Is the Extra Wild Card Format Good for the Red Sox?

Major League Baseball, you may have heard, has altered the playoff format for the first time since 1995. In 2012, we’ll see the addition of two new wild card teams – one per league – each of which will face off with the other wild card in a one game playoff. Discussions of whether this is a good or bad thing for the sport don’t interest me, particularly, because they’re academic: the change is made, it’s not being retracted and none of us can properly predict the impact.

I am, however, extremely interested in what impact the shift in format would have for the Red Sox. Would we still be talking about beer and fried chicken, for instance, if the second wild card had been available last year? In all probability, yes, because while we would have been that second wild card, we would have been starting Beckett on two day’s rest for the one game playoff.

But still. As the American League East grows more competitive by the year, what’s the impact of having one more opportunity to reach the postseason? Like a lot of Red Sox fans, I’m extremely interested in this question. Which is why I was initially interested in Dan Szymborski of Baseball Think Factory’s piece on ESPN entitled “Winners and losers of new playoffs.” Who would benefit the most from the new format? And conversely, who did it hurt?

Oddly, however, Szymborski – who is very, very good – didn’t take what I thought would be the obvious step in answering this question. He’s done the math to estimate the playoffs odds before the change, as well as the 2012 playoff probability after, with the table below sorted by the latter.

But in the context of answering questions regarding the impact of the new playoff format, this format is unhelpful. I’m much more interested in understanding what the difference is in the odds between before and after are, and who benefits the most.

Based on his research, I did some very basic math, subtracting the odds before from the odds after, the results of which are below.

The good news? The Red Sox appear to benefit as much as almost any team from the new format. Which is enough for me to support it.

Is There a Home Run Derby Curse?

With all the discussion of Adrian Gonzalez’ power outage – one homer in 102 ABs since the All Star Break – it’s no surprise that we’re seeing discussion of the Home Run Derby curse. What I haven’t seen thus far, however, is a look at whether there is statistical evidence to support the assertion that the Home Run Derby has a provably negative impact on participants’ home run rates following the contest. So I decided to check.

To save time in data gathering, I picked a single season, 2005. I picked 2005 only because it is the most frequently cited as evidence for the Home Run Derby curse; the winner, Bobby Abreu, had 16 homers at the break but hit only 6 after. The single season means, obviously, that I have a smaller sample size to work from, so the usual caveats apply. I also have made no effort to control for other variables such as games played, so bear that in mind as well.

What I’ve done here is look up the participants from MLB, then compare the players’ career pre/post All Star break splits with their numbers from the 2005 season (all splits taken from Baseball Reference). Here are those numbers:

As you can see, the differences in first and second half home run rates of 2005 compared to their career numbers is slight. For their career, participants have hit 56% of their home runs before the derby; in 2005 that number was 57%. Rather than take for granted that the one percent delta isn’t statistically significant, I ran a simple two-sample proportion test in R. In simple terms, this compares two proportions and determines whether a given proportion is equal for two different groups. The test, the results of which are included below, tells us that there is no reason to suspect that there’s a larger Home Run Derby curse at work; the difference in the observed percentages for the group is not statistically significant.

It’s possible that it affected Abreu – the result if you run the test on his numbers is just this side of significant (P-value of 0.05181), and we can’t prove that it’s not affecting A-Gon. But we don’t have any evidence to say that, in general, there is a curse.

Due to the aforementioned sample size limitations, this study shouldn’t be considered representative. But if someone tells you that Bobby Abreu is proof that there’s a curse on derby participants, you might want to point out that the effects of the “curse,” that year, were around 1% fewer home runs.

Appendix A: Test Results

2-sample test for equality of proportions with continuity correction

data: home.run.derby
X-squared = 0.223, df = 1, p-value = 0.6367
alternative hypothesis: two.sided
95 percent confidence interval:
-0.08324864 0.04819810
sample estimates:
prop 1 prop 2
0.5561181 0.5736434

Appendix B: R Code for Two Sample Proportion Test

> home.run.derby rownames(home.run.derby) colnames(home.run.derby) home.run.derby
Before After
Career 1318 1052
2005 148 110
> prop.test(home.run.derby)

Five Things I Don't Quite Get

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Brian Giles headed to third, originally uploaded by SD Dirk.

If there are five things that Peter Gammons doesn’t quite get, I figure it’s ok for there to be five things I don’t quite get. Because I know Peter Gammons (no, I don’t), and I know that I am no Peter Gammons.

  1. Why we claimed Brian Giles:
    Gammons explains it thus:

    The Red Sox did want Brian Giles. With Jacoby Ellsbury struggling, Giles could have led off and played some right feld, with J.D. Drew moving [to] center. And Giles could have been DH insurance should David Ortiz experience further problems with his troublesome left wrist.

