Archive for July, 2006

Betemit-Aybar-Baez

I’m moving to Atlanta this week, so blogging will be light. Here are my brief thoughts on the Betemit for Aybar/Baez.

–Great, we finally learn how to pronounce the guy’s name and he leaves.

–John Schuerholz still doesn’t know Betemit’s real birthday as he said he would wish him a happy birthday on the day he was traded. His real birthday is in November 2, 1981. Luckily, those nerds with pocket protectors are on top of things (just kidding Sean).

–Aybar, thumbs up; Baez, thumbs down. Although, Baez isn’t worse than anyone in the current pen. The good news is he’s free, unlike Bob Wickman.

–The Braves will not go to the playoffs this year, so the deal was really a straight up Betemit for Baez Aybar swap. I wouldn’t have done the deal, but I like Aybar.

–Thank goodness the Betemit-for-Proctor deal didn’t happen. One way to make me like a trade is to float a horrible trade scenario in front of me then do a relatively better deal. I’m not sure how I’d feel about the deal if I hadn’t been fearing the other deal.

–Marcus Giles is gone. They got Aybar to replace Giles, not to back up Chipper. I suspect he’ll last through the season, but look for another Estrada-type deal in the offseason. Make room for two new craptacular arms in the pen. Giles isn’t as good as the initial hype, but he is still a valuable player.

–Why DFA Sosa now? I know the guy stinks, but is it really worth keeping Tyler Yates on the roster? Sosa did have a good year last year, and someone might be willing to trade for him at the end of the year. At least risk having him pitch better. It’s interesting that both he and Nick Green have been DFAed this year.

–If the Braves do make a trade today, I hope they are selling, not buying. It’s over folks, it’s over. Don’t call me a bandwagon fan, either. I didn’t have TBS growing up and I had to listen to the games on the radio all the way from Atlanta (Charlotte didn’t have a radio affiliate). I’m a realist. The post-season isn’t going to happen. Let’s rest up for 2007, and hope for a strong finish.

The Landis Connection

The revelation that Floyd Landis tested “positive” for a high testosterone/epitestosterone ratio after his historic stage 17 break-away win is devastating to cycling. Stage 17 was one of the most exciting things ever to happen in The Tour, yet now it will be forever tainted even if the second test comes back clean. This is cycling’s equivalent to the 1919 Black Sox throwing the World Series. Coincidently, it was a Landis who saved baseball from the scandal: Kenesaw Mountain Landis.

I had planned to write up a post on why doping was much more likely to happen in a sport like cycling than baseball, because the health consequences of the sport itself are so devastating. After all if the relative price of doping is lower in cycling, we’d expect more doping . However, I have found little evidence of the conventional wisdom that elite professional cycling is unhealthy. Much of the “proof” relies on an article in The New Criterion, which states the following.

It is an athletic event that actually harms the athletes’ bodies. (Racers cannot consume enough food to replace the 6,000 or so calories burned off by each day’s stage. Most finish the race with less muscle mass than they began with.) The race’s founder, Henri Desgrange, wanted it to be so tough that there would be only a single finisher. He never got his wish, but the sport he set in motion takes such a savage toll on its riders that studies show that the life expectancy of a professional cyclist is barely more than fifty years.

I can find no confirmation of this anywhere. I suspect professional cycling is not particularly healthy, but if someone knows about some real evidence, please pass it along. Always be wary of what they say.

Anyway, this story is very bizarre. It’s well known that the winning rider of any stage is going to be tested. If he had doped, why bother winning? The returns to being the best American cyclist in The Tour has to be greater than being a disgraced Tour de France winner. Why would he do it? The same argument was made about Rafael Palmeiro, but I think the situation is a bit different. Palmeiro was caught in a random drug screening. Landis knew he would be tested.

Also fishy is the fact that he tested positive for an anabolic steroid. I don’t think steroids are something you take to boost your performance for one day. According to Dummies.com (if you have a better source let me know) all participants are tested prior to the race the tour leader is tested every day. Landis wore the yellow jersey several days before stage 17. Why didn’t any of these other tests come back positive? World Anti-Doping Agency member Dr. Gary Wadler said,

“So something’s missing here. It just doesn’t add up.”

