Thursday, November 20, 2014

ALL-TIME ASTRAL TEAMS (aka ZODIAC LEAGUE)/12: SCORPIO

We wrap up the Zodiac League previews with a stinging proviso--that the Scorpio "A" team is sitting on a starting rotation that is as deadly as the scorpion's tale itself.

Sometime soon--when we are not editing a movie, planning a film festival, or putting the finishing touches on our new office space--we will consolidate all of the info regarding the Zodiac League, and get ready to actually play it. Will our off-the-cuff predictions be worth a pitcher of John Nance Garner joy juice?

(Oddly enough, John Nance Garner--FDR's first vice president--was born on November 22.)



The Scorpio "A's" (that's "A-team," not Athletics, in case you're arriving here for the first time...) aren't sitting especially high in hitting. Here is their projected batting order:

Bid McPhee, 2b; Bill Terry, 1b; Stan Musial, lf; Ken Griffey Jr., cf; Ed Delahanty, rf'; Roy Campanella, c; Pie Traynor, 3b; Rabbit Maranville or Bobby Wallace, ss

Lineup slots 2-6 are pretty solid (Bill Terry is a bit better than most people think, and Campy should drive in a lot of runs), but the edges are a bit fuzzy.

But the pitching--particularly the starting rotation--will give you goose bumps.

Starters
Walter Johnson, Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, Bob Feller, Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling

Relievers
Willie Hernandez, Bob Stanley, Al Holland, Joe Page, Jim Brewer, Mark Eichhorn

In the immortal words of Hughie Jennings (not on this team...): "Ee-yah!"



The "B" team is more "balanced" in that its pitchers are just about as spotty as its projected batting order:

Toby Harrah, 2b; Rick Monday, cf; Gary Sheffield, rf; David Ortiz, 1b; Ralph Kiner, lf; Vern Stephens, ss; Ned Williamson, 3b; Deacon McGuire, c

The "A" team could use Stephens, but the rules are that we go with the Hall of Famer on the "A" team (unless there are none for any particular defensive position). The "B" team, which doesn't have to follow that rule, thus gets a badly needed break.

Here's the pitching:

Starters
Jim Bunning, Carl Mays, Dwight Gooden, Jim Kaat, Dave McNally, John Candelaria

Relievers
Rawly Eastwick, Armando Benitez, Pete Richert, Gene Garber, Jeff Nelson, Joe Hoerner

There is a lot of pitching depth in Scorpio-land, certainly more than any other astrological sign. The "A" team is seriously loaded, and it will be very interesting to see how they do.

All we need do now is set the controls for the heart of the sun...

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

MEASURING "ANTI-SABERMETRIC" OFFENSES: THE LOW-BB GAME ANATOMIZED

The irony of the 2014 World Series? That the two teams slogging it out at the end both had offenses that eschewed (one of our favorite words...) a key aspect of offense--the base on balls--that's been a hallmark of sabermetric theory since its earliest days.

An even bigger irony--that the "midwestern angster" component of sabe discourse is yoked to a team--the Kansas City Royals--who are the leading exponent of "anti-sabermetric" offense. Yes, it is grimly amusing and, like so many things in America, reveals the terminally schizoid nature of the so-called "land of the free."

We'll see all this in the charts below. What they measure is the number of games in which a team (any and all of the thirty franchises from 2000-14) draws zero, one, or two walks (≤ 2 BB).



The first chart (above) is a simple frequency distribution. The average team has had a little under a thousand such games over the past fifteen years (993 to be exact). As the chart shows, the Royals, with 1235 such games, have more than a hundred-game lead over the next highest team (the Baltimore Orioles, with 1122).

By all accounts, Carlos Santana was a free swinger...
Now this is a not inconsiderable handicap to winning, as teams have an overall .391 WPCT when they draw two or fewer walks in a game. Being a free-swinging team, as the Royals have consistently been over the past fifteen years, is one of the major reasons why they have mostly been a losing team.

As the chart shows, the Royals did not change their evil ways (baby...) over the past two years, when they chugged up to semi-respectability and charged their way into the ball as a bull in a china shop disguised as Cinderella. They remained defiantly themselves--and benefitted from the fact that, as offense has tanked over the past 4-5 years, it has retrenched away from the base on balls to such an extent that the impact of free-swinging has been nullified.

