Friday, September 30, 2011

Friday Forum: Our Postseason Picks

I (this is Bill, hi!) used to really hate postseason predictions. They're pretty pointless, really. Even the "worst" playoff team has a pretty decent chance of beating the best, especially in a five-game series, and that people spend so much time analyzing these things and declaring what the key factors are and all that just seems silly to me. They're always wrong; the Yankees could be playing the Tigers and everyone could agree that the key factor for New York is Robinson Cano, and you can pretty much count on Cano going 2-for-15 and the Yankees winning in three. My little statement in this regard, for the past couple years, has been to flip a coin to determine the playoff results, and then sort of reverse-engineer a phony justification for the picks.

Well, a few things happened: (1) we have this whole staff now; (2) it occurred to me that pointless and fun/interesting aren't necessarily mutually exclusive; and (3) the coin flip results worked out terribly twice in a row (2009, 2010). So, I polled the staff and got everybody's predictions, and you can see them below. I also flipped a coin, because I just can't stop. So here they are, with explanations below the table:

Thursday, September 29, 2011

On competitive integrity

by Jason Wojciechowski

Last night, I noticed a couple of people arguing that the Yankees should be using their bullpen to actually try to win their game against the Rays rather than tossing out players like Scott Proctor and Cory Wade and muddling through it. One of them screamed at his 11,000 followers in all-caps and called them morons. The other, Friend of TPA William Tasker, engaged in a reasonable conversation with me about the rules for this type of situation. You can guess who this post is aimed more toward, because I'm not going to be doing any yelling here -- how a team that is either out of contention or has its playoff spot locked up should behave in games against teams that are still fighting is a sticky wicket, and I don't pretend to have the answers. I promise that anybody who disagrees with me in the comments on this will not be called a moron.

Precisely because of said wicket, though, my position is that, short of collusion, teams should be free to behave as they like without their ethical standing being called into question. I don't believe that we can develop any reasonable set of standards that is competent to govern all the variables in play. This is particularly true because teams already make day-to-day decisions about the relative importance of winning the contest that stands before them versus the next N games. Teams use strict five-man rotations, balance bullpen work (put Joe Torre to one side), start backups every once in a while, replace starters in blowouts, and so forth. None of this is necessarily about playoff positioning because it happens in June just as much as September. Keeping in mind, then, that the background assumption is that teams are not playing 100% for victory every day, here are some of the decisions that would need to be constrained by ethics if we want to take the Tasker Integrity Position (TIP).

The Postseason Reality

By The Common Man

What an amazing night last night, as the Red Sox and the Braves completed their historic and horrific collapses, and the Rays and Cardinals blew past them and into the postseason. It was a remarkable achievement by all four clubs, actually, even if that achievement is significantly painful for some. So many congratulations to the Rays and the Cardinals, and the good baseball-loving people of the Tampa Bay area and St. Louis. And many condolences to the downtrodden in Boston and Atlanta. But baseball waits for no man (not even The Common Man), and so the conquering heroes will be whisked to Texas and Philadelphia respectively to meet their fates.

Both the Rays and the Cards finished their seasons on terrific hot streaks. The Cardinals won 21 of their final 29 games, and ended September with a record of 18-8. In their last ten games, they went 7-3. The Rays finished September 17-10 and ended on a five game winning streak. Naturally, we’d expect their hot play to continue into the postseason. Of course, they’re not running up against paper dolls. Philadelphia won just four of their final 10 games while they rested, but the Rangers have been incredibly hot too, winning 9 of their last 10. But as we learned last year, history suggests that hot and cold streaks going into the playoffs are not meaningful. Not even a little.  Consider the hottest and coldest teams entering the postseason since the beginning of the Wild Card Era in 1995:

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Insta-reaction: Jose Reyes

by Jason Wojciechowski

If you're a Twitter user, you're probably sick of people ranting and moaning about Jose Reyes, but I promise I'm not going to rant and moan here. I just want to examine a few of the angles. Quick recap of the facts: Jose Reyes bunted for a hit in his first at-bat in today's Mets game and was immediately pulled, not for injury reasons. He is now the NL leader in batting average.

First, Mets fans. This is a family blog, so I won't exactly repeat what Twitter friend Fire Jerry Manuel said, but basically: it's messed up. Reyes is a free agent, and superstar free agent shortstops, even ones with injury concerns, don't come along every day. If I did a comprehensive post about Reyes's free agent destination possibilities, I bet I'd find that he has a lot more landing spots than Prince Fielder does. In other words, this could have been Reyes's final home game in Queens. Wouldn't you, as an organization, like to give the fans every last ounce of Reyes that you can spare?

Let's make this a thing: "No Tomkos"

By Bill

Grant Brisbee is one of the many excellent writers who tosses stuff up a couple times a day over on Baseball Nation on SBN (in addition to his usual McCovey Chronicles duties). Yesterday, he wrote a typically high-quality, but stylistically pretty standard, piece on the Red Sox's rumored attempts to acquire a starter for game 162.

Except that in the middle, presented without comment, was this.

