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    Knuckleballers

    Posted by simon c on 2008 March 19日 Wednesday

    Many baseball fans tend to have a soft spot for knuckleballers, and I’m no different.

    It looks like R.A. Dickey will make the Mariners opening day roster with his successful spring training and AAA season. Let’s hope he makes the roster, knucklers are always fun to watch. EWC article and amusing video here.

    NPB had a knuckler last year with Jared Fernandez of the Hiroshima Carp. Unfortunately for him, the Carp, and all knuckleball fans, his stint in Japan was unsuccessful. His numbers were worse across the board (ERA, H/9, HR/9, K/9, BB/9) than during his minor league career. They were even worse than his MLB numbers, except for BB/9. Though small sample caviat obviously applies here, I wonder what the cause for his lack of success here. Then again some people can throw better knucklers than others, so maybe Japanese batters were better able to hit his not-so-good knuckleballs. As pitching in Japan is less about power and more about deception, so the batters might be better at hitting slower pitches, perhaps. Or it could just be that he didn’t adapt well to NPB, that happens to many imports every year.

    Posted in 02_English, baseball, information, MLB, NPB | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

    Lohse’s 1 year 4.75 mil contract

    Posted by simon c on 2008 March 17日 Monday

    Kyle Lohse signs a 1 year 4.25 million dollar (with 500k in performance bonus) contract with the St. Louis Cardinals. Similarly replacement level pitchers like Carlos Silva and Jeff Suppan have been getting something like 4 year $40m contracts in recent off seasons, but something changed. Maybe a critical mass of major league teams have finally realized the value of replacement level performance, as suggested in the timely USS Mariner article (via EWC). Also it’s probably ironic that the ever rising salaries of free agents brought on this shift in player valuations sooner than later (though, it’s the future replacement level free agents that will miss out on free money, the current batch have already laughed their way to the bank at least once).

    Posted in 02_English, baseball, information, MLB, opinion, Sabermetrics | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

    KHL: The Russian answer to the NHL

    Posted by simon c on 2008 March 14日 Friday

    A good roundup on Eurohockey.net about the KHL (Kontinental Hockey League) that will replace the Russian Super League in Russia. The league aims to expand beyond Russia, and already have a Kazakhstani club Barys Astana join the league, and there are rumours about Jokerit Helsinki of Finland as well. The league will operate with 24 teams, but only have 22 teams committed so far. It will be interesting to see who the other 2 teams will be.

    I’m not quite keen on the division idea that will have ever changing divisions according to team strength (like in the soccer World Cup, teams are put into a pool, and drawn out of a hat, lottery style to determine the divisions). At least locking in the divisions for 3-5 years would create some consistency since the divisions are not geographical anyways.

    The salary cap of approximately $24 million per team will be enough to retain and regain some (marginal) Russian talent from the NHL. The salary power balance is reminiscent of the balance between MLB and NPB. Unless the KHL really takes off and can bring salary levels up to near-NHL levels (though it’s already pretty impressive at nearly half), it won’t be a truly competitive league (like in soccer with the English, Spanish, and Italian leagues). But it’s a good start, let’s hope the league has a financially viable business model.

    Incorporating drafts and player exchange trades into Europe will be a really interesting sports business experiment.

    Posted in 02_English, hockey, information, International, NHL, opinion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

    More Sabermetric man-crush for Brian Bannister

    Posted by simon c on 2008 March 12日 Wednesday

    Here’s more sabermetric love going to Brian Bannister. It’ll be interesting to see if he can repeat his success from his rookie year where he managed a winning record and sub-4.00 ERA with the Royals.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in 02_English, baseball, MLB, Sabermetrics, statistics | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

    Projected 2008 MLB standings

    Posted by simon c on 2008 March 12日 Wednesday

    Wow, PECOTA sure is bullish on the undevilled Tampa Bay Rays (89 projected wins). Realistically TB is such a young team that the projection variations (78 – 89 wins) is just showing the volatility and unpredictability involved in projecting such a young team with many players big upsides who lack significant MLB service time and career stats. (Links to TangoTiger’s blog.)

