WeekEnd HaloLinks: It's Early Days Yet Edition

Jeff Gross

An uncertain spotlight is shining on you..........An uncertain spotlight is burning for you..........I lit it up with an engine, now its rolling for you..........And a thousand little golden eyes are watching over the hillside..........Into this valley of discontent

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I do not even pretend to be any good at gambling. I'm completely open and honest about my earthly existence among that vast pool of suckers who fund the mega-growth of Las Vegas, Nevada. And I'm even more clueless when it comes to horse racing. But being honest about one's self in this respect can be a major advantage.

One day I found myself at a business outing to Del Mar Racetrack, for a day at the races. Peer pressure being what it is, and 200 bucks in my pocket being what they are, I was committed to wagering. My honesty motivated me to think of a path towards success, and I derived a fairly good system hack. I would wrap parlay bets around tote board information in an effort to increase my chances of success (in exchange for lower returns) and use the crowd-sourced knowledge of the other 20,000 people present who actually cared enough about all this to study hard. I also learned to wait late and watch the last minute swings on the tote board to find the true betting intelligence. This hack was working very well for me up to the next-to-last race. By then, I was actually way ahead on the day and nobody believed that I didn't actually know what I was doing.

For this particular race the call was going to be easy. Two horses were clear favorites in all the available literature, among a field of nobodies, and the crowd betting was drifting in that direction slowly on the board. I raced to the window early and boxed those two and got great odds for a pretty significant bet. I was all set.

When the gates opened, at the very start of the race, the favored horse decided to hang an immediate left and went crashing through half the field. She threw her rider, recovered, and took off after the pack. Now riderless, she was an easy first to the line and my other horse was the first to finish WITH his mount. But the favored was DQ'ed. What should have been easy money was now all gone. And it all happened within the first few seconds, and the first few feet, of the entire race.

It didn't matter how clever I was. I didn't matter how much potential my horses had. It didn't matter how terrible the rest of the field was. All that mattered was that the skipper aboard one of the most powerful athletes in the field drove her into the rails right out of the gate and the subsequent 60 seconds were nothing but wasted time and lost opportunity.

Isn't it funny how that memory now comes back to me, hauntingly, every Spring..?

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On To Angels Baseball...

  • Keystone Cops, Episode 273: Recall how the Halo Front Office really wanted this guy, and managed to take all off-season to get their timing wrong and mess that all up. I do have to wonder, though, about the likelihood of that Matt Garza actually being that strong on the mound while wearing red, in Anaheim, managed by our decision-makers.

  • Trout Porn: Fangraphs digs deep into Mikey Career Projections and comes away agog. By one calculation, they see his floor as 36th best hitter of all-time, and his mid-point as 7th best hitter of all time. His peak, obviously, is to end up somewhere among the current Top 3 (Bonds/Williams/Ruth), which would displace one of those guys. "The BB rate is already at the top of the scale. The line drive...tendency, combined with his speed, low popup rate and a continued decline in his K rate could put some scary batting average levels within range...he combines a high fly ball rate with a low popup rate – these are rare hitters that don’t give away free outs in the pursuit of power."

  • Computers!: This article over at ocregister reveals how far along the Halos are in the Information Age. They now have two new staff position responsible for data information and those are what Rick Eckstein and Nick Francona have filled. There is good news: "In the past, the Angels’ front office generated advance scouting material that would be delivered to the clubhouse, left up to the coaching staff to interpret and relay to the players. 'Now we have two people (in the clubhouse) whose job is to make sure this information is accurate and digested and that everyone is connected to it,' Dipoto said." Are you reading between the same lines that I am? And there is bad news: neither Eckstein nor Francona appear to have any specialty background in statistical analysis. By the way, this was a pretty popular subject yesterday. LAT did a riff on this topic, and the part that jumps out to me is Sosh's comment: "It's not revolutionary." Uh, dude, the only it is not revolutionary is if you continue not to use it. And Alden did a take. "Time to embrace some numbers." Time, indeed.

  • Broomage: It's a certain side effect of being swept that it requires one spending too much time on the floor. And that is where the LA Angels find themselves. In the rare company throughout all of baseball with the Mets and Royals as the only franchises still without a victory in 2014.

  • Fregosi Thought: Why aren't the Angels wearing a black patch with #11 on it for the season?

    Readiness, Part 5: Concluding ST wrap-up.

    Ok, I am honor-bound to wrap this up. In past seasons I had noticed that the Halo batters did not get as many at-bats during spring training as players on other teams. And I always wanted to make the point that our hitters were not ready for April like those hitters on other teams. So I was tracking this relationship between our guys and other guys all spring to make that point in real time. I need to be honest about it, though, because our guys were scoring runs by the bucket-load at the tail end of ST. If the Halos tank offensively in April of this year, it wasn't because of this, even if it IS true that our guys weren't getting as much game simulated at-bats as others were throughout baseball.

