310ToJoba: January 2010 Archives

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The PECOTA projections for the 2010 season arrived this week, as the god of the nerds, Nate Silver, new guys in charge of PECOTA unleashed a mighty flow of predictions upon its cult followers. I think PECOTA does a fine job of predicting individual players, but, if you think about it, the team records are based on the performance of these same projected players, which would be nice if the PECOOTERS functioned in a vacuum. Nevertheless, wacky managerial decisions (as just one example) have an undoubted effect on the actual outcomes of a game, meaning that the real baseball world is not a vacuum at all. As such, these projections can readily be thrown off by cold, hard reality. Therefore, I don't really give much weight to these things; however, I do think they can be fun to look at in and of themselves. This year especially is proof positive of the sheer insanity that can happen when folks start poking around with numbers, and it begs the question of whether or not PECOTA is just messing with diehard baseball stats guys now.

You can view the complete projected records at Baseball Prospectus, where they are presented by division. Let's just take a gander at a few of the things that make this year's dose of fortune telling more ridiculous than Robert Downey Jr.'s career arc:

  • There are only three teams expected to eclipse 90 wins next season. Last season, PECOTA projected six. All three in 2010 (Rays, Red Sox and Yankees) are from the AL East.

  • By PECOTA's estimation, the Royals are going to have the lowest win total (66) next season. Unfortunately, this will be a year too late to grab Bryce Harper, which is just so fitting for this terrible, terrible franchise.

  • Speaking of terrible teams, the Nationals are going to win 82 games. I will wager anybody that this doesn't happen.

  • If the Nationals were playing in the AL Central, they would be tied for the division lead. LOLwut?!

  • Big League Stew already pointed this out, but the current projections have the Rays winning the East, Boston as the Wild Card, and the defending champs missing the playoffs entirely despite putting up 93 wins. Excuse me, 2008, I didn't hear you come in.

  • Why does PECOTA love the Athletics so much? The system had the A's winning the division last year too...

What grabs your attention, though? Leave 'em in the comments! And yes, I promise I will write a post soon that doesn't involve bullet points. If you're also interested, another projection system, CAIRO, released its expectations for the 2010 season and they're a bit more...reasonable.

Updates! Yes, I am an idiot. Yes, Nate Silver isn't in charge of PECOTA anymore. Edits have been appropriately made. Shame on me for assuming that Silver was still at the helm. Nothing said above was intended to be insulting towards him in the least, but rather an attempt at imaginative grandiosity for the sake of lame humor. Because, hey, I'm a nerd who enjoys PECOTA and advanced metrics. Thanks to the many, many people who pointed out my error.

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Here it is, folks, the much-anticipated waste of bandwidth that is the second half of our thought experiment about WAR and MVP voting. To see the first installment, go here. Just as a quick refresher, the requirements are a WAR greater than 8 and a 4th place or lower finish in the MVP award voting. Like last time, these aren't all the players who fit the bill, just the most egregious examples / biggest names.

  • Carl Yastrzemski - 1970, 9.1 WAR, 4th place

  • Joe Morgan - 1972, 10 WAR, 4th place

  • Mike Schmidt - 1985, 8.5, 10th place

  • Rickey Henderson - 1980, 8.6 WAR, 10th place

  • Cal Ripken - 1984, 9.2 WAR, 27th (!) place

  • Tony Gwynn - 1987, 8.1 WAR, 8th place

  • Wade Boggs - 1987, 9.1 WAR, 9th place

  • Chuck Knoblauch - 1996, 8.8 WAR, 16th place

  • Ken Griffey - 1996, 9.7 WAR, 4th place

  • Barry Bonds - 1998, 9.3 WAR, 8th place

  • John Olerud - 1998, 8.1 WAR, 12th place

  • Derek Jeter (swoons) - 1999, 8.0 WAR, 6th place

  • Alex Rodriguez - 2001, 8.0 WAR, 6th place

  • Ichiro - 2004, 8.1 WAR, 7th place

  • Carlos Beltran - 2006, 8.0 WAR, 4th place

  • Albert Pujols - 2007, 8.3 WAR, 9th place

Joe Morgan, as annoying and curmudgeonly as he is in the booth, was really, really good at this stick and ball game. I only listed him once above, but for a span of five years he was one of the "best" spokesmen for lack of respect from the voters. His snubbing in 1972 was the worst of the lot, but Morgan also finished 4th in '73 with a WAR of 9.3 and then eighth the following year with a 9.1 WAR. Yikes. However, all good things are eventually recognized, and Morgan would go on to win back-to-back MVP honors in '75 and '76 with WAR numbers of 12.0 (!) and 10.0 respectively. I would ask Morgan how he felt about these years of his career, but he'd probably start foaming at the mouth and accuse me of writing Moneyball.