    Posted in 02_English, baseball, information, MLB, Sabermetrics, statistics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

    NBA trades

    Posted by simon c on 2008 February 22日 Friday

    I don’t follow basketball or NBA, but this was just too good to pass up. The “soft cap” system NBA has just makes many of their trades stranger than fiction. Here’s something from Slate:

    After all the foolishness that went into making this trade happen, it’s easy to forget that Jason Kidd is going to Dallas to try to win a championship. The big winner here, though, is Keith Van Horn. Once he goes through the motions of practicing with the Nets, he’ll likely by waived and sent back home. For his trouble, he will be paid $4.3 million. The crowning irony here is that a retired player is getting a fat load of free money because of the NBA’s strict rules to control how much gets spent on salaries. Sure, that makes absolutely no sense—but this is the NBA, where backward logic rules. Now, I wonder who the Lakers could get for Karl Malone …

    If NPB or MLB is ever going to implement a salary cap system, make sure to model it after the NFL or NHL systems and not the NBA absurdity (though, the NFL one produces massive multiyear deals that never materialize, could the NHL possibly have the most sensible salary cap amongst the major sports?)

    Posted in 02_English, NFL, NHL, opinion, random | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

    Brian Bannister Q&A

    Posted by simon c on 2008 January 28日 Monday

    I’ve never read an athlete interview like this. This is an intelligent ballplayer, if not stat obsessed (an otaku, heh) of the sabermetrics kind. He’s totally in tune with progressive statistics and the importance of OBPs, though granted this is becoming more widely accepted by the general American media and fans as it appears regularly during TV broadcasts now. But Bannister digs deeper and applies the underlying philosophies to his actual pitching, this is really interesting. Now we’re not just getting sabermetric analysists in the front offices, but also out on the playing field!

    He’s likely to be available in later rounds of almost any fantasy draft, and faces really tough competition regularly against top hitting Indians and Tigers lineups, but when I’m faced with a choice between him and an equivalent starter, I will draft this Royal. (i.e. I’m now a fan.)

    Here’s a quote:

    MLBTR: What’s the most misunderstood aspect of succeeding in baseball by typical fans, sportswriters, and announcers?

    Bannister: There are two things that make baseball unique from other sports. One, baseball is a game of skill that is accentuated by the physical tools of the person performing those skills. Most people superficially judge a position player solely on size, strength, and speed, when his eyesight, balance, rhythm, hand-eye coordination, and mental makeup are much more influential factors in his future success. It is when a player embodies all of these qualities that we get our superstars and hall-of-famers. I would much rather face a hitter with “80” power and “80” speed but bad strike zone discipline than one with no power and a .400+ OBP. Over the course of time, the hitter with the .400+ OBP is going to hurt me much, much more, especially if he is surrounded by other good hitters.

    Secondly, whether you like it or not, baseball is a game of randomness. We play outdoors (mostly) in changing elements and field dimensions, and each pitch results in a series of events that can go in either teams favor. One thing that I have have come to accept is that just because I train hard physically, I practice perfectly, I prepare diligently, and execute a pitch exactly as I wanted, it can still result in a home run. In golf, if you analyze all the variables correctly (lie, distance, slope, wind, etc.) and execute your swing perfectly, it will result in a great shot. Not so for a pitcher or a hitter. A hitter can swing the bat perfectly and it will result in an out more than six times out of ten. Therefore, as a pitcher, I study and play to put the percentages in my favor more than anything because I know that I can’t control the outcome in a single game or series of games, but over the course of a season or a career I will be better than average.

    from MLB Trade Rumours

    Posted in 02_English, baseball, information, MLB, opinion, Sabermetrics | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

    Japanese ballparks are bandboxes, truth or myth?

    Posted by simon c on 2008 January 10日 Thursday

    Japanese ballparks are often accused of being tiny bandboxes where routine outfield fly balls slapped by weak hitters turn into homeruns. Is this actually true, or is this just an outdated myth similar to “Tokyo/Japan is expensive” (it’s not, especially now with the weak yen, tax inclusive pricing, various deregulations that brought down tariffs and prices, and the no tipping culture.)

    Let’s take a look at actual ballpark dimensions because otherwise they’re just mere speculations and anecdotes.

