Monday, October 29, 2007

Unorthodox Free Agent Solutions: Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera

Continuing our series of moves that make too much sense to happen, so they won't:

Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, and Mariano Rivera to the Devil Rays

You can stop laughing now. Why would these Yankee icons jump to the AL East cellar?

Well, for one, Tampa will be the best team in the division if they add these three. You might not realize this, but the Rays project as an 80-win team next year. In fact, they had .500 talent this year, except for those pesky fielding issues.

The Rays' 2008 ZIPS Projections show that next year's Rays should feature an offense significantly better than the league average. The pitching staff, which led the AL in strikeouts this year, is headed by a very strong 1-2 of Scott Kazmir and Jamie Shields, plus a 3-4 of Andrew Sonnanstine and J.P. Howell, who would be league-average starters with a better defense behind them.

The team as a whole is very young and has big breakout potential. So what are they missing?

- Defense
- A shortstop
- A catcher
- A closer

The three Yankees won't help Tampa's fielding, but team defense is subject to heavy fluctuations and it's very likely the Rays defense will improve by 50 runs or more next year due to regression alone. Evan Longoria gets rave reviews for his glove, and should be a big help when he arrives.

As for the other holes, A-Rod, Posada, and Rivera fit them like a glove. Check out this potential 2008 lineup:

LF Crawford
CF Upton
SS A-Rod
1B Pena
C Posada
3B Longoria
DH Gomes
RF Young
2B Iwamura

This is a lineup whose WORST projected hitter is probably Delmon Young, and Delmon is as good a bet as any player to pull a B.J. Upton and explode on the scene next year. High-upside players like Rocco Baldelli and Elijah Dukes remain on the bench, possibly providing a big impact; Baldelli can DH if healthy.

Meanwhile, the pitching looks more than good enough to complement the hitters and win 90+ games for several years in a row:

SP Kazmir
SP Shields
SP Sonnanstine
SP Howell
SP Davis/Price/Hammel

RP Rivera
RP Wheeler
RP Reyes
RP Balfour
RP Dohmann

Remember, you can throw out the 2007 ERAs for Sonnanstine and Howell; they were sabotaged by terrible defense. These guys were not that far behind Kaz and Shields this year in fielding-independent pitching.

The fifth starter's job should eventually go to Wade Davis or David Price, but neither is likely to stick in the rotation for at least a few months. For now, the spot will most likely go to a placeholder like Jason Hammel who won't actively hurt the team.

Tampa's bullpen was terrible in 2007, although a lot of the blame goes to the defense. Rivera brings a much needed stopper; perhaps no other team in the majors would benefit more from adding an ace at the back of the pen. Meanwhile, Wheeler and Reyes are not bad pitchers, and should be serviceable as a bridge to the new closer.

We haven't gotten to the most important point yet: the future. This Devil Rays team will stick together. Of all the players listed above, only Reyes is eligible for free agency after 2008, and only Pena after 2009. Everyone else is locked up for at least three years at below-market prices, so if A-Rod really wants to be with a perennial contender, this is the place for him.

Furthermore, this team is very young. The four starters average 25 years of age next year. No lineup regular will be 30 on Opening Day 2008. The three Yankees and Carlos Pena will see some age-related decline, but time will work in Tampa's favor for the rest of the roster. In 2010, Carl Crawford and Shields will be 28, Kazmir 26, Upton 25, Young and Longoria 24. That's a hell of a core at or before their peak years.

As far as money goes, the $55 million/year required to sign these three will obviously be a lot for a small-market team. On the other hand, who has more money to burn than the Devil Rays? A couple of big names and a winning season will give instant credibility to the franchise, giving them a reasonable chance of developing a fan base. Is Tampa really better off just cashing their revenue sharing checks and never attempting to contend?

There is no way the Devil Rays sign A-Rod, let alone all three of these guys. But if he's not lying about wanting a secure future with Posada and Rivera, this is probably the best scenario for the three of them.

Unorthodox Free Agent Solutions: Barry Bonds

Here at R-D, we like to focus on what SHOULD happen, not what WILL happen. In this series, we'll look at potential free agent signings that make a lot of sense, but have a snowball's chance in hell of actually occurring.

Barry Bonds to the Twins

Bonds is an odd sort of potential bargain this year, because signing him is such a negative PR move. Barry is the best hitter (non-A-Rod division) on the market, but might have to sign a below-market deal because of a lack of suitors. Given a team with holes at DH and left field--and no team fits that bill quite like the Twins--Bonds could easily be a four- or five-win player over 120 games.

