, but there is more to his explosion than just that. His BB/K ratio is .46, almost twice as high as his career BB/K ratio (red flag!). His isolated power is also the highest it has been ever (second red flag!). Beltre experienced a dramatic increase in isolated power as well during his walk year.

Any team that throws a lot of money (anything over $10 million) at Soriano to sign him like the Mariners did to Beltre ($64 million over 5 years) deserves the impending decrease in Soriano's skills because the writing is on the wall that Soriano is not consistently one of the best players in baseball.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Quality of Batters Faced

A throwaway statement I made while trying to explain why Josh Beckett has seen such a marked increase in his home run rate prompted me to take a deeper look into how much the quality a batter faces has an impact on the pitcher's performance. Instead of looking at home run rates, though, I chose to look at pitchers' fielding-independent ERA, a measure of all the things for which a pitcher is responsible, and how highly it correlates with the batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, isolated power (SLG-BA), gross product average (OBP*1.8+SLG/4), and weighted-on base average (OBP*2+SLG/3) of the batters he faces from 2002-2005. I split up the data into the American League and the National League because the AL designated hitter increases the quality of batter faced by AL pitchers. The pitchers looked at were all the five most used starters for their teams in those seasons.

For whatever reason, the American League had a higher correlation between the batters' statistics and the pitchers' fielding-independent ERAs, but I was more interested in seeing which statistic had the highest correlation.

In the American League, the correlations look as follows:

Batting Average: .137
On-Base Percentage: .259
Slugging Percentage: .244
Isolated Power: .262
Gross Product Average: .265
Weighted On-Base Average: .265

Not surprisingly, batting average has the lowest correlation. Batting average has long been exposed as not being able to paint a complete enough picture of a hitter's ability.

What may surprise you is that isolated power has a higher correlation than both on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Isolated power is rarely talked about in the main sports media, but the more true power that a player has, the more damage he will be able to inflict on a pitcher and also isolated power reflects more than slugging percentage the ability of a player to hit home runs. Home runs are heavily counted in fielding-independent ERA.

Also, the two variations of OPS (GPA and wOBA) are the most heavily correlated to fielding-independent ERA.

As mentioned above, the National League has a lower correlation between all of the statistics and fielding-independent ERA, but the correlations tell a similar story nonetheless.

Batting Average: -.100
On-Base Percentage: -.059
Slugging Percentage: -.030
Isolated Power: .014
Gross Product Average: -.047
Weighted On-Base Average: -.048

Again, isolated power, gross product average, and weighted on-base average are the highest correlated with fielding-independent ERA.

Most of the reason why the correlations are so low throughout is due to the fact pitchers basically face the same quality of batter every year. Some pitchers may face a slightly better hitters and some slightly worse, but overall they are all bunched together. Really, the difference in fielding-independent ERAs have to do with how good the pitcher is. Common sense would have led me to that conclusion and saved me a bunch of time, but I was not employing common sense at the time.

In order to compare to another pitching metric, I ran the same correlations for the flawed statistic that is ERA to see how it compares to fielding-independent ERA.

American League
Batting Average: .138
On-Base Percentage: .200
Slugging Percentage: .117
Isolated Power: .076
Gross Product Average: .170
Weighted On-Base Average: .172

The numbers are different with the highest correlation being between on-base percentage and ERA and isolated power now having the lowest correlation. Batting average is higher than slugging percentage now even though slugging percentage is by far a more important aspect to the same.

National League
Batting Average: -.008
On-Base Percentage: -.073
Slugging Percentage: .042
Isolated Power: .063
Gross Product Average: -.012
Weighted On-base Average: -.015

Now isolated power has the highest correlation and slugging percentage the second highest, but they are all almost zero so it doesn't really matter much since there is no correlation at all.

What this should prove is that good pitching is good against all hitters and bad pitching is bad against all hitters so pitching does not necessarily trump hitting or vice versa when you add it all up.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Poking Fun At Peter

Another reason to love the return of the NFL is it also brings a return to the imbecility of Peter King, Monday Morning Quarterback.

This is why Gary Kubiak is the best thing that ever happened to Carr:

The other day, Carr threw a pass into a coverage scheme that he and Kubiak knew right away was the wrong pass at the wrong time. Terrible decision. Instead of soft-pedaling his criticism, which is the way Carr has been treated for four years as the Disappointing Golden Boy of Houston football, Kubiak offered this gem: "You've been in the league four years and you make that throw? There is no way you can make a throw into coverage like that!''

Unless Kubiak sprinkled a few choice curse words in those two sentences, what he said is pretty tame by coaching standards. I wonder what he says after Carr fumbles a snap: "Dammit, David, you cannot fumble like that!" Nothing about the exchange between Kubiak and Carr suggests Kubiak is the best thing that ever happened to Carr. Try again, Peter.

Also, Peter King has fallen into the trap that snares many after a coaching change. Those who follow the team closely, media and fans alike, are so convinced that a new coach will result in a massive change of philosophy in a team that they look for anything in the new coach that is different from the old one to feed their notion and exaggerate the difference between the two.

What really separates Dom Capers from Gary Kubiak in their handling of David Carr is their background. Capers was a defensive coordinator and Kubiak was an offensive coordinator so of course Kubiak will be more hands-on since he feels working with the quarterback is where his expertise lies.

The real problem the Texans suffered from was in not hiring a competent offensive coordinator the first go around. All smart defensive coordinators when given a head coaching gig know they will need a brilliant offensive mind to cover up for what they do not feel comfortable doing. When the time came for the fledgling Texans to hire a man to lead their offensive game plan, they picked Chris Palmer for whatever reason. Palmer had been a quarterbacks coach for the New England Patriots under Bill Parcells in 1996 when the team went off the Super Bowl. But that bit of success was far in the rearview mirror when 2002 rolled around.

At that time, he was coming off being fired as head coach of the reborn Cleveland Browns after leading the team to two years of mediocrity. In his first year, he was trusted with a #1 draft pick franchise quarterback named Tim Couch. The results were less than spectacular and bring up the question why he was trusted in the same situation with David Carr. The Browns' offense was ranked 31st in both years in yards and points and the team went 5-27. Palmer is now a quarterbacks coach under Parcells working with Drew Bledsoe like in 1996. Hopefully, Parcells will know Palmer's limitations and will keep his responsibilities to a minimum.

2. I think this is the best way to put in perspective how significant it is that Pittsburgh has had two head coaches since 1968: In the last 38 years, Pittsburgh and New England have each had two head coaches likely bound for the Hall of Fame -- Chuck Noll (already in) and Cowher in Pittsburgh, Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick in New England. Remaining head coaches for each team during that span: Pittsburgh, zero; New England, 12.

That was the best way you could come up with? Really? That's sad because that doesn't tell me anything about any sort of advance Pittsburgh teams have over New England teams. Maybe if you would have compared the records of the two teams over the last 38 years, then I could see how significant it is to have a long-tenured coach. But you didn't so now I have to look it up myself. It's not a perfect measure, but it's a start.

Pittsburgh: 334-227-2 (.595 winning percentage)
New England: 279-287 (.493 winning percentage)

Now that puts it in a little better perpsective.

c. I honestly think Jason Varitek is a bigger loss to the Red Sox than Manny Ramirez would be.

And that is why Ramirez has 5.4 wins above a replacement player and Varitek 2.4.