Thursday, April 21, 2005

Belated Predictions

A little late for this, but what the heck. You'll have to take my word for it that I made these before the season. I'll try to provide some reasoning for these, although honestly, I have no idea what I was thinking when I made some of these picks(and the comments will attempt to ignore what has happened during the season):
AL EAST
Boston
New York(wildcard)
Baltimore
Tampa Bay
Toronto
The Red Sox and Yankees look like the two best teams in baseball, but I think this year the Red Sox will get over the top and take the division. Tampa Bay has some good young players...check back in 2008.
AL CENTRAL
Minnesota
Cleveland
Detroit
Chicago
Kansas City
The Plexiglass Principle make it tough to justify the selection of CLE and DET ahead of CHA, but I just don't see trading for Scott Podsednik, losing Magglio Ordonez, and missing Frank Thomas for a good portion of the season as the way to win a division.
AL WEST
Los Angeles
Oakland
Texas
Seattle
The Angels should win this thing, but Oakland should be better then people are giving them credit for. Texas should regress, but the Mariners were so bad last year it's tough to pick them out of last place. I know that making fun of the Angels names is old and blase, but I don't think I've seen anyone point out that the "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim" is, if you translate the spanish words to english, "The Angels Angels of Anaheim". Seriously, I prefer "LA" to "Anaheim". Not that anyone asked me, since I hate the rally monkey and was ticked when they won the World Series in 2002, but I've always liked teams named after cities and not suburbs. Now I know that Anaheim:Los Angeles is not the same as Richfield(where the Cavs used to play):Cleveland, but to people in Des Moines, I would assume that Anaheim and Los Angeles are considered the same thing. Sure, people in Minnesota might get touchy about St. Paul v. Minneapolis, but it's all Minneapolis to me. Los Angeles Angels is the original name and the better name, IMO.
NL EAST
Atlanta
Philadelphia(wildcard)
Florida
New York
Washington
This has the potential to be a great four team race. The last two years I picked the Phils(even picked them to win the pennant last year), so they'll probably finally break through the year I remove my support. But count me in the newly developing "pick Atlanta until they lose" crowd. It's uncanny. The Mets could crash and burn or they could win the thing.
NL CENTRAL
St. Louis
Chicago
Milwaukee
Houston
Pittsburgh
Cincinnati
I have no idea what I was thinking when I picked the Reds in the cellar. It's a good thing the two kids I encountered yesterday don't read this blog...they'd probably try to string me up for this one. I was wearing an Indians cap and a Reds t-shirt, and they were both wearing Reds t-shirts and hats. When I saw them I could tell they were serious fans, and I kind of got a smirk/embarassed grin on my face. The one kid then turned around and said "A Reds t-shirt and a Indians hat!?? Who are you?" All I could offer was a weak "Yeah, I get that a lot". Hey, they're in two different leagues, they play six times a year max, the only time they could ever compete for a championship is in the World Series, what's the big deal? Sure I'd root for the Tribe in that series, but I wouldn't be upset if the Reds won. We're all Ohioans, aren't we.

Digression aside, I see the Brewers passing the Astros who are getting old fast and not bringing in the young talent like they used to.
NL WEST
Los Angeles
San Diego
San Francisco
Colorado
Arizona
The Dodgers and Padres are the only two teams I like here, although With Barry All Things are Possible.
WORLD SERIES
Boston over Los Angeles
I hate all of these prediction exercises. Especially when you get to bigger and bigger championships, determined by fewer and fewer games. There is no reason why any team I've picked to make the playoffs couldn't win the World Series(or why any team I've not picked to make the playoffs couldn't, with the obvious exceptions). But this really got me during the Yankees run of pennants. I would pick the Yankees to win the pennant, but I didn't really think they would win the pennant. What you're actually saying is that they have the best chance of any team to win the pennant. Say the Yankees have a 30% chance, the BoSox 25%, the Twins and Angels 15%, and everybody else 2-3%(ridiculous numbers, of course, but just to make a point). You pick the Yankees to win the pennant, but you're actually saying there's a 70% chance they WON'T win the pennant. It would be better to provide odds like Vegas, but that's too much work and it's more fun to say the Red Sox will beat the Dodgers in the World Series--and they will :)
AL AWARDS
ROY - Nick Swisher, OAK
CY - Randy Johnson, NYA
MVP - Alex Rodriguez, NYA
I try to pick who I would be likely to vote for based on my expectations of their performance this season, not who the writers would. There's no way in all heck the Yankees will lose the division for the first time in eight years and still have two major award winners.
NL AWARDS
ROY - JJ Hardy, MIL
CY - Pedro Martinez, NYN
MVP - JD Drew, LA

