Friday, September 4, 2020

QMAX: TOM SEAVER--THE EARLY YEARS (1967-69)

Tom Seaver, who passed away earlier this week at age 75, is as iconic to the team he should have played for his entire career (the New York Mets) as Babe Ruth was to the Yankees. 

Ruth joined a good team in 1920 and helped it win seven pennants over fifteen years; Tom joined a team that lost 100+ games in five of its first six seasons and led it to a World Championship in its eighth year of existence. 

While there are greater pitchers in the history of the game (and you are free to supply your own names), Seaver is in the top ten--and he is a close second to Greg Maddux for being the most intelligent man to toe a pitching rubber. 

Rather than follow those who've already eulogized him as a pitcher and a human being, we'll spend some time here looking at Seaver's glorious beginnings with the Mets, using our favorite starting pitcher evaluation tool--the Quality Matrix (QMAX) to track his evolution from a highly effective 22-year old rookie to a Hall of Fame-level pitcher at age 24 (in that magical, mystical year of 1969).

We'll take a little time with the first chart to remind those of you who've been away from QMAX (and/or from this blog) just how the system works. Simply put, it uses hit prevention and walk prevention to create a performance matrix that classifies starting pitcher performance using each game as a separate unit. The best games (to the top and left of the QMAX matrix diagram) are the ones where pitchers prevent the most hits, walks--and, to a somewhat more variable extent, total bases (the system was enhanced once more detailed starting pitcher data became available thanks to Retrosheet). 

Note that these matrix regions do not use runs allowed in any way to make these evaluations. (Unlike, for example, Bill James' Game Scores.) Instead, the system concatenates all of the starts that meet the criteria for inclusion in each of the 49 performance slots in the matrix) and calculates the statistical data for each separately. The key data collected for the purposes of QMAX is the won-loss records for these matrix slots: by applying these to each individual pitcher's dataset, QMAX computes a probabilistic winning percentage for each pitcher. We call that the QMAX winning percentage, or QWP.

You'll see the extra data that is compiled from QMAX shortly; let's revisit the ranges on the QMAX matrix diagram using Seaver's 1967 performance grid as a guide to how the system works. Remembering that the upper left area of the chart is the region where the best games in hit/walk prevention occur, note the green box covering cells 1,1-2,2. This is what we've termed the "elite square," because pitchers win 88% of the games that fall in this region, while their teams win 79%. The greatest pitchers have their starts in this region with the greatest frequency. Seaver's total (eight) and percentage of total starts (8/34, or 24%) on his QMAX chart in 1967 (above left) is good but not great. 

The method is set up so that the "4" region spreading horizontally across the chart represents the starts where hit prevention is almost always equal to the number of innings pitched in any given start. (There are a few exceptions to this now that total bases and the ratio of total bases/hits is factored in, but it doesn't affect the modeling enough to perturb the results.) The yellow region surrounding the "elite square" is the area where pitchers and teams win more than 50% of the time, and was dubbed the "success square" (even though the 4, 4 cell is not part of this area and thus the region is not really a square). The 6 and 7 region shown in orange is the "hit hard" region: only the games at the far left of each row are games in which pitchers can still have a viable chance to win games, since they are often limiting walks and total bases. Seaver's percentage in the 6-7 region is 15% (5/34): again, very good, but not great. The eight starts in the "5" region, though, are somewhat high.

The ranges on the chart that are tabulated into percentages are thus: the "success square" (which incorporates the "elite square" to give a total positive percentage; the "elite square" (showing the propensity for best possible hit/walk prevention in each start; the "hit hard" region (how vulnerable to games with poor stuff and/or command); the "top hit prevention" region (the 1-2 rows on the matrix chart) which show how frequently batters find the pitcher especially difficult to hit; the "power precipice" (the box from 1,4-2,7) where pitchers who are not good at walk prevention may still prevail due to their ability to suppress hits; the "Tommy John" region (the box from 4,1-7,2) named after the man who frequently could allow more hits than innings pitched but still win games due to superior walk prevention).

These can all be collated into a table that shows what we call the "QMAX range data." (Or, sometimes, called "region data.") It provides a sense of performance shape in addition to value. Of course you can also average the individual scores (cell locations) for each start made by a pitcher in a season, which can then be compared to the league average. The lower a pitcher's average is, the better. For Seaver in 1967, his basic QMAX averages are 3.53 "S" and 2.65 "C." Again, these are good but not great numbers. The QMAX range data summary for Seaver's first three seasons show how he improved incrementally over his first three years in the big leagues. The combined QMAX score of 6.18 in 1967 has improved to 5.04 (remember, lower is better) in 1969. 

