Thursday, February 6, 2020

TRASHTROS REDUX: MUCH ADO, BUT LITTLE ACTUAL RESULT...

If you sometimes feel that the reaction to malfeasance becomes disproportionate to the crime itself, you'd be living in the bizarro world that has been growing up around us for roughly a quarter of a century.

In politics, it began with the troika of Gingrich, Starr and FOX News, along with "Medal of Freedom" winner Rush Limbaugh, doing what Don Herzog so aptly termed "poisoning the minds of the lower orders" and creating a festering undercurrent of white working class resentment that found expression in myriad forms of self-righteousness.

Still semi-oblivious to this are the fractious Democrats, whose policy pronouncements have always veered precipitously into finger-wagging while all the while finding ways to moralize while hair-splitting.

Which of course eventually gets us to the Orange Menace and zombie politics, which thrives on caricature, exaggeration, and outright falsehood--three related behavioral gradations of self-righteousness whose practice leads to a uniquely American brand of holier-than-thou nihilism.

And in the little world of baseball, that's where we've been at since the steroid era, a time when offense (already criminally out of control...) was unleashed in a way that allowed a select group of hitters to focus on home runs in a way that shattered previous records. It's hard to tell which was worse to the reactionary media that rose up against these players--the "cheating" (which cannot be quantified in any meaningful way) or the outsized nature of the record-breaking itself. Being in the thrall of a foaming-at-the-mouth reaction, of course, they were unable to clearly articulate anything resembling a rational position.

But it's left a culture of outrage that is now in the hands of younger, ever-wonkier bloggers, including many who want to seize upon the social and political aspects of baseball's less-than-exemplary practices and its most feeble ex-post-facto policing mechanisms. And that brings us to those cheatin', trash-can bangin' Houston Astros, whose crime and punishment will be forced to linger amongst us in a Dostoyevskian haze for an indeterminate time (or, perhaps, until another ballplayer, like Harry Chiti, becomes his own "player to be named later").

Yes, the Astros cheated. And they came up with a consummately silly (but somehow uniquely appropriate to the times) method of doing so. But in the midst of those in the media who are dead-set on employing their variation of holier-than-thou nihilism to this incident so that it will linger in the air like a foul stench indefinitely, we want to remind them that they're behaving just like those who harangued about steroids.

Worse, they have done downright lousy work in quantifying the results of the Trashtros' cheating, which has reached an ongoing fever pitch because Houston won the 2017 World Series (despite no evidence of the "bang a gong" method being employed in the post-season that year). Folks have rolled through the videos of 2017 Houston home games and have apparently located the at-bats where sign-stealing was transmitted via the blunt edge of the "trash phenomenon." Jayson Stark and Eno Sarris did synchronized cartwheels around the Astros' "alarming" improvement in strikeout percentage (K%) in The Athletic, ultimately crashing into each other and collapsing in a heapin' helpin' of inhospitable bet-hedging.

In tandem with the Iowa caucus snafu, the actual value of the Astros' malfeasance is being magnified to keep in place a set of principles that are often oversimplified and misapplied. The media prefers to frame things in ways that force the individual to view those actions/results/conclusions in a highly straitened forms: that the "disaster" of the Iowa caucus might actually lead to a more useful political process is simply too far down the road for them to contemplate. The bandwagoneers in the baseball media who are still stomping on the Trashtros want punishment, not reform--but they can't even recognize that there are forms of punishment that could be far more inhibiting to future transgressors.

What they really don't want to find out, however, is that the Astros' cheating was not actually very effective. (Rob Arthur at Baseball Prospectus hints at this, but this isn't the desired narrative when an entire culture descends into a punitive psychology.)

But we're here to tell you that the Astros' cheating, at least as manifested in 2017, was not very effective in terms of actual wins and losses. The table (at left) makes this abundantly clear: these are the Astros' homestands and road trips broken up into individual units.

The top group features all the home stands after the initial "bang a gong" experiment on May 28 (the emergent Trashtros scored eight runs in that game, but they did it against the Orioles, who had a 5.38 road ERA in '17). The Astros hit better in these games than in their five earliest homestands, and struck out a bit less--but these games produced the weakest winning percentage amongst our four categories (just 28-23).

The odd thing to be found in the data is that the correlation of run scoring and K% is pretty random. K% and WPCT correlates in the way that the semi-ersatz analysts expected, but it only does so in road games--where the Astros were apparently not cheating. Even there, the correlation between run scoring and K% is all over the map. (Note that we organized the road data in ascending order of K%--which also helps to show the random nature of R/G and team batting average.)

Being the semi-focused full-service diatribists that we are, we also fashioned a scatter chart that
captures the intersection of R/G and K%. Since such a chart can't quite capture the third dimension (WPCT), we color-coded some of the data points on the scatter chart to indicate how random the results really are. The orange-colored diamond-shaped symbols represent the homestands or road trips with the very best WPCT; the yellow-colored symbols show the ones where the Astros had < .500 records in homestands/road trips (only two); the white-colored symbol is the homestand where they played .500 ball despite hitting .303, scoring 6.7 runs per game, and having a low K%. So, as you can see, the results are all over the map...even when we move beyond this highly granular level, there are no correlations between sign-stealing, run scoring, and WPCT.

