Monday, November 29, 2010

Rox Talk - Symmetry


Baseball, in my opinion, is symmetry not only because of the diamond they play on but also the numbers which serve as the backbone to the game. Take for instance in 2010, the Rox went to bat 6265 times and scored 770 runs (12.3%). So every 100 plate appearances, the Rox scored about 12 runs. And what about 2009? - 12.8%, 2008 - 11.8%, and 2007 - 13.2%. Now granted these aren't exactly the same but it shows a remarkable consistency to the game. A repeatability that makes it stunning that in these four seasons the Rox won 83, 92, 74, and 90 games, respectively (of course there is also pitching too but I will leave that for another post). This elusive predictability frustrates those that watch from the stands wishing and hoping for success. In reality I am glad I don't have to write the paychecks!

Below I have listed some key offensive stats from 2007 - 2010. Year in and year out (at least the last 4 years), Rox get on base about 35% of the time and about 35% of those runners score and more then half of all runners get stranded on base!

It is beautiful if not frustrating...sometimes I have to wonder if by looking at the numbers so much that we lose something in the translation. The real difference between a 83 and 92 win season boils down to a couple of hits, errors, or pitches. Something that really doesn't show up in the numbers...

What Good is Wall Street?
The November 29, 2010 New Yorker had an interesting article on whether Wall Street provides any social good. I won't get into the details but reading it I came across a few passages which struck a nerve especially after reading Joe Posnanski article on the value of closers and setup men. From the New Yorker article the following quotes were made:

"...big banks are forever trying to invent new financial products that they can sell but that their competitors, at least for the moment, cannot."
"Rather than seeking the most productive outlet for the money that depositors and investors entrust to them, they may follow trends and surf bubbles. These activities shift capital into projects that have little or no long-term value..."
"From an economy-wide perspective, this experience suggests that at least some of the profits that Wall Street bankers claim to generate, and that they use to justify their big pay packages, are illusory."

These quotes could be very easily mistaken to be from an examination of baseball management! So when I read Joe's article on whether the closer really matters and I compare it to what bankers seem to be doing then I see this connection. In the last 50 years, teams still win 95% of their games when leading in the ninth inning. If the closer is a relatively new creation then as Joe says you should see some sort of difference but there isn't one. Managers (?), GMs (?), or Players (?), like banks, are creating these new products in an attempt to create value which in the long term is debatable to their worth.

Unfortunately the concept has become so ingrained that trying to do without a closer leads to the infamous 2003 Red Sox experiment. While the concept of rotating situational relief is statistically sound (95%!), fans, players(?), and baseball pundits (same ones who developed the stats in the first place!) claim that teams need a single closer like a child needs their security blanket.
The table below shows what closers (with at least 20 saves) are being paid. On average these closers are being overpaid to tune of about 1.3 million when statistics would seem to indicate that a closer is irrelevant! So much for the herd mentality and tossing out that blanket! And now we talking about conceptualizing a set up man? It is already bad enough that bullpens have left handed specialist (LOOGY) to come in and pitch against power left handed power batters...the speciation of the bullpen is getting to be insane.

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