Saturday, November 16, 2019

POST-SEASON RESULTS (PART 1 OF 5): 1969-1979

Last up, the first installment of our fifty-one year look at the post-season records for teams since the beginning of divisional play...scroll down for a complete decade-by-decade look at teams' records in the postseason.

There are far more dominant teams in this time frame, and many more "duds" who never make the post-season at all:

6-CIN, BAL, PIT
5-OAK
3-NYY, LAD, KCR, PHI
2-NYM, MIN
1-BOS, DET, ANA, SFG, ATL
0-CHC, CHW, CLE, HOU, MIL SDP STL, TEX

It was not a great time for competitive balance. Only 8 of 24 teams (33%) made it into the World Series. There were many repeat World Series appearances:

OAK 3 in a row (1972-74)
NYY 3 in a row (1976-78)
BAL 3 in a row (1969-71)

CIN 2 in a row (1975-76)
LAD 2 in a row (1977-78)

Best won-loss records in post-season games, 1969-1979: NYM 13-7, BOA 6-4, OAK 21-15, CIN 26-19, BAL 26-20, NYY 17-13

Worst won-loss records in post-season games, 1969-1979: MIN 0-6 ATL 0-3, PHI 2-9, SFG 1-3, ANA 1-3, KCR 5-9, DET 2-3, PIT 17-19, LAD 14-15.


Friday, November 15, 2019

POST-SEASON RESULTS (PART 2 OF 5): 1980-89

Continuing to move forward into the past, with our fourth installment (that future folks will read second to move forward from the past), here is the post-season data from 1980-89...


This decade inspired us to appropriate the title from Ted Vincent's book about nineteenth century baseball, "Mudville's Revenge"--given that in the years beyond the initial wave of free agency, appearances in the post-season did not cluster in big-market franchises. Indeed, no one actually dominated the post season in the 1980s, as the table (at right) and our listing (below) demonstrate:

4-LAD, KCR
3-STL, PHI, OAK, HOU
2-NYM, DET, NYY, BOS, MIL, SFG, TOR, CHC, ANA
1-BAL, MON, SDP, MON/WAS, ATL, CHW
0-CIN, CLE, PIT, SEA, TEX

Only one team won multiple World Series: the Dodgers, whose 1988 team was not expected to get past the Mets in the NLCS, much less the A's.

14 of 26 franchises made it into the World Series in this decade, as compared with just 10 in 1990-99, 14 (of 30) in 2000-09, and 12 (of 30) in 2010-19.

Best won-loss records in the post-season for this decade: BAL 7-2, OAK 16-8, MIN 8-4, DET 8-4, STL 21-16, LAD 21-17, NYM 11-9 PHI 13-12, MON/WAS 5-5.

Worst won-loss records in the post season for this decade: ATL 0-3, CHW 1-3, CHC 3-7, TOR 4-8, HOU 6-10, BOS 7-11, SDP 4-6, ANA 5-7, SFG 7-9, NYY 8-9, MIL 8-9.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

POST-SEASON RESULTS (PART 3 OF 5): 1990-99

Now at the mid-point of our backwards-for-blogging chronology of post-season results, this time focusing on the 1990s.

This was the decade of staggered expansion and Selig's Folly--the canceled '94 post-season, which helped to enable the Steroid Era.

Looked at in this fashion, we can see the decade as decidedly bifuracted. The first half (truncated by the '94 strike) belonged to the Braves and the Blue Jays (though Atlanta--the Brooklyn Dodgers of this time frame--did not win its lone World Series till '95). The second half was dominated by three teams--the Braves, the Indians, and the resurgent Yankees, who began a five-out-of-six World Series streak in '96.

The Braves easily dominated in terms of overall playoff appearances in the decade:

8-ATL
5-NYY, CLE
4-BOS
3-TOR, PIT, TEX, HOU
2-CIN, SDP, OAK, BAL, SEA, LAD
1-MIA, MIN, PHI, STL, NYM, ARZ, CHC, CHW, COL, SFG
0-ANA, DET, KCR, MIL, MON/WAS

Unlike earlier expansions, the new teams were more successful in getting into the post-season quickly: three of the four new franchises--D'backs, Marlins, Rockies--made it within their first five years of existence.

