Tuesday, July 21, 2015

"The Pirates at the trade deadline," or "Someone please take Sean Rodriguez to the airport"

It's great to be on the buyer's end of a fire sale. Unfortunately for the Pirates, two of the teams liquidating a ton of assets are in their division. You can forget rotation help in the form of Johnny Cueto, bullpen help in the form of Francisco Rodriguez or Aroldis Chapman, and any other deal which would potentially send prospects to the Reds or Brewers. But there are still some great pieces out there for the picking. In fact, this year's trading season looks like the best buyers' market we've seen in years. Here's a quick look at who the Pirates could, might, should and shouldn't pursue in the next few weeks.

Yes, Please! (trade for these guys!)

Mike Napoli
Corey Hart has been utter garbage. He looked like a great buy-low option with solid bounce-back potential, but he hasn't even showed enough that the brass have felt comfortable playing him over Sean Rodriguez at first base or in right field, and that's saying something, given that nothing in Rodriguez's history could lead anyone to believe the Pirates brought him in to be anything other than mildly Barmes-y. Rodriguez is a black hole at the plate (.219/.248/.336 with a 2.2 BB% in 137 PAs so far) and the admittedly imperfect metrics measuring his defense at various positions are all over the damn place. Still, he's logged 194.2 innings at first base this year (.4 UZR) and 109.1 in the outfield (-8) with negligible time at the other infield spots.

That's substantially more playing time than Hart's had. He's played 47.2 innings at first (-1) and 45 innings in right (1.2) -- defensively neutral, but just as bad as Rodriguez at the dish. He's slashing .222/.246/.352 with a 1.8 BB%. That's abysmal, but he's only had 57 PAs. What does it say about the Pirates' opinion of '80s heartthrob Corey Hart they'd rather play a super-utility player with a career .225/.294/.370 and a .145 ISO over a guy who came in with a career .271/.329/.478 line and a .207 ISO? HINT: it says they fucking hate Corey Hart.
Mike Napoli, aka, Baseball Kiesel
At 33, Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli is having a down year on an expiring contract. He's making $16 million this season and hitting a robust .191/.294/.349. But don't judge him on that alone. He's a career .252/.354/.480 guy with a 12.5% walk rate and decent power. He's great against lefties (.273/.386/.517) and slightly better against righties (.244/.341/.466) than Pedro (.246/.319/.469). His walk and strikeout rates (12.1% and 25.6%, respectively) are right in line with his career averages, and he's still making contact at a 75.6% clip. All of Napoli's other peripherals are right in line with his career averages, suggesting he's just had terrible luck to this point in the year (see: .230 BABIP).

He'd be a more than capable replacement for Hart (who's basically persona non grata and on the shelf with a fictional injury), and he'd get Rodriguez out of the lineup and back onto the bench where he belongs. Napoli is due for some major regression with the bat and it's going to benefit someone. Those someones should be the Pirates.

EDIT: Adam Lind should be on this list. He's got an option for $8 million next year, has acceptable power and plate discipline, could play every day and would serve as a capable stop-gap at first. But taking on Lind would mean either relegating Pedro to strictly a bench role or straight-up DFAing him. Don't get me wrong, I'm all in favor of getting rid of Pedro Alvarez, but a lot of people around here seem to really want to see this thing through to its bitter end. If the Pirates could send him back to Milwaukee in a deal, that would be optimal, and it would also give them an excuse to rid themselves of the baseball cold sore that is Travis Ishikawa.

