Saturday, January 31, 2004
How not to pull a car out of the snow
This is a 14 mb file - broadband recommended.
Friday, January 30, 2004
THE BETTER ASSUMPTION AND INTRODUCING THE AL WEST BLOGGER ALL-STARS
As I indicated yesterday, Mariners Wheelhouse will be doing a series of posts over the next several weeks about evaluating team rosters. Yesterday I talked about the basic bad assumptions, which are:
- our tendency to assume that, without changes, the next season will be like the last.
- our nature to wish the best for other people with whom we relate emotionally.
The Better Assumption
So what is the better assumption? Assume that, without changes, this season will differ from the last season. Then put your efforts into identifying whether the change is more likely to be an improvement or a decline. And to do this, it’s good to bring in elements of seasons further past than the last one.
If you read this blog regularly, you may have noticed several recurring topics when I discuss players. I often mention the player’s age. When a player is more than 28 to 30 years old, all things being equal, the player is more likely to decline from one season to the next than he is to improve, or even to perform at the same level. The older the player is, the more likely that there will be a decline, and the more precipitous the decline is likely to be. I know there are many exceptions to this statement, but is true sufficiently more often than it is false to make it a good initial assumption. As a primary assumption, it should be discarded only with a solid rationale.
Similarly, players who are less than 25 years old are good candidates to continue to improve (Ben Grieve notwithstanding), so a starting assumption should be that those players are likely to get better. This is particularly true when a player has a past history indicating strong performance. My recent posts on Kevin Mench are an example relating to a player who I believe is likely to improve in future seasons (if he stays healthy).
My suggestion to readers is that they look through the rosters of their teams, and assume that every player on the roster is going to have a different year this year than they had the previous year. Then consider whether the change in the coming season is more likely to be an improvement or a decline. And if a player suddenly came out of nowhere to post a good season – and there was no inkling of it in his past – you should best assume that it will not be repeated. Only assume that next year will be like the last year if there truly is good reason to support that belief. As you do this, be ruthless about setting aside sentimental desires about your favorite players. Be objective, not wishful.
Similarly, be careful not to overly discount the players who have disappointed you in recent seasons. If there is evidence to indicate that they have been performing below expectations, they may be more likely to improve than to continue to decline.
After you finish this exercise, tally how many players are likely to have better years and how many are likely to have worse years. Do the same with any new players that have been added, paying attention to adjust for differences in ballparks, and compare them with the player whose place they are taking on the roster. Then review your assessment, roster position by roster position. I think that approach will give you a better indication of where team vulnerabilities might lie and enable you to look at the roster moves more critically.
A Look at the Future
Mariners Wheelhouse is going to do exactly this – in fact, we are going to do this as part of a AL West bloggers all stars team. Tyler Bleszinski of Athletics Nation will be doing a parallel analysis for the Oakland A's, and Adam Morris from Texas Rangers Blog will handle the Texas Rangers. Finally, in a pinch hitting role, Jeff Sullivan from Fire Bavasi will analyze the Anaheim Angels. (We'll pit the Wheelhouse bench against Bavasi's bench in any blog, anywhere, anytime!)
All four of us will be posting on about the same schedule over the next two weeks, discussing the same portions of the rosters at the same time. We'll be liberally referencing each other's blogs, so it should be easy to go back and forth.
We think it will be a great opportunity for our readers to look at and compare our teams in the AL West, and we all hope that you'll find a good reason to expand your blogging horizons.
Next up will be discussions of each team's outfield changes. The Blogger All-Stars should have those reviews up at their sites on Monday.
Thursday, January 29, 2004
THE BASIC BAD ASSUMPTIONS
I haven’t posted as frequently in the last couple of days as I often do because of heavy work and personal commitments. Fortunately, the news from the last several days has been well covered by other bloggers. You don’t need the Wheelhouse to let you know that:
- the Mariners are already dissembling about the size of the 2004 payroll
- Finnigan is so deep into the Mariners pocket that three producers of gay porn films have already contacted him about selling the rights to his life story.
- The Mariners bench will be outperformed by the benches of 27 other teams in Major League Baseball in all areas except "veteran leadership".
