Category Archives: MLB

Which Comeback Was Most Unlikely?

Last night was ridiculous. Only Brady and Belichick can go down twenty-five points in the Super Bowl without their fans losing hope. And to score thirty-one straight points to do it? And to win the first ever overtime Super Bowl? And to do it while setting records left and right? Holy crap.

Then again, the Patriots are really just continuing a trend that’s been going on since June. This past year has been filled with tremendous comebacks and upsets. Like the Pats, the Cubs, Clemson, Trump, and the Cavs have all accrued huge deficits and overcome them. But which comeback of these five was the most improbable of all? Let’s figure it out.

5. Donald Trump (28.2% chance of winning)

This was a difficult probability to determine. While we can rely on Vegas and ESPN’s win expectancy for sports, there are a number of conflicting predictions out there. Accordingly, I went with Nate Silver and FiveThirtyEight’s empirical prediction model, rather than predictions from places such as the New York Times (15%) and the Princeton Election Consortium (1%) that were less based on statistics.

Although the Trump’s victory seemed unbelievable and shocking at the time, statistically, it wasn’t all that unlikely. Accordingly, all four sports comebacks were more miraculous than the election results.

4. Chicago Cubs (21.7%)

The Cubs’ comeback seems unlikely, and it was, but they were favored in each of the fateful final three games, by significant margins. Vegas expected Chicago to win each of the individual final three games, so the fact that it did isn’t too surprising.

Based on the money line, Chicago was expected to win 67.7% of the time in Game 5, about 59% in Game 6, and 54.5% in Game 7. Combined, they had barely better than a one in five chance of winning three straight games and emerging victorious at their nadir, which, while improbable, isn’t quite the act of God that it appeared to be.

3. Clemson Tigers (9.6%)

Clemson’s low point came after a Calvin Ridley reception gave Alabama a first down. At that point, in the middle of the second quarter, Clemson was down two touchdowns against a dominant defense. Despite this, the Tigers came roaring back to draw within three.

Later on, O.J. Howard’s 68 yard touchdown catch pushed their odds of winning back down to 14%. Once more, Clemson fought hard and eventually took the lead for the first time, gave it up, and finally regained it with one second remaining.

This was an impressive victory against the Evil Empire of college football, and the situation for Clemson was dire for large chunks of the game. However, the deficit was only fourteen points at its largest, so it doesn’t seem like the Tigers had a major comeback, even though their win expectancy reveals they did.

2. Cleveland Cavaliers (5.9%)

Both the Cavs and Cubs had to win three straight games, including two on the road, to break a mammoth championship drought. So why was Chicago nearly four times as likely as Cleveland to end its season with champagne?

The main reason is that the Cubs were superior to the Indians, while the Cavaliers were inferior to the record-setting Warriors. Furthermore, basketball is much less reliant on luck than baseball, so Cleveland needed to legitimately beat a dominant, otherworldly Golden State squad three straight times–a lucky, fluky win wasn’t possible.

Because of this, the Cavs’ championship comeback was the most unlikely of all until…

1. New England Patriots (0.03%)

The Pats had a huge comeback over the Falcons last night: after going down 28-3, New England roared back to score thirty-one points unanswered. The Falcons had a win probability of over 92% for thirty straight minutes, including a twelve minute streak when it never dipped below 98%.

The situation was bleakest after an incomplete pass from Julian Edelman left the Pats facing a 3rd and 3 from their own 46 with just over six minutes left in the third quarter while down 28-3. ESPN gave the Patriots a 0.03% chance of coming back to win the game at that point.

Even if you want to use the least optimistic Trump prediction, which gave him a 1% chance of winning the election, last night’s Patriots victory was three times as unlikely as Trump’s triumph.

Any way you slice it, this Super Bowl comeback was nearly impossible, and was the most improbable of the last year’s five unlikely moments. Of course, that’s just from a quantitative standpoint, which can’t capture the in-the-moment insanity that accompanies any spectacular event, along with all the other qualitative factors that go into making a memorable moment. Which one do you think was the craziest comeback of all? Let us know in the poll and in the comments!

