Monday, January 28, 2013

Hockey stats, Czech dominance and Howie Rose.

The first exposure I had to Hockey was the classic NES game "Ice Hockey". Ice Hockey taught me a few things about the game, some of which later turned out to be false.

1) Hockey is played with five guys. Seriously I found out this was wrong last week.
2) Hockey teams need to have a strong mix of small, medium and super fat players in order to be successful. The fat guys are the best at scoring goals while the small ones are good at face-offs. It turns out none of that is at all accurate.

3) Czechoslovakia is a dominant hockey nation, this turned out to be true.

Being a stats guy I have started delving into the world of Hockey stats. Frankly I don't like what I am seeing so far. Why is points a thing? Maybe it's my lack of familiarity with the sport but this seems like a wholly unnecessary statistic. Why can't I just look at Goals and Assists separately? This statistic seems to give them equal value but from what I can tell, Goals have more value than Assists. If two players each have 20 points and one has 15 goals and 5 assists and the other guy has the opposite, wouldn't the guy with 10 more goals be the more productive player? This seems like making a baseball statistic that is just the sum of hits and runs.  Maybe someone who knows more about Hockey can explain this to me.

I realized last night that Howie Rose, the voice of the Mets on the radio, is also the Islanders TV announcer. This makes me instantly like the Islanders more and ensures I will be watching more of their games. I also saw that the Washington Capitals just won their first game yesterday, mirroring their city mates The Wizards who took the longest time to win an NBA game this year. I have yet to see the defending champion Kings play a game yet so I will give them a watch tonight. After about a week of watching I remain as clueless as ever and still don't understand icing. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Thoughts on the Marcum signing.

Sweet cap bro.

The Mets signed Shaun Marcum to a one year deal today. Marcum is one of those guys that Fantasy players know all too well, a just good enough pitcher to get drafted late in deeper leagues or pick up for spot starts in shallow ones. Also file under this category: Bruce Chen and Tim Wakefield. Marcum has been up and down in his career and could really go either way in 2013. I would not be surprised to see him pitch a full season, win over ten games and have a mid three's ERA just as I wouldn't be surprised to see him pitch 100 innings and have an ERA over four. You just can't be sure with Marcum.

Marcum looks like an OK pitcher with standard stats. He has had two seasons of more than ten wins and a career ERA of 3.76. His career xFIP was higher at 4.21 indicating his ERA might be a bit inflated by good defense and luck. His peripheral stats are also not that amazing. His career k/9 is 7.32 which is good but not great and his career walks per 9 is also a just OK 2.77, again not awful but nothing to be excited about. His hr/9 is a frightening 1.22 which is amongst the worst in baseball.

In many ways Marcum strikes me as a guy whose good seasons may have been a combination of luck, circumstance and minimal skill. When you give up a homer a game and don't strike too many guys out, it's going to be a tough year. Fortunately circumstances are with him in 2013, he will be playing in the NL and at a pitchers park, so their is no reason his past successes cant be repeated.

This is sort of  the kind of signing I was advocating the Mets should make it. In a year when we have no chance of being competitive the Mets should be seeking out players who need to have come back years and will take one year deals to prove themselves. It gives the Mets a few more wins in a meaningless 2013 while not tying them to any bad contracts in future more competitive years. Frankly I was hoping they would sign some guys like this that would also be name players that would make it a little more exciting to watch Mets baseball, someone like Melky Cabrera. While Marcum fills a gap usefully on the rotation he is hardly the kind of guy anyone is clamoring for.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Gettin' to know Landon Powell

Last week the Mets signed free agent Catcher Landon Powell to a minor league contract. Powell came out of the awesomely named Apex High School (Go Cougars!) in Apex, NC where he left early but failed to be drafted after Scott Boras apparently failed to inform MLB clubs that he was eligible to be drafted. Powell ended up at USC where he played in the College World Series.

Powell went on the A's where he has been less than stellar. In 403 major league at-bats he put a meager .207/.284/.328. His minor league numbers are better but generally inconsistent. His best AAA season was in 2008 when he hit 15 homers and put a respectable .360 OBP. Unfortunately I dont think Powell has much of a future. He is 30 and he hasn't broken through yet. His stats show a guy who has consistently done or two things good enough to keep around but not someone who will have long term success in the show. Signing with the Mets is probably a solid career move for him. The Mets have questionable catching and will probably be in an experimental mode while they bide their team for a competitive 2014, so maybe he gets some AB's and can produce something.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Hockey is confusing and long.

I watch a lot of sports. I only blog about the Mets and baseball but I am a regular viewer and follower of most other US sports at the college and pro level and a few international sports as well. Pretty much the only sports I don't follow are auto racing and Hockey. This is the story of my attempt to fix that, at least on the hockey end.

