Tipping Pitches: March 2010


Monday, March 29, 2010

Five Steps to the Perfect Family Fantasy Baseball League


email to friend edit
I'm a dad. I'm a stat nerd. I'm the father of three boys, two of which are at various levels of baseball stat nerd-dom (the third is a baby nerd). I want to encourage this nerd-ocity, and there are few better vehicles than fantasy sports.

Fantasy baseball is also a good way to get the competitive juices flowing with the family. Nothing serious, but good, clean fun. Of course, the ultimate challenge is making the league fair. As you know, I'm a baseball genius (go ahead, roll your eyes). My eight-year-old Michael is the heir to my Nerdery. After that, my wife Lisa and five-year-old Ryan (aka Pee Wee, P-Dubs or PW) are still figuring it out.

But I'm happy to say that we are running our second fantasy baseball league and the fourth fantasy league in all for the family. And I've only won once. In fact, I've had some pretty shabby showings as well.

Go ahead, laugh. But this is good for the league. The last thing the Loomer Family Fantasy League needs is a Yankees franchise with a built-in advantage.

It's great, great fun, and several sneaky lessons built in unsuspectingly. Here are the keys to the perfect family fantasy league:

1) Simple Draft. In our house, youngest drafts first and the oldest draft last. No snake draft, we go with the same order every round. Each round, we draft the same position. This knocks off a lot of the more complicated drafting strategy. No concerns about position scarcity or any of that crazy stuff. Everyone's picking a catcher in the first round. I also provide everyone with cheat sheets from ESPN.com so that there aren't any surprises about who is and isn't good. To avoid multi-position confusion, I also assigned a single position to all players.

2) Head to Head Scoring. Come on, you can't do Roto or Points Based with your family. It's just no fun. Even if a team is having a bad season, they can always look forward to taking on their brother or kicking their mama's butt. We go with H2H Categories, but only because I haven't thought of a good H2H Points system that is simple to understand and functional. I think H2H Points is better for football or even basketball, where you can make the final score seem like a real game score. We also make it so that each category is a win. No real reason. That's just how we roll.

3) No Transactions. When I say no transactions, I mean it: No Trades, No Waivers, No Lineup moves. In other words, No Bench -- everyone drafted will play. To some, this makes it boring. But again, we're playing with various levels of understanding here. There's a five-year-old playing. And I'm the only one logging in, so no one is putting in waiver claims. And since it's casual, I doubt we'll be checking our teams during the week (although P-Dubs has already been filling out some sheets of unknown purpose, so they may surprise me). And you know allowing trades is bound to cause problems. No vetoes, no arguments, just sharing a lot of love.

4) Everyone's in the Playoffs! I know, I know. This is dumb in a competitive league. But this isn't a competitive league. It's all for fun. We only have four teams, people. Having everyone make the playoffs actually backfired last football season when I won one game the entire regular season and won our Super Bowl. Of course, this inspired everyone to request the rule to be changed so that only the best two teams make the playoffs (you know this never would have been a request had such a miracle finish happened to anyone else!). Well, Yahoo! (our service of choice) has a four-team minimum. And since we only have four teams, our decision was either everyone's in or no playoffs. We've elected to stay with everyone's in. Even if the regular season means nothing, it's good to have that exciting final two weeks.

5) Make it Fun! Own it, baby. Every Monday morning following the week of match-ups, I'll gather everyone together so that I can announce the prior week's results. Plenty of suspense, of course. Sometimes I'll print off the results and post them in the family room. Play for some sort of prize. Doesn't have to be big, just something to make things interesting (and, no, I don't mean gamble). I think the greatest way to make it fun and instill baseball in your children is to watch games together. Make no mistake, this is a baseball family. We have the MLB Extra Innings Package (greatest purchase of all time). And while we will be watching mostly Brewers games, we'll pay close attention to who owns whom.

Loomer Family Draft Results
Sunday was an awesome day here in Colorado, so we took advantage of it by holding our draft in our driveway. Sat in a circle on lawn chairs, everyone with cheat sheets and pens in hand. I had my laptop on my lap, the Brewers game playing over my speakers while I logged the results in my incredibly awesome spreadsheet (you wish you had these spreadsheet skills!). We drafted 30 players (most allowed by Yahoo!), and the draft was over within an hour.

You'll note that P-Dubs, having the first pick, almost always went with the best Brewer. In some cases (Braun and Fielder), this wasn't such a bad strategy. In others (McGehee over A-Rod), it was not so smart.

Position P-Dubs Michael Mama & JJ Dada
C Joe Mauer, MIN Brian McCann, ATL Jorge Posada, NYY Victor Martinez, BOS
C Russell Martin, LAD Yadier Molina, STL Geovany Soto, CHC Matt Wieters, BAL
1B Prince Fielder, MIL Albert Pujols, STL Miguel Cabrera, DET Mark Teixeira, NYY
1B Ryan Howard, PHI Adrian Gonzalez, SD Justin Morneau, MIN Joey Votto, CIN
1B Todd Helton, COL Carlos Pena, TB Nick Johnson, NYY Kevin Youkilis, BOS
2B Rickie Weeks, MIL Chase Utley, PHI Dustin Pedroia, BOS Ian Kinsler, TEX
2B Aaron Hill, TOR Robinson Cano, NYY Placido Polanco, PHI Brandon Phillips, CIN
2B Clint Barmes, COL Brian Roberts, BAL Luis Castillo, NYM Ben Zobrist, TB
3B Casey McGehee, MIL Alex Rodriguez, NYY Evan Longoria, TB Pablo Sandoval, SF
3B David Wright, NYM Ryan Zimmerman, WAS Aramis Ramirez, CHC Chone Figgins, SEA
3B Chipper Jones, ATL Ian Stewart, COL Adrian Beltre, BOS Gordon Beckham, CHW
SS Alcides Escobar, MIL Hanley Ramirez, FLA Troy Tulowitzki, COL Jimmy Rollins, PHI
SS Derek Jeter, NYY Jose Reyes, NYM J.J. Hardy, MIN Yunel Escobar, ATL
SS Miguel Tejada, BAL Ryan Theriot, CHC Alexei Ramirez, CHW Elvis Andrus, TEX
OF Ryan Braun, MIL Carlos Gomez Matt Holliday, STL Matt Kemp, LAD
OF Corey Hart, MIL Carl Crawford, TB Ichiro Suzuki, SEA Justin Upton, ARI
OF Dexter Fowler, COL B.J. Upton, TB Jason Bay, NYM Jayson Werth, PHI
OF Conor Jackson, ARI Curtis Granderson, NYY Adam Lind, TOR Jacoby Ellsbury, BOS
OF Carlos Lee, HOU Manny Ramirez, LAD Grady Sizemore, CLE Adam Jones, BAL
OF Ryan Ludwick, STL Hunter Pence, HOU Coco Crisp, OAK Adam Dunn, WAS
OF Seth Smith, COL Cody Ross, FLA Alfonso Soriano, CHC Andre Ethier, LAD
OF Andrew McCutchen, PIT Josh Hamilton, TEX Milton Bradley, SEA Nick Markakis, BAL
SP Yovani Gallardo, MIL Tim Lincecum, SF CC Sabathia, NYY Roy Halladay, PHI
SP Cole Hamels, PHI Zack Greinke, KC Johan Santana, NYM Felix Hernandez, SEA
SP Dan Haren, ARI Adam Wainwright, STL Javier Vazquez, NYY Matt Cain, SF
SP Ben Sheets, OAK Cliff Lee, SEA Justin Verlander, DET Jon Lester, BOS
SP Jake Peavy, CHW Chris Carpenter, STL Jorge De La Rosa, COL Josh Johnson, FLA
SP Josh Beckett, BOS Ubaldo Jimenez, COL Matt Garza, TB Tommy Hanson, ATL
RP Trevor Hoffman, MIL Mariano Rivera, NYY F. Rodriguez, NYM J. Papelbon, BOS
RP Todd Coffey, MIL Huston Street, COL Francisco Cordero, CIN Jonathan Broxton, LAD

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Giving Readers What They Want Since 2010


email to friend edit
I started this blog in late September of last year with no real vision. I don't like admitting that, but the fact is that it was mostly as a casual blog for me to share my thoughts.

