Sunday, October 24, 2010

the giants win the pennant!

The giants win the pennant! The giants win the pennant!
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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Postseason Experience

Most everyone agrees that playing in the Postseason constitutes a qualitatively different baseball experience than playing in the regular season. Although the format of the game itself remains the same, it's easy to point out some vastly different circumstances:

- You're playing for one of eight teams in contention rather than one of 30.

- The games are elimination tournament style.

- Every moment of every game is crucial and receives intense media scrutiny.

Given these discrepancies, it's natural to think that success in the postseason requires a different set of attributes than success in the regular season (see the ongoing debate over the existence of Clutch Hitting). And thus it's natural to think that having experience playing in the postseason can help one develop these attributes.

If you accept the above two propositions as true, then it follows logically that a team employing a greater number of players with significant postseason experience should have an advantage over a team that employs a lesser number of such players.

If all the above is true, than the charts provided below - which show the postseason experience (not counting the 2010 DS's) of the players on each remaining playoff team - could potentially tell us something about who might win the two upcoming league championship serieses. If the above is meaningless - well, at least the charts are pretty to look at.

POS Name Games AB/IP __swp__ swp/g
SS Derek Jeter 138 559 1,923 13.9
C Jorge Posada 111 372 958 8.6
3B Alex Rodriguez 54 199 876 16.2
DH Lance Berkman 29 106 493 17.0
2B Robinson Cano 28 106 227 8.1
RF Nick Swisher 24 71 115 4.8
1B Mark Teixeira 19 76 202 10.6
LF Brett Gardner 14 13 7 0.5
CF Curtis Granderson 13 53 187 14.4
DH Marcus Thames 8 21 36 4.5
C Francisco Cervelli 2 1 -2 -1.0
SP Andy Pettitte 40 249 1,877 46.9
SP CC Sabathia 10 61.1 398 39.8
SP A.J. Burnett 5 27.1 122 24.4
SP Phil Hughes 11 12 74 6.7
CL Mariano Rivera 88 133.2 3,081 35.0
RP Kerry Wood 8 36.2 309 38.6
RP Joba Chamberlain 12 10 88 7.3
RP David Robertson 5 5.1 114 22.8
RP Dustin Moseley 1 1 13 13.0

The Yankees obviously dominate the competition here. Jeter and Posada, both members of the Yankees legendary "Core Four" - have what basically amount to a single season's worth of at-bats. Pettitte and Rivera - the other two members of the above-mentioned group - have logged enough innings to make up for about a season-and-a-quarter's worth. All four have performed admirably.

Other standouts include A-Rod (having appeared in playoff series with both Seattle and New York), Lance Berkman (who slugged pretty well during the Astros' World Series appearance in '05), and Cano (who seems to have struggled a bit under the pressure).

As for pitchers, Sabathia carried the Brewers into the playoffs in '08 and was an absolute horse as part of a three-man rotation for the Yankees in '09. If Phil Hughes and Kerry Wood look like they have disproportionate numbers based on their roles, you're right - Hughes appeared last year as a reliever and Wood started for the Cubs during their '03 Steve Bartman-shortened playoff run.

POS Name Games AB/IP __swp__ swp/g
DH Vladimir Guerrero 29 112 305 10.5
C Bengie Molina 29 91 231 8.0
RF Jeff Francoeur 4 17 40 10.0
SP Cliff Lee 5 40.1 589 117.8
RP Darren Oliver 14 26 190 13.6
RP Dustin Nippert 2 2.1 36 18.0

Oof, not much to say about these guys. We all remember Lee's dominance against the Yankees in last year's World Series, and are interested in seeing if he can repeat the feat in the AL. A fun bit of trivia: Molina and Guerrero played the exact same number of postseason games, both with the Angels, but in different seasons. (However they did overlap in '04 and '05.)

