Saturday, September 20, 2014

2014: ANNUS MIRABILIS?

Just over 20% of all depictions of "Little Miss
Muffet" to be found on the 'Net partake of a
"goth" variation of some sort--this "little miss"
seems unlikely to be frightened away if "a
spider sat down beside her," n'est-ce pas??
We mentioned it awhile back...but we're getting down to the dregs of the 2014 season, so it's time to revisit the notion that this year may yet have something special to offer, despite its rather draggy overtones (late season surges and collapses have been more wan than usual; exceptional achievements are few and far between; and even a sizable portion of the folks living in the NYC metro area will be relieved when the Derek Jeter Antique Roadshow™ will finally be mothballed).

What is that transcendent moment, that soupçon of salvation, that pleasant feeling of the highway cop driving by with antlers ablaze that are mercifully not meant for you?

The chart below will make it obvious to most (if not all) of you. It depicts the post-season teams that have represented the American League since 1995, when Budzilla stomped on Little Miss Muffet's tuffet and created the Wild Card.

What should be clear in even the briefest of glances at this chart is that we have never yet had a season since 1995 where baseball fans have been without a post-season appearance from either the New York Yankees or the Boston Red Sox.

Yes, Virginia, there really is something called "too much of a good thing."

Though we're not sure that this twenty-year "thing" (watch out for that subliminal, flashing "Fright Quotes R Us" ad...don't blink, and you'll miss it!) really qualifies as "good."

The color code--orange for division winners, deep blue for wild card teams, pale blue for teams that get a coin-toss game to be a wild-card team, various shades of blue for the current 2014 situation, where the paler the blue, the less likely the post-season appearance--makes it clear what we've been dealing with, coping with, even (in some instances...) seeing therapists about.

Nineteen consecutive years of some form of puffed-up blowhard-ery in the AL postseason...surely, in the midst of our ongoing litigious renaissance, there must be a class action suit in the works for this.

As the 2014 season reaches its final week, we cannot help but fixate on whether the suddenly plucky Yankees, who've wobbled all year and who've been on the ropes for the better part of six weeks, will suddenly plague those who hope to see them miss the post-season for two consecutive years by winning their last twelve games. (Dare we even mention the idea for fear of it coming true??)

Keep in mind, however, that the Yankees play the Red Sox on the last weekend of the 2014 season. While the Sox are well out of it, we can only imagine how much pleasure they would take in helping the Yankees to join them on the post-season sidelines. Stay tuned...

Sunday, September 14, 2014

2014: COMPLETE GAMES #99, #100, #101, #102, #103, #104...

Marcus Stroman (Blue Jays)
We have our first three-game CG losing streak in 2014. Earlier, you may recall, there were three CG losses on the same day (August 21st), but it was not technically a three-game losing streak due to the fact that Dallas Keuchel's opponent in the Astros-Yankees contest, Brandon McCarthy, also threw a CG--and didn't allow any runs.

Yusmeiro Petit (Giants)
But after CGs from Adam Wainwright (#99, 9/7: STL 9, MIL 1); Marcus Stroman (#100, 9/8: TOR 8, CHC 0); and Yusmeiro Petit (#101, 9/9: SFG 5, ARZ 1, using just 84 pitches...), we had three consecutive CG losses.

The "unlucky despite going all the way" guys are: Lance Lynn (#102, 9/11), whose Cardinals were shut out, 1-0; Scott Kazmir (#103, 9/11), who'd been struggling for the A's of late but wound up on the short end of a 1-0 game vs. the White Sox; and Julio Teheran (#104, 9/13), who--like Lynn--allowed only three hits but was victimized by sloppy defensive play as the Braves gave up three unearned runs while scoring nada en route to a 3-2 loss.

That brings the overall record of CG pitchers in 2014 (remember, in games where the pitcher went at least eight IP without benefit of a reliever...) down to 81-23 (.779).

A few isolated "losing CG facts" to ponder:

Two CG losses in 2014: Jeff Samardzija, Julio Teheran, Dallas Keuchel, Madison Bumgarner.

Rick Langford
In 23 losing CGs, teams whose pitchers have suffered the CG loss have had run support totalling twenty runs.

Melido Perez
Number of 1-0 CG losses: 7.
Number of 2-0 CG losses: 1.
Number of 3-0 CG losses: 2.
Number of 2-1 CG losses: 6.
Number of 3-1 CG losses: 0.
Number of 3-2 CG losses: 4.

