Will the Braves Catch the Mets? Or, Time Series Analysis and the Pythagorean Wins Formula

January 30, 2007

As a Braves fan, I’m constantly having to remind myself that my team isn’t the reigning division champion (or the victim of a first-round playoff exit) going into the 2007 season. After many years of trying, the Mets finally caught us last season — only to see their hopes die at the hands of ex-Brave prospect Adam Wainwright. This author certainly appreciates the delicious irony in this, although it does not come close to making up for missing the playoffs.

A face Mets fans wish they'd never seen Still, the question remains — how much distance separates the Braves and the Mets this year? Based on their 2006 performance, the Mets were 18 games better, a seemingly-insurmountable gap. Since the end of the season, both teams have primarily treaded water; the Braves upgraded their bullpen with Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano, while the Mets signed aging Atlanta-born slugger Moises Alou to shore up left field.

The best way to predict 2007 is to use a simulator that includes projected statistics and playing time for the rosters we expect all teams to use. However, that’s a huge pain, so I looked for a simpler way. Cheer up, Braves fans! The picture doesn’t seem as bleak anymore.

As I said before, the Braves were 18 games behind the Mets when the 2006 regular season came to a close. However, if we look at their Pythagorean records, the difference isn’t nearly as large.

Aside: a team’s Pythagorean record is based on a formula developed by Bill James, so named for the similarity in it he saw to Pythagoras’ method of calculating the length of the sides of right triangles. It uses the number of runs that a team both scores and allows to estimate how many games that team should have won. The formula makes sense: teams that on average outscore their opponents (as the Braves did in 2006) should win more than they lose. Sometimes this doesn’t happen; studies have shown that a poor bullpen (another feature of the 2006 Braves) is one of the main reasons why a team will win fewer games than James’ formula says they should.

Based on their 2006 Pythagorean records, the Mets only outperformed the Braves by 6 games (91 wins to 85). So that’s cause for optimism, right?

To answer that question, I dove into the data. Using Access and Excel, I calculated the actual and pythagorean winning percentages for every team in MLB since the 1947 season. I then calculated their winning percentage in the following season. Finally, I ran two regressions. The first explained year 1 winning percentage based on year 0’s actual winning percentage; the second explained year 1 winning percentage based on year 0’s pythagorean winning percentage. If my hypothesis  were correct, the second regression should explain more of the year-to-year variation in winning percentage than the first.

Happily for the Braves, this turns out to be the case.  Pythagorean win% in year 0 explains more of the variation (34.8% to 31.9%) and correlates better (59.0% to 56.6%) to year 1 win% than does actual year 0 win%.

Using the formula that Excel spits out, I calculated an expected winning percentage for the Braves and the Mets in 2007 based on their 2006 pythagorean winning percentages. It’s a very rough way of predicting the future,  and certainly doesn’t work in cases where teams changed significantly over the offseason, but is a good first step in making a prediction.

According to that formula, the Braves should win 84 games next year while the Mets should win 87.  I think this is about right; the Braves are entering 2007 as underdogs for the first time in a long while, but they’re not far off. Mets fans expect the gap to be as big as Mike Strahan’s teeth. They’re going to be sorely disappointed.


Back in the Saddle

December 18, 2006

My wife, daughter and I recently moved from the Washington DC area to my hometown of Atlanta, GA. Looks like I’ll be seeing the Braves in person a bit more this year! We moved the week after Thanksgiving and just recently got internet installed at our new house, which explains the delay in posting. Fear not, I should have a new article out later this week!

-the General

SI: Hanshin Accepts Igawa Bid

November 28, 2006

Kei Igawa, Hanshin Tigers LHSPAccording to Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated, Hanshin accepted a bid of $25 million for the posting rights to Kei Igawa. We should learn who the lucky winner was later today. Last month, I predicted a posting fee of $5-$10m for Igawa… yet another meal of ground glass to eat. Yum!

Here was my Kei Igawa 2007 MLB projection:

Kei Igawa 2007 Projection

ESPN: Soriano signs with Cubs for 8 years, $136 million

November 19, 2006

Alfonso SorianoWow. My guess of 6 years, $85 million seemed high to me at the time, and I was off by two years and $51 million in guaranteed money. Oops!

Good for you, Alfonso, good for you.

Reports: Cubs agree to $136M deal with Soriano

Free Agent Predictions Part 4: Corner Infielders

November 17, 2006

With Aramis Ramirez, Frank Thomas, and *cough* Sean Casey now off the market, most of the top corner infielders/DHs have already found homes for next season. However, there are still a few guys available who can help a team.