POS Name Games AB/IP __swp__ swp/g
SS Jimmy Rollins 32 134 362 11.3
RF Jayson Werth 35 123 600 17.1
CF Shane Victorino 32 119 509 15.9
1B Ryan Howard 32 118 490 15.3
2B Chase Utley 32 115 538 16.8
C Carlos Ruiz 32 99 393 12.3
3B Placido Polanco 25 81 177 7.1
LF Raul Ibanez 24 71 204 8.5
3B Greg Dobbs 16 21 39 2.4
OF Ben Francisco 11 11 -11 -1.0
SP Cole Hamels 10 60.2 566 56.6
SP Roy Oswalt 8 46.2 371 46.4
SP Joe Blanton 8 34.2 295 36.9
CL Brad Lidge 32 39.1 908 28.4
RP Jose Contreras 14 45 362 25.9
RP Ryan Madson 24 23 283 11.8
RP J.C. Romero 23 19 170 7.4
RP Chad Durbin 13 8.2 73 5.6
RP Antonio Bastardo 2 0.1 3 1.5
Talk about solidarity: five of the starting eight have played the exact same number of games, and they all played them together and all in the last two years. A sixth (Werth) played every game with those other five, but he got an additional taste of the tournament in '04 with the Dodgers.

Hamels pitched all his games with the Phillies, Oswalt pitched all his with the Astros, and Blanton made an additional playoff appearance with the A's in addition to the last two years. Contreras started about half his October appearances, including the '05 World Series against Berkman's Astros, which is why his numbers look a little inflated for a setup man.

POS Name Games AB/IP __swp__ swp/g
SS Edgar Renteria 55 207 523 9.5
CF Aaron Rowand 15 57 139 9.3
LF Pat Burrell 17 55 159 9.4
SS Juan Uribe 16 54 159 9.9
2B Mike Fontenot 5 8 3 0.6
(SP) (Barry Zito) 7 44.1 409 58.4
RP Guillermo Mota 7 8.1 66 9.4
RP Jeremy Affeldt 7 5.1 62 8.9
RP Javier Lopez 8 5 -46 -5.8
RP Ramon Ramirez 1 0 -35 -35.0

Slim pickings here: Renteria's been around the block (who remembers his hit for the '97 Champion Florida Marlins?), Rowand and Uribe are two more members of those '05 White Sox, and Burrell played all his postseason games with his opponents. One notable exception from their roster is the only starting pitcher who has appeared in the playoffs: Barry Zito. I guess Manager Bruce Bochy is smart enough to realize that he's a different pitcher now than he was then: not only much much richer, but he's also much less effective.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Why Earned Runs Are Silly

ERA - pretty much the most popular stat to measure the effectiveness of a pitcher. It keeps track of the amount of earned runs given up over nine innings. As you can (hopefully) tell by the name, this stat does not take into account unearned runs, which is either a) when a run scores directly as a result of an error, or b) when a runner who reached base as a result of an error comes around to score. The rulebook definition is a little more complicated, but that's the general idea.

One such run was scored on David Price in the fourth inning of tonight's Game 5 of the ALDS. Nelson Cruz, on second as a result of a double, attempts to steal third base. Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach's throw is an erroneous one (I don't know exactly what happened, cuz I'm stuck on my computer with just gamecast dots), and Cruz ends up scoring. As a result of an error, so that's an unearned run, right?

It was, but only until the end of the current at-bat, when Ian Kinsler knocks a single. As soon as that happened, the run in the box score changed from unearned to earned. Why is that, you ask? It's because of some screwy rule and a judgment call that allows the official scorer to change the status of a run in retrospect.

If, in the official scorer's estimation, a play following an unearned run would have resulted in that run scoring, then that unearned run becomes an earned run. So in this situation, we basically pretend that Cruz scored on Kinsler's clean hit rather than Shoppach's messy error. Funny thing is that Shoppach still gets charged with that error, in addition to Price getting charged with an earned run.

