Thursday, August 20, 2015

2015: COMPLETE GAMES #61-#72

Busy, busy, busy--and the 2015 season keeps chugging along. Next time around we'll print a new calendar chart for complete games...

It took a week for CGs to surface in August, but the activity has been "up-stepped" (you're welcome, "Fright Quotes R Us"...) since then, with twelve complete games in eleven days from 8/7 to 8/17. (And we know that #73 occurred earlier tonight, with the Tigers' Alfredo Simon stepping out of a dismal season with a go-the-route performance.)

Here's the lowdown on those dozen add-ons to the 2015 CG rolls...

--Sonny Gray (#61, 8/7)...a five-hitter over the Astros in a 3-1 A's win.

--Corey Kluber (#62, 8/9)...three-hitter, 10 K's, as Cleveland routed the Twins, 8-1.

--Colby Lewis (#63, 8/ of three losing CGs out of our most recent dozen, as his Rangers came up short in a 4-2 loss to the Seattle Mariners.

--Johnny Cueto (#64, 8/10)...a four-hit shutout over the Tigers as the Royals' big stretch-run rental came up big in his first appearance in KC (final score: Royals 4, Tigers 0).

--Madison Bumgarner (#65, 8/11)...12 K's and five hits allowed as his Giants beat the Houston Astros, 3-1.

--Williams Perez (#66, 8/11)...the Braves' rookie came up on the short end against the Rays in a 2-0 loss; Perez has the lowest strikeout total in a CG thus far in '15 (he fanned only one over his eight innings).

--Hisashi Iwakuma (#67, 8/12)...the crafty M's righthander, recently back from an extended stint on the DL, tossed a no-hitter vs the Baltimore Orioles, striking out seven and walking three in a 3-0 Seattle win.

--Corey Kluber (#68, 8/14)...his second CG in a row, a one-hitter marred only by Joe Mauer's fourth-inning HR; the Indians beat the Twins, 6-1.

--Masahiro Tanaka (#69, 8/15)...coming up big for the Yankees in their game against division rival Toronto--a five hitter with 8 Ks as New York prevailed, 4-1.

--Chris Rusin (#70, 8/16)...the lefty let go by the Cubs late last year is trying to make a go of it in thin air--and on this night he blanked the Padres (at Coors Field!) in a 5-0 Rockies win.

--Madison Bumgarner (#71, 8/16)...the Giants' ace matches Corey Kluber's back-to-back August CG feat with a three hit, 14-K flattening of the reeling Nationals (final score: SF 5, Washington 0).

--Carlos Rodon (#72, 8/17)...the 2014 #1 draft pick of the White Sox is feeling his way in the majors this year, but his first CG was a losing effort: his two HRs allowed (to Albert Pujols and C.J. Cron) brought him down as the Angels made the solo shots hold up in a 2-1 win.

The current pace for the season's-end total of CGs now stands at 98. We may very well go down to the last week as we count off to the "magic" 100 barrier...

Monday, August 10, 2015


Yes, that's the question...we can play this game every so often, if only because we just want to see what the results look like.

We are looking for best duo-trio-quartet-etc. of "young hitters" (age 23 and younger) in any given season. The OPS+ boundary line is 150.

Naturally, we are prompted by the fact that, so far, this year (2015) two stellar campaigns are being turned in by Bryce Harper (age 22, 204 OPS+) and Mike Trout (age 23, 181 OPS+).

Of course, they might not hold this performance level over the whole year, but right now they look formidable (individually, of course, and--more importantly for our purposes here--collectively).

Will we find a better duo-trio-etc. in years past? Let's move backward in time and find out.

Our next duo occurs in 1993: Ken Griffey Jr. (age 23, 171 OPS+) and Juan Gonzalez (age 23, 169 OPS+). Hard to remember that Juan Gone had seasons like that, nicht war?

Then, to 1991: Griffey again (age 21, 155 OPS+) and Frank Thomas (age 23, 180 OPS+).

From there, it's back all the way to 1972, where we pick up two players who failed to hold their high-flying youthful performance levels: John Mayberry (age 23, 168 OPS+) and Cesar Cedeno (age 21, 162 OPS+).