Besides having a gaping hole at Bonds' position, Minnesota also is at a point where an extra five wins can make a big difference for their playoff chances. Despite a 79-83 season, things are looking up for the Twins. If Francisco Liriano bounces all the way back, the Twins have the two best starting pitchers in baseball, and even a less-than-full recovery makes him a devastating pitcher. Matt Garza is ready to step up as a solid number 3 (or maybe be dealt for Jason Bay). Boof Bonser, Scott Baker, and Kevin Slowey aren't studs, but they represent a competitive advantage in the 3-5 slots. The bullpen, led by Joe Nathan and Pat Neshek, remains excellent.

The Twins featured below-average hitting last year, but that's mostly the result of awful production from Nick Punto and the DH spot. The Twins head into next year needing a center fielder, second baseman, third baseman, and DH. Bonds fills the DH void. If the Twins trade Garza for Bay, they can deal Jason Kubel for a third baseman (Kevin Kouzmanoff?) or sign fan favorite Corey Koskie, assuming he's fully recovered. The market is full of free agent center fielders; I'd target Aaron Rowand or Mike Cameron, though the Twins may stick with Torii Hunter for sentimental reasons. At second base, Alexi Casilla is still the future, but a short-term deal for a Tad Iguchi type makes a lot of sense.

For about $30 million in additional salary commitments for next year (not counting the savings from the departing Torii Hunter, Luis Castillo, and Carlos Silva), that gives us this lineup:

CF Rowand/Cameron
C Mauer
DH Bonds
1B Morneau
LF Bay
RF Cuddyer
3B Kouzmanoff/Koskie
2B Iguchi
SS Bartlett

SP Santana
SP Liriano
SP Baker
SP Bonser
SP Slowey

RP Nathan
RP Neshek
RP Guerrier
RP Rincon
RP Reyes

That's a team that can absolutely run with the Indians, Red Sox, and Yankees; I might make them the preseason favorites to win the AL.

The point isn't that the Twins will actually do all this, but that they are this close to being a top contender again. It's a lot easier to improve this kind of stars-and-scrubs team than a balanced top-to-bottom squad like Oakland's. The above scenario doesn't involve anything outlandish like signing A-Rod or trading for Miguel Tejada.

If Minnesota won't trade Santana and Nathan this offseason, they owe it to the fans to take one last shot at a title with them. Signing Bonds may be the biggest step they can take in that direction.

O/T: Miller Lite

And now for something completely different...

I watch a lot of sports, so I see a lot of Miller Lite commercials. Over the past couple of years, the beer's primary selling point has been that a 2005 study showed it has "more taste" than Bud Light. If you read the fine print, however, you see this:

"Results reflect which beer has more taste, not preference."

Now, I have to imagine there is zero chance that someone held a taste test and did not ask the participants which beer they preferred over the other. I see only one possibility: the tasters preferred Bud Light over Miller Lite, yet Miller nonetheless managed to spin this as a positive. Apparently more bad taste > less good taste.

If I'm right, I think it's fair to say Miller has done more with less than any other ad campaign in history. Of course, they're still getting killed by Bud in market share, so maybe they need a new approach.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Eric Gagne

Eric Gagne has become something of a polarizing figure. He's become a running joke in the playoffs as the Red Sox have refused to let him try and protect a lead of fewer than nine runs. Meanwhile, Nate Silver suggests that Gagne will be one of the biggest bargains on the free agent market this offseason. Other analysts seem to be taking Nate's side. Who's right?

In baseball, it's hard to get more results-disoriented than evaluating pitchers by their DIPS numbers. When we do that, the picture becomes clear:

Gagne with Texas, 2007: 2.16 ERA, 4.19 xFIP
Gagne with Boston, 2007: 6.75 ERA, 4.21 xFIP

Hmm. Suddenly it looks like Gagne didn't forget how to pitch, but his defense forgot how to field (or his ground balls forgot how to find gloves). Either way, we were basically watching the same pitcher the whole year; the Texas version just had fortune on his side.

Gagne's stuff wasn't all the way back from his peak, but his dominant 2002-04 does hint at some upside. If Gagne can go from this year's 4 BB/9 and 9 K/9 to 3 and 10, he becomes a dominant closer again. Remember, he did this all in the AL, so a league switch alone might give his rate stats a big boost.

The big question with Gagne, of course, is health. No one should be throwing four guaranteed years at him, and even three is dicey. But in a market where Danys Baez gets $19 million over three years, I'd certainly offer Gagne two years and $12MM and see what happens.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Joel Skinner

I should probably consider that my last post, blasting J.A. Adande and anyone else who says Joel Skinner single-handedly cost the Indians the AL Pennant, is in a way not true to the blog's name. After all, when evaluating Skinner's decision and what it really cost the Tribe, what happened afterward should not be considered. Since Lofton scores basically 100% of the time he is sent, Skinner's stop sign cost the Indians about 10% in win expectancy, from 50% to 40%. That's an unforgivable sin in a Game 7, probably far worse than Grady Little's choice to leave Pedro in. It's hard for any coach to hurt his team more than that with one decision.

