DMB News October 2005
Diamond Mind Email Newsletter
October 27 , 2005
Written by Tom Tippett
Welcome to the fourth 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:
2005 Season Disk
2006 Bill James Handbook
Updated 1975 Classic Past Season now shipping
DMB in the Philadelphia Daily News
DMB on ESPN.com
New web site articles
That's poker…and baseball
Although a majority of our customers now order their Diamond Mind products through our web store, a good number prefer to order by mail.
So we've begun sending our annual October mailing to registered owners of Diamond Mind Baseball. That mailing includes an updated order form that includes the 2005 Season Disk and the 2006 Bill James Handbook.To order by mail without waiting for your letter, you can print an order form via the "How to Order" page of our web site.
Work is underway on the 2005 Season Disk, which will begin shipping on December 14th, and we are now taking advance orders.
As usual, you'll receive a ton of information with this season disk, including everything you need to start playing games immediately upon installation:
- full rosters with every player who appeared in the big leagues
- official batting, pitching and fielding statistics, including left/right splits for all batters and pitchers and modern statistics such as inherited runners, holds, blown saves, pickoffs, stolen bases versus pitchers and catchers, and in-play batting averages
- games started by position versus left- and right-handed pitchers
- updated park factors
- a full set of real-life transactions and game-by-game lineups for season replays
- two schedules, the original (as-scheduled) schedule and another (as-played) reflecting rainouts and other rescheduled games.
- real-life salaries for all players
- complete manager profiles for all teamsYou can place a credit card order now through our web store (follow the link from www.diamond-mind.com) or by calling us at 800-400-4803 during business hours (9-5 Pacific time, Mon-Fri).
Since 1990, the annual Bill James Handbooks have formed the backbone of our baseball library. For a complete, well-organized reference that includes every active player, you won't find a better book.
You can order the paperback edition from Diamond Mind for only $17.95, a 10% discount off the cover price. The spiral-bound edition, which lies flat on your desk, is $21.95, a 12% discount off the cover price. Both editions will begin shipping the week of November 7th.
Among the many great features of the Bill James Handbook are:
- career registers for every active player, including minor-league stats for players with little big-league experience
- complete fielding statistics for every player
- expanded pitcher stats include hitting, fielding, and holding runners
- park factors and rankings
- left/right splits for all batters and pitchers
- conventional and sabermetric leader boards
- team standings, augmented by many team performance splits
- team rankings for batting, pitching and fieldingNOTE: Because of the added weight, first-class and air mail shipping rates are not available for orders including this book. Priority Mail and Overnight shipping rates are available.
The 1975 Classic Past Season now includes real-life transactions and game-by-game starting lineups. This season can be purchased for $19.95 each. Registered owners of the previous editions can upgrade for $5, and free upgrades are available on request to anyone who bought this season in the past six months. This brings to nine the number of Classic seasons that now have transactions and lineups.
The Tuesday, October 4, edition of the Philadelphia Daily News included a brief story about the outcome of a hypothetical playoff game between the Astros and Phillies.
As you know, the NL wild card race came down to the final day, with Philadelphia trailing Houston by one game. Both teams won on Sunday, putting the Astros into the postseason tournament, but Philly fans wondered what might have happened if Sunday had gone their way.
We were happy to help, so we rated the players based on their 2005 stats and played the game one time. Philadelphia won 5-2, and while we all know that playing a game once doesn't prove which team is better, it's often more interesting to play the game once and report the boxscore and game log than it is to play the game a thousand times and report that team A won 551 of those games. Besides, the real-life playoff, had it been needed, would have been played only once.
Here's the link to the Daily News story ...
To view the story on the Daily News site, you may be asked to register with them. It's free, but it will take a couple of minutes to enter your name and address.
ESPN.com's World Series coverage included simulation results from Diamond Mind. We simulated the series 100 times, tallied the number of wins for each team, and providing ESPN with stats, boxscores, and play-by-play accounts of the most representative of those simulation runs.
We recently posted our annual ranking of the pre-season predictions and the stats of players who made their debuts in 2005.
For the past two years, the airwaves have been flooded with poker events and ads for online poker sites.
If you've watched any of those shows, you've undoubtedly heard that "all you can do is get your money in the pot with the best hand".
These words are usually spoken when a player makes a big bet when he has the advantage but loses the hand when his opponent catches a killer card at the end. They serve as a reminder that luck plays a major role in most poker hands.
