Archive for April, 2008

Follow-Up: Pat Riley Down To One Ball

Several weeks ago, I posted a link to a story about Pat Riley’s decision to flee the scene of the crime against basketball known as the 2007-08 Miami Heat to check out some enjoyable games, namely the ones in the NCAA Tournament that involved Michael Beasley (and O.J. Mayo!)

The money quote there, in my estimation, was this underrated gem:

“I happen to have two titles but it’s one job,” Riley said of holding the dual title of team president. “I have to balance both balls here.”

Well, I am sad to report that Riley has decided he is no longer capable of keeping both balls aloft.

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Because It’s Never Too Early To Start…

Given the success of the wacky formula I came up with to predict the outcomes of college basketball games, I’ve decided to try my hand at creating a similar formula to predict the outcomes of NFL games. Readers, new and old, maybe have a couple questions about this.

The new group might ask, “Hey, stupid, why don’t you try to create a formula to get a better grip on picking baseball winners. Or are you satisfied with that 192-190 record?” To which I respond, there are quite enough formulas out there that try their hand at predicting baseball. The world doesn’t need yet another one, and I wouldn’t even know where to begin since the game is far more complex, in my estimation, than football or hoops.

The old group, meanwhile, might derisively remark, “Too bad you made that bet and lost to a computer, huh, dipshit? That’s what you get for mouthing off to Arrow Smith! Now your precious little formula can only be applied to professional football!” And to that group I say, touche.

Of course, there’s the whole matter of whether this heavily statistically-reliant formula should, in fact, be considered “my” picks. Essentially, I’m letting the numbers do the talking. But that’s a debate to be contested on another day.

Once I figure out exactly what stats and what-have-you that I’m going to plug into the formula, I’ll get started. It’s obviously a work in progress, but then again, I should have plenty of time to tinker with it before the season starts in September. (One thing’s for sure: sacks will be looked at. [Wow, that came out wrong. {That may have, too.}])

I’ll keep you posted.

(Oh, by the way, that ground ball pitchers vs. speedy hitters study was a bust. I’ll post the Excel link at some point, but I can officially say that there is little if any correlation present besides an increased window of opportunity to steal bases.)

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New York Daily News: Roger Clemens May Be A Cheater

.....Dad?

Oh my goodness. Goodness gracious.

Roger Clemens carried on a decade-long affair with country star Mindy McCready, a romance that began when McCready was a 15-year-old aspiring singer performing in a karaoke bar and Clemens was a 28-year-old Red Sox ace and married father of two, several sources have told the Daily News.

The revelations could torpedo claims of an unsullied character that are central to the defamation suit Clemens filed Jan. 6 against his former personal trainer Brian McNamee.

I would imagine that banging a 15-year-old girl outside of wedlock would classify as a character-sullying moment. Damn this conservative society we live in.

Fun trivia note: I’m adopted, and my biological mother was 15 years old when she gave birth to me, then took one look at the ugly baby she had produced and…

OH MY GOD. MY FIRST NAME BEGINS WITH K.

This is not good.

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Breakthrough Study: Getting Caught Stealing Somewhat Disadvantageous

I spent my LAST DAY OF FREEDOM sleeping, getting a haircut, watching the Papal mass at Yankee Stadium, and, yes, running some numbers for one of my ridiculous brainstorms in which I make an effort to figure shit out as it relates to sports.

This one was pretty easy to do, as I simply wanted to gauge the value added by high-level base stealers (for this “experiment” I defined such a player as anyone who had 20+ swipes for the 2007 season and anyone who had multiple thefts for the 2008 set) with successful steals relative to the value they may cost their team by getting caught stealing. To do this, I modified their batting averages, on-base percentages and, most importantly in terms of this experiment (just my opinion), their slugging percentages.

As the old saying goes, you can’t steal first base, so really, any adjustment to a player’s on-base percentage or batting average as a stand-alone statistic would be negative. “That’s the point!” you may say. And to some extent you’d be correct. Still, I don’t feel it would be worth it to focus on either of these statistics individually — particularly batting average, which I threw out altogether — when they’re modified by stolen base data.

