Sunday, April 29, 2012

Chad Gaudin and Platoon Splits


As an A’s fan I have a somewhat illogical relationship with Chad Gaudin. In 2006 Gaudin produced a 3.09 ERA in 55 relief innings for a division winning team. In 2007 he transitioned to the rotation, and threw 199.1 moderately effective innings. In one way he was a symbol of the A’s preternatural ability to find useful talent virtually anywhere. One the other hand he was a poster child of the pervasive mediocrity that was quickly overtaking the franchise.

            After he was traded to the Cubs in the summer of 2008, I lost track of Gaudin. I have vague recollections of his horrifying beard pitching for the Yankees, and I have a terrible dream of him pitching 17 awful innings for the A’s in 2010, but after his banishment back to the Yankees I have no memory of where he ended up.

            Fangraphs.com informs me that he got into 10 games for the Nationals and bounced through the Blue Jays Triple-A team last year, but I can presumably be forgiven for having missed that eventuality. He is currently a relief pitcher for the Ozzie Guillen conducted (not led, conducted) Florida Marlins. At any rate, Gaudin’s pitching history is not the purpose of this post. For as mediocre as Gaudin has been, as detailed by two admittedly outdated articles from Fangraphs,

“Chad Gaudin kills righties and makes perfect sense coming out of any team’s bullpen.”

            The statistics more than bear out R.J. Anderson’s 2010 endorsement of Gaudin’s skills. Gaudin strikes out 8.98 right-handers per nine innings pitched, (which isn’t far off Sandy Koufax’s strikeout rate during his otherworldly 1963-64 seasons) while walking an acceptable 3.27 batters per 9.

            Against left-handers, however, he musters up only 4.84 K/9 while walking a truly awful 5.39 batters per 9 (a rate that isn’t far off from Koufax’s walk rates while he was still figuring it out and hurled every other pitch over the backstop).

            While it would be somewhat insulting to the great man to compare Gaudin to Kaufax, suffice it to say that when he faces right-handed batters Gaudin strikes them out like a poor man’s version of vintage Cy Young Kaufax, and when he faces left-handed batters Gaudin walks them like vintage scare-the-batter-in-the-on-deck-circle Kaufax.

            This is not a particularly difficult set of statistics to decipher, which makes Ozzie Guillen’s decision to bring Gaudin into the game in the ninth inning of what turned out to be a 5-0 loss to the Diamondbacks on Friday particularly indefensible. Understandably, the departing pitcher, the eminently capable Ryan Webb, was commanded to intentionally walk the left-handed hitting Jason Kubel. What is worth mentioning is that the next hitter, Miguel Montero, is a left-handed hitter who had to that date produced an .820 On base plus slugging percentage against right-handed pitchers.

            Predictably, Montero smashed a double off of Gaudin, plating the two runners who were on base. While the double only dropped the Marlins’ chances of winning the game from 2.4% to .4%, it was caused by an easily preventable managerial mistake.

            The dictum is simple, Gaudin should not be facing left-handed hitters. When this dictum is followed, he can be a useful piece on a good team. When it is not, he gives up smash doubles to the leftfield gap.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Predictions of Doom


“The National Game has begun to topple from its ancient pedestal, as the one-time fervid fans turn to new sports…”

            This is how reporter Jack Kofoed begins his hard-hitting article entitled “A Dirge for Baseball.” There is really nothing to differentiate this article from the hundreds of other articles that consistently predict baseball’s imminent demise. Yet it is very interesting for one particular reason. Of course, I will naturally neglect to tell you about why this article is interesting for quite some time, otherwise it wouldn’t be fun.

            Kofoed hits all the classic tropes. First, he decries the shortsightedness of ownership for charging too much for tickets, thus driving the young fan away from the game and ensuring that the young fan’s “hunger for baseball is not nourished when it is most important.” He then laments the lack of superstar talent in the game, particularly since the feats of some of the biggest stars have recently been obscured by moral and legal mistakes. But most of all, from Jack Kofoed’s perspective, baseball is threatened by the rise of more active and readily accessible sports.
           
