Don’t Shun Non-Technical Users – Teach Them

Working in tech support for a large electric company, I see customers with a wide variety of technical website issues – some issues are user error while other issues stem from a “blip” in a back-end process. Conservatively speaking, I’ve fielded between 2,000 and 2,500 technical website issues and, more often than not, it’s some combination of customer and company issue.

While my company trains our customer service representatives on how to use the website, who can do the same for customers in an attempt to reduce user error? If utilities are serious about catering to all customers, they should take the initiative and offer FREE, online, website navigation workshops for all customers who want to participate.

The obvious question you’re asking yourselves is: ‘what responsibility does a utility (or any company) have to educate its customers on how to use its website?’ Stakeholders would argue the company’s responsibility is to make money. If customers can’t use Company A’s website to pay their bill or view their daily usage, for example, assume that they’ll look for another company, Company B’s website, that does. I’m no economist but that can’t be good for Company A’s bottom line.

Or maybe a majority of customers don’t feel like they need to know the website or don’t believe a free workshop would help them anyway. Maybe they feel like it’s easier to simply call Customer Care who will submit a web form to Tech Support who will call them back in less than three business days.

But if there’s data supporting the fact that enough customers are struggling to figure out the exact same website functionalities, and said company has the resources and the means to educate them, it would be foolish for the company to dismiss those customers as “lost causes.”

Great, I’ve identified that there are customers who could have self-served on the website, but didn’t. Now what? If I was running the show, I would want my Tech Support person to sit down with my Training person and my Customer Service Supervisor and hash out a few things:

  1. What is the most frequent complaint that the Care Center hears (“I can’t pay my bill online”) AND;
  2. Does that align with the most common technical support issue (“I click ‘Submit’ on the Pay My Bill page and nothing happens”) AND, if so;
  3. How do I give the customer the knowledge and tools to work through the issue themselves, via an online workshop?

If it’s check and check, I would move forward with a pilot workshop to address the third item.

More on that in the next post…

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Analysis of Week 1 Featured Pick

If you made your picks based off of Section 426’s Week 1 post, some of you, namely the Survivor pool people, were really happy. Others, those who participate in a football pool with spreads are in play, not so much. Atlanta won the game but they didn’t cover the seven-point spread.

What I Got Right

With Chicago missing its top WR from last year, I had a good feeling they’d struggle moving the ball downfield. As it turns out, the Bears attempted one pass of more than 15 yards in the air – it was to the RB out of the backfield and it was incomplete. For comparison’s sake, the Falcons attempted three such passes, catching two of them for 106 yards and a TD. This was 88 yards of it in one fell swoop:

Zach Miller was targeted four times between the 20s, catching three passes for 28 yards. Two of those targets came on the Bears’ last drive of the game.

What I Got Wrong

Takkarist McKinley was a non-factor. He had two tackles. Oh and he told some really good jokes to his teammates on the sidelines. Lots of laughs.

Devonta Freeman had a TD, but don’t be fooled, he wasn’t “on.” Last year, the Bears surrendered the sixth-most rushing yards in the league (1,950) and the sixth-most rushing yards per game (121.9). Freeman managed 37 yards on 12 carries.

Featured Pick

Baltimore Ravens over Cleveland Browns (+8)

First off, I’m comfortable picking Baltimore over Cleveland in Survivor as well as ATS (against the spread) pools. Since 2010, Cleveland has only won one time in Baltimore. WR Mike Wallace scored two red zone TDs against Cleveland last year when the teams met in Baltimore. Now there’s no shutdown corner in Cleveland as Joe Haden is now playing for the Steelers. I know it’s only one week into the season but Baltimore’s defense is playing out of its ever-lovin’ mind: per Pro Football Reference, five takeaways and five sacks and kudos to you if you started the Ravens defense in fantasy last week.

How does that saying go? You can take Jared out of Fantasy Football but you can’t take Fantasy Football out of Section 426.

Prediction: Baltimore 24, Cleveland 3

Football Pools: As Fun As Fantasy Leagues

I gaze out the living room window on a surprisingly cool and rainy late August morning. I just finished my second cup of coffee and I’m feeling a bit relieved. Not only because I sidestepped a caffeine (or lack of caffeine) headache one more day, but because I’m not playing in a Fantasy Football league this year.

