Archive for May, 2004

Braves Notes

— File this under Dammit! Russ Branyan has exploded after being traded to the Indians. With the AAA Buffalo Bisons Branyan has posted a .313/.361/.719 line with 4 HRs in 8 games. While this is Triple-A and a small sample size — really it’s nothing to get upset over — it just stinks to see a guy you just traded for PTBNL take off like that. Although, congrats to Branyan.

— I had been thinking that maybe it would be a good idea to move Rafael Furcal down in the batting order given his early struggles, but after exaimining his numbers I now think that Furcky may be the victim of some bad luck. Right now he is putting up .254/.362/.356. I would like to see my leadoff guy with a higher OBP than that, especially when Julio and Estrada are putting up .400+ OBPs. But, looking at Furcal’s career he seems to be acquiring the plate discipline that will get him on base more. Why do I say Furcky’s OBP is low when his current OBP is near dead-on his career average? Well, his OBP is down from what I think it will be by season end because his batting average is down. Furcal has been injured, and I think this explains some of his problems at the plate. His career ratio of OBP/BA is 1.22, but this season it is 1.44. If his batting average returns to his career average of .280 and the OBP/BA ratio stays the same, then his OBP will end up being just over .400. And even if I look at his BAs from his two weakest seasons of .275 his OBP will be .390.

At this point you are probably screaming loudly. “Your an idiot JC! Why are you assuming the BA will revert to the mean but his OBP/BA will not? You damn imperialist economists think you know everything!” Whoa! Calm down imaginary foil; I have an answer. The reason I am optimistic about Furcal is that his walk rate and the number of pitches he is taking this year are up while strikeouts are down. So far in 2004 Furcal has walked in 14% of his of his plate appearances and facing 4.28 pitches. He is striking out in only 10% of his at bats. This is a stark difference over his career. His walk rate, pitch count, and strikeout rates are 8.75%, 3.9, and 15.52%. His walks and Ks have virtually flip-flopped! It looks like he is taking a much better approach to hitting than he has in past years, and if he keeps it up he might be one of the best lead-off men in the game. Keep up the good work Furcky! I’m sorry I ever doubted you.

The Four-Man Rotation

David Pinto brings the news that the Rockies are going with a four-man rotation. This is an interesting idea. I believe the current five-man plan employed by most teams during the regular season began in the 1960s. Though some teams experimented with different rotations, since 1980 the five-man rotation has been the norm. This article by Rany Jazayerli at Prospectus has short history. So, which is better: the four-man or the five-man? I will join the list of people who have attempted to answer this question.

First I want to identify the trade-offs of the choices. If you go with the four-man, your best pitchers will pitch more regularly than the five-man, but they may be tired and therefore pitch less per start. With the five-man you have to throw an inferior pitcher out there once every five games; however, each starter is able to throw more pitches. In Pinto’s post he cites that the Rockies plan to make the trade-off by limiting starters to lower pitch counts. So, basically going to a four-man rotation has the effect of switching a certain number of middle innings from starters to relievers. I am not sure if starters are more valuable in the 5th-7th innings than in innings 1-4, and I am not sure to figure out which is more valuable.

For simplicity I am going to assume that all pitcher innings are the same. This is not such a bad assumption given that most starters will be relieved when their performances drop below bullpen replacements. Therefore, I will focus on whether or not starters are pitching more or less innings with the five-man than with the four-man. Using a basic pitch count estimator (BPCE = 3.3 x BIP + 4.8 x K + 5.5 x BB) I estimate the average pitch counts for pitchers who started at least 10 games in a season from 1950-2003 (excluding 1981 and 1994).

The five-man count appears to be associated with a jump in pitch counts in the late-1960s through the mid-1970s. There was a slight dip in late-70s and early-80s, but now pitch counts are back to all-time highs. The five-man rotation is associated with high pitcher counts per game than the four-man, although it is not that large of a difference (approximately 10 pitches per game). This is not surprising; however, over a season how does this affect overall innings pitched by starters? The following figure graphs average total innings pitched per season for the same group of pitchers.

Interestingly, though starters are pitching longer with five-man rotations, they are pitching fewer overall innings. I suspect that much of this has to do with increased reliever usage for other reasons, but the difference in average total innings pitched from the early 1970s and the present is about 30 innings. If starting pitchers are better than non-starters and the decline in starter innings is due to the five-man rotation (I acknowledge these are two big “ifs”), then the four-man rotation may be a better way to configure your pitching staff in a season. On the other hand, fewer innings per season may prolong the entire career of a pitcher, which might offset the loss in one particular season. But really, what incentives do managers have to increase the career length of his starting pitchers by a few years? I suspect mangers are very myopic in their use of players given their incentives. I look forward to seeing how the Rockies experiment goes.

Wisdom from Master Yoda

Skip is back from the Kentucky Derby and points to an interesting position taken by sports economist Andrew Zimbalist on subsidizing the Nets move to Brooklyn.

According to Zimbalist, the city and state would spend $690 million on infrastructure improvements and other costs over the next 30 years. But that money is offset by the $1.5 billion in tax revenues from the project.

Zimbalist has long been an effective opponent of public subsidies to sports arenas, which is what makes this report so unusual. All this prompts Skip to ask, “Has Andrew Zimbalist Joined the Dark Side?” This reminds this Star Wars geek of some advice given by Master Yoda, “Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.” While Zimbalist certainly is not going to use any mythical multipliers or other accounting tricks to generate his numbers I am very suspicious of estimates that show any net benefits from public subsidies to projects other than traditional public goods. I am particularly curious as to why NJ is unwilling to match this offer if it is such a cash cow.

Sorry for the Slowdown

Blogging has been light lately due to a few factors:

1) The end of the semester means a lot more work.
2) I have been spending my evenings and weekends building a fence.
3) 8 month-old daughter has become very VERY mobile, turning babysitting and blogging — once complements — into substitutes.

But I see good news on the horizon. The fence is finished and the semester ends tomorrow; but there is not much I can do about the little one. I’ve actually written a few posts and played around with some data , but they either became outdated or dead-ends. I should be picking up the pace shortly. Also, I plan to make a few changes over the summer. I will likely switch blogging software and move to a new server. I will keep you posted.

Speaking of changes, check out the new Baseball Primer, or shall I call it Baseball Think Factory. Jim Furtado has done some good work reconfiguring the best baseball site on the web.

Sobering Diversion

Sorry to completely deviate from the content of this site but I wanted to link to a story about a friend of mine, David Stokes, in The Charlotte Observer. David was a civilian contractor in Kut, Iraq who was almost killed in an uprising a few weeks ago. His brother-in-law called me the other day to tell me the scary tale. He was still in Iraq at the time, but thankfully he has made it home safely.

I received several of the e-mails excerpted at the bottom of the article, which I am glad the author included. It was hard to see the transformation of the attitude of someone so dedicated to doing such a small part to help rebuild Iraq.

Welcome Home, David!