Monday, April 30, 2012


As we noted a couple of entries back, offense has rallied over the past ten days or so and we aren't showing anything quite like the level of decline that looked to be the case in the middle of the month. Among other factors in play, there's the weather, which had dipped below average but is now back into normal-to-above ranges.

Bartolo Colon
But in the midst of this, we have two teams in each league who seem to be gearing themselves up for a level of offensive anemia that hasn't been seen since the first round of expansion. The Oakland A's in the AL and the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NL are both averaging less than three runs per game (in the case of the Pirates, they're averaging less than two and a half runs per game); together, they make up more than 95% of the current offensive dropoff.

Currently both clubs are remaining respectably mediocre (the A's are 11-12 as we write this; the Pirates 9-12) because their mostly unheralded pitching staffs are near the top of their respective leagues.

But their lack of punch is, at least in the early going, flirting with all-time lows. The A's are averaging 2.9 runs per game, which still leaves a good bit of wiggle room with the old Washington Senators, who only socred 2.45 per game back in 1909 en route to a 42-110 season.

The Pirates, however, are averaging just over 2.3 runs per game (though their estimated runs scored is low by close to 20%, suggesting that they've been having trouble hitting with runners on base: their actual R/G is close to half a run below where it should be) and are giving the 1908 Cardinals and Dodgers a run for their money as the most punchless team in NL history.

Erik Bedard
Both squads have an adjusted OPS in the 60s--the Bucs at 68, the A's even lower at 64--that, if it stays intact over the entire season, would produce the lowest team OPS+ in major league history. (For the record, the lowest OPS+ we can find belonged to the two NL expansion teams in 1963, the New York Mets and Houston Colt .45s. That OPS+ figure: 73. In 1981, the Toronto Blue Jays--one year away from their transformation into a playoff-bound franchise, posted a 74 OPS+, though they managed to average an almost luxurious 3.1 runs/game.)

So far, well-known veteran pitchers (Bartolo Colon for the A's; A. J. Burnett and the oft-injured Erik Bedard for the Bucs) have been leading the way for their newly-adopted teams. These guys were all top-flight starters at one point or another in the past decade, but the number of people who expected any of these three to be enjoying a major career resurgence in 2012 could be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Brandon Inge, upon hearing that the A's plan to
bat him in the #2 slot in their batting order...
The A's, who've been particularly beleaguered by a lack of offensive punch from their third basemen in '12, have just signed recent Tiger castoff Brandon Inge, who will probably get at least a month to see if he can snap back into anything resembling major league ability with the bat. At this point, however, Inge's ability to outperform the flatlining troika of Josh Donaldson, Eric Sogard and Luke Hughes seems highly questionable.

The A's are about to embark on a portion of their schedule where they'll be playing some of the AL's better teams, including most of the teams in the East, so things may get a good bit dicier for them over the next several weeks; the Bucs will mostly avoid such a fate in the first half of May. Either way, however, it's hard to see either team suddenly developing much run-scoring ability...we might be looking at a couple of teams that will actually score fewer than 500 runs in a season. Who woulda thunk it possible?

Saturday, April 28, 2012


1962...1987...those are the years we'll be mining as annees anniversaires for 2012.

We'll have some ongoing retro-expectoration here as the year grinds on, what with the capacity to dig into past stats up to (and beyond) our elbows thanks to the resources at Forman et fil, Retrosheet, and David Pinto's Day-By-Day Database.

First up--here's what the consolidated (meaning both leagues--David P., if you're reading this, an extra filter that allows us to run these queries by league would be a nice addition...just sayin'...) batting leaders would have looked like if you could have corralled the data as easily then as we can now.

This is where things stood, hitting-wise, as of 4/27/1987. What you should keep in mind is that when all games were completed on that day, the Milwaukee Brewers were 17-1 (!!!) and the future Commissioner of Baseball was wearing diapers as a protective measure.

And, yes, this is a major reason why we use those two-month windows for capturing data when we compute the Ptolemaic MVP. Otherwise we'd be getting all excited about the insanely hot starts that Rob Deer or Pete Incaviglia--and even Mookie Wilson--were having. (OK, truth told: we actually weren't all that excited about it when it actually happened.)

Well-known players who were having brutal starts at this point in time were Eddie Murray (.162/.247.257; he'd eventually wind up with 30 HRs) and Steve Garvey (.182/.196/.236; just ten games away from retirement).

The Brewers would follow their 18-3 April with a 6-18 May, giving back eleven games in the standings over that month, kind of like what the Braves and Red Sox did last year...only they did it in May, thus it is merely a footnote.

Friday, April 27, 2012


One of the great--well, OK, "fun"--things about early-season stats is that they contain extremes that don't tend to hold up over the course of the entire year. As a consequence, they look odd, dramatic, out of place--and, let's face it, who isn't attracted to someone else's sore thumb?

So today we've scoured the early stat splits to take a look at where MLB teams currently have gaping offensive sinkholes. In most cases, the dividing line here is at .500--no, not winning percentage; certainly not batting average, but a .500 OPS. That's pretty anemic, even in a year where offense is still down a bit from the last several seasons.

