Wednesday, February 27, 2013

MLB's Top 100 Players right now list is insane.

Each year MLB network airs a series of specials revealing their top 100 players coming in to the new season. Below is the complete list but before that, some initial thoughts:

Why is Ryan Howard here at all? I am just going to go ahead and say this, Ryan Howard is not a good baseball player. 9 years ago he was very good, he had one stellar year and then a few very good years. In the last three seasons he has been average at best and terrible at worst (his last three seasons WAR were -.1.0, 1.7 and 1.4). He strikes out constantly, can't hit lefties, doesn't get on base a lot and his power numbers are trending lower every year, yup that's your 100th best player in baseball.

Snubs : Obviously with a list of 100 guys you won't get too many flat out snubs but I see two glaring omissions here - Aaron Hill and Ben Zobrist. Hill posted a slash of .302/.360/.522 with 26 home runs while barely missing any games, I am guessing the knock against him is that he only had a great 2012 and the list is supposed to factor in three seasons but c'mon, Trout is # 1. The Zorilla remains a great player. He puts up above average offensive stats and continues to be the Shane Battier of baseball who kills it with stellar base running, defense and other hard to quantify stats.

They got #1 right: Mike Trout is the best player in baseball and should have been MVP this year. I am glad MLBN acknowledged this.

What will it take for R.A. Dickey to get some mother lovin' respect? Anybody who read this blog knows that it is largely devoted to trying to get people to respect how good Dickey is. R.A had quietly excellent seasons in 2010 and 2011 after which I felt he was one of the best pitchers in baseball, many people disagreed. The guy then comes out in 2012, wins a Cy Young, has one of the most dominant months of any pitcher ever, essentially invents a new kind of knuckleball, throws multiple one hitters and leads the leauge in IP and K's and comes in second for ERA and Wins. But how does MLBN rank him on their list...50. 50? 50! 50!!!

I mean this is honestly absurd. By any metric over the last three years R.A has been one of the best pitchers in baseball and was top 3 in 2012 and the best they can do is 50? For what it's worth, I think R.A. is the best pitcher in baseball, I can accept arguments that Verlander and King Felix are better but anyone else is not in the conversation. Even more so, in 2013, Dickey is going to be even better than last year.

Dickey rant over. The full list is below, shoot me tweets or comments with your thoughts.


