Sunday, April 30, 2006

I believe I'll dust my broom (17-7)

Well! When Orlando Cabrera lined a two-run shot over the wall in the fifth to give the Angels a 5-3 lead, I thought two things: (1) two out of three won't be so bad, and (2) Jon Garland just is not the same pitcher he was last season. The second thought is mostly true (the Angels scored 5 runs off him with underlying numbers that ought to get them

The obvious problem with the first thought is the White Sox are better than even I think they are. They don't make a lot of mental mistakes, and they never give up. This is a professional team in the highest sense of that word. And, like a consummate professional team, when faced with a deficit, they systematically got the two runs back in the very next inning. And they can still play Ozzieball, tacking on a go-ahead run with a textbook top-of-the-ninth small-ball rally (single, pinch runner, steal, sacrifice bunt, wild pitch). Neil Cotts took the ninth and got his first save. If anyone was wondering, "Where was Jenks", I think the little detail of Anderson and Erstad being lefthanded hitters (and Jenks pitching the previous two nights) was the reason why. Cotts and Thornton looked good, and so did Politte as the White Sox stifled the Angels over the last three innings.

As I said, the White Sox don't make a lot of mental mistakes. The Angels did, when Tim Salmon ran his team out of the sixth, getting doubled off second while trying to score on a Texas Leaguer, and getting a baserunner killed on an ill-advised play in the top of the seventh with no outs. The Angels didn't get another baserunner after wasting two in a row.

The only batter hit by a pitch was Joe Crede. So much for the Ozzie-is-evil theories of Angel fans for one day. I'm waiting for news of Escobar's punishment. I'll wait a long time, I bet.

Other division notes as April comes to an end:
  • Detroit continues to treat the once-might Minnesota Twins as their personal whipping boys. Are they for real? Probably not. They are getting spectacular pitching, but Robertson and Verlander have very clear histories of fading on the backstretch. Baseball Prospectus 2006 points out, usefully, that Jim Leyland has a history of riding his starting pitchers into the ground. They are getting spectacular hitting from players who usually wind up in the doctor's office sooner or later. Leyland doesn't seem to know the meaning of the word "day off". Detroit fans centainly deserve a thrill, and this team has enough veterans and talent to win 85 games, but I really don't think they can hang with the White Sox or the Indians for more than a couple of months.
  • Minnesota looks absolutely awful. Silva, Lohse, and Radke can't get anybody out at all, and except for Lohse, it's because of the long ball. Very low strikeout ratios are often a warning that a pitcher is living on the edge, and all three of them look like they slipped off into the abyss. The Twins don't have the offense to overcome mediocrity on the mound. This probably would mean Liriano into the rotation, except the Twins' financially have to try to recover at least two of the three tanked pitchers. However, looking forward, I can see Ron Gardenhire playing the role of British Vice-Admiral Beatty at Jutland, saying as his elegant battle cruisers exploded unexpectedly, "There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today!"
  • Cleveland insists on plugging SS Jhonny Peralta into the three hole in their lineup, despite his .230/.284/.360 line. As Black Betsy graciously and generously points out, I was skeptical of Peralta's true level of ability before the season based on a record fattened by victimizing mop-up men last season. So far Peralta looks like he ought to be hitting ninth. But, hey, I'll take it. I love it when good teams misuse their resources, especially in the same division.
Thanks to Black Betsy for the Public Service Announcement. He really is too kind. I really don't care how many people read this; I write this blog for me. But I don't mind sharing it. If you're reading this far, thanks.

Somebody's Gonna Hurt Someone (16-7)

Jose Contreras won again, giving up one run in 8 1/3 to the Angels. A Thome homer and a long-sequence rally by the White Sox plated two runs and the bullpen held on in the ninth when Edgardo Alfonso lined out to Juan Uribe with the tying and winning runs aboard.

