Posts Tagged ‘Sports’
Along with all the whirring, buzzing, booming effects and that incredibly annoying bar halfway down the top of the screen, Fox is using a high-tech feature called the “pitchtracker” occasionally during broadcasts that shows dots for each pitch around a box signifying the strike zone. It looks like the same one that has been used for Blue Jays broadcasts all year, and it’s only now that I’ve been objective enough to notice that it is ridiculously inaccurate. Almost every outside pitch looks like a horrible call by the umpires, and the broadcasters are constantly making excuses for them. Sometimes a pitch is called a strike and it looks like it’s half a foot off the outer edge. It’s fueling the fire for complaints about the umpiring of games, but really it’s the system to blame. Whoever set it up didn’t do some basic research into displaying an accurate strike zone.
The first problem is it’s shape. Sorry, the strike zone does not look like Ted Williams’ classic one any more. No umpire in the world calls a strike as high as dictated by the rulebook, and they give a couple inches off the plate. If you want to see the real strike zone, check out John Walsh’s measurements for a general idea. I’m actually starting to think that Walsh might have calculated a very slightly-too-large zone, but regardless it’s not the high, narrow box that is shown on the broadcasts (or even the slightly more squashed ones that are seen on the gameday program). It’s not that umpires are making “mistakes” to the side by a couple of inches, but that it is universally accepted that the real zone in slightly smaller vertically than the rulebook and to compensate is slightly wider.
To test the graphic on TV against the pitch f/x data, I rewound a few at-bats using TIVO and compared it to where the pitches were actually going. Here’s an at-bat that they featured between John Fogg and Eric Byrnes in the top of the 6th of the final game of the NLCS:
The yellow line is the average strike zone as determined by statisticians and called by umpires. It’s about 2 inches to each side of the plate and slightly above the knees and below the letters. The blue box is the rulebook strike zone. The red line is my estimate of where FOX had it’s strike zone set based on the broadcast. Vertically it’s consistent, but the width of the strike zone they use is insane. The announcers even called the third pitch “paint” because it was outside. According to the width of the real strike zone, all of those pitches were over the plate, but that particular pitch was a strike because it was the only one that caught the bottom edge of the strike zone.
Notice that their zone is about three inches narrower than the plate on either side (which is 10 inches wide), and that’s not even considering the standard inch or two off the edge of it that umpires give. Maybe they’re not including the width of the ball? But even that would only account for about half of the discrepancy. The zone is so narrow the ball is very rarely thrown inside it. For example, the Torrealba home run from the Rockies series was a mistake that ended up almost right down the middle, yet the pitchtracker shows it on the inside corner.
Here’s another example that includes the vertical height of the zone as well:
This is Troy Tulowitzki’s strikeout just before Torrealba’s crucial home run, which FOX showed in its entirety on pitchtracker. Matching their strike zone to the real one shows much the same results as the previous example (and clarifies the top edge). The first pitch was shown as just off the top corner, and so gives an idea of how high the strike zone they’re using is (I’m guessing it’s just below the letters). The third pitch (that Tulo fouled off) was shown as being right on the edge of the strike zone, which confirms that the outer edge they’re using is substantially inside even the edge of the plate. The final strike to retire Tulo was clearly a strike, but shown on FOX as being a terrible call by the umpire.
It would be one thing to blindly call the rulebook strike zone even though that is understood by players and umpires not to be the real one. But the current TV broadcasts use a strike zone that is even narrower than that, and makes any calls towards the outside of the plate look terribly wrong. From what I’ve seen, despite some eccentricities the umpires are actually consistently accurate to within a couple of inches, and the system that the major TV broadcasts are using right now is set so poorly it is misleading, and making both the umpires and the pitch tracking systems look bad.
It’s sad, really. As I’ve tried to show on this blog over the last few weeks, there are some pretty amazing and intuitive things you can show about what a pitcher is doing during a game or how the game is being called using this data. But instead of some real analysis we get another box cramped into the broadcast window that is useless and wrong.
