Category: sports

958 words on weirdness in the AL MVP ballot

Edit: Why not to base your title on word count: Found I missed 2007, so now we’re up to 958.

The annual Baseball Writers Association of America awards are bringers of great joy this time of year, not for celebrating the best the game had to offer in the past season but creating fantastic opportunities for snark and studies of human nature.

I’ve spent the past half an hour starring at the AL MVP Ballot, which gave Justin Verlander the MVP, the first time a pitcher has won the award since 1992.

While pitchers on the ballot is a whole other discussion, what fascinated me was the wide range of opinions demonstrated up and down the ballot, leading me to conclude that the 28 writers selecting the award have almost no cohesive idea how to value performance by baseball players.

Before I get into it, let me say that on its face, that’s not a bad thing. Having many different voices is a great thing and should be applauded most of the time. There was definitely no “right” choice this year in the AL, and it was expected to be a tight race with lots of candidates at the top.

Still, there seems to be almost no consensus of what any given player meant to his team, which you would expect to see (at least a few times) when 28 people who do nothing but watch baseball get together to decide which one of those players was the best.

I start with Michael Young of the Texas Rangers.

Yes, he had a good year, hitting .330/.380/.474 on the year, good for 3.8 fWAR. He spent the majority of the year as a DH.

While that was a good year, it wasn’t even the best on his own team. Ian Kinsler player good defense at second base and had a .370 wOBA, earning 7.7. fWAR.

Despite that, Young got nearly four times the number of MVP points as Kinsler. But that’s not what jumped out to me.

Young got a vote in all 10 positions, from first place to 10th. Someone thought he was the best player in baseball, someone else found nine other guys. Both writers cover American League baseball for a living.

Since Young was a DH you can take fielding out. That means someone thought Young was a better hitter this year than Jose Bautista, or more likely, that Bautista didn’t count becuase the Blue Jays didn’t make the playoffs (which still wouldn’t explain away Miguel Cabreara …)

There has been lots of discussion about whether or not this was “right,” as in correct, but I don’t mind that. Writers have made awful choices in these awards all the time, with mostly harmless results. You cover the Rangers and think Young is a gerat guy and that counts more than talent at hitting a baseball? Knock yourself out.

If Young got his one first place vote and the rest down ballot, whatever. It’s the range that seems odd. If you got all the writers in a room, there would be almost no agreement how much Young actually contributed this year.

Young wasn’t even the only player to get a first and 10th place vote, with Jacoby Ellsbury of the Red Sox also pulling off the feat.

Of the top eight finishers (using Young as our floor), no player had a range of less than seven, with Yankee Curtis Granderson getting first though seventh place votes.

After looking through some past ballots, though, this isn’t so surprising.

Jose Bautista got first and 1oth place votes last season, though everyone agreed winner Josh Hamilton was at least one of the top four players in the league.

In 2009 Miguel Cabrera got first and tenth, with that one first place vote the only thing keeping Joe Maurer from an unanimous victory. Cabrera’s supporter put Maurer second.

In 2008 Francisco Rodriguez got a first and 10th for setting the single season saves record. While Dustin Pedroia only received votes in first through fourth, he was left off a ballot.

In 2007 ARod ran away with the vote, with no first-10th players.

In 2006 Johan Santana was first and 10th, while teammate Justin Morneau won with no voted lower than fourth.

In 2005 there were no first-10th players, with everyone agreeing winner Alex Rodriguez and second-place finisher David Ortiz were two of the top three players in the league.

In 2004 Vlad Guerrero ran away with the award, no votes below fourth, no first-10th.

Aw, but 2003, that was a vote.

It had the most recent total for a winner (242 for Alex Rodriguez) lower than Verlander’s 280, saw eight players get at least one first place vote and six first-10th players.

There were also two players, Manny Ramirez and Shannon Stewart, who pulled Michael-Young’s with votes in every position.

What’s really surprising is none of it had to do with pitchers, who seem to mess up the ballot. A’s reliever Keith Foulke was the top-finishing pitcher at 15th.

While this wasn’t a scientific study in any way, it appears the BBWAA freaks out every once in a while. There also seems to be deep divides in how to measure the value of a pitcher and someone who doesn’t play much in the field, with those two types more likely to get a wide range of votes.

What’s holding me back from digging into this more is that lack of ballots from pre-2003. BBWAA has those up on their website, but Baseball-Reference only has order of finish, not full ballots, before then.