Kelvim Escobar, obviously still annoyed at AJ Pierzynski about the ALCS, hit him with a 1-1 pitch in the second inning. This prompted the umpires to issue the usual warnings. Mike Scioscia whined about being warned when Escobar did the obvious, Guillen complained about the constant parallel warnings when his batters get hit, saying his batters get hit all the time and he doesn't have a history of retaliation. He has a point. For the record, last season White Sox hitters were hit 79 times, Sox opponents 52. The year before, it was 62-42. So far this year, it's 11-7. So, over the last 345 games, Ozzie's teams have been hit 152 times and hit opponnets 99 times. Ozzie's right. The umpire should either have only warned the Angels or, actually, simply tossed Escobar on the spot. Pierzynski is the only batter Escobar has hit all year. Given that he hit him the first time he saw him, on the third pitch, the idea that the action could be random strains credibility to the breaking point. At this point, the league should probably just tell Mr. Escobar he can take 5 games off; if they don't do something, the White Sox will be in the position of having to retaliate at some point, baseball being slightly savage about such things.

I assume Chris Widger starts tomorrow's day game, giving the Angel boo-birds a day of rest. Now, Widger's 1-for-13, and because last season was anomalous, you have to look down at the minors and ask yourself what's there. Chris Stewart is there; Stewart's a brilliant defensive catcher without much of a bat, kind of like Chris Widger.

Other note: Cleveland lost 7-5 to the Rangers, in part because Grady Sizemore got caught off first base on a line drive on a game-ending double play. Nice to see Grady pull a rock. Maybe it will bother him for a week?

Saturday, April 29, 2006

What was wood became alive

Question: When does a 15-7 record make you uneasy about a season?

Answer: When you don't get there the way you expected.

There's more than one quirky thing about statistics. Consider that the White Sox were expected to continue to play the way they did last year, but through the first 22 games, most of us fans are secretly worried about the team because they aren't. The starting pitching hasn't dominated the way we wanted it to, the team is not playing "Ozzieball" at all...

The truth is, the pitching is dominating. Two statistical trends are warping our perception of the data. First, run scoring is up across the board. The median number of runs scored in the AL already is 109, and the median team ERA is 4.75. Second, the White Sox have, through either coincidence or offical scoring decisions, allowed only one unearned run so far this season. This means the staff ERA (4.11) is virtually indisinguishable from the runs-allowed rate (4.16). This is the third lowest rate in the league, behind only the Tigers (3.64) and Yankees (4.11), both of whom play in more pitcher-friendly parks. The defense has contributed, of course. So far Brian Anderson's defensive statistics have been eye-popping, and Iguchi has looked a lot better (when it isn't raining).

The offense, however, is a different story. A wonderful story. Second only to the Indians in runs scored in the league, third in walks (walks!), third in homers, seventh in steals, and tied for ninth with the A's and Rangers in sac bunts. I doubt that there are a dozen people who, before the season, would have predicted this change in personality by the offense. The homers, sure, but the walks? Rest assured, it can't continue... or can it? Uribe, Podsednik, and Anderson have been pretty bad at the plate and the team has scored six runs a game anyway. Sure, Thome's starting to cool off, and Konerko and Dye can't keep it up forever. But this is a more balanced offensive team, and it's starting to look more like the 2004 team would have if not for the injuries, except with better defense and much better, deeper pitching.

Watch The Monkey Get Hurt (15-7)

Whew. What was once an 8-2 lead over the Angels dwindled to 8-5 as Brandon McCarthy struggled for a second time. Freddy Garcia teased a quality start out of nothing, and in relief Neil Cotts pitched well and Bobby Jenks, called upon to extinguish Vladimir Guerrero in the ninth before the Rally Monkey could get warmed up, whiffed him with a curve. Garcia's velocity is still down (this is a common problem with WBC participants, apparently) and he's got control problems too. Thank you Mister Selig for your silly stunt.

