Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.

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Friday, August 12, 2021

vapor trails
I don’t dig the beisbol, but even I’m impressed by 43-year-old Roger Clemensmind-boggling pitching performance this year, as expounded by John Romano.

In fact, Romano thinks there’s not enough noise being generated over The Rocket’s latter-day resurgence:

It’s been nearly 40 years since a pitcher has had an ERA so low. And no one has ever had a better ERA relative to that season’s league average.

So why no prime time cut-ins? Why no breathless discussions of his greatness? Why is the Hall of Fame not following him from town to town?

Maybe because he has been screwed by teammates in Houston. The way he’s pitching, Clemens should be 18-2. But, because of a lack of offense and bullpen collapses, he is 11-4. In three starts, he’s left with the score tied 0-0. In four others, relievers have blown a save.

Ah, you say. There’s the flaw. He can no longer throw deep into games. Um, not really. Coming into the season, he had averaged exactly seven innings per start in his career. This season, he’s averaging 62/3 innings.

No matter how you dissect it, the guy’s been phenomenal.

And he’s 43.

In the print edition of today’s paper, there was a chart accompanying this column detailing pitchers who dominated their peers by percentage. Unfortunately, the chart didn’t make it to the online edition. So I’ve re-created it here:


Others have posted lower ERAs, particularly in the dead ball era, but no pitcher has been so far ahead of the league curve as Clemens has this season. His 1.38 ERA is 68 percent better than the NL average of 4.30. In other words, no pitcher has ever been this much better than his peers:

Pitcher Year ERA League ERA % Difference
Roger Clemens 2005 1.38 4.30 68.0%
Dutch Leonard 1914 0.96 2.73 64.8%
Pedro Martinez 2000 1.74 4.91 64.6%
Greg Maddux 1994 1.56 4.21 63.0%
Bob Gibson 1968 1.12 2.99 62.5%
Walter Johnson 1913 1.14 2.93 61.1%
Greg Maddux 1995 1.63 4.18 61.0%
Mordecai Brown 1906 1.04 2.62 60.3%

It’s a very pertinent way of looking at a player’s performance — really, the best way. The best measure of your performance is how you do against your competition. Clemens’ separation from the pack in the here-and-now, by such an impressive margin, is what counts here.

- Costa Tsiokos, Fri 08/12/2021 09:26:26 PM
Category: Baseball | Permalink | Feedback

Thursday, August 04, 2021

rafael rage
While the entire Top Ten List from Tuesday’s “Late Show with David Letterman” was funny, the very first one Dave read hit me in such a way that I had a good, long, out-loud laugh — and that’s something rare in these jaded times.

From “Top Ten Rafael Palmeiro Excuses” for the Oriole’s steroid shame:

10. “Pete Rose bet me I wouldn’t do it”

- Costa Tsiokos, Thu 08/04/2021 08:43:17 AM
Category: TV, Baseball, Comedy | Permalink | Feedback

Saturday, June 25, 2021

Ah, the death of athleticism beckons: The first two innings of a real-life July 16th minor-league baseball game in Kansas City will be played out on an Xbox by fans. The flesh-and-blood players for the Kansas City T-Bones and Schaumburg Flyers will then take the field to contest the remaining seven innings.

Instead of checking for pine tar, I guess the Northern League umpires will have to watch out for any use of cheat codes.

I’ll laugh my ass off if the two-inning result ends up being a lopsided 14-2, and the real-life trailing team bitches long and hard about that.

- Costa Tsiokos, Sat 06/25/2005 07:35:32 PM
Category: Baseball, Videogames | Permalink | Feedback

Monday, June 13, 2021

sweet who?
He’s been dropping little hints for weeks now, rumblings so low that only the locals really noticed.

But yesterday, Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella finally let it rip bigtime, lambasting the team’s ownership group for pinching the pennies:

“When I came here three years ago, we were talking about a situation where we wanted to win now, and we were interested in winning now,” Piniella said before Sunday’s 7-5, 13-inning win over the Pirates. “With a small payroll, we improved it from 55 (wins) to 63, and from 63 to 70. This was supposed to be the breakout year.