To me, it makes a lot more sense to focus on modifying a player’s slugging percentage to reflect his swipes and/or caught stealings because the stolen base aims to accomplish what a double, triple or less frequently a home run would have otherwise accomplished.

With all of this in mind, I quickly plugged some statistics from the 2007 season into an Excel spreadsheet and modified the traditional measurements for on-base percentage and slugging percentage to try to figure out which Major Leaguers benefited the most (and least) from stealing a year ago.

To accomplish this, I used the following formulas:

Adjusted On-Base Percentage
([Hits – Caught Stealing] + Walks + Hit By Pitches)/(At-Bats + Walks + Hit By Pitches + Sacrifice Flies)

Adjusted Slugging Percentage
([Hits – Caught Stealing] + Total Bases + Stolen Bases) / At-Bats

Full results here.

UPDATE: The dude who we found to consistently get the most value out of his base-stealing was apparently designated for assignment while we were compiling the numbers. Awesome.

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Prognostication Corner: Your Headquarters For Misapplied Formulas and 51 Percent Accurate Baseball Picks

Now that Tax Day has come and gone, the only thing left to dread about mid-April may be the ungodly formatting and scheduling of the NBA playoffs. They begin on Saturday, when the first games of four best-of-seven series are to be played.

The most important tournament in professional basketball is often marred in its early rounds by four-game sweeps or similarly short series which lead to first- and second-round games being played during the same time period. We can probably expect this tradition to continue this year, assuming the NBA hasn’t wised up yet — and why would they? — and decided to have a more organized playoff schedule. The probability of multiple rounds being contested at once is particularly high with a stacked Western Conference producing several high-profile first round matchups while a top-heavy Eastern Conference continues to lag behind.

Anyway, it’s pretty late now and I actually have to be up somewhat early to run a couple of errands that I’ve repeatedly put off throughout the week. So I’ll cut to the chase. I’m letting the wacky formula that served me so well in March once again try to carry the day in for the NBA Playoffs. This is a concern for a couple of reasons. First, the college and NBA games are different in many ways. The pro game is longer, involves more shooting and is played at a faster pace than the college game. The games are more likely to turn into track meets in the pros than in the NCAA. Also, the college tournament is a series of “best of ones” played at neutral sites, so it’s easier to just pick a flat-out winner of each game using a formula that doesn’t contain anything involving home-court advantage.

While these items are of some concern, a.) there’s nothing I can really do about it and b.) the formula has effectively projected at least one of the two teams to appear in the NBA Finals in each of the last four years. So, it doesn’t appear to be a complete lost cause.

Anyway, here are the quick and dirty NBA picks, along with my even dirtier (I guess?) guesses of how long each series will take. I sort of have a system when I pick these numbers, but let’s just say it’s in an experimental stage right now.

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Live Blogging A 22 Inning Baseball Game Between Two National League West Teams Has Always Been My Lifelong Dream (Also, Friday Picks)

2:57 AM ET: End 17: Colorado Rockies 1, San Diego Padres 1

Let’s go!

2:58 ET: Wilfredo Ledezma will begin his fourth inning of work against Troy Tulowitzki, who is 0-for-6 tonight.

3:00 AM ET: And Tulowitzki draws a leadoff walk on a questionable ball four. Because it just wouldn’t be an 18-inning game without some controversy.

Jake Peavy and Jeff Francis started this game for their respective teams some five hours ago. Peavy pitched eight innings of shutout ball and struck out 11. Francis went seven scoreless and K’d seven.

Hang on, there’s more of the game story.

3:02 AM ET: Todd Helton just singled, and there are runners at first and second with nobody out.

The game remained scoreless until the 14th…

3:04 AM ET: Matt Holliday grounds into a double play, and the Rockies will have two outs and a runner at third with pitcher Ryan Speier due up.

…when a wild Kevin Cameron walked Brad Hawpe to force in the first run of the game. But the Padres rebounded in the bottom half of the inning when catcher Josh Bard, who has caught all 18 innings thus far, drove in Kevin Kouzmanoff on an RBI single.

And that’s all the scoring there’s been in the entire game.