Baseball was meant to be played in the Eastern and Central time zones; if you don't believe me, ask anybody east of the Rockies. Saturday mornings after staying up late to track baseball games tend to bring out the naked blade of the Razor:
  • It is always good for White Sox fans to see Jeff Weaver get pummeled. Weaver was a second-round draft choice of the White Sox in 1997, but he refused to sign. He has since pitched for the Tigers, Yankees, Dodgers, and now for the Angels. He goes on the list with Bobby Seay and Bobby Hill for White Sox fans, the list of players we love to see fail. Yes, we know it's a business, and being drafted isn't a slave auction, but we don't have to root for them, now do we?
  • Speaking of business, the Angels are an interesting one. They won the World Series in 2002 with a combination of home-grown talent, shrewd trades, and scrap-heap reclamation projects (see White Sox, 2005). The next year, they had an off season. The response from owner Artie Moreno has been to try to buy a championship, Yankees-style. In the 2003-4 offseason, they signed Kelvin Escobar, Bartolo Colon, Jose Guillen, and Vladimir Guerrero. In the 2004-5 offseason, they signed Steve Finley, Paul Byrd, and Orlando Cabrera. Last offseason, they signed Weaver and we all know they went hard after Paul Konerko. It's hard for me to root for teams that hire that many mercenaries, players whose original teams (and fans) really want them back. Paul Konerko made a comment last fall that was telling, something about how he couldn't think about leaving without thinking of some kid wearing his jersey being crushed if he left. The Angels are full of people who don't care about that at all. And baseball's future is poorer for it.
  • I have been impressed that the incessant whining about last fall has stopped. The Angels spent a bit of time bitching about the Pierzynski Affair and the Finley Controversy, although mysteriously they all seem to forget Cabrera's flagrant interference with a double play in Game One that scored the winning run, or Scot Shields getting a key checked-swing "third strike" on Paul Konerko that shouldn't have been called. I guess the Angels channeled their anger into buying a few more soulless vagabond players instead of pretending that they wuz robbed.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Thanks, that was[n't] fun (14-7)

Dropping two of three to the Mariners is not a good way to start a West Coast trip, but it was unsurprising. The White Sox were handcuffed by two lefthanders, bookending a bombardment of Joel Piniero, and escaped from Washington state with only one of the three games.

Unrelated comments:
  • Is there anybody else out there who is completely sick of the NFL draft already? Next they're will be breathless reporting of Vince Young's breakfast menu and Reggie Bush's latest stool sample. We're talking about 22-year-old kids. At least baseball tends to be more measured about their entry-level talent.
  • Baseball announced that they will "not celebrate" Barry Bonds' 715th home run. Give me a break. When Bonds hit 661, the Giants made a huge deal about it. Either it's a real accomplishment, or it's not. If it's a real accomplishment, give it its due. If it's not, suspend him. Yeah, the steroid era was bad for the game's reputation, and we all pretty much know in our heart of hearts that Barry was doing something naughty. So were a lot of the pitchers he was facing, and the owners were cynically bringing in the fences 30 feet, and God knows what to believe about the baseballs. I don't see ownership giving back the money. Bonds may seem like a jerk, but he's hit 711 home runs, which is more than all but two people in history. If he's actually doing it dishonestly, stop him. If you can't prove that, shut the hell up. This limbo where Barry Bonds is being semi-ignored is just hypocrisy.
  • Cleveland's bombardment of Boston yesterday seemed to me to be aided and abetted by more than a slight bit of homerism from the home plate umpire. The Indians got several close pitchers on both sides of the plate. It's probably just a coincidence, but the idea that the umpires could manage pennant races for increased excitement has to have crossed somebody's mind at some point; the Indians were in danger of messing up the pennant race early by soiling the bed; and the Yankees need some help as they have spectacularly poor timing in the run scoring escapades.
  • Will super-prospect Delmon Young's action, hitting an umpire with a thrown bat in AAA on Wednesday, cost him the rest of the season? Anything less sets a terrible example for the rest of the game.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Baby, Baby, Where Did Our Love Go? (13-6)

The White Sox started a bunch o' backups (Cintron, Mackowiak, Ozuna) and phoned in a 3-runs-in-11-innings depressing performance in a 4-3 loss. Garland's looking for his mojo, which he left somewhere in 2005. At least Detroit lost, too, and the White Sox are done with Jamie Moyer for a while.

