Saturday, August 1, 2009

Actions Speak Louder than Words -- and Results Speak for Themselves

I really hate clichés. I mean I REALLY hate them. They're so often a crutch of those with nothing to say, and worse, they so often conflict with common sense.* "Actions speak louder than words," but "the pen is mightier than the sword." These are the empty words of people attempting to justify their actions.

*The big one around the office right now is, "it is what it is," usually in reference to some unfortunate corporate red tape that can't be overcome. "It is what it is." What the hell does this even mean? Is it really what it is or are you just accepting what it isn't because what is can't be what it's not or...wait. *whew* Let's move on.

So when I hear Dayton Moore tell Royals fans to "trust the process," I think responding with a cliché, like "it is what it is," might be using a crutch when the truth is needed. I'd rather follow up with a more serious response. Questions like, "what actually is the process?" spring immediately to mind.

The problem is that the process is becoming obvious. Dayton Moore likes speed, unless the player is good at stealing bases. He likes guys that have great range, unless they're good at defense. He likes good, hard working, honest guys, unless he has to settle for the me-first 'roiders and drunk drivers. Dayton is focusing on tomorrow and building up the farm leagues, but everything points to him attempting a run in 2010.* And he LOVES some guys that have great On Base Percentage, unless they can draw a walk.

*Walter has something on this coming down the pipe so I'll let him speak to that.

It's the numerous self-evident conflicts that give me pause, and there's only three logical conclusions that I can come up with:

  • Crazy: He's attempting to rebuild the 1985 World Series Team, Hall-of-Famer be damned. He's ignoring OBP because the '85 team did too. He sees "fast outfielders" and "big outfield" and one Commissioner's Trophy and has assumed that's the only way to do it in KC.
  • Scary: He's lying. He actually hates the stat-heads because he trusts his eyes. His time spent as a scout was in the grand tradition of trusting your gut, looking for intangibles, and obviously finding guys with lots of grit (of which only scouts that ride minor league busses learn the recipe to).
  • Sad: He actually doesn't have a plan. He doesn't have a strategy, an overarching theme, a comprehensive logical program built to rebuild this sad franchise and turn it into a perpetual contender.

Now, I don't believe any of those. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle; he knows the Kauffman Stadium quirkiness requires two center fielders, he probably doesn't trust sabermetrician's conclusions completely, and his plan may have gone to hell when he realized he couldn't bring in the pieces he wanted at a fair price. Let's give him what little benefit of the doubt he deserves.

But let us not be fooled. On base percentage is not a priority for Dayton Moore, regardless of 'the process.' To fall back on those damnable clichés again, let's let his actions speak louder than his words.

Let the results speak for themselves.

(click to enlarge)

Friday, July 31, 2009

Tinkering with Pythagorean Expectation, Now With 80% less math

One of the original great Bill James ideas was a formula using runs scored for and runs allowed by a team to determine what their win-loss record should have been, rather than what it actually was. This notably identified factors of luck to determine whether a team left untouched likely were better or worse than they had appeared to be, as explained HERE.

(2003-2004 Royals fans may be a bit touchy about just how big of an effect this can be).

One of the biggest issues with traditional Pythag expectation was that the importance of statistical outliers could not be minimized in the greater calculation, and could be misleading regarding the team's greater success and how much random chance had to do with it (we've all seen it before: consider a pitcher with a high ERA in which it really was the result of one disastrous start rather than an actual consistent level of mediocre or poor play. That ERA is not indicative of what sort of performance you are likely to get - for reference, see the 2009 line of Ricky Nolasco)

Or, in our own context, a fictional week of games between two teams, the Warriors and the Aztecs:

Game 1: Warriors 18, Aztecs 0
Game 2: Warriors 2, Aztecs 4
Game 3: Warriors 0, Aztecs 1
Game 4: Warriors 4, Aztecs 5
Game 5: Warriors 13, Aztecs 8

Over these 5 games, the Warriors scored 37 total runs (7.4 per game) and allowed 18 (3.6 per).

Without doing a single bit of math, given those numbers, you would expect the Warriors to be a winning team (scoring 205% more than you allow is a good way to do that). The traditional formula says the Warriors should be 4-1 over this period, and yet they are 2-3, thanks to a couple of games of extremely high offense tilting the numbers.

