Playoffs

Starting Your Best Player, Third

I wanted to get this post out before the start of tonight’s game 6 game consisting of New York trying to force a game 7 against the Texas Rangers. There was an article on Fangraphs (that you can find here) last week discussing the effects of starting Cliff Lee (the Ranger’s best starting pitcher option) in games 3 and 7 (in game 7, if the series goes that far). A lot of writers have been chiming in discussing how starting Cliff in those games puts Texas at a disadvantage, since the game 7 start is not guaranteed. Thus the disadvantage stems from sending the best pitcher in the postseason out only once.

To summarize the article, Dave Cameron points to the idea that, assuming Cliff can win both his starts, the Rangers need to find ways to win at least two non-Cliff Lee games. Winning these games is independent of when Cliff Lee starts. Albeit, pitching match-ups are important, the message is still clear and simple: the Rangers still need to win two non-Cliff Lee games.

This discussion got me thinking more broadly about the psychology behind 7 game series.

The fact is most people view the goal of a 7 game series is to win 4 games first. Through the first 4 games of both championship series, teams were up 3-1. And then in game 5’s, both series went to 3-2. While most fans believe there’s bad history in clinching a series, the fact is the order of games won doesn’t matter. Each game is independent. For example, coming back from a 3-1 deficit to win a series would be the same as teams alternating wins to force a sudden death game 7. Maybe hearts are broken in the former, but the outcome is the same. All I’m trying to say is if New York or Philadelphia end up going to the world series, don’t be too sad, Texas/SF fans that your team couldn’t just win one more game. The order of the games won shouldn’t matter.

I think to prove my point, series would have to be played through 7 games, no matter if a team wins the first four (or any other combination of wins-losses that doesn’t force a game 7).

But the mentality of being one win away from advancing can be pretty heart-breaking when you still don’t advance. But I just don’t see the necessity in calling it ‘bad history’ when games are won independently of each other.

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Playoffs

Why the Yankees dominate Minnesota

As a fan and statistician, it is upsetting to think about the past 4 times Minnesota has played the Yankees in the playoffs. They have not one a single game against those Bombers; nothing to show or prove to fans of their successful season. A big fat zero in the win column. As Fangraphs points out, it’s almost illogical that one team can dominate like this over a span of 5+ years. The turnaround from each year’s team essentially makes each playoff match totally different from the year’s past. The only thing associating each year’s team together is team location and mascots.

So what’s the deal, Twin city? There one thing I noticed when watching the recent ALDS between the two teams.

It was obvious this team was scared from the seventh inning on. You could see it in how they played, and how commentators continually associated the bottom of the ninth with Mariano Rivera. Honestly in the post-season, I can see why such a reputation can be pretty intimidating. Especially with his manager’s low tolerance for trouble even in the eighth, he will turn to Mariano. So even if you muster a hit in the eighth, Joe Girardi will with no doubt bring out his big guns. Thus I don’t know how Minnesota could muster uup confidence in those situations. We saw it in the first two games. Minnesota blew a lead in the 6th, 7th innings, and couldn’t find their way out of the deficit. The Yankees are in the Twinkie’s heads. Better yet, Mariano Rivera is in the heads of the Twins.

And maybe this team is just too young. In the beginning of the year, i thought they were going to be great, anchored by a pitching staff including coming-of-age aces Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey. I still think fondly of these pitchers, but apparently they weren’t good enough to be slotted into the playoff rotation. Maybe we just haven’t seen the best of this Twins team. Better yet, we know each year’s team is drastically different, so why not be hopeful that the 2011 Twins > 2011 Yankees? It can happen.

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OffSeason

My New Year’s Resolution

So I feel bad for digressing from this blog…if you’ve been checking in from time to time, waiting for that one day to come for me to post…I’m sorry to you…you unkown reader, if there are any of you out there.

So a New Year’s Resolution (b/c everyone does it…) of mine: blog blog blog.

I thought it’d be fun to act like some of the other 30 GM’s of the major leagues.