The whole of it is a pretty funny and clever thing, but there's something just so completely, strikingly perfect about that last phrase: "No Tomkos." It's an odd choice, Brett Tomko; he's basically retired, having thrown about 18 innings since 2009, and he never pitched for the Sox (he did pitch for Grant's Giants, but actually performed pretty well for them). He had some pretty awful years in 2007 and 2008, but he's far from the first guy who comes to mind as a potential pitching disaster. It must just be the name itself; there's something about that combination of letters, "Tomko," that (a) is funny and (b) suggests kind-of-suckyness. No offense if that's your name or something.

Whatever the reason, I just love it. We had a lot of fun with it on Twitter, after fellow SweetSpotter Bexy brought it up. I have no idea why, but the phrase "no Tomkos" is just innately funny.

I love it so much, in fact, that I've decided it has to become A Thing. So I'm calling on each and every one of you, at absolutely each and every remotely appropriate moment, to use the phrase "no Tomkos," and to encourage its use by others. Some examples:

The Obvious
[Manager on the bullpen phone:] "Our starter's getting killed out there, Bobby. Get somebody warmed up. No, I don't care who, but no Tomkos!"

"Man, the Phillies' rotation is looking awfully strong for 2012. Solid one through five, no Tomkos."

The Less Obvious
"This guy's got all the pitches working. Fastball, slider, curve, changeup. Everything's sharp and right on target. No Tomkos."

[On Twitter:] "GO ROYALS!!! #royals #trusttheprocess #kansascityroyals #notomkos #HosmerIsMyHomeboy"

The Curious
"C'mon now Felix, here we go now buddy, fire it in there kid, no Tomkos, you got these guys now, here we go, kid, no Tomkos..."

"Dammit, Punto, you slid head-first into first base again! How many times do we have to go through this? NO TOMKOS!!!"

[Bob Brenly:] "You know, the Cubs have been OK today. They're taking pitches, not trying to do too much, driving the ball the other way every now and then. No Tomkos, but there's definitely room for improvement."

Just a few ideas to get you started. Go forth and make this happen! And please share additional suggestions in the comments below.

UPDATE! New Twitter follower hbrockett threw together this excellent representative image:

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The 5th Wheel

By The Common Man

On Saturday, Joel Sherman reported that Major League Baseball and the Players’ Association “have all but agreed [to add] two wild-card teams and hold one-game playoffs in each league to determine which of the wild cards advances.” In other words, each league would add a fifth Wild Card team. It’s a dramatic change to the league’s playoff structure that has been in place for the past seventeen seasons, and could lead to even more glaring shakeups in which the leagues eliminate divisions entirely. The Common Man was slightly horrified and incredibly skeptical of benefits of such a move.

Understandably, there is also a great deal of concern from baseball fans, bloggers, and pundits that adding two more Wild Card teams dilutes the pool of playoff participants, risks allowing an inferior team to win the World Series, and destroys the drama of the regular season. Indeed, as Moshe Mandel of the excellent The Yankee Analysts, pointed out last night, that’s especially true this year, “an extra playoff spot would kill these races. NOT NECESSARILY GONNA ADD DRAMA WITH THAT.” He’s right, with two games left, all five playoff spots would have already been locked up under the proposed new system. The riveting back and forth fight between the Rays and Red Sox and the Cardinals and Braves simply wouldn’t exist, and these teams would be playing out the string in preparation for the postseason.

That said, historically the theoretical 5th playoff spot has been hotly contested, even down to the wire. In fact, the race for 5th has been a nail-biter far more often than it’s been a laugher. Consider:

Monday, September 26, 2011

Blogfight? A Conversation About Moneyball

By The Common Man and Bill

This weekend, Bill and The Common Man each separately attended a showing of Moneyball. Rather than provide you with a traditional review, which neither of us feel particularly qualified to do, we thought a discussion of the film and our reactions to it might be appropriate. In other words, we’re not telling you how you should feel about Moneyball, but how we felt as we watched it.

What follows is a slightly edited chat transcript. Be warned: (1) if you think there’s such a thing as “spoilers” for a movie like this (and we don’t think there is, really, if you have read the book, followed baseball in 2002 or have ever been to, what follows is absolutely full of them; and (2) we did say slightly edited – the transcript below is really just a conversation and isn’t nearly up to this site’s usual grammar or style standards. Nonetheless, enjoy!

Bill: So what did you think of Moneyball?

TCM: Moneyball is Johnny Damon: good, but not HOF quality. Overrated by casual fans, underrated by the stathead community and with a really underwhelming start and finish to its career.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Friday Forum: Favorite Fifth Outfielders

Two nights ago, The Common Man got to talking with Christina Kahrl about the endangered species known as the 5th outfielder. With teams increasingly (and stupidly) determined to carry 12 or even 13 pitchers, there simply has not been enough room on the bench to carry more than four pure outfielders, even on National League teams. We’ve been left with, in some cases, 5th outfielders masquerading as 4th outfielders, or, in Sam Fuld’s case, starting left fielders. It’s sad. There is not really a place for the Marvell Wynnes or the Doug Dascenzos in baseball today.

