Tuesday, May 22, 2012


* As sabermetrics has matured, many of us have come to recognize to a greater extent that information asymmetry hinders our analysis of transactions and other team decisions. Teams certainly operate with much greater information about their own players than their opponents do, and much, much greater information than we could have hope to possess as outsiders. This is a positive step for sabermetrics, one that I certainly needed to heed more in my earlier days pretending to be more of a know-it-all than I do now.

However, one can go too far, and use information asymmetry as an excuse for questionable decision-making. For the 2012 MLB season, I would make the Reds usage of Aroldis Chapman Exhibit A. Chapman was groomed throughout the winter and the spring as a starter, and seemed to be handling it well. There was really no reason to believe that he wouldn’t, since he had previously started both in Cuba and in Louisville in 2010. Then the Reds suffered injuries to Nick Masset, Bill Bray, and Ryan Madson, and Chapman was moved to the bullpen.

It’s possible, of course, that the Reds always had grave reservations about utilizing Chapman as a starter, and that the bullpen injuries tipped the scale in a direction it was already beginning to go. But given the timing, it seems very unlikely.

Now the Reds have made a second decision, to use Chapman as the closer, for which there is again no evidence that it was prompted by inside information. Instead, the cause is pretty straightforward--continuing poor performance in that role by Sean Marshall, capped by a game in which he had to be rescued by Jose Arredondo.

* With I’ll Have Another set to make a bid for the Triple Crown, there will be two opposing yet equally silly points of view on display among the lesser lights of sportswriting.

The first is that I’ll Have Another cannot be beaten. They will point out the perceived weak Belmont field that does not include Bodemeister, talk about the horse’s “will to win”, and say that they just can’t imagine how he gets beat. Of course, the fact that similar things were written about Smarty Jones and Big Brown will be completely ignored, as sportswriters of this class are incapable of learning. The obvious fact of the matter that if Northern Dancer, Majestic Prince, Spectacular Bid, Alysheba, and Sunday Silence can all fail to win the Belmont, then any horse could as well (not to mention losses in other races, like Native Dancer and Point Given in the Kentucky Derby) will also be ignored.

The second is that I’ll Have Another can’t win because he is running against 34 years of failure and the ten horses in that period that have won the Derby and the Preakness before losing the Belmont. This is also silly; one need only to look at the margin by which Victory Gallop denied Real Quiet to know that the Triple Crown is winnable, not to mention trying to explain who would have beaten Sunday Silence if not for another all-time great in Easy Goer, and many other similar arguments.

Then there is the matter of what it would mean if I’ll Have Another wins the Belmont. Where would that rank him historically? For those that know nothing about horse racing other than the Triple Crown (which is a large share of the general public), it would obviously put him in an elite group of twelve. For those of us that have a broader knowledge about the sport, it wouldn’t really mean a whole lot for his historical standing. It would certainly make him the most famous American horse of recent memory, but he would have to achieve more in his career to be noted as particularly remarkable.

That is not my attempt to downplay the Triple Crown--there's no professional sports outcome I’d rather see other than the Indians winning the World Series and the Browns winning the Super Bowl. But the Triple Crown is three races run over a month and a half in the middle portion of a horse’s three-year old campaign. It is but a small portion of what makes an all-time great race horse. Many all-time greats didn’t contest the Triple Crown, but went on to achieve great things later in their three-year old seasons (see Buckpasser for an example, or Tiznow in more recent history). Many more were non-factors at three, but achieved great things later in their careers (listing examples here would be silly as there are so many).

Of course, evaluating a horse from a historical perspective must include consideration of context. Today’s thoroughbreds race much shorter schedules and are less likely to return to run at age four and later if they are stars at three. Still, even from the perspective of three-year old stars of the last fifteen years, even a Triple Crown will not raise I’ll Have Another above the very best. Point Given may have lost the Kentucky Derby, but he came back in the summer to win the Travers at the same distance, and ran one of the best Belmonts of recent memory. That his “Triple Crown” runs Preakness-Belmont-Travers doesn’t make it much less of an achievement. Curlin may have lost the Derby and the Belmont, but he came back in the fall to win the Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Breeders’ Cup Classic against the best older horses in the country.

