Monthly Archives: May 2013

When Profiling is Bad

Ken Rosenthal ran an article this morning that implored the Angels to move Magic Mike Trout back to center field, which is a popular idea. Selfishly, I’d love to see the 21-year old superstar back in center field because he would get to cover more ground and provide more value.

But Rosenthal’s logic is a bit flawed.

To start off–although this isn’t my biggest issue with the piece–Rosenthal makes an appeal to tradition saying that the Angels shouldn’t move Trout off center field because the Giants wouldn’t have moved Willie Mays off center. Not only is that a logical fallacy, but the Giants very well may have done just that if they had a similar outfield situation to the Angels.

The real issue here is whether or the Angels want to maximize Trout’s value or the team’s value.

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Did I mention Mike Trout is really, really good?

As a quick primer, Mike Trout was an exquisite defender last year, posting a 13.3 UZR (runs saved). Peter Bourjos was even better with a 16.3 UZR in 41% as many innings, second best among fielders with at least 200 innings played.

After signing Josh Hamilton and trading Kendrys Morales, the Angels had two open outfield spots: center field and left field. Center field is more demanding, but more offense is expected of corner outfielders, since less players can handle center field.

In a vacuum, Bourjos’ lack of power would profile him as more of a center fielder, and Mike Trout could easily profile as a corner outfielder given his power. But both can handle center field very well.

In Rosenthal’s article, he brings up a good point by an executive about positional value.

As one rival executive explains, a .930 OPS from Trout in center would give the Angels a far greater competitive advantage than a .930 OPS from him in left. Center fielders generally don’t hit as well as left fielders. The average OPS in center this season is .728. The average OPS in left is .765.

While his point in theory is right, it makes no difference in practicality. The center and left field position together is averaging a .747 OPS, and Trout and Bourjos together are averaging a .901 OPS. But it doesn’t actually matter who is in left and who is in center. Either Trout provides a .165 OPS boost in left and Bourjos provides a .099 boost in center, or Trout provides a .202 boost in center and Bourjos gives a .062 boost in left field. The math is the same. There’s no offensive difference.

What this means is offensively, it doesn’t matter what position they play. Mike Scioscia should fill out his lineup card defensively solely based on defensive prowess, since this is the roster he is given. And if we’re operating under the assumption that Bourjos is better defensively, than he should be in center field.

It doesn’t matter who profiles better at what position. It’s too bad for Trout that his WAR is hurt by playing a less valuable position, but the team as a whole will be better off with Trout in left.

There’s been a similar situation on the other coast for the past four year, where the Yankees have actually been ignoring positional profiles. Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner both played center field in 2009 before Granderson was acquired from Detroit, and the Yankees had left field and center field open for the outfielders.

Between the two, Gardner profiles more as a center fielder, and Granderson’s power allows him to profile as a corner outfielder, but the Yankees were fine with ignoring the profiles and playing Granderson in center with Gardner in left. Here’s the problem: Granderson is not a good center fielder.

Since they Granderson came to New York in 2010, he has a gross -15.8 UZR, while Gardner is sporting a league-high 56.4 UZR. Granderson has more positional value in center field, but he hurts his team’s value since he’s just not a capable fielder and Gardner is the alternative.

When a team has two capable center fielders on their roster, profiling can be a dangerous way to fill out the lineup. The two hitters will perform the same no matter which position they’re playing; defensive positioning should be determined by who is the best defender.

Imagine that.

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2013 NBA Mock Lottery

For the second year in a row, I’m putting out a mock lottery before I release a mock draft closer to the actual draft night. It’s been said a lot, but this draft is not very strong. There isn’t too much separating the top four players to me–and that’s not in a good way–and the back end of the lottery is far from spectacular.

But I still think it’s important to predict the order in which nineteen year old men will be selected, only to change that order in a few weeks. Yeah.

You should also check out my writeup dispelling some common misconceptions about the NBA Draft Lottery.

1

Nerlens Noel

C 7-foot 206 lbs Kentucky 19 Years Old

The Cavaliers luck out again, winning their third lottery in eleven years. They have cornerstone starters at point guard, shooting guard, and power forward, so that leaves them essentially looking at Nerlens Noel and Otto Porter Jr. for the first overall pick. Porter will help more right now, but he doesn’t have nearly the ceiling of Noel, who could be a better version of Anderson Varejao.

2

Ben McLemore

SG 6-foot-5 189 lbs Kansas 20 Years Old

Had the Magic landed the number one pick, there’s no chance Noel could have lived up to the other three number one picks Orlando has had: Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Webber, and Dwight Howard. The Magic is a bit of a mess and really just needs talent, so Ben McLemore makes the most sense since he’s the next best player on the board.

3

Otto Porter Jr.