Next: 1964, with Boog Powell (age 22, 176 OPS+) and Dick Allen (age 22, 162 OPS+).

Our first trio occurs in 1955, with Mickey Mantle (age 23, 180 OPS+), Eddie Mathews (age 23, 170 OPS+) and Al Kaline (age 20, 162 OPS+). These guys turned out pretty well, though Mathews and Kaline didn't match these early numbers going forward.

The previous year (1954) Mantle and Mathews became the only repeating pair (at least thus far) with age 22 seasons with OPS+ values of 158 and 172 respectively. They are joined by Willie Mays (age 23, 175 OPS+).

From there, we slip backwards to 1942: Ted Williams (age 23, 216 OPS+) and Stan Musial (age 22, 151 OPS+)

The previous year (1941) it's Williams (age 22, 235 OPS+) and Pete Reiser (age 22, 164 OPS+).

We go next to 1937: Joe DiMaggio (age 23, 166 OPS+) and Rudy York (age 23, 151 OPS+).

Next: 1935, with Arky Vaughan (age 23, 190 OPS+) and Joe Medwick (age 23, 151 OPS+).

The year previous (1934) features Hank Greenberg (age 23, 156 OPS+) and Hal Trosky (age 21, 150 OPS+).

In 1929 and 1930, we have another repeater duo in Jimmie Foxx (ages 21 & 22, 173 and 161 OPS+) and Mel Ott (ages 20 & 21, 165 and 150 OPS+).

Before that, we travel back all the way to 1911, for Joe Jackson (age 23, 191 OPS+) and Tris Speaker (age 23, 157 OPS+).

In 1910, we have a quartet (let's not press our luck by asking them to sing, however). They are: Ty Cobb (age 23, 206 OPS+), Speaker again (age 22, 170 OPS+), Fred Snodgrass (age 22, 154 OPS+) and Eddie Collins (age 23, 152 OPS+). That's three Hall of Famers and a lawn problem.

Cobb,  Collins and Speaker were a trio in 1909, when they were all a year younger.

In 1907, Cobb (age 20, 167 OPS+) pairs up with Sherry Magee (age 22, 169 OPS+).

Further back--1901--we have: Jimmy Sheckard (age 22, 169 OPS+) and Sam Crawford (age 21, 167 OPS+).

Now, into the nineteenth century: in 1890, we have the only instance of a trio who represent three major leagues in the same year: Cupid Childs (American Association, age 22, 180 OPS+); Mike Tiernan (National League, age 23, 160 OPS+); Jake Beckley (Players League, age 22, 152 OPS+).

Into the 1880s:

--1889: Denny Lyons (AA, age 23, 159 OPS+), Mike Tiernan (NL, age 22, 159 OPS+)

--1888: Oyster Burns (AA, age 23, 153 OPS+), Mike Tiernan (NL, age 21, 152 OPS+)

--1887: a quartet, three in the AA: Bob Caruthers (age 23, 169 OPS+), Oyster Burns (age 22, 164 OPS+), Denny Lyons (age 21, 162 OPS), with Fred Carroll (age 22, 150 OPS+) joining them from the NL.

--1886: Bob Caruthers (AA, age 22, 201 OPS+...why isn't he in the HoF??), Fred Carroll (NL, age 21, 150 OPS+)

--1884: a quartet: Buster Hoover (UA/AA, age 21, 188 OPS+), Pete Browning (AA, age 23, 174 OPS+), Fred Carroll (AA, age 19, 156 OPS+), Ed Crane (UA, age 22, 152 OPS+). Crane converted to a pitcher when he moved to the NL after the Union Association folded...

--1882: Pete Browing (AA, age 21, 223 OPS+), Ed Swartwood (AA, age 23, 188 OPS+).

--1881: Fred Dunlap (NL, age 22, 156 OPS+), Dan Brouthers (NL, age 23, 181 OPS+).

--1880: Roger Connor (NL, age 22, 169 OPS+), Abner Dalyrmple (NL, age 22, 160 OPS+).

