October 26, 2018

Why the Red Sox WILL (probably) win the World Series

Because they are up 2-0. Period. No real baseball analysis is needed. Don't believe me?  Read on....

If instead of the outcome of the games being decided by who scores more runs in nine innings, it was based on a simple coin flip, we can build a simple model to see what the probability of winning a Series at any given point would be.  And luckily it involves VERY simple math that is easy to understand. For example, the odds of flipping heads two times in a row are 1 in 4 (50% x 50% or 1 in 2 x 1 in 2). So, if a team is down 3-2 in a Series, the probability of them winning both games and taking the Series is 25%.

Now, we all know the games aren’t based on coin flips, but I believe using a coin flip model helps to get at least a rough idea of what can be expected.  I first mentioned this in 2004. Down 3-0 to the Yankees, the odds of the Red Sox coming back to win didn’t look good. Using a coin flip model, it was easy to see that the odds of winning 4 games in a row (or flipping a coin heads 4 times in a row), was 1 in 16 or about 6%. Now, this doesn’t sound very promising, but it’s not the 1 in a million that people made it sound like. (For comparison purposes, the odds of being dealt pocket aces are 1 in 221. Also not likely, but everybody has had this happen to them, several times if you play poker often enough). Sure, it had never happened in the history of baseball, but only 24 times previously had a team been up 3-0.  The Red Sox coming back and winning and making it 1 time in 25, is pretty consistent with what would happen if every game was a coin flip*. It should happen about 1 and half times out of every 25. Once is slightly less than expected, twice is slightly more.

Anyhow, without even needing to use any math, it’s obvious that any time the same number of heads and tails have been flipped, the probability of getting a certain number of heads before the same number of tails is the same as tails reaching first (In other words… if teams are tied 1-1, or 2-2, the odds of either team winning a 3 of 5 or 4 of 7 are the same).  Going through all the permutations of heads/tails out of 5 or 7 flips, you end up with this chart showing the probability of the leading or trailing team winning, depending on the current Series score:
The Red Sox are up 2-0 right now, based on the above they have an 81% probability of winning 4 games before the Dodgers do. I saw a graphic after Game 2 that said teams with a 2-0 lead have won 84% of the time.  This is pretty damn close. The above chart is a useful reference if you ever want a quick and dirty guesstimate of the probability of a team to win given their current situation. It’s not perfect, because it ignores some minor details (specifically, it ignores BASEBALL, and everything related to it), but a handy thing to keep (literally and figuratively) in your back pocket.

(*) Note: I’m NOT saying that the outcome of each game is the same as a coin flip. Obviously some teams are better than others, pitching matchups, home field, injuries etc., all need to be taken into account. But when you get to the World Series, more often than not both teams are at least closely matched up. Even a 100 win talent team is only going to beat a 90 win talent team about 55% of the time in a given game. If we assume that in the previous 24 times, on average, the leading team had a 55% probability of winning each game, the chances of the trailing team coming back are (0.45)4=4% which is one time in 25, matching EXACTLY what has happened.

October 02, 2018

Why the Red Sox won't win the World Series

(Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports)
No, it’s not because of their bullpen. Without going into a lot of deep analysis, simply put it’s because there are 10 teams in the playoffs. The Red Sox may have the best one, and may have the best probability of winning it all, but it’s still far from a sure thing, or even a likely thing. 

Read on….

The Atlanta Braves made the playoffs 14 seasons in a row from 1991 to 2005, but only won the World Series one time and were considered a disappointment because of it.  With eight teams making the playoffs, on average, a team will win once every eight times it gets in there (slightly more if they’re better than the average playoff team, slightly less if they’re worse). Fans and baseball analysts usually grossly overstate this “slightness”.  More on that in a minute. Anyways, the Braves would have been expected to win 1.75 times out of those 14. If they had won twice they would have actually exceeded the expected.

But, if they were always the best team in the league surely they should have won more often, you may think. But not necessarily. As I alluded to above, most people overestimate the advantage a better team has over an inferior one. Sure, the better team is more likely to win, but the advantage is typically small. It’s rare in a playoff series to have a team be expected to win with more than a 60% probability.

October 01, 2018

WAR - What's it good for?

It's George Steinbrenner! Wait,
maybe this is the other boss
A whole lot more than you may think, Mr. Shaughnessy!  

Near the end of the season, Dan Shaughnessy, who is somehow still employed by the Boston Globe, tweeted that the Red Sox bullpen was ranked first by WAR, and that tells him everything he needs to know about WAR. 