Ex-Sox watch:
  • Frank Thomas, with Oakland, is supposedly completely healthy. As of right now, he's 11-for-65 (.169) with 2 doubles, 4 homers, 6 walks, an OBP around .240. I've seen him bat maybe 16 times this year because of the constant Ranger games and he looks absolutely terrible. He *looks* great in the on-deck circle, but when he gets to the plate, his bat seems noticeably slower than last year, he's chasing marginal pitches, and he runs like he's got a bowling ball attached to his foot. As of right now, he does not have even one opposite field hit this season. All of his hits have been to left or left center. Is Billy Beane losing patience? I mean, Thomas is healthy, which is good for him, but he's sucking, which isn't. They keep letting him try to hit his way out of the mess, but it just isn't working so far.
  • Carl Everett, with Seattle, is walking a lot. So, where was this last year? He's only hitting .222, but with more walks than hits, he's got a pretty good OBP.
  • Aaron Rowand's doing fine in Philly, hitting just over .300 but, as usual, not walking at all. I don't think they're expecting him to, so it's not a big deal.
  • Geoff Blum picked up where he left off, at 2-for-18 with the Padres.
  • Timo Perez is in AAA, with the Memphis Redbirds.
  • Willie Harris is back in the majors after initially starting the season with the PawSox. He's hitting a robust .100.
  • Luis Vizcaino looks decent in the desert. allowing 2 runs in 10 innings.
  • El Duque, well, doesn't, at 1-3 with a 6.33 ERA.
  • Gio Gonzalez and Daniel Haigwood are in Reading (not in the Gaol, hopefully) and pitching nicely by all accounts.
One other comment: Last night, Jacque Jones hit a 3-run home run against the Marlins to give the Cubs the lead in a game they won 6-3. He stood at the plate and admired his shot, which just cleared the basket in left (opposite) field. It's nice to know that you can take the guy out of Minnesota but he's still a bit of a twinkie.

Monday, April 24, 2006

They say she comes on a pale horse, but I'm sure I hear a train

The White Sox killed Minnesota yesterday and now travel to Seattle and Southern California for an Oakland-free road trip. I wonder, will Bat-Girl have a Legovision re-enactment of the Twins getting their heads handed to them? Or was it their butts painted blue?

I always dread Seattle. The White Sox usually play poorly in Seattle, ever since the Mariners first set up shop in the KingTomb almost 30 years ago. Safeco isn't quite as bizarre, but still it's weird. Seattle was the scene of the final act of the Billy-Koch-as-closer era two years ago, when, the day before I was to fly to San Diego to spend a few days testing the Titleist Club and Ball Performance Monitor, I watched Koch explode on ESPN as Jon Miller described the debacle. It was a microcosm of the season, but, at the time, we didn't know it. The White Sox went 4-2 in King County last year, so maybe this isn't exactly Oakland. And any stadium with trains is a stadium to be lauded!

Speaking of ESPN, last night Joe Morgan told a story that struck me as bizarre. Describing the "Alfonso Soriano to left field" saga, Morgan told us that the reason Soriano moved to left was that Jose Vidro can't play left field. Sure. It couldn't be because Soriano is a wretched second baseman, now could it? I love Joe Morgan, and I know he has an emmy, but come on, Joe, we're smarter than that.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Everyday they write the book

Baseball Prospectus 2006, Goldman et al, Workman, $18.95

Two nights ago, stuck in a Barnes and Noble waiting out my daughter's community service (honor society, not criminal justice!), I caved and picked up a copy of BP2006. BP is must-read for anybody interested in the data-analysis side of baseball, from general managers to player agents to serious fans. The book and the website are always thought-provoking, usually entertaining, and often well written as well.

I just wish they weren't so damned arrogant. From the blurbs on the back cover trumpeting what they got right to the self-congratulatory throwing-around of "best" everywhere inside (which they are, but they don't have to keep telling me this), the book is indelibly marred by the constant self-promotion. Take this: "In this book, Baseball Prospectus presents the most advanced analytical view..." (p. 1). Or this: "PECOTA is already the best system of its kind" (p. 6). Both may be true. Both are throwaway sentences that should have been edited out, as they convey no information (other than that the author is inordinately proud) and waste paper and ink. BP is to baseball analysis what Ein Heldenleben was to symphony orchestra performances: bombast to the point of vulgarity critically marring elegant and deft work elsewhere.

