The Northside Lounge
A Chicago Cubs blog with an occasional tangent on pop culture
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Saturday, July 31, 2004
 
NOMAR

When I worked fore the college newspaper, the joke was that the biggest headline font imaginable was the "Clough Shot" font, for when school president Wayne Clough was the victim of an assasination attempt. Today, witness the raw power of the NOMAR font!

And did I mention we didn't give up Clement?

(Hang on, got to breathe into this paper bag. Back with more late tonight.)

nomar!


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Grrr

The good news is Fox carried the Cubs here. The bad news is I had to listen to McCarver as another winnable game slipped away. I'm on my way out the door, so I'll just focus on one move: the Bake Blunder of the Day. Today it came in the seventh, with the tying run on second base and Matt Clement due up. Dusty pinch-hit Goodwin, brilliantly luring Larry Bowa into bringing on the lefty Rheal Cormier. Dusty then countered by... staying with Tom Goodwin? With Ramon Martinez and Grudzie sitting on the bench? Yep, that's what happened, and when Goodwin popped out to center the Cubs last threat died on the bases.

The trade deadline came and went during today's game with no apparent moves from Jim Hendry and the Cubs. Assuming nothing else develops, its a bit of a dissapointment. Surely there was someone out there who could have helped. I suppose its better than mortgaging the future for a mediocre present ala the Mets.


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Weekend

Apologies for not posting the last couple days. I guess I was happy with the comments piling up on the Choi thread as well as the wins piling up in Milwaukee and now with the Phils in town. I will say I nearly choked on my ham and cheese sandwich while playing poker and following the game on Gamecast yesterday. With an 8-5 lead in the bottom of the seventh, Aramis led off with a homer off the ever flammable Roberto Hernandez to make it 9-5. Barrett drew a walk, and then with nobody out and a four-run lead Dusty had Alex Gonzalez bunt Barrett over. For Kyle Farnsworth. Who hit for himself. To recap, he gave up an out with one on and none out, a four run lead, and a career .074/.121/.093 hitter up. That's a career .214 OPS. Unbelievable.

Anyway, the object of my affections was traded to the Dodgers yesterday. By all accounts, Dodger fans are generally devastated to lose Paul Lo Duca, regardless of the fact that they received a 26 year-old starting pitcher with a 3.15 ERA and a 25 year-old first baseman with an .882 OPS for him. You will probably not be shocked to learn that I think it was a nice move. DePodesta made a great move to get the underappreciated Milton Bradley on the cheap, and I think he has done it again. The Dodgers are my (distant) second favorite team, and I have to say I would enjoy watching Choi carry them into the playoffs.

Clement against Millwood here in a few minutes. I am pretty sure the stupid Fox blackout precludes me from watching. I can't decide if I should be angry for missing the Cubs or grateful for being spared McCarver and Buck. Probably some of both.


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Tuesday, July 27, 2004
 

Derrek Lee

vs

Hee Seop Choi

Tale of the Tape1

28AGE25
$6.2MSALARY$0.3M
.301AVG.270
.373OBP.390
.545SLG.489
6/10SB/ATT1/1
.878ZONE.828
.997FIELD%.989
4.7%HR%4.3%
9.2%BB%15.5%
.306EQA.304

Round One

Derrek Lee is just a solid big league hitter. He hits for average, draws walks at a rate higher than any Cub save Sosa, and has a healthy .244 points of isolated power. BP says it all nets out at a very nice .306 EQA, eighth highest among major league first basemen. Hee Seop Choi counters with a profile built more heavily on the walk. He gives away thirty points in batting average despite having improved his average dramatically from last year, and the difference shows up in a 56 point slugging gap as well. Despite this, he nearly matches Derrek Lee's EQA thanks to a whopping 15.5% walk rate, tenth highest in the majors. They are different types of hitters, but I see no clear choice between the two when it comes to their basic numbers with the bat in their hands.

Scott's scorecard: Lee 10, Choi 10

Round Two

There is of course more to life than swinging a baseball bat- there are things like fielding a baseball, running on a baseball diamond, watching baseball on TV, and playing baseball games on a computer or console gaming system. But I digress. Let's look at defense. Derrek Lee came to Chicago with a sterling reputation and last year's Gold Glove. Choi had a fairly good reputation too, but nothing to match Lee's. The defensive stats available to me are notoriously unreliable, but for whatever they are worth they give Lee a substantial edge. Finally, the subjective impression of most observers has been that Lee has done a fantastic job scooping throws from Aramis and company. Lee has to get a significant edge here.

On the bases, both men run well for their size. Choi was successful in his only attempt to steal this year. Lee has been a successful thief in the past, and you would expect his percentage to improve as he has made fewer attempts than he did with Florida. Instead, he is down to 60%. This maybe just a sample size aberration, but I have to count it as a small edge to Choi.

One other factor needs to be pointed out. Derrek Lee has started nearly every game for the Cubs, while Choi has been spelled against lefties by Wil Coredero and Damion Easely. In fact, 89% of his plate appearance have been against right-handed pitchers. I am not going to do the math here, but its fair to say his production would likely be a tad lower if he had those additional at-bats against southpaws.

Scott's scorecard: Lee 10, Choi 9

Round Three

So to this point, I've got Derrek Lee as having a slightly better year than Hee Sop Choi on the field. There are two other factors that need to be considered though- time and money. Derrek Lee is in his prime years. He's unlikely to get much better, but he almost certainly has six or eight good years left in front of him. On the other hand, Choi is 25. He's got several more years of growth in front of him. While you might expect some regression to the mean after the sterling first half of a season he has put up this year, he also has a significantly better chance to improve going forward.

And then there's money. Choi is making just $300,000 this year, and isn't free-agency eligible for another three years. Lee is making twenty-one times more money this year. For the same money as Lee, you could have Choi and two ace relievers, or Choi and Javy Lopez, or Choi and two-thirds of Ivan Rodriguez.

Scott's decision: Choi by TKO

There is very little difference between these two guys this year. What edge there is falls in Lee's favor. If your question is "who is better," than Derrek Lee is your answer.

On the other hand, there is a significant edge to Choi in terms of age and a massive edge to Choi in terms of dollars. If your question is which one of these guys should the Cubs have gone with, the answer is as it was then: Hee Seop Choi2.

1- Apologies to the Let's Play Two Trade Tracker
2- Not to mention the fact that I still own a road grey Choi jersey.


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Monday, July 26, 2004
 

Cubs win in Wisconsin

The Cubs changed the script, finally breaking through for a three run seventh to give Matt Clement a 3-1 win in Milwaukee today. Matt was effectively wild for six innings, Rusch was just play effective for two, and LaTroy looked shaky but managed to throw strikes when he had to for the save.

Despite the seventh inning featuring the Cubs' third, fourth, and fifth runs in Miller Park this year, it also had a couple managerial decisions I want to take issue with. Derrek Lee led off the inning with a game-tying homer. Aramis took a ball and then blasted a double to a cranny in deep left center. Here, Dusty pinch-ran Ramon Martinez. First of all, there aren't many situations where the speed of that runner is going to prove critical. Second, Ramon isn't an incredibly fast base runner. Third, you are taking one of your top hitters out of the lineup with at least three innings left to play. Finally, you are shortening an already critically short bench. The only mitigating factor is that Aramis isn't quite 100%, but that's not enough to outweigh all the rest.

Then, with Ramon now in scoring position and nobody out, Dusty asked Barrett (.348/.491 OBP/SLG) to bunt him over for Gonzalez (.242/.376) and a pinch-hitter who turned out to be Tom Goodwin (.246/.308). Why give up your one good hitter to give two lousy ones a chance? Its just not smart baseball.

As it turned out, Barrett got behind 0-2 on attempted bunts and flew out to right, then Gonzalez flew out, but fortunately Goodwin walked and Grudz singled in two for the 3-1 lead and eventual win. Despite the end result, I think these were two lousy percentage moves. Of course, I'll gladly take the win.

Look for my Lee/Choi report tomorrow afternoon I hope. Till then, go Cubs.


