December 9, 2013
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Monday, December 31, 2012
Last week, I discussed the issue of teams "going for broke" and how significant increases in payroll may affect overall success (win totals). One of the more interesting findings in that piece dealt with teams who had great success the season before they increased payroll.
I found that from 2001 to 2012 there were 28 teams who won at least 88 games in the year before they increased payroll by at least 20 percent. Of those 28 teams, only 14 teams were able to get back to that 88-win threshold in the subsequent season.
This result sounds surprising when taken at face value. In most cases, the assumption would be that the increase in payroll was an attempt to prevent regression and sustain, or build on, past success.
Based on the results I found in that piece, I concluded that the increase in payroll had no real effect on a team's ability to sustain success.
Over at the Book Blog, Tom Tango pointed out a major flaw in that conclusion, namely the lack of a control group:
Specifically, in one test, he finds a bunch of playoff teams that adds alot of money, and he still finds that a good portions wins fewer games. But, even if they did not add alot of money, they would STILL win fewer games. That’s regression toward the mean at work. If you take a group of teams that win 88+ games, you will find, on average, that they will win less in the next season. This is because teams that win 88+ games are teams that have both more good players than bad players and more good luck than bad luck. The next season, the luck will cancel out, so, all other things equal, are expected to win fewer games.Tango's response brought me not to a different question, but instead a much better way of answering my original question. Instead of comparing successful teams that then increased payroll to themselves, I included every team that won 88 games from 2001-12 in the sample for a more illuminating comparison.
On average since 2001, the 113 teams that won at least 88 games in one season won 6.6 fewer games in the next season. This result was expected because of regression toward the mean that Tango discussed.
Despite this regression, 63 of the 113 teams (55.7 percent) were able to reach the 88-win threshold again in the subsequent season.
Does an increase in payroll have any effect on reducing the regression toward the mean?
As suggested by Tango, I broke the sample into three subsets:
As you can see, the number of teams in each subset was pretty close to evenly distributed. Quite surprising, though, is the subset of teams that were the most successful in preventing regression toward the mean in the subsequent season.
The control group of teams that did not increase payroll or actually decreased payroll, had the smallest average drop-off in wins from the previous season.
The last column in the table shows the percent of teams in each subset that was able to get back to 88 wins after reaching that plateau in the previous season. The control group also lead in this category with the highest percentage of teams, 58.3 percent, that were able to (sort of) maintain their success.
The results for teams that substantially increased their payroll (by 15 percent or more), surprisingly, were below the average for the entire sample.
Interestingly, improving the structure of the test resulted in the exact same conclusion as the one from the original study. Based on the results found in this study, it seems that increasing payroll has no real effect on a team's ability to sustain success and dodge the regression-toward-the-mean bullet in the subsequent season.
All payroll information comes courtesy of Baseball Prospectus' Compensation Tables.
Forty years ago today was the saddest New Year’s Eve in Major League Baseball history. On Dec. 31, 1972, longtime Pirates star Roberto Clemente died in a plane crash.
Clemente had just finished a season in which he’d hit .312 in a full-time role, not bad for a man who turned 38 years old in August. It was his 14th straight season batting over .290. Rather famously, Clemente joined the 3,000-hit club with his last hit in the 1972 season. (His career didn’t end there, though, as the Pirates won the division and lost the NLCS in heartbreaking fashion to the Reds in a full five games.)
It wasn’t just any plane crash that Clemente died in, either. Making the tragedy even sadder, the plane was on a humanitarian mission. Eight days earlier, Managua, Nicaragua had suffered a massive earthquake that killed several thousand people.
Though not a native of the country (Clemente was from the island of Puerto Rico), Clemente felt a strong desire to help. After all, he’d visited Managua shortly after the 1972 NLCS. Clemente arranged a series of emergency relief flights to help the people.
He hadn’t been on any of those flights, though. Under normal circumstances there would be no need for Clemente to be on this flight, either. But the circumstances were far from normal. In fact, they were rather nasty, making the circumstances of Clemente’s death even worse.
You see, though Clemente had arranged for three flights to go to Nicaragua, to date none of the supplies had reached the victims. Oh, the flights took off all right, they all landed in Nicaragua with no problem, and they were loaded with supplies to help people. But those supplies never go to those in need. Instead, officials in the Somoza regime gobbled them up for their own benefit, hording or selling them at exhorbitant prices. They literally were profiting from the death and misery of the masses. (On a side note, the blatant corruption helped fuel an ongoing rebellion, which forced the regime from power by the end of the decade).
Clemente didn't sent the planes for the government to steals, so that’s why he went on the fourth flight—to make sure the supplies reached those in need. Maybe the officials wouldn’t dare rip off the victims with a prominent celebrity athlete in their midst.
