Monthly archives: December 2004
SHOW ME THE MONEYBALL, PT IV
It seems that Dan Haren won a Cy Young or two since last season. That is, if the response I am getting regarding my criticism of his being traded for Mark Mulder is any indication. I am just not that high on Haren but that's why the play the games. There's nothing left to do but watch they play in actual games next season.
The other argument that I made against the strategy of dumping all but one experienced starter (Barry Zito) drew one response from the cryptically named "voxpoptart". To wit:
I know your concern (understandable) is that Billy Beane has kicked away the A's chances for 2005.
So does this strategy help in the long run, say within five years? Let's take a look. I researched are all the teams that qualified for the previous study with their record over the next year and then the subsequent four years, or five years in total. On average their winning percentage fell 11 percentage points the first year, but improved 28 points, on average, over the next four.
So maybe vox is onto something. But wait, a good number of those teams stunk before the jettisoned the bulk of their staff. The A's just missed the playoffs last year.
I narrowed my query to just those teams with a .500 or better record in the previous year. They improved on average by 48 points in the first year and then fell, on average, 66 over the next four years.
As a matter of fact, of the 42 teams that had a record equal to or better than the A's last year (.562 winning percentage) who then went on to pursue this strategy only four had any improvement whatsoever in years two through five, and two of those improved by an average of one percentage point. Those teams are the 1882 Chicago White Stockings (1-point improvement), 1885 St. Louis Browns (54 points), 1952 Brooklyn Dodgers (13 points), and 1978 Baltimore Orioles (1 point).
For the record, here are the teams with the greatest improvement overall:
And then the best improvement for teams in the last 50 years:
You'll note that none of those teams had winning seasons in the year prior to the adopting strategy similar to Beane's.
So will what the A's did pan out? I guess it could. But history isn’t really on their side.
Merry New Year!
George Bailey [banging on plate glass window): Merry Christmas, Mr. Potter!
Merry New Year from Mike's Baseball Rants.
I will be vacationing until January 9 and will have limited internet access.
Beef Jerky Time! (There’s Plenty ya know.)
Exhuming Richie Phillips
Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that… Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.
It seems that MLB and the umpires finally lay to rest the Richie Phillips affair this weekend by agreeing to a new five-year contract. The umps got to somewhat expunge that ugly splotch from their history, and MLB got a concession when the umps agreed to drop their lawsuit over the controversial use of the QuesTec system to evaluate their rank (and I do mean rank) and file (More on QuesTec here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here—Sheez, I didn't realize there were that many).
If you don't recall it, in 1999 Phillips, the then-umpires union chief, tried to outsmart MLB by having all the umpires tender their resignation at once. Not realizing that he did not have the full union's support, Phillips forged ahead and the resignation of some twenty-two umpires was accepted by the commissioner's office. I had to tip my cap to Bud and the boys and was amazed that the umpires' hubris exceeded that of MLB.
Anyway, a number of those umpires were eventually rehired in drip and drags along the way. Apparently, three of the remaining nine (Bob Davidson, Tom Hallion, and Ed Hickox) will be put at or near the top of the will-call list. Davidson is at the top and is reportedly all but assured a job, while the other two are in the next group of five candidates (the other three surely being the friends, family, or ex-blackmailers of MLB execs, who cannot be entirely bumped—I'm joking of course).
The other six umps will get to divvy up $2.3 M in severance pay, will have their benefits restored, and get a partridge in a pear tree reportedly. One of those six is Eric Gregg, of the extremely wide strike zone (remember Livan Hernandez in the 1997 playoffs?), which is not the only thing wide about Gregg, is a local celebrity of sorts in Philly. I guess clowning with Philly Phanatic does wonders for an ump's career. He now writes a, uh, I guess I'll call it a column for the local commuter rag, The Metro, a.k.a., the dregs of the AP news wire. The column is as close to cheerleading as one can get in print. Maybe the added cash will help him to retire from the newspaper biz.
So that's what the umpires get—as Davidson termed it "a wonderful Christmas gift". MLB gets to push ahead in its QuesTec trek unfettered by the chains they forged in life, specifically, the umpires' lawsuit. They just had to adjust the curve for the low-end umps:
[U]mpires whose ball-and-strike calls are rated below standard by QuesTec will be evaluated by umpire supervisors based on videotape and in-game inspection.
So that's all it's about. No one should point out who the truly abysmal umps are. MLB will retain its ranking system. It just won't be allowed to fail anyone…yet. Pulli will keep everyone above an F. Evidently, they will instead be given the Tenacious D-inspired F-Plus. But in the long run, baseball keeps the tool and will be able to use it in dealing with individual employees (umps).
I am of two minds re. QuesTec. I was at first highly skeptical (though anything Curt Schilling dislikes, after the last election, can't be all bad). I can't say that umpiring hasn't improved over the last few years though I cannot quantity it nor can say for certain that QuesTec had anything to do with it (Enough positivity through negativity for you?). I would like to keep an open mind on the issue, though I really would like to hear what Richie Phillips thinks of it today.
And Ahab said to Naboth, “Give me your vineyard, so that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house; I will give you a better vineyard for it; or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money.” But Naboth said to Ahab, “The LORD forbid that I should give you my ancestral inheritance.” Ahab went home resentful and sullen because of what Naboth the Jezreelite had said to him; for he had said, “I will not give you my ancestral inheritance.” He lay down on his bed, turned away his face, and would not eat.
So as the Yankees' deal to get Randy Johnson fell through, their best starter last year, at least in the second half, El Duque Hernandez, was scarfed up by the Pale Hose (2 years, $8 M).
