Friday, September 24, 2010

The WhO's

During tonight's Jays-O's radio broadcast I heard a "record" that hasn't been getting any press and also one that drew me to an even more startling conclusion.

Baltimore Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis became the third (yes, the THIRD) major leaguer in history to have 4 straight seasons of 43 or more doubles. Wow, really? Ever? That's quite impressive, well done Nick!

However, what really stuck out to me as the Jays announcers were talking about Markakis was that Nick may have more extra base hits (55) then runs batted in (53) - which in fact is true. While Nick has been hitting in the two hole for a good chunk of the season, having as many runs batted in as extra base hits is disastrous!

Possibly that is somewhat of an overstatement. However, how disheartening does it have to be for Markakis to be hitting the ball so well, yet offering so little production for his club?

I suppose this simply highlights the fact that the Orioles have been terrible at creating runs this season. So bad, that they need to have one of their best hitters hitting 2nd as things rapidly go downhill after that point. The team has three hitters with an on base percentage above league average. Their first basemen have the second lowest combined OPS in the league and it can't be chalked up to Justin Smoak (who has played for both the worst and third worst teams in terms of team first base OPS).

With as much young pitching depth as the Orioles have, their lack of hitting both at the major league and minor league level make it increasingly less likely that this team turns around any time soon. We may not be looking at the Pirates, but I'm not sure we are too far off given the depth of the systems and pockets of the teams in this division.

Monday, September 20, 2010

"Illogic" - A Race for MVP

I will touch on this more in the coming days, but I simply could not pass up on the opportunity to call out one of the most stupid comments I have ever read. And let me tell you, that bar is quite low!

Cliff Corcoran of writes,
[Joe] Mauer might be the first player you'd eliminate from that list, if only because his performance this season (.331/.407/.473, 9 HR, 74 RBIs) falls so far short of his otherworldly MVP campaign of a year ago.
You can check out the list of obvious candidates for yourself. You can also ignore the fact that for some reason I keep going back to despite the continual abomination that is their baseball writing (although there is more to come).

Despite all of that I have to wonder where Corcoran gets off eliminating Mauer based on the fact that Mauer is failing to be Mauer. That is, Corcoran feels as though simply because Mauer's MVP season in 2009 was greater than his season in 2010 that he is undeserving of it this year. What he fails to mention is that there is a hippo standing on a banana in odd numbered months that make it impossible to vote for the Twins backstop.

What a joke!

Well thanks for eliminating Mauer out of the MVP race based on that logic, I was really scratching my head there!

But Corcoran goes on to oust his own logic time and time again.

First, he suggests that Troy Tulowitzki is undeserving of the NL MVP simply because he missed a month of the season (okay) and consequently his counting stats are down (okay, fault MVP voters). However, this "logic" only applies to Tulowitzki because...Well, because.

That is, Corcoran believes that despite not leading the league in any counting categories and missing a significant amount of time, Josh Hamilton is the favorite to win AL MVP. Sadly, Corcoran leaves out his rationale behind the pineapple taking home the Cy Young, but I can't imagine the logic would be much different then removing Tulo from the NL ballot for injuries and a lack of counting stats and adding Hamilton to the top of his despite the same inefficiencies.

Second, Corcoran uses his "Mauer defense" MINUS the counting stats argument to write why Albert Pujols deserves third instead of first in writing,
"The counting stats are there, but relative to his own absurd standard, Pujols' rate stats are down this season. In the course of winning the last two NL MVPs, he averaged 42 home runs and 125 RBIs, totals within his reach this year, but also hit .342/.452/.656, which is yet another level of awesomeness above what he has accomplished in 2010. Expect Pujols to be penalized a bit for failing to live up to his own past performance..."
Corcoran does mention that this may be "unfair" however is not willing to fully commit to the level of fairness in this discussion nor state if Pujols should be the winner.

Going against his own logic, Corcoran writes about the counting stats being there, but the failure of Pujols to be Pujols as his fault. There is an interesting comment about Coco the talking monkey and Afghanistan though, which certainly leads to a further understanding of who will win the NL MVP.

If I were a less serious baseball fan, or simply a casual observer of the sport. Maybe I'm from Minnesota and I'm bummed that the Vikings started off 0 and 2 and I'm looking for something to heal those wounds ending up at Corcoran's article. However, upon completion I'm not certain this person would have a better understanding of who the deserving MVP is in either league. Where an argument goes against one player, it supports another; where it disqualifies one, it inflates another. Simply put, the logic makes teaching flip cup to a class of 5 year olds seem like a great decision.

By the way, that's a decision I made while teaching in Korea, so thank you Mr. Corcoran.

(Take note that 3 of the students were one'n'done - I'm a great teacher!)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Expanding MLB's Playoff Format

Mmm, I don't like it.