His implication is that this is a made up stat that only nerdy geeks can determine on their supercomputers and it’s not indicative of anything. I mean, everyone knows how bad the Boston bullpen is, and there’s near universal agreement that it’s our Achilles heel heading into the playoffs. So any stat that shows it as being good is obviously flawed.

Sigh. 🙄 Where to start?  First of all, as the second most famous #45 to our readers would say, this is #FakeNews. The bullpen is actually ninth in WAR according to Fangraphs. Ok, well #9 is still pretty good, and this bullpen obviously isn’t, so PIG’s point stands regardless. {Sidebar: I HATE the CHB moniker for Dan Shaughnessy. It originated with Jurassic Carl (whose nickname I DO love), but it is somewhat homophobic and has no place in today’s world (unlike dinosaurs….), so I prefer to call him Pigheaded Irrelevant Guy, or just PIG for short}. But, what PIG fails to take into account (or did, but intentionally ignored so that the conclusion would fit in with his agenda), is that this is a season long stat. And in the first half Boston did have a pretty lights out bullpen: Craig Kimbrel was an all-star with a 1.77 ERA at the break. Joe Kelly, Bobby Poyner, and Matt Barnes had ERAs of 1.73, 1.69 and 1.95 respectively at some point in June.  Carson Smith was a reliable 8th inning option until he had a season-ending injury. Hector Velazquez was 5-0 as a long reliever.

The pen HAS struggled lately, but it was ranked 3rd by WAR in the first half, and 23rd in the second half, for a season ending ranking of 9th. This easily passes the smell test to me. 

Anyhow, if WAR is flawed as an indicator of bullpen effectiveness, then what would be a good stat to use? I don’t think that even PIG is naïve enough to suggest wins and losses. As useless as they are for starters, they are that much worse for relievers. Saves? For the most part they really only measure what your closer can do. How about ERA? Although somewhat flawed, it is the traditional stat that may have the most relevancy. How does the Boston bullpen rank in ERA? How about NINTH! Hmmm…. If WAR is useless what does that tell you about ERA? 

No, WAR is not useless. In fact bullpen WAR has such a good correlation with bullpen ERA (because I am a nerdy geek with access to a supercomputer - or at least a 3 year old laptop and excel - I ran it and confirmed that bullpen WAR did have a very high correlation, much higher than ERA to wins or saves, see here:)
Nerd Results
that without digging deeper into the numbers, that alone should tell you that although it may not be perfect, it is still a reasonable surrogate for the effectiveness of a bullpen. 

End of rant. Let the postseason begin!

June 22, 2018

Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame

Pedro couldn't be there to say ¡Hola! himself,
so I tried to represent his home country
As mentioned last time, I went to Saint Marys, Ontario to see this year's Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame induction. What a great event it was. In spite of missing Pedro Martinez (due to a medical condition), Fergie Jenkins (due to family's health), and Kelly Gruber (due to being an asshole), it was still a great show.

Shortly after I arrived, the first thing I noticed was how intimate it was. I saw a tent set up with chairs, that I assumed was for the VIPs - inductees, family members, special guests, etc - but quickly realized it was for everyone to sit and enjoy the ceremonies comfortably away from the heat of the sun and the sprinkle of rain that was coming down.

Then, I saw several vendor tables. I recall at Cooperstown there were people on the streets yelling at fans to "come get an autographed ball by Pete Rose! Over here! Only $100 each" or whatever it was, but it was clearly a money grab (speaking of assholes, I hope Mr. Rose claimed income and paid his fair taxes to the IRS this time!). If you tried to take a picture of a player, without lining up and paying the requisite fee, someone would not be happy.  And many shops had authenticated memorabilia, all with price tags to ensure only the most serious of collectors would even consider purchasing it. But in Saint Marys, it was quite the opposite. Players and special guests were walking around mingling with the fans, and reminiscing about stories. And you could get autographed memorabilia for a very reasonable price.

The Fergie mobile
As soon as I walked in I saw Fergie Jenkins' van, but had already heard he wasn't going to be there. Went to one of the vendor tables, and picked up a few souvenirs, including a signed ball by Jenkins, and one by Ryan Dempster (who I obviously became a fan of, when he joined the exclusive group of Canadians to play for the Red Sox, and all Yankee haters loved him after he plunked A-Rod).

I also found some Calgary Vipers merchandise there which is ironic since I can't find any in Calgary.
A Calgary Vipers sighting. I couldn't not get it!