So are we suggesting that since there was much ado about nothing--both by the Astros and by those whose thirst for inflicting punishment upon them has yet to be slaked--that there should be a collective shoulder-shrug? No, of course not. Any instance of cheating needs to be rooted out, investigated, evaluated, and punished. The third step in this process seems to have been a) sidestepped by MLB and b) exaggerated and caricatured by a bloodthirsty media (which includes the neo-sabe types who used to decry the moralizing nihilism of the steroid reactionaries). With that third step belatedly emerging, and telling us that the Trashtros were essentially chasing their tails, we are left with the lingering residue of resentment and ill-feeling that permeates 21st-century America and is far more destructive to the national fabric that a small group of jock-strapped jackasses with a hair-brained cheating scheme.

We still prefer the penalties we suggested--restrictions that impact and impede the teams' ability to compete on the field in actual games. "Fixing the past" is pointless: informing cheaters that their future will be filled not only with scorn, but with impediments that will redress their efforts to create an unfair advantage, is the only way to introduce truly effective preventive measures.

(To which we say: calm down, and wise up. And quit poisoning the minds of the lower orders: we're going to need them to rise up one day, and do the right thing. This is not the way to make that happen, kiddies...)

Monday, February 3, 2020

DAY BY DAY DATABASE DUMP-O-RAMA: 3-MONTH SLICE LEADER BOARD 1937: 4/1-6/30

David Pinto has taken the bit in his teeth and has charged backwards in time with gusto, taking the Day-by-Day Database further into the past--now providing us with the ability to search all the way to 1937 (as of this morning). More kudos to David for doing so, as it will give us much more to chew on.

And we'll get chewy here this year by presenting fairly detailed leader boards using the 3-month slice approach that's been previewed here in the past. This will be accompanied with the all-time leader lists (as exemplified in the recent post about highest HR totals in a 3-month slice).

We begin at what's currently the beginning: 1937. (David may yet go further back: we'll keep an eye on him and do a mid-course correction if he continues to forge further into the past.) Here we have the leaders across both leagues (combined together) for the first three months of the year (4/1-6/30):




























In case you're straining to remember: yes, this is Joe Medwick's triple crown season with the Cardinals, where he winds up hitting .374 and leads the NL in twelve statistical categories (left to right across your dial: G, AB, R, H, D, HR, RBI, BA, SLG, OPS OPS+, TB). The relative paucity of power in the NL at this point (significantly lower R/G average in this time frame than the AL) gave "the other Joltin' Joe" the chance to lead the league with just 31 HRs. (Medwick was not a prolific long-ball hitter, finishing with just 205 lifetime homers.)

Over in the AL, Hank Greenberg is recovering from his mostly-MIA season in '36 with a year that will eventually produce 103 extra-base hits and a mind-numbing 184 RBI. (We'll see more evidence of that in subsequent 3-month slices in 1937). Speaking of the real Joltin' Joe (yes, DiMaggio), he will also pick up the pace as the year progresses, winding up with the HR crown (46, easily his highest season total). And, as you'll see, his extreme free-swinging days (carried over from his rookie year) will soon come to an end.

This three-month window also represents "the last hurrah" for Paul Waner as a truly dominant hitter. In the second half of '37, "Big Poison" retains a healthy-looking BA, but his OPS slips under .800 as age (he's 34 in this year) finally catches up with him. His young teammate Arky Vaughan (25 this season) will get hurt a bit later in the year and fade into his least productive season since his rookie year (1932).

Zeke Bonura had his most productive year in 1937, and his pace here would lead one to believe that the slow-footed slugger from N'awlins would have a 150+ RBI year for sure, but Bonura got "cute" in August and stole home in a game against the Tigers, severely injuring his groin in the process. He didn't return until late September, winding up with 100 RBIs for the year.

Finally, these three months represent the temporary, fleeting stardom of Gibby Brack--who claimed to be 24 (he was really 29)--in his major league debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He would hit .209 from July 1 to the end of the year, and found himself with the lowly Phillies the following year, playing his last game in the majors in 1939.

More soon. Once again, kudos to Mr. Pinto--you will never be rear-ended at this site, David!!

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

2020 HALL OF FAME VOTING POST-MORTEMS: GOOD GOD Y'ALL!

What is war (or WAR) good for? Two of the all-time greats are remain stuck in the 60s (along with America, where proxy wars remain good for business and polarization is a cottage industry), while the BBWAA and the post-neo contingent remain at odds in ways that threaten to leave more potential Hall of Fame-caliber players on the outside looking in.

Walker: in a mountain time zone of his own...
The most pleasant surprise: the BBWAA, which likes to take its sweet time when HOF candidates have anything resembling a chink in their armor, pulled itself together and summoned enough votes from its membership to elect Larry Walker, whose churning, burning 11-year peak finally cut through the residue of doubt cast by his long-time residence in Coors Field. (Of course, Walker's WAR total as interpreted by Forman et fils is yet another example of the overweening strangeness of that measure: the "combined" total, which rarely if ever matches its component numbers, works oddly in his favor and was, fortunately for him, trumpeted far and wide.)

