Romo still sucks in December

After last year’s NFL playoffs, I mentioned that Tony Romo is a miserable quarterback after December 1st. No one else seems to notice this. But today, he’s doing it again (Against a great defense, to be fair). At the end of the first half, he’s completed 11 of 21 for 91 yards, two interceptions, and a lost fumble. His rating is about 20. This looks remarkably like every other game he’s played in December, and should be terrifying to Dallas fans. Pittsburgh’s utter lack of offense today is keeping the Cowboys in the game, but Romo can’t give up the ball three times a half and expect to win games. Edit to add: Maybe I spoke too soon. He completed two of three, including a touchdown to Owens, on the first drive of the second half. Edit again to gleefully add: I had given up on this game, watching Encino Man instead, when a friend IMed me to let me know that Romo had thrown a pick-six with the game tied, his third interception and fourth turnover of the game. Nice game, Romo.

We need more science

So I’ve been watching the Olympics, as I gather most people are doing. I’m not a huge fan, although it’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement. I mean, the swimmers are breaking a world record every few hours, and there’s apparently a ton of drama in the women’s gymnastics (because, I think, all the athletes are 12 years old, and you know how girls are at that age). But I was reading this article and thinking that, not only does the media ignore some pretty easy science in the relative radioactivity of granite countertops, as mentioned there, but also that a few numbers could really make the Olympics more interesting to me. First, swimming. We keep breaking records. It would be nice to know how long a record stood, how much it was broken by, and things like that. We even had a swimmer break the split record and they not only didn’t mention his time, but they didn’t mention the time he had beaten. How hard is it to flash a number on the screen? Maybe instead of 37 shots of Michael Phelps screaming, we could have gotten some background on the numbers. And then the gymnastics. They’ve changed the scoring system so that you get a score based on difficulty, which they seem to know before anything happens, and then a score based on performance/accuracy/whatever. Why in the world can’t I know what the difficulty score is going to be while it’s happening? If it’s going to be a really tough routine, that would make it more interesting. Or I could at least compare something that’s rated 6.5 with something that’s 5.5 and see how much harder one appears to be than the other. They don’t even tell you what the score range is. I assume the accuracy score is out of 10, because most people were between 8.5 and 9.5. But I don’t really know. Is there some reason they can’t show these numbers? The commentators frequently ramble on about absolutely nothing. Maybe instead they could talk about the science behind why the swimmers break records every race this year. Apparently wider, deeper pools, combined with better suit technology and new stroke rules are all combining to make the swimmers faster. But I haven’t heard anyone on tv talk about that. The American public is not afraid of science and numbers. And some of us actually find that they enhance the experience. So can we maybe get some? It’s not that hard. On a sort-of-related note, congratulations to the blogger linked above – his wife just had their first baby last week.