Now that my readership has doubled to two, I think it's time to get serious. And to get serious, I need to focus.

You've probably noticed I've moved exclusively to baseball discussion lately. While I enjoy writing about fatherhood, technology, food and my lawn, I think it's important to be consistent so that both of you know what to expect. As a result, you'll soon notice some changes in the way this blog is structured.

Of course, just writing about baseball isn't going to bring readers. I need to have a unique angle and a strategy. And if you've been following lately, you're starting to see that come together. Here are a few things that are ongoing or I have planned for the near future:

  • @TippingPitches on Twitter: I originally only used my personal account, but I use that for too many reasons. With the new account, you now know exactly what to expect, and it offers value that you can't get in this blog (it's not just tweeting links here). 
  • Awesome Baseball Names: Five times per day, featuring a new awesome baseball name from past and present (Twitter). There are about 400 names, and I have gone through about 150 so far. If you're good at math, you'll note that there are about 20,000 days of names left. Or maybe less.
  • Ranking baseball's all-time greatest hitters: I am working with a pool of about 10,000 and will begin revealing the results from the bottom. I have not yet determined what the bottom will be, but it may be 10,000. This way, we'll work our way up slowly. Either way, the rankings will replace Awesome Baseball Names once that list is complete. 
  • Android App: Beginning yesterday, we have a free Android App available for those of you with such a phone. Quickly access blog entries and the TippingPitches Twitter feed in one place.
  • Hall of Very Good: As a result of the research I am doing, a comprehensive list will be compiled of baseball players who either deserve to be in the Hall of Fame but are not or players who were excellent but not quite good enough for the Hall. I've stumbled upon many names I was unfamiliar with before, and also amazed at how good some of these players were. These players need some recognition. Will be writing one blog entry per player, featuring in the "Awesome Baseball Names" manner on Twitter.

And now, I ask you, the reader(s). What do you want? Do you want more advanced statistics? More historical analysis? More focus on the current game and players (mostly ignored so far)? More Milwaukee Brewers (I love the Brewers, but don't know that I want to focus there only)? What specific features do you want? What subjects will keep you coming back? Let's brainstorm and make this the best possible blog for you.

Because you're awesome.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Tipping Pitches Android App!


email to friend edit
It's official: Tipping Pitches is big time.

Ok, maybe not official, but we're working on it. Thanks to MotherApp.com, you can now add the Tipping Pitches app in the Android Market.

I think it's called the Android Market. I don't have an Android phone. I can't even install the app and see if it works well.

So, I rely on you, my one reader. I'm hoping you have an Android phone or this whole endeavor was a waste. Apparently I can't even link to it, that the only way you can get it is going to the Android Market.

[Seriously, Google, this is lame. I can link to iPhone apps.]

Anyway, add it and let me know what you think. It combines a feed of recent blog entries and the blog's Twitter updates into one place. This way, you always have access to nerdy baseball insights!

Feel free to provide some screen shots, give the app a high rating/review, or let me know what we can do to make it better. Gotta be honest. Not much flexibility. But I still listen because I care.

Previewing the 2010 Milwaukee Brewers


email to friend edit
I had to do this eventually, right? I have lived and breathed the Brewers since my early years as a baseball fan. In fact, I'd say I became a Brewers fan before I became a baseball fan.

The challenge of such a preview is remaining objective. As a fan, you have to be optimistic. And it's easy to get defensive when you feel that others in the media are slighting your team. As a result, you can overcompensate by being unrealistically optimistic.

That said, I tend to pride myself on my ability to remain objective. Of course, I haven't always been that way. I still remember being a displaced Brewers fan in Michigan, sending Mitch Albom a 20 page print-out of my predictions for the 1987 season. Of course, the Brewers were going to win the World Series and sweep the MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards. They were just so talented!

It didn't work out for those Brewers, but I was in seventh grade then. I'm objective now. I'm a stat guy, and you lose your soul as a stat guy. I don't base performance on intangibles, guts or chemistry. I try to see the players for what they are.

So let's do this.

Starting Rotation
Ouch, did I have to start here? Major sore spot last season. The Brewers finished dead last in the Majors in starting pitching ERA in 2009. That's pretty freaking bad, especially considering they play in the National League without the DH.

But let's be objective. Yovani Gallardo, the team's ace, had his first full season in the bigs. He was part brilliant and sometimes erratic, finishing with a very respectable 204 strikeouts and 3.73 ERA. The opposition batted a mere .219 off of him.

Although Gallardo's numbers were strong, he was spectacular in the first half. Prior to the All-Star break, he had a 3.22 ERA and walked 55 batters in 114 2/3 innings pitched (4.3/nine). After the break, Gallardo's ERA ballooned to 4.56. Control was his biggest problem, walking 39 in 71 innings (4.9/nine). Batters also hit 40 points higher off of him in the second half.

Most people are high on Gallardo. Most realize that he is only getting better. Most understand that he was likely tired in the second half. He'll take a step forward this season.

After Gallardo, the rotation was ugly in 2009. Braden Looper won 14 games but with a 5.22 ERA. No pitcher with more than four starts, other than Gallardo, finished with a starting ERA under 5.00. In fact, the four pitchers after Suppan who made more than four starts all had ERA's over 6.00.

Braden Looper is gone. Let's get one thing straight: Jeff Suppan isn't good. If the Brewers decide to start him again, they can expect nothing better than his 2009 performance. Anything under a 5.00 ERA would be a major miracle.

However, unlike last season, the Brewers are not forced to start Suppan. They may in the beginning, but all indications are that it would be as the fifth starter. Unlike last season, they actually have the depth to replace him if necessary.

Dave Bush is a serviceable back of the rotation starter, and looked strong last season before getting hit on the elbow by a Hanley Ramirez line drive. Prior to the 2009 debacle when his ERA swelled to 6.38, you could typically expect something in the mid to low 4's from him.

Manny Parra has been 90% potential and 10% production so far in his career. At 27, this is the year he either becomes a solid starter or starts bouncing from team to team, minor league team to minor league team. He has the stuff to break out, but it's difficult to expect much from him. That said, it's still very easy to put money on an improvement over his 2009 ERA of 6.36.

Chris Narveson made four starts at the end of last season for a 3.38 ERA. He is the dark horse and is unlikely to start the season in the rotation. However, he's a lefty who shows promise and should at least be a decent arm out of the pen.

Still, not a lot to hang your hat on outside of Gallardo.

Wait! Two new veteran arms have been added to the rotation in Randy Wolf and Doug Davis. Wolf enjoyed what was possibly a career year in 2009 with the Dodgers, finishing with a solid 3.23 ERA. After John Lackey, he may have been the best free agent pitcher available. Doug Davis isn't pretty to watch, but he eats innings and can expect to bring you a low to mid 4 ERA.

Wolf and Davis may not be ace material, but they are certainly upgrades over Braden Looper and the slew of fill-ins the Brewers trotted out to the mound last season. For the first time in many years, they have depth, and they expect to go into the season with seven pitchers ready to start, moving the two who don't make the rotation to the bullpen.

Will they have one of the top rotations in baseball? Unlikely. But this rotation is being grossly underestimated. Gallardo, by all accounts, is ready to become an elite pitcher. Wolf and Davis are quality starters. And given the depth, it is unlikely they will be stuck with pitchers with ERA's well north of 5.00 in 2010.

Prognosis: I expect the Brewers rotation to be middle of the pack in the National League, which is a major improvement over 2009.

Projected Rotation:
  1. Yovani Gallardo
  2. Randy Wolf
  3. Doug Davis
  4. Dave Bush
  5. Jeff Suppan (initially), Manny Parra (eventually)
The top three are automatic. I keep coming back to Dave Bush for the fourth spot. He is the most dependable and the most experienced of those who have promise. Jeff Suppan may get an initial shot, but I'd expect him to have a short leash. He'll get very few starts in April as the fifth starter, and will probably be given two or three chances to prove he deserves it. If he fails (likely), Parra or Chris Narveson will move in. For the long haul, I think Parra is ready for the job.