Of course, that was all to the good as far as we're concerned, since the Large Hall is the only rational approach to an "institution" that has been compromised by the serial abuse of a series of Veterans Committees. Walker is worthy, and kudos to the BBWAA for allowing him to avoid the limbo that still befalls so many players who deserve a plaque in Cooperstown.

Jeter: dressed for the Fifth Dimension?
In the "no surprise" category there is Derek Jeter, who wound up one vote shy of unanimity ("one less egg to fry," perhaps??) as he keeps settling into a uniquely mediocre moguldom. Jeter's WAR totals are on the opposite side of weirdness from Walker's, as they seem designed to strip him of as much of his value as possible.

The thousand or so voters influenced by the glibmeister version of post-neo wonkiness known as Fangraphs, given the spiffy, media-savvy monicker of Crowdsource™, published the results of their poll complete with the shaggy dog stylistics of Jay Jaffe, giving us a revealing measure of how a (thankfully) mutable mobocracy alters reality. Their results--pulling Jeter down from 99+% to below 90%, and pushing Walker up from 77% to just under 90%--precisely mirrored their wacky WAR numbers.

The Crowdsource™ results are as flawed in their own way as the BBWAA results, with three mitigating exceptions: robust, above-the-threshold vote totals for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, and higher players-per-ballot averages. But the Crowdsource flaws provide us with a means of digging further into the bizarre polarization of HOF thinking, even as Jaffe fails spectacularly as a data analyst. (It is doubtful that he will bother to go back and evaluate the final results, as the Crowdsource™ exercise is primarily a social media parlor trick designed primarily to create a more cohesive consumer base for Fangraphs.)

So, in the midst of such a likely vacuum, it's up to us to step in with some semi-serious data manipulation in hopes of getting into the "middle way" between these eternally opposed camps. Our table (at right, below) takes the two voting results (Crowdsource™ and BBWAA) and subjects it to a series of averagings and manipulations (smoothing out the differences between the two results so as to compensate for some of the more regrettable neo-sabe-induced voting mishaps in the Crowdsource™ data).

In recognition of the catastrophically widespread use of the JAWS "method" (and it's no surprise that Jaffe, in the self-promotional continuum of neo-sabermetrics that has brought forth a deadly careerist cadre spread like kudzu across Internet media sources, named his creation after himself), we are calling our method "CHAWS"--whose visual reference is hard to miss--a big mass of stuff in one's mouth that really should be spit out...but the actual substance of which is open to interpretation (bubblegum? chewing tobacco? good ol' down home All-American phlegm?).

Basic "CHAWS" simply averages the results of the two voter blocs. CHAWS/2 smooths out the rate of increased Crowdsource™voting that is unevenly spread amongst the 2020 HOF candidates and applies it indiscriminately (in the manner of its namesake) to the Crowdsource™ figures, which dials back some of that group's more egregious prejudices (their darling Andruw Jones, and their bete noire Omar Vizquel). Since we apply that to even those players with less support in Crowdsource™, this intermediate calculation produces a few notable anomalies, such as Jeter getting more than 100% of the vote, Curt Schilling getting enough votes to be inducted, and the aforementioned Vizquel trampled by the grapes of wrath.

Hence: CHAWS/3, which takes just one more averaging (CHAWS with CHAWS/2) to get to a "middle way" that might make some sense in how we view the ongoing areas of disagreement between post-neos and the slightly curdled, slightly infiltrated establishment. (And, yes, what a quaint term that truly is...) The CHAWS/3 values, with a few exceptions, might work as a preview of the 2021 ballot results, reflecting the underlying strength of support across each of our polarized camps.

Looking at it in this way, we can see the following: 1) Schilling is highly likely to be inducted, but there is a chance that he'll stall just short of the goal one more time; 2) Bonds and Clemens will go up next year due to a much weaker ballot...but will it be by this much? If it is this much, then they would likely make it in 2022 as a "we staved off reality as long as we could" gesture (analogies to the Senate Republicans in lockdown this morning are too hard to resist...); 3) Scott Rolen will get a bump and be in position for  2024 induction; 4) the rest of the pack (Manny Ramirez, Todd Helton, Gary Sheffield, Billy Wagner) will move up incrementally at levels that will be roughly equivalent; 5) Jeff Kent and Omar Vizquel, due to the roiling inconsistencies that ensue in the evaluation of middle infielders, will either stall or move up sharply, depending on the behavior of BBWAA members with a predilection to vote for seven or more players (in other words, the "Big Hall" voters who've had to leave people off due to the recent glut of worthy candidates).

