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A.J. Ellis: Red Sox manager John Farrell trusting gut over numbers in the World Series


Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis is providing analysis of the World Series to the L.A. Times. In a column posted yesterday prior to Game 2, he wrote about how Red Sox manager John Farrell is trusting his gut over the numbers in a short series lasting between five and seven games. The Red Sox are one of the teams most overtly reliant on analytics, which made Farrell’s decision to start Jonny Gomes in left field against two tough right-handed starters, as opposed to the left-handed Daniel Nava.

Ellis writes that it is Gomes’ playoff experience and energy, rather than proficiency against right-handers, that Farrell wanted in the first two games of the World Series against the Cardinals:

These immeasurable factors of chemistry are loathed by sabermetricians, who tend to scoff at these claims. Undeniable even by the most stubborn supporter of these new metrics is that in the postseason, the Red Sox are 1-3 when Nava starts games and 7-0 when Gomes does, heading into Game 2. To players, managers and fans, that is the only stat that matters in October.

They are 7-1 now, of course, as the Sox lost Game 2 by a 4-2 margin. Gomes is hitless in seven trips to the plate in World Series play. Farrell announced earlier that Nava would be starting Game 3 against Cardinals starter Joe Kelly.

As a self-described “sabermetrician”, I have two thoughts on this: Ellis is relying on a very small sample size, of course. Four starts for Nava and eight starts for Gomes is representative of very little. Secondly, while it is curious for Farrell to abandon the very tactics that helped bring his team to where it is today, it is unlikely to make any noticeable difference in a short series. Nava’s proficiency against right-handers, or Gomes’ deficiency against them, won’t be the sole reason why the Red Sox succeed or fail once you account for myriad other factors, plus the ever-present effect of randomness, even more stark within a smaller sample. In the big picture, there’s nothing wrong with Farrell trusting his gut, but it does set him up to be the fall guy if things don’t work out.

Wild Card, Division series umpires announced

Angel Hernandez
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Major League Baseball just released the umpire assignments for the Wild Card Game and the Division Series. As always, the basis for these assignments is a proprietary, scientific calculation undertaken by Major League Baseball, mixing in (a) skill; (b) seniority; and (c) trolling of baseball bloggers who, unlike 99% of the rest of the world actually know the names and track records of various umpires and who are easily riled.

Which is to say that, while we have no Joe West in the early playoff rounds this year — too obvious, perhaps? — we do get an Angel Hernandez.

Here are the assignments. The asterisks represent the crew chief of each unit. Guys with little up arrows next to their names are regular season crew chiefs in their own right. Print this out and keep it near your television so you know who to yell about before the broadcasters tell you who to yell at:

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Which teams improved and declined the most in 2015?

Joe Maddon

I was curious about which MLB teams changed their fortunes the most this season compared to last year, so I crunched the numbers.

First, here are the biggest win total improvements from 2014 to 2015:

+24 Cubs
+21 Rangers
+16 Astros
+15 Diamondbacks
+13 Twins
+11 Mets
+10 Blue Jays
+10 Cardinals
+10 Pirates

The top five teams on the biggest-improvement list all had managers in their first season on the job, led by Joe Maddon joining the Cubs after tons of success with the Rays. Also worth noting: Of the nine teams with the biggest win total improvement, eight made the playoffs. Only the Twins improved to double-digit games and still failed to make the playoffs.

Now, here are the biggest win total declines from 2014 to 2015:

-20 Athletics
-16 Tigers
-15 Orioles
-14 Brewers
-13 Nationals
-13 Angels
-12 Braves
-12 Reds
-11 Mariners

Not surprisingly, a whole lot of those teams have changed managers, general managers, or both. And a couple more may still do so before the offseason gets underway. Oakland retained manager Bob Melvin despite an MLB-high 20-win dropoff and just promoted Billy Beane from general manager to vice president of baseball operations.