Monday, September 26, 2016

Requiem for the 2016 Pirates

This is the saddest of possible yarns
Chad Kuhl is pitching tonight
Cubbies smack baseballs like broadsides of barns
Chad Kuhl is pitching tonight
Mounting walks spell inescapable trouble
Turning a breaking ball into a double
Removes the Pirates from the payoff bubble
Chad Kuhl is pitching tonight

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Everybody calm the eff down

The Pirates made a few moves yesterday that have the local hive mind in something of a tizzy.

"Maybe Neal Huntington wants to get fired." - Dejan Kovacevic
"But with these trades, it’s almost as if Huntington was begging to be ridiculed. He succeeded in a big way." - Nobel Laureate Ron Cook
"But I hated the trade of Francisco Liriano. That is the equivalent of giving up on the season." - Paul Zeise

Here's a quick rundown of the Pirates' deadline moves, via MLBTR:
The Melancon trade stands out as the best of the four. Melancon is set to hit free agency after this season and the likelihood the Pirates would have brought him back at a raise from the $9.65 million he's making this year is non-existent, so the Pirates traded two months of Mark Melancon for two fireballing lefties. The first, Felipe Rivero, is 25 and under club control through 2021. He sports a mid-90s fastball, a nice slider and a hard changeup. He has nice strikeout numbers, an appreciably low walk rate, and he figures to be even more effective pitching in front of a team that shifts as much as the Pirates do.
Taylor Hearn is 21 and pitching in A-ball, where he's averaging almost 13 K/9 while keeping his walks down. He's a former fifth-round pick, and it's easy to see why the Pirates like him. He's 6'5", 210. His fastball works in the upper 90s, and he has a slider to go with it. This guy was drafted four times, including once by the Pirates. No guarantees he'll work out but Rivero alone would have been fine return on Melancon. The Pirates made out like bandits in this deal, and at no significant cost to the quality of the major league club.
The Nova deal is probably fine. The PTBNs likely won't be anyone of consequence, as Nova is a two-month rental who'll hit the open market after this season. The Pirates were reportedly in on Tampa Bay's Matt Moore (who wound up with the Giants) and Jake Odorizzi, but balked at requests for Josh Bell and Austin Meadows. No complaints there. Nova isn't a long-term solution, but his peripherals indicate he's pitched better than his standard numbers, and he'll help stabilize the rotation for two months, which the Pirates need more than anything.
Speaking of stabilizing the rotation, let's think about the final two, which seem to have drawn the most criticism. Dumping Niese back on the Mets in exchange for a lefty reliever who's signed through next season isn't a bad thing. The PR hit the Pirates are taking right now is attributable to two things. First, the Pirates had Antonio Bastardo last season and opted not to bring him back. Second, and more importantly, the reason Jon Niese was here in the first place is that the Pirates shipped Neil Walker to the Mets to get him in a straight-up, cost-neutral trade that made all the sense in the world. New York lost Daniel Murphy to free agency and was looking for a second baseman, and the Pirates, knowing they had no plans to sign Walker to a long-term deal, knew they needed a starting pitcher. Their 2016 salaries are identical, only Niese came with two club options. Given that Walker is on the wrong side of age 30, has a bad back, can barely play his position and is in steady decline, this is a deal you make 10 times out of 10. The metrics said Niese looked like a guy who could get a nice bump from playing in a pitcher-friendly park in front of a good defense. He was an excellent bounce-back candidate. He just pitched horribly. So now, the Pirates have Antonio Bastardo, a perfectly serviceable lefty reliever, for the rest of this year and locked up through next year at $6.5 million. That's a little steep, but between Watson, Rivero and now Bastardo, that's three guaranteed bullpen spots for effective lefties, and at totally reasonable cost across the three players. Having lefty pitchers in spades is never a bad thing, and I'd expect to see one of them flipped to another team this winter.
But onto the elephant in the room...
The Pirates unloaded Francisco Liriano on the unsuspecting city of Toronto and its Blue Jays, just over halfway through his three-year, $39 million contract. And they had to ship two of their top 10 prospects, Harold Ramirez and Reese McGuire, to the Jays in order to shed that payroll.
"But I hated the trade of Francisco Liriano. That is the equivalent of giving up on the season." - Paul Zeise
First things first, Liriano was pitching terribly. That can't be overstated. His HR:FB ratio is up 8 percent from the last two years. He's allowing more than twice the home runs per nine innings. He's walking 5.46 hitters per nine, and his strikeout rate has dipped, even if slightly. Even his park-adjusted fielding independent pitching (xFIP) is 4.51, and that's against a 5.46 ERA and a 5.27 FIP. Liriano hasn't been unlucky, he's been downright awful. 
This trade wasn't just about dumping Liriano's salary, it was about unloading a pitcher who'd clearly hit a wall. The Pirates are far better off without him -- that's not even up for debate. So where anyone gets the idea that unloading this guy who's just been painful to watch is giving up on the season is, like much of what Paul Zeise writes, wholly without merit.*
Where things have the potential to get sticky is what the Pirates gave up in order to give up on Liriano. 
Ramirez and McGuire are rated as the Pirates' No. 6 and 7 prospects, respectively. Ramirez, a speedy little outfielder with little to no power and a subpar walk rate, but who makes decent contact. McGuire, a former supplementary first-round pick, is an excellent defensive catcher who doesn't profile as much of a hitter.
Three things to consider about this aspect:
1) Neither player has a direct path to the majors through this organization. The Pirates are set with Cervelli as their catcher for the next three years, and clearly value Elias Diaz, 25, over McGuire. They can and should begin searching for another prospective catcher this winter or in next year's draft, but it's clear they don't feel they've traded their catcher of the future. In an outfield where two of the three spots are locked down and the third will, over the next five years, be manned by a combination of Declining Andrew McCutchen and Austin Meadows (the Pirates' no. 2 and top offensive prospect) Ramirez is a totally expendable piece.
2. Pat Lackey at WHYGAVS made this point last night, and rather than restate it, I'm just going to quote him, though I'd highly recommend reading his entire piece.’s certainly true that a team’s evaluations of prospects shifts internally almost always before it shifts anywhere else. The Giants knew exactly what they were doing when they traded Tim Alderson for Freddy Sanchez, even if almost no one else that was watching that trade did. Both Harold Ramirez and Reese McGuire are hitting inflection points as prospects, where things that were forgivable early in their careers (Ramirez’s lack of power, McGuire’s generally inability to hit) quickly become red flags. If Ramirez doesn’t find some power in his swing, his prospect status will drop quickly. If McGuire can’t hit, all his ability with the glove makes him is a more highly touted version of Jacob Stallings. If these players are going in these directions, the Pirates would probably be the first to know.
3. Don't get me wrong, I'm not happy with the notion that the Pirates are trading prospects in the name of dumping salary. If you're not going to use that organizational depth on your major league roster, your best thing to do is leverage it into ways to help the major league roster. They didn't do that here. What I take away from this and the Niese trade is that Huntington isn't going to sit on his mistakes. This dude ate a lot of crow yesterday and he's surely feeling the sting today. But there's something to be said for looking at what you've done, assessing why and how it isn't working, and making an adjustment. In blowing up over these trades yesterday, the local hive mind seemed pretty quick to forget the quite solid ratio of successes to failures the current front office has assembled since taking over. It's neither prudent nor responsible to go around spewing fire and slitting throats because they shipped out a prospect. And keep in mind, the word "prospect" carries different meaning in this town than it does elsewhere, owing almost entirely to 20 years of ignominy. We've been trained to believe that you don't trade prospects, you trade for prospects -- that they're the holy grail. And generally, that's true. But writers and fans alike are calling for heads to roll because it took adding a 21-year-old catcher to the pot in order to jettison the worst starting pitcher in baseball. I just don't think that's the worst thing in the world. And I'm certainly not upset that Neal Huntington is the type of GM to stand by a move, long after he realizes it's a mistake. The ability to admit you done fucked up is incredibly important. 
Before news broke that McGuire was included in the Liriano deal, the consensus was that the Pirates were about as good a team after the deadline as they were before -- all they did was move some pieces around in what amounted to crafty accounting. The inclusion of a 21-year-old catcher whom the Pirates deemed worth giving up shouldn't change that.