But that allows us to start a new feature here at The Platoon Advantage, a Friday Forum, wherein we all weigh in on a topic in a couple hundred words or less. When we're done, feel free to share your own favorites in the comments.  So here, without further ado, are our favorite 5th outfielders:

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Happy Birthday...

Hooks Dauss!

By Bill

One of the many odd little things I enjoy, for no reason I can name, is pitchers whose careers straddle 1920: guys who just kept on being the same player, with the same skills relative to the same league, but whose numbers completely changed overnight.

From 1912-1919, Hooks Dauss pitched 1869 innings, allowed just 25 homers, and went 126-92 with a 2.85 ERA, good for a 101 ERA+.

From 1920-1926, Dauss pitched 1521.2 innings, allowed 62 homers, and went 97-90 with a 3.86 ERA, good for a 104 ERA+.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Blaming Theo

By The Common Man

It’s become favorable in the last 48 hours to lay the blame for the Red Sox’ ongoing collapse at the feet of Sox General Manager and general wunderkind Theo Epstein. Jeff Passan started it, and his thoughts were echoed by Jim Donaldson and Buck Showalter in the Providence Journal, as well as Jon Morosi.  After all, Epstein has fallen dangerously short on pitchers here in September, forcing the Sox to reach down and use the ineffective Andrew Miller and Kyle Weiland, and the gassed Tim Wakefield. They also continue to inflict John Lackey on an unsuspecting populace every fifth game. If Epstein had done a better job of assembling a staff in the offseason, the narrative goes, the Sox would not be trying to fight off the surging Rays with a BB Gun and a Swiss Army knife. That narrative, however, is a conveniently shaped specifically to fit over the Sox season.

In reality, the Sox went into Spring Training with the following pitchers penciled into their rotation:

Josh Beckett (6-6, 5.78, 127.2 IP)

Jon Lester (19-9, 3.25, 208 IP)

Clay Buchholz (17-7, 2.33, 173.2 IP)

John Lackey (14-11, 4.40, 215 IP)

Daisuke Matsuzaka (9-6, 4.69, 153.2 IP)

So, the Diamondbacks. What the Hell?

Back in May, when the SweetSpot Network was a bit smaller than it is now and we were routinely called upon to make comments on teams other than the Angels or White Sox on ESPN's Power Rankings, I drew the assignment of writing something up about the Diamondbacks. Widely picked to finish in or near last place in the NL West, the D-Backs had started out roughly as everyone predicted, but then rattled off six straight wins, ending the day on Sunday, May 22 at a surprising 23-23, with one more run scored than allowed. They'd shocked the world, basically, by being middle-of-the-pack for a month and a half.

My ESPN comment was skeptical, and I followed it up with a post with the following intentionally inflammatory title: Power Rankings Explained: Why the Diamondbacks Still Stink. The points were basically that (a) four of their six straight wins had been by one run, three against the Twins; (b) a journeyman named Ryan Roberts had been their best player; (c) Chris Young, on whom the offense heavily depended, had been terrible; (d) the pitching after Daniel Hudson and Ian Kennedy (who themselves were question marks) looked awful; and (e) other than a potential emergence from Justin Upton, there just wasn't anything else to get excited about. I saw them as "an 85- or 90-loss team," finishing in third or fourth place behind the Giants, Rockies, and possibly even Dodgers.

Well. Since then, through Monday, Arizona's gone 66-42 (.611), close to a 100-win pace. Their run differential hasn't been quite as good at all that, but it's clear that, for the season, they've been legitimately the best team in their division. They've topped the Giants by nearly ten games in that span, while the Rockies simply packed it in early, so there's really not been much competition.

So, I was wrong. But yet, you look at this team, and it's just hard to see a 90-plus game winner. What went right?

Monday, September 19, 2011

On comparing players across positions

by Jason Wojciechowski

As many internet baseball fans know, it's Fan Scouting Report time. Each year, Tom Tango asks fans to weigh in on the fielding abilities of the players that they see a lot. For each player with at least ten games played, he asks for a 1-5 ranking of that player's skill in seven areas:

  • Reaction / Instincts
  • Acceleration / First Few Steps
  • Velocity / Sprint Speed
  • Hands / Catching
  • Release / Footwork
  • Throwing Strength
  • Throwing Accuracy

Crowd-scouting is an interesting idea. Most of us have no access to professional scouting reports, so getting us all together to compare notes could conceivably provide useful information. All is well until you get to this part of the directions:

Try to judge 'average' not as an average player at that position, but an average player at any position. If you think that Ben Zobrist has an average arm, then mark him as average, regardless if you've seen him play 2B, SS, 3B, or RF.


Maybe it's just my lack of imagination, but I don't understand this. I get the impulse. It would be nice to have a feel for how a player might fare in another position, for instance, and comparing a catcher's foot-speed only to that of other catchers won't necessarily tell you if a catcher likely has the wheels to handle left field. Furthermore, a set of good data about the defensive skills of players without regard to position can give us a better idea of the current state of the defensive spectrum: how much slower are left-fielders than right-fielders right now?; who has better footwork and first-step quickness, second- or third-basemen?