And to make matters worse, their dreaded enemy, the Red Sox, scooped up recent Houston émigré Wade Miller (1 yr, $1.5 M) to give the Saux seemingly a six-man rotation for 2005 with holdovers Curt Schilling, Bronson Arroyo, and Tim Wakefield and recent free agent acquisitions Miller, Matt Clement (3 yrs $25.5 M), and ex-Yankee David Wells (2 yrs, $8 M). Not only that, the acquisition of Miller gives Boston a complete set: Mueller/Millar/Miller. I can’t wait to score their first 1-4-3 doubleplay.
The Yankees are left having signed questionable NL expatriates, Jaret Wright (3 yrs, $21 M) and Carl Pavano (4 yrs, $39.95 M). Both were great last season (with ERAs 31 and 37% better than the park-adjusted league average and 18 and 15 wins, respectively), but neither had had a better than average ERA in the previous three seasons (and both had been emergency replacements on my rotisserie team in the late Nineties). Both seem great candidates to channel Eddie Whitson a la Javier Vazquez's second half in 2004. They also seemingly have a six-man rotation with Kevin Brown, Mike Mussina, Vazquez, and Tanyon Sturtz (if he's a starter) returning. And again it leaves the Yanks without a lefty in the rotation, at least until, or rather if, they find another means to acquire Johnson.
So where does that leave the Yankees? There's not a whole lot on the free agent market, unless Debbie Clemens wants the Rocket to return to the Bronx. Besides, the Yankees would then be overstaffed and would have a difficult time moving any of the current starters.
The end result is that the Yanks are probably stuck with Randy Johnson as the best candidate for upgrading their staff. And Johnson might be stuck with the Yanks as his only option if he means to leave Arizona. And with reports of Vazquez's family ruining the three-way deal with LA and the D-Backs considering keeping Johnson, that possibility gets more and more remote.
Show Me the Moneyball, Pt III
I have gotten a lot of flak about my comments regarding Danny Haren, and I wanted to expand on my previous comments. My assessment of him wasn't based on any scouting report and, I'll admit, was far from a scientific assessment. It was based on a combination of things. First, I am a NL fan (Phils, sadly enough—don't rub it in) and what I have seen of Haren in his two partial seasons at the major-league level didn't impress. It seemed that Tony LaRussa was trying to avoid using Haren in the postseason. And he wasn't that impressive when used (two hits to start the eighth in game 4 of the WS trailing 3-0, though Isringhausen rescued him; he did get the Manny Ramirez near DP in game one, the play in which Orlanda Cabrera tried to get upclose and personal with Tony Womack, but that was after giving up a first-batter/first-pitch single to let the Sox go up 6-2 and then after the Ramirez play, walked around Ortiz to reload the bases before getting Millar; he did, however, keep the Sox scoreless until the Cards tied it in the seventh; In the NLCS game 1, he came in and gave up a rope to Beltran on an inside fastball but did make Bagwell look silly swinging at heat—it did lead to a run that almost let the 'Stros back in it; In game 3 he gave up a homer to Beltran in the 8th trailing 3-2).
Haren has a nice fastball, but it seems that major-leaguers turn on it (like Beltran did twice in the NLCS). His strikeouts-per-nine and strikeouts-per-BB have not been as impressive as they should in his first two seasons. I don't think he's pitched well since Double-A Tennessee at the beginning of 2003. His ERA and WHIP were very high in Triple-A over the last two years—and as far as I can tell Memphis is not a particularly high-scoring park. He gave up more hits than IP both seasons. Yes, his strikeouts were impressive in Memphis this year (10.6 per 9 IP and a 4.60 K-to-BB ratio) but with 19 dingers and 136 hits in 128 innings. Also, that was his second year in Triple-A and he had just a 6.9 Ks-per-9IP and the closest he has come to 10.6 in six different levels in four years was 9.9 in his first pro season, 2001, in Peoria.
Could Haren blossom in a pitcher's park? Sure, power pitchers can start off their careers flukily. Perhaps his lack of use in St. Lou was due more to TLR/Duncan than his own abilities. LaRussa has eschewed young starters since his days on the South Side when he rode the likes of "Hedly" LaMarr Hoyt, Dick Doston, Britt Burns, Steve Trout, and Ross Baumgarten. It seemed like they always had fungible young starters around, but never put it all together as a team (1983 notwithstanding). Maybe that soured LaRussa against youngsters—I try not to plumb the depths of his genius (So Taguchi and Marlon Anderson DH'ing in the Series?): it makes my head hurt. But I am less than sold on Haren than most.
Anyway, Haren is the key to the trade from the credit end of the balance sheet for Beane, but clearly, the debit side, Mulder, is the main linchpin in the plan. Beane believes that Mulder is all but through—He has to. Some look at his falling strikeouts and say that it's a fait accompli, but I would point out that his strikeouts started to fall in 2003 (from 6.2 per nine innings to 6.0, and from 159 to 128, and he still was one of the better pitchers in the league (6th in VORP, 60.4, in the AL; tied for 11th in Pitching Win Shares).
Then he looked like the Cy Young leader through the first half of 2004. He was 12-2 with a 3.21 ERA, 6.31 Ks per 9 IP, 1.20 WHIP, 2.24 K-to-BB ratio, a .242 opponents' BA, 131 innings pitched (7.3 per start), and four complete games. The second half was a completely different story: 5-6, 6.13 ERA, 4.60 Ks per 9, 1.59 WHIP, 1.14 K-to-BB, .294 OBA, 94 IP (6.3 per start), and 1 CG. Also, his monthly ERAs kept going up and up: 3.00 in April and May, 2.74 in June, but then 5.11 in July, 5.14 in August, 8.10 in September and 18.00 in one October start. His last win was August 24: he was 0-4 in his last seven starts to finish 17-8, 4.43, which is quite a fall from 15-3, 3.50 ERA on August 3.
