Archive for July, 2006

John Kruk’s Exact Words

Does anyone know the exact origin and phrasing of this infamous John Kruk statement?

“I ain’t an athlete, lady. I’m a (professional) baseball player.”

I know he said this in some form, and the first sentence is the title of his autobiography. But the quote is different every place I look. If you have the book and can find the true statement, please let me know.

Second-Half Surges

I’ve been tooling around with the PrOPS data over at The Hardball Times in hopes of predicting which teams can expect to improve/decline offensively in the second half. Unfortunately, I’ve had little time to think about what I’m doing, so I’ll just throw these predictions out here without much justification or explaining the methods. Here are three groups of the unlucky, about right, and lucky. I predict that the first group will improve in run production, the last will decline, and the middle group is uncertain. The order does matter. Teams at the top (bottom) are more likely to improve (decline).

Unlucky (relief is on the way)
Athletics
Devil Rays
Reds
Phillies
Orioles

Just about right (more of the same)
Astros
Nationals
Angels
Brewers
Giants
Braves
Cubs
Red Sox
Twins
Diamondbacks
Padres
Mariners
Mets
Cardinals
Pirates
White Sox
Royals
Rockies
Indians
Yankees

Lucky (waiting for the fall)
Marlins
Dodgers
Blue Jays
Tigers
Rangers

So, You Want to Study the Economics of Sports

Dave Berri has a nice post on the recent WEAI meetings in San Diego. Check out the long list of participants—unfortunately I couldn’t make it this year. Even I am amazed to see the number of people actively engaged in sports economics, especially when a grad school professor of mine once advised our class, “stay away from sports research, it looks bad.” I had no plans to study sports when I left graduate school.

Well, it seems that times have changed. It’s not that sports economics will soon be joining traditional fields—industrial organization, public economics, monetary economics, etc.—as equals, but economists are finding that sports need to be studied for two reasons: 1) The amazing amount of data available to study human behavior in a tightly controlled setting and 2) The lack of study of a human behavior where many interesting questions remain unanswered. The recent freakonomicizing of the discipline has made the latter reason a more acceptable reason to study sports.

So, let’s say you’re an undergraduate and you want to go to graduate school to be an economist who studies sports. There are probably very few of you, and, in any event, few students leave graduate school studying what they expected to study when they entered. Tyler Cowen lists some reasons to be an economist.

Two core groups of people are well-suited to be economists:

1. You math GRE score is over 800, you are totally focused, you love working long hours on your own, and you have good enough letters of recommendation to get into a Top Six or perhaps Top Ten graduate school. Note that white Americans from this category have been partially preempted by competition from foreigners.

2. You could be happy as an academic without much of a research career. Working at a teaching school is a rewarding life, albeit a poor one relative to your investment in human capital.

There is a third category, although you will fall into it (or not) ex post:

3. You do not fit either #1 or #2. Yet you have climbed out of the cracks rather than falling into them. You do something different, and still have managed to make your way doing research, albeit of a different kind. You will always feel like an outsider in the profession and perhaps you will be underrewarded. But you will have a great deal of fun and in the long run perhaps a great deal of influence.

If you’re a one, good for you! You won’t be studying sports full-time, but at least try and find something interesting to study. The world doesn’t need any more New Keynesian Open Economy with a tweak macro models. Take advantage of the fact that economists are studying human behavior more broadly than ever before.

The second reason seems attractive, but the real life at a teaching institution is a little less glamorous and enjoyable than you think. I always imagined it as something like Hal Hobrook’s school in Creepshow…without the monster under the stairs, of course. Yes, working with undergraduates who are eager to learn and love the subject is very rewarding. But, teaching the same courses over and over can get a little unchallenging. And then there’s academic politics. I know it’s bad everywhere, but imagine what academics do with their time when it’s not devoted to research. The rent seeking is disgusting and endless. Unless you have some sort of research agenda to motivate you, you probably won’t be happy as just a teacher. I planned to be a two, but it wasn’t enough.

Number three is what most economists strive to be. Tyler thinks success in three is difficult, though I’m not sure I agree. I know a lot of threes, and I consider myself to be one. If you want to study sports economics, you’re going to be a three.

The nice thing about being an economist is job security. I had a conversation with a colleague in a liberal arts department a few years back, and she was worried about getting not getting tenure and was shocked when I said I wasn’t. “What would you do?” I responded, “I’d walk outside a yell loudly, I’m an economist and I’d like a job.” The fall-back options for not being an academic are tremendous for economists. And I’m often jealous of my friends who aren’t academics when I hear about the interesting practical projects that they work on. It’s very rewarding.