Holy Cal Ripken, Batman! One of the most beloved players in the history of the game received the worst snub I could find. That 27th place finish was dead last that year, but to make matters worse for the Iron Man, he finished a whole twenty three slots behind teammate Eddie Murray despite the fact that they both put up similar offensive numbers, and Murray's WAR (6.8) was well below Cal's. Who knows, maybe Murray got extra credit for that awesome facial hair. For those of us who draw wood at good defense (and Cal was positively off the chain that year, boasting a ridiculous 23.4 fielding runs above average!), this snubbing was nothing short of a disaster of epic proportions. Oh, and there's also the tiny detail that the honors ultimately went to a freaking relief pitcher!

Just a few more quick thoughts. I'm sure Ichiro would be upset about 2004 if he could, you know, actually emote. The Pujols incident did nothing to lessen my dislike of Jimmy Rollins. Carlos Beltran is probably better than we all know. Sometimes actresses get slapped, and sometimes Chuck Knoblauch will finish too far down an MVP ballot. So it goes. In closing though, here's one thing to think about: the average WAR for "notable" non-winners of the type mentioned above prior to 1970 was 8.2. After 1970 this number declined, ever so slightly, to 8.0. Why do you think that is? More global cognizance of the entire baseball world that goes hand-in-hand with the advent of advanced metrics? Can this be viewed as progress for the nerds? Speak your minds in the comments.

These two posts would not have been possible were it not for the help of the commenters who provided suggestions on the post that started this all. And a very special thank you to Larry over at Wezen Ball who not only pointed out the Ripken example to me, but provided a very extensive list of players that made this a lot easier. Without his hard work, this definitely wouldn't have happened. Thanks again, I hope you enjoyed reading!

Awesome image of Ripken and Murray pilfered from the SI Vault.

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Just over a month ago, I was asking you, thoughtful WoWies, to take part in a little "research project." While WAR is far from a perfect metric, it has, for the time being, more than adequately provided us with a way to quantify the value that a baseball player brings to the diamond. Many times it can help you learn to appreciate some player you've never really heard of, but more importantly, WAR shows you just how absurdly good some players are on a consistent basis even if they are sometimes overshadowed by other teammates.

So, the purpose of this little thought experiment was to find examples from past MVP awards wherein someone's value was clearly misunderstood by the bungling folks responsible for handing out such hardware. The results, as you fine folks readily pointed out, are extensive... and then some. Using the historical formula, you find that time and time again, the most valuable players are buried deep in the balloting for reasons that will probably never be truly understood. Obviously, the folks who voted in nineteen dickety six had no idea that WAR even existed. Or at least they thought it was something going on in Europe.

/rimshot

I can't stress enough how often truly exceptional seasons have fallen by the wayside in voters' eyes. These are just a few examples, and for the sake of easy-reading, I've broken them into two parts. Everyone on this list got "jobbed" in a year prior to 1970. As a reminder, the criteria for being on this liost was a WAR greater than 8 and a 4th place finish in the MVP award or lower. Without further ado:

  • Babe Ruth - 1932, 11.4 WAR, 6th place

  • Lou Gehirg- 1934, 10.7 WAR, 5th place

  • Stan Musial - 1944, 9.1 WAR, 4th place

  • Jackie Robinson - 1951, 9.8 WAR, 6th place

  • Eddie Matthews - 1955, 8.3 WAR, 18th place

  • Hank Aaron - 1962, 9.2 WAR, 9th place

  • Ernie Banks - 1962, 8.5 WAR, 18th place

  • Willie Mays - 1964, 10.2 WAR, 6th place

  • Carl Yastrzemski - 1968, 10.1 WAR, 9th place

Look at these guys. To a man they are among the finest players that baseball has ever produced, and yet in years where they were at their best, they weren't even in smelling distance for theoretically what is one of baseball's most important awards. Perhaps these players were simply so good that their greatness became old hat and taken for granted? And of course, as we move through what will be a long weekend for a bunch of us, it is fitting that Jackie Robinson shows up on this list. Robinson's career numbers often take a back seat to the sweeping change he brought to the game of baseball, but lest we forget, the guy was damn good at the game too, but his task to gain recognition and respect was even more rigorous than the great majority of his peers.