Hall of Famer, Fergie Jenkins
A-Rod plunker Ryan Dempster

Then I spotted Bill Lee, and went up to him and we started chatting. This is the third time I've had the pleasure of talking with him. He is a great storyteller and always interesting. I already had baseball cards and pictures of him that he's signed previously, this time I got him to sign his book and got another ball.

             Bill Lee,                                Bill Lee,                  More Bill Lee    
Then the ceremony started. Pedro wasn't there, but they had some former Expos who accepted the honour. Fittingly it started with another #45, Steve Rogers, as well as Bill Lee and Bill Atkinson.

Another great Expos pitcher who wore #45
Another picture of Bill Lee, just because
Pedro did have a video message for the fans where he apologized for not being able to make it:

Historian William Humber was also inducted. He had a major role in bringing to light the fact that baseball was being played in Canada well before Abner Doubleday "invented" it.  He's also written Diamonds of the North. And is the main reason Canadians can say this:

Then "The Shaker", Lloyd Moseby got up to speak. He was so humble, and you could tell he didn't feel comfortable receiving this recognition. He kept repeating that he felt he didn't deserve it. I can't even begin to give his speech justice, so I'll let you read what Richard Griffin (who was also present) wrote about him.

Some other notes on the weekend:

  • As I was walking around, I hear someone say "Hi, you must be Ruben.".  It was none other than Kevin Glew who was one of the first reporters to interview me and write about my efforts to induct Jim Rice into Cooperstown. I had only ever spoken to him on the phone and online, so it was a pleasant surprise to bump into him. 
  • I have no idea why I had never gone to Saint Mary's until now. It's only a little over an hour from the city I grew up in and often visit. The baseball musem was closed for renovations, so I will need to come back up when it's open and check it out
  • The following day, I went to Grand Bend for Father's Day dinner (Happy Father's Day, Dad!), and in the restaurant lobby I saw this:
What are the odds?
  • I was supposed to fly back on Monday but my flight was cancelled. Left Tuesday morning, and just a few hours later, Calgarian Mike Soroka was pitching in Toronto. I should have stayed another 24 hours. Instead I got to watch him pitch back in Calgary with several other local fans, organized by Alberta Dugout Stories and ended up being interviewed by Global Sports. It would have been nice to watch Mike live in Toronto, but it was pretty fun to watch baseball in this hockey-crazed province with other fans too.
    A face made for radio

June 14, 2018

Pedro inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame

Three years ago, I was fortunate enough to see Pedro Martinez get inducted into Cooperstown, and then went on to Fenway to see him #45 get retired.  I wrote about that here.

It was such a great experience seeing him and all his fans, that I was excited when I found he was getting inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.  (We're all well aware he's not Canadian. And no, Canada doesn't have so few players, that they claim anyone born outside of the U.S. as one of their own. But he became a star when he played in Montreal, winning his first Cy Young award there, and was beloved by Expos fans).

So excited in fact, that I gave up plans I had to see the Red Sox play in Seattle this weekend. Going to Safeco when the Red Sox visit, has become a sort of almost annual tradition. I missed last year's series, which included Rafael Devers making his MLB debut, hitting his first home run, and a Sale Day, and didn't want to miss Boston's only trip to Seattle this season. But, a chance to see Pedro trumps that.

I have had bad luck going to see Pedro. In 2001, when I saw that the Red Sox were playing a four game set in Toronto over a long weekend, I flew there to watch him pitch. They had games from June 29 to July 2nd, and his rotation spot was on July 1st, so even if it got pushed back a day I'd see him.  But he got put on the DL right after his start on June 26th.  So I got to watch the unforgettable, Rolando Arrojo take his turn in the rotation on Canada Day instead.  (Note: To his credit, he did his best Pedro imitation in probably the best outing of his career, taking a no-hitter into the 7th inning, and leaving with a 2-0 run in the 8th, only having given up one hit).

Then in 2004 I went to Fort Myers to watch some Spring Training games. Followed the Red Sox throughout the week, catching eight games in total. Pedro only pitched once for two innings. Next time I saw the Red Sox was in Phoenix in March 2005, and Pedro was no longer with the organization.

Again, as luck would have it, I won't be seeing Pedro this weekend either:

As disappointed as I am, it would be selfish of me to be upset about this. I am more concerned about Pedro and his health.  Mejórate pronto!  Nos vemos la próxima vez, Pedro.