Into the 1870s, the first decade of pro ball:

--1878: Paul Hines (age 23, 177 OPS+), Lew Brown (age 20, 153 OPS+), Abner Dalrymple (age 20, 151 OPS+).

In the National Association now...

--1873: Ross Barnes (age 23, 207 OPS+), Cal McVey (age 23, 157 OPS+).

--1872: Ross Barnes (age 22, 211 OPS+), Cap Anson (age 20, 200 OPS+), Davy Force (age 22, 179 OPS+). Who has ever thought of "Pop" Anson as a young man? It seems to cut against reality...

--1871 (aka The Dawn of Time): Levi Meyerle (age 21, 237 OPS+), Ross Barnes (age 21, 185 OPS+), Cal McVey (age 21, 175 OPS+), Ezra Sutton (age 21, 159 OPS+).

Barnes and McVey are the only teammates age 23 or younger to exceed 150 OPS+ together in the same year. It happened in the first year of pro ball--and it hasn't happened since...

Thursday, August 6, 2015

2015: COMPLETE GAMES #56, #57, #58, #59, #60

Catching up to these "rare gems" (we'll let you tease out that reference--it bears an indirect relationship to the pitcher's mound...) about a week into 2015's second-to-last month brings forth an astonishing discovery--no CGs as yet for the month of August. (Last year there were 23 CGs in August, the highest monthly total for the 2014 season.)

The Indians did their part at the end of July, however, with three consecutive CGs (Trevor Bauer, 7/28, #56; Corey Kluber, 7/29, #58; Carlos Carrasco, 7/30, #59). We will have to spend some time in the bowels of Forman et fils' Play Index to determine the last time that there were three consecutive CGs for a team...we'll report back on that in a later installment.

Bauer's CG loss to the Royals on the 28th snapped the ten-game CG win streak in play at the time; since then, however, a new four-game skein of wins is underway, including:

--The A's Sonny Gray (7/28, #57), a three-hit, nine-K 2-0 shutout over the Dodgers;

--The wins from Kluber and Carrasco;

--Seattle's promising but streaky Taijuan Walker (7/31, #60), a one-hitter (in keeping with his mercurial nature, that one hit was a home run...) with 11 Ks, in a 6-1 win over the Twins.

Current pace, taking into account the slight uptick that happens at the end of the season, calls for 95 CGs by season's end.

Friday, July 31, 2015


Yes, geeks are at least as alienated as the rest of us...
Yes, we cheated with the can do that in Blogger (which, we suspect, will soon be a plot point in the new tech-geek noir series Mr. Robot). You see, we just knew that Ben Lindbergh would flap his wings somewhere over the Atlantic (not needing to get more than halfway to Paris to receive his "Lucky Lindy" accolades...) so having the data "pre-dated" (BTW, could that be a new slogan for on-line romance sites?? Oog, we hope not...) conveys our foreknowledge of just how the utterly odd numberologist meritocracy operates on the other side of its seams.

Of course our old pal Rob Neyer (not quite as much of a Mexican jumping bean in the employment department as Joe P., but some legends are best left alone...) jump-started the process in late July, when responding to the 7/31 trade deadline frenzy (there! we managed to tie this back to the subject line in less than two grafs--buy a round for those folks reeling over there at the bar!). Rob has always let others do the heavy lifting with the numbers (and why not--it just works up a sweat...) but his remarks about the trade deadline were another reminder of how he can be obtuse and acute at the same time, all while not knowing which is which.

Not quite the "cycle of sabermetrics," but ominously close...
Taking Wins Above Replacement (yes, that battered WAR-horse) as his Empedoclean jumping-off point, Rob dismissed (or, should we say more charitably, showed marked skepticism about) the entire "clown car show"--you can figure out where we lifted that one from--that was the 2015 trade deadline frenzy (there...twice in three grafs! That's the type of emphatic emphasis that might get us an interview with the Trump campaign).

Rob said (and we baldly paraphrase): since even the best player only generates about six WAR in a year, renting him for what is essentially the last third of the season only produces a small gain, so why bother?