Ben Zobrist
Zobrist's bat would be a nice addition, given that he's an effective switch-hitter who's good from both sides of the plate, gets on base, doesn't strike out and can sort of play a few different positions. He's also playing on an expiring contract and making an eminently reasonable $7.5 million. But Zobrist -- a.k.a. the Rich Man's Josh Harrison -- is a pretty highly sought commodity right now, and he's in the pocket of one of baseball's best wheeler-dealers, so you know he's not going to come cheap -- in fact, Billy Beane's club has a number of good assets to move, and the Mets have already said that they'd be willing to overpay for Zobrist. He's probably a long-shot, but certainly worth keeping an eye on.
Ben Zobrist in happier times
Scott Kazmir
Kazmir is probably Beane's best trading chip. A lefty starter in a walk year, Kazmir's been solid this season, posting 8.29 K/9, 2.87 BB/9 and career-best 46% ground ball rate in just under 110 innings. He's making $11 million and has a $500,000 assignment bonus in his contract that activates if he's traded. But he comes with a long history of injury (not to mention being drafted by the Mets), including time missed this year with shoulder and tricep issues. He's pitching better than any other starter on the market and somebody's going to overpay for him -- it's really just a question of who. I'd love to see the Pirates make a run at getting Kazmir if the price is right, mainly because it would knock Jeff Locke out of the rotation. But that's going to be a steep price to pay for 12 starts, and there's next to no chance the Pirates give him the three- or four-year contract he's going to seek this offseason. Beane is said to be looking for AAA players who are going to be ready to contribute next year. I don't know that the Pirates have any of those who are worth two months of Kazmir.

Jonathan Papelbon
The Phillies are a joke and Jonathan Papelbon wants out. Bully for him. His strikeout and walk rates are still top-notch (9.08/9, 1.77/9, respectively) and he could step into right the seventh- or eighth-inning role immediately, providing the back-end help the Pirates so desperately need. He's making a ridiculous $13 million this year, and his option for next year only vests if he either finishes 55 games this year or finishes 100 total games between this year and last. He finished 52 last year, but has only finished 31 so far this year. A move to a team with an established closer would likely keep that option from triggering, but Papelbon has limited no-trade protection and may block deals to 17 clubs, Philadelphia will likely do all they can to move him. This is a guy the Pirates should be in on.
If the Pirates win the World Series, Jonathan Papelbon will do a stupid little dance.
Tyler Clippard
I hate Tyler Clippard. I hate his stupid glasses and his stupid chinbeard. I hate that he takes 46 minutes between pitches. I hate that someone who works slower than Chris Resop in a molasses flood can be any good. But he is good and the Pirates are in dire need of another good arm in the bullpen. His contract (1 year, $8.3) is kind of outrageous for a setup guy, but a willingness to take on all of his remaining salary would likely negate the notion that Oakland will get decent return on him. If the Pirates can't get Papelbon, Clippard would be an acceptable option.
This guy is good but I hate him anyway.
Ben Revere
If the Pirates are worried about Gregory Polanco, Revere could be a good insurance option. Certainly it's unusual to platoon two lefties in one spot, but one of Revere's few strengths is that he hits lefties (.305/.332/.356) just about as well as he hits righties (.287/.323/.341). He's also stupid fast and reasonably sound defensively. Ideally, you don't want to rely on a slap hitter with zero power who never walks, but Revere's hand-eye coordination is good enough to consistently produce contact, making it less of an issue that he's so reliant on high BABIP.
Acquiring Ben Revere would likely signal a dramatic increase in bunting.
David Price
A total pipe dream, unless Dave Dombrowski is already just phoning it in because he knows he isn't going to be there next year, which is a totally legitimate possibility.

Ichiro Suzuki
Ichiro's name hasn't come up at all in trade rumors and I'm having some trouble figuring out why. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that he's 41, serves mainly as a bench piece and has begun the phase of his career where he's going to play on a series of one-year deals until he decides to retire. In fact, yeah, that's probably it. But consider this: Ichiro is exactly the kind of bench piece the Pirates would do well to pick up. He's a backup outfielder who plays adequate defense, he hits righties and lefties equally well and he's miles better than Sean Rodriguez or Corey Hart, both of whom really struggle against pitching. He's not the world-beating .370-OBP guy he once was, but he's an experienced, smart and savvy hitter who can provide exactly the kind of offense the Pirates should be looking for right now -- which is to say, he's a better hitter than anyone else they have on the bench. And if he works out, bring him back next year on the same $2 million base salary he's making now. He's been absolutely buried on the Marlins' bench, and that's a shitty way for a player of his caliber to go out. He could probably be had for a song at this point. As it just so happens, the Pirates have all those other post-game songs they played before fan pressure prompted them to return to playing "A New Pirate Generation" following home wins. Send the Marlins one of those other songs in exchange for Ichiro.



Jim Johnson
The big righty sports a solid fastball-curveball combination that, while not netting a ton of strikeouts, induces a ton of ground balls (60.6%). He's making $1.6 million this season and will be a free agent after this year. Johnson could be an ideal option if the Pirates want another solid, low-cost righty for the pen.

