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Conflicts April 14, 2014

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You’re trying not to smile, aren’t you?

- My wife on Saturday morning

Although the Dodgers are currently my favorite California team, it’s tough – I’m a huge Angels fan. It all started in 2004, when Josh Paul forgot to tag A.J. Pierzynski …. but I prattle on. Suffice to say, I was a terrible Mets fan this weekend.

Bartolo Colon took one for the team yesterday, going 5 innings but allowing nine earned runs (four of them home runs). After two extra-inning games, it was nice to get some length out of Colon, even if it will destroy his stats for the rest of the month. Although this would have been an excellent time to allow professional pinch hitter Ike Davis to show off the stuff that made him Arizona State’s closer, Terry Collins opted to allow Scott Rice, Jeurys Familia, and John Lannan each toss an inning. Familia was a bright spot, since he doesn’t seem to be taking his loss on Saturday too hard.

I was really pleased to see Lannan used as a potential long man on Saturday night. Although both Lannan and Rice pitched in the night game Saturday and the day game Sunday, Rice had been used in the left-handed specialist role before being asked to eat up an inning on Sunday. Lannan was finally used in extra innings as a second starter; he ended up only needing to go two innings, but I’m sure Terry was glad to have a sixth starter on the bench for his second straight extra-innings game. Gonzalez Germen is also doing some excellent work these days. Hopefully we won’t be on the hook for Kyle Farnsworth in the setup role for too much longer. I’m not sure what kept the Professor out of the high-leverage game on Saturday night – I’m glad, don’t get me wrong, but he had only tossed a third of an inning the night before, and Terry seems to think he’s useful.

Jose Valverde finally blew a save. It’s been almost a year since he did – he blew three saves in 2013 for Detroit, all within a one-month span starting on May 12th. Of course, June 12th was his last save opportunity.

Cueto sits on bench, sobs April 6, 2014

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Johnny Cueto is having a tough year so far. In yesterday’s game against the Mets, he pitched to a game score of 65, allowing two earned runs in seven innings; he left with a lead, followed quickly with a hold by Sam LeCure and a blown save by J.J. Hoover, who surrendered a pinch-hit grand slam to professional pinch hitter Ike Davis1. 65 is a solid game score; the sabermetric definition of a quality start is a pitcher who adds value to his team by pitching to a game score above 50. In his first start of the year, Cueto threw seven innings of three-hit ball and struck out eight, pitching to a 74 game score and surrendering only one run. Unfortunately, that day, Adam Wainwright threw seven innings of three-hit ball and struck out nine, pitching to a 76 game score and surrendering no runs. Neither bullpen surrendered much, and so Wainwright took the win and dealt Cueto one of the toughest losses we’re likely to see this year.

Let’s give the devil their due – although it’s been easy to criticize the Mets’ bullpen, Scott Rice and Carlos Torres combined for a perfect inning and two thirds yesterday, keeping the score close enough that Ike was able to knock in the winning home run.

Meanwhile, Juan Lagares‘ slugging percentage is still up at .765, and with 13 total bases on 21 plate appearances he’s averaging about .62 bases every time he steps to the plate. Lagares’ slide into second yesterday was important for Ike’s hit to be a grand slam; if he’d been out, Ruben Tejada could easily have grounded into a double play and kept Ike out of the batter’s box. Still, Tejada’s OBP is at .389, and if he can keep that up, a shortstop who gets on base almost eight out of every 20 plate appearances is a valuable person to have on your roster.

1Davis’s first pinch-hit home run, and, according to Greg Prince via Twitter, the first come-from-behind walk-off grand slam in the history of the Mets.

Not the bullpen again… April 1, 2014

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In the “Stuff Gary Cohen Says” pile, let’s add “When you score six runs, you expect to win the game.” Why he said that, specifically, I’m not sure, since at the time he said it, the score was 5-5.

Offensively, the Mets had a great game yesterday. In any just universe, two homers in regulation giving a five-run score should have won the game; last year, only 308 teams lost in 9 innings or less with 5 or more runs scored, compared to 1697 teams that won in regulation with at least five. This, of course, isn’t a just universe; it’s Queens.

Dillon Gee had a quality start by game score (53), if not under the official definition, allowing 4 earned runs in 6.2 innings pitched. That was a little long, and the Mets’ commentary team pointed out that Warthen and Collins seem to plan to let their starters work a little longer this year. Given the bullpen’s performance, I’m not shocked by that – although Jose Valverde pitched a perfect inning and a third (striking out three), two of the Mets’ relievers walked their only batter faced. Bobby Parnell blew a save, giving up a crucial double to Denard Span in the 9th and showing velocities that were surprisingly low. Aside from Valverde, the bullpen looked as unreliable as it did last year.

