June 2006

Mound Serendipity

The Associated Press says P Matt Clement, he of a 6.68 ERA in 12 starts this season for Boston, is “scuffling through the worst of his eight major league
seasons.” Manager Terry Francona chalks it up to a bad shoulder; he’s put
the veteran on the 15-day disabled list, hoping the time away will help
Clement relocate his mojo.

Perhaps. But PROTRADE’s Moneyball Scoring system suggests Clement might be
better served hunting down a four-leaf clover or scoping pennies on a Beacon
Hill sidewalk. That’s because all luck, bad bounces, and mispositioned (or
range-challenged) fielders aside, the 31-year old has in reality pitched
himself within a few percentage points of his career-best season ERA.

According to our numbers, Clement’s “real” ERA is 3.62, more than three runs
better than the official number that besmirches his performance in Boston
sports pages. He is, in fact, PROTRADE’s reigning leader in bad luck among
major league pitchers this season. It’s a calculation we can manage because
we break down every baseball
play into its component parts, comparing what did happen to what usually
happens as a means of allotting appropriate credit or blame.

Most unique, it lays bare those non-errors that really should be. We’re
talking about those myriad cases when that lumbering right fielder cannot
get a glove on the ball and thus, doesn’t earn a demerit for failing to
achieve the routine.

So for pitchers, the difference manifests itself in little, unnoticed
fielding moments. Consider the third inning of a Red Sox-Rangers matchup at
Fenway Park on May 12, when 2B Mark Loretta doesn’t get to two separate
balls he should have caught, saddling Clement with two earned runs in the
team’s 6-0 loss. Or in an 8-6 loss to the Yankees on May 24, when Alex
Rodriguez and Robinson Cano led off the fifth inning with singles that
should have been outs, then New York OF Terrence Long drove in what would
prove the game-winning run with another routine grounder somehow out of the
reach of Loretta.

Clement has two weeks of R & R to find a way to reverse the after
effects of whatever mirror he broke or ladder he walked beneath. Maybe
easier — call Padres P Scott Cassidy, his serendipitous opposite. The
journeyman is strutting around San Diego with a 2.37 ERA from the team’s
bullpen.

Rumor has it, Cassidy pitches with a horseshoe in his glove.

PROTRADE’s Unlucky
Ten
  Player PT ERA Actual
ERA
Difference
1 Matt Clement (BOS) 3.62 6.68 -3.06
2 Francisco Cordero (TEX) 2.88 5.63 -2.75
3 Doug Waechter (TB) 4.33 6.62 -2.29
4 Mark Redman (KC) 3.97 6.06 -2.09
5 Odalis Perez (LAD) 4.86 6.90 -2.04
6 Brian Moehler (FLA) 4.66 6.68 -2.02
7 Keith Foulke (BOS) 3.84 5.63 -1.79
8 Jorge Julio (ARI) 3.35 5.06 -1.71
9 Jason Johnson (CLE) 4.06 5.70 -1.64
10 Taylor Buchholz (HOU) 4.53 6.06 -1.53
 
PROTRADE’s Lucky Ten
  Player PT ERA Actual
ERA
Difference
1 Scott Cassidy (SD) 5.23 2.37 2.86
2 Geoff Geary (PHI) 5.00 2.78 2.22
3 Sidney Ponson (STL) 5.54 3.54 2.00
4 Oscar Villarreal (ATL) 6.92 4.99 1.93
5 Luis Vizcaino (ARI) 4.39 2.59 1.80
6 Scot Shields (LAA) 2.95 1.30 1.65
7 Aaron Sele (LAD) 3.72 2.32 1.40
8 Ryan Franklin (PHI) 5.77 4.40 1.37
9 Mike Maroth (DET) 4.93 3.56 1.37
10 Woody Williams (SD) 4.62 3.27 1.35
 

The Joe Morgan Paradox

In Nov. 1962, the Houston Colt 45s weren’t in the business of selling jeans.

That’s why they signed Oakland City College star 2B Joe Morgan– all 5’5, 140 pounds of him. Houston didn’t plan on using Morgan to market Colt Stadium as a place to see the beautiful people. Rather, they wanted men in scoring position.