New York Mets

Omar Minaya has been trying to fix his team so the 2010 version looks like absolute nothing like the 2009 version that collapsed on all sides of the field, and by the end of the season even a die hard Met fan couldn’t name half of the roster that came to be. Something the Mets have been known for is giving huge contracts to players over their prime and aging fast. So, for you Minaya, “I vow to not give out so much money to these aging ballplayers..*COUGH* except Jason Bay [5 year, $80 million]…” …Whoops, right?

Cincinnati Reds

This doesn’t have much to do with the Red’s GM, except that he recently signed 22 year old pitcher Aroldis Chapman [a phenom Cuban who signed for $30 million]. By doing this, he’s putting this fine prospect into the hands/care of Dusty Baker in a couple years when he’s up with the big club. Dusty Baker, you ask? He’s kinda been at the helm of top pitching prospects who have suffered numerous injuries in their careers [think Mark Prior, Kerry Wood]. Not saying it’s his fault, but he has been known to overwork these pitchers. So, Mr. Baker, your resolution entails to play it safe with Mr. Chap, as well as the rest of your pitching crew, especially Edinson Volquez who’s coming off season ending surgery.

New York Yankees

Brian Cashman: I will continue to flex my yankee blue power [AKA $$$] and keep the core players in tact for several years, so that by 2020, 8 more rings will be won. YANKEE POWER!

Oakland Athletics

Billy Beane: Yeah..I’ll keep ahead of most GM’s by going against the curve. Remember back when I liked fat catchers like Jeremy Brown eight years ago? While you guys are doing that now, you’ll be eaitng my left coast dust while I pick up suave-looking guys for my team. Hang-ten.

I tried to be funny at the end. Can’t you picture Billy Beane all relaxed and embracing his native San Diego vibe? [On the contrary, I’ve heard he yells a lot when he’s mad…and throws things..]

PS – It’s IceBat’s first New Years! He says hello to all you “loyal” readers.

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Playoffs

Postseason Play

It’s October already. Which means one thing: MLB playoffs! A lot of people like to predict who’s going to win, but that’s kinda boring to me (especially since a lot of the time, the commentators are completely wrong). What I am willing to discuss is what I think are the most important aspects of a team in order to get to the World Series. What makes the postseason so much different from the regular season? The most important difference is that the sample size (the amount of games played) shrinks from 162 to about less than 20 games. Obviously, that’s how it works in all playoff games, but it seems more important for baseball. Here it goes:

  • This point is somewhat taken from ‘Moneyball’. I’ve already expressed my opinion on pitcher’s volatility, but in the playoffs it seems like their variability in performance is utterly important to a team’s success. In all of baseball, the pitcher has the most control of a game. The Yankees might have the best offense this year on paper, but can they really match up against the best pitcher, on one of his good nights? I don’t think so. If a team is going to control the make up of a playoff series, they need their pitchers to either be in control (and are super super good), or are just on a really hot streak. So teams tend to have one or two for sure pitchers, with pitchers who could make or break a team’s chances. Luck’s on one team than the other perhaps? Back in the day, the A’s had three for sures, yet they couldn’t even get out of the first round (sigh). Shows how 2/3 won’t do, you need that coveted third win!!
  • Smallball is the strategy. The Angels did it a couple years back, so did the White Sox. What I mean about smallball is recognizing there will be no ‘big inning’; one run through advancing runners (no matter the cost) is more important than having to wish for a lucky home run. It’s evident you won’t get too many blowouts in the playoffs, there’s just too much on the line. Thus, smallball is used lots of time to sacrifice an out or two to advance a runner and bring him in via Sac Fly or something. This is an offense taking control of its own fate; once you get a single or double off a really good pitcher, it isn’t too hard to hit a sac fly off him. A pitcher isn’t going to give up much, thus an offense needs to make that hit meaningful. Out of 51 World Series games played in the past decade, only 14 have ended with a team winning by 4 or more.
  • What kills me is when people talk about a team’s offense being their focal point, and how it will carry them through the playoffs. For one thing, the sample size of the playoffs is so small, anything can happen! An offense can be just as good as they have been, or players can hit a cold streak. Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez would know. They’re on the best offense this season, yet they have yet to prove themselves in the small sample sizes of the past three or four post seasons they’ve been in. You can also see how this is true since we often see a very random, usually a role player of a team be the one to win the series MVP award. In recent memory: Mike Lowell (2007 WS), David Eckstein (2006 WS), or Placido Polanco (2006 ALCS). So, don’t et your hopes up this season if you’re a Yankee fan and expecting their offense to get them through the playoffs, despite a mediocre pitching staff behind CC Sabathia. It. Just. might. Not. Happen.