100. Ryan Howard – 1B – Philadelphia Phillies

99. Sergio Romo – CL – San Francisco Giants

98. Yu Darvish – SP – Texas Rangers

97. Elvis Andrus – SS – Texas Rangers

96. Chase Utley – 2B – Philadelphia Phillies

95. Adrian Gonzalez – 1B – Los Angeles Dodgers

94. Jacoby Ellsbury – OF – Boston Red Sox

93. Victor Martinez – C/DH – Detroit Tigers

92. Jordan Zimmermann – SP – Washington Nationals

91. Michael Bourn – CF – Cleveland Indians

90. Aroldis Chapman – P – Cincinnati Reds

89. Adam Wainwright – SP – St. Louis Cardinals

88. Jon Lester – SP – Boston Red Sox

87. Mike Moustakas – 3B – Kansas City Royals

86. Brett Lawrie – 3B – Toronto Blue Jays

85. Michael Morse – 1B/LF – Seattle Mariners

84. Allen Craig – 1B – St. Louis Cardinals

83. Torii Hunter – RF – Detroit Tigers

82. Carlos Beltran – RF – St. Louis Cardinals

81. Carlos Ruiz – C – Philadelphia Phillies

80. Brian McCann – C – Atlanta Braves

79. Miguel Montero – C- Arizona Diamondbacks

78. Curtis Granderson – CF – New York Yankees

77. Jim Johnson – CL – Baltimore Orioles

76. Jason Motte – CL – St. Louis Cardinals

75. Ian Desmond – SS – Washington Nationals

74. Chase Headley – 3B – San Diego Padres

73. Adam LaRoche – 1B – Washington Nationals

72. Yovani Gallardo - SP - Milwaukee Brewers

71. Madison Bumgarner – SP – San Francisco Giants

70. Alex Gordon – LF – Kansas City Royals

69. B.J. Upton – CF – Atlanta Braves

68. James Shields – SP – Kansas City Royals

67. David Freese – 3B – St. Louis Cardinals

66. J.J. Hardy – SS – Baltimore Orioles

65. Kyle Lohse – SP – St. Louis Cardinals

64. Wade Miley – SP – Arizona Diamondbacks

63. Johnny Cueto – SP – Cincinnati Reds

62. Jonathan Papelbon – CL – Philadelphia Phillies

61. Mariano Rivera – CL – New York Yankees

60. David Ortiz – DH – Boston Red Sox

59. Jason Heyward – RF – Atlanta Braves

58. Austin Jackson – CF – Detroit Tigers

57. Zack Greinke – SP – Los Angeles Dodgers

56. Chris Sale – SP – Chicago White Sox

55. Billy Butler – DH – Kansas City Royals

54. Bryce Harper – LF – Washington Nationals

53. Derek Jeter – SS – New York Yankees

52. Starlin Castro – SS – Chicago Cubs

51. Troy Tulowitzki – SS – Colorado Rockies

50. R.A. Dickey – SP – Toronto Blue Jays

49. Gio Gonzalez – SP – Washington Nationals

48. Matt Wieters – C – Baltimore Orioles

47. A.J. Pierzynski – C- Texas Rangers

46. Roy Halladay – SP – Philadelphia Phillies

45. Matt Cain – SP – San Francisco Giants

44. Pablo Sandoval – 3B – San Francisco Giants

43. Josh Willingham – LF – Minnesota Twins

42. Yoenis Cespedes – LF – Oakland Athletics

41. Matt Holliday – LF – St. Louis Cardinals

40. Ian Kinsler – 2B – Texas Rangers

39. Edwin Encarnacion – 1B – Toronto Blue Jays

38. Joe Mauer – C – Minnesota Twins

37. Jered Weaver – SP – Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

36. Jay Bruce – RF – Cincinnati Reds

35. Justin Upton – LF – Atlanta Braves

34. Dustin Pedroia – 2B – Boston Red Sox

33. Paul Konerko – 1B – Chicago White Sox

32. Aramis Ramirez - 3B Milwaukee Brewers

31. Brandon Phillips – 2B – Cincinnati Reds

30. Carlos Gonzalez – LF – Colorado Rockies

29. Ryan Zimmerman – 3B – Washington Nationals

28. Jose Bautista – RF – Toronto Blue Jays

27. Craig Kimbrel – CL – Atlanta Braves

26. Stephen Strasburg – SP – Washington Nationals

25. Jose Reyes – SS – Toronto Blue Jays

24. Yadier Molina – C – St. Louis Cardinals

23. Adam Jones – CF – Baltimore Orioles

22. David Wright – 3B – New York Mets

21. Buster Posey – C – San Francisco Giants

20. Cole Hamels – SP – Philadelphia Phillies

19. Cliff Lee – SP – Philadelphia Phillies

18. CC Sabathia – SP – New York Yankees

17. Andrew McCutchen – CF – Pittsburgh Pirates

16. Evan Longoria – 3B – Tampa Bay Rays

15. Giancarlo Stanton – RF – Miami Marlins

14. Albert Pujols – 1B – Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

13. Adrian Beltre – 3B – Texas Rangers

12. David Price – SP – Tampa Bay Rays

11. Prince Fielder – 1B – Detroit Tigers

10. Josh Hamilton – RF – Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

9. Joey Votto – 1B – Cincinnati Reds

8. Robinson Cano – 2B – New York Yankees

7. Felix Hernandez – SP – Seattle Mariners

6. Ryan Braun - LF - Milwaukee Brewers

5. Clayton Kershaw – SP – Los Angeles Dodgers

4. Matt Kemp – CF – Los Angeles Dodgers

3. Miguel Cabrera – 3B – Detroit Tigers

2. Justin Verlander – SP – Detroit Tigers

1. Mike Trout – LF – Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Over/unders are here!!!

