Friday, July 31, 2009

The Rangers Suck: part II

But they don't suck that bad this year. As promised, an update at the 100 game mark.

The string of losses near mid-season that we expect in a teaser year has not materialized...yet. Right now they are 3 games out of the division lead and 1-1/2 games out of the wild card slot. Here is this season compared with the other two best seasons of this decade.

Not the horrendous dropoff of a "Teaser" season, and they are making changes unlike a "Mediocre" season. Just 62 games left, can they hold it together (for once)?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Sports & Steroids

Your opinion, how much of baseball is shooting steroids into their arms (or legs, or butts, etc.)?

In most debates I take the low side, most people seem to think the number over half, and some argue that it's "everybody". Clearly something seems to be driving up the numbers of the "long ball" over the past decade or so, but how much is steroids responsible for it?

Plenty of other factors could provide the same statistical boost. Better training, changes to rules, new ballparks that are much more friendly to hitters, etc. Most of these should affect all players equally though, so I've made a couple of assumptions to take a look at the numbers.

Assumption 1: The top long ball hitters in the league will be doping at a different rate than the rest of the league.
The dramatic performance increase of the upper echelon (Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, etc.) in recent years is what brought about most of the talk of steroids' role in baseball. On the other hand there is the argument that it's the lower ranked players that need it more and are thus more likely to dope. Either of these is possible, as long as one is true we should see an effect if we compare the two. If we see no effect then we'll know this is a bad assumption.

Assumption 2: The "steroid effect" outweighs other factors.
This is much harder to justify. I began using this assumption solely due to the common perception that steroids were the driving factor behind the home run rates increasing so significantly. Once the data was in though, this assumption was partially justified.

Here is how the slugging numbers compare between the top 10 hitters (averaged) and the entire league since 1986.

Note that both groups increased their slugging percentage through the past two decades, but the "top 10" did so at a much faster pace. If our assumptions are correct we could say that the upper echelon of baseball is definitely doping at a higher rate (or at least is more effective with it's usage).

More interesting though is the recent drop-off that the top players have shown while the league average has leveled off. This provides some support for our second assumption, as the league crackdown on drugs would be expected to reduce usage, particularly within the high-profile players since they draw the most scrutiny and have the most to lose.

How far has it dropped? We'll divide the two values to get Harx's Baseball Doping Index.

This shows that the top echelon is now in relation to the league average at about the same point it was in the late-1980's (considered very early in or before the steroids era). This doesn't mean that steroids are out of baseball, just that it is no longer providing the same distinct advantage to the top players.

So to the question, how many players dope? At the peak there was about a 50% disparity between the two classes, while during "pre-steroids baseball" the rate was closer to 40%. That doesn't tell us much as far as number of players, but it does tell us that around 10% of the performance of top players (at the peak) was due to doping.

So though I can't answer my original question, I can at least say that it appears the league's efforts to contain the problem have been effective. A better answer than I had originally hoped for.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Rangers Suck

I don't follow local sports teams. I'm not sure if this makes me an eccentric, an irritation to the locals, or just a fan so loyal to the teams that I do follow that distance is no barrier.

The one exception is in Baseball, where my favorite team is the Rangers. This is a horrible move on my part as the Rangers suck. Though I never realized how bad that they actually sucked until a few days ago when I looked at their record through this decade. It's bad...oh so bad.

It's not that they are horrible at playing baseball. They keep a fairly sturdy offense year to year and they put up plenty of wins, but they never have a chance of a playoff bid. All of Dallas knows it. And we all know it at the beginning of the season. This is why they are so hard to watch. If they would lose consistently we could give up hope early. If they could win with any consistency they would have an easy run to the playoffs. But they do neither, the Rangers are the purgatory of baseball.

Here are some ways that they break our heart from year to year.

The Teaser Year
They start off fairly weak but they make a nice run towards mid-season. Baseball being baseball ("it's a marathon, not a sprint") it doesn't last. They will get above .500 somewhere early during the season, but by the end of it they will be back into losing territory.

The Teaser Year is probably the most disheartening way to go. They are horrible through the first month, so when they first start winning nobody really notices. About the time that we realize their season is turning around and start paying attention is when they get back to losing.

This strategy allows them to keep the maximum number of people interested right at the points in time when they are losing most of their games. As a fan it's like buying high and selling low in the stock market, it feels right at the time but you're just hurting yourself in the end.

The Mediocre Year
Most years the Rangers start out doing not incredibly poorly, but not well enough to make the playoffs. Then they stagnate. Sometimes they start in winning territory, but by the end of the season they are still just as far from the postseason.

During these years all of Dallas watches patiently, waiting for any slight improvement that might get the team headed towards some sort of playoff bid. The Rangers are never out of the running but they make no effort, and they finish the season almost exactly where they started it, in mediocrity.

The Disaster
Straight out of the gates they start losing games as quickly as possible. It doesn't really matter what they do later in the season, as they won't be able to dig out of this hole. During these seasons we can rule out a pennant by June.

The first half of the season looks much like the record of any other team that sucks. The 'Ranger Difference' is that they then start winning games. This way all of the Ranger fans can sit around in September thinking to ourselves "we would be in the playoffs if we just didn't lose so many games in May!"

Note the one winning season in 2004, but finishing at .550 that year still gave us no chance of making the playoffs in the American League. That is one winning season this entire decade. This is how bad my favorite baseball team is.

So how about this year? Right now it is nearly identical to 2005 (a Teaser), I'll let you know at 100-games.

(Charts were made using records at May 1st, June 1st, 100-games into the season, and the finish.)

Delayed Reaction

Please excuse the long delay between postings. In the latest postings my opinion has become more and more prevalent, and I know that none of you are interested in reading my (sometimes antisocial) opinions, so I've tried to just keep it to myself.

I know also that few of you are particularly interested in seeing charts and graphs either, but that at least interests me.