Thursday, June 25, 2009

Analyzing Dice-K

Two days ago, Bob Ryan wrote an article entitled It Just Doesn't Add Up for the Boston Globe. The article is about the fact that Daisuke Matsuzaka is struggling this year, and isn't worth the money the Red Sox paid to sign him. In it Ryan briefly touches on the topics of interest, but never does any sort of actual analysis either of baseball's salary scale or of the reasons for Daisuke's ineffectiveness this year. So I will now attempt to pick up the ball he has dropped. Because with how awful the Red Sox media is, Lord knows someone needs to fill the void by competently discussing the team (These guys do a better job than I will ever manage, by the way).

Last year Daisuke went 18-3, a phenomenal Win-Loss record. However, he was nowhere near as good a pitcher as that suggests. Before I get into why, let's lay down some basic parameters here. The goal of pitching is to prevent runs, plain and simple. There are different ways of approaching this, the most effective of which is striking people out. Ground balls are another extremely effective method, as no amount of steroids Raul Ibanez injects before breakfast can cause a ground ball to go over the outfield fence. However, pitching is not the only factor here. Team defense accounts for approximately 1/3 of run prevention, leaving the pitcher responsible for the other 2/3. We'll come back to this point. And then we come to luck. It is really amazing how much dumb luck influences pitching. To paraphrase Bill James (a.k.a. Sabermetric Jesus), it is entirely possible that what I am going to refer to here as luck is not actually that, but rather just something that we do not yet know how to measure. And so it may be, but until we devise that measurement, luck it shall be. Things that are primarily luck include Batting Average on Balls In Play (Hereafter BABIP), Home Run per Fly Ball %, and Strand Rate. For more complete rundowns of these numbers, I recommend Fangraphs, The Hardball Times, or (If you'd rather pay money for something you can get for free) Baseball Prospectus. BABIP measures the amount of balls hit into the field of play that result in hits. Now, there are obviously things that affect this slightly, but by and large every pitcher's BABIP should be about .300. Numbers lower or higher than that are simply good luck or bad luck, and are completely unsustainable for extended periods of time for reasons beyond a pitcher's control. HR/FB for all pitchers should be right around 11%. The home park a pitcher spends his time in can affect this, but the only way to be certain to prevent home runs is to lower the rate at which you allow fly balls, as 11% of them are going to go over the fence. And finally, strand rate is simply the number of players who reach base against a pitcher who do not score. Simple enough. This should normalize around 72% for an average pitcher, with better pitchers being able to post slightly better numbers than that (For obvious reasons). Okay. I can't believe I haven't run down that stuff before, but that's done now. Since there was quite a bit of it, let's start fresh with a new paragraph.

As I mentioned above, Dice-K was 18-3 last year, with an excellent ERA of 2.90 (Earned Runs Allowed per 9 Innings, for those of you who are baseball neophytes. You've all stopped reading by now, haven't you?). But in truth, he was nowhere near that good. If we compare his 2008 statistics to his 2007 statistics, a year in which he was merely a solid pitcher rather than an ace, we find some rather startling results. Let's do this in chart-ish form.

