No brainer, right?

Eric Karabell said yesterday (7/7/08 ) on his podcast that the AL was obviously the better league — I think he used the word “clobbered.”

And why not?  This year’s interleague record was 149 for the AL, to 102 for the NL.  That gives the Senior League a 0.396 winning percentage.  Friends, that’s close to Washington territory. (*)

*By the way, why did Jim Bowden think that the 2003 Reds would be any better in 2008 than they were back then? Dmitri Young, Kearns, Lopez, Aaron Boone — playing the Nationals is like Old Home Week.  Also, I’m stealing this footnote technique from Joe Posnanski.

Add to that the fact that the AL has won 8 of the last 13 World Series, and 10 straight All-Star games.  Case closed, right?

Not so fast.  When you look at the underlying numbers, it’s much less clear.

League Runs HR OBP SLG OPS
American League 409 85 0.332 0.410 0.742
National League 401 90 0.329 0.410 0.739

Gee, that looks a little closer, doesn’t it?  Those numbers are per team, to compensate for the fact that there are 16 NL teams and only 14 AL teams.

It turns out that the difference is barely statistically significant.  In runs, it’s about 1.1 standard deviations; the NL advantage in HR is about 1.5 standard deviations.  The AL numbers are better, but only slightly better — not the kind of difference you would expect would generate the lopsided interleague results.  Furthermore, we would expect the AL to be better because of the DH.  Shaving 1/9 off the AL run numbers would put them lower than the NL.

Well, lets look at the players, then.  From Fangraphs.com, the 10 best players this year in WPA are Berkman, Burrell, Holliday, Manny, Bay, Pujols, Mauer, Chipper, Uggla, and Carlos Lee.  That’s 8 NL players.  The top 10 (actually 12, because of ties) in Runs Created from baseball-reference.com:

Berkman-HOU 95
Jones-ATL 88
Kinsler-TEX 86
Utley-PHI 83
Pujols-STL 80
Ramirez-FLA 79
Burrell-PHI 76
Holliday-COL 74
Sizemore-CLE 74
Bay-PIT 72
Bradley-TEX 72
Hamilton-TEX 72

That’s 8 National Leaguers of the 12.  Certainly looks like the NL can pull its weight here.

Maybe it’s the pitching?  Here’s Adjusted ERA+:

Duchscherer-OAK 194
Volquez-CIN 190
Lee-CLE 172
Lincecum-SFG 171
Danks-CHW 170
Haren-ARI 160
Sheets-MIL 156
Marcum-TOR 153
Zambrano-CHC 151
Billingsley-LAD 141

Only 6 of 10 here for the NL. But still! Around half of the best pitchers are in the NL.  And Santana, Sabathia, and Harden aren’t on that list (yet).

Jayson Stark had a chat about this topic after the first interleague weekend.  He took the position that the NL was at least closing the gap, if not even.  Of course, after that the NL really got clobbered in interleague play.

So, how can we possibly explain why the AL becomes unbeatable in interleague play?

Here’s the possibilities I’ve come up with.  Maybe you can add more.

  1. The AL pitching and hitting are both better than the NL by precisely the same amount.  Thus, they cancel each other out in AL games, but show up big time in interleague.  But then how do you explain the preponderance of NL players atop the leader boards?
  2. The NL has the stars, but the AL teams are better balanced.  The balanced teams win.  Okay, but is there a reason why we think a balanced team is better than a stars-and-scrubs team?  Also, apparently the stars and scrubs just happen to balance out to give PRECISELY the same overall stats as the even-keeled AL.  Sounds fishy.
  3. AL teams make better use of the DH, because they actually have a good hitter on the payroll to play the position.  The NL teams are using utility infielders.  Two words: Jose Vidro.  Besides, that should only matter in half the games where the AL is at home.
  4. The AL has more big-name aging stars.  The kids in the NL are simply awed, and fold.  C’mon, it’s the major leagues.  They get over it pretty fast.
  5. The leagues are actually pretty equal; it’s just been a string of bad luck for the NL.  149-102?  That’s pretty unlikely — the binomial calculation puts it at 0.15% chance if the true odds are 50/50.
  6. AL Three-True-Outcomes ball beats NL small-ball. Except that the NL has the lead in HR, BB, and K.
  7. Wait, I mean that AL small-ball beats NL Three-True-Outcomes ball.  Um, now you are reaching.