Best post-season records in the decade: NYY 37-13, MIA 11-5, MIN 8-4, CIN 11-6, STL 6-4. TOR 17-12, ATL 51-43, CLE 27-25, PHI 6-6, NYM 5-5.

Worst post-season records in the decade: LAD 0-6, SFG 0-3, CHC 0-3, TEX 1-9, HOU 2-9, BOS 5-16, COL 1-3, ARZ 1-3, CHW 2-4, SEA 5-9, SDP 7-10, OAK 6-8, BAL 9-10.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

POST-SEASON RESULTS (PART 4 of 5): 2000-09

So here we are, doing a backwards tango (no Love Pie™reference intended this time...) to provide future blog readers a chance to see this post-season data in standard chrono order. Here are the results from 2000-09 (table at right):

First, note that there are more teams shut out of the post-season during this decade than in 2010-19 (and many of the other decades we'll see later...or is it earlier?).

Number of teams not making it into the playoffs during 2010-19: 4

Number of teams not making it into the playoffs during 2000-09: 7 (BAL, CIN, KCR, MON/WAS, PIT, TEX, TOR)

Of course there was only one Wild Card team per league during this time frame...but there were no teams in 2010-19 who only made it into the post-season as a second Wild Card team.

Playoff appearance totals in the 2000-09 decade:

8-NYY
6-BOS, ANA, ATL, STL
5-OAK, MIN
4-LAD, SFG
3-PHI, NYM, HOU, CHC, CHW, ARZ
2-CLE, COL, SDP, SEA
1-TBR, MIL
0-BAL, CIN, KCR, MON/WAS, PIT, TEX, TOR

Best won-loss records in post-season games during this decade: PHI 20-12, CHW 11-7, BOS 34-23, NYY 50-38.

Worst won-loss records in post-season games during this decade: SDP 1-6, MIN 6-18, MIL 1-3, CHC 6-12, LAD 9-14, ATL 11-17, OAK 11-16.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

POST-SEASON RESULTS (PART 5 OF 5): 2010-19

Don't panic, you haven't missed the first four installments...they will follow in reverse order. As you know, blogs work backwards, putting the most recent material first..so, in order to have the reader view these five charts depicting each decade of post-season results, we have to start at the end.

Imagine this chart at five times the width--that's why we break it up into five segments, each covering a decade. We begin (at the end) with 2010-19.

Teams winning the World Series in any given year are shown with their post-season won-loss totals in orange; teams losing the World Series are shown with their post-season won-loss totals in yellow.

With the creation of the one-and-done Wild Card game, we also single out the losers of those games by showing their all-too-brief post-season appearances in baby blue.

Playoff appearances in the decade break down as follows:

7-NYY, LAD
6-STL
5-TEX, OAK, ATL, WAS
4-SFG, HOU, DET, CHC, CLE, MIN, BAL
3-BOS, PHI, PIT, TBR, CIN
2-KCR, NYM, TOR, MIL, COL, ARZ
1-ANA
0-CHW, MIA, SDP, SEA

Interestingly, the two teams making it to the playoffs the most did not manage to win a World Series--and one of those two (the mighty Yankees) did not manage to even make it into a World Series at all.

Odd to note that the Nationals made the playoffs more times in the decade than the Astros, given the latter's outsized footprint in the latter portion of the decade.