The "S" and "C " components show us that Seaver improved his hit prevention and walk prevention in '68, which improved his other range data percentages as well, shown by increases in "elite square percentage" and in games with excellent walk prevention--as measured in the "C1" percentage state (a column near the center of the table above). 

In another year, his 5.14 combined QMAX score would produce a higher QWP than .641; but 1968 was the year of the pitcher, and increased overall hit/walk prevention (and, of course, lower run scoring) decreases the value of these top games--pitchers and teams win fewer of them under such conditions--and this knocks down Seaver's QWP as a result. 

In 1969, hit/walk prevention values (and run scoring levels) increased, and the mound was lowered 5-6 inches in height. This seemed to affect Seaver in the early going, as his QMAX values declined (remember, higher is worse) to around the levels of his rookie year. In mid-May he began a streak of twelve starts that represented his best sustained performance rate to date (2.75 "S" and 2.17 "C" from May 21 to July 14). This included his near-perfect game on July 9, where he set down the first 25 Cub batters he faced before settling for a one-hit, 11-K shutout (a game that, yes, grades out in the 1,1 cell on the QMAX matrix chart).

The Mets had closed to within four games of the Cubs at this point, but Seaver's next three weeks were the roughest portion of the '69 season and coincided with a fade by the Mets such that they were 10 games back of the Cubs in mid-August. Seaver's QMAX score of 4.2 "S" and "3.2" C over those five starts included two "hit hard" games, created some concern for the health of his arm, and caused many to conclude that the Mets were not really ready to chase down the Cubs in the newly formed NL East.

But Seaver not only returned to form with his start on August 16, he began a streak of ten outings that are arguably as fine a streak as ever seen (a statement that includes extended hot streaks from such estimable names as Maddux, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, and Pedro Martinez). 

In those ten games, Seaver threw five (5) 1,1 games, was in the "elite square" eight times (80%--as opposed to a league average of 14%), and produced a surreal .911 QWP. (His won-loss record over those ten starts is just about what you'd expect: 9-0.) 

Tom's "S" and "C" scores for these games: an otherworldly 1.4 "S" and 2.1 "C." Together with his left-handed counterpart, Jerry Koosman (2.4 "S" and 2.5 "C"), he carried the Mets into first place when the team was missing its best hitter (Cleon Jones--a topic we've covered in a previous post) for two weeks during the September stretch drive. That set the stage for the most unexpected outcome in the World Series in more than half a century.

That incredible finishing kick lifted Seaver's overall totals for 1969 into the realm of greatness, as he wound up with a .700 QWP for the year, with just under half his starts falling in the "elite square." His level of dominance as a power pitcher, as measured in his "top hit prevention" percentages (the ratio of total starts that grade out in the "1" and "2" rows of the QMAX matrix chart) increased from 35% in 1967 to 60% in 1969.

All in all, 1969 was the year that set up Tom Seaver for his Hall of Fame career that followed. We'll return with a look at the next six years of his career shortly, via the lens of QMAX. 

Thank you for your greatness both on and off the field, Mr. Tom Terrific--and rest in peace.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

THE GOLDEN AGE OF DOUBLES: YOU DON'T MISS YOUR WATER...

Golden Ages are never what they're cracked up to be, for two reasons. First, those who tout them, even assiduous students of history with iron-clad methodologies, are either slaves to hierarchy or have a hidden agenda. Second, no one seems capable of determining that they are, in fact, living in such an exalted era during the time in which it occurs.

Or if they do proclaim a Golden Age in the present moment, we are strongly cautioned to return to reason number one: Ye Olde Hidden Agenda. That's why some folks (no names here: we'll let you find them on your own...) will proclaim that we are living in a Golden Age of home runs. But such things are not supposed to be, nor can they be, in reality, things that go on interminably. We've had a so-called Golden Age of homers since around 1994, give or take a lull in the early years of the last decade, when what we really are having is an extended pandemic of long balls that have finally begun to take their toll on baseball's version of an ecosystem.

And in that protracted, unyielding and ultimately insufferable and stultifying onslaught of homers, there was a true Golden Age that came into being unappreciated and virtually unseen. It took shape in the offensive explosion of the 1990s, flying under the radar as offense in general reached levels not seen in sixty years. But oddly--and somewhat gloriously--it sustained itself after the peak of that run-scoring explosion had passed. 

It was the Golden Age of doubles, the two-base hit--the Middle Way in the shape of offense. As the chart at right demonstrates, it was the longest and most consistent level of high achievement in the history of the game. And it passed us by after close to two decades of silent, unheeded existence.