The big bet wasn't a mistake at the time it was made, even if the hand is ultimately lost. If you can get the odds in your favor, and do so over and over again, you'll make a lot of money in the long run. As a result, in the long run -- when you've played thousands and thousands of hands, more than enough to even out all of the luck -- poker becomes a game of skill.
The most popular form of poker these days is no-limit Texas Hold'em. In Hold'em, the first round of betting is based on two hole cards that are dealt face down to each player. Then five community cards, which are shared by all of the players, are placed face up in the middle of the table. Not all at once, though. Three of them come first (the "flop"), then a fourth (the "turn") and finally the fifth (the "river"), with a round of betting after each of these three phases.
Because any player can bet any amount at any time, no-limit Hold'em is an aggressive game. Even if you don't have the best cards, a huge bet can win the pot by scaring all of the other players into folding their hands. Sometimes you'll see a player bet all of his chips. That's called "going all in".
If more than one player stays in the pot until all the cards are dealt, the winner is the player who makes the best poker hand using any five cards from his hole cards and the community cards. But there's no guarantee that the player with the best hole cards will win the pot.
Let's suppose someone raises the pot in front of me, indicating that they have a strong hand. And let's suppose I have a pair of aces, the best possible starting hand, and I decide to go all in, hoping the other player will call and give me a chance to win even more chips.
And let's assume that my opponent has the ace-king of spades. I got all my chips into the pot with the best hand, so I'm happy. But I can still lose the hand. If the community cards include three spades, his flush beats me. If a ten-jack-queen appears, his ace-high straight beats me. If two kings appear, his three-of-a-kind beats my two pair.
The odds are in my favor, of course. According to the poker odds calculator on cardplayer.com, my aces should win 88% of the time. But one out of every nine times I'm in this situation, I'm going to lose.
Even if I lose, however, it was not a mistake to bet all of my chips. The only way to win is to find situations where you're better off and push them really hard. If the poker gods aren't smiling on me today, so be it. Eight out of every nine times, I'm coming out ahead.
Many other all-in situations are less clear. Suppose I had a pair of eights instead of a pair of aces. I'm still ahead in the hand, since I have a pair and he doesn't. But there are many more ways he can beat me. In addition to hitting a straight or a flush, any ace or king gives him a higher pair. Now I'm only a favorite to win the hand 52% of the time.
In the long run, I still want to be all in with my eights against his ace-king. If we play this hand ten thousand times, I'm going to win 400 more times than I lose, and that's a very good way to make money.
In a single hand, however, it's almost a coin flip. There's a 48% chance I'm going to lose the hand.
If I do go all in, and I do lose all of my chips, does that mean I made a mistake? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on the situation.
If I'm a professional poker player in a cash game, and I have a large enough bankroll to guarantee that I'll be able to keep playing for a long time, I did not make a mistake. I got my money in with the best hand, and I can afford to keep playing hands like this, so I'll come out ahead in the long run.
If I'm in the late stages of a tournament, with only a handful of players left, and I'm sitting behind one of the smaller chip stacks at the table, I did not make a mistake. I need to make something happen before the antes eat up my remaining chips, and going all in with an edge can be the best way to get back in the game.
In the early stages of a tournament, when the antes are low and I have enough chips to stay at the table for a few hundred more hands, I probably did make a mistake. Why put my whole tournament at risk on a coin flip? Why not fold my hand and wait for a better opportunity?
In several ways, the decisions faced by baseball managers are similar to those faced by poker players:
1. Poker games and tournaments present you with a series of opportunities to make decisions. So do baseball games and baseball seasons.
2. Poker players must make decisions in the face of uncertainty. Unless the game is rigged, nobody can predict the next card.
Baseball managers face a different kind of uncertainty. They can pinch hit to create a favorable matchup, but there's still a significant chance the batter will make an out. They can call for a sacrifice bunt, but there's no guarantee the batter will get the bunt down.
(In this sense, baseball announcers mislead us when they talk about a chess match between opposing managers. Like a baseball manager, a chess player has to make a series of decisions, think ahead, and consider the moves his opponent might make. But there's no uncertainty in chess. If you elect to play your knight to a certain square, it's done. There's no chance that the knight will try to reach that square and wind up somewhere else. That's a big difference.)
3. Poker players and baseball managers are in it for the long haul. They expect to make many decisions in the course of each game. They expect to play a large number of games. Long-term success is based on their ability to create and exploit situations where the odds are in their favor. Most of the time, their edge is very small, but those small advantages add up over time.