It doesn’t make any sense to me.  The NL looks roughly equal to the AL.  If I didn’t know the head to head outcomes, I’d give the NL a slight advantage.  What gives?

Game Report

April 28, 2008

As soon as we got home from church, my daughter went to work on The Sign. It is my birthday, and I’d found out this morning that the four of us were going to the game this afternoon. I make a mental note to check baseball-reference to see if the Reds have ever come to town on my actual birthday — I certainly can’t remember it. This will be my son’s first major league game. Actually, I guess its his first baseball game of any kind, except for Fisher-Price Triple Hit in the back yard, where every hit is a home run and we spend most of our time bouncing up and down at home plate, like Dunn and Kearns and Lopez used to do every time the winning run came in. Still, he’s only 20 months old, so I guess that’s pretty good. My daughter, a kindergartener, has been to a few games in her short life, but she doesn’t really remember them clearly. Baseball is all about memory, but it isn’t always clear memories — weren’t we all watching Game 6? Didn’t we all see Rijo pitch one time? But baseball is also about a steady rhythm, and those memories are made as much by the repetition as they are by the lightning-blast of a single game.

Anyway, back to The Sign. She had decided that we had to have a sign to take the the game with us. Never in my life have I taken a sign to a game. Maybe once had I thought of some witty line that would be perfect on a big banner hanging over the left field upper deck, but I’d never even gotten close to making it. And yet, here I was, Sunday morning, coloring in the neat letters with the baseball serifs, “Go Reds. Beat Them. YAY! YAY! YAY!” She borrowed my Reds shirt to get the logo right. It was beautiful.

Our tickets were in section 135 in AT&T Park, down the third base line, about 20 feet foul, on the field level, tucked up under the upper deck. Shade and shielding from the wind, which is ideal in San Francisco. My daughter and I planned to take the chance to get right up to the fence, and shout to Adam Dunn between innings: “Adam Dunn, Hit a Home Run!” We’d played with that cadence since she was 20 months old.

We got to our seats in the middle of the second inning, delayed by a parking snafu. Griffey and Dunn had the day off, so Freel was in left. And yet, as we sat down, we had a 6-0 lead. The field was shimmering in the sun, the grass that color of green that only baseball fields seem to be, the infield a rich brown, the sky light blue. Our four layers of clothes that all San Francisco baseball fans bring to games — even in August — lay tucked away in our bag. My son was bouncing up and down with the organ, and I’ll swear he shouted “Charge!” after that time-tested call. It had turned out to be “Little League Day,” and each kid got a pretty nice full-size (for a kid) wood bat.

We watched the game, and we watched the kids. The guys in the seats in front of us were wondrous at the Reds unknown pitcher as he hit 96 on the radar. “His offspeed pitch is faster than Zito’s fastball.” He was right. Volquez looked great. You could get better stats on him from Pitch/fx, and you could get a better scouting of his locations on TV. But it’s not like hearing the ball smack into Bako’s glove from 400 feet away, and you laugh till you cry with your wife at the kids’ reaction to the cartoon cars on the scoreboard.

Phillips hit a nice shot into the bleachers, and another that hit the foul pole right in front of us. He’s been struggling; I figure The Sign broke him out. Encarnacion had a couple of beautiful plays, one in the 6th. Votto, I think, had a nice slide on an infield pop-up, and almost doubled off the runner at first. Sure, Phillips lost one in the sun, but on a day like today, no one really cares.

This is what baseball is all about. I love the stats as much as anyone, and more than most. I want to know win probabilities added and runs created and dominance ratios. But today, at the game, it wasn’t really about all that. Fantastic time with your family. Friendly people at the ballpark. Gorgeous summertime weather. A Reds win doesn’t hurt either. A couple of kids holding The Sign and clapping for every play. Take me out to the ballgame, indeed.


The Frustrating LOB

April 13, 2008

Last night, the Reds lost 1-0 to the Pirates (!) leaving 12 on base. Tonight, they lost 4-3, leaving 11 on base. That, my friends, is frustrating. Last year, it seemed like the Reds were forever leaving men on. This year, George Grande and Chris Welsh are certainly upset about the missed opportunities. I decided to look it up, and see how bad it really is.

