DMB News July 2005

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July 15, 2005
Written by Tom Tippett

Welcome to the third edition of the Diamond Mind email newsletter for the year 2005. Through these newsletters, we will try to keep you up to date on the latest product and technical information about the Diamond Mind Baseball game, related player disks, and our ongoing baseball research efforts. Back issues are available on our web site, www.diamond-mind.com.

If you don't wish to receive these messages in the future, please send an email response with the subject line "unsubscribe". We'll immediately remove your email address from the list. And if you know someone who would like to subscribe to this newsletter, we'll be happy to add them to the mailing list if they send us an email message with the subject line "subscribe" and their name and street address in the body of the message.

Topics for this issue:

Office closed August 3-5
Updated Classic seasons now shipping
In the pipeline
DMB in the NY Times
How offensive?

Office closed August 3-5

The Diamond Mind office will be closed from the 3rd through the 5th of August while the staff attends the national convention of the Society for American Baseball Research in Toronto. During that time, we will not be taking or shipping product orders, and we will be able to provide technical support only on a limited emergency basis. The office will resume all normal activities on Monday, August 8th.

Updated Classic seasons now shipping

We are now shipping eight updated Classic Past Seasons that now include real-life transactions and game-by-game starting lineups. With these additions, you can achieve even higher levels of accuracy and realism as you replay these seasons.

The new seasons are 1934, 1946, 1955, 1965, 1966, 1974, 1976, and 1977 and can be purchased for $19.95 each. Registered owners of the previous editions can upgrade for $5 per season. Free upgrades are available on request to anyone who bought one of these seasons in the past six months.

In the pipeline

Since the last newsletter, we have also begun compiling real-life transactions and game-by-game lineups for 1954, 1961, 1962, 1964, and 1975. These updated seasons will be available in the fall.

We ended up spending more time than expected on these past season updates, on new features for version 10, and (to a lesser extent) on our All-time Greatest Players update. As a result, we still have some work to do before releasing the version 9b patch. With the release of these past seasons, finishing the patch is our #1 priority.

DMB in the NY Times

In the Sunday, July 10, edition of the New York Times, David Leonhardt wrote a very interesting piece about the World Baseball Classic that is planned for the spring of 2006. Here's the link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/10/sports/baseball/10score.html

Among other things, the author wrote about using Diamond Mind Baseball to simulate a small portion of a hypothetical world cup. We've already heard from one customer who asked if we could send him the rosters used for those simulations.

Unfortunately, we can't do that. We provided David with the DMB game, the 2005 Projection Disk, and information about the countries of origin for players on that disk. He did the rest, and he's not at liberty to share the details with his readers.

We did not make a serious effort to pick rosters, set rotations, and choose starting lineups for each country. Only a few of the countries have enough MLB players to field a complete team, so we can't simulate the entire tournament without spending a lot of time creating players who are playing in overseas leagues right now.

The best we can do is look at the countries that have plenty of big-league players. Here's a quick rundown:

Puerto Rico has some talent, with a rotation headed by Javier Vazquez and a lineup featuring Carlos Beltran, Ivan Rodriguez, Carlos Delgado, and Jose Vidro. But they don't appear to have enough depth to hang with the big boys.

Venezuela's starting pitching should be a major asset, with a rotation that can draw from Johan Santana, Carlos Zambrano, Freddie Garcia, Carlos Silva, and Kelvim Escobar. And you can build a pretty nice batting order around Carlos Guillen, Melvin Mora, Miguel Cabrera, Bobby Abreu, and Victor Martinez.

One big question is whether the Dominican Republic is ready to challenge the United States for world supremacy. In a short series, I give them a very good chance. How would you like to face a lineup with Miguel Tejada, Albert Pujols, Vladimir Guerrero, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Adrian Beltre, Jose Guillen, and Luis Castillo? Feel free to substitute Alfonso Soriano or Aramis Ramirez if you think they deserve to start. Pedro Martinez and Bartolo Colon head up the pitching staff.

Oh, and Alex Rodriguez has just announced that he'll play for the Dominican Republic. It's his choice because he holds dual citizenship.

