Monday, November 22, 2004

World Champ Thoughts

Gosh, where to begin?

Well, the Red Sox are the World Champions. That might be a good place to begin.

No, seriously.

It still looks strange in writing, I must admit. I think it has finally fully sunk into my brain that the dreaded fear of all living Red Sox fans - that they would die before the Sox won the World Series - has now been removed. It's going to be nice to just be perceived as normal fans of a normal team from now on. That whole "Sox fans love to be miserable" nonsense isn't going to be missed.

Though I think I now have my brain wrapped around this new outlook on my team, I think it's still going to be a while before I can articulate it well. So, for now, here are a few more random thoughts that I'd like to share to plug the gap since I last updated this site.

* Most Yankee fans are jerks. Since the Sox have won, I have seen all of the following arguments made by Yankee fans as a means to downgrade the Sox's achievement: The Wild Card system needs to be changed, Schilling wasn't actually hurt, it hurts more to lose as a Yankee fan since they expect to win so much more than other teams, since they won 101 games during the regular season and the Sox won just 98 they are still the better team, Schilling's contract clause is an illegal gift from MLB and without it he wouldn't have even pitched for the Sox, Varitek is a horrible defensive catcher based upon his one ALCS inning catching a knuckleballer, Johnny Damon throws like a girl, the entire team's hair is too long, they arenĂ‚’t serious enough and don't respect the game, Francona is lucky they won since he let the clubhouse get out of control, the new ownership wouldn't even own the team if not for Bud Selig's illegal intervention, John Henry practices insurance fraud, and on and on. What a bunch of crybabies. And they said Sox fans were whiners.

* One important exception to my observation - Dave Rasmussen. You don't know him, he's just a guy I work with, but since he's a transplanted Yankee fan from Jersey and I'm a transplanted Sox fan from Boston, we have a friendly wager each year on which team will win the division. The winner gets his choice of choice cut steaks or lobster flown in from the loser's home state. Since the Yankees finished first again this year, Dave won the bet, but he said he couldn't decide which option he wanted, so we agreed to let it sit for a while. We had a follow-up bet on the ALCS, which I won, and over that lunch I asked him again if he knew whether he wanted surf or turf for winning the regular-season bet. Again, he said he couldn't say yet. Finally, when the Sox won the Series, he came to my desk to congratulate me, and as he was walking away turned back to tell me he finally knew what he wanted from our bet.

"Fly in two lobsters from the Cape. But don't deliver them to my house. Ship them to yourself instead, then take them over to share them with your Dad," Dave said. "He's been waiting a long time to celebrate the Sox."

Dave Rasmussen, a Yankee fan with class. Too bad there aren't more like him.

* Scott Boras is trying to ruin baseball. Aren't owners already stupid enough? They have made innumerable idiotic decisions that have broken fans' hearts and hurt the game. Do they really need a guy controlling all of the best free agents actively encouraging them to be even more stupid? Because, make no mistake, a 10-year contract for anyone, even someone as good as Carlos Beltran or Adrian Beltre, is stupid. A 5-year contract for a soon-to-be 33-year old catcher, Jason Varitek, is also stupid. Don't get me wrong; if I was a player, I'd probably hire him. But as a GM, I would probably take the Kenny Williams stance and vow never to sign one of his players. Who needs that headache?

* Let me explain just how stupid it would be for any team to agree to the contract terms Scott Boras has floated for Varitek. He claims that Varitek is the exception to the rule about catchers' aging patterns because any catcher that proved he can play at the level Varitek did in '04, at age 32, tends to continue that level of performance into their late-30s or early-40s.

To do a sanity check on Boras' argument, I looked at all catcher's who had roughly the same success, or better, at age 32 as Varitek did this year, and then looked at their next five years, the length of contract Boras wants. The tool I used was a stat call RCAA, which stands for Runs Created Above Average. It was created by a guy named Lee Sinins and compares how many runs that players created as a hitter to the average at his position.