Because the Jays are getting back to their roots. Next year the Jays will have a second “Home Alternate” uniform:
in addition to some other changes:
- Change to road jersey lettering
- Addition of sleeve patch to road jersey
- Change to batting practice jersey lettering
- Addition of alternate uniform (all-sky blue pullover jersey from the 80s)
As you can probably tell from the giant, gaudy banner, I just want to see the old classic logo from time to time instead of the current steel-grey, Tampa-Bay-ripoff garbage (incidentally, the Rays are undergoing a “Complete identity change including Club name and Club colors.” Yeah, that’ll get the fans back!!). Powder Blues were beyond my wildest dreams. I just pray that “alternate” means “every second day”, because those are amazing. I could probably hit a home run if the reward was trotting around the bases looking that fine…
You know what I’m talking about. That was amazing. Just when this season was looking like it was taking its last few circles around the drain, the Blue Jays have woken up offensively, and their rotation is firing on all cylinders even without A.J. In the last 4 games, the team scored as many runs as in their previous 12 combined, and their pitching is still humming along. It’s not quite time to start printing playoff tickets, but the team is finally starting to play (read: hit) to its potential.
Last night Vernon put the game out of reach, and standing on second flexed his shoulders and glared back at the pitcher. This shot doesn’t fully capture the moment, but does he not look mean for possibly the first time ever?
Now comes a real test – the Jays are 10 games under .500 this season on the road, and after a day off they start a mini road trip against the White Sox and Tampa Bay. These are two reeling teams that they need to take advantage of. Then comes the equally terrible Rangers, and then a series against New York that by that point could be crucial.
Question of the day: What the heck do we do with Gus- forget next season, I mean NOW? He is making rehab starts in AAA (and yeah, he gave up a run an inning in his first one, but he always does that), but with Burnett coming back, our rotation is already overflowing. Even if Towers is traded, how do we bump Litsch, who now has a 2.16 ERA in four starts since returning from the minors? I still like the idea of him as a fifth starter if he can get his arm back in one piece, and we could use a lefty, but our rotation is just too strong right now to roll the dice on him. There isn’t even room in the pen, and it’s unlikely anybody wants him. The only thing I can think of is to tell him to fake an injury for a while like we did with Zambrano.
Another myth the projections blow out of the water is that a manager’s in-game strategy means a lot. You don’t have to go to many street corners to find someone willing to venture that John Gibbons has cost us “at least 10 games” this year, like that time he pulled that pitcher, or didn’t pull that pitcher, or went with his gut, or played the numbers, etc. Here’s an article from Jay’s Nest that says “Gibby has personally lost about 6 or 7 games this year alone–despite injury.”
Using the same rationale as clutch hitting (below), ALL the effects not directly related to the team’s ability to score or prevent runs have added up to less than two games over the entire season. There is simply not a manager in the league who could squeeze a 55-43 record (7 more wins) out of a team that has scored 9 more runs than they’ve given up.
In fact, looking at two universally lauded managers- Jim Leyland and Tony Larussa, it’s interesting to see that their teams have exactly the records that their runs for and against predict, despite the notion that they can conjure up wins out of thin air.
There’s still a lot they might be doing to help their team score more runs in the long term (such as nurturing players and putting them in positions where they are more likely to perform) and the short term (shrewd pitching matchups, defensive alignments) – but as a rule of thumb it takes 10 runs saved/added to equal a win, and that’s a lot of good moves to have a noticeable effect.
Usually when people complain about a manager it’s usually for not coming up with the right move in a specific situation that would have won/saved a close game. And those almost entirely even out- no manager defies his team’s numbers.
Ok, last post that has anything to do with pythagorean projection, I promise. I’ve just started to see the game in an entirely new light because these things are so eerily accurate. The inevitable conclusion is despite all the agonies we go through in terms of individual situations and strategies, nothing really matters except how many runs you allow and score over the course of a season.
