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Baseball 2012-Present Archives

October 1, 2019
BASEBALL: Editors Baseball Podcast, 10/1/19, Episode 168

NR Podcast: Special Episode: Baseball Season Wrap-up with Rich Lowry, Michael Brendan Dougherty & Jason Epstein.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:50 PM | Baseball 2012-Present • | Podcasts and Media
April 15, 2019
BASEBALL: Baseball Can and Should End Service-Time Manipulation

NRO: Baseball Can and Should End Service-Time Manipulation

Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:24 PM | Baseball 2012-Present • | Writings Elsewhere
March 21, 2019
BASEBALL: Tom Seaver: The Perfectly Balanced Pitcher

NR, in the magazine's April 8 issue: Tom Seaver: The Perfectly Balanced Pitcher

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:04 PM | Baseball 2012-Present • | Baseball Columns • | In Print • | Writings Elsewhere
February 8, 2019
BASEBALL: Frank Robinson, R.I.P.

NRO: Frank Robinson, R.I.P.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:30 AM | Baseball 2012-Present • | Baseball Columns • | Writings Elsewhere
October 3, 2018
BASEBALL: 2018 Season Podcast

NRO Editors Podcast: Episode 113: Special Episode - All About Baseball

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:10 PM | Baseball 2012-Present • | Podcasts and Media
May 11, 2018
BASEBALL: The Misery of the Mets fan

NY POST: The misery of the Mets fan (in this morning's paper)

Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:00 AM | Baseball 2012-Present • | In Print • | Writings Elsewhere
January 24, 2018
BASEBALL: Baseball's Steroids Problem Is A Barry Bonds Problem

NRO: Baseball's Steroids Problem Is A Barry Bonds Problem

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:44 PM | Baseball 2012-Present • | Baseball Columns • | Writings Elsewhere
November 13, 2017
BASEBALL: Roy Halladay Shows Why Leaders Matter

NRO: Roy Halladay Shows Why Leaders Matter

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:23 PM | Baseball 2012-Present • | Writings Elsewhere
June 1, 2017
BASEBALL: Fighting Isn't Bryce Harper's Job

NRO: Fighting Isn't Bryce Harper's Job

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:29 PM | Baseball 2012-Present • | Writings Elsewhere
January 18, 2017
BASEBALL: Rock The Hall

NRO: Rock The Hall

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:40 PM | Baseball 2012-Present • | Writings Elsewhere
December 10, 2016
POLITICS/BASEBALL: A Valentine For Japan?

NRO: A Valentine For Japan?

Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:31 PM | Baseball 2012-Present • | Politics 2016 • | Writings Elsewhere
November 3, 2016
BASEBALL: Baseball Goes Deep: Extra Innings, Game Seven

NRO: Baseball Goes Deep: Extra Innings, Game Seven

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:04 AM | Baseball 2012-Present • | Writings Elsewhere
October 15, 2016
BASEBALL: The 2016 Cubs: One Of The Best Defensive Teams Since 1900

NRO: The 2016 Cubs: One Of The Best Defensive Teams Since 1900

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:21 PM | Baseball 2012-Present • | Baseball Studies • | Writings Elsewhere
September 9, 2016
BASEBALL/POLITICS: Rooting for Reyes

NRO: Rooting for Reyes

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:33 AM | Baseball 2012-Present • | Politics 2016 • | Writings Elsewhere
June 15, 2016
BASEBALL: Ichiro Suzuki: A Hit King, But Not The Hit King

NRO: Ichiro Suzuki: A Hit King, But Not The Hit King

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:42 PM | Baseball 2012-Present • | Writings Elsewhere
September 24, 2015

Yogi Berra: Born To Squat

Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:21 PM | Baseball 2012-Present • | Baseball Columns
February 6, 2014
BASEBALL: Remembering Ralph

I don't really have more to add on Ralph Kiner, who died today at age 91, than I said in my 2010 appreciation of Ralph. His passing is the end of an era for Mets fans, and nearly the end of an era for baseball; only Yogi Berra and Bobby Doerr remain of the great players of the World War II generation. Ted Berg, who worked with Ralph, has his own compelling memories, and Metstradamus does too and collects some remembrances from those who knew him.

I'll leave you with Ralph doing the postgame interviews of Yogi Berra, Tom Seaver, and other Mets after they clinched the 1973 pennant.

UPDATE: Jayson Stark's column is too good not to mention here.

This too.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:33 PM | Baseball 2012-Present | Comments (2)
October 16, 2013
BASEBALL: The 400 Win Club And Then Some

I have a new baseball essay over at The Federalist looking at baseball's winningest pitchers if you combine their Major League, postseason, Minor League, and in some cases Japanese and Negro League wins. I looked at every pitcher who won 150 or more games in the majors plus every known minor league 300 game winner, plus anybody else I ran across who made the list, so it's possible there's a few people here and there I missed but unlikely that any of them (aside from people who spent their whole careers in Japan or the Negro Leagues) would crack 300. All numbers are through the 2013 postseason (in which Bartolo Colon went 0-1 and Freddy Garcia pitched without a decision). The charts in the article go down through 250 wins, but since I have extra space here, I'll run the rest of what I have here:

The 225-249 Win Club

18831898Adonis Terry1971963449222492220.52927
19812003David Cone1941268347402491690.59680
19291950Tommy Bridges1941384150362481750.58673
19131932Lee Meadows1881800260562482380.51010
19591979Mickey Lolich2171913127442472360.51111
19952013Roy Halladay2031053241352471420.635105
19131928Urban Shocker1871170160282471460.628101
18891901Amos Rusie*2461742461740.58672
19141940Sad Sam Jones2292170216102452290.51716
19661988Joe Niekro2212040024172452210.52624
18911908Brickyard Kennedy1871590158492452090.54036
19301947Bill Lee (I)1691570276332451920.56153
19301951Harry Gumbert14311300101842441970.55347
19111935Dutch Ruether1379511106842441800.57564
19381959Virgil Trucks (2)1771351065402431750.58168
18841895Bob Caruthers218997817162421230.663119
19822008Kenny Rogers2191563319392411980.54943
19671986Vida Blue2091611531182411840.56757
18951909Jack Chesbro19813243342411660.59275
19111934Bob Shawkey1951501345502412030.54338
19571975Claude Osteen1961951243322402290.51211
19391954Allie Reynolds1821077251322401410.63099
19121930Jesse Barnes (1)1521502084582382080.53430
19751995Dave Stewart16812910659462371810.56756
18741885Tommy Bond234163212361640.59072
18771889Will White2291667132361790.56957
18951910Al Orth20418932192362080.53228
19451964Billy Pierce2111691122192341890.55345
18981923Wild Bill Donovan1851391448232341660.58568
18821892Charlie Buffinton*233152002331520.60581
19651979Catfish Hunter224166962331720.57561
19972013Tim Hudson2051111327132331270.647106
19281947Lefty Gomez1891026038302331320.638101
19121931Bullet Joe Bush1961842534212322100.52522
19031923Red Ames1831670149472322150.51917
19912013Derek Lowe1761575751472322110.52421
19211945Red Lucas15713575542321890.55143
19091925Fred Toney1391020093622321640.58668
19211938Pat Malone1349203981132322080.52724
19541969Don Drysdale2091663319162311850.55546
19681989Doyle Alexander1941740537382312170.51614
19832003John Burkett1661362163592311960.54135
19862005Kevin Brown2111445514232301720.57258
19071921Hippo Vaughn1781371251462301850.55445
19721998Dennis Eckersley1971711331162291900.54739
19651985Mike Torrez1851602142462292070.52522
19351957Dizzy Trout1701611258422292050.52824
19261948Willis Hudlin15815671492292050.52824
19261942Larry French (*3)1971710231362282090.52219
19942013Bartolo Colon1891282437142281460.61082
19601978Wilbur Wood16415664462282020.53026
19982013CC Sabathia2051159513132271330.63194
19822000Dwight Gooden1941120433132271290.63898
19221941Firpo Marberry148880178662261550.59371
19021920Ed Walsh1951262028132251390.61886
19281945Lon Warneke (2)1921212131362251580.58767

The 200-224 Win Club

19051922Slim Sallee1741431349322241780.55746
18901903Frank Killen16413160482241790.55645
19771994Bob Welch21114633962231550.59068
18941912Chick Fraser17521248532232650.457-42
19391955Hal Newhouser2071502113182221690.56853
18971911Sam Leever1941000228222221240.64298
19541972Mudcat Grant1451192175332221530.59269
18971911Deacon Phillippe1891093229302211410.61080
19481967Jack Sanford (1)1371011283742211770.55544
18871906Red Ehret1391672079902202570.461-37
19131929Art Nehf1841204431192191430.60576
19221937General Crowder1671151251382191550.58664
19321948Claude Passeau1621501056412191910.53428
18971911Jack Taylor15213967432191820.54637
19111927George Mogridge1321331086512191840.54335
19741994Rick Sutcliffe1711391145512171910.53226
19101929Bill Doak16915748512172080.5119
19311950Rip Sewell1439774852171820.54435
19151932Bill Sherdel1651460451352161850.53931
19101942Clarence Mitchell1251390091702162090.5087
19381956Sal Maglie (2)119621296812161450.59871
18871899Jack Stivetts20313220962141380.60876
19821998Jimmy Key1861175323162141360.61178
19611975Dave McNally1841197423242141470.59367
19811999Mark Langston1791580033222121800.54132
19181935Eddie Rommel1711191040322121510.58461
19701989Bob Forsch1681363441372121770.54535
19471967Bob Buhl (2)1661320146442121770.54535
19031915Howie Camnitz1331060179462121530.58159
19381958Bob Lemon (3)20712822262111360.60875
19501966Bob Friend1972300214132112450.463-34
19611974Mel Stottlemyre1641391146232111630.56448
19972013Roy Oswalt1631025243282111320.61579
19301947Dizzy Dean150832259292111140.64997
19721990Bob Knepper1461550165452112010.51210
19281945Johnny Allen142750069502111250.62886
19471967Curt Simmons (1)193183011762101900.52520
19141930Howard Ehmke (1)1661661043182101840.53326
19461961Don Newcombe (2)149900461262101200.63690
19421961Mike Garcia (3)142970168452101430.59567
19571973Milt Pappas20916400012091650.55944
19011917Doc White1891561119162091730.54736
19241936George Earnshaw127934378482091440.59265
19731993John Candelaria1771222229112081350.60673
19631982Rick Wise1881812017202072010.5076
19321951Schoolboy Rowe (2)1581012547202071260.62281
19852002Chuck Finley20017312522061770.53829
19932012Kevin Millwood1691523334352061900.52016
19902008Hideo Nomo1231090283522061630.55843
18861897Silver King*203152262051580.56547
19291950Bucky Walters19816022562051680.55037
19731992Mike Flanagan1671433235162051610.56044
19681984Paul Splitorff1661432037322051750.53930
19942011Javier Vazquez1651601139162051770.53728
19761998Danny Darwin17118233222042040.5000
19001910Addie Joss1609744342041310.60973
19191939George Uhle20016600342031700.54433
19992013Mark Buehrle186142211582031510.57352
18951909Bill Dinneen1701773130242032020.5011
19952013Freddy Garcia1561086341302031410.59062
18811890Jim Whitney19120411112022150.484-13
19962012Livan Hernandez*178177731692011890.51512
19781998Dave Stieb1761371324122011520.56949
19711989Ron Guidry170915226272011200.62681
19001914Earl Moore16315438292011830.52318
19872006Kevin Appier1691370231252001640.54936
19481966Bob Purkey (2)1291150171512001670.54533

Honorable Mention

19091920Tom Seaton9265108842001490.57351

The 150-199 Win Club

19231945Guy Bush1761361122111991480.57351
19361955Johnny Sain (3)1391162258411991590.55640
19021915Frank Smith13911160531991640.54835
19471965Harvey Haddix (1)1361132061331991460.57753
19791997Fernando Valenzuela*1731535120161981700.53828
19631983Rudy May1521560146291981860.51612
19791999Tom Candiotti1511640147401982050.491-7
19511971Camilo Pascual1741700123161971870.51310
19771994Bill Gullickson1621361234241971620.54935
19761994Bruce Hurst1451133249311971460.57451
19411962Gerry Staley (3)1341110163351971470.57350
18881899Frank Dwyer17715119161961670.54029
19031917Ed Reulbach*182106201051941110.63683
19441966Joe Nuxhall13511759671941840.51310
18931906Red Donahue16417528221921970.494-5
19831998Doug Drabek1551342534251911640.53827
19842005Al Leiter1621322326461901810.5129
18851896Ice Box Chamberlain1571202331281901510.55739
19181936Tom Zachary186191301891910.497-2
19811996Frank Viola1761503110111891620.53827
19992013Barry Zito165143631871891530.55336
19651979Ken Holtzman17415064831881570.54531
19711989Rick Rhoden1511250137341881600.54028
18831890Ed Morris1711221661871280.59459
19842000Tim Belcher1461404237351871770.51410
19832001Bret Saberhagen1671172417101861310.58755
19391956Howie Pollet (2)1311160155161861330.58353
19481967Vernon Law (2)1621472021201851670.52618
19331949Mort Cooper128752354551841330.58051
18911901Nig Cuppy162980121141831130.61870
19221937Rube Walberg (*1)1551411127271831690.52014
18861895Mark Baldwin*15416529251831900.491-7
19902010Mike Hampton1481152433251831440.56039
18921908Pink Hawley*16717915151821940.484-12
18801888Larry Corcoran*1778934180930.65987
19912006Brad Radke1481392330351801770.5043
19771996Scott Sanderson163143001681791510.54228
19912007Aaron Sele1481120631181791360.56843
19511969Johnny Podres1481164126161781330.57245
19261941Bump Hadley161165211471771730.5064
19942013Chris Carpenter1449410423411771390.56038
19501965Frank Lary (2)12811648261761420.55334
19281949Thornton Lee*11712459661761900.481-14
18821890Guy Hecker*1751461751460.54529
19811995Mike Moore161176431091751880.482-13
19711985Steve Rogers1581523114261751790.494-4
19641979Jim Lonborg1571372316121751520.53523
19691986Jim Slaton151158102381751660.5139
18891903Sadie McMahon*173127101741270.57847
18751889George Bradley*171151331741540.53020
19381954Preacher Roe127842144391731240.58249
18891902Jouett Meekin15213320241721570.52315
19411955Vic Raschi (3)13266533330170990.63271
19551966Sandy Koufax1658743169900.65379
19892002Andy Benes155139111261681460.53522
18841896Dave Foutz?1476636184168760.68992
18771894Monte Ward*164103001641030.61461
19311946Hal Schumaker (3)15812122421641250.56739
19711985Burt Hooton15113663741641430.53421
19061920Jack Coombs158110501631100.59753
19321955Spud Chandler* (2)10943224741158860.64872

Honorable Mention

19972013Hiroki Kuroda687022103891731610.51812
19992013Daisuke Matsuzaka534031117741731150.60158

The Rest

18711876Dick McBride14978149780.65671
18721877Candy Cummings*14594171461010.59145
19141935Babe Ruth944630229119550.68464
Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:05 PM | Baseball 2012-Present • | Baseball Studies | Comments (3)
October 15, 2013

The 350-399 Win Club

Let's move a little more quickly through the rest of the list, stopping to highlight a few things along the way.

18991916Christy Mathewson3731885520153982080.657190
19832007Roger Clemens3541841281363791980.657181
18741894Pud Galvin*3653101263773160.54461
19581983Gaylord Perry3142651155463703120.54358
19371963Early Wynn (1)3002441266553673010.54966
18821894John Clarkson*328178253493641920.655172
19591987Phil Niekro (1)3182740143253613000.54661
19641988Steve Carlton3292446624113592610.57998
19121935Burleigh Grimes2702123486573592730.56886
19651988Don Sutton324256642493542690.56885
18791893Tim Keefe*34222543793532370.598116
19842009Tom Glavine305203141631333502520.58198

In the 350-399 win range, we encounter the question of "cheating," as the 350-win club includes two known steroid users and three known spitballers. Besides Roger Clemens, the other "steroid" user is Hall of Famer Pud Galvin, who experimented briefly with a testosterone elixir (probably an ineffectual patent medicine), drinking it openly on the field as it was not illegal at the time. Galvin was just a slightly above-average pitcher but a ridiculous workhorse even for his day, averaging 495 innings a year for a decade from age 22-31; he died at 45 from stomach inflammation. The spitball story is a similar one: Burleigh Grimes was one of the men "grandfathered" and thus allowed to throw a legal spitball in the 1920s, whereas Gaylord Perry and Don Sutton were both famous and illegal defacers of the ball. I mentioned the study of High Quality Starts: the only two pitchers to make 300 of them since 1920 are Sutton (310) and Clemens (308).

Sutton was sort of the poor man's Spahn: his season ERAs and other stats were rarely eye-popping, but he started 27 games and pitcher 207 innings in 1968, 23 games in the strike-shortened 1981, but otherwise started at least 31 games in each of the other 20 seasons between 1966 and 1987. His second season, 1967, was his only really poor year, although a number of others were more modestly subpar. His only real injury was while bunting in September 1980. Ask any manager how valuable it is to have a guy you can just pencil in the rotation and leave him there for 22 years.

Perry was 32 years old when the Giants traded him for Sam McDowell, who was four years younger, in December 1971. Perry won 180 more games, McDowell won 19. It's hard today to believe the workloads that Perry carried within living memory: he averaged 321 innings, 39 starts and 25 complete games a year from age 30-36, 1969-75, the last three of those against lineups that used the DH. Yet he stayed healthy enough to win the Cy Young at 39 and pitch until he was 44.

I had always just assumed that Phil Niekro's late start in the majors was wholly due to learning the knuckleball, but he missed his age-24 season in the military in 1963. In 1982, at age 43, Niekro threw a 2-hit shutout against the Giants (with whom the Braves entered the game tied for second place) on September 27, then came back and threw a 3-hit, no-walk shutout on 3 days' rest against the Padres; they were his only two shutouts of the year, and gave Joe Torre's Braves the division by one game over the Dodgers.

Christy Mathewson, who shares the NL career win record with Alexander, also shares having his life ruined by World War I; Mathewson inhaled poison gas during a training exercise, wrecking his lungs. He was already at the end of his playing career (he had hit the wall after age 33), but the illness ended his managing career and he would be dead of tuberculosis by age 45. Mathewson, who threw straight overhand with tremendous control and the very occasional deployment of his devastating "fadeaway" (a precursor to the screwball) was a preposterous 303-120 with a 1.91 ERA from 1903-1913, age 22-32, and at the peak of the Giants-Cubs rivalry in 1908-09, he went 62-17 with a 1.31 ERA while Three Finger Brown, the Cubs' ace, went 56-18 with a 1.39 ERA. In the 1905 World Series, Matty would throw three shutouts in six days; in the 1919 World Series, recuperating in the press box, he was one of the few men willing to question whether the Series was on the level.

Tom Glavine should skate into the Hall on the strength of 305 wins, five 20-win seasons and leading the National League in starts six times. As a Mets fan I don't recall him as fondly as many Braves fans do, especially given his role in the 2007 season-ending collapse (he gave up seven runs and retired just one batter in the first inning of Game 162; the Mets had entered the final day tied for first), but Glavine in his one postseason trip for the Mets in 2006 was 2-1 with a 1.59 ERA.

Honorable Mention

19281953Tony Freitas (3)25333482433732760.57597
19271952William Thomas3683353683350.52333
19261953Dick Barrett35583172513523090.53343

I'm listing separately the pitchers who won less than half their games in the majors. Thomas, the winningest minor league pitcher ever, was a wandering control pitcher in the low minors in a hitters' era; he was 244-258 with a career ERA around 3.53 through age 38 before he started rolling up good won-loss records against war-depleted Southern Association competition, so there's no real reason to think he would have been a top major league pitcher. Freitas, by contrast, had some modest if fleeting success in the majors and rolled up most of his wins in the Pacific Coast League.

The 325-349 Win Club

19071935Jack Quinn24721801101653482840.55164
19651993Nolan Ryan3242922221103473040.53343
19081928Stan Coveleski215142321271043452480.58297
19281953Bobo Newsom211222221311063443300.51014
19852009Randy Johnson3031667929273392020.627137
19091933Red Faber (1)2542133179643362780.54758
19611989Tommy John2882316341303352640.55971
19121935Dazzy Vance197140001331293302690.55161
19011920Three Finger Brown2391305485523291860.639143
19011917Eddie Plank326195253282000.621128
19842012Jamie Moyer2692093356353282470.57081
19621983Fergie Jenkins28422643263272520.56575
19661986Tom Seaver3112053312123262200.597106

[CHART: k.bf.prime.updated]

Dazzy Vance was, as measured relative to the league, the highest-strikeout pitcher of all time, despite not winning a major league game until he was 31. Vance's rate of strikeouts per batter faced was 222% of the league average, 228% in his power-pitching prime from age 31-42. Nobody else is over 200% career, although Bob Feller, Grove and Rube Waddell are all over 200% if you focus on their prime years. Vance may have had some unique help from Ebbetts Field (it was said that he bleached his pitching sleeve and often threw against the backdrop of white laundry hung by Brooklyn housewives from clotheslines behind the park); the numbers show that from 1922-32, the years he was with the Dodgers, he had a 2.67 ERA and averaged 7.3 K per 9 innings at home, a 3.67 ERA and 5.1 K/9 on the road. Grimes, his teammate, had a 2.70 ERA at Ebbets from 1918-26, 3.38 on the road, but wasn't a big strikeout pitcher (1.7 K/9 at home, 1.4 on the road).

Mordecai Peter Centennial "Three Finger" Brown, one of baseball's unique stories due to the boyhood farm accident that left him with a mangled pitching hand that naturally threw curveballs, didn't even play in the minors until he was 24. Brown's teams had among the best team defenses in baseball history, a great edge for a guy who, from 1906-09, walked just 1.6 batters per 9 innings and allowed 5 home runs in 1165.1 innings. Yet, by 1911, Brown was making nearly half his appearances in relief (between 1906-11, he is credited with 38 shutouts and 38 saves).

Stan Coveleski is one of those Hall of Famers whose resume of a high-quality but relatively short career (his ERA+ from age 27-35 is a sterling 136) looks more impressive when you throw in 127 minor league wins between age 19-25.

Eddie Plank is the first pitcher we encounter here who never pitched in the minors; lefthanded pitching was sufficiently rare in baseball's early days that when Plank retired, he had won 129 more games than any other lefty.

Honorable Mention

19131940George Payne (1)113482623492630.57086
19231949Sam Gibson32383072003392380.588101
19101931Oyster Joe Martina68003302683362760.54960
19151941Alex McColl44003322633362670.55769
19021920Charles Baum3272793272790.54048
18911911Ted Breitenstein160170165923252620.55463
19171938Frank Shellenback10153001793101940.615116

Ted Breitenstein holds some quasi-legitimate records for most hits and runs allowed in a season, their legitimacy based on drawing the recordbooks' line across 1893, the year the mound was moved back to 60 feet six inches. Relocating to the more lenient Southern Association after the turn of the century, he posted a 2.02 ERA from age 32-42, including ERAs of 1.05, 1.33, 1.48, and 1.53.

Bill James, in the Historical Baseball Abstract, picked longtime Pacific Coast League hurler Frank Shellenback as the best minor league pitcher of all time; he was a spitballer cut by the White Sox in mid-1919 who had the misfortune of being in the minors and not "grandfathered" when the pitch was outlawed the following year.

The 300-324 Win Club

18791892Mickey Welch*3072101216143242260.58998
18811902Tony Mullane28422038263222460.56776
19571983Jim Kaat2832371336333202730.54047
19131937Jesse Haines21015831107613202200.593100
19912013Andy Pettitte256153191143223181860.631132
18881914Clark Griffith23714678553152010.610114
19691992Bert Blyleven287250512273142580.54956
18861910Gus Weyhing26423250533142850.52429
19051927Babe Adams19414030116613132010.609112
18791891Old Hoss Radbourn*309194303121940.617118
19031927Chief Bender2121276494443121750.641137
19211948Charlie Root20116003111833122460.55966
19241943Carl Hubbell2531544252383091940.614115
19271946Paul Derringer2332122474533092690.53540
18711887Bobby Mathews2972488133052610.53944
19481967Robin Roberts286245011443002500.54550

Tony Mullane is best known for being Irish-born and ambidextrous, occasionally toying with throwing with each hand; he won 284 big-league games despite missing the 1885 season, at the age of 26, after being suspended for jumping a contract. Mullane averaged 34 wins a year the prior three seasons and 30 a year the next three, so he would have easily had 300. But perhaps it's just as well, given how he treated his catcher, African-American pioneer Fleet Walker, in 1884:

“Moses Fleetwood Walker was the best catcher I ever worked with, but I disliked a Negro and whenever I had to pitch to him, I used to pitch anything I wanted without looking for the signals,” wrote Mullane of Walker, his former teammate with the Toledo Blue Stockings. “One day he signaled me for a curve ball and I shot a fast ball at him. He caught it and walked down to me. He said: ‘I’ll catch you without signals but I won’t catch you if you are going to cross me when I give you signals.’ And all the rest of the season he caught me and caught anything I threw. I pitched without him knowing what was coming.”

Mullane threw 63 wild pitches in 64 starts that year; Walker was charged with 72 passed balls in 41 games, albeit not that many more than teammate Deacon McGuire (66 in 41 games).

Andy Pettitte finishes up as a 275 game winner in the majors if you include the postseason.

Babe Adams, a control specialist, had a really remarkable baseball odyssey, going back to the minors four times over his career yet pitching all but one of his big-league games between ages 25 and 44 for the Pirates, for whom he was the hero of the 1909 World Series and would make his last World Series appearance as a 43 year old in 1925. From 1919-22, Adams walked 74 batters in 857.2 innings.

Bert Blyleven, the best pitcher born in Holland, had 167 wins and a career ERA+ of 127 in 3000.2 innings from age 19-30; Sandy Koufax had 165 wins and a career ERA+ of 131 in 2324.1 innings from age 19-30. Blyleven would win 131 more games, including three seasons when he was in the top 4 of the Cy Young balloting after age 30; Koufax was retired at 30. Oddly, Blyleven, the last man to throw 20 complete games, holds the single season record for no-decisions, with 20.

Chief Bender and Jesse Haines are both marginal Hall of Famers (in Haines' case, far below marginal) who pitched multiple big World Series games and had long minor league records. Bender won 212 games between age 19-33, left baseball to spend a year working in the shipyards to support the war effort in 1918 (I don't credit him for missed time because he wasn't actually in the military, but that may be a quibble), then had a second act in the minors starting with a season of 29-2 with a 1.06 ERA in the lowly Virginia League in 1919. He made one more brief cameo in the majors at 41, and had a 1.33 ERA in the Middle Atlantic League in his professional coda at 43.