But can "a set of good data" actually be achieved?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Whither Prince Fielder? #clichetitle

By Jason Wojciechowski

Prince Fielder is apparently done in Milwaukee. Everyone and their mother has taken a look at where he might end up signing in 2012, but Google tells me it's mostly been on Bleacher Report (no link -- are you crazy?), so let's take a systematic look at the free agent situation as best I can glean from MLB Depth Charts.

The following table lists each team except for Milwaukee and St. Louis along with who it seems their 2012 first baseman will be. The numbers in the table are the players' 2011 True Average from Baseball Prospectus (the main thing you need to know: it's scaled like batting average with league average at .260). This is just a rough measure -- we can consider whether the existing player is likely to rise or fall more qualitatively.

Don't Give Up On Jason Bay

By The Common Man

The Common Man has been trying to wrap his head around the notion proposed by ESPN’s Matt Myers today.  In his kiss off to the Mets' 2011 season, Myers suggested that the Mets should just release former All Star and MVP candidate, and current financial sink hole, Jason Bay. He writes,

“Bay's recent revival could be the worst thing that could happen to the Mets, because it might actually give the front office enough reason to talk itself into keeping Bay around for the life of the contract.

Why is this a bad thing? Because as good as his past 140 plate appearances have been -- and let's be honest, they're still not that good -- we have another 700 PAs as a Met that suggest he is toast. Not to mention the fact much of the recent damage he is doing is against pitchers who were called up when rosters expanded on Sept. 1, and are of Triple-A caliber. Having lived through the Roberto Alomar experience, Mets fans are quite familiar with the idea that good players can suddenly lose it in their early 30s, which is what appears to have happened with Bay. And even if he somehow can manage an .800 OPS in 2012, the Mets are still better off without him.”

The 2011 Twins, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Suck

By Bill

I came to an odd realization yesterday, one that will probably mark me as some kind of faux fan or something.

So: the Twins are terrible this year. That's not my realization. I've known that since, like, May. But what I've realized is this: in a very weird way, I'm kind of enjoying it. I've decided that losing, in a highly limited way, is fun.

I do mean very limited. I don't think there's anything fun at all about, say, an 88-loss season, in which your team is out of the race from day one and just pathetically bland and mediocre. And I certainly won't try to tell you that Pirates, Orioles, or Royals fans should be particularly happy with their predicament.

The Twins, though? In the ten seasons preceding this disaster, they've averaged about 89 wins, finishing above .500 in every year save one (2007, when they missed it by two games). They've been about the same team for most of ten years: very good, but far from the best in the league, fighting tooth and nail to near (and, twice, beyond) the very end to secure a playoff spot.

So this, after several months of disappointment and anger and eventually boredom, has become, finally, just kind of a nice break from that. Don't get me wrong -- I'd still much rather they were winning 95 games and the division again, weeks of heartburn and all. But when you're talking about a team that's so uniquely awful (by the franchise's standards) -- such that the question to be answered every day becomes what unique way they're going to find to lose this game, and eventually the results just stop mattering entirely and the only real question remaining is: is this the worst season in team history? -- there's just something kind of refreshing about that.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Naive PLAYOFFS+ MVP awards since 1995

by Jason Wojciechowski

On Monday, I wrote that a variety of theories of value might be considered valid ways to figure out who the MVP of a league is. The most controversial one, as predicted, was what I called PLAYOFFS+. The idea underlying PLAYOFFS+ is that wins that get a team into the playoffs are more valuable than wins that move a team from 70-92 to 76-86.

There are more or less sophisticated ways that PLAYOFFS+ could be implemented, as I mentioned in that post. One amusing way to do it is to use the following criteria:

  1. The player's team must make the playoffs (because making the playoffs is what ultimately matters if PLAYOFFS+ is the theory you hold)

  2. The player's individual WAR must be higher than the margin by which the team made the playoffs (this weeds out players that you could, theoretically, remove from the team and still have a playoff team -- this includes high performers on teams that dominate their divisions and low performers on all playoff teams)

  3. Of that group of players, sort by total WAR to get the top ten for the ballot (there's no other sensible way to order the players without whom their teams would not make the playoffs -- using some sort of question about the gap between individual WAR and the team's lead in the playoff race results in absurd answers on both ends)

To that end, I made a Google Doc that shows the MVP ballot for each league going back to 1995. The WAR that I've used here is rWAR, found at Baseball-Reference. I have no loyalty to this particular version of WAR -- it was just conveniently placed along with team standings, actual MVP voting, and so forth. This is all just for fun anyway.

You can hit that doc for the entire rundown. Here's a summary and discussion.

Breaking News: Michael Lewis Doesn't "Get" Moneyball Either

By The Common Man

If you’re a baseball fan, there’s a good chance that you’re profoundly interested in the new film Moneyball, that is set to debut on September 23rd at a theater near you. The Common Man is planning to see it, but hasn’t seen it yet, so this is not a review of the film. Others, including Aaron Gleeman, Keith Law, and John Bonnes, have seen it. Gleeman and Bonnes found themselves entertained by the film, with Aaron saying that “what the movie lacked in historical accuracy it made up for in witty dialogue, likable characters, and a surprising amount of humor.”