Still, while Skinner did his job terribly in a clutch spot, there's simply nothing behind the argument that this play "changed the whole rest of the game," as so many column inches opined on Monday. Not even a butterfly flapping its wings in Australia could have stopped the Boston offense in the late innings Sunday. Joel Skinner cost the Indians 10% of a trip to the World Series at the time, and 0% in hindsight. No more, no less.

Monday, October 22, 2007

J.A. Adande is an Idiot

Adande: "I'm not going to hold Joel Skinner solely responsible for the Indians losing this series."

ARE YOU (EXPLETIVE) KIDDING ME? Cleveland lost this game--one of their four losses in the series, by the way--by nine runs, and you're telling me that a third base coach who cost the Indians no more than one run is "not...solely responsible" for the defeat?

I don't have the energy for a full writeup of Game 7. Cliffs notes:

- Why was Okajima left in to face Asdrubal Cabrera if he didn't stay to face Travis Hafner?
- Why was Jonathan Papelbon still pitching with the Sox up nine runs?
- No, it wasn't worth it for Coco Crisp to risk an injury to make the final out of the game, given the huge cushion. Of course, Crisp probably didn't think he would hit the wall running when he reached out to make the grab.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A Disastrous Trade Idea

The Yankees have been mentioned as players in the Johan Santana sweepstakes. MLB Trade Rumors suggests they may offer the Twins a package of Melky Cabrera, Chien-Ming Wang, and Ian Kennedy in exchange for the lefty ace.

This is the type of deal that could make sense for both clubs. Santana is a virtual lock to leave the Twins, so he has no value to them beyond 2008. Meanwhile, the team is in need of a cheap center fielder to replace the departing Torii Hunter, and could use affordable starting pitchers with Santana on his way out and lots of question marks in the rotation. The Yankees, with large cash reserves and in need of superstar talent, get the only ace on the market and the upper hand in signing him long-term.

That said, this deal is completely lopsided and the Yankees would be crazy to offer it. In exchange for one year of Santana's services, they give up four years of Wang, four years of Cabrera, and six years of Kennedy. Wang and Cabrera have established themselves as valuable major leaguers, and they will make less than a million dollars combined next year (versus the $20MM+ they would get on the open market). Kennedy isn't an elite prospect, but he should become a solid starter while earning the major league minimum through 2010.

(Side note: Does Melky have leprosy or something? The dude's been a league-average center fielder for two full seasons at ages 21 and 22. Maybe that's not good enough for the Yankees, but how many others have performed this well so many years before their peak? It's a short list.)

The difference between Wang and Santana next year should be in the neighborhood of three wins. The Yankees could probably use the $13 million difference in their salaries to buy three wins on the open market anyway. Why not do that, and save their young, cheap commodities? I thought The Boss wasn't running this team anymore.

As for the first crack at re-signing Santana: I love Johan, but the track record for mega-contract starting pitchers is pretty effin' brutal. He's unlikely to return positive value over the life of his next contract, so the value of exclusive negotiation rights is damn near zero and may actually be negative. Furthermore, Santana is quite likely to test the market even if he's traded.

I wonder how many times teams will deal three good young players for one year of a veteran before they realize it's* not worth it. Maybe the Yanks should throw in Robby Cano; I hear the Twins need a second baseman.

Many Yankee fans are up in arms over the "insulting" contract offer to Joe Torre, which was for twice what any other team will offer him. Maybe they should switch their focus to something that could actually damage the team's World Series hopes for years to come.

*-This refers to the first Big Unit trade; the D-Backs didn't give up any elite prospects in their deal.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Barry Rozner is an Idiot

This is why you should never believe anything you read.

Apparently, if the White Sox spend $300 million on A-Rod, "[t]hat money would come back to the Sox five-fold in ticket sales, TV money, team marketing, jerseys brought [sic], and -- best of all -- winning." So, it looks like an expensive contract, but really the White Sox would be generating a $1.2 billion profit by signing him--apparently by selling 30 million extra tickets, plus jerseys and TV revenue. Why, they'd be stupid not to do it!

Does Barry Rozner actually believe this estimate? If A-Rod is really worth $1.5 billion over the duration of his contract, why are teams only offering him $300 million? Apparently none of the 30 MLB teams hires a guy who understands baseball revenues quite like Rozner.

