September 9th, 2013

Today's slate.

The Big Hurst - Max Scherzer

skoormit - Kris Medlen

La Osa Rosa - Carlos Torres

The Big Hurst: There's a park factor issue I've been wanting to discuss here: What kind of park is best for a particular kind of team?  When I've seen this issue discussed at all, it's usually in terms of, "We've got a hitter-friendly park, do we want to invest in hitters or pitchers?"  Some older Bill James research pointed out that teams tend to be weak in any area that's exaggerated by its park.  For example, Boston has generally been a hitter-friendly park, but the team's actual hitters frequently weren't as good as they looked.  If the Red Sox weren't leading the league in hitting  in any given year, it was probably a weaker hitting team.
   I feel like it's unhelpful to look at the issue in that way.  Your team always wants good hitters and good pitchers.  What plays in Chicago plays in Peoria.  Yes, some particular pitchers or hitters do better in some particular parks because of some unusual park quirk, but mostly I worry that it's a sucker's game to focus too hard on that when you're scouting and purchasing players.  Get good hitters and good pitchers.  They'll do fine anywhere (as long as the park doesn't demoralize them or make them big-headed).
   But I'm fascinated concepts like "tempo" (and space).  For that reason, I think it may be more important to split this issue up into "good teams" and "bad teams".  Generally, good teams should want to play in parks that favor offense and bad teams should want parks that favor defense.  The better the team, the more hitter-friendly you want your park.  They want it to go fast.
   If you've got a genuinely excellent team, I think the worst thing is to get stuck in a lot of close games.  Especially if you consider that it's exactly what your opponent would want.  Baseball is fickle.  Either team might eventually win a game that's 1-1 in the 9th.  I think a genuinely excellent team wouldn't want their park to encourage situations that increase the weight of this kind of luck.  (Yes, a foundational premise here is that luck plays a big factor in deciding close games.)  Instead a genuinely excellent team should want every game to be a track meet.
   I think I can illustrate this.  Right now, MLB games average something like 8.4 runs/game.  In Colorado, it's more like 10.4 runs/game, but in the Dodgers' park, it's closer to 7.0 runs/game.  If your team has a 50% advantage over the team you're playing, you might win the game in Colorado, on average, something like 6.2 to 4.2 - by 2.0 runs.  But the advantage is different in LA, and you might win this game, on average, something like 4.2 to 2.8 - by 1.4 runs.  Over the course of a season, a team that plays in a pitcher-friendly park is more likely to be in close games, even if that team is a genuinely excellent team.  Since your team is in a lot of close games, you risk being influenced by un-luck and losing some significant portion of these games.
   The opposite situation should illustrate this.  A mediocre or bad team wants to encourage close games and probably hopes it'll sneak a few, like Baltimore last year.  It knows it can't keep up with a good team under normal circumstances, but it'll hope to get lucky.
   Why are park factors important?  At least, because of this.  If I owned a team, I'd ask someone to study how to quickly change my park from pitcher-friendly to hitter-friendly and back, based on the needs of my team.  If I've got a good team, I want our park as hitter-friendly as possible.  If my team is mediocre, I want a pitcher-friendly park.  If I've got an awful team, I might want a hitter-friendly park again, so I'm more likely to lose games spectacularly and get the #1 pick in the draft.
   I anticipate that the first criticism might be that a good team in a pitcher-friendly park, like the Dodgers this year, should build its team to win close games.  For example, have a great bullpen.  But I'd reply that it's probably futile or counter-productive to try and build your team for your ballpark.  You'll be sacrificing something.  Instead, get good overall players and build a good engine.  It should work the same in any park.  Everything else is minor details.  But if I'm an owner and I know I've got a good team this year, I'm tinkering with the fences.
   This idea germinated in thinking about the "no huddle" or up-tempo offense in college football.  If you know you're a genuinely excellent team, it's all fine and dandy to want as many snaps as possible in a game, but a mediocre or bad team probably doesn't want any part of that style.  If I'm in the SEC this year and stuck playing against the Crimson Tide, I'm going to try and slow down the game as much as I possibly can.  I believe you're walking right into Nick Saban's trap if you try to play all high tempo.  Unless you think you've got superior talent - good luck.
   Am I late to this party?  So far as I know, I've never heard this discussed.


The Big Hurst: I feel like the September call-ups make things even less predictable.


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