The saving grace is the book is an ensemble production, and contains priceless essays like Gary Huckabay's "Where Does Statistical Analysis Fall Down? Reality and Perception" and "Iceberg Stories", maybe the best baseball-as-business analysis I've read in forever. There are thousands of clever , well-informed player comments. At 553 pages, there are enough nuggets to entertain for months.

Then there's figure 1, on page 510, the most pompous example of oversimplification imaginable. This figure presents a computer-science-like decision tree for a stolen base attempt, showing the three outcomes of the decision: no attempt, successful steal, and base stolen. Fine. Then Table 7 shows the breakeven percentage to 1/10th percent. My problem with this is the outcome tree for "attempt steal" is indistinguishable in the data from "try hit and run" (or "try run and hit"), and the number of outcomes is not three, it's dozens. The overwhelming majority of the time, an attempted steal involves a pitch delivered to a batter who may or may not swing. They ignore "catcher throws ball into center field", or "pitcher balks", or "batter fouls off pitch", or "batter lines into double play". A stolen base or a caught stealing, as data, is the precipitate in the bottom of the flask. The decision to run (or not) may be made by the manager, and is several events away from the actual recorded data column. These factors are difficult to divine, happen far more often than the percents place in the numbers would indicate, but ignoring them poisons the subsequent analysis fatally. Drawing the conclusion (as Keith Woolner does) that Tad Iguchi was the least opportune base stealer in MLB last year is like Sherlock Holmes solving cases from his monographs on tobacco ash -- fanciful, fun, and utter fiction. Printing three-digit breakeven numbers from this oversimplified decision tree leads to analysis paralysis and, rather than contributing to the knowledge base, just fuels the skepticism so elegantly detailed in the Huckabay essay's Woodwardian interview section. Drawing conclusions about player abilities from this noise is hubris worthy of Greek tragedy.

So buy the book, it's entertaining (and lacks the Kenny Williams character assassination this year), but don't take them at their words. It's hardly scholarly, as the peer review is a bunch of people interested in making money from the book, and the methods are usually held as proprietary data. Hold your nose through the self promotion, as hard as it is.

Pore over everything in my CV (11-5)

Now having whipped the Twins mercilessly two nights in a row, the Pale Hose look to complete a sweep this afternoon, sending Jose Contreras against the suddenly scuffling Carlos Silva.

SuperNoVa is understandably worried about Freddy Garcia's start and critical of a Daily Herald article praising it. I'm in the middle. Yeah, Garcia gave up a few line-outs; but the Twins got just one real extra base hit off him (Hunter's home run) because Mauer's double was aided and abetted by Mackowiak's misjudgement. I think Garcia's "stuff" has been deteriorating for more than a year, and he is obviously transitioning to a finesse style. He is not different from the pitcher last fall throwing complete games in the ALCS, except his spring routine was more than a little disturbed by the World Silliness. His numbers are warped by pitching in the fifth inning of a cloudburst against the Blue Jays, a game where he couldn't grip the baseball as the umpires tried desperately to get to the rulebook official game definition. Garcia is open about all of this. His velocity looked up a bit from previous starts last night, and while he flirted with disaster a bit, scattering 5 singles, one walk, a lucky double, and a Torii Hunter homer through 6 1/3 is successful. I wouldn't be too worried yet.

Now, I am worried about Boone Logan, the title subject of this post. I'm not a big fan of the idea of letting Class A fringe prospects win major league jobs in spring training (Rule 5 tricks excepted). It almost never works. For every Kent Hrbek or Scott Radinsky, there are a lot of failures. Logan has pretty good stuff, I admit, but he looks like an A ball pitcher out there, spraying pitches all over the place. I know, I know, he's the back of the bullpen. But last night he singlehandedly started a very dangerous grass fire, one that ended up being about ten Torii Hunter feet from an Epic Collapse, because he just isn't ready for this. I know Kenny Williams would never do this with a position player. (Micah Schnurstein is not going to play in Chicago for a long, long time. ) Now, is there an alternative? Sure. Don't carry so bloody many pitchers. The White Sox do not need all these spare parts. At least they aren't mindlessly carrying twelve.