Like many fantasy gamers, I have an undiagnosed case of FFOCD (Fantasy Football Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder). This year, however, I sought help for the debilitating disorder. Well not really help in the classic sense of the term. I just decided not to join a Fantasy league. Instead, I organized a less time-consuming football pool – there’s a favorite and an underdog, the favorite “gives points” to the underdog, pick who wins the game. That’s it.

Now it wouldn’t be a Section 426 post without an attempt at number-crunching, would it? With the first game of the regular season nine days away, I’ll try to predict 2017 Week 1 performance based on Week 1 performances from 2016 and 2015. Apples and oranges (and bananas) you say? Maybe not.

Featured Pick

Atlanta Falcons over Chicago Bears (+7)

Chicago was a 6.5-point “home dog” in 2015 to Green Bay and they lost 31 – 23. They were a 4.5-point underdog in Houston last year and lost 23 – 14. The Bears just lost their primary WR, Cameron Meredith, for the season. Here’s why that’s important. According to Pro Football Reference, Meredith led the team with 77 targets for nearly 750 yards and 3 TDs between the 20s (in other words, a majority of the field). Who’s going to pick up the slack for the Bears? TE Zach Miller? Maybe. In comparison, Miller was targeted 49 times for almost 400 yards and zero TDs between the 20s last year. Zach Miller has also not been what you’d call good in Week 1 the past two seasons. In 2015, he really wasn’t the featured TE, in the game for only 11 offensive plays. But last year he was in the game for 77% of offensive plays and caught 3 passes on 4 targets for 14 yards. One more thing about this game that I think is significant is Atlanta had a really horrible pass defense last year so they drafted Takkarist McKinley, a defensive end out of UCLA, who I see causing problems for a shaky starter in Mike Glennon.

Two words: Devonta Freeman. Five more words: Matt Ryan. Chip on shoulder.

Prediction: Atlanta 31, Chicago 17

Stay tuned for more Featured Picks throughout the season, unless I really botch this one.

Flopping FIPers as a Formula for Victory?

Lefties hit righties and vice versa and I don’t mean that in a political way. The effects of hitters playing in their home park versus away from home is marginal improvement, at best. With all the data flying around out there in the sports world, I refuse to believe there’s no way to determine if a hitter is going to hit safely. In my first full season of MLB.com’s Beat the Streak, I’m going to put on my analyst’s hat and try to come up with an algorithm to predict if a batter will hit safely.

There may be tweaking going forward but here’s what I surmise right now: choose hitters who have above average Weighted On-Base Averages, or wOBA, against starting pitchers who have below-average Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) numbers. Since I’m not looking to project a full season, I only want to cover a narrow scope so I’m only including data over the past seven days.

FIP

For today, the two starters I’m targeting are Masahiro Tanaka and Jhoulys Chacin who, over the past seven days, have the third and fourth highest FIPs. (In case you’re wondering, the first and second highest FIP starters are not in action.)

In addition to Home vs. Away and Left vs. Right, here’s what else I’m NOT targeting in this first algorithm:

    • Batting average
    • Earned-run average
    • Head-to-head matchup
    • Strikeout rate
    • Contact type generated (e.g. fly ball, ground ball, etc.)

The hitters I’m targeting, Adam Jones and Brandon Belt have above average wOBAs. While it’s a small sample size to examine, I’m hoping to ride their hot streaks a little bit longer before they regress to the mean.

Let’s see what happens.

Playing Hit and Run With Line-Drive Rates

Balls in play can travel one of three ways: on the ground, on a line drive (minimal arc) or on a fly ball (deeper arc). In its description of batted balls, FanGraphs says: “Generally speaking, line drives go for hits most often, ground balls go for hits more often than fly balls, and fly balls are more productive than ground balls when they do go for hits (i.e. extra base hits).”

Do line drives really go for hits most often? For argument’s sake, let’s just say they do. That being the case, I proposed this thesis:

1. The team that hits the most line drives will also score the most runs in their respective league.

After some research, I found that only three times since 2012 has a league line-drive percentage leader also finished in the top five in runs scored (Detroit Tigers in 2013 and 2014, and the St. Louis Cardinals in 2013).