  • Nomar Garciaparra, 1B

Nice wife, NomahNomah had a nice little season last year, although he was unable to shake the “fragile” label he’s acquired of late and played just 122 games. When he played, he played well, posting an .870 OPS in the hitter-unfriendly confines of Chavez Ravine. You’d think the Dodgers would look elsewhere, considering the way James Loney played last year when Nomar was hurt, but they’re rumored to be the front-runners. Colletti will get a deal done this week for more money than you might expect: 3 years, $24 million guaranteed.

  • Aubrey Huff, “3B”

Despite the fact that he the hitter he replaced in Houston’s lineup was nearly his equal, Huff played fairly well. For 2006 as a whole, he overcame a very slow start to post numbers slightly below his career averages. 2002-2004 may never come back for Huff, but he can still kill right-handers and would be a wonderful platoon option at first base (where his glove won’t kill his value). If the Astros have really soured on Ensberg permanently, they might look to bring him back. The Padres, though, have no other in-house option and are looking to make moves this offseason. 4 years, $28 million seems steep, but they an afford it.

  • Shea Hillenbrand, 3B/1B

Hillenbrand is like the blue-light special version of Nomar; he doesn’t much care for the free pass either. However, he’s much more prone to striking out than is Nomar, and hits for a lower average as a result. Still, he’s durable and available, two qualities that will guarantee him a lot more money than he might otherwise deserve. The Giants, searching for a solution not named Pedro Feliz, are my pick: 3 years, $18 million with a 4th year that vests based on playing time.

  • Craig Wilson, 1B/RF

I swear this guy is actually a baseball player.Now that he’s finally escaped Pittsburgh, perhaps Craig can find a place where he can be handed a position and allowed to play it relatively free of interference. Although he’s played at least 115 games in four seasons, he’s never played the same position more than 89 times in the same year, a testament to how frequently the Pirates jerked him from position to position (as well as in and out of the lineup). Wilson’s best days are likely behind him, but he remains a career .265/.354/.480 hitter who will be just 30 next year. The Orioles could use Wilson either at first, in the outfield, or as a DH, and would be well-advised to sign him to a 2 year, $12 million deal, but will probably waste the rest of their budget on relief pitching instead.

  • Rich Aurilia, 3B

How did Rich Aurilia slug nearly .520 last year? Park illusion? Steroids? We may never know. Continuing the career resurgence he began in 2004 after nearly being bounced from the bigs for good, Aurilia crushed lefties to the tune of .347/.406/.680 last season. Don’t expect him to do that again, but do expect him to earn more than last year’s $1.3 million. He’s probably best utilized in a platoon arrangement, but unless he doesn’t get much of a raise he’ll be too expensive for his team not to play him every day. The Reds are probably the most likely destination; they’re familiar with him and will fondly remember his success last year. He’ll play all over the diamond for them and probably not be worth the 2 year, $9 million deal he will get.

See ya next week.

Free Agent Predictions Part 3: Middle Infielders & Catchers

November 16, 2006

This article wasn’t quite as fun to write as the previous two in this series. The markets for both middle infielders and catchers are both barren wastelands; if you look hard enough, you can actually see the tumbleweed. At least Mark DeRosa signed yesterday, so he doesn’t have to be included on this list.

  • Julio Lugo, SS

Julio Lugo on the mike

If you’re in the market for a shortstop, Lugo is basically the alpha and the omega of the market.  There are literally no other options available to teams, unless they are crazy enough to try Rich Aurilia or Nomar Garciaparra at shortstop again. Lugo was crushing the ball (to the tune of .308/.373/.498) in Tampa before the Dodgers traded for him. Once in LA, he fell off a cliff. His TB performance is probably an outlier, but he wasn’t as bad as he looked in LA either. The Red Sox are the richest team that need a shortstop; look for them to give Lugo 3 years, $21 million.

  • Ray Durham, 2B

Ray picked a great time to have a career year and demonstrate that even at 34 he still had plenty of gas left in the tank. Several teams could be in the market for his services: the Padres recently traded their starting 2B with no plausible backup in the system; the Blue Jays aren’t sure if Aaron Hill will stay at second; and the Reds are thinking about opening up second base by moving Brandon Phillips back to SS. Ultimately, he’ll probably end up back with the Giants (he’s young enough to be a batboy for that team) and get a 3 year, $20 million deal.

  • Mike Piazza, “C”/DH

The Padres must like Josh Bard, because they declined Piazza’s 2007 club option valued at $8 million, and they won’t be able to replace his production cheaper than that on the market. After a few mediocre years to finish his career as a Met, Piazza quietly put together a very nice season in cavernous Petco Park. The A’s could look his way now that Frank Thomas is rumored to have signed elsewhere. The Blue Jays might have been a decent fit, but after acquiring Thomas they now won’t be able to give Piazza extra ABs at DH. The Rangers look like the best fit; they’re a club that both needs a catcher and can offer Piazza some ABs as a DH. However, the Phillies and Brewers both need a catcher, and neither club has an in-house option as good as Gerald Laird. We’ll go out on a limb and predict the Phillies win the bidding with 2 years, $12 million.