There are two teams in the playoffs this year that seem to fit the mold I’ve just talked about. The Phillies have a solid pitching staff with 2.5 for sures (Hamels, Martinez and Happ each count as half for sures) with 2.5 other ‘if they get lucky streaks’ pitchers. Their offense has been solid all season, but if they don’t hit well, Charilie Manuel is always looking to win one run difference games. Boston also has solid pitching with Beckett and Lester being the essence of for sures. Their issue is they haven’t been very successful against two of the other AL playoff teams: the Yankees and Angels. That’s why I think the AL is a bit iffy in calling the winner, it’s all up for grabs since it seems each team has a huge gaping hole. The NL, the Phillies just look like the best of the best, with the Cards giving them a good run for their money. The Dodgers? Sorry…I don’t believe in teams who drag their feet to the playoffs.

So who’s gonna win? I’ll ask IceBat next time I see him…

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Hitters

Is Derek Jeter worth $161 million?

derek-jeter

He has been known throughout his career as one of the most respectful, consistent baseball players of his era. Once known as the ‘big three’ shortstops with Alex Rodgriguez and Nomar Garciaparra, Jeter might be the only relevant player nowadays (with Garciaparra constantly injured and A-Rod with his name in the tabloids). It may be true he is a poster child for baseball, that his manner both on and off the field is the most desired by managers. Oh, and some consider him a meat head (i.e. Linda) or a cute guy with a nice butt (i.e. Hana). But the real question is, is Jeter worth the $161 million he has accumulated as salary for his services from the Yankees (and furthermore, is he worth the $189 million contract he received as a 26 year old)? Well, based on…:

Postseason Play

Jeter has appeared in 6 World Series, helping to win 4 of them and receiving MVP honors in the 2000 series. His career postseason numbers are very respectful as shown below:

G

123

PA

562

AB

495

R

85

H

153

2B

22

3B

3

HR

17

RBI

49

SB

16

CS

4

BB

51

K

96

AVG

.309

OBP

.377

SLG

.469

OPS

.846

But just because his statistics are favorable and the fact he was known as ‘Mr. November’ doesn’t tell the whole story. When people talk about postseason play, they regard players who do well under pressure as clutch players, that without them the team wouldn’t have been as successful. Jeter is one of those guys. The problem with weighting postseason play is that great playing ability might still be underperforming for a player, as is the case for Jeter. A statistic used known as Wins Probability Added shows that Jeter is at a -0.33 for his career in the postseason (from 2002-2007), while his WPA for his career during the same period is at a 13.85 clip .

What does this mean? Despite his great numbers in standard baseball statistics, it is evident after signing his huge contract he didn’t have much to offer the Yankees in the postseason. WPA doesn’t go far back enough to see how his play helped the Yankees to win the 4 world series rings, but this does show how he can’t be considered as Mr. November every postseason he is in. Fans give too much weight to a small sample such as 4 years, where players play only about 15 games max if they get to the World Series.

Defense

You might see Jeter make amazing looking plays in the field, but the truth of the matter is those plays would look like routine plays for top tier shortstops like Miguel Tejada in his prime. Jeter has been criticized for his small range and his footwork. His Ultimate Zone Rating (a statistic that sums the runs value a fielder adds to a team compared to an average replacement) has been consistently below average. Thus there is much skpeticism as to whether or not he deserves the numerous Gold Gloves (an award for elite defense) he has been awarded. Only starting this season has Jeter shown major improvement in fielding the toughest position in baseball.