But here's the thing: Kinsler singled on a hanging curveball on the outside part of the plate, a pitch that was selected and thrown after Cruz had scored on that error. Who's to say that Price would have thrown that pitch if he still had a runner sitting on second (or on third, if Cruz had successfully stolen the base)? Any decision in baseball (as in life) is affected both by the circumstances in which that decision is made and by what events immediately precede that decision. When we get into pretending that things had turned out differently and basing our statistics on retroactive what-ifs, you confuse player evaluation, even if it's just to a trivial extent.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Eric Hinske's Career

One of the announcers last night noticed an interesting triviality - journeyman corner IF/OF Eric Hinske has played in the last three World Serieses for three different teams.

I never thought about it before, but now I can recall: the Yankees acquired him from the Pirates last year, he played significant time in the outfield for the 08 Rays, and he picked up a few at bats for the 07 Red Sox.

When he hit that home run last night to put his Braves in the lead, it looked like he might instill just enough magic to get to the Fall Classic for his fourth year in a row.

Then the Braves' Billy Wagner-less bullpen fell apart, and their Martin Prado-less infield made a key error and the Braves lost the game. It's sad, but this was a really good team that suffered some tough personnel losses that made them just a pretty good team. Certainly not good enough to heat the Phillies and possibly not even good enough to beat the Giants.

We could find out right now as Derek Lowe faces off against Madison Bumgarner. Or rather I'll find out later tonight after I get off the plane back to.LA I'm just now boarding. Ah the marvels of modern technology!
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Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Biggest Game of his Career...

Buck Martinez with another observation during today's game:

This would be the biggest save of Soriano's career, to force a fifth game to this series.

Hmm, the biggest of his career? How can we be certain of that? How exactly do you qualify "big"-ness? Well, we have Soriano's entire career on file at, so let's take a look.

With a cursory glance it becomes obvious how Martinez could make such a judgment - the 2010 ALDS is his first time appearing in the post-season. Soriano's had a fairly decent 9-year career in the majors that I'm sure included some big moments - including nearly breaking out with the Mariners in 2003, only to have his career potentially derailed by injuries, only to rejuvenate himself in Atlanta, which led to his shot at becoming a closer with Tampa Bay. And he's now established himself as one of the most dominant closers in the game. And how he has a chance to strut his stuff on the third-biggest stage in the theater that is Major League Baseball.

Soriano did not disappoint - he shut down the Rangers, following the example from fellow Rays relievers Randy Choate, Grant Balfour, and Joaquin Benoit. This is why it's so important to follow even the middle relievers of a club. If you have solid ones - like the Rays or the Padres - those late innings between your starter and your closer become much less stressful. If you have a shaky or unproven one, bad things start to happen. Like what happened to the Rangers last night.

But sometimes completely different things happen: like what happened to the Giants two nights ago, when the Braves came back against one of the best closers in the league. Sometimes even if your middle relievers do the job, your big dog can falter.

Maybe that faltering had somewhat to do with bad defense. Maybe All-Star Brian Wilson had some jitters, it being his first ever postseason game, and thus likely the "biggest" of his career.

We'll see what happens in game 3 when Tim Hudson (a guy with plenty of playoff experience, most of it while wearing the uniform pictured right) squares off against Jonathan Sanchez and the Giants.

Win the game...

During the first inning of Sunday's ALDS game, Buck Martinez gives his thoughts on Rangers starter Tommy Hunter:
He's all about winning. And I don't care what the radar gun says, I don't care how many strikeouts you get; the bottom line if you're a starter, is win the game.
Buck is referring to Tommy Hunter's 13-4 record in 2010 (good for a .765 winning percentage, best in the league), including a 7-0 record at home, where this game takes place. It certainly seems that Hunter, even at the tender age of 24, has what it takes to "know how to win."

But I would argue a bit with Martinez's description of a starting pitcher's duties. Everybody likes to win games, and I'm sure all pitchers like seeing high numbers in that "W" column. But in the big picture, pitchers don't "win the game" as Buck suggests - teams win games. Winning games requires scoring a few runs, a requirement to which AL starting pitchers contribute almost nothing.

