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!

UPDATE:
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.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Abreu the 10th smartest player in baseball today?


He is, according to this.

Take THAT, Mr. Eskin!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

This report doesn't sound encouraging

From Baseball Prospectus, which doesn't see a lot to get excited about in our minor league system. Excerpt:


High Class A Clearwater (5-5; 30-36)

Another bad offense, as nearly 25-year-old minor league veteran Brian Burgamy (.276/.387/.443) is the only starter with an OPS over .756 as 2005 top pick Mike Costanzo (.257/.340/.378) and Australian shortstop Brad Harman (.232/.320/.307) represent major slides. The good news is that Costanzo is hitting .340 in June--the bad news is that he hasn't homered since May 28 and has struck out once every 3.23 at-bats. Lefty J.A. Happ struck out a season-high 10 on June 6 and seems ready for Double-A, which is a test he'll need to see him pass before we can trust his fringy stuff.

Friday, June 16, 2006

I don't know how I feel about his article

By Bill Simmons. I like Bill, I like his writing style, I like his irreverent take on sports icons, and his hyperbolic ravings about whatever he's excited about. He's a very ironic writer, and certainly will be remembered as the best and likely the most influential sportswriter of his generation. I do not say these things lightly.

However, I don't know how I feel about article like this:

Yes, the most cutthroat athlete of his generation loves to gamble, and even more than that, he loves to win. Should you be surprised? The qualities that once made MJ transcendent on the court -- his legendary hypercompetitiveness,
superhuman stamina, larger-than-life swagger and unwavering confidence -- make the gambling crossover an obvious choice.

And if your franchise guy didn't gamble, didn't need that feeling -- wouldn't you be worried?


Bill's point is that the very thing that makes players great also make them gamblers. In fact, he goes so far as to say he doesn't trust a player (other than Larry Byrd, whom he refers to as a "cheapskate" for not gambling) who doesn't gamble.

In a way, I see his point. One wants to be excellent, and one wants to win, and gambling certainly plays on the competitive fires that burn in athletes. But please, let's take a close look at this.

For every Michael Jordon (who probably could never gamble away his enormous fortune), there's a Boston College. While Barkely will likely never lose more than he can make, what about Darren McCarty?

Maybe at the very pinnacle of the sport, athletes can consider themselves immune from the effects of their behavior, but what about the marginal athletes? What about the college athletes? Didn't the 1919 White Socks throw a world series because of gambling? Are we so foolish to think such a thing couldn't happen in today's world? Is it so inconceivable that a pro athlete making $600,000 a year, but with 1.2 million in gambling debts, might not throw a critical game to payoff a large portion of that debt?

While it may be true that gambling is a part of athletics, it is not reasonable to believe that athletes will not take money to throw games in order to get out of gambling debts. Or at the very lease, use their influence to affect games they are or are not gambling on. Rather than "embrace" a problem which seems intractable, we rather should continue to educate the 20-something players who think that good times will last forever.

We need to remember that the vast majority of athletes are, in fact, very young, and that accepting their lavish lifestyles and gambling as part of who they need to be is placing unfair burdens on them. All athletes, even those who are not Michael Jordan, believe they can be, or will be. And if Simmons' ideals are accepted, they will all therefore gamble big in an attempt to prove it. If the Bill Simmons' ideal continues, scandals of athletes throwing games will inevitably follow.

Pat Gillick signs Roy Hobbs


In a surprise move, Pat Gillick today signed Roy Hobbs, the unknown sand-lot star who hasn't been seen since striking out "The Whammer" fifteen years ago.

Hobbs is thought to be a five-tool player, with a good batting eye and a strong throwing arm. Although a modest individual, the thirty-four year old rookie clearly has the confidence to play in the big leagues. His bat, rumored to have been carved of a tree felled by lightning, supposedly contains mystic powers to help him slam the ball.

While rumors circulate that the real motive of Bill Giles, the shadowy owner of the team who never has lights on in his office if he can help it, is to have the team lose so he can make good some gambling debts, the team has responded well to the announcement of Hobbs' signing.

