Friday, October 01, 2004

Q & A with Dave Littlefield

Ed Eagle has an interview with the GM at MLB.com.

Short version: lots of guys will play winter leagues, we're having a big organizational pow-wow in two weeks to go over lots of things, including who to protect from the Rule V draft, Kip Wells will be back, the Pirates will sign one or two veteran FA guys with pop, and Honest Wagner is the greatest blog in the universe. Actually, one of things he didn't say. You'll have to click over and read it for yourself to see which one of those things was just invented by me.

DL will answer questions from fans in the next one. Scroll to the bottom of the article to find the email address for submitting questions.

Congratulations, Jack Wilson

Got them 200 hits.

Hines aWard

Hines Ward is good.

Jose Castillo

Looks pretty burnt out to me. Horrid September numbers.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

R.I.P. Justin Strzelczyk

Sad. God only knows what the hell this was about, and probably that is the way it will remain, as it doesn't sound like there's much of him left to perform a toxicology analysis on. I remember when Brendan Stai and Leon Searcy were opening holes for Bananas Foster and Justin was like the dirtbag JV callup who just kept improving. I hadn't heard about the loaded handgun incident (BTW, handguns scare the crap out of me. I have no problem at all with people who hunt with rifles or bows, and I even own a little .22 rifle for plinking cans and stuff, but handguns are only for shooting other people and the thought of dudes thinking about getting their guns when they leave the house just like the think about their wallets and keys, the paranoia inherent in that action...put it this way when I drive I don't flip off even the most deserving). Of course first thought is roids. But then you wonder about roid use as a perverse self-medication of a larger metal problem. Some pathological emotional inadequacy...who knows. It's frightening to us dull mopes of the world when troubled people rage against average everydayness. Well anyway his troubles are over now.

Grandma says Hi

From the USAToday's Inside Slant on the Bungles:

Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer will make his second visit Sunday to Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. Last year, even though he didn't play, Palmer received a one-finger greeting from a particular Steelers fan.

"Little old ladies in the stands are going to be flipping us off and cussing at us," he "It's a great place to go in and play get a win."

How old was she? "She was pretty old. I'm not sure. I didn't get an age on her," Palmer said.

Coach Marvin Lewis lamented the general decline in civility by NFL fans. "The fact that people will use those kind of gestures before the game (and) after the game, as they're doing that, their 8-year-old son or daughter is right beside them," Lewis said. "So it doesn't say much for our society. Fortunately the game is decided by the guys on the field and not people's antics. I wish people would understand that."

Hey Marvin Lewis, you smug moralizing whiner, have a sense of humor and a little more respect for the "society" of the good NFL fans who make your job possible. (nasal whine) "I wish Marvin would understand that the game exists not because of the people on the field but because of the people in the stands who pay good money to come to the park and indulge whatever antics they find appropriate."

This week, I hope Grandma has a bird for Carson Palmer and Marvin Lewis.

Ray Charles tribute

A fitting way to end the 2004 baseball season.

Tomato Grower No More

Smart, mature decision by Ollie. He can return to that league when he's 41.

Jason Bay photo

Here's another one worth saving, printing, framing, and hanging in your drinking room.

Honest Wagner NFL pick 'em: Week 4

VIS SPRD HME SCOOP ROWDY BONES
cin 03.5 PIT (PIT) (PIT) (PIT)
ind -3.5 JAX ..ind ..JAX (ind)
oak -2.5 HOU (oak) ..oak (oak)
nwe -5.5 BUF ..nwe ..nwe ..nwe
phl -9.5 CHI ..phl ..CHI ..phl
was -2.5 CLE ..CLE (was) ..CLE
nyg 06.5 GNB ..nyg (nyg) ..nyg
atl 03.5 CAR ..atl (CAR) (atl)
nwo -3.5 ARZ ..nwo ..nwo ..ARZ
nyj -5.5 MIA (nyj) (nyj) ..nyj
ten -2.5 SND ..ten ..ten ..SND
den -3.5 TAB ..den (den) ..TAB
stl -3.5 SNF ..SNF ..SNF ..stl
ksc 04.5 BAL ..BAL ..BAL (BAL)

Parentheses indicate best bets.

