Music Monday #1

I listen to a lot of music. I like to share the music that I love with my friends in the hopes that they find something that they like, too. Last week, I had an idea that I would start to post some of the music I like on Dave Roberts’ Dive to share this aspect of my life with my readers (who are, by the way, negligible). To this end, I thought I would come up with a series of posts called “Music Mondays” to give people an idea of what I am listening to on a weekly basis (and to hopefully, eventually, introduce some people to music that they find enjoyable). I know that today is Tuesday, but I forgot to share yesterday. So, I guess this is Music Monday Tuesday. Or something like that. Whatever, my blog, my rules. I’m going to start with some FAQ about my music and then share some of the things I’ve been listening to over the past week or so.

What type of music do you listen to?

For the most party, I listen to various types of electronic music: dubstep, trap, DnB, future bass, house, glitch, funk, and lots of stuff in between. If you follow electronic music closely, you know that there are lots of different genres. Sometimes, an artist has his or her own classification for their music and, other times, they prefer that the genre goes unclassified. I also listen to rap, hip-hop, reggae, and rock. If I find a song that I like within these genres, I give it a listen.

How do you find your music?

I have lots of different ways to find music for myself. My two most fruitful and tested methods for finding new music are to subscribe to channels on YouTube and to listen to mixes that my favorite artists put out for individual songs that I like. I also follow artists on Facebook and Soundcloud and wait for new releases. Finally, I love to go to live shows and find the music online that I loved during the set.

When and how do you listen to music?

I listen to music in any format and at all times. At work, I listen to my iPod through my headphones. At home, I usually listen at my computer through a set of headphones (because I can’t listen to loud music through a set of good speakers in my apartment). I now love to drive, because I realized that my car speakers are actually better than my headphones or anything I have in my apartment. But, by far and away, my favorite way to listen to music is to go to live shows and hear songs dropped live. For me, nothing beats feeling the bass in my chest and hearing the energy of the crowd (especially at large festivals).

Can you define what a good song is?

Generally, when I really like a song, I can point to a very specific part of it that draw me to it. For example, five of the more common things that I like are: a.) dark tones that convey a deep and serious vibe; b.) heavy bass that “grinds” or “rumbles”; c.) hip-hop/rap (or any short vocal) samples that flow in well with the over the music and provide a sense of rhythm; d.) coordinated wobbles that give the song an implicit bass line to assist with proper head bobbing; and e.) any upbeat rhythms that convey a reggae-influence. Of course, these are not hard-set rules, but they are certainly aspects of individual tunes that I like. Ultimately, my end-all, be-all of listening to music is to do so at a live concert. Much of what I like on my headphones or in my car will not totally replicate the feeling I have at concerts, but I can tell what the music would sound like if I were listening live. Aside from giving me the opportunity to find new individual songs that I love, I think this is why I love mixes so much: the vibe from that an artist generates from a mix is one that is similar to a live show because all of the songs are strung together. I can almost feel what the DJ is trying to do with the crowd and imagine how this would translate at a venue.

Without further ado, here is some music I have been listening to in the past week:

1.) Jaymes Young – Habits of My Heart (BENTZ remix)

Genre: Future Trap

Why I like it: The melody and the vocals give the tune a beautiful “love-sick” vibe. Also, the bass that drops during the hook shakes my central rearview mirror (this is the threshold that I have set for “good bass”.)

2.) Curren$y – Bottom of the Bottle feat. August Alsina & Lil’ Wayne

Genre: Rap

Why I like it: Curren$y has been one of my favorite rappers since high school. While this isn’t necessarily the “stoner rap” vibe I’m used to from him, he still uses his relaxed and fragmented flow to complement the beat. The vocals on the course are also a great touch.

3.) Styles&Complete – Free (feat. Empress)

Genre: Future Trap

Why I like it: the vibe of the song is serious and heady. Moreover, the use of cut up samples to construct the hook is exceptionally done — the perfectly placed “Ha!” conveys a sense of anticipation and rhythm. Also, the second drop utilizes one of my favorite musical tactics — something I like to call the “phantom beat”. The producer cuts out the hit of the drum and creates an “implied beat” that changes up the listener’s perspective on the song.

4.) Alison Wonderland – Jun 12, 2015 Mixmag Live Mix

Genre: Trap/Future

Why I like it: I first realized that I loved this mix @14:15. The sample (“tell you what I want”), which might be annoying in any other context, is mixed with a couple deep wobbles. @47:20 she mixes in a tropical house tune that absolutely bumps. This is what tropical house is supposed to sound like. I also love the song that drops @51:20. Great future bass. The general trap/future vibe is what I’m really digging right now.

In other news, she’s obviously affiliated with Future Classic. I don’t know if she’s signed or whatever because this is honestly one of the first times I’ve heard about her. TSIS just released a remix she did of Hermitude and she drops Flume a couple times in the excellent mix that I’m posting here.

She said in an interview that she’s from Boston and the YouTube video briefly said she is from Boston, but she’s plays out of Australia so many people assume she’s Aussie. If she actually grew up in Boston, that’s bonus points.

