Sunday, November 18, 2007

How did I do?

Before the season, I predicted every team's record. Let's see how I did:

Yankees: ACTUAL 94-68; PREDICTED 91-71
Red Sox: 96-66; 91-71
Blue Jays: 83-79; 83-79
Rays: 66-96; 75-87
Orioles: 69-93; 73-89

Indians: 96-66; 91-71
Tigers: 88-74; 86-76
Twins: 79-83; 83-79
White Sox: 72-90; 78-84
Royals: 69-93; 66-96

Angels: 94-68; 86-76
Athletics: 76-86; 83-79
Rangers: 75-87; 81-81
Mariners: 88-74; 76-86

Phillies: 89-73; 90-72
Mets: 88-74; 88-74
Braves: 84-78; 85-77
Marlins: 71-91; 69-93
Nationals: 73-89; 51-111

Brewers: 83-79; 88-74
Cubs: 85-77; 85-77
Astros: 73-89; 80-82
Cardinals: 78-84; 78-84
Pirates: 68-84; 75-87
Reds: 72-90; 74-88

Diamondbacks: 90-72; 91-71
Padres: 89-74; 85-77
Giants: 71-91; 80-82
Dodgers: 83-79 82-80
Rockies: 90-73; 77-85


Well, I nailed the AL Central, more or less. My Indians-bias prevented me from picking the Tribe to win more games, but fundamentally they were closer to a 91-win team than a 96-win team. I thought the White Sox were going to be worse than most people thought, but even I didn't think they'd be THAT bad (kudos to PECOTA). I also nailed the NL East...except for Washington. Oops.

I think I also deserve some credit for calling the Blue Jays' and Cubs' mediocrity, and the D-Backs' ascent to the top of the division (although to be fair, they played over their heads). I also correctly predicted the Cardinals' demise and the Dodgers' poor roster management.


The entire AL West was pretty terrible. I got the winner correct, but vastly underestimated them. I poorly predicted the rest of that division too - even though Seattle played over their heads, it's embarrassing to be wrong by 12 games.

Speaking of embarrassments: few people expected the Rockies to go to the World Series, but I was more down on them than most. This crow I'm eating is delicious.

I overestimated the Brewers and Astros - in hindsight, I'd once again pick the Brewers to win 88, but I'd change the Astros to win less. I don't know what I was thinking when I predicted the Giants to win 80 games.


Is it possible to be 22 games off in a prediction? Apparently it is, as the Nationals proved. I have nothing more to say about this.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Prediction update

Before the season started, I made predictions for the record of every team in baseball, accompanied by some remarks. It's July 4, so it's a good time to take a look at how I'm doing so far.


New York Yankees: currently 39-41 (expected 45-35). WHAT I SAID: 94-68, "I can see a lot going wrong for this team, but it’s so hard to bet against them." Must go 55-27 to meet my record. WHAT I'M SAYING NOW: Sure enough, a lot has gone wrong. However, they're going to make things very interesting over the next three months.

Boston Red Sox: currently 51-31 (expected 50-32). WHAT I SAID: 91-71, "this team is loaded at the top, and with only a little bit of luck could win the division." Must go 40-41. WHAT I'M SAYING NOW: They had more upside than any team in baseball, and much of it has come through. However, they have not been lucky and have had several players underperform, quite a feat considering their current record.

Toronto Blue Jays: currently 40-43 (expected 42-41). WHAT I SAID: 83-79, "
This record is not so much an illustration of my dislike of the Blue Jays, but rather it reflects the strength of the American League: someone has to lose some games." Must go 43-36. WHAT I'M SAYING NOW: They have rebounded from a slow start and have weathered some devastating injuries. They're a mediocre, unexciting team.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays: currently 33-49 (expected 32-50). WHAT I SAID: 75-87, "
the Rays have a respectable staff at the moment (albeit one lacking in upside) that should keep them in enough games to let the offense come through." Must go 42-38. WHAT I'M SAYING NOW: They looked so good for so long before hitting a wall. They have disappointed me, but I still believe they are very close to being respectable.

Baltimore Orioles: currently 36-46 (expected 40-42). WHAT I SAID: 73-89, "
offense won’t be terrible, but Tejada is on the decline and the rest of the over-the-hill veterans won’t make up for it." Must go 37-43. WHAT I'M SAYING NOW: They are simply a bad team with no future.


