Friday, April 04, 2014
What was the most important game in the history of the major leagues? Perhaps it was one of the games that could be argued to have been the very first major league game (the National Association’s first game on May 4, 1871 between Cleveland and Fort Wayne; the National League’s on April 22, 1876 between Boston and Philadelphia; or the American League’s on April 24, 1901, between Cleveland and Chicago). Maybe it was October 3, 1951 as Bobby Thomson hit The Shot Heard Round the World. You would get a lot of support for April 15, 1947 as Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, and rightfully so. From a business standpoint, consider April 14, 1953, the Braves’ first game in Milwaukee after fifty years of franchise stability, or April 10, 1961 as the second Senators hosted the White Sox to open the expansion era.
Or maybe you’d point out that I’ve not attempted to define what makes a game important as opposed to the circumstances that led to it, and that too many factors would go into doing so to produce a coherent result. There have literally been hundreds of thousands of games in major league history, and so this exercise is inherently silly. But one question I can answer with absolute certainty is “What was the most important game to you, personally?” And that was the 1994 Opening Day game between the Mariners and the Indians, the first regular season game ever played at Jacobs Field.
By late 1993, I was pretty interested in sports, but not baseball. Baseball simply had not captured my interest the way that football and basketball had. I really can’t put my finger on why that was, as my personality even at a young age was well-suited to quiet contemplation, patient and passive spectatorship, and interest in numbers and factoids. It is obvious now that baseball is the perfect sport for me, but it was no less true long before I knew that.
I suppose I can assign some of the blame for this to the Indians. The organization was mired in a few decades of persistent losing, and there was no excitement surrounding the team. I was (sadly) a sports talk radio listener at this point and the Browns dominated the Cleveland scene (they still do, of course, but to a lesser extent). There was no social or peer pressure to follow the Indians, and thus in a pre-internet, no cable household, baseball in general. My dad was a casual baseball fan; I remember watching some of the 1993 World Series on a Friday or Saturday night. We also went to one of the Indians final games at Municipal Stadium in September 1993, but it was on a Sunday and my most indelible memory of the whole thing was fans huddling around a gentleman watching the Browns on a mini TV.
However, the tone started to shift a little bit in the spring of 1994, as there seemed to be genuine optimism regarding the Indians and excitement for the opening of Jacobs Field. I added free agent signings Dennis Martinez and Eddie Murray to the list of Indian players whose names I knew (Albert Belle, Carlos Baerga, Kenny Lofton, Jose Mesa, maybe Sandy Alomar), but was obviously still far from engaged as any sort of fan.
Then April 3, 1994 rolled around, the first regular season game at Jacobs Field between the Indians and the Mariners. Dennis Martinez v. Randy Johnson. Even as a kid I had a decent sense of history, so I believe that I was aware and interested in this event, but sadly not solely for it just being an Opening Day baseball game. It was pretty much the last time that I wouldn’t be interested in a major league game just on the basis of it being a baseball game.
The details that follow are all courtesy of the play-by-play account, as I have very little memory of the specifics of this game. The details of most games become fuzzy over time, replaced by memories of specific moments and a general haze. This is especially true for me with the earliest games I remember, and while the (gulp) decades that have elapsed are certainly a contributing factor, I don’t think it’s the only one, or even the primary one. Rather, my memories from this time suffer from my inability at the time to process baseball in context--the lack of a real-time knowledge base from which to differentiate those events that were truly memorable from those that were more mundane. I also would cite the lack of keeping score, which could be dismissed as a crutch in lieu of actual memories, but in my opinion is an essential tool with which to place the events of the game within the context of the game itself, let alone across time. Even in a typical game with seventy-five plate appearances, I find it’s easy to lose track of the truth and replace it with one’s own narrative in absence of a trusty scoresheet.
Seattle scored in the first and third to take a 2-0 lead. Meanwhile, Randy Johnson was pitching a no-hitter, which was notable for a couple reasons beyond the obvious. One, Johnson, while not yet established as a Hall of Fame super-ace, had already pitched a no-hitter and was clearly one of the leading candidates to do so again among active pitchers. Secondly, the only Opening Day no-hitter had been thrown by Bob Feller for the Tribe, and Feller was in attendance for the opening of the new era in Indians baseball. It was sometime around the seventh inning when I got home from school and started listening to this familiar yet also newish (to me) sport of baseball on the radio. It may sound overly dramatic and absurd, but it is not untrue to say that, literally, my life would never be the same.
In the eighth, the Indians finally got something going offensively. Candy Maldonado led off with a walk (that was about the only thing he did well in 1994), the fifth surrendered by Johnson (a reminder that this was pre-super-ace Johnson). Sandy Alomar singled to break up the no-hitter, a wild pitch moved the runners up, and Manny Ramirez doubled them in to tie the game.
Johnson was relieved by Tim Davis in the ninth, and the Indians rallied with two out on an Albert Belle double and Eddie Murray infield single, but Paul Sorrento struck out. In the tenth, the Mariners scored off Jose Mesa thanks mainly to singles by Ken Griffey and Kevin Mitchell, but Bobby Ayala and Kevin King couldn’t close it--the Indians rallied again. After Alomar struck out swinging to open the inning, Ramirez walked (Wayne Kirby pinch-ran) and Jim Thome hit a pinch-hit double. That’s right--Mark Lewis started the game at third over Thome given the latter’s perceived ineptness against southpaws. Somewhat bizarrely, Kenny Lofton was intentionally walked, Omar Vizquel hit into a fielder’s choice to score Kirby, and Carlos Baerga flew out, pushing the 3-3 game to an eleventh inning.
Eric Plunk retired Seattle in order in the top of the inning. In the bottom, King got Belle to ground out before Murray doubled. Sorrento flied out and Murray took third. Seattle intentionally walked Alomar to get to Kirby, who was now batting in Ramirez’s spot. Kirby lined a single down the left field line, and the Indians won the game 4-3.
It is difficult to exaggerate how much this game changed my attitude towards baseball. It might not have been entirely immediate, but if not it was pretty close. Memories are a bit fuzzy at this point, but for whatever reason, I remember being dragged along by my parents to shop for a refrigerator on Sunday April 10. The Indians’ fifth game of the season had been rained out at Kansas City on Saturday, so Chris Nabholz was skipped in the rotation and Dennis Martinez was pitching again on the TV at the appliance store. This confused me, and my dad explained to me that the fifth starter is often skipped in such a situation. The point of this mundane story? I knew who the fifth starter was.