There are four great pitchers who really stand out from their own contemporaries for their workloads at their peak, relative to the years they pitched in: Robin Roberts in the early 50s, Bob Feller in the late 30s to the season of his return from the war, Phil Niekro in the late 70s, and John Clarkson in the mid-late 1880s. But Niekro was a knuckleballer, and Clarkson was just doing what everybody else had been doing 5 years earlier; only 12 pitchers between 1924 and 1962 threw 320 innings in a season, and three of those were Roberts in consecutive seasons (in that 3-year stretch he averaged 338 innings and 31 complete games), and three others were Feller, albeit separated by four years in which Feller didn't pitch due to the war. Roberts tossed 300 innings six years in a row and less than 3 innings short of a seventh, at a time when the #2 workhorse in the game (Warren Spahn) was miles behind. Like Mariano Rivera, Roberts in his prime threw basically one pitch, a fastball with great movement and pinpoint control, and that put little strain on his arm.

Honorable Mention

19101933Rube Benton150144111721363232810.53542
18981928Long Tom Hughes132174011891653213400.486-19
19071929Harry Krause36262812373172630.54754

Harry Krause led the AL in ERA at age 20 with a 1.39 mark in 1909, albeit on a team where Plank, Bender and Cy Morgan were all below 1.80. But he flamed out of the majors by age 23 and missed most of the A's dynasty that would follow.

The 275-299 Win Club

19111930Wilbur Cooper21617883762992540.54145
19741998Dennis Martinez2451932251232982180.57880
19471967Whitey Ford (2)23610610851202971340.689163
19231947Red Ruffing* (2)2732257216272962540.53842
19581975Juan Marichal2431420150262931690.634124
19091926Hooks Dauss23318260492932310.55962
19191944Earl Whitehill2181851074552932400.55053
19902008Mike Mussina270153781442911650.638126
19661994Charlie Hough2162160075552912710.51820
19641984Jim Palmer268152831462901610.643129
19201943Freddie Fitzsimmons2171460373642902130.57777
19091929Jeff Pfeffer (1)15811201130982882110.57777
19121931Carl Mays2081263475572861870.60599
19611982Luis Tiant*2291723052302842020.58482
19571975Bob Gibson2511747225252832010.58582
18951910Vic Willis2492050131322802380.54142
19501971Jim Bunning22418455662792500.52729
19862007Curt Schilling21614611250432771910.59286
19761994Jack Morris2541867415132762030.57673

Whitey Ford started 156 career games in which the Yankees scored 6 runs or more, and never lost one of them. And he did that despite facing unusually stiff competition. In his rookie season, Ford made just 2 of his 12 starts against .500 or better teams - but from his return from the Army in 1953 until Casey Stengel's last season in 1960, Ford made more than half his starts against .500 or better teams. Partly that's because more than half the rest of the league was over .500 in those years, but in 1954, 1959 and 1960 there were only two other winning teams in the AL. One of the great what-ifs is what the early 50s World Serieses look like if Ford is on the 1951 and 1952 Yankees and Don Newcombe is on the 1952 and 1953 Dodgers instead of in the military (the 1952 and 1953 Serieses went to the Yankees in 7 and 6 games, respectively). From Ford's arrival in July 1950 through the end of the 1954 season, counting the postseason, the Yankees went 267-134 (a .666 winning percentage).

The best defensive support of any pitcher - most sophisticated fielding metrics place Brooks Robinson and Mark Belanger among the four or five most valuable defensive players of all time, and that's before we get to Paul Blair - helped Jim Palmer throw a High Quality Start in 47.6% of his career starts, the best of any post-1920 pitcher.

We don't really have a full record of what Luis Tiant did before coming to the U.S., as he had been pitching since "age 16."

As I've noted before, Jack Morris actually had two great "years" that just weren't within a single season: from June 1, 1983 to May 31, 1984, Morris was 27-9 with a 2.36 ERA, with 24 complete games and 248 strikeouts in 317 innings; from July 5, 1986 through July 4, 1987, he went 26-5 with a 2.98 ERA. Had he done those in two single seasons, he might be in the Hall of Fame now even with the same relatively unimpressive career resume.

Honorable Mention

19101933Ray Caldwell134120011591472932680.52225
19281950Luke Hamlin73762131472862230.56263
19101930Jim Bagby12789111511312792210.55858
19271966Satchel Paige2831002481032761340.673142

Jim Bagby, like Krause, tasted big-league greatness for a short time, winning 31 games in 1920 as the ace of the Indians' first World Championship team.

Satchel Paige started pitching in 1927 and was, in his last publicity-stunt start in the minors in 1966, a teammate of Johnny Bench. He went 21-12 with a 2.15 ERA at age 49-50 pitching for Miami in the International League in 1956-57. He threw shutouts in his second and third major league starts, at what was probably the age of 41. As uneven as the statistical record of his career is, every piece of it points to a tremendous pitcher, one who racked up 1990s-style strikeout rates against all types of competition between the 1920s and early 1940s and who was still far above the league strikeout average in the majors in his mid-40s.

The 250-274 Win Club

18771887Jim McCormick*26521433662742230.55151
19281947Curt Davis15813101115932732250.54848
19822007David Wells23915710522282711900.58881
18841897Bill Hutchinson*18216387542692170.55352
19131935Dolf Luque1941791072452672240.54443
19371956Eddie Lopat1661124197822671950.57872
19361966Bob Feller (4)266162022661640.619102
19121933Eppa Rixey (1)266251012662520.51414
18971914Jack Powell24525421182662720.494-6
19051920Eddie Cicotte2091482355362661870.58779
19721993Frank Tanana240236012482642450.51919
19161938Waite Hoyt2371826421442642300.53434
19061933Rube Marquard2011772561432642250.54039
18941913Jesse Tannehill19711765342621510.634111
19371959Murray Dickson1721810190632622450.51717
19231946Ted Lyons (3)2602302602300.53130
19902009Pedro Martinez2191006435202601240.677136
19471967Lew Burdette2031444253492601950.57165
19141934Ray Kremer14385221151452602320.52828
19121934Herb Pennock (1)2411625013102591720.60187
18971913Rube Waddell19314365502581930.57265
19271947Mel Harder23318624152572010.56156
19671990Jerry Reuss2201912834332562320.52524
19651985Jerry Koosman2222094028302542390.51515
19011915George Mullin2281963322222532210.53432
19561975Jim Perry2151740138282532030.55550
18711877Al Spalding25265252650.795187
19892011Tim Wakefield2001805747492522360.51616
19571977Mike Cuellar1851304463602521940.56558
19421972Hoyt Wilhelm (3)14312200109672521890.57163
19351953Harry Brecheen1339241114772511700.59681
19701991Rick Reuschel2141911435152502100.54340
19862009John Smoltz21315515422262501850.57565
19792000Orel Hershiser2041508338302501830.57767
19511968Larry Jackson19418356322502150.53835
19301953Dutch Leonard19118159572502380.51212

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:05 PM | Baseball 2012-Present
June 13, 2013
BASEBALL: Matt Harvey: Man Without A Decision

After the Mets' 20-inning, 2-1 loss on Saturday to the mightless Marlins, Matt Harvey has 8 no-decisions in his last 9 starts. Harvey is now 5-0 in 13 starts; if he continued at his current season's pace, he would finish the season 14-0 with 22 no-decisions in 36 starts. That would set a major league record for no-decisions in a single season. How unusual a year is Harvey having?

Harvey opened 2013 as the one shining bright spot in a dismal Mets season, a season that got even more dismal with Monday's demotion to AAA of Ike Davis, who led the team in homers by a double-digit margin last season. The Mets' increasingly punchless offense (even with the stalwart presence of David Wright) is 11th in the NL in scoring and batting an anemic .226/.294/.369 entering Tuesday's action, and it has caught up to Harvey with a vengeance. After scoring 6 runs a game and going 5-0 in Harvey's first five starts, the Mets have scored just 2.75 runs a game in his last 8 starts, going 3-5.

Some of those no-decisions have been especially agonizing. On May 28, Harvey went 8 innings against the Yankees, allowed one run, struck out 10 and walked nobody. He threw 114 pitches and got a goose egg; the team ended up winning 2-1 for Scott Rice. On May 7, he went the full 9 innings against the White Sox, striking out 12, walking nobody and allowing only an infield single to Alex Rios in the seventh inning. The 10th inning win went to Bobby Parnell. Saturday, the Mets scored in the second inning and were blanked for the next 18 innings, Harvey leaving after 7 innings once again having struck out 6 and walked nobody, and complaining of a sore back to boot. (The game was the fifth 20-inning game in Mets history; only 42 other games that long have been played in MLB history without the Mets' involvement). Harvey has yet to allow more than 4 runs in a start this season, and has never gone less than 5 innings in a start in his brief Major League career.

Overall, over the last 9 starts, Harvey has a 2.66 ERA, has thrown 6.78 innings and 105 pitches per start, and has not allowed a single unearned run. In the 8 no-decisions, he has a 2.68 ERA, has cracked 100 pitches six times, and averaged 6.71 innings per start. This ought to be the stat line of a winning streak - good pitching, going deep into game after game - yet Harvey has come up empty. While this string of no-decisions is not totally historically unique, it is very unusual.

Bill James recently looked at the odds of a pitcher winning a game if you measure by "Game Score," his quick formula for measuring how well a pitcher pitched, taking account of things like walks and strikeouts as well as innings and runs. Looking at a sample of all starts between 1952 and 2011, he found that a Game Score of 51 or above is more likely to mean a win than a loss, and a pitcher with a Game Score of 66 or above will generally have a winning percentage of .800 or above in his decisions. James didn't separately break out rates of no-decision, but using his numbers, a pitcher is likely to get a decision 93% of the time with a Game Score over 80, 88% of the time with a Game Score over 68; Game Scores in the 50s yield a decision around two-thirds of the time. But not for Matt Harvey: he already has no-decisions this season with Game Scores of 97, 76, 67, 58, and 55.

According to the Play Index at Baseball-Reference.com - which currently only goes back to 1916, but no-decisions were rare before then - the Game Score of 97 on May 7 tied a record previously held by Randy Johnson (twice, in a 15-strikeout outing in 1992 and a 20-strikeout outing in 2001) for the highest ever in a 9-inning no-decision, although I would argue that perhaps the best 9-inning no-decision of all time was Francisco Cordova's 9 no-hit scoreless innings, 2 walks and 10 strikeouts in 1997, for a Game Score of 95). In fact, Baseball-Reference.com lists only 19 starts in baseball history where a pitcher posted a Game Score of 90 or better in 9 innings or less and got a no-decision (there are many no-decisions with Game Scores above 100, from the earlier years when starters would go deep into extra innings, the extreme example being Joe Oeschger and Leon Cadore on May 1, 1920 pitching to a 26-inning complete game 1-1 tie for Game Scores of 153 for Oeschger and 140 for Cadore. You think your team is having a rough patch? Following the 26-inning game, the Dodgers lost in 13 innings on May 2, lost in 19 innings on May 3, then went on in the succeeding weeks to lose in 11 innings on May 7, win in 10 on May 9, win in 14 on May 14, lose in 11 on May 27 and win the second game of a double-header - with Cadore going the distance again - in 10 on May 29. Somehow, they survived this to go on to win the NL Pennant).

Since 1916, the single-season record for no-decisions is 20, by Bert Blyleven for the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates. Blyleven is a particularly odd person to hold this particular record: he got a decision in 80% of his starts over the rest of his career, including a 4-year stretch from 1971-74 when he averaged 34 decisions and 5 no-decisions a year. (In 1973, Blyleven had 37 decisions in 40 starts, going 20-17 with a 2.52 ERA). As late as the 1985-86 seasons, he had 64 decisions and only 9 no-decisions, and in 1985 was the last pitcher to throw more than 20 complete games in a season. But in 1979, pitching for a World Championship team with a deep bullpen (Kent Tekulve, Enrique Romo and Grant Jackson between them averaged 83 appearances and 115 innings apiece and a 2.89 ERA), Blyleven was kept on a short leash by Chuck Tanner. In his 20 no-decisions that season, Blyleven averaged just 5.87 innings per start (going more than 7 innings only twice), posting a 4.76 ERA in those starts, in which the Pirates went 11-9. And he didn't pitch much differently in the ones they won - in the 11 no-decisions the Pirates won, Blyleven averaged 5.76 innings per start with a 4.69 ERA.

Only five other pitchers have managed as many as 17 no-decisions in a season, and only 15 in total have had 16 no-decisions; here's how they stack up to Harvey (I've listed Runs Allowed rather than ERA so you can see the full effect of Harvey not allowing any unearned runs):

2013Matt Harvey81361.5%2.686.7
1979Bert Blyleven203754.1%5.145.9
2004Odalis Perez183158.1%3.656.3
1986Andy Hawkins183551.4%5.695.4
1999Kenny Rogers173154.8%5.915.6
2008Oliver Perez173450.0%4.705.7
1987Mike Krukow172860.7%6.894.6
2009Randy Wolf163447.1%3.436.2
2009Roy Oswalt163053.3%4.485.4
1978John Montefusco163644.4%4.396.0
1999Eric Milton163447.1%6.145.5
1917Lee Meadows163644.4%5.064.7
1980Dennis Lamp163743.2%6.085.0
1979Randy Jones163941.0%4.196.3
1993Juan Guzman163348.5%5.726.0
2009Joba Chamberlain163151.6%6.204.4

As you can see - after we pause briefly while all the Mets fans still reading this stab their eyes out upon seeing Harvey on a chart next to Oliver Perez and Kenny Rogers - Harvey sticks out like a sore thumb on this list, both in terms of how well and how far he pitched into games and the high ratio of no-decisions to decisions. Many of these guys were beneficiaries of winning teams - Guzman went 14-3 for the World Champion 1993 Blue Jays, Krukow was bailed out in games the division champion Giants went on to win on 13 occasions (13 no-decisions in games his team won is the most on record, and he had a 6.51 ERA in those 13 starts). Maybe the most extreme example of a guy who got bailed out constantly by his offense was Dwight Gooden in 1999: Gooden, by then running on fumes, was 3-4 with 15 no-decisions in 22 starts and an 8.25 ERA in his no-decisions. The Indians went 12-3 in those starts anyway, and in the 12 the Indians won, Gooden had a 9.13 ERA and averaged 3.94 innings per start. But that Indians team scored over 1,000 runs; the Mets are on pace to score fewer than 650.

You have to get further down the list to find anybody who had a full season that looks like what Harvey has done so far:

-Cliff Lee in 2012: 3.21 ERA and 7.11 IP/start in 15 no-decisions (half of his 30 starts), going at least 6 innings every time.

-Brad Radke in 2004: 2.52 ERA and 6.66 IP/start in 15 no-decisions out of 34 starts; like Harvey, Radke threw at least 5 innings and allowed no more than 4 earned runs in any of his no-decisions. Amazingly, Radke voluntarily re-signed with the Twins after that season.

-Joey Hamilton in 1995: 2.87 ERA, 6.69 IP/start in 15 no-decisions out of 30 starts, going at least 5 innings every time. However, Hamilton allowed 9 unearned runs, so his Runs Allowed average was a less stellar 3.68.

-Jim Deshaeis in 1990: 2.32 ERA, 6.73 IP/start in 15 no-decisions out of 34 starts, going at least 5 innings each time and never allowing more than 4 runs.

-Pedro Astacio in 1996: 3.16 ERA, 6.64 IP/start in 15 no-decisions out of 32 starts. This 2011 SABR presentation argued that Astacio, followed by Deshaies and Montefusco, had the most effective no-decisions based on where they left their team when they exited the game: Astacio left with a lead 7 times and a tie 7 more, meaning he was bailed out when losing only once in his 15 no-decisions. In Harvey's case, he left two of his no-decisions with a lead (scores of 6-4 and 2-1), three tied (scores of 2-2, 1-1 and 1-1) and three trailing (by scores of 1-0, 3-2 and 3-2).

-Perhaps the best pitching in a significant number of no-decisions in one season (and a hopeful case for Harvey) was Clayton Kershaw in 2009. Kershaw got 14 no-decisions in 30 starts, and partly that was because he hadn't yet learned to imitate Greg Maddux's pitch efficiency: Kershaw averaged 5.9 innings per start in his no-decisions, and lasted a full 7 innings in only 5 of them. But his ERA in those starts was a measly 1.42; Kershaw's 10 no-decisions with a Game Score of 60 or better in a season is the most on record, edging out Tom Candiotti in 1993 and Roger Clemens in 2005.

-Candiotti in 1993 (yet another Dodger on this list, thank you Chavez Ravine): 14 no-decisions in 32 starts, a 1.97 ERA and 6.86 IP per no-decision.

The list of consecutive starts without a decision is even more dominated by pitchers who were not in Harvey's league: three pitchers went 10 straight starts without a decision, and they were all terrible over that stretch: Dick Stigman in 1965 (5.48 ERA, 4.26 IP/start), Randy Lerch in 1977 (6.70 ERA, 4.96 IP/start) and John D'Acquisto in 1977 (8.39 ERA, 2.46 IP/start, which makes you wonder why the Padres even bothered with a starting pitcher when it was D'Acquisto's turn). The longest stretch of pitching well without a decision is Al Downing in 8 spot starts from 1974-76, a 2.17 ERA in 6 innings a start for a Dodger team with tireless workhorses Mike Marshall and Charlie Hough in the bullpen.

Historically, the guys who got the most no-decisions, and most well-pitched no-decisions, in their careers were just the guys who started the most games. Tommy John leads the pack with 188 no-decisions followed by Don Sutton with 182, but John started 700 games, Sutton 756. The most no-decisions with a Game Score of 60 or better is Nolan Ryan with 41, followed by Roger Clemens (34), Greg Maddux (31) and Don Sutton (30), and all four of those guys won more than 320 games.

But in today's game, Harvey has something more like company. Among pitchers with 67 or more career no-decisions, three have career ERAs below 3.10 in their no-decisions: Felix Hernandez (2.76), Matt Cain (2.95) and Jake Peavy (3.01). (Greg Maddux had a 3.14 ERA in his 159 no-decisions, to go with a 1.83 ERA in his 355 career wins. The lesson, as always: Greg Maddux was awesome.).

The most logical conclusion from looking at history is that Harvey either won't keep pitching like this or will sooner or later start getting some wins again. Eventually, as Mets fans will remember, hard luck can turn. In 1987, pitching for the defending World Champion Mets (who would lead the league in runs scored), Ron Darling went an agonizing 14 starts without a win from April 26 to July 3 - 0-6 with 8 no-decisions - at a time when he was the team's only healthy starter. Darling's 4.76 ERA over that stretch attests that he was often ineffective, but he also had 5 starts in there with a Game Score of 60 or better; the Mets scored just 3.7 runs a game in those starts. But things turned around, Darling went 10-2 in his next 14 starts...until he tore his thumb diving for a bunt that broke up his no-hitter in the sixth inning on September 11, ending his season and leading to Terry Pendleton's famous home run to ice the division race later that night.

So yes, Mets fans. It will probably get better. But it can always get worse.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:05 PM | Baseball 2012-Present • | Baseball Studies | Comments (4)
May 3, 2013
BASEBALL: Wright Zone Judgment

David Wright is back, or rather he's still back. Wright, who batted .311/.394/.534 (OPS+ 141) from 2005-08 (age 22-25), slumped to .284/.364/.463 (OPS+ 124) from 2009-11, the first three years in the new Citi Field in what should have been his prime hitting age, 26-28. But over the 2012-13 seasons so far, he's hitting .307/.396/.497 (OPS+ 146), reclaiming his status as an elite player.

A major factor in both turnarounds has been Wright's strikeout rate. From 2005-08, Wright averaged walks in 11.8% of his plate appearances, strikeouts in 16.6%. From 2009-11, the walk rate slumped slightly to 11.2%, but the K rate ballooned to 22.9%. Strikeouts are not much worse than any other out, but when a player suddenly starts striking out a lot more, that's usually a bad sign. Since the start of 2012, however, Wright is back to a BB/K rate of 12.8% walks, 16.5% strikeouts.

When you break it out by month, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that Wright was particularly badly affected by his August 15, 2009 beaning, which caused him to miss the rest of that month; while his K rate was already up in April-May 2009 (14.6% BB, 24.9% K, mostly due to adjusting to an unfriendly new home park - 11.2% BB, 31.2% K in home games those two months, 18.3% BB, 18.3% K in road games), he'd been whittling it down the rest of that season (12.0% BB, 18.3% K in June-August 2009), before being beaned by Matt Cain. From his return in September 2009 through May 2010, Wright averaged an unsightly 8.7% BB and 25.1% K rate. It took a while to gradually get that back to a more normal (for him) ratio.

Last season, Wright started with great progress in cutting his strikeouts, but they spiked in July. Combined with a September spike in 2011, that suggests that, as Wright gets older, he may be prone to getting his swing out of whack as fatigue and injuries set in (although recall that last year he was hitting with a broken finger in April). So, it's possible that this year's low strikeout rate will drift a bit as the year goes on. But on the whole, the pattern over Wright's career is that keeping his strikeouts under control is key to his productivity. Here's the monthly breakdown over his career:


I put the month-by-month graph below the fold because it's very wide.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:30 PM | Baseball 2012-Present
April 30, 2013

Over the weekend, I went to see 42, the Jackie Robinson movie. A few thoughts, with spoilers for those of you who do not already know the story by heart (I can't say my take here is that radically different from a number of other reviews I've read from other baseball writers):

1. The movie is a snapshot - not the full story of either Robinson's life and career or the integration of baseball. It starts with Branch Rickey's decision to bring a black player to the Dodgers in 1945, and ends with the Dodgers winning the 1947 NL pennant. Even within that snapshot, once Jackie makes the Dodgers' minor league team in Montreal, almost nothing is shown of his 1946 season, and some other events are compressed (the Cardinals get off easy, as the film focuses on the Phillies as the main villians who threatened not to take the field against an integrated team). That keeps the plot and pacing relatively tight (even though the endpoint is no surprise), but it necessarily leaves off a lot of background and detail as well as the other storied chapters of Robinson's career. And relatedly, the film is intended mainly to tell Robinson's story to a generation of moviegoers who don't know all the details, so there's a bit of broad exposition that would not be necessary for people like me who are already steeped in the whole story.

2. The performances are everything they needed to be. Harrison Ford - while still recognizably Harrison Ford - steals every scene he's in as Branch Rickey, and captures "Mr. Rickey's" character and style (complete with his trademarks - his sermonizing speaking style and outrageously bushy eyebrows). Similarly, Christopher Meloni and John C. McGinley look, act and sound like the real Leo Durocher and Red Barber, other than Meloni being a lot bigger and bulkier than the diminutive Lip.

Chadwick Boseman has the unenviable task for a young actor of having to carry the film while competing with Ford and other more experienced actors, but while he doesn't mimic Robinson's high-pitched voice, he captures the man's fierce competitive drive and hatred of segregation, and perhaps even more importantly he's truly believable at bat and on the basepaths, where Jackie worked his memorable magic. More broadly, the baseball in the movie is really well-done: the players, the game and the parks all look like 1940s baseball. Brad Beyer as Kirby Higbe, for example, looks very much the part of your typical Sourthern farm boy turned power pitcher of that era.

In some ways, Jackie Robinson's challenge in holding his temper in check and channeling it into the game reminds me of what I've written about George Washington; neither was the kind of man to meet adversity with Zen-like calm, but both managed to become complete masters of their own powerful emotional currents - anger, rage, despair - and present to the world a stoic face. That's an incredibly impressive skill, for such a strong personality to remain so contained. The film captures that challenge, and takes some dramatic license to illustrate it with a scene (which almost certainly did not happen) of Robinson breaking down in the tunnel behind the dugout and requiring a pep talk from Rickey.

(Nicole Beharie is elegant as the still-elegant Rachel Robinson, but doesn't really have much of a role to work with beyond the standard baseball-wife scenes. The film does spend some time with the Robinsons as newlyweds, which reminds me of an interesting question that I think I asked on Twitter a while back to not much satisfactory response: what is cinema's most compelling black romantic couple? We can all name lots of famous onscreen romances, but it's only much more recent films that have really developed those relationships between a black man and a black woman, and I can't think of one that stands out as iconic. But there has to be one I'm not thinking of.)

3. The dialogue is frequently terrible, windy and too self-aware, and there's a handful of scenes that are anachronistic in the way the characters speak and interact (men in the late 40s didn't talk with each other about their feelings a lot, for example). While the usual rule in biographical films is to avoid mimicry, the best dialogue is actually characters like Rickey, Barber, Durocher and Happy Chandler speaking the way those men actually spoke (I sat through all approximately 478 hours of Chandler's Hall of Fame induction speech in 1982). Branch Rickey really did talk as if he was orating for the history books; most of his players did not.

4. The movie's inaccuracies were irritating but few and minor. Leo Durocher's suspension for the 1947 season is portrayed as solely the result of his scandalous affair with Laraine Day, when in fact the stated reason for the suspension was over Durocher consorting with gamblers (Happy Chandler also cited "the accumulated unpleasant incidents in which he has been involved," which also covered the affair and a variety of Leo's other feuds). (I'll forgive the filmmakers for sneaking into a night-time phone conversation Leo's iconic "Nice guys finish last" line). Pee Wee Reese is given Gene Hermanski's famous clubhouse wisecrack about how the Dodgers should all wear 42 when Jackie gets a death threat, so nobody could tell which one was him. Fritz Ostermuller's family claims that the film inaccurately portrays him as a racist who beaned Robinson in a game. (The family of Ben Chapman, who eventually repented of his racist torments of Robinson late in life, could make no such claim). The film ignores Dan Bankhead, the second black Dodger who joined the team in late August. But on the whole, I was pleasantly surprised by the attention to getting details right that historians of the game would notice. The movie captured both the essential truths of Robinson's battle against the color line and the twists along the way. Particularly interesting and mostly accurate was the differing motivations of the players who rallied around Robinson, from Reese's reluctant solidarity (as a son of Kentucky) to the scrappy Eddie Stanky, who like his mentor Durocher would walk over fire for you if you were on his team and could help him win a ballgame.

Every generation learns history anew, and Jackie Robinson's corner of history is one worth retelling. If you haven't seen 42 yet, you should.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:30 PM | Baseball 2012-Present • | History • | Pop Culture | Comments (4)
February 20, 2013
BASEBALL: Established Win Shares Levels, RIP

I have come to a decision, absent a really compelling reason to re-think it: after doing them for nine seasons, I'm retiring my annual division-by-division Established Win Shares Levels reports.

EWSL was first introduced in this January 2004 post and is explained in some detail here. I've had a lot of fun along the way, but it's time to hang up those particular spikes, for three reasons.

First, it's an enormous amount of work. For nine years, I've run a 23-man roster for each of MLB's 30 teams and an EWSL for each of those players: a total of 6,120 computations, each and every one of them done by hand-entering the annual Win Shares data in an Excel spreadsheet and applying an annually re-adjusted age adjustment. I don't have a database or an assistant; every single number is my own effort.

The EWSL reports are by far the most time-consuming thing I do on the blog all year. Most of my other research projects (in baseball or politics) are smaller in scale, and often - being historical studies - they're not on the same time pressured frame as rolling out all six divisional previews before the season's too far underway for them to be meaningful. And they have to be cranked out at the same time every year when I'm engaged in preparing my fantasy baseball drafts and doing my taxes (and in recent years, my dad's taxes and my brother's estate's taxes), plus it's usually a busy time of the year at work.

