Thursday, July 21, 2005

Bad news on the Galaxy Series hopeful...

Life on Mars has been impossible for at least the last four billion years, according to evidence recently discovered.

This is bad news for those scientists who had calculated the effects of a curveball on Mars. All that research wasted.

Also, this has a depressing effect on certain sci-fi writers. Oh, well. There's always Jupiter...

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Explain to me again why the Phillies can't win because of their park?

Look here, I thought I'd settled this before. But here we go again. Good grief! I'm starting to realize that no one reads this blog, at least no one who writes for the paper. Alas.

The Phillies have a winning record at home. They have a losing record on the road. How do we then reach the conclusion that it's the Phillies' home park that's at fault? I JUST DON'T GET IT!!!!!

The next time I read an article which reads "Citizens' Bank Park won the game yesterday when it stood up to bat with one on in the bottom of the tenth and hit a bomb to win by one" will be the first.

Parks don't win games, players win games. Learn it. Love it. Live it.

Every win counts!

Of course, they all count. But this season is turning out to be very, very special in this regard. Last night, Ryan Howard showed he is, indeed, the man. As I've contended before, the Phils might be well served to trade away some of their veterans, even if they don't get much in return, because some of their best players are under 27. Howard, Madson, Myers, Utley, all making near the minimum, all top contributors for the Phils.

But anyway, last night we could have easily lost the game, and instead won. This was huge. Why? According to Baseball Prospectus, the wild card team will probably win 86 or 87 games this year, with enough teams in the mix that the Phillies cannot count on another team's implosion to back them into the playoffs. The Phillies W3 percentage (explained here, my favorite predictive stat) is only .513, which pretty much means the Phillies are expected to break even over the remainder of the year.

Last night was one of those famous one-run games. The more I learn about baseball, the more obvious it is that performance in one run games is what separates good teams from great ones. Is one run game performance random? I don't think it is entirely. I'll more thoughts on this at a later date, but if you agree or disagree, the irrefutable fact is that one run games will make or break a season for almost all teams, unless they are incredibly good or incredibly bad.

Anyway, in the overall scheme of things, last nights' win barely affected the W3 percentage of the Phillies. But it affected their total wins by 1. So starting today, their base wins for the rest of the season is 49, not 48. This marginally improves their chances of getting to 87 wins. Over the rest of the season, as games get fewer and fewer, those one run games will be less and less likely to even out. The more of these kinds of games the Phillies win, the more likely they will reach the promised land of the playoffs.

Look at it this way: given the W3 percentage, of the final 70 games the Phillies are playing, they are likely to win 36 of them (not adjusting for home/road difference or for strength of opponent). By winning last night, that means they should end up with 85 wins. By losing, they would be shooting for 84. With 87 being the goal, those "random" one run results become more and more important. Every one run game won basically means another half game outperforming our expected win total. If, over the rest of the season, we win 4 more one run games than we lose, we should hit the 87 win jackpot, all other things being equal. Had we lost last night, we would have had to win an extra 6 one runners to get there.

I wonder if Ryan Howard was considering all this when he launched that bomb last night?

Monday, July 18, 2005

The beginning of the second half...

Well, that was a good start. Big series wins, one 3 out of 4, against our big division rivals. What more can one ask for?

Well, maybe one thing. (I kid because I love. I am from the south, and therefore I can make such jokes. So there).

Anyway, to me, I think that Florida is done. Toast. Finished. Over. Maybe it was the overuse of the starters. Maybe it is the fatigue of playing in the heat and humidity of Miami. Maybe they just overacheived in the first third of the year, and are coming back to earth fast. I don't know. But when I see articles like these, I think the ownership is just about to cash it in for the season (subscription required. Rumor is Burnett is to be traded).

So, with the Mets likely still stuck in the mediocrity they've played in all season (never more than 5 games above or below .500), the second half could, should, come down to a three team race.

Atlanta: How hard is it to figure out the Braves this season? They aren't expected to contend, lose their best 2 pitchers and best position player, and start winning against everybody? I only hope they are playing above their heads, and the return of the veterans will sap the energy the young 'uns gave them. Otherwise, they could really close the door on the division in a hurry.

Washington: What can you say about a team which should have 43 wins, but instead have 53? My hope is that they haven't discovered a secret way to win close games, and their second half will see them come down to .500 ball playing their first half should have been.

Us: Bottom line here - If Thome has a Thome-like second half, we battle for the division. If he's MIA, we battle for the wild card. It's really that simple. With him at his super, HOF-er type level, we win. Without him, we struggle to break even.

Friday, July 15, 2005

I'm not standoffish...

