I’m relatively new to Twitter and thus far have been mostly lurking as opposed to getting involved in the multitude of compelling conversations that occur on a daily and nightly basis. The most debated topic amongst the colleagues I follow is Mike Trout versus Miguel Cabrera for American League Most Valuable Player.
It really is a rather interesting conundrum and really brings to light old-school versus new-age analysis. Embellishing the issue is the injury to Josh Hamilton has added the qualifier “Triple Crown winner” Cabrera to the conversation. There are many that are using that as the “out”, saying the race is too close to call hence awarding it to Miggy based on his likely historical accomplishment, potentially joining Nap Lajoie, Ty Cobb, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams (twice), Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson and Carl Yastrzemski as the only hitters to lead the Junior Circuit in batting average, homers and RBI in the same season. Further fueling the intrigue is Trout is doing what he’s doing at an age where he has been able to legally purchase alcohol for about a month and a half.
I, like most of the Twitter brethren I follow, agree that neither of these factors should influence the voting. Back when reporters shared a train ride to the next city with ballplayers I can understand how the Triple Crown could be considered such an outstanding accomplishment. Fortunately, we now comprehend that getting on base is more important than getting a hit and knocking in teammates is largely a team dependent stat, influenced somewhat by the randomness of the player’s batting average with runners in scoring position. With respect the youthfulness of the Angels’ phenom, who cares how young (or old) the player is, what matters is how he played.
My theoretical vote would go to Trout, but not without some feeling of contradiction. Long story short is if you judge using the newfangled stats that are designed to quantify performance and convert then to a metric that measures the impact on team wins, the Angels’ fly-chaser outpoints the Tigers’ hot cornerman, and it isn’t all that close. The contributions at the dish alone are quite even with a viable argument possible each way, though most will give Trout the edge. But when you add in what Trout does on the base paths and in center field as compared to what Cabrera does at third base sways the pendulum firmly to rookie’s side.
Cutting to the chase, Trout blows away Cabrera in WAR (wins above replacement). In fact, Trout blows away the field. Presently, Trout contributes 9.5 more wins than that of a replacement level player while Cabrera checks in at 6.9. This difference is huge and cannot be ignored. If you take Trout’s performance and correlate that to how much he contributes to a team winning, a lineup full of Mike Trout’s would destroy a lineup full of any other player.
But here is where I have some reservation. I’ll save this topic for another day, but while I understand the principle of WAR and agree with it philosophically, I am not in complete agreement with the manner the number is generated. Not to mention, there are variants of WAR meaning there are multiple algorithms used to come up with the quantification. Still, even though I may not be willing to crack my gavel and contend Trout is worth exactly 2.6 more wins than Cabrera, I am confident he is worth MORE wins, hence is deserved of the MVP.
That said, I have even more of a problem with what I consider a bit of uneven analysis. The stats used to determine WAR are the actual production of the player – it is what has happened. But yet, when the same pundits discuss a pitcher related award such as Cy Young, there is distinct mention of how much fate goes into the hurler’s performance. The luck involved with BABIP, HR/FB and LOB% are brought to the forefront and we are instructed to focus primarily on the skill and to largely ignore the outcome. Why don’t we do the same for hitters? To wit, Trout is sporting a BABIP most will contend will drop next season, yet are willing to give him credit, and include the “lucky hits” when computing WAR and the like. They don’t make an adjustment for the additional stolen base opportunities or chances to take the extra base afforded by these “extra” times on base. In addition, most will suggest his HR total will drop next season as his extremely high HR/FB is not repeatable, yet no adjustment is made for the bloated 2012 total.
Truth be told, I don’t actually think an adjustment should be made. This is not the SABR MVP, but an award meant to appeal to the mainstream audience. I’m perfectly happy with talking about what he has done and leaving the regression talk for the spring when the focus is on rankings.
Which segues into my next point and that is Trout has become the poster boy for a variety of causes trying to make their point. His performance is such an anomaly that he can be used as Exhibit A for so many agendas, some of which are contradictory, but that’s the nature of stats. Those that want to dispel the notion of the Triple Crown stats being the most relevant bang the Trout drum, saying Cabrera does not even belong in the MVP discussion. Those fantasy pundits that want to delineate player skill from player performance will surely take the stance that Trout will be overrated next spring, making their point by refusing to make him first round draft-worthy in their rankings. Hyperbole is running more rampant than Trout himself when he reaches base.