Cleveland Indians: currently 51-32 (expected 47-36). WHAT I SAID: 91-71, "
The Tribe will survive on an excellent offense and underrated pitching staff. The starters are not amazing, but Sabathia is excellent, Westbrook very underrated, and there is definite potential amongst the Lee, Sowers, Miller, and Carmona group. However, I worry very much about Jeremy Sowers." Must go 40-39. WHAT I'M SAYING NOW: Please direct a few props this way. The Indians are playing a little over their head and have a tough schedule in August and September. However, their starting rotation is intact and healthy for the first time all season, and Carmona is for real.

Detroit Tigers: currently 47-34 (expected 48-33). WHAT I SAID: 86-76, "
A respectable season will be called a disappointment for a team which saw many of its offensive players perform near the top of their capabilities last season." Must go 39-42. WHAT I'M SAYING NOW: Tigers' offense, and Justin Verlander, are much, much better than I expected.

Minnesota Twins: currently 42-40 (expected 43-39). WHAT I SAID: 83-79, "
The Twins’ bullpen is outstanding, and Johan is incredible. But they are shooting themselves in the foot, giving many (or any) starts to Ponson, Silva, and Ortiz." Must go 41-39. WHAT I'M SAYING NOW: They weathered the storm of terrible veteran starters and now have their best pieces in place. However, a run similar to last season is unlikely.

Chicago White Sox: currently 36-44 (expected 34-46). WHAT I SAID: 78-84, "
they can expect less from nearly every single offensive player on their roster, save perhaps Brian Anderson (although letting Erstad play is probably just as bad)." Must go 42-40. WHAT I'M SAYING NOW: Can I get some more props here? Their offense has been weaker than even I expected, but I did see a huge regression coming. They have played better recently, and I think they are as likely as any team in baseball to exactly match my prediction.

Kansas City Royals: currently 36-48 (expected 38-46). WHAT I SAID: 66-96, "
They will score some runs (even more when Billy Butler gets promoted) and appear to be at least kind of on the right track to respectability; however, they will still give up a lot of runs and should be on the wrong end of their share of embarrassments." Must go 30-48. WHAT I'M SAYING NOW: They're better than I gave them credit for, despite Alex Gordon. However, it does seem like they could hit a wall come September.


Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: currently 51-32 (expected 48-35). WHAT I SAID: 86-76, "
Howie Kendrick and Casey Kotchman are strong contributors to a mediocre-at-best offense that relies heavily on Vladimir Guerrero. Their pitching staff will be what carries them in to October, with the underrated John Lackey leading the way." Must go 37-44. WHAT I'M SAYING NOW: I don't think they're this good, but strong performances from unexpected sources, like Reggie Willits, have propelled them to a great record. Expect some regression.

Oakland Athletics: currently 43-40 (expected 46-37). WHAT I SAID: 83-79, "
Perpetually solid Dan Haren is as low-risk as any starter in baseball, and Joe Blanton is solid if unspectacular. However, the back end of the rotation – while not terrible – is not good enough to support what is going to be a very bad offense." Must go 40-39. WHAT I'M SAYING NOW: Their offense is a lot better than I expected, but even with fantastic performances from Haren and Blanton, their pitching isn't quite as good. They've been a bit unlucky win-wise so far, but have been a bit lucky with Haren and Cust as well.

Texas Rangers: currently 35-48 (expected 38-45). WHAT I SAID: 81-81, "
You pretty much know what you’re going to get with this team, and that’s a .500 club." Must go 46-33. WHAT I'M SAYING NOW: Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. This team really is more of a .500 club, and should play better in the second half.

Seattle Mariners: currently 45-35 (expected 40-40). WHAT I SAID: 76-86, "
The offense is okay, but not nearly good enough in the American League to be a threat, and the starting pitching will eat innings but get knocked around. That’s not a good combination." Must go 31-46. WHAT I'M SAYING NOW: They're better than I gave them credit for. But they're not nearly this good.

National League update will come soon.

Indians faltering through easy schedule

In my last post I commented that the Indians had a very easy stretch in their schedule, starting June 5, for 54 games. The Tribe had lots of home games, and lots of games against bad teams.

