Tuesday, November 18, 2014

I Miss You, Jonas Gray

As a Patriots fan, I loved watching Jonas Gray overpower the Colts in Indianapolis. On Sunday, Gray become the first running back since the Great Depression to rush for as many touchdowns as the rest of the league combined.

However, as a Patriots fan, I already miss Jonas Gray. That's because I know that he won't be here for long. Unlike Tom Brady, he's not going to retire in a Patriot's uniform. Bill Belichick doesn't keep running backs around for long (unless he can use them in the passing game, like Shane Vereen or Kevin Faulk).

Remember LeGarrette Blount? Of course you do. He also ran for four touchdowns in one game, also against the Colts. In the playoffs! Two months later he signed with the Steelers.

Belichick feels, perhaps correctly, that today's running game is about power blocking and play-calling, not about star running backs. This means that he can pick Jonas Gray off the scrap heap and turn him into a star. Belichick also knows that running backs get old fast. Put these two facts together and it means that we probably won't be seeing Jonas Gray in a Patriots uniform next year.

Jonas, I miss you already!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

"Failed Fielder's Choice"

Looking for some feedback on official scoring. Imagine the following:

Play #1:
No outs. Lorenzo Cain on 1B. Eric Hosmer batting.
Jed Lowrie fields a ground ball in the hole and appears to have enough time to get Hosmer out at 1B.
Instead, Lowrie throws to 2B to successfully force out the lead runner.

The above is a "fielder's choice". Section 10.00 of the MLB rules is pretty clear about how the above situation is scored.

Play #2:
No outs. Lorenzo Cain on 1B. Eric Hosmer batting.
Jed Lowrie fields a ground ball in the hole and appears to have enough time to get Hosmer out at 1B.
Instead, Lowrie throws to 2B in an attempt to keep the runner out of scoring position. But the throw is late and everybody is safe.

I often refer to this as a "failed fielder's choice" to avoid confusion with the result of Play #1.

Play #2 is also a fielder's choice because Section 2.00 states: "FIELDER'S CHOICE is the act of a fielder who handles a fair grounder and, instead of throwing to first base to put out the batter-runner, throws to another base in an attempt to put out a preceding runner."

It also can't be recorded as a hit. Rule 10.05(b)(4): "The official scorer shall not credit a base hit when a ... fielder fails in an attempt to put out a preceding runner and, in the scorer's judgment, the batter-runner could have been put out at first base"

Therefore, I believe the following to be true:

1) The shortstop is NOT charged with an error.
2) The batter is credited with an at-bat.
3) The batter is NOT credited with a hit.
4) The pitcher is credited with a batter faced (and an "opponent at bat", such as for calculating "opponent batting average").
5) The pitcher is not credited with a "hit allowed".
6) The pitcher IS credited with a "ground ball out" (as used in the calculation of "GO/AO").

(I realize some of these aren't official stats, but I'm hoping to find some agreement about non-official stats.)

However, imagine the following:

Play #3:
No outs. Bases empty. Jeff Samardzija walks Lorenzo Cain.
Fernando Abad relieves Samardzija.
Eric Hosmer batting.
Jed Lowrie fields a ground ball in the hole and appears to have enough time to get Hosmer out at 1B.
Lowrie throws to 2B in an attempt to keep the runner out of scoring position. But the throw is late and everybody is safe.
Billy Butler hits a 3-run homer.

My interpretation:
Cain is charged to Samardzija as an earned run.
Hosmer and Butler are charged to Abad as earned runs.
(If Cain had been successfully forced out, Hosmer would be charged to Samardzija.)

So ... Abad gets credit for a ground out, and then gets tagged with an earned run for the guy who "grounded out".

Is this correct?



Thursday, September 4, 2014

Football Mogul 15: Player Photos

FYI, here's a sneak peak at the new player photos in Football Mogul 15 (available September 5th).