Consider this a snapshot of a dismal swamp, the low places where GMs and their sheep-herding on-field assistants will soon have to tread in order to address their team's inefficiencies that stick out like a...yes, we've already covered that, haven't we?

We'll do this by offensive position, and cover both leagues as we go. The numbers in (parens) are the stats for the team's performance at the position; the number [in brackets] is the league average at the position.

Mike McKenry: if his shot at starting catcher fizzles,
there's always trying out for the upcoming Broadway
musical Shinguard Ballet...

NL: PIT (.175/.254/.281/.535) [.735]
AL: OAK (.208/.241/.264/.515) [.750]

Two veteran catchers (Rod Barajas for the Pirates, Kurt Suzuki for the A's) are currently stinking things up. Barajas (.122) has been struggling so much that the Bucs are actually considering giving backup Mike McKenry a real shot at the job, which would at least be more interesting than the standard recycling of veteran backstops that seems to go on endlessly between small and medium market teams.


NL: NYM (.141./.187/.268/.454) [.771]
AL: CLE (.138/.222/.292/.515) [.741]

If Ike Davis looks embattled,
that's because he is...
A very rough return from injury for the Mets' Ike Davis, still somnolent after a bit of a flurry after starting the year 1-for-23. Meanwhile, Casey Kotchman cements his bid to take over the featured photo for the word "enigma" in Snarke's Illustrated Dictionary.


NL: PIT (.206/.265/.206/.471) [.708]
AL: DET (.127/.252/.238/.490) [.693]

Neil Walker, after two solid years as the Pirates' second baseman, has (for the moment at least) hit a brick wall in terms of the power department (not a single extra-base hit thus far in 2012). Jim Leyland had been rotating three chimps (the unlikely law firm of Raeburn, Santiago, and Inge) at the keystone sack this year before giving Inge the boot, and it's starting to look like a bad episode of Survivor (wait, isn't that completely redundant?) in what's left of the Motor City.


NL: LAD (.203/.247/.232/.475) [.702]
AL: OAK (.111/.147/.167/.314) [.696]

Merrie Spaeth and Tippy Walker: one became a pom-pom girl for the
Republicans, the other took her role to heart and became a professional waif...
Someone wrote us (yes, you can actually do that...) to remind us that the Dodgers still had Juan Uribe when we suggested late in spring training (in our feature on Jerry Hairston Jr. and his "blow the ball foul" carnival act) that L.A. didn't have a third baseman. Good ol' Juan is proving our point...but good golly Moses (as the future Swift Boat girl in The World of Henry Orient says), the A's are taking the idea of sinkhole and expanding it to continental proportions, aren't they? Everyone knew that Oakland wasn't going to hit, but this is taking it too far. They may set the record for number of players taking turns at playing third base, however.


NL: SDP (.161/.274/.226/500) [.666]
AL: OAK (.197/.242/.263/.505) [.664]

It was inevitable that the numerical symbol for the Anti-Christ would appear in this article, n'est-ce pas? And it would be the Padres who manage to conjure it up for us--how appropriate can you get??  The veteran Jason Bartlett is leading the charge for San Diego, where the holiest thing right now is the team's batting order. The A's are currently getting a Year 3 swoon from Cliff Pennington.


NL: WSN (.097/.207/.125/.332) [.672]
AL: OAK (.200/.286/.280/.566) [.759]

Interesting difference in the average production in LF with respect to the two leagues, by far the biggest deviation out there. In the midst of their hot start, the Nationals have been carrying a gaggle of incredibly inept veteran ciphers (Xavier Nady, Mark DeRosa, Roger Bernadina), all of whom haven't been worth even a reluctant swallow from a pitcher of John Nance Garner Joy Juice™. (Nady, at .077, is the biggest culprit.) And those A's just want to dominate the AL list, don't they? Truth be told, though, this is not nearly as bad relative to the league as several of their other positions that don't quite make the list--the A's have six of their eight defensive positions with sub-.600 OPS thus far in '12.


NL: CHC (.159/.216/.188/.405) [.770]
AL: LAA (.169/.206/.277/.483) [.772]

Theo, having perfected the steely, faraway look in photo
after photo at Fenway, seems to be staying indoors a lot
now that he's in Chicago...
Interesting fact to ponder: at the moment at least, it's the return of center field as the top offensive position in baseball. Don't know if it will hold (you may not know this, but ever since we wrote about the percentage of 1-0 games last week, there hasn't been a single one in baseball: we've still got that negative mojo intact!) but it's at least worth noting.

Doesn't seem to helping much on the North Side of Chicago, where Theo Epstein is buying lots of new ties while the losses mount (for what it's worth, he has just peddled the biggest culprit in his CF sinkhole--Marlon Byrd--to his old team). The Angels' Peter Bourjos, in what might still be his second full season, is helping the Halos do some early-season crash-and-burn.


