Baseball Crank
"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
March 30, 2012
BASEBALL: 2011 EWSL Wrapup By Team

The second piece of the puzzle (after the below) in preparing my annual Established Win Shares Levels previews is to review the prior year's team results. I'll present these without much comment for now; the teams are sorted by how their 2011 pre-season rosters stacked up against their EWSL, with the later columns showing how they plugged the gaps with guys not listed before the season. I'll go back and update this later with how this affects the cumulative team adjustments.

TeamEWSL2011 WSPlus/MinusWinsWSRest of TeamRest-W

UPDATE: As you can see from the above, MLB-wide, teams earned 1174 Win Shares, or 39.13 per team, from the rest of their rosters, the least since 2006. Results year-by-year since I started tracking results at a team level:

2005: 1067 (35.57)
2006: 1143 (38.10)
2007: 1260 (42.00)
2008: 1226 (40.87)
2009: 1221 (40.70)
2010: 1247 (41.57)
2011: 1174 (39.13)
Total: 8338 (39.70)

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:55 PM | Baseball 2012-14 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: EWSL 2012 Age and Rookie Baselines

It's that time of year again - it gets later every year - for my division previews powered by Established Win Shares Levels (originally explained here): before we get to rolling out the 2012 EWSLs, I have to update the age adjustments and rookie values I use each year. These are based on the data I have gathered over the past eight seasons, and so with each passing year, one would hope they become progressively more stable and useful in evaluating the established talent base on hand for each team entering each season. As a reminder: EWSL is not a prediction system. It's a way of assessing the resources on hand.

To my mind, the age data is actually some of the most interesting stuff from this whole project, arguably more useful than the annual team previews, because it's a mostly objective (albeit unscientific) dataset that gives us a different look at the aging curve from the perspective of the guys who look like they have roster spots in March and April of each year.

I'll skip some more of the usual preliminaries (see this post from 2010 explaining more) and get right to the charts:

Non-Pitchers 2011 and 2004-2011:

2011 NP04-11

The younger age cohorts, as usual, were volatile due to their small sample size. Among the 20somethings, the 28 year olds got hit the hardest (led by Joe Mauer, David Wright, Shin-Soo Choo, Kendry Morales, Casey McGeehee, Stephen Drew and Franklin Gutierrez), while the 26 year olds did the best (led by Matt Kemp, Matt Joyce, Emilio Bonifacio, and Melky Cabrera); the 31 year olds (led by Adam Dunn, Adam LaRoche, Felipe Lopez, Juan Uribe and Ryan Spilborghs) and 33 year olds (led by Chone Figgins, Marlon Byrd, Rafael Furcal, and Luke Scott) also took it on the chin, and as has been the pattern since the end of the steroid/Barry Bonds age, the over-35 crowd did more poorly than the overall results since 2004.

Pitchers 2011 and 2004-2011:

2011 P2011 Total

Besides the youngest arms, the 26 year olds (led by Ian Kennedy, Justin Masterson, Eric O'Flaherty, Fernando Salas and David Robertson) and 35 year olds (led by Kyle Farnsworth, Scott Downs, Freddy Garcia, and Joel Peralta) had the best 2011 showings; the 24 year olds (led by Tommy Hanson, Jaime Garcia, Tommy Hunter and Brian Matusz) and 27 year olds (led by Josh Johnson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Andrew Bailey, Joakim Soria, Jonathan Broxton, and Kevin Slowey) the worst aside from an overall decay above age 30.

We wrap up with the rookie adjustments:


Type of Player# in 2011WS in 2011# 2004-11WS 2004-11Rate
Everyday Players9827579310.57
Bench Players (Under 30)416702693.84
Bench Players (Age 30+)00430.75
Rotation Starters28341464.29
Relief Pitchers611241074.46
Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:50 PM | Baseball 2012-14 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
March 29, 2012
LAW/POLITICS: A Word About Charles Fried

Charles Fried has suddenly become a very popular fellow on the Left. The former Reagan Solicitor General and Bill Weld appointee to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is being touted by the Washington Post's in-house left-wing activists Greg Sargent and Ezra Klein, as well as ThinkProgress and Media Matters and its frenetic professional tweeters Eric Boehlert and Oliver Willis over Professor Fried's support for the constitutionality of Obamacare. Dahlia Lithwick went further, using Prof. Fried's prediction of an 8-1 decision as evidence that "[t]he conservative legal elites don't believe in the merits of this challenge". It's not surprising that these folks are in such a rush to get the cover of a former Reagan lawyer to restore their talking point - now in tatters after a week of serious, sober and probing questioning from the Supreme Court - that only an extremist would think there is any constitutional issue at all with Obamacare. But there are some things they're not telling you about Charles Fried.

Now, let me preface this by saying that I have a lot of respect for Prof. Fried. He was my constitutional law professor and probably the best teacher I had in law school, a brilliant man who had taught just about every area of law under the sun and was especially talented at bringing together the strands of disparate areas of the law. I read his book about his days as the SG before I started law school, and I respected his willingness - as a guy who is not pro-life - to argue, twice, for overturning Roe v Wade. He was also the faculty adviser for the Law School Republicans, which I headed for a time. Prof. Fried has indeed been, in the past, a longstanding member of the GOP legal establishment; he testified in favor of John Roberts' Supreme Court confirmation, and in 2006 wrote a NY Times op-ed defending his former deputy, Samuel Alito, as "not a lawless zealot but a careful lawyer with the professionalism to give legally sound but unwelcome advice" and "a person who can tell the difference between the law and his own political predilections."

