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Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Bissinger: The Strange Genius of Tony La Russa

Buzz La Bissinger returns! (checks Sequel-Buzz for further info)

Whether you loved Tony La Russa, as many millions of fans did, or hated him, as far too many millions of fans did, the verdict on him is simple. In the aftermath of Monday’s surprising announcement, three days after his St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series, that he was retiring after a 33-year managerial career, we might as well get the boilerplate of his legacy out of the way so there is no confusion:

Over the past half-century of Major League Baseball, the 67-year-old has been the game’s best manager, best innovator, best thinker, and best strategist. There is no argument, at least to those who appreciate baseball. He also makes the current rage, Billy Beane of Moneyball book and film fame and the general manager of the Oakland Athletics, look like the general manager of a T-ball team in Toledo in terms of accomplishment, as opposed to hype and exaggeration.

...La Russa loved the lore of baseball. He was a romantic at heart, but the best thing about him is that he changed with the game. He still looked for ways to turn baseball on its head with positive results. He still managed every game as if it were the first game he ever managed so he would not get lazy, exhausting to contemplate, given he managed 5,097 games. He also had great respect for the work of the famed sabermetrician Bill James. Just as he also realized that no matter how many numbers you pour into a computer, there will never be a way to quantify the intangibles of heart and chemistry and desire that define the success or failure of all of us.

I for one hope the naysayers do come around. Because in baseball, in any sport, a person like Tony La Russa only comes around once in a lifetime.

Repoz Posted: November 01, 2011 at 09:34 AM | 294 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: books, cardinals, history, sabermetrics

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   101. a bebop a rebop Posted: November 02, 2011 at 12:19 AM (#3984635)
The idea that Mo Rivera can't shut down some random hitter over 5 PA doesn't mean he sucks, the countless people who couldn't get a bat on a ball over the same means Rivera was better, not lucky, and the same is true of Feliz, IMO.

I think we both agree that Feliz is a good pitcher (modulo his wildness this year). I'm just trying to figure out why the hell you're citing 10 PA against Kendrick and 10 PA against Hunter, instead of saying he has a career 178 ERA+ in 162 innings. If Kendrick had gone 5 for 10 with 2 HRs, that wouldn't change our conclusions at all. Or more accurately, it would change our conclusions by a tiny, statistically-insignificant amount.
   102. a bebop a rebop Posted: November 02, 2011 at 12:21 AM (#3984638)
By the way, as a Rangers fan, I respectfully submit that we use a different example for our "good" pitcher. :)
   103. Captain Joe Bivens, Elderly Northeastern Jew Posted: November 02, 2011 at 12:24 AM (#3984641)
Was it luck (for me) that I stumbled upon this thread? I say no. I'll just stumble on out.
   104. Lassus Posted: November 02, 2011 at 12:26 AM (#3984642)
My point was regarding Ray's insistence that all outcomes between major leaguers over small sample sizes are driven and determined primarily by luck and not skill. I disagree. Citing Feliz's season ERA+ doesn't apply to this debate. (And I'm using Feliz as someone else - I think Ray - brought him up already.)
   105. a bebop a rebop Posted: November 02, 2011 at 12:42 AM (#3984654)
Well, if you agree that 10 Kendrick PAs don't imply that Feliz is good... and 6 Brantley PAs don't imply that Feliz is bad... then it seems to me you agree that individual PA outcomes are largely determined by luck. Or at least something other than baseline talent, whatever you choose to call it.

To quantify things a little bit, we can imagine that most extreme true-talent match-ups might vary between an expected batting average of .175 (call it Punto vs. Feliz) and .375 (Pujols vs. Rhodes). This implies that any at-bat between typical major leaguers is 20% skill (the batting average differential above) and 80% luck, even for these extreme cases. In general, less.

EDIT: I'm not trying to be obtuse here. Are you objecting to the terminology "luck"?
   106. Lassus Posted: November 02, 2011 at 12:56 AM (#3984666)
Well, if you agree that 10 Kendrick PAs don't imply that Feliz is good... and 6 Brantley PAs don't imply that Feliz is bad... then it seems to me you agree that individual PA outcomes are largely determined by luck.

Aagh. No, I'm not saying 10 Kendrick PAs means Feliz is good. I'm saying that because 48 individual major league hitters - of which Kendrick is one - with small sample size PAs against Feliz couldn't make it to three hits, it implies to me that the driver of that fact is skill. Because only 2 batters could get more than two hits, it is THOSE PAs - the minority, and not majority that Ray says - that are driven by luck.
   107. a bebop a rebop Posted: November 02, 2011 at 01:16 AM (#3984676)
And I think that's an incoherent position. Differences in skill explain differences in results, in the long run. Babe Ruth made outs in 53% of his PAs, Luis Aparicio in 69% of his. The 16% in the middle -- that's where the skill is, at least among players good enough to be in the majors to begin with. Neftali Feliz getting outs in 75% of PAs isn't so impressive when you consider that 2011 Derek Lowe came out on top 65% of the time. (Well, of course it is, but only because we have to consider these things on a relative basis.)

Your position is logically equivalent to saying that pitchers are better than hitters in general, because hitters are successful in well less than half of plate appearances.

Another way of making the point is that if skill were the determinative factor in most at-bats, as you claim, batters should be hitting home runs on every other pitch in batting practice, when they're facing a theoretically zero-skill opponent. Even for the best hitters, this isn't true.
   108. Ray (CTL) Posted: November 02, 2011 at 02:51 AM (#3984731)
And I think that's an incoherent position. Differences in skill explain differences in results, in the long run. Babe Ruth made outs in 53% of his PAs, Luis Aparicio in 69% of his. The 16% in the middle -- that's where the skill is, at least among players good enough to be in the majors to begin with. Neftali Feliz getting outs in 75% of PAs isn't so impressive when you consider that 2011 Derek Lowe came out on top 65% of the time. (Well, of course it is, but only because we have to consider these things on a relative basis.)

Your position is logically equivalent to saying that pitchers are better than hitters in general, because hitters are successful in well less than half of plate appearances.


Concur.
   109. Ray (CTL) Posted: November 02, 2011 at 03:00 AM (#3984736)
And, again, this goes to the point I was making about trying to distill meaning from a short series between a 90 win team and a 95 win team.
   110. greenback used to say live and let live Posted: November 02, 2011 at 04:09 AM (#3984782)
And, again, this goes to the point I was making about trying to distill meaning from a short series between a 90 win team and a 95 win team.

As has been noted already, the standard deviation over a full season is at least five wins. Throw in freak injuries and the like, and you can't distinguish a 90 win team from a 95 win team in a full season.

So what? The point of the exercise isn't to determine a statistically valid champion. You can go over to Baseball Prospectus's third-order wins, or whatever it's called these days, and check that yourself. It isn't hard to find, and while some will nitpick, few people question the general technique. By now the only reason to bring this crapshoot stuff up is to air partisan grievances (let me tell you about the 2005 NLCS) or to preen before the rest of the message board. It's really unbecoming.
   111. Ray (CTL) Posted: November 02, 2011 at 04:21 AM (#3984790)
As has been noted already, the standard deviation over a full season is at least five wins. Throw in freak injuries and the like, and you can't distinguish a 90 win team from a 95 win team in a full season.


When this was "noted" previously, it missed -- as you do here -- the point completely. I'm talking about a TRUE 90 win team or 95 win team.

If you had a true 90 win team play a true 95 win team, would you be able to tell the difference over a short playoff series? No. You. Would. Not.

So what? The point of the exercise isn't to determine a statistically valid champion. You can go over to Baseball Prospectus's third-order wins, or whatever it's called these days, and check that yourself. It isn't hard to find, and while some will nitpick, few people question the general technique. By now the only reason to bring this crapshoot stuff up is to air partisan grievances (let me tell you about the 2005 NLCS) or to preen before the rest of the message board. It's really unbecoming.


My point is that the playoffs don't "mean" anything. They don't mean that one team was better than another. Lassus and SoSH and others are pushing back on that, claiming that playoff PAs and games and series aren't driven by luck. They. Are.

And Lassus, as to the above, think of it this way: suppose you have a weighted coin, so that it's not 50-50 heads or tails but is 48-52, or 45-55. Would you be able to tell that in one flip? Of course not. 5 flips? 10? No, and no. You need to do MANY flips for the weighting to become apparent. That's all we're talking about here.
   112. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: November 02, 2011 at 05:11 AM (#3984807)
My point is that the playoffs don't "mean" anything. They don't mean that one team was better than another. Lassus and SoSH and others are pushing back on that, claiming that playoff PAs and games and series aren't driven by luck. They. Are.


I can't speak for Lassus, so I won't, but my point is that luck is just part of the equation. Playoff games are won on some non-constant combination of luck and skill, unless one happens to define virtually everything that is not 100 percent projectible as luck.

Albert Pujols' hit 3 home runs recently because he's a great hitter. By good fortune, he happened to hit those 3 home runs in Game 3 of the World Series. I don't know how much you can attribute to luck and how much was skill, and I doubt it's possible to know. I do know that slapping ones hands together and claiming it was just luck that he happened to do it in the World Series is the act of a simpleton, not something that only one man is smart enough to grasp.