    Player Final ST AB

    Final Rank

    1 Week Ago

    (tied for)

    2 Weeks Ago

    (tied for)

    3 Weeks Ago

    (tied for)

    4 Weeks Ago

    (tied for)

    Chris Iannetta - C 38 tied for 369th 411 471 537 469
    Albert Pujols - 1B 56 tied for 74th 116 111 128 319
    Howie Kendrick - 2B 57 tied for 64th 97 111 205 319
    David Freese - 3B 53 tied for 118th 168 222 349 319
    Erick Aybar - SS 50 tied for 163rd 168 191 296 319
    Josh Hamilton - LF 33 tied for 443rd 500 767 (dead last) (dead last)
    Mike Trout - CF 58 tied for 56th 67 64 87 244
    Cole Kalhoun - RF 71 4th 7 14 58 85
    Raul Ibanez - DH 55 tied for 91st 116 222 167 319

    Buy Stuff - Crazy-ass Baseball Stuff On the Internet:

    Seriously committed to your stats vision of the baseball world? Wear your world view on your chest with pride.

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    This Date In Baseball History: 1911 - The Most valuable Player Award is introduced to baseball, sponsored by Hugh Chalmers..........1948 - 84-year-old Connie Mack (then managing the A's) challenges 78-year-old Clark Griffith (owner of the Senators) to a foot race from home to first base. It ends in a photo finish tie...........1968 - On this date Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, and nearly all MLB teams announce that they will postpone their Opening Day games until after his funeral. All except the Dodgers, who concede only after their scheduled opponent, the Phillies, declare that they would rather forfeit that game rather than be forced to play by the Dodgers..........1974 - Hank Aaron ties Babe Ruth at 714 career home runs. The Braves were going to bench Aaron until he could return to Atlanta for a home stand and tie/break the record in front of home fans, but Bowie Kuhn interceded and forced the braves to play him at least two of the three games in Cincinnati.........1994 - This was a particularly good year for Opening Day. In New York, 56,706 fans made up the largest crowd ever at Yankee Stadium...In Cleveland, President Clinton throws out the First Pitch at brand-new Jacobs Field. Bob Feller was in attendance, and it was Feller who last threw a no-hitter on Opening Day. In this game, Feller watched Randy Johnson took a no-hitter into the 8th inning. Larry Doby's number is retired by the Indians. And, finally, Eddie Murray played in his record-breaking 2,403rd game as a first baseman...In Chicago, Tuffy Rhodes of the Cubs becomes the first player to hit three home runs in his first three at-bats of the season (he will only hit 5 more that entire season), after First Lady Hillary Clinton throws out the First Pitch, then sings "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" with Harry Caray during the 7th inning stretch...2007 - Tuffy Rhodes bookends this day when he becomes the first non-Japanese player to drive in 1,000 runs in the NPB.

    __________

    Great Moments in Baseball Statistical History

    (My primary source for this series is the excellent book The Numbers Game: Baseball's Lifelong Fascination With Statistics, Alan Schwarz author, Thomas Dunne Books Publisher.)

    Harland D. Mills and Eldon Mills

    Here is something that comes up all the time. It happens in quite a lot of game threads where the favorite team is losing, late and big. Inevitably, one of the home town boys (cough- Vernon Wells - cough) does something special with his at-bat, and a comment is submitted to the effect of "BFD", or "meaningless". There are four predictable reactions. One, no response at all. Two, agreement. Three, rejection of the idea based on a belief in some moral principal ("everything means something because it's still possible to come back from 23 runs down with one last out in the 9th!!". And, four, rejection of the idea based on a belief in some mathematical principal ("players are what they are and they can only do what they do and since there is no such thing as clutch, it all works out in the long run.")

    If you listen for it, you will hear modern day baseball players actually subscribing to reaction #4. They go up to the plate and do what they have always done, regardless of situation, on the premise that only in their normal and usual approach do they stand the best chance of succeeding. Torii Hunter comes right out and preaches it. And I choose to believe that this behavior was precisely what the 2002 players were speaking against when they were witnessing to the current squad during that 10th anniversary pregame celebration a while back, over and over again sounding like they were admonishing the contemporary squad on the need to sacrifice their own stats for the need of the team.

    Well, the roots of this topic and these ideas run pretty deep, and the statistical analysis directed at this goes back at least 55 years. This was one of the very first uses of industrial digital computer calculations applied towards baseball statistics, and it was driven by Harlan and Eldon Mills.

    Eldon Mills was a decorated WWII and Cold War bomber pilot, and all-around ladies man. His brother Harlan D. was a mathematical game theorist at Princeton, engaged with the likes of Godel, von Neumann and Einstein(1). Harlan was also in the Army Air Corps of WWII, literally writing the book on B-24 pilot training(2). By 1968, both were retired from the military and joined up to form an analytical company of their own, and began researching sports data. Their goal in baseball was simple: to meaningfully define every player's contribution in every game as a measurement towards their teams potential for victory. This they coined as Player Win Average, but hidden deep beneath PWA is the idea of "clutch".

