The Fortnight in Confirmation Bias, 3/31-4/13

Mike McGinnis

Two weeks full of reminders that the things your brain tells you is true is sometimes super true.

Confirmation bias - "a tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses. People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way." (Wikipedia)

That's right - we're back in 2014 for more advanced analytical analysis in the realm of confirmation bias, the brain's way of completely bypassing advanced analytical analysis. Paradox! This year, each study will be done every other week, because "fortnight" is a tragically underused, beautiful word. And the whole quality versus quantity thing, you know?*

* As I write this, I realize almost everything written below is in reference to one night of action. Funny how that works.

Our last edition came after the Cardinals' dramatic yet absolutely predictable game 5 victory over the Pirates in the NLDS last October. We sour grape'd together in the wake of fate.

But it is 2014 now, and I'm sick of ragging on the Cardinals. That feels like a 2013 thing, and the rest of the league's fans seem to have caught on. The torch has been passed, and it's time for new endeavors. Like ragging on the Pirates. Or other old endeavors that the team we watch every day just won't let us forget.

This week we extoll the virtues of simply letting baseball happen, analyze Carlos Gomez' maniacal swinging, bask in the aura of Mike Stanton's forearms, and mourn the fall of yet another Brewers pitching prospect.

Maxim: Always let the game come to you.

This is kind of an odd expression in that it makes more sense the less you examine it. Personifying "game" leads to some strange abstract visualizations that can only lead to neural digressions that stray from the statement's intent. I've always interpreted it as "don't force anything." Just to keep from overthinking, tightening muscles, jumping at the baseball, etc.

On Saturday night the Brewers and Pirates provided a great case study for such a maxim in the late innings. In a tie game in the bottom of the 7th, the Brewers found themselves with runners on first and second with no outs and Scooter Gennett at the plate. Instead of allowing Gennett to approach the at-bat naturally against a possibly fatigued pitcher who just walked the previous batter, Gennett was ordered to lay a bunt down - even on 0-2 - to trade an out for moving the runners up a base. He did his job.

Tony Watson and his fresh arm got the next two batters in order to end the inning. The game was on its way, but the Brewers lost patience and tried to manufacture, or force, a run across. It didn't work.

In the top of the next frame the Pirates had a runner on 1st with one out and did not bunt. Even in a traditional sense it probably didn't make much sense with Travis Snider at the plate against Jim Henderson, but it's worth noting that instead of giving away an out, Snider swung away in a platoon advantage (like Gennett had) and singled to right, putting runners on the corners with one away. Then the Pirates tried to force it:

Forcingpirates_medium

In the bottom of the frame, the Brewers forced nothing. They took the lead after three straight singles from Braun, Ramirez, and Lucroy. Roenicke remained a patient bystander, and accordingly, the game trotted warmly into their arms. Or something weird like that.

Verdict: BIAS VALIDATED

Maxim: Carlos Gomez always swings. At everything.

Todd Rosiak over at JSOnline.com posted a short piece on Carlos' hot start as the Brewers' leadoff hitter on Friday. He quotes Ron Roenicke, whose comments I feel are strikingly appropriate:

"I knew he was going to be aggressive. I probably didn't even know he was going to be this aggressive. Last night, first pitch he sees, Cliff Lee knows he's going to be swinging at the first pitch, throws a fastball over the plate and he hits a bullet to right field.

"I keep watching him and he keeps squaring up balls, and it's not that easy to do. First pitch it's not that easy, but he keeps hammering the ball. So he's probably even a little better and more aggressive than I thought he'd be."

Last season, Gomez swung at 52.3% of first pitches he saw. That was far and away the highest percentage in the majors among qualifiers:

%
Carlos Gomez 52.3
Freddie Freeman
46.4
Yadier Molina 44.5
Pablo Sandoval 42.1
Miguel Cabrera 42.0
Josh Hamilton 41.8

Gomez is in surprisingly good company. Maybe he's on to something. His rate has spiked to an astonishing 55.4% to start the 2014 season (Aramis Ramirez is actually close behind at 53.8% - they are #1 and #2 in MLB). He has swung at the 3rd most total pitches he's seen (59.5%), and has swung at a league high 89.5% of the strikes he's seen. So yes, the data shows Carlos is still swinging a lot in certain situations. Even more than usual.

But he's actually managed to see more pitches per PA (3.57) than the likes of Prince Fielder (3.53), Albert Pujols (3.45), and Adrian Gonzalez (3.49), and is just a tick behind former Brewers' leadoff hitter Norichika Aoki (3.59). He's still in the bottom half of the league, but he's much higher on the list than I expected. Seems to me he's been swinging like crazy, but he's been doing it when he should be swinging like crazy. So far.

This makes the maxim seem a little ambiguous, which is no good. One isolated at-bat on Saturday night after a 4-pitch walk to Yovani Gallardo - the pitcher - returns the brain to its comfort zone:

Gomezswinging_medium

That's better.

Verdict: BIAS VALIDATED

Maxim: Pitching to Mike Stanton never works.

We covered this one last June. The Brewers haven't had to deal with Mike Stanton yet, but other teams have. This past Saturday, the Phillies pitched to Mike Stanton. It didn't work.

Stanton470_medium

The caption on the video says this traveled 470 feet. I think there may have been a mistake with the decimal point. But the Phillies had a three run lead and no one on base, so this doesn't hurt too badly. On paper. However, when he represents the tying run it's probably a good idea to not throw him a pitch like this one:

Stantonliner_medium

You know you've hit a ball hard when the third basemen ducks and the thing lands 20 rows back. A classic in-his-prime Rickie Weeks kind of home run. Before injuries and the inevitable death march of time stifled his legendary bat speed. If you look closely, you can see a spark of electricity jumping from Stanton's wrists.

More proof that energy cannot be created, only transferred.

Verdict: BIAS VALIDATED

Maxim: Brewers pitching prospects always crash and burn.

Usually this is a long process, highlighted by injuries or repeated attempts to suck talent out of someone that just doesn't exist. It is deflating and miserably depressing.

In Wily Peralta's case, it took a different form:

Peraltafinal1_medium_medium

Verdict: BIAS VALIDATED

-------------------------------------------------------

If you have any maxims in mind, post in the comments and I'll add them to the master list. So I can selectively choose them when they become relevant - for further virtuous analysis.

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