    NPB Stadiums

    2007                  
     

    Field Dimensions (feet)

    Wall Height (feet)

     

    Franchise

    City

    Stadium

    Year

    LF

    CF

    RF

    LF

    CF

    RF

    Surface

    BayStars

    Yokohama

    Yokohama Stadium

    1978

    308.4

    387.1

    308.4

    16.4

    16.4

    16.4

    Turf

    Carp

    Hiroshima

    Hiroshima Municipal Stadium

    1957

    299.9

    379.9

    299.9

    10.5

    10.5

    10.5

    Grass/Dirt

    Dragons

    Nagoya

    Nagoya Dome

    1997

    328.1

    400.3

    328.1

    15.7

    15.7

    15.7

    Turf

    Giants

    Tokyo

    Tokyo Dome

    1988

    328.1

    400.3

    328.1

    13.1

    13.1

    13.1

    Turf

    Swallows

    Tokyo

    Meiji Jingu Stadium

    1926

    298.6

    393.7

    298.6

    11.5

    11.5

    11.5

    Turf

    Tigers

    Osaka

    Hanshin Koshien Stadium

    1924

    315.0

    393.7

    315.0

    10.5

    10.5

    10.5

    Grass/Dirt

    Buffaloes

    Osaka

    Osaka Dome

    1997

    328.1

    400.3

    328.1

    13.8

    13.8

    13.8

    Turf

    Eagles

    Sendai

    Miyagi Baseball Stadium

    1950

    333.0

    400.3

    333.0

    13.1

    5.9

    13.1

    Turf

    Fighters

    Hokkaido

    Sapporo Dome

    2001

    328.1

    400.3

    328.1

    18.9

    18.9

    18.9

    Turf

    Hawks

    Fukuoka

    Fukuoka Dome

    1993

    328.1

    400.3

    328.1

    19.2

    19.2

    19.2

    Turf

    Lions

    Saitama

    Seibu Dome

    1979

    328.1

    400.3

    328.1

    14.3

    10.5

    14.3

    Turf

    Marines

    Chiba

    Chiba Marine Stadium

    1990

    326.4

    400.3

    326.4

    13.1

    13.1

    13.1

    Turf

       

    NPB Average (feet)

    1973

    320.8

    396.4

    320.8

    14.2

    13.3

    14.2

    Mostly turf

       

    NPB Average (metres)

    97.8

    120.8

    97.8

    4.3

    4.0

    4.3

    Mostly turf

       

    CL Average (feet)

    1962

    313.0

    392.5

    313.0

    13.0

    13.0

    13.0

    Mostly turf

       

    CL Average (metres)

    95.4

    119.6

    95.4

    3.9

    3.9

    3.9

    Mostly turf

       

    PL Average (feet)

    1985

    328.6

    400.3

    328.6

    15.4

    13.6

    15.4

    All turf

       

    PL Average (metres)

    100.2

    122.0

    100.2

    4.7

    4.1

    4.7

    All turf

       

    MLB Average (feet)

    1986

    331.7

    405.4

    329.1

    10.4

    8.9

    10.9

    Mostly grass

       

    MLB Average (metres)

    101.1

    123.6

    100.3

    3.2

    2.7

    3.3

    Mostly grass

    I tacked the MLB averages onto the bottom of the chart for the sake of comparison. Yes, I know MLB stadiums have tons of wonky dimensions, but this makes it interesting nonetheless.

    There’s some interesting stuff here:

    • Central League teams play in older and smaller ballparks, while Pacific League teams play in modern stadiums (unfortunately they’re mostly multipurpose domes in the vein of Metrodome and SkyDome), Seibu added a roof and pushed back the outfield walls to its current dimensions a few years back. Swallows’ Jingu stadium is undergoing renovations this offseason where LF/RF walls will be pushed back to 101m (331’) and wall height will be raised to 4.5m (14.9’), turning it into a more conventional stadium from a hitters’ paradise.

