The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


The All-Star Break is No Time For a Break

So I watched the Home Run Derby and the All-Star Game this year, which is out of character with my recent history, though last year's game at Yankee Stadium did bring me back into the fold. I couldn't have done it without my TiVo, however, which reduced my total time expenditure to about three hours across two nights. Couldn't take much more than that of the Fox bombast, nor could I afford more between my writing schedule and the steps I've been taking to alleviate discomfort caused by what feels like a 50-pound badger attempting to shred my throat. Pass the antibiotics, please.

I was happy to see Prince Fielder, he of the swing-from-the-heels 503-foot blast, but sheesh, what a drawn-out waste of time. Deadspin's Will Leitch gets it right when he describes the proceedings as "an event that stuffs enthusiasm in a laundry sack and bashes it against the cement for three hours." For my money, you could edit the whole thing down to a 5- or 10-minute pregame highlight package without missing anything of worth.

As for the centerpiece, who ever heard of an All-Star Game played in less than three hours? It was downright old-school, a competitive affair that turned on a spectacular defensive play (Carl Crawford's catch of Brad Hawpe's drive) and a triple by speedster Curtis Granderson, and kept the suspense right up to the final out. But all of the early-count swinging -- 15 at-bats ended after a single pitch, another 14 after two pitches -- kept the contest feeling like an exhibition. Swing at this, because I've got a plane to catch.

Anyway, between the actual midpoint of the season (which was a week ago Sunday) and the All-Star break, it's a convenient time to look back at the first half, and at Baseball Prospectus we've been using the time to examine how our PECOTA projections have fared thus far. In Tuesday's piece I gave an undignified burial to three teams whom PECOTA saw as potentially playoff bound, the Diamondbacks (88-win Wild Card favorites), the A's (84-win AL West favorites) and the Indians (86-win AL Central favorites. All three are well below .500, with the latter two in last place in their divisions, and all have seen their Playoff Odds approach zero. Hence, "The Flatliners."

In today's piece, mirrored at ESPN Insider, I expand upon that piece to show which teams have seen their Playoff Odds change the most since our preseason projections:
The three-day All-Star break is a convenient time to begin the grieving process, and so yesterday made for a timely opportunity to shovel dirt on three teams whom PECOTA tabbed as potentially playoff-bound back in April. The Diamondbacks, A's and Indians may not be mathematically eliminated from postseason contention yet, but with their odds of joining the dance falling below 0.5 percent, a burial seemed in order.

As the BP staff has taken the past several days to examine how our preseason PECOTA forecasts have fared with regards to teams, hitters, starters and relievers, it's worth remembering that such projections don't equal destiny. They're simply a shorthand for a wider range of probabilities centered around the weighted mean forecasts we publicize, and all kinds of real-world factors — injuries, bad luck, mismanagement, imperfect information, and so on — can affect their accuracy.

Bearing that in mind, today we'll examine which teams have helped or harmed their postseason chances the most relative to our initial forecasts using our plain vanilla version of the Playoff Odds report, thus isolating the effect of our projections from our expectations for these teams going forward. In that report, each team's current record and third-order Pythagorean record — their record after adjusting for scoring environment, run elements, and quality of opposition — are factored into a Monte Carlo simulation of the rest of the season, with their records regressing not to .500 but to their third-order winning percentages. Run differentials play a big part here; a team that's above .500 but being outscored won't see favorable odds.

Surprisingly enough, none of the freshly buried teams rates as the biggest disappointment from this perspective:
Team        Wpct   3Pct    Div     WC    Tot   Proj    +/-
Cubs .500 .486 13.0 3.2 16.2 62.6 -46.4
D'backs .427 .475 0.0 0.2 0.2 45.0 -44.8
Athletics .430 .475 0.4 0.0 0.4 41.7 -41.3
Indians .393 .471 0.2 0.0 0.2 38.4 -38.2
Mets .483 .502 11.5 2.2 13.8 48.4 -34.6
Braves .489 .501 12.4 2.6 14.9 33.1 -18.1
Reds .483 .442 2.8 0.7 3.5 19.7 -16.3
Royals .420 .466 0.4 0.0 0.4 13.8 -13.4
Nationals .299 .451 0.0 0.0 0.0 10.9 -10.9
Brewers .511 .477 16.5 3.0 19.5 28.5 -9.1
...From this vantage, it's the Cubs who have disappointed the most, though at least they maintain about a one-in-six shot at October. Expected to pace the circuit with 95 wins and an MLB-high 11-game cushion, they're instead tied for third in the NL Central, 3 1/2 games back. Injuries to Milton Bradley and Aramis Ramirez, disappointment from Alfonso Soriano, and a hole in the lineup where Mark DeRosa used to be (their second basemen have hit a combined .224/.280/.294) have limited the Cubs to just 4.1 runs per game and the league's third-lowest EqA.

The Diamondbacks' offense ranks directly above them, a problem compounded by the loss of Brandon Webb, who hasn't pitched since Opening Day, and a wretched bullpen. The A's main problem has been a lack of offense, some of which is attributable to bad luck on balls in play>. The Indians merely have a staff that's been the league's worst in terms of run prevention because they don't miss enough bats; they're 12th in strikeout rate and 13th in Defensive Efficiency. The Mets have been without offensive stalwarts Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran for weeks now, and their pitching depth has been compromised by injuries as well; their playoff hopes aren't dead yet, but please excuse their weak pulse, clammy skin and stiffening limbs.
The Yankees wind up in the middle of the pack; their overall preseason odds of 66.6 percent have fallen slightly, to 58.9 percent, but they're still very much alive. The Dodgers wind up second from the top of the final list, those teams whose odds have improved the most; they went from heavy pre-season favorites (57.2 percent) to near-certainties (99.3 percent) despite Manny Ramirez's 50-game suspension.

Anyway, I've also got another piece up today on BP and ESPN that looks forward to the second half; I'll save that for another post.

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