Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Crystal Ball tells all for 2013

The computers have all had their time in the sun over the past few weeks cranking out their projections. And while, the data that gets spit out is generally accurate, there are always surprises. The Orioles certainly made all projections last season look a bit silly. But that is bound to happen in a few cases as games and seasons will always be worked out on the field and not in nano-bytes. Around here, computer sims are great, but since everyone already does that, I use the old fashioned method. I use a crystal ball.

Unfortunately, the crystal ball sends images that seem as convoluted as a Nostradamus passage. It is up to the interpreter to read the images correctly. The power that made the sphere thought of that ahead of time because say the wife got a hold of it and was given a crystal clear image of what I looked like ten years from now. She would probably run like the wind. So the images must be ferreted out to make sense. Any errors in the accuracy then are the fault of the interpretation and not the tool itself. So if you are inclined to look at the four previous years of crystal ball posts, then keep that in mind.

Okay, enough disclaimers. Let's get to the results. Here now are the fifth annual Flagrant Fan crystal ball predictions:

  • The Red Sox, thanks to the wondrous pitching coach that sped up his pitchers' tempo, will win more games than they lose. 
  • David Ortiz will unfortunately play less than 90 games.
  • Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz bounce back to very good pitchers. See above.
  • Justin Verlander will finish 18-8, but will lose the Cy Young Award to Josh Johnson who has a monster year for the Blue Jays.
  • Speaking of the Blue Jays, Jose Reyes has an MVP-type season and with Johnson, Buehrle, Dickey and Morrow, will dominate the AL East.
  • The Orioles will not do as well as last season as the one-run game results fall back to normal and the pitching doesn't hold up as well.
  • Derek Jeter's ankle bothers him all season and causes him to retire after the season.
  • Mariano Rivera will save 44 games and finish with an even 650. He then rides into the sunset like Gary Cooper.
  • Despite stacking the deck, the Angels will still not win the AL West. The Rangers prevail again. The Angels will win the wild card though with the Astros giving them eleven extra wins this season.
  • The other wild card will go to the Indians as Terry Francona wins Manager of the Year.
  • And yes, that means the Red Sox and Yankees will not reach the post season.
  • The Indians will win the wild card game and then win their ALDS, but come short of the World series.
  • Mike Trout and Bryce Harper continue their giddy assault on the Major Leagues and follow up with terrific seasons. Harper will do at least one stupid thing though and get suspended for four games.
  • The Diamondbacks will finish just ahead of the Rockies in the standings in the NL West as they have traded away their defense. Despite the lack of help behind him, Ian Kennedy again wins 16 games.
  • The Tampa Bay Rays will fall out of the race early and trade David Price at the trade deadline for some team's entire minor league system.
  • The Royals will win more games than they lose. James Shields has a good season but doesn't have enough help in the rotation to make them a playoff team.
  • The Tigers just beat out the Indians for the AL Central title. But again they won't look pretty until the playoffs.
  • Yu Darvish will have a more impressive season than Felix Hernandez.
  • The Padres will be a surprise team and will contend until they fade in August.
  • Ichiro Suzuki will bat .300 but it will not help get him to the kind of WAR Swisher put up in his four years there.
  • David Wright has a big season as will Ike Davis, but the rest of the Mets are nowhere in sight as the team loses 85 games.
  • Ron Gardenhire will be the first manager fired this season.
  • The Dodgers win the National League West despite another MVP season for Buster Posey.
  • The Giants do pick up the wild card.
  • The Braves and Nationals battle it out for the entire season for the NL East, but the Nats prevail at the end. The Braves get yet another wild card spot.
  • Josh Hamilton will play 130 games and hit 36 homers.
  • C.J. Wilson will not be much of a factor for the Angels.
  • The Astros will lose 95 games but will hit better than people expect.
  • The National League will win the All Star Game again.
  • The Yankees will sign Robinson Cano long term.
  • B.J. Upton will have a better season than Justin Upton. But Jason Heyward outplays both of them.
  • The Phillies will be a .500 team. Rollins and Howard continue to fade but Chase Utley will have an All Star season.
  • The Dodgers will trade Andre Ethier at the trade deadline.
  • The Red Sox will trade Jacoby Ellsbury.
  • Elvis Andrus will win a Gold Glove Award.
  • Phil Coke becomes the Tigers' closer and will have a good season there.
  • Stephen Strasburg will not win the Cy Young Award. But he'll have a good season.
  • Jose Bautista will "only" hit 30 homers but Edwin Encarnacion will prove he was not a fluke and hit more.
  • Vernon Wells will hit more homers than Curtis Granderson.
  • Adam Dunn will struggle to bat .210 but will still hit 35 homers and walk 90 times.
  • Chris Sale will not dominate like last year and the White Sox finish with a losing record.
  • The Reds will beat out the Cardinals in the NL Central but not by as much as last season. Even so, the Cards fail to make the playoffs.
  • Allen Craig will have a great season though.
  • Jesus Montero will have a very good season, but the Mariners still struggle to win 75 games.
  • Jered Weaver will win more games than Zack Greinke.
  • A.J. Burnett and Russell Martin have good seasons for the Pirates, but they will be a .500 team. An improvement, but still not enough.
  • The parachute will finish ahead of Pablo Sandoval when Sandoval makes parachute sprints.
  • Paul Konerko will fall to the ravages of time and will not have as good a season.
  • Michael Pineda will pitch for the Yankees this season. 
  • Ivan Nova will win more games than Phil Hughes, who gets traded at the trade deadline along with Joba Chamberlain.
  • The Cubs will finish near .500 and show promise that they are on their way back. Alfonso Soriano will have a good season and get traded to a contender at the deadline.
  • This will be Charlie Manuel's last season in Philadelphia and Ryne Sandberg will take over.
  • Cole Hamels will win a Cy Young Award but Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee look ordinary.
  • Jose Inglesias will have more plate appearances than Stephen Drew and more hits than Enrique Inglesias.
  • The Miami Marlins will lose more games than any other NL team and fail to reach a million in attendance.
  • Ryan Braun will have another big season and make Bud Selig gnash his teeth.
  • Yovani Gallardo will hit better this season and will have another fine season on the mound.
  • Oakland's young pitching will crumble this season but Chris Young and Yoenis Cespedes will have very good seasons.
  • The Rockies will lose more than 95 games again as the team continues to struggle finding pitchers than can pitch in that ballpark.
  • The assistant GM having his office in the clubhouse will become a huge story in Colorado this season.
  • But at least Troy Tulowitzki will play 150 games and win the shortstop Silver Slugger Award.
  • Todd Helton hits over .300 in his swan song season.
  • Jedd Gyorko wins NL Rookie of the Year honors but Puig comes up in the second half to give him a run for his money.
  • And finally, the Nationals win the World Series.
There you have it, the crystal ball predictions for 2013. The daily Games Picks posts start on Monday. And President Obama and Congress, the first day of baseball season needs to be a national holiday.