Especially after this last terrible series against New York, a lot of commentators (including most recently, DJF) have concentrated on the Jays’ lack of situational hitting for the season’s woes. As I pointed out in a previous post, going into that series they were hitting significantly better with runners on or in scoring position. Even after that hideous bout of stranding runners, they still hit better with runners in scoring position (.266) than they do without (.259).
The damning stat often quoted is that the Jays are .222 with runners in scoring position with 2 outs, which is a fluke stat that doesn’t mean anything. Why does it matter how many outs there are when you fail to bring someone home? The Jays are also hitting .301 with RISP and less than two out- do all those runners that we scored at an impressive rate earlier in the inning count for less?
It’s because as fans, we put more value on hitting with 2 outs because it’s the last chance to drive in those runs. We totally forget about Glaus whiffing madly at a pitch that bounces before the plate if Frank hits the first pitch he sees for a home run. But if Glaus had done his job, the end result for the team and the game would be exactly the same. There’s also the idea that with 2 outs, the situation is more likely to be “clutch”, meaning the game is on the line and therefore those at-bats matter more. But clutch hitting (i.e. hitting better in high leverage situations) doesn’t exist. It’s just random fluctuation, and even that has little effect.
To see this, take a look at the Jays win/loss projection so far. If they were hitting worse in game-changing situations, then they would have won fewer games than their projection (which is by definition for a team that scores runs randomly). The projection is pretty easy because they have scored almost exactly as many runs as they have allowed, and gives a win % of .502. That’s 47.5 wins. The Jays currently have 46 so ok, they’re under-performing by a whole game and a half.
It would be different if they were hitting poorly with RISP- then you could argue that they weren’t driving in as many runs as they should be. But they’re doing that just fine. But if you’re arguing that the Jays hit the ball better when it’s meaningless, but choke when it matters (may I suggest the “close and late” stat- they’re hitting .235), keep in mind that if true, at an absolute maximum the effect has been between one and two games this year. That’s not the reason the Jays are 10 games behind Boston- hitting under .260 as a team is.
The last post was meant to show that method of projection has some sort of validity over the long run – but it’s useful for things other than hindsight and moaning about what could have happened in a season. Although it gets more prone to error over the short term, we can also use it to estimate a pitcher’s record based on their ERA and run support. This has a few uses:
1) Determining whether or not a pitcher “just knows how to win”.
You know the old chestnut- a certain pitcher might not pitch that well all the time, but he’s able to do just enough to get the win. Jack Morris is the archetype; the Blue Jays Version is Gustavo Chacin, with his career record of 25-15 despite a 4.18 ERA.
Unfortunately for the little person inside you who has watched too many movies and just wants to believe in gutsy performances and brave stands, this phenomenon never holds up to analysis. Gus allowed 93 runs in his career year of 2005, and was given a stunning 140 runs in support. Using these numbers, he was projected to win .693 of his decisions that season, which would have given him a record of 15-7. He actually finished 13-9. In other words, he actually figured out how to win less than he would have if the runs he allowed were randomly distributed that season.
2) Isolating run support vs. dumb luck
We all know that a pitcher’s wins are a pretty useless way of determining how they’re performing, but they’re never going to be abandoned because they provide a broad, easily digestible at the season so far. But we can adjust them to isolate two factors:
- Dumb Luck: by comparing the pitcher’s actual wins to how many they were projected to have (based on the same runs scored and allowed), you get an idea of how much they have been helped or hurt by the distribution of said runs (which is for the most part random). Lets call that EWins for “expected”.
- Run Support: Similarly, comparing how many wins a pitcher would get with the team’s average run support to the number of Ewins he got with the run support they gave him (I’m using Ewins instead of actual wins to eliminate the luck factor), you get an idea of what sort of effect the support or lack thereof of the team has had on a pitcher. Let’s call that N wins for “normal”.