    Now there are three things you need if you are going to come up with any quality answer to anything. First, of course, you need a question. This the Mills brothers certainly had. How does one meaningfully measure the contributions of a player towards the win for his team? The second thing you need is good data. Today we have easy access to such things as Baseball Reference and Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs and on and on. Back in the 60's, all you had were box scores, annual compilations of box scores, and The Elias Sports Bureau (you remember Elias, do you not?). The Mills brother purchased the raw data from Elias directly. The third thing you need is the ability to properly implement the correct tool to dive through the data and yield the results. The year was 1969, and Harlan now had access to IBM punch cards, while Eldon now had access to FORTRAN. The Computer Age of baseball was born.

    The Mills brothers began by creating a game simulation program that was able to measure the change in Win Probability based on the differences before and after any play on the field. This change in probability could be converted to a counting value and assigned to the players involved, plus and minus. After obtaining the counting values, they could then input those values into actual games played and witness the results fed back from the computer tallying for all players. For us LAA fans, Ken Tatum actually came out as the number one American League pitcher of the 1969 season in terms of PWA. This is because Tatum was a reliever and the Mills brothers formula gave more PWA points for highly leveraged situations. They also, by definition, gave more points for players on winning teams since, after all PWA is about winning. Biases come in all shapes and sizes.

    All this information was published in a small book ""Player Win Average: A Complete Guide to Winning Baseball Players". The booklet garnered a little interest throughout baseball, but went nowhere in and of itself. You can read it online through this URL (click the Download button on the right). But there were two things worthy of note in this episode. First, baseball analytics had finally moved beyond pencils, erasers, long division and even slide rules. Second, baseball fans and statisticians finally tripped across the exciting threshold into the world that would eventually yield Win Shares...and WAR.

    As a postscript to our homage of the Mills brothers, I offer up this from Schwarz: "After the 2003 World Series, Business Week ran a long piece on how a Yale Business School game-theory expert, along with one of his students, had come up with a new way of evaluating players by measuring their impact on the probabilities of winning the game. It was the exact same method that the Mills brothers had invented 35 years before. Their names appeared nowhere in the story."(3)

    (1) The Numbers Game: Baseball's Lifelong Fascination With Statistics, Alan Schwarz (2004) Thomas Dunne Books, p. 84.

    (2) Schwarz, p. 85.

    (3) Schwarz, p. 90.

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    • Replay Rulez!: This system isn't going to last. Too poorly contemplated. Absurdities are already starting to pop up all over the place. Take Wednesday night, when the umpires consumed 3 minutes to figure out that Bud Black's challenge was unacceptable, because he took too long to claim it!

    • Baseball Biz: Hang in there, DirectTV!! DirectTV, holding 30% of the LA cable access market, is not about to carry Dodger games any time soon. They and TWC remain at an impasse, with TWC doing the usual and customary tactic of running to the public and blaming the carrier for their own needs of greed. Curiously, the desire of DirectTV is to offer up DoyerVision as an a la carte choice - precisely what we, the consumers, want! I totally adore the marketing spin coming out of both sides of TWC's mouth spokesperson. On the one hand, Melinda Whitmore castigates DirectTV (a direct competitor, by the way) of walking away from the table. She later giddily proclaims that her phones are ringing off the hook as TWC gains market share over the issue.

    Video Of The Week

    (Padres ball girls, showing up Josh Hamilton)



    (Having troubling viewing these videos? Click here and here.)

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    One good thing that has come out of Texas this year, is this very cool picture taken above their stadium during Opening Day ceremonies............I’m sure you missed it. The Cards opened up a nearby sports tourist trap, and got all wrapped up in a huge controversy about dress codes. They denied their fans from wearing team jerseys into their bar at night, but they choose to dress their wait staff like this...........A video of the Dodger/Angels fan brawl in Huntington Beach has surfaced..........We take night baseball for granted. We even opened our season with three straight. Here is a new find on the birth...........And you thought WE were panicky???...........Sweet summer-long ride. 'Nuff said...........Lenny Dysktra, All-Star Baseball Asshat Jailbird and never the brightest crayon in the box, is suing the LA County Sherriff's Department because it turns out that jails are less-than-friendly places. MLB umpire Tim McClelland is probably done as an ump, a couple of decades too late...........The Cardinal Way is shit............Tornado-schmornado, we got a baseball game goin' on! MLB Umpires are already in fine form.

    __________

    And now, being the full service weekend linkage institution that we are, here is the obligatory moment we take out of each Friday...for beer...

    Friday: Santa Margarita Ranch in Santa Margarita (not to be confused with Rancho SM in South Orange County) is doing up a Beer Tasting / Release event, From The Barrel...........Ok, kinda obscure, but the Colusa Western Days parade & Cattle Drive is going to include a Rib Cook-off, and nothing pairs with BBQ ribs as well as beer.

    Saturday: Keep it clean, folks, as this is a family site and NOT what it reads like: Sacramento Ball Sack & Beer Fest takes place in Pleasant Grove......... More Colusa Western Days parade & Cattle Drive...........Downtown Pacific Grove is holding their Good Old Days festival, which includes live entertainment, food and art vendors.

    Sunday: Up in Fallbrook, Blues & Brews charity event owns the day.....Final day of the Colusa Western Days parade & Cattle Drive.

    BEER BONUS: Now on sale at Anaheim Stadium, Point The Way IPA. But...$13 a bottle??? WTF?

    Stay safe, everyone!

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