Of course, very few baseball decisions are analogous to having pocket aces, where you're an 88% favorite to win. The vast majority of baseball situations are similar to my pair-of-eights example, where I was only a 52% favorite.
If I'm down by one in the bottom of the ninth and the inning starts with a leadoff single and a walk, should I bunt the runners to second and third? A successful bunt would raise the probability of scoring at least one run from about 65% to about 69%. All other things being equal, if I make this play 100 times, I'll tie the game four more times than I would have otherwise.
If I pinch hit for a weak-hitting catcher, I might increase my expected on-base percentage from .300 to .340. Put another way, I've decreased my chances of losing this battle from 70% to 66%.
If I decide to give a star player a day off every three weeks, I'm doing so in the belief that my chances to win the other 154 games are slightly improved by keeping him rested. This is a tough call to make and to evaluate, because there is very little difference in the probability of winning a game among (a) sitting out a star player, (b) playing him with extra rest, and (c) playing him without any rest.
Because these decisions involve very small changes in the likelihood of success, it's easy for managers to look bad. If you make a move that increases your chances of success from 52% to 56%, there are three possible outcomes. 52% of the time, you would have succeeded either way. 4% of the time, your move turned failure into success. And 44% of the time, you still won't get the result you were seeking.
In other words, you're subject to second-guessing 44% of the time, whether or not your move was the right one.
In this respect, poker players have a much easier time of it. When someone goes all in with the best hand and it doesn't work out, it's not his fault. After all, it's understood to be a game where chance plays a major role, and nobody can control what cards come next.
Poker players have a term for this. It's called a "bad beat". You made a good play and you lost anyway. Too bad. It happens to everyone. Don't even think about asking for sympathy.
Baseball managers rarely get credit for a bad beat. Sometimes you'll hear an astute commentator say that the manager did exactly the right thing and it just didn't work out.
But some people don't seem to understand that most managerial decisions are very close calls made in the face of a lot of uncertainty. In fact, they appear to think the exact opposite is true. They assume that the path not taken would have led to certain success.
If only they had held the runner at third. The next hitter was sure to drive him in.
If only they had used a different reliever. He would have gotten out of the jam.
If only they had made a defensive substitution. He definitely would have made that play cleanly.
Apply that kind of thinking to poker and you're guaranteed to develop bad habits and keep losing until you run out of money to lose.
If only I had called that raise. The next card surely would have been the eight I needed.
If only I had folded that hand. I just knew my opponent was going to catch the card he needed to make his flush. I could feel it.
You get the idea.
Second-guessing managers is a great sport. I do it all the time. But let's be fair. If a manager doesn't seem to grasp the probabilities, or if he makes a move that creates a small edge now but ties his hands for a more crucial situation later, he's fair game. But if a reasonable decision turns out badly, what can you say?
When faced with uncertain outcomes, sometimes you do the right thing and lose anyway. Sometimes you do the wrong thing and get away with it. That's poker. That's baseball. That's life.
DMB News July 2005
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
DMB News May 2005
May 13, 2005
Written by Tom Tippett
Welcome to the second 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.
Topics for this issue:
The April update to the 2005 Projection Disk was released on schedule a couple of months ago. It was sent automatically, and at no additional charge, to everyone who ordered the Projection Disk prior to that date. Projection disk orders received after that date will receive only the updated version of the disk. As has been the case in past years, this is our last update to the projection disk for 2005.
We're still working on the version 9b patch and hope to have it ready in a few weeks. As we get closer to that release, we'll keep you posted via our web site and the DMB forum.
In the last newsletter, we mentioned that we'd started work on an update to the All-time Greatest Players disk, but were undecided about whether to do a small update quickly or take more time to add a couple of hundred additional players. Since then, we've heard from a number of our customers, and their overwhelming preference was for the larger update. So that's what we're going to do.
As noted in February, we've been adding real-life transactions and game-by-game starting lineups to several of our Classic Past Seasons. Within the next few weeks, we plan to release updated editions of the 1934, 1946, 1954, 1955, 1965, 1966, and 1977 seasons. In most cases, the only new or revised content will be the transactions and lineups. In the coming weeks, check our web site for more information about the timing, content and price of these releases.
As you know, we put a lot of time and energy into the projected stats and ratings that appear in our annual Projection Disks. And we put a lot of time and energy into simulating the coming season and writing up our projected standings.
That process includes gathering predicted standings from other sources so we can assess our projections at the end of each season. At the moment, our database includes 61 predictions.