Landis denies the charges and has asked for the back-up sample to be tested. My guess is that it even if it comes back clean, he’ll never shake this. Lance Armstrong has best tested more than any human in the history of sports and yet he still can’t end the rumors. In fact, I think the whole sport of cycling is in for a lot more trouble. I think instant replay ruins football games. Imagine what waiting two weeks to find out who actually won the race will do to the excitement. And to think I get pissed when I can’t cheer or complain because I don’t know if a fumble is really a fumble.

Maybe instead of public humiliation, riders should be given secret fines. I’m talking HEFTY fines, like 110% of the prize money and subsequent endorsement deals. If you want to win and get the glory, that’s great, but that is all you will get. That way the cheater is punished, but at least fans can enjoy the competition.

Volokh Conspiracy: Zywicki: Will Barry Bonds Be Indicted?

Here’s some wisdom on the BALCO case from GMU law professor Todd Zywicki of The Volokh Conspiracy. There’s a small connection here. Todd served on my dissertation committee, and I have a particular fondness for him since he passed me. :-) He’s a nice guy too, and one heck of a scholar.

The interesting issue is whether Bonds is going to be indicted on perjury charges arising from his testimony to the grand jury that he never knowingly took steroids (I’m going to use “steroids” as a shorthand for performance enhancing drugs). The first grand jury terminated without indicting him. I understand that the grand jury is supposed to permit the indictment only if there is probable cause that he committed a crime. But assume that the indictment will come down only if the prosecutors think that they can prove the charge beyond a reasonable doubt, which I understand to be the typical practice in such things. Regardless, what I’m interested in here is whether the prosecutors will be able to prove perjury beyond a reasonable doubt. Now, after reading the book and other coverage, and looking at Bonds with my own eyes, I am comfortable concluding that the preponderance of the evidence supports the conclusion that Bonds took steroids or human growth hormone.

It is being reported that Bonds’s trainer Greg Anderson will again refuse to testify before the grand jury about Bonds’s supposed steroid use. After reading the book, it seems to me that unless Anderson testifies, the feds very well may not be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Bonds knowingly took steroids.

Read my review of Game of Shadows here.

Thanks to David Pinto for the pointer.

A Bright Day for Sports Economics

There are two stories about sports economics in the national media today.

Sue Kirchhoff writes of the recent rise of the field of sports economics in USA Today. This is the most thorough review of the field that I’ve seen.

Economists have long been intrigued by the numbers-rich world of sports. The interest is no longer a sideline, but an expanding field of study that offers insights on such broad topics as labor-management relations and racial disparities in pay and hiring.

It also examines questions such as whether football teams punt too often in fourth-down situations (yes, with implications for business risk taking) and the lack of left-handed catchers in baseball (it’s complex, but one reason is that most people who would be left-handed catchers become left-handed pitchers).

About 100 to 120 professors teach courses on sports economics, according to MKTG Services, a marketing firm. Textbooks on the subject sell well here and overseas. Dozens of sports-related papers were prepared for the recent Western Economic Association meeting in San Diego analyzing the impact of stadium announcements on property values, the winner’s curse in baseball’s free-agent market and other issues.

Here is my contribution.

John-Charles Bradbury of Kennesaw State University near Atlanta felt compelled to defend himself and fellow economists after Chicago Sun-Times columnist Greg Couch implied that some of those delving into sports statistics were frustrated geeks or grown-up versions of the “kid who always was forced to play right field, standing there pushing the glasses back up off his nose.”

“First, I don’t wear glasses,” Bradbury good-naturedly retorted on his blog. “Second, I was a power-hitting first baseman who once hit two home runs — the kind that go over the fence — in one game. I batted third and made my league’s All-Star team.”

Bradbury has a book coming out next year. “When I wrote about public finance and designed fiscal policy that would work, no one really called,” Bradbury says. “I get calls from reporters all the time now. … The market is giving me a signal.”

If you’d like some proof of by little league prowess, here’s a picture of me in my Dilworth Little League All-Star uniform.


