Category Archives: Tim

Jim Caple and the pitcher win

ESPN’s Jim Caple just posted an article about the win statistic. This seems to be a response to Brian Kenny’s all-out assault on the win. Kenny is attacking the old stat as a grossly misleading, if not useless, statistic in measuring how good a pitcher is. I don’t really care if Kenny’s “kill the win” campaign gains steam or not; frankly, I don’t really care about wins (outside of my fantasy leagues where they count). I do think it’s outdated and doesn’t tell us much of anything. Matt Harvey has nine measly wins while having (pre-injury, obviously) a rookie season for the ages. Harvey still ranks second in pitcher WAR on Fangraphs (as of September 18- Kershaw, at least, will eclipse him before season’s end). Of course, it’s not Harvey’s fault he plays for the Mets (I suppose he could have refused to sign, like Elway and Baltimore or Cushman and Denver) but poor Harvey was enjoying the 13th lowest run support of all NL starters.

Caple admits to some shortcomings, but comes to the defense of the win:

Perhaps stat-heads would appreciate the win more if it was something else, though, something much more complicated and mathematically challenging. Maybe they would like it more if it included complex calculations that account for run support, adjusted ERA, advanced fielding analytics, WAR, stadium factors and humidity and was called tWIN.

I do love the idea that the win is simple and other sabermetric stats are, by definition, not. Caple talks about the “uncomplicated” win in an article that also discusses how on September 13, Cleveland starter Danny Salazar struck out 9 in 3.2 innings, but couldn’t get the win, because he didn’t go the required five innings. He talked about Drew Smyly vulturing Max Scherzer’s 20th win, after Smyly blew the lead. The rules on how wins are awards are full of inane loophools and requirements. Caple doesn’t even mention my favorite part of the win rule, which I’ll quote right out of the official MLB rules:

Rule 10.17(b) Comment: It is the intent of Rule 10.17(b) that a relief pitcher pitch at least one complete inning or pitch when a crucial out is made, within the context of the game (including the score), in order to be credited as the winning pitcher. If the first relief pitcher pitches effectively, the official scorer should not presumptively credit that pitcher with the win, because the rule requires that the win be credited to the pitcher who was the most effective, and a subsequent relief pitcher may have been most effective. The official scorer, in determining which relief pitcher was the most effective, should consider the number of runs, earned runs and base runners given up by each relief pitcher and the context of the game at the time of each relief pitcher’s appearance. If two or more relief pitchers were similarly effective, the official scorer should give the presumption to the earlier pitcher as the winning pitcher. [emphasis added]

The win isn’t a simple statistic just because it doesn’t have a mathematical formula. Like the RBI, there’s so many things that the player collecting it doesn’t control. That alone is why its value is so limited.

Caple boils down his argument to this with this:

Could the win be better? Sure. But one of the reasons I like the win is its simplicity. Despite its clear limitations, the win is a long-established and fun statistic that quickly tells us something about a pitcher — how many bad pitchers win 18 games in a season or 200 games in a career? — though by no means everything. Nobody is saying the win is the ultimate arbiter of anything for a pitcher. It’s just one of many stats for your consideration.

As I’ve already said, the win is not simple, and Caple makes the point himself. And he’s right, it’s one of many stats for you consideration, like paying $3 for a tin of Pringles on your next US Air flight is a food option; it’s not necessarily the best option for you to take.

As for players who accumulate big single season win totals or lots of wins over a career- does this mean much? In the days of complete games, when pitchers would rarely be lifted, the win meant something though still less than it seems lots of folks want it to. These days, with increased specialization and pitch counts and so on, it means even less. Christy Mathewson, to pick a random old-timey pitcher with longevity, averaged 8.67 innings per start for his ENTIRE 552-start, 17-year-long career. Mike Mussina is the closest modern starter in terms of games started to Mathewson, as Moose started 536 games. For his career, Mussina averaged 6.67 innings per start. Mathewson would need one out from a reliever, but he still needed the run support. Moose needed two innings and an out plus run support. To turn this a different way, Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina were both terrific pitchers in a big offensive era. Both were regular starters from 1992 until 2007. Schilling started 569 games to Moose’s 536, but Moose threw almost exactly 300 more innings (Schilling averaged 5.7 innings per start.) Schilling ended up with 54 fewer wins. Why? Mussina played for the generally good 90s Orioles while Schilling was pitching for the generally bad 90s Phillies. Similar service time, huge difference in win totals. Incidentally, Mussina is at 83.0 in rWAR and 82.3 in fWAR, while Schilling is 79.9 and 83.5. What seems like the better comparison? Wins, where Schilling is only 80% the pitcher Mussina was or WAR where they were equally good?

As for the specific win-totals Caple mentions, to counter that point I do need some fancy sabermetric, context-controlled stats, specifically FIP- and ERA- (each stat takes into account park factors and the league average numbers and compares them to other pitchers of that specific era;  100 is average, and the lower the number, the better. Someone who has an FIP- of 80 is 20% better than their peers) Lew Burdette was a solid pitcher from 1950 to 1967, mostly for the Braves. He collected 203 wins. He had a career ERA- of 101 and a career FIP- 103, both slightly below average. Denny McClain in 1966 won 20 games, and had an ERA 13% worse than the AL average and a FIP 23% worse. It’s actually not hard to find other examples of pitchers who were average or worse and managed to still win 18 or more games (here’s the custom search) but I suppose I can be discounted because I used ERA- and FIP-. Are any of these pitchers bad? No, none of them were Jose Lima for the Royals bad (incidentally, Lima had a 21 win season for the Astros in 1999. He was pretty good that year. I’m pretty sure there were a dozen or two pitchers in 1999 that weren’t named Jose Lima you’d have preferred on your team.)

I understand a desire for a simple number that can be understood quickly and tells us who was a good pitcher and who wasn’t. What escapes my understanding is this luddite position that Caple and others like him take, where they run towards this an archaic stat. I suppose there’s a bit of “it’s always been there.” But it strikes me a bit like someone in 1920 saying “we can’t get rid of the guys making horseshoes.” Horseshoes might be interesting, and occasionally might be useful, but they’re not longer a critical part of our world.

See more from this Tim guy at his blog or at Saturday Morning Deathgrip

Guest Post: Pittsburgh Pirates and Playoff Probabilities

At the close of baseball on Thursday, June 27, the Pittsburgh Pirates are in a crazy situation. No, they didn’t accidentally agree to go to their girlfriend’s sweet sixteen at the SAME TIME as going to their friend’s dad chance to become the WWF number one contender (that was Cory Matthews*). Even crazier, the Bucs have the best record in baseball, tied with St. Louis at 48-30. Generally speaking after 1992, you’re far more likely to find Bing Crosby’s old club in the basement than the penthouse.

* That was the single most Bill Simmons-like joke I’ve ever made. I regret it now and vow to do better in the future.

In honor of the Pirates’ outstanding performance thus far, I thought I’d take a look at the Pirates since 1992. This graph shows the coolstandings.com weighted playoff probabilities for Pittsburgh’s on June 27 of each season.  Coolstandings.com calculates the weighted playoff odds using fancy-pants math to simulate the rest of the season millions of times. Because it’s using team performance weighted against opponents, this gives us situations like what we have today, where the Yankees, in third place in the AL East have a lower playoff chance than Tampa.

Tampa’s remaining schedule favors them compared to the Yanks’ schedule, because it’s based on how they’ve performed, even though, record-wise, the Rays have been worse… seriously, look at this lineup– what a crappy collection of hitters). Anywhere the Pirates had a 15% chance of making the playoffs or better on the graph, I labeled it with their final record and standings.

Pirates

Rather infamously, Pittsburgh hasn’t finished better than .500 since 1992, when the lost their third straight NLCS. Sid Bream apparently killed a franchise. This graph shows just how dismal it’s been. Between 1996 and 2009, on June 27, the Pirates hadn’t had a playoff chance higher than 13.6%. And in four of the last five seasons, the Pirates have had a respectable (as in, over 15%) playoff chance. The last few years, though, the Pirates have done surprisingly well, at least in the early going, only to fall so rapidly and so Pirately in the second half.

Of note: in 1995, a third division was added to each league, along with a Wild Card, and in 2012, a second Wild Card was added. 1992 is included only as a reference to the Pirates’ last winning season, even though making playoffs from 1992-1994 (despite no playoffs in 1994) was much harder than 1995 through 2011, and even harder than 2012.