Second, they're behind the times. In 2004, we had fewer ways to use all-encompassing "Great Statistics" to evaluate each team in anything like a comprehensive manner. The first PECOTA projections were only unveiled in 2003. Win Shares were something of a new kid on the block, and even if EWSL was never high science, it was - I thought at the time - a bit innovative to run an established performance level with them to get a rough estimate of the established major league talent each team had on hand. At the time, it seemed like a way to add a new angle to the discussion and move it forward. And I do think that, if nothing else, the age-adjustment data I compiled over the years is something of use.

But the state of the art has advanced a lot since 2004. With a quick click of the mouse, you can gather far more sophisticated projections at Baseball Prospectus, Fangraphs, the Hardball Times, and elsewhere than any value that EWSL adds. Many of those projections are developed by teams of people with a lot more mathematical expertise, computing power and free time than I have at my disposal, and at some point it's time to stop playing John Henry against the machine and know when you can no longer keep up. Most everyone these days prefers the more precise Wins Above Replacement to Win Shares anyway, since Win Shares are really a measure of gross value, rather than marginal value compared to a replacement level player. EWSL just isn't worth the effort that goes into it, and while I'm grateful for the support of my readers over the years, I'm not sure it will really be missed all that much.

Third, and related to the prior point...I can get more bang for my time by blogging other things. It's no secret that in the past 4-5 years, while my place in the baseball blogosphere has receded, my profile ability to reach a large audience with my political writing (especially at RedState) has increased a lot. I have no intention of abandoning baseball writing - I'd like to do more pieces for Grantland, for example, and I have some ongoing statistical research projects - but realistically, whether it's sharpening other baseball pieces or writing about politics, I can put my blogging time to better use than the annual time vortex that is the EWSL reports.

Thanks again to everyone who's read, commented on or linked to my EWSL posts. But it's time to move on.

January 9, 2013
BASEBALL: The Hall of Fail

This afternoon, we will see how the baseball writers voted, and it looks like it will be a very close call for the Hall of Fame to elect anyone (at last check, based on the publicly disclosed votes, it looks like Craig Biggio may be the only candidate in striking distance, with Jack Morris and Tim Raines trailing).

I don't have a ton to add right now to what I wrote last year about many of these same candidates and the same issues - like steroids - that dominate the debate (follow the links in that post for more detailed arguments). But a few points.

1. The limitation of the ballot to ten names isn't normally a problem, but this year, there's such a backlog of qualified candidates that it presents a real dilemma. I don't have a ballot, of course, but I divide my list of who I'd vote for as follows:

SHOULD GO IN WITHOUT DEBATE: (8) Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Tim Raines, Fred McGriff, Rafael Palmeiro.

To put Biggio in the simplest terms: 4,505 times on base (18th all time), plus 414 steals, while playing 1989 games at second base, 428 as a catcher, and 255 as a center fielder. That is a career. From 1992-99, adjusted for the fact that he lost 41% of a season over 1994-95 to the strike, Biggio's average season was 160 games, 732 plate appearances, .299/.394/.460, 120 Runs, 73 RBI, 41 2B, 17 HR, 36 SB and only 11 CS, 101 times on base by walk or hit by pitch, and only 7 GIDP. And all of that while playing second base in the Astrodome and winning four Gold Gloves in eight years.

DEBATABLE BUT I'D VOTE THEM IN: (3) Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Curt Schilling.

I GO BACK AND FORTH: (2) Edgar Martinez, Bernie Williams. As noted last year, I do struggle with the fact that Edgar and McGwire have more similar cases than they seem at first glance.

CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR: (3) Alan Trammell, Larry Walker, Kenny Lofton.

BAD BUT NOT RIDICULOUS CHOICES: (3) Jack Morris, Lee Smith, Dale Murphy. As I've noted before, Murphy was good enough, but not for long enough; Morris, too, might deserve induction if his 1980 and 1988-90 seasons were of the same quality (plus quantity) as his 1981-87 seasons.

WORTH A LOOK BUT NOT A VOTE: (4) Don Mattingly, David Wells, Julio Franco, Steve Finley. Mattingly, of course, would have been an easy Hall of Famer if his back had held up.

JUST ENJOY BEING ON THE BALLOT: The other 14 guys, any of whom should be flattered to get a vote and honored by having had distinguished enough careers to be on the ballot. I mean that: if I was, say, Todd Walker, I'd want to frame my name on the Hall of Fame ballot. Only a tiny handful of the kids who start out dreaming on the sandlots get that far.

2. The postseason is an ever larger factor in modern baseball, and certainly a big part of what puts Bernie Williams and Jack Morris in the conversation, and Curt Schilling over the top. That's as it should be.

There's actually an awful lot of hitters on the ballot this year who struggled in October (not even counting Barry Bonds, who struggled the rest of his Octobers but made it up with a 2002 rampage). And of course, postseason numbers can be unfair to a guy like Raines who got a disproportionate amount of his October at bats in his declining years. We should not overlook, however, the value of Fred McGriff's postseason contributions. Of the 16 somewhat serious position player candidates, five had somewhat limited postseason experience (less than 100 plate appearances); Trammell hit .333/.404/.588 in 58 plate appearances, Sosa .245/.403/.415 in 67 PA, and Palmeiro .244/.308/.451 in 91 PA. Mattingly and Murphy got one series apiece, Mattingly hitting .417/.440/.708, Murphy .273/.273/.273.

Here's how the rest stack up:

Barry Bonds482080.2450.4330.5030.936
Fred McGriff502180.3030.3850.5320.917
Edgar Martinez341480.2660.3650.5080.873
Larry Walker281210.2300.3500.5100.860
Bernie Williams1215250.2750.3710.4800.851
Mike Piazza321330.2420.3010.4580.759
Tim Raines341420.2700.3400.3490.689
Jeff Bagwell331290.2260.3640.3210.685
Mark McGwire421510.2170.3200.3490.669
Kenny Lofton954380.2470.3150.3520.667
Craig Biggio401850.2340.2950.3230.618

Looking at the postseason numbers also suggests that the case for McGwire over Edgar is even narrower; yes, McGwire played for a World Champion and three pennant winners whereas Edgar's often-insanely-talented teams never reached the Series, but like Edgar's teams, Big Red's lost some big serieses to obviously less talented opponents, and McGwire's overall postseason performance was terrible.

Anyway, looking at McGriff, in over 200 plate appearances in the postseason he has the best batting and slugging averages of this illustrious group, and the second-best OBP to Bonds (and Bonds drew 5 times as many intentional walks in October - leave those out and McGriff beats Bonds .374 to .369). Projected to a 162 game schedule, his postseason line produces 36 2B, 32 HR, 87 BB, 117 R, and 120 RBI. McGriff slugged .600 in a postseason series six times in ten series (including all three series en route to the 1995 World Championship), an OPS over 1,000 five times. If you're giving points for producing with seasons on the line, the Crime Dog should get more than any of these guys. (Bernie Williams slugged over .600 in 8 series, but he appeared in 25 of them; he also slugged below .320 ten times.).

3. On the steroid issue...well, you have to ask whose Hall of Fame is this? It's a question Bill James asked 30 years ago about the All-Star Game, and people tend to skip over it as if everybody has the same answer.

We know Major League Baseball is operated for the purpose of making money for the owners, but that (as James also pointed out in the early 80s) it exists to satisfy popular enthusiasm for baseball, and the maintenance and cultivation of that fan interest is something the owners, in their self-interest, have to attempt to respect.

If you've read James' indispensable book The Politics of Glory, you know that the question - whose Hall is it? - has long been a complicated and fraught one between MLB, the players, the BBWAA, the owners of the Hall, the Town of Cooperstown, and the fans who visit the museum.

Honoring the players is certainly an important and honorable purpose; for most of these guys, getting the call and being inducted into the fraternity of the Hall is the highlight of their entire lives, and that's not a small thing. And to the extent that we view the Hall primarily as a personal honor, it makes some sense to cast a jaundiced eye at least on those players we know for a fact to have cheated to win, whether by breaking the game's rules or breaking the law (some of the performance enhancing drugs at issue were legal under one of the two regimes but not the other at various times).

But at the end of the day, to me, the Hall is bigger than the players for the same reasons as why the games are played in full stadiums in front of TV cameras, for the same reasons as why scores of visitors make the pilgrimage to sleepy Cooperstown each summer. The Hall belongs to the fans, too. There is one red line, in my view: Shoeless Joe Jackson and his co-conspirators belong outside the Hall because they participated in a conspiracy to lose games. But everything else is about guys who were doing their best to win. The fans paid the owners to watch those wins, the writers wrote about them; they belong to history now, and to memory. We can't re-live the 1990s to change the memories we have. It's the job of the game to enforce the rules while the games are being played; having failed that (failed badly enough that clouds of unproven suspicion linger over many players without the evidence to resolve them), we are cutting off our noses to spite our faces by keeping a generation of the game's best players out of the Hall, in a way that ultimately degrades the whole point of the place: to be a commemoration of the best in the game's history. The game survived segregation and wars and gambling and cocaine and spitballs and assaults on umpires; we can keep those memories alive too and try to remedy them going forward, but we still enshrined the players who won baseball games through all of them. Because it's not just their Hall, it's ours.

It's not the Hall of Fame if it doesn't have guys like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and Mike Piazza (and, for that matter, Pete Rose). Their flags still fly over their stadiums, their records are still in the books, and their plaques should be in the Hall.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:38 PM | Baseball 2012-Present | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
December 17, 2012
BASEBALL: The RA Dickey Deal

Honestly, I have trouble dealing rationally with the Mets trading RA Dickey on the heels of his (well-deserved) Cy Young season. Like letting Jose Reyes go, this is simply something you don't do if you intend to field a competitive team long term in a major market like New York. Sure, Dickey's 38, but he's a knuckleballer; he's as good a bet as David Wright to be a productive contributor to the team in 2015 or 2016. He is also, for very valid reasons, enormously popular and fun to watch, and his salary demands were very reasonable. The Mets' shabby treatment of Dickey reinforces the view that this is a second-rate organization.

If you accept the premise that the Mets had no choice to trade Dickey, then sure, they seem to be getting a decent return - catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud, pitching prospect Noah Syndergaard, and dealing Josh Thole for John Buck (which seems a slight downgrade but Buck has his uses and Thole had a terrible year; his value to the Jays is knowing how to catch Dickey). But far from certain to be equal value. Syndergaard is a 20 year old pitching prospect who's never pitched above A ball; with 53 walks and 196 Ks in his pro career in Rookie and A ball compared to 54 walks and 230 K for Dickey last year in the NL, Syndergaard is at the bottom of a very tall mountain, the top of which is the kind of pitcher Dickey is now. He's not rated a better prospect than Mike Pelfrey was, and Pelfrey just signed with the Twins after an enormously disappointing career in blue and orange. As for d'Arnaud, he has no speed and no plate discipline (41 walks per 600 minor league plate appearances), and had a .418 career minor league slugging average entering 2011. He's hit a lot better since then, but Citi Field is not Las Vegas in the PCL. Also, d'Arnaud played only 67 games this season due to torn knee ligaments; the Mets seem unworried, which is reassuring if you have a lot of faith in the Mets crack medical staff.

Maybe both prospects work out, but the Mets are courting the KC Royals cycle here, where it doesn't even matter how good the prospects are because nobody believes anymore that the team is going to spend the money to field a contender when they're ready. And unlike the Royals, they can't blame this on playing in a small market.

Dickey's season, along with Johan Santana's no-hitter, made the 2012 Mets watchable through everything that went wrong. This deal represents a rejection of fielding a watchable team in 2013, and suggests a long-term approach that gives less rather than more cause for optimism.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:54 AM | Baseball 2012-Present | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
November 26, 2012
BASEBALL: Has Mike Trout Peaked Already? Maybe.

David Schoenfield asks a provocative question: is Mike Trout's Rookie of the Year and MVP runner-up season in 2012 as good as he will get? After all, he's unlikely to improve much as a fielder or base thief. Schoenfield thinks Trout can still get better as a hitter - for most 20-year-olds, that's not even a question mark, but most have more room for improvement:

I think it's possible. He has a walk rate of 10.5 percent -- while above the AL average of 8.0 percent -- could improve, boosting his on-base percentages over .400, even if he's more .300 hitter than .330...

What about power? Trout wasn't projected as more of 20-homer guy coming up, so the 30 home runs was a big surprise, especially in a tough home run park. According to the ESPN Home Run Tracker, eight of Trout's 30 home runs were "just enough" -- a figure that wasn't near the league-leading figures of Miguel Cabrera (16) and Adrian Beltre (15). Trout's home run percentage on fly balls was 21.6 percent, which ranked 15th in the majors among those hitters with 300 plate appearances. Remember, as fast as is he, Trout isn't a small guy, at 6-1 and over 200 pounds. He's bigger than Mays or Hank Aaron.

Let's look at some history. Trout's headline-grabbing number is 10.7 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) at age 20. You can't really study a player like that systematically, because he's essentially a sample size of one. Counting only non-pitchers, only 2 other players have cleared 8 WAR at age 20 - Alex Rodriguez and Al Kaline, a list that grows to 5 if you include 21 year olds (Rogers Hornsby, Rickey Henderson, Eddie Mathews). If you compare Trout to players with 10-WAR seasons, the youngest comps are Ted Williams at age 22, and Willie Mays, Ty Cobb and Eddie Collins at age 23. Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Mantle and A-Rod all did it at 24, Hornsby and Babe Ruth at 25 (Ruth only really put in his first full-time season as an outfielder at 24). And of those, if you look at players with 10.5 or more WAR ate age 25 or younger, the only guys on the list with Trout are Mantle (twice) and Ruth, Gehrig, Cobb, and Hornsby once each, all of them at 24 or 25. Rare air to be listed with any of these guys, let alone atop a club exclusive to those names.

But to at least get some historical perspective, let's loosen the criteria.

Of the ten previous players to clear 10 WAR in a season for the first time by age 25, four never topped that season again, and three of those never topped 10 WAR again; only three (Ruth, Hornsby and Mays) cracked 10 WAR more than two more times (the "10+Yrs" column refers only to subsequent seasons):

PlayerAgeWARCareer HighAge10+ YrsdWARHoF?
Mike Trout**2010.7N/AN/AN/A2.1Active
Ted Williams#2210.110.7272-0.9YES
Willie Mays#2310.310.93452.0YES
Ty Cobb2310.111.13020.4YES
Eddie Collins2310.12302.8YES
Lou Gehrig2411.5241-0.2YES
Mickey Mantle2411.011.12520.5YES
Jimmie Foxx2410.2240-0.1YES
Alex Rodriguez**2410.12402.3Active
Babe Ruth2511.613.7287-0.5YES
Rogers Hornsby2510.612.02841.3YES

#-Lost seasons to military service

If you expand the field to players who reached 9 WAR for the first time by age 25, you get 19 players. 7 of the 19 never topped that season, although besides Arky Vaughan all of those were the 24 and 25 year olds. 9 of the 19 went on to have at least 3 more seasons of 9 or more WAR:

PlayerAgeWARCareer HighAge9+ YrsdWARHoF?
Mike Trout**2010.7N/AN/AN/A2.1Active
Alex Rodriguez**209.210.12431.7Active
Rogers Hornsby219.712.02873.5YES
Ted Williams2210.110.7276-0.9YES
Ty Cobb229.511.1304-0.7YES
Eddie Collins229.410.12321.3YES
Stan Musial*#229.310.82710.7YES
Willie Mays#2310.310.93462.0YES
Cal Ripken239.811.33013.5YES
Mickey Mantle239.211.12531.1YES
Arky Vaughan239.12300.6YES
Shoeless Joe Jackson$239.09.3241-0.1Ineligible
Lou Gehrig2411.5244-0.2YES
Jimmie Foxx2410.2241-0.1YES
Tris Speaker249.82410.4YES
Babe Ruth249.713.72890.2YES
Barry Bonds259.511.63652.5Not Yet
Adrian Beltre**259.32502.5Active
Terry Turner259.22505.4No

#-Lost seasons to military service
*-1st 9-WAR season vs war-depleted competition
$-Banned from baseball in mid-career

As you can see, I included here as well, under the heading dWAR, the player's defensive Wins Above Replacement, to see if players whose defensive value was a big part of scaling these heights were more or less likely to repeat. At the extreme end you have Terry Turner, who made this list on a fluke defensive season for the 1906 Indians (the defensive stats of Nap Lajoie's Indians are a whole separate historical controversy). That said, the guys with some significant defensive value, like Trout, do seem to have been more likely to re-appear on the list, even guys like Hornsby and Bonds who were no longer valuable defensive players by the time of their best offensive seasons.

Stretching this to players who reached 8 WAR before age 25, you get a total set of 40 players, and almost half of them never matched the first season when they reached that level:

PlayerAgeWARCareer HighAge8+ YrsdWARHoF?
Mike Trout**2010.7N/AN/AN/A2.1Active
Alex Rodriguez**209.210.12471.7Active
Al Kaline208.08.22610.4YES
Rogers Hornsby219.712.02883.5YES
Rickey Henderson218.79.82621.3YES
Eddie Mathews218.02110.3YES
Ted Williams2210.110.7277-0.9YES
Ty Cobb229.511.1305-0.7YES
Eddie Collins229.410.12351.3YES
Stan Musial*#229.310.82750.7YES
Dick Allen228.52210.3No
Cal Ripken228.011.33022.2YES
Joe DiMaggio#228.08.62610.4YES
Willie Mays#2310.310.934102.0YES
Mickey Mantle239.211.12541.1YES
Arky Vaughan239.12310.6YES
Shoeless Joe Jackson$239.09.3241-0.1Ineligible
Reggie Jackson238.82300.1YES
Ken Griffey jr.238.59.52620.9Not Yet
Albert Pujols**238.49.4296-0.8Active
Joe Cronin238.02302.7YES
Andruw Jones**238.02302.7Active
Lou Gehrig2411.5246-0.2YES
Jimmie Foxx2410.2243-0.1YES
Tris Speaker249.82450.4YES
Babe Ruth249.713.728100.2YES
Ron Santo248.69.62720.8YES
Johnny Bench248.52402.4YES
Willie Wilson248.32402.2No
Ralph Kiner248.1240-0.1YES
David Wright**248.12401.4Active
Bobby Grich248.02403.9No
Ryne Sandberg248.02402.0YES
Barry Bonds259.511.63682.5Not Yet
Adrian Beltre**259.32502.5Active
Terry Turner259.22505.4No
Will Clark258.5250-0.1No
Hank Aaron258.49.1275-1.1YES
Snuffy Stirnweiss*258.18.22612.5No
Joe Medwick258.1250-0.5YES

#-Lost seasons to military service
*-1st 9-WAR season vs war-depleted competition
$-Banned from baseball in mid-career

Stirnweiss was a dominant player in 1944-45 who was merely ordinary when the real ballplayers returned from the war. Grich and Andruw Jones, like lesser versions of Turner (though better players over their careers), were pushed to these heights by unusually valuable glovework.

Mike Trout is a highly unusual player; we just don't have much precedent for a guy this good, this young, with this broad a base of skills and some of them (like his defense and base stealing) so well-polished already. You can compare him to Mays, Mantle and Cobb, but almost by definition you can't project a player to have that kind of career. What we can say is that players who have MVP-caliber seasons at age 25 or younger (1) tend, more often than not, to go on to great careers but (2) tend, as often as not, to never have a better season simply because it's hard to put it all together like this at any age.

October 9, 2012
POLITICS/BASEBALL: D vs R, Yankees vs Mets

Once every four years, I have a little fun crossing the baseball and politics streams by writing a post noting that the Hated Yankees have prospered far better in the World Series under Democratic than Republican presidents - in fact, they haven't won a World Series with a Republican in the White House since 1958. Counting since 1921 (their first pennant), the Yankees are 20-3 in the World Series in 42 postseasons of Democratic Administrations, but just 7-10 in the World Series in 48 years of Republican Administrations. On the whole, the Yankees under Democratic presidents have won the World Series (20 times) more often than they've missed the postseason (14 times), compared to 7 championships and 26 Octobers at home during Republican presidencies. They've gone 0 for the last five GOP Administrations while failing to bring home a championship on the watch of only one Democratic president, Lyndon Johnson.

Here's a chart - I classified the postseasons by who was President in October (Nixon resigned in August, Harding and FDR died in the spring, JFK was killed in November) and left out 1994, when Buck Showalter's Yankees had the best record in the American League when the strike hit, and 2012, since the postseason's just started:

HW BushR40000--04
W BushR802213471

The Mets, sadly, have not even appeared in enough postseasons to be worth doing a similar analysis- their total is a World Championship (1969) and a World Series loss (1973) under Nixon, a World Championship (1986) and an LCS loss (1988) under Reagan, a Division Series loss (1999) and a World Series loss (2000) under Clinton, and an LCS loss (2006) under George W. Bush. But if you compare regular season records:

HW BushR0.505
W BushR0.503

A pretty clear inverse of the Yankees pattern, although much like the GOP, while falling short of the big prize the Mets had a good second half of the Clinton years under Bobby Valentine (the Newt Gingrich of baseball managers), and like the GOP the Mets had terrible months in October 2006 and September 2008.

October 4, 2012
BASEBALL: Dickey Rises Above

RA Dickey this season finished 20-6 for a 74-88 team: 14 over .500 for a team that was 14 under. How unusual is that accomplishment? I ran through the past century looking for examples, focusing on pitchers who (1) won 15 or more games and (2) finished 5 or more games over .500 (3) for a team that was below .500 when they didn't pitch. I came up with 73 75 examples; I'm sure there are more I missed, but I think I got the major ones. The chart below is ranked by multiplying the pitcher's number of games above .500 by the team's number of games below .500 the rest of the time ("x"); the "TOT" column adds the two:

Read More »

September 19, 2012
BASEBALL: Mike Trout Scores

Mike Trout recently played his 162nd major league game, in which time he scored 136 runs. How unusual is that? Pretty unusual, at least in modern baseball. Baseball-Reference.com has game logs going back to 1918, and while I can't run a systematic search, I'm pretty sure this is a complete list of the players since 1918 to score 120 or more runs in their first 162 major league games - 8 Hall of Famers out of 26 (plus at least one, Ichiro, who is sure to be a 9th, plus others who still could and a handful of guys who would have made it if they'd stayed healthier or out of World War II). Ages and years are listed by the age the player was in the season when he played his 162nd game:

Joe DiMaggio154221937
Ted Williams146211940
Lloyd Waner142221928
Johnny Frederick142281930
Mike Trout136202012
Vada Pinson136201959
Barney McCoskey135231940
Roy Johnson133271930
Jackie Robinson132291948
Jim Gilliam132251954
Dom DiMaggio131241941
Ichiro Suzuki130282002
Kiki Cuyler130261925
Frank Robinson128211957
Charlie Keller127231940
Nomar Garciaparra126231997
Hanley Ramirez124232007
Bobby Bonds123231969
Pete Reiser123221941
Chuck Klein122241929
Hal Trosky121211934
Augie Galan121231935
Carlos Beltran120221999
Johnny Pesky120261946
Lou Boudreau120221940
George Watkins120311931

As you can see, the list includes a number of guys (Ichiro, Jackie Robinson, Johnny Frederick, Roy Johnson, George Watkins) who arrived in the majors as seasoned veterans in mid-career. (This is not the case for Johnny Pesky, who scored 105 runs in 147 games as a 23 year old rookie, then spent 3 years at war before scoring 115 runs in 1946 when he returned). It's also heavily dominated by the high-scoring 1925-41 period. The number of players who compiled a scoring record like Trout's at such a young age is short and dominated by immortals.

I won't chart them, but others of note: Lloyd Waner's better brother Paul 113, Roy Johnson's better brother Bob 118, Joe DiMaggio & Charlie Keller's outfield-mate Tommy Henrich 116 and their teammate Lyn Lary 116, Albert Pujols 115, A-Rod 117, Ryan Braun 116, Dick Allen 119, Frank Thomas 110, Julio Lugo 111, Denard Span 115, Terrence Long 115, Steve Henderson 112, Wally Moses 116, the ill-fated Len Koenecke 110, Earl Averill 111, Earle Combs 115, Vince Coleman 115, Minnie Minoso 117, Bobby Thomson 115, Dan Uggla 111, Gary Redus 112, Al Smith 112, Fred Lynn 108, Lu Blue 109, Jose Reyes 103, Adam Dunn 108, Richie Ashburn 107, Pee Wee Reese 107, Dan Gladden 108, Andrew McCutchen 108, Bob Meusel 101, Jim Bottomley 101, Walt Dropo 106, Chick Fullis 108, Juan Samuel 109.

You can go back and find a few more in the 1900-17 period - Federal League star Benny Kauff scored 124 runs in his first 159 games, Roy Thomas 137 runs in his first 150 games, Lefty Davis scored 150 runs in his first 171 games in 1901-02. The 19th century is different, of course - Willie Keeler scored 191 runs in his first 170 games, Billy Hamilton 165 runs in his first 172 games, Hugh Duffy 204 runs in his first 207 games, and going all the way back to the beginning in 1871, in the days before gloves, groundskeeping or even fixed fielding positions, Ross Barnes scored 272 runs in his first 136 National Association games and 197 runs in his first 165 National League games.

But if you have to go back that far, it should tell you what a special player Trout really is.

August 6, 2012
BASEBALL: That Sinking Feeling

I've lived through many depressing Mets seasons, ranging from years like 1978-80 when there was just no hope from the outset to years like 2006-08 when the team just unraveled right at the very end. But there is, in my view, no more unwatchable spectacle than a team that stays in the hunt or at least plays respectable halfway through the season, then just goes into freefall.

We've been down this road before. The two most memorable of these were 1991 and 2004. In 1991, the Mets had a Gooden-Cone-Viola front 3 and a rebuilt post-Strawberry lineup with Vince Coleman and Hubie Brooks supposed to stand in for Darryl. It was not that impressive a solution, but for a while it seemed to work: the team was 46-34 and 2.5 games back at the All-Star Break, and 49-34 (a 96-win pace, and with 368 runs scored and 312 allowed, they were only about two games above their Pythagorean record) three games after the Break. They went 4-4 the next 8 games to stand 53-38 (still a 94-win pace) on July 21, 4 games back of the Pirates. Then they just stopped. Look at their batting and pitching lines through July 21 - Gooden was 10-6 with good peripheral numbers (but a 4.06 ERA), Viola was 11-5 with a 2.92 ERA, Cone was 9-6 with a 3.07 ERA (with a combined K/BB ratio of 329/112 between the three), the Franco/Pena/Innis bullpen was solid, HoJo was hitting .268/.363/.553 with 69 RBI, Brooks was hitting .254/.350/.454, Kevin McReynolds .293/.357/.463, Gregg Jefferies .287/.360/.426, and Dave Magadan, Coleman and Rick Cerone had OBPs of .379, .360 and .369.