So what does it mean? Mulder says he's not hurt nor was he tired:
"I wasn't hurt at all, there was absolutely nothing wrong with me," Mulder said Monday. "Did I get tired? I don't know. This game will jump up and bite you at times."
I think he was probably tired after all the long starts in the first three months. Beane thinks it's more of a long-term thing apparently OR he doesn't want to invest money in him for two years (actually one plus an option) to find out OR Beane is tired of laboring under the Joe Morgan-promulgated misconception that he has benefited from having the Big Three develop under his reign. From BP's Joe Sheehan:
"I'm going to throw one other notion out there. One of the popular criticisms of Billy Beane in the wake of Moneyball was that the A's success had less to do with his decisionmaking and more to do with the emergence of three good young starting pitchers in a two-year span. Whatever your stance on this--I find the notion reactionary and content-free--Beane has, in the last week, divorced his team's identity from Hudson, Mulder and Zito. What the A's do on the field in the next two to three years will likely determine, for many people, whether he truly is a great general manager or just the guy who was standing there when some draft picks panned out."
So let's assume that Mulder is washed up, my other problem with the series of trades is that it leaves the A's with just one veteran, Barry Zito at the tender age of 26, in the rotation, and the one who had been pointed to for some time as the most suspect of the Three. The rest of the rotation would be, apparently, Rich Harden, Haren, Joe Blanton, and Dan Meyer. Juan Cruz will probably be a swing man, at the ready should reinforcements be needed. Zito has 153 career starts. The rest of the putative rotation has 63 (44 for Harden and 19 for Haren).
Since five-man rotations became de rigueur in the mid-Seventies, there have been just 63 rotations with number 2 to 5 having a collective experience of 75 or fewer starts at the beginning of the season (min. 15 starts in the season since 1975). That is, there are 63 times that a team has decided to hand on to one veteran and turn the rest of the staff over to men, who, collectively, have the equivalent of three or fewer seasons in a major-league rotation. It seems like a "Moneyball" move to look up a young rotation and let them develop together at near-league minimum prices. The only thing is that they don't always develop when they are set adrift together (look at the Royals rotations over the last few years).
Those teams have, on average, improved their winning percentage by 11 points (since 1975, 8 points for all such teams throughout baseball history), but most of them wer pretty poor the season before and some up-turn would be expected no matter who was pitching. The '04 A's, meanwhile, just missed the playoffs. If you limit it to just the teams (throughout baseball history) that had a .500 or better winning percentage, they declined by 58 points on average.
For a point of reference, here the teams since 1994 that qualify (and lost 7 points in their winning percentage on average):
And not too many of them became staffs that their teams could ride to the postseason promised land. Only eight such teams have made the postseason: the 1994 Rangers, 1982 Braves, 1995 Reds, 2001 Astros, 1914 Braves, 1948 Indians, 1952 Dodgers, and 1964 Yankees. And only the '14 Braves and '48 Indians won the Series.
So I think the trade boils down to:
1) Mulder has to be either washed up or completely overpriced to justify it.
I may be wrong but it seems to me to be not the greatest bargain in the world. It seems that Beane was more interested in cutting payroll while putting his stamp on the team than in doing what was in their best interest, at least in '05. Maybe the moves if everything pans out will look great in five years, but that may not appease the A's fans next season.
Anyway, from a sabermetric point of view, I think the deals are suspect, either taken alone or strung together, and am disappointed that Beane has gotten a free ride on them. It seems that many feel the moves were suspect but just said, "Well, Beane knows something [insert Mulder injury reference/prospect analysis reference" or "He's setting something up" or "He is switching paradigms". I guess that's why they play 'em. But if Mulder looks like his normal self in '05, Billy's going to have a lot of 'splaining to do.
[By the way, since I did the research, here are the least experienced staffs starters numbers two through five all time:
Now, here are the least experienced since the mid-Seventies ostensibly when most teams went to five-man rotations:
I guess that's about it.]
Show Me the Moneyball, Pt II
Hmmm…Interesting trade, you say. But wait.
They threw in Ramon Vazquez, who can play every infield position and once was the Padres' starting second baseman.
Still not enough? Well, Krazy Kevin is ready to throw in a prospect (David Pauley, a right-hander who is jut 22 but has been stuck in Single-A for three years).
To quote Spanky, "It's not enough…Call back later." Act now and you get $2.65 M and a Chia Pet.
For Dave Roberts? And he didn’t even get the best one. I'd rather have either of the Dave Robertses from the Eighties or the Philly weatherman, who's a local icon (and father to "Angel"'s David Boreanaz).
"We felt like one glaring need was a tablesetter, someone who can make things happen at the top of the lineup," said Padres general manager Kevin Towers, who predicted Roberts will steal 60 bases. "We needed to inject some speed. I'm also excited about his enthusiasm. He's a guy who's really a spark. He has tons of energy."
Huh, the Red Sox thought he was just a pinch-runner. And I guess the Padres did not notice when Roberts fell from putative All-Star (at least that's how the LA fans put it) to a supernumerary in less than two years. Oh, and his career high in steals is 45, at least in the majors. He had 65 in Single-A Visalia in 1996. I think that's near San Diego. Maybe it's a locale thing.
Then again, if Towers had kept Mark Kotsay, he wouldn't be in this position, but I digress.
Show Me the Moneyball
"Sell crazy someplace else, we're all stocked up here."
