I’ve been thinking about the way I use advanced performance metrics such as Michael Wolverton’s Support-Neutral pitching statistics. In evaluating a team, I’ll often quote aggregate data such as their relievers’ Adjusted Runs Prevented or their starters’ Support-Neutral Value Added as a way of showing how effective they’ve been, and as shorthand for what we can expect them to do going forward. This can be deceiving. Of course I know that past performance isn’t an exact predictor of future results, and that a group of players can be over or under their heads in the short- or medium-term. That’s not necessarily the problem; the problem is that the aggregate totals have been compiled by a group of players who are not necessarily representative of the team at the present time. For example, just last week I mentioned that the Expos’ starters ranked sixth in the National League in SNVA. That’s true, but it’s past performance, and it includes six wretched starts by four pitchers who aren’t going to be used again, as well as the good pitching of Claudio Vargas, who may not take the mound again this year due to a shoulder injury. The SNVA figure is useful in letting us know how the Expos’ rotation has performed to date, but to get an idea of its current quality, it’s best to look at the pitchers taking the ball every fifth day. Isolating the performance of the current five Expos starters yields an SNPct of .569, 20 points higher than the team’s seasonal .549 mark. The Expos aren’t special in this regard. Twenty-five of the 30 major league teams have current rotations with better SNPcts than their seasonal numbers, which you’d expect in a game so fiercely Darwinian.
My e-mail box was bursting when I got power back this morning, all wanting to know what I thought about the 130-pitch outing of Mark Prior. (Hey, Keith Woolner is the PAP expert around here!) One of my best Velocity Project sources sent me a stunning report and luckily, I had multiple sources (and a gun) on this one. Prior is establishing himself as one of those freaks that actually gets stronger as a game goes on. While he would hit 93 in the first couple innings, he was as high as 97–the highest I have him recorded–in the eighth. While I’m glad Dusty overrode Prior’s desire to complete the game, I’m not tremendously concerned with Prior’s health. I am more concerned about his short-term effectiveness, with short-term in this situation meaning the next two to three weeks. While flags fly forever, I think Kerry Wood should be required to stand in front of Dusty on every pitch Prior or Carlos Zambrano makes over 120. He doesn’t need to say anything, just point to that fading scar on his right elbow. I think Dusty will get the point. I think.
The Twins have been a problem area all year–banged up, poor roster construction, odd decisions–and yet they remain close in the AL Central. With Doug Mientkiewicz having a recurrence of his ongoing wrist problems and Jacque Jones dealing with a painful lower back (and Astroturf on his home field), the Twins will be juggling players around and making use of some of their callups, like Michael Cuddyer. They are closer to getting Eric Milton back–he’s made his first rehab start in Ft. Myers, a team in the FSL playoffs–but his effectiveness remains a big question mark.
As I sat in the upper deck at Jacobs Field last Saturday, taking in the Indians-Blue Jays tilt and shivering in the Lake Erie breeze with our Cleveland Pizza Feeders, the conversation turned to Texas Hold ‘Em. Poker is a natural fit for baseball fans, especially the sort that are likely to attend our events. Like baseball (or at least the ‘game’ of baseball management), poker is a game that’s grounded in mathematics, and in optimizing the use of limited information. Like baseball, it’s also a lot of fun–at least when you’re winning. Just a bit of background here, which will be unnecessary for some readers and inadequate for others (if you’ve never played poker at all, this probably isn’t your column). Texas Hold ‘Em is a variant of poker in which each player is dealt two ‘hole’ cards face down, and makes the best five-card hand he can between his own cards and five common cards that are dealt to the entire table. The ‘face down’ part is the key: a player’s hole cards are never revealed until the last round of betting has been completed. In fact, in a tight game, the hands are often not revealed at all–every player but one will have folded before the showdown occurs. I’ve always found that last bit fascinating: players are willing to risk (sometimes large) sums of money on hands that they’re never able to see. While a good player can pick up plenty of information between observing the table’s betting patterns, running and rerunning the odds of particular hands occurring, and observing the other players’ “tells,” there’s always the lingering possibility of a bluff, which as a game theorist can tell you, will occur just often enough to keep a bettor on his toes. Lest you think this is a Bill Simmons-style off topic diversion, there are lessons that can be drawn from Hold ‘Em and applied to baseball. Let’s take a break from the usual dose of number crunching and look at those this week.
The Braves’ post-season roster looks already to be set. The Brewers experience one of the first brights spot in their season with a 10-game winning streak. The Twins have finally decided to act in their own best interest, putting Grant Balfour in the rotation. And the Rocco Baldelli is no longer running away with the AL Rookie of the Year–surprise, surprise. All this and much more news from Atlanta, Milwaukee, Minnesota, and Tampa Bay in your Wednesday edition of Prospectus Triple (uh, we mean, Quadrupule) Play.
This is something I like to call the All-Surprise Team. By surprise, I mean the pleasant variety as opposed to, say, an IRS audit or a trans-Atlantic plane ride seated next to Bronson Pinchot. Now to classify something as a “surprise,” you’re wallowing in the subjective. It’s a bit like calling someone “underrated” or “Democratic presidential candidate”–loosely defined and perhaps without any value at all.
In order to apply a standard more firm than my own capricious notion of the word surprise, I’ve turned to Nate Silver’s PECOTA projection system. In isolation it’s enough to give a liberal-arts buffoon like me that monkey-opening-coconut feeling, but fortunately it’s laid out right here in all its easily digestible glory. Know that it rawks, and that I’m leaning heavily on it for this little ditty.
In any event, with a shout-out to PECOTA, here’s my 2003 All-Surprise Team…