The Brewers bullpen finished with a respectable 3.97 ERA in 2009, which was 16th in all of baseball (tenth in the National League). However, it should be noted that only the Dodgers' and Padres' bullpens threw more innings. For the Brewers, this was because of a lack of production from the starters. With starting pitching expected to improve in 2010, the bullpen is less likely to get overextended.

The changes aren't all that significant here, but the Brewers didn't need to make wholesale changes. Trevor Hoffman, who had 37 saves and a minuscule 1.83 ERA in 2009, will continue to anchor the pen. Work horse Todd Coffey appeared in 78 games, finishing with a 2.90 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 2009.  Lefty specialist Mitch Stetter was simply unhittable against left handed hitters, having a .178 BAA from that side of the plate.

These are three solid relief pitchers. However, it is difficult to expect this level of performance from any of these three again in 2010. Hoffman is 42 and will turn 43 in October. He relies entirely on location and fooling hitters with his changeup since his fastball is an offspeed pitch in the arsenal of most. He may be great again this season. But it would not be surprising if a sharp decline occurs.

The Brewers did add veteran LaTroy Hawkins to the pen, and he will provide stability as well as another option to close games when Hoffman needs the inevitable breather. No one knows what to expect from Carlos Villanueva, who may start the year in the minors since he has an option and the Brewers seem determined to move their extra starters to the bullpen.

Those extra starters not only provide depth to the rotation but depth to the bullpen. Additionally, the Brewers have something waiting that they haven't had in some time: a legit relief prospect in Zach Braddock, who is ready to go whenever he is needed. Braddock sparkled in 2009 and has shown he belongs this spring. He simply needs the opportunity to pitch.

Prognosis: Overall, I see the Brewers' relief pitching remaining about the same. They had some pitchers over perform in 2009, but there is added depth in 2010 that did not previously exist. The bullpen has a high ceiling, but a reasonable expectation is for little change this season.

Projected Bullpen:
  1. Trevor Hoffman (Closer)
  2. LaTroy Hawkins (Set-up)
  3. Todd Coffey
  4. Mitch Stetter (Lefty Specialist)
  5. Claudio Vargas
  6. Chris Narveson
  7. Manny Parra/Jeff Suppan
  1. Carlos Villanueva
  2. Chris Smith
  3. Zach Braddock
  4. Chuck Lofgren
  5. John Axford
This is the most logical scenario, assuming the Brewers stick with Suppan throughout the season and don't eat his salary. Villanueva is the odd man out, though he gets the quick call as soon as injury strikes. Zach Braddock has shown signs that he will dominate at the big league level. Don't be surprised to see him sooner rather than later if a lefty goes down. Mark Rogers may see some big league time if he continues to progress, but in all likelihood it won't be until September call-ups.

Scoring runs was not a problem for the Brewers in 2009. In fact, it was the only reason a team with the worst rotation in baseball was able to finish with a respectable 80 wins. Anchored by one of the best middle of the lineup duos in all of baseball in Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, the Brewers finished third in the National League with 182 home runs and 785 runs scored.

Barring an injury, we know what to expect from Braun and Fielder. Both will hit somewhere around .300 with 35 to 45 home runs and 110 to 125 runs batted in.

After these two, however, little is certain. Casey McGehee emerged as a surprising source of offense in 2009, leading all rookies with 16 home runs. Given he accomplished this in a partial season and hit .301, can he maintain this level of performance over an entire season? It's unlikely, but the Brewers would gladly accept a .275 average and 20 home runs from their third baseman.

While the Brewers of the past scored via the home run, the 2010 iteration will score in multiple ways, assuming they get on base. Gone are Mike Cameron and JJ Hardy. In are youngsters Alcides Escobar and Carlos Gomez. While both have blinding speed and will steal bases this season, only Escobar has proven (albeit in limited time) that he can hit Major League pitching. Gomez, with a lifetime OBP of .292 in 348 games, has plenty of room to grow. Will he?

It's unknown what Hardy will do this season in Minnesota, but it is likely that Escobar will at least match his play at the plate in 2009. Once a powerful shortstop, Hardy was a major disappointment in 2009, hitting .229 with 11 home runs and spending the final month of the season in the minors.

Also gone is Jason Kendall, possibly the weakest hitting regular in all of baseball. It is highly likely that anything provided by veteran Gregg Zaun and his yet-to-be-determined back-up will be an improvement over Kendall's putrid offensive performance.

Rickie Weeks was on his way to a break-out season in 2009 before undergoing the second wrist surgery of his career. Weeks was the driving force behind a strong Brewers start, hitting nine home runs in 37 games and boasting the second highest OPS among second basemen behind Chase Utley to that point. All indications are that Weeks is completely healthy, but fans are cautiously optimistic. Even if he does not perform at the level he set in his short stint last season, a healthy Rickie Weeks will provide the Brewers a major boost. And all signs from spring training are that a healthy Rickie Weeks will be a productive Rickie Weeks.

A major sore spot in the lineup last season and heading into 2010 is right fielder Corey Hart. An All-Star in 2007, Hart is now a below average performer, both offensively and defensively. Prior to suffering a season ending appendectomy, Hart hit a mere .260 with a .335 OBP and 12 home runs in 115 games. Hart has become susceptible to the slider low and away, and does not appear to have improved in that area this spring. While he is adding a new pair of prescription goggles to his ensemble, most Brewer fans are pessimistic about any chance of re-emergence in 2010.

The bench may be a major strength for the Brewers this season. Craig Counsell had a career year in 2009, and proved very valuable as a replacement for Rickie Weeks. Now that Weeks is healthy, Counsell can once again come off the bench. Acquired for Tony Gwynn, Jr. early in 2009, Jody Gerut seemed like a lost cause prior to the All-Star break. However, most fans failed to notice he was quite productive during the second half. He could spell or even challenge Hart for his position in right field.

A potentially valuable addition to the outfield is Jim Edmonds. Though he has been out of baseball for a year, he does not appear to have lost his strike zone awareness or bat speed. He is still a solid outfielder and will provide a good left handed bat off of the bench in addition to competition for time in right field and center, depending on how Hart and Gomez do.

Prognosis: Braun and Fielder make this team go. While there are more question marks in 2010, there is depth to cover for struggling or injured players. Speed will add a dimension, but the question will be whether those fleetest of foot (Gomez and Escobar) will get on base to use it. Ultimately, the key ingredient to this offense may be Rickie Weeks. If he is healthy, the Brewers will score runs at a high level.

Overall, a realistic expectation is for a minor drop-off. Less power, more speed, more mistakes from young players, and questions about health. Corey Hart needs to step up or risk losing his job.

Projected Lineup:
  1. Rickie Weeks (2B)
  2. Alcides Escobar (SS)
  3. Ryan Braun (LF)
  4. Prince Fielder (1B)
  5. Casey McGehee (3B)
  6. Corey Hart (RF)
  7. Gregg Zaun (C)
  8. Carlos Gomez (CF)
  9. Pitcher
  1. Craig Counsell (2B, 3B, SS)
  2. Joe Inglett (Utility)
  3. Jim Edmonds (CF, RF)
  4. Jody Gerut (CF, RF)
  5. George Kattaras (C)
  1. Mat Gamel (3B)
  2. Jonathan LuCroy (C)
  3. Eric Farris (2B)
  4. Adam Heether (3B)
  5. Lorenzo Cain (CF)
I wonder if Gamel would have made the roster even if he hadn't gotten hurt. The Brewers have a very solid veteran bench, and Gamel needs to get his at bats in the minors. In the event an injury strikes or McGehee is unable to follow up a solid rookie season, Gamel will get the first call. If Corey Hart and/or Carlos Gomez struggle, Lorenzo Cain is climbing the ranks quickly and should be ready to make the jump. Possibly the organization's best prospect, second baseman Brett Lawrie is still a year or two away.

I'll spare you the UZR stats, but the Brewers were not a good defensive team in 2009. The only area they could have been considered above average was in center field and shortstop, but both Cameron and Hardy are now gone.