NL: PIT (.194/.227/.236/.463) [.749]
AL: three way--KCR (.559), MIN (.558), DET (.557) [.724]

Tabata: delayed reaction from that bizarre incident
in his personal life? 
Sinkholes seem most prevalent in the midwest and west: here's the divisional breakdown for what we might term "offensive anemia by defensive position"--AL: East--0, Central--3, West--5; NL: East--2, Central--4, West 2. If you give extra credit for the AL Central having three RF sinkholes, that would be the tie-breaker. In the Pirates' case, Jose Tabata is one of those young players whose career is one of consistent regression.

The "perfectly coiffed" Gino was encouraged
by Topps to show it off: it made things more
convenient when he (inevitably) got traded...

It will be interesting to see how many of these guys will get replaced (and here's where some down'n'dirty application of the "replacement player" idea can be turned ninety degrees from its usual meaning) and how many will be allowed to work their way back above we like to call the Gino Cimoli Line (Gino is one of those guys whose career works out to a perfect zero-sum using the Sean Smith version of WAR that you'll find at Forman et fil...we use him to honor the tradition of allowing obscure players to rise out the sinkholes of their own making, to be "honored more by the breach than by the observance"). As we say 31.4% of the time at this particular juncture...stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Those of you who cannot let go of the past may not be doomed to repeat it; if you're lucky (and Clint Eastwood over there on the left--who'd have thought he'd lean that way??--is here to remind you that the correct line is "Do I feel lucky?") you will simply be allowed to embrace it.

And baseball fans whose turn of mind leads them to look back in time cannot/should not be without what is arguably David Nemec's magnum opus, Major League Baseball Profiles, 1871-1900, recently published by the University of Nebraska Press.

Nemec and his team of writers/researchers have created a two-volume extravaganza of nineteenth century baseball biography that will be the definitive work for the foreseeable future and beyond.

An interesting decision in the formatting of the 1000+-page, two-volume blockbuster is the separation of certain players from what would otherwise have been a straightforward encyclopedia. (This may have been something of a marketing decision by the press, as a look at the pricing for the individual books tends to indicate.) In the second volume (the one that costs more to buy individually...) Nemec & Co. examine the Hall of Fame players from the era, and identify twenty players, founders, and executives whom they advocate for enshrinement. Volume 2 also includes bios for the most colorful (read: "criminous") characters in early baseball.

Naturally, we are interested in the "should be in Hall" list, even though we're on record (previously) as being more than a bit tired of the ongoing Hall of Fame contretemps. With players from so long ago, however, there's something less fraught about such discussions (though we know that this isn't the way the die-hard nineteenth-century aficionados feel about it!).

We don't think that reprinting the list will prevent anyone from buying the book, as it's the biographical contents that matter most--and believe us when we say that this is some of the very best work of this type to be found anywhere. What we'll do here is cross-reference Nemec and Co.'s list with the work of the Hall of Merit, whose effort in constructing a more rigorous set of enshrinees began with an exhaustive examination of nineteenth-century players.

As the chart shows, the Hall of Merit folks selected nine of the names from those appearing on Nemec's list, and added four of their own who aren't in the Hall and aren't on the "twenty for the Hall" list. For those who aren't familiar with all that many of the individuals on the list, you are cordially invited to examine their player pages at Forman et fil, where many have SABR biography links that can be easily accessed. And, of course, all two dozen of these players, founders ("Doc" Adams) and executives (A.G. Mills) have biographical entries in Volume 2 of Nemec's Profiles.

The Nemec list seems to us to favor players from the left side of the defensive spectrum (catchers, middle infielders, center fielders)--which is by no means a bad thing, but we think that the Hall of Merit did an especially fine job in selecting the four "unique" players--Jones, McVey, Pike and Sutton--whose presence on Nemec and Co.'s list would arguably make it definitive.

Daniel "Doc" Adams, credited with
inventing the SS position...
Bill James, in one of his strangest pronouncements (one which he continues to make, perhaps as some kind of residue from the extremes of cynicism that still waft from the slowly decaying carcass of his Politics of Glory), is on record as saying that it won't do anyone any good to put any of these folks into the Hall of Fame.

While it's undeniably true that there are no fans who were alive when these players were active whose socks will be animated by an induction ceremony, what's far more important is that the Hall of Fame continues to expand its exploration of baseball's past.

"Parisian" Bob Caruthers, the American
Association's great "double threat..."
Under no circumstances should anyone think that we already know all we need to about the formative years of baseball. The efforts of Nemec, of John Thorn and William Ryczek, of Peter Morris and David Ball--and many other researchers whose names we are regretfully omitting--are proof positive that there is still a great deal to discover about the origins and early years of the game. An ongoing enshrinement of nineteenth-century players is vital to the ongoing historical credibility of the Hall, and it's one of the easiest ways that the organization can stay credible in an era of out-of-control skepticism.

A nineteenth-century Veterans' Committee needs to be reactivated, and every other year two nineteenth century players should be enshrined. Our votes for the first two would go to Daniel "Doc" Adams (as John Thorn so forcefully argues, the man who really invented baseball as we know it today) and Bob Caruthers (the early game's greatest two-way player).

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


It's been another tough start for the Red Sox, with a pitching staff that began the year right where it left off the previous September (as the line from Dragnet goes: "Only the names have been changed...").