You can see that in the overall team average, which has crept upward over the past five years until it is at its highest total since the late 1960s.

We have another way of measuring that change, by taking this data and turning it into league-relative averages. When we do that, and when we identify the teams who've made the post-season over the past fifteen years, we can see the pattern in the data relative to "sabermetric" offenses and team success.



And when we do that, as we have in the above chart, we can see that there is a strong pattern (post-season teams are 10% better at avoiding low-walk games--the lower number is better in this case) that has begun to decay in recent years.

When we look at the data this way, we see that the Royals had the most "anti-sabermetric" offense to reach the World Series (winner in orange, loser in yellow) in the past fifteen years.

The 2014 World Series pitted two teams that had little interest in the base on balls. The Giants and the Royals were the two free-swingingest teams to square off relative to the league in the past fifteen years--and, quite probably, in the history of the World Series. (We'll check on that, one of these days, just to make sure.)

Measuring from the league-relative standpoint, we can see that the most "sabermetric" offenses (using just this one index point...) over the past fifteen years are the Yankees and the Red Sox, with the A's and Phillies right on their heels. (Though the Phils have backslid a good bit in the past few seasons.)

By this measure, the Royals again leap out as the most "anti-sabermetic" offense by a wide margin--twelve percentage points over the next most free-swingingest team (the O's).

Of course, in the current environment, it doesn't seem to matter. 2014 nearly neutralized the base on balls as an indicator of team quality; it remains to be seen if that trend will continue. But one thing is for sure--you can take it to the bank that the Royals will be swinging with abandon, win or lose.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

POST-SEASON LEADERS & TRAILERS FOR THE PAST TEN YEARS (2005-14)...

We were curious, so we went to Forman et fils and found out who has hit the best (and worst) in the post-season for the past ten years.

First, the leaders (by OPS):



We've put boxes around players who appeared in the 2014 World Series. People have been proclaiming Lorenzo Cain as the "breakout star" of the post-season, but the member of the Royals who hit the best (and by a wide margin) in the post-season was Eric Hosmer.

And then there's the Panda...

Next, the players with the statistical lead in all the other counting stats not captured in the leaders list:



You'll not be surprised to notice that leading in a number of these categories is highly correlated with the number of post-season games one gets to play.

Notice, though, that triples (our old and continually endangered pal) are particularly scarce in the post-season.

Finally, the trailers--the guys who, for one reason or another, just can't get it going in the post-season:



So, in the post-season, the difference between Angel Pagan (who missed the 2014 post-season with a back injury) and his caddy Gregor Blanco is minuscule.

And the folks who thought that Salvador Perez (who was actually OK in the World Series, but ice-cold in the balance of the 2014 post-season) should have been hit for in the final at-bat of Game 7 have a little something with which to put their barstools into second gear.

Finally--if your last name is Cabrera, you definitely want to change it before you enter the post-season. [ADD: Unless your first name is Miguel, that is...]

Saturday, November 1, 2014

ADDISON RUSSELL FOR JOE MADDON? SOUNDS ABOUT RIGHT...

We used the word "hubris" the other day (actually, in the post immediately preceding this one). That was unwitting (as opposed to half-witting...) prescience on our part, for we could not know at the time that another egregious example of overweening arrogance would crop up so soon after the conclusion of the World Series.

And it's not exactly a surprise that it involves Theo Epstein. Theo, of course, is the Most Overrated Baseball Executive In Baseball History, having been far less responsible for the Greatest Cultural Awakening to occur during the Shrub administration (the "advent" of the Red Sox") than virtually anyone believes.

Theo has a theatrical legacy in his family, so he (along with many other master manipulators) has some heightened skill with fake symbolism, flim-flam, and what's semi-affectionately known in the parallel world of the Beltway Bandits (and don't think baseball insiderism isn't all about that same sh*t...) as "weasel words." (And let's stop for a moment to thank our fabulous sponsor, Fright Quotes R Us, currently in negotiations for a merger with "the whole enchilada" of urban dictionary web sites in order to deliver irreverence directly to your email address for a very nice price...)

