Baseball for the Thinking Fan

Login | Register | Feedback

btf_logo

News

All News | Prime News

Old-School Newsstand


Contributors

Jim Furtado
Founder & Publisher
Repoz
Editor - Baseball Primer

Syndicate

Bill James Newsbeat

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Markusen: Seinfeld, Sabermetrics and Ken Phelps

Bruce, Bill James made me love Phelps also, but c’mon, they already had Don Mattingly and Jack Clark, it was never gonna work.

this year marks the 25th anniversary of the debut of Seinfeld, arguably the most successful sitcom in the history of American television. This month (August) also marks the 60th birthday of Ken Phelps, one of the poster children for Bill James’ Sabermetric movement of the 1980s…

Phelps had had drawn the Yankees’ interest since 1985, when Billy Martin had instructed the front office to do whatever it took to get him. Three years later, Phelps finally arrived, too late for Martin but just in time for new manager Lou Piniella. Here was the plan. Phelps would DH against right-handers, allowing the Yankees to alternate days off for Jack Clark, who was 32 years old, and Dave Winfield, who was 36. To make the trade even more favorable for New York, scouts had their doubts about Buhner, the primary ingredient the Yankees sent to the Mariners. Buhner, a onetime prospect with the Pirates, had several holes in his uppercut swing, struck out at an alarming rate, and appeared ill-suited for Death Valley at the old Yankee Stadium.

So on all fronts, trading Buhner for Phelps made me happy. Unfortunately, Piniella, who was early in his career as a field boss, couldn’t figure out how to get Phelps into the lineup more regularly. (In fairness to Piniella, the injury-prone Clark complained about having to move back to the outfield to make room for Phelps, making life more difficult for Sweet Lou.) ...

Although Phelps’ Yankee career will never amount to a Yankeeography, he is far from forgotten. Quite the contrary, he has become a popular culture icon, thanks to the efforts of Jerry Seinfeld, George Costanza, and the mythical George Steinbrenner (voiced by the brilliant Larry David)... Much like Larry David did in voicing the role of George Steinbrenner, I found myself saying “Ken Phelps, Ken Phelps” a lot in 1988, to the point that his name became an obsession with me. I thought he would become the next big thing in New York. It never happened. But I understood where George Steinbrenner was coming from. And if you were a Mariners fan in the mid-1980s, you probably did, too.

The District Attorney Posted: August 28, 2014 at 02:36 PM | 8 comment(s)
  Beats: bill james, ken phelps, mariners, sabermetrics, television, yankees

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Bill James Mailbag - 8/8/14 - 8/17/14

Could we get Elway wrestling, Eisenhower playing quarterback, and Randy Savage as Supreme Allied Commander?

Is there any systematic account available of the changes over the years in player movement and roster utilization, both team to team and majors to minors, both the rules governing this stuff and the actual practices? I know in general terms that things have changed immensely since I was a newbie baseball fan about the same time you were. The tipping point for me came in 2010 when I realized that my Giants were allowed to leave a healthy season-long rotation starter (bad as he was) off the postseason roster. To me, that kind of move, while it might make strategic sense, really subverts the idea of a baseball “team” that we’re supposed to root for. Somehow I doubt that would have happened in 1962.

I’m not aware of their being any such account, but then, I’m a poor resource for that kind of information, since I don’t really study the research the other people do. Generally. I agree that. . .well, you didn’t EXACTLY say this, but. . .I agree that more restrictive rules would be appropriate in some areas. In a perfect game, should not be able to leave somebody who has been a key part of your team all year off your post-season roster unless he’s 80% dead. And I’m CERTAIN that I’m about to hear from somebody that we left so-and-so off our roster in 2007 or something. . ..

June 26 1987 at Yankee Stadium… Schiraldi gave up a walk, a bunt and a single to lose the game in the bottom of the tenth, 12-11. Dave Henderson batted for Gedman in the top of the 10th, which meant that Marc Sullivan caught the tenth. Wonder if that was the highest leverage inning of Sullivan’s “career?”

If Sullivan didn’t have leverage, he wouldn’t have had a career.

