Tag Archives: Baseball

Smart Baseball (Keith Law)

I regularly read the writing of Keith Law. He has a blog, works as a senior baseball writer for ESPN, and he writes game reviews for Paste magazine. We agree on many things related to baseball (1), games, and science. When he announced last year that he was writing a book focused on baseball statistics and analysis, I knew I would be reading it. At the beginning of the summer I picked up a copy of Smart Baseball.

The book was a delight to read. Admittedly I didn’t get this book to be converted to a new way of thinking about baseball–it was preaching to the choir. I am in the new analytics camp when it comes to baseball, so none of the information was disturbing or startling. It has been a slow change for me, a conversation here and an article there. In 2005 I endorsed many more bunts than I do today (today I value the bunt for attempting to get a hit in some scenarios, but almost never to advance a runner at the cost of an out). In 2007 I valued pitcher wins and saves far more than I do now. In 2010 I would have preferred to see batting average to on-base percentage, but now things have changed. My baseball appreciation continues to grow, and I enjoy thinking about strategy and analysis (2).

Highlights of the book include a discussion on how the save rule results in the reduction of value of players in the closer role, detailing expected runs in relation to bunting/stealing/walking, and the measure of prospects and defensive performance.

In the last section of the book Law taps in to his experiences as an MLB front office statistical analyst and prospect scout to address how players are scouted and quantified. I really liked this glimpse into the front office world.

I think there are two primary groups of people who will appreciate Smart Baseball:

  1. The baseball fan. If you enjoy baseball this is a good book to read and savor. The mix of baseball talk, real-life examples for points, and clear presentation of logic (and logic breakdowns) is refreshing. I found myself reminiscing frequently when Law used a particular examples, many of which I had direct memories of or I had heard stories about. Even if you have a strong grasp of sabermetrics, this book is still an entertaining read.
  2. The thinker/statistician. If you enjoy seeing how people embrace logical fallacies despite glaring evidence to change, then this is a worthwhile book. Law lays out the oldest and earliest numerical measures of performance in baseball, and in most cases, why they have limited value. It is a good reminder that metrics that fail to measure something meaningful can survive due to nostalgia of familiarity. It is also a good reminder that in the world of baseball experts, at one time the primary measures of a player’s value were based on luck and the performance of others (and many current “experts” continue to hold these views).

By the way, the title of the book comes from a hashtag Law created to showcase bad baseball decisions (#smrtbaseball), which is derived from this:

The alternative to smrt baseball is smart baseball.

Good stuff.

(1) The biggest baseball difference that we have relates to the designated hitter. Law does not believe pitchers should be hitting; he supports the National League adopting the designated hitter rule. I feel the designated hitter is an abomination. 

(2) I use baseball stats in my Experimental Techniques and Analysis class. One of the lab exercises involves determining which MLB metrics are the best predictors of team success. The first table In Chapter 1 of Smart Baseball, Law presents correlations of batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS with team runs per game. These data looked very familiar to me, because I have had my students figuring out these r values for the past few years. It’s a powerful lab exercise (especially for a baseball fan). 

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Summer Road Trip 2016: California, Oregon, and Washington

When Pam and I were discussing summer plans (long before the summer), we decided on a northwest road trip. The trip was designed to allow us to catch-up with family and friends, see part of the country we had not seen much of, and scout out places for longer vacation stays in the future. We elected to drive to San Francisco and stash our car, rent a car to drive north, then fly back to San Francisco to drive home. It was a vacation of planes, trains, and automobiles (you’ll see the train part soon).

Travel map

A rough outline of our road trip route.

Our first stop was in San Francisco to visit Chris, Esther, Liam, and Aleksey. We had a great time catching up with them and going to a Giants game. On Saturday we walked to McCovey Cove, played some baseball on the little field by AT&T Park, and Chris made some excellent pizza–a good day.

Baseball 2

Hanging out with the nephews by McCovey Cove.

From San Francisco we headed north. We spent one night at the Union Creek Resort. It’s a little collection of cabins, a lodge, a cafe, and an ice cream shop. In the past Zane Grey, Jack London, and Herbert Hoover have called this little place a favorite vacation spot. It was drizzly and overcast when we arrived. Despite the rain, we got in a short hike. After the hike we got very berry pie at Beckie’s Cafe, which could also be called very good pie.

Union Creek Resort

Our cabin in the woods at Union Creek Resort.

The next morning we went to Crater Lake National Park.

Crater Lake

Crater Lake is very blue.

We wanted to hike to a lookout post on a peak, but were rebuffed by snow. The drifts were impressive. It’s the first time I have seen snow drifts 8 ft tall in July.

Crater Lake 3

The peak we hoped to hike (note the structure at the top, our intended destination).

