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…. Perfection

Dan Lependorf, over the Hardball Times, puts together a graph detailing how impressive Matt Cain’s Perfecto really was:

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blockquote>…. If a pitcher strikes out 14 batters in a single game, it’ll be the lead story on every sports news program of the night. After all, it’s only happened a few hundred times in baseball history. If a pitcher throws a perfect game, it’s one of those landmark events that’ll be sold on DVD in the MLB.com store. And people will buy it, because hey, it’s a perfect game. Only 22 of those.

But both of them at the same time? Congratulations, Matt Cain. You just had one of the best nights from any pitcher in the history of Major League Baseball.

But then Bill James –who Lependorf cites in his article– writes (subscription required) that Cain’s game, while very impressive, isn’t even close to being the best pitched game of all-time:

…. The Game Score for Joe Oeschger, when he pitched 26 innings one afternoon, was 153, a feat beyond the understanding of modern fans. But in the last 60 years, Dean Chance against the Yankees on June 6, 1964, had the highest Game Score on record—116. 14 innings, 3 hits, 12 strikeouts, no runs.

James then goes on to chart the best games, seasons and careers using his Game Score method. It’s a great read, and well worth the $3 bucks a month you have to pay for access to Bill James Online.



…. Knowledge is power

Bill James is still the best. He has a new article up on his site (It’s a pay site, $3 bucks a month, and you should be going there), it’s not about baseball, per se, it’s sort of about himself, and his relationship to statistics. In fact, it’s the text of a speech he made to a group of statisticians. In the piece, he writes something that should be mailed to Brian Sabean:

…. Baseball teams play 162 games a year. I just realized last week that, sometime in the last 20 years, baseball experts have fallen into the habit of saying that a baseball team has about 50 games a year that you are just going to lose no matter what, 50 games a year that you’re going to win, and it is the other 62 games that determine what kind of season you’re going to have. This is not ancient knowledge; this is a fairly new one. A more inane analysis would be difficult to conceive of. First of all, baseball teams do not play one hundred non-competitive games a year, or anything remotely like that. Baseball teams play about forty non-competitive games in a season, more or less; I would be surprised if any team in the history of major league baseball ever had a hundred games in the season that were just wins or losses, and which the losing team never had a chance to win after the fourth or fifth inning. The outcome of most baseball games could be reversed by changing a very small number of events within the game.

But setting that aside, this relatively new cliché assumes that it is the outcome of the most competitive games that decides whether a team has a great season or a poor season. In reality, the opposite is true. The more competitive a game is, the more likely it is that the game will be won by the weaker team. If the Royals play the Yankees and the score of the game is 12 to 1, it is extremely likely that the Yankees won. If the score is 4 to 3, it’s pretty much a tossup. The reasons why this is true will be intuitively obvious to those of you who work with statistics for a living. It is the non-competitive games—the blowouts—that play the largest role in determining what kind of season a team has. Misinformation about baseball continues to propagate, and will continue to propagate forever more, without regard to the fact that there is now a community of researchers that studies these things.

In reference to the Giants, this Giants team, the pitching-dependent, offensively challenged team we’ve been ranting and raving about for the last two and a half seasons, these paragraphs explain what we’ve been experiencing. It’s like a light in a dark closet.

Of course we’re frustrated, being in nail-biters game after game, week after week. It’s because we can sense that something’s not right. There’s something about a team that wins by being perfect that fails to inspire confidence. Of course it doesn’t. As James explains so clearly, it shouldn’t. Winning teams dominate. Winning teams consistently win big. Winning teams are not built upon winning one-run games. Winning teams don’t win because they always win the close ones. They win because they blow teams out. Close games are far too often decided by one single mistake, on missed play, one error, one walk, just like Monday’s game. Teams dancing along that fine line are simply far too dependent upon luck to win enough of the time to be a real contender. And we can see that, even though the Giants are winning right now, they are not really a contending team.

“The more competitive a game is, the more likely it is that the game will be won by the weaker team.”