In 2009, the Pirates were crappy. Plain and simple. But so was the NL Central. On June 27, the Pirates sat in last place at 35-39, but only five games out of first, behind the Brewers. The Buccos had a 18.8% playoff chance, despite being four games under .500. Part of that is the NL was crappy, by and large. Not only were the six teams in the NL Central separated by five games, the Pirates were five games out of the Wild Card, where only Arizona and Washington were double digit games out. The Pirates, naturally, would never be as close to either the Division or the Wild Card again, as they’d go on to record a 27-60 record to finish the season. That is crappy.

In 2011, things were rosy, but somewhat superficially. On June 27, 2011, the Pirates were 39-38, with their weighted playoff chances at 15.1%, and they sat in fourth in the NL Central, four games behind the first place Brewers. Their peak win percentage and playoff odds came following a 12-6 streak, the Pirates sat at 51-45, in first place and enjoying a weighted 40% playoff chance. They actually were tied with St Louis for first as late as July 25. But a second half record of 25-47, including an 8-22 August (ouch). How could they only have 40% chance of making the playoffs while in first after 100 games? The Cards had an easier schedule (hence a 41.4% weighted playoff chance, vs the Pirates’ 29.3%). The Brewers (the eventual NL Central champs) were only a half-game out. The Reds only four games out. The Pirates, despite being in first in the Central were 4.5 games out of the Wild Card. The Atlanta Braves 2011 (and the Red Sox) is a whole other adventure in playoff chances.

Last season, the Bucs actually had a good chance. On June 27, 2012, they had a 39-35 record, two games behind the Reds (41.3% weighted playoff odds). They actually had first place as late as July 5, and, after going 15-5 after June 27, were 54-40, a half-game behind the Reds and enjoyed a their peak playoff odds of 82.1%. They were even 2.5 games back on August 8 (with a weighted 74.6% playoff chance). As you can see by their chart, they started losing rapidly thereafter. In fact, they clinched a twentieth straight losing season on September 30, when they lost their 82nd game against the Reds.

In 2013, the Pirates are a far more balanced team than before, rather than Andrew McCutchen and a bunch of other guys. Their pitching is first in the NL in ERA, BAA, Runs Allowed, fourth in Strike Outs. Offensively, they’re lower half, 10th in Runs Scored and OPS. At +36, they are third in the NL Central in Run Differential, fourth in the NL. They have the misfortune of playing in the same division of the Cards and Reds, first and third in Run Differential. St Louis is first in Runs Scored and third in Runs Allowed, so it’ll be tough to keep up. But this is (literally) the best chance they’ve had in decades).

Tim is an orthodontist by training and trade. He also writes, performs comedy, is a part time (generally unpaid) artist, and once did the art design for a iOS game (dontfrythefrog.com). He enjoys baseball and movies, which is often what he writes about, and he tries to do so in comic fashion. He has interviewed for Jeopady! several times in the last 8 years, and still hasn’t been on; if you know the secret, please tell him. You can visit him at tpxdmd.blogspot.com, follow him on twitter @tpxdmd, and listen to “Saturday Morning Deathrgip”, a bimonthly podcast about 80s and 90s cartoons he co-hosts- saturdaymorningdeathgrip.com.  He also won $32,000 on Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, but he downplays that for some reason.  

Guest Post: I like baseball and I don’t like people who are willfully ignorant – Part 3

This is part 3 of a series about Nick Cafardo written by guest poster Tim.  You may also want to read Part 1 and Part 2 .

So, I’m back with another Ask Nick. I took some time off because Nick Cafardo made me want to have part of face surgically removed (THAT’S AN IN-JOKE… kinda). This column, from like a week ago, actually does feature a couple questions that he answers appropriately, so I cut them. They’re boring and I’ve given him credit. But it also features Cafardo’s classic lazy pontificating, failure to answer actual questions and everyone’s favorite game “Let Nick play Team Physician!” where he does even worse than in “Let Nick play GM!” Also, while I normally skip the intro, I do not this time, babycakes.

(As ever,  your key to the world of this post- People bold enough to ask Nick a questions- BOLD. A professional idiot with an Italian last name- ITALIC. A humble guy who thinks he’s much smarter than a professional idiot- NORMAL. I, as ever, also  hat tip Fire Joe Morgan and pray one day I get an email from Ken Tremendous)

Hey, what happened to all of you “stop touting Jose Iglesias” readers?

Miss you guys. Seem a little quiet now. No worries, it’s a long season and I’m sure I’ll hear from you again.

Oh Nick, there are some people who still saying Iglesias is a horrible hitter and that his numbers are the product of some ridiculously lucky and totally unsustainable outcomes. I suppose it’s not your fault you don’t pay attention to things connected with analysis, intelligence, or, you know, thinking.

Drew has played a good shortstop, but Iglesias would have scooped up some balls that Drew can’t get to and created outs.

Drew has played a good shortstop. It was Rey Ordóñez in Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball on N64.

Seriously, because if you go to Drew’s fielding stats (as of 6/25/13) on Fangraphs, Drew in 544.1 innings at short has made 27 plays out of his zone (an average of one play ever other game) and Iglesias in 81 innings at short has made 2 (an average of one every five games). Iglesias does have a higher UZR/150 (his is 22.2 versus Drew/s 17.3) but given the number of innings at short, this may be meaningless. The point is, unlike Nick has been implying, Drew hasn’t been a defensive Hack and Iglesias hasn’t really been a defensive wizard who tells balls they shall not pass. But don’t let facts get in the way of Nick trolling his readers.

Drew could become a trade chip. On June 15, he’s eligible to be traded. Doubt the Red sox do anything that drastic this early. But there are a few teams out there who would love either Drew or Iglesias.

Let me quote some Nick Cafardo- “Ask Nick” 2/27/13– “…what a ridiculous strategy for a big market team if that’s the case. You build a team in the offseason so you can trade them? … Drew is cheap insurance. They can flip him if Iggy shows the bat, or keep him if Iggy has none. I suppose so. Again, I can’t believe they would build their team hoping they can flip guys at midseason. Holy crow.”
Holy crow, indeed, Nick.

The Red Sox look like a team with one ace, a very good offense, and four average starting pitchers. I think a lot of teams would kill for this, and it’s not bad for a rebuilding year, but I have a hard time being confident about the playoffs. Do you think this is a valid concern? And if so, what could a team that doesn’t want to shed any prospects really do?
Tyler, Charlottesville, Va.
A valid concern, but nothing to panic about just yet. You want consistency out of Jon Lester and right now he’s not giving you that as the team’s ace going into the season. He certainly got off to an excellent start, but now he’s hitting a bump in the road. The key is to limit the bumpy outings and try to get through them with limited damage. That didn’t happen Tuesday night. At some point, sometime before the trading deadline and depending on how things go for the next month, the Red Sox may be in the market for a starting pitcher.

You got that? At “some point”, “sometime”, “depending”, the Red Sox “may” want a starter.  Professional baseball man Nick Cafardo, folks.

As for Lester, he’s hit a bad spot in June- his HR/9 went from .56 in April and May to 3.38 in June, his BB/9 ballooned to 5.48 from 2.63. His BABIP also went from .277 to .379 in June, so maybe it’s bad luck, though his FIP (usually not affected by luck) went from 3.28 to 8.06. So maybe it’s a blip, maybe it’s more? If you look at his velocity charts there are no red flags. It could just be regression from his insane start or something else. Or as Nick says, an inability to limit the bumpy outings.

Injuries aside, who has been the Red Sox biggest disappointment so far?
Justin, Fairhaven
I would say Will Middlebrooks. I know he’s had injuries, but he hasn’t been the dynamic player he was as a rookie. That’s not to say he won’t be, but I figured him to be a middle-of-the-order hitter with power. He’s flashed the power, but he hasn’t had consistent at-bats even when he was healthy early in the season. Plenty of time though.

I have said this enough, like every time I write about Nick Cafardo but Will Middlebrooks is suffering from what I like to call ‘guy who swings and misses a lot and doesn’t walk syndrome’ (Copyright 2013, me). If Middlebrooks had enough PA’s to qualify for the batting title (he is short by 22 as of 6/25), he’d rank next to Nick Swisher as the 125th (out of 161) most swingin’ and missin’ batter in the majors, with 75.7% contact rate on swings (Dan Uggla is worst at 63.5%, Marco Scutaro the best at 95.5%). Pitchers aren’t even taking advantage of this, as he’s getting 48.3% of his pitches in the zone. His walk rate is a grotesque 4.2%, which would tie him at him 147 with Manny ‘Doubles Machine’ Machado. His K rate is an even grotesquer 27.2%, which would be the thirteenth worst in the big, right behind Ryan Howard and ahead of Rickie Weeks. Except Machado and his bonkers doubles rate, you probably don’t want to be compared to any of those guys in 2013.