It's clear that these three countries, plus Japan and Canada, have some top-flight players to choose from. In addition to MLB stars like Ichiro and Hideki Matsui, Japan can draw from hundreds of players in its own professional league.

Canada has more talent that you might think, too. The rotation is headed by Rich Harden, Erik Bedard, and Jeff Francis, with Eric Gagne and Jesse Crain available to close things out. The lineup can be built around Larry Walker, Corey Koskie, Jason Bay, and Justin Morneau.

But the 800-pound gorilla is still the United States, which has plenty of stars and tons and tons of depth. Consider the following choices that the management of the US team will face:

Starting pitchers -- Who do you pick among Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, Kerry Wood, Curt Schilling, Jason Schmidt, John Smoltz, Roy Halladay, Tim Hudson, Roy Oswalt, Ben Sheets, and Mark Prior?

Relief pitchers -- Do you build a bullpen with proven closers like Billy Wagner, Trevor Hoffman, Jason Isringhausen, and Troy Percival? Or use the extra starting pitchers in relief?

Catcher -- Joe Mauer, Jason Varitek, or Mike Piazza?

First base -- Mark Teixeira, Richie Sexson, Mike Sweeney, Todd Helton, or Jim Thome?

Second base -- Jeff Kent, Orlando Hudson, or Mark Loretta?

Third base -- Chipper Jones, Scott Rolen, Troy Glaus, or Eric Chavez?

Shortstop -- Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra, or Michael Young

Outfield -- Barry Bonds, Jim Edmonds, Johnny Damon, Vernon Wells, Lance Berkman, JD Drew, Brian Giles, Gary Sheffield, or Garrett Anderson?

And you know what? I'm not even sure these are all of the legitimate candidates. All I did was skim through a list of American-born players and pick out the obvious candidates. No serious analysis went into these lists.

Because of the depth, especially the pitching depth, I'm convinced that the US would beat all comers in a 162-game season. But that's not how the World Baseball Classic will be contested. After six round-robin games reduce the field to a final four, the survivor will need to win a pair of single-elimination games to emerge on top.

And I, for one, would not bet against the Dominican Republic in a winner-take-all game with Pedro Martinez on the hill. If there's ever a game in which Pedro would leave everything on the field, risking the health of his shoulder if necessary, I believe this is it.

How offensive?

In May, it seemed as if every sports writer in the country took time out to write the same article. Scoring is way down. Homers are way down. The near-universal conclusion: the new steroid policy is clearly having an impact.

I was skeptical. It was awfully early in the season to be drawing conclusions about how 2005 would end up. And, to the extent that the changes were real, who's to say that the steroid policy is the only reason, or even the primary reason, for the change? And is it obvious that steroids help batters more than pitchers? Strikeouts are at historically high levels, too.

Baseball history is full of year-to-year fluctuations in offense. Some follow naturally from changes in the game or the player pool, such as new and altered parks, expansion, changes in the strike zone, the introduction of the lively ball, bigger gloves, and World War II.

But major changes in the game don't happen all that often, and there's no shortage of examples where offense rose or fell from one season to the next for no apparent reason. Presumably, the weather, injuries, and a natural ebb and flow in the balance between hitters and pitchers are all possible contributors.

Most of those articles cited four statistics. Not coincidentally, they're the ones in ESPN.com's Juice Box, which on a daily basis compares the following stats for 2005 to the previous three seasons:

          2002   2003   2004 
 HR/gm   1.043  1.071  1.123 
 R/gm    4.618  4.728  4.814 
 2B/gm   1.793  1.816  1.837 
 SPC      .417   .422   .428 

Before we get into the figures for 2005, let's take a moment to think about the past three years.

Baseball began testing for steroids in 2003. There were no individual penalties attached to positive tests that year, so perhaps nobody was deterred from using. Offense was up across the board, and after the season, the Commissioner's office announced that 5-7% of the players tested positive that year.

Because the number of positive tests was above the threshold in the collective bargaining agreement, the testing program was expanded for 2004 and players faced penalties for the first time. Many have said those penalties were so mild that they could not serve as a deterrent, and I wouldn't dispute that. Not enough tests, no public disclosure for first-time offenders, and small fines and short suspensions even for multiple offenses.