Yankee Revenue

The Yankees, on average, receive about $300 million in revenue each season. Obviously, this figure changes each year, especially with this year’s arrival of the new palace Yankee Stadium. Over the past 10 years, the Yankees have received $81 million in extra revenue due to their post season success. How much of this can be credited to Jeter? As a ten time All-Star, it’s obvious New Yorkers come to see Jeter play day in and day out. In order to get to the playoffs, a team must have a solid regular season record. As I stated earlier, Jeter has a pretty high WPA for his career during the regular season. Thus, he can be attributed to both the economical success of the Yankees during the regular and post seasons. Merchandise and advertisement as the proud Yankee captain can also be credited to his name. Thus all said in done, it seems evident Jeter makes the Yankees a ton of money. He’s been on top of the boards almost every year in offensive statistics, as well as maintaining a leadership position in the world’s most scrutinized city, where tabloids can ruin your name (see Alex Rodriguez).

Say if Jeter was replaced by an average shortstop because they didn’t want to give him the money he ‘deserved’. New Yorkers would go mad and hang the owners of the Yankees, the Steinbrenner family. But what if the Yankees had an up and coming shortstop who had stellar defense and could hit on par with average major leaguers? Jeter has gaping holes in his fielding abilities, which makes his bat less of a threat. In 2005, the Yankees were the worst defense to have made it into the playoffs. With a cumulative UZR of -130, their offense made up for it with a sum of +139 runs added. It’s no wonder they’re called ‘the Bombers’, but with no fortified steel defense.

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Risk Aversion

Risk Aversion in Baseball?

People are risk averse. For example, we buy insurance plans so we’re not stressed too much about paying for car accidents or breaking a laptop. It’s a pretty big human characteristic; people like decreasing risks even though the probability of bad events occurring is relatively low. The high costs of paying for medical bills or paying for fire damage on a house is just too much for people to fathom, and thus that’s essentially how insurance companies make their money off us.

In baseball you see the exact opposite behavior from General Managers (GM’s). Instead of a consumer’s tendency to pay for insurance coverage, managers generously give to players in return for something never guaranteed: production on the field. I’ve listed and summarized below three main components of risk in the development, and signing of baseball players.

Signing free agents.

All teams need to sign free agents every off season to keep competitive, yet there are always contract agreements that baffle the typical fan. In many ways, you can’t fault the team for giving a player too much money; it’s the bidding war market and the suave talk of agents that inflate a player’s worth to a team. Many players find an incentive to increase their productivity in seasons heading into free agency, attempting to legitimize a hefty raise. This leads to an over-dramatization by  sports agents to paint a picture of exponential increases in production in all stat categories. What teams fail to see is that not even last year’s production numbers are insured. Barry Zito was given the insurance of making on average $18 million for the next 8 years, while the true ace of the Giants, Tim Lincecum, is making $650,000 this year. Obviously, Lincecum will get his payday in due time, but in pure production numbers, it’s evident Zito is not even worth half his salary. Last year, Zito won his first game two months into the season.

Addition of prospects to a ballclub.

Prospects signing through the MLB draft are often given huge bonuses (especially those drafted in the first round) despite never playing a single professional game. Sound familiar to the likes of free agents? Once again managers are willing to take risks on high school, college players who might not even get a chance to play in the majors for at least another year.  More interesting, is when managers are willing to trade their elite players for a batch of young prospects. It’s essentially trading in your money for a bond that will become liquid in four or five years. Except that it might or might not be there in most cases. Prospects are always desirable. Except that they have never proven themselves in the highest levels.

Baseball players are injury prone.

You never know what will happen. A lot of players have made fortunes while going through injuries for years. These players are paid millions while frustrating both management and themselves for chronic back spasms or elbow surgeries. Carl Pavano signed a 4 year $40 million contract with the Yankees while in return, gave them back 21 starts, less than two-thirds of a season.

All in all, it’s obvious managers must take these risks in order to keep their business running. Fans love to see their newest acquisition. Big names bring out the richest of fans, go to lavish yankee stadium and see their $200 million payroll play against the likes of $50 million Cleveland ballclub. In fact, it could be argued that these risks show how players are risk averse. They won’t play a game until they are guaranteed a salary they deem as the market price for their services.

What would it look like if businesses ran by the likes of baseball teams? Every worker would be given guaranteed money while never having to worry about getting the next expense report out, or the next project.

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