That said, it is entirely possible that the Brewers replaced both players with youngsters who are defensively superior. Both have the potential to be elite with the glove and cover an amazing amount of ground at their positions. The question, of course, is whether both players are able to hit in order to maintain a firm hold on their starting spots. It's likely that Escobar will, particularly since he has little competition. Gomez, however, may not be able to display his defensive tools on a daily basis.

While Fielder and Braun are elite offensive players, they are below average in the field. That said, Fielder did make strides last season (from terrible to acceptable) and Braun was still learning the outfield a year ago after a switch from third base. Braun is a terrific athlete and has the potential to be an above average defender. Realistically, he may become average in 2010.

Casey McGehee arrived in camp a year ago with the reputation as a solid glove man, but he failed to deliver in the field. He brought back memories of Braun in 2007, but unfortunately for McGehee those memories were in the field. He was one of the worst defenders at his position a year ago, though in his defense McGehee did suffer with bum knees throughout the season. It is possible that a healthy Casey McGehee will be improved in the field.

Rickie Weeks was making strides in the field before getting injured last season, but he is an average defender at best. Gregg Zaun provides no improvement over Kendall behind the plate, and Corey Hart is Corey Hart. The Brewers get better defensively if they swap out Hart for Gerut or Edmonds.

Prognosis: If defense wins championships, the Brewers are in trouble. While the potential is there to be a better defensive team in 2010, quite a bit needs to go right. Rickie Weeks needs to remain healthy and continue to improve with the glove. Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder can't level off. Casey McGehee has to prove that last season's defensive deficiencies were injury related. And both Escobar and Gomez need to establish themselves offensively to utilize their defensive skills.

Overall, I see no improvement here with a greater possibility for a drop-off than for improvement. They can improve as a defensive unit, but there are too many factors to make it a good bet.

Final Assessment
I'm not real sure why, but the media seems to be down on the Brewers this season. While there is potential for very minor regression on offense, in the bullpen and on defense, the only obvious change is in the rotation, where there will be noticeable improvement. They won 80 games a year ago with the worst starting pitching in baseball. Everything went wrong with that rotation. Based on the development of Gallardo and acquisitions of Wolf and Davis, the odds are greatly stacked in favor of a major improvement. And given the rotation's new depth, the back of the rotation is unlikely to again have pitchers with ERA's over 6.00.

While I don't see the bullpen improving, the new strength of the rotation will help keep the bullpen fresh. There is some potential for drop-off, but the Brewers are set up for a solid, if unspectacular and average, pitching staff.

The offense and defense have some question marks, but the changes since last season are minimal. Braun and Fielder still man the middle. Complementary players help, but the two big guys ultimately make this team go.

I don't see the Brewers faring worse in 2010 than they did in 2009, and this is a fully objective assessment. They have weaknesses, but they are stronger and deeper as a team than they were last season. They will no longer need to win games 8-7. They now have good enough pitching that their offense will win more close games.

I can't predict what the Cubs and Cardinals will do. The Cardinals are the media darlings. People see Pujols and Holliday as an unstoppable force, even though Holliday appeared suspect in Oakland prior to his trade to St. Louis. He will not duplicate his performance. And while he's bound to be dominant if healthy, health is always the question with Chris Carpenter.

The Cubs are bound to rip their fans' hearts out once again. They've done little to improve their roster. It's fun to watch them implode. They do have good enough pitching, however, that will keep them competitive.

Will these teams finish ahead of the Brewers? I don't know. But there will be competitive baseball in Milwaukee this season, and I expect an improvement over 2009. Though predictions are vastly overrated and largely meaningless, I project 85 wins for the Brewers. Hopefully that will be enough for a Wild Card berth.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Absurdity of Quality


email to friend edit
Joe Mauer and Hanley Ramirez were the 2009 American and National League batting champions. Did they deserve the honor?

Carlos Pena, with 37 home runs, was the 2009 home run king. Even though Albert Pujols smacked 47.

Absurd, right? But Pena averaged a home run in every 12.08 at bats compared to 12.09 for Pujols. So Pena hit home runs more often. And since Pena had at least 3.1 plate appearances per Tampa Bay game, he qualified to be the home run champ based on his exceptional rate.

This is sarcasm, of course. But what is the difference between making such a claim and awarding the "Batting Champ" in the same way?

When evaluating season-long performance, isn't the end game -- total accumulation -- ultimately what is most important? Would you rather have a player who finished with more home runs or who had the higher home run rate? I've never understood why we analyze statistics so inconsistently. Why is rate important for batting but not for home runs?

Don't get me wrong, there are times when "quality" over "quantity" makes sense. If a batter hit 10 home runs in 30 games but missed the rest of the season due to injury, it's good to know his home run rate when evaluating his ability. And you can't just say the best pitcher was the one who gave up the fewest runs since the crown would go to a pitcher who barely played.

But there are so many reasons to hate the crowning of a player based on quality stats. In a typical season, a player needs only about 503 plate appearances (3.1 X 162 games) to qualify for the batting championship (which, of course, is awarded to the player with the highest batting average). Accounting for walks, hit by pitch and sacrifices, the typical player with 503 plate appearances would record 445 at bats.

It should be noted that Prince Fielder, the only hitter who played 162 games last season, had 719 plate appearances and 591 at bats, more than a difference of 200 plate appearances and nearly 150 at bats over the above example.

Let's assume the player with 445 at bats hit .350 and was crowned batting champion. Let's assume there was another player with 591 at bats who hit .345. The batting champion recorded 156 hits while the runner-up had 204.

What sense does this make? The problem is that when we draw an imaginary, arbitrary line to qualify for this honor, we anoint all above that line as equals. In reality, they are not.

To put it another way, a hitter could bat .450 and collect 200 hits in 444 at bats but lose the batting title to a hitter who batted .350 (or worse) and collected 156 hits in 445 at bats.

While these are extreme examples, I think we can all agree that a .325 batting average in 503 plate appearances does not equal a .325 batting average in 700 plate appearances. The player who maintained that level of play longer was more valuable.

Comparing the players with identical batting averages is relatively easy. But at what point is a player with a lower batting average more valuable? You could apply a formula like (Player Average - League Average) X Plate Appearances, but I doubt we'll ever do that in the mainstream. It gets fuzzy in a hurry, and instead we just get sloppy with analysis.

The home run champion is not always the player with the highest home run rate. The RBI champion is not always the player with the highest RBI rate. Why, then, is the batting champion the player with the highest hitting rate?

I'd actually suggest that this problem of lazy statistical analysis goes much deeper, and that we overvalue the hit while ignoring other ways a player gets on base. While statistics like On Base Percentage are finally gaining acceptance as a conventional statistic that many see as more valuable than Batting Average, we completely ignore the cumulative On Base statistic (Hits + Walks + Hit By Pitch).

Joe Mauer was the AL batting champ with a .365 batting average, and Hanley Ramirez led the NL at .342. Yet four players in the American League accumulated more hits than Mauer (led by Ichiro with 225 and 34 more than Mauer). Two players (led by Ryan Braun's 203) had more hits than Hanley Ramirez in the National League. And if you want to focus on times on base, five players reached more than Mauer's 269 in the AL (led by Derek Jeter's 289) while six players exceeded Ramirez's 267 (led by Albert Pujols' 310).

Batting average has value, but should it be the factor that determines the batting champion? And if not, who should have been the batting champion for each league in 2009? It would seem that arguments could be made for Jeter and Ichiro in the AL and Braun and Pujols in the NL.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Twins Ink Joe Mauer to Death Sentence


email to friend edit
The Minnesota Twins had a total payroll of about $67 Million in 2009, giving them the 24th highest payroll in baseball according to USAToday.com. From the year 2000 on, the Twins have never been in the top half of the league in payroll, topping out at 18th with $71.4 Million in salaries in 2007.

Today, the Twins locked up local star Joe Mauer to an eight year extension paying him $184 Million.

This is a move motivated by emotion. It's a feel good story. The local boy with the pristine image and sweet swing had to stay. The Twins simply could not let him leave for the big market Yankees or Red Sox. They had to lock him up now.

Or so it seemed.