As I was writing this up Joe Sheehan tweeted something I thought put this into a better light. We have to remember that award voting is a side-benefit to being a baseball reporter, not something integral to the job. Reporters are not hired based on their voting behavior.

The ability to report and the ability to evaluate are completely disparate skills. The voting pool pulls from reporters, not evaluators.

@joe_sheehan

Joe Sheehan

 

 

Random musings on MLB franchise records

So this got into my head for two reasons:

  • I recently purchased a new laptop which I’m in the process of Saberizing (To make useful for the purpose of advanced baseball research through the dissection of statistics and other information).
  • This article at the Hardball Times which notes that the Atlanta Braves are close to breaking .500 as a franchise.

Read through the HBT page to get a good look at the Braves and what they’re likely to accomplish this year. It’s a fun look at the ups and downs of a team with a long and complicated past.

For me, I loaded up the Baseball Databank (which means these numbers are through the end of last season) and calculated total won/loss records for each franchise, total winning percentage and then a category looking at how many 90 win seasons it would take for the franchise to either crawl back over .500 or fall below it.

See the whole table here.

The Yankees have the best mark of games above .500 at 2,309, a record that will be increasing at the end of this season. Right now they’re six games over, but likely will end up closer to 18.

That number 18 is big. Teams use 90 wins as a sort of benchmark for success. If you can get to 90, you’ll be a playoff team more often than not.

With 162 games, 90 wins also means 72 losses and 18 games over .500.

That also gave me a way to measure just how much work it will take for most teams to go from overall losers to winners or the opposite. The Yankees would have to lose 90 games a season for the next 128 years (assuming no change to the 162 game schedule) to get below .500.

On the other side, the Phillies — losers of a record 10,232 games before this season — would have to win 90 games a year until 2071 to break even.

The Braves sit five games above .500, so all it would take is a good weekend to move across, though once they get there the Braves are likely to move back and forth for a few days until it’s in their rearview. That’s baseball.

Right now there are just a few teams within a decade of following the Braves’ lead, most recent expansion teams.

The Blue Jays, the Angels and the Diamondbacks could all get their in about two seasons. The only other two possible in the next decade would be the two 1993 expansion teams, the Rockies and Marlins, who are bewtween 7-8 seasons out.

The Royals are next at 14 years, with the Rays at 15. Sneaking in under 20 would be the Mets, Nationals, Mariners and Brewers.

Baseball has built up such a history that it’s difficult, even for new teams, to quickly change the path of the franchise. These organizations are giant ships that take decades to turn around, which just makes what the Yankees have done even more amazing. That is a brand built over almost a century that will take a long while to tear down, and may last as long as the game itself.

Book review: Scorecasting

We were lucky enough to receive a review copy of “Scorecasting” at the Statesman Journal recently. The book’s intent is to be the “Freakonomics” of sports, down to pairing a journalist with an economist to try and find new ways to look at traditional questions in baseball, basketball, football hockey and soccer.

Of course, this isn’t a new idea. You could check out the Wages of Wins website, which at the top prominently features a reviewer calling it “Freakonomics meets ESPN.” There are also very active communities of online researchers doing this stuff for free in almost every sport.

The book hits such topics as homefield advantage, bias to round numbers, the value of blocked shots and why the Cubs suck. All of the chapters (more like short essays, some only a few pages) are well written and entertaining, providing some fascinating nuggets of information here and there.

Nothing in the book is groundbreaking, though. These are topics that have been well covered either by academic research or more recently online.

That second part has already led to a number of websites fact checking what has been the most headline-grabbing claim, that refereeing is one of the main components of home field advantage. Recently Beyond the Box Score and Sabermetric Research went after the claim that umpires call predominantly for the home team in high leverage situations, which accounts for much of the advantage. They’ve found that the claims are definitely exaggerated in the book based on their data.

My biggest problem though was the lack of credit giving to online sources such as BtB or “The Book” co-author Tom Tango. While any book like “Scorecasting” will stand on plenty of shoulders (there is an extensive bibliogrpahy), much of this recent research doesn’t get much credit.

Tango is one of a few mostly online writers cited in the book, but in a backhanded sort of way.

Any published in a magazine or academic journal in a statistician or a economist. Tango is reference as a “stats wizard.” Even Brian Burke, author of Advanced NFL Stats, is an “overlord.” The titles seems a tad condescending and D&D-like for two respected members of the sports research community. Tango is a consultant for the Seattle Mariners and Burke writes for the New York Times’ Fifth Down blog. What more do they need to do?

