Archive for Mailbox

Mailbox

If you have mailbox questions you can submit them here.

In my anecdotal, small sample watching of the NCAA tourney, I observe there is overall more scoring in college games than in MLB. Why?

My guess (uninformed as ever) is that it has something to do with less mound talent on the college level, particularly in tournament play where teams are forced to pitch deep into staffs. But as the ever observant 3-year old pointed out during the Rice game Sunday, they also have metal bats.

So, what’s your thoughts on the greater run scoring of the college game? — CI

Looking at the difference in college versus can best be seen by looking at the extremes. If you ever get a chance watch a Division III game. Even at this level of play there is no such think as a routine play. Sometimes grounders to third, where the ball is fielded cleanly result in an infield hit simply because the arm of the fielder isn’t strong enough to throw out the runner to first. At the lower level of competition, the weaker competition simply leads to more scoring because balls in play are less likely to result in outs.

I have a question about Mike Hampton’s contract and insurance. I know the Braves will never release information about how much of an insurance payout they’ve received for Hampton’s injury. But it seems the Braves have made a successful insurance claim for a portion of Hampton’s contract the last couple of years.

Let’s hypothetically suppose that Hampton’s insurance policy pays the Braves $9 million for each year he is injured. This payout actually exceeds the $8.1 million the Braves owe annually to Hampton, averaged over 2003-2008 (since the Rockies/Marlins are paying the remainder of his salary). Therefore, the Braves could theoretically be making a net profit off of Hampton’s contract when he is injured, right?

Wouldn’t the commissioner’s office or the player’s union have a problem with the Braves keeping the entire insurance payout? After all, doesn’t this situation create a perverse financial incentive for the Braves to allow Hampton to become or remain injured?

Obviously, the Braves would prefer to have Hampton healthy and in the rotation. But do you know if and how MLB deals with this potential moral hazard problem? — HM

No insurance company will insure a player for more than he is going to make, so I am sure Hampton’s payout is less than what he is making. Deductibles exist on all types of insurance policy to limit moral hazard misbehavior by the insured.

In terms of Mike Hampton’s insurance that we keep hearing about, I don’t think it exists as the Braves portray it to the public. The media widely reported that his individual policy expired last year; however, when he went out in spring training some “insurance” that may or may not cover his salary appeared out of nowhere. My take on this is that the Braves have a limited policy that covers all players if injuries exceeded a certain about (say $10 million), and whether or not they would get any additional money for Hampton would be determined by what other injuries the Braves had over the course of the season. If injuries resulted in more than $10 million in lost salary then the insurance would kick in, and part of Hampton’s contract would be covered by this pool. But if they had less than $10 million in injuries, then they wouldn’t get any additional money to cover his contract.

This is purely speculation on my part, induced by the Braves lack of transparency on the issue. I get the feeling they are telling the truth, but not the whole truth.

I saw you mentioned NBA rule changes (August 6th, 2007 post) and that you like
soccer. What rule changes would you suggest for soccer?

Here’s what I would do: First and foremost, get rid of the offsides rule. Totally eliminates a thrilling element of the game – the fast break. Though I suggest that the forwards can’t camp inside the goal box (the innermost ring; or maybe extend the ring).

Another rule would be to make a player sit out 5 minutes for a yellow card. Similar to hockey (power play). — MH

I like soccer, but I don’t plan to ever follow the MLS like I follow MLB or the NFL. I think the main reason that soccer cannot compete with the other major sports leagues in the US is that fans prefer these other sports. It’s my opinion that no minor rule change to soccer is going to be enough to overcome the dominant US sports. Therefore, I suspect soccer needs to concentrate on a core of fans who already like soccer and hope to grow the traditional fan base. Tweaking the game may ultimately alienate current soccer fans without gaining new ones. Even the soccer fan in me finds your rule changes unappealing, simply because they are different from what I am used to. But that won’t stop me from suggesting my own changes. :-)

I hate ties and penalty kicks. This is unfortunate since many soccer games end as ties or are determined by a controversial penalty in the box. I suggest an overtime system of five minute periods that are played until the tie is broken. After each five minute session the teams lose two players. This way the game ends by playing soccer, but should facilitate a quicker ending after regulation.

More Mail

It’s been one of those weeks, so I apologize for the lack of posts. I thought I’d do a mailbox before things get backed up again. A few thoughts before I begin answering questions.

