A perfect example of large-bullpen folly

Here are four selected Blue Jays transactions from the season so far:

4/5: Toronto Blue Jays selected the contract of Marcus Walden from Buffalo Bisons.
4/9: Toronto Blue Jays optioned RHP Marcus Walden to Buffalo Bisons [after not appearing in any of the three games in that time].
4/15: Toronto Blue Jays designated RHP Marcus Walden for assignment.
4/16: Oakland Athletics claimed RHP Marcus Walden off waivers from Toronto Blue Jays.

The argument, as far as I can tell, for having 12 or even 13 pitchers on the roster is you don’t want to overwork the staff. Yet here we have someone who was on the roster for three games, didn’t pitch in any of them, was replaced with a position player when he left, and was so crucial to the on-field success of the team that he’s not in the organization a week later.

This reliever obsession is, of course, the front office’s single defining feature. In 2012 they, on multiple occasions, claimed to need another pitcher because the one he was replacing wasn’t getting into any games. In 2013, a disaster by all accounts, their actual usage revealed that they didn’t need the huge bullpen nearly as much as their continuing roster construction suggests. Only once did they use everyone in the same game, and it was literally the longest game the Jays have ever played. They used the most pitchers in the league last year (tying with the Cubs in MLB) and the most in the majors the year before — currently, just at a league-average 13, but expect that to rise alarmingly as we head into May and June.

It isn’t just the silliness of it all: as I’ve said so many times before, and many smarter people have said before me, there is a real opportunity cost in not having enough position players. This year it was playing Jose Bautista out of position in CF (just one start, so far) because they are carrying 13 pitchers, four outfielders, and no backup CF. Last year it was Edwin Encarnacion who hurt himself and missed a game playing completely out of position in LF. In 2012 they were unable to PH for the several awful hitters they had because those hitters were all they had (this cost them at least a win). The Jays are also the only team to start Jeff Mathis at DH.

It wouldn’t be that big of a deal if the bullpen was great. And many parts of the bullpen are great. Clearly, I was wrong about how effective some of them could be, and full credit to John Gibbons et al. for helping them develop (he was always good at identifying who could pitch). But to go through all of this for Marcus Walden or Sam Dyson or Ryota Igarasahi or Evan Crawford or Edgar Gonzalez or Jiminy Jillickers Jeremy Jeffress? What is the friggin’ point?

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Top Ten Leafs Excuses

[Co-written with TV's Cam Charron, who doesn't forget the little people as he ascends the ladder of fame.]

10. “Surprised we lost given our constant man-advantage from always having Simmons on our side.”

9. “Hey, pal, you try getting people in this town excited about the hockey team.”

8. “Drake is not skating through that door.”

7. “No Pizza Pizza giveaways for fans led to dull atmospheres.”

6. “We thought having two good starting goalies meant we could play them both at once.”

5. “Since when is there a salary cap?!”

4. “Lack of leadership, lack of character, and lack of players who had the superstition of putting their equipment on left side first.”

3. “The rules of the game are inherently biased against teams who don’t play well.”

2. “Spent too much time during powerplay practice learning how to deflect blame.”

1. “What do you mean we were unsuccessful? We made the July cover of Parade!”

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The Kimmo Timonen Rankings

Someone* asked “How many players like Kimmo Timonen have the same three-letter sequence (modulo duplicate consonants) in their first and last names?”

All qualifying names I found, sorted by how Kimmo Timonen they are:


* It was me.

Posted in hockey, NHL, whimsy | 1 Comment

Top 250 catch-up: 101 through 107

Time for some catch-up. I’ve actually seen quite a few since the last one (and before publishing that, too) but haven’t had the time to write them up.
Continue reading

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It is with a very heavy heart that I must advise that, despite the overwhelming support shown for my proposed candidacy, I cannot, in good conscience, run for the Liberal Party of Canada nomination in Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas.

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538 discovers BABIP (but doesn’t seem to realize it?)

