Why it’s not a good idea to bet on the Yankees

If you were to bet $100 on one team, every game for the past decade, who do you think would have paid out the most? Since the Yankees had the decade’s best winning percentage, they’re an easy first choice. Yet they’re not even close. In fact, they’re one of the worst teams to bet on. You can thank the oddsmakers for that. If you’d bet $100 on every Yanks game this decade, you’d have lost $5,233. Mets bettors would have fared worse, losing $6,151.

Covers.com notes the best and worst bets of the decade in each sport, and the worst bet in the majors might come as a surprise. It actually has me wondering what is more cursed: the Cubs franchise or the Cubs bettors. Had you bet $100 on every game of theirs this decade, you would have lost $16,276. The winners, apparently, bet on the Angels. Anyone who bet $100 on each of their games would have won $10,888. The Marlins, Twins, A’s, Giants, Cardinals, and Rangers also finished in the positive.

All of this illustrates exactly why I don’t bet on baseball.

By the Decade: More designated, less hitting

The offensive part of our Yankees By the Decade retrospective is coming to an end. After looking at the eight position players, we’ve landed on that catch-all designated hitter spot. Through the 2000s, the Yanks used 61 players at least one at the DH spot. From A-Rod to X-Nady, nearly everyone had a chance to DH. To whittle down the candidates, the chart shows those with at least 10 games as a designated hitter.

  AB Hits 2B 3B HR RBI BB IBB HBP K GDP BA OBP SLG
Jason Giambi 1267 297 52 0 77 225 261 16 51 322 20 .234 .384 .458
Hideki Matsui 930 264 47 2 49 176 117 4 7 137 18 .284 .365 .497
Bernie Williams 430 111 22 0 11 62 57 3 1 78 22 .258 .343 .386
Ruben Sierra 409 97 13 1 20 81 27 3 0 77 11 .237 .280 .421
Johnny Damon 386 106 20 3 7 38 48 1 0 70 4 .275 .354 .396
David Justice 363 88 15 1 18 55 53 4 0 81 8 .242 .337 .438
Nick Johnson 294 77 11 0 12 46 50 4 10 77 13 .262 .387 .422
Gary Sheffield 191 61 8 0 13 42 30 1 2 26 4 .319 .415 .565
Jorge Posada 171 35 7 0 4 17 30 3 3 49 6 .205 .330 .316
Shane Spencer 165 37 5 4 5 19 19 0 1 27 2 .224 .302 .394
Chuck Knoblauch 164 47 8 1 2 21 27 0 10 31 3 .287 .412 .384
Jose Canseco 89 23 3 0 5 16 19 1 0 29 1 .258 .378 .461
Glenallen Hill 86 27 4 0 9 14 7 0 1 24 0 .314 .368 .674
Alex Rodriguez 82 24 2 0 9 24 17 0 2 21 3 .293 .417 .646
Derek Jeter 57 16 3 0 2 6 5 0 2 11 1 .281 .359 .439
Bubba Trammell 44 10 4 0 0 4 4 0 0 8 1 .227 .292 .318
Jim Leyritz 44 11 0 0 0 3 5 0 0 13 1 .250 .327 .250
Shelley Duncan 42 9 1 0 4 10 5 0 0 14 2 .214 .298 .524
Totals 5684 1448 253 12 263 920 824 45 94 1218 133 .255 .355 .442

What leaps out at me from this chart is how the Yanks’ designated hitters weren’t that great at hitting. Most of the regulars who DH’d hit well below their career averages, and the team never really had a true DH this decade either. Jason Giambi led the pack with 22.3 percent of all DH at-bats, and Hideki Matsui was second with 16.4 percent. Beyond those two, the Yanks used the DH spot to rest regulars and give aging stars a spot in the lineup.

Early in the decade, the Yanks went after sluggers for the DH spot. They used a Glenallen Hill/Jose Canseco tandem in the second half of 2000 to some stellar results. Hill, acquired on July 21, 2000, from the Cubs for Ben Ford and Oswaldo Mairena, turned in a 175 OPS+ in 143 at bats, and around half of those came as a DH. Canseco, acquired on August 7, 2000, in a waiver move designed to block him from going to the Red Sox, had a great power spurt too. The duo combined for 15 home runs in just 175 DH at-bats.

After that though, the Yankees used the DH as a spot of convenience. They tried Chuck Knoblauch there in 2001 and Nick Johnson to some success in 2002 and 2003. After Johnson was traded, the Yanks turned to Jason Giambi, and he surprisingly hit significantly worse as a DH than he did as a first baseman. As the first baseman of the decade, Giambi hit .280/.420/.567. As the DH, he hit .234/.384/.458. That’s a swing of .145 OPS points.