– The Braves aren’t doing so hot as of late. The Braves have allowed more runs than they have scored pushing their Pythagorean record to 32-34; even with the Marlins and behind the Phillies. If it wasn’t for their hot start this team would be in big trouble. But, as long as you hang around, good things can happen. If the pitching can stabilize just a little and the offense gets a kick from Chipper, old-Andruw, and old-McCann, they can turn it around quickly.

– The O’s pitching staff is much improved so far this year. Might Leo Mazzone deserve a little credit for this? (see The Baseball Economist, Chapter 5). It’s still far too early in the season to say the O’s have turned the corner, but the staff has improved by more than a run over 2006 and about 0.36 better than 2005.

Season    BAL    AL    ERA+
2007    4.21    4.40    104
2006    5.35    4.56    84
2005    4.57    4.35    91

(Numbers from Baseball-Reference.com)

Yes, there are different pitchers involved, but this is just quick and dirty look.

– I’ve received plenty of feedback from my comments on Jayson Stark’s claim that Andruw Jones is overrated. Well, some more support for AJ just came in. Revised BIS zone ratings will soon be published at The Hardball Times, and David Gassko provides a list of the top and bottom three at each position. Andruw comes in second. I can’t vouch for these ratings, because I know very little about the new ZR metric, but the ranking is consistent with the Plus/Minus ranking.

Now to your questions. :-)

I guess no one has noticed except for maybe some stat “geeks” but Andruw’s BABiP is .244 (through Sunday), compared to his career average of .288. I would think those batted balls will eventually start to find the where-they-ain’t.
– Shaun

Yes, Andruw has been unlucky this year, and his BABIP is below his career average of .282. Also, his PrOPS is about 100 points higher than his OPS. I am certainly anticipating some improvement. Whether he’ll recover this season, I have no idea. I don’t think he’s diminishing as a player, he is just having some bad luck. The team that signs him for next year will be getting the same old Andruw.

Do you have an opinion on Gary Sheffield’s comments. Have you studied the effects of race, nationality, ethnicity, etc. on a player’s ability to either hold a roster spot or cash in with a huge contract? Thanks.
– Dave

Sheffield has a big mouth and a habit of wearing out his welcome wherever he plays. Only in Atlanta did he not have any problems, which speaks to Bobby Cox’s managerial skills.

I am very curious about the decline of African-Americans in baseball, and it is something that I would like to study. I don’t think it’s purely a demand-side problem as Sheffield suggests. The problem in studying race in baseball is that race data is not easy to find. I did one study on race and the price of baseball cards. Assigning a race to players based on baseball card photos is even more difficult than it sounds. There is no way I am going to do that over a period of decades. When I get my hands on some good race data, I will most definitely look into the issue.

One thing I do wonder about is why so many athletes of all races choose to play football or basketball over baseball. The financial rewards of baseball are higher and much more certain. In baseball, you can get paid out of high school to play in the minor leagues rather than playing for free in college. And if you are good, the player salaries are much better in MLB. Take Michael Vick for example, a left-handed quarterback and an amazing athlete. I suspect his arm is good enough that he could pitch in the big leagues—he was drafted by the Rockies in the 30th round in 2000. And top starting left-handed pitchers make more than what Vick makes as a QB in the NFL. Now, I’m not saying that Vick is a guaranteed big-league player, but I wonder why young athletes don’t put more emphasis on the returns to the sport they chose to play.

What do you make of arguments that Chipper should be shifted over to 1B? It seems there are two parts to the argument: first, that he’s not a great defensive third baseman (which seems less true after returning from LF), and second, that Chipper would stay healthier at a less defensively demanding position. What are your thoughts? I can’t discuss it rationally because Chipper has been the Braves’ 3B since I was about 9 years old.
– Tom O.

When I was nine, Bob Horner played third (I just felt like saying that). I have been advocating a move to first for Chipper for a long time. Putting him in the outfield was a huge mistake, and while I can’t prove it, I think it did some damage to his legs. As the injuries continue, getting him to a position that is a little easier might keep him in the lineup, but that is really just speculation. With Thorman playing poorly and Yunel Escobar playing so well, now seems like a good time to make the move. But the wrinkle is Jarrod Saltalamacchia. If the Braves lose Andruw Jones, Salty may be able to soften the loss of offense if he plays first while the Braves pick up a cheap defensive center fielder. So, I think a move to first in unlikely this year unless Salty is traded, which would surprise me.