Other notes:
  • From the department of borderline trash statistics (or should it be trash data?) comes the "Jim Thome has scored in X consecutive games". This says as much about Konerko and Dye as it does about Thome -- somebody as slow as Jim Thome has scored 13 runs in addition to his home runs. Opponents have intentionally walked Thome six times already, and the approach has backfired on at least half of them.
  • The Indians have to be worried about Paul Byrd. This guy was expensive, supposed to replace the AL ERA champion, and gets by on the craft more than talent. So far he's had three awful Ruffcornesque starts in four tries. With Sabathia's durability and conditioning obviously questionable, the Indian pitching hardly looks contender-quality this morning, especially after getting toasted by the Orioles and Royals...
  • The Tigers are showing an uncharacteristic amount of fight so far. It's a good thing the White Sox handed them their heads or they'd be getting pretty cocky already.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Eager Pack Lift Up Their Pitchers (6-5)

Paul Konerko slammed two two-run homers and Mark Buerhle slammed the door on the Toronto Blue Jays to win a 4-2 pleasant afternoon game. This spoiled the debut of ridiculously overpaid Blue Jay mercenary A. J. Burnett.

Tomorrow is Freddy Garcia versus Josh Towers. Towers bothers me, a mediocrity who I always remember as bringing his A game against the White Sox.

Random notes on a random Saturday:
  • Tad Iguchi made one of the most unique defensive plays ever in this game, throwing out Bengie Molina on a chopper from a prone position in the ninth. The play looked more like one of those plays where someone suffers a sickening injury. The ESPNews reader had to get in a cheap statement about Molina running slow, you just know he wouldn't have said that if the play were made by, oh, Robinson Cano...
  • Tell me it's wrong to feel some Schadenfreude with Frank Thomas' sluggish start. Frank was easily myfavorite player ever, but seeing him in that Oakland outfit -- well, he's not the Big Hurt any more, he's some alien creature playing for the Green Evil. Yes, I know, a good season of two would cement his place in Cooperstown. And just as I write this, Frank Thomas slammed a Vincente Padilla cookie over the left-center-field wall to tie the game in Oakland, in the middle of a three-pitch, three-home-run barage. I want Frank to do well... but not too well...
  • There's been an incredible amount of baloney written this spring about Bobby Jenks. He lost his command. He lost ten miles per hour off his fastball. He's gained six hundred pounds. He's suspected in three unsolved criminal cases. He's the secret Grand Master of the Priory of Sion in the next Dan Brown novel. You name it, it's been written... well, almost. The truth is, he hasn't been really sharp, but he's been decently effective, and he's got a 5:1 K:W ratio, and four saves.
  • I didn't see any mention of it anywhere, but did anybody else notice that umpiring crews get rearranged? This means Bruce Froemming's crew from last year with Mark Winters, Jerry Meals, and Hunter Wendlestedt was partially broken up. Meals is now over with Mike Reilly and Hunter Wendlestedt is with Randy Marsh. That series in Oakland last year where the old Crew F (apropos) reamed the White Sox out of two games in a row may be repeated, but it will be different people.
  • As bad as we White Sox fans feel about Garland and Vazquez struggling, remember the shocking truth: they are the fourth and fifth starters. Buehrle's rounding into top form and Contreras has been solid.

I'm Not A Number (5-5)

The White Sox survived Jon Garland's Thursday afternoon hammering but not Javier Vazquez' Friday night horror show and now have an even record of 5-5.

Ten games into the season the White Sox have gotten mostly frightening outings by their starting pitching, several frightening outings by the bullpen, and no offensive production from Brian Anderson or Scott Podsednik. Ordinarily, I'd be worried as hell about the import of all these dreadful numeric omens, puzzling over my vast collections of data, looking for the telltale numbers that somewhere, somehow, showed me that the poor performances were flukes. But I'm not.