A well-posed question is half answered, so here’s the questions:

1) Which teams are best and worst in terms of scoring their baserunners? In particular, are the Reds as egregious about leaving men on as they seem to be?

2) How much difference is there between teams that are really good at scoring their baserunners, and teams that are bad? Is “baserunner scoring efficiency” a real trait, or is it just random?

With the help of ESPN’s team batting statistics, I got some data for 2007. They don’t list LOB, so I calculated it as follows:

LOB = Hits + Walks + HBP – CS – GDP – R

I think that’s correct. Once a guy gets on, he gets out or scores. Fielders choice doesn’t matter — on the play, there is no hit, and the number of runners does not change. Yes, I’ve left off all those guys called out on interference or failing to touch a bag or whatever. I think being picked off counts as a CS. I probably am failing to account for runners who are thrown out trying to take an extra base.  Those situations should be very small corrections to this analysis, and should not have any effect on the conclusions.

We can’t just look at this number in isolation, because good teams will have more baserunners, and thus will always have more LOB. So, we want to make a comparison based on the LOB opportunities.

The relevant comparison here is Baserunners, which is just LOB + R. This is a kind of “isolated baserunners” that ignores those runners who make outs on the basepaths. After all, I want to know the scoring efficiency of the men on base, as a result of their not being stranded. Maybe that’s a good way to think of it — an inverse strand rate for team batting.

Anyway, here’s the data from 2007. I normalized it to a per-game value.

LOB/game vs. BR/game, 2007 MLB

If you are below the line, you are efficient with your baserunners, leaving fewer on base than most teams. The answer to question 1B) is immediately evident — the Reds are right about average. The Yankees not only get a lot of baserunners, but they leave comparatively few of them on base as well. Grrr. The Nats (aka the “Former Reds”) are the opposite — not many baserunners to begin with, and not too much success driving them in.

Why are some teams better than others? Maybe “well-balanced” teams are more efficient, because they more often have another good player coming up to drive in runners, while “single-superstar” teams are worse — that guy gets on and gets stranded. Or, maybe small-ball teams are more efficient, while Earl-Weaver-2-walks-and-a-homer team are less efficient? I don’t think there’s enough evidence to claim either one of those for sure.

How about the previous year? Here’s the same thing for 2006.

Man, look at those Yankees. And look how much Tampa Bay improved! Once again, the Reds are just about average.

So, is there any correlation? Here’s the Runs per Baserunner 2006 vs. 2007:

Teams to the top left have improved their efficiency, teams to the bottom right have degraded their efficiency. Now, this is efficiency only, so the overall number of baserunners is removed here. That’s why Tampa’s improvement looks small — their efficiency improved a little, their number of baserunners improved a lot.

Very poor correlation here, so you pretty much would have to say that the variation in R/BR is not a trait, but instead is random. Yeah, except that the Yankees, Tigers, and Rangers would say otherwise. I should probably go back and look at a few more years to see if some teams really can maintain above-average efficiency.

So, how much does it matter? That is, if your team could boost its efficiency back to the league average, how many more games would it win? I used the regression line for the 2007 data, and assumed that each team regressed to that mean. That is, I didn’t change their number of baserunners, just adjusted their runs scored as if their scoring efficiency were at the mean. Below is a table showing how many extra runs each team would have scored. Negative numbers mean that the team was more efficient than average already, so regressing to the mean would result in fewer runs scored.

Assuming 10 extra runs is an extra win, as a rule of thumb, Oakland and the Nats pick up 6 more wins, while NY loses 8, the Tigers 7, and the Rangers 6. Again, the jury is still out whether variations in efficiency are just luck (so we can say those teams were (un)lucky) or whether there is a good reason for the variations. Consistent with what we saw above, the Reds were just about average.

So, the questions at the top are just about answered. The Reds are about average for LOB. The total range in efficiency seems to be about 160 runs — pretty significant — with Washington and Oakland the worst, and the Tigers, Yankees, and Rangers the best. At first glance, it looks like there is no year-to-year correlation in efficiency, though the Yankees ongoing success is just enough to make you wonder.