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Frustration

Since Bob Todd became head baseball coach at Ohio State in 1988, the program has, along with Minnesota, dominated the Big Ten. The Buckeyes have won the regular season title in 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1999, and 2001. They have won the tournament title in 1991, 1994, 1995, 1997, 2002, and 2003, making NCAA Tournament appearances in all ten years listed above. They have three times come within one or two games of becoming the first Big Ten team to advance to Omaha since 1984.

It is with that pedigree that the success of Buckeye baseball is judged. The 2004 team narrowly lost both the regular season and tournament titles to Minnesota and was edged out of the NCAA Tournament, but had what could clearly be described as a solid season. High hopes reigned in Columbus for the 2005 squad.

There were losses of course, to graduation and the draft. Catcher Derek Kinnear graduated, but was a fairly poor hitter and did not seem to be too big of a loss. The solid double play combination of Drew Anderson and Brett Garrard was lost to the draft and graduation respectively, but incumbent third baseman Jeddidiah Stephen figured to handle short and well-regarded sophomore Jason Zoeller would fill in at second. Ronnie Bourquin, the primary DH on the ’04 team, would be Stephen’s successor at third baseman. And the Buckeyes holy trinity of outfielders returned intact. Centerfielder Mike Rabin was perhaps the weakest hitter on the squad, but he was bookended by Big Ten Player of the Year Steve Caravati and Big Ten Freshman of the Year Jacob Howell.

On the mound, ace Scott Lewis had been plucked away in the draft by the Indians, but he spent 2004 recovering from Tommy John surgery and was not a major factor on the field. Josh Newman, the solid #2, was out of eligibility and drafted by the Rockies, and would be missed. But #3 starter Mike Madsen and long reliever(and late-round Cubs draftee) Trent Luyster figured to anchor the Buckeye rotation with help from Baseball America’s pick for Big Ten Freshman of the Year Cory Luebke. The bullpen trio of Trey Fausnaugh, Brett Hatcher, and Jeffrey Carroll that led OSU pitchers in Runs Above Average returned as well. So while the Buckeyes were dealing with losses as all college teams invariably do, things looked bright for another typical year of winning Buckeye baseball.

And for a while, that’s exactly how it played out. As all northern teams must, the Buckeyes opened with games in warm locations like Florida and North Carolina and acquitted themselves well, generally beating other northern teams and playing with some big-name southern schools(the Buckeyes beat top 10 ranked North Carolina and lost close games to Georgia and Arizona State). The only big negatives were nagging injuries to Caravati and Howell. They then opened the home schedule against in-state foe Toledo on an amazingly beautiful March 30 at Bill Davis Stadium(it’s fairly amazing when you can where shorts in Ohio in March) with a 12-4 romp.

Maybe we should have seen the warning sign from the weather on that Opening Day—it was too good to be true. And so the Buckeyes opened the Big Ten schedule at Illinois with a 13-4 record—and were swept in four games, losing by a combined score of 22-10. To add insult to injury, Ronnie Bourquin was lost for at least a month with a finger injury and the Buckeyes were stunned by Oakland University in the almost weekly Wednesday home affair, 6-5.

It was then time to open the Big Ten home schedule against Purdue. And on opening night, Purdue scored four in the ninth to win an easy 7-1 win. Since the twelve run performance against Toledo, OSU had scored just sixteen runs in six games.

And so now despair set in on Buckeye rooters far and wide(or at least the author). An offense that seemed completely impotent. A pitching staff that while not as bad as the offense, was not making anyone forget Steve Arlin either. An 0-5 Big Ten record. And so it went in the first game of the doubleheader on Saturday, with Purdue up 3-1 after four of the seven innings and the last six Buckeyes retired in order.

So what happened of course is that the Buckeyes followed the Big Bang theory of baseball and put up a crooked number. Single, single(pickoff!), sac fly, single, single, RBI single, and a two out three run homer by Zoeller later, and the Buckeyes went on for a 6-4 victory.

