Thursday, November 30, 2006

Bill Posters Will Be Prosecuted*

Boy, I haven't posted anything here for like two weeks. I suck. Of course, I've been so busy with this that I haven't had time to do the high-quality sabermetric research that all four of my readers have come to expect.

Briefly, though: Howard doesn't deserve the MVP, and Pujols is kind of a whiny little bitch. Jesus, Albert, you just won the World Series with a .500 team, lighten up. And frankly, the Phillies won more games than you did -- in the NL East the Cards don't make the playoffs, either. Of course, maybe Pujols is admitting that Beltran is the real MVP. But more on that later.

Right now, I gotta go drink beer and talk about Mustaches. Rock, rock on!

* No, Bill Posters is innocent.

ps - so is Harry Roberts. He done us all a favor.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


So it looks like Boston won the right to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka, who may or may not throw a Gyroball. But it cost 'em, and I'll use all caps here for emphasis, FIFTY-ONE POINT ONE MILLION DOLLARS! That's crazy. This weekend, a friend asked me how much I'd be willing to pay for the right to negotiate with D-Mat, and I said I'd be willing to pay about $25 or $30 million. Combined with what I thought it'd take to sign him, any more than that, and he wouldn't be worth it. Apparently I was very, very wrong.

There were two things I hadn't realized, though. One is that, after buying his negotiating rights, there isn't any other competition to bid up Matsuzaka's contract. He can either take what the Red Sox offer him, or go back to pitching in Japan. Depending on what he's making right now, that might help keep his contract lower than it might be otherwise.

And two, of course, is that if the Sox can't get Matsuzaka at what they think is a reasonable price, they get to keep their enormous posting fee. An unscrupulous GM might submit an extremely high bid to win his negotiating rights with no intention of signing Matsuzaka, just to keep him from going to a wealthy division rival in need of sarting pitching. Ultimately I don't think Epstein would do that, because he runs the risk of burning any future bridges to Japan, but still . . . if I were the Devil Rays, I might try it, just to piss George off.

But apparently, they were busy bidding on the rights to negotiate with Akinori Iwamura, the third baseman for the Yakult Swallows*, for $4.5 mil. I wonder if he'll be any good? Of course, if the Devil Rays think he will, then he'll probably stink.

* Man, talk about a team name that just doesn't translate well. In the US, how often do think you'd hear competing chants of "Seibu Lions suck!" "Yeah, but Yakult Swallows!" It's even worse than the Nippon Ham Fighters.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Demon Sphere Gyro Ball

So I was looking at this article in Popular Mechanics that purports to explain what a Gyro Ball is, and how it's thrown - specifically, how it's thrown by Japanese free-agent and (hopefully) future pitcher for the Mets, Daisuke Matsuzaka. There's this helpful little diagram that shows the various spins on three different pitches (curveball, slider, and gyro ball) and a series of lines that indicate how each pitch is supposed to move. Great.

The pitch is apparently the product of something called Double Spin Mechanics, invented by a couple of Japanese scientists who were trying to come up with a way for pitchers to reduce the stresses of throwing a baseball. The double-spin system supposedly allows the pitcher to impart a rifle-like spin on the ball, which somehow causes the pitch to move laterally from the third base to the first base side (when thrown by a right-hander) – the pitch "takes a left turn and heads to the dugout.” Sounds great. This is almost all from a report that Will Carroll, who ordinarily writes about sports injuries for Baseball Prospectus, wrote on sabermetrician Rob Neyer’s website.

Except for three things. One, Daisuke doesn't throw the gyro ball. When asked about the pitch while he was in the US for the World Baseball Classic this spring, D-Mat claimed that he doesn’t throw it, but that he’s trying to learn – he’d like for it to be his out pitch. Specifically, Daisuke says that he’s thrown it a couple of times in games “but not too much. Sometimes accidentally.” And this guy is supposed to be the master of the gyroball?

Two, Will Carroll apparently gets the gyroball confused with the shuuto, a pitch thrown by a lot of Japanese players that acts kind of like a screwball/reverse cut fastball, and moves towards third base when thrown by a right-hander. Though that's probably nitpicking.

And third, if you look at the spins in that Popular Mechanics diagram, they’ve got the spin for a slider backwards. Yep. Look, the only way to get a baseball to do anything, other than move in a straight line, is to put some kind of spin on it, and physics says that the ball will move in the direction of its rotation (as seen from the batter’s box). Rotation from top to bottom, that’s a curveball. Rotation from bottom to top, that’s a “rider,” or rising fastball (which of course doesn’t actually rise, that’s an optical illusion – it just doesn’t drop as much due to gravity as it should). That “slider,” is a screwball. If the ball, as seen in that diagram, rotates from right to left, it would have to move that way – towards the batter, not away.

As Neyer and James said in their great Guide to Pitchers, there are two ways of describing what a pitch is: you can describe the manner in which a ball is gripped and the motion with which it is thrown, or you can describe what the pitch does on its way to the plate. For example, the two-seam fastball, overhand curve, and nickel curve are also known as the sinker, 12-to-6 curve, and slider. I don’t think that the gyroball really exists. I think it’s just a slider with extreme lateral movement, or a really good cut fastball. But here’s what Al Leiter has to say:
Alright, so he has a curveball grip and he pulls down on the ball. I threw one of these and I called it a cutter. They can call it what they want. It's a cut fastball.
Finally, while I was out checking on the internets double-checking to make sure that PM’s slider rotation was wrong, I found different and occasionally contradictory instructions for how to throw a slider here, here, and here. I’m not sure anybody knows what they’re talking about. Which is why pitchers are sort of like witch doctors – nobody knows exactly what they’re doing, but they’re definitely doing something.