Part II will probably be going up next weekend.

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If you haven't yet seen it, this rather uncharacteristically tongue-in-cheek post over at Fangraphs compares the dubious GM careers of the Mets' Omar Minaya and the Royals' Dayton Moore. While even the most casual of baseball fans can readily identify these men as regular passengers aboard the proverbial fail bus, the Fangraphs piece alludes to a Moore quote urging fans to presumably be patient and "trust the process."

Baseball fans of teams that seem to be "rebuilding" every other year hear terms like "the process" constantly. As a result of this constant exposure, most of them probably even grasp a few of the key tenets of such front-office schemes. The obvious example: waiting around for homegrown, cost-controlled talent to develop more. BUT it seems that very few fans have a grasp on how long "the process" is supposed to take. Prospect development in baseball is more drawn out than the other major sports leagues, and it also hinges on quite a bit of luck and fortunate timing to boot. If all the pieces don't click at exactly the right time for some clubs, the team could be "developing" for an eternity. And the fans are still mostly in the dark.

But how does one even quantify the effectiveness of "the process"? The most obvious answer would be to look at the tenure of some current GMs in baseball and to see how long they are allowed to pull the strings. Let's take a gander at some of the more recent hires among MLB GMs, shall we? I've included team names and year of hiring for easy reference.

The Newbies

These folks have 3 seasons or fewer in their current positions: Tony Reagins (Angels, 2007); Ed Wade (Astros, 2007); Frank Wren (Braves, 2007); John Mozeliak (Cardinals, 2007); Michael Hill (Marlins, 2007); Andy MacPhail (Orioles, 2007); Bill Smith (Twins, 2007); Jack "Daddy WARbucks" Zduriencik (Mariners, 2008); Ruben Amaro (Phillies, 2008), Neal Huntington (Pirates, 2008); Walt Jocketty (Reds, 2008); Alex Anthopolous (Jays, 2009); Mike Rizzo (Nationals, 2009); Jed Hoyer (Padres, 2009).

So what does this all mean? First and foremost, I can't be the only one who had no idea what the name of the Marlins' GM was, right? Anyway, I'll try and show how the diversity of experience in this group would seem to be most indicative of an organization's willingness to wait out "the process." But, first things first, we're going to cut a little bit of the fat out of this list.

Wren, Smith, Hoyer, and Mozeliak are interesting cases because they replaced guys (John Schuerholtz, Terry Ryan, Kevin Towers, and the aforementioned Walt Jocketty, respectively) that had been at their jobs for years and years. Moreover, the Cardinals are very much a successful team and the Braves have been coming off an unparalleled run of divisional success so these two front-office men don't really afford a truly useful perspective. The Twins were a playoff team under both Ryan and Smith so that eliminates them. The Padres and Angels too, are off the list for that "playoff" reason. I'm going to toss out the Marlins too since their willingness to have a fire-sale whether or not they need it doesn't help much with our analysis. Amaro replaced the retiring Pat Gillick, so that isn't the type of regime change that will shed light on our little thought experiment. Lastly, we'll cut MacPhail a break since the Orioles had never really used a GM until Peter Angelos found room in his blackened heart for one.

So who does that leave us with? Huntington, Rizzo, Daddy WARbucks, Jocketty, Wade, and Anthopoulous What will help shed more light on this subject is the tenure of each of these fellow's predecessors, so let's break it down one more time:

  • Huntington replaces Dave Littlefield, who had been GM from 2001-2007.

  • Rizzo replaces Jim Bowden, who had been GM from 2004-2009.

  • Zduriencik replaces Bill Bavasi, who had been GM from 2004-2008.