The team went 24-46 the rest of the way, including an 8-21 mark in August (batting / pitching). Brooks and Coleman got hurt, combining for just 159 ineffective plate appearances the rest of the year. McReynolds hit .212/.275/.351 the remainder of the way, Jefferies .256/.312/.322. Garry Templeton ended up starting at first base for a while, and hit .209/.235/.291 after July 21. HoJo kept hitting for power, but with an OBP of .315 the rest of the season. On the pitching side, Gooden started just 6 more games, and Viola - due partly to poor defense - collapsed to 2-10 with a 5.73 ERA the rest of the way. It was a gruesome end to the team that had averaged 95 wins a year from 1984-90 and been on pace to do the same in mid-July. The team would not contend again for 6 years.

2004 was horrible in a different way. The Mets were coming off two straight down years, so expectations were low enough in Art Howe's second season at the helm. And in fact, they were never a really good team - but due to a poor start by the perennially division-leading Braves, the Mets were 1 game out of first place as late as July 15, the first game after the All-Star Break. The trouble signs should have been obvious: the team was 45-43, the Phillies were tied for first, the Marlins were also a game out, and the Mets' .528 Pythagorean record still paled next to Atlanta's .551. As it turned out, the Braves would go 50-24 the rest of the way.

The Mets on July 15, 2004 had a few bright spots (batting / pitching). Mike Piazza, then 35, was hitting .293/.385/.500. Cliff Floyd was hitting .281/.347/.516. Al Leiter and Tom Glavine had ERAs of 2.39 and 2.66, and closer Braden Looper's 1.80 ERA understated his dominance - 43 K, 6 BB, 2 HR in 50 IP.

You know what happened next. The Mets dropped 10 of their next 14 games to fall 7 games back on July 30 - and then pulled the trigger on a trio of trades that packed off top pitching prospect Scott Kazmir and another prospect to the Rays for Victor Zambrano, obtained Jose Bautista from the Kansas City system in exchange for Justin Huber and then packaged Bautista and Ty Wigginton for Kris Benson and Jeff Keppinger. The deals were win-now deals, but the Mets had already effectively dropped out of the race; after going 3-5 their next 8 games, they were 11 games back and finished. Overall, they ended up 26-48 the rest of the way, Benson posted a 4.50 ERA and Zambrano got hurt and started only 3 games. (batting / pitching). The team became almost as totally unwatchable as in 1991, the sole exception being the July 21 callup of David Wright, who hit .293/.332/.525.

2012 is starting to get that feeling. There were a lot of memorable highlights this season's first half, from Wright's amazing comeback (slashing his K rate by more than half from the prior years) to Johan Santana's no-hitter to RA Dickey's amazing dominance. All I really asked for was that, after Mike Pelfrey went down, this team keep Wright, Ike Davis and the four remaining rotation starters healthy. The Mets were 43-36, 2.5 games out and leading the Wild Card race on June 30 (playing only slightly above their Pythagorean record), and would make it into the Break 46-40.

Through June 30, things looked solid. (batting / pitching). Wright was hitting .355/.449/.564, and while he had no other major help, some other offensive contributors were pitching in a little: Lucas Duda was hitting .258/.348/.417, Kirk Neuwenhuis .275/.335/.414. Ike Davis, after a nightmarish start, was beginning to shake off the rust in mid-June. Dickey was 12-1 with a 2.15 ERA, Santana 6-4 with a 2.76 ERA, and the top four starters (Dickey, Santana, Jonathan Niese and Dillon Gee) were combining for 383/115 K/BB ratio in 395.1 IP.

But the second half has been a nightmare. Gee went down with a season-ending blood clot in his arm. Santana went to the DL, nominally with an ankle injury but most likely signifying his shoulder hasn't really recovered after his June 1 no-hitter; he had allowed 4 HR in 68 innings through that night, 11 in 42.2 IP and a 6.54 ERA since. Dickey's ERA since July 1 is 4.69, and most of the rest of the staff has been no improvement. In the outfield, Duda has hit .140/.260/.233, Nieuwenhuis .105/.190/.132, Jason Bay .109/.242/.164 (the former two have since been demoted). (batting / pitching)

The Mets lost 11 of the first 12 games after the Break, dropping to 11.5 games back in the division and 5.5 back of the second Wild Card. The losses have, this time, been more of the excruciatingly close variety. Of those 11 losses:

-On July 14, the Mets blew a 7-5 lead in the bottom of the 8th and lost by 1 run, 8-7.

-On July 17, the Mets staged a 3-run rally to lead 3-2 entering the bottom of the 9th, blew the lead, took a 4-3 lead into the bottom of the tenth, and lost the game 5-4.

-On July 18, the Mets lost a 1-run game, 4-3.

-On July 20, the Mets lost a 1-run game, 7-6.

-On July 21, the Mets trailed 6-5 entering the 9th inning, before Dickey (working in relief) was tagged for two runs.

-On July 22, the Mets rallied with runs in the 7th and 9th to tie the game, then lost 8-3 in 12 innings.

-On July 23, the Mets rallied to tie the game in the 7th, then lost 8-2 in 10 innings.

That's a 12 game stretch featuring 3 extra inning losses, 3 other 1-run losses, and 1 other game that was a 1-run game into the 9th.

Amazingly, the team has actually righted the ship a little since then, with a 5-2 stretch entering yesterday's loss and a total record of 6-5 on the current West Coast road trip, including some spectacular moments by raw rookie Matt Harvey (1-2 so far but with 23 K in 16.1 IP). Daniel Murphy (.369/.414/.524) and Ruben Tejada (.338/.377/.392) have been on a tear since July 1, and Jordany Valdespin has hit a number of big pinch hit homers, picking up where Scott Hairston left off earlier in the season; Mets pinch hitters are batting .268/.367/.492 with 8 pinch homers on the season. So the situation is not as dire as that of, say, the Astros, who after posting a 22-23 record through May 25 have gone 14-50, including 4-30 since June 27 (and have traded away their only good starting pitcher and most of their bullpen).

But it's hard to watch, after the hope of the first half. This team will have to keep fighting to avoid the fate of 1991 and 2004.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:48 PM | Baseball 2012-Present | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
July 12, 2012
BASEBALL: 1968: Year of the Injured Hitter?

Why was 1968 the Year of the Pitcher? Let me present to you an unorthodox theory that has been percolating in my brain since I noticed a pattern leafing through the Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract a quarter century ago: the dominance of pitching that season was exacerbated by an unusual run of injuries to a number of the game's best hitters, combined to some extent with an unusual run of good health by the game's best pitchers.

Lest we get too carried away with the theory, let me step back a bit. The offensive/defensive conditions of the game change every year, sometimes due to years-long structural factors, sometimes due to weather, chance or other one-year factors. Scoring dropped throughout the 1960s due to a number of the former: a bigger strike zone, more pitcher-friendly parks, higher mounds, more night games, a reduction in the stigma against strikeouts without a corresponding emphasis on plate patience. Those factors affected the game from 1963-68, and some of them continued to linger into the late 1970s. 1968 was simply the most extreme example of its era. Scoring was down from 3.77 runs per team per game to 3.42 (a drop of almost 10%), rising back in 1969 to 4.07.

But I have wondered for years if there was something specific at work that made 1968 stand out from the years around it, and if you look one by one at the injuries to major offensive stars that season, a pattern suggests itself. I do not promise a systematic comparison of 1968 to other seasons in this regard, but take a look at the anecdotal evidence with me and see if you agree.

The Walking Wounded

Let's start with the core group of players, most of them major offensive stars, who were hampered by injury in 1968. I'll list each player's age as of 1968 in parentheses, and a chart showing each player's plate appearances and Offensive Wins Above Replacement (OWAR) for the 1967-1968-1969 seasons (source: baseball-reference.com).

Joe Morgan (24)


Morgan wasn't the biggest star KO'd by injury in 1968, but he was the most total loss. While he wasn't recognized as a major star until he escaped the Astrodome in 1972, Morgan had been second in the Rookie of the Year voting in 1965, an All-Star in 1966, batted .276/.385/.408 and averaged 20 steals a year from 1965-67, and .253/.366/.392 with 44 steals a year from 1969-71, plus another All-Star appearance in 1970. But 10 games into the 1968 season, with Morgan's OBP at .444, he tore up his knee when Tommie Agee ran into him at second base, ending his season.

Harmon Killebrew (32)


The biggest home run threat of the 1960s, Killebrew hit .266/.379/.546 from 1959-67, including 44 homers, 131 walks and a second-place MVP finish in 1967. He hit .267/.409/.534 from 1969-71, including 49 homers, 145 walks, 140 RBI and an MVP Award in 1969. In 1968, Killebrew was off his game but still productive (.210/.361/.420, OPS+ of 131); he was batting .204/.347/.392 when he tore a hamstring stretching for a throw in the All-Star Game, and didn't return until September, when he batted .257/.458/.629 but started only 10 games and managed just 48 plate appearances.

Roberto Clemente (33)


Clemente won the 1966 NL MVP and won his third batting title in four years in 1967, batting .357/.400/.554 and driving in 110 runs. Overall, he batted .332/.375/.503 from 1961-67, and .346/.395/.532 from 1969-71. But in 1968, Clemente was hampered by a nasty shoulder injury he suffered in the offseason at his home in Puerto Rico when a steel railing he was climbing on collapsed on his patio, sending him hurtling down a hill. Clemente tried to play through it, but later admitted that he should have at least skipped spring training; he hit .211/.237/.368 through May 24 before returning to something like his usual form, ending the season at .291/.355/.482.

Frank Robinson (32)


Robinson, the 1966 Triple Crown winner, was slowed slightly in 1967 by vision problems from a violent collision, which may have lingered the following year; in 1968 he added mumps and a sore arm. He batted .314/.407/.609 in 1966-67 and .299/.400/.524 in 1969-71, but missed 32 games and hit .268/.390/.444 in 1968.

Al Kaline (33)


Kaline batted .307/.385/.509 from 1955-67, and had arguably his best season as a hitter in 1967, batting .308/.411/.541 (OPS+ of 176). He was still a productive hitter in 1968, batting .287/.392/.428 (OPS+ of 146), and despite an off year in 1969, his batting line from 1969-72 was a robust .286/.378/.456. But Kaline missed six weeks in 1968 after his arm was broken when he was hit by a pitch from Lew Krausse on May 25.

Willie Stargell (28)


Stargell battled injuries in both 1967 and 1968 before getting healthy and returning to form in 1969:

Willie's production fell off in 1967. With Mota continuing to hit .300, Stargell found himself often benched against lefthanders. He suffered through injuries as well that year, crashing into the wall twice in a span of three days and experienced tendonitis in his shoulder. His weight remained and issue and inactivity did not help it. In 1968, Stargell first injured a knee and later suffered a concussion and face lacerations making a spectacular catch while crashing into the Forbes Field scoreboard and ended up hitting .237, the lowest of his career as a regular player as he battled headaches for the rest of the season.

On the whole, Stargell declined from .315/.381/.581 with 102 RBI in 1966 (his second straight 100 RBI year and third straight slugging .500) to .271/.365/.465 with 73 RBI in 1967 and .237/.315/.441 with 67 RBI in just 128 games in 1968. Stargell would bat .307/.382 /556 in 1969 and .289/.375/.555 from 1969-79.

Joe Torre (27)


If you're keeping score at home, that's six Hall of Fame hitters between the ages of 24 and 33. Torre might be a seventh, although he's likely to be inducted as a manager. Torre batted .301/.364/.487 from 1963-67 and .326/.394/.501 from 1969-71, but in 1968 he missed 47 games with injuries including a fractured cheekbone that caused him to miss a month after being beaned on April 18 by Chuck Hartenstein and a fractured hand in September, batting .271/.332/.377 on the season. As Torre describes the beaning these days:

Hank Aaron was on first base, trying to steal, and as Torre tried to sneak a peak back at the catcher and didn't pick up the pitch in time before it hit him. The pitch broke his palate, and Torre said the toughest part was staying in bed for a long period of time.

Tony Conigliaro (23)


I retold Tony C's familar and sad story recently; he was one of baseball's major rising star sluggers when he suffered a horrific beaning in August 1967, and missed the entire 1968 season.

Rico Carty (28)


A devastating hitter when healthy, Rico Carty batted .330/.388/.554 as a rookie in 1964, .324/.382/.505 from 1964-66 before struggling to hit .255/.329/.401 in 1967 while playing with a separated shoulder. Carty then missed the entire 1968 season with tuberculosis. He would return to bat .357/.434/.570 in 1969-70 before his next big injury, to his knee.

Rico Petrocelli (25)


Like a few others listed above, Petrocelli had injury problems in 1967 that worsened in 1968 before bouncing back healthy in 1969. In Petrocelli's case, it was a bad elbow that cost him 39 games. He had batted .259/.330/.420 as a 24 year old in 1967 (OPS+ of 113) and would enjoy a monster breakout 40-homer .297/.403/.589 season in 1969, hitting .269/.363/.506 from 1969-71 (OPS+ of 134). But hampered by the elbow injury, Petrocelli hit just .234/.292/.374 (OPS+ of 92) in 1968.

Don Mincher (30)


Yet another beaning victim. Mincher, a productive if unspectacular slugger, batted .255/.348/.488 (OPS+ 134) from 1962-67, including .273/.367/.487 (OPS+ 156) in 1967. He would go on to bat .257/.359/.448 (OPS+ 129) from 1969-71. But 1968 was a significant off year, as he batted .236/.312/.368 (OPS+ 111) and missed 42 games, including 10 games in April and the last 20 games of the season. The main cause was a horrific April 11 beaning by a 90+ mph Sam McDowell fastball to the jaw, which knocked out teeth and caused Mincher permanent hearing loss in one ear and "gave me equilibrium problems."

Tommie Agee (25)


The April collision with Morgan wasn't Agee's first bruising of 1968; he was hospitalized after being beaned by Bob Gibson on the first pitch of spring training, and things didn't get better from there: the 1966 AL Rookie of the Year had batted .256/.315/.412 (OPS+ 117) in 1966-67 and would bat .280/.348/.456 (OPS+ 121) from 1969-71, but in 1968 he was helpless, batting .217/.255/.307 (OPS+ 69) and doing even that well only with a strong September; Agee was hitting .109 in mid-May, .165 in mid-July and .181/.222/.265 on August 26 before regaining his bearings to hit .371/.397/.486 in his last 25 games.

Tony Oliva (29)


Another outstanding talent (he was feared enough to lead the AL in intentional walks in 1968) whose career was degraded by injuries, the 1964 Rookie of the Year and 1965 Al MVP runner-up batted .317/.363/.518 from 1964-66 (OPS+ 143), .322/.362/.517 (OPS+ 140) from 1969-71. He had had a mild off year (.289/.347/.463, OPS+ 129) in 1967, and in that context his 1968 season (.289/.357/.477, OPS+ 145) looks like the same old Oliva, just hitting under more difficult conditions. But Oliva averaged 664 plate appearances a year from 1964-67 and 683 a year in 1969-70, whereas he missed 34 games in 1968 including the entire month of September with a separated shoulder, and finished the season with just 68 RBI.

Dick Allen (26)


Allen, a better hitter than a good many Hall of Fame sluggers, was still a dangerous hitter in 1968 and had injury problems that season that were not unusual for him, but he may still deserve mention here; he suffered a groin injury and may have been suffering some aftereffects from the injury that ended his 1967 season (he tore up his hand pushing it through a car headlight on August 24); Allen started slowly, batting .257/.330/.396 through May 17, and while he caught fire after missing 8 games in early June, he ended up tailing off, batting .240/.334/.498 in the season's second half (this being Dick Allen, that could also have been the results of a bruised ego, as he was feuding with his manager at the time). On the whole, Allen hit .312/.400/.601 in 1966-67 (OPS +178) - only Frank Robinson was better over that period - and .297/.390/.557 from 1969-74 (OPS+ 166). In that context, 1968 counts as a mild off year for Allen, .263/.352/.520 (OPS+ 160) with a career-high 161 strikeouts.

Adding Up The Damage


I don't want to overstate the effect of this rash of injuries to productive hitters, but the numbers do suggest that injuries to these 14 hitters alone were enough to have some effect at the margins. Combined, they accounted for 6.4% of all Major League plate appearances in 1967, 4.3% in 1968, and - with expansion - 5.6% in 1969. But not just any plate appearances - almost all of these guys were stationed at the top or middle of their teams' batting orders, and the combined loss of 30-35 offensive WAR in a 24-team league is a lot of holes to fill.

In doing any sort of comparison, of course, we also have to consider that the 1969 bounce-back is inflated by expansion, which not only dilutes talent levels but tends to dilute them asymmetrically in favor of more scoring (marginal pitchers trapped in the minors are mostly there because they can't pitch, whereas many marginal non-pitchers are trapped in the minors because they can hit but can't field; adding more bad pitchers and a mix of bad hitters with good hitters who can't field will, on balance, bring more scoring).

More Off Years

Of course, those 14 hitters were not the only ones to have a tough time in 1968, even relative to the league. To complete the picture, I'll run here through a number of other players who had off years, some of them obviously not injury-related and others perhaps caused by unknown or minor injuries. But absent some reason to classify some of them as injury problems, I would not consider them as part of the analysis.

Carl Yastrzemski (28)


Yaz was healthy and one of the three best hitters in baseball in 1968, but his 1967 Triple Crown season was not something he could repeat. Nobody had a year like it in 1968.

Orlando Cepeda (30)


The unanimous 1967 NL MVP had back-to-back off years in 1968-69 (dropping from .314/.381/.500, OPS+ 148 to .252/.316/.402 OPS+ 108) before a big bounce back in 1970 (.305/.365/.543, OPS+ 136). I suspect his chronically bad knees may have had something to do with that, but that's just guesswork.

Tim McCarver (26)


Injuries for catchers can just accumulate. McCarver's reduced playing time and production suggest he was banged up.

Paul Blair (24)


I don't know of any injuries - Blair's famous beaning by Ken Tatum came in 1970 - but 1968 was a total loss for him with the bat, .211/.277/.318 (OPS+ 81), compared to .288/.338/.435 (OPS+ 126) in 1966-67 and .277/.335/.460 (OPS+ 119) in 1969-70.

Tommy Davis (29)


Again, I don't know of specific injuries, but Davis had many knee problems in his career and fell off dramatically relative to the league in 1968.

George Scott (24)


The Boomer had his usual spats with management over his weight, but seems to have just lost his batting eye in 1968, dropping from .303/.373/.465 to .171/.236/.237; he would go on to a long, productive career as a slugger.

Curt Blefary (24)


I'm not aware of any injury problems; the 1965 AL Rookie of the Year, who batted .252/.361/.447 (OPS+ 133) just fell apart, .200/.301/.322 (OPS+ 89) despite improving his K/BB ratio significantly. He would hit .253/.347/.393 (OPS+ 109) in the Astrodome the following year, his last as a productive hitter.

Rod Carew (22)


Carew was healthy and still just a young hitter coming into his own; his playing time was held back by his military commitments, which included 19 games away from the team in June 1968 to attend a summer training camp.

Tony Gonzalez (31)


Gonzalez, a good hitter earlier in the decade, had a fluke year in 1967, hitting .339/.396/.472, but was never really a major offensive threat after that.

Wes Parker (28)


Parker missed 3 weeks in August, but this doesn't seem all that unusual for him, and he was ordinarily not a major offensive star. But he did drop off from .250/.355/.367 (OPS+ 112) in 1966-67 and .301/.375/.444 (OPS+ 129) in 1969-70 to .239/.312/.314 (OPS+ 96) in 1968.

Jim Ray Hart (26)


A dangerous hitter from 1964-67 (.290/.352/.501, OPS+ 136) Hart's career was ended prematurely by injuries including shoulder problems, supposedly stemming from being hit in the shoulder by Bob Gibson. He batted .258/.323/.444 (OPS+128) in 1968 and missed 26 games, including a week in May and another in August, compared to the 664 plate appearances he averaged the prior four years, and never played a full season again. It appears that he was never hit by Gibson in a regular season game, so unless Gibson's just making up the story, it may have happened in a spring game, like Gibson's beaning of Agee, but the year would be unclear.

Ron Santo (28)


Yeah, I didn't realize Santo and Yaz were the same age, either, which is the main reason I bothered listing him here. He, too, was coming off a big 1967, and was healthy as a horse.

If you just include Parker, who was definitely injured, and Carew, who was definitely unavailable for reasons unrelated to the offensive conditions, the chart I ran above now looks like this:


If you then add in Cepeda, McCarver and Tommy Davis, you get this:


Without running the full numbers, there were a few other players who busted out of 2-3 year funks in 1969: Boog Powell (who'd been injured in 1966-67 but was healthy in 1968), Ron Fairly, Willie Davis (Bill James in the 1988 Abstract identified Davis as a guy who lost a lot to the expanded strike zone of 1963-68; he had no injury issues). Hank Aaron's OWAR for 1967-69 read 8.1-5.2-7.1, but he was healthy. 1968 also saw a couple of long-productive sluggers hit the wall with age: Bob Allison, Leon Wagner. Mickey Mantle was at the end, but was more productive than his numbers looked at first glance, and Mickey had been in gradual decline for a few years.

1969 also saw a bunch of guys bust out big compared to their 1967-68 OWAR. Some were productive hitters in 1968 who blossomed even further with expansion, better hitting conditions and marginally better health: Willie McCovey (who missed 14 games in 1968), Pete Rose (who uncharacteristically missed 2 weeks in July 1968 but still managed 692 plate appearances), Frank Howard, Jimmie Wynn, Reggie Smith, Rusty Staub, Cleon Jones, Tony Perez. There were also a crop of young players who established themselves offensive stars for the first time in 1969, in many cases 1968 rookies or guys who got their first full seasons in 1969: Reggie Jackson, Johnny Bench, Sal Bando, Bobby Bonds, Bobby Tolan, Alex Johnson, Mike Epstein. A passel of young talent can contribute to changing the balance of power between hitters and pitchers, but then 1968's crop of rookie pitchers included guys like Jerry Koosman and Stan Bahnsen who enjoyed immediate success; it's probably an effect rather than a cause of the offensive environment that many of the rookie hitters that season needed more time to adjust.

Finally, despite the offensive conditions or in some cases perhaps because of them, there were a handful of major hitters who had better years (measured by OWAR) in 1968 than in 1967 or 1969. Some just had career years (Willie Horton, Ken Harrelson) or at least happened to be right at their peak (Bill Freehan) or enjoying an up year in a series of ups and downs (Felipe Alou, Matty Alou, Roy White). Others just gave up less ground than the rest of the league (Willie Mays, Billy Williams, Lou Brock, Brooks Robinson, Ernie Banks).

The Pitchers

I have thus far addressed the hitters and their problems. But there's a dog that didn't bark much in 1968: pitching injuries, normally the bane of every baseball team. For example, contrasted to the number of injured, in-their-prime Hall of Fame hitters in 1968, there were 14 Hall of Fame pitchers active that season. Two were relievers: Hoyt Wilhelm made 72 appearances, Rollie Fingers was 21 and made his Major League debut on September 15. Of the 12 starters, 9 started at least 31 games and threw at least 232 innings, plus Don Sutton, who started 27 games and threw 207 innings, plus 21 year old rookie Nolan Ryan, who started 18 games. And that includes a number of guys who were right at the top of their game - Gibson, Marichal, Seaver, Drysdale, Jenkins. Only Jim Bunning was hurt: Bunning was perhaps the best pitcher in baseball in 1967, but he was 36 and broke down in 1968, starting 26 games and throwing 160 innings on the way to a 4-14 season. Of course, there were two other major injuries: Jim Palmer started only 9 games in 1967 and missed all of 1968 at age 22, and Sandy Koufax, still just 32, had retired after 1966 (Whitey Ford's career was also ended by injury in early 1967). The Hall of Famers hit 1968 like a bullseye: Bob Gibson, who had the great 1.12 ERA, had missed two months with a broken leg the year before, while Don Drysdale, who set the scoreless innings record that would stand for two decades, blew his arm out the next year. 1968 AL ERA champ Luis Tiant (1.60 ERA) would struggle in 1969 before missing large chunks of 1970-71 with arm woes, and 31 game winner Denny McLain would be effectively finished as a star by arm trouble in 1970, as would longtime AL star Dean Chance in 1969.

Looking more broadly around the league, there were a few other pitching injuries. Tommy John and of course Gary Nolan missed about 10 starts each. Jim Perry pitched well with a reduced workload, but it's not clear if he had arm trouble or was just in a 2-year state of exile as a swing man. Overall, 67 pitchers started 27 or more games, an average of 2.8 per team - not bad for a league that mostly used four-man rotations. 56 pitchers cleared 200 innings. These were not especially shocking figures for the era, but they do support the view that there were a lot of healthy arms around.

In short, there were a lot of reasons why 1968 became the Year of the Pitcher - but the fact that a lot of the game's elite hitters were hampered by significant injuries, while most of the game's best pitchers were healthy, surely had at least some role at the margins in tipping the scales towards the men on the mound.

June 23, 2012

In a 2-part study in 2011 here and here, I looked at the best and worst team defenses, measured by their Defensive Efficiency Rating (percentage of balls in play turned into outs) relative to the league average. (This is not a park-adjusted measurement, so park effects do play into this).

Let's look at this year's contenders, as well as updating the 2011 charts, which were based on early season results. As I explained in the longer article, it is extremely rare for teams to finish 5% or more above or below the league average - the 2007 Tampa Bay Devil Rays, at 95.32%, were the least effective defensive team in the postwar era (they led the AL the following year, which accounted for almost the entirety of their improvement to a pennant-winning team), while only three teams in that era cracked 105%: the 2001 Mariners (tops at 105.52%), 1999 Reds, and 1975 Dodgers (yes, that's two teams with Mike Cameron in center field). The last team below 95% was the epically awful 1930 Phillies, the last below 94% was the 1899 Cleveland Spiders, who finished 20-134. The 1930 Phillies were also the only team since 1915 to convert fewer than 65% of all balls in play into outs.

Here's the decade in progress, through June 22, 2012:

National League

BIP%NLHighDERHigh %LowDERLow %

A couple of things jump out when looking at the NL. First, balls in play are way down this year; the NL in 2010 was the first league ever below 70%, and this season's average would be a historic low. But team defense is also off from 2011.

As far as team defense, the Nationals' surge this year may owe a lot to the "K Street" pitching staff that is averaging 8.4 K/9, but the team has also featured the NL's best defense since the 1999 Reds, beating every NL defense of the past decade by a full percentage point (if they can sustain this pace). At the opposite end of the scale, the Rockies are currently threatening to be the first team since the 1899 Spiders to run below 94% of the league average and the first since the 1930 Phillies to post a DER below 650 (the team opposing batting average on balls in play - BABIP - is an eye-popping .343; there are a few accounting reasons, such as double plays, why DER and BABIP are not precise mirror images). Two of the team's top relievers, Esmil Rogers and Rex Brothers, have been pounded to the tune of BABIPs above .400, although Brothers has survived this by striking out 35 batters in 24 innings and allowing only one home run.