It's like Christmas morning, meets bracket day, meets the two weeks when the McRib comes back each year. Yes it is one of the finest days of the gambling year, the day when MLB regular season over/unders come out. This is not a specific day, some books had them out two weeks ago and Jonah Keri already wrote about it for Grantland but the day you care about is the day the ones you are going to bet are available.  Just a warning if you don't really care about this topic or baseball gambling in general, you might want to avoid the blog for a month or so. This is pretty much what we are going to be talking about.

My grand plan for the year is bet on all thirty team over/unders. Most of these will be small bets just to have some skin in the game because a lot of these lines are tough picks but their are a few locks I have my eyes on too that might get big wagers. Throughout the month I will post my picks and the research behind them. Some initial thoughts:

The AL east can't all be good: These are the lines for the AL East:


Logic would dictate the division cant all finish this high so some teams have to go under. Last year all but one division in baseball had a team finish with under 70 wins and the remainder (the four team Al West) had one at 75. It would seem that at least one of these teams is a sure under. For my money it's Boston. they didn't make big upgrades this off-season and I see no reason why they should be significantly better than their 69 win season last year.

I respect that the linemakers saw the luck the Orioles had last year and gave them a low line despite being a 90+ win team in 2012, it really shows some sophistication. That being said 78.5 is probably close to the mark for them, I like the under but it won't be much.

They got the Mets right: The line for our Mets is at 75, which seems just about perfect. Again I might bet the under here as we barely limped to 74 wins last year and we had the benefit of a lucky first half and a Cy Young winner. In the same vein I won't be at all shocked if we get to 76 or 77 (but not the 80 PECOTA has for us, that's just ridiculous).

Can you really do worse than 59? The two lowest lines come in at 59.5 for our class of '62 pledge brother Houston Atsros and 63.5 for the Marlins. I am always tempted to take the over when the lines get really low like this. I honestly believe it is difficult to win less than 60. Obviously this happens (the Atsros themselves did it with 55 last year) but I still think it is a somewhat reliable bet. Who know's with the Marlins? Like James Bond in Skyfall , the Marlins skill is resurrection. We have watched the owners of this squad gut the entire team on multiple occasions then come back and be successful a year later, so I just cant count them out.

I will be back as Spring training continues with detailed analysis and picks for each team.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

My Daytona 500 live blog part 2

1:09 -  Fifty Cent just tried to kiss Erin Andrews on the lips and is now following her around as they both fail to locate Danica Patrick, this is truly riveting television.

1:10 - Wow the Daytona 500 features a televised, pre race invocation. I have literally never seen that before a sporting event. Now a guy from Zac Brown's band who isn't Zac Brown is signing the national anthem, seems like an odd choice.

1:16 - How come tv technology does not allow me to just watch four programs at once on a split screen? This seems so logical to me. As much as I am enjoying the 500 so far I am missing, golf, spring training baseball and La Liga.

1:18 - Watching these drivers get strapped into their games is pretty surreal. Danica had tubes coming into her helmet for a purpose that was unclear.

1:25 - These guys have giant neck brace car seats and black mesh on the windows. Do they have any peripheral vision, is that safe?

1:31 - OK this race is finally happening. How on earth does this work?! They are just riding along in two straight lines? How does anyone pass anyone else?

1:35 -  That problem seems to have solved itself, the lines have broken and leads are changing already. This is kind of exciting.

1:36 -  I have no idea what I am even supposed to watching for. Jeff Gordon is in the lead but I don't think that matters. This just feels so dangerous to watch.

1:38 - They keep the race on in a sidebar during commercials? This is he best sports idea ever.