I mean, in a sense the Cardinals are "lucky" that David Freese's mom allowed David Freese's dad to take her on that hot summer night in Texas a little more than 29 years ago, but that's a similar kind of silliness to expanding luck to include the timing of good or bad plays on the baseball field, as you did earlier.

There are any number of ways playoff series can go all crapshotten. A team can be seriously outplayed but win by virtue of a fortuitous grouping of runs (the 1960 series). A team can benefit from a series of bad calls that turn a loss or losses into wins. One can take advantage of a key injury suffered by an opponent, or have its path to a title eased by others vanquishing the superior clubs. A drastically inferior team can play above its heads (or its superior foe below its talent level) for a week and provide an unexpected result.

Then again, two evenly matched teams can meet and one just happens to outplay the other. Or an excellent team can summarily dispatch some inferior foe.

When you group all of these disparate types of outcomes under a single "luck" umbrella and consider your work done, you've essentially stripped any significance from the word.

It's not that people don't understand your position. It's that you're not actually saying anything.

I think everyone here understands that the large sample size of the regular season is a far better indicator of talent level than a short series. Everyone here understands that chance plays a significant role in the outcome of a baseball game, and is more likely to swing results in a playoff series than it would in a full season.

But not every outcome is simply the result of luck (or your vague, nothingish "driven by"). Nor should luck be the blanket explanation for every outcome.
   113. Sunday silence: Play Guess How long season lasts Posted: November 02, 2011 at 05:15 AM (#3984808)

If you had a true 90 win team play a true 95 win team, would you be able to tell the difference over a short playoff series? No. You. Would. Not


OK right, I see that. But let me ask you this ( and this may illustrate greenback's pt or maybe not)

1 Which team do YOU think was the best team for the year 2011?

2. How confident are you in this conclusion?
   114. cardsfanboy Posted: November 02, 2011 at 05:45 AM (#3984812)
Albert Pujols' hit 3 home runs recently because he's a great hitter. By good fortune, he happened to hit those 3 home runs in Game 3 of the World Series. I don't know how much you can attribute to luck and how much was skill, and I doubt it's possible to know. I do know that slapping ones hands together and claiming it was just luck that he happened to do it in the World Series is the act of a simpleton, not something that only one man is smart enough to grasp.


and that is the funny part of the luck argument. None of those hits were lucky, they were all absolute bombs from a player locked in that day. I'm a D&D player, so I'm a fan of letting the dice roll, but at the same time, something has to be said, about a manager who consistently is able to get the best out of his players, day in day out, and over the course of the season.

TLR did not(and still doesn't) think that John Jay is a starting level talent, yet the anti-luck/stat brigade would tout his numbers, and bag on TLR for not starting Jay more. Guess what, every time Jay spends too much time in the starting lineup, he struggles. Maybe TLR knows more than the numbers on this particular player (and Craig Paquette, and Anthony Reyes, and Kerry Robinson, etc.)

I have to agree with the people that say the term luck has been watered down to the point the point of absurdity. On a day to day basis, if you manage strictly based upon the numbers, you will get your ass handed to you by TLR, who manages by the numbers, the players, his own experience and thousands of other things that could not be predicted or accounted for by a stat book, but can be done by a person watching the player walk into the dugout.

You can not expect to win over the course of the season by just assuming the luck averages out in the end, the fact is that the luck that averages out, is something that can be predicted by a scout, a coach, a manager and heck even a tv analyst. It might be miniscule, it might be uncalcaluable by the limited minds of an MGL, but it's not non-existent, it's not true luck, it's a skill of the people in charge knowing more than the numbers by just being exposed to the people. (sorry rambling rant)
   115. cardsfanboy Posted: November 02, 2011 at 05:49 AM (#3984814)
1 Which team do YOU think was the best team for the year 2011?

2. How confident are you in this conclusion?


not directed to me, but I go

1. Philadelphia Phillies
1a. New York evil empire
3. Rangers
4. evil empire two
......that is where I see the gap.
I do not see any noticeable difference, regardless of records between the Cardinals, Brewers, Tigers, Rays(I know others see it different, I just don't), and Braves,

then a step down will be the Diamondbacks, Giants and Angels.

I think you could order the groups how you want, and I know the Diamondbacks had a better record than others, but I'm calling it the way I saw it.

how confident? pretty confident in the groups, although I hesitate on the Diamondbacks as their record was noticeably better than the guys in the group above them, but that the perceived talent going into the season wasn't near that level, and that if this season is played out 10 times, I have to think the results would have been different for them the majority of the time.
   116. rr Posted: November 02, 2011 at 06:08 AM (#3984819)
A better way to put it is that no individual plate appearance demonstrates skill in a statistically significant way. (Of course this is really what you meant anyway...)


I just thought this was worth reposting. "Luck" is a loaded term when we use it in sports contexts; one of the first defenses of the sore loser is "you just got lucky."

And there are degrees of luck. If I put on a helmet, grabbed a bat and tried to connect against Neftali Feliz by closing my eyes and swinging as soon he started his motion, and the ball actually hit the bat, then that's--literally--blind luck. A major league hitter going 3/6 or 1/10 against him or St. Louis beating Texas four out of seven times, is just a small sample, which is a different thing.

One of my favorite lines about luck and baseball was written by Roger Angell, talking about the now-forgotten-but-closely-contested 1972 Series. He said, "Baseball luck is inescapable." He added that the trick is to dominate the game to a degree that it doesn't matter.
   117. Something Other Posted: November 02, 2011 at 09:56 AM (#3984837)
I think talking about LaRussa's post-season record is interesting, but the key to greatness as a manager is combining longevity and effectiveness--not many guys can. LaRussa put guys in position to succeed, established good relationships with his very best/key guys so they bought in, and always knew what he was trying to do and how he was trying to do it. He was that way in Chicago, in Oakland, and in St. Louis, and he won in all three places.
This is the sort of thing on LaRussa that drives me nuts and makes me repeat myself occasionally. LaRussa didn't "win" in Chicago, in any meaningful sense. Over 9 years he finished first all of once, whereupon the Sox promptly lost the LCS to the Orioles. LaRussa's winning percentage in Chicago was .506. He doesn't seem like the same manager in Oakland and St. Louis that he was in Chicago. While it's not easy, or even possible, to distinguish all the salient factors, the idea that LaRussa's career was this homogenous thing from start to finish simply doesn't make sense.
   118. Sunday silence: Play Guess How long season lasts Posted: November 02, 2011 at 10:38 AM (#3984841)
cardsfan: I was hoping you would quantify your ranking. E.g. you were 95% certain or 98% certain.

Also would be interested in what method you used. E.g. wins/losses, player stats, etc. As this should affect the confidence level.
   119. Ray (CTL) Posted: November 02, 2011 at 02:14 PM (#3984916)
I think everyone here understands that the large sample size of the regular season is a far better indicator of talent level than a short series. Everyone here understands that chance plays a significant role in the outcome of a baseball game, and is more likely to swing results in a playoff series than it would in a full season.


You claim you understand this, but then you say things like:

But not every outcome is simply the result of luck (or your vague, nothingish "driven by").


You cannot equate the two. To do so shows your confusion. The first says luck is 100% the cause of a single outcome. The second says luck is some very high percentage of a single outcome (85%? 90%? 95%?). I have been saying the second, not the first.

My main point is that a PA, or a game, or a short series is so driven by luck that we cannot discern which player or team is more skilled. But over 162 games, we have a much better idea. (That is not to say, for those who enjoy knocking down straw arguments, that a team's record over 162 games is 100% indicative of quality.) The point is that a short series is virtually meaningless, and tells us next to nothing about which team is better.

Now please don't respond with "everyone understands that" and then go on to show how you don't understand it.

That it apparently rocks your world to think that <gasp!> a playoff series tells us pretty much nothing (such that you try to reduce my argument to the absurd "everything is luck") is not my problem. I'm just telling you the way the world is. I don't care, for these purposes, how you think the world should be.
   120. Lassus Posted: November 02, 2011 at 02:24 PM (#3984928)
EDIT: Not necessary.
   121. SoSH U at work Posted: November 02, 2011 at 02:38 PM (#3984947)
This is the sort of thing on LaRussa that drives me nuts and makes me repeat myself occasionally. LaRussa didn't "win" in Chicago, in any meaningful sense. Over 9 years he finished first all of once, whereupon the Sox promptly lost the LCS to the Orioles. LaRussa's winning percentage in Chicago was .506. He doesn't seem like the same manager in Oakland and St. Louis that he was in Chicago. While it's not easy, or even possible, to distinguish all the salient factors, the idea that LaRussa's career was this homogenous thing from start to finish simply doesn't make sense.


You're the only one who seems to think it does. LaRussa did a nice job in Chicago, with a franchise that had been rudderless before his arrival (and a few years after his exit). Nothing earth-shaking, but established himself as a pretty good skipper.