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Ben Cherington’s Departure

My first post upon returning from my years-long hiatus will outline my feelings on GM Ben Cherington’s departure from the Red Sox. Ben Cherington held my fantasy dream job from 2011-2015. I admired Ben greatly and especially respected his accountability, intelligence, thoughtfulness, and calm demeanor. When he stepped down, my mom sent a typical “mom email” titled “Are you sad about Cherrington?” The body of the email included the following: “What do you think about the new guy [Dave Dombrowski]? Was this a good move?” That’s all. After reading my response, she was so impressed by the detail that she (in typical mom fashion) encouraged me to contact the now-exiting president of the Sox, Larry Lucchino. To save myself the embarrassment, I’ll instead simply post what I wrote to her on Dave Roberts’ Dive. I’m sure Larry has his own thoughts on the matter.

Funny you should ask, I just so happen to have a strong opinion about this issue.

I like Ben and appreciate what he did in Boston. On the other hand, the Red Sox are a huge mess (albeit, fixable) and it is almost 100% his fault. Ben had three fatal flaws: he was incapable of scouting and developing pitchers, he overvalued the talent (particularly the prospects) on our team, and he created logjams by signing and trading for redundant players.

Ben’s philosophy was this: acquire the best possible players and figure out where they are going to play later. What do Allen Craig, Daniel Nava, Rusney Castillo, Yoenis Cespedes, Hanley Ramirez, and Mookie Betts have in common? They are all right-handed hitters who basically play the same position. In some instances, Ben paid a hefty price to get these players. To his credit, Ben acknowledged the players were redundant, but noted that, “this is a good problem to have” in case of injury. What happened, though, is that players didn’t get the playing time necessary to grow and develop and our outfield has been a complete disaster. Ben had two colossal failures this winter when he signed Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. I never agreed with signing Pablo. I was excited about signing Hanley, but I will now say that he is the biggest problem on the entire team and we have to figure out how to get him, more than anybody, straight out of Boston. While the Red Sox would never say this publicly, I still think that they never meant to sign both players. They offered both of them contracts with the idea that only one of them would sign, and both players decided to sign the contracts at nearly the same time.

Ben did a great job in two respects: we won the World Series in 2013 thanks to his outside-the-box free agency strategy and he built one of the best farm systems in baseball. But he had many, many failed projects with pitchers. This includes Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster, Justin Masterson, Rick Porcello, and many other pitchers in the minor leagues that you have never heard of (because they stink). The bottom line is that he doesn’t have an eye for pitching. I agree with the decision not to sign Jon Lester, but the moves he made to try and fix it have bombed. In addition, for the most part, he hasn’t drafted pitchers who have panned out.

Ben overvalued his prospects and was afraid to pull the trigger on a deal to acquire Cole Hamels this winter. Who knows how many other opportunities he had to trade these guys. Instead, he kept a glut of overvalued “talent” on the team at the expense of pitching and, lo and behold, we are at the bottom of the division. Now, to fix this team, we are going to have to swallow losing a few promising young players (think Bogaerts, Betts, Bradley, Swihart, Owens, etc.) just to rid ourselves of Hanley. It makes sense that Ben would be attached to the aforementioned players because he drafted and developed them. At the same time, he needs to go because a more objective person in charge will use the pieces we have to build a better team.

As for the new guy, Dave Dombrowski; he is, quite easily, one of the top five “baseball minds” that are in front offices. He built the Tigers into a perennial contender from the ground up. Back in the day, he is widely regarded to have performed miracles with the Florida Marlins and Montreal Expos to somehow, some way, build these teams into contenders. He is also known for swinging massive trades to acquire superstar players (Miguel Cabrera is a good example of this). I would expect some major changes to the Red Sox this winter and I am fully on board with the abrupt leadership turnover. We needed a new vision.

Now, if anyone asks me of my opinion of the Red Sox GM move, I suppose I can simply forward them to my blog.

Hello World

Hello World,

To say that it has been a while since I last posted on Dave Roberts’ Dive would be an understatement. It’s been nearly two years! Luckily, everything is mostly as I’ve left it. The Red Sox won the World Series (and then promptly played dismally until now). Also, it turns out my predictions about Jacoby Ellsbury and Jarrod Saltalamacchia were pretty much spot on.

I hope to revive this blog for all of my avid readers (read: me) starting right now. In the time since I last updated, I graduated from MIT, began work in a cancer research laboratory at Stanford (and hence moved to Palo Alto, CA), and started applying to medical schools. My hopes in reviving this blog are to provide an outlet to express myself about my life. Since much of my life is consumed by the Red Sox, I will certainly continue posting about them. But, I would also like to post about other aspects of my life, including (but not limited to) my work, my social activities, and my few interests besides baseball. To this end, I’ve added a few categories to the blog: volunteering, general thoughts and ramblings, science, medical school, music, and tutoring. As I become inspired to write about more things, I’m sure categories will be added to this list.

In the meantime, I would like to explain a bit why I named the blog the way I did. To be honest, not too much thought went into it; I knew I wanted a baseball reference (because the whole plan was to have a blog with statistical analysis) and I knew I wanted it to roll off the tongue (the jury is still out on that one). Also, I realized that “Dave Roberts’ Dive” not only described a moment in time, but could also describe a place (i.e. a “dive bar”). In this way, it was a bit of a double entendre, if you will. The blog was intended to be a place that the interested reader could come to “dive” into the statistical analysis of baseball. There’s no going back now.

