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Twins Analysis

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ESPN sticks it to the Twins.

Doesn’t make me very optimistic, since from this point forward, the Twins need to play .500 baseball just to finish with 75 wins. Ouch. Actually, ouch a lot, since their run differential doesn’t look like they’ll go anywhere near .500: the Twins are scoring 3.37 runs per game while allowing 5.28 runs per game (that’s a .306 Pythagorean winning percent).

Written by jjvedamuthu

May 21, 2011 at 18:10

Giants Streaking

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Winners of 6 in a row, just passed the Rockies, on top of the NL West.

Still with very narrow run differential (+2), but obviously doing it  via run prevention and just enough–and timely and highly efficient–offense [3.47 runs scored per game vs. 3.44 runs allowed per game]. Lots like last year. Though some Giants fans like this years’ lineup better. [Although, I have to say, hoping for OBP-black hole  Freddie Sanchez to be the #2 hitter in your lineup is…masochistic (notice that his OBP is totally AVG driven: it’s generally .030-.035 higher than his batting average; and notice his career OBP is .335…or about .005 over league average…and you want him in the #2 hole?).]

I’m not sure their pitching staff is quite as top to bottom awesome as  they were last season. However, I am likely full of fecal matter as it’s been written that the bullpen is succeeding wildly.

They do have a shortstop problem. But, amazingly, this team, which I thought looked terrible defensively in the early season, is fourth in the NL in DER (9th in the Majors).

Definitely the Run Prevention.

Written by jjvedamuthu

May 12, 2011 at 16:01

Run Prevention for Real in Cleveland

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Or so says Jim Bowden today at ESPN’s SweetSpot:

This Indians team is not only contending but has the best record in the American League. Are they for real? Yes, they’re for real. I’m not saying they’re going to win the division, but what I am saying is that if they stay healthy, this team will contend into September and should win more games than they lose. The main reason this team is for real is the pitching and defense. The starting pitching is solid, the bullpen underrated and the infield defense is the best the Indians have seen since Jim ThomeRoberto AlomarOmar Vizquel and Travis Fryman played together.

Their run differential bears this out: they enter today with it at +48, 165 runs scored and 117 runs allowed (5.00 scored and 3.55 allowed per game). That represents a .652 Pythagorean winning percentage, which is only slightly lower than their actual .667 winning percentage. This projects out in the neighborhood of  106 wins, which is probably high, but we shouldn’t be all that surprised if they win 90.

Written by jjvedamuthu

May 10, 2011 at 14:00

BP and the Tribe

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Baseball Prospectus says “Hello Cleveland” today, and I’m just here to evaluate their evaluation.

John Perrotto first notes that “the pundits” picked Cleveland to finish no higher than fourth in the division in 2011. After all, though they took the Red Sox to 7 in the ALCS in 2007, they lost 97 games in 2009 and 93 in 2010.

I shouldn’t sound superior at all, for I figured it would be a three-way race as usual–Twins, White Sox, and Tigers–with Detroit the weakest of the three, and then Cleveland and finally Kansas City. I opined to a friend that Cleveland might–just might–have a shot to overtake Detroit, but no more than that. I thought the Twins were really good, despite some questions.

That was, you know, “on paper.”

Ah, reality! Or, “that’s why they play the games,” or some such springtime nonsense.

As Perrotto notes, the Indians have the best record in the Bigs, hold a 4 1/2-game lead in the division (and are leaving the Twins and White Sox in the dust, holding 10 (ten–yes, ten!) games leads over both of them. And Cleveland leads the Majors in (a) Run Differential (+47), (b) Pythagorean Winning Percentage (.671), (c) are second in the Bigs in runs per game, and (d) fourth fifth in runs allowed per game. Doing it in all phases.

Hey, the Indians have the lowest attendance in the Majors (yes, lower than Pittsburgh’s), they’ve lowered ticked prices both of the last two seasons, and they have $10 bleacher seat tickets for every game. Oh, to be a baseball fan in Cleveland this spring!

Perrotto tells us we should have been paying attention: The Tribe’s pitchers had a 3.89 ERA after the 2010 All Star Break, fourth best in the American League, and their bullpen ERA after September 1 was 2.11, best in the majors.

