Sunday, July 31, 2011

SixPence, Phils' the Richer

As I’m sure you have heard, the Phillies acquired Astros right-fielder Hunter Pence in exchange for four prospects, two of which were the Phillies’ top hitting and pitching prospects.  I am not writing to discuss the merits of the trade, except to say that it was the sort of deal that needed to be made, because both Jared Cosart and Jonathan Singleton were in Single-A and would not have made a splash in the major leagues until 2013 or 2014, when the Phillies’ window of opportunity to win another World Series will be closing.

However, I should say that this post is not going to make Phillies fans feel great about the trade that was just made, especially since there is a reasonably large chance that Cosart and Singleton are impact players in a few years.

Hunter Pence is a definite improvement over our incumbent right-fielder Domonic Brown, who was sent back down to the minor leagues for the time being.  He joined the team yesterday already leading the team in batting average (.308) and brings the power, speed, and fielding ability that definitely put him over Brown.  However, the abysmal performance of Raul Ibañez (especially in the field) this season actually makes manager Charlie Manuel’s best lineup configuration to be with Brown in left field and Pence in right with Rauuuuul riding pine.

Exhibit A:

The first thing you should notice is that Pence is not the top-flight player that many people may have been led to believe.  He is good at many things, but is in no way great.  His hustle and workmanlike attitude will make him more of a fan favorite than his stats may deserve.  But as you can also see, the other corner outfield options are not making anyone argue with GM Ruben Amaro Jr.’s decision to trade for Pence.  In terms of having a legitimate hitter batting behind Ryan Howard in the lineup, Pence is a significant improvement in terms of batting average, and also allows the middle of the lineup to not be as lefty-heavy.

Pence’s .823 on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) makes him not only almost 100 points better than Brown or Ibañez, but he joins the team trailing just Shane Victorino and Chase Utley on the team.  He is achieving some unusual batting success this year, actually hitting better against right-handed pitchers than lefties (.836 vs. .780 OPS), and much better with runners on base than with the bases empty (.897 vs. .752 OPS).  His position at fifth in this lineup should give him a solid amount of opportunities with runners on, so I anticipate that he will do just fine.

Adding Hunter Pence will not do for the Phillies what Roy Oswalt, Manny Ramirez, or CC Sabathia have done for teams in past trade-deadline deals, but his passion, effort, and balanced skillset will provide a much-needed boost to the Phillies’ offense and team as a whole.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

How to Lose a Season in 16 Games

The race for last place has begun.

OK, I suppose I should first acknowledge that this is the first football post of the season!  No more worrying about lawyers and 18-game schedules and the rookie wage scale (unless you’re a rookie), and now we can focus on the players and teams that make the NFL the behemoth it is in the 21st century.
All right, now that we have that celebration out of the way, let’s talk about how poorly two teams are doing in disguising their intentions when it comes to their rosters.

The Context

Much to the chagrin of the Carolina Panthers, highly-touted Stanford University quarterback Andrew Luck decided to stay in school for his junior year instead of entering this year’s draft.   I’ll spare you the numbers, but suffice it to say that he’s widely regarded as a can’t-miss prospect with as much promise as Peyton Manning and John Elway – two quarterbacks you may have heard of -- had coming out of college.  Therefore, teams without legitimate starters-of-the-future at quarterback likely have extra incentive to be really terrible this season and lock up that first overall pick in the 2012 draft.

The Teams

The teams that caught my eye while trolling ESPN for free agency updates were the Seattle Seahawks (7-9 last year) and the Washington Redskins (6-10 last year).  Neither team has much talent offensively to work with, and while the Seahawks are in a worse position in a vacuum, the NFC West was so bad last year that they won the division with that record.

The Moves That Will Ensure Their Downfall

“They” keep saying that the NFL is a quarterback-driven league, and these two teams are riding their tricycles into training camp.  This offseason has seen the Seahawks lose their quarterback for the last 10 years, Matt Hasselbeck, and replace him with the Vikings’ Tarvaris Jackson, who is most well known for being Brett Favre’s backup the last two years.  The Redskins countered in strong fashion by trading Donovan McNabb to the Vikings for two 6th round picks (we’ll let that slide for now) and then acquiring an even more backup-y backup in Kellen Clemens, who incidentally was also the backup for Favre when he was a Jet. 

So right now the Seahawks’ quarterbacks are Charlie Whitehurst and Jackson, and the Redskins’ quarterbacks are John Beck (a failed second-round pick with the Dolphins), Clemens, and, wait for it, Rex Grossman. 

Both teams were rumored during the offseason to be heavily involved in trying to acquire a top-flight wide receiver (a la Sidney Rice or Santonio Holmes).  As of now, Holmes has been re-signed by the Jets, and the Redskins said “Oh, well, we tried” and traded for Jabar Gaffney, re-signed an aged Santana Moss, and signed injury extraordinaire Dante Stallworth.  To me, these moves scream “we want to look like we’re doing something with our money.”  The Seahawks?  They’ve signed an underachieving offensive lineman.