Or, it could be that Rozner is pulling numbers out of his ass, that A-Rod will actually be worth far LESS than $300 million, and that the team that signs him will inevitably regret it years down the road. Let's take another look at the biggest free-agent contracts in MLB history, shall we?

1. A-Rod: After three years, Rangers pay $67 million to dump his contract on the Yankees.
2. Manny Ramirez: Boston places him on irrevocable waivers three years into his deal, attempting to give him away for free. No takers.
3. Mike Hampton: Two years in, Colorado pays $27.5 million AND takes on two bad contracts just to get rid of him.
4. Jason Giambi: Yankees attempt (and fail) to void the remainder of his contract.

This is pretty cut-and-dried. The team that signs A-Rod will grossly overpay for his services, they will NOT get $1.5 billion in revenues out of it--not even if they win five straight World Series--and Barry Rozner should be permanently banned from writing on baseball.

(Hat Tip: MLB Trade Rumors)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Playoff Reliever Usage

As regular readers know, I'm an outspoken critic of reliever usage in the majors. Each MLB team could gain an extra win every season--the same win they'll willingly spend $20 million for--by telling its ace reliever that he will now pitch in tie games rather than protecting three-run leads.

But I digress. The playoffs present some unique applications for reliever leverage, because they feature frequent off days and "must-win" games. Since this lowers the costs associated with giving additional innings to your top relievers, it makes sense that we actually see teams frequently using their closers for multiple innings in October, while never going to their mop-up men except in complete blowouts.

If it's Game 7 of the World Series, there's really nothing to lose if your top reliever's arm falls off. Thus, if you have the choice between having your closer pitch either the ninth inning or innings 5 and 6, it's not even close; you take the higher workload and smile. In fact, if Terry Francona announces Jonathan Papelbon as his Game 7 starter, it will be one of the greatest moments in baseball history, at least for me.

Any elimination game is a similar situation. When the Cubs went to Carlos Marmol early in Game 3 of the NLDS, some friends asked me if the team made a mistake by not waiting for a better spot. Lou Piniella did the right thing. With your back up against the wall, it doesn't matter in what order you use your relievers; the key is to make sure your best arms are throwing as many innings as possible. If an inferior reliever is going to blow the game, it doesn't matter whether he does it in the fourth or ninth inning.

Getting Marmol in right away was the best way to maximize his output for the game, even though the leverage index in that situation wasn't especially high in a vacuum. For the same reason, Boston should have been willing to use Papelbon in the sixth inning tonight if Josh Beckett wasn't pitching like a super-stud. Why have him wait for a save opportunity that may never come if Eric Gagne blows the lead?

Of course, that doesn't mean you use Papelbon to protect a six-run lead in Game 5, as the Red Sox did tonight. But the Red Sox know Paps better than I do, and maybe he needs an inning here or there to keep his arm fresh. If, however, this represents one less inning he can pitch in Fenway this weekend, the Sox fully deserve to lose.


Random terrible announcing of the day: Tim McCarver has spent the entire game pushing for Jacoby Ellsbury to start Game 6 over Coco Crisp. After Ellsbury replaced Manny Ramirez for defensive purposes tonight, McCarver said (and I'm paraphrasing): "If you can come in for defense up by six runs in the eighth, you can certainly start a Game 6 in Boston."

Um, what?

Friday, October 12, 2007

October 12

Cleveland +150 (1)
Arizona +106 (1)

Monday, October 08, 2007

An Open Letter

Dear results-oriented sportswriters everywhere,

You are wrong. C.C. Sabathia was still the right choice to start today's game.

Allowing ten baserunners in five innings does not make the starting pitcher the "Chevrolet Player of the Game" or a good clutch performer. Paul Byrd remains a fringe fourth starter who didn't pitch particularly well and was lucky not to get lit up by a strong lineup.

Also, on behalf of the other 29 teams in MLB, thank you for your upcoming articles on why Alex Rodriguez should leave the Yankees.

Forever yours,



Tonight: Indians +205 (1 unit)

I just don't follow the decision to start Byrd. Everyone is all over this, and for good reason.

It seems possible that the Tribe is ready to give Byrd a quick hook in favor of C.C. if he's got nothing. But if that's the plan, why not start Sabathia? If he looks that tired, Byrd is available for long relief, and the Indians have a good bullpen. Meanwhile, you don't risk Byrd getting lit up and putting the game out of reach right away.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Moving the Playoff Odds Project

Because I get so many readers here, I'm experimenting with moving the Playoff Odds to a new home.