Regression to the mean is likely for both the Nats and the Rockies, and Colorado in particular is likely to tinker with its lineup to fix the problem (this is what the Astros did after a similarly horrific defensive start in 2011).

American League

BIP%ALHighDERHigh %LowDERLow %

In the AL, the league DER dropped off sharply from early June 2011 - when I wrote last year's post and the league average was 702 - to season's end at 694, leaving the Rays (who slightly improved their DER) with the best defense relative to the league (and in absolute terms) since 2001. Meanwhile, the Twins' defense collapsed, moving the White Sox out of last.

Turn to 2012, and the White Sox are now atop the AL, and Tampa at 696 is just a hair below the league average. But it's the Tigers who horrify, with an Opening Day infield of Prince Fielder at first, converted outfielder Ryan Raburn at second, lead-footed Jhonny Peralta at short and Miguel Cabrera - who is not significantly thinner than Fielder - at third. Even the spectacular center field defense of Austin Jackson can't salvage this D. Raburn, hitting just .165/.225/.245, has largely been supplanted now by Ramon Santiago, but Cabrera, Fielder and Peralta aren't going anywhere. This presents a real problem. The highest BABIP ever recorded (since such things have been tracked; at present the records go back to 1948) against a pitcher to qualify for the ERA title was .358 vs Kevin Millwood 2008 (four of the ten worst were Texas Rangers - besides (Millwood, you can find Kevin Brown, Aaron Sele, and John Burkett on the list). THis season, you have Max Scherzer at .383 BABIP, Josh Johnson of the Marlins at.365, and Rick Porcello at .350 (no Rockies qualify). Even with some expectation of a regression to the mean, the BABIP vs the whole Tigers staff is .318, so Scherzer and Porcello can expect to struggle with this all year. This is a major reason why Scherzer has a 5.17 ERA despite striking out 11.5 men per 9 innings and a K/BB ratio of 3.45 to 1 (Scherzer has also had home run problems), and Porcello a 4.95 ERA despite allowing just 2.3 walks and 0.9 HR/9 and a 2.3 to 1 K/BB ratio. The 1983 Phillies were the first team ever to finish in first place with the league's worst DER; it's been done twice again since (the 1998 Rangers and 2001 Indians), but for a team that was projected as the division leaders based on their offense (which, granted, is 7th in the league in runs) and pitching, that may prove too heavy a burden to carry.

June 20, 2012
BASEBALL: So, He's Got That Going For Him.

Bill Murray, minor league baseball owner:

Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:25 PM | Baseball 2012-Present • | Pop Culture | TrackBack (0)
June 19, 2012
BASEBALL: The Knuckle Master

Kilimanjaro was a front. In fact, R.A. Dickey went to the Dagobah system in the offseason. It's the only possible explanation.

Dickey right now is locked into one of the greatest pitching stretches in baseball history - he's just the tenth man to throw back-to-back 1-hit shutouts, and the first since 1900 to strike out 10+ batters in both. He's the first pitcher in major league history to notch 5 straight starts of 0 earned runs and 8+ Ks. Over his last six starts, he's 6-0 with an 0.18 ERA, averaging over 8 innings per start (48.2 IP) and a 63/5 K/BB ratio (11.65 K/9 and 0.92 BB/9), no homers, and just 21 hits allowed (3.88 per 9). He's now 11-1 with a 2.00 ERA (ERA+ of 188), leading the NL in Wins, ERA, strikeouts, WHIP, shutouts, and complete games. And his last fourt starts have been against the Cardinals (who entered that series leading the NL in scoring), the first-place Nationals, the then-first-place Rays, and the Orioles, who entered the game 39-27.

Dickey's mastery has come on as a sudden step up from what was already a successful record - his first two years with the Mets, he posted a 3.08 ERA and struck out 5.6 batters per 9 innings; through May 12 of this season, he was striking out 6.5 batters per 9. Jeff Sullivan at Baseball Nation has a great breakdown of how the performance of Dickey's knuckler has improved, including a staggering 69% of his knucklers this season being thrown for strikes. Other knuckleball pitchers have had great seasons, and like them, Dickey has done it wth excellent control - Wilbur Wood in 1971 had a 1.91 ERA (189 ERA+) in 334 innings (walking 1.7 men per 9) and was the second-best pitcher in baseball; Hoyt Wilhelm from age 41-45 had a 1.74 ERA over 539 innings in relief (ERA+ of 185), walking 2.3 men per 9. But even those walk numbers don't really capture the level of Dickey's ability to command a normally un-commandable pitch, to say nothing of the fact that unlike Wilhelm, Wood and Phil Niekro for most of their careers, he actually has a fastball (not the 90+ heater he had in his 20s, but enough to freeze batters looking for a knuckler that has been clocked as slow as 54 mph).

Really, you could not get two better stories at the front of your rotation than Santana and Dickey, assuming Santana can shake off his post-no-hitter doldrums.

UPDATE: Dickey since May 20, 2011: 18-9, 2.42 ERA, 209/57 K/BB ratio & 20 HR in 256.1 IP, one of just six MLB pitchers with an ERA below 2.50 in 200+ innings in that stretch.

Dickey could be the third knuckleballer to start the All-Star Game, after Dutch Leonard (not the 0.96 ERA one, the Senators pitcher from the 40s) and Bob Purkey, and is on track for the best strikeout rate ever by a knuckler.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:46 AM | Baseball 2012-Present | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
June 6, 2012
BASEBALL: The Green Monster

I've tried to keep short-term expectations for Bryce Harper in line, noting in my NL East preview how few rookies, even among Hall of Famers, hit with significant power before age 22 and especially before age 20.

It's a long season, and Harper as of now has just 144 plate appearances. But if he can sustain his .288/.375/.528 batting line, he'd have done something virtually unprecedented.

Harper's current OPS is 903, and his OPS+ is 143. Among players with 140 or more plate appearances as a teenager, only two post an OPS above 900: Mel Ott and Jimmie Foxx. Both are inner-circle Hall of Famers: Ott was probably the best hitter in his league 4 or 5 times and retired as the all-time NL home run leader (it was 18 years after his retirement before another NL player cracked 500 homers), and Foxx won 3 MVP awards despite playing the same position at the same time as Lou Gehrig and Hank Greenberg, won a Triple Crown and missed a second by not leading the league in homers in a season when he hit 50, and was - until A-Rod - the only player to have 500 homers through age 32.

The OPS+ is equally impressive. Four teenagers with 140 or more plate appearances have cracked an OPS+ of 140, but one (Whitey Lockman) did it against war-depleted competition in 1945, and the other three (Jack Clements, Oyster Burns and Fred Carroll) did it in 1884, when the Union Association badly diluted the talent base. The only 4 guys to crack 130: Foxx, Ott, Ty Cobb and Tony Conigliaro. That's some pretty fast company. If Harper can avoid the kind of plague of misfortunes that befell Tony C, he already looks like a guy who may have a really epic career.

PS - I'm reminded again, when you compare his numbers through age 22 to comparable hitters at that age, what a special player Conigliaro was and what a tragedy his career and life turned into. He should have hit 500 homers and waltzed into Cooperstown; go read his SABR bio for a full accounting of how it all went wrong, leaving him washed up at 25, brain damaged at 37 and dead at 45. I had not previously read the story of how Ted Williams warned him just before the beaning:

On the 17th [of August 1967], Tony's partner in the music business, Ed Penney, was visiting his sons at the Ted Williams Baseball Camp in Lakeville, MA. Ted warned Penney, "Tony is crowding the plate. He's much too close. Tell him to back off. It's serious time now. The pitchers are going to get serious." As Penney was leaving the camp later that evening, Williams shouted to Penney, "Tell Tony what I said. Don't forget to tell Tony what I told you." Penney did tell him, before the game the very next night. Tony was in a slump at the time, and told brother Billy he couldn't back off the plate or pitchers wouldn't take him seriously. If anything, he was going to dig in a little closer.

The Red Sox were facing the California Angels the next day - August 18 - and Jack Hamilton's fourth-inning fastball came in and struck Tony in the face, just missing his temple but hitting him in the left eye and cheekbone. Tony later wrote that he jerked his head back "so hard that my helmet flipped off just before impact." He never lost consciousness, but as he lay on the ground, David Cataneo wrote, Tony prayed, "God, please, please don't let me die right here in the dirt at home plate at Fenway Park." Tony was fortunate to escape with his life, but his season -- and quite possibly his career - was over.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:10 PM | Baseball 2012-Present | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
June 1, 2012

You gotta believe. There is joy in Mudville. Finally, at long last, the Mets have a no-hitter, and it's by Johan Santana, the Mets staff ace with the surgically reconstructed shoulder and a fastball that only barely impersonates his old heater.

How do you write about something you've waited for your whole life? Something I wish my mom and my older brother and Bob Murphy had lived to see?

This was the best Mets moment since the 1986 World Series, topping even the epic comebacks of 1999 and the 2000 NL Pennant. It was all the sweeter because it was Santana, a classy guy and a true warrior and a pitcher of the stature to deserve succeeding where Seaver, Gooden, Ryan, and others had failed, and the guy who had pitched the previous guttiest Mets start I ever saw, the last win at Shea in 2008. To recap, while the Mets had not produced a no-hitter in 8,019 prior games going back to 1962, the following pitchers had pitched for the Mets and thrown a no-hitter for another team:

Pitchers Who Threw No-Hitters After Leaving The Mets:
Nolan Ryan (seven times, including for every other franchise he pitched for)
Tom Seaver
Mike Scott
Dwight Gooden
David Cone
Hideo Nomo
Phil Humber

*Octavio Dotel (1 inning in combined no-hitter)

Pitchers Who Threw No-Hitters Before Coming To The Mets:
Warren Spahn (twice, albeit long before he was a Met)
Dean Chance (twice)
Don Cardwell
Dock Ellis
John Candelaria
Bret Saberhagen
Kenny Rogers
Al Leiter
Hideo Nomo (got 'em on both ends)
Scott Erickson

**Pedro Martinez (9 perfect innings, but allowed hit in tenth; no longer officially counted as a no-hitter)
*Alejandro Pena (1 inning in combined no-hitter)
*Billy Wagner (1 inning in combined no-hitter - same one as Dotel)

If you count Pedro and leave out the relievers, that's 17 pitchers and 26 no-hitters. Meanwhile, teams like the Red Sox have had no-hitters thrown by figures as obscure as Devern Hansack.

Santana threw over 130 pitches tonight, the most of his career. A choked-up Terry Collins (who told Santana on the field that he was Collins' hero) made the right choice during the game - given how much this meant to Santana and the franchise - to let him finish this game, but he was clearly worried about Johan's health. At a minimum, the Mets have some options for giving Santana (who between this year and next is owed $54.5 million and is again the team's ace) an extra day of rest, either by throwing RA Dickey on 3 days rest or by bringing up Jenrry Mejia.

Santana's champagne and whipped cream shower after the game and SNY's emotional footage of him returning to the Mets clubhouse after the game showed how much this means to these guys. Sports are an emotional business, and Collins, as a leader of men, can't ignore that aspect. This team is unlikely to win the World Series; this is probably as good as 2012 gets for the players and the fans alike.

Collins in the postgame told a great story about managing Sid Fernandez to an A ball no-no; Sid had 18 Ks but had thrown 119 pitches through 8, and had a strict 130 pitch limit. He struck out the side in the 9th on 10 pitches, ended with 21 Ks. Sid was the all-time master of the 5 inning no-hitter and then the wheels come off (I saw him do that in an exhibition at the first game ever played at Camden Yards in 1992: 5 no-hit innings, 5 runs in the sixth). When he was promoted out of A ball in 1982, Sid had a career record of 13-2 with a 1.70 ERA; in 163.2 IP, he had allowed 81 hits and struck out 269. As anyone who watched the All-Star Game or Game Seven of the World Series in 1986 could attest, Sid could be that unhittable at his best even against the most fearsome Major League lineups.

There were many nervous moments in the game, from Kirk Nieuwenhuis almost crashing into Omar Quintillana on an 8th inning popup to Mike Baxter leaving the game with a busted shoulder on a catch against the wall.

There was poetic justice in Carlos Beltran being the last out of the 8th, and Adam Wainwright the losing pitcher.

On the whole, an Amazin' night.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:48 PM | Baseball 2012-Present | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)
May 4, 2012
BASEBALL: Doubled Up

Looking through the baseball-reference.com Play Indexes, which have this data back to 1948, yields some interesting nuggets.

Highest opposing BABIP, 100 or more innings: Glendon Rusch in 2003 (.381). You can beat the balls in play if you're good enough: BABIP vs Pedro Martinez in 1999: .325.

Most 2B allowed in a season since 1948: 68 by Rick Helling in 2001. Tied for second: 66 by Helling in 2000.

Most 3B allowed in a season since 1948 is a 4-way tie at 17, but Larry Christenson managed it in 1976 in just 168.2 IP. That 1976 Phillies team frequently had Greg Luzinski in LF, Ollie Brown or Jay Johnstone in RF, Garry Maddox in CF.

Most steals allowed in a season: 60 by Dwight Gooden in 1990. Tied for second: Gooden with 56 in 1988. Fewest: 200 innings in a season without allowing a steal has been done 10 times, four of them by Whitey Ford; Kenny Rogers in 2002 is the only one since 1968. Most career steals allowed: 757 off Nolan Ryan, and it's not even close, Greg Maddux is second at 547. Gooden allowed 452 steals in just 2800.2 innings.

Then there's the things besides steals that get buried in a pitcher's line, even looking at BABIP numbers, most of all double plays, doubles and triples. Tommy John induced 605 double plays in his career. Since 1948, Jim Kaat is second with 462, a huge gap. For the 61 pitchers to throw 3000 or more innings over that period - admittedly an elite group - I broke out their GIDP, steals, doubles, triples, and total bases allowed on doubles and triples (23B/9, counting triples twice) per 9 innings. The results are obviously heavily influenced by era and park and teammates, but interesting nonetheless - Tommy John and Dennis Eckersley are as dominant in the most- and least-DP business as Ryan and Whitey Ford are in allowing the most and least steals. I sorted the table by GIDP/9, so for the others:

SB/9: Most - Ryan, Tim Wakefield, Joe Niekro, Eckersley; Fewest - Ford, Billy Pierce, Warren Spahn, Rogers.

3B/9: Most - Robin Roberts, Bob Friend, Curt Simmons (Roberts' longtime teammate). Fewest - Chuck Finley, Randy Johnson, Jamie Moyer (Johnson's Seattle teammate).

23B/9 (largely the same list as 2B/9): Most - Rogers, David Wells, Livan Hernandez, Wakefield. Fewest - Juan Marichal, Ryan, Bob Gibson, Ford.

All of which went a long way to explaining to me why Whitey Ford was so successful in an era when the truly fielding-independent paths to success (K, BB, HR) were limited - few pitchers in the 50s had especially low BB/9, high K/9 or huge variances in HR/9. Not to say there was no variations, but not nearly enough for a pitcher to really distinguish himself (it's a study for another day to ask whether BABIP was as pitcher-independent in that era as today). But what's clear is that, with the help of a superior defense and possibly park effects (see here and here), Ford cut off the running game, induced a lot of double plays, and rarely allowed doubles or triples, which in addition to a fairly low HR rate explains how a guy with a 1.37 K/BB ratio from 1950-60 could be such a dominating pitcher year in and year out.

The table is below the fold.

Read More »

BASEBALL: Exit Sandman

The torn ACL suffered by Mariano Rivera shagging fly balls in the wet Kansas City outfield last night most likely ends his career at age 42. Even the most determined Yankee hater like myself - or the most determined skeptic of the modern closer role - had to appreciate and respect Rivera's talent, his accomplishments, his cool under pressure, his Christian faith and quiet dignity. And he did it, basically, with one pitch.

A few numbers to give the scale of Rivera's greatness, which will undoubtedly carry him swiftly to Cooperstown:

-Rivera exits still at the top of his game. His ERA and ERA+ thus far this season were both better than his career averages for the fifth consecutive season...from age 38-42. Counting the postseason, he was working on strings of 21 straight appearances without an unintentional walk and 28 straight appearances without allowing a home run. This season, he'd struck out 8 (above his career K/9 ratio) and allowed (excluding intentional walks) 6 baserunners out of the 32 batters he faced. Absent injury, who knows how long he could have kept that up? But after 1051 big league games without a significant injury, he can hardly complain.

-Rivera appeared in 848 games in which he was not charged with a run, the third-highest total of all time, behind Jesse Orosco (951) and Mike Stanton (864). Rivera threw more innings in those appearances than either of them, although four pitchers since 1918 threw more innings in scoreless appearances (Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers, Rich Gossage and Kent Tekulve), plus presumably Walter Johnson (with 110 career shutouts) would top Rivera on that score. Rivera was unscored-upon in 560 of his career saves; only one other pitcher (Trevor Hoffman) even had a career total number of saves within 80 of that.

-Counting the postseason, Rivera's career ERA as a reliever was 1.91. In 1310.2 innings over 1137 appearances. (That drops to 1.90 in 1318.2 innings over 1145 appearances if you throw in the All-Star Game, in which he pitched 8 times, 8 innings, allowing just 5 hits and a single unearned run).

-Rivera's career ERA+ (park-adjusted ERA compared to the league average) of 206 dwarfs the #2 pitcher on the list with at least 1000 innings (Pedro Martinez at 154) - yes, Rivera's career ERA, relative to the league, was 33% better than any other pitcher, ever, and twice as good as the league average. Only 4 other pitchers have career ERA+ above 200 in more than 40 career innings, and all four are young relievers still getting started (Craig Kimbrel, Johnny Venters, Andrew Bailey and Al Albuquerque). Rivera had 12 seasons of 60 or more innings with an ERA+ of 200 or better - second-most is a tie between Pedro and Joe Nathan with 5 apiece (Walter Johnson and Billy Wagner did it four times each). Rivera also ties Walter Johnson with the most seasons (11) of 60 or more innings with an ERA below 2.00, with three others (Hoyt Wilhelm, Cy Young and Grover Alexander) tied with 6 each.

-Rivera allowed 0.9 homers per 9 innings in 2009, the only time in 17 seasons after his rookie year he was above 0.6. He walked 3 men per 9 innings in 2000, the only time in those 17 seasons he was above 2.8 and only the second time he was above 2.5. He had a 3.15 ERA in 2007, the only time he was above 2.85 in those 17 seasons, and in 71.1 innings that year he allowed 4 home runs, struck out 74 batters and allowed 10 unintentional walks, so the ERA was mostly a fluke. That kind of consistency is just unreal.

-Rivera's average of 0.42 homers per 9 innings since 1996 is easily the lowest average in that period for pitchers with 1000 or more innings pitched in that stretch. Out of 167 pitchers, only 63 were below 1 homer per 9, 12 were below 0.75, and just 4 below 0.69: Rivera, Kevin Brown (0.56), Tim Lincecum (0.58) and Brandon Webb (0.63). Rivera did this while pitching in the American League straight through the heart of the power-mad steroid era. In the same time frame, he allowed the 11th fewest walks per 9, the 15th-most K/9, the 5th-best K/BB ratio, and - despite what was often a shaky Yankee middle infield defense - easily the lowest batting average on balls in play, .262 (only Matt Cain is below .270).

(If there was one area where Rivera's regular season record was pedestrian, partly reflecting the way he was used, it was with inherited runners - he allowed in 28.98% of such runners, 79th best among the 296 pitchers to make 400 or more relief appearances; Ricardo Rincon is the best at 18.96%, followed by Trevor Hoffman at 20.23%).

-Yankee Stadium did Rivera no favors: his career ERA was 2.46 at home, 1.95 on the road. Oddly, the home ERA breaks down as 2.61 in Yankee Stadium and 1.73 in New Yankee Stadium. Rivera had a 1.99 career ERA with Jorge Posada catching him, 1.94 with Joe Girardi.

[UPDATED: I looked a little more at the home/road splits. A little is due to bad outings at home as a rookie. A big split is 1999-2002 (home ERA 3.08, road ERA 1.83), as compared to 2009-12 (home ERA 1.73, road ERA 1.96). In 2005, Rivera had a 2.28 ERA at home, but a preposterous 0.26 ERA - one run in 34 appearances - on the road. Although Rivera's K/BB ratio at home has been an insane 94/10 in the new Stadium, the main distinction seems to be on balls in play: BABIP of .275 at old Yankee Stadium, .261 on road, .225 at the new Stadium. I wonder if the infield surfaces or grass have anything to do with that. I can't get a good fix on grass/turf or indoor/outdoor, but Rivera was at his deadliest in domed stadiums, regardless of whether the roof was up: a 1.07 ERA and 1 HR in 50.1 IP at Tropicana Field, a 1.30 ERA and 1 HR in 27.2 IP at the Metrodome, a 1.85 ERA in 43.2 IP at Skydome, a 2.19 ERA in 12.1 IP at the Kingdome, and a scoreless inning at the Tokyo Dome, for a total of a 1.47 ERA in 135 innings]
-Rivera allowed a home run to Reed Johnson last June in a game against the Cubs (he still got the save). That's noteworthy because Rivera pitched 40.1 career regular season innings against the NL Central and NL West, and that's the only earned run he allowed to either division.

-There was no good way to get Rivera. Opposing batters hit .201/.236/.281 against him when leading off an inning, .209/.270/.290 with men on base. Opposing hitters still hit .239 and slugged .346, both very weak figures (albeit with a .534 OBP) after getting three balls on Rivera. But he went to a 3-ball count only 698 times in 4752 batters faced for which baseball-reference.com has count breakdowns, less than 15% of the time, compared to 2591 times he got to two strikes on a batter. On a 3-2 count, opposing hitters hit .202/.403/.283.

-In 1990, his one season as a reliever in the minors before the Yankees tried to make him a starter, Rivera had a 0.17 ERA in rookie ball - in 52 innings he struck out 58, walked 7 and allowed 17 hits (2.9 hits per 9 innings). His career ERA in the minors was 2.35.

-As good as Rivera was in the regular season, he was rather literally twice as good in the postseason (twice the workload, half the ERA), and probably the most valuable postseason pitcher ever (maybe the most valuable postseason player ever). Anyone who says the Yankees can just slot in Rafael Soriano and David Robertson and not miss Rivera that much because closers are overrated is missing this crucial dimension.

The Yankees played 156 postseason games between 1995 and 2011, just about a full season's schedule of games. The postseason can be brutally unforgiving, as I noted when reviewing Billy Wagner's career, and normally it's a victory to play the same in October as you did all year. Rivera's now-apparently-final line in a season's worth of postseason work: 96 games, 141 innings (nobody's thrown 140 innings in relief in a regular season since Mark Eichhorn in 1986), 8-1 record (Game Seven of the 2001 World Series being his only loss), 42 saves, 78 games finished, 0.70 ERA (0.83 even if you include unearned runs), only two home runs allowed (the famous Sandy Alomar homer that decided the 1997 ALDS and Jay Payton's home run in the Mets' furious but futile comeback in Game Two of the 2000 World Series, the only time in 96 postseason appearances that Rivera allowed more than one earned run - he allowed 2), allowing just 86 hits, 21 walks (4 of those intentional; Rivera's 2 walks in the ill-fated Game Four of the 2004 ALCS was the only postseason appearance where he walked more than one batter), and striking out 110. Counting 3 hit batsmen, that's 111 baserunners in 141 innings, only one more than his strikeout total. Rivera pitched 2 or more innings in a postseason game 33 times, allowing a run in only 4 of them; he pitched more than 1 inning 58 times. In the postseason, his opposing BABIP dropped to .219, his inherited runners scored dropped to 19%. He'd actually gotten better; his postseason ERA since 2006 was 0.31 in 24 appearances. Rivera was ice in October. We will never see the like of that again. And he did it with a huge workload: you throw 141 high-leverage innings with a 0.70 ERA in the regular season, you should and will win the MVP award.

PS - Speaking of worthiness of respect, Stan Musial's wife Lil died yesterday. Stan and Lil were married 73 years. Now that is a life.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:46 AM | Baseball 2012-Present | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
May 3, 2012
BASEBALL: 2012 NL West EWSL Report

Part 6 of my now very belated "preseason" previews is the NL West; this is the last of six division previews, using Established Win Shares Levels as a jumping-off point. Notes and reference links on the EWSL method are below the fold; while EWSL is a simple enough method that will be familiar to long-time readers, it takes a little introductory explaining, so I'd suggest you check out the explanations first if you're new to these previews. Team ages are weighted by non-age-adjusted EWSL, so the best players count more towards determining the age of the roster.

Prior: AL Central, AL East, AL West, NL Central, NL East.

Some players are rated based on less than three seasons or given a rookie rating. Key:
+ (Rookie)
* (Based on one season)
# (Based on two seasons)

Arizona Diamondbacks

Raw EWSL: 236.50
Adjusted: 246.53
Age-Adj.: 239.48
WS Age: 28.9
2012 W-L: 93-69

C28Miguel Montero2020
1B24Paul Goldschmidt*38
2B30Aaron Hill1413
SS29Stephen Drew1414
3B31Ryan Roberts119
RF24Justin Upton2127
CF28Chris Young1818
LF30Jason Kubel1412
C240Henry Blanco42
INF34Willie Bloomquist65
OF25Gerardo Parra1316
1235Lyle Overbay107
1337John McDonald53
SP127Ian Kennedy1412
SP225Daniel Hudson#1115
SP324Trevor Cahill1112
SP431Joe Saunders108
SP526Josh Collmenter*511
RP135JJ Putz98
RP227David Hernandez87
RP332Brad Ziegler65
RP431Craig Breslow54
RP542Takashi Saito53

Subjective Adjustments: None, but I expect Goldschmidt to easily surpass 8 Win Shares if healthy.

Also on Hand: Position players - Geoff Blum, Cody Ransom (who has now played 10 years in the majors without once having 100 plate appearances), AJ Pollock.

Pitchers - Joe Paterson, who is off to about the worst possible start imaginable: Paterson allowed as many earned runs (11) in April as he did in 62 appearances all last year. In 2.2 innings he's faced 26 batters and allowed 18 baserunners (including 2 homers and 4 doubles), and he hasn't struck out a batter yet. Also Bryan Shaw, Jonathan Albaladejo, Wade Miley, Mike Zagurski, Joe Martinez, Patrick Corbin and Barry Enright.

Analysis: The D-Backs remain the class of this division based on established major league talent, and were the logical preseason favorites. Obviously, the Dodgers’ 4-game lead through May 2 could turn out to be decisive in the long run even if LA comes back to earth. Arizona has also been banged up early, including injuries to Hudson, Drew and Saito. Upton remains a very logical potential MVP candidate.

Henry Blanco is still playing at 40, Matt Treanor at 36, Brian Schneider at 35, Rod Barajas at 36, Dave Ross at 35, Jose Molina at 37. If you know young football players, advise them to consider catching as a career. A little talent, toughness and work ethic will give them a longer, happier career than a lot of NFL stars seem to have.

I haven't run the numbers, but the Diamondbacks have to have made the most trades involving the largest number of contributing major league players over the past 2 years or so.