"As long as he can help the team win, I'm for it," said Chase Utley. "Let's face it, we can always use another bat."

Charlie Manuel said he "Didn't give a *#$@ about the World series, but I want that pennant more than anything I've ever wanted before in my life." While he has no plans for letting Hobbs bat in a game right away, he acknowledged the man can "literally hit the cover off the ball."

The only concern was the fact that Hobbs hits left-handed, which will not improve the teams' weakness against left-handed pitching.

An article on the 1942 Phillies

Quite fun. Here's a little of it...

But Things Would Get Worse - The Phillies were a bad team overall, but they improved a bit in 1937 (to 61-92, seventh place)...

But Things Would Get Worse -
In May of 1939, Passeau was dealt, though this time not for cash...

But Things Would Get Worse -
In November of 1940, Higbe was sent to the Dodgers, for three mediocrities and $100,000 cash...

But Things Would Get Worse -
In 1942, the Phillies fielded the very worst of the terrible teams they’d been featuring over the previous several years...

How Bad Were Things? -
Oh, things were very bad indeed...

That Is Bad - The 1942 Phillies lost their first four games of the season, by scores of 2-1, 6-2, 2-1, and 7-1. With the third of those losses, they were alone in last place, and would remain so for the rest of the season.

Update: Whoops! Here's the link.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Why the Phillies will win the World Series

Currently the month is June, and the Phillies are in second place in the NL East, and reeling like a cheap fishing rod. So why can I posit that the Phillies will win the World Series? Easy.

1) We have only one team to beat in the NL East. The Braves are not going to make the playoffs this year. The Nats and Marlins also have virtually no shot That leaves only the Mets to battle the Phillies for the NL Eastern crown.

2) Though the Mets have a great 1-2 punch, the rest of their rotation is weak (See Jose Lima, who actually started 3 games for them this year). Furthermore, I question the ability of Tom Glavin and Pedro Martinez to remain effective over the entire season.

3) The Mets have played about as well as can be imagined, and the Phils have played as poorly as can be imagined. Things will even out.

4) The Phils weakest areas have been starting pitching and defense. With the worst starters banished, and the defense cannot help but get better, the Phils should improve simply due to regression..

5) Even if, for some reason, the Phils don't win the NL East, the Phils will likely win the WC. They came close last year, and the contenders for the WC all have their weaknesses

6) Once the Phils get to the postseason, their 1-2 punch with Myers and Hamels can compete with anybody. If there's anything the Astros demonstrated last year, it's the fact that if you have 2 dominant starters, you can go deep in the playoffs.

7) Most important, the Philly faithful seem to have officially written off this team for dead. As we recall from last year, it was only when officially given no chance that the Phils started playing with resolve and ability. Since this has happened in June and not September, we have plenty of time to make up any lost ground in the NL East and the WC.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Important medical news for all baseball fans...

Beer, pizza are the newfound wonderdrugs to prevent cancer!

You only think I'm kidding. Apparantly John Kruck is ahead of the curve on this one.

An ingredient in beer seems to help prevent prostate cancer, at least in lab experiments.


...lycopene, an ingredient in tomatoes, and thus also in tomato sauce, has previously been linked to prostate cancer prevention.

Appreciating Bobby Abreu

Inspired by this post, I have a few things to say about Bobby Abreu.

In Italy there are many museums. One day in the museum a visitor strolled along the halls, inspecting the old art. When he was leaving, the curator asked him what he thought of the paintings.

"To tell you the truth, I didn't like them at all," the man answered.

"Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that, sir," the curator replied.

"Why?"

"You don't understand. The painting are no longer being judged. The viewers are."


And so it is with Bob Kelly Abreu.

Time after time, I hear on the radio, read in the paper, see on tv, the same tired refrain. He can't hit in the clutch. He doesn't hustle on defense. He doesn't understand the game. He's too selfish a player. And on and on and on. The reason I draw the above analogy is because Bobby's game speaks so eloquently for itself. In every measurable way, he's one of the best outfielders in the game today.

