Archive for November, 2008

All Choices Involve Tradeoffs

From economist Cy Morong.

The correlation between the change in strikeout rate and the change in contact rate was .142. So if a batter’s strikeout rate increased, his batting average while making contact also increased. Looking at the changes from 2005 to 2006 gave a .18 correlation.

Maybe this makes sense. If you swing harder, you strike out more. But a harder swing means the ball is hit harder, which should mean more hits. So combined with the earlier study, a player should be careful if he thinks he should make a big effort to strikeout less.

Viagra as a PED

A story in today’s NYT discusses the potential of Viagra as a performance-enhancing drug.

Viagra, or sildenafil citrate, was devised to treat pulmonary hypertension, or high blood pressure in arteries of the lungs. The drug works by suppressing an enzyme that controls blood flow, allowing the vessels to relax and widen. The same mechanism facilitates blood flow into the penis of impotent men. In the case of athletes, increased cardiac output and more efficient transport of oxygenated fuel to the muscles can enhance endurance.

“Basically, it allows you to compete with a sea level, or near-sea level, aerobic capacity at altitude,” Kenneth W. Rundell, the director of the Human Performance Laboratory at Marywood, said of Viagra.

Some experts are more skeptical. Anthony Butch, the director of the Olympic drug-testing lab at U.C.L.A., said it would be “extremely difficult, if not impossible” to prove that Viagra provided a competitive edge, given that the differences in performance would be slight and that athletes would probably take it in combination with other drugs. Scientists have the same uncertainty about the performance-enhancing effects of human growth hormone, though it is banned. But some athletes do not need proof — only a belief — that a drug works before using it, Dr. Butch said.

During the previous summer, there was some discussion of Viagra as an ergogenic aid. At that time, I asked some exercise physiology colleagues about the potential effects and here is what they said.

I asked two of my exercise physiologist colleagues about the potential performance-enhancing effects of Viagra. Both felt that it is unlikely that the drug would help. The reason being that the problem isn’t getting blood flow to the muscle but the muscles using the blood flow. One was a little more believing of the theoretical improvement, but felt it would have no practical effect. The other felt there was almost no way it could work. In sum, it’s probably a placebo effect that leads athletes to use Viagra. This effect could be exacerbated by positive sexual experiences.

No Naming Rights for the G-Braves

AJC:

The take-no-prisoners economy is threatening to take down yet another target: the naming rights deal for Gwinnett County’s new baseball stadium.

“The expectation of doing a naming rights deal right now is not as good as it was eight or 10 months ago,” project manager Preston Williams said Friday….

While Williams believes a deal will get done eventually, the lack of an early deal could pose at least a short-term headache for county officials. The county built the sale of naming rights into its financing package for the stadium, counting on the deal to provide $500,000 a year to help repay money borrowed to build the ballpark.

The county projected selling naming rights for $800,000, but a portion of the proceeds would go to the Braves. If the county can’t make a deal by September, the Braves get to sell the rights and keep more of the money.

If naming rights don’t bring in enough to cover the debt, the county might have to cover the cost even as it is cutting staff and expenses amid an effort to trim $35 million from its annual budget, said County Administrator Jock Connell.

While the poor economy isn’t helping, the expected revenue stream from naming rights was too high to begin with.

More taxes and shedding employees, this stadium continues to be an engine of economic development. I should drop a “pay for itself from day one” jab, but it’s just so played.

Stuart Gray Was Not a Stiff

It turns out that I was wrong. According to Dave Berri, Stuart Gray was actually a good player for the Hornets.

Gray – especially the year he played in Charlotte – was not a horrible player. Here are some of his career marks:

* Career Record: 0.022 WP48, 1.6 Wins Produced
* 1989-90 (with Charlotte): 0.111 WP48, 1.1 Wins Produced
* Year 4 to Year 6 (1987-88 to 1989-90): 0.085 WP48, 3.6 Wins Produced

An average player will post a WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] of 0.100. So Gray was only above average the one year he played for Bradbury’s Hornets. …

As Gray indicated, he was not a scorer. His strength was rebounding. As is often noted, the non-scoring aspects of the game are often undervalued. So it’s not surprising that many people thought Gray – the quintessential non-scorer – was not well regarded.

