September 21, 2016

Playoffs be damned

by Daniel Conmy

There is an unspoken irony in American sport that needs to be changed. We wipe out the importance of the regular season in mostly every sport for a wild, random setting called the playoffs. As the baseball playoffs are approaching, it is important to remind everyone that five months of baseball is being thrown out for randomization and for teams, who are not as good as others, to have a chance at the only meaningful accolade in the sport. Some of these teams include the New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals, and San Francisco Giants.

Economically speaking, it would be idiotic to not have the playoffs. Given the extra revenue from the home games in the playoffs, you could not persuade owners to sign off on this idea. Instead, we are arguing that the not playoff system finds the true champion of the sport. It is not fair to the 2001 Seattle Mariners to say they were not a “playoff” team. They won 116 games in the modern era (Even the 2016 Chicago Cubs, who are arguably a better team, won’t be close to that mark) and were taken out by the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series (ALCS) in five games.

Shouldn’t the Mariners be celebrated for more than just a team that had the most wins in a season and blew it in the playoffs?

We will return to that questions, but let’s go across the pond and look at how English Premier League Soccer is run. In the Premier League, you play 38 games, twice against every opponent. The winner of the Premier League is based on whoever has the most points at the end of the season. A win is worth three points and a tie is worth one point. Now, we don’t have ties in baseball, we just play extra innings.

There are some complications to this idea and the first being scheduling and set up of the leagues. First, the schedule would have to reflect what is done in the premier league season: the same amount of games against every team. By wiping out the playoffs, this would create the opportunity to play more games in October. Every team would play six games (three at home and three away) against every team. This would create a 174-game schedule and six more home games for every team, which could possibly raise the revenue league wide.

Another obstacle to the Premier League model is the lack of excitement. The Chicago Cubs are far and away the best team in baseball this year. The mix of superb defense and young superstars has propelled them to eight more wins than the next closest team. There will be years where the excitement at the end of the year does not match the excitement that could be created in the playoff atmosphere. I agree with that concern, but most years, the races are a lot closer than the ones we are seeing in the present. In 2015 and 2014 the team with the most wins only had two more than the those chasing. Also, in 2013 the Red Sox and Cardinals had identical records at 97-65. There will be no co-champions in this model, either.

In the case of a tie at the top of the league, there should be a seven-game series. The reasoning for this is that the teams with the most wins are equal opponents and the randomness and fluctuation should not matter given their level of play. Wouldn’t that bring just as much excitement to the season?

I’m sure many of you are cautious or downright disagree with this stance, but it does not seem correct to state that the 2001 Mariners needed an “ace” and that’s why they did poorly in the playoffs. The system I have proposed, following the Premier League’s model, is a fairer system. Yes, there is randomness that occurs throughout a season, but over the entire season you have to sustain a high level of play and that high level of play should be rewarded.

Last year in the Premier League, Leicester City, a cinderella story, sustained the high level of play for all 38 matches and were rewarded the Premier League Championship. If the Premier League followed the example of Major League Baseball (MLB) playoffs, there is no way to say they would make it past the first round. Teams should not have to prove their worth over again for the sake of the spectacle. It seems utterly ludicrous that we wipe away important games because the playoffs are more meaningful. Instead, put meaning back into the full, newly created, 174-game season and watch as the drama will continue to unfold in a new, exciting way. 

September 6, 2016

Brian Dozier has pull power

by Daniel Conmy

We are lucky enough to get the day off on Labor Day, but baseball players are hard at work attempting to push their teams into the playoffs. Other teams are not as fortunate to be in a playoff race. They still play baseball, though, and sometimes it is impressive. Brian Dozier is one of those people we don't pay enough attention to. Before play on Monday, Dozier accumulated 35 home runs and a 5.3 WAR. Those are incredible numbers, so let's look into how Dozier's accomplishments, which are rare for second basemen.

All Brian Dozier does is pull the baseball, but once in a blue moon, he hits one to right field. That one time, Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs wrote about Dozier's only opposite field home run last year. It was a look at a feat that hasn't been accomplished by the slugging second baseman. To give some perspective on how rare that is, here is a graph of Dozier's home runs this year:

This graphic displays home runs before play on Monday afternoon, where Dozier deposited three more home runs to left and left-center field. There are only two balls right of center field this year. His total has climbed to 38 home runs on the year, a career high, and is approaching the highest amount ever by a second basemen. Davey Johnson in 1973 leads all second basemen with 43 home runs in a single season. With a little under a month left, it is not far-fetched to think that Dozier can make it to 43.

In August, Dozier led the league with 13 home runs and has continued his torrid pace with six home runs already in September. What does Dozier do so well or why do pitchers continue to throw pitches in a zone where Dozier can lift them over the fence? One thing that Dozier has done incredibly well is not miss his pitch.

Looking at his pull percentage on FanGraphs, Dozier has not done anything differently from 2014 on. In 2014, Dozier’s philosophy changed from hitting balls all around the field to hitting over 50 percent of the balls to the pull side. What is being done more successfully is how hard he is hitting the ball. Dozier’s hard hit percentage from 2014 to 2016 has risen by seven percentage points. Since there is a change in his hard hit balls, his home run total has increased as well. It may not be perfect correlation because there are always other factors, but you can assume that the harder you hit the ball, the farther it will go.

Monday, Dozier battled against Ian Kennedy in a 10 pitch at-bat, which ended with a home run. Here are the pitches from that at-bat:

This graph, courtesy of Brooks Baseball, shows that Dozier battled off pitches that he was not able to do damage with. From the graph, you can look at how Dozier only swung at pitches in the zone and was able to lay off of pitches outside the zone, where he could do no damage. Then, Kennedy made a mistake over the middle of the plate:

What we see in the swing above is vintage Dozier -- a pitch middle or a little outside and the Minnesota Twins second basemen decides to be short and quick to the ball. Given Dozier's shorter stature, he does nothing more than barrel the ball. This year is shaping up to be a career year for the 29-year-old, who will likely enter a decline over the next couple years.

While the Twins do not have much to play for in these days of September, Dozier has a legitimate chance to break the all-time home run record for second basemen. We've seen many players decide to only pull the ball this year and focus on hitting home runs. Brian Dozier is one player that has thrived on this type of style and he is continually reaping the rewards, including his first three home run game on Labor Day.