Kent: he who makes mood rings explode...
The clear odd man out in all of this, of course, is Kent, a man whose temperament has done him no favors with the BBWAA and whose combination of achievements clearly befuddles the neo-sabe world, who prefer to use defensive WAR as a way to circle their wagons around Jones. Perhaps it's just that there are so many other second basemen left out of the Hall that creates such massive indifference vis-a-vis Kent, who is actually a superior candidate to any of those admittedly aggrieved parties. But to let the errors of the past dictate a similar error in the present proves only that neo-sabes are just as credulous, confused, and semi-contaminated as those they've worked so assiduously to neutralize and replace as arbiters of this bizarre, overwrought trophy known as the Hall of Fame.

We (perversely, as always) root for a version of the Marlon Brando Oscar™ scenario: Kent gets elected to the Hall of Fame...but, in keeping with the hyper-curmudgeonly side of his nature, he dispatches a stripper to accept the award on his behalf and give what, for once, will be a truly "revealing" speech.

Monday, January 20, 2020

MEASURING PEAK VIA 3-MONTH SLICES/1: HOME RUNS

Our earlier look at "front-to-back" and "back-to-front" seasons showed us how we can select any starting point and any ending point to simulate a full year's worth of data. And those slices might just create some different "peaks" for players when the data is "freed" from slavish seasonal notation.

But what about the range of peak when we lower our sample size? Years ago here we created an MVP calculation tool using two-month snapshots, and it produced interesting but inconsistent results (thus not proving worthy of automation). Two-month snapshots gave us peaks and valleys that had a 20-25% greater range from top to bottom, which meant that they were not particularly well-correlated to a full season's worth of data.

So in looking for a more congenial relationship between seasonal performance range and a sub-set of seasonal data that occupies that range, we move onto three-month snapshots (we'll call them "slices," since that's what we called 'em in the title). Rather than dive right into rate stats, however, we're going to spend some time with counting stats, as they will give us some interesting benchmarks with respect to peak performance.

We start with homers, because--well, why not? We can concoct some pleasurable trivia in determining who hit the most homers over a three-month period. Note, however, that for this exercise we are restricting ourselves to actual months, and not all possible 30-31 game units that could be measured via David Pinto's Day-by-Day Database (found at his Baseball Musings site. You'll have to wait for us to get around to knowing who hit the most homers, etc., from June 8-July 7, 2019 (or, in terms of our "three-month slices," June 8-September 7: aw, what the hell: the answer is Mike Trout, with 29).

As the table you're seeing at the right indicates, however, Trout's total isn't enough to get him on the all-time leaders list for most HRs in a three-month slice. That record--42--was set (appropriately enough) in 1998, when Mark McGwire moved to St. Louis from Oakland in September of the previous years and started hitting HRs at a record pace. Sammy Sosa matched him later in that year; McGwire did it again in 1999.

So--the HR record for a season is 73 (those screaming "cheater!" are excused...) and the record for a (rough) half-season is 42. That presupposes a 15% "drag" between the extrapolated full-season total if the pace in the three-month slice could be maintained (73/(2*42 or 84).

There are 49 three-month slices listed in the table as it descends from 42 to 32. As we peruse the names (there are a few surprises: Christian Yelich, Jay Buhner, Greg Vaughn, Luis Gonzalez) we can also create a log of who held the record for this odd little stat.

It's not particularly surprising to discover that Babe Ruth set the record within the first four months of the live ball in 1920: his 37 HRs in May, June, and July 1920 was tied (Ruth again in May-July 1928, and Jimmie Foxx in May-July 1932) but not broken until Roger Maris hit 39 from May-July 1961.

Maris' record stood until 1996, when Albert Belle slugged 40 homers from September '95 through May '96. Albert's record lasted for only a couple of seasons until McGwire and Sammy Sosa entertained us with their long-ball antics in 1998-99,

Who hit the highest percentage of their yearly homer total in a three-month slice? We have to exclude the slices that cross over seasons for this, but as Jack Lemmon said in The Apartment, that's how it crumbles, cookie-wise. The answer appears to Juan Gonzalez, who hit 74% of his 47 HRs in 1996 during his three-month slice (35 HRs from June 1-August 31). Reggie Jackson appears to be right behind him, with 72% of his 47 HRs hit in 1969 coming in the three-month slice of May 1-July 31. In third place: J.D. Martinez, who hit 71% of his 45 HRs in 2017 from July 1-September 30.

Stay tuned for more three-month slices...

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

BLOOD IN THE WATER OVER ASTROS

Color us medium rare on Ye Olde Trashtros. Frankly, the silliness of their cheating method (despite how effective or ineffective it might have been) makes it hard to join the teeming masses who seem to want Commissioner Rob Manfred to disembowel them.

The general feeding frenzy of the twenty-first century seemingly continues unabated, as magical thinking infects human beings--on the cusp of being replaced by robots: could this subliminal anxiety be at the root of all this bloodthirsty vengeance we see loosed upon the world?

Now, Manfred is no prize: but anyone who actually wants to be a toady to bombastic billionaires is more than a bit compromised from the get-go. In this case, however, he is looking for a middle way between creating a backlash against players and indicting an ownership class that is quite probably embracing a variation of the Orange Menace's "lie-cheat-steal-stonewall" worldview. He's treading water even as baseball's reeling Chinese junk skitters across a choppy ocean, headed for what's left of the Great Barrier Reef.

