Wednesday, April 23, 2014

2014: COMPLETE GAMES #9, #10

Two more complete games last night (actually, it's this night, but we missed the witching hour due to a switching problem).

We'll have to do some more research to determine who was the last person to have two consecutive complete games before Johnny Cueto did it earlier today (that's April 21st). At the moment we're guessing that it was Roy Halladay.

Meanwhile, the Giants' Madison Bumgarner had one of those "complete game losses," dropping a 2-1 decision to the Rockies in Colorado.

We can more easily research the question of who's had the most complete game losses in a single season. Using data from Forman et fils dating back to 1914, that record appears to be owned by Elmer Myers, who had nineteen (yes, 19!!) complete game losses in 1916. (Myers had a total of 23 losses for the Philadelphia A's that year, who wound up 36-117 for the season, just two year after having been in the World Series.)

Of course, in recent years, those totals have been much lower: last season, Chris Sale, R.A. Dickey, and James Shields led MLB with two complete game losses. Brandon McCarthy had four of 'em in 2011.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

ALBERT PUJOLS' 500TH & THE % OF HOMERS HIT FROM AGE 30 ON

With Phat Albert (a nickname only a motherless child could love) hitting the 500 HR level this evening, we need to take a quick (and possibly dirty...) look at just where he might wind up when his career winds down.

Now we're not here to use Bill James' favorite toy (and, yes, we're leaving out the capital letters that Bill has favored when developing the more informal tools in his icebox...better that you were the e.e. cummings of sabermetrics, Bill, than one of those fellows who SHOUTS due to "caps lock-jaw"). We don't want no stinking probabilities.

Better to concoct a number via a collective group-grab, by looking at all of the top homer hitters through age 29 and calculating several "percentage relationships" to get a sense of what these sluggers do in their 30s.

The key "percentage relationship" (watch out now, this may soon become an oh-so-salient term in online dating...) is deceptively simple: it's the number of HRs hit from age 30 as a percentage of total HRs hit.

Just off the top of your heads, kiddies: tell us whom you think hit the most percentage of his HRs from age 30 on? And the least?

Does the highly prolific (read: 500+) HR hitter hit a higher percentage of his HRs from age 30+ than the merely average prolific HR hitter (those who occupy slots 27-100 on the all-time HR list)?

Let's answer the last question first. It looks like the more HRs you hit, the more of them you're likely to hit from age 30 on. The top 25 HR hitters (Albert is #26 at the moment, but we're leaving him out of this for purposes of the calculation...) have hit just a tad more than half their lifetime HRs once they turn 30. (The exact percentage is 50.2%). The hitters in that next echelon (335 to 493 HRs) hit a much smaller percentage of their lifetime HR total from age 30 on. (That exact percentage is 40.9%.)

The hitter with the highest percentage of HRs hit from age 30 on? It's our old friend, the Hall of Fame pariah Rafael Palmeiro, with 73%. Raffy hit 414 of his 569 lifetime HR total from the age of 30 on.

That total is good for third place on the all-time 30+ HR chart. Who's first? Why, Barry Bonds, of course (503). Babe Ruth is a distant second with 430 HRs from age 30 on. Bonds hit 66% of his HRs after turning 30.

Of the 500+ HR hitters, who hit the lowest percentage of his bombs beginning at age 30? It's Eddie Mathews, with only 28%. Jimmie Foxx (29%) and Mickey Mantle (30%).

The aggregate is 44% of the HRs hit by the top 100 HR hitters were hit from age 30 on. So we can say that the relationship is 88% of the HR totals hit through age 29 will he hit in the thirties. The player closest to that model is Frank Robinson, who hit 262 HRs (45%) from age 30 on.

Albert Pujols hit 366 HRs through age 29. Using 88% of that total as the projection, we come up with a total of 324 more HRs over the balance of his career, which would bring his lifetime total to 690. Given his slowdown from ages 30-33, however, we don't expect that he'll come close to that figure: it's more likely to be in the mid 600s.

