Saturday, March 29, 2008

Five Fearless Predictions for 2008

1. The Angels will NOT run away with the AL West

2. The Mariners will finish last in the division

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the Angels are the best team in the AL West. Vegas agrees, setting their season wins line at 92 while Oakland is 18 games worse at 74. That's a ridiculous gap--five wins is about the right spread, especially with the Angels' rash of pitching injuries.

If Seattle was anywhere near as good as people think they are, the Angels would be an underdog to the field in the division. Many pundits seem to think that 88-74 + Erik Bedard = playoffs for the Mariners, but this ignores not one but two 800-pound gorillas:

- A nine-win regression to last season's 79-83 Pythagorean record
- Virtually no players on the team who are projected to perform better than last year

Seattle has the worst or second-worst (Minnesota) offense in the AL, and may be the worst defensive team in the league. Two ace starters and a top closer can't make up for that by themselves.

My numbers say the Rangers are very slightly worse than the Mariners, but it's hardly a fearless prediction to have Texas finishing last.

3. Tampa Bay will crack .500

A real man would pick the Rays to win the division; I did so, but only when I was getting 50-1 odds. For 2008, they're still behind the Red Sox and well behind the Yankees, but I think Tampa has more talent locked up for the next five years than any other MLB team. With their low payroll, there's plenty left in the bank to extend Scott Kazmir and add a couple of big-time free agents. Before they can attract marquee free agents, however, they need to establish themselves as a legitimate franchise. This year is the first step in that path. I'd be surprised if they don't make it to the playoffs by 2010.

4. Reds fans will boo Dusty Baker

I'm a Cubs fan, and when I think of Dusty Baker, three things come to mind:

- Benching young position players in favor of inferior veterans
- Batting Corey Patterson leadoff for no good reason
- Causing injuries to top young pitchers

We're not even at Opening Day yet and already Baker is two-for-three. Will anyone really be surprised if Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey go the way of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood?

Here's a challenge for you: Name three National League center fielders who are clearly better than Jay Bruce right now. There's Carlos Beltran, obviously, and I'll accept Andruw Jones too. That's basically it, yet Bruce is being sent to the minors so Patterson--who was deemed unworthy of a Major League contract by all 30 teams--can play regularly.

Unlike the similar situation with the Rays and Evan Longoria, all evidence points to this being Baker's decision rather than a calculated move to save money for the franchise down the road. Ironically, sending Bruce down could be beneficial for Cincinnati in the long term for that reason, but Reds fans should still be annoyed, especially when Patterson posts a .300 OBP and every Junior Griffey homer is of the solo variety.

5. San Francisco will finish last in the league in runs scored

This is truly a fearless prediction, because it will be tough for anyone to challenge them. Maybe the Padres, with their mediocre offense and PETCO Park, have a shot. If Albert Pujols goes down, St. Louis could enter the equation. Anyone else seems like a major longshot.

It's fitting that the Giants are trying so hard to erase the memory of Barry Bonds from Phone Company Park, because the front office has spent years eradicating Major League-quality hitters from the lineup. Don't believe me? Their Opening Day lineup includes:

SS Brian Bocock: .621 OPS at Single-A(!) last year
3B Jose Castillo: Cut by the Marlins and Pirates in the past year, SuperVORP of -19 from 2005-07
1B Rich Aurilia: Age 36, .672 OPS last year
LF Dave Roberts: Age 36, .712 career OPS
2B Ray Durham: Age 36, -10.5 VORP last year
RF Randy Winn: Age 34, 0.8 VORP in 2006
C Bengie Molina: Age 33, .308 career OBP
CF Aaron Rowand: Solid, league-average center fielder.

$60 million may seem like a lot to pay Rowand to make zero playoff appearances in the next five years, but remember, he gives the lineup one league-average player. For now.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Kelvim Escobar

Word is out that Kelvim Escobar is done for 2008 and possibly for good. What does this do to the Angels' chances?

When it comes to analyzing questions like this, most people fall into one of two categories:

- They overestimate the impact of the injury, possibly because by using a flawed stat like WARP3 that overestimates the player's value, or by not considering that the player's replacement isn't that terrible.
- They underestimate the impact by not considering the bigger ramifications of the injury.