Yankee fans: "Seven in the seventh should be followed by eight in
the eighth." Red Sox fans: "@!#$%*&~@!!"
We cannot remember the last time anyone rolled out two consecutive seven-run innings the way the Yankees did last Saturday. Regardless of one's rooting interest, that's simply an astonishing event--just one of several that have already branded 2012 as a most unusual year.

The Sox are virtually certain to snap out of this--we're still anticipating a very lively fight for the second AL wild card slot centered around teams in the East--and their trip to Minnesota, where the Twins are not showing signs of bouncing back from a sub-par 2011, may just be the turning point.

In the midst of another sluggish start, one member of the Red Sox has his pedal near the metal--and that would be David Ortiz. Thus far this month, it's been a surreal return to his pre-Sox days, before he added the "uplift" that pushed his HR totals into rarefied territory.

Yes, Big Papi has been carrying the Red Sox' heavily-freighted
load thus far in 2012. (Note: no chicken...)
While Big Papi has not been hitting the long ball with the usual frequency thus far in '12 [UPDATE: he has just hit HR #3 this evening, as the Sox are taking things out on the Twins, leading 10-1 halfway through tonight's game], he is matching the NL's current "astronaut" Matt Kemp with a stratospheric batting average (flirting with .450).

[UPDATE 2: He's now hitting .538 over the past nine and a half games.]

Now we wish that some player would actually hit .400 again, if only to make those who've (with good reason) concluded that such an occurrence would be analogous to the Second Coming have to think twice (despite Bob Dylan's assertion to the contrary).

And we know that if anyone ever does, it won't be Ortiz. Of all the hitters with a number of seasons with OPS+ readings above 150 (he has four, including last year's 154, which might surprise a few of you...), he has the unlikeliest skill set.

Which, again, is why the idea is so appealing...

Let's just conclude by noting that with several of their personnel decisions from 2011-12 currently leaving a bad taste, the Sox and their fans can and should be glad to conclude that bringing back Big Papi was a very good idea indeed.

Monday, April 23, 2012


Although Louis Phillips pushes past what even Satire Kings Jim Murray and Thomas Pynchon would make the reader swallow when he concocts a shaggy dog baseball tale about T.S. Eliot, the fact remains that April really is the cruelest month, particularly if one reads the early-season pronouncements, ersatz rhapsodies, and feeble muckracking (dull roots) that drizzle across the written landscape (a particularly toxic spring rain).

So down down down Eliot's spirits fell. By turning away from baseball (and sequestering himself in the Harvard Library writing a dissertation on F.H. Bradley), he missed the poetry of the 1912 season, a year that would have redeemed all his suffering. Fenway Park christened, Smoky Joe Wood's incredible thirty-four wins and ten shutouts. A second Boston World Championship. Alas, Eliot saw none of it.

We have a lot of baseball writing in April that goes nowhere, possibly a higher percentage than in any other has to do with the fallacy of ascribing meaning to what are clearly too-enclosed events, ones which seem overloaded with signs and symbols, whose significance is more about signifyin' than actual substance. When one gets caught up in these symbols, their meaning can become attenuated even as the writer/protagonist/seeker of agency merges into it, not recognizing how meaning itself remains muted, elusive--a phantom lot number that glows with a random radiance.

Oedipa tore open the seal and gazed mesmerically on the items in Lot 49...they were a series of wiring diagrams festooned with pornographic doodlings, labyrinths criss-crossed with nude headless women, all leading to a junction or connection that linked its bizarre design to a designated, numbered page. But then she noted, with a slight, shivering shrug as she sensed the four men approaching her from each corner of the auction room, that none of the pages was numbered.

So, yeah, the lost Lot 49 denouement is one more Buddha-wrinkle for the young(ish) master of the muted post horn, who knows that small samples are the surface disturbances that make the skin tingle, the eyes glisten, the lips part with silly utterances--all in the name of an ardent but addled devotion.

All the "Two Daves" photos out there on the Net were a bit too, er,
cloying for inclusion here in di-a-tribe land, so as our designated
proxy we give you: The Two Jakes.
There are so many of these: is it fair to single one out? Of course, and of course not: it's a stacked deck. Let's be paradoxical, and single two out (or is that single with two out?).  So what the heck, let's take a muted swipe at the Two Daves.

First, Cameron. We're aware that it's bad form to criticize someone with a well-known life-threatening illness; however, as you know, we've always preferred bad form to bad content. Dave decided that three games' worth of  PitchFX data for the Rangers' latest strap-on, Yu Darvish--data from his first three starts--constituted Evidence Sufficient Unto The Day™to intimate crisis and to pronounce that Yu wasn't fooling anyone--and that would include me, you, a dog named Boo and--most prominently, course--Dave.

Even though, of course, Darvish must have fooled someone in that third start, since he allowed only two hits over six innings. Nothing in the game logs or video replays indicated that Yu was getting outs with mirrors that day; the number of line drives he surrendered against the Tigers on the 19th (two) was the lowest total in all three of his starts.

