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Posted By Dr. Stan, the Stats Man

In my next posting I will review the new instant replay rules that will be in effect for the 2014 baseball season. However, the most missed call made by umpires is not reviewable.

So what is the most missed call in baseball? Of course, it is the ball and strike call by the home-plate umpire. This call will not be reviewable. I wish to thank my good friend Dr. Martin Cobern for sending me the following research soon to be published in the journal Management Science.

Before stating these statistics I wish to define the word “bias”. A bias is any outside variable which can lead to either a wrong decision or a favored decision. Some of the biases that can influence the home-plate umpire’s ball and strike calls are the reputation of the pitcher as a control pitcher, the reputation of the batter as having a good eye, the inning of the game, the batter’s count, whether the pitcher was on the home team or visiting team, the importance of the game situation, and the race of the batter or pitcher.

The umpires’ strike-zone calls were examined using pitch-location data compiled by the high-speed cameras introduced by Major League Baseball several years ago.  After analyzing more than 700,000 pitches thrown during the 2008 and 2009 seasons, the data showed that umpires frequently made errors behind the plate. In fact, 14 percent of non-swinging pitches were called erroneously. Referring to the biases mentioned above:

    1. A strike was called when the pitch was actually a ball 13.3 percent of the time for a home-team pitcher versus 12.7 percent of the time for a visitor-team pitcher; 
    2. With a 3-0 count on the batter, the umpire mistakenly called a strike 18.6 percent of the time, compared with a 14.7 percent error rate when the count was 0-0. With a 0-2 count, umpires only mistakenly called a strike 7.3 percent of the time. This was half the error rate compared to the 3-0 count. 
    3. Umpires were 10 percent less likely to expand the strike zone for African-American pitchers than for Caucasian pitchers, but race did not seem to influence whether an umpire called a pitch a ball when it was actually a strike. 
    4. Umpires were 13 percent more likely to miss an actual strike in the bottom of the ninth inning of a tie game than in the top of the first inning, on the first pitch.

Some of the findings agree with what most fans and commentators always believed to be true. You can include me in that gang. These expected findings are that umpires were more likely to give the home-team pitcher a strike call on a close pitch and that umpires were more reluctant to end an at bat by calling strike-three or ball-four,

Some of the findings that surprised me were that the race of the pitcher would matter and that umpires were more likely to make mistakes in crucial situations in a game.

The biggest surprise is that so many errors were based on biases and not just random errors. Remember, Major League Baseball uses a scoring system for home-plate umpires. Every pitch is evaluated through the use of cameras. Like in school, if students see the teacher observing them, they are less likely to cheat. I would have assumed the same would hold true for umpires. However, I agree with the writer of the article when he states that, “The sorts of errors we observed are not deliberate and may reflect an unconscious and biased decision-making process.”

Some of the biases that I believe are true but are not mentioned include the reputation of the pitcher and the reputation of the batter. Also, I would be interested if there was a general bias against non-Caucasian pitchers, and non-Caucasian batters. I will read the actual paper when it is published and come back to this discussion at a later date

As always I would be interested in your thoughts on this topic.  Please comment!

Posted By Dr. Stan, the Stats Man

My guest-blogger Emily Su is a student in my Baseball and Statistics class.

On March 6th, my boyfriend Kevin, a life-long Yankee fan, and I traveled to sunny Tampa, Florida to see something only true baseball fans will go out of their way to see, MLB Spring Training. We were there to see the Yankees play at Steinbrenner Field. Kevin had gone to Spring Training several years ago in hopes of seeing his idol, Mr. Derek Jeter. As an amateur spring training-goer, he didn’t realize he had bought tickets for a split-schedule game. Meaning, Mr. Jeter was playing at an away game. This time we were a little smarter. We had talked about going to see some Spring Training games during our spring break but we hesitated planning it because our spring break fell on different weeks. But once Jeter announced his retirement, we knew we had to go. Unfortunately, everyone else had the same idea. Usually Spring Training tickets aren’t more than $30 for the best seats. This time around, each game was sold out and we were forced to buy $115 tickets from StubHub. How outrageous! Oh well, what is going to stop a Yankee fan from seeing his idol? Nothing! So we packed up our bags and balls and headed to see a game against the Detroit Tigers on March 7th, and a game against the Tampa Bay Rays on March 9th.

