Wednesday, July 30, 2014

WORLD SERIES WALKOFF GAMES

All this continuing parity (though it's slipping a bit in the AL, what with the A's and the Angels pushing over the .600 mark...) has given us an ever-so-slight case of ADD. Or, to rework a very old phrase: in late July, a not-so-young man's fancy turns to the World Series.

So we went to Forman et fils, where you can do a lot more than Bill James seems to think you can, and we teased out all of the World Series walkoff games. (We left out the other playoff games, but at some point we might be induced to go back and look at them.)

Now we haven't had the time to go back and see if the walkoff winners in these games (aside from the six times that the walkoff game came in the final game: the seventh--or, in one instance--the eighth game; we hope to have some time for that presently and we will follow up.

The handy chart (at right) will show you in what year these games occurred and in what game(s) they occurred in those given years.

As you'll doubtless remember, the 1991 World Series was especially prolific in walkoff games, with a total of four. 2001 was right behind with three. Three other World Series had two walkoff games: 1924; 1975--including the Carlton Fisk homer in Game 6; and 1988-- one being the Kirk Gibson homer in Game 1.

We don't show it in the chart, but Game 3 is the most prolific in terms of walkoff games, with 13. Game  6 is next, with 11. Game 5 is the least prolific, with just three walkoffs.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

1976: DAN EPSTEIN ON HANK AARON'S LAST HOME RUN

Run to your computers (wait a minute, you're already on your computers...) and double-click yourself into a copy of Dan Epstein's latest book Stars and Strikes, which is a reedy but resonant look at baseball back in America's contradiction-riddled bicentennial year (also known as 1976).

Dan weaves a nice tale, leaving lots of nicely frayed threads that he pulls through his narrative, making him the breezy Balzac of collective baseball biography. His winning formula is clearly based on the famous line from Edie Brickell's big hit "What I Am" ("Choke me in the shallow water before I get too deep"), but he passes the Big Test by remaining consistently skeptical in his approach to baseball's ownership class.

Sprinkled throughout the book are anecdotes that remind us of the arrogance of that elite (who weren't quite hip to the notion that if they just took a few lumps, they'd wind up with fifty times as much revenue than before...) and how it is not simply a distant echo in our own parlous times. One of the most revealing is this passage which details the type of strong-arm tactics that people in power like to play whenever something doesn't go their way. Here is Dan on the arm-twist aftermath of Hank Aaron's 755th (and final) home run:

Hank's 755th home run ball was retrieved from an empty seat in the left field stands at County Stadium by Dick Arndt, a part-time member of the Brewers' grounds crew, whose main duties involved opening and closing the left field gate for the bullpen cart.

Harry Gill, the team's head groundskeeper, asked Arndt to hand over the ball; in exchange for it, thre Brewers offered to give Arndt a photo of him returning it to Aaron, as well as a different ball autographed by the Home Run King and one of his bats. 

Arndt said he wanted to think about it overnight, and left County Stadium without returning the ball. 

He was fired the next day for taking Brewers property; the club also deducted the $5 cost of the ball from his paycheck.

Despite Aaron's subsequent requests for the ball's return, Arndt chose to hold on to it; the Home Run King would never get his final home run ball back.

While opinions vary about the etiquette of event-laden souvenirs and the monetary value attached to them, there's no doubt that the Brewers' management was not only over the line in their actions, but acting illegally. It's too bad that Arndt didn't sue them.

And do keep in mind that the owner of the Milwaukee Brewers at that time was none other than Bud Selig (the man we call Budzilla). Thanks to Dan Epstein for reminding us that the BS Era began well before he was given the opportunity to (further) besmirch the Commissioner's Office.

[NOTE: For the followup on what finally happened to Aaron's 755th home run ball, read Jerry Crowe's 2007 Los Angeles Times article.]

Sunday, July 27, 2014

2014: COMPLETE GAME #66

We are suddenly back in business with respect to the record for fewest CGs in a season.

MLB went thirteen days between full-length CGs (at least 8 IP), which reduced the 2014 projection down to 103.

Some of this, of course, was due to the All-Star Break, which padded things by four days.

But that gap, which was finally closed when Clayton Kershaw tossed a two-hit shutout against the Giants on Saturday (7/26), is the greatest length of time between CGs in 2014.

The only stretch approaching it is the one that occurred at the beginning of the season.

At right is the day-by-chart for CGs in 2014. We've added them up by day of the week, and as you can see, Monday is the scarcest day (only two CGs).

(Days with one CG are shown in yellow; days with two CGs are shown in light orange; days with three CGs are shown in bright orange.)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

BOYCOTT THE HALL OF FAME & BBWAA FOR THEIR PUNITIVE, COWARDLY ACTS

The announcement today by the Hall of Fame that the BBWAA has voted to shrink the "length of ballot" time for eligible players to ten years is nothing more or less than a new low in the checkered histories of those two organizations.