*To Paul's credit, he had a correct take on the Melancon trade. It wasn't a strong take or a fresh take, but it wasn't offensive or wrong.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Put Kang on the shelf

Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang is being investigated by Chicago police over an allegation of sexual assault.
Kang has not been charged with a crime. He is considered a "person of interest" in this investigation, which is still in the information-gathering and evidence collection phase.
A 23-year-old woman alleges she was sexually assaulted by Kang, 29, on June 17, when the Pirates were in Chicago to play the Cubs, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi told ESPN.
We see multiple dozens of cases every year involving male athletes accused of some variety of sexual misconduct. It’s beyond sad that the fight against one of our most pervasive societal cancers has to make the A-block in SportsCenter just for more than half the country to acknowledge that it’s a problem, and even worse that only a few of these cases – the larger scandals like those at Baylor and Penn State, or those involving sports’ bigger names – get people to start thinking about what’s right versus what isn’t. 
More often than not, they don’t, and we react to these stories thusly:
“Big Ben is suspended for four games? Man, it’s going to be tough for the Steelers to come back from that. Who’s going to start?”
“It’s good to get these games against the Yankees out of the way before Chapman comes back from suspension.”
Hell, why limit ourselves to historical/straw-man arguments? Here’s some shit people have actually written on the internet about this story since it broke yesterday:

Victim blaming, always a classic.

