Quality and Quantity

One of my longstanding hobbyhorses in baseball analysis is two related points: (1) durability/quantity of playing time matters and (2) because baseball is played in seasons, it matters to study how much a player contributed by season. For example, one of my points of disagreement with Bill James’ argument in his first Historical Abstract for Lefty Grove over Walter Johnson as the best pitcher in MLB history is the failure to adjust for the fact that Johnson was frequently at or around the league lead in innings; Grove carried a less demanding workload by the standards of his own time, and won two of his ERA titles late in his career (with the Red Sox) as effectively a Sunday pitcher, starting less than 24 games a year.
How often have pitchers been the best in the league (by ERA+, ERA adjusted for park and league) and led the league in innings in the same year? It’s rarer than you might think – there are plenty of guys like Roy Halladay who have led the league in both, but never in the same year. Most likely because those last few innings can sometimes bring diminishing returns.
What’s even more impressive is pulling the feat multiple times. As it turns out, only two pitchers have done it more than twice: Greg Maddux (four years running from 1992-95, including tying Denny Neagle for the league lead in innings in 1995) and Grover Alexander in 1915-16 and 1920 (interrupted by his service in World War I, which cost him most of 1918. I discussed the monumental nature of Alexander’s peak and workload in this 2003 essay. Maddux got his just a bit cheaply (1994-95 were strike-shortened schedules, in which he led the league with just under 210 innings pitched each year), but it’s still a staggering achievement when you consider how far he stood above the league.
Five other pitchers have managed the feat twice. One is Walter Johnson, who led the league in innings five times and ERA+ six times, and synced the two in 1913 (when he had a 1.14 ERA and 259 ERA+) and 1915. The others were Randy Johnson in 1999 & 2002, Roger Clemens in 1991 & 1997 (the latter an IP tie with Pat Hentgen), Steve Carlton in 1972 & 1980, and Bucky Walters in 1939-40. The rest to do it once are below the fold

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How to Score Runs, Part II

I cut off my examination of runs scored per times on base at 1920 because of the many ways in which the early game was different. But let’s complete the picture with guys who reached base 3500 or more times and were active before 1920 (I went through the end of their careers this time, so the numbers for Babe Ruth are a little different here; Frankie Frisch’s totals are different but the percentages are the same). The #1 man here, of the 24 guys who qualified, sure does stick out. I ran the numbers both with and without including homers, and ranked by the latter:

Player R TOBwe HR R/TOB R/TOB(-HR)
Willie Keeler 1719 3585 33 47.9% 47.5%
Roger Connor 1620 3508 138 46.2% 44.0%
Cap Anson 1999 4451 97 44.9% 43.7%
Fred Clarke 1622 3707 67 43.8% 42.7%
Jesse Burkett 1720 3954 75 43.5% 42.4%
Bill Dahlen 1590 3665 84 43.4% 42.1%
George Davis 1545 3614 73 42.8% 41.6%
Jake Beckley 1602 3733 87 42.9% 41.6%
Frankie Frisch 1532 3639 105 42.1% 40.4%
Sam Rice 1514 3751 34 40.4% 39.8%
Max Carey 1545 3782 70 40.9% 39.7%
Ty Cobb 2246 5532 117 40.6% 39.3%
Harry Hooper 1429 3678 75 38.9% 37.6%
Nap Lajoie 1504 3892 82 38.6% 37.3%
Honus Wagner 1739 4508 101 38.6% 37.2%
Lou Gehrig 1771 3983 464 44.5% 37.1%
Eddie Collins 1821 4891 47 37.2% 36.6%
Tris Speaker 1882 4998 117 37.7% 36.2%
Sam Crawford 1391 3744 97 37.2% 35.5%
Goose Goslin 1477 3722 246 39.7% 35.4%
Rogers Hornsby 1579 4019 301 39.3% 34.4%
Babe Ruth 2174 4978 714 43.7% 34.2%
Zack Wheat 1289 3611 132 35.7% 33.3%
Harry Heilmann 1291 3556 183 36.3% 32.8%

Just out of curiosity, I ran the same numbers over the whole 1871-2011 period for three groups of players with over 2000 plate appearances who seemed likely to score a lot: players who scored at least 60% of their times on base overall, players who scored at least 0.85 runs per game, and players who stole at least 30% as many bases as times on base. It will not surprise you that this list is dominated by guys from the game’s very earliest days; Keeler sticks out a lot less on this list, when compared to contemporaries and teammates like Hamilton, Delahanty, McGraw, Thompson, Duffy and Brouthers. It’s sort of disappointing that the all-time leader here is the obscure Ned Cuthbert, who retired in 1884 with a career .276 OBP, but the #2 man is the game’s very first dominant superstar, and the #3 man one of the founding fathers of organized professional baseball:

Continue reading How to Score Runs, Part II

Signing With The Fishes

So the Marlins have signed Jose Reyes to a 6-year, $106 million contract (with no no-trade clause). What does this mean?
1) It’s almost impossible to evaluate whether it makes sense for the Mets to decline to match the Marlins’ offer. As I’ve been saying for months now, the one piece of information Mets fans most need to evaluate the team’s moves is the one we don’t have reliable access to: the true financial condition of the team. Without that, everything we say is speculation.
2) That said, given the size of the Mets’ market compared to the Marlins’, and given that Reyes was a popular, homegrown player with strong ties to the community and (until now) a great fit with the dimensions and layout of Citi Field, it’s almost certainly the case that Reyes was worth a good deal more money to the Mets than to the Marlins. Reyes’ loss is a grievous blow to the Mets, who will likely be unable to meaningfully replace him in a market so short on quality shortstops (count me still a skeptic about Ruben Tejada as a hitter; at best he’ll be adequate). But he may, at the same time, be terribly overpriced for the Marlins if their spending spree and new ballpark don’t turn them overnight into a team able to run big-market nine-figure payrolls on an annual basis. A team with a $125 million payroll can afford to pay $17.5 million to a dynamite player who averages 120-130 games per year (Reyes averaged 133 games a year overall from age 22-28, 98 a year the past three seasons); a team with a $65 million payroll can’t, because it won’t have the flexibility to build around Reyes (think of the Rangers pitching staffs during the A-Rod era). And the $60.4 million payroll the Marlins shelled out in 2005 was the highest in franchise history; the average Marlins payroll over the past 19 years has been $35.6 million. Maybe that was all a multi-decade poor-me act designed to get them to the current status of having a taxpayer-funded stadium (now under SEC investigation, see here and here), but only time will tell if Jeffrey Loria is now ready to run the kinds of annual payrolls needed to justify a luxury item like Reyes, the baseball equivalent of a high-end sports car that’s often in the shop.
3) Evaluating how Reyes translates into the new park is more complicated. He hit exceptionally well at Citi Field relative to scoring levels at the park, but the Mets are – in light of his departure – remodeling the place, and the new park in Florida is untested.
PS – Using the metric I was playing with on Friday, Reyes in his career has reached base 1699 times as a Met, third on the team’s all-time list behind Ed Kranepool and David Wright, and he’s scored 43.3% of the time, or 40.4% of the time if you exclude home runs – a rate that would put him among the elite of all time. Among the Mets to reach base more than 1000 times, the only other guy above 32.5% (excluding homers)? Mookie Wilson at 38.8% (lowest was Jerry Grote at 19.7%, even below Rusty, Kranepool, Piazza and Keith Hernandez).

How to Score Runs

What does it take to score runs? Well, getting on base is Job #1. But once you’re on base, not everybody scores at the same rate. Among players who reached base (counting errors) at least 3500 times since the dawn of modern offenses in 1920, here’s the 20 guys who scored most often:

Player R TOBwe R/TOB
Babe Ruth 1972 4438 44.4%
Lou Gehrig 1888 4274 44.2%
Charlie Gehringer 1774 4075 43.5%
Kenny Lofton 1528 3527 43.3%
Alex Rodriguez 1824 4218 43.2%
Jimmie Foxx 1751 4111 42.6%
Johnny Damon 1643 3891 42.2%
Al Simmons 1507 3572 42.2%
Frankie Frisch 1511 3592 42.1%
Sammy Sosa 1475 3512 42.0%
Rickey Henderson 2295 5503 41.7%
Willie Mays 2062 4959 41.6%
Steve Finley 1443 3535 40.8%
Lou Brock 1610 4001 40.2%
Hank Aaron 2174 5404 40.2%
Derek Jeter 1769 4416 40.1%
Mel Ott 1859 4648 40.0%
Goose Goslin 1483 3739 39.7%
Craig Biggio 1844 4679 39.4%
Mickey Mantle 1676 4268 39.3%

There’s no single common thread here. Most of these guys played on good offenses and/or in good offensive times, in particular in lineups with a lot of high OBPs. Many of them were excellent at getting to scoring position on their own, whether by power (Ruth, Gehrig) or speed (Rickey, Brock). Others, like Mickey and A-Rod, had both great power and, in their younger years, excellent speed. (Obviously, you could re-run this with adjustments for HRs and the like to see who scores from where they start).
Now, the bottom ten:

Player R TOBwe R/TOB
Edgar Martinez 1219 3694 33.0%
Willie McCovey 1229 3735 32.9%
Buddy Bell 1151 3518 32.7%
Luke Appling 1319 4064 32.5%
Mark Grace 1179 3650 32.3%
Ron Santo 1138 3535 32.2%
Harold Baines 1299 4043 32.1%
Brooks Robinson 1232 3916 31.5%
John Olerud 1139 3679 31.0%
Rusty Staub 1189 4165 28.5%

No surprise here: Rusty is the slowest of a slow lot, and only McCovey – who played in a low-scoring era – had great power in this group. This is why Rusty is not in the Hall of Fame, despite being arguably a good enough hitter to be in there, compared to other guys with similar longetivity. Here’s the rest of the list:

Continue reading How to Score Runs

McCarver’s Expiration Date

Having listened to Tim McCarver a lot back in the 80s, I agree with almost every word of this from the indispensable Joe Posnanski, with the caveat that I was never as enamored of McCarver as a storyteller:

You know, I’ve been listening to Tim McCarver call baseball games for almost 30 years now. One of my best friends in high school, Robert, was the first person I knew who had a satellite dish – this was in the days when you had to be one of those guys in the Apollo 13 room to figure out how to operate the thing. I remember there were a lot of vectors involved. Anyway, Robert was and is a huge Mets fan, and so we watched a lot of Mets games with McCarver calling them.
And I loved McCarver. Absolutely loved the guy. Every at-bat, it seemed, he taught me baseball. It was that way for a long time. I honestly believe that McCarver was one of the great pioneers in baseball commentary, the John Madden of his sport in many ways. He was the first I knew who could really break down what the pitcher was trying to do, why he was trying to do it, how the hitter was trying to counter it, and so on. He broke down the game in a way I can never remember any other color commentator doing it. And he was a good story teller too. If I’m listening the greatest color commentators in baseball history, he’s right up at the top.
Trouble is, McCarver has been doing this a long time. And one of the sad truths is that sports color commentary tends to have an expiration date (and, I’ll admit, sportswriting often does too). There comes a time when everyone has heard the stories, when the insights have become cliches, when the game just changes on you. And if we’re being realistic – and I’m not saying this is true for McCarver because I don’t know – there usually comes a time when longtime color commentators stop doing the prep work, stop working the clubhouses, stop keeping up with the latest news. They rely on their experience, their history. That’s just human nature. I thought it was telling when Terry Francona, who was so refreshing in part because he was so up to date, made the point that Kinsler is one of the best young players in the game. Two days later, McCarver said: “I had never thought of him that way.”
McCarver can still wow you now and again. There was a moment on Sunday when he picked up that Yadier Molina had called a full-count pitch verbally against Nelson Cruz, and McCarver brilliantly deduced that Edwin Jackson was going to throw a slider and it probably was not going to be in the strike zone. Sure enough, Jackson threw a slider out of the strike zone. McCarver still understands the pitcher-catcher relationship better than just about anybody in the business.
But, all in all, he has become a hard listen. Al Michaels*, in explaining the art of broadcasting, explained that he sees the game as the music and the announcing as the lyrics. And by that he means that the lyrics need to fit the music, they need to enhance the music, it must blend together. The worst thing an announcer can do is jolt the viewer out of the moment, stop them cold, take them away from the moment. McCarver does that to me way too often now. I find myself 20 times a game taken away from the ballgame and wondering if what I just heard was (1) True; (2) True but misleading; (3) Significant in any way.

And of course, I endorse his concluding paragraph as well. Read the whole thing.

Today’s Fun Fact

Curtis Granderson is currently leading the AL in RBI, but has not been intentionally walked this season, not even once. The only previous player to lead the league in RBI without drawing an intentional walk, since IBB started being tracked in 1955? It shouldn’t surprise you: Roger Maris in 1961 (well, it did surprise me a little, since Mickey missed 9 games that year). Besides those two, the only other player to hit 40 homers without an intentional walk is Alex Rodriguez at age 22 in 1998, when he stole 46 bases and hit in front of Griffey, Edgar and Buhner.
Also if you’re wondering, only three players have drawn 100 walks in a season without the aid of an intentional pass. The leader is Rickey Henderson in 1998, when he slugged .347 as a punchless 39-year-old but led the league with 66 steals – the classic guy you would rather make hit. The other two? Randy “Moose” Milligan in 1992 (who mostly batted ahead of the fearsome Joe Orsulak – I think it was more a comment on how bad a year Milligan had), and Chone Figgins in 2009. The top 11 are ten guys who slugged below .400, and Maris.

A.J. The Wild Man

A.J. Burnett has thrown a league-leading 23 wild pitches this year in 172.1 innings pitched, one of the grislier stats in an increasingly ugly season. How historic is that?
Well, among pitchers who have qualified for the ERA title since 1893 (the dawn of something like modern pitching, when the mound was moved back to 60 feet 6 inches), Burnett’s rate of one wild pitch per 7.493 innings pitched would be the highest by a fairly significant margin:

A.J. Burnett 23 2011 34 29 29 172.3 78 148 5.27 761 7 7.493 33.087
Jack Hamilton 22 1962 23 41 26 182.0 107 101 5.09 820 5 8.273 37.273
Juan Guzman 26 1993 26 33 33 221.0 110 194 3.99 963 3 8.500 37.038
Red Ames 30 1905 22 34 31 262.7 105 198 2.74 1064 3 8.756 35.467
Matt Clement 23 2000 25 34 34 205.0 125 170 5.14 940 16 8.913 40.870
Tim Leary 23 1990 32 31 31 208.0 78 138 4.11 881 7 9.043 38.304
Nolan Ryan 16 1981 34 21 21 149.0 68 140 1.69 605 1 9.313 37.813
Tony Cloninger 27 1966 25 39 38 257.7 116 178 4.12 1132 6 9.543 41.926
Jaime Navarro 18 1998 31 37 27 172.7 77 71 6.36 802 7 9.593 44.556
Ken Howell 21 1989 28 33 32 204.0 86 164 3.44 827 2 9.714 39.381

Red Ames’ 30 wild pitches qualifies as the post-1893 record. Needless to say, Nolan Ryan in 1981 is the only one of these guys to win the ERA title. (For curiosity – Sandy Koufax in 1958 would have made this list at #9 if he’d thrown just a few more innings). Among pitchers who threw at least 15 wild pitches but didn’t qualify for the ERA title, here’s the top 10; Burnett would rank 12th:

Stu Flythe 16 1936 24 17 3 39.3 61 14 13.04 229 3 2.458 14.313
Scott Williamson 21 2000 24 48 10 112.0 75 136 3.29 495 3 5.333 23.571
Dennis Higgins 15 1969 29 55 0 85.3 56 71 3.48 383 3 5.689 25.533
Hector Carrasco 15 1995 25 64 0 87.3 46 64 4.12 391 2 5.822 26.067
Jason Grimsley 16 2000 32 63 4 96.3 42 53 5.04 428 5 6.021 26.750
John Wetteland 16 1989 22 31 12 102.7 34 96 3.77 411 0 6.417 25.688
Bobby Witt 22 1986 22 31 31 157.7 143 174 5.48 741 3 7.167 33.682
Bo Belinsky 16 1967 30 27 18 115.3 54 80 4.68 510 8 7.208 31.875
Johan Santana 15 2002 23 27 14 108.3 49 137 2.99 452 1 7.222 30.133
Mac Suzuki 16 2001 26 33 19 118.3 73 89 5.86 542 8 7.396 33.875

As you might imagine, this was the only season of Stu Flythe’s major league “pitching” career; he was not one of Connie Mack’s finer discoveries. Bobby Witt’s near-legendary rookie season missed by just a few innings topping Burnett.
It would not be useful to chart the guys with higher rates from the pre-1893 era, when you had guys with no catcher’s mitts or shin guards catching pitches thrown from 50 feet, often from a standing position several feet behind the plate. A few high points: Mark Baldwin threw the MLB-record 83 wild pitches (in 513.2 innings, one per 6.19 innings pitched) in 1889; Jim McElroy in 1884 threw 46 wild pitches in 116 innings, one every 2.52 innings pitched, the worst rate for anybody with 100 or more innings. A 19-year-old pitcher named Dan Collins threw 12 wild pitches in 11 innings in 1884; the only other guy to match that in more than 3 innings pitched was Rich Rodas, who threw 5 wild pitches in 4.2 innings for the Dodgers in 1983.
PS – A look at wild pitches on a per-pitch basis here. Funny fact: I saw a tweet linking to that a few days ago, favorited it (I have trouble clicking through links when reading Twitter from my Blackberry so I tend to favorite things to read later) and completely forgot about it until after I wrote this post and started getting a nagging feeling I’d seen something about Burnett’s historic wildness before.
UPDATED after the season: AJ improved just a bit to finish with 25 wild pitches in 190.1 IP, still easily the record (one every 7.61 IP, or every 33.48 batters faced). In the postseason he added 1 more in 5.2 innings, facing 24 batters.

BASEBALL/Bill James on Ignorance and Expertise

I will probably come back to this one again, but I was reading this excellent 2010 speech by Bill James in his latest essay collection, “Solid Fool’s Gold: Detours on the Way to Conventional Wisdom”, and the whole thing is available at his website if you’re a subscriber. It’s an excellent summary of what James does and does not do for a living, but I found it also very pointed about his approaches to conventional wisdom and what they say about aspects of our current public policy debates that turn on appeals to authority and the confident assertions of experts that they understand everything, or that presuppose central planning through the mechanism of complex rules devised by experts or solutions that purport to simultaneously understand the conditions of every local economy at once, in opposition to the worldview that presupposes that wisdom comes from the collective trial and error of the largest possible number of people over time:

I have always thought that it was best not to define oneself, but to let the world say about you whatever it is that the world chooses to say. This is my first reference point for the Power of Ignorance. By not claiming to know exactly what it is that I am doing, I remain able to attempt whatever it is that I feel like attempting. It’s a great advantage.
I should say, unless there be misunderstanding about this, that I am in no way in favor of ignorance or against the advance of knowledge. I have worked my entire life for the advancement of knowledge, trying to increase respect for reason and respect for research in the world of sports. I am embracing ignorance here in this sense and for this reason: that we are all, in my view, condemned to float endlessly in a vast sea of un-answered questions and unknown reference points – a Sea of Ignorance, if you will. The example that I like to use is a chess board. How many moves ahead can you see on a chess board? I can see about one move ahead of myself in a chess game. If you can see 3 or 4 moves ahead on a chess board, you can beat 99% of chess players, and if you could see 7 or 8 moves ahead in a chess game, you would be a world-class chess champion.
Well, suppose that a chess board was not eight squares wide and eight squares long, but a hundred squares wide and a hundred squares long, with a thousand moving pieces, rather than 32. How far ahead could you see on a chess board then? The world is like a chess board that is a million squares wide and a million squares long with hundreds of thousands of moving pieces and hundreds of thousands of different players moving them. In my view, anyone who imagines that he can anticipate what will happen next, in any area of life, is delusional, and people who think that experts should be able to do this are children and fools.
If the world was 10% more complicated than the human mind, or even if it was 40% more complicated or ten times as complicated, then the difference between an intelligent person’s ability to understand the world and a less intelligent person’s ability to understand the world would be very meaningful. But since the world is billions and billions of times more complicated than the human mind, individual intelligence is almost entirely irrelevant to the understanding of the world. What is critical to understanding is humility and co-operation. What is critical to gaining more understanding of the world is to learn to accept and appreciate the vastness of our ignorance, and to understand that one can only survive in a sea of ignorance by working with others to make our small lifeboat a little bit stronger. Only by embracing the fact of our limitless ignorance can one position oneself to increase the store of knowledge.

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BUSINESS: Negotiating Through The Media

There are many species of bad journalism, most of which involve too much opinion by the writer, but sometimes the opposite is true and a writer gives you the apparent facts without the context needed to make sense of them. Let me use an article from the NY Times about 30 Rock to illustrate a common type of bad journalism that I find to be equally amusing and annoying: reporting negotiating positions without bothering to explain to the reader to take negotiating positions with a grain of salt, let alone how to interpret statements made in the course of negotiations. This has been a common thread in scores of articles these past few months about – among other topics – the debt ceiling negotiations, the Libya war, the perpetual Israel-Palestine ‘peace process,’ the NFL and NBA labor negotiations, the Mets’ legal dispute with the Madoff trustee and other business machinations and their efforts to re-sign Jose Reyes, and the legal imbroglio surrounding the Dodgers. I’ve read more articles on all these topics than I could count that failed to give the reader the guidance to put the parties’ statements in the context of the underlying negotiating dynamics.
The Times tells us, first, that Alec Baldwin has said he’s leaving 30 Rock after next season, a departure that of course would be a terrible blow to a show built around the tensions between his (awesome) character, Jack Donaghy, and Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon. It may well be true that Baldwin sincerely has other things on his mind, maybe even a run for public office, and/or that he’s feeling he’s done all he could with the character. But it’s at least equally likely that he could be persuaded to stay on if NBC offers money or other contractual concessions to make it worth his while.
Then we get the response from NBC brass and from Lorne Michaels, the show’s executive producer:

Executives from the show and NBC aren’t sure, but they made it clear in interviews here this week that his departure would not mean an automatic end to the award-winning comedy.
NBC’s new entertainment chairman, Bob Greenblatt, said: “I’d love nothing more than to have Alec for the duration of the show. That’s my goal. Let’s see what we get.”
NBC’s interest in keeping “30 Rock” around for at least one more year after the coming season can be explained by the need for more episodes to enhance the show’s resale value in syndication.
The executive producer of “30 Rock,” Lorne Michaels, was more definitive about a future for the comedy, even if Mr. Baldwin turns down all blandishments to continue. “I would hope he would want to go on,” Mr. Michaels said on Monday. “But we’re going to keep doing the show.”

Again: I don’t doubt that NBC would very much like to extend the show’s run one extra season for syndication purposes; many a sitcom past has been kept on past its proverbial shark-jumping point for that reason. If 30 Rock is still making money at that point, the network would probably try to soldier on without Baldwin. And Lorne Michaels has never been a guy who thought any of his cast members were indispensable (to put it mildly). But this all smacks strongly of a negotiating posture: the network and Michaels are doing interviews here precisely to send Baldwin the message that he’s not holding all the cards. And the reporter, Bill Carter, doesn’t breathe a word of that, probably because he knows full well why they are giving him these interviews.
Of course, Greenblatt and Michaels have their own competing agendas:

Mr. Greenblatt did open the door to a possible disagreement with Mr. Michaels over the re-entry of “30 Rock” onto NBC’s schedule. The show’s sixth-season premiere has been postponed until midseason because of the pregnancy of its star, Tina Fey.
Asked if “30 Rock” was ensured a spot back on NBC’s successful Thursday night comedy lineup, Mr. Greenblatt said, “That is a good question, and I really don’t have an answer for it.” He added, “Nothing’s written in stone.”
But as far as Mr. Michaels is concerned, it is. “The show will be back on Thursdays,” he said confidently.