Of course, the universal optimism is often unwarranted. Because losers must offset winners, for every team that improves, at least one team must be worse. And if you want to truly assess the likely performance of your favorite team, you must recognize that it’s human nature to be biased. If, however, you recognize your biases, you can compensate for them. If you compensate, you can make better judgments. And because skills to recognize and compensate for bias are not unique to baseball, you apply them to biases in other areas of your life. Baseball can offer us the opportunity to test and develop those critical thinking skills.
That will be theme of a series of posts here at the Wheelhouse over the next two weeks. And before I proceed further, I would like to offer a deep debt of gratitude and thanks to Jeff Angus at Management by Baseball for providing inspiration for this topic and for some desperately needed critical review of my comments. The ideas and content are entirely mine and my responsibility. (Sometimes I’m too bullheaded to know what’s good for me.)
The Basic Bad Assumptions
As humans, we remember and apply immediate past experience much more readily than we do more distant experiences, and we give more weight to recent history than to more distant memory. So, when we evaluate our players and our teams, our memories are very strongly influenced by the season just concluded, and we generally start by assuming that, without changes, the next season will be like the last season. We then layer on top of that an unwillingness to assume bad things about people with whom we relate. The end result is an overly optimistic view about the future. These are the basic bad assumptions, and my goal is to encourage you to start your thinking with different assumptions. And, as noted previously, this isn’t just about baseball because the same thinking patterns occur in many areas of life.
In a baseball context, we assume, for example that a player who had a good season will continue to perform at that level for the foreseeable future. That actually works for many people on two levels. First, it doesn’t require as much thinking to project the past into the future. Second, we have all have a tendency to engage in wishful thinking in which we imagine the world to be as we want it to be, not necessarily as it is.
I think both of these elements can be seen in discussions about Ryan Franklin. There is ample reason to believe that Ryan Franklin’s performance in 2004 is far more likely to decline from his 2003 levels than to stay the same, let alone improve. Yet many fans uncritically assume that Franklin’s record in 2004 will be at least as good as 2003. Or, if they recognize that 2003 was out of the range of expected performance, they want to believe that Franklin has somehow changed so that his past record can be discounted. Wishful thinking is seen in statements that Franklin has "matured", or has "mastered his craft", or that he was the victim of bad luck last year (lack of offensive support) and that therefore his 2004 record should be better.
When we consider a player who has had a bad year, it’s a bit more complicated, but we still bias towards optimism. Overall, I think most of us want to believe the best about people with whom we have emotional ties and associations. Therefore, most fans are uncritically believe that the player will "turn things around" even when there is information, for example, that the player is in a state of long-term decline. We are much more likely to say a bad player "can’t be that bad" than we are to say a good player "can’t be that good", even though we should recognize that, on the whole, both statements should be equally likely. In other words, it’s unsupported wishful thinking. I think most fans will continue to follow this line of thinking until the player posts two bad seasons – then the immediate past memories overwhelm everything else (the "Cirillo effect").
There are, nevertheless, also many fans who will always judge a player by his last year’s (or even his last month’s) performance, and not consider factors that might lead to better performance. Regression to the mean also means that players who have had bad seasons for no reason will perform better.
Because the people who manage baseball teams are human, they are susceptible to the same types of thinking. Just like fans, the team management will often focus on immediate past performance, and tend to be too optimistic about the chances of players recapturing past levels of performance. Consequently, teams don't strengthen themselves in areas that need strengthening, and they "fix" perceived weaknesses that are perhaps not as serious as they seem. And when a team has a great year when all of the planets line up, management as well as fans are lulled into believing that the team is really better than it is.
I think the 2002 Angels team that won the World Series illustrates this progression. That year, many of the Angels’ players performed better than their most likely expectation. In addition, the team had a nice run of good luck. After the 2002 season, Angel's management elected to not make any roster moves, believing that the teams 2002 performance did not differ greatly from what they could reasonable expect in 2003. Of course, reality intruded after the 2003 season, and it was apparent that the team was not as good as their 2002 campaign led the team management and many fans to believe they were.
On Deck: "The Better Assumption" and information about a Mariners Wheelhouse special feature.