The earlier peak levels for the two-base hit were much spikier, as the chart also shows us. The American League reached what we might call "Golden Age" territory first, shortly after the start of the live ball era in 1920, with the National League following suit in the run-up to 1930, the biggest offensive season in history for nearly seven decades.

But the NL falls off quickly from that pace, and despite another peak from the AL in 1936 we see the first Golden Age of doubles dissipate. Two-base hits become significantly less abundant for forty years, driven down by the game's first systemic uptick in homers, followed by the overcorrections imposed on offense in the sixties. A slow but steady uptick begins in the mid-1970s; doubles manage to hold their own through the roller-coaster ride for home runs as the 1980s play out. And so they are primed for a big jump when conditions for offense burst back into existence in 1993--with that Golden Age of doubles taking hold in both leagues shortly thereafter. It was a double-barreled Golden Age, as the chart demonstrates: it represented a uniform offensive strategy employed across both the AL and the NL.

We can look at this in another way--one that depicts the emphasis on hitting doubles as brought into play over the history of the game. The two tables displayed here show the number of teams hitting 300+ doubles in a season: the first table shows the raw number of teams in each year who meet or exceed that standard. From looking at the 2B/G chart, you'll not be surprised to see what is a nearly forty-year gap in teams hitting 300+ 2B's in a season (from 1941 to 1978). And the Golden Age of doubles as measured this way can be seen in the 1996-2009 time frame.

We can see it in a similar but possibly revealing formulation in the second chart (below right), which measures the percentage of possible teams hitting 300+ 2B's in a season across all these years. In 1996-97, teams approach the percentages achieved in the 1930-32 peak (30+% of all possible teams); they match it in 1998-99; and they take it to an unprecedented new level in 2000. They pretty much sustain that rate until 2008, whereupon the percentage of possible teams subsides. The 2010s are still stronger than any other time except for the 1930s, but the Golden Age is over. 

Of the 283 incidences of teams hitting 300+ 2B's, 222 of them (78%) have occurred since 1996; 173 of those (78% of that subset, and 61% of all such teams over baseball history) happened from 1996-2009. And it happened right under our noses. 

Of course, no team will come anywhere within a hemisphere of 300 2B's in 2020. But the chart at top shows an unprecedented drop in 2B/G occurring this year--not quite a stock market crash, but what folks in the financial world like to call a "correction." Is it a one-season blip, or has the emphasis on homers finally reached a tipping point for other forms of offense? We won't know the answer to that for awhile, but what we do know is that the Golden Age of doubles is not coming back anytime soon. 


Thursday, August 6, 2020

RUBICON FOR THE RELIQUARY & A POSSIBLE PATH THROUGH THE FOREST OF DREAMS

Of the folk in the past quarter-century who have altered perceptions of baseball and its relationship with American history, Terry Cannon deserved to be the last man standing. But life is inherently unfair, and the life's work of a man who contained more multitudes than any present-day "public spokesman" for the game was cut short this past weekend. (Terry was only 66: by rights, he had another fifteen years coming to him, but such was not to be.)

And so those who appreciate Cannon's unique achievements--a singular combination of intellect and charm, buttressed by a barely repressible whimsy--must wonder about the great torso he has left behind. The Baseball Reliquary was always a work in progress, but it now faces its truest and most fateful of all possible "Rubicon" moments. 

Its depth and substance are (mostly) not in dispute, but was it dependent on a cult of personality? Its Shrine of the Eternals--a far more felicitous and wide-ranging group of personages than Cooperstown--requires a guiding hand to continue its project. And it needs someone to keep the Reliquary ritual intact--the cowbell, the unlikely rendition of the National Anthem prior to the keynote address and the Shrine inductions. Can anyone possibly be as amusingly dead-pan as Cannon in his role as overseer and master of ceremonies?

We will need to find out--and such a discovery is, fortunately enough, deferred due to even greater tragedies that are playing out in America this summer. Presuming that we emerge relatively intact from the effort of the majority to throw off the tyranny of the minority, we'll be able to turn our attention to preserving this sacred-yet-profane anti-institution as the manifestation of a "People's Hall of Fame" in a way that honors Cannon's unique vision and provides a platform for it to take hold as more than the "quirky West Coast phenomenon" that various factions wish to dismissively characterize it as being.

