Archive for March, 2006

Baseball Analysts: NL East Preview

Baseball Analysts posts their Two on Two NL East preview featuring Mac Thomason. It seems that it all comes down to pitching for the Braves. Here are a few thoughts on Horacio Ramirez.

Mac: You really need another lefty, you want Horacio Ramirez?

Rich: Hey, Mac…you mean the guy you like to call HomeRam?

And later in the chat:

Mac: What really worries me is that we’re in a division with Delgado, Floyd, Howard, Utley, and Abreu and we have one southpaw starter, who isn’t very good and gives up lots of homers.

Jeremy: I really wouldn’t be shocked to see Ramirez displaced at some point this season. I just don’t see him pitching well at all this year. But, as you note Bryan, the Braves have young starters ready to step in.

Mac: I like Davies a lot, as does Cox, and the Braves are going to do something (a trade, or a move of Sosa or Thomson to the pen) to get him in the rotation.

HoRam reminds me of another young left-handed pitcher who came through the Braves system—no, not Tom Glavine. He reminds me of Jason Marquis. I know he’s a lefty batter, right-handed thrower, but his situation was quite similar. He was a young starter whom the Braves gave every chance to succeed. Eventually, the Braves lost their patience with him, moved him to the bullpen, and then traded him. Marquis had a decent season two years ago with the Cardinals, but reverted back to form in 2005. Like HoRam, Marquis has trouble keeping the ball in the park, he’s no strikeout wizard, and his best ERA seasons have been out of line with his peripheral stats.

Those who think HoRam is going to succeed because Leo Mazzone is gone need to have something more to hold onto than that. I’ve been doing a lot further analysis of Mazzone’s work and I’ve found that he works his magic in the areas where Ramirez needs the most help: strikeouts and home runs. Mazzone’s pitchers have consistently better strikeout and home run rates when they pitch for him. Bobby Cox may handle pitchers well, but he doesn’t show them how to pitch. I think it’s going to be an extremely tough year.

Baseball-Reference Blog

It seems that blogging is the new thing for the Sports Reference family of sites. Sean Forman has returned to the blogosphere with the Sports Reference Blog. If you think that Sean has been doing tons before, watch out. Sean is about to put a lot more energy into Sports Reference.

For the last six years I’ve had a day job of college professor of math and cs at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia and a part-time job/hobby of a web designer (mostly for baseball-reference.com). It has been really stressful at times. I know I’ve neglected my wife. Not gotten enough sleep and generally worked too hard at satisfying both jobs. It has been frustrating as well, because I have pages and pages of ideas I would like to try at BR, but little time to implement them.

I feel I’ve done all right at both jobs. Recently, the site has been doing well financially, and there seem to be more potential investors and partners sniffing around than ever before. In mathworld, I did just get tenure at Saint Joseph’s. However, I’ve always wondered just what I could get done on Baseball-Reference.com and its sister sites if I had a lot of 40 hour work weeks to work on it. So…

Last week, I went into my department chair’s office and asked for a leave of absence to do just that. I don’t know that it will be a long-term gig, but for the next year at least, I’ll be working on BR full-time.

I can’t imagine how good this about to get. I need to ask Sean how highly I rank on visits to the site. I normally have a few B-R windows open at all times. So, stop by and wish Sean luck. And look forward to seeing what he as to say. For example, he posts the full study he did for the authors of Game of Shadows, which is featured in the appendix. Thanks to Eric McErlain for pointing me to it.

More on GMU

There’s even more on the Moneyball-George Mason connection today. My former student Johnny Shoaf sent me a link to the Washington Post story.

Back before George Mason University’s basketball team was two wins away from a national championship, the school had a different set of all-stars: its economics department. It counts two Nobel laureates and is a ground-breaker in research into how changing incentives affect people’s behavior.

But perhaps the two sets of stars have something to learn from each other. Basketball, as it turns out, makes an intriguing laboratory for testing economic theories against how things work in the real world — a specialty of George Mason’s economists.

And Todd Zywicki of the Volokh Conspiracy—who served on my dissertation committee— has more.

I would add just one further point of elaboration to their Moneyball analysis of the basketball program. I heard Coach Larranaga on the radio this week addressing the precise question of how he managed to find these kids on the team who were overlooked by the larger schools. Larranaga suggested that he just looks for something different from what the big programs are looking for in a player. Larranaga says that rather than just looking for kids with the best individual skills, who all the big-name programs focus on, he looks for kids who come from winning high school programs. The idea is to find kids who are know how to win and are willing to do what it takes to win, which means working hard, listening to the coach, and playing as a team. First he mentioned this stunning statistic that Will Thomas and Rudy Gay both went to high school in Baltimore and that Thomas’s teams are now 8-0 playing against Gay’s teams in their careers. He then proceeded to list the key players on the team, noting that every one of them (if I remember correctly) had played for a state champion or major city champion in high school. Larranaga indicated that he thought that it was this intangible commitment to winning that accounts for the selflessness of the team in terms of sharing the ball, running the game plan, playing defense, and doing the hard work to win. If this is true, it is a fascinating observation that commitment to winning (versus raw talent) is an undervalued attribute in the modern basketball marketplace.