We are currently 28 games into that 54-game stretch, and the Indians are not taking advantage. They are currently on a 6-game win streak; however, that has taken them to only 17-11 during this stretch. That is not good enough.

Don't get me wrong, I am glad that they are three games up in the Central, and 1/2 game behind Boston for the best record in baseball. However, after the next 26 games, the Indians' schedule gets brutally difficult: many games on the road, and many games against good teams. That means that the Indians can play the same "level" of baseball and see worse results, since their opponents are better.

Therefore, the Indians need a comfortable lead on August 3, when their schedule gets tough. And in order for that to happen, the Indians really need to take advantage of their next 26 games.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Upcoming schedule favors Tribe

In baseball, who you play is nearly as important as how well you play.

This year, against teams that are currently under .500, the Indians are 18-9. Against teams that are currently over .500 (as well as the Yankees, as I'd be SHOCKED if they finished under .500) the Indians are 16-12. Certainly that is a good mark, but the Indians (rightly) win more against bad teams than they do against good ones.

With that in mind, let's look at the Indians' upcoming schedule.

First of all, the Indians are 19-6 at "home" (including Milwaukee), and 15-15 on the road. From now until August 2, the Indians have 34 home games and only 19 road games. That is, obviously, very favorable.

Of the next 53 games, 24 are against five of the six worst teams in baseball (Kansas City, Cincinnati, Texas, Washington, and Tampa Bay). 33 of the next 54 are against teams under .500.

Of the 19 games against teams over .500, THREE are on the road (and they're in Detroit).

So far this season, the Indians have played 28 games against teams over .500, and 27 against teams under. They have played 30 road games to only 25 home games (three of which weren't even at home). Despite this, they currently sport the fourth best record in baseball.

And now they embark on a 53-game stretch where they play 64% of their games at home; 45% against five of the six worst teams in baseball; and three road games against teams currently over .500.

The Indians need to take advantage of this stretch to build a very large lead in the Central Division. Because if they do not...well, as favorable as their next upcoming 53 games are, their final 54 games are brutally difficult.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Be patient with Marte

Scouting and statistics are both important in baseball. While we can argue about the relative importance of each, there is no denying that they both play a role in determining which young players can be productive major leaguers.

Statistics can tell us that Dan Haren, whose ERAs at AAA were 4.93 and 4.15, would be a very good major league starter. Scouting can tell us that Hanley Ramirez, who had a .271/.335/.385 line with 6 homers at AA would be a very good major league shortstop.

Despite cases like these, it is usually true that scouting and statistics often agree on who can become a good or great major leaguer. This makes sense - in general, statistics are a reflection of skills - skills which scouting observes.

Baseball is an odd sport, where raw athleticism and strength or speed do not necessarily translate into "baseball abilities." However, when a minor leaguer has scouting "tools" and accumulates solid statistics as well, this is usually a reflection that his chances of becoming a productive major leaguer are quite high.

Which brings us to Andy Marte. In 2005, Baseball America had the following to say about him: "Marte’s ability to drive the ball to all fields with plus power is outstanding and getting better. He already shows patience at the plate. His glovework is also above average, as managers named him the best defensive third baseman and top infield arm in the Southern League. He oozes intangibles, showing impressive maturity for his age. Marte’s swing has a slight uppercut and can get a little long when he tires, but the Braves consider those minor problems. Still, his strikeout rate jumped in 2004. His trunk has gotten a little thick over the past two years and might need monitoring. His potential as an impact all-around player is unquestioned."

In other words, scouts loved Marte. Even Baseball Prospectus loved him, saying this in 2005: "The best prospect in baseball and a future superstar. As a 20-year-old toiling in the mostly hitter-unfriendly Southern League, Marte hit .269/.364/.525. In only 387 at-bats, he smacked 52 extra-base hits. He's got monstrous power and a broad base of hitting skills. In his prime, expect a few seasons of Adrian Beltre, circa 2004."

But what's more is that Marte's statistics backed up this high assessment of his game. At the tender age of 20, Marte put together a line of .269/.364/.525 with 23 homers in AA. Had Marte gone to college, he'd either be a college sophomore or in his first year of professional baseball; instead, he managed an 889 OPS at AA.