But if you think brilliant people can't be horribly wrong, you have not spent much time studying lawyers and the law. And if you've been reading the left-wing activists, you might not have learned that the 76-year-old Prof. Fried has not only been a vigorous defender of Obamacare who famously testified that the federal government could mandate that you buy vegetables and join a gym, he also voted for President Obama and wrote him what amounted to a political love letter last summer, wrote a book in 2010 with his son which he characterized as showing that the Bush Administration's anti-terrorism policies "broke the law" and were "disgusting and terrible and degrading," and has been a vociferous critic of the Tea Party.

Read More »

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:00 PM | Law 2009-14 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
March 23, 2012
POLITICS: Meanwhile, Bobby Jindal Wins Again

The GOP's national leadership - including the presidential candidates stumping today in Louisiana - may be uninspiring, but the GOP governors continue to roll. Bobby Jindal last night just scored another victory with the passage through the Louisiana House of a landmark school choice bill (the bill still awaits action from the LA Senate), before proceeding to debate a second bill that tightens teacher tenure standards:

In a victory for Gov. Bobby Jindal, the Louisiana House of Representatives approved a bill Thursday night that would expand state aid for some students to switch from struggling public schools to private and parochial classrooms.

The vote was 61-42 after nearly 12 hours of debate.

Jindal still faces a tough fight - some of the legislators who voted for the bill also voted for an amendment limiting the use of local (as opposed to state) tax dollars for vouchers that could cross local district lines, and opponents are vowing a constitutional challenge. But then, reform is never easy.

For more on why Jindal is one of the nation's very best governors, this long wide-ranging interview discusses not just his education reform proposals but also his pension reform fight. Excerpt:

[B]efore we discuss any change, we have to understand that the status quo is not sustainable: $18.5 billion [Unfunded Accrued Liability]. We're spending already over $2 billion dollars a year [for retirement programs]. If we do nothing, the UAL will go up by $3 billion.

Let's look at the alternative. If we do nothing, there really are just three alternatives. One is that we break our promise to employees, which we're not willing to do. Second is that we devastate critical services like education and health care. We're not willing to do that. Third is that we simply raise taxes on our people. We're not willing to do that as well. Some would say, "Well, why tackle these hard reforms? Constitutionally, you don't have to pay off the UAL until 2029." I think that's irresponsible.


When you look historically at the 1980s, taxpayers were paying for 60% of the retirement program's cost. Workers were paying 40%. That was considered a fair balance. Today taxpayers are paying 75% and the employees are only paying 25% of the retirement costs. Even with all the reforms that we've proposed, we're not going back to 60/40, even with the savings for taxpayers. You're still looking at a ... two-thirds, one-third split. So taxpayers are still paying for two-thirds of the retirement program. I think a better question, another way to ask that question, would be, "Why didn't you go back to 60/40, why not cut the taxpayers contributions to 60%?"...

I think that if you go and ask the average taxpayer, "Hey, look, you guys used to pay 60% of the retirement cost; today you're paying 75%. Don't you think you should get a little bit more of your money back?" I think, absolutely. I think their money should go back to them. Whether it's in tax cuts, whether it's investments in education, whether it's investments in health care. Because what has happened over the last several years is, those investments have been crowded out as the [state retirement contribution] share has gone up. What has happened is, instead of being able to pay for classrooms and instead of being able to pay for health care, instead of being able to pay for tax cuts, taxpayers have been forced to pay for retirement costs.

Finally, in case you missed it, a Jindal tour de force on energy:

Gov. Bobby Jindal on Energy from Republican Governors Association on Vimeo.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:18 PM | Politics 2012 | Comments (15) | TrackBack (0)
March 22, 2012
BASEBALL: Negro League Stats Are Here! has at long last started publishing Negro League stats. It's a glorious day. They're a work in progress, a lot less complete than those at other sites, but I assume that's due to a superior commitment to accuracy.

Take a look at Satchel Paige's stats. There are more detailed numbers for Paige in Larry Tye's biography, which I highly recommend both for that reason and because Paige is a helluva story and a compelling character who both symbolizes and transcends his era. Anyway, look at Paige's strikeout rates, from 11.5 K/9 in 1927 to 10.2 K/9 in 1945. Even given the sometimes uneven levels of competition and the fact that some of these are small samples of his innings, it's just extraordinary to have those strikeout rates under the playing conditions of that era, with little or no night baseball and players still - just as in the white Major Leagues - taking a more contact-based approach than they would from the mid-1950s on. Indeed, even into his mid-40s, Paige would have some of the highest strikeout rates in the American League of his time. I mean some time to do a longer look at Paige's career through the lens of the various numbers; there's so much to work with even given the difficulty of putting it all quite into context. Paige was a rotation starter from age 20 in 1927 in Birmingham, yet by 1956-58, at age 49-51, he was still a swing man for the AAA Miami Marlins. Paige was 11-4 with a 1.86 ERA in 1956, posted a 2.42 ERA and a 6.91 K/BB ratio in 1957; over the three seasons in Miami, in 33 starts and 72 relief appearances, Paige threw 340 innings, went 31-22 with a 2.41 ERA and averaged 0.71 HR, 1.43 BB and 5.16 K/9. Paige made his last professional appearance in A ball in 1966 as a teammate of Johnny Bench.