This action is a punitive act of cowardice and deserves swift and lasting retribution from all fans.

Jeff Idelson, HOF president and consummate media hack, made a quintessentially lame attempt to justify the reduction based on an ersatz statistical analysis indicating that only about ten percent of all players are elected after their tenth year on the ballot, but the Prince of Smarm is not fooling anyone with such twaddle.

MLB to Barry and Roger: "The fix is REALLY in..."
It is clear that the HOF and the BBWAA have cooked up a scheme that will allow them to "pocket veto" the Hall of Fame voting to safely bypass the controversial election decisions that have evolved in the wake of "roid rage."

By reducing the length of time in such a way that penalizes everyone on the ballot now, rather than beginning the ten-year process for those entering the ballot in 2015, the HOF and BBWAA (and, of course, the outgoing puppetmaster and all-around skroink that we call Budzilla...) have tipped their hands, making it obvious that they intend to blackball Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

If even one player needs more than ten years to be elected, then it's clear that the system requires the ripeness of time that the originators crafted into the process. That's even more true in an age where there are more candidates due to the increase in the number of teams.

Instead, needing to circle wagons due to a growing sense that the Hall of Fame selection process is seriously flawed, the BBWAA and the HOF have gone into a collective squat and deposited a turd in the punchbowl.

In response, we urge all baseball fans to return the "favor" and boycott the Hall of Fame, its facilities, its products, and--in short--everything associated with this increasingly craven organization--until and unless they a) rescind this punitive, cowardly rule change and b) whatever surreal incarnation of a so-called "Veterans Committee" inducts Bonds and Clemens.

In short, do not give so much as a dime to these clowns. Make Cooperstown a ghost town until the jackasses who made this decision are forced to change the rule, formally apologize, and allowed to resign without severance pay.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

INDUCTION DAY AT THE RELIQUARY: THE "THREE FORCES" IN BALANCE

We are ~1200 miles away from Pasadena today (7/20), thus unable to savor the unique confluence of reason, passion and appetite that comes forth during the Baseball Reliquary's Shrine of the Eternals induction ceremony.

Today's festivities will differ from last year's in that none of the inductees will be present, but such has happened before without detriment to the depth of feeling or the off-center sense of connectedness that has been the hallmark of the Reliquary's induction affair since its beginnings in 1999.

We often speak of the three "elemental forces" at work within the selection criteria resulting in the specific individuals who emerge as Shrine inductees. These qualities separate them from other prospective candidates and--mostly--from those who are enshrined at Cooperstown.

Of the three forces--adversity, extremity, and otherness--it is the last one that seems to edge out its companions as the one with the most influence over the continually shifting voter population of the Reliquary. Executive Director Terry Cannon noted that even as some folk come and go in terms of their  participation in the "anti-organization's" activities, it seems that those who become attracted to it share a continuing desire to celebrate and honor those who are somehow "different," either ethnically or existentially.

That's not quite so much the case in 2014, however, as "otherness" plays a significant role in only one of this year's inductees. There is little "otherness" to be found in Dizzy Dean, despite his brash extremity, or in Don Zimmer, despite his valiant efforts to overcome the adversity of serious injury. Only in Rachel Robinson--Jackie's resilient, supportive wife--do we see such qualities manifested: in her gender (rarely intersecting at any fundamental level with the game) and in her ethnicity (what was clearly at the time an "out group").

In our own crude and subjective measures of the forces as they apply to the yearly inductees, 2014 is the lowest year for "otherness" since 2009, and it is also one of least intense years with respect to the three forces in the history of the Shrine (least intense years by our measures: 2010, 2002, 2012, 2014; most intense years: 2004, 1999, 2005, 2011).

We can see the overall ascendancy of "otherness" in our running three-year chart of the forces. And we can see the decrease in intensity and the overall coming into balance (at least for the 2012-14 three-year sample, at any rate) of all three forces.

Now, does this mean something--or, for that matter, anything? Quantifying these forces might be seen as going too far; they contain enough nebulousness and overlap to become confounding. We also don't want to intimate that "lack of intensity" in terms of these forces constitutes any kind of value judgment on the inductee selections themselves. There are no truly extreme outliers in the Shrine inductees based on this type of quantification; any value judgments directed at individuals are left to those who wish to find other characteristics with which to do so.

