July Nationals Predictions

7/17-19 vs NYM –

Drew

Is there anyone who doesn’t love R.A. Dickey? Who wouldn’t love possibly the geekiest player in baseball (Paragraph 1 here).  The Met’s seem to have righted their ship and are on a tear through June.  They’ve put up enough offense recently to be spot on their PWP. That scares me.  I’m going to have to start buying the Mets as a serious contenders this year and they may bump the Nat’s out of first place by the end of this series.  Because of their recent success, I’m going to say the Nat’s go 1-2 in this series.

Maggie

The Mets are the Mets.  They’re a team that has never “scared” me the way that others have.  Any team with a mascot that’s just a dude wearing a giant baseball on his head cannot be scary.  The scariest part about the Mets is Dickey, who has really steamrolled everyone else this year with his awesome knuckler.  I’ll take the Nats 2-1…with the caveat of 1-2 if Dickey starts in this series.

7/20-22 vs ATL –

Drew

As I write this, the Bravos just won their second game of the season against the Nats. Their second game and it’s basically the All-Star break. It was also 110 today in Atlanta. For whatever reason, the Braves can’t seem to beat the Nationals.  That being said, the Braves are a very good team again this year. Their continued lack of success is rather inexplicable. However, I still think the Nats are going to beat the Braves 3 games to 1, even with the double header.

Maggie

Late July is hot in DC, and we’ve seen how the team has some issues dealing with the heat down in Atlanta this past weekend.  With a doubleheader on the 21st, and an Atlanta team coming back from the All Star break with renewed vigor, I can’t say anything more than a split series, 2-2.

 7/23-25 @ NYM –

Drew

See my previous paragraph about the Mets. It applies doubly now that the games will be played in NYC.  Mets take 2.

Maggie

Is July Mets month?  In any case, my feelings haven’t changed, and I will continue to give this team weary respect until they prove they don’t deserve it.  Nats drop 2, and fingers crossed they win a game for my birthday on the 23rd.

7/26-29 @ MIL-

Drew

I’m looking forward to these games, not the least of which is the fact that the last one takes place on my birthday (I’ll be going to Phillies game the two days afterwards).  The Brewers are another cellar dweller from the NL central. Oddly enough, they lead the NL in K/9 but have a terrible BABIP (.319) which is a direct result of a terrible defense.  I’m not sure I can blame the defense for all of their woes but it doesn’t help.  Since I’m turning 30 and I believe the Nats are going to want to rebound after a tough series against the Mets, I’m going big with the sweep!

Maggie

I seriously have no idea bout the Brewers.  They’re sitting in the mediocre middle-lower half of the NL Central, and I’ve just got to hope that the Nats look to close out July on a strong note.  Nats take the series, 3-1.

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Yesterdays Perfect Game

As much as a like stats and baseball, I’m bothered by one thing. Everyone is talking about how Matt Cain’s perfect game is one of the top 5 games ever pitched. They’re referring to Bill Jame’s Game Score calculation which goes like this:

• Start with 50 points.
• Add one point for each out recorded, so three points for every complete inning pitched.
• Add two points for each inning completed after the fourth.
• Add one point for each strikeout.
• Subtract two points for each hit allowed.
• Subtract four points for each earned run allowed.
• Subtract two points for each unearned run allowed.
• Subtract one point for each walk.

Not a bad system but it seems a bit arbitrary. A perfect game nets a base 87 points (50+27+2*(innings 5,6,7,8,9))=87. After that, it’s all up to how many strikeouts a pitcher can get. Cain got fourteen so his total score is 101 (the highest on record is 105).

My issue is with the idea that we can take numbers like these and make definitive judgments without context. 101 tells how well the pitcher did.  But it doesn’t tell you anything about the game.  Was it played in a time when pitching was dominant? Was it in the playoffs? Did it feature historically great teams? Stripping numbers of context strips them of meaning. If everyone followed the numbers the baseball would be a pretty sterile game.  When we tell baseball stories, lead with numbers but always finish with expansive tales of homeruns hit, diving catches made, and bases stolen.  It’s as if we respect how ingrained numbers are to baseball but know the history and tradition of the game go beyond averages, counts, and metrics.