It's a dangerous, dangerous move for a team like the Twins. And as a small market baseball fan, I hate the precedent that it sets. It tells small market fans that they can and should sign their stars. It tells the small market teams that they, too, can throw their money around.

But I just don't think this move is going to end well for the Twins and their fans. This doesn't mean Mauer isn't a great player. He is. He's won three batting titles and an MVP award. He's the best catcher in the game. He combines power and average from the left side of the plate.

And he is also going to make $23 Million per season for a team that has only twice spent three times that on an entire payroll. Mauer is also a catcher playing in a new cold climate, open air stadium. In other words, there will be plenty of postponed games leading to numerous double headers. For a catcher, this means Mauer cannot be expected to play 140 games (as it is, he barely hit that total twice in five full seasons).

We also don't know how the new stadium will impact Mauer's production. We know he'll be very good. But playing outdoors, unprotected from the elements he will face this season and in the future during April could significantly curtail his numbers.

But even if he maintains this level of production, it's an incredible risk for a team like the Twins. As it is, Minnesota is a very good team that is regularly a playoff candidate. Quite remarkable for a small market team.

However, the reason they are so good is that Mauer is such a bargain that the Twins can surround him and star Justin Morneau with decent (even if inexpensive) players. However, Morneau's salary increases to $14 Million this season and will remain at that level through 2013. Very soon, the Twins will be spending $37 Million on two players.

Target Field will bring some more revenue. But can the Twins afford to spend $16 Million more while maintaining the rest of their roster? Does it make sense to spend $23 Million a year (and tie up close to $200 Million in all) on a catcher who will not play every day and is likely to see his skills diminish early if he doesn't change positions?

Mauer may be worth this kind of money. He may be worth more. But he's worth that much money to the Yankees, Red Sox, and other teams who can afford to shell out that type of coin on one player. They can also surround such a player with several other high dollar athletes. Such a move will not hinder the Yankees' ability to build a competitive team around him.

If the Yankees signed Mauer and he gets hurt, the Yankees would just go get someone else. Swallow the loss and move on.

If Mauer gets hurt under the Twins' control, the franchise is crippled through the end of his contract. It's a death sentence.

The question for me is whether the Twins can actually get better by signing Mauer. I see this along the same lines of the talk of the Brewers inking Prince Fielder to a long term contract. The Brewers' best chance to win is with Prince Fielder, but at his current salary (and prior salary). In reality, their best chance to win was in 2008. Every time his salary goes up, the Brewers' chance to win diminishes.

Same with the Twins and Mauer. If they didn't win a World Series before with Mauer, their chances are no better now with him under a long-term contract. In fact, unless the Twins start shelling out big dollars and up their payroll to the $90-$100 Million range in the near future, the likelihood of the Twins winning has suddenly decreased by making the signing. Surrounding Mauer and Morneau with quality players is much more difficult. Pressure is on the farm system.

Maybe the new stadium will be the difference maker. Maybe the Twins will become a mid to large market team. But a stadium is only "new" for a couple of years. If the Twins, for whatever reason, do not compete with Mauer, will the fans continue to pay his salary?

Is this a nice story for the Twins and their fans on the surface? Sure it is. All teams need to have the ability to keep their prized players. But beyond the joy felt today, I see little upside in the move. If the signing succeeds and Mauer lives up to the contract, it tells small market teams and their fans that they need to make this type of risk to compete. If it fails, the Twins implode.

My preference would be that Mauer go to free agency and be awarded to the highest bidder. We need more examples of why the current system is terrible for small market teams. But when small market teams foolishly attempt to act like big market teams, it's counter productive. It sets the league back and lowers the likelihood of any type of financial reform in the near future.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Ranking the Best: Status


email to friend edit
Many people (even if they are imagined) are begging to know where I am in the process of ranking the most dominant hitters in baseball history from one to 500 (and possibly far beyond). Have I given up? No way. Just putting in a whole lot of work.

I have created some 84 spreadsheets, totaling more than 1.5 GB of file space, to help me with this analysis. And all 84 have helped me to created the final, oh-so-important document.

I call it the RankingEngine. Yes, it's not the coolest name. But when you create 84 documents, you'd better name each file properly so that you can keep them straight. This is the doc that will get me to the promised land.

This doc has the records of nearly 10,000 hitters dating back to 1871, focusing on 23 offensive statistics (not including such things as games, plate appearances and at bats. Additionally, I have found the league average for each player in each season and compared all players' annual performance to that average player to create a ratio against the theoretical average player.

I've also compiled these ratios to determine each player's best one, two, three, four, five, down to 25 seasons in each statistic compared to the average. Which player had the best five home run seasons against the league average? Was a different player better over 10 years? Fifteen? This part of the analysis is critical when comparing players.

There is also a look at each player's performance for their entire career versus the league average. This is done in two ways -- 1) comparing how the average player would do over the course of the player's career with the same number of plate appearances, and 2) comparing the player's performance to the theoretical average starting player, which includes considering how many plate appearances that average player would have had.

Everything I've laid out so far is split into separate tabs within one document. It's static, 24 tabs. But the dynamic portion is where the magic starts.

I've created a final tab that allows me to select any two players and compare them. Take a look at the screen grab to the right to get a better idea.

Crazy stuff, right? In this case, we're comparing the careers of Craig Counsell and Jim Gantner (don't want to give away any surprises, so we're starting with some scrappy old vets). The main body of the sheet compares the two players in each category starting with the best season and finishing with the 25 best seasons. The higher ratio will appear green, the lower ratio red to help with quick comparisons (black italics indicates a player did not play this many seasons and is therefore no longer accumulating statistics).

However, I also make it easier by reviewing the number of "wins" each player has in best five, 10, 15, 20 and total years at the top. Additionally, I found it necessary to isolate the "important" statistics so that my analysis wasn't improperly skewed.

While I will look at all 23 stats, my main focus will be on the following 12:

Home Runs
Runs Batted In
Stolen Bases
On Base Percentage
Total On Base (Walks + Hits + Hit By Pitch)
All Total Bases (Total Bases + Walks + Hit By Pitch)
Slugging Percentage based on All Total Bases (over Plate Appearances)
Equivalent Average
Runs Created

It's a nice mixture of conventional, advanced, and my own concoction (though my concoctions are very minor variations of conventional statistics). You'll notice that I find little value in hits and batting average, preferring On Base and On Base Percentage instead. Additionally, I have scrapped Total Bases and Slugging Percentage for versions that include walks and hit by pitch.

Keep in mind that some of the more advanced statistics (EqA, wOBA, OPS+) need to be recreated. We often see a final version that accounts for park effects. I don't think this will be possible for my analysis. In the example of EqA, I am using Raw EqA for this very reason. I have recreated these statistics the best that I can and have found that I am very close to published statistics. I continue to tweak these stats, so if anyone has any advice on how to make them more precise, please let me know.

I am comparing player by player. You bet, this is going to take some time. But I feel this is the best way to do it as opposed to coming up with some master formula to determine how players should be ranked. Instead, I am taking multiple factors into consideration. It's not a vacuum. So I will be looking at top five years separately from top 10, top 15 separately from top 20. And each statistic is not created equal.

In some cases, it will be easy. If Player A is better than Player B in 95% of the metrics, I know my answer for how those two will be ranked. Anything under around 70% will need to be more closely scrutinized.

So far, I've had a lot of fun ranking 40 players. While some players don't fall where I'd expect (or even want) them to fall, I am determined to stick to the stats and not be biased by perception, loyalties or popularity. I am  keeping examples of this vague so as not to give any results away.

What was originally a weekend project turned into a one or two week project to one that I will work on indefinitely. This may take several months. And while I work on it, I will keep the results close to the vest for two reasons: 1) it's fun to unveil the results bit by bit, and 2) I want to make sure that all results are final before revealing anything.

In the meantime, I'd love to get opinions on what you think of the path I'm taking. Do you agree with the statistical categories that are the focus of my analysis? Do you have any recommendations on how I might recreate advanced statistics for historical data most accurately?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Most Dominant Home Run Hitters: Greatest Season


email to friend edit
It's very easy to get swept away by totals when considering the "best ever." We generally consider the best home run seasons ever to be Bonds' 73, McGwire's 70, the gaggle of steroid 60s, Maris' 61 and Ruth's 60. We fail to provide any context to those numbers.