Not because I'm not worried; I am. The White Sox look a lot more like the bash-and-pray 2003-2004 version than last year's magical mystery tour, and I don't think this is going to work at all. I don't think this team can out-bash the Indians, and the Twins look like they've struck gold with their newest crop of pitchers already. It's that my worrying has changed. I've lost the sabermetric religion.

I now realize that all those many years of poring over statistics was more about searching for a way to believe the White Sox would finally win than anything else. I was hoping that somewhere, buried in those numbers, would be a key, a clue that the final victory was coming, and the years of frustration and sorrow and, yes, ridicule were over. Somehow the numbers would tell me that the quest was concluding.

Last October, the White Sox found their Promised Land, and the numbers lied to us all year. They told us the team was 7 games worse than their record, that the team was lucky, that the team wasn't real. They lied. And now, as a result, I just find it hard to believe in them any more. So I let my subscription to Baseball Prospectus lapse. I didn't buy any statistical annuals. I am basking in the afterglow of what was, really, the Impossible Dream.

So Cliff Politte is getting hammered, and Vazquez is all out of sorts, and Garland looks worse than he's ever looked before. So what? Things will (probably) be fine. Who do you believe, me, or those lying spreadsheets?

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Slammin' (4-4)

Mr. Jim Thome v Frank Thomas so far:

Jim Thome82699205882
Frank Thomas72542101446

Saturday, April 08, 2006

I Just Wasn't Made For These Times (1-3)

Jon Garland blew a six-run lead to the Kansas City Royals. Facing 27 hitters, he only managed to induce four groundouts, and on a blustery night with two subs starting in the outfield, the Royals took advantage of some outfielding miscues to score 9 runs off Garland and two more runs off Matt Thornton.

There' s a roster question here. The White Sox are carrying three utility infielders (Ozuna, Mackowiak, and Cintron) and three first basemen (Thome, Konerko, and Gload). This leaves them with one competent backup outfielder (Mackowiak can play anywhere). No, I'm not pining for Timo Perez, but I think he probably catches that wind-aided "double" that was the linchpin of the 5-run KC inning. Fortunately, not every game will be played in howling spring windstorms.

This makes three horrible starts out of four from the White Sox' central asset, the rotation. Should we be worried?

Not yet. I haven't done a systematic study, but because of DirecTV's free preview of their fan-crack called MLB Extra Innings, I've seen a lot of games so far, and a lot of good pitchers are getting hammered -- Barry Zito for one. As a convenient excuse, I'm going to blame the so-called World Baseball Classis, which fouled up spring training routines for virtually every team.

That said, so far, the White Sox have 2003 Angels written on their foreheads... time to grab the washcloths and the Lava.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Casual Conversations

Over at Black Betsy, each game so far this season has been the subject of what's called an "ERV box score". Essentially, what SuperNoVa is doing is computing the net change in expected run value between two situations and crediting the batter with it. I'm sure he's published which matrix he's using. I had wondered about doing a similar thing every since I picked up a copy of The Hidden Game of Baseball by John Thorne and Pete Palmer two decades ago. Palmer developed the matrix as a basis for his linear weights method (LWTS). SuperNoVa actually did it.

(Aside: I didn't actually like Hidden Game, by the way; I didn't like the "I've got a secret and I'm willing to share it with you" tone of the book. Hidden Game reads like a college professor teaching a lecture hall of 500 students with a big VU-graph projector, absolutely certain that his information is infallible. The rival Bill James Baseball Abstracts of the time were like a seminar taught in a bar; you were with friends, and this guy James was always careful to explain how his formulas were created, and to assert that they were quite imperfect, but they were the best ones he had. The Palmer/Thorne book was off-putting where the James books were inviting. I have no idea who was "more accurate".)