He obviously did even better work in Oakland, even if he still wasn't Cooperstown timber when it was over. But three straight pennants is nothing to sneeze at.

He then cemented his Hall of Fame legacy in St. Louis by performing even better. For some reason, this progression startles and frightens you and demands explanations.

Just curious: when Bobby Cox retired last year, did you wonder the same thing. Because he's an even more extreme example of this phenomenon, at least when you ignore all the other salient factors (.436 WP his first stop in Atl., followed by a .557 in Tor and a .576 the second go-around in Atlanta)?

As for Ray's latest bit of reading incomprehension, it's nice to note that you can count on some things in this crazy, mixed-up world.
   122. Ray (CTL) Posted: November 02, 2011 at 02:42 PM (#3984952)
EDIT: Not necessary.


Too late. I saw everything.
   123. Lassus Posted: November 02, 2011 at 02:46 PM (#3984955)
Too late. I saw everything.

Least of my worries, not why I erased it. Actually, probably better that way.
   124. Ray (CTL) Posted: November 02, 2011 at 02:56 PM (#3984962)
I still can't believe you wrote that.
   125. Lassus Posted: November 02, 2011 at 03:09 PM (#3984975)
I still can't believe you wrote that.

I'm not even sure what you mean. It was standard snark, quoting you and then chiding you for never, ever, ever changing your position or thinking you could learn anything from a discussion to alter a single thing you think. (After admitting I was doing some re-thinking to my own argument based on said discussion.)

That's unbelievable? Seems pretty standard, but it was really not relevant while also being particularly whiny and shrill, so I erased it.
   126. Nasty Nate Posted: November 02, 2011 at 03:09 PM (#3984976)
Ray, if you think that everyone out there is using the playoffs as some way to statistically prove the true talent level superiority of a team then you are woefully out of touch and clueless about how everyone (both the general public and within BBTF) views or uses the playoffs.
   127. a bebop a rebop Posted: November 02, 2011 at 03:21 PM (#3984981)
Too late. I saw everything.

Hey, it's Patrick Stewart from Extras! Who knew, maybe Ray has a sense of humor?

I think everyone here understands that the large sample size of the regular season is a far better indicator of talent level than a short series. Everyone here understands that chance plays a significant role in the outcome of a baseball game, and is more likely to swing results in a playoff series than it would in a full season.

But not every outcome is simply the result of luck (or your vague, nothingish "driven by"). Nor should luck be the blanket explanation for every outcome.


Baseball as a set of outcomes is well-described by independent, weighted, random events*. That's why Strat-O-Matic works so well. I don't get why this is so controversial. This doesn't ruin my appreciation for the game, unless you want to argue that I'm enjoying it wrong.

Relevant xkcd comic (although I'm sure I've seen this posted here before).

*modulo all of the interesting, non-independent stuff like pitch sequencing, different approaches with runners on base, etc., but at some level this just goes into altering the weights in particular circumstances -- e.g., BB% goes up with runners in scoring position.
   128. Lassus Posted: November 02, 2011 at 03:22 PM (#3984984)
Well-played, Ray.
   129. a bebop a rebop Posted: November 02, 2011 at 03:31 PM (#3984990)
Ray, if you think that everyone out there is using the playoffs as some way to statistically prove the true talent level superiority of a team then you are woefully out of touch and clueless about how everyone (both the general public and within BBTF) views or uses the playoffs.

I don't know about that. See $112:

There are any number of ways playoff series can go all crapshotten. A team can be seriously outplayed but win by virtue of a fortuitous grouping of runs (the 1960 series). A team can benefit from a series of bad calls that turn a loss or losses into wins. One can take advantage of a key injury suffered by an opponent, or have its path to a title eased by others vanquishing the superior clubs. A drastically inferior team can play above its heads (or its superior foe below its talent level) for a week and provide an unexpected result.

Then again, two evenly matched teams can meet and one just happens to outplay the other. Or an excellent team can summarily dispatch some inferior foe.


SOSH seems to be arguing that you can discern which of these narratives is the "correct" narrative to apply based on the results of a seven-game series. I don't think this is true. Maybe more importantly, I don't think it's interesting, because in a neighboring dimension of the multiverse, the series would have turned out in a completely different way. A narrative is purely descriptive and after-the-fact. It doesn't tell us anything, it just embellishes the story of what we already watched.

And to be fair... humans like narratives. It's the way we think, from what little I glean of the cogsci literature. The narrative makes it easier to hand down the history of baseball in a living way. It's just not the way I experience the game.

EDIT: and to add, fundamentally you could apply the same narratives to a game of Strat (and of course people do; it's called D&D).
   130. Ray (CTL) Posted: November 02, 2011 at 03:34 PM (#3984996)
Ray, if you think that everyone out there is using the playoffs as some way to statistically prove the true talent level superiority of a team then you are woefully out of touch and clueless about how everyone (both the general public and within BBTF) views or uses the playoffs.


No, I am not. Because that's how these things are discussed. With heros and goats and momentum and clutch, etc. You don't talk about those things if you understand that the playoffs are driven by luck.
   131. Ray (CTL) Posted: November 02, 2011 at 03:35 PM (#3984998)
That's unbelievable? Seems pretty standard, but it was really not relevant while also being particularly whiny and shrill, so I erased it.


I was using the literary tool known as sarcasm.
   132. Nasty Nate Posted: November 02, 2011 at 03:39 PM (#3984999)
SOSH seems to be arguing that you can discern which of these narratives is the "correct" narrative to apply based on the results of a seven-game series.


I see the opposite. E.G., when he uses this example "a drastically inferior team can play above its heads ... for a week and provide an unexpected result," it is implied that determining which is the "drastically inferior team" is done by looking at the larger sample of regular season games and/or evaluation of individual players, rather than determining it by the series results. post #112 does not seek to determine the true talent level of a team by examining a playoff series in any way that I can see.
   133. Ray (CTL) Posted: November 02, 2011 at 03:40 PM (#3985000)
Yes. Every player is like a weighted die, programmed to produce certain outcomes based on what side the die lands on. Just like strat.
   134. Lassus Posted: November 02, 2011 at 03:41 PM (#3985001)
I was using the literary tool known as sarcasm.

Not really the best use, but nevertheless, late credit given in #128.
   135. Ray (CTL) Posted: November 02, 2011 at 03:43 PM (#3985002)
Maybe more importantly, I don't think it's interesting, because in a neighboring dimension of the multiverse, the series would have turned out in a completely different way.


Exactly.

EDIT: and to add, fundamentally you could apply the same narratives to a game of Strat (and of course people do; it's called D&D).


Right. If a James Bond villain rigged the game such that Pujols got hits or made outs in the World Series based on what the temperature was in Idaho at that moment, people would be coming up with the same standard narratives to describe what they were seeing.
   136. Nasty Nate Posted: November 02, 2011 at 03:48 PM (#3985005)
...With heros and goats and momentum and clutch, etc. You don't talk about those things if you understand that the playoffs are driven by luck.


Maybe you don't. But lots of people are capable of discussing the playoffs using those themes AND understanding perfectly the role of chance in the results and understanding that the playoffs do not offer proof of one team being the best. People can do both of these things without it being a contradiction or paradox, and just because you cannot comprehend how that happens doesn't mean everyone else doesn't "know what they are watching" in the postseason.

(Now, I'm not trying to imply that "clutch" "choker" "playoff goat" etc are not misused by some people...)
   137. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: November 02, 2011 at 03:49 PM (#3985007)
Ray, if you think that everyone out there is using the playoffs as some way to statistically prove the true talent level superiority of a team then you are woefully out of touch and clueless about how everyone (both the general public and within BBTF) views or uses the playoffs.

Ray's problem is that he actually thinks that anyone cares (or should care) which team is "best," as if that term had any meaning at all beyond the Pythagorean world.
   138. SoSH U at work Posted: November 02, 2011 at 03:49 PM (#3985008)
I don't know about that. See $112:


Seriously, you too.

SOSH seems to be arguing that you can discern which of these narratives is the "correct" narrative to apply based on the results of a seven-game series. I don't think this is true. Maybe more importantly, I don't think it's interesting, because in a neighboring dimension of the multiverse, the series would have turned out in a completely different way. A narrative is purely descriptive and after-the-fact. It doesn't tell us anything, it just embellishes the story of what we already watched.


No, I'm not saying that at all. I'm saying that luck and skill are both at work in any series, and that it's not a constant unless you lump everything non-projectible under the luck banner, which neuters the term completely.

If Albert Pujols hits 3 homers in a WS game, there's an element of luck to it. If Skip Schumaker did the same thing, there's also an element of luck. I'm willing to guess that the degree that luck played less role in those two events was greater in the latter than the former. How much, I don't know.

Anything can happen in a short series. But just because anything can happen does not mean that what happens in a short series is automatically the product of sheer (or even overwhelmingly the product of) luck. Sometimes the best team wins because it plays better than its inferior foe. In one broad, pointless definition of the term (if we played it again, the result might have turned out different), that's luck. But I find the alternate multiverse line of discussion to be the pointless one.
   139. Ray (CTL) Posted: November 02, 2011 at 03:57 PM (#3985015)
...With heros and goats and momentum and clutch, etc. You don't talk about those things if you understand that the playoffs are driven by luck.