After Crater Lake we saw the Pumice Desert, Clearwater Falls, and Watson Falls. From there we went to Bend and had lunch at the Deschutes Brewery Public House. Then it was back on the road, bound for Beaverton. We had a couple days to catch-up with Andy, meet Miranda and James, and see Portland. I was thrilled to visit the Portland Rose Garden. The plant selection in Portland was great. I saw familiar and new faces, and almost everything was thriving–especially the roses (and some locals were apologizing for the roses, saying they weren’t looking up to standards).

We had some excellent Korean food, watched the All-Star game, went to McMenamins Edgefield Theater, saw the Columbia River Gorge, and visited two waterfalls.

Columbia River Gorge

The Columbia River Gorge on a cloudy afternoon.

Multnomah Falls 4

With Andy and Miranda at Multnomah Falls.

Our next destination was the Olympic Peninsula. We stopped briefly in Forks. I shared all my secondhand Twilight knowledge with Pam, then we read the wikipedia plot summaries.

Forks

In Forks.

We saw the biggest known sitka spruce in the world.

Sitka Spruce

The sitka spruce world co-champion. I am in the picture for scale.

We stopped to look out at the Pacific Ocean.

Olympic Peninsula

Looking at the Pacific Ocean.

We stayed in Sequim at the Red Caboose Getaway. The B&B rooms are restored caboose cars. The owner, Olaf, has carefully preserved many of the features of the cars, hid electrical and plumbing lines, and developed a charming operation.

Red Caboose Getaway

The Lavender Express at the Red Caboose Getaway.

As our journey continued we stopped to pick some lavender and see more plants.

Lavender Farm

U-Pick lavender at Purple Haze Lavender Farm.

We caught a ferry to get to Seattle, where we met up with Matt and Lauren.

Seattle 1

Headed toward Seattle on the ferry.

Over the next few days we had great food, saw a baseball game at Safeco Field, visited the Washington Park Arboretum, stopped by the UW Conibear Shellhouse, went to the Pikes Place Market, did the Seattle Underground tour, and had a great time.

Safeco Field 2

The view from our seats in Safeco Field (note the Space Needle left of center).

Our flight from SEA –> SFO was delayed due to high winds and fog at SFO. We got to our car a little after midnight, then did the overnight drive home (and back to work).

It was a great road trip. I’m looking forward to spending more time in the Pacific Northwest.

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Visiting Angel Stadium of Anaheim

Last Saturday was a good day. Pam returned from a trip, and I picked her up at LAX. Picking a loved one up at an airport is so much better than the drop off. Instead of returning home right away we went to Anaheim. We had a lunch and dinner hybrid at Tacos Y Pupusas. It was the first time I’ve had a pupusa (a specialty from El Salvador), which was a positive experience. My al pastor burrito was also very good.

After eating we walked to Angel Stadium of Anaheim to see the Angels play the Tigers. Angel Stadium is the 4th oldest ballpark in MLB, meaning I have now attended games in the five oldest parks (1. Fenway Park, 2. Wrigley Field, 3. Dodger Stadium, 4. Angel Stadium, 5. O.co Coliseum). This was Pam’s second MLB game.

Angel Stadium viewed from the parking lot.

Angel Stadium viewed from the parking lot.

The stadium has a cheerful appearance, with palm trees being prominent around the structure. The signature design elements are the Big A in the parking lot (you can see it in the picture above, it’s in profile as the red narrow pyramid on the right side) and the twin size 649 1/2 caps by the main entrance. I really enjoyed the big hats.

Size 649 1/2 hats in front of Angel Stadium.

Size 649 1/2 hats in front of Angel Stadium.

We took a picture in front of the stadium (photo stolen from Pam).

We took a picture in front of the stadium (photo stolen from Pam).

We purchased tickets for section 515. I had a new experience going through security, when the security agent didn’t like my camera lens. I was told not to extend the lens. (Lenses that are longer than 4″ are forbidden, a policy I was aware of but did not expect to be enforced.)

Our view from section 515).

Our view from section 515.

The stadium has some interesting features. The rocks and water behind the center field fence are a fun element.

The rocks and water in center field.

The rocks and water in center field.

The sound levels tended to be a bit higher than my preference (we were near a speaker). It reminded me of the noise level in Chicago at The Cell.

It was a beautiful, sunny California day. The temperatures were in the mid-80s, with a slight breeze. The game was played at a brisk pace. Pam got to see her first home run in the 2nd inning, when Efren Navarro hit his first career home run. This game featured Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrerra, and Justin Verlander–it was fun to see so many great players on the field in the same game. We also got to see Tori Hunter make a spectacular catch in right field for the Tigers.

Albert Pujols at first base (with Jim Joyce in the background).

Albert Pujols at first base (with Jim Joyce in the background).