Growing up I didn't really know anything about Hockey and no one I knew seemed to follow it. I know that Rangers won the Stanley Cup while I was living in NY and remember not only not caring but actively thinking that it was weird how little people seemed to care about the fact that a local sports team won a championship. Later in life I lived in places where hockey was popular and once a year I would say I was getting into hockey, watch it for twenty minutes, then give up. Well this year I am trying again and blogging about it, largely because the baseball off season is so slow right now and I need something to write about.

The Hockey season began today and so far I have watched two games. A Pennsylvania Derby between the Penguins and the Flyers and a Rangers - Bruins game, which I assume is a rivalry since it between Boston and New York but I really don't know. As I type this I am catching the end of a Montreal Canadiens and Toronto (no idea) game, it features charming plugs for CBC police procedurals airing after it ends. So far I would describe my first experience of all day hockey watching as confusing and I hate to say it.. boring.

Hockey is a really, really long game. Interminably long. I mean, it has two half times and the clock seems to stop constantly. After watching Hockey for eight hours my first recommendation is that they should get rid of one of the periods, three seems excessive. It is also really hard to follow, half the time it seems the camera operators have trouble finding the puck, what luck do I have? I know that at one point they made the puck colored on TV so people could see it. Apparently this was unpopular because they don't do it anymore, but I am not sure why.

In general I have no idea what is happening on the ice half the time. Let's begin with I do know about hockey.
  • I understand the essential basics. I know the puck goes in the net and what not.
  • I know that their is icing and off-sides and that one of them involves the blue line, I have no idea what either means, what the penalty is or how you commit these offenses. I used to turn it off in NHL 94 so I never learned.
  • I know their is fighting and from what I can tell it is against the rules but also seems allowed. This is very confusing.
  • I know the LA Kings won the Stanley Cup but aren't expected to repeat. I don't understand why the Canadian teams don't just dominate this sport.
  • Unlike NHL 94 the real sport dosen't appear to have the "one timer" or the ability to do the thing where you skate from behind the goal and score easily.

That's about it.

As the season moves forward I will continue to watch and try to understand this mysterious and confusing sport. Maybe by the end I will be able to understand icing...

Friday, January 18, 2013

Rafael Soriano is worth more than Dickey.

Which one of these statements is true? R.A. Dickey is underpaid or Rafael Soriano is overpaid? Probably both, but I don't even know how to properly value contracts anymore. Their doesn't appear to be any normal baseline for what players should be making to judge contracts against. This was the off-season in which Angel Pagan got a forty million dollar contract after a sub par season and Anibal Sanchez signed with the Tigers for EIGHTY MILLION DOLLARS. By this logic we would have to assume that R.A. Dickey (2 years,25 mil) is marginally worse than Soriano (2 years, 28 mil) and that Sanchez is over three times better than R.A.

A simple WAR analysis shows Dickey as the clearly better pitcher:


I know many people don't like WAR but I think Dickey blows these two out of the water in any statistical category you can find, he would even win the much maligned "eye test". Frankly Dickey is better than about 99% of all players right now including every single NL pitcher is the Cy Young Award means anything. What's the point of all this? Baseball players get screwy contracts all the time, A-Rod is the current beneficiary of the wackiest contract of all time. I just felt it should be pointed out that Raf Soriano just got a better deal to go be the third closer in Washington than a twenty game winner did. I hope if he we hear this stuff often enough we might start to see how ludicrous it is and start giving Dickey the respect (and money) he deserves.

Friday, January 11, 2013

First thoughts on World Series Odds

I took my first look at World Series futures bets today and to no ones surprise the Angels and Blue Jays are the favorites to win. Both teams I would be happy to see go all the way, especially my (recently) beloved Blue Jays. The Angels have a slight advantage going at +700 and the Blue Jays at +725. Defending champion San Francisco Giants are actually in 8th place with +1300 odds.

Some of these are truly confusing. The Ray are 12th most likely at +1900 that's five spots behind the Yankees at +1100. I cant tell if this is crazy or pragmatic  By any metric the Rays are a better team than the Yankees but none the less the Yankees almost always make the playoffs and despite what it looks like now they will somehow probably end up making it next year. The A's and Orioles are both listed with worse odds than the Red Sox who finished 2012 with less than 70 wins and the Phillies who did nothing this off season but get a year older. I don't really oppose the idea that the A's and O's aren't going anywhere. Both of them played a very lucky, unsustainable style last season and are sure to regress back to their actual talent levels  I just think the Sox and Sillies are just as bad.