Back in my younger and more ignorant days as a rookie baseball blogger at Talking Baseball, I explored the differences amongst hitters when they DH and when they play the field. My study then confused causation with correlation, but I’ve always believed that many hitters are better when they play the field too. Giambi always said that he preferred to play first because it kept him more in the game. It kept him warmer and more ready to bat. The decade’s numbers seem to bear him out.

At the same time, though, Giambi DH’d when he wasn’t healthy enough to play the field, and he would, in all likelihood, hit better when healthy. He DH’d, when he could, in 2004, 2006 and 2007 when sapped by injuries, and he played first in the years he was healthy. Somewhere, somehow, it’s probably a mixture of both.

Beyond Giambi, the Yankees’ DH numbers really highlight their love for the concept of the rotation DH. Hideki Matsui took over with great success over the last two years, but the team has used A-Rod, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada as the DH enough times to put them on this list. A-Rod, it seems, just loves to hit.

And so as Nick Johnson prepares to take over the DH mantle, I will anoint Jason Giambi as the Yanks’ DH of the decade. Had Hideki closed the playing time gap, he probably could have stolen this one from the Giambino; after all, he put up a better DH-only OPS this decade. But with over 300 at-bats, 28 home runs and approximately 43 runs created separating the two, Jason takes the crown but only barely.

RAB Live Chat

Tango answers questions from a sabermetric skeptic

Having a summary opinion without evidence is bullish!t. – Tom Tango

The above quote illustrates why I enjoy Tango’s work. Everyone has an opinion — what’s the old saying? — and they’re entitled to that. But that doesn’t mean we should take every opinion seriously. Only opinions backed by argument, based on facts and a logical thought process, warrant consideration. So when a fairly prominent blogger tries to stir the pot by deriding the sabermetric community, using little or no evidence, Tango will likely respond.

We’re no strangers to Mike Silva. We’ve addressed at least one of his evidence-less rants, and see plenty more of him on the BBTF Newsstand. In the traditional talk radio style, he makes emotional appeals as a substitute for evidence, but that type of argument doesn’t fly in statistically inclined baseball communities. We require evidence.

Proving that he’s not 100 percent gasbag, Silva agreed to send Tango 10 questions about advanced statistics and the sabermetric community. Before linking to the entire series, I’d like to note some highlights.

My biggest beef with Silva — the reason I no longer visit his site — is his stance on the sabermetric community. He suggests that “the ultimate goal is to mainstream their theories and perhaps gain more power in the baseball community.” Using “mainstream” as an infinitive peeves me enough, but the idea that statistically inclined fans want to gain more power is preposterous. Tango rightfully takes Silva to task on this issue, though his focus is more on the second part of Silva’s non-question, wherein he claims that “the ‘value’ of hose these metrics can be used seems to be marginal in my opinion.” Tango:

It’s one thing to say that you don’t understand it, so either you accept it or want to learn more or ignore it. It’s another thing to say that you don’t understand it, and so you will dismiss it as being “marginal” or worse. You have no basis for dismissal. Ignore it, if you must. Dismissing it is out of the question. There’s a huge number of people that find value in it.

Another interesting sequence arises when Silva asks about the future of sabermetrics. Where will we see advanced metrics in 10 years? “Fad? Major part of a front office operation? Replace traditional scouting?” No, yes, and no are the correct answers, but Tango takes it a step further.

You haven’t seen anything yet. Wait until PITCHf/x, FIELDf/x, and HITf/x take shape. You will wish and pray to get back to the simpler times of 2000s. The 2010s will bring an avalanche of data. It will absolutely be a major part of the front office. The best-case scenario is that you have all these f/x systems set up at colleges and high schools. Instead of one scout seeing one game of some prospect in one town, while missing a game on another town, you will have every single pitch charted, every swing charted, and every single fielder charted. The question is to try to identify all of the contributions of each player to each pitch and each play. Having a summary opinion without evidence is bullsh!t. Scouts have summary opinion on limited amount of data (say they see 5% of someone’s games in college). That’s valuable. Now, imagine having a summary opinion based on 100% of the data?

I think this describes what happened after I read that paragraph.

I also enjoyed Tango’s explanation of FIP. I think this point is lost on many proponents of the stat: “it is only concerned with one component to pitching. And that component is the one that does not involve his fielders.” It’s like OBP, and Tango makes that connection as well. It tells us just one thing. It happens to be a very important thing, but there are other factors to consider, just as we consider factors like power and base hits when discussing OBP.