Not to join the great piling-on of the ‘data journalism’ venture — the best joke I’ve seen so far is one that points out that “actually” can be added to every headline without loss of generality or accuracy; see also here, here, here, even here for related criticisms, and this for something less likeable re: the man at the top of it all — but I went over this post on “surprising seasons” only to come away unimpressed.

By and large, the players who surprised in a bad way were those who played less in that season (often due to injury) or had a ridiculous amount of bad luck. Those who had “good” surprises either had really unlucky years before that or simply were misidentified as surprising.

Aaron Hill’s 2012 shows up as one of the biggest outperformances. Here are Hill’s batting lines for 2009 through 2013:

2009: .286/.330/.499
2010: .205/.271/.394
2011: .246/.299/.356
2012: .302/.360/.522
2013: .291/.356/.462

In hindsight, 2010 and 2011 seem like the outliers, not 2012. It helps to look at it this way:

2009: .288
2010: .196
2011: .268
2012: .317
2013: .312

That is the progression of Hill’s batting average on balls in play. A similar progression exists for many of the players identified as underperformers. Like Hafner:

Travis Hafner, if you’ll recall, had been one of the best hitters in baseball in the four years leading up to 2008, which was one of the big reasons why another statistical system for forecasting player performance, FiveThirtyEight founder Nate Silver’s PECOTA, called for the Cleveland Indians to win 91 games that year. Instead, the Indians went 81-81 as Hafner’s wOBA sunk to .270 — an outcome that seemed almost impossible (hence, the 0.0 percentile score).

I didn’t read “BABIP” in that paragraph once. Hafner’s BABIPs starting in 2006: .323, .294, .241, .297, .332, .332. What the heck, let’s look at the tape again: .323, .294, .241, .297, .332, .332.

No mention of BABIP is made anywhere in the 538 piece; given that it is so central to explaining the entire point of the piece (variation in player batting), this is truly odd.

How about the players like Hill? Some of them had no history to speak of, and their outperformance was actually an artifact of the projection system used here by 538, the “Marcel” system which doesn’t consider non-MLB statistics at all.

This mistake is particularly bad because the idea of a surprising season is someone who plays above or below his established level of performance. Players with little MLB experience (like Justin Ruggiano prior to 2012 or Brent Lillibridge prior to 2011) have, effectively, no level of established performance as it pertains to the projections used. It’s surprising, I suppose, that someone with a .295 SLG in 298 PA turned around and put up a .505 in his next 216, but now imagine I used those same numbers to say that Lillibridge’s second half of some season was very surprising given his first half. That would be very close to nonsense.

As someone who put a fair bit of effort into a piece with similar methodology, in which I restricted the analysis to established players, I’m disappointed that they didn’t do (in my opinion) as good of a job. And that writers for a marquee site focused on reporting truth through data analysis don’t seem to know their own data sets. (As someone who’s committed his fair share of “Yeah, so what?” analyses, I would’ve thought they would be beyond that, too.) And finally: as someone who learned a lot from proto-Nate Silver, and was grateful for the opportunity to tell him so in person earlier this month, this is all a little too weird.

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WHL (and OHL) names, 2013-2014 edition

Readers will recall this post from September, in which Western Canada’s unique names were made fun of, relentlessly. With another season completed, it’s time to update our big board of names.

Here are the debut names in the WHL:

Jaeger (OH COME ON)
Tate (another one)

“Debut” means, aside from these specific players, these spellings were not present at all from 2004-05 to 2013-14 in the WHL or OHL.

(In the “these aren’t so WHL-y” category we have Rodney and Glenn and Earl, which were surely very popular in past years.)

The OHL version of that list:

Aiden (we haven’t had an Aiden before?)

Charley is not an atypical name but I think -ey is more popular among Americans where we tend to go with -ie, and indeed this Charley is American. The rest, I can’t explain. We’re running out of Keegan variations.

Ontario gave it a good run but I have to award this one to the Dub again. They will need some help out there (time is running out on Jetlan). I think they’re up to the task.

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