Archive for May, 2004

Market Size and Winning

Today I have a guest article over at The Hardball Times, Quantifying the Market Size Advantage in MLB. Stop by and check it out. I have talked some about these issues before, but I have put some new stuff into this piece. Also, be sure to check out the other excellent content of this site.

If you are coming here for the first time from THT, welcome! I welcome responses to the article in the comments section or via e-mail. My e-correspondence will be spotty over my vacation, but I will get back to you.

Gone Fishing

I just wanted to let you know that I may not be blogging much over the next 10 days. I’ll be doing a bit of traveling that may or may not land me near a computer. I plan to see some friends and family, catch some fish, ride the waves, drink a few beers….and watch plenty of baseball.

It’s interesting that many of the bloggers I read are also in vacation mode. Hopefully, things will pick back up in June. I know I will. I have actually been working on several projects that are just not to the posting stage yet. Hopefully, I they will be ready shortly after I get back.

Tight lines,

JC

The Rise in Perfect Games

Both Tyler Cowen and Russ Roberts have interesting posts on the rise of perfect games in baseball. Randy Johnson’s perfect game last week was the 17th rule-book defined “perfect game” in the history of major league baseball. How does this compare with past feats? First, there are a few caveats to these numbers. Two of the perfect games occurred prior to the historian-defined “modern era” in which the game was so very different from today’s game. This knocks off two games for a total of 15 perfect games. In my view, baseball is not really today’s game until we reach the post-spitball and Ruth-as-hitter (not pitcher) era of the 1920s, which lops off one more perfect game for comparison. On the other hand, it just so happens that in the era of comparison two pitchers have thrown 9 or more perfect innings (meaning the pitchers pitched perfect games in length equal to those recognized as throwing perfect games). Thus, in my mind there have been 14 perfect 9 inning games thrown by pitchers that are consistent with the rules of today’s game.

Second, what is so odd about the perfect game is that, despite its rarity in very recent times, perfect games have been much more frequent than in the past. The first post-spitter perfect game was in 1922 (Robertson). A full 33 seasons passed before Don Larsen’s game in the 1956 World Series. The next two came eight and nine years later in 1964 (Bunning) and 1965 (Koufax), with another happening in 1968 (Hunter). Thirteen years passed before Barker’s game in 1981,when perfect games started popping up with some regularity. The next perfect games were in 1984(Witt), 1988 (Browning), 1991 (Martinez), 1994 (Rogers; edit see comments), 1998(Wells), 1998 (Cone), and Johnson (2004). From 1981-present, there has been a perfect game almost every three years. Why is this?

My first inclination was that changes in the talent dispersion of players might explain it, but now that I look at the numbers, I doubt it. Roberts thinks it may be due to better fielding from groundskeeping and better gloves. Using errors as quick metric I whipped up this little chart from the Lahman Database, and the numbers seem to support the story.

Although, I think most of the improvements in fielding have to do with better athleticism, improved scouting, and positioning. Additionally, pitchers seem to be doing a better job at keeping the ball out of fielders’ hands by striking out more batters.

Tyler adds that more perfect game capable pitchers are playing, which increases the likelihood of a perfect game occurring. This is especially important given the number of games played has increased. I am sure there are some other reasons as well. Please feel free to suggest some.

Addendum: Jon over at Talking Baseball also has a post on the issue, which I missed. Thanks to Dave for pointing it out.

In Memory of Doug Pappas

I just learned of the sad news that Doug Pappas has died. Rest in peace. My thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Mr. Pappas.

Also see here and here.

Jay Jaffe’s tribute to Doug Pappas is wonderful. Here is an excerpt.

On some level, all writers hope that someone might read their words long after they’ve passed from their time on this rock. For myself, this was one of the reasons I began building my site a few months after my grandfather — a great baseball fan who saw Ruth and Gehrig and who claimed that seeing Babe Herman hit on the head by a fly ball was what made him a Dodger fan — passed away; someday, I hope my grandchildren and their grandchildren are interested enough to read about what I saw that made me love this game.

In Doug’s case, there’s no doubt his writing will live on. So long as men are paid to play baseball, it will have relevance. May he rest in peace.

MORE: King Kaufman at Salon.com has a nice article on the work of Doug Pappas. Thanks to The Sports Economist for the pointer.