Of course, if Baldwin’s future with the show is in doubt, that’s one reason the network would not want to commit valuable Thursday night prime-time space, plus Greenblatt is taking charge of a fourth-place network and probably should keep his options open. But NBC has to keep Michaels happy, too; as the creator of Saturday Night Live, he remains a vital part of the network’s brand image. Michaels’ certainty here is obviously intended to send an unsubtle message that he will not be a happy camper if the network moves his prime-time baby out of its Thursday night sinecure.
I don’t mean to pick on Carter, who in this article has at least offered us enough quotes from each of the participants that a skeptical reader can piece together what is really being said here; that’s not always the case with this sort of journalism. But in general, reporters aren’t doing their jobs if they don’t report how someone involved in negotiations could stand to gain from taking a particular position in public, and worse still if they straight-facedly claim that someone will never make a particular concession (e.g., Jose Reyes won’t talk about a new contract during the season), when in fact they might well do so for the right price. The dynamics of negotiations and how they are handled through the media can differ across situations, but there are a finite number of basic underlying approaches to negotiating, and they crop up across many different fields of endeavor.
Consider the debt ceiling debate – surely many Republicans would have preferred to pass ‘cut, cap and balance,’ and some were genuinely opposed to raising the debt ceiling at all. But for many people involved in the fight, pushing for the ideal policy, even if it was the policy they wanted, was also a matter of getting leverage to extract a better deal when the time came to compromise. Similarly, many Republicans sincerely opposed any deal that would raise any taxes at all; others may have been willing to trade some revenue-raisers for something better, but found it convenient to stay in line with the ATR pledge against tax hikes as a posture unless and until that better offer materialized. None of this is insincere; it’s just good bargaining.
Learn to look for the signs of negotiating postures between the lines of news articles, and they will surface again and again in every section of the paper.

Don’t Panic

Jason Heyward, battling injuries, has batted .203/.294/.332 since May 1.
The lesson, as always, is that even the most talented young players shouldn’t be expected to be team-carrying superstars right out of the gate. Some are; but many others go through an adjustment period sooner or later, especially if they have a few injuries to throw them off.
Heyward’s career line now stands at .258/.366/.435 (119 OPS+), partly through his second, age 21 season. A few comps, including some that should be very familiar to Braves fans:
Ken Griffey jr: .284/.350/.454 (OPS+ 123) through two seasons, age 19-20.
Andruw Jones: .251/.319/.472 (OPS+ 104) through two-plus seasons, age 19-21.
Carlos Beltran: .276/.327/.425 (OPS+ 88) through two-plus seasons, age 21-23.
Jermaine Dye: .252/.287/.394 (OPS+ 75) through three incomplete seasons, age 22-24.
Ron Gant: .236/.290/.404 (OPS+ 93) through two-plus seasons, age 22-24.
And of course, there’s no particular reason to think a guy with Heyward’s talent won’t have a big September this season, either.
He’s no MVP, at this stage of his career. But he may still be one, not far in the future.

The Roger Clemens Fiasco: What the Hell Just Happened?

Originally published at Grantland
If you’re a baseball fan half-watching the news reports from the Roger Clemens trial, you probably have a lot of questions right now. Like: Didn’t the trial just start? How did it end so quickly? What the hell is a mistrial anyway? The Baseball Crank is happy to answer them for you.
1. How Mistrials Work
The simple legal explanation is that a mistrial occurs when something goes wrong during a trial that would make it impossible to uphold a guilty verdict. Rather than waste time finishing the trial and getting a verdict that would have to be thrown out on appeal anyway, the judge simply halts the proceedings and sends the jury home. Judges have a lot of leeway to decide that a mistrial is necessary; as Chief Justice John Roberts explained in a 2010 case for which a mistrial was declared because the jury had deadlocked, “Trial judges may declare a mistrial ‘whenever, in their opinion, taking all the circumstances into consideration, there is a manifest necessity’ for doing so” — a fairly open-ended rule. If you’ve ever watched Law & Order, you’ve seen this happen a hundred times — and while mistrials aren’t as common in the real world as they are on TV, they’re a routine feature of the criminal justice system. Sometimes the court will rule that the defendant’s rights have been compromised so badly he or she can’t be retried, but mistrials more often allow the government to try the case again.
The roots of the rules against retrying a criminal defendant come from the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment, which provides that you can’t be tried twice for the same crime. But the Supreme Court has held since 1824 that it doesn’t necessarily violate the Double Jeopardy Clause to try a defendant again if the jury never reached a verdict. And the rules for deciding when a second trial would be unfair to the defendant are also somewhat elastic — as the Supreme Court put it in 1973, there’s no “rigid, mechanical rule” for deciding when a mistrial makes a second trial impossible. Instead, the judge has to decide things like whether a second trial would drag the defendant through unfair delays, whether it would give the prosecution an unfair advantage to have a second bite at the apple (for example, where a prosecution witness failed to show up for trial or performed badly, or where the defense revealed a surprise strategy), and whether the mistrial was engineered on purpose by the prosecution’s misconduct. In Clemens’ case, Judge Reggie Walton hasn’t ruled yet on whether Clemens can be tried again, and has set a September 2 hearing date for arguments by the lawyers. So, in all likelihood, even if he makes a quick decision, a new trial is not going to start until October at the earliest, and could be many months later.
2. How Did This End Up as a Mistrial?
Clemens is on trial for perjury in his answers to Congressional investigators and in Congressional hearings in February 2008. Because his statements to Congress happened in Washington, D.C, he’s on trial there before the same judge who heard the perjury case against Lewis “Scooter” Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. Perjury cases are a strange animal, because the prosecution generally has to prove the facts the defendant lied about, that the defendant knew he was lying, and that the lies were about something that was significant to the investigation or hearing.
There was a lot of skirmishing before the trial over what evidence the judge would let in. Clemens’ former trainer, Brian McNamee, supposedly has physical evidence that Clemens took steroids, and Clemens is in big trouble if the jury believes that evidence. (His lawyer says it was faked.) But another key witness would apparently have been Andy Pettitte, Clemens’ longtime teammate in Houston and in the Bronx and one of the few people to escape an admission of steroid use with his reputation largely intact. If the jury believed Pettitte’s testimony that Clemens told him he’d used HGH, that would not only show that Clemens lied, but that he knew he was lying — so Pettitte’s testimony was obviously crucial.
One of Judge Walton’s rulings before the trial was that prosecutors couldn’t call Pettitte’s wife, Laura, to essentially repeat things Pettitte had told her he’d heard from Clemens, since she hadn’t talked to Clemens herself and would just be adding another voice to make Pettitte’s testimony sound more credible. But on just the second day of the trial, prosecutors played a videotape of Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings quoting from an affidavit given by Laura Pettitte. That’s a double foul — not only did the prosecutors get her statements in front of the jury after the judge ruled they couldn’t, they did it without putting her on the stand to be cross-examined. Judge Walton, explaining that “I don’t see how I un-ring the bell” once it’s been heard by the jury, immediately stopped the trial and ended up declaring a mistrial at the request of Clemens’ lawyer.
Judges don’t always declare mistrials when juries hear evidence they’re not supposed to — there’s a lot of evidence that goes into even a short trial, and not all of it is make-or-break. Often judges just tell a jury to disregard what they just heard, and the legal system assumes that they obey those instructions. But Pettitte is clearly the second-most-important prosecution witness after McNamee himself, and likely the harder one for Clemens to discredit, with his soft-spoken demeanor, sincere faith and contrition for his own HGH use and none of the seediness of McNamee. Especially with the prosecutors having already violated another of Judge Walton’s rulings — referring in opening statements to HGH use by Pettitte, Chuck Knoblauch and Mike Stanton — Judge Walton concluded that this one was too big to let pass.
3. Will Roger Clemens Stand Trial Again?
Now, it’s the great question of 2005-07 again: is that all for Roger Clemens? Will Judge Walton decide that it’s unfair to Clemens if he has to be retried?
It seems likely that the case can be tried again fairly quickly — the parties are ready and well-financed, the witnesses aren’t hard to find. So the arguments will most likely center on whether this was a stunt the prosecution pulled on purpose and whether it gets some unfair advantage from starting over or from having heard the defense’s opening arguments. Certainly Rusty Hardin, Clemens’ lead lawyer, is likely to make much of the argument that the prosecutors knew full well they were introducing evidence the judge had told them not to use. Judges don’t like being disobeyed. But he may have a harder case arguing that there’s any real advantage gained by the prosecutors or that they actually wanted a mistrial. After all, the government has already wasted a ridiculous amount of money on this case when the Department of Justice has much bigger fish to fry (people lying on Capitol Hill is the ultimate dog-bites-man story, and usually on subjects that pretend to be more important than baseball), and it won’t look good for these prosecutors if possibly the biggest case of their careers gets thrown out for good over this. And it’s much harder, if not impossible, for a defendant to argue that the court shouldn’t have called a mistrial when the defendant asked for one — as Hardin did here. So the likely outcome is another trial.
As for Clemens, he’s learning the hard way that criminal cases, unlike baseball games, sometimes make you wait a long time to find out who won and who lost. But it would be the most ironic ending of all if Judge Walton decides that the prosecution tried to get an unfair advantage and has its case erased from the books.


A great look at the all-time record for reaching base safely in consecutive games – Ted Williams, 84 games in 1949. H/T The article doesn’t precisely say who is #2 on the list, but notes that inclusive of his hitting streak, Joe DiMaggio reached safely in 74 straight games in 1941. If he’s #2, that puts Williams 13.5% ahead of the number two streak – only half as big as Joe D’s margin over the second-longest hitting streak, but far enough ahead to probably rate a slot on my list of baseball’s most impressive records.
If you’re wondering: in DiMaggio’s streak, 74 games from May 14-August 2, 1941, he batted .404/.468/.731, scored 74 runs and drove in 73, with 120 hits, 34 walks and 2 HBP; he struck out just 6 times and hit into only 3 double plays, and the Yankees went 55-17 and buried the competition, building a 12.5 game lead. In Williams’ streak, 84 games from July 1 to September 27 in the heat of a ferocious pennant race, he batted .371/.518/.695 with 81 runs, 80 RBI, 112 hits, 92 walks, 0 HBP, struck out 19 times and hit into 12 double plays, and his team went 60-24, pulling from 8 games back of the Yankees before the start of the streak to a tenuous 1-game lead. DiMaggio’s BABIP during the 74-game streak was .369; Williams’ was .340. DiMaggio, of course, played in a vastly more difficult park.
DiMaggio played 139 games in 1941, and failed to reach base safely in just 6 of those. Williams played 155 games in 1949, and also failed to reach base safely in just 6 of those (5 of them in June, when Williams slumped badly…to .300/.442/.582). The difference is that 1941 was a huge year for Joe D – he batted .357/.440/.643, his third-highest career OPS compared to a lifetime mark of .325/.398/.579. For Williams, 1949 was little better than an average year, the 8th best OPS of his career and just below his career batting average – .343/.490/.650 compared to a lifetime mark of .344/.482/.634. (Although Williams did set career highs that year in the counting stats – plate appearances, at bats, hits, runs, RBI, homers, walks and total bases – and won the MVP).


On the whole, I’m OK with the Mets trading K-Rod. I’d like them to make an effort at their reasonable goals for the season – third place, over .500, not wholly out of the Wild Card race before September – but they only lose a little in removing K-Rod and can replace him with Bobby Parnell, who has essentially been rehashing the Heath Bell career path (great fastball, good K/BB ratio, awful BABIP) and like Bell should eventually find his groove as a closer if given enough rope. It’s interesting that the Mets included some cash in the deal, but that’s just another way of saying the Brewers didn’t take on his entire contract.
On the contract-mischief front, Jay Jaffe has some fun at the expense of Scott Boras’ hissy fit over K-Rod being dealt to a team that will use him as a setup man.
The tougher question is whether to deal Carlos Beltran, who is having a good year and whose departure really would tank the season. For now, it looks like the Mets are wisely looking to dangle Beltran on the market but only for a premium prospect price.

The Very Worst

Interesting essays here and here looking at some of baseball’s worst-ever players, or at least players who in one way or another were famously bad. A few of the Deadspin piece’s potshots are unmerited (how can you discuss Billy Martin’s playing career and ignore its most famous feature, his .333/.371/.566 career postseason batting line?), but it’s still entertaining if you don’t take it too seriously. I hadn’t really known about Tommy Dowd’s fielding (he not coincidentally led the 1899 Cleveland Spiders in plate appearances), or Gus Weyhing’s HBP record (Weyhing, better known as the last man to play without a glove, hit 79 batters and threw 105 wild pitches in 102 starts his first two seasons, age 20-21. Yet before they moved back the mound when he was 27, Weyhing had a 3.16 career ERA – ERA+ of 119 – and a .588 career winning percentage, having posted an average record of 30-21).

All Hot Streakers

Looking at the All-Star lineups, it’s striking how many of these guys – especially in the AL lineup – have been up and down the past few years.
AL Lineup
1: Curtis Granderson: .253/.334/.486 since 2009, including .249/.327/.453 in 2009, .247/.324/.468 in 2010.
2: Asdrubal Cabrera: .294/.346/.425 since 2009, including .276/.326/.346 in 2010.
3: Adrian Gonzalez: .304/.403/.545 since 2009, the one long-term bankable bat in the AL lineup.
4: Jose Bautista: .272 /.393/.580 since 2009, including .235/.349/.408 in 2009. Also .239/.324/.398 from 2004-08.
5: Josh Hamilton: .319/.370/.550 since 2009, including .268/.315/.426 in 2009.
6: Adrian Beltre (first All-Star lineup ever to feature two guys named Adrian?): .291/.333/.483 since 2009, including .265/.304/.379 in 2009.
7: David Ortiz: .265/.359/.512 since 2009, including .238/.332/.462 in 2009.
8: Robinson Cano: .315/.361/.525 since 2009, his breakout year, but followed a .271/.305/.410 season in 2008.
9: Alex Avila: .257/.345/.433 since 2009, including .228/.316/.340 in 2010.
NL Lineup:
1: Rickie Weeks: .272/.358/.478 since 2009; Weeks hit .234/.342/.398 in 2008 and played only 37 games in 2009.
2: Carlos Beltran: .292/.381/.482 since 2009, including .255/.341/.427 in 2010. Beltran hasn’t played 100 games in a season since 2008, although he’s been healthy again this year.
3: Matt Kemp: .282/.346/.494 since 2009, including .249/.310/.450 in 2010.
4: Prince Fielder: .284/.408/.545 since 2009, had a slight off year at .261/.401/.471 in 2010.
5: Brian McCann: .283/.366/.480 since 2009; has been consistent, had slight off year at .281/.349/.486 in 2009.
6: Lance Berkman: .268/.389/.497 since 2009, including .248/.368/.413 for two teams in 2010.
7: Matt Holliday .315/.396/.532 since 2009.
8: Troy Tulowitzki: .296/.369/.542 since 2009, actually having a modest off-year this season at .268/.337/.488; missed 40 games in 2010.
9: Scott Rolen: .284/.346/.460 since 2009, including .241/.276/.398 in 62 games this season – Rolen has 5 homers and 9 walks.
None of this is to say that these are unworthy All-Stars; some may be, but the larger point is how few really bankable superstars there are at present (to be fair, Miguel Cabrera is one and is stuck behind Gonzalez, and a few of the other superstars of the Pujols/A-Rod variety are hurt). It’s just odd to have quite this many guys starting the All-Star Game who were seen as being on the ropes some time within the past three years.

Citi Field Detailed Home/Road Splits

SNY’s Ted Berg asked this question on Twitter, and it seemed worthy of a detailed response: “Is there any hard evidence that Citi Field plays as an extreme pitcher’s park?”
Well, using the same method as in my “History of Defense” breakdowns, I combined the batting stats for all Mets games 2009-11 thru Sunday’s action, both by and against the Mets. Here’s the home/road splits:
Runs per game:
Home: 8.18
Road: 8.82
Batting Average on Balls in Play:
Home: .311
Road: .322
Doubles per 600 at bats:
Home: 38.72
Road: 41.25
Triples per 600 at bats:
Home: 5.68
Road: 4.21
Home Runs per 600 at bats:
Home: 16.93
Road: 19.41
Walks per 660 plate appearances (I used a PA metric rather than at bats for walks and strikeouts):
Home: 59.10
Road: 57.49
Strikeouts per 660 plate appearances:
Home: 113.53
Road: 110.81
Conclusion: From 2009-11, which now seems a large enough sample size to judge, Citi Field has played as a fairly extreme pitchers’ park, drastically reducing scoring and home runs, depressing batting averages on balls in play, and slightly decreasing doubles and increasing strikeouts. It is, however, a great triples park, undoubtedly due to its spacious power alleys (and a few Mets hitters well-suited to exploit them), and has seen walks increase slightly at home.
UPDATE: So, if the Mets are looking down the road to what kinds of hitters prosper at Citi Field, who should they be looking at? Here’s the 2009-11 home/road splits of Mets hitters with at least 200 plate appearances at Citi Field – home line on the left, road line on the right, and home OPS divided by road OPS in the H/R column:

Player AB BA OBA Slug% AB BA OBA Slug% H/R
Jose Reyes 494 0.324 0.378 0.506 459 0.266 0.305 0.375 1.300
Jason Bay 229 0.266 0.357 0.424 253 0.229 0.317 0.324 1.218
Luis Castillo 364 0.313 0.402 0.354 369 0.247 0.337 0.285 1.215
Angel Pagan 544 0.314 0.354 0.478 487 0.261 0.321 0.382 1.183
Daniel Murphy 347 0.303 0.341 0.470 339 0.251 0.313 0.386 1.160
Fernando Tatis 194 0.284 0.358 0.443 211 0.251 0.294 0.403 1.149
Ike Davis 317 0.271 0.366 0.470 335 0.272 0.348 0.451 1.046
David Wright 598 0.288 0.382 0.472 670 0.285 0.353 0.464 1.045
Josh Thole 208 0.269 0.335 0.356 184 0.266 0.344 0.326 1.031
Alex Cora 215 0.228 0.305 0.274 225 0.240 0.293 0.320 0.945
Jeff Francoeur 338 0.254 0.294 0.414 352 0.281 0.327 0.432 0.933
Carlos Beltran 350 0.294 0.363 0.466 379 0.290 0.394 0.501 0.926

I admit it’s odd to see Bay (and Tatis) that high, but otherwise it’s the people you’d expect: line-drive/gap hitters like Reyes, Castillo, Pagan and Murphy at the top, Beltran at the bottom (Wright hasn’t suffered at Citi nearly as much as Beltran). Reyes this season is batting .395/.453/.645 with 10 triples in 29 games at home, .277/.315/.361 with zero triples on the road.
So, if the Mets go to the free agent market in 2011, they should be looking to sign a player as much like Jose Reyes as possible. Gee, if only such a player was going to be a free agent after this season…

A History of Team Defense (Part I of II)

Part II here.
Who are the best defensive teams of all time? Individual defensive statistics in baseball – as in other team sports – have been crudely kept and poorly understood for years, with the more sophisticated modern methods only being gathered for the past decade or two. As a result, even statistically-oriented baseball fans have tended to answer questions about defense as much by reputation and anecdote as anything. The lack of a statistical framework tends to make defense a bit invisible in our memories; even most knowledgeable fans have no more concrete sense of, say, Ty Cobb as a defensive player than they do of Turkey Stearnes as a hitter. My goal in this essay is to a little bit to remedy that on the team level.
We do have one measurement of team defense that endures over time and thus can be used as a baseline for measuring team defense: Defensive Efficiency Rating (DER). I’d like to walk you through the history of the best and worst teams in each league, and the league average, in DER from the dawn of organized league ball in 1871 down to this season. As usual, I’ll try to explain here what I’m measuring in terms that make sense to readers who may not be all that familiar with the ‘sabermetric’ literature, although I make no claim to be current myself on every study out there, and welcome comments pointing to additional studies.
What is DER?
DER is, put simply, the percentage of balls in play against a team that are turned into outs. The exact formulas used to compute DER can vary a bit, and while Baseball-Reference.com – which I used for this study – computes DERs all the way back to the start of organized baseball in 1871, its description of the formula is a bit vague:

Percentage of balls in play converted into outs
This is an estimate based on team defensive and pitching stats.
We utilize two estimates of plays made.
One using innings pitched, strikeouts, double plays and outfield assists.
And the other with batters faced, strikeouts, hits allowed, walks allowed, hbp, and .71*errors committed (avg percent of errors that result in an ROE)
Total plays available are plays made + hits allowed – home runs + error committed estimate.

All methods for computing DER look at the percentage of balls in play that become hits; it appears that Baseball-Reference.com’s formula also counts the outs that result from double plays or outfield assists, both clear examples of outs created by good defense, as well as counting against the defense the one thing that fielding percentages always recorded – errors – but only where they put a man on base. From what I can tell, essentially the same formula is used over all of the site’s historical DER data, so the data is generally consistent over time.
It’s worth recalling that DER only measures outs vs. men reaching base – it doesn’t deal with extra bases on doubles and triples, or stolen bases and caught stealing, or other baserunning issues. So, it’s only one part of the picture just as on base percentage is just one part of the offensive picture. But like OBP, it’s the single most important part.
What Goes Into Team DER?
One of Bill James’ maxims throughout the 1980s was that “much of what we perceive to be pitching is in fact defense.” As most of my readers will recall, Voros McCracken broke major ground in the field of baseball analysis of pitching and defense in 2001 with a study showing that Major League pitchers, over time, had no effect – or at least, there was no difference among Major League pitchers in the effect they had – on whether balls in play become outs. Strikeouts, walks and home runs (the so-called “Three True Outcomes”) are the pitcher vs. the hitter, mano a mano, but on average, BABIP (batting average on balls in play, the flip side of DER) shows no tendency to be consistent year to year among individual pitchers; other statistical indicators also strongly suggest that a pitcher’s BABIP tends to be mostly a combination of team defense and luck. The simple way of expressing McCracken’s insight is that it’s the defense rather than the pitcher that determines how many balls in play become outs.
As with most groundbreaking insights, further research has added some caveats to McCracken’s theory. The first one, which he observed from the beginning, was that knuckleballers tend as a group to have lower than average BABIP, and thus are something of an exception to the rule. I haven’t absorbed all the further studies, but there are reasons to suspect that other classes of pitchers may have a modest advantage in the battle against BABIP, including elite relievers (Troy Percival, Armando Benitez, Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman and Keith Foulke all seemed to have much lower career BABIP than their circumstances would suggest) and possibly pitchers who throw a huge number of breaking balls (we’ll discuss Andy Messersmith a bit below).
Also, McCracken’s research, and most of the following research, looked at the conditions of modern baseball (at the time, Retrosheet and Baseball Prospectus’ database only went back to the mid-1950s). It’s entirely possible that pitchers had greater influence on BABIP/DER in the era before 1920, or further back, when there were pitchers who had consistent success even in the era when most plate appearances resulted in a ball in play and thus the pitcher had little opportunity to set himself apart from his peers by success in the Three True Outcomes. As I explained in this 2001 essay, the playing conditions were greatly different in 19th century baseball in particular, and I’d be hesitant without data on that era to just assume that the pitcher’s effect on balls in play was as minimal then as it is now.
Finally, of course, as with other statistical measures, there are park effects. We all know that different parks are more or less favorable for hitters, and of the components of that, park effects on home runs are significant, and parks can effect walks and strikeouts as well. (Less so for baserunning, in most cases). Balls in play are no exception, and I don’t have data handy on how park effects specifically affect balls in play over time besides the ability to notice some trends (for example, the Polo Grounds for many years was a great home run park but not a great hitters’ park; I assume DER there tended to be high) and a few specific examples where I dug into the numbers we have. So bear in mind that the numbers set out below are not park-adjusted.
Key to the Charts
BIP%: Percentage of plate appearances resulting in a ball in play (i.e.,Plate Appearances minus homers, walks and strikeouts). Since I used league batting rather than pitching data for this, there may be a slight discrepancy for the period since the start of interleague play in 1997.
NL/AL etc.: Under the league name I have the league’s DER for that season.
High/Low: The team with the league’s highest and lowest DERs. I used Baseball-Reference.com’s team abbreviations.
DER: That team’s DER
High%/Low%: Team DER divided by the league average. This is the key number I use to identify the best and worst defensive teams, so we can see who were the best and worst defensive teams relative to the league average. As usual, I’m not using any math here more complicated than simple arithmetic and basic algebra.
Also, where I compute “rough” estimates of BABIP for pre-1950 pitchers I used the basic formula of (H-HR)/((IP*3)+H-HR-K)
The 1870s
Talent levels in the 1870s were especially uneven, as the first organized league – the National Association – began play in 1871 just two years after the debut of the first-ever professional team. Schedules were short (20 games in 1871, in the 60s by decade’s end), fielders didn’t wear gloves, playing surfaces were ungroomed and in some cases effectively without fences, and with nine balls for a walk and longballs unheard of, nearly every plate appearance resulted in a ball in play – the 1872 season’s 96.5% rate is the highest in the game’s history, and 1879 was the last season above 90%.
As you can see, defenses improved dramatically over this period, in part no doubt as professional pitchers and fielders learned their craft and more of the nation’s best ballplayers gathered into the National Association and later the NL. But errors were a big chunk of the poor defense of the era – in each of the NL’s first five seasons, there were more unearned runs than earned runs scored, and it wasn’t until 1906 that the average number of unearned runs would drop below 1 per game.
The most successful defensive team of the era was the 1876 St. Louis “Brown Stockings” team (not precisely the same organization as the Cardinals), the only Major League team ever to be 10% better than its league in DER. Starting pitcher George “Grin” Bradley struck out 1.6 men per 9 innings but led the league with a 1.23 ERA (the team also allowed the league’s fewest runs, although their 2.36 unearned runs per 9 innings was only third-best in the league) while throwing all but four of the team’s innings. A rough estimate of the BABIP against Bradley is .258 in 1875, .224 in 1876, but .285 after he changed teams the next year, when his ERA nearly tripled, and .267 for his career. Which at least seems consistent with the notion that Bradley’s defense was doing most of the work.
Note that the Philadelphia Athletics of 1873-74, featuring Cap Anson and Ezra Sutton in their infield, made the only repeat appearance on the decade’s leaderboard (Anson, in his early 20s, played multiple positions including short and third, while Sutton was beginning a long career as a third baseman and shortstop).
The worst defensive team of all time? I hate to give you such an underwhelming answer, but by a wide margin it’s the 1873 Baltimore Marylands, who folded after just 6 winless games and almost none of whose players appeared in the big leagues again. The hapless Marylands allowed 144 runs in 6 games (24 per game), only 48 of which were earned; in addition to hideous defense their pitchers didn’t strike out a single batter. (The offense was no better, as a team batting average of .156 with only one extra base hit and no walks attest). When you think of the level of competition in those early years, think of the Marylands.
National Association-National League