K/9 (Strikeouts per 9 innings)
2007: 8.84
2008: 8.27

BB/9 (Walks per 9 innings)
2007: 3.52
2008: 5.05

2007: .306
2008: .267

2007: 11.7
2008: 7.5

Strand Rate:
2007: 73.9%
2008: 80.6%

Notice anything? In K/9 and BB/9, two luck-independent outcomes which are largely in the control of the pitcher, Matsuzaka actually performed worse in 2008 than in 2007, even though he improved his ERA by a full run and a half per game. This improvement is because of the last three numbers listed, luck-related statistics in which Daisuke performed at a rate far above the sustainable league average. In fact, if we normalize his luck-dependent stats to determine what his ERA should have been in each of those years (xFIP, if you're wondering), we find that in 2007 he pitched with an ERA of 4.42, while in 2008 he checked in with a worse showing of 4.82, a progression in the wrong direction. So he actually got worse between the two seasons, which still does not entirely explain this season's disaster. Ignoring the components to jump straight to the conclusion, what is his xFIP so far this year? 4.93, almost identical to last year. So what's the problem? Primarily bad luck. His K/9 and BB/9 have actually both improved from last year, and while there's still a long ways to go before his BB/9 hits a number that we can call 'good' (I'd settle for 'acceptable' at this point), it's legit improvement. But his BABIP has gone through the roof, checking in at an obscene .441, and his fly balls allowed are clearing the fence 17.5% of the time. These are the primary reasons for his decreased performance, and are things that should work themselves out over time. But is it entirely bad luck? No.

The thing about normalizing BABIP to exactly .300 for each pitcher is that this assumes that pitcher has a league-average defense taking the field behind him. This is almost never the case, meaning small variations in team BABIP should be expected, with good defensive teams posting a lower number, while poor defensive teams post a higher one. Last year's Red Sox were an excellent defensive team, posting the fourth-best UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating, available on Fangraphs. Why UZR? Because fielding percentage means less than nothing) in all of baseball. This year's version comes in 29th, only better than the beyond-inept Washington Nationals. The primary culprits are Mike Lowell, Julio Lugo and Jacoby Ellsbury, all of whom have fallen off a cliff (Since Lugo was fringe-average in the first place, this is not at all a good thing for him). The fact that Jason Bay has posted a worse showing in both years than Manny Ramirez did over the first half of last year is not really helping things, either. So while we should expect Daisuke's BABIP to rise above league average, we're still talking about a range closer to .310, not the stratosphere in which it currently resides. Given the chance, he will resume pitching at the level we are accustomed to seeing him at, even if we do not always understand what level that actually is.

Now let's go back to our good friend Bobby Boy. His article is not necessarily about how Daisuke is finished, but rather about the fact that Bob believes he is overpaid. Now that we've finished with a performance analysis, let's move on to salary matters. To argue his thesis statement in the article in question, Ryan provides us with the following pieces of evidence:

Daisuke's salary, presented in a misleading fashion
That is all

Besides making the reader question how Ryan still has a job, this does not actually accomplish much. Let's go through money matters now. Daisuke was a free agent in 2006. This is important because, in MLB, the rookie salary scale artificially depresses the salaries of young players for the first six years they are in the majors, years which are often their best. This makes baseball salaries often seem different than they actually are. Player salaries need to be divided up between cost-controlled youngsters and free agents to get an actual idea of what players are paid. And on the free agent market of the winter of 2006, free agents were paid about $4,000,000 per win above replacement player that they provided for their team the previous year. This amount increased linearly with each additional win, meaking a 2-win player worth $8 million, a 3-win player worth $12 million, and so on (This can be easily determined by merely dividing the total dollars all free agents were given that offseason by the WAR they collectively provided the previous year). Ryan does not once mention this. Now, I am not saying the best way to run a team is to go out and spend money on free agents. But if you do so, this is what it will cost you. This is the same free agent market where Carlos Silva is worth $12 million annually for four years (The Silva deal was signed one year later, when free agent value had risen to $4.5 million per win. The point stands). Providing this context makes Daisuke's deal look very reasonable, possibly even exactly where it should be, which is probably why Ryan did not put it in his article (Showing blatant disrespect for his reading audience, as he is presuming they will not know this. Either that or he does not know it himself, and is unwilling to research a subject before he writes about it, which calls into question why he has his job). In 2007, Daisuke was worth 3.9 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), or $15.6 million, based on the year he signed his contract. In 2008, 3.3 WAR, or $13.2 million. Per the terms of his contract, in 2007 Daisuke was paid $6 million by the Red Sox. In 2008 he made $8 million (By the way, lest you think I shouldn't be riding Ryan about the research, these numbers took me 17 seconds to find using Google. I timed myself). So why is he overpaid again?