Was there some of that unmentionable quid pro quo in how the penalties were meted out for the Houston squad? Undoubtedly. There had to be actions that caused some perceptible level of pain to the organization, and to some group of individuals who had either been perpetrators or enablers. In the absence of specific evidence about perpetrators, Manfred (a highly-placed hack lawyer) chose to go after the enablers. It's among the more logical things he's done since becoming the milquetoast mannequin version of Bud Selig.

Rob Manfred & Jim Crane: some kind of backroom deal...
Could he have gone further? Many fans think so. The bloodiest of the bloodletters want the World Series title to be ripped from the Astros, set on fire, and tossed into the Gulf of Mexico. Or something like that. Remember, magical thinking and revenge are the Molotov cocktail of so-called "higher cortical functions"--put them together and you have mob rule. (Hmm...)

We think he could have been subtler and more specific in his penalties. We also don't think he's capable of being subtler and more specific, so let us take you beyond what he did--one year suspensions for GM and manager (subsequently fired), draft choices ripped away for several years, and the players forced to wear the same jockstraps for all 162 games (just trying to make sure you're paying attention...).

Let's have more fun: take away their 26th man for five years. Tie both hands behind their backs: take away their post-July 31 trade and waiver privileges. We like another constraint widely suggested: set a lower luxury tax threshold for five years.

Let's go further:

--Take away their instant replay rights for three years.

--Ban them from using defensive shifts for the same length of time.

--Create a system of chance outcomes where one game in every intraleague series of the season utilizes a coin-flip to determine in which game in the series they will play without the DH.

Perhaps you can see where this is going. What people may be responding to underneath the "blood in the water" remarks is the fact that the real cheaters--the players--got off scot-free. The penalties are too diffuse to affect them. This ties in with the underlying mood of the country, that is twisted up over the nature of entitlement and how it has distorted so much in America as it has settled over our discourse like a strangling fog ever since the advent of Ronald Reagan. "Entitled" people have become the enemy. In baseball as in politics, much of this has been turned on its head by the cunning "poisoners of the lower orders," where the truly entitled are victimizing us all.

The players who participated could be forcibly traded away, but that's too simple-minded. And that still doesn't punish them. No, they need to stay on a team where the rules are stacked against them--at least for awhile. What it will tell them--and any other players tempted to cheat--that if they get caught doing so, they will have to endure a series of psychologically parlous conditions that will eat away at their morale. If they want to mess with competitive balance by cheating, then that competitive balance will mess right back at them.

That is what's missing from Manfred's punishments, and that is the visceral dissatisfaction that many are feeling in the aftermath of his announcement. It's probably too late to impose these sneakier, more deviously effective psychological penalties on the Trashtros, but...if we can only get the right guy in the Commissioner's office, it can be done next time.

And there will always be a next time.

[ADDENDUM: In the past 36 hours, new rumors and unfounded accusations have spiked regarding the Astros' possible cheating via electronic devices; this has amped up a rabid subgroup of fans (all of whom, in this oversaturated media age, are would-be pundits...) calling for the ultimate punishment--a life ban for Astros players.

Given the volume of mouth-foam being expended by these folk, it's vitally important to add a nuance here that they are discarding in their zeal for retribution: we only ban permanently those who may have cheated to lose. Those folk are beyond the pale--all others, who operate in the real world of human nature/human frailty, are given some less drastic form of punishment.

Those prone to jumping on the bandwagon of unprovable conspiracy theories need to keep this in mind, if in fact they can get anything into their minds given how obsessed with vengeance they've become (certainly another dispiriting sign of the times).

Let's point out again that the absence of a direct punishment for the players involved is what's driving all this vitriol. The subtle (wonky) suggestions in this essay are--despite their wonkiness--an absolutely effective remedy for this, and would go all of the rest of the way needed to create a level of deterrence that teams and players would desperately want to avoid. Strategic disadvantages in most of the games played over a number of years would be a daily reminder of their transgressions, and would demonstrate to other teams just how much suffering would be in store for anyone else who strayed from the straight-and-narrow.]

Monday, January 6, 2020

"BACK TO FRONT"--HIDDEN PEAK SEASONS

David Pinto's Day-by-Day Database at Baseball Musings has a number of distinctive outputs and unique capabilities, and you are encouraged to go there and give it a try. The outputs are more "bare bones" than what you'll find at other sites, but you can do things there that currently are possible anywhere else, and that's worth its weight in horsehide several times over.

One of those outputs, in the batter comparison module, is time slices that span multiple seasons. You can see more specific time ranges--such as the ones we published several years back that looked at what the difference in peak performance looks like when we compare full season numbers with two-month snapshots.

The time slice that has always interested us is the one we call "back to front"--a look at July 1st of one season through June 30th of the next season. It began as a lark just to see what these numbers looked like, but it became clear that a different type of dynamic seems to be in existence when we compile these numbers and put them alongside the standard "front to back" seasons. As you'll see in a minute when we display both "front to back" and "back to front" data for peak performance in the past decade (2010-19), there's a difference in the quantity of those peaks: it appears that there are systemically about 30-35% fewer of them when we slice "back to front."

