Sunday, January 31, 2010

More indignation!

Hat tip to Andrew for passing along this article.

Apparently the Boston Herald also employs morons. Who knew. Ron Borges has a masterful doom and gloom column, berating the Sox for their failure to improve their offense and having the gall to actually improve their defense. But really, once you take a closer look, this article isn't any different than some of Murray Chass' rantings that FJM tore apart a couple of years ago: Borges is just an angry man upset by things he doesn't understand. Let's dig in to the article itself:

"If an array of new fielding metrics you need a Ph.D. to understand are to be believed, the Red Sox will have to travel with two planes this year. The first for the players, the second for their Gold Gloves."

Actually, no. Although I am in a Ph.D. program I don't need one to understand that defense has an impact on the number of balls that are in play that end up falling for hits. In fact, it really is quite simple: the better a defense is, the lower the proportion of balls in play that will become hits. The Red Sox were 28th last year in that stat. Do you need a Ph.D. to understand 28th out of 30?

"A year ago, the Sox won 95 games despite apparently stumbling around in the field like a half-drunken softball team in a Wednesday night league. Somehow they miraculously finished only eight games behind the Yankees without being able to catch a cold standing naked in the Alaskan wilderness."

After the earlier statement I don't really expect him to understand, but yes, the Red Sox were awfully lucky to win 95 games last year, despite their horrid defense. Every single starter had a higher ERA than their fielding independent ERA, except Buchholz. Doesn't that raise some flags?

"Together, Cameron, Scutaro and Beltre hit eight home runs more than Jason Bay but, as we now know, home runs are meaningless."

I don't really know what to do with this; either Borges is incredibly stupid or is just being intentionally obtuse. The shortstops last year were unbelievably bad.

"Some might argue that pitching in Fenway Park [map] is not exactly like pitching in Yosemite Park, but Sox’ management has discovered that despite mistaken evidence to the contrary, scoring runs is no longer essential to winning games. Interesting concept."

Some might argue that in the Boston Herald a non-sensical run-on sentence combined with a two word sentence is considered a good paragraph. Interesting concept.

"Now it seems the Sox have headed down the same road of quantum baseball over your grandad’s version, which was mistakenly centered on foolishness like hitting and scoring runs."

And now we're down to a one sentence paragraph! Amazing! And we're still completely nonsensical. I've pondered this for several minutes, but I still have absolutely no idea what "quantum baseball" is. Borges nearly makes a coherent point: you still do need to score more runs than the opponents to win a baseball game. But Ron, you do realize that you can prevent an opponent from scoring runs, right? You don't always have to just score more yourself, right?

"As the days dwindle toward the start of another spring of hope, let’s pray that’s no longer the case, because if all this talk of OBP, OPS, UZR, DRS and PMR was really only about ATM that’s going to end up BAD for US."

What an amazingly clever turn of phrase! Ron capitalized BAD and US to make it seem like an acronym! My God, his wit is so incredible! On base percentage, on base plus slugging, and ultimate zone rating don’t mean anything and it was always about automatic teller machine! Borges does have one thing going for him with this article though: despite his past brush with plagiarism during his time with the Globe, even if he did steal this article from someone else I doubt the original author would want to step forward.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


Another day, another article that makes me want to bang my head against a wall. Today the guilty party is Sky Andrecheck (don't you just hate him already?) writing for I'll do my best to break this down FJM style, although we both know I won't match their lofty standards. Sadly, the anger inducing column is only about 10 years late to weigh in on the topic.

The start is promising, unlike the actual Joe Morgan, Sky actually appears to understand that "by scooping up undervalued players on the cheap, Oakland was able to compete with the big-market clubs despite suffering major monetary disadvantages." Unfortunately, after that things pretty much go to shit.

"Traditionalists wondered, if all teams adopted Beane's thinking, emphasizing patience and drawing walks, wouldn't the game's aesthetic appeal be ruined?"

