Recent Comments by spira

Floyd Landis admits to doping.

Marion Jones, Floyd Landis, ... We're waiting Barry.

Barry, unlike Marion and Floyd, has never showed any real interest in convincing the public of his innocence.and has never sued anyone regarding steroid accusations. So I'm not really sure why he belongs in the same conversation as the other two, especially Landis.

posted by spira at 03:13 AM on May 21, 2010

Belichick Call Questioned in Pats' Loss to Colts

Belichick's call was almost certainly the correct one. 70% of the time, teams will convert 4th and 2. If they convert, they win. Puntthe ball back to the Colts, and you have a smaller chance of winning.

Coaches almost never make a mistake by going for it on 4th down because they do it so rarely. They make the mistake of punting instead of going for it lots of times, mostly because they know that's the "safe" thing to do and they won't be criticized for it.

posted by spira at 10:31 AM on November 16, 2009

Will the Rams leave St. Louis?

Portsmouth might be willing to take the Lions back. Then again, maybe not; an Arena Football League team might be preferable these days

posted by spira at 01:28 AM on June 02, 2009

I know the Ruskies are tough, but this is ridiculous!

racde - Jose Cardenal was traded (technically sold) from the Phillies to the Mets in the middle iof a twi-night doubleheader between the two teams on August 2, 1979. He played for the Cardinals in the first game; he dressed as a Met for the second game but did not get into the game.

I don't believe this was the first time this ever happened, but it's not a frequent occurrence. The player traded for himself is a different weird thing that happens more often.

posted by spira at 02:12 PM on January 10, 2009

Walking His Way to Cooperstown.

The most remarkable thing about Rickey's career accomplishments is even if you totally ignore his stolen bases, his numbers are still Cooperstown-worthy.

posted by spira at 01:54 AM on December 17, 2008

Sports announcers already know it, and now Elan Fuld has proven it: clutch hitters really do exist.

If clutch hitters do exist in the major leagues (as opposed to clutch hitting, which exists by definition) 1) We have no way of identifying them 2) Their clutchness would have to be of little importance because we can't find it. It's impossible to improve that clutch hitters don't exist, but we can prove that we have no meaningful way of figuring out which hitters are clutch hitters if they do exist. So I really don't care. It's certainly legitimate to add the value of a hitter's clutch hitting when you measure his past performance, because hitting in the clutch can provide extra value (though, of course, some of that value is negated by inferior performances the rest of the time). You just can't reasonably consider clutch hitting as a special skill that player has that is different than his overall hitting. (None of that applies to clutch pitching, by the way, which I'm not really sure about. And i would be extremely surprised if clutch fielding did not exist; I think it more or less has to.) The worst thing about talking clutch hitting though is that it has become a way of announcers telling the audience "Well, this players stats aren't very good, but i like him a lot, so he must be a clutch player." Clutch is used to express personal likes and dislikes. Since it's not easy to measure, announcers feel safe in saying whatever they want about the clutch hitting abilities of a batter. Greg

posted by spira at 01:22 AM on July 10, 2008

Sports announcers already know it, and now Elan Fuld has proven it: clutch hitters really do exist.

Wasn't any more interesting a study than when I first read about it 3 years ago...... Phil Birnbaum recently did a round-up of clutch hitting studies on his blog, including one new one that was presented a couple of weeks ago.

posted by spira at 02:47 AM on July 08, 2008

AL Elias player rankings released

Aside from errors, the formula doesn't really count fielding, so the formula wouldn't have any reason to rate Young negatively. No one takes this formula seriously except the media, and they only do that for one day a year. It's a formula designed by bureaucrats for bureaucratic purposes. It isn't really even an attempt to measure player value.

posted by spira at 10:24 PM on November 01, 2007

Belichick's cheating could lead to dark days for NFL.

Whoa.. NFL teams are cheating? I would never have guessed! Every single week players on the field try and cheat by committing penalties without being seen. We all know what happens in every pile on after a fumble - hidden from view, players do everything they can, including things that violate the rules, to try and end up with the ball. What Belichick did is equivalent. He got caught and deserves the punishment. But this talk of Belichick somehow damaging the integrity of the NFL is inane. If he has hurt the reputation of the NFL, he has hurt it by getting caught cheating, not by the cheating itself. Most fans know that cheating is rampant, but they prefer not to hear about it so they can ignore it. The fact that drug use has been prevalent in NFL and MLB for the last 50 years or so has never been a secret, but fans were okay with that as long as they didn't know the specifics. This is not true in all sports, of course. In sports like golf and tennis, cheating is truly frowned upon. But baseball and football aren't like that. Vince Lombardi once said (though he wasn't the first to say it) that "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing." He was later somewhat embarrassed that he said this, but he meant it. While he didn't want his team to kill to win, he wasn't about to tell his team that fair play was more important than winning

posted by spira at 02:16 PM on September 19, 2007


grad - There have been very few ballplayers over the last 50 years who haven't used any type of illegal performance enhancer. The only player of the last 50 years I'm convinced never used anything illegal is Tony Gwynn. I haven't heard of anybody else who clearly went out of his way to avoid any substance in the clubhouse that might be "loaded."

posted by spira at 09:30 AM on August 09, 2007


Aaron was a truly great home run hitter his entire career. The reason he snuck up on people when he broke the record was that he had played the first park of his career in a home ball park that suppressed home runs, and then moved to the Launching Pad for the second half of his career, a stadium which boosted his home runs. Here are his home runs on the road year-by-year: 1954 12 1955 13 1956 11 1957 26 1958 20 1959 19 1960 19 1961 15 1962 27 1963 25 1964 13 1965 13 1966 23 1967 16 1968 12 1969 23 1970 15 1971 16 1972 15 1973 16 1974 9 1975 8 1976 4 Aaron had one significant weakness compared to the other all-time great hitters of his time; he didn't get on base nearly as much as Mays or Mantle or Frank Robinson. But as a home run hitter, Aaron never was second best.