Maybe you don't. But lots of people are capable of discussing the playoffs using those themes AND understanding perfectly the role of chance in the results and understanding that the playoffs do not offer proof of one team being the best. People can do both of these things without it being a contradiction or paradox, and just because you cannot comprehend how that happens doesn't mean everyone else doesn't "know what they are watching" in the postseason.


This is wrong and incoherent, for the reasons I've explained.

It's like talking about how you enjoyed the drive from New York to Boston, when you actually took a plane. It makes no sense.
   140. Ray (CTL) Posted: November 02, 2011 at 03:58 PM (#3985018)
Ray's problem is that he actually thinks that anyone cares (or should care) which team is "best," as if that term had any meaning at all beyond the Pythagorean world.


The issue is broader than simply which team is "the best." See my post 130.
   141. Lassus Posted: November 02, 2011 at 04:00 PM (#3985019)
Yes. Every player is like a weighted die, programmed to produce certain outcomes based on what side the die lands on. Just like strat.

If a 10-sided die is weighted enough to roll a 4 nine out of ten times, what percentage of the result is luck, and what percentage of the result is the skill of the person who made the die?
   142. Ray (CTL) Posted: November 02, 2011 at 04:01 PM (#3985020)
Anything can happen in a short series. But just because anything can happen does not mean that what happens in a short series is automatically the product of sheer (or even overwhelmingly the product of) luck. Sometimes the best team wins because it plays better than its inferior foe.


And that result was driven by luck.

In one broad, pointless definition of the term (if we played it again, the result might have turned out different), that's luck.


Again, this is the way the world works, whether you can handle the truth (cue Col. Jessup) or not.
   143. Nasty Nate Posted: November 02, 2011 at 04:06 PM (#3985025)
It's like talking about how you enjoyed the drive from New York to Boston, when you actually took a plane. It makes no sense.


you are right, that makes no sense: flying from NY to Boston probably saves no time compared to train or car once you factor in all the hassles of air travel.

...My post #136 seems completely coherent to me.
   144. a bebop a rebop Posted: November 02, 2011 at 04:09 PM (#3985027)
You could make essentially the same argument to claim that rolling a die is not really based on "luck". If we just had enough information about the spin and velocity of the die as it was released, and how it interacts with the table, we know'd exactly what number would come up every time. That's all Newtonian mechanics, and we know how to do it; certain initial conditions lead to certain outcomes. But it's not interesting, because there is simply no way we can have all of that information; thus, any reasonable person agrees that the result of a die roll is based on 100% luck.

Similarly, all of the tiny, invisible events which go into a swing, PA, a game, and a series... there's no useful term for that other than luck. I don't think this "neuters" the term; I think it draws a useful line of demarcation between the knowable and the unknowable. Based on this criterion, an individual game is about 95% luck (depending on the skill of the teams involved, of course... or on the relative weights of the dice, if you like).

The sort of things I'm lumping into "luck" are the things which are unknowable for everyone, including the players involved. Butterfly effect-type stuff, minuscule differences in release point, swing plane, timing, etc, which lead to very different outcomes. If you don't think this should be called "luck", what should we call it?

ps: I should add that I don't agree with Ray in believing that PAs are entirely rolls of the die. In particular, I don't believe in clutch, which I define as performing above established levels in key situations, but "choking" is completely plausible to me... there are interesting studies which I'm sure have been discussed on BBTF about pro golfers being asked to think about where their left shoulder is during a putt (or something equally benign) -- and the act of thinking about this minor detail of one's swing leads to hugely reduced performance. Hitting and pitching a baseball are based on equally fine motor skills, so I think the concept would transfer...
   145. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: November 02, 2011 at 04:13 PM (#3985031)
Ray's problem is that he actually thinks that anyone cares (or should care) which team is "best," as if that term had any meaning at all beyond the Pythagorean world.

The issue is broader than simply which team is "the best." See my post 130.


Post 130:
Ray, if you think that everyone out there is using the playoffs as some way to statistically prove the true talent level superiority of a team then you are woefully out of touch and clueless about how everyone (both the general public and within BBTF) views or uses the playoffs.


No, I am not. Because that's how these things are discussed. With heros and goats and momentum and clutch, etc. You don't talk about those things if you understand that the playoffs are driven by luck.

But it still comes down to the same thing: It matters to you that most people care much more about the results of the postseason, and want to talk about the human factors (like "clutch" and "choke") that may have influence the outcomes, than they care about which team would have come out on top after 1,000,000,000 computer sims, or which was the "best" team in the regular season. If that weren't the bee in your bonnet, you wouldn't be spending so many hours on the subject.
   146. a bebop a rebop Posted: November 02, 2011 at 04:18 PM (#3985034)
If a 10-sided die is weighted enough to roll a 4 nine out of ten times, what percentage of the result is luck, and what percentage of the result is the skill of the person who made the die?

Depends on the level of competition. If we were having a "Roll-A-Four" competition, and your competing die-makers were only skilled enough to make dies which could roll a 4 seven out of nine times, then I would say that individual die rolls in the competition are based 20% on skill, and 80% on luck.

Or what if there was a Robo-Ruth, guaranteed to hit a HR every at-bat? (But only one -- no Imperial Army of Robo-Ruths.) Then I would say that skill is a more important factor in that game than I've been weighting it, because the playing field is demonstrably less even.

But because skill in MLB isn't distributed like that, and in an individual PA anyone is roughly as good as anyone else (to the extent that we can say anything definitive), luck has to play a larger role. If everybody were exactly as good as everyone else, then it would literally be a die-rolling competition, and the results would be 100% luck. The less even the playing field, the more skill matters in any individual event.
   147. a bebop a rebop Posted: November 02, 2011 at 04:27 PM (#3985038)
To put a bit of a finer point on it, "absolute" skill, whatever that might be, isn't really something we can measure. From the box score of a baseball game, we can't tell if it's Walter Johnson dominating the 1917 Indians, or Danny Almonte dominating some kids from Iowa. Relative skill levels between players are what directly manifest themselves in the results.
   148. gef the talking mongoose, peppery hostile Posted: November 02, 2011 at 04:54 PM (#3985057)
flying from NY to Boston probably saves no time compared to train or car once you factor in all the hassles of air travel.


Were reclining seats involved?
   149. a bebop a rebop Posted: November 02, 2011 at 05:24 PM (#3985075)
Were reclining seats involved?

I vote "abomination", by the way.
   150. . Posted: November 02, 2011 at 05:28 PM (#3985076)
I think everyone here understands that the large sample size of the regular season is a far better indicator of talent level worthiness to be called "champion" than a short series.

FIFY.
   151. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: November 02, 2011 at 05:36 PM (#3985080)
I think everyone here understands that the large sample size of the regular season is a far better indicator of talent level worthiness to be called champion than a short series.

FIFY.


Yeah, now I can see where you guys are coming from. Makes perfect sense.
   152. rr Posted: November 02, 2011 at 05:48 PM (#3985087)
LaRussa didn't "win" in Chicago, in any meaningful sense.



Disagree. You are blowing off context to make your point. If you look at where Chicago was and had been prior to LaRussa, .506 is pretty good.

He had two losing seasons, 1980 and 1984. They were also 26-38 when he left to take over in Oakland. But he also went 87-75 and 85-77, and 54-52 in the strike year. In addition, of course, he went 99-63 in 1983 and won the White Sox's first anything since 1959, before losing to a very good Baltimore team in four games in the ALCS.

Chicago had basically three good years between the end of the Al Lopez era and LaRussa: The Hitless Wonder team of 1967, under Eddie Stanky; the Dick Allen/Wilbur Wood team in 1972 under Chuck Tanner, and the South Side Hit Men in 1977 under Bob Lemon. None of those teams was solid on both sides of the ball, and all promptly dropped off.

In the 1984 Abstract, Bill James did a long article about the talent each team's farm system had produced that was in the majors. The White Sox finished dead last.

So, taking over in an undercapitalized, down-in-many-ways organization, LaRussa put up three winning seasons, won the team's first title of any kind in 24 years, and finished over .500.

To repeat myself: LaRussa is like Phil Jackson. The post-Shaq, pre-Gasol Lakers were nothing special under Jackson, 45-37 and 42-40, out in the first round both times. But if you look at the talent on those teams (Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom were basically it), it is clear that Phil was doing getting them to do just fine.

You can argue, if you like, that LaRussa should have brought in more talent. But I think his performance in Chicago is solid, relative to the context.
   153. Sunday silence: Play Guess How long season lasts Posted: November 02, 2011 at 06:29 PM (#3985115)
Gee I feel left out that Ray et al. did not respond to my question about what team they feel is the best and to what degree of confidence they think so. I mean, using whatever method you want to use, then there should be a way to indicate a quantitative degree of confidence...