Anyway, I'll be excited to see the site build out more stats - most of us have a pretty good idea of what Paige's and Josh Gibson's talents look like when translated into something like a real stat line, but many other Negro League stars are fuzzier in popular memory (Oscar Charleston and John Henry Lloyd in particular are guys who deserve to be more vividly remembered - there's every reason to think that Charleston was on the same level with the other all time great CF talents like Mays, Mantle, Cobb, Speaker, and DiMaggio).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:15 AM | Baseball 2012-14 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
March 21, 2012
POLITICS: Red State, Blue State, Mitt State, Newt State

How has the popular vote differed in the 2012 GOP primary if you break out the states by their track record in recent presidential elections? It turns out that there are some distinct patterns, patterns that provide both good and bad news for a GOP contemplating a general election behind Mitt Romney.

Let's start with the 13 "Red" states (i.e., the states won by the GOP in the last 3 presidential elections) to vote so far: SC, MO, AZ, WY, AK, GA, ID, ND, OK, TN, KS, AL & MS. Here's how the vote breaks down, out of 4,052,212 votes cast:

Newt 30.4% (2 wins)
Romney 30.2% (4 wins)
Santorum 29.1% (7 wins)
Paul 8.5%

If we combine the votes for the 5 conservative and two moderate candidates as explained here*, we get the following:

Conservative bloc: 60.3%
Moderate bloc: 30.4%

Unsurprisingly, Romney has struggled in solidly Republican states, where the conservative vote has outpolled him 2-to-1, but the division in that vote means that he, Newt and Santorum have run almost in a 3-way heat, with Newt actually narrrowly in the lead (Santorum will probably close the gap on Saturday). The good news is, unless the Romney campaign really collapses, he's likely to win most of these states against Obama anyway. The bad news is, there are a lot of down-ticket GOP officeholders who could suffer if Romney isn't able to energize voters in these states.

Then we have the 8 Blue states (states won by the Democrats the past 3 elections) to vote so far: MN, ME, MI, WA, MA, VT, HI, & IL, in which 2,460,097 votes have been cast. Unsurprisingly, these states present a diametrically opposite picture:

Romney 47.3% (7 wins)
Santorum 32.4% (1 win)
Paul 11.5%
Newt 7.0%

Moderate bloc: 47.5%
Conservative bloc: 39.9%

Romney's run much closer to a majority with voters in blue territory, who are accustomed to making a lot of compromises in search of electable candidates; Ron Paul has also run a lot stronger in these states, while Newt has been a complete non-factor with GOP electorates that tend to be mistrustful of the role of Southerners in the party's leadership. That doesn't mean there's no market for conservatives, as the Pennsylvanian Santorum has actually done better in blue states than red ones.

Then there's the 7 Purple or Swing states, each won by each party at least once in the last 3 elections. Excluding Virginia, which skews the sample because the conservatives were not even on the ballot, that leaves IA, NH, FL, NV, CO, & OH, in which 3,345,072 votes have been cast:

Read More »

Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:00 PM | Politics 2012 • | Poll Analysis | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
March 20, 2012
POLITICS: Trayvon Martin And Perspective


On February 26 in a suburb of Orlando, a Hispanic man, George Zimmerman, shot to death an unarmed African-American teenager, Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman was on neighborhood watch, carrying a pistol. "Zimmerman spotted Martin as he was patrolling his neighborhood on a rainy evening and called 911 to report a suspicious person. Against the advice of the 911 dispatcher, Zimmerman then followed Martin, who was walking home from a convenience store with a bag of Skittles in his pocket." To date, Zimmerman has not been arrested, but after a media outcry, local and federal grand jury investigations have been opened. Zimmerman contends that he shot Martin in self-defense; there are no eyewitnesses and the details are murky, but at least one witness overheard a confrontation. Presumably, further investigation will be needed before prosecutors can build a case that does not leave the claim of self-defense surrounded by a cloud of reasonable doubt, ending with a Casey Anthony type verdict. There's been some discussion about Florida's particularly strong self-defense law, but in any state in the Union, if a jury believes there is a real possibility that Zimmerman acted in self-defense, he'd be acquitted, and if the jury doesn't, he'd be convicted.

The Martin case is a legitimate local news story, of the type that crops up now and then - in major cities like New York, where I live, we have multiple crime stories a year that involve sensational or particularly tragic facts and - at least at the outset - a significant possibility that injustice will be done either to the victim, the defendant, or both. Such cases test public confidence in the competence and fairness of local law enforcement, and sometimes find both to be wanting.

But the media feeding frenzy over this particular story - one out of the thousands of homicides in this country - in apparent response to a left-wing campaign to keep it in the national news, reflects at best a loss of perspective and at worst a cynical effort to inflame racial division in an election year.

Read More »

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:00 PM | Politics 2012 | Comments (37) | TrackBack (0)
March 14, 2012
POLITICS: Mitt Romney: Winning, But Not Getting More Popular (The Popular Vote, March 10-13)

After last night's contests, it's time to update my running tallies of the popular vote in the GOP presidential primary and see what further conclusions can be drawn. I continue to break out the votes in three groups - the five conservative candidates (Santorum, Gingrich, Perry, Bachmann and Cain), the two moderate candidates (Romney and Hunstman) and the libertarian (Paul) - for reasons explained in my last post. Also, the numbers through Super Tuesday have changed slightly from the last post, as more complete tallies in some states have become available. This time I'm including the Wyoming results in the totals, but not the tiny vote totals from the territories (the Northern Mariana Islands and U.S. Virgin Islands; no popular vote totals are available from Guam or American Samoa).