Keith had an entirely different reaction, calling it
“an absolute mess of a film, the type of muddled end product you’d expect from a project that took several years and went through multiple writers and directors. Even good performances by a cast of big names and some clever makeup work couldn’t save this movie, and if I hadn’t been planning to review it, I would have walked out.”
Yeesh. KLaw goes on to lament the movie’s “lampooning of scouts, which draws from the book, [and] isn’t any more welcome on screen (where some of the scouts are played by actual scouts) than it was on the page.”

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Hitter vs. Position Player

By Mark Smith
He's so big because he's such a great hitter and Fielder.
While watching Mommy and Daddy fight on the site yesterday, I got caught up in some wording in their argument. During the Common Man’s opening statement, he mentions “hitter” and “position player” interchangeably, and while Bill points out the difference and TCM surely knows the difference (you all know the difference), it’s a common correlation that’s often made. I find that fascinating because A) pitchers do hit occasionally and B) we all know there’s a difference. So why do we see this all the time?

First, let’s make sure we understand the distinction. “Hitter” is a term meant to only refer to the offensive contributions of player at the plate. If we’re talking in stats terms, that means wOBA, the triple-slash line, wRC, OPS, etc., and it does not include baserunning, fielding, or pitching. “Position player” refers to a player that plays C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, LF, CF, RF, and DH, and it is not used for pitchers. In statistical terminology, we rank them by fWAR, rWAR, VORP, WARP, etc. by including their hitting, baserunning, and defense. In effect, when we talk about things like the MVP Award, “position player” is the term we want.

But clearly that isn’t always the case. MLB created the Hank Aaron Award to name the best hitter in the majors, and the Silver Sluggers are for the best hitter at each position. Gold Gloves are for the best fielders, but that doesn’t include hitting at all. The Cy Young is for pitchers, so that doesn’t count. And the MVP includes pitchers (for better or worse). While I won’t argue what side of the Pitchers-as-MVP debate I’m on, I find it interesting that there’s no award that rewards the whole position player.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Being a Polygasportist on Twitter

By Mark Smith

I’ve met quite a few people who don’t like sports. I actually had a group of friends full of them, which caused me to start writing as an outlet for having a conversation about sports, but they have since come to their senses. While I certainly don’t agree with people who dislike sports, I do kind of understand it. Sports are pretty much useless as a form of entertainment. Music, art, reading, and writing can all add valuable contributions to society, but the only real advantage of sports is making exercise fun. Character-building for things like discipline, teamwork, hard work, etc. can all be learned through other outlets, and sports can actually be harmful and cause serious health problems.

That, of course, doesn’t mean sports are actually useless. They do teach all those positive characteristics I mentioned, and they do get people out of the house for a little exercise. While they may not contribute to society, they do entertain many, many people, and as a form of entertainment, that’s all they really are supposed to do. It’s really about individual preference.

What I have rarely met, however, is someone who likes sports but actually has a good reason for disliking another sport. I can understand liking certain sports more than others, but I don’t really understand how one can simply dislike another sport. Sports are fun because they include (in no order) exercise, strategy, competition, teamwork, and a distraction, but they all include those in some form or another. Depending on how you feel about those characteristics and how they relate to your enjoyment of sports, your ranking of the sports will be different from someone else’s, which is fine. What I find is that people are either socialized into disliking it by family, friends, community, or whatever, aren’t good at it, or don’t understand the nuances. Considering most of us are armchair fans, the second isn’t a good reason. As for the rest, once you give it a try and learn, you’ll gain at least an appreciation for it, though you may never love it.

Blogfight: Should Pitchers Win the MVP?

By Bill and The Common Man

Blogfight, a gentleman's game. Blog fight, a test of wills.

If you follow Bill and The Common Man on Twitter, you may have noticed that they had a short disagreement a couple weeks back about whether pitchers should be eligible to win the MVP award.  Bill, ever the jackass, wrote that he wanted to cruelly expel them from the process by legal means or simple shunning, stripping them of their basic rights as a baseball player and a human being.  The Common Man benevolently believed that all who played baseball should have a chance to win the award, as befits their God-given human dignity.  Unable to come to an agreement in 140 characters or less, they agreed to pistols at dawn to settle the issue. 

When neither showed up, owing to them both being cowards not wanting to get shot, they decided to settle it via a blogfight.  Each will get an opening statement (which they wrote without reading the other's comments) and then a chance to respond.  Feel free to continue the debate with them, or with each other, in the comments.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Theories of value

By Jason Wojciechowski

To begin

The passing of September 1 in baseball is like hitting Thanksgiving in the real world. Christmas sales, holiday music in the department stores, and making lists for Santa are sanctioned the second we stop stuffing ourselves with turkey while the Lions lose on TV. In baseball, we've been talking about awards all year, tracking who's in the lead both by the stats and the narrative, but come the expansion of rosters, the awards talk gains legitimacy. Starters only have a handful of chances to improve their standing and position players have their last shot at a 20-RBI month that'll impress the 73-year-old beat writer 2000 miles away.