Sources: FiveThirtyEight for Trump, ESPN for Clemson and New England, and oddsshark.com for Chicago and Cleveland. 

Advertisements

Are the Mets Really This Bad With Runners in Scoring Position?

During today’s matinee matchup against the Rockies, the Mets muddled their way to a 2-1 loss while going 1-9 with runners in scoring position, causing announcers Keith Hernandez and Gary Cohen to marvel at the team’s inability to hit with RISP.

Over the three game series with St. Louis that concluded yesterday, New York hitters went 4-33 with RISP, good for a .121 average. Those three games are part of a dismal stretch of fifteen games during which the team has hit  .155 with RISP. Unfortunately, this slump isn’t really much of a slump at all—the Mets’ yearlong average with RISP is an abysmal .206.

Cohen remarked that the Mets’ futility with RISP couldn’t be a fluke nearly four months into the season. Is this the case, or can fans hope for an improvement as the team nears the stretch run?

The mean batting average with runners in scoring position in MLB is .257, with a standard deviation of .0204. The Mets’ .206 average is 2.5 standard deviations below the mean, so given a normal distribution, there’s a 0.6% chance that their average with RISP could be .206 or lower.

If it’s so improbable that the Mets are this bad, then it appears that the team is bound to improve. However, it isn’t as simple as it seems. Although the Mets are tremendously unlucky when compared to the rest of the league’s stats, it’s a limited comparison. New York is starting off from a much lower baseline than the rest of the league because its average in all situations is a mere .238, worst in MLB, while league average is .255, with a standard deviation of .12. Since New York starts off 1.4 standard deviations below the mean, let’s subtract that from the original 2.5, leaving us with 1.1. Now, instead of a minuscule probability of .006 that the Mets are this bad, there’s a comparatively huge .136. In fact, in a thirty team league, it’s overwhelmingly likely that a team does as poorly with runners in scoring position as the Mets.

Those last two paragraphs were more based on intuition rather than hard statistics. Let’s take a look at it through a more official lens.

First we need to find a normalized statistic that prevents uneven baselines from affecting the numbers. I’ll use this simple formula: RISP Avg.  – Normal Avg. RISP Avg. refers to a team’s average with runners in scoring position while Normal Avg. refers to a team’s overall seasonal average (which includes its at bats with RISP). This formula excises other variables and hones in on exactly what we’re looking for.

Here are the teams with the biggest positive difference between their normal average and their average with RISP.

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 4.16.53 PM

And here are the teams with with the biggest negative difference between their normal average and their average with RISP.

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 4.22.33 PM

There are a couple of takeaways. First, there must be something in the New York water that causes its baseball teams to wilt with runners in scoring position, as the Mets and Yankees have the two largest negative differentials in MLB. Second, although the Mets have the worst difference in the league, the Yankees and Diamondbacks are both in the same neighborhood , while on the positive side, the Cardinals have an even bigger differential than the Mets. Accordingly, it’s safe to conclude that while the Mets have been unlucky this year, they haven’t been exceptionally unfortunate.

This only proves that the Mets haven’t been especially unlucky so far, meaning that there’s no guarantee that things get better because they can’t get any worse. However, we haven’t identified if these statistics have any predictive value. After over an hour of frenzied googling and trying to manipulate various baseball stats websites to give me half season splits along with RISP numbers, I was unable to find any statistics that would allow us to determine the predictive value of what we’ve seen so far. However, I’ll continue to look, and if I manage to find the stats, another article will soon be on the way.

All statistics accurate through July 27. 

2016 MLB Predictions

Admittedly, this article is coming out a day late, so these predictions are obviously all moot and completely worthless, as the three total games that have been played so far have determined everything that will happen in the regular season for the next six months.

Anyways, here are the Sushi on Sports 2016 MLB predictions.

