Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Sample Size and the Fallacy of Experts

Yesterday, in the world of Tony Maz of the CSN afternoon talking heads show, we learned that Jackie Bradley's career is doomed.

One unsuccessful at bat has shaken Bradley's foundation to the core and that he needs psychotherapy if not ECT.

I think it was in 1954, a young Jim Greengrass sparked the Reds to a 10-9 win over Milwaukee with four doubles. The Braves rookie right-fielder took the collar, going 0 for 5. His career would obviously go South in the parallel universe of the BBWAA. Except from there, that failure went on to a Hall of Fame career as Hank Aaron.

It's easy to go wrong on decision-making, with flawed framing, confirmation bias (believe what you choose to read), emotion, and overconfidence. The only problem is our own fallibility.

Don't read too much into the sample size of one day or one at bat. If you're the '84 Tigers and go 35-5 out of the box, then you know something special is happening.

Jacoby Ellsbury went 0 for 4 yesterday. What a bum! Oh, myy! Don't judge the marathon that is baseball by the first step. Every journalist worth his salt should know that.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Middlebrooks

Baseball lifers always have a fascination with the grizzled veteran types, the Michael Youngs (recently retired). Living in the past, veteran experience, savvy sometimes make a difference.

But usually talent and youth (over the intermediate term) prevail.

I couldn't care less about the private lives of baseball players. Whom they date, what they do on their days off don't matter to me. I care about what they do between the lines, their attitude towards their job, and both their potential and production. Will Middlebrooks has a serious 'hole' on breaking stuff (sliders) away. When Jacoby Ellsbury was a young player, it was the summer of 4 to 3, as inside hard stuff tied him up.

Middlebrooks may always be a high strikeout guy, but has anybody checked out Mike Napoli's 'K' totals? Middlebrooks is an adequate defender (obstruction aside) and can probably hit 25-30 homers with 75-85 RBI if the Sox can free themselves from the Stephen Drew "binky" and move on to a low salaried, player under control.

Maybe Middlebrooks is some kind of Hannibal Lecter, cancer in the clubhouse. I doubt it. He seems like an affable, articulate young guy, hungry to make his bones in the bigs. Sure, he struggled at times, but he also got hurt crashing into the padded wall going for a ball. Did he get Ellsburied by the Sox medical staff? I have no idea. Can we give the young guys a break?

I'm not saying that John Farrell and the 'brain trust' have to hand him the job. But let him fight for it, and see how it shakes out.

And if it doesn't work out for him, at least he seems to have a more than acceptable "parting gift".

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Million Dollar Baby

David Ortiz had a remarkable campaign in 2013, culminating in a World Series championship and a Series MVP. He's made it clear his priority (as is his right) is compensation.

But when sportswriters around America start declaring what the Red Sox should pay their DH and for how long, I cringe.

At the end of the day, you get paid whatever you and your employer agree upon. There is a "market price" for everything...and value is what you get and price is what you pay. David Ortiz is entitled to get whatever he can for his family and himself. But the Red Sox have little protection should age, time, or other factors change Ortiz' value. And Ortiz' leverage is limited to  free-spending American League teams without a surfeit of older players with probable DH roles.

It's certainly true that players often get paid for what they've done versus what they're likely to do. It's hard to project an older DH. Who are the comps?

Harold Baines had 25 homers and 122 RBI in two years for the White Sox and Orioles at age 38 through 39. Dwight Evans had 19 homers and 101 RBI during the same age for the Red Sox and Orioles. Yaz had 38 homers and 168 RBI for the same age. Edgar Martinez had 38 homers and 175 RBI for those two year with the Mariners. For the prior two years, Martinez had 61 homers and 231 RBI. In other words, time tends to cause mean reversion.

Maybe Ortiz, modern nutrition, athletic training, and 'supplements' have reset the clock. But while sentiment says 'yes', history and reality usually say 'caution'.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Remy Return

"Judge not that ye be not judged." - Matthew

I'm no Bible scholar, but I try to know common sense. Longtime Red Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy announced a return to his passion, his craft, his job. 

I don't know Remy as a person or a parent, but it's not my obligation or responsibility to judge him on anything personal. As a baseball insider and analyst, he has provided Sox fans win twenty-six years of expertise to our benefit. 

In a lengthy interview, he professed his sadness and his struggles with his son's murder accusation, his own cancer and depression. He acknowledged that the pain of Jennifer Martel's death and suffering for her family and his grandchild will never go away. What more can he do beyond try to live his life or retreat into his own pain and depression?

Remy's task will be hard. Will he and play-by-play man Don Orsillo be able to resume the light-hearted moments inherent and necessary to on-air spontaneity? Will the smallest slip of the tongue be viewed as insensitivity and inappropriate? 

Am I Jerry Remy's biggest fan? No. But I respect his right to work and his right to live, to find whatever peace he can in "Man's Search for Meaning." 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Kershaw Deal Throws Sox into Dollar Quandary

If you want economy, you have to pay for it. It's a seller's market, and after Clayton Kershaw's 30 plus AAV (average annual value), the Red Sox must address the "Lester Problem". Lester's career trajectory had a speed bump in 2012, but he rebounded last season, particularly with post-season excellence.