  • Anthopoulos replaces JP Ricciardi, who had been GM from 2001-2009.

  • Jocketty replaces Wayne Krivsky, who had been GM from 2006-2008.

  • Wade replaces Tim Purpura, who had been GM from 2005-2007.

What does this tell us? On average, this arbitrary system of measurement indicates you have about four to seven years, give or take, it would seem, before you're booted to the curb in favor of a new guy's "process." But what do you guys think? Given what we all know to be true about prospect development, is this really fair? I know fans want the rings now, but how realistic is it for a regime change to get the turnaround they want in only five years, or sometimes less? Should folks like Andy MacPhail and Frank Wren be getting antsy as the apparent doomsday clock creeps towards midnight ? Does Drew's fine work play a part in an ownership's decision to make a change? I certainly think so, do you? How long is too long to stick with a particular GM? Some would argue that the Royals have already given Dayton Moore (hired 2006) too much rope... Is it even possible that "a right time for change" exists in the baseball world? Why am I asking so many questions?

Who knows, maybe not knowing the answers to these question is itself, all part of the plan...

A case of Coke Zero to Cot's Baseball Contracts for the GM information.

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(Ed. note: weekend guy 310toJoba contributes a special remembrance of baseball's newest entrant to the world of assisted living. Please to enjoy.)

Nineteen hundred and eighty-eight was decisively a year that changed the baseball world. This has very little to do with the fact that I was born in 1988, but rather, that was the year that Randall David Johnson made his big league debut for the Montreal Expos at the age of 24. The line for Johnson from that very first game wouldn't cause anybody to turn their heads, but twenty-one years later, the world probably has a severe case of whiplash from some of the awe-inspiring things the newly-retired Randy Johnson did whilst on the mound.

I was born in 1988, but I didn't really start watching baseball until 1995. By then, the man who would come to be known as the Big Unit already had four All Star games under his belt and was in the midst of a season wherein he would go 18-2 and walk away with his first Cy Young award. Even though I started watching at age 7, I didn't really begin to have a "global" cognizance of the baseball world until right around 2005. Sure, I would follow the Yankees religiously and I had a sense of who the truly great players were but I didn't have the attentiveness to stats and other teams' rosters that I do now. It just so happens that the spread of my attention to the greater whole of baseball happened just a little too late. You see, I knew Randy Johnson and his wild mane were good, and that he was someone you didn't want your team facing in a must-win game because of what he had done to the Yankees in 1995, but I never really understood how good he truly was until what seems like yesterday. The years just prior to my growing adoration of MLB were without a doubt some of the most dominant years by a single pitcher in the history of the game. Shame on me.

These are Johnson's strikeout totals from 1998-2002: 329, 364, 347, 372, 334. I just don't know what to say, and I feel like this in itself is a testament to the greatness of Randy Johnson. Those are video game numbers that a mere mortal put up on a consistent basis. How do you hit someone like that? Clearly, you don't, as so many major league hitters and one unfortunate bird found out the hard way. Johnson's gaudy ability to make opponents look foolish during this same span was recognized by a jaw-dropping four straight Cy Young awards from 1999-2002. Only one other pitcher has done that in his career, and that was Greg Maddux from 1992-1995, but what's really remarkable about this accomplishment is that the Big Unit did it in his late freakin' thirties! In an age of pitch counts and primadonna pitchers with innings limits, the only thing more impressive than Johnson's mug's assault on the advent of high-def television was his liberal thrashings of any team that got in his way.

You'd think that would be all for Johnson, that there was no way he could add anything else to an already distinguished resume. I would have thought so, and I would have been dead wrong. At the tender age of 40, Johnson twirled a perfect game and finished second in the Cy Young voting. This was, unfortunately, the last time the baseball world saw the vintage Big Unit. Johnson was traded to NY (wherein he gave people yet another endearing memory of him) and struggled for two seasons before heading back to the friendlier confines of the National League where he capped his career in 2009 by winning his 300th game.

Is he a unanimous first-ballot Hall of Famer? I think he is, but who knows how Jon Heyman will screw this one up. Either way, his retirement marks the end of one of the greatest pitching careers of the modern era and I'm more than a bit embarrassed over the fact that I didn't pay closer attention to it.