Matt teaches at The University of Alabama. Roll Tide. He specializes in American Literature and Rhetorical Economics. Fate chose for him the peculiar perdition of rooting for the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Clippers.

Author Archives: Matt Seybold

Is the AL Beast in decline?

For the last decade, the AL East has been the unrivaled “best division in baseball.” In 2008, free-spending perennial contenders in New York and Boston were shocked when Tampa Bay, long a punchline, won the division, breaking a ten-year stretch of either the Yankees or Red Sox finishing first. Only once during that decade did the other not finish second. Since then, Tampa has picked up another divisional crown, as well as two Wild Cards, and has never finished below .500. The two juggernauts have continued to rattle off 85-95 win seasons (save for putrid 2012 Sox), and more recently, the Orioles have joined the fray. Even the Jays consistent mediocrity (between 73 and 87 wins in every season since 2004) help make The Beast host of many a harrowing road trip for teams from the West Coast, Midwest, and National League.

Run differentials and divisional winning percentages from the past seven seasons tell the tale:

  • 2013: +222 (1st), .534 (1st)
  • 2012: +123 (2nd), .519 (2nd)
  • 2011: +271 (1st), .528 (1st)
  • 2010: +248 (1st), .532 (1st)
  • 2009: +239 (1st), .520 (2nd)
  • 2008: +333 (1st), .538 (1st)
  • 2007: +180 (1st), .504 (3rd)

But the Beast’s reign of terror may be coming to an end…or at least an interlude.…

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How good could the 2015 infield really be?

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The objections to signing Stephen Drew (and even to trading for the likes of Nick Franklin) are founded on a fear of precluding future opportunities. This is a legitimate concern. The structure of the CBA has long dictated that franchises spend according to the arbitrary makeup of each free agent class, rather than the makeup of the league as a whole. In recent years, those classes have included fewer elite players and thus teams frequently pay premiums on the most volatile veterans.

Drew now finds himself in a class more or less by himself, courted by a number of contenders which have pressing needs in the infield. It is a formula for inflation and Yankees fans are right to by wary. That said, the objection to Drew must be supported by a preference for reasonable alternatives. Derek Jeter will retire in October…November at the latest. On the current roster, his successor is either an unremarkable 27-year-old rookie or a 31-year-old defensive replacement whose career OPS ranks 1,257th out of the 1,302 players who have at least 2,600 PA during the integration era.…

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Infield Trade Targets?

The rash of injuries to Yankees infielders has led to rampant Stephen Drew speculation and the requisite denials. “Drew Day” is probably six weeks away regardless, as Scott Boras, having overplayed his hand this winter, has a new opportunity to create a sellers market once Drew’s draft compensation expires in June. Moreover, the timetable for signing a free agent, likely measured in weeks, isn’t exactly conducive to the Yankees pressing need. Players acquired via trade, on the other hand, may be available in as little as 24 hours. While pursuing this course of action probably depends on today and tomorrow’s injury updates, here are what I believe to be some realistic options. None of these players are world-beaters, but they are proven major-leaguers whose skill sets make them amenable not only for filling current gaps, but being valuable in various roles throughout the season.

Nick Franklin – 2B/SS – Seattle Mariners

Franklin’s youth (23) and pre-arbitration status make him an asset of considerable value and a somewhat unlikely trade chip.…

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The Elephant Seal Paradox

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In the first chapter of The Darwin Economy, Cornell economist Robert Frank uses Charles Darwin’s analysis of elephant seal populations to explain the difference between the beneficent forces of healthy competition and the disastrous repercussions of blind self-interest. Darwin found that the primary determinant for mating privileges among male elephant seals was shear size. When two males quarreled over a harem, the larger one usually won. However, that same girth also made seals attractive to predators. The bigger the seal, the more likely he was to be eaten by a shark. Thus, Darwin postulated, elephant seals were actually selecting themselves into extinction. As the species grew larger, the population of males to reach mating age grew smaller. Natural selection, but not rational selection.

The lesson of the elephant seal, according to Frank, applies to the “invisible hand” of free enterprise as well. While markets are supposed to channel self-interest for the common good, sometimes what benefits the individual comes at the expense of the community, even the expense of civilization itself.…

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Tempering Expectations For Tanaka

AP Photo/Kyodo News

AP Photo/Kyodo News

Brian Cashman made some carefully worded and much publicized statements about Masahiro Tanaka earlier this week. Among other things, he characterized Tanaka’s upside as a “#3 starter.” One can reasonably conclude that Cashman’s declarations were designed to temper expectations, relieve pressure, and perhaps even implicitly acknowledge the potential competitive advantage of pitching in the middle of the rotation.