“The problem is we’ve got a new ownership group here that’s changed the direction of where we’re headed. They’re not interested about the present. They’re interested about the future. And that’s their right. But when other teams are getting better presently and we’re not, you’re going to get your butts beat, and that’s exactly what’s happening.

“I’m not going to take responsibility for this. If I had been given a $40- or $45-million payroll and was getting beat like that, I’d stand up like a man and say it’s my fault. Well, I’m not going to do it.”

As the article notes, the interesting thing about this is that Piniella isn’t bashing Vince Naimoli, the team’s founder and managing general partner, and focus of fans’ ire. Rather, he’s pinning the blame on Stuart Sternberg, who bought into the franchise a couple of years ago and has been considered the on-the-horizon salvation for the club. The vibe in Tampa Bay is that the team’s never going to improve as long as Naimoli is running things, so there’s no reason to expect anything different until Sternberg assumes the mantle in the next year or so.

At first blush, Piniella’s remarks suggest that it may be folly to count on the new ownership to turn around the ship. However, it looks more like a question of timing. Sternberg may very well be looking to the future, thereby sacrificing the present. It may result in a winning squad at Tropicana Field within five years; unfortunately, that’s not going to include Piniella, who wants to win now.

So what happens from here? Piniella obviously is orchestrating his departure from a situation he knows won’t get any better soon. There are ideas:

Have Piniella’s agent negotiate a reassignment. Make him a special assistant to the general manager. Or, better yet, put him in the TV booth with Dewayne Staats and Joe Magrane.

This accomplishes several things. It keeps Piniella from beating his head on the dugout wall every night. It gets him out of the dugout without firing him. And, most importantly, it lets 29 other teams know he is available.

So (wink, wink) if the Yankees decide to fire Joe Torre, they know they can hire Lou. Essentially, Piniella would be on display for all to see.

And the Rays would not only get themselves off the hook for the $4.5-million or so they owe Piniella next year, but they could get cash or players in return if he leaves to manage somewhere else in 2006.

The Yankees route is the default assumption, and might very well turn out to be true. The question is how to accomplish it. I seriously doubt there’s much interest in either side for putting Piniella in a stopgap assignment — he wants to manage, and Sternberg couldn’t be crazy about keeping him around in any capacity (especially not in the broadcast chair, where there’s more opportunity to publicly criticize the team). The prospects of trading Piniella are intriguing (not so far-fetched, since, technically, managers are on the team roster, and therefore can be swapped just like any player).

All in all, it’s a shame to see Piniella come to this, with a club he came to largely because it’s in his hometown. He’s probably wishing he had chosen the Mets, who were hot after him when he was leaving Seattle in 2002. However, I’m glad he didn’t, if only because it resulted in this corker of a headline in the New York Post: LOU-SERS - AND HOWE! (the “Howe” referring to Art Howe, who was the Mets’ Plan B, only to be fired two years later).

- Costa Tsiokos, Mon 06/13/2005 10:52:38 AM
Category: Baseball | Permalink | Feedback

Wednesday, June 08, 2021

hit show
It’s a dubious honor, to be sure, but an all-time record is an all-time record. Houston Astro 2B Craig Biggio is currently No. 4 on the Major League Baseball career hit-by-pitch list, and has a chance to become the leader this season, displacing good ol’ Hughie Jenkins.

Appropriately enough, there’s someone keeping an eagle-eye on Biggio’s “progress” (if you want to characterize it as such). And even more appropriately, he’s doing it via a blog entitled Plunk Biggio. Since this is a statistical endeavour, it includes plenty of plunk-centric metrics, like how often Biggio has been pegged on full-moon nights.

I think Biggio should embrace his destiny, and start publicly soliciting the beanballs. First step: Adopt Britney Spears’ “Hit Me Baby One More Time” as his at-bat music.

- Costa Tsiokos, Wed 06/08/2021 09:59:46 AM
Category: Baseball | Permalink | Feedback (2)

Monday, May 23, 2021

Just when you thought statistical theory was so much bunk, Knoxville-based QualPro is turning heads with its analytical techniques that boost companies’ efficiencies (and therefore bottom lines).

