Tuesday, August 30, 2011


And yes, we mean "fix" in just the way you think we mean it.

Look, here's the bottom line--these seasonal awards have become more clotted than month-old cream. There continues to be a raging disconnect between the BBWAA and the blogosphere in terms of the criteria involved in voting for them.

Hue and cry over these awards is the type of fallout that most folks would lump into the "there's no such thing as bad publicity" dustbin, but the problem is that none of this can actually close the gap between the "modeled value" calculations of the numbers crowd and the intuitive shell game that is the BBWAA voting process.

This perpetually periodic Mexican standoff isn't always a catastrophe--let's face it, the BBWAA isn't quite that bad at their job--but there are years in which this situation just comes up against a brick wall. Somewhere between 20-30% of all seasonal awards become accident victims in a pileup of conflicting factors, where no one can reasonably discriminate between prospective candidates.

Count the 2011 AL Most Valuable Player race as the latest Perfect Storm Scenario. With a month left in the season, things are shaping themselves into at least a three-player photo finish:

Jose Bautista, Toronto
Adrian Gonzalez, Boston
Curtis Granderson, New York

(There are some out there that want to add the Tigers' Justin Verlander to this group. As fine a year as Justin is having, his only chance to be in that discussion would be for him to win 25 games--a bitter irony to those who have staked their careers on the notion that pitcher wins are meaningless.)

Constituencies are already forming around these three, and countless metric tons of bandwith will be expended by those arguing their cases over the next six to eight weeks. We won't try to paraphrase these arguments here: that would be almost as tiresome as what's going to be flying around as the season winds down. What we can do is simply summarize the specific strong points for the candidates:

Bautista (home runs, OBP, SLG, OPS+)
Gonzalez (RBI, batting average, doubles, OBP, playoff team)
Granderson (home runs, triples, XBH, runs scored, RBI, stolen bases, playoff team)

Any and all "weighting systems" that attempt to tease out anything resembling a significant gap between these players--including Wins Above Replacement--are floating in the fog.

Assuming these players' performance strengths remain the same at season's end, two of them are going to be cheated.

At this moment, they are each MVPs.

The best thing we can tell the writers to do is to rig the vote. That's right, rig it.

Of course, the one time they rigged it (1979 NL MVP), the BBWAA didn't go far enough...they decided that Willie Stargell deserved a lifetime award ahead of his enshrinement in the Hall, and they rightly admired the unique hitting peak of Keith Hernandez.

Problem is that they should have handed a third piece of hardware to Dave Winfield.

But, of course, if they'd done that, people would have said that they'd rigged it.

And, naturally, we can't rig anything in this country.

Of course not.

Anyway--we've grown up a lot since 1979. We know better now. So we should just agree right now that the MVP candidate pool is too big to fail and we should just rig it.

Just throw a blanket over the whole thing and give the Three Amigos their diamond-studded earrings and free Range Rovers from Bud's car lot.

It worked for the 1981 World Series. The writers simply decided that three Dodgers were each deserving of the MVP award, and they handed one out to Ron Cey, one to Steve Yeager, and one to Pedro Guerrero.

Is that a lousy example? Sure it is: it's not a full season, it's just six games. Things can't be expected to sort out in six games.

But sometimes they don't sort out in 162 games, either. When it becomes crashingly obvious that it doesn't, the BBWAA needs to invoke a hitherto unnoticed clause in their voting rules--the "Too Close to Call" clause.

Sometimes you've got to not try to stop the buck, you've got to pass it. At this moment, it looks like the 2011 AL MVP race is just such a scenario.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


It's no longer a record that means much to the so-called "thinking fan." 200 hits is just an arbitrary round number, reserved for spinsters and singles hitters--who, in the post-modern world of swing-from-the-heels offense, have been made pretty much equivalent.

And let's face it--as a total package Ichiro! Suzuki ain't exactly Rod Carew, or Wade Boggs, or even Tony Gwynn. Despite setting baseball's all-time single season hits record, Ichiro! is a pale rider on a pale horse that even an all-day baseball sucker like Marianne Moore would refrain from twisting her knickers about.

He is just a singles machine, a more inscrutable version of Pete Rose--and it's ol' Pestilent Pete himself who dialed this topic up with another of his "eight the hard way" quotes.

"I don't think he's gonna do it," said the ever-eloquent Rose--meaning Ichiro! and his quest for an eleventh consecutive 200-hit season. Pete, of course, is currently tied with Suzuki for the most 200+-hit seasons, though he didn't collect his consecutively.

