24 November 2010

Benefit of the Doubt: Pitchers Who Were Squeezed @ BtB

In part three of my PFX series over at Beyond the Box Score, I examine the pitchers who were squeezed by tight zones.
The competent Mariners and Blue Jays reliever was charged an extra 7.7 balls for every 100 called. Over the last two seasons, Brandon League was squeezed more than any other pitcher (minimum 500 called pitches).

23 November 2010

Hamilton Joins List of Sports, Personal Heroes

Update: I think it's fair to say my feelings about Lance Armstrong have changed somewhat, but not entirely…

At Beyond the Box Score, in which I fawn over newly-crowned 2010 AL MVP Josh Hamilton:
He's exactly who a hero should be: a human being, flawed like any other, who is able to recognize and triumph over his weaknesses and stand tall as a representative of everything that is good and hopeful in all of us. He's at once visible, successful and humble.

22 November 2010

Boise State: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love a Playoff

As a student of history, I have always harbored an affection for tradition in sports. With the possible exception of baseball, no other sport is as steeped in tradition as college football. I love the classic fight songs, marching bands, mascots, unchanging uniforms and helmet stickers. I loved that the Pac 10 Champion played the Big Ten Champion in "The Grandaddy of Them All" every year. In fact, I always loved the bowl system in general, which I believed was responsible for the exciting atmosphere of collegiate football.

Then in 1994, I watched a dominant Penn State squad go undefeated, win the Rose Bowl with ease, and get shut out from the National Championship because Tom Osborne of the similarly undefeated Nebraska Cornhuskers had never won a title; JoePa had two.

So when the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) was created a few years later, it was exactly what I felt college football needed. Now, regardless of conference affiliation, the two best teams would decide the title on the field instead of the AP voters deciding it in the polls. Finally, the biggest problem with college football had been fixed.

Unfortunately, the BCS has never functioned as intended. It was supposed to create an undisputed champion every year. Yet in 2003 USC and LSU ended up splitting the National Championship. The problems didn't end there: there was 2001, when the 4th ranked Cornhuskers ended up in the National Championship over the very team that defeated them in the Big 12 Championship Game; 2008, when the only undefeated team in the country, Utah, found themselves shut out; and now 2011, when a four-loss Big East team will likely play in the Orange Bowl while an undefeated Boise State or TCU may find themselves shut out from BCS bowl entirely.

Could somebody explain to me again how the season functions as a playoff?

The system has generated such controversy that a new opponent, the federal government, now has the BCS in the crosshairs. Orrin Hatch, junior Republican senator from Utah, was so peeved at the Utes being slighted in 2008 that called for congressional hearings and wrote a letter to the BCS executive director. When unsatisfied with the response from the BCS he said in part "...the BCS system is biased, secretive and harmful to schools and competitors."

18 November 2010

17 November 2010

Benefit of the Doubt: Starters Who Get the Wide Zone - Beyond the Box Score

In the second installment of my Benefit of the Doubt series over at BtBS, I examine starters who steal extra strikes outside the zone. I also look deeper into what makes a pitch more or less likely to win the umpire's favor.
Controlling for location, fastballs with strong horizontal or (especially) vertical movement are more likely to favor the pitcher. Contextually, an umpire is most likely to call a strike that the Pitch FX system disagrees with when the pitcher is pitching at home, in the playoffs, facing a right-handed batter, when the there are more outs, more balls, and fewer strikes on the batter, and/or when there are runners on first and/or second, ceteris paribus.

Benefit of the Doubt: Starters Who Get the Wide Zone - Beyond the Box Score

15 November 2010

Competitive Balance III: Upward and Downward Mobility

I left off in my competitive balance series with a discussion of team mobility. By one measure, teams have proven far more upwardly/downwardly mobile in the NFL than they have in the other three major leagues. The graph below indicates the average annual change in team win percentage for the four major leagues:

However, this graph gives far too much credit for teams that move up and down within the middle ranks of the leagues without making too much progress from the absolute depths to the absolute heights, or vice versa. Meanwhile, Tom Tango over at Inside the Book presented a test that avoids that problem:
One sign of a competitive league is when a team that ends the season in the bottom third one year can manage to end up in the top third within the next three years… Basically, you have about one chance in three of having at least one competitive season in the next three seasons, if you finished in the bottom third of the league in standings. Let’s call this “The Rule of 3”… My question: who wants to try this exercise for NFL, NHL, and NBA? 

12 November 2010

Tech Notes: Pitch Characteristics and the Strike Zone

This is a followup to my post on Beyond the Box Score and the ensuing discussion on the Inside the Book Blog. I ran a logistic regression on the variables listed below on a database comprised of all called pitches from 2009-2010, excluding pitches in which data was not made available in the PFX database. The data was pulled from Darrell Zimmerman's SQL-based PitchFX database.