That spring and summer, I became obsessed with both the Indians and collecting baseball cards. I hated the White Sox as the Indians chased them in the division, I followed all the intrigue of Albert Belle’s corked bat suspension and rejoiced when he homered in his return. I penciled Kenny Rogers’ perfect game into the list in my Information Please Sports Almanac, the baseball section of which had previously not gotten much attention but now was well-worn. By the end of the year I had subscriptions to two baseball publications (Beckett Baseball Card Monthly and Baseball Digest). I was starting to apply my natural interest in figures and analysis into what would, by spring of the next year, be a nascent interest in sabermetrics and by the next year be a full-blown obsession.
And when the players went on strike? I was disappointed, to be sure, but an event that potentially could have crushed a young fan before he had a chance to be fully invested had zero impact on my newfound infatuation. The next spring I eagerly learned all the names of the Indians’ replacement players and was ready to cheer for our ace Joe Slusarski, our middle-of-the-order thumper Joe Biasucci, our Kenny Lofton replacement Eric Yelding. After April 4, 1994, none of that really mattered. I was a baseball fanatic for good.
Would I have found the game in lieu of the excitement of this game? Given the Indians’ 1994 resurgence, I assume I would have, just not as soon. But had the Indians not emerged as a competitive team at that point, it gets murkier. Had I grown much older without discovering the wonder of baseball, it would have been too late to have it as an integral part of my mid-childhood and I can’t imagine being the same level of fan that I am today. But after the Opening Day game, I’m convinced that the Indians could have lost the rest of their games and the spark would not have been extinguished. I know precisely when I became a baseball fan--twenty years ago today.
Monday, March 31, 2014
Yahoo! has once again modified the appearance of their sports data package...standings, schedules, box scores, etc. I prefer the old format, but that's really not the point. What it does not appear as if they've done (and they never do) is to fix the bugs that are endemic. Today, it appears from the BOS/BAL box score that the AL has made some serious changes to the DH rule; apparently teams must have a DH, but must remove one of the other fielders as a result. The Red Sox went without a third baseman, the Orioles without a second baseman. Never change, Yahoo! box scores.
Friday, March 28, 2014
In lieu of a general disclaimer about the whole prediction game, from now on I can just point you to this piece. As a more specific disclaimer, please note that the missive that follows is only loosely based on objective sabermetric analysis—I do not have my own projection system, nor have I constructed detailed depth charts of each team, and thus my guesses are not in any way comparable to those of serious analysis. While there is no way I can approach making predictions without considering sabermetrics (since sabermetrics is a fundamental part of how I view anything in baseball), these are in no way “sabermetric predictions”. If Milwaukee loses 95 games, it’s not because sabermetrics have failed, I just would have made an awful guess. That has happened before (this in particular was a bloodbath) and it will happen again:
1. Tampa Bay
2. Boston (wildcard)
3. New York
Picking this division is not fun; I’m assuming here that Tampa Bay can maintain a reasonably steady level of performance, that Boston will regress a bit, and that all of New York’s free agents will only serve to paper over the loss of Cano and perhaps achieve underlying quality at the level of 2013’s actual record. It’s not at all hard to envision scenarios where the Rays’ decline in minor league depth leave them unable to overcome injuries and they end up as sellers, or where the Yankees get a rebound from Sabathia, improvement from Nova, a resurrection of Pineda, and end up with a fearsome starting rotation. What I’m more confident about is that Toronto and Baltimore would need a lot to go right. Picking Toronto ahead of Baltimore may feel wrong, and may be an opportunity to chide sabermetricians about overlooking the Orioles again, but the 2013 Orioles were essentially what their statistics said they should have been. A late flourish to add Nelson Cruz and Ubaldo Jimenez only slightly pushes their projection forward, and is pretty much wiped out by potential regression/injury woes for Manny Machado. A lot of people (myself included) were way too high on the Blue Jays last year, but a lot went wrong and a .500 season is a reasonable target.
2. Kansas City
The potential cracks show in the Tigers: their now ugly shortstop situation, the growing reliance on Miguel Cabrera in the middle of the order, aging complementary hitters; but given the competition, they are still among the safest bets to win a division. The Royals figure to be the new leader of the chase pack if their starting pitching patches (most importantly Yordano Ventura) can deliver. I’m not at all convinced that picking the Indians third with 80 wins was a good idea--the closer it is to the season, the worse I feel about the rotation and the more the possibility of one of those annoying White Sox resurrections looms. I attempt to be as neutral of a baseball observer as possible, but I can’t help but be biased towards the Indians. Among the other teams, there are none that I have any particular antipathy against, with two exceptions (sure, at the moment I find Philadelphia and Arizona insufferable due to various management personalities, but I hold no inherent ill-will towards those franchises). Those two are the Tigers, simply because of the collegiate loyalty of many of their fans, and the White Sox, the one team I just flat out don’t like. So I now tend to view the White Sox as possessing black magic. Jose Abreu could be a more reasonable explanation should they overplay expectations. I plan on seeing the Twins in Baltimore at the end of August, maybe they could call up Byron Buxton for me then?
1. Los Angeles
2. Texas (wildcard)
I keep waffling on this division, and the pitchers keep getting hurt. The Angels have fooled me each of the past two seasons, but made a valiant effort to deepen their staff with the Trumbo trade. With the carnage going on in Oakland and Texas, it’s not outside the realm of reason to suggest that Los Angeles may have the most stable group of pitchers in the division. It’s also easy to forget that Pujols is only a year removed from being a down-ballot MVP candidate. Things haven’t gone great for the Rangers since Josh Hamilton was on fire and they were hailed by some as the greatest team since the 1998 Yankees (May 2012 or so). While this has been amusing, it would be easy to overstate the extent of their struggles given that they have made the playoffs once and barely missed in 2013. The trade for Fielder and signing of Choo make a lot of sense for the short-term; the biggest obvious concerns are the injuries that have piled up and a more general thinning of the starting pitching, but none of the other AL West contenders are free of such questions. I’ve never fully bought in to the 2012-13 A’s, but that’s a reflection on me, not the team. They’ve stocked the bullpen, but the injuries to Parker and Griffin have thinned the starting ranks, and Scott Kazmir is one of the still-healthy pitchers. Uh-oh. The Mariners are good enough that positive deviations from expectations can put them in the hunt for a playoff spot, but to this outsider #6org appears to be in job preservation rather than strategic planning mode. Maybe they’ve finally found their own competitive edge in black magic to destroy their opponents’ pitching staffs. The Astros are still not good, but the league/division shift obscured the fact that even from a W-L record, they were no worse in ’13 than ’12 (CTR ticked up from 46 to 48). I was a tad too optimistic about their 2013 record, but people who are picking them to once again be historically bad are being a little silly. The bullpen alone is easy pickings for improvement, let alone players like Dexter Fowler and Scott Feldman brought in as placeholders.