posted by spira at 09:18 AM on August 09, 2007


As far as Ryan goes, it's well known in baseball circles that he was cheating big-time during the last portion of his career with Texas. He was throwing spitters and other such things; that's how Ryan had his best seasons rate wise in his late thirties and early forties. The media never brings this up, however, because Ryan is such an icon. I think it's also safe to say that Ryan, like virtually everyone else in baseball in the sixties through nineties, was using stuff a lot more powerful and less legal than the Motrin he was endorsing in commercials to keep going. Ryan had truly bad control for most of his career, leading the majors in walks year after year. a problem that prevented him from being one of the top pitchers in baseball on the level of Seaver, Carlton, Palmer, etc. During those last years in Texas, though, he was able to get hitters to swing at his spitters and thus walked a lot fewer people per inning than he had during the earlier part of his career.

posted by spira at 08:58 AM on August 09, 2007

Does Bonds have a mechanical advantage?

CBS' Public Eye column also think it reads like something from the Onion.

posted by spira at 10:24 AM on August 07, 2007

One Thing We Can All Agree On:

Well, no. Even this article doesn't agree, as it gives Boras a lot of credit for bringing in Dorfman to work with his clients. The reality is that there are lots of players who work with coaches that are not on the team. Sometimes these coaches help players, sometimes they don't. If these specific coaches are doing what the author thinks - changing the approach of these players from one the one that made them successful to something else, then it's probably a bad idea. Obviously, this isn't something that happens to every Boras client. And Boras almost certainly pays his coaches more than major league clubs do, so he can probably hire better coaches. The problem here is a more specific one, involving specific coaches and specific players. Now, if Boras and his coaches think that they always know best, that they should be the ones who determine the approach of every player that Boras represents, then that would be a big problem. But I don't see any evidence that that's the case. Boras may indeed "care too much" about his clients and "overeducate" them, but the solution to that is to practice more restraint and not try and fix things that aren't broken, not to dissolve. Most players would be very lucky to have the (non-financial) resources that Boras provides his clients.

posted by spira at 01:08 PM on July 21, 2007

Plunk'd! The latest, greatest Craig Biggio story

Too bad Eric Plunk isn't around anymore to deliver the record-breaking pitch.

posted by spira at 12:38 PM on July 21, 2007

The Effect of Radar Guns on Baseball

Newbie - I doubt that any major league club has ever put radar speed numbers in a spreadsheet, at least not as data. It's much more likely that teams will start using the numbers they now have measuring the movement of pitches into a spreadsheet.

posted by spira at 12:55 PM on July 18, 2007

The Effect of Radar Guns on Baseball

The important thing is not the speed with which a pitcher throws, but the speed at which the ball appears to come at the batter. At some point, I assume we will be able to measure that speed with the use of cameras focusing on hitters eyes.

posted by spira at 01:34 PM on July 17, 2007

Ichiro takes round-trip to All-Star history.

Ichiro has certainly been a great player this year. but he's only had one other full season during which he hit as well - 2004. His value depends highly on his batting average, so when he hits .350, he's great. When he doesn't come close, as in 2003 and 2005, though, his value is pretty close to that of an major league average outfielder. They key for him is to avoid hitting fly balls; his worst seasons tend to come, not coincidentally, when he hits the most home runs. While obviously power is by far his most significant weakness, it's clearly one he should ignore. (Unless, of course, he can hit lots of inside-the-park home runs.) Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to be doing as good a job at that as he has in his best seasons, so I expect his batting average to sink somewhat in the second half, by at least 20 points. He'll still end up with the 2nd or 3rd best season of his career, though. He's fairly obviously both overrated and underrated because of his unusual (for mlb today) set of skills. He's not just a plain singles hitter, but because of his lack of power, he simply can't be nearly as valuable offensively as players who get on base 40% of the time and hit for lots of power. His plus defense at a position in the middle of the defensive spectrum is a significant positive, of course, but it's not like he's a shortstop or catcher. So far this year, based on his hitting, baserunning, and defense, he's been somewhere around the 15th best player in the game (Top 10 so far this year: Magglio Ordonez, ARod, Bonds, Chipper Jones, Carlos Guillen, Victor Martinez, Posada, Miguel Cabrera, Hanley Ramirez and Chase Utley). In a season like 2003 or 2005, he's more like the 100th best player in the game. So his value lies somewhere inbetween.

posted by spira at 10:38 AM on July 12, 2007

NFL folds Europe league, to focus on regular-season games abroad

More regular season games abroad? Think season ticket-holders are going to be happy about a home game being held in, say, Tokyo, instead of their home stadium? Nerfball - The NFL hopes to institute a 17th game in its regular season schedule, and that game would be played abroad.

posted by spira at 09:02 PM on June 29, 2007


I believe the steroids Galvin used came from the testosterone of goats, not monkeys. Or so said the newspaper reports of the time. I doubt Galvin was the first baseball player to use the stuff, however. As long as there is competition, there are performance enhancing drugs. That goes back to the ancient Greek Olympics.