Of all the dumb things to say

I’ve always been a fan of Mike Mussina. He broke into the league in 1991, and quickly became a star the next season. He was a big part of some exciting Orioles teams that kept losing to the Blue Jays. I’ve never been a fan of Murray Chass. He’s a favorite target of Fire Joe Morgan, and deservedly so. He recently started a blog, but refuses to call it a blog, refuses to allow comments . . . He pretty much took all that’s good about a blog and threw it away, while taking all that’s bad about journalism and put it on a pedestal. Anyway, today he’s writing about Mike Mussina. He has no idea what he’s talking about. So, because Mussina is having a good year at age 39, and people think he might finally break the 20-win mark for the first time, we’re starting to hear talk about the Hall of Fame. That seems pretty reasonable – five of the ten comparable pitchers listed at Baseball Reference are in the Hall, and at least one more (Curt Schilling) has a good shot. What does Murray Chass think about this? “Mussina has an impressive career won-lost record (265-151) but not much else.” His won-lost record is actually the least impressive thing about his career. Sure, he’s 39th all time in winning percentage for players with 100 decisions. That’s pretty good. But won-lost record is a pretty useless measure of a player’s actual ability. Let’s look, though, at the good measures of a player’s actual ability. Let’s look at WHIP, 1.19, 9th among active players. Let’s look at K/BB ratio, 3.56, 13th all time. Or how about strikeouts, 2759, 21st all time. All of those are much better measures of a pitcher’s ability, and in all of those Mussina compares well with Hall of Fame pitchers. What else does Chass have to say? He compares Mussina to some of his compatriots who are not in the Hall – Tommy John, Bert Blyleven and Jim Kaat. “All had career victory totals in the 280s. Except for winning percentage, all had better records than Mussina.” I’m not even sure I can address that. What does it even mean? Let’s start with Tommy John. 288-231 career record, a winning percentage of .555. That’s not nearly as good as Mussina. Neither is his 1.28 WHIP, 1.78 K/BB, or total strikeouts, 2245. Then look at Jim Kaat. 283-237 (.544), 1.26 WHIP, 2.27 K/BB, 2461 K. Not in the same league. Now, Blyleven is harder to bash, because he, like Mussina, deserves to be in the Hall. He’s become something of a sabermetrics poster boy. He excelled in the “new-fangled” stats like WHIP (1.20), K/BB (2.80), strikeouts (3701), 5th all time. But he played on crummy teams, and compiled a 287-250 record (.534), and it’s keeping him out of the Hall.

John and Kaat were each 20-game winners three times, Blyleven once. Mussina doesn’t come close to the number of complete games and shutouts any of the three had. The three had slightly lower totals of baserunners per nine innings. But why let facts get in the way of a partisan view?

I’m not sure how he’s measuring baserunners per nine innings, because all three are higher than Mussina. It’s true, Musinna’s complete games and shutouts are low. But no one (except Roy Halladay) finishes games anymore. Mussina is fourth in both categories among active pitchers, so he compares well to present-day pitchers. So, Murray Chass, I can only conclude that you are either a moron or a Red Sox fan. You certainly don’t seem to know a whole lot about baseball.