One thing we have to remember is that some of Chipper’s injury problems have been flukey. For example, his current injury is a hand problem that resulted from a base running collision. The knee injury last year in Boston was the result of horrible field conditions. His legs have been good so far. I would not be surprised to see Chipper play 150 games next year at third. I also think that Chipper has a hand-shake agreement with management that he will play third. As a third baseman he has a better case for the Hall of Fame. He is an under-appreciated player and I wish he would get more credit. He hasn’t made the All-Star team since 2001, which is a shame.

Reader Mail

After the first round of mail I got a flood of follow-ups. I’ll go ahead and answer them.

First, I was trying to do a search to see if you commented on Liberty Media and the sale of the Braves and the search engine on the site was not working for me. I tried google and came up with nothing so I wanted to know what your thoughts were about the Liberty Media sale? Is it a good economic decision? Do you like it for the future of the Braves? Also, purely as a fan, what do you think about the increased role Hank Aaron will have with the team? Sorry, I know that was lengthy but hopefully not too bad.
— Andrew T.

Is it a good economic decision? Well, the parties involved both think it’s mutually beneficial so on one level it is. However, because the sale was triggered by taxes, the distortion inefficiency of this transaction is probably large. I doubt Liberty would have been a buyer otherwise.

How will this affect the Braves? In the short run, it creates some flexibility for the front office. Though upper management told the media that it had no effect on the team, it is obvious it did. My sources were reporting to me that that many in the organization were so frustrated they were looking to join Stan Kasten in Washington (that’s just what I have heard). I still wouldn’t be surprised to see some turnover. In the long run it will have almost no effect. Time-Warner and Liberty are both publicly traded companies whose managers seek to maximize profits for shareholders. Liberty might be a better organization, but I doubt it. I thought TW was an excellent owner, and I don’t expect much different now.

On Hank Aaron, I really don’t know what he has been doing or will be doing. He does have great seats though.

Follow-up to the question you took on what happens in CF next year: Is there any
chance Francoeur could move over? While I’m guessing he won’t be Andruw out there, could he be a decent stop-gap until Brandon Jones is ready? Surely it’s easier to find someone to fill RF than CF.
— Tom O.

What do you project Andruw Jones next contract to be worth?
— Andrew T.

I wonder about Francoeur in center, too. My guess is that he is not being considered there. I don’t believe he played much CF in the minors. Plus, he’s had some defensive lapses lately. He might fill in occasionally, but I think the Braves want a serious defender in center. If Andruw leaves, the Braves may try and go get an all-defense kind of a guy for cheap (think Charles Thomas) and use Saltalamacchia at first to replace the offense. I think Thorman will develop into a major league hitter, but I don’t think he will be good enough to earn consistent play at first base.

What kind of contract will Andruw get? I’d say he’ll get between 17-19 million per year from 5-7 years. I’ll say 6-years, $112 million. If he signs with the Braves, he might cut them a deal. He wants to play for Cox, and I suspect he is willing to take a discount as long as it is not insulting.

The Braves have played quite a few games against LHP (23)- more than any other
team in the NL East (the Mets have played 15). Their record against lefties (11-13) is in stark contrast to their record against righties (19-10).

Could this explain their recent losing streak? Could their record improve once they start seeing more righties? Does this form an effective argument against the platoon (the Braves use platoons heavily, but have a poor record against LHP. The Mets don’t use any platoons, as far as I know, and have an 11-4 record against them)?
— Erik

I like platoons, because it increases the production of weaker players by giving them mostly opposite-handed at-bats. In the long run, it’s possible that left-handers may suffer some in their development, but I don’t know this. Now, it may be that the Braves right-handed hitters aren’t as good as their left-side hitters, but I don’t see it. Both Thorman and Diaz performed better than Wilson and Langerhans, but I think that had more to do with chance than ability. I think we are seeing is a sample-size issue. I expect it will even out over the year.

It seems like a lot of teams that are successful in the playoffs make late season deals to bring in some help. I was wondering if there was any statistical evidence to the point that there is a correlation between late season additions and success in the postseason. Maybe, maybe not.
— Brian

I don’t know of any evidence of this, but it shouldn’t hurt to bring in additional good players.

