Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ready to Take on Syria?

I was listening to the radio today and heard some neo-con talking like some expert about what is going on in Syria. Nevermind the fact that his position was quite clear by the rhetoric he used (the Assad "regime") though he tried to come across as unbiased. The guy was making an asinine point. He says yes, Assad needs to go because he has huge stockpiles of chemical weapons and we can't allow these to get into the hands of enemies (sound familiar?). Then he says that we should be wary of supporting the opposition because they may not support us (well duh, you'll be hard pressed to find people in the Middle East that support the US government after all the meddling it's done). But nonetheless, we must provide air support because Assad needs to go. Why? Because it will leave us with at least some influence. Sure, and that air support will also gain more hatred and disillusionment with the US. Is this really what we want? Many innocent people would die from such air strikes, and we would be taking sides in a war that I don't see a clear "better" side in, but ignored all that, says the neo-con. We have to do something!

Meanwhile, will you find Obama or Romney disagreeing on the subject? Of course not. What a sham of an election we have this year.

James Loney's Power Outage

James Loney, in the midst of an awful slump and utterly forgettable season, is on pace to be an obvious DFA choice this winter. And who could blame the Dodgers organization? His current HR/FB ratio is lower than all qualified first basemen in the majors (note that Loney himself is not qualified). His OBP is teetering precipitously above .300. His defense is still there, but his offense has been so bad that he has earned a WAR of -0.2 so far this season. Juan Rivera, his competitor, has put up an amazing WAR of -0.3 which explains why the Dodgers have seemed to prefer him at the position to Loney (well okay, it's not as if they just spurn these statistics and do the opposite, but perception seems to be more important than performance). So there is no hope left, right?

Here is the issue. Loney's power has just been completely eviscerated. His HR/FB ratio is at just 2.7%. Even Tony Gwynn Jr. has bested that value the past two years. Power does not just suddenly vanish at age 28. Something is amiss. The first issue could be luck, and yes, you would have a point. Loney has just 280 plate appearances, and luck could play a huge role at this point in the season. In fact, his .275 BABIP (career .307) that Loney has been an unlucky guy up to this point in the season. His K% and BB% are not very different from career norms. In fact, using his power numbers and plate discipline numbers from this season, and career BABIP, Loney should have a wRC+ of 91. It's still bad for a first baseman, but Loney's wRC+ currently sits at 66. That is a huge improvement that is mostly BABIP fueled.

But still, what about the power? Looking at career numbers, I saw the HR/FB ratio when Loney Pulls/Middle/Opposite. The numbers are 27/3.1/1. The closest I could find to these numbers was Casey Kotchman, whose numbers are 26.6/3.5/0.8. They are essentially the same in terms of power. Combining both of their stats, I made a scatter plot using season ratios of pull/opposite. Here are the results.

Admittedly this is not very informative, but the trend is there. In general, pulling the ball more often will get these guys better numbers. However, some of the best numbers came when they did so a little less. The peak may be somewhere between 1.4 and 1.6. But there are so many other variables that can impact performance that trying to look at just one gives you a muddied picture. Still, anything less than 1.3 seems to be the formula for average at best production.

I was much more fascinated by this chart. The trend in this is much stronger and even sharper. These guys will get more power when they pull the ball more. That low number near 2% is James Loney this year, and barely pulling the ball more than he hits the other way seems to be the culprit. If Loney could get his HR rate just to 2010 numbers (and that was a low point for his power), he would have a wRC+ of roughly 101. Even average offensive production would be a huge boost to the dreadful Dodgers lineup.

But I guess now would be a good time to note that Kotchman gets a better wRC+ when he goes the opposite way, even though he has more power when he pulls the ball. That's due to BABIP issues, though I wonder how often he is shifted against and how responsible that could be. Loney, on the other hand, is giving opposing teams no reason to shift. Kotchman has a wRC+ of 90/92/107 when he pulls, hits up the middle, and goes the other way respectively. Loney, on the other hand, has a wRC+ of  153/99/87. When your offensive and power numbers have this great of a disparity, why would you not take advantage of it?