As I thought about the name of the blog more, I realized that the event itself (Dave Roberts’ steal of second base in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS) was truly a microcosm of my own life. What do I mean by that? I have always viewed baseball as a metaphor for life and I think that this is healthy. It has taught me about failure: the best players fail 70% of the time. It has taught me about luck and natural progression: one of my favorite sayings is “well, that’s the way she goes.” It has taught me about diligent preparation and hard work: in baseball, talent can only take you so far — learning and owning the intricacies of the game is what truly takes you to the next level. I could go on and on.

In any case, as I reflect on Dave Roberts’ Dive (the actual thing, not the blog), I realize that I find parallels in my life, too. Mainly, Dave’s steal epitomizes the idea that performing under pressure in a single moment in time can cosmically alter the course of the universe. Applied to my life, I know that performing under pressure in certain moments can and will shape the course of my life. Similarly, I use the metaphor of Dave Roberts’ Dive to remember that I must always take advantage of the tremendous opportunities I’ve been afforded in life (indeed, nobody in Boston would remember Dave Roberts if the Sox didn’t win the 2004 World Series).

Anyways, I hope this single post inspires me to write more and allows me to express myself in new ways. Happy reading!

Free Agent Case Study #2: Jarrod Saltalamacchia

Dennis Eckersley filled in for Jerry Remy during the Red Sox road trip to play the Giants and Dodgers and has remained on board for the Orioles series. Eckersley’s analysis, cluttered with lingo like “cut the moss,” “throwing cheese,” and “Hello?!”, is also often insightful and informative. Such was the case when he praised Jarrod Saltalamacchia for his consistent season behind the plate for the Sox in 2013.

Jarrod-Saltalamacchia1

It’s hard to imagine another Sox catcher at this point in time.

Saltalamacchia has seemingly overcome the developmental issues that persisted during the early part of his career on the defensive side of the plate. His swing has always provided power and, perhaps most importantly, he has become a trusted game-caller by Boston’s pitching staff. Salty is playing in a contract year in 2013. In this post, I’ll take a look at the market for catchers, analyze Salty’s true value to the Sox, and give a prediction for whether I see him re-upping with Boston this offseason.

The Numbers

Saltalamacchia was once a top prospect in the Braves system and was the center-piece in a 2007 trade for Mark Teixeira. Much of the promise scouts saw in Salty arose from the power he generated from his uppercut swing from the left side of the plate. Like most young players with a long powerful stroke, Salty struggled with strikeouts and inconsistencies in his approach. Salty’s status as a star prospect diminished during his time in Texas due to his inability to put the ball in play, and the Sox took a flier on him at the end of the 2010 campaign. The numbers show the type of hitter that he has been from 2011-2013 with the Sox, but also point to a fundamental change in his approach in his most recent campaign.

From 2011-2013, Salty hit the 6th-most homers amongst catchers in Major League Baseball with 51 (Mike Napoli leads all catchers with 69, despite playing his entire 2013 campaign at first base). Salty is also last among all Major League catchers with a 69.8% contact rate and leads the group with a 30.6% strikeout rate. These are numbers that reflect a hitter who swings to hit the ball out of the park for each and every swing he takes.

Despite the strikeouts (which have been prevalent throughout Salty’s career), it is clear that he has gone through a fundamental change in hitting philosophy during the 2013 campaign. The graph below helps us visualize Salty’s trend during his time with the Sox:

SAlty_swings

The graph breaks down Salty’s batted balls by fly balls, ground balls, or line drives. When he arrived with the Sox in 2010, Salty was in the worst spot, batted ball-wise, of his entire career. His line drive percentage hovered around 5%, whereas his fly ball (and pop up) percentage was at the highest of his career. Since he has been with the Sox, Salty has reversed this trend, culminating in the highest line-drive (and lowest fly-ball) percentages of his career in 2013. This is one reason for Salty’s apparent decrease in power, as ZiPS projects him to hit 14 dingers this year following seasons of 16 homers in 2011 and a career-high 25 in 2012. Despite the slight dip in power, the change in approach has made Salty a more productive overall hitter: his greater propensity to hit line drives has caused his BABIP to rise dramatically from .265 in 2012 to a whopping .379 in 2013. Moreover, it has caused his overall average and OBP to rise to .270 and .341, respectively (up from .222 and .288 in 2012). The only surprising stat after noticing Salty’s decrease in FB% and increase in LD% is that his slugging percentage has not changed at all from 2012 to 2013, even despite the fact that his homer rate is down. But a quick review of Salty’s counting stats reveals that this is due to the fact that he ranks eighth in the Major Leagues with 34 doubles. We can again attribute this to his greater propensity to hit line drives, as many of the long fly balls that stayed up for just too long may be dropping for Salty in 2013.

As his batted ball trends and overall stats suggest, Salty has been on an upward slope as a hitter during his time with the Red Sox.