****

In a related note, I got to thinking of these issues and did some back of envelope calculations (my head splode) on the probability of winning a world series based on a given liklihood of winning one game. I.e. let's say Team A is 60% likely to beat team B in one game. What are the odds of team A winning a best of 7? (usual assumptions like this percentage stays constant, there's no psychogical factors, etc.)

Without sitting down and doing the math (I've done it) what do you think, off top of your head, the odds are of a .600 team (i.e. .600 vs the other team) winning a 7 game series?
   154. Ray (CTL) Posted: November 02, 2011 at 07:26 PM (#3985143)
Gee I feel left out that Ray et al. did not respond to my question about what team they feel is the best and to what degree of confidence they think so. I mean, using whatever method you want to use, then there should be a way to indicate a quantitative degree of confidence...


Sorry; I didn't think this really went to any point I was making, but I'll try to look later. My methodology (since that's probably more what you're interested in than the actual team) would be to look at:

1. Actual W-L record
2. Pythag record
3. Strength of league
4. Strength of division
5. Call-ups
6. Injury info.

Re 5 and 6 and strength of playoff teams, if you're getting a big pitcher back for September who was hurt previously, that would obviously play into how strong your team is now (something that 1 and 2 wouldn't really show). Or if Hamilton is now injured, that's another factor. Or if you have Jesus Montero available as a call-up. (Then again, Girardi didn't use Montero simply because Montero was Born Too Late, so that didn't do them much good.)

From what I recall (without looking again), my sense is that the four best teams in the majors, overall, were the Yankees, the Phillies, Texas, and Boston. Once you hit October Boston falls out of that because of the disarray in their pitching.
   155. MY PAIN IS NOT A HOLIDAY (CoB). Posted: November 02, 2011 at 08:05 PM (#3985164)
(Then again, Girardi didn't use Montero simply because Montero was Born Too Late, so that didn't do them much good.)


Who did the what now?
   156. a bebop a rebop Posted: November 02, 2011 at 08:45 PM (#3985206)
Without sitting down and doing the math (I've done it) what do you think, off top of your head, the odds are of a .600 team (i.e. .600 vs the other team) winning a 7 game series?

WAG: 60%, if we're already assuming that the series has gone 7, because then it reduces to win or go home, and we've stipulated their true expected winning percentage is .600.

In general, a team that has an EWP of .600 has a rather higher chance than that of winning a 7-game series. I'd guess 80-90% off the top of my head. Of course, you almost never have this imbalanced a matchup in a playoff series.

EDIT: checked with some coin-flipping simulations. The WAG is correct, but I overestimated the likelihood of the .600 team winning the whole thing... in fact it's more like ~71% that the better team would win the series.
   157. Sunday silence: Play Guess How long season lasts Posted: November 03, 2011 at 01:16 AM (#3985433)
oh I guess I should have been clearer: What are the odds of a .600 WAG team winning a Best of Seven series?

Dammit! I tried to make that clear but obviously not clear. But you made my pt. I would have thought the odds something like you said 80% but by my best count, it comes to something like 70.3% (some rounding error may occur <0.2%).

Doesnt that seem strange? I would have thought that as the series goes longer that 20% advantage would start to compound itself like a mortgage rate. But I guess because so many series dont go the full 7 that this effect is sort of diminished.

And of course as you say it would be hard to imagine a world series between teams where the actual WAG is 60-40; even 55-45 probably about as lopsided as such a series gets. perhaps like the '76 Red/Yankees or '50 Yankees/Phillies?
   158. Sunday silence: Play Guess How long season lasts Posted: November 03, 2011 at 01:30 AM (#3985447)
Sorry; I didn't think this really went to any point I was making, but I'll try to look later. My methodology (since that's probably more what you're interested in than the actual team) would be to look at:

1. Actual W-L record
2. Pythag record
3. Strength of league
4. Strength of division
5. Call-ups
6. Injury info.


Oh yeah, I'd be interested in where you come out this. I actually start to agree more with your position; but I'd be real interested in how much error there might be in such a study? How sure can we be that the Phillies are better than the Yanks, say for example?

I mean I havent even attempted this question, and not sure what method I would use. I have no idea, but such a method might not even prove a conclusive winner among the top teams.

The injury factor I think might actually help St. Louis in this discussion. At least from reading posts here abouts ( I dont follow regular season). That's why I'm surprised that you included that in your list.

I would strike 2., Pythagorean, off that list myself. I dont even understand the theory on that. No. 4 Strength of Division seems very difficult to measure, not sure it could possibly account to very much...
   159. Ray (CTL) Posted: November 03, 2011 at 03:04 AM (#3985507)
I would strike 2., Pythagorean, off that list myself. I dont even understand the theory on that.


Despite Andy's snearing at the sight of the word Pythagorean, a team's pythag record is actually more indicative of quality than its actual record. Which is to say that pythag record is more predictive of the team's future performance than actual record.

Record in blowouts is more meaningful than record in close games or extras, since those have more to do with luck than a team's record in blowouts does.
   160. Ray (CTL) Posted: November 03, 2011 at 03:18 AM (#3985514)
As to record in one-run games, my favorite recent example was the 2011 Giants. They started out 27-19 (.589) on the strength of a 13-3 record (.813) in one-run games. But that kind of record in one-run games simply is not sustainable, and, sure enough, the Giants came back to earth in one-run games, going 20-19 in them the rest of the way. That was part of a 59-57 overall record the rest of the way.
   161. Sunday silence: Play Guess How long season lasts Posted: November 03, 2011 at 03:19 AM (#3985515)
If that's (blowouts are more meaningful than close ones) the case then why wouldn't you simply use the teams record in blow outs rather than the runs scored in them?

My concern is that it would only make sense for a team that is losing in "garbage time" (i.e. blow outs) to use less than ideal pitching in order to save arms. That would only make sense. Whether they would remove batters for the same reason seems less important. So there is every reason to think that runs scored/given up in garbage time are being produced in less than optimal conditions and dont reflect actual quality.

is there any study that has shown any relationship between blow record vis a vis Run differential in blowouts? If these were similar then you might have a pt. But if say Connie Macks As had a 15-5 record in blowouts, but say 150-30 differential in runs, this might indicate that there is a problem.

ALso is there any empirical evidence that close games are more random fluctuation? I know tried to research this a couple years ago but I found nothing clear either way.
   162. Misirlou cut his hair and moved to Rome Posted: November 03, 2011 at 03:42 AM (#3985526)
My concern is that it would only make sense for a team that is losing in "garbage time" (i.e. blow outs) to use less than ideal pitching in order to save arms.


That was the popular opinion put forth to explain the 2007 D'Backs (90-71, but with 20 more runs allowed than scored). That team had an unusual number of relievers allowing a huge number of runs in just a few innings: 15 runs in 14 2/3 IP, 8 in 5, 7 in 2 2/3, 9 in 2 2/3, 4 in 2, 7 in 2/3. Altogether, 50 runs in 27 2/3 IP, or 17 R/9 for 3 games worth of IP. None of those guys pitched in the post season, and the top of their pen was excellent.
   163. Misirlou cut his hair and moved to Rome Posted: November 03, 2011 at 04:06 AM (#3985531)
Re 162: Posted too soon. Meant to continue:

Except it doesn't compute.

The 7 runs in 2/3 of an inning. That was a guy allowing 7 runs in the 8th inning of a game his team was losing 4-2 in early April, No way that was a take one for the team appearance.

The 4 runs in 2 innings? 1 game, came in the 8th down 6-2, gave up 4. OK, I'll allow that.

9 runs in 2 2/3? B K Kim He started 2 games and got shelled both times.

7 runs in 2 2/3? Joe Kennedy. Came in in the 5th down 8-1 and allowed 5. That counts.

8 runs in 5 IP? Dan Eveland, who had 3 scoreless appearances, but allowed 3 runs in the 6th inning with his team down 6-5, and 5 runs in a start which cut his 8-0 lead to 8-5 in the 3rd inning. No cheap "they don't count" runs there.

last, 15 runs in 14 2/3? That's Jailen Peguero who appeared in 18 games (good Lord!). The cromulent games are 3 runs allowed in the 9th inning with his team down 5-1 (OK), 3 runs allowed in the 9th with his team up 12-3 (OK, again, but doesn't fit the meme), and 5 runs allowed in the 5th with his team down 5-1 (at Coors). OK, with reservations.

The 2007 D' backs seem to be a poster child for logical explanations for exceeding Pythag, but upon further inspectoin, it's not as clear cut as it may seem.
   164. Sunday silence: Play Guess How long season lasts Posted: November 03, 2011 at 04:23 AM (#3985536)
Yeah I tried to do a systematic study for teams 1920-40 using both top teams and bottom dwellers. And figuring the run differential in blowouts. The philadelphia athletics seem to make my pt. (they were quite good in close games) but then some of the Yank teams started to cut against.

Then I started to think about one run games. I'll have to dig out my notes....
   165. cardsfanboy Posted: November 03, 2011 at 04:30 AM (#3985542)
Gee I feel left out that Ray et al. did not respond to my question about what team they feel is the best and to what degree of confidence they think so. I mean, using whatever method you want to use, then there should be a way to indicate a quantitative degree of confidence...