Loney still has some upside, and pulling the ball more often may be the only way he will buy his way back onto the team. I don't know why Mattingly gave him the advice to go the other way so often. It hasn't worked and it won't work. Just pull the ball, and if you please, quit hitting groundballs, we're all sick of the double plays.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Getting At Least Some Contribution

Last night, the Dodgers put together a lineup that consisted of:

Abreu .319
M. Ellis .336
Kemp .452
Ethier .365
Kennedy .286
Loney .269
Cruz .278
A. Ellis .351

Maybe you will notice the bottom of that lineup looking pretty atrocious. That number next to their names are their respective wOBA's. Besides the issue of putting a guy with a .351 wOBA 8th behind guys that cannot even crack .300, your other problem is something more troubling. Using their career BABIP, this is what their wRC+ should be at:

Abreu 91
M. Ellis 101
Kemp 188
Ethier 111
Kennedy 81
Loney 92
Cruz ---
A. Ellis ---

Cruz and Ellis do not have enough data yet for this kind of analysis, so they are left out of it. Besides, there is no other possible replacement for them. For Abreu, I could not use his career BABIP since he has not even been at that level since 2006. Without doing real math, I eyeballed his BABIP at this point of his career to be about .310. I was generous with Kennedy and gave him a BABIP of .290. It did not help him much, though.

So what, Tony? You might ask. We know the offense is terrible. And yes, it really is. The first problem would be lineup construction, since you generally want decreasing wOBA to optimize run production with minor tweaking for your power guys (in other words, you do not want Kemp leading off since he would drive in nobody). The more important problem, in my mind, is that you are playing people that have no business ever starting. Specifically, I am thinking of three people (Abreu, Kennedy, and Rivera, who did not start yesterday, and one still special exemption).

Bobby Abreu was signed for his bat, and for his bat only. He's no longer the base stealer that he once was, and he does not even really try for them anymore. His fielding is quite atrocious, yet he has been lucky this year in that regard as the small sample size makes him look not so bad according to UZR. However, we all know the real defensive value. While with the Dodgers, his wRC+ has been 102. However, you expect it to be at 91, in other words, below average. So you have a player that is a terrible fielder, is no longer a good baserunner, and is a below average bat. So then, why would you ever start him? And no, he does not have much of a platoon split this year. He's just been bad. He has racked up a WAR of 0.5, and is expected to regress. Not good. My choice for left field would have to be Tony Gwynn Jr. He is not going to get you anything with the bat. However, he will at least give you great fielding and good baserunning. There is no expected regression with him, which is good. He will be a marginal improvement, but an improvement nonetheless. Then you still have the hope that he can learn how to walk again. In San Diego he peaked at a 12.1% walk rate. Since coming to Los Angeles it has has not topped 6.8%.

Adam Kennedy was signed for some reason. That is really all I can say on the subject. He has not topped a WAR of 1 since 2009 when he was 33. Do we really expect him to do that at age 36? Jerry Hairston, on the other hand, hasn't not topped a WAR of 1 since 2009. Again, this is basically a marginal improvement, but it is an improvement nontheless. Adam Kennedy has no reason to still be playing.

Juan Rivera is not a good fielder. Juan Rivera is not a good batter. Juan Rivera is not a good baserunner. Juan Rivera is supposed to be a good platoon guy. A wRC+ against lefties does not strike me as platoon-level. It strikes me as decent, but not good enough for a guy who cannot field. Furthermore, the last time he topped 100 wRC+ against lefties besides last year was 2009. He is just awful this year. For all the nonsense Loney gets, at least he can field his position. Sure, he has a negative WAR, but he is looking to improve his offensive numbers. The issue here is that Rivera has been even more negative. It's awful that the decision is between below replacement and really below replacement, but that's what the situation is.

Finally, there is the one guy who is known for his glove yet has a bat. I should support him, too, right? Juan Uribe has been so bad with the bat that his inflated defensive numbers do not make up for it. He still has a negative WAR. Enough already. There should be a simple rule in baseball. He who does not have an OBP above .250 shall not swing the bat.

So I'd like to see this lineup at some point (wRC+).

A. Ellis 123
M. Ellis 113
Kemp 193
Ethier 133
Hairston 120
Loney 68
Gwynn 60
Cruz 74

Oh well. I guess I forgot the speed at the top. I must not want to win. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

How Obama's Immigration Policy of 2012 Affected His Re-election Campaigns

Today we have a guest post from Kathleen Hubert who will be talking about immigration and how this will affect Obama's re-election chances. Enjoy.