Not to belabor this, but I did a little project. Using the stats for every batter from 2009 through 6/25/13 , I looked at every batting-title-qualified player with 100 wRC+ or higher (essentially every league-average or better hitter over this 4.5 year period) to see where Middlebrooks (career MLB BB/KK .17 and 2013 BB/KK .15) stacks up. The worst BB/K ratio in this period was Chris Johnson, at .20 (the best, FYI was Pujols, at 1.17). That means no player who rates as average or better over that period has a BB/K as poor as Middlebrooks. In fact, if you expand the selection to all players, not just the wRC+ 100+, you find only  Miguel Olivo (.16) has a worse BB/K than Middlebrooks and no one else even ties him.  If you go season-by-season, in 2012 no player was below .18. In 2011, Miguel Olivo and Alex Gonzalez were, at .14 and .17 respectively. In 2010, no one. In 2009, no one. Maybe this means nothing. Maybe Middlebrooks is on the verge of reinventing plate discipline. Or maybe he learns plate discipline.  But that’s what they said about Franceour too…  

And just as I finish writing this, Will is headed for AAA.

I know the team is paying Drew a lot of money, but with Iglesias on fire and Middlebrooks coming back, is there a chance he’ll sit and ‘rest’ so the kids can play?
Brent, Sunnyside, NY
I think because of the left side competition that John Farrell has opened up between Drew, Middlebrooks and Iglesias, you’d better “skate your wing” or you might be out of a job. I think we all know who the best shortstop is – Iglesias. He may also be their best third baseman. So he has to play. This stuff about playing three or four times a week is nonsense. He needs to be in there regularly because he saves you runs defensively and he’s hitting. I don’t think you’ll ever see a complete benching of Drew, but his time in the field could decrease if he doesn’t become more consistent offensively.

For the record Iglesias, in 81 innings in 2013 at short, has registered 1 Defensive Run Saved. He has 0 in 176 innings at third this year.  In his career 293.1 innings played defensively, he has 8 Defensive Runs Saved, 7 of which were from his 193.2 innings in 2012. Drew is at 3 DRS  in 2012.  That’s all from Fangraphs. These things can be looked up, Nick. It’s not hard.

Also, “skate your wing”? I’m not a hockey fan, and I assume this is a hockey phrase. When I googled it, and it pops up only 277 times (this Ask Nick is the #3 hit). My favorite is this Italian-English forum where an Italian woman is asking for help, because a native New Yorker moved to Italy and used the phrase and it perplexed her.  There are some great attempts at cracking the code, all of which are entertaining, my favorite being: “An Internet search yielded a number of refernces [sic] to ‘wing skate’ which appeared to be a type of sailing.” Anyway, I think it means do your job.

What position players on the current Red Sox roster could pitch in a pinch?
Rick, Eagan, Minn.
My candidates would be David Ross, Shane Victorino and Will Middlebrooks. I’m guessing Ross would be the first choice.

This is based on what, exactly? I mean, really, I would like to know. I can’t even come up with a joke for this. Instead, I have to use a cartoon Victorian gentleman. None of these three players have thrown a pitch in the majors. Middlebrooks and Ross pitched a game in the minors in 2009, but neither recorded an out. Would a team have their backup catcher pitch? The Red Sox have used a backup catcher, but only once: the inimitable Dusty Brown who sounds like he should be playing a 60’s soul revue at the Wolf Den (ESTEBAN IS PLAYING THERE JULY 12!) Anyway, I’m guessing the backup catcher would not be the first choice.

Also, I’m guessing a Red Sox beat writer for the Boston Globe would be unable to ask Manager John Farrell or Pitching Coach Juan Nieves this innocuous question.

If the Phillies make Jonathan Papelbon available, can you see the Red Sox make an aggressive bid for him and what players could the Sox move for Papelbon?
Kyle, Peabody
Not sure if the Red Sox would go after him. They want to monitor Andrew Bailey over the next month to see if he can truly handle the closer role and if he can remain healthy.

Ahem.

The Phillies need to get at least one top positional/pitching prospect. He won’t come cheaply. Probably a three-player package with one top prospect and two pretty good ones, or a current, established player. I’m sure they’d come after Allen Webster, someone who is not far from the big leagues.

I’m sure the Phillies would probably just want to unload the $30 million plus left on his contract through 2015, not counting a 2016 vesting option that kicks in with 55 games finished in 2015 or 100 in 2014-15 (Papsmear’s career includes a 162 game average of 58 Games Finished). I don’t know any team that would ask for propsects in a salary dump.

With the Sox looking for relievers, one who seems to be having a good year in Pawtucket is Ryan Rowland-Smith. He is 3-0 with an ERA of.76 and a 29/9 SO to BB ratio. He is not on the 40-man roster, so what’s the scoop?
Ken, North Kingstown, RI
I know Gary DiSarcina, the Pawtucket manager, is very high on him. One of the biggest issues here is the 40-man roster and Rowland-Smith isn’t on it, so you’d have to designate someone for assignment in order to create a spot. That’s why you’re seeing only 40-man guys getting recalled.

You know who else isn’t on the Red Sox 40-man? Everyone that you could possibly trade for. Now, we could talk about the intricacies of 40-man roster management, which players have options, DFAs, outrighting, blah blah blah. Maybe you could talk about detritus on the 40-man, like Steven Wright, the 28 year old quad-A guy with a 4.76 ERA in Pawtucket this year and the idea of DFA’ing him. But naw, not ol’ Nick.

Why is it that catchers, who see thousands of pitches and motions, are not better hitters?
Dick, Melrose
They take a beating behind the plate. It wears them down. Catchers need to spend so much time on their catching skills, that hitting becomes secondary.

I am tempted to have a snarky comeback and links to the BR page for Piazza and Bench and Berra and Campanella, but you know what? Nick’s actually 100% right. Kudos, Nick.

Would the Red Sox ever bring up Juan Carlos Linares to the major leagues? What are his stats?
Bob, Jacksonville, Fla.
He’s in Double-A Portland, hitting about .240. Never really got the chance to show what he can do. Seems to have good outfield skills and is a decent righthanded hitter, but one of those guys who has slipped through the cracks.

Slipped through the cracks? Or not-that-good 28 year old in AA… who was demoted from AAA this year.

What is your assessment of Mike Napoli so far and is there any help at first base down on the farm?
Dave, Running Springs, Calif.
He’s played the position much better than I thought he would, but he’s certainly not Adrian Gonzalez or Kevin Youkilis. He’s obviously a power threat and a dangerous hitter. He does strike out a lot, but he’s not someone you want to mess with if you’re an opposing pitcher.

He is not someone you want to mess with. You also don’t want to mess with Texas. And you also don’t mess with the Zohan.  And based on Napoli’s wRC+ of 113 you don’t mess with Kelly Johnson or Gregor Blanco either.

Wait, did someone ask about Red Sox first base prospects? No, right? No one asked that, I’m pretty sure.

In a recent article, you said the Sox pitching coach keeps the bullpen ready to go at all times. What does this mean? How does he do this?
Robert, Swanson
Hopefully, the story said the bullpen coach keeps the relievers ready to go. Yes. Dana LeVangie does a nice job. He gets them ready physically by putting together a warmup program of how many fastballs and off-speed pitches the reliever throws before coming in and also goes over the hitters he’s going to face and prepares the reliever. It’s nothing out of the ordinary, except for the fact that relievers respond to him well and value his advice.

Usually, relievers punch the bullpen coach in the groin whenever he suggests how to warm up, so LeVangie is very unique here.

Jon Lester doesn’t seem prone to awkward and bizarre injuries like Clay Buchholz. Do you think weight training to build Buchholz up might eliminate these nagging problems without altering his effectiveness?
David, Aurora, Ohio
I know he’s had some injuries and Lester hasn’t, but I wouldn’t touch a thing with Buchholz. He’s a tall, lean guy. That’s what he is. I think you’d really be messing with success by altering his body shape. He’s not a power pitcher even though he throws 94. He’s a finesse pitcher who relies on the command of five pitches to baffle the hitter. He’s 9-0, the best pitcher in baseball. I hope the conditioning people stay away from him.

You’d never, ever want to alter what a guy does physically. Especially a pitcher who has missed significant time, especially with back issues, in parts of each of the last four seasons (you can discount his 24-day DL trip last year, as that was esophagitis. I also don’t recommend you click on this link to a google image search endoscopic views of esophagitis. I warned you).

