June 18, 2017

I'm sorry, Mr. Thornburg

It's my fault.  Every year I answer a list of preseason questions about the Red Sox.  This year I was asked if there was an unheralded player that people should keep an eye on this season.  I answered that Tyler Thornburg was going to be a lights out set up guy that would give us a very solid bullpen.
Now, our bullpen HAS vastly exceeded expectations so far, but Thornburg has not been a part of it, nor will he be for the rest of the season.

Unfortunately, this isn't the first time that my preseason forecast has cursed a player that season.  In fact, it seems that whatever player(s) I highlight in my posts end up under performing that season.

In 2012, when asked about what prospect could make an impact I picked Jose Iglesias, saying that "If Boston is scoring lots of runs, but infield defense becomes a problem, he could be called up early to solidify the shortstop position".
Well, he got called up in late August and batted all of .118.  As far as being a defensive upgrade, I'll admit that his defense did help the Red Sox win the World Series.  But that wasn't until in 2013, when he was making errors for the Tigers against us in the ALCS.

May 16, 2017

Alberta Pro Ballplayers

I often talk about our local ballplayers on twitter, but it’s been a while since I gave a more lengthy update on what’s been happening with these players.  Here's a quick recap on all the Alberta products playing pro ball.  (I think - if I missed someone, PLEASE let me know!)

Mike Soroka:
This Calgarian, who was a first round draft pick of the Atlanta Braves in 2015, got promoted to the AA Mississippi Braves and got off to a hot start.  In his first three starts he posted a 1.62 ERA and struck out 18 while only walking one batter -  Chris Sale like numbers!

May 11, 2017

Where is the home field advantage in baseball?

In most major sports, teams usually have a measurable (i.e., statistically significant when other issues are factored in) home field advantage.  That is, they win more games at home than on the road, when playing the same teams or teams of equal caliber.  There are two main reasons for this:

1 – Generic advantages of playing at home:
This includes things such as: less tired from travel and/or lack of jet lag; sleeping in your own bed, eating familiar food vs. sleeping in a hotel and eating whatever you find; getting an extra adrenaline rush from the home crowd cheering - i.e., the 12th man (or 13th as they call it in Saskatchewan!) effect; home crowd effect on officials giving favorable calls; familiarity with playing on home field; possible additional comfort/amenities of home clubhouse/dugout/bullpen vs  visitor’s facilities.

And maybe there are more, but the above, if not necessarily measurable or even significant are at least intuitive, and I’m sure my readers can think of other similar advantages.

Looking at these factors, it would seem that baseball has more home of these advantages than other sports. Most fields in other sports have the same dimensions. In baseball, every field is unique. A left fielder who plays 81 games at Fenway Park is likely to know how a ball bounces off the monster better than a non-division opponent who sees the wall three times a year. Teams can tailor their rosters somewhat to their specific field conditions (e.g., more righty or lefty pull hitters depending on dimensions, more ground ball pitchers at Coors Field, faster outfielders in large outfields, etc.). Also, the fact that they play almost every day would exacerbate their travel tiredness/jet lag. Flying from Boston to Anaheim on a Sunday night, playing 3 nights in a row, and then going to Seattle for a series starting on Thursday seems to be more tiring than playing in Foxborough on Sunday and having a week before the next game in Seattle and another week off before playing their next game, even if it is back on the East coast.

2 – Strategic advantages of being the home team 
This is specific to each sport. I’m not familiar with any strategic advantages in basketball, soccer or football (does it matter who calls the coin flip? Maybe there’s a psychological advantage? I doubt it).  In the NHL, the home team gets to make the last line change. I don’t know much about hockey so don’t really understand if this is a significant advantage, but at least it’s a difference.  And in baseball, of course, the home team bats last.  This should be a huge benefit. In the bottom of the 9th or later, the home team KNOWS whether they just need to score one run to tie or win, or need to be conservative on the bases to play for two or more runs. In the top of the inning, the visiting team has no such luxury. They need to weigh the probabilities of trying to tie the game vs. taking a lead. If the visitors take the lead in the 9th or later, the home team always has a chance to tie or win. In the same situation, if the home team takes the lead… the ball game is over.

So, again, baseball has more of a strategic home field advantage than other sports.  

But none of these advantages seem to show up in the home/away splits of baseball teams as much as they do in other sports.  This recent 538 article shows that NBA teams win approximately 60% of their home games, NFL 57%, NHL 55% and MLB 54%.  Just using simpler numbers, this season only eight of 30 NBA teams had losing home records, and seven had winning road records.  Several teams that weren't close to making the playoffs, including Detroit and Dallas who came in last in their divisions, had winning records at home.  Meanwhile, Cleveland with the second best record in the entire conference, had a losing record when not playing on home court.   The NFL had similar numbers with only 7 of 32 teams having losing records at home, and the same number winning more than losing on the road(*). The Houston Texans made the playoffs despite going 2-6 on the road,  by going 7-1 at home. The Eagles had the opposite problem: 6-2 at home couldn't overcome a 1-7 road record.  

But in baseball, it was 17 out of 30 teams had winning records at home and 18 losing on the road. Slightly more than half, but not as pronounced as in the other leagues.  In fact I only counted seven teams that had a winning record at home and losing on the road.  In other words, most of the over. 500 teams had wining records both at home and the road, and the sub .500 clubs had losing records whether at home or on the road. 

So, my question is WHY is there a not a bigger difference in the home vs road records in baseball than there is in other sports?