Cashman also pointed to several oft-overlooked factors which make the transition from the Nippon League to MLB challenging. As has been widely observed due to the publicity surrounding Tanaka’s exceptionally long postseason outings in 2013, Japanese starters throw more pitches per outing, but they also pitch less often. The strike zone is called substantially larger in Nippon, so more contact is encouraged, lineups have fewer power hitters, and a greater premium is placed on defensive ability. Even the ball is different, slightly smaller.

It seems logical that Cashman and Yankees fans expect some growing pains during Tanaka’s rookie season (as you would with any rookie).…

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Does the order of the starting rotation matter? Or “Second is the best.”

One of the popular talking points in the wake of the Masahiro Tanaka signing has been the ideal order of the Yankees rotation. The question of how Joe Girardi will line up Tanaka, C.C. Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, and Ivan Nova has been an object of speculation not only on talk radio, but even amongst the more sabermetrically inclined, including here at IIATMS. I was surprised by the intensity of interest in this topic because for quite some time I have been operating under the assumption that the order of the rotation does not really matter. At some point, I tallied this an established baseball truth. However, when I attempted to figure out why I was persuaded of this belief, I came up empty. (If anybody does know of a comprehensive study on this subject, please make reference to it in the comments.)

So, I began doing some analysis myself. Those who argue about the order of the rotation premise that argument on two primary assumptions.…

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Is Distribution of Wealth a Problem for MLBPA?

On Monday, Dan Rosenheck of The Economist responded to the “predictably hagiographic” coverage of Marvin Miller’s death by outlining  what he calls the “mixed legacy” of the founder and longtime leader of the MLBPA. No doubt several of Rosenheck’s points are imminently debatable, as should be expected. His is, after all, a contrarian position. During the early stages of Miller’s tenure he was up against the only federally-sanctioned monopoly in American history. It was difficult to perfect MLB’s compensatory system when the compensators had grown accustomed to having no system at all. In the latter stages Miller chose to prioritize relevant privacy issues over the long term maximization of revenue, as Rosenheck would’ve preferred. Union negotiators are frequently tasked with a precarious balancing act. Certainly, Miller, like any man in his position, made some difficult rationalizations and, inevitably, evaluators of Miller’s legacy from both camps will be victims of their own hindsight biases.

That said, the centerpiece of Rosenheck’s argument is extremely compelling.…

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Losing v. Loss: Postseason Pariahs, Viral Anxiety, & Behavioral Sabermetrics

It was meme of the month: even before they lost, the Yankees were lost. They were lost without Derek Jeter. Nick Swisher looked lost at the plate. Curtis Granderson appeared to have lost his eyesight. Robinson Cano had lost his mojo. Joe Girardi lost his father. According to Donald Trump at least, A-Rod “didn’t have a clue.” The Yankees offensive collapse was historic and, as such, inspired hyperbole. “Lostness” was the metaphor of choice, not only on Twitter and the message boards, but, increasingly, in mainstream outlets like the New York Post, New York Magazine, and ESPN. Will Leitch’s conclusion following Game Three of the ALCS included a line which took the trope to its inevitable extreme: “They look lost; they look like they’re carrying their bats upside down.”

Especially at the lunatic fringe, as represented by Trump’s typically opportunist rant, the implication was clear: What the team was suffering was more than just a slump. It testified to some greater, probably moral, failing.…

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Postseason Awards In The Statistical Funhouse

Cabrera has finished in the top five in MVP voting each of the last three seasons and in his nine seasons has never failed to get at least one MVP vote, but the closest he’s come to winning the award was last year, when he finished 87 points behind his teammate Justin Verlander (he was 96 points back of Josh Hamilton in 2010). So, I can understand why some voters might feel like it’s “his turn.” However, Cabrera has become an MVP frontrunner in 2012 mainly because of the Triple Crown. Those who vote for him will point to his strong finish and his superior team, but such arguments are pretty easily diffused. Although Mike Trout hit only .287 in August and September, his OBP was still .400, and he maintained his stellar pace in almost every other statistical category. Moreover, the Angels won more games than Detroit and their record with Trout in the lineup (.580) is considerably better than the Tigers with Cabrera (.540).…

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