3. New York
The 2013 Nationals were a wonderful lesson in why it’s dumb to pick teams to win 100 games, in why it’s dumb to ignore the plexiglas principle, and why if everyone is picking one outcome, you can often look smart by picking anything else. The 2014 Nationals appear to me to present a wonderful lesson in why one should not get hung up on the previous year’s performance in picking the next season, and in the benefits of playing in a weakened division. I’m picking them to win the World Series not because I’m convinced they are the best team in MLB (although they certainly could be), but because of the strongest teams, they’re the ones with the best combination of talent, weak-ish division, and playing in the inferior league. I was going to pick the Braves second even before the UCLs started popping, but I might have picked them for a wildcard spot before Beachy and Medlen went down. The hope is there for a Jason Heyward monster season, but the loss of McCann and the loss of luster of the Upton brother combination make the offense a bigger question mark. No team is ever more underrated than a poor team playing in a huge media market; you’d think the Mets were closer to 1962 than 2001 based solely on media and fan kvetching. They seem like a perfectly normal mediocre team to me. It might be wise to pick the Phillies ahead of the Mets, but it’s more fun to do it this way. The Marlins look lousy on paper but have to be one of the higher variance teams widely picked to have the worst record in their league.
1. St. Louis
2. Milwaukee (wildcard)
The Cardinals organization is drawing high praise from all over the map, and for good reason--there is no other team that appears better positioned to weather injuries or implosions. Still, the smart money would bet on a decline in record from 2013, and in the mainstream narrative they are benefitting a bit from the halo of postseason success. They are still very well-positioned in the NL Central. Everyone should be granted one off-the-wall pick and mine is Milwaukee as a wildcard team. The addition of Garza makes their rotation quite respectable and they can easily gain a few wins on paper simply by using a non-Betancourt humanoid at first and avoiding last year’s second base meltdown (either Weeks or Gennett should be able to handle that on their own). And while it has nothing to do with a rational evaluation of their chances, the absurd suspension of A-Rod makes Ryan Braun the de facto symbol of the forces of resistance against the steroid totalitarians, and gives him and the Brewers the moral high ground. A lot of things went right for the Pirates in 2013, and I really don’t like their team better than Cincinnati’s, but the Reds have very little depth, particular offensively. An injury to Votto or Bruce would be disastrous, as the rest of the lineup features declining veterans (Ludwick, Phillips), a thoroughly unremarkable Frazier, and a cadre of youngish guys with questionable on base ability (Mesoraco, Cozart, Hamilton). The most interesting thing about the Cubs season will likely be the countdown to Baez & Bryant, but bounce back seasons from Castro and Rizzo are just as important to the long-term plan.
1. Los Angeles
2. San Francisco (wildcard)
4. San Diego
The Dodgers are an interesting case, as they appear to me to be highly overrated even by objective systems (BP calls for 98 wins, a figure which I find shocking). A healthy and full potential Dodger team might indeed be a juggernaut, but they have plenty of star players with big question marks (Kemp, Ramirez, Puig, Crawford), and a couple very sketchy offensive positions (second and third base). I’m not saying they shouldn’t be clear favorites in the NL West, and maybe I’m just missing something (and I picked them to win last year, which while hardly bold was not nearly as mundane as it is this year), but a 90% playoff probability doesn’t compute. The Giants will attempt to continue their even year success, and I think they have a pretty good shot to do so; a reasonably effective Tim Hudson and return to form from Matt Cain may be key. The Diamondbacks improved last year, they just don’t realize it because the Pythagorean fortune didn’t persist. When your big moves are to trade for Mark Trumbo and sign Bronson Arroyo, staying at .500 begins to feel ambitious. The Padres have taken over the mantle of the most boring team in baseball; it’s hard to see how they contend without a temporary blip like they experienced in 2010. The Rockies offer some more boom potential if for no reason other than Tulo, but contention is still a longshot.
Washington over Tampa Bay
I believe that were this to come to fruition, it would be the most southern World Series in history, between two cities that are in no way southern.
AL Rookie of the Year: SP Yordano Ventura, KC
AL Cy Young: Yu Darvish, TEX
Assuming he only misses a start or two.
AL MVP: 3B Evan Longoria, TB
NL Rookie of the Year: 2B Kolten Wong, STL
NL Cy Young: Stephen Strasburg, WAS
NL MVP: OF Jason Heyward, ATL
Worst team in each league: HOU, MIA
Most likely to go .500 in each league: TOR, ATL
Over/under on media personalities who will have to choke back tears re: Derek Jeter on national television: Seven
Will at least one sane human being have a brain hemorrhage as a direct result of Derek Jeter overload?: Yes
Saturday, March 01, 2014
Writing an Indians preview is something of an annual tradition here, and I see no reason to stop now. My interest at this point really lies in amusing myself by seeing if I can correctly predict the 25-man roster. There are a lot of places on the internet where you can find micro-analysis of teams and players; it’s not my strength as an analyst, and so for the most part any such analysis here will be perfunctory by design.
The Indians certainly surpassed my expectations in 2013, winning 92 games and earning one of the two wildcard playoff berths before being shut out by Tampa Bay in the one-game playoff, which I had the mixed pleasure of attending (pro: first playoff game, con: lousy outcome for an Indians fan). However, the offseason that follows has felt a lot like 2008--standing pat rather than bolstering the roster to take another shot. While such a decision should hardly be surprising given the track record of the Dolan-era Indians, it was a little jarring coming on the heels of the team’s aggressive attempt to contend in 2011 (most notably the Ubaldo Jimenez trade, which finally paid belated dividends and looks less of a disaster than anticipated as the prospects sent to Colorado have fallen upon hard times) and last season’s off-season spending spree that netted Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn. The only free agent signing that is a lock for the 2014 roster is David Murphy, and a second LOOGY for the pen (Josh Outman) is the only trade acquisition that figures to make an impact. Meanwhile, two starters (Jimenez and Scott Kazmir) signed multi-year deals with other clubs.