At this writing we are three months short of arguably the most important election ever held in America. Not since 1860 have the issues been so diverse or so devastating in the possibilities as a result. Our nation will be much improved. We will be more potentially glorious and more able to save, and lead the world according to one side. Our nation will be totally ruined, reduced to a 2nd class collection of dependent, bumbling beggars according to the other side.

The opinions are tightly held, tightly preached, and seem to be based on the same input .Depending on who reads it two and two are four, five, six, or who cares. We could be naming our country the USS Titanic and no one seems concerned, except the fanatics on one side, not the fanatics on the other. So how many fanatics are there? According to which pole, taken on what day, at what time, where.

If we could ever get straight answers from straight news services we could answer those questions. We will in about three more months, but not now. The morning after the election it should all come clear, confusing, but clear. Right now, however it appears that everything, and nothing, makes the slightest bit of difference to the voters. Well, everything makes the difference in the level of their rage, but nothing makes a difference in their vote.

Obama’s change to the immigration rules has caused a definite increase in blood pressure. The blood pressure reaction seems to be limited to only those not affected. Marc Rubio, a potential Vice Presidential candidate for the opposed to Obama was quoted as saying the change will be welcome news for kids. Hardly, this is a fire eating type speech against an opponent’s policy. Note that nothing was said about voting against the candidate who ordered the change.

A quick look at the comments made country wide about the change is all much the same. The constitutionality of the change seems to sum up the oppositions concern. A collection of newspaper articles, and several comments by politicians all stressed its legality. One opposing candidate stated that “Presidents can’t rule by decree”. This is a definite view but not an attempt to obtain an opposing vote.

A review of the 12 articles or political comments by printed Google claim that the public are in favor of the change in 6, 1 is opposed and the remaining are neither for or opposed. Of the 12, however 11 concern themselves with the conditionality of the change. Not a single reference is made to whether a vote would be changed by them. Not even a hint as to whether Obama would be looked on more favorable because of them. The public seems to find the changes good, but more or less just good policy. Overdue but not earth shaking, not particularly debatable as an election point.Obama gets points from the voting public for his actions but not votes and “attaboys” don’t count.

Kathleen Hubert is a blogger who writes on a variety of different sites. Check out more of her work at

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sunday Passage

Today, an excerpt from Psalm 117

The Lord is my helper, I will not fear what man can do unto me. The Lord is my helper: and I will look over my enemies. It is good to confide in the Lord, rather than to have confidence in man. It is good to trust in the Lord, rather than to trust in princes. All nations compassed me about; and in the name of the Lord I have been revenged on them. 

 A nice reminder as we bicker over politics that our trust and confidence should be in the LORD, rather than the leaders of mankind.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Regional Rail, Why Not?

The real answer to the question is quite obvious. The state never willingly lets go of anything that they have taken control over. See healthcare, transportation, banking, justice, law enforcement, etc., for proof of this principle. The more relevant question has to do with the people of this country. Why do they willingly accept the rail system that we are provided with and assume that state control of it is the best solution?

This was never the case up until the 1950s when the government started building roads. Rail went out of fashion and city government across the country started taking them over. In New York, the private operators were regulated out of existence. But before that, these rail outfits were quite successful for many years.

Now today, we are left with rail systems that are horribly lacking. They do not go where we need them to go, they are filthy, and they are egregiously expensive to run and maintain. What is the argument for continuing government control of this industry? With roads there is a little more argument since these often are the only way to get to residences and businesses. With rail, that is never the case. Some make the externality argument, but private companies always internalize positive externalities. They would buy properties surrounding stations and build parking lots at the stations, for example.

Meanwhile, we who languish in traffic continue to direct our rage at fellow drivers who clog up our path home. Our enemies meanwhile remain in their ivory towers, decreeing from afar what they "know" to be best for us.

Old Los Angeles rail coverage map:

Current Los Angeles rail coverage map:

Thank you county government of Los Angeles for this "improvement". 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Introducing the Love/Hate Ratio

So while having fun on Twitter this morning looking at the ridiculous comments left about Billingsley, I wondered if I could quantify the reputation that a pitcher has. Capuano and Billingsley have very similar statistics like xFIP, yet their reputations are wildly different. Is there any way, then, to look at the statistics and predict reputation? I came up with a little formula and here are the numbers that I pulled out.