The final point I want to make is think of Jacoby Ellsbury and what was being said of him in terms of fantasy analysis this past spring (realizing the injury factor cannot be ignored). While some were putting him in their top-five, more were reticent to adamant he did not belong there. Some cited the riskiness of repeated performance while others went more game theory and allowed for some level of power but preached do not overpay for his steals, since you can get them later in the draft. Some even cited the position scarcity argument.
Now that you have all the negative Ellsbury images in your head, check this out:
I'm just sayin'...
Draft Street is back with another Pick ‘Em contest. If you are on the fence about playing, consider the fact that there is no entry fee and so far, yours truly has cashed three times during various Draft Street Free Rolls.
The set-up is straightforward. There are eight tiers of players and you pick one player per tier. That’s it! No salary cap to worry about, no searching for cheap gems to be able to afford the expensive studs. Point and click eight times and voila, there’s your squad.
Here’s my entry in this week’s Free Roll.
TIER 1 – Ryan Braun (Ross Detwiler): The best player in fantasy baseball (yes, I said the best) is at home facing a southpaw. I’ll take that matchup every time. Other choices in this tier include Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Andrew McCutchen and Carlos Gonzalez. Trout and McCutchen may have had stretches where they are the best player at that time, but for the season and going forward, I’ll take Braun.
TIER 2 – Adrian Gonzalez (Phil Hughes) – I’m a fan of Hughes as a fantasy performer with the sole bugaboo being homers – which is what I am hoping bites him as he faces the lefty Gonzalez. The Red Sox first baseman has been hitting the ball harder lately, including lofting more balls. Mark Trumbo, Prince Fielder and David Wright were also under consideration, but at the end of the day, the short right field porch in the new Yankee Stadium was the difference.
TIER 3 – Brandon Phillips (Christian Friedrich) – This was an interesting tier as no one else really stuck out despite there being some solid players including Shin-Soo Choo, Josh Hamilton, Ryan Zimmerman and Edwin Encarnacion. Hamilton is facing Chris Sale and the others are squaring off pitchers with like handedness, so I’ll go with the righty Phillips versus the lefty Friedrich in Coors Field.
TIER 4 – Ryan Ludwick (Friedrich) – Another righty-lefty matchup in Coors Field is enticing. Curtis Granderson at home against Aaron Cook was considered with Cook’s ground ball tendencies giving the edge to Ludwick. Colby Rasmus and Justin Upton also populated this group.
TIER 5 – Neil Walker (Jordan Lyles) – While I am a huge fan of starting players at home, Walker makes the fourth away hitter on the ledger. Walker is a switcher and has been quietly performing very well this season and I look for him to continue. Bryce Harper, Jose Reyes, Alex Gordon and Billy Butler were among those that did not make the cut for this tier.
TIER 6 – Jim Thome (Jarrod Parker) – Being at home against a righty was the impetus for this pick as the lefty Thome is taking well to Camden Yards. Parker is a formidable foe but is better at home. The streaking Garrett Jones and Chase Headley along with Ryan Howard and Brett Lawrie encompass this grouping.
TIER 7 – Drew Stubbs (Friedrich) – Stubbs makes the third Red selected so you know what game I’ll be watching. Stubbs is having close to what is expected and can score points with power or speed. Asdrubal Cabrera, Mike Moustakas and Adam LaRoche failed to make it from this set.
There you go. If you want to pick out your crazy eight CLICK HERE.
Draft Street is back and this week’s freeroll is bringing back memories, Back before the Internet became real popular, the pick ‘em style game was a favorite in magazines, due to its simplicity. I recall filling out many an entry and mailing it in (note the lack of an “e-“). Perhaps the biggest appeal of this format was it was always set up so you had two or three superstars on your team. Of course back there, there was no MLB.tv package, Extra Innings or satellite radio. You could watch your local team and perhaps the Braces, Cubs, Yankees and Mets along with ESPN if your cable company carried it. Yes, it was “if” back then.