For my money, the best pitching performance only gets a game score of 94. According to the numbers, it’s not nearly as good as Matt Cain’s performance. It’s a perfect game so the difference is seven strikeouts. But my choice has two things going for it. First, it was played against a line up with multiple Hall of Famers. There may be future HoF’ers on the Astros but I kinda doubt it.  Better still, it was in the World Series.  It will be tough to top Don Larsen’s perfect game on October 8, 1956. Matt Cain has accomplished something that puts him in the record books.  But I wonder how many people will tell the story of this perfect game fifty years from now.

June Nationals Prediction

The First Ladies of Baseball and I continued our new tradition of monthly predictions of how the Nats will do. The lovely ladies got their half up while I was buy running the C&O canal (more on that later). Today, I’ll wrap things up.

Yankees (vs June 15-17)

Drew: This year’s Yankees don’t feel as imposing as say the Os or Marlins. But they should scare the pants off of Nationals fans. They’ve got top of the league offensive numbers and the only weakness of their pitching staff has been the long ball. With the Nats mediocre power, I’m not sure this series is going to go the Nat’s way. Those Damn Yankees wil probably take 2 of 3 from us.

Maggie: The Yankees are a team that scares me. It’s partly because they have such a history of winning, and partly because they are “the” New York team and seem to be able to buy players and wins. But this year they aren’t as dominant as they have been in the past, and considering the Nats are taking them on at home (in a region that has historic dislike of the Yankees due to divisional rivalry with O’s fans), I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and say the Nats take 2. (2-1)

Rays (vs June 19-21)

Drew: This series excites me. I like all the moves Joe Maddon has made and the team seems to be playing like they love the game. I can’t wait to see them play on the 20th. That being said, they Rays are playing like they belong atop the AL East. They’re pitching is almost as good as the Nats and their offense is performing just a bit better. I’m seeing the same thing as Maggie, with a mid-month slump and going 1-2 against the Rays.

Maggie: This is where I see the Nats slumping a bit. Mid June, about to head out on a long road trip, and playing a strong Tampa Bay team. If the Nats get one here, I’ll be happy, but I have a feeling all three games will be tough. (1-2)

Orioles (@ June 22-24)

Drew: The battle of the beltways didn’t end up the way I wanted it (or predicted it for that matter). Everything I said last time about the Os still holds true. They’re really much close to a .500 than a first place team. The Nat’s seem to have more offense now then they showed in the first series and will be getting some key players back. I’ve got a good feeling about this one I’m going to say 2-1 Nats get revenge.

Maggie: Who would have thought that both the Orioles and Nationals would still be kicking around at the top of their respective leagues two months in? In any case, I don’t think the Nats can count on them to slump after two months of consistent play, and considering that we only took one game at home, I’m guessing that there will be a sweep happening…but it will be the O’s fans breaking out the brooms. (0-3)

Rockies (@ June 25-28)

Drew: I’m going with Maggie on this one. The Rockies are terrible. Grade A bad. I really can’t see them taking a lot from the Nats. Most importantly, they just released Jamie Moyer so they don’t even have a feel good story. I’m going to be bold and predict a sweep here. Take that NL West.

Maggie: As Nats fans, I have a feeling this series will be our only real relief this month. The Rockies are sitting near the bottom of the AL West, and just ripe for the picking, if possible. But since the Nats are a team that hasn’t really been able to close out series this year, I think they win all but one (and likely lose either the first or last game). (3-1)

[For the last series of the month, see the first post where we discuss the Nats taking on the Braves].

Final Predicted Records for June (including July 1 game):
Drew: 17-11
Maggie: 15-13

May Nationals Predictions pt.2

I’m working with the First Ladies of Baseball to predict how the Nationals will do during May. Since today is the First of May, when you’re not engaged in other……activities(link NSFW), pop over to their site and read part one (pictures). Then come back and read part 2.

San Diego Padres – 5/14-15

Maggie:
This may be the series where the Padres fans get to see their team playing against Stephen Strasburg – too bad they won’t get to see it in Petco Park!  They’ve had a terrible start to their season, and based on the fact that DC has dominated them so far, I’m comfortable predicting a sweep.  Maggie says: 2-0.

Drew:
I’m really more interested in the fish tacos that are supposed to be coming to Nationals Stadium than I am in the Padres. The Padres look like the Pirates so far; pretty meh pitching and terrible hitting.  The Nats just took 2 of 3 from the Pads and didn’t need to rely on late inning theatrics to do so.  A sweep is totally reasonable and I’m calling for it.