I just haven't had anything interesting to say lately. So here's a few links and thoughts as baseball starts its second half.

The Phillies have about a 20% chance of making the playoffs.

The Inquirer as always sees the dark lining to last night's win, taking a slam on CBP before telling us who won the game.

I'm tempted to write more on park effects, but I'm exhausted still from my last effort.

If you're interested in poker, here's the latest from the WSOP.

I'll blog more when I have something interesting to say. It may be a while :-)

Friday, July 08, 2005

Something to remember for the weekend...

There's about an 85% chance that the NL Wild Card will come out of the East. The Braves have been playing well lately, and we've been playing terrible, and the Nats cannot keep outperforming their pythag record so much, and who can figure out the Marlins and the Mets? If Thome can just play well, I have a hunch that we're going to finish in the top two this year. There aren't any perfect teams in the NL East, and arguably the weakest team in the whole division is in the lead. This will be one heck of a second half, and the Phillies are in the thick of it.

Catch fire, Phills, and the town will get behind you!


Thursday, July 07, 2005

Is this the final post on park factors?

Could be. A lot of ink has been spilt lately on park factors, with the Inquirer going so far as to claim the Phils had a "Home Field Disadvantage" due to the Cit. I am so tired of the whole thing, I decided to do a little research to finally answer the questions raised by the Phillies Home field.

First, here's an interesting article on winning chances for extreme parks. Conclusion: Get a great pitching staff together if you have a hitters park. Here's another article which states a few interesting things: Most teams play better at home than the road, and the Phils don't even have the biggest differential. Also, the Phils bullpen has been managed in a fairly average way this year, which IMHO is a whole let better than last year.

Looking deeper, I did some data mining about the Phils this year and the park and the opponents and the opponents' parks. My primary conclusion: variables compound so quickly as to make this job very, very hard! But bear with me, and I'll take you step by step through some of my discoveries and conclusions.

First, referring again to the first article, park factors can vary from year to year (small sample size is a real thing, people). Thus, while the Phillies have a big park factor this year for hitting, last year they didn't so much (Eric Milton's claims notwithstanding). I'm going to link ESPN's park factors, but there always seem to be problems with their site, so buyer beware. But the Phillies have a park factor of 1.342 this year and 1.024 last year. This averages to be a factor of 1.183. I looked at the averages for all the clubs over three years (or as long as the park has been in existence) and got the following:

1.153 Ameriquest Field (Rangers)
0.940 Angel Stadium (Angels)
0.939 Bank One Ballpark (Diamondbacks)
1.148 Busch Stadium (Cardinals)
0.903 Camden Yards (Orioles)
1.183 Citizens Bank Park (Phillies)
0.912 Comerica Park (Tigers)
1.380 Coors Field (Rockies)
0.834 Dodger Stadium (Dodgers)
0.897 Dolphins Stadium (Marlins)
1.092 Fenway Park (Red Sox)
0.944 Great American (Reds)
1.156 Jacobs Field (Indians)
1.282 Kauffman Stadium (Royals)
0.858 McAfee Coliseum (Athletics)
1.147 Metrodome (Twins)
0.996 Miller Park (Brewers)
0.908 Minute Maid Park (Astros)
0.803 PETCO Park (Padres)
1.031 PNC Park (Pirates)
0.809 RFK Stadium (Nationals)
1.082 Rogers Centre (Blue Jays)
0.856 Safeco Field (Mariners)
0.876 SBC Park (Giants)
0.913 Shea Stadium (Mets)
0.996 Tropicana Field (Devil Rays)
0.804 Turner Field (Braves)
1.029 U.S. Cellular Field (White Sox)
0.981 Wrigley Field (Cubs)
0.898 Yankee Stadium (Yankees)

One important thing to observe here: the Phillies have played their road games in a lot of pitcher's parks. In fact, the average Phillies road game in 2005 has had a park effect of 0.915, suppressing runs at a nearly 10% clip! I got this number by averaging the park effect, allowing for the total number of games played in each park. The only hitter friendly parks the Phils have played in this year is the relatively neutral Pittsburgh (1.031) and the hitter friendly St. Louis park (1.148). All other parks are mild to extreme pitcher's parks. Be espicially mindful of the fact that ALL of the NL East teams but the Phillies play in heavy to extreme pitchers' parks. Braves - 0.804, Marlins - .0897. Nationals -0.809. Mets - 0.913 (a comparative hitter's playground!)

Without going any further, I would like to state that this confirms my suspicion that one of the main reasons that the Cit is seen as "Coors field lite" is because it isn't a pitcher's park, unlike so many others the Phillies play in.