This demonstrates why you should never rely on your teenage memories. Mea Culpa, Stuart. Also, Hurricane Hugo was not your fault. ;-)

When Things Get Personal

This morning I received an interesting comment on a post I had written. It is the first time that a player has responded to my criticism of his play, and he didn’t even play baseball. Stuart Gray did not care for my characterization of his play with the Charlotte Hornets.

This post is in response to your post about Stuart Gray. Have the guts to post it or don’t. I don’t care. At least I have the satisfaction of responding to this nonsense. I wish my friend never showed me your wesite.

First of all, get the facts straight before you publish “crap” as fact. One of the things I do not miss about sports is self serving individuals talking out of their rear end and thinking it is factual!

You have no idea what transpired at the Hornets in 1989. You have no idea of the petty team politics and you have no idea why I was brought to the team. Loyalty was not the reason, it was to fill a specific deficiency in the roster. I am pretty certain that Dick Harter knew that he could not “sell” me starting in front of the ACC prodigy, J.R. Reid. The team was soft and they could not win unless they established that they would stick up for themselves.

My career stats never suggested Dick Harter was looking for a franchise player as you would suggest. You are looking to paint me as a “stiff” to try and make a point but that would only be accurate if Dick brought me in to be more than a role player. Nice writer’s trick but less than honest representation of the reason Dick traded for me.

He was looking for a center that would stand up to the other teams’ players that were beating the living crap out of his players on a nightly basis. Funny how the refs started calling fouls on opposing players once I went “berserk” as you referred to it. You think it was so easy? Then you do it!

Finally, Dick didn’t lose his job due to bringing me on board. He lost it due to political infighting and back stabbing that defined the team and organization in 1989. My job was to protect players like Rex Chapman and Dell Curry from getting beaten up each game and literally being hurt by the rough play of the other teams. That is why I came to Charlotte.

Please do not change the facts to make a point on your website. Your writings about Dick Harter and me show a profound ignorance to the finer points of basketball strategy. Dick is “Old School” and coached by a certain code that not all players understood or were willing to follow. Many chose not to.

By the way, I was traded to the Knicks to back up Patrick and protect his back. Different NBA back then but you wouldn’t know that would you? One final note, my career was defined by my rebounding and defensive skills against other centers. I also played for so long because I could get shooters open by setting picks that defensive players could not get through. Just a few more of the finer points of being a “Role Player” that you probably do not understand.

To the other posters, sorry about the rant but I felt JC’s comments warranted a response! Also, Dick Harter is an honorable man and deserves better than to have this inaccurate version about what “happened” at Charlotte in 1989 being told. This post is disrespectful to me and to the real reason for Dick losing this job.

Dick did the honorable thing and left quietly without making the bad situation the organization had created worse. I have no desire to discuss or does anyone need to know what happened out of respect for Dick Harter and to the sheer fact of “who cares.”

Enough time has past that this issue should have been relegated to the trash heap. Since it was given a new life, then get it right! You may run a small website but others read it so professionalism dictates that you don’t pretend to have knowledge of something you probably know nothing or little about.
One final word, loyalty to former players is not a bad thing, especially if you know they already fit into your system and can fill certain roles. Doesn’t this happen in business all the time? The problems arise when the player cannot fulfill the role due to team politics.

Many players are traded into a situation without a consensus in the upper management team. Politics takes over and the player is “caught” in the middle of a power struggle that they neither understand or want to be involved in. Players go where they are sent for the most part unless they are the fortunate few that have trade approvals in thier contracts. For the rest, you hope that everyone wanted you when the trade was finalized. If not, good luck, your career could be over!

I offered the following response.

Dear Stuart,

Thank you for your response. While, I would like to respond “I meant no disrespect” I did call you a stiff. I was 16 at the time that you played for the Hornets, so my memory may be a bit hazy. Although, I do have a vivid memory of the Michael Cooper fight, and I believe I was actually at the game to witness the most bizarre sports fight that I have ever seen (though it could have been televised).