This is not to say that these were not the right moves--I tend to think that the Indians need to make significant headway in player development before they can consider themselves a perennial contender given their financial resources--but they suggest that the front office doesn’t buy its own rhetoric about the team’s competitive prospects in 2014. I don’t think I would have wanted to sign Jimenez and Kazmir to those contracts either, but it’s hard to say that the Indians roster looks better today than it did on October 2.
Starting pitching remains a big question mark for the Tribe. Justin Masterson was good again last year, but he’s yet to put together consecutive effective seasons, and his struggles with lefties and sinker/slider reliance make him a disquieting pitcher in which to place one’s trust. He also is the owner of a big arbitration raise and a potential trade deadline casualty should Cleveland fail to contend. Danny Salazar was brilliant in the minors and his ten major league starts last year, and appears to have all the necessary stuff to be a top of the rotation arm, but is building off of a base of just 149 total innings pitched. Corey Kluber was a pleasant surprise, a reliable middle of the rotation arm earning cult status in the internet baseball community (or maybe just one extremely loyal devotee; the strength of the Kluber movement is unclear).
Zach McAllister represents a fourth righty with a rotation spot essentially sewn up, but his 3.75 ERA exaggerates his effectiveness (4.54 RA, 4.88 eRA), and he does not strike me as a pitcher with significant untapped potential. There are a variety of contenders for the fifth spot, from washed up vets (Aaron Harang and Shaun Marcum) to former top prospect (Carlos Carrasco) to soon-to-be former top prospect (Trevor Bauer) to junkballing righty (Josh Tomlin). The smart money is on Carrasco; the organization has remained positive about his potential and he is out of options. If he does not win the job, expect him to get a bullpen spot. Bauer will probably be given more time to work through his mechanical issues in AAA, while Marcum is unlikely to be ready for Opening Day, and Harang appears to be emergency depth. Tomlin is the pitcher most likely to give Carrasco a run for his money for the spot.
The bullpen will take on a very different look than it did on Opening Day 2013, as the seventh, eighth, and ninth inning options are all in very different places. The bullpen shakeup started with injury and legal trouble for Chris Perez, who was utilized as the closer when available but fell out of favor with the brass, leading to an unceremonious non-tender. Vinnie Pestano, who was extremely effective in the setup role in 2011-12, struggled all season, spending much of it in Columbus. Joe Smith was solid and moved up from the seventh to eighth inning, but signed a multi-year deal with the Angels.
In their stead, the Indians have returned to their standard closer strategy: someone else’s reject, often with questionable stuff or command. John Axford represents the latter, and sad to say one of those 30 save seasons with a poor RA appears to be the optimum outcome. Cody Allen will serve as one of the top set up man, provided his arm doesn’t fall off--Terry Francona’s usage of Allen was bizarre last year, as even as he moved up the pecking order in trust, he was not held back from more mundane situations, leading to a largely unnecessary 77 appearances (second in the AL). He’ll be joined by Bryan Shaw, who earned Francona’s trust with a 2.84 eRA, 9.0 KG, and 3.5 WG over 75 innings.
The other two sure things for the pen are the LOOGYs. Marc Rzepczynski pitched very well after being plucked from St. Louis’ bullpen excess, and Josh Outman was picked up from Colorado in exchange for Drew Stubbs. Neither are particularly exciting in terms of potential to outgrow their roles, although both have enough starting pedigree to warrant long relief duty.
That leaves two spots open. I expect one of them to go to Pestano, who has the highest upside of any of the candidates by far. Other options include Nick Hagadone, who’d be a third lefty and could provide long-ish relief; a few righties who had cups of coffee in 2013 in CC Lee, Preston Guilmet, and Blake Wood; lefty Scott Barnes and Colt Hynes; and non-roster invitees including David Aardsma, Scott Atchison, Matt Capps, JC Ramirez, and Mike Zagurski. Capps would have been a pretty good guess given the team’s propensity to give the seventh spot to a veteran reclamantion project, but a sore shoulder will hold him back. My guess here is Wood, who had was serviceable for the Royals over 120 inning in 2010-11 but missed all of 2012 and spent 2013 working his way through the Indians farm save two September appearances in the bigs. Wood has walked too many batters throughout his career to be reliable, but his stuff and relative youth (28) will make him an attractive flier.
To talk about the composition of the roster as it relates to position players, the third base situation has to take center stage. Former first-round pick Lonnie Chisenhall has never really hit that well at any level (94 OPS+ over 682 PA in the majors, 821 career minor league OPS) which has made alternatives attractive, including moving Carlos Santana to third. Santana was not serving as the regular catcher down the stretch, as Yan Gomes superior defense and surprising offensive showing freed Santana up to DH. If Santana is passable at third, I expect him to play there, a sentiment which surprises me. When the Indians started talking about this over the winter, I sort of laughed it off, but I now am convinced of their sincerity.
Gomes will be the catcher and is a prime candidate for offensive regression. Nick Swisher is slated as a full-time first baseman, but can play right if need be and while he held his own offensively with 3 RAA, the Indians had hoped for more in the first year of his four-year deal. Second baseman Jason Kipnis was not nearly as good in the second half as he was in the first (149 OPS+ to 103), but the season as a whole was worthy of down-ballot MVP consideration. Asdrubal Cabrera had a disappointing year (just 2 RAA and a .297 OBA), but the only thing that would jeopardize his position at shortstop is a deadline selloff.
Left field goes to Michael Brantley and his shiny new contract extension; I had been a skeptic of Brantley’s value, but he provided average production even for a corner spot last year, shedding concerns that he might be an over-extended fourth outfielder. If Swisher was a minor disappointment, Michael Bourn was a major disappointment; the center fielder had an OBA of just .322, created 4 runs/game, and missed 32 games due to injury. Right field figures to be a platoon of Ryan Raburn (right) and David Murphy (left) with Drew Stubbs shipped to Colorado. Raburn made a deal with the devil last year (.272/.357/.543 in 277 PA) and Murphy had a miserable year (.214/.273/.363, -5 RAR third lowest among AL regulars); together, more moderate luck might make them a mediocre whole.