AL East

Toronto Blue Jays

Boston Red Sox

Baltimore Orioles

Tampa Bay Rays

New York Yankees

AL Central

Kansas City Royals

Chicago White Sox

Detroit Tigers

Cleveland Indians

Minnesota Twins

AL West

Houston Astros

Texas Rangers

Seattle Mariners

Oakland Athletics

Los Angeles Angels

NL East

New York Mets

Washington Nationals

Miami Marlins

Atlanta Braves

Philadelphia Phillies

NL Central

Chicago Cubs

St. Louis Cardinals

Pittsburgh Pirates

Cincinnati Reds

Milwaukee Brewers

NL West

Los Angeles Dodgers

San Francisco Giants

Arizona Diamondbacks

Colorado Rockies

San Diego Padres

AL Wild Card

Chicago White Sox over Texas Rangers

NL Wild Card

Pittsburgh Pirates over St. Louis Cardinals

ALDS

Houston Astros over Chicago White Sox

Toronto Blue Jays over Kansas City Royals

NLDS

Chicago Cubs over Pittsburgh Pirates

New York Mets over Los Angeles Dodgers

ALCS

Houston Astros over Toronto Blue Jays

NLCS

New York Mets over Chicago Cubs

World Series

New York Mets over Houston Astros

AL MVP

Carlos Correa

NL MVP

Anthony Rizzo

AL Cy Young

Chris Sale

NL Cy Young

Clayton Kershaw

AL ROY

A.J. Reed

NL ROY

Steven Matz

AL MOY

A.J. Hinch

NL MOY

Joe Maddon

MLB Over/Unders

After a lengthy winter, baseball is finally nearly back!

Spring training has been awful for me, only whetting my appetite for baseball without truly satisfying it. However, it does serve a purpose. Spring training gives us a first glimpse at the configurations of each team. It provides us with tentative answers as to where each player will bat in the order, or who’ll close, or any number of things.

Today we’ll use some of that information in making our Over/Under predictions for the 2016 MLB season. First, let’s discuss a few best bets for the upcoming season. After that, we’ll zip through the rest of the picks.

Let’s get started!

Best Bets

Chicago Cubs: 92.5: OVER

They can’t make this number high enough for me. If it were raised to 95.5, I’d have to take it off my “Best Bets” list, but it would have to be over 100 for me to even consider taking the under.

Unlike other teams, who may have depth but no superstars, or superstars but no depth, the Cubs are in the enviable position of having both. In fact, although having superstars like Anthony Rizzo, Jake Arrieta, and Kris Bryant is important, what might be more impressive is that their worst regular is Dexter Fowler, a center fielder who, last season, smacked seventeen homers, swiped twenty bases, with a .346 OBP. On any other team, that’s a way above average player. Wow.

Chicago’s immense depth will allow to work its way through whatever obstacles it might face during the lengthy season, and its superstars will allow it to excel throughout the campaign. It’s tough to envision a scenario in which the Cubs don’t manage to win ninety games, making this an easy choice for the “Best Bets” list.

Houston Astros: 87.5: OVER

The Astros are eerily similar to the Cubs. They’re both young, up-and-coming teams coming off painful defeats in last year’s playoffs. They’re both led by a pair of young, stud infielders (Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve, and Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, respectively) and each’s ace was absolutely awful before having a very good season in 2014 and winning the Cy Young in 2015 (Dallas Keuchel, and Jake Arrieta, respectively). And, just like the Cubs, the Astros are set to improve spectacularly on last season’s 86-76 record.

Houston definitely shouldn’t have any trouble gaining an extra two wins over last season. George Springer played only two-thirds of the season; a full season from him could get them over the hump by itself. When Correa’s inevitable improvement as he gains MLB experience is factored in, the Astros should be able to surpass the total that Bovada has set for them with ease.

San Diego Padres: 73.5: UNDER

Before last season, Padres GM A.J. Preller went on an offseason trading spree, nabbing Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Derek Norris, and Craig Kimbrel in an effort to win big. That effort failed miserably, and the team is now a wreck, with no hope in the present or in the future.