BIP% NA High DER High % Low DER Low %
1871 94.5% 586 NYU 608 103.75% TRO 548 93.52%
1872 96.5% 589 BOS 647 109.85% OLY 510 86.59%
1873 96.2% 578 ATH 613 106.06% MAR 458 79.24%
1874 96.7% 589 ATH 629 106.79% BAL 552 93.72%
1875 96.4% 619 HAR 663 107.11% WAS 538 86.91%
BIP% NL High DER High % Low DER Low %
1876 95.3% 626 STL 698 111.50% CIN 569 90.89%
1877 92.2% 623 HAR 642 103.05% CIN 561 90.05%
1878 89.5% 628 CIN 638 101.59% MLG 615 97.93%
1879 90.2% 632 BUF 659 104.27% TRO 599 94.78%

The 1880s
The game gradually professionalized in the 1880s, but not without a great many bumps along the way. The Union Association of 1884 was only barely a major league (four teams, including Wilmington, folded after playing less than a quarter of the schedule), but diluted the talent level of the two major leagues. The 4-ball/three-strike count wasn’t standardized until 1889, after a gradual decline in the number of balls for a walk and a one-year experiment in 1887 with four strikes for a strikeout; DERs rose sharply after the three-strike rule was restored. The schedule topped 100 games for the first time in 1884, and had reached 135 by 1888. The color line was established in the wake of the failure of Reconstruction (which effectively ended in 1877), after only a few black players had taken the field. The first gloves were becoming commonly used by decade’s end.
Anson’s 1882 White Stockings (now Cubs) and the 1882 Red Stockings (now Reds) became the first pennant-winning teams to lead the league in DER since the founding of the National League (in the NA, only the 1872 Boston team had done so); four teams would do so in each of the two leagues in ten years, plus the Union Association champs. Bid McPhee, enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 2000 largely for his defense, anchored the Red Stockings teams that led the league three times in their first six seasons in the league, and their 1882 and 1883 DERs were the most dominant of the decade outside the UA, but the mid-decade St. Louis Browns (now Cardinals) juggernaut also emerged as a defensive powerhouse. The woebegotten 1883 Philadelphia Quakers were the decade’s worst defensive team. The NL’s most successful defensive squad? The 1884 Providence Grays, much to the benefit of Old Hoss Radbourn, who had his famous 59-12, 1.38 ERA season. Radbourn also struck out 441 batters in 678.1 innings, so he did his share as well, and by a rough calculation the opposing BABIP of .242 – while a career best – wasn’t hugely out of line with his career .271 mark. Lucky and good is a good combination.
National League

BIP% NL High DER High % Low DER Low %
1880 88.8% 649 PRO 681 104.93% BUF 615 94.76%
1881 88.6% 641 CHC 664 103.59% BUF 613 95.63%
1882 87.4% 641 CHC 667 104.06% WOR 590 92.04%
1883 86.3% 617 CLV 651 105.51% PHI 553 89.63%
1884 81.2% 633 PRO 678 107.11% DTN 611 96.52%
1885 83.8% 651 NYG 697 107.07% BUF 613 94.16%
1886 81.1% 644 PHI 674 104.66% KCN 602 93.48%
1887 84.7% 647 DTN 663 102.47% WHS 635 98.15%
1888 83.9% 671 NYG 694 103.43% IND 659 98.21%
1889 82.0% 650 CLV 673 103.54% WHS 622 95.69%

American Association

BIP% AA High DER High % Low DER Low %
1882 89.3% 639 CIN 692 108.29% BAL 599 93.74%
1883 87.5% 631 CIN 688 109.03% PIT 591 93.66%
1884 83.7% 640 LOU 670 104.69% WAS 580 90.63%
1885 84.5% 649 STL 679 104.62% PHA 623 95.99%
1886 81.0% 643 STL 667 103.73% PHA 625 97.20%
1887 84.5% 630 CIN 658 104.44% NYP 595 94.44%
1888 82.8% 662 STL 702 106.04% LOU 626 94.56%
1889 81.0% 640 BRO 665 103.91% LOU 604 94.38%

Union Association

BIP% UA High DER High % Low DER Low %
1884 80.7% 591 SLM 644 108.97% WIL 539 91.20%

The 1890s
The NL achieved dominance after the Players League war. The modern era of pitching arrived in 1893 when the mound was moved back from 50 feet to its current 60 feet 6 inches; the percentage of balls in play spiked as strikeouts became almost non-existent, while DERs plunged in 1894 and 1895, suggesting more hard-hit balls off pitchers struggling to adjust to the new distance. The 1890 Pirates were the decade’s worst defensive team, the 1895 Baltimore Orioles (with extra balls hidden in the long grass of the outfield among their notorious tricks) the best, although the late-decade Beaneaters (now Braves, featuring Hall of Famers Hugh Duffy and Billy Hamilton in the outfield, Jimmy Collins at third, and Kid Nichols as the staff ace) were consistently dominant and would remain so through 1901. (Collins left in 1901, Duffy the previous year, but Nichols, Hamilton and infield anchors Herman Long, Bobby Lowe and Fred Tenney were there the whole time; Long and Nichols had also been on the 1891 team). Four teams had the NL’s best record while leading the league in DER, three of them Beaneaters teams.
National League

BIP% NL High DER High % Low DER Low %
1890 81.8% 663 CHC 696 104.98% PIT 598 90.20%
1891 82.1% 665 BSN 677 101.80% CLV 645 96.99%
1892 82.2% 672 CLV 697 103.72% BLN 625 93.01%
1893 84.4% 654 PIT 673 102.91% WHS 614 93.88%
1894 84.9% 626 NYG 651 103.99% WHS 601 96.01%
1895 85.5% 637 BLN 677 106.28% LOU 606 95.13%
1896 85.9% 649 CIN 673 103.70% WHS 625 96.30%
1897 86.0% 648 BSN 679 104.78% STL 618 95.37%
1898 86.2% 669 BSN 708 105.83% WHS 633 94.62%
1899 86.9% 660 BSN 699 105.91% CLV 610 92.42%

American Association

BIP% AA High DER High % Low DER Low %
1890 80.2% 652 COL 692 106.13% PHA 609 93.40%
1891 80.4% 653 COL 677 103.68% WAS 605 92.65%

Players League

BIP% PL High DER High % Low DER Low %
1890 82.6% 636 NYI 655 102.99% BUF 612 96.23%

The 1900s
The foul-strike rule, adopted in the NL in 1901 and the AL in 1903, brought back the strikeout and contributed, along with better gloves and more “small ball,” to rising DERs, as the NL in 1907 became the first league ever to turn 70% of balls in play into outs, rising to 71.4% in 1908, a level that would not be matched again until 1942. Schedules also started to be standardized in 1904, settling around 154 games after a decade mostly in the high 120s.
Surprisingly, defense was not the essential element for many of the pennant winners of the Dead Ball Era’s first decade – only one AL pennant winner (the 1903 Red Sox, featuring Jimmy Collins yet again) led the league, and only two NL pennant winners. That being said, the Cubs of the Tinker-Evers-Chance era have as good an argument as anyone to be the dominant defensive team of all time. They led the NL in DER eight times in nine years, as well as finishing a close second (at 726, 101.68% of the league) the ninth of those, and second again in 1912. In 1906, on the way to a 116-36 record, they became the first of five post-1900 teams to beat the league average by 5% or more, and their 736 DER bested the second-place Phillies by 29 points and would not be topped (in raw terms) for 62 years, by men using vastly superior equipment. It’s possible there was a park factor at work, although Baseball-Reference.com lists West Side Park (where the Cubs played until Wrigley opened in 1916) as if anything a hitters park until late in the decade; in 1906, the Cubs combined to score and allow 7.24 runs per game at home, 7.03 on the road, with the defense in particular allowing 2.22 runs per game on the road compared to 2.78 at West Side Park. Was it the pitchers? By my rough estimate, the BABIPs against four or the five pitchers on that staff to throw 1000 or more innings as Cubs between 1903 and 1912 -Three Finger Brown, Carl Lundgren, Orval Overall, and Jack Pfiester – varied between .237 and .241 compared to a team average of .241 for all pitchers to throw at least 200 innings on the team over those years, with only one such pitcher above .254. Only Ed Reulbach, at .230, seems to have stood out a bit. That suggests that the team’s defense was the predominant factor. The same BABIP figure for the rival Giants, a good but more normal defensive team, was .259 – the 19-point advantage on balls in play for Brown over Christy Mathewson is almost certainly the main explanation for why Brown’s ERA was better (1.75 to 1.90) over those years, although of course Brown was nonetheless a great pitcher.
Best AL defensive team? The 1901 Red Sox, another Jimmy Collins squad. Worst team of the decade? The unraveling 1902 Baltimore Orioles, who were deserted by John McGraw in mid-season and relocated to New York (now the Yankees) the following spring (like the prior year’s Milwaukee franchise – there’s a long history of teams getting folded or moved after cellar-dwelling DERs, as terrible defense is often a byproduct of organizational failure).
Also, note the atrocious showings by the late-decade Washington Senators, the team on which Walter Johnson broke in, yet another way in which Johnson’s early career was plagued by bad teams. Johnson would bear some closer study – a quick look suggests that his BABIPs may have been better than his teams’ for much of his career, as if he needed more advantages on top of leading the AL in K/BB ratio nine times, K/9 seven times, fewest BB/9 twice and fewest HR/9 three times (a favorite stat: Johnson in 1918-19 threw 616.1 innings and allowed just two home runs, both of them by Babe Ruth). His BABIP seems to have hit a career low of .219 in 1913 at the same time as his career high 6.39 K/BB ratio, another example of perhaps being both lucky and good, or perhaps there being a correlation between the two.
National League

BIP% NL High DER High % Low DER Low %
1900 86.3% 661 BSN 691 104.54% NYG 637 96.37%
1901 83.3% 664 BSN 685 103.16% CIN 640 96.39%
1902 84.3% 674 BRO 696 103.26% STL 648 96.14%
1903 83.5% 664 CHC 681 102.56% STL 647 97.44%
1904 83.7% 688 CHC 709 103.05% PHI 658 95.64%
1905 82.9% 683 CHC 716 104.83% BRO 649 95.02%
1906 82.0% 698 CHC 736 105.44% BSN 670 95.99%
1907 82.8% 702 CHC 730 103.99% BSN 685 97.58%
1908 83.7% 714 PIT 730 102.24% STL 698 97.76%
1909 82.2% 698 CHC 721 103.30% BSN 680 97.42%

American League

BIP% AL High DER High % Low DER Low %
1901 86.4% 658 BOS 684 103.95% MLA 647 98.33%
1902 86.2% 671 BOS 686 102.24% BLA 636 94.78%
1903 83.8% 680 BOS 695 102.21% WSH 668 98.24%
1904 82.9% 693 CHW 716 103.32% WSH 668 96.39%
1905 81.8% 697 CHW 721 103.44% NYY 688 98.71%
1906 83.3% 692 CLE 719 103.90% WSH 672 97.11%
1907 83.7% 693 BOS 710 102.45% WSH 666 96.10%
1908 82.7% 700 CHW 719 102.71% NYY 680 97.14%
1909 82.3% 695 PHA 717 103.17% SLB 676 97.27%

The 1910s
Defense had the upper hand in the teens, with DERs regularly topping 70% leaguewide in the second half of the decade, especially in the NL. If top defensive teams winning the pennant were a rarity in the prior decade, they became routine in the teens – five times in the NL, five in the AL. The Red Sox were the decade’s dominant team in the AL both defensively and overall, and continued to lead the league even after the departure in 1916 of Tris Speaker. (Oddly, the Red Sox went from the best DER in the AL in 1912 to the worst in 1913 and back to the best in 1914; more on that below.) Meanwhile, the NL’s revolving door of pennant winners (and World Series doormats) from 1915-19 were generally whoever handled the balls in play best. Yet most of those NL teams didn’t beat the league average by all that much, and the best single-season showing was the 1919 Yankees. The worst, unsurprisingly, was the post-fire-sale 1915 A’s (with a fossilized 40-year-old Nap Lajoie at second and their best remaining player, catcher Wally Schang, playing out of position at third), although the doormat 1911 Braves weren’t far behind.
The Cubs’ defense stopped being dominant with the 1913 departure of Joe Tinker, who went on to anchor the Federal League’s best defense, while Johnny Evers was part of lifting those Braves out of their 1911-12 defensive funk to a slightly above average defensive team in 1914 (they’d been below average in 1913 – that said, I’d expected the 1914 Miracle Braves to be one of the teams that had a huge year defensively, and even with Evers and Rabbit Maranville, they didn’t).
National League

BIP% NL High DER High % Low DER Low %
1910 81.4% 688 CHC 708 102.91% STL 673 97.82%
1911 80.1% 684 CHC 698 102.05% BSN 649 94.88%
1912 81.2% 679 PIT 703 103.53% BSN 659 97.05%
1913 81.8% 691 NYG 702 101.59% CIN 684 98.99%
1914 81.5% 698 PIT 712 102.01% PHI 666 95.42%
1915 82.1% 704 PHI 715 101.56% NYG 687 97.59%
1916 82.3% 704 BRO 719 102.13% STL 684 97.16%
1917 83.2% 704 NYG 723 102.70% CHC 691 98.15%
1918 85.2% 707 NYG 723 102.26% BSN 695 98.30%
1919 85.2% 705 CIN 729 103.40% PHI 672 95.32%

American League

BIP% AL High DER High % Low DER Low %
1910 81.7% 692 PHA 713 103.03% SLB 663 95.81%
1911 80.6% 662 CHW 675 101.96% WSH 655 98.94%
1912 80.5% 666 BOS 683 102.55% NYY 640 96.10%
1913 81.1% 685 PHA 701 102.34% BOS 670 97.81%
1914 80.2% 692 BOS 709 102.46% CLE 662 95.66%
1915 80.1% 693 BOS 712 102.74% PHA 654 94.37%
1916 80.9% 698 BOS 713 102.15% PHA 668 95.70%
1917 82.4% 704 BOS 724 102.84% PHA 687 97.59%
1918 83.5% 705 BOS 729 103.40% DET 694 98.44%
1919 83.1% 689 NYY 715 103.77% PHA 661 95.94%

Federal League

BIP% FL High DER High % Low DER Low %
1914 80.7% 679 CHI 711 104.71% SLM 667 98.23%
1915 81.9% 694 CHI 708 102.02% BAL 660 95.10%

The 1920s
Lower strikeout rates with the lively ball’s arrival were probably the largest factor in the sudden increase in scoring in the Twenties, as even the gradual arrival of home run hitters and a leaguewide rise in walks couldn’t stop the upward march of the percentage of balls in play. But DERs dropped a good 15 points as well.
Defense was slightly more the hallmark of AL than NL pennant winners in the Twenties – six in the AL, four in the NL. Naturally the 1927 Yankees were the best in the league at this, too, their fifth league lead in nine years. And Walter Johnson finally got some real defensive support when the Senators won their two pennants in 1924-25, dropping Johnson’s BABIP from .280 to .248 in 1924.
As discussed in the next decade, you have to figure a significant park effect was at work in the fact that the Phillies were dead last in the NL in DER 14 times in their last 17 full seasons in the Baker Bowl, including the NL’s worst showing of the decade in 1926. Then again, nearly all of those Phillies teams were terrible teams, with a collective .383 winning percentage and only one winning record, in 1932 when their DER was 98.5% of the league average. And the Phillies had led the league in DER behind Grover Alexander in 1915.
National League

BIP% NL High DER High % Low DER Low %
1920 85.3% 693 CIN 708 102.16% STL 678 97.84%
1921 85.6% 680 PIT 696 102.35% PHI 658 96.76%
1922 84.7% 677 NYG 700 103.40% STL 663 97.93%
1923 84.5% 681 CHC 700 102.79% PHI 651 95.59%
1924 84.8% 687 PIT 704 102.47% PHI 665 96.80%
1925 84.3% 676 CIN 689 101.92% PHI 659 97.49%
1926 84.6% 689 STL 707 102.61% PHI 656 95.21%
1927 84.4% 687 PIT 705 102.62% PHI 663 96.51%
1928 83.6% 693 STL 707 102.02% PHI 666 96.10%
1929 83.1% 680 PIT 692 101.76% PHI 662 97.35%

American League

BIP% AL High DER High % Low DER Low %
1920 83.7% 677 NYY 689 101.77% PHA 656 96.90%
1921 83.5% 674 BOS 683 101.34% PHA 666 98.81%
1922 83.6% 687 NYY 707 102.91% CLE 669 97.38%
1923 83.1% 686 NYY 709 103.35% WSH 673 98.10%
1924 83.9% 682 WSH 709 103.96% CHW 666 97.65%
1925 83.3% 679 WSH 689 101.47% BOS 662 97.50%
1926 83.2% 689 CLE 702 101.89% DET 677 98.26%
1927 83.6% 684 NYY 701 102.49% SLB 666 97.37%
1928 83.2% 687 PHA 700 101.89% CLE 665 96.80%
1929 83.0% 687 PHA 703 102.33% DET 664 96.65%

The 1930s
1935 saw the arrival of night baseball, which would eventually be a factor in bringing back strikeout rates, as would the growth of relief pitching, still taking its first baby steps in the Thirties; between those factors and more home runs, the AL in 1937 became the first major league in which less than 80% of plate appearances resulted in a ball in play, after being above 83% in the AL and 84% in the NL for much of the Twenties. Six AL pennant winners had the league’s best DER, compared to just two in the NL.
The 30s were the best and worst of times. The Phillies hit their nadir in 1930, at 631 the worst raw DER since 1900 (the 1911 Braves being the only other team since 1906 to finish below 650), the worst relative to the league since the ill-fated 1899 Cleveland Spiders and the only team lower than 95% of the league average since the 1915 A’s. Not for nothing did they post a modern-record 6.71 team ERA, allow 7.69 runs per game, and lose nearly two-thirds of their games even with Lefty O’Doul batting .383/.453/.604 and scoring 122 runs and Chuck Klein (probably the most park-created of all Hall of Famers) batting .386/.436/.687 with 158 runs scored and 170 RBI. Then again, they also had the league’s worst K/BB ratio and allowed the league’s most homers, so it wasn’t all the defense’s fault. And the Phillies left the Baker Bowl for good at the end of June 1938, and still finished last in DER in 1938 and 1941 plus three more times in the mid-1940s.
In the AL, the late-30s St. Louis Browns, presumably despite Harlond Clift at third, were the league’s worst, hitting bottom in 1939. Also in St. Louis, if you’re curious, the 1934 “Gashouse Gang” Cardinals team was league-average.
On the positive end, we have the 1900s Cubs’ top competition for the title of the best defensive team of all time, the 1939 Yankees, the team that Rob Neyer and Eddie Epstein (measuring by runs scored and allowed relative to the league) marked as the greatest team of all time in “Baseball Dynasties,” noting that they led the league in runs scored and fewest runs allowed four years in a row. So it’s not surprising to encounter them here. The Yankees’ DER was the furthest above their league of any team since 1885, and their 730 DER led the league by 35 points. This was part of a string of six straight seasons and 12 in 13 years when they had the league’s most successful defense, starting in Babe Ruth’s last year two years before the arrival of Joe DiMaggio and running clear through World War II. While a number of players appeared on many of those teams (DiMaggio, Tommy Henrich, Frank Crosetti, Red Rolfe, Joe Gordon), the only constants were manager Joe McCarthy and catcher Bill Dickey. (Both had also been on the 1933 team that was last in the AL in DER before cutting back the Babe’s playing time and putting Earle Combs and Joe Sewell, both 34, out to pasture). You have to give McCarthy some of the credit for the Yankees’ consistent defensive excellence, if only in how he chose to distribute playing time.
That said, a significant park effect can’t be discounted here. Yankee Stadium was always a pitcher’s park, and seems to have been a particularly extreme one in 1939: unlike for the Cubs, we have home/road detailed splits for the 1939 Yankees, which show that Yankee hitters had a BABIP of .273 at home, .315 on the road, while Yankee opponents had a BABIP of .248 at home, .267 on the road – combined, .260 at home, .292 on the road. I haven’t had time to run the splits for the Yankees’ whole run in that period – this essay took up quite enough of my time, and it would be a worthwhile project for someone else to carry on further – but even on the basis of the huge split for 1939, as remarkable as the Yankees’ defensive performance was in the McCarthy era, it has to be taken with the same grain of salt as the Baker Bowl era Phillies. (The 1930 Phillies’ Home/Road BABIP splits were .352/.300 for their offense, .365/.341 for their pitching staff, and a combined line of .358/.321 – a 36-point spread)
Speaking of managers, Walter Johnson may not have had great defenses as a pitcher, but as a manager he did better, skippering the Senators to two league-best DERs in four years from 1929-32. And the 1938 Braves became the first Casey Stengel-managed team to lead the league in DER, albeit a squad he inherited from Bill McKechnie with the decade’s best DER in the NL in 1937.
National League

BIP% NL High DER High % Low DER Low %
1930 82.8% 669 BRO 693 103.59% PHI 631 94.32%
1931 83.4% 687 NYG 706 102.77% PHI 666 96.94%
1932 84.0% 691 PIT 702 101.59% STL 673 97.40%
1933 85.1% 702 NYG 719 102.42% PHI 682 97.15%
1934 82.9% 685 NYG 704 102.77% CIN 666 97.23%
1935 83.2% 686 NYG 707 103.06% PHI 667 97.23%
1936 82.7% 684 CHC 698 102.05% PHI 666 97.37%
1937 81.3% 689 BSN 714 103.63% PHI 670 97.24%
1938 82.1% 697 BSN 711 102.01% PHI 675 96.84%
1939 81.7% 695 CIN 708 101.87% PIT 682 98.13%