I think no matter how much we are jaded by baseball's 21st-century pragmatism, the A's traded two great pitchers. Yes, Hudson was a free agent after this season but Mulder had two years left, which is an eternity when you consider that a new CBA will be in place when he starts his next contract. Haren does not impress me one bit--he couldn't crack the crappy Cardinals rotation. Calero isn't bad as a role pitcher, but he's not much more. I doubt he could develop into a closer at 30 with just two years of major-league experience. Barton looks like a great hitter, but they are already saying he isn't much defensively. Besides the A's have a ton of minor-league prospects who are catchers. As for the pickups from the Braves, Thomas looks like a decent fourth outfielder, a neo-Gerald Williams. He took five years to get to the majors, didn't do much of anything until 2004, and only stuck in the lineup because of the failure of the Chipper-in-left experiment. How high are the Braves on the guy if they would trade him while potentially losing Drew? Juan Cruz got ridden out of town on rail in Chicago. He could fulfill his "potential" tag but two organizations have given up on him. Meyer looks pretty solid but may not be ready yet for the majors.
Sex and the Stadium
One of the opponents to the funding of a new Washington stadium is "a major landowner" in what he refers to as "D.C.'s unofficial Red Light district" according to a report by a local radio station. "[U]p to 20 percent of the $50,000 [used partially in phone campaigns] came from Robert Siegel, an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner whose business would have to move to make way for the stadium."
Now, I'm not really concerned about the salaciousness of man's business, though that plays in Peoria. I would find Siegel's campaign disingenuous had he just owned parking lots. Though one has to question the wisdom of placing a stadium in the shadier parts of town. Then again, I'm sure the locals wanted to kill two birds with one stone: rid the area of the smut and free up cheap land for a stadium.
I guess they never counted on the current residents starting a grass roots movement to spurn the stadium deal. No news as yet which city's red light district will house the Expos/Nationals/Orphans next.
Being World Champions Repeats on Red Sox
[The Cautionary Tale of Denis Leary's Left Nut]
The Red Sox coterie are waking up to what it means to win the World Series as evidenced in this high-larious MasterCard mock-u-mercial from the Comedy Central Site
The Mets are preparing to say hello to Pedro Martinez's little friend to the tune of $52 M over four years. Martinez apparently used the Red Sox's final offer to extract more from the Mets and then went back to the Red Sox indignant that the couldn't or wouldn’t offer more. According to Tom Verducci, "Every eye is dry today on Yawkey Way." He also claims that no other team was interested in Martinez.
I may be in the minority, but I don’t think Martinez will be that bad over four years. Yes, he is extremely fragile, and reports are that he is a he is an injury time bomb. Yes, he is a head case. Yes, he is coming off his worst year since before leaving Montreal (remember when they had a team). But Martinez was still a very good pitcher this past season (ERA 25% better than the park-adjusted league average), he'll be just 33 this year, and for all his fragility and inability to pitch on short rest, he did throw 217 innings this year.
Sure, he could become the next Mo Vaughn, but what do the Mets have to lose anyway? They probably don't have the offense to contend. So why not grab a few headlines away from the Yankees. And the Mets fans, eternal optimists they, will probably ride the free press to increased season ticket sales.
On the other side of the coin, the Red Sox really have nothing to be proud of. They let the situation fester and finally allowed Martinez's eccentricities overshadow the fact that they were losing a big factor in their championship and their success over the recent era.
Then the Sox turn right around and pick up Edgar Renteria, whose team they drubbed in the Series, to play short for a handsome chunk of change (four years $40 M). For all the talk of the Sox's David beating the Yankee Goliath, who's the one acting the mercenary? Meanwhile, Renteria is coming off an atrocious year (.327 OBP, .728 OPS—10% worse than average) following two very good ones. He'll be just 29 this year, but I find it hard to believe that he will perform at his 2002-03 level rather than the level this year and in his first six seasons.
While one can argue the merits of spending for Renteria instead of Martinez, there has to be some concern about how this little band of "idiots" who shave their heads, this little franchise that could, along with their fans is set to discard its former stars (can I get a Nomar Garciaparra, anyone?) in such a cold, uncaring manner. Where's Clarence Beaks, er, I mean Orlando Cabrera, anyway? Sayonara.
This is just a year after we were told by most of the media—Tim McCarver made it a personal crusade—and almost all the fans that it was a moral imperative for the Red Sox to finally beat the Evil Empire Yankees. And before you think I'm Sammy Maudlin getting all choked up unnecessarily, I know it's a business. I don't care if the Sox let the rest of their voluminous free agents walk and attempt to get an upgrade for each one. That's fine.
Just don’t tell me that they are the next coming of the Bad News Bears. The Red Sox are a big market team with a big market payroll. As far as I am concerned, they should be in the proverbial crosshairs of every other major-league team for the entire season. They are the champs after all.
So let's cut out all this "Aw shucks" crap. I'm sick of the disenfranchised fans who have suddenly leapt wholeheartedly onto the Red Sox bandwagon perched on the moral high ground. I'm talking about the guy at work who suddenly dons a Red Sox cap. It's too late to become a fan after a team has won a championship. I'm sick of the overt rooting for the Sox from Tim McCarver and his mediamates. And I'm sick of them getting a Mulligan on seemingly every major transaction that they’ve made since John Henry took the helm.
They get no more special treatment, no more favors, no more rhapsodizing in the press that the world would be a better place had the Sox gotten Alex Rodriguez instead of the Yankees. They have to own their success now. They're just like everyone else. They implored the gods of baseball for the ring. And someday they might realize that the pound of flesh it exacted from them was more costly than even Denis Leary's sacrifice.
Just Awards, Cy Young vs. MVP, Pt. II
In the last entry we showed that Cy Young vote has correlated better to actual performance (i.e., Win Shares) than MVP in the last three and one-half decades. Now I would like to look at how pitchers have been rewarded by MVP votes.
In recent years a concept has seemed to take root, one that relievers, since they are "everyday players", should be considered for the MVP vote while starters should be relegated to the Cy Young. When I investigated the current concept that MVP candidates must be from a winner was more myth than reality. Does the same hold true for this aphorism?