On the other hand, the same can be written about some of the other horses that have won the Triple Crown. It is easy to believe that the eleven Triple Crown winners represent the greatest American thoroughbreds, but it really isn’t the case. Certainly all eleven are well-regarded historically and are in the Hall of Fame, but in a couple of cases, that is mostly the result of winning the Triple Crown and not anything else they did.

- Sir Barton won the Triple Crown before anyone talked about such a thing (that would start with the second winner, Gallant Fox). For his career he won 13 of 31 starts. He was Horse of the Year in 1919, and was ranked by Blood-Horse as the #49 American thoroughbred of the Twentieth Century.

- Omaha was sired by the 1930 Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox, but he wasn’t even named Horse of the Year in 1935. He won 9 of 22 career starts and was ranked #61 by Blood-Horse.

It’s not a knock on I’ll Have Another to say that he’d be more Omaha than Count Fleet should he win the Belmont. And if the horse can stay in training and win the Breeder’s Cup Classic or another key race against older horses, I’d be inclined to change my opinion. But that’s a hard task for a three-year old, and the horses that can do it are the ones that distinguish themselves as the best, Triple Crown or no.

* Speaking of horse racing and circling back to baseball, with the season roughly 25% complete I have heard multiple announcers referring to the “quarter pole”. I find this extremely aggravating (which is admittedly a bit of an overreaction). Unless there is some non-horse racing definition of the term “quarter pole” of which I am unaware, using the term in this manner is completely wrong. The quarter pole does not have anything to do with one quarter of the race--it is the pole marking a quarter mile to the finish line. And as you can see from that description, it is oriented to the end rather than the beginning of the race. There is no use for miles in baseball, so I suppose the most appropriate use of the term would be after 120 or so games had been played--a quarter of the season remaining.

I realize that I am complaining extensively about a very silly thing, but when a term from one of my favorite sports gets twisted by people I am predisposed to complain about anyway, I can’t help myself. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a similar example of a baseball term used in other contexts that so completely misses the point (which isn’t to say one doesn’t exist). The closest I can come up with is “balanced scorecard”, which has been turned into some sort of silly business jargon, kind of how statisticians must bristle when they hear about “Six Sigma”.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Scoring Self-Indulgence, pt. 9

Finally, it’s over. No more boring you with detailed explanations of a fairly conventional scoring system as if it is unique and deserving of great attention. I will close with a pitch-by-pitch translation of a scoresheet into text. Truly fascinating, I know.

This game was played on July 24, 2010 between Los Angeles and Texas. The lineups were as follows:


Los Angeles
1. 6 Aybar
2. 4 Izturis
3. 9 Abreu
4. 8 Hunter
5. D Matsui
6. 5 Callaspo
7. 3 Napoli
8. 2 Mathis
9. 7 Willits
P: Santana

1. 6 Andrus
2. 5 Young
3. 4 Kinsler
4. D Guerrero
5. 7 Hamilton
6. 9 Cruz
7. 2 Molina
8. 3 Davis
9. 8 Borbon
P: Feldman

LAA First
Aybar: Called strike, foul, ball, ball, ball; flied to left (along line)
Izturis: Called strike, ball, foul, ball, foul; foul to third
Abreu: Ball, called strike; lined to right
0 runs, 0 hits, 0 walks, 0 left on base, 15 pitches

TEX First
Andrus: Ball, called strike, called strike, ball; grounded to first (pitcher covering)
Young: Called strike, called strike, ball; lined to right
Kinsler: Called strike, swinging strike, foul; struck out swinging
0 runs, 0 hits, 0 walks, 0 left on base, 13 pitches

LAA Second
Hunter: Ball, foul, swinging strike, foul, ball; flied to right
Matsui: Lined to right
Callaspo: Ball, called strike, ball, grounded to first (pitcher covering)
0 runs, 0 hits, 0 walks, 0 left on base, 11 pitches (26 for game)

TEX Second
Guerrero: Ball; grounded to short
Hamilton: Ball, ball; grounded to first
Cruz: Flied to center
0 runs, 0 hits, 0 walks, 0 left on base, 6 pitches (19 for game)

LAA Third
Napoli: Called strike; flied to center
Mathis: Called strike, swinging strike, foul, ball; flied to center in center-right
Willits: Called strike; flied to left
0 runs, 0 hits, 0 walks, 0 left on base, 9 pitches (35 for game)