I enjoyed the book overall. The slights were minor in context and not likely to be noticed by anyone but a nerd like myself. The fact that I had read many o the studies before says more about me than the authors. If i had read something like this when I was 12 it would have changed my life. Instead I read Tango’s “The Book” when I was in college and it helped do the same thing.

My hope is that this book can help do that for a new generation of sports fans. Hopefully they take the ideas (look differently at old knowledge) and not the specifics (do umpires really call 50 percent worse in high leverage situations?).

The one where I go to the national championship

When the Raiders moved back to Oakland from Los Angeles, my family instantly acquired two season tickets. The next year it went up to five.

Through the end of elementary on through the beginning of college I attended anywhere from 5-10 games a year. We painted up for every game, added a few dog chains and skull-related attire and headed to our seats in section 117, right on the rail of the players’ tunnell. The teams entered and exited the field just to our left, as we hung over the side and shouted various things.

Of course that only lasts so long. After the players come coaches, then trainers, equipment managers, other hangers-on and then the photographers and reporters.

My brothers and I made it a point to cheer for everyone. The guys who carried the bikes, the guys with the massage tables and even the lowly journalists, truly the bottom of the barrel. By the time they came through we shouted mainly for the irony.

Out there on the interwebs is a video of me shouting at an AP photogrpaher shooting video on his still camera, set up on a monopod. It’s the final shot of his video on the AFC championship game. There I am, full facepaint, screaming “Way to go camera-stick guy. Way to hold that camera on a stick!”

Years later I stumbled upon as I was researching photojournalism for myself and looking for tips. At that moment it seemed like I had come full circle, the subject becoming the shooter. But it wasn’t until a few weeks ago, as I was in Arizona for the BCS National Championship (a phrase I hope to not use again for many, many months), that the switch really finished

I had been on the field in pregame, so I knew where everything would be and what I needed to shoot. I knew where to go and was no longer in awe of the giant space of University of Phoenix Stadium.

Then as I walked out I noticed two kids hanging over the railing to my right, peering in for a look at what they hoped would be players. They scanned me, saw the camera and moved on.

There was no cheering for the camera guy, but I saw my brothers and I 10 years ago. I saw us as numerous photographers had over the years. It was a little weird. I thought about calling my mom, but of course, as in any good stadium, there was no cell reception of any kind.

The photo above pretty much sums up everything that happened before the game. I’m the one right in front of Oregon coach Chip Kelly, just to the left of the big guy in the light shirt. You can kind of almost make out the back of my head, as the rest of me is swallowed by arms desperately thrusting their microphones at the coach.

For just more than a week I went from press conference to practice to press conference, trying as hard as possible to not only come up with something we hadn’t written or shot the day before but something the thousands of other media members hadn’t already covered.

My role on the trip was mainly video of those events (the paper also sent two print reporters and a photographer) and then whatever else we could dig up. That included profiles of LoLo’s Chicken and Waffles workers who provided lunch for the Ducks one day and an interview with Skid Row’s Sebastian Bach, who had been part of the first college power ballad earlier in the week.

The game itself was pretty bittersweet as an Oregon graduate, but the experience itself as great.

And n the nearly 10 days I spent in Arizona, there was truly only one time I lost composure and got a little too fanboy.

Standing in line for the media elevator at University of Phoenix Stadium (the school has one of the better online football teams in the nation) I was about 15 feet in front of Sports Illustrated writer Joe Posnanski. That also meant there were around 300 people in between us. I will have to awkwardly meet him some other time, unfortunately.

After I got downstairs to the digital media room, I told our photographer who I had seen. He looked at me and said, “Who?” Sorry, Joe.

Newspaper video engagement, as measured in time capsules entered

This whole journalism thing can be hard sometimes, especially when you’re trying something new.

New being a relatively loose term. My paper started video just after I got there in 2006, so about four years worth of newness.

The hardest thing for me hasn’t been the actual work. I love doing anything for our Web site, from videos to map to interactive infographics. These are the things I’m passionate about because often I feel these are the best and clearest ways to tell a story.

The hard thing is waiting for anyone to notice.

With video, there are always metrics to let you know just how little your community cares about your work. Clicks, time spent watching, total forwards or any other measure that will tell you that for the most part, no one is watching. Recently that’s been changing with a new metric I’ve been tracking.