American League

BIP% AL High DER High % Low DER Low %
1930 82.0% 678 WSH 702 103.54% CLE 661 97.49%
1931 82.0% 683 PHA 708 103.66% SLB 667 97.66%
1932 81.2% 688 WSH 703 102.18% CHW 674 97.97%
1933 81.5% 694 WSH 709 102.16% NYY 682 98.27%
1934 80.2% 684 NYY 703 102.78% CHW 677 98.98%
1935 81.2% 687 NYY 713 103.78% WSH 668 97.23%
1936 80.5% 676 NYY 690 102.07% SLB 657 97.19%
1937 79.5% 683 NYY 697 102.05% SLB 658 96.34%
1938 79.2% 685 NYY 694 101.31% SLB 671 97.96%
1939 79.9% 687 NYY 730 106.26% SLB 660 96.07%

The 1940s
In the 1940s, change was in the winds. The war decimated MLB’s talent level and introduced inferior baseballs (due to wartime shortages) that traveled poorly when hit. DERs rose back above 70% even before the war in the NL, and in 1942 in the AL. After the war, integration followed and the game was off to the races, while night baseball really came into its own.
In the NL, defense was king – seven pennant winners led the league in DER in nine years between 1939-47, plus the 104-win second-place 1942 Dodgers; four pennant winners led the AL, but three of those were the 1941-43 Yankees. The strongest defensive teams of the decade were McKechnie’s 1940 Reds and Lou Boudreau’s 1948 Indians (a team famous for its outstanding infield of Boudreau, Ken Keltner, Joe Gordon and Eddie Robinson), the weakest the 1940 Pirates and 1942 Senators (the difference between the Senators of the mid-40s and the Indians of the 50s explains a lot about Early Wynn’s career). The chicken-egg question remains regarding good defenses and successful managers, as Leo Durocher’s arrival in Brooklyn in 1939 and Billy Southworth’s in St. Louis in 1940 were followed within a few years by the construction of superior defensive teams.
The 1947 Reds were the third and last team to go from first to last in the league in DER in a single season, after the 1913 Red Sox and 1880 Buffalo Bisons:

Team Years DER1 DER2 Change Change %
BUF 1879-80 659 615 -44 93.3%
CIN 1946-47 716 693 -23 96.8%
BOS 1912-13 683 670 -13 98.1%

The Bisons and their ace pitcher, Hall of Famer Pud Galvin, hail from baseball’s ancient past, and the Red Sox were a bit of a fluke, given the small size of their decline and their rapid rebound the following year. What of the 1947 Reds? 1946 was the last season of McKechnie’s career, and McKechnie was notoriously defense-obsessed. The team gave a lot more playing time to 30-year-old shortstop Eddie Miller, outfielder Frank Baumholtz and noodle-armed 35-year-old left fielder Augie Galan. Sidearmer Ewell Blackwell had his big breakthrough season in 1947, improving his K/BB from 1.27 to a league-leading 2.03, but saw his ERA slip slightly from 2.45 to 2.47, while veterans Johnny Vander Meer and Bucky Walters got completely wiped out by the defensive collapse.
National League

BIP% NL High DER High % Low DER Low %
1940 81.5% 701 CIN 730 104.14% PIT 676 96.43%
1941 80.9% 704 BRO 732 103.98% PHI 683 97.02%
1942 81.2% 716 BRO 734 102.51% CHC 699 97.63%
1943 82.1% 707 STL 719 101.70% NYG 691 97.74%
1944 82.3% 707 STL 733 103.68% CHC 689 97.45%
1945 82.1% 701 CHC 718 102.43% PHI 674 96.15%
1946 80.2% 709 CIN 716 100.99% PHI 697 98.31%
1947 79.3% 703 BRO 720 102.42% CIN 693 98.58%
1948 79.0% 704 BSN 714 101.42% PHI 694 98.58%
1949 79.3% 707 NYG 722 102.12% CHC 684 96.75%

American League

BIP% AL High DER High % Low DER Low %
1940 79.1% 691 CHW 715 103.47% WSH 675 97.68%
1941 79.7% 698 NYY 714 102.29% WSH 680 97.42%
1942 80.9% 706 NYY 721 102.12% WSH 676 95.75%
1943 80.5% 714 NYY 725 101.54% SLB 703 98.46%
1944 81.9% 702 NYY 712 101.42% WSH 692 98.58%
1945 81.3% 707 NYY 716 101.27% CHW 692 97.88%
1946 78.4% 703 NYY 715 101.71% SLB 690 98.15%
1947 78.9% 712 CLE 734 103.09% WSH 697 97.89%
1948 78.8% 704 CLE 731 103.84% SLB 685 97.30%
1949 77.7% 707 CLE 724 102.40% SLB 680 96.18%

Part II here.

A History of Team Defense (Part II of II)

Part I here.
The 1950s
Baseball started moving west with the Braves’ move to Milwaukee in 1953, and the resulting shakeup ended the stranglehold of old, mostly smaller ballparks in the East. High walk rates, more power hitters and a few more strikeouts meant that balls in play rates were dropping, while defenses got stingier – the 71.6% of balls in play turned into outs in the NL in 1956 remains the league record.
I’ve written before about the advantage Casey Stengel’s Yankees got from their defense and how it played into the superior performance of pitchers in pinstripes. But it was the Indians who were the true defensive juggernaut of that era, leading the AL seven times in the decade between 1947-56. The AL was truly defensively stratified in those years, with the upper tier of the Yankees, Indians and White Sox at the top and weak sisters like the Browns, Senators, A’s and Tigers at the bottom. Park effects were part of that picture for the Yankees – for example, in 1955 the Yankees and their opponents had a BABIP of .265 at home, .278 on the road, compared to .272 at home, .269 on the road for the 1954 Indians.
The 111-win Indians were the best defensive team of the decade (the 1909 Pirates, who finished one point behind the Cubs, are the only team to win 110 games in a season without leading the league in DER), Durocher’s 1950 Giants the best NL team, the 1955 Pirates and 1950 Browns the worst; the Pirates were perennially hapless. Four pennant-winning teams in each league led the league in DER, although as I’ve noted the Yankees often finished second or third in DER while winning the pennant, and the 1953 Dodgers and 1957 Braves just narrrowly missed the league lead.
I’d expected the Ashburn-era Phillies to lead the league more than once; the strangest league leaders were the 1952 Cubs, an also-ran team that featured one of the more plodding sluggers (Hank Sauer) ever to win the MVP.
National League

BIP% NL High DER High % Low DER Low %
1950 77.7% 707 NYG 729 103.11% CHC 693 98.02%
1951 78.9% 711 NYG 721 101.41% PIT 697 98.03%
1952 78.1% 713 CHC 723 101.40% PIT 703 98.60%
1953 77.5% 702 MIL 715 101.85% PIT 687 97.86%
1954 77.8% 707 NYG 722 102.12% PIT 687 97.17%
1955 76.8% 714 PHI 728 101.96% PIT 688 96.36%
1956 76.8% 716 BRO 730 101.96% PIT 702 98.04%
1957 76.6% 706 BRO 717 101.56% CHC 698 98.87%
1958 75.8% 703 MLN 721 102.56% LAD 693 98.58%
1959 75.4% 701 CHC 714 101.85% STL 685 97.72%

American League

BIP% AL High DER High % Low DER Low %
1950 77.6% 700 CLE 721 103.00% SLB 676 96.57%
1951 78.6% 706 CLE 720 101.98% SLB 686 97.17%
1952 77.9% 713 CHW 723 101.40% DET 700 98.18%
1953 78.5% 706 CHW 720 101.98% DET 682 96.60%
1954 77.9% 711 CLE 735 103.38% PHA 689 96.91%
1955 76.7% 710 NYY 733 103.24% WSH 689 97.04%
1956 75.3% 705 CLE 722 102.41% WSH 683 96.88%
1957 76.6% 713 NYY 727 101.96% WSH 694 97.34%
1958 76.2% 712 NYY 726 101.97% WSH 697 97.89%
1959 76.0% 712 CLE 730 102.53% KCA 691 97.05%

The 1960s
Rising strikeout rates, with the onset of expansion, new pitchers’ parks in LA and Houston, and the expansion of the strike zone in 1963, are a major part of the story of pitching dominance in the Sixties; the AL in 1961, the year of Maris and Mantle, became the first league to see balls in play drop below 75% of plate appearances, and by 1964 it was down to 72.9%, the lowest it would be until 1987. Unsurprisingly, that started to loosen the relationship between defense and success – only three NL pennant winners led the league in DER, four in the AL, and the 1967 Twins came within a game of becoming the first team to finish first while being last in the league in DER.
Meanwhile, the story on balls in play showed a real split between the leagues: DERs actually declined in the NL, while reaching historic highs in the AL. The 724 DER in the AL in 1968 is the highest in Major League history, and the 743 figure by the 1969 Orioles is the highest ever recorded by a team. That Brooks Robinson-Mark Belanger-Davey Johnson infield and Paul Blair-led outfield really was impenetrable, and even adjusted for the league was the best of the decade, powering the O’s to 109 wins. (Home/road split: .275 at home, .278 on the road).
The Dodgers of the Sixties did well on balls in play, even as they dominated the pitcher-controlled aspects of defense (if I recall correctly, the 1966 Dodgers still hold the team K/BB ratio record).
The 1962 Mets, surprisingly, did not have the league’s worst DER (unlike the 1969 Seattle Pilots), finishing a point above the Astros; the 1969 Mets did lead the league (in fact, they led three years in a row from 1968-70), but other surprise teams of the decade did not – the 1967 Red Sox were just below the league average at 715, and the 1960 Pirates were also below average. Probably no team in this sample surprised me more with their poor defensive stats than the Pirates of the 1960s, finishing last in DER in 1961 and 1964 despite a lineup stocked with legendary defensive players like Bill Mazeroski, Roberto Clemente and Bill Virdon as well as other respected glove men like Dick Schofield Sr. The other surprise, more on which later, was the persistent poor performance of the Astros.
The Yankee dynasty’s collapse was reflected defensively, as the Yankees were second in DER in 1964 (at 726), but ninth in 1965 at 707.
National League

BIP% NL High DER High % Low DER Low %
1960 75.0% 703 LAD 714 101.56% PHI 694 98.72%
1961 75.0% 699 MLN 721 103.15% PIT 683 97.71%
1962 74.7% 695 SFG 710 102.16% HOU 680 97.84%
1963 74.8% 706 MLN 721 102.12% NYM 694 98.30%
1964 75.7% 698 LAD 709 101.58% PIT 682 97.71%
1965 74.5% 704 LAD 727 103.27% PHI 687 97.59%
1966 75.4% 699 STL 712 101.86% HOU 687 98.28%
1967 75.1% 703 SFG 719 102.28% HOU 683 97.16%
1968 75.8% 707 NYM 719 101.70% HOU 690 97.60%
1969 73.6% 701 NYM 729 103.99% HOU 683 97.43%

American League

BIP% AL High DER High % Low DER Low %
1960 75.8% 712 NYY 732 102.81% BOS 688 96.63%
1961 74.7% 708 BAL 731 103.25% KCA 689 97.32%
1962 74.7% 710 NYY 719 101.27% LAA 702 98.87%
1963 74.4% 713 NYY 725 101.68% WSA 701 98.32%
1964 72.9% 711 CHW 733 103.09% BOS 683 96.06%
1965 73.3% 715 CHW 728 101.82% BOS 692 96.78%
1966 73.9% 717 CHW 728 101.53% BOS 704 98.19%
1967 73.4% 718 CHW 735 102.37% MIN 704 98.05%
1968 74.0% 724 BAL 740 102.21% WSA 702 96.96%
1969 73.7% 714 BAL 743 104.06% SEP 691 96.78%

The 1970s
In the 1970s, even after the arrival of the DH, AL teams with top defenses tended to finish first in their divisions – 8 times in 11 years from 1969-79. In the NL, it was a different story, as teams like the Big Red Machine and the late-70s Pirates seemed often to lead the league in years other than the years those same teams finished first. The Dodgers led the league in DER four times between 1972 and 1978, and won the division the three years they didn’t.
You’ve met two of the five teams since 1900 to better the league average in DER by 5% or more, the 1906 Cubs and 1939 Yankees, both great teams that left the rest of their league in the dust. But the third team was one left in the dust by another juggernaut: the 1975 Dodgers, who led the league in DER by 20 points over the 108-win Reds, while finishing 20 games behind them (it didn’t help that the Dodgers underperformed their Pythagorean record by 7 games). Oddly, the very best Dodger defense came in a season when Bill Russell missed a good deal of time, but the then-youthful infield of Garvey, Lopes and Cey was otherwise tremendously durable, while 33-year-old Jimmie Wynn anchored the outfield defense (Wynn had also played on those late-60s Astros teams that perennially finished last in DER; go figure). Park effect? The Dodgers and their opponents combined for a .268 BABIP at home, .276 on the road, so the park seems to have had something to do with it. What about a pitching staff effect? Knuckleballer Charlie Hough had the team’s lowest BABIP (.219), but Hough threw only 61 innings. 321 innings were thrown by curveballer Andy Messersmith, and there may be something to that – pitcher BABIP are available since 1950, and Messersmith has the lowest career BABIP of any pitcher with 2000 or more career innings at .243 (rounding out the top 10, he’s followed by Catfish Hunter at .246, Hoyt Wilhelm at .250, Jim Palmer at .251, Hough at .253, Mudcat Grant at .258, Koufax at .259, Early Wynn at .260, and Tom Seaver and Warren Spahn at .262). The fact that that persisted across three teams (Angels, Dodgers and Braves) before he broke down in 1977 and that only Hunter’s even close to him suggests that Messersmith may have had some ability in that area. On the other hand, you have knuckle-curve specialist Burt Hooton, making the case for it being the team: Hooton’s BABIPs with the Cubs from 1972-94 were .278, .303 and .322, and .400 in the early going in 1975; after arriving with the Dodgers it dropped to .236, and was .253 over the next three seasons. Whether that’s the defense or the park, it’s evident that Hooton’s sudden improvement was due to the environment he pitched in.
The best AL defense of the decade was the Orioles again in 1973 (featuring much of the same cast, but this time with Bobby Grich at second); Earl Weaver’s defenses remained outstanding for years, as did Billy Martin’s when he arrived in New York (and brought in Paul Blair, among others). The worst were the 1974 Cubs and 1970 White Sox. Those Cubs featured Bill Madlock at third, 31 year old Don Kessinger at short, and an outfield of three guys who later became professional pinch hitters (Rick Monday, Jose Cardenal and Jerry Morales) and a DH at first (Andre Thornton). That said, BABIPs were higher at home – .312 at home, .296 on the road – so even aside from the home run ball, the park likely exaggerated the Cubs’s defensive failings in that era. Not for nothing did Rick Reuschel retire with a career BABIP of .294.
National League

BIP% NL High DER High % Low DER Low %
1970 73.3% 697 NYM 721 103.44% STL 686 98.42%
1971 75.6% 706 CIN 727 102.97% STL 689 97.59%
1972 74.7% 707 LAD 721 101.98% HOU 695 98.30%
1973 75.1% 704 LAD 729 103.55% CHC 687 97.59%
1974 75.9% 702 ATL 720 102.56% CHC 672 95.73%
1975 76.3% 700 LAD 737 105.29% CHC 673 96.14%
1976 77.0% 704 LAD 723 102.70% SFG 691 98.15%
1977 75.2% 698 PIT 711 101.86% ATL 677 96.99%
1978 76.2% 706 MON 718 101.70% CIN 697 98.73%
1979 76.3% 700 HOU 719 102.71% CHC 680 97.14%

American League

BIP% AL High DER High % Low DER Low %
1970 73.7% 710 OAK 728 102.54% CHW 684 96.34%
1971 74.8% 714 OAK 730 102.24% CHW 701 98.18%
1972 75.3% 718 BAL 740 103.06% BOS 699 97.35%
1973 75.7% 701 BAL 731 104.28% TEX 683 97.43%
1974 77.0% 702 BAL 716 101.99% MIN 691 98.43%
1975 76.1% 703 BAL 731 103.98% DET 683 97.16%
1976 77.7% 705 NYY 729 103.40% CHW 693 98.30%
1977 76.3% 698 NYY 714 102.29% CHW 682 97.71%
1978 77.7% 706 NYY 723 102.41% TOR 690 97.73%
1979 77.4% 700 BAL 727 103.86% OAK 678 96.86%

The 1980s
DERs in the AL finally dropped back in line with the NL by the late 70s, and the two leagues have mostly remained even since then. Balls in play percentages dropped in 1986, perhaps reflecting the rise in strikeouts occasioned by, among other things, the popularity of the split finger fastball and the increasing specialization of bullpens.
Best defensive team of the 80s: the Billyball A’s of 1980. In the NL: the far less remembered 1982 Padres. Worst: the 1981 Indians and 1984 Giants. The Whitaker-Trammell-Chet Lemon Tigers also stand out, although they are not as remembered as a defensive unit (but see the career of Walt Terrell). Their DER was also 713 when they had their big year in 1984, 705 in 1987.
The 1980s might be the decade that defense mattered least. Only two teams, the 1985 Blue Jays and 1989 A’s, finished first while leading the league in DER; the 1982 Giants came within two games of being the first team to finish first while being last in the league in DER, and a year later the “Wheeze Kids” Phillies turned the trick, remaining to this day the only team to be first in the standings and last in DER (the league hit .286 on BABIP against Cy Young winner John Denny, .329 against Steve Carlton). Those two teams had two things in common – an aging lineup (which for the Giants included Darrell Evans and Reggie Smith, the Phillies Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Gary Maddox, Mike Schmidt and Gary Matthews) and specifically, Joe Morgan at second base. I have to wonder about Morgan – it’s not a surprise that he would be found on poor defensive teams as his bat kept a decaying glove in the lineup in his late 30s (don’t forget, these were still good teams), but the Reds’ only league lead in DER in the 70s was in 1971, the year before Morgan’s arrival, and the Astros had routinely finished last during his years as their second baseman in the 60s. Could all be a coincidence, as Morgan’s defensive stats seem to suggest he was a fine glove man in his prime, but it bears closer examination.
The 1989 Yankees became the first Yankees team to finish last in the league in DER since 1933. The Mets finished second in the NL in DER in 1985, third in 1986. The Red Sox at 686 were below average in 1986, but at least not in the cellar as they were in 1985 and 1987.
National League

BIP% NL High DER High % Low DER Low %
1980 77.0% 700 LAD 715 102.14% CHC 680 97.14%
1981 77.2% 704 HOU 721 102.41% CHC 686 97.44%
1982 76.3% 701 SDP 725 103.42% SFG 688 98.15%
1983 74.9% 702 HOU 718 102.28% PHI 685 97.58%
1984 75.1% 698 SDP 721 103.30% SFG 676 96.85%
1985 75.0% 706 STL 718 101.70% ATL 691 97.88%
1986 73.3% 700 HOU 721 103.00% CHC 678 96.86%
1987 73.1% 696 PIT 711 102.16% CHC 677 97.27%
1988 75.3% 708 CIN 723 102.12% ATL 692 97.74%
1989 74.3% 709 SFG 725 102.26% PHI 699 98.59%

American League

BIP% AL High DER High % Low DER Low %
1980 77.7% 698 OAK 727 104.15% TEX 676 96.85%
1981 77.6% 711 DET 740 104.08% CLE 678 95.36%
1982 76.6% 704 DET 725 102.98% CHW 688 97.73%
1983 77.0% 699 DET 726 103.86% CAL 683 97.71%
1984 76.1% 699 BAL 715 102.29% SEA 683 97.71%
1985 75.2% 703 TOR 724 102.99% BOS 690 98.15%
1986 73.5% 699 DET 719 102.86% SEA 670 95.85%
1987 72.7% 697 CHW 714 102.44% BOS 674 96.70%
1988 75.1% 702 DET 718 102.28% CLE 692 98.58%
1989 75.3% 698 OAK 715 102.44% NYY 683 97.85%

The 1990s
DERs dropped sharply in 1993, inaugurating the era of…well, the Steroids Era, if you prefer. Or in the NL, perhaps the Mile High/Coors era. There were also ever fewer balls in play, with more and more homers, strikeouts and walks. Four NL teams finished first in DER and first in their division, three AL teams including the 1998 Yankees (the only Jeter-era Yankees team to finish either first or last in DER).
The worst defensive teams of the decade were the 1999 Rockies and 1997 A’s (the start of the “Moneyball” era – the A’s often fielded Jason Giambi and Matt Stairs in the outfield corners – although the winning A’s teams of a few years later would be above-average defensively, leading the AL in 2005). The Rockies’ home/road splits were so vast – .374 at home, .306 on the road in 1999 – that it’s almost impossible to evaluate their defense as such.
The 1990s also brought us the fourth of the five great defensive teams, the 1999 Reds, who led the league by a margin of 17 points over the Mets on the way to losing a one-game playoff for the wild card when their bats were stifled by Al Leiter. That Reds team is not recalled as widely as a great defense – it was the Mets that year who got the Sports Illustrated cover asking if they had the best infield ever – but with Barry Larkin, Mike Cameron and Pokey Reese, they had an outstanding defensive unit. Their home/road splits – .306 at home, .312 on the road – suggest that they did it without a huge amount of help from their home park.
National League

BIP% NL High DER High % Low DER Low %
1990 74.4% 701 MON 713 101.71% ATL 676 96.43%
1991 74.0% 706 ATL 714 101.13% NYM 689 97.59%
1992 74.8% 705 CHC 716 101.56% LAD 685 97.16%
1993 74.2% 692 ATL 711 102.75% COL 664 95.95%
1994 72.8% 688 SFG 707 102.76% COL 664 96.51%
1995 71.9% 688 CIN 699 101.60% PIT 669 97.24%
1996 71.5% 687 STL 706 102.77% HOU 667 97.09%
1997 71.2% 688 LAD 706 102.62% COL 667 96.95%
1998 71.3% 689 ARI 704 102.18% FLA 669 97.10%
1999 70.7% 687 CIN 722 105.09% COL 659 95.92%

American League

BIP% AL High DER High % Low DER Low %
1990 74.4% 699 OAK 732 104.72% CAL 681 97.42%
1991 74.1% 699 CHW 728 104.15% CLE 678 97.00%
1992 75.0% 702 MIL 725 103.28% TEX 680 96.87%
1993 73.7% 693 BAL 704 101.59% MIN 679 97.98%
1994 72.3% 687 BAL 706 102.77% SEA 669 97.38%
1995 72.3% 690 BAL 716 103.77% DET 672 97.39%
1996 71.7% 683 MIN 694 101.61% BOS 665 97.36%
1997 71.6% 684 BAL 699 102.19% OAK 660 96.49%
1998 72.0% 686 NYY 708 103.21% TEX 668 97.38%
1999 71.8% 683 ANA 699 102.34% TBD 661 96.78%