The plane Clemente chartered had some mechanical problems and was overloaded by two tons. Immediately after takeoff from Clemente’s home island of Puerto Rico, it crashed. Clemente died, and his body was never found.
It was a sad day 40 years ago today.
Aside from that, many other events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that happened X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim.
Click for more...
Sunday, December 30, 2012
5,000 days ago, Fernando Tatis had the greatest day in his career—and he did it all in one inning. It’s the greatest inning any hitter ever had.
It was April 23, 1999, and heading into the top of the third inning, Tatis and his Cardinals teammates trailed the home team Dodgers, 2-0. That lead wouldn’t last long.
Leading off the inning, the first three Cardinals batters reached on two singles and a HBP. With the bags loaded and nobody out, Tatis came to the plate against pitcher Chan Ho Park.
After taking the first two offerings for balls, Tatis unloaded on the third pitch—and belted a grand slam. Now St. Louis led, 4-2.
And the Cardinals kept pouring it on from there. The team hit another homer. There were back-to-back walks. The Dodgers made some fielding miscues. Oh, and St. Louis got a single in the mix. The Cards batted around—and then kept on batting.
Wouldn’t you know it, with two outs Tatis came to the plate again in the inning—and again the bases were loaded. You know how this one ends, right?
Yup, Tatis made history becoming the first and still only man in history to smash two grand slam home runs in one inning. As incredible as that achievement was, it wasn’t the most incredible achievement in one inning. You want to talk incredible? Talk about this: The same pitcher gave up both homers.
In this day of frequent mid-inning changes of pitchers, the Dodgers still had Chan Ho Park on the mound. Hey—he hadn’t allowed any runs in the first two innings. And thanks to the team’s defensive miscues, only five runs would be earned this inning. But there were 11 runs scored in all—and Park allowed all of them.
After Tatis’ second slam, Dodgers manager Davey Johnson finally yanked Park. Not much happened the rest of the way, and the Cardinals won easily, 12-5. Tatis came up two more times, and struck out in each appearance.
Tatis ended his career with eight slams, but the ones people remember came against the Cardinals 5,000 days ago.
Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary.” Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim.
Click for more...
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
15,000 days ago, the Dodgers made two notable trades involving prominent players. One involved a Hall of Famer, while the other featured two men that some people believe belong in Cooperstown.
It was Dec. 2, 1971. LA had just completed a fine but ultimately disappointing season. They went 89-73 season, which was just enough to not make the playoffs as the archrival Giants won the NL West with a 90-72 record.
One problem was the back of their rotation. The Dodgers had two strong anchors at the top in Hall of Famer Don Sutton, and Al Downing, who won 20 games that year. Beyond those two, they had the solid-if-unspectacular veteran innings eater, Claude Osteen. After that, things got shaky. Bill Singer had a lousy season, going 10-17, quite a bit worse than the rest of the team. Both Singer and young 20-year-old rotation mate Doyle Alexander were just replacement-level pitchers.
So the Dodgers needed pitching, but they also had another concern. They also wanted to dump the best hitter on their team, third baseman Dick Allen. Though he’d been a controversial player in his previous stops, he hadn’t given LA much trouble since they acquired him from St. Louis a year earlier.
But there was one concern. Team owner Walter O’Malley liked his Dodgers to be active in some off-the-field events, publicity appearances, and the like. Allen, upon arrival, had said he wasn’t going to do it. Okay, they weren’t going to make him. Instead, they made a mental note that he wasn’t a Dodgers guy and that they’d flip him when the year ended. Besides, they had two young third basemen in the minors who fit better into the whole Dodger mentality: Ron Cey and Steve Garvey.
So they needed pitching and had a great hitter they wanted to offer as a trading chit. Nice combo. So sure enough, on Dec. 2, 1971, the Dodgers sent him to the White Sox for veteran southpaw Tommy John and a failing infield prospect named Steve Huntz.
Of course, when you trade Allen for pitching, that just opens up a hole in your offense. Without Allen, the Dodgers needed another bat. No problem, as LA had that covered.
That same day, they purchased one of the most well-known sluggers in baseball: Frank Robinson. Baltimore had sent the 1966 MVP to LA along with reliever Pete Richert in exchange for a package of four prospects. Three of the four would never pan out at all, and the fourth was Alexander, the young pitcher without a slot in the rotation now that John was a Dodger. Alexander had a long career in front of him, but only part of it with Baltimore. Ultimately, he was just a durable innings eater.
Alas, the trades failed to put the Dodgers over the top. Their pitching did improve. Actually, it was spectacular, with a team ERA+ of 121. That was partially due to guys already on the team doing great (Sutton had an ERA barely over two, while Osteen won 20 games). In part it was because of the trades, as Richert was a star in the bullpen and John went 11-5.