And the world returned to its usual state of the Buckeyes winning baseball games. 5-1 in the nightcap, 4-2 on Sunday, and 15-4 on Wednesday against a NAIA Malone College squad that featured two guys I went to high school with. Of course, the offense was still struggling. Fifteen runs on ten hits and thirteen walks against Malone is nothing to write home about, and through eight B10 games OSU was still on the short end in terms of wins and losses 3-5 and runs 36-26(that’s 3.5 runs a game).

Now any sensible analyst, seeing those numbers(with sample size caveats of course) should say to himself, “That’s not very good”. But there are things stronger then sabermetric thinking, and loyalty to the scarlet and gray is one of them. So in comes Michigan State…and down go the OSU bats. 2-0 yesterday in excruciating fashion, leaving two runners on base in the sixth, and three a piece in the eighth and ninth. And today in the doubleheader, a massacre. Two blowout losses to the tune of 20-4.

But today things got really bad, as despondency set over the crowd and desperation over the players. Now all of the little traditionalist clich├ęs about “making things happen” and “manufacturing runs” become paramount. “Hustle makes it happen”, tee shirts for Malone baseball tell us, as the team is blown out because their pitchers can’t throw strikes. But the little things win ballgames, of course, so when you are losing, you resort to them.

And resort to them our heroes did. In Game One, already down 3-0 in the bottom of the first, Mike Rabin on first with one out, caught stealing. Down 6-1 with one out and nobody on in the top of the third, Rabin dove at a sinking liner in center field, turning a sure single into an easy triple. And down 9-1 with nobody out in the fifth, Chris Macke was thrown out darting for second on a would-be wild pitch that was easily within the catcher’s reach. Then, with two outs in the first and a runner already home on the play to give Ohio their first lead of the weekend, Jason Zoeller gets cut down tying to get into third base, leaving a runner stranded at first.

After today’s massacre, the picture is bleak. The Buckeyes are now 3-8 in the Big Ten. The worst a Todd team has ever done is 15-13. The season is now 32 games long rather then 28, but to reach just 15-17 on the season would require a 12-9 finish. Being outscored 58-30 results in an EW% of .235, uglier then the actual .272. So what is wrong with this team? In the Big Ten, the Bucks have so far compiled a .258/.304/.343 line. The walk ratio of .06 per at bat is bad, but the real culprit is the putrid .085 isolated power. With so little power, it’s no wonder many runners get stranded. For instance, in the game yesterday, eight runners were left on base, but only nine reached to begin with, all on singles and walks. Still unlucky, but less so then usual. Even last year, power was not the Buckeyes’ strong suit, with an ISO of .131 versus a B10 average of .126. But this year, it has completely fallen off the table.

It is difficult for me to point out the weaknesses of specific players since they are just college athletes and not professionals, but when you have a first baseman who is hitting .263/.288/.404, that is not a good thing. Paul Farinacci is a senior, from California who chose OSU, and I thank him for that. When he stands at the plate, he looks for all the world like a prototypical first baseman. He strikes me in the box as a right-handed Will Clark. Until the pitch is thrown that is. I don’t mean to pick on Paul, but he is playing first base. Surely we have someone on the roster who is not playing who is capable of walking once in a great while, hitting for average power, and taking throws from the other infielders.

But of course I will be there at Bill Davis Stadium tomorrow, waiting for the turnaround. Even cynical sabermetricians can hope.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Random Thoughts

Last night's Cardinals/Reds game was nothing too exciting...5-1 Cards...3 run triple by Jason Marquis...a batter reaching first on a "wild pitch" after being tagged out...Aaron Harang out for running into his own ball chopped near the plate...ok, it wasn't bad. But my new scoring system did not come to fruition as I couldn't figure out what I want to do. I'll have to come up with something...maybe greek letters. That's nerdy enough.

Fun stuff from yesterday...Harang's jersey for the first two innings read "Cncinnati" across the front. When I was a kid I had trouble spelling Cincinnati(usually coming up with "Cincinatti"), but I don't think I ever missed the first i.

A remarkable AP story on the Marlins 8-2 win over the Phillies yesterday. I wonder if I'm the only one who caught this:
Showing uncharacteristic control, Burnett pitched the Florida Marlins' third complete game of the season, and their fickle offense came alive against perennial patsy Randy Wolf to beat the Philadelphia Phillies 8-2.