Now, "weasel words" and "hubris" are not completely synonymous...though they often keep the same company. The former is usually an outgrowth of the latter, though Theo was probably incredibly precocious when it came to this and was already highly accomplished in the practice prior to secondary school.

So it should not raise any eyebrows that he is currently trying to weasel his way out of the type of grasping behavior that overly-entitled insiders with an overly-practiced, baked-in look of searing intensity employ in order to create the requisite amount of psychological distance from the all-too-willing-to-be-callow media.
Rick (Rich) Renteria wasn't much of a hitter in
his baseball career, but no one could blame him
if he was tempted to take the bat to the noggins
of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer

It's the type of behavior that believes inherently (in a manner parallel with the less fortunate who are endowed with such traits, who are merely sociopaths...) that they should be able to get away with anything and everything they want.

Hence the exceptional shadiness involving Joe Maddon, a late-blooming egotist in search of a legacy, and Rick (Rich) Renteria, a garden-variety, anonymous foot-soldier with a upside managerial profile like Terry Francona. The former has an outsized reputation--though not as outsized as Theo, who always looks as though he was just broken out of his own plaster-saint replica (there's rumored to be just such an artifact in the Cubs' executive washroom...). The latter is just some guy to stand there and get pissed on when the time and occasion call for it, no matter if he might have demonstrated a good bit more affinity for the job than anyone initially suspected.

Theo's "weasel words," of course, as he brazenly attempts to deflect attention from what at the least is breach of faith (and the worst? Don't stop short of the "T" word...), are front and center in his disingenuous obloquy.

We'll take this "Uncle Joe" over
the other one (left): less ego, more
comic timing...
What we suspect is that the outgoing, puddle-headed pooh-bah (aka Budzilla) will soon be knee-deep in what should be called "the Rick Renteria Affair" but will instead have the sh*t (for once...) flow upstream to "Uncle Joe," who might decide that he should have been "movin' kinda slow"--or at least, slower--when it came to giving the middle finger to the Rays.

So, to wind down the wind machine (you may cheer as you see fit...), we won't be surprised to discover that there will have to be some compensation made to the Rays once all the slime boils over. We think that shortstop prospect Addison Russell is just about the right cost for Theo and Jed (and Granny and Jethro, too).

Anything less, in fact, would be--a scandal? In baseball, where insider sh*t is more sanctioned than in the Washington world of lobbyists?? No, just another example of "rugged individualist" hubris trumping ethics--again.

Of course, what would also be a kick in the head would be if the Rays turned around, hired Rick Renteria--and won the World Series in 2015.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

FIVE YEARS OF POST-SEASON PERFORMANCE REDUX--PLUS...

Two-sevenths of the 2014 World Series was nail-biting one-run stuff--and for the sake of aesthetics and  those in need of medicinal remedies, the Giants and the Royals managed to save the best for last, providing all manner and form of baseball fans a reminder of the game's illimitable range. It probably won't stop the interminable whining about the game's so-called "lagging pace," but a riveting Game Seven (and we still wish it could be Eleven...) will do a lot to dampen such criticism for some time to come.

"Midwester angsters" can now save up for the next rainy day (something that folks in the Bay Area and parts south are doubtful will ever come...) and cling to the "might have been" mythos that seems to make the region into such a battleground between progressive and reactionary forces, often embodied in the same individual ("the pure products of America go crazy" indeed).

In the end, though, a courtly, no-nonsense southpaw from North Carolina stood as tall as just about anyone in baseball history. Madison Bumgarner turned back the baseball clock at least fifty years in several ways at once during the World Series, and it will become one of the game's greatest legacies.

It wasn't just the incredible level of performance throughout the post-season that peaked in the Fall Classic. It was the "stuff of legend" emergence from the bullpen in Game Seven to earn a five-inning save on two days' rest that put things over the top.

Sure, there were pitchers who threw complete games on two days' rest. In fact, there was Deacon Phillippe, who did it on one days' rest. But there's an extra component of drama when the ace who's an "ace in the hole" gets brought in to the middle of a game, as was the case with Bumgarner. It pitches the drama to an even higher level: it adds desperation to the recipe.

It turns out that no one has ever thrown a five-inning save in the post-season before last night. (Which is why it was so terrific that the official scorer decided to reverse his original decision to give Bumgarner the win; his singular moment deserves a similarly singular categorization.) The last four-inning save in a World Series occurred fifty years ago (1964), when Ron Taylor did it for the the Cardinals in Game 4.