I don't think the method is perfect, by the way. It has three obvious weaknesses, all related to lack of context, and all only pratically "corrected for" by assuming "all else is equal":
  • The batter is not the only factor in the outcome. Not only the pitcher is important; the fielders, ballpark, and umpires all can change the "expected" outcome of an at-bat. A two-out bases-loaded grounder in the hole that is incorrectly called "safe" on the throw to second would score as a +1.00 instead of the earned value, which is negative. (I'd say how negative but I can't locate my copy of Hidden Game.)
  • All situations don't have equal best-case or worst-case scenarios. A way to improve the method, I think, would assess both the change in expected value and the best and worst case scenarios possible for each situtation, and grade the outcome as a percentage, perhaps called "Net ERV efficiency". I don't think this is a substitute for the raw numbers, but as a separate metric it would be meaningful.
  • All situations don't have equal leverage. This is best solved with win probabilities, which other people have done.
So it's not perfect, but it is probably very useful. I think the Net ERV per plate apperance, the average Net ERV efficiency, and the Win Probability Score would make a very interesting (and inter-related) trio of numbers to go with the New Holy Trinity (AVG,OBP, and SLG).

As I wrote, I insist I did think of this idea twenty years ago; but I discarded it because I assumed somebody had already done it and discovered that it wasn't worth the extra work as it closely tracked the New Holy Trinity. Why? Because, over the course of a season, "All Else Is Equal". Now I'm wise enough to believe it's never been done (much) because it's been too much work, and twenty years ago, before STATS and Project Scoresheet/Retrosheet and the cornucopia on the Web, getting play-by-play data for most major league baseball games was impossible unless you got a scoresheet (or you kept it yourself).

What would be most interesting is if there were sustainable season-to-season correlations between (ERV/PA,NERV,WPS) that didn't track the New Holy Trinity, because it would mean that the idea of "productive outs" truly does have more merit than the majority "All Else Is Equal" crowd insists!

Working My Way Back To You (1-2)

I didn't post a thing in spring training. The reason why is pretty simple: it's hard to get worked up about meaningless spring training games when your team won the World Series. But now they count again, and the opening shots are fired. And I'm roused by kind words from Super Nova at the always must-read Black Betsy. (I only wish I'd thought of his excellent Cato pun, Minnesota Twins delenda est first. If his link brought you here, welcome to my own little bit of White Sox insanity.)

The White Sox won a rain-soaked opener in a blowout, lost a blowout, then lost a hard-fought 1-run 11-inning game in their opening series. Having actually won a 1-run game against the White Sox, Indian fans are planning their postseason already. Some White Sox fans are already considering which brand of straight razor would be most effective.
  • Ozzie's being roasted in blog-effigy for using Boone Logan to face Travis Hafer with a one-run lead in the eighth in game 3. Hafner, of course, tagged a solo shot to tie the game. This ignores the obvious point that, in game 2, Logan had coaxed a GiDP from Hafner, and that Hafner's career stats against LHP are (.242/.353/.418). So, should Cotts have been in the game at that point? Well, maybe, but both pitchers had racked up 30 pitches in game 2, and Neil wasn't terribly effective when he did pitch. Sooner or later you have to let Logan face the Hafners of the world, or else you have to get somebody else to do it. Given that, I think Guillen's risk was worthwhile, especially since we are discussing the tying run, and not the go-ahead run, in a home game.
  • Konerko looks like he's carrying the weight of his offseason contract. He had two chances to win the game, in the ninth with the winning run at second and two outs, and in the eleventh with the tying run at first, and struck out both times. He went 1 for 13 despite facing mostly pitchers he's pounded (Cliff Lee, 7-for-21 with 2 homers; Westbrook, 13-for-35 with five extra base hits).
  • In general, you can't worry too much about losing 2 of 3 when you can see most of your players playing well below their norms. Konerko's not the only one sucking; Podsednik 0 for 13; Uribe, 1 for 9; Crede, 1 for 6. Considering that Thome, Pierzynski, and Iguchi ripped the cover off the ball, you can't say it was all Cleveland pitching. Several of the hitters were just out of synch.
  • Further, both Garcia and Buehrle were just awful. Both pitchers have very long track records, and certainly you expect them to turn it around.
The White Sox send Garland, Vazquez, and Buehrle against the Royals. I'm sure they aren't looking forward to it.