To investigate this, I first had to look at the MVP vote distribution for all pitchers' Win Shares (min. 1 Pitching Win Share). I found that the lowest Win Share for a pitcher who received MVP attention was 5 (by the Browns' Elden Auker in 1941 along with 14-15 record and 5.50 ERA, 22% worse than the adjusted league average).
So I then culled all pitchers with at least 5 Win Shares in a season in which the MVP was awarded. I took the whole pitcher population and examined how well it correlated to the MVP. Here's what I found:
So it seems that this concept did take hold in the Eighties and has persisted since. And Willie Hernandez would like to thank the voters for it.
Next, I'd like to address this question from my friend Chris regarding my assessment that the "MVP must be from a winner" concept was more myth than reality:
My impression is that voters hold to the winners-only principle moreso on the top slot than the rest of the ballot. Didn't A-Rod win in 2003 essentially because the same people saying that by definition, he simply couldn't be the MVP, nevertheless listed him high on the ballot, while reserving their first place votes for loopy candidates like Shannon Stewart or David Ortiz? Maybe the modern MVP voter uses a hybrid approach.
Shannon Stewart?!? Did that really happen? It was not the MVP's proudest moment, but at least they didn't Mo-Vaughn the award to Ortiz or Stewart.
While it's true that Alex Rodriguez didn't have overwhelming support in 2003, he did get the most first place votes with six. Also receiving first-place votes were Carlos Delagado (5), Jorge Posada (5), Ortiz (4), Stewart (3), Manny Ramirez (1), Nomar Garciaparra (1), Vernon Wells (1), and Miguel Tejeda (1, it came in a year late). Here are the complete results. Also, A-Rod was the only man on all 28 ballots in 2003 (though he was ninth on one, surely a Seattle voter).
You'll recall that A-Rod lost in 1996 by the slimmest of margins (3 points) when he was Tildened by Juan Gonzalez. Rodriguez was one first-place vote behind Gonzalez (11 to 10), and of course, was stiffed by a couple of Seattle writers, who had to pay homage to Junior on their ballots before turning to the then-rookie.
Anyway, does the first-place vote reflect actual performance better or worse than do the entire voting results? Do voters consider the teams' performance more for first-place votes and then dole out the rest of the votes according to player performance?
First, what constitutes a player worthy a first-place vote? I ran the distribution for just those players receiving first-place votes, and found that the lowest Win Share total that merited such an honor was 12 (Harry "The Horse" Danning in 1937, the catcher for the NL Champ, the New York Giants, who played all of 93 games—quite un-horse-like). That will be our lower limit.
I ran the numbers for all players with at least 12 Win Shares. There's one other thing to keep in mind: there is no consistent record (at least not in Lahman or Baseball-Reference.com) of the first place votes in both leagues until 1937. I weighted the first-place votes against (multiplied by 10 in 1937 and 14 every year since) against the maximum number of points available.
Here are the results:
It appears that the voters have been extremely capricious over the years in awarding their first-place votes. I did worsen in the expansion era, though halfway through this decade, there seems to be some improvement.
So what is the cause? Do voters look more at team performance or are they just acting completely capriciously?
Let's compare team position and winning percentage for our group of ballplayers. Here are the results:
There is the slightest of correlations between getting first-place MVP votes and team performance, and that has been apparently declining over the years.
So what does this tell us? When it comes to first-place MVP votes, voters don't necessarily vote for the best candidate nor do they vote for the best candidate on a winning team. They vote for whomever they want. They ignore better players and players on better teams. And god bless 'em.
Just Awards, Cy Young vs. MVP
When we last left off in our quest to evaluate baseball's major awards, we found that the writers had done just about equally well in the Cy Young and MVP awards (using award shares correlated to player Win Shares). However, given how the Cy Young has been limited over the years—initially only one player per ballot and now three as compared with MVP's ten and initially given to just one player in both leagues—, that's quite an accomplishment.
Next, I would like to compare the two player pools on a more level playing field. First, we have to establish that playing field. What is the distribution of talent for each of the awards? Here are the players receiving votes for each divided into Win Shares totals with the percent of each group to the whole also listed:
Note that an MVP candidate may have as few as three Win Shares while no player with fewer than seven Win Shares has ever received a vote for the Cy Young.
Let's use those two values as our lower limits for each award. How well do all pitchers with at least seven Win Shares correlate to the Cy Young vote as compare to how well all players with at least three Win Shares correlate to the MVP vote?
After running the numbers, I got the following results:
You'll notice that once the Cy Young shrugged off its early myopia, it has done a better job of meting out votes to its "eligible" players.
One reason for this may be that MVP voters tend to over-reward closers, according to their Win Shares values. The idea is that a closer is an everyday player and therefore, should be considered more thoroughly than starters in the MVP vote. Of course, the reason that they tend not to win the Cy Young as often as starters is that they tend to be much less valuable. I guess it all boils down to you definition of valuable—just as John Kruk's definition makes Chone Figgins more valuable than Barry Bonds.
Next, I would like to limit MVP vote to just pitchers and determine how well the voters have handled pitchers' performances over the years.
The Vetted Hall
The other day, this year's Veterans Committee Hall of Fame players ballot (phew!) was released, and perhaps what will be more thoroughly adjudged than the Hall of Fame credentials of the twenty-five men on the ballot is the Veterans Committee itself.
The Committee was revamped for the 2003 election to include all living Hall of Fame players and all enshrined media reps (i.e., recipients of the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasters and J.G. Taylor Spink Award for writers) while the last living member of the previous committee (John McHale) was allowed to stay on to finish his term (until 2007). The rules were thoroughly revised so that, for the first time, an open vote was held instead of a backdoor meeting, the results were made public, and 75% of the votes were needed for admission. Also, the rules were changed so that all eligible players, regardless of their performance in the writers' vote, were available to the appointment committee, consisting of six Hall of Famers, which cuts the list down to 25-30 names for the final ballot. There were no more subcommittees for separate groups (i.e., nineteenth-century players and Negro Leaguers), and the vote was no longer held annual: it was limited to once every two years. There was also a separate "composite" ballot for non-players (managers, executives, and umpires).