We do the same with Pete Rose's career hits. Hank Aaron's career home runs. Hack Wilson's single season RBI record. Ted Williams' .406.

The truth is, however, that each player's feat only has meaning for that particular season. You can't take that number out of context and compare it to another, unadjusted number from a different season.

What is dominance? It's quality, and it's distance between the player and the league average. The league average for a quantitative stat is found by multiplying the league rate (total home runs, for example, over total plate appearances) by the average starting player's plate appearances. I will refer to the ratio of player's home runs to league average as HR+.

The league average for home runs has been as high as 16.3 in 2000 and as low as 3.6 in 1920. In other words, the value of 15 home runs is far different in 2000 than it was in 1920. As such a number obviously needs context when determining worth, the same needs to be done for the gaudy numbers.

For the purpose of this analysis, I have eliminated all candidates prior to 1920 (known as the Dead Ball Era). While it is important to recognize a great 10 home run season when the average is two or fewer, it is also difficult to compare such a season to modern day totals. One lucky or inside the park home run significantly alters such a player's ratio, whereas it makes virtually no impact now.

The Greatest Season Ever
It is likely no surprise that this season is owned by Babe Ruth. While there is some debate over when the Dead Ball Era ended (either 1920 or 1921, depending on whom you talk to), Babe Ruth had the most dominant season regardless. In fact, Ruth owns the five most dominant post-1919 home run seasons ever, six of the top eight, seven of the top  nine, and eight of the top 12. Again, just a reminder: This doesn't even include his short though dominant seasons prior to 1920 when he was also a pitcher and played during the Dead Ball Era.

1. Babe Ruth, 1920, 54 home runs vs. 3.6 league average (14.9 HR+)
Ruth alone hit more home runs in 1920 than any other team in the American League and all but the Philadelphia Phillies (with 60, led by Cy Williams' 15) in the National League. If that isn't enough context for you, it would be the equivalent of Barry Bonds hitting 234 home runs in 2001.

2. Babe Ruth, 1927, 60 home runs vs. 5.1 league average (11.7 HR+)
You'd think that seven years later the rest of the league would be catching up to Ruth. Not really. The Babe still hit more home runs than 12 of the other teams in the league.

3. Babe Ruth, 1921, 59 home runs vs. 5.4 league average (10.9 HR+)
Teammate Bob Meusel was second to Ruth in 1921, tied with Ken Williams of the St. Louis Browns with 24. Only three others hit 20.

4. Babe Ruth, 1926, 47 home runs vs. 4.8 league average (9.8 HR+)
From 1918 through 1926, there were only two years in which Ruth did not lead league in home runs (both times led instead by Rogers Hornsby in 1922 and 1925). Ruth became the game's single season home run king in 1919 (when he was still a part-time pitcher) and didn't lose the crown until 1961.

5. Babe Ruth, 1924, 46 home runs vs. 5.0 league average (9.3 HR+)
It was a typical season for Ruth, who led the league in Runs, Home Runs, Walks, Batting Average, On Base Percentage, Slugging Percentage and Total Bases. No Triple Crown, I guess, but eight categories ain't bad.

The rest of the Top 10:

6. Lou Gehrig, 1927, 47 home runs vs. 5.1 league average (9.2 HR+)
7. Babe Ruth, 1928, 54 home runs vs. 6.0 league average (8.9 HR+)
8T. Lou Gehrig, 1931, 46 home runs vs. 5.9 league average (7.8 HR+)
8T. Babe Ruth, 1931, 46 home runs vs. 5.9 league average (7.8 HR+)
10. Jimmie Foxx, 1933, 48 home runs vs. 6.2 league average (7.8 HR+)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Sports: The Awesome Baseball Names


email to friend edit
Those of you following @TippingPitches on Twitter know about my "Awesome Baseball Names" feature. Five times per day, I tweet a famous or not-so-famous (though undeniably awesome) baseball name.

Following are the most recent names that have been shared so far. There are a good 300 or so more on the way:

Jim 'Sarge' Bagby
Bill 'Blue Sleeve' Harper
Boob 'Gink' Fowler
Harry 'Harry The Cat' Brecheen
Loren 'Bee Bee' Babe
Kid 'Sunshine' McLaughlin
Joe 'Bananas' Benes
Johnny 'Peaches' Werhas
Hinkey Haines
Charlie 'Hummer' DeArmond

Expecting a baby and considering a baseball inspired name? Start here. If you don't care much for originality, go with Lefty, Red, Dutch, Doc or Buck. I encourage you to dig deeper. There's some baseball nickname gold buried in the depths.

They just don't make baseball nicknames the way they once did (though, it's good they no longer do in some of the racially insensitive cases). Special thanks to BaseballReference.com and Sean Lahman for providing easy access to this information.

Below are all of the names that have occurred more than once through 2006 along with the number of times the name has occurred. Which are your favorites?

