Contest Extended!

Okay, maybe the questions were a little too hard. Tell you what, just answer one of them. Email me your answers and address, and on Labor Day I'll get around to drawing winners.


Power Potential: An introduction

While doing research for the Abreu trade article, I pored over salary numbers and payrolls, and a few things jumped out at me. I bounced over to the contracts on the Giants page, and was stunned by the ammount of money that Bonds, Alou, Finley and Durham were making. Their contracts for this year according to ESPN, 20, 7.45, 7 and 7 million respectively, for a total of 41.45 million. With Schmidt as a free agent at the end of this season, that gives the Giants' a payroll next year of around 40 million. Sabean might be dumb enough to pick up Finley's option for 7, and Durham might exercise his player option, but with all these contracts coming off the books, the Giants are going to have a tremendous ammount of flexibility.

The idea here isn't to predict which players teams will resign, but to look at their finance / talent position going into next season.

I was also looking at the Twins payroll and roster. Radke's 9 million will be gone, along with Hunter's 10.75. Stewart is gone for 6.5; several other players have options that may or may not be picked up. This will leave the Twins with only about 40 million committed, although, like the Giants some of this will disappear as contracts ramp up. The point remains that the Twins will also have a lot or room to redefine their team this winter.

The other advantage these teams both have is that they have some good young players coming along, especially in the rotation.

The Twins and Giants will provide the two archetypes for this series, big market teams that have a solid core and many millions to spend, and smaller market teams with a lot of cheap, young talent who clear some big contracts.

I'll profile the outlook for such teams in this series, so keep you eyes peeled for who's got power potential.


World Series DVD giveaway

The nice folks over at A & E are promoting a new line of DVDs, which feature highlights from about the last 200 years (maybe I'm exagerating a little) worth of World Series'. I was sent the one for the 1954 NY Giants vs the Cleveland Indians, which I've linked here. This features arguably the most famous defensive play of all time, "The Catch" by Willie Mays.

Their main page can be found here, and they really do have a tremendous number of these things, going all the way back to 1943.

The reason I mention all this is that I've been given 3 DVDs to give away to my faithful readers. So, we're going to have a trivia contest. There are three questions, and I'll draw randomly among those who get them all right.

  1. What is the Royals record in World Series games?

  2. In Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, what was the Win Expectancy of the Diamondbacks starting off the 9th inning?

  3. Pre-divisional play (which began in 1995), what is the 4 game sweep in the World Series that has lasted the longest, and why?

Either put these answers in the comments for this post, or send an email to me through blogger. The contest will run until the 20th of August, unless there are too few correct answers. So get cracking, and win yourself some baseball goodness.


The Revolution will be SABRized (except it's not really a revolution)

I had a long conversation last night about a couple of issues raised by my last post, and I want to put a couple of things down. Conversations are great opportunities for exchanging ideas, but rarely feature efficient, surgical uses of language.

My last post was spurred by my surprise at how much advanced baseball analysis had begun to infiltrate mianstream media, especially in the form of Expected W-L on the MLB.com site. This is a website that has been in existence for over a decade, is officially maintained by, you know, baseball and decided at the begining of the season to include this stat in their official categories (although you do have to turn the option on).

Now, I was happy about this, and I think all baseball fans should be. This metric gives us all a better understanding of the game, and I think it is therefore a good thing. But, unfortunately, I used the acronym SABR in my post, which among some people in the baseball community has become a bad word ... hell, almost blashpemy.

I'm going to take this slow, so as to be completely clear. SABR, as in SABRmetric (sabermetric), has the following meaning:

The Society of American Baseball Researchers. Keep this in mind as you read along.

Last night, our discussion centered around the difference of opinion on this community. A friend told me that he views this community as incredibly arrogant, and that he feels that their work "takes the fun out of baseball." I didn't agree with that.

I disagreed with a number of things about his arguments.

Firstly, most of the baseball community is quite arrogant. Ozzie Guillen, George Steinbrenner, Mike Scioscia back when we was really winning, Barry Bonds, Ricky Henderson, Roger Clemens, David Wells, A-Rod, Jeter, Curt Schilling, Dusty Baker, Tony LaRussa just to name a very few. Chances are you don't have to think very hard to come up with instances where these men insisted they were right to the point of arrogance, or to come up with another dozen names. Competitive sports are going to draw competitive people, and to single out a single group for arrogance is like singling out a Royals player for incompetence; they're all at fault.