That number includes a few that aren't exactly predictions -- the previous year's final standings, the current year's spring training standings, rankings based on opening day payrolls, and standings derived from the Las Vegas over-under line. One entry is the consensus of several hundred SABR members who participated in their predictions poll. The rest are from individuals or publications.
Nine of the 61 include projected wins and losses for all 30 teams. Interestingly, only 2 of these 9 add up. There are 2,430 games on the schedule, so the wins in any set of projected standings should add up to 2,430. They do for ours and those in Baseball Prospectus Today, but the other five are off by as many as 55 games.
To be fair, two of these nine are over-under betting lines, and they have no obligation to make sure things add up. Their goal is to get equal amounts of money bet on both sides, and if bettors tend to be optimistic about their favorite teams, that would push over/under lines up by a few games.
Other publications don't have that excuse, however, and it's a little disappointing to see a major newspaper put forth projected standings that could never actually happen unless 55 games were magically added to the schedule.
If you read our projected standings article, you may recall that we projected many close races. Our projections are based on the average results from 100 simulated seasons, and it's unlikely that any one season would feature so much competition. Still, it does indicate a level of parity that we haven't seen in a while. (By the way, it came as a pleasant surprise when Tom Verducci mentioned our work while writing about parity in the April 11th edition of Sports Illustrated.)
As has become our custom, we'll come back to this topic after the season. When the final standings are known, we'll assign accuracy scores to all of the predictions in our database and rank them.
For 2005, however, that exercise may be less meaningful than usual. For example, our simulations had (a) New York and Boston within one game of each other, (b) a three-way tie for second in the AL Central, (c) all four AL West teams within five games of each other, and (d) four NL East teams within eight games.
Because so much can happen between now and October, we cannot say with confidence that New York will finish ahead of Boston, that Cleveland is the best bet to finish second in its division, that Oakland will win the West or that the Mets will finish fourth. All of these results are well within the margin of error for this type of exercise.
For example, if the real-life AL West finishes as follows ...
Los Angeles 87 75 .537 -
Seattle 83 79 .512 4
Oakland 81 81 .500 6
Texas 77 85 .475 10
... our accuracy score for that division won't be very good. And yet those standings would confirm much of what our simulations told us -- that the Angels aren't head and shoulders better than the others, that Seattle should bounce back in a big way, and that the Rangers probably can't replicate their success of a year ago.
Nevertheless, we've been using the same method to assess the accuracy of predictions since 1998, and we're not going to change just because we're projecting a lot of close races.
Getting back to the purpose of this article, it's always fun to see how our projections differ from others you might have seen, so let's take a stroll through the divisions and see how the baseball world looks to these experts.
For this discussion, I'll leave out the over/under lines, past standings, and salary ranks, focusing instead on the 56 predictions that represent the views of a publication, an individual, or the consensus of a group of individuals.
The vast majority see the Yankees finishing ahead of the Red Sox. All six of the Boston sportswriters picked New York. And of the 16 who put Boston first, 14 are from Baseball Prospectus. Other than BP, only Baseball America and the Dallas Morning News picked the Red Sox.
(By the way, the BP site has lots of predictions to choose from. One is from their PECOTA projection system. One is from Joe Sheehan's BP Today column. The others are from a poll of BP staffers. We included each staffer individually plus the group average.)
Everyone seems to think there's a great divide between the top and bottom of the AL East. Nobody had any of the remaining three teams cracking the top two. All but 8 had Baltimore third, with 7 of the others picking Toronto for that spot, and one lone voice (BP's James Click) going for Tampa Bay. Click was the only person to pick Baltimore for last place, but 11 expect Toronto to repeat in the cellar.
In the AL Central, only two forecasters have the current leader, the White Sox, winning the division. Six picked Cleveland, with the other 58 giving the nod to the Twins. Kansas City was a unanimous pick to finish last. Overall, these 56 predictions portend a Min-Cle-Chi-Det-KC finish. That's consistent with our simulations, though our results had the middle three bunched so closely together that the order of finish cannot be predicted with a high degree of confidence.
The AL West is the first division where the consensus differs from our simulation results. Just about everyone other than Diamond Mind and Baseball Prospectus picked the Angels to finish first. Keith Woolner of BP picked the Rangers (their only vote), while 13 went for Oakland. BP accounts for 10 of the 13 Oakland picks.
The collective wisdom of this group says the finish will be LA-Oak-Tex-Sea, which mirrors the 2004 finish. If we were being totally scientific, we'd have to say it's too close to call. But that wouldn't be any fun, so we'll stick with the simulation results, which were Oak-LA-Sea-Tex.