The 2000s
Is defense the new market inefficiency? Maybe in the National League, as eight first-place teams led the league in DER between 2000 and 2010 compared to three in the AL (plus the 2002 Angels, who didn’t finish first but did win 99 games and the World Series). Even with BIP percentages dropping, marginal advantages in defense can still help make a division winner.
Worst DERs of the decade: the 2007 Rays and Marlins, both scraping just above 650. Best in the NL: the 2009 Dodgers. And the fifth and final team to beat the league by 5% or more – indeed, second only to the 1939 Yankees at 105.52% – the 2001 Mariners, who tied the 1906 Cubs’ record of 116 regular season wins. The Mariners featured Ichiro, John Olerud, Bret Boone, Carlos Guillen, and yes, Mike Cameron in center again. They got some help from Safeco (home/road split of .300/.322), where they led the AL again in 2003 (Cameron’s last year there) and 2004.
Then there’s the 2007-08 Rays. As I noted before the 2008 season, Baseball Prospectus’ optimistic PECOTA projection for the Rays required them to massively improve on their MLB-worst team defense; as I noted that October, they did just that, to the point where nearly the entire turnaround to a pennant-winning team was a function of becoming the MLB’s best defensive team in one year. This made them just the ninth team ever to go worst-to-first in their league in DER in one year (other unsurprising names on that list include the Billyball A’s and the 1991 Braves), and aside from a team from 1878, Tampa’s defensive improvement was the largest leap of any of those teams, a 56-point or 8.6% improvement, which made their pitching staff much better without changing its personnel. The Rays did this returning five regulars – Carl Crawford, BJ Upton, Akinori Iwamura, Carlos Pena and Dioner Navarro – although Upton in 2007 was still learning center field as a new position, and Iwamura moved from third to second in 2008. Adding Evan Longoria and Jason Bartlett, plus clearing out some less mobile players and letting the incumbents settle in, led to a historic turnaround:

Team Years DER1 DER2 Change Change %
CIN 1877-78 561 638 77 113.7%
TBR 2007-08 652 708 56 108.6%
CLV 1891-92 645 697 52 108.1%
PHI 1914-15 666 715 49 107.4%
OAK 1979-80 678 727 49 107.2%
BOS 1913-14 670 709 39 105.8%
ATL 1990-91 676 714 38 105.6%
WSH 1923-24 673 709 36 105.3%
NYY 1933-34 682 703 21 103.1%

National League

BIP% NL High DER High % Low DER Low %
2000 70.3% 689 CIN 702 101.89% MON 672 97.53%
2001 70.4% 693 ARI 703 101.44% MON 682 98.41%
2002 71.2% 695 LAD 716 103.02% SDP 675 97.12%
2003 71.6% 694 SFG 710 102.31% COL 678 97.69%
2004 71.2% 693 LAD 711 102.60% COL 677 97.69%
2005 72.0% 693 HOU 705 101.73% COL 670 96.68%
2006 71.2% 690 SDP 710 102.90% PIT 674 97.68%
2007 71.5% 688 CHC 704 102.33% FLA 659 95.78%
2008 70.5% 689 CHC 703 102.03% CIN 671 97.39%
2009 70.2% 692 LAD 713 103.03% HOU 677 97.83%

American League

BIP% AL High DER High % Low DER Low %
2000 71.7% 684 ANA 699 102.19% TEX 667 97.51%
2001 72.3% 689 SEA 727 105.52% CLE 670 97.24%
2002 72.4% 695 ANA 718 103.31% CLE 674 96.98%
2003 73.2% 694 SEA 721 103.89% TEX 674 97.12%
2004 72.1% 689 SEA 699 101.45% KCR 674 97.82%
2005 73.5% 694 OAK 715 103.03% KCR 666 95.97%
2006 72.6% 685 DET 701 102.34% TBD 671 97.96%
2007 72.1% 684 BOS 704 102.92% TBD 652 95.32%
2008 71.9% 688 TBR 708 102.91% TEX 666 96.80%
2009 70.8% 688 SEA 712 103.49% KCR 675 98.11%

The 2010s
History continues to march on: the NL in 2010 became the first league in baseball history to have less than 70% of all plate appearances result in a ball put in play.
2011 stats are through May 31, 2011. DERs can be volatile in-season; I noted a few weeks ago that the Astros were at 648, 633 around the beginning of May, which would have set them on pace as the first defensive team since the 1930 Phillies to finish below 650, but since replacing Angel Sanchez with Clint Barmes they’ve been on an upward trajectory, and are no longer even last in their division. As you can see, the Cubs are having a terrible defensive year, while the Braves and those Rays again (even sans Carl Crawford and Jason Bartlett) are flying high. The AL (unlike the NL) is above 700 this season, the first time either league has cracked 700 since 1992.
National League

BIP% NL High DER High % Low DER Low %
2010 69.7% 689 SFG 707 102.61% PIT 671 97.39%
2011 70.2% 695 ATL 716 103.02% CHC 665 95.68%

American League

BIP% AL High DER High % Low DER Low %
2010 71.4% 694 OAK 711 102.45% KCR 679 97.84%
2011 71.6% 702 TBR 723 102.99% CHW 691 98.43%

Part I here.


Today is Yogi Berra’s 86th birthday. If you haven’t read it before, I’d suggest revisiting my Hardball Times article from before the 2009 season (Part 1 of which is here) putting the top catchers of all time in context.
Physically, Yogi was basically designed to be a catcher (Bill James described him as looking like, if he was a piece of furniture, you’d sand him off some). And while he was a heckuva hitter and defensive catcher as well as handler of pitchers, his real calling card in the argument for the greatest catcher of all time – and integrally related to why his teams won so much – was his unique combination of durability and consistency (as the military saying goes, quantity has a quality all its own).
Consider: in his peak years from 1950-56, counting the World Series (which the Yankees played in six times in those seven seasons) and the All-Star Game (which Yogi started each of those years, including catching all twelve innings in 1955), Yogi’s teams played 1121 games (160 games a year). Yogi caught 1035 of those (148 per year) and never had an off year – his worst year with the bat in that stretch was 1955, when he batted .272/.349/.470, drove in 108 runs, won the MVP award and hit .417/.500/.583 in a seven-game World Series. He won three MVPs, finished second twice, third once and fourth once. Did Yogi tire? He batted .274/.359/.452 in the World Series (including an OPS above 1000 in three straight Serieses from 1953-56); his career OPS was 802 in the first half, 858 in the second half, and he did his best work in the dog days of July and August (career .313/.381/.517 in July, .301/.366/.500 in August compared to .247/.312/.402 in April). He didn’t tire in games either – his career line in extra innings was .355/.447/.618.
Yogi was also fired three times as a manager (Mets once, Yankees twice). All three teams then embarked on decade-long stints in the wilderness.
Did I mention he only played briefly in the minors – and thus had to learn to catch at the major league level, where he was tutored by Bill Dickey – because he spent two years in the Navy in World War II, where he served on a 36-foot “rocket boat” off Normandy supporting the D-Day landings?

I was on a rocket boat — 36-footer, with 12 rockets on each side, five machine guns, a twin-50 and the 330s. And only 36 feet, made out of wood and a little metal…It’s amazing what that little boat could do, though; that 36-footer. We could shoot out rockets. We could shoot one at a time, two at a time, or we could shoot all 24 at a time. We went in on the invasion. We were the first ones in, before the Army come in.

…[W]e stand out about 300 yards off the beach, and we see what happens. If we ran into anything, we fire.

Fortunately enough, nothing happened to us. We were lucky. But, you just get so tired, you got to say that. But then, I enjoyed it. I wasn’t scared. Going into, it looked like Fourth of July. It really did. Eighteen-year-old kid, going in an invasion where we had – I’ve never seen so many planes in my life, we had going over there.

Dumbest fact about Yogi: like Joe DiMaggio and Whitey Ford, he was not voted into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. Go figure.

2011 NL Central EWSL Report

Part 6 of my very-belated preseason previews is the NL Central (last as always); this is the sixth and 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 previews: the AL West, AL East, AL Central, NL West, 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)

Milwaukee Brewers
Raw EWSL: 220.00 (87 W)
Adjusted: 232.93 (91 W)
Age-Adj.: 223.33 (88 W)
WS Age: 28.94
2011 W-L: 88-74

C 25 Jonathan Lucroy* 2 5
1B 27 Prince Fielder 27 28
2B 28 Rickie Weeks 20 20
SS 29 Yuniesky Betancourt 10 10
3B 28 Casey McGehee 17 21
RF 29 Corey Hart 15 14
CF 25 Carlos Gomez 6 7
LF 27 Ryan Braun 28 29
C2 33 Wil Nieves 3 3
INF 40 Craig Counsell 9 5
OF 30 Nyjer Morgan 10 9
12 35 Mark Kotsay 5 4
13 30 Jeremy Reed 1 1
SP1 27 Zack Greinke 17 15
SP2 25 Yovanni Gallardo 9 10
SP3 29 Shaun Marcum 9 8
SP4 34 Randy Wolf 10 8
SP5 29 Chris Narveson# 4 4
RP1 28 John Axford* 6 10
RP2 29 Kameron Loe 3 2
RP3 41 Takashi Saito 6 4
RP4 30 Sergio Mitre 2 1
RP5 23 Zack Braddock* 2 3

Subjective Adjustments: None. Greinke’s missed some time, but then EWSL probably underrates Gallardo and Marcum due to injury risks.
Also on Hand: Position players – George Kottaras, Brandon Boggs, Erick Almonte.
Pitchers – Brandon Kintzler, Sean Green, Marco Estrada, Mitch Stetter, LaTroy Hawkins.
Analysis: Just look at the ages of the Brewers’ starting lineup to see why EWSL rates them the class of the division – having a whole bunch of guys right in their prime is sometimes more important than having the most talent in the abstract.
Cincinnati Reds
Raw EWSL: 214.17 (85 W)
Adjusted: 230.53 (90 W)
Age-Adj.: 219.32 (86 W)
WS Age: 29.42
2011 W-L: 86-76

C 35 Ramon Hernandez 12 9
1B 27 Joey Votto 28 29
2B 30 Brandon Phillips 19 17
SS 28 Paul Janish# 6 7
3B 36 Scott Rolen 17 12
RF 24 Jay Bruce 12 16
CF 26 Drew Stubbs# 11 14
LF 30 Jonny Gomes 13 11
C2 30 Ryan Hanigan 10 9
INF 37 Miguel Cairo 3 2
OF 30 Fred Lewis 10 9
12 35 Edgar Renteria 8 6
13 27 Jeremy Hermida 8 8
SP1 34 Bronson Arroyo 13 11
SP2 27 Ednison Volquez 5 4
SP3 25 Johnny Cueto 9 10
SP4 24 Travis Wood* 3 7
SP5 25 Homer Bailey 4 5
RP1 36 Francisco Cordero 11 10
RP2 23 Aroldis Chapman+ 1 5
RP3 26 Logan Ondreysuk* 3 5
RP4 29 Nick Masset 8 6
RP5 23 Mike Leake* 4 8

Subjective Adjustments: None.
Also on Hand: Position players – Chris Heisey, Juan Francisco, Yonder Alonso, Chris Valaika.
Pitchers – Jordan Smith, Bill Bray, Matt Maloney, Carlos Fisher.
Analysis: The Reds’ starting rotation remains unsettled, but there’s definitely pitching talent there.
Francisco Cordero is now second on the active saves list – he’s never really been a spectacular closer, but his low HR rate more than anything else, especially in the parks he’s worked in, has kept him steady year in and year out.
St. Louis Cardinals
Raw EWSL: 224.33 (88 W)
Adjusted: 239.50 (93 W)
Age-Adj.: 217.52 (86 W)
WS Age: 30.70
2011 W-L: 86-76

C 28 Yadier Molina 18 18
1B 31 Albert Pujols 35 29
2B 31 Skip Schumaker 16 13
SS 31 Ryan Theriot 14 12
3B 28 David Freese# 4 5
RF 35 Lance Berkman 20 15
CF 24 Colby Rasmus# 13 20
LF 31 Matt Holliday 24 21
C2 31 Gerald Laird 9 8
INF 33 Nick Punto 8 7
OF 26 John Jay* 4 9
12 26 Allen Craig* 1 2
13 27 Tyler Greene# 1 1
SP1 36 Chris Carpenter 14 12
SP2 24 Jaime Garcia* 6 14
SP3 33 Jake Westbrook 5 4
SP4 32 Kyle Lohse 3 2
SP5 27 Kyle McClellan 7 6
RP1 27 Mitchell Boggs 3 2
RP2 29 Jason Motte# 4 4
RP3 26 Fernando Salas* 1 1
RP4 40 Miguel Batista 4 3
RP5 38 Ryan Franklin 11 9

Subjective Adjustments: None.
Also on Hand: Position players – Daniel Descalso, Mark Hamilton.
Pitchers – Adam Wainwright (out for the season), Eduardo Sanchez, Brian Tallet, Bryan Augenstein.
Analysis: The current division leaders, still hoping they can outrun the loss of Wainwright. Pujols’ slow start this season is yet another reminder of the pitiless march of age, but Tony LaRussa still always manages to find some veterans – so far, Lance Berkman – who buck that trend long enough to contribute. Meanwhile, Matt Holliday has been worth every penny of his enormous salary. I was high on David Freese before the season, but he’s yet to prove he can make it through a full season.
The weak point, by EWSL, is the bullpen, so if LaRussa and Duncan can work some magic in getting more out of an unimpressive assortment, the Cards could continue overachieve.
Chicago Cubs
Raw EWSL: 204.50 (81 W)
Adjusted: 229.37 (90 W)
Age-Adj.: 213.68 (84 W)
WS Age: 29.91
2011 W-L: 84-78

C 28 Geovany Soto 14 14
1B 33 Carlos Pena 17 15
2B 25 Darwin Barney+ 1 11
SS 21 Starlin Castro* 6 15
3B 33 Aramis Ramirez 16 14
RF 34 Kosuke Fukudome 15 13
CF 33 Marlon Byrd 18 16
LF 35 Alfonso Soriano 14 10
C2 30 Jeff Baker 6 5
INF 25 Blake DeWitt 10 12
OF 34 Reed Johnson 5 4
12 25 Tyler Colvin* 5 11
13 32 Koyie Hill 4 3
SP1 34 Ryan Dempster 13 11
SP2 27 Matt Garza 11 10
SP3 30 Carlos Zambrano 12 10
SP4 28 Randy Wells# 9 10
SP5 24 Andrew Cashner* 1 2
RP1 28 Carlos Marmol 13 13
RP2 28 Sean Marshall 7 7
RP3 34 Kerry Wood 6 5
RP4 32 John Grabow 3 3
RP5 23 Casey Coleman* 2 3

Subjective Adjustments: None, although obviously the injuries to Wells and Cashner have been costly.
Also on Hand: Pitchers – Marcos Mateo, Jeff Samardzjia, James Russell, Justin Berg, Jeff Stevens.
Analysis: The Cubs are not a bad team, and they’re good enough to swipe a title in a weak division with a few breaks (a harder thing to swing when the division has six teams) but – not to harp on age again here – they’re a rebuilding team. Seriously: EWSL rates Marlon Byrd as their best player, once you apply the age adjustments. (Byrd may still be a solid glove but compared to the other center fielders in this division he’s in awfully fast company).
Thus far, they’ve been laboring without Wells and Cashner, both injured.
Houston Astros
Raw EWSL: 172.00 (71 W)
Adjusted: 191.31 (77 W)
Age-Adj.: 172.28 (71 W)
WS Age: 30.10
2011 W-L: 71-91

C 31 Humberto Quintero 5 4
1B 24 Brett Wallace* 1 1
2B 31 Bill Hall 8 7
SS 27 Angel Sanchez* 4 7
3B 26 Chris Johnson* 8 16
RF 28 Hunter Pence 19 20
CF 28 Michael Bourn 18 18
LF 35 Carlos Lee 17 13
C2 27 JR Towles 1 1
INF 32 Clint Barmes 11 9
OF 35 Jason Michaels 5 4
12 31 Jeff Keppinger 14 12
13 33 Joe Inglett 5 4
SP1 30 Brett Myers 11 9
SP2 32 Wandy Rodriguez 12 10
SP3 28 JA Happ# 8 9
SP4 26 Bud Norris# 3 3
SP5 37 Nelson Figueroa 6 5
RP1 31 Brandon Lyon 12 9
RP2 26 Mark Melancon* 1 2
RP3 31 Jeff Fluchino# 3 3
RP4 25 Enerio Del Rosario+ 1 4
RP5 25 Fernando Abad* 1 2

Subjective Adjustments: None.
Also on Hand: Position players – Jason Bourgeois, Matt Downs, Brian Bogusovic.
Pitchers – Aneury Rodriguez, Wilton Lopez, Jose Valdez.
Analysis: The Astros’ Defensive Efficiency Rating, at this writing, is .648. No team has finished a full season below .650 since the 1930 Phillies (the 2007 Rays were the closest in recent decades, at .652 – which they followed with a historic one-season improvement to the best in MLB in 2008 – although the Cubs also had some appalling defenses in the 70s). Unless they can fix the infield (Johnson and Sanchez have been horribly error-prone, contributing to the low DER), it’s gonna be a long season for the Houston pitching staff.
Pittsburgh Pirates
Raw EWSL: 136.83 (59 W)
Adjusted: 165.50 (68 W)
Age-Adj.: 181.48 (74 W)
Subj. Adj.: 176.48 (72 W)
WS Age: 27.75
2011 W-L: 72-90

C 30 Chris Snyder 8 7
1B 34 Lyle Overbay 14 12
2B 25 Neil Walker* 8 19
SS 28 Ronny Cedeno 8 8
3B 24 Pedro Alvarez* 7 18
RF 30 Garrett Jones# 10 11
CF 24 Andrew McCutchen# 17 26
LF 22 Jose Tabata* 7 27
C2 30 Ryan Doumit 9 8
INF 26 Brandon Wood 1 1
OF 33 Matt Diaz 8 7
12 28 Steven Pearce 2 2
13 26 Xavier Paul* 0 0
SP1 30 Kevin Corriea 3 3
SP2 29 Paul Maholm 6 5
SP3 27 Charlie Morton 1 1
SP4 28 Ross Ohlendorf 6 5
SP5 28 Jeff Karstens 2 2
RP1 29 Joel Hanrahan 6 5
RP2 28 Evan Meek# 6 7
RP3 30 Jose Veras 4 3
RP4 34 Joe Beimel 5 4
RP5 28 Daniel McCutchen# 1 1

Subjective Adjustments: I cut Tabata from 27 to 22; the projected leap based solely on his age just looks too steep. Absent that, the Bucs would have ranked ahead of the Astros. No others, although Ohlendorf has been out of action for a while, with James McDonald filling his slot in the rotation.
Also on Hand: Position players – Jason Jaramillo, John Bowker, Josh Rodriguez.
Pitchers – James McDonald, Chris Resop, Michael Crotta, Garrett Olson, Danny Moskos.
Analysis: You know the perennial Pirates storylines; this year, it’s back to letting the kids play and build on their good starts. Optimism will only set in when we see proof the kids will not just develop but develop in Pittsburgh.
And the pitching still stinks, so even a surprise by the offense won’t deliver any glass slippers to PNC Park.

Continue reading 2011 NL Central EWSL Report

The Leg Man

Jose Reyes has 11 doubles and 6 triples through 34 games this season – totals that, if he kept this pace all season, would leave him with 52 doubles and 29 triples. How unprecedented is that? One way to look at it is that nobody’s ever hit 50 doubles and 25 triples in the same season. Another is that Reyes projects to get – even before you factor in steals (he’s also on pace for 57 of those) – 110 extra bases just from doubles and triples. That would break the (admittedly obscure) record of 96 by Shoeless Joe Jackson going away; only 9 players have notched as many as 90 in a season, and only one of them (Stan Musial in 1946) in post-World War II era baseball. I included Curtis Granderson’s 2007, the closest modern season, for comparison. Note that one of the guys on this list, Tip O’Neill of the old St. Louis Browns of the American Association, managed this in a 138-game schedule; he also batted .435. Relatedly, 1887 was the only year in the history of the majors when it took four strikes to notch a strikeout.

Player Year 2B 3B PA ExB
Jose Reyes (proj.) 2011 52 29 772 110
Shoeless Joe Jackson 1912 44 26 653 96
Kiki Cuyler 1925 43 26 700 95
Ty Cobb 1911 47 24 654 95
Adam Comorosky 1930 47 23 685 93
Ty Cobb 1917 44 24 669 92
Chief Wilson 1912 19 36 643 91
Stan Musial 1946 50 20 702 90
Joe Medwick 1936 64 13 677 90
Tip O’Neill 1887 52 19 572 90
Curtis Granderson 2007 38 23 676 84

Talk about your salary drives. Whatever other complaints Mets fans have this year, lack of a Grade A performance by Reyes hasn’t been one of them.

Say Hey

Great SI photo essay of Willie Mays, who turns 80 today. Mays almost certainly would have been the third player to 700 homers if he hadn’t missed 1953 and more than half of 1952 in the Army.
How ready was Mays for the big leagues? Even at age 20, he was batting .477/.524/.799 in 164 plate appearances at AAA Minneapolis (the same place where Ted Williams finished his minor league career in 1938).
On returning from the military in 1954 at age 23, Mays batted .315/.390/.601 (OPS+ of 165) from age 23-35, averaging 661 plate appearances per year – his low in games played in those years was 151.
Mays is best remembered for his prime, but as far as his Mets tenure goes – as broken down as he was in 1973 (.211/.303/.344 at age 41 that season), it’s still a shame that Mays didn’t get one last chance to end with glory. Mays started Game One of the 1973 World Series in center field and singled in the first inning off Ken Holtzman. In Game Two, Mets up 6-4, he was inserted as a pinch runner for Rusty Staub (who was 12 years younger and already one of the slowest men in the game) in the ninth inning, and Yogi put him into center field. The A’s tied the game in the bottom of the 9th in a rally that started with a Deron Johnson double to center; Mays apparently looked terrible on the play, as he often did afield that year, but it was the only hit they got to center the rest of the game (Sal Bando did single to center in Game One). In the top of the twelfth, Mays singled in the ultimate winning run off Rollie Fingers – his last major-league hit – and came around to score on a Mike Andrews error. In Game Three, he grounded out pinch hitting against Paul Linblad in the 10th. And that was it: Yogi didn’t use him again the rest of the series. In Game Seven, which the Mets lost 5-2, the Mets used three pinch hitters – Jim Beauchamp, Ken Boswell and Ed Kranepool. Certainly defensible hitters to prefer to 1973 Mays on purely statistical grounds (Kranepoll was by then one of the NL’s best pinch hitters, and both Kranepool and Boswell were left-handed hitters facing Fingers (Beauchamp, also playing his last major league game, hit against Holtzman with the bases empty). Boswell singled and Kranepool reached on an error. Still, the Mets were down 4 runs from the fourth inning on, and none of those guys had any power. You wonder, if Willie had gotten to take one more swing in Game Seven, if he had one more longball in him.