An injured Pedro coming in to relieve Bret Saberhagen in a high-scoring game after 3, and then proceeded to mow everyone down. That was beautiful to watch. Pedro recently talked about that for a few minutes in an hour-long podcast with Jonah Keri. Maybe someone can cue it up. Pedro is fascinating to listen to.

He is. I wonder if Pedro has perhaps the highest density of memorable games to total games pitched of anybody who has a Hall of Fame career?

Hey Bill, I was thinking about Derek Jeter. If he wasn’t a Yankee I would look at him and see that he likes beautiful women and baseball. (Not sure of the order) I would like and root for him. What can I do about this? Steve

Yeah, well, I have a neighbor who’s a real nice guy, too, but I don’t feel compelled to stand beside the sidewalk and applaud every time he goes out to pick up his newspaper.

I have also thought since I became aware of Voros McCracken’s papers on pitchers non-effect on batted ballsl that you were 90% of the way there with DER . If it makes you feel better, in this area you are Henri Poincare to Voros’ Einstein.

It was my childhood ambition to someday be compared to Henri Poincare.

John Elway had pretty impressive stats in his one minor league season with the Yankees. In 1982 at age 22, he had 185 plate appearances in low A with a .318 batting average, .432 on-base percentage, .464 slugging percentage. Who is the most promising baseball player (in minors, college) who never ended up playing because he pursued another career, be it football, poetry, or whatever else?

Dwight Eisenhower?

Highest density of memorable games for a non-HOFer with significant games pitched is probably Maglie, right? He wasn’t just in the right places at the right time, but at his peak whenever opportunity arose. I read a book a few years back that showcased the most memorable games. I’m pretty sure Maglie not only had more of them than anyone, but appeared in a stretch of something like four out of five.

I’ll take your word for it. It’s that, ,or cook up a formula. .. ..


Friday, August 08, 2014

Bill James Mailbag - 8/6/14 - 8/8/14

But Jeff Bagwell’s son won’t pass for a while…

... do you think that baseball is best served if Felix and Kershaw et al are there pitching the whole game, and if their bodies can’t handle it, then the structure of baseball should adapt to allow for it?...

... I think it would be desirable to have cleaner matchup. “Conceptual clarity” sounds like an esoteric concept, but it is fundamental to the success of any esthetic medium. You go to a movie, you want to know what the movie is about. If you the plot line is a mess, it diminishes the movie. If a work of music is all over the place, we regard it as a failed effort. A baseball game of constantly changing pitchers is like a movie with a convoluted plot line: you don’t know what it is ABOUT.

... I disagree slightly with your observation that “A baseball game of constantly changing pitchers is like a movie with a convoluted plot line: you don’t know what it is ABOUT.” Actually, I think we know what it is about—it’s about the cleverness of the two managers in trying to out-maneuver one another with pitching changes and pinch hitters. The problem is that this is a really boring thing to watch.

Thanks. I think I agree with that.

...what are your thoughts on George “High Pockets” Kelly being in the HOF?

Oh, I used to get regular hate mail from George Kelly’s son. No ####; I really did. Kelly’s selection to the Hall of Fame was absurd, farcical. Bob Watson would have been a better Hall of Fame selection that George Kelly. But after I wrote things like that a few times I used to get nasty letters from George Kelly’s son, who I think was named Walter. I assume that Walter has passed on, because I haven’t heard from him for ten years.

... What can you tell us about the decision to turn Papelbon into a starter? Was it just an experiment at first? Was there ever an announcement about it? Was it based on Boston’s needs or mainly just his skills? Was it something Jonathan was happy to do? Etc.

Jonathan kind of drove the train; Jonathan and need. We needed a closer, and he was pitching relief and doing really well, but the plans of the organization were to make him a starter. But it just got away from us; we had a good starting rotation, and Jon decided that he wanted to Close, and Terry wanted to keep him as the closer, so the front office would have had to use firearms to keep him in the rotation, more or less. And we just don’t operate that way.


Friday, August 01, 2014

Bill James Mailbag - 7/13/14 - 7/22/14 (Subscription Required)

And what about the VORP of Geddy Lee?

