Friday, August 01, 2008

Missing The Point On The Manny Trade

Update: I wrote this post before Jason Bay's first game with the Sox. Side note: sportswriters still don't get it, noting that Bay had "failed to put the ball in play" in his first five appearances. He had two walks and a hit-by-pitch. He was a baserunner four of the six times he came to the plate. Forget batting average. Ignore batting average. On-base-percentage and slugging percentage. (There are other useful stats, but that's where you should start.)

Prediction is difficult, especially about the future.

When statisticians claim that 80% of the variance in baseball is due to
chance, people leap to the ridiculous conclusion that they mean “baseball is 80% luck.” We all pretty readily conclude that we personally would get a hit off Josh Becket 0% of the time, and would strike out Albert Pujols 0% of the time, so we reject the notion immediately. It is this kind of misunderstanding that leads people to reject statistical analysis in general.

Well, actually, people reject statistical analysis because they don’t want to do any math more complicated than addition and subtraction, but they want a more elevated reason to tell other people.

Variance at the major-league level includes the important detail that you are starting from a pool of people who are the 1000 best in the world at this game. Because they all, even the worst of them, fill up the “skill” portion of the equation to almost 100%, the chance factor looms larger than it would in a pure situation.

Chance is why the better team can lose 11-3 in MLB. The NFL equivalent
score of a better team losing 42-14 never happens. There is chance and
luck in football, of course, but not to nearly the same degree. In baseball, Albert Pujols can hit 3 towering flies to the warning track and go 0-3; a guy you brought up from AAA for a week because of injuries can hit a bleeder through the infield and drive in the winning run. No one looks at that game’s box score and says “OMG, we’ve got to get that guy who outhit Pujols yesterday!”

Two rules of thumb for determining how much a sport’s variance depends on chance are a) how many games they play in a season and b) what percentage of games the championship team loses. These are not independent.

Superior skill in baseball shows over time. Over 162+ games, the slight skill advantage will gradually squeeze out the element of chance.

With that in mind, let’s look at the Ramirez trade. For this season, what is the expected outcome for the Red Sox in wins and losses? (We’ll turn to subsequent seasons in a moment). Sabermetricians usually estimate this in terms of runs. We can’t know in advance whether the runs player A creates will be in a situation that wins games, but we know that over time, creating more runs wins more ballgames. Manny has an Onbase Plus Slugging of .926. Bay has an OPS of .894. Over the remaining 50+ games, that would translate into an estimated 7 extra runs for the Red Sox with Manny in the lineup. That is a difference of 0.4 wins. In a pennant race, that may be significant. It can be the difference between going to the playoffs and going home.

But wait, there’s an extra wrinkle. Manny’s estimated extra runs are predicated on he and Bay having the same number of at-bats. Is that a reasonable assumption? Not at all. They might end up with an equal number of at-bats from here, but Bay has more AB at this point in the season for a good reason: Manny’s been hurt a little. Who is more likely to be hurt and miss games during the rest of the season? Manny, of course, and in Boston, those at-bats would likely be have been picked up by Ellsbury or Crisp. Their OPS for those 10-50 AB must be factored in to Ramirez’s total to get an accurate picture of the trade. The Red Sox have lost about a third of a win this season with this trade, on average. Chance factors make a range estimate more accurate. Boston may lose as many as three wins with the trade; they may gain as many as two wins. Throw in fielding and baserunning, and this is a nearly even trade. For this season.

Next season, they already have a guy under contract who is about 20 runs per season less good than Manny Ramirez, for one-third the price. Those extra millions will go a long way toward paying people you want to get or keep.

The Red Sox robbed the National League blind with this trade.


Ben Wyman said...

I absolutely agree, but I think you underestimate the damage the loss of Manny causes this season. Manny is one of the most feared sluggers in the game, and presence in the on-deck circle means Youk sees a lot more good pitches. Plus, having him as an ace in the hole makes the team feel more competitive - down 3 to the Yankees in the 8th? Don't worry, Manny's up this inning.

Plus, Manny always came up huge in the playoffs and has been devastating against the Yankees historically. If we sneak into the playoffs this year, we'll definitely miss his bat and that "we can come back anytime" swagger he gave our team.

Anonymous said...

It is one of those "you can look it up" responses to Wyman. In his career with the Sox, Manny is 15 for 51 in the divisional series (by the way they are set up, that cannot be against the Yankees). That is slightly under .300. In LCS with the Red Sox, Manny batted .300 and .310 in 03 and 04, both against the Yankees. His best LCS was against Cleveland last year when he batted .409 with 10 RBI in a 7 game series. In the World Series, he came up huge against St. Louis and was the MVP batting .412. Against Colorado last year, .250. J D Drew did better than that! Manny has batted under .300 the last two years and three out of the last four (that includes 2008). After become a regular with Cleveland, he batted under .300 only once prior to free agency. He is a great hitter on the decline. That does not mean he can't still bring fear into the eyes of an opposing pitcher. But not the way he used to. He is beginning to remind me of Jim Rice at the latter stages of his career. Oh, and last year was the first time since 97 that he drove in fewer than 100 runs in a season. Good riddance, I say!

Ben Wyman said...

You might also look at this article, which enthused me no end about the deal. His dad's a diehard Red Sox fan!

You're wrong to say that the Red Sox robbed the NL blind. The Dodgers got Manny for essentially nothing at all. It's the Pirates who got robbed.

Anonymous said...

I agree to a certain extent. I don't think that the Sox dug a hole for themselves here. Bay is a good player, and will produce reasonably well for the Sox. He'll be in the lineup more often, and he'll be a quieter, more solid presence in the clubhouse. If he approaches his NL Rookie of the Year potential he'll just about equal what the aging Manny would do number-wise.

From that standpoint I'm sanguine on the trade. But there's one or two things you haven't taken into account. First, a lineup is just that, and the presence of a feared hitter in the four hole affects the pitching to the batters in the 2, 3, and 5 holes greatly. How will Ortiz, Youkilis, Drew and Lowell be affected by this trade, in terms of the pitching that they see? Would you pitch to Ortiz with the game on the line with Lowell or Drew or Bay in the on-deck circle?

Second is the fact that they were forced to use some chips (Moss, Hanson) in the deal and didn't have them to get yet another bat, a strong lefty reliever or an additional starter.

Third, next year's $20 mil was a club option; they wouldn't have had to pay him any of it unless they wanted to.

I like what Manny has produced on the field. He can flat out hit, and he hits better in September and October. He's also a guy who can carry a team for three weeks when he's hot (and motivated).

He's also a prima donna of the highest order, and chemistry is important. If the team can focus on playing and winning games bette this may be a great trade.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

wyman, upon reflection, I agree that the Dodgers did more than okay with this. Playing in the weaker league and batting in a picher's park should just about even out for Manny.

Giacomo, I agree they wouldn't have had to spend the $20M if they didn't want to, but then they'd have to go get someone, and possible pay big for it. They got almost-Manny for $6M, locked in. Giving up chips- yeah, that's true. I don't see how you get around it, though.

I don't know if the lineup effect is actually as strong as it looks on paper. If the batter actually following Ortiz is about the same but the other team is responding to reputation rather than actuality, it could be an advantage. There might be a fear factor that affects the some pitchers.

As to chemistry, I am always of mixed feelings. On the one hand, baseball almost uniquely requires a mental attitude that is both calm and alert (rather like surgery, I would think), and anything which upsets that is detrimental. OTOH, I often suspect that a lot of these guys are just prima donnas who don't feel they have to put up the same annoyances that everyone else does. Shut up and play.