1:43 -  Their are commercials promoting NASCAR during NASCAR commercial breaks. IN fact pretty much of all these commercials reference the race in some way.

2:00 - Just saw my first crash. It was terrible, cars seem pretty wrecked and run off the track yet the announcers see pretty blase about it. I guess crashing isn't a big deal?

2:07 - So it appears that crashing does not out you out of the race, it looks like they are gonna try and patch up Cokey Cokeart and send him back out there.

2:08 - This in-car gyro cam really makes you understand how crazy the degrees on these turns on. It looks like they are driving sideways on some of them.

2:38 -  The dynamic of how the crash reflects the outcome is incredible. A few drivers who appeared to be top 5 favorites are now out, easy to see how upsets happen in this sport.

2:39 -  I am going to watch for a while and try to figure out what's happening. I will make sure to post some further reflections later.

My Daytona 500 live blog.

Sabrmetrics teaches us to question what we traditionally consider to be true and find true value through data. In many ways my discovery of sabrmetrics and the adoption of this core mission into my everyday life has really changed me for the better. If Wins and OPS aren't what I thought they were, what else am I wrong about? As this is a sports blog I can share that how this idea has changed how I watch sports in many ways. Certainly it has led me to learn more about advanced metrics in other sports but it has also led me to simply watch new sports. I grew up thinking soccer was stupid but I never really watched any games, I gave it a chance and now it's one of my favorite sports. I hated hockey and decided to watch it a bunch to see how I really proves it still sucks.

This brings me today where for the first time in my life, I am watching NASCAR. I have never had even the slightest intrest in watching NASCAR but today I am going to actually give it a chance. I will be watching the Daytona 500 and live blogging as I go. Feel free to tweet or comment at me with any thoughts about the race.

12:12 - I am watching the pre game show and they are making a big deal about the new Generation six cars. Apparently they are debuting all new cars this year. I have a feeling these cars won't look as futuristic as I hope.

12:13 - So what do I know about NASCAR right now? I know probably four of five drivers. I am aware of Danica Patrick and Dale Earnhardt JR. I just learned about Juan Pablo Montoya and I already like him, he seems like some sort of international gentleman driver. I am also aware that drifting exists.

12:15 - I once went to the Daytona 500 track so see what it was all about. It was closed so I went next door to (no joke) the adjoining dog track. It was exactly as depressing as you would imagine. I was their with my buddy who is a veterinarian which I thought would give me a huge edge. He informed he had no ability to judge which dogs were faster, but if given some time he could determine which had worms. Attached to the dog track is an even more depressing poker room full of people trying to turn their last ten bucks into that precious twenty bucks so they could afford a single lap dance at one of Daytona's many fine gentlemans clubs.

12:20 - Watching a short doc about Clint Boyer. He is driving around in a huge camouflage car with bull horns mounted on the front. He is describing how he hates offices and can't read more than a page of a book without getting bored and needing "action". This is both incredibly stereotypical yet quite charming.

12:28 - Seeing some familiar faces here, Erin Andrews is interviewing some driver who is talking like a real world housemate. He keeps saying he likes to ruffle feathers and cause controversy to see who's "real". I love these personalities already.

12:29 - Are their NASCAR stats?

12:32 - Zac Brown is performing, this is can get behind. Although it's one of his island songs which I am not a fan of. Also what's up with Zac's wool hat? Is this a trademark or is his head just cold a lot.

12:44 - Driver introductions on now. They are playing poorly amplified apocalyptic music and the drivers are very casually walking out to minimal applause. The production value is really low in this section, they are walking onto a tiny stage with humorously small fireworks going off periodically  They could learn a lesson from pro wrestling here... that sound's like Dave Blainey's music!

12:48 - Tony Stewart walks out boldly brandishing a bottle of coke and showing it directly to the camera then holding it up to the crowd. They should just announce him as Cokey Cokeart driving the Coke car.