After Preller failed to turn the Padres into a contender, he sloughed off his two biggest acquisitions, with Upton leaving in free agency and Kimbrel being traded to the Red Sox. The team is now left with a desolate wasteland of a roster with no hope of contention.

In a challenging division with three teams expected to contend for the playoffs, it will be hard for San Diego to make it to seventy wins.

The Best of the Rest

Philadelphia Phillies: 65.5: UNDER

The Phillies won 63 games last year and now have even less talent. The scale of their rebuild is on par with that of the Astros a few of years ago, and those Houston teams won 56, 55, and 51 games from 2011-2013.

St. Louis Cardinals: 87.5: OVER and Pittsburgh Pirates: 86.5: OVER

I group these two teams together because they’re both NL Central teams who had the two highest win totals in MLB last season, didn’t get appreciably worse over the offseason, and are not getting much love from Bovada. These two teams are about the same as they were last year, and last year they won 100 and 98 games, respectively. How is each’s win total expected to decline by double digits?

Over/Under Picks for Entire MLB

Houston Astros: 87.5: OVER

Texas Rangers: 84.5: UNDER

Seattle Mariners: 82.5: UNDER

Los Angeles Angels: 81.5: UNDER

Oakland Athletics: 75.5: UNDER

Kansas City Royals: 85.5: OVER

Cleveland Indians: 84.5: UNDER

Detroit Tigers: 81.5: OVER

Chicago White Sox: 80.5: OVER

Minnesota Twins: 78.5: OVER

Toronto Blue Jays: 87.5: OVER

Boston Red Sox: 86.5: OVER

New York Yankees: 85.5: UNDER

Tampa Bay Rays: 81.5: UNDER

Baltimore Orioles: 79.5: OVER

San Francisco Giants: 89.5: UNDER

Los Angeles Dodgers: 88.5: OVER

Arizona Diamondbacks: 82.5: OVER

San Diego Padres: 73.5: UNDER

Colorado Rockies: 70.5: UNDER

Chicago Cubs: 92.5: OVER

St. Louis Cardinals: 87.5: OVER

Pittsburgh Pirates: 86.5: OVER

Cincinnati Reds: 70.5: UNDER

Milwaukee Brewers: 69.5: UNDER

New York Mets: 89.5: OVER

Washington Nationals: 89.5: UNDER

Miami Marlins: 79.5: UNDER

Atlanta Braves: 66.5: UNDER

Philadelphia Phillies: 65.5: UNDER

Who’s the Most Exciting Player on the Mets?

As we near spring training and inch closer to the beginning of the regular season, roles on every MLB team begin to crystallize. Teams identify their closers, determine how they’ll allocate playing time, and figure out the bottoms of their rotations.

While these roles are important to teams, as a Mets fan, at this point, I don’t really care if Lucas Duda hits fourth or fifth, or if Addison Reed or Antonio Bastardo enters the season as the setup man. What I care about is the player who gets me pumped for the game each night, the player who forces me to come to Citi Field simply to see him play, the player who gets me emotionally invested in the Mets.

What we’ll do today is figure out who that player is. Let’s get started.

Yoenis Cespedes

Cespedes is tremendously exciting. His immense power is fearsome to behold and he plays the game with a joy that’s easy to see.

His play in the outfield is what sets him apart from other sluggers. Not his good play, mind you, but the kind of riveting drama that comes with not knowing whether or not he’ll catch a routine fly ball.

To be fair, his mistakes aren’t at the level of Kyle Schwarber’s fielding gaffes, but they’re still pretty painful.

However, there’s still plenty of good along with the bad.

In addition to those magnificent throws, one of Cespedes’ more entertaining quirks is his penchant for, after making a catch, throwing the ball back to the infield underhand.

Cespedes is very exciting, of course, but a lot of his excitement stems from his mistakes, removing the favorite from contention early on.

Jeurys Familia 

Familia too is a riveting player. The 26-year old took over the closer job last season and kept it for the rest of the year, racking up 48 saves.