Ichiro! is 54 hits away from 200 this year, with 33 games to play. At 37, he's showing tangible signs of decline, with a batting average hovering around .270, a sudden inability to hit against power pitchers (he's hitting just .191 against them in 2011--with a pitiful .461 OPS).

But--all that being the case, it's probably worth the effort to calculate Suzuki's chances to get back to 200 this season.

The way we're going to do that is the way we always do these things around here--which is to look at a couple of strange charts that may or may not mean anything to anyone else. First, let's find out how often Ichiro has managed to amass 54 hits in 33 games over the course of his career with the Mariners.

We've examined his game logs, and calculated the distribution of his 33-game hit totals. There are 1684 of these data points in Suzuki's career as of this morning (this is 8/25/11), and they are all represented herein. The range for Ichiro over 33 games is a low of 26 and a high of 75, with an median of 41 and an average of 46.

If Ichiro! is able to reach his lifetime average for 33 games, he'll come up eight hits short in his quest for 200.

Another way to look at that data is to note that Ichiro! has 304 33-game stretches over his career where he's had 54 or more hits. That's just a bit over 18% of his total number of 33-game stretches.

So by that measure, his chances of getting 54+ hits over the remainder of the season is about one in five.

Let's conclude this by looking at a rather spectacular variation on that distribution chart. Here's the full sequence of Ichiro's nearly 1700 33-game units, shown in career chronological order. This is a proxy for his 33-game batting average: we're just seeing it displayed in hits.

You can see the ebb and flow (and we're getting into another chart that looks just a bit too disturbingly like the NYSE here), the great hot streaks and the precipitous cool-offs.

The bad news for Ichiro! is that his lowest low (26 hits in 33 games) occurred during 2011.

The good news is that he does seem to be mounting something of a comeback. He's pushed back over 40 in the last few 33-game units.

Will Ichiro pull it together and prove capable of making what is clearly an almost vertical climb? Or is he like Walter Neff, the too-smart-for-his-own-good insurance salesman whose reach exceeded his grasp and wound up all washed up?

As we always say at this point (because you asked for it!!)...

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Congrats to Jim Thome on the occasion of HR #600... despite Jonah Keri's odd rant (and methinks that the site he was writing for should really change their name to "Rantland"--though the hip chimps who scribble for them are clearly not quite up to the standards of actual diatribe...) he is unquestionably a HOFer, and most likely a first-ballot selection. (As stated elsewhere, the operative theory here is that four individuals--Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens and Rafael Palmeiro--are going to take the brunt of the "roid rage" from the BB-WAA, as those punctilious pontificators really can't afford to ban everyone who played in the "silly ball" era.)

'Twas also spiffy that Jim smacked two HRs in a game to get to the round number. Not quite sure if anyone else has pulled off that feat...sounds like a Forman et fils type of question, so we'll leave that one to them. Thome has had 46 two-homer games and two three-homer games in his illustrious career, all pretty much "in the pocket" with respect to long-ball heroes.

Of course, this is a outpost that is more ideologically aligned with outlier events...so let's wander off on a variant of Thome's story--three-homer games. The players with the most such games aren't necessarily the ones with the highest number of lifetime homers (Hank Aaron had only one such game; Babe Ruth, two).

The pre-bleached arms of
Sammy Sosa
Johnny Mize: in the groove...
Who has the most three-homer games? Why, the law firm of Sosa and Mize, with six three-bomb games apiece.

Sammy is the only slugger in baseball history to have three such games in a single season (2001).

The Big Cat is the only person with a two two-in-a-year three-homer games (1938 and 1940).

Mize's penchant for big-game bombs is probably more impressive, however, when you consider that it was decidedly uncommon for folks to have such explosions back then.

As our yearly chart of 3-HR games demonstrates, the penchant for the "homer hat trick" is decidedly linked to the recent past.

1950 was the first year in which there were more than ten such games; at that point, the total number of such games was less than a hundred.

By 1974, that total had reached two hundred; by 1991 it got to three hundred. The 22 three-homer games in 2001 pushed the cumulative total over 400, and this year we've just past the 500 mark.

What outlier-style minds really want to know, however: who are the guys who managed to have a three-homer game despite the longest possible odds working against them?