I. Popular Vote Totals To Date

Let's look at how the week of contests since Super Tuesday stacks up against the popular vote count up to then:

CandidateVotes Thru 3/6%Votes 3/10-3/13%TOTAL%
Romney 3,238,971 39.2% 275,023 29.3% 3,513,994 38.2%
Santorum 2,082,469 25.2% 323,184 34.5% 2,405,653 26.1%
Gingrich 1,820,340 22.0% 273,927 29.2% 2,094,267 22.8%
Paul 926,245 11.2% 48,610 5.2% 974,855 10.6%
Huntsman 66,544 0.8% 1,467 0.2% 68,011 0.7%
Perry 43,834 0.5% 3,171 0.3% 47,005 0.5%
Bachmann 19,786 0.2% 2,616 0.3% 22,402 0.2%
Cain 13,601 0.2% 39 0.0% 13,640 0.1%
Conservatives 3,980,030 48.2% 602,937 64.3% 4,582,967 49.8%
Moderates 3,305,515 40.0% 276,490 29.5% 3,582,005 38.9%
Libertarians 926,245 11.2% 48,610 5.2% 974,855 10.6%
TOTAL 8,263,696 937,477 9,201,173

Let's take a different angle and break that out by month:

Romney 1,071,678 40.5% 741,495 39.8% 1,700,821 36.3%
Santorum 378,995 14.3% 692,296 37.1% 1,334,362 28.4%
Gingrich 817,770 30.9% 160,360 8.6% 1,116,137 23.8%
Paul 278,729 10.5% 215,023 11.5% 481,103 10.3%
Huntsman 50,049 1.9% 2,817 0.2% 15,145 0.3%
Perry 23,592 0.9% 6,293 0.3% 17,120 0.4%
Bachmann 10,856 0.4% 3,480 0.2% 8,066 0.2%
Cain 10,046 0.4% 3,555 0.2% 39 0.0%
Conservatives 1,241,259 47.0% 865,984 47.4% 2,475,724 53.0%
Moderates 1,121,727 42.5% 744,312 40.8% 1,715,966 36.7%
Libertarians 278,729 10.6% 215,023 11.8% 481,103 10.3%
TOTAL 2,641,715 1,825,319 4,672,793

Read More »

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:30 PM | Politics 2012 • | Poll Analysis | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
March 12, 2012
POLITICS: Can Republicans Win In 2012 Without Leadership?


Fred Barnes, who is nothing if not plugged in to the thinking of leading Beltway Republicans, looks at how the Congressional GOP plans to work with the presidential nominee:

Republicans would like to revive party unity and repeat the Reagan-Kemp success story. House speaker John Boehner and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell are planning to confer with the Republican nominee, once one emerges. Their aim: agreement on a joint agenda.

McConnell has specific ideas about what the presidential candidate and Republicans in both houses of Congress should promote. "Obamacare should be the number one issue in the campaign," he says. "I think it's the gift that keeps on giving."

Next are the deficit and national debt. These, in turn, would make entitlement and tax reform important issues against Obama. "We're not interested in small ball," McConnell says.

And there's another Republican initiative on Capitol Hill aimed at thwarting President Obama and Democrats. Republicans plan to keep up a steady stream of bills and proposals, mostly coming from the House, to foil the charge that Obama's policies have been undercut by a "do-nothing Congress" - that is, a Republican Congress.

Even considering the fact that McConnell has to play coy due to the fact that there's as yet no nominee, you will notice what is missing in this picture: the idea that the nominee himself, now most likely Mitt Romney, will have any ideas of his own to which Congressional Republicans will have to accommodate themselves. This is part of a broader pattern: outside of the party's most moderate precincts - where Romney is seen as a bulwark against conservatives - Republicans who have resigned themselves to Romney have done so, more or less, on the theory that he can be brought around to do things the party's various constituencies want him to do. This is the opposite of the thing we normally look for in a president: leadership in setting the agenda of the party and the country. As such, it represents an experiment, or at least a throwback to the late-19th century model of how the presidency operates. Can the GOP beat Barack Obama and run the country the next four years without presidential leadership?

Read More »

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:30 PM | Politics 2012 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)
March 8, 2012
BASEBALL: A's Losing The Real Moneyball

I generally avoid business of baseball stories, but I've covered this one for years and it remains extremely frustrating. Bill Madden and Maury Brown look at how the San Francisco Giants are using their 'territorial' rights to keep the Oakland A's stuck in the dilapidated Coliseum by refusing to let them move to the less economically depressed San Jose following the collapse of their plan (hatched in 2006, seemingly endorsed at the polls in 2008, but abandoned in early 2009) to move to Fremont.

Brown speculates that Bud Selig favors the San Jose move as a way to increase revenues around the league, but lacks the votes among the owners to strip the Giants of their veto power. Madden:

To strip the Giants of their territorial rights to San Jose would require a three-quarters vote of the clubs, and as one baseball lawyer observed: "Clubs would realize what a terrible 'there but for the grace of God go us' precedent that would create in which all of their territorial rights would then be in jeopardy." As an example of that, one can't imagine the Yankees, Mets or Phillies voting to take the Giants' territorial rights to San Jose away when it could conceivably open the doors for a team seeking to re-locate to New Jersey.