            Though Kofoed admits that baseball has grown in viewership and profitability over the last several decades, it has not grown nearly as quickly as its younger rivals, putting the economic future of the sport in doubt. Yet more insidious than economic concerns, Kofoed charges that

“the spirit of the baseball fan is flagging. There can be no question of that.”

            Not only do the fans no longer treat “the game with enormous seriousness,” the players themselves, who once “lived and ate and slept baseball in the old days” are now distracted by other pursuits.

            These are damning critiques, and are certainly echoed by other, less verbose articles, thousands of which can be found with a simple Google search for the depressingly clich├ęd phrase: “baseball is dying.” Jack Kofoed’s article is so similar to the pabulum put out by writers and bloggers everywhere on the internet that it is difficult to believe that it was published in Volume 228 of “The North American Review”… in July of 1929.

            Consider this: when Kofoed was penning his artful treatise as to why baseball would not be long for the world, Babe Ruth was well on his way to blasting 46 home runs, Lefty Grove was striking out 170 batters, and the Chicago Cubs were far and away the best team in the National League.

            Craig Calcaterra, the blogger-in-chief for Hardballtalk, wrote in response to a particularly egregious modern day article:

The first professional baseball team was established in 1869.  Two weeks later someone probably wrote a column about how baseball was dying, on its way out and utterly utterly doomed.”

            As Kofoed has shown, Calcaterra was not exaggerating by much at all.

            These days the common charge is that, thanks to its strong national TV ratings and insane hoopla, football has not only become the most popular sport in America, it will quickly render baseball irrelevant. The challenges seem dire, but less so when compared to equally dire predictions made in 1929.

            The rival sports that Kofoed believed were fast overtaking baseball in 1929? Tennis and Golf. Yes, golf, that rousing spectacle of wealthy men smacking balls across the lawn and chasing them down at a leisurely ramble, was to supplant baseball.

            Kofoed admitted that,

“the impossibility of massing spectators in a stadium or grandstand, means that golf can never compete with baseball as a paying spectacle”

            But as a participatory sport, Kofoed expected the hundreds of private and public courses would combine with the rise of tennis at schools to destroy baseball’s potential fan base.

            Clearly, the situation in 1929 is very different from that which baseball faces today, but it is nevertheless instructive to see that competing sports have never seriously threatened baseball. Mainly because, as static and unchanging as the game appears on the field, the dynamics of baseball viewership and marketing have always evolved to meet new challenges.

            One thing that did change about the experience of the average baseball fan during the course of Kofoed’s lifetime was the ticket prices, which rose from the “reasonable fee” of “two bits” to the apparently prohibitive cost of “fifty or seventy-five cents.” However, that increase did not drive young people away from baseball and towards other sports as he feared. Even the Great Depression, which was to begin with the Wall Street Crash barely three months after this article was published, failed to dampen the public’s enthusiasm for baseball.

            As desirable as 75-cent tickets may seem with tickets averaging $26.91 last year, it is worth noting that the average NFL ticket last year was $76.47. It is true that the economics and season lengths of the two sports are sufficiently different as to render per game cost comparisons irrelevant. Depressingly, however, most of the modern day “Football is King and Baseball is Mercifully Dying” (a real article written by real people) rants focus on how baseball ratings for nationally televised game trail football telecasts. These articles ignore the fact that the vast majority of baseball games are televised on the thirty (incredibly profitable) regional networks.

            The financial outlook for baseball in 1929 was strong, even acknowledging the substantial hit that baseball, along with the rest of the country, was to take during the great depression. In 2012 baseball’s financial prospects are even better, and despite the challenges presented by up and coming sports, baseball will undoubtedly persevere, just as it did when challenged by tennis and golf (still giggling about that one) in the 1920s.