12:50 - As Danica came out they announced her as the pole sitter. I know this has something to do with her starting position but the unintentional humor can't be denied.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Mets Outfield Projections

Grantland took a break from recapping episodes of Girls and writing oral histories of the tuck rule game to post a pretty solid article about how bad the Mets outfield will be this year. It's a premise I generally agree with but thought it would be fun to take a look at some Bill James predictions of the Mets outfield and see just how bad they might end up. Seriously is there anything better than it being almost Spring and spending all day looking at PECOTA and Bill James projections? There should be a Robert Frost poem about it....


As you can see these numbers are all pretty awful but certainly not as bad as Grantland made them out to be. You have two guys with above average OBP and one right at league average, SLG  and BA numbers are low and below average but no embarrassingly so. Duda's .454 is not the worse and Baxter's .276 is totally serviceable. I think we could estimate that if these numbers play out and they play similar defense to what they did last year we are looking at each of these guys producing about one win above replacement each.

We shouldn't get the impression the Outfield is dragging down the team, they are just a bunch of average to below average players on a team of so so guys. They are no worse than  our Catchers or bullpen and our occasionally inconsistent 1st and 2nd base options.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Michael Bourn Projections

The rumors of the Mets signing Michael Bourn have continued longer than I would have expected and at this point have to be taken seriously. I thought it would be useful to take a look at his 2013 projections and see what we are potentially getting ourselves into. I used two projection systems both found on Fangraphs: the Bill James annual predictions and the Fans predictions, which are basically crowd sourced player projections. Here is what we got for Bourn:

Bill James
no projection

These numbers are nothing shocking and generally in line with what Bourn has done most years. He is also projected to steal between 40-49 bags differing by system and have a K% of around 20, right in line with his average. Bourn's strikeouts are an interesting question. How much should we care about a guy who strikes a lot if he still gets on base at a rate of better than league average? His career OBP is a respectable .339, he overcomes his prodigious striking out with good hitting and speed. He has a career BABIP of .343 and outperforms league average almost every year. This is far too consistent to be luck, he is just legging out singles most guys can't make. I think at the end of the day his OBP makes his K% less of a worry but it makes me imagine how awesome he could be if cut down the strike outs.

Bourn's other big skill is stealing, which I think we should not factor in. Bourn has pretty reliably gotten caught stealing around 25% of the time which is a pretty bad rate. The value of a steal is much less than the detriment of being caught stealing and having a guy get caught one out of every four times is not something I am all that interested in.

At the end of the day I don't see this signing happening. If it does and it gets done for reasonable years and money Bourn can be a very useful player for the team as they slowly march towards relevance.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

What if we had a two year NFL season?

The Superbowl is over and once again I am left wondering the same thing, what exactly does winning the Superbowl mean? Were the Ravens the best team in football? Does winning the Superbowl make you the best team in the NFl or do we have to factor in the rest of the season as well? As a follower of statistics I tend to believe the latter. I think everyone would agree that the Broncos and the Patriots were the consensus best teams in football this year and that multiple other teams (Seahawks, Falcons, Niners and Texans to name a few) had better years than Baltimore. But yet here we sit with Baltimore as the World Champions and the rest of those teams as, well, nothing.

The goal of the NFL is not to establish who the best football team is, the goal of the NFL is to win the Superbowl. The season has two distinct halves, neither of which have much to do with the other. In the regular season the goal is to get into the playoffs, ideally you want enough wins to get either a bye or home field advantage but generally just getting in is the goal. Winning as many games as possible helps but after awhile, wins become kind of meaningless and we are treated to the annual absurdity of teams not trying to win in the final week (or occasional two weeks). After this the playoffs begin and as the Ravens showed us, nothing that came before mattered. Once you are in the playoffs you are essentially playing a new season and everyone is on the same ground. The playoffs are of course single elimination, which means that better teams routinely lose to lesser teams on freak plays, off days or bad luck. The NFL playoffs embrace chaos.