As Executive Director of the Reliquary, Terry Cannon brought together a matchless sense of art curation, historical sweep, unwaveringly and unapologetically left-leaning cultural orientation, and a serious case of silliness to his brain child. He had a great deal of help: his wife Mary, the wise counsel whose behind-the-scenes efforts brought an anchoring stability; conceptual partner Albert Kilchesty, the voluble polymath whose writerly skills were so outlandish that they obscured Cannon's own formidable talents; allies and project coordinators such as Tomas Benitez and Kerry Jo Nakiyama, who opened our eyes to baseball's impact on immigrant communities; and a bevy of accomplished writers from John Schulian to David Davis, who recognized the depth of the cultural synthesis that lay beneath the irreverent, playful veneer of the organization.

The most important of these allies, however, has been artist Ben Sakoguchi, whose incredible series of baseball history paintings are the pictorial embodiment of what the Reliquary is all about. The symbiosis between Cannon's project and Sakoguchi's unflagging visual invention is one of those rare occurrences where concept and object merge as one without the need for a physical partnership. In a perfect world, Sakoguchi's series of orange crate art-styled baseball paintings would reside in a Reliquary museum, where their shared connection in a more encompassing world-view of baseball's cultural importance and its (often subterranean) impulse for progressive change could be displayed and celebrated. 

Cannon had originally felt that the Reliquary should be a "stateless" anti-organization, but he was persuaded to change his mind a few years ago--and his association with Whittier College, where the Institute for Baseball Studies has been housed, helped to put in place a broader platform for events and projects that otherwise were subject to the vagaries of finding appropriate and available venues. The first effort of those following in Terry's footsteps will be to ensure that this arrangement continues.

Why do we need a Shrine of the Eternals? The answer to that is another question: why do we need fresh air? While Cannon and the Reliquary leaned left, the hard-core political content was not worn on its sleeve; while progressive elements and individuals (people of color, women, LGBTQ) had a home in the organization's cultural outreach, these elements blended into its insistence that the idea of an American melting pot was neither moribund nor passé. The Shrine of the Eternals was the perfect instrument to impart such a message to the rest of the baseball community busy factionalizing itself.

It is still that perfect instrument, and it needs to be continued. In 2021, the three inductees from this year will be given their belated due: Rube Foster, the ebullient but tragic Negro Leagues pitcher and entrepreneur; Max Patkin, one of baseball's most fabled clowns; and Bob Costas, the highly-regarded media figure whose reverence for baseball history in its larger sense is unique amongst his peers. Instead of conducting the traditional vote for 2021, the new leadership of the Reliquary should re-iterate their commitment to the literary vision of baseball and its history that is at the bedrock of its mission. They should focus their future efforts around these ideas by adding three inductees for 2021 who capture this better than any others:

--First, Terry Cannon himself. Cannon's deadpan showmanship, networking skills, and boyish irreverence have kept hidden his other skills, including his own writing. His last act as Reliquary director was to pen a firm but fair rebuttal to the estimable Historian of Baseball, John Thorn, who had questioned the long-term commitment of 2001 Eternal inductee Jim Bouton to the Baseball Reliquary. It is a masterful piece of writing, revealing facets about Bouton's viewpoints and character (and his ongoing devotion to the Reliquary) that even his indefatigable biographer Mitchell Nathanson was unable to capture. 

And, of course, the man who thought up and nurtured the Shrine in the manner of a patient but ever-vigilant gardener, is himself an Eternal.

--Second, the great nineteenth-century baseball writer-scholar David Nemec, whose work takes us back to the dawn of the professional game in America and whose obsession for completism has brought us more information and grassroots insight about baseball's early years than any other writer (even the estimable Thorn, whose approach is loftier and more academic--probably more suited for enshrinement in that East Coast institution). Nemec's multivalent skills as historian and novelist permitted him to write a fascinating novel about baseball in the "exploding year" of 1884, a book with a title that evokes much about what remains important and essential about the spirit within baseball: Early Dreams

Others may eventually eclipse his historical work, but Nemec is the giant upon whose shoulders they will still be standing.

--Third, and not least, the great lexicographer of baseball, Paul Dickson, whose Baseball Dictionary is one of the game's most essential cultural and historical resources. Like Nemec, Dickson's interests span beyond baseball, but there is something incandescent in their obsession with the game that exemplifies what the Reliquary has been endeavoring to cement into the minds of its membership (and all others who may yet hear its clarion call)--a transcendental relationship between the National Pastime and the nation that still needs it, warts and all.

These three individuals are each Eternals, each an individual who is not reproducible or repeatable in baseball history. The argument for bypassing the standard election process is predicated on the idea that these three capture the essence of what those of us who should appreciate, support and sustain in the impulse to engage with baseball as more than a set of statistics, or as a media spectacle. These choices reconfirm that the Reliquary is a place for a Platonic communion with a game that, unlike any others, takes us back to childhood--reminding us that even in a nation currently torn asunder by chaos and corruption there are symbols that can help us to transcend our ills, forgive our trespasses, and deliver us from evil. 