Season Shot

Somebody's definitely getting this for Christmas.

Thanks, Deadspin.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Mustaches for Kids

Mustaches for Kids 2006 is set to kick off next week. Who wants to grow a Mustache for Charity with me?

You know, this'll be the 8th Annual M4K Charity Mustache Growing Competition, and the sixth in New York. We're spreading, too. There are now a dozen M4K chapters around North America, including Canada -- we're international, bitches! Anyway, as near as I can figure, M4K all together has raised over $150,000. for various children's charities. That's pretty good for a bunch of dumbasses drinking beer and growing mustaches.

Anyway, Shaving Day is next Thursday, the 16th. But we're having a Meet-n-Greet tomorrow, November 9th at Rosemary's Greenpoint Tavern (aka, The Big Styrofoam Cup) starting at 8:00 pm to drink beer and talk mustache strategy. Come on down, if you want.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Craft vs. Stuff

I don’t know if you remember Game 5 of the NLCS, but I’d said earlier that it looked to me like the Cardinals hitters had made an adjustment to Glavine and were no longer getting fooled like they were in Game 1; meanwhile, the Mets bats continued to slumber against Weaver. This got me thinking about the different types of pitchers that Weaver and Glavine are. Jeff Weaver is a guy who’s always had pretty good stuff, but hasn’t ever quite been able to put it all together (until the NLCS, apparently); while Titan Tom Glavine is probably the very definition of a crafty lefty, getting guys out not with blazing fastballs or knee-buckling curves, but with location and deception.

Anyway, I thought that Glavine might be at a disadvantage going into Game 5, because he’d be facing a lineup twice within the space of a week. Of course, Weaver would also be facing the same lineup twice in a row (and a pretty good lineup, at that). But I thought that a guy with good velocity and a good slider would be at less of a disadvantage than a guy who, in order to get guys out, has to fool them.

Most people think that, as the game goes on, the advantage shifts more and more to the hitters. Getting guys out that third or fourth time through the order is a lot harder than the first, because they know what to expect -- just ask John Maine. I wondered if there might be some of that carry-over effect between starts, when a pitcher is facing the same team in back-to-back starts.

So, I went through David Pinto’s awesome day-by-day database for Tom Glavine and Jeff Weaver and took a look at how they fared in games when facing the same team in back-to-back starts, comparing the first start against the second. It turns out that Glavine’s done it 54 times in his career, Weaver 30. For example, Tom Glavine started against the Expos in Montreal on May 22nd of 2002; then faced them again five days later in Atlanta on the 27th. How did he do that second time around, compared to the first?

Here are Glavine’s numbers in those 54 back-to-back starts, comparing the first start against a team with his second start; and, for comparison’s sake, his career numbers. Looking at his peripherals, there doesn’t appear to be an appreciable difference between his career numbers, in either his first start in a back-to-back series, or his second. Maybe a slightly lower strikeout rate in that second start, but his ERA, walks per nine, home run rate, and K/BB ratio are pretty much the same.

But then it occurred to me, maybe Glavine’s career numbers aren’t that instructive – Tommy came up in freaking 1987, twenty years ago – and his pitching style has changed significantly as he’s gotten older. I’m more interested in how he’s pitched since becoming a Crafty Old Lefty™, say the last five years or so, after he’s maybe lost a little zip on the ol’ fastball.

OK. Here are Tommy Glavine’s numbers from back-to-back starts against the same team from 2001 to 2006. Why 2001? That’s six years. Why not start in 2002 and use a nice, even five years? I dunno, I can’t remember – I started doing this like two weeks ago. But whatever. You can see that Tommy’s peripheral numbers are significantly crappier in those second starts, over the last six years. His ERA goes up, his strikeout rate drops by almost two per game, his homerun rate goes up 50%, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio drops.

Now, take a look at the same numbers for Jeff Weaver over the same period. Done? They look, eh . . . basically the same. His strikeout rate drops a little, but not a whole lot. Everything else stays pretty much exactly the same; and that’s been pretty much true over his whole career (which admittedly only goes back two more years, to 1999). Go ahead and look at his career numbers, too.

So what does this tell us? Well, I’m not sure. None of these numbers are ballpark adjusted, and of course I don’t think you should draw too many conclusions from such a small number of games. But . . .

It’s an old baseball cliché that speed never goes in a slump. Obviously, this isn’t literally true; if it were, Jose Reyes would bat 1.000. I think what the old saw is getting at, though, is that a player’s speed can help him beat out hits even when he’s not actually swinging the bat very well. Similarly, a pitcher’s raw stuff can help him out in the same way – a great curveball might be impossible to hit, even when a batter knows it’s coming.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Mota On The 'Roids

(Via Baseball Musings)

Well, that sucks. How any player can be so stupid as to let himself get caught by MLB's pathetic steroid policy is completely beyond me. And it couldn't have come at a worse time for Mota, who's now a free agent -- any team that takes a flyer on him would only be getting him for two-thirds of a season, never mind the fact that nobody knows what to expect out of a guy who may or may not be juicing. Since coming over from the Indians, Mota pitched pretty well for the Mets, too. I wonder how much the 'roids had to do with it.

Once again we see that the players who are caught using steroids aren't the Albert Pujolses, or the Johan Santanas -- guys who are at the very top of the game -- because, frankly, they don't need it. The guys who are most likely to take steroids are the marginal players, who think they need any edge they can get just to stay in the major leagues . . . like middle relievers. At least Mota was man enough to admit what he did, and isn't trying to hide behind some "I thought it was vitamins," bullshit.