Rob Neyer of ESPN.com has some very nice praise for Doug Pappas. I think he expresses the feelings of many of his online readers have had since learning of Doug’s death. He was someone I didn’t know personally (I corresponed with him once very briefly), yet for some reason I missed him the instant I learned he had passed.

Without Doug Pappas, neither I nor many thousands of other interested parties would know anything about those stories listed above, because it was Doug who brought them to us in his blog, where he posted new entries almost every day….With his intelligence, his energy, his talent, and especially his b.s. detector (always set on HIGH), Doug established a standard that few among us can hope to even approach. I already miss him. And it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

Finally: A major news outfit, ESPN, reports the sad news. Here is what Jayson Stark has to say.

“If any of us at ESPN ever had a question about, say, a six-ejection game or a game in which both managers got tossed, we knew we could always count on Doug to tell us the last time that happened — probably faster than you could holler, ‘You’re out of here.’ And I don’t know how much time I’ve spent perusing his Business of Baseball website for payroll and salary data. But it’s got to be in my top 10 most-visited sites of all time.”

Trashing A-Rod

Why is A-Rod the great Satan of baseball to much of the media? As best I can tell, A-Rod got a huge contract that paid him $22 million per year. He performed, but his teammates didn’t. In his three years in Texas he posted an average OPS of 1.000, yet somehow his contract was always cited as the cause of the horrible pitching.

While I don’t agree with such arguments, I can understand why people say such things. But this morning I was glancing through some stats. Barry Bonds is making $18 million this year, which is hardly different from A-Rod’s deal. Right now Bonds is performing at a high level and his team is losing. But, the response from the media has been much different. The media blames Giants management for the team’s woes, not Bonds’s contract. A-Rod was run out of town, but the Giants wouldn’t dare part with Bonds. I guess Bonds has a better relationship with the media than he thinks.

Just an observation.

Braves Notes

– Why didn’t I comment on Randy Johnson’s perfect game on Tuesday? It’s just too much to think about. Though I received some guilty pleasure from seeing a perfect game from start to finish, I am pretty disappointed as a Braves fan. I think this team is better offensively than they have shown the past few games. They hit two good pitchers at their best, while the Braves were putting several minor-leaguers on the field. Yeah, the stars didn’t hit either, but even the best players can’t hit the ball every day. Sometimes it all bunches together. TP’s job is safe, or it should be.

– With Giles out for two months and the Braves teetering on falling out of the race, it is time to do something drastic. A trade for a third-baseman would be nice, but I don’t think it will happen. I see a very good opportunity to get some more offense out of our current bunch. I suggest putting Julio Franco at first full-time, moving Chipper back to third, and moving LaRoche to left. If LaRoche were right-handed he would have been at third long ago. It’s just a shame that the Braves have such a great player in Franco who can only play first. While, I am not in favor of keeping Chipper at third forever, and I don’t think Schuerholtz is either, there is not much else to be done at this point.

– It will be interesting to see who gets sent down when Marrero comes off the DL. DeWanyne Wise has been virtually invisible since Chipper returned. Wilson Betemit has been awful and needs to be sent down for his own good. Garcia’s bat is regressing toward his mean, though I suspect his job is secure. Nick Green seems to be making the most of his opportunity. Though his numbers are not fantastic (286/.375/.286), half of his at-bats took place in the Sheets/Johnson highlight films. I know it is just a few at-bats, but I think he looks at lot more comfortable at the plate than any of the other reserves.

– Cox is still continuing the practice of putting poor-OBP guys in the top of the order. In five of the past seven games the lead-off hitters have been DeRosa, Betemit, Wise, and Garcia (2), and LaRoche has hit in the two-spot three times. All of these guys have OBPs under .300. I understand the logic of putting fast guys with no power on in front of good hitters like Chipper, Drew, Andruw, and Estrada, but it doesn’t matter if these guys can’t get on base. All you end up doing is giving more at-bats to bad hitters. There is no excuse for batting Andruw sixth in this depleted line-up. I have a suggestion, put Chipper in the lead-off spot until he breaks out of his slump. At least he knows how to take a walk every now and then. His 5 walks since he returned to the line-up are more than the season totals of Garcia (1), Wise (2), Betemit (2), and LaRoche (4). Follow Chipper with Franco, Estrada, Drew, Andruw, and the rest.