So there went that theory. But I wanted to dig a little deeper (shocker, I know) and came up with a revised thesis:

1a. Line drives are directly responsible for more runs for a team than their fly ball or ground ball counterparts.

I tested this statement in the American and National Leagues, using a small, seven-day sample size. The Tigers and the San Francisco Giants were the teams I chose since they were leading their respective leagues in line-drive percentage at the time this data was compiled.

I also took some liberties when considering what batted balls to count. For example, I didn’t count pop ups or line drives to an infielder, since neither of those outcomes typically result in a run scored. Sacrifice flies were counted as fly balls, even if the ball’s arc was flat. As far as what constituted a line drive and what constituted a fly ball, I based it off MLB.com’s play-by-play application.

Here were my results, displayed in a chart:
Continue reading

Phils’ Relievers Keeping Hitters Off-Balance With High K/9

Most baseball experts would agree that the strikeout is the worst possible result for a team batting – an out is recorded, no runs score, and no base runners advance. While ERA is the “sexy” pitching stat, it’s strikeouts-to-innings pitched that can tell you how effective a relief pitcher is at keeping runs off the board and base runners where they stand.

Rick Ingalls, a scout with the Cincinnati Reds, prefers strikeouts-to-innings pitched, or K/9, to similar metrics to gauge the efficacy of relief pitchers. “It means there must be a fastball or a slider or split-finger, whatever the pitcher throws, [and] he’s missing bats,” said Ingalls. “If a reliever has a plus fastball (velocity) and a plus slider, they have a chance to pitch out of the bullpen in the big leagues because their stuff is above average.”

Of course a team’s relievers’ K/9 metric won’t determine overall success or failure, but the Phillies relief corps has been a surprising bright spot this season. So I wanted to see where the team’s relievers stood in K/9 through March/April this season and last season, with respect to the March/April National League averages.

Source: Fangraphs

As you can see from the chart, the Phillies relievers are above average so far this year for K/9, ranking third in the NL behind the Cubs and Mets.

While not taking any credit away from the Phils, their relievers’ K/9 may be slightly inflated. They’ve pitched against two teams so far (Brewers and Padres) whose plate appearances end in a strikeout a quarter of the time (25.9% and 25.3% respectively). These numbers are also worst in the NL.

Can the Phils’ relievers keep this pace up with respect to K/9, or will it normalize to league average by the All Star break? Let me know what you think.

7 Phillies Pivotal for an Improbable Playoff Push

Phillies fans know the next parade we can look forward to in Philadelphia will be the one that takes place next month. But revelers fans will be decked out in green instead of red for St. Patrick’s Day.

The staunchest of Phillies’ fans knows the odds of a World Series victory in 2016 are slim to none. A playoff spot, however, is entirely within reach and here’s why.

According to projections from USA Today, the 2016 Phillies will win 61 games this season, finishing 27 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers for the second wildcard spot (88 wins). Fangraphs, a baseball statistics website, is a bit more bullish, projecting the Phightins to win 66 games, finishing 19 games behind the San Francisco Giants and New York Mets for the second wildcard spot (85 wins).

For argument’s sake, let’s just say the Phils perform much better than expected and post a high-70/low-80 win total. Then let’s say those three teams, the Dodgers, Giants and Mets, have underwhelming seasons and end up in the high-70/low-80-win range. The playoffs don’t seem like such a long shot if things break this way, do they? Minor and major injuries are an almost certainty in a 162-game season, so let’s remove them from the equation. Injuries aside, here are seven key players whose performance could determine the team’s success in 2016.