(Edit: That link doesn't appear to be forwarding yet, so use this one for now.)

Yes, that's the actual design I have picked out (for now). It's a wonder I actually managed to create a website on Frontpage once. Actually, looking at that site, no it isn't.

Friday, October 05, 2007

10/6 Update

Team DS% LCS% WS%

Boston 90.7 52.2 37.8
Cleveland 83.0 35.2 22.8
Los Angeles 9.3 4.1 2.6
New York 17.0 8.4 6.1

Arizona 83.1 40.2 12.6
Chicago 16.9 9.4 3.2
Colorado 85.3 41.7 11.7
Philadelphia 14.7 8.6 3.1

If you didn't get Philadelphia earlier, they're a borderline 1-2 unit play at +143.

Playoffs YTD: 3-0, +4.57 units

Edit: You may notice that the NL numbers have changed around a little even though no games were played. This reflects Philadelphia shifting their rotation to start Hamels in Game 4 and Kendrick in Game 5. If you're wondering how Kendrick getting an extra start can possibly help the Phillies, well, Kyle Lohse is just that bad. Enjoy him, whoever shells out the $50 million price tag!

Start A Baseball Hedge Fund!

Right now, bookmakers seem to think the following lines are "correct":

Philadelphia +150 for Game 3

Philadelphia +600 to win NLDS

If these lines are in fact correct, it means we're looking at a 35.7% probability Philadelphia wins games 4 AND 5. That's not even in the ballpark, considering one of those games is in Coors and the other features a Francis-Kendrick pitching matchup.

Looking at this another way, let's say the Phillies swap their pitchers for Games 4 and 5, which shouldn't affect the probabilities that much. Game 5 then features the same starting pitchers and home team as Game 1. The market line for that game was Philadelphia -135, a 57.4% equivalent W%. In order for the 35.7% parlay percentage to be correct, Philly then needs to be a 62.2% favorite, or -164, in a game 4 matchup between Fogg and Kendrick. In Coors Field. Not bloody likely.

If you want to start a gambling hedge fund right now, your first investment should be in a combination of:

Phillies +150 for Game 3
Rockies -600 to win NLDS

You'll thank me later.


My sleeping pills are about to kick in, so:

Team DS% LCS% WS%

Boston 77.0 43.2 31.3
Cleveland 62.6 27.7 18.0
Los Angeles 23.0 9.9 6.2
New York 37.4 19.1 13.9

Arizona 83.1 39.7 12.4
Chicago 16.9 9.4 3.2
Colorado 85.6 42.4 11.9
Philadelphia 14.4 8.4 3.0

1 unit play for tomorrow on Cleveland +115. Again, you may want to wait for a favorable line move.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Early Saturday Pick

Phi +158 (2 units) - If you haven't seen Ubaldo Jimenez's minor league numbers, do yourself a favor and check them out. He's not good.

I'd be stunned if this line doesn't move substantially closer to even money before first pitch.

Reliever Usage

I've ranted about reliever usage in the playoffs before, but as usual, MLB managers continue to listen to their gut and not the advice I generously offer them for free.

So far, only one manager has really aced the test--albeit accidentally--by putting his relief ace in an unorthodox spot when it really counted. Lou Piniella correctly put his best pitcher in to protect a critical tie game in the seventh. When Carlos Marmol lost the game for the Cubs, Lou's reward was media criticism for "pulling Carlos Zambrano too soon," even though he was quite correct to do so with Big Z on track to start Game 4 on short rest and Marmol ready to go two innings.

The Diamondbacks get a pass too; they made the obvious moves with their bullpen last night, but were correct in doing so. As for the Red Sox, it's certainly hard to argue with leaving Josh Beckett in to complete the game.

Other teams are getting it all wrong. The Rockies brought in Manny Corpas to get out of a jam in the eighth, which was fine. Then they left him in for the ninth inning to "protect" a 10-5 lead. Would the Rockies have brought Corpas into the game at the start of the ninth leading by 5 runs? Probably not, because that wouldn't have been a save situation, and Corpas wouldn't have had the inertia of being in the game already. But that's how Clint Hurdle wants to do it, so more power to him. At least the Phillies seemed to get it, as they saved Tom Gordon and Brett Myers once the game was out of reach.

The Indians used their three best relievers--three of the best in baseball this year--to protect a lead that started at six runs and eventually reached nine. Technically, they didn't bring their Proven Closer in, but Eric Wedge may be the only person on the planet who still thinks Joe Borowski is better bet to hold a small lead than Rafael Betancourt or Rafael Perez.

