Thursday, August 30, 2007

Ari Alexenberg, pitcher and iblemetrician

If you poke around Ari Alexenberg's blog, you'll find I'm not the first iblemetrician.

Ari, a 46-year-old pitcher for the Petach Tikva Pioneers, has also been a pioneer in analyzing IBL statistics. Way back in April he was already tabulating the vital stats of the IBL's players: heights, weights and ages, along with their favorite foods and movies.

On August 2, five weeks into the season, Ari analyzed the league's error rates, performance by nationality, and pitcher control levels.

After the season ended, Ari made an impassioned argument, backed up with stats, that the MVP pitcher award should have gone to Aaron Pribble, not (or along with) Juan Feliciano.

Read the rest of his blog. Other gems include aerial photos of the league's three fields and a consideration of the impact of the home run derby.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The data and the quirky schedule

One thing the IBL handled pretty well was data gathering. For each game, the website features not only a complete box score, but also a play-by-play game log. The only thing missing by major league standards is pitch-by-pitch data.

Unfortunately, none of the three main sources of game information is complete. The game logs, for example, don't list the starting pitcher; that appears only in the box scores. Neither the logs nor the boxes specify the venue, which is significant since a number of games were played at the "wrong" field due to various scheduling constraints, primarily the unavailability of Sportek for the first two weeks. The venue appears only in the "schedule" sections of the website.

But even that is not perfect. One game (July 1, Bet Shemesh vs. Netanya) was played in Gezer, with a protest filed. The last half-inning was then replayed on August 6 in Sportek. But the game appears in the schedule as an August 6 game played in Sportek. The specifics of these events are clearest from the IBL's press releases from the dates in question.

So I've been working on processing the game data files to assemble as accurate a database as possible for analysis.

So far, I believe have a complete listing of all the games played and their venues (omitting the August 10 Petach Tikva-Netanya game which was lost due to forfeit). Some preliminary observations:

The IBL originally planned a 45-game schedule for each team. With six teams, that means nine games between each pair of teams (since each team plays five different opponents), for a total of 135 games.

In fact, due to the problems with Sportek and the belated decisions to add a one-day All Star break and extend the championship game to a three-day tournament, only 123 regular-season games were played (including the forfeit and an uncompleted suspended game), twelve short of the original plan.

Each team played 41 games, so one would expect each pair of teams to have played 8 or 9 times. Oddly, that was far from the case:


Strangely, Netanya and Raanana played 10 games, as did Tel Aviv and Modiin - more than they should have played under a full 45-game schedule! Meanwhile Tel Aviv played Raanana just 6 times, two fewer than the expected minimum out of each team's 41 games played, and Modiin played Netanya just 7 times.

I don't know if the original schedule is available for comparison, but the scheduling inconsistencies, combined with the already small sample set, may make meaningful statistical analysis difficult for some issues (such as park effects, which I plan to start with). We'll see.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Inaugural season post-mortem

Before I get to the stats, some general comments on the inaugural season.

If I were to sum up the IBL's first season in one phrase, it would be "widely varying quality".

That applies across the board: the players, the teams, the organization, the ballparks, the announcers.

The players. Some of them looked like they could make in the major leagues; others seemed way out of their depth. The best pitchers had impressive power and control, clearly dominating the plate. The worst were frequently dropping pitches in the dirt and hitting batters. The same could be said for hitting and fielding. Batting averages for regular players ranged from around .150 to .450. At times the play was beautiful, at others embarrassing. As pitcher Leon Feingold put it, "A third of the players can play high-level minor league ball, a third belong in this league, and a third are pure amateurs."

The teams. Here, the standings speak for themselves. Win percentages ranged from .220 to .707. Beit Shemesh dominated the standings from day one, and never dropped from first place, with Tel Aviv hot on their heels and Modiin a respectable third. Petach Tikva, meanwhile, could barely eke out a win, and their fielding was often laughable. I don't know how much of this variation to attribute to the luck of the draw versus management, but it's no fun watching a completely uncompetitive team.

I did feel that the play generally improved as the season progressed, presumably due to the teams learning how to work together - opening day was just a few days after the players landed in Israel and met each other for the first time. You could really see the first few weeks as a sort of spring training.