The Braves promoted him to AAA in 2005, and 21-year-old Marte hit .275/.372/.506 with 20 homers in a home park that depressed homers by 25%. He even reduced his strikeouts by 20% without losing any walks or power.

And then Marte was traded. Twice. He went from being one of the best prospects in baseball to a guy that two different organizations decided they didn't want. Of course, fundamentally this changed nothing about Marte; both the Braves and Red Sox had reasons for dealing him that were related more to the team's needs than to Marte himself.

With the Indians, at age 22 Marte went back to AAA. Keep in mind, a 22-year-old in AAA is still quite young. Marte's power declined slightly, and he lost some of his patience, leading to a line of .261/.322/.451 with the Bisons. Marte entered June of 2006 with two homers and 51 strikeouts, and proceeded to hit 13 homers and strike out 30 times in June and July, including a 1.057 OPS in June. He was then called to the Tribe, and underwhelmed for the second time in the majors, hitting .226/.287/.421 in 164 at-bats. On the bright side, Marte did not strike out more than he had in the minors (maintaining a steady rate of strikeing out in about 22% of his at-bats), and amassed 21 extra-base hits in 50 games.

Scouts love Andy Marte. At age 20, Marte posted an 889 OPS at AA. At age 21, Marte posted an 878 OPS at AAA. Yes, he followed it up with a 773 OPS at AAA, and underwhelming performances in the majors. However, Andy Marte is the rare minor leaguer who both scouts and stats love.

It is possible that Marte is simply one of those prospects that miss, for no apparent reason, like Carlos Pena or Ruben Rivera. However, this is very unlikely - and it is WAY TOO SOON to make judgments like that.

23 is the average age of players in AA. If Marte was currently in AA, he'd still be a good prospect. So the fact that he has struggled in the majors is not a terrible sign, especially given his stellar track record against AA and AAA pitching. Additionally, Marte has not been overwhelmed in the majors, as his strikeout rate and high amount of extra base hits attest to.

Scouts love him. Stats love him. This guarantees nothing, but it certainly increases the chances of Marte being a productive player. At age 23, there is still PLENTY OF TIME for him to figure it out. And chances are, he will.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Wedge under-utilizing roster

It is May 21 and the Indians have scored more runs per game (5.56) than any other team in baseball. This is great; however, Eric Wedge’s handling of the roster has been less than adequate.

Mark Shapiro has found an inefficiency in the market for hitters: players with big platoon splits tend to be underpriced. Thus, for less than half of the price of Carlos Lee (865 OPS over the last three years), the Indians can have a left field platoon of David Dellucci (875 OPS against righties) and Jason Michaels (829 OPS against lefties). Never mind the additional money Lee will receive, or the fact that he will be under contract until he’s about 60 years old – the numbers suggest that a Michaels/Dellucci platoon should be as good as Lee this year.

The rest of the roster is structured similarly, buffered by Casey Blake’s versatility. However, often times this season Eric Wedge has made some strange decisions, with predictable results.

The Indians are weak against left-handed pitching. This makes sense: their two best hitters are lefties. Grady Sizemore struggles mightily against southpaws (his 688 OPS against them this year is right in line with his 669 OPS over the last three years). While Travis Hafner has handled lefties extremely well (912 OPS over the last three years), it’s still not as good as he’s handled righties (1.093 OPS).

David Dellucci and Trot Nixon are excellent, underrated hitters against righties (875 and 849 OPS, respectively, against righties the last three years). However, neither can even hold their own against lefties (605 and 620 OPS). Simply put, in order to maximize the Indians’ roster, these guys should receive only minimal at-bats against lefties, in strategic situations (such as against a lefty specialist in the 6th inning it might be worth leaving them in so they can get one more at-bat against a righty later in the game).

Additionally, the Indians’ roster is built so as it’s easy to sit both righty-mashers against lefties. Jason Michaels is the logical replacement in left field, as he can OPS 829 against lefties. Casey Blake and his 836 OPS versus lefties can play right field. That leaves Andy Marte at third base against lefties; in Marte’s short major league stint he has struggled, but he has hit lefties pretty well (722 OPS against lefties in the majors, 894 in AAA).