However, offense was a problem for Los Angeles. Though one of the greatest hitters in baseball history, Robinson was a 36-year-old entering his sunset years. He played just 103 games, batting .251 with 26 extra-base hits. Meanwhile, Allen won the AL MVP for the 1972 White Sox. The Dodgers went 85-70, giving them roughly the same winning percentage as the year before.
The Dodgers would soon improve, but that had more to do with the development of kids like Garvey (who they moved to first), Cey, and others. They also packaged Robinson and others to the Angels for starting pitcher Andy Messersmith. In 1973, they’d win 95 games, and in 1974 claim the pennant with a 102-win squad.
But if the trades from 15,000 days ago didn’t hurt the Dodgers, then in the short term they didn’t substantially improve the club, either. Either way, those were the trades the Dodgers made on Dec. 2, 1971, 15,000 days ago.
Aside from those trades, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” today. Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d prefer to just skim.
Click for more...
Monday, December 24, 2012
On the surface, Ryan Freel was just a utility man, perhaps a super utility man in today’s parlance, a versatile and fast player who helped a team in a complementary role. He never made an All-Star team, never earned an MVP vote, and never signed a big-money free agent contract. All of that is unquestionably true, but he managed to make an impact far greater than the tangible factors might indicate.
Based on what I’ve been reading from Reds fans, ever since we all learned that he had taken his own life, Freel was far more special than your average utility player. During his six seasons in Cincinnati, Freel left Reds fans with a series of images that captured his dynamism on the diamond. Reds fans came to love Freel, who was once dubbed a poor man’s Johnny Damon, because of his all-out hustle, his game-breaking speed, his ability to make diving catches, and his willingness to play about anywhere on the infield or in the outfield.
From 2003 to 2006, Freel made his mark with the Reds as a semi-regular player/utility man who hit .270-plus, drew plenty of walks, and stole 35-plus bases. Those are not the numbers of a star, but they are the numbers of a valuable player. He played five positions each of those prime seasons, giving his manager protection at second base, third base, left field, center field, and right field.
Freel didn’t complain about being a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none; he simply wanted to play. His love of playing was manifested in his all-out, hell-bent-for-leather style, his diving catches in the outfield, his sprawling stops on the infield, and his baserunning swagger. There isn’t a manager in the world who wouldn’t love to have a player like that.
Sadly, Freel’s constant hustle and maximum effort may have cost him his health. In 2007, he suffered head and neck injuries when he collided with teammate Norris Hopper. When asked about his condition at the time, Freel estimated that he had suffered nine or 10 concussions during his athletic career. Two years later, Freel was hit in the head with a pickoff attempt, putting him on the disabled list. Perhaps those injuries and concussions played a role in the decision he made on Saturday, when he took a gun to himself and ended his life at the too-young age of 36.
There may have been other factors at work, too. Freel was relatively new at being retired, having played his last major league games in 2010. For many players, the adjustment from baseball to another career, a life outside of the game, is extraordinarily difficult. Most eventually come to grips with the adjustment, but some do not.
There is also some evidence that Freel was a troubled individual during his playing days. He was twice charged with alcohol-related offenses, including a case of driving under the influence.
Freel becomes the third former major leaguer to commit suicide over the last two years. The others were Mike Flanagan, who had financial difficulties and apparently blamed himself for much of the Orioles’ struggles in the late 1990s and 2000s, and Hideki Irabu, who had serious problems with alcohol abuse.
Those deaths do not come close to matching the series of suicides we have seen in the National Football League, but perhaps they need to serve as reminders that baseball should look at the problem of suicides a little more closely, before this starts to reach the epidemic level of football. Baseball players are not immune to suicide or mental illness, both of which appear to be on the upswing in American society.
Freel accomplished a major goal by playing in the major leagues, becoming a fan favorite in the process. But he failed to achieve what most of us also have as a goal: a long life. Thirty-six years is simply not a long time on this earth. Freel had more to offer, if only he could have made the decision to carry on.
Perhaps more could have been done to prevent this tragedy. Or maybe not. The Major League Baseball Alumni Association and the Baseball Assistance Team do great work in helping retired players who have encountered difficult times, but sometimes they don’t see the warning signs because the player hides the gravity of his mental state. In other cases, like Leon Wagner, who ended up dying in an electrical shed in the streets of Los Angeles, the player turns down any offer of help.
All these organizations can do is keep trying. The key is a strong and supportive network of retired players. If former players can remain on the lookout for signs of trouble with their brethren, maybe they can help to bring in counseling and psychiatric treatment.
Those may be the only answers for baseball, before three suicides turn into a wave of tragedy.