The NL East is like the AL West in three ways -- it was tightly bunched in our simulations, our simulations disagree with the consensus, and the consensus matches the 2004 final standings.
Of the 56 predictions, 29 picked Atlanta, 10 picked Florida, 4 took the Mets, and 13 the Phillies. There's a strong sabermetric bias here, as most of the Philly votes are from BP and Diamond Mind. Everyone has Washington in the basement. Even though Philly got more first-place votes than Florida, the group thinks Florida will finish second, with the Phillies third and the Mets fourth.
It's worth noting that although we're among those projecting a last-place finish for the Nationals, we have them being more competitive than most. They averaged 79 wins in our simulations. Among the other eight projections that included wins, the range was 66 to 74.
It's also worth noting that Florida is one of my sleeper picks. Although they finished third in our simulations, they were only seven games off the pace, and it's not hard to imagine them having a breakout season if their young pitchers can add consistency to the flashes of brilliance they've shown over the past two years.
The NL Central was the only division with a runaway winner in our simulations, with the Cardinals averaging 103 wins, the Cubs 83, and the other four clubs under the .500 mark. Others agree that it's a two-team race, as all 56 picked St. Louis or Chicago to win the division, and only a few intrepid souls picked Houston to finish second. But 14 picked the Cubs to win the division, so it's clear that not everyone see this is a walk in the park for the Cards.
The bottom end of the division is a little more interesting. There appears to be broad agreement on the Pirates, with all but two predictions putting them last or second-last. But the Brewers were picked to finish anywhere from 3rd to 6th. All of the third-place votes came from the BP crew, but 30% picked them fourth, and most of those picks were from outside the BP family.
The consensus nearly matched the Diamond Mind simulations. We agree on the first four places (StL-Chi-Hou-Cin), but we've got Pittsburgh two games ahead of Milwaukee, while the consensus has the Brewers in fifth. I can't say that I have a lot of faith in this aspect of our results, mainly because a two-game spread is too small to be meaningful. I won't be the least bit surprised if Pittsburgh finishes in last place.
The NL West shows the biggest gap between the average prediction and our simulation results. Our results were LA-SF-SD-Col-Ari, while the 56 predictions netted out to SD-SF-LA-Ari-Col.
I'm not entirely sure why, but I have more confidence in our NL West results than for some of the other tightly-contested divisions. I'm not yet sold on the Padres, and we may have given Barry Bonds too much playing time in our simulations, though only time will tell on that front. All I know is that when the Dodgers popped out of our simulations as the front-runner, I didn't break out in a sweat.
The bottom of the NL West is another too-close-to-call situation, with only two games separating Colorado and Arizona. This one does make me nervous. I can't figure out what Colorado's management is trying to do, and I could easily see them finishing with the NL's worst record.
It's too early to know whether we'll continue to see the level of parity we saw in the simulations and the first three weeks of the 2005 season. If that keeps up, it'll make for a fascinating six months of baseball, with several multi-team division races and just about everyone having a shot at the wild card.
In the April 28 game between Oakland and Chicago, the White Sox were forced to start Joe Crede at shortstop and Chris Widger at third because of injuries to three infielders. A customer asked whether this would entitle Crede to be rated at short and, if so, what those ratings would be (assuming this was his only game at the position in 2005). Our general rule is to rate a player at any position where he starts at least one game. In this case, however, we're very likely to make an exception. Crede started at short because everyone else was hurt, not because his manager considered him a viable shortstop. In the nine years since Crede was drafted, he has never played a position other than third base. Not in the majors. Not even in the minors. One emergency start doesn't make him a shortstop.
This was also Widger's first game at third base and Jermaine Dye's first at short. (Dye played short in the bottom of the ninth after Crede was ejected.) Neither Widger nor Dye had previously played a single inning at those positions in the majors or the minors.
Because DMB gamers can use players out of position in an emergency, we already have this situation covered. As a result, we don't feel compelled to rate these three players at these positions. That could change as the season unfolds, so we won't make any final decisions until November.By the way, Crede was ejected for arguing what I felt was a very good call by the home plate umpire. On an inside curve, Crede flinched momentarily and then leaned forward and down to get his shoulder in front of the pitch. The ump ruled that Crede wasn't trying to get out of the way and refused to award him first base. I'd love to see this call made more often.
DMB News February 2005
February 24, 2005
Written by Tom Tippett
Welcome to the first 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.