I can't get too upset with the Yankees--it's not like they used Joba or Rivera to hold the Tribe's lead at 9--but they did throw Phil Hughes out there for two innings, and I can't see anyone challenging Hughes as the third-best arm in that pen. This isn't a big deal, but there was no reason for this move.

Cubs just took a 2-0 lead, so back to focusing my attention on the game. Go Cubbies!

Competitive Balance?

As of this moment, the Red Sox, who are six wins away from even competing in the World Series, nevertheless have a better chance to win the Series than the four NL teams combined (30.5% to 30.2%).


Updated Probabilities

Today's play is 2 units on Cleveland +115.

Edit: Also 1 unit on Arizona +124.

I would have produced this chart sooner, but I just woke up. Aruba will do that to you.

Team DS% LCS% WS%

Boston 77.0 42.3 30.1
Cleveland 45.6 20.2 12.8
Los Angeles 23.0 9.7 6.0
New York 54.4 27.8 19.9

Arizona 61.1 27.9 8.6
Chicago 38.9 20.9 7.0
Colorado 63.2 30.1 8.2
Philadelphia 36.8 21.0 7.4

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Vegas Watch and Joe Sheehan

My RSS is lighting up with comments from Vegas Watch and Joe Sheehan on the playoffs. Both come to the conclusion that the MLB playoffs are a near-total crapshoot.

Seven years ago, when the Yankees were winning the World Series every year, this may have been a foreign concept to fans. Now, with an 83-win defending champ, only the most naive viewers still think that the best team is always going to prevail.

However, I think both writers are taking this concept way too far. I mean, Sheehan says no team has better than a 6-1 shot to win? Are you kidding me?

6-1 translates to less than a 14.3% chance to win the World Series, a 52.3% chance to win an average playoff series, and a 51.2% chance to win an average playoff game.

Fifty-One Percent.

Joe Sheehan, who (correctly) regards the NL as the minor leagues compared to the AL, does not believe there is a single team out there that is a 51-49 favorite against in a typical playoff game. This in a field where the team run differentials range from +210 and +191 in the strong league, to -20 in the weak league.

Sheehan is a great writer, and I make it a point to read his column every day. I understand there's a place for hyperbole in writing, but if he thinks he's even close to correct about his 6-1 and 9-1 comments, he needs to quit his job right now and become the most profitable gambler in history.

As for Vegas Watch, their analysis is certainly better than Sheehan's, since it's only half based on dogmatic notions of playoff variance, with the other half coming from actual Vegas odds. It's still a very dangerous article if you believe everything you read and are willing to back that with your bankroll.

Look, the playoffs are not a coin-flipping contest. The NL is currently more than a 2-1 dog in the World Series at every sportsbook that's posted a line. This isn't because a few idiots think tails never fails. The Yankees and Red Sox will combine for far better than a 30% chance to win this tournament, and it's silly to think otherwise.


I'm torn on Vegas Watch as a blog. It's an absolutely great concept; sportsbook lines can tell us a lot about how good teams really are. For example, they explain why ESPN should stop talking up Wisconsin as a candidate to be "upset" this weekend at Illinois. I'll take the oddsmakers over a human college football poll every day of the week and twice Saturday.

Additionally, VW's author is well-read in baseball and has a tremendous grasp of the fundamentals of performance analysis, especially for someone so young (he writes that he just turned 20.)

At the same time, VW often features subpar analysis of odds and probabilities. During the season, it regularly featured a Futures Watch column with severely distorted percentages for teams to advance in the playoffs. Most of the probabilities for various events are generated arbitrarily or by copying the work of others, and the result is a system that probably couldn't beat John Kruk in a handicapping contest.

Vegas Watch is a blog that should really be authored by a smart and erudite professional handicapper. The problem, of course, is that this hypothetical author would never give away his million-dollar secrets for so little in return, unless he has a huge ego in need of soothing. So we're unlikely to ever see this happen, at least until one of those guys retires and needs to find something to do with his time.

For full disclosure, my opinion is probably colored somewhat by jealousy, because this is the exact kind of writing I would have loved to do at age 19. Once money no longer matters to me, I may well try it and see if there's still a market for it.

10/3 Update

No picks today.

Cleveland +109 is a 2 unit play for tomorrow. You can wait on the line moving if you like; Yankee fans can put in some big last-minute bets.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Baseball Playoff Picks

Long-awaited, never they are, the playoff predictions.

How this is done: Basically, I estimate each team's chance of winning their first playoff game, and the second, etc. Each game is done individually. Done together, you have a probability for each team to win the division series. All the possible future round matchups are weighted and analyzed using the same process. The results are a concrete and hopefully accurate probability that each team will advance past the Division Series (DS), win the League Championship Series (LCS), and win the World Series (WS).