Capuano: 3.5
Billingsley: -1.6

Well good so far. Billinglsey has a negative value and Capuano is positive. What about the others in the rotation?

Kershaw: 2.4
Harang: 0.6
Eovaldi: -1.0

This also seems to make sense. Kershaw has a positive number, but not as high as Capuano's. Harang has a low positive number since expectations before the season were not too high for him. Eovaldi has a negative number, but not as bad as Billingsley.

Well that's fine, but you can easily claim that I'm just fitting the numbers to the names. True enough, so let's see how it works for pitchers outside of the Dodgers rotation.

Zach Greinke: -1.1

This one was interesting. Greinke is having a great year by xFIP, but was snubbed from the All-Star game. Love/Hate predicted this.

2011 Tim Lincecum: 2.2
2012 Tim Lincecum: -3.7

Lincecum had a nice reputation last year, but his star was diminishing, which is why his number is high, but not as high as Capuano. His number this year is the lowest by far, which is indicative of the near universal scorn he has garnered this year.

2011 Ian Kennedy: 2.0

Ian Kennedy was a 20 game winner despite having a 3.5 xFIP. Far exceeding expectations, he had an excellent reputation last year.

In all, it seems like a fun statistic. It's not really serious, but the main point is that expectations warp our view of the effectiveness of a pitcher. No one expected much from Capuano, everyone expected the world of Billingsley, hence the big difference in reputation. Now what happens when regression sets in?

Love/Hate Ratio Formula:

Try out the formula and see what you think.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Dee Gordon's Plate Discipline

2012 has been nothing but trouble for Dee Gordon. Sure, he is leading the majors in stolen bases, but that is about the only bright spot. He is currently sporting an OBP of .278 and a wRC+ of 61. His fielding, in addition, has been atrocious. I usually do not pay much attention to traditional fielding statistics, but at the extremes they usually give you valuable information. In this case, Gordon is at the extreme in a bad way, posting a fielding percentage of just .947. That is 17 errors. I can assume that this will only get better with time as he is still raw with regards to defense. But what about offense?

In his 56 games last season, Gordon put up a respectable 99 wRC+. It's not amazing, but remember that SS is not exactly known for offensive production. So what has caused the tremendous drop in runs created for Gordon? The first target is always BABIP. It is at .282. With a career average BABIP, his wRC+ for this year goes up to 69. It's a nice bump, but he still has problems. As usual, it comes down to plate discipline. Last year, he struck out about 11 percent of the time, but this year it is all the way up to 19 percent. That number can be mitigated with a high walk rate (ala A.J. Ellis), but a 5.7% walk rate is not going to do it. What's interesting is that this walk rate is actually higher than last year.

So how to improve? Gordon needs to focus on strikeouts and BABIP. He should be hitting more balls on the ground, which is where his speed will allow him to get on base where most others would not. He can't take advantage of his speed with a ball hit up in the air. Gordon right now is sporting the 5th highest GB/FB ratio in the majors. It's high, but with his speed, it is not high enough. Next is the problem of K%. Gordon is swinging at just 34% of balls outside of the zone, and 60% of balls inside the zone. His swinging strike percentage is at 6.3%. The average hitter swings at less balls out of the zone, more balls in the zone, but swings and misses much more. If Gordon wants to get his peripherals higher, he needs to swing more. This may sound counter-intuitive, but it seems as though Gordon is allowing to many strikes to go over the plate without being challenged. He could get more balls in play if he's swinging more and this would result in less strikeouts. He may walk a little less, though, but the gain would be worth it. If he strikes out just 15% of the time, but walks 5% of the time, he would have a wRC+ of 75.

What will get Gordon to an average wRC+ is bringing up the BABIP, striking out way less, and with time if he's striking out less, he may end up getting more walks. Gordon needs to be a little more aggressive on balls in the strike zone. His speed will get him on base more often than most if he just gets the ball in play.

ShouldHit predicts that with a BABIP of .330, a BB% of 9, K% of 12, and his current homerun rate, Gordon will be an average hitter. Get at it Gordon, stop letting those balls go over the plate without challenging them.