Joe Garagiola, reliving...
...his errors of enthusiasm.
Dave was correct in noting that Darvish was showing "command" problems--his walk totals are quite high, and it's true that if this continues, it's going to be hard for him to be consistently dominant. It's true that many starters from Japan have struggled with the strike zone in the early going once they reach the U.S., but a sizable number of them have adjusted successfully.

[UPDATE 4/24: Darvish threw 8 1/3 shutout innings vs. the Yankees tonight, striking out ten and walking just two.]

In Cameron's case, it's more the haste to be the first to make an observation (a marked tendency in his work) that prompted the overstatement. It's based on something resembling a genuine attempt to use new data, however, and while it's clearly premature, it's what Joe Garagiola used to call the "errors of enthusiasm." So we'll perform just a slight eye roll for this one. (And after all, Fangraphs has been much more egregious of late in the Jump the Shark sweepstakes with those lamentable "Power Rankings" for SI--the magazine where several generations of neo-sabes have gone to Spin the Fin.)

Cecil Fielder could not get his wife's perfume off his mind,
so he named his son after Prince Matchabelli...
Second, Schoenfield. The man who made Rob Neyer into a "mon-stah!" slid into Rob's vacated slot in the ESPN batting order last year, barely raising a dust cloud at the time...but there's been a delayed reaction in all of that musical chairs fin-spinning and so Dave has now fully channeled his errors of extrapolation (one of the most common "oopsies" in writing about baseball: Cameron had a lovely one to his credit last year, when he anointed the Colorado Rockies as NL West victors in May...the Rox turned into gravel promptly thereafter, losing 21 of 29 and finished 73-89.)

So this year it's Schoenfield's turn. His approach when indulging in the errors of extrapolation is to toss together a set of analogies that have a kind of "spray-on" empiricism (sort of the Prince Matchabelli of saber-inflected soothsayers...):

The two most perfect teams of the past 15 years were the 1998 Yankees and the 2001 Mariners. Those teams won 114 and 116 games respectively, as they steamrollered opposition with a combination of starting pitching, offense, bullpen, speed and defense. The [2012 Texas] Rangers remind of those two clubs as I can't find a weakness. Entering Monday's action, the Rangers lead the majors in runs scored and fewest runs allowed. Their run differential is an amazing +52 already, a bigger differential than the Yankees, Blue Jays, Tigers, White Sox and Indians added together (the other AL teams with a positive run differential).

We're not quite into May yet, but Schoenfield is more-than-implicitly suggesting that the Rangers are going to be a team that wins upward of 110 games based on their 13-3 start and a +52 run differential. We wonder if he considered looking at some actual facts regarding team records at the start of the season and their end-of-season WPCTs. (Or the frequency of such high performance over 16-game stretches that don't coincide with the beginning of the season.)

Let's take the second idea first--which dovetails with all of that "singling two out" schtick that we were messing around with above--how many times in 2011 did a team have a 16-game stretch where they won at least 13 games?

It happened 102 times. The earliest incidence of it in '11 was in April, when the Cleveland Indians went 13-3 from April 3rd to April 20th. We wrote about the Tribe last year right around this time frame, but at no point did we suggest that they would sweep their way to a division title (even though they sported a run differential of +44 over those games). What we did say was they were a virtual lock to finish over .500, because teams with such types of starts had winning records more than 95% of the time.

Feel free to re-check the 2011 AL Central standings, and please note that the Indians finished--that's right--80-82.

It turns out that the team with the very highest run differential over a 16-game stretch in 2011 was--yes, you guessed it!--the Boston Red Sox, who went 14-2 from June 3rd to June 20th (run diff: +70). They had stumbled around for the first month of the year, so no one really expected them to win 110+ games any more, but it certainly seemed as though they were back on track to give the Yankees a run for the AL East.

We all know what happened there.

Schoenfield is probably not alone in failing to recall that over a sixteen-game stretch that straddled the All-Star Break in 2011, the very same Texas Rangers went 14-2 and outscored the opposition by 62 runs. Of course, they hadn't been doing quite that well prior to July 4th, so it was understood that they wouldn't be seriously threatening to join the '98 Yanks and '01 M's in the pantheon of single-season behemoths.

For goodness' sakes (cue your Mae West retort here...), even the Minnesota Twins had a stretch in 2011 where they went 13-3.

Here's the full list of teams that managed that at one point or another last year:


Note that half these teams made the post-season, while the other half did not.

But what about teams that start the season 13-3 or better in their first sixteen games? Don't they do better than 50-50 in making the playoffs?

No, not really. A little bit. There have been 50 of those teams from 1901-2011. They've reached the post-season 27 times. That's 54%.

OK, what about teams that had a run diff of +50 or more over those first 16 games? Surely they did well, right?

Right. Here's a spot where Schoenfield can hang his work shirt (oops, sorry, wrong guy: it's so hard to keep 'em straight without a scorecard). Those eight teams made the post-season six times (75%) and had an aggregate .625 WPCT (which, prorated to 162 games, works out to 101 wins).

The full breakout is at right. These all do strongly tend to be good teams...but taken as a whole they don't show a strong trend in making the post-season.