Are there any objective statistical measurements for managers? If so, how does
Bobby Cox rank both compared to other active managers and all time?
— Ron

I have seen many studies of managers over the years, but I can’t recall a single one off the top of my head. Managerial influence is difficult to quantify. I actually had planned a chapter on this in The Baseball Economist, but it didn’t make the cut. The preliminary results did show some managers helping their players, and I recall that Bobby Cox did have a positive influence. I expect to finish the study in my next book. No title or date yet—I’m just gearing up to search for an agent and publisher.

Opening the Mailbox

Welcome to the first edition of the Sabernomics Mailbox. If you have a question that you would like me to answer, just submit your question here, and I will do my best to answer it in the next round.

How about a post on Willie C. Harris? Is he the future center fielder in Atlanta (and possible leadoff hitter)? Does his recent offensive surge decrease the Braves’ valuation for re-signing Andruw?
— HM

Hey, you’ve got to love how well Willie Harris has been playing. All of us at Kennesaw State are big fans of our former student. However, I’m afraid that he is not a part of the Braves long-term plans to replace Andruw. While his 2007 OPS+ is a magnificent 158, for his career he has posted an OPS+ of 68. Harris is in the class of former Braves like Dewayne Wise, Nick Green, and Charles Thomas. These are guys who had some success with the club in small samples, but ultimately they reverted to their historical weak play. Now, this doesn’t mean Harris hasn’t found a way to improve, but I think it is unlikely. That won’t stop me from rooting for him! I think his best shot is to hang on as a defensive super-sub.

As for the Andruw Jones back-up plan, that’s a tough one. I thought it was Langerhans, but now that he’s gone the Braves may be looking to keep AJ. Although, the Pravda (the Braves PR dept.) seems to be leaking anti-Andruw propaganda rather than supporting him during his current slump. The problem is that the Braves desperately need pitching, and the team may decide it’s resources are better spent fortifying the rotation. Brandon Jones is having a decent season at Mississippi (.820 OPS), so he might be ready to take over next year. However, I think he’s more likely to make his debut mid-season next year than start the year in center.

Since the draft is rapidly approaching, I am wondering about the economics of “signability”. How do teams assess the risk/time value of potential draft picks like Matt Wieters. Some prognosticators have him dropping as far as #18, even though he is considered the 2nd best pick by many, due to the Boras factor.
— Terry

Well, signability is an important consideration, because if you draft a player who doesn’t sign, you’ve lost your pick for that year. The new collective bargaining agreement includes a provision that gives teams a compensation pick of nearly equal draft slot in the following year if they fail to sign a drafted player. This gives clubs a slightly stronger bargaining position.

As to specific risk assessments that teams make, I don’t really know. I don’t think Boras is as big a deal as he is made out to be. The best players, who have the most bargaining strength, are the same players who pick Boras as there agent. The draft creates a bilateral monopoly situation, where the team has sole rights to the player and the player can choose (depending on the situation) to go to college, junior college, or sit out a year. I won’t go into the specific of bilateral monopoly here, but it means that players and teams are likely far apart in terms of what they expect the other party should be offering. It’s a natural result of the process, nothing personal. I do think that Boras has been instrumental at pushing what agents can do, but the disagreements between players and teams would be just as difficult without him. He is unfairly criticized, and he deserves credit for being a good agent.

Is a team’s winning percentage in 1-run games a good indicator of overall performance? How about a team’s winning percentage in blowout victories? Which (if either) is a better indicator of success?
— ND

Ability to win close games doesn’t appear to be a skill, and it is something that is difficult to measure. But just think about it: the closer the game, the more likely it is that a fluke play is going to determine the outcome of the game. As for records in blowouts, I think there is a bit more information. Fluke plays aren’t going to have as big of an impact. I think it’s best to evaluate teams by the sum of everything they do. I look at the difference in runs scored and runs allowed (a Bill James discovery). When I see the a big disparity between this difference and the W-L difference, I expect some mean reversion. Baseball-Reference reports this information on its expanded standings pages (AL|NL).

Do you really like the snapshot stuff that hovers over the links? I find it quite distracting, actually.
— Skip

Funny thing. I get comments on snap previews all the time. Half say they love it, half hate it. I liked it initially, but I do find it annoying at times. A while ago I was getting ready to disable them when I realized that there is a compromise. When you get a preview as you roll over a link, you can click on “disable” at the top, and they should not pop up again. Let me know if this feature doesn’t work for you.

Mr. Bradbury, your campaign seems to have the momentum of a runaway freight train. Why are you so popular?
— Lisa S.