... Have you ever looked at the decline (% wise) of nicknames historically? Seems to me like they are way down - unless made up for show now days (“King’ James LeBron). Jeter, Trout, etc., are not referred by nick names now…....any thoughts? An aside, one of my aunts had a family nickname back in the day, and her husband of like 30 years of marriage, called my mom to ask what her real name was ....... we used to be named and defined by our nick names, now not so much ..... and in sports I think the names were much richer

There is a difference between a nickname and a family name. My grandmother’s name was “Willa”, like Willa Cather, but she was called “Bill”; I was named George William and called Bill, after my grandmother. But that’s a family name, as opposed to a nickname; a nickname for me would be like “The Bearded Bastard” or “The Doctor of Decimal Points” or something. A lot of the names that were in the game in the 1918 era were actually family names which were just syllables, and I would suspect there might be more of those around than we notice, because each generation assumes that THEIR family names are normal. (Paragraph) But you have a point; COLORFUL nicknames, interesting nicknames, have certainly disappeared because of some twist of manners. A nickname reduces a player to the dimensions of the nickname. It states what is important about that player in a manner not chosen by the player himself, and in our current environment we tend to regard that as disrespectful. I may get skinned for putting it this way, but we don’t refer to Billy Hamilton as Flying Billy for generally the same reasons that we don’t refer to people from Mexico as Wetbacks.

Geddy Lee of Rush has long been a big baseball fan… In fact I recall an interview (checking, and yes, I’m right) almost completely about Lee’s familiarity with your work, Bill. He says he got into the Abstracts right after they moved from the homemade versions to the national release. Has he ever reached out to you? Seems like a very pleasant, interesting guy.

No, I’ve never had personal contact with him, that I know of. He does seem like a good guy.

Hey Bill, what would you say the chances are that Nick Markakis totals 3000 hits? I was looking over his numbers and he seems far more likely to do it than I ever expected.

Well, in terms of hits and age, he’s in a good position. The issue to be tested over time is whether he is a good enough player to stay in the league long enough to get the second 1500 hits.

I’m surprised you were that sanguine about Markakis’s chance for 3000 hits. I know that you qualified it with the “if” about whether he’s good enough to last long enough, but, isn’t THAT the main part of it, and isn’t it a clear enough “No”?

It is not clear, no. It might be 90% clear, but it’s certainly not 100% clear. Doc Cramer had 1700 hits after the age of 30; Markakis is a much better player than Doc Cramer. Markakis, now 30, will need about 1,450 hits after this season. All of the following had 1,400 or more hits after age 30: Sam Rice, Craig Biggio, Omar Vizquel, Jim O’Rourke, Doc Cramer, Luke Appling, Edgar Martinez, Steve Finley, Lave Cross, Jeff Kent, Luis Gonzalez, Andres Galarraga, Jake Daubert, Cy Williams, Dave Parker, Raul Ibanez, Ozzie Smith, Enos Slaughter and Brian Downing. I is not apparent that Markakis could not do as well.

Players that could have been pitchers and hitters? Olerud and Winfield immediately come to mimd. Both were excellent pitchers at the college level who werent given the opportunity to pitch at the MLB level. Can you think of anyone else?

Hundreds. Literally. Greinke could play in the majors as an infielder. Catfish Hunter could have, Bob Gibson probably. Mark McGwire was a pitcher, I don’t know how good. There’s a lot of them. Who was that guy who was a tremendous two-way player at LSU. . . Cincinnati drafted him and made him a pitcher, which was obviously the wrong decision, but after two years everybody decided that it was too late to go back and get it right. Which I never understood. .. .. Ken Brett was a terrific hitter. Somebody asked him, when he was about 34, whether, if he could go back and do it over again, he would be an outfielder or first baseman. He said “absolutely.”

The District Attorney Posted: August 01, 2014 at 12:36 PM | 32 comment(s)
  Beats: bill james, music, nick markakis, nicknames, orioles, sabermetrics

Monday, April 07, 2014

Bill James Mailbag - 4/4/14 - 4/7/14

But Eckstein was a clubhouse lawyer...