2011 NL East EWSL Report

Part 5 of my 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 previews: the AL West, AL East, AL Central, NL 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)

Atlanta Braves
Raw EWSL: 190.33 (77 W)
Adjusted: 232.78 (91 W)
Age-Adj.: 224.45 (88 W)
Subj. Adj.: 221.45 (87 W)
WS Age: 29.18
2011 W-L: 87-75

C 27 Brian McCann 19 20
1B 21 Freddie Freeman+ 0 11
2B 31 Dan Uggla 22 19
SS 34 Alex Gonzalez 12 10
3B 39 Chipper Jones 17 13
RF 21 Jason Heyward* 12 28
CF 29 Nate McLouth 12 12
LF 27 Martin Prado 17 17
C2 34 David Ross 6 5
INF 33 Eric Hinske 7 6
OF 28 Matt Young+ 0 4
12 31 Brooks Conrad* 4 7
13 28 Joe Mather 1 1
SP1 35 Tim Hudson 13 10
SP2 24 Tommy Hanson# 9 13
SP3 25 Jair Jurrjens 10 11
SP4 38 Derek Lowe 11 9
SP5 24 Brandon Beachy 0 4
RP1 23 Craig Kimbrel* 2 5
RP2 26 Johnny Venters* 5 10
RP3 26 Eric O’Flaherty 4 4
RP4 34 Scott Linebrink 3 3
RP5 34 George Sherrill 6 4

Subjective Adjustments: I docked Martin Prado 2 Win Shares (dropping him from 17 to 15), which is a very conservative estimate of his reduced defensive value on moving to left field – I’d have docked him further but his ability to slide back into the middle infield remains valuable and could yet be called upon by the Braves. Also docked Freddie Freeman 1 Win Share, as his youth, limited minor league track record and slow start raise at least some questions about his value. But I didn’t want to tinker too much here.
Although Beachy looks for now like he should comfortably exceed 4 WS, you can never count your chickens with rookie starting pitchers.
Also on Hand: Position players – Brandon Hicks, JC Bosan, Jordan Schafer.
Pitchers – Peter Moylan, Kris Medlen, Rodrigo Lopez, Cristhian Martinez (I swear some of these guys’ names are misspelled with malice aforethought), Cory Gearin, Jairo Asencio, Mike Minor.
Analysis: Yeah, I’m as surprised as you are that the Braves rate ahead of the Phillies, especially when you consider that EWSL has the Phillies as a 101-win team before applying the age adjustments. I take it with a grain of salt, though; the margin isn’t large, and it’s not hard to see how, say, Brooks Conrad could contribute less this year or Jason Heyward could fail to take The Leap (even the great ones don’t always move in straight lines), in addition to the issues noted with Prado and Freeman. But as discussed below, the ranking says more about the Phillies than it does about the Braves.
Philadelphia Phillies
Raw EWSL: 264.17 (101 W)
Adjusted: 264.43 (101 W)
Age-Adj.: 215.86 (85 W)
WS Age: 32.48
2011 W-L: 85-77

C 32 Carlos Ruiz 15 12
1B 31 Ryan Howard 23 19
2B 32 Chase Utley 28 22
SS 32 Jimmy Rollins 17 14
3B 35 Placido Polanco 18 13
RF 29 Ben Francisco 7 7
CF 30 Shane Victorino 22 20
LF 39 Raul Ibanez 19 14
C2 34 Brian Schneider 5 4
INF 33 Wilson Valdez 5 4
OF 35 Ross Gload 5 3
12 32 Pete Orr 1 1
13 27 John Mayberry# 1 1
SP1 34 Roy Halladay 23 19
SP2 32 Cliff Lee 18 14
SP3 33 Roy Oswalt 15 10
SP4 27 Cole Hamels 14 13
SP5 30 Joe Blanton 7 6
RP1 34 Brad Lidge 7 5
RP2 39 Jose Contreras 6 5
RP3 30 Ryan Madson 9 7
RP4 33 Danys Baez 2 1
RP5 27 Antonio Bastardo# 1 1

Subjective Adjustments: None. I might have had some issues regarding how to value Domonic Brown, but for now, since Brown has zero value based on his prior major league experience and isn’t available to play right now, I’m just treating him like any other prospect not yet on the roster.
Also on Hand: Position players – Domonic Brown, Dane Sardinha, Josh Barfield, Brian Bocock.
Pitchers – JC Romero, Kyle Kendrick, David Herndon, Scott Mathieson, Michael Stutts, Mike Zajuski, Vance Worley. Note that the gap with the Braves disappears if you replace Bastardo on the 23-man roster with Romero.
Analysis: It’s not quite “The Devil and Joe Morgan” – Bill James’ memorable essay on how the 1983 “Wheeze Kids” Phillies confronted an aging roster not by rebuilding but by bringing in even more, even older players to squeeze out one last championship – as this Phillies team’s key players aren’t as old as, say, the Hated Yankees’ and the main import, Cliff Lee, is hardly decrepit at 32. But age is everywhere up and down this roster, and its grim companion – injuries – has already taken a toll on Chase Utley and Brad Lidge. Meanwhile, ill fortune has struck in other ways – besides the injury to young Brown, Roy Oswalt has left the team for an indeterminate amount of time to deal with an undisclosed personal issue (which could be anything, whether it’s an issue with Oswalt or his family – we just can’t know how serious it is or how long he’ll be away).
I still see the Phillies as the team to beat in this division, assuming Oswalt’s not out for long; their starting pitching is fearsome, and the offense, if no longer terrifying, remains deep. But aging teams have a way sometimes of falling short of their name-brand value.
Florida Marlins
Raw EWSL: 170.67 (70 W)
Adjusted: 198.16 (79 W)
Age-Adj.: 195.68 (78 W)
WS Age: 27.47
2011 W-L: 78-84

C 30 John Buck 12 11
1B 27 Gaby Sanchez* 9 18
2B 29 Omar Infante 13 13
SS 27 Hanley Ramirez 28 29
3B 26 Emilio Bonifacio 5 6
RF 21 Mike Stanton* 7 16
CF 26 Chris Coghlan 11 14
LF 23 Logan Morrison* 5 11
C2 27 Brett Hayes* 1 2
INF 32 Greg Dobbs 3 2
OF 26 Scott Cousins+ 1 4
12 35 Wes Helms 6 4
13 28 Donnie Murphy 2 2
SP1 27 Josh Johnson 15 14
SP2 27 Anibal Sanchez 7 7
SP3 28 Ricky Nolasco 8 7
SP4 34 Javier Vazquez 10 8
SP5 24 Chris Volstad 6 6
RP1 27 Leo Nunez 9 8
RP2 31 Clay Hensley 6 4
RP3 27 Edward Mujica 3 3
RP4 25 Ryan Webb# 2 3
RP5 32 Brian Sanches# 5 5

Subjective Adjustments: None.
Also on Hand: Position players – Osvaldo Martinez, Bryan Petersen, John Baker (injured).
Pitchers – Randy Choate, Michael Dunn, Burke Badenhop.
Analysis: The Marlins are off to an odd start, 19-10 entering today’s action even with their star, Hanley Ramirez, off to his second straight terrible start, .198/.308/.277, and a few other early problems – Infante’s not hitting, Morrison’s on the DL, and perhaps more predictably, Vazquez and Volstad have been horrible. Does this bode well for them? Maybe. Certainly Josh Johnson just keeps getting better – he’s now 36-12 with a 2.78 ERA since his return in 2008, and in his last 224.2 IP his line is awe-inspiring: 2.04 ERA, 6.9 H/9, 0.3 HR/9, 2.4 BB/9, 9.0 K/9. And the development of Sanchez and the young outfield is encouraging – Stanton now has 27 HR and a .511 career slugging average in 126 career games, Sanchez has a career line of .281/.350/.458, Morrison .291/.397/.482 as a doubles-and-walks machine after posting OBPs of .402, .408 and .424 from age 20-22 in the minors. But recent history suggests that this team may have trouble keeping the rotation healthy (and perhaps the outfield as well). That and their perennially questionable defense will be the main question marks.
New York Mets
Raw EWSL: 176.83 (72 W)
Adjusted: 198.93 (80 W)
Age-Adj.: 192.38 (77 W)
WS Age: 29.32
2011 W-L: 77-85

C 24 Josh Thole* 5 10
1B 24 Ike Davis* 8 21
2B 26 Daniel Murphy 4 5
SS 28 Jose Reyes 15 16
3B 28 David Wright 23 24
RF 34 Carlos Beltran 14 12
CF 29 Angel Pagan 16 15
LF 32 Jason Bay 19 15
C2 28 Mike Nickeas+ 0 4
INF 26 Justin Turner+ 0 4
OF 31 Scott Hairston 9 7
12 33 Willie Harris 7 6
13 30 Ronnie Paulino 7 6
SP1 27 Mike Pelfrey 9 8
SP2 36 RA Dickey 9 8
SP3 24 Jonathan Niese* 3 7
SP4 32 Chris Young 3 2
SP5 32 Chris Capuano 2 1
RP1 29 Francisco Rodriguez 12 10
RP2 26 Bobby Parnell# 2 3
RP3 29 Taylor Buchholz 2 2
RP4 34 DJ Carrasco 5 4
RP5 37 Tim Byrdak 4 3

Subjective Adjustments: None.
Also on Hand: Position players – Jason Pridie, Lucas Duda, Chin-Lung Hu. Brad Emaus opened the season as the everyday 2B but, being a Rule V pick, left the organization when he was sent down.
Pitchers – Johan Santana, who is unlikely enough to return this season as to not be worth inclusion. Jason Isringhausen, Dillon Gee, Pedro Beato (one of the team’s few effective relievers so far but currently disabled), Pat Misch, Ryota Igarashi.
I’ve rated Parnell with the big club, although after early struggles he got shipped back to AAA. I’ll be surprised if he’s not back soon.
Analysis: I could, and probably should soon separately, write a lot more about these Mets, but I’ll try to be brief here in the interests of getting this post done. In addition to time constraints, one of the sad realities of my blogging life is the number of subjects I can’t really write about due to possible overlaps with my job, and now that has even invaded the core of my baseball blogging, as the Mets’ financial mess is too tied up with the world of Madoff and my practice specialty – securities litigation – for me to address freely except in the most general terms.
I’ve been saying all year that I think this is a .500 team, which in the context of the prevailing mood among Mets fans makes me decidedly bullish. The starting rotation has been the biggest threat to that so far (we already knew the bullpen would be a mess).
The biggest variable, in terms of both upside and downside, is the outfield, which now includes as well Angel Pagan, who got off to a terrible start before getting hurt. Here’s Carlos Beltran, 2001-2010: .283/.366/.509 2011, entering today’s action: .294/.379/.520 – he’s the same hitter (his 148 OPS+ would be the second-best of his career after his 2006 season), just not the same fielder and baserunner he was before the knee injury. With his contract up at season’s end, Beltran could be traded to a contender later in the season if he is willing to go. (Jose Reyes might too, but I can’t really analyze the wisdom of that without getting into the team’s finances).
As for Bay, the Mets spent half as much on him as the Cardinals spent on Matt Holliday, and right now would kill for half of Holliday’s production; his .258/.344/.399 line with 7 homers in 445 plate appearances suggests more than just an adjustment period, after leaving Boston after his age 30 season. The most encouraging sign has been the development of Ike Davis into something like the kind of slugger you need at first base. Unless you count Rico Brogna, the only home-grown power-hitting first baseman in club history is John Milner.
Washington Nationals
Raw EWSL: 154.17 (65 W)
Adjusted: 166.37 (69 W)
Age-Adj.: 154.41 (65 W)
WS Age: 30.05
2011 W-L: 65-97

C 23 Wilson Ramos* 2 4
1B 31 Adam LaRoche 16 14
2B 24 Danny Espinosa* 2 5
SS 25 Ian Desmond* 6 13
3B 26 Ryan Zimmerman 20 22
RF 32 Jayson Werth 23 18
CF 31 Rick Ankiel 6 5
LF 29 Mike Morse 5 5
C2 39 Ivan Rodriguez 8 6
INF 35 Jerry Hairston 11 8
OF 30 Laynce Nix 4 4
12 43 Matt Stairs 4 2
13 35 Alex Cora 4 3
SP1 36 Livan Hernandez 7 6
SP2 25 Jordan Zimmerman# 2 2
SP3 26 John Lannan 7 7
SP4 32 Jason Marquis 6 5
SP5 28 Tom Gorzelanny 4 4
RP1 23 Drew Storen* 3 6
RP2 26 Tyler Clippard# 6 8
RP3 28 Sean Burnett 6 5
RP4 31 Doug Slaten 2 1
RP5 30 Todd Coffey 3 3

Subjective Adjustments: None.
Also on Hand: Position players – Jesus Flores (injured), Roger Bernadina, Brian Bixler.
Pitchers – Steven Strasburg (injured, as you know), Chien-Ming Wang, Chad Gaudin, Brian Broderick, Collin Balester, Henry Rodriguez, Yunieski Maya.
Analysis: If you can explain the Phillies’ decisions as a desperate rage against the dying of the light and the Mets’ as the external symptoms of the team’s financial situation, the Nationals’ behavior seems to manifest a sort of organization-wide post-traumatic stress disorder following Steven Strasburg’s injury, as if the team just said “to hell with having a plan,” let Adam Dunn walk, blew through some money on mid-career mid-market free agents (Adam LaRoche, Jayson Werth), patched holes with slapdash additions like Rick Ankiel and Tom Gorzelanny, and then sat back and declared, “ah, that’ll do” and went out to go on a bender. Another way of putting it is that the Nationals figured there was really no plan that could get them to a successful 2011, and decided to just throw a coat of paint over the team to avoid looking like they were giving up completely. But the real rebuilding will be on hold until 2012.

Continue reading 2011 NL East EWSL Report

2011 NL West EWSL Report

Part 4 of my very-belated preseason previews is the NL West; 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 previews: the AL West, AL East & 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)

World Champion San Francisco Giants
Raw EWSL: 239.17 (96 W)
Adjusted: 264.00 (101 W)
Age-Adj.: 248.71 (96 W)
WS Age: 29.59
2011 W-L: 96-66

C 24 Buster Posey* 10 26
1B 23 Brandon Belt+ 0 11
2B 33 Freddy Sanchez 13 11
SS 37 Miguel Tejada 19 12
3B 24 Pablo Sandoval 15 19
RF 34 Aubrey Huff 20 17
CF 33 Aaron Rowand 11 9
LF 34 Pat Burrell 12 11
C2 31 Eli Whiteside# 2 2
INF 31 Mike Fontenot 8 7
OF 33 Andres Torres# 14 12
12 27 Nate Schierholtz 6 6
13 30 Cody Ross 15 13
SP1 27 Tim Lincecum 19 17
SP2 26 Matt Cain 17 18
SP3 28 Jonathan Sanchez 10 10
SP4 21 Madison Bumgarner* 4 10
SP5 33 Barry Zito 8 5
RP1 29 Brian Wilson 15 13
RP2 28 Sergio Romo 6 6
RP3 37 Guillermo Mota 3 2
RP4 32 Jeremy Affeldt 6 5
RP5 29 Ramon Ramirez 8 7

Subjective Adjustments: None. I could downgrade Brandon Belt, who’s already lost his job and been demoted, and/or cut the points the Giants get for having all those outfielder on the bench, but (1) I still expect Belt to return and contribute a good deal (he’s a tremendous across-the-board talent) and (2) the early stumble of a highly talented rookie is why it comes in handy to have the depth to just slide Huff to first base and give more playing time to the outfielders.
Also on Hand: Position players – Mark DeRosa, Darren Ford.
Pitchers – Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez, Dan Runzler.
Analysis: The Giants as always have an aging lineup, although if Belt returns and Sandoval continues his return to form, they actually for once could have a core of guys under 30 who can hit – and that, plus the sheer number of veterans with some gas left in the tank, makes them formidable. The pitching staff remains their strength.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Raw EWSL: 242.67 (94 W)
Adjusted: 246.93 (96 W)
Age-Adj.: 221.49 (87 W)
WS Age: 30.47
2011 W-L: 87-75

C 35 Rod Barajas 12 9
1B 27 James Loney 17 18
2B 31 Juan Uribe 14 12
SS 36 Jamey Carroll 11 8
3B 37 Casey Blake 16 10
RF 29 Andre Ethier 22 21
CF 26 Matt Kemp 19 21
LF 28 Tony Gwynn jr. 7 7
C2 27 Dioner Navarro 6 6
INF 34 Aaron Miles 4 3
OF 34 Marcus Thames 6 5
12 33 Rafael Furcal 17 14
13 23 Jerry Sands+ 0 4
SP1 23 Clayton Kershaw 12 14
SP2 26 Chad Billingsley 11 12
SP3 36 Hiroki Kuroda 9 8
SP4 35 Ted Lilly 12 9
SP5 31 Jon Garland 11 9
RP1 27 Jonathan Broxton 10 9
RP2 32 Matt Guerrier 8 6
RP3 29 Hong-Chih Kuo 10 9
RP4 33 Vicente Padilla 7 5
RP5 28 Blake Hawksworth# 2 2

Subjective Adjustments: None. I don’t really need a subjective adjustment to reflect the annual recurrence of Rafael Furcal getting hurt.
Also on Hand: Position players – Xavier Paul, AJ Ellis.
Pitchers – Mike MacDougal, who like Jeff Francouer has compiled quite a track record of using good first impressions to sucker a new employer; Kenley Jansen, Ramon Troncoso, Lance Cormier.
Analysis: Kemp (.378/.460/.612), Ethier (.380/.451/.560) and Blake (.321/.446/.509) have been off to a strong start – indeed, two days ago, Kemp & Ethier had identical batting and OBP lines – 108 PA, 95 AB, 36 H, 13 BB, .379/.454. Kemp has slowed a bit on the bases after stealing 8 bases in the season’s first 13 games. And Kershaw has shown flashes of intense brilliance, albeit amidst some of his usual inconsistency, while the defense has been the majors’ best (a .739 DER against balls in play, which is higher than sustainable for a full season). But the Dodgers have yet to pull much together around the front-line talent. Really, this team needs a bust-out year from Kershaw and Kemp supported by big years from Ethier and Billingsley to contend.
Colorado Rockies
Raw EWSL: 204.83 (82 W)
Adjusted: 215.33 (85 W)
Age-Adj.: 207.14 (82 W)
WS Age: 28.68
2011 W-L: 82-80

C 28 Chris Iannetta 8 8
1B 37 Todd Helton 13 8
2B 26 Jonathan Herrera* 3 6
SS 26 Troy Tulowitzki 22 24
3B 27 Jose Lopez 11 11
RF 28 Seth Smith 10 10
CF 25 Dexter Fowler# 12 17
LF 25 Carlos Gonzalez 17 20
C2 28 Jose Morales# 2 2
INF 33 Ty Wigginton 8 7
OF 31 Ryan Spilborghs 8 7
12 26 Ian Stewart 9 10
13 40 Jason Giambi 8 4
SP1 27 Ubaldo Jimenez 19 17
SP2 30 Jorge De La Rosa 9 7
SP3 28 Jason Hammel 8 7
SP4 23 Jhoulys Chacin* 5 11
SP5 32 Aaron Cook 8 6
RP1 27 Huston Street 11 10
RP2 36 Rafael Betancourt 7 6
RP3 31 Matt Belisle 6 5
RP4 31 Matt Lindstrom 4 3
RP5 25 Esmil Rogers* 0 0

Subjective Adjustments: None.
Also on Hand: Position players – Quite a lot of familiar faces hanging around for what could be a last chance – Alfredo Amezaga, Mike Jacobs, Willy Taveras, Josh Fields.
Pitchers – Franklin Morales, Matt Reynolds, Felipe Paulino, Matt Daley.
Analysis: Historically, as Troy Tulowitzki goes, so go the Rockies, and this season’s been no exception – Carlos Gonzalez is hitting an anemic .214/.269/.286, Ubaldo Jimenez is winless and disabled with a 6.75 ERA, Cook hasn’t pitched yet, and Jose Lopez has been the anti-Babe Ruth, batting .143/.169/.254 (OPS+ of 7, yet his OPS is double Ian Stewart’s), the team batting average is .239, but backed by Tulo’s blistering .326/.416/.674 start, the Rox are an MLB-leading 16-7. Obviously some good hitting from others in the lineup and some great bullpen help has helped. I’d bet on Colorado to exceed EWSL’s 82-win estimate, but there are some real holes to be patched (especially third base and in the starting rotation) if this team is going to make a serious run at the Giants.
Arizona Diamondbacks
Raw EWSL: 164.33 (68 W)
Adjusted: 185.30 (75 W)
Age-Adj.: 181.35 (74 W)
WS Age: 28.82
2011 W-L: 74-88

C 27 Miguel Montero 10 10
1B 28 Juan Miranda+ 1 11
2B 29 Kelly Johnson 16 15
SS 28 Stephen Drew 19 19
3B 30 Ryan Roberts# 3 3
RF 23 Justin Upton 15 18
CF 27 Chris Young 15 16
LF 24 Gerardo Parra# 6 9
C2 39 Henry Blanco 4 3
INF 39 Melvin Mora 10 7
OF 35 Russell Branyan 10 7
12 32 Xavier Nady 6 5
13 33 Willie Bloomquist 5 4
SP1 30 Joe Saunders 10 8
SP2 24 Daniel Hudson* 5 10
SP3 26 Ian Kennedy 6 6
SP4 29 Armando Galarraga 6 5
SP5 25 Barry Enright* 3 7
RP1 34 JJ Putz 5 4
RP2 27 Juan Gutierrez# 4 4
RP3 32 Aaron Heilman 4 3
RP4 26 David Hernandez# 4 5
RP5 27 Esmerling Vazquez# 2 2

Subjective Adjustments: None.
Also on Hand: Position players – Josh Wilson, Geoff Blum.
Pitchers – Zach Duke and the “no-names” bullpen – Joe Paterson, Sam Demel, Joshua Collmenter, Kameron Mickolio.
Analysis: I think I’ve internalized for too long the parity of the NL West, so it’s hard to look at the poor condition of Arizona and San Diego without mentally downgrading the whole division. But it’s normal for good divisions to have good teams and bad teams.
Arizona’s hitters have been overrated for a while due to the ballpark, and its pitching has never really recovered from the collapse of Brandon Webb. The team is starting to rebuild a little better, but it may take some time.
This bench has quite a collection of guys you didn’t think would still be playing at this age.
San Diego Padres
Raw EWSL: 189.83 (77 W)
Adjusted: 197.40 (79 W)
Age-Adj.: 181.00 (74 W)
WS Age: 29.49
2011 W-L: 74-88

C 27 Nick Hundley 9 9
1B 32 Brad Hawpe 12 9
2B 33 Orlando Hudson 17 14
SS 31 Jason Bartlett 18 15
3B 27 Chase Headley 14 14
RF 28 Will Venable 11 11
CF 24 Cameron Maybin# 5 7
LF 32 Ryan Ludwick 19 15
C2 28 Rob Johnson# 5 6
INF 29 Jorge Cantu 13 13
OF 30 Chris Denorfia 5 5
12 24 Kyle Blanks# 3 4
13 28 Alberto Gonzalez 3 3
SP1 27 Clayton Richard 8 7
SP2 23 Matt Latos# 7 9
SP3 33 Aaron Harang 4 3
SP4 29 Tim Stauffer# 6 6
SP5 29 Dustin Moseley 1 1
RP1 33 Heath Bell 13 9
RP2 27 Luke Gregerson# 6 7
RP3 32 Mike Adams 8 6
RP4 25 Ernesto Frieri* 2 4
RP5 32 Chad Qualls 5 4

Subjective Adjustments: None.
Also on Hand: Position players – Eric Patterson, Cedric Hunter. I think it’s safe by now to conclude that Patterson’s .373 OBP in 2009 was a fluke.
Pitchers – Pat Neshek, Cory Luebke, Wade LeBlanc.
Analysis: Here we have a one-man team when the one man leaves. The Pads have stitched together some adequate veterans – the double-play combination should help the pitching staff. But there’s no core here you can build anything around in the foreseeable future.
There’s hardly a more under-heralded player in baseball right now than Ernesto Frieri, who has to make Heath Bell expendable, as good as Bell is. Between them, Bell, Frieri and Adams have a 1.78 ERA since 2009 – 2.24 if you include Gregerson, who has similar numbers except that he’s more homer-prone than the other three. The overall line for the four since 2009: 6.18 H/9, 0.41 HR/9, 3.04 BB/9, and 10.40 K/9. Even considering the pitcher-friendly expanses of Pecto, that’s something else. Frieri currently sports a ridiculous 1.50 career ERA and 11.4 career K/9, and in the early going thus far he’s cut his walks in half from 2010.