At this point, as a baseball fan, I’ve got to say they’ve been exciting. I saw the end of Friday night’s game (Santana’s walk-off slam), so I made it a point to watch both Saturday’s and Sunday’s games, and they are fun to watch.

Perrotto notes the exciting factor and brings up the numbers:

The Indians have been not only exciting but resilient, as two starting pitchers, Carlos Carrasco and Mitch Talbot, have been forced to the disabled list, and their two top hitters, catcher Carlos Santana (.191/.324/.382) and right fielder Shin-Soo Choo (.250/.322/.394) have not hit their strides. However, the Indians have gotten a lift from a number of unlikely sources, including journeyman third baseman Jack Hannahan, who was signed as a minor-league free agent in the offseason to improve the defense. Hannahan is hitting .273/.349/.481 with four home runs in 86 plate appearances.

“He came to big-league camp this spring and changed his approach,” Acta said. “Basically, people have been telling him to play third base in the major leagues that he’d have to hit home runs. He changed his mind this year. He’s staying inside the ball and hitting it where it’s pitched. We didn’t ask him to hit home runs. All we asked was to play good defense, which he’s done. Any hitting from him is a bonus.”

Right-hander Justin Masterson has turned into the ace of the pitching staff so far, as he is 5-0 with a 2.25 ERA and 1.15WHIP in six starts and 40 innings. Masterson’s 3.83 SIERA last season was an indicator he could be due for a turnaround this year, as it was nearly a full run lower than his 4.70 ERA in 180 innings.

“His sinker can eat up right-handed hitters,” Acta said. “He’s got the right mentality. He takes things in stride. His struggles last year got him down at times, but he kept working until things clicked. He’s an easygoing guy. He’s got a pretty good idea now of how to fix things when he gets out of sync and he gets back to throwing strikes. He has done a tremendous job of staying consistent in the strike zone so far, which he did in last six weeks of last season.”

Right-hander Josh Tomlin has also been a revelation, going 4-0 with a 2.45 ERA and 0.91 WHIP in his first five starts. That followed a pedestrian rookie season in 2011 when he had a 4.56 ERA and contributed just 0.4 WARP in 12 starts and 73 innings.

“He doesn’t overpower you but he mixes things up, changes speeds and puts his pitches where you can’t get good swings,” Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz said of Tomlin.

The best news of all for the Indians, though, has been the strong return of center fielder Grady Sizemore, who was limited to 140 mostly ineffective plate appearances last season before succumbing to microfracture knee surgery. Since being activated from the disabled list on April 17, Sizemore has put up a slash line of .340/.389/.740 with four homers in 54 trips to the plate.

“It’s huge having him back and producing,” Acta said. “Just his presence alone means a lot and we were just hoping to have him back because we feed off him a lot as a franchise player. The way he has stepped into the lineup, it’s like it was two years ago when he was injury-free. He brings so much to the table offensively. Even with all the home runs he has hit in the past, I never realized how strong he is. As a leadoff hitter, he’s a threat to get an extra-base hit every time up and put himself in scoring position. He’s been great.”

As Perez said, “What Grady has done, besides being very productive, is give us even more confidence that we can win. We have our franchise player back and that’s a big boost.”

Despite the Indians’ hot start, Baseball Prospectus’ Playoff Odds Reports give them just a 34.1 percent chance of reaching the postseason. Second baseman Orlando Cabrera, though, says numbers cannot measure the Indians’ confidence.

“This team has a real good feeling,” said Cabrera, a 15-year veteran who has played in the postseason in six of the last seven years. “We believe we’re going to win every day and that belief gets stronger with every game we win. I don’t know what everyone else thinks of us, but we’re a confident team that believes in itself.”

Written by jjvedamuthu

May 2, 2011 at 15:14

AL Central: The Central Question

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The Daily Pitch, USA Today’s baseball blog, asks it: Are the Indians this good and the Twins this bad?