Parnell had an injury-marred season last year. It’s important not to take too much out of a single appearance. That said, I’ve never been a big fan of Parnell. Valverde isn’t the answer – he may not even be as consistent as Latroy Hawkins was last year, judging by his spring performance – but the Mets have an inexperienced bullpen and they desperately need some consistency from the pen. Parnell’s neck still raises concerns, as does his seeming inability to handle pressure. There’s no reason the Mets should be relying on Jeurys Familia in the tenth inning on opening day.

It’ll take a few weeks before the system shakes out, of course, and we’ll see whether the Mets’ pen steps up and develops over the early season. That said, the closer position will definitely need some attention.

Ike Davis and his 12% raise January 21, 2014

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So, Ike Davis was pretty lousy last year. He batted .205/.326/.334 in an injury-shortened season with 106 total bases on 377 plate appearances, meaning he expected to make it to first a bit over a quarter of the time. Throw in his paltry home run figures and a handful of doubles, and you’re not looking at a major-league first baseman; his 0.2 wins above replacement put him in the company of Lyle Overbay and Garrett Jones.

Now that that’s out of the way, I’d like to point out that Overbay played 142 games and Jones played 144; Davis definitely presented more bang for your buck than those two, especially since he was earning $3.125 million. He’ll be getting a 12% raise this year, having re-signed for $3.5 million. Again, his numbers were pretty lousy.

But if you add up all of Davis’s appearances as a starter, you’ll see that the Mets scored 354 runs in those games, and allowed 376, meaning that the Pythagorean expectation for those games is 0.46989 – that corresponds to an expectation of about 76 wins over a 162-game season (or 41 wins over Davis’ tenure). The Mets’ overall winning percentage was .457 (74 wins), and their Pythagorean expectation was about .45, corresponding to around 73 wins; but without Davis, the team scored 265 runs and allowed 308, leading to an expectation of .425 and around 69 wins on the season. Additionally, the team actually won only 39 of the 87 games Davis started, for about a .45 winning percentage – right on with their season-long expectation, and two wins below expectation.

Now, there are some caveats. When Davis was active, the team was still doing its best to win, and players like John Buck and Marlon Byrd were still active. Toward the end of the season, the Mets moved more toward development and away from trying to win every game. It’s therefore entirely possible that the effect of having Davis start the game are wrapped up in the team’s changing fortunes. Still, the team would have been expected to perform better with Davis in the lineup, at least according to the Pythagorean expectation formula, and actually underperformed.

Comparing Contracts: Parnell and Gee January 20, 2014

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A few days ago, Bobby Parnell and Dillon Gee both re-signed with the Mets; though there are some incentives in Parnell’s deal, he’ll be making $3.7 million to Gee’s $3.625 million. Those numbers were oddly close (and the contracts similar despite the difference in position), so I decided to check out the players’ recent statistics. Since the players are each negotiating one-year deals, and these players are neither very old or very young, it seems reasonable to treat the best predictor of future performance as the players’ most recent performance.

Gee started 32 games (almost exactly every fifth game) in 2013 to a 3.62 ERA and a .301 opposing BABIP. The median numbers for starters with 162 or more innings pitched were about 3.51 and .295, so Gee is performing almost exactly like a full-time starter (and thus presumably a bit better than your average pitcher). Gee’s performance corresponds to 2.2 wins above replacement, a shade below the median of 3.0 for full-time starters.

I’m not Parnell’s biggest fan, and his season was shortened by an injury (causing him to miss all of August), so I expected the numbers not to operate in his favor. However, his 2.16 ERA is well below the median of relievers with 40 appearances or more, and his 0.7 WAR is right on the median. Oddly, his BABIP at .268 is much lower than the median of .290, indicating that he’s benefiting, to some degree, from good fielding behind him. If we restrict the numbers to only pitchers with 15 saves or more (all 32 of them), those medians adjust to 2.645, 1.4, and .277, respectively, keeping him on the good side of ERA and BABIP but cutting his WAR performance considerably. Let’s see if we can extrapolate – in 104 team games, Parnell played 49, meaning that he played in about 47% of the team’s games. At that pace, he probably would have been put into about 27 more games, meaning his current stats are about 65% of what his season stats might have been. In that case, let’s hold his BABIP and ERA constant and extend his WAR to 1.08 (by dividing by .65). That would have ranked him with Huston Street and Addison Reed – much better company than his current competition. It also, interestingly, would have put him much closer to Gee’s WAR, at a higher-leverage position.