Brown echoes this: "If the A's get to relo to San Jose, what's to say that the Rays don't wind up in Northern New Jersey, next?"

This is always a concern about precedent-setting by majority vote, but the situations are not at all comparable, because the A's are already in the Giants' market and are trying to move 35 miles further away. There is simply no fairness or equity argument you can make, in that sense, for the Giants' position. The more sinister implication here is that the Giants are playing a game of brinksmanship in hopes of capturing the ultimate prize: kicking the already-twice-moved A's out of Northern California entirely (and maybe even out of MLB), so the Giants can scoop up their fans. It would be hard to come up with a scenario that makes the territorial-rights concept less sympathetic than that.

On the other hand, the Giants' owners have an entirely reasonable point that they paid for those territorial rights when they bought the team:

The Giants' territorial rights to San Jose are part of the MLB constitution as a result of former A's owner, Levi-Strauss heir Wally Haas agreeing to cede them in 1989 to Giants owner Bob Lurie, who, frustrated in his efforts to get a new stadium in San Francisco, was looking to relocate the team....

Lurie never did try to move the Giants to San Jose, but the fact that he now held those territorial rights to the rich high-tech Silicon Valley enhanced the Giants' value, and was a prime reason why Lurie, who bought the Giants in 1976 for $8 million, was able to sell them for $100 million in 1993 to a group headed by former Safeway magnate Peter Magowan. The San Jose rights were also the reason why Magowan was able to secure financing for the new ballpark in San Francisco, as the Giants now maintain the crux of their constituency - season box and suite holders - is from the Silicon Valley.

The A's note, in a press release quoted by Brown, that this is a case of no good deed going unpunished, and imply that they have some legal basis for challenging the continuance of the Giants' rights after they failed to relocate the team:

Of the four two-team markets in MLB, only the Giants and A's do not share the exact same geographic boundaries. MLB-recorded minutes clearly indicate that the Giants were granted Santa Clara, subject to relocating to the city of Santa Clara. The granting of Santa Clara to the Giants was by agreement with the A's late owner Walter Haas, who approved the request without compensation. The Giants were unable to obtain a vote to move and the return of Santa Clara to its original status was not formally accomplished.

Only baseball's longstanding antitrust exemption permits the existence of territorial rights in the first place; if the A's were mounting some sort of challenge, I assume they'd have to show that the extension of the rights were conditioned on moving the Giants, and given how much Magowan paid for the Giants and the argument that the team's value was significantly enhanced by its territorial rights, I'd be surprised if he didn't do extremely careful due diligence to determine that they were bulletproof.

In a logical universe, Selig would be able to organize a vote to strip the Giants of their veto power over the San Jose move in exchange for arranging financial compensation to the Giants ownership, perhaps to be paid in part by the A's and in part out of the revenue-sharing fund; the league could conceivably even assign a neutral arbitrator to assign a value to the compensation. This doesn't have to be a zero-sum game of chicken between the two Bay Area rivals.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:30 PM | Baseball 2012-14 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
March 7, 2012
POLITICS: Super Tuesday By The Numbers

The voting is over, and so for the most part is the counting. The delegate math, I leave to others; let's take a look at how the popular vote has shaped up over the course of this primary season and what conclusions we can draw. First, the overall popular vote before Super Tuesday, on Super Tuesday, and to date.* In addition to listing the candidates' individual vote totals, I've classified them in three groups: the five conservative candidates (Santorum, Gingrich, Perry, Bachmann and Cain), the two moderate candidates (Romney and Hunstman) and the libertarian (Paul). While there will undoubtedly be some grousing over the use of those labels, I think it's uncontroversial to note that Santorum, Gingrich, Perry, Bachmann and Cain all built their campaigns around appealing first to the conservative wing of the party and reaching out from there, while Romney and Huntsman took the opposite approach (and Paul, of course, is in his own category), so this turns out to be a reasonably useful descriptor of how the electorate has broken out between the voters responding to these different appeals. If anything, this overstates the moderate voting bloc, as Romney's "electability" argument, among other things (including religious loyalties among Mormon voters), has tended in exit polls to draw him some chunk of conservative support.

I. Popular Vote Totals To Date


There are three obvious conclusions here. One, Romney is steadily outpolling any one of his individual rivals, cementing his frontrunner status. Two, his frontrunner status derives entirely from the division among his opponents: the conservatives have consistently outpolled the moderates. And three, despite winning his home state of Massachusetts by a 60-point, 220,000 vote margin on Super Tuesday and despite none of the conservatives being on the ballot in Virginia, Romney's not getting any stronger - even with Perry and Bachmann out of the race and Cain not drawing a single recorded vote, the conservatives drew a majority of the votes on Tuesday. Thus, as Romney pulls away in the delegate race and thus advances closer to being the nominee, he does so over the sustained objections of a near-majority faction of the party. More optimistically, the strength of the conservative vote - even in a year when that vote is fractured and underfunded and the remaining conservative candidates are decidedly subpar - bodes well for conservative candidates who can unify that vote in the future.