Even though Varitek had 19 RCAA this year, I set the age 32 floor at 15 RCAA, both to make sure I pulled in enough players who were similar and to make sure Fisk was included since Boras specifically mentioned him as a comparison to Varitek. Then I threw out active players (Mike Piazza, Ivan Rodriguez, Javy Lopez) because we don't know yet what their trends will be.

That left 15 catchers with at least 15 RCAA at age 32 - Bill Dickey, Elston Howard, Mickey Cochrane, King Kelly, Gene Tenace, Walker Cooper, Darren Daulton, Ernie Lombardi, Ron Hassey, Ed Bailey, Joe Ferguson, Chief Meyers, Ray Mueller, Roger Bresnahan and Fisk. That would give us 75 potential seasons from ages 33-37 for these guys.

Right off, we see a huge hole in Boras' reasoning, because instead of 75 seasons to examine, we only have 61. Over half of these guys, eight to be exact, retired before age 37, when Varitek's proposed contract would expire. So 14 seasons of a possible 75 were never played. (It should be noted that one of those, Mueller's age-33 season, was lost to WWII, not retirement. He came back and played at ages 34-37.) If Varitek follows the pattern, there's a 50% chance or more that he won't be around at the end of the contract.

Boras' argument looks even worse when we look at the 61 seasons actually played. Of those, just 11 matched or exceeded the 15 RCAA threshold, meaning that following the trend would give Varitek just a 15% chance of having a single season during that 5-year contract that could equal his output in 2004. Even more disturbing, 27 of the 61 seasons played resulted in negative RCAA. nother 5 were at zero. Add that to the 13 seasons that were never played due to retirement, and suddenly 45 of 75 seasons (60%) were either never played or were played at an average-or-below level of offensive output for a major league catcher.

All of this means that if Varitek is as similar to these players as Boras' represents, during a five-year contract he is likely to have just 2 years of that contract with offensive output better than average, only one of which will match 2004, and will retire after four years.

That doesn't sound like a $55 million bet the Red Sox, or any team, should take.

* Let's also put to rest this sham argument that the Yankees were actually a better team because they won three more games during the regular season. If the two clubs played identical schedules, that argument would be more sound. Faulty and flat out wrong, but with a little more substance than in the world of unbalanced schedules that we live in.

But it's wrong because the Sox not only played a tougher schedule (opponents' winning percentage of .505 compared to the Yankees' .499), but also because the Sox performed better against good teams, while the Yankees' lofty record was based upon destroying bad teams and treading water against the good ones.

Against teams with winnings records, the Red Sox were 42-31, a winning percentage of .575. The Yankees, on the other hand, were just 35-30, a winning percentage of .538. Even more telling, the Yankees were extremely lucky to have a winning record at all against good teams because they were outscored in those games, 341-319. Read that again. Against teams with a .500 record or better, the Yankees were outscored by a third of a run per game. They achieved their 101 wins largely because they lucked into a few more wins than they deserved against good teams and beat the hell out of the bad ones.

The Yankees projected record, based upon their run differential, was 89-73, which means they won 12 more games than they should have. Meanwhile, the Red Sox were exactly as good as advertised. They projected to 98 wins and hit that number exactly. This is important because this kind of discrepancy and that amount of good fortune tends to bite teams on the ass in the playoffs. There have been 35 American League Championship Series. In 33 of those, the two teams had different regular-season win totals, with the team who came to the series with more actual wins winning 20 of those series. That's roughly 60%. At the same time, in 34 of those series the two teams entered with different projected win totals, and the team with more projected wins won 25 of those series. That's roughly 75%, and the difference between the two is significant. The same trend holds in the National League - teams with more actual wins won about 57% of all NLCS series, while teams with more projected wins won about 68%.

In short, being the better projected team, meaning the team with the better run differential, is a better harbinger of playoff success than being the team that won the most regular-season games. And this year, the Red Sox had the best run differential in the American League. (And the Cardinals had the best in the NL.)

The Sox were just better. So all you Yankee fans who want to claim otherwise, just shut the hell up.

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