I've seen both with regards to Escobar. Some are suggesting the Angels are five wins worse than with a healthy Escobar, which is too much. Escobar's great 2007 aside, he's a three-win player. And his replacement, Joe Saunders, is probably only 15 runs worse than Escobar over a season, which would put the cost at 1.5 wins.

This, however, is too low. Part of the Angels' optimistic projection for this year was based on them having six MLB-ready starting pitchers. With Escobar out, the next injury replacement will be not Saunders but Nick Adenhart or Dustin Moseley, guys who aren't good enough to pitch for a contender. That's a much bigger drop-off when the next injury hits, and it already has--John Lackey begins the year on the DL.

All things considered, I'd rate this as a two-win hit for the Angels. I'm glad I invested early in A's futures.

Zero-Sum Game

The rules of baseball indicate that when one team records a win, their opponent is credited with a loss. This is why in every baseball league, the total number of wins equals the number of losses.

Every league, that is, except for the ESPN Pundits League. In their MLB preview--sample page here--ESPN.com asked five of their analysts to project each AL team's record.

Now, the AL records shouldn't average exactly to 81-81, because the AL is stronger in interleague games. We should see the average AL team somewhere between 81.5 and 82 wins to account for this, but no more, because only each team plays only 18 interleague games and going more than 10-8 on average is asking too much.

Is this what actually happened? Of course not. Here are the average records by pundit:

Jayson Stark: 82.9 - 79.1
Tim Kurkjian: 83.2 - 78.8
Buster Olney: 82.4 - 79.6
Keith Law: 81.9 - 80.1
Steve Phillips: 81.4 - 80.6

Frankly, I'm stunned that Steve Phillips isn't the worst offender, although Kurkjian has never been a big numbers guy.

Keith Law, meanwhile, was the only one to project more than 76 wins for Tampa or fewer than 90 from Seattle, so he remains at the head of the class. Everyone else goes to detention, hopefully this one.

Monday, March 24, 2008

I'm Glad This is For Imaginary Dollars

This guy might want to read this before he lights his Monopoly money on fire.

2008 Picks

This year, I'm going to be working with some associates who are helping me get baseball bets down at the best available lines. Because of this, I'm often not going to have my bets finalized until just before the first pitch.

What does this mean for my tout gig? Well, posting picks for free is certainly out the window, and I'm not sure I can get enough subscribers to make it worthwhile to sell them. So for now it looks like I'm in limbo.

I'd like to help out everyone who supported me last year, but the potential cost of the information is too great at this point. In the future, maybe that will change, but right now I don't see it.

My projected standings are up at MLB Playoff Odds, for what that's worth.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Rays Rebuttal

Baseball Crank chimes in with a 71-win projection for the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays, far off from PECOTA and myself.

BC makes some fair points regarding the Rays: Last year they set a league record for offensive strikeouts while leading the league in runs allowed by a wide margin. They can't really expect further improvement from Carlos Pena or B.J. Upton, and can't count on anything from Rocco Baldelli this year. How can a team like that improve by 20 wins?

Let me explain how I view the 2007 Devil Rays, our most convenient baseline for this year's projection. In 2007, Tampa did all this:

- Offensively, they posted above-average figures in both OBP and SLG, good for a team OPS+ of 103.
- Their pitchers led the league in strikeouts, with a better-than-average K/BB ratio and a groundball percentage of 43% versus a league average of 44%.
- Their defense sucked like Paris Hilton on spring break.
- The team scored 79 fewer runs and allowed 16 more runs than would be expected from their aggregate hitting and pitching stats.

Recapping the 2007 team:

- Offense: Above average.
- Pitching: Slightly above average.
- Defense: Maginot Line-esque.
- Luck: Witch doctor's curse.

Just how bad was the Rays' fielding? The Hardball Times says they gave up 142 more runs plays than an average defense would have. Baseball Prospectus pegs that figure at 71. Just by playing league-average defense this year, Tampa can cut their runs allowed by 70 or more.