How Bad It Will Get

The best part about these teams apparently tanking it this season is that they may not be able to lose enough!  While the Redskins do play the Cowboys, Giants, and Eagles twice as well as the Patriots and Jets, they also get to play the Panthers, Bills, Dolphins, and the NFC West.  They could win a couple games by accident and end up, say, 4-12.

As for the Seahawks, it’s going to be just as hard to get down that drain.  They get to play the Rams, 49ers, and Cardinals each twice (although all of them are trending upward), and of course they have the Bomb Out Bowl with the Redskins.  They went 4-2 in this division last year, but without a quarterback that’s more like 2-4 this year, and losing another game outside the division leaves them at 4-12 as well. 

Seeing as the Titans, Bengals, Panthers, Vikings, Bills, Dolphins, Raiders, and Broncos all have their issues, the odds are against these two wily teams actually getting the quarterback they seek.  Wouldn’t that be great to see the Panthers get the top pick two years in a row and have to pass on Luck because they took Cam Newton this year?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Lord of the Pentagons: The Two Uses (of Pentagons)

            In my last post, I introduced my revolutionary (yes, I’m allowed to say that because I made it up) graphical invention, the Vigdergon.  Today, I’d like to go through a couple of the uses of my pet project in the context of giving less intense sports fans an opportunity to immerse themselves in “the numbers.”

Between-Player Comparison
            The Vigdergon attempts to graph multiple facets of a player’s performance on the same figure, which allows you to see a more complete picture of that player’s ability at any one time.  As we saw with the Vigdergons sampled in my last post, it is easy to graph multiple players’ Vigdergons on the same figure and compare their competencies on a more holistic scale than simply comparing numbers.  Here’s a second look at the Vigdergons of Michael Bourn, Carlos Peña, and Joey Votto included in my last post:

As I pointed out last time, the pointier graphs convey that the player is particularly good at one aspect of the game (i.e. for Bourn’s speed and Peña’s power), but is lacking in others (i.e. Peña’s speed and batting average and Bourn’s, well, mostly everything).  A more rounded graph, like Votto’s, indicates that the player is not much better or worse at a particular aspect.  However, one could imagine that a player would have a rounded Vigdergon without being very good at anything, and that’s where the next part comes in.

Computing the area of a Vigdergon
Since people always want to know which players are better than others on a general level as opposed to a specific part of the game, I had to come up with a way to reasonably make these comparisons.  A (relatively) straightforward way to do this is to compare the area contained within one player’s Vigdergon to that of another player.  That way, I can estimate a player’s overall worth compared to another even though they may be very different players in terms of the way they impact the game.

Taking the above players for an example, it should not come as much of a surprise that this season it appears that the rank order of the value of these three players is Votto, Bourn, Peña.  But how close is it? 
As it turns out, not very.  Votto’s Vigdergon fills 59% of the surrounding graph area, while Bourn’s covers 35% and Peña’s just 14%.  When it comes to hitters, whose value comes just as much from fielding as it does from hitting, it would be quite difficult to cover the entirety of the graph; even Jose Bautista’s absurd production this year only covers 84%.  On the other hand, since fielding and speed really aren't that valuable for a pitcher, it is not so unlikely for a pitcher to cover over 90% of the graph:

Not useful.

Within-Player Comparison
Speaking of Jose Bautista, another interesting way to look at players with Vigdergons is to graph a single player over multiple seasons (or parts of seasons) and observe their growth or decay.  As an example, here is a graph of Bautista’s last three seasons:

This graph tells an interesting story of Bautista’s career progression over the past couple years.  In 2009, he was a balanced (if unspectacular) player, but he had a renaissance and became the premier power hitter in the major leagues last year with 54 home runs.  Not surprisingly, his increase in hitting efficiency shifted the area within his Vigdergon towards the right, as speed and fielding declined (most likely due to a lack of attention being paid to those aspects of his game).  In 2011, he has become incredibly efficient at the plate, hitting for a very high average (.336) and drawing more walks than strikeouts, as he continues to lose effectiveness in the field and on the basepaths.  Fortunately for the Blue Jays, however, his overall worth has increased greatly in both seasons, from 27% coverage in 2009 to 47% in 2010 and 84% in 2011.  The widely used Wins Above Replacement (WAR) formula corroborates this jump in overall value, as he went from 2.1 WAR in 2009 to 6.9 in 2010, and has already garnered 6.7 WAR in 2011 through just 85 games.

I think that, besides the name, I’ve hit on an intriguing method of looking at baseball statistics in a more visually satisfying way, and if anyone who reads this has any suggestions for ways to use, change, or re-name the Vigdergon I would really appreciate it.  That means you, Matt Vogel, Mr. Big Shot Business Man.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Lord of the Pentagons

“They” say a picture is worth a thousand words.  “They” also say that there are lies, there are damn lies, and then there are statistics (admittedly, a lesser-known “they,” but you can look it up if you don't believe me).  So if I use a picture to represent a statistic, does that mean I'm lying hundreds of times?  I’m prepared to take that risk. 

I give you…..........................

Monday, July 11, 2011

Can money buy you glove? Bat? Anything?