Furthermore, SABR is not what most people think it is, which is why it kind of pisses me off to hear blanket statements about a group that's actually trying to grow baseball in a time where public distrust of the sport is dangerously high, African-Americans are leaving in droves, and postseason viewership continues to drop. SABR actually does a number of wonderful things for the game.

Now, I know I'm not supposed to ever use wikipedia as a source, but there's not a traditional encyclopedia or source I can go to, so I've got no other choice. From the SABR page on wikipedia:
The Society for American Baseball Research was established in Cooperstown, New York, in August of 1971. The Society's mission is to foster the research and dissemination of the history and record of baseball while generating interest in the game.
Members include Bill James and Rob Neyer. SABR, which is pronounced "saber" and whose acronym led to the creation of the word sabermetrics (mathematical tools to analyze baseball), is about much more than statistics.
In fact, only a minority of members pursue "number crunching" research. Rather, SABR offers a community of fans organized in two ways. Research Committees study a particular issue. Regional Chapters are for members in geographic proximity. They are frequently named after baseball personalities relevant to the region.
So sabermetrics is far different than what most people would believe. However, as a statistical discipline it is imperative to get this point across. It is the application of the scientific method to baseball. That way, we don't believe the baseball equivalent of mice being bred from dirty piles of rags in corners.

Secondly, anyone who ever mentions the word "sabermetrics" is immediately asked about "Moneyball." This is the law of firsts, the idea that the first product, idea, or book that identifies a unique product or idea is tied into it with unbreakable bonds. This is why in some places you can go to a restaurant, order a "Coke" and then when you're asked what you want, you order a Sprite, or Root Beer, or something else that is clearly not a Coke, or even a Cola. This is because Coke as the first widespread soda (pop, whatever) with widespread recognition. Moneyball has done this to sabermetrics, to the point that it has become impossible for some to seperate the two in their minds. Let me make this clear, because in some quarters this is still misunderstood. Sabermetrics does not automatically suppose that OBP is the most important stat, that speed is useless, nor does it suggest that all coaches and scouts are deranged. It is, like I said, just the collection and analysis of statistics, leaning heavily on resources such as Retrosheet and Baseball Reference.

This leads into my third point. For me, a greater understanding of the game through stastics doesn't diminish the 'magic' around the game at all. The steroid scandal, yes, the White Sox winning a World Series, yes, but understanding that OBP correlates better with scoring runs than SLG, no. Comparing Milwaukee attendance in their new park to the Twins over that time, controling for variables and concluding that the Twins can expect a huge bump in attendance, given how much higher their winning percentage is, no. Investigating how a steal affects late and close games by using the Win Expectancy calculator, no. All of those things enhance my love of the game, and pull me deeper in.

Yes, sometimes these studies contradict common baseball knowledge, but why should baseball be immune to criticism if it can be proved that it is wrong? Honestly, that too close to the way the adminstration treats the press for me. "Even if we're wrong, you can't criticize, because you're tarnishing a great institution." If we truly believe in our great institutions, then we must hold them to high standards of honesty and conduct, and by giving dumb managers and commentators a pass, we let bad information circulate about the game we love (like the importance of having an pitcher that "knows how to win").

In the end, I took all of this a bit personally, because while I am not an official member of SABR, I've felt a certian affinity for people who are trying to find new and interesting ways to look at baseball, and who may get carried away in their love of the game but always have their hearts in the right places. Yes, at times the style of presentation can be a bit abrasive, and sometimes it appears that they want to tear down tradition, but I think their contribution far outweighs any cost they might bring. Besides, think of all the raidcal changes to baseball in the last fifty years: interleague play, the wild-card, weight rooms, online radio and TV broadcasts, the DH, 73 homeruns, the 4 then 6 divisions, steroid worries, expansion teams, mound distance and probably a lot of others I'm too young to remember.

Sabermetrics isn't just something else the game has to weather, it's a community that is going to do whatever they can to make the game thrive, and try to educate us a bit along the way. This is all just my opinion, which is too bad because I'd love some statistics to back this up (just the SABR in me, I guess).