As for the Mets they are listed as more likely to win than eight other teams: Marlins, Indians, Padres, Mariners, Cubs, Twins, Rockies and Astros. On this list I thought the Mariners were a better team than us last year and have not gotten any worse in the off season while the Mets suffered a serious downgrade in starting pitching. The odds for the Mets to win are +6000 the exact same odds as the Pirates. Frankly I would be insulted if I was a Pirates fan. The Bucco's led their division for a while, narrowly missed the playoffs and played pretty good baseball all year. They are without a doubt more likely to succeed than the Mets this year. As for my money, my initial bet goes as always, with Dickey. Let's go Jays...

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Deacon White, Hall of Famer.

Bare handed era, you think Barry Bonds could have played bare handed?

What can I say about the Hall Of Fame vote today? Nothing. I can say nothing at all. The HOF has no legitimacy whatsoever with me and the BBWAA are all haughty dicks who operate beyond the rules of logic and common sense. So what should we talk about instead? How about our old friend Deacon White, the only baseball player who will be inducted into the Hall of Inconsistent Nonsense that Rewards an Idealized but Ultimately False Past that Never Existed in the First Place and is Populated with the Same Types of Guys we Turned Away Today but whom we have Fetishized into Pure Heroes who did nothing but Drink Milk, Fight Nazis and hit Dingers (the HOINRUUFPNEFPPSTGTATFPHDMFND) this year. Deacon was elected by the Veterans Committee of said body in December.

Deacon White was born in 1847 and had a storied career with such notable clubs as The Cleveland Forest City's, The Detroit Wolverines and The Reds. He played Catcher and Third Base during the lesser known "bare hand" era which probably wasn't as bad it sounds considering the pitchers of the era probably didn't throw very hard and judging by Deacon's stats, the ball didn't seem to make it to the mitt very often.

Deacon was a prolific contact hitter apparently, with a career K% of 3.2 including his epic 1874 season in which he struck out ZERO times. Don't you just love old timey baseball records? They have no relation whatsoever to the game we understand today. In 1874 this dude had 374 plate appearances and never struck out. Yet he only batted .300 (his BABIP was actually unlucky by modern standards at .294 but not knowing the baseline of 1870's baseball it's kind of meaningless). He also didn't even walk a lot that season, drawing only four walks. Let's review, he had zero strike outs and four walks in an entire season. And it wasn't even that great of a season for him. He fared better in 1877 when he put up .387/.405/.545 with eight walks, three k's and two home runs.

Upon retirement he had accrued 2066 hits, a .312 batting average and a career WAR of 42 which is the exact same Placido Polanco currently holds. This seems unfair at best as Polanco regularly strikes out more than two times in a season and as far as I can tell never batted .387. Deacon White did this all the right way, without indoor plumbing, processed foods or electricity, unlike the glory boys of today.

As you can probably tell I assembled this article with no original research aided only by Fangraphs and Wikipedia. I am a pretty prolific Wikipedia reader and I must say this little section from Deacon White's page is an absolute gem:

"According to Lee Allen in The National League Story (1961), White was one of the last people to believe that the earth is flat. He tried and failed to convince his teammates that they were living on a flat plane and not a globe; they ridiculed him. Then one asked to be convinced, and the Deacon gave him an argument suited to the hypothesis that the earth is not really turning. He convinced the teammate but the argument would not prove that the earth is not a sphere.

Welcome to the Hall Deacon.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Carl Pavano Problem

Recent reports indicate that the Mets are interested in signing Carl Pavano and that shockingly Pavano is in talks with five other teams. Seriously? C'mon. At this point the only explanation is that I have somehow traveled to the bizzaro world in which being bad at pitching is a coveted trait.

Pavano is so old he pitched for the Expos. He has a career hr/9 of over 1.00 and has posted an ERA over 5.00 six times in his fourteen season career. That is just awful. You may remember last year we examined The Joe Blanton Paradox that explored why Joe Blanton, a sub par pitcher, remained a valued commodity. Pavano shares some of the same traits Blanton does:

1) He won a World Series: Any pitcher that is a part of a World Series winning team, especially if they have a good start in said World Series get an exemption from being valued properly. It's kind of like how winning a Major gives you a guaranteed ten years on the PGA tour.
2) He had some good years: In Pavano's case he had three years spread over his 14 in which he posted sub 4.00 ERA's and lots of innings pitched.
3) Subject of Media Speculation: For the second year running Pavano remains one of the last available "name" starters and therefore gets an inordinate amount of time devoted by the 24 hour baseball press to covering where he might go. This lead to an inflated idea of Pavano's actual worth.
4) He accrues Wins: Pavano has over 100 career wins including 18 and 17 win seasons. People love pitcher Wins despite the logical case against them, kind of like how people enjoy CBS sitcoms.

