Thursday, March 08, 2007

Layoff is over!

I can't speak for St., but I have been neck-deep in Baseball Prospectus 2007, and it's pretty much rendered me non-argumentative for the last few weeks. Plus, it's hard to be crotchety with the impending return of baseball season.

Of course, the return of the baseball season does have one downside: The return of stupid, ill-informed baseball writing!

Take, for instance, perpetual idiot Phil Rogers. He loves saying dumb things, because I think he views his occasional writing opps on as his lone opportunity to be dumber than colleagues like Steve Phillips, Wojo and Skip Bayless.

Want to hear something really dumb? Bemoaning the fact that the White Sox aren't going to torpedo the next five years by signing Mark "Phonetics" Buehrle and Jon Garland long-term. The column's title is particularly ironic, if you ask me.


It turns out the White Sox really aren't willing to turn over four of the five spots in the deep, durable starting rotation that has forced the American League to take them seriously. That's the good news about the Javier Vazquez signing.

OK. Whatever. Dumb way to begin. But I've seen worse.

The bad news is that they might become the first team in history to build around the back end of their rotation rather than the front of it.

This single paragraph made me almost shit out the delicious Wineburger and two Coors Lights I had for lunch and which currently preclude me from being productive at work. First of all, the concept of front/back ends to rotations has always been kind of silly; outside of opening day and the playoffs, the difference between a team's "No. 2" starter and "No. 4" starter is virtually imperceptible, particularly in terms of value. Contrary to widely held belief, No. 1s rarely match up, because schedules between teams vary to such a large degree. But even if Vasquez were legitimately the No. 4 or 5 starter for the White Sox -- he's really so, totally not, if that's an actual measure of quality -- does Rogers really think this is the first time in baseball history that a team has stuck with the "back" end of its rotation and allowed its more reputable, and likely soon-to-be-overpaid "aces" walk?

I know it's not possible that Rogers is exaggerating for effect here.

By failing to prioritize the signing of his most marketable arms, White Sox general manager Ken Williams has committed himself to constructing future rotations around Jose Contreras, the oldest of the five 2006 starters, and Vazquez, the only one of the five who has a losing career record (100-105, including 11-12 season a year ago). This tells you just how much Williams and his boss, Jerry Reinsdorf, hate it when agents have leverage.

This is good stuff, because Rogers is purposely writing in a pseudo-literate matter for the purpose of obfuscation. "Most marketable arms," is a hedge; that's not an issue of quality, it's an issue of popularity(?). Fuck, I really don't have any idea exactly what that means here; is it that Williams could trade Buehrle and Garland with greater ease when they inevitably continue to be average at best? Further, is Rogers positive that Williams' gambit here (if you really want to consider what he's doing to be something counter-intuitive, as opposed to blatantly obvious and correct) is the product of the respective pitchers' agents? Is it not possible, in Rogers' universe, that Williams would make the exact same decision all things being equal? Rogers' premise could be correct, but that he states it unequivocally bothers me to no end. But that could be the mid-day beer talking.

But here's where I'm sure to lose the audience: Rogers uses two really, really untelling numbers to lend credence to his "this is unwise" argument. One is Contreras' age, the other Vasquez's W-L record. Really? Conteras is 35, which is getting up there, but today's 35 is yesterday's 30. And of all the crazy things you could bring up about Vazquez's impossible-to-figure career, you bring up W-L records? In 2003, when Vazquez was arguably the best pitcher in the major leagues, he went 13-12. Know why? Because he played for the Montreal Fucking Expos, you cocksucker. See, now I'm getting mad. Vazquez has still spent more than 2/3 of his career with Canada's erstwhile second team; think that might have something to do with his fucking win-loss record, Rogers?

No? It's because he always "pitches good enough to lose." Godgoddammitdammit. Someone get me a ticket to Chicago and a vest of C4.

On the one hand, that's the way the business works. But on the other, it still seems remarkable that a team would fail to do some heavy lifting to keep home-grown foundation pieces like Buehrle and Garland.

Oh, shit, I forgot: Being "home-grown foundation pieces" means that ERAs of 4.99 and 4.51 (not to mention WHIPs of 1.45(!) and 1.36) are actually 32.7 percent less harmful to the team. It's scientific fact, dude, with, like, studies and shit done on it. 32.7 percent.