Here's the basis; Tom Verducci at writes an article suggesting a way to improve Major League Baseball's playoff format and add some revenue. He has an excellent point that recent "win or go home" games have drawn outstanding viewership and the lack of these nail biters have hurt baseball. Although the former has evidence only in that the National Football League is a behemoth and Major League Baseball is simply puttering along. I'm not sure if Verducci follows the National Hockey League or not, but the Stanley Cup has went the distance in 4 of the last 7 seasons, yet the NHL isn't doing all that hot. In fact, the NHL Finals have gained little (if any) ground on the NBA Finals despite being drastically more dramatic (the NBA Finals have went 7 games only four times since 1988).

Verducci states that teams are content simply making the playoffs in Major League Baseball. Whether factual or not, this is not really a big deal in my opinion given the home field advantages (albeit small) provided to teams. While Verducci points out that the Rays may sit their staff ace in a potential division winning game at the end of the season, it's tough to blame the Rays for wanting David Price available to pitch at least twice in the first round of the playoffs. Further, with injuries being a part of any sport, it's smarter to keep your best pitcher available for the playoffs, rather then risk him getting hurt for home field advantage.

Verducci suggests an idea which I totally disagree with. He suggests that MLB open up two wild card spots instead of the current set up of one (per league). He sets up a situation where the two wild card teams play a play-in game, where the winner goes onto the playoffs and the loser goes home. What this would do is create more meaningful games as teams further down the pecking order would still have a shot at the playoffs. To me, there isn't anything really wrong with this basis and it's tough to argue against making baseball more competitive in September. But that's it.

Verducci writes, "I have a hard time thinking of a down side to this system." His rationale for said statement is, "It rewards division winners and penalizes second-place teams."

Okay, that is fair, and Verducci brings up an example of the 2005 Houston Astros who were far out of contention as early as May 7th.

But here is where I disagree. We are giving lesser teams a ridiculous breath of air. Anything can happen in a single game and while this game may have encouraged a few better games on the last day of the season, we could conceivably hurt the playoffs by allowing - for example - the Boston Red Sox (leaving history out of the picture) into the playoffs.

That is, the Yankees and Rays are the two best teams in baseball, by a fairly significant margin. I'm sure the Rays would prefer to win the division, but they certainly aren't going to kill themselves to get in. They are currently 7 games ahead of the Sox and a vastly superior team (owning a +123 run differential to the Sox +68).

Verducci is then suggesting that we potentially kick the second best team in all of baseball (inexcusable) out of the playoffs for a good, not great team in the Sox.

Worse yet, while this system would give the Rays something to play for if they were tied with the Yankees on the final day of the season, what does this do to the 5th ranked team? A team like the current White Sox who are out of the playoffs but if the season were to end today, would have nothing to play for on the last day - win and they are in, lose and they are in (the wildcard playoff that is).

In fact, I would argue that the Rays would be likely to sit Price on the last day of the season anyways, as they would want him for the more meaningful game against the ChiSox. That is, on the last day of the season, if tied with the Yanks, their destiny isn't even in their own hands. Whereas against the ChiSox, it would be.

Verducci isn't wrong to ask the question of how we can improve the playoff format and the last week of the season. He is wrong, however, to suggest a one game playoff. Using the NFL as a barometer in this scenario is not appropriate as the sport is vastly different. The NFL, for example, never uses a "best of" playoff format.

This then leads to the question of how MLB can improve the playoffs and the end of the season. One area I have always been a proponent of is not allowing any division winners into the playoffs based solely on their standings in the division. Some years this may be unfair as one division may be particularly strong, but even in that scenario, if we go by Verducci's logic, "just win" and you have nothing to complain about.

For example, this season the American League would be represented by the Yanks, the Rays, the Twins, and the ChiSox, the four best teams in the league. This would satisfy Verducci's desire for more meaningful and competitive games. It would make more teams eligible down the stretch as we would have a team like the Jays sitting 6 games out of the playoffs instead of 12. That would give us 4 teams fighting to make the American League bracket instead of 1.

In the National League, things get even better, where we have three exciting races, but only involving two teams. My suggested playoff format would invite an additional two teams into the playoff picture.

How would you change Major League Baseball's playoff format without watering down the competition? Keep in mind, making more teams eligible, while adding the excitement of March Madness, doesn't always add excitement to the final and could potentially water it down.

That is, while the wildcard has been a good addition, remember the throttling the ChiSox gave the 'Stros in the 2005 World Series.

I personally like the way things are, I would just like to see an additional bonus for the best team in the league. For example, in Japan, the best team only has to win 3 games to win the series whereas the underdog has to win 4. In Korea, the league winner sits out the first two rounds of the playoffs.

Verducci, you have some good intentions, but your comparisons aren't accurate. Baseball is not Football, and nothing is the NCAA Tournament. Don't waste your time trying to make baseball like those two events.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

"Illogic" - I Really Tried...

I know, I know, I'm not going to make it in the business if I keep making enemies, burning bridges is not a good idea. I know my "elitist attitude is not going to get" me far. But when there are errors in baseball writing, I feel the need to point it out - I sure wish someone would do the same for me.