The Intangibles

While we have just examined the ways in which Salty helps his club with the bat, he holds arguably even more value to the Sox has their primary backstop. This is where the intangibles come in to play, which might be the single biggest factor as to why Salty gets a major pay-day (or why he doesn’t) on the open market. Simply put, there is much more to calculating player value for a catcher than offensive and defensive stats alone.

Catchers can improve a pitching staff with their daily preparation and ability to call a game. In an effort to quantify Salty’s game-calling ability, I’ll reference an article called “Salty’s Defense/Game-Calling Impact” on the Pro Sports Daily forums. As of August 5th, the chart below gives pitcher’s ERA during Salty’s starts as compared to his back-up’s starts over the past three years:

SAlt

While there is much more to calling a game than simply “pitcher ERA”, the trend is a bit alarming when estimating Salty’s value. Numbers don’t tell the whole picture, of course, but they certainly wouldn’t support a claim that Salty improves a pitching staff through his game-calling. One thing is clear: pitchers are doing better in 2013 while Salty is behind the plate, but it remains a mystery whether this is because he’s calling a better game or simply because the pitchers he’s catching are better.

Josh Beckett was one pitcher who spoke out about Salty’s inability to be on the same page as the starter, but many have spoken in defense of the backstop’s ability during the 2013 campaign. Jake Peavy, for one, has commended Salty’s approach to game-day: “I can’t say enough about his willingness. Salty has got some time here, some time in the big leagues. For him to be so humble in his approach, to not say, ‘This is how we do things here’; it was him saying, ‘Hey, man, what do you need to win tonight? What do you need me to do?” In any case, his familiarity with the Sox pitching staff likely makes Salty more immediately valuable to the Red Sox than any other team.

On another note, Salty has been very durable during his time in Boston. He has missed just 4 games due to injury from 2011-2013 and has not been placed on the disabled list once. While durability is always valuable, it is especially valuable in a catcher, in which the day-to-day bumps and bruises are far more prevalent. This should make teams more comfortable offering him a long-term deal.

The Market

Of the 18 catchers on open market following the season, Salty is the youngest at age 29. He will likely be the second-most coveted free agent catcher (behind Atlanta backstop Brian McCann), though that could change if Salty gets hot or McCann gets hurt again (he missed time in 2011 due to an oblique injury and missed time in 2013 due to offseason shoulder surgery). There have been very few free agent catchers over the past 3 years, likely due to the fact that familiarity with a team’s pitchers is very important to front offices. Thus, we notice that there have been many contract extensions for catchers, but very few catchers who actually hit the open market. Salty is, in fact, in a very unique position as a productive free agent catcher who will likely fetch a deal for more than 3 years. In any case, here is how the free agent/extension market has looked over the past two years:

market

Miguel Montero seems to be the most similar comparable by age (29) and overall production (using ZiPS projections, Salty will have a 2.1 average fWAR over the past 3 seasons when he hits the open market). Montero’s signing was actually an extension, so even though his overall production was a bit higher when he signed, it’s certainly not far-fetched to believe that Salty will get a 5-year, $60 million contract when teams are bidding for his services.

The Suitors

I expect the White Sox, Angels, Athletics, Yankees, Braves, Rangers, Rays, and the Red Sox to be in the running for Salty’s services based on their need behind the plate for next season. I doubt the Rays or the White Sox would spend the money on the current Sox backstop, and a signing by the Angels and Athletics seems equally unlikely due to the Angels’ payroll and Oakland’s frugality. This leaves the Red Sox, Yankees, Braves, and Rangers as Salty’s primary suitors, and their free-spending tendencies should make Salty’s eyes light up in free agency.

Prediction

This is a really tough call. I think that if Atlanta does sign a catcher to a long-term deal, they will simply retain Brian McCann (familiarity, as discussed previously, is likely very important to teams when evaluating catchers). A look at the remaining teams’ organizational depth charts could provide insight into Salty’s destination. According to mlb.com, catcher Gary Sanchez is the Yankees’ top prospect with an ETA of 2015. He’s also the second-highest ranked catching prospect in baseball behind Travis d’Arnaud. I expect the Yankees to hold off on signing Salty. While the Rangers’ top prospect is also a catcher, Jorge Alfaro is not expected to arrive until at least 2016 and their 40-man catching depth is weak. The Red Sox have multiple catching prospects in their system (#10 Blake Swihart, #13 Jon Denney, and #15 Christian Vazquez) and have depth on their 40-man roster with Dan Butler and Ryan Lavarnway. If the price does indeed rise to my predicted contract of 5 years and $60 million, it’s hard to see Salty re-upping with Sox GM Ben Cherington. Instead, I see him jumping town for Texas, an organization where his prospects once faded, but one that now might make him a very rich man.

Do the Red Sox Have a Winning Core?

Much has been made about the “core” of a baseball team. This is the set of star players around which a general manager adds pieces and parts in hopes of building a champion. But what makes a core? Older players? Pitchers? Good “clubhouse guys”? This post of Dave Roberts’ Dive will utilize an incredible August 12th article in the “community research” section of FanGraphs.com to analyze the Red Sox “core” over the past few years. The article, written by Jonathan Judge, can be found here, and is titled “Does Your Team Have a Winning Core? Profiling Sustainable Roster Construction”.

dustin-pedroia-ap2

Dustin Pedroia is the ultimate “Core Player”.