posted by spira at 08:58 PM on June 29, 2007

Baseball's lost art of larceny

Obviously, no, it doesn't make it any less important. Nothing ever makes anything else less important unless there are only 2 factors of importance involved. But the fact is, the Sox don't win if: Kevin Millar doesn't walk in the 5th Bill Mueller doesn't walk in the 5th Orlando Cabrera doesn't single in the 5th to drive in a run Manny Ramirez doesn't walk in the fifth David Ortiz doesn't single in 2 runs in the 5th Kevin Millar doesn't walk in the 9th Bill Mueller doesn't single in the 9th Keith Foulke doesn't pitch 2.2 innings of scoreless ball Alan Embree pitches 1.1 inning of scoreless ball Curt Leskanic doesn't pitch 1.1 innings of scoreless ball David Ortiz doesn't homer to end the game in the 12th And every one of these events listed above was more important to the victory than Roberts' steal. So why does everybody talk about Roberts' steal? Because it was incredibly dramatic. The Red Sox were down to the last 3 outs, about to be swept by the Yankees in the Championship Series the year after blowing the Championship Series to the Yankees in a 7th game, and they were up against Mariano Rivera, the greatest relief pitcher in the history of the game. When Millar lead off the inning with a walk, everybody in the stadium knew that Dave Roberts was going to pinch-run and try to steal. Roberts was the only player on the Red Sox bench capable of stealing a base. The Yankees knew very well that Roberts was going to steal. They were determined to stop him. And they came extremely close to doing so. Jeter made a terrific tag when Roberts slid into second base, and no one in the ballpark was sure what the call was going to be until the umpire declared that Roberts was safe. The Sox, as everybody knows, went on to win the ALCS and the World Series. Was Roberts steal dramatic? Hell, yes Was Roberts steal momentous? Absolutely. Was Roberts' steal one of the two most memorable events of the game, along with Ortiz's game winning home run? Of course. Was Roberts steal important? Of course. Was Roberts steal the most important play of the game? Not even close. If you examine every pitch and every swing in the game, it's not going to be one of the top 20 events in the game. When something is dramatic, people's memories of that event change over time. Interview any old ballplayer about his greatest moments, and it's almost guaranteed that he'll exaggerate the details. Not because he's lying, but because that's how he remembers events happening. dyams is not misspeaking. That's about as likely an explanation as his being taken over by an alien. And he's not confused. He's being human. He's telling it the way that he remembers it. I didn't claim that there was a mass movement of people remembering that he stole more than one base; that's nothing more than a straw man. What I said is that when dramatic events become legends, the details end up exaggerated. Because that's that way the human brain works, and also why human brains often don't work very well when precise knowledge is required. Humans, unfortunately, are overconfident about the reliability of their memories, which is why I made my comment. And that has some very negative effects in our society, such as innocent people going to jail because of over reliance on eyewitness testimony in trials. Ying Yang - You can see the correlations of stolen bases and other stats to runs at The values of stolen bases during players careers comes from the 2007 ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia

posted by spira at 02:58 AM on May 22, 2007

Baseball's lost art of larceny

By the way, the first post in this post is a good example of how facts are transformed into legends: dyams wrote that Dave Roberts absolutely killed the Yankees a few years ago in the playoffs, going in to pinch run, then stealing bases at will. He was unstoppable, the Yankees knew it. It's a great story, but has very little connection left with what actually happened. Dave Roberts stole one base against the Yankees in the playoffs, and it was a very close play at second (though the call was correct). Because it is looked back at as a pivotal play (which it was, but only as much as about 7 other plays without which Roberts' steal wouldn't have meant anything), it somehow has grown to Roberts "stealing bases at will"

posted by spira at 02:57 AM on May 21, 2007

Deja vu all over again for the Bengals

I do think that NFL players get into trouble more than NBA players, probably for 2 reasons - first, that NFL players are likely to be more aggressive than nba players because of their sport, and second, because I think the much smaller size of nba teams allows those teams to focus more on the individuals on the team and any problems they run into. And Yadda wrote: just as many white athletes in these sports get in trouble too This clearly cannot be literally true since white players make sup a significantly smaller percentage of players, but the more important question is whether white players are just as likely to get into trouble as black players. I don't know the answer, but I am curious about it. Note that even if black players get in trouble more frequently, that doesn't mean they cause trouble more frequently.

posted by spira at 10:04 PM on May 20, 2007

AT&T wins injunction, but NASCAR is granted stay

NASCAR had no real choice but to support its major sponsor. Despite the initial ruling, much of the legal commentary that has been written on the case has suggested that NASCAR is favored. Certainly, as even this court ruling implied, if NASCAR loses the case it will have to refund Nextel/Sprint a significant amount of money, because the contract between NASCAR and Sprint/Nextel is very clear on this matter. And this is certainly not indicative of any change in NASCAR, which has been involved in legal battles for eons.

posted by spira at 09:53 PM on May 20, 2007

Baseball's lost art of larceny

Stolen bases may distract the pitcher, but they mess up the hitter at the plate far more. Hitters often end up have to take pitches they should be swinging at, and as a result end up behind and then swing at pitches they would have otherwise taken. The result is that batters who are at the plate during a stolen base attempt end up with lower batting averages and much less slugging percentages (though a higher on-base percentage) than they would otherwise have. The reality is that over baseball history there is a negative correlation between stolen bases and run scoring . Stolen bases may be exciting, but only about 25 players in history have added at least 5 wins to their teams with stolen bases over their careers. Stolen bases have fallen in popularity because they don't win baseball games The exception is the steal of home, which is far rarer than it should be.

posted by spira at 09:41 PM on May 20, 2007

Meet the Mets, Greet the Mets, Sell Steroids to the Mets...