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."

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Arizona mirage

Spring Training has been traditionally described in two ways. For veterans who have established jobs, it is a time to get in shape, get repetitions in to get ready for the season. For everyone else, it is a time to compete for jobs, rotation spots and future consideration. The former description can happen anywhere. The outcomes do not matter. But for the latter, where the competition takes place has to be largely taken into consideration. If that place is in Arizona, evaluating that competition has to be difficult because Spring Training in Arizona inflates offense.

In 2012, the top three Spring Training offenses were the Seattle Mariners, the San Diego Padres and the Oakland Athletics. As most know, the Mariners finished dead last in offense once the regular season came to a conclusion. The Athletics came in third from the bottom and the Padres were 22nd out of 30 teams. Obviously, what happened in Spring Training in Arizona did not translate to the regular season.

You should also notice that all three of those teams play in pitcher friendly (and batter unfriendly) parks. The problem is that hitters are having fun in Arizona and then once they get to their home parks, what flew around the stadiums in Arizona are settling nicely into gloves once the seasons starts. There has to be some sort of mind blowing that happens there.

A quick look at the spring statistics this year shows that the top five offensive teams by team OPS are all teams that play their spring games in Arizona. The Royals are on top. The Mariners are again right up there in second. Then the White Sox, the Angels and the A's. This kind of production gets the fans in Kansas City and in Seattle all excited, of course. "We are going to hit this season!" But will they?

Let's take the Mariners as a microcosm of this Arizona phenomenon. The Mariners currently have nine batters who have had at least ten spring plate appearances with an OPS over 1.000. Jesus Montero, for example, is batting over .400 with an OPS of 1.180. A year ago, his spring OPS was .923. Once the season started, he had trouble getting going and finished with an OPS of .685. Now personally, I believe Montero is a much better talent than that .685 finish of a year ago, but his Arizona numbers are highly inflationary.

Justin Smoak has a spring OPS of 1.285! Last spring, he compiled an OPS of .966. So how can you get all excited by what Smoak is doing this spring when last year's spring success did not lead to anything during the season?

Now let's look at the same team's pitching. Pitchers who can miss bats will hold their own. Felix Hernandez has decent stats this spring. Fire-ballers like Brandon Mauer blow people away. Kameron Loe is having a good spring because he can miss bats. But pitchers that rely on contact are getting whacked at an alarming rate. Joe Saunders is getting his head handed to him. Blake Beavan is getting blown up.