The team won just 64 games in their inaugural season the previous summer, averaging just 3.65 runs per-game while flexing a team on-base percentage of .308. Both marks were the Majors’ worst. Morgan, a rare infielder with speed and a big bat, looked like an antidote.

Morgan officially took over in the spring of 1965. He hit 14 homers and drew 97 walks in that rookie season, nearly as many (99) as the position had given the team during the past three seasons combined. Houston quickly forgot his predecessors at the position, like Ernie Fazio (.184/27 BB vs. 70 Ks in ’63) and Joey Amalfitano (.237/1 HR in ’62). In Morgan, the Houston Colt 45s first homegrown star had been born.

That Morgan’s subsequent career was so rife with measurable accomplishment — he ranked in the majors’ top ten in on-base percentage eleven times, OPS six times, and walks 18 times — rings a bit ironic these days. From his perch as an ESPN analyst, he’s become the game’s reigning neo-luddite, vehemently opposed to statistical analysis and its recent rise in stature.

"That moneyball theory is overrated," he once quipped on an ESPN.com chat. "Nobody has ever won with it. Players win games. Not theories."

Among other things, Morgan has famously opined that batting average is a "personal thing" and that pitchers are best judged by their wins and losses.

You might think that, as co-founder of a company wholly predicated on the opposite theory, I’d be a card-carrying member of the baseball blog posse calling for Morgan’s ouster

I’m not.

Of course, I disagree with him. And I can’t say he’s my favorite baseball analyst. But rather than discount Morgan’s anti-Moneyball salvos completely, I try to listen. Coming from a Hall-of-Famer who played 22 seasons and won two MVPs, he’s earned his right to his opinion. Morgan’s playing career doesn’t give carte blanche on what matters in baseball. No, it doesn’t.

But Morgan’s point-of-view is real and, unfortunately to some extent, prevailing in baseball. Mocking him won’t help us understand where he’s coming from, just as refusing to read “Moneyball” —  he famously won’t pick it up and still probably believes that Billy Beane wrote the book —  gives Morgan an incomplete picture of what we’re all about.

How very ironic, given that Morgan was moneyball before “Moneyball” existed.

If he were starting out today, he’d be the smallest player in the majors. And circa 2006, the most likely guy to give Morgan a chance, picking him on accomplishment ahead of that 6’4, 220 pound high-schooler, would be Billy Beane himself.

Five Questions with the Author of Moneyball

5 Questions w/Michael Lewis

It’s no secret to members of the PROTRADE nation that we’re fans of author
Michael Lewis. His book ‘Moneyball’ inspired PROTRADE and, I think, laid a
clear and convincing case for measuring human performance with something
measurable. Something to test against and refine.  After all, if you’re
about to drop $50 million on a pitcher, you might want a more objective way
to assess the potential investment than: "This guy may be the best body in
the draft." (Page 31)  Yesterday morning, when we were considering Tuesday’s
50-round first year professional player draft, we got to thinking: what does
Lewis think of the state of ‘Moneyball’ today?

So, we asked him a few questions.

Jeff Ma: When you look at the ‘As’ 2001 and 2002 amateur
drafts with the hindsight of a few seasons, does the success of 2001 players
like Bonderman, Crosby and Johnson alter your original assessment of the
"Moneyball" approach?  Why not?
Lewis: No, because I didn’t have an original assessment, and even if
you assume those three players wind up having good big league careers the
2001 draft, like just about all drafts, was a ridiculously risky way to
invest millions of dollars. The point of the draft chapters in "Moneyball"
was not "The Oakland A’s have found the secret to drafting future major
league players but "The Oakland A’s, seeing the general, and increasingly
expensive, inaccuracy in the evaluation of amateur players, have set out to
find a new and better way to do it."

They weren’t sure the 2002 draft was going to be a big success — though of
course they hoped it would. But, they had some then-novel theories about the
statistics of amateur players, and what they might say about future
professional success. The big difference between what they did, and what big
league teams have always done, is that they could prove themselves wrong,
and move on to refine their ideas. Which they are doing.