Tuesday, January 27, 2004
BOONE INJURY MAY CHANGE YANKEE PLANS
As I've noted previously, next year's free agent pool is likely to be deep in third baseman. Barring contract extensions, Chavez, Koskie, and Glaus will be free agents next year. If Florida does not commit to building a stadium, Lowell can also be a free agent.
In signing Aaron Boone to a one-year contract this winter, the Yankees appeared to be setting themselves up to make a big free agent acquisition at third base. Boone's injury may force some changes to that plan. In filling the need now, the Yankees may acquire a player whose contract extends beyond the 2004 season.
Some quick thoughts on this:
- The Mariners may also be players in the third base free agent market next year. Olerud's contract is up, and he will probably be retiring, so Spiezio can move to first base, where he is better suited anyway. That opens up a spot at third base. Not having the Yankees in the market will obviously make it easier for the Mariners to sign a FA third baseman.
- The Yankees may very well try to deal for one of those third basemen in their walk years, then try to sign him to a long-range contract.
- The Yankees really do not have much to offer in trade right now, with their minor league system having been pretty well depleted by previous trades (Brandon Claussen) and unfulfilled performance by toolsy young players (Henson).
- One way for the Yankees to acquire some trade power would be to talk to teams that are interested in Pudge, and offer to do a trade that involves significant cash back to the team to enable them to sign Pudge. (Either cash directly or in the form of the Yankees picking up some bad contracts.) It would be very interesting to see what Slithering Bud would do with a deal such as that. The Commissioner gets involved in deals where there is more than $1 million changing hands, and Slithering Bud cuts slack only for his friends.
- Another approach would be for the Yankees to do a toxics trade – picking up some bad contracts to make salary even out or putting cash into the deal. Perhaps something involving Pittsburgh and San Diego that would get Nevin to NY (Nevin is a 10- and 5-man and would have to approve this), Kendall to SD, and Cirillo and Hernandez to Pitts. There would probably be some other elements to keep the deal out of the Commissioners office and to give additional value to San Diego, but something could probably be worked out. This is essentially the recurring Padres-Pirates trade, but with the Yankees getting involved. By shedding the Nevin's contract, the Padres free enough payroll to complete the deal for Kendall. The Pads might be interested in moving Nevin now because he has a big contract, seems injury prone, and appears to have entered his decline years (OPS since 2000 of .917/.976/.757/.826). Nevin still has considerable value as a player, so the Pads might also be able to net some talent in the deal as well.
TRANSLATING COACH SPEAK
From the Detroit News
Gibson said one of last season's few success stories probably escaped most fans: center fielder Alex Sanchez, obtained in a May trade with Milwaukee.In the discussion of this article at Clutch Hits TimD (comment #16) translates this from Coach Speak to English:
"He had a bad reputation over there, and it took us awhile, but he's on board," Gibson said. "We had to figure out different methods of teaching him. You have to remember, he lived under a dictatorship (Sanchez, a Cuban refugee, escaped to the United States in 1994). All he knew was a tough life on the streets and playing baseball. He simply didn't know how to do some things, like hitting a cutoff man.
Gibson, a raw baseball player when he signed with the Tigers in 1978, said he can relate.
"I worked with Alex a lot last year," Gibson said. "He's much the same as I am. He's an outfielder who likes to steal bases. But he needed to be taught some things. And you ought to see him now - the guy is so on board with us he hugs you when he comes into the clubhouse."
A truer translation would be: "the guy has resisted learning fundamentals ever since he has been in professional baseball. All he wants to do is steal bases. We have busted our butts just trying to get him to hit the cutoff man, something he should have learned in Cuba or at least in A ball. At least now he does it occasionally and once in awhile he even acts like he wants to be here. What a headcase."
THE QUICKENING OF THE DEAD
Kaz signs his papers today, bringing glimmers of new life during a moribund season.
Bloggers will burn through keyboards identifying and analyzing trades and signings. Statheads will calculate changes in team defense, win shares, and runs created using formulae requiring massively parallel processing. Circuits will melt at telephone call centers serving SportsTalk radio stations. General managers throughout the country will switch cell phone plans as they use their rollover minutes angling ways to dump their failed toolsy prospects on the Mariners.
Folks, let's keep our senses here. Our first, and primary, hope needs to be that Bavasi doesn't do something utterly stupid that hobbles the team for years. Anything after that is blessing upon blessing.