My last post here proposed a new award system, but that's fantasy-land. I'll still be giving you my Willie Mays Award winners come the end of the year, but I know that's not what everyone else will be thinking about. Instead, the real Most Valuable Player trophy is at stake. As ever, then, the baseball commentariat has created a grand foofaraw over the meaning of "valuable." Some think the MVP can only come from a winning team in contention for the playoffs. Others believe that an individual's work must be taken as far out of his team's context as sabermetricians can manage before his "value" can be properly determined. This debate has often broken down on old-school vs. new-school lines, though that's hardly black-and-white -- Andre Dawson won in 1987 for a bad Cubs team long before internet baseball nerds had any sway, and Steve Slowinski recently wrote at Fangraphs that valuing the work of players on contenders more highly than equivalent work on bad teams actually makes sense.

We'd all be a lot better off, I've come to believe, if we weren't quite so quick to jump down each other's throats about what "value" means, pretending that there's only one sensible definition and that it's somehow inherent in the world "value" and instead tightened up our individual understandings of value into something intellectually defensible that does not serve as a mere post-hoc rationale for our favored candidate. This would leave us more time to focus on what our theory of value leads us to in terms of which player deserves the award.

I think we can identify two reasonable definitions of player value for the purpose of awards, as well as two not-crazy definitions that simply aren't workable. None of the following four theories of value are, I believe, subject to attack on the grounds that they have no intellectually honest grounding in language or baseball.

Thoughts, Links, and Errors

By The Common Man

Forgive The Common Man if his mind is crazy elsewhere lately. As you may know, he is expecting the second child to arrive via stork any day now. As such, TCM is a bit scattered. So what you get are a bunch of random thoughts bound together, sometimes in response to links, with nary a thought to segues and transitions. Enjoy.

Among the names The Uncommon Wife has rejected for our second child, should it be a boy: Henry, Aaron, John (Jack), and Harmon. Admittedly, TCM didn’t do much to disguise that last one, and she caught on. Thus, TCM didn’t bother asking about Roberto.

Aaron Gleeman asks whether this is the worst season in Twins history. The Common Man thinks so, but this is not the worst team in club history. For one thing, the quality of this team should have been much better, but injuries sapped the club of much of its effectiveness. The worst team, as far as TCM can figure is the 1999 club that lost 97 games and tried to pass off LaTroy Hawkins (10-14, 6.66), Mike Lincoln (3-10, 6.84), and Dan Perkins (1-7, 6.54) off as starting pitchers, let Benj Sampson put up an 8.11 ERA in 71 innings, suffered through a 38 OPS+ season from Christian Guzman, and whose lone All Star was Ron Coomer (.263/.307/.424) primarily as a 1B. But while the 2011 Twins team is much better than the horrible band of misfits forced to travel the country together in ’99, their season is a much larger failure, given the level of talent on hand and the expectations surrounding the club.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Baseball Term Seeks Definition

By The Common Man

Earlier today, Peter Gammons, Associate Dean of Baseball, Knight of Baseball Reportage, Master of the Pocket Tweet, and former owner of a sweet-ass mustache, advised someone to “Buy her a washing machine.” We have little context to understand who The Great Gammo was speaking to nor, exactly, what occasion is worthy of such a lavish present. Is that the 14th wedding anniversary, or the 36th?

Anyway, The Common Man advocates immediately adding this to our baseball lexicon, since he imagines it’s something Red Barber would say back in his heyday. But TCM is less that clear about what, exactly, “buying her a washing machine” should mean. Obviously, it should be something good (as using a washing machine is much better than washing clothes by hand). However, it can’t be something exciting or even something fully appreciated. What woman or man, after all, wants to be given a washing machine as a gift? How is that fun? So The Common Man leaves it to you, dear readers, to determine what, exactly, “buying her a washing machine” should be in baseball-ese. The following are all suggestions The Common Man received or proposed:

Optical Illusions: Bats

By Mark Smith
I can only partially explain why I have this connection in my head, and perhaps by the end of this, I will fully explain it. But does anyone else associate lighter-stained bats with power hitters and black bats with contact hitters? I assume my association with this began with Chipper Jones, as many of my baseball-related associations have. He’s my favorite player, and in many ways, I’ve grown up and learned a lot from him and his experiences. I began my conscious watching of baseball when he was a rookie, and I became a real fan in 1995. When he cheated on his wife, I learned that baseball players are human as well, and while he screwed up, it became a valuable learning point for my young understanding of relationships. I learned the value of job satisfaction and team-employee loyalty when he took contracts below market value (though I realize he made himself a #$%^load of money anyway) and restructured contracts to help the team. Those are obviously somewhat serious lessons, but I’ve also been the victim of some other ones.

If you look at the picture above, it shows Chipper hitting from both sides of the plate, and you’ll note Chipper using a lightly-stained bat from the left side and a black bat from the right side. As a left-handed batter, he’s hit .305/.407/.546, and from the left, he’s hit .304/.392/.501. That’s actually pretty close, but you will note that he’s hit for quite a bit more power from the left side in his career. That’s certainly been his reputation, anyway. After 16 years and countless at-bats, this has to have had an effect on me, no?