I entered into my database the total runs scored by the Phils in each game this year, then divided those runs by the park factor in which the game was played. For example, we beat Baltimre 9-3, which has a park factor of 0.903, for the total "Park Neutral Run Total" of 9.97 runs that game. Applying that formula to the total road games for the year, we see that the Phils have scored a park neutral average of 4.341 RPG on the road this year. Doing the same for all the Cit games this year with a park factor of 1.183, the Phils scored a park neutral average of 4.47 RPG at home. In other words, the Phils offense has been about the same at home as on the road, modified for park factor. I didn't draw any conclusions from this, but it's still pretty interesting to me. It's an indication that the offense, at least, has been pretty consistent this year.

However, does this tell the whole story? You know it doesn't! Because the Phils don't play the same teams on the road as they do at home, isn't it fair to account for the strength of the opposing pitching staffs when looking at runs scored at home vs. on the road? One would think so!

So, I developed a stat, Strength Of Opposing Pitching (SOOP), in which I compared opposing pitching staff's total OPS against to the Major League Average. The ML average OPS against is 0.751. The Nationals, for example, have an OPS against of 0.724, which leads to a factor of 0.965 (OPS Against /ML Average Against). Now, this can lead to endless "chicken or the egg" arguements as to how much the Nats are helped by their park, and how much they help their park, and seemingly endless iterations of both. But to simplify, I left the rations raw as described. Here's what I got:

Arizona 1.075
Atlanta 0.981
Baltimore 0.986
Boston 1.027
Chicago Cubs 0.987
Chicago Sox 0.925
Cincinnati 1.166
Cleveland 0.915
Colorado 1.113
Detroit 0.969
Florida 0.954
Houston 0.957
Kansas City 1.062
LA Angels 0.945
LA Dodgers 1.010
Milwaukee 0.994
Minnesota 0.958
NY Mets 0.941
NY Yankees 1.026
Oakland 0.939
Philadelphia 1.034
Pittsburgh 1.030
San Diego 0.969
San Francisco 1.057
Seattle 0.985
St. Louis 0.949
Tampa Bay 1.097
Texas 1.014
Toronto 0.973
Washington 0.965

Anyhoot, the average SOOP for Phillies road games was 0.970, while at home it has been 1.016. In other words, at least some of the home cooking for the offense can be explained by the fact that we have faced better pitching staffs on the road than at home! Seattle and Oakland, for example, the Phils played on the road but not at home, have SOOP totals of 0.985 and 0.939, respectively, while 2 teams the Phils played only at home, Cincinnati and San Francisco, have factors of 1.116 and 1.057, respectively.

Also in passing note that the Phillies OPS against is pretty much league average (1.034), despite playing half of their games at the Cit (remember that SOOP is unadjusted for park effects).

Now, if I was more ambitious, I would take the games played on a pitcher by pitcher basis, but I suspect these crude indicators would hold up there, too. I also didn't look much at the Phillies pitching staff and the offenses we have gone up against, but again, I suspect the conclusions would be similar.

Can I put any real number on how much opposing park factors and SOOP affects the Phillies home and away totals this year? Nope. Can I conclude with great confidence that the teams we've played and the parks we've played in have been in general a great deal responsible for the perceved "Coors Field Lite" effect that seems so in vougue? Yes, indeed!

Here's another thought, just to throw it out there. If the Cit is the juicebox that people claim it is, shouldn't pretty much every Phillie pitcher be in real contention for the Cy Young this year? And shouldn't Ed Wade get a little credit for putting together a staff of aces, whose greatness is only obscured by the "hitter's paradise" that is Citizens' Bank Park? Hey, if you can discount the hitters' accomplishments at home, you have to look at what the pitchers are doing overall, and leading the league in road OPS against, ERA, and almost every other measure as well deserves some consideration, to my way of thinking.

Both ways I looked at the data clearly indicated to me that the idea that the Phills play in a juicebox where they can never hope to win is, bluntly, absurd. Worse than absurd, it is an excuse. Winners don't make excuses, and to be fair, Eric Milton is the only player I can think of who claimed it was the park's fault, not his. We all know what's happened to him in '05. The Phillies know that they play in a fine park, and if they fail to win there, it is their fault. If they win, it is because of them, as well. Parks don't win games, people, players do.

Quick hits...

What the Nationals are doing is quite unprecedented. They're 18 games over .500 despite having been outscored for the year by 2 runs. It truly boggles the mind how they are outperforming their Pythag record. I blame their bullpen.

The NL Wildcard is virtually certain to come out of the NL East.

The odds are that every team in the NL East will end up with a winning record.