The record for most CG losses in a season? Let's just say that since expansion (1961), that record is eleven, held by three pitchers (Mickey Lolich, 1974; Catfish Hunter, 1975; Rick Langford, 1980). The most since 1990 is 8 (Melido Perez, 1992) The record for most CG losses in a single season in the 21st century is held by Jeff Weaver, who had five in 2001. The aforementioned Brandon McCarthy had four in 2011, tying him with Mike Mussina (2000) and Livan Hernandez (2004).

Friday, September 12, 2014

AUSTER'S PITCH: HIGH & TIGHT OR DOWN & AWAY?

Auster's work is to surrealism what
Neufchatel was to real cream cheese...

In the pantheon of penisolate postmodern picaros who've scaled the sideways mountain of "littery" acclaim, Paul Auster is batting in the lower end of the big league batting order. He gets props, however, for his (strangely detached) loyalty to the Mets, whose history is exactly the type of spoon-fed mystical randomness in which Auster has trafficked for lo these many years.

He doesn't have the panache of Pynchon, or the legato backbeat lilt of DeLillo; he's not sybaritic enough, or interested in the promiscuities of language, to match up with Gilbert Sorrentino. In his wistful, involuted existentialist self-reflection, he's a lot like Paul Simon's buoyant-in-his-burden protagonist in his throwaway masterpiece "Keep The Customer Satisfied"--as a practitioner of watery, inertia-prone ficciones (eternally echo-eliding the names of his literary betters in hopes that it will rub off), he's always "one step away from the shoeshine, two steps away from the county line."

If they could ever have filmed
Coover's The Universal Baseball
Assocation
, Jason Robards Jr. was
the man to play J. Henry Waugh.
His embrace of baseball is just as jauntily remote, and after many decades of his moot-court meta-ironic posturing that was--let's face it--woefully incapable of carrying Robert Coover's jockstrap, we'd simply given up on the idea that Auster would ever transcend his ennui by tearing a page from the early scorebook of J. Henry Waugh. But, surprisingly, just a few days ago, he did just that.

Auster outlined a proposed change in the firmament of baseball, a change that has the potential to shake it to its core. It met with two common, abjectly related responses: the Scowl and the Shrug.

What was this change? It's a fundamental change in how pitchers and batters engage, two rule changes for the ADHD generation.

We're giving you the link to Auster's full comments, as they were delivered to Andy Martino of the New York Daily News, but that's for background: the actual context of the remarks, as Auster himself has said (or through some playfully indeterminate protagonist, chinning himself on a vertical bar that represents the catechism of contingency...), is not important. The two key rule changes are enough fodder for the fiercely fustian among us:

--A walk shall occur after three balls.
--A batter will be out if he hits a foul ball with two strikes.

Yes, that's right. There shall be no more than five pitches per batter. Call this the new Austerity, a game that can return to the urban brawl it spilled out of its pastoral trappings way back in the eighties (the 1880s), when Walt Whitman and Mark Twain were both mesmerized by its energy (despite the fact that for much of that time, it took more than four balls for a batter to draw a walk).

Auster, of course, made only a feeble attempt to discern what the impact of these rule changes would be--and that was the foremost reason why his ideas were greeted with scorn (or were simply dismissed with a yawn). The sacrosanctity of four balls for a walk, however, is a fiction unto itself, and while it's certainly possible to believe without burden of proof (as Craig Calcaterra and others have done in responding semi-snarkily to Auster's "Big Idea"--and, yes, our sponsor "Fright Quotes R Us" is looking up and down at all this and licking its collective chops...), it's also intriguing enough to warrant the work to anatomize just what might happen to baseball if these rules were put into play.

Calcaterra states baldly that these changes would cause walks and strikeouts to explode in seriously greater frequency, but it's not really clear that this would happen. (We would love to have seen what he and others would have written in 1893 when the pitching distance was adjusted ten and a half feet. Whatever else we can say about our predecessors, they clearly possessed a pioneering spirit--something sorely lacking in current times.)

But before we address all that, let's actually try to quantify just how many pitches would be removed from the game if Auster's idea were implemented.

To do that, we tossed together the following chart utilizing "plate appearances by number of pitches" data compiled awhile back by the multi-hatted Paul Swydan (who is not yet a character in a Paul Auster novel). It's a nice slice of "big data," as it chronicles twenty-six seasons' worth of plate appearances--a total of over four million (though this is just under a hundred thousand fewer than the number of random recursions in Auster's fiction...).

