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Hitting For The Cycle: Instant Replay, Predictions, Mike Trout, and World Series

In our Hitting for the Cycle series, Craig MacHenry goes through the best of the best baseball writing for the past week – highlighting national stories while giving them some Nationals perspective.

Single: Inside Look at MLB’s New Instant-Replay Bunker by Jeff Passan (Yahoo! Sports)

The 2014 MLB Season is upon us (well, technically it has been since the wonderful Opening Series in Australia), and so far we have seen baseball’s newest wrinkle several times – replay. I’m not going to use this space to lament any of the missed opportunities of the new replay system (no neighborhood play? Coach’s Challenge?! Sorry, couldn’t help myself.) I’ll simply use it to showcase how thorough this program is.

Last week, Major League Baseball invited a dozen reporters to their new “war room” in New York to showcase all the bells and whistles of the space. Sure, you can find a shorter synopsis of the replay rules elsewhere, but Passan goes one step further and takes the reader through scenarios and examines the pitfalls that are inevitable when implementing something such as this.

As we have seen thus far, the system works, and it has worked efficiently. There will be missteps and there will still be blown calls, but this is simply a step in the right direction and if Opening Day is any indication of the new program’s long-term viability, then we are in for a truly new era in baseball.

Quote: “What MLB hopes to accomplish in this first year of replay: progress above perfection.”

Double: The Imperfect Pursuit of a Perfect Baseball Forecast by Neil Paine (FiveThirtyEight)

Opening Day has come and gone, which means we don’t have to sit through a thousand pounds of Internet Ink rife with horrible “predictions” for another 358 days – phew.  As he is wont to do, Paine takes a scalpel to dissect, not tear apart, the different philosophies involved in the prediction game: Sabermetric approaches (PECOTA), “Boots on the Ground” approaches (Sports Illustrated), and Gambling approaches (Vegas Sportsbook).

In this piece, Paine uses root-mean-square error (look it up) to show that dumb luck does indeed exist but proves that it’s not likely that it will continue for any extended period of time. It’s pretty standard to hear how the PECOTA rankings are set, outside of the ridiculously complex formulas involved, and it makes perfect sense how Sports Illustrated uses crowd-sourced office information to come up with their predictions. But when Paine gets to the Sports Book, that’s when things get interesting. Ed Salmons, head oddsmaker for the Las Vegas Hotel & Casino uses all the possible information in his arsenal to give him a baseline and then sets a line based on how to balance the bettors most effectively; it’s truly fascinating stuff.

The point of the article is that you should always take these projections with a giant grain of salt, especially all of you seeing all those “Nats over ______ in the World Series” predictions.

Quote: “The amount of random variance that goes into team records makes the 6.4 [RMSE] barrier literally impossible to beat over a large number of seasons.”

Triple: Mike Trout Has Finally Broken Baseball’s Math by Kyle Wagner (Regressing – Deadspin)

Harper vs. Trout. Trout vs. Harper. Who is going to “win” this Magic vs. Bird battle of epic proportions? Short answer: we all do.

News broke this week that Mike Trout has agreed to a six-year extension with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim worth a whopping $144.5 Million. Now, is this what Mike Trout is worth on the open market? Absolutely not, he is worth way more than that, and if you didn’t know it already, Kyle Wagner takes you through the numbers to show you just how much money he could potentially be worth to his ballclub over his career. Essentially, +1 WAR is worth about $6 million per year, which means that if Trout is able to reach his projected FanGraphs WAR of 9.5, then he would be worth an incredible $57 Million to the Angels this year alone.

I could sit here and post number after number telling you how incredible Mike Trout is and why he will become MLB’s first $40 Million/Year player, but the article articulates that better than I ever could.  What will be more interesting for Nats fans out there is to see how Mike Trout’s bought out Free Agent years will affect Bryce Harper’s first year of Free Agency – because this deal all but assures that, barring a drastic change of heart by Boras Corp., Bryce Harper will hit Free Agency after the best player in baseball has already set the bar at $33.25 Million/Year.

Quote: “If you apply modest 5% annual inflation to the cost of a win, [Trout] projects to be worth around $560 million over the next decade.”

Home Run: The Last Great Call(s) by Jayson Stark (ESPN)

I’m going to be straight forward with you. If someone writes a compelling and lengthy oral history of a key moment/period of baseball, I will most likely feature it. Jayson Stark’s piece on the great finale of Game 3 of the 2013 World Series fits the bill to a T.

If you are short on memory, let me refresh it for you. One out in the ninth, Molina on third base, Craig  on second base. Jon Jay swings at the 0-1 pitch and hits a shot to Pedroia, the Red Sox 2B, who throws home to try to get Molina before he can score: safe. Saltalamacchia lets Yadier go by and throws to Will Middlebrooks at third (sort of) as the ball flies into the outfield, but Craig trips over Middlebrooks. The play continues, despite the obstruction, and Craig gets tagged out at home. However, Jim Joyce has called obstruction and Craig is award home plate and secures the walk-off World Series obstruction winner. Got it?

Stark interviews all of the major players in this event (Middlebrooks, Craig, Salty, 3B Ump Jim Joyce, HP Ump Dana DeMuth) to piece together all of the opinions and thought processes of one of the most exciting and complicated events in recent baseball history. A good oral history is incredibly difficult to produce, but Stark uses all of his cunning and guile to compose everything in a nuanced, yet seamless story.

(Photo: CBSSports.com)

About Craig MacHenry

Writer for The Nats Blog and co-host of Nats Talk On The Go podcast