What’s QualPro’s secret? Multivariable testing, or MVT, a method that basically makes some statistical assumptions, which enables running fewer models. Once the number of experiments becomes managable, something like MVT has enormous business application:

Shortly after SBC took control of Ameritech in late 1999 its service operation fell apart, with some customers waiting weeks or months to get phone service restored or new lines installed. In 2000 SBC brought hundreds of technicians from Missouri, Texas and elsewhere to the Midwest to regain control.

SBC considered the situation normal once it reduced the backlog to about 80,000 Midwest customers awaiting service…

Following its usual format for problem solving, QualPro’s consultants held brainstorming sessions with people who did the repair and installation work for SBC-technicians and customer reps who answer complaint calls as well as managers and department chiefs. Everyone was asked to propose ideas for improving the process.

The only suggestions considered were those that cost little or nothing and were easy and practical to implement, said Kieron Dey, QualPro technical director…

The experiment identified about eight changes that improved efficiency. Most were fairly simple things such as giving employees written instructions rather than relying upon them to remember what they were told.

The firm acted on the suggestions. Over several months SBC’s backlog in the Midwest was cut in half, dropping to about 40,000, [former SBC Communications exec Ed] Mueller said.

“It’s unbelievable you could get it there and sustain it in a cost-effective way,” said Mueller, who was so impressed with MVT that he traveled to Knoxville to study [QualPro president Charles] Holland’s methods.

To paraphrase Bart Simpson: They actually found a practical use for geometry statistics!

And the fun isn’t limited to the business world:

“Anything that can be measured can be improved,” Holland said. He has even applied his methods to his teenage son’s baseball team.

Using a radar gun Holland measures how fast a baseball leaves the bat once it is hit. As each batter changes various factors, such as his stance, bat length and weight, Holland records the performance.

By finding an optimal batting strategy for each player, Holland said, batters have raised by 10 miles an hour the average speed of a batted ball. The extra speed translates into more runners reaching base, he said, and has helped the team achieve a batting average above .400.

Look for several Major League teams, and player agents, to be scrambling for QualPro’s phone number.

- Costa Tsiokos, Mon 05/23/2005 11:25:04 PM
Category: Baseball, Business, Science | Permalink | Feedback

Tuesday, May 17, 2021

pitch in time
What’s the difference between a slider and a curveball? How can you tell if a fastball is of the four-seam, two-seam, or split-finger variety? Learn the intricacies of the big-league pitches, and of those who flung them best.

Just wondering: Does the publication of such a tutorial indicate that the Tampa Bay area is somehow baseball-ignorant? I ask because whenever a comparable hockey piece runs in the area papers, the pucks cognoscenti start crying about how undeserving the region (and the Southeast in general) is to have NHL hockey.

Anyway, I found the variant nicknames for the pitches to be most enlightening:

Four-seam fastball: Gas, Cheese, Heat

Two-seam fastball: Sinker, Backdoor fastball

Curveball: The Hook, The Deuce, Lord Charles, Uncle Charlie

Slider: Biter

Changeup: Change, Offspeed, Dead Fish

Split-finger fastball: Splitter

Knuckleball: Knuckler, Floater

I’d like to know why “Charley” is associated with the curveball. Seems like a Vietnam thing, but that would be silly.

The obsolete pitches are also of interest, particularly the bone-breaking screwball:

The screwball behaves just the opposite of a curveball. For example, if a right-handed pitcher throws a screwball to a left-handed batter, the ball spins away from the batter. The Dodgers’ Fernando Valenzuela might have thrown the best screwball ever.

So why don’t pitchers still use it?

“Here’s why,” Rays coach Chuck Hernandez said, pointing to the long scar from surgery that runs across his elbow.

Because the pitcher has to twist his arm with an inside-out motion, it’s only a matter of time before the elbow, bending in a way not intended by nature, breaks.

Watch for the next Major League pitching sensation to be a rubber-boned freak of nature who can contort his pitching limb to deliver the ultimate screwball.

- Costa Tsiokos, Tue 05/17/2005 10:17:24 PM
Category: Baseball | Permalink | Feedback

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