            Financial and external problems pose no threat to the game now, just as they did not in Kofoed’s time. The internal problems, the “bankruptcy in player material” that Kofoed observed, seem comical in hindsight. The 1930’s produced some of the best players in the long and glorious history of our game, and if tennis, golf and boxing could not turn Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Hank Greenberg, Joe Dimaggio, Dizzy Dean and Bob Feller away from baseball, then I sincerely doubt that football, basketball, hockey and soccer will rob us of a future generation of stars.

            As to the moral and legal problems that baseball was struggling with in the 1920’s, I should think that most of you would have guessed that the Black Sox scandal of 1919 and the 8 expulsions that followed were the cause of Kofoed’s loss of confidence. In modern times, labor strife and steroid abuse have both damaged the integrity of the game. However, with the harsh lessons of the strike of 1994, and the embarrassment of the fallout from the steroid years fixed firmly in the minds of management and players, it is my hope that neither scandal will threaten baseball’s future.

            What is the lesson of this one obscure article that I found buried in the dusty crevices of Jstor? Some would argue that this merely proves that it is never too early to sound the alarm! Or, more reasonably, perhaps Kofoed’s article from 1929, and the passel of drech from the internet, show that baseball is far stronger than any of us expected.

(Due to copyright concerns, I regretfully cannot provide a link to Kofoed’s article, therefore unless you have access to Jstor through a scholarly institution, you will just have to take my word on the content of the article.)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Matt Cain Will Destroy the Death Star

And now, in what I hope will come to be a long and vibrant tradition here at Sabermetrics ISOlated, I present our first guest post. I believe that the title speaks for itself.



The issue with evaluating any baseball contract is that as baseball fans we can’t help but play favorites. Every fan has his own reasons for loving baseball. Some go to the games for the strikeouts, others for the thrilling wins, some for the food and atmosphere, and chicks, apparently, dig the long ball. These subconscious strings tug at our active mind, affecting how we watch a game, read an article or talk about baseball with a friend.  This is to say that human beings are far from objective observers. This is fine for a lot of people. The causal fan sticks with the simplicity of historical statistics like batting average, RBI’s and Errors. But a growing segment of baseball fans enjoy both the visual appeal of watching bat connect to ball and digging into the mathematical layers behind the game. As fans, we are all biased, but for many fans advanced statistics curb our biases and give us greater insight into what makes a team win.

So when I see that the Giants have signed Matt Cain to a five year, 110 million dollar contract, two parts of my mind fire into action. The first part is ecstatic. Over the past six years, Matt Cain has been one of the most consistent pitchers in the Major Leagues. Quickly lets run through his accomplishments. Over these six years, Matt has thrown at least 190 innings every year and spent no extended time on the DL. On top of statistical measurements, the inner fan in me adds that Cain has a large, strong frame and an easy delivery. AND HE PITCHES FOR THE SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS!!! As an avid Giants fan, Cain was one of the few bright spots during the dark years after Barry Bonds, and when the Giants won the World Series, Matt Cain threw 21 1/3 scoreless innings in the playoffs. How could I not love watching Cain play in orange and black for another five years.

Now that we got that out of the way…

HOLY CRAP 110 million dollars! So if the Giants maintain their current budget of 130 million, Cain will account for a sixth of that. Damn… I hope he stays good. For every CC Sabathia, who stays healthy and good throughout his massive contract there is a Jake Peavy or Brandon Webb, whose health fails as they approach their 30’s. The Giants inked Cain through his age 33 season, with an average value of 21 million per year. Last year, according to Fangraphs.com, Matt Cain, in his best season yet, was worth 23 million. The Giants are gambling that Cain stays healthy and maintains his past performance. Take away my love for the Giants and my man-crush on Matt Cain and suddenly the deal looks very shaky. Any long-term deal for a 27-year-old pitcher is risky, and the Giants are flipping a coin on Matt Cain.

Sabermetrics can’t predict the future, but it can tell the observer that 1) Matt Cain has been really good 2) Matt Cain has been really healthy 3) Matt Cain has gotten better over his six years in the league.

So Matt Cain is a solid horse to bet on, but all gambling carries risk, and as a fan of baseball, the Giants and Matt Cain, I hope the risk pays off.

-Alex Harleen