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Close but no cigar

4-3 on Saturday. 3-2 on Sunday. Nineteen times this season. The Cubs have lost one run games over and over again this year. Only the Diamondbacks have lost more (22). Numerous studies have shown that success in one-run games is primarily a matter of luck, and that over time it will tend to even out. Unfortunately, we don't have a lot of time left.

The one thing that has been shown to help your record in one-run games is a good bullpen. While you can point to a number of letdowns (like LaTroy yesterday) that have contributed to one-run losses, our pen really hasn't been all that terrible. BP's Adjusted Runs Prevented has them 16th out of 30, right smack in the middle of the pack. On the mailing list I subscribe too, people are blaiming poor clutch and situational hitting from people, Sosa in particular. I guess you need more than one game-winning homer a week to please some folks.

For whatever reason, losing the nailbiters is happening and it is costing us dearly. Just getting up to our expected number of wins by runs scored and allowed would be five additional games in the standings. I don't know that there is anything that can be done to fix the problem, but if it doesn't get fixed or fix itself we can count on staying home for the playoffs. Sigh.

Tommorrow I hope to have a Lee/Choi breakdown to help with the discussion that was going on in the comments at the end of last week. I might also mention another patient memory, last seen picking on the Yankees this weekend. Sigh.


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Friday, July 23, 2004
 

Blowout

Let me start by saying that I have just looked at the site, and my colleague has not posted so far today. If he goes and posts between now and when I get mine posted I can't be held responsible.

Isn't it nice to cruise to a win for once? With Maddux on and the boppers bopping, we finally had one of those nice low-stress wins that put a smile on my face while lowering my blood pressure. The cavalcade of runs has inspired me to try on my Jayson Stark hat and produce some bulletpoints.

  • The thirteen runs were the most by the Cubs offense this year. We had previously scored twelve on three different occasions.
  • Only the Cubs, Arizona, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, and the New York Mets had failed to score thirteen runs in a game going into yesterday's play.
  • The Cubs are now 4-1 in eleven run games. The only other team to even play four eleven run games is the Pirates (3-2).
  • Arbitrarily setting "eight-run difference" as the measure of a blowout win, the Cubs are 8-4 in blowouts.
  • The team with the next highest number of blowout wins is Atlanta with six.
  • On the flipside, only four NL teams have more blowout losses (Arizona, Montreal, Colorado, and San Francisco).
  • The Cubs record when scoring a lot of runs doesn't stand out compared to other teams. For instance, when scoring six runs or more, the Cubs are 27-5 (thirteenth best in baseball).
  • When allowing a large number of runs, the Cubs are terrible. We are 1-16 when allowing six or more runs. Only Montreal (1-30) and Seattle (1-34) are worse.

So basically, if we give up six runs you can turn the TV off. Its a good thing Shawn Estes is gone or WGN might as well not broadcast every fifth day.


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Thursday, July 22, 2004
 

Weather

When the sun is shining, the Cubs are winning, and everything is going well, people love to show up at the ballpark and cheer and cheer. The flipside is that a little rain, a few losses, and things going poorly is reason enough for many of those same folks to boo and boo. Perhaps that's why they are called "fair-weather" fans. Fortunately for the Cubs, Sammy Sosa is an all-weather ballplayer. His screaming line drive homer through a monsoon and into the basket in left carried the Cubs to an overdue victory over the Reds yesterday. Naturally, the self-involved ninnies went from boo to cheer in seconds. I suppose every team has bandwagon fans, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

Matt Clement had his worst start since May, but when your worst start since May is four runs in six innings its hard to complain (not that I expect that would stop many Cubs fans.) He allowed two homers while walking two and striking out seven. Despite getting (in a relative sense) shelled, Clement saw the bullpen shut down the Reds once he left and the offense put up just enough for the win.

I enjoyed Todd Van Poppel complaining about the field conditions after giving up the homer. He rutted around the mound until they brought out the sawdust and rakes to soak some of the water up. He probably had a point, but his complaints would have held a lot more water (sorry) if they had come before he gave up the go-ahead jack.

Today its Cory Lidle against Greg Maddux. We'll get a chance to see if Maddux's return to glory was a one-time deal or if its going to last a while. Neither pitcher strikes out many batters, so look for plenty of balls-in-play and plenty of chances for the team's defenses to get involved.

Oh, and Jim Edmonds got beaned twice in MVP Baseball 2004 yesterday. The second one knocked him out of the game for a pinch-runner. It made me feel a little better anyway.


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Cubs bounce back


Through a driving rain at Wrigley Field the Cubs were able to put the St. Louis games behind them and beat the Reds 5-4 yesterday.  Sammy Sosa's seventh inning homer on a 3-0 count between the raindrops proved to be the difference.  Todd Wellemeyer earned his first win of the season with the key out being a strikeout of John Vander Wal with the sacks jacked.  Two points on this: 1.) his last name always makes me think of Oasis and their hit Wonderwall off the linked album - one of my favorite albums of the 90s.  'Cause after alllllllll, he's John Vander Walllllllll.  OK, enough of that.  2.)  ESPN announcers, Sportscenter anchors and Reds radio play by play men were all arguing about the call.  Fact is that the pitch got the plate.  It just looked off because Barrett set up inside and Wellemeyer missed his spot and hit the outside corner.  Regardless, the end result was a strikeout and an eventual Cubs win.


The Cubs offense got 2 other home runs yesterday from Moises Alou and Derrek Lee.  In fact balls hit over the fence accounted for all of the Cubs runs.  I got to thinking, it seems as if the Cubs have been getting the majority of their runs off homers lately.  It sounded like a good idea for a mini-study.  I would love to see the percentage of runs accounted for by dingers for the Cubs and compare it to league averages, but I cannot find these data.  I would also like to see the percentage of Cub homers which are solo, but I cannot find this either.  If anyone can provide a link I would be grateful.


even though I cannot find the data I want, I figured I could still play around with some numbers this morning.  First some context, The Cubs are 16th in the majors in runs scored according to CNNSI's website - which is not updated though yesterday's game but was easier to cut and paste into Excel.   They are 7th in home runs.  One would think that being this hign in homers would lead to a better showing in runs scored, but the power is cancelled out by their pitiful 22nd ranking in OBP (due to being 25th in walks).


Now, obviously home runs are hits and are therefore counted in OBP.  I decided to see where the Cubs ranked if you figured OBP on plate appearances that did not result in a home run.  After crunching the numbers the Cubs are 26th in this category.  Only the Mets, Royals, Diamondbacks and Expos are worse.  They get on base just over 30% of the time in this situation.


Bottom line conclusion after this quick exercise is not a surprising one - the Cubs don't draw enough walks therefore don't get on base and are missing out on some scoring opportunities.  Dusty loves the players who swing away and hates passive walking players like Choi and Bellhorn.  I just hope the pitching will be good enough to make a run at the Wild Card given their offense will continue to score runs one at a time.





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Wednesday, July 21, 2004
 

Reeling

I went to see the Atlanta Silverbacks play in the US Open Cup last night (bear with me, this gets back to the Cubs). The Backs are an A-League team (the rough soccer equivalent of AAA) and were playing one of the better teams in MLS, the Kansas City Wizards. The Backs got down 1-0 right away, but controlled play throughout the first half and eventually got a well-deserved equalizer right before halftime. They came back from the locker room and found themselves in a totally different game. Kansas City dominated play for the first ten minutes and put two quick goals up for a 3-1 lead.

Now a two-goal second-half deficit in soccer is a difficult thing to overcome. I might almost compare it to the situation the Cubs find themselves in. The key thing for Atlanta last night and the Cubs at this point in the season is to stop the bleeding. No matter how difficult it may be to make up ten games in the division or pass four other teams for the wildcard, the prescription is still the same: stop losing and start winning. It sounds simple, but anyone who has been on tilt in poker knows it isn't. We need to regroup, focus, and go to work. I don't know if playing good baseball from today forward will be enough, but I do know that playing good baseball from today forward is the only chance we've got.