If you have questions about sabermetrics yourself, or you just want to see Tango dole out some quality arguments and explanations, I recommend the entire series. It’s not an overly long read, and I think it’s totally worth the time.

Part 1: UZR
Part 2: WAR
Part 3: WAR and finances
Part 4: FIP
Part 5: Stat saturation
Part 6: The goal of sabermetrics
Part 7: Selling the stats
Part 8: Hall of Fame
Part 9: Stats in fantasy baseball
Part 10: The future

Linkage: Minors, Players Aging, BABIP, 2009

Got some stuff worth bringing to your attention, but not exactly deserving of their own posts…

  • There’s a discussion about the Yanks’ farm system going on at John Sickels’ Minor League Ball. The recent trades have really cut into the system’s high-end talent, but there is tremendous depth when it comes to solid (three star prospects, as Kevin Goldstein would call them) prospects. The Yanks have plenty of young players coming up to fill out the bullpen and take over bench jobs and serve as decent trade bait, which frankly is all the Yankees really use prospects for anyway.
  • Michael Lichtman is running a series of posts at THT looking at his study on how baseball players age. Here’s parts one and two. It’s pretty intense reading, but it’s so worth it, there’s tons of great info in there. Lichtman wouldn’t do it any other way.
  • Adam Foster at Project Prospect looked at some batted ball and BABIP data, and shows that fly balls might have a more direct correlation to BABIP than line drives. It makes sense since fly balls are turned into outs more often than line drives and ground balls, meaning their impact on BABIP is negative.
  • Dave Cameron pointed out the obvious: that 2009 is not a constant. This particularly applies to the Yankees, who are replacing Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui with Curtis Granderson and Nick Johnson. You aren’t simply replacing the first pair’s 2009 production with the second pair’s, you’re really talking about what you expect them to do in 2010. Both Damon and Matsui enjoyed their most productive seasons in several years in 2009, and at their ages, is it realistic to expect them to perform like that again?

Thoughts on a third team in New York

During Monday evening’s Open Thread, I explored a few economic theories behind the upcoming round of collective bargaining negotiations. As always, the Yankees and their huge economic advantage over nearly every other baseball team will be at the forefront of the 2011 efforts to renew the CBA, and I sketched out a rough idea for a salary floor.

As economic solutions go, a salary floor isn’t an ideal one. Although it would force teams such as the Marlins to spend rather than pocket their revenue sharing dollars, it would create more problems than it would solve. In fact, by forcing teams to meet a minimum salary threshold, baseball would create inflation. To reach the salary ceiling, some teams would be forced to overpay for mediocre talent, and the ripple effect of those contracts would lead to higher salaries — and fewer teams able to afford those players — at the top. That’s bad news for everyone.

With these and other institutional hurdles to a salary cap/floor system, smart baseball minds will look at other ways to rein in the Yankees. In Sports Illustrated this week, Tim Marchman proposed a third team for the New York area. The Yankees, he says, are right now playing within the rules of a system designed to penalize them, and it has mostly stopped accomplishing that goal. They paid $220 million for a World Series winner in 2009 and appear willing to go high in 2010. So let’s add a third team. He writes:

According to the measure used by the Office of Management and Budget, the New York metropolitan region numbers about 19 million people. In other words, New York has one MLB team for every 9.5 million people. Chicago, by this measure, has one for every five million people, just as Miami and Atlanta do. Los Angeles has one for every 6.5 million people, as do Dallas and Philadelphia. (This doesn’t even take into account New York’s vast, inherent wealth.)

As we learned a decade ago, baseball at large is quite willing to jury-rig a silly tax system that only works against the Yankees, because everyone else benefits, be it poor teams getting handouts or rich teams who see the Yankees ever so slightly chastened in their spending. With the collective bargaining agreement coming up for renegotiation, a bad economy and a Yankees team that looks like it will be ferociously good over the next few years even if the likes of Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera begin their inevitable decline, it’s quite likely that their continued high spending will provoke some new set of ineffectual regulations meant to reign them in a bit.

The better solution would be to place a third team in New York. That would bring the town’s population:team ratio down to the level of Los Angeles or Philadelphia, and with the same number of people and dollars chasing more baseball, would quite likely bring Yankee spending down a hair without doing anything punitive or unfair.

He further elaborated on this point in a blog post on his personal site. He admits that this plan is both unlikely due to the territorial rights the teams own and unlikely to succeed due to New York’s huge size. After all, the Yankees would still be the top team in town; they would still sell out most of their games; and they would still draw record ratings on TV. Another team in the area would simply become another big market, high spending team that would. As he puts it, “Even with a third team, there would still be about as many people per team there than there are in any other market, and they’d be playing to probably the most baseball-mad population in the country. In the end, it’s about providing baseball to people who want it.”

