Saturday, July 22, 2006

Busy, busy, busy

Incredibly busy. Sorry for the long hiatus, people. When I got back home, my den was flooded, and between that and the new job, no time at all for blogging! I mean, none!

I see the Phils have been treading water while I was away. There's been some rumors about Abreu being traded, but "Stand" Pat has done nothing. He'll soon have to decide to fish or cut bait. Half of me is rooting for the Phils to clean house and trade away the high-priced talent, hopefully for good prospects, but the other half remembers we're not far out of the Wild Card, and Houston wasn't given much of a chance last year, either.

Go Phils! Blogging will still be spotty for a while as I fix the den and adjust to my new schedule.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Gone Fishin'

I'll be gone for about a week, then light blogging due to a job change. I'm leaving public accounting for the private sector. Wish me luck!

Remember, you can believe in the Phils! Here, have some Kool-Aid.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

This is interesting

Over at BP, they've taken the chess concept of ELO rating and applied it to baseball. Read all about it (sub req'd) here.

Basically, ELO rates the average MLB club at 1500. The system adjusts for the most recent play most heavily, so theoretically the current ELO will give you a good idea about how well the team is playing now, as opposed to over the whole season. The harder your schedule (against higher ELO teams) the fewer points you lose with a loss, and the more you gain with a win.

I didn't examine the math behind it, but I trust the boys at BP. We'll see if it's a good predictor of future abilities. A few interesting tidbits regarding the Phillies:

The Phillies ELO is currently 1499, just a hair below average for MLB.

Unfortunately, the Mets are the best team in the NL and the 3rd best overall, with an ELO of 1549.

Very interestingly, the Mets, Cardinals, and the Marlins (yes, the Marlins) are the only NL teams with a better ELO than the Phils right now, with the Fish having an ELO of 1500, and the birds 1531.

Since the systems slants heavily toward recent play, the fact that the Phils have lost so many in the past two weeks is offset by how brutally hard their schedule has been, with the Red Sox, Mets, and Yankees being three of the top five teams in baseball.

Given all that, am I crazy to think the Phils aren't out of this? True, we're 5 games under .500 right now, but the teams ahead of us are not beating the world right now. Myers' "time out" makes things more difficult, and the poor play of so many makes things a little unlikely, but overall, this seems to be saying we're not quite as bad as it may seem we are.

Over the final two weeks before the All Star Break, we're playing some pretty bad teams. It's not unlikely we might enter the ASB with a .500 (or near .500) record.

Could it be the Phillies are not out of this? Is it possible we can still be buyers, and not sellers?

Non-apology not accepted

Here's the text of Myers' non-apology:

"On the day of my arrest, I consulted with my attorney by phone, who advised me to make no comments about this matter. While I followed his advice at the time, I have felt the need to make some comments about this situation and I do so now.

"First, while I dispute that the facts are as alleged, I recognize that my behavior was inappropriate and for that I apologize.

"Second, I recognize that the incident created an embarrassing situation for many people, including my wife and family, my teammates, the Phillies organization, and fans, and I am very sorry for that.

"Third, my wife and children are very important to me and I am willing to do whatever is necessary to address any problems that might harm our marriage. I have asked the Phillies for some time off so that I can concentrate on this matter and make plans for whatever assistance is appropriate.

"At this time, I do not intend to make any further public comments about this matter."

Forgive me if I'm a little slow, but where in this did Myers accept any responsibility at all for his actions? Anywhere at all?

He starts off with a flat denial of any wrongdoing. Others have pointed out that he only did this to protect himself legally. OK, that may be so, but the fact remains he flatly denied any wrongdoing. So, why is he apologizing? Because his "behavior was inappropriate?" In what way? He doesn't answer. Raising your voice in a movie theater is "inappropriate." Hitting your wife is criminal. So, what, exactly, is he sorry for?

He answers that in the next line. Note that he does not apologize for his actions in any way! Rather, he apologizes that "the incident" created "an embarrassing situation" for many. Was he even involved in "the incident?" Not according to him. He isn't even apologizing for embarrassment, but merely a situation where some may be embarrassed! In other words, he implicitly states that you may be embarrassed, or you may not. Therefore if you are embarrassed, it's almost as much your fault as his. Disgusting.

Furthermore, getting caught in a bar fight at 2am in an "embarrassing situation." Hitting your wife is a shameful one. Does anyone else see the difference?