From this, we can (after a little bit of extra detective work) apportion pitch quantities to the various batting counts that are possible at each incremental number of pitches. Here is what we came up with:



















The matchups of this data with the percentages for the "terminal states" of batters' plate appearances turn out to be pretty good (only a few discrepancies--nothing to get hung about, as John Lennon said). We can also identify from this breakout of "number of pitches" the plate appearances that would no longer exist if we were to implement Auster's idea.

Everything in the two shades of orange--a color that is clearly too vibrant for Auster's fiction...he'd never be an Astros fan, or dress poison gal Madge Rapf (Agnes Moorehead) in all that eye-popping citrus--is what would disappear.

The lighter orange shows the PAs that would not exist due to the three-ball walk; the bright orange--the same color as Madge's malevolent roadster--shows all of two-strike counts that would go away with the implementation of the "foul out" provision after pitch # 5.

It works out to a 25% decrease in total pitches thrown, as our second chart shows.

So, if the average number of pitcher per team per game is now right around 144, this change would drop that to 108. The large majority of "pitches saved" come from that scary three-ball walk--about 70% of the total drop.

How would Mitch Williams have fared with the three-ball rule?
The results would very often have looked just like this...
Calcaterra and others who've pretty much dismissed the idea out of hand are convinced that the fabric of the game would be utterly destroyed by these changes, but we're not so sure. After all, the number of pitches for a walk decreased rapidly during MLB's infancy, and it didn't have anything like the effect on offense that the initial change to the current 60'6" pitching distance had.

We can see batters and pitchers adjusting rather rapidly to the three-ball rule. The game would become more aggressive as a result, and there would likely evolve some kind of resurgence in contact hitting and bat control, particularly for the batters with lesser amounts of power.

We're not convinced, however, that we need the five-pitch rule along with the three-ball-walk. The data shows that we'd reduce pitches by 17-18% with just the one rule change. That's significant enough, and will result in a drop of 25 pitches per team per game.

Oddly enough, we don't think that offensive levels or the shape of offensive statistics would change all that much. There would likely be greater variability in the first few months, with individual pitchers and batters having difficult adjustments. But the power of evolutionary adaptation would surely prevail, and do so within a short period of time.

So we've bought half-way into Auster's idea (just as we've done the same with his fiction). We can see the three-ball walk speeding up the pace of the game, and encouraging a great deal of offensive experimentation by hitters--while forcing pitchers to throw more strikes. If anything, it's likely to reverse  (at least somewhat) the trend toward two-dimensonal hitting approaches and create a greater variance in  both theory and result.

That strikes us as quite possibly A Good Thing. It's time to be bold, you know? It's time to risk falling flat on one's face. That's what a novelist does everytime he/she writes a sentence. But at a certain level of the practice of a craft, no matter how repetitive (not just novelist or ballplayer--think porno star!), the risk just takes care of itself. The pros make the adjustments, and the game goes on.

And they just get it on (there's that porno thang again...). They just get on with it. And that can never be--well, hardly ever be--A Bad Thing. (Unless, of course, you're the Wild Thing...)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

ALL-TIME ASTRAL TEAMS (aka ZODIAC LEAGUE)/10: VIRGO

If bananas could speak, what would they say??
For reasons known only to the Internet gremlins, the standard source we've been using to display astrological symbols has gone AWOL. Woe to us for not having bookmarked...the whole world must now, apparently, be bookmarked lest we find ourselves lost in Willie Keeler's region of the ozone layer.

So what we have instead is the best of a bad, bad bunch--and we're not talkin' about any talking bananas, either. It must be that the sign of the Virgin (aka Virgo) brings out the plouffiest (don't sue me, Trevor...but while we're at it, why the heck don't you have a more manly name, my man...something like Gracchus--the world is a much poorer place for not having a ballplayer named Gracchus...) in the ephemerally eternal world of the ephemerus. (Try saying that three times after having a spiked latte, friends--who knows, maybe those bananas over there really do have the power of speech...)

Anyway. There can be no doubt that there are no virgins among these Virgos, but we have to tell you that the A-team looks damned good. This klatch of players has way too many Hall of Fame second basemen for its own good, but a little sleight-of-hand can help there, and you aren't exactly going to complain about an outfield of Ted Williams-Duke Snider-Frank Robinson from left to right across your dial, now, are you? Only a dyed-in-the-word, dead-bolted perfectionist would even think to quibble.

