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Dan Szymborski Newsbeat

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Here’s What I’d Like to See in the Coming CBA Fight

When you see the “we said, they said” press release exchanges in the media between MLB and the MLBPA concerning salaries in a fanless baseball world, it serves as a reminder that baseball’s biggest fight is actually the one on the horizon. By comparison, that fight might make the COVID-19 policy squabbling look like a nursery school shoving match.

Baseball’s current collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2021 season, and long before the novel coronavirus altered the 2020 baseball landscape, players had real grievances they wished to see resolved in the next labor agreement. After two tepid winters of free agency — it did thaw a bit this last winter — and teams treating luxury tax thresholds as soft salary caps, players have expressed varying degrees of unhappiness with baseball’s current economics. Service time shenanigans like the Cubs swearing that Kris Bryant’s services were needed exactly one the day after a call-up would have otherwise resulted in free agency following the 2021 season are not conducive to good-faith negotiations between equal parties.

The players are no doubt going into these talks with a wish list of things they want. Some they’ll get, others they won’t. But the negotiation on both sides will be hard-fought; dealings between owners and players usually only go smoothly when the subject is taking away money from people with no voice at the table.

If I were the evil dictator of the MLBPA — I made myself the evil dictator of MLB last week when mixing up some new divisions — here are what my priorities would be for the next CBA. (I’ll let someone else answer the question of why I always label myself an evil dictator.)

That is, other than Rob Manfred and Tony Clark wrestling each other in either hot oil, mud, and/or green-flavored Jello…...


QLE Posted: April 25, 2020 at 01:03 AM | 7 comment(s)
  Beats: cba, dan szymborski, fight, fight, fight

Thursday, April 23, 2020

ZiPS Time Warp: Eric Davis

On a purely objective level, Eric Davis had a solid major league career. He played parts of the 17 seasons in the majors, hit 282 homers, and collected 1,430 hits. Davis received MVP votes, made All-Star appearances, and earned three Gold Glove awards. Of a group of three childhood friends consisting of Davis, Darryl Strawberry, and Chris Brown, he’s the one who came out of baseball seemingly the least affected by personal setbacks and tragedy. Davis is still involved in Major League Baseball and has worked with underprivileged kids, something he knows about having grown up in South Central Los Angeles.

But as accomplished a player as Davis was, he was capable of being more. Like another All-Universe athlete from the 1980s who made the majors, Bo Jackson, baseball wasn’t Davis’s best sport in his youth. At John C. Fremont High School, he was considered a basketball player before a baseball player, but at the time, baseball had the quickest path to playing professionally. While the NBA’s policy disallowing anyone to play in the league within four years of high school was struck down by the US Supreme Court, no high schoolers made the NBA between Darryl Dawkins and Bill Willoughby in 1975 and Shawn Kemp in 1989.

Unlike some of his contemporaries, what kept Davis from approaching a Cooperstown career wasn’t personal or legal troubles or a lack of talent; it was a flurry of injuries. From a knee injury suffered as a rookie while sliding to the torn rotator cuff with the Cardinals, Davis was a veritable encyclopedia of maladies. (For a comprehensive listing of his dings and scrapes – and for a great look back on Davis’ career – be sure to check out Norm King’s SABR Bio of Davis.) Some of them were of the ordinary variety, such as an assortment of leg injuries that cut short almost every one of his age 24-28 peak seasons, a broken collarbone diving in the outfield, and multiple shoulder ailments.

Others were less typical, as when Davis lacerated his kidney and ended up in intensive care and endured a month-long hospital stay. Spinal problems, which ruined his 1994 long before the strike ended the season, initially led Davis to announce his retirement at age 32. Just a year after his extremely successful 1996 comeback with the Cincinnati Reds (.287/.394/.523, 26 homers, 3.4 WAR in 129 games), he was diagnosed with colon cancer. Davis spent the second half of the 1997 season recovering from having a portion of his colon, along with a tumor the size of a baseball, removed but still returned to the Baltimore Orioles and hit .327/.388/.592 in his last real full season in the majors. By this point, he was a part-time right fielder/designated hitter, with his days in center field wisely consigned to the past.


QLE Posted: April 23, 2020 at 01:30 AM | 33 comment(s)
  Beats: dan szymborski, eric davis, zips

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

The 2020 Schedule Meets the Chopping Block

Life isn’t fair, as it continually reminds us, but we try to keep sports as far from the harsh light of reality as we can. The New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays certainly don’t start in the same place when creating a roster, but when those players are on the field, everybody has to play by the same rules. Whether you’re facing Gerrit Cole or whatever fifth starter the Baltimore Orioles Mad-Libbed onto the roster, you have to get actual hits, score actual runs, and make actual Statcast-blessed defensive plays.