Kansas City passed circles around the Atlanta players the rest of the night, dominating posession and creating numerous chances. They finally put an insurance goal late in the game to cap the scoring at 4-1. Of course, the Cubs are not a minor league team. They are a talented team that can still make the playoffs if they play up to their potential. Goodness knows that once we get in, it won't matter how we got there. The rest of the season starts today. Let's go Cubs.


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Sucked out at the river


Whenever I go to a bookstore these days I make purchases in two categories, baseball and poker.  So, that means you get another poker analogy today.  Maybe when this craze dies down I will go back to comparing all Cubs games to episodes of the Simpsons.


In Hold 'Em if you are a favorite in the hand until a miracle card comes off the deck at the end (called the river) it called getting sucked out.  Well, after holding a 7-1 lead in yesterday's game the Cubs were certain favorites, but it was not meant to be.  A three run ninth including a third homer by Pujois lead to the Cubs demise.  They did get the winning run to the plate, but still wound up short.  They now stand 10 games back of the Cardinals in the division race and 3 games behind San Francisco in the wild card with a few more teams in between.


Talking to a poker player who just busted out of a tournament will bring about tall tails of woe and statistical improbability.  They will lament  over the "bad beat" they just took and wonder why there is no order in the universe.  95% of the time the fact is that they put them self in that position will bad play earlier.  Same can be said for the Cubs.  True, yesterday's game is more than likely the death knell on the division race, but truth be told they Cubs have been out of it since dropping 5 of 6 before the break. 


Dusty Baker is by no means a good in game manager in my opinion.  He is bad with pitchers, moves and strategies.  Of course, this is like people at my company stating I am bad at writing memos.  I have freaking degrees in math and stats and was not hired to write.  Dusty was not hired to know when and when not to bunt.  He was hired because he is able to get the most out of his players, because he is good with the media, and because of the way he handles himself and prepares his team to play.


Needless to say, this season will test a lot of these tenets.  If Baker can get this team into the playoffs, then I will be a Dusty believer for life.  Fact is though, I think it can still happen.  3 games to make up with 70 to play is certainly obtainable.  Mr. Baker, this is why you are here, the ball is in your court, show us the way.


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Tuesday, July 20, 2004
 

Ordonez designated for assignment

.164 batting average.

.190 OBP

.262 SLG

In just 67 plate appearances, Rey Ordonez posted a VORP of -5.4. Of the 408 major league players with 67 PA, Rey outhit precisely three: Alfredo Amezaga, Cesar Crespo, and Mike Hessman. If you put the cutoff at 25 PA, there were sixty pitchers with higher batting VORPs. Not one. Not two. Sixty. Still, its not that Rey Ordonez played lousy baseball for us this year. Its that this team's management ignored eight years of major league history and put him out there anyway.

Last year I celebrated when the Cubs released Lenny Harris. This time around I am a little wiser. Its certainly good to get rid of Rey Ordonez, or Lenny Harris, or Wendell Kim, or whichever person is actively destroying our chances in a given season, but its not going to change the big picture. As long as we have management who can't solve these problems before they ever begin, we are always going to be fighting an uphill battle. We will perpetually be a franchise that has to sit around and try to blunder into the playoffs once a decade or less, and hope for some lucky wins over superior teams once we get there.

Also, I hate hate hate Jim Edmonds.


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Monday, July 19, 2004
 

  Kim decision looms large in loss


Bottom of the sixth inning, game tied at three with your starting pitcher battling tooth and nail on the hill.  Your third baseman, just recently back from a leg injury, leads off the inning with a double.   The next batter bloops a single down the right field line.  Since the ball had some air under it the runner has to pause a split second to make sure it A) gets over the infield and B) does not come to rest comfortably in the right fielder's glove.


Putting all of these things together my dog would have made the right decision to stop the runner at third.  If he stops, then you have first and third with no men out.  Too bad for the Cubs, my dog not only cannot talk, but she is not the third base coach for the Cubs.  Wavin' Wendell sent the runner home only to have him be nailed by 10 feet.  The only thing that would have made this worse is if he had reinjured himself in the process.    The next batter hit into a double play (why wasn't Barrett on second after the ball went all the way to the catcher) and the Cubs left the inning without scoring.


According to Baseball Prospectus and their expected runs matrix (I would link it, but you have to subscribe to the site) a team will score 1.85 runs with men on 1st and 3rd and no one out on average.  That drops to 0.54 for a man on 1st and one out (0.71 for man on second and one out if you assume most runners would move up on the throw).   So a conservative estimate is that he cost us at least one run.  If you read Scott's post yesterday you know that the Cubs cannot afford to give up runs in any situation especially no brainers like this one. 


The Cubs are now 9 games behind the Cardinals so the division is realistically out of the question unless a small miracle occurs.  The Wild Card though is still there for the taking.  In order to do this the Cubs have to play better baseball and not give away outs on the freaking basepaths.  Maybe Wendell is a good luck charm for Dusty much like Victory Faust was foe the early century Giants, but any marginal gains by this good luck charm are given back to the other team in the form of outs.  I am sure he is a nice guy, but he is killing the Cubs - just killing them.


Obviously the other big story of the night was Carlos.  Carlos is currently my second favorite player on this team behind Aramis and I have no problems with anything this evening.  Sure, he is emotional, young, fiery and all the other adjectives people say, but you know what, he is a darn fine pitcher.  He also cares about what is going on.  Apathy is my least favorite trait in people and no one can accuse him of that.  He pitched with heart and came a few mistakes away from winning this game.



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Slump

On Saturday, July 3, the Cubs beat the White Sox 4-2 in a rain-shortened six inning game. Sosa, Alou, and Rey Ordonez (!) homered, and Todd Walker tripled and walked out of the leadoff spot. When the team went to sleep that night, their offensive numbers looked like this:

Cubs Offense through July 2
Runs per game4.81
OBP.331
SLG.457

In the eleven games since, the Cubs have gone 4-7 despite outstanding pitching (just three runs allowed per game). The reason of course is that the offense has dried up like the Shell oil reserves. The ugliness:

Cubs Offense since July 2
Runs per game2.55
OBP.280
SLG.378

So what has gone wrong? In a word, everything.

Offensive changes since July 2
AVG-16%
OBP-15%
SLG-17%
Isolated SLG-20%
AVG on Balls in play-16%
BB/PA-16%
BB/K-39%

In fact, pretty much the only thing that is up is our rate of sacrifice bunting, up a whopping 64% since July 2. It sort of makes some sense to bunt more in a low-run scoring environment. Of course, a cynic would point out that Dusty may be partly responsible for creating the low-run scoring environment by bunting away all those free outs. Good thing I'm no cynic.

I checked these numbers in hopes of uncovering the reason our offense has gone in the tank- maybe our power had disappeared, or maybe we had stopped taking walks. Instead, it seems that we have just gotten 15-20% worse in every facet of the offensive game. If there is a solution, we need to find it quick. We are seven back of St. Louis, and a two-game sweep at their hands would put us a whopping nine games back. That deficit would be enough for me to say we had virtually no chance to pull out the division. We would be left with the wildcard, a race in which we are just one game out as I write.

Carlos Zambrano against Chris Carpenter tonight. I expect Carlos to show up. Will anyone else in Cubbie blue?


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Sunday, July 18, 2004
 

SABR Sunday

Quick post for a quick day. I got up at 8, packed, and headed downtown for:

Sunday 10am, Gene Sunnen leads a special session on "The Art of Heckling" This seemed like a guaranteed crowd pleaser, but it was a moderate dissapointment to me. I can't say it was awful, but with such a golden topic it should have been much better. I mean how hard is it to collect 10-20 really great heckling anecdotes and just share them? Instead there were just a couple moderately funny anecdotes, and the rest of the time was split between unfunny anecdotes and unfunny "audience participation" heckles. I'll admit I laughed a few times, but that should have been an hour of wall-to-wall laughter and it really, really wasn't. The one redeeming quality was the upbeat and energetic attitude of Sunnen. I'd hate to think what a dud it would have been with one of the poorer presenters I saw earlier in the week.