That is why the Baseball Reliquary and the Shrine of the Eternals must continue, so that the vision of the Good Shepherd Terry Cannon cannot, and will not, vanish from the earth. Godspeed to you, Terry, and thanks for everything.

UPDATE 8/9/20: Richard Sandomir, jack-of-all-trades at the New York Times, has published a thoughtful, detailed tribute to Terry today. In it, he notes that a large portion of Terry's sizable collection of baseball memorabilia will be transferred to Whittier College (where the Reliquary-related Institute for Baseball Studies is located), and that Joseph Price, a Whittier College professor emeritus, was tapped by Terry to guide the Reliquary to the other side of the Rubicon. Best of luck, Joe.

And from it, we've appropriated what is perhaps the most indelible photo of Terry that is publicly available--an image that reminds us that Terry was born near Detroit and retained his attachment to the Tigers even after relocating to California, where his true calling awaited him. We propose that the Reliquary brain trust invest some of their not-so-plentiful cash in a standee of Terry that can ensure that he will always be present at Shrine of the Eternals induction ceremonies; his puckish sense of humor would surely appreciate the fact that such a presence would ironically echo the efforts of present-day baseball to keep a strange semblance of humanity on hand even as ballparks across America were kept empty in 2020 so that the show could go on. 

Sunday, August 2, 2020

2020: A SOBERING ISOBA UPDATE...

Baseball is back: that's both good and bad, from so many perspectives. It's good because its fans need it right now, with a virus raging and politics turning even more virulent; it's bad, because the games are forced to be played in cocoon-like settings offering only a small fraction of its usual "comfort food" blandishments. It's good, because there will at least be some continuity (despite the efforts of both labor and management to create a hole as gaping as the one bored into the game in 1994); it's bad, because the game on the field is almost certain to reflect and exacerbate the calamitous trends of the recent past.

We could go on with such cheap parallelism for maybe six paragraphs, but others have seemingly procured a patent on that, and we don't want to shell out any of our precious dough at a time when the economic indicators are so dire. The so-called great champions of the sabe-neo-post hoc "enlightenment" (aka the institutional analytic madness) are either apologists for these catastrophic developments, or they are whistling loudly past the graveyard as the bodies pile up. (Now there is a parallelism that is not cheap, except in the eyes of certain "politicians" who've concluded that a certain portion of American life is decidedly unprecious.)

The data measure we employ to highlight baseball's escalating descent into two-dimensional irrelevance is called ISOBA. (Sounds like it might be a virus, yes? It might as well be.) The relative health of the game, in terms of "shape variety" existent in baseball offense, is captured by ISOBA, which takes isolated power (a wonderfully simple measure from Bill James, before he fell into a series of rabbit holes: it is, simply enough, slugging average minus batting average, or SLG-BA) and divides it against batting average itself (in order to see just how much hitting is being moved around by hits other than singles).

In the course of baseball history, triples have been marginalized, so doubles and homers have vied for prominence in the ongoing measurement of ISOBA. As the chart below intimates, these two principal pillars of run creation have been in relative balance since the live ball arrived in 1920, with a few oscillating escalations over time.


But look at what has happened since 2015. In a manner not un-analogous to the escalation of economic inequality in a certain nation (in danger of being traded for an autocracy to be named later...), ISOBA has gone...well, virulent. Worse than that, the two leagues--which had often shown divergent paths with respect to the power/BA interaction, had achieved a hegemonic lockstep that could only come from the incursion of antigens akin to a pandemic. The "second wave" of sabermetrics, as infused into baseball organizations as a giant "booster shot", has, in fact, produced a "death spiral" leading the game further into an "all or nothing" approach to scoring runs.

2019 brought absurd (as in Beckett/Ionesco-style absurdity) new highs in terms of HR/G, with both leagues cracking the previously unthinkable .700 ISOBA barrier. We warned at the time that the implementation of practical approaches emphasizing "launch angles" and "three true outcome" theorizing would result in a game where batting average would decline. The "official bright minds" (James, Tango, Posnanski) were mostly silent on this. (After all, batting average is such a flawed measure; why would we care if it declined more, so long as run scoring didn't crater?) Only Joe pushed back in public, praising hitters for a "smart adjustment" as pitchers became more strikeout-oriented. (Of course, Joe tossed his shiny penny-wise brain into a mud puddle by omitting the fact that it takes two to Tango--pardon the pun--and the batters were at least as culpable for the rise in K/9 as their counterparts on the mound.)