The prospect of Santana being able to cut it at third should engender more excitement than it actually does, as Cleveland lacks a good DH candidate to plug in his place. Jason Giambi provided the single most memorable Indians moment since 2007, but his overall season line of .183/.282/.371 and his current age of 43 don’t lie: he has no business getting regular playing time in the majors.
I’ll assume that Chisenhall plays third and Santana is the regular DH, which still leaves a big roster question: will the Indians carry a third catcher or just use Santana as Gomes’ caddy? Given that the options are veterans Matt Treanor and Luke Carlin or minor league non-hitter Roberto Perez (623 OPS in 2013, 685 career), I’m guessing no, leaving three bench spots. One clearly belongs to utility man Mike Aviles, who is fine in that role but got too many starts (87) in 2013. Brantley can play a passable center, which means that Raburn/Murphy is fine as fourth outfielder, which does leave room for Jason Giambi. The Indians also could consider Jeff Francoeur (just say no), Nyjer Morgan, or Matt Carson as fourth outfielders. Elliott Johnson could snag a utility man spot, while September pinch-runner Jose Ramirez will be farmed out for everyday playing time. It’s conceivable that a hot spring from Bryan LaHair could put him in the mix for DH at bats as well. Frankly, my guess on the composition of the bench is no better than drawing names out of a hat.
I don’t think this Indians team is well-positioned to repeat their success of 2013. The rotation isn’t particularly strong, the bullpen is unproven; the offense should be fine, but I see no reason to expect it will be any better than it was in 2013. The Tigers remain the class of the division; they have never been as invulnerable as mainstream thought would have them, but the Royals are lurking around and while it may be completely irrational, I always am wary of a White Sox miracle. And as far as wildcard prospects go, the only AL teams I’d write off completely play in the Central except for Houston. I see the 50th percentile scenario for the Tribe as 80-82, third place.
1. 8 Michael Bourn
2. 3 Nick Swisher
3. 4 Jason Kipnis
4. D Carlos Santana
5. 7 Michael Brantley
6. 9 David Murphy
7. 6 Asdrubal Cabrera
8. 2 Yan Gomes
9. 5 Lonnie Chisenhall
Bench: IF Mike Aviles, IF Elliot Johnson, OF Ryan Raburn, DH Jason Giambi
1. Justin Masterson (R)
2. Danny Salazar (R)
3. Corey Kluber (R)
4. Zach McAllister (R)
5. Carlos Carrasco (R)
RP: Blake Wood (R)
RP: Vinnie Pestano (R)
LOOGY: Josh Outman (L)
LOOGY: Mark Rzepczynski (L)
SU: Bryan Shaw (R)
SU: Cody Allen (R)
CL: John Axford (R)
Monday, February 10, 2014
2014 will mark Greg Beals’ fourth season at the helm of the OSU baseball program, which means there are no excuses. He has had plenty of time to recruit his own players into the program and have them playing key roles, and perhaps more importantly he has had plenty of time in which to mold them to play baseball as Greg Beals believes it should be played. Unfortunately for the state of the program, 2013 was not encouraging on either front. One of the strengths that allowed OSU to contend in the Big Ten last season was a strong trio of weekend starters, a group that must now be replaced en masse. It is now time for Beals’ recruits to lead the offense, and so far the most noticeable characteristic of a Beals’ offense is baserunning that would make a JV high school coach blush.
One spot at which the Buckeyes are well-positioned is catcher, where junior Aaron Gretz will finally have the job to himself. Gretz, for whatever reason, was never able to fully overcome Greg Solomon in the eyes of Beals, despite being a better defensive catcher and possessing any sort of batting eye at all. Gretz figures to be an above-average Big Ten catcher, and is coming off a busy offseason in which the Minnesota native spent several weeks as a backup goalie for the OSU hockey team thanks to a transfer and an injury to the two scholarship goalies.
At first base, sophomore Zach Ratcliff figures to get the nod after emerging as one of OSU’s few power threats mid-way through the Big Ten season. The other option is redshirt junior Josh Dezse, who had to sit out 2013 with a back injury. Dezse will also pull double-duty on the mound, and so it stands to reason that he will act as the primary DH to save unnecessary wear and tear. Sophomore Troy Kuhn will start at second base after serving as the utility infielder in his freshman campaign. Kuhn got off to hot start collecting base hits, but showed little in secondary skills as a freshman, particularly in the power department. His choice of walkup music (“Who Let the Dogs Out”) may have been the most disappointing element of his campaign.
The first crack at the shortstop job will go to sophomore Craig Nennig, but there have to be serious questions about his ability to hold the job after hitting just .125/.143/.146 in 52 PA as a freshman, all against non-conference foes. At third base, sophomore Jacob Bosiokovic will be counted on to be a key cog in the offense. Bosiokovic showed flashes of potential, hitting for big power when he first got into the lineup, but his overall season line of .273/.327/.369 must improve greatly for the Buckeye offense to run as expected.
In the outfield, senior left fielder Tim Wetzel will look to rebound as an on-base guy and basestealing threat after a dismal junior season that is the outlier in his three-year track record (.215/.292/.304). Wetzel could also slide back over to center field in the event that true freshman Troy Montgomery stumbles. The Indians freshman is said to be a prototypical leadoff-hitting center fielder and will get a chance to assume both roles early in his career. In right field, junior Pat Porter was OSU’s only consistent offensive threat last year, building on a solid freshman campaign, and along with Bosiokovic and Dezse will be counted on to man the middle part of the lineup.
With so many youngsters graduating to the starting lineup, the bench will be unproven. The backup catcher figures to be junior Connor Sabanosh, a junior college transfer from Arizona (Arizona JUCOs have continued to be a key pipeline for Beals). Freshman Jalen Washington is listed in the old Rico Washington role (C/IF), and will be an option at the infield spots as well as behind the plate.
The utility infielder should be redshirt sophomore Ryan Leffel, who showed promise as a fielder and with his approach at the plate as a freshman in 2012 before sitting out 2013 with an injury. Leffel may be the backup plan at shortstop if Nennig cannot hit enough to retain the job. Other infielders on the roster are redshirt sophomore Nick Sergakis (a transfer from Coastal Carolina) and true freshman Curtiss Irving (first baseman) and JP Sorma. The two key outfield reserves are sophomore Jake Brobst, who got limited playing time as a freshman and can play center, and true freshman Ronnie Dawson, a powerful hitter from the Columbus area who may challenge Wetzel for his left field playing time.