In the Pick ‘em style, all you need to do is take one player from each tier. That’s it, no balancing of salary and the needs to identify low priced gems, if you want him, pick him. No leaving a guy off your team because he’s too expensive. Pint, click and he’s yours.
I’m going to stick with my standard principles, and actually, this is going to be a great way of testing how well they work as each tier is set up my Draft Street to consist of players similar in potential so I can easily go back after the night is through and see which player actually did perform the best from each tier to see if it was random or if they somehow followed one of my tenets, and if so, which one? Of course, the sample is too small to draw any actionable conclusions, but you have to start somewhere.
There are no pitchers in the picks, so here is a review of my rules of thumb for picking hitters:
Favor lefty hitters facing righty hitters, then righty hitters against southpaw chuckers, then righty versus righties as a last resort while not taking any lefty on lefty matchups.
Here are the eight tiers with my representative from each:
|David Ortiz (L) vs. Jair Jurrjens (R)|
|Adam Dunn (L) vs. Zack Greinke (R)|
|Ryan Braun (R) @ Chris Sale (L)|
|Josh Hamilton (L) vs. Christian Friedrich (L)|
|Jose Bautista (R) @ Anibal Sanchez (R)|
|David Wright (R) vs. Andy Pettitte (L)|
|Carlos Gonzalez (L) @ Roy Oswalt (R)|
Votto barely beat out Big Papi with CarGo also under consideration. It was tough to leave Ortiz off, but as a whole, I like Votto’s chance of more runs and RBI so he gets the nod.
TIER 2 – Ian Kinsler (R) vs. Friedrich (L)
|Albert Pujols (R) vs. Chad Billingsley (R)|
|Mike Trout (R) vs. Billingsley (R)|
|Curtis Granderson (L) @ Jonathon Niese (L)|
|Brandon Phillips (R) vs. Blackburn (R)|
|Jay Bruce (L) vs. Blackburn (R)|
|Carlos Beltran (S) @ Vin Mazzaro (R)|
|Melky Cabrera (S) @ Jarrod Parker (R)|
Kinsler was a relatively easy choice though Jay Bruce warranted some consideration, but Kinsler hits higher in the order and will fan less.
|Paul Konerko (R) vs. Greinke (R)|
|Miguel Cabrera (R) @ Burnett (R)|
|Aramis Ramirez (R) @ Chris Sale (L)|
|Robinson Cano (L) @ Niese (L)|
|Edwin Encarnacion (R) @ Sanchez (R)|
|Hunter Pence (R) vs. James Shields (R)|
|Andrew McCutchen (R) vs. Doug Fister (R)|
Fielder is the only choice playing on the road, but the home options are just not enticing enough to use. Pence is the only guy I considered since Shields is prone to the long ball. This tier is going to be interesting to follow.
TIER 4 – Adrian Beltre (R) vs. Friedrich (L)
|Adam Jones (R) vs. Jordan Zimmermann (R)|
|Mark Teixeira (S) @ Niese (L)|
|Nick Swisher (L) @ Niese (L)|
|Jose Altuve(R) vs. Ubaldo Jimenez (R)|
|Shane Victorino (S) vs. Shields (R)|
|Matt Holliday (R) @ Mazzaro (R)|
|Michael Cuddyer (R) @ Oswalt (R)|
Beltre is the second of three Rangers that will make the cut. Is there a better matchup than Texas facing Friedrich at the comfy confines of The Ballpark at Arlington? Victorino was a distant second in this tier.
|Mark Trumbo (R) vs. Billingsley (R)|
|Denard Span (L) @ Homer Bailey (R)|
|Derek Jeter (R) @ Niese (L)|
|Josh Reddick (L) vs. Tim Lincecum (R)|
|Rajai Davis (R) @ Sanchez (R)|
|Andre Ethier (L) @ Dan Haren (R)|
|Bryce Harper (L) @ Jason Hammel (R)|
I’ll take a lead-off hitter facing a rookie. Harper and Reddick also were interesting, but Gordon’s track record in general is a point in his favor.