The game also featured another first for me. In the 3rd inning Eugenio Suarez was picked off first base by Matt Shoemaker. Suarez was initially called safe, and Angels manager Mike Scioscia came out and challenged the call. After the replay Suarez was ruled out. It was the first challenge I saw at an MLB game. Tigers manager Brad Ausmus felt that Scioscia took too long to challenge the play, and his theatrics in disagreement led to his ejection by first base umpire Jim Joyce.

In just under 2 hours and 47 minutes the Angels triumphed 4-0 over the Tigers.

The field under lights.

The field under lights.

Soon after the game ended the lights went down and a post game fireworks show commenced.

After the Angels win a game the halo on the Big A is lit up. As we walked away from the stadium I took a picture of the beacon of victory. I like traditions of statements of victory at ballparks (like the Wrigley Field flag or the Big A halo).

The halo was lit up on the Big A (Angels win!).

The halo was lit up on the Big A (Angels win!).

Seeing Angel Stadium means I have now visited all five MLB ballparks in California. I did not expect to accomplish that so quickly after moving to California, I thought it would be a long-term goal.

It’s great to have Pam back from her trip. We’re in the home stretch of the wedding countdown!

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July 4th Baseball in Oakland

Yesterday Pam and I drove to Oakland to watch a baseball game. Last year I spent July 4th at the O.co Coliseum as well (a bit of a tradition is starting). This was Pam’s first baseball game, and it was my first game of the 2014 season. We arrived in Oakland around noon, stopped by In-N-Out Burger for lunch, then walked to the O.co Coliseum. It was a cool, sunny day. We purchased tickets for section 219, row 6.

A view from our seats at the O.co Coliseum.

A view from our seats at the O.co Coliseum.

When I looked at her I could see the field in her sunglasses.

When I looked at her I could see the field in her sunglasses.

The game was cleanly played. Both the A’s and Blue Jays came into the game in first place in their divisions–so I expected nothing less. I had hoped for some offensive fireworks from the powerful line-ups, since things are exciting when runs are being scored, but instead we got a pitchers’ duel (and that was okay).

A loyal fan wearing an Athletics beanie and cape walked by us playing a banjo. I now have a new retirement plan.

An elderly man wearing an Athletics hat and cape while playing the banjo walks by.

A fan walks by.

bp2I usually sprout roots and stay in my seat throughout a baseball game–today was an exception. I wanted Pam to get a chance to see the stadium and take in the various vantage points it offered. So we walked around the concourse. On our way a team photographer asked us to pose for a picture.

We had the obligatory hot dog, popcorn, and souvenir cup soda.

When we returned from the stroll around the park the game was still tied 0-0 in the late innings. The tie lasted right through regulation and free baseball commenced. Right around the time extra innings started a flock of pigeons started flying around the field and over the seats. One of those birds managed to drop a load of what appeared to be mayonnaise and honey mustard right on Pam’s head. I was wanting Pam’s first baseball experience to be very positive, so this bird-bombing was not part of the plan. But we laughed.

A view from our walk around the stadium.

A view from our walk around the stadium.

Extra innings began. Finally in the 12th inning Derek Norris walked and Nick Punto hit a double into the left field corner. Melky Cabrera had difficulty picking the ball up, and just like that the A’s had a walk-off win. The stadium erupted with joyful sounds. The game had lasted 4 hours and 5 minutes.

So Pam got a full dose in her first baseball game: a pitchers’ duel, extra innings, and bird poop. Through this she laughed and smiled a lot, and she told me it was not a terrible experience. I had a wonderful time.

Baseball is beautiful–and so is sharing it with someone.

Postscript: Here is a link to Pam’s account of the game.

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Opening Day 2014

I love MLB Opening Day. My love for Opening Day makes me despise some of the things that detract from it. I wish it started with an afternoon game in Cincinnati. I think the international opening series that preceded it is sad. I don’t like Opening Night (which occurs the night before Opening Day). And  I think interleague play is terrible–and even worse on Opening Day. But I love baseball.

The Phillies won their opener in Texas today. I continued my Opening Day tradition of High Life and hot dogs.

The 14-10 win featured offensive fireworks. The Phillies line-up had been shut out in three consecutive Spring Training games to end the exhibition season.  Any reasonable Phillies fan feels some concern about the offense this year. To see the team click and score runs was a delight. In addition to scoring a bunch of runs, the Phillies did many small things well today. They ran the bases with intelligence. They threw to the right bases. They fielded balls cleanly. It was good to see.

Cliff Lee’s start was the most alarming part of the day. His command did not seem sharp. Hopefully it’s a fluke and better things are to come. The fact that he picked up a win for his efforts shows just how meaningless the win statistic is.

Last season involved dreaming about getting back to .500 and looking at the games back column of the standings too often. It’s good to be at the top, even if it’s a brief stay.

As a closing note, I thought Jamie Moyer and Matt Stairs did a good job as commentators today. I’m sure they’ll get better. I really like the consistency in the booth during a game, it is better than the commentator shuffle the Phillies have had on television broadcasts the past several years.

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