In just a simple 5 game series, the formula is at -2. If similar games repeated themselves for a 162 game series, the formula would be 65 games off the actual pace for the team!

Mind you, this doesn't happen. Teams don't score 18 runs and then 0 in the same week very often. The teams will all regress to more "normal" performances, and the odd variation found in that 5 game set with the Aztecs would be lost forever, softened by reality. But that doesn't mean the flaw isn't there: it just got buried by reason. But these things happen: remember when the Rangers put up a 30 spot on Baltimore in 2007? That sort of fluctuation did really significant damage to Texas' runs per game (and Baltimore's allowed), even though the value of runs roughly 7-30 were minimal. Spread those runs out, and Texas can win probably 8 more games on the excess alone. That's roughly what Hanley Ramirez would give you over Yuniesky Betancourt. And it gets counted twice: those runs could have cost Baltimore to conservatively lose 8 more games ... that's a 16 game swing for the whole league: on the results of just one game, mind you, a spectacular one. But while a 30 run game is truly remarkable, 10 run games are relatively commonplace, and 3 or 4 of those can add up to the same error.

Of course, there was improvement. There are some excellent and math heavy ways in which Bill James' original Pythagorean expectation have been tweaked, notably HERE, the best available material on the subject from two of sabermetrics' most valuable minds.

But almost all of these calculations require a year in review, specifically as it relies to park value and run scoring environment - most of these variables are anything but static and make an end of season predictor very difficult. Of course, as is known and proven time and time again, nothing in baseball is on a perfectly laid path - players get hurt, players get traded, schedules are unbalanced.

But in a big enough sample size, (say, post-All Star break), it's easy to crank out a simple tool with pretty alarming accuracy (and embarrassingly low mathematical acumen) to determine roughly how a team will finish.

The first thing you need to know is the runs scored per game for the entire league: (in the case of 2009, 4.57 as of this print). Interestingly, baseball hasn't varied too much on this, considering: look at each year since 2000:

2009 (to date): 4.57
2008: 4.65
2007: 4.80
2006: 4.85
2005: 4.59
2004: 4.81
2003: 4.73
2002: 4.61
2001: 4.77
2000: 5.14 (!)

Only one of those numbers really stands out, and it's during the ... ahem ... offensive explosion of the late 90s and early 00s which I will leave for discussion elsewhere.

So barring some obsence 1968 pitching or 2000 hitting numbers, the average number of runs scored will be in somewhere in the 4s. And since I've never seen a team score exactly 4.54 runs in a game, you either score above the norm (5 or more) or fewer (4 or less). Simple, right? Well, not quite. The scale is top-heavy as it is open ended up on the right side (you can score unlimited runs, but you can't score less than zero). This doesn't have a huge effect, but it makes scoring or allowing 4 runs the grey area, as you will win half the time if you score or allow exactly 4 runs.

Now to predict a team's win-loss record going forward: we do it by a way that fans have done for a long time, only with definable values:

1. If a team scores 5 runs or more, it's an offensive success. That side of their game has given their team an adequate or better chance to win.

2. If a team allows 4 runs or fewer, it's a defensive success.

3. Count the number of total "successes" your team has for the year (you can have 2 successes in one game, or you can have 1 or zero, we are measuring different sides of the game). Keep the offensive and defensive successes separate: we'll use them again later.

4. Divide the total number of successes by 2. This is your expected number of wins to this point in the season. The variation should be small, and can be attributed to bad luck or could be a red flag for bad managing, especially if that approaches 5 or so per 100 games.

5. Divide the number of successes on both offense and defense by the number of games played to that point. This determines the rate at which your team is getting adequate performances.

6. Extrapolate that rate of success over your remaining games for both to determine your expected W-L for the end of the year.

All right, everybody still with me? Good. Because it's fun, and if they haven't done a good enough job themselves, let's rip apart the Kansas City Royals.

2009 W-L: 40-61

Offensive Successes: 39 (38.6%)
Defensive Successes: 51 (50.4%)

Expected W-L: 45-56

Uh-oh Trey.

So what we see here is nothing too terribly surprising ... The Royals are a mediocre pitching team (in a future post, I may see what happens if you replacement Grienke with an average starter) and a bad hitting team, and these numbers reflect that.