Last year we had about 800 photos. This year we have 1,425.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Football Mogul 15 Launches September 5th

Football Mogul 15 will go on sale at SportsMogul.com on September 5th, the day after the start of the NFL season.

Leading up to the release, here's an example of the new Scouting Report:

The big change in this year's version is a switch from a stat-based simulation engine to one based on ratings. For example, in the past, you could pretty much only compare receivers according to their "Receiving" rating -- which was based primarily on projected Receiving Yards for the upcoming season.

This year, we have 26 different ratings for each player, with the ability to edit the ratings directly (instead of trying to get the desired results by editing stats).

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Fixing the NBA Draft

On May 20th, almost three million people tuned in to watch the NBA Draft Lottery. That's right -- more people watched this year's NBA Draft Lottery than have attended Miami Heat games since they signed LeBron James.

The draft lottery consists of twelve ping-pong balls getting pulled from a spinning plastic drum. But the really pathetic thing is that we don't even get to see the balls bounce around. The ping-pong balls are drawn off-camera, and then the results are put in an envelope. And then three million Americans turn on their TV to watch the envelopes get opened.

It's like bingo, but worse. It's like waiting for your grandmother to go play bingo. Then, when she gets home, asking her what happened. As an American, that makes me sad. We have nothing better to do than watch a TV show that reveals, second-hand, the results of "Bingo For Billionaires".

The good news is that we can fix it. We don't have to allocate draft picks like a church pastor calling out bingo numbers. We can replace the NBA Draft Lottery with the NBA Draft Tournament.

The NBA Draft Tournament

Instead of putting all 14 non-playoff teams into a big bucket and playing bingo, we put all 14 teams into a single-elimination tournament bracket. All the excitement of March Madness, but with the future of your favorite NBA team resting in the balance.

Here's how it works:

1) Divide the 14 non-playoff teams into two brackets containing 7 teams each (one bracket for each conference).

2) In each bracket, the teams with the most regular-season wins play each other in a 1-game playoff. The loser goes home and the winner advances to play the team with the next best regular-season record.

3) Continue until you have one winner from each conference. These two teams play for the #1 pick.

4) Award the remaining picks according to how far each team advanced in the NBA Draft Tournament.

For example, these are what the brackets would have been for the 2014 NBA Draft Tournament:

Western Conference
Eastern Conference
Game #1
Phoenix Suns (48-34)
Minnesota Timberwolves (40-42)
Game #2
New York Knicks (37-45)
Cleveland Cavaliers (33-49)
Game #3
Winner of Game #1 (above)
  Denver Nuggets (36-46)
Game #4
Winner of Game #2 (above)
Detroit Pistons (29-53)
Game #5
Winner of Game #3 (above)
 New Orleans Pelicans (33-49)
Game #6
Winner of Game #4 (above)
Boston Celtics (25-57)
Game #7
Winner of Game #5 (above)
 Sacramento Kings (28-54)
Game #8
Winner of Game #6 (above)
Orlando Magic (23-59)
Game #9
Winner of Game #7 (above)
Los Angeles Lakers (27-55)
Game #10
Winner of Game #8 (above)
Philadelphia 76ers (19-63)
Game #11
Winner of Game #9 (above)
 Utah Jazz (25-57)
Game #12
Winner of Game #10 (above)
Milwaukee Bucks (15-67)
Championship Game
Winner of Game #11
Winner of Game #12

But Is It "Fair"?

This tournament model has the advantage of maintaining the "integrity" of current system. In other words, the worst teams still have the best chance to earn the #1 pick. But they actually have to earn it -- on the basketball court.