TEX Third
Molina: Called strike, ball, called strike; struck out swinging
Davis: Ball, called strike, ball, ball; doubled to right-center very deep on line drive
Borbon: Ball, called strike, foul, ball, ball; flied to center
Andrus: Ball, called strike, foul, ball; grounded to short
0 runs, 1 hit, 0 walks, 1 left on base, 20 pitches (39 for game)

LAA Fourth
Aybar: Bunt foul; singled to left along line, thrown out stretching to second (left to second)
Izturis: Called strike showing bunt, ball; flied to left
Abreu: Called strike, ball, ball, ball; walk
Hunter: Ball; singled to right on flyball, advanced to second on fielding error by right fielder, Abreu to third
Matsui: Called strike, ball; popped to shortstop in shallow left
0 runs, 2 hits, 1 walk, 2 left on base, 15 pitches (50 for game)

TEX Fourth
Young: Grounded to second
Kinsler: Ball, ball, called strike, ball; walk
Guerrero: Grounded into double play, third to second to first, Kinsler retired at second
0 runs, 0 hits, 1 walk, 0 left on base, 7 pitches (46 for game)

LAA Fifth
Callaspo: Ball; grounded to pitcher
Napoli: Ball, called strike, foul, ball; grounded to third
Mathis: Called strike showing bunt, ball, ball, ball; homered to left on flyball, RBI
Willits: Called strike; singled to right on flyball
Aybar: Ball, ball; tripled to right along line on line drive, Willits scored, RBI
Izturis: Ball, foul, foul; flied to right in right-center
2 runs, 3 hits, 0 walks, 1 left on base, 21 pitches (71 for game)

TEX Fifth
Hamilton: Foul; flied to center
Cruz: Foul, swinging strike, ball; struck out swinging
Molina: Foul; singled to center on groundball
Davis: Called strike, foul; struck out swinging
0 runs, 1 hit, 0 walks, 1 left on base, 11 pitches (57 for game)

LAA Sixth
Abreu: Grounded to second
Hunter: Foul, ball, singled to center on groundball
Matusi: Ball, Ball, called strike, foul; singled to right-center, Hunter to third
Ogando relieved Feldman (9 pitches in inning, 80 for game)
Callaspo: Called strike, singled to shallow center on flyball, Hunter scored, Matsui to second, RBI
Napoli: Swinging strike, ball, swinging strike, foul, ball, ball, foul, foul, foul, foul, foul; struck out looking
Mathis: Ball, swinging strike, foul; grounded into fielder’s choice at third, Callaspo retired at second (third to second)
1 run, 3 hits, 0 walks, 2 left on base

TEX Sixth
Borbon: Ball, called strike showing bunt, swinging strike, ball; struck out swinging
Andrus: Ball, ball; flied to right along line
Young: Called strike, ball, ball; homered to left-center on flyball, RBI
Kinsler: Ball, swinging strike, foul, ball, ball; walk
Guerrero: Ball (Young stole second); grounded to third
1 run, 1 hit, 1 walk, 1 left on base, 20 pitches (77 for game)

LAA Seventh
Oliver relieved Ogando
Willits: Ball, called strike, ball; singled to center on flyball
Aybar: Bunt foul, bunt foul; singled to right on groundball, Willits to third
Izturis: Called strike, ball; singled to right on groundball, Willits scored, Aybar to second, RBI
Abreu: Bunt foul; doubled down the right field line on a groundball, Aybar scored, Izturis to third, RBI
Hunter: Intentional ball, intentional ball, intentional ball; intentional walk
Matsui: Foul, ball; grounded into fielder’s choice at first, Izturis retired at home (first to catcher), Abreu to third, Hunter to second
Callaspo: Foul, ball, called strike; flied to center in center-right, Abreu scored, sacrifice fly, RBI
O’Day relieved Ogando
Napoli: Ball, ball, ball, called strike; grounded into fielder’s choice at shortstop, Matsui retired at second (shortstop to second)
3 runs, 4 hits, 1 walk, 2 left on base

TEX Seventh
Hamilton: Flied to center in deep center-left
Cruz: Ball, called strike; homered to left on flyball, RBI
Molina: Flied to deep right
Borbon: Ball, called strike, swinging strike; struck out swinging
1 run, 1 hit, 0 walks, 0 left on base, 9 pitches (86 for game)