Again, I’m not Parnell’s biggest fan, and I was skeptical about this deal. Assuming that the injury hasn’t harmed him, though, Parnell’s contract really does make sense compared to Gee’s.

Bobby Bonilla, Financial Genius? August 1, 2011

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When Bobby Bonilla signed a deferred compensation agreement in 2000, the Mets owed him $5.9 million dollars. Basically, the Mets got to hold on to the $6 million or so (and ended up spending it on payroll), but they had to pay Bonilla back a bit more in interest. His yearly payments are $1,193,248.20, which means that in absolute terms, the Mets are paying him $35,797,446 in total over the next 25 years. Of course, the $1.19 million Bonilla gets today is worth much more than the same-size payment he’ll get in 2036.

Bonilla’s arrangement mimics a financial instrument called an annuity, where a constant payment is made at specific time periods after a specific present sum is invested. The annuity formula is:

Present Value =Payment \times [\frac{1 - \frac{1}{(1 + r)^t}}{r}]

where r is the annualized interest rate and t is the number of years of payment. Keep in mind, though, that the present value of the annuity isn’t $5.9 million – it’s $5.9 million compounded annually at some rate of interest agreed to by Bonilla and the team for the ten years between the deal and the first payout. In general, that means

5900000\times(1 + r)^{10} = Payment \times [\frac{1 - \frac{1}{(1 + r)^t}}{r}]

Since we know Bonilla’s payout, we can substitute in:

5900000\times(1 + r)^{10} = 1193248.2 \times [\frac{1 - \frac{1}{(1 + r)^t}}{r}]

and that solves out neatly to the 8% that the team and Bonilla agreed to. The math checks out so far.

At the time the deal was made, the 8% was 50 basis points (0.5%) below the Prime Rate, the reference rate used by banks in making loans. The average prime rate over the previous year was about 8.16%, and rates had hovered within 75 basis points since September of 1994*, so while interest rates are expected to move, it was very likely that rates would stay similar, at least in the short term. For the record, a 30-year fixed rate mortgage would have cost between 8.15% and 8.25%, so taking into account the long maturity of the loan, it wasn’t a bad deal.

Let’s look at how good a prediction it was. Annualizing prime rates, the Mets could have earned a (full prime) rate of return as follows:

\begin{tabular}{c||cc}  Year& Annualized interest rate & Current Value \\  \hline  2000& 0.09233 & 6444766.67 \\  2001& 0.06922 & 6890851.93 \\  2002& 0.04675 & 7212999.26 \\  2003& 0.04123 & 7510355.16 \\  2004& 0.04342 & 7836429.74 \\  2005& 0.06187 & 8321243.53 \\  2006& 0.08133 & 8998038.00 \\  2007& 0.08050 & 9722380.06 \\  2008& 0.05088 & 10217006.15 \\  2009& 0.03250 & 10549058.85 \\  2010& 0.03250 & 10891903.26 \\  \end{tabular}

So, the actual value of the $5.9 million on January 1, 2011, was $10,891,903.26, but the agreement pegged the value at

5900000*(1.08)^{10} = 12737657.48

for a difference of about $1.85 million. Bobby’s already better off because historical interest rates didn’t keep up with 8%.

My biggest question is why the Mets agreed to an 8% interest rate then and there to be in effect for the next 35 years. Since I’m not a finance professional, I don’t know whether that’s an industry standard agreement or not, but it seems like the risk of setting an interest rate that far in the future would be far too high. What if the Mets had agreed to the 8% interest rate for ten years and then offered Bonilla a menu of financially equivalent options? All of them would rely on the payment formula:

Payment = \frac{r \times PV}{1 - \frac{1}{(1 + r)^t}}

where t is the number of periods and r is the newly figured interest rate.

One option would be to take the $12,737,657.48 as a lump sum, although that wouldn’t necessarily be a good idea for the Mets. (We know they’re cash strapped.)

The current prime rate is 3.25%, so if we took the lump sum $12,737,657.48 from the original agreement and reamortized it today at 2.75%, Bobby could receive a payment of $711,270.46 over the next 25 years. Similarly, at 2.75%, $1,047,789.14 per year for 15 years or $2,761,502.75 for five years would be equivalent options. Each has a different total cash outlay, but the discount rate means that each of them is worth the same $12,737,657.48 in 2011 dollars.