Remember that these percentages are in no way guarantees, and never bet money you can't afford to lose. When you gamble for fun, you've already won, etc. That being said:

Team DS% LCS% WS%

Boston 62.5 34.3 24.1
Cleveland 45.6 21.1 13.1
Los Angeles 37.5 15.8 9.5
New York 54.4 28.8 20.3

Arizona 45.1 19.8 6.2
Chicago 54.9 28.1 9.6
Colorado 40.2 18.6 5.2
Philadelphia 59.8 33.5 11.9

Note: These prices reflect the Cubs using a three-man pitching rotation in the NLDS, something which appears imminent.

Knowing all this, what do we want to bet?

Cleveland +170 to win ALDS

Some of you might be surprised that Cleveland rates as a relatively small underdog in this series. Maybe you think the Yankees are awesome because you're from New York, or because you listen to everything ESPN tells you, or you just think Derek Jeter looks really cute in his uniform. Whatever the reason, if you follow baseball casually, you probably think the Yankees are better than they really are.

I use some complicated math to generate my estimates. Trust me. One look at my spreadsheets can give you recurring nightmares of being attacked by percentages and flying bats. But I happen to think I'm good at translating numbers into words, so here goes:

The Yankees have a devastating offense that's a threat to put up 10 runs any night. They also have a pitching staff that's not very enamored of this new-fangled "strike out". Even worse, their rotation is very balanced top-to-bottom, so they gain little from better leveraging their starting pitchers. Bottom line, this team is very good, but they're not dominant and have a sub-optimal distribution of talent for playoff baseball.

Meanwhile, Cleveland's rotation is fronted by two studs, including one who may well be the best pitcher left in the playoffs and will take the mound in 40% of the Tribe's games in the ALDS. Their hitters can't match their Yankee counterparts, but the everyday lineup features two perennial MVP candidates and the game's best-hitting catcher.

Even though Cleveland has not announced any plans to go with a three-man rotation in the ALDS, I wouldn't be surprised to see them try it. If they throw C.C. Sabathia--an absolute horse--on three days' rest in Game 4, they can get Fausto Carmona back on full rest for Game 5, while skipping Paul Byrd altogether. This possibility is NOT reflected in the percentages above, but it helps illustrate the advantage of a top-heavy rotation in the playoffs. Remember the 2001 Diamondbacks? Can you even name a game they won that wasn't started by Johnson or Schilling?

It's worth remembering that Cleveland won 96 games this year. They are a good team. Are they better than the Yankees? No. Are they closer than the oddsmakers would have you believe? Definitely.

Betting individual games is another option on Cleveland. Tomorrow's line certainly looks like a play, for example; I have the true line estimated at Cleveland -120. Also, The Greek has the Indians +1205 to sweep the series. Again, this may be inferior to betting games, but it's a great line on its own.

As for taking the Indians to win the AL or WS, these seem strictly inferior to betting the series line, offering both less edge and a lower probability of winning.

Phillies +225 to win NL

This isn't a humongous edge, but I think the true line should be more like Phillies +200. It looks like a few too many people may be banking on the Rockies' "momentum". If you're regular readers of R-D, you know that I violently oppose the use of academic terms to describe something completely different. Momentum disappears and reverses itself in sports all the time; you don't see this in nature without an external force. If you still think how you ended the regular season matters, go look up last year's World Series teams again.

There's not a whole lot of mystery to these Phillies. They crush the ball at the plate, and use the "Hamels and pray for rain" approach to pitching, which is fine in a weak NL field.

For widely available futures lines, that's about it. A few places have off-market numbers that can be picked off, but there's not a whole lot out there in the way of futures.

I'll try and update each day with new odds and single-game picks. Again, I promise nothing.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Heath Bell > Omar Minaya

One of the great things about the blogging era is that the barriers to entry in writing have been greatly reduced, allowing the cream to rise. That said, the major websites are still flooded with baseball writers who don't know what they're talking about.

One very common sentiment last year was that Omar Minaya is one of the top general managers in baseball. The justification for that ranking basically goes like this: "Well, he identified that his team needed a center fielder, a first baseman, an ace starter, and an ace closer; and he got them." Sometimes, they'll even credit him with developing David Wright and Jose Reyes, something he had no part of.

So basically, he's a good GM because he has lots of money and inherited two franchise cornerstones. Am I getting this right? No one notices that the Mets wasted $36 million this year on Carlos Delgado, Pedro Martinez, Shawn Green, and Paul Lo Duca, getting virtually nothing of value in return. Why should they point the finger at Minaya, when there are so many better scapegoats?