LAA Eighth
Harrison relieved O’Day
Mathis: Ball, called strike; singled to left on flyball
Willits: Foul bunt; bunted into fielder’s choice at catcher, Mathis retired at second (catcher to shortstop)
Aybar: Swinging strike, ball, ball, swinging strike (Willits caught stealing catcher to second), ball, foul; walk
Izturis: Ball, called strike; popped to second in shallow right
0 runs, 1 hit, 1 walk, 1 left on base

TEX Eighth
Borbon: Called strike; singled to shallow left along line on flyball
Andrus: Ball, called strike, called strike, foul; struck out swinging
Young: Ball, ball, called strike, ball, called strike, foul; struck out looking
Kinsler: Called strike, swinging strike; popped to first
0 runs, 1 hit, 0 walk, 1 left on base, 17 pitches (103 for game)

LAA Ninth
Mathis relieved Harrison
Abreu: Ball, ball, called strike, ball; walk
Hunter: Ball; reached on fielding error by second baseman, Abreu to second
Matsui: Ball, foul, ball, ball; grounded to second, Abreu to third, Hunter to second
Callaspo: Popped to short
Napoli: Ball, ball, ball, called strike, foul, foul; looped to second
0 runs, 0 hits, 1 walk, 2 left on base

TEX Ninth
Rodney relieved Santana
Guerrero: Ball, ball, ball, called strike, called strike; struck out looking
Hamilton: Ball, called strike, swinging strike, foul, ball; doubled to center-right on flyball
Cruz: Called strike, foul, foul, ball, ball; struck out swinging
Molina: Called strike, foul, ball, ball, ball, foul, foul; struck out looking
0 runs, 1 hit, 0 walks, 1 left on base
LAA 6, TEX 2

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Great Moments in Yahoo! Box Scores

This is from the same game I posted earlier.  Yahoo! has corrected the score, but remain confused with respect to the participants in the game.

Great Moments in Yahoo! Box Scores

The score was 12-1.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Scoring Self-Indulgence, pt. 8: Substitutions and Miscellany

I’ve covered most of the on-field events that I record on my scoresheet; the only major area of keeping a scoresheet remaining is how to record substitutions.

Focusing first on position players, the four types of substitution/switches that can occur are:
1. pinch-hitting
2. pinch-running
3. defensive replacement
4. defensive position switch

The first principle of my system for tracking these is that all substitutions are assumed to occur at the start of the inning unless otherwise noted, except for pinch-runners. They are assumed to enter the game as soon as the player they replace reached base unless otherwise noted. If a player enters the game while his team is batting, he is assumed to be a pinch-hitter unless otherwise noted.

The point at which the substitute enters the game is noted pretty simply, by writing his name below the starter’s name in the appropriate box followed by a notation like “v7” (bottom of the seventh) or “^4” (top of the fourth). In the past, I would have rendered those as “B7” and “T4” respectively, but I started using carrots a couple years ago when I moved to have less letters and more symbols on my sheets. Either way, the meaning is easy to decipher.

If the replacement is a pinch-runner (and he comes into the game as soon as the original player reached base), then the prefix “PR” is used; “PR Jones ^8” means, obviously, that Jones pinch-ran in
the top of the eighth.

For defensive replacements, there is no position recorded for the new player if it is the same as the old one. If the starter was “6 Peralta” (that is, shortstop Peralta) and he is replaced by defensive replacement McDonald in the bottom of the seventh, I’d simply write “McDonald v7”. If the replacement is at a different position than the man he replaced, then the position is written in front, i.e. “4 McDonald v7” if McDonald is playing second base.

With respect to defensive position switches, suppose that Gerut begins the game in center field and then moves to left in the top of the sixth. The initial lineup would read “8 Gerut” of course; the switch will be noted by simply writing “7 ^6” wherever it will fit, preferably next to the original position/name but if not then on the next line below.