CATCHING UP WITH PUDGE.
The Seattle Times: Mariners: Mariners set to sever Sasaki ties
To have a chance to lure Rodriguez, Bavasi, who has had a good relationship with Boras in the past, might have to press for changes in Seattle contract policies.And a 32-year old Pudge is not the player for whom that policy should be changed.
The Mariners rarely offer four-year contracts to players from outside the organization.
Rodriguez reportedly has already rejected three-year offers from Baltimore and Florida, so length of contract may become a sticking point in negotiations.
By the way, if the Mariners were to complete a deal for Pudge, they most likely would fund that with the combination of Sasaki's $8 million and Davis' $1.4 million. That in turn, would mean, that in a trade to move Davis, the Mariners would not take on any salary in return.
I expect that a Davis trade would be like the Guillen trade, i.e., a straight salary dump in which the Mariners move Davis in return for nothing. I expect that all of the GMs in baseball have already sent Bavasi their lists of toolsy, 24-year old former high draft picks whose careers have fizzled.
Monday, January 26, 2004
BASEBALL CRANK'S EWSL (ESTABLISHED WINS SHARES LEVEL) REPORT ON THE AL WEST
Baseball Crank: BASEBALL: AL West Established Win Shares Report
Immediately, you see the problem with the method: the Mariners are stuffed to the gills with established players, but they are nearly all aging players, as the team's weighted average age of nearly 33 tells you; there's nearly nobody here with an upside outside of the setup men. On paper, before you take their age into account, I can see the M's as favorites. After you consider the age factor, though, I'd have to go with …
FLY, FLY AWAY OAKLAND STYLE
Tyler Bleszinski of Athletics Nation did a review of Oakland pitchers, Fly, Fly Away Oakland Style, paralleling my "Fly, Fly Away" review of Mariners pitching, below.
Check it out, and whenever Oakland needs a double play ball to get out of a jam, Chad Bradford looks filthy.
CONSIDERING THE A'S
Tyler Bleszinski at Athletics Nation has a piece on the A's of 2004, Welcome to the Twilight Zone, that suggests that Beane may have done a better job assembling the current roster than he is given credit for. Check it out - it might not be as gloomy in Oakland as many people seem to think.
Sunday, January 25, 2004
THE SONS OF BUHNER DISCUSS THE PADRES AND THE MARINERS
Check it out: Deciphering the Peoria Complex: Bavasi vs. Towers
FLY, FLY AWAY!!
For the last couple of days I've been looking at the ground ball to fly ball ratios for the Mariners pitching staff, noting how extremely fly ball oriented the entire Mariners pitching staff is. This, of course, makes the loss of defense in the outfield more significant. In fact, because Mariners pitchers collectively generate so many fly balls, the loss of defense is likely to affect the Mariners more than it would most other teams in baseball. In addition, viewed through this prism, some of the Mariners roster moves this off-season become even more questionable – in fact, while the Mariners intentionally weakened the outfield defense to try to gain more offense, the changes to the pitching roster actually make the team more reliant on outfield defense.
At the bottom of this post is a table with the ground ball to fly ball ratios ("GB/FB") for each of the 11 pitchers currently on the Mariners roster. I also included Arthur Rhodes, because the Mariners decision to replace Rhodes with Guardado enters into this discussion. The table has data for every year from 2001 through 2003 in which the pitcher was on a big league roster. The table also contains the innings weighted average GB/FP ratio for the three year period. ("Innings weighted" means that in calculating the average, the GB/FP ratio for that year is weighted in proportion to the innings pitched in that year. For example, assume that a pitcher pitched 200 innings in 2002 and had a GB/FP ratio of 0.5, and pitched 100 innings in 2003 with a GB/FP ratio of 1.0. In calculating a weighted average, the 0.5 GB/FP ratio from 2002 would be weighted twice as much as the 1.0 GB/FP ratio from 2003.) By the way, the pitching data I used for this are the "Miscellaneous Pitching Stats" for 2001, 2002, and 2003, available at the Baseball Prospectus Statistics Page.