    • PL stadiums have almost the same dimensions as an average MLB stadium, but with higher walls. So, this makes PL as a whole more pitcher friendly, as many potential homeruns are turned into doubles. Combining this with the Japanese style of small ball (utilizing bunts, steals, and hit and runs to get that first run on the board to put pressure on the opposition, instead of waiting for the 3 run homer and big innings that is more popular in the majors), the lowest scoring team in the PL won the pennant and the playoffs. That team is the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters (often mistakenly shortened as the Ham Fighters but “Nippon Ham” is the sponsor and “Fighters” is the team name) which was led by the now-KC manager Trey Hillman who embraced the Japanese style of play and often won low scoring 1 run games like 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2 thanks to his superior pitchers led by the 21 year old man-child Darvish Yu whose father is Iranian. I still think that OBP is an underrated skill amongst NPB management, so if some manager in a hitter friendly park can collect moneyball type players of its first incarnation (good plate discipline and power), then his team can have some success at the plate for bargain prices.

     

    • CL parks, on the other hand, are very friendly to hitters. Especially old Jingu and Hiroshima stadiums with short porches and low walls. Outfield flies that should turn into outs elsewhere in Japan (and in the majors) can become homeruns here. I can’t remember how the Rays’ Akinori Iwamura hit majority of his homeruns (even though I’m a Swallows fan) but this partially explains his significant power drop off when he went to the majors. But this makes the new Dodgers starter Hiroki Kuroda’s record even more impressive, as he had to contend with the fences being so close behind him. Yokohama is also hitter friendly with its cozy confines and minimal foul territory (see below).

     

    • On the whole, NPB stadiums are boring when compared to their MLB counterparts. Almost all stadiums built or renovated within the last 20 years feature 100m (328’) LF/RF and 122m (400’) CF walls and artificial turf. On top of that all stadiums are perfectly symmetrical. Japan missed the boat on the HOF type quirky modern retro ballparks. But then again NPB has nowhere near the financial clout of MLB to get fancy new baseball only stadiums (with retractable roofs and natural grass) built for them with mostly municipal tax payer money. Apparently the near 20’ wall of Fukuoka Dome is called the “Japanese Green Monster” sometimes, but I’ve never heard this reference before reading it on Wikipedia. Older ballparks that were used before the current ones built or renovated within the last 20 years were smaller bandboxes like Jingu and Hiroshima today, so that is where the reputation comes from, I’d reckon. Homerun king Sadaharu Oh’s 868 career homeruns while playing home games in the smaller Korakuen Stadium (Giants’ and Fighters’ home before Tokyo Dome) are equivalent to 527 MLB homeruns according to this great analysis by Jim Albright.

     

    • There are nice fairly modern outdoor stadiums with natural grass and large enough capacity in Japan. But unfortunately they’ve either been vacated like the Kobe stadium (BlueWave’s former home before they merged with the Buffaloes and gradually moved all games to the Osaka Dome), or have been built in rural locations and are only used by the NPB in neutral site barnstorming games every year (Botchan Stadium in Matsuyama on the relatively sparsely populated Shikoku island, and Sun Marine Stadium in Miyazaki on the southern island of Kyushu where the Giants hold spring training camps).

     

    • Unfortunately, the proliferation of domed stadiums in NPB means that most playing surfaces are artificial turf, with Hiroshima and Tiger’s Koshien stadiums being the only exceptions out of the 12, whereas there are only 3 artificial turf fields out of 30 MLB stadiums. These two stadiums feature something interesting that is not seen in North American pro level diamonds, completely dirt infields. Here’s what Koshien looks like during one of its national highschool championship tournaments (which culturally similar to March Madness):

    Koshien Stadium during a national highschool championship tournament

     

    These are drawings of NPB fields to give you an idea of their outfield size, gaps and foul territories.

    Drawings of NPB fields

    Foul territory sizes range from big in Sapporo Dome to tiny in Yokohama Stadium. Tokyo Dome’s gaps are not rounded like other stadiums, so that makes it easier to hit homeruns to left centre and right centre gaps.

    Since I haven’t actually done any park factor calculations and whatnot, this is all for now.

    So, there are bandbox stadiums in the CL, but there is no such thing in the PL where parks are modern with MLB dimensions but have higher walls. Interesting factors to consider when translating NPB player performances into MLB equivalencies (there are 24 interleague games each season now, 2 games each home and away, so PL teams get to play a few games in those small CL parks.)

    It would also be interesting to compare this against Korean and Taiwanese stadiums.

    Posted in baseball, information, MLB, NPB, opinion, statistics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

     
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