In order to apologize, one must first accept responsibility for one's actions. Myers has not. His carefully crafted statement is a non-apology, and cannot be accepted as an apology.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

This is Mobile ESPN!!!

And it is failing so fast only a former propaganda officer of the USSR under one of Stalin's "Five Year Plans" could justify keeping it in business.

Why do I hate Mobile ESPN so much? Basically because the commercials have been so incredibly insulting and contemptuous of people who watch ESPN.

Look, I sometimes still watch Sportscenter. Why am I so offended by the odious commercials? Because look at the "everyman" ESPN has chosen to represent you, the viewer of their sainted channel. This guy is a total loser in every possible sense of the word. He sucks up to the anchors, asking if they've seen his tape. He seems to be stalking the network in general, with the security guards reminding him that he has to keep a distance from the entrance. Is a restraining order involved?

Am I supposed to identify with this guy so much that I, too, will rush out and get Mobile ESPN? I, too, worship the ground upon which Stuart Scott walks? Am I supposed to believe that Kenny Mayne reading off a teleprompter gives me some unique insight into the world of sports? Am I, too, a pathetic loser with no life outside of the shrine in Bristol, CT? Apparently, if I am, I should rush out and subscribe to Mobile ESPN!!! It's as if the network is flaunting their contempt for us in this commercial.

Look, if they wanted to really sell their target demographic, they would show bored employees in a meeting with the boss droning on and on about synergy. One employee is struggling to keep awake, while the other (cooler) one covertly checks out the scores and stats on this ESPN Mobile network. Or two buddies are fishing, and one displays his awesome knowledge of current events in the world of sports which he just called up on his ESPN Mobile. Or best of all, the wife insists on watching the latest "Lifetime" movie about a woman who repressed the memory of her father scolding the family dog or something. He agrees, to her obvious delight, but he slyly keeps up with the Eagles game on ESPN Mobile. Would that be so hard?

Monday, June 26, 2006

Joe Sheehan sums up what I've been trying to say...

In Baseball Prospectus (subscription required). Here's the pertinent quote:

The assembly of a baseball team and that team’s approach to the game have no moral element. All that matters are runs, scoring them and preventing them in sufficient quantities to win, and the paths to doing so are well-trod: get guys on base and hit for power, and prevent the other team from doing so.

In my blog earlier, I tried to make a similar point.

Baseball had to at last acknowledge some of the sheer randomness of the game. The fact that, if player X has a one in three chance of getting a hit in inning one with the score tied, he will have a one in three chance of getting a hit in inning nine down by one with two outs and men on second and third. There is nothing that player can do to improve his ninth inning abilities over his first inning abilities. No moral reason why he may get a hit in one situation and not in another.

Hopefully, the reporting community will realize they are writing to and for a shrinking population and begin writing for people who can understand the subtleties of baseball without having to be told there is a moral reason one team wins and the other loses. Basically, one team wins and another loses because one team is the better team. The Yankees didn't win all those world series because they made the most sacrifice bunts. They won because they hit, pitched, and played defense better than the other teams. That's all.

An announcement

I'll be on vacation next week, in preparation for changing jobs. I expect that my postings will be somewhat sparse for a while, but I hope to substitute quality for quantity.

Also, I've given the bulk of my wealth to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Whoops! I guess I just gave away my secret identity! (Ok, I can dream, can't I?)

Friday, June 23, 2006

Thoughts on the unpleasantness

Brett Myers seems to have done something which is still considered a taboo in this country. It looks pretty bad for him, and although I'll reserve final judgement until all the facts are out, the facts that are out are pretty damning.

Prediction: The man doesn't throw another pitch in Philadelphia. While the team is taking the safe "Innocent until proven guilty" line, I can't imagine a circumstance where anyone in the Philadelphia area wants to see him pitch another inning in a Philly uniform. Brett has already given his wife a black eye. No need for him to do the same for the city.

As for me, I am inclined to say no matter what they have invested in Brett Myers, dollar wise, the Phillies management would be wise to release him unconditionally only after suspending him for the season. Surely the morals clause applies here, doesn't it?