Howard Vs Wright – it’s no contest

Some of the wife’s coworkers were having a little argument about the NL All Star selection. On one side we had two Phillies fans, and on the other a Red Sox fan. The Phillies fans thought that Ryan Howard deserved to go the All Star Game. The Sox fan thought David Wright deserved it. Far be it from me to ever agree with a Sox fan, but this time I think I have to. Let’s forget everyone else who might be more qualified. That’s too complicated a question to get into right now. Let’s just compare David Wright and Ryan Howard. First off, I’ll throw out some of the points they made, such as assigning credit towards this year’s voting for past performance. I don’t believe in that. Please ignore all the seasons that Cal Ripken was an All Star on reputation alone – Cal Ripken saved baseball after the strike, and is above reproach. Nothing you can say or do will ever change this fact. I don’t care that Howard led the league in home runs in 2006. He was an All Star that year, and deservedly so. I don’t care that Wright was unfairly blamed for the Mets’ catastrophic nosedive at the end of last season. He hit .352 in September and October, and it’s his fault they choked? Please. What matters is this season. And this season, Wright is clearly better than Howard. First, look at fielding. Wright is a good fielder. He won a Gold Glove last year. I know I’m not giving credit for last year, but fielding stats are impossible, and I haven’t seen either of them play enough to judge fielding prowess. It’s enough for me that Wright beats Howard in Gold Gloves (1-0) and Wright plays a real position, third base, while Howard plays the position where you stick your big immobile slugger (Hello, Prince Fielder). If someone can show me that Howard is more valuable in the field this year than Wright, I’ll listen, but I’m going with my gut on this one. Then we’ll look at hitting. Howard leads Wright in home runs, RBI, intentional walks, and double plays. Wright leads in every other offensive category. Let’s look at what Howard leads in. Leading the league in home runs is very nice. It’s valuable to your team, and a good reflection of your worth as a hitter. Point to Howard. Leading the league in RBIs is largely a function of getting up with runners on base. It’s not a consistently good measure of a batter’s ability. Intentional walks are fine, but largely a function of runners on base and the guy hitting behind you. And while hitting into double plays is something the player has some control over, Howard’s small lead (7-11) is not really statistically significant. Wright leads in everything else. Howard is hitting .234. There is no scale on which that is good. But, you may say, what about clutch hitting? Well, first, it’s a myth. But second, Howard is having an absurd year in the clutch, while Wright is pretty miserable. Wright has a .247 batting average and a .737 OPS with runners in scoring position. Howard is at .330/1.079. That’s a pretty big difference. But let’s examine a little more closely. For those not familiar, BABIP, Batting Average on Balls In Play, is a good measure of a batter’s luck. .290 is about average. Anyone significantly higher is probably lucky, and anyone significantly lower is unlucky. Much lower means your line drives are going right to a fielder, while much higher means you’re hitting ’em where they ain’t at lot more than average. It’s true that a consistently high BABIP would indicate a guy with great bat control, but there are precious few examples of that in the history of the game. Wright’s BABIP with runners in scoring position is .250. For the season, it’s .302, not far from average. Howard, on the other hand, is at a ridiculous .403 with runners in scoring position, against a pedestrian .272 overall. What does that mean? It means that Howard has been absurdly lucky in the clutch this year, while Wright has had a rough stretch. Howard seems to be a monster in the clutch, but it’s entirely unsustainable, and if you watch, he’ll taper off in the second half. Ryan Howard is a great player who should have a very successful career. Everything I’ve heard says he’s a good-natured guy, positive in the clubhouse, and a guy you want on your team. I like Ryan Howard. But David Wright is simply having a better season, and is more deserving of the All Star selection. If Howard has a problem, he should take it up with vastly overrated Matt Holliday, a strictly average hitter when he’s not in Denver.

Orioles beat Beckett and the Sox

The Orioles came back from an early 3-0 deficit last night to beat Josh Beckett and the Red Sox. I’m sorry I missed the game, but I was having dinner with the wife (Post to come) and then watching basketball. The game puts the Sox a half game back from first place Tampa Bay (Never thought I’d write those four words) and keeps the O’s in third, 3 back. Not a bad place to be for a team expected to win 65 games this year. Now, I’ve complained about the hold before. It’s a stupid stat that rarely measures anything of real value to a baseball team. But there was an interesting hold credited last night to an Orioles pitcher. So, top of the seventh, Boston leads off with two singles, so we have guys on first and second with no outs. It’s 5-3, Baltimore. Jamie Walker relieves Jeremy Guthrie and promptly throws a wild pitch and walks Ortiz to load the bases for Manny. Pretty much anyone who has ever heard of baseball knows that no outs, bases loaded, and Manny Ramirez at the plate is bad times for the defense. This could be very ugly, very soon. Jim Johnson relieves Walker and Manny grounds into a double play, then Mike Lowell pops out to end the inning. THIS IS A HOLD. Bases loaded, no outs in the seventh, two run lead, and the 4-5-6 hitters coming up – allowing no runs here is a really nice pitching performance. I have no problem giving the guy credit for a hold here. But I do have a problem with the next inning, where with one out, Johnson walks two and gives up an RBI single before getting lifted for the closer. So, we have to try and get to the root of the hold. Is it given for getting out of a jam, regardless of the next inning? That is, let’s say he had given up a two-run home run before getting lifted, making the score 6-5 Sox. Does he still get the hold for the previous inning? Maybe my real problem here is my reaction to pitchers issuing walks. I think it’s because I feel like, if the pitcher allows a hit, then the batter beat him. It sucks, but it happens. But if the pitcher allows a walk, then he beat himself. I mean, sure, some guys are better at drawing walks than others, but in the end, the pitcher still has to throw four pitches that don’t go through the strike zone and don’t provoke a swing. Maybe my initial reaction to Johnson’s night would have been better if he’d just given up two hits and the run instead of the two walks. Anyway, I still hate the hold stat. But at least Johnson earned it this time.