He wields a variety of wicked pitches. The movement on this pitch is absolutely ridiculous:

Familia was good enough that he was able to come into games and easily shut the door on any potential threat. Just take a look at what he did to the Nationals at the end of one game last year:

Simply evil. That second strikeout, the one that came against 2015’s NL MVP, Bryce Harper, came on a filthy 96 mph splitter.

Most important, however, are his entertaining post-save celebrations.

You can’t be a good closer without being able to celebrate effusively after a successful save.

Familia’s case for being the Mets’ most exciting player has a serious flaw: Wouldn’t anyone put in his position be exciting? I mean, he’s a closer on a contending team, one that has provided him with plenty of opportunities for saves. In the pivotal ninth inning situations in which Familia most often appeared, Mets fans would have been glued to the TV regardless of who the closer was.

To be clear, Familia’s certainly not a run-of-the-mill pitcher, but I don’t think he’s quite worthy of the title of being the Mets’ most exciting player.

Noah Syndergaard

Syndergaard, put simply, is electric. Last year, as a rookie, no other starter averaged a faster pitch than Thor’s 97.3 mph four-seam fastball.

I love watching Syndergaard’s smooth delivery and unfair pitches. While writing this section, I went down a forty-minute wormhole of watching GIFs of Syndergaard. Here are the four best I found:

That pitch looked like it decided, about halfway to the plate, to slow down of its own volition. The best part of that pitch? The batter, Justin Turner, turning to the umpire afterwards, probably saying something like: “We need a rule change. That can’t happen again. That’s completely unfair.” The scary thing is that he might be right.

Ho-hum, just another nasty pitch to strike out the 2015 NL MVP.

Perhaps hitters should start wearing chin straps on their helmets when they’re facing Syndergaard. After all, it’s kind of embarrassing when you completely whiff on a pitch, spin around completely, and then, adding insult to injury, lose your helmet in the process.

That’s dastardly. That’s a 98 mph pitch that changes direction right as it hits the plate, curving in as a strike, even though it had looked to be a ball. You’ve gotta feel for Yangervis Solarte; there wasn’t anything he could have done about that.

So yeah, Thor is ridiculous. But is he the most exciting Met?

He’s definitely close. He’s got some of the best pitches in the game, and, at 23-years old, he’s only getting better. The problem is that his starts, while spectacular, aren’t quite events. To me, the most exciting player on the team is the guy who forces me to come to Citi Field, simply to bask in his glow, joining the revelry surrounding the game. Syndergaard isn’t quite there yet.

Matt Harvey

I’ve got the same opinion of Harvey as just about every other Mets fan: I like him, but he fell considerably in my eyes after the innings-limit debacle of last season.

However, there’s absolutely no question that Harvey is the Mets’ most exciting player. No one else on the Mets inspires quite the same mix of emotions as him, that unusual combination of mild disgust and disdain coupled with effusive admiration and love.

And, remember the criterion I just mentioned? Harvey’s starts are true events. On Harvey Day, fans come in droves to watch him pitch, sporting Batman masks and cheering on their homegrown star.

Just remember what happened last season in his return to Citi Field after his long absence due to Tommy John surgery? In case you forgot, here’s his first pitch back on the mound:

That chanting, those cheers, that excitement that Harvey produces? That’s what makes him the Mets’ most exciting player.

Cespedes Returns: A Mets Fan’s Perspective

When I found out earlier today that Yoenis Cespedes would be returning to the New York Mets, I was ecstatic. I was dumbfounded. I called my dad and just screamed happily at the phone until he hung up. That’s what happens when your team does what you’ve been asking for, pleading for, praying for all along.

For weeks, now, I’ve been advocating for Cespedes to return to the Mets. Not on a five-year deal, mind you—that’s far too long—but on a shorter contract. I was in favor of a one year contract or a longer one with an early opt-out clause. Unfortunately, that seemed out of the question as Cespedes was reportedly searching for upwards of one hundred million dollars over at least five years.