Here are the Blue Jays Starters this year, adjusted for luck and run support:
I really like Nwins. Saying that Roy Halladay has received an extra run and a half per game doesn’t really mean much to most people. Saying that because of that he’s won about 3 games he would have otherwise lost does. Of course this is particularly useless for the guys who haven’t had a lot of decisions (especially Marcum), but it does show the extent to which Roy Halladay has been bailed out this season by the offence, and the fact that despite the sensation that AJ has been pitching better than his record, his W-L is right where it belongs.
3) Figuring out how well a pitcher would do on a better team
Let’s take Dan’s example of Matt Cain from a previous post (check out the blow-by blow of his torturous season in the comments). He is now a ridiculous 3-10, but his losing record is not so much the fault of the Giant’s woeful offence as it is with luck and him getting runs at all the wrong times. His record should be .500 this season because he’s allowed as many runs as he’s received in support. It would rise to 7-6 if the Giants scored their average number of runs for him, but it would only make it up to 8-5 if he played for a league average team (like the Blue Jays).
Going 3-10 has only been possible because of the insanity-inducing pattern the runs have been scored in, and that won’t last in the long run. But still – Matt Cain right now is a .500 pitcher for the Giants, but would be in line to win 18 games for the Tigers.
Just when it looked like there was a chance the Blue Jays would field a healthy lineup for the first time since the 7th game of the season, at the end of yesterday’s “Off the Record,” Paul Godfrey mentioned that Aaron Hill will be going on the 15-day DL with a knee problem. So Johnny Mac will shift over to second for the time being, Royce Clayton will be getting playing time again at SS, and a AAA infielder will be called up. Could this be the long-awaited return of Russ Adams?! Despite all the talk about Thigpen being converted, he’s not ready- he only played a couple games at 2b in the minors and looked pretty terrible.
Also during the segment, Warren Sawkiw said (and Landsberg picked up and repeated) that the Blue Jays had not won more than 4 games since May 2004. I thought I’d heard this particular inaccurate stat bite before (the Blue Jays won 5 last year between June 27 and July 1), and sure enough- it’s from the Star (under “Streaks”) this week!
This is what happens when you write for a major paper and don’t fact check (I’m looking at you, Richard Griffin): pretty soon all the talking heads in the city are recycling your mistake and it becomes common knowledge. If Jamie Campbell quotes this as fact the next time we get to 4 games, I am muting the TV and turning on the radio for the rest of the season (which other than the delay, is not such a bad idea anyway- Alan Ashby is amazing.)
Everyone knows the home run derby is silly. It takes the art of hitting and reduces it to the most meaningless of spectacles. Hitting floaters down the middle with consistency is so irrelevant to what makes a great slugger that it’s almost funny watching the big boppers struggle with it. Ryan Howard provided some legitimacy last year, but before that:
- Bobby Abreu – Smashed the record with 41 in the derby and has hit 26 in the two years since then.
- Miguel Tejada – Great power for a SS, but a HR king? He’s never hit 35 in his life.
- Garret Anderson – Has only hit 30 HR once in his career
And then we had a bunch of juicers (Giambi, Gonzalez, Sosa) before Griffey Jr. again injected (pardon the phrase) some legitimacy into the event. In an indictment of the appreciation of modern fans for the nuances of the game it is far and away the most watched event of the summer, but I watch the derby with the same mix of excitement and revulsion as a shootout in Soccer or Hockey. C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas le Jeux.
That being said, I really wish Alex Rios had not gotten tired and won the thing yesterday, because you could almost hear the commentators waving their arms frantically at interns to try to get something intelligent to say about him. They even cut to an interview with Holliday while Rios was eliminating him and getting a standing ovation with the biggest streak of the event.
Seriously, this is the internet age- “he plays in Canada” is no longer an excuse. There are only 8 players out there and you’re telling me you haven’t done enough research to say something more informed than “I can’t see him keeping this up- he’s already hit more home runs this season that he did all of last year”?? If Alex played for New York the commentators wouldn’t be standing around chuckling that he slipped into the finals, they’d be raving about him being one of the most exciting young players in the game who can also steal bases and has the best arm in the League.