Let's face it, sluggers like Ruth, Aaron, Sosa, Mark McGwire, Thome, Griffey, Barry Bonds, etc., etc. are supposed to have games where they go deep in clusters. And the list of leaders tends to bear this out:

Sosa, Mize--6;
McGwire, Dave Kingman, Carlos Delgado, Joe Carter--5;
Willie Stargell, Alex Rodriguez, Aramis Ramirez, Albert Pujols, Larry Parrish (!), Ralph Kiner, Lou Gehrig, Steve Finley (!!), Bonds, Ernie Banks--4

Even the guys with three three-homer games pretty much make sense: Bagwell, Baines, Belle, Bench, Colavito, DiMaggio, Cecil Fielder, Juan Gone, Goose Goslin, Willies Mays and McCovey, Eddie Murray, Ben Oglivie, Boog Powell, Alfonso Soriano, Mark Teixeira, Larry Walker, Ted Williams.

It starts to get a little odd with two, however. There are a few names that are a bit more eyebrow-raising.

Such as?

Well, Claudell Washington, for one. Claudell hit 164 HRs in his career, but the idea that he had two three-jack games is definitely a head-scratcher.

Or take Cory Snyder--please.

Darnell Coles: "I'm Gumby, dammit! And on my left this is not
Pokey Reese, so guess again!"
And do you want to know that such a feat was also accomplished by the likes of Bobby Higginson, or Darnell Coles, for Crissakes?

Johnny Gomes? Aaron Boone? No, we aren't hallucinating, though things might be better if we were.

That's just the random wackiness of baseball at work. And, of course, we need to take this down to the lowest of all low common enumerators--who hit the least number of career homers while still managing to have a three-homer game?

Before we do that, though, let's note that Coles is not the guy with the fewest lifetime HRs to have two three-homer games. Coles had just 75, but the honor goes to the great and colorful pinch-hitter deluxe of the New York Giants, Dusty Rhodes, who hit just 54.

That ratio (1 out of every 9 homers accounted for by the three-homer game) is going to be tough to beat, but there are a number of guys who managed to get there. Let's start with a few also-rans...

First, there's Roman Mejias. With 54 lifetime homers, Roman isn't really close, but his three-homer game did not occur during his lone solid year (1962, when he hit 24 HRs for the first-year Houston Colt .45's). His "homer hat trick" occurred on May 4, 1958, when he was still a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Going into that game, Mejias had only five lifetime homers, so you could say that he is the real outlier here--but we don't want to end our fun on some weird technicality, now, do we?

Of course not. Going down that list toward the impossible perfection of hitting-three-homers-in-a-game-and-getting-hit-by-a-garbarge-truck, we have the following:

Hee-Seop Choi and Ed Coleman--40;
Chris Woodward and Hal Lee--33;
Mickey Brantley--32.
Tommy Brown--31.

These bruisers are still motorvatin' along at a pace where their three-HR games are less than 10% of their lifetime total. We're now about to move into the territory that aces out Dusty Rhodes.

Jeff Treadway--28.

Jeff is technically tied with Dusty, who had two post-season HRs to give him a revised total of 56. Jeff hit three homers in Philadelphia on May 26, 1990. There's probably a correlation with odd movements on the stock market with these guys, but we'll be damned if we're gonna do that much research.

Steve Boros and Manny Jimenez--26.

The man who will now always be known as "The Other Manny" looked like he was going to be a good hitter--he hit .301 for the KC A's in '62, but he got off to a slow start in '63 and he was sent back to AAA. While he destroyed the PCL for a couple months, he never seemed to really pay attention at the major league level after that. His three-homer game came on July 4, 1964: the game, fittingly enough, was a 6-6 tie.

We generally don't remember Boros as a hitting prospect, but the one-time bonus baby did put up some big HR numbers in the minors (though we should take that 30-HR season at Denver in 1960 with a grain of salt). He did hit 16 HRs for the Tigers in 1962, including three in a game on August 6th.

Jim Pendleton and Del Wilber--19.

Negro Leaguer Pendleton had spent four years in the Dodgers' system before getting traded to the Braves prior to the 1953 season. He had just one major league homer on August 30th when he hit three homers against the Pirates. Pendleton hit .370 down the stretch for Milwaukee, but they seemed to know something...he hit only .220 the next year and found himself back in the minors in '55.

Backup catcher Wilber hit three homers off junkballing lefty Ken Raffensberger for the only runs scored in the second game of a doubleheader on August 27, 1951.

Jim Tobin--17.

Tobin is the only pitcher in the history of major league baseball to hit three homers in one game. His "homer hat-trick" came on May 13, 1942 in a game he won for the Boston Braves, 6-5.