JC All-Star Pic

The other article is by Bill Syken at SI.com. It’s for subscribers only, so I can’t tell you what’s in it beyond a nice picture of Skip Sauer of The Sports Economist. If you can read the whole thing, feel free to give a brief summary in the comments (no quotes, please).

One of the beauties of sport is that it can be enjoyed by so many kinds of people, from little girls to grandfathers, from face-painted yahoos to deep thinkers like Skip Sauer and his cohorts. Sauer, 50, is chair of the economics department at Clemson and the brains behind The Sports Economist, a two-year-old blog. On the site Sauer and nine other professors put their decades in academe to use dissecting the sports news of the day. Think of www.thesportseconomist.com as a highbrow version of Around the Horn.

Definitely a good day for sports economics. If you’re considering a career in the field, here’s my advice.

Addendum: Sabernomics gets a brief mention in the Sports Illustrated article. I don’t think anyone will mind if I quote it.

Sabernomics.com
Economic thinking applied to baseball. You’ll get statistical analysis on such subjects as why, since pitching coach Leo Mazzone left the Braves for the Orioles, both teams’ staffs have stunk.

The article is quite flattering to The Sports Economist crew, and it’s hard not to be. I read it every day. I think the blog as been instrumental as a focal point for economists interested in sports.

Fisking DOB on Betemit

Well, the Braves interest in trading Wilson Betemit for Scott Proctor seems to be somewhat legitimate. Braves beat writer David O’Brien likes the idea, I don’t. I like reading Dave’s stuff, and this isn’t a true Fisking, but I just happen to disagree with DOB on this.

DOB:

Someone very familiar with the discussions confirmed to me today that the Braves and Yankees are discussing a deal that would bring reliever Scott Proctor to Atlanta for Betemit, first reported this morning by the New York Post.

Oh crap, the Braves are actually considering this horrible deal.

DOB:

While my first reaction was — who will play third base if Chipper is hurt? — the more I looked at this potential deal, the more I liked it.

Please, don’t encourage them.

DOB:

First off, let me tell you that Martin Prado would probably be brought up to back Chipper unless and until the Braves acquire another who can fill the role, which they’re also pursuing right now.

Yikes! The same Martin Prado who’s posting .296/.324/.352/.676 in Richmond?

DOB:

Proctor is 3-2 with a 3.94 ERA in 50 appearances this season, with 60 strikeouts, 23 walks and a .226 opponents’ average.

He’s also given up 9 ding-dongs in 64 innings, that’s 1.27 per 9. And giving up long balls is not something he just started doing. He gave up 15 homers in 69 2/3 innings in the two prior seasons. His career HR9 (1.6) is higher than Jorge Sosa’s (1.3). I’ll admit, he’s got a decent K/BB, but so did Travis Smith.

DOB:

He’s 0-for-5 in saves, but that’s not really pertinent because he’s a setup guy and hasn’t been used in traditional save opportunities.

Blown five leads, oh boy.

DOB:

What’s most attractive is the shut-down stuff he’s had lately. He’s been devastating on hitters since the All-Star break, allowing just three hits and no walks with 12 strikeouts in nine scoreless innings over seven games. Opponents have hit .103 against him since the break.

I’ll chalk it up to a Festivous miracle. That sample is too small to generate much excitement.

DOB:

Betemit, who turns 26 on Friday, is having a strong season, but is blocked behind Jones at third base and Giles at second, at least for this season.

This is when it’s time for the sports writers to step in and RIP the management a new one if they don’t find a place for Betemit to play. Blocked by Marcus “.249 /.344 /.370/.714″ Giles? I like a lot of things about Marcus, but he’s been Wally Pipped. Betemit has put up .284/.341/.503/.844 in 214 PAs. He’s won the job. Furthermore, a true blocked player shouldn’t be given away.

DOB:

The Braves don’t see Betemit as a natural fit at second base — he’s a bit oversized for the position — especially when they have Prado at the ready.

Oversized, what does that mean? I think I’m starting to smell the Pravda (aka, Braves PR Dept.) talking points.