But while he may have impressed everyone who watched the event, second place isn’t enough for big media to admit their ignorance and start splashing his name around like they were old friends. Just ask Jason Stark, who managed to write an entire piece on the event while only mentioning Rios’ name once, in passing. At least the hometown paper saw fit to give him a pat on the back (sorry, I just had to slip this picture in somehow).
The other big reason I wish he’d won is then everyone could agree that he should never bat leadoff again.
In a move sure to shock both the SABRmetric world and conventional thinkers, the Mockingbird has ascertained that the Blue Jays have decided to employ the long-lost concept of the “leadoff man” for the upcoming critical series against Cleveland.
“Well, we still like the home run,” explained JP Ricciardi. “But we’ve run some new computer models and it seems having runners on base when we hit home runs affects our total runs scored. We lead the league in solo shots, but we’re going to see if that can translate into other types of home runs as well. You never know.”
In Johnson’s absence the Blue Jays have tried Rios, Lind, Hill, Clark, Clayton and Wells leading off, bravely breaking the mold of quick, light-hitting on-base machines to set the table. With Reed set to return the the lineup tonight, it seems that the team will return to ancient wisdom just a few players short of completing the set. A dejected John Gibbons sat staring at the lineup card today in the clubhouse.
“I sure do like shuffling the lineup. But this here dang thing just writes itself. When O-bay comes back I could just pull the heart of the order out a gum-danged hat! I’m going to have to break the news to Zaunnie, Troy and Frank because they’ve been practicing bunt singles for weeks now just in case I gave the call.”
Remember when Phillips got elbowed on a play at the plate against the Indians and the benches cleared? Well here’s what you didn’t see:
And from another angle:
Although I know he’s just some drunk moron, I think this is a totally appropriate dadaist reaction whenever a bunch of millionaires start acting like children in public. And the backflip attempt is pure gold…
(Oh and here’s what you did see…)
Reed Johnson played his first real game yesterday. How about some multiple choice:
a) C’mon, it was his first game back from laying on the couch for months. He pinch hit in the 7th and looked a little lost at the plate but that’s entirely to be expected.
b) He slept overnight at the park and lead calisthenics at 4:30 AM to a group of bewildered seagulls. Leading off for the team, he scored the first run of the game in the third inning by mashing a ball over the left field fence. He followed that up with a double and finished 2-4. When they attempted to pinch hit for him with the lead in the last inning, he lept over the dugout rail and had to be physically restrained from entering the batters box before the manager could make the move official.
Ok, I’m not too sure about that some of that. But if you picked a) – BACK OF THE CLASS. Reed’s a gamer.
There were a number of changes to the MLB rulebook this offseason. Some of them were no brainers:
- Explicitly confirming that Kenny Rogers cannot lather his hand in pine tar;
- Stopping “human rain delays” by dropping the time allowed between pitches to 12 seconds;
- Mentioning in teensy type at the front of the rulebook that “he” really means the ladies, too.
But one of the ones I really liked was resuming tie games that were suspended from where they left off. Why in the world would you play the whole game over? Well, here’s why:
Last night’s game ended in the top of the inning seconds after the Yankees had rallied from behind and taken a 2-run lead. It was never really a tie, but counts for the purpose of the new rule. So the Yankees are really very probably going to win, but instead we have to mentally adjust the standings for the next month.
On top of that, the O’s have a rather legitimate gripe that the top of the last inning that saved the Yankees was played in ridiculous conditions, while the bottom will be on a freshly-manicured field in the beauty that is the end of July. Am I just griping because it’s the Yankees? Very possibly. But I like suspending a game for a month with one team with a commanding lead as much as I like the idea of instant replay in baseball. It may be more accurate, but it’s wrong.
Oh, and interim manager Dave Trembley gets the award for most diplomatic comment ever concerning his team’s reaction to the end of the game. What is this, Cricket??
“You got some guys that felt like we had the game, and the way it ended isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, so to speak.”