I did reply to the initial question, but never replied about my methodology, and to be honest it wasn't a hard core methodology, just a combination of looking at the seasonal quality of the players on the roster, factor in health, and factor in projected quality, mix and stir. I think health is a big part of a teams randomness, a team that lost Chase Utley for two months on a freak injury isn't going to lose him to that injury every theoretical season. And the opposite on some players is also true, if JD Drew goes out an plays 160 games one season, the team got lucky and expecting that to be true in every theoretical year would be ridiculous wishcasting. The Cardinals got lucky (some would argue) with Berkman(by about 10 games) so that negates some of the other injuries(and nobody should project the Cardinals based upon Wainwright being available) that hurt the team.
   166. cardsfanboy Posted: November 03, 2011 at 04:37 AM (#3985547)
I would strike 2., Pythagorean, off that list myself. I dont even understand the theory on that. No. 4 Strength of Division seems very difficult to measure, not sure it could possibly account to very much..


As Ray mentioned, Pyth is a better indication of the quality of the team. As to the theory, simply put, it's seasonal run differntial.(yes they turn that into a winning percentage, but that isn't really important, it's just making it easier to read) the difference between a team runs allowed and runs scored. Run differential is a poor tool for a month or even a half season of baseball, but 162 games it is pretty accurate, and as Bill James noted, it's a better predictor of next season success than actual won loss record.
   167. cardsfanboy Posted: November 03, 2011 at 04:39 AM (#3985548)
Yeah I tried to do a systematic study for teams 1920-40 using both top teams and bottom dwellers. And figuring the run differential in blowouts. The philadelphia athletics seem to make my pt. (they were quite good in close games) but then some of the Yank teams started to cut against.

Then I started to think about one run games. I'll have to dig out my notes....


Not sure the study, but the hardball time did some basic study on this, they also did a study where they examined the frequency of a team scoring in the sweet spot(the reason that Whitey Herzog and Ozzie Guillen team did so well, could be argued that they constantly scored runs in the sweet spot of their eras roughly the 3-7 run range)
   168. Sunday silence: Play Guess How long season lasts Posted: November 03, 2011 at 05:49 AM (#3985563)

As Ray mentioned, Pyth is a better indication of the quality of the team. As to the theory, simply put, it's seasonal run differntial.(yes they turn that into a winning percentage, but that isn't really important, it's just making it easier to read) the difference between a team runs allowed and runs scored.


Okay I see that factor or effect now; it's small but it's real. Using AL pennant winners from 1930-1940; we see total winning percentage: .661 but only .615 in one run games. That discrepancy is there every year, a little more a little less. So okay that seems statistically significant.

For me then it means that there is about 5% random fluctuation that is overcoming the expectations based on the skill levels of the two teams. Now what conclusions you draw from that, I am not so sure. I can see that even if you are in garbage time, the team that is ahead could just as easily let up on the gas, not steal bases, not put the hit on run on etc. Baseball is still a game of individual match ups and I guess statistics remain useful even in garbage time.

Now whether it means counting up the runs is more accurate than the wins, I dunno but I see that random fluctuation there and I see it does depress the winning percentage in one run games. I see this as more of a random fluctuation (call it luck) that obscures the true skill. I read that Bill James article at some pt. but I dunno...

It's interesting because I am doing some more math to see how much error we can expect from whatever methods we chose to judge the seasonal totals. This 5% thing seems to recur..

Is Cardsfan going to provide us with an estimated margin of error for his picks?


As Ray mentioned, Pyth is a better indication of the quality of the team.


Okay if that is the case, then there is no need for Ray to use both w/l record and pyth projection in his 6 pt formula is there? That's just being redundant it seems to me.
   169. Ray (CTL) Posted: November 03, 2011 at 11:46 AM (#3985594)
Okay if that is the case, then there is no need for Ray to use both w/l record and pyth projection in his 6 pt formula is there? That's just being redundant it seems to me.


I use actual W-L as my baseline, my starting point. Then I adjust from there. I give more weight to Pythag.

I mean, it's possible that actual W-L is telling us something useful. Not in the silly "Know How To Win" sense -- not in this league, not at this level -- but perhaps, for example, the team's strong bullpen is giving them a leg up in close games.
   170. Misirlou cut his hair and moved to Rome Posted: November 03, 2011 at 12:22 PM (#3985614)
I mean, it's possible that actual W-L is telling us something useful. Not in the silly "Know How To Win" sense -- not in this league, not at this level -- but perhaps, for example, the team's strong bullpen is giving them a leg up in close games.


Thing is, it could also be crappy bullpens making 4 runs leads 1 run victories.
   171. Ray (CTL) Posted: November 03, 2011 at 12:55 PM (#3985631)
#170, true.
   172. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: November 03, 2011 at 01:09 PM (#3985636)
Despite Andy's snearing at the sight of the word Pythagorean, a team's pythag record is actually more indicative of quality than its actual record. Which is to say that pythag record is more predictive of the team's future performance than actual record.

Ray, the problem I have with Pythagorean records has nothing to do with their predictive value. I was reading Bill James before you learned how to read, and fully understand the usefulness of the concept in that regard. Since a team's roster often changes from one year to the next, it's not a perfect tool, but it's broadly useful in many cases.

What I object to is the entire premise that a team's Pythagorean record has anything to do with whether a team is "better" than another team or not, and more to the point, whether the entire concept of "better" or "best" means anything at all beyond a rather abstract intellectual exercise. Since you regard the postseason as essentially a series of meaningless exhibition games, I can see where you're coming from, but to most fans, the winner of the World Series is "the champion", and anything beyond that is just so much cudda shudda wudda.
   173. . Posted: November 03, 2011 at 01:28 PM (#3985643)
I mean, it's possible that actual W-L is telling us something useful. Not in the silly "Know How To Win" sense -- not in this league, not at this level -- but perhaps, for example, the team's strong bullpen is giving them a leg up in close games.

WRT this and 167 -- If you're a good team, your actual W-L record will be better the lower the variance by game in your runs scored and allowed. If you score 4 RPG and give up 3 RPG on average, you'd go 162-0 if you scored 4 and gave up 3 every game.

Conversely, if you're a bad team, you're better off with a bigger variance (and should employ more "risky" strategies, if such things exist in baseball).

Run variance likely explains a great deal of discrepencies between actual and pythag W-L ... leaving behind only the ultimate question as to whether run variance is a marker of something real, or simply luck/random chance.
   174. . Posted: November 03, 2011 at 01:35 PM (#3985645)
What I object to is the entire premise that a team's Pythagorean record has anything to do with whether a team is "better" than another team or not, and more to the point, whether the entire concept of "better" or "best" means anything at all beyond a rather abstract intellectual exercise. Since you regard the postseason as essentially a series of meaningless exhibition games, I can see where you're coming from, but to most fans, the winner of the World Series is "the champion", and anything beyond that is just so much cudda shudda wudda.

Your brain and intellect are too curious and active to have never contemplated whether the World Series winner in a particular year was the "best" team, and I'd bet a billion dollars you've expended energy considering whether the 1960 Yankees were "better" than the 1960 Pirates. It's a customary exercise among many baseball fans, and a natural one to apply to WS winners in the wild-card era -- particularly when teams like the 2011 Cardinals win the "World Championship."

The 2011 Cardinals weren't even close to the best team in baseball. Is everyone supposed to just put that out of their minds?
   175. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: November 03, 2011 at 02:21 PM (#3985675)
What I object to is the entire premise that a team's Pythagorean record has anything to do with whether a team is "better" than another team or not, and more to the point, whether the entire concept of "better" or "best" means anything at all beyond a rather abstract intellectual exercise. Since you regard the postseason as essentially a series of meaningless exhibition games, I can see where you're coming from, but to most fans, the winner of the World Series is "the champion", and anything beyond that is just so much cudda shudda wudda.

Your brain and intellect are too curious and active to have never contemplated whether the World Series winner in a particular year was the "best" team, and I'd bet a billion dollars you've expended energy considering whether the 1960 Yankees were "better" than the 1960 Pirates.** It's a customary exercise among many baseball fans, and a natural one to apply to WS winners in the wild-card era -- particularly when teams like the 2011 Cardinals win the "World Championship."


I don't have any objection to the exercise, only to the often-whining tone that somehow it's "unfair" that an "inferior" team like the Cardinals gets recognition as champions, while fans of "better" teams like the Yankees or the Phillies or the Rangers have to sit there and take it.

The 2011 Cardinals weren't even close to the best team in baseball. Is everyone supposed to just put that out of their minds?

No, but to dwell on it for more than a few seconds is a sign of nothing but sour grapes, especially if it's coming from fans of one of the three abovementioned teams. And I say that as a Yankee fan whose team was rated the "best" in baseball by BB-Ref's Rating System. AFAIC the Cardinals proved all that there was to prove on the playing field in October, and don't need to bow down to any other team when it comes to recognition. They were a true champion all the way.