From there I headed down for a sendoff baseball game with Dennis, Vinay Kumar, Joe Dimino, Aaron Gleeman, Greg Spira, and Trent McBride. It was nice to get another chance to hang out with these guys, except for the part where the '27 Yankees dressed up as the '04 Cardinals and kicked the living heck out of another hapless victim. That part's getting a bit old.

As for the Cubs, I have no idea what to say. I saw none of their games this weekend, but if the linescores don't decieve me things were about like they have been for a while now. We've got two with the Cardinals coming up. Even if we were to sweep the hottest team in baseball, we'd still be a whopping six games back. I think by Thursday it will be time for a rational assesment of where we stand and whether we should be buying at the trade deadline or whether it is just too late.


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Michael Moore at SABR

Actually, it was Marvin Miller, but more on that later. The real news is the results of the first annual Primer Poker Invitational. Twelve players coughed up the twenty dollar buy-in, and the chips flew fast and furious. Chris Dial was the first to fall, followed quickly by Chris Jaffee. We went down to a single ten-player table where Dan Szymborski was the first to fall. Around this time, the wildest hand of the tournament. Four players all-in, and Vinay Kumar hits the boat on the river to stay alive while an ace-high flush, a jack-high flush, and two-pair each take down a share of the pot putting nobody out.

The next out was Aaron Gleeman in ninth. Jon Daly had eights in the hole, hit his set on the river, and went all-in only to see Joe Dimino find a flush for the KO. Jon's take: "I guess my shit doesn't work at the final table." My co-author lost a large pot with a queen-high flush to a king-high flush, and shortly thereafter he and the one player whose name I failed to write down went out on the same hand. Out in fifth place was Matt Rauseo, and the final four were in the money.

With four left, Joe Dimino had about 10,000 of the 18,000 in chips at the table. Tony Giacalone was in second with about 5000, I was third with a bit over 2,000, and Vinay was hanging on with a short stack. Soon his time was up, and I was looking at the short stack. I waited as long as I could until pushing all-in with A2o. Joe called with QTo, and the Q on the turn sent me packing. Joe continued to keep the pressure on Tony, raising and folding until Tony made a stab at the wrong time, pushing all-in without much of anything. Joe didn't buy the bluff, and when the deck brought no help Joe Dimino was the SABR Convention Tournament Champion.

Oh, and there was also some convention content today:

Saturday, 12:30 pm- Awards Banquet with keynote speaker Marvin Miller Miller, who turned 87 in April, was a methodical speaker but was steady, in command of his facts, and had far better presentation skills than some of the presenters I saw this week. He started out attacking Bud Selig's competitve balance claims, an position the audience lapped up. He got into some hairer waters when he moved on to discussing steroids. Miller argued that steroids were A) not proven to be harmful and B) not proven to help players "hit the ball more consistently or further." His first point seems shaky at best, and the second seems downright silly, especially since he stipulated that they help build muscle mass and strength. I don't know how you can say that all else being equal, strength doesn't relate to hitting a baseball further.

Things went a little further downhill when Miller slid awy from baseball into an anti-Bush section of his speech. Starting by arguing that Bud Selig has a conflict of interest (since he owns the Brewers and runs MLB), he somehow segued to an arguement that George Bush has a conflict of interest because he "rigged the tax system to support his backers." I had three objections to this line of attack. First, we have an income tax system where the top 1% of income earners pay over a third of the nation's income taxes while bringing in just 19% of the nation's income. Its hard for me to see how that is rigged in favor of those earners. Second, how can you fault a politician for enacting policies his voters support? Isn't that the whole idea of electing people to represent you- to vote for someone who will work for policies you like? Is the only way to avoid being accused of having a conflict of interest to only support policies your voters are against? Third, and by far most important, what place does a fifteen-minute Bush-bash have in a SABR keynote address? He literally said just a couple sentences about Selig before using that to springboard to Bush.

Of course, I must also note the immature behavior of several members of the audience. When Miller started in on the anti-Bush section, one man noisly walked out. Two others began saying things like "I can't beleive this! How dare he!" and so on, in loud voices while Miller was talking. I didn't think the SABR address was the right place for a political rally either, but I didn't think he should be shouted down mid-speech either.

Fortunately, the speech picked up from there. Miller came back to the present commissioner for sometime, scoring some points on the farcical "blind trust" that the Brewers are in. "Are we to believe," Miller asked, "that the commissioner does not know he owns the Brewers?" Miller really shined though in the Q&A session. Asked who the best comissioner was, he said Fay Vincent was the most intelligent and had the most potential of all the ones he worked with. Asked who the best owners were, he named Walter O'Malley, George Steinbrenner, and later added Bill Veeck. He said that while none of these three men were pro-union, all understood that the union had a place and treated the union with some respect. He related one story about O'Malley wanting to know who the four players in the minority of a 21-4 team vote to unionize were. Miller said he couldn't and wouldn't say, and O'Malley shocked Miller by saying he wanted to know so he could get rid of them. "A team can't be a team when they are divided on an issue like this," Miller quoted O'Malley as saying. Miller refused to tell, but O'Malley said "there are ways". By the beginning of the 1972 spring training, all four were gone. Last but not least, Sean Forman asked from our table who the best player reps Miller worked with were. Miller named Tom Seaver, Gary Peters, Bob Boone, Stan Hamilton, Brooks Robinsion, and Joe Torre as particularly effective.

All things considered, it was a decent speech. I wish he would have gotten off the political soapbox and stuck to baseball, but in the long run his intelligence and insight shown through and won the day. After the speech and some drinks on the patio at Fifth & vine, we headed off to...

Kenneth Heard and David Faust with "Beyond Moneyball"- Its too bad this was scheduled late on Saturday afternoon, because I really should have had my mind completely focused for this one. Heard and Faust, two clinical psychologists, presented a strong body of evidence from their field that indicates that an objective methodology for evaluating variables produces results at least equal and usally superior to "clinical judgement" virtually every time. They took pains to explain that this did not mean subjective evidence should be discarded (either in psychology or basebll) but just that it could best be used to inform a decision by evaluating it in an objective manner. The example they gave was that a scouts subjective opinion as to a players mental makeup could be coded as a score from 1-5, and then fed in as a variable in the master decision making algorithm.

I found this presentation fascinating. Although I was unable to ask them directly, they seemed to be getting at the idea that a better mousetrap was to be found in tossing "human judgement" out in favor of a statistical/analytical method of making decisions. I'm not nearly qualified to support, attack, or even properly relate their views, but it was at the very least food for thought and at best a framework for the next generation of cutting edge baseball decision making.

All right, this is almost the last of the uber-posts from Cincy. Tomorrow we'll be seeing no more than one presentation and then heading to a game before I fly home. We're seven out thanks to the return of '94 Greg Maddux. Let's go for six.

Edited to add:It seems I have made some errors. Chris Dial went out after Chris Jaffee, whose name is actually spelled Jaffe. Jaffe's lucky he knows me now, so he can catch my misspelling of his name. Further, he's lucky he didn't know me Thursday, or my review of his presentation certainly would have teased him about presenting at a research conference while wearing sweatshorts. I am just saying...

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Saturday, July 17, 2004
 

SABR Diary Day 2

The highlight of the day was supposed to be attending the Reds game, and while I suppose it was still pretty fun, I can't really call it a highlight. Dennis and I walked into the stadium and saw the Cubs tied 2-2 on the out of town scoreboard. By the time we made it to our seats we were down 3-2, and as you know we didn't comeback. I was briefly cheered by the Reds jumping out on the Cardinals 5-1, but I was stupid enough to pull out a handout from one of the afternoon presentations that said the Reds had a 90% chance to win at that point. No team could fail to win with such an obvious jinx working for them, so the Cardinals rallied on a Marlon Anderson homer (!) and sealed it with a circus catch by Jim Edmonds. I call it a circus catch because I was rooting for him to be trampled by an elephant. Then we came back to the Goodman house and I had to A) listen to Dennis complain because I stole an all-in hand from him on a lucky draw (my A-8 vs his JJ) and then B) watch him steal two all-in hands from me on lucky draws (my A-9 vs his A-5 and my A-6 vs his Q-T.)