Lifetime numbers:

OBP: .413
SLG: .511
OPS: .924
GPA: .313

Take a look at HOF right fielders. There are only two names with a higher lifetime OBP than Abreu. One is Mel Ott. There are only 6 with a higher SLG. There are only 3 players with a higher lifetime GPA.

I will grant that we are living in an era of high offense (although there have been other high offense eras, as well), but that is pretty impressive.

But what about being judged against his contemporaries?

In 2005, Bobby was 4th in VORP among all right fielders in baseball. In 2004, 2nd. In 2003, 5th. In 2002, 2nd. Are you noticing a trend?

Mike Berquist wrote "consistency, thy name is Bobby Abreu." And he didn't mean consistently bad. He discusses Bobby's win shares production, which is at an elite level year after year.

In this article, mention is made to how many win shares are required to get into the HOF. Specifically, Bill James said that 300+ WS means a likely HOF-er, while 400+ means a certain one. Bobby's career WS is 244, and showing no signs of slowing down. Over the next 3 or 4 years, it's likely, almost certain, he'll pass the 300 WS mark. Incidentally, Bobby is the youngest player with at least 244 WS, and there are only 18 active players with more.

Do I need to go on? Let's examine some likely marks Abreu will make before he retires. According to Bill James' favorite toy, Abreu has a 50% chance of ending up with 2,300+ hits, 400+ steals, 320+ HRs, 1,300+ RBI, and 1,400+ Runs. All of those numbers hold up quite well against the HOF standards.

I am not quite trying to make a case for Abreu to be in the HOF, but I think beyond a shadow of a doubt that he will have a very powerful case when his name comes up.

Now let's discuss his lack of "clutchiness." Again in no measurable way is this provable. Inspect Bobby's inning per inning performance, and given the predictable fluctuations every ballplayer might have, he is a winner. His 9th inning GPA is .305, which I think I'd take any day.

In the current year, he's one of the clutchiest hitters in baseball, if you believe in that sort of thing.

Regarding defense, whether he deserved it or not, he did win a gold glove last year. While I don't think he's a great defensive outfielder, he's not an embarrassment, and his strong arm does indeed limit opponent's baserunning. It's not as if anyone in the majors is playing in right field because of their defense, anyway.

I've said before that a team of Bobby Abreu's would probably score over 1,000 runs during the course of a season, and be derided for not scoring 1,200. Bobby Abreu is not hard to appreciate. What is hard is to understand why he's not appreciated more.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Lieberthal out for the season? What to do?

Have we lost our catcher for the year? Considering how much better Lieby is than the alternates, this is very bad news. The only position we're more shallow is second base.

While Sal has been an adequate replacement so far this year, it's hard to believe that a Fasano/Ruiz platoon is going to take us to postseason.

UPDATE:
Tom G pointed out that not everyone has a subscription to BP. I've stated before why I generally don't post the entire article to a subscription site, but anyway the pertinent quote is this:

A hip problem for a catcher is about as bad as it gets. The Phillies are getting to see what next year looks like, when they’ll almost assuredly begin life without Mike
Lieberthal
. The team is without a de facto #1, mixing and matching a series of backup catchers in and getting some production. Lieberthal is headed for an MRI to see exactly what’s going on inside his damaged left hip. The injury is more severe than the strain that the team has acknowledged, leading some to question if it could be career-threatening. This injury is clearly related to the leg and knee problems that have plagued Lieberthal this season (and hindered him over most of his career). Like the Phillies, fantasy teams relying on Lieberthal need to be looking at other options.

BP's analysis of our draft.

Basically, they're impressed with the first two picks, and with the upside of the draftees in general.

Excerpt:

Best pick after these five: Eighth-round pick T.J. Warren is built like a right-handed Darryl Strawberry, and he nearly has the tools to boot, but he's as raw as tonight's special nigri at your favorite sushi bar.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

PrOPS to Abreu

PrOPS is a tool used by The Hardball Times for "predicting what a player's OPS is likely to be in the future based on his batted balls, strikeouts, home runs and walks."

Based on this formula, Bobby Abreu should have the 4th best OPS in the NL for the rest of the season, leading the Phils.