Of course Rob then went on to ignore his own caveat and become embroiled in the "2015 trade deadline frenzy" (we must not be remiss in using the phrase AND honoring our contractual obligations to our long-suffering sponsor, "Fright Quotes R Us," a company that suffers fools just as well and as fast as you can make 'em), which is one of Neyer's classic M.O.'s (and, despite what he likely thinks, we love him for it).

What's missing, of course, is any follow-through with respect to this radical concept ("What if it doesn't matter?"). It's as if Rob's appendix--a remnant organ of the human body with no actual function except to go kerblooie in one out of every 934,477 members of the world population--tried to give his brain a vestigial reminder of the old days when he would actually do some research about some such assertion or question, and actually penetrated the blood-brain barrier, only to be drowned in a rampant, raging wave of glibness-inflused capillaries. (Hey, it happens to the best of us...Bill James just gave a soggy interview in which he plagiarized and bowdlerized himself at the same time.)

So, the question on the floor is (still is, that is...): does all this frenzy make any difference in what happens over the last third of a season? Glibsters of all denominations will focus on one player or one sequence of events out of context and trumpet it as "the key" to how things went down during late-season crunch time, but they don't capture anything large scale. And none of the tools developed by the numberologist wing gives us any direct way of measuring this--using WAR for this is a mystical sidetrip that's more like a pale sugar high as opposed to the hallucinogen-infused scientific prolegomena that it's cracked-up to be.

Which brings us back to Lindbergh, whose (G)rantland post-mortem on the 2015 trading deadline frenzy put a trace element of numerical context into play (providing, as he often does, a high-level summary with a patina of surface allure that is ultimately bereft of actual analytical value). Yes, Ben, we can tell that the GMs went batshit crazy in 2015--sure, the charts show that, but a) we knew that already and b) they really don't show anything there some actual meaning or context in the yearly fluctuations? And God forbid that we would try to analyize-predict-summarize the use value of this escalating fact of life in the little world of baseball insider squirmy-poo...

So, as is so often the case, we'll wrench a few precious minutes out of all the other things we are juggling (including those chain-saws we got in the deal for Melvin Upton, Jr.)--all those books and festivals on French film noir, the documentary film about Don Murray, etc., etc.--in order to generate a template for how to approach this subject.

Sure, it will be simplistic: there's no reason for it to be anything else. We need to measure the results, and by results we mean what actually happened in the won-loss record. Measuring how much WAR penetrated the blood-brain barrier is too ethereal to be of much use.

So the chart below, which uses 2014 for purposes of this presentation, captures the minimum of what we need to collate in order to begin the type of research that could be helpful in understanding what actually happens as a result of late-July "body wrangling" (in other words, something well beyond the well-wrought words of pundits dancing around a maypole of contingency).

Here you have the teams ordered in terms of their won-loss perframance over the "third third" (last third, games 109-162) of the season. You have their record up to game 108, the "straight projection" of what their 162-game W-L record would be, their actual record at the end of the season, the difference between the projection and the actual--and, finally, at right, the players they acquired at the end of July.

As you can see, it's mostly a self-fulfilling exercise--or, at least, it was so in 2014. Nuances that Lindbergh completely ignores, such as how many big-name (higher-WAR) players might be coming up for free agency in any given year, can make the process fluctuate significantly from year to year. What we see is that ten of the twelve teams who made the 2014 post-season gained ground from their projected season W-L record. (An average of 3 games better the ten teams that gained.)

There was one raging anomaly: the Oakland A's, who frittered away 11 games from their projection despite their trading activity.

There were also three teams (color coded in bright yellow) who were in the playoff hunt after 2/3rds of the season but made little or no trading effort and did the fall-down-go-boom thing (Blue Jays, Brewers, Braves). The Blue Jays didn't repeat that behavior this year.

And, finally, there were the Yankees, faced with unaccustomed oblivion, who actually made the biggest player grab this time last year, and got a boost of exactly one game over their pre-rearrangement projection...