Grum - I was careful about my wording so as to say "illegal drug use" and not "use of illegal drugs." If you are using oxycodone without a prescription without a prescription, that's illegal drug use. Rush Limbaugh can certainly testify to that. And I don't think too many regular joes make the majors; they don't have the attitude necessary to succeed, an attitude that requires players to do whatever it takes Even when they a regular joe does make it, unless they make sure they never ever drink out of another player's coffee cup or anything similar, they'll probably end up taking drugs illegally without even knowing about it.

posted by spira at 01:29 PM on May 01, 2007

Meet the Mets, Greet the Mets, Sell Steroids to the Mets...

For additional pieces on the prevalence of illegal drug use in mlb - and why I think 95% is a perfectly reasonable estimate. and

posted by spira at 12:31 PM on April 30, 2007

Meet the Mets, Greet the Mets, Sell Steroids to the Mets...

I think it's safe to say that 95% of major league baseball players were using drugs illegally before baseball started testing in 2004. Re steroids, the number is probably about one-third of major leaguers

posted by spira at 05:33 PM on April 29, 2007

Why don't I subscribe to Extra Innings?

Last year, I got the package instead of Extra Innings. is cheaper and has almost every game, and I can watch it when I travel. MLB has really paid attention to Extra Innings, and as a result it's never been a particularly good product. MLB's deal with DirecTV actually has little to deal with $$$; it's all about trying to gain access to viewers for the MLB channel. The NFL has been having the exact same battle with cable companies, which want to put the league channels on separate sports tiers that are currently bought by about 1% of cable customers. Echostar has already offered to match DirecTV's price and carry the MLB channel, so I suspect that they will also pick up the package

posted by spira at 03:13 PM on March 30, 2007

What Athletes, Fans, and the Sports Media Don't Understand About Human Growth Hormone

The article ignores that we don't really understand the effects of steroids any better than we understand the effects of hgh. Yes, we know what steroids can do, but we have no real idea what steroids do do. Furthermore, the article completely ignores what we know about hgh use in young people who are still growing.

posted by spira at 06:39 PM on March 25, 2007

Samardzija chooses baseball.

Winfield may have been a 4 sport athlete, but he never got know Diddley like Bo Jackson did.

posted by spira at 03:44 AM on January 21, 2007

Florida Will Face Ohio State in BCS Championship Game

I'm not much of a college football fan, and when I see proclamations from voters saying that they thought Michigan was the better team and deserved to be #2 but they put Florida at #2 because they didn't want to watch a rematch - well, it doesn't exactly make me like college football any more. If Florida had dominated their game, I would have understood this vote a little more. But they didn't dominate at all. Florida won, but it was a competitive game till the end.

posted by spira at 11:09 AM on December 04, 2006

More muscle magic.

Right, grum. It's not even close. What all the steroid users have done is the same thing baseball players have been doing for eons - they cheated in order to win. We know that thousands of major league players have been taking performance enhancing drugs since World War II, and that some did even before then (such as Pud Galvin's use of steroids to improve his performance in the 19th century). And we know that almost every player breaks the rules in some way in order to help his team winning. And in reality baseball culture has always endorsed this cheating. If cheating wasn't endorsed, Gaylord Perry, who bragged about his cheating long before his career was over, wouldn't be in the Hall of Fame, and books such as Gutman's "It Ain't Cheating If You Don't Get Caught" wouldn't be written in celebration of baseball cheating Rose placed himself above the game by putting himself in a situation where he had reason not to play - or at least manage - to win. That's the single worst thing you can do to baseball. Betting on individual baseball games in your own league creates situations that inevitably lead to conflicts of interest. What Rose did was far, far worse than any cheating could ever be. His actions were a direct threat to the legitimacy of baseball by suggesting that baseball might be on the road to becoming professional wrestling - a sport where winning is not a priority. Baseball would disappear if fans ever began to believe that what they were watching was at all fake. The "crime" that steroid users and other cheaters commit is a crime of being too competitive. That's a minor problem compared to not being competitive. For baseball, the suggestion that a player might be throwing games is a far worse problem than even a team of serial killers would be, let alone steroid users.

posted by spira at 04:10 PM on November 23, 2006

Morneau is your AL MVP

Typical stupid choice. Morneau didn't get make my top 10, might not have even made my top 20. A pretty typical very good but not great slugging first baseman with poor defensive skills. As has been pointed out, he had the exact same season as Paul Konerko. Morneau won because the writers are too obsessed with stupid stats like RBI than on-field value. Maybe some day they'll learn to understand what really helps ballclubs win on the field, as opposed to who accumulates the statistics that make for good, albeit often false, narratives in the daily papers. Frank Thomas' 4th place finish is just as silly. Frank's a Hall of Fame player, but this was at best the 10th best season of his career. I could see a reasonable case for Jeter, Mauer, Santana, Hafner, Ortiz, Carlos Guillen and Sizemore. Personally, I really don't mid a writer throwing his 10th place vote to someone in order to say "good effort" But to give such a vote to AJ Pierzynski, who I'm not sure was among the ten most valuable White Sox in 2006, is beyond absurd.

posted by spira at 03:47 PM on November 23, 2006

Fox fires Steve Lyons for racially insensitive comment

This seems like the kind of comment you can't judge by reading it, and I didn't hear it. So did anyone here hear it? Given that Lyons appears to be an insensitive clod, it certainly seems possible that he said something offensive purely by accident. Can't say I'm sorry to se him go, however. Can Thom Brennaman be next, please? I'm sure I can find lots of things he's said that are offensive to the heavily discriminated against group of people that actually have good taste.