Marc Rzepczynski
You might remember him from his days in St. Louis when his name was just as unpronounceable. The lefty boasts solid strikeout numbers (11.29/9) and an ERA that's 1.28 runs above his current xFIP (2.65). The walks are a concern -- he's putting on close to five hitters per nine innings -- but that's almost a full one above his career average, so there might be some regression coming there. Ol' Zepp is making $2.4 million this year, he's eligible for arbitration next year and he's still only 29 years old. The Indians have a shot at clinching one of the wild card berths, but it's still too early to tell if they plan to buy or sell come the deadline. If they slip at all the next two weeks, you could see them look to spin off a few assets.
This isn't Mark Rzepczynski, but it's not like you know the difference anyway.
Jeff Samardzija
This dude is a pretty competent pitcher who, while he doesn't strike out guys at the rate he used to, has definitely displayed better control than we've seen from him in years passed (1.77 BB/9 in 2015, 3.0 BB/9 career). He's playing on a one-year contract for a terrible team that's going to try its damndest to trade him in the next week. He's not going to overwhelm anyone, but if the Pirates are concerned about keeping Morton or Locke in the rotation down the stretch, this would be the guy I'd go get, and I'd even consider overpaying a bit. And if A.J. Burnett does decide to retire after this year, Samardzija is a steady guy the Pirates could consider to replace him. He'll be slightly more expensive, but not probably ridiculously so. I'm not going to put a picture of him here because I find him really creepy looking.

Yoenis Cespedes
He's a free-swinging monster who absolutely crushes the ball and he's a free agent at the end of the year. Why the hell not? Stick him in right field and turn Polanco into a platoon player for the rest of the season. This would be so much fun.
This guy would freaking electrify the Pirates' offense.

No, Thank You. (please, don't trade for these guys)

Cole Hamels
The Pirates have enough young pitching depth that they shouldn't bother making a play for Cole Hamels. They'd have to give up a ton to get him and he'd cripple their payroll for the next four years Hamels will make $22.5 million each of the next three years and has a $20 million club option which can automatically vest should he meet certain performance conditions. Hamels is a pretty good pitcher, but his contract is beyond outrageous -- especially for a team that's going to look to sign Gerrit Cole to an extension at some point in the next few years.

Dan Haren
Pros: he's available and he doesn't walk anyone. Cons: he doesn't strike anyone out, induce any ground balls and gives up 37 home runs per start.

Cameron Maybin
Maybe it's just me, but I don't see the virtue in buying high on Maybin. He's a former top-10 pick and career underachiever who's having his first truly solid year in his age 28 season, slashing .282/.352/.409. His walk rate is fine (9.2%), he's not striking out a ton by modern standards (18.2%), and he's not relying too heavily on BABIP (.332). He's hitting fewer fly balls and more line drives. Quite simply, the guy is having a pretty solid year. But he's on the hook for $8 million next season and there's nothing in his history to suggest that this performance is repeatable. Maybin would be a solid extra bat for the Pirates, especially if they would like to spell Polanco in right field with a right-handed bat, but his $8 million salary next year and $9 million option for the following year ($1 million buyout) means the Pirates would have to commit at least $9 million toward him unless Atlanta were to pick up a portion of his contract; and even that would mean surrendering more in the way of young talent in the name of making the deal happen. Maybin would be a nice acquisition, but buying high on a player like this is seldom a good idea. Let someone else overpay.

Yovani Gallardo
I get that he's having a good year, but his peripherals aren't particularly promising. His 2.91 ERA and 4.11 xFIP say he's not for real. His strikeout rate is down and his BABIP is low, but beyond that, we saw this guy pretty regularly over his eight years with the Brewers and he just does nothing for me. His numbers aren't too different from Charlie Morton's, and apart from a few differences in repertoire -- Gallardo throws more sliders and four-seam fastballs while Morton leans heavily on his two-seam fastball -- there isn't a lot separating them. Gallardo isn't worth pursuing.