  • Bengie Molina, C

Pass. Brewers, 1 year, $5 million.

  • Bargain Bin, 2B

There are tons of other options that teams who need a second-baseman can pursue. Mark Loretta has no power and can’t field much any more, but he can still hit .300. Adam Kennedy is neither the hitter nor fielder he once was. Ronnie Belliard is standing on the side of an interstate exit with a sign that says, “Will work for food”… and he means it. If your team signs one of these guys, our apologies in advance.

Still to come: corner infielders and relief pitchers. Stay tuned.

And the Winner is…

November 14, 2006

MoneyA few days ago, this blog took your predictions for who would win the rights to Daisuke Matsuzaka. As ESPN reported tonight, the Red Sox won his rights for a whopping $51.1 million. That means the winner of our contest was… no one! That’s right, no one predicted that the Red Sox would outbid everyone. The closest prediction in terms of dollars goes to “George Steinbrenner“, who “predicted” the Devil Rays would win the auction with a bid of $52,000,000.01. George, I’m not sure if you were serious, but that’s deadly accurate (sort of).

Good luck to the Red Sox; here’s hoping Matsuzaka is the ace that the Red Sox Nation will expect him to be.

Free Agent Predictions Part 2: Outfielders

November 14, 2006

Yesterday’s list looked at free agent starters. Today, we’ll focus on free agent outfielders. The pickings are slim, and some mediocre players who lucked into free agency this year are going to get very wealthy as a result. What’s the old maxim about rather being lucky than good? Anyway…

  • Alfonso Soriano, LF

Alfonso SorianoOne of the themes this blog will come back to over and over is how difficult predicting the future is. Soriano is a perfect example of this. When he was traded for a motley crew of Brad Wilkerson, Terrmel Sledge, and prospect Armando Galarraga (the Little Cat?), enlightened thinkers all decried the trade. Well, we were wrong, and now Soriano is the top outfielder on the market. The Mets covet his big bat, but may choose to spend their money on pitching instead, and would further block the path for prospect Lastings Milledge. The Angels are one of the front-runners; he fits in well with their hitting philosophy (he’s a mini-Vlad Guerrero), fills a need in the OF (assuming they’ve given up on expecting Garret Anderson to be any good), and would be a block-buster signing the front office could trumpet to Angels fans as evidence of their dedication to improve the franchise. The Phillies are another possibility, especially if they can unload Pat Burrell (a good hitter in theory who frustrates fans endlessly in practice and is an oaf on defense). In the end, I see the Angels winning the bid for 6 years, $85 million. Yowsas!

  • JD Drew, RF/CF

Opting out of his contract to become a free agent could turn out to be a lucrative move for David Jonathan Drew. While considered a rich deal at the time, 5 years, $55 million for a top free agent doesn’t cause anyone to bat an eye these days. It’s a foregone conclusion that he won’t re-sign with the Dodgers (indeed, one reason he reportedly opted out was due to his not liking the city), but there should be plenty of other suitors for the OBP machine. Expect the Red Sox to take the lead here, especially if they’re also negotiating with Scott Boras (Drew’s agent) over Daisuke Matsuzaka’s contract. When all is said and done, injury concerns take a back seat to what the guy can do when he’s healthy. Don’t be surprised to see him get at least 13 million per season (otherwise, why opt out?); 4 years, $56 million seems like a good bet.

  • Carlos Lee, LF

Okay, so El Caballo is rapidly turning into El Caballo Gordo. Lee still swings a big bat, even if he’s prone to streakiness, and other than Soriano has the best combination of power and youth on the market. He’ll get a look from the losers of the Soriano derby, but will probably end up an Astro. Will he get the 5 year, $65 million deal he wants? The Magic 8-Ball says: “All signs point to yes.”

  • Barry Bonds, LF/DH

Barry “Paula Abdul” BondsLet’s see: everyone in the country outside of San Francisco hates this guy. That said, he can still hit (when he plays). A move to the AL so that he could DH makes sense, but he’s almost too radioactive for an AL team to sign. A last hurrah with the Giants to break the home run record for about $12 million seems about right, but more years wouldn’t be all that surprising. By the way, how ridiculous is that picture? The chances that he never used steroids are even lower than the chances the guys in Lost have of ever getting off that stupid island.

  • Moises Alou, RF/DH

Moises keeps getting older and keeps putting up numbers, even if he is having trouble staying on the field at times. (By the way, how amazing is it to think that in some games last year, Alou was the youngest outfielder in the Giants’ line-up?) Not an untouchable like his former teammate Bonds, Alou probably will end up in the AL where he can DH, especially since the Giants fired his dad. He’s perfect for Baltimore, who will react with shock and awe when he misses three weeks with a hamstring injury after signing him to a two year, $14 million contract.