Topic for this issue:
Last year, our projected team standings (produced using our 2004 Projection Disk) ranked 4th in accuracy out of the 48 predictions we culled from newspapers, magazines, and web sites. They also ranked 22nd out of 195 entries on Gerry Hamilton's Baseball Predictions web site. You can find the details at these locations:
We want to do even better in 2005, so we've made some improvements in our projection methodology. Among the improvements is the expanded use of A-ball stats in projecting the performance of top prospects who have yet to accumulate much playing time at AA and above.
We're right on track to begin shipping our 2005 Projection Disk on March 10th. It will include more than 1600 players and will be released in both version 8 and version 9 formats.
Anyone who buys the 2005 Projection Disk prior to March 31st will receive two editions of the disk -- the March 10th edition and a free update in early April that reflects the opening day rosters and events from the remainder of spring training. After March 31st, you'll receive only the April edition.
After the first disk is issued, we'll create a few new players if some long shots make the opening day rosters, and we'll update the rosters and manager profiles to reflect late player moves. But we don't plan to make any changes that would affect the performance of players included in the March edition.
Before the first edition is released, we'll post a new image for RFK Stadium and updated images for Dodger Stadium (where new seats have reduced foul territory) and the newly-renamed Rogers Centre in Toronto (where FieldTurf is being installed).
Don't forget to order your copy of the 2005 Bill James Handbook. The regular edition is only $17.95 and the convenient lays-flat-on-your-desk spiral-bound edition is just $22.95. Hardly a day goes by when we don't reach for the Handbook as part of our work.
Among the many great features of this book are career registers for every active player, including minor-league stats for players with little big-league experience; complete 2004 fielding statistics; expanded pitcher stats that include hitting, fielding, and holding runners; park factors and rankings; left/right splits for all batters and pitchers; conventional and sabermetric leader boards; team standings, augmented by many team performance splits; and team rankings for batting, pitching and fielding.
In the past, we have announced the availability of the new Projection Disk in a letter or postcard that was mailed to all registered owners of the game in the second half of February.
This year, we've already done two large mailings since October and are reaching more and more of you through this newsletter, our web site, and the online forum we launched a few months ago, so we're not going to do a special mailing for the Projection Disk.
We are taking advance orders for the Projection Disk, so when you're ready, you can order by phone (800-400-4803) or through our web store (www.diamond-mind.com). If you prefer to order by mail, you can visit our web site and print an order form that you can mail with your check.
We're working on a number of projects other than the Projection Disk, and while we're not ready to announce release dates for many of these items, we want to let you know where we're headed.
Regarding the game software itself, we're developing a 9b patch that will clean up some bugs that have been reported in recent months. If all goes well, it will be available by the end of April. As with all of our patches, it will be compatible with any seasons you're currently playing, so you'll be able to install it without skipping a beat.
We've begun working on an update to our All-time Greatest Players Disk. At a minimum, this update will add and modify a small number of players based on the 2003 and 2004 seasons. We're pondering the addition of a couple of hundred more historical players as well, but that decision has yet to be made. Obviously, if we go for the larger update, it will stretch out the schedule.
We have started to add real-life transactions and/or game-by-game lineups to some of our Classic Past Seasons. We'll have more on the seasons involved and the release dates in the coming weeks and months.
Finally, we're working on version 10 of the game, too. As most of you know, we don't talk about release dates and new features until we're ready to start field testing a new version, so we're not going to say any more about version 10 at this time. But we know from experience that if we don't mention it at all, a few people will leap to the conclusion that we're not working on it. We are.
OK, now that I have your attention, let me tell you what this essay is really about. We'll get back to those 306 players in a moment.
It has been my contention for many years that the level of talent in the two leagues is about the same. AL and NL teams draft from the same pool of amateur players, compete for the same international players, and trade freely. Players switch leagues through waiver claims and free agency. The system allows for, even encourages, the flow of talent between leagues.
That's why I often chuckle when I hear baseball commentators and writers go on about how the leagues are so different. They'll say that one is a fastball league and the other is an off-speed league or that the AL parks are smaller.
I suspect that many of these so-called experts fail to see how the DH rule affects the stats compiled by a league's players. Fact is, when you take out the hitting stats for pitchers and designated hitters, the two leagues look pretty similar. From time to time, I've run the numbers for large groups of seasons, and it's not an exaggeration to say that the adjusted league rates are essentially identical. Dave Smith of Retrosheet did the same thing, reaching the same conclusion.