That measure is people offering to give me money for what I did.

It’s been slow, but I’ve been noticing over the last nine months or so a surge in people calling or e-mailing to see if they can get a copy of our videos. Since I work in high school sports a lot, this mostly comes from the parents of athletes or coaches or principals at the school.

What I’m hearing is that this is going into a scrapbook or played at an assembly or in the case of one of our teams that just won a state championship, in their time capsule.

For as long as there has been print publications, there has been adoring parents who clipped articles and posted them on whatever passed for the refrigerator. As computers and external hard drives become large enough (and people are getting more used to shooting and storing their own digital videos) they are becoming the refrigerator.

Parents are becoming more tech-savvy, either by experience or attrition, and they are learning to expect that as the newspaper of record, we will have a story, photos and video on anything their children do.

Much of what we do on the Web focuses on the immediacy of the medium. we’re often told to get content, especially videos, up quick and dirty.

This isn’t always the right decision and in the case of how our community is using my sports video I think it’s the wrong approach.

These videos are becoming a record of the event in more of a historical sense. People are watching them not to get the latest news but to relive, days later in many cases, something big for them.

When I do sports stuff I try to add titles, voice-overs and anything I can to make it seem more ESPN and less like something a parent might have shot. They’ve already seen that.

It adds a lot of time. I often don’t get home from a football Friday until 3 a.m. I worked during both time changes these last few months (which conveniently evened up my lost hours).

Now when I go around changing the office clocks I’ll have a little more faith that the extra time is really worth it.

Chris Hagan and the case of the missing wrestler

About 3o minutes ago I got this e-mail from my editor at the paper:

Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!! Hallelujah!!!!

You are heading toward Super Versatile V!!!!

This is all because of a high school wrestler’s mug shot. The journey that photo took from a small community just east of Salem to my e-mail box is a long, complicated ordeal. One full of danger, intrigue and rural high school photo directors who occasionally take Mondays off.

As part of our high school coverage, the Statesman Journal picks an all-star team for every sport and then displays the team in a lovely grid on B2.

The athlete of the year gets a full photo shoot and feature but the lowly members of the team (All-Region when I started but now All-Mid-Valley) get a mug shot, stats and one quote from their coach.

Stats and quotes are normally not too bad. Every once in a while there’s a coach that will stiff you and not call you back, but most of the time some other coach has stats and can even provide a few glowing words for a rival.

The problem is art. Finding anywhere from 10 (cross country) to almost 50 (football) pictures can stretch the patience of even the most grizzled, chain-smoking prep sports veteran.

This year I was given the wrestling team. I know next to nothing about wrestling, but I know how to fill numbers in on a chart and write vague wrestling-sounding sentences while trying to figure out what makes a teenage boy grapple (this year, because he’s good at). All of the pictures even came in relatively well, except for one.

The wrestler in question is on his way to becoming the most decorated athlete in the history of one of the small schools we cover. He won a track and field state title as a sophomore as a member of the 4×400 relay. This year he was on the state-champion football team and then won a wrestling state title at 215 pounds. His coach already has visions of more track titles this year and then another football/wrestling combo next year.

Normally I get photos through the coach. In this case, though he coaches wrestling, he’s is not an employee of the school and so it took a little longer to get in touch with him. The story was going to run on a Tuesday and I spoke with him for the first time on Thursday.

We talk about the two wrestlers from Scio we have on the team and what it was like watching them make it all the way to the state title. He tells a great story about how is heavy-weight can throw him all around the gym and marvels at how much the kid has already accomplished. I already have what I need but I’m enjoying the conversation so I ask about if the football title (both kids were on the team) helped them this year. Seems like a cool guy.

I mentioned the need for photos and he was all over it. They had plenty, he said, just say where to send ’em. This is where I make my first mistake.

The e-mail system at the paper is terrible. If you sign on remotely it makes you re-enter your password every 10 minutes and the storage is minuscule. I don’t want the very last piece I need for this project to get lost in Outlook hell.

So I read off my gmail address. Or at least I think I do. My work e-mail is six character before the @, my personal one is 12. I’ve just doubled my potential for error.

At that point, though, I think everything is fine. Over the weekend I keep checking my gmail, with no success. By the time I come in Monday I’m nervous but still have a whole day to figure it out, so it’s not so bad.