Incidentally, 9-0 does not make you the best pitcher in baseball. He’s been terrific, yes, but he also enjoys the 9th best run support in baseball (5.25 runs per game). And let us not forget that Cliff Lee, who ranked 6th in pitcher WAR by Fangraph last year, went 6-9 and didn’t get his first win until July 4. It is a galling fact that morons who believe pitching wins matter actually exist and they are paid to write about baseball (I warn you this link may have one of the most mind-blowing paragraph and worst straw man ever if you value your sanity. You might be better off looking at esophagitis). Not to mention those who even played (I’m sorry, I made myself vomit by linking to that). A 9-0 record for Buccholz means diddly. Adam Wainwright (the actual best pitcher in baseball thus far) has struck out 106 batters and walked 10 in 116.2 innings. He’s given up only four home runs. Voros McCracken (the greatest name in the history of everything) pointed out  https://groups.google.com/forum/?hl=en#!msg/rec.sport.baseball.analysis/-fcI-UzLhpY/glpawFj-ULQJ that pitchers control  HRs, Ks and BBs, and not much else. Wainwright is doing a much better job at this than anyone in 2013 (and probably ever). And he’s 10-5. So stuff your wins in a sack, mister.

Guest Post: Buzzfeed, Box Office Grosses, and Bad Math

If the internet has done anything, and I’m not sure it has, but if it has it’s that it has glorified “Geek Culture;” to use a phrase I’m annoyed I even have in my brain. Back in the day, I had a certain amount of reservation talking as extensively as I wanted to about movies and TV, particularly the less “hip” movies (Star Wars and Monty Python and the Holy Grail), TV (Murder She Wrote) and words (“hip”). As such, now that it’s “Hip to be square” as Huey Lewis would say (I’ve lost all credibility now…). So I read articles like this, and decide to launch into internet tirades.

So what was it about that article that lead me to start tapping away? To be as succinct as possible (if anyone knows my writing, succinct isn’t how I roll) it was that it sucked. The article makes 12 comparisons that are supposed to make the geekier folks in the world be sad and upset. Buzzfeed has done it before, and it worked on me to a degree there, but this time I shout in reply a call that should always been on your lips- “LOGICAL FALLACY.” Logical fallacies are natural traps, and often are used not on purpose, but because the brain naturally wants to fall into them. There are three common fallacies that show up on this list- apples to oranges, ignoratio elenchi  and the Texas sharpshooter. Every body knows apples to oranges; it’s the great party game. Wait, no it’s comparing two different, incomparable things. (from The Simpsons– Lenny: “Muhammad Ali in his prime was much better than anti-lock brakes.” Carl: “Yeah, what about Johnny Mathis versus Diet Pepsi?”) Ignoratio elenchi  translates from Latin as “an ignoring of a refutation” but it means basically that an argument has come to irrelevant conclusions. If you know that all dogs bark and that all beagles are dogs, and from that you conclude that you should watch the movie Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, you have just committed ignoratio elenchi (and also made a horrible decision). The Texas sharpshooter comes from a joke about a Texan who shoots his gun at a barn and then paints targets over the bullet holes. In arguments, it’s when you take very specific data that support a claim you’re trying to make. It’s the Yankees giving Ichiro a $13m, 2 year deal after a hot September in 2012 following a cold April 2011 through August 2012 (I’d rather be watching Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance than watching today’s Ichiro at the plate, yeesh!). In several entries, the facts that are so “depressing” are box office grosses. A few examples are Episode I made more money than Episode IV; Marky Mark’s Planet of the Apes out-grossed the original series combined; Transformers: Dark of the Moon is the sixth highest grossing film of all time. Mainly this is the Texas Sharpshooter hard at work. We have a theme we want to push (crappy movies out perform good movies) and then we find the facts that fit the argument.

The domestic gross of Phantom Menace is $474,544,677; domestic gross of A New Hope is $460,998,007. Hard to argue with that. Wait a minute, me- no it’s not. Phantom Menace has had two theatrical runs- it’s first in 1999 and the 3D re-release in 2012. A New Hope was released originally in 1977, and has had several re-releases since, the most recent being the 1997 special editions. You know what changed in those years? Movie ticket prices, inflation, tastes, Mark Hamill’s face. The Star Wars argument is a nice mix of Texas sharpshooter and apples to oranges.

Box office receipts are going to come up repeatedly on this list, but the basic fact is gross receipts are marketing tools for studios. They want to say “the number one family, christmas-themed movie in the box office last week was Christmas with Kranks” and James Cameron can prance about saying, “I have directed the top two, all-time grossing films, la di da.” (I know, my James Cameron impression is uncanny.) But in reality, what does it mean?

Let me show you something meaningful- Star Wars: A New Hope  vs. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. For the uninitiated, the estimate domestic ticket sales for the original Star Wars total 178,119,600, while the first prequel sold 90,312,100. This is going to make the rest of this entry shorter, but you can’t compare two movies released in different years based on their lifetime gross receipts- apples to oranges.  Almost twice as many people bought tickets to see Episode IV than Episode I. If you’re sad about Phantom Menace out performing A New Hope, you’re actually just sad about inflation and the marginal price increases of theater tickets. So cheer up, I guess…

But wait, there’s more! Episode I was popular BECAUSE Episode IV was so popular (180 million tickets in the US, and that’s not even considering Empire and Jedi). The anticipation (not to mention marketing) that led up to the 1999 release of Phantom Menace guaranteed its success. It’s the same reason that The Matrix was out performed by the second two films. One made $170m, two made $280m, three made $200m. Part of this is inflation;The Matrix sold 33,755,900 domestic tickets, The Matrix Reloaded– 46,695,900 , and The Matrix Revolutions– 23,095,400. The sequels only earned their money off the sad sacks (myself included) who were excited and then disappointed by the films.  To prove that point, consider that The Matrix made only 16.2% of its gross on opening weekend, while Reloaded was at 32.6%, and Revolutions 34.8%. Likewise, nearly half (15.2 million vs. 8 million) people saw the third film on opening weekend, which still ended up a higher percentage of total gross. The fact is that the sequels sucked and people learned their lesson and it showed at the box office. To me, that should reassure geeks- people learned (just like RAPTORS!)

The remarkable thing is the first movie, only the second film directed by the Wachowskis, who would go and give us almost nothing else worth watching, made such a good movie as The Matrix. Unless you count Speed Racer. Which I don’t, because it sucked too.

And that opening day weekend nonsense is also marketing. Not long ago, lifetime grosses were important. Often, movies opened on few screens, and an audience was built up by word of mouth. Looking back at the Star Wars boxoffice mojo numbers, it opened on 73 theaters. It’s “wide” release was 757 theaters. And it’s largest number of screens during its original run was 1750. This is why the Indiana Jones ‘fact’ is galling.  Of course the crapfest that is Indy 4 outgrossed the three good movies on opening weekend. Here’s a handy chart:

Movie Opening Weekend Release (Theaters) Opening Weekend Ticket Sales Overall Ticket Sales Opening Weekend % of Total Sales Price of a Movie Ticket That Year Inflation Adjusted Opening Weekend Is This a Good Movie
Raiders of the Lost Ark 1078 2,987,700 77,239,100 3.87% $2.78 $21,451,686 Holy crap, yes
Temple of Doom 1687 7540800 53,5328,00 14.09% $3.36 $54,142,944 Solid, but third best
Last Crusade 2327 7,394,200 49,416,500 14.96% $3.97 $53,090,356 Connery.
Kingdom of the Crystal Skull 4260 13,946,800 44,164,500 31.58% $7.18 $100,138,024 Even if I only paid $7.18, I was robbed

So, yeah, KotCS earned more opening weekend, but what does that mean? A third of its take was on opening weekend and it was in FOUR TIMES the theaters as Raiders. Also, like the time GWB gave Angela Merkel a shoulder massage at a G8 meeting, everyone wishes they never saw it in the first place.

5. The Resident Evil movies have made far, far more money than the Resident Evil video games.

According to the article, the movies have made a total of $674,764,589, while the games have made $36,290,000. So just another false equivalency. I have played no RE game and watched no RE movie, so I can’t speak on the merit of one over the other. I can say that according to VG Chartz the RE video game franchise has sold just under 24 million units of games in North America. And if you look at ticket sales for the five (holy crap!) (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) RE movies, you see that 35.4 million domestic tickets were sold to the films.

My math also says that 24 million games sold should be a higher gross sales than $36.3 million. If I have to shell out $60 just to play a game on my PS3 that I forget I own and never finish, I can’t believe the Resident Evil franchise is averaging $1.50 per game.