Thus, against lefties, the Indians lineup should look something like this:

Sizemore – CF

Michaels – LF

Hafner – DH

Martinez – C

Peralta – SS

Garko – 1B

Blake – RF

Barfield – 2B

Marte – 3B

Wedge should not be afraid to use Dellucci and Nixon off of the bench late in the game as well.

The lineup against righties, then, should be somewhat like this:

Sizemore – CF

Nixon – RF

Hafner – DH

Martinez – C

Garko – 1B

Dellucci – LF

Peralta – SS

Barfield – 2B

Marte – 3B

Garko doesn’t have any platoon splits, so by batting him fifth you don’t lose much offensively but allow left-handed-hitting Dellucci to be sandwiched between two righties. If you insist on playing Casey Blake against righties it won’t kill you, but we know exactly what type of player Casey Blake is, and it is underwhelming, while Andy Marte has a LOT more upside.

Trot Nixon has 31 at-bats against lefties this year. David Dellucci has 18. Jason Micheals has 39 at-bats against righties (more than against lefties!). The Indians’ outfield is aligned to maximize potential by exploiting platoon splits; however, Eric Wedge has done a poor job of utilizing these players so far.

Friday, May 18, 2007

First pitch key for Carmona

Fausto Carmona is off to a fast start. Through seven starts, Carmona is 5-1 with a 2.55 ERA. Last season, Carmona went 1-10 with a 5.52 ERA. What’s changed?

The short answer, surprisingly, is not that much.

After a tumultuous 2006 season, Carmona made the Indians this year originally due to Cliff Lee’s spring training injury, and did not pitch well in his first start, allowing six runs in 4 1/3 innings against Chicago.

However, since then Carmona has been amazing. In six subsequent starts, Carmona has an incredible 2.05 ERA. Something seemingly changed. Right?

There is little doubt that Carmona is a better pitcher now than he was last year. However, the numbers suggest that he really is not that much better. This is possible for two reasons: 1) last year, he was very unlucky, and 2) this year, he has been very lucky. Both years he has, essentially, been the same pitcher. However, there is one key element that Carmona has added this year: throwing more first-pitch strikes.

Last year Carmona allowed a whopping .336 batting average on balls in play – far higher than the league average of .300. This year, however, his BABIP is .233, far below league average. This year, Carmona has stranded 84% of the runners that have gotten on base. Certainly, this has to do with his inordinately low hit rate, as well as additional luck which figures to regress to the mean (last season, Carmona stranded 70% of all runners).

Last year, Carmona’s main strength was his ability to induce ground balls: 59.6% of balls in play were hit on the ground. This year, Carmona’s ground ball rate has risen to an extraordinary 62.6%. For comparison, fellow sinker-baller Jake Westbrook’s ground ball rate last season was 60.8%.

While Carmona’s strikeout rate remains dangerously low – and is much lower than it was last year – he has managed to reduce his walk rate. In fact, while Carmona is much the same pitcher as he was last year, there is one clear aspect where he has improved: throwing strikes.

Thanks to baseball-reference’s, handy pitch data, we can ascertain that this season, Carmona has delivered 58% of his first pitches for strikes, well up from last year’s total of 54%. He has thrown 63% of all pitches for strikes, rather than 62% last year. 17% of all plate appearances result in an 0-2 count (as opposed to 14% last year), and only 6% result in a 3-0 count (down from 7% last year).

For Carmona – as for most pitchers – throwing the first pitch for a strike drastically changes an at-bat. This season, in all plate appearances in which the batter has had an 0-1 count, batters have hit .161/.186/.237. In all plate appearances in which the batter has had a 1-0 count, batters have hit .352/.440/.521. Last year saw a similar trend: after 0-1 counts batters hit .231/.293.299, whereas if Carmona’s first pitch was a ball batters hit .383/.474/.625.

While Carmona is mostly the same this year as he was last year, the key difference is not just his reduced walk rates and ability to throw more strikes, but his ability to throw first pitches for strikes. While 58% first-pitch strikes is a large improvement over 54%, it still stands much room for additional improvement. For example, fellow Indian CC Sabathia’s first-pitch strike rate this season is a whopping 69%.