The issue with the fielding is mostly tied to the spread that the system will estimate. For example, the 114 fielders in 2013 with at least 1000 innings, and including the “positional adjustment”, Fangraphs has those players with one standard deviation = 10.7 runs. http://tinyurl.com/fangraphsFLD2013 I presume that Win Shares is going to be less, probably half of that. So, if Fangraphs has [Manny] Machado at +34 runs, [Andrelton] Simmons at +32 and [Carlos] Gomez at +27 (and [Carlos] Beltran at -21!), this will drive the WAR result for many such players. Win Shares, by giving a fielding estimate a smaller standard deviation allows the offense portion to drive most of the results.

Right. And, to try to move the ball on this just an inch. .. .these discrepancies are caused by two issues. One issue is whether fielding events should be treated as proportional events or marginal events. A single only creates something like 0.29 runs; however, if one adds 100 ADDITIONAL singles to a team, marginal singles, then you’ll add something more than 60 additional runs. The marginal value of an offensive event is more than twice as great as the value of such an event integrated into the whole package. And second, there is an issue as to what is skill and what is luck. It is my view, based on what I know, that the differences between what is attributed to two fielders might equally plausibly be attributed to luck. In the same way that a hitter might hit .370 on balls in play one year and .230 the next, just based on luck; in the same way that a pitcher might give up 220 hits one year and 170 the next, just based on luck, it is reasonable to think that a fielder catching 70% of the catchable but non-routine plays, rather than 40%, might simply be luck. We don’t know. Unless or until we know, I’m using the conservative assumptions.

...I meet Rick Eckstein, when my Dad, took us to watch my nephew play while at UK. Rick was with Georgia. While talking to him I said, “If Boston had kept your brother, David in 2002 and let him play second, they would have won the WS and not the Angels.”... You got there in 2003, did anyone talk about that?

... yes, we would talk quite a bit about Eckstein, because he’s the perfect player to illustrate the need to focus on what players actually can do, rather than on how they look in the uniform. The Red Sox signed Eckstein in 1997; he hit .301 that year, hit .306 and scored 99 runs in 1998, 87-51 walks to strikeouts, hit .313 and scored 101 runs in 1999, 89 -48 walks to strikeouts, and then played decent at Pawtucket his first year at AAA, 2000—and we put him on waivers because he wasn’t athletic enough. It was ridiculous.

Hey Bill, are there pieces of baseball writing that you like to re-read (ostensibly for pleasure) every once in awhile? For me, Roger Angell’s “The Go Shouters” about the ‘62 Mets and their fans is particularly delightful, and of course the one about box scores (I think it’s simply called “Box Scores.” Thanks.

Thanks. But No; I don’t re-read anything. Even my own stuff. The only stuff I ever enjoyed re-reading was the stuff I would re-read to my kids.

...What did the Sox see after 2012 that convinced them that it was OK to let [Jonathan Papelbon] go that the Phils’ didn’t see and wasted $59 million?...

Well, actually, we didn’t let him go after 2012; we let him go after 2011, and it should be pointed out that he had a very good year in 2012 when, as I recall, we didn’t have such a good year and the guys we brought into replace him weren’t really too good. He actually left us. .. .I don’t know if you remember, but after the 2011 season we had a chaotic interval in which our manager and general manager both left, and some other people. Very early in that period, before we could get our feet back on the ground, Philadelphia made Papelbon a generous offer and he accepted it. I’m 99% sure we wouldn’t have matched the offer anyway, but I guess we’ll never know.


Thursday, April 03, 2014

Bill James Mailbag - 4/3/14

This fellow here, over here with the yellow shirt… Magnante, or whatever his name is. He’s with my opponent.

Hey Bill: I just noticed that Baseball Reference now has Mike Trout and Carlos Gomez tied for 2013 WAR leaders at 8.9 each. You show Trout as being nearly twice as valuable as Gomez (40 WS to 21.2). One expects different systems to arrive at somewhat different valuations, but a disagreement of this size strikes me as a bit bizarre. Any thoughts?

Well. ..what do you think? Do you really believe Carlos Gomez is the equal of Mike Trout? I don’t feel that I have a deep need to defend my position, and I don’t see any point in attacking there’s.

Now that baseball has finally crossed the Rubicon and begun embracing replay technology, can automating ball-and-strike calls be far behind?...