San Francisco Giants

Raw EWSL: 209.00
Adjusted: 221.64
Age-Adj.: 213.06
WS Age: 28.9
2012 W-L: 84-78

C25Buster Posey#1116
1B24Brandon Belt*37
2B34Freddy Sanchez1110
SS25Brandon Crawford*36
3B25Pablo Sandoval1923
RF28Nate Schierholtz1010
CF30Angel Pagan1716
LF27Melky Cabrera1515
C222Hector Sanchez+04
INF35Aubrey Huff1712
OF28Gregor Blanco22
1232Ryan Theriot129
1327Emmanuel Burriss11
SP128Tim Lincecum1615
SP227Matt Cain1614
SP322Madison Bumgarner#914
SP434Barry Zito43
SP534Ryan Vogelsong76
RP130Brian Wilson1311
RP232Santiago Casilla75
RP333Jeremy Affeldt64
RP434Javier Lopez54
RP529Sergio Romo87

Subjective Adjustments: None, because I’m trying to avoid biasing the results with events since the season started, but clearly Brian Wilson will not be contributing to the Giants this season, and now Sandoval is out with a busted hand. Freddy Sanchez has also been hurt, and it’s not really clear whether he or Burriss ends up as the second baseman once Sanchez is healthy.

Also on Hand: Position players - Brett Pill, Joaquin Arias, Eli Whiteside.

Pitchers - Clay Hensley, Guillermo Mota, Dan Otero, Eric Hacker.

Analysis: As noted above, San Francisco's injuries make it a lot harder for the Giants to pick themselves off the mat. They have a lineup only Brian Sabean could love, despite the presence of three talented young bats (Sandoval, Posey and Belt). The outfield seems particularly symptomatic of a failure to learn anything from the Aaron Rowand signing. I needn't belabor the obvious point that Belt needs to be just stuck in the lineup until he figures things out; he batted .320/.461/.528 in the minors last season after .352/.455/.620 in 2010, but the Giants seem unwilling or unable to live with any growing pains.

As for the rotation, there's been a huge variation thus far in the batting average on balls in play vs various Giants pitchers, and their early successes and failures should seem a lot less dramatic as these even out over the course of the season; it's why I'm not so worried about Lincecum in particular, whose peripheral numbers are still solid:

Dan Otero0.452
Jeremy Affeldt0.417
Guillermo Mota0.367
Tim Lincecum0.351
Ryan Vogelsong0.292
Madison Bumgarner0.245
Santiago Casilla0.192
Clay Hensley0.188
Barry Zito0.188
Matt Cain0.158

Los Angeles Dodgers

Raw EWSL: 204.67
Adjusted: 215.23
Age-Adj.: 200.51
WS Age: 30.2
2012 W-L: 80-82

C31AJ Ellis#33
1B28James Loney1717
2B35Mark Ellis139
SS24Dee Gordon*68
3B32Juan Uribe97
RF30Andre Ethier2018
CF27Matt Kemp2829
LF29Tony Gwynn jr87
C236Matt Treanor43
INF36Adam Kennedy86
OF33Juan Rivera119
1236Jerry Hairston jr118
1326Justin Sellers*24
SP124Clayton Kershaw1921
SP227Chad Billingsley87
SP333Chris Capuano42
SP436Ted Lilly109
SP534Aaron Harang64
RP126Javy Guerra*49
RP224Kenley Jansen#57
RP337Jamey Wright54
RP435Mike MacDougal43
RP533Matt Guerrier64

Subjective Adjustments: None, but as with Goldschmidt, you can assume a pretty high likelihood that Dee Gordon beats 8 Win Shares if he stays healthy all year.

Also on Hand: Position players - Ivan De Jesus jr, the third of the Dodgers’ junior brigade, and Jerry Sands.

Pitchers - Todd Coffey, Blake Hawkesworth, Josh Lindblom, Scott Elbert, Rubby de la Rosa (on the DL) and Ronald Belisario (same).

Analysis: The frontline talent is strong and in its prime, but the rest of the team is ancient and creaky. Obviously, banking on Matt Kemp to hit .411/.500/.856 all year is not a wager I would take. Kemp has now raised his career April line to .343/.405/.618; his .297/.354/.526 line in June is the only one even close. Color me unpersuaded that this is really a 90+ win team unless significant help is added to the roster.

The Dodgers' long-term prognosis, of course, is vastly improved by the end of the McCourt Era, in which - ironically - Frank McCourt proved unable to competently manage even the one part of the team he had experience running (parking lots).

Colorado Rockies

Raw EWSL: 181.83
Adjusted: 193.87
Age-Adj.: 177.50
WS Age: 30.6
2012 W-L: 72-90

C36Ramon Hernandez118
1B38Todd Helton139
2B36Marco Scutaro1410
SS27Troy Tulowitzki2526
3B26Chris Nelson*12
RF33Michael Cuddyer1614
CF26Dexter Fowler1516
LF26Carlos Gonzalez2022
C223Wilin Rosario+14
INF27Jonathan Herrera#44
OF26Tyler Colvin#45
1227Eric Young33
1341Jason Giambi63
SP124Jhoulys Chacin#913
SP249Jamie Moyer21
SP325Juan Nicasio*24
SP433Jeremy Guthrie107
SP531Jorge de la Rosa75
RP137Rafael Betancourt97
RP232Matt Belisle76
RP327Matt Reynolds#22
RP429Josh Roenicke11
RP524Rex Brothers*25

Subjective Adjustments: None. Jorge de la Rosa is expected back in June and will be welcomed by a tattered rotation, but his numbers reflect his injury last season

Also on Hand: Position players - Jordan Pacheco, Eliezer Alfonzo, Hector Gomez.

Pitchers - Drew Pomeranz, who is presently the third or fourth starter pending the return of de la Rosa and Guthrie (also Chacin, just sent to AAA), Tyler Chatwood, Esmil Rogers, Guillermo Moscoso, Edgmer Escalona, Zach Putnam, Josh Outman.

Analysis: I've had a lot of fun on Twitter doing "how old is Jamie Moyer" facts (eg, he was the second-oldest player on the Mariners when he arrived in Seattle in August 1996), but the amazing thing is how dependent the Rockies have been on Moyer. His 3.14 ERA is deceptively low given the unearned runs he's allowed and a low BABIP, but he's basically the same old Moyer, which is a valuable thing on a team in Coors Field with terrible pitching.

A further retrospective on the careers of Moyer, Helton and Giambi is something I should return to later.

San Diego Padres

Raw EWSL: 159.67
Adjusted: 178.57
Age-Adj.: 172.33
WS Age: 28.7
2012 W-L: 71-91

C28Nick Hundley1111
1B25Yonder Alonso*25
2B34Orlando Hudson1513
SS32Jason Bartlett1512
3B28Chase Headley1616
RF29Will Venable1212
CF25Cameron Maybin1214
LF29Carlos Quentin1414
C231John Baker32
INF26Andy Parrino+04
OF28Jesus Guzman*713
1231Chris Denorfia76
1328Jeremy Hermida44
SP128Ednison Volquez11
SP228Clayton Richard65
SP327Cory Luebke*46
SP430Tim Stauffer76
SP524Anthony Bass*36
RP128Huston Street98
RP226Ernesto Frieri#34
RP328Luke Gregerson65
RP425Andrew Cashner#12
RP529Micah Owings43

Subjective Adjustments: None, but again, I expect Alonso to step up with full-time playing time.

Also on Hand: Position players - Kyle Blanks (now out for the season), Mark Kotsay, Blake Tekotte, Logan Forsythe.

Pitchers - Joe Thatcher, Joe Wieland (presently in the rotation), Josh Spence, Brad Brach, Dale Thayer, Jeff Suppan (recently exhumed from the minors - he's now in his 20th professional season. He's also 13 years younger than Moyer), Dustin Moseley (out for the season).

Analysis: What's worse - that the Padres are hitting .216/.302/.331 as a team, or that that doesn't even make them the lowest-scoring team in the league (the Pirates are scoring almost half a run per game less)? Yet, the lineup (partly due to a number of good glove men) isn't full of untalented guys, so much as it lacks anybody with star-level talent, plus the big bat (Quentin) hasn't played yet, with Guzman subbing for him. It's actually the rotation, which the park makes look respectable, that's really weak, and the bullpen is less impressive as well than it seems.

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May 1, 2012
BASEBALL: 2012 NL East EWSL Report

Part 5 of my now very belated "preseason" previews is the NL East; this is the fifth of six division previews, using Established Win Shares Levels as a jumping-off point. Notes and reference links on the EWSL method are below the fold; while EWSL is a simple enough method that will be familiar to long-time readers, it takes a little introductory explaining, so I'd suggest you check out the explanations first if you're new to these previews. Team ages are weighted by non-age-adjusted EWSL, so the best players count more towards determining the age of the roster.

Prior: AL Central, AL East, AL West, NL Central.

Some players are rated based on less than three seasons or given a rookie rating. Key:
+ (Rookie)
* (Based on one season)
# (Based on two seasons)

Atlanta Braves

Raw EWSL: 215.17
Adjusted: 248.24
Age-Adj.: 260.94
Subj. Adj.: 257.94
WS Age: 28.6
2012 W-L: 99-63

C28Brian McCann2121
1B22Freddie Freeman*1034
2B32Dan Uggla2217
SS22Tyler Pastornicky+011
3B40Chipper Jones179
RF22Jason Heyward#1328
CF29Michael Bourn2020
LF28Martin Prado1515
C235Dave Ross75
INF34Jack Wilson65
OF34Matt Diaz65
1234Eric Hinske65
1328Jose Constanza*23
SP125Tommy Hanson1011
SP225Brandon Beachy*48
SP326Jair Jurrjens1011
SP436Tim Hudson1413
SP522Randall Delgado*13
RP124Craig Kimbrel#1013
RP227Johnny Venters#1111
RP327Eric O'Flaherty87
RP426Kris Medlen33
RP524Mike Minor#22

Subjective Adjustments: I docked Freddie Freeman 3 Win Shares, down from 34 to 31, and that still seems conservative. Is Freddie Freeman really a reasonable bet to be better than Joey Votto in 2012? That's where EWSL has him, on grounds of being 22 and coming off a 19 Win Shares season. You have to admit, Freeman's batting line looks a lot more impressive when you account for his age...but still. Really?

On the other hand, I refuse to adjust Jason Heyward, the team's other 22-year-old regular, downwards from 28 Win Shares. I can totally see that happening.

Also on Hand: Position players - Juan Francisco, who subbed as the everyday 3B until Chipper was ready to go, and likely will again the next time Chipper gets chipped.

Pitchers - Chad Durbin, Livan Hernandez, and two injured pitchers, Robert Fish and Arodys Vizcaino.

Analysis: EWSL is out on a limb here because 22 year old hitters are its weakness, but the Braves are potentially loaded. They fit the classic profile of a team ready to rip the ears off the division, like the 1986 Mets or the 1984 Tigers: a young team with a few key veretans that had a couple of tough endings and is starting to get written off, but could suddenly gel and hit the stratosphere. The tough part is how cutthroat this division is, but maybe no moreso than the AL East in 1984.

Note that this is the second year in a row that EWSL had the Braves winning the division.

Philadelphia Phillies

Raw EWSL: 285.67
Adjusted: 293.00
Age-Adj.: 247.33
WS Age: 32.0
2012 W-L: 96-66

C33Carlos Ruiz1815
1B32Ryan Howard2217
2B33Chase Utley2319
SS33Jimmy Rollins2017
3B36Placido Polanco1612
RF29Hunter Pence2221
CF31Shane Victorino2319
LF34Juan Pierre1412
C235Brian Schneider32
INF34Ty Wigginton55
OF31Laynce Nix65
1228John Mayberry66
1341Jim Thome137
SP135Roy Halladay2319
SP233Cliff Lee1913
SP328Cole Hamels1615
SP424Vance Worley*612
SP531Joe Blanton43
RP131Jonathan Papelbon129
RP233Chad Qualls43
RP327Kyle Kendrick65
RP426Antonio Bastardo56
RP525Michael Stutes*36

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Position players - Pete Orr, Freddy Galvis.

Pitchers - Joe Savery, Jose Contreras, Brian Sanches, David Herndon, Michael Schwimer.

Analysis: After threatening for years, the piper has come to Philadelphia, and he will be paid. 32 year old Ryan Howard, 33 year old Chase Utley, and 33 year old Cliff Lee are all on the DL. Almost as old as the Yankees, this team is: outside of Worley and the bullpen, the "kids" are 28 year old Cole Hamels and 29 year old Hunter Pence. For all of that, this team won't go down easy: before the age adjustments, this is a 111-win team, so even when you discount them for age, they are still knocking on the door of triple digits. And if you draw a healthy Halladay, Lee and Hamels in a short series, you're still in deep yogurt; there has maybe never been a more skillful pitching staff assembled.

Miami Marlins

Raw EWSL: 215.50
Adjusted: 226.27
Age-Adj.: 227.44
WS Age: 28.6
2012 W-L: 89-73

C31John Buck1411
1B28Gaby Sanchez#1417
2B30Omar Infante1715
SS29Jose Reyes2019
3B28Hanley Ramirez1818
RF22Giancarlo Stanton#1430
CF27Emilio Bonifacio1314
LF24Logan Morrison#913
C228Brett Hayes#23
INF33Greg Dobbs44
OF27Chris Coghlan89
1229Donnie Murphy21
1332Austin Kearns43
SP128Josh Johnson1211
SP233Mark Buehrle1410
SP328Anibal Sanchez109
SP429Ricky Nolasco65
SP531Carlos Zambrano87
RP134Heath Bell1310
RP228Edward Mujica66
RP327Mike Dunn#33
RP426Ryan Webb44
RP526Steve Cishek*37

Subjective Adjustments: None; I haven't downgraded Stanton for the same reason as Heyward. This season has a bumper crop of 22-year-olds who will put EWSL's age adjustment to the test: Heyward, Stanton, Freeman, Eric Hosmer, Brett Lawrie, Starlin Castro, Ruben Tejada, and Jose Altuve. Note that, as usual, that group is split between guys whose playing time is stepping up to full time (Lawrie, Hosmer, Altuve, Tejada) and those who were already everyday for a full season (Heyward, Castro, Stanton, Freeman). It's the inevitable growth of the former group that tends to artificially over-project the latter. The effect is most pronounced on 22 year olds because guys who are playing everyday at 21 or 22 tend to be really good.

Also on Hand: Position players - Scott Cousins.

Pitchers - Randy Choate, Chad Gaudin, the potentially ineligible Juan Oviedo (f/k/a Leo Nunez), the injured Jose Ceda.

Analysis: If you can buy this as a third-place team, you see how deep this division is now.

Jose Reyes gets more attention, as does the Miami Medusa in center field that goes off when the Marlins hit a home run:

But the most interesting issue to watch is whether Hanley Ramirez, now batting .236/.330/.381 since the start of 2011, can bounce back. Also, whether Giancarlo (don't call me Mike) Stanton's prodigious power will be held back by the new stadium's cavernous dimensions. So far, so good from the team's perspective - the Marlins have hit 9 homers at home, 9 on the road, compared to allowing 4 at home and 12 on the road, and Stanton's lone longball this season came at home - but he's started slowly overall.

Washington Nationals

Raw EWSL: 185.17
Adjusted: 195.33
Age-Adj.: 195.34
WS Age: 28.2
2012 W-L: 78-84

C24Wilson Ramos#812
1B32Adam LaRoche97
2B25Danny Espinosa#1218
SS26Ian Desmond#1215
3B27Ryan Zimmerman1920
RF33Jayson Werth2017
CF32Rick Ankiel65
LF33Xavier Nady43
C227Jesus Flores11
INF30Michael Morse1614
OF28Roger Bernadina#78
1237Mark DeRosa43
1332Chad Tracy11
SP123Stephen Strasburg#34
SP226Jordan Zimmermann67
SP328Edwin Jackson1211
SP426Gio Gonzalez1314
SP526Ross Detwiler23
RP135Brad Lidge43
RP225Henry Rodriguez#23
RP327Tyler Clippard109
RP424Drew Storen#912
RP529Sean Burnett65

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Position players - Wunderkind Bryce Harper, Mark Teahen, Brett Carroll, Steve Lombardozzi (the younger one), Tyler Moore.

Pitchers - Tom Gorzelanny, Craig Stammen, Ryan Mattheus, Chien-Ming Wang.

Analysis: The "K Street" Nationals' hot start has brought back memories of Davey Johnson teams of yore; four starters have ERAs in the ones, three relievers have ERAs ranging from 0.00 to 2.00, and the team is averaging 8.7 K/9. And they're not really kids, either - Strasburg is already a Tommy John surgery veteran, and he and Henry Rodriguez are the only guys on the staff under 26. For a team that in its seven prior years in DC finished 16th in the NL in pitcher strikeouts twice, 15th three times, 13th once and as high as 10th only in its inaugural season, this is revolutionary. For the first time, it will actually be the offense that has to carry the ball.

Bryce Harper may well be a superstar in the making, but he's closer in age to Justin Bieber than he is to Strasburg. Harper was 8 years old on 9/11. When he was born, Jamie Moyer was mulling a coaching job offer from the Cubs, his MLB pitching career widely considered over. In other words: don't expect too much too soon. Harper reached the majors without slugging over .400 above A ball. There are 72 players (including a few pitchers and managers) in the Hall of Fame who had 200 or more plate appearances their first season in the majors; only 18 of those 72 slugged above .450, and only 11 of those were 22 or younger, the youngest being age 20; the highest among the teenagers was Mickey Mantle at .443 (Mel Ott is the only Hall of Famer to slug .450 as a teenager - .524 as a 19 year old in 1928 - and Ott wasn't a rookie, having 241 plate appearances over the prior two seasons). Barry Bonds hit .223/.330/.416 as a rookie.

New York Mets

Raw EWSL: 162.50
Adjusted: 185.94
Age-Adj.: 183.04
WS Age: 29.3
2012 W-L: 74-88

C25Josh Thole#810
1B25Ike Davis#812
2B27Daniel Murphy99
SS22Ruben Tejada#613
3B29David Wright1818
RF26Lucas Duda*612
CF34Andres Torres1412
LF33Jason Bay1412
C229Mike Nickeas*11
INF27Justin Turner*816
OF32Scott Hairston64
1229Ronny Cedeno99
1324Kirk Nieuwenhuis+04
SP133Johan Santana75
SP237RA Dickey119
SP325Jonathan Niese#45
SP426Dillon Gee*46
SP528Mike Pelfrey66
RP132Frank Francisco75
RP227Bobby Parnell33
RP333Jon Rauch64
RP430Ramon Ramirez76
RP538Tim Byrdak32

Subjective Adjustments: None; I'm trying to keep these limited to preseason rankings, so I did not dock Mike Pelfrey.

Also on Hand: Position players - Mike Baxter (I could have rated him in the same place as Niewenhuis, but Niewenhuis is likely the guy I'll be rating down the road), Zach Lutz, Jordany Valdespin, Brad Emaus, Freddie Lewis.

Pitchers - Miguel Batista, Manny Acosta, Pedro Beato, DJ Carrasco, Chris Schwinden, Jeremy Hefner.

Analysis: The Mets, realistically, are not aiming for a first place finish this season, but for .500 and respectability. And maybe not last place, which will require one of the other competitors here to have a very disappointing year. The main thing that needs to happen, for that to occur, is to keep the front four of the rotation healthy (Mike Pelfrey is headed for season-ending Tommy John surgery today), as well as Wright and Davis; some of the youngsters also need to step up, as Tejada, Thole and Nieuwenhuis have so far (I admit, I never expected Tejada to be a major league hitter). Santana, of course, has been miraculous, averaging over 10 K/9 for the first time since his first Cy Young season in 2004 and not having yet allowed a home run. The lesson is never bet against great pitchers - but also, be cautious, as I can recall Dwight Gooden having some outstanding stretches in the years after shoulder surgery, but never again sustaining it over a full season.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:15 PM | Baseball 2012-Present • | Baseball Studies | TrackBack (0)
April 29, 2012
BASEBALL: 2012 NL Central EWSL Report

Part 4 of my now very belated "preseason" previews is the NL Central; this is the fourth of six division previews, using Established Win Shares Levels as a jumping-off point. Notes and reference links on the EWSL method are below the fold; while EWSL is a simple enough method that will be familiar to long-time readers, it takes a little introductory explaining, so I'd suggest you check out the explanations first if you're new to these previews. Team ages are weighted by non-age-adjusted EWSL, so the best players count more towards determining the age of the roster.

Prior: AL Central, AL East, AL West.

Some players are rated based on less than three seasons or given a rookie rating. Key:
+ (Rookie)
* (Based on one season)
# (Based on two seasons)

Cincinnati Reds

Raw EWSL: 210.83
Adjusted: 228.84
Age-Adj.: 218.03
WS Age: 29.1
2012 W-L: 86-76

C31Ryan Hanigan119
1B28Joey Votto3232
2B31Brandon Phillips2017
SS26Zack Cozart+111
3B37Scott Rolen117
RF25Jay Bruce1821
CF27Drew Stubbs1314
LF33Ryan Ludwick1513
C224Devin Mesoraco+14
INF34Wilson Valdez87
OF27Chris Heisey#57
1234Willie Harris55
1338Miguel Cairo64
SP135Bronson Arroyo87
SP226Johnny Cueto1112
SP324Mike Leake#79
SP426Homer Bailey56
SP524Mat Latos910
RP124Aroldis Chapman*35
RP229Sean Marshall108
RP329Bill Bray33
RP427Logan Ondusek#44
RP530Nick Masset65

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Position players - Paul Janish, Billy Hamilton.

Pitchers - Alfredo Simon, Jose Arredondo, Ryan Madson (out for the season).

Analysis: The NL Central often looks weaker before the season than it does as the year progresses, but times have changed; Tony LaRussa, Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder are all gone, leaving the division short on anchors. That gives the Reds, who unlike their rivals managed to retain star 1B Joey Votto, a competitive advantage. Add in a rotation that could be stable if Johnny Cueto stays healthy and the usual Reds young, athletic outfield, and this team should be in any mix that emerges in this division.

Hamilton thus far is batting .381/.470/.583 and has already stolen 28 bases in A ball, although his suspect defense may slow his ascent.

Milwaukee Brewers

Raw EWSL: 227.50
Adjusted: 232.08
Age-Adj.: 212.81
WS Age: 29.9
2012 W-L: 84-78

C26Jonathan Lucroy#912
1B26Mat Gamel11
2B29Rickie Weeks2019
SS35Alex Gonzalez1410
3B34Aramis Ramirez1917
RF30Corey Hart1816
CF31Nyjer Morgan1411
LF28Ryan Braun3333
C229George Kottaras43
INF28Travis Ishikawa33
OF26Carlos Gomez66
1230Norichika Aoki+01
1332Cesar Izturis43
SP126Yovanni Gallardo1213
SP228Zack Greinke1312
SP330Shawn Marcum119
SP435Randy Wolf119
SP530Chris Narveson65
RP129John Axford#1112
RP230Francisco Rodriguez109
RP330Kameron Loe44
RP429Manny Parra11
RP531Jose Veras43

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Position Players - Brooks Conrad.

Pitchers - Marco Estrada, who is off to an excellent start; Tim Dillard.

Analysis: The whiz heard round the world: Ryan Braun missing 50 games would have been a really horrible blow to this team after losing Fielder. With him, the Brewers' rotation gives them a fighting chance. Note that an unbalanced schedule against this large, weak division, especially the Astros, should make the rest of the NL Central teams look deceptively stronger than they are.

World Champion St. Louis Cardinals

Raw EWSL: 208.67
Adjusted: 223.91
Age-Adj.: 199.17
WS Age: 31.0
2012 W-L: 80-82

C29Yadier Molina1817
1B36Lance Berkman2317
2B32Skip Schumaker1311
SS34Rafael Furcal1311
3B29David Freese99
RF35Carlos Beltran1813
CF27Jon Jay#912
LF32Matt Holliday2318
C225Tony Cruz*12
INF25Daniel Descalso*512
OF27Allen Craig#67
1228Tyler Greene22
1326Matt Carpenter+04
SP137Chris Carpenter1411
SP230Adam Wainwright109
SP325Jaime Garcia#810
SP434Jake Westbrook54
SP533Kyle Lohse54
RP130Jason Motte76
RP228Mitchell Boggs33
RP327Fernando Salas#67
RP428Kyle McClellan66
RP526Marc Rzepcynski44

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Position players - Shane Robinson, Erik Komatsu.

Pitchers - Lance Lynn (I have him here because this was his preseason slot; he's been a surprising early star in the rotation), JC Romero, Victor Marte, Scott Linebrink (injured).

Analysis: The hulking sinkerballer Lynn has really been a huge help in Carpenter's early absence and with Wainwright struggling (0-3, 7.32 ERA), and the team's 14-7 record (16-5 Pythagorean record) suggests that the Cards could yet again pull an upside surprise if the antique trio of Beltran, Furcal and Berkman can stay healthy (Berkman's already on the DL). Then again, history suggests that a 1.62 ERA from Lohse, a 1.30 ERA from Westbrook and a .620 slugging average from Yadier Molina may be a tall order to sustain.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Raw EWSL: 168.00
Adjusted: 185.37
Age-Adj.: 182.65
WS Age: 28.5
2012 W-L: 74-88

C36Rod Barajas108
1B31Garrett Jones1210
2B26Neil Walker#1520
SS33Clint Barmes119
3B29Casey McGehee1615
RF23Jose Tabata#913
CF25Andrew McCutchen2429
LF26Alex Presley*49
C227Michael McKendry*12
INF25Pedro Alvarez#69
OF30Nate McLouth98
1224Josh Harrison*37
1326Matt Hague+04
SP133Erik Bedard43
SP227James McDonald54
SP329Jeff Karstens65
SP428Charlie Morton54
SP531Kevin Corriea43
RP130Joel Hanrahan109
RP229Chris Resop32
RP329Evan Meek44
RP433Juan Cruz21
RP535AJ Burnett65

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Position players - Yamaico Navarro

Pitchers - Jason Grilli, Jared Hughes, Tony Watson, Daniel McCutchen, Doug Slaten.

Analysis: Things are looking up in Pittsburgh, for a certain value of "up" compared to 19 consecutive losing seasons. Sad as it sounds, the Pirates' 75 wins in 2003 was their only trip above 72 victories since 1999; this team has a fighting chance to top that. I would hesitate to project more.

Chicago Cubs

Raw EWSL: 156.00
Adjusted: 174.18
Age-Adj.: 175.23
SUbj. Adj.: 169.23
WS Age: 29.6
2012 W-L: 70-92

C29Geovany Soto1111
1B29Bryan LaHair+111
2B26Darwin Barney#710
SS22Starlin Castro#1735
3B27Ian Stewart55
RF32David DeJesus108
CF34Marlon Byrd1412
LF36Alfonso Soriano129
C226Steve Clevenger+04
INF31Jeff Baker43
OF35Reed Johnson64
1229Joe Mather11
1326Blake DeWitt88
SP128Matt Garza1010
SP235Ryan Dempster97
SP327Jeff Samardzjia43
SP425Chris Volstad44
SP530Paul Maholm65
RP129Carlos Marmol1110
RP235Kerry Wood44
RP336Shawn Camp55
RP426James Russell#11
RP529Randy Wells76

Subjective Adjustments: I cut Starlin Castro from 35 Win Shares to 29, for the usual reason that EWSL over-projects 22-year-old everyday shortstops whose value is heavily in their glove.