We don't have the complete data, but it appears that there have been only about 150 saves in which the reliever went five or more innings (we're talking regular season now). The longest possible save is, of course, eight innings--and there is one of those in baseball history, turned in by the Orioles' Dick Hall, on June 18, 1961, in the second game of a doubleheader--remember them??--against the Cleveland Indians. Jack Fisher was knocked out with five runs scored and only one man retired in the bottom of the first; Wes Stock relieved him and got out of the inning.

Whereupon the O's scored eight in the top of the second (including a walk by pinch-hitter Whitey Herzog and a home run from soon-to-be "Marvelous" Marv Throneberry) to take an 8-5 lead. Hall replaced Stock (for whom Herzog had batted...) and tossed eight shutout innings of relief for The Longest Save In History.

--Yes, yes, the title of this post is rather misleading. But here is a revised, revamped and updated five-year post-season performance chart. It shows just how remarkable the Giants' post-season run has been over the time frame. (World Series winners in orange, World Series losers in "heightened" yellow.) The Royals will probably hold the record for the best post-season record associated with a non-World Series winner for a long, long time. We can't really say that this is an appropriate legacy (we do try to stop short of hubris--at least at this time of year, anyway...), but it is most certainly an interesting one.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

TOP WORLD SERIES PITCHING PERFORMANCES BY DECADE

What you see is what you get with the chart below, our own trademarked display of "history in a grid."

Today, here are the top pitching performances in World Series history, as measured by Game Scores.

The chart shows you all of the games where the starter's Game Score was 80 or higher, in our semi-unique historical distribution.

(The Game Score formula can be found at Forman et fils if you are interested in those details. We are only partially keen on it, in fact, since it strongly fetishizes strikeouts--but it's still a useful tool when handled properly.)

What's interesting here is to see how the games have clustered--or not--over time. Who would have thought, for example, that the longest gap between top starter performances would occur in the mid-1970s (1973-77, to be exact)? Particularly seeing as how the 1967 World Series had only recently produced the record number of 80+ Game Scores in history?

One hundred years ago baseball was in the midst of an eightteen-year streak where there was at least one top starting pitcher performance per World Series (1905-1922). It was jump-started by Christy Mathewson (three shutouts in the 1905 Series), whose name you've been hearing a lot this post-season. Things became relatively sporadic until the sixties, when the last sustained string of 80+ Game Score performances occurred. Even with the recent re-ascendancy of pitching, we are still living in a time of embers when it comes to dominating starting pitcher performances.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

CAN WE PLEASE HAVE A BEST-OF-11 WORLD SERIES THIS YEAR??

The Perez boys---Juan...
It's not too late to change the rules.

We just keep going until one of these teams wins six games.

We play Games 8 and 9 back in San Francisco.

And then back to KC.

The TV folks will be happy: this year's World Series is gaining strength in the ratings. Extra games would be just what the doctor ordered.

...and Salvador--have had some very good
moments in the 2014 World Series.
And if everything went perfectly--meaning we got to Game 11, with two more travel days in the mix--we'd be able to blot out a lot of the coverage for the 2014 election, which would fall on the same day (November 4th).

Since Repubs are bigger baseball fans than Dems, this would redress the voting imbalance and tip the scales in several key races across the country. (For example, Kansas.)

It doesn't quite work in the structure of American elections, but what the heck...let's go for it anyway: it's time for a partisan chant to end all partisan chant:

"Four more games! Four more games!!"

Seriously: it has been a most engaging and unpredictably electric World Series thus far. As we write this, the Royals--still angling for a variation on the "immaculate conception post-season" (here's to you, FQRU!!)--are in the process of forcing a seventh game.

Let's get greedy, shall we?

[FOLLOWUP: After the Royals' 10-0 win in Game 6, we realized what has made this World Series so unusually interesting. It's not because the games have been close--in fact, it's been the exact opposite. (There has only been one game out of the six where the scoring differential has been less than five runs--which has got to be closing in on a record for the post-season.)

