An Ordinary Baseball Guy

Thoughts about our National Pastime and occasional thoughts for the Good and Welfare of the Reader (and maybe the writer)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Chaos Theory Applies to Umpires

Coming out of this World Series there were two major topics of conversation – how the Yankees bought the championship because there is no meaningful salary cap and how bad the umpiring was and what to do about it.

Here is what bothers me about the umpiring debate. I have grown to dislike a phrase

I kept hearing during the World Series. How many times did the announcers say, “It did not affect the outcome?”

That is where chaos theory comes in. Now, I am not a physicist nor do I pretend to be familiar with the full ramifications of chaos theory. But, here is a thumbnail. It holds that a small change in the initial conditions can drastically change the long-term behavior of a system. Most people equate chaos theory with the flap of a butterfly’s wings. The reason is that in describing the theory the phrase, “even the flapping of a single butterfly's wing can produce a tiny change in the state of the atmosphere,” is often used.

But a bad call by an umpire causes change that is a lot more impactful. Let’s consider this.

With one out, a runner on first attempts to steal second is palpably out but is called safe. What change in the condition of the game is altered?
First, the absence of the second out will alter the pitch count. A pitcher who might have used 14 pitches to get through an inning, might now use 21 – thus hastening the point where he will be replaced.

Second, the catcher will now alter his signaling process because he will be concerned about the possibility of a runner on second reading signs. The chances of missed signal is increased.

Third, the pitch selection will be altered because a fly ball to the outfield could result in a run scored much more often than it would if the runner were on first.

Fourth, absent a double play (much harder to achieve with a runner on second than with one on first) a batter who might not otherwise have batted, will come to bat.

So, don’t tell me a blown call does not change the outcome.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Face of Futility

When I was a yout', growing up in Brooklyn, Ralph Kiner was the face of the Pirates. Those were the days of the 8-team National League and Pittsburgh was part of the western swing and what you could count on was the Pirates would finish 8th. Between 1946 and 1957 they managed only one winning season despite Kiner's winning seven consecutive home run titles.

These are the Pirates who played in the first world series ever and whose early MLB history included the dominant hall-of-famer, Honus Wagner. These are the Pirates who won the 1960 World Series when Bill Mazeroski's walk off home run became a nadir of NY Yankee history until the Red Sox decade began. These are the Pirates of Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell and "We Are Family." The team that dominated the NL East.

It was during that time that I came to live in Pittsburgh. The sporting goods store that carried Honus Wagner's name was still open in the Triangle. Citysearch says it still is. Forbes Field's home plate was embedded in a floor in a building at Carnegie Mellon University. Three Rivers Stadium was the home of the Bucs and was a shrine to Clemente. Even the die-hard Steeler fans paid attention to the other Black and Gold team in town, although I never saw a Terrible Towel at the ballgame.

This season looks to be the 17th consecutive losing season for the Pirates – which will be the longest consecutive losing season streak in professional sports. Quoting Nicholas Tolemo from Doc's Betting service "Without hesitation the Las Vegas bookmakers have once again made the Pirates the team to beat for this upcoming regular season. By team to beat, I mean team everyone is going to beat. On most sports books . . . the Pirates have the worst odds to win the NL Central, the National League pennant and the World Series."

Another blogger, some time ago, pointed out that best thing the Pirates have going for them is their stadium. And, all reviews of PNC Park are in agreement. I am excited to be seeing it for the first time in a few days. With a Las Vegas over/under on wins at 67.5, I don't expect much for the home town to cheer about, but they are playing a mediocre Colorado Rockies team so there is always the hope that this will be one of the 67-68 projected wins. Of course, there is no such thing as a bad day at a ballpark and the company I will be with ensures that.

Thinking about seeing a game with someone who has very little knowledge of baseball, led me to think about growing up with baseball. I grew up in a winning city. The Yankees were there and the Dodgers. Even the Giants had their following. My friends and I, on opposite sides of the cheering fence, argued over who was best -- Mantle, Mays or Snider; Reese or Rizzuto; Berra or Campanella; even Mel Allen vs. Vin Scully vs. Red Barber.

I wonder what is like to grow up in Pittsburgh and be a baseball fan. It is a city that people do not leave easily or often. A guy I had dinner with the other night told me he had just attended his elementary school class's 50th anniversary. H also passed along a representative story. A man he knows was offered a job, but he had to move to San Diego. His wife was upset at leaving her friends and family and Giant Eagle. He said, "Don't worry. If the job does not work out, we can always come back and everyone will be here.