Judge uses three elements; fWAR (wins above replacement, as defined by FanGraphs), a control index (the remaining years of player control the team has, maxing out at 5), and age index (peak baseball age — in this case, 27 — divided by true age). Judge defines “Core Wins” as the product of each factor (i.e. fWAR*[Control Index]*[Age Index]) and further defines a “Core Player” as one with more than 5 “Core Wins” in a season. In his analysis, he notes that the Rays are the “gold standard” of a roster made up of “core players” whereas the New York Mets lie on the opposite end of the spectrum. Let’s use Judge’s formula to take a look at the core make-up of the Boston Red Sox over the past few of years, starting in 2010, and see how this profile might translate to future success.

2010, 89-73, 3rd place AL East, missed playoffs

I’ll start by walking through a calculation of “Core Wins” for a single player to get the gist of what it entails. Consider the example of Jon Lester; the Red Sox had five more years of team control over Lester in 2010, so his control index stood at 2.5. In his age 26 season (1.04 age index), he pitched to a superb 5.4 WAR. Multiplying the factors (1.04*2.5*5.4), we extrapolate that Lester accumulated 14.0 “Core Wins” in 2010, making him a “Core Player” for Boston by the author’s definition. There were a few other Sox players (four, to be precise) who made the cut:

2010 wins'

Some notes: Jed Lowrie was nearly a Core Player (he had 4.9 Core Wins) with a solid 1.9 WAR.  The Red Sox player with the most WAR was Adrian Beltre at 6.6. But the formula obviously rewards teams for have younger, controllable players and Beltre was a 31-year old who would became a free agent after the season. Thus, he accumulated just 2.9 Core Wins. The Red Sox accumulated 71.9 Core Wins on aggregate during the 2010 season. Keep that number in mind when comparing to future seasons.

2011, 90-72, 3rd place AL East, missed playoffs

Ah, yes. The epic collapse that was the motivation for a complete change of   scenery by John Henry and Larry Lucchino. The Sox signed Carl Crawford and traded for Adrian Gonzalez in the offseason, which translated to tremendous success through August. But the wheels fell off in September and the rest is history. How did the Sox fare by the “Core Wins” and “Core Player” analysis?

2011 wins'

Notes: The Red Sox had only four players in their “core”. One reason for this was the attrition of Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and John Lackey. Jacoby Ellsbury was one of the most exciting players in baseball during the season, and his power surge led to a 9.1 WAR and a second-place finish in the AL MVP voting. Carl Crawford, who signed a 7-year, $142 million contract in the offseason, was one of baseball’s biggest busts ever at a -0.1 WAR. The benefit of Dustin Pedroia’s contract extension is clear after he spent two consecutive years in the “core”. The Red Sox managed 85.2 “Core Wins” on aggregate and locked themselves in the long-term, with two-thirds of their roster “controllable” for 3 years or more (as opposed to 50% from the previous season).

2012, 69-93, 5th place AL East, missed playoffs

The beginning of the season marked the arrival of the Bobby Valentine circus in Beantown. And what a circus it was. Conflicts with players such as Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez, and David Ortiz put Valentine in the doghouse before he could establish any credibility. Gonzalez, Beckett, Crawford, and Punto were mercifully traded to the Dodgers in the “gift-that-keeps-on-giving” for GM Ben Cherington. Let’s take a look at how the Sox performed using the model of our “Core Wins” formula:

2012 wins'

Notes: Now, only three players comprise the Sox “core” (and one was traded in August). Jon Lester fell out of the “core” again even though he posted similar (slightly lower) numbers to those in 2010, which is a result of the formula rewarding players who produce at a young age. That is to say, if a player’s performance does not improve regularly in the seasons before his age-27 season, it may cause the team to reevaluate if he truly is in that team’s “core”. The Daniel Bard experiment was truly a disaster, causing him to go from a “fringe core” player to next-to-nothing in value. Carl Crawford was simply awful again, and never entered the Red Sox “core”. Ellsbury did not perform due to injury, and (in what was likely the only bright spot of the season) Doubront entered the “core” as a productive young starter. Also, Will Middlebrooks was not included in the calculation because he was not under contract at the beginning of the 2012 season. He would have emerged with 5.6 “Core Wins”. In any case, the Sox aggregated 43.7 “Core Wins” according to the formula. A disaster indeed.

2013, 74-53, 1st place AL East, season 78% complete

Right now, on August 20th, the Red Sox have outperformed the wildest expectations of fans (and likely management) for the 2013 season. The payroll was cut by $21 million from 2012 and many regarded the season as a “gap year” as the plethora of young talent the Sox possessed continued to develop. While we have previously set out “Core Player” designation at 5 “Core Wins”, I will pro-rate this to 3.9 to account for that the Sox season is only 78% complete. Let’s take a look at how the squad put together by GM Ben Cherington and managed by John Farrell have fared:

2013 wins'

Notes: Clay Buchholz has performed to a “Core Player” level, even though he has not pitched since June 8th due to injury. That speaks to how spectacular he truly was through his first bunch of starts in the 2013 season. Jon Lester has once again found the “core” elusive and Will Middlebrooks, who was thought to be a sure-thing, had his wheels fall off due to some poor plate discipline. The “surprise-of-the-year” award goes to Shane Victorino who has made Cherington’s signing (which was given heat at the beginning) look like a gem.