Season to date:

Overall
Scoop 29-17 .630
Bones 26-20 .565
Rowdy 25-21 .543

Best bets
Bones 7-5 .583
Rowdy 7-8 .467
Scoop 3-6 .333

Rowdy writes: So it's ten home dogs, not nine, now that we find a line for the Tennessee game. McNair will start and even if he didn't, Volek would be fine in his place. Earlier in the week, I asked if anyone thought it would be a good idea to take all the home dogs and hope for the 55% legend says you should expect to get from all home dogs. 55% is a decent showing. It will cover the vigorish and win a lot of pick 'em leagues. Theoretically, the strategy would be sound, but you'd still have to do something with games in which the home teams are favored. Off the top of my head, I'd guess the home team is favored in about two-thirds of all games.

You could save some time by taking all the home dogs in a pick 'em pool. But the 55% is history - if it's true - and it's not a guaranteed rate of return. You could do better or worse. I've been following the NFL long enough to see that the league changes a lot from year to year and, I'd guess, every five or ten years things are remarkably different than they were five or ten years ago. Just because the home dogs have covered 55% over the last three years (have they?), that doesn't mean they'll continue to do so over the next three years.

More important, there's that other two-thirds of the games you'll have to pick. If you blow off a third of the games every week, you blow off a week's worth of news for a third of the teams. Odds are that, in the two-thirds of the games you need to research, about half the teams played in a game you blew off the week before.

That's a recipe for failure. If you are going to catch up on two weeks' worth of news for every team you now have to research after blowing off the week before, then you aren't saving much time by not booking up on the games involving home dogs. If you don't bother to catch up on the old news, then you're unable to understand last week in the context of the unique yet typical unfolding drama, with ups and downs, that is the season each team experiences. And you'll get crushed, I think, because the point spreads are set to trap the casual fan who only remembers what happened last week and only slowly notices the always-ongoing changing of the guard. You have to pay some attention to all the teams every week. Otherwise you'll be hopelessly behind the curve when you evaluate and make picks in games between teams about which you know only hype, history, and superstition.

Forgive me while I indulge in the vain and possibly self-deluded belief that I profit from paying attention. Right now I'm asking myself, for example: why is New Orleans only favored by three and a half over Arizona? Because, I'd guess, Arizona shocked everyone by keeping the Falcons in check last week. But is that really much of an accomplishment? This week's line suggests the Cardinals deserve some respect for that game. Maybe they do. But if you've been looking in at the Falcons every week, you know that the offense was also pretty bad in San Francisco in week 1. And you know that the coach, Jim Mora Jr., has been under steady criticism for installing an offense that doesn't appear to be perfectly suited to maximize the effect of Michael Vick's unusual abilities. You also know that the Rams have been a steady disappointment. Vick's breakout game in week 2, against the Rams, now looks like the anomaly; that's only sinking in now because it has taken a while to realize that the Rams are actually a bad team this year. For Atlanta, weeks 1 and 3 look more like what we can expect going forward. The Cardinals did not suddenly get good last week. I see a con - or at least an opportunity - in the spreads coming out of that game. Both the Cardinals and the Falcons look overrated in this week's lines. The fact that the Cardinals played the Rams tough in week 1 and the Falcons tough in week 3 reflects more on their opponents than it does on them, I think. Right now, none of these teams - not St. Louis, not Atlanta, and not Arizona - look good enough to win eight games this year. Point spreads are set to provoke betting; that's the main rationale behind them. The Falcons at the Panthers, with a three and a half point line, looks like the game of the week. If the spread was seven, people who aren't paying attention might catch up with the fact that the Falcons have been playing poor football against poor teams.

You don't blow off a third of the games without looking at them if you want to stay ahead of the curve and have some success predicting the other two-thirds of the games. And, once you look at every game, there's no way you're going to want to take every single home dog. There's no way, for example, I'd take the Browns, the Bills, or the Texans after even ten minutes' consideration. The Cardinals, the Dolphins, the Bucs, and the Chargers don't appear to be poised for a strong showing, either. The Myth of Parity has a lot of people in denial about the quality of some of these home dogs. Scoop called the lines "skimpy." I definitely agree. I won't be shocked if six home dogs cover this week, but I think, with this batch, four is more likely.

Remember the Grays

As I wrote before, I'm on the name-the-D.C.-team-the-Grays bandwagon.

It would be tremendous for the league if the D.C. people went forward with that name and thus honored one of the better Negro League teams.

Jose Mesa

I wouldn't bring him back. Sounds like the team is at least considering it.

We need the bullpen spots to try to get something from our failed 300K starters.