The Baseball Reliquary will soon enter its third decade, and this is the one that we suspect will determine if it will emerge as a unique force in the national conversation about baseball, or whether it will find itself resigned to a colorful kind of "cult status." This year's Shrine ceremony will be a kind of holding pattern with respect to that, but the next few years will be the ones where those opportunities are likeliest to present themselves. As we wish Terry and Buddy (Kilchesty) and the Reliquary faithful a wonderful day in Pasadena today, we ready ourselves for our own followup to their ongoing "purpose pitch." Stay tuned.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

2014: RETURN OF THE "MATCHUP"? FELIX VS. GARRETT RICHARDS

The half-way world of starting pitcher "insurgence" that we've seen in 2014--marred as it is by a rash of injuries--has had one salutary benefit: the return of the glamorous, anticipation-inducing "starting pitcher matchup." Those ever-appropriative hipsters at Fangraphs have pushed into this territory with their consumerist "Watchability Index," which begs (as usual) for follow-through data measuring whether such measures actually track with what happens in the games that their system anoints.

But tonight (7/19), in what's now slotted in consumer-o-nomic lingo as "the second game of the second half," we do have a matchup with massive "anticipation potential." (The preceding sentences, BTW, have been sponsored by our good friends at "Fright Quotes R Us.")

What's that square-off? It's purely (and refreshingly) a West Coast phenomenon, with the upstart Seattle Mariners, defying some as-yet determined precepts of various loosely-related natural laws, are trying to compete with the money machine that "Anaheim Artie" Moreno (oops, another nickel residue-al to the feckless FQRU ex-felons...) has assembled down in the wilderland of Orange County. Many cylinders are firing for the Angels of late (.750 WPCT in their last 36 games), and one of these pounding pistons is pitcher Garrett Richards, who is nearing the crossroads where hot streaks meet genuine stardom.

Richards has had a serious uptick in performance that QMAX (aka the Quality Matrix...sorry, no fright quotes!) can help anatomize for us. Last year, Garrett scuffled around as the Halos remained purgatory-bound. As a starter (in 17 GS), he was hittable (just under 4.2 in the "S" score). His "top hit prevention" (S12) was just 29%, his "hit hard" (HH) was 35%. QMAX graded him out as a sub-.500 pitcher (.496).

That has all changed dramatically thus far in '14. Garrett is now the king of the "power precipice" (PP, the region at the upper right of the QMAX chart). His hit prevention figures have improved from 4.2 to 2.7 (yes, lower is better here, just like ERA). That improvement, should it hold up over the course of the whole season, would be one of the most dramatic in baseball history.

Richards has gotten wilder than was the case previously, but not in a way that is particularly alarming. Apparently, what he's done to induce lack of contact (and Garrett's K/9 is a prominent part of his improved hit prevention, rocketing up from 6.3 to 9.1) has had some effect on his command. Right now, though, he's living proof that power pitching can accommodate rough edges.

Tonight, however, Richards will match up against an undisputed ace. (You know someone is in that category when he can be referred to by his first name.) That name? Felix.

The M's kingpin is seemingly on his way to his best season yet, pushing his way into the sub-5 region of the QMAX measures (2.70 S/1.95 C = 4.65 T) and a series of QMAX range data values that have their own category of "fright quotes": 5% "hit hard" (HH), 75% "success square" (SS), 50% "elite square" (ES).

The ultimate QMAX measure, the QMAX Winning Percentage, which we (as you would expect) abbreviate as "QWP" (or "quip," for those who like vowels with their phonemes...) shows that Felix is raking at better than a .700 clip this season (.704 to be exact). That's enough to create some noticeable separation from Richards, who's cruising just a bit above .650 in the "gospel according to QWP."

Both pitchers have been scalding in their last seven starts. ERA comparison: Felix 1.36, Richards 1.45.

The M's, coming off a tough 16-inning loss last night in Anaheim, need their Kingpin to bowl over the Halos tonight. For Richards, it's a chance to make a statement about where he belongs in the pantheon of starting pitchers.

Don't miss it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

2014: COMPLETE GAMES #62, #63, #64, #65

We are catching up during the ASB on the cluster of CGs that occurred right before the break...with four full-length performances and one five-inning game (the Orioles Kevin Gausman vs. the floundering Yankees, a game to bookend with the short CG turned by Clayton Kershaw back on June 8th) to note here.

First, the oft-rejected Edinson Volquez, now with the Pirates, tossed the second CG of his career on 7/10 when his teammates put on a hitting show against the Cardinals in a 9-1 win. Still not quite resembling the pitcher who was so effective for the Reds back in 2008 (17-6, 3.21 ERA, 9.5 K/9), Volquez has nonetheless won his last four starts, fashioning an ERA of 0.90 over those games.

That same day, the aforementioned Kershaw went the distance against the Padres in a 2-1 win, striking out eleven. Clayton is 9-1 in his last ten starts with an ERA of 0.97.

On 7/11, one of the A's new rotation anchors, Jeff Samardzija, lost an eight-inning CG to the Mariners in Seattle, running up against M's ace Felix Hernandez. It was the thirteenth CG loss in 2014.

