Fire Jim Tracy

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Present Value In Broad, Non-Mathematical Strokes

I am not a math person. Half of the time, I have no idea what the SABR-type guys are talking about. The other half, I can basically read the Executive Summary and at least take away the big picture. The same is true for my understanding of economics. A relatively simple economic concept is that of "present value." Put in simple terms, a dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow. This is true because inflation whittles away the value of your dollar over time, and in a compound fashion. This is why smart lottery winners take the large one-time lump sum over the thirty-year annuity, and why the most lucrative sports contracts are frontloaded with signing bonuses, not with annuities (The present value principle, as I understand it, was one of the hangups the Union had with the restructuring of A-Rod's deal when he was going to be a Red Sock.).

I assume that the SABR folks and the DePodestas of the world are doing a far more helpful numerical analysis of the concept, but it seems to me like the "present value" concept transfers fairly well over to the baseball context. In short, your pitcher today is more valuable than your pitcher tomorrow (or later in the game). Game 4 is one example of the concept. "One unit (or even one-third, if you consider every out a unit)" of Yhenzy Brazoban pitching in the fourth inning was far more valuable in that game than "Two units" of using Brazoban in later in the game. Last night's ALCS game provides an even more stark example. Terry Francona's failure to bring in Keith Foulke with the game 8-7 rendered Foulke's later performance meaningless. It had essentially no value at all, because any value had to be captured by scoring at least three runs in one inning, not just one. The Scott Stewart game I posted below is another example of loss of value. Game 2 (the Weaver game) is another example.

The Plaschkes of the world only talk in terms of "wasting" bullpens by overuse. They carry on and on about closers (in many cases, the best pitcher on the team) going more than one inning, even as the Mike Timlins of the world self-immolate. But isn't it just as simple, and perhaps more so, to waste bullpens by under-use? Or by mis-use? The Foulke example is a good one here. Timlin gives up the two run double, making it 10-7. What's Francona going to do now? He has to bring in Foulke anyway. So now the Plaschkes of the world get it both ways. They get to rip on Francona for not bringing him in, then they get to rip him for bringing him in, making him use up his arm, etc.

I can't blame Jim Tracy for his general bullpen use strategy in September. With the starting rotation in complete meltdown, and a few weeks left to go in the season, he was going to have to use everyone for more innings than anyone would have felt comfortable using certain pitchers. (Though Tracy also brought it on himself as well. See Nomo in Coors Field.) However, his strategy was basically dictated to him; in many cases, he had no choice but to hope the offense would save us (which it did, often). Nor can I blame him for his use of Gagne, which is probably as good as we can hope for from anyone within baseball at this point in the 21st Century. But in many cases, Tracy seems oblivious to the fact that turning a close game into a blowout with Scott Stewart is as great a waste of our bullpen as it is to "overtax" them (a dubious concept when it comes to pitchers such as Sanchez, Braz, and Gagne anyway. In the Plaschke world, every hit or walk is the result of a "tired" pitcher. I don't know, that is Larry Walker up there.)

More generally, how would one do this empirically? We could come up with a new concept. "Run Inflation."


  • I still refuse to believe that it's physically possible to overtax a pitcher whose sole job is to get 3 outs every 3rd night. What, one night he has to get five? Big freakin' deal!!! It's the difference between 18 pitches and 30 pitches Neither is all that "taxing."

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10/13/2004 02:15:00 PM  

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