Interesting notes about the process:

I learned a whole lot by analyzing the composition of different Sox teams in this way. First off, David Ortiz never appears in the Red Sox “core”, even though a poll of Sox fans, writers, and executives would probably say he is a member. We need a model that accounts for this fact (the problem for Ortiz is that he never signed a long-term contract, and never sees his “control index” offset the reality that he’s an older ballplayer). I’ll raise this point when I discuss the limitations of the model.

Also, we learn that Pedroia is the true definition of a “Core Player”. He is a mainstay in the Sox “core” from 2010-2013, the only player not to drop out of the “core” at least once in the four-year span. The 6-year, $40.5 million contract given to him by Theo Epstein looks like an incredible bargain, and solidified his place in the “core” for the last couple of years.

We can also see that Felix Doubront is really valuable, and only has room for improvement. He has improved during his two seasons in Boston, and his productivity coupled with his young age and controllability make him an incredibly valuable piece for the Sox.

Finally, the Sox “Core” is most valuable (according to the formula) in 2010. This is because they had so many young, home-grown prospects under team control. It will be very interesting to re-visit this formula next year once many of the Sox heralded new prospects (Bogaerts, Bradley Jr., Ranaudo, Webster, Barnes, Owens, etc.) finally break into the bigs. If they perform in their first couple of years, their “Core Win” value will sky-rocket.

Limitations of the Model

In my opinon, the “Core Wins” model by Jonathan Judge does not adequately punish teams for signing outlandish contracts (a case like Carl Crawford, John Lackey, or Adrian Gonzalez). A future model that I would like to develop would incorporate these poor signings into the model in order to judge a teams core. One way to do this might be to weight the “Age Index” more heavily, perhaps by squaring it. Since the index is centered at 1, squaring would reward contributions by younger players and discount contributions by older players. Another method might be to incorporate “guaranteed money” into the calculation. It is contracts like these that weigh down a team’s ability to develop their own players, which in turn adds to their “core”.

The formula also needs a tool that rewards players for prolonged production, event though they haven’t signed large long-term contracts. In 2013, Shane Victorino is valued higher than David Ortiz according to the “Core Wins” formula, but many would surely argue that conclusion. Perhaps including a “time spent with same team” factor could give some insight into this type of player’s value.

While the model certainly highlights the contributes of young, team-controlled players, it has no real predictive value on the macro-level (i.e. the number of aggregate “Core Wins” is basically meaningless). It does, however, function to rationalize the contracts given to Pedroia, Lester, and Buchholz which bought out a couple arbitration years, but also ultimately delayed free agency. As the “Core Wins” analysis shows, these extensions increased their value to the Sox.

In the future, I will likely use this method to determine a player’s trade value or candidacy for a contract extension, as I think the application for “Core Wins” is more useful in that realm than in the realm of aggregate team performance.

In other news…go get ’em, Xander!

*Adrian Gonzalez technically signed this contract in the offseason following the 2011 season, as to avoid putting the Red Sox over the luxury tax threshold in the short term. However, I factored five years of control in due to the handshake agreement the Sox made with Gonzalez’ representatives on a contract extension following his trade to Boston.

**Pedroia’s “Control Index” is set to 2.5 due to the eight-year, $110 million contract extension he received at the All-Star break.

The Dog Days of August

Analyzing the Sox struggles over the past week.

lackey

The Sox are lucky that John Lackey’s ankle injury isn’t more serious.

The Red Sox have gone 5-5 over their past 10 games and just lost 3 out of 4 against the Royals in Kansas City. They didn’t play their best ball in their previous series in Houston, but managed to take 2 out of 3 due to a couple of clutch hits. While they remain in first place in the AL East, they dropped to 32-28 on the road as they head across the border for a 3-game clip in Toronto. Globe writer Peter Abraham argues that the Red Sox actually had a productive road trip by emerging three games up on the Rays, but I contend that the Sox missed a serious opportunity to distance themselves from Tampa, who have lost five straight after being swept in LA. In this post, I’ll chronicle exactly what went wrong during the trip and offer some predictions about what lies in store for the remaining 42 games of the season.

Playing from Behind

Generally, I can’t watch the first couple innings of the Red Sox game because I’m eating dinner or running errands after work. By the time I turn on NESN, it seems the Sox are already down on the scoreboard. The Red Sox have shown an incredible ability to come from behind this season, but it’s much more comfortable to play with a lead. Let’s take a look at the Sox run differential by inning over the past week to visualize just how much they’ve been playing from behind:

Run Differntial

Clearly, the Sox have spent a significant amount of innings behind in the score. In fact, the only game in which they weren’t losing for at least one inning was during their 5-3 victory Saturday against Kansas City. They have been behind in the score during 34 of their 63 innings played (54% of the time) and have held the lead in only 16 of those 63 innings (25%). Clearly, this isn’t exactly a formula for winning; take, for example, the two wins against Houston in which the Red Sox trailed the Astros for a large part of both games. The numbers suggest that the Sox were lucky to emerge victorious 3 out of 7 times in the past week. Now let’s take a look at the reason for the Sox struggles.