Additionally, much like the box office numbers are really a marketing tool for movie studios, look at each of the RE movies foreign vs domestic take. These are movies that are not made for American audiences. RE 1 had 60.8% of its gross from overseas, 2  had 60.4%, 3 had 65.7%, 4 had 79.7%, and 5 had a whopping 82.4% (for a total of $197.8 million in 2012 bucks. Someone should let me make Resident Evil and release it in Europe and Asia. I can retire from writing 3000 word essays about Buzzfeed entries that annoy me by misapplying math and facts. OR FOCUS ON IT!) Maybe Milla Jovovich’s Ukrainian family is just really huge and they’re just supporting little Milla.

3) Firefly lasted one season, and had terrible ratings.The Big Bang Theory is in its sixth season, and has incredible ratings.

Here is a combination of the Texas sharpshooter as well as ignoratio elenchi. The graphic on Buzzfeed says Firefly had one season, averaging 4.5 million viewers, and Big Bang Theory has six season (and counting), with an average of 19 million viewers.

There are about twleve dozen mitigating factors- Firefly was an hour-long drama, BBT is a traditional three-camera sitcom (the very definition of traditional). Firefly was on FOX, a channel notorious for canceling shows with dedicated followings, while Big Bang Theory is on CBS (not to mention like seventeen other channels in syndication). BBT does not average 19 million viewers, though it did approach that in its sixth season. It’s viewership trend has been increasing since it first debuted (it averaged 8.31 million per episode in season one). Firefly was also aired on Fridays and broadcast out of order, despite having a overarching story that spanned all of the episodes.

All that being said, I don’t think you need to run market analysis to figure out there will be a heck of a lot more viewers for a broad sitcom with quirky characters, airing on a network that has popular shows to lead-in and follow it than a western/space drama on a network that was last place during the 2002 fall sweeps. In the entire 2002 season , FOX had only two shows in the top 30, American Idol and Joe Millionaire. I invite you to read that sentence again if you want to feel dirty. 

And finally, the last entry on the list is the most galling. This is our big apples to oranges one, not to mention the mind numbing corruption of facts. Hold on to your butts if you care a lick about the following: facts, numbers, reason, logic, not wanting to stab yourself in the face.

12. M. Night Shyamalan’s films have made more money than Joss Whedon’s films.

Yep.  Let that one sink in, while I dunk my head in a toilet to make myself feel cleaner.

There are a number of problems with this. The basic facts are, through June 17, 2013, Joss Whedon’s films have an adjusted domestic gross of $641,316,200 and M. Night Shyamalan’s films have an adjusted domestic gross of $1,356,193,700. That is indisputable. But you’re comparing the gross of Joss Whedon’s three films (which includes his latest, Much Ado About Nothing, which currently is screening in five- yep, FIVE- theaters…) to M. Night’s nine movies  (which, to be fair, includes Wide Awake, which made it into 43 theaters in 1998). To compare the numbers on these two fellas’ filmographies is like saying “How sad is it that a great hitter like Mike Trout, a good guy and one of the brightest stars in all of baseball has hit 334 fewer home runs than All-Time Jerk and General Ne’er-do-well Albert Belle.” And then Albert Belle would hit you with a bat for calling him names.

But hold on, I hear the whole planet saying, “We’re pretty sure Joss Whedon had a pretty big hit that earned scads of cash. You know, that one with Sean Connery and Uma Thurman and Ralph Fiennes.” And I say, calm down, planet earth- you’re thinking of the late 90’s The Avengers, the remake of the 60’s TV show. You’re close, but he directed 2012’s Marvel’s The Avengers, which made $1.5 billion worldwide and $623, 357,910 in 2012 money. Looking back at M. Night’s list, you’d be hard pressed to find any two movies (or even three, if you’re inclined to do that much adding) that can (in adjusted dollars) meet The Avengers. And The Avengers didn’t have a crazy M. Night Twist!

I’ll end by circling back to the claim about Transformers 3: The Absence of the Racist Cars being #6 on the all-time highest grossing list. What’s remarkable about this list is that you have to go to #18, Jurassic Park, to find a movie made earlier than 1997’s Titanic (and all three of the 90s movies in the top 20, #2 Titanic, #18 Jurassic Park, and #13 Episode I, all had 3D re-releases in the last two years.) In the top 40, Lion King (which also has a recent 3D rerelease) at #21, and #38 Independence Day round out the only pre-2000 releases. In the top 100, only three films from before 1990 appear (#41 ET, #44 Star Wars, and #100 Empire Strikes Back). So of the all-time top 100 all-time highest grossing films of all time, 97 are from the last 20 years (1993’s Jurassic Park is the oldest movie after ET). How can this be?

In a 2002 edition of Issues in Political Economy, “The Decline in Average Cinema Attendance 1930-2000” , Michelle Pautz of Elon University (it’s a real school, I looked it up) wrote about the change in movie-going habits. In 1930, 65% of Americans went to the movies once a week. In 2000, it was 9.7%. Additionally, in 1930, a ticket price was $0.25, which in 2012 dollars is $3.48. A 2012 movie ticket price was $8.12. So inflation doesn’t even cover the difference in movie grosses. So, much like comparing Whedon’s ouevre to Shyamalan’s, or Trout’s dinger output to Belle’s, the comparison is inappropriate and completely invalid. Without an adjustment, you’re comparing the Coolidge administration to central air conditioning- it can’t be done (Silent Cal did preside over one of the greatest periods of American prosperity, but he ain’t helping me come July) 

This is the all-time adjusted gross list. As pointed out in probably a skajillion places, but well enough in the New York Times’ “Economix” blog by David Leonhardt, who, in March 2010, pointed out, things look a bit different from the reported list we normally see. Yes, as Leonhardt says, it’s domestic only because older movies don’t have great sales data for foreign releases. But this makes more sense, doesn’t it? A more representative mixture of crappy blockbusters from every era (Cleopatra, Grease), instead of just the crappy blockbusters from after I finished 7th grade. The fact that Mama Mia! or The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn 2 Electric Boogaloo don’t show up on the all-time is reassuring, but besides the point. It’s just applying math correctly.

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 But you won’t hear this on the TV or radio or the internets all that often, because when Johnny Depp is out pimping The Lone Ranger this month, it’s easier for the media and better for Disney to talk about the billions of dollars his Pirates series and Alice in Wonderland made, or that he is in four of the top 20 grossing movies of all time. And James Cameron looks better while prancing about, saying he’s got the #1 and #2 movies of all time, instead of being intellectually honest by saying he has the #5 and #14 (which, btw, is still awesome for him, especially since one movie is a super long suckfest and the other movie is a super long suckfest). But who will stand up for the inflation-adjusted success of Doctor Zhivago? Omar Sharif? He’s too busy with bridge. Without PR (and why does a 50 year old movie need PR?) or a good narrative, there is little reason for your average Joe-box-office-receipt-watcher to realize he’s being duped by shoddy math and incomplete context. Now, with that, I shall go curse Buzzfeed for reminding me I saw Lady in the Water in theaters.  

This post was written by Tim.

GUEST POST: I LIKE BASEBALL AND I DON’T LIKE PEOPLE WHO ARE WILLFULLY IGNORANT – Part 2

Welcome back to my entire reason for writing for this blog- making fun of Nick Cafardo and his half-assery. The theme of today’s Ask Nick Mailbag is “Nick Cafardo hates the people who ask him questions.”

Just a reminder, Nick Cafardo is a professional writer. He gets paid to write. I do this for fun and I fit it in at 11:30 pm at night before I go to bed. He gets money. I am going to cry for a little before I get into this.

If you’re curious, yes, I have managed to reference Murder She Wrote twice in two tries. But I also reference one of the WWF’s most controversial angles. If only there was a WWF/MSW crossover (It’d have been like this.)

(Reminders- I give a hat tip to FJM (because I love them), I give a hat tip to Fire Brand of the American League (because they were responding to Nick Cafardo’s nonsense for ages before I got a forum to do so) and I give a hate tip to Nick Cafardo for writing this inane claptrap. Yes, a hate tip. I don’t know what it is, but it’s what I give Nick Cafardo. Also, not all questions are listed here; occasionally Nick posts questions that he both a) wants to answer and b) has the ability to answer. Those are boring and beneath me. Haters gonna hate… note to self: don’t use that phrase ever again.)


(
Questions are in bold, Cafardo’s general nonsense is in Italics, and my Northeastern elitist commentary is unformatted)

With Adrian Gonzalez hitting [.337], Carl Crawford hitting .307 (Punto at .400, as a part-timer), and Beckett being essentially a No. 3 or 4 starter, why is there no reflection on the wisdom of last year’s trade from the Boston baseball writers? Although the team’s hot start is encouraging, it seems to me the Sox would look like a real powerhouse if they still had those guys.