For most of the offensive positions that need to be replaced, the likely starters are pretty clear based on last year’s roster utilization. The same is not true for the starting pitchers. Only one of the likely top three started a significant number of games in 2013, so uncertainty abounds.
The three most likely weekend starters in this observer’s opinion are senior Greg Greve, junior Ryan Riga and sophomore Jake Post. Greve started in 2011-12, but worked exclusively in relief last year, pitching solidly (3.65 RA). His previous performance as a starter was poor (ERA over 5 in each of 2011-12), so his spot is far from a lock. Riga was OSU’s top lefty reliever last year, also working in long relief, and was highly effective with 7.4 strikeouts and 1.7 walks per nine over 46 innings of work. Riga is probably the safest bet to actually be in OSU’s weekend plans. Post showed that he has good stuff last year in starting seven midweek games, but the results (7.63 RA in 31 innings) did not match his peripherals (7.6 K/2.6 W).
The rotation wildcard is Dezse, who was slated to move into a starting role in 2013 after serving as closer in 2011-12. Dezse has an electric fastball, but didn’t show much in the secondary offerings department when closing (and also didn’t have the lockdown numbers to back up his reputation). Given his injury issue, he will be worked back into the fold slowly, and (based on absolutely no inside information) I would be surprised if he ended as a starter. That leaves the other top options as a pair of true freshman. Lefty Zach Farmer has received rave reviews and if half of what has been said is true, he’ll be in the rotation by the time Big Ten play opens. Right hander Travis Lakins would be next in the pecking order.
Should Dezse wind up in the bullpen, he’ll join with junior Trace Dempsey to give the Bucks two big right-handed arms. Dempsey was untouchable for much of last season with his three-quarters movement-heavy stuff, but faltered a bit in key games against Indiana and in the Big Ten Tournament. Still, a 1.50 RA in 35 innings is a sterling campaign.
Behind Dempsey, the pen also will have key parts to replace with Riga and Greve starting and the graduation of key right-handers Brett McKinney and David Fathalikhani. The only other returning reliever who pitched significantly is senior Tyler Giannonatti, who mopped up last year and probably won’t be used in high leverage innings in 2013. Sophomore three-quarters lefty Matt Panek took a redshirt for injury last year after pitching sparingly as a freshman, but given Beals’ propensity for playing matchups, a healthy Panek should see the mound.
According to Big Ten baseball guru Chris Webb, the other most likely relievers for key innings are redshirt freshman sidearmer Michael Koltak, true freshman Adam Niemeyer, true freshman lefty Tanner Tully, and redshirt freshman Shea Murray. Other pitchers on the roster include junior lefty Michael Horesjei, redshirt freshman lefty Joe Stoll, and true freshman right-handers Kyle Michalik, Brennan Milby, and Yianni Pavlopoulus.
OSU opens its season this weekend with four games in Port Charlotte, Florida (UConn, Auburn, and two with Indiana State). The following weekend they will back in the Sunshine State to play Central Florida, The Citadel, and Oklahoma in Orlando. The first weekend in March will see the Bucks in Greenville, North Carolina to face Pitt, Western Kentucky, and East Carolina. The destination portion of the schedule ends the following week with a three game series at Oregon followed by a single contest at Oregon State.
The home opener is slated for March 14 with a three-game series against Siena, then midweek games against Akron and Xavier. Other midweek opponents throughout the season will be Marshall, Ohio University, Toledo, Dayton, at West Virginia, Ball State (Beals’ former employer), at Louisville, Miami, and Cincinnati.
Big Ten play opens March 21 with OSU at Michigan State. The weekends for the rest of the season will be hosting Indiana, at Nebraska, hosting Penn State, a bye week in which OSU will host Murray State, at Purdue, hosting Iowa, at Michigan, and hosting Northwestern. Should the Bucks qualify for the Big Ten Tournament by finishing in the top six, they will head to Omaha on May 21.
Will the Buckeyes get to Omaha? With Indiana breaking a twenty-nine year drought of Big Ten participation in the College World Series, this question might carry a different connotation than in the past. But given the current status of the program, the question should be limited to qualifying for the Big Ten Tournament. The Buckeyes have too many question marks to be considered a favorite in the conference race, and given that it’s year four of Beals’ tenure, I’m hoping that I am very wrong.
1. CF Troy Montgomery (FM)
2. 2B Troy Kuhn (SM)
3. RF Pat Porter (JR)
4. DH Jose Dezse (JR)
5. 3B Jacob Bosiokovic (SM)
6. 1B Zach Ratcliff (SM)
7. C Aaron Gretz (JR)
8. LF Tim Wetzel (SR)
9. SS Craig Nennig (SM)
SP #1: R Greg Greve (SR)
SP #2: L Ryan Riga (JR)
SP #3: R Jake Post (SM)
SP #4 (midweek): L Zach Farmer (FM)
SP #5 (midweek): R Travis Lakins (FM)
RP: R Tyler Giannonatti (SR)
RP: R Michael Koltak (FM)
RP: L Matt Panek (SM)
RP: R Trace Dempsey (JR)
CL: R Josh Dezse (JR)
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
A couple of caveats apply to everything that follows in this post. The first is that there are no park adjustments anywhere. There's obviously a difference between scoring 5 runs at Petco and scoring 5 runs at Coors, but if you're using discrete data there's not much that can be done about it unless you want to use a different distribution for every possible context. Similarly, it's necessary to acknowledge that games do not always consist of nine innings; again, it's tough to do anything about this while maintaining your sanity.
All of the conversions of runs to wins are based only on 2013 data. Ideally, I would use an appropriate distribution for runs per game based on average R/G, but I've taken the lazy way out and used the empirical data for 2013 only. (I have a methodology I could use to do estimate win probabilities at each level of scoring that take context into account, but I’ve not been able to finish the full write-up it needs on this blog before I am comfortable using it without explanation).
The first breakout is record in blowouts versus non-blowouts. I define a blowout as a margin of five or more runs. This is not really a satisfactory definition of a blowout, as many five-run games are quite competitive--"blowout” is just a convenient label to use, and expresses the point succinctly. I use these two categories with wide ranges rather than more narrow groupings like one-run games because the frequency and results of one-run games are highly biased by the home field advantage. Drawing the focus back a little allows us to identify close games and not so close games with a margin built in to allow a greater chance of capturing the true nature of the game in question rather than a disguised situational effect.