Bringing it all back, that’s why it’s a little silly to talk about the Mets paying $30 million to defer $6 million in compensation. It’s true that they’ll end up putting more dollars into Bonilla’s hands, but that simply represents Bonilla’s forebearing on the ability to invest that money at current interest rates. It doesn’t matter when you pay him – the money is worth the same amount, and that’s all that matters.

* Historical prime rates here, thanks to the St. Louis Fed and Federal Reserve Economic Data

Mets Fans, Meet Your New Closer July 17, 2011

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It’s been a while since the Mets traded Francisco Rodriguez, the 1982 model, to the Milwaukee Brewers. Mets manager Terry Collins has indicated that Rule 5 draft pick Pedro Beato, cranky old man Jason Isringhausen, and veteran Met Bobby Parnell are in competition for the closer role. Rodriguez had a reputation for being unpredictable, and watching him certainly gave that impression – he pitched wildly and emotionally.

I decided to dig out K-Rod’s stats for this year and figure out what his numbers looked like, using a couple of measures of control: his K/BB ratio (aka ‘control ratio’), his K/9 and BB/9, and then his batters faced per out (BFPO). If Rodriguez is unpredictable, then he should have a relatively high standard deviation for BFPO. With that in mind, if predictability is an important factor in selecting a closer, these stats are relevant for Beato, Isringhausen, and Parnell as well. Here they are, for 2011:
The best number overall is bolded. The best from among the three closer candidates is italicized.

\begin{tabular}{r||rrrrr}  Pitcher & KBB & K9 & BB9 & BFPO & SD \\  \hline  Rodriguez & \textbf{2.875} & 9.703 & \textbf{0.375} & 1.461 & \textbf{0.476} \\  Beato & 2 & 5.4 & 5.7 & \textit{\textbf{1.292}} & 0.723 \\  Isringhausen & 1.615 & 6.831 & 4.229 & 1.386 & 0.638 \\  Parnell & \textit{3.2} & \textit{\textbf{11.221}} & \textit{3.506} & 1.442 & \textit{0.503} \\  \end{tabular}

Rodriguez had the best KBB and BB9, as well as the lowest standard deviation, but his BFPO was the highest in the group. Since he wasn’t walking many batters, that indicates that he was giving up a lot of hits or otherwise allowing lots of runners. That’s not good – it breeds high-pressure situations, some of which are bound to result in runs.

Beato had the lowest BFPO, but Parnell led all the other categories for current Mets as well as having a better K/9 than Rodriguez as well. Parnell’s BFPO was only .02 below Frankie’s, and was .15 higher than Beato’s (and about .05 greater than Izzy’s). Without a lot more data, it’s hard to compare these numbers meaningfully. However, over the course of 70 innings, that .15 differential adds up to 31.5 extra baserunners for Parnell above Beato. Parnell’s lower standard deviation means that those runners are going to be spread a bit more evenly than Beato’s, but it’s tough to distinguish the best choice. Isringhausen has been strong as a setup man, and Beato, as a rookie, is still unpredictable.

Parnell will probably come out of this with the closer’s job, but Collins would be a fool not to leave Isringhausen where he is.

RBIs with Two Outs July 4, 2011

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Sunday’s Subway Series game between the Mets and Yankees ended with a bang – Jason Bay hit a single off Hector Noesi that brought home Scott Hairston. The tenth inning should have been over, but Ramiro Pena committed an error at shortstop that put Daniel Murphy on base for Boone Logan. Hairston’s run was unearned, but no matter – Noesi took the loss and the Mets won the game.

The final score was 3-2, and the interesting thing about the game was that all three of the Mets’ runs came with two outs. (My fiancée, Katie, suggested that this was unusual, and motivated most of the rest of this post.) In fact, so far, the Mets have had 347 RBIs (of 375 runs scored), and 147 of them have come with two outs. That’s about 42.4% of their RBIs. By contrast, only 1070 of 3274 plate appearances – 32.7% – come with two outs. (Less than a third of plate appearances come with two outs because of the double play, among other reasons.) The majority come with no men out (about 34.8%) with the remainder coming with one out. It seems like the high concentration of 2-out RBIs should be explained by the use of the sacrifice bunt, but the Mets have only had 31 sacrifice bunts this season – not nearly enough to account for the difference between 32.7% of plate appearances and 42.4% of RBIs.