... what I have advocated for 20 years: an audible beep that only the home plate umpire hears, telling him whether the ball was or was not in the zone. He can ignore the beep if he chooses to do so; there might be cases where the technology doesn’t work, and a ball bouncing off the catcher’s shinguards will beep to signal a strike. Anything can happen. But in practice, umpires are going to learn to just go along with the beep 99.99% of the time. The game LOOKS the same; it’s the same from the seats. The only difference is, the calls are right.

Bill, from a run production stand point, would you rather have a team full of Ben Revers or a team full of Adam Dunns?

... Revere’s on base percentage the last three years is higher than Dunn’s, so it is power against baserunning. I’m not sure who would win. An odd and relevant fact is that Dunn processes as a better baserunner last year than Revere does. Revere was 11-for-22 going first to third on singles; Dunn was 3-for-27, so Revere is several bases ahead there. Revere was 5-for-8 scoring from second on a single; Dunn was 7-for-17, so Revere is further ahead. Revere was 2-for-5 scoring from first on a double; Dunn was 1-for-7, so another base or two for Revere there. But Dunn did not run into an out on the bases, all year; Revere did it five times. Running into an out is FAR more costly than the benefit of one base, so the balance of these events actually favors Dunn.

You mentioned George Allen recently. To me, he was the original moneyball man. He traded unproven commodities (draft picks) for unproven commodities (players) and won EVERY single year. Do you hav thoughts on him?

At the end of his career he was trading away the future for the present. I don’t think that was smart; I think that was selfish. I think he was a great coach up to a point, but. . .like Andy Reid in Philadelphia. . .when the coach becomes the GM, has the dual responsibility of coaching and selecting players, most often this does not work. I think Allen was a terrific coach, but I don’t think the wholesale trading of future draft picks should be allowed, and I don’t think it reflects well on anyone who does it.

Hey Bill, Baseball Reference 2013 WAR data show Mike Trout as being twice as valuable as Carlos Gomez offensively, but suggest that Gomez was five and a half wins better than Trout defensively, and that Trout’s defense actually cost the Angels a win last year. I am skeptical of that assessment, but that is where the discrepancy lies.

I was assuming that everybody knew that. What I was asking—and am asking—is, do you believe it? I don’t believe it; I think it is silly, so I’m not going to worry about arguing it through, because I don’t think anyone really believes that.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Bill James Mailbag - 3/25/14 - 3/26/14

C’mon now, cancelling the World Series is joyous compared to Arli$$.

Hey Bill, In what context do “one run” offensive strategies (in particular the sacrifice bunt, but also stolen bases) make sense in the early innings of a game? Said another way, how scarce do runs need to be in order to make the sacrifice bunt a favorable strategy in the early innings of a game?

I’m not sure I have a solid understanding of the issue. Billy Southworth bunted constantly in the early innings, believing that the most important thing was to grab the lead. Southworth’s teams were tremendously successful. It could be that if you have a GREAT team, one way to maximize that is to bunt in the early innings. I DOUBT that, but I don’t KNOW that it is untrue. And, as I have pointed out before. . .if the third baseman can’t field a bunt, why not bunt?

Re Southworth’s strategy: I’ve always heard that teams scoring the FIRST run in a game tend to win that game by some ludicrous %, but then I realized that every shutout of course is won by the team scoring the first run, probably equivalent (or close) to the % of wins claimed by the bunting/stealing crowd. Do you see this as blowing a significant hole in the small-ball argument? McCarver used to invoke it like it was heaven-sent wisdom, but I always found it spectacularly dumb.

Well. . .spectacularly dumb is harsh. It’s misleading. If you were to look, for example, at teams that score a run in the bottom of the fourth inning, you would find that those teams win about 70% of their games, just because a) EVERY run you score is highly significant in a contest in which it only takes a few runs to win a game, and b) when you score one run in the bottom of the 4th, very often you will score 2 or more, whereas when you score NO runs in the bottom of the fourth, then you never score 2 or more. It’s not that the first run is hugely significant; it is that every run is hugely significant.

Bill: I don’t expect you to keep printing my input on this. . .

Deal.