Well, this is because Ryan combines the posting fee paid to his former team in Japan as part of Daisuke's salary. It is not. Daisuke was a professional athlete under obligation to remain in Japan. To release him from that deal, his team offered negotiation rights with him to the highest bidder, who happened to be the Red Sox. Essentially, the Red Sox spent $51 million to buy out his deal with his old team. Whether that was money well-spent or not, it is certainly not a part of his contract. And the fact that this money bought exclusive negotiation rights is almost certainly what enabled the Red Sox to sign Matsuzaka to what is actually a below-market deal. As you would not know if you read the Ryan article, Daisuke signed a contract for 6 years, for a total of $52 million dollars. Per the going rate of the free agent market, of which Daisuke was a member, this valued him at almost exactly the same worth as Odalis Perez. Why are you complaining, Bob? If the Red Sox get no value out of Daisuke the rest of the season, over the first three years of his contract they will have made a profit on the wins received for the money they've paid him so far, making the signing a good one for the team. And I hate watching him pitch. There is nothing more frustrating than watching a pitcher who seemingly cannot throw strikes. But it is still a good contract.

Ryan also seems to be objecting to one more thing, which is that Daisuke was billed as the Next Big Thing, and he has not delivered on that. Fair enough. But who billed him as that? Was it the man himself? Certainly not. It was the media, of which Bob Ryan is a large part. After Daisuke's seventh career start, Bob Ryan announced to the world that "The Daisuke Era has officially begun." Is there a single mention of the fact that what Ryan primarily objects to about Daisuke in his article is something that he himself helped create? No, there is not. Because writing that would involve both honesty and accountability, two qualities you are not likely to find in an article written by Bob Ryan. If you want to learn about baseball, the best thing you can do is avoid reading the Boston newspapers. All they will do is keep you mis- and uninformed.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Blog Layout

The layout seems to have changed for some reason, and I have absolutely no idea how to get it to go back. If I can figure it out, it will be changed. I suspect it's the fault of the post directly below this one. Also, comment moderation is off on old posts, because I found that option while trying to change the layout of the blog.

I am the least tech-savvy person to ever work in tech support.

Edit - I figured it out. So, ummmmm, you can ignore this post now. Delete it? What?

Edit again - Ben says he's having some problems with the text size. It looks fine to me. If you're having any problems with it, throw a comment up here for me. Then I guess I'll learn HTML or something. If you're not having any problems with it, I don't know. Send me some money or something.

V: Taking Over

Look, here's the thing. I thought this idea would be a fun lark, but it's really not working so far. While it is still fun to watch a terrible movie every now and again, it turns out writing up every single event in said movie is not really all that enjoyable (How is it to read?). So after a lot of thinking about it (Seriously. How long has it been since I wrote one of these?), I have decided to man up and admit it. If you're at all interested, right now some indeterminate Asian man is performing kung-fu in front of a pagoda. I am not. To give you the full background, here's where the idea came from. I used to live in Park Slope, a nice neighborhood in the oftentimes terrifying Brooklyn, New York. This area features approximately two bodegas per square foot, which presumably decreases profitability significantly. So to compensate for this, one of the bodegas on the way to the subway evidently rented out their window as advertising for Dragon Wars, with a poster featuring two dragons (Which are Chinese dragons, meaning they really just look like oversized snakes. Lame) snarling at each other over the ruins of a city. Needless to say, this made me rather excited. And when the movie came out, my fellow awful film afficionado Robert Fliegel (Hereafter referred to as Bob. Because that is what he goes by) took the initiative to both rent this cinematic masterwork and invite myself and Sir Nicholas Managanananananan, along with our significant others, over for a night of Masterpiece Theater and Malt Beverages (By the way, the next time we are in the same city, the film of choice is going to be Outlander, a movie about a man from outer space whose spaceship crashes in 8th century Norway. He then has to team up with Vikings to fight a monster that escapes from the ship. I am excited). About halfway through the film, two of the others retired to any room in the apartment not showing Dragon Wars, with only the Official Girlfriend sticking it out for the fair sex. Afterward, she mentioned how bad the movie was. Now, I clearly had to defend its honor, so I countered her false accusation with the demonstrably true statement that it was, in fact, the best movie ever made. And, barring occasional references to it in the months that followed, I figured that would be just about the end of that.