Really? Because I can't recall a single article or conversation about that. People were too busy heaping praise on Billy Beane's new approach to worry about whether or not the game would look like a slow pitch softball game, as Andrecheck frets about.

Andrecheck goes on to show this graph, pointing out that walks peaked before Moneyball was even released and that walk rates in class A has also decreased slightly. So. fucking. what. 1. Anyone with half an understanding of statistics would take a look at that graph and easily determine there is no trend. 2. Working a walk is a skill, just like running the bases, fielding, or hitting for power. Do you think that with the success of the big sluggers in the late 1990's other players decided, "You know what I should do? I should hit more home runs. I'm going to do that!" (On second though, maybe you shouldn't answer that question). 3. Who knows what other covariables there were - maybe class A players were getting younger? On top of that, if the new approach to coaching is supposed to be a big difference maker, why are you showing me the YOUNGEST league?

"Another element of the Moneyball approach was its disdain for the speed game."

Again, just flat wrong. The entire baseball premise behind Moneyball is that outs are precious. If you run like crazy with moderate success, you're hurting your team. It isn't that stealing bases is bad, getting caught it.

"Though stealing is down from its peak in the 1980s..., the fact remains that teams are stealing... with a 72% success rate, and are doing so more efficiently than at any time in the game's history."

And he makes my point for me! This is getting easier and easier.

"Regardless of current statistical thinking, the variety of types of players that populate the major leagues has not and will not change significantly."

And again? Really, that is too kind.

As best I can tell Andrecheck doesn't really understand Moneyball, but thinks he does. Sprinkled throughout the article are little tidbits of knowledge that are correct, but when an attempt is made to synthesize them together he ends up with something incoherent. Things like defense is the new Moneyball and that Moneyball was about OBP players being undervalued are both correct, but hideously twisted around into some vision of a Billy Beane beer league softball show (although does anyone walk in beer league softball?). Either he's totally missed the point or he's constructed a marvelously flimsy straw man to break down in his last paragraph.

Red Sox Prospects

So two days after saying I wasn't going to post very often, I'm making a new post. A couple major prospect lists came out in the last couple of days.'s top 50 prospect list features three Red Sox - Jose Iglesias at 45, Casey Kelly at 28, and Ryan Westmoreland at 27. The MLB feature is impressive, going above and beyond the usual prospect lists with video and some scouting reports for the top 50 prospects.

Keith Law's top 100 prospects list came out a few days ago as well, with Casey Kelly leading the way for the Red Sox at 18, followed by Westmoreland at 32, Anthony Rizzo at 53, Lars Anderson at 56, Ryan Kalish at 86, Jose Iglesias at 91, and Junichi Tazawa at 98. Although they Sox don't have a ton of really top tier prospects right now, their depth is really impressive. Keith Law is a big fan of the Red Sox system, ranking them second overall, only behind Texas. I found the write up on Anderson the most interesting - essentially, nothing changed in Anderson's approach last year and he was healthy, but for whatever reason the season was a disaster. Law still thinks he has star potential, if Anderson can put it all together.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The doldrums

I haven't written anything in the last few weeks because there really isn't much to write about. At this point the lineup is set and there aren't even any trade rumors. I've had this discussion with lots of folks, but we're entering the worst month of sports in the year. Sure, you have the Super Bowl, but it usually doesn't live up to expectations. Of course, you do have the parade of meaningless dates that a fan uses to measure just how long they have to wait for meaningful baseball.

Truck day is February 6th this year, and is now less than two weeks away now. How insane is it that Red Sox fans take careful note about when the truck full of equipment leaves for spring training? Of course, the next few "milestones" aren't any more meaningful. The Globe has a count down until pitchers and catchers on their website. I guess it is really important for me to know that we're 22 days, 11 hours, 43 minutes, and 22, no wait, 21 seconds away from pitchers and catchers reporting. Position players don't report for another four days, but once you get the entire team together then meaningful things begin to happen! Things like the Red Sox beating the hell out of Northeastern or, if they lose, we can all run over to Sons of Sam Horn to write about how we can't believe how terrible the team is this and how we should give up on the season right now because Theo is a moron because he didn't mortgage the future for Adrian Gonzalez, who may or may not have ever been available in the first place, and Lackey will be a complete bust because he gave up 2 runs in 2 innings against college kids.