Great teams blow you out, and it’s the games in which they don’t that you have a chance against them. The Giants are not a great team. They have great pitching. They are one dimensional. They rely on making your offense look as bad on this day as theirs is regularly. That is no way to win a championship. It simply isn’t. You cannot bet on being able to hold down a great offensive team game after game after game. Eventually, a great offense is gonna get you, and if that great offense has some pitching, well, then you’re in real trouble.

Look at these eight games with the Padres. These two teams are exactly the same. So you get eight games of one-run baseball, each team doing everything it can to prevent the other team from running away with the game, tons of bunts, lots of runners left in scoring position. Eight games of let’s see who blinks first. Each team is playing the same way, so, on the surface, the games seem exciting.

But, in fact, they are anything but. They are frustrating. They are exasperating. They are, to me, anyway. Going back and forth between the Giants/Padres and the Yankees/Red Sox games is illuminating. Those Yankee games are exciting. Those games feature game-winning home runs, (something so rare as to have become pretty much a once a year event in San Francisco) and when a pitcher strikes out a guy with men on base, it’s an actual accomplishment. When you watch the Giants bat with men on, the exact opposite is true, it’s an accomplishment when the Giants get the runner home.

Don’t be fooled. Look closely at what’s happening with this team. They are gonna tease you all season long, but, in the end, it will take a miracle for them to make the playoffs. They simply do not have enough hitting to get it done, no matter how many shutouts they throw.

UPDATE: Really!?! 32 total bases, 6 home runs, and 8 walks allowed? Wow.



…. Old news

I was browsing through the Baseball Analyst’s Bill James Baseball Abstracts pages, and came up with a couple of interesting tidbits from James:

1978

“When you acquire any player over 28, you are getting about 40% of a career–and that on the downhill slide. You can do that, perhaps, to fill a hole. But what happens when you try to build a whole team that way? Your replacement-rate goes out of sight. If you’ve got eight players on a downhill slide, two of them are going to slip and fall–either that, or you’re defying the law of averages.”

This is your San Francisco Giants. Run with a game plan that was known to be flawed over 30 years ago.

1983

A lot of the public, I think, has the idea that arbitration hearings are sort of bullshit sessions in which the agent tried to convince the arbitrator that Joaquin Andujar is Steve Carlton’s brother, and the club tries to convince him that he is Juan Berenguer’s niece. It’s not really like that. The first and foremost rule of an arbitration proceeding is that you never, ever, say anything which can be shown to be false.

The second rule of an arbitration case is that you don’t start any arguments that you can’t win. . .Stick to the facts. . .Tell the truth. It’s the only chance you’ve got.

How many of you think the Giants will be able to handle this situation with the delicacy and foresight needed to avoid getting their dicks caught in the zipper?

Additionally, I’d like to point out the flat-out absurdity of all of these articles and op-ed pieces talking about how the Giants are worried about signing Lincecum to along-term deal because of concerns about his long-term health. This is a lie, an absurdity, a ruse, a smoke screen. If the team is spreading crap like this, it is just one more indication of how unprofessional and poorly run it really is. If it’s not, Sabean should come right out and deny it.

It is ridiculous to suggest that it’s Lincecum that the team has to worry about. RIDICULOUS!!

Sabean wasn’t worried about being upside down on any of these old, broken down mediocrities he keeps shoveling money at? Sabean wasn’t worried about the possibility that he might be paying the 36-year old Dave Roberts to watch TV? He wasn’t worried about the two-year deal he gave to 35-year old Bengie Molina in 2007? Wasn’t concerned at all about the possibility that the 40-year old Omar Vizquel might not be able to live up to his contract? Not worried about the 34-year old Aubrey Huff, coming off an injury-plagued 2009 season? Really?

Nothing to see here when Sabean signs an already injured, 32-year old Freddie Sanchez to a contract extension he’s not even up for? No concerns at all about throwing $55 million dollars at He-Who-Runs-Into-Walls? No issue whatsoever at giving a declining Barry Zito the biggest contract in baseball history?

No, the player Sabean is gonna hold the line for is Tim Lincecum. REALLY!?!