The wife will think I’m crazy

She’ll think I’m crazy, but that’s just because she’s not as big of a nerd as I am. Anyway, you may notice that, when I talk about a baseball player, I usually link to his career stats at Baseball Reference. It’s a great site for the stat nerd. And they support themselves through sponsorships. Yesterday, I decided to sponsor two pages in the name of Complaint Hub. The first is Chad Bradford, one of the stars of Moneyball and now an Oriole. As you can see from his stat page, Billy Beane and the A’s got four years out of him for about what the Orioles are paying him this year. But that’s okay. The second is Mark Knudson. When I was little, I had a little handheld baseball game, Tomy Pocket Baseball. You pulled the lever and a ball dropped, and then you released the lever to swing the bat and try to hit the ball into one of the holes for a hit. It was awesome. I had my own league. I used real players, their names painstakingly copied from baseball cards. Mark Knudson was the all-time leader in wins. He retired with a record of 48-5 and a 0.59 ARPI. I used Average Runs Per Inning because my games tended to be higher scoring than real baseball games, and not multiplying by the number of innings in a game made a good ARPI look more like a good ERA. These were four inning games, so his ERA would have been 2.37, which would have been fine. But he was the greatest of all-time, and the average pitcher would have had a much higher ERA. Anyway, I have no idea if these sponsorships will drive any traffic here. But I get a lot of enjoyment from Baseball Reference, and now I’ve given something back.

Orioles win again, and the hold is even stupider than the save

Holy cow, the Orioles won again! That puts them at 4-1, in first place. I know it doesn’t mean much at this point, but I bet that most analysts wouldn’t have expected them to be three games over .500 at any point in the season, so this is encouraging. And they did this one with a two out, ninth inning rally to turn a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 win. Here’s where the stats get ridiculous. ESPN reports a stat called a hold. It’s basically given to a pitcher who enters the game in a save situation and leaves without relinquishing the lead. It’s utterly absurd, and this game is a perfect example. Eric O’Flaherty entered the game to pitch for the Mariners in the bottom of the ninth, when they led, 2-0. He allows a double to the first batter, who then advanced to third on a groundout and scores on another groundout. A single then ends O’Flaherty’s night. He gets a hold because it was a save situation, and he left with his team still winning, 2-1. Mark Lowe comes in and gives up a single and a walk to load the bases. A wild pitch and a single later, and the game is over, a 3-2 Orioles win. O’Flaherty is charged with 2 runs in 2/3 of an inning, but because the tying run didn’t score until he left the game, even though it was charged to him, he gets the hold. Lowe gets the loss because it was his baserunner who eventually scored the winning run. Too bad for Mariners’ starter Felix Hernandez, who pitched a fantastic eight innings of shutout ball. He, of course, gets nothing for his trouble.

Why the save is a stupid stat

So, Oakland and Boston opened the baseball season with a game in Japan at what is, in the US, a ridiculous hour. The ten inning game just finished around 930AM Eastern. It gave us a good look at why the save is a ridiculous stat that tells nothing about the usefulness of a pitcher. Sure, good closers get a lot of saves. But that doesn’t make it a good measure of the quality of the closer. Take Jonathan Papelbon’s performance this morning. Now, I won’t argue that he’s not a good closer, because in his three seasons, he’s been utterly absurd. But this particular save he “earned” is absolutely in no way a reflection of a good outing. He came on to start the tenth, Boston leading by two. He began the inning by walking Daric Barton, who must have read Moneyball dozens of times. He then struck out Jack Cust (Who was 0-4 with 4 strikeouts. What a wonderful way to start the season). Then he allowed a double, scoring Barton. The hitter, Emil Brown, was thrown out at third trying for his 11th career triple in his 620th career game. Good job, clown. The next two batters singled, meaning that the game would have been tied if Brown had just held up at second. I didn’t see the game, so maybe he made the right call to try for third and it just didn’t work out, but I think that’s unlikely. Finally, Papelbon got out of the inning. Three hits, a walk, and only a baserunning mistake away from an eleventh inning or a loss. But he gets the save! Way to accurately measure the quality of a pitcher’s outing, save. Really. Nice job.