And if you’re interested, this GMU alum has a whole section of his upcoming book devoted to economics in Moneyball.

Mac’s Five Questions

Mac Thomason asks and answers five questions about the 2006 Braves for The Hardball Times. As always, Mac does a good job of covering everything. Good work, Mac; and congrtulatons for catching John Schuerholz’s attention.

I am more scared this year about the Braves than I have been since I was in high school. I’m not so worried about the offense—unless Brian Jordan makes the team—but the pitching situation is very uncertain. The top three starters—Smoltz, Hudson, and Thomson—are injury risks. Horacio Ramirez and Jorge Sosa are Horacio Ramirez and Jorge Sosa. Kyle Davies looks good, but he is still young. When you get to the pen, the starting rotation looks great. Chris Reitsma is really the only solid reliever, who will probably close. I think we’ll be seeing a lot of innings from Lance Cormier. Is Joey Devine ready? Will Chuck James make the roster? And then a half-a-dozen guys are injured. Oh yeah, and no Leo Mazzone this year.

So That’s Why I Like Moneyball

Pete Boettke and Alex Tabarrok reveal The Secret of George Mason in basketball, economics, and law at Slate.com. If you didn’t know, I got my PhD from GMU, and I’m very much enjoying their NCAA run.

Unlike his neighbors, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, founding father George Mason has rarely gotten his props from historians and the public. Until recently, the same could be said of the university bearing his name. But the advancement of Mason’s basketball team to the NCAA’s Final Four is only the school’s latest surprise win. The GMU economics department—which didn’t even award Ph.D.s until 1983—has two Nobel Prize winners on its faculty. The law school ascended to the first tier several years ago, a striking achievement for a new program that 10 years ago was being run out of an old department-store building. What’s remarkable is that GMU’s freewheeling basketball team and its free-market academic teams owe their successes to very similar, market-beating strategies.

GMU has excelled on the court and in the classroom by daring to be different. Its basketball team and academic programs began with the (correct) assumption that they couldn’t hope to compete against the top schools in their fields—say, Harvard Law School or the Duke Blue Devils—by directly imitating their methods. GMU lacks the resources and reputation to recruit McDonald’s All-Americans or Alan Dershowitzes. So instead, GMU has hunted for inefficiencies in its markets. Coach Jim Larranaga follows the Moneyball model of recruitment: hunting for the undervalued players—the ones who everyone else thought were too short, too thin, or too fat—and then building them into a team. In its astonishing defeat of UConn, GMU’s players were giving away 4 inches at nearly every position.

This is also the idea behind GMU’s free-market-oriented economics department. The department got started with a heretical premise: The academic market is inefficient, so how can we exploit it? GMU knew it couldn’t afford to be a first-class MIT and didn’t want to be a second-class MIT, so successive chairs of the department, backed by entrepreneurial university presidents George Johnson and Alan Merten, looked for unexploited opportunities.

Go Patriots!

Coates Joins The Sports Economist

Dennis Coates has joined The Sports Economist blog. Dennis is one of the leading authorities on economic impacts of sports teams. Dennis is an excellent economist and an extremely nice person. Stop by and say hi.

Skip’s introduction.

Dennis’s first post on Kansas City’s latest public stadium project.

To the Publisher

I just sent the final complete manuscript to my publisher. I’m sure there will be many changes to come, but I am excited to see this crucial stage of the project finished. The book should come out in about a year. I’ll provide updates as I learn things.

Why Trade Thomson?

I’m really confused by the Braves reported interest in trading John Thomson.

Macay McBride and Blaine Boyer could join John Foster on the disabled list to start the season, adding more urgency to the Braves’ efforts to trade for bullpen help before opening day.

The player being shopped around is starter John Thomson. Two officials with American League teams confirmed the Braves are trying to trade him and are seeking a reliever as part of any package in return. Kyle Davies would be the likely candidate to replace Thomson in the starting rotation.

With McBride and Foster hurt, Mike Remlinger is the only healthy left-handed reliever. The Braves are considering moving lefty prospect Chuck James to the bullpen instead of Class AAA Richmond’s starting rotation.

The Braves want Smoltz, Hudson, Ramirez, Sosa, and Davies to be their starters. The bullpen is so bad, Mike Remlinger might actually make the team. Here’s and idea: put Thomson in the pen. Thomson will make $4.75 million this year. That’s a cheap price for starter and on the high side, but not unreasonable, for a good reliever. I’m not sure whom the Braves think they can get for him—especially after his “shaky” spring— but I doubt they’ll get much more than what Thomson offers. If I heard the Braves acquired bullpen help with the same stats as Thomson, I would be elated.