TIER 6 – Mike Moustakas (L) vs. Joe Kelly (R)
|Alejandro De Aza (L) vs. Greinke (R)|
|Shin-Soo Choo (L) @ Lucas Harrell (R)|
|Asdrubal Cabrera (S) @ Harrell (R)|
|Eric Hosmer (L) vs. Kelly (R)|
|Alex Rodriguez (R) @Niese (L)|
|Pablo Sandoval (S) @ Parker (R)|
|Aaron Hill (R) vs. Jeff Samardzija (R)|
This was the toughest call as Moustakas and teammate Hosmer both profile similarly. Moustakas was the choice mostly on gut as he has hit better this season than Hosmer, though in general, Hosmer is the better hitter.
TIER 7 – Jimmy Rollins (S) vs. James Shields (R)
|Chris Davis (L) vs. Zimmermann (R)|
|Dustin Pedroia (R) vs. Jurrjens (R)|
|Michael Bourn (L) @ Jon Lester (L)|
|Alfonso Soriano (R) @ Joe Saunders (L)|
|Ian Desmond (R) @ Hammel (R)|
|Chase Headley (S) vs. Kevin Millwood (R)|
|Jose Reyes (S) vs. Ricky Romero (L)|
Picking a Phillie has tempted me and I finally took the plunge. Jose Reyes was also considered since his game is not impacted by the big park so he could so some damage on the bases against the sometimes out-of-control Romero.
TIER 8 – Nelson Cruz (R) vs. Friedrich (L)
|Colby Rasmus (L) @ Sanchez (R)|
|Brian McCann (L) @ Lester (L)|
|Ryan Ludwick (R) vs. Blackburn (R)|
|Adam LaRoche (L) @ Hammel (R)|
|Angel Pagan (S) @ Parker (R)|
|Carlos Pena (L) @ Cliff Lee (L)|
|B.J. Upton (R) @ Lee (L)|
Completing the Texas trio, Cruz fits all the criteria and was the easiest choice of the bunch. I really didn’t even consider anyone else, but if forced for a second choice, I’d be torn between LaRoche and Upton. LaRoche has the handedness, good park and lesser opposing pitcher while Upton also has the handedness, is in even a better park but is facing an ace in Lee.
That’s the squad, please feel free to tell me where I screwed up in the comments and prove it to me by playing. It is no secret I play under a couple of different usernames, so I am also going to enter a team consisting of the runner-up choices as well as a third team where there choices are totally random.
I usually don’t write about my private life very much because it’s private - and my life. But mostly I don’t write about it because it’s just not that interesting. However, this Monday I am going to do something I haven’t done since April 9, 2010. At approximately 6:30 AM, then again at 6:37 AM, then maybe one more time at 6:44 AM, my alarm is going to go off and I’m going to get ready for work.
You see, the dirty little secret is I don’t do this for a living. I’ve had the opportunity but I always respectfully declined for two reasons. The first is my fear that if my hobby became my vocation, I would end up disliking them both. The second and more relevant reason is as passionate as I am about fantasy baseball, I am even more passionate about science and feel I have some unfinished business and am not ready to give up on it just yet.
In an effort to get by the past several months, I have been fortunate enough to pick up some freelance work with ESPN. As it turns out, I was wrong about my fears as I love the work I’m doing for them. Well, I was technically half-wrong as the management of my own teams has become a bit of a drag but that may be as much of a function of over-extending what is already a healthy bunch of leagues. But drafting is just so much fun, and when I said “yes”, I had no idea ESPN would be keeping me as busy as they have. Though I suspect this would be the case regardless, but this is a story for another day as I have had an epitome or two about managing so many teams.
With respect to science, I fell in love with the discipline during high school my senior year. You’ll find this shocking, but the odds and probabilities involved with genetics was the hook. Up until that point, my plans were to pursue a career in engineering since I was strongest in math and physics while chemistry and biology were more courses I had to take. But trying to figure out what a rooster would look like changed my life. I decided combining math and science was the way to go and changed the plan to biomedical engineering.