So, here, in 2020, with a strange version of baseball on display--and in an preparatory environment that due to the disruption of spring training would seem to favor the hitters--we have the first results to examine. ISOBA is down--but not by much: it's still over .700. HR/G are down--but not by much. The ratio of D/HR is down, and to a marked degree: in the 2020 AL thus far, that ratio is 1.19, whereas in 2014 the ratio was 1.91. 

What else is down? You guessed it: batting average. The most precipitous drop in BA in either league in any given year is 1931, when the NL lost 26 points of BA. In the 2020 AL, we currently have a drop of 21 points of BA (from .253 to .232). Worked out as a percentage, the NL BA drop from 1930 to 1931 is 8.6%; right now, the AL BA drop from 2019 to 2020 is 8.3%. The delta in the 2020 NL is milder, but only mildly so...

Baseball fans from the Reagan era will "capture" this reference...
How likely is what we're seeing the "sea-change into morbid two-dimensonality" we'd previously suggested would be the case? It's hard to say. This year is, of course, aberrant in more ways than we can enumerate without subjecting our readership to act upon pent-up urges to slit one's wrists. (And we still need you around to vote in November...so we will do no more harm.) But the picture is not a pretty one--one way or another, sooner or later, our dire predictions about the direction of offensive shape will come true, and the fans will suffer enough from it that it will put the game in the kind of peril we've seen democracy fall into over the past four years. 

We'll let you decide which one you think is more important to world history; all we can say is that it is symptomatic of a malaise that has systematically befallen America, gestating slowly and picking up steam, triggered by forces that care little for nuance or the give-and-take of true reasoned discourse. It's all of a piece, and it's got to stop. For baseball, ISOBA is the measure that tell us that the consequences are dire, and the sand in the hourglass is picking up speed...

Sunday, March 29, 2020

2020 IS NOW THE PERFECT YEAR FOR RADICAL EXPERIMENTS IN THE GAME...

MLB is forced by the Coronavirus situation to examine alternatives to its usual schedule. There is no way that a 162-game schedule can be played, and their first efforts in dealing with this reality has been to work with the Players' Union to work out workplace issues stemming from that fact.

But what about the games themselves? How many will there be, and how many will involve games played with no one in attendance? What can be done to make those games (however many there may need to be...) more entertaining, more unusual, more watchable?

For many, such a question is moot--baseball's deep nostalgic connection with much of its fan base will be sufficient for people to engage whenever games start getting played. Folks will shell out $$ to see games in some revised pay-per-view package, and many will be satisfied with what they get.

But for others, it's a time of radical disjuncture from established norms. Baseball literally has no idea how such a cultural force will manifest itself during the weeks where it is virtually certain that they will be relying on fans to supply revenue by paying to watch from home.

With that in mind, it's time to consider how to use that time in a more creative and unusual way--to create what would unquestionably be the most unusual "spring training" ever held. It's time to go outside the box and experiment with some versions of the game that no one has ever seen before, and use the likely "fanless" games as a laboratory for rules changes that would otherwise never be considered.

(Yes, the minor leagues have been designated as the place for such activity. But the minor leagues are in their special form of peril at this time: it's a situation that the 2020 season is only going to make worse. That laboratory is simply unavailable.)

What are these "radical" rules changes that we are endorsing as incremental experiments for a spring training that would occupy 4-6 weeks beginning on June 1st? Hang on to your caps...as long-time readers know, we are capable of going not only "off road" but (as a dear friend said...) "off galaxy."

Experiment 1: Change the number of outs per inning (and change the number of innings in a game). Here is possibly our greatest sacrilege, and so we'll lead with our chin. What could possibly be the rationale for changing the sacrosanct "three outs in an inning rule"?

Because it would change the game in ways that no one can predict without implementing it. Other changes can be modeled: you can change fence height, OF distances, the nature of the baseball, etc., and get a pretty good idea of what effect it will have on run scoring. With four outs an inning, however, strategy changes. Aspects of the game that have been marginalized and minimized by the aggressive modelers of the past twenty-five years will have a new lease on life.

Of course such a change only works if you also lower the number of innings in a game. (Yes, you're no longer just gnashing your teeth now, you are thinking about whether you can waive your objections to the Second Amendment in just this one instance...) We figure that the optimum number of innings under a four-out-per-inning scenario is six. It is harder to get 24 outs four at a time than 27 outs three at a time? Will the games be longer or shorter? Higher scoring or lower scoring? Who knows? Let's find out. Two weeks of applying these two simple changes will tell us everything we need to know.