Why Are There No Left-Handed Catchers?

UPDATE (02/02/09): This is an old post, which has several mistakes. My updated answer to this question is available in Chapter 3 of my book The Baseball Economist.

— — —
Benny DiStefano is largely remembered as the answer to the trivia question “Who was the last left-handed catcher to play in the Major Leagues?” At least, I think that’s the answer. The point is that left-handed catchers are extremely rare. This puzzles me.

Because of the speed of play, infield position players other than the first-baseman must be right-handed. This means that lefties who want to play in the big-leagues must play outfield or first. Why not catcher? Unlike second, third, and short the catcher has no better angle making throws to first with either his right or left hand. If anything, the angle is improved for lefties for most fair balls that catchers can field.

I listen closely when I hear commentators discuss the phenomenon. The answer most commonly given is that left-handed catchers have a harder time throwing out runners at third on steal attempts. A lefty must pivot and possibly throw behind a right-handed batter. This allows runners at second a greater opportunity to reach third on a steal. While I am willing to grant this is the case, you must take the logic further to weigh the trade-off with right-handed catchers at first base. A difficult throw for a right-handed catcher increases lead for runners at first by limiting the effectiveness of catcher pick-offs. This increases the likelihood that the runner can reach second safely. So the question is, assuming my assumptions hold, what is the difference in probabilistic runs saved by keeping first-base runners off second versus keeping second-base runners off third.

To to this I am going to use Lindsey’s 1963 frequencies and scoring probabilities of changes in the game state. Though more updated numbers exist, I happen to have access to this table in Albert and Bennett’s Curve Ball. I doubt the results for what I am doing would differ much from newer estimates. The Lindsey table list the frequency of the 24 base/out game situations. It also lists the expected runs generated from each situation. What I want to do with this table is to estimate the change in probabilistic scoring from steals of second and third, which catchers try to prevent. A successful steal of second can change the game state in three ways: 1)going from a runner on first to a runner on second, 2) going from runners on first and third to runners on second and third, or 3) going from runners on first and second to runners on second and third. A successful steal of third also changes the game situation in three ways: 1) going from a runner on second to a runner on third, 2) going from runners on first and second to runners on first and third, or 3) going from runners on first and second to runners on second and third. Since the change in the third state is the same for both I can throw it out. Here is the change in expected runs from changes in the situations for all out configurations.


Stealing Second
Frequency Expecte Runs Expecte Runs Expected Runs Freq.* Diff. Total Change
1 1 2 Change
0 0.064 0.813 1.194 0.381 0.076 1 to 2
1 0.076 0.498 0.671 0.173 0.051 0.151
2 0.078 0.219 0.297 0.078 0.023
Outs 1,3 1,3 2,3 Change 1,3 to 2,3
0 0.004 1.94 1.96 0.02 0.008 0.036
1 0.011 1.115 1.56 0.445 0.017 TOTAL
2 0.016 0.532 0.687 0.155 0.011 0.187


Stealing Third
Frequency Expecte Runs Expecte Runs Expected Runs Freq.* Diff. Total Change
2 2 3 Change
0 0.11 1.194 1.39 0.196 0.153 2 to 3
1 0.024 0.671 0.98 0.309 0.024 0.187
2 0.029 0.297 0.355 0.058 0.010
Outs 1,2 1,2 1,3 Change 1,2 to 1,3
0 0.014 1.47 1.94 0.47 0.027 0.074
1 0.026 0.939 1.115 0.176 0.029 TOTAL
2 0.033 0.403 0.532 0.129 0.018 0.260

Assuming a handedness advantage at throwing out stealing runners, a right handed catcher saves, on average, .073 runs per game (0.26 saved by righties – 0.187 saved by lefties) over equally skilled left-handers, which translates to about 12 runs a season. So, maybe there is something to the conventional wisdom. But, this assumes that two equal quality catchers. Certainly, there have been exceptional left-handers who could more than make up for this deficiency. So,I would also like to offer another reason. If you have a left-hander with an arm good enough catch, why not pitch him? Left-handers are more scarce than right handers so left-handers who are good enough to be catchers are likely to end up as pitchers than right-handers of equal arm strength. I believe Bill James mentions this explanation in the NBJHA. Left-handed pitcher Chris Short did catch one game in 1961.

I am not totally convinced by my own work here so I welcome feedback. I was kind of surprised to find the right-hand advantage.