So--with all this random, back-and-forth salvoing; with the "one day it's one thing and the next it's another" -ing; with the opportunity for each side and its fans to revel and gloat in a gaudy display of extremity--what we have is a World Series that is an exact replica of the current American sociopolitical situation. The polarized results in these games match the polarized nature of the nation.

Which means that, at last, baseball is, at least in this fractious fortnight, the National Pastime once again.]

Sunday, October 26, 2014

2014: QMAX AND THE AL CY YOUNG AWARD... GIVE IT UP TO THE KING!

To wage WAR, to zip up with FIP, or to quest down the road not taken with QMAX? The fix is in over at all the "advanced metrics" sites, where products that purport to combine predictiveness with probability prove only that they have more quirks than cut-to-the-chase insight.

Yet another case in point is the AL Cy Young choice in 2014, where WAR and FIP tell us that Corey Kluber is the consensus pick. It's interesting to note that these are the only two measures in which Kluber is the #1 choice, as demonstrated in the diagram at left.

Now don't take this as a slap against Corey. He had a fine year, becoming a much-needed ace for the Indians. He's just not quite on the same level (at least not yet...) with "FH."

AKA "King Felix" Hernandez.

WAR and FIP are measures that want to sweep up a lot of information and render them in a sequence of overly reductive equations. Please note that we are not dismissing them out of hand by saying this: we only want to issue a strong reminder that each stat has its limitations and caveats.

Neither of them can take what happened on the field and compare it to a more global probability of "what should have happened" using what actually happened. WAR doesn't even try to do this. FIP claims to do so, but makes a translation based on an equation-based summarization of "what should have happened."

QMAX uses what happens and translates it/compares it with a series of interlocking global probabilities, as represented in the forty-nine squares encompassing its grid category. (Remember that QMAX is an acronym for "Quality Matrix.")

It creates a series of stats that capture both value and shape. As such it is unique amongst all of its fellow measures. When we look at the matrix charts for Felix and Corey, we can actually see something different in their performance from the shape/pattern of the data.

Keeping in mind that the best games for a starting pitcher in QMAX are in the upper left and descend in quality toward the lower right, we can see right away (without any numerical support) that Felix was much better at avoiding games where he was "hit hard" (the region in orange that covers rows 6-7). Corey has nearly three times as many of these starts (8) than Felix (3).

And at the upper left, in the green region known as the "Elite Square," it's clear that Felix is ahead here as well (though Kluber's twelve ES games are nothing to sneeze at).

Each square in the matrix has an expected WPCT based on actual results (usually we use three years' worth of data to establish these--we call them QWVs (pronounced "qwivs"), for "QMAX win values."

When we add all of that up, we arrive at a winning percentage for the starter based on what his actual performance across all the squares in the matrix should produce if everything evens out. That's what WAR and FIP insinuate is the case for their measures, but really isn't.

The numbers for the AL starters show that Kluber had a fine year, but not as good as three other AL starters in 2014:















Two pitchers who missed stretches of the 2014 season due to injury--Garrett Richards and Chris Sale--were more effective than Corey when they were in there. WAR, which is a counting stat, penalizes them for that--which makes a certain kind of sense so long as you don't think of WAR as measuring quality (it's really measuring value).


The QMAX "range data" numbers at the right help to contextualize the results. It turns out that Felix reaches the "elite square" almost half the time--that's equivalent to Clayton Kershaw territory. Corey's 35% is down in the next tier with Sale, Jeff Samardzija, and Felix's teammate Hisashi Iwakuma.

Indeed, one of the reasons why Kluber doesn't rank higher is that his "Hit Hard" percentage (which we eyeballed above in the QMAX chart--orange region, remember?) is just too high to produce a dominant season. Being hit hard in one out of every four starts will knock you and your team out of some games. On the list above, Kluber is tied for tenth in terms of HH%.

The range data shows that Corey is pretty much middle of the pack amongst the top pitchers in the 2014 AL.

It would be ironic if Felix lost the Cy Young voting to Kluber because WAR and FIP actually aligned with starting pitcher win totals (Corey was tied for the most wins in the AL with 18, while Felix, who had seven no-decisions in games where he allowed one run or less, wound up with only 15).

That would demonstrate exactly what we've been asserting for quite some time now: that relying on any single measure to determine quality/value is risky at best and foolish at worst.