Sure a pitcher can compile a lot of wins on their stat sheets, but that shouldn't necessarily be a pitcher's job: a starting pitcher's job is to do whatever he can to help his team win the game.

And I would argue that the evidence has shown that lighting up the radar gun and recording a high number of strikeouts is more valuable to a team's chances of winning games than that arbitrary W.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

2010 Fantasy Recap

It's that short period of time between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs, and anticipation levels are rising to the breaking point. With no baseball actually being played at the moment, what better time to recap my performance in 2010 Fantasy Baseball!?

I came in third place this year - a really good finish considering there were stretches of weeks at a time when checking my team completely slipped my mind. I also didn't follow my players as closely as I could have. For instance, if I were aware that last year's AL Cy Young Award winner had been carrying an ERA north of 4.00, I probably would have been shopping around a lot sooner.

Here's a list depicting how my roster looked at the end of the season, organized by the first position they have listed:

POS Name Team(s) swp swp/g
C Kurt Suzuki OAK 1,238 9.5
C/DH Jorge Posada NYY 1,227 10.2

1B Albert Pujols STL 2,843 17.9
1B/RF Garrett Jones PIT 1,594 10.1

2B/3B Ian Stewart COL 1,208 10.0

3B/2B Chone Figgins SEA 1,364 8.5
3B/2B Neil Walker PIT 1,320 12.0

SS Troy Tulowitzki COL 2,089 17.1

LF/1B/DH Luke Scott BAL 1,680 12.8
LF/2B/RF Ryan Raburn DET 1,202 10.6

CF Shane Victorino PHI 1,988 13.5
CF/LF/RF Andres Torres SF 1,828 13.2
CF/LF/RF Rajai Davis OAK 1,634 11.4

RF/LF Shin-Soo Choo CLE 2,129 14.8
RF Andre Ethier LAD 1,755 12.6
RF/LF/DH Jack Cust OAK 1,112 9.9

SP Roy Oswalt HOU/PHI 2,189 66.3
SP Clayton Kershaw LAD 2,041 63.8
SP/RP Brett Myers HOU 2,010 60.9
SP Hiroki Kuroda LAD 1,652 53.3
SP Zack Greinke KC 1,508 45.7
SP Mike Pelfrey NYM 1,479 43.5

RP Heath Bell SD 2,308 34.4
RP Jonathan Broxton LAD 1,124 17.6
RP Matt Guerrier MIN 611 8.3
RP Scott Downs TOR 634 9.5

(This list also represents my first dabbling into swp of the 2010 season. GET EXCITED!)

Of the 25 players I drafted, 17 remained on my end-of-year roster. One of the notable exceptions (Josh Johnson / 2,043 / 73.0) had a fine season, but I dropped him in early September when he landed on the DL for the rest of the season. Another one (Ryan Ludwick / 1,323 / 9.7) I only noticed his futility way too late. Had I been paying attention to the performances of the guys I eventually found to replace them (Brett Myers and Andres Torres, respectively), I likely would have made the switches months ago. But fantasy neglect is rather common over a 162 game season.

A couple of my regulars were injured for extended periods of time, so I had to find replacements on the fly. For Posada I eventually picked up Kurt Suzuki, after whom I had lusted since round 11 of our draft in March. He wasn't much better, but you at least need a warm body behind the plate, otherwise a lot of pitched balls would sail to the backstop or hit the ump in the groin.

When Tulo went down, I picked up Cubs phenom Starlin Castro (1,155 / 9.2), who also wasn't anything special. I dropped him later in the season to get some reinforcement for my absolutely lousy 2B/3B combination. I settled on Ryan Raburn and rookie Neil Walker, despite overwhelming evidence of mediocrity.

I just couldn't find anyone decent to play 2B or 3B for the LIFE of me. The one good thing about Chon-eh is that he stole a lot of bases. His 42, along with Victorino's 36 and Rajai Davis's 50 (!), gave me a potent force on the basepaths - my 116 Net Steals (SB - CS) was good for second-most in the league!