It’s extraordinarily difficult to keep the schedules teams face fair. Ideally, we’d want every team to face the same strength of schedule. With complete discretion over the design of the season, that’s still a nearly impossible task, without knowing which teams will be the best and worst ones ahead of time. And it becomes definitely impossible with unbalanced division schedules, series played mostly in three or four-game chunks, and a need to avoid having teams travel thousands of miles every day, like some character in the final season of Game of Thrones.

And even if you avoid all these things using some dark magics from the Necronomicon or Carson Cistulli’s personal notes, you’re still bound by the laws of the physical universe. Teams can’t play themselves, so even if every team played every other team the same number of games each season, the Yankees get a bonus by not having to play the Yankees, while Orioles’ hitters never get the opportunity to feast on Orioles pitching.

A consideration of the consequences of this season being shorter than usual.


QLE Posted: April 21, 2020 at 01:02 AM | 9 comment(s)
  Beats: 2020 season, dan szymborski, schedule, shortened season

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Lost Seasons Mean Lost Milestones

Baseball is a statistics-heavy game, and that’s true even for those who don’t think of themselves as being part of the saber set. Because the game’s rules have had a relatively high degree of consistency across eras, the sport’s career milestones have also enjoyed a certain constancy throughout its history. That doesn’t mean that 600 homers from a player whose prime came in the 1960s are exactly the same as the 600 homers a player in the Wild Card era hit, but when you’re talking 600 homers, you’re always talking about someone who was really, really good at hitting home runs.

And while we would like to think that Hall of Fame voting is based off deep analysis and not round numbers, the fact remains that milestones still play a large part in who ends up in Cooperstown. Whether a player hits 470 homers or 520 homers still means something.


Given the world that we’re in, one of my many research projects this spring has been trying to better gauge how missed seasons ought to be treated. Forecasting those seasons is difficult in the best of times; the missed time is typically due to injury or suspension or war. Now, everyone is hanging out at home trying to not catch the current super-virus or crippling ennui.

And I wasn’t entirely sure whether the long layoff would affect all types of players to the same degree. Re-projecting stars for 1982 and 1995 using ZiPS — I didn’t have ZiPS in 1995 though I assume you’ll excuse me for not having a projection system when I was four — I tried to gauge whether missed time affected players of different qualities in different ways. Together with other data (suspensions, premature retirements, and war), I found that my normal missed time algorithm slightly overrated stars’ “return” projections. Apparently, the elite do have more to lose with lost time.


QLE Posted: April 18, 2020 at 12:58 AM | 2 comment(s)
  Beats: 2020 season, dan szymborski, milestones

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Projection Hindsight Is 20/20 and It’s Totally Awesome

One of the things you have to get used to when you work with projections is being wrong. Like, All. Of. The. Time. While I’d like to believe that the projections are accurate and it’s just real life that mucked things up, that isn’t quite how they work. There are always events you didn’t see coming, assumptions you made erroneously, and just plain old irreducible error, all of which are going to thwart you.

On a basic level, you’re supposed to be wrong. Imagine a world in which you knew, for an exact fact, that every team was a coin flip to win every game. With this perfect knowledge, you’d still expect nearly a quarter of the league to win either 73 games or fewer, or 89 games or more, through nothing but luck. For the math-inclined, this is a hypergeometric distribution, not a binomial one; the coin flips are not independent because the win totals will still add up to 2,430 and one team’s win invariably is another team’s loss. Here’s a quick table for some of the win totals, showing the probability of a team winning exactly X games and how many of the teams you’d expect to have won up to X games:


As an example, you’d expect 3.4% of those coin flip teams to win exactly 74 games, with 15% of all teams winning up to 74 games.

But we don’t have anywhere near perfect knowledge about how good a team will be. We’re not even in the same zip code as “near perfect”; we just hope to be on the right continent. As a result, our error bars are going to be significantly larger than even the rather erroneous results you still get with omniscient projections.

One of the best courses I ever took in college was a one-off course concerning Predicting The Future- as a result, this sort of consideration is of deep interest to me.


QLE Posted: March 24, 2020 at 12:52 AM | 4 comment(s)
  Beats: dan szymborski, projections, where did we go wrong




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