3:06 AM ET: Which is about to go to the bottom of the 18th inning, still tied at 1 after Ledezma struck out Speier.

The Padres announcers, who have essentially run out of things to say — witness their discussions of which satellite radio provider they prefer and how many people have texted them during the game — are now openly rooting for runs to be scored.

3:08 AM ET: The Padres are inexplicably abusing what appears to be some sort of stuffed goat in their dugout. Hey, whatever.

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Thoughts on Returns of Cueto, Liriano, Johnson and 4/14 Roundup

As promised, I’m back to quickly give my thoughts on Johnny Cueto and Francisco Liriano’s starts from Sunday, or at least what I saw of them. In my previous post, I mentioned that I “didn’t come away impressed” with either pitcher’s performance on Sunday. That statement might be a little deceptive, in retrospect.

In Liriano’s case, I wasn’t all that impressed. He didn’t have great command, his velocity was down and he looked pretty darn hittable. He did manage to strike four Royals out, but he also walked five of them, so that’s more suggestive of command issues than the kind of stuff he had.

It’s pretty simple with Liriano. If he gets his velocity back — his heater reportedly floated around 90 for much of the day, down about five miles per hour from his 2006 season — he should also regain his effectiveness. Even with the drop in velocity, the lefty’s changeup kept the Royals off balance.

If Liriano’s heater lags in the low-90s for much of the year, his stuff remains good enough that he’ll be able to get by and be a fairly productive starter. Though for that to happen, he’ll need to have better command than he did on Sunday — his five walks set a new career-high.

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April 12 MLB Roundup: Full Count to Cano…Hey Look, Cars!

I mentioned in yesterday’s roundup that last night’s Yankees-Red Sox game was one of the weaker recent offerings involving the two teams. The game was close, but there wasn’t a lot of drama, and the atmosphere was surprisingly dull given the blood feud between the clubs.

Saturday’s game was more along the lines of what to expect when the Sox and Yanks square off. Like Friday’s game, both starting pitchers put forth pretty solid efforts to keep their respective teams in the game. Unlike Friday’s game, this game was actually enjoyable to watch.

I’ve already made most of my comments on Chien-Ming Wang, but I’ll throw out one more. He’s just not very interesting to watch as a pitcher. He goes in there, gets a ton of ground balls, eats innings, and that’s about it. He’s not very flashy, though he’s sure as hell effective. On the other side, you had Clay Buchholz, who has electric stuff but can’t always control it. The result was Buchholz throwing 99 pitches in six innings before giving way to the bullpen. It’s widely accepted that a pitcher’s pace has one of the biggest effects on a game, and when the home crowd sees its stud rookie pitcher laboring through six innings while the opposing team’s bland starter is mowing the home team down, it’s understandable that they’re not going to demonstrate a lot of enthusiasm, even with the game as close as it was yesterday.

This afternoon was a different story. Boston had its ace on the mound in Josh Beckett, and he was going up against the corpse of Mike Mussina. Beckett was arguably the best pitcher in the American League last season, whereas Mussina has been steadily declining for years and is often forced to rely more upon guile than skill at this stage of his career. Still, the Stanford graduate is far from an idiot when it comes to the art of pitching, and has been able to get by for the most part with his diminished stuff. Of course, he’ll take his lumps from time to time.

The Fenway faithful seemed to expect this to be one of those times, and was pumped up every time the Sox threatened to score. To Mussina’s credit, he held the Red Sox in check every time, but this crowd wasn’t as easily demoralized as Friday night’s. Even when Beckett coughed up the lead in top of the sixth inning, it wasn’t like dread set like it had on Friday. Sure enough, the Sox rallied back and the crowd went nuts.

(Say what you will about my placing this much emphasis on the crowd, but really, it’s Red Sox Nation and the Yankee fanbase that drive the rivalry. Everyone’s heard it already, but it’s not like the players on these teams legitimately hate each other (for the most part, anyway). Seeing a crowd that is actually into the game adds to the atmosphere, if nothing else.)

So we’ve established that the game was at least as dramatic as your typical close ballgame. Still, it wouldn’t be a Yankees-Red Sox game without at least some strange managerial decisions and a general sense of controversy.