And there's no way Mesa is only 38. I'd guess he's more like 41. I'm sure the team is aware of this. He'll want a lot more than 300K or whatever Torres will take to close and any pitcher his age is a pretty high-risk proposition. The Bucs should quit while they're ahead. Seriously, what are the odds Mesa will come back for 2006? Unless the Pirates want to go for broke and really believe that 2005 is their year, they've no business not attempting to groom a new closer from the younger in-house options.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Nine home dogs

Week 4 looks butt-ugly as many bad and sinking teams are at home against the good and rising teams. Many, many mismatches on the docket.

There's going to be nine home dogs - I can't remember there ever being that many in one week. Chris Berman, when he was doing his "Swami" segment for ESPN, asserted that home dogs cover the spread 55% of the time. Five of nine is 55%. I'd take that in a pick game every time. You'll win most pick leagues if you can finish with a .550 record.

So true or false: if you take all nine home dogs, you can expect to win five. Is this a sound strategy for week 4?

200 hits and the Rookie of the Year

Jack Wilson is closing in on 200 hits. And when he gets them, I hope the feeling is a little anticlimatic. I read yesterday's article by Joe Rutter with mixed emotions.

On one hand, I'm disappointed and angry to hear that Jack fell into the vain delusion of believing his batting average and hit total matter more than winning any game at hand. On the other hand, I'm grateful that he's honest enough to admit that, and I admire Joe Rutter for reporting the story.

But what a sad and childish thing to chase. It requires discipline to keep priorities in order. Personal goals may be good for the team if they help a young player reach back and find an untapped resource of adrenaline or will, but that's debatable. If I was Mac, I'd try to learn to anticipate when personal goals might start to take over for players, and I'd ridicule them, gently but clearly, well in advance of their achievement. If Wilson strikes out chasing a pitch he should have taken, for example, I'd ask him, "You weren't thinking about that 200th hit there, were you?"

I've changed my mind about one personal goal - one not related directly to winning and losing - and that's the Rookie of the Year award. For one, unlike Jack's 200th hit, I do think a Jason Bay ROY would help the Pirates sell tickets and I see that as a key step in the rebuilding process. More important, I think he has earned it.

I also feel that Bay is getting shafted by some of the more irritating fashions in baseball analysis. Put simply, it's all the rage in baseball anaylsis to "translate" pure stats, and the respect for the "translated" stat has now reached a sad and ridiculous height. It baffles me that so many smart baseball people apparently believe that "translated" stats are more real than the real statistics.

In the Bay vs. Greene debate, Bay is getting screwed by the Gospel of Park Effects. Park effects can vary greatly from year to year based on the players who played in those parks and the weather they experienced in those parks. Anyone who paid a bunch of money for the Baseball Prospectus cheat sheet, for example, probably drafted a ton of Expos. They were too confident that Montreal's park inflated stats. The underestimated the hitting performance of 2003 Expos; they attributed too much of their success to park effects. They do make mistakes, people, and since they are in the business of selling information, we can't expect them to be forthcoming about this.

But think on this further. Petco and PNC are brand-new parks. Sure, it's common sense to say that Petco is a pitcher's park, but that doesn't mean it's not foolish to say you know exactly how much of a pitcher's park. We can agree that Khalil Greene's hitting performance was better than the numbers might suggest, but we're fools and suckers if we believe that know exactly how that performance would translate in the Neutral Ballpark in the Sky, which just doesn't exist in this material world of ours. Translations are just guesses. They may be educated guesses, but still, measures like Win Shares or VORP are just guessing at some "more real" value. They may be good guesses, but they are still guesses. Games are not won and lost by Win Shares and VORP. Actual "real" and material stats, on the other hand, are facts. Runs scored is a fact that's as well grounded in reality as any fact. To have real value, translations must be regarded with considerable skepticism.

I admire idealists. These are the people who believe that we live in a world of shadows, and that the "true" world is above us. That's what I see as the philosophic foundation of translating baseball statistics. Vinny Castilla didn't "truly" hit all those home runs; that's just a Coors field illusion. Khalil Greene wasn't "truly" that bad at the plate until August; that's just a Petco illusion. While I respect and deeply admire the Transcendentalism of Translations, I would remind translating gurus and translating disciples that it's a fundamental tenet of all good Idealistic philosophies that we can't access the higher, truer realms of existence. We're chained to the wall of the cave. All the confidence in the accuracy of translations is fundamentally misplaced and surely a cause of much error going forward.

Bay's also getting screwed in the Bay vs. Greene debate by the fact that he plays left field. In our current climate of snake-oil projection salesmen, everyone seems to have learned that you can't win a fantasy league unless you adjust projections by position. Again we have the whole problem of the accuracy of translation. What performance in left field is the equivalent of this performance at shortstop? I'll grant that there's a case to be made for taking the weaker hitting shortstop, but I won't agree that we know exactly how to compare the two players. The translations are guesses. Yet people will revere them as "true."