Yes, Buehrle might pitch badly again in 2007, as he did in the second half of '06. Then the Sox would look smart for not having invested in his future. But I don't think pitchers with his guts, command and presence come along very often, and I'm betting on the usual 15-plus victories and 200-plus innings this season.

Mark Buehrle career GCO3 (the "3" means its adjusted for all time): -27.4 (since this number removes the adverse effects of actual ERA, it's a negative).

Looking through, I notice that the only pitcher that comes close to Buehrle's career GCO3 is none other than Juan Guzman, my favorite pitcher as a kid. Who knew?

Also: Phil Rogers, I will take that bet, even though its stupid and based on two stats that are greatly controlled by people not named Mark Buehrle.

I compared those five guys to each other in each of the last three seasons based on victories, earned-run average and innings. Then I created a formula that weighted the 2005 rankings twice as heavily as '04, and the '06 rankings three times as heavily as '04, so that what happened last would influence the present value the most.

I've never gotten the feeling that Phil Rogers is an avowed hater o' stats, like some in his cohort. He's in the larger group of sportswriters who lightly mock sabermatricians (nerds!) and then, in moments of inspiration, decide to become "stat guys" for a second and embrace statistics to prove points. Almost universally, when they become "stat guys," they either choose meaningless stats, or they display levels of selection bias that would put a proponent of Intelligent Design to shame. In this case, Rogers shoots for the stars, and offends on both counts. Also, there's the added glee of imagining this douchebag hovering over an Excel spreadsheet, thinking he's created some kind of advanced formula that will once-and-for-all put to rest the timeless argument, "Which White Sox pitcher of the last three years has been most valuable." Men and women of the Brookings Institute, storm thy brains no more: Rogers done did it again.

Putting the three years together, Garland (48-28 with a 4.30 ERA) ranks first, with Buehrle sliding to third because of his bad second half in 2006. Garcia is second with Vazquez fourth, a whisker ahead of Contreras.

Well, that clears that up.

Before hitting on the end of Rogers digital diarrhea storm, I want to point out something: The best pitcher on this staff is probably Vazquez, in terms of talent and what can be reasonably expected of him the next few years. His ERA last season was really, really high for how well he pitched, and there's good reason to believe he's coming close to being as good as he was before the whole Yankees/falling apart debacle. But, Vazquez isn't Bob Gibson, either; he's been a league-average pitcher the past couple of years in terms of ERA, and while you can parse all you want with WHIP (which has been pretty good, and better than his counterparts on the White Sox) and his Ks (which could approach 200 this season, considering how he's trending), at the end of the day, ERA is still the best stat to use when reflecting on a pitcher's performance in the past (not including ERA+, which is a derivative and simply adds a little more context). But ERA is a poor stat for predicting future performance, which I'm giving credit to Kenny Williams for knowing. And, I have a feeling that Williams has concluded the same thing a lot of people around baseball have concluded: Of the five starters from the WS team of 05, only one -- Vazquez -- can be expected to repeat, not to mention better, his past performances. Garland and Contreras had fluke, everything-went-perfect seasons, and Buehrle's skills have eroded to the point where he's a better-paid version of Carlos Silva.

But, anyway, that's really unimportant. What is important is that somewhere along the way, it appears Phil Rogers forgot what he was talking about.

The beauty of the Sox's rotation during the back-to-back seasons of 90-plus victories has been its depth. Line the starters up in almost any order and it was hard to be wrong.

Then why not just keep the guys who are easiest to sign?

Seems to me that's what the Sox are doing.


CSG said...

There's really too many things wrong with his ranking system to even attempt to enumerate them. What's funny is that he considers Vazquez and Contreras the "back end" of that rotation when they were probably the White Sox's two best pitchers last season. Vazquez's FIP (3.94) was in the top 15 starters in the AL last year, and Contreras was pretty close behind him. If anything, Mark Buehrle was even worse last year than his ERA shows, and pitchers who stop striking anyone out usually don't recover.

Diesel said...

Actually, what's funniest to me is that Vazquez is one of those rare pitchers who has always looked better than his stats suggest, even when he was posting monster seasons with the Expos. I've probably watched 30 of his starts, and even when he was scuffling you wondered how anyone could hit him. His shit is filthy. And sportswriters generally love guys with filthy shit, even if they have horrible W-L records, which makes the panning of Vazquez even more strange. He must be a real dick to writers.