Archive for the 'baseball' Category

14
Oct
10

The Greatest Home Run Ever: 50th Anniversary

Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ dramatic victory over the New York Yankees in game seven of the 1960 World Series.  For the last 25 years at least one person has listened to the radio broadcast in front of what remains of the outfield wall of Forbes Field.

Sign Commemorating Forbes Field

Given that this year is the 50th anniversary, there were quite a few more people there than usual.

People gathered at the wall

So many people were expected that the city closed off the street that runs by the wall in order to accommodate the festivities.

Street Closed

There were some interesting characters in the crowd.

Super 'stache

Arrr, matey!

There were plenty of reporters and cameramen.

Whoa, I definitely should not have had that burrito for lunch.

People brought along souvenirs and mementos…

Maz and the '60 Bucs

…and maybe a beer or two.

Yinz got an arn for me?

When 3:36 rolled around, it was time to celebrate.

Yes!!

High five!

It was a great event, an opportunity for those of us who weren’t there to experience the thrill of it, and a chance to share it with the next generation.

We had 'em all the way!

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01
Oct
08

2008 Pirates’ Season: Another Exercise in Futility

Well, the regular season is over and the Pirates’ season can be summarized as follows:

The Pirates are now the team with the longest currently active streak of consecutive losing seasons in any major American sport. The last year they had a winning season was 1992, which is more than half of my lifetime ago. If they don’t have a winning season next year (which, let’s face it, does not look very likely), they will take over sole possession of one of the most disgraceful records in professional sports.

As I mentioned in my post on the sports graph paper I developed, I have been charting the Pirates’ win fraction for the last few seasons. With this year’s season at a close, I can summarize my findings: despite a bunch of changes in the Pirates’ organization over the last few years – a new GM, new manager, new coaches, and many new players – the Pirates’ final win fraction has not changed significantly over the last four seasons. Specifically, they have finished with a win fraction of between 0.410 and 0.420 in each of the last four seasons. That means that over the last 4 years, they have either won 66, 67, or 68 games per season. Evidently, all the changes they have made have done precisely nothing to help the team win.

pirates_win_fraction_2005-2008.png

From the graph above, it’s clear that despite vastly different performance early in the season, the Pirates always manage to regress back to approximately 0.415 by the end of the year. If you’d like to play around with the data I used to create the above plot, take a look at this tab-delimited text file of the Pirates’ total wins and win fraction vs. number of games completed. You might have fun or you might get depressed. You’ve been warned.

26
Jul
08

What a long, strange (online) trip it’s been

Those of you who know me may have noticed that sometimes I say one thing followed by something seemingly totally unrelated. However, if you were to ask me, I could tell you the entire train of thought that took me from the first statement to the second. I had a similar experience today online. First thing: the Pirates traded Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte to the Yankees. Second thing: an article about the wedding of a girl I went to high school with.

Continue reading ‘What a long, strange (online) trip it’s been’

11
May
08

Sports-oriented graph paper

I’ve been preparing a post on the Pirates’ win records over the last few years and I had created an Excel spreadsheet to plot their win fraction (total wins/total games played) as a function of time during each season. Initially, I had plotted their win fraction versus the date but that made comparing the data between seasons complicated because the seasons’ start and end dates vary a bit from year to year. So, I plotted it versus the number of games played. When I did that, I was somewhat surprised to find that there were sections of the plots from different seasons that overlapped exactly, sometimes for 5 or more games. This indicated that these plots were constrained to consist of a series of small sections from a relatively small, finite set of curves. However, I didn’t know what these curves were, so I set about to figure it out. The final product of this investigation is graph paper that a sports fan can use to easily plot the progress of his/her favorite team as the season progresses.

Continue reading ‘Sports-oriented graph paper’

08
May
08

Pirates!

The Pirates swept the Giants in their recently-concluded 3-game series.  Obviously, this is good to see under any circumstances.  However, I was particularly happy to see the Pirates win a couple of close games.  It seems to me that when they win, they blow out their opponents but if the game is close, then they lose.  However, yesterday, they won 3-1 and today they won 5-4 after trailing 4-2.

An interesting tidbit that I learned yesterday is that (as of yesterday) the Pirates’ starting outfielders (Jason Bay, Nate McLouth, and Xavier Nady) collectively have 20 home runs and 73 RBI, which is better than any trio of outfielders in all of baseball.  Nice job, guys.  Of course, I’ve said before that Nate McLouth and Xavier Nady are awesome, but I was impressed at how well the Pirates outfield compares with the rest of the league.

28
Apr
08

The Designated Hitter Rule turns 35, still sucks

MLB.com has an article today about the designated hitter rule and the fact that it was adopted 35 years ago by the American League. In case it wasn’t clear from the title of this post, let me express my opinion: I do not like the designated hitter rule. Let me explain why. First of all, I think it breaks the symmetry of the game. Before the designated hitter rule, every player on a team had both an offensive and a defensive role. The designated hitter rule created a new position that plays only offense and it reduced the role of pitcher to solely defense. Reasons such as this are often cited by baseball purists who oppose the rule. However, I object to it on practical levels, as well.