SF 6-foot-9 198 lbs Georgetown 19 Years Old

Porter is probably my third favorite player in the draft after Noel and Bennett, and he’s a perfect fit for Washington. They already have franchise building blocks in John Wall and Bradley Beal, so they just need a forward who make an impact even without the ball. Bennett also makes some sense here, too.

4

Anthony Bennett

PF 6-foot-8 240 lbs UNLV 20 Years Old

The Horncats need help at about any position other than point guard and small forward. The Bobcats biggest issue last year–besides a lack of talent–was a lack of a quality big man. Anthony Bennett is only 6-foot-8, but he has a 7-foot-1 wingspan, and he dominated on the glass last year. Like fellow Charlotte draft pick and former Running Rebel Larry Johnson, Bennett overcomes his lack of height with a strong perimeter game.

5

Victor Oladipo

SG 6-foot-4 213 lbs Indiana 21 Years Old

No team is in a bigger mess than the Suns. They have no young player you can point to and say that they will be a starter in the future. Kendall Marshall, the Morris twins, and Wesley Johnson may all become nice role players, but nobody will win a NBA championship with Michael Beasley starting. With Marshall and Goran Dragic on roster, Trey Burke doesn’t make a ton of sense here, but Victor Oladipo is the hard-working type of player the Suns need to build around.

6

Trey Burke

PG 6-foot-1 217 lbs Michigan 20 Years Old

New Orleans would be lucky if Trey Burke fell this far. They desperately need an upgrade at point guard since Austin Rivers looks like he may go the way of Jonny Flynn, and Burke could supply some extra star power to the team. Burke, Eric Gordon, and Anthony Davis would be a very nice core.

7

Tyler Zeller

PF 7-foot 230 lbs Indiana 20 Years Old

Zeller started the year as the favorite to be the number one pick, and at one point nearly fell out of the lottery. But after putting up ridiculous numbers at the NBA Draft Combine, I think his stock will rocket back up in the coming weeks. He’s definitely better than Alex Len. But the Kings need a forward who can make an impact without needy the ball–since the draftee wouldn’t get the ball playing with Tyreke Evans, Jimmer Freddette, Marcus Cousins, John Salmons, Isaiah Thomas, and DeMarcus Cousins.

8

Shabazz Muhammad

SF 6-foot-6 222 lbs UCLA 20 Years Old

I’m still a big Shabazz Muhammad fan despite a so-so freshman year, a poor combine, and the revelation that he is a year older. The Pistons need a wing player to compliment Brandon Knight, Greg Monroe, and Andre Drummond, and Muhammad would fit  the bill. This could be the fourth consecutive lottery that a potential All-Star falls to the Motor City.

9

C.J. McCollum

SG 6-foot-3 197 lbs Lehigh 21 Years Old

I’m not a huge fan of McCollum since he’s undersized and didn’t face much competition at Lehigh, but the similar thing (schedule-wise) was said of Damian Lillard last year. The Wolves are lacking on the wing, and they’ve been searching for a shooting guard since Randy Foye left (that’s a low bar). The Timberwolves like the guy, so maybe they’re onto something. I don’t know.

10

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

SG 6-foot-6 204 lbs Georgia 20 Years Old

I’m not really sure what took so long for teams to like this guy. He put up big scoring numbers at UGA (partially because he was the only redeemable player on the roster) and even rebounds well. And he has legitimate shooting guard size. The Blazers will likely look at Caldwell-Pope or go big with Alex Len–who probably shouldn’t still be on the board at ten.

11

Alex Len

C 7-foot-1 225 lbs Maryland 19 Years Old

The Sixers need size, and they’ve got plenty of options in this scenario. Alex Len has had his ups and his downs, but he has a chance to be one of the best players in the draft. He’s the tallest non-Rudy Gorbert player in the draft, and he has a nice offensive skill set that wasn’t shown off at college because he didn’t get the ball enough at Maryland. Between the options available at this point and his health, I don’t see the Sixers bringing back Andrew Bynum.

12

Steven Adams

C 7-foot 255 lbs Pittsburgh 19 Years Old

With the departure of Andrew Bogut, the Bucks are seriously hurting for size. Terrence is another weird character–he’s the size of a small forward, but he’s not quick enough to guard the position. He’s got a world of talent, but often will disappear for halves at a time. I see him as a stretch four in the pros–like he played at Kentucky–but he could go much lower than this in the draft.

13

Dario Saric

SF 6-foot-10 223 lbs Croatia 19 Years Old

This pick likely comes down to Dario Saric and Michael Carter-Williams for the Mavs. Both are home run picks and fill different needs. Darren Collison is good, not great at the point guard, and the Mavericks have no long-term players at small forward. Dallas apparently thinks Saric can be a star, and he has that upside, and he could prove to be a worth heir apparent for Dirk Nowitzki.