Like all sports journalists and bloggers, I write about the quality of players’ play. I don’t think it’s incorrect to say that you were not a very good NBA player. There is not shame in this in that you were clearly one of the best basketball players in the world. It’s a laudable achievement as I was once schooled in a pick-up game by the 12th man my college’s Division II basketball team. Compared to me, and most basketball players in the world, you are very good. The term “stiff” may be a bit harsh; however, I doubt I am the first person to use that term to describe you. I can only imagine what you must have said to Tom Sorenson or Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer. Still, that doesn’t defend my use of the term, but I will defend it.

Writing is difficult. Unless it’s a diary, you must get the point across but keep it interesting. I could use objective terms without positive or negative connotations like “three standard deviations below/above average” to describe play, but that would get tedious for readers. Stiff is short-hand for a tall basketball player who commits fouls and doesn’t score much. That may have been your job, and you did it well. If that makes you a stiff, so be it. That I might not understand the value in what you did is my problem, and you probably shouldn’t feel disrespect, but instead just brush me off as an idiot. I do it all the time when people with little statistical training “correct” my “mistakes”. I’m also sometimes called a “stat-nerd” who should get out of the basement and see a game. They don’t know what they’re talking about and have no influence over my life, so I ignore them. These people don’t know anything about who I am as a person, and I don’t take those to be criticisms that influence how I view myself.

So what I ask of you is not to take any disrespect from my calling you a stiff or describing your attempt to decapitate Michael Cooper as berserk. That’s how I view your play on the court. You have every right to dismiss me as an uninformed idiot. If I’m going to write about sports, I’m going to have to be critical of those involved in the sport unless I want to run a rah-rah rag. As a person, I care about those things that matter most to players. I’m sad for players when things go poorly (illness, death, getting cut, etc.) and happy when things go well (marriage, birth, award-winning, etc.). If I worry about hurting feelings, I can’t do my job. Just as you probably didn’t enjoy physically injuring players with hard fouls to protect Patrick Ewing, I get no joy from the fact that I might hurt Jeff Francoeur’s feelings.

I would like to add, that I agree with your assessment of Harter. He was treated badly by Hornets owner George Shinn. He was fired on a road trip while his brother was having serious health issues after the team said it would not fire him. Gene Littles didn’t fare so well either. The politics behind the team sound ugly, and I’m sure you know more about that than I do. Still, the positive spin he put on your acquisition is worthy of criticism, and it served as an example that sometimes executives are a bit too smitten with past players.

Thanks again for writing, Stuart. I wish you well.

My response applies to all players, general managers, etc. whom I criticize and praise. So, I think it’s good that I put this out there.

Addendum: Stuart just followed up with a response that I very much appreciate.

You are truly an interesting sports writer, fan and now I am going to say gentleman. I also enjoy someone that sticks by their principles in the sports world. Don’t lose that quality as it is rare!

Your assessment is correct about how trades or draft selections are spun in the media. I knew very quickly that there would be no way for me to get the minutes necessary to make an impression that was “expected.” As you remember, the town was alive with Hornet’s Fever those first few years and expectations were just a “little” out of whack with the reality of the team’s abilities.

While I rarely back down from a challenge, I knew this one was going to be almost impossible to win. I should have taken Hurricane Hugo trashing the city the day after I arrived as a REALLY bad omen!

Thanks for your comments. I will visit the site from time to time. Internesting story brewing with Greg Oden. Similar story potentially (except for the 100+ million that I never made).

Thanks Stuart, you too are a gentleman. I know it’s got to be tough to be an athlete even without the criticism by media and fans, and I wish there was a better way to convey that I do sympathize with you on this. I very much appreciate your kind follow up. I always admire players who are willing to speak their minds. :-)

Further Addendum: It turns out that Stuart Gray was not a stiff.

Jeff Francoeur’s Head Is Still Up His Butt

This morning, Jeff Francoeur was the guest on the 790 “The Zone” morning show. During my drive in I heard part of the interview, and I was not at all happy with what I heard.