So, there you have some unsolicited free advice. I guarantee it up to the price you paid for it.

Astros Goof

So yesterday, in an attempt give the Astros a second-half lift, Houston GM Tom Purpura fired hitting coach Gary Gaetti and acquired Aubrey Huff. Gaetti may be a terrible coach and Huff isn’t a horrible pick-up. What was horrible is Purpura’s public explanation. In particular, he called out Morgan Ensberg and Jason Lane for their “poor” hitting. As consequence Lane was sent to Triple-A and Ensberg will share some playing time with Huff.

Lane’s demotion was not a surprise. The 29-year-old outfielder was hitting .205 (46-for-224) with 11 home runs, 30 RBIs and 40 walks. When reached Wednesday, Lane declined to comment on his demotion.

Lane’s job wasn’t the only one threatened by Huff’s acquisition.

“Obviously, it’s going to cut into (Ensberg’s) playing time,” Purpura said of the trade. “And the thing with Morgan is, I know he hasn’t admitted to having (right) shoulder problems, but he did hurt his shoulder. I don’t know if that’s still affecting him, but I think we’ll have a good, frank conversation tomorrow. Unfortunately, we’re in a position where we have to start moving forward.

“We can’t give at-bats to players because they’ve been in that spot before. We’re at a point that the potential that players have has to now translate into production and performance. We have to get production and performance out of our hitters.”

Well, while Lane and Ensberg are putting up paltry batting averages of .205 and .236, and you would expect them to do better, neither has played that badly. First, both are getting on base in other ways. Lane has an OBP of .330 and Ensberg has an OBP of .390 to go along with a SLG of .500. Lane could still do better in the power department, and Ensberg had a horrible June, but there’s another reason Lane and Ensberg shouldn’t be the scape goats. Both have been unlucky. Here are their PrOPS lines.

Ensberg: .283/.427 /.560/.987
Lane: .254/.367/.468/.836

If Purpura doesn’t like the way the team is hitting, why doesn’t he bench the Willy Taveras out-machine extravaganza and his .615 OPS (.636 PrOPS). No one forced him to build a lineup with Brad Ausmus, Preston Wilson, and Adam Everett.

So, here’s what’s going to happen. Ensberg’s average will rise in the second half, Lane will tear up Triple-A for a month then return to the big leagues hitting much better (see the 2005 Austin Kearns), and Purpura will be praised for his bold moves. What we won’t see are two players losing at-bats that the Astros need for the second-half run.

The Baseball Economist

My book, The Baseball Economist: The Real Game Exposed, is now available for pre-order from Amazon.com.


The Baseball Economist cover

You’ll have to wait until March for it to ship, and I’m still putting the final touches on the manuscript. This reminds me of the scene in Spaceballs, where they discuss that the video comes out before the movie is finished. Here’s a sample of issues discussed:

Why are there more hit batters in the AL?
What happened to the left-handed catcher?
Steroids
What are the best/worst managed organizations in baseball?
Putting a dollar value on every player in MLB
How good is Leo Mazzone? (an updated analysis)
Big cities vs. small cities
Scouts vs. stat-heads
Is MLB a Monopoly?

The Dutton catalog is supposed to be out soon. I’ll pass along further updates as I get them. Writing the book as been lots of fun, and I look forward to seeing it in print.

The 2006 PrOPS-Star Team

With the All-Star game tonight, I thought I’d check in on the league’s hitters using PrOPS. Bryan Donovan has done a fantastic job with the THT Stats section, and he’s made it easy to sort players by position for PrOPS. I’ve named my PrOPS-Star team based on the top-3 qualified hitters at the position. For NL catchers I had to lift the “qualified” requirement, since only Paul Lo Duca qualified, and counted catchers with at least 200 ABs.

Here are the players and their PrOPS.