Please forgive my Andy Rooney-esque rant, but my point is that don't expect much content here for awhile. The only sensible thing to do is wait. Or, if you'd like to feel impotent rage and overwhelming indignation, go read Jim Caple's article about how runs scored is the most important individual statistic.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The 2010 Red Sox Defense

Last year was a disaster defensively for the Red Sox. Unsurprisingly, they ranked 28th in defensive efficiency last year, turning 69.4% of balls hit in play into outs. The Dodgers and the Mariners had the highest overall defensive efficiency (.714 and .712 respectively).

As an aside, I like to look at defensive efficiency for team defense because it is simple - you don't need to worry about "zones" as you do for the Ultimate Zone Ratings and there isn't any kind of subjective, albeit expert, interpretation of what an "average" defender would have been able to do, as in John Dewan's plus/minus system. Quite simply, defensive efficiency is just the proportion of balls hit in play that become outs. If you adjust for the stadium effects, Fenway, for example, would lead to a lower defensive efficiency because balls off the Green Monster are considered "in play", the Red Sox move up to 18th overall, as measured by Baseball Prospectus' Park Adjusted Defensive Efficiency (PADE).

A difference of 3.5% may not seem like a huge one, but over the course of a major league season (for our purposes, about 6200 plate appearances and 5600 at bats, this will vary with the quality of your pitching staff of course) the difference comes out to about more hits dropping in, or over one hit a game. Giving up an extra "undeserved" hit per game is a sneaky way to lose a lot of games. Unsurprisingly, individuals on the Red Sox did not do well if you look at their Ultimate Zone Rating numbers. (Another quick note - I've used UZR/150 in the past, which is a rate statistic for defense over the course of 150 games, in this case I've used the raw UZR values to make it easier to add together in cases where several players played a position). As a team in 2009, the major starters (~30+ games at a position) totaled a UZR of -23.3, or just over -2 wins. Bay (-13), the Lowell/Lowrie third base disaster (-12), and surprisingly Ellsbury in center field(-18.6) were the main offenders.

UZR is harsher on both Bay and Ellsbury than other systems, so their weaknesses may be overstated. The main knock against Ellsbury is that he positions himself too deep in center, in part to make up for his difficulties going back on balls. Several scouts have knocked his route taking as well, which may contribute to his amazing highlight reel of diving plays. While he is an incredible athlete and has the tools to play center field, UZR pegged him as one of the worst defensive center fielders in the game.

In a lot of ways, improving the defense is akin to improving the offense at shortstop. There were three positions where the Red Sox were terrible, so merely improving those to average would see a major gain. Well, the Sox did one better than that, signing the best defensive third basemen on the market (Beltre, 14.1 UZR in 2009) and the best defensive center fielder on the market (Cameron, 10 UZR in 2009). To top it off, to replace Bay in left field they are shifting Ellsbury over. While Ellsbury will likely be an average left fielder offensively, in 80 career games in left field he's been a spectacular defender (10.1 UZR, 21.8 UZR/150). Scutaro is also a slightly above average shortstop (0.9 UZR) another improvement over last year's Lugo/Lowrie/Green three headed monster (-5.7 UZR, although both Green and Lowrie were above average defenders). According to UZR, the Red Sox defense has improved an incredible 85 runs. Even if the offense is worse than last year, which I'm still not convinced will be the case, I just don't see how you could argue the Red Sox are not a better team now than at the end of the 2009 season. Between the starting pitching depth, the elite defense, and the above average, albeit not elite offense, I think you could argue that the Red Sox are best team in baseball.