And then she bought the movie for me as a Christmas gift.

Now what was I to do? What started as a bit of a laugh on Terrible Movie Night had turned into a game of one-upsmanship, a game which she evidently had mastered on the sly without telling me. So I began this series of blog posts as an attempt to raise the stakes even higher, but sadly it looks like this is one game I'm going to lose. So I guess I might as well tell her and oh my god, that's a dinosaur with a rocket launcher. I cannot even begin to tell you how awesome this is. The time-honored 'Period after each word' strategy does not even begin to do it justice. G.r.e.a.t.e.s.t. i.d.e.a. e.v.e.r. Think of the most awesome thing you can possibly think of. Now think of that thing getting blown up by a dinosaur wielding a rocket launcher. Not that I am necessarily calling the rest of this film the greatest thing ever (Though it's certainly moving in that direction now), but that is a reasonable approximation of what is happening on the television at the moment. In a movie as uninspired as this one, where did this genius come from? Well, let's start at the beginning.

Much as there are 55 dramatic situations usable by authors the world over, for years there have been attempts to precisely codify the possible animal-weapon combinations. As with most things, this began with Miguel Cervantes, who introduced the world to the concept by arming a horse with a lance-wielding buffoon in Don Quixote. And while this was certainly a ground-breaking beginning, there was clearly work to be done. This would be continued by Thomas Jefferson, who, in an attempt to better protect the populace, gave all Americans the right to an armed bear (Congress, feeling this could be dangerous, changed bear to buffalo, something that completely fails to help people now that the species has dwindled). Henry David Thoreau chimed in with Turtle Chainsaw Massacre, a book whose title he changed to Walden upon having it pointed out to him that it was unclear whether the turtles were the massacrers or the massacrees (It was the first). But scholars generally agree that the definitive work on the subject was provided by Carolyn Keene (Who knew? (Also, I'm not going to say who she is. You have Google. Look her up)) in 1951, when she officially submitted two lists to the world for consideration:

Finally, writers everywhere knew what options they had. By combining an entry from column one with one from column two, every possible animal-weapon combination was literally on the tip of their pen, waiting to be brought to life for consumption by the masses. And while I mean no disservice to Carolyn, one of these combinations is clearly better than the rest, as measured in sheer awesomeness. And it is sitting on the TV screen in front of me. And thus I shall boldly press on. Bravo, Dragon Wars. Bravo.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Weighing In On Raul Ibanez

So there's been quite a bit of controversy lately about a blog post that was written featuring both the name Raul Ibanez (Left fielder for the Philadelphia Phillies) and the word steroids (If you'd like a thorough review of the issue, you can find one here). Being the most notable blogger in the history of the internet, I feel compelled to put my two cents in on this less-timely-than-it-was-last-week topic. So, just to help clear the issue up, I have heard from my sources that Raul Ibanez has never bought steroids, as he prefers to manufacture his own.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Prisoner's Dilemma

The year is 1951 and Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-Inferior Cheese State*) is leading a witchhunt for Communists via the media, who, for though I feel they are failing us almost completely these days, evidently weren't much better back then. He brings two Senators into his office and sits them down in front of his desk. He then informs them that he knows they're both Reds and has enough evidence to indict each of them, but not enough to get the sentence he believes they deserve. Therefore, he proposes that he will generously let whoever comes forth with the goods on the other first go free. If both squeal, they both get longer sentences than they would if they both stay quiet, but less than if they stay silent and the other volunteers information. He then puts them in separate rooms to interrogate each individually. What do they do?