posted by spira at 07:39 PM on October 14, 2006

Covering the Bases After a Player's Death

Then you would be a scab. That's the (a) definition of the word - a person who replaces workers on strike. Doesn't matter if they are miners or baseball players. There are nicer terms for it - "replacement worker" - but that's besides the point. Officials almost certainly will be able to determine who was flying the plane, from what I know. After accidents, there are certain injuries one expects to find in someone sitting in the pilot seat that you don't expect to find in the person in the passenger seat. And, as several people have pointed out, this is hardly a technicality. Major league teams have long made it clear that they do not want players to fly small planes or participate in other activities that are more dangerous than everyday activities.

posted by spira at 02:19 PM on October 13, 2006

Yankees, Looking Powerless, Face Elimination

But in determing who the best team is - even the best team built for the postseason, which is a bit different than the best team built for the long season - the playoffs will do that successfully about 15% of the time 15 percent? Do you have anything to back up that stat or did you just make it up? Uh, no, I didn't make it up. If each team in the playoffs had an equal chance to win the World Series, each team would have a 12.5% chance. Since some teams are better than others, teams that are better have a greater chance than 12.5%. There was an article detailing how random the playoffs are by Bill James in the 1989 Baseball Abstract (that book was not a James book, but he wrote the article). Obviously, with only 4 teams in the playoffs at that time, the odds were better - twice as high - for each team at each time. The team that is best built for the post season has the best chance to win the post season. Don't disagree. The best team in the postseason probably has about a 50% better chance to win the World Series than the worst team. Thus if the best team has a 15% chance, the worst team has a 10%. Predicting the result is very difficult in baseball, but looking at the result it's not hard to understand why team A beats team B. Well, of course it's easy to explain something after it happens, because by then you know what happened. If the Yankees had beaten the Tigers by scoring tons of runs, we would have been able to explain why that happened too. We can even explain why the Royals, the worst team in the majors, swept the Tigers the last weekend of the season to knock the Tigers out of first place. But that doesn't mean the results tell us anything about the merits of the two teams; the sample size of 3 or 5 or 7 games is simply too small for the difference in the teams' quality to play a significant role in who wins the series. Even the results of 162 games season have a lot of randomness in them; you'd have to play 1000 games to really determine the best team with a strong amount of accuracy. You can do the math itself; if you have one team that's of .600 quality, and another team that's of .570 quality, the .600 team will win a game between the two teams 53% of the time, a 3 game series 55% of the time, a 5 game series 56% of the time, and a 7 game series 57% of the time. When you get to really long, long series, the .600 team wil eventually win 99.9% of the time. (Obviously, this does not take into advantage outside factors such as home field advantage, the day's weather, etc. Note that I am not basing this on the team's season winning percentages, but on what the teams' winning percentages would be in an infinitely long season. ) See this article for a more mathematical explanation with some real numbers.

posted by spira at 02:07 PM on October 12, 2006

Yankees, Looking Powerless, Face Elimination

Yes, baseball is more random than other sports, and the best raw talent doesn't always win, but some of you act as though we might as well roll dice instead of playing the games. No, because watching the games are a lot more fun and satisfying. And not giving the players a chance to play in the playoffs themselves would be unfair. But in determing who the best team is - even the best team built for the postseason, which is a bit different than the best team built for the long season - the playoffs will do that successfully about 15% of the time, while dice would do it successfully about 12.5 % of the time. If the Tigers and Yankees played their series 200 times, one team would probably win 101 times and the other 99 teams. Baseball teams which reach the playoffs are all very similar in quality. Which is why the playoffs are fun. You have no idea who is going to win ahead of time. You have to play the games to determine the winner. How good a team is in theory doesn't really matter much. What counts is how the games turn out on the field. And thus most teams - more than 3/4 of the teams - have a chance to win it all when they come to spring training. No other sport is really like that.

posted by spira at 02:56 PM on October 08, 2006

Yankees, Looking Powerless, Face Elimination

The Yankees can buy the AL East every year for the next twenty years, but they can't buy a crapshoot like the playoffs; lady luck can't be bribed. About the best the Yankees can do is tilt her just a bit. If the Royals can win three from the Tigers, the Tigers can sure as hell win 3 from the Yankees.

posted by spira at 08:35 PM on October 07, 2006

Sanchez tosses a no-hitter against the Diamondbacks.

Don't even try to sound like you "had a good feeling" spira. I didn't have a good feeling. And even if I had, I'd have ignore it and relied on the facts. What I did say - and wrote - before the season was that I thought it was possible that the Marlins could play .500 baseball. Not that they necessarily would, just that no one should be surprised if they do because the talent was there. Yeah they had a lot of good prospects but this happens almost never. Teams almost never assemble such a large number of prospects who are all ready for the majors at the same time A season after a firesale this never happens. Not all firesales are the same. This firesale was good for the Marlins in the long run; I had no doubt about that at the time. I didn't know it would turn out so well so soon, but it seemed obvious that they were dumping a lot of veterans with large contracts who were on the downside of their careers. The only major player they traded who didn't fit that description was Beckett, and Beckett's performance has never lived up to his hype over a full season. What happened last winter was nothing like Huzienga's firesale, where players were just given away for little talent. They are supreme overachievers The only player on the team who is playing better than anyone could have predicted is Uggla. Willis is having a much worse season than last year, and Cabrera, who has a chance to be one of the ten best players of all time, hasn't hit with the kind of power one expects from him. I'm not saying that people should have expected everything to go as well as it has. The Marlins have not had major injury problems and have had to overcome few significant obstacles other than their own bad start. Their rookie pitchers have certainly have had an easier time adjusting to the majors than most rookie pitchers. Most teams will run into far more bumps than the Marlins have. (The Marlins did have one serious bump - Jeremy Hermida, who was by far their top offensive prospect, had his season destroyed by injuries) But the talent to do this was there. If you talked to knowledgable scouts before the season, they would have told you that the Marlins had a lot of talent comapred to most other NL teams. The team has played as well as they could, but they have not played above their talent level. They are not overachievers. If they were overachievers, we'd expect them to decline significantly next year. I don't expect that at all; I think they'll be as good or better if their players stay healthy. I think they could definitely win the division title in 2007. My point is not that I had some special foresight; it's the exact opposite - that anyone who got past the "they had a firesale and traded away all their expensive players" headlines and actually looked at the team's talent could have come to the same conclusion. Instead, the big story blinded people to the reality, and most people assumed fire sale = terrible team.