**The Pirates had an easier time winning the 1960 pennant in a far superior NL than the Yankees had winning their pennant in the inferior AL. Anyone who thinks that the Yankees were a presumptively "better" team than the Pirates that year is placing far too much emphasis on 3 blowout games in a 7 game series, and ignoring the context of the entire regular season.
   176. Nasty Nate Posted: November 03, 2011 at 02:31 PM (#3985684)
Hypothetically, if you start using run differential to determine anything of importance (i.e. considered important by the baseball community at large), you instantly change baseball in a fundamental way. Teams would start to try to maximize their season-long run differential, which they certainly don't do currently.
   177. Ray (CTL) Posted: November 03, 2011 at 02:45 PM (#3985694)
Ray, the problem I have with Pythagorean records has nothing to do with their predictive value. I was reading Bill James before you learned how to read, and fully understand the usefulness of the concept in that regard. Since a team's roster often changes from one year to the next, it's not a perfect tool, but it's broadly useful in many cases.


I honestly don't see how you can say that, and then in your next breath say this:

What I object to is the entire premise that a team's Pythagorean record has anything to do with whether a team is "better" than another team or not, and more to the point, whether the entire concept of "better" or "best" means anything at all beyond a rather abstract intellectual exercise.


Will SoSH and Lassus now react in open-mouthed horror because I have the gall to state that you don't understand the pythag concept? Because nobody who understands the concept could say those two things simultaneously.

It's why you sneer and hiss as the very sight of the word. Because you don't understand it.
   178. Ray (CTL) Posted: November 03, 2011 at 02:50 PM (#3985699)
AFAIC the Cardinals proved all that there was to prove on the playing field in October, and don't need to bow down to any other team when it comes to recognition. They were a true champion all the way.


See what I mean? You think the Cardinals "proved" something, because they won a three-round tournament. But all they "proved" was that any good team can outlast other good or better teams.
   179. Ray (CTL) Posted: November 03, 2011 at 02:51 PM (#3985701)
Hypothetically, if you start using run differential to determine anything of importance (i.e. considered important by the baseball community at large), you instantly change baseball in a fundamental way. Teams would start to try to maximize their season-long run differential, which they certainly don't do currently.


They don't do it currently, but what they do do is enough for season-long run differential to be useful.
   180. . Posted: November 03, 2011 at 02:55 PM (#3985709)
See what I mean? You think the Cardinals "proved" something, because they won a three-round tournament. But all they "proved" was that any good team can outlast other good or better teams.

Andy was careful there; he's literally right that the Cardinals "proved all that there was to prove on the playing field in October," without acknowledging how little -- indeed, next to nothing -- was made available for them to prove in October.
   181. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: November 03, 2011 at 03:12 PM (#3985724)
Ray, the point of Pythagorean expectation is right here in your basic Wiki:

Pythagorean expectation is a formula invented by Bill James to estimate how many games a baseball team "should" have won based on the number of runs they scored and allowed.


It's a crudely useful tool for predicting next year's performance, but you'll notice that in reference to the current team's performance, it rightfully places "should" in quotation marks. Do you understand the difference between using a tool for future projection and using it as a rhetorical device to diminish a team's accomplishments on the field?

Or to put it in plain terms: "World's Champion" represents a concrete reality. "Best team" is a mathematical (and somewhat subjective, in the case of closely matched teams) exercise that chiefly serves as a consolation prize for a certain type of fan who needs some form of comfort to help him forget what actually happened on the field in September and October.

Ray, I'm truly sorry that your boyhood heroes spit the bit in September, and I'm even sorrier that my favorite team couldn't make it past the Tigers. Unfortunately, only one of us seems to have gotten over his disappointment. I suppose I should console myself with the Yankees' comfortable 7 game edge over the Red Sox in the Pythagorean standings, but truth be told, I'd much rather see them grab a couple of pitchers who can duplicate the Garcia and Colon miracles of 2011---neither of which either you or Mr. Pythagoras (or Mr. ZIPS) could have rationally foreseen.
   182. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: November 03, 2011 at 03:14 PM (#3985726)
See what I mean? You think the Cardinals "proved" something, because they won a three-round tournament. But all they "proved" was that any good team can outlast other good or better teams.


Andy was careful there; he's literally right that the Cardinals "proved all that there was to prove on the playing field in October," without acknowledging how little -- indeed, next to nothing -- was made available for them to prove in October.

Emphasis added, and no further commentary needed, since the highlighted words speak for themselves.
   183. Lassus Posted: November 03, 2011 at 03:25 PM (#3985736)
Will SoSH and Lassus now react in open-mouthed horror because I have the gall to state that you don't understand the pythag concept? Because nobody who understands the concept could say those two things simultaneously.

I will indeed raise my head, thinking I was awoken by something other than my own recurring nightmares of unfinished college research papers.

That you are capable of interpreting pythag in a way that suits you - regardless of whether I agree or disagree with the interpretation - is not entirely compelling to me.
   184. Ray (CTL) Posted: November 03, 2011 at 03:28 PM (#3985737)
Pythagorean expectation is a formula invented by Bill James to estimate how many games a baseball team "should" have won based on the number of runs they scored and allowed.

It's a crudely useful tool for predicting next year's performance, but you'll notice that in reference to the current team's performance, it rightfully places "should" in quotation marks.


What are you talking about? Right in the passage you quote, it explains that the Pythag formula is a tool for estimating how many games a baseball team "should" have won. That is, past performance.

Do you understand the difference between using a tool for future projection and using it as a rhetorical device to diminish a team's accomplishments on the field?


Do you understand that you can't predict future performance without knowing past performance?

What if I put Mark Teixeira and Russell Martin in front of you, and asked you to predict which player would hit more home runs next year. How do you make an informed prediction without knowing what their past performances were?
   185. Nasty Nate Posted: November 03, 2011 at 03:29 PM (#3985738)
It's a crudely useful tool for predicting next year's performance


And it is used to predict next year's performance in terms of wins and losses to be specific. Run differential is not used to predict next year's run differential, in the same way that meteorologists use weather models to predict the next day's actual weather, not what will appear on the next day's forecast (for the following day).
   186. Nasty Nate Posted: November 03, 2011 at 03:41 PM (#3985750)
Right in the passage you quote, it explains that the Pythag formula is a tool for estimating how many games a baseball team "should" have won. That is, past performance.


How many games a team "should" have won is not past performance, it is a hypothetical number.

A team's past performance is how many games it won, how many doubles it hit, how many runs it allowed, how many double plays it turned etc .... which are things we already know.
   187. . Posted: November 03, 2011 at 03:44 PM (#3985752)
Emphasis added, and no further commentary needed, since the highlighted words speak for themselves.

Gladly accepted, and I'll happily expound.

You continue to revert to the construction "World's Champion," and assume that the right word for emphasis is "Champion." (**) In fact, the key word is "World's," and historically always was "World's".

Here's why: The postseason in baseball started as a way to determine the champion of the "world," when we already knew the champion of the American and National Leagues. There's no inherent reason -- particularly in baseball -- why that had to be done. Indeed, it wasn't done for the first however many years the American and National Leagues both operated prior to 1903 (and again for a year in 1904) without their champions playing; it wasn't done for six or seven years between the champions of the American and National Football Leagues, until they came up with the Super Bowl; and isn't done to this day in college football. The Big Ten champion and Big 12 champion don't get together and play for some other "championship."

Now, of course, all that history and sense has been stood on its head, and the World Series is really just the playoff finals and winning a league championship has been downgraded to essentially nothing (***), in favor of jerry-rigged, lame ass teams like the Cardinals being deemed the only "champion." That is not a happy development, or one that is in keeping with the unique tenor of baseball.

All of which is to say that point of the baseball postseason is not now, and has never been, "proving" anything. It has always been -- prior to the silly wild-card era -- simply a way for the teams and leagues to make more money, showcase their best teams, and allow a team that had already proven itself a meaningful champion of a meaningful agglomeration of teams to add an extra adjective modifying "champion." The 1968 Tigers were the American League Champion and World's Champion. The 1967 Red Sox were American League champions. Naturally, only teams that were already champions were eligible -- anything else would have been senseless. The postseason wasn't there to determine the "World's Champion"; it was there to determine the "World's Champion."(****)

(**) In Seinfeldian terms: "What word did he emphasize? Did he say 'Why would Jerry bring anything'? or did he say 'Why would Jerry bring anything?'"

(***) As we see in the lunatic ravings of the Brothers Steinbrenner and Randy Levine, who explicitly measure success solely by winning the finals of the playoff crapshoot.

(****) I'd guess that this reality is a major reason, consciously or unconsciously, why Ray refers to postseason games as "exhibitions."
   188. SoSH U at work Posted: November 03, 2011 at 03:44 PM (#3985753)
Will SoSH and Lassus now react in open-mouthed horror because I have the gall to state that you don't understand the pythag concept?


Don't drag me into your daily fight with Andy. I've made it perfectly and abundantly clear that the regular season, not the postseason, gives us the better indication of the best team. All I've argued is against your too-broad (and thus useless) definition of luck, and your insistence on its static impact on postseason series. That you and nuance are mortal enemies is not a failing on my part, you boob.
   189. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: November 03, 2011 at 03:45 PM (#3985754)
Pythagorean expectation is a formula invented by Bill James to estimate how many games a baseball team "should" have won based on the number of runs they scored and allowed.