Interestingly, last winter baseball officials announced that positive tests dropped below the 2% mark in 2004. And that makes me wonder.

If the penalties were too mild to deter users, why did the number of positive tests drop so much?

If steroids are so tightly linked to offense, why did scoring increase in a year (2004) when positive tests were dramatically lower?

Furthermore, if only 2% of the players were using in 2004, how could 2005's increased penalties and public scrutiny cause such a large decrease in scoring? Is it really possible that a new regime aimed at 2% of the player population, only some of whom are hitters, could cause an 8% decrease in scoring?

Finally, can we trust those 5-7% and 2% figures? Was this an attempt by the Commissioner's office to shape public opinion by using some creative license in reporting the results of the testing program?

I don't know how to answer those questions, but I do know how to examine some of the other possible explanations for the change in scoring from 2004 to 2005.

One popular theory is that a cool and damp spring held scoring down this year. It's true. It was cooler this spring. Using data from STATS, Inc., I found that the average temperature in games through 5/15 dropped from 66.82 degrees to 65.15 from 2004 to 2005.

Ballpark changes are another factor. Toronto installed FieldTurf, a slower surface than the turf it replaced, and that tends to reduce scoring. In addition, the 2004 Expos left behind Olympic Stadium and Hiram Bithorn Stadium when they became the Nationals and moved into RFK Stadium. RFK has been one of the game's best parks for pitchers.

Another possible factor, albeit a minor one, is a spate of injuries to some of the game's best power hitters. Barry Bonds has yet to take his first swing. Jim Thome struggled with a bad back before landing on the disabled list. Frank Thomas and Dallas McPherson missed the first several weeks of the season. Vladimir Guerrero spent time on the DL. And I believe there were others that I can't recall at the moment.

None of those three factors is enough to explain the entire 8% decrease in scoring we were seeing through early May. But they can explain some of it. More importantly, is it really necessary to explain all of it? Or, to put it another way, is that 8% decrease real?

Let's run that chart again, this time adding three columns related to 2005. I'll show the current season numbers through 5/7, which is roughly when all those articles appeared. And I'll show the numbers for the period from 5/8 to 6/25:

                                ------- 2005 ------
            2002   2003   2004    5/7  Since  Total 
 HR/gm     1.043  1.071  1.123   .970  1.057  1.022 
 R/gm      4.618  4.728  4.814  4.575  4.664  4.629 
 2B/gm     1.793  1.816  1.837  1.770  1.856  1.822 
 SPC        .417   .422   .428   .409   .427   .420 

As you can see, doubles and homers per game are up since May 7, and slugging percentage has almost been on par with last year. Day by day, the year-to-date averages have been gaining ground on 2004. True, we're still not seeing as many runs as we did last year, but that's helped by a decrease in walk rates from 3.34 per game in 2004 to 3.15 this year.

To his credit, Tom Verducci took a more balanced view of the early-season trends in the May 30 issue of Sports Illustrated. He noted that offense tends to rise during the hot summer months and observed that "a deep group of young starting pitchers is entering its prime."

On the other hand, in an article that was supposedly "updated June 22nd", Joe Morgan of ESPN.com wrote:

"Power numbers are down ... At the current pace, about 700 fewer
home runs will be hit this season. That's a significant decrease.

A number of factors must be considered in analyzing this trend,
but make no mistake: The new drug-testing program has had an
effect on power numbers. There might not be any concrete or
scientific proof, but the testing is working to a degree."

Morgan's figure of 700 fewer home runs may have been accurate a few weeks earlier, but the gap had closed substantially since then. Maybe Morgan lifted this "fact" from Verducci's article, which put the number at 668 in late May, and didn't think to check if it was still true.

Where we end up at the end of the season is speculation. We don't know whether the first six weeks or the last seven will prove to be better predictors. But it would be nice to see the so-called experts hold off on their sweeping conclusions until the facts are in.

If our baseball experts are going to argue that the new steroid program is changing the game, perhaps they can start by explaining why scoring is higher in 2005 than it was in 2002, the last year when there was no steroid testing of any kind.

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