You could (if you had time, and especially if you were being paid by so-called reputable sports media companies...) make such diagrams for all of the seasons since, say, 1995, and have a sense of how all this works. We doubt anything we say will chasten or motivate the fine feathered "friends" we are ruffling here to do so, but stranger things have happened (yes, that brings us back to the Trump campaign again, doesn't it?) Lord help us all...


Can teams overcome consistent mediocrity in one major performance area and make it into the World Series?

Of course they happens more often than one thinks. For example, there have been fifteen teams who've made it to the World Series whose starting pitcher performance was below the league average for the season un question. 

Most of these teams got a lot of wins in the regular season from their starters: five of the fifteen logged 70+ wins from the pitchers who took the mound in the first inning. And, of course, none of these starting rotations were conspicuously under the league average: the worst was about 9% under the aggregate.

The teams in question: the 1947, 1952, and 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers; the 1967 and 1975 Red Sox; the 1972 and 1976* Reds; the 1982 Brewers; the 1987 Twins*; the 1988 A's; the 1993 Blue Jays*, the 1997 Indians; the 2006 Cardinals*; the 2007 Rockies; the 2009 Phillies.

Note that only four of the fifteen teams on the list managed to win the World Series (*).

Now we seem to have another team--those wonderfully confounding Kansas City Royals--who are trying to up the ante on their counterintuitive success last year with a close variant of the same. The Royals might become the first team to reach the World Series with their batters drawing less than 350 walks. But that would mean that they'd have to keep their hitting shoes on in all the games where their starting pitching (weaker than last year) flounders.

How have they gotten to a .600 WPCT? A bullpen that is amped up to an historic level of performance,  for one thing. And solid timely hitting across many of the splits (late and close, RISP, high leverage, game tied, two outs).

And, as our buried lede for this post demonstrates (in the table at right), they have been getting exceptionally consistent mediocre starting pitcher for the first four months of the 2015 season. 

As you can see, the Royals have the lowest deviation in their monthly starting pitcher ERA numbers. 

Indeed, it seems that consistent monthly performance (within some range of reasonable effectiveness) is what contributes to teams who exceed their Pythagorean projections.

Now, of course, you need exceptional performance from your bullpen to offset mediocrity--that's clearly happening for the Royals, and that's also the case for the Yankees. The A's, whose starters have been consistent on a monthly basis, don't have the benefit of even a good bullpen, so their consistency hasn't helped them stay in the playoff hunt.

The average deviation for MLB thus far is .59. The Royals and Yankees, despite having starting staffs whose overall performances are below league average, are managing to reap benefits from consistent mediocrity. It might be fitting if they face each other for the AL pennant.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

2015: COMPLETE GAMES #52, #53, #54, #55

A lull in complete games after the All-Star break, but a ten-game winning streak is in play, easily the longest of the season.

Cole (Cutie-Pie) Hamels: his no-no might be his swan song
for Philadelphia...
W-L records for 2015 CGs of eight IP or more (the only ones we recognize, which is why our totals do not match the number you'll find over at Forman et fils and elsewhere...) is now just under .750 (41-14).

We start at the most recent: Cole Hamels (#55, 7/25), the third no-hitter of 2015. Hamels, rumored all year to be on his way out of Philadelphia, threw 129 pitches in putting the total goose-egg on the Chicago Cubs, the most in a CG this year and tied with the Blue Jays' Marco Estrada, who had 129 pitchers over eight (non-CG) innings back on June 24.

It might be Hamels' last game for the Phils...if so, would that be the first time a pitcher was traded after throwing a no-hitter?

Elsewhere, the White Sox' Jose Quintana (#54, 7/24) scattered seven hits as he shut out the Indians (final score, Chisox 6, Cleveland 0).

And Clayton Kershaw (#53, 7/23) has two CGs in July and could be the first pitcher in recent memory to have three CGs in a month...Kershaw tossed a three-hit shutout at the Mets, striking out 11 (Dodgers won, 3-0)

Finally, Garrett Richards (#52, 7/18) helped put the struggling Red Sox (1-8 since the All-Star Break) into a hitting slump with a two-hit shutout (3-0 Angel win).