Offense

  • Continued Improvement of 3B Maikel Franco – his walk rate (+6.1%), strikeout rate (-6.9%), and hard-hit ball percentage (+19.4%) all improved in 2015 over his September 2014 debut. If he can hit better to the opposite field (something Ryan Howard had problems with in his career), that would bode remarkably well for the team’s run production.
  • 1B/OF Darin Ruf Finally Gets It – Fangraphs doesn’t think he’ll “play enough to hit double-digit home runs” but I couldn’t disagree more. All signs point to him serving as the right-handed counterpart in a first base platoon with Ryan Howard. Last season, Ruf hit eight home runs against left-handed pitchers in limited action. If he gets every opportunity to hit lefties, as I suspect he will, he could easily double his HR output from last year.
  • El Torito Is the New Flyin’ Hawaiian But Better:
    • Shane Victorino’s 1st full season (2006): 462 plate appearances, .287/.346/.414, 6 HR, 46 RBI, 70 R, 4 SB, .128 ISO, .334 wOBA, 12.5 Def, 2.7 WAR
    • Odubel Herrera (2015): 537 plate appearances, .297/.344/.418, 8 HR, 41 RBI, 64 R, 16 SB, .121 ISO, .333 wOBA, 11.7 Def, 3.9 WAR

Statistically they’re eerily similar. Much like Victorino, Herrera is a prototypical leadoff man, but his strikeout percentage is way too high (24%). The Phils need El Torito to show more patience at the plate in 2016. He needs to cut his strikeout percentage in half, at least, and take more walks per plate appearance. The more he’s on base, the more potential runs he can score on hits by the middle of the batting order. While he can certainly steal a base to get into scoring position, he absolutely has the speed to score from first on an extra-base hit.

Of course three players don’t make a team. They’ll need help from the entire 40-man roster, including relief pitchers.

Pitching

Word on the street is the Phillies bullpen is going to struggle this year. The idea is plausible considering they lost one of the best young closers in the game, Ken Giles, in a trade with Houston. To remedy that situation, the Phils brought in four veteran arms to help stabilize the back-end of the bullpen – guys who have been successful there in the past: Andrew Bailey, Edward Mujica, Ernesto Frieri, and David Hernandez.

  • All Star Return to Form – Bailey was an All Star in 2010 with the Oakland A’s. According to Fangraphs, he had success throwing his fastball 69% of the time and his cutter 20% of the time. He had similar success with those splits in 2011 (76%/16%).In 2012, he started to unravel. Those splits became 57%/30% in Fenway Park in Boston. Bailey wasn’t able to locate his cutter for strikes as his walks-per-9-innings went from 2.59 to 4.70, a significant increase for him.

    In addition to control problems, he was also the victim of bad luck. What were fly ball outs in Oakland became home runs in hitter-friendly Boston as his 3% jump in HR-to-fly ball ratio suggests.

    The good news is that, while pitching for the New York Yankees last season, the velocity on his fastball was around the same as it was in 2010 (about 1 mph less). If he can throw his fastball more and use his curveball, not his cutter, as his secondary pitch, he may be a key cog in the bullpen this season.

  • Watch the Relievers FIP Out – ERA is one of the common metrics used to gauge a pitcher’s effectiveness but it doesn’t isolate their performance. That’s where Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) comes into play.While they’re similar metrics, FIP only considers what a pitcher can control: strikeouts, walks, hit-by-pitches, and home runs allowed. Anything that requires the defense to make a play (e.g. fly ball, ground ball) is removed from this equation.

                                      2010       2011       2012       2013       2014       2015                                 FIP                          3.99        3.83        3.79        3.70        3.60      3.68

    Ernesto Frieri        2.92        3.28           X             3.72        X           6.39

    Edward Mujica      3.88        3.20        3.65        3.71        3.70        5.12

    In 2010 and 2011, these two relievers had outstanding FIPs. One of them should be able to handle the setup role this season for the new closer, David Hernandez.

  • Closing Time – Depending on how he performs in spring training, Hernandez will likely get the nod as the Opening Day closer.The disparity between his strikeouts per nine innings and walks per nine innings has been good throughout his career (9 K to 4 BB). In 2012, his secondary pitch, the curveball (34%), was an above-average pitch. In 2013, a down year for him, he didn’t make any changes to those fastball-curveball splits so I think he became predictable to hitters.

    While he doesn’t need to have Ken Giles’ fastball to rack up saves, I think the team could benefit from him mixing up his two-seam fastball (50%) better with his four-seam fastball (11%).

Even if these seven players outperform expectations, the Phillies are and should be considered long shots for the playoffs this season. The fact that personnel decisions are now being made by someone with half a brain, though, should give us fans much hope for seasons beyond this one.