But, yes, the Rangers are in a category of fast-starting team that is much more highly correlated and are good bets to win 100 games.

Just not 110.

Finally, what about the starts for those two most perfect teams, the '98 Yanks and the '01 M's? How did they do in their first sixteen games? Are they in the "fast-starting" group?

Oedipa Maas, lettin' it all hang out before
Lot 49 cried to her--note the suspicious
Monica Lewinsky-like stains on the dress...
No. The M's started 12-4. (That was accompanied by a run diff of only +23; by way of contrast, the '01 Red Sox also started 12-4 with a run diff of +56: they finished 82-79). The '98 Yanks were one of five teams that started 11-5. (Of those five teams, they had the worst run diff: only +13. Two of the other four teams that started 11-5 finished under .500 for the year).

The teams from 1998 and 2001 that are in the "fast starting group" were the '98 Padres (98-64, NL pennant winners, swept by the Yanks in the WS) and the '01 Twins (85-77, missed the post-season entirely).

Maxwell's Demon seems to be invading
a film noir locker room...and here we thought
that the Sixties were all about day-glo colors.
The M's and the Yanks' unique greatness really began to manifest itself early in May during those years: the '01 M's went 36-12 in games 33-80; the '98 Yankees were 35-13.

So, to stick with the double-single thing (part of the mind-body Oedipa Maas meets Maxwell's Demon literary licorice stick that we've been wavin' around here...) it's a doubly premature comparison: first, too soon to anoint the Rangers as that kind of team--a special 110+ win team--and second, too soon for such greatness to be manifested (hey, even the 1984 Tigers, who started 35-5, won "only" 104 games!)

Let's check out the Rangers after they've played 48 games and see where they are. If they sustain their pace for the next 36 games, they would equal the fastest start in baseball since 1901: the 39-9 mark posted by the 1928 Yankees. We wouldn't want to put even the smallest paper demonination (oops, denomination...) on the chances of that happening, but if you were born to follow in the wayward footsteps of Oedipa's husband, Wendell "Mucho" Maas, and ingest a legendary amount of hallucinogens, then...

Sunday, April 22, 2012


This never happened to Charlie Robertson...
Here are some randomly oblique (or is that vice-versa?) perspectives stemming from Phil Humber's perfecto yesterday...

Dallas Braden: quite possibly
the smirkiest face of perfection...
First, here's a chart (below) of the "victims"--the twenty-one pitchers who ran up against an opposite hurler who went out and mowed down 27 straight batters.

There are three Hall of Famers on that list--Pud Galvin, Rube Waddell, Ed Walsh) as opposed to the six "perfecto owners" who are enshrined (Monte Ward, Cy Young, Addie Joss, Jim Bunning, Sandy Koufax, Catfish Hunter--with two more likely members to follow in Randy Johnson and Roy Halladay).

As you can see, the 21 pitchers on the other side of perfection pitched pretty well in aggregate--a 2.52 ERA. That would be a mind-blowing record, wouldn't it: 0-21, with a 2.52 ERA.

So how do the lifetime records of "perfecto victims" compare with those who reached perfection? First, the overall totals.

The victims: 2447-2180 (.529), with a 110 ERA+.

The guys who went perfect: 3558-2553 (.580), with a 120 ERA+.

Blake Beavan, loser #21 in the perfecto pantheon.
What about total career wins for both pitchers involved in a perfect game? Trivia time to be sure, but bear with us...pretty clearly the record for most wins is going to be a game in which Cy Young is involved, so that answer is 704 (Young and Rube Waddell).

And as you might have suspected, yesterday's perfecto sets a new record for fewest career wins for the two principals...Humber and Mariners' righthander Blake ("Bleak") Beavan have thus far combined for only 18 career wins.

[UPDATE: The metaphysics of the perfect game are endlessly fascinating, it seems--our take here being the only one with sympathy for the losers. But the strange aftereffect of throwing a perfecto is probably more compelling to most fans. The two approaches to what might be termed the "curse of the perfect game" are handled by Keith Olbermann (with a bit more time on his hands to do a little baseball research at the moment), focusing on the career effects, and John Autin over at High Heat Stats, who looks at what happens to perfect game pitchers in their very next start.  Olbermann missed a chance to summarize his data, which we'll do here: the 21 perfecto pitchers had a collective .609 WPCT up to an including their perfect game; the other side of perfection (to recast our own title just a bit...) produced a WPCT of just .536.]

Saturday, April 21, 2012


Yes, that bubble is gonna burst sooner or later...but what a bubble!
It's bad form, it's a jinx, and holy Budweiser it sure as hell ain't analytical at all...but Jesus H. Jehoshaphat, when a guy is slugging 1.000, it's simply wrong to not acknowledge that fact.

And that's exactly where the SLG-o-meter is residing this AM for Matt Kemp after he went 3-for-3 with homer #8 in last night's game in Houston.

In his last nine games, Kemp is hitting .543 (19-for-35), has hit six home runs.

Of course it's downhill from here, etc. etc. Yes, it's only 14 games. But...