In “Four Sluggers” you tossed in a very interesting generalization that fantasy GMs and possibly real GMs should all know - but I didn’t think was considered general knowledge: ” The usual rule is that a player is consistent when he is young; when he gets older, what he loses is not the ability to produce but the consistency of his production.” Can I take that as fact? Could you, please, elaborate on that? It would make a good subject for a serious study.

I can’t demonstrate that it’s true, no. It seems obvious to me, but then, Amy Adams didn’t win Best Actress for “American Hustle”, so I guess you never know.

Hey Bill, ESPN Magazine has published preseason predictions ( http://assets.espn.go.com/magazine/0331TEAMAL.pdf, http://assets.espn.go.com/magazine/0331TEAMNL.pdf ) based in part on a “chemistry score.” They worked with a couple of professors to build “a proprietary team-chemistry regression model” with three factors: “clubhouse demographics, trait isolation and stratification of performance to pay.” Basically, on each factor, more homogeneity is better: players with similar salaries, experience, race, nationality, etc. Each component gives a result in terms of wins; e.g., the Cubs lose 3.5 wins on “clubhouse demographics” because of “too much diversity”. A fuller summary of the method is here: http://blog.philbirnbaum.com/2014/03/espn-on-clubhouse-chemistry.html Any thoughts on this?

Ah. . .it’s happened at last. The happy marriage of sabermetrics and bullshit.

Bill, Selig will retire a the end of this year. Who are the leading candidaes to replace him?

George Will, Bob Costas, Mariano Rivera, Stephen Colbert, Pope Francis, Gwyneth Paltrow, Mitch McConnell, Dale Chihuly, Maui Mike, Rob Neyer, Robert Wuhl, Betty White and Steven Goldleaf. In that order.

The District Attorney Posted: March 26, 2014 at 12:40 PM | 40 comment(s)
  Beats: amy adams, bill james, sabermetrics, strategy

 

 

BBTF Partner

Support BBTF

donate

Thanks to
BDC
for his generous support.

Bookmarks

You must be logged in to view your Bookmarks.

Hot Topics

NewsblogHBT: Talking head says Jeter is “a fraud” and “you are all suckers”
(101 - 12:08am, Sep 22)
Last: Dog on the sidewalk

NewsblogCameron: The Stealth MVP Candidacy of Hunter Pence
(47 - 12:01am, Sep 22)
Last: Cargo Cultist

NewsblogOT: Monthly NBA Thread - September 2014
(296 - 11:51pm, Sep 21)
Last: Der-K and the statistical werewolves.

NewsblogEn Banc Court May Call Foul on Bonds Conviction
(42 - 11:50pm, Sep 21)
Last: Walt Davis

NewsblogOT August 2014:  Wrassle Mania I
(204 - 11:37pm, Sep 21)
Last: SouthSideRyan

NewsblogOT: The Soccer Thread, September 2014
(352 - 11:13pm, Sep 21)
Last: Textbook Editor

NewsblogJohn Thorn: Fame & Fandom
(16 - 11:06pm, Sep 21)
Last: The District Attorney

NewsblogJames Shields is the perfect pitcher at the perfect time
(47 - 11:03pm, Sep 21)
Last: Shibal

NewsblogOT: NBC.news: Valve isn’t making one gaming console, but multiple ‘Steam machines’
(834 - 10:57pm, Sep 21)
Last: CrosbyBird

NewsblogOT: Politics, September, 2014: ESPN honors Daily Worker sports editor Lester Rodney
(3429 - 10:56pm, Sep 21)
Last: Greg K

NewsblogOMNICHATTER 9-21-2014
(102 - 10:51pm, Sep 21)
Last: salvomania

NewsblogAthletics out of top wild-card spot, Texas sweeps
(18 - 10:30pm, Sep 21)
Last: Spahn Insane

NewsblogLindbergh: Dellin Betances’s Season & Bullpen Strategy
(9 - 10:06pm, Sep 21)
Last: bobm

NewsblogRoyals encounter problem with online sale of playoff tickets
(31 - 9:19pm, Sep 21)
Last: Walt Davis

NewsblogOT: September 2014 College Football thread
(323 - 5:08pm, Sep 21)
Last: spike

Page rendered in 1.4449 seconds
71 querie(s) executed