Then during my freshman year in college, I decided to drop the engineering part and pursue pure science as I was smitten by the problem solving nature of the discipline. The ability to “see” things that the human eye cannot see fascinated me. I loved the idea of designing an experiment, gathering then analyzing data and drawing conclusions.
A few years later, I graduated with BS degrees (insert your own joke here) in Biology and Biochemistry and a few years after that, an MS in Chemistry. I then embarked on a career that encompassed varying scientific disciples, including organic chemistry, analytical chemistry and peptide chemistry. My personality lent itself to working in smaller, more entrepreneurial companies. This is very rewarding but comes with a caveat – small entrepreneurial Biotech companies have an inherent risk, one which I was reminded first-hand three times. Small entrepreneurial Biotechs tend to become former small entrepreneurial Biotechs, especially the past several years.
As long-time readers of this space know, there were other extenuating circumstances, but still, being unable to find work for 27 months was a bit much. I’ll admit there were times I thought I’d donned a lab coat and goggles for the last time. Well, other than Halloween when I played the Mad Scientist. But mostly fueled from having lost my Mom to breast cancer and my Dad to Alzheimer’s, I sorely wanted to continue my science career. I’m not naïve. I’m not going to cure cancer or solve Alzheimer’s, but maybe I can help just a little. And thankfully, I’ll once again have that chance.
If only there was a way where I could marry my love for baseball with the intrigue of odds and probabilities combined with analyzing data and drawing conclusions in a small, entrepreneurial environment. Hmm.
In a recent column, I made the comment that I feel the fantasy industry as a whole is doing a poor job educating the fantasy public in some areas. I must have tweaked a nerve as I received a rather nasty anonymous e-mail, challenging me to come up with three examples. I say anonymous because the e-mail address did not contain a name, it was not registered in our database and it was unsigned. This is speculation, but it may have come from someone in the industry, which is fine. Instead of replying back to the mystery person, they obviously read the material on the site so I thought I would share five examples publicly.
Before I do, I want to preface this by saying my comment was on the whole. There are obviously some people offering solid advice – a lot of people. But the advice is not getting through to everyone. While some of the blame goes to the fantasy public for being stubborn or lazy (whoops, now I’ve also pissed off the public, too) more blame lies with those charged with disseminating the information, not doing their homework, preaching clichés they learned five years ago from an outdated version of the “So-Called Experts handbook.”
1. The notion that trades are won or lost
Trades are not won or lost. When we receive a question like “Jones for Smith, who wins?”, our response should be an explanation that trades are not about winning and losing the deal – they are about improving your team. The currency used to evaluate the deal should not be the rest-of-season dollar value we offer in Platinum, where they rank on the Yahoo big board or the ESPN Player Rater. The measuring stick should be the intrinsic value to your team. The best trades are when both teams get the help they need. If that means both win, I can accept that in a semantic sense. But the point is, “Jones for Smith, who wins/” is the incorrect way of approaching the process and if the answer is either “Jones” or “Smith”, the advisor is doing a disservice to the advisee, regardless of the names involved. It should be explained that every move involves a balancing move, either a player is replaced or added to the active lineup.
Who does Jones replace? Who replaces Smith? It is the difference in these players that matters, not the raw value of the player in the proverbial vacuum. This is especially true when an uneven number of players is exchanged. The equation is points potential of your roster before the trade versus the potential after, not Jones is projected for $25, Smith is projected for $15, you need to get back a better player than Smith if you trade Jones. If Smith earns your team 5 standings places while Jones does not help you, Smith has more intrinsic value to your team – case closed.
2. Playing streaks and matchups
This is a topic that has come front and center as more fantasy leagues allow daily moves and the emergence of the one-day fantasy pay for play sites. The bottom line is no matter how well we think we know baseball, no matter how many games we have watched, regardless of what our intuition tells us, streaks are usually just clusters of good (or bad) things happening together and historical hitter-pitcher matchups are non-predictive of future matchups.
The Internet is full of “proof”, if you are so inclined, employ your favorites search engine and check it out. The pioneer of this sort of thing is Tom Tango and the work is published online and in books. More recently, Derek Carty has done some simple yet elegant studies on the subject and our friends at Baseball HQ are now also dabbling in this for the benefit of their subscribers.