Other stuff
  • Man...this:
  • ESPN's simultaneous jettisoning of high-priced talent -- from high-quality guys like Keith Olbermann, serviceable pieces who drove tons of traffic like Bill Simmons, and even useless, misogynist, race-baiters like Colin Cowherd -- seems to directly align with an attempt to cut programming costs. For us, that means the return of the intolerable time-killing segment series, My Wish, in which ESPN finds critically and terminally sick kids and sets them up to Skype with Michael Phelps or have smoothies with Chris Paul, then films the whole thing to produce 20 minutes of overly sentimental, outrageously exploitative content which costs them next to nothing to produce and serves as free, image-conscious press for athletes whom you're predisposed to think are assholes because, well, they're assholes.
  • The best thing on ESPN that isn't Keith Olbermann or a 30 For 30 film is unquestionably Baseball Tonight during a rain delay, because that's when the guys in the studio go over to the fake field and start doing impersonations of other guys' batting stances while Tim Kurkjian provides the one-man laugh track. Aaron Boone is particularly adept at this, but he'll get a run for his money once Jimmy Rollins retires and joins a studio show.
  • The putt Jordan Speith drained on 16 at St. Andrews was one of the damndest things I've ever seen. Regardless of conditions or how a course is playing, to hit a putt with three separate breaks in it is, with all due respect to Jayson Werth, the hardest thing to do in the galaxy.

Friday, May 15, 2015

NHL playoff predictions: conference finals edition

It's the conference finals! Here are the updated probabilities from the model!






Thursday, April 30, 2015

Stanley Cup Playoffs Round 2

I don't have much time right now, so I'll just leave the 2nd round predictions and probabilities here. Soon, I'll write a follow up regarding the model's performance in Round 1, as well as evaluating prediction accuracy and expectations.

But for now, here are the Round 2 predictions:






Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Closing a baseball game is not a discreet skill set

The entire Pirate bullpen is blowing it tonight.  Happens.  It's actually great when it all happens at once, because these guys are pretty awesome, and you'd rather their rare bad nights not be spread over multiple games.

Anyway, Steve Blass and Greg Brown on the TV side, just making this so much more difficult than it needs to be.

Blass is talking about how closing is the most difficult job in sports.  Brown is playing devil's advocate, not because he knows his stuff, but because he hates Blass and wants to show him up.  Anyway, the paraphrased discussion goes something like this:

BROWN: But you look at other relievers who often come in during much more difficult situations [1], whereas a closer just has to get three outs and not give up one or two runs.   I'm not disagreeing with you, Steve, I just want you to explain it for everyone at home.

BLASS:  Well... Uh... ask any manager[2].  It's just... those three outs are harder [3].  They just... everything about them matters.  It's do or die [4].

My paraphrased response goes like this:

1. We call those difficult situations "high leverage," Greg.  And just so everyone knows, leverage is measured by the volatility of the game outcome in any given situation.  If it's a ten run game, it doesn't much matter if either team has the bases loaded: the outcome is already pretty determined.  If it's a tied game, we consider it super high leverage because any one swing of the bat could make it a not-tied game.  Super easy to see how this works.  Super easy to realize that the asshole pitching in the 8th inning of a tied game is being entrusted with more responsibility than the asshole pitching the 9th inning of a 1-run game.

2.  Steve, I'm not going to ask any manager about anything for fear of this.  And also because managers are dumb and stupid.  They're the reason we have saves, and bunts, and blogs instead of early bedtimes. 

3.  Those last three outs are not harder.  They're not.  They're just not.  There is nothing about the rules, equipment, stadium, or players that changes significantly.  What changes is perception.  Radhames Liz comes in and gives up a moonshot.  Tony Watson comes in and gets blasted.  Mark Melancon comes in and is crap.  It's all the same,  but we only fault one of them because our memories don't go back more than one inning.  (Actually, mine does, and not to brag but I remember some assbag pitcher for the Cubs giving up a bases loaded double to Jung-Ho Kang.  By the looks of it, the three outs in the bottom 7th were some of the toughest to record.  Perception.)

4.  It's do-or-die when the game is tied and you are really close to the end of the game.  It is specifically not do-or-die when you have the lead.  When you have the lead, it is do-or-else-you-might-have-to-score-more-runs-but-at-least-you-won't-be-dead.  This is absolutely true when you're at home, usually true when you're on the road.