"Perennial patsy" Randy Wolf? First, that doesn't seem to be the kind of language you read in these game stories. Second, unless "patsy" has become a compliment, it doesn't fit Randy Wolf. Wolf is at worst an average pitcher. Albie Lopez was a patsy. Randy Wolf ain't no patsy.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

First!

I don't intend to be using this blog that much...only when I have something pressing that I want to write about probably. No Gleeman-length or frequency here. Just occasional thoughts on sabermetrics and baseball in general.

The silly name comes from a silly song. I am horrible at creating names, so I usually like to base them off of walks, my favorite baseball event. I'm a TTO kind of guy. I love walks personally, which is a poor position for a sabermetrician to have--walks are worth what they are worth, not anymore because I personally like them. To many people it seems as if sabermetricians are obsessed with walks(particularly before sabermetric knowledge had spread to the extent it has now). This is not really true--it's just that back in the day, nobody other than sabermetricians gave a fig about walks. But me, I like em. So they led to a silly name.

I post at the FanHome Sabermetric Board as "USPatriot" and have my own sabermetric site. That site is reserved for general discussion of sabermetric principles and methods, and not for my ruminations on sabermetrics(well, the "Baselines" article is I guess) or my random thoughts on the passing baseball scene. So now you have this blog.

As for baseball on the field, I am from Ohio and am primarily an Indians fan, although I pull for the Reds as well. But in the Cleveland area, the Indians are what's on TV. Plus the Reds are in the Neanderthal League. No, that's not really a factor. I also like the Yankees. Why? Because George Steinbrenner is a benefactor of a certain college that is near and dear to my heart. Deal with it.

Now that all the junk you don't care about is out of the way, I'll give some random baseball thoughts:
1) Baseball Tonight sucks. OK, this is hardly a unique opinion, but can they possibly find two worse "analysts" then John Kruk and Harold Reynolds? I get excited when Tim Kurjikan shows up for goodness sakes. It's almost enough to make you be thankful that you don't have cable at home during the summer.
2) Steriods. Who cares?
3) The Washington Nationals. Yes, the people of Montreal got screwed, and yes, it's a horrible nickname, but I can't help but like them. I want one of those blue road caps. Can someone explain why their home opener is not on ESPN?
4) Scoresheets. This should be a longer entry, maybe I'll get around to it, but I can't pay attention to baseball without scoring it. Tonight I'm trying out my new system of tracking whether strikes are of the called, swinging, or foul variety tonight on the Reds/Cardinals game. On my site, I also have a scoring page with links to other sites on scorkeeping, or you can download the scoresheet I use. I learned how to score for my dad's softball team when I was ten, before I became a sabermetric junkie. This in hindsight is very fortunate, because I became a sabermetric junkie at age 11 and with a young, impressionable mind, probably would have picked up the Craig Wright/Project Scoresheet method endorsed by Bill James rather then the traditional 9x9 grid. Yes, it's true that you never use 81 squares, but I've found that by designing my own sheet that cuts out the stat columns(I mean, seriously, scoring is one thing, making AB-H-R-RBI lines for all 9 batters is another. That's what Yahoo! is for) and other junk, I have plenty of room to make the notations I want in the box. Plus the Project Scoresheet method makes it harder to differentiate between innings, and while you don't have to go back and write in previous boxes like in traditional systems, you don't know which runner is which without going back and looking. I'd rather see all of the action involving Milton Bradley in Milton Bradley's scorebox.

And those hideous diamonds. Not in PS, of course. But the diamond is horrible. I just use the corners of the boxes. The diamond just gets in the way. But it is fun to color in.
5) There was a Washington Post article today entitled "Intuition, Not Numbers, Guides Nats' Robinson" by Mike Wise. It contains a fallacy that I also remember seeing in the SI baseball preview that focused on sabermetrics, whatever year that was. The fallacy is that batter v. pitcher matchup stats are something embraced by sabermetricians. This is just absurd. Sabermetricians understand that the sample size usually associated with these figures is too small to draw any conclusions from them. They do give you more information, and if you weight them and regress them based on expectations, they can probably provide you with some extra information. But I don't know any self-respecting sabermetrician who cares if Shawn Green is 1-11 against Kyle Farnsworth.