Great, but it may be much ado about nothing. No one from either the player ballot or the composite ballot garnered enough votes for election. The closest was Gil Hodges, whose 61.7% (50 votes) was 11 votes shy of election. Two other players (Tony Oliva and Ron Santo) and one non-player (umpire Doug Harvey) were on over 50% of the ballots. So the Vets Committee went on its two-year hiatus without selecting one measly person.
Some heralded this as progress given that there was no one who merited inclusion in the heralded Hall of Babe Ruth and Tommy McCarthy. However, if the Vets again vote in no one more substantial than Claude Rains, I'm not sure that they will continue to have the media's support. If a committee goes four years without picking anyone, one has to wonder why the Hall even needs such a committee. And given the media support for Hodges and Santo, among others, they are likely to start asking fewer questions about each candidate's worthiness and more about the Veterans Committee's.
That said, let's take a look at the player candidates to determine who is worthy of enshrinement whether or not the system is ready to elect them this go-around. Here is a rundown of each candidate similar to the one I did on the writers' ballot. I am including the candidates who were on the 2003 ballot but didn't make the cut this time. I have to split the table in two to fit. First here are the candidates measured by the Bill James tools:
Part Two—The final two tests are to evaluate the similar players and the individuals' Win Shares total:
According to the tests, Dick Allen and Tony Oliva are the best options though I doubt the vote will reflect that.
By the way, here are the candidates not on the ballot who have the most Win Shares. Do you note a certain bias against expansion-era and nineteenth-century players:
Just Awards, the Cy Young award
Next in our quest for sense in the world of baseball award voting is the Cy Young award. The Cy Young started as a major-league-wide award and was not given out per league until 1967. Also, voting was by top candidate only. Therefore, if a pitcher was a unanimous pick, no other pitcher would get one single vote. Today the ballot has first, second, and third place votes. That's dwarfed by the ten selected on the MVP ballot, but it's eminently more fair than having Sandy Koufax sweep every vote for the award annually.
So how does the highly limited scope of the Cy Young award historically effect how well the final tally has related to reality (i.e., Win Shares)?
Here are the correlations for each decade (Pitching Win Shares greater than zero :
Well, that's not too reassuring is it? Perhaps we should limit the number of pitchers in the study since surely not every one will get some share of the Cy Young vote. I reran the numbers based on a minimum of 10 Win Shares. Here are the results:
Basically, the Cy Young vote has correlated to Win Shares as well as the MVP, but given that the ballot is that much more limited in the Cy Young vote, that's a pretty good accomplishment.
Next, intend to come up with a system of weighting the two awards based on the size of the ballot to compare them more thoroughly.
Just Awards, the MVPs Part III
Parts I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, and IX
It seems that for about the last decade NL voters had regularly given the award to the right man whereas the Juan Gonzalezes and Mo Vaughns also seemed to percolate to top of the AL vote. Maybe it's just the "Bonds Effect". Having Barry Bonds in the league has made picking the MVP pretty easy over the last bunch of years.
However, I decided to put the results to the test. Does one league get the MVP award "right" more often than the other? Has it changed over time?
So I ran the numbers for all players with non-zero Win Shares in years in which the MVP award was given away, and here's what I got:
It seems that the AL award was very accurate and the NL was not initially. Within a decade, that had reversed. Then for about five decades they were about equal. Since the 1980s, however, it seems that the NL has been consistently more accurate, if every so slight so.
Apparently, it wasn't our imagination: the AL voters have just done an inferior job of picking MVPs for quite some time. This effect is no Barry Bonds-generated phenomena. It's been happening since Bobby Bonds was playing.
OK, now I feel ready to tackle the Cy Young award.
Wilbert Montgomery, Where Art Thou?
After whooping up on the Packers, my Eagles, I am prepared to say,—pardon my momentary foray into football—are the best team in the NFC. After three attempts to get past the NFC championship game, I cannot see anyone getting in their way this year.
I foresee a return to the Super Bowl for the Eagles after a 24-year absence. In the last and only appearance in the Janet Jackson Bowl, the Eagles got lambasted by the wildcard Raiders 27-10 in 1980, even though they beat Oakland 10-6 earlier in the year. The highlight of the Eagles' franchise history, at least in my lifetime, was in the previous game as Wilbert Montgomery led the team past the detested Cowboys 20-7 (Herman Edwards' "Miracle in the Meadowlands" is a close second).
Anyway, I submit that the Eagles are the best team in the NFL right now and should crash Tom Brady and the Patriots' annual party. I am still shocked that the Patsies are anything more than a passable franchise. When I lived around Boston about a dozen years ago, they were easily the fourth-favorite professional franchise in the Boston area, much farther down if you included college football and hockey. They played in a stadium in the middle of nowhere, probably drew as many fans from central Massachusetts as they did from Boston proper, and seemed never to sell out. And they had just gone through a sexual harassment scandal with a female reporter in the locker room. In short, they were an embarrassment. Now, they are the second coming of the old Green Bay Packers.
But is it warranted? Here's a comparison of all the franchises based on Bill James's Pythagorean formula:
The Eagles, Patriots, and Steelers are all atop the standings at 11-1. However, I submit that the Eagles are the best of the lot. Here are the expected team records:
The Eagles are slightly ahead of the Patriots, and it's gratifying to see the Cowboys sink down to just above the lowly 49ers. It also seems that Michael Vick notwithstanding, the Falcons and their 9-3 record are likely a mirage.