And it's a perfect excuse to cue up one of the greatest slices of power pop in the history of the world--just as it began a sharp transition into meta-irony and a chronic need for decriminalization--Dwight Twilley's "I'm On Fire," which began climbing the charts thirty-seven years ago this month, coinciding with what was quite probably the last time we can  "remember the feeling that I could be free" (as the song posits). Every time we hear it, however, we get a jolt of that sublimely transcendent alienation (complete with impossibly kick-ass backbeat).

Even though it surely ain't his style, it's just the kind of mojo that's been firing up Mr. Kemp.

In memory of Phil Seymour and Bill Pitcock IV, who were instrumental in lighting up Mr. Twilley here, in one for the ages.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Dept of digression dept.: If (IF...) they had a fully-fledged academic component
to sabermetrics, one question that might (MIGHT...) appear on your pop quiz
is: "Discuss the pros/cons of the Whale Curve." OK, then...go for it!!
The talk concerning offensive retrenchment has been with us for just about eighteen months, somewhere toward the end of 2010, when it became clear that run scoring was, in fact, going south. Now, in the light of a young season where further incursions into pitcher dominance are front and center, and the focus returning to the classic concept of the "pitcher's duel," it's probably a good time to put all this burgeoning talk into some kind of numerical perspective.

One of the long-time (meaning since we've had them readily available...) "stat splits" for team performance is its record in "low-scoring games". That category has, so far as we can recall, always been quantified as "games where the total runs scored by both teams adds up to six or less." So that's where we'll start in pursuing a "topographical" perspective on the change in offense.

Usually these splits focus on team performance, but we can also use them to look at facets of overall run-scoring performance. In this instance: what's the percentage of games where both teams combine to score six runs or less? Our modeling friends would want us to mention that you can devise a formula to predict this based on overall run scoring levels; while that's true, the upshot is that those models don't actually predict when run scoring levels will change...what we're after here is a snapshot of that change as it's occurred, with the hope that the visual display will provide historical context.'s the chart, spanning 1901 to the current fledgling results in 2012.

As you can see, 2012 is clearly shaping up to be another step in pitcher ascendancy, with the shift from 2007 (25% of all games were low-scoring) to 2012 (currently just under 37%) representing the most dramatic shift in recent memory.

But "recent memory" is exactly what we are trying to transcend with this chart, which shows how the changes in offensive levels are reflected in the type of individual games we watch. That's a texture which  tends to get filtered out when we choose more summarizing stats like runs/game.

Our rate of change in five years is dramatic enough now for us to take notice of it, but few if any of us will remember how sudden an even more dramatic drop in low scoring games occurred when we first moved into what Eric Walker (not Walt Davis!) coined "the sillyball era."

The chart also shows that we are nowhere near the low run scoring levels (as reflected in the higher percentage of low-scoring games) that we find in the deadball era (clustered around 1907-09 and 1916-17) and in the late 60s (clustering in 1967-68). For the moment, at least, we seem to be headed in that direction--but the value of the chart is to show that low-scoring games (as with average levels of run scoring) have fluctuated a lot more in the past that was the case from 1994-2009.

Before we push on, there's one more aspect of this that's worth discussing, and that's the psychological effect created about the "nature" or "essence" of the game as fans react to the change. Our gut tells us that it's the extreme events that tend to drive such perceptions, and we'll leave with an example that would purport to demonstrate that idea. The most extreme game is the one in which only one run is scored. That singularity is doubly impressive, and the frequency (or perceived frequency) of such games is probably more determinant of how the battle between pitcher and hitter is balanced to even a deep-fried analyst when they encounter the daily box scores.

It's surely that way for the more casual follower, who's likely to camp around the water cooler or the barstool with a rejoinder on the order of "Man, sure seem to be a lot of 1-0 games these days...there's been a bunch of 'em lately. Didn't use to see that, y'know?".

Well--sure, man. But what's the percentage of those games? And what percentage is likely to elicit such a response? That's what the graph at right tries to combine into its simple display of the percentage of 1-0 games per year since 1901. Our conjecture is that at about 2% (where the grey shading begins), these games start to enter into the minds of fans (and even analysts). When it gets over 3% (where our black line kicks in..), it starts to become a dominant topic of conversation.

You can see where we are right now in 2012 (just under 4%--a figure that, if it holds up, would be more than double what it was five years ago). And, if you go along with the analogy, you can see why you (and many others) are starting to talk about it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Jamie Moyer picked up win number 267 last night against the Padres, making him the oldest pitcher in baseball history to record a victory, which is hopefully a story that will continue to repeat as 2012 plays out.

One interesting question that has surfaced as regards Moyer's ongoing viability as a successful starting pitcher is only marginally related to his age--the question of his strikeout rate.

It's been noted that thus far in 2012, Moyer's K-rate is significantly lower than it's ever been previously. (It's currently at 3.1 per nine innings; the lowest K-rate that Jamie has registered over a full season is 4.4 per nine, which happened way back in 1996, when Moyer was "just" 33 and about to begin the most successful period of his career.