One last factoid: which team has had the most CGs thrown against them thus far in 2015? It's team currently in the hunt for the post-season: the Houston Astros (6 CG by opposing pitchers). Next highest: the Chicago White Sox with five.

Monday, July 20, 2015


Please feel free to peruse our preview essay over at the Hardball Times on the 2015 Shrine of the Eternals induction ceremony which was held yesterday (July 19) in Pasadena to a standing-room-only crowd. (Thanks to Paul Swydan for moving earth and a part of heaven to make it happen on short notice..)

The Baseball Reliquary "formula" is, as we noted some years back when we were honored to give the Keynote Address, one part anarchy and two parts reverence...the Reliquary's signature event has an aleatory choreography held together by the deadpan glee of Executive Director Terry Cannon.

He and his main cohort, Albert (Buddy) Kilchesty, are nothing more or less than two knowing and mysteriously gifted kids who can let go of their balloons at a windy beach and somehow be assured that they will return into their hands just as they're ready to call it a day.

After seventeen years of these singular proceedings, we are no longer astonished by how it all happens. In fact, we don't even have to be there (as was, sadly, the case this year) to know that it all worked just as it's supposed to do.

You can read more about this year's inductees--Sy Barger (Topps baseball card innovator), Glenn Burke (baseball's first gay player), Steve Bilko (legendary minor-league slugger with a TV show title to his credit)--in the Hardball Times essay.

But you should strongly consider buying the new book by the Reliquary's Tony Salin Award honoree, Gary Cieradkowski, entitled The League of Outsider Baseball. Fabulously illustrated by Cieradkowski himself and filled with indescribable baseball lore, it's an Eternal in its own write.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

2015: COMPLETE GAMES #44, #45, #46, #47, #48, #49, #50, #51

Some of "baseball's best starting pitchers" made a run on CGs during the run-up to the All-Star break:

--Chris Sale (#44, 7/6), a six-hit, 4-2 win over the Blue Jays;
--Mark Buehrle (#45, 7/6), losing to Sale and the White Sox (becoming the first pitcher to have two CG losses in 2015);

--Johnny Cueto (#46, 7/7), looking like his 2014 self with a two-hit, 11-K shutout as the Reds beat the Nationals, 5-0;

--Clayton Kershaw (#47, 7/8), scattering eight hits and fanning 13 in a 5-0 shutout win as the Dodgers swept a four-game series from the lowly Phillies;

--Jeff Samardzija (#48, 7/9), a four-hit shutout over the perplexing Blue Jays (a team playing a good bit under their Pythagorean projection);

--Sonny Gray (#50, 7/12), rebounding from his bout with gastroenteritis with a a two-hit shutout for the A's (another underachieving team according to Pythagorus...) in their 2-0 win over the Indians;

--Jake Arietta (#51, 7/12), proving that 2014 was no fluke with a two-hitter over the Cubs' cross-town rivals (White Sox).

Eagle-eyed readers will note that we've not yet covered CG #49 yet. That's because CG #49 was not turned in by someone who's currently considered to be one of "baseball's best starting pitchers"--though he's been very impressive since being recalled from the minors on June 9th (2.15 ERA, 181 ERA+; 3.00 "S," 2.38 "C,"/5.38 QMAX "T").

Who is he? He's Taylor Jungmann, the Brewers' first-round pick in 2011. The song "Long, Tall Texan" fits Taylor to a T: the 6'6" Jungmann was born in Temple, TX and was drafted after his stint on the mound at the University of Texas.  His first career CG (#49, 7/11) was a three-hit, seven-K domination of the Dodgers in Dodger Stadium. (The Brewers have been playing much better lately--it all seemed to stem from a timely matchup with those aforementioned Phillies, with whom they'd been vying for the dubious honor of worst team in baseball. Their four-game sweep of the Phils led to an eight-game winning streak and a 14-6 record in the run-up to the All-Star Break...

...which is where we came in, so it's a good place to get out. The Brewers' turnaround gets an immediate test this weekend when they have to face off against the Pirates.)