And Billy Beane's famous (apocryphal?) quote that "[his] shit do[es]n't work in the playoffs" not only remains true (assuming, of course, that he actually said it...), but has become more immediately true as well, what with the A's suffering three one-and-done post-season takedowns since the Wild Card game was instituted in 2012. (Perhaps the Wild Card losers from each league should be sent on an European tour where they play a faux World Series as consolation for such an abrupt demise. If such a plan were in place, we'd have seen some interesting match-ups over the past years: 2012: TEX-ATL; 2013: CLE-CIN; 2014: OAK-PIT; 2015: NYY-PIT; 2016: BAL-NYM; 2017: MIN-COL [note we forgot to color-code the Twins...]; 2018: OAK-CHC; 2019: OAK-MIL.)

Best post-season won-loss records for 2010-19: SFG 36-16, KCR 22-9; BOS 22-11, HOU 28-22. Worst: ANA 0-3, COL 1-4, CIN 2-7, ATL 5-13, OAK 4-9, PIT 2-5, OAK 4-9, ARZ 3-6, MIN 6-11.

Most playoff games played in 2010-19: 67 (LAD). Least: 0 (CHW, MIA, SDP, SEA).

Friday, November 8, 2019

QMAX 2019: ANY DAYLIGHT FOR AL CY YOUNG RACE?

As most of you know, we are not nearly as obsessed with baseball's award season as is the case with others. One of the places where sabermetrics took a wrong turn was in its desire--no, its fetish--with rewriting past history via the various awards: MVP and Cy Young in particular. (And let's not get started with the Hall of Fame.)

Awaiting (with withheld breath...) the sabermetric analysis of the Oscars...
Using advanced analysis to better understand the value of performance is one thing--it can help those folks in the mainstream media do a better job of picking award winners in the future. But the obsession with rewriting past awards, like so many things in twenty-first century America, has become toxic in nature. (We should focus on trying to change things that actually matter to human beings who are alive today--those in need, those who are suffering, or who are in direct danger due to matters that the rest of us can rally behind to correct--instead of descending into a rabbit hole of reinterpretation over a fait accompli that does not really advance knowledge.)

Of course, there are exceptions to (virtually) every rule. In the past, we've bent these rules in terms of baseball awards to look for voting patterns--to see, for example, if there were systemic biases built around certain stats. Most of our "bending" is found in the area of starting pitching, due to the development of the Quality Matrix (QMAX), still the only organic system utilizing probabilistic methods. The QMAX winning percentage (QWP) remains the most useful tool for assessing starting pitcher performance currently available, and it's the only one that does so by ignoring runs allowed as part of its methodology.

But that's far enough about it--and us. What's interesting is that both FIP (many of you know it in its "long form" as Fielding Independent Pitching) and QMAX (working from significantly different assumptions/approaches) tend to clarify aspects of starting pitcher performance that tend to remain opaque using other measures. What's more interesting is when these measures diverge, as is the case in the 2019 AL Cy Young race.

FIP is not nearly as much in alignment with WAR in ranking starting pitchers, because it uses a different sliding scale to extract its value measurement. It prefers a particular type of pitcher, whereas WAR only wants to know who allowed the fewest runs. FIP predicts a kind of "Platonic" ERA using its formula, but it's not probabilistic--it's not based on game-by-game perturbations as QMAX is. The differences in their results are instructive, but not quite conclusive.

In 2019 FIP rejects WAR's conclusion that the AL's best pitcher was Justin Verlander. (The reason: despite a superb ability to prevent hits in general, Verlander gave up a lot of HRs--36, to be exact--which forces the method to account for this and penalizes for it. So the system actually projects more runs allowed from Verlander than was actually the case.) It suggests that his teammate Gerrit Cole was the best pitcher, which is supported by Cole's ERA (1st), ERA+ (1st) and FIP (1st).

QMAX, which grades each start for hit prevention and walk prevention and assigns a "matrix grade" for each performance component, makes adjustments for HRs in the actual context in which they occur, which is not the case for FIP. QMAX prizes hit prevention in individual games more highly than any other aspect of performance, but it achieves its probabilistic precision by calculating an expected win value for each segment on its matrix chart (all 49 performance gradations), thus producing a probabilistic winning percentage (or QWP, as noted above).