I'm not big on finger-pointing, but I'll introduce you to the difference between 88 and 90+ wins for this year's Mets. His name is Heath Bell. Bell may be the most valuable relief pitcher in baseball this year; he led MLB in relief innings, while posting a 2.02 ERA in high-leverage spots. He contributed more than four wins to this year's Padres, taking them from fringe status to contender.

This wasn't a fluke, either. Bell's skills and scouting reports point to him as one of baseball's top five relievers. You want your pitcher to rack up Ks and ground balls while limiting walks? Bell does all those things with great effectiveness. He's owned these same skills for years, too; check out the xFIP column on his Hardball Times player card. That number, basically representing his ERA without any "noise," pinpoints Bell as a bona fide relief ace, the heir apparent to Hells Bells in San Diego.

The Padres have control of Bell for five years at rock-bottom prices. I can think of plenty of GMs that would be happy to shell out $15 million/year for his 2007 performance. Fortunately, the Padres' Kevin Towers didn't have to do that, because Omar Minaya basically gave Bell away for free.

Does Minaya not value stud relievers? Doubtful; he threw $43 million at Billy Wagner two years ago. Rather, Minaya was too lazy or too incompetent to hire an employee--someone who probably would have worked for free--to tell him that Bell's poor ERAs as a Met were the results of bad luck and bad defense, and not indicative of Bell's talent or potential. This isn't rocket science; any analyst worth his salt knows that a 3.20 xFIP pitcher is a rare bird.

Face the facts: The Mets didn't choke because they "didn't want it enough," they didn't lose out of apathy in September. They did lose because their GM failed to allocate his resources optimally. It's a shame that having the resources to throw $119 million at a franchise center fielder is often mistaken for owning the ability to ace the tests that really matter.

More Heartbreaking: Mets or Padres?

The Mets' collapse was more epic, but did Padres fans suffer more in watching their team fall out of it on the final weekend?

The Friars entered Saturday's action needing one win in three games to clinch a spot in the playoffs. Saturday, the second-greatest closer of all time had the Brewers down to their final strike before the Crew rallied to win in extras. Sunday, San Diego led Milwaukee 3-0 and 4-2 before melting down and losing 11-6. And in Monday's finale, the Padres blew a 5-3 lead, highlighted by Brady Clark having one of the worst defensive innings in recent memory. After receiving a gift run to tie the ballgame in the eighth, then a gift two-run homer--is there any other kind hit off Jorge Julio?--they nevertheless fell in 13 innings to an opponent that rode to the playoffs on the backs of 14 wins in 15 games. The future Hall of Fame closer? Standing on the mound as the Rockies scored three to walk off with a win. Hell of a way to get eliminated.

San Diego was never a 99.8% favorite to make the playoffs, but I think this may have been just as ugly a road to defeat. In the days to come, expect a lot of second-guessing of Bud Black's decision to rest Jake Peavy for Sunday's game.

Oops, for a minute there, I thought the media cared about baseball west of The Bronx. Just ignore that last comment.

What's On Tap

Okay, I think I'm fully sobered up from the Aruba Welcome Party. Only took ten hours.

Anecdote: Today, while I'm watching football in the hotel casino, my roommate Bugstud points out an e-bookie machine. I scroll through the MLB Futures lines for a kick, and find some of the most messed-up odds ever: Highlights include Milwaukee at -566 to win the NL from beyond the grave, and the Rockies at 100-1 to win the NL but 8-1 to win the World Series.

I ponder the best way to extract value from the machine, and settle on betting the max on the Diamondbacks at 12-1(!) to win the NL. I start by trying $500, then $250, then $200, which is finally accepted. (Why can't they just tell you the maximum in advance?) As I go to line up another bet, I notice that all the MLB Futures lines have suddenly been pulled--I imagine the conversation behind the scenes went something like "Holy crap, we still have lines up for this!?"

Never one to be discouraged, I head over to the NFL Futures menu, which is alive and well even though there are games being played. Dallas at +500 to win the NFC piques my interest, and I hit it for $250. I attempt to line up another bet, and the NFL Futures lines disappear. Good times. If you're in Aruba and were looking forward to betting some futures, sorry about that, but you're welcome to join me for a drink or meal sometime; I've got all week. Ideal candidate is female, attractive, and desperate.

Anyway, if you're eagerly anticipating playoff content, here's what I'm planning on:

Tuesday: Estimated odds for each playoff team to advance, along with recommended bets. I'll try and include a short writeup for each bet, or maybe even for each team, but I promise nothing.

After Tuesday: I may provide updated odds for advancement each day, provided doing so doesn't interfere with my ability to get bets down.