Pitching with the lead is a cushion that is unnecessarily bestowed upon a team's best reliever.  On those rare bad nights, everything is all the more glaring.  But look what stats teaches us: over a long enough timeline (like 162 games) we see a lot of shit and some of it doesn't mean anything, even if it is glaring.  The specific inning in which a reliever is crappy: meaningless.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sunday baseball wrap-up

Bucs are at .500!  This is great news, because they've been playing quality ball thus far, and don't deserve to be in the red.  Hooray!

Sunday Night Baseball just wrapped up its coverage of the Cardinals and Reds at 10:10pm.  The game started at 8:05pm.  This is incredibly good stuff.  MLB, you are doing something so right, and you deserve a pat on the back. 

About doing something wrong, Cincinnati manager Bryan Price is again a big dummy.  Mike "Sticky Fingers" Leake had pitched 7 innings of 1 run ball when Jon Jay leads off the bottom of the 8th with a double.  Runner on second, no outs, tie game, bottom of the 8th... pretty clear that you really need a strikeout if you're the Reds.  And if you're the Reds, good news: you have this swing-and-miss monster named Aroldis Chapman in your bullpen!  But Bryan Price is like "No.  This one's for Dusty." and he leaves Leake in to pitch to Yadier Molina.

Leake isn't a bad pitcher, but he's not what we call dominant.  He pitches to contact and hopes the ball stays on the ground.  Yadier Molina isn't a dominant hitter, but he is good at making solid contact.  Maybe he comes through with a seeing-eye single here; I'm sitting at home feeling either the deep fly ball to advance the runner or the fielder's choice.   Yadi gives me the fielder's choice, 5-3.

Now there's a runner on third, one out, tie game, bottom of the 8th.  You absolutely need a strikeout in this situation.  Bringing the infield in does nothing to stop a fly ball, and if anything, it decreases the amount of ground your fielders can cover.  Maaaybe you could make a case for an intentional walk followed by wishfully-thinking your way to a double play ball.  But really you just need to get an out without the ball being put in play.  Left handed Kolten Wong deserves to be overpowered in this situation.  He actually yearns for it. 

"Don't do it!" whispers the ghost of Dusty Baker.  "You've gotta respect what Leake has done to get you where you are."

No!  Bad advice!  Don't listen to him, Bryan!  He's trying to get you fired, too!

"A starter finishes what he starts.  You've gotta save your closer for when you have the lead."

Shut up, Dusty, shut up!

"If you do anything here, it should be to warm up two relievers who aren't Aroldis Chapman, just because."

Oh my god, Dusty, you're the reason he did that!!

"Bunt."


Right.  So, as anyone who watched knows, it's too late for blogging now.  At least if you're the Reds. Leake gave up the very predictable flyball.  Run scores.  Cardinals record 3 outs, complete the sweep. 

We know SO much about the effectiveness of pitchers.  We know that they get worse the longer they stay in the game.  We know that certain match-ups are superior to others.  We know that Aroldis Chapman is better at throwing a baseball than all but like 30 people in the entire world (none of whom are Mike Leake).  We also know that sometimes a decent but not consistently great pitcher like Mike Leake can go toe-to-toe with a stud like Adam Wainwright for 7 innings or so.  This is what we call: playing with house money.  It is small sample size success, and it has no bearing on a guy's ability to deliver beyond his normal means.

I fully expect Part II of this article to be up tomorrow.  As well as a gif of Kolten Wong saying "But I yearned to swing through three 103mph fastballs!"

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

2015 Stanley Cup playoff predictions

It's time for my second annual NHL playoff predictions! For a background on last season's model, check out the post from last year. If you're new to some of the more newfangled hockey stats, check out this great introductory piece. Now, let's dive in!

Data Sources (check out these sites)
war-on-ice
http://www.puckon.net/
Puckalytics
ESPN
Man Games Lost

The Model

This year's model was similar to last year's model despite my ability to test many more variables. Within the past year, we've seen some great hockey data sites (notably war-on-ice) come online, and we have more data than ever before. Last year's model consisted of score-adjusted Fenwick percentage, 5v5 save percentage, and penalty killing percentage. I tested more variables this year, including: score-adjusted Fenwick percentage over last 20 regular season games, score-adjusted Fenwick for per 60 mins, score-adjusted Fenwick against per 60 mins, late season (March and April) score-adjusted Fenwick for per 60 mins, late season score-adjusted Fenwick against per 60 mins, 5v5 save percentage of anticipated series goalie, 5v5 adjusted save percentage of anticipated goalie, 5v5 high danger save percentage of anticipated goalie, shorthanded Fenwick against per 60 mins, adjusted short-handed save percentage of anticipated goalie, power play Fenwick for per 60 mins, and Time Missed Impact to Team.