I imagine another part of the issue is the general idea that black makes objects appear smaller. It’s why people wear black to make themselves look thinner. I assume this is because the black gives the object a definite visual end, whereas other colors somewhat blend into the background and give the illusion that they look a little bigger. That’s the way it looks to me, anyway. So when it comes to guys at the plate, it’s natural that power hitters would use the lighter-stained bat, and the contact hitters would use the black bat. Okay, you want more explanation than that. Because the lighter-stained bat appears larger (I realize there’s a difference between what I perceive and reality, but bear with me), it must take a stronger man to wield it, and contact hitters, who must be weaker, want the smaller bat for better bat control and line drives. It makes sense, right?

Okay, so it probably doesn’t, but I became aware of it the other night while playing MLB: The Show. When I play, I play in the Franchise Mode, and I create my character once I get in the season. I was never good at pitching, so I won’t create myself as one. Instead, I’ll create a position player from just about any position. I used to think black bats were cooler, so I would always give myself a black bat when I was younger. Over the past several years, however, I’ve changed slightly, and I can imagine you know where this is heading. If I’m a power hitter, I use a lightly-stained bat, and if I’m a contact hitter/speedster, I use a black bat.

Has anyone else made this association? Does it even make sense to anyone else? Are there other associations you make? Ah well, I guess I’m just crazy. Fun thing to think about on a Friday afternoon.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

WANTED: New end-of-season award

By Jason Wojciechowski

A few days ago, I wrote a piece at my original home pointing out a bunch of silly things Bill Simmons said in his article about the MVP at Grantland. One portion of his argument that I left alone had to do with whether pitchers should be eligible for the MVP. Can the best pitcher in the league, who starts just 32 games, really be better than the center-fielder who starts 160? Surprisingly (this is Bill Simmons we're talking about), he comes out with the right answer: starting pitchers absolutely can be MVPs. Unsurprisingly (see last parenthetical), there's no actual argument to back this up beyond "Lefty Grove won the first AL MVP and Pedro shoulda won in 1999," but whatever: by any means necessary, right?

Here's the problem, though: once we've come to accept that a pitcher can be the Most Valuable Player in baseball, baseball's award system starts to look really unfair. Why does the Cy Young Award exist? We could declare, even if just de facto, that the MVP is for position players and the Cy Young is for hitters pitchers, but all that does is reinforce the idea that pitchers and hitters aren't comparable. Wouldn't it be more just, not to mention more fun, if there were a hitter equivalent of the Cy Young, and then the winners of the Cy Young and the hitter award did battle for the ultimate MVP award?

The Hank Aaron Award almost covers this gap, but the main stumbling block is that defense apparently does not matter for that prize. This page at describes the award as being for "the best overall offensive performer." That doesn't help explain why Derek Jeter has won the trophy twice, but I want my Cy Young equivalent to be a Best Position Player award, not a Best Hitter award, to ensure that defense and position are officially considered relevant by whoever we decide to have vote for the trophy. They matter in real life, after all, so they should definitely matter in award-voting.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Fix My Team!: Minnesota Twins Edition

By The Common Man

Last night, the Twins capped off what has been an excrutiating season by losing their fifth game in a row. In the last four, they’ve scored a total of two runs in the last four games, including one run in their last 32 innings, and hit .153/.191/.194 as a team. Mercifully, they’ve also now been officially eliminated from the race for the postseason, allowing us to speculate about where the team has been and where it should go from here.

The most frustrating aspect of 2011 as a Twins fan has undoubtedly been all the injuries. Joe Mauer’s mysterious leg and back problems, Justin Morneau’s lingering concussion and neck issues, Denard Span’s concussion, Tsuyoshi Nishioka’s leg, Michael Cuddyer’s neck and wrist, Jason Kubel’s foot, Delmon Young’s ankle and oblique muscle, Alexi Casilla’s hamstring, Jim Thome’s oblique and quad, Glen Perkins’ oblique muscle, and the arm troubles faced by Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Francisco Liriano, Jose Mijares, and Joe Nathan have sapped this club of energy and effectiveness. It has, at times (including last night), left the Twins looking like a AAA club, relying heavily on the contributions of Ben Revere, Trevor Plouffe, Drew Butera, Rene Rivera, Dusty Hughes, Matt Tolbert, Anthony Swarzak, Rene Tosoni, Jason Repko, Steve Holm, Jim Hoey, Phil Dumatrait, and something named Brian Dinkelman, whose name the team apparently be bothered to spell correctly on the lineup card. What’s worse, the Twins have been incredibly slow to put players on the disabled list, classifying their injuries as “day-to-day,” while sacrificing bench depth for weeks at a time.