For the Verlander vs. Cole comparison in 2019, it shows significant difference in the two pitcher's performance shape, but not in their overall value. In fact, there's little daylight between them, from their raw QMAX averages (Verlander: 2.71 "S" or hit prevention, 2.24 "C" or walk prevention; Cole: 2.73 "S", 2.33 "C") to their QWPs (Verlander .685; Cole .679). If ever there probably deserved to be a tie in the voting, this is the year.

We talked about "shape" differences in their stats. This may seem baffling, considering how similar the shape of their numbers stats appear to be (similar H/9 ratios, similar K/9 ratios, similar K/BB rations, similar WHIP values). But the difference can be seen in the QMAX matrix chart, and it helps to explain how the two pitchers wind up with highly similar value measures despite the shape divergence.

Putting them side-by-side (or, in this case one on top of the other) can show the difference. The top two rows of the QMAX chart (the numbers in the "1" and "2" slots moving down the diagram) are the region of greatest hit prevention, but the "1S" group is enough better probabilistically to make a difference in the valuation. (The 1,3 game is just as likely to be a winning game as a 2, 1 game: the average probability of a win in the "1" row is more than a hundred points higher than in the "2" row.

That is why Verlander, despite his extra HRs allowed, and his greater incidence of games where is not ultra-dominating (the 5-7 rows, where he has just over a quarter of his starts as opposed to only one-sixth for Cole)--despite these aspects that compare unfavorably to his teammate, the essentially reversed placement of 1S-2S games is the reason why he winds up having a slightly better overall QWP.

Of course, this is not predictive in terms of individual games, as we (and Verlander) discovered in the World Series. His penchant for giving up home runs, which reached its peak this year, worked against him in those games. But he also had off-games in terms of hit prevention--an event that can happen at random throughout the season. Cole fared better in the World Series, but also was not as dominant as he was against the AL in 2019.

We should expect a vote as close as the QMAX results--and, for the sake of fairness, we should hope (as already noted) that they somehow manage to tie. They are both deserving. Sometimes that's just the way it is, and that's the way it should be remembered. Fingers crossed...

[FOLLOWUP 11/13: Voting results are in for AL CYA...Verlander 171, Cole 159. If two BBWAA voters had switched their first-place votes from Verlander to Cole, there would have been a tie.]

Thursday, October 31, 2019

1969-2019: WORLD SERIES PARALLELS THAT PERMIT US TO VIVE LA DIFFERENCE...

Of course it should be noted that the 2019 World Series was really nothing like its counterpart fifty years earlier. The entire process was different, though divisional play began in '69 and the post-season added its first intermediate step that year.

The two World Series were not the same length--and the impact of top-notch starting pitchers, though ballyhooed extravagantly by the consumerist groupies who've overrun the game in both mainstream and social media, was actually not as great in 2019 as it was in 1969, when three starters for the Mets were able to hold a 109-53 team (the Baltimore Orioles) to a .146 batting average (and a .210 SLG!).

But the general lay of the land was quite similar. You had a team that had stumbled out of the gate (the Washington Nationals) and had to regroup over the course of the season; in 1969, you had an upstart team (the New York Mets) who'd never finished above .500 during its first seven seasons. You had a team that was loaded with talent (the Baltimore Orioles) that had roared through its league; in 2019, you had an organization that seemed to turn every player it acquired into an All-Star (the Houston Astros), whose combination of trading acumen and in-house development threatened to turn the American League into a mockery.

All four teams had top-notch starting pitching, but the 1969 teams had starters who could do two things their 2019 counterparts could not: 1) throw a lot of innings and 2) keep the ball in the park. The Mets overachieved in many ways during the '69 Series, and one of them was actually hitting six homers in the five games--a ratio that would have netted them 194 HRs over the regular season. (They hit 109, an unfathomably low number in '19, whereas the sleepy Nationals cruised their way to 231 and the Astros had four players with 30+ HRs plus three more with 20+ en route to a staggering 288 for the year--and didn't even lead the league!)