In 2013, 74.7% of major league games were non-blowouts while the complement, 25.3%, were. Team record in non-blowouts:
And in blowouts:
Teams sorted by difference between blowout and non-blowout W%, as well as the percentage of blowouts for each team:
Baltimore is one of the teams that interest me here; their unbelievable one-run record in 2012 was well-documented, and so it shouldn’t surprise that the Orioles ranked second in the majors in 2012 in non-blowout W% but were just over .500 in non-blowouts (23-21). In 2013, Baltimore just quit playing in blowouts, with only 15% of their games decided by five or more runs (only the White Sox at 17% joined them under 20% blowouts), but when they did they had a 14-11 record. Boston had the largest W% differential between blowouts and non-blowouts and were also the best team in the majors per most result-based perspectives.
A more interesting way to consider game-level results is to look at how teams perform when scoring or allowing a given number of runs. For the majors as a whole, here are the counts of games in which teams scored X runs:
The “marg” column shows the marginal W% for each additional run scored. In 2013, the second run was the marginally most valuable while the fourth was the cutoff point between winning and losing.
I use these figures to calculate a measure I call game Offensive W% (or Defensive W% as the case may be), which was suggested by Bill James in an old Abstract. It is a crude way to use each team’s actual runs per game distribution to estimate what their W% should have been by using the overall empirical W% by runs scored for the majors in the particular season.
A theoretical distribution would be much preferable to the empirical distribution for this exercise, but as I mentioned earlier I haven’t yet gotten around to writing up the requisite methodological explanation, so I’ve defaulted to the 2013 empirical data. Some of the drawbacks of this approach are:
1. The empirical distribution is subject to sample size fluctuations. In 2013, teams that scored 7 runs won 85.8% of the time while teams that scored 8 runs won 83.2% of the time. Does that mean that scoring 7 runs is preferable to scoring 8 runs? Of course not--it's a quirk in the data. Additionally, the marginal values don’t necessary make sense even when W% increases from one runs scored level to another (In figuring the gEW% family of measures below, I lumped all games with 7 and 8 runs scored/allowed into one bucket, which smoothes any illogical jumps in the win function, but leaves the inconsistent marginal values unaddressed and fails to make any differentiation between scoring 7 and 8. The values actually used are displayed in the “use” column, and the “invuse” column is the complements of these figures--i.e. those used to credit wins to the defense. I've used 1.0 for 12+ runs, which is a horrible idea theoretically. In 2013, teams were 102-0 when scoring 12 or more runs).
2. Using the empirical distribution forces one to use integer values for runs scored per game. Obviously the number of runs a team scores in a game is restricted to integer values, but not allowing theoretical fractional runs makes it very difficult to apply any sort of park adjustment to the team frequency of runs scored.
3. Related to #2 (really its root cause, although the park issue is important enough from the standpoint of using the results to evaluate teams that I wanted to single it out), when using the empirical data there is always a tradeoff that must be made between increasing the sample size and losing context. One could use multiple years of data to generate a smoother curve of marginal win probabilities, but in doing so one would lose centering at the season’s actual run scoring rate. On the other hand, one could split the data into AL and NL and more closely match context, but you would lose sample size and introduce more quirks into the data.
I will use my theoretical distribution (Enby, which you can read about here) for a few charts in this post. The first is a comparison of the frequency of scoring X runs in the majors to what would be expected given the overall major league average of 4.166 R/G (Enby distribution parameters are r = 3.922, B = 1.07, z = .0649):
Enby generally does a decent job of estimating the actual scoring distribution, and while I am certainly not an unbiased observer, I think it does so here as well.
I will not go into the full details of how gOW%, gDW%, and gEW% (which combines both into one measure of team quality) are calculated in this post, but full details were provided here. The “use” column here is the coefficient applied to each game to calculate gOW% while the “invuse” is the coefficient used for gDW%. For comparison, I have looked at OW%, DW%, and EW% (Pythagenpat record) for each team; none of these have been adjusted for park to maintain consistency with the g-family of measures which are not park-adjusted.
For most teams, gOW% and OW% are very similar. Teams whose gOW% is higher than OW% distributed their runs more efficiently (at least to the extent that the methodology captures reality); the reverse is true for teams with gOW% lower than OW%. The teams that had differences of +/- 2 wins between the two metrics were (all of these are the g-type less the regular estimate):
Positive: CHA, MIL, CHN, BAL, MIA, PIT, MIN
Negative: BOS, OAK, STL, TEX, CLE
There were an abnormally high number of teams this season whose gOW% diverged significantly from their standard OW%; as you’ll see in a moment, the opposite was true for gDW%. The White Sox gOW% of .467 was 3.5 games better than their OW% of .445. Their gOW% was seventh-lowest in the majors, but their OW% was second-worst. So while their offense was still bad, they wound up distributing their runs in a manner that should have resulted in more wins than one would expect from their R/G average.
As such, Chicago makes for an interesting case study in how a measly 3.69 runs/game can be doled out more efficiently. The black line is Chicago’s actual 2013 run distribution, the blue line is Enby’s estimate for a team averaging 3.691 R/G (r = 3.662, B = 1.018, z = .0853), and the red line is that of the majors as a whole (Chicago did not actually score more than twelve runs in a game this season, but fifteen is the standard I’ve always used in these graphs):
Chicago scored 3, 4, and 5 runs significantly more often than Enby would expect and more often that the major league average despite having a poor offense. 3-5 runs is a good spot to be in, at least in the current scoring environment--in 2013, teams won 54% of the time when scoring 3-5.
I deliberately wrote the preceding paragraph to be a little misleading--Chicago's propensity to score 3-5 runs was not really a positive, since it meant fewer games in which they scored more than five runs. The White Sox were shutout more often than the major league average (8% to 6.8%), scored < 2 runs more often than average (19.1% to 18%), but scored < 3 runs less often than average (50.6% to 47.8%). That is the only step at which Chicago was above average, and they quickly fell into well below average territory--Chicago scored < 6 runs 82% of the time versus the average of 71.9%:
Teams with differences of +/- 2 wins between gDW% and standard DW%:
Negative: ATL, TEX, OAK
The 3.7 win discrepancy between Atlanta’s gDW% (.570) and standard DW% (.592) was the largest such difference for any unit in the majors (greater than Chicago’s gOW% difference). The Braves were the only team which did not allow eleven or more runs in a game; the average was 3.4% and only Oakland (one) and St. Louis (two) had fewer than three such games. Avoiding those disaster games helped keep their RA/G low, but the Braves allowed four and five runs more often than both the Enby expectation for a team allowing 3.383 runs per game (r = 3.478, B = .983, z = .1023) would predict and the major league average:
Teams with differences of +/- 2 wins between gEW% and EW% (standard Pythagenpat):
Positive: SEA, CHA, PHI, PIT, MIN, CHN
Negative: OAK, TEX, STL, ATL, BOS, CLE, CIN
The negative list includes all playoff teams which obviously were not too badly hampered by seemingly inefficient run distributions. Standard Pythagenpat had a freakishly good year predicting actual W% in 2013, with a RMSE of 3.66 while gEW% had a 3.95 RMSE. gEW% does not incorporate any knowledge about the joint distribution of runs scored and allowed; if you do that, you may as well just look at actual win-loss record. But since it doesn’t have knowledge of the joint distribution, it’s quite possible for standard EW% to perform better as a predictor.
