Baseball Forecast

Now for something really important, Major League Baseball. The key matchup between the A’s and the Anaheim team looks like it’s going to tilt in favor of the A’s this year; the machine predictions back this up, even if the human predictions don’t. Last year the A’s suffered from an acute lack of offense, which placed the pitching staff under undue stress. The situation is reversed this year as the A’s have a more potent offense than Anaheim, but there’s no denying that the Anaheim pitching staff is stronger than the A’s mostly-rookie rotation and mostly-discard bullpen. But the season covers 162 games and most of the results depend on which team’s key players stay healthy. This is where the A’s have the edge this year.

The Anaheim outfield is composed of players who are all on the down side of their careers, aging stars Bobby Abreu, Torii Hunter, and Vladdy Guerrero. While Vladdy is the only one with a significant injury history, the others are at the point where hamstrings, ACLs, and quads are more fragile. The A’s outfield, on the other hand, features slugger Matt Holliday at the peak of his career and youngsters Travis Buck and Ryan Sweeney on the verge of breakout. The A’s outfield is also stronger defensively, which is fortunate given the age of the pitching staff.

In the infield, the A’s have rectified their three major deficits by signing Orlando Cabrera at short and Jason Giambi at first and getting Eric Chavez healthy. Giambi is an old-timer, but he’s so happy to be back in Oakland after securing his retirement in New York that he’s going to have a second childhood. Cabrera is one of my favorite shortstops because he’s an all-around star, even if he’s been labeled a clubhouse cancer by bitter fans who’ve seen their favorite player benched when OC came along. One of those guys, Nomar Garciaparra (he of the annoying tics) is a backup infielder for the A’s this year. Eric Chavez appears to be healthy, hitting two homers in three games against the AAAA Giants last weekend, and his defense is stellar as ever. Jack Cust appears to be moving into a full-time DH role, suitable to his defensive skills and appropriate to his offensive ones.

Landon Powell, the new backup catcher, has injury problems but is a superior thrower and hitter to starter Kurt Suzuki. I’d take the A’s infield over the under-performing, weak hitting Anaheims any day of the week.

The pitching staff is the big question mark, however. Justin Duchsherer continues to have problems with his elbow, shoulder, and hip indicative of bad mechanics. These problems don’t tend to sort themselves out without the intervention of a Rick Peterson. Two of the A’s starters haven’t pitched above AA, so they’re a wild card in big leagues at best. The remaining starters, Braden, Eveland, and Outman have thus far failed to distinguish themselves at the big league level, and the nominal closer is on the disabled list. Anaheim, on the other hand, has the most formidable starting five in baseball, when healthy. But fortunately for the A’s, every single one is an injury risk (the season starts with the three best on the disabled list) so we can reasonably expect that the Anaheim farm system will end up carrying a great deal of the load this year.

If the pitching staffs perform consistent with past results, including injury history, the A’s will win the division. If Anaheim’s witch doctors cast healing spells in favor of their geriatric outfield and rickety starting rotation, the A’s will once again sit out the post-season. The Anaheims will most likely go far in the post-season if they make it, but that’s another story. For the time being, it looks like the A’s will win the division by 4 games.

Numb3rs botches Simpson’s Paradox

If you watch Numb3rs on CBS, you’ll have noticed a rather bizarre discussion last night of Simpson’s Paradox, which was alleged to say that combing two series of numbers into a single series can change their order (it doesn’t really say that, but that’s beside the point.) The example given was David Justice’s and Derek Jeter’s batting averages in 1995 and 1997. In each year, Justice had a better average than Jeter, but for the total of the two years, Jeter was alleged to have had a better average. It’s not hard to figure out how this could be true, but it wasn’t. The actual numbers for those years are these:

          Justice  H/AB     Jeter    H/AB
          -------           -----
1995       .253   104/411   .250     12/48
1997       .329   163/495   .291   190/654
Comb.      .295   267/906   .288   202/702

Justice’s numbers, Jeter’s numbers

If Jeter had hit better in 1997, much closer to Justice’s average, it would have been true because Jeter very few at bats in 1995 and many more at bats in 1997 than Justice. For some bizarre reason, the show used fictitious numbers that didn’t even add up, alleging that Justice hit .321 and .329 for a combined average of .298.

How a show that’s supposed to be so math-oriented can screw up arithmetic so badly would be a a mystery if it weren’t for the fact that mathematicians are notoriously bad at basic arithmetic.

H/T Amnesia, who also got it wrong.

UPDATE: Aha! Reader Brian Thomas explains it all. See comments.

Congratulations, Phillies

A million fans came to the parade in Philly on Friday. I’d say baseball is still the National Pastime. This was a pretty decent World Series, apart from the Philly weather and the inept umpiring. I wanted the Rays to win, but the result’s not exactly heart-breaking either. Comcast had a lot to do with it, apparently, which must rankle Mr. NASCAR, Kevin Martin, whose car has crashed.