Think of it this way: if the first pitch Carmona throws is a strike, all batters turn into roughly equivalent of me, who never even played high school baseball, trying to get a hit against him. However, if the first pitch is a ball, all players suddenly become Tony Gwynn.

Carmona was unlucky to be so bad last season; however, the silver lining is that his poor performance as a closer caused the Indians to turn him back into a starter, where he is more valuable. This season, he has been very lucky to prevent hits on balls in play (how many great plays has Josh Barfield made with Carmona on the mound?) and to strand runners that do reach base. However, Carmona has also shown improvement in his ability to throw strikes – especially first-pitch strikes – which may be the most important thing for him, as a 539-point-difference in the OPS of hitters against him after an 0-1 count as compared to a 1-0 count can attest to.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Sizemore is not a leadoff hitter

I know people are beginning to get on Sizemore about his batting average, so I wanted to take a look at it.

Batting average is highly correlated with line-drive percentage. The more line drives you hit, the higher your BA will be. Of course, if you do not put the ball in play (aka strikeout) you cannot get a hit.

Last year Sizemore struck out in 20% of his plate appearances, a high number. Of balls put into play, 34.2% became hits. However, based upon his line-drive percentage, we would have expected only about 31.8% of balls put into play to become hits. In essence, what that means is that Sizemore was "lucky" to receive 11 more hits than he "should have". Had he not been lucky like this, his batting average would have been .273.

This year, Sizemore has struck out in a scary 28% of his plate appearances. That means his battting average should fall---but not from last year's "actual" average of .290, but rather from last year's "expected" average of .273.

In addition, Sizemore's line-drive percentage has gone down. His actual batting average on balls in play this year has been .297, while his expected is .288. In other words, despite his low batting average this year, Sizemore has not been unlucky.

So what does this mean?

1) We should keep in mind that a player with Sizemore's speed should beat his "expected" batting average by a little because he can leg out a few infield singles that a player like Victor Martinez would not get

2) Simply put, the more strikeouts you have, the lower your batting average will be. Last year Sizemore struck out a lot, this year he's striking out too much.

3) Sizemore's declining line-drive percentage isn't a big problem...except when it's coupled with his rising strikeout totals. Something might be off in Sizemore's game.

However, Sizemore has not been caught stealing this year (in 12 attempts) and has walked a ridiculous amount of times. My guess is that he is actively trying to hit for more power---at the expense of some line drives. He is seeing far more pitches per at-bat than he did last year, but his percentage of strikeouts that were called versus those that were swinging is the same as it was last year.

Also interestingly, Sizemore is swinging at less pitches than ever before, and making contact with even fewer. So compared to the rest of his (short) career, Sizemore is A) Not swinging as often, and B) Not making contact as often when he does swing.


1) SMALL SAMPLE SIZE!!!!! I know it feels like the season has been going on for awhile, but in reality often times even a full season's worth of statistics can be misleading (like Peralta in 2005...or Peralta again in 2006). So a month and a half's stats can be even more misleading.

2) Sizemore is seeing lots more pitches. This leads to many more walks---but also more strikeouts, as he's getting deeper into counts.

3) Sizemore is actively trying to hit for more power. This would explain his lowered line-drive percentage and his lowered contact rates. However, his slugging percentage is really low, too.

4) Something might be wrong with him, physically.

I really think it's mainly #1, perhaps with a bit of #2 and #3. I don't think anything is wrong with him physically. And I do think that he will not bat .290 again---I've said that since the off-season. However, I find it unlikely that he will continue to hit .239 as well.

There are people---many people---who think of Sizemore as a lead-off hitter. He's not. Just because he's batting there doesn't mean he fits the mold. This is a power hitter with speed. He's not a guy who will hit .300 every season, he's much more of a .260-280 hitter. However, the speed is real (he's gotten caught stealing less and less each year), and the power is real as well. Now, if he can show that the walk-rate is legitimate, his being a .269-.280 hitter won't matter at all. This guy is not Kenny Lofton, he's not Johnny Damon. He's much more like Andruw Jones, without the same calibre of defense. That might not sound as good, but Andruw Jones has 348 homers by age 30 and is probably going to go to the Hall of Fame.

People need to stop thinking of Grady as a leadoff hitter, and they need to start thinking of him as a power hitter with speed. And truthfully, that is more valuable.