This post isn't for the faint of heart or for those who aren't familiar with logistic regression, but feel free to chime in if you have a question or an idea.

11/17/10: Updated. Direction of rhb variable was the opposite of what it should be.
12/1/10: Updated. Zone Height and League variables added.
12/10/10: Updated. "Rulebook strike" variable replaced with "bad call" variable. Exhibition and Playoff dropped. Non-absolute spin deflection variables added. Normalized horizontal location added.
1/28/11: Added 2008 data. Added nibble, inside vs. outside during AB count and ratio variables.
2/28/11: Added nibble and swinging nibble during AB sums and rates.

11 November 2010

Nats' New Uniforms

The Nationals unveiled new unis today, and I can't say I'm a fan.

Gone is the Nationals (Natinals?) logo in block letters with gold trim, which I really liked but apparently nobody else did. Gone also is the interlocking "DC," which was widely adored here in the District. The Nats said they want to put more emphasis on the curly W. I'm honestly not sure why.* The curly W is nice but having it on the hat is enough--it doesn't need to be on everything.

*Newsflash for the Lerners and other Nats higher-ups: we know you're not from around here, but we don't call our home Washington; we call it DC, or the District. The letter W has no inherent meaning to us, not like the letters D and C.

On Veterans Day, Rational Pastime Remembers Ted Williams

Ted Williams, we all know, was one of the best ballplayers of all time and a veteran of both WWII and Korea. He was also an all-around badass. In honor of him, and all veterans on this day, I share my favorite Splended Splinter war story:
He dropped down to regain visual contact, but went too low. North Korean soldiers in the encampment blasted him with small arms fire. He completed his run over the target and tried to pull up. Every warning light in the cockpit was lit and the plane was vibrating. The stick started to shake and he knew he’d sprung a leak in the hydraulic system.

Read "Captain Theodore Williams Crash Lands"

09 November 2010

Sport Science: How does Aroldis Chapman throw more than 105 mph? - ESPN Video

How does Cinci Reds reliever Aroldis Chapman manage to throw his fastball so, um, fast? This video segment from ESPN attempts an answer.

Aroldis Chapman - ESPN Video - ESPN

(Photo credit: Wikimedia)

Gambling for October: How Expanding the Playoffs Could Aid Parity - Beyond the Box Score

I have a new article up on Beyond the Box Score. Here's the bullet point summary:
  • Bud Selig recently hinted at expanding the postseason from 8 to 10 teams.
  • Blogosphere's reaction has been largely negative.
  • Expanding the postseason could actually increase parity by increasing the return on investment for playoff hopefuls.
  • Not saying it's a great idea on balance, just something we need to consider.
Gambling for October: How Expanding the Playoffs Could Aid Parity - Beyond the Box Score

05 November 2010

Beyond the Box Score Under New Management

Beyond the Box Score, good friend of Rational Pastime, has new leadership in Justin Bopp. The site's already taken significant steps forward. If you're not following BtB yet, you should be.

Beyond the Box Score - A Saber-Slanted Baseball Community
"Sabermetrics is the tool, not the topic. Baseball is the topic. (or) We're a Saber-Slanted Baseball Community, not a Baseball-Slanted Saber Community."

03 November 2010

Easy Projections by Jeff Zimmerman

I finally have a semi-easy spreadsheet to fill out that predicts a team's winning percentage knowing the underlying talent on the team. I have been wanting to do this for a while and now I think I have it ready.

02 November 2010

Manifest Destiny: San Francisco Giants (100.0%) are World Series Champions

11/02/10 TEX SFO
World Series 0.0% 100.0%

The Giants managed to halt the surging Rangers, disposing of Josh Hamilton & Co. in only five games.

Think about this for a second, since the Giants were nobody's favorite at the start of the postseason. Vegas had them at 7:1 to win it all--ranked fourth out of eight. My simulator had them at 10.3%, fifth of eight. They started the playoffs with the worst regular season WP3 among all teams; teams with a WP3 of .540 should win the series about 8% of the time. Yet here we are, with San Francisco on the top of the world, winning the city's first World Series and the team's first since upsetting the Cleveland Indians in 1954.

While last night's game was undoubtedly exciting, it doesn't even make the top 5 from a win probability standpoint. After the jump, the five biggest games in terms of World Series win probability added.

01 November 2010

SF Giants (88.3%) One Win Away from Series Victory

11/01/10 TEX SFO
World Series 11.7% 88.3%

Madison Bumgarner's gem pushes the Giants nearer to breaking their fifty-six year title drought. Outcome projections after the jump.