Trouble Getting Started

The Red Sox starters rank 5th in the American League with a 3.95 ERA (this is close to their 4.03 FIP, which signifies that this number is not influenced by fielding errors or park adjustments). But in the past seven days, Sox starters have ranked second-to-last (only to the Rays) in ERA at a bloated 6.00 clip. The rotation of Lester, Lackey, Doubront, Dempster, and Peavy (with an aborted spot start by Steven Wright in Houston) simply has not gotten the job done. Much of the problem has come in the first three innings.

Sox pitchers have given up 18 runs in the first three innings, which is nearly 50% of the total runs they have given up in the past week. A large part of the problem is that starters are laboring through the first inning, setting a terrible tone for the game and spending their energy early, which hinders their ability to pitch deep into game. Sox pitchers have, on average, thrown 19.4 pitches in the first inning over the first 110 games of the season. How does this compare to the last week?

pitches

Sox pitchers have thrown, on average, 25.3 pitches in the first inning over the past week. They have had three particularly bad performances from Wright (38), Lester (41), and Doubront (34). If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is: first inning pitching plagued Bobby Valentine’s squad in 2012 with a 6.50 ERA in the beginning frame ranking second-worst in the AL. While the Sox first inning ERA has improved to a league-sixth 3.90 ERA this season, the recent trend shows that Sox pitching (with Lester and Doubront especially worrisome) has reverted to their old ways.

My guess is that pitching-astute manager John Farrell and clever pitching coach Juan Nieves take note of the Sox recent struggles with their starters in the first inning and change some aspect of their preparation. Perhaps they make the warm-up bullpen longer or encourage Sox pitching to attack hitters more aggressively in the first inning. Luckily, Sox hitters have performed well despite the pitching funk, thumping away to a .346 wOBA in the last week which ranks fifth in the AL. So long as the Sox can correct the inconsistencies in starting pitching, particularly in the first inning, they should be able to carry their winning ways into September.

The Tale of Two Drews

The Red Sox employed outfielder J.D. Drew from 2007-2011 and signed his brother, Stephen, to a one-year contract prior to the 2013 campaign. The Drews are ballplayers who go about their business in similar ways — they’d prefer to avoid the limelight and just hit the baseball. It’s an admirable quality, but not one that’s so cooperative with the Boston media or fans. For some inexplicable reason, Boston is enamored with players whose highs are raucous and whose lows are dismal. This was never the case with J.D., and doesn’t appear to be the case with Stephen, but the numbers say that they’re some of the best Sox contributors in recent history.

The Background

J.D. and Stephen were high profile prospects in their respective draft classes and both went to Florida State University.* Prior to signing with the Sox, the two had established themselves in the National League. Both brothers, however, followed completely different paths to their contracts with the Boston Red Sox. In 2007, the Sox signed J.D. at the pinnacle of his career to a 5-year, $70 million contract. Stephen signed a low-risk, high-reward deal with the Sox for 1-year at $10 million prior to 2013. He’s the shortstop for now — Xander Bogaerts is the future. Boston fans can’t help but notice the similarities between the two brothers, which extends beyond the striking resemblance to one another and the shared uniform number (#7). Stephen plays the game much same way as J.D. did, with a smooth and dispassionate style that makes hitting and fielding a baseball seem as simple as driving a tractor (because this is all I like to imagine J.D. does now that he’s stepped away from the game). The two have nearly identical left-handed swings and are known around baseball to share one elite quality: their approach to an at-bat and their knowledge of the strike-zone.

Batter’s Eye

J.D. Drew was heralded as one of the most disciplined hitters in baseball when he signed with the Red Sox in 2007. This means he had an excellent understanding of the strike-zone and had the ability to take close pitches for balls to reach base. Less was known about Stephen when he arrived in Boston, as he was a lower-profile signing. But after his first 84 games, it’s clear that he possesses the same skill. The skill can be quantified by using a PITCHf/x statistic called O-Swing%. The stat measures the percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the strike-zone. If you need more info on O-Swing%, FanGraphs has a good summary. But suffice it to say that the lower a hitter’s O-Swing%, the better handle he has on the strike-zone (there are a few exceptions; for example, Miguel Cabrera does not see very many pitches in the zone, but is still skilled enough to square up balls that are off the plate. He has one of the highest O-Swing% in the MLB). I’ve plotted BB% (a hitter’s rate of drawing walks) vs. O-Swing% for each hitter with at least 300 plate appearances this season and super-imposed J.D.’s numbers he racked up with the Sox (2007-2011):

BBOSWing

We can make a couple of observations. First off, BB% clearly trends with O-Swing% — this makes sense: those who swing less often at pitches outside the zone are more likely to walk. Second, we see that Stephen possesses the same plate discipline as J.D., ranking around the 15th percentile in O-Swing%. In fact, both brothers’ BB% is slightly higher than we might expect based on the linear regression (i.e. the data points lie above the trend line). Finally, we notice that if J.D. played in 2013, he would lead the league in O-Swing%. That’s right: J.D. Drew would have the best eye in Major League Baseball if he strapped on the spikes and decided to have another go. Players who are more likely to walk (i.e. who have a high BB%) are more likely to have a higher OBP, one of the fundamental stats for determining a player’s value. It’s not difficult to see why the Drews got the big bucks from Boston.