With respect to streaks, sure, some players are legitimately hot or cold. But more often than not, it is just a series of events falling on the good or bad side of the probability curve. If you flip a coin 500 times, there will be a stretch where there are more heads than tails and vice versa. But once you get to 500 (or whatever), the heads and tails are almost the same. That’s all a streak is, five heads in a row. I will personally look at a player’s strikeout rate when he is in the midst of a streak, since making contact is the entity in the player’s control. If a player is striking out at a depressed rate during a streak, I’ll make the subjective assumption he could be legitimately hot and manage accordingly. If he is fanning at the same or elevated rate, he’s just lucky. Similarly, if a cold player is whiffing more than normal, I consider him truly cold. But if his strikeouts are normal, he’s just unlucky.
Early in the season, Bryan LaHair was as hot as a pistol, or was he? His K-rate was even higher than normal, so while there was some likelihood of “being in the zone”, he was also quite lucky. You don’t strike out that much if you are truly in the zone. His monthly splits are:
In April, he was quite fortunate with BABIP but struck out a ton, in May he was snake bit but made better contact and so far in June, his luck is back but so are the whiifs. LaHair is about a .280 hitter. Batting average can fluctuate 15-20 points just due to randomness and probability and have nothing to do with skills. By season’s end, Lahair will be right where he is supposed to be, .280 +/15 points. Trying to time his streaks is a crapshoot.
The hot commodity today is Trevor Plouffe. Some are saying we should have known because his second half numbers last season were promising. But, so were a lot of others. Second half numbers are non-predictive. Plouffe’s splits are as follows:
His strikeouts have been fairly consistent; so Plouffe is still the same player. He is probably making harder contact now, but there is no evidence this is an increase in skills and is sustainable, it is just the randomness of when it happened to manifest. Picking Plouffe up and dropping a better player is likely going to cost you in the long term and perhaps short term as well as we have no idea when the pixie dust runs out and Plouffe returns to being Plouffe. The instances of an emergence like Jose Bautista are rare, and are usually accompanied by a discernable skill improving. In Bautista's case, it was more walks and fewer whiffs.
The mistake being made by fantasy pundits is recommending that better players are dropped for Plouffe, with the recommendation to “ride the streak”. This is misleading and shows some giving advice are uneducated as to what is really going on.
In general, the fantasy public has a misperception of what a projection is and expects it to be something it isn’t. By definition, a projection is an objective view. It is the most likely scenario based on what has happened in the past, using history as a guide. Will it always come to fruition? No, of course it won’t. The most likely outcome of rolling a pair of dice is seven, but that only occurs 17 percent of the time! But the proper answer to “what will the dice roll be” is seven. Anything else is speculation, and once you add speculation to a projection, by definition it is no longer a true projection.
You’ll see complaints that so-and-so’s projections are too conservative, they never go out on a limb. Well, if they did, they would no longer be projections.
You’ll see someone providing projections pride themselves in not relying on a stupid spreadsheet to do the work. They do each one by hand and may cite a success based on a player having a great September. Well, unless you can show that every player having a similar September gets the same boost and you give that boost to everyone that had a great September, you are using a subjective bias and are no longer providing true projections.
That said, I am not trying to imply that I or anyone else provide the best projections. I may feel I have a better understanding of the process in a global sense but will admit that the execution may not be completely correct. I do the best I can, determining translations, but I am not going to claim they are the best. Maybe my MLE’s are not complete enough. Maybe I should be regressing BABIP differently. I look into this every off-season and attempt to improve methods, but I am sure I am missing something. All I am saying is I am providing what can be defined as a projection, not my opinion of how a player will perform, mainly because my opinion is just that, an opinion, and I feel my job is to provide as much information as possible for you to formulate your own opinion.
Now with that said, I also think those providing projections do not emphasize they are not static, but each player actually has a range of expected performance, which we represent by a single, static line. I think we need to do a better job of sharing that objective range, especially since the projection commonly provided is not always the midpoint of the high and low ends. In fact, it usually is not. This is an area I would personally like to improve and will strive to do just that.