Blanton's other point was that he was an A which Pavano does not have going for him. I have identified two other aspects that lead to Pavano's over hype.

5) He was an All Star: Pavano made one All Star team in 2004. At best this indicates his skill in the 2003-2004 season which was, ya know, 8 years ago. Mostly this just allows announcers to say "here comes former all star Carl Pavano" whenever he comes in further making us believe the myth of the good Carl.
6) He has a clear identifiable skill: Pavano does not walk many people. It is a perfect skill for sports talk shows because someone can throw this out there in a quick conversation and it makes him sound great. The problem is Pavano also does not strike anyone out (career k/9 of 5.49) having once pitched a whole season with a k/9 of 3.18. Also he doesn't walk a lot of batters because he gives up a lot of hits.

Wouldn't it just be the height of absurdity if we sent away our brilliant 37 year old pitcher with several years ahead of him and replaced with a broken down 37 year old pitcher who has almost never been good. It would be the Metsian thing to do in this situation.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The unluckiest man in baseball

BABIP is without a doubt one of my favorite statistics. Whenever someone is having an unprecedented hot or cold streak you can almost always find a spike or dip in BABIP to accompany it and help explain the bad or good luck that player is experiencing. Today I thought it would be fun to explore some of the unluckier players in baseball this year. First off the man with lowest batting average on balls in play and therefore our unluckiest player of the year is... Cleveland Indian Justin Smoak.

The Smoak monster had a paltry .242 BABIP and an accompanying batting average of .217. His career BABIP over three seasons is actually quite low at .255 so one has to wonder if Smoak is super unlucky or is actually batting in a way that causes a greater percent of his balls in play to be successfully fielded. He doesn't hit many line drives (18% career) favoring grounders and fly balls (82% career) which probably has a lot to do with his low BABIP.

The second unluckiest man in baseball was our old favorite, the hard partying, Ike Davis. Ike had a .246 BABIP that led to a .227 BA. In his other full season Ike went the opposite direction and had a lucky bat (.321 BABIP) and a higher but not great BA of .264. Frankly we haven't seen what Ike will do when he his BABIP averages out closer to the baseline but logic would dictate he would be somewhere between .230 and .260. Ike is young however and his swing can change. It will have to frankly, he will either need to become a better average hitter to couple with his decent power numbers or become a better power hitter to go with his low average.

Number three on the list is Adam Dunn, who just fascinates me. Dunn just kind of looks like a high school bully, if someone were to make a movie of his life, he would almost certainly be played by 80's character actor Donald Gibb (he of Ray Jackson and Ogre fame). Dunn was regarded by many to have had a comeback year this year posting a .204 batting average (he has a BABIP of .246 and a K% of 34.2, the highest in baseball) which was in fact a huge improvement of his 2011 average of .159. Pretty much all Dunn did this year was hit 41 home runs. Now I would never sneeze at 41 home runs, that is an elite power hitting season by any standard but you have to question how valuable those 41 homers are when you pretty much only hit a homer or don't reach base at all. The real question is how Dunn even got this second chance after 2011 when batted .159 and shockingly hit just 11 homers. 

This is perfect casting.
Conversely Dunn could play Ogre in a Revenge of the Nerds remake.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Gettin' to know Andrew Brown

You should really be watching more French Ligue 1 soccer. I know what your saying, even the French don't watch french soccer but it none the less is pretty much the only exciting ligue right now. The Prem is pretty much locked up at this point (and was kind of locked up pre season), Barca has a 9 point lead in La Liga, Juventus has an 8 point lead and is cruising towards another Scudetto and in the always coldly efficient Bundelisga, Bayern Munchen has a 9 point lead. Ligue 1? Three way tie for first! PSG (the Yankees of Ligue 1), Olympique Lyon (the A's/Rays) and Marseille (I got nothing) each have 38 points going in to the winter break. We still have a lot to cheer for in other leagues but as far as winning a title, Ligue 1 is where it's at. Oh and the Mets signed some guy named Andrew Brown.

Brown needs to get some better PR people because his wikipedia page is sorely lacking. He was drafted by the Cardinals in 2007, played in the Rockies organization and has generally been subpar. in 148 pro plate appearances he has put up .224/.284/.396. His numbers in the minors have shown some quality though. He played 100 games for the Rockies AAA squad in 2012 an put a very impressive: .308/.364/.597. Andy is entering his age 28 season at which point his talent level is likely entering it's peak so tin 2013 we will see if he is someone to watch or a career AAA guy.