Pos.	AL			NL
C	Jorge Posada	.888	Mike Piazza	.882	
C	Ramon Hernandez	.874	Michael Barrett	.868
C	Joe Mauer	.867	Brian McCann	.867

1B	Tavis Hafner	1.134	Albert Pujols	1.193
1B	Jason Giambi	1.130	Lance Berkman	1.025
1B	Jim Thome	1.109	Nick Johnson	1.000

2B	Ty Wigginton	.810	Ray Durham	.861
2B	Tadahito Iguchi	.761	Chase Utley	.850
2B	Ronnie Belliard	.757	Dan Uggla	.810

3B	Troy Glaus	.939	Morgan Ensberg	.987
3B	Alex Rodriguez	.915	Miguel Cabrera	.913
3B	Eric Chavez	.901	David Wright	.896

SS	Miguel Tejada	.900	Edgar Renteria	.841
SS	Derek Jeter	.836	Bill Hall	.806
SS	Carlos Guillen	.823	Khalil Greene	.806

LF	Manny Ramirez	1.099	Adam Dunn	1.059
LF	Nick Swisher	.950	Carlos Lee	1.001
LF	Raul Ibanez	.896	Pat Burrell	.969

CF	Vernon Wells	.920	Carlos Beltran	1.022
CF	Torii Hunter	.827	Andruw Jones	.909
CF	Grady Sizemore	.807	Jim Edmonds	.861

RF	Jermaine Dye	1.051	Bobby Abreu	.986
RF	Johnny Gomes	.915	Brad Hawpe	.877
RF	Alex Rios	.890	Austin Kearns	.851

DH	Frank Thomas	1.045

Congratulations, PrOPS-Stars!

Francoeur Meter

I’ve been getting a lot of feedback on my post on Francoeur’s out-production this season. Out of curiosity, I’ve found myself calculating his progress nearly every morning, so I just said, “what the heck!” and made a tracker.

Chasing History
(Single-season out record)

Player		Outs
Horace Clarke	514
Jeff Francoeur	499*

*projected for 2006

I do hope Jeff turns it around. He’s got to become better than a .250 hitter or learn to walk. And let me put this in perspective. I understand that Jeff is an extremely gifted athlete who is only 22; we shouldn’t be expecting a lot from him. In fact, he should be proud of what he has accomplished. I think the Braves are stunting his development by allowing, if not encouraging, his “aggressive” approach at the plate.

UPDATE: It has been brought to my attention that the out record is a little more formal than I thought, and that Horace Clarke does not hold that record. I used the simple At-bats – Hits formula for hitting outs. I did not include caught stealing, double-plays, or sacrifices, but the “official” record does. So, the actual out champion is Omar Mareno, who in 1980 had 560 outs. Clarke’s 1970 season comes in second at 542. Updating Jeff Francoeur’s projected outs to include the additional categories puts him on a pace for 528 outs, good enough for seventh place, all-time. Although, some of these stats were not tracked going all the way back. I’ll continue to monitor the AB-H record, just because it’s simpler. I don’t like counting sacrifices or GIDP either. So, just be aware.

World Cup Comments

I really enjoy watching World Cup soccer, but it’s infuriating at the same time. While many people complain that soccer is boring the non-stop action keeps my attention. I think soccer has two big problems: foul-calling and scoring.

The game is altered far too much by one man with a whistle and a pocket of cards. Because the consequences are so dramatic players flop all the time. And it’s comical the way the sport treats “injuries.” Can you think of another sport where some guys ride off the field on a hand-carried stretcher? When you need a stretcher in American sports there’s always a cart or ambulance involved, along with a backboard. Everyone knows most of these injuries are a farce.

The low-scoring game doesn’t bother me so much, it’s that the way the game is decided doesn’t necessarily reflect the play on the field. It’s common to see the team that dominated the play on the field to lose 1-0.

I have a few rule changes I would like to implement.

–Expand the goals by two meters. Let’s see more shots on goal. With higher scoring this ought lessen the problem of the loser actually winning. Plus, players may be less apt to flop in the box if there’s a higher chance of turning a contested shot into a goal.

–Have a penalty box, like in hockey, instead of cards. This prevent a referee mistake from having such a drastic influence on the match.

–I like the idea of assigning cards after the match is over. Martin Schmidt makes the case in The New York Times.

Here is my idea: After the game, have a panel of three judges look at the film of the game. If two of them agree that a player dived or faked injury, then charge the yellow or red card to that player instead of the opposing player.

This would increase the cost for choosing to dive or flop. It would also allow soccer to use technology without slowing the game unnecessarily.

One could even think of extending this to situations in which no foul was called or no card was given but a player was, in hindsight, faking injury. Give the player a yellow card after the match. If it is his second, he will miss the next game.

–I’d eliminate the penalty kick for fouls in the box. Give free kicks from wherever the foul takes place. Again, more shots, less flops.

I like soccer, but I think it could be better. I look forward to watching the final.