Our prediction: people will be mesmerized by the idea of two double plays in the same inning. They will be happy to see teams try to steal more bases because giving up one out in such a structure will be less detrimental to their chances of scoring in any given inning. Pitchers will hate it, because their ERAs will automatically be higher if run scoring stays constant over a four-out, six-inning game.

Experiment 2: Change the number of balls needed to draw a walk from four to three. This idea is not quite so outlandish, we admit: it has surfaced in many discussions over the years. So why not try it for a couple of weeks and see how pitchers and hitters adjust to it? Such a change should produce fewer pitches per plate appearance...the only question is whether walks will go up at such a rate that the length of the game remains the same. We're betting that it will knock 20-30 minutes off game duration.

It will fascinating to see, even in just a two-week period, how pitchers adjust to such a rule change. We'd figure that some guys would do just fine from the beginning, while others would struggle; but by the second week, many of those who had a problem with it would have found a way to adjust what they do to the demands of such a rule change.

You could argue that we'd need more than two weeks to really see the difference. We grant that, but we suggest that the idea be given a spin for a couple weeks, as most of the starting pitchers would receive at least two starts to deal with the idea. We expect run scoring would be up in the first week, and down in the second.

Experiment 3: Implement our wacky but wonderful "190-foot rule" and create the random half-inning of defensive deprivation (aka "in search of the endangered triple"). Many of you have read about this one before. To recap for those who've not yet signed the petition to have us escorted to the nearest booby hatch, the idea works like this. At the beginning of the game, each team spins a wheel which features the numbers 3 through 6 on it. Wherever the wheel lands--let's say "4" for the home team and "5" for the visiting team--the inning in which the team must move its center fielder inside a line painted across the field at 190 feet from home plate and not shift anyone else into the outfield is established.

What this rule puts into play is a situation where the team on defense is deprived of some of its ability to chase down balls hit into the gaps, resulting in more time for the hitter to advance further on long hits. The result of this rule change will be to create more triples, which will redress some of the ongoing imbalance in extra-base hits that has come into being as the game created ballparks with smaller and more regularized outfield areas.

As far as we're concerned, it's high time to see exactly what happens when such a rule is put into effect. We'd recommend, however, that this rule be tried when fans can actually attend the games, because it is likely to create the greatest visual excitement amongst these proposals. The sight of a center fielder forced to play short-center and a team with no recourse to make sufficient adjustments to overcome such a defensive privation would almost certainly create a monumental anticipation in the spectators.

Some may initially find it to be too gimmicky, that's true. But we still contend that once people see such a rule in actual operation, they will glom onto it as one of the great enhancements of essential baseball drama that's ever been devised.

***

MLB is still struggling with how to implement the 2020 season. We propose that if the game can begin on June 1, then those leapin' Lords of Baseball should try out each of these radical experiments in the spirit of "nothing left to lose," and do so as follows:

1--June 1-15: Initial spring training--the six-inning four-outs-per inning rule. Since pitchers will be building up arm strength over the first month of baseball's return, expanded rosters could support this notion better than any other. Two innings of four-out baseball would be roughly equal to three traditional innings. And in spring training games, teams could afford to try out every possible strategic modification that a four-out scenario would provide.

2--June 16-30: Phase two of spring training--three balls for a walk. We return to "normal" baseball (three outs, nine innings) but substitute the three-ball walk. Run scoring and BB/9 is monitored.

3--July 1-15: The 190-foot rule rides high. Everything goes back to "normal"--four balls, three outs, nine innings. Bring the fans back to the ballpark. Only when you do so, you've got this line across the field and 20-foot nets from foul pole to power alleys in place (to lower HR levels a bit--Lord knows they need lowering). Play two weeks under such conditions and see what the results look like. See how people react to games where they realize that in the top of the fourth, the home team is going to have to bring its CF in to play at little league distance and the other two outfielders are going to have to (as they say in the hallowed halls of Congress...) bust their asses.

Oh, yes. And you make this last klatch of games count in the standings. Then, on July 18, you hold an All-Star game using this rule.

On July 21, you start a truncated 81-game season that extends into early October. It includes a smattering of doubleheaders and leaves out interleague play. The 14 games played under the 190-foot rule count in the standings, so you actually have a 95-game schedule.

Then, at the end of that year, you ask the fans to tell you what they think of the three potential rule changes. Our guess is that they will be lukewarm to #1, mixed-to-positive about #2, and--

...Puzzled, mystified, but strongly and strangely enamored with #3. "Sure were a lot of guys running around the bases in those innings, weren't there?" "Sure would've been fun to see that rule in the post-season..."

We're ready if you are, MLB. It's time to excite the fans and get their minds off what they will have just lived through. Your golden opportunity is right here...right now.