Netanya in particular had a late surge in the last two weeks of the season, when they suddenly got their act together and played competitively. It was too late to make a difference, though.

The organization. When you think of all the logistics that went into this season, it's amazing it happened at all. Founder Larry Baras described it well:

175 brand new employees from 7 different countries. 6,000 miles away in a markedly foreign culture. Having to provide 120 beds, 21,600 meals, 3,510 bags of ice, 410 bus rides. An exchange rate of a varying 4.35 shekels to dollars. 125 sets of flight arrangements to and from 87 different cities. 7,200 balls, 340 bats, 75 resin bags.... Season One of the IBL has been mostly a start-up behemoth, one that required all of our collective strengths to effect a sustaining liftoff.

Even the television broadcasts on Sport 5, which ran weekly for over a month, were professionally executed with intelligent, insightful commentary for a Hebrew-speaking audience.

Yet some of the screwups were just silly. I can understand that Tel Aviv's Sportek field was not ready yet on opening day. But how is it that no one seemed to discover this until game day arrived?

Why did it take so long to get the teams to actually visit the cities they supposedly represented?

Why was there so little effort to reach out beyond the natural audience of North Americans?

The ballparks. Did I mention Gezer field?

To be fair, quirky, unique ballparks is a feature of baseball, one which distinguishes it from other major sports. But Gezer's field barely meets the rulebook's minimum requirements, with a very short right field fence and a sharp slope in the far outfield. (Actually, with the lighting pole in right field, it doesn't even meet the minimum.) Meanwhile, Yarkon field is up to semiprofessional standards, with proper bleachers all around. I do appreciate the variety of experiences offered by the three parks, but a bit more work is still needed.

The announcers. Most of the announcers made an effort to announce the game in both English and Hebrew, with varying degrees of success. There was some inconsistency on terminology: Is an out "pasul" or "psilah"? (I prefer "psilah", but most announcers didn't.) Is an inning a "sivuv", "sevev" or "maarchon", or just an "inning"? At least agree on the glossary, folks. Some announcers announced the outcome of each play; others didn't. One actually summarized the game rules in Hebrew between innings - Kol Hakavod! Overall, the announcers were good, but they could have been better.

The upshot. It's easy to find fault with a new league in an unfamiliar environment for baseball. But when it comes down to it, I had a ball! I attended far more games than I imagined I would, and enjoyed just about every minute of it. I'm willing to view the problems as challenges, not failures, and look forward to an even better job next season.

Most importantly, I'm hoping the league goes from strength to strength, because I may have become addicted. (Hence this blog to get me through the off-season!)

Finally, some season post-mortems from the media:

And finally finally, (since ultimately I want to talk about stats), journalist Elli Wohlgelernter digs up the dirt behind the scenes of the IBL's first season:

Welcome to bIBLemetrics!

With the inaugural season of the Israel Baseball League behind us, I've just launched bIBLemetrics, a blog for Israel Baseball League statistical analysis.

I was a big baseball fan as a kid, but lost interest when I finished high school nearly 20 years ago. This year, partly thanks to the IBL, I'm back with a vengeance. And I'm returning to one of my childhood dreams: to be the next Bill James. Instead of going up against the experienced statheads of Baseball Prospectus, though, I can start with the field to myself, right here with the IBL.

If a statistical analyst of the MLB is a sabermetrician, it seems appropriate that the IBL should have iblemetricians. So that's what you can call me.

I've already downloaded the IBL's box scores and game logs (see the Scoreboards section of their website), and I'm working on the software to extract the data from them. Some of the questions I hope to address once I'm set up:

  • Park effects: Does Gezer Field inflate offense? If so, by how much? Do park effects change our assessment of who were the league's top players?
  • In general, did the most valuable player awards go to the right players?
  • What is the advantage to batting second (if there is one)? With two teams sharing each home field, we can compare games with the same venue but different "home" and "away" sides.
  • By how much does Beit Shemesh (or any other team) increase a game's attendance?
  • Any other questions on your mind that can be approached with baseball statistics?