In 2003, the innings weighted GB/FP ratio for all pitchers in Major League Baseball was 1.21; that means that during the 2003 season, 1.21 balls were hit on the ground for every ball hit in the air. Thus, a pitcher with a GB/FP ratio of 1.21 is essentially neutral as compared with overall play of the game. Remember that 1.21 number; it's a bench mark for separating ground ball pitchers from fly ball pitchers in this database.
So how do the pitchers in our list compare with that 1.21 standard?
Pitcher GB/FPNot a single pitcher on the Mariners staff is truly a ground ball pitcher. Hasegawa is essentially neutral, and Piñiero is close to neutral. All other pitchers range from "fly ball pitchers" (Garcia) to extreme flyball pitchers (Guardado, Soriano, Mateo, and Franklin). Arthur Rhodes is neutral.
So what are some of the implications from this?
- Changes in outfield defense will affect the Mariners more than other teams.
Because Mariners pitchers depend so heavily on their outfielders catching fly balls, the ability to catch fly balls, particularly in the outfield, is a larger component of the Mariners game than it is for other teams. Thus a change in outfield defense that might be relatively small for other teams will be greater for the Mariners. And, as a corollary, in making personnel changes that swap offense for outfield defense, the increase in offense that the Mariners will need to obtain is greater than would be needed by other teams (to compensate for the greater impact resulting from loss of outfield defense).
- It will be very difficult for Mariners pitchers in 2004 to match their 2003 performances.
Heading into the 2004 season, the Mariners are significantly weaker defensively at two outfield positions. In center field Winn is weaker than Cameron, and in left field Ibañez is weaker than Winn. These changes are almost certain to negatively impact Mariners pitchers performances. Fans and pundits who are assuming that Mariners pitchers will match their 2003 performance are likely to be wrong.
- Failing to sign Rhodes leaves the bullpen very short of pitchers who can reliably obtain ground ball outs.
With Rhodes and Hasegawa in the pen last year, the Mariners had two pitchers who had a decent shot at getting a ground ball. Rhodes' departure leaves the bullpen desperately short of even GB/FP neutral pitchers.
- Effective use of Hasegawa out of the bullpen will be critical
As the bullpen now stands, Hasegawa is the only pitcher in the bullpen who is not an extreme fly ball pitcher. Hasegawa is the only realistic option to use where a double play is needed to get out of the inning and keep a run from scoring from third. Using other pitchers in those roles has a very low probability of getting a double play grounder, and a correspondingly high probability of a ball being handled by an outfielder (resulting in a run scoring by hit or Sac fly).
- Soriano's most effective role may be in the bullpen.
If Hasegawa is not available to produce an inning-ending double play, the next best option is a strikeout or weak popup to get escape a critical situation. Soriano may be the best option to get those critical outs.
- Jamie Moyer's age will loom significant next year in many people's minds.
Jamie Moyer's numbers are very likely to get worse because of the weakened defense. Many people will assume this is due to age finally catching up with him. Those people may very well be wrong – much of the change will probably just be a more porous defense.
- Ryan Franklin will succeed where hundreds of evangelists have previously failed.
Washington state has the lowest proportion of residents who attend church regularly of any area in the US. (Insight on the News: Go West, Ye Unchurched.(Washington state has lowest number of churchgoers)(Brief Article) With more fly balls dropping in the outfield when Ryan Franklin is on the mound, masses of Seattle Mariners fans will suddenly reaffiliate with churches and spend more time in prayer and supplication.
- Alka-seltzer and Pepto-Bismol sales should remain strong.
While Sasaki has been the Mariners closer, fans have become accustomed to highly intense ninth-innings, with the closer strolling off the mound, wiping the sweat off his brown, taking a deep breath, and hiking up his pants before he peers in for the sign from the catcher. Everyday Eddie had much the same reputation in Minnesota. Seattle fans can expect to see lots of flyballs in the outfield and need to hope that McCracken's legs don't give out on him again.
- Jarvis' numbers should actually improve.
Even though the Mariners outfield defense will be weaker, it may still be stronger than the defense Jarvis had supporting him in San Diego. If so, his stats might actually improve (so he will be abysmal instead of abominable).
- Hasegawa's extreme success last year is probably transitory.