For now most of the applications of this methodology, at least in my writings, have been freak show in nature. The more interesting questions will be easier to investigate once I’ve finished my update of the Enby methodology. Do certain types of offenses tend to bunch their runs more efficiently? Can the estimate of variance of runs scored (which is really the key assumption underpinning Enby) be improved by considering team characteristics? How well do efficient or non-efficient distributions by teams predict team performance in future years? I don’t mean to imply that others have not investigated these questions, simply that I hope to have more interesting material in these year-end reviews starting in 2014. I said that last year too though.
Tuesday, January 14, 2014
For the last few years I have published a set of team ratings that I call "Crude Team Ratings". The name was chosen to reflect the nature of the ratings--they have a number of limitations, of which I documented several when I introduced the methodology.
I explain how CTR is figured in the linked post, but in short:
1) Start with a win ratio figure for each team. It could be actual win ratio, or an estimated win ratio.
2) Figure the average win ratio of the team’s opponents.
3) Adjust for strength of schedule, resulting in a new set of ratings.
4) Begin the process again. Repeat until the ratings stabilize.
First, CTR based on actual wins and losses. In the table, “aW%” is the winning percentage equivalent implied by the CTR and “SOS” is the measure of strength of schedule--the average CTR of a team’s opponents. The rank columns provide each team’s rank in CTR and SOS:
This was a banner year for those of us who prefer the best teams to make it through the playoffs, as the pennant winners ranked one-two in MLB. The ten playoff teams were also the ten that had the most impressive win-loss records, with the exception of #9 Texas, but of course they had a shot in the one game playoff. Also, the Rangers were still only fifth in the AL so it’s not as if their schedule unfairly kept them out. What is a departure from recent seasons is that no other also-ran AL teams finished with higher ratings than the NL playoff qualifiers. Still, the AL dominated the top spots again as can be seen by the fact that only St. Louis snuck into the top five.
Below are the mean ratings for each league and division, actually calculated as the geometric rather than arithmetic mean:
Last year, the AL-NL gap was 112-89, and if you count Houston with the NL it was 106-88 in 2013. In any event, the AL remains the stronger league based on the interleague results (which is what underpins any differences in these rankings), with an implied W% of .521 against the NL.
Speaking of Houston, they actually ticked up a bit in CTR, from 46 to 48. While I wouldn’t claim that is a meaningful difference, it does indicate that their four win drop is largely a function of opponent quality, moving from the 21st most difficult schedule in 2012 to 4th in 2013. They also provide a good opportunity to point out that the schedule rankings are dependent on the quality of the team in question--Houston's schedule was tougher than that of their divisional opponents because they did not get the benefit of playing nineteen games against Houston.
Schedule can make a big difference when comparing two teams across leagues, in a tough and weak division--naturally, the largest schedule disparity is between the winner of the weakest division (NL East) and cellar dweller of the strongest (AL East). In the actual tallies, Atlanta was 96-66 and Toronto was 74-88. However, the ratings (as indicated by aW%) suggest that Atlanta was equivalent to a 92-70 team and Toronto to 78-84, an eight game swing in a head-to-head comparison. Atlanta’s SOS of 90 and Toronto’s of 112 implies that Toronto’s average opponent would have a .554 W% against Atlanta’s average opponent--comparable in 2013 CTR terms to the Dodgers or Rangers.
I will present the rest of the ratings with minimal comment. The next set is based on Pythagenpat record from R/RA:
Next is based on gEW%, which is explained in this post--some of the other exhibits for the annual post on that metric are a little more involved so I’m running these ratings first. The basic idea of gEW% is to take into account (separately) the distribution of runs scored and runs allowed per game for each team rather than simply using season totals as in Pythagenpat:
And finally, based on Runs Created and Allowed run through Pythagenpat:
These ratings are based on regular season data only, but one could also choose to include playoff results in the mix. Regardless of what your thoughts may be on the value of considering playoff data, it is most commonly omitted simply because of the way statistics are presented. It usually takes extra effort to combine regular season and playoff data.
So I decided to run the win-loss based ratings with playoff records and schedules included, and to see how large a difference it would create in the results. I was a little surprised by the results:
It’s not a surprise of course that Boston strengthened its rating--the Red Sox went 11-5 against very good competition. What did surprise me was that the only other playoff team to have a noticeable change in rating was Atlanta. Their 1-3 record against the Dodgers pushed their rating down by four points. Much of the movement in ratings for the other teams was felt by non-playoff teams whose SOS numbers fluctuated, in particular the AL East in which each team gained a point, and the NL in general, whose collective rating was pushed further down.
An angle that could make the playoff-inclusive ratings more interesting would be if I included regression in the ratings, which I do not. My reasoning is that I intend the ratings to be a reflection of the actual results of the season rather than an attempt to measure true quality of the teams. Additionally, regression would have little impact on the rank order of teams--it would mostly serve to compress the variance of the ratings. On the other hand, even if one wants to use the actual record of a team untouched to establish its rating, the case can be made that its opponents’ records should still be regressed, to avoid overcompensating for strength of schedule in ratings. Some purveyors of team ratings in other sports take a similar approach in basing calculations of opponent strength on those teams’ point-based rankings, but still base each team’s own rating on their actual wins and losses.
Again, though, these ratings are advertised as crude and are clearly only intended to be used in viewing 2013 retrospectively, so I’ve not bothered with regression here. I do use regression on the rare occasions when I use the CTRs to give crude estimates of win probabilities (such as playoff odds).