Other notable Phillies PrOPS facts:

Rollins should improve, but considering how terrible his OPS has been, that's not saying much.

As good as Howard has been, he should get even better.

Pat Burrell's slump shouldn't last.

Chase Utley might be headed for a "market correction."

Correspondence with Dan Fox

Reprinted with his permission:

In response this his article on comebacks, I wrote and referred him to my postmodernism post. My main point was Buzz Bissinger was a modernist looking for a story arc and could not appreciate the sport in a postmodern sense (as I understand the term) as many of us do.

His response:
Thanks for your comments. I really enjoyed the post (and the blog) as well although definitions of postmodernism that I've read(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postmodernism) don't seem to really capture the differences you mention. It seems to me it is more a scientific mindset ala Richard Dawkins in his book "Unweaving the Rainbow" (brought to my attention by another reader) where he quotes physicist Richard Feynman, responding to a claim that scientists miss the beauty of a flower by studying it:'

The beauty that is there for you is also available for me, too. But I see a deeper beauty that isn't so readily available to others. I can seethe complicated interactions of the flower. The color of the flower is red. Does the fact that the plant has color mean that it evolved to attract insects? This adds a further question. Can insects see color? Do they have an aesthetic sense? And so on. I don't see how studying a flower ever detracts from its beauty. It only adds.'

Anyway, you're probably right that it is indeed a different and perhaps incompatible way of looking at things. Take care.


I'm not a philosopher and don't completely understand postmodernism. I do believe that postmodernism has a skepticism of story arcs and morals, and I do think that people who are constantly looking for only a story and moral in a baseball game are inherently limited in their understanding of the game, but his analogy might be more appropriate.

At any rate, I thank him for his kind words about my essay.

Who is "The Voice of Reason"

And why doesn't he have a blog already?

Phillies take Kyle Drabek in the first round

Profile:

One player who has been living up to expectations is Woodlands (Texas) HS righty Kyle Drabek, the son of 1990 Cy Young Award winner Doug. Drabek, an excellent athlete who would go in the first three rounds of the draft as a shortstop, has added a tick of velocity this year, sitting at 92-94 mph with his fastball while touching 96-97; he also features not one, but two breaking balls--a big spike curve and darting slider--which both have been graded as plus. "His stuff has just been absolutely outstanding," said a scouting director. Most see him as the top high school player out there, but some questions about his makeup are starting to crop up, a surprising development for a player with Drabek's pedigree.

Thoughts?

Monday, June 05, 2006

Offense, Starting Pitching, or relief corps?

which has had the most value this season for the Phils? If you said "The Relief Corps" you obviously are either very astute, read Phlogs regularly, or don't get any of your information from the Philly news media. Maybe all three.

Fangraphs tells us that of all the WPA, both the starting pitching and the defense get negatives in terms of how much they contributed to winning games. It isn't really even very close, with only 3 out of 10 relievers having a negative WPA.

By contrast, only 2 out of 7 starters have a positive WPA, and 9 out of 27 hitters have a positive WPA.

So, now that we know that, what do we do?

Friday, June 02, 2006

William Shatner

(HT Sportsguy)

In a scene which literally must be seen to be believed, William Shatner gives his unique rendition of "Rocketman." It's one of those things which starts out painful, then becomes embarrassing, then comically tragic, then just plain comic, then unbelievable, and ends with the audience clapping uncertainly, Shatner smiling, and a sense of unreality.

Phillies of the Month: May 2006

Welcome back to the Phillies of the Month! Also, we'll check in on last month's winners.

Hitters:

Pat Burrell, after a scorching April, has had a much tougher May, with an OBP of .396 but a SLG of only .488. Funny, for all the talk of Bobby Abreu being in a slump in May, his OPS was a very good .919, while Pat had an OPS of .884. Go figure.

For May, the competition wasn't very close. While Utley had a great month, and Bobby had a good one, it's just not everyday when a sophomore belts 13 HRs in a month to lead the majors in that category. Ryan Howard slugged his way to a .696 percentage, and though his OBP was .321 and he drew only one walk (it was intentional), his power more than made up for it.