Mid-inning switches are fairly straightforward, although a little trickier. For pinch runners, suppose that in the top of the ninth, the #4 batter reaches base, then moves to third on the actions of the #5 hitter, and then is removed for a pinch-runner as the #6 batter comes to the plate. The notation I would use is “PR Jones 6-9”. In this case, 6 is the lineup slot at the plate at the time the substitution is made and 9 indicates the inning. It is not necessary to indicate whether it is the top or bottom of the inning, as the pinch-runner notation makes it clear that it must be his team’s batting half. Of course, this applies to the original PR notation as well, for which I do note the inning-half, but I drop that detail here because the extra number and dash will already be cluttering things up.

The use of the “lineup slot-inning” format may seem a little backwards since the inning is the more important distinguishing factor of when the substitution takes place, but it is derived from the orientation of the scoresheet and considering it as I would a spreadsheet. The lineup slots represent the rows down the vertical of the page, while the innings represent the columns along the horizontal. It is natural for me to put the vertical first, I guess.

For a mid-inning defensive replacement, it is necessary to record the half of the inning, because otherwise it could be confused with a pinch-hitter. For example, if Branson comes in to play third in the bottom of the third with the #8 hitter at the plate, directly replacing the previous third baseman in the batting order, I’d writer “Branson 8v3”.
The exception would come if the substitute went into a different lineup slot, replacing a player at a different position. In that case, I could just write “5 Branson 8-3”, with the notation of the new position demonstrating that this is a defensive replacement and not a pinch-hitting situation. The same rule applies to any defensive pitching switches.

If a substitution occurs between pitches of a plate appearance, then a little more finesse is required. The notation takes the form “Ax”, where x is the last pitch thrown before the substitution is made. If there is a pinch-hitter after the second pitch to the #8 batter in the top of the ninth, the replacement could be recorded as “Harris 8v9 (AB)”. Similar notation is used for pinch-runners and defensive replacements; again, it’s unnecessary to record which half of the inning it is for pinch-runners or defensive position switches.

If a player is ejected, I write “EJ 3^7” or something similar; this would indicate that the player was ejected, with the first PA he was not eligible for being that of the #3 hitter in the top of the seventh. If he was ejected at the end of an inning/between innings, the notation could just be “EJ v7”.

Pitcher substitutions are recorded in the box for pitchers similarly to how position player substitutions are recorded. The exception is that a pitcher brought on to start an inning is noted simply with the inning number; there’s no need to distinguish between top and bottom. Any changes in the batting order status of the pitcher are recorded in the appropriate box, not in the pitcher section of the scoresheet.

So if Huff starts the game, is relieved by Sipp to start the seventh, then by Herrmann to face the #8 batter in the seventh, the pitchers box would read: “Huff, Sipp 7, Herrmann 8-7”.

If the game goes into extra innings and I have to move onto another scoresheet, I recopy the lineup as it is when the game goes to extra innings. This can include some odd-looking notations, like players at positions they don’t actually play if they pinch-hit or pinch-ran, but doing it this way allows for one to see that the defense was reshuffled at that point. That way the change that occurs for the tenth inning can be marked on the new extra-inning scoresheet rather than on the sheet used for innings 1-9. If the pitcher that finished the ninth stays in for the tenth, I put his name in brackets just to avoid any confusion with the starting pitcher, who is also not listed with any entry point (ex. [Wilson]).

Some other assorted miscellany in no particular order:

* If a team bats around, I just move over to the next column. From then on, instead of using the lineup slot to refer the reader of the sheet back to the appropriate scorebox, I add an “A” at the end. So if a team bats around and the tenth batter is the #7 hitter, his box is now referred to as “7A”. If for some reason the inning keeps going, the scorebox for his third PA of the inning would be “7B”.

* If a batter’s PA ends prematurely due to an out on base or the end of the game (with a run scoring on a not in-play event), I write “IE” for inning ended across the box, and make the inning ending slash so that it will be clear that the next inning beings with his PA:

* At the end of each inning I record a basic line score for the inning in the inning header. This takes the form R-H-W-LOB. Above it, I record the number of pitches thrown in the inning by the starting pitcher and his running pitch count for the game. When he exits, I stop recording pitch counts. So, if a team scores a run on a hit with no walks and no one left on in the second inning, with the pitcher making 17 pitches after making 8 in the first inning, the inning header would look like this:

When the pitcher is finished, the last updated cumulative pitch count is indicated by a dash between the final inning pitch count and the game total.