Free agency wore on, and Cespedes remained unsigned. I started to hope, just a little, that maybe, just maybe, the Mets might be able to snag him on a short contract. Again, I was happy to pay him as much money as he wanted, just not for five years, and as the days rolled by, the chances of that happening slowly increased.

I got worried, really worried, when rumors started rolling in that the Nationals had jumped into the fray. A Washington team with Cespedes and Bryce Harper is a force to be reckoned with, one that might have been able to push the Mets in the divisional race.

But then, late Thursday night, Ken Rosenthal reported that a pair of sources believed that Cespedes would prefer to return to New York. And on Friday morning, Buster Olney reported that the Mets and Cespedes were discussing a three-year contract with an opt-out after the first year, the same exact contract I’d been advocating for all along. By then, I was extraordinarily excited.

Finally, on Saturday morning, news broke that the Mets and Cespedes had agreed to a three-year contract with an opt-out clause. That’s when I called my dad and screamed at the phone. That player! In that lineup! With that pitching staff! On that contract!

And, oh boy, that contract. I mean, this could not have possibly gone any better for the Mets. Cespedes, barring a serious injury, is a cinch to opt out after one season, but that’s fine. We’ll get him for a season of his prime, and although it’ll be extraordinarily expensive, it’s still great. And here’s the kicker: If Cespedes leaves the Mets after next season, the team will recoup a first round draft pick for their troubles. That’s awesome: Cespedes will contribute to both the current great Mets team and the next great Mets team.

To sum it all up, the Mets now have a great player for one of his last valuable seasons and, on top of that, they’ll score an extra first round pick if he leaves in free agency. Kudos to Sandy Alderson and kudos to the Mets’ front office for this spectacular deal.

And to all my fellow Mets fans out there: It’s gonna be a helluva season.

I can’t wait until Opening Day.

Signing Grade: Gordon to the Royals

Earlier today, news broke that the Royals had resigned Alex Gordon to a four year, seventy-two million dollar contract. This pact keeps Gordon, the longest-tenured current Royal, in Kansas City through the 2019 season.

This contract is reasonable and fair to all parties. Although Gordon was originally looking for a contract in the triple-figures, seventy-two million dollars is a far cry from the Royals’ original offer of roughly fifty million. The compromise allows Gordon to remain with the only organization he has ever been with and Kansas City to retain one of its most important players.

On the offensive side, Gordon has been a solid, if unspectacular offensive player, over the past five seasons. He averages nineteen home runs per 162 games played and hits for an average in the high .200s.

Defensively is where Gordon has been a truly above average player. He racked up seven dWAR from 2011 to 2014, according to Baseball-Reference, culminating in a 2.6 dWAR 2014. In addition to more advanced statistics, mainstream opinion also saw him as a superb defensive player as he accumulated four Gold Gloves over that four year stretch.

Gordon sounds great so far, but let’s take a look at why the deal might not end up being a wise decision for the Royals.

Next month, Gordon turns thirty-two. In 2015, his age-31 season, while his offensive production remained solid, his defense took a serious hit. As players age, their defense gets worse, and, for a player who derives much of his value for his defensive skills, that’s a big risk for the Royals to take.

Furthermore, Gordon sustained a groin injury last season, causing him to miss nearly eight weeks. After a clean bill of health over the preceding few years, it’s worrying to see this sort of nagging injury in a veteran player.

In the end, the Royals didn’t have a choice. Gordon was willing to lop off twenty-eight million dollars off his asking price to stay in Kansas City, so denying him wouldn’t have resulted in good press. Besides, Gordon is still a capable player, and, after Jason Heyward was signed, there were no outfielders on the market with the same skill set as him.

Overall, this contract has little upside for the Royals; it is improbable that Gordon outperforms it. However, barring a significant injury, Gordon’s production is unlikely to fall off a cliff. This low-upside, high-floor signing is a reasonable move for the defending champions, and while they don’t deserve to be lauded for this deal, they should not be criticized for it either.

Grade: B+