    Still, I’m unconvinced. Unless they think Ells is struggling, like Bucky, enough that he’d have to go down. Granted, Giles’ .296/.389/.440 line puts Ells’ .269/.331/.373 to shame. And his numbers against certain AL rivals are less than awful: Angels (.394/.512/.758), New York (.275/.333/.488), Tampa (.261/.320/.565). And the last three years 05-07 he’s been a better hitter in the second half than he was in the first (.820 to .817 OPS). And…actually, never mind. I get this now.

  2. Why we didn’t claim for Chad Bradford:
    This one is more perplexing. As Neyer says:
    Speaking of waiver claims, the Rays made a nice one yesterday, picking up Chad Bradford, and I’m surprised that 11 teams — including the Red Sox, the Yankees, the White Sox and the Twins — passed on him. Bradford’s got a 2.45 ERA this season, despite a strikeout rate, 2.9 per nine innings, that’s well below what’s needed to pitch effectively in the majors. In his prime — his first three seasons with the A’s — Bradford struck out 7.2 per nine innings, which is excellent, especially for a guy who never broke 90 with his “fastball.” Bradford’s strikeout rate has plummeted since then, bottoming out this year. So how has he survived? He’s become exceptionally stingy with the long ball, giving up only five homers in his last 190 innings. In contrast, last year Brad Penny had the lowest home run ratio among ERA title qualifiers, and Penny gave up nine homers in 208 innings.

    With the Sox in 05, Bradford wasn’t stellar. He gave up 29 hits and 4 walks in 23 and change innings. And there’s the aformentioned strikeout rate problem.

    But the fact is that he’s been good this year, giving up a run more in 40 plus innings for Baltimore than he did in the 23+ he threw for us. He might not have fit into last year’s pen, but this year’s edition? Hell, who wouldn’t?

  3. Why we’ve underperformed our run differential so badly:
    Aside from the Cubs who are at +139, the Sox have the best run differential in the majors at +108. That’s compared to Tampa at +65, the Yankees at +41, the White Sox at +65, the Twins at +37, and the Angels at +62. Our Pythagorean record stands at 70-48 versus the actual 67-51. By contrast, Tampa’s expected record at 65-52 is seriously outperformed by their actual 71-46. Doubtless there’s no single explanation, but if we don’t revert to the mean – and soon – we’re going to have a serious problem.
  4. Why MLB would bother investigating Manny:
    Rumor has it – and yes that’s all I’ll call it, originating as it did with the Shank – that MLB is investigating both Boras and Manny for the events that preceded the latter’s departure. Is it possible that Boras and Manny conspired together in an effort to ensure that the options were dropped? Sure, it’s possible. But I don’t know how you’d prove it without a smoking gun email. His July line of .347/.473/.587 was the best he’d put up all season. Maybe he tanked, maybe he didn’t, but investigating is a waste of time without proof.
  5. Why it’s 2008 and the owners are only just poised to discuss the absurd, byzantine blackout restrictions:
    Seriously, this is just mind boggling. Or would be, if MLB’s business side wasn’t so glacially slow and backward.

What About the Fans? Won't Somebody Please Think About the Fans?

Every so often, Buster Olney – who is otherwise one of my favorite non-statistically focused baseball writers – careens off the rails into the type of mawkish story typical of the more traditional beat writers. So it was Thursday, I’d argue, when the headline to Olney’s blog read “Red Sox protest hurtful to fans.”

Huh.

At this point, you might expect I’m going to furiously defend the players in their recent dispute over the stipends for the coaching and training staff. Which I’m not. At least not furiously. Like many, including – presumably – those who will be receiving said stipends, I appreciate the sentiment. But I agree with the many observers who felt that the situation was clumsily handled at best.

But “hurtful to fans?” Please.

Was it inconvenient? Probably. Was it ideal that fans weren’t kept up-to-date on the situation? Nope. But ultimately, this was the effective equivalent of a rain delay. No more, no less.

Olney, apparently, saw things differently, saying “Instead, the Red Sox walked out on a crowd that had paid in good faith to see a baseball game.” Which would be true, if they had actually “walked out.” But of course they did not. He went on to quote “a major league executive with another team” as saying, “At the end of the day, it is the fans that took the hit.”

What hit? An hour and six minute delay of the game?

Maybe I’ve been hitting the Kool-Aid jug too early and often of late, but I can’t get in a twist about a dispute that lasted less than two hours.

The really offensive bit, as far as I’m concerned, was this:

Given that it was the responsibility of the Red Sox players to understand the situation before it became a crisis, a more magnanimous gesture would have been for some of the Boston players to offer up their stipends to the coaches, given that some of them are paid somewhere between $60,000 and $100,000 a day, rather than victimizing the fans.

Would that have been magnanimous? Absolutely. But given that MLB – a six billion industry – is disgracefully trying to extort the tiny Cape League, you’ll forgive me if I’m not inclined to take the league’s side here. Why, precisely, should the players foot the bill for a trip that benefits the league rather than themselves?

The suggestion, frankly, was ludicrous, and I expected better from Olney.