It wasn't all bad though. We did get to see four softball players from some new show on Fox Sports in a home run derby before the game. That may not seem like that great a thing, but you didn't see a barrage of upper-deck homers capped by a 511-footer sailing over the chainlink fence on top of the bleachers and out toward the Ohio River. If the commissioner doesn't get the roids out of slow-pitch softball the game is dead. We also got the revel in the comedy of a ballpark that leads off the game with a PSA warning against "inappropriate personal displays of affection in a family atmosphere" and follows a few inning later with the oh-so unique "Kiss Cam" inning. Maybe it was a trick so they could catch all those make-out couples in the act and put them out on the street.

A recap (briefer this time) of the presentations I saw today:

Friday, 10 am- Tom Tippett on park effects I was looking forward to this after all the buzz on last year's Tippett presentation. From the limited accounts I heard, I got the impression he hammered on Voros McCracken's DIPS theory pretty hard, ignoring or overlooking a lot of things that Voros had already stipulated in follow-up reports. Really, it seemed to me like his data mostly confirmed what Voros had been saying. At any rate, I know Tippett and DMB do good work and I was eager to hear what he had to say and give him a fair, in-person evaluation.

What I saw this time I thought was strong, so far as it went. Basically, he asked the question "do parks effect all hitters the same way?" Traditionally park factors are looked at as one number for all hitters, or at worst broken down among lefties and righties. Tippet wanted to know whether power hitters, or speedsters, or three true outcome hitters, or who knows what might be affected differently. The most interesting result he obtained was that the more power you have, the less homers Coors will give you on a percentage basis. For example, Barry Bonds might get eight extra homers playing in Coors, while Walt Weiss might get four extra. This means the standard "Coors increases homers 52% for lefties" model doesn't work.

Unfortunately, Tippett didn't have time to broaden his results to different types of hitters other than high-homer and low-homer, or different parks other than Coors. He referred to the results as a "work in progress," so hopefully more information will be coming on what seems like a promising topic.

Friday, 10:30 am- Joseph Dittmar on the Phillies sign-stealing caper of 1900 This was the best presentation I have seen so far. Dittmar was funny, covered a lot of ground, and had the audience in the palm of his hand the whole way. Basically, the story was that the Reds caught the Phillies with a system for relaying signs by wire from a clubhouse in center field, under the stands, into the dugout, and under the ground out to the third base coach's box. There, Pearce Chiles (related to Seinfeld's Jackie, perhaps?) would receive a shock, twitch madly as a result, and then relay the signal to the hitter. My favorite line was when Dittmar related a situation when the Phillies owner's honesty was called into question. He then put up a marvelous photo of said owner, looking as guilty as Bud Selig but with a handlebar mustache to boot, and asked "would you trust this man?" Trust me, it was golden.

Friday, 12:30- Peter Morris on "History of the Emery Ball" This presentation covererd the discovery of the emery ball (basically scuffing the baseball) by Russell Ford, and his ongoing efforts to use and protect the secret of the pitch. I enjoyed hearing how he discovered it as an Atlanta Cracker, and how he would actually moisten the ball so he could excuse the wild break of the ball by claiming it was a perfectly ordinary spitball. He also presented some interesting circumstantial evidence that three starting pitchers for the Miracle Braves of 1914 had the opportunity to learn the pitch and the results to show that they may have done so (something like 1 shutout for the trio before July 4 and 18 afterwards). The only downside was that Morris read the whole presentation, making it hard to connect with the audience. Then again, if we can't forgive Zack Morris's first father, who can we forgive?

Friday, 1pm- Mark Pankin on "Relative Value of OBP and SLG" This presentation was born with the comment in MoneyBall that said something along the lines of a point of OBP being worth three of SLG. I had no real problems with the methodology (he used runs created and Markov chains to see how much SLG it would take to increase runs by the same amount as a given increase in OBP would), but this one still didn't grab me. I guess I don't see the question as much more than a curiosity, since you never have the opportunity to acquire extra points of OBP and SLG in isolation. Rather, you get them in packages (players) whose value (as Pankin stated) is dependent on the context you are in. Since that's the case, you might as well focus on adding entire players to a lineup rather than marginal OBP points. At any rate, he concluded that the right answer is somewhere in the neighborhood of two SLG points is as good as one extra OBP point, which sounds perfectly reasonable to me.

Friday, 3:30- Jerrold Casway on "Women and 19th Century Baseball" This one featured dozens of lurid tales of sex, alcohol, adultrey, violence, and murder. The material seems like gold, and the research was apparently quite strong since all the sources were direct contemporary media reports of the ongoing shenanigans of late 1800's ballplayers. Unfortunately, Casway read the entire presentation with his head down, and mispronounced words from his own script. It was disorienting to the point that I wondered whether it was someone else reading the speech for an author who couldn't make it. Also, it was in essence just a recitation of a litany of cases. It would have benefitted from some focus and some organization to highlight fewer cases but to relate them in a more engrossing manner.

Friday, 3:30 pm- David Smith on scoring patternsSmith looked at things like how often do you win if you score first, or if you lead after a given number of innings, or if you come from behind a lot. As he stated, many of his results were prety obvious- teams that lead tend to win a lot, that kind of thing. He did have one result that blew me away though- he showed a graph of team's win% when leading after eight through history. It was a horizonatal line- that is to say, teams have gotten no better or worse at closing out leads over the last century, despite huge changes in pitcher usage patterns. I would have bet my life you would have seen significant changes as the modern bullpen evolved but there was no sign of it. I would love to see some more digging done on this issue.

I salute you if you have dug through all this text. Trust me, its all much more entertaining than I am making it sound. Tomorrow we'll see Marvin Miller speak at the banquet and maybe, maybe get to have a SABR Texas Hold 'em Tournament. Can't wait.


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Thursday, July 15, 2004
 

Prior

So in 1998, the Cubs had a solid young pitcher.  They worked him real hard- some said too hard.  Then his elbow started hurting.  The Cubs kept nursing him along, trying to get him back in the lineup as soon as possible.  Eventually they did, but he only pitched a few innings before being shutdown for Tommy John surgery.  It would seem some gentler treatment and/or a proper diagnosis and treatment would have been good ides, but hey, at least they learned a lesson, right?

So then the Cubs got another solid young pitcher.  They worked him real hard- some said too hard.  Then his elbow started hurting.  The Cubs kept nursing him along, trying to get him back in the lineup as soon as possible.  Eventually they did, but he only pitched a few innings before being shutdown for Tommy John surgery.  It would seem some gentler treatment and/or a proper diagnosis and treatment would have been good ides, but hey, at least they learned a lesson, right?

So then...


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SABR Diary, Day 1

So far, the convention is about what I would have guessed- lots of people who know lots of baseball.  I have the distinct impression that I am in the bottom quartile of baseball knowledge here.  I feel like a junior high whiz kid who goes to a college lecture and is blown away.  Not that I am complaining- its a pleasure to be surrounded by people who know as much or more than I.  Talking baseball with real live people usually amounts to sitting around the office and trying to carry on a discussion with Braves fans who don't know their own team's starting lineup.  Most folks in this crowd can quote starting lineups of teams from random years before they were born.

Anyway, Dennis picked me up at the Dayton airport last night and drove me to the Casa de Goodman.  His dog Wrigley gave me a welcoming molestation, but was actually far calmer than my last visit two years ago.  I also got to try "Derby Pie," which may or may not have some etymologic connection to the horse race in Kentucky.  At any rate, it had chocolate in it so its all good.  We got up and drove in this morning, checked in, got our goody bags and headed out to the first presentation.

Thursday, 9 am- John Jarvis on "How many World Series should the Braves have won"John ran a play-by-play simulation of his own devising to sim each postseason over the '91-'03 era.  He'd start with the real-life playoff teams from each year, then advance through the playoffs until he had a World Champion.  The calculations said that the eventual actual winners had an average 12.8% chance of winning the World Series coming in, while the  losers had a 12.4% chance. He concluded that the playoffs as currently constructed are little more than a crap shoot.