Bud, Atlanta

You can’t be serious, Bud. They unloaded these guys, in part, because they were a bad fit. Poor chemistry guys. They made a lot of money and were bad for team morale. Great trade. They unloaded $265 million and got two excellent pitching prospects in Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa.

Ah yes. Bad chemistry, we all know you don’t want that.

This really makes my noggin ache considering Bud is asking why Boston writers don’t reflect on the trade. I will answer Bud’s question, even though Bud will never read this (“BUT SOMEONE IS RIGHT?” Tim asked, needily) (also, “needily” is not a word. Unless you’re talking about something that has the quality of a needle. Eh, it’s still not a word.) The answer is “It’s way too early to tell.” As of 4/29/13, Gonzo has had 257 PAs with the Dodgers and Crawford has 100, and Tubby Chinbeard has thrown 73 innings. You can tell very, very little in two months’ worth of stats.

 

I would like to point out that Cafardo turned on Gonzalez faster than Macho Man turned on Hogan. In December 2009, Cafardo was writing about Gonzalez as if he was a Red Sox player already (seriously, read that. It’s bizarre.) He wouldn’t be a member of the club for another year. And now he mocks someone who thinks Gonzalez should be on the team.

To belabor this point some more, when the deals were made, I thought the Gonzalez trade/sign was a good idea, the Beckett extension was fine, and the Crawford signing not good at all (scads of money for a guy with one outstanding season in eight and half.) And I think LA was insane to take all three of those contracts AND give anything back. I still can’t believe it. And if this is true, Cashman should have pulled that trigger faster than Brian Pillman at Steve Austin. I’m sorry, that Pillman/Austin thing just makes me laugh. And Cafardo makes me cry…

I am a Red Sox fan who is terribly excited about young Allen Webster. Having said that, I wonder if the Red Sox all of a sudden have found themselves with a bit of a bottleneck for starting pitching (what a problem to have). So if everyone stays healthy — and let’s hope they do — aside from spot starts, we might not see Allen or any of the young guys potentially for a while. They say you can’t have too much good pitching, but what will the Red Sox do if that actually is the case?

Tyler, Charlottesville, Va.

They could trade Doubront, Dempster, or Lackey if they had such a problem, providing the trio are pitching well. Don’t think this will happen. No harm in keeping Webster in Triple A for a while.

 

Um… ok, Doubront is movable, definitely. But Dempster was signed this past winter, makes $13.25m/yr this and next year. Every team had a chance to sign him and the Red Sox did. Lackey is signed through 2015, and even with the clause that makes his 2015 at league minimum, he still makes $15.25m, this year and next. And I quote Cafardo on Lackey, “Talent evaluators and GMs doubt whether Lackey is even a No. 4 or No. 5 starter, whereas Zambrano, if he gets his anger problems under control, could still be a top-of-the-rotation guy.”

I guess maybe they could ask the Dodgers.

Anthony Ranaudo is off to a great start with Portland. Given his injury history, how cautious will the Red Sox organiziation be with him this year?

Marc, Wicomico Church, Va.

He looks pretty healthy. No reason to baby him. Sure he’ll rise to Pawtucket in the not-too-distant future.

I love the moments where someone writes to one of these mailbags and says a name I’ve never heard of. I have this glimmer of hope that Marc has decided to use a suspect’s name from Murder She Wrote to see if he can fool Cafardo. But, no- Anthony Ranaudo does indeed play for Portland.  But Wicomico Church, VA has to be made up, right?

Also, I put the odds of Cafardo having any idea what a AA pitcher has looked like physically at somewhere around 3,720 to 1. Never tell Nick the odds.

I’m a huge Red Sox fan living in Vietnam and see a handful of Sox caps being worn around here. Anyway, the start of this season is a bit of a welcome surprise, with close to solid pitching and patchwork hitting. Power numbers are way down, as we seem to be treading water playing small ball. Do you see this trend continuing throughout the season or do you see some sort of package thrown together to acquire a power bat around the trade deadline?

Bruce, Vietnam

Until I see a downturn in the offense or a significant injury, I don’t envision adding a power bat. Hard to find power hitters, period, in the post-steroid era. If Daniel Nava fades or Jonny Gomes doesn’t show the power they hoped, I could see an attempt to find someone like a Carlos Quentin or Alex Rios.

Wait, Nick- is it actually hard to find power hitters, mid-sentence period, in the post-steroid era or can you find someone like a Carlos Quentin (but which one?) or the Alex Rios?

Dustin Pedroia said this week he’s batting with less power due to a thumb injury after a first base head-first slide against the Yankees. I saw this play. I think it was 10-0 Red Sox at the moment. Can somebody tell Dustin to be aggressive when it’s important? He’s hurting the team playing like this.

Alain, Deux-Montagnes, Quebec

They haven’t needed him to hit for power. He’s hitting very well. Off to a great start. I don’t see where he’s hurting the team in any area. Not sure what your gripe is.

No, Mr. Cafardo, don’t take your anger out on me.  Get back!  Get back!  Mist — Mister Cafardo — NO!  I told you he hates his readers.

Pedroia, as of 4/29 is slugging .394, with 6 extra-base hits in 2013. His isolated power is a robust .064, good for 108 out of 130 qualified ML hitters. Pedroia’s value at the plate so far has derived from the fact that he’s ninth in the majors for OBP of those same 130 qualified hitters. Importantly, there should be small sample size warnings galore especially as slugging, ISO and OBP take the among longest to become reliable metrics. Plus Pedroia has a downright above-average OPS of .831. So I guess Pedroia isn’t hurting the team, and there should be no concern. Wait… what’s my point? Oh yeah, can the attitude, Cafardo.

I noticed that Clay Buchholz pours water on the hip of his jersey pants between innings. He then goes to this spot with his pitching hand before the pitch. Is this legal? Is this common among pitchers?

Kevin, Greensboro, N.C.

Never noticed. If he’s throwing a spitter, it isn’t legal. He often complains about not getting a good grip on the ball, so I’m not sure what he does to ensure that. I know before every game he lathers up his glove with shaving cream and rubs it in.

“Hi, I’m Nick Cafardo. I’m a Red Sox beat writer. You, a fan from North Carolina, noticed something I did not. I will not investigate this at all nor will I ask a player I have daily access to about it. For the sake of making this answer marginally interesting I will say he’s not throwing a spitter, as you so clearly did not imply. He also doesn’t rob 7-11s or fistfight horses. Stop not implying these things.”

My favorite part of the game is defense. Nothing like hitting the cutoff or a crisp 6-4-3. For a long time, fielding stats haven’t been listed. Why so? Most people don’t remember that Nomar was just adequate at short.

Bill, Torrington, Conn.

You’re right. Never been a sexy baseball stat, but significant. You can go on FanGraphs and get the UZR and range factor stuff, which is very interesting.

I’m sorry, what the devil are you two talking about? Bill- “For a long time, fielding stats haven’t been listed. Why so?” Listed where? Nick- “Never been a sexy baseball stat, but significant.” Which stat? That’s not even a sentence. I will say, I’m fairly certain Nick Cafardo does not know what UZR or range factor stuff (RFS) are, so clever deflection. I will say, Nomar’s RFS was not really outstanding, we can all agree on that.

Do you think David Ross should become Ryan Dempster’s personal catcher? I noticed in some of Dempster’s starts prior to Friday night’s that Salty has had some trouble keeping splitters in the dirt in front of him.

Jesse, Knoxville, Tenn.

John Farrell wants to get away from the “personal catcher” stuff. I suppose over time, a relationship will develop where one guy prefers a certain catcher. I think Ross would be the choice for a few of them, but having said that, I think Salty is fine back there. Look around the league, and you see a lot worse than Salty, who has worked really hard to improve. I really have no problem with Salty as a catcher. The throwing could be better.

I have no problem with Salty as a catcher. None whatsoever… he can’t throw. But no problems. Except his throwing.

I’m trying to better understand the nature of Middlebrooks’s slump. He’s always seemed overly aggressive to me, even when he was thriving in the minors and getting on base in the majors last season. I initially thought this approach was catching up to him, since his K/BB rate has risen from 5.4 last year to 8.7 this year, but his average pitches per plate appearance have only dropped from 3.88 to 3.84. Is this slump simply bad luck, as his .163 BABIP might suggest, or does he need to better adopt the Red Sox’ organizational approach of greater discretion at the plate?

Justin, Lexington

I think we’re reading much too much into it. He’s a sophomore player and the scouting reports on him are out there and very precise. They’re pitching to his weaknesses. Now he has to make the next adjustment. Whether that’s protecting the outer half of the plate more, where he’s susceptible, or being more aggressive and perhaps not waiting for so many pitches. He’s got to have the feel for that. I’ve spoken to plenty of scouts who thought he would struggle a bit off the bat this year, but he’ll eventually figure it out. He always does. And it looks as if he’s starting to come out of it based on the last couple of games vs. Houston.