And don't forget that there is a case against measuring players, in real baseball or fantasy, only by some comparison to a "replacement level" benchmark. When did that become Gospel? Why do we agree that some calculation of "replacement level" is as accurate as, say, the number of runs a player scored? Currently it's the fad to draft in your fantasy league with position adjustments. Is that really the best strategy? There should be more debate about this. It looks I'm going to win my most competitve league this year by drafting with the Steeler way - taking the best available player, regardless of position - (do they still do that?) - in the belief that, while there may be a scarcity of good-hitting shortstops, there's no guarantee of which shortstops will hit well. A-Rod went #1 and I got Barry Bonds at #4. Who played shortstop for me? "Replacement level" guys like Melvin Mora, Jack Wilson, and odd months of streaky players like Bobby Crosby and Khalil Greene. Why should we measure players against a stable and abstract "replacement level" when that never exists? If teams had an "Auto Leftfielder" option - break glass, inflate, point toward field - who played with perfect robotic consistency, then such measures would be accurate. Otherwise it's a guess. We should have more skepticism for calculations of "total value" that assume there's some precisely known and stable measure of things like "park effect" and "replacement value."

I'm not saying that translations are worthless or wrong. I'm just saying we have to be more skeptical of their value. Fielding a baseball team is more like interior decorating than many people realize. You have a bare and empty room (the Pittsburgh Pirates), and you have your choice, an awesome HD television or a rare and choice carpet. The HD television may be less of an upgrade over the piece of shit color monitor than the rare and choice carpet over generic wall-to-wall, but what would you choose first? The TV or the carpet? There's no one mathematical formula to answer the question decisively.

I'm not a materialist myself. In most things I incline toward the ideal. Truth is Beauty and Beauty is Truth. Yes. But the mania for translating statistics has gone too far, I think. We need to keep translating them, for sure, but we need to recover some respect for the actual facts and remember that the translations are just guesses. The data is not perfect and the translations are not perfect and there's error everywhere. For all we know, ten years from now no one will translate by park effect and everyone will translate the stats by the field temperature or the current score. We have to be more skeptical when analysts such as Clay Davenport deliver the box score for last night's game in the Neutral Ballpark in the Sky. The analysts are mortal; they can't see that ballpark any better than you or I. They may have developed a complex Swedenborgian system of detecting correspondences between the real and ideal worlds, but they are still mortal.

Translations have value, but only as guesses. Let's not turn the ROY contest over to some one translating formula.

Stats Geek grades the trades

Brian O'Neill gives Littlefield a gentleman's C for his work as a horse-swapper.

I'd give him DL a better grade for the trade that dumped Ritchie for Fogg and Wells. And I think there were other trades that could have been included. But on the whole I'd grade Mr. O'Neill's effort as very good.

Armchair GMs like myself pay a lot of attention to trades, but isn't this just a small part of the GM's job?

Dr. Andrews agrees with Pirates' medical staff

Kip won't need surgery, Joseph Santoliquito reports for MLB.com.

Honest Wags NFL pick 'em: week 3 results

Bones had a good week. Bones 9-5, Rowdy 9-5, Scoop 8-6. Best bets Bones 4-2, Scoop 1-2, Rowdy 2-4.

Season totals run to Scoop 29-17, Bones 26-20, Rowdy 25-21. Best bets Bones 7-5, Rowdy 7-8, Scoop 3-6.

Visitors covered 9 of 14, underdogs covered 7 of 14.

Monday, September 27, 2004

All hail Josh Fogg

and the rest of the team for closing the home schedule in fine fashion.

Take Fogg to arbitration, pay him whatever he's worth, and bring him back for 2005. More and more he reminds me of Tim Wakefield. He's not overpowering but he gets results. He'll never be a superstar in fantasy baseball but so what. He's been great and he's shown an ability to get better.

Hearty as hell

Joe Starkey has a nice report today about some Steeler fans who made it to Pro Player for the full tailgate football game experience. For me, articles about the fans rank right behind articles about the o-line and articles about the d-line. We don't pay enough attention to what football actually means to the vast majority of people who participate in it.

That grill looks pretty stacked (see photo). But is that a confederate flag in the background? What the hell is wrong with Florida? You know that Steeler fans didn't bring that down there.

The incompetency of those trying to move the football

Ed Bouchette's recap is one for the scrapbook.