Why this is the case might be worth some amount of speculation, but we will hold off on that until the point in time when David extends his Day-by-Day database further back in time. (For various reasons, he's not taken Retrosheet data now available prior to 1957 and incorporated it: we can hope that he'll do so at some point in the not-too-distant future.)

So--here are the 27 "front to back" peak seasons from 2010-19, defined as a season in which a hitter qualifying for the batting title produced an on-base-plus-slugging (OPS) of 1.000 or higher:


These are listed in descending order of OPS. The list might make it clear to Bill James why a number of people consider Bryce Harper to be a superstar, despite his erratic performance level over the years. (Not shown on this list is a non-qualifying year--2017--where Harper also produced a 1.000+ OPS.)

There are no mystery guests here, though certain players who were dominant early in the decade (Jose Bautista, Chris Davis, Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera) have all faded, aged, and/or retired in the intervening years. The breakout of these peak seasons by year is as follows--2010: 4; 2011: 2; 2012: 0; 2013: 2; 2014: 0; 2015: 3; 2016: 1; 2017: 5; 2018: 4; 2019: 6.

Are you surprised by the fact that Mike Trout is only on this list twice? His OPS+ first exceeded 1.000 in 2017, but he just missed qualifying for our list due to injuries. However, you're about to see him a good bit more frequently, as we move to the "back to front" peak performances.

As noted, there are only 17 of these in the 2010-19 decade: the July-to-June slice has some kind of "whammy" on it that results in about 30-35% fewer of these peaks than in the standard April-September season. Some of this could be the oft-cited "salary drive" where hitters push for a bit finish to maximize their chances for a raise, but this is probably less prevalent in the age of multi-year contracts (especially likely for players who are performance at or near these offensive levels).

What's interesting is that we do pick up some players who didn't show up in the "front to back" listings:


Say hello to Ryan Braun, Buster Posey, and Nolan Arenado, who cracked through the glass ceiling via a July-to-June "salary drive."

Players whose names are in italics have a "front-to-back" season adjacent in one way or another to their "back-to-front" achievement here. You can see that Mike Trout, with four appearances on this list, has two "back-to-front" peaks that are exclusive to this list: 2013-14 and 2015-16. Most of these seasons do link to a "front-to-back" season, however--the only other exception is Joey Votto, who breaks through in a "back-to-front" in 2011-2 that is unique to this list.

Interesting to see a 54 HR peak for Christian Yelich (2018-19, giving him the highest season-length OPS on either list), 58 for Jose Bautista in 2010-11; J.D. Martinez hitting 58 as he moved from the Tigers to the D'backs to the Red Sox in 2017-18; and Miguel Cabrera's 53 HR peak in 2012-13, accompanied by that 159 RBI total that's straight out of the 1930s.

Someone might want to look at the ages of these players in each list, and you also might want to follow what happens in parallel in the years (both "front-to-back" and "back-to-front" that follow these peak performances. (We might just do that a bit later in the waning days of the 2019-20 off-season.)

And--you may be wondering: which players had a hot second half of 2019 that might be putting them in position for a 1.000+ OPS for 2019-20? Yes, we have that data for you right here:


Three Astros on this list--there has never been an instance where three hitters from the same team have had a 1.000+ OPS, either "front to back" or "back to front." Can the Astros wean themselves away from their "kick the trash can" fetish and set a record they can call their own? We'll know the answer on July 1st.

Oh, and who's the "Three True Outcomes" leader here? HRs, walks, strikeouts--next to "beauty is truth," etc., "all you need to know" about baseball (and the fact that John Keats couldn't hit the curveball)? The answer helps take the wind out of Christina Kahrl's boast of coining this overrated concept: it's the man with the blue square--Eugenio Suarez, who reminds us that "TTO" numbers are rising because strikeouts--the most useless portion of this tendentious troika--are on the rise at a rate that dwarfs even the juiced, launch-angled tater tot travesty that was 2019 (and will, in all likelihood, be a blight on 2020 as well).

So in light of that, root for Ketel Marte to somehow replicate his .356 BA for the first half of the upcoming season and join our "back to front" list the hard way--with an ISO value under .300. He, Mookie Betts, and (surpisingly) Christian Yelich are the only three hitters in a position to do so. It used to be a common occurrence, but the last half of the 21st century has been brutal in so many ways that not even an ultra-fast computer can keep count.


Sunday, January 5, 2020

EARLY 2020 SNARKISH THOUGHTS IN LIEU OF CHEWABLE VITAMINS...

The infinite, unending loop of overactively closed minds...and those who would open others' eyes to their closed systems. That's the very real world of the burgeoning cottage industry of post-post-neo folk reveling in the sound of their own voices...

We aren't depressed, or "bitter" (though we remember those specious claims from years ago, and laugh bitterly at them, then as now). We remain committed to not being disgusted, but rather (as angry young ironist Elvis Costello suggested to himself) amused. Here are a few sources of our grimly gleaming mirth...