This is where you’re gonna draw the line on cover-your-eyes bad contracts?! Tim Lincecum? TIM LINCECUM!?! He’s the guy the team is worried about? The 25-year old, two-time Cy Young Award winning, once in a generation pitcher, the ace of your staff? That’s the guy who’s gonna break the bank? After all these horrible fucking contracts, after all the money Sabean has literally THROWN ON THE GROUND!!!!! It’s Lincecum they have to worry about? ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME!!!! What a joke. What a bad, stupid joke.

The fact that the sportswriters who cover this team have the gall to parrot this absurdity is bad enough, but even decent bloggers are buying into the line. This would be laughable if it weren’t so sad.

Let me be the one to say what everyone should already know:

IF YOU ARE GOING TO GO BANKRUPT BECAUSE OF A BAD CONTRACT, LINCECUM IS THE GUY TO DO IT WITH

It is the equivalent of going all-in with pocket aces. If you’re gonna lose with aces, so be it.

1984

In Logic and Methods in Baseball Analysis, James states axioms, corollaries, and the known principles of sabermetrics in the following order:

Axiom I: A ballplayer’s purpose in playing ball is to do those things which create wins for his team, while avoiding those things which create losses for his team.

Axiom II: Wins result from runs scored. Losses result from runs allowed.

First Corollary to Axiom II: An offensive player’s job is to create runs for his team.

The Known Principles of Sabermetrics. Item 1: There are two essential elements of an offense: its ability to get people on base and its ability to advance runners.

Axiom III: All offense and all defense occurs within a context of outs.

The Known Principles of Sabermetrics. Item 2: Batting and pitching statistics never represent pure accomplishments, but are heavily colored by all kinds of illusions and extraneous effects. One of the most important of these is park effects.

The Known Principles of Sabermetrics. Item 3: There is a predictable relationship between the number of runs a team scores, the number they allow, and the number of games that they will win.

Ok, so here’s my two cents. Brian Sabean has no knowledge of these concepts. He can’t. Either he’s read Bill James and thinks he knows better, or he’s never read him. Either way, he’s obviously completely out if his mind.

He has been trying to build a team with old, soon to be out of baseball players, which is why, of course, the Giants never have any money for real players, because –as James illustrated 30 years ago– your replacement costs are gonna be sky-high, and you’re gonna be facing those costs every year.

And if you build an offense that consists of players who don’t get on base, and don’t have any power, you sure as hell will not be able to seriously compete, even if you have one of the most dominant pitching staffs of the last twenty years.

It just hurts my head to realize that I read this stuff 30 years ago, and the team I root for operates as if these simple concepts are still waiting to be discovered.



…. Backtalk

Over at the Sports Law Blog, they have posted a guest piece by Aaron Zelinsky and Benjamin Johnson of Yale Law School. Here’s a taste:

…. A-Rod’s comeback needs three things: First, he has to become the public face of baseball purists.

…. Second, A-Rod must devote himself to cleaning up baseball.

…. Finally, A-Rod needs to stay healthy and play as long as he can play well. He must put up Hall of Fame numbers for the next five years to make the case that he is a Hall of Famer without the juice.

Well, that’s an interesting take, but I like Mark DeVincentis’ backtalk even better:

…. I’m not upset with ARod or any of the PED users. I’m more upset about the way it is handled by the government, media, baseball, and the public at large. The hyperbole in the media that fuels the attitude that baseball is somehow in trouble because of steroids stems from a lack of understanding of baseball history.

…. As long as baseball has been played, players have turned to artificial means to enhance their performance.

…. I don’t think that steroids don’t matter, or that efforts should not be made to weed them out of the game, but they should be placed in their proper context. Few things grate on me worse than media sensationalism and playing down to the lowest common denominator… and this whole steroids thing that has been going on for the last 5 or so years is full of both.

Hear, hear! Echoing many of the sentiments that I have been screaming into a closet for those five years, Mark hits the nail on the head. A-Rod shouldn’t have to pander to the BBWAA, nor should Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro, Barry Bonds or, for that matter, Pete Rose. Few players can claim to have given more to the game than these superstars. Few players have been more dedicated to being the absolute best that they can be, few have worked harder, or brought more excitement and excellence to the national pastime.