Congratulations, Ryan Howard, Pawnking's Hitter of the month!

Pitchers:

Flash Gordon showed he wasn't, in fact, Superman in May, although I'll take an ERA of 2.19 and 9 saves. Basically, he didn't pitch enough in May to deserve serious consideration for pitcher of the month.

The ERA leader of the month was surprisingly Geoff Geary, with 1.20 ERA in 15 innings, striking out 6.6 per 9 innings while walking a minuscule 0.6 per 9 innings. Cormier also had a good month, with an ERA under 2 in 10.1 innings. Cole Hamels made his Major League Debut in May, and did well (though with a lot of walks) until "the pop heard round the world" sidelined him. It was actually not a bad month for all Phils without the initials "CL" "RF," or "GF."

But towering over all other pitchers was the undoubted ace of the staff, Brett Myers. Brett lead the Phils in Innings, Strikeouts, and No-Decisions. In 6 starts, all of them quality, he garnered only 2 wins. Despite this, he battled for a sparkling 2.49 ERA striking out 6.4 and walking 1.9 per 9 innings. He should get serious consideration for being an all-star at this rate.

Congratulations, Brett Myers, Pawnking's Pitcher of the Month!

Disclaimer: No discussion of who the winner will be ever influences this judge. Any wagering on the outcome of "Pawnking's Phillies of the Month" is strictly prohibited. Unless I get a cut, in which case I might be convinced to rig the count.

A response to RickShuBlues RE: clutch

I was going to post this under my previous entry, but it ran a little long, so it became an entry itself. Rick made several good points in responding to the idea that "clutch" might not exist. Excerpt:

To deny it [clutch] exists is to deny that psychology itself exists, and that there are differences in the psyches of individual players. Some players absolutely have
an ability to concentrate, to maintain clarity and confidence in big situations, and some either get too anxious or simply go up there hoping not to fail. Some are affected negatively by pressure and some can respond to it favorably.


My response is I do not believe the James has ever said that clutch hitting does not exist. Rather, he has said that even if it does, it's such a slight part of what makes a good baseball player that it wouldn't matter.

Let me put it this way: If there was a player who always choked under pressure, what are the odds that player would even make it to the big leagues? Such a gaping hole in a player's game would prevent all but the most talented from getting to the bigs, much less becoming high performing regulars. To put it another way, all major leaguers are clutch players, to a greater or lesser extent, and the difference between their levels of clutchiness is much less than their difference in ability.

As far as your point about psychology, it is also well taken. In fact, denying psychology is exactly what I mean, at least at the major league level.

While psychology is a useful tool for many things, it is not an infallible predictor of future behavior. Furthermore, baseball players receive a lifetime of training to perform quite naturally everyday feats under a lot more baseball pressure than we will ever see. While I would almost certainly choke under the pressure of having to hit a baseball in the ninth, I wouldn't have any problem crunching a spreadsheet with a one hour deadline, or conducting an audit with an IRS agent, because that is what I am trained to do. Similarly, a soldier is trained to keep his head with bombs and bullets flying around it, which I think is a little more stressful than swinging a 30 ounce bat.

I believe that most people think that clutch makes a difference in the majors because most of us have experiences in little league, high school ball, softball, etc., in which we either choked to came through in the clutch. We experienced it, so, we assume, surely professionals do, too. However a) professionals are a lot better than we ever were, and b) professionals have faced high pressure situations thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of times in their careers. They are trained to put distractions out of their heads, and perform. While I agree that some do this better than others, the difference at that level is so slight as to be unmeasurable, therefore essentially the same as not existing.

A quick anecdote might help illustrate better what I mean. I saw a special on tv where some psychology students were testing the effect of stress on athletic performance. They got volunteers to see how many puts out of 10 they could make, with nothing riding on the outcome. Then they told the participants they would get another chance to sink 10 puts, and if they at least matched the number of puts made, they would win $100. They tested both ordinary students and members of the golf team.