By creating another starting position, the designated hitter rule necessitates larger club payrolls, which reduces the ability of small market teams to compete. Major League clubs pay large salaries for their starting infield, outfield, and (generally) 5 starting pitchers. However, AL teams also have to pay for a DH. While both NL and AL teams have only 25 players on their roster for most of the season, the non-starting players generally cost substantially less than the starting players. In addition, because the DH is a specialist position often filled by players who are at the peak of their earning potential, some clubs pay huge amounts of money to acquire elite DHs, while teams who can’t afford such players find themselves at a distinct disadvantage. For example, Jim Thome, the DH for the Chicago White Sox, will earn $15.67M this year, making him the highest paid player on his team. In fact, if we take an average over all the teams that have a full-time DH (that is, they do not use a platoon at the position), which is half of the AL, the DH is the 3rd highest paid player on the average team (including starting pitchers) and is paid over $10M per year. For small market teams whose entire payroll may be in the realm of $50M, paying $10M for a single player who plays no defense is just not feasible. However, not having that $10M hitting specialist (among other deficiencies) often leaves them in an uncompetitive position.

Does the presence of the DH position really make payrolls higher? To answer this question we observe that the average payroll for an AL team for 2008 is $97.49M while the average NL payroll is $83.28M – a difference of about $14M. This averages across all teams – both large and small markets – in each league. If you object that the AL average is skewed by the Yankees, let’s look at the median. For the AL, the median payroll is $88.81M and in the NL, it is $78.95M – a difference of about $10M. While I won’t claim that the DH position is solely responsible for that $10M difference, it is certainly a large factor in the disparity. In general, it is good for the league if every team can be competitive. However, the lack of a serious salary cap or revenue sharing plan in baseball means that small market teams generally can’t compete with teams from larger markets. The DH rule exacerbates the problem by requiring each team to have 9 starting-caliber offensive players rather than 8 in order to be competitive – something the small market teams can ill afford.

My second and final practical objection to the designated hitter rule comes back to symmetry. The designated hitter rule destroyed the symmetry of the two leagues. With the designated hitter rule in place, the NL is perpetually bested by the AL in Interleague play. Not only that, in the last 20 seasons (1987-2007) the NL has won the World Series only 7 times. Furthermore, in World Series games since 1987 the NL has won 44 games while the AL has won 64. Some may claim that the designated hitter rule can’t explain this difference because the AL team can’t use the DH in NL parks. That is true. However, in AL parks, the NL team just uses some guy off their bench as the DH, while the AL team has a $10M+ elite slugger filling the DH role. While NL teams have only 8 starting-caliber offensive players, the DH rule requires that AL teams have 9 in order to be competitive. Thus, in AL parks, NL teams are overmatched. The only advantage that NL teams might have in NL parks is that they are more used to playing without a DH but this seems like a meager advantage. Furthermore, when AL teams play in NL parks, they often bench one of their normal position players in order to keep their DH in the lineup. While the DH often represents a liability on defense, many managers feel that their DH’s superiority on offense more than makes up for his weakness on defense. Thus, the AL team may still have some advantage in NL parks.

So, to sum up, I object to the DH rule because it disrupts the symmetry of baseball and gives a competitive advantage to the AL in general and to large market AL teams in particular.

Fans of the DH rule would probably suggest that there is a way for the NL to compete with the AL again – that the NL introduce the DH rule themselves. They may say that we can’t have our cake and eat it too. We can either hang onto our beloved “pure” baseball or we can be competitive, but not both. That may be true, but I find it unfortunate. The DH rule was introduced at a time when offense in the AL was a joke. Offensive numbers were way down and the owners wanted a way to attract fans through increased offensive production. The DH rule, which had been discussed since the early 1900s, was adopted as a quick fix. Now, it is unlikely to ever be revoked. It would put a number of players out of jobs and owners wouldn’t like it because fans would miss big offensive numbers. So, it’s not clear what the resolution will be. Will the NL and its fans just grow accustomed to being the weaker league or will league officials eventually relent and adopt the DH rule themselves? I hope that it is neither but I’m afraid that there might be no third option.

24
Apr
08

An interesting baseball subtlety

Today I looked at the box score for this afternoon’s Red Sox/Angels game and I was confused by what I saw. Hideki Okajima was charged with a blown save despite not allowing a single run, earned or otherwise. I puzzled over how this was possible. It turns out that a pitcher is charged with a blown save if he allows a runner to score the tying run (thus eliminating the chance of earning a save) regardless of whether he was responsible for allowing that runner to reach base. In today’s game, Okajima entered the game with the bases loaded. The runs that were scored while he was on the mound were charged to the pitchers who preceded him but he was charged with the blown save.

This seems a little unfair to me. He came into the game with a 1-run lead and the bases loaded. Any mistake, including a walk or even a passed ball, would earn him a blown save. By the time the inning was over, he had allowed 3 runs to score, so he probably earned the blown save. However, in general, I think assigning credit or blame to pitchers is a fool’s errand. I have commented on this at length in the past so I won’t go into it again. However, this situation highlighted to me that wins and losses aren’t the only types of credit/blame quantities assigned to pitchers that are problematic in their execution.




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