Million Fan March
Million Fan March

How Sweep It Is

It was a real joy to see the A’s sweep the Boston Red Sox in the Coliseum over the weekend. None of the games was close, so we didn’t have the pleasure of seeing the back end of the Sox bullpen, Okajima and River-Dancing Papelbon, but the Sox fans were out in force and ripe for heckling. They’re most sensitive about the their team’s home ballpark, which was taken from a Little League team under the doctrine of Eminent Domain, but after that commentary on Manny being Manny by dropping fly balls gets their goats.

The A’s played great all around baseball, outscoring the undergarments 17 to 6 over the three games, with a one-hit shutout by a pitcher who started his career in the Boston farm system as the highlight. We don’t see Boston at home again this year, alas. The sweep knocked them out of first place in the East, where the Billy Rays currently lead. Boston first baseman Kevin Youkilis is currently on a record errorless streak by a first baseman, but the magic was revealed. He dropped two throws in game three, but the scorer gave the errors to the fielders.

With Mike Sweeney at first base, the A’s a defintely a contender-quality team in this rebuilding year. It’s odd how that works, with three of the young players acquired in trades already starting and playing well. The A’s have an embarrassment of riches in young talent right now, and without the steroids the older players aren’t as valuable as they have been. This is a young guy season so far, and it’s still early.

Harden and Brown Crush the Sox

Game 2 of the budding major league season was quite an enjoyable affair, as the Mighty A’s sent the Bosnia Red Sox home in disgrace. Harden no-hit the pretenders through 3, and struck ’em out at will. Emil Brown redeemed himself with a game-winning three-run homer and Crosby continued his hitting tear.

The A’s aren’t a bad team this year, but if I were a member of Bosnia Nation I’d be worried about the pitching. The Sox look a lot like some Yankee teams of recent memory, all bats and no curveballs.

Beckett’s injured, Schilling’s out for the season, Matsuzaka is still erratic, and Lester looks like a batting practice patsy. The middle of the Sox lineup is as strong as anyones, but it’s going to take a lot of runs to overcome the help Sox pitching will give opposing teams this year. The A’s aren’t a strong hitting team, but they scored 5 runs in each of the two games in the Tokyo Dome.

The Yankees are dealing with their pitching woes with a youth movement, and the Sox response is something like an injury movement. Not good, Boston Nation.

Tough loss on Opening Day

As odd as it may seem, the A’s opened their season in Tokyo last night, losing to the Bosnians 6-5 in 10. There were two new faces in the A’s lineup, Ryan Sweeney in center and Emil Brown in left, and one new old face, Keith Foulke in the bullpen.

The A’s lost this game the old-fashioned way, through a blown save by MLB blown saves over-achiever Huston Street in the ninth followed by some equally dismal Street pitching in the tenth. Jack Kust struck out every time he came to the plate and didn’t get hit, so there’s a lot of continuity with this squad from last year’s team.

Crosby, Ellis, Barton, and Hannahan all did well at the plate, so for now the infield isn’t holding the team back. With a little production from the over-stocked outfield, and some re-arranging of the deck chairs in the bullpen this could be a solid second-place team.

Opening Day Looms

Finally, our long national nightmare is about over. Next Tuesday at 3:00 AM Pacfic Time, the Mighty A’s take on some Eastern Division team in the Tokyo Dome. The DVR is fired-up and ready to go, and Mike has his Season Tickets ready for the home opener the following Saturday.

This is going to be a very different team that last year’s third place finisher, and in many ways a better one. Swish and Haren are gone, but there’s a whole crop of new faces in the outfield and the bullpen. Rumor has it that Crosby is healthy and setting up closer to the plate, and even China Doll Harden has thrown a few innings in Arizona without bankrupting Kaiser. The Evil Anaheim-Los Angeles-San Dimas Angels of Anaheim have their two top pitchers on the DL, and even Boson’s Beckett is ailing, so we ought to get off to a decent start.

The Western Division is going to be even stronger this year than it usually is, so I’m not going out on a limb to suggest the eventual World Series winner will come from the West. Unless it’s Detroit, a truly ferocious bunch of Kitties this season, of course. But dream teams have a way of not pulling through, due to all the pressure, I suppose.

My First Baseball Game

Thanks to Retrosheet, I can identify the first major league baseball game I ever saw in person, an epic 4-3 victory by the Yankees over the Senators on July 3, 1959. Winning pitcher Whitey Ford scored the winning run, Ryne Duren got the save, Mickey Mantle hit a single and Tony Kubek went 3-5 playing RF for some weird reason. I had remembered it as a 3-2 game, but was otherwise pretty accurate in my story-telling about it.

Cleveland Indians

Game 6 of the ALDS was painful to watch, with the Indians going limp all over the place. No pitching, no defense, no hitting. You can’t win too many games that way.

I’d like to see these boys get it together and win game 7, but it looks like they lack the killer instinct. Better to find about it now than in the World Series.