Also on Hand: Pitchers - Casey Coleman, Rodrigo Lopez, Rafael Davis, Lendy Castillo, Scott Maine.

Analysis: In the optimist's case, this is probably the season that provides the "how bad they were" backdrop for a later turnaround by Theo Epstein. I'd rather owe $54.5 million to Johan Santana than $54 million to Alfonso Soriano...the interesting question for an aggressive new GM is whether you could get a good package for Castro, or whether you retain him as the core building block. He's going to be one of the most valuable fantasy players in baseball over the next five years, but the debate is whether he's actually good enough defensively, and likely to survive his rough plate discipline, to match his perceived value. I don't know that I'd bet against a 22 year old shortstop with his gifts, though. He's batting .337 and leading the NL in steals at the moment.

Another guy who looks like he may finally be figuring things out is Jeff Samardzija, with a 25/8 K/BB ratio and just one HR allowed in 24 innings.

Houston Astros

Raw EWSL: 96.17
Adjusted: 113.76
Age-Adj.: 105.61
WS Age: 29.4
2012 W-L: 48-114

C25Jason Castro#12
1B36Carlos Lee1712
2B22Jose Altuve*14
SS28Jed Lowrie55
3B27Chris Johnson#911
RF28Brian Bogusevic*24
CF25Jordan Schafer45
LF24JD Martinez*38
C231Chris Snyder65
INF23Marwin Gonzalez+04
OF28Travis Buck22
1229Brian Bixler00
1328Justin Maxwell11
SP133Wandy Rodriguez118
SP227Bud Norris54
SP329JA Happ54
SP427Lucas Harrell#00
SP525Kyle Weiland+04
RP131Brett Myers97
RP228Wilton Lopez55
RP328Fernando Rodriguez*22
RP426David Carpenter*12
RP532Brandon Lyon75

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Position players - Brett Wallace, Landon Powell, Angel Sanchez.

Pitchers - Wesley Wright, Fernando Abad, Rhiner Cruz, Enerio del Rosario.

Analysis: No, that 48-114 record is not a typo; measured by ESWL, the Astros enter 2012 as the worst, or at least weakest, team since I started doing this in 2004.

The optimist's case is that the Astros are this weak, not because they have a collection of players who have proven they can't play in the majors, but mostly because they have a collection of players who haven't proven they can play in the majors. That can sometimes yield surprises; the diminutive (5'5") young (22) Jose Altuve, who hit .276 .297 .357 in Houston after hitting .408/.451/.606 in A ball and .361/.388/.569 in AA last season, is batting .359/.407/.551 so far; with his small stature, youth and compact swing, Altuve could well turn out to be a star, or he could be Jose Lopez, or he could be a little of both, like Carlos Baerga. Other youngsters could emerge as well, given enough playing time, although few of the others in the Houston lineup or rotation have an upside similar to Altuve's.

But this is guaranteed to be a terrible team, one that will likely get worse before it gets better if the team can find takers for even a portion of Brett Myers' and Carlos Lee's contracts (Myers has one more year remaining, Lee's done after this season).

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:00 PM | Baseball 2012-Present • | Baseball Studies | TrackBack (0)
April 27, 2012
BASEBALL: Failure to Deploy

Sometimes, in retrospect, the answer is obvious. The Seattle Mariners of the late 1990s were one of the most talent-loaded teams in baseball history in terms of front-line stars: four immortals (Ken Griffey, Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, and Edgar Martinez) one significant star (Jay Buhner) and a couple of productive regulars (Jeff Fassero, Jamie Moyer, Paul Sorrento). Yet from 1996-2000, they made it out of the first round of the playoffs only once (losing the ALCS in 2000), and posted two losing records. Only when Griffey, A-Rod and Johnson were all gone (along with Fassero and Sorrento) and Buhner finished would the team build a 116-win juggernaut in 2001, in part with the pieces acquired for Johnson and Griffey.

Injuries were part of that story (Randy Johnson started just 8 games in 1996, Buhner missed half the season in 1998 and again in 1999), the pitching was chronically thin, especially the bullpen behind the likes of Heathcliff Slocumb, and of course a two-year run of epic bad trades that stripped the team of both young stars and useful role players:

December 1995:

Traded Tino Martinez, Jim Mecir and Jeff Nelson to the New York Yankees. Received Russ Davis and Sterling Hitchcock.

Traded Miguel Cairo and Bill Risley to the Toronto Blue Jays. Received Edwin Hurtado and Paul Menhart.

August 1996:

Traded a player to be named later to the Minnesota Twins. Received Dave Hollins. The Seattle Mariners sent David Ortiz (September 13, 1996) to the Minnesota Twins to complete the trade.

December 1996:

Traded Sterling Hitchcock to the San Diego Padres. Received Scott Sanders.

July 1997:

Traded Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek to the Boston Red Sox. Received Heathcliff Slocumb.

Traded Jose Cruz to the Toronto Blue Jays. Received Paul Spoljaric and Mike Timlin.

August 1997:

Traded players to be named later to the Minnesota Twins. Received Roberto Kelly. The Seattle Mariners sent Joe Mays (October 9, 1997) and Jeromy Palki (minors) (October 9, 1997) to the Minnesota Twins to complete the trade.

But one of the underrated flaws of that team, in retrospect, was the failure to give a longer shot to a talented young player moldering on the team's bench. Raul Ibanez in 1996 was 24 years old and coming off an age 22 season batting .312/.375/.486 and age 23 season batting .332/.395/.612 in A ball. Over the five seasons that followed - age 24-28, the years that should have been his major league prime - Ibanez would be given 518 plate appearances with the Mariners, just over 100 a year, before leaving for the Royals as a free agent. Ibanez, of course, would go on to stardom with the Royals (he drove in 103 runs in 2002) and return as a free agent after three years there. From age 30-37, Ibanez would bat .290/.351/.489, averaging 97 RBI a year. He's still playing at 40; at last check, he's slugging .500 and on pace to drive in 99 runs, although it's early yet.

To be fair, Ibanez didn't distinguish himself in his cups of coffee, batting just .241/.295/.383. He would bat .297/.364/.447 and .304/.349/.498 in 1996-97, mostly at AAA Tacoma, and struggle to a .216/.301/.363 line in a half-season's work in 1998 before spending most of the rest of the period with the big club.

Still, you have to wonder how much worse the Mariners would have done if they'd just slapped Ibanez (or Cruz, for that matter) into the big league lineup in 1996 and left him there to work through the learning curve. Here's how the team's endless revolving door of left fielders (including Ibanez as well as Cruz, Rickey Henderson, Stan Javier, Al Martin, Mark McLemore, Brian Hunter, Butch Huskey, John Mabry, Glenallen Hill, Shane Monahan, Rich Amaral, Rob Ducey, Lee Tinsley, Roberto Kelly, Mark Whiten, Darren Bragg, and Alex Diaz) hit over those five seasons:


(The walks column makes it pretty apparent when Rickey hit town).

Even the 2001 team never really solved the LF problem, splitting time among Martin, McLemore and Javier (combined LF batting line: .256/.350/.364, although they probably contributed more to the team's historically effective team defense than Ibanez would have), and adding Ruben Sierra and Willie Bloomquist to the mix in 2002 (combined LF batting line: .277/.365/.424) before giving the job to Randy Winn in 2003, then shifting Winn to center to finally install Ibanez in 2004.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:47 PM | Baseball 2012-Present | TrackBack (0)
April 23, 2012

Ted Berg brings us the Small Sample Size Song:

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:01 PM | Baseball 2012-Present | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
April 13, 2012
BASEBALL: 2012 AL West EWSL Report

Part 3 of my preseason previews is the AL West; this is the third of six division "previews," using Established Win Shares Levels as a jumping-off point. Notes and reference links on the EWSL method are below the fold; while EWSL is a simple enough method that will be familiar to long-time readers, it takes a little introductory explaining, so I'd suggest you check out the explanations first if you're new to these previews. Team ages are weighted by non-age-adjusted EWSL, so the best players count more towards determining the age of the roster.

Prior: AL Central, AL East.

Some players are rated based on less than three seasons or given a rookie rating. Key:
+ (Rookie)
* (Based on one season)
# (Based on two seasons)

The Anaheim California-Based Los Angeles California Angels of Anaheim

Raw EWSL: 273.50
Adjusted: 285.03
Age-Adj.: 252.76
WS Age: 30.9
2012 W-L: 97-65

C29Chris Iannetta1110
1B32Albert Pujols3024
2B28Howie Kendrick1818
SS28Erick Aybar1616
3B29Alberto Callaspo1515
RF36Torii Hunter2014
CF25Peter Bourjous#913
LF33Vernon Wells1311
DH29Kendry Morales76
C229Bobby Wilson#22
INF26Mark Trumbo*715
OF38Bobby Abreu1812
1331Macier Izturis1210
SP129Jered Weaver2118
SP231Danny Haren1713
SP331CJ Wilson1713
SP429Ervin Santana1311
SP530Jerome Williams21
RP124Jordan Walden#68
RP236Scott Downs98
RP337Hisanori Takahashi75
RP439LaTroy Hawkins54
RP527Kevin Jepsen22

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Position players - Hank Conger, Alexi Amarista, Ryan Langerhans, and - arriving sooner or later, and off to a hot start in AAA - outfield super-prospect Mike Trout.

Pitchers - Jason Isringhausen, who despite not being listed here is more or less in the closer mix, given the wobbly Walden.

Analysis: This team is the very picture of depth and balance, with just two really major stars (Pujols and Weaver, although in truth Weaver is only slightly better than Haren) but almost no weaknesses and a mix of young players and seasoned vets jostling for playing time (Trumbo, for example, hit 29 home runs last season and is basically reduced to playing all-purpose backup to Pujols, Callaspo, Morales, Hunter and Wells, while fending off Abreu and Trout). The only two conspicuous weaknesses are Wells, who with any non-insane contract would have been cut by now (fun fact: Vernon Wells made as much money as Mitt Romney in 2009 and 2010), and the uncertain Jerome Williams as the fifth starter.

American League Champion Texas Rangers

Raw EWSL: 235.50
Adjusted: 250.96
Age-Adj.: 230.02
WS Age: 29.9
2012 W-L: 90-72

C30Mike Napoli1716
1B26Mitch Moreland#68
2B30Ian Kinsler1918
SS23Elvis Andrus1923
3B33Adrian Beltre1816
RF31Nelson Cruz1714
CF31Josh Hamilton1916
LF30David Murphy1110
DH35Michael Young2015
C233Yorvit Torrealba98
INF29Alberto Gonzalez43
OF28Craig Gentry#35
1325Brandon Snyder+04
SP132Colby Lewis#109
SP225Derek Holland89
SP325Yu Darvish+04
SP424Neftali Feliz1214
SP526Matt Harrison910
RP137Joe Nathan54
RP233Mike Adams107
RP328Alexi Ogando#910
RP437Koji Uehara86
RP529Mark Lowe33

Subjective Adjustments: None, although as I noted last year with Andrus, EWSL tends to overrate the growth potential of very young players whose value is disproportionately defensive. But by now, the more reasonable reading of the age adjustment is a built-in assumption of offensive improvement.

Also on Hand: Position players - Julio Borbon, Lonys Martin, shortstop prospect Jurickson Profar. I always read his name to myself using the Don Pardo voice: "Juuuuricksonn PrOWfarrr..." Try it once, I guarantee it will stick with you.

Pitchers - Scott Feldman, Robert Ross.

Analysis: It remains to be seen, but right now the difference in the AL West is CJ Wilson pitching for the Angels instead of the Rangers. we'll get a better fix now on exactly how well the Nolan Ryan-led organization's pitching strategies work with the move of Neftali Feliz to the rotation and Alexi Ogando back to the pen, as well as Yu Darvish's adjustment to the majors as the rare non-gimmicky Japanese power pitcher to enter a rotation (the example of the late Hideki Irabu was not encouraging, but Irabu had a variety of issues).

The Rangers lineup is older than you think it is. Guys like Hamilton and Cruz got late starts in the big leagues, so it's easy to forget they're on the wrong side of 30 now.

Seattle Mariners

Raw EWSL: 147.50
Adjusted: 186.06
Age-Adj.: 183.55
WS Age: 28.8
2012 W-L: 74-88

C33Miguel Olivo109
1B25Justin Smoak#711
2B24Dustin Ackley*718
SS30Brendan Ryan1210
3B24Kyle Seager*34
RF38Ichiro Suzuki2013
CF29Franklin Guitierrez1010
LF34Chone Figgins97
DH22Jesus Montero+111
C228John Jaso#89
INF26Mike Carp*48
OF25Michael Saunders34
1327Casper Wells#46
SP126Felix Hernandez2022
SP229Jason Vargas87
SP337Kevin Millwood65
SP423Blake Beavan*36
SP525Hector Noesi*12
RP129Brandon League98
RP228Tom Wilhelmsen*23
RP325Lucas Luetge+04
RP428Steve Delabar+14
RP535George Sherrill43

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Position players - Muenenori Kawasaki, who has been doing the bulk of the infield backup work, Alex Liddi, Trayvon Robinson.

Pitchers - Shawn Kelley, Erasmo Ramirez, Hisashi Iwakuma (an import who’s still looking to crack the rotation).

Analysis: The Mariners have clipped about 3 years off their WS average age since last season, albeit partly because some of the older guys like Figgins and Ichiro are coming off tough years. But the road back is long, long enough that in the absence of marketable veterans they had to part with Michael Pineda to get a young hitter in Montero (not a bad deal, but a costly one for a rebuilding team). It's hard to see the Mariners getting rebuilt before King Felix has either gotten injured or left town. This division remains stratified very sharply between the two strong and two weak teams.

Ichiro enters tonight's action with 2438 hits in the American League to go with 1287 in nine seasons in Japan, dating back to age 18, a total of 3725 hits. It's almost a certainty that he'd be on the doorstep of 4000 hits by now if he'd been in the majors that whole time: due to the shorter Japanese schedule, he made it to 200 hits only once in Japan, as a 20-year-old hitting .385 in 1994; from age 21-26, Ichiro batted .354 but averaged 172 hits in 486 at bats per season; in the majors from age 27-36, he batted .331 but averaged 224 hits in 678 at bats. Give him an extra 50 hits a year and he'd be over 4000 by now.

Oakland A's

Raw EWSL: 114.00
Adjusted: 169.35
Age-Adj.: 167.16
WS Age: 28.3
2012 W-L: 69-93

C28Kurt Suzuki1010
1B26Daric Barton1011
2B25Jemile Weeks*818
SS28Cliff Pennington1717
3B26Josh Donaldson+011
RF25Josh Reddick*48
CF26Yoenis Cedpedes+011
LF32Coco Crisp1310
DH31Jonny Gomes119
C228Anthony Recker+04
INF26Eric Sogard+04
OF29Seth Smith1211
1328Kila Kaiaihue#00
SP128Brandon McCarthy66
SP239Bartolo Colon54
SP325Tyson Ross#22
SP425Tom Milone+14
SP527Graham Godfrey+14
RP134Grant Balfour75
RP236Brian Fuentes76
RP328Jerry Blevins22
RP425Andrew Carignan+04
RP525Ryan Cook+04

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Position players - Adam Rosales, Brandon Allen, Jermaine Mitchell, Grant Green, Chris Carter.

Pitchers - Fautino de los Santos, Jordan Norberto, prospect Jarrod Parker and the injured duo of Brett Anderson and Dallas Braden, whose dual absence blows a huge hole in the Oakland rotation.

Analysis: Even for the annually reborn A's, who almost always exceed their EWSL due to overperforming young starting pitchers and a season-long influx of new discoveries, a non-age-adjusted total of 114 Established Win Shares (38 wins' worth) is a narrow base upon which to build. The Astros can't arrive in this division soon enough for Oakland.

You want good news? It's nice to have a guy who can throw like this.

Read More »

April 12, 2012
BASEBALL: 2012 AL East EWSL Report

Part 2 of my preseason previews is the AL East; this is the second of six division previews, using Established Win Shares Levels as a jumping-off point. Notes and reference links on the EWSL method are below the fold; while EWSL is a simple enough method that will be familiar to long-time readers, it takes a little introductory explaining, so I'd suggest you check out the explanations first if you're new to these previews. Team ages are weighted by non-age-adjusted EWSL, so the best players count more towards determining the age of the roster.

Prior: AL Central.

Some players are rated based on less than three seasons or given a rookie rating. Key:
+ (Rookie)
* (Based on one season)
# (Based on two seasons)

The Hated Yankees

Raw EWSL: 281.17
Adjusted: 288.33
Age-Adj.: 246.12
WS Age: 32.1
2012 W-L: 95-67

C29Russell Martin1312
1B32Mark Teixeira2319
2B29Robinson Cano2928
SS38Derek Jeter1812
3B36Alex Rodriguez1813
RF31Nick Swisher2016
CF31Curtis Granderson2218
LF28Brett Gardner1515
DH40Raul Ibanez158
C226Francisco Cervelli55
INF25Eduardo Nunez#57
OF35Andruw Jones86
1334Eric Chavez33
SP131CC Sabathia1915
SP223Michael Pineda*512
SP337Hiroki Kuroda118
SP425Ivan Nova#68
SP526Phil Hughes66
RP142Mariano Rivera1410
RP227David Robertson76
RP332Rafael Soriano97
RP429Cory Wade32
RP536Freddy Garcia98

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Position players - Chris Stewart, Chris Dickerson.

Pitchers - Boone Logan, Andy Pettitte, Clay Rapada, David Aardsma. Joba Chamberlain and Pedro Feliciano almost certainly won't pitch this year.

Analysis: Once again, the Hated Yankees are the class of the field - albeit not of the whole AL, compared to the Tigers - and once again, they are also (probably - I haven't finished running all the numbers) the oldest team in the league, maybe in MLB.

The Yankees' depth is not that impressive behind the front line, but of course the front line is very impressive, at least on offense and in the bullpen. It's the rotation that remains a big question mark after CC Sabathia (it's easy to forget that Kuroda is even older than Freddy Garcia). A lot will rest on Pineda.

One has to assume that by the trade deadline, the Yankees will find someone besides Ibanez and Andruw Jones to handle the DH and backup outfielder duties.

Boston Red Sox

Raw EWSL: 251.83
Adjusted: 252.87
Age-Adj.: 227.62
WS Age: 30.0
2012 W-L: 89-73

1B30Adrian Gonzalez3128
2B28Dustin Pedroia2222
SS31Mike Aviles65
3B33Kevin Youkilis2017
RF27Ryan Sweeney89
CF28Jacoby Ellsbury2121
LF30Carl Crawford1816
DH36David Ortiz1713
C232Kelly Shoppach54
INF34Nick Punto87
OF31Cody Ross1412
1333Darnell McDonald54
SP128Jon Lester1615
SP232Josh Beckett119
SP327Clay Buchholz109
SP427Daniel Bard87
SP524Felix Doubront#00
RP128Andrew Bailey109
RP229Alfredo Aceves87
RP327Mark Melancon66
RP434Vicente Padilla43
RP526Franklin Morales22

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Position players - Ryan Kalish, Ryan Lavarnaway. Pitchers - John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka, neither of whom is likely to pitch. Bobby Jenks, who's on the shelf for at least about half the season. Aaron Cook, Scott Atchison, Matt Albers, Justin Thomas, Ross Ohlendorf, Michael Bowden. Cook's the one most likely to have some impact in the near future.

Analysis: Bobby Valentine (who has done nothing so far to dispell my conclusion that he's the Newt Gingrich of baseball managers) has his work cut out for him - this is still a talented team, but the injuries have piled up (including Bailey being shelved yet again) and age has taken its toll, plus one has to wonder whether Carl Crawford can take over the inspirational leadership void left by JD Drew.

(...yeah, I'm trolling with that last point)

And perhaps worst of all, not only are the Sox likely competing less for the division than for the single-elimination Russian Roulette wild card, they're doing so in a viciously competitive division, as you can see from how the Rays and Jays rosters look. Maybe Crawford, Youkilis and Buchholz bounce back, but then Ortiz is 36 and there's nowhere to go but down for Ellsbury, Gonzalez, and Pedroia after 2011. The Sawx will be a good team, but they face a high likelihood of being an odd man out.

Tampa Bay Rays

Raw EWSL: 213.83
Adjusted: 230.16
Age-Adj.: 223.76
WS Age: 29.1
2012 W-L: 88-74

C37Jose Molina63
1B34Carlos Pena1715
2B32Jeff Keppinger1210
SS27Sean Rodriguez88
3B26Evan Longoria2628
RF27Matt Joyce1314
CF27BJ Upton1819
LF25Desmond Jennings*613
DH34Luke Scott97
C227Jose Lobaton+14
INF26Reid Brignac66
OF31Ben Zobrist2621
1328Elliott Johnson*12
SP126David Price1315
SP230James Shields1311
SP325Jeremy Hellickson#911
SP423Matt Moore+14
SP529Jeff Niemann87
RP136Kyle Farnsworth87
RP236Joel Peralta65
RP335Fernando Rodney43
RP425Jacob McGee*12
RP526Wade Davis67

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Position players - Stephen Vogt, Sam Fuld (who is injured).

Pitchers - JP Howell, Brandon Gomes, Josh Lueke, Burke Badenhop.

Analysis: The Rays have their usual assortment of young starting pitchers, prime-age position players, and aging relievers, with weak spots at catcher and much of the non-Longoria infield (depending where Zobrist is on a particular day, which thus far is more often in the outfield). It's always hard to guess how Hellickson, Moore and Davis (to the extent he gets another shot in the rotation) will progress down the path to David Pricedom.

Despite an early injury, I have a suspicion that his age 27 contract year will be good to BJ Upton, who has definitely followed the Adrian Beltre career path; Upton's five year average of .257/.346/.425 with 32 doubles, 17 HR, 37 SB & 71 BB is solid, but somehow his individual seasons don't quite match up to that package.

Toronto Blue Jays

Raw EWSL: 204.17
Adjusted: 227.16
Age-Adj.: 221.26
WS Age: 29.2
2012 W-L: 87-75

C26JP Arencibia*715
1B28Adam Lind1212
2B30Kelly Johnson1615
SS29Yunel Escobar1918
3B22Brett Lawrie*518
RF31Jose Bautista3025
CF25Colby Rasmus1316
LF25Eric Thames*48
DH29Edwin Encarnacion99
C229Jeff Mathis44
INF45Omar Vizquel42
OF31Rajai Davis108
1330Ben Francisco66
SP127Ricky Romero1614
SP227Brandon Morrow76
SP325Brett Cecil66
SP422Henderson Alvarez*25
SP525Joel Carreno+14
RP128Sergio Santos#89
RP237Francisco Cordero1210
RP341Darren Oliver75
RP427Luis Perez*12
RP534Jason Frasor65

Subjective Adjustments: None, but Brett Lawrie's EWSL may be somewhat enthusiastic here, as is sometimes the case for 22 year olds.

Also on Hand: Position players - Travis Snider.

Pitchers - Dustin McGowan (hurt again) and Jesse Litsch.

Analysis: What a difference a year makes for a team I has ranked last entering last season; EWSL has them effectively even with Boston and Tampa, even adjusting for Canadian exchange rates.

Colby Rasmus is to the Jays what Upton and Crawford are to Tampa and Boston, the lineup's pivotal enigma. The pitching staff is still a crapshoot beyond Romero, but there are a fair number of live arms here.

Baltimore Orioles

Raw EWSL: 176.00
Adjusted: 181.12
Age-Adj.: 176.99
WS Age: 28.6
2012 W-L: 72-90

C26Matt Wieters1719
1B26Chris Davis44
2B34Brian Roberts76
SS29JJ Hardy1515
3B28Mark Reynolds1717
RF28Nick Markakis2020
CF26Adam Jones1517
LF28Nolan Reimold77
DH30Wilson Betemit109
C231Ronny Paulino65
INF28Robert Andino66
OF34Endy Chavez43
1333Nick Johnson43
SP129Jason Hammell76
SP226Jake Arrieta#46
SP325Tommy Hunter67
SP426Wei-Yin Chen+04
SP525Brian Matusz44
RP129Jim Johnson87
RP232Matt Lindstrom43
RP334Kevin Gregg65
RP429Darren O'Day54
RP534Luis Ayala32

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Position players - Ryan Flaherty.

Pitchers - Pedro Strop, Troy Patton, Zach Britton, Tsuyoshi Wada, Brad Bergesen.

Analysis: The Orioles aren't terrible, but this division could easily leave a lot of their players look like Robert Andino.

Wieters, Davis and Jones have basically reached the put up or shut up stage for their hyped potential. Davis now has a career line of .322/.380/.645 in AA, .337/.397/.609 in AAA, but .252/.301/.448 in MLB. In MLB, he's averaged a .335 BABIP, 24 HR, 39 BB, and 189 K per 600 AB. Between AA and AAA: .395 BABIP, 41 HR, 58 BB, 156 K per 600 AB. In other words, it's not just the strikeouts, Davis has struggled across the board to translate his skills to the MLB level. He could hit 45 homers, he could hit .210; he could do both. If he and Jones both improve their strike zone judgment just a bit, this lineup looks a lot better. Then you have Hardy, who is liable to do anything in a given season (I sort of half expect him to hit 30 homers because having two good years in a row is the one thing he's never done), and Markakis, who is battling to avoid the Ben Grieve career path he's been on for the past few seasons, as well as Reynolds, who will be a terror if he plays every day and strikes out less than 200 times, but is more apt to terrorize his own pitching staff. If ever there was an offense designed for the outside possibility of making its batting coach look like a genius...Jim Presley has his work cut out for him.

We pass in silence and avert our eyes from Baltimore's pitching beyond noting that Jake Arrieta started Opening Day.

Read More »

April 9, 2012
BASEBALL: 2012 AL Central EWSL Report

Long-time readers know that the timing of my annual division previews has gotten more erratic over the years, but since this is a multi-year project, I can't drop the ball even if I'm late, late enough that the season's already underway before the first one. So here we go.

Part 1 of my preseason previews is the AL Central; this is the first of six division previews, using Established Win Shares Levels as a jumping-off point. Notes and reference links on the EWSL method are below the fold; while EWSL is a simple enough method that will be familiar to long-time readers, it takes a little introductory explaining, so I'd suggest you check out the explanations first if you're new to these previews. Team ages are weighted by non-age-adjusted EWSL, so the best players count more towards determining the age of the roster.