14

Michael Carter-Williams

PG 6-foot-6 184 lbs Syracuse 21 Years Old

Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors look like franchise building blocks, and the Jazz really like Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks, so that leaves them with a nice big hole at point guard. Enter, Michael Carter-Williams. He’s got incredible size and great athleticism; his only problem is that he has a broken jump shot. If he’s off the board here, Shane Larkin could make a lot of sense, even as a massive reach.

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A Brief Lottery Briefing

You won’t find me in any college math classes after my adventure with multivarible calculus, but I fancy myself a mathematical person. And being a big fan of the NBA Draft, you can bet I’m a fan of the NBA Draft Lottery.

Sure, I wasn’t happy when my Bobcats lost the #1 pick to the Hornets–boy this is going to be confusing looking back in a few years–after they had nearly three fewer wins than the second worst team in the league. But the Lottery disincentives tanking and adds excitement to the league, so it is a good thing.

There are a few things that bother me about the lottery. It’s not necessarily about how the process is done, but rather how people look at the lottery.

Specifically, the magical word “due.”

I’m not sure if people forgot what they learned in high school math (very possible) or if they believe in karma over logic, but this isn’t how odds work.

The lottery is a simple (?) process.

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Obviously the Magic will win the lottery because they lost Dwight. Or it’s going to be the Pelicans or future Hornets because they’re changing nicknames. Or the Kings because they won’t be relocated.

There are 14 ping pong balls each numbered one through fourteen. Four ping pong balls are randomly drawn (the order does not matter), which gives us 24,024 combinations. Simplify that by a factor of 24 and you get 1,001 combinations, then drop the last combination and you have an even 1,000 combinations. Each team is assigned a certain number of combinations, determined by their record, and you have each team’s odds at landing a lottery pick.

Four ping pong balls are continuously drawn until three unique teams are selected. The rest of the picks are organized by record.

It’s all luck. There’s no “due.” And there’s no conspiracy. You can make up a conspiracy theory for any team.

This idea of a team being “due” continues even today–an article ran about it in the Dallas Morning News–despite it making no sense.

Yes, the Bobcats, Suns, and Pistons have never won the lottery, but that doesn’t mean they’re more likely to win it now. The fourth pick has never won the lottery, but that doesn’t mean Phoenix has a better or worse shot. The Magic have won it three times, but that doesn’t mean anything either.

Each draft is completely separate. It’s just odds each time.

Imagine using Chad Ford’s Mock Lottery Machine nineteen times, never coming up with the Phoenix Suns first. What is the chance you get the Suns with the first pick on your twentieth try? Is it 80% since they haven’t come up yet so they have to soon? Is it 2% since they haven’t been chosen yet, so they probably still won’t?

Nope, it’s still 11.2%, like always.

Since the lottery was weighted in 1994 so that the team with the worst record has a 25% chance of landing the top pick, the team with the best odds has only won twice. Two out of nineteen is not very good–10.5% is less half the odds of 25%. Yeah, I can do math.

So is the NBA rigging it so that the team with the worst record doesn’t get the number one pick? We can check if that 10.5% actually statistically significant–suggesting the lottery is rigged–or if it is just due to random variation by using a binomial distribution. Who’s excited for some math?!

And in fact, the binomial distribution gives us a p-value of .07, which is bigger than .05 and therefore too large for us to reject the null hypothesis. In layman’s terms, there is not enough evidence for us to say that the lottery is rigged.

Well maybe they’re not just preventing the worst team from winning the lottery, they’re just selecting the first winner because of a narrative. We can check this by running a chi-square test on the lottery winners.

Again, the chi-square test gives us a p-value of .089, which is still to large for us to reject the null hypothesis. We don’t have enough evidence for us to say the first overall pick is rigged.

But maybe it’s not the first pick that’s rigged, but rather all three winners of the lottery. We can check that again by running a chi-square test.

No surprise here, the p-value is very high: .355. Using that data, it’s almost comical to suggest that the lottery is rigged.

I know the last thing anyone wants before they excitedly watch grown men drawn ping pong balls is a math lesson, but this should help dispel any misguided thoughts about tonight’s lottery.

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Boston Strong

School is over at Vanderbilt, but I’m still writing for InsideVandy.com–for a good reason. I stumbled across a great story following the tragic the bombings at the Boston Marathon, and it turned out to be probably my favorite article I’ve written this year.

My article, Boston Strong, is a 1500-word longer-form piece about how the tragedy affected the Vanderbilt baseball team. The Commodores have a particularly strong New England presence with six student-athletes from Massachusetts and Coach Corbin from New Hampshire.

I also decided to make a podcast to share the full interviews with Tyler Beede, Corbin, and Rhett Wiseman along with Beede’s song Boston Strong. Check out the podcast–linked below–and feel free to share it with a friend, or two, or twenty.

The Knuckle Cast Episode #4

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Your prize for making it through the podcast

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