Seeing as the MLB All Star Break has arrived, it seems like a good idea to write something that either summarizes the first chunk of the season or previews the second chunk.  Since I seem to be terrible at predicting baseball outcomes (see my post predicting the division standings for a nice example), I’ll try my hand at looking back at results from the first ninety-some games of the season.  And since everybody loves to hate athletes who get paid exorbitant amounts of money to play children’s games, let’s see how good of a team can be assembled from the most highly paid players at each position.

The All-Salary Team
Below is a list of the highest-paid players at each defensive position, along with a full complement of starting pitchers (no one cares about bench players and relievers, anyway).  The first dollar amount next to each player is their actual salary for 2011, and the second dollar amount is the amount of money that they could expect to earn based on their statistics this season if their performance thus far carries into the second half.  Those numbers are based on their Wins Above Replacement (WAR) as computed by
C              Joe Mauer                              $23 million              -$2.9 million
1B            Mark Teixeira                        $23.1 million            $22.92 million
2B            Chase Utley                           $15.3 million            $23.6 million
3B            Alex Rodriguez                     $32 million               $34.1 million
SS            Derek Jeter                             $14.8 million            $8.3 million
OF            Vernon Wells                        $26.6 million            $1.3 million
OF            Carlos Beltran                       $19.3 million            $26.8 million
OF            Carlos Lee                             $19 million              $11.3 million

P            CC Sabathia                            $24.3 million            $37.8 million
P            Johan Santana                         $21.6 million            $0.0 (has not played due to injury)
P            Roy Halladay                          $20 million               $41 million
P            Carlos Zambrano                    $18.8 million            $13.4 million
P            Barry Zito                               $18.5 million            $4.6 million (has only started 6 games)

Sum:                                                     $276.3 million           $222.1 million

Some things I noticed:

1. FanGraphs’ system for assigning how much money a person should make is a little out of whack (see Halladay, Roy).

2. As a point of reference, the Yankees lead the majors in salary with $201 million.  Of course, this is with 12 more players than the above team, so a full roster with super-salaries would cost a bit more like $400 million (which, when you think about it, really isn’t THAT much higher than the Yankees’ when you consider that even the bench players would cost $15 mil)

3. I was shocked to discover that Cliff Lee’s 5-year / $120 million and Jayson Werth’s 7-year / $126 million contracts offer them only $11 and $10 million in 2011, so they weren't on this team.  So Nationals fans can feel a little better about themselves this time around.

4. A-Rod is hitting a comparatively “meh” .295 with 13 homers and 52 RBI’s this season, but because of what has apparently been his best defensive season since 2003, he’s doing great.  Go figure.

5.  Johan Santana vs. Roy Halladay:  Go Phils.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Only pitching this bad could stop a hiatus this long

So... anyone else have a nice April?  How about May?  June?

Yes, it's been three months since I've posted anything on here, but I was thinking of starting back up anyway and last night's Phillies game got me all riled up.

For those of you who missed it (or slept through the final few innings, like myself), Kyle Kendrick was given a 4-0 lead, but squandered some of it away and ended up leaving the game after the 5th inning with a 6-3 lead.  

Then we saw what happens when the Phillies' starters don't go a solid 7 innings like Halladay, Lee, and Hamels have for most of this year.  David Herndon came in for the 6th and gave up a 2-run home run to make it 6-5, Andrew Carpenter allowed 1 run in just over an inning, and in the bottom of the 10th Danys Baez allowed a walk-off homer to end it 7-6.  Just to point this out, Michael Stutes didn't allow a run in one inning of work.

This got me thinking: everyone knows at this point that Herndon and Baez are terrible and should be booted off the team immediately upon the return of some of the Phils' injured bullpen arms.  But how bad have they really been for the past two years they've been on the team?

The answer?  Adam Eaton bad.

Don't remember him?  In 2007 and 2008 with the Phillies, Eaton went 14-18 in 51 starts with a 6.09 ERA and 1.63 WHIP (Walks and Hits per Inning Pitched), earning $15.2 million in that span.  
This year, David Herndon has posted a 5.14 ERA and 1.46 WHIP, and Baez has put up a 5.40 ERA and 1.48 WHIP.  Remove Baez’ 5 shutout innings in the Phillies’ 19-inning win over the Reds earlier this year, and his ERA and WHIP balloon to 6.30 and 1.63, respectively. 
The average ERA and WHIP for pitchers this year are 3.83 and 1.31, respectively.

This is not a new phenomenon either.  Baez was worse on both statistics last year, and Herndon’s lower ERA in 2010 (a still-sub-par 4.30) can be mostly accounted for by an extraordinarily low ratio of home runs to fly balls (4.2%). 

Even worse news for Phillies fans is that there really isn’t much hope for improvement.  A statistic called FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), which attempts to isolate a pitcher’s skill from the skill of his fielders and random luck, shows that Herndon (5.20 FIP) is actually pitching worse than his ERA indicates, and Baez (4.70 FIP) is still pitching significantly below average.

The only glimmer of hope for Phillies fans is that eventually Ryan Madson, Jose Contreras, and Brad Lidge will return to the bullpen and quell Charlie Manuel’s desire to put either of these mediocre mound minders in the game. 

Or Ruben Amaro Jr. could cut them.