WAR: WHO NEEDS THE ORANGE MENACE v. IRAN WHEN BASEBALL's NUMBEROLOGISTS HAVE A COMPETING SYSTEM IN EVERY GRIDLOCKED DIRECTION??

Yuniesky: still butting heads (and still burning it up in
the Mexican League...)
Sam Miller didn't weigh in on politics in his other overly-breezy ESPN tome (the one where he purports to reduce each year of baseball into the 21st century analogue of a frozen mantra: the boy is positively meme-happy...) but elsewhere he did get down to something substantive in his look at how Wins Above Replacement (WAR) are computed down below the micro-brew fill line (and why are all these semi-young turks so obsessed with beer, anyway? Not able to afford Two-Buck Chuck? And why isn't there a player nicknamed Two-Buck Chuck anyway? Or is he really Yuniesky Betancourt, the man with the dented, demented head?). What Sam revealed is that there are not just two competing WAR methods (Bill James has not seen fit to rat out Fangraphs' version, preferring instead to tweak Doublemint Twin Seans--Forman and Smith--for their Mulligan-stew mathematizing at Baseball-Reference).

No, there's still the specter of the Baseball Prospectus (of which Sam is a "distinguished alumnus"), where the oddball obsessions of those petulant pioneers add more cognitive dissonance to a "system" that more often than not resembles a check-kiting scheme. What Sam reveals is a method (pardon...that should be: multiple methods...) with escalating probabilities for distortion as it (they) take(s) on levels of detail greater than the amount of water that accumulated in the hull of the Titanic.

Sorry...wrong Donovan.
It could have all been so simple, of course--and that's where (naturally, as is the case with all Anti-Christ figures) the Tango Love Pie™ (TLP for short...) pops up like the magpie he's been so steadfastly for so long. Uncle Tom is beyond rolling out the barrels and is now dead-set on a tool he calls "Statcast WAR"--not a gift from a flower to a garden, as was the case with dear old Donovan (positively mellow in yellow back in those 1969 taco-esque Padres uniforms, but an attempt to burrito-ize all of the visual data available via "advanced media" and roll it up into a mess of rice and beans that purports to Frankenstein-monster it all into a one-for-all, all-for-one number.

Thanks, Tom, but we just ate. That Anti-Christ penchant for trying to oversimplify the overly complicated really does have an expiration date, as does the reign of (t)error by the Orange Menace, but the difference in such an admittedly demeaning comparison is as follows: at least in your case that expiration date is not one that might coincide with the world's expiration date. Statcast WAR is adding the southerly direction to a method that already covers the other inclinations while already having gone south. It isn't surprising, either, that an Anti-Christ wants to beat a dead horse and raise it from the dead at the same time. Best of luck with that...

And--again, disturbingly like that Orange Menace, TLP doubles down on rhetorical stances that purport to resolve complex issues by force of will as opposed to reason. In love with a graphic depiction of a hitter's relationship to the pitches he faces as they cluster around the home plate zone, he recrafts a truism about selectivity into a "golden rule" grafted to the inside fringe of the strike zone, what used to be called the "black" but he now (tellingly) calls the "shadow." We are presented with three or four charts that show us how hitters who optimize the use of this area have improved their performance, with the statistics show based not on OPS, or even on TLP's opaque "improvement" called wOBA (weighted on-base average, which--again--mashes together two stats--OBP and SLG--in order to create a new hegemonic value at the expense of any sense of statistical shape), but on "runs."

Howie: in the zone in 2019 no matter what zone it might be...
The totals shown for these "runs" for such hitters as the unsinkable Howie Kendrick purport to demonstrate how a shift in this "shadow zone" explains how Howie reached a career high in OPS and several other rate stats. The values shown in the chart are modest at best and show something closer to uniform improvement than something highly specialized; but this is no deterrent for a man on a mission to overpopulate the world with the manic figments of his statistical imagination.

Could it be that Howie simply hung in better in 2019 when faced with a 1-2 count? He was 1-for-27 in those situations in 2018; this past year, he had 25 more at-bats in that unpromising two-strike count--and banged out 14 hits in them, bringing his BA up from .037 to .288 in such a situation (which also brought his OPS up from a microscopic .111 to a slightly more robust .668--the highest such yearly value in his fourteen-year career...and 64% higher than the 2019 NL average).

That's just as likely an explanation for Howie's resurgence as his work in the "shadow" zone...but it doesn't involve newfangled technology or higher sample size based on data compilations that don't actually track to plate appearances: TLP is working with pitches here, and presuming that it's the plate discipline that produced better results. (Hint: it could be more random than that...)

Or--could it be that playing so many more home games in a ballpark (Nationals Park) where he's always hit well (.314 going into 2019) just clicked in even further? Howie hit .374 at home in 2019.

But somehow all of these other explanations are (apparently) just supposed to lay down and die, blown up by the incursion of a pitch-driven metric that subdivides hitting solely (and, somehow, definitely) into four zones.

We're not buying it--and neither should you.

BILL JAMES APOLOGIZES, CALLS DICK ALLEN AN ALCOHOLIC...