The ordinary students responded poorly to the pressure, almost never matching the score in the first round. They choked, in fact. The members of the golf team all performed in the second round basically the same as they did in the first. They had been trained to ignore the stress and pressure of the situation and perform regardless of any outside distractions.

So it is with professional baseball players. They are doing what they are trained to do, and all statistical evidence indicates that they all respond to pressure equally well.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Postmodern Baseball

Or, why Joe Morgan hates Bill James.

Postmodernism is many things, far more than I can understand or can easily relate in a simple blog posting. But one thing that is considered postmodern is a relative antipathy towards narratives. A modernist will see a chain of events and look for cause and effect, how one thing influences another, arching meaning behind the sequence. A postmodernist rejects the universality of the narrative, and will contend that events are not as connected as we might think, and looking for cause and effect is pointless, or at least not always very fruitful.

This brings us to baseball. Baseball is a very interesting sport which has been related by writers almost since its inception. The marriage between the sport and the writer is so close as to be almost inseparable. To name a few examples: baseball rose as a national sport as newspapers rose as the major medium of national communication, the Yankees became the most popular team in part because New York newspapers were the first national newspapers, baseball writers are almost solely responsible for electing members of the Hall of Fame.

As a result of this marriage, the vast majority of baseball fans see games, seasons, players and entire teams as writers do; as part of a narrative story. In other words, most people who cover and follow baseball are modernists. One of the fundamental aspects of a story is they generally have a moral. To them, baseball is an inherently moral game.

I do not refer to morality as good vs. evil in a Christian sense. I refer to morality in the sense that virtues which the writer discerns and judges are, he believes, the causes of the success or failure on the field. There is always a reason a player, team, or season succeeds or fails. A moral to the story of the game.

Some familiar reasons given for the success or failure are: work ethic, chemistry, enthusiasm, self-sacrifice, intelligence, destiny, character, clutchiness and grittiness. The fact that most of these terms are vague only servs to enhance their value in the modernist's eyes. If I, as a modernist, deem player X to be a "clutch" player, who can really tell me I'm wrong? The very ambiguity of the word allows me to use it however I wish.

From the century long hold that modernists writers have held on baseball came the first great postmodernist, Bill James. Although he may not have been the first to break free from the narrative constraints of understanding baseball, he was the first to achieve a national recognition and following. In the 80s, his Baseball Abstract not only applied statistical analysis to the game, it completely changed the way a game (or player, season, or team) can be watched, enjoyed, and appreciated. Statements of cause and effect could be, for the first time, reasonably measured for accuracy. Theories upon which a modernist narrative can hinge were disputed, and sometimes either disproved or shown to lack any credibility.

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.

This is all extremely disturbing to the modernist. To the modernist, there is a moral reason for everything. Joe Morgan claims that clutch hitting exists. Bill James counters that if there is such a thing, the sheer randomness of baseball sufficiency obscures the ability so it might as well not exist. These two theories cannot both be held at the same time. Therefore, the intellectual conflict between the two sides.

Some would contend that a postmodernist cannot appreciate baseball as a modernist can. A modernist cares greatly about the outcome of a game, who wins, who loses, and why. While it is true that the postmodernist recognizes that who wins a game may not be indicative of which team is better, I believe that a postmodernist actually enjoys the game more, not less, than the modernist.

The postmodernist can appreciate the fascinating structured chaos that is an organized baseball game. In any one given at bat, there are only a few possible outcomes. Therefore there is structure. But the factors which determine that outcome are so many, and so interrelated, that simply understanding and appreciating why the at bat resulted as it did can be endlessly fascinating. For example: Pitching matchup, if there is a basestealer on base, if there is a power hitter on deck, the score, the inning, the pitch count, how hot the hitter is, how many times he has seen this particular pitcher, the temperature, the defensive alignment, the wind, the angle of the sun, how loud the crowd is yelling, and on and on. And that is just one at bat. Therefore, there is chaos.

A postmodernist could probably write a book full of analysis on every game played. A postmodernist can not only appreciate the outcome, but the journey to get to that outcome, and be intrigued by, say, the question of how a butterfly's beating wings in Australia might have affected the game's result.