Baltimore Orioles – 5/18-20Maggie:
This is one of the teams I’m fearing.  The O’s have been rebuilding the same way the Nats have, and that means they’re the same kind of threat to our team as we are to others.  I’ll be a little pessimistic here because I fear we’ll revert to losing, despite having this series at home.  Maggie predicts: 1-2.Drew:

I trust the Os less than I trust Congress to pass a budget on time.  Their off season moves didn’t weren’t huge and I honestly don’t think they added enough pieces to sustain their momentum long term. They’re playing pretty close to .500 ball with a Pythagorean winning record of 12-10 instead of  14-8. To me, they look like a lucky version of the Philthies.  That being said, much like the Philthies, they bring out the best in each other. I’m going to call for 2-1 series in the Nats favor.

Atlanta Braves – 5/25-27Maggie:
This is another team I fear, and perhaps more rightly.  This game will be IN Atlanta, against a team that has been quite strong in the NL East for a few years.  And they are the only NL East team that really chased the Nats in April.  But I like the starters that we’ll likely be putting up against them, so Maggie predicts: 2-1 (but very close).Drew:

Considering this series will likely have an impact on the playoffs, I’m excited to finally see the Bravos square off with the Nats.  The Braves have been playing well are tied with the Nats.  If the Philthies don’t make a serious charge midsummer, the Nats and Braves could be duking it out for a playoff berth.  This series is a coin flip for me.  I could see a sweep  for either team, but judging by the last season record  of 9-9 (with late season dominance) and the Nats’ improved pitching,  I’ll go with Maggie and say the Nats got 2-1.
Miami Marlins – 5/28-30

Maggie:
This is definitely my gut talking, but despite all their offseason changes, I can’t get behind the new-look Marlins.  They seem to me to be a team that was built desperately out of excellent spare parts that perhaps don’t all fit quite right together.  Despite playing in the new Miami stadium, Maggie says: 2-1.Drew:

Maggie hit the nail on the head.  The Marlins remind me of the 2011-2012 Philadelphia Eagles. The parts look good on paper but getting them to mesh on the field is a different story.  I see it happening sometime during this season, but not quite yet.  That being said, if the Nats can muster some offense (team BA of .226 vs the Marlins’ .225) I don’t see them having any problems with them sweeping the Marlins and heading into June on a high note.

Final Winning Prediction for May:
Maggie:    16-12

Drew:       16-12

Both: 30-20 through the season to that point.

Pythagorean Winning Percentage ( or Why the Nats Scare me)

Where's the ball
In my post last week about opening day, I mentioned the Nationals were playing at their Pythagorean Winning Percentage (PWP).  For those not familiar with the idea, it states that a team’s winning percentage is a function of runs/points scored and runs/points allowed. Truly earth shattering stuff I know.  For baseball, the function is generally given as:

(Runs Scored)^1.83
———————————————————
(Runs Scored)^1.83 + (Runs Allowed)^1.83
(Baseball-reference.com)

That gives you a winning percentage which can be compared with a team’s actual W/L record.  Teams that have a better W/L record than the formula predicts are considered lucky with opposite also holding true.

That’s why the Nat’s scare me.  Here are the PWPs for the NL through 8:00AM 22APR2012.

Team W L Runs Runs Allowed PWP Actuall WP Difference
NY Mets 8 6 53 62 0.429 0.571 0.143
Nationals 12 4 58 45 0.614 .750 0.136
LA Dodgers 12 3 68 46 0.672 0.800 0.128
Pirates 6 8 29 39 0.368 0.429 0.061
Rockies 7 7 68 76 0.449 0.500 0.051
Reds 6 9 49 65 0.367 0.400 0.033
Diamondbacks 7 8 58 66 0.441 0.467 0.026
Brewers 7 8 66 75 0.442 0.467 0.025
Braves 10 5 87 60 0.664 0.667 0.003
SF Giants 7 7 58 58 0.500 0.500 0.000
Philies 7 8 42 40 0.522 0.467 -0.056
Cardinals 10 5 77 45 0.728 0.667 -0.061
Marlins 7 8 57 53 0.533 0.467 -0.056
Cubs 4 11 56 77 0.358 0.267 -0.092
Padres 4 12 54 70 0.383 0.250 -0.133
Astros 5 10 59 61 0.485 0.333 -0.151

The Nats and Dodgers are way over performing their expected totals. I’ve got a feeling that Nats fans can expect to see some regression to their actual abilities here in the near future.  One thing to note is that the Nats have benefited from a somewhat soft schedule and will continue to do so.  To date, the Nats’ opponents have a record of 30-44.  And while it is still early, the Nats will play only 1 team currently above .500 (the Dodgers) through May.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m excited the Nats are performing well enough to be around .600.  Lord, I’d be so excited to have a 90 win team this year. But I’ve got a feeling you’ll seem me refer to them as the Natinals for a little while in May and maybe June.