Referring to the table below, Hasegawa's GB/FP ratios for the last three years are as follows:
In Hasegawa's 2003 campaign he had a notably higher GB/FP ratio than in previous years. That looks like a fluke, and the Hasegawa that appears in 2004 is much more likely to be the slight fly ball pitcher of 2001 and 2002 than the ground ball pitcher we saw in 2003. Nevertheless, even if he regresses to past performance, he will still be by far the best groundball option out of the bullpen.
- Keeping the ball on the ground is important for Freddy Garcia.
From the table below, here are Freddy Garcia's GB/FP numbers for the last three years:
In parallel with Freddy's decline, batters have been hitting his pitches in the air more consistently. His best year in 2001 coincided with getting batters to hit the ball into the ground.
- Non-traditional thinking about matchups will be necessary to use the bullpen effectively.
As indicated by some of the preceding comments, managing the 2004 Mariners bullpen effectively will involve assessing situations and matchups that go beyond the traditional lefty-righty thinking that dominates most managers' bullpen utilization. Last year Melvin showed almost no inclination to think creatively about matchups. Unless Melvin shows us something he hasn't previously, we will see Melvin bringing in extreme flyball pitchers to try to get ground ball double plays in critical game situations.
I get the impression that Bavasi didn't think through all of the interrelationships as he was making these moves. But that couldn't be the situation, could it??
Data source: "Miscellaneous Pitching Stats" for 2001, 2002, and 2003, available at Baseball Prospectus' Statistics Page.
READER MAIL ABOUT JEFF FASSERO AND PHIL ROGERS
Reader mail is good. Especially when readers challenge us to do a better job on what we post.
I received a note from Kevin Tao commenting on my January 14 post, PHIL ROGERS AT ESPN ALSO CHECKS IN WITH A SUBMITTAL. Kevin challenged my characterization of Fassero as a fly ball pitcher based on a comparison with only 40 pitchers in the ESPN sortable stats database. Of course, if my analysis of Fassero is incorrect, then my sarcasm towards Rogers and O'Dowd is off-base as well.
At the time I made my initial post, I used the ESPN database because that is what I could get to quickly, and I assumed that the 40 pitchers listed there would be representative of all NL pitchers.
In response to Kevin's e-mail, I did a bit more work, downloading the MLB 2003 pitcher stats at Baseball Prospectus ("BP"), dropping the data into a spreadsheet, and looking at the entire population of pitchers. The BP data set had 676 entries in it, including both American and National Leagues.
The first problem that crops up is that there appears to be a difference between the BP data on GB/FB ratio and the ESPN GB/FB data I used previously. In ESPN's stats, Fassero had a GB/FB ratio of 1.21, whereas the BP data has him at 0.97. Spot checking several other pitchers, the BP GB/FB ratios are consistently lower for all pitchers checked.
I don't know why the data are different. Since the BP data set covers all pitchers (whereas the ESPN data is only for the pitchers who threw at least 162 innings), I'll use the BP data instead of the ESPN data.
So what did I find?
- Means and medians
First I looked at mean and median GB/FB ratios for pitchers in MLB. The mean and median GB/FB ratios were 1.20 and 1.11, respectively.
With a GB/FB ratio of 0.97, Fassero ranks 327 out of 527 in descending order of GB/FB ratio; in other words, about 62% of pitchers in MLB last year had higher GB/FB ratios than did Fassero. Sure doesn't look like O'Dowd got himself a ground ball pitcher.
The difficulty with means and medians approach is that it equally weights both dreadful pitchers who get shelled and are never heard from again with pitchers who are reliable workhorses that pitch lots of innnings. If Pitcher A pitches 200 innings in a year and has a high GB/FB ratio, shouldn't that carry more weight than a minor league callup who gets into two games, pitches 1-2/3 innings and gets hammered in those two appearances?
So, I next weighted each pitcher's GB/FB ratio by the number of innings thay pitched. This analysis compares Fassero's GB/FB ratio with the GB/FB ratio we would get if we simply recorded all ground balls and fly balls over a season.
Using the innings-weighting approach, the median GB/FB ratio becomes 1.21 instead of 1.20, virtually the same as above. (And having weighted the individual pitchers ratios by innings pitched, the mean is a better statistic to use in the comparison.)