DOB:

In Proctor, the Braves would get a reliever who appears to be a late bloomer just now coming into his own, at 29. The former Florida State standout is only in his second full season in the majors and wouldn’t be eligible for arbitration until after the 2007 season, which makes him that much more attractive to a Braves organization….

Darn it, stepped right in it…”coming into his own”? Translation from Russian: Only at the peak of his career is he able to bump into the majors for a brief moment. I do like cheap relievers, but in this case you get what you pay for. It’s not like they’re getting the good stuff before his contract balloons at age 34. And when you give up the really cheap Betemit, you’re overpaying.

DOB:

Proctor’s recent surge followed a rough stretch in the month before the break, when he allowed 23 hits, 14 runs, five homers and seven walks in 18-2/3 innings over 17 appearances.

A few days’ rest at the break apparently rejuvenated the right-hander, who has been a key part of the Yankeees’ bullpen, rated fifth in the AL.

I’m not sure the past two weeks are a better indicator of his usefulness than the entire rest of his career. I don’t think the rest had much to do with it.

DOB:

Proctor has good numbers in areas the Braves need them, including a .194 opponents’ average by first batters (18-for-93), a .224 average with runners in scoring position, and a .210 mark (22-for-105) in late-and-close situations.

Ok, you win this round; though I normally ignore such splits because they involve mostly luck.

Anyway, don’t hate me DOB :-) (yeah, like he actually reads Sabernomics). Just trying to have a little fun. If you want to make fun of me, I publicly supported Adam Bernero last year. I do like your stuff, but I think this deal is a bad one. The Braves will lose more runs on offense than they gain on defense from this deal. Chipper needs to go to first next year, and LaRoche’s value in the offseason is going to be good. Let’s hold off and get relief help then.

Academic Blogging

Brad DeLong writes why blogging is important for the academy in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The hope of all of us who blog is that we will become smarter, do more useful work, be happier and more productive, and will also impress our deans so they will raise our salaries. The first three hopes are clearly true: Academics who blog think more profound thoughts, have a bigger influence on the world — both the academic and the broader worlds — and are happier for it. Are we more productive in an academic sense? Maybe. We will see when things settle down.

Are our deans impressed? Not so far, but they should be. A lot of a university’s long-run success depends on attracting good undergraduates. Undergraduates and their parents are profoundly influenced by the public face of the university. And these days, a thoughtful, intelligent, well-informed Web logger like Juan Cole or Dan Drezner is an important part of a university’s public face. Michigan gains in reputation and mindshare from having a Cole on its faculty. Yale loses from not having an equivalent.

A great university has faculty members who do a great many things — teaching undergraduates, teaching graduate students, the many things that are “research,” public education, public service, and the turbocharging of the public sphere of information and debate that is a principal reason that governments finance and donors give to universities. Web logs may well be becoming an important part of that last university mission.

I had no idea how rewarding blogging would be when I started doing so nearly three years ago, and Brad DeLong’s blog was one of the reasons I started. I thought it would be a fun way to interact with students, and use it to point to interesting articles that I didn’t have time to discuss in class. It worked some, but it isn’t a great pedagogical tool at a small school.

Brad is right that the best feature of a blog is that it connects you to a society of people with similar interests. In a short time, I have come to converse with nearly every scholar doing research in sports economics. I’ve met a lot of very interesting people in the sports world and general economics community, too. This is fantastic not because I get more virtual friends, but because I get good feedback instantly. Here’s how academic research works.

  1. Think of an idea for a paper.
  2. Keep idea in mind for 3-6 months while you clear the decks on other projects.
  3. Gather data and write up the project just in time to present it at a professional meeting. This can take between 1 and 3 months.
  4. Make minor changes from meeting comments then submit to journal that you know is too good for the paper.
  5. Wait 6-12 months for split decision referee report. Editor sides with negative referee who complains about the need to cover topic X. However, the referee failed to notice the 5-page section devoted to topic X during the many months he/she neglected to read the paper.
  6. Resubmit article to journal and repeat step 5 until article is accepted…pending revisions.
  7. Receive request for revisions just after receiving numerous papers to grade and while working on an urgent research project with a coauthor.
  8. Make changes and resubmit article, wait 3 months for acceptance, or possibly more changes (add another 3 months).
  9. Article featuring your research appears in academic journal 18 months after acceptance.