Let's get those master lists out of the way. First, the position players...






















Just a whole lotta interesting names here, a stack of top-flight Hall of Famers and a bunch of folk who are actually more noteworthy. Eddie Waitkus, a guy who had every right to be gun shy; Jeff Leonard and Albert Belle, surly soul mates who still somehow wake up one fine misty morning and say to each other "Hey, let's put on a show!!"; Steve Brodie, still not sure if he's the guy that jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge or the poor sap who was gunned down by Jane Greer; David and Buddy Bell, son and father; and two guys (though we're getting ahead of ourselves, list-wise...) who simply have to room together: Yank Robinson and Tug McGraw.

Yeah, we'd better introduce the pitchers now:











Only the Virgo pitching squad could wind up with two guys named Hooks.

It's a squad dripping with talent--they even have a full complement of quality left-handed relievers, who are actually quite scarce (despite the proliferation of LOOGYs over the past thirty years).

So, your starting lineup/batting order for the Virgo "A" team looks like this:

Joe Morgan, 2b; Jim Thome, 1b; Ted Williams, lf; Frank Robinson, rf; Duke Snider, cf; Mike Piazza, c; Ryne Sandberg, 3b; Cal Ripken, ss.

You may have forgotten that Sandberg played third base early in his career; we're going to go with him on the theory that he's going to give you just a little more than the other modern third baseman (Tim Wallach, Buddy Bell). YMMV.

The starting rotation (remember, we go with six of 'em here--just because we can...) relies on the old-school right-left punch of HOFers Kid Nichols and Eddie Plank. They're followed by Randy Johnson, Gaylord Perry, Bob Lemon, and--what the hey--Ron Guidry. That's a rotation that is eminently capable of some serious rotating.

In the pen: Rollie Fingers, the aforementioned Mr. McGraw, Frank Linzy, Sandy Consuegra, extra closer Jason Isringhausen, and extra lefty Ramon Hernandez.

If we are on the opposing team, we are going to call in sick no matter the consquences.

Nap Lajoie: arguably the greatest player to wind up on a 
"Zodiac League" B-team...
Now, the "B" team, which is anchored by a man with every right to question how he got demoted.

That would be Nap Lajoie.

After all, they never named a team after any of those guys on the "A" team, now, did they? But Nap will feel akin with these "B" boys if for no other reason that he'll get to bat third--something that would never have happened if he'd been on the "A" squad. The "B" squad batting order:

Tim Raines, lf; Bill Joyce, 3b; Nap Lajoie, 2b; Orlando Cepeda, 1b; Albert Belle, rf; Bernie Williams, cf; George Davis, ss; Mickey Tettleton, c.

While it hasn't got the panache of the "Swaggering Virgins" up on the "A" squad, this is a fun lineup, particularly with Joyce, the nineteenth-century on-base machine, getting the nod to play third and bat second. They'll be a "B" league terror.

The "B" team pitching is also going to stack up well. The starting rotation picks up on the depth in the Virgo master list: Al Spalding, Roy Oswalt, Curt Davis and Urban Shocker from the right side; Cliff Lee and David Price from the left.

"No, no, baby...I'm Mingo--he's Fante..."
And thanks to the glut of lefty reliever talent, the "B" team gets an "A"-level closer in John Franco, and a jaunty fivesome to back him up in Aurelio (Señor Smoke) Lopez, Randy Myers, Jeff Brantley, Pat Neshek, and my man Jerry Blevins. (We really do need a law firm named Neshek and Blevins--it's not quite the twenty-first century analogue for Mingo and Fante, but then again it's probably best that we not focus on all possible meanings of the term "Big Combo." Let's just note that there won't be any shortage of salami out in the "B" squad bullpen...)

Where, you ask, is Robin Yount in all this? He's the "A" team's extra regular. Figure that he will get time in CF against lefties, and he'll permit a bit of round-robin (no pun intended!) with Ripken and Sandberg. Cal will play some third while Robin plays short and Ryno gets a rest.

If it weren't for the Scorpio starting rotation (and, no, you haven't seen it yet...), we'd figure this Virgo A-squad to be a lock. As it stands, they will be scary good.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

TRIPLES SCARCITY: ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE

Here we provide another graphic that returns us, albeit briefly, to our ongoing jeremaid about triples.

It displays the number of instances (in our famous "yearly grid") of player-seasons where a hitter has amassed 20 or more triples.