The fact that he’s struggling is, I’m sure, due to better scouting. It’s also likely due to regression to the mean. Middlebrooks got a bit lucky last year, as his BABIP was .335, while the AL average was .293. But the larger point is not that, as our dear Cafardo says, “he’ll eventually figure it out. He always does.” No, the larger point is that Middlebrooks’ K/PA in the minors was 26.3% and his BB/PA was 7.5%; those are below average by most standards. If these are his true rates, his comps are players like Bill Hall or Marcus Thames (or in sportswriter speak “a Bill Hall or a Marcus Thames.” WHY DO THEY DO THAT? Also awful: football announcers saying, “he’s out with a knee.”). The fact that a guy who K’s a lot, BB’s seldom and has power around 4 P/PA is impressive.

I’m glad to see Bard back with the big club and really hope he’s able to succeed. That being said, he doesn’t have the velocity on his fastball that he used to. Do you think his velocity is down due to an actual physical issue or is he intentionally slowing things down trying to regain his command?

Ryan, Rutland, Vt.

He’s going back to the minors. He was called up only because the Red Sox needed to call up a 40-man roster pitcher. He was the one available. They told him in spring training his issues require more of a long-term approach, and that’s exactly right. His velocity is down, his mechanics aren’t consistent from outing to outing or hitter or hitter.

I feel like Nick stops reading each question like 10 words in. He sees Ryan’s email, see’s “Bard back with big club” and starts firing up his typewriter to answer whatever he guesses the question is. Sorry Ryan, you didn’t really want to know about Bard’s velocity, I’m sure.

Do you think the Red Sox will win the World Series?

Ethan, Saint Johns, Fla.

In April?

Yes, Nick. In April. I suppose Ethan could have been asking about World Series of Poker Asia-Pacific, held April 4-15. Or I suppose Nick really is taking out his bad day on some readers.

Now that Jackie Bradley Jr. is not in the major leagues, does the clock start ticking for his Hall of Fame eligibility? I can’t believe the Red Sox didn’t send him to Pawtucket to start the season. Hopefully, his short, overmatched stint in the majors doesn’t hurt his development. Yes, I know he shows maturity, but still. I see Middlebrooks struggling this year. Do the Sox have somebody else who can play third and provide some pop to the offense?

Tom, Middle Haddam, Conn.

Jackie Bradley isn’t that fragile that he would be permanently scarred by three weeks in the majors rather than Pawtucket to start the season. He was the right guy to have on their roster at the start, based on their needs at the time. Once Ortiz came back, it was the right time to ship him back. Looks like he may be back if Victorino’s back injury doesn’t get better.As for Middlebrooks, relax. The team is in first place with the best record in the majors. If he’s struggling, so what? Let him come out of it.

Surely, like the first question about writers re-examining their gut reactions to Sox moves, we would hate to revisit topics. Bradley had 271 PAs above A ball before someone decided he was “the right guy to have on their roster at the start, based on their needs at the time.” Their needs, if I recall, were definitely outfielders, since they surely did not have six OFs on their 40-man roster and surely not seven non-roster invitees to Spring Training, including Ryan Sweeny who surely did not spend all of 2012 with the Boston Major League club. Surely, they HAD to play the 23-year-old prospect and there surely should be no discussion of whether or not it actually makes sense from either a) a baseball point of view or b) a front office point of view. So what, Tom from Middle Haddam? So what?

WIll Bradley be hurt by a crappy 12 games, where his best game was a three walk opening day performance? Probably not. Was there any point at all with him breaking camp with the Red Sox? Most likely not. But whatevs, ya’ll. Cafardo’s cool with it and the Sox are in first, and that’s all that matters. Cafardo and I think they nailed that Asia-Pacific World Series.

I was surprised to see Wright pitch in such awful conditions, where the k-ball was guaranteed to be wild. Does the weather generally play a role in these decisions? Did Farrell at least tell the kid, “You won’t come anywhere near the plate; don’t worry about it”?

Will, Chicago

That was a blowout game and he was the long man. Simple as that. Sure, K-ball is better under controlled conditions (dome) or when there’s no elements (wind, rain). A manager isn’t going to tell any pitcher not to worry about a bad performance. Why would he do that? You’re a professional player. You need to perform no matter what.

As a pretty big baseball fan, it took me a long time to figure out that “K-ball” means knuckleball. I didn’t have to google it- with some brain-thinking, I put all the pieces together. I decided to google it, anyway. The results tell me “k-ball” is the fresh football used at kick-off in the NFL. Let me know when you find that it also means knuckler.

Also, Nick, don’t yell at Will from Chicago. He’s not a professional player.

Is anybody else bothered by Napoli not buttoning up his uniform shirt? I notice a lot of the guys leave the top button unbuttoned, but Napoli doesn’t button the top two, prominently exposing his red undershirt and generally displaying an unprofessional appearance. Guess it will bother me less if the RBIs keep coming, but still.

Brad, Danbury, Conn.

The league has rules on how to wear your uniform. We’ll see if they object to that. But, true, I wouldn’t worry about it if he’s knocking in runs.

But, boy howdy, if he ever stops collecting RBIs, he better wear a tuxedo on the field.

We hear a lot about a “swing tailored for Fenway.” Supposedly Adrian Gonzalez had one, thought it apparently evaporated while he was here. But what exactly is it? Does it differ for LH and RH hitters? How does it differ from a “swing tailored for Petco,” or a “swing tailored for Wrigley?” What is it about such a swing that takes advantage of Fenway?

Dylan, Madison, Wis.

For a lefthanded hitter, an inside-out swing allows the ball to head toward the Monster. For a righthanded hitter, a short, compact pull swing achieves the same purpose.

On a fairly superficial level, Nick answered some of this question. Not all, but some, at least. I give him some credit.

However, if someone actually cared about answering the questions sent to his eponymous mailbag, he could theoretically explain that MLB stadia are all unique in design. He could continue by saying that other sports, like football, hockey, basketball and soccer have standard fields of play and, outside perhaps weather in football, the physical environment doesn’t affect performance. He may go on to say that a “tailor-made swing” is a shorthand for “a batter has tendencies to hit the ball in directions that would take advantage of the idiosyncrasies of a given ballpark.” That writer could provide specific examples based on the question. He could say, for instance, Fenway Park has the smallest leftfield in baseball, because of the Green Monster. As such, any hitter, righty or lefty, that tends to drive the ball towards left will tend to collect more hits, as balls that could be caught in other parks will instead hit the Monster. If he were to look for specific examples, Jim Rice is a great one. Jim Rice a dead-pull righty, used the Green Monster and the relatively short leftfield very effectively; his home OPS+ was 147. Meanwhile, when he played anywhere that was wasn’t Fenway, his OPS+ was 109. In terms of 2012 second basemen, Rice at home was Robinson Cano (OPS+ 150), on the road he was Kyle Seager (OPS+ 109).

Thinking more about Fenway, it’s right field is rather idiosyncratic as well; though the RF foul pole is a very short 302 feet, RF becomes very deep, very fast. As such, left handed dead pull hitters are a pretty rare sight in a Red Sox lineup. That is why Gonzalez looked so well-suited for the Red Sox. I’m not sure why they didn’t lust after a righty power hitter, nor am I sure why Mark Teixeira was so attractive back in the 2008/2009 offseason but Gonzalez did look like he’d work well at Fenway. And for the record, his 2011 was pretty effing good. But it’s more fun to crap on a guy.

Back to Parks, Petco Park, another example suggested by the questioner, is a relatively big ball park that is right next to the ocean; in the evenings, moist, heavy, sea air causes fly balls to die. Unlike Fenway, its outfield is shaped a bit more regular, just big. If you look at the park splits you can see that left-handed hitters are hurt pretty uniformly (LHB hit 166 XBHs vs RHB 199 XBHs.) So, presumably, a swing “tailor-made” for Petco is “right-handed” . Meanwhile, Wrigley favors RHB, though not as much as Petco (198 XBHs for LHBs and 213 for RHB.)

It will be very interesting to see, as time goes by, if the changes in dimensions of Petco make a difference or if it’s just San Diego that kills offense.

One could respond like that, but not Nick. He will answer what he wants, even if it’s not the question at hand, and he’ll scold you for asking it.

Guest Post: Robinson Cano and Aging

This post was written by Tim.  

