The Ghosts of ’94

s-l300My first article for The Hardball Times takes the time machine back to the strike-shortened 1994 MLB season, where we find much historically significant activity in progress. Would Tony Gwynn have hit .400? Would the Montreal Expos finally win that elusive World Series championship? Could Gene Lamont predict baseball? Marshaling something approaching my best efforts, I make attempts of varying degrees of rigor to answer those questions, undoubtedly raising many more in the hopefully mildly entertaining process.

The full post is available here.

On the Road Again: A study of NHL rink variation

One of the important background dimensions to comparative baseball statistics is known as “park adjustments,” a set of corrective factors applied to account for the physical differences (e.g., outfield wall depth) between each park. Among American sports today, only Major League Baseball and NASCAR (and golf, I suppose) permit such structural variation between the competitive arenas themselves.

Professional hockey used to be in that group too. More than merely adjusting, adding, and subtracting lines on the ice to affect the flow of play, as the NHL continues to do (cf. the NBA three-point line), the rinks themselves used to be different sizes. League rules mandate a uniform rink size, but so-called “small rinks” persisted in the NHL as late as the 1980s and 1990s in Boston, Chicago, and Buffalo.

While hockey does not face the structural differences present in baseball, there still is a need to apply rink-by-rink statistical adjustments. That’s because the compiling of basic hockey statistics (e.g., shots, hits, turnovers) requires statisticians to make judgment calls to a more significant degree than in a discrete-event sport like baseball.

By way of limited background, the NHL collects basic gameplay statistics through a computer system known as the Real Time Scoring System (RTSS). A benefit of RTSS is that it aggregates and organizes data for analysis by teams, players, and fans. A vulnerability of RTSS is the subjectivity alluded to above that comes when human scorers track a fluid, dynamic sport like hockey.

While others have noted certain biases among the RTSS scorers at different rinks, a paper by Michael Schuckers and Brian Macdonald published earlier this month analyzes those discrepancies across a spread of core statistics and proposes a “Rink Effects” model that aims to do for subjective rink-to-rink differences in hockey scoring what park adjustments do for structural differences between baseball parks.    Continue reading

Book Review: Up, Up, & Away

jonahkeriupup&awayJonah Keri has completed the keystone work of his young life with Up, Up, & Away: The Kid, The Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, Le Grand Orange, Youppi!, The Crazy Business of Baseball, & the Ill-fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos. While Keri surely will continue to be one of the top baseball writers of this generation, he was born to write this book about his dearest baseball love.

The book tells the full story of the Expos franchise, beginning with pre-Expos baseball in Montreal, which included the minor league Montreal Royals, a team that counted Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente among its alumni, through the bitter end and the franchise’s departure to Washington, D.C. Readers learn about Montreal and the men who brought Major League Baseball to that city (and Canada) and administered it while it was there, but Up, Up, & Away really is a fan’s story of the talented characters who wore the red, white, and powder blue.

The Expos generally had two peaks in their thirty-five-year history. The first came in the early 1980s, Continue reading

Middle Relief: The Legend of Vlad in Winter (via Grantland)

From the first time the baseball world got a look at Vlad, it was clear we were dealing with a very different kind of subject. Read Dan Le Batard’s Guerrero profile from 10 years ago and you begin to understand why. There are the usual stories of future sports stars growing up in poverty … and then there’s Vlad, who drank from puddles as a child and had to share two beds with six other family members after a hurricane blew the roof off the Guerreros’ shack. There are the usual disconnects between English-speaking reporters and Spanish-speaking players … and then there’s Vlad, who’s so shy about his lack of education and a fear he’ll be perceived as unintelligent that he rarely talks to anyone outside his immediate circle.

And yes, he approached the game differently from anyone else, including sizing up opposing pitchers by facing them on his PlayStation. One of the oldest axioms in sports is to practice the way you play. No problem for Vlad. He swung at everything on PlayStation, too.

People tell stories about Vlad the way they might about Roy Hobbs, if he were real. I once saw Vlad make a diving catch over an alligator in right-center. Oh yeah? I once saw him hit a ball that landed in Moose Jaw. Pfft! You weren’t there when he threw a guy out at home while lying in a sleeping bag in the right-field bleachers while his mom read him ghost stories.

Thing is, everything short of gators and Moose Jaw and sleeping bags actually happened. … Read More

(via Grantland)