To be honest, I wasn't too impressed with what I heard about his play-by-play simulation.  He used overall team ERA to simulate run prevention, ignoring any effect of variation from top to bottom of the rotation and comingling the effect of every starter and reliever used all year long into one number.  He was slightly less blunt when it came to run scoring, which he sim'd by taking the average percentage of singles, doubles, triples, outs, etc., recorded by each spot in the lineup.  As long as you are going to use such blunt tools, I think he might be better off just using runs scored and allowed and the pythagorean method to estimate team strength.

Nonetheless, his results fit in well with other research, with the actual results of the teams during the regular season, and with common sense so I mostly buy them as they apply to his postseason results.  He concluded that the Braves "should" have won two World Series (coming one short) and the Yankees should have won about 1.25 (grabbing 2.75 more).  I noted that of all the teams with a playoff appearance over the time period, the poor Cubbies had the next-to-lowest WS expectation (ahead of only the Rockies.)  I guess that's one marginal wildcard team and one marginal division champion will get you.

Thursday, 9:30 am- William Young on "Sal Maglie's remarkable but forgotten 1949 season" This was a traditional historical piece on Sal Maglie's season with the Drummondville Cubs of the Quebec Provincial League.  Maglie and a number of fellow players had been suspended a few years earlier after jumping to the Mexican League.  While serving the suspension, Maglie bounced from Mexico to Cuba and eventually landed in Quebec.  He had a strong year, going 18-9 in the regular season and 5-0 in the playoffs while leading the Cubs to a league title.  (The research substantiated Maglie's statement in his autobiography that he had won 23 games over the entire year, a claim that had been rejected by earlier writers.)  Interestingly, his MLB suspension was lifted midseason but a combination of loyalty and better pay kept him north of the border for the rest of the year.  I thought this was an interesting presentation shedding some light on Maglie's history before becoming the scourge of Dodger fans everywhere in the fifties.

Coming out of this presentation, I ran into Dennis with such luminaries of the blogging/Primer community as Aaron Gleeman, Joe DiMino, and Vinay.  Let's just say that nobody on the internet looks like what you might think.Thursday, 10:30 am- Tour of the Great American Ballpark The tour was led by an usher and lifelong Reds fans.  His love for baseball, the Reds, and the late Ted Kluzewski came through loud and clear, and its always easy to listen to someone else who shares a love for the game.  The tour wasn't quite as extensive as I've heard many ballpark tours are, as we didn't get to run the bases or enter the locker room (because they wanted to protect the grass from our feet and our eyes from a potentially disrobed rehabbing Red, respectively.)  Dennis did make the bold play of picking up the bullpen phone, which rang immediately without being dialed.  I guess that shoots down "I forgot the number" as a potential excuse for Dusty leaving the youngsters in for 135 pitches now and again.

Thursday, 12:30 pm- Sean Forman, Monte Carlo Simulation of Baseball Seasons Sean is guy behind the most essential baseball site on the web as well as cofounder of Baseball Think Factory (formerly Baseball Primer).  As you might expect from someone with such credentials, he gave a strong presentation.  He ran a series of tests on actual data to seek a strong method of predicting team performance to the end of the season from a given point in the midst of a season, concluding that a certain combination of pythagorean win percentage, performance over the prior 180 games (stretching back into the previous season), and the tendancy to revert towards a .500 record did the best job of predicting the rest of the year.  He then compared actual results to those projections to find the greatest comebacks and biggest collapses in baseball history.  Sadly, the Cubs showed up on all too many of the latter.

Thursday, 3pm- Chris Jaffe on Run Support Index This was another solid statistical presentation, as Jaffe worked to quantify what the records of some starting pitchers might have been if they had gotten average run support. His methods were very straightforward, but produced some interesting results.  A couple examples: he pointed out the differenct in run support that Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux received while teammates with the Braves.  Fascinatinly, Maddux went 19-2 in 1994 with below-average support!  Just think if his teammates had picked him up every now and then.  Of course, Jaffe and the audience both were guessing that Maddux's choice of a personal catcher had something to do with the lousy run support he has gotten over the years. In other news, Paul Bako is having a lousy year.  I am just saying...

Thursday, 3:30 pm- David Shiner on "Stability and Transition in the lineup of the World Champion Cubs" All right, so you could have predicted that I'd enjoy a presentation on Cubs history.  Still, this was my favorite of the convention so far.  The main idea was that the Cubs employed virtually the same starting lineup and four-man pitching staff throughout the five year period beginning in 1906.  He showed that the team won four pennants and two world's titles over that time by having a base of twelve strong players that stayed intact throughout the run.  The only change was a seque from Jimmy Slagel to a much younger Artie Hoffman in center field in 1906.  Other than that, the same players performed at virtually the same levels year in and year out until the team began to break up in 1911.  Interesting stuff, and not just because he kept saying "World Champion Cubs" all the time.

At this point I took a break from writing, attended some convention functions, and headed home only to hear about Prior's injury on WGN.  The greatmood that put me in leads to me going to wrapup mode.  Forgive me.

So anyway, we went to a panel of agents talking about baseball business.  There were a few good questions that led to enlightening answers, but too many questions were vague or just uninteresting.  There was one question from someone questioning the ethics of players and agents since the players salary demands were leading to high ticket prices and on-field advertising and (I kid you not) $20 tickets to the Modern Museum of Art.  It seemed like a softball question.  I know Scott Boras could have handled it easy- Owners set ticket prices to maximize revenue.  Whether tickets cost $100 or $0, owners still want to maximize revenue.  Oddly, neither of the two agents who answered said anything of the sort.  They just babbled about social responsibility.  If an agent can't refute the owner's party line, who can?

Then, the trivia contest.  There were fifty questions.  Dennis got eight.  He beat me by three.  Ugly is the only word I've got.



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Wednesday, July 14, 2004
 

All-Star Bullet Points

  • Came home from softball and fired up the Tivo to catchup. We kick the game off with the Clemens' kids piling into the car. I can't wait till the cut scene in the sixth inning where he drives them to a press conference and explains that he is leaving the NL team for the AL team mid-game to spend more time with them.
  • Are the fans saying "Boo" or "JiBoooooimy"?
  • Nice job asking the fans to "come on let's hear it" to get a cheer for Berkman. Nothing brings out the emotion in a moment by making sure it doesn't even have a chance to happen naturally.
  • Speaking of contrived, remember how cool it was when the players came out and surrounded Ted Williams on the mound? Let's find someone other aging athlete and have the players do the exact same thing! Who can we get? We don't want anyone too spry or we won't have an excuse to go surround him. What? Muhammed Ali? Perfect! Book him! And get on the phonme with Lou Gehrig's agent; we'll do him next year.
  • I can't believe someone gets $1,000,000 for throwing a baseball that horribly. I can't say whether I would have thrown strikes, but I am certain I wouldn't have looked that pathetic no matter where the ball went.
  • Hey look, the game is on.
  • Hey look, its 6-0, the AL has hit for the cycle and batted around, and the phone is ringing in the home pen. Nice game, Rocket! You'd think it was the playoffs or something.
  • I've got to be honest. I am Tivo'ing through a lot of this. There was a time when the All-Star game was the highlight of my summer, but the obnoxious non-game related garbage and the lackadaisacal attitude the teams seem to take these days has really turned me off. What is so hard about getting the players to try hard? I see people trying hard in every pickup game I play in- what stops the big leaguers?
  • And just as I say that, they stop the game to award the "Commissioner's Historic Listen to Bud Talk" award. It takes what would have been an entire half inning, and the Clemens kids are front and center. Not only do I not have the words to describe this mockery, I don't have the stomach to watch anymore. Click.
I sat down with a good attitude, I swear. Its just that there is only so much Bud I can take.

I'm off to the birthplace of pro baseball. Look for semi-live SABR updates starting Thursday morning. Cheers.


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Sunday, July 11, 2004
 

At the break

Let's just say that if LaTroy doesn't escape that ninth inning I would have been headed down to the local bridge.

Posting will be limited the next few days, as I am scrambling to get things together for the trip up to the SABR conference. At best I'll pop in a few times between now and then. At worst we hope to be checking in with quasi-live updates from SABR starting Thursday. Either way, enjoy the All-Star break. Remember, if we make up one game on St. Louis for every ten we play, we win the division.