Hide the Bowflex machine! Brandon League is back. That was not the most overpowering of rehab stints, and he might not be hitting 100 any time soon, but at least his career isn’t totally over (I’m looking at you, Wilner). I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that the locks have been changed on Jordan De Jong’s locker…
Reliever Brandon League, in Syracuse on rehabilitation assignment, was recalled to Toronto on Tuesday. League, the Blue Jays’ potential setup man, appeared in six games for the Chiefs. He was 0-0 with a 4.50 ERA. In his last outing, Monday at Scranton-Wilkes Barre, he pitched one inning and did not allow a hit or a run.
My momma taught me never to get a drunk mad, but if DJF doesn’t provide an exclusive interview on the glorious return of this giant doofus after his attempt at career hari-kiri, I’m getting out my dictaphone and scooping it.
I’m on to you Shawn. You and your little buddy Casey. I know you want everyone to be carried away by your unexpected success, your absolute trouncing of anyone’s predictions for your ability and ceiling as a starter and not think back to what got you your chance, not even question how you went from one of our best pitchers to season scapegoat and back again in a matter of a month. But it’s all making sense now.
There you were, sitting in the bullpen as they gave Towers another chance, Ohka a few too many. Heck, they even tossed Zambrano out there who had been gathering dust so long in the bullpen you thought he was the backup catcher. Did anyone remember that you had shown potential at the end of last season and were promised a shot at fighting for the 5th spot? No- they were blinded by spring training numbers and some pitchers who had last put up good numbers when you were in college.
It burned you out there. You were leading the team in K’s out of the bullpen, for chrissakes! And the great solution to the team’s pitching woes? Leave the guy who hasn’t given up a run all season and has a strange birthmark on his head that reads “future closer” as the long man and give you and Casey a shot at closing, where you can’t establish your 4 pitches or really throw your changeup at all.
So you devised a devious plan. Blow up in such amazing, disastrous, back-to-back blown games fashion that they would have no choice but to send you down to Syracuse where you would no doubt start over as a starter. You conspired to take management of the team into your own hands, to rip off the band-aid of crappy veterans in one quick pull and expose the youth movement. You arranged for Casey to pitch his face off so they wouldn’t think they needed to hold you around to eat up innings, and threw a couple of meatballs to Ramirez and Tejada. Almost instantly you went from the best option out there to the target of immediate demands for DFA from ignorant fans across the country. And you just sat back and smiled, didn’t you?
(Is this the face of a man you can trust?)
As it turned out, things worked out even better and quicker than you could have imagined and for some reason (the plot thickens…do you have incriminating pictures of someone??) they decided to throw your shellshocked corpse into the rotation right away. You sped up the schedule on your little plot and instantly (suspiciously!) threw 6 no-hit innings…
…to cement your spot in the rotation. The rest is history. You are back to being amazing and really have been more of a surprise and a better contributor so far than headline-grabbing McGowan. Our rotation is the best it has been in a decade since we took the plunge and had some faith in youth. But I’m on to you, and will tell the world what you’ve done if you even THINK of returning to the 5th starter you’ve been projected to be your entire career…
Jesse Litsch was very quietly promoted to AAA Syracuse a week ago and responded with a strong start. But we all know about his first games…
Manchester, NH – Ricky Romero made his first start since May 3rd and it wasn’t pretty. He survived a single and walk by racking up a couple of K’s but he gave up 4 runs over the next innings on a solo homer in the 2nd; two singles, two doubles, and a walk in the 3rd; and a single, stolen base, double, and a walk in the 4th before Ismael Ramirez got the final out of the frame. Ramirez held the Red Sox affiliates in check until the 7th when he gave up a run on a single and double as Portland grabbed a 5-0 lead.
I know it’s coming off a long layoff, but he hasn’t even shown flashes of mediocrity above A ball so far.
Hmmm….what else. Does David Purcey still count as a prospect? After an amazing start he has gone from bad to worse. Matt Roney is showing that he was much better on the goofballs. League is still working on it. And John Thomson? Well, he’s not with us anymore so why would we possibly want to mention his name ever again?