The Mets top two pitchers (Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman) don't quite have the same cachet as Gerrit Cole (riding high after his best season, but with just three grade-A years in the book thus far) and Justin Verlander (whose second wind in Houston has burnished his reputation), but they managed to be a good bit more effective in shutting down the mighty Orioles.

The combined record of Cole and Verlander against the Nationals in the 2019 World Series: 1-3, 4.88 ERA. The combined record of Seaver and Koosman against the Orioles in the 1969 World Series: 3-1, 2.48 ERA.

And then there are the second basemen. Mighty mite Jose Altuve, who knocked the Yankees out of the ALCS with his walk-off homer, hit .303 in the Series--but it was a quiet .303: just one RBI, three doubles and a .688 OPS. Meanwhile, his sometimes counterpart, Howie Kendrick (used as a DH during the Series' stay in Houston) cracked a game-winning homer in Game Seven, following in the footsteps of the Mets' most unlikely hero, featherweight-hitting second baseman Al Weis, whose seventh-inning HR in Game Five pulled the Mets even in their incredible rush to glory.

We even had parallels in "managerial banishment"--Dave Martinez followed in Earl Weaver's footsteps by getting ejected in the final game of the World Series. But, as our headline says, vive la difference: Weaver's team took it on the chin and went home stupefied; the Nationals, however, pulled away from their opponents after a questionable call and made Martinez into a uniquely plucky hero.

Add it all up and you have two underdog winners in tumultuous times--which is, perhaps, the most pugnacious parallel of all. Unlike the two occupants of the White House during these teams' indelible date with destiny, these unheralded victors proved to be downright unimpeachable.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

HISTORICAL ANATOMY OF GAME 7

Here are two quick charts to provide some historical perspective on Game Seven as it has evolved over the years: neither of these seem to be available elsewhere, so here is something that's hopefully useful and new for you to take in...

First, a D/Y table showing Game 7 incidence over the years, along with a notation as to which league won.

We didn't see any reference to the fact that NL teams have a 23-16 lead in Game Seven--there has been much more attention paid to the ongoing "games won on the road" phenomenon that's still in play after the Nationals' 7-2 win in Houston last night. [NOTE: The table has been updated as of 11/1 to reflect the 2019 outcome: the NL now leads in Game 7 wins, 24-16. We still haven't seen any mention of it anywhere else...]

This table shows us that the greatest number of Game Sevens in any decade occurred in the 1960s, with the adjacent decades (50s, 70s) clustering up with five more apiece. 2019 brings our current decade into a tie with the 50s and 70s.

One feature of this chis a breakout by the "suffix" of a year--all years ending in 0, 1, 2, etc. The AL has fared extremely well in years ending in "2," winning five of six Game Sevens. Which means that in all other years, the NL has put up a 2-to-1 advantage in these games (22-11). The NL team has won the only two Game Sevens to occur in a year ending in "9."

An occult little table, but hopefully one with some amount of interest...

Next, a chart that shows all of the teams who have participated in a Game Seven, the years in which they have done so, and the outcome (orange for a win, blue for a loss).

As you'd expect, the Yankees have been in the most Game Sevens (a total of 11), but they are not the most successful team in such a situation, winning only five times (the last in 1962).

The Cardinals are the most successful team in Game Seven situations, winning seven times out of ten appearances in a "do or die" game.

By far the most successful franchise when we measure by winning percentage, however: the Pittsburgh Pirates, who've won all five of the Game Sevens in which they've appeared.

Two notes: 1) we've obviously left the color-coding blank for the 2019 series; 2) we've shown the Nationals as their own franchise, since their lineage is from the Montreal Expos; the other Washington appearances (from 1924 and 1925) have been put into the Minnesota data. (The same principle is applied to all franchises who've moved around; this should be self-explanatory). [NOTE: As of November 1, the color-coding has been updated to reflect the 2019 outcome.]