Two days later, Clay Buchholz, making his fourth start for the Red Sox since coming off the disabled list on June 25, tossed a three-hit shutout against the Houston Astros in Minute Maid Park, striking out 12. Clay, whose ERA was 7.02 when he went on the DL in late May, has a 2.73 ERA since returning to action.

An interesting side question remains and is worth answering: how many more CGs could there have already been in 2014 if the pitch count police weren't so well-entrenched? It turns out that there are thirty more games thus far in '14 that feature eight innings pitched and less than a hundred pitches. That's roughly half again as many CGs that have actually been thrown this season.

There have been four eight-inning games with less than ninety pitches thrown, one of which was a CG (Jordan Zimmermann's three-hit loss to the Cardinals on 7/9).

One pitcher has thrown three of these "almost complete games": Hisashi Iwakuma of the M's, who did it three times within a twelve-game span back in May.

The current CG pace for 2014 is now 111.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

ALL-TIME ASTRAL TEAMS (aka ZODIAC LEAGUE)/8: CANCER

The Zodiac League steams onward into the freakier regions of the ecliptic...in this case, Cancer the Crab, where emotions (according to the literature, anyway) are both highly intense and terribly tucked in.

As the charts will show, there is a lot of depth to be found in the Sign of the Crab (and there's a lot of room for a sabermetric parody of astrology...or vice versa, n'est-ce pas? Sorry, as the Man in the Big Suit says, got no time for that now). A lot of "might have been Hall of Famers but for..." here, which means that when they're on, you're getting more peak performance.

But it's hard to say whether this will translate on the field (or, should we say, on to a simulated field). To get the most out of this team, you might have to play the games one-by-one...which is not something that the masters of dissing simulation and "press the button and go out for coffee" tend to favor.

There are six Hall of Fame pitchers, and one or two more who might make it in the distant future (C.C. Sabathia and Tim Hudson). There are several really good "almost" or "should be" HOFers (Dave Stieb, George Mullin, Jesse Tannehill), so the "B" team looks to have a shot at having one of the more effective pitching staffs in the "lower league."





But we do have to do some adjusting to get the "A" team into competitive shape. When we do that, here's what we get for a starting lineup:

Lou Boudreau, ss; Jim Edmonds, lf; Joe Jackson, rf; Roger Connor, 1b; Harmon Killebrew, 3b; Andre Dawson, cf; Joe Torre, c; Billy Herman, 2b.

Swamped, dammit!!!
The starting rotation (we still like the six-man, just because we can) is a blend of old and new:

Carl Hubbell; John ClarksonMickey WelchStan CoveleskiDave StiebC.C. Sabathia

The relievers:

Goose GossageSparky LyleEddie FisherEd RoebuckJavier LopezEnrique Romo

A very interesting team. Will it win anything? We've got to admit, we like its chances.

We'll come back in a bit and fill in the "B" team for you--we are swamped right now on other projects.

[EDIT: OK, back to the "B" team after a whole lotta shakin' and movie screening (see link for details).

Here is the lineup/batting order we'd go with for the Cancer "B's":

Willie Randolph, 2b; Derek Jeter, ss; Ken Williams, rf: Carlos Delgado, 1b; Pedro Guerrero, 3b; Babe Herman, lf; Heinie Manush, cf; Yadier Molina, c.

The rotation: George Mullin; Jesse Tannehill; Tim Hudson; Jack Quinn; Frank Tanana; Lee Meadows.

The bullpen: Doug Jones; Joe Sambito; Al Hrabosky; Brendan Donnelly; Jack Aker; Ken Sanders.

That outfield will be quite an adventure...you'll be seeing a LOT of Willie Wilson as a defensive replacement. But it's another interesting team...one that will hit a lot better than one might first think.]




Sunday, July 6, 2014

2014: COMPLETE GAMES #60, #61

Two more CGs over the first two days of the Independence Day holiday weekend, one by a repeater.

On Friday (7/4), Chris Sale fanned 12 Mariners to record his second complete game of 2014 as the White Sox beat Seattle, 7-1. Chris upped his season record to 8-1 while lowering his ERA to 2.16. It was his second CG of the year. Despite missing some weeks due to injury, he's insinuating himself back into the Cy Young conversation.

Yesterday (7/5), Matt Garza allowed only two hits to the Reds as the Milwaukee Brewers made a single run scored in the first inning stand up for a 1-0 victory. Garza, who's been up and down this year, struck out nine and improved his season W-L record to 6-5.

The key features of complete games would be hit prevention (4.4 H/9), walk prevention (1.1 BB/9) and avoidance of the long ball (just 14 HR allowed in 541 IP). All of that contributes to a minuscule ERA in these games, holding steady at 0.60.

Current pace for total number of complete games in 2014: 113. If that holds, we won't be breaking the record for fewest CGs, set in 2007.