posted by spira at 03:00 AM on September 12, 2006

Marion Jones cleared by second test

Any kind of muscle you can build with steroids you can build without; it's just much, much, much harder to do so. You cannot tell that a person is (or isn't) a steroid user by looking at them. Human beings would sometimes be better off without eyes, because they make things that look different seem more important than they really are. And DiCaprio is a good actor; see This Boy's Life. Not that he hasn't had some bad performances, such as that awful Iron Mask movie. As far as Jones goes, I see no reason whatsoever to believe she used EPO. On the other hand, she, like the overwhelming majorty of top athletes, has almost certainly used performance enhancing drugs.

posted by spira at 11:51 AM on September 08, 2006

Sanchez tosses a no-hitter against the Diamondbacks.

I'm not shocked by the Marlins being at .500; I thought it was a real possibility before the season because of the quality of their young pitching and the NL environment. I did not, however, forsee the success of their middle infield, and if you had told me they would finish .500 after they started 11-31 then I would have thought you were nuts.

posted by spira at 11:40 AM on September 08, 2006

Witness for the Prosecution?

You know, maybe the defense is right. But we're not going to know for a while. We don't have all the facts. I read this Times piece, and I had no problem with it. The author of the Slate piece wants the Times to make lots of inferences and for them to come to the conclusions that he already has. But I've yet to see a believable motive for why the prosecution is going ahead with the cases if they are just going to get embarassed and laughed out of court. The early theory about the DA needing support for his re-election made little sense; it wasn't like he was in deep trouble or anything. And if the prosecution is committing misconduct, they are obviously not going to be able to quietly push through a conviction without anyone noticing; this whole thing will blow up on them far more badly than if they had dropped the case earlier. So I think I'll wait till all the facts are clear before forming an opinion as to what's what. I also think it's clear that the media, including the Times has been reporting the doubts about this case for a long time. They may not have done that at first, but they have since. The media is certainly guilty of overkill in this case, but that doesn't make it any different than lots of other cases.

posted by spira at 09:33 AM on August 31, 2006

Time to restore 61 as the gold standard in baseball

Nice post, BullpenPro. Now I too don't think Maris was using steroids, but we certainly don't know that. And he probably was using amphetamines, like the majority of the players were at the time. If we're going to reset the home run record, we'd have to go back and reset the hits record too, since Rose was using lots of amphetamines. Aaron was probably using amphetamines too, though, unlike in the case of Rose and Willie Mays (Mays was also a dealer), I don't recall anyone ever declaring that publically. Nash and Zullo's Baseball Hall of Shame books reported about 15 years ago that Ruth used testosterone, though I'm not fully convinced of that. But if that's true, we'd have to think about giving the all-time home run record to some 19th century guy.

posted by spira at 12:58 PM on August 29, 2006

Michael Young, best SS in the majors?

Fielding %, on the major league level, has very little to do with how well a player fields. What's important is how often a player fields the ball. All fielding percentage tells you is how he misses some of the plays he misses. It doesn't tell you how often he misses the play, because there are many ways of missing a play. Often a player with more errors is the better fielder because he gets to more balls; fielders can't make errors on balls they don't reach. That's not always true, but you just can't tell. (On the minor league level, where players sometimes make 60+ errors, it can mean something)

posted by spira at 03:53 PM on August 11, 2006

Michael Young, best SS in the majors?

The book The Fielding Bible, which analyzed every fielding play made over 3 seasons with video, ranked Young as the worst defensive shortstop in baseball over 2003-2005. One of Young's biggest problems has been positioning; he stands much too close to second base. Young does seem to be fielding better this year. He says that "I'm much more interested in making plays that I haven't made in the past than in making routine plays I've handled before," Young said. "My angles and reads are better and that's made my range more like it should be." He ranks 18th among the 30 shortstops who have played 50+ games in zone rating, which measures the percentage of balls of the balls hit to him that a player fields. On the other hand, though, his offense is significantly down this season; he's creating runs at only the 14th highest rate in the majors among shortstops. So he really isn't any better than the 10th best shortstop in the league overall. Zone Rating for SSs Adam Everett .906 Juan Uribe .875 Jose Reyes .865 Bobby Crosby .864 Alex Gonzalez .863 Vizquel .863 Eckstein .850 Jason Bartlett .855 Barmes .854 Counsell .852 K Greene .849 Carlos Guillen .844 Johnny Peralta .843 Furcal .835 Cedeno .834 Lugo .829 Betancourt .828 Rollins .827 Tejada .827 Young .827 Cabrera .826 J Wilson .818 Clayton .817 Renteria .814 Hall .809 Jeter .804 Berroa .804 Hanley Ramirez .800 J Castro .794 F Lopez .779

posted by spira at 03:39 PM on August 11, 2006

Michael Young, best SS in the majors?