— He said he’s put last season behind him. He plans to start fresh and has already started hitting.

So far so good. Any player with a down season ought to have this attitude. Any human who has a bad year needs this attitude.

— He said last year wasn’t so bad if you take out about 80 games.

Uh, what? You know all my students would earn As on their tests if I didn’t count the questions they got wrong. You don’t get to pick the good and exclude the bad. When you look at the good and the bad from 2008, it’s an ugly season.

— He continues that it was just one bad season, and that he had over 100 RBI in 2006 and 2007.

Yeah, well it’s kind of hard not to when you have Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, Edgar Renteria, and Mark Teixeira always on base in front of you. You’d think he might take a hint from their approaches.

The big issue here is not that RBI is a bad metric, it’s that he’s not identifying these seasons as poor (OPS+ of 87 and 103) and in need of correcting.

— He noted that both Pat Burrell and Michael Young had seasons in which they batted in the low .200s and bounced back to have good seasons.

What he failed to note is that Burrell does other things well despite his batting average, holding a career OPS of .852—100 points higher than Francoeur’s OPS. Burrell has a low average, but walks and hits with power. Young isn’t the on-base and power guy that Burrell is, but he hits for a high average—something Francoeur has never managed to do for a full season at any level above Rookie ball. In addition, Young plays a defensive position and is a good hitter relative to his peers at his position. I’m also concerned about his focus on batting average.

There was more to the interview, but I didn’t have time to sit in the car and listen to excuses. The point here isn’t that Francoeur had a bad year, but that he is still clueless as to what his problem is. I’m amazed at his level of denial. You need confidence to succeed, but what Francoeur has is hubris.

What Will Derek Lowe Get?

I like Derek Lowe as a baseball player. He’s quietly been an excellent pitcher for several seasons without much notoriety. Still, I think Scott Boras is a bit optimistic in his contract expectations for Lowe.

Boras, according to executives with two different teams interested in Derek Lowe, is telling clubs he wants “a Zito-type contract” for the free-agent right-hander.

That’s Zito, as in Barry Zito, as in seven years, $126 million.

Derek Lowe is a better pitcher than Barry Zito, but in June he’s going to be 36 years old—a year older than the age Zito will be when his contract ends. I expect that Lowe will pitch well for a few more seasons, and I think he deserves a hefty payday; but, $18 million a seasons for seven years is a bit much to expect.

For a seven-year deal, I have Lowe looking at around $14 million season. Given that my predictions appear to be undershooting the pitching market this year—I’m used to overshooting—$18 million a year may not be to far of a stretch. However, no team should give a player this old—he’s the same age I am (gasp!)—a contract of this length. I’d go no longer than four years, and that’s pushing it. Some guys have pitched well into their forties, but it’s not a good gamble. And not to be too hard on Boras, this is all part of the negotiating process.

And though I’m a market efficiency guy, I think the pitching market is a bit out of whack right now. If I had an ace pitcher and didn’t plan to contend soon—see the Padres—I’d be selling right now.

Aside: I was looking back at an old post where I estimated Zito was worth about $17 million a season. This was one of the first estimates I ever did, and I have revised my method significantly. That estimate doesn’t fit with the numbers I have now. I just wanted to acknowledge this in case someone stumbles across the old numbers.

What’s with the Ryan Dempster Love?

I don’t have much to say here except that I can’t believe all the talk I’m reading about Ryan Dempster. Sure, he’s a valuable major-league pitcher who had a good season in 2008. Are teams really thinking this guy is a legitimate front-of-the-rotation starter worth $13 million a season for the next four years?

I won’t attempt to value Dempster, because he spent 2006 and 2007 as a reliever—a reliever who couldn’t keep his K/BB > 2—so it’s difficult to predict his future from the recent past. He’ll be 32 in May, so it’s not like he’s finally getting his act together. 2008 screams “fluke!” While I believe he may be more valuable as a starter than as a reliever, I wouldn’t recommend devoting more than $10 million/year—if that—to a player with his track record. And before someone mentions “the supply of pitchers,” teams should not be willing to pay a player more than his marginal revenue product. They might pay him less, but not more.