(I couldn’t get this table any farther up, so it’s at the bottom. Also, this is my first sabermetric analysis — let me know what you think. If you’ve got other interpretations of these data, please comment!)

Team Extra Runs
Arizona 12
Atlanta -11
Baltimore 9
Boston -1
Chicago Cubs 19
Chicago Sox 10
Cincinnati -5
Cleveland 4
Colorado -12
Detroit -70
Florida 4
Houston 38
Kansas City 8
LA Angels -45
LA Dodgers 44
Milwaukee -39
Minnesota 25
NY Mets -2
NY Yankees -82
Oakland 59
Philadelphia -26
Pittsburgh 18
San Diego 17
San Francisco 45
Seattle -28
St. Louis 37
Tampa Bay -2
Texas -63
Toronto 0
Washington 64

Guys to get…

April 10, 2008

Well, here comes the first FAAB this weekend — and there are some good players out there.

Jay Bruce is on the wire. Everyone keeps asking me about him. Currently 7 for 28 with a double, a triple, and a homer for the Louisville Bats. (www.minorleaguebaseball.com) He’ll probably be up in May or June.

Joey Votto is having a slow start, but all the projections have him mashing – 23/24 HR, 15-17 SB, 820 OPS. He’d be worth a buck, I’d think.

Velez on the Giants won’t give you power, but he’s free steals — maybe 30?

Everyone seems to think that speed can be had on the cheap this year. Not like it was 4-5 years ago, when you could practically win the league with 60 SB.

Of course, right now Uncle Bud is beating the Termites with their -2 nSB. Heh. :)

Bengie Molina is a better option than some of these catchers… like David Ross.

I still think Clark’s team is looking pretty good… he’d need a really good reason to trade. After that, I’d go with the Termites and the ‘Topes.

Matt Murton doesn’t suck, either.

And, of course, Barry lurks out there somewhere. He’ll probably go to the AL, but still…

Draft is in…

April 8, 2008

Well, the draft is in.  Hope you guys had fun!

After a whopping 2 minutes of looking at the teams, I’m going with Clark.   A little weak in speed, perhaps, but strong at all the positions, and a good rotation.  Closers?  Eh, he’ll get a few.

I’m not building a projector for this year, sorry.  If I wanted to work that hard I would have played.  But if Mike and/or Patrick are Real Men, they’ll post their projector results.

Good to see nearly the entire Reds rotation was drafted.  What, nobody wanted Josh Fogg?

Well, they got 8 players, so they are going to do the full NL. There was some debate on how to make a 7-player league deep enough to be fun. The consensus seemed to be forming around eliminating a couple of real teams. I proposed what I still think is the best idea: Take the best 25 players in the league, and make them ineligible. It would be simple to define — just use the CBS rankings to ID the top 25.

This is the fastest way to make the league deep, because you know every one of those guys would have been drafted. Plus, it makes it more interesting. Everybody knows David Wright is pretty good. The only question is whether he’s worth $45 or $55. There’s a whole lot of random in that. Much more interesting to make the $20 players into the effective superstars, and push the whole league that much deeper.

Smackdown

March 1, 2008

I must confess, I don’t know all of the new folks in the league.  However, they are quite adept at the smackdown.  Hopefully the trash will continue; as a dispassionate but interested observer, it’s like free entertainment.

Feel free to use the comments section as a smackdown arena.

lawyerfest

March 1, 2008

Well, the lawyerfest has begun, and there is much debate on the rules.  I’d suggest AL only, and putting the transaction dollars at about $30, but that’s just me.

Correia got it right — 25 weeks in the season, budget about $1.50/week.  That puts you at $37.50.  I’d lower it to $30, just to annoy Patrick.

Well, since I don’t have to calculate player values and research AAAA players this season, I figured I’d blog it a bit.  Especially since it’s looking like I’ll be the non-playing commissioner this year of the famous Fighting Dungeon Masters fantasy baseball league.

I plan to use this blog to comment on the moves of the various teams.  I promise to be unbiased, and to make fun of all of them.  I may even use this opportunity to publish the correct way to do fantasy player analysis, so that some of these yay-hoos will have a chance.