Young is a second baseman playing out of position; he's not a poor defensive shortstop - which is why the Rangers spend half the time talking about moving him back to second. Offensively, despite playing in what may now be the best hitters park in baseball, he's never had a 900 OPS and his lifetime OPS is 793. Jeter, Tejada, and ex SSs AROd and Garciaparra have all been better offensive players over their careers. This year, I'd say he's been about the 12th best shortstop in the majors overall.

posted by spira at 12:16 PM on August 11, 2006

An American Tragedy: Pat Tillman's Uncertain Death.

Ted Williams' service for his country in two wars makes Pat Tillman look like a draft dodger in comparison. Except that Tillman volunteered to go, while Ted Williams had no choice in the matter. Williams certainly did try to get out of his second tour of duty. This reminds me of all those claims that ballplayers aren't as loyal to their teams anymore. Staying with your team when you have no choice is not loyalty.

posted by spira at 06:30 PM on July 21, 2006

Best... and worst buys in Baseball

Best value, despite his immature behavior, is Miguel Cabrera. Wright is close. Not on the list because his contract finally ended in 2005, but Darren Dreifort may be the worst signing ever.

posted by spira at 09:08 PM on July 14, 2006

Report: NFLPA against blood testing for HGH

It would be one thing to ask for the blood test if the blood test actually worked well, but that isn't the case here. And I think the idea of holding onto samples until there's a test is nuts - that provides lots of time for samples to be altered or for the things like the recent Lance armstrong debacle to happen.

posted by spira at 11:19 AM on June 11, 2006

Human growth hormone supplier investigated

Note all the information in this report about the widespread use of amphetamines. Any full investigation of baseball and PEDs is going to reveal that 90% of MLB has been on illegal PEDS since 1970. People who want to see the full list of baseball players taking PEDs revealed should just take a look at the Baseball Encyclopedia and start with A. And I'm not sure what baseball can do about hgh. As others have said, there is no reliable test for it at this point. Peple have been saying that there would be a reliable test "soon" for quite a while now, and everyone is still waiting.

posted by spira at 10:20 PM on June 07, 2006

Top 10 Baseball Records

Almost every record is set when the conditions are favorable.

posted by spira at 09:12 PM on May 30, 2006

Clemens to Astros?

I can't say I'm Clemens' biggest fan, but teams are coming to him with these offers. He's perfectly willing to sit back and not pitch, but teams are willing to go way beyond the norm and make special arrangements to sign him. Should he refuse to listen? And as far as him being overpaid, he puts lots of fans in seats in Houston. The Astros probably make extra money every time he goes out to the mound.

posted by spira at 08:59 PM on May 30, 2006

The devil is in the details

Steroid use without a prescription is technically illegal. But that's a law that simply is almost never prosecuted. Legal authorities are simply not interested in prosecuting individuals for steroid use. Sports leagues who want to get rid of drugs in their sports negotiate a testing procedure with their players. The players would never agree to such testing if there was any possibility that they would go to jail for testing positive, even if it's a substance taht people are sent to jail for, such as coke or pot. I believe that applies to most employees who get tested at their workplace; they may get fored if they test positive, but they don't get arrested. As far as anybody who doesn't like how much baseball players get paid, may I suggest you turn your ire towards capitalism and local governments? Nobody in this country gets paid what they're worth; they get paid by what the someone is willing to pay them in the marketplace. (And the marketplace is affected when teams get their ballparks subsized). Are baseball players underpaid compared to actors, who can get #25 million a picture. Are they underpaid compared to CEOs, who can get hundreds of millions of dollars even when their company does badly? Do you avoid going to see the movies or buying from pructs made by companies who wildly overpay their executives (and, in fact, don't get their high salaries because of a marketplace, but because the game is fixed by a board of directors that is closely linked top executuves determing how much those executives get paid)?

posted by spira at 11:45 AM on May 11, 2006

In a league of its own

It's really amazing that there's not one word in the article about gambling. There are a lot of other resaons that aren't covered. Like the fact taht it's easy to be an NFL fan, because NFL teams play way fewer games than any other sport's teams The revenue sharing system has overall been good for the NFL. But the NFL more or less stumbled into it because CBS offered to pay every NFL team more tv revenue than any team was receiving at the time if the NFL would move all its games to the network. If the NFL had been a more established league at the time, this would never have happened.

posted by spira at 07:27 PM on May 08, 2006

Bud says no celebration for Barry

The record Ruth actually holds is in career home runs is the AL record, with 708. But Bonds has never hit a homerun in the American League, and he's hit very few against the American League.

posted by spira at 08:21 PM on April 27, 2006

Baseball By The Dumbers: Part I

Sabermetricians may have hated the GWRBI, but they did not cause its demise. That was the result of the public's general indifference to it and sportswriters' incessant complaints that an RBI in the first in a 10-8 game could just as easily be the GWRBI as a RBI in the ninth. There have been lots of definitions of clutch. But nobody agrees with any other definition. And clutch statistics usually come in such small sample sizes that they are meaningless (He's gone 3 for 6 with the bases loaded!) Plus the fact that no one can find any evidence that players who are better in the clutch (however it's defined) in one year are more than 50% likely to be better in the clutch the next year. elvorich - Bill James is by no means insistent that there's no such thing as clutch hitting or that we shouldn't count it. In fact, he once invented a stat called Victory Important RBI. It was Bill's audience much more than Bill that pushed that stat into oblivion.