Jeff Ma: Since the publication of "Moneyball" several
teams, including the Mets, Padres, Cardinals and Diamondbacks have joined
the As, Red Sox and the Blue Jays on the ‘Moneyball’ train.  Is their
adoption making the MLB talent market more efficient?
Lewis: I assume so. On some of those rosters are productive players
who, five years ago, would have been cheaply snagged by the A’s. (Kevin
Youkilis!)

Jeff Ma: Oakland ‘A’s GM Billy Beane is central to the
story of "Moneyball." Has pulling back the curtain, so to speak, on his
strategy undercut his ability to trade for value?
Lewis: Only he would know. I can’t see how it’s made it easier for
him, but my sense is that the market was moving that way anyway.

Jeff Ma: Do you think the "Moneyball" approach to
performance valuation will take off in other sports?
Lewis: I do, just as I think it will in every business where the
employees are Talent, and paid huge sums of money. (Hollywood, Wall Street,
CEO-land). Baseball is so much cleaner to analyze than any business, or any
other sport.

But I assume progress: the more fancy people get paid, the more it is worth
someone’s time and effort to figure out what they are actually worth. The
spirit of Bill James will be coming to a theatre, or arena, near you.

Jeff Ma: How is the ‘Ladies Auxiliary’ these days?
Lewis: Far calmer than it was three years ago.

For those of you who may not have read the book, the ‘Ladies Auxiliary’ is
the name Lewis gave to the indignant members of the MLB ‘club’ of owners,
management and sporstwriters who, without reading ‘Moneyball’ took to the
airwaves and press to denounce Beane’s approach to quantitative assessment.
Just like the b-school books say, an organization is incapable of reforming
from within.

Incidentally, as part of a new partnership with www.MLB.com, we took the PROTRADE black box and
applied our evaluation skills to the first Moneyball draft: 2002.  Turns
out, Billy Beane’s approach has aged pretty well.  Read it on MLB, here.

Can You Use the Word in a Sentence?

Katherine Close is the top speller in the land. The winner of Thursday night’s Scripps National Spelling Bee, she’s an eighth-grader at H.W. Mountz School in Spring Lake, a beach town on the south New Jersey Shore.

That Close attends an actual school is relevant, because some of you bet that she wouldn’t. More specifically, the "Bee" went off at +283 that the winner would be home schooled, +178 that they’d wear glasses (she doesn’t), and +141 that "they" would be a she in the first place.

Oh, and the over/under on letters in the final word was 10.5.

Gambling in America is a curious thing. Mention it, and most of us immediately think slot machines, Vegas, and getting rich. We think the World Series of Poker and fourth quarter mutterings by the announcers on Monday Night Football. The lot of them, we all know, go hand-in-hand.

But gambling isn’t always about the money. If there’s a lesson in the news that bookies, crunching numbers on the educational backgrounds of top spellers past, took time to analyze the participants and set lines on the National Bee, it’s that financial victories alone don’t fulfill the human condition. More satisfying, more often, is the feeling of simply being proven right.

We don’t take Loyola Marymount -4 or the Jets +13 1/2 because we’re simply after that pot of gambling gold. We take them because we believe, strongly, that we know better. And we want to be proven so in a real, tangible, humiliating-for-the-guy-who-is-wrong kind of way.

Better than traditional gambling, that markets can provide such closure so effectively was a driving force behind our founding of PROTRADE. We all wanted more opportunities to weigh in not just on games themselves, but also the prevailing great sports debates of the day (though we hadn’t considered spelling).

Floating our two cents into the ether on sports radio or via message boards, like those endless arguments with your dad over whether Barry Bonds could touch Mickey Mantle, or if LeBron James will be as good as Michael Jordan, just isn’t up to the craving. We’re never truly right if someone else isn’t truly wrong.

Buying and selling shares of players on PROTRADE’s 24/7 marketplace, fans can weigh in with real consequences. Here, there is right and

wrong– and you know it that night, or even within the hour.

So our focus is on sports. You cannot fade Ms. Close and her chance of a repeat with us next year. But you can test your ability to predict the future. We’ve created an athlete market based on our Moneyball Valuation System. 

But there are many other markets in sports that could be compelling.  What about a market to predict the day that Bonds passes Aaron?  Or a market on the number of Super Bowls Tom Brady wins in his career? What sports markets would you like to see?

Email me at mablog@protrade.com with your brightest ideas.