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Tuesday, December 06, 2005
the old men of baseball
the dodgers continue to move backwards. depodesta was moving forward. he was also moving upward and twirling a little. but prospects were good.
one losing season in dodgerville is too much. frank mccourt couldn't handle it. he went with the old, established fossils. no, i am unkind. but this is the old guard. things are changing. it's time for the new.
mccourt bowed to public opinion. what could he do? the weight is crushing.
bad times are ahead.
the new men of baseball
j.p. ricciardi. he always says insightful things. honest things. he gives you his position; he exercises sound judgement. straightforward.
the jays signed him through 2010. team president said free agents wanted to know if he would be there. he said yes. with money.
this is new. players signing because of the general manager. many players want to go to a winning team. they'll go to the yankees, a good bet; or a team that's spending money. they look around and say "these players are good. these players can win."
all players are good. major league baseball players are good at playing baseball. looking at the players a team has does not help you evaluate their long-term success.
i've never heard of a player signing because of sound team-building principles. paul byrd took less money to sign with the indians. he praised mark shapiro for getting rid of the veterans and bringing in young talent. he's there because he wants to win. for the future.
Sunday, December 04, 2005
the theory of baseball
i play poker. texas hold 'em, mostly. it's my job. i make a good living.
i also watch a lot of baseball games.
what's the connection? as i watched games this year, i began to notice something about the correct way to play baseball. i began to notice that the way to play winning baseball is the same as the way to play winning poker.
what the hell am i talking about? i'll explain. in poker, when there's a bet to you, you basically have three choices: raise, call, or fold. most players don't raise or fold enough, and call too much. you want to fold most hands, usually 75-80%, because otherwise you're putting in money with a mediocre hand. but if you have a good hand, you want to raise. first of all, a good hand has more of a chance to win, so you want to increase the pot. but the other reason is it puts your opponent to a decision: put more money in, or fold. a fold and you win right there. obviously good. but putting more money in with an inferior hand could be even more costly. it's a very difficult decision. when your opponents have difficult decisions to make, they make mistakes. and when your opponents make mistakes, you profit.
so what does this have to do with baseball? baseball is exactly the same. a raise is swinging for power. a call is swinging for contact. a fold is taking a pitch.
most of the time, the hitter should fold. most hitters swing way too much. corey patterson, for example. a few get it right. adam dunn, bobby abreu. i'm not sure how many pitches they swing at but i bet it's 20-25%. so they're folding about the same amount as a good poker player. folding a lot is known as playing tight. tight is right. most players are too loose.
the first pitch, one should almost always fold. ted williams observed this in the science of hitting. first of all, they might miss. then you're well on your way to a walk. but what if it's a strike. then it's 0-1, and you still see at least two more pitches. no big deal. but the other value to a ball is you get a favorable count. then the pitches become a lot more predictable, and a lot more hittable.
in poker terminology, the first pitch is a bad hand. fold it.
maybe you're a little skeptical of this analogy. you can't win when you fold, but you can walk when you take a pitch. aah, but you can win when you fold! a good poker player knows that folding when you're beat is as good as raising when you're winning. the name of the game is to increase the bankroll.
let's move on. let's say you've got a 2-0 count. you expect a fastball right down the middle. what do you know, here it comes! this is when you want to raise. this is a good hand.
raising is known as being aggressive. a tight, aggressive style is best in poker, as it is in baseball. it's not a contradiction to be tight and aggressive. tight means you don't play many hands. aggressive means when you play a hand, you usually raise.
coaches talk all the time about the importance of being agressive when hitting. and they're right. but the problem is, being aggressive is often confused with swinging too much. in poker, this is known as being loose-aggressive, and it is the quickest way to lose your money. the key is to be tight-aggressive: take most pitches, but when you swing, swing hard.
swing hard? but you might miss. oh well, it's a strike. you'll get more pitches. but if you hit it, the fielders will have a difficult time getting you out. the major league average on a ball in play is .308. you want to increase that number as much as possible. if you swing weakly, you'll probably be out, and then you don't get any more pitches. you're out. sit down.
there is a place for the call. if you're down 0-2, you may have a better chance of getting to first if you just put it in play, rather than risk the strikeout. if the pitcher is really good, a raise might be futile. also, players with a lot of speed may want to slap-and-run.
analagous situations in poker are when you don't have a good hand, but the pot is so big you want to take a chance on winning it, or when you're up against a loose aggressive opponent; you can just call and take their money.
i'm gonna publish this now, but i plan to add a section on pitching. check back.