Continue reading 2011 NL West EWSL Report

2011 AL Central EWSL Report

Part 3 of my preseason “previews” is the AL Central; 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. I’ve also resurrected for this season the team ages, which are weighted by non-age-adjusted EWSL, so the best players count more towards determining the age of the roster.
Prior previews: the AL West & 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)

Chicago White Sox
Raw EWSL: 238.17 (93 W)
Adjusted: 253.34 (98 W)
Age-Adj.: 230.98 (90 W)
WS Age: 30.05
2011 W-L: 90-72

C 34 AJ Pierzynski 11 9
1B 35 Paul Konerko 22 16
2B 24 Gordon Beckham# 10 15
SS 29 Alexei Ramirez 18 17
3B 24 Brent Morel+ 0 11
RF 28 Carlos Quentin 14 14
CF 30 Alex Rios 16 14
LF 33 Juan Pierre 13 11
DH 31 Adam Dunn 21 17
C2 35 Ramon Castro 5 4
INF 29 Mark Teahen 6 6
OF 26 Lastings Milledge 8 9
13 44 Omar Vizquel 6 3
SP1 26 John Danks 16 17
SP2 32 Mark Buehrle 14 11
SP3 28 Gavin Floyd 13 12
SP4 27 Edwin Jackson 12 11
SP5 30 Jake Peavy 7 6
RP1 34 Matt Thornton 12 9
RP2 22 Chris Sale* 3 6
RP3 29 Jesse Crain 5 4
RP4 29 Tony Pena 5 4
RP5 33 Will Ohman 3 2

Subjective Adjustments: None. As the minimal age adjustments indicate, this is the most established-talent, set-lineup team in the division. Milledge, however, is presently in AAA.
Also on Hand: Position players – Brent Lillibridge, Dayan Vicideo, Tyler Flowers.
Pitchers – Sergio Santos, Jeff Gray, Phil Humber, Gregory Infante.
Analysis: The White Sox are back again with a power-backed lineup and their characteristically stolid starting rotation. If the older guys in the lineup (Konerko, Pierzynski) don’t break down, they should be in the hunt all year, but they’re unlikely to blow the doors off the division.
Minnesota Twins
Raw EWSL: 216.17 (85 W)
Adjusted: 236.87 (92 W)
Age-Adj.: 222.85 (88 W)
Subj. Adj.: 219.85 (87 W)
WS Age: 29.13
2011 W-L: 87-75

C 28 Joe Mauer 29 30
1B 30 Justin Morneau 19 17
2B 26 Tsuyoshi Niskioka+ 0 11
SS 26 Alexi Casilla 6 6
3B 26 Danny Valencia* 6 13
RF 29 Jason Kubel 14 14
CF 27 Denard Span 20 20
LF 25 Delmon Young 16 19
DH 40 Jim Thome 14 7
C2 27 Drew Butera* 2 3
INF 29 Matt Tolbert 4 4
OF 32 Michael Cuddyer 14 11
13 30 Jason Repko 1 1
SP1 27 Francisco Liriano 8 8
SP2 35 Carl Pavano 10 8
SP3 28 Brian Duensing# 9 10
SP4 29 Scott Baker 10 9
SP5 29 Nick Blackburn 7 6
RP1 36 Joe Nathan 8 7
RP2 27 Matt Capps 8 8
RP3 26 Jose Mijares# 4 5
RP4 27 Kevin Slowey 7 7
RP5 26 Jeff Manship# 1 1

Subjective Adjustments: I docked Nishioka 3 Win Shares for his early season leg fracture, cutting him down to 8.
Also on Hand: Position players – Ben Revere, Luke Hughes.
Pitchers – Glen Perkins, Anthony Slama, Dusty Hughes.
Analysis: Slowey, Baker and Blackurn have all seen their stock fall, and Liriano’s off to a bad start. Morneau’s healthy but not hitting yet, and Mauer’s not healthy. And I didn’t realize how old Nathan is. And can Thome repeat last year’s rejuvenation? A lot of question marks here.
Detroit Tigers
Raw EWSL: 190.33 (77 W)
Adjusted: 222.86 (88 W)
Age-Adj.: 213.96 (85 W)
WS Age: 28.97
2011 W-L: 85-77

C 24 Alex Avila# 5 7
1B 28 Miguel Cabrera 27 27
2B 28 Will Rhymes* 3 6
SS 29 Jhonny Peralta 15 14
3B 34 Brandon Inge 13 11
RF 37 Magglio Ordonez 13 8
CF 24 Austin Jackson* 9 23
LF 30 Ryan Raburn 9 8
DH 32 Victor Martinez 17 13
C2 26 Casper Wells* 2 4
INF 31 Don Kelly* 3 4
OF 26 Brennan Boesch* 6 12
13 35 Carlos Guillen 7 5
SP1 28 Justin Verlander 17 16
SP2 26 Max Scherzer 10 11
SP3 22 Rick Porcello# 7 11
SP4 33 Brad Penny 4 3
SP5 28 Phil Coke 5 5
RP1 31 Jose Valverde 11 9
RP2 33 Joaquin Benoit 5 3
RP3 24 Brayan Villereal+ 0 5
RP4 24 Ryan Perry# 4 5
RP5 33 Brad Thomas* 3 4

Subjective Adjustments: None, although Guillen seems unlikely to contribute much. Casper Wells is obviously not a backup catcher; that’s Victor Martinez, so I just threw Wells into that roster slot. As did the Tigers.
Also on Hand: Position players – Scott Sizemore.
Pitchers – Joel Zumaya, who is facing the dreaded Dr. Andrews. Daniel Schlereth, Enrique Gonzalez.
Analysis: I’m not that high on the Tigers this season. Cabrera seems unlikely to repeat last year’s trouble-free season, Peralta is a serious defensive question mark, and Porcello, the back of the rotation and the bullpen are wobbly. On the upside, maybe this will be the year Scherzer puts it all together.
Cleveland Indians
Raw EWSL: 136.50 (59 W)
Adjusted: 152.40 (64 W)
Age-Adj.: 152.39 (64 W)
WS Age: 28.20
2011 W-L: 64-98

C 25 Carlos Santana* 4 8
1B 26 Matt LaPorta# 4 5
2B 36 Orlando Cabrera 12 9
SS 25 Asdrubal Cabrera 13 15
3B 31 Jack Hannahan 2 2
RF 28 Shin-Soo Choo 24 24
CF 28 Grady Sizemore 9 9
LF 24 Michael Brantley# 4 5
DH 34 Travis Hafner 9 7
C2 25 Lou Marson* 3 6
INF 26 Jason Donald* 3 6
OF 31 Austin Kearns 6 5
13 31 Shelley Duncan 3 3
SP1 27 Fausto Carmona 7 6
SP2 26 Justin Masterson 5 6
SP3 24 Carlos Carrasco# 2 2
SP4 27 Mitch Talbot* 3 5
SP5 26 Josh Tomlin* 2 4
RP1 25 Chris Perez 8 9
RP2 27 Tony Sipp# 3 3
RP3 29 Rafael Perez 4 4
RP4 33 Chad Durbin 5 3
RP5 27 Joe Smith 3 3

Subjective Adjustments: None.
Also on Hand: Position players – Travis Buck, Trevor Crowe (on the 60-day DL at present), Adam Everett, Lonnie Chisenhall, Jason Kipnis. Donald is also on the DL.
Pitchers – Vinnie Pestano, Justin Germano, Frank Herrmann, Alex White, Jeanmar Gomez.
Analysis: It’s obviously easier to say this after their 11-4 start, but there are plenty of places for the Indians to improve on their EWSL, from a recovery by Sizemore (I’m skeptical, since he had the Carlos Beltran surgery, but he’s younger than Beltran) to guys like Santana and LaPorta providing a full season’s production to the young pitchers stepping up. But in the early season enthusiasm, don’t lose sight of how far this team has to come from its proven, established major league performance levels if it’s going to have a winning record.
Kansas City Royals
Raw EWSL: 129.83 (57 W)
Adjusted: 139.90 (60 W)
Age-Adj.: 139.02 (60 W)
Subj. Adj: 142.02 (61 W)
WS Age: 27.74
2011 W-L: 61-101

C 37 Jason Kendall 10 6
1B 27 Kila Ka’aihue* 1 1
2B 27 Chris Getz# 5 7
SS 24 Alcides Escobar# 7 11
3B 29 Wilson Betemit 6 6
RF 27 Jeff Francouer 7 8
CF 26 Melky Cabrera 10 10
LF 27 Alex Gordon 5 5
DH 25 Billy Butler 17 21
C2 35 Matt Treanor 2 2
INF 30 Mike Aviles 9 8
OF 29 Mitch Maier 9 8
13 29 Brayan Pena 3 3
SP1 27 Kyle Davies 5 4
SP2 30 Jeff Francis 3 2
SP3 27 Luke Hochevar 3 3
SP4 34 Bruce Chen 5 4
SP5 24 Vin Mazzaro# 3 4
RP1 27 Joakim Soria 14 13
RP2 29 Robinson Tejeda 5 4
RP3 23 Sean O’Sullivan# 2 2
RP4 21 Tim Collins+ 0 5
RP5 25 Blake Wood* 1 2

Subjective Adjustments: I marked up Kila Ka’aihue from 1 to 4 Win Shares, which is probably pretty conservative for a guy who failed miserably last year, but he should get a much longer audition this season.
Also on Hand: Position players – Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas – basically, the next generation of prospects.
Pitchers – Kanekoa Texeira, Jeremy Jeffress, Nathan Adcock, Jesse Chavez, Gregory Holland, Aaron Crow, Mike Montgomery.
Analysis: Like the Indians and the AL East’s weak sisters, the Royals have started well, and combined with the good reputation of the prospects on the way, that suggests that this division may end up more compressed than the EWSL standings suggest. But there’s no better antidote to optimism about the Royals than looking at the people they’re actually counting on for at bats and innings. It’s still a long way out of that hole.

Continue reading 2011 AL Central EWSL Report

2011 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. I’ve also resurrected for this season the team ages, which are weighted by non-age-adjusted EWSL, so the best players count more towards determining the age of the roster.
Prior preview: 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)

Boston Red Sox
Raw EWSL: 278.00 (106 W)
Adjusted: 280.43 (107 W)
Age-Adj.: 246.27 (95 W)
WS Age: 30.60
2011 W-L: 95-67

C 26 J.Saltalamacchia 3 3
1B 29 Adrian Gonzalez 33 32
2B 27 Dustin Pedroia 18 19
SS 35 Marco Scutaro 17 13
3B 32 Kevin Youkilis 23 19
RF 35 JD Drew 15 11
CF 27 Jacoby Ellsbury 10 11
LF 29 Carl Crawford 24 23
DH 35 David Ortiz 15 11
C2 39 Jason Varitek 5 4
INF 27 Jed Lowrie 6 6
OF 38 Mike Cameron 11 7
13 32 Darnell McDonald# 5 5
SP1 27 Jon Lester 17 16
SP2 26 Clay Buchholz 11 12
SP3 31 Josh Beckett 8 6
SP4 32 John Lackey 12 9
SP5 30 Daisuke Matsuzaka 7 6
RP1 30 Jon Papelbon 13 10
RP2 26 Daniel Bard* 7 9
RP3 33 Dan Wheeler 6 4
RP4 30 Bobby Jenks 8 7
RP5 28 Alfredo Aceves 4 4

Subjective Adjustments: None.
Also on Hand: Pitchers – Tim Wakefield, Dennys Reyes, Matt Albers, Hideki Okajima.
Analysis: EWSL is not as insanely bullish on the Red Sox as last season, and there are some warning signs to be had in the number of 35-year-olds in the lineup. That said, I’m not about to hit the panic button on these guys just from a rough start.
The Hated Yankees
Raw EWSL: 263.83 (101 W)
Adjusted: 266.73 (102 W)
Age-Adj.: 233.73 (91 W)
WS Age: 31.55
2011 W-L: 91-71

C 28 Russell Martin 13 13
1B 31 Mark Teixeira 25 21
2B 28 Robinson Cano 25 25
SS 37 Derek Jeter 22 14
3B 35 Alex Rodriguez 22 16
RF 30 Nick Swisher 19 17
CF 30 Curtis Granderson 18 16
LF 27 Brett Gardner 12 12
DH 39 Jorge Posada 12 9
C2 25 Francisco Cervelli# 5 7
INF 33 Eric Chavez 1 0
OF 34 Andruw Jones 7 6
13 24 Eduardo Nunez* 1 3
SP1 30 CC Sabathia 19 16
SP2 25 Phil Hughes 9 10
SP3 34 AJ Burnett 8 7
SP4 24 Ivan Nova* 1 2
SP5 35 Freddy Garcia 6 5
RP1 41 Mariano Rivera 15 11
RP2 31 Rafael Soriano 11 9
RP3 26 David Robertson 3 4
RP4 25 Joba Chamberlain 6 7
RP5 26 Boone Logan 2 2

Subjective Adjustments: None.
Also on Hand: Position players – Ramiro Pena, Jesus Montero, Gustavo Molina.
Pitchers – Pedro Feliciano, who I pulled out of the lineup at the last minute on the news that he may need surgery; Feliciano averaged 89 appearances a year the past three seasons, so it’s not that shocking that he finally broke. Also Bartolo Colon, Luis Ayala, and David Phelps.
Analysis: Another mark of the AL East leaders’ softening compared to the past few years, the Hated Yankees are sorely lacking in starting pitching depth (are we taking bets on when Joba ends up getting pressed into starting again?) and face the perennial problem of age at key spots in the lineup without real everyday options if the old guys break down (other than subbing Montero or Andruw Jones for Posada). Yet the poor starts by Boston and Tampa and an unaccustomed early awakening by Tex have things looking up for the Bombers. And of course, with the Hated Yankees what matters is frontline talent, because you can never rule out major in-season acquisitions to plug any holes.
Tampa Bay Rays
Raw EWSL: 185.50 (75 W)
Adjusted: 206.20 (82 W)
Age-Adj.: 202.95 (81 W)
WS Age: 28.30
2011 W-L: 81-81

C 27 John Jaso* 8 17
1B 31 Dan Johnson 2 2
2B 30 Ben Zobrist 21 19
SS 25 Reid Brignac# 6 8
3B 25 Evan Longoria 25 31
RF 26 Matt Joyce 6 7
CF 26 BJ Upton 17 18
LF 37 Johnny Damon 17 11
DH 28 Casey Kotchman 9 9
C2 31 Kelly Shoppach 7 6
INF 26 Sean Rodriguez 5 5
OF 29 Sam Fuld# 2 2
13 31 Felipe Lopez 14 12
SP1 25 David Price# 11 14
SP2 29 James Shields 8 7
SP3 28 Jeff Niemann# 8 8
SP4 25 Wade Davis# 5 6
SP5 24 Jeremy Hellickson* 2 3
RP1 35 Kyle Farnsworth 4 3
RP2 24 Jacob McGee+ 0 5
RP3 35 Joel Peralta 3 2
RP4 28 Andy Sonnanstine 3 3
RP5 28 JP Howell 6 5

Subjective Adjustments: None, although I expect Johnson to contribute a good deal more than 2 WS.
Also on Hand: Position players – Elliott Johnson, Desmond Jennings (Kotchman has been called up in the short term to take Manny Ramirez’ place, but expect Jennings later in the year), Robinson Chirinos.
Pitchers – Juan Cruz, Cesar Ramos, Adam Russell, Mike Ekstrom, Matt Moore.
Analysis: Having sprung directly from perennial doormat status to the heights of contention, mediocrity will be unaccustomed to Rays fans, but welcome to the 1970-72 Mets. I have faith that this organization will get more out of the bullpen than estimated here and make some useful adjustments on the fly, but their poor start and the loss of Manny underlines what already looked like a season of grappling with the loss of Carl Crawford and Matt Garza and figuring out how to get the next generation of youth to market. Alternatively, with both Toronto and Baltimore improved, it would not take a lot of additional bad breaks to drop them back to the cellar.
Hellickson’s a great talent, but remember that Price took a while to develop and Davis is still working on it. Young pitchers will break your heart.
Baltimore Orioles
Raw EWSL: 197.00 (79 W)
Adjusted: 205.60 (82 W)
Age-Adj.: 195.24 (78 W)
WS Age: 29.79
2011 W-L: 78-84

C 25 Matt Wieters# 9 13
1B 35 Derrek Lee 17 13
2B 33 Brian Roberts 14 12
SS 28 JJ Hardy 10 11
3B 27 Mark Reynolds 18 18
RF 27 Nick Markakis 20 21
CF 25 Adam Jones 13 16
LF 33 Luke Scott 13 11
DH 36 Vladimir Guerrero 15 11
C2 28 Jake Fox# 3 3
INF 31 Cesar Izturis 7 6
OF 26 Felix Pie 5 5
13 27 Robert Andino 1 1
SP1 24 Brian Matusz# 6 8
SP2 32 Jeremy Guthrie 12 9
SP3 25 Jake Arrieta* 3 6
SP4 25 Brad Bergesen# 6 8
SP5 23 Chris Tillman* 1 2
RP1 33 Kevin Gregg 9 6
RP2 33 Mike Gonzalez 5 4
RP3 36 Koji Uehara* 6 6
RP4 29 Jeremy Accardo 1 1
RP5 28 Jim Johnson 5 5

Subjective Adjustments: None.
Also on Hand: Position players – Nolan Reimold, Josh Bell, Craig Tatum.
Pitchers – Zachary Britton (currently subbing for Matusz in the rotation), Justin Duchscherer, Jason Berker, Josh Rupe.
Analysis: The Orioles, by contrast, seem to have picked themselves up off the floor, notwithstanding the fact that as of yet they still seem to be building a team that shoots for .500 rather than first place (a big leap forward by Wieters, Jones and/or the young pitchers could change that). Whether Markakis can restart his arc of improvement, Lee can keep up his late-season hitting for the Braves, Guerrero can squeeze out one more solid year and Reynolds can cut his whiffs down enough to hit .230 will be the short-term questions.
Toronto Blue Jays
Raw EWSL: 186.87 (75 W)
Adjusted: 205.91 (82 W)
Age-Adj.: 191.82 (77 W)
WS Age: 29.41
2011 W-L: 77-85

C 25 JP Arencibia+ 1 11
1B 27 Adam Lind 13 13
2B 29 Aaron Hill 15 15
SS 28 Yunel Escobar 17 17
3B 28 Edwin Encarnacion 8 8
RF 30 Jose Bautista 20 18
CF 30 Rajai Davis 12 11
LF 23 Travis Snider# 6 8
DH 32 Juan Rivera 11 9
C2 36 Jose Molina 5 4
INF 36 John McDonald 4 3
OF 35 Scott Podsednik 13 9
13 28 Jayson Nix# 5 6
SP1 26 Ricky Romero# 10 13
SP2 26 Brandon Morrow 6 6
SP3 24 Brett Cecil# 6 8
SP4 23 Kyle Drabek+ 0 4
SP5 26 Jesse Litsch 2 2
RP1 31 Frank Francisco 7 5
RP2 32 Jon Rauch 8 7
RP3 37 Octavio Dotel 6 5
RP4 33 Jason Frasor 6 4
RP5 35 Shawn Camp 6 4

Subjective Adjustments: None.
Also on Hand: Position players – Corey Patterson, Brett Lawrie, Mike McCoy.
Pitchers – Carlos Villanueva, Jo-Jo Reyes (who’s currently in Morrow’s spot in the rotation), David Purcey, Marc Rzepcynski.
Analysis: If you were painting a portrait of a team that could potentially take a big leap forward, you’d get something like the Blue Jays: a couple of young-ish players coming off disappointing years (Lind, Hill, Snider, Escobar), a young, power-pitching rotation and a veteran bullpen. How far that takes them is another issue, since third place is usually the Jays’ target at this point.
Through 12 games, Toronto’s pitching staff is on pace for 1363 strikeouts even without having activated Morrow (who struck out 10.9 K/9 last year, better than MLB leader Tim Lincecum, and may be returning soon from an inflamed elbow), which would break the 2001 Yankees’ AL record by a margin of almost 100.

Continue reading 2011 AL East EWSL Report

BASEBALL/ Not Buying Bonds

So the verdict has come down in the Barry Bonds trial, and while the jury was unable to reach a verdict on three counts of perjury, they convicted Bonds of one count of obstruction of justice based on his grand jury testimony regarding whether he was given steroids or HGH by his trainer, Greg Anderson, or allowed Anderson or others besides his doctor to inject him. As with the Manny Ramirez story, this is yet another example of how baseball news has been unable to escape the hangover of the PED scandals.
While I recognize that perjury in a grand jury setting is a huge red flag for any prosecutor, I ultimately think this case was a waste of resources by the Justice Department; it’s hard to see how the whole steroids ring was that major a law enforcement priority to begin with, or Bonds’ testimony that crucial to it, that it was really going to be a useful exercise to pour enormous resources into a public trial of the man. (For background, some thoughts here and here on what makes up a serious enough case of perjury to be worth prosecuting). And that’s coming from a guy who’s hated Bonds for nearly 25 years now.
But while I’m skeptical of the prosecution, the jury verdict isn’t as nonsensical as some people are making it out. Here’s what the judge apparently told the jury about the charges. Unlike the perjury statute, on which I did some work in law school, I am not that well-versed in the caselaw under 18 USC 1503, the obstruction statute; according to a summary on the Justice Department’s website, obstruction can include the following:

Giving false denials of knowledge and memory, or evasive answers…or false and evasive testimony…False testimony may be a basis for conviction, …however, false testimony, standing alone, is not an obstruction of justice.

(Citations omitted; it doesn’t seem from the cases cited that the Supreme Court has yet laid out a definition of obstruction other than to require a very specific intent in false-statements-to-investigators cases). Here, the judge charged the jury in the perjury counts that they needed to find the following elements:

1. The defendant testified under oath before a grand jury;
2. The testimony described above was false;
3. The testimony was material to the grand jury before which he testified; and
4. The defendant knew that the testimony described above was false and material to the grand jury before which he testified.
A statement was material if it had a natural tendency to influence, or was capable of influencing,the decision of the grand jury to which it is addressed.

By contrast, the obstruction charge:

In order for the defendant to be found guilty of Count 5, the government must prove each of the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
1. The defendant corruptly, that is, for the purpose of obstructing justice,
2. obstructed, influenced, or impeded, or endeavored to obstruct, influence, or impede the grand jury proceeding in which defendant testified,
3. by knowingly giving material testimony that was intentionally evasive, false, or misleading.
A statement was material if it had a natural tendency to influence, or was capable of influencing, the decision of the grand jury.
The government alleges that the underlined portion of the following statements constitute material testimony that was intentionally evasive, false or misleading. In order for the defendant to be found guilty of Count 5, you must all agree that one or more of the following statements was material and intentionally evasive, false or misleading, with all of you unanimously agreeing as to which statement or statements so qualify:
1. The Statement Contained in Count One
2. The Statement Contained in Count Two
3. The Statement Contained in Count Three

In short, if the jury found that Bonds’ statements were intentionally evasive or misleading, they could convict even without being convinced that they were outright false. That’s a significant difference, and would seem to justify the jury in convicting on an obstruction charge on the same facts on which they were unable to convict on perjury. The statement he was convicted on was Statement C in the charge:

Q: Did Greg [Anderson] ever give you anything that required a syringe to inject yourself with?
A: I’ve only had one doctor touch me. And that’s my only personal doctor. Greg, like I said, we don’t get into each others’ personal lives. We’re friends, but I don’t – we don’t sit around and talk baseball, because he knows I don’t want – don’t come to my house talking baseball. If you want to come to my house and talk about fishing, some other stuff, we’ll be good friends, you come around talking about baseball, you go on. I don’t talk about his business. You know what I mean?…
Q: Right.
A: That’s what keeps our friendship. You know, I am sorry, but that – you know, that – I was a celebrity child, not just in baseball by my own instincts. I became a celebrity child with a famous father. I just don’t get into other people’s business because of my father’s situation, you see…

Presumably, the jury may have felt that Bonds was misleading or evasive by deflecting this question with a denial that he’d had anybody inject him, without explicitly denying what he was asked – whether Anderson gave him something to inject himself with. Which is a common-sense enough reading of that testimony. At least under the perjury statute, it’s not a crime to give a literally true answer that evades the question, the lesson of which – hammered home to most lawyers – is that you need to keep asking until the witness is pinned down. As I said above, I’m not really sure if this is the law under the obstruction statute, but it’s safely within what the judge told the jury, so you can’t fault them for following instructions.


Just some numbers for fun. Hall of Famer Hughie Jennings remains the all-time champion in getting hit by pitches – playing his whole career in the days before helmets, Jennings was hit by pitches in 5.1% of his plate appearances, accounting for 13.3% of his times on base (counting hits, walks and HBP). Burt Solomon, in his book Hit Em Where They Ain’t (a good read about the 1890s Orioles) recounts that Jennings was actually terrified to crowd the plate, but trained in the offseason by having John McGraw throw balls at his head constantly until he was able to stand in without flinching.
Among players who lasted long enough to get drilled with 100 pittches, nobody else comes close to that 5.1% figure, but the 1890s were a violent time in the game. Counting only players since 1900 with 100 or more HBP, here’s the top 15 measured by HBP as a percentage of times on base:
Jason LaRue (the modern champ at 11%)
Ron Hunt
Reed Johnson
Fernando Vina
Don Baylor
Jason Kendall
Aaron Rowand
Steve Evans
Chase Utley
Art Fletcher
David Eckstein
Jose Guillen
Frank Chance
Damion Easley
Minnie Minoso
Craig Biggio just misses the list, at #16. I was surprised to see Utley (at 7.6%) that high.