The same folks who voted for Felix back in 2010 when he was the best pitcher according to most of the measures (and is the case this year, as we've seen...) really ought to be doing the same in 2014.

Let's look at a few of the QMAX charts for the other notable AL starters in 2014. Garrett Richards was the only pitcher doing "a reverse" ("C" score higher than the "S" score) in the AL. Chris Sale is quite simply a helluva pitcher, and scary as all get-out to watch on the mound, either in the stands or in the batter's box. Max Scherzer was well off his 2013 form, and teams should be cautious about giving him big bucks (though someone will undoubtedly do so).

Finally, Phil Hughes is the new Tommy John. We haven't found anyone with a higher percentage of games in the "TJ" region (lower left, where many hits but no walks can still be successful...) in our database. As the table above notes, that's 59% of his starts.

Can he keep it up? Stay tuned...


Saturday, October 25, 2014

2014: QMAX AND THE NL CY YOUNG AWARD... SURPRISINGLY CLOSE!

As the World Series stays close despite a dearth of close games, it's actually past the time when we should be trotting out one of our favorite toys.

What's that, you ask? Neither a train set, nor Peter Max's soon-to-be-auctioned collection of classic Corvettes.

No, it's the Quality Matrix, or QMAX "for short"--sorry, have to keep the FQQ (that's "fright quote quotient") up at a certain level of frequency per month or risk being mothballed by our surly sponsor--which, as you doubtless recall, is our tool for measuring starting pitcher performance.

QMAX remains a very fine suite of value and shape stats, with the added bonus of creating a bushelful of matrix charts that will either liven up any East Coast cockfight or make terrific abstract wallpaper for those who are tired of those predictable floral patterns.

And we are surprised--really and truly--to report that the NL race, which we're covering here in the first of two lightning-fast posts, turns out to have been a lot closer than the conventional wisdom indicated.

Measuring as it does a probabilistic accounting of hit and walk prevention, QMAX produces not only raw averages for each of these quality components, but also generates a winning percentage (we call it QWP--pronounced "quip"--for QMAX Winning Percentage).

We tend to think that QWP is the most reliable number to use in this data set, and that it's also the most reliable stat in terms of measuring overall starting pitcher performance. (We've tended to think that for a long time, actually, so perhaps it's more than just "tending", come to think of it.)

Most folks figure that it's a slam dunk for Clayton Kershaw, who had a great season and was rewarded with a great won-loss record (21-3). When WPCTs are that high, even the neo-sabe contingent don't put up much of a fight: it's slack-jaw time for the jackdaws (all except for Mickey Lichtman, who will tell you that none of 'em should ever pitch more than five innings).


But oddly enough, Kershaw was nearly matched in QWP by the Reds' Johnny Cueto, whose hit prevention was actually a bit better (59% of his games in the "S12" rows on the "S"--or hit prevention--axis, as opposed to Clayton's 56%) and who was "hit hard" (games in the "S67" rows...) in only 3% of his starts.

Interesting food for thought--that said, it's unlikely that Cueto is going to come in anything other than a distant also-ran to Kershaw. But Johnny had a helluva year.

A .700 QWP is terrific, although it doesn't resonate in terms of the MVP voting until the value increases to at least .750.  So both Kershaw and Cueto could very easily get mentioned in the lower reaches of the MVP ballot, based on QMAX. (In a year with few offensive standouts, they are likely to do a good bit better in the real-life voting.)


Here are a few more of the QMAX matrix boxes for 2014 NL starters.

Madison Bumgarner's playoff run is actually rather uncharacteristic of his 2014 season. His high S12% (53%) shows that he's eminently capable of stepping up to a dominant performance. For the Giants, they're most fortunate that he's decided to have a sustained run of it in the post season.

The new stat in the "QMAX range data" (sorry--but the FQ police are out there lurking,,,) is HQ. It represents the percentage of starts in which the pitcher gave up at least as many hits as innings. 

Anyone who can get below 30% for this measure is doing quite well...and in this measure Kershaw is actually only fourth best among 2014 NL starters. Oh, he's very close to the lead, but he's behind young Alex Wood of the Braves; the resurrected Jake (Don't Call Me Jesus) Arrieta, who brightened the Cubs' season; and "Dreadlock Johnny" (Cueto).