Extortion? First, I don't think these guys know that word. Second, false accusations have become incredibly easy to weed out. They're the exception, not the rule.
He couldn't have done it because he doesn't speak English? He's being investigated for rape, not handing in a fake term paper on the Teapot Dome Scandal.

Those pesky women get away with everything!

This one surprised me. There are people who would sooner believe that the Cubs organization orchestrated this entire thing than even acknowledge the possibility that a guy who has his own face tattooed on his leg would rape a woman.

Finally, we have our resident constitutional scholars.

People who think that the “innocent until proven guilty” standard applies to private businesses and public opinion are the same people who have turned into Facebook partisans because they think Wendy Bell’s firing violated her first amendment rights.
Sadly, this is America. And in America, we don’t empathize with the victims of sexual assault – especially if their attackers are players the Pirates need if they are going to have a chance to catch the Cubs in the NL Central.
For not yet having been charged, the story on Kang's role in this is awfully detailed. And creepy.
Police said Kang and the woman met on the dating app "Bumble," which states that the woman must initiate contact. Kang then asked the woman to go to his hotel room; when she arrived, she was given an alcoholic beverage, Guglielmi said.The woman blacked out about 15 to 20 minutes after consuming the drink and then alleges she was sexually assaulted as she drifted in and out of consciousness, Guglielmi said.The woman told police she didn't become fully aware of her surroundings until she was in a taxi en route to her home. She went to a hospital on June 19, where a rape kit was done, Guglielmi said. Guglielmi declined to say whether the results from the examination have come back.The woman's formal complaint to police came 10 days later, the Chicago Tribune reported, citing sources.
That's incredibly disturbing on a lot of levels. And while the law will ultimately determine whether or not Kang is charged – and if he is, his guilt or innocence – it doesn’t preclude Kang’s employer from taking some kind of action. Action, in this case, is the only right course. The Pirates should do the right thing and shelve Kang until authorities decide whether or not to charge him. 
If Kang is charged with sexual assault, that’s it – place him on the restricted list and being working with the players’ union and commissioner’s office to terminate his contract. If he isn’t charged, he’s free to come back and play baseball.
Sadly, I don’t trust the Pirates will do the right thing, because I don’t trust any sports organization to do the right thing.
Sports organizations are largely male-dominated entities, and what they know and learn of rape culture is at best, exclusively aimed at protecting their assets and brand. At worst, their collective knowledge extends to damage control measures.
But I can think of two reasons they should:
  1. It’s the right thing. They don’t need another reason.
  2. Because no sports organization ever does the right thing, simply doing the right thing has the potential to move the ongoing conversation we have about rape culture and sports in the right direction. By taking swift and decisive action, the Pirates can be the first professional sports organization to stand up and say, “we’re not going to put up with this bullshit.” 
Maybe we'll tackle the nonsensical drivel that fell out of Paul Zeise's brain, past all his editors and onto the Post-Gazette's website later on. I'm just not sure I agree with the notion that one needs to establish a pattern of rapey behavior before being looked at suspiciously, nor do I necessarily believe Zeise's assertion that "only two people know what happened in this case."

Monday, May 30, 2016

Stanley Cup Final prediction

The model has gone 10/14 so far. For the final, it says the Pens have a 72% chance on winning and the Sharks have a 28% chance of winning. I think the model has underestimated the Sharks chances all playoffs, and I think this series is probably closer than the model thinks it is. In any case, let's go Pens!

Friday, May 13, 2016

NHL Playoff Predictions: Conference Finals

The first round and second round of the NHL playoffs are in the books. So far, the model is doing pretty well, going 9/12 and rolling along with the Pens and Blues. Here are the predictions for the conference finals:

The model still has the Pens and Blues as favorites, and it's probably underestimating the Sharks. The Sharks are a very good team; they've just had a difficult path. They had to beat the Kings, and now they're up against the Blues. And if they get past the Blues, they may have to get past the Pens as well. Anyway, let's go Pens!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Round 2

Time for round 2 predictions! Check out the round 1 predictions here. So, round 2 will actually start before round 1 concludes. Game 7 of Anaheim-Nashville will be tonight, after Game 1 of Tampa Bay-New York Islanders. So I've included predictions if Anaheim wins tonight and if Nashville wins tonight. Here they are!