posted by spira at 10:27 AM on April 22, 2006

He caught No. 715 and knows a thing or two of steroids

I wanted to make a couple of points by posting this article. First off, to clear up the misconception that baseball players didn't take steroids until Jose Canseco. Now, I certainly think steroids were more commonplace in the 90s and the 70s. I also think the steroids around in recent times (at lesat the ones in the U.S.) have been a lot safer than the ones around in the 70s, and that - along with the greater acceptance of weight training in baseball - is the reason steroid use became far more prevalent. But other drugs were used - a lot - back then. It is extremely likely that Hank Aaron was on amphetamines the night he broke Babe Ruth's record. Virtually every over 35 everyday player was. It's quite posssible Roger Maris was on amphetamines when he broke the Babe's single season home run record. I doubt ballplayers even gave using the stuff even a second thought. Obviously, we can't say for sure since we weren't there, but we know from many sources what is was like, and that people like Jim Brosnan, who claim to have never seen any sign of any drug use by anyone, are full of it. Second, to note that while a few baseball players may be suitable heroes, most are - and always have been - extreme competitors. That's partly why they succeed in baseball. Why they're willing to take risks like steroids to perform better. Why they always want more money - it's actually usually not about the money, but about ego, about wanting to achieve higher than one's peers, and wanting to be recognized for doing so. Third, we know how we've treated other known steroid users over the past 30 years. Arnold would almost certainly never have become governor if he hadn't used steroids, since he would never have won all those bodybuilding titles that first made him famous. The NFL decided to go forward with its testing program in the eighties (which is still clearly flawed, give that game of Shadows connects more NFL players than MLB players to Balco), but no one ever gave a though to changing records or not electing users to the Hall of Fame. Yes, baseball ignored the problem for far too long, for a variety of reasons (it was less obvious, the owners didn't want to see it, and thel egacy of hostility between players and owners that made the players union think that it had to oppose anything the owners ever proposed), and it deserves to be flagellated for that. But individuals should not be singled out. Obviously, part of the problem is that many people still want to cling to the myth of baseball, a baseball that never was. Since baseball is a religion to many, its numbers are viewed as sacred. But real baseball has never been a religion; it's a game that has always been played by real, very flawed humans under flawed circumstances. Baseball was never a genteel, pastoral event. Baseball players have never been people to admire; on average, baseball players have always been people of lesser moral character than average, at least according to middle class standards. There are, of course, some great people in baseball, like they are everywhere, but it's near impossible to tell who they are. Some of its seemingly most upstanding players are actually louts, while some gruff, unfriendly players are actually great guys. (Similarly, there is absolutely no one we can say hasn't taken steroids - no one. Everytime I see a media member say that player x is clearly not a user I want to scream) Anyway, how we handle kids who will naturally look up to ballplayers is a difficuly question. While ballplayers haven't changed, society has, and we now know many more details about ballplayers' lives. I do think the only real solution is to teach kids that all humans have imperfections. People who are at the top of their profession - any profession - deserve admiration for what they've accomplished, but not who they are. More often than not, these people are single-minded and more likely to have their failures in other parts of their lives indulged, so they are also more likely than others to have major flaws of character. That's always been the case, and in today's world, these flaws are far more likely to become public knowledge than in the past, so kids have to be prepared for this before they get disillusioned or learn the wrong lessons.

posted by spira at 05:41 PM on April 02, 2006

Report: Commissioner Selig Won't Bail Out Bonds

elovrich - The commissioner is pretty much a figurehead, but at the same time the job is a powerful platform if you know how to use it. He can only act with the support of the owners, because that's who he works for. Selig actually deserves credit for realizing this; he's managed to get the owners to agree on a large number of issues. I may not agree with a lot of what Selig has done, but he's used the little power he has very effectively. If you look at any city's laws, you will find lots of things written down as law that no one pays any attention to. A law is not a law if absolutely no one pays attention to it. Tyhe state can't all of a sudden use that law to target someone - that's called selective prosecution, and it's not allowed. There's the law that's in the books, and then there's the law that's actually practiced. Vincent's edicts were like the trees that fall in the forest unheard and unseen. They did not change the practice and policy of major league baseball at all. On paper, according to the agreement between the owners and the players, teams could test players for steroids if they had reason to suspect the player of using. Not one team ever used that clause to test a player. Not one. And why only the last 15 years? There's no justification to complain about steroids and not amphetamines. If anything, amphetamines have a more direct influence on player performance Hank Aaron was almost certainly using amphetamines - he would've had to go way out of his way not to - when he broke Ruth's record. Maris may very well have been using them too in 1961. Where's the outrage about them? Players have been using illegal, performance enhacing drugs for longer than most of us have been alive. This has been well known by almost everybody around baseball since at least 1970. There's absolutely nothing new under this sun.

posted by spira at 10:39 PM on March 16, 2006

Report: Commissioner Selig Won't Bail Out Bonds

I don't know if baseball had any kind of rules against taking steroids, but Vincent memo isn't evidence that they did. The commissioner has zero power to institute such a policy. Vincent found that out the hard way; he was forced out precisely because he tried to unilaterally set baseball policy. If there was a drug policy, you'd find it in baseball's rule book (not the rule book for umpires, the rule book with rules such as Rule 5 (as in the draft) and Rule 21 (the rule under which Rose was sentenced). Unfortunately, this book is not widely available. If we want to ban players who took performance enhancing drugs and remove seasons affected by such drugs from the history books, we'd have to wipe out virtually everything that's happened in baseball since 1946, since that is the year that amphetamines started being widely used. I'm not sure what the point of that would be. Meanwhile, we've already started enhancing players thru surgery. LASIK can give some players better eyesight than most people are born with. Some shoulder surgeries result in players being able to throw harder than before. This kind of thing will become much more prevelant in the future, as players with artificial body parts come to dominate the majors. That will probably be the only thing hat will stop players from using drugs to get better.

posted by spira at 07:33 PM on March 16, 2006