Other good categories for me: second-most home runs (242), second-most walks (695), second-fewest walks allowed (353, tie), and second-fewest home runs allowed (79). Also: third-best OPS (.808), third-best ERA (3.29), third-fewest hits allowed (1,005), and third-fewest losses (61).

Bad categories: second-fewest runs scored (868, which appears important, but is really just a measure of circumstance, really), and absolute-fewest doubles (329).

I'm pretty happy with my showing. Later I'll expound on my absolute ideal setup for Fantasy Baseball, both in terms of team organization and scoring. But that will likely not come until after the playoff fervor has died down.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Liveblogging the possibility of MORE BASEBALL!

It's the last day of the season. The San Diego Padres, who had surprisingly spent most of the season in first place in the NL West, now have fallen behind the San Francisco Giants. Three games behind them, to be precise, coming into the final three games of the season - which just happened to be against... the San Francisco Giants!

For those of you who didn't major in math, that means the Padres would have to win all three games to force a tie in the NL West and keep their playoff hopes alive. Well, as it's the final day of the season, they've already played two of those games, and the Padres have won both of them! If they can pull out a win today, we'll have to break into the crazy tie-breaker scenarios that smarter folks than me have been calculating for the past weeks.

I will be sitting here, on my couch, simultaneously keeping score of the game and liveblogging my thoughts. Stay tuned for repeated UPDATES TO THIS VERY POST as the game continues!

1st INNING - Fair or Foul

Right off the bat, this game provides an opportunity to talk about some hot button issues: the use of video replay to review questionable calls. In the very first at-bat for the Giants, Andres Torres hit a scorcher down the left field line that third-base umpire Mike Everitt called foul. The Giants' third-base coach Tim Flannery just about lost his mind, and justifiably so - upon reviewing the play, it was clear that the ball kicked up some chalk.

As far as I can tell, that's why they have chalk on the foul lines - if a ball hits any part of that chalk line, it's a fair ball. If any chalk flies up into the air upon the ball landing on it, it's obviously fair. Crew Chief Tim McClelland behind home plate declined to overturn the call, which cost the Giants two bases.

Torres ended up knocking a single, so at first glance, it appeared not to have mattered. However the next batter, Freddy Sanchez, grounded into a double play. Had Torres been on second base, Aubrey Huff's single might very well have scored him. If the Padres end up winning this momentous game by one run or less, there will probably be some understandable outrage in San Francisco.

2nd INNING - Checked His Swing?

Catcher Yorvit Torrealba came up second for the Padres in the inning and worked the count to 2-0. On the next pitch, he got tangled up on a pitch out of the zone and tried to check his swing. Giants catcher Buster Posey pointed down to the first base umpire to ask for an appeal, but Tim McClelland didn't follow suit, and the count went to 3-0. Torrealba ended up walking on the next pitch.

Again, replays showed that Torrealba had pretty clearly went around. Posey expressed his frustration, and McClelland calmly explained that it's in the home plate umpire's discretion to ask for an appeal. No runs ended up scoring that inning, but you have to ask if we're witnessing some Padres bias here.

Also during the second inning we found out that the Braves had beaten the Phillies, making their record exactly the same as the Giants. I have no idea what that means for the NL West/Wild Card tie-breaker scenario. Ask me later.

3rd INNING - The AL Playoffs Come Together

In the top half of the inning, we find out that the New York Yankees have just lost to the Boston Red Sox, placing them second to the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL East, and officially making the Bronx Bombers your 2010 AL Wild Card entry. This means the Yanks will play the Minnesota Twins in the first round of the playoffs. The Rays will take on the Texas Rangers.

I haven't really analyzed the lineups for the playoff teams yet - if I had more time to devote to baseball, there would certainly be more posts on this blog. But my friend Ben P. who has done a lot of this thinking already (and who also happens to be the biggest Twins fan I know) likes the Twins' chances less against the Yankees than against the Rays in a short series. Especially without Justin Morneau, whom the MLB Network crawl just confirmed will not be on the Twins' first round post-season roster.