Let's dig deeper below the fold:

Read More »

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:30 PM | Politics 2012 • | Poll Analysis | Comments (14) | TrackBack (0)
March 5, 2012
POLITICS: Mitt Romney, The Unconvincing Convert

It can be difficult to summarize in one place all of Mitt Romney's problems as a candidate and as a potential President. I have tried; I wrote, back in 2007, a series so lengthy on Romney's flaws (some 15,000 words, Part I, II, III, IV & V) that I can't possibly hope to rewrite the whole thing now, and explained why I preferred McCain to Romney. More recently I focused on the dangers of backing Romney to the integrity of his supporters, the conservative movement's need to maintain its independence from Romney, and the problems with Romney's technocratic approach. Let me try to zero in on four of his problems here: the unconvincing nature of his political conversion, the hazards of becoming enamored with candidates whose primary rationale for running is their money, the unprecedented difficulty of winning with a moderate Republican who lacks significant national security credentials as a war hero or other prominent foreign policy figure, and Romney's vulnerability arising from his dependence on his biography.

Read More »

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:00 PM | Politics 2012 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
March 2, 2012
BASEBALL: The Really Wild Card

It's been rumored for a while, but Bud Selig makes it official:

Major League Baseball will officially expand the playoffs to 10 teams starting this season...The new format will add another wild card team, with the two wild cards to play each other in one game with the winner moving on to face a division winner.

I strongly approve of this; it's how the wild card should have been all along, if we must have it (which I still dislike). Forcing the wild card teams into a one-game, high-stakes playoff gives a definite advantage to being a division winner over a wild card. That is likely to have the largest impact in the American League East, where the Yankees and Red Sox have often seemed to treat the regular season as a formality; now, especially if they're facing another wild card team with one really good starting pitcher, they are going to want to fight like mad to get the division flag and not have to run the gauntlet of a one-game playoff. Yet, expanding to two wild cards also accomplishes what the owners wanted, which is to have more teams at least theoretically alive in September.

Yes, a part of me shares David Wright's reaction ("That would have been nice five years ago"). Of course, that's de facto what we have had a few times already when teams tied for the Wild Card, and it will get wilder still if we have those ties now, putting teams in the position of playing consecutive single-elimination games.

Bottom line: more thrilling September and October baseball, but in a way that makes early-season baseball more rather than less significant. For once, win-win all around.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:18 PM | Baseball 2012-14 | Comments (22) | TrackBack (0)
March 1, 2012
BASEBALL: Pitchers At Their Peaks

Who was the best starting pitcher of all time, at his peak?

I've done a few different approaches to this question over the years, and still mean to do a more detailed and systematic look down the road when I have more time to devote to the issue. But here's one quick take. This is a list of all the starting pitchers I could find - I'm pretty sure I got everyone - to post an ERA+ of 150 or better over a period of 5 or more seasons. I found 25 of them (this excluded Jim Devlin, whose career ERA+ stood at 151 when he was banned from baseball in 1877 after 3 seasons for throwing games, and Al Maul, who posted a 155 ERA+ from 1895-99, but appeared in only 59 games over those 5 seasons and threw 140 innings in only one of them; I may have missed somebody else with a flukey pattern like Maul's. And I left off Hoyt Wilhelm, who was a full time starter for only a year and a half). ERA+, for those of you not familar with the concept, is's computation of how much better a pitcher's ERA was than the league average, after adjusting for park effects; a pitcher whose ERA is half the league average is twice as good as the league and thus has an ERA+ of 200. As you can see, an ERA+ that's 50% better than the league is a pretty hard thing to sustain over a 5 year stretch.

A more systematic approach would examine two additional questions I handle only anecdotally here. The major one is workloads - I've listed each pitcher's average innings per year here, but as you can see from my examination of pitcher workloads between 1920-2004, the average innings thrown by a #1 starter or by an average rotation starter has changed a lot over the years; the changes are even more dramatic as you go through the period from 1871-1910. The other item to consider is how much of pitcher ERAs even over an extended period can be attributable to defense, not only because different pitchers had better or worse defenses behind them but because the pitcher's share of the load has changed over time - as I demonstrated here and here, the percentage of plate appearances resulting in a ball in play has dropped from a high of 96.7% in the National Association in 1874 to a low of 69.7% in the National League in 2010. Clearly, the modern pitcher has far more responsibility for keeping runs off the board than his distant ancestors. (One could also examine changes in the quality of competition over time, but while I note a few guys here who cleaned up on war-weakened leagues, I generally ignore that issue in these kinds of studies; the best we can ask is who did the most with the competition of their day).

Here's the chart; as you can see, while for most of these guys the "peak" was easy to identify, in a few cases of guys who peaked over a long period or more than once (or in the case of Greg Marddux and Randy Johnson, were close enough to the top of the list to justify closer examination), I broke out their careers in more groups of seasons than one. QI/Yr is Quality Innings, a quick-and-dirty metric I use to multiply Innings Pitched by ERA+. Helps give some perspective to the quantity vs quality debate.

1Pedro Martinez25-317201213428131750.766
2Greg Maddux28-325228202460561760.731
3Walter Johnson22-2763531986989429130.685
G. Maddux26-327239191456491880.706
W. Johnson22-31103431846311226140.650
4Three Finger Brown29-335292182531442590.743
5Randy Johnson31-388220178391601860.765
6Grover Alexander26-3362961745150424100.691
L. Grove35-395229173396171780.669
7Lefty Grove28-325282172485042670.795
8Christy Mathewson27-3153201705440028100.730
R. Johnson29-3810219170372301860.751
9Sandy Koufax26-305275167459252270.766
10Kevin Brown31-355242165399301680.667
R. Clemens31-355210162340201480.648
11Cy Young34-3853601615796027130.678
12Hal Newhouser23-2752951614749524110.678
13Roger Clemens23-297257160411201990.683
14Ed Walsh26-3163751585925025160.604
L. Grove26-3914247158390262080.704
W. Johnson28-3252911574568720150.576
15Johan Santana25-295229157359531780.688
16Kid Nichols25-2953721565803228140.659
17Smokey Joe Wood20-256205156319801880.686
18Carl Hubbell29-3352931554541522110.677
R. Clemens23-3513234155362701790.654
19Spud Chandler34-396146155226301040.739
20Tom Seaver24-2852801544312021100.669
21Bob Gibson30-3452741534192220100.673
C. Mathewson22-32113241524924828110.716
22Addie Joss24-2962781524225620110.645
G. Maddux32-365230152349601890.669
23Roy Halladay28-347222152337441780.695
24Rube Waddell25-2953171514786722140.619
25Ed Reulbach22-265252151380521980.713