I ran a logistic regression model and used ten-fold cross validation to test its predictive ability. Model details may be coming in another post. The final model consisted of the following 4 predictors: score-adjusted Fenwick percentage in last 20 games, team 5v5 save percentage, penalty killing percentage, and power play percentage. Like last year, power play percentage was not statistically significant, but it did slightly help the predictive ability of the model, so I left it in. I used data from the 2007-2008 season up through the 2013-2014 season to construct the model. The sample size is 105 playoff series over that time period.


The Simulations
The logistic model can calculate the probability of a team winning a playoff series. It can take any potential match-up, input the teams' peripheral statistics, and calculate a probability of outcome. Using those probabilities, we can simulate the playoffs a whole bunch of times (10,000 in our case) and see how often each team wins.

The Caveats  

We don't know everything. We can't accurately capture everything that happens on the ice and turn it into sure-fire predictions. There's a lot of inherent randomness in hockey, and a lot of data that we're not yet able to collect. But what we can say is that teams that are good at puck possession heading into the playoffs, good on the penalty kill, and good at 5v5 save percentage are more likely to win than teams that aren't as good at those things. 
Of course, a goalie can go on an incredible run and carry a team. That's how the Bruins won the Cup in 2011. Any team can beat any other team in a small sample size series. I have also not adjusted for injuries. We know that Kris Letang is out for the Pens, and that Christian Ehrhoff and Derrick Pouliot are also banged up, and this really hampers their defense corps. Max Pacioretty may not play for Montreal. The predictions should be able to give us an idea of which teams may be overrated or overlooked, and it should give us an idea of which teams are more likely than others to go deep into the playoffs. The inherent randomness in hockey makes a lot of individual series too close to call, and it also makes for a lot of drama and fun. 

The Predictions



The model loves the Pens. Among playoff teams, the Pens were the best at score-adjusted Fenwick percentage in their last 20 games. They were third-best on the penalty kill. The Rangers have the edge in terms of save percentage, but they have struggled with puck possession. It seems crazy to think that the Pens, who struggled mightily down the stretch, are favorites against the team that won the Presidents' Trophy. But here we are.


The model also loves the Caps. They are slightly better than the Islanders at puck possession, but their odds are so good because of goaltending and special teams. The Islanders are terrible on the penalty kill, and the Caps are great on the power play. Braden Holtby has had a very solid season for the Caps. Meanwhile, the Islanders have the worst 5v5 save percentage of any playoff team.


Anaheim is another team that looks vulnerable. The Jets have been great down the stretch. They've both been good puck possession teams in their last 20 games, but Winnipeg has a slight edge. They also have a slight edge in goaltending and special teams.


Now let's take a look at the conference and Cup predictions from the simulations:






I know what you're thinking. It's similar to what I'm thinking. It's kind of shocking that the Pens are at the top of this list, but their underlying stats have been very good. They've been snake-bitten by low shooting percentage, bad luck, injuries to key players, and salary cap mismanagement that forced them to play several games with only five defensemen. A couple of teams with very good records, the Rangers and Canadiens, are near the bottom of this list. They're underwater possession teams, and the model does not think these teams are likely to win three or four playoff series. Of course, with Henrik Lundqvist and Carey Price, anything's possible. 


The Ducks have been a decent team of late. The model is down in their chances because of their goaltending and their path to the finals. They'd have to beat a good Jets team and likely one of Chicago or St. Louis to get to the finals.

It's probably most constructive to think of these results in terms of a group of teams that rise to the top. Looking at the probabilities, there's a 77 percent chance that the Stanley Cup winner comes from this group: Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Washington, Winnipeg, and Chicago. 


Looking back to my model from last year, my initial predictions showed an 85 percent chance of the Cup winner coming from this group: Boston, Los Angeles, NY Rangers, St. Louis, and San Jose. 

I'll keep updating the predictions and as the playoffs progress. Enjoy the first round!