Saturday, December 03, 2005
i should have said balls
instead of ass. can't lick the sweat of ricky henderson's balls. unless ricky wants him to. if ricky wants ricky's balls licked, ricky's balls should be licked!
before i start to imagine the appearance of ricky's balls, i'll move on to whatever the hell i was gonna talk about. which i don't remember. actually i didn't have anything to talk about. i was just going to ramble. looks like i'm doing it.
what can i say? here's something. the thing is, we're all analyzing. here we are, us analysts, analyzing. we're saying whoa, look at that move! hey, that's a good move! what? why'd they do that? that's terrible! but the thing is. here's the thing. the thing is the moves are not made from the perspective of baseball. that's right. they are not made from the perspective of baseball. they are made from the perspective of business. the business is entertainment. the contracts are advertisments. the signing of a contract is news, which is an advertisement, which sells tickets. tickets. 81 home games a year. still a significant source of revenue. never mind that gate receipts should be split between the home team and the visiting team. that's another story. and there's tv revenue. but the point is, the team is not trying to win games. it's trying to make money.
winning games is one way to accomplish that. but if your analysis is based on the assumption that teams are trying only to win games, you have a flaw. a fundamental flaw at the core of your system. your system of analysis.
you are a farce. baseball prospectus is a farce. for many reasons. but this is a fundamental one. the media is a farce. the major media. trades and signings are presented as baseball moves instead of business moves. yes, they talk about the dollars involved, aren't we interested in dollars, but there's a fundamental misrepresentation of motivation. and facts.
what is a beleagured baseball analyst to do?
that question is too big. let's leave it aside. let's call it rhetorical.
i love baseball. that is all there is to do. love baseball. we can talk about the business. the signing of chipper jones not because he's a great hitter, which he is, but because he's a good ole southern boy like ourselves. he gets hurt, and he fights through the pain, and we root for him. we go buy tickets. we cheer and cheer and cheer.
i like to cheer. i like to yell at darin erstad for hurting johnny estrada. and make friends with the angels fans sitting next to me. and yell at darin erstad.
yeah i'm a braves fan. i like to watch andruw jones hit the shit out of the ball. and the cow jumped over the moon. it says "cow" on the back of his neck. does anybody know that? it's chinese. he's got the chinese character for cow tattooed on the back of his neck.
but what is there to do. we can talk about what we would do if we were trying to win. because if i were a general manager, i would win. of course, it's not that simple. you've got a budget. how do you decide how much money to keep and how much money to spend. fundamentally it's a business. the only thing a business can do is go for profit. a corporation. an entity. it lives forever. as long as it's profitable.
so what's left? the game. we can talk about the game. we can talk about the beauty of a throw by jeff francoeur. we can talk about the cut fastball of mariano rivera. we can talk about the thirteen steps from first to second of a steal by ricky henderson.
and we can talk about his balls. we can talk about how to play the game. that's something i haven't seen anywhere, really. what i'm talking about is the theory of the game. how to hit a curveball, i don't really know. how to throw a change-up, can't help you. but i do know how to play games. i do know game theory. i'm a lifelong gamer and a mathematician. i've got some things to say.
that's what we'll be talking about. because baseball players are terrible at it. it's amazing, actually, how terrible they are. they play and get paid millions not because they understand the game, but because they have talent. some have both. bonds. pujols. schilling. maddux. martinez. but there are others with all the talent and no understanding. they can only go so far. shawon dunston. pedro feliz. cristian guzman. then there are those with little talent but lots of theory. they make the most of their opportunity. adam dunn. sabermetricians aren't going to like that. david wells. just throw strikes. game theory. we will talk.
this post is over and i like it, mostly. i feel like i get a little self-important, sometimes, but fuck it. it's just something i wrote. am i really full of myself? kind of.
there's so much bad information out there. you beat it back, and it pops up again. you take your machete, and cut cut cut, and two days later it's back. it's a fuckin jungle. what can i do? nothing, it seems.
but i gotta do something.