Some players are rated based on less than three seasons or given a rookie rating. Key:
+ (Rookie)
* (Based on one season)
# (Based on two seasons)

Detroit Tigers

Raw EWSL: 250.83
Adjusted: 262.49
Age-Adj.: 254.41
WS Age: 28.5
2012 W-L: 98-64

C25Alex Avila1620
1B28Prince Fielder3030
2B31Ryan Raburn108
SS30Jhonny Peralta1816
3B29Miguel Cabrera3332
RF27Brennan Boesch#1012
CF25Austin Jackson#1319
LF26Delmon Young1415
DH26Andy Dirks*37
C232Gerald Laird65
INF32Ramon Santiago75
OF32Don Kelly#44
1326Danny Worth#11
SP129Justin Verlander2320
SP227Max Scherzer1110
SP328Doug Fister1211
SP423Rick Porcello88
SP523Drew Smyly+04
RP132Jose Valverde1310
RP234Joaquin Benoit76
RP338Octavio Dotel64
RP429Phil Coke54
RP526Daniel Schlereth33

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Position players - Clete Thomas, the Ghost of Brandon Inge, the injured and almost certainly out for the season Victor Martinez.

Pitchers - Charlie Furbush, Al Albuquerque (who's injured), Duane Below, Andrew Oliver, Collin Balester, Brayan Villarreal.

Analysis: As befits a team that went to the ALCS last year and then added Prince Fielder, EWSL rates the Tigers as fairly overwhelming favorites to win the AL Central going away. Verlander's continuing health and durability is the key assumption there. So far, the Tigers have played as a caricature of themselves, scoring nearly 9 runs per game but with an appalling .654 Defensive Efficiency Rating - that infield's not going to be pretty. Also, the Tigers' depth in their everyday lineup is not great, if they have injuries. But these are mostly nits.

As you may have heard, Octavio Dotel has set the all-time record for most teams played for, 13 in 14 seasons. Smyly had a good pro debut last season - 2.07 ERA, 9.3 K, 2.6 BB, 0.1 HR/9 (just 2 homers in 126 IP) - and got stronger in the last third of the season when he moved up to AA, but will be making a big leap to the big leagues.

Cleveland Indians

Raw EWSL: 181.17
Adjusted: 193.77
Age-Adj.: 188.33
WS Age: 28.4
2012 W-L: 76-86

C26Carlos Santana#1317
1B29Casey Kotchman1212
2B25Jason Kipnis*37
SS26Asdrubal Cabrera1920
3B32Jack Hannahan86
RF29Shin-Soo Choo1716
CF25Michael Brantley89
LF26Aaron Cunningham#22
DH35Travis Hafner139
C226Lou Marson#45
INF27Jason Donald#45
OF32Shelley Duncan75
1329Grady Sizemore55
SP127Justin Masterson109
SP228Ubaldo Jimenez1413
SP327Josh Tomlin#66
SP439Derek Lowe65
SP528Kevin Slowey43
RP126Chris Perez1011
RP228Tony Sipp55
RP328Joe Smith55
RP427Vinnie Pestano*47
RP530Rafael Perez54

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Position players - Lonnie Chisenhall, who may end up the third baseman at some point; Ryan Spilborghs.

Pitchers - Chris Ray.

Analysis: The Indians have the air of optimism about them, but Cabrera will have a hard time topping last season, as will Masterson (I'd bet on Masterson, of the two). There's room for growth from Santana and a rebound by Choo - and you never know with Sizemore, although he's on the 60-day DL at this writing - but it's hard to look up and down this roster and see where they make up the gap to catch the Tigers.

A full season of Ubaldo Jimenez should help stabilize the rotation, but as of now he looks like another data point for the idea that guys who pitch well in Coors end up old before their time from the strain.

Kansas City Royals

Raw EWSL: 135.33
Adjusted: 154.33
Age-Adj.: 166.17
WS Age: 27.3
2012 W-L: 69-93

C30Brayan Pena44
1B22Eric Hosmer*723
2B30Yuniesky Betancourt1110
SS25Alcides Escobar910
3B23Mike Moustakas*25
RF28Jeff Francouer1212
CF26Lorenzo Cain#23
LF28Alex Gordon1313
DH26Billy Butler1820
C232Humberto Quintero33
INF28Chris Getz77
OF30Mitch Maier76
1330Jason Bourgeois33
SP135Bruce Chen86
SP228Luke Hochevar55
SP329Jonathan Sanchez76
SP428Felipe Paulino33
SP523Danny Duffy*11
RP128Jonathan Broxton54
RP226Greg Holland*510
RP325Aaron Crow*36
RP422Tim Collins*25
RP528Luis Mendoza11

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Position players - Johnny Giovatella, like Getz, will sooner or later challenge again for the second base job.

Pitchers - Joakim Soria, who won't pitch; Blake Wood.

Analysis: The Royals are back in that familiar position of having optimism derived from young talent in the lineup, but - as of yet - nothing comparable in the rotation. Duffy has the minor league record of a high-end prospect, but he got cuffed around last season and has much to prove to show he's turned that corner. And of course, this team is still held together by too many players of the Francouer, Chen, Betancourt ilk. The Royals could well post a winning record if Moustakas and Duffy blossom and more help arrives from the minors, but it's hard to see them actually contending yet.

Minnesota Twins

Raw EWSL: 169.33
Adjusted: 189.37
Age-Adj.: 175.41
WS Age: 29.7
2012 W-L: 72-90

C29Joe Mauer1919
1B24Chris Parmelee+311
2B27Alexi Casilla67
SS37Jamey Carroll138
3B27Danny Valencia911
RF24Ben Revere*512
CF28Denard Span1313
LF33Josh Willingham1613
DH31Justin Morneau119
C231Ryan Doumit87
INF26Trevor Plouffe*37
OF27Luke Hughes*36
1331Sean Burroughs10
SP136Carl Pavano1110
SP230Scott Baker109
SP328Francisco Liriano77
SP430Nick Blackburn65
SP533Jason Marquis64
RP128Matt Capps88
RP229Glen Perkins44
RP329Brian Duensing76
RP424Alex Burnett#11
RP531Jared Burton11

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Position Players - Tsuyoshi Nishioka. Pitchers - Jeff Gray.

Analysis: Few teams have fallen as far as fast as these Twins, with the unraveling of Mauer, Morneau and Liriano dashing any hopes the team could have had of fixing the problems further down the roster (a lesser storyline being the disappointment of Scott Baker and the now-departed Kevin Slowey). 72-90, reflecting some of the residual strength of the fallen stars, may actually be optimistic.

Chicago White Sox

Raw EWSL: 178.50
Adjusted: 195.73
Age-Adj.: 174.21
WS Age: 30.2
2012 W-L: 71-91

C35AJ Pierzynski118
1B36Paul Konerko2518
2B25Gordon Beckham1315
SS30Alexi Ramirez1917
3B25Brent Morel#23
RF31Alex Rios108
CF28Alejandro de Aza55
LF23Dayan Viciedo#23
DH32Adam Dunn118
C226Tyler Flowers*23
INF28Brent Lillibridge44
OF35Kosuke Fukudome1410
1323Eduardo Escobar+04
SP127John Danks1211
SP229Gavin Floyd1210
SP331Jake Peavy64
SP429Phil Humber#66
SP523Chris Sale#710
RP124Hector Santiago+14
RP235Matt Thornton97
RP323Addison Reed+04
RP430Jesse Crain86
RP534Will Ohman32

Subjective Adjustments: None. Santiago has been announced as the closer, but I still expect Reed to take the job by season's end.

Also on Hand: Position players - Conor Jackson, Osvaldo Martinez.

Pitchers - Zack Stewart.

Analysis: Can these guys really be worse than the hapless Twins? I admit some skepticism, but despite a lot of good arms, this team's best everyday players have a lot of years on them. It's more likely that the Twins underperform their EWSL than the White Sox significantly overperform, although of course another about-face by Dunn and Rios would help.

Read More »

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-Present • | Baseball Studies | 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-Present • | Baseball Studies | TrackBack (0)
March 22, 2012
BASEBALL: Negro League Stats Are Here!

Baseball-Reference.com 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-Present | Comments (1) | 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-Present | 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-Present | 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 baseball-reference.com'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.

February 16, 2012

Age 57. The brain tumors got the third strike past him that Calvin Schiraldi never could. A good man and a great ballplayer, gone too soon.


I put Carter in context in my Hall of Fame catchers column in 2009:

Gary Carter carried the heaviest catching workload of anybody whose prime spans eight or more years - a staggering 144 games caught per 162 team games (and this for a team, in Montreal, that often stacked up doubleheaders in August due to April snow-outs). If you watched Carter at the tail end of those years and the seasons that followed, you saw what a brutal toll the workload took on his body, as every aspect of his game unraveled. Carter is the classic guy whose numbers make more sense when you extract his prime from the wreckage that followed. Besides being a devastating power hitter, Carter was a very tough guy to run on until his last year in Montreal, and in an age when base thieving was running rampant in the National League. In New York he also mentored a talented young pitching staff, or rather shared that role with Keith Hernandez.

As I noted in that column, over the decade of his prime from 1977-86, Carter caught 38.5% of base thieves, while facing an enormous volume of opposing stolen base attempts. And while carrying that heavy defensive load, Carter averaged .274/.347/.474 with 26 HR and 92 RBI. I'd rank Carter behind Josh Gibson, Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, and Mickey Cochrane, and maybe Mike Piazza given how much better a hitter Piazza was than Carter or any other catcher. But you'd have a hard time finding anybody else with a good case to rank above Carter (I'd put him ahead of Campanella, Dickey, Fisk, Pudge Rodriguez, Simmons and Posada), which in my book makes him the 5th best catcher in MLB history (given that Gibson never played in the majors).

Carter was baseball's Tim Tebow before there was a Tim Tebow - a cheery Christian off the field, tough as nails on it. Carter was the ultimate guy who never backed down, never gave up, never begged out. I loved, loved John Stearns as a kid; Carter had Stearns' toughness with more talent. He battled Stearns to a draw in home plate fight around 1978 or so. In the famous 1986 Mets-Reds brawl, after Ray Knight clocked Eric Davis, Carter took Davis out of the fight by tackling him with his mask under Davis' ribs, knocking the wind out of him.

Carter, of course, arrived with a bang in New York. His first game as a Met, April 9, 1985, he caught the whole game and hit a game-winning walkoff homer in the 10th inning against the Cardinals. His second game, two days later, he caught all 11 innings of a 2-1 win against the Cards. His third game, the next day, he homered in a 1-0 win. He caught the next day (another win), then homered and drove in two runs while catching a 4-0 win the following day. And yet Carter would get better: the last 62 games that year, while catching a young staff including the incomparable season by Dwight Gooden, Carter hit .300/.367/.599 with 21 HR and 59 RBI, while striking out just 18 times (this included his 5 homers in two days rampage in San Diego in September. This after a 1984 season when Carter became one of just four catchers (the others being Bench, Campanella and Darren Daulton) to lead the league in RBI.

By 1988, Carter was a shell of his former self, with his months-long home run drought stuck at 299 career homers a sad joke. But he still had one last great moment left, when he doubled in the winning runs in a 3-run rally in the ninth inning of Game One of the LCS, the Mets rallying to win after Daryl Strawberry snapped Orel Hershiser's scoreless streak earlier that inning.

Rest in Peace, Kid. Thanks for the memories.

UPDATE: Gus Ramsey has a great story about Carter at the Hall of Fame.

SECOND UPDATE: An emotional Keith Hernandez breaks down on air. Keith's a cool customer by nature, but this is what we're all feeling.

How tough was Carter? People forget exactly how many doubleheaders the Expos played in those days because of early season snow. From 1977-83, Gary Carter caught both ends of a doubleheader 40 times in 7 years (I counted games in the game log where he entered the game as a catcher and caught a few innings). In 1978, Carter caught both ends of ten doubleheaders. Ten. In September 1979, Carter caught both ends of a doubleheader 6 times in 13 days. In September 1981, Carter caught both ends of doubleheaders on consecutive days.

Carter drove in 101 runs in 1980 batting behind tablesetters who hit .257/.337/.363 and .224/.307/.293. In 1984, he led the league in RBI hitting behind a guy with a .301 OBP, on a team whose leadoff hitter was 43 years old, slow, and hit .259/.334/.295.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:40 PM | Baseball 2012-Present | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
February 9, 2012
BLOG: Links 2/9/12

I should do roundups like this more often of the stuff I do on Twitter.

-Jose Reyes' hair sells for $10,200 in charity auction. The hair will play SS for the Mets.

-I largely agree with Victoria and with John McCain about Syria; the US has much stronger case for taking sides in Syria than it did in Libya.

-Looking back at the sad death of Ron Luciano.

-The one thing that's really booming in this economy - despite the best efforts of liberal activists and the Obama Administration to the contrary - is domestic oil and gas production. Frack, baby, frack!

-Science fail: an Oklahoma state Senator is apparently unaware that baby-making requires both a sperm & an egg.

-Yeah, sure, and being against Nazis is just what Elie Wiesel does to feel young & virile again. It is true that older people overestimate recurrence of the troubles of their youth. Ascribing this to "testosterone" is juvenile.

-Yet another "better Romney argument than Romney is making" column, this one with good ideas from Jim Pethokoukis. Call it a Prospectus for America.

-Dan Abrams debunks some of the myths around Citizens United.

-Then: "core symbol of right-wing radicalism" Now: Democratic mainstream. We always knew a lot of the anti-war stuff was just partisanship. Of course, unlike Greenwald, I regard this as a good thing for the country.

-Elvis Andrus focused on getting better. This seems like a unique goal to have.

-It's not even remotely inconsistent for Mitt Romney to profit from something while saying it should not be compulsory.

-John Edwards' 2008 presidential campaign is still spending money, even though it's in debt to taxpayers.

-The media's blind spot on religious liberty.

-Vin Scully on not retiring.

-I'd forgotten that, for idiosyncratic reasons, Reagan actually won the popular vote in the GOP primaries in 1968.

-The Wilpons try to get the Supreme Court interested in reversing a decision in the Madoff litigation.

February 2, 2012

While I write a lot about baseball and politics, I generally try to avoid mixing the two. But once this analogy occurred to me, having lived through both of their tenures as a Mets fan and Republican in the 1990s, it was irresistible:

Bobby Valentine is the Newt Gingrich of baseball managers.

Think about it. Both are essentially relics of the 1990s who have spent a good deal of the past decade as TV pundits, and have had to overcome the initial instinct to laugh at the sudden re-emergence of a once-controversial figure so long out of power. Both are restlessly intelligent, talkative to a fault, energetic to the point of being a whirlwind of activity, devious (in the "what will he think of next?" sense of being constantly alert for ways to exploit opportunities and gaps in the rules), prone to conflict with peers and occasional mutinies among their subordinates, and often overly impressed with their own intelligence. Both have that odd Kermit the Frog lump-in-the-throat tone to their voices, yet are nonetheless compelling speakers. Both had their first go-round ended by George W. Bush, more directly in the case of Bobby V (who Bush fired, rather than just stepping into a power vacuum he left behind). Both have been mostly successful throughout their careers, yet are back pursuing the largest prize that has evaded them. Both need to overcome the creeping suspicion that they're better suited to being scrappy insurgents than frontrunners.

The parallels are not perfect, of course. Valentine lacks Newt's command of history and his ugly marital record; Newt lacks Valentine's family connections (as Ralph Branca's son in law) or his status as a former phenom felled by misfortune (in 1970, Valentine hit .340/.389/.522 as a 20 year old shortstop in the Pacific Coast League, winning his second straight league MVP award - 39 doubles, 16 triples, 14 homers, 29 steals - but was just getting his sea legs as a 23 year old in the majors when he suffered a gruesome leg injury). But once you think about it, the similarities are obvious.

Time will tell which of them ends up with more to show for their return to the arena.

January 9, 2012
BASEBALL: Hall of Fame 2012: My Ballot

The results of the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot will be announced this afternoon at 2, and expectations are that Barry Larkin will be the sole candidate elected. There being no pitchers on this year's ballot worth discussing that I haven't beaten to death in years past (short summary: no on Jack Morris, no on Lee Smith), let us a take a look at the non-pitchers.

I've already laid out my case for Tim Raines by comparing him to the other tablesetters in my December 2007 Hardball Times column here and for Barry Larkin and against Alan Trammell in my January 2007 THT column on the middle infielders here. I touched on Javy Lopez, new to this year's ballot, in my January 2009 column on the catchers. In my first column in the series, in January 2006, I discussed the case for Fred McGriff and sort of for Bernie Williams, and against Tim Salmon, Dale Murphy, and Don Mattingly. To complete the picture you can check out my April 2010 column on the third basemen, which endorses the Veterans Committee's latest selection, Ron Santo.

Utiliizing the same methodology from those columns - that is, excerpting the "prime" seasons for each hitter and translating them into a common offensive context (you can get the details explained in the THT columns), let's put the whole lot of them in a chart with a number of of the other sluggers of the past 30 years (I included some but not all of the tablesetters, third basemen, middle infielders and catchers for additional context). They are sorted by the "Rate" metric (using the context-adjusted numbers, I multiplied SLG * OBP * Plate Appearances per 162 scheduled games) - obviously you then have to modify that with the things not included in the Rate (baserunning, double plays, fielding, and team/postseason successes) as well as bear in mind how many seasons each player is rated on and how many other more modestly productive years he had. It's a rough metric, but the basic concept of rating Hall of Famers mainly on their prime years is one I feel strongly about.

Frank Thomas10223-326840.3140.5730.4233217165.7Not Yet
Jeff Bagwell13023-356850.2940.5410.39616616146.8YES
Wade Boggs9325-337050.3380.4810.4252316144.1IN
Don Mattingly6123-286840.3290.5500.3721115140.2YES
Albert Belle9024-326740.2930.5730.36210420140.1Off
Edgar Martinez9432-406180.3130.5370.4223213139.9YES
Jim Thome10424-336310.2770.5560.397118139.3Not Yet
Todd Helton9125-336730.3030.5250.3914213138.2Not Yet
Manny Ramirez14223-366210.3020.5660.3922216137.8Not Yet
Jason Giambi9227-356130.2870.5400.4151111137.5Not Yet
Gary Sheffield10327-366320.2980.5370.40412512137.2Not Yet
Rafael Palmeiro12226-376980.2830.5320.3636212134.9YES
Fred McGriff9324-326580.2830.5440.3756315134.1YES
Sammy Sosa10125-346700.2820.5700.35114613134.0Not Yet
Ken Griffey jr11220-306430.2900.5670.36615511133.7Not Yet
Dale Murphy8024-316810.2760.5350.36117612131.7YES
Eddie Murray14121-346710.2960.5190.3746215130.0IN
Mark McGwire13023-355490.2660.6010.3891111128.3YES
Chipper Jones13324-366210.3030.5290.39010315128.1Not Yet
Mike Piazza10424-335900.3190.5720.3792218127.9Not Yet
Criag Biggio9425-337200.2990.4590.38534106127.3Not Yet
Jim Edmonds6430-355900.2850.5570.387647127.0Not Yet
Bernie Williams9125-336490.3090.5040.38813715126.8YES
Dwight Evans10528-376590.2740.5050.3774213125.4Off
John Olerud10324-336500.3010.4750.3991117123.2Off
Keith Hernandez11123-336660.3010.4730.3889512122.5Off
Paul Molitor10730-396670.3160.4840.37926612122.3IN
Kirby Puckett10025-346780.3170.5060.35610618122.2IN
Rickey Henderson14721-346210.2960.4760.41378178122.0IN
Jim Rice12022-336650.2940.5300.3455323121.4IN
Robin Yount10024-336580.3060.5070.36415412121.4IN
Tim Raines9621-296450.3040.4810.38967108120.9YES
Bobby Bonilla10125-346510.2850.5140.3593413120.2Off
Will Clark12223-346060.3020.5100.377537116.6Off
Tony Gwynn14224-376240.3420.4800.38922816116.2IN
Darryl Strawberry9021-295710.2670.5540.3602296114.0Off
Mark Grace11325-356670.3030.4500.3736415112.0Off
Tim Salmon11024-346140.2760.4890.372448111.7YES
Al Oliver11225-356260.3120.5030.3486515109.8Off
Juan Gonzalez11021-315860.2900.5590.3332215109.0YES
Larry Walker13024-365410.2940.5350.36916510106.9YES
Jack Clark14022-355340.2710.5220.3834412106.7Off
Andre Dawson11425-356070.2850.5300.33020612106.2IN
Dave Parker12224-355950.2950.5180.34212812105.3Off
Jorge Posada8328-355740.2750.4740.3772215102.5Not Yet
Barry Larkin9427-355670.2950.4730.37728511101.3YES
Alan Trammell11122-326130.2920.4510.358178999.1YES
Javy Lopez10124-334720.2820.4830.326121474.3YES

For most of these guys, picking the prime years is easy - in a few cases, like Palmeiro, Manny, and Sheffield, you could debate going a year or two more or less, but it doesn't affect the analysis much. But a couple of the candidates can be sliced in different ways. Raines and McGriff both had the same career pattern: a slightly shorter 8-9 year peak of superstardom, followed by a long tail of being a good but not great everyday player, followed in Raines' case by a 3-year coda with the Yankees as a successful and productive platoon/role player on a championship team. This has the unfortunate effect, especially since both players' latter years were much higher-scoring, of people forgetting how dominant they were at their peaks. Bagwell's career path is a better version of the same, with his best 8-year stretch being out of this world. Then there's Edgar, who was an absolute offensive monster for 7 years; the two years after that were good enough that I included them above, while the prior 5 included some great work (his 1991 batting title) but also a lot of time lost to injury. I include 3 different cuts on Edgar so you can judge for yourself.

Jeff Bagwell8526-356950.2970.5670.40919715161.1YES
Edgar Martinez7632-386500.3180.5500.4263214152.2YES
Fred McGriff7224-306500.2860.5670.3856313141.8YES
Edgar Martinez14027-405780.3110.5230.4123213124.4YES
Fred McGriff15024-386440.2810.5110.3675215120.8YES
Tim Raines15021-356310.2960.4560.38254108109.9YES
Fred McGriff8731-386400.2770.4680.3523216105.4YES
Tim Raines9930-385070.2850.4160.370256778.0YES

My short answer is that of the 14 or 15 serious candidates (I say 14, discounting Tim Salmon), there are 2 no-brainers: Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines. I realize Raines doesn't stick out as well on this chart as when you compare him to the other tablesetters, but when you roll in his very high-value base thievery, few GIDP and longetivity, I think he clears the bar easily. There's one more to me who is a fairly easy call: Fred McGriff. As I've said before, among the shortstops I go with Larkin and not Trammell, and among the pre-1994 sluggers I find Mattingly's and Murphy's prime years too short, and Dave Parker's numbers weighed down by the big performance-detracting drug phase in the middle of his prime (Edited: I forgot that Parker's off the ballot now). Javy Lopez had a season or two of genuine Hall-worthy production, but he doesn't make the cut; Jorge Posada, who retired this weekend, should but that's another year's debate.

Then you get to the PED-era sluggers. Realistically, there's actually not a huge gulf between a number of the guys on this ballot who make it, and those who don't. Some just were healthier, more durable, in circumstances more suited to their talents than others. And that's precisely why the PEDs are such a big issue.

A brief digression, since the issue is unavoidable. I'm sort of in the middle on a lot of steroids debates. I reject the simplistic argument that steroids are of no help to performance in baseball. I find something suspicious in, especially, the unique aging pattern of Barry Bonds, and there is no question that Mark McGwire in particular used PEDs to help him get healthy again in the second half of his career. And while I understand why people expect more of baseball players, I accept the argument that there's never been a true age of innocence in Major League Baseball. And I'm sick of the agendas on all sides of the debate. In the end, for a variety of reasons, I say we ignore PEDs, put in the guys who got the job done on the field, and let the arguments follow.

Setting that aside, I start with Palmeiro, who was a paragon of consistent productivity for 12-13 years. To me, the fact that his teams could bank on his performance is a huge factor.

At the other end you have Juan Gonzalez and Larry Walker, Gonzalez with Hall of Fame power, Walker with a more complete package of skills. But you see them even below the less glamorous Tim Salmon on the chart because neither had the in-season durability over their primes. So, an easy no on Gonzalez, Walker and Salmon.

That brings us to the three hard cases: McGwire, Edgar and Bernie. I do think setting them next to the other sluggers of that era is helpful - whether we know it or not, we're already setting the stage for what we will do when Thomas, Thome, Helton, Manny, Giambi, Sheffield, Sosa, Griffey and Edmonds get on the ballot. Poor Albert Belle already got stampeded off the ballot, despite the fact that his offensive prime tops any of those guys but Thomas and Bagwell by this measurement.

Bernie, like Griffey, gets a leg up for being a center fielder (a good one, albeit with a bad arm), and of course for being one of the core players on a legitimate dynasty. I'm inclined to vote yes on Bernie, even though that means a very crowded list of Yankees from that era (Jeter and Rivera will go in, Torre probably will, Raines, Posada and Mussina should, Sheffield should, Clemens and A-Rod will unless the writers are really ridiculous about PEDs, and that's before you get to Giambi and Pettitte, to say nothing of the not-so-far-off-the-pace guys like O'Neill, Ventura, Strawberry, Knoblauch, Gooden, Cone and Justice). But really all that is on 9 years' worth of prime production, not an especially long stretch for a guy who was never dominant.

I'm really conflicted on all three. McGwire strikes me as a Hall of Famer due to his amazing power numbers and great OBPs over a 13 year span, and gets some credit for playing for a team that won 3 straight pennants and a championship. But his injuries put him at the back of this pack, although by this measure he still stands ahead of Edgar over their 13/14 year primes.

Edgar is also a very tough call. Elite, Hall-quality hitter, no doubt. But even aside from the negatives we incorporate here (high-scoring offensive context, durability issues), Edgar has everything else going against him: zero defensive value, slow baserunner, played for teams that consistently underacheived despite an amazing talent core, a career mark of .156/.239/.234 in three ALCS (compared, to be fair, to .375/.481/.781 in four ALDS). I certainly would not be offended at including a guy of Edgar's elite status as a hitter, but the case for him seems much weaker to me than it seems to a lot of sabermetrically-inclined folks who tend to total up his career numbers and ignore the injury-driven holes in his playing time.

The thing that struck me the most is that when you set aside their mystiques and the offsetting virtues of Edgar's high batting averages vs Big Mac's homers, what you see is that their cases are quite similar. That doesn't mean you can't reach opposite conclusions based on the factors at the margins, as I do with Larkin and Trammell, but it does suggest that just writing one of the two in and the other one out should not be done without a thorough analysis. If forced to vote, I'd pull the lever today for Bernie and McGwire but not Edgar, but I could easily be persuaded to the contrary for any of the three. That leaves us:

Jeff Bagwell
Tim Raines
Fred McGriff
Rafael Palmeiro
Barry Larkin
Mark McGwire
Bernie Williams*

Edgar Martinez
Alan Trammell
Larry Walker
Jack Morris
Lee Smith
Don Mattingly
Dale Murphy
Juan Gonzalez
Tim Salmon*
Javy Lopez*

* - First time candidates. Also no on the rest of the first timers, of which the best is probably Ruben Sierra.

Finally, for what it's worth, below the fold is another quick set of metrics on the career numbers.

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