I give the coach a call. He picks up immediately and I let him know about the dropped e-mail. He knows he sent it off earlier and is quite surprised to find I don’t have it. He promises that once he’s near a computer he’ll call and we’ll get it figured out.

The week before I had unsuccessfully called and e-mailed the Scio athletic director. He was in Pendleton, Ore., basically in Idaho, with the school’s basketball teams at the state tournament. I had hopes he’d be able to help me out, as the kid played for him on the football team. Around noon I left a message for him to call me and waited by the phone.*

*I don’t want any of this to come off as me complaining about the people at Scio High School. I gave them very little time to help out with my request and if someone is busy on any given day, that’s not their fault. Things happen and I understand that, and as a reporter it’s my job to work around it. That’s why some of us still get paid. But I want to make it clear there is nothing against Scio.

Around 2 p.m. my editor comes by. We had spoken Saturday about the photos. One quizzical glance from him and shrug from me and we’ve communicated that the picture is still a non-entity. He suggests trying to get a school secretary or something who might be able to just send a yearbook photo.

The Scio secretary is very polite and explains that she needs to check and make sure the kid isn’t on a do-not-disclose list that would keep them from giving out the photo. Otherwise she’d be happy to help and can I check that and call you back?

Now in my head I have the coach, athletic director and school secretary looking for this photo. I scan Google to see if there are any random pictures online (he’s won three state titles already, there’s got to be something! Wait, stop panicking …). At 4 p.m. I open the phone book.

There is one entry for the kid’s last name in Scio. I have no idea who the listing is for but I figure in a town of around 700, the odds are on my side. No one answers and I leave the creepiest if-Justin-lives-here-I-need-a-picture-of-him-but-if-not-don’t-worry message ever. I hope I never hear from the number I call just in case.

At 4:30 p.m. my phone rings. It’s the creepy number people.

I find out I called Justin’s grandfather, who very kindly explains he can’t e-mail me anything but gives me the number for his son, Justin’s dad.

Justin’s dad has a love-hate relationship with his computer. Basically he hates it and would love nothing more than to take it into the street and shoot it with a shotgun. But he gives me his wife’s number. I call her cell and leave a message.

Time begins to tick away. I start going through the archived takes from when our photographers shot the state championship events this kid participated in. How could we be around this kid with a camera so many times and not get one picture that’s muggable?

Around 5:30 p.m. I get a call from the kid’s mom. She assures me there are plenty of pictures that could work (what mom wouldn’t have a million stashed around?) and she’ll e-mail me later that evening. I forget to ask when later might be.

At 7 p.m. I decide I need to go home and get some food. I found the worst mug shot in the world (high school sports category, not talking jail) from the football state playoffs and I’ve left it for my editor just in case.

Fettuccine Alfredo and mixed-vegetables. I feel much better now.

Just before 8 p.m. I check my e-mail and glory be to the patron saint of high school wrestling (which I guess is Saint Sebastian, patron saint of athletes. Thanks Sea Bass!) there is a mug shot. I send it to my editor at 7:50 p.m. and I’m done for the evening, aside from reading that cool e-mail.

This is not a unique story. It happens with every sport and every team in some fashion. For the most part we always pull it out. It’s just a reminder that for almost everything you see in the newspaper, there is a mountain of work that went into it. So if occasionally we don’t cover your school or have the best shot of your athlete, just give us another chance. We’ll definitely try our best.

A bit of baseball geekery

A few days ago my editor came over to relay some baseball trivia one of our copy editors had found: What players have had 200 or more home runs with multiple franchises?

The question became an issue because wherever it came from got it wrong. The full list is Mark McGwire, Ken Griffey Jr., Manny Ramirez, Rafael Palmeiro and Jimmie Foxx. The originating agency decided Foxx didn’t count for some reason.

This moved quickly from 200 with two teams to ‘Hey? who has 100 with three teams? 50 with four teams?’

I am a proud owner of the book “Baseball Hacks.” It’s a how-to guide to just about anything you can do with baseball stats, basically starting with teaching basic MySQL and becoming more complicated from there. It’s where I got my first taste of not only database work but R (which I’m still trying to wrap my head around) and basic probability.

The idea is simple enough. Count each players home runs per team and see who hits certain milestones. Simple to people isn’t always simple to machines.