I love statistics

Analysis: Romney takes Michigan gold as S.C. fight heats up –

Not surprisingly, the economy was by far the most important issue to Michigan voters. For Romney’s chief competitor in the Michigan primary, John McCain, that was bad news. Only three in 10 voters who cited economic concerns as their top priority gave their votes to McCain; almost four in 10 went for Romney.

In other words, thirty-some percent who thought the economy was the most important thing voted for Romney, which was great.  And thirty-some percent who thought the economy was the most important thing voted for McCain, which was a disaster.  Good use of vague numbers, CNN.

It’s interesting that Rudy has skipped all of these states and just hung out in Florida.  Is this a common tactic that I just haven’t heard about?  Each Presidential election, I pay more attention than the last, and this is the first time I’ve really followed the primaries, so maybe this is all normal and I just haven’t noticed.

I keep hearing the same thing about McCain from Democrats – while he’s the least offensive of the Republican candidates in the eyes of most Democrats, he’s also seen as the most likely to beat whatever Democrat nominee he would face.  So it’s tough to know who to root for.

At least it’s an interesting race.  Hillary and Obama are sniping at each other over some ridiculous, trivial crap.  There hasn’t been a clear frontrunner on either side (I refuse to admit that Hillary is the clear frontrunner).  Lots of people who should have dropped out are sticking around (I’m looking at you, Edwards.  You’d better get 60% of South Carolina.  Actually, don’t, because I want you to be Obama’s VP.).

Anyway, exciting times.  And the city of DC still can’t seem to work out my voter registration.  Here I was, thinking I was registered through the DMV, and apparently that was all a lie.

Dear Dallas Fans

Look, you have it all wrong. The problem with Tony Romo isn’t Jessica Simpson. It’s December.

In two seasons, Romo has a completion percentage of 64% and a rating of 95. For reference, Joe Montana’s career numbers are 63% and 92. So, Romo’s off to a good start. He’s thrown 57 touchdowns to only 33 interception. His career record is 20-10 (All numbers include his two playoff games).

But then look at him in December. He’s 4-7. 11 touchdowns vs 14 interceptions. His completion percentage is 59% and his rating is 74. He has 31 fumbles in his career, 13 in 11 December games.  The numbers look even worse if you take out two games against Detroit, not exactly the shining model of a good football team.

The numbers are even more disparate if you remove December from his totals (Shocking, I know, that basic mathematics still apply to the quarterback of the Cowboys.  Someone tell Jerry Jones).  67% completion percentage outside of December, 46 touchdowns to 19 interceptions, a 16-3 record, and a 108 rating.  Those are Hall of Fame numbers (Assuming they continue, of course).    But ask Dan Marino how people react when you can’t win in the playoffs.  Or ask Peyton Manning two years ago.

Romo seems like a nice guy, and he’s certainly had some early-season success.  But he needs to learn how to play in December.

If you want to hate Jessica Simpson because she’s pretty, famous, and really dumb, then go ahead and hate her if it makes you feel better. But blame Romo’s playoff misery on something else, because it’s not her fault.

Again, for reference, you want to know someone with a career passer rating of 74?  Gus Frerotte.  Jon Kitna’s career rating is 79.  Charlie Batch’s is 78.

Do you hear me, John Madden?  Romo may go on to have a long and brilliant career, but before you anoint him the heir to your man-crush on Brett Favre, let’s see him win a meaningful game in December.