Note- I have decided to make this a two-parter, which is always a great sign. Like that episode of Magnum PI that was continued into an episode of Murder, She Wrote (I hope no one thinks I’m kidding. It happened, and it was terrific.) Part one is mainly a critical look at the article sparking this issue and part two will be my analysis of the situation, because I know where my bread is buttered- the top, duh. Anywho, on to part one.

Dave Cameron is a terrific baseball writer and analyst. I love Dave Cameron. If Dave Cameron was a flavor of ice cream, he’d be Hood’s Green Monster Mint. Dave Cameron does good work, writes in an engaging manner and runs USS Mariner, which is his blog about a shipwreck. He’s also a frequent contributor to David Cone’s favorite website, Fangraphs.com.

Last month, Cameron posted an article entitled “Robinson Cano and Second Base Aging Curves.”  The point of the article is that despite lots of anecdotal evidence of second basemen falling off a cliff in their early- to mid-thirties, the evidence is scant and Cano, as an elite player, should age just fine so the Yanks should make him as rich as a king of Europe. Cano will finally be able to afford a computer.

As a side note, I once listened to the ESPN “Baseball Today” podcast, which featured Keith Law (he’d be Phish Food) among others, and was heavy on analysis. ESPN in their unending quest to be the most mediocre sports outlet possible, changed the podcast to “Baseball Tonight” and Buster Olney is the host, and it’s now a bunch of writers telling us the same boring things professional baseball writers tell us, interviewing players who say the same boring things baseball players say and not doing a lick of analysis. During Spring Training, Olney and one of my least favorite Tims, Tim Kurkjian spoke at length about the Cano contract extension situation, and they agreed that the Yankees should go Monty Brewster on him, and just dump all of the money on him. All of it.

But let’s focus on Cameron’s argument, here. Cameron starts by saying that there are number of good, productive second basemen who suddenly stopped being good, productive second basemen. He lists Edgardo Alfonso, Carlos Baerga, Marcus Giles, Chuck Knoblauch, Roberto Alomar and Chase Utley as our anecdotal reference group. And it’s true, these guys all played (or play, for Utley) second, and they all had a precipitous decline. But like Cameron says, it’s anecdotal. And do you know what anecdotes are worth? Not a darned lot. Sorry about my language there, but I get riled up. So let’s get quantifying.

First, Cameron posits that all those guys, your Baergas, your Alfonsos, your Gileses (or maybe that’s a plurale tantum?), were good but not as Cano. Cameron suggests using wRC+ as a measuring stick to find Cano’s peers through age 29 (Cano was 29 years old for most of the 2012 season) and then see how those peers aged out; from there we will see if Cano is a worthy gamble for a contract that would let him finance the John Carter sequel; Cano loved the first movie [citation needed]. For the uninitiated, wRC+ stands for “weighted runs created plus” and a thorough explanation can be found here. The stat accounts for park and league adjustments. It’s a nifty tool to see in one number how good of a batter someone is (it’s worth noting that Cameron is totally avoiding discussion of defense, and I suppose it’s fair. But it’s worth noting it. Much like it’s worth noting that in 2005 he said, of Cano, “In his prime, I think he could hit .280/.320/.400 while playing awful defense.  Yipee.” I like the sarcastic Yipee. And, like Fred Dobbs can tell you, figuring out prospects is a tough job.

Anywho, Cameron doesn’says, “Over the last 50 years, there have been six second baseman (Cano included) who have put up a 130 wRC+ or better from ages 26 to 29.” That list is:

Screen Shot 2013-04-17 at 5.51.07 PM

 

And here are the same players from age 31 on, which are the seasons Cano’s next contract will cover

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And here are the trends of those players:

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Cameron notes that McAuliffe had the steepest decline, and was cooked at age 34. Cameron goes on to note, “[e]ven including McAuliffe, these five players averaged 3.5 WAR per season after they turned 31. Hardly a group that just fell apart after their prime was over.” Which is fair. Likewise, Cameron is fair by saying Utley, since he’s still active and is 34 in 2013, will likely see a bigger decline in his WAR. Fair all around. And based on what he’s seeing, even if we regress Cano, he expects him to produce 30 WAR for his career after he turns 31, and with inflation and the price of a win, Cano should be worth $210m or more. So go ahead Robbie, buy that superyacht. You’ve earned it via prediction.

 

Well, let’s actually think about this. First look at that list of CanoComps™. Those are some not-too-shabby folks to hang around. I’d hang around with those guys, if they’d have me. I don’t know what we’d talk about, but we could eat ice cream (real ice cream, not analogue ice cream that is actually baseball writers). I could probably bait Joe into talking about that terrible book Billy Beane wrote. But here’s the thing: I expected more players with some other criteria to show up (in Cameron’s article, not with my second baseman caucus), but this was the whole list. Five dudes.

Even deeper, though, are his criteria to form this five man list: ages 26-29 seasons with  a wRC+ of 130 or higher. I think it’s totally fair to say that Robinson Cano has been an elite secondbaseman. Over the time period Cameron is looking at, 2009 to 2013, Cano had the sixth best wRC+ in all of baseball (by the by, Ben Zobrist, incidentally toes the line as number two, following the 2012 AL MVP. Zobrist is criminally underrated.) My issues with the set though are a) Cano had his only below-average year as a major leaguer in 2008, the year before the cutoff and b) wRC+ of 130 is elite, but it’s also extremely exclusive. Additionally, based on Cameron’s criteria we have what I call the “Carew Issue” (it rhymes, which makes it fun. If you don’t find it fun to say “Carew Issue,” I feel like you need to lighten up.) Through age 29, his Rodness was indeed an other-worldly hitter as second basemen. But time played some jokes on Rod Carew; not only is he probably now best known as a line in an Adam Sandler novelty song, he also only played 30 innings at second in the remaining 8797.2 innings of his career. Biggio (whose name does NOT rhyme with “issue,” for the record) is a little more defensible, though he did play 3491 innings at catcher before he switched to second at age 26, he also played his age 37 and 38 seasons in the OF. The problem here is that, if we’re trying to test if second base causes inherent problems for the men who play it, shouldn’t we try to have only second basemen?

And, finally, on our final analysis, Cameron switches from wRC+ to WAR. Both are good options for measuring performances, as far as I’m concerned, but they’re measuring different things. Runs Created, in any of its permutations, measures offensive production; WAR (what is it good for? ISN’T THAT JOKE ALWAYS HILARIOUS? No. it was never funny in any way) measures total production- offense, defense, baserunning (but not grittiness, sorry Justin Upton). Why’s that an issue? Well, if you look at WAR per 600 plate appearances (and I prefer WAR as a rate, rather than WAR, since it is a counting stat), using the same age range for second baseman, my 2B Ice Cream Social has a longer evite list:

Screen Shot 2013-04-17 at 5.51.34 PM

 

I made my cut off 4 WAR/600PA. Lou Whitaker’s WAR/600PA is about 82% of Cano’s (incidentally, Cano’s is 77% of Utley’s.) So why is this problem matic? Well, outside of having more people, you can see how baserunning and fielding affect the WAR. Cano’s WAR is almost exclusively his offense; his defense is slightly above average (that’s the Fld score, in runs above average, of 5.3) and his baserunning is indeed perfectly average (BsR of 0). Pedroia , a good but not elite offensive player, has the second highest fielding score on the list, after only Utley. Utley, for his part, until age 29, was elite as a hitter, fielder and baserunner (I guess someone was practicing baseball instead of making runs to the White House in AC. That’s what we in the business call local color. Also, maybe I’ll get a free sandwich for the shout out. ) I personally don’t like measuring performance by one metric, and then making our prediction based on another. It’s not unlike having some sort of spaceship race and then measuring performance in how many parsecs it took.

I guess, in the end, there are some issues I have with how Cameron has put together his analysis. I think it’s great to look at comparable players to figure out overall trends, but if we’re so limited by our criteria, we will get almost no meaningful information. His conclusion is based on the careers of five men, one of whom fits the anecdote we’re trying to test, one who’s still in the midst his career (and has thus far actually kinda proved the anecdote), one who’s a first baseman, one who split time between second and center, and the best second baseman of all time. By our highly restrictive criteria, Cameron immediately (and admittedly) eliminated a larger number of guys who played well above average, but sub-elite baseball before they turned 30. If I’m the considering signing Cano, (which I am not, since I’m just a dude not a baseball team) I definitely want to see a great analysis to figure out the risk of drops in performance. Because, sometimes even if the player looks like an all-time great, a gigantic contract can still become something you regret.

I was talking about A-rod there, in case you didn’t catch it.

Also, remember, I really do like and respect Dave Cameron. Heckuva writer.