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. This technique can be compared to a technique in artistic images, which can be read about in the exposition definition literature. 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.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Hockey stats, Czech dominance and Howie Rose.

The first exposure I had to Hockey was the classic NES game "Ice Hockey". Ice Hockey taught me a few things about the game, some of which later turned out to be false.

1) Hockey is played with five guys. Seriously I found out this was wrong last week.
2) Hockey teams need to have a strong mix of small, medium and super fat players in order to be successful. The fat guys are the best at scoring goals while the small ones are good at face-offs. It turns out none of that is at all accurate.

3) Czechoslovakia is a dominant hockey nation, this turned out to be true.

Being a stats guy I have started delving into the world of Hockey stats. Frankly I don't like what I am seeing so far. Why is points a thing? Maybe it's my lack of familiarity with the sport but this seems like a wholly unnecessary statistic. Why can't I just look at Goals and Assists separately? This statistic seems to give them equal value but from what I can tell, Goals have more value than Assists. If two players each have 20 points and one has 15 goals and 5 assists and the other guy has the opposite, wouldn't the guy with 10 more goals be the more productive player? This seems like making a baseball statistic that is just the sum of hits and runs.  Maybe someone who knows more about Hockey can explain this to me.

I realized last night that Howie Rose, the voice of the Mets on the radio, is also the Islanders TV announcer. This makes me instantly like the Islanders more and ensures I will be watching more of their games. I also saw that the Washington Capitals just won their first game yesterday, mirroring their city mates The Wizards who took the longest time to win an NBA game this year. I have yet to see the defending champion Kings play a game yet so I will give them a watch tonight. After about a week of watching I remain as clueless as ever and still don't understand icing.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Thoughts on the Marcum signing.

Sweet cap bro.

The Mets signed Shaun Marcum to a one year deal today. Marcum is one of those guys that Fantasy players know all too well, a just good enough pitcher to get drafted late in deeper leagues or pick up for spot starts in shallow ones. Also file under this category: Bruce Chen and Tim Wakefield. Marcum has been up and down in his career and could really go either way in 2013. I would not be surprised to see him pitch a full season, win over ten games and have a mid three's ERA just as I wouldn't be surprised to see him pitch 100 innings and have an ERA over four. You just can't be sure with Marcum.

Marcum looks like an OK pitcher with standard stats. He has had two seasons of more than ten wins and a career ERA of 3.76. His career xFIP was higher at 4.21 indicating his ERA might be a bit inflated by good defense and luck. His peripheral stats are also not that amazing. His career k/9 is 7.32 which is good but not great and his career walks per 9 is also a just OK 2.77, again not awful but nothing to be excited about. His hr/9 is a frightening 1.22 which is amongst the worst in baseball.

In many ways Marcum strikes me as a guy whose good seasons may have been a combination of luck, circumstance and minimal skill. When you give up a homer a game and don't strike too many guys out, it's going to be a tough year. Fortunately circumstances are with him in 2013, he will be playing in the NL and at a pitchers park, so their is no reason his past successes cant be repeated.

This is sort of  the kind of signing I was advocating the Mets should make it. In a year when we have no chance of being competitive the Mets should be seeking out players who need to have come back years and will take one year deals to prove themselves. It gives the Mets a few more wins in a meaningless 2013 while not tying them to any bad contracts in future more competitive years. Frankly I was hoping they would sign some guys like this that would also be name players that would make it a little more exciting to watch Mets baseball, someone like Melky Cabrera. While Marcum fills a gap usefully on the rotation he is hardly the kind of guy anyone is clamoring for.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Gettin' to know Landon Powell

Last week the Mets signed free agent Catcher Landon Powell to a minor league contract. Powell came out of the awesomely named Apex High School (Go Cougars!) in Apex, NC where he left early but failed to be drafted after Scott Boras apparently failed to inform MLB clubs that he was eligible to be drafted. Powell ended up at USC where he played in the College World Series.