Our biggest goal was to get player autographs as they practiced before the game.  Spring Training provides fans their best chance of getting autographs. At Steinbrenner Field, it was either a hit or miss. The players would either warm up on the practice field that fans had access to, or warm up on the main playing field. If we waited out by one of the fields what if Jeter, Beltran, and Ellsbury were warming up on the other field? We decided on the practice field and arrived there 3 hours before the game started. You heard me… 3 hours! We were there along with other die-hard fans with our arms all jammed through the holes in the fence especially for autograph signing. We stood out in the chilly Tampa night for 2 hours before any players even came out. Ichiro Suzuki comes running out first, followed by some backup players. I ended up with the autograph of backup catcher Austin Romine. We were disappointed that none of the big name players came out. The fans around me were chatting about how all they wanted was Mark Teixeira’s autograph and how he rarely ever signs. A woman, who went to Yankees Spring Training for 10 years in a row, commented she had everyone’s autographs, but not Teixeira’s. At that point, I was satisfied with Austin Romine’s autograph. Walking to the gates, we saw someone practicing hitting off a tee as hitting coach Kevin Long watched. It was Mark Teixeira! . After he hit, he came to the side of the fence and signed autographs for more than 20 people. He was very nice and down to earth. I felt so lucky to get an autograph from someone who is known to not sign often. It really was pure luck and being at the right place at the right time. Once we got into the game, we watched Derek Jeter warm up. It was very neat to see Derek Jeter play side-by-side with Miguel Cabrera, who we consider the best player in present baseball right now. The Yankees won the game on a walk-off balk!

The next game against the Rays was packed. Since Steinbrenner Field is located in Tampa, the whole game was sold out with half the fans being Rays fans and the other half Yankees fans. This time we were prepared with several clean balls to sign, fresh ball-point pens, and plastic bags to preserve the signed balls. After they warmed up, some of the team signed stuff, but not Mr. Jeter. I got the autographs of relief pitchers Shawn Kelly and Adam Warren. The game ended tied in the 10th inning. There is not a bad seat in Steinbrenner Field which is just as beautiful as Yankee Stadium. I will definitely be returning to Tampa next year for Spring Training.

Posted By Dr. Stan, the Stats Man

My guest blogger is Alexander Everett., a sophomore math major at Quinnipiac University. He is also  my currrent research assistant  in the area of mathematics called Sabermetrics. 

Spring training has become a tradition for my spring break. Each year my family and I go down to Port St. Lucie and travel around south Florida to as many Mets spring games as possible. Spring Training is the best time of the year. For $20 you can get a first row seat with the best view of a baseball game imaginable. There is always optimism surrounding every team and excitement to see the new talent brought into camp. However, every year when I leave the spring training, the part I enjoy the most is the interactions with the ball players. Just sitting at the park talking to the players and coaches for the teams is something that can only happen during spring training.

This year I got to attend three games and saw the Mets play the Cardinals, Marlins, and Twins. The funny thing is, the Mets never win spring training games I attend (I think they are something like 0-12-2 in the last 14 games I’ve been in the last three years). However, the games don’t count so the final scores don’t really matter to me. In game one against the Cardinals, I got to watch John Lannan pitch against young Carlos Martinez. During this game, my grandfather and I were right behind home plate which gave us a view of the pitch that TV cannot show you, through the hitter’s eyes. Watching two polar opposite pitchers throw and work from right behind home plate showed a huge difference in two pitchers

In game 2, it was an away night game against the Marlins. Spring training games are never at night, which already made this game different. During this game however, is when I got to have conversations with the players. Our seats were the first row right next to the Mets dugout so I was able to easily walk over and talk to some of the players while getting autographs. Even the substitute first base coach, Edgardo Alfonzo came over to talk to us for a little while. However, it wasn’t until the end of the game where I had to have a good interaction with a player. After the game, relief pitcher Vic Black was throwing in the Mets bullpen, which was also by my seats. So after he was finished I talked with him. What Vic told me and showed me was that if he warms up in the bullpen and doesn’t throw in the game, his hand uncontrollably shakes to a point where he can’t do anything besides pitch. Before that I had no idea adrenaline could act so high in a spring training game.  It was just icing on the cake to see Zack Wheeler pitch live and close up that night. 