DC Bleg, Affeldt, and Gregg

I didn’t mean for that to rhyme. Anyway, I’m heading to Washington, DC for a conference later this week, and I’m looking for restaurant suggestions. I feel odd asking for advice about a city where I used to live, but it’s been so long and the city is so big. I’d appreciate any suggestions. I’m staying near the MCI Center and looking for breakfast, lunch, and dinner recommendations. I don’t mind catching the Metro to find a good place.

Preparing for the conference is one of the things that has been slowing me down. But, let me analyze a recent trade and signing.

– Yesterday, the Giants signed Jeremy Affeldt to a two-year $8 million deal. Based on his performance over the past two years—I normally go back three, but two seems more appropriate here—I have him projecting a value of about $4.5 million/year. I normally don’t like big-dollar reliever contracts, but this one seems spot on.

– Last week, the Marlins traded Kevin Gregg to the Cubs for minor-league pitcher Jose Ceda. I have Gregg valued similar to Affeldt, and Ceda had good numbers in High-A and Double-A last year. The problem for the Cubs is that Affeldt is only under their control for one more season, during which he’ll earn $1-2 million less than his value. Valuing Ceda is difficult, but I have been working on a method for valuing prospects, and the expected value for players similar to Ceda is around $2 million. If he has a significant major-league career, he’ll be worth much more, but there is a high probability that he will wash out. So, this seems like a decent deal for both teams, and it makes sense given the team’s operating strategies. The cost-conscious Marlins are willing to take a risk on a potential high long-term payout, and the Cubs want a certain payout now.

Breaking Down the Swisher Deal

In the comments of the previous thread, a commenter asked that I analyze the trade of Nick Swisher and Kanekoa Texeira from the White Sox to the Yankees for Wilson Betemit, Jeff Marquez, and Jhonny Nunez. Good idea.

Swisher’s a little more known than most players of his caliber, thanks to his role in Moneyball. He’s a good player signed at a below-market contract through his age-31 season—guaranteed $22 million for the next three seasons with a $10.25 option for 2012. He had a down year last year, which is part of the reason the Yankees believe that they were able to acquire him.

“The fact of the matter is he had his worst major league season as an everyday player,” Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman said. “Because of that, that’s probably part of the reason he was in play for an acquisition. We did our due diligence and we’re hoping ’06 and ’07 are more representative of Nick Swisher. That was a risk we were willing to take on.”

To analyze the trade, we first need to analyze whether or not 2008 was a fluke. In 2006 and 2007 he posted batting lines of .254/.372/.493 and .262/.381 /.455, which were well above his .219/.332/.410 in 2008. The biggest hit was to his batting average, the most variable of the big-3 hitting metrics. His ability to walk and hit for power remained somewhat stable—a good sign. PrOPS expected an OPS of .876 compared to his actual .743, indicating more evidence of a fluke season. Also, he’s just entering typical peak years, so it’s a bit early to be expecting aging to be playing a significant negative factor. I agree with Cashman that Swisher should play more like 2006 and 2007 than 2008.

I have Swisher valued as a $19 million/year player over the next four years—well below what he will be paid. Even if he only ends up being a league-average hitter for the rest of his contract, he’ll be worth his wage.

Betemit is a player who always seems like he should be better than he is. Maybe he’ll finally live up to his high expectations—he’ll be just 27 next season despite being around forever—but I’m not optimistic. He’s between a $6–$8 million players and should get between $3–$4 million/year for the next two seasons. I see nothing special in the pitching prospects going to the the Sox, but they do have value as potential cheap major-league talent. Still, it’s not enough to compensate for the lost value from Swisher and Kanekoa Texeira.

In conclusion, this is a bad trade for the Sox, possibly motivated by an impulse to dump an asset that was poorly performing in the short run. I really don’t like when my values differ from the market; but, in this case, I think Swisher would just about have to be a complete disaster for this trade to come out in the Sox’s favor.