Some thoughts:

Pedro Martinez has clearly earned the distinction of the most effective starting pitcher of all time at his peak, swimming upstream against Fenway Park and an era of sluggers gone wild. Pedro didn't carry a heavy enough innings load to be considered quite the best ever, even adjusted for his era, but when he was on the hill, there's never been better. And moreso than anyone on this list except Randy Johnson, Pedro did most of it himself - fewer than 60% of plate appearances against Pedro in those years ended in a ball in play, compared to a little under 75% for Maddux, a little over 75% for Walter Johnson, 77% for Lefty Grove, and 82% for Three Finger Brown. (Randy Johnson was a little under 55%).

Greg Maddux just might be the best ever - he led the league in innings every year from age 25-29, finished second at age 30 and third at age 32. His innings total looks lower here than it might be because of the strike seasons right at his age 28-29 pinnacle. That said, he has to be knocked just a peg for the fact that we don't know if he would have ground down just a little if he'd had a full schedule to pitch those two years. But no matter how you slice it, Maddux was one of the very best.

Walter Johnson remains my choice for the best starting pitcher of all time, utterly dominating an entire decade from age 22-31, during which he led the AL in innings pitched five times (Johnson's 1918-19 seasons, age 30-31, were shortened slightly by World War I. One of my favorite factoids is that Johnson allowed just two home runs in 616.1 innings those two seasons, and both of them were hit by Babe Ruth. But he was at his very best in 1912-13, when he averaged 34-10 with an ERA+ of 250 and averaged 358 innings a year.) There's a significant dropoff after the top three to the next tier.

Three Finger Brown gets a little bit of short shrift in discussions of the very, very best pitchers, in part because his career started late, and he certainly had a lot of help from one of the two best defensive teams of all time. Pitchers in Brown's era didn't throw a ton of breaking balls - they had to conserve energy over the high innings workloads of the day, they could afford to save their best stuff for the 'pinch' in the absence of home runs (Mathewson supposedly threw his fadeaway only about 10 times a game) and sports medicine was nonexistent, so if you strained your elbow throwing curveballs, you just pitched through it or gave up. But Brown, being missing a chunk of his pitching hand, could throw a breaking ball with a fastball grip (no need to strain the wrist with an unnatural grip), and that made him deadly.

I also think we haven't fully absorbed the impact of Randy Johnson just yet. Johnson was a Paul Bunyanesque freak of nature and a generally crotchety guy, but in his prime was a super-elite pitcher.

I looked more at Grover Alexander in this 2003 column - Alexander's prime here includes the 1918 season, in which he appeared in just three games before going off to fight in World War I, and the 1919 season, which played a shortened schedule. That artificially conceals what an amazing workhorse Old Pete was - Alexander averaged 384 innings a year from 1915-17 (age 28-30), often leading the league by enormous margins. By 1920 he'd picked up another monstrous workload, clearing 355 innings for the sixth time in a decade, all of them league-leading totals. Alexander might well have won 400 games, and would have been very close, if not for the war (he won 45 in the minors in addition to 373 after arriving in the NL at age 24). Note that our top six here includes a guy with a mangled hand and three pitchers who regularly threw some sort of sidearm (the two Johnsons and Alexander).

Which brings us to Lefty Grove, who like Walter Johnson (and a young Satchel Paige) broke into the league throwing nearly nothing but fastballs before gradually expanding his repetoire. Grove's real peak was age 28-32, but his ERA+ is slightly better for his age 35-39 seasons with the Red Sox, when he was gradually scaling back to being a 'Sunday pitcher' and no longer doing double duty as his team's ace reliever. As Bill James has noted, Grove won 300 games in the majors after winning 111 games in the minors, 108 of them for the Baltimore Orioles of a highly competitive International League.

Christy Mathewson probably got more help from his offense than any other great pitcher, with the arguable exceptions of Grove, Kid Nichols and Warren Spahn. But Matty in his prime didn't really need all that much help. This includes his epic 1908 season, when a 27 year old Mathewson threw 390.2 innings in the heat of the legendary pennant race, only to lose to Brown (pitching in relief) and the Cubs in the replay of the Merkle game on the season's last day.

Sandy Koufax is considered the gold standard for guys who scaled a really dizzying peak, and he surely is among the best, but when you take the air of Dodger Stadium and the mid-60s out of his numbers, Koufax pulls up short of the guys at the very top. (Another reason Koufax stood out so much at the time: notice there's nobody on this list between Hal Newhouser in the mid-1940s and Koufax in the first half of the 1960s, Whitey Ford having just missed)

Kevin Brown is not a guy you expect to see quite this high up a list like this, but Brown at his best was really, really good. The last two years of Brown's peak include the first two of his famous contract; over the first five seasons of that contract, Brown's ERA+ was 148, although with injuries he averaged just 175 innings, and then he went to the Yankees and unraveled.