Powell went on the A's where he has been less than stellar. In 403 major league at-bats he put a meager .207/.284/.328. His minor league numbers are better but generally inconsistent. His best AAA season was in 2008 when he hit 15 homers and put a respectable .360 OBP. Unfortunately I dont think Powell has much of a future. He is 30 and he hasn't broken through yet. His stats show a guy who has consistently done or two things good enough to keep around but not someone who will have long term success in the show. Signing with the Mets is probably a solid career move for him. The Mets have questionable catching and will probably be in an experimental mode while they bide their team for a competitive 2014, so maybe he gets some AB's and can produce something.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Hockey is confusing and long.

I watch a lot of sports. I only blog about the Mets and baseball but I am a regular viewer and follower of most other US sports at the college and pro level and a few international sports as well. Pretty much the only sports I don't follow are auto racing and Hockey. This is the story of my attempt to fix that, at least on the hockey end.

Growing up I didn't really know anything about Hockey and no one I knew seemed to follow it. I know that Rangers won the Stanley Cup while I was living in NY and remember not only not caring but actively thinking that it was weird how little people seemed to care about the fact that a local sports team won a championship. Later in life I lived in places where hockey was popular and once a year I would say I was getting into hockey, watch it for twenty minutes, then give up. Well this year I am trying again and blogging about it, largely because the baseball off season is so slow right now and I need something to write about.

The Hockey season began today and so far I have watched two games. A Pennsylvania Derby between the Penguins and the Flyers and a Rangers - Bruins game, which I assume is a rivalry since it between Boston and New York but I really don't know. As I type this I am catching the end of a Montreal Canadiens and Toronto (no idea) game, it features charming plugs for CBC police procedurals airing after it ends. So far I would describe my first experience of all day hockey watching as confusing and I hate to say it.. boring.

Hockey is a really, really long game. Interminably long. I mean, it has two half times and the clock seems to stop constantly. After watching Hockey for eight hours my first recommendation is that they should get rid of one of the periods, three seems excessive. It is also really hard to follow, half the time it seems the camera operators have trouble finding the puck, what luck do I have? I know that at one point they made the puck colored on TV so people could see it. Apparently this was unpopular because they don't do it anymore, but I am not sure why.

In general I have no idea what is happening on the ice half the time. Let's begin with I do know about hockey.
  • I understand the essential basics. I know the puck goes in the net and what not.
  • I know that their is icing and off-sides and that one of them involves the blue line, I have no idea what either means, what the penalty is or how you commit these offenses. I used to turn it off in NHL 94 so I never learned.
  • I know their is fighting and from what I can tell it is against the rules but also seems allowed. This is very confusing.
  • I know the LA Kings won the Stanley Cup but aren't expected to repeat. I don't understand why the Canadian teams don't just dominate this sport.
  • Unlike NHL 94 the real sport dosen't appear to have the "one timer" or the ability to do the thing where you skate from behind the goal and score easily.

That's about it.

As the season moves forward I will continue to watch and try to understand this mysterious and confusing sport. Maybe by the end I will be able to understand icing...

Friday, January 18, 2013

Rafael Soriano is worth more than Dickey.

Which one of these statements is true? R.A. Dickey is underpaid or Rafael Soriano is overpaid? Probably both, but I don't even know how to properly value contracts anymore. Their doesn't appear to be any normal baseline for what players should be making to judge contracts against. This was the off-season in which Angel Pagan got a forty million dollar contract after a sub par season and Anibal Sanchez signed with the Tigers for EIGHTY MILLION DOLLARS. By this logic we would have to assume that R.A. Dickey (2 years,25 mil) is marginally worse than Soriano (2 years, 28 mil) and that Sanchez is over three times better than R.A.

A simple WAR analysis shows Dickey as the clearly better pitcher:


I know many people don't like WAR but I think Dickey blows these two out of the water in any statistical category you can find, he would even win the much maligned "eye test". Frankly Dickey is better than about 99% of all players right now including every single NL pitcher is the Cy Young Award means anything. What's the point of all this? Baseball players get screwy contracts all the time, A-Rod is the current beneficiary of the wackiest contract of all time. I just felt it should be pointed out that Raf Soriano just got a better deal to go be the third closer in Washington than a twenty game winner did. I hope if he we hear this stuff often enough we might start to see how ludicrous it is and start giving Dickey the respect (and money) he deserves.