We'll put the whole list out there for you a bit later in the season.


Monday, April 21, 2014

"PURPOSE PITCH" 42/43: THE FRACTAL FRIZZ OF BEN (HAIR BALL BRAND, MUDVILLE BRAND)

You probably haven't thought about the connection between the Mandlebrot set and Oscar Gamble's afro, but we're here to tell you that...

...Ben Sakoguchi hasn't either.

But by now you know that he could have, anytime he wanted to.

We are now entering the half-world of pure baseball extremity, where crackpots and visionaries merge in the gloaming that Gabby Hartnett wrought, where improbable products become niche industries that thrive despite all odds, altering surfaces even as they seep into the pores of the half-conscious mind.

Hair Ball Brand brings us one highly singular Shrine of the Eternals inductee (Dock Ellis) and two matter-of-fact masters of "alternative natural apparel" (Oscar Gamble, who is rumored to have once blown a bubble gum bubble that matched the circumference of his hairdo; and Johnny Damon, who should have donated his hair to the Jimmy Fund when he cut it all off after abandoning Boston for New York).

Did Oscar start hitting homers when he grew that Afro? Possibly, but the real reason might have been his switch to the American League. He really liked hitting in Yankee Stadium (.969 OPS). Gamble was arguably the last great platoon superstar to play for the Bronx Bombers. Interestingly, he also hit like a madman when he played against the Yankees (.992 OPS).

By contrast, Johnny Damon simply had the Caveman look (aided immeasurably by those Geico® commercials that first aired during his tenure with the Red Sox). He was a much more orthodox ballplayer than Gamble, despite the freewheeling image. He could hit and field and run, with his only vice being his ongoing delusion that if he amassed 3000 hits, he'd wind up in the Hall of Fame. He wound up 231 hits shy of that mark, and he's likely more of a lugnut than a Cooperstown plaque recipient.

Perhaps Johnny would have found a way to get over the hump had he only been given the opportunity to "take the cure." You know, that all-over rejuvenation on display in Mudville Brand. While also bringing us in contact with Shrine inductee Jim (Mudcat) Grant, Ben's painting celebrates the many uses of mud in the little world of baseball.

And that means Lena Blackburne's mysterious concoction, the so-called "secret sauce" of baseball, where the sheen of the ball is smoothed and molded via the "goop" from Blackburne's personal swamp.   Nearly three-quarters of a century later, this concoction from the Jersey side of the Delaware River is still the only game in town for MLB.

So while Mighty Casey may have brought natural air conditioning to Mudville with his epic whiff, there's joy to found in the land of slop after all. After all--much more so than hope, mud springs eternal.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

2014: COMPLETE GAME #8

Henderson Alvarez, who rolled out his third lifetime CG--all of them shutouts, one a no-hitter (on the final day of the '13 season)--to give us a total of eight thus far in '14, clearly likes his new home ballpark a good bit more than his previous one.

Alvarez' lifetime ERA in Toronto's Rogers Center (where he toiled from 2011-12) is 4.68, while his ERA at Marlins Park in Miami (eleven GS beginning last year) is now at 3.47. 

His CG today was a two-hitter against the Seattle Mariners. Alvarez was particularly efficient, as is increasingly the case in CGs during our pitch count-conscious age: he threw only 90 pitches.

It's clear from his splits data that he's going to have to find a way to get left-handed batters out if he's going to be a successful starter in the big leagues. 

"PURPOSE PITCH" 41: THE ARBITRAGE OF BEN (MAN IN BLACK BRAND)

It's rare for Ben Sakoguchi to insert an "asynchronous" popular culture reference into his baseball paintings. (If you're just joining us, these are also known as The Unauthorized History of Baseball and there are fifty-four of them currently on display in the Baseball Reliquary's "Purpose Pitch" exhibition--through April 29--at the Arcadia Public Library).