Bill is, as you know, more interested in criminals than in their victims. And, let's face it, criminals are in many ways more interesting than victims. But it continues to color his outlook on baseball and American history, where he blames the victims of the sixties for things they could not overcome in situations where the deck was stacked against them.

With another of his fascinating but internally contradictory meta-value systems ("potential" careers vs. actual performance), Bill doubles down on certain value judgments (it is the tragic age of doubling down, is it not? If only folks would triple down, so that triples would go up in frequency, we'd be happy--albeit briefly, of course, because if the Orange Menace triples down before they invoke the 25th Amendment, the world's annihilation will indeed be upon us...) via another attempt to impose rules on chance.

And, of course, it's Dick Allen who winds up in the vise of Bill's pretzel logic. After stating categorically in 1994 that Dick did more than anyone in baseball history to steal wins from the teams he played for, Bill has kinda sorta backtracked...but like a certain other Orange someone, he just can't keep his mouth shut on the subject.

After having arrogantly claiming that he starts fresh every time he revisits questions of value in baseball (thereby reneging on any claims he made previously and thus being absolved of any and all responsibility for them), Bill returns to Dick Allen with the "potential career" method, suggesting that Dick's career "should have been" as great as Hank Aaron and Willie Mays--neglecting, of course, to look at the fact that those two estimable gentlemen began in more favorable hitting eras, were venerated in the press during their formative years, and were two of the most remarkably durable players in the history of the game.

Rather than noting that Allen, not blessed with the perfect eyesight of Aaron and Mays, still managed to hit at similar levels of achievement (based on OPS+), Bill obsesses on the dark side of Allen's personality. Did it occur to Bill that Allen might have developed a drinking problem because of what happened to him in Philadelphia, and then was caught in a spiral that he had to find ways to control, only to find that all efforts to do so were doomed to a Kafkaesque failure?

Brimstone...or Leviathan?
In a word, no. The Calvinist (not Hobbesian) in Bill suggests that reaping and sowing are somehow as proportional as the abstracted rules he creates for determining career potential. In such a scenario Allen's seven injuries would be shoved into a moral certainty about a man who projects himself into conflict and controversy (the unlucky man is somehow always to blame for his misfortune).

Was Allen a perfectly innocent victim? Of course not. He made many errors in judgment, but most of these have been blown out of proportion. Was he a malingerer, or just a slow healer? Did his career come to an end because his fractured ankle forced an adjustment in his stance that undermined his ability to hit right-handed pitching?

Can it really be possible, as Bill claims--after calling Dick an alcoholic and a sociopath--that every misfortune that befell Allen is solely on him? Or that by claiming that there is more to the story than pinning the tale on the donkey (so to speak) that his defenders are absolving him of all blame?

In two words: hell no. Allen's foibles are not relevant to his case for the Hall of Fame. He is not an "inner circle" member of that elite group of players. But his achievements as a hitter, despite injuries, in light of the offensive era in which he performed, are more than sufficient to put him in.

What the baseball world needs to do is put Dick in the Hall before he dies, and what Bill needs to do is to say nothing more about Dick Allen for the rest of his natural days. It's a blight upon a man who has accomplished so much over a forty-year career.  It's time to quit stepping in it, Bill, lest the stench stay with you into the next world.

HOPE FOR LARRY WALKER, SCOTT ROLEN, GARY SHEFFIELD...AND BILLY THE KID

Let's not go away "mad" or "bitter" (and let's be sure to, once again, thank our invisible sponsor: the one, the only Fright Quotes R Us, the company that turns every cotton-pickin' word into a conversation--they truly make us look sane, if only by comparison).

We really do need a little lefty in the Hall of Fame...
Let's also thank Mister Thibs (and not say goodbye to him until all the Hall of Fame ballots are counted, if not revealed). Ryan Thibodaux's fabulous tracker is at it again this year, and we have hope for the four men listed in the section subtitle above. ("Billy the Kid," for those who may have forgot, is ace reliever Billy Wagner.)

All four are gaining Hall of Fame support at a solid clip this year. For Walker, it's going to be close on two counts--he's in his tenth and final year on the ballot, and he is going to need a surge in "private ballots" (that stubborn subset of BBWAA voters who eschew transparency, thus leaving us guessing to the "bitter" end) to crack the 75% barrier. Any and all calcs show that it's too close to call.

Neither Rolen nor Sheffield nor Billy the Kid are even close to such a suspensefully suspended moment, but their gains in support are sizable and highly encouraging for the future. All of these guys are, in our book, entirely worthy of a slot in Cooperstown.

Oh, yes: our 2020 Hall of Fame ballot, if they were "mad" enough to let us cast it, would be as follows: Bonds, Clemens, Jeter, Kent, Ramirez, Rolen, Schilling, Sheffield, Wagner and Walker.

Wouldn't it be ironic if Curt Schilling made it into Cooperstown only to have his beloved Orange Menace blow up the world a week before the induction ceremony? And wouldn't it be nice if that were only a sick joke rather than an actual possibility?

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.