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Saturday, July 10, 2004
 

Teetering

The Cubs are 46-40, less than two games shy of the second best record in the National League. If we finish the year on this same pace we'll be 87-75, a record that would have tied us for the division crown in last year's NL Central. Unfortunately this isn't last year, and instead of on track for the playoffs it feels like we are teetering on the brink of packing up and going home.

Tomorrow is a game that would be awfully easy to mail in. Things are going badly, you are in the building of an arch-rival that's been kicking you around, and if you just coast through you can take a three day break and relax. The trouble is that every game we give away now is going to be far harder to get back when it comes to scratching and clawing for every win in September. Better to summon some discipline and go salvage one tomorrow.

Seven back is a lot better than nine.


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Friday, July 09, 2004
 

Notes

No Cubs game yesterday means no sulky post about a loss to an inferior team today. Instead, a few notes about the Cubs and other stuff.
  • Jason Marquis will go for the Cardinals tonight. He's a 25 year-old power righty the Cards got from Atlanta in the J. D. Drew trade this winter. He's improved his control this year, lowering his walk rate 25% from his career average through '03. The result has been a 4.11 ERA, the first number under 5 he has posted in the last three seasons. He's no Ben Sheets, but then again neither is Doug Davis.
  • My sister alerted me to the presence of the Atlanta Time Machine the other day. I am a history geek and an Atlanta geek, so a site that shows hundreds of before and after pictures of Atlanta past and present is pretty much guaranteed to win hours and hours of my valuable surfing time. If you've spent some time here I encourage you to surf around the whole site, but if you aren't you should at least check out this shot. Keep in mind that the top picture was taken just fifty years ago. Its the largest transformation since Unicron.
  • I've seen the ESPN commercial for the Home Run Derby nine or ten times now, and I get angrier each time. My problem is that they refer to the Houston stadium as "the Launching Pad." Um, no. The Launching Pad was, is, and always will be Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. Its the stadium I went to my first game in, its the stadium in which I saw two different Cub right fielders have two-homer games propelling them to MVPs, and its the stadium where Jody Davis snubbed me leading me to ditch him as favorite player and sign on with an up-and-coming rookie first baseman. You can't just forget history of that magnitude, and you can't just steal other stadiums' nicknames. For that matter, I am not calling it the Juice Box either. You Astros sold your soul to the world's leading symbol of corporate evil, and you are just going to have to learn to live with it.
  • On to happier things. I'll be flying to Cincy next week to join Dennis at the 2004 SABR covention. I am hoping to find somewhere at the hotel where I can log on and keep a semi-live update of convention happenings going. I've never been, but from what I hear they always have some really fascinating presentations. Stop by next week and hopefully I'll have some interesting convention happenings to share.

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Thursday, July 08, 2004
 

Shutout

We got shutout blah blah blah, we are now getting shutout in 10.7% blah blah blah, statistics mumble mumble mumble, I don't know why.

Go read Monday's column if you need the gaps filled in for you. The only thing that's really changed is that as of today we have given back everything we gained by sweeping the White Sox.

We are now six behind the streaking Cardinals in the division and have fallen into a tie for the wildcard. Neither situation is appealing. The former is ugly because six games is a lot to make up. If the Cards play even .500 ball, we've got to play .590 ball to beat them. The latter might be worse because there are seven teams within 3.5 games of us. Odds are at least one of those teams is going to haul off and play .575 or .600 ball the rest of the way and make it very hard on us.

BP's adjusted standings indicate we've played a tougher schedule than most teams, we've scored fewer runs and allowed more than we should've given the hits, walks, homers, etc, that have been recorded, and we've been unlucky at turning those runs into wins. Its possible that all that bad luck is a product of poor managerial decision making, but let's be optimistic and assume we'll correct the latter two problems and that our opponents in the second half will play like the lousy teams they were in the first half. If all goes according to form, we're looking at finishing seven games behind the Cardinals but winning 93 games and the wildcard.

I started this post expecting to come to a dire conclusion, but the numbers give me a little renewed hope. We've got three with the Cardinals this weekend. Winning two out of three or even sweeping would be a big step in the right direction toward winning the division. If the division proves to be out of our grasp, winning this series remains critical to try to get back out in front of the wildcard contenders.

We've gotten some bad breaks this year. The schedule Dennis discussed in yesterday's post has been brutal. Even at the end of the year when it has evened out some we will still have played a huge number of games against the strong NL Central, a big disadvantage when it comes to trying to win the wildcard from teams in the lousy West or even worse East. Of course, we all know about the injuries. Despite all of that, we've still got a playoff berth in our grasp. We just need to reach out and take it. Oh, and cut Rey Rey.


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Wednesday, July 07, 2004
 

Scheduling woes


Am I the only one a little frustrated with the schedule at this point in the season? The Cubs managed to sweep a very good White Sox team and gained 0 games in the standings because the Cardinals got a free ride against the hapless Mariners. The same Marineres team who already traded away one of its best pitchers and will probably unload more before the deadline. The Cubs were a respectful 8-4 against the AL this season while facing what could be 3 playoff teams in the Angels, As and the Pale Hose. The Cards on the other hand went 11-1 and got six games against the aforementioned Ms and Royals (right after they traded Beltran no less).


What does this all mean? Well, it means the Cardinals have leveraged the favorable part of their schedule into a five game lead in the standings after their victory over the falling Reds and the Cubs 4-2 loss to the Brewers. The Cubs will try to escape Milwaukee with a win tonight and then have three games against the Cardinals before the break. This is shaping up to be a huge series. The Cubs certainly do not want to be more than 5 games out at the break.


Of course, if they can just survive this portion of the schedule shorthanded then their time to make a run will happen during the second half of the season. The Cubs have not played a team below .500 in a month. How unreal is that? June 6th against the Pirates was their last game against a losing team. They have not played the Brewers at home yet. Just an odd, odd schedule this season.


Summer television
Usually summer television is complete garbage because all of the shows are on re-runs. Of course, with the sights and sounds of baseball filling summer evenings I don't mind all that much. Well, I do mind when the sounds of baseball involve Rick Sutcliffe or Joe Morgan but that is a story for another time. Regardless, quality summer programming started last evening as the 2004 World Series of Poker began on ESPN and The Amazing Race started on CBS. Race is the best of all the reality shows. It is always funny to watch teams blow up at each other. Poker on the other hand is the passion du jour of many Americans including me. I enjoy watching the show and trying to figure out how these guys get this good. I am convinced luck is a smaller factor in these tournaments than the average person thinks. True in the short term luck can bite anyone, but if the same people show up at final table after final table, there is more than luck, right?


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Monday, July 05, 2004
 

Shutout

One day five or ten years ago, I found myself watching a televised baseball game featuring the Cuban national team. I don't remember who they were playing, or what the competition might have been, but I vividly remember their appearance. Their team colors were red and blue. They were wearing grey pants and jerseys with "Cuba" in script across the front of the jersey. Their hats were blue, with a straight-forward looking red "C" in the middle. In short, they looked nearly indistinguishable from the right-hand gentleman in the picture at right. I was filled with righteous indignation- how dare those Commies flout international trademark standards? And stealing from my Cubs too!

Apparently Ben Sheets feels the same way, because this afternoon he treated us about like he famously treated them in the gold medal game a few years back. He throttled us today, striking out twelve Cubs in seven scoreless innings. Shaky fielding from Sheets' Brewer teammates allowed minor threats in the first and third, but the Cubs couldn't come up with a hit to take advantage. Another brief rally in the eighth came to nothing, and the uncannily effective Danny Kolb closed it out to make Craig Counsell's first-inning homer stand up for a 1-0 win. Matt Clement was the hard luck loser marking the fourth time this year the Cubs have failed to score a single run in one of his starts.

After today's game the Cubs have been shutout eight times in 82 games. That's a 9.8% shutout rate, virtually even with Tampa Bay and Seattle for second worst in the majors. Only the dreadful Expo offense is worse, with a shutout rate of 13.8%. What is odd is the fact that the Cubs offense has actually been pretty decent this year. Despite the best efforts of our shortstops, the Cubs have scored 4.72 runs per game ranking them 15th out of the 30 major league teams.