I don't know.  I'd love to hear my reader's thoughts. Please post in the comments below, or @ me on twitter

* Several teams had identical 4-4 records and I didn't include these

April 06, 2017

Roster Moves and Depth Chart

Noe Ramirez and Marco Hernandez better get used to this
There have been a flurry of roster moves the last few days.  The Red Sox played Wednesday’s night game shorthanded.  Robbie Ross and Mookie Betts were battling flu-like symptoms, and Brock Holt’s condition was so bad that he wasn’t even at the ballpark. That was a bad time to have an extra inning game, but Sandy “the Lion King” Leon sent everyone happy by walking it off in the 12th.

Right after the game Matt Barnes was put on the bereavement leave, and Noe Ramirez called up to take his place.  This morning we learned that Xander Bogaerts was also placed on bereavement leave and Marco Hernandez came up to take his roster spot.  Now Robbie Ross’ flu worsened and he was put on the DL with Deven Marrero taking his place.  Why an infielder instead of another reliever?  Well, taking a look at the depth chart below will explain this.

The Red Sox were already carrying an extra bullpen arm, since they had the luxury of not needing a 5th starter right away, and have kept Drew Pomeranz on the DL until he is needed (likely on Tuesday).  The extra middle infielder is due to Brock Holt’s flu.  If he’s unavailable, Hernandez will start at SS and Marrero becomes the utility bench guy.  The bench is going to be Holt (flu), Young, Vazquez, Marrero and Selksy.

Here is the current roster/depth chart. Players with a strikethrough are not on current 25, players in brackets are listed a subsequent time in a position other than their primary position.

(Rutledge – DL)
Bogaerts (bereavement)
(Rutledge – DL)
Rutledge (DL)

Starting Pitchers:
Price (DL)
Pomeranz (DL)
Relief Pitchers:
Thornburg (DL)
Smith (DL)
Ross (DL)

Marrero will go back down when Bogaerts comes off the bereavement list.
Noe Ramirez will be replaced by Barnes when he comes off.
Since our bullpen is back down to seven arms, and we have an extra position player on the bench, to make room for Pomeranz, one of the bench players will go back down.  If Holt is fully recovered from the flu, I suspect it will be Marco Hernandez back to AAA.

And when Robbie Ross is activated (he’ll be eligible on April 13th), Ben Taylor’s cup of coffee will be finished for now.

At least that’s what I expect the plan will be, although injuries and overuse of pitchers may dictate different moves being made over the next week or so.

April 03, 2017

Opening Day!!!!

It's Opening Day. I know yesterday was the official MLB Opening Day, but today is the first Red Sox game of the season so now it really counts! By the way, if you don't capitalize "Opening Day", we can't be friends.  It should be a national (both in the US and Canada) holiday.  It IS an official stat holiday for my company (perk of being the owner - I make the rules).

Anyhow, I'm looking forward to it. Not quite as much as the 2014 opener when I was at Fenway to see the banner get raised, but every Opening Day is special.

The Red Sox have finalized their 25 man roster.  Not too different than what I had predicted in mid February.

Here are the guys we get to look forward to as the season starts:

Starting pitchers
Rick Porcello
Chris Sale (L)
Steven Wright
Eduardo Rodriguez (L)

I had Price and Pomeranz also on the roster.  They are both on the DL. I had EdRo starting in Pawtucket but did say he'd be in the rotation if anyone was injured.  Pomeranz seems like a roster move, since they won't need a 5th starter until his DL stint is up.

Relief Pitchers
Craig Kimbrel
Joe Kelly
Matt Barnes
Robbie Ross (L)
Heath Embree
Robby Scott (L)
Fernando Abad (L)
Ben Taylor

I had the same first six guys.  Also had included Tyler Thornburg who is on the DL. I thought the 2nd loogy spot would be a battle between Scott and Abad and Scott would win it.  With the Thornburg injury there's room for both.  Ben Taylor was a surprise addition, whose spot was open due to the aforementioned Pomeranz temporary roster move.

Sandy Leon (S)
Christian Vazquez

No surprises here.  Swihart starting in Pawtucket because he has options.

Mitch Moreland (L)
Dustin Pedroia
Xander Bogaerts
Pablo Sandoval (S)
Hanley Ramirez
Brock Holt (L)
Steve Selsky

I had the first six guys.  Thought the last utility spot would go to Josh Rutledge over Marco Hernandez.  Rutledge is on the DL, and with Moreland battling the flu, Steve Selsky is more able to back up first base than Hernandez.

Mookie Betts
Jackie Bradley Jr. (L)
Andrew Benintendi (L)
Chris Young

Again, no surprises there.

So, in total I had correctly forecasted 21 of the 25 players on the Opening Day roster.  The ones I missed, Price, Pomeranz, Thornburg and Rutlege are all on the DL.

This afternoon, I will be watching the Red Sox opener at a local drinking establishment with a bunch of baseball fans.
Here is the lineup for today's game:
1. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
2. Andrew Benintendi, LF
3. Mookie Betts, RF
4. Hanley Ramirez, DH
5. Mitch Moreland, 1B
6. Xander Bogaerts, SS
7. Jackie Bradley Jr., CF
8. Pablo Sandoval, 3B
9. Sandy Leon, C
Pitching - Rick Porcello

For Pedroia, this is his 11th straight start on Opening Day.  Guys such as Ted Williams, Jim Rice, Dwight Evans, Wade Boggs and David Ortiz never did that. In fact, if Pedroia starts on Opening Day next year, he'll tie the Red Sox record, currently held by Yaz.

Beni starts in LF.  Hopefully he'll end up a fixture for years to come there, following in the footsteps of Williams, Yaz, Rice and Ramirez, who started 55 Opening Days between them since 1940.