R.J. peers into his clouded crystal ball and selects the likeliest successor to the Diamondbacks' title as most surprisingly successful team.
We may not be wiser than projection systems, but we like to pretend we are anyway, especially when it comes to bold predictions. Make your bold prediction in the spring, forget about it in the summer, remember it in the fall, and spend the winter disowning it. Then do it all again next year. My chat from last week yielded this exchange and reminded me that the new prediction season is underway:
mdthomp (ILSTU): R.J, Which team do you expect to post the largest improvement on wins from last season? Also, who is going to be the opposite? My money is on the D-Backs to fall and the Nats to improve the most? What you think?
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Does history give any clues as to how the Mets will perform with a lower payroll?
Late last month, ESPN New York's Adam Rubin reported that the Mets are facing the largest one-year payroll cut in major-league history, at least in terms of total dollars. With owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz deprived of the profits they derived from decades of investing with Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff, and struggling to find minority partners willing to provide a quick infusion of capital, the team is hemorrhaging money and facing a growing mountain of debt. According to general manager Sandy Alderson, the Mets lost $70 million last year, and made no real attempt to retain pending free agents Carlos Beltran (who was traded in midseason) or Jose Reyes (who departed for the Marlins in December). Barring even one additional midlevel signing, they could become the first team to drop $50 million in salary from one Opening Day to the next.
Are the super-agent's statistics damned lies? And is he any more credible if he's technically telling the truth?
Combing through Scott Boras' statements for inaccuracies is a little like tilting at windmills (or so I assume—it's been years since I've seen a windmill, let alone tilted at one). That’s because Boras' greatest ambition isn't impeccable candor; it's getting the most money for his clients (and by extension, of course, himself). Telling the truth is often a good way to get paid, since no general manager likes to be lied to. Sometimes, though, the best way for an agent to stretch his wallet is to stretch the truth. That’s why every offseason, each team can expect to receive a hefty booklet about the latest big Boras free agent, explaining why Oliver Perez is the second coming of Randy Johnson or how Prince Fielder isn't fat, he's just big-boned. There's nothing wrong with these tall tales, so put down your pitchforks. Boras is just doing his job, and he’s doing it better than anyone else. (Just ask Fielder.)
Still, it doesn't hurt to hold him accountable for some of his more glaring leaps of logic. That’s why alarm bells went off in my head when I read a quote of his from a couple weeks ago:
The Blue Jays' GM discusses his organizational philosophy, his love of scouting and how it plays a role in his work, and competing in the AL East.
He’s too humble to admit it, but Alex Anthopoulos has done an outstanding job since replacing J.P. Ricciardi as the general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays in October 2009. He has orchestrated high-impact trades, most notably deals involving Roy Halladay and Vernon Wells, as well as prudent, if not as newsworthy, free-agent signings. Just as importantly, he has been placing a huge emphasis on scouting and player development, which should come as no surprise given his background as a scouting coordinator. A 33-year-old native of Montreal, Anthopoulos has an economics degree from McMaster University.
Are April's record-low attendance marks a sign that the ticket bubble has burst?
The young baseball season is already shaping up to be lots of things—the Year of the Great Red Sox Collapse, maybe, or the Year of the Exploding Appendices—but one theme that might actually survive small-sample goofiness to have some legs is the Year the Fans Went Away. MLB attendance has been gradually sliding ever since its peak in 2007, but the early signs this year have been pretty alarming:
It's a series that will feature superb pitching staffs, and one team will come away with a long-awaited title.
In baseball as in literature, archetypes tend to be formulaic, proof that fiction falls short of reality when it comes to the power to describe any one thing in shorthand. The need, indeed one of the great benefits of the human mind is to identify patterns, and to peg things that fall within those patterns, or to re-evaluate the pattern as a whole to create some new rubric, some new way of explaining things. Take our current post-season slate: instead of a much-anticipated rematch between the Evil Empire and the Phillies' a-bornin' senior-circuit dynasty, last week we got the pleasure of witnessing imperial ambitions utterly overthrown in both leagues.
The Rangers have finally been sold, so is it possible that the new owners will start spending much more than Tom Hicks?
In case you missed Maury Brown’s caffeine-fueled tweet binge last Wednesday, the Rangers’ ownership-transfer fiasco is finally (and mercifully) over. After months of endless negotiating and maneuvering, the group that was supposed to get the team all along—led by Pittsburgh lawyer Chuck Greenberg and former Advil pitchman Nolan Ryan—ended up winning a day-long auction, beating out a rival group headed by Mark Cuban. The team is now officially out of bankruptcy, off of MLB’s dole, and presumably ready to start running normally again.
Expanding the scope of last week's study to include 2007 and 2008.
Last week, we looked at the 2009 season by breaking down WARP3 totals of players with different levels of service time. This week, I'll use more data from Jeff Euston's Cot's Contracts-the latest free agency acquisition by the Prospectus team-and gathered the same information for 2007 and 2008. At this stage, Jeff does not have reliable data for service time prior to this, but this was enough to get a much clearer picture of how to build and afford a winning team, and how the market has changed even over the last few years.
Sure, the AL's run roughshod over the NL, but could it be that the senior circuit is the victim of a systemic crime?
The American League is kicking the National League's butt, and has been for a number of years. Check out some of the numbers from the last five seasons, courtesy of Jay Jaffe's article last month: a 714-546 record in interleague games, an even better run differential, and not a single year with an interleague winning percentage under .540. The AL is Danny Almonte to the NL's 11-year-old little leaguer.
So how did this happen? Why, all of a sudden, is the American League so dominant? Is it just a cyclical shift, or is there something deeper that will keep the AL on top for the foreseeable future?
An initial look at the extent of the home-field advantage in terms of its incidence on in-game results.
In every sport and at every level, the home team wins more games than the visiting team. While this is true in baseball, it's less the case than in other sports. Throughout baseball history, the home team has won approximately 54 percent of the games played. Nearly every aspect of the game has changed drastically over the last century, but home-field advantage has barely changed at all. Consider the home-field advantage in each decade since 1901:
Have some of us been overlooking the obvious when it comes to scoring runs?
If you have ever tried to explain the concept of Pythagorean Record to a baseball novice, you probably have had to answer the following criticism: "That counts the extra runs at the end of a blowout as much as other runs, even though it does not matter whether you win 10-0 or 15-0." The answer that we give to that criticism is that teams that can take advantage of blowouts have better offenses and those type of teams will be more likely to win close games in the future. That is the reason that we have thousand-run estimators that try to approximate how many runs a team will score on average, and why we evaluate players with statistics like VORP-measured in runs over replacement player. Runs are the building blocks of wins, and you win by scoring more runs than your opponent. We cringe when we hear offenses evaluated by batting average because we know that the goal of offenses is to score runs, not get hits.