Yes, the Indians have played a lot of games against sub-.500 teams, but their offense is clicking (2nd most runs/game in AL), and their pitching (and defense) has been good (3rd lowest runs allowed in the AL after the A’s and Angels, who have both had lights-out pitching so far). We’ll see, but the Tribe’s youngsters have been good.

As for the Twins: dismal. Worst run differential in MLB (-64 after only 27 games!), lowest runs scored (3.15/game, which is 26.5% below the MLB scoring average of 4.29/game). And they have a host of other problems (Liriano, Pavano, middle infield), and the Daily Pitch piece bullet points some of them for us:

Minnesota’s list of problems are lengthy, and include:

  • Joe Mauer’s absence. The former MVP and three-time batting champ last played April 12 but says he is finally improving after losing 15 pounds because of a viral infection. However there is no timetable for his return.
  • Justin Morneau’s struggles. Another former MVP, he is batting .232 with a .612 OPS and has yet to hit a home run this season. [He hit his 1st on Sunday, actually, but still…]  Morneau went nearly eight months with minimal baseball activity as he recovered from a concussion and then had a short spring training to prepare for the season. It’s possible he just needs time — at a time when the Twins need him most, though.
  • Woeful pitching [yeah, that’s ERA-ranked, but in terms of xFIP it ain’t much prettier, but not quite as sucky as it could be, and Brian Duensing has surprisingly not sucked as badly as everyone else, so go figure]. Francisco Liriano has a 9.13 ERA, Joe Nathan has yet to regain his closer role, Carl Pavano and Nick Blackburn have combined to go 3-6 with a 5.12 ERA.
  • Lack of productivity from the bottom third of the order: As a result of injuries to Mauer and second baseman Tusyoshi Nishioka, the Twins have been rolling out replacements such as Luke Hughes and Drew Butera. Combined with shortstop Alexi Casilla they have filled the 7-8-9 spots in the lineup on most days and are hitting a combined .185 with nine RBI and five extra-base hits.

Written by jjvedamuthu

May 2, 2011 at 10:42

Rays Run Rampant

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The tales of their untimely demise have been greatly exaggerated, etc., etc. But not just that, this, too: Desmond Jennings is still in the minors awaiting his shot to be the next Evan Longoria. Oh, yeah, and Evan Longoria is still awaiting his rehab assignment and eventual return to the team.

The Rays have been doing this, you see, without Manny Ramirez, Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Evan Longoria, multiple pieces of last year’s lights-out bullpen, and their Next Big Thing, Jennings.

And boy, oh boy, have they been doing it, and the words “Red Hot” may not be enough to cover it.

They’ve won five straight.

They blew the Twins out of the water, dropping the Twins to the worst record in the AL and the worst run differential in baseball. Good thing I’m nursing both a hangover and my hopes for Minnesota with a “small sample size” mantra-kinda’ thing: whenever I feel like I’m going to vomit I put my head between my knees and repeat “small sample size, small sample size, SMALL sample size,” over and over until the sensation passes.

As of April 10, the Rays were 1-8, and they had scored 20 runs while allowing 44 (Pythogorean winning percentage of .191).

Terrible.

But from April 11 forward through the 28th, the Rays are 13-3, and they have scored 88 runs while allowing only 46 (Pythogorean winning percentage of .766). Thrilling.

They are good. They are fun to watch. Yes, their home games are still played inside an oversized tuna can. But they are a good team that is stocked with young talent and is fun to watch.

Watch the Rays.

Written by jjvedamuthu

April 29, 2011 at 17:51

Futility and Sabermetrics

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So, there is a new blog at the (Minneapolis) Star-Tribune website called Sabermetrics 101.

The first column discussed Pythagorean projections, and, boy, what an uninspiring response.