Just Awards, the MVPs Part II
What we found in the last go-round was that the voters in the expansion era seemed to have a contenders-only bias. The correlation between performance (i.e., Win Shares) and voter attention (i.e., MVP award shares) dropped in the expansion era, leading me to this conclusion. However, I wanted to put it to a more thorough test.
I added to more categories for each player's team, position in the standings and winning percentage. How well do they correlate to award shares?
Here is a table showing how award shares correlated to all three stats:
Those results are somewhat of a surprise. It appears that team position and winning percentage have had less and less influence over voters as the expansion era has progressed.
Perhaps the pool of players is too large. The above population is all players with more than zero Win Shares. Maybe there's more and more noise in the data as rosters have expanded.
Let's change the threshold to 10 Win Shares so that all credible MVP candidates (and then some) are included, but the general noise of bench players and part-timers is reduced. Here are the results:
We still see results similar to those above. So what's the deal?
I submit that the Fifties, in which these correlations first started to drop, were followed by a slight backlash as expansion started in the Sixties (note the numbers jump back up). At the same time many factors (amateur draft, talent compression, free agency, etc.) were causing more and more competitive balance throughout the game.
The voters have this sense that they are belying the award's ideals by voting for players from less than highly competitive teams even though a) they are in actuality voting more and more for those players and b) these supposed ideals were formulated in the slight drift back toward more competitive teams in the Sixties.
I submit that in a decade or two the MVP award will be going to the best player independent of how well his team faired. What we are seeing now is the dying gasp of these supposed ideals.
So to quote Mike LaFontaine in "A Mighty Wind", "Wha' 'appened?" I think that better player distribution (parity, if you will) has outpaced the voters' reaction to underneath it all be more inclusive (no matter what they may say publicly). There are some signs that the voters are seeding the "viable" candidates based more on individual performance than on team performance and even that they might be willing to embrace candidates regardless of their team's performance. We'll have to see how this progresses, but I'm optimistic, which is rare for me.
Don’t Be Roid-iculous (Coosin Larry), Part III
Apparently, the debate is over and Barry Bonds is already guilty in the court of public opinion. The clearly unbiased Hank Aaron has already chimed in to help with Bonds' public lynching. Senator John McCain is grandstanding to pass legislation to protect America from the roid scare. No word from Jim Bunning, who still thinks he is playing professional baseball.
It seems that all that Bonds has to fear is the damage to his legacy. Baseball is probably not going to discipline him or Jason Giambi, who actually admitted to using steroids in the alleged grand jury testimony. And of course, the putative testimony was leaked because they didn’t have enough to go after the players. As for me, the only thing I know for sure after reading the leaked testimony was that Bonds has a deep fondness for the word "Dude".
Anyway, before this generation of ballplayers is dismissed as a bunch of overpriced, steroid-inflated lollygaggers ("we walked ten miles uphill to the ballpark in my day…both ways."), I started looking at the facts. And the facts are that the offensive surge started long before the steroid scare purportedly began. I showed yesterday, as well, that two rounds of expansion caused offenses to soar (in 1993 and '98).
Today, I'd like to look at the effect that new ballparks had. Now, this is just a quick method. I'm sure that a much more well-thought-out study could be made of the data. But I think even this quickie study is quite telling.
I took a look at the statistical impact that the new stadiums (since 1991) have had. I'd like to use the same stats as yesterday (home runs per plate appearance and slugging percentage). Here are the changes that were witnessed when the new stadiums cropped up.
First, these are the stadiums we will be examining:
Note that the Expos played just 20 games in Hiram Bithorn, but I decided to include anyway. Also, the M's moved to Safeco in mid-1999. I went with the first full season there (2000) and compared it to the last full season in Kingdome (1998).
Now here are the averages for all of the stadiums:
There's a wide dispersal in these data, but on average home runs increased by over ten percent after a team switched stadiums. Keep in mind that this includes a decrease in the tenuous inclusion of the San Juan Expos and that the Rangers new stadium did not have nearly the offensive numbers it has now.
The discerning mind will point out that the stadium increase could be result of the overall increase from year to year. However, if we subtract out the increases seen in the league the year that each stadium opened, we still see a marked increase:
So clearly the change in venue had some effect in the offensive numbers we've seen. I'll leave the study regarding steroids' effect to Jose Canseco.
Don’t Be Roid-iculous (Coosin Larry), Part II
(OR "The Needle and the Damage Done" OR "They're BALCOing A Steroid Heaven". OK, enough.)
Mountie: I do not approve of your methods!
I have been loath to comment on the ever-exploding steroid issue since I was awaiting Armando Rios, Benito Santiago and Bobby Estalella's testimony being leaked. However, since those insightful pieces of information don't seem to be forthcoming, I shall soldier on.
First, I have to commend whoever leaked the testimony at such an apropos time: the one-year anniversary of the federal grand jury looms and as everyone knows sealed grand jury documents are, of course, made public after one year.
Depending on who you talk to either Jason Giambi is a good guy for admitting his wrongdoing or his contract should be voided and his career should be over. Of course, let's set aside the issue of the veracity of these documents and the difficulties involved in corroborating with sealed legal documents. Let's forget about what the players union may have to say in the matter as well. The Uniform Player Contract (Schedule A of the Collective Bargaining Agreement) does include some provisos for terminating a contract:
The Yankees would have a pretty tough time trying to terminate Giambi using these nebulous terms.
Besides, the press have already moved on to a bigger prize, Barry Bonds. We ran a roundtable on it at the main All-Baseball site. Bonds has generated so much publicity that I even got a quote in New York Newsday.