The Revolution will be SABRized

We've seen a lot of changes in baseball media this year. ESPN is down two in their broadcast crew, and has brought in a circus side show of replacements. They've also revamped their graphics, lost rights to postseason series and decided not to repair robotic Joe Morgan. But today, I'm not going to talk about ESPN.

When Moneyball was published in 2003, it opened the eyes of a lot of baseball fans. I'd had some idea of what was going on, but the only reason was that I was in Oakland in the years previous. I'd seen what Beane was doing, and it was clear he was doing it for cheap. But at the time, I'm not sure I even knew what SABR stood for. I didn't even own a copy of Baseball Prospectus until this winter.

The internet has been a wonderful source for a poor college student (now poor government / political employee) to get information I would otherwise never come across. I've discovered statistics based on math that's too complicated for me that give a whole new meaning to understanding baseball.

The only problem has been how slow major news outlets and media sources have been to adopt these measures. We're finally seeing AVG / OBP / SLG become more common than AVG - HR - RBI, but for the most part, things like VORP, or DER, or MLV have fallen on deaf ears. Mainstream media is proving that they have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century when it comes to baseball.

Last year, when I wanted to know the Pythagorean Win-Loss numbers for a team, I had to compute it myself with data from ESPN's league page. I've been meaning to mention this for quite awhile, but you can now find it here, at the official Major League Baseball website.

Sure, it's a simple formula, and Runs Scored and Runs Allowed have been numbers that mainstream analysts have used for years, but the use of this statistic is a glimmer of hope that we won't have to cling to the old ways in baseball. Someday, we might all be able to talk about how truly, truly awful Derek Jeter's fielding is, and finally have a way to prove it beyond the shadow of a doubt. It won't be the old baseball way of anecdote and error totals, but range factor, and all the other various deffensive ratings dreamed up by people with advanced statistics degrees and a love of baseball.

The Revolution is coming, and it will be SABRized.


Philly Blues

The blues (as the name suggests) are always sad songs. But it would be incorrect to assume that everyone signing the blues is depressed. The beauty of blues is that you can express yourself, and try to move past the pain of your life.

My second-grade psychoanalysis isn't intended to expose shortcomings in my formal education, but to serve as a template for this post. While I agree with a lot of what was said on the Abreu / Lidle for junk trade at the Confines, I've thought about it, read a number of articles on both sides, and put together an opinion on the matter.

Here's a few facts to set the table
  • Bobby Abreu's 2006 salary: 13.6 million

  • Bobby Abreu's 2007 salary: 15.5 million

  • Bobby Abreu's 2008 option: 16 million

  • Phillies 2006 payroll without Abreu: 87 million

From an ESPN article published today
  • Abreu, who had a full no-trade clause, told the Phillies he would be interested in waiving it only for the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox and Angels

  • When Gillick talks about the importance of "payroll flexibility," he must quietly lament the burdensome contracts negotiated by his predecessor, Ed Wade ... Burrell has a full no-trade clause and is owed $27 million in 2007 and 2008 combined

So the situation is this, pre-trade. The Phillies are a mid-market team with a ballooning payroll. They want trade Abreu and cash in with prospects. We all know that. But it's a little more interesting than that. There's only four teams he's gonna go to. We know what happened with the Yankees. So now we have three questions left for each team.
  1. Do they really want Abreu (or were they just trying to drive the price up)?

  2. Can they afford him?

  3. What would they offer?

First, I'll take the Angels. Their scrappy, small ball character has devolved a bit since their heyday in 2002. They seem to be a team without any philosophy on how to win. That being said, their outfield is old and expensive, so they definitely want a dependable power hitter.

Unlike so many other years, the Mets weren't making desperate deals at the deadline to bolster their chances for the NL Wild Card. Beltran has been a monster with a 1.027 OPS. Chavez and Floyd haven't been great, but the Mets are trying to give Lastings Milledge opportunities to play, so an extra outfielder might meana decrease in playing time. Furthermore, the Mets have held onto their young talent as of late, perhaps learning a lesson from the disastrous Kazmir trade. The Mets are playing well, and decided not to mess with their team at the deadline. Given Floyd's glove and the cost in both prospects and money, the Mets had mild interest at best.