By "asynchronous," we mean a reference that is significantly displaced from the time frame of the event being depicted, or from the life and times of the subject. Usually these are rather tightly aligned, but here, in Man in Black Brand, Ben ties pioneering African-American umpire Emmett Ashford (whose "historical moment" occurred in the mid-1960s) with a fanciful, post-integration comedy-action film franchise (Men in Black) starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones.

Ben is doubly playful here. "Man in Black" refers both to the hue of Mr. Ashford's skin and to the color of his uniform.

Ben also captures the flamboyant nature of Mr. Ashford's approach to his work, which was occasionally derided in the press.

Some fifty years hence, however, we only remember his pioneering spirit and his enthusiastic exuberance for his chosen line of work.

Ben matches that exuberance with his own flamboyant use of color, a dynamic sense of composition, and an eye-catching use of the airbrush.

Place name check: Ben continues to delight in the arcane and forgotten locations in California. Black Diamond is a community that no longer exists, being the original name for the town in the northern portion of the East Bay that is now called Pittsburg. Its only remnant, as you'll see if you visit the Facebook page devoted to it, is one of the town's main thoroughfares, which is named Black Diamond Blvd.

Friday, April 18, 2014

2014: COMPLETE GAME #7

It occurred tonight (4/18), in the game between the Rangers and the White Sox, a 12-0 rout for Texas, behind the three-hit pitching of lefty Martin Perez.

Perez is off to a terrific start: he's now 3-0, with a 1.86 ERA. He's not going to be nearly that good over the course of a full season, but he is likely to be a useful pitcher for the Rangers.

"PURPOSE PITCH" 38/39/40: THE "LARGER THAN LIFE" OF BEN (PO' BOY BRAND, HOMESTEAD BRAND, JACKIE ROBINSON BRAND)

Keep in mind that the Baseball Reliquary "brain trust" (Terry Cannon and Albert "Buddy" Kilchesty) are as savvy about aesthetics as they are about history.

That's one reason why the works on display for "Purpose Pitch," their special exhibition of selected works from Ben Sakoguchi's Unauthorized History of Baseball series (now winding down its run at the Arcadia Public Library) blend these two attributes.

Which explains why these three larger-than-life compositions have been included in the series.

The deep roots of pre-integration African-American baseball are exemplified here--and the variations in personality amongst the individuals who represent the spirit of those times.

There is freewheeling, self-propagating legend in Satchel Paige. Ben captures the languid lankiness of Paige, that self-possessed meta-meditativeness which "littery men" (Mark Twain again, always looking askance at those who won't rise up from the cavilries of journalism like to call "preternatural cool."

Ben blurs it, just enough to leach out the photo-realism, but he doesn't soften the image by doing so. Satch looks tired, resigned, but also determined and proud.

There is the communitarian element in the African-American subculture of those times, as shown in the circle of youth paying rapt attention to Josh Gibson--the centerpiece of the Homestead Grays, the New York Yankees of the Negro Leagues.

Josh looks weathered (it's the shadowing effect that Ben employs...) but he is bringing hope and pride to young boys who will soon be given a chance that never came his way--an opportunity (however cloaked in difficulty) to play major league baseball.

And that brings us, once again, to Jackie Robinson. (Just a few days ago, MLB continued its tradition of honoring Jackie's entry into the majors with a day where all players wear his #42--it's one of the few unalloyed successes in the Bud Selig era.)

You could call this one "the three stages of Jackie." There's the junior college basketball star; the electrifying running back for UCLA; and the established superstar on the most successful franchise in the National League during the 1950s.

We wouldn't be surprised to discover that this painting of Jackie is Terry Cannon's favorite. It's bold, direct, and simple. It covers a great deal of ground in a minimum amount of time. The expression on Jackie's face is one of deep but vigilant pride, a self-realization captured in the glint of an eye, revealing to us that  the man knows he embodies adversity, extremity and otherness all at once, each force coursing through both his mind and his bloodstream in an equal but oscillating measure.

It shows how a man can reflect on the forces in his life that propel him toward his destiny.