Episode 87: “Baseball and the BCS/Halladay vs. Lee/Does the ‘Success Cycle’ Still Exist?” – November 21, 2012, 22:16

“Ben and Sam answer selected listener emails in a pre-Thanksgiving episode.”

Intro: An Effectively Wild Thanksgiving kicks off with a gobbling turkey.

Banter: Limited to Ben wondering if fewer people will listen because of the holiday, or if more will listen to get them through their travels.

Email #1: Tim in Seattle remarks that the Giants probably wouldn’t have won the 2012 World Series had MLB’s playoff teams been determined by media/computer rankings, a la college football’s Bowl Championship Series. While he feels they earned their place thanks to their comebacks against the Reds and Cardinals, Tim puts forth the hypothetical of having baseball’s playoffs be based on a selection system.

Sam points out that rankings are necessary in college football given the shorter schedules and greater number of teams involved. He goes on to say that baseball has added more playoff teams over time to increase the entertainment factor, at the cost of tilting the postseason more towards luck than skill.

After Sam mentions that tournaments like March Madness are intended more for fun than any illusion of determining the best team, Ben has little to add other than the fact that by their standards, a lot of other sports were just mentioned.  Like me, he doesn’t know a lot about the BCS other than the fact that everyone hated it. He does add that it would be relatively easy to crown a “best” MLB team considering the number of games played. For example, the 2001 Mariners.

Email #2: BP author Jason Wojciechowski asks if the guys would rather have Roy Halladay and creamy peanut butter, or Cliff Lee and crunchy peanut butter. The peanut butter need not actually be put on the player.

(According to the National Peanut Board, 60% of peanut butter sales are of the creamy variety. And this email was read in November, which is National Peanut Butter Lovers Month.) Ben and Sam wholeheartedly agree that creamy is better, though Ben hoped that they wouldn’t, because they all too often agree on other issues. It’s hard to tell where Jason falls on this, considering that the peanut butter factor was likely meant to act as a sort of point spread, if you will. And as Ben and Sam would get into, the Halladay-Lee choice wasn’t so obvious.

Sam talks about how Halladay had a down year in 2012, due in part to a shoulder injury (89 ERA+, 156.1 IP, 0 CG). He cites the early PECOTA projections for 2013, in which Lee has 5th in WARP, and  Halladay 14th. While not sure how long they would have the pitcher of their choice, they both ultimately decided on Lee. Ben was less certain (“Maybe the peanut butter difference does decide it”), but Halladay’s recent injury history made him favor Lee.

They made the right pick, as Halladay was limited to 62 IP due to another shoulder injury in 2013, and retired after that season. Lee had a 131 ERA+ in 222 IP in 2013. Elbow injuries in 2014 would limit him to a 102 ERA+ in 81.1 IP. If Jason had had in mind that Lee was the logical choice, we could then assume he also prefers creamy?

Email #3: Scott in NY:A Fangraphs piece posits we do not have the forecasting capabilities to look at a 75-win team and tell them they can’t be a 90-win team in the following year. So, do you believe that’s true? If so, what are the implications for Jonah Keri’s 2002 BP piece about the ‘Success Cycle?’ . . . Is it folly for a GM to identify a window for contention, or should more teams be trying to win 85 games every year?”

Ben agrees with the premise that we can’t forecast with enough precision. The second wild card has also “lowered the barrier to contention,” and it’s harder to rule teams out for a given season. Ben says the proverbial window may close more slowly than it used to, or open more quickly.

Sam refers to one of his own recent articles on the topic (apparently one on GM predictions). He elaborates that the main issue is that there are so many layers to miss: assessing talent, the difference between the talent’s production and actual results (runs scored/allowed), and then Pythagorean factors on top of that.

Sam mentions a then-forthcoming book on sports betting by Joe Peta (Trading Bases: How a Wall Street Trader Made a Fortune Betting on Baseball), in which Peta had laid out a system for betting on baseball daily. He would bet big on games with he had high confidence in, but would also make smaller bets on games with lower confidence levels. Sam initially found it counter-intuitive to not bet only on the high-confidence games, but assumed it was a parallel to stock traders and hedging investments. In terms of team-building, a team that expects to win in the high 80s will “bet” more, but a team that expects to win in the low 70s may still bet to a lesser extent.

 

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