The bad calls were primarily generated by Joe Girardi today. He allowed Mussina to pitch to Manny Ramirez with runners at second and third with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning. At the time, the Yankees were clinging to a 2-1 lead. After Manny’s at-bat, the Yankees trailed 3-2. The second-guessing began almost immediately, as Ramirez could have been walked to load the bases for Kevin Youkilis.

Later, Girardi used LaTroy Hawkins in a one-run game in the 8th inning. The move worked out, but seriously, LaTroy Hawkins?

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Thoughts on Friday Night’s Yankees-Sox Game (4/11 Roundup)

I only caught one game in full on Friday night, and it was the first meeting of the season between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. For lack of anything better to write about, I’ll just throw out my thoughts on the Bronx Bombers’ 4-1 win.

First of all, as far as Yankees-Red Sox games go, this one was pretty much a stinker. I’m not looking to take anything away from Chien-Ming Wang’s performance tonight, because the dude was dealing for most of the game (namely every inning besides the fifth). But Boston helped him out too by going after him early in the count. I have to imagine that it was in the scouting report to jump on Wang early (yikes), but one would think that the team would try to make some adjustments to that strategy after failing to put anything resembling a strong offensive effort together at any point in the early innings.

It’s ridiculous that Wang only had to throw 93 pitches to record 27 outs against the Red Sox. I’m not the biggest fan of (…wow, almost walked right into that one. How shall I put this?…) the Korean right-hander. I tend to think he’s a little overrated by the Yankee fanbase and upper management (Brian Cashman is fond of comparing him to Brandon Webb), and that much of his game relies on luck. Still, a sinkerballer who eats as many innings as Wang does is a huge asset to have over the course of the season. There isn’t a team in the Major Leagues that wouldn’t happily take 200 innings of an ERA under 4, even if much of that success is reliant upon infield defense. (That reminds me, I loved Joe Girardi’s decision to plug defensive specialist Alberto Gonzalez in at shortstop behind Wang in place of the injured Jeter.)

Interestingly, of the 24 outs Wang recorded by getting Red Sox hitters to put the ball in play, 14 came on fly balls. I’m not entirely sure what to make of this. Wang consistently finds himself near the top of the league in ground ball percentage thanks to his turbo sinker. It’s possible that this, too, may have been in the scouting report for Boston. Of course, I may also just be overthinking this. It’s entirely possible the Sox were just overmatched. That certainly looked to be the case with Big Papi, who was downright painful to watch.

(For the record, and I’m going to keep myself from going off on a tangent here, it’s my belief that the best way to beat pitchers like Wang, Webb or Carmona is to stack a lineup with as many speed guys as possible, even if it’s at the expense of guys with better on-base percentages. Within reason, of course. [I remember being frustrated that the Mets, who were well equipped to execute this strategy last year with Reyes, Wright, Beltran, Carlos Gomez and Luis Castillo all on the roster, went with their standard lineup and lost to Wang on a Sunday night game last season.] Maybe I’ll try doing a study on this scenario the road and see if I’m wrong. If nothing else, it piques my interest.)

Getting back to my original point, the game was close early on, but for me, it never really seemed all that exciting. The Fenway crowd was pretty dead, almost from the first pitch, and there just wasn’t a lot of energy displayed by anyone throughout the game. It was very weird for the first game of the year between “the greatest rivals in sports.”

One other thing I’ll throw out there is how great Coco Crisp’s defense in center field is. He was putting on a clinic tonight. Unfortunately, that was one of the only bright spots for the Sox.

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Al Reyes Hit Hard In Thursday Night Appearance

Tampa Bay Rays setup man Al Reyes celebrated his 38th birthday in style Thursday night, getting wasted and causing several disturbances at Tampa’s Hyde Park Cafe.

According to a St. Petersburg Times report, Reyes became angry with another bar patron when the pitcher staggered into a ceramic pot inside the bar. Reyes contended that the other patron, identified as Eduardo Mora, had shoved him into the pot, and called him out on his chicanery.

Mora, surely unaware that it was Reyes’ birthday, responded by punching the burly right-hander in his 38-year-old face. And that’s where the real fun began.

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