As you can see, by the time the article appears in print, it’s hard to remember what the article was even about. There is no editor or referee at fault, it’s just the way the system works. This is why I love the immediate feedback from blogging. I get the comments right when I’m thinking about the topic. And the comments I get are both bad and good, but the good ones are well worth sorting through.

But there’s another feature about blogging that I think many people overlook: accidentally discovering ideas to study. Blogging allows me to sort through my ideas that would otherwise get lost in my own thoughts. Now, I understand that I blog about a lot of things that will never see a page in an academic journal, but that’s just part of the process. The good ideas stick with me, and I can then use them to start the academic process. Also, sometimes people point out ideas that I didn’t really consider all that interesting. I think a little bit further on them and I see that they deserve further study.

I remember an eclectic chemistry professor of mine from college, who often strayed from the material. He often talked about the national debt, his theory of aliens inhabiting the earth, or how he used to work in a mayonnaise factory. For a while, I thought this guy was just bad, but by the end of the semester I realized that I was thinking more in that class than in any other. And somehow I was learning chemistry, too. The good teachers have a way of doing that. One lesson I remember was about Neils Bohr and some discovery he made serendipitously. I can’t remember what happened or what the discovery was—I think it involved passing out on an airplane—but ever since then I have noticed how many of our best ideas come when we least expect them. For example, Simon Rottenberg discovered the Coase Theorem before Coase while studying free agent movement in baseball. Blogging helps me find things that ought to be studied. I have so many projects in front of me that I will never get to, thanks to blogging—blogging doesn’t prevent the research it generates the wealth of topics.

Furthermore, it can’t hurt just to get practice writing more. If marathon runners run everyday, shouldn’t academics write everyday? I find my writing improves when I’m blogging more. The words comes easier and the text flows better.

Anyway, I know that blogging is something that deans may discourage, but I don’t think they should. I feel that blogging makes me more productive. I don’t think that blogs should ever substitute for publications on a vita, but they shouldn’t be a negative. I’m glad that Brad DeLong agrees.

Thanks to Tyler Cowen for the pointer.

Breaking Down Frenchy’s Swing

Jeff at Swingtraining.net uses video to break down Jeff Francoeur’s swing, using Manny Ramirez as a comparison. Here are some interesting findings, but you’ll need to visit the site, which is excellent, to see the video.

This is a good time to distinguish quickness from bat speed. Notice they arrive at the ball at the same time, however, since Francoeur plants his foot earlier, this is an indication that he has to get his bat going earlier in order to get to the same spot (contact). Again, Francoeur generates all kinds of bat speed, it is just taking him a little too long to do so. This opens the door to conversations about his plate discipline, etc. Very conceivable from this video example that Francoeur could be a player who hits for a lot of power, along with a lot of K’s and not many walks. The longer it takes a player to execute his swing, the less time he has to decide whether or not to swing. In other words, a quicker swing allows a player to see a pitch longer, committ later, thus allows him to make better decisions on whether to swing or not. A quick swing that generates significant bat speed, like Manny, affords the opportunity to hit for power and average…and who doesn’t love that?!

And what about the anatomy of the swing?

Francoeur’s hips are MUCH farther open. WAAAAY farther open. And also notice the angle of his bat. While I have nearly 3000 clips of MLB hitters, this bat angle at time of footplant is by far the most horizontal, bat head pointing towards pitcher, that I have seen – and there really is not anything else like it that I remember seeing. Again this shows how much bat speed he is generating, since he does catch up by contact, but look how much farther his bat has to travel. No wonder he has to start his swing early! The lower body really just looks like it gets the heck out of the way so he can whip it through with his arms. I buy that he has a 4 handicap – would love to see him hit a few off the tee!

Long story short – it takes Francoeur too much time to create his bat speed. More efficiency means a quicker swing with minimal, if any, loss in bat speed.