The Red Sox were probably more interested in Abreu to keep him from going to the Yankees than to actually sign him. Crisp has been a huge dissapointment, but a lot of his diminished performance can be attributed to injury. Trot Nixon and Willy Mo Pena have platooned quite well, however, and I'm sure that the Red Sox have no interest in pushing any higher into salary cap territory. Would they like to deny the Yankees a fresh outfielder? Of course, but he's too damn expensive for that. What does Nixon's 7.5 million pay for? For a second DH, behind David Ortiz? True, they could have sent back Crisp, but his stock is about as low as it can get, especially with a contract that rachets up a million or so a year to an 8 million 2010 option. He might be a steal, but he looks like a risk after this half season. Manny and Papi are tearing the cover off the ball, but in a tight division race, Abreu looks a lot better than he otherwise would.

So from this point on, we're going to discount the Mets. I don't think there's any world where what they get from Abreu is what they'd have to give up to get him, and what they'd have to pay.

So now we have to see if the Angels and Red Sox could reasonably afford the added 15 or so million a year. This would put the Red Sox dangerously close to the limit for 2006, while the Angels would be a good 15 million under. Forbes published a list in 2005 of the financial standings of all 30 teams. It's worth noting the five biggest deficits in terms of operating income:
  1. New York Yankees -37.1

  2. LA Angels of Anaheim -30.0

  3. Arizona Diamondbacks -18.7

  4. Boston Red Sox -11.3

  5. New York Mets -11.2

Quick accounting tutorial. Operating Income = Gross Profit - Operating Expenses. This deos not include certian taxes or debt, so it's actually a rosier picture than a full profile. It's important to understand that Theo Epstien is a Beane acolyte, and the whole point of Beane's theories is to win while making money. So is Theo going to put another 15 million on the books already knowing where the numbers are? My guess would be no, since he's smart enough to run the stats and see that Abreu is unlikely to net additional millions in revenue.

So this leaves the Angels who already have a 30 million operating deficit. Vladimir Guerrero is signed through 2009, Anderson through 2008, and Colon is on until 2007. Erstad is the fourth largest contract, and it expires at the end of the season, but it's only 8 million coming off the books. The Angels could make this move, but it could well push them to a 40 to 45 million a year operating loss, so it's a tentative interest at best. The Angels are the only team we're dealing with anymore, after concluding that the deal was far too rich for the Red Sox's blood.

By now we've all heard the deal the Angels offered for Tejada, Ervin Santana and Erick Aybar. Santana is believed to be an up-and-coming ace, and Aybar has hit well in the minors for the last few years. So would the Angels have offered this for Abreu?

Tejada - .328 / .380 / .515
Abreu - .282 / .428 / .439

Tejada - .284 / .341 / .480
Abreu - .301 / .412 / .507

Abreu is about 100 point better in OPS, but is two years older than Tejada, and plays in the outfield. Power hitting SS take precedence over OF for even money. Tejada has been first or second in SLG among SS every year but one since 2000 (including this year) so it doesn't get any better than this. I'd say that they come out roughly even, especially given Tejada's reputation as a clubhouse leader. So this is the other deal that the Phillies might have seen: Abreu for Aybar / E. Santana

So after all this muddling about, here's what we come out with. The only other deal on the table would have been from the Angels, and it would have pushed the Angels much further into the red. I'd estimates the chances of an Abreu-to-the-Angels at 25 percent. Every million the Phillies pay, the percentage goes up by 5.

It's been painfully obvious that the Phillies needed to rebuild from the ground up, and chose a new direction for the organization before they're trampled under the Marlins rookies and Mets superstars. Clearing Abreu gives them the chance to move in that direction. Could other trading partners have offered better parts? Yes, but they were less likely to actually pull the trigger on Abreu without a donation from the Phillies -- exactly what they were trying to avoid. This is one of the few cases when I feel that the phrase 'addition by subtraction' should be used.

So the Phillies could have done better, if they'd got lucky. As it was, they had to send off a man who was using them, running around town, and always takin' their last dollar. The thrill was gone, but now those Phillies can move on.

Sounds like blues to me, but it's no sad voice singing.