At his best, Lester is an ace, but for most of the past five years, he performs at a number 2 level, averaging 204 innings, almost 15 wins, and a strikeout to walk ratio exceeding 2.5. As periodic readers know, K/BB ratios predict ERA better than ERA itself. The ability to strikeout batters helps pitchers escape trouble and keeping runners off base is the extension of the Sox OPS offensive philosophy.

Kershaw, of course is substantially younger than Lester, although even at age 25 he has almost 1200 innings under his belt. His ERA, WHIP, and K/BB ratio all exceed Lester's, although Lester's two World Series rings outpoint Kershaw's Cy Youngs.


Here are the Baseball-Reference statistics for the southpaws. Kershaw's (above) clearly outpoint Lester, with the Dodger lefty well on his way to Cooperstown numbers.

Therefore, the question becomes both AAV and years. Lester's previous cancer does make a difference, as lymphoma survivors have both higher rates of second malignancies and subtle immune impairments that make them more susceptible to infection. I'd strongly doubt that 100 by 5 will get it done, but I'll speculate that an early 25 by 5 will. Gambling that Henry Owens will become Kershaw is far from a sure thing.

Monday, December 30, 2013

On Experience

Historically, the Red Sox have not rushed prospects to the bigs. Sure, there was Carl Yastrzemski at 21 in 1961, Tony Conigliaro at age 19 in 1964, Ken Brett at age 18 in 1967.

Jim Rice (21) and Fred Lynn (22) made their appearances in 1974, and were rookie stalwarts on the 1975 World Series team. Jacoby Ellsbury had an 1.188 OPS in the 2007 World Series at age 23.

Obviously, these 'exceptions' don't establish that Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Xander Bogaerts will light the baseball world afire in 2014. But it doesn't preclude the possibility that they can impact the Sox lineup as previous young players have.

A multitude of fortunes must break your way to win championships. Do Red Sox fans expect that a team that hit a collective .227 in the postseason would get enough pitching to capture its third title in a decade? Do they recognize that without other-worldly performance by Koji Uehara this was impossible? Did they anticipate that Jon Lester would go 4-1 in October with a 1.56 ERA? Do we anticipate in our insanest dreams that these outliers will return in 2014?

Mean reversion is a part of baseball. Position by position, are the Red Sox likely to be the same, stronger, or weaker offensively and defensively next season?

C - offensively and defensively similar
1B - offensively and defensively similar
2B - a healthy Pedroia may have more power and similar defense
SS - offensively possibly stronger, defensively probably weaker
3B - offensively and defensively stronger (if Middlebrooks improves...a big if)
LF - offensively and defensively similar
CF - offensively weaker, defensively stronger (Bradley Jr. can throw)
RF - offensively weaker (OPS outlier for Victorino), defensively similar
DH - offensively slightly weaker

Admittedly, this projection makes huge assumptions about the performance of Bradley, Jr., Bogaerts, and Middlebrooks. I won't argue that a projected Drew-Bogaerts combination would produce less than Bogaerts and Middlebrooks. But nothing is certain in sports - performance, health, consistency.

Experience counts when it wins. When it loses, they call it washed up. Could the Red Sox expect a fold from the next Tigers first baseman or another clutch failure from the Cardinals or next NL champion? We discuss projections and premortems as though they're gospel, but we never know until the season's done. Don't plan your parade too early, regardless of your sport or team. That's experience you can take to the bank.


Saturday, December 28, 2013

Demons

Years ago I penned the piano falling from the sky and flattening Red Sox fans. 1967 wasn't so bad, the Sox prohibitive underdogs to the Cardinals of Gibson and Brock. No expectations. 1975 brought a miraculous series, squashed by the Big Red Machine. Ed Armbrister, where are you now? 1986 continued the misery, a thousand paper cuts in a vinegar plant, combining servitude in the ICU at Bethesda Naval Hospital with the apocalyptic collapse against the Mets.

I'll ignore the 1972 'bad trip' around third base of Luis Aparicio leading to a half-game pennant loss, the 1978 Torrezian playoff game drilling by the Bucky Dentist, or "why does my wife ask me to call her Pedro?"..."Because I never take her out (2003)". The former meant little in the big picture, and WS I erased the Yankee defeats better than any tranquilizer. The worst demons hit the fan.

Maybe young Sox fans envy grizzled Sox addicts the suffering. How many Sox fans can remember 1946 with the controversy about Pesky holding the ball? Most of those will suffer amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles sparing them memories both good and bad. Exorcising your demons via Alzheimer's should never be a primary choice.

How many championships is a fan entitled to during a lifetime? Never enough. Find the right place at the right time. We lived in Washington during the Redskins' golden age as they captured a trio of Super Bowl titles. Red Sox fans would have to have a collective meth addiction and the age of Methuselah to approach the 'Skins' fans disillusionment.

But Boston fans need a calculator. The Bruins had their pair of titles in the '70s and Celtics fans had perennial celebrations during the "11 for 13" Russell era. As a UCLA Bruins fan during the 60's and 70's, I savored a 9 for 10 run. Okay, so they're the OTHER Bruins, but it still counts...for me.

The Patriots could never equal the four for four frustration of the Buffalo Bills, the Vikings' long Super Bowl drought, or the Cubs' wandering around baseball's desert since 1908. Dan Marino, Ernie Banks, Charles Barkley, Carl Yastrzemski and others never earned a title. Who exorcises their demons?