October 09, 2009

Umpire Billy Evans: In all probability when the 1919 series is over, a diagnosis of it will show that the final result was brought about by some unusual situation or freak happening that was given no consideration when the relative strength of the two clubs was considered.

posted by justgary to baseball at 02:54 PM - 4 comments

Nevermind. Browser acting up.

posted by Drood at 04:16 PM on October 09, 2009

It's an interesting article, a bit overlong to make its point: the playoffs are an absolute crapshoot, where even the best record in the majors doesn't really win much more than the wild card team.

What's perhaps of more interest than the content itself is that the first link/article is written by John Henry- owner of the Boston Red Sox. When your team's owner is that kind of numbers-intense, smart guy who spends time writing a blog article about post-season success rats based on seeding, who believes in critical and unbiased research as opposed to results-based or gut-instinct analysis, and that attitude filters down into the hiring and decision making process of the GM (Theo Epstein) and even the coaches and players and minor league personnel... well, you can understand why the Red Sox succeed.

The Red Sox don't build a team to shoot for the WS in one year, they build a balanced team that will have greater chance of success by making it to the post-season as often as possible, because they realized that even having a 100+ win season doesn't guarantee you anything in these short series. They've made the post season 6 of 8 years since Henry and company took over, with one of the missed years being a 93 win season in 2002. Their win totals since 2002 are 93, 95, 98, 95, 86, 96, 95, and 95.

That's an insane level of consistency for a franchise to maintain, and it comes about not just because the Sox have money. Sure, their organization has found new ways to monetize the Sox experience, improve the stadium, while also putting out a great on-field product that keeps the seats filled even with higher ticket prices. But they win because they are the kind of smart, thoughtful, analytical organization that knows how to spend the money wisely, and that attitude starts from the top.

While this year may or may not prove otherwise, the Yankees by comparison have far more cash and spend it freely, but haven't the same consistency or success this decade; they take the "Shoot for the moon" approach each year, but simply have the money to do that year in and year out. Any other franchise that did that would either win the WS or not, but in either case would have 3-4 "rebuilding" years afterwards while all their big contracts and poor talent evaluation came home to roost.

For another example of their "We pursue the strategies we know will work, and don't let ourselves be swayed by talk radio, fan chatter, or small sample size aberrations", here's a great SI article by Joe Posnanski about the Red Sox, and in particular Theo Epstein's opinion of J.D. Drew, who is frequently underrated as dispassionate and underperforming because he doesn't have lots of RBIs.

The radio guys here protest a little ... they point out that while Drew's OPS is usually good, they aren't sure that it has led to PRODUCTION -- namely runs scored and RBIs. And this is when Theo really takes over. I bold out a few of my favorite thoughts in this wonderful little lesson:

"That's not true. With RBIs, yes. Based on his skill set, he's always going to have underwhelming RBI totals. I couldn't care less. When you're putting together a winning team, that honestly doesn't matter. When you have a player who takes a ton of walks, who doesn't put the ball in play at an above average rate, and is a certain type of hitter, he's not going to drive in a lot of runs. Runs scored, you couldn't be more wrong. If you look at a rate basis, J.D. scores a ton of runs.

"And the reason he scores a ton of runs is because he does the single most important thing you can do in baseball as an offensive player. And that's NOT MAKE OUTS. He doesn't make outs. He's always among our team leaders in on-base percentage, usually among the league leaders in on-base percentage. And he's a really good base runner. So when he doesn't make outs, and he gets himself on base, he scores runs -- and he has some good hitters hitting behind him. Look at his runs scored on a rate basis with the Red Sox or throughout his career. It's outstanding.

Emphasis my own. It's heartening to hear your G.M. speak like a hardcore sabermetric blogger, recognizing what's truly valuable versus what's superficially valuable, because it means these are people with the with and wherewithal to keep your team competitive for years to come.

posted by hincandenza at 06:44 PM on October 09, 2009

What's amazing to me is the whole 'the playoffs are a crapshoot' theory, I thought, was a more recent theory. But here's this guy in 1919, when baseball was relatively young, saying the same thing. Impessive.

posted by justgary at 11:06 PM on October 09, 2009

For those who wonder about John Henry's attachment to numbers, he made his pile investing. His approach was to use cold, hard numbers, performance data, and the like in order to determine his moves. He runs his hedge funds just like he has the ball team run.

posted by Howard_T at 05:30 PM on October 10, 2009

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