Expected W-L over 162: 67-95

That's sure not good, is it? Luckily more waiver wire gritty speedsters are on the way.

AL CENTRAL: One of These Things is Not Like the Other

One of these things just isn't the same!

(click to enlarge)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Beginning In the Middle

So this isn't exactly the beginning. This is more of a reset.*

So what's being reset? Gritty&Clutch is starting over, but only in theory. When we first started this thing last year, it was supposed to be a joke--some way we could get our rocks off by making fun of stupid things around sports while hopefully offering some intelligent stat-based commentary along the way.

"Let's just have fun and see who we can piss off." And thus it began. We had some good stuff, and some pretty bad stuff too. After a few silly articles, our original idea of Stats with Snark morphed into some Onion-y type sports satire site. Needless to say there's not a huge market for that. Nor was it very fun. How many different ways can one take some current sports headline, make fun of it, and keep it interesting?

* Am I the only one so obsessive compulsive that the [RESET] button on his NES was his best and worst enemy? How many games of Mario did I play, whereupon the first accidental death, I shot my finger to the reset button before the next life? I always knew I would need every life I could get if I ever wanted to beat it. I never did.

I had that awful habit when playing on my Grandma's piano too. I only knew the beginning of Axel Foley (really just the first six or seven notes) and would attempt to play for my sister --who I might say was never impressed with my piano playing OR my Nintendo-resetting habits-- and all the while I would get a few notes in, mess up, and start over. Over and over again. I didn't have much of an audience for very long.

Worse, I still do this. I have a game for the PC called Age of Empires III (quite fun), but it always feels like the first ten minutes are the most important. So, when things don't quite go my way after the first ten, rather than play it out and feel failure, I just hit [RESTART] and try again. I rarely finish a game that I won't win.

Is there something wrong with that? I can't be the only 80s generation kid so pleased with himself, so afraid of failure, so arrogant and anal and obsessive that I refuse to observe the Game Over screen?

Some time later we got bored, worked on different projects, and Gritty&Clutch fell by the wayside. I started a website about video game sales of all things*, and I really polished up my chart making skills.

That was a year ago.

*I don't want to get off on too far of a tangent, but I really have fully embraced my inner dork. As if the previous passage didn't tip you off, I'm quite the dork. Video games, fantasy books, Dungeons & Dragons, tabletop war games, Quantum Leap, dinosaurs, Star Trek, computers; all of them have embarrassed me at some point.

And video game sales. I found this little subset of dorkery and started making charts. Crazy charts, like "Which Nintendo game sold the most ever?" ."Will increased sales in Japan mean increased sales world wide?". "How do Konami and EA financials compare?", etc. Enough people liked them that I started a little site for my dorky hobby, and now I think I can apply this dorkeriffic habit to baseball.

Which brings me to today. Some time ago, I met this cool dude at work who mentions that he likes baseball and we were best buds instantly. Me and my love of all things dorkeriffic, Walter opened the doors to a secret society. Something about "sabermetrics" and "baseball math." It sounded hilarious.

I learned about the hidden world of baseball, and I learned that sabermetrics really isn't scary at all. It's just a statistical approach to America's Pastime. I discovered the beauty of OPS+. JoePo. Rany. FireJoeMorgan. While it was tremendously fun to learn about and have my eyes opened to all the possibilities, it wasn't hilarious at all, nor was it hidden. It was right there in front of everybody.

I slowly came to understand that the reason my favorite team, my most-loved childhood team, my sad-sack, constantly losing, pathetic Kansas City Royals baseball team didn't lose because the evil Yankees had all the money. They didn't lose because they couldn't keep their best players. They didn't lose because of Evil Boras and those big meanies in Beantown.

Bad decisions and a rejection of analysis are why the Royals continue to lose. Over and over and over again. Not money. Not Boras. Not a curse. Just bad management and bad decisions.

This is now. Here I am, with a new perspective. Gritty&Clutch will be several things and none combined. It will be a place for stat-based commentary and analysis, baseball charts, conversational exchanges between Walter and I, and sometimes a little snark.

So we're starting over, but not really. We're continuing with a renewed focus on fun and real insight. This time I'm taking my finger off the reset button.