I’ll say it again, if the BBWAA continues to hold these players hostage, if the list of players that they decide to exclude from the Hall of Fame continues to grow, then it won’t be a Hall of Fame anymore. It’ll be a place where baseball writers can celebrate their righteousness and hypocrisy.

Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

italics, mine

Let’s not forget that the decision to consider more than just raw statistics or having played for a long time wasn’t happenstance, the idea that integrity and character mattered didn’t occur in a vacuum. At the time of the Hall’s creation, baseball was awash in crooked players, the scandals were what eventually led to the creation of a commissioner’s office, and Kennesaw Mountain Landis. The players who were caught, or just rumored to be involved, (a group that included Tris Speaker and Ty Cobb, by the way), were threatening the game’s integrity, in that the fans would wonder if the results of the game were true. The issue was whether a players or players on one team were in cahoots with the other team to throw the game for betting purposes.

Bill James wrote about baseball in the 1910′s in the New Baseball Historical Abstract:

…. baseball in the teens was collapsing, leaving the players and the owners fighting over the pieces of a shrinking pie. It was bound to get ugly, and it did. The third major story of the decade was a product of the unhappy marriage of the first two. The players started selling games.

It is not my intention to make apologies for the dishonest players. But you have to know two things to understand what happened. Number on, there was a generation of players to whom baseball made a lot o promises which it didn’t keep. And number two, every baseball headline in the decade had a dollar sign attached to it.

…. It is a hard thing to know that another man is making money off your labor, and has no intention of dealing fairly with you.

…. (Charlie) Comiskey held all the power in the relationship between owner and players, and he had to rub their noses in it

Commiskey wasn’t alone in being a miserly owner. By keeping the lion’s share of the profits from the game, the owners were, in effect, forcing the players to choose between being completely taken advantage of, or bend and break the rules of the game to find their own ways to profit on their abilities. (A situation, by the way, in which the owners controlled the game ruthlessly, profiting from the players skill and efforts while the players –even the stars– were forced to work during the off-season, which continued all the way until the end of the reserve clause, and into the birth of true free agency)

The integrity and character clauses were included in response to these conditions, conditions in which the number of players who were rumored or known to have been involved in throwing games was substantial, including stars and even icons.

For at least the last four decades, the majority –if not all– of the “cheating” in baseball has been directed towards winning. The mantra of winning at all costs has been etched into the consciousness of even the youngest baseball players. Defending the game from “cheaters” has nowhere near the same importance in the face of a culture that has consistently looked the other way at bending the rules in an effort to win. Spitballs, scuffed balls, amphetamines, painkillers, and performance enhancers have been used and abused during this time, right in front of the baseball sportswriters, who did and said and wrote nothing about it at all.

Until Mark McGwire, and Barry Bonds. Until steroids, and huge, muscled-up players began breaking records. Only when steroids became the PED of choice, and the records started to fall did the writers get themselves all up in arms. Why is that? Why did decades of uppers and downers mean nothing to the writers, but steroids and HGH meant everything? Lack of understanding, fear, and more importantly, nostalgia.

These writers are victims of their own nostalgia. They remember Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, and some of them even saw Joe DiMaggio and Yogi Berra and Sandy Koufax play, and nobody was breaking their records on speed. Nobody was hitting more home runs than Babe Ruth on speed. Nobody was winning six Cy Young Awards on speed. Nobody was winning seven(!) MVP Awards on speed.

These writers are defending their childhood memories, and poorly at that. They are, in effect, saying that these players aren’t as good as their heroes were, therefore, they are cheating. Never mind that some of their heroes were drunk on the field, or abused speed, or used cocaine during games. Never mind that many of the records they were seeing fall were destined to fall for reasons far more obvious than the simple choice of strength training enhancers.

Their youth was being debased, and for that, these “cheaters” must pay. Remember this when you read Tom Verducci, or Mike Lupica, and remember that these self-proclaimed experts have forgotten baseball history, if they ever knew it at all.



…. An Interview with Jeff Pearlman


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All commentary is the opinion of John J Perricone unless otherwise noted.
None of the opinions expressed should be construed as being endorsed by the
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