Don Leppert--15.

Leppert, another career backup catcher, hit three homers for the Senators (now the Rangers) against the Red Sox on April 11, 1963.

Jose Ortiz--14.

Ortiz was part of Billy Beane's "bait" to acquire an actual big league hitter (Jermaine Dye) back in 2001. Jose had put together a monster season at Sacramento in 2000 (.351, 24 HRs) and Beane dealt him for Dye in late July of the following season. Three weeks later (August 17), Ortiz hit three homers in a game against the Florida Marlins. By the end of 2002, however, he'd played himself out of the big leagues--though he did resurface in 2007 and has turned in solid seasons in both the Japanese and Mexican leagues.

Karl "Tuffy" Rhodes--13.

Rhodes had a great month of April for the Cubs in 1994, beginning on Opening Day (April 4th), when he slammed three homers. (The Cubs lost anyway, 12-8.) He had a .996 OPS going into May, but hit just .201 for the rest of that strike-shortened season. Rhodes would drift back to the minors in '95, but would begin a notable career as a slugger in Japan beginning in 1996, continuing all the way until 2009.

So did Tuffy eclipse Dusty as the guy with the highest "homer hat-trick day to lifetime bomb" ratio? Well, yes, he did...but the question needs to be asked: is Tuffy low man on this odd little totem pole?

And the answer is...no, not hardly.

Merv Connors--8.

Connors hit 400 HRs in the minor leagues (though most of that was in Class C ball: he never stacked up to be much of a real prospect). The White Sox, however, gave him two "cups of coffee" in 1937 and 1938. He'd hit three lifetime homers by the time he got another start against the lowly Philadelphia A's on September 17, 1938: two days earlier, Merv had drawn the collar over a doubleheader against Connie Mack's doormats (0-7 over the two games).

Merv Connors--the "hat trick to
lifetime HR" champeen...
It was another doubleheader on the 17th, but the extra rest must have worked wonders for Merv,  because he went 4-for-4 with 3 HRs against Jim Reninger (on his way to an 0-4 lifetime record). His homer hat-trick doubled his lifetime total: he'd hit two more in what proved to be a glorious month (.355, .710 SLG).

The next season, though, he was hurt in spring training, wound up in the minors, and struggled all year, hitting just .229. He never made it back to the big leagues.

So Merv is our "outlier ratio king" for this impossibly obscure statistical oddity...he comes in at 3 out of 8, or 37.5% of his lifetime homers hit in a single afternoon. Hey, it's easy to hit just one lifetime homer--ask Hoyt Wilhelm--but it really takes application to hit three in one game and manage to wind up with a major league career total in single digits.

One last thing to send over to Forman et fils--the White Sox lineup in this game makes one wonder about  the lineup in baseball history where the starters combined for the fewest number of major league games. I don't think that this lineup is particularly close to the record (whatever it may be), but it does give one pause: there are three players who started for the Pale Hose in the second game of the 9/17/38 double bill with less than 100 major league games, one with just 203 games, and another with only 343. (And let's forget about that "forfeit game" from May 1912 where the Tigers fielded a bunch of semi-pros in protest of YATCS--Yet Another Ty Cobb Suspension.) Let's have the real answer, OK?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Getting down into the fabled "dog days" here in mid-August, the Boston Red Sox have seemingly found a comfortable cruising altitude and now can start to focus in on an ultimate milestone.

Ultimate milestone? What the hell are we talking about?? After all, the Sox have already won two World Series in the past seven years. A third Series win in 2011 (or three in eight years...) would not match the achievements of the powerhouse team from nearly a century ago.

No, what we're referring to is the chance that this team has to establish ultimate bragging rights over their long-time rivals, the New York Yankees.

While Boston has been under a long-time hex with respect to its performance against New York (956-1128 lifetime, and only 426-607 on the road), 2011 is shaping up to be a glorious exception.

As of today, the Sox have won ten of twelve head-to-head contests against the Yankees in 2011.

While they haven't got a chance to eclipse the franchise record (19-2, set by the World Champion 1912 squad), they are well within striking distance to better their "live ball era" top performance (14-4 in 1973).

Back in that inaugural year of the DH, Luis Tiant was the Yankee Killer (4-0), with assistance from Rogelio Moret, who was 3-0. (Both of these guys are part of our 40s Birthyear Showdown which will belatedly get underway soon--watch this space for an update.) This season, Josh Beckett (3-0, 1.00 ERA) has stepped into El Tiante's shoes as he continues on pace for a career year.