From a New York point of view, I’d love to see a third team in the city. I’d love to see the regional rivalries reemerge as they did when my dad and grandfather were growing up in New York. I’d love to see three teams compete for air time and fan allegiance. I’d love to see borough-based baseball rivalries renewed, and baseball fever truly grip the city.

It won’t, though, happen. The Yankees and Mets won’t waive their precious territorial rights. The city won’t fund construction for another baseball stadium, and New Jersey isn’t about to foot the bill for a ballpark either. For better or worse, we’ll just be stuck with the Yankees and Mets. A third team also would not address baseball’s financial imbalance.

In the end, we just have to ask if it’s truly a problem. Should we care that the Yankees — as Marchman says, the richest, most powerful team playing in the “richest, most powerful city in the country” — lord over the rest of baseball? Maybe for the health of the game, we should, but I am not ashamed to root for U.S. Steel. Third team or not, it’s a grand life rooting for the Yanks, and the fact is that baseball probably won’t be able to do a thing about it in 2011.

Left field closing arguments: Reed Johnson

I recently said that all we’re going to talk about is left field, but that will get boring, if it hasn’t already. So I’m going to make this easy. Over the next few days I’ll write up something about the available left fielders, then wrap it up at the end. That will conclude our left field discussion, unless something unforeseen happens. For all predictable rumors, we’ll point back to these.

If not for constant injuries, the market for Reed Johnson might be a lot more competitive. The 33-year-old has battled back issues for most of his seven-year major league career, and has suffered other maladies, mostly to his lower body. Not even the Cubs, Johnson’s most current team, wants him back. So, then, why would the Yankees even consider him?

Because he’s a potentially undervalued commodity.

In 2006, at age 29, Johnson experienced his breakout season. He started off with a 3 for 5 performance against the Twins and kept up the hot hitting for the next five months, ending August with a .327/.400/.501 line. His numbers dropped off a bit in September, probably due to a hip issue that eventually led to a stress fracture in his foot just days before the season ended.

Despite a training program to help correct the hip issue, Johnson still struggled through physical issues in 2007. He rested early in the spring because of a sore back, but by mid-April he was back on the DL, needing surgery for a herniated disc. After over two months of recovery, Johnson returned in July, but didn’t produce anything near his 2006 effort, ending the season with a .302 OBP and a .307 SLG. The Blue Jays tendered him a contract that off-season, eventually agreeing to a deal worth over $3 million. But after they added Shannon Stewart they cut Johnson in Spring Training, paying him only about $500,000 in termination pay. To the Cubs he went.

Back problems again affected Johnson in 2008, though he only missed the minimum 15 days. From his return through the end of the season, which included only 165 plate appearances, Johnson hit .342/.377/.461. The Cubs tendered him a contract for 2009, and he produced well enough, hitting .268/.336/.446 through June 20. But, at just about the same time as in 2008 he hit the DL with back soreness. Again he missed only the minimum 15 days, but soon after fractured his foot. A slow recovery meant he got just 20 more plate appearances before the end of the season, though he made them count, hitting three doubles and a triple.

Johnson has demonstrated that he can hit, and for stretches can hit very well. He also plays excellent defense, positing a 23.3 UZR/150 over 2,666.2 career innings in left field. In terms of platooning, he’s an ideal caddy for Gardner, or even Granderson, because he mashes lefties, to the tune of .313/.378/.463 over 1,027 career plate appearances. Even in his poor 2009 and 2007 campaigns he posted an OPS of over .900 against lefties.

It appears Johnson’s only major downside is his injury history. The frequency of his back injuries makes this no light consideration. If he misses just 15 days because of back issues, it’s no big deal. Thankfully, that’s all he’s missed in each of the past two seasons. His two recent lower body injuries also raise a red flag. His stress fractures were in different legs — right leg and left foot — so maybe there’s not a connection. But for a player with Johnson’s injury history, it’s certainly a concern.

As a platoon player, Johnson does make sense. Facing primarily lefties will not only emphasize his strength in that regard, but will also keep him rested, possibly helping him avoid injury. His excellent defense in left field will also make it easier to play him out there, even if Brett Gardner is as good as his small sample UZR numbers indicate. Since the Yankees seek only a low-cost option for their outfield, it seems Johnson fits the profile.

(Bonus: If the Yankees sign Johnson, he’ll have to cut his King Tut goatee. Many people sport good facial hair. Johnson is not one of them.)

So now, whenever a rumor surfaces involving Johnson and the Yankees, we can refer back to this post and its comments. Have your final say now.

Photo credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America