It's a crudely useful tool for predicting next year's performance, but you'll notice that in reference to the current team's performance, it rightfully places "should" in quotation marks.

What are you talking about? Right in the passage you quote, it explains that the Pythag formula is a tool for estimating how many games a baseball team "should" have won. That is, past performance.


You still don't quite grasp that the reason for those quotation marks around "should" is to separate the theoretical from the actual. That "past performance" you keep harping on is purely in the theoretical realm, although this fact seems to escape your attention.

Do you understand the difference between using a tool for future projection and using it as a rhetorical device to diminish a team's accomplishments on the field?

Do you understand that you can't predict future performance without knowing past performance?


Sure, but do you understand that Pythagorean projections amount to nothing more than a highly qualified projection of future performance, with a cash value of less than 1/20th of a cent?

What if I put Mark Teixeira and Russell Martin in front of you, and asked you to predict which player would hit more home runs next year. How do you make an informed prediction without knowing what their past performances were?

You're acting as if I were dismissing the Pythagorean tool as an indicator of future performance, which of course I'm not. And you're acting as if I think that those projections are based on thin air, which is silly, because of course they're based on past performance, age, etc. But where we differ 100% is that you seem to equate projections with actual accomplishment, mostly as a way of diminishing (or enhancing) what teams actually accomplish on the field. It's little more than the same tired sour grapes chorus that you repeat every October, and it's getting older and whinier by the minute.
   190. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: November 03, 2011 at 03:51 PM (#3985761)
SBB, any time you want to go 1-on-1 about the history of the 20th century postseason baseball, make sure your credit card isn't already maxed out. Your little semantic soliloquy is perfectly logical, perfectly self-contained, and completely irrelevant to any baseball fan who's not grasping for excuses as to why his team didn't win it all. I don't know what team you root for, but if it isn't the Cardinals, you'd really be much better off saying "Wait Till Next Year!" and giving your angst a nice five month rest.
   191. Sunday silence: Play Guess How long season lasts Posted: November 03, 2011 at 03:53 PM (#3985765)
Hypothetically, if you start using run differential to determine anything of importance (i.e. considered important by the baseball community at large), you instantly change baseball in a fundamental way. Teams would start to try to maximize their season-long run differential, which they certainly don't do currently.


Well yes in that sense, teams want to win, they are not concerned with run differential, per se.

However, I think the pt. of the pythag. theory is that unlike other sports (say football) where the score of the game dictates the strategy and hence the stats being generated, the stats in baseball e.g. runs, hits, etc. do not change all that much in blowouts. Despite being down 10 runs or whatever, batters are still doing their best and pitchers are still trying pretty hard.

Therefore, useful data pts. (namely runs for/against) are still being generated. they are being generated by teams 30 games out of it in Aug. or teams down by 10 in the eight inning.

Despite your protestation, using a stat to predict future something (whether it is runs or win/losses) does not alter the game. No one is asking managers to do something differently, researchers are coming in after the fact and using that data. They aren't changing the rules of baseball or some such. Just to indulge you: For what earthly reason would managers do what you say they might do? I.e. maximize run differential? To ingratiate themselves with sabrematricians? To fool their fans into thinking next year might be better. They would have no reason to do this. Hence we can be fairly sure the run differential remains a stat that is being generated in unbiased fashion (read: without some ulterior motive)

If run differential were being effected by teams not trying in September or giving up in blowouts then as you suggest, the run differential would not be very predictive. But from memory James showed that it is predictive even more so than w/l; therefore the statistic of run differential really is measuring ability, even in games that are hopelessly lost. Based on what I remember, the implication is that run differential is better than w/l.

If you disagree you are going to have to find some flaw in James' paper on this. Otherwise the data speak for themselves, they are predicting better than w/l. Perhaps it is because there are more data pts. then w/l data pts (approx 1000 vs 154 or 162).

If baseball players were significantly changing their approach in blowouts, there is now way James would have got that conclusion. Likewise in football, my guess is that pt differential is less predictive because lopsided scores produce desperate strategies.
   192. Sunday silence: Play Guess How long season lasts Posted: November 03, 2011 at 04:06 PM (#3985776)

And it is used to predict next year's performance in terms of wins and losses to be specific. Run differential is not used to predict next year's run differential, in the same way that meteorologists....


They could very well use the past run differential to predict next years run differential and from there extrapolate to w/l. Don't you see that? W/l and run differential have a high correspondence, therefore if you project the one, you can project the other No guarantees of certainty of course. But at least from what I recall, it was sound approach statistically.
   193. Nasty Nate Posted: November 03, 2011 at 04:10 PM (#3985781)
Despite your protestation, using a stat to predict future something (whether it is runs or win/losses) does not alter the game. No one is asking managers to do something differently, researchers are coming in after the fact and using that data. They aren't changing the rules of baseball or some such. Just to indulge you: For what earthly reason would managers do what you say they might do? I.e. maximize run differential? To ingratiate themselves with sabrematricians? To fool their fans into thinking next year might be better. They would have no reason to do this. Hence we can be fairly sure the run differential remains a stat that is being generated in unbiased fashion (read: without some ulterior motive)


That's why I said hypothetically, I was imagining some scenario where season-long run differential determined real-life and valued things instead of (or in addition to) Wins and Losses - for example a world where Ray's list in #154 was adopted as the criteria for determining the champion instead of playoffs.
   194. Nasty Nate Posted: November 03, 2011 at 04:26 PM (#3985798)
They could very well use the past run differential to predict next years run differential and from there extrapolate to w/l. Don't you see that?


Sure I don't dispute that. But my point was that Pythag is useful because it is good at predicting future wins and losses. That is why people like it, that is its claim to fame. If you think Pythag is better than W - L at measuring past performance, you can't use its ability to predict future W - L as justification.
   195. Ebessan Posted: November 03, 2011 at 05:04 PM (#3985833)
Was there really ever a time in which we really found out the best team?
   196. . Posted: November 03, 2011 at 05:31 PM (#3985872)
Was there really ever a time in which we really found out the best team?

No, for the reasons noted above. The short series of the playoffs do not and cannot identify the best team.

SBB, any time you want to go 1-on-1 about the history of the 20th century postseason baseball, make sure your credit card isn't already maxed out.

OK, I'll make sure.

I'll also note that the differences I'm pointing to can be summed up well by comparing the call of the Shot Heard Round the World on the one hand, and the ALCS walk-off clinchers of Aaron Boone and Magglio Ordonez on the other.

There isn't a stitch of difference in the underlying "postseason" significance of the HRs; each of them punched the winner's ticket to the World Series. But in 1951, Russ Hodges exclaimed "The Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ..." In 2003 and 2006 it was "The Yankees are going to the World Series!!!!!!!" and "The Tigers are going to the World Series!!!!!!!"

Hodges knew -- and everyone else did, too, which is why he reported it as he did -- that the Giants had won something by virtue of The Shot. OTOH, the Tigers and Yankees merely advanced a round in the playoffs. The concept of winning the ALCS meaning something beyond advancing a round simply doesn't register in the wild-card era. That's why the calls are so different. And, of course, everyone still realizes the difference; Thomson's HR continues to be exalted as a top-of-the-pyramid signature baseball moment, even though the Giants didn't win the World Series.
   197. Ray (CTL) Posted: November 03, 2011 at 05:34 PM (#3985879)
Was there really ever a time in which we really found out the best team?


The "best team" stuff is just Andy's attempt to distract from the actual point being made. My point is that the regular season does a much better job of providing us with satisfactory "champions" (division champions, ideally in the pre-wildcard format) than the postseason ever could. My point is not that we should award some Best Team trophy in lieu of having the playoffs, as Andy pretends, but is that once we hold the regular season, the postseason adds next to nothing in terms of which team might "deserve" to win it all and be left standing at the end.

That doesn't mean I don't want playoffs -- I enjoy them immensely -- but simply means that people take too much from them.

Secondarily, as we have playoffs, I'd like a more deserving set of teams (a smaller set, comprised of division winners) than the ones we have in there.

The playoffs are exhibition games for fun, to cap off a season, not for people to derive deep meaning from.

Andy's perpetual comments about "sour grapes" are lost and confused, being responsive to no point that has ever been made.
   198. Ray (CTL) Posted: November 03, 2011 at 05:40 PM (#3985886)
Having now read SugarBear's post 187, I sign on. People are fooled about what the World Series winner is, and means.
   199. Nasty Nate Posted: November 03, 2011 at 05:50 PM (#3985894)
The playoffs are exhibition games for fun, to cap off a season, not for people to derive deep meaning from.


In your ideal world maybe. Here on earth they are real games, for the highest stakes, and which mean a lot to almost everybody.
   200. Ray (CTL) Posted: November 03, 2011 at 06:09 PM (#3985907)
In your ideal world maybe.


You're right, that was naive of me; I left out that they are mainly for generating revenue.
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