Lefty - 181
Red - 145
Doc - 82
Dutch - 66
Buck - 51
Bud - 42
Chick - 36
Cy - 34
Whitey - 34
Buddy - 31
Babe - 29
Kid - 29
Butch - 25
Chief - 25
Tex - 25
Moose - 24
Heinie - 23
Pop - 23
Duke - 20
Buster - 19
Deacon - 19
Rip - 19
Rod - 19
Junior - 18
Big Bill - 17
Woody - 17
Rusty - 16
Big Ed - 15
Rabbit - 15
Slim - 15
King - 14
Ducky - 13
Dusty - 13
Happy - 13
Jumbo - 13
Rocky - 13
Sheriff - 13
Dixie - 12
Moe - 12
Pep - 12
Swede - 12
Wild Bill - 12
Blackie - 11
Bull - 11
Hub - 11
Nig - 11
Pinky - 11
Shorty - 11
Ace - 10
Bunny - 10
Buzz - 10
Hack - 10
Hawk - 10
Homer - 10
Paddy - 10
Smokey - 10
Bo - 9
Bucky - 9
Cap - 9
Cotton - 9
Count - 9
Ham - 9
Irish - 9
Mack - 9
Mule - 9
Patsy - 9
Pepper - 9
Skip - 9
Baldy - 8
Big Jim - 8
Bubba - 8
Bugs - 8
Dummy - 8
Flash - 8
Hooks - 8
Lucky - 8
Skeeter - 8
Sonny - 8
Tiny - 8
Chink - 7
Farmer - 7
Hi - 7
Jocko - 7
Judge - 7
Rebel - 7
Skinny - 7
Slats - 7
Specs - 7
Spike - 7
Stubby - 7
Tug - 7
Wee Willie - 7
Win - 7
Biff - 6
Candy - 6
Curly - 6
Dad - 6
Frenchy - 6
Gabby - 6
Huck - 6
Iron Man - 6
Mac - 6
Muscles - 6
Porky - 6
Preacher - 6
Slick - 6
Sparky - 6
Stretch - 6
Broadway - 5
Cannonball - 5
Chappie - 5
Chip - 5
Con - 5
Dandy - 5
Dizzy - 5
Dode - 5
Germany - 5
Gibby - 5
Hap - 5
Happy Jack - 5
Honest John - 5
Hoot - 5
Jiggs - 5
Monk - 5
Nap - 5
Newt - 5
Pug - 5
Rock - 5
Roxy - 5
Sarge - 5
Scrap Iron - 5
Shotgun - 5
Smoke - 5
Speed - 5
Sunny Jim - 5
Baby - 4
Bear - 4
Birdie - 4
Bobo - 4
Boots - 4
Bub - 4
Buckshot - 4
Bulldog - 4
Chicken - 4
Colonel - 4
Corky - 4
Cowboy - 4
Dallas - 4
Dasher - 4
Deerfoot - 4
Fats - 4
Fireman - 4
Flip - 4
Foghorn - 4
German - 4
Ginger - 4
Goat - 4
Hook - 4
Hy - 4
Izzy - 4
Little Joe - 4
Mouse - 4
Moxie - 4
Mutt - 4
Old Hoss - 4
Ox - 4
Peaches - 4
Peanuts - 4
Polly - 4
Pudge - 4
Sad Sam - 4
Schoolboy - 4
Scoops - 4
Silent John - 4
Silver - 4
Slug - 4
Snake - 4
Socks - 4
Solly - 4
Soup - 4
Spanky - 4
Spec - 4
Spider - 4
Spud - 4
Sugar - 4
T-Bone - 4
Tiger - 4
Turk - 4
Yank - 4
Admiral - 3
Bad Bill - 3
Beau - 3
Big Daddy - 3
Big Dan - 3
Blimp - 3
Bones - 3
Boomer - 3
Brick - 3
Bruno - 3
Bump - 3
Bus - 3
Butcher Boy - 3
Catfish - 3
Chub - 3
Cookie - 3
Country - 3
Crab - 3
Cyclone - 3
Dino - 3
Dodo - 3
Dolly - 3
Dude - 3
Footsie - 3
Gator - 3
General - 3
Gentleman George - 3
Goose - 3
Gunner - 3
Hickory - 3
Home Run - 3
Hoss - 3
Jeep - 3
Jigger - 3
Jo-Jo - 3
Jug - 3
Klondike - 3
Long John - 3
Long Tom - 3
Major - 3
Midget - 3
Minnie - 3
Mo - 3
Molly - 3
Moon - 3
Noisy - 3
Old Folks - 3
Old Reliable - 3
Packy - 3
Pee Wee - 3
Piano Legs - 3
Pick - 3
Piggy - 3
Popeye - 3
Prince Hal - 3
Pud - 3
Rowdy - 3
Scat - 3
Scooter - 3
Shadow - 3
Shag - 3
Sig - 3
Skipper - 3
Smiley - 3
Smokey Joe - 3
Squeaky - 3
Steamboat - 3
Stub - 3
Stud - 3
Stuffy - 3
Stump - 3
Suds - 3
The Bull - 3
Tip - 3
Toots - 3
Truck - 3
Tubby - 3
Turkey - 3
Watty - 3
Wimpy - 3
Windy - 3
Ziggy - 3
Zip - 3
Bad News - 2
Bananas - 2
Beauty - 2
Bee Bee - 2
Big Ben - 2
Big George - 2
Big Jack - 2
Big John - 2
Big Mac - 2
Big Mike - 2
Big Pete - 2
Big Sam - 2
Big Six - 2
Black Jack - 2
Blondie - 2
Bonnie - 2
Boob - 2
Brownie - 2
Bullet - 2
Bumpus - 2
Bunions - 2
Bunker - 2
Burrhead - 2
Cactus - 2
Campy - 2
Cannon Ball - 2
Cat - 2
Champ - 2
Chappy - 2
Chippy - 2
Cholly - 2
Chubby - 2
Cocky - 2
Coco - 2
Cocoa - 2
Commy - 2
Coonie - 2
Cozy - 2
Cracker - 2
Cuckoo - 2
Daffy - 2
Dazzy - 2
Death To Flying Things - 2
Diamond Jim - 2
Dinty - 2
Duck - 2
Dud - 2
Duff - 2
Duffy - 2
Eagle Eye - 2
El Caballo - 2
Fiddler - 2
Fire - 2
Firpo - 2
Foots - 2
Fuzzy - 2
Gimpy - 2
Gink - 2
Goody - 2
Grasshopper - 2
Grump - 2
Guido - 2
Hammerin' Hank - 2
Handy Andy - 2
Harry the Horse - 2
Heavy - 2
Hick - 2
Highpockets - 2
Hilly - 2
Hondo - 2
Honey - 2
Horse - 2
Hot Rod - 2
Howdy - 2
Hummer - 2
Humpty Dumpty - 2
Husky - 2
Icicle - 2
Iron Duke - 2
Jockey - 2
Lady - 2
Liberty - 2
Little Mac - 2
Long Bob - 2
Long Jim - 2
Mad Dog - 2
Monkey - 2
Mr. Chips - 2
Noodles - 2
Officer - 2
Oom Paul - 2
Peck - 2
Pickles - 2
Pony - 2
Pooch - 2
Possum - 2
Prime Time - 2
Prince - 2
Punch - 2
Rags - 2
Rasty - 2
Razor - 2
Reds - 2
Rosy - 2
Runt - 2
Sailor - 2
Scoop - 2
Scrappy - 2
Shanty - 2
Skeets - 2
Skippy - 2
Sleepy - 2
Sleepy Bill - 2
Slippery - 2
Smiling Al - 2
Smoky - 2
Snapper - 2
Snipe - 2
Snuffy - 2
Soldier Boy - 2
Sparrow - 2
Speedy - 2
Spoke - 2
Spook - 2
Spot - 2
Squirrel - 2
Stash - 2
Sterling - 2
Stoney - 2
Sugar Bear - 2
Swats - 2
Sweet Lou - 2
Swish - 2
Tarzan - 2
The Golden Greek - 2
The Kid - 2
The Mad Russian - 2
The Octopus - 2
The Silver Fox - 2
The Terminator - 2
Three Finger - 2
Tink - 2
Topsy - 2
Tot - 2
Tripp - 2
Tub - 2
Tuck - 2
Tuffy - 2
Tut - 2
Twig - 2
Wagon Tongue - 2
Whoa Bill - 2
Wildfire - 2
Woodie - 2
Yip - 2
Yo-Yo - 2
Zeb - 2
3-Dog - 1

Friday, March 5, 2010

Sports: The Problem With the Dead Ball Era


email to friend edit
On Tuesday, I outlined some of the challenges I'm facing while attempting to rank baseball's all-time offensive greats in order. Today, I'm adding another: The Dead Ball Era.

Originally, I didn't see it as an issue. As long as data was complete, ratios would have no bias. Whether you hit 30 home runs in an era when the average was 15 or four when the average was two, your ratio and dominance over the league was considered the same.

I was comfortable with this assessment. I kept an open mind when Barry Bonds' 2001 season was ranked surprisingly low in terms of home run dominance for a season. The home run was at its most common point, after all. We are attracted to big numbers, so it's easy to be conditioned to think that 73 in such an era is greater than 40 in another (even if they are equals).

I saw it as an opportunity when all of these names I was unfamiliar with started popping up on the list. Pretty cool, really. I knew, though, it would open me up to scrutiny. So it was important that I dug deep to verify that what I was doing made sense.

So I took a closer look at the most dominant home run seasons in order. I stumbled upon a very common theme: Dead Ball Era.

I have no problem with Dead Ball Era players appearing near the top. But when I took a closer look, I realized they were in the top 10, top 50, and top 100 at a disproportionate rate.

Understand that the only players in my analysis that played in this era are from 1885 through 1919. So even if we could expect an equal proportion from each era, we're looking at a max of 33% from that era. And understand, this would be a very favorable number. While the era makes up approximately one third of the years analyzed, it makes up far fewer of the number of players.

Three Dead Ball players among the 10 most dominant home run seasons ever. Ok. Possible. Nine of the first 20. Twenty-five of the first 50. Forty-eight of the first 100.

Now we're looking at a problem.

It makes sense why. When the average player is hitting one or two home runs -- or even three or four -- the ability to reach "dominance" with a few swings is much easier. And when that happens, not only do you get dominant ratios, but you increase the likelihood that several players from the same year will have high ratios. In other words, the bell curve is different during the Dead Ball Era. There is a higher concentration of players near the top.

Think of the example earlier. Let's say the average number of home runs during a given season is 1.33, like it was in 1918. Babe Ruth hit 11 that year (8.25 ratio). So did Tilly Walker. Gavvy Cravath hit eight (6.0). Frank Baker, George Burns, Walter Cruise and Cy Williams all hit six (4.5). Another group of six players hit five (3.75).

Now let's put that into perspective. During 2001, the average number of home runs hit was 15.7. Barry Bonds hit 73 (4.65 ratio). If players in 2001 (one of the biggest home run seasons ever) hit over the average number at the same rate as these players in 1918, we'd get...

Two players with 130 home runs
One player with 94
Four players with 71
Six players with 59

Ultimately, we need to determine if these players were simply more dominant in 1918, or if there is something about the data that is unreliable.

