Sunday, September 30, 2012

Friday Baseball Post

Well, it's awful close to Friday. Sort of. A quick notes-style FBP on Sunday:

* Why don't we see more of the old "start a RHP and switch to a LHP after one batter" against platoon-heavy teams in the postseason? Granted, that will only work if you have a plausible wrong-handed bluff pitcher, but surely quite a few postseason teams these days have one of those. Certainly the Giants do this time around; I really have no idea what the Giants should be doing about the rotation in October, but Zito could certainly be used as the bluff pitcher. Or Lincecum, I suppose.

* I still don't understand why MLB can't do a better job of selling the last week of the season. Especially since they've gone out of their way to try to make it interesting. It's not as if baseball can't be sold; the first week of the playoffs will get plenty of hype (and coverage), but I'm not sure that it's as good as the last week of the season.

* The key thing, of course, is that they're restored the possibility of excellent teams playing games that matter at the end of the season. I still don't think it's the best solution, but it beats the 1995-2011 system, no question.

* That said: MLB Network does do an excellent job of it. Granted, I often have it on with the sound down, but still, an excellent job.

* And: every good team got to play meaningful games during the last week except the Giants. Luck of the draw, I suppose.

* Oddly enough, however, the new system didn't really help things much. The AL West and AL East races would have still been okay under the old system (assuming of course that everything plays out the same), with the loser in each division competing for the sole WC, and the Angels and the Rays on the fringe either way. In the NL, we go the dubious thrill of the Cardinals vs. several barely better than .500 teams race for the second WC, which was...less than thrilling. Sure, if you were a Brewers fan the late surge into semi-contention for the coin flip game was presumably better than nothing, but it wasn't much. The thing is: if the Orioles and Yankees were each five games better, then the advantages of the new system would have really come into play. As it is, get ready for a round of complaints if the Cardinals beat the Braves. And we know how Selig deals with that sort of thing...

* Oh -- and I doubt that anyone cares, but my Blue Sox really stunk up the league this year. My one and only year that I've ever had Mariano Rivera...but I can't even blame injuries. Poor starting pitching choices all year.

I think that's all I have for now.


  1. I dabbled with a Diamond Mind baseball league for a few years, and one year of fantasy football. No one - and the Rock means NO ONE - ever cares about your rotisserie/fantasy team ;) Not to mention the whole rooting against your favorite team, because it's your fantasy player going against them. It's like you have to be a whole different kind of sports fan.

    With the new playoff format, it was kind of an anti-climax that the potential 6-way race for the 2nd NL wild card spot petered out like it did, but I still like the concept of forcing teams to go all out for the division win. It's not 1968, but teams cruising down the stretch because they were in the playoffs 'either way' rankled, so this is better.

    About pulling the 'headfake starter' trick in the playoffs dying off, I'm guessing that's a function of normalized 12-man pitching staffs. With only 5 position subs, of which one is your second catcher, another a utility man, usually a pinch hitting specialist for a decent squad, and/or a DH for an AL club.. there just aren't enough position player spots on the roster to have many platoons today.

    Also, too: Three games to go, and Miguel Cabrera is still in line for the Triple Crown.

  2. I was chatting with a friend the other day about the managerial success of Dusty Baker with multiple teams, a success that confounds hardcore sabermetric-types, since Baker frequently offends the sabermetric canon, all while seeming like a bit of a hayseed.

    We concluded that Dusty's playing career of almost-greatness makes him especially sensitive, as a manager, to the emotional rollercoaster of a long season in an MLB locker room. We inferred that all of Dusty's "odd" moves (by sabermetric standards) have a strong human management component; e.g., if you have a hard-throwing lefty who feels he 'owns' the opponent's powerful righthanded hitter, it can be better to roll your lefty out for that matchup, even if the abstract computers favor your junkerball righthander.

    Digression: in this respect, sabermetrics in baseball shares a lot in common with its 'rational' cousins such as Skinner's operant conditioning or the Soviet Five-Year Plan. All are systems that contribute real value but are ultimately limited by the unpredictable self-interested irrationality of the participants in the system.

    To this conversation: why don't teams roll out ostensible starters for one batter in a playoff game, then pull the 'starter' in a bluff? The New York Football Jets had a roughly similar idea in bringing in Tebow this year, no? You can imagine Jets management justifying the move because starter Mark Sanchez would say the right things (he has) and be "good in the locker room" (he is, apparently).

    Did you all see what the Sanchize did yesterday against the Niners, one week after that embattled D lost to the lowly Christian Ponder? I didn't see the interviews afterwards, but I bet Sanchez continues to "say the right things". We all do, don't we? Occasionally, we even mean it!

    In conclusion, a good metric for separating the sabermetric wheat from the chaff is asking how you would feel in a proposed sabermetric situation. Not what you would say in the media, not how you would feel in your idealized self-image, how you would really feel.

    So you're looking forward to starting a playoff game, but it turns out the Skip is going to yank you after one hitter? Great idea on the hard drive, rotten idea in real life.

    1. CSH,

      I strongly disagree with your characterization of sabermetric analysis here.

      There's nothing *at all* about sabermetric analysis that should yield the kinds of results you're talking about.

      I haven't looked carefully at Dusty for some time, but as of a couple of years into his Cubs tenure, I found that he appeared to get hitters to overperform. If that's true, it's huge. OTOH, he also had a strong tendency to shred pitchers' arms. That's huge too!

      Again, if true, those are (or were) real tendencies that had very obvious real results.

      (The other tendency that Dusty had that mattered was a strong reluctance to play young players. IIRC, that faded over time).

      Anyway, Dusty aside, of course good analysts should consider those sorts of things when evaluating a manager. And those kinds of large effects are a far bigger deal than stuff like for example lineup order. I don't think you'll find too many "hardcore sabermetric types" who disagree.

    2. Jonathan, thanks for the, it seems to me, in summary, that sabermetrics (like operant conditioning or the Five-Year Plan) measures a whole bunch of useful stuff and draws conclusions, implicitly assuming that the unmeasurable stuff is irrelevant. That's rarely the case.

      For example, was Sanchez' meltdown in part due to the Tebow/NYC circus? We know this, don't we? But we have no way to measure it, since no one in the Jet organization will acknowledge it, and thus we can't quantify it. But we're all pretty certain, nevertheless, that disregarding the unmeasurable Tebow/circus factor is wrong in coming to terms with the Jets' fiasco.

      Similarly, if sabermetric conclusions tell us that Aroldis Chapman should pitch to Jason Heyward in the 8th inning, but Chapman tells Dusty that he's tired or not feeling it or whatever, again, how do we measure such a thing? Neither Dusty nor Chapman would ever admit it, so how do we measure something we're not certain exists, or if we know it exists, we nevertheless cannot quantify?

      What would be curious - and I confess I lack the technical acumen - would be to see whether the overachieving of Dusty's hitters is at all traceable to situations where sabermetric CW tells us that's a bad matchup for the Reds/Cubs/Giants. The guess here is that those hitters do pretty well in those situations, on the basis that there are many factors going into the quality of a matchup, factors that are impossible to measure.


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