You can see what's happened to triples over the course of baseball history by examining the frequency of peak season performance.

There have been 113 player-seasons in which a player has hit 20+ triples. 97 of those occurred before 1930.

The chart also shows that the triple was on its way out in the deadball era. The primary culprit is shortened outfield dimensions that came into play as the first wave of modern ballparks were constructed.

Broadly speaking, every change in ballpark configuration has served to minimize the occurrence of triples. That's documented in the fact that over the past sixty-five seasons, we've had exactly seven players who've hit 20+ triples in a year (as opposed to 106 in the first sixty-five years since the schedule was lengthened to something resembling what it is today).

It's instructive to look at the same yearly grid applied to the home run. We've used 40+ homers here because the ratio of that figure to the home run record (73) is almost identical to the ratio of 20+ triples to the 3B record (36, set just over a century ago--in 1912--by Owen "Chief" Wilson).

The total number of 40+ homer seasons now stands at 312. (We are looking to get two, maybe three more in 2014.)

Adherents of what is often called a "sillyball era" will be buoyed by what they see on this chart, where two decades--1990s, 2000s--account for more than half of the 40+ HR seasons in history.

It's looking as though we are moving back to the patterns in place during the 50s and 60s--the last seven seasons have produced 24 40+ HR seasons, or a tad above three per year, which tracks best with those decades. But the falloff of 40+ HR seasons, while warranted by historical propriety (which, in baseball at least, has some hope of being measurable...), is increasingly accompanied by an unease amongst so-called "thinking fans."

Rather than worrying about the game becoming too boring because of a return to "HR sanity," those folks (whom we'll take on at greater length in the not-too-distant future...) might want to consider joining a crusade to increase the frequency of triples.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

THE SHADOW OF YOUR GIFT BASKET...



It's Derek Jeter Day in the Bronx, and there's no truth to the rumor that slightly more than 8,000 seats had to be reserved for the ladies who have passed through his portals--er, life.

The once-mighty Yankees are looking for some version of the infamous Jeter "gift basket" here in the waning days of 2014, flailing to acquire something that resembles their September magic of yore. It's been clear for the last month that such an elixir, or talisman (or "proof-of-purchase" coupons, the post-modernist answer to the "box top"...) is unlikely to emerge from their 40-year old captain.

The decline of the Bombers has paralleled the momentum in the aging process as it has affected Jeter, whose "last hurrah" season in 2012 was spoiled by a severe post-season injury that has robbed him of his uniquely crisp offensive skills. What Jeter has proven thus far in 2014 is that the Yankees can give up more runs than they score--just as they did in 2013 without him. (The Yanks haven't done that since 1992, when they completed a four-year run of sub-.500 seasons.)

Jeter beat the odds back in 2011, coming back from a foot injury and the doom-laden prognostications of Nate Silver (in a moment he should have heeded, as it's become increasingly clear that the "wunderkind of electorality" would be better off if he and his posse would stick to politics...) to hit .340 down the stretch, and follow up the next year with his last "Jeter season" at the plate. But it was soon all too clear that he was not going to do the same in 2014, even with two off-seasons to recover from his broken ankle.

The splits data shows what's happened, and it's more than stark. Derek has lost his ability to dominate lefties. This is a guy whose lifetime OPS against LHPs is .893, a little more than a hundred points better than when he's facing RHP. His lifetime SLG against lefties is .492. This year, it's .296.

Over the years, Jeter has had a slight but measurable home-field advantage (.833 OPS at home, .803 on the road.) This year, that's gone. His OPS at Yankee Stadium in 2014: .543. He has not hit a home run at home this year.

Likewise, Derek has always been a very dangerous hitter when he was ahead in the count (.345 BA, 1.006 OPS). He looked just like himself in 2012 (.383 BA, 1.030 OPS). This year? .217 BA, .595 OPS.

High leverage situations? Lifetime: .310 BA, .810 OPS. 2014: .202 BA, .532 OPS.

Another odd fact in the splits that you might not associate with Jeter--he's been markedly weaker hitting against relievers in his career (OPS vs. SP: .852; OPS vs. RP: .744). As you'd suspect, that pattern has continued in 2014. Spectacularly so. Jeter is hitting .184 against relievers this year. With an OPS of .478.