Everyone seems ready to strip him of his records and write off his entire career to steroids. Never mind that he won three MVP awards and consistently finished in the top ten in MVP voting for many years before his alleged steroid period. If and when Bonds breaks Hank Aaron's career home run record, it will already be tainted on many people's eyes.
Call me naïve, but I think BALCO and Greg Anderson's questionable reporting procedures may cast enough doubt so that we'll never really know for sure whether Bonds took steroids or if he did so, he did it knowingly. After all, plausible deniability was probably the reason for their cryptic system, deniability for themselves at least—Bonds' ability to deny his involvement, whatever it may have been, is just a happy byproduct.
I mean, when the evidence is as weak as this:
Bonds said he couldn't explain a calendar page with the name "Barry" on it, nor a note indicating an invoice of $450 for blood tests.
Bonds does seem evasive in his answers ("I don't know what G is", "T could mean anything G could mean anything. And pee could probably mean anything", and "Insulin? I'm not a diabetic.")
He claims to have used 'the cream" and 'the clear" were just flaxseed oil:
"I never asked Greg" about what the products contained, Bonds testified. "When he said it was flaxseed oil, I just said, 'Whatever.'
That seems implausible but sprinter Tim Montgomery told the grand jury that BALCO founder Victor Conte put "the clear" in flaxseed oil containers.
So is it possible that Bonds either did not take steroids and BALCO's faulty reporting procedures just make him appear guilty? Is it possible that Bonds was duped into taking steroids? I suppose so, perhaps his adamancy in not taking steroids dissuaded his BALCO reps. Or maybe they duped him into taking steroids thinking that the results would convince him to continue retaining them?
I think it's probably unlikely, but it's possible. However, doesn't Bonds deserve the benefit of the doubt? The media is ready to chalk up Bonds' career and the offensive surge of the last five or so years to steroid use. Reality be damned.
However, there are number of problems with using steroid use as the sole reason or even a main reason for the offensive numbers today.
First, the current offensive onslaught began abruptly in 1993, at least five years before the spate of alleged steroid abuses.
Second, there are many other factors including two quick rounds of expansion (in 1993 and '98) and a slew of new offensively minded stadiums that were much more important causes than steroids could possibly be.
Here's a table for every year since 1980 broken down by league of the home runs per plate appearance and the league slugging percentage. For each year, the percent change for each stat is also listed:
Note first the huge increases in 1993. Note also the upswing in homers after each round of expansion. Next, I'd like to break the numbers down per team and stadium in order to determine the effect moving to a new park has had.
Without merit there should be no reward.
In our glimpse into the major baseball awards, we have already looked at the worst players ever to receive any support and the best candidates who were completely overlooked in the voting. So what does it all mean? Is voting improving with all our fancy ciphering today or are the Mo Vaughn and Pete Vuckovich-type results the rulr rather than the exception?
In the final leg of this bloated study will take a stab at grading the voters. How well do there votes relate to reality?
Using Win Shares as the standard for player performance throughout baseball history (I know that it has certain eccentricities but it's the best we have), we will compare the votes apportioned to the players and determine how well the two correlate. The better the correlation is the better the voting reflects reality, at least that's the assumption.
In order to normalize the voting across eras with different voting rules, I have assigned each player an award share based on the points allotted divided by the maximum possible for points. I believe this is the system used by Baseball-Reference.com for their award shares.
Keep in mind that even though the results fit in a small table, the query was a bear that nearly chewed up and spat out my Access database. It got even worse in the second phase, that I'll discuss in a minute, with two main queries wed together with multiple subqueries for conditions. Anyway, that's neither here nor there: I just needed someone with whom to commiserate. Oh, and it also explains the delay in presenting the results—like their releasing the Hall of Fame ballot wasn't enough.
So here goes. First, let's look at the MVPs. Here are correlation coefficients per decade for all vote-getting player population. This reflects just those players who received at least one vote in a given year, broken down by decade. It attempts to test how well award shares correlate to Win Shares for each player-year:
The first thing I notice is that the voting doesn't correlate well to Win Shares at all.
Also, it seems that since the Fifties the voting had been devolving into an even paler reflection of actual performance. Ergo Mo Vaughn and Juan Gonzalez. However, that is until this decade. So far in the current decade (whatever we call it), the voting has been the closest to reality in MVP voting history.
So have the voters wised up finally? Are they listening to the sage advice of the sabermetric scolars?
Well, there's one problem with this approach, however. It ignores worthy players who were overlooked in the voting and just looks at vote-getters and how well their votes were meted out.
Let's broaden the scope to look at all players with greater than zero Win Shares (this is where the query gets hairy). How well does the correlation hold up now?
This tells a completely different story. The voters seemed to turn away from performance as the main criterion as baseball expanded in the Sixties and have yet to go back. Even if they have suddenly improved in ordering the players they do deem vote-worthy, they still ignore worthy players the same way that they had for the previous three decades.
But why? It seems that the voters are doing a better job of seeding the candidates by actual performance, but there was a change earlier on that is still the more influential. It seems that as baseball expanded, the voters changed their way of thinking about the MVP award. It wasn't about the best players anymore. It was about the "most valuable" players on the winning clubs, and they took most valuable to mean whatever they wanted. This devotion to players on winning teams caused more worthy candidates to be completely ignored, and it continues until today.
So the writers may be getting better at evaluating the players that they will consider for the award. However, they still collectively turn their backs on equally worthy candidates because they are not on contending teams.
I guess there are worse thing (like giving Mo Vaughn the award). At least they are getting it right for the players they review. It may just mean that empty votes are thrown at Chone Figgins rather than to a super-sub on a non-contending team (Sorry, Melvin Mora).
Next we'll look at the Cy Young award. Even though it's supposed to go to the best candidate, does it have a similar "contender's only" bias? We shall see.
This is my site with my opinions, but I hope that, like Irish Spring, you like it, too.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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