Thursday, March 28, 2013

Imagining a computer with personality computing Josh Hamilton's 2013 projection

Imagine, if you will, a computer with a personality and emotions like a human being. The computer is having a good day and has been cranking out projections with ease. The computer is popping Starburst candies and singing Katrina & The Waves', I'm Walking on Sunshine. "This is a good day," the computer says to itself." After all, it is a computer and it knows it has been well fed by its data keepers. And then suddenly, the computer gets to Josh Hamilton's data. Queue the sound of a record needle jagging  off a record. The computer spills water on itself. "What the bloody heck," the computer says as it jumps up from its office chair in shock and surprise.

Cleaning the spilled water with a paper towel, the computer sits back down and frowns at the data. "This does not compute," it thinks. "90 games played, 156, 89, 133, 121, 148!?" The computer rolls up its sleeves. "How many stupid games is this guy going to play?" It runs the scenarios five different times and five different sets of numbers pop up varying from a low of 120 to a high of 147.

"Let's try something easy," says the computer and brings up the data for the strikeout percentage. "Holy, mother of..." The computer accidentally snaps a pencil in half. It looks at the consistent flow of data from 2007 to 2011 and that looks okay. But then the number jumps to 25.5% in 2012. "How did that happen?" And so the computer loosens its tie and looks at the plate discipline information.

"Okay, he was never the most patient of hitters and his swing and miss rate was always fairly high," it sees. But why did Josh Hamilton swing at everything in 2012!? 45.4%!? "He was swinging at everything!" The computer looks for strands of data that might indicate if there was an eye injury or something that could explain why Hamilton started swinging as soon as he got out of bed in the morning.

The computer dutifully ran the data several thousand times and felt a little better when the data settled down to anywhere from 21.9% to a high of 22.9%. "Okay, that's better. After all, that was this human's rate in 2009. This will work."

But the computer is working up a sweat by now. The tie comes off. He calls on the intercom for a coffee. The Starbursts get shoved into a desk drawer. It decides to look at this human's ISO. "What the..."

It sees the ISO numbers over the years fall all over the sandbox. .262 in 2007, .158 in 2009, .238 in 2011 and .292 in 2012. The computer starts thumping its chest to see if his data is flowing properly. How does it figure this mess out? The computations are run a few thousand times. They spit out .214 from its ZiPS computation. Frowning, the computer is not happy with such a low number after a .292 season and runs the data a few more thousand times using slightly different algorithmic sets. "Wait! Wait!" the computer shouts as .251 spits out followed by a .221, followed by .246.

"Oh. Come. On. Now!"

The computer sits back and pictures the Rocky Mountains and then Lake Reno. It tries to regulate its breathing. After a while of doing this, the computer cracks its knuckles and repeats a mantra that everything is going to be okay. After all, it is just numbers and numbers don't lie. The computer decides to tackle on-base percentage. "This should be easy."

Trying to be dispassionate and look at the data impersonally, the computer sees a normal progression with two anomalous seasons in 2009 and 2010. "It's okay," says the computer, "We'll just throw those out." And it does. As it runs the algorithmic calculation, the computer is confident about this one. Suddenly, numbers start spitting out anywhere from .333 to .356 and everything in between. "What is wrong with me!?"

By now, the computer's shirt is untucked, the tie has been long discarded. The coffee has been drained and is empty despite how many times the computer brings the cup to its lips. Finally, in a moment of clarity, the computer sits back and thinks that a self-diagnosis is in order. Repeating its mantra over and over, the computer checks every one of its systems.

Everything seems normal. "Keep checking!" The computer goes into a trance-like state and tries to push its mind outside its body. Looking around at all its inputs and orifices, the computer finally spots something. "What is THAT?"

Taking a closer look is difficult because what has been spotted is in the middle of its back. It keeps reaching around and cannot get to it. Rooting around its desk, the computer finally spies a pair of tweezers and reaches around. Using the mirror for a guide, the tweezers slowly inch to the target. Finally, "I got it!"

As the offending particles are brought around to where the computer can inspect them, a puzzled look and a frown creases its face. "Chewing tobacco??" What the heck does that mean?

The computer sits back heavily in its chair and creates an email that it sends to Szymborski. The short e-mail reads as follows: "Josh Hamilton: you're on your own on this one, Dude."

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