That's not a misprint. The Yanks would be better off batting Brendan Ryan (insert obligatory "for Crissakes" here...) against relief pitchers. Or Stephen Drew. But, in a climate that apparently demands reverence above and beyond the call of duty, not only can manager Joe Girardi (in every other way doing a fine job, keeping a crumbled/crinkled ragtag group of has-beens and whosis on the fringes of the playoff race without his two top starting pitchers...) NOT drop Jeter from the #2 slot, he can't bat for him. As Richard Carpenter sang--and does anyone remember that Richard could actually sing??--it's a "marvelous charade."

As noted, it's the climate. The "Jeter climate" has been increasingly contentious, as the usual Midwestern suspects have gotten their collective hackles up about East Coast media bias and its willful ignorance with respect to Jeter's fielding skills. The grumbles started in earnest when Jeter gunned down the hapless Jeremy Giambi in the 2001 playoffs, and that led Joe P. to develop his own patois mauvais in a pathetic attempt to gain access to the New Yorker crowd. Much of the Yankee-hating crowd, both within the media bubble and in the boob-tubeified boondocks, came running to join in the din of disdain.

Which made us wonder if we could track all that, as a kind of meta-valedictory sendoff to the dickhead who has launched a hundred thousand screeds. Just how the forces of "yea" and "nay" fared over the years where polarization between the foul poles was just as prevalent (and just as invidious) as it was in the halls of Congress?

Over the past couple of weeks we've had C.O. Jones feed copious quantities of flavored rice crackers to our favored feverish researcher, Fergus McFollicle, who's been busy quantifying the "love" and "hate" as it radiates around the Gift Basket King. (All this, and droning background quotes from the works of Empedocles--a guy who, unlike Joe P. and his ilk, knew when to take the strategic swan-dive into the volcano.)

Fergus courageously immersed himself in every freakin' piece of verbiage either spoken or written about the man who has a dead man announce him, and, as we suspected, the backlash began in 2002. (The two different versions of our "Jeter's gift basket" chart show the relative volume of commentary and the "love/hate" percentages over the ensuing years.)

As you can see from the percentage chart, things leveled off a bit when the Red Sox found post-season success. But when Jeter's 2009 season threatened to bring him an MVP award, the negative trend was put back into overdrive. As the volume chart depicts, things were relatively quiet (and blissfully so) in 2013, while most of what folks had to worry about pertained to just how many cheeseburgers Derek was consuming during rehab.

The positive commentary, doubtless peaking due to the protracted "farewell tour," has gone up sharply in 2014. And it's clearly benefitted from the parallel tour being conducted by Budzilla, a junket whose travel arrangements should have specified a Chinese junk with training wheels.

Ultimately, the only percentage that's going to matter in 2020 is 75%--what Jeter will need to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. You can read it here first: he's going to score in the 90s. If it's higher than 95, there will be grumbling.

[UPDATE: it's the bottom of the ninth in the Bronx. Mr. Gift Basket has an infield single and a walk in four PAs, but the Yankees have been unable to rise to the occasion against the Royals and Yordano Ventura, and they trail, 2-0, in the top of the ninth.]

Thursday, September 4, 2014

2014: COMPLETE GAMES #92, #93, #94, #95, #96, #97, #98...

We are closing in on the century mark for CGs now, as a little flurry of them that featured journeymen and youngsters...which leads us to a quick investigation of pitcher age with respect to CGs.

But before we do that (as we simultaneously escape the foul odors of a farting dachshund...), let's call the roll of those who joined the 2014 CG rolls:

--Scott Feldman (#92, 8/30), a three-hit shutout over the Rangers in a 2-0 Astros win.

--Jeff Samardzjia (#93, 8/30), becoming the twentieth pitcher to have "LP" assigned to their CG in 2014, allowing only four hits and two runs over eight innings in a 2-0 loss to the Angels (part of the A's "meltdown weekend" in Anaheim).

--Clay Buchholz (#94, 8/31), adding another Buddah-brow wrinkle to a confounding season, with a three-hit shutout of the Rays (final score: Boston 3, Tampa Bay 0).

--Danny Salazar (#95, 9/3), pitching a good bit better for Cleveland after his return from a two-month demotion to AAA, scattering eight hits as the Tribe beat Detroit, 7-0.

--Miguel Gonzalez (#96, 9/3), a key target of FIP-meister eye-rolling (his ERA is exceeding his FIP at near-record levels...), defying the odds with a four-hit shutout of the Reds in a 6-0 win for the Orioles.