As for Mr. Myers personally, get help for yourself. Not for your career, but for your soul. There is no excuse for battering a woman. None.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

A random thought on how to measure defensive contribution

As everyone knows, defense is the hardest thing to measure in baseball. I've been thinking about it, and I think the problem boils down to this: When the majority of major re-thinking was done on how to measure baseball performance (Bill James in the 80s, everyone else in the 90s), the tools at their disposal were not sufficient to properly analyze defensive performance. I believe that may be changing.

In the book Moneyball, there is a passage on a consulting team (I'm gong by memory here, so I don't remember the chapter or the consultants) who described a particular way they had in measuring every offensive player's offensive ability. Rather than look at the hits, singles, etc., they broke down every at bat and measured what an average ball hit with the trajectory, speed, location, etc., would have done in a typical at bat. They then assigned a value of this kind of result independent of the actual result of the play. This is critical, because it removed the random effects of superior or inferior defenders, wind, park factors, etc., etc. which can affect any individual at bat. By breaking down hitting into the simplest components possible, they were better able to quantify ability, and therefore identify bargains.

I believe that a similar thing can be done with regards to defense. The only problem lies in a lack of a database with the proper information. Great strides have been made in the area of defense with the development of Zone Rating. However, ZR does not, in my opinion, take sufficient variables into effect to be as good as it could be. ZR does look at where a ball is hit, but not how hard it is hit.

If a ball is hit in Zone J 250 feet and results in a single, what does that say about the defender? Not enough to draw any conclusions. Was it a hard liner which the defender cut off, preventing a possible double? Was it a lazy fly ball the defender couldn't get to because he's too slow? ZR seems to consider that these things will even out over the course of a season. Basically, it ignores the question.

I believe that the simple act of timing the flight of the ball from the bat to the point of contact (either the glove or the ground) would give an easy way of measuring how hard it was hit. I'm no physicist, but the speed of the ball can easily be computed from this information. With a sufficient database for comparison, similar hits in similar areas at similar speeds can be measured for expected result. You can then compare the expected result against the actual results for a given player in that, or indeed, any situation.

For example, Aaron Rowand's play on the triple in last night's game. If we had a database on all balls which hit that zone in the amount of time it did, we could easily tell how often, expressed as a percentage, such a ball results in an out, single, double, triple or home run. The compare that result expressed in terms of how it affects win percentage versus the actual result. The difference in win share can be cumulative, and fielding win shares can then be used to evaluate defensive performance.

After the basic question of catching, baserunning is easy. How often does a fielder hold a runner at first to one base on a ball hit to Zone B 220 feet which takes 1.2 seconds to hit the ground? How did this particular fielder do? What is the expected win share of the play versus the actual win share of the play?

In a similar way, infielders can be judged. Because everything happens so fast in the infield, I don't think that timing the "bat to contact" would work, so the groupings would have to be more general, with the location of the first contact with glove and ground measured, then the infield contact would have to be classified as hard or soft, liner, grounder, roller, or pop-up. Measure the difference between the expected win share of an average infielder on a similar play, and compare to the actual results.

First basemen can also be given a special separate win share for their abilities. If a ball is thrown in the dirt, what is the average result? How often does an average first baseman successfully turn that play into an out? Into a one-base error? A two-base error? The difference in the win share for those results can be measured and compared, too.

The reason no one has compiled a database with this analysis is no one has fully realized the value of it. In a similar way, in the past no one fully realized the value of tracking numbers like caught stealing, batting average in various pitch counts, and the value of a walk vs. a hit. But today all such things are measured and quite commonly accepted as valuable tools to understanding the game and the contributions of individual players. The data can be measured and compiled, and would bring fruitful insights to our understanding and enjoyment of the game.

If the statistical community were to make the effort to track all defensive plays in a way similar to the one I've outlined above, I believe it would revolutionize the way we see defense. At last there would be a way to compare the true value a player brings to the defensive table against his offensive contributions. It would be tangible, testable, and repeatable. In short, scientific.

Disingenuous Wheels

While watching a little bit of the game last night, I heard the following from that baseball sage, Chris Wheeler:

"He hit the ball really good" on a weak groundout by Fasano for an easy double play.

"Aaron Rowand doesn't usually misjudge fly balls like that" as we watch Rowand once again get lost gong back on a line drive 99% of all major league outfielder would have turned into an routine out, turning twice after playing too shallow, then leaping for a ball that went for a triple.

Yes, I know this is nothing new. It just still irks me. Here, visit this site.