While I'm open to Barry Bonds' 73 home runs not being at the top, it seemed incredibly odd that he was 167th (coincidentally, behind 166 Roger Maris in 1961). And far too many of the players ahead of them had put up single digit totals (12 are below 10 and 73 below 20).

While there will be similar variations across different stats and eras, I see this as the extreme. There is no other stat I am evaluating for which an average could be so close to zero. When that's the case -- and one or two home runs swing the perception of a player tremendously -- such an analysis is volatile.

Do we eliminate the home run stat? An argument could be made that we put far too much value in the home run. Such oddities are not evident when evaluating total bases, and this stat is probably a better measure of a player's ability anyway.

[It should be noted that, unlike the home run stat, concentration of Dead Ball Era players are much more reasonably concentrated when viewing the top seasons ever for total bases. Seventeen are in the top 100 (vs. 48 for home runs), zero in the top 10, three in the top 20, nine in the top 50 and 29 in the top 150.]

Do we eliminate the era? The problem, of course, is that some great players are part of this era. Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, Nap Lajoie, Tris Speaker and even Babe Ruth played at least a portion of their careers prior to 1920.

What is worse, eliminating these players from the discussion or keeping them in, thus providing some potentially questionable data? It may make sense to simply evaluate these years separately. But I worry that such an adjustment could be a slippery slope.

So on one hand, I can't imagine an analysis of baseball's all-time greats without including players from the Dead Ball Era. On the other, I can't imagine an analysis without home runs.

What do you think?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Sports: The Challenges of Rating the Best


email to friend edit
This blog has gone relatively quiet during the past week, but for a reason. I'm holding back a lot of info that I've been working on behind the scenes.

As you know, I'm in the process of attacking "The Project," a comprehensive statistical analysis of baseball's hitters, in search of a final ranking. It's a lot of work, and the wife is getting tired of my spreadsheet obsession, but we must trudge on.

And trudge, I will. I initially planned to rank the top 300 players. Then I decided to go to 500. Now... I may just go all the way, thanks to Sean Lahman's Baseball Database. I now have easy access to stats dating back to 1871. No more copying and pasting from BaseballReference.com.

Of course, even with this easy access, there are plenty of challenges.

1) Data only goes through 2006. Lahman's work was completed after the 2006 season, so the data stops there. I could add in the 2007-09 data manually, but I have a bad feeling that extra step may create a new one to two week mess. Since I'm focusing only on retired players, it's possible I could stick with the data I have. Maybe manually add in data for those players who may be in the top 300-1000 (or 100,000). Of course, I hate adding in incomplete data. In all likelihood, I'll add in every missing line of data or none at all.

2) Volume of data. The first time I started using this data, it crashed my computer several times. I've experienced several frustrating waiting games for data to calculate. I have to wait because I hadn't recently saved and feared losing the data. There are nearly 10,000 players I am evaluating with more than 50,000 lines of data by season. I've had to get creative to make the data manageable, but this has meant creating dozens of separate docs. Currently, I'm going category by category and comparing the stats of all players from all seasons. I created a template that I paste into that calculates. Paste and wait 90 minutes to complete. It's good fun.

3) Which stats are important? This isn't the first time I've pondered the question. I want to consider runs, hits, doubles, triples, home runs, RBI, stolen bases, total bases, walks, AVG, OBP, SLG and OPS. However, you can't just view them all equally. Home runs are also part of total bases, SLG and OPS. OPS already includes OBP and SLG. Hits are a big part of AVG and OBP. Lots of duplication and overlap. I'm hesitant to create some crazy formula that weights categories differently because there is no true way to weight them accurately. Instead, I will likely view them all individually to assist with my decisions.

4) Quality or quantity? I've actually considered eliminating the qualitative stats entirely (AVG, OBP, SLG, OPS) when evaluating individual seasons. Ultimately, does it really matter what your batting average was? I want results, and if you had the season's best batting average over 500 plate appearances, but someone else had the league's most hits in 600 plate appearances, I'd take the most hits. It's also very tricky differentiating averages when looking at an individual season. While I can eliminate anyone who didn't average 3.1 plate appearances per league game, there are still evaluational dilemmas. What is better, .350 in 500 plate appearances or .330 in 700? While I did create a formula for this way back in the day that considers comparison to league average and number of plate appearances, I haven't decided yet whether it's worth using in this case.

5) Seasons vs. career. I've decided that possibly the most important measure will be number of dominant seasons in one's career when compared to the league average. However, we can also look at career stats and compare how the player did over the course of their career (in totality) compared to the league average. In this case, there would still be value in the qualitative stats, although it is again something of a duplication of efforts (a player who was 10% above the league average over the course of his career in hits will be quite close to 10% above the league average in batting average, depending on number of walks against the league average).
Was Lou Brock the greatest base stealer of his era?

6) Definition of dominance. While I have a nice list of the most dominant seasons in each statistical category, working with this data is not easy. If Player A had the most dominant season ever in home runs, that doesn't make him the most dominant player ever, even in that category. Maybe Player B had the next three most dominant seasons. So you could add all of the ratios the player had over the league average in a given category. However, if you do this the player who lasted 24 years will naturally have the advantage (24 slightly above average seasons will trump 15 dominant ones in most cases). This would not accomplish my goal. So I am going to look at most dominant season as well as most dominant two, three, four, five, down to 20 seasons. I may decide that dominance is ultimately defined by comparing the 10 best seasons of each player. Could be 15. Or maybe all will be taken into consideration. Still working it out. Either way, I think I'm a step closer than I once was.

An example of this that I uncovered in between 90 minute calculations was the most dominant base stealers. When compared to the league average, the most dominant season is owned by Maury Wills. He maintains the status of most dominant base stealer through seven seasons. However, Lou Brock surpasses Wills when you look at their eight most dominant seasons. And Rickey Henderson tops them both from seasons 18 and on. Of course, Henderson accumulated more seasons than either player. When compared to the number of seasons the three share (14), Brock is the most dominant. If you want to focus only on a core number of seasons (say, five), Wills is the most dominant. If you want to factor in accumulation and longevity, Henderson is the most dominant. What is the right answer? I think Brock, particularly since Henderson only passed him by once he started accumulating stats in seasons Brock didn't play. Henderson played a total of 25 seasons.

I'm sure we'll see something very similar when it comes to hits and Pete Rose. It's a dilemma.

7) Incomplete data. Only a core number of statistics have been around since 1871. Some, like strikeouts and stolen bases, have gaps of years when we don't have the data. And some years, particularly before 1885, we're missing data for some teams but not others. As a result, there was a skewed baseline for the average player, resulting in some inflated ratios. I eliminated statistics of all players before 1885 to solve this. While one could eliminate all seasons that don't have every core statistic that is available today, that would result in a very incomplete analysis. And I could, technically, eliminate the Dead Ball Era, but what fun would that be? That takes care of core seasons of players like Ty Cobb and even some Babe Ruth years. While we have fewer stats for these seasons, they are complete. Ratios will still work for these years since player performance is compared to the league average that is accurate.

8) Readjust preconceived idea of greatness. When we include the Dead Ball Era, it's important to take the ratios seriously. A player who hit 10, 15 or 20 home runs in some years is the equivalent of 50 now. That may seem crazy -- and even flawed -- but it's greatness in the perspective of era. I would never consider 30 home runs now "great." Meanwhile, hitting 15 during some seasons was considered an amazing accomplishment. It's not because they were inferior players back then. While diet and average strength were certainly part of it, the overwhelming factors were cavernous parks, dead baseballs, and a pitcher's advantage. Prior to 1920, the ball was wound less tightly, one would be used per game, and pitchers could freely spit on them and mark them up. By the end of the game, they were often misshapen and lopsided. Even Barry Bonds would have had trouble hitting home runs then.

I recently published the stats of Home Run Baker in my daily "Awesome Baseball Names" list on Twitter, and one response I received about him was that he should change his nickname because he finished with fewer than 100 career round-trippers. Though he never hit more than 12 in a season, he hit nearly three times that of the league average in his era. He is a Hall of Famer, and when taken in the context of his era, he earned his nickname.