This table shows the chance of each team getting the #1 pick using this tournament format, compared to the chance currently given to them by the NBA in the lottery:

Lottery Tournament Western Conference Eastern Conference Tournament Lottery
0.5% 0.6%Suns (48-34) Knicks (37-45) 0.7% 0.7%
0.6% 0.6%Timberwolves (40-42) Cavaliers (33-49) 0.8% 1.7%
0.8% 1.0%  Nuggets (36-46) Pistons (29-53) 1.5% 2.8%
1.1% 2.3% Pelicans (33-49) Celtics (25-57) 2.9% 10.3%
4.3% 4.4%Kings (28-54) Magic (23-59) 6.6% 15.6%
6.3% 10.7%Lakers (27-55) 76ers (19-63) 13.6% 19.9%
10.4% 24.3%Jazz (25-57) Bucks (15-67) 29.4% 25.0%

The End of Tanking?

Because the tournament format requires that you actually win at least 2 games in order to win the #1 pick, tanking is discouraged. A bad record gives you a better position in the tournament, but you still need a team good enough to win.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

DICE: Defensive Independent Component ERA

I'm reposting an article from July 2000, because Baseball Mogul players keep asking me what 'DICE' stands for on the pitcher Scouting Report (and because the text in the original article is tiny and hard to read).

Defense Independent Component ERA

July 19, 2000

If you play Baseball Mogul, you have already encountered Defense Independent Component ERA ("DICE"), even though you don't realize it. This is because the artificial intelligence in Baseball Mogul uses DICE to evaluate pitching talent.

We also use it at Sports Mogul to create our annual player projections.

DICE starts with the concept of "Component ERA" invented by Bill James. The concept is pretty simple -- use the components of a pitcher's statistical performance (such as hits allowed and hit batters) to predict a pitcher's ERA. Because there is a strong correlation between these individual events and the pitcher's ERA, you can actually estimate a pitcher's ERA in a season by just looking at the components. In other words, you can predict earned runs allowed by looking at the individual events (such as walks and home runs) that led to the runs themselves.

ERA is a somewhat luck-based stat. One season is a relatively small sample size, and earned runs given up in one season may not be a true indicator of the pitcher's overall ability level. The pitcher might have given up several home runs with the bases loaded, causing his ERA to be higher than it would have been if the home runs had been distributed randomly throughout the season.

By deriving a value from hits, walks, hit batters and home runs, Component ERA attempts to be a better evaluator of a pitcher's true ability to prevent runs.

Here is James' formula for Component ERA (CERA):


But there are a few problems with CERA:

The biggest is that it includes hits. Hits aren't a great indicator of a pitcher's true pitching ability. With the exception of home runs, the number of hits allowed by any pitcher are largely affected by the quality of the defense behind him. This makes sense, but it also stands up to statistical analysis. A pitcher's Strikeout Ratio (strikeouts pitched per 9 innings) is relatively consistent from year to year. However, a pitcher's Hit-Out Ratio (ratio of hits to outs, after removing strikeouts and homeruns) doesn't have the same consistency.

The second problem I have with CERA is that it's tough to calculate. Although they aren't perfect, I like measures such as Slugging Percentage and Total Average with formulae that are pretty easy to remember.

So, I created a slightly different form of Component ERA called "Defensive Independent Component ERA" (or DICE) that uses the variables in Component ERA, but removes hits (but leaves in Home Runs -- because these are almost never affected by defense).

At first, it looked something like this:

DICE = x + (y*(BB + HBP) + z*HR) / IP

Using all active pitchers in 1999 with 500 or more career Innings Pitched, I performed a regression on the above function to determine the constants x, y and z such that DICE best predicted their career average ERA. (There were 229 pitchers in this data set).

But after some experimenting, I noticed that ERAs were also strongly correlated with strikeouts, even when the other stats (walks, hit batters, and home runs) were already taken into account. As strikeouts are also defense-independent, it makes sense to add them to the formula. This is somewhat counter-intuitive. After all, a ground out can be just as good as a strikeout to end an inning. But the regression doesn't lie -- strikeouts are more effective than other types of outs at reducing earned runs. Or more accurately, strikeout numbers are useful in predicting a pitcher's ERA.