All American sports are the same but most not as egregious as football. In baseball lesser teams can combine skill and luck over the course of a season and make the playoffs over more talented squads but they usually get weeded out over the course of multiple long series (I'm looking at you every Oakland A's team of the last 12 years). While often times the best team in a given year does not the win World Series, the winner is usually a top club as the roughly 200 games they play tends to weed out a lot of luck. The long NBA season and crushingly long seven game series playoff model also serves a similar function of weeding out many elements of chance. The NFL has none of this, it's rare combination of a very short season and single elimination playoff model all but assures that luck is almost as important in skill when it comes to winning the Superbowl.

The most extreme example of this was in 2008. The Patriots finished the regular season with an all time best 16-0 record and went on to lose to the 10-6 Giants (who lost their division by three games) largely because of a play that was complete and utter dumb luck. The narrative of that season is now that the 2008 Giants were the best football team that year and the Patriots, who by all accounts had one of the best football seasons ever, were not. Now you may say this is part of the game. This is what makes football special and I can't disagree with that, it is part of the charm of the game. However I think it would be interesting to explore how we might create a system that would largely eliminate luck from the game and truly reward the best football team each year: So let's once again summon Uatu the Watcher and imagine... what if the NFL had a two year season!?

Outrageous! Blasphemy! Maybe, but hear me out. Instead of having a normal 16 week season followed by playoffs we adopt a new system that plays out over two years. Here is how I imagine it would work:  The first year teams play a twenty game regular season that runs on the same September to February schedule we have now. This season then breaks for the Spring and Summer and begins again the next September and plays nine more regular season games for a total of a 29 game regular season.

After this we move into the playoffs. Their are no wildcards and only divisional winners advance. The Divisional and Conference championships consist of best of three games match up with each team getting a home game and the third game going to the team with the better record. The best part? The Superbowl is a five game series! You may have to wait two years for it but when it comes you get potentially five Superbowls in a row. No additional games have been played under this system, the Superbowl teams will play a maximum of 40 games over two years, exactly the same as now.

Obviously this system still allows for luck and chance but the odds of less talented teams advancing are shrunk considerably. The longer 29 game season will ensure that only the best teams who can sustain long periods of success will make the playoffs. In addition the mid year break gives teams a chance to overcome injuries or other mitigating circumstances that might prevent them from playing as well as possible.The playoff system is still imperfect  teams can easily luck their way through three and five game series but the odds of it happening are much lower with each game we add. In short, this system promotes better teams making the playoffs. It gives you better football.

One problem with this system is how it affects the bad teams. Jacksonville Jaguars fans will be stuck watching 29 weeks of meaningless football and waiting two year intervals for any chance of their team to make the playoffs again. I think we can solve this by also solving one of footballs other big problems, it's draft system. Currently football teams are rewarded for finishing last with the top draft picks the following year. This leads to a system where after it becomes clear you can't make the post season you essentially have no incentive to win games. In fact, winning games after you are eliminated from post season contention actually hurts your overall chances of winning in future years. Under my new system we will invert this process. The teams that make the playoffs will be immediately get the bottom draft picks in order to encourage parity. After that the #1 draft pick will go to the team with the best regular season record and on down the line. This will ensure that every team will be playing hard to win every single game regardless of whether they can make the playoffs or not. You will still have something to root for in week 29 even if it's not a shot at the Superbowl.

I think the best proof a system like this could work can be seen in European soccer leagues  The English Premier League is often derided for it's lack of parity. Since it's modern reorganization in 1992 only five teams have the championship. One of those teams, Manchester United, has won it twelve times. This is because the EPL has a system that rewards the best clubs. Teams play a 38 game season, at the end of the season the team with the best record wins it at all. Their are no playoffs and the season is long enough to make sure only the best teams can compete. The only reason the league lacks parity is because the best teams always win, which in the NFL is not the case.