I had an English class in high school where the teacher told us to find the simplest, most mundane thing we could and write out the instructions on how to do it so an alien could understand it. The idea was to get us to show more in our writing instead of just telling. He didn’t throw the ball, he gripped the seams, cocked his arm … etc.

She took the instructions and acted them out just to drive home how inexact we all are. Someone wrote instructions on how to make a peanut butter sandwich and she buttered everything but the bread when the instructions read “spread peanut butter.”

I’m reminded of this when I try to right code. It’s the same basic idea. You’re trying to explain to something that has no concept of what you want how to get it for you.

I started simple (that word again …). I totaled up all home runs for each player. I know what that list looks like. Barry Bonds is on top, followed by Hank Aaron and then Babe Ruth. Easy enough:

select playerid, sum(hr) as hr
from batting
group by playerid
order by hr desc;

OK. So now to split it by teams:

select playerid, teamid, sum(hr) as hr
from batting
group by playerid, teamid
order by hr desc;

But here is what that gets me:

ruthba01    NYA    659
bondsba01    SFN    586
schmimi01    PHI    548

Where’s Aaron? Well, he played for a bunch of different teams, as the Braves moved around during his time there. So I need to search by franchises, a field not included in the general batting table in the baseball databank. For that I need to bring in the teams and teamsFranchises tables:

select b.playerid, f.franchid, sum(b.hr) as hr
from batting b join teams t join teamsfranchises f
where b.teamid = t.teamid and t.franchid = f.franchid
group by b.playerid, f.franchid
order by hr desc;

This is where peanut butter goes everywhere. SQLYog freezes up, my computer shivers and dies, but not before spitting out a result that shows Sammy Sose with 75,346 home runs with the Cubs.

I forgot that there is a separate team record for every year in the team table, so the join with batting multiplied every season in baseball by itself. OK, try again:

select b.playerid, f.franchid, sum(b.hr) as hr
from batting b join teams t join teamsfranchises f
where b.teamid = t.teamid and b.yearid = t.yearid and t.franchid = f.franchid
group by b.playerid, f.franchid
order by hr desc;
aaronha01    ATL    733
ruthba01    NYY    659
mayswi01    SFG    646

So while I have a list of home runs hit by franchises (also great for looking up team records of any sort, so that goes into my list of saved queries …) I can’t count on it, s0 I need to make it a subquery and select off of that. While I’m at it I add in a join on the master table to get player names, as the playerid field is a little cumbersome:

select player, nameFirst, nameLast, count(player) as times from (
select b.playerid as player, m.nameFirst as nameFirst, m.nameLast as nameLast, f.franchid, sum(b.hr) as hr from
batting b join teams t join teamsfranchises f join master m
where b.teamid = t.teamid and b.yearid = t.yearid and t.franchid = f.franchid and b.playerid = m.playerid
group by b.playerid, f.franchid) a
where hr > 200
group by player
order by times desc;

So there we are. It works. It may not be the best way to get it done (if you have any improvements let me know. I’d love to add a way to which teams they played for) but I was able to put it together fairly quickly and it got the job done.

Speaking of which, here are some the results from playing with the query for a while:

200 home runs with four teams

foxxji01    Jimmie    Foxx    2
palmera01    Rafael    Palmeiro    2
ramirma02    Manny    Ramirez    2
mcgwima01    Mark    McGwire    2
griffke02    Ken    Griffey    2

150 home runs with 3 teams

rodrial01    Alex    Rodriguez    3

100 home runs with three teams

evansda01    Darrell    Evans    3
jacksre01    Reggie    Jackson    3
rodrial01    Alex    Rodriguez    3

75 home runs with four teams

kingmda01    Dave    Kingman    4
mcgrifr01    Fred    McGriff    4

How Madden and sports taught me randomness

It took me a long time to come to grip with my love of sports.

“Long time” in this case means college. I traveled from the Bay Area to Eugene, Ore., to the University of Oregon and instantly decided that sports were childish and I must grow up and become an adult.

It was easy to do in Eugene, which tries very hard to be the Berkeley of the Northwest and succeeds in many cases. I remember siting in on a panel discussion where a guy in the crowd said that civilization went downhill with the start of agriculture. It took very little effort to decide that games were beneath me and dive head first into politics. I minored in political science and wrote about city politics for the school paper for a term. I attended one football game and one basketball game my freshman year even with free tickets. I discovered DailyKos and a host of other blogs.