Game of Thrones

By Mark Smith

People used to ask me what types of books I liked, and my initial response was sports and history. As I’ve aged, however, I realized that I spent enough time reading and watching sports to want too many of those, and because most of my school books were history, my brain has begun to react to them as one might toward a particular beverage after a particularly bad night (not that any of us know about that). So I’ve started reading more fantasy novels, with fond memories of The Animorphs and Harry Potter, and the Game of Thrones series has become the first series I’ve begun to gobble up (if you have other suggestions, please let me know). It’s about a mythical land that’s essentially divided into seven former kingdoms that are now ruled by one king, and after certain events you can see coming, civil war breaks out, thus them playing a "game of thrones". In the aftermath, the various kingdoms play a cap shuffling game to re-establish a new dynasty to rule the land.

While I’ve been reading the first four over the past month and a half, we’ve also started to hear about the Cubs opening and who will move to take the job, and like those songs or albums that somehow become emblematic of certain times in your life, this series of books will remind me of this, which isn’t a terrible thing. As the lords fight, die, and scheme, they take new thrones and titles, but they always have to remember what and who they are leaving behind, often making secondary characters more important than they seem (long side note: This is one of the brilliant thing author George Martin does in the series. He has no problem killing characters off, and he is frequently introducing new characters, which can make things a little confusing at first but will enable the series to continue indefinitely. The Harry Potter books were really damned from the start because Rowling centered the story among a certain group of characters, and even if she wanted it to continue, she’d lose readers due to the change in scenery or difference in characters. Martin could continue the series for the rest of his life if he wanted). Looking at the baseball scenario, GMs are maneuvering to put themselves and a team on top, but once they leave one team for another, they leave a power vacuum. So my question isn’t who will take the Cubs, Astros, etc. job, but what jobs might be open after the initial shuffle and which might be the most desirable.

Boston isn’t likely to be an option. I can’t really see Epstein leaving Boston for Chicago. You would have to completely rebuild the team, and the window for competing is probably 2014. As for the “challenge” response, Boston and the AL East is pretty much always a challenge, but I will say that I have no intimate knowledge of Epstein’s thoughts. If he left, this is pretty much an ideal job--winner, big budget, rabid fan base--and all you would have to do is continue restocking the farm system. It’s Highgarden--really nice but probably not going to happen.

The Yankees seem like a slightly more probable possible opening. Cashman has been a bit more vocal this season, and I could see him wanting out of the craziness. If he were to head to Chicago, he would be leaving a high-profile position, but it could be a position about to take a turn for the worse. With an aging, expensive core, the new GM would need to retain CC, add a starter or two (the rotation has actually been quite good this year, but I don’t know why you would expect it to continue), and rebuild the farm system. The team, however, has a massive budget, great market, and enough prestige for anyone’s ego. People will definitely want this despite possible headaches. It’s King’s Landing--the place to be but you might not last long.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Wins are awful

By Jason Wojciechowski

In a move destined to rebound terribly on them, Bill and The Common Man have invited me to turn the remarkable trio posting here at The Platoon Advantage into a less-remarkable-because-of-subtraction-by-addition quartet. You may know me in other contexts as the proprietor (since at least 2003!) of Beaneball or the guy who overtweets at @jlwoj. I'm incredibly happy to be here, at least until I get kicked out.

With the entire internet burning to the ground over this piece on WAR by Hippeaux at It's About the Money, Stupid, including reactions from Rob Neyer, Tom Tango, and basically everybody on Twitter questioning motivations, complaining about pseudonyms (which your very own Common Man got involved in), and generally acting like we don't all have work to do, I figure it's time to take on a real menace: Joe Posnanski thinks wins aren't that bad.

Here's the thing: I wouldn't even give this piece the time of day, except that I think it's symptomatic of a weird belief among people who I know know better regarding wins. When you read Bill James and Rob Neyer and Posnanski, you see an awful lot of win-loss records being cited. They're never used as a quality measure, exactly, as evidence that one pitcher is better than another, but still: there they are, on the page, right next to the guy's ERA and his K/BB ratio and all sorts of other vastly more useful numbers.

I think it's time to take a hard-line attitude toward pitcher wins. (And losses! Why does no one ever talk about pitcher losses?) Posnanski wrote "to praise the win not to bury it," but I'm more of a burial kind of guy. And a salt the earth afterward kind of guy. A leave no gravestone guy. So let's bury this.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Fix My Team!: Baltimore Orioles Edition

Yesterday, the Orioles were eliminated from the postseason, like the Astros before them. Twenty more teams are going to join them before the season finally winds down. We’re looking at those clubs that fall short and consider how to fix them for 2012. What should their plans be? What moves should they make? And who should they count on going forward?


The Orioles came in to 2011 with high hopes that an infusion of veterans could gel around a young and talented pitching staff. The Orioles started 5-1 in its first week, and fans raised their expectations to epic heights, only to see the club predictably falter and fall to the bottom of the AL East, where they will have finished each of the last four seasons, and to 90+ losses, which they’ve done for their last 6.

The problem, ironically, has been that vaunted pitching staff, which has allowed 5.27 runs per game, more than a third of a run higher than the next closest team in the AL. The team’s defense also hasn’t helped matters either, turning in the lowest defensive efficiency in the American League, and by far the lowest Total Zone and Defensive Runs Saved totals, according to Baseball Reference. Such is the problem with having the statuesque and sloppy Mark Reynolds playing third base.