The final game was when the Twins visited the Mets. This was the one game where I was able to enjoy the game and not go harass players the whole time. In this relatively uneventful game, I got to see free agent acquisition Chris Young hit a long home run and prospect and 2013 first round draft pick Dominic Smith play half a game. While watching this young prospect play first base and get standing ovations, it dawned on me that I am older than him (which made me feel sick.)

Overall, I left spring training optimistic about the 2014 Mets. Although it is cliché, this does feel like a different team than last year. They are having fun and actually feel competitive which has been missing for a while. Their pitching staff looks fantastic and their offense looks much improved. Now, the only thing to wait for is opening day, March 31st

Posted By Dr. Stan, the Stats Man

At the age of 49, Barry Bonds returns to the San Francisco Giants not as an active player but as a 7-day roving instructor for Giants manager Bruce Botchy. He donned a San Francisco Giants uniform for the first time since his last game in 2007. Pictures of him show a slimmed down Barry Bonds. He attributes his loss of weight to his becoming an avid cyclist. For many years the Giants have had a tradition of bringing back retired players to spring training. Such retired players as Jeff Kent, J.T. Snow, Randy Winn, and Will Clark are appearing this year.

In talking about his new role as instructor, Bonds said, "I'm more nervous at this than when I was playing, because as a player, it was only my mind, me. Now I'm trying to put that [knowledge] into other players' minds. I'm a little l more nervous being on this side than that side. Hopefully I can just bring some good value to the ball club. Hopefully, I can bring value to these guys and then let Bochy see how I do. I would rather let them evaluate me, and then hopefully something good can come out of this." Unlike Mark McGwire, who admitted to using PEDs when he returned to the Cardinals as their hitting coach, Bonds has no comment about his alleged use of PEDs

When a reporter asked him if he was upset or had any jealous feelings about the Giants winning two World Series without him he responded, "I'm not jealous. I'm happy," he said. "This is my town. It's my city. It's my family. I'm happy. I was almost in tears when they won, I was that happy. It was something we had wanted for a long time. ... I've always been a Giant."

In his final year at the age of 42 Barry Bonds still was able to put up gaudy batting statistics. In 407 plate appearances, he had 132 walks, tagged 28 home runs and had OPS (on-base plus slugging average) of 1.045. He hit 1 HR for every 12 at bats. Yet, no team would offer him a contract for the following year. An argument can be made that in fact he was blackballed by baseball. When asked if he had any bad feelings toward baseball, he said that was in the past and he is only looking forward to the future.

Let’s look at his baseball career. Barry Bonds is a 7-time MVP who holds the single season HR record of 73 and the career HR record of 762. His career statistics are awesome. He ranks 4th in career OPS (1.0512), he ranks 5th in career slugging (.6069) and he ranks 6th in career on-base percentage (.4443). In my book “Sandlot Stats” I ranked the greatest hitters of all-time. Using a basket of 13 statistics, I ranked Barry Bonds 6th behind in order Ruth, Williams, Gehrig, Hornsby, and Cobb (not bad company to be with). Clearly his career statistics should make him a first ballot Hall of Famer. Yet, in his first year of eligibility 2013 he received only 26.2% of the votes and this year he received only 34.7% of the votes. Both numbers are far short of the 75% needed for election. Yes, the answer to why the baseball writers are not voting for him is of course his alleged use of banned substances.