*Okay, I've been taking cheap shots at Wisconsin's cheese pretty much whenever the internet in these parts works for over 3 consecutive minutes, which was not much until Friday when we got our own and stopped having to steal from our neighbors (Or neighbours, if you prefer. Blogger's spell-check does not). But in fairness to Wisconsin, while I was generally unimpressed with their cheeses, I did have what is possibly the best cinnamon roll I've ever eaten there, at Denny's (Not the Chain) Diner in the Wisconsin Dells. Awesome. Also, this footnote format is blatantly thieved from Posnanski. Since the internet is now legal, I wanted to at least steal something. It's a rush.

That is the question posed over breakfast by Eddie Hobson Sr. to his brood of youngsters, 75% of whom have already moved out and are back visiting at the same time solely because their father's undiagnosed illness has worsened. The lack of a diagnosis has nothing to do with the failings of modern medical science, but rather Eddie Sr.'s avoidance of such, a situation that is likely to change only when the trained coroner is required by the authorities to confirm he is deceased. Such a morning puzzle is a Hobson tradition, as Eddie continually keeps everyone on their toes, so to speak, refusing to let their minds rest, even when it sets the family's collective nerves on edge. But he does not rest either. In his free time, he constructs Hobstown, the world as it should be, and one that will cure the planet we live on, despite the fact that he doesn't even allow his family to view any results of the project. In it World War II, himself and Walt Disney intertwine, in a captivating subplot so well-done that I actually researched the (non-fictional) subjects to see if any of it was true. Alas, it is not. At the beginning of this novel, the two seperate parts of it lie far apart. But as the book goes on, they begin to merge more, until the two almost bleed into one another. This is a captivating novel that picks up speed from one of the best living novelists, and a great bit of fun with the traditional screwed-up family. And what of our prisoners, who we briefly visited back at the beginning of this post? Well, that depends. What do you consider to be a prison?

Edit - Wow, I forgot to write the author's name. His name is Richard Powers. And I feel very smart right now, though evidently I have no clue how to proofread.

Sunday Morning is Biscuits and Gravy Time!

So no, I'm not dead yet. Though based on breakfast, I'm evidently working on it (Literally. It's time to add the buttermilk to the biscuit dough). On the upside, I do have internet once again. Book review coming later.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

What's Going On

Finally, things are starting to get a bit less hectic. Over the last month or so I've moved out of New York and into a hotel for a while, took two 9 hour train rides, gone to Wisconsin for a week and now moved into a new apartment. That was fun. So, as a way of apologizing for all the dead air that's been going on in these parts, let's talk about my golf game. Because that will make up for everything.

While in the Land of Inferior Cheese (Yeah, that's right), I had the pleasure of playing nine holes with the father of the Official Girlfriend (All while wearing a Cabot Cheese t-shirt proclaiming it to be the world's best cheddar. As he said, there's no dress code at the course, but that was still pushing it a bit). And despite the fact that I have not golfed in three years or so and was not technically good at the game the last time I played, I actually stepped into the tee box and found that I could still at the least hit the ball, which was a bit of a relief since the first hole is always right next to the clubhouse, and I didn't want the guys sitting around drinking to start calling strikes. Fortunately, after a few practice swings I stepped up and absolutely clubbed it. Early on I'd estimate that my average drive went about 250 yards, which is better raw distance than Phil Mickelson has. Unfortunately, only 150 yards of that goes straight, and the other 100 is dead right. This was not a problem early on, as there were other fairways to the right of the holes, making it easy to find my ball, and there were few casualties. But once we got to the ninth hole and there were houses of that side of the fairway, I became a bit nervous. Fortunately, I have a wonderful conditioning program consisting of spending a lot of time on the internet, which is why I seemed to be tiring by this point. So rather than breaking windows, I hit grounders through the rough for the majority of the hole, and in the end the round of golf itself was more expensive than my property damage, primarily because they don't charge for divots.

You may have noticed that short irons and putting have not been mentioned here. That is intentional. I did beat the par for 18 holes, at least.