In any single season, of course, there's room for variation, random or otherwise, so the adjusted totals are not always an exact match. In 2004, for example, the league rates without pitcher hitting and designated hitters were as follows, expressed on a per-1000-plate-appearance basis:
Hits 244 241
Doubles 48 49
Triples 5 5
Homers 29 30
Hit batsmen 10 10
Unintentional walks 78 82
H + HBP + UW 332 333
Strikeouts 162 165
Sacrifice bunts 6 6
Sacrifice flies 7 7
Not much difference, is there? In fact, intentional walks are the only major source of differences in the league rates. We can remove pitcher hitting from the totals, but we're left with the effect of walking #8 hitters to get to those pitchers. That's why intentional walks are excluded from the walk totals and plate appearances in this table.
Of course, similar league rates don't guarantee that talent levels are the same. For instance, if one league has more than its share of star players but that extra talent is evenly divided between pitchers and hitters, the league totals wouldn't be affected too much. Another possibility is that a league's surplus of hitters could be offset by a collection of parks that favor pitchers.
Still, the fact that the adjusted league averages have been very similar for the last thirty years lends weight to the argument that the leagues are far more alike than different, especially when you combine that with the knowledge that baseball has long operated with rules that facilitate the distribution of talent.
But isn't it possible for the talent base to shift for a period of time even in a system that tends to push things toward an equilibrium state in the long run?
During the winter between the 2003 and 2004 seasons, for example, more star players moved from the NL to the AL . Vladimir Guerrero, Curt Schilling, Javier Vazquez, Jose Guillen, Javy Lopez, Ivan Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, and Kevin Brown joined AL teams via trade or free agency that winter. Other players headed to the NL, but they weren't as good as this group.
Money had something to do with that, of course. The arms race between New York and Boston pushed the payrolls for those AL East rivals to unprecedented levels, and the new owner in Anaheim wasn't shy about bidding for top free agents.
For years I've wanted to examine the off-season movement of players a little more systematically, and I finally got around to it this month. To that end, I generated a list of players who spent at least part of the 2004 season in one league but are now heading to spring training with a team in the other league. (Team affiliations are based on rosters from our Projection Disk as of February 15th.)
This list includes players who changed leagues during the 2004 season, so it's not just a look at off-season player movement. Carlos Beltran was in the AL for half the 2004 season, so he's on the list. Same with Nomar Garciaparra.
It turns out that 306 players fit this pattern. That's where I got the headline proclaiming a massive multi-player trade, as if the leagues were just two teams swapping players.
The players now in the AL racked up 15,065 plate appearances in the 2004 NL, while those on the spring rosters of NL teams stepped to the plate 13,279 times in the 2004 AL season. That adds up to about 15% of total playing time. Meanwhile, the league-changing pitchers account for about 14% of the innings thrown in 2004. That's a significant amount of player movement.
But this is clearly a case where quality is more important than quantity. We expect fringe players to move from organization to organization, looking for their next opportunity to play a utility role or fill out a bullpen. What about the really good players?
Before we start looking at individuals, we can get a sense for the overall quality of the players moving from league to league by adding up their 2004 stats.
Players now on AL rosters posted a .260 batting average with NL teams in 2004, reaching base at a .318 clip and slugging .398. All of those figures are below the league averages, indicating that many of these transients are indeed fringe players.
Players now on NL rosters fared slightly better in their 2004 AL appearances, hitting .257 with a .327 on-base average and a .404 slugging percentage. That's not a big edge, to be sure, but if the 2004 stats are any indication, a little more talent flowed in the NL direction this winter.
It's harder to compare pitchers because of the DH rule, but it seems as if the AL gets the edge in newly-acquired pitching talent. Pitchers in camp with AL teams posted a 4.29 ERA in the NL last year, while those moving in the other direction allowed 4.89 earned runs per nine innings.
Furthermore, the group of pitchers moving to the AL allowed a batting average of .259 and a slugging average of .421, while those joining the NL were at .282 and .449, respectively. That's a big difference, bigger than the DH can explain.
Moving on, let's see how things look when we identify some of the top players who changed leagues.
The ten hitters now on AL rosters who had the most plate appearances in the NL last year are Scott Podsednik (now with Chicago), Steve Finley (Ana), Jason Kendall (Oak), Adrian Beltre (Sea), Edgar Renteria (Bos), Tony Womack (NY), Shea Hillenbrand (Tor), Danny Bautista (TB), Richard Hidalgo (Tex), and Sammy Sosa (Bal).