-Drew

As the Season Opens

The Nationals finally opened the 2012 season at home. The stadium seemed to be more prepared for a game than it did against the Red Sox two weeks ago. The opening day crowd was dominated by Nats fans which is always nice.  The crowd on Friday largely stayed through the 9th which was especially encouraging.To call National’s Stadium a “lyrical bandbox” is a disservice to bandboxes everywhere.  I wish I could say the Nats have a stadium full of charm and character but it doesn’t. It is, however, excellently designed for one thing: watching baseball.  What it lacks in gourmet restaurants and other amusements, it makes up for with excellent views of the game (for those in doubt, see these photo albums all taken from the stands). While the pundits and developers debate the future of the area around the stadium, fans get to actually enjoy the game in an unadulterated fashion.

Beyond the excitement of drinking cheap beer (quality not cost), enjoying the spring weather, and avoiding work, what does one say about a 5% of a season? While the Nats are considered an up and coming team this year, how well they will do is unclear. As of today, they sit at 7-2. They’re playing at their Pythagorean winning %, which is encouraging but an 9 game sample is too small for judgments to be made. Our pitching has be enclose to if not completely dominant. Gio Gonzalez’s first home start showed as much promise as his debacle against the Cubs did doubt.  Strassburg has also been meeting expectations which warms any true Nats fan heart. On the offensive side, Michael Morse is being missed but the Nats continue to score enough to win. We’ve been getting production across the board with Bernadina and Espinosa being small outliers.  This series with the Reds has been a good one for Jayson Werth (6 for 14 with an excellent walk off single).  If he keeps this up, the fans may actually come to like him.

Yet, Nats fans are constantly looking over the shoulder, scared to be optimistic that this is year. Playing .500 baseball would be nice but the extra playoff spot has many of us hoping and wishing that the Nats can play beyond the end of September.  The Phillies and Braves haven’t fallen apart. More than likely they’ll be back on top by the end of May. The Mets are currently winning  but no one expects that to last. And then there is the question mark that is Miami.  Personally, this will be the year.  The Nats will break .500 for sure and, I believe, claim a playoff spot.  But then it’s still hard to have anything but hope when faced with 5% of the data.

Photos: Opening day, Friday the 13th

More on First Pitch Strikes

A couple of weeks ago I posted about plate discipline and in particular about taking strike one. I wanted the opportunity to look at the numbers in couple of other ways. I’m using the same data that I used for the last analysis.

Called First Strikes over the past 15 years

Per game, the average number of Called Strike Ones (CSOs) has risen slightly since 1997. In ’97, the average was around 19 CSOs per game and rose to 23-24 per game in 2011. At the same time, ERA (secondary axis) has dropped slightly as well (LG ERA came from baseball-reference). I haven’t tested the relationship here but it makes sense at as pitching became more dominant, batters may be more likely to get caught off guard on strike one.

CSOs Relationship to Offensive Outcomes

I wanted to look at how a player’s stats relate to taking strike one. The vast majority of ABs where the pitcher gets strike one usually end in the pitchers favor (see The Hardball Times for more info) but how does that impact a batter’s productivity.
Here’s the graph of wRAA and called strike ones over the 2011 season (min 200 PA as usual).

Despite the facts that the numbers say there’s a correlation (r= 0.371, p<.0001), I’m hard pressed to see it. The graph for wOBA looks much the same and has about the same correlation.

What impresses me is that taking strike one doesn’t appear to have any bearing on how well a player does. It certainly infuriates the fans but in terms of player value, it doesn’t appear to impact value.

One fact that I thought might be confounding this is the number of plate appearances a player has. It’s unfair to assume that a player with 250 PA has the same opportunity as players with 400+ to take strike one even if they’ve got close to the same wRAA. In order to adjust for that I ran the following regression:

wRAA=β1*Called Strike One + B2*PA

The results were pretty much what I expected. The estimate of  was -.0848 (p<.001) and the whole model had an r2 of .26.  Again, not a very strong indicator of any relationship between called strike one.  Using the same equation, I a slightly better relationship with strike outs (r2=.49).