So, if you became a baseball fan at around age 6, in 1992 and went to the first game with your dad and maybe got a black and gold baseball cap; or a Tee Shirt, you are now 23 and you have never seen a winning baseball season. And, if you hang out with some older guys at, maybe, the bar at the Wooden Nickel in Monroeville, some of them might remember the 1979 World Series and Stargell's 2-run home run in the 7th game that provided the winning margin. Or, if you hang out in the South Side or Lawrenceville, you might find someone who saw Maz's 1960 home run.

OK. It is not as long ago as Chicago's last World Series, but somehow their stories of goats and the people sitting on the roof across the street makes it all seem less futile.


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

jaguarjoe72's Blog – Let’s Discuss

The roster of bloggers about baseball is vast. This guy is more perceptive than most, so when I read this, I thought to myself – do I agree with the grades or not. Here are his grades and notes, followed by mine. I truncated to the extent of batching the pitchers. To see his original got to

Amezaga (B-) Has been hurt; only .233 average, but defense has been spectacular and has had some timely hits.

Me: B+ for super sub. The only rap is that he cannot play day to day because he fades.

Baker (A) Has really flourished as the #1 catcher.

Me: Agree. It is a bonus when you get a catcher, comfortable and contributing in the #2 place in the order

Bonifacio (B-) Started out great, but his average (.257) and on base % (.304) are too low

Me: Solid B. His play in the field is exceptional and when he is on base the speed is staggering

Cantu (A+) Where would the Fish be without Cantu? I don't want to know.

Me: I push back on the + because good as he is, he is short of Pujol Territory

Gload (F) Needs to show improvement or he will be released or sent to Triple-A.

Me: Sadly Yes. He was hired to be reliable. He is not reliable.

Helms (C) It is tough to come off the bench to pinch hit-but that's his job and a .258 average just isn't good enough.

Me: I would upgrade him to C+. I have seen him come through too often to back away now.

Hermida (C-) Low average and less power than expected. Had one really good game and that's it.

Me: D for Disappointment. He just has not lived up to the hype surrounding his place in the Baseball Prospect Book when he was in the Red Sox chain.

Maybin (D) Good in the field, not so much at the plate. Needs to work on the .216 average and .284 on base %.

Me: Borderline Flunk Out. It is time for him to deliver on the promise. I think given the D for

Hermida and my D- for Maybin, I would like to see what Stanton or De Aza can do.

Paulino (A) Best backup catcher in baseball. Period.

Me: B. Let's not get carried away. He flunked in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh!

Ramirez (C-) Numbers are way down and his character has come into question with his lack of hustle.

Me: He is a candidate to make his contribution elsewhere. I spoke to a couple of scouts last night and they think he is a valuable asset. The trade package can include his replacement, bullpen help and outfield support

Ross (C) Fan favorite for the Fish-not coming up with the clutch hits that made him so popular.

Me: C is about it. Charming guy, great smile, fields well, needs to hit.

Uggla (C-) A .212 average just isn't going to cut it. That being said, it's hard to imagine this lineup without him in it.

Me: D and proving every day that a Rule V player is a Rule V player. Baseball wisdom says that you can't win unless you are fielding strong up the middle. Baker is good, Maybin can field. Ramirez and Uggla is the Double Play combo from Hell; every gapper is an adventure.

Starting Rotation: C because the talent is there but you cannot overlook 17 straight games without earning a decision.

Relievers: C because we are in first place anyway.

Closing: C- based on nails bitten when a save opportunity arises.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Disabled List All-Star Team

I was thinking about the rash of early season injuries. We can blame the WBC. We can blame the extra long spring training season. We can blame improper conditioning by players, including off season routines. We can blame improper conditioning routines managed by the teams. Or, we can blame the Baseball Gods. Or we can blame all of the above. Of course some postings are strategic – borderline injuries that permit a roster move that would otherwise not work.