I found myself on reading one of the cover stories about Manny Ramirez, a perfect time given Ramirez's recent trade to the White Sox and the weekend set of the Whites versus the Reds (socks that is). I typically don't find myself reading too frequently as I find they mix real life emotions with that of sport. Yes, it is fine to get emotional over sports and to feel some semblance of joy or sorrow based on them, but at the end of the day, they are simply sports and are there for entertainment and nothing more.

In any event, the article mentioned the headaches that Manny will provide to the Chi Sox, as he had to the Red Sox, Indians, and Dodgers. The author mentions a couple highly publicized events which made Manny into some sort of anti-hero.

The purpose of this article isn't to praise Manny Ramirez, I really don't care about him as a person, he's one of the greatest hitters regardless of performance enhancers (which, this just in, ONLY helped hitters, meaning that the stats from the past 20 years have only inflated the numbers of the hitters - great science Mr. Shaughnessy) and that's all that matters to me. The purpose of this article is to question why another author is making assumed claims about a hitter based on illogic (spell check confirms, I just made up a word and am now titling this series "Illogic").

So here goes...

The author writes,

It's harder for Manny to hit now that it's harder to juice.

Testing is not his friend. Some of the power and skill is gone.

Oh! That's the correlation?!? It's harder to hit now that Manny can't use steroids, and that's it? No other reasons it's harder for Manny to hit? Nothing? Okay, I'll give you a second to think about that....


No, not yet?

How about now?

Here, I'll give you a couple hints...

#1 "Ballpark Factors" are a "factor" in the performance of a hitter and pitcher. Fenway, for example is consistently improving the numbers of a hitter, especially a right handed power hitter who needs to hit the ball 310 feet instead of over 370. Conversely, Dodger stadium tends to sap this power.

It's not a difficult concept. The numbers are fairly straight forward. Some ballparks help a hitter (Fenway) others hinder a hitter (Dodger Stadium).

Admittedly, Manny's Fenway vs. road OPS doesn't really display this. In fact, Manny managed to hit better (according to OPS) at Dodger stadium then at Fenway. OPS isn't the greatest statistic, but it shouldn't be dismissed.

In any event, ballpark factors ought to be considered, and the fact remains that Dodger stadium i less of a hitter friendly ballpark then Fenway Park. Regardless of "juice".

#2 Manny Ramirez is no longer in his late 20's/early 30's (aka the Prime of a hitters career). It is a well known fact that ball players typically get worse as they leave the prime of their career. I wouldn't expect a baseball writer to know this fact, as it doesn't draw reader interest the same way a headline including "Manny" and "badly" does.

In any event, Manny is simply an older hitter. With or without steroids, Manny would have seen a dip in production, the same way David Eckstein saw it - of course, we could chalk Eckstein's career ISO, which scored below "steroid era" league average up to steroids, after all, who knows what he would have been like without them? Positive test be damned, right Cox?

The point is, Manny's ISO peaked during his age 27 and 28 seasons at an amazing .330 and .348. During five of the next six seasons, Manny hovered around .300 having a low of a still impressive .262 in 2003 (presumably a statistical anomaly). Manny's age 35 season was easily the worst of his career and possibly signaled the end of what was an amazing career (keep in mind, that he still had an excellent season that year).

Then, the trade to LA occurred and Manny's career was, can I go as far as to say resurrected? He did, post a .270 ISO that season, which again, continued the negative trend that one would assume from an individual who is in his late 30s. This was then followed with a .241 season, and then the .188 he is posting this year.

We do see a trend forming here though. If you start at 2004 and run the numbers up to 2010 you see it clear as day - 305, 301, 298, 197, 270, 241, 188. That is Manny's age 32 season running through his age 38 season. It's tough to suggest that this isn't simply the normal aging pattern of a player (possibly to the extreme because Manny's peak was so incredibly high).

#3 Manny's "skills" have hardly diminished.

While Manny's power numbers have tailed off, his wOBA (weighted on base average) has seen only a marginal drop in production and remained well above that of the league average hitter. In fact, he is in the top 20 in all of baseball (among hitters with 200+ plate appearances) despite being clean - baffling, isn't it?

Another little factoid, he is one of only two hitters older then 35 in the top 20. I wonder how much of his career is to be blamed on steroids in the first place. That is, a hitter who is in the twilight of his career and is clean is still among the top 20 hitters in baseball, where does this put him for the prime of his career?

Instead of chalking Manny's decreasing power up to steroids, would it be so difficult to look a little further? Instead of assuming that steroids created Manny into the hitter he is/was, do some research, ask some questions. The fact is, there is very little to link PEDs to Performance Enhancement other then the name.

I really wish that writers who get paid would take some time and do a bit of research. Stop aiming for tabloid-style points and write concrete material that brings something to the discussion. Yes Manny will provide some headaches for this team's management, but he's also going to win the team some games.

The better headline would have been, "Kenny Williams admits letting Jim Thome go a HUGE mistake".
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