Enjoy these visual aids, and enjoy Game Seven tonight. They happen about a third of the time overall, but they pack an outsized amount of excitement into them due to the dual nature of the "do or die." Who will traverse the tightrope, and who won't? We'll know soon enough...

Sunday, October 27, 2019

THE ASTROS LEAD OFF WITH A RECORD...

In the midst of an eventful post-season (a flurry of coverage about a less-than-#metoo-friendly front office, a stop-and-start-and-stop-and-start-again path toward a World Series title...) the Houston Astros' in-season achievements in 2019 have, to our knowledge at least, not been fully identified.

As is (more occasionally than usual) the case, we're here to bring you those as-yet unrevealed facts.

Or, more modestly, fact. But even one fact can drive home a point (if not a run). And this fact is another point noted in an escalating series reminding us that baseball in 2019 has continued to rewrite the rules of the game by rewriting the record book.

So, yes, we're teasing out the exact nature of this record by posting several of our patented "decade/year" table that capture frequency of events over time. We do this both for your own good and because we just can't help doing it--somewhere in the inchoate middle of those impulses there is (hopefully, at least) enlightenment.

Above right: a D/Y table with all incidences of 20 or more homers hit by the batter occupying the leadoff (#1) slot in his team's batting order. (This is not "leadoff homers", as in leading off an inning with a homer--those would be much more numerous--but the number of homers hit by the man "batting leadoff.")

As you can see, the 20+ threshold took awhile to be cracked, despite the appearance of Babe Ruth in 1919-20 and the slow-but-steady homerification of the game. The initial incidence was 1949; as you can see, the rise was slow but steady until the mid-90s, when it accelerated--and over the past four years, has (like so much else in America during this time...) gone out of control.

Above left: the next level up of "leadoff lightning"--that subset of the first table dealing with those #1 slot hitters with 30+ HRs in a season. You may be surprised to discover what team was the first to have a 30+-HR performance from its leadoff hitters...but you are probably not surprised to discover that over the past four seasons this number has risen sharply--reaching double figures (including, as you doubtless suspect, the Astros).

Continuing into more lofty regions, we have one more chart for the leadoff slots that have produced 40+ HRs in a season. The table at right shows you that this is, at least at present, a much more rarified occurrence: only eight teams have managed to accomplish this feat. Perhaps unsurprisingly, four of them did so in 2019: the Braves, the Twins, the Dodgers--and, yes, the Astros.

(By the way, the three times it happened in the 2000s--2001, 2002, 2006--the main culprit was Alfonso Soriano, whose 46 HRs in '06 for the Nationals allows us to make this into a "World Series" post...despite his involvement in these single-season peaks, Soriano is only second in baseball history in terms of career totals for HRs while batting in the #1 slot--in fact, his total of 197 is a distant second. And, no, we're not going to tell you who #1 is...we trust that you can figure this out for yourselves!)

So perhaps you've figured out what the record is by now...is it the fact that George Springer hit 39 HRs batting leadoff for the Astros this year, tying him with Soriano's 2006 mark?

Nope. (Though the above is true.)

The record we're referring to is a team record, not an individual record. In this instance, it's the sum of all HRs hit by all the Astros' #1 hitters in all the gin joints including Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Derek Fisher, Kyle Tucker, and Dooley Wilson (hit it again, Sam! ...just making sure you're paying attention).

That total--Springer and his surrogate Astro spaniels--adds up to an even 50. That's a new record, and the first time it's happened. (And no, we're not putting up a table with only one square filled in just to complete the set--you can visualize that on your own...and get your own damned letters of transit while you're at it!)

And, yes, the Astros had more HRs from their #1 slot in 2019 than any of the more traditional "power slots" in the batting order.

Remember, just because we report these things does not mean that we approve of them. When we say that it's the first time a team has had its #1 hitters hit 50 HRs in a year, we also mean to say that we hope it never happens again. Baseball's whack is out of whack, regardless of the virtues of a front-loaded batting order. We're shocked, not awed--and you should be, too.