But more about that later since the Giants just got on the board, not once, but twice. Including a triple from pitcher Jonathan Sanchez. Duane Kuiper had been referring to that area as "Triples Alley" all day, and it finally came to pass. Let's see how Sanchez does after exerting himself.

4th/5th INNINGS - Quite Well, Actually.

Sanchez allows a walk (on another non-appeal on a questionable check swing) and strikes out a batter on 16 pitches. Meanwhile the Giants strand a leadoff single, and both pitchers cruise through the fifth 1-2-3.

Since nothing much happened this inning, let me fantasize about my ideal situation for liveblogging a game. I'd be sitting in an executive desk chair with big puffy arms and a tray table on the right side where I could set my pencil-and-paper scoresheet. The TV is mounted on the wall to my right (about 2:00). My laptop's in front of me, open to blogger - maybe also my email so I can tab over and gchat with all my buddies.

Then there's a big flatscreen LCD monitor to my left (11:00) with multiple desktops. I'd have the gamecast of the game, for easy reference to every pitch of the game. I'd have each team's site for statistical analysis. Then another window for quick Google/Wikipedia searching.

...did I mention I'm sitting in the Bat Cave for all this?

6th/7th INNINGS - Our Starters Depart

Jonathan Sanchez leaves the game after five innings and 83 pitches with two runners on base. Former Oakland A Santiago Casilla (who was actually named Jairo Garcia for the early part of his career, before they found out those documents were fake) gets a couple of key force plays. I seem to remember Garcia/Casilla being kind of inconsistent with his control and his personality while with the A's. His stuff has never been in doubt - he can reach 98 on the gun. Maybe it was the change to the less competitive national league that turned him from a basket case to a high-leverage reliever on a possibly playoff-bound team.

Latos really settled down after allowing those runs in the third. He got out of a jam in the 6th and was rewarded by being replaced with pinch hitter Will Venable in the 7th... who promptly struck out. A single and a Casilla fielding error chase him from the game, and now the battle of the bullpens has really started. Ramon Ramirez comes in, another relief pitcher who was bad for an AL team (Boston) but who has found new life for the Giants. New life is right - the strike out of Miguel Tejada ends the threat and sets up the best bullpen in the game.

And Bud Black's gonna make it a battle. While he promptly replaces his first reliever (Ryan Webb) after just two pitches, they put a graphic up there to explain the tie-breaker scenario. If the Giants hold on to win, they'll win the west and the Braves will clinch the Wild Card. If the Padres come back to win, they'll ensure that the season goes on for two more games: a rematch tomorrow to decide the NL West winners and an additional tie-breaker Tuesday against the Braves to determine who wins the Wild Card.

But we can worry about all that stuff later. We've got some drama as lefty Joe Thatcher tries like a madman to keep spidery pinch hitter Eugenio Velez close to first base. He must have thrown over there at least 62 times during the course of this at-bat. It didn't appear to help him, as he walks leadoff hitter Andres Torres and leaves the game without recording an out. When everyone talks about the Padres' bullpen superiority, they must have been talking about quantity over quality. I mean, they did hold the Giants scoreless, but it did take them three pitchers to do so. Anyway the inning is over and we're headed to the last 22% of the game.

END OF GAME - The Playoffs Locked Up

There it is. Rookie sensation Buster Posey hits a home run to give the Giants an insurance run and All-Star Brian Wilson shuts the door.

I admit, I was pulling for the Padres, since as a Dodger fan I'm obligated to hates the Giants. Plus I was looking forward to possibly adding two more games to the baseball season. This means the Giants will play the Braves in the first round, which is only fitting, since they were the two last teams to officially make the playoffs.

I probably won't be liveblogging the whole playoffs, because it just takes up so much time. But rest assured I'll be checking in with my thoughts and analysis as October rolls on!