Tag Archives: Major League Baseball

Is that a shiny new free agent in your stocking, or an old lump of coal?

NFL playoffs are right around the corner, but ’tis the season for a jolt of baseball excitement too, as teams sign new players. The contracts are getting bigger and bigger, supported by growing MLB revenues. Some of the major signings under the tree this year (more here):

  • Zack Greinke, 6 yrs, $147 million (Dodgers)
  • Josh Hamilton, 5 yrs, $125 million (Angels)
  • B.J. Upton, 5 yrs, $75 million (Rays)
  • Anibal Sanchez, 5 yrs, $80 million (Tigers)

But before you start thinking playoffs, remember that many big deals don’t work out. Who will be nice and who will be naughty this year?

The Old Lumps of Coal

From the list above, Greinke is 29 years old, Hamilton is 31, Upton is 28, and Sanchez is 28. Not many young players are available through free agency, but are these 4 to 6 year deals for 28 to 31 year olds a good idea? I tackled this question with my friend Jeff Phillips for ESPN the Magazine in early October.

Specifically, we wondered if long deals for 30 year olds made more sense during the steroid era, when players could recover, train, and maintain more easily. There are two sides of the coin: (1) how has older player performance changed, and (2) has older player compensation evolved appropriately. We focused on players in the top quarter of the salary distribution, since that’s where the big money is spent. To measure performance, we examined average Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP)* by age during and after the steroid era:

WARP bars

Uh oh. Although performance for all highly paid players has gone down, older “stars” have turned out to be coal indeed. Looking year by year highlights the post-PED age decline. Average WARP for older and younger stars was remarkably similar through the steroid era, but older player WARP Continue reading

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New York is Lefty Land

I’m a Tigers fan, so I’m pretty excited about how things worked out the last week. Basically, everything went right for the Tigers and nothing went right for the Yankees.

The only glimmer of hope for the Yankees came in game one. Down 4-0, Ichiro Suzuki hit a line drive homer to right in the bottom of the ninth and Raul Ibanez followed with a pop fly two-run “shot” that might have been an out (or perhaps a double) in most parks. Hope turned to despair when Derek Jeter went down with an ankle injury in the 12th, ending his season, while the Tigers stormed back into the lead. Even worse for the Yankees, their near victory finally knocked Jose Valverde off his closer pedestal. The Tigers should have made that move months ago.

I want to go back to the homers though. It’s no coincidence that both homers went to right field off of left-handed bats. Here are the home/road home run splits for the Yankees lefties in 2012:

Continue reading

My Imaginary Baseball Team: The Portland Peskies

During the NBA season this year, I wrote up some parameters for an alternative way to build an NBA winner: The Seattle Scientists. The idea behind the Scientists is the same old Moneyball methodology for small market teams — find the undervalued assets and spend your money there. In the NBA, my buddy Tony and I think effort, defense, and intelligence are the assets to focus on. In the the MLB, there are some related options: bunting, speed, and defense again. We settled on the Portland Peskies for this thought experiment (an over-educated city that would appreciate a non-traditional team), though the Indianapolis Institute and the Las Vegas Vig (“You can never beat the house!”) were also in the running.

It’s no coincidence that I’m writing this while my Tigers play their old nemesis the Twins. The Tigers (outside of Quintin Berry this year) never have any hitters that would fit the Pesky mold. But Twins outfielder Ben Revere (currently snagging a tailing line drive off his shoe tops) would be on the Peskies’ radar for sure, as would Alexi Casilla and Denard Span. Revere has 6 bunt singles this year on 13 tries and 16 steals Continue reading

Adrian the Canadian fixes the MLB playoffs

“But he’s Canadian,” you say, “So what does he know about baseball?” Well, he’s from Toronto, the team most screwed by the current system, so let’s give it a shot:

A few days ago, the MLB announced that it was expanding its playoffs to include a second wild-card team. Under the new system, the two wild-cards will play a single game that determines who goes to the divisional series. Response has been, at best, mixed. The strongest criticisms, like this one from ESPN’s Joe Sheenan, have taken a traditionalist perspective. Sheenan worries about what this new system will mean for deep-seated, and still exciting, elements of baseball like the pennant race. He sees the wild-card system as debasing what has historically been one of the most exciting parts of being a baseball fan: following your team through a tense September race to win the division. By Sheenan’s estimation, the old system encouraged top teams to play their best throughout the whole season. If you happen to be one of the two best teams in the league by regular season record but can’t win your own division, tough grapes.

I sympathize with Sheenan and other traditionalists. Baseball’s regular season is long and arduous and does a pretty good job of determining the “best” team (or, at least, a better job than other pro-sports at determining the best team). Meanwhile, baseball playoffs, due to the nature of the game, are pretty close to random. As Billy Beane said, “my shit doesn’t work in the playoffs” – seven and five game series are simply too short to give us a good idea as to which team is best. In the 17 post-seasons since the advent of the wild-card, the wild card team has won five times Continue reading

The Prince Heavy Side Function

Here’s one potential career “arc” for Prince Fielder:

I call it “the Prince Heavy Side Function,” after the famous Heaviside step function. The graph above certainly has a “heavy side,” though Oliver Heaviside himself was not heavy at all.

Oliver "Not So Heavy" Heaviside

Thanks Brother Evan for suggesting the graph above!

The hitting streak

I just finished reading “56,” a retelling of Joe DiMaggio’s hit streak by Kostya Kennedy (thanks to my buddy Jake for the book!). He unfolds the 1941 streak like a story, complete with what the players were thinking/saying and lots of contextual details concerning DiMaggio’s family life, World War II, Italian American immigrants, etc. The book has a bit too much typical baseball nostalgia, perhaps (witty newspaper reports, grand ballparks and announcers, exaggerated personalities), but the story is undeniably fascinating and the writing is pretty good. Kennedy also sprinkles in some discussion of other hitting streaks and finishes with a good summary of quantitative work that’s been done on streaks.

The big debate about both good and bad streaks is whether they arise due to chance alone or whether they reflect Continue reading