Joe Saunders has never been a great pitcher, but he has proven that he can at least get Major League batters out a league average number of times. If you are trying to evaluate whether Saunders should get a rotation spot, how do you do that based on his pitching in Arizona in the spring? Do you go by his history in the majors are by what is happening this spring?

I would love to see some people that are great with statistics to see what kind of lag there is with teams that train in Arizona for the first month or two of the season. I would bet that there is a direct correlation that can be proven between the giddy times of hitting in Arizona to the reality of hitting at the teams' regular home base once the season starts.

I would guess that teams that train in Florida have a much easier time to evaluate players than managers and GMs do in Arizona. I would love to see some statistically smart people do a study on this. It is for this same reason why teams sending young pitchers to the Arizona Fall League should do so with caution. These five teams that lead the majors in OPS this spring will be interesting to watch during the regular season. I would love to believe that the Mariners are going to hit better this season. But I'll believe it more when I see it.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Nick Swisher - Ready to rock Cleveland

Nick Swisher is ready to rock Cleveland. After four quietly terrific seasons in New York, Swisher is now taking his laughter and baseball delight to a dugout where he will be teamed up with old Yankee nemesis, Terry Francona. Swisher reminds me of cats--you either love him or hate him. The word, "douche" seems to come up a lot on Twitter from baseball fans and writers who have not had Swisher play on their teams. But for those who have, Swisher is a great big old fun machine. And he is going to have fun in Cleveland.

Frankly, I have never understood the hatred of Nick Swisher. I can probably understand if you are a White Sox fan simply because Swisher did not perform well there and did not fit in with their fiery manager at the time. And it is one thing to dislike him in Chicago for his performance in his one season there and perhaps even in New York for his post season letdowns. But how can you not like that guy as a baseball playing human being?

Nick Swisher plays like he has the best job in the world. And, gosh, he does have the best job in the world. Instead of acting like he is suffering because of his fame, Swisher embraces it and the fans and puts smiles on people's faces. He also did a pile of charity work in New York during his years there thus showing that he appreciates what he has been given and has given back.

What is really different between the way Swisher enjoys the game and say, Jose Reyes? Is it because Reyes has a toothier smile? Baseball is a game and it should be fun and I do not understand anyone for being hated for enjoying the ride. He gets excited when his team does well. Shouldn't he? Is that showboating or a good team guy? He points to the sky when he doubles or homers. Is that a showboat or someone who has made a point of honoring those who came before him?

Hate on Nick Swisher if you will, but from this seat, the guy is what baseball is all about.

With all that said, what kind of player is Nick Swisher going to be in Cleveland and away from the bright lights of the Bronx? I can't see him being much different than he has been in the last four years. His WAR might take a one win hit because of playing first base more than right field this season. But he has been very consistent offensively. His wOBA has been over .360 for five out of this last six seasons.

Nick Swisher is what you dream about when it comes to patience at the plate. His O-swing level has risen slightly in the last three seasons, but is still well below league average and his total swing percentage of 36.7% is very low and has been consistent throughout his career. Both of his last two seasons have also seen a rise in his line drive percentage, though that is a volatile statistic that is hard to predict.

And yet, his projections all predict his wOBA will be under .360 with only the Fans being close at .359. Heck, ZiPS has him finishing at .337. That is simply too pessimistic for what Swisher has done in his career. ZiPS also assigns him a .175 ISO for 2013. Swisher has never been below .188 in that department...ever. So why is his power going to dry up? Because he is playing in Cleveland? And Cleveland is a tougher park than Yankee Stadium?

Well, it is. But Swisher's ISO has remained consistent throughout his career and that included years in Oakland which makes Cleveland look like the Great American Ballpark.

Here's what I predict. Nick Swisher is older and wiser. He does have his hot and cold streaks, but his patience at the plate is streak proof. He will have freedom to be himself with Terry Francona in the clubhouse. He is going to have a blast. He is going to hit 25 to 30 homers, drive in from 85 to 95 runs and have an on-base percentage over .360. His wOBA and ISO will be at career levels or higher. Again, if he plays first base because of the positional difference between right field and first, he will lose anywhere from a half a win to a win in WAR. But otherwise, he'll be Nick Swisher.

Indians fans are really going to enjoy Nick Swisher. He was loved in New York (at least until the post season) and he was loved for a reason. The guy simply puts a smile on your face if he plays for your team and not only that, he produces year after year. Have fun, Cleveland and enjoy the Nick Swisher Experience.