Fans (including myself) were under the assumption that if you have a great eye, you strike out less. This is not such a ridiculous proposition: if you have an elite knowledge of the strike-zone, then surely you should utilize it with two strikes. But a simple plot of K% (the rate at which a hitter strikes out) vs. O-Swing% demonstrates otherwise:

KOswing

A blob. The two statistics are not correlated in the slightest. To Sox fans, it seemed that J.D. Drew often took the third strike with the bat on his shoulder — the “Master of the Backwards K”. Since Sox fans knew he had a great eye, it seemed as though this happened at an alarming rate, as the expectation was that a lower O-Swing% should also lead to a lower K%. The two stats are not correlated and Drew did not strike out at an alarming rate at all — if he decided to step into the batter’s box in 2013 he’d be right around the league average in K%. Because J.D.’s eye was touted (for good reason) as one of the best in the league, many fans unfairly jumped to conclusions about how often he should strike out. Also, if we take a look at where Stephen lies in the data spread, we see that he strikes out at a much greater rate than his brother, but seems to take less heat from Red Sox Nation. This might be because Sox fans love players with a flair for the dramatic — something Stephen has shown he possesses whereas J.D. never did.

The “Anti-Clutch”

The biggest hit I remember from J.D. Drew was a grand slam in Game 6 of the 2007 ALCS, which turned the tide of the series. As for walk-offs, I remember one biggie: a line-drive over the head of the right-fielder in Game 5 of the 2008 ALCS against the Rays to cap a massive Sox comeback. Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston reminds us that there was, in fact, one more, but goes on to summarize J.D.’s reputation brilliantly: “Mr. Excitement, he was not.”

“The Anti-Clutch” was the nickname bestowed to J.D. Drew by my dad, who was often frustrated with his performance in tight spots. But my dad’s a stubborn guy and may have been swayed by one strikeout (he also championed the nickname “Master of the Backwards-K”). Certainly he hasn’t done a fair analysis of the relevant statistics, so I’ll do it here. CLUTCH is a complicated statistic that attempts to quantify a player’s performance in high-pressure situations. It utilizes WPA (win probability added) and LI (leverage index, a measure of just how “high pressure” the situation truly is) and normalizes the league-average player to zero. You can read more about CLUTCH here, but the number generally ranges from -1 to 1. Thus, a player with a positive CLUTCH can be considered just that (clutch) but a player with a negative CLUTCH often chokes in the tight spots. So how did J.D.’s numbers look during his time in Boston?

JDDrew

Yikes. That’s all there really is to say about that, except for it likely validates the opinion of Dr. D’Andrea. For reference, Stephen Drew’s CLUTCH is 0.64 during his first season in Boston, which checks in at well-above average. Nonetheless, J.D. Drew has had a tremendous, all-star career, similar to the likes of Eric Davis, Raul Mondesi, and Kirk Gibson.

Stephen’s Trend

Jose Iglesias started the season as the Red Sox shortstop when Drew missed much of spring training due to a concussion. When Drew returned, Iglesias was optioned to Pawtucket, but was recalled when Stephen missed time in July with a hamstring injury. Iglesias was traded to the Tigers in the deal that brought Jake Peavy to the Sox, clearing the way for Drew to re-assume the everyday job on the left side of second base. Drew’s season trend, especially as it pertains to his batting average, was likely a main reason why GM Ben Cherington felt comfortable giving up Iglesias, a defensive wizard:

Stephen Drew

While Drew’s not even half the fielder that Iglesias is, he has the potential to carry a team for weeks at a time with his bat. Fitting his season trend to a third-degree polynomial (this is not a “random” choice — he has clearly had two critical points over the course of the year), we can see that Drew is heating up as the season turns to August. In the best case scenario (the one in which Drew continues or surpasses his current surge), he could be hitting .300 by September 1st. In a more realistic scenario, Drew will continue his current hot streak, and then regress to his career average of .264 by the time September rolls around. In any case, the remainder of the season is looking promising for the Red Sox shortstop, which is a good sign for a team that’s in desperate need of production from the position. In the wake of the Peavy deal, my favorite Globe writer Chad Finn had this to say about the brothers: “And yes, I’m kind of chuckling at the thought that the unfairly maligned Stephen Drew is still here while Iglesias has moved on. The Drews, they’re survivors, man.”

*J.D. Drew was drafted by the Phillies second overall in 1997, but failed to sign a contract. He and agent Scott Boras demanded $10 million whereas the Phils were only willing to offer $2.6 million. He played with an independent league team for one year, then was drafted fifth overall by the Cardinals in 1998, signing for $7 million. Phillies fans booed him for the entirety of his career.