Graft in MLB

Wow, what a great feel-good story. It makes me feel so warm an fuzzy to know that MLB’s new wealth-redistribution program is running so well. According to the AP, revenue sharing recipients are spending their revenue sharing windfall on the farm to build for the future. You see, there has been a perception that revenue sharing distorts the incentives for winning. Why spend $10 million dollars on players to generate wins and more revenue when you can just sit back and wait for some welfare from George Steinbrenner? The problem is that the gig is up. Everyone knows the system is a scam that does anything but help small-market teams compete. So what is MLB to do? Say that teams spending the money in the minor leagues “and building for the future.” Fans can see when teams spend big money on Major League players, but spending in the minors is virtually invisible to the public. So MLB puts out a press release to combat the image that owners don’t spend the money on building a better team to improve competitive balance.

Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said his team’s low payroll has led some to conclude that the team isn’t spending money.

“It’s not only the fans,” he said. “I don’t think players understand. I don’t think employees in our organization understand the money that goes into player development and scouting. I have to educate them on that.”

You see, it’s all a big misunderstanding. Yeah, right! This is just the latest cover story. Just as third-world dictators know the tricks to launder foreign aid — for example buying overpriced machines for under-the-table kickbacks from machine sellers — revenue-sharing recipients have found a way to hide their scam. By the time the money heads down the the farm and back the public has no idea where it went. If teams poor teams were really using this money on the farm, then why haven’t the perennial cellar dwellers (Brewers, KC, Pittsburgh, etc.) been stocking the league with talent for the past decade. The current revenue plan is not so different from the 1995-2002 revenue sharing plan to make such a big difference in the minors.

OK, Let’s Really Fix the Problem

I’m tired of the inconsistency of my layout so I am going to try and fix the problem in a drastic way. The poor Blogger template I have tortured has got to go. Thanks to the help of a kind reader we have developed a format that relies more on tables than CSS. I believe this should solve most of the problems with browser incompatibility. Take a look at the test-site here. Screw it, I’m just going to do it now. If you are having problems with this page let me know.

I would appreciate any reader feedback I can get. I want answers to two questions.

1) How does it work in different browsers, particularly Firebird and Safari?
2) Are there any drawbacks I am missing in using tables over CSS? I am keeping some of the CSS, but the columns are derived from tables.

Thanks!

Credit or Blame?

Ben over at Talking Baseball has some interesting commentary on Ben Sheets’s 18K performance yesterday against the Braves. I watched the whole thing, and I have to admit I was almost cheering for Sheets at the end. I have never had the privilege to witness a feat like that. Normally, I just get the recap on Sports Center, which is spoiled by the yip-yap (boo-ya!, no soup for you!, etc.).

But Ben makes an important point: how do we assign blame or praise for such a feat? Entering the game the Braves were already quite adept at striking out with almost 20% of their ABs resulting in strike-outs and tied for sixth worst in MLB. Compound this with the fact that a large portion of this line-up was in Richmond last year. So, Ben looks at the opponent quality of other big strike-out performances. He finds,

on average, teams that are victims of high strike-out games finish with nearly 89 more total strike outs than the league average. Omitting the two teams that finished with strike out totals lower than the league average, our average increases to over 178 more strike outs than the league average. Of these 10 teams, four of them led their leagues in strike outs, three of them finished third in strike outs, two of them finished fourth, and only one of those teams — the 1997 Chicago White Sox — had the fewest strike outs in their league.

So yes, great pitching performances have indeed been aided by weak opponents. This is not surprising, but what is more interesting of his finding is the typical career quality of pitchers who reach such achievements.

Looking at this list of pitchers, it doesn’t appear as though any of them got really lucky. With the exception of David Cone (and Kerry Wood because it’s too early to tell), all of the guys who racked up 19 or more K’s in 9 innings are Hall of Famers. Expanding the list to 18, we also see Ramon Martinez, Bill Gullickson, and Ron Guidry join the company. While these three guys are not Nolan Ryan or Tom Seaver types, they all were considered to be top-notch pitchers. So it does take quite a bit of pitching skill to whiff a lot of guys in one game.

Unlike no-hitters, which can happen to mediocre pitchers on good days, these high-K games seem to only happen to very good pitchers. I think this is a very good omen for Sheets’s career.