The plate appearance leaders who moved in the other direction were Matt Lawton (Pit), Carlos Lee (Mil), Omar Vizquel (SF), David Eckstein (StL), Jose Cruz (Ari), Cristian Guzman (Was), Jose Guillen (Was), Carlos Delgado (Flo), Joe Randa (Cin), and Jose Valentin (LA).
The players moving to the AL hit 24 homers per 1000 PA with NL teams last year, while the new NL players hit 25 per 1000 PA in the AL in 2004. The most notable moves to the AL are Beltre (48 HR), Finley (36), Sosa (35), Hidalgo (25), and Keith Ginter (19). The NL gained Delgado (32), Lee (31), Valentin (30), Guillen (27), and Cruz (21).
Scott Podsednik takes his 70 steals to the AL . Of the others, only Womack (26) and Lawton (23) swiped more than 20 bases in their former league.
Five players with 90+ RBI call a new league home this year, with three of them joining the NL and two the AL . Beltre takes his 121 ribbies to Seattle and Finley his 94 to Anaheim , while Guillen (104, Was), Delgado (99, Flo), and Lee (99, Mil) head the other way.
Looking over the totals for league-changing hitters, I don't see much of a shift in other batting categories. The new NL players have a slight edge in doubles and unintentional walks per 1000 PA, and they grounded into double plays about 10% less often. Except for Podsednik, the stolen base and caught stealing totals are similar.
The AL pitchers who threw the most innings in the NL last year are Randy Johnson (NY), Carl Pavano (NY), David Wells (Bos), Jaret Wright (NY), Matt Clement (Bos), Jose Lima (KC), Casey Fossum (TB), Kevin Millwood (Cle), Dustin Hermansen (Chi), and Paul Byrd (Ana).
The innings-leaders among pitchers who no longer have to face the DH are Mark Mulder (SL), Pedro Martinez (NY), Javier Vazquez (Ari), Mark Redman (Pit), Tim Hudson (Atl), Darryl May (SD), Esteban Loaiza (Was), Derek Lowe (LA), Jon Lieber (Phi), Ramon Ortiz (Cin), and Victor Zambrano (NY).
It's hard to say which league gained more front-line talent because there are question marks about a lot of these guys. Johnson and Martinez are studs, obviously, but one is getting up in years and the other has had to baby his shoulder for several seasons. The AL newcomers must prove that they can handle DH lineups. Meanwhile, Mulder had a horrible second half, Hudson 's strikeout rate was way down, and Lowe is coming off a poor season.
A few more quality starts landed in the AL , with the leaders being the three new Yankees -- Johnson (26), Pavano (23), and Wright (22). Next on the list, with 18 each, are Boston 's duo of Clement and Wells. The leaders among new NL pitchers are Pedro (22), Mulder (18), Lieber (16), Redman (16), and Vazquez (16).
If Holds are any guide, AL teams gained some ground in middle relief. Five pitchers now in the AL had at least 16 NL holds last year. Mike Stanton (NY) leads this list with 25, followed by Luis Vizcaino (Chi, 21), Felix Rodriguez (NY, 20), Kyle Farnsworth (Det, 18), and Steve Kline (Bal, 16). Only one pitcher, Jim Mecir (Flo, 21), who is now in the NL had more than 10 AL holds last year.
Overall, the win-loss record of the new NL pitchers was 174-175 in the AL last year, while those moving to the AL were 172-203 in the NL in 2004. A total of 44 saves (mostly Hermansen and Octavio Dotel) moved to the AL , with only 19 going the other way. Thanks to Mulder, Lowe and Hudson, the GDP rate for the new NL pitchers is much higher. The pitchers moving to the AL had higher strikeout rates, but they walked 8% more hitters, too. And a quick look at pickoffs and opposition stolen bases shows that the new NL pitchers are quite a bit better at shutting down the running game.
I had a lot of fun compiling and reviewing these numbers, but I'm quite aware of their limitations. More than the 2004 stats, what matters is how these players will perform for their 2005 teams. I thought about ranking these players based on projected 2005 stats, but that would have told us less about how these players impacted their former leagues in 2004. Some combination of 2004 stats and 2005 projections might be the best way to assess talent migration.
In any case, we'll be back next month with our annual projections article, the one where we simulate the season many times, average the results, present projected team standings for the 2005 season, and comment on the outlook for every team.
In that article, we'll talk about the impact of these league-changing players at the team level, and we'll tell you how these players performed in our simulations. Of course, by then many of you will already have our 2005 Projection Disk, so you'll be able to see those projections for yourself and play out your own seasons.