By almost any measure except wins, the Phils pitching staff is the very best in the National League on the road.

By most measures, the Phillies offense is one of the worst on the road.

By most measures, the Phillies offense is one of the best at home.

By most measures, the Phillies pitching is one of the worst at home.

There may be something to the idea that the Phillies play in a juicebox, after all.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Ok, Joe Morgan really gets on my nerves...

When I first started watching baseball, I sort of liked Joe. I was living in the south and was a braves fan, and therefore I was aggravated by his anti-Braves bias, but I consoled myself with the thoughts that at least this guy knew what he was talking about.

Then came Moneyball. As most of you may know, I'm a fan of sabermetrics. Joe, to put is mildly, is not. The thing that gets me about him isn't his anti-stat bias, but the fact that he has relentlessly criticized a book he admitted he never even read!

But let's move on, because that subject has been done to death. I watched a little bit of the Braves Cubs games last night with Little Joe as the color man, and the man seems to contradict himself with every other sentence. Specifically, last night, Davies was facing a batter, I forget who, in the sixth inning. Now, Davies is a young and promising pitcher, and Morgan thought is was time to lecture us on how he needed to learn how to "pitch to win a game."

In the sixth, Davies had a batter down 0-2, and threw a hanging slider which was hit for a single. Morgan immediately said what a bad idea that pitch was, because of the result. He said basically that a pitcher shouldn't give up hits with an 0-2 count.

Let me explain something, 0-2 is the best count to get someone out on! I read this book a few weeks ago, about Leo Mazzone's pitching philosophy. He just quotes Greg Maddox, who asserted that he is always aggressive on 0-2, because there are so many ways to get a hitter out there. He said it's foolish to "waste" a pitch or two, because all that does is give the hitter a chance to get a more favorable count for him to be aggressive.

So was it a mistake to pitch a slider 0-2? Absolutely not! Davies did hang the slider, resulting in a single, but it wasn't the pitch selection which was the problem, it was the execution. Hey, everyone hangs one now and then.

OK, so IMHO, Morgan completely dropped the ball on that one. But the next sentence out of his mouth was "It's a good thing that was an 0-2 count, because the hitter couldn't tee off on the ball." WHAT!!????? Joe, you just said it was a terrible pitch selection because of the count! Now you're saying that basically the best time to hang a breaking ball is with an 0-2 count? Would it be better if Davies wasted a couple of pitches, then threw a 2-2 or a 3-2 hanger, which likely would have been hit a lot harder? Does Morgan even see the contradiction in his two sentences?

A slider is a high risk/high reward pitch. Hang it, and it becomes a BP-fastball. Break it, and it's unhittable. The BEST time to throw it is when you know that even if you hang it, the hitter isn't going to be able to tee off on it. In other words, an 0-2 count. Joe criticized a decision that he basically praised on second later.

Joe said in a later inning. Davies had just walked a batter with 2 outs and a 3 run lead. Joe immediately said "You see, the kid needs to learn that in that situation you don't walk the guy. He needs to learn to pitch to win rather than pitch to get good numbers."

On this matter, I'm less aggravated, because it's true that it's a bad idea to walk people late with a lead. It's also a bad idea to walk people when the score it tied, early in the game, in extra innings, and in blowouts. Maybe with Barry Bonds hitting, and the go ahead run in on third with one out in the bottom of the ninth, it's a good idea to walk someone. But in the vast majority of other cases, it isn't. So how, Joe, is it worse to walk someone in that situation than any other one? He never explains.

Actually, we have an explanation in Mazzone's book. Mazzone has a theory that you NEVER give in to the strike zone. He insists all his pitchers master the down and away strike, and that even behind in the count, bases loaded, whatever, you're going to throw on the corner, not down the middle. Yes, you're going to give up a few walks that way, but you're less likely to give up gophers.

Whether you agree with Mazzone's theories or not (and I would rather give him the benefit of the doubt, given his track record), that would have been a great opportunity for Joe to talk about Mazzone's ideas, and even give his opinion about them. It was really a great illustration of Leo's way - even ahead, don't throw the ball down the middle. Pitch away, on the corners, and if you give up a walk, so be it. Joe didn't even mention anything of the sort.

I guess the point I'm making about why I dislike Joe Morgan so much is the fact that he seems to be fossilized in his thinking. The way the Reds played in the 70s was the best way, the only way to succeed. He isn't interested in learning how other people think about the game, or how the game may be changing. As a result, everything interesting he had to say he said years ago, never giving any special insight to the game as it's played today.

Anyone who made it through this entire rant, please share your own "Joe Morgan made me want to throw my shoe at the tv" story in the comments section.