Is that pattern common across baseball? So far, there have been 10,037 RBIs in Major League Baseball in the 2011 season. 3686 of them – about 36.7% – came with two outs. Excluding the Mets’ numbers, that’s 3539 out of 9690, or 36.5%. For the National League only, there were 1928 two-out RBIS of 5212 total, or 37%, with 1781 of 4865 (36.6%) of National League RBIs coming with two outs if you exclude the Mets. (Note that I’m defining ‘in the National League’ as ‘in National League parks,’ since what I’m interested in is whether the Mets’ concentration of RBIs can be partially explained by the rules requiring pitchers to bat.)

Assume that the Mets’ RBIs are drawn from the same distribution as all others’. Then, 95% of the time, I’d expect the proportion of RBIs that come with two outs to be within two standard errors of the National League’s proportion, excluding the Mets. (The ‘two standard errors’ comes from the fact that a t-distribution’s critical value for a large number of trials for 95% significance is 1.96. For less than an infinite number, two standard errors is a handy approximation.) For the Mets’ 347 RBIs, the standard error would be

\sqrt{\frac{p(1-p)}{n-1}} = \sqrt{\frac{.366(.734)}{346}} = \sqrt{\frac{.232}{346}} = \sqrt{.000671} = .026

Thus, 95% of the time, the Mets should be within the interval of (.366 – .052, .366+.052), or (.314, .418). Since, again, the Mets’ proportion is .424, the Mets are slightly outside the 95% confidence interval. That’s pretty close, and certainly could happen by chance, but it’s surprising nonetheless. The question then is whether this is due to some sort of strategy employed by the Mets’ management or to some sort of clutch playing ability by the Mets. Again, there’s more data to collect and crunch (as always).

Don Kelly, Utility King June 30, 2011

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Super utility dervish Don Kelly is this year’s second inductee into the prestigious* Spectrum Club, which loyal readers if any will recognize as the group of players who have played both pitcher and designated hitter in a given season. Kelly pitched a perfect third of an inning (for those keeping score at home, that’s one out) against the Mets last night during a 16-9 Tigers loss.

Kelly’s lifetime pitching statistics: 0.1 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 HR, 0 BB, 0 K, 1 BF. That batter was Scott Hairston, who flied out to Austin Jackson at center.

Kelly came in after David Purcey, the Tigers’ last arm in the bullpen, pitched the last out of the eighth and the first two of the ninth. In his one inning, Purcey gave up five hits, four runs (all of them earned), two walks (one intentional), and no strikeouts. Purcey’s ninth inning started promisingly when Justin Turner grounded out and Carlos Beltran flied out, but David then gave up a double to catcher Ronnie Paulino, walked Jason Bay, and then allowed Angel Pagan to double, scoring Paulino. At that point, Jim Leyland called on Kelly, who took care of Hairston to end the inning.

That makes three utility pitchers thus far this year. Of the position players who pitched, Wilson Valdez, Mike McCoy and Don Kelly have each played at least three non-pitching positions. Valdez has  played at second base, third base, and shortstop; McCoy has played second, third, shortstop, center field, and left field; and Kelly has played first, third, left, center, and right. They’re three of the four pitchers with fifty or more plate appearances. (Roy Halladay is the fourth, with exactly 50 PA this year.)

Over the course of his career, Kelly has been a utility ubermensch, playing every position except catcher. As a lifetime .242/.287/.341 hitter, Kelly needs to be versatile defensively to keep himself working. That’s essentially the same way Mike McCoy keeps his job. Kelly had never pitched professionally before.

*not a guarantee

Justin Turner Takes One For The Team June 23, 2011

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The Mets’ Justin Turner quite literally took one for the team last night when he wasn’t trying to get hit, but, oops, managed to get plunked in the bottom of the 13th inning with the bases loaded. Brad Ziegler was the losing pitcher for Oakland. It was the first game-ending hit by pitch since last year, when Mariano Rivera nailed Jeff Francoeur for the loss in a September game.

In 185 plate appearances this year, Turner has been hit three times. The other two were both by Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Charlie Morton, eleven days apart; Morton is not especially known for hitting batters, since he, too, has only been involved in three hit batsmen this year. (The third plunking was Dane Sardinha.) It was the Mets’ only go-ahead HBP this year, and the only one of this year’s six go-ahead hit batsmen to occur in extra innings.

Turner has a way about him. He’s hit ten go-ahead RBIs this year (and yes, a hit by pitch that forces in a run is an RBI), which accounts for a little over ten percent of the Mets’ 95 go-ahead RBIs. Only Carlos Beltran, with 13, has more. It’s also the Mets’ only game-ending RBI this year. I guess Turner will take what he can get.


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