--Tyler Matzek (#97, 9/5), turning things around in his rookie season for the Rockies, surviving a six-game stretch from 7/29-8/25 where his ERA was 6.75, throwing a three-hit shutout in Coors Field, the first complete game tossed there by a Rockies starter in three years.

--Corey Kluber (#98, 9/6), continuing his breakout season in which he's become the Cleveland ace, with his third CG of 2014, a five-hitter as the Indians beat the White Sox, 5-1.

Now to the age thang. Early in the season we noted that younger pitchers were showing up on the CG list in quantities that would be worrisome if CGs weren't so rare. (Still, the cautionary tale is worth at least an allusion, if not a re-tell: on the April list in our chart of 2014 CGs by age, among the four CGs by 23-year-olds is Martin Perez, who threw two of them--and by mid-May was under the knife.)

The question that we might try to answer is whether there's an early-and-late pattern in terms of CGs by young(er) pitchers. Given the query limitations that are in place at Forman et fils, however, that means creating such charts for each individual season, so that project will need to wait a bit....clearly we need at least fifteen years' worth of data to have anything to say about this.

What we can do now is look at the percentages of CGs by age range for the past fifteen years (2000-14). The 2014 chart shows you where our age range breakpoints are: -25 is Age Range 1; 26-29 is Age Range 2; 30-34 is Age Range 3; and 35+ is Age Range 4.

That chart (% of CGs by Age Range from 2000-14) can be seen at left. The numbers bounce around a good bit from year to year, as small samples often will, but the general picture comes into view reasonably well when we look at the data over somewhat longer stretches of time.

Five years seems to be enough to establish the reigning trend, which is that the largest plurality of CGs come from pitchers in their so-called "prime years" (AG 2, ages 26-29), with just under 40%. AG 1--the youngsters--and AG 3--the veterans--each account for about a fourth of the CGs, with the oldsters--AG 4--accounting for the remaining one-tenth.

What we're curious to see, however, is whether CGs for the youngest group tend to cluster at either end of the season. It would make sense at the end of the year, when roster limits are expanded, for there to be a "prospect effect," where younger pitchers are given a shot (particularly by teams who are out of contention).

And it's also possible that something similar is at work in April (and possibly May), where young guys are given more of an opportunity to "prove themselves" by "going all the way"--which leads us to that burning question posed by Frank Zappa: "Would you go all the way for the USA?"

Well...wouldya???

Monday, September 1, 2014

2014: SLOW DRIP's FINAL LEAK: INTERLEAGUE PLAY, SEPTEMBER

Hard to fathom, but we are already gearing up for the big wind-down, as a particularly wan baseball season (and another year of feckless, flung-to-the-margins interleague play) trudges towards its conclusion.

The AL wound up winning 26 of 49 interleague contests staged in August, but the ongoing news (not that anyone else will report this to you, of course...) is that the prevailing "random schedule bias"--now there's one that our alternate sponsor, the Euphemism for Euthanasia Foundation, can get behind--is still operating vis-a-vis interleague play.

NL teams still wind up playing more .500+ clubs from the AL than vice-versa: over the past five years, they've played 24% more such games than the AL. They have also managed to get trounced in these games, managing only a .415 WPCT from 2010-14. (That's worse than the historical average for teams playing  vs. .500+ teams, which is .437.)

In terms of interleague play results and potential impact on the final 2014 standings, there's only one team that looks to be a pronounced beneficiary--the Royals, who completed their interleague schedule with a bang during August by winning seven of eight games, finishing 15-5 for the year. At the moment, that means that the Great Powder Blue Hope is only three games over .500 against its own league.

The Royals have been interleague road warriors this season (8-2, which ranks tenth all-time for road performance for teams with nine or more road games during a single season of interleague play). Drawing most of their road games against the doormats of the NL West (Padres, D-backs, Rockies) didn't exactly hurt their chances.

Attendance in interleague games has held steady with the 2013 average, but the September 2014 schedule looks noticeably softer than what proved to be the case "match-up"-wise for these contests. That last week, with two series where the teams are playing out the string, looks ripe for the "not with a bang but a whimper" scenario. (The good news: neither of the weakest interleague road draws--the Marlins and the Padres, both well under 25,000 per game--are in the mix. The bad news: the Red Sox, who are the second best interleague road draw at just under 42,000 per game, are in serious "phone-it-in" mode and may not bring in extra fans in Pittsburgh this time round.)

Sunday, August 31, 2014