So far in 2011, Dustin Pedroia (1.153 OPS), David Ortiz (1.035 OPS) and Jacoby Ellsbury (.979 OPS and a team-leading 13 RBI) are leading the offensive charge against the Yanks. Back in 1973, Carl Yastrzemski was the big gun for the Sox (5 HR, 16 RBI, .947 OPS).

The Red Sox have outscored the Yanks 75-46 in their 12 games thus far. The Yankees are only hitting .225 against Sox hurlers.

Looking ahead at the Sox' schedule, it's hard to fathom that they won't win at least 100 games. That's their other "ultimate goal"--with all their success in the Epstein-James Era (EJE), they've not gotten over 98 wins as yet. If the 2011 team makes it to 100, they'll be the fourth to do so, following in the footsteps of the 1912, 1915, and 1946 squads.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


By the way, Rob Neyer, that's "Win Probability Added." You're probably having trouble remembering it because the name was coined by an old BBBA guy (Doug Drinen). After all, you did your best to block us out of your mind back in the day, n'est-ce pas?

Anyway...one needs more than bile to have struggled through today's NYSE session, which (as the chart capture to the left demonstrates) was as volatile as any roller-coaster baseball game. The forces of optimism (some would say these folk are delusional...) were pitted against the forces of destructive free-market tooth decay (some would say these folks are long overdue for a rabies shot...) in an epic struggle.

This is probably the best possible abstract representation of the clash between these competing impulses as they currently square off in our meta-polarized society. Today the good guys won, but the battle (which is, of course, much more complex than a one-day NYSE trading chart) is going to be with us for a long time to come.

But do take a moment to note that said chart bears an uncanny resemblance to the WPA chart (yes, yes, the "inverted" WPA chart) for Game 7 of the 1960 World Series.

Talk about a furry freak o'nature...

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Justin Upton: smashing things up...
No doubt that one of the key factors in Arizona's push into the NL West race is its still-young right fielder Justin Upton, subject of many neo-sabe rattlings due to his previous inability to blossom into a superstar. He's showing some indications of such a flowering this year, particularly in the past 14 games, in which he's hit .436, slugged .982, and driven in 21 runs.

Since late May, Upton has been one of the best sluggers in baseball (data, as is so often the case, courtesy of David Pinto's terrifically useful Day by Day Database):

As we see the level of hitting that Upton has been maintaining over the past two months, we can also see how the Red Sox have kept their surge alive--their top of the lineup hitters (Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury) are outslugging their middle of the lineup hitters (Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz). How often does that happen?

Projecting Upton over the rest of the season is tricky, because previously Justin has managed to play fewer games as each month passes. He's had a track record of getting injured in the second half of the year. Our personal seat o' the pants rule of thumb for a "superstar" hitting season is a 160 OPS+; right now Justin is sitting at 152.

* * *

"Here's a pie to go with that pink slip, Mattbert..."
Matt Stairs was pink-slipped by the Nationals the other day, and one of the "fils" at Forman et fils noted the number of franchises the Great Chunkster had played for in his career. (We're still hoping that the Rockies will take a flyer on Matt during the last month of the season, as he's a wonderful fit in Coors Field.)

[UPDATE: Stairs has announced his retirement. Spoil-sport!]

But it occurs to us that the real way to measure the most well-traveled player in baseball isn't simply by counting the number of franchises for whom he played. It really should be done by the percentage of available franchises for whom he played.

When we look at it from this perspective, it's clear that Stairs--and Octavio Dotel, who's also played for 12 franchises--aren't really close to the record at all.

They've played for 40% of the available franchises. 

While that's reasonably impressive, it's far behind the top mark, which is just a tad over 56%.

Bobo Newsom's monogrammed dashboard came
in handy on his many, many road trips from team to team...
Dick "Chicken" Littlefield
Who were those chimps? One was 200 game winner (and 200 game loser) Bobo Newsom. The other was Dick Littlefield. When we prorate the number of games that "Chicken" Littlefield played in his career, he's the winner in what might be called the Great PTBNL Sweepstakes--a man to be named later as often as possible, but seen for as little time as convenient.

"I love it here in Kansas City...this is
Kansas City, right??"
Matt is going to need stints with at least four more teams in order to get into this territory. That's just not gonna happen. 

Don't count out Dotel, though. There's much more room for marginal pitchers in baseball, so if you're a gambler, there's your bet.