So I added strikeouts to the formula and performed another regression to determine the correct coefficients to use in the formula. Finally, I found the integer coefficients that best matched the data (because integers make the math easier than that required for CERA):

DICE = 3 + (3*(BB + HBP) + 13*HR - 2*K) / IP

(The Mean Squared Error for this formula, across all 229 pitchers, is .100697. The Square Root of the Mean Squared Error is about .317 -- meaning that about 2/3 of all actual ERA values should fall with .317 runs of a pitchers DICE value)

So there you have it:
1. Start with a value of 3 times the number of walks and hit batters
2. Add 13 for every home run allowed
3. Subtract 2 for every strikeout
4. Divide this total by the number of innings pitched
5. Finally, add this result to 3.00 to get the pitcher's Defense-Independent Component ERA (aka DICE).

Here's an example using Roger Clemens 1998 season (his most recent Cy Young Award):

DICE = 3.00 + (3 * (68 BB + 7 HB) + 13 * 9 HR - 2 * 292 K) / 264 IP = 2.14
Roger's actual ERA in 1998 was 2.05

Anyway, I first developed this stat to help me predict how a pitcher would perform in my rotisserie league. DICE is a better predictor of a pitcher's ERA in the upcoming year than any other stat I could find (such as his previous year's actual ERA). Using these predictions, I was able to win the league for 4 years out of 6 (and I'm currently in 1st place in year 7). And of course DICE is one of many tools we use inside the Baseball Mogul game engine.

Friday, April 18, 2014

It's Finally Time For The Redskins To Change Their Name

Europeans came to America, committed genocide against the societies that lived here, adopted a racial slur for these people, and then assigned that slur to the NFL team in our nation's capital. Even political conservatives like Charles Krauthammer believe that the team's name is "unmistakably patronizing and demeaning".

It's sad and horrible and shameful. It's as if the capital of Germany had a soccer team called the Berlin Kikes. Yes, it really is that bad. If you don't think it's that bad, it's only because you've gotten used to it.

But until now, we haven't had the cojones to change the name, because the Redskins haven't sucked badly enough. Nobody wants to change the name of their team when they make the playoffs and have the league's most exciting player under center (as was true in 2012, with a healthy Robert Griffin III at quarterback).

But after you go 3-13 and lose your last 8 games, your team is an embarrassment. And a name change starts to look pretty good. The last-place Seattle Supersonics changed their name (and city) in 2009. Two years later, they were in the NBA finals.

The Western Conference Champion Oklahoma Thunder (formerly the last-place Seattle Supersonics)

Picking a New Name

Thankfully, the Redskins' new name is obvious: the Washington Pitbulls.

The NFL team in our nation's capital needs to have a distinctly American name. We can't call them the "Eagles" or the "Patriots", because those names are already taken by teams within a 6-hour train ride. And we don't want to end up with a uniquely uninspiring name like the "Nationals" or "Senators" or "Capitals".

If you have been to D.C., you know that it is not a city about nature. Washington D.C. is not a showcase for pristine lakes and mountain views. It is not Portland or Denver or San Diego. You can't refer to a team from our nation's capital as the "Grizzlies" or the "Rockies". At the least, you can't do it with a straight face.

Washington is a city built around people: politicians and pundits, lobbyists and lawyers. It is a city of stubborn partisans who pick a cause, clamp down, and don't let go. It is, simply put, a city of pit bulls.

And a city of pit bulls is the appropriate capital for a country that revolves around our dogs. We love our dogs more than we love our people. We just cut $5 billion from SNAP (aka "food stamps") but we spend more than $30 billion each year on our dogs.

Mitt Romney lost the 2012 election because he strapped the family dog to the roof of his car. If he had done the same thing to one of his five sons, he would probably be in the White House right now.


The pit bull is the only truly American dog. "Pit bull" isn't even an official breed. Instead, the name refers to a variety of mutts that are loosely related to the American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier or the American Bulldog.

And just like Americans, pit bulls can be white or black, yellow or brown, large or small, energetic or lazy. It's time for the Redskins to change their name, and there is only one logical choice.