Wednesday, March 18, 2020

WHEN SWOBODA WAS (ALMOST) A STAR...

WE were just approaching the finish line with our book on French film noir as the bottom fell out of the USA due to the "foreign virus" so expertly downplayed by a certain Orange Menace (who, as with everything, now wants a "do-over").

Worst of all for many of you: no baseball for the foreseeable future (let's be hopeful and hope for a belated and curtailed 2020 season to start after Memorial Day--a holiday that we pray will remain more figurative than literal).

Now that we're in the finishing stages of that pesky (and voluminous) tome, however--and now that David Pinto has completed his blast-to-the-past over at Baseball Musings with play-by-play data taking us all the way back to 1920, we will do something semi-systematic with that. Kudos to David for giving all of us another way into that data, one that supplements the capabilities at Forman et fils (OK, OK: Baseball-Reference). We hope that will provide some distraction as we all try to outwit (or, rather, outwait) the march of COVID-19.

BUT that's not what we're here to look at today--instead, some old business brought up to date (with added context). Some nine years back, we wrote a quick entry called "When Swoboda Was A Star", a slice from David's Day-By-Day Database that positioned the enigmatic but always entertaining Mets everyman on the cusp of stardom. (We won't revisit the incredulity inherent in that idea: as Swoboda himself readily acknowledged in last year's highly entertaining memoir Here's the Catch, the moment we first traced in 2011 and revisit in a somewhat different way now was clearly a mirage.)

So, never really a star--BUT, but...the three months in his career between August 1, 1967 and April 30, 1968 (encompassing 70-75 games) were clearly his finest hour and (as you'll see below) nothing to be ashamed about. But our earlier version, with more games in the sample, tended to emphasize the notion that Ron was on the cusp of becoming a star slugger--a notion that the data below clearly refutes. Let's take a look at the leading hitters in that three-month window:


You can find Ron right in the middle of this table, which is sorted in descending order of OPS. (Yes, we still prefer OPS, particularly when displayed with OBP/SLG: it's that "shape" thing, you know.) He's clearly closer to the low man on this listing--the legendary Duke Sims, whose stats are doing a bang-up imitation of the 2018 Joey Gallo--than to the top guys (Yaz, in '67 hero mode--and our main man Dick Allen, MIA in September '67 due to his hand injury but still a Top 5 hitter all the way).

We've added some color coding to show where component stats for individual players deviate from their overall level of play: the pale blue cells in the BB column show the folks who just won't take a walk (ruining a chance at stardom for Rick Reichardt and a chance at the HOF for Vada Pinson). We should've had blue in the HR column for Matty Alou and Curt Flood, the two non-sluggers who are high-up on the list (a situation that could not happen today). And we should've had orange in the triples column for Lou Brock, as he's tied with Roberto Clemente; we captured that in his SB totals, which were tops for the period.

The two columns at the right are where it becomes clear that Swoboda is not going to move up in "weight class" to be a slugger. XBH% stands for extra-base hit percentage: Sims, the magic portal to post-modern baseball, is the leader with 50% of his hits going for extra bases. You can see who the big sluggers are this way--and Ron is not one of 'em.

The corollary measure is another old fave of ours: we named it XTB here. It measures the percentage of a hitter's total bases that are generated from extra-base hits. As you'll see from comparing the two columns, this one bounces around a bit depending on what type of XBH they are, but the same verdict is reached for Swoboda here as with XBH%: he's got respectable power, but it's below the average of the 32 hitting leaders for the 8/1/67-4/30/68 time slice. And this is his peak performance, whereas most of the guys above him are having just a representative slice of their production displayed here.

The leaders' slash numbers here are clearly different in this time frame than what we see now, but you have to remember that this is the transition into the "Year of the Pitcher" (1968). Swoboda doesn't cover it in his book, but the offensive freeze of '68 took hold in May and never let up. Ron's seasonal progression that year mirrors that perfectly: he hit 7 HRs in April (a record at that time), but managed only four more over the rest of the year.

At the end of the year Yaz was the only AL hitter who managed to hit .300--and the rest of his slash line numbers do not look like what you see above!

So--not quite "so near, and yet so far" for Ron as we had intimated earlier. He made his mark in '69 anyway, despite tumbling out of the firmament. He was just in time to launch himself across the grass at Shea Stadium on October 15 to make that reckless, improbable, heart-pumping catch. I'm sure Ron would smile and agree with Robert DeNiro's off-the-wall character Rupert Pupkin as he finishes his monologue in The King of Comedy: "Better to be king for a night than schmuck for a lifetime."

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.