The first comment, by callmestupid, reads:

I don’t get why that’s cool…..If you already know the outcome….Runs scored for the year and runs against….Then you already know the games won/lost…So why do the math? It seems to me you can tweak it till you come up with something that works. Give us something that can predict wins and losses before they happen and I’ll be impressed

I responded to that comment with this long ‘graph:

To callmestupid: it matters and is cool for a couple of reasons. (1) This sort of “pythagorean” projection is a better predictor of a team’s record in the following season than their actual record is (see 2009-10 Seattle Mariners; in 2009 they way overperformed their runs scores/runs allowed numbers and thus their “regression to the mean” in 2010 should have been expected rather than having been a surprise). (2) At any point in the season, if you wish to make a projection of how well a team is actually playing, this formula gives you/us a basis for evaluation, though the later in the year you wait, the more accurate the projection (small sample size caveats apply); such a run-differential-based projection better predicts the relative quality of teams than their actual record–due to, among other things, luck. Also, John, the formula is more accurate if you use 1.83 as the exponent rather than 2 (squaring). That is, you raise runs scored and runs allowed to the exponential power of 1.83 rather than simply squaring. This is established in the literature, but see the Hardball Times website for a better explanation.

My responses elicited the following comment from MyjahLeesa:

How does this actually predict anything? All I see here is a measure of things that have already happened–that’s not a prediction! It doesn’t give me any new information, it’s just putting the information in a slightly different form… I think that is the inherent limitation of statistics, they are all backward looking. They can’t tell you how all the tangible aspects of the game are causing these numbers just by multiplying the numbers together in different ways. And I think understanding the tangible aspects are key to making more useful predictions anyway. To me, calling these numbers predictions is a little like the tail wagging the dog, no?

Okay, I guess. But what kills me is that my explanation gets a thumbs down and both of the other comments get thumbs up. (!?!)

As you know, Pythagorean projections are better predictors of future performance than actual winning percentage over the course of the rest of the season (at least, those really smart kids over at the always awesome Baseball Prospectus tell me this is so; their info tends to pan out so I trust them; also there is some formal statistical support for this–see the section called “Theoretical Explanation”).

Hey, I can’t tell you how electricity makes my computer operate, but I can tell you that my computer works a lot better when plugged than when it’s not. In the same way, I can’t explain how the Pythogorean projection provides accurate predictions (within a standard error of +/- 4 wins), but I can tell you that ever since I started playing around with it in, oh, 1987 that it does a pretty good job of predicting wins and losses.

The response to my comments is sort of funny and sort of sad. The answerer says “it’s all backward looking,” which is kind of true but–deep breath–so are ALL empirical explanations and the subsequent predictions they generate. That is how social scientific theories are justified, for example: you collect your data set, evaluate it, and then you see if historical conditions conform to your hypotheses. If so, then they are considered more likely to be true in the future. And in any event, they are descriptions, and with accurate descriptions you have a better chance of making a valid prediction. Oh, whatever….

Where the rubber really hits the road, arguing that the past isn’t relevant to the future completely invalidates the collection of ANY baseball statistics. That is, every time you hear someone–a commentator, someone in your fantasy baseball league, whomever–say, “This guy is only hitting .250 this year, but he’s a .320 career hitter,” they are assuming that past performance predicts future performance. Any time someone says, “This pitcher had a 2.35 ERA last year, but this year it’s 4.20, so what gives,” s/he is assuming that the past tells us something about what we should expect in the future. So, if you stick to the whole “the past is meaningless for the future” position, you reject ANY sort of statistical analysis, like, say, actuarial tables, economic forecasts, expectations that today will be like yesterday, etc. No one lives their lives that way.

[Oh, regarding that pitcher with the ERA that blew up:   one should probably look at the pitcher’s BABIP to see if his defense is letting him down, and then take a look at his defense-independent pitching stats, like FIP and xFIP.]

While the map is not the territory, and statistics can’t provide the ability to make perfect predictions, there is a difference between a wild-ass guess and making an inference rooted in some knowledge about how things are and how they’ve been.

Therefore, I consider the response to my response kind of, to be as nice as possible, ill-conceived.  To say that I–and a host of other people way, way, way more talented  than I will ever be–am letting the tail wag the dog is simply, uh, silly. No, those are not just some random numbers that we’re multiplying (first of all, a very well-trained spreadsheet does all the math). They are runs scored and runs allowed, the building blocks of wins and losses.

I am now getting off my soapbox and going to listen to a Jonah KeriDave Cameron podcast, two guys who are down with sabermetrics and worth every baseball fan’s attention.

Written by jjvedamuthu

April 25, 2011 at 22:48