Any objective look at the Rays defense this year gives a favorable prognosis. Carl Crawford and Jason Bartlett are elite defenders at their positions. Pena and Evan Longoria are plus gloves. The Rays will likely take hits on defense from second base, center field, and third base, but these shouldn't be enough to cancel out the surpluses. With Upton, Josh Wilson, and Brendan Harris permanently banished from the infield, the Rays should field an average team defensively this year.

To win 20 more games than in 2007, Tampa needs to improve their run differential by about 200 runs. Normally, this is a very tough task for a team that returns most of last year's regulars. However, Tampa has a huge head start: They expect to be 95 runs better in the luck department, and save 70 runs on defense. Now add in Evan Longoria, Matt Garza, and Troy Percival; subtract Jae Seo, Casey Fossum, and a parade of terrible relievers. The result is enough to balance out some regression from Pena and Upton, and then some.

Why am I so far off from Baseball Crank's conclusion? I don't believe the EWSL method is taking the proper steps to separate luck from skill in last year's results. If you think Andy Sonnanstine is actually a bad pitcher, rather than one who was simply victimized by his defense, you don't see a lot of hope for him. If you look at just runs scored and allowed, last year's Tampa squad looks hopeless. The component stats tell us otherwise, and that's why we go to the trouble of looking at them when formulating projections.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Word Is Out

On February 15, Costa Rica International Sports opened the Tampa Bay Rays over/under for the season at 68.5 wins. The same day, that line was bet all the way up to 72 wins.

And it didn't stop there. Currently, the CRIS line on Tampa is over/under 76--a move of 7.5 wins--and the bettors still heavily favor the over.

Other books, who posted their odds after the initial line movements on CRIS, set the total at 73.5 or 74.5 wins, but that hasn't stopped anyone from pounding the over. Currently, bettors must lay 1-to-2 on Tampa to go over 73.5 wins at The Greek, and about 4-to-7 on over 74.5 at Pinnacle Sports. If the bettor wants to take the under, he receives favorable odds of 17-to-10 or 8-to-5.

I may have mentioned once or twice that I think Tampa is going to do big things this year. This looks like a clear sign that some smart people with money are of the same opinion.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Irrational Exuberance

I opened my copy of The Hardball Times Season Preview yesterday. It's written in a similar format to the BP annual, except that most team chapters are written by a blogger for that team.

The book includes a set of purely computer-based projected standings, and also asks each author to peg his team's "Most Likely" outcome. The bloggers are smart guys, like Larry Borowsky and Chone Smith, but as a group they're still too optimistic about their favorite teams.

Twelve of the authors gave either an exact expected record (like 84-78) or a range, such as 67-70 wins. Comparing these predictions to the computer projections for the same teams, the average author predicted his team would win 2.6 games more than the computer forecast. (For the ranges, I used the midpoint of the range. For example, if the author said 67-70 wins, I used 68.5 for the calculation.)

2.6 wins may not sound like a lot, but it's actually a huge error. If you project the average team to win 83.6 games instead of 81, then the 30 teams would combine for 156 more wins than losses. You'd need to play and lose almost a full season's worth of games to make up that difference.

I think it's great that baseball fans can find reasons to believe their favorite teams will do great things in the upcoming season. However, a good analyst should be able to view his team objectively. When he doesn't, he ends up looking like an idiot in a major national publication. Without that 2.6 game bias, perhaps Rick Morrissey and his ilk would see that the White Sox aren't contenders as presently constructed.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Book Touts are Meaningless

I received my copy of Baseball Prospectus 2008 in the mail today. It's a good read, but I take exception to one of the self-congratulations on the back cover:

"Baseball Prospectus 2007 correctly predicted...the decline of the Twins"

Now, the Twins chapter in BP2K7 isn't the most positive about the team's prospects, but PECOTA (which is programmed by the CEO of the company) said the Twins would win their division last year. If Minnesota had come out on top, would this year's back cover instead say that PECOTA nailed the 2007 Twins? Probably, and that's not kosher.

Come on guys, you're better than that.