Manny Been Manny

Still short on time here and still trying to get the numbers posted for my annual division previews (yeah, I know), but first a couple points on my late gut reaction to the whole Manny news:
1) This was a fittingly bizarre end to a bizarre career.
2) As I’ve said repeatedly before, I’m neither with the moral-high-horse sportswriters nor the steroids-don’t-matter stathead crowd. Manny’s legacy is and should be tarnished, but I’d still vote for him for Cooperstown. The Hall is really going to be a bad joke if this many players get locked out despite obviously qualifying on the basis of their on-field accomplishments, and that ultimately detracts from the honor given to those who are inducted.
3) Manny served a 50-game suspension for PEDs, and effectively had his career ended by threat of a 100-game suspension. That’s a stuffer When we’re considering Hall of Famers, isn’t it sort of backwards if he gets lumped in the same bucket with guys like McGwire or Palmeiro who never suffered any penalty for PEDs? (Ditto Bonds and Clemens, except for the part where they got indicted, a ridiculous spectacle which is if anything symptomatic of our national reliance on the legal system as a substitute for moral judgments).
4) Manny was a great hitter, great story and great fun to watch. Nothing can take away the joy, the amusement, the championships, and even the water-cooler controversies he brought to the game. Let’s not let anything else obscure that.

EWSL 2011 Age and Rookie Baselines

Here’s the other necessary preliminary before launching my division previews powered by Established Win Shares Levels (originally explained here): before we get to rolling out the 2011 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 seven 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.
I’ll skip some more of the usual preliminaries (see last year’s post) and get right to the charts:
Non-Pitchers 2010 and 2004-2010:

2010 Total
Age # WS EWSL % # WS EWSL %
21- 1 20 17 1.176 6 72 59.0 1.220
22 2 22 19 1.158 28 436 226.9 1.922
23 12 118 110 1.073 67 812 670.5 1.211
24 16 210 148 1.419 115 1502 1162.3 1.292
25 22 178 186 0.957 173 2022 1668.4 1.212
26 39 424 465 0.912 213 2414 2244.7 1.075
27 43 488 476 1.025 234 2605 2501.8 1.041
28 29 342 336 1.018 239 2798 2745.5 1.019
29 35 397 360 1.103 224 2660 2753.5 0.966
30 32 340 397 0.856 230 2581 2878.2 0.897
31 24 296 340 0.871 209 2196 2591.0 0.848
32 25 225 287 0.784 196 1903 2386.8 0.797
33 18 209 186 1.124 165 1728 1982.8 0.872
34 30 323 369 0.875 146 1498 1740.3 0.861
35 14 94 147 0.639 122 1025 1387.7 0.739
36 14 162 226 0.717 90 862 1153.8 0.747
37 2 11 25 0.440 64 520 814.3 0.639
38 10 78 123 0.634 49 394 576.5 0.683
39 5 29 45 0.644 32 309 406.8 0.760
40+ 5 19 34 0.559 38 261 482.7 0.541
378 3985 4296 0.928 2640 28598 30433.5 0.940

Pitchers 2010 and 2004-2010:

2010 Total
Age # WS EWSL % # WS EWSL %
21- 1 5 13 0.385 10 73 56.0 1.304
22 6 69 33 2.091 33 265 206.6 1.283
23 6 46 32 1.438 62 462 405.8 1.139
24 13 111 89 1.247 104 756 661.4 1.143
25 21 161 126 1.278 163 1162 1036.4 1.121
26 40 306 288 1.063 204 1386 1290.2 1.074
27 36 210 242 0.868 192 1248 1373.6 0.909
28 27 157 184 0.853 189 1279 1362.3 0.939
29 22 148 192 0.771 177 1147 1341.3 0.855
30 14 71 97 0.732 170 1021 1220.4 0.837
31 28 151 243 0.621 160 963 1226.5 0.785
32 16 93 108 0.861 120 742 945.5 0.785
33 17 125 153 0.817 99 559 786.3 0.711
34 13 89 85 1.047 83 462 570.6 0.810
35 9 72 63 1.143 61 307 406.2 0.756
36 5 13 23 0.565 51 277 315.2 0.879
37 5 23 34 0.676 42 263 325.3 0.808
38 5 35 29 1.207 42 282 339.0 0.832
39 2 11 13 0.846 29 208 241.3 0.862
40+ 6 33 58 0.569 68 463 652.3 0.710
292 1929 2105 0.916 2059 13325 14762.1 0.903

A couple of the older-age cohorts did well, which of course is partly attributable to small sample sizes – the 33-year-old hitters had a great year, led by Aubrey Huff, Alex Gonzalez and Mark Ellis as well as better bounce-backs than projected from Travis Hafner, Troy Glaus and AJ Pierzynski. The 34-year-old pitchers were bouyed by Tim Hudson and Carl Pavano, the 35-year-olds by Hiroki Kuroda, Koji Uehara, Livan Hernandez (whose actual age remains indeterminate) and the healthy-again Chris Carpenter, and the 38 year old pitchers were carried single-handedly by Billy Wagner.
On the other hand, it was a brutally tough year for some of the age brackets here, especially the 35-and-over hitters. And as you can see, not every age cohort is uniform – the 35 year old hitters were a fairly weak group, compared to the star-studded 36-year-olds, but both lost a whole bunch of value.
The real patterns can be found in the multi-year results. What has interested me the past few years is whether there is an actual change in aging patterns since baseball started cracking down on steroids – suspensions (full list here) began in 2005 and enforcement began in earnest in 2006, but I didn’t start noticing a change in the trends until after the 2008 season. So I gathered the 2004-07 results against the 2008-10 results…the comparison was somewhat inconclusive on its face, so I won’t bother you with the numbers, but I noticed something that is – on reflection – not that surprising: when comparing the 2004-07 sample to the 2008-10 sample, the proportionally smaller (per-year) group tended to do better. In other words, for example, the 30-year-old hiters held 86.2% of their value in 2004-07 compared to 95.9% in 2008-10, but 30-year-olds made up 9.58% of the hitters in the earlier group and 7.53% in the later group.
When I backed the numbers out, I noticed that (excluding rookies), 23-28 year olds made up 36.88% of the hitters in my preseason depth charts in 2004-07, compared to 42.92% in 2008-10, while the proportion of 35-and-up hitters dropped off from 16.47% to 12.9%. Among the pitchers, the proportion of pitchers age 27 and under rose from 34.97% to 40.46% over the same period, while pitchers age 34 and up dropped from 19.59% to 16.46%. Put simply, as we move away from the steroid age, fewer older players are hanging on at the margins. The results are not so dramatic as to compel me to draw a conclusion, but they certainly suggest that if we’re looking for a shift in aging patterns, it may crop up less in the arc of player performance than in what we don’t see – more guys losing jobs or hanging it up, perhaps due to injury, who might have found ways before to prolong their productive years.
Anyway, we wrap up with the rookie adjustments, which don’t really require much comment:

Type of Player # in 2010 WS in 2010 # 2004-10 WS 2004-10 Rate
Everyday Players 8 82 66 711 10.77
Bench Players (Under 30) 4 2 66 253 3.83
Bench Players (Age 30+) 0 0 4 3 0.75
Rotation Starters 4 25 32 138 4.31
Relief Pitchers 3 10 18 96 5.33
TOTAL 19 119 186 1201 6.46

2010 EWSL Wrapup By Team

My annual division roundups, using Established Win Shares Levels (explained at the beginning and end of this post), are disastrously overdue, part of the general fallout of difficult personal times – between wrapping up my brother’s estate following his sudden death in November and my dad’s severe (and not unrelated) decline in health since the end of 2010, I’ve been up to my eyeballs in everything but time to spend on my job, family and blogging. Naturally, my baseball blog posts take the brunt of that – it’s one thing to write about politics or music, since most of the time that takes is the writing time, but most of my baseball stuff requires a lot more investment of time crunching numbers.
That said, in the next few weeks I intend to get the EWSL “previews” done, maybe more of them than usual after Opening Day, if for no other reason than continuity in what is now a long-running project – the 2010 numbers are all in the spreadsheets now. To kick that off, here is the annual chart breaking down how the 2010 EWSL previews compared to each team’s actual results (see prior charts for 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006 and 2005).
Key for the chart, by columns:
EWSL: Each team’s “projected” 2010 wins by EWSL.
Wins: Actual 2010 wins.
Team Age: Weighted average age of each team’s preseason 23-man “roster” weighted by raw EWSL.
2010 WS: Win Shares earned in 2010 by those 23 players, expressed in Wins (WS/3).
W +/-: The number of wins by which 2010 WS exceeded – or fell short of – EWSL. Basically, if EWSL is the expected baseline for each player’s performance, this column tells you which teams did better or worse than could be projected from the talent of the 23 players on hand that I included in the preview. Since the main purpose of this exercise is to evaluate how well EWSL fared as a predictor of team performance (as I’ve noted repeatedly, it’s not actually a prediction system, just a fairly rough way of evaluating talent on hand), I’ve ranked the chart by this column.
Rest: The number of wins (WS/3) earned by players on that team who were not in the preseason previews. Basically, this column tells you how much each team got out of players who weren’t on my preseason radar, either because I guessed wrong who would make up the depth chart or because they brought people in by trade, from the minors or elsewhere who ended up being significant contributors. My 2010 EWSL “wins” worked from an assumption that the average team would earn about 13 wins from the rest of the roster, so you have to bear that average in mind when comparing this column to expected results.
Here are the results:

Team EWSL Wins Team Age 2010 WS W +/- Rest
CIN 71 91 30.1 93 22 11
TOR 64 85 29.4 86 21 12
SD 70 90 29.1 85 15 18
CHW 81 88 30.0 94 13 7
ATL 84 91 29.9 93 9 11
STL 84 86 29.8 89 5 10
NYY 97 95 31.9 100 4 8
PHI 96 97 31.8 99 3 11
CHC 81 75 30.7 84 3 4
TEX 80 90 28.3 83 3 20
OAK 79 81 27.9 81 3 13
HOU 74 76 31.6 76 3 13
TB 93 96 28.3 94 1 15
SF 83 92 29.9 82 0 23
ANA 83 80 30.1 82 -2 11
MIN 94 94 29.0 92 -2 15
WAS 70 69 29.5 66 -3 16
CLE 66 69 27.5 62 -4 20
MIL 81 77 30.0 76 -5 14
COL 88 83 29.5 82 -5 14
LA 90 80 30.5 83 -6 10
DET 81 81 29.2 75 -6 19
BAL 74 66 29.6 67 -7 12
KC 74 67 28.7 66 -8 14
FLA 83 80 27.3 75 -8 18
PIT 61 57 28.1 50 -11 20
BOS 102 89 31.1 89 -13 13
NYM 85 79 29.8 71 -13 21
AZ 89 65 27.6 71 -18 7
SEA 86 61 29.9 58 -28 16

A few notes:
-As usual, EWSL did about what you’d expect: it got half the teams within 5 wins of the results for their rosters, was way, way off on a handful at either end, and didn’t really have any way of projecting what teams would add to their preseason depth charts.
-The Reds, Blue Jays, Padres and White Sox easily outstripped every other team in getting more from the players on their preseason depth charts than you’d expect. The Mariners and D-Backs fell the furthest short (EWSL had the Mariners as a first-place team, which is about the largest possible error, and Arizona as a strong second). The Mets, even with some fairly tempered expectations, also fell pretty far short, thanks to getting a lot less than projected from Beltran, Castillo, Francouer and (ugh) Mike Jacobs.
-The Mets were, however, second only to the Giants in finding help from unexpected quarters, in the Mets’ case the youth movement led by Ike Davis and the scrap heap brigade led by RA Dickey. The Giants came in almost exactly where EWSL had the 23 guys on their depth chart; their surprising run to World Champions was driven by additions/promotions like Buster Posey, Pat Burrell, Madison Bumgarner, and Santiago Casilla). The A’s, for once, were not leaders in getting extra help. The Cubs, White Sox, Yankees and D-Backs got almost nothing from anybody but the people on their preseason depth charts (other than Arizona, this was an unsurprising byproduct of having a roster already full of older established players with a firm grip on their jobs and a settled bench and bullpen – the three oldest teams, the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies, all relied heavily on the people who started the season with a job).
-MLB-wide, teams earned 1247 Win Shares, or 41.57 per team, from the rest of their rosters. 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)
Total: 7164 (39.80)
That may partly reflect that I’ve gotten worse over the years at projecting teams’ core rosters, but on the whole, it does indicate at least some sort of rising trend from 2007 on in teams getting slightly more from second-line players, prospects and trade acquisitions than from their Opening Day rosters.

One Sporting Event

Tom Bevan passed along on Twitter this column asking what one sporting event you’d go back in time to attend in person if you could, and making the case for the first Ali-Frazier fight.
It’s a tough question. I’d immediately discount any event I actually did watch live on TV, like Game Six of the 1986 World Series, the 1980 Miracle on Ice, or the Giants’ three Super Bowl victories. My first reaction was to pick Game Seven of the 1960 World Series over some of the more impressive individual achievements like Don Larsen’s perfect game or Wilt’s 100-point game (of which film doesn’t survive), or classics like Bobby Thomson’s home run, but I think after kicking this around with some others on Twitter I’d probably settle with Game Seven of the 1912 World Series, which just had amazing team and individual drama and a chance to watch some of the greats of the pre-film era (Christy Mathewson, Tris Speaker, Smokey Joe Wood) in their primes.

Whither Wright?

Matthew Artus has a great look at the statistical indicators on David Wright’s future production.
The buried lede: unless I’m misreading the chart, does the Fangraphs data actually say that the percentage of pitches thrown in the strike zone declined steadily leaguewide from 55.1% in 2004 to 46.5% in 2010? That’s an enormous change and pretty much the opposite of what you would expect during a period of declining home run production. I wonder how much of that is attributable to changing pitching patterns and how much may be in some way a collateral consequence of narrower strike zone measurement due to QuesTec.

Wilmer the Kid

While he’s an interesting story in his own right, Wilmer Flores will be an intriguing guy to watch to see (1) what the short-term impact of Sandy Alderson replacing Omar Minaya is on the Mets’ player-development philosophy and (2) what the Mets think of the future of the vaunted left side of their infield.
As to the former, while this is his fourth year in pro ball, Flores doesn’t turn 20 until August (assuming his birthdate in Venezuela is correctly reported), so there is no immediate rush to promote him, and like the early years of Fernando Martinez’ prospect career there’s a tendency to grade Flores’ offensive output on the curve on grounds of being young for his leagues. After a strong year at age 16 in rookie ball and a weak one at 17 in the Sally League, Flores had a classic F-Mart season last year, hitting .289/.333/.424 between low and high A ball, belting a strong 36 doubles (with 11 homers) but otherwise doing nothing on the basepaths (4 steals in 9 tries) and struggling with the strike zone (32 BB, 77 K), both patterns throughout his minor league career.
In other words, a guy who will need a good deal more seasoning to move from a live young bat – .289 and 50 extra base hits is nothing to sneeze at from an 18-year-old – to a productive hitter. Minaya’s philosophy was to keep pushing guys like that up the ladder to challenge them, but sometimes being challenged all the time prevents you from developing enough mastery to expand your skills. I tend to think Flores should be allowed to become a star in the low minors before he gets fast-tracked.
Apparently the Mets plan to promote Flores to AA this season, and Terry Collins is drooling over his ability to advance swiftly as a shortsop. That’s not actually that encouraging, but it may be part of a broader team effort to motivate Jose Reyes to have a good walk year (or a tacit recognition that the post-Madoff Mets may not have the money to sign Reyes). The problem with Flores is that he’s projected as either a SS or 3B, and of course the Mets are set at 3B, and moving Reyes to 2B was already tried disastrously once before.

Wieters and PECOTA

David Pinto looks at the suddenly pessimistic PECOTA projection for Matt Wieters. But as the Hardball Times’ Colin Wyers explained back in the spring of 2009, it was PECOTA that artificially inflated expectations of Wieters’ immediate success in the first place, because the model used bad adjustments for the two minor leagues he played in in 2008.
Even the best formulas are subject to the old “garbage in, garbage out” rule. Wieters remains a promising young player, and it’s not that unusual for a third-year player to bust out after taking a step backwards. That said, clearly his performance last season makes it less likely that he will become a Piazza-style dominant offensive force. Perhaps the Orioles’ most important task as an organization this season is to make sure Wieters isn’t dragged down by the disarray around him. Having Buck Showalter’s energetic and competent management and the positive veteran role model of Derrek Lee may help (although Wieters hit just .255/.313/.389 after Showalter took over last season).

Pettitte Retires

So, the Yankees go on without Andy Pettitte, which creates some real issues for their rotation. More on all that to follow. A few quick thoughts:
-Hey, you know who has a career record of 5-1 with a 2.59 ERA against the Yankees? Oliver Perez. Maybe they should check that guy out. (Somewhat more seriously, Jonah Keri suggests Barry Zito).
-Pettitte will make a very interesting Hall of Fame case, especially given two things: the PED issue and the fact that he started a staggering 42 postseason games (263 postseason innings, compared to 3055 in the regular season). Pettitte ends 102 games above .500; Bob Caruthers of the old American Association of the 1880s (218-99) remains the only eligible pitcher not in the Hall to finish 100 games over .500 (27 pitchers have done it; the others not in are Clemens, Randy Johnson, Maddux, Pedro, Mussina and Glavine; the furthest over .500 by a 20th century pitcher not in is Sam Leever at 194-100). Ranked by Quality Innings (ERA+ times IP), Pettitte ranks 111th among the 245 pitchers to win 150 or more games, but that’s without counting his postseason work and without adjusting for the declining workloads of modern starters.

Perfect Fit

Rafael Soriano to the Yankees is a perfect marriage of player and team. Let us count the ways.
1) The 31 year old Soriano‘s an outstanding pitcher, with a career ERA+ of 156 (165 in his years in the AL), and last year’s 0.6 HR/9, 2.0 BB/9, 8.2 K/9 line, while a little off his career mark in the strikeout department, is more than adequate to sustain continued pitching at a high level. Granted, Soriano benefitted from a bizarrely low .199 BABIP, which is unsustainable, but his career mark of .243 across three organizations (2009’s .281 was his only even semi-full season above .260) suggests some degree of ability to influence that line. (This is not unheard-of with short relievers; Mariano has a career BABIP of .263 and has only been over .300 once – 2007, when he posted an uncharacteristic 3.15 ERA – despite being a groundball pitcher working in front of frequently subpar defensive infields).
2) Signing Soriano takes him away from the Rays.
3) Both sides get Mariano Rivera insurance; the Yankees sign a potential successor closer, but Soriano gets options to bail out of the deal after the first year or two if Mo looks like he’s going to go on like this forever.
4) The Yankees, with their vast budget, are uniquely situated to absorb the inherent injury risks carried by a guy with Soriano’s checkered (to put it mildly) injury history (Soriano missed most of the 2004, 2005 and 2008 seasons).
5) By bringing in a guy who’s capable of being a top-tier setup man and emergency closer, the Yankees take the heat off Joba (and to a lesser extent Hughes, although Hughes is now fairly well-entrenched in the rotation); the Yankees can focus more on dealing Joba or putting him where he will thrive best, rather than being driven by team needs.

The New Cap

Let me tell you, spring training cannot come soon enough.
I’m actually talking myself into some measure of enthusiasm for the Mets’ signing of Chris Capuano to be their, um, fourth third starter or third fourth starter, depending how you look at things.
It’s hard to get too excited about Capuano; he has started just nine games in the past three seasons due to multiple Tommy John surgeries after going 5-12 with a 5.10 ERA (including a 6.08 ERA in his last 22 appearances, 18 of them starts, in which the Brewers went 0-22; they were 83-57 in their other games) in 2007. As with last season’s acquisition of Kelvim Escobar, there’s a decent chance that Capuano’s health will prevent him from contributing anything at all (even if he comes to camp 100% healthy, guys with that kind of track record can unravel without warning).
That said, there is every reason to believe that Capuano can still pitch, if healthy. His per-9 averages of 1.2 HR, 2.9 BB and 7.4 K after his June return are consistent with a solid pitcher who can hold down a #3 spot in a decent rotation and are right in line with his career averages. And he has the best pickoff move in the NL, maybe in baseball, having allowed just 14 steals in 27 attempts in 777.2 career innings, while generating 62 double play balls; if the Mets can settle on a decent defensive second baseman, that could help him a lot. It’s something of a concern that Capuano has had huge home-road splits; career at Miller Park he’s allowed a homer every 35.7 plate appearances and opponents’ batting average on balls in play is a very low .283, while on the road those numbers are a homer every 26.5 PA and a .322 BABIP. But while Miller Park may not be the best place for righthanded power hitters to hit, it’s not a particularly severe pitchers’ park, and the power alleys in Citi should help (then again, while NL Central pitchers spend a lot of their road games in tough hitters’ parks, Capuano has pitched well over the years in Houston, Chicago and Cincinnati; where he’s struggled has been New Busch and PNC. Capuano’s never pitched at Citi Field).
Anyway, if healthy, Capuano seems a solid bet for a ERA below 4.50 (career xFIP, including pitching hurt in 2007: 4.27) and a respectable shot at an ERA in the mid to high threes, which is more than enough to hang around .500 with a decent offensive team and win a bunch of games with a good offense. For a scrap heap pickup with a base salary of $1.5 million, the Mets could do worse.

Power and Speed

Joe Posnanski and Jim Caple, both of whom I respect, argue that steroid use is indistinguishable, for Hall of Fame purposes, from amphetamines, which we know to have been prevalent in years past and undoubtedly used by many players now enshrined in Cooperstown. I disagree.
I’ve explained previously here and as far back as 2002 why I didn’t think steroid users should be held out of the Hall of Fame, and here why I tend to mistrust the agendas of a lot of people on both sides of the question who write on this issue. So, don’t confuse this for an apologetic for sportswriters’ preening and highly selective outrage on the topic. On the other hand, I remain utterly unconvinced by the claim that steroids do not aid performance in baseball.
But it’s a vast oversimplification to argue that amphetamines and steroids are exactly the same, or that the distinction between the two is totally illogical. An amphetamine is, basically, a mind-altering drug, like alcohol or caffeine or marijuana – you take it, it has an effect, the effect wears off unless you take more. (Once upon a time, the military used to give it to pilots). Steroids, by contrast, alter the very structure of your body, enabling the growth of more muscle tissue. On some level, taking steroids changes you, not just your daily mood or perception or energy level.
Is this an oversimplified distinction? Sure. Both mind- and body-altering drugs basically screw with your body chemistry, and given the physiological connection between brain and body it would be silly to overstate the distinction or ignore how things like speed and booze affect your motor skills. And it’s also true that while steroids have persistent effects, they’re not indefinite – guys who go off the juice are rarely able to sustain the same level of muscle mass, and tend to either sort of deflate or get fat.
But distinctions of this nature are not at all unusual in the way we draw moral, ethical, legal and practical rules, which are often based on the way our moral intuition interacts with our practical experiences after considering a variety of factors, rather than making rules based solely on one-line logical syllogisms. There are reasons why we have laws against pot and not booze or cigarettes, and while you can disagree with the distinctions of degree involved, those distinctions are not meaningless. It’s not irrational at all to see the alteration of the structure of the body by illegal and dangerous substances as a step too far, even compared to taking mind/mood altering drugs on game day. It’s also not irrational to look at some of the really unusual career paths of some known steroid users and see no parallel to a similarly dramatic effect discernible among amphetamine users.
Should we ban steroid users from the Hall? No. But is it crazy to treat them as more problematic than guys who took speed? Not at all.