Cy Young was relentlessly good and consistent for a very long time - back when I was running translated pitching stats, I noticed that when you adjusted him for the league average, Young's rate of walks per 9 innings was nearly the same every year for two decades. As I demonstrated in my essay on Baseball's Most Impressive Records, there was a generational change from the guys in the 1880s-1890s who carried ridiculous 400+ inning a year workloads to pitchers who started having long careers in the 1900s, but Young was really the one and only guy to do both, which is why his career numbers have that oceanic vastness that defies analysis. Note that Young benefits a little from the fact that these were the American League's first five seasons, the first year or two of which featured a somewhat lower level of competition than the NL of the day.

Hal Newhouser had his best seasons against a war-depleted American League in 1944-45 and a lot of rusty returning veterans in 1946, so he's probably several notches higher here than he'd otherwise be, but he was a nasty power lefty who was a legitimately great pitcher for a few years.

"Peak value" isn't exactly the best way to measure Roger Clemens, who is ranked here on his 1986-92 peak with the Red Sox, although like Grove he had an even better ERA+ over his second peak, which spans the strike-shortened 1994-95 seasons and runs through his 1997-98 tenure with the Blue Jays. Clemens also posted an ERA+ of 180 in 180 innings a year from age 41-43 with the Astros (career ERA+ by team: 196 with the Jays, 180 with the Astros, 145 with the Red Sox, 114 with the Yankees). It's the cumulative effect of those multiple peaks that makes his career one of the inner-circle ones.

Ed Walsh, the big spitballer, threw a staggering 375 innings a year over his six-year prime (including a ridiculous even for the day 464 innings in 1908's equally insane American League pennant race, which the Tigers won at the expense of Walsh's White Sox), at the end of which his arm gave out.

I was there with my two older kids for the last game of Johan Santana's prime, the epic, arm-weary last win at Shea Stadium. I hope we see even a little of the old Santana again some day, but we've now had a few years' remove to reflect on how great he was in his two Cy Young, three ERA title prime.

Kid Nichols, a contemporary of Cy Young who also might have won 400 games if he hadn't spent two years in mid-career (age 32-33) as a pitcher-manager in the Western League (a 361 game winner in the majors, he won 47 games in those two seasons - among his 74 career minor league wins - and then picked up where he left off, going 21-13 with a 2.02 ERA at age 34). At his peak from 1895-99, Nichols was the ace of a Boston Braves juggernaut that repeatedly defeated the legendary Baltimore Orioles of the day.

The peak years here for Smokey Joe Wood include a litany of arm injuries following his monster season in 1912, when he went 34-5, threw 35 complete games and pitched 22 innings in the World Series at age 22; Wood averaged just 139 innings the next three seasons. Walter Johnson said it hurt his shoulder just watching Wood's straight overhand delivery. Then again, Wood had second and third careers as an outfielder and college baseball coach and lived to be 95.

Spud Chandler barely merits this list, as he appeared in just 5 games in 1944-45 and 17 at age 39 in 1947, his last season, and won his MVP award in 1943 against war-weakened competition. But when he was on the mound, he was outstanding.

The peak years for Tom Seaver run 1969-73, the two Mets miracle seasons, when he was truly The Franchise.

The last of these seasons for the great lefty screwballer Carl Hubbell is 1936, when he won his last 16 decisions before being beaten by the Yankees in the World Series, and don't include the following year when he won his first 8 on his way to a 22-8 season; his peak also includes the 1934 season when he staged his famous All-Star Game strikeout streak. Hubbell was another late starter, debuting at age 25 after an itinerant minor league career.

Bob Gibson is here for 1966-70; note that his ERA+ for 1966-67 was 132, and his ERA+ for 1969-70 was 146, but his 1968 season puts him over the top.

Addie Joss lost the pennant race in 1908 and was dead by April 1911, but for one glorious day in October 1908, the 28 year old Joss was perfect, beating Walsh in what has to be baseball's greatest pitching duel.

Roy Halladay's peak here runs through 2011. Appreciate this while it lasts, folks.

Rube Waddell from age 26-28 averaged 313 strikeouts in 345 innings a year, at the time an unheard-of strikeout rate; it may have helped Waddell a bit that batters were just getting acclimated to the new "foul ball counts as a strike" rule, but then again flamethrowing lefties were not that common in 1904; in fact, lefties were still something of a novelty at the time.

Ed Reulbach appears here for his first five seasons, 1905-09; his teammate Three Finger Brown appears for 1906-10. Other than Jim Palmer, there are probably few pitchers in the game's history who owe more to their defense than Reulbach, who like Brown got a lot of help from the team with the famous Tinker-Evers-Chance infield. Still, the only man ever to throw shutouts in both ends of a doubleheader could use to be remembered a little in his own right; an awful lot of pitchers in baseball history, and even in the Hall of Fame, didn't make this list.

PS - For obvious reasons, this list is limited to guys who pitched in the major leagues. But for what it's worth, Satchel Paige's ERA+ for his first two seasons in the American league was 146, and that's at age 41-42, albeit as a reliever and spot starter. It's pretty safe to say he'd have made this list in his prime.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:00 PM | Baseball 2012-14 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)