Well, maybe the real reason was my pro allegiances. While I went to one Duck game I went to all the Oakland Raider playoff games my freshman year in 2002, including their AFC Championship game win over the Titans. I watched every San Francisco Giants playoff game on my 10-inch dorm TV.

Both of those seasons ended with the worst sports-related heart ache available, losing in the championship. I saw the Giants let a World Series slip away with eight outs to go and then watched the Raiders give the worst Super Bowl performance in recent memory. It soured me on sports more than anything else that has ever happened to me.

Since graduating I’ve slipped back, though, and am not ashamed at all. Sports, believe it or not, are where I get most of my intellectual exercise (which may say more about me than I’d like, but stay with me).

Right now I’m reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s “Fooled by Randomness.” I found the book after reading “The Drunkard’s Walk,” which I saw recommended by Sports Illustrated writer Joe Posnanski. I’m a little scared to type that as if Taleb somehow finds this he’ll tear me to shreds if his book is any indication. I’m a journalist, belonging to a profession he calls a plague (and being in the industry I see his points more than some I imagine).

Still, the book is fascinating, going over all the ways human beings can’t grasp the probabilities of the stock market (his profession) and everyday life.

He mentions how hard it is for most people to imagine alternate realities and the multiple possibilities of any given situation. If a bet has a 90 percent chance of earning $1 and a 10 percent chance of costing $10, then most people just see the most probable outcome, not the total combined chance of the bet (.9×1 and .1×10).

But sports, and specifically sports video games, have made those all the more clear to me.

Taleb loves him some Monte Carlo simulations. Give a computer program a set of rules and let it run to see how a given situation could play out. It gave him a chance to run through market theories and judge how wring other people were likely to be.

In Madden NFL ’99 (I believe, it’s all getting so hazy …), EA Sports introduced the dynasty mode. Pick a team and play through 15 seasons, drafting, trading and creating your own roster year-by-year.

Being 15, I wasn’t so interested in the notion of seeing how well my trading talents stacked up against the computer. I wanted to win. Of course, I had some house rules. It was too easy (and too time consuming) to play all the games myself. By that time I had finely developed Madden skills. If I wanted to win a game by playing it out, I could. Doing that 19 times a season would make it impossible to play out 15 in a week and move on to the next team.

So I simulated games, over and over again. If a simulation didn’t come out the way I wanted I just reloaded the file and tried again. Amazingly, the same game didn’t always turn out the same way. I could lose a game and then crush them the next sim with exact same conditions.

The experience opened me up to the possibility that what I was seeing in the real world wasn’t the only way things cold have turned out. One of the ideas Taleb looks at is the need to look at an event in hindsight and assume that it was destined to turn out that way and try to find the sign that was missed.

In sports this happens all the time. Why did the Saints upset the Colts in the Super Bowl? We should have known it would happen. There was something pointing to it. Oh, of course! Peyton Manning can’t perform in the clutch (link is actually a pretty fair take, but rehashes the general feeling).  He never won in high school or college and only once in the pros. We all forgot that he was really a choker. We should have seen it coming.

The real reason often is just randomness. How often does Manning make the mistake he did in the Super Bowl, throwing a slant on a route the got cut off? Not often, but just enough that it’s not impossible. It happened in a big moment. Onside kicks in non-desperation situations are picked up by the kicking team about 60 percent of the time. If the Colts pick that up the Manning play never happens most likely.

This has all been reinforced over and over by my true sports love, baseball. The sports has been grasped by probability and statistics more than any other and operates almost more as a mental exercise for me now than a pastime.

Every situation and match up presents varying possibilities and challenges. Should that lefty face that righty with his platoon split? How sure to you have to be to try and steal in this situation, given the pay off?

Through baseball especially, I’ve learned basic probability and statistical theory, MySQL database manipulation, the importance of alternate outcomes and a host of other topics I would have never had encountered on my own. They directly led me to pick up Taleb’s book, which has nothing to do with these other pursuits but speak directly to them, to me. His world has the idea of monkeys on typewriters writing Shakespeare. I have the fact that while Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak was amazing, someone had to do it.

So while it’s often correct to judge people on what has actually happened and not what could have happened, you have to remember that a plan working doesn’t mean that it was a good one or one that should be followed in the future. Just because Manning has had bad luck in big games, that doesn’t necessarily reflect on him as a person. He just might be having some bad luck.

Sports helped teach me that. The emotional aspects help keep me coming back, but my intellectual curiosity is what keeps me hooked.