Thomson has a good strikeout-to-walk ratio and he doesn’t give up a lot of home runs. Plus, he can step in and pitch a lot of innings if anyone in the rotation gets injured to sucks. Smoltz and Hudson are injury risks. Ramirez and Sosa fall into the latter category, and Davies may not be ready yet. Mr. Schuerholz, if you think you need bullpen help, look no further than your own bench. I think you’re trying to trade away exactly what you’re looking for.

SSPS 2006

I’ve been really busy lately—I know who hasn’t?—which has significantly postponed some things I wanted to do. For example, I have been wanting to post the SSPS Projections for 2006 for a month. I’m only going do so for hitters this year. If you want to know what’s in SSPS (Sabernomics Simple Projection System) see the introductory post from last season.

I’m not going to defend it against other systems, it’s just more information. Use it as you wish. I don’t predict playing time or make projections for new teams. The projections assume that hitters play in the same home park as they did in 2005. For players who played on more than one team, the projections assume the player played for the team on which he played the most.

Here’s a list of the top-20 projected hitters (by OPS) by league. Enjoy!

Addendum: Something is screwed up with my projections for the Nationals. I’ve removed them, and I will add them when I get a chance. Sorry.

NL Rank Player		Team05 AVG    	OBP    	SLG	  OPS
1    	Adam Dunn    	CIN    0.282    0.412    0.583    0.995
2    	Todd Helton    	COL    0.321    0.425    0.552    0.977
3    	Chipper Jones   ATL    0.300    0.411    0.560    0.972
4    	Albert Pujols   SLN    0.315    0.411    0.560    0.971
5   	Derrek Lee    	CHN    0.299    0.384    0.572    0.956
6    	Andruw Jones    ATL    0.287    0.371    0.577    0.948
7    	Jim Edmonds    	SLN    0.276    0.390    0.551    0.940
8    	Lance Berkman   HOU    0.294    0.400    0.519    0.919
9    	J.D. Drew    	LAN    0.289    0.397    0.518    0.916
10    	Morgan Ensberg  HOU    0.281    0.381    0.534    0.915
11    	Ken Griffey    	CIN    0.288    0.389    0.525    0.914
12    	Tony Clark    	ARI    0.276    0.358    0.555    0.913
13    	Jose Cruz    	ARI    0.269    0.380    0.533    0.912
14    	Javier Valentin CIN    0.293    0.396    0.516    0.912
15    	Russell Branyan MIL    0.265    0.381    0.527    0.908
16    	Troy Glaus    	ARI    0.272    0.366    0.538    0.904
17    	Jason Bay    	PIT    0.288    0.387    0.508    0.896
18    	Dustan Mohr    	COL    0.269    0.342    0.551    0.892
19    	Preston Wilson  COL    0.284    0.357    0.535    0.891
20    	Carlos Delgado  FLO    0.284    0.373    0.517    0.890

AL Rank Player        	Team05 AVG    	OBP      SLG      OPS
1    	Mark Teixeira   TEX    0.316    0.393    0.588    0.981
2    	David Dellucci  TEX    0.294    0.397    0.578    0.976
3    	Jason Giambi    NYA    0.281    0.414    0.545    0.959
4    	Travis Hafner   CLE    0.293    0.398    0.559    0.956
5    	Alex Rodriguez  NYA    0.295    0.397    0.557    0.954
6    	David Ortiz    	BOS    0.293    0.396    0.555    0.950
7    	Manny Ramirez   BOS    0.285    0.380    0.546    0.926
8    	Mark DeRosa    	TEX    0.295    0.372    0.548    0.921
9    	Kevin Mench    	TEX    0.314    0.377    0.533    0.910
10    	Alfonso Soriano TEX    0.302    0.359    0.549    0.907
11    	Richie Sexson   SEA    0.275    0.380    0.526    0.906
12    	Michael Young   TEX    0.317    0.380    0.521    0.902
13    	Richard Hidalgo TEX    0.289    0.358    0.538    0.896
14    	Rod Barajas    	TEX    0.302    0.360    0.535    0.895
15    	Hank Blalock    TEX    0.302    0.363    0.526    0.889
16    	Jhonny Peralta  CLE    0.286    0.370    0.517    0.887
17    	Paul Konerko    CHA    0.270    0.361    0.520    0.881
18    	Gary Matthews   TEX    0.298    0.368    0.510    0.879
19    	Adrian Gonzalez TEX    0.290    0.348    0.524    0.872
20    	Jonny Gomes    	TBA    0.273    0.353    0.515    0.868

The Pro-Football-Reference Blog Is Up!

Doug Drinen of Pro-Football-Reference—and host of the Sabernomics Super Bowl Extravaganza—is now blogging full time at the PFR blog. I always get requests for Doug to blog more, and I always pass them along. Well, he’s finally done it! Go over and give Doug a warm welcome to the blogosphere.

He starts off with an interesting question:

If you were starting a franchise right now, would you rather have Reggie Bush or Shaun Alexander?