I Hate Computers!!!!111

Link

I think this pretty much speaks for itself. If you're too lazy to read it, the Cliffs Notes are as follows:

- Computers are heartless and wrong about everything.
- One particular computer is completely wrong about the 2008 White Sox.
- The same computer I'm criticizing exactly predicted the counterintuitive 72-90 finish for the 2007 White Sox.
- I'm a moron and I'll prove it!
- Computers suck, am I right?

Thursday, March 06, 2008

How to Make Satire Howlingly Unfunny

Satire is one of my favorite genres. Whether it's a Dave Barry novel or an old Leslie Nielsen or Mel Brooks film, there's plenty of comedic gold out there.

Then there's the modern approach to "parody" movies, where writers attempt to make the audience laugh simply by presenting them with familiar scenes, without bothering to add their own twist. The result is piece-of-shit films like this or this, which somehow make enough money to keep getting made every year--never underestimate the stupidity of American audiences.

In that vein, we have this new piece by "Art Garfamudis". It's written in a surprisingly authentic tone, but I don't get it at all. This is not satire. If for some reason one wanted to lampoon the civil rights movement, he wouldn't write a serious-sounding article about how the world was a better place before emancipation, and how there are "too many races" running around these days. That doesn't make him funny, it just makes him sound ignorant.

When does baseball season start?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Intangibles are Everywhere

From here:

"But there is more to life than just pure money," DiPiero said, according to The Globe. "In this case, Randy experienced some intangibles during the year, from his friendships, to his relationship with the coaching staff and others in the organization. Those intangibles had some value here."

Personally, I consider my friends tangible, fitting with dictionary.com's definition:

"2. real or actual, rather than imaginary or visionary: the tangible benefits of sunshine."

Though I'm sure that by now, Moss has more imaginary friends than real ones.

For those of you who like analogies, here's one: Joe Morgan : Consistency :: Sportswriters : Intangibles. Discuss.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Down on the Upside

At the end of a piece on Noah Lowry, Rob Neyer implies that while the Giants may look like they'll go 70-92 "on paper," they possess extreme downside, and that makes them the best bet of any team to lose 100 games. Do the Giants actually have more downside than other teams? And if so, why?

I think most people have an inaccurate opinion of what downside means. Firstly, downside refers to deviation from the projected outcome, not a bad projection. The Orioles do not automatically have the most downside of any team in the league, simply because they are the worst team. Put another way, I'd say a world-class poker player in a $100/$200 game has greater downside than a punter in a $.01/$.02 game, even though he's expected to do better on average. The world-class player can easily lose several thousand bucks in a short session, which is impossible for the punter.

Further, teams with "more" downside will generally also have more upside, because additional downside implies greater volatility in their potential outcomes. In other words, their projections have a variance that is greater than normal.

For example, let's say Barry Bonds signs with some team tomorrow. Bonds is going to increase that team's downside right off the bat: he's injury-prone, his playing time is uncertain, and his numbers could fall off a cliff due to age. However, Bonds is also a threat to come to the plate 500 times and post an OPS of 1.050. That's big, BIG upside.

Even this effect is overstated. Perhaps a team with "low downside" will have a standard deviation of 8.5 wins from their projected total, and a "high downside" team's S.D. will be 9.5 games. This is a significant difference, but not a huge one. Besides, if your team isn't projected to make it to the playoffs, you'd rather have the higher downside, because with it comes higher upside, and you'll need that upside to advance to October.

To maximize a team's downside, we want as much of that team's value as possible to be tied up in one or two players that are injury-prone and far, far better than their backups. In my mind, that team is not the Giants, but the Cardinals. Even though they likely won't make the playoffs this year, St. Louis still has baseball's most valuable player, and reports keep coming out that he'll need major surgery at some point this year. If Pujols goes down, who takes his at-bats? Ryan Ludwick? That's a 10-win dropoff.

If we're talking pitchers, I think Mark Mulder has about as much downside as any starter in baseball. I don't think anyone would be too surprised if any of Joel Pineiro, Braden Looper, or Matt Clement put up an ERA over 6.00 this year.

Perhaps we're not considering the Cardinals for this "honor" because they're projected to finish near .500. But that's not the way we should be looking at it.