I’m not sure whether this is encouraging or discouraging for the future, but it’s very interesting. Either there is a quick fix or he has an unsolvable problem. I think it explains why he gets hit so frequently. He’s got to start early on high and inside pitches and doesn’t have time to get out of the way.

Sabernomics in Sports Illustrated

Albert Chen mentions my Leo Mazzone study in this week’s Inside Baseball. You can read the first part for free, but you have to subscribe to read the rest.

In 2004 economist and sabermetrician J.C. Bradbury set out to dispel the legend of Leo Mazzone, the pitching coach hailed by many as baseball’s King Midas for his ability to transform journeyman pitchers into All-Stars and routinely roll out some of the best staffs in baseball. Seeking to use empirical evidence to prove that Mazzone’s success in 15 years with the Braves was merely anecdotal, Bradbury ran a study of every pitcher who worked with Mazzone in Atlanta. He was astonished by his findings: Working with Mazzone shaved .60 points off a pitcher’s projected ERA for that season.

Thanks to Albert for mentioning the study, and thanks to Brian for pointing me to the article.

Thoughts on Wickman

So the Braves traded for Bob Wickman yesterday… Eh.

When your bullpen is as bad as the Braves’s is, any help can seem like a good thing. But Wickman isn’t an oasis in the desert, he’s a dew drop on a leaf. Couple that with the fact that the Braves will pay him a guaranteed $2 million, possibly $3 million with games pitched incentives. He gets an $150K bonus for pitching 50, $250K for 55, and $300K each for hitting 60 and 65. So far, Wickman has pitched in 29 games, which puts him on a pace to throw about 50. However, given the state of the bullpen, I think Wickman may see a lot of action soon. Even Chad Poronto, who didn’t join the team until the second week of May, has appeared in 34 games. Remlinger appeared in 36. Why is a GM who puckered up so tightly during the offseason so willing to part with over $2 million for half a season of mediocre pitching?

John Schuerholz thinks highly of his new acquisition.

He’s a stud, and he’s a guy that’s been successful in that job year after year after year.

Wickman’s career year last year was a DIPS miracle. His 2.27 ERA was well below his FIP of 4.53. Remember Jorge Sosa? Many commentators have pointed out that Wickman’s been a bit unlucky this year with a 4.18 ERA. That’s true, his FIP is 3.65, which is slightly better than last year. But most of that is due to his only allowing one home run. I actually like guys who are stingy with the long ball; however, keeping balls in the park isn’t something Wickman is particularly good at. He’s allowed 1.27 HR9 the past two years. Not good. His strikeouts have fallen some this year too, but it’s hard to know what this means due to the small sample.

In addition to paying Wickman’s hefty salary the Braves also gave up the rights to Low-A prospect Max Ramirez. Ramirez has played well, but he’s still very low in the system. He probably should be a little higher, but the depth of the Braves system at catcher keeps him where he is. Some people have argued that it’s no loss for the Braves since they are so deep at catcher. If you own five Ferraris do you sell one for $100 when you determine that you have too many? I’m not saying Ramirez was a bad player for the Braves to give up, but a glut at a position doesn’t justify trading a player for discount price.

Wickman may pitch well in Atlanta, and I suspect he will make the pen better. But giving up a decent minor league prospect for an expensive half-year rental is something I’d have preferred the Braves didn’t do. I wish the Braves had saved the money for next year. Please oh please, don’t tell me the Braves are only 4.5 games out of the wild card. So what? I don’t see any reason to see this team rising above the other ten clubs still within reach.

The Best Paragraph I’ve Read Today

To borrow from Tyler Cowen.

From Terence Moore:

Somewhere it is written that man cannot live by offense alone. Sooner than later, when the Braves’ hitters become Clark Kents again, the Braves’ pitchers will be exposed as Lois Lanes again. And the Braves will start sinking faster than a speeding bullet in the standings again.

I remain extremely pessimistic about the Braves chances. I have seen many students fall into the trap of confusing the remotely possible with the likely outcome. If you fail the midterm exams, it’s unlikely that you’ll get the 100 needed to get a C in the course.