More tomorrow. Don’t be a stranger now…

Free Agent Predictions Part 1: Starting Pitchers

November 13, 2006

The GM meetings in Naples, Florida act as the “opening bell” of the free agent market and serve as an appropriate time to take a survey of the landscape. SGR favorite Daisuke Matsuzaka’s MLB suitor should be announced tonight; all signs point to the Red Sox winning his posting rights for upwards of $30 million. Over the weekend, Aramis Ramirez re-signed with his old team, the Cubs, putting more pressure on GMs looking to upgrade their clubs to act aggressively and decisively. Before anything else can happen, let’s take a quick look at the top free agents and try to guess where they’ll end up (and for how much).

  •  Daisuke Matsuzaka

We consider Matsuzaka to be the top free agent on the market, even if he isn’t technically a free agent. His combination of stuff, statistical profile, and age is unrivaled in this market (and indeed most markets). The media consensus at this point has him landing with the Red Sox, but for how long and how much? If we take it as given that he signs with the Sox (and doesn’t return to Japan), that implies the Red Sox will expect to amortize the posting fee they pay over as many years as possible. That doesn’t mean he has to sign a six-year contract, though; even if Matsuzaka goes into arbitration after a 3-year or 4-year deal, he’ll still have the profile of a top starter (unless something goes drastically wrong) and can count on a big arb award or a contract extension. A contract of 4 years, $40 million would both make Matsuzaka happy and give the Sox a young ace for the foreseeable future.

  • Barry Zito 

Yet another Scott Boras guy, Zito lucked out by reaching free agency this year; in previous years, he’d be nowhere near the cream of the crop. Boras has a busy couple months ahead of him — in between negotiating with the Sox, he’ll play Matsuzaka’s spurned suitors off one another and exploit their desire for a rotation-heading starter. The Mets, despite their gaping hole at the front of the rotation, probably won’t be a big player here. Signing Zito now would be a tacit admission that he could have helped the club last summer, especially if and when they start dealing potential trade chips Lastings Milledge and Aaron Heilman. The Rangers, Yankees, and Dodgers will probably end up as the front-runners, and it’s hard to bet against a $200 million payroll. The Yankees are the pick, for 5 years, $70 million. 

  • Jason Schmidt

Schmidt has had an interesting career arc. When he joined the Giants at age 28, he had the reputation of a talented but inconsistent starter who didn’t live up to his potential. He immediately became a well-above average starter, including a dominant 2003 in which he finished second in the Cy Young voting. Schmidt turns 34 in a few months and is in the twilight of his career. He still throws hard, but doesn’t have the dominant fastball he once did, and relies more on his offspeed pitches. He reportedly wants to return to his roots in the pacific northwest, which makes him a good bet to join the Mariners for a 4 year, $50 million deal.

  • Roger Clemens

Easily the best bet of this bunch for 2007, Roger ranks this low because of how unlikely he is to pitch in 2008 and beyond. It’s tough to argue with his success in Houston the past three years. A Cy Young at 41? A 1.87 ERA at 42? Three consecutive years below his career ERA, all after age 40? He’s an amazing athlete and perhaps the best pitcher in history. A last hurrah in Houston with pal Andy Pettite, perhaps? There are 15 million reasons why it might happen in a one year deal.

  • Mike Mussina

Friend of SGR David Buckley proclaims that Mussina’s treachery has cursed the Yankees and doubts they will win another World Series until he’s gone. In that case, Yankee haters, rejoice! The Moose is coming back to New York, where he’ll try to improve his Hall of Fame case during a two year, $25 million deal.

  • Andy Pettite

He says he’s done, but don’t believe it. The Rocket will convince him to come back to Houston (but the two years, $20 million he’ll get won’t hurt either). Hey, if you were Andy Pettite and saw Jeff Suppan sign a long-term, big-dollar deal, wouldn’t professional pride compel you to keep going out there?

That’s all for now. Agree? Disagree? Other thoughts? Leave ’em in the comments.

Matsuzaka Rumors

November 10, 2006

While we’re all waiting for Seibu to decide whether or not they accept the highest bid forMatsuzaka, let’s engage in a little rumor-mongering.

Wow. Olney, citing “officials monitoring the bidding”, says the Sox “may” have offered between $38 million and $45 million for his rights. That would be higher than every prediction in our contest except those of Steinbrenner and Dr. Evil (no commentary on the seriousness of their predictions).

It’s impossible to not enjoy all the hedging in these rumors-made-stories. In other news, Angelina Jolie “may” leave Brad Pitt to hang out with this author. It’s possible! The rumor the ST has says the Rangers may have offered “close to $30 million.”

Kei Igawa was either posted today or will be posted shortly. Bids should be due next week.