I compared the run/game numbers for each team with their shutout rates, and used Excel to come up with a polynomial equation relating them. The formula predicts the shutout rates only moderately well (R^2=.50), but it does serve to confirm my suspicion- namely, that the Cubs are the single largest outlier, more than 2.5 standard deviations above the mean.

Two questions spring to mind-

Why is this happening to us? For an answer, check out this summary of a BP article over at the Cub Reporter. Basically, it says that the type of offense a team employs (homer-heavy, AVG-heavy, walk-heavy, etc) doesn't correlate with consistency of run scoring. I actually did the same study independently about a week before the BP article came out, but when they hit the presses I dropped mine since it was redundant. (Its a good thing I'm not Issac Newton or I would have belatedly published mine, trashed the BP author's reputation, then held back sabremetrics for decades with my inferior notation for doing the same thing. But I digress.) Anyway, my results were much the same. With no evidence that a team that depends on the home run is particularly likely to mix high and low run-scoring outings, we'll have to assume that the answer to "why is this happening" is that its just coincidence.

What is this inconsistency doing to us? Well, obviously we would like to consistently score loads of runs every game. If we hold run-scoring as a constant though and focus on just the consistency, is it possible that being inconsistent is costing us games by itself? I compared team shutout rates to Pythagorean records. The results were all over the place, with almost no correlation (R^2=0.01). Their were teams like the Reds (very lucky, 3.7% shutout rate), teams like the Cardinals (neutral luck, 3.8% shutout rate), and teams like the White Sox (unlucky, 3.8% shutout rate). It would be nice to look at this with a sample size larger than three months, but for the time being I see no evidence that scoring a lot sometimes and getting shutout sometimes is any better or worse than putting up your mean runs/game every night.


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Ups and downs

On June 21, we were winners of eight of nine and twelve of sixteen. Despite half the team heading to the DL at one point or another, we had weathered the storm and were actually prospering. With many of our injured scheduled to return, things were looking awfully bright.

over the next six days, we lost two of three to the Cardinals and then two of three to the White Sox. Cub Nation suddenly found itself in the grips of a Fenway-style panic attack. St. Louis was pulling away, Houston had Beltran, our injured were coming back but not performing, and more than a few people were heard muttering "1985."

So then despite the best efforts of Carlos Beltran we promptly took two of three from Houston. This weekend we followed that up by feeding the Pale Hose lineup into the Ronco Dial-O-Matic that is baseball's best pitching staff (.699 OPS allowed, best in the majors). Southside fans headed home on the Red Line wondering how they could have lost their World Series in July, while our eyes remain focused on the one in October- a goal that seems more attainable by the day.

They say you are never as good as you look when you win or as bad as you look when you lose. The wisdom in that statement is undeniable, yet every flurry of wins has me contemplating playoff pitching rotations while every rough stretch leaves me wondering how soon we can get Dusty and Hendry out and start the next rebuilding phase. I've never had much luck moderating my emotions when it comes to the Cubs, so I guess all I can do is hope the wins keep coming and I stay on the good pole of my wild emotional swings.

All-Star Game
Terrence Mann said that baseball was the one constant through all the years. If he had time to elaborate, he would have explained that the most constant things about baseball are A) my manic-depressive feelings about the Cubs and B) my annual disgust with the all-star rosters. If they would just let me pick all the players for both teams, everything would be so much better. As it is, guys like Melvin Mora and J. D. Drew have not only been left of the roster but screwed out of even a spot on the 30th man ballot. The worst mishandling was at the National League hot corner. Its been a banner year for senior circuit third basemen, with Rolen the deserving fan ballot winner and Mike Lowell, Aramis Ramirez, and Adrian Beltre all deserving strong consideration for a reserve role. Jack Mckeon (or Seligula, or whoever is in charge of these things now) resolved that dilemma by taking Lowell and ignoring Ramirez and Beltre in favor of a sympathy pick in Barry Larkin. Larkin, whose .762 OPS is his highest this millennium, was a great player at one point in his career. If this was an old-timer's game, he'd be a great choice. As it is, his selection costs at least two deserving players their shot. Beltre probably has the biggest beef of all, as at least they gave Ramirez a chance on the 30th man ballot. I am willing to take care of these problems in the future. Just shoot me an e-mail, Bud, and I'll have the correct rosters back to you in no time flat.

Anyway, congratulations to Carlos and Moises on their berths. Big Z has undoubtedly earned it with three years of marvelous pitching in the major leagues, and while Moises was a marginal pick at best you'll have to look elsewhere for an excoriation of his selection. I'm guessing the legions of Cubs fans out there carry Aramis to a roster spot this week, giving the Cubs a very reasonable three selections. I'll take it.

Edited to add: Sammy Sosa stopped by the comment section earlier today to point out that he was actually named to the starting lineup for the NL team, giving the Cubs three selections with Aramis pending. How I overlooked the guy with 553 career home runs I have no idea. He's been a target from some commentator's who say he's not deserving of an All-Star berth because he's been injured for part of the year. Karl Ravich actually tried to present that arguement to Sammy in an interview during the selection show, but was apparently unaware of the injury and suggested that Sammy didn't belong in because he was getting older and his numbers were "down". Perhaps he thought he was interviewing Barry Larkin.

At any rate, I think the All-Star selections should be based on the best player on the day of the game. If some nobody comes out and outhits Alex Rodriguez for the first month of the year, does that mean ARod should stay home? Of course not. In the case at hand, I think Sammy's career numbers, numbers over the last few years, and solid work when he has been in the lineup this year make him a defensible choice to start. On those criteria, my ballot would probably have been Bonds/Sosa/Abreu ,but throwing Griffey in for Abreu is tolerable too.


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Friday, July 02, 2004
 

The North shall rise again

After a chaotic week I was looking forward to seeing my first Cubs game in several days today. I spent the morning fighting back some kudzu in my backyard. I've always thought kudzu was kind of cool, with the way it devours cars, houses, and anything else not quick enough to get out of its way. When I bought this house a few months ago, I thought of the kudzu surrounding my yard as a kind of a Atlanta version of the Wrigley ivy. Sometime between then and now it occurred to me that I am engaged in a life-and-death struggle with a vine as dangerous as a drunken Sox fan.

Anyway, just when I was settling in to watch the game, a platoon of ants decided to make an incursion of their own. By the time I had wiped them out, I had missed the White Sox two-run first and had nothing but an enjoyable Cubs romp in front of me. After allowing the two runs in the first, Big Z held the Sox scoreless and then turned it over to Beltran and Hawkins to nail it down. The only downside was the fact that both Aramis and Z left the game, the former with a groin pull and the latter with cramps in his right forearm. Hopefully neither injury is serious.

Jamie Moyer can do us a favor about thirty years after last pitching in a Cub uniform if he can beat the Cardinals tonight and cut their lead to two. Personally, I will be watching to see what acrobatics Jim Edmonds pulls out of his hat. After seeing DereK Jeter make a catch, take six steps, and jump into the stands to the acclaim of everyone everywhere, Edmonds has got to be seething with jealousy. He's got to come up big tonight if he wants to get back in front in the "Pointless Theatrics" ESPY race. My prediction: he waits for a routine fly to center, runs ten steps in, stops, runs ten steps back, swings out with a closed glove to bat the ball in the air toward the fence, then throws himself over the fence after the ball. We'll see.

Edited to add: I just read The Big Red C's game diary for today's game, and realized that Carlos threw 116 pitches through six innings. He then came to bat with men at the corners and one out in the bottom half of the inning. Now you've got a pitcher who has thrown 116 pitches and whose arm was bothering him enough that the trainer came out for a look the previous inning. You have a chance to score a run with a sac fly or open the door to a rout with a hit. What possible reason could there be for trying to stretch the pitcher out another inning? On the upside, you could save one inning of work from your pen. On the downside, you are taking a risk with one of the league's best starting pitchers and throwing away a chance to blow the game open. I just don't get it.


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