If Anaheim wins:

If Nashville wins:

And of course this is not dependent on the ANA-NSH game:

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

2016 Stanley Cup Predictions

It's time for my 3rd annual NHL playoff predictions! My model and methodology are basically unchanged from last year, so check it out here. In the two years I've been doing this, I've learned that it's pretty hard to predict the outcome of any one series, but if we look at it from a stratification standpoint, we can gain some valuable information. This is, instead of saying, "team x has a 60% chance of beating team y", it may be more constructive for us to say, "teams w, x, y, and z are more likely than the other teams to make deep playoff runs and win the Stanley Cup." Picking individual winners is hard, but we can see which teams rise to the top.

When I developed this model, I ran a tenfold cross-validation. That basically tells us how good the model is at predicting the outcome of new data. The past two years, the prediction accuracy is about 0.66. So the model should be able to correctly predict the series winner about 66% of the time. That's not great, but it's much better than just using point totals. Over the course of the past two seasons, there have been 30 playoff series, and the model has predicted the winner correctly 20 times, for an accuracy rate of 67%. So the model is performing as expected. So while 67% isn't great for an individual series, the model does seem to be able to tell us which teams are more likely to win 3 or 4 playoff series. Anyway, I ran the model again for this year, and here are the results:

The main takeaway is this: STL, PIT, LA, ANA, and WSH are the teams that rise to the top. They are the ones most likely to go deep into the playoffs and win the Cup.

I was a little surprised that San Jose, Chicago, Philadelphia came out as low as they did. These are good teams, but they have brutal paths to the Finals. San Jose would have to go through LA, then likely Anaheim and St. Louis just to get to the Final. Philly would have to go through Washington and Pittsburgh.

One other thing that stands out is that the model thinks that the Pens have a 91% chance of beating the Rangers. I don't think any team has a true probability of winning that is so high. The model thinks it's so high because there are only a few observations since 2007-2008 where the difference between the teams regarding score-adjusted Fenwick % (SAF) is so huge. In every series where the difference was this extreme, the team with the better SAF won the series. The Pens are favorites in this series, but probably not 91% likely to win.

Enjoy the 1st round!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Spring Hypotheticals: an FTC Polling Exclusive

We asked a random smattering of FTC readers*, "after how many dates is it acceptable to try and sell someone car insurance?"

"Jeez, I'd say six? Even after any kind of hanky pinky, insurance is a commitment." - Greg, 32, kickball centerfielder

"I think the answer depends on how many more dates you want. If you want no more dates, then after as many dates as it takes you to figure that out. If you want more dates, no." - Josh, 76, some kind of sheriff

"Wow, I'm sorry to hear you new job didn't work out." - Cara, 40, writer

"..." - Sydney, 33, teacher

"Just after the last one." - Dom, 36, cars

"Not until you're married, for sure." - Samantha, 29, corporate lackey

"I think there's a sweet spot. You can't do it too soon, but you can't wait too long either. I'd say somewhere between two and four. But after four i think the likelihood of even bringing it up decreases the more invested you get in the relationship." - Nilesh, 36, statistician

"I'm going to say 'none.'" - Andrew, 31, author

"Erie or State Farm?" - William, 37, retired

"If one person expressed a need for insurance on a first date and the other happened to sell it, I think that would be okay. Otherwise, I'm going to say...never." - Jane, 32, academic

"Bone first, pitch later." - Gentry, 30-ish, karaoke enthusiast

"Several years. You've gotta play long-ball." - Asa, 25, computerist

"I would say about six months of regular dating at least with someone you could see a future with. Otherwise you're just being used." - Charles, 25, office manager

"I don't think it's acceptable for someone to try to sell you car insurance unless you inquire about procuring car insurance." - Annie, 30, female

"I would say that, if you are going to attempt to sell someone car insurance, it should happen on the first date." - Marty, 34, footballs

"Did you go on a date with someone who tried to sell you car insurance?" - Nichole, 34, cat owner

"You shouldn't sell product on any early dates, and if it gets to the point that that comfort level has been reached, you should hook that person up [with a good deal]." - Michael, 36, not a Ph.D. in epidemiology or federal employee of any kind

*A totally fictional population

Thursday, March 3, 2016

We're committed to committing ourselves to the possibility of finding a way to make you purchase this baseball cap for $40

On the possibility of extending Andrew McCutchen beyond his current contract, Pirates owner Bob Nutting said:

"We are committed to try to find an opportunity. There is no one who we'd like to have for a career in a Pirates uniform more than Andrew."

Implicit in this language is that an opportunity to extend McCutchen does not currently exist. The Pirates are not committed to finding one. The Pirates are merely committed to trying to find one. Andrew looks angry here because he's probably going to get traded next off-season.