Regardless, I was looking at a list on the recent long flight from London to Miami and, while knowing that some changes have been made since, I was considering what an all-star team might look like. So here is mine:

Catcher – Joe Mauer, a Minnesota DL Perennial

1st Base – Dmitri Young, Washington Nationals or Russell Branyan, Mariners

2nd Base – slim pickings here, but I will go with Ryan Freel. Actually I want badly to put in Dan Uggla and bring him back in June, but he plays badly while healthy in the early season

3rd base – Aramis Ramirez, Chicago Cubs

Short Stop – have to exercise some schadenfreude here and cite the Red Sox Julo Lugo. Close runner up, Jack Wilson of the Pirates

Right field – Xavier Nady of the Yankees, eased by the good fill in role, being handled by Nick Swisher

Center field – Milton Bradley, of the Cubs although that may be a courtesy DL listing to conceal how angry Pinella is with him. Nate McClouth fits this slot under normal circumstances

Left field – Marcus Thames, Detroit Tigerss

DH – Vladimir Guerrero, only because I gave right field to Nady

You could fill an active roster with quality pitchers on the sidelines. So, in no particular order, the starting rotation might look like: Kelvim Escobar, John Lackey, Jeremy Bonderman, Hroki Karuda and Brandon Webb.

And, there are just too many relievers, raising an interesting question. Wouldn't you think that with so many relief pitchers injured, someone would rethink the notion of one inning/throw your arm out if you have to/bullpen management?


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Price Elasticity in Baseball

What I think I like best about baseball is despite the geometric patterning of the field, the outcome is always in doubt.

What I think I like best about finance and economics is that, despite the Philips Curve and the Kondratieff Long Wave and dozens of related theories, the outcome is always in doubt.

What got me to thinking like this is when I read that that the Nationals (known in some circles as the Natinals) had come to a agreement extending Ryan Zimmerman’s contract. That led me to wonder about other players whose contracts expire at the end of this season. I know, I know -- it is still very early into this season but I can make three fearless predictions so why not jump ahead?

1. The Marlins will not win 100 games.
2. Baltimore will not finish ahead of Tampa Bay.
3. Players and agents will be at odds with general managers over the value they bring to a team and the debate will be widely circulated.

And, I can predict that there will be an irrational free agency season going into 2010. The names available will likely include some significant players, as usual: Jason Bay, Matt Holliday, and Rick Ankiel come to mind. But we are in a Great Recession and a new economy is emerging, so some of the outcomes are in doubt.

A number of players are coming up to their eligibility with relatively cheap club options. Victor Martinez’ $7 million option can be bought out for $250,000 for example. It will cost the White Sox $1 million to not pay Jermaine Dye $12 million and the we train the best and keep the rest Pirates only need $600 thousand to encourage Freddy Sanchez seek his fortune elsewhere.

The outcome I am thinking about, though, is the price elasticity of demand, called PED for short. PED is a measure that economists like to use and that some marketing professionals actually understand. My favorite reader does not like the use of the term, but so far she has not come up with an alternative. Here is how PED works:

In theory, as prices rise, either consumer demand should decline or new suppliers should be induced to enter the market, thus driving down price. However, sometimes the demand curve is not altered by a higher price. The degree to which a demand curve reacts to a change in price is said to be the curve's elasticity. When consumers continue to buy despite price increases, we say that the price is elastic, i.e., it can be stretched. Elasticity varies among products because (this is the part that marketing guys get) there is sufficient brand loyalty to support the higher price. On the other hand, there are goods and services for which there is a price point above which consumers will look for substitutes or do without. Necessity = Elasticity, remains the prime rule.

In baseball’s free agent market, there are only 30 consumers (the teams). In fact, the number is usually lower for any one player. As teams review their rosters and farm systems, they will find themselves declaring certain positions vital, hence certain players, become more of a necessity to those teams than others. Add to that the notion that certain positions are more talent rich than others. A standout like Brian Roberts in the market for second basemen becomes better able to stretch the price than will Jason Bay in a league rich in left fielders.

Up until now, the sellers, the agents, have enjoyed the benefits of demand elasticity and have been driving up free agent prices. Those prices keep increasing but buyers have not retreated in the face of the escalation.

The question is, are their alternatives to competing in the free agent market? And, of course, there are. The most popular alternative is called “grow your own.” Supplement that with a strategic use of the Rule V draft. Add into the mix the ability to trade an established star for a bevy of up and comers and what do you have?

Want an example, consider how the Marlins have created a blue print for avoiding expensive free agency and reducing the tension of the price elasticity of demand while winning 2 world series and playing under the worst lease in baseball.