My view as expressed in previous blogs is I will judge him solely on his baseball statistics and these statistics equate to arguably one of the ten greatest baseball players of all-time. Since drug testing became mandatory in 2004, the only player currently on the 2014 ballot that tested positive is Rafael Palmeiro. That means the rest of the players on the ballot who played during the Steroid Era can only be suspected users, by virtue of other player accusations or because of the change in their physical appearance. In our legal system you are assumed innocent unless proven guilty. Unlike in his playing days when he was rude and unfriendly to sports writers, today Bonds was all smiles as he joked with the sports writers. We are now looking at a new Barry Bonds and maybe this new Barry Bonds will eventually receive his invitation to the Hall of Fame.

Posted By Dr. Stan, the Stats Man

Spring recess at Quinnipiac University means my wife Tara and I make another trip to Naples, Florida to visit our granddaughters. On Friday, March 7 we decided to visit the Edison-Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers. I never anticipated what I discovered. Of course I knew about many of the inventions of Thomas Edison including the incandescent light bulb, the phonograph, and the motion picture camera as well as improving the telegraph and telephone. In fact his 1,093 patents is the most by any person.

One of his inventions that I never heard was cement. You heard me cement!  Edison developed an ore-milling process that would extract various metals from ore. In 1881, he formed the Edison Ore-Milling Co., but the venture proved fruitless as there was no market for it. Even though the ore-milling business failed there was a positive outcome anyway. The waste sand produced from the process allowed for the manufacture of harder and more durable cement. In 1899, Edison founded the Portland Cement Company and developed a new cement-processing technology. The closing of Yankee Stadium at the end of the 2008 baseball season also brought to a close a chapter in Edison history. The Edison Portland Cement Co. provided the concrete for the original 1923 Yankee Stadium, a concrete so “hard and durable,” says sportswriter Tom Verducci, that New York City decided “not to touch it” during the 1973-74 renovation. According to a 1923 news report, more than 30,000 cubic yards of concrete, made from 45,000 barrels of cement, 30,000 cubic yards of gravel, and 15,000 cubic yards of sand went into the stadium’s construction. Maybe Yankee Stadium should have been called “The House that Edison Built.”

Was Thomas Edison a great baseball fan? Absolutely! It has been reported in 1927 he told the St, Petersburg Times that, “Baseball is the greatest of American games. I don’t believe you can find a more ardent follower of baseball than me, as a day seldom passes when I do not read the sporting pages of the newspaper.” His connection to baseball begins with the purchase of his 13-acre estate in Fort Myers Florida in 1885. He would spend weeks in Fort Myers during the winters. In 1923, Fort Myers built a stadium called “Terry Park” for the purpose of attracting a major league team to come for spring training. . In 1925 Fort Myers became the spring training site of the Philadelphia Athletics, owned by Connie Mack. On February 24, 1926, Edison made one of his frequent spring training stops at Terry Park. Athletics’ coach Kid Gleason asked Edison, “Think you could hit one?” When Edison nodded that he thought he could, Gleason excitedly exclaimed, “Let’s go!” The 79 year-old Edison with Connie Mack acting as the catcher stepped to the plate and promptly stroked a single to right. He then swung at a few more pitches before retiring to the sidelines. The next day The Fort Myers Tropical Newspaper reported, “A recruit by the name of Tom Edison broke into big league company yesterday and finished his first try-out with a batting average of .500, a mark which Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and the best sluggers of the land have never been able to reach after a whole season of endeavor.”

On March 7, 1927, Ty Cobb, now a member of the Athletics, offered to pitch to Edison. Edison promptly lined a ball off of Cobb’s shoulder. As the fans shouted “Sign him” Cobb walked over and shook hands with the smiling Edison. The Thomas A. Edison film company captured what is the first known baseball game footage on May, 20 1898. Photographed from one camera position behind home plate, the film shows 27 seconds of a game in progress. Edison’s first invention was a universal stock ticker which a young Ronald Reagan used to reconstruct baseball games to broadcast on the radio.

Yes, baseball seems to follow me wherever I go.



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