So what we want to know is: how rare is to be a successful starting pitcher in the big leagues with such a low K-rate. Thanks to Forman et fil, we can create a list of starters from 1976-2011 who've had an ERA+ of 110 or higher with a K-rate below 3.5. That list can be found at the left, sorted backward in time from the present day to 1976.

What's immediately clear, of course, is that the drift toward more K's (a phenomenon with multiple causes) has pretty much pushed out low K-rate pitchers. There are only five pitcher seasons from 2000-2011 who fit such a low-K profile--and there are only 14 such seasons over that time where starters have thrown more than 150 innings with such a low K-rate.

From 1976-1979, of course--less than half a decade's worth of years--there are 23 pitcher seasons on our list, and a total of 53 pitcher seasons overall.

So while the changing nature of the game seems to be making these pitchers a species bordering on extinction, they are not all the way to dodo-bird status just yet. While long-term prospects for such pitchers remain guarded at best, there are still instances where low-K "mirror-meisters" can not only survive, but thrive.

And let's face it, what type of long-term prospects are there for Jamie Moyer to worry about? This is a low-key, off-beat, hard-to-fathom (add hyphenated phrase of choice here...) type of phenomenon--one that essentially defies analysis: let's have a good time while it lasts.

Friday, April 13, 2012


What does the history of "meh" teams that have a late-season hot streak
tell us about the eventual fate of the Los Angeles Dodgers in '12??
So a certain someone (whose name will be withheld to protect any and all aggrieved parties) was curious to know whether teams that finish well in the previous year (over, say, the last 35 games of the season) have any kind of "carryover effect" in the following season.

There was a more specific genesis for this question that should be plopped on the table at this point. The poser (and I don't mean that in a pejorative sense: let's just the "questioning one") wanted to know if teams that finished strong but still had a mediocre overall won-loss record in Season 0 would trend toward better performance in Season +1. Specifically, the 2011 Dodgers, who were only 82-79 for the season but won 25 of their last 35 games.

So we picked through the data at Forman et fils that permits us to look at streaks, located the 200 teams with the best performance over their last 35 games, and winnowed down the list to include only those teams who played at least .686 ball (or 24-11) in that time frame. As you might expect, the vast majority of the teams on that "top 200" list posted season records that were much, much better than "meh" (the favored diminutive for mediocre). More than 85% of the teams on the list were purged because they were too good.

So that leaves us with a total of 27 teams that were "meh" overall in the year in which they finished strongly. (And even here we stretched a little bit, putting teams on the list that were 20 games over .500).

The 2011 Dodgers, of course, made the list. The jury will be out for quite some time with respect to 2012, so that leaves us 26 teams with Year 0 and Year +1 data. So what are the results?

The total differential for these 26 teams is -10 games, which averages out to just under a half-game worse per team in Season +1 than in Season 0.

We've put the post-expansion teams in bold italics. Those thirteen teams have performed a good bit worse than the average, winning nearly four fewer games in Season +1. If we pull out the '92 Brewers, however, that cuts this in half.

No matter how you slice it, we just aren't seeing much of a carryover trend for these kind of teams. They are all over the map when it comes to the "afteryear." At the top of the improvement list we have three pennant winners--the 1919 Reds, 1951 Giants, and 1979 Pirates. There are two other pennant winners on the list: the 1920 Yankees and the 1945 Tigers, but it's dicey to include that last team for two reasons: first, we're talking about the tail end of the war years; second, they only improved by a half-game and are one of the teams who were a bit too good in Season 0 that to be on the list in the first place.

So, the range of expectation that the Dodgers could improve markedly (meaning seven or more wins in Season +1) is about one in four.

[POSTSCRIPT: The Dodgers pulled out a 9-8 win on Friday the 13th against the Padres, raising their early-season record to 7-1. When we look at NL teams that started 7-1 since 1901, and set aside the four squads that did this in strike-affected years (1981, 1994, 1995), we find that 18 of those 49 teams went on to the postseason, just under 37%. The average W-L record for the post-expansion NL teams who've started the year 7-1 is 89-72. Only six of these 49 teams have wound up the year with sub-.500 records.]

Thursday, April 12, 2012


"Jonathan Broxton Comes In From The Bullpen",
by Remedios Varo...
And we didn't even have Eric Plunk to thank (or blame)...

Occasionally baseball careens into a half-world that's as surreal as Luis Bunuel (or even Remedios Varo, who knew how to make the medieval into something downright strange). Yesterday, the small band who congregated at the Your Name Here Coliseum in Oakland, had just such a moment.

The A's and our favorites, the Kansas City Royals, were locked in a game that had only one portion of the phrase that Richard Meltzer coined for the temporal/textural structure of rock'n'roll. That phrase? "Orgasmic monotony"--and the A's and Royals had only the noun working for them, with no trace of the adjective.

After Alex Gordon (who'd entered the game hitless for the season) homered to tie the score at 3-3 in the seventh, things settled down into a dullness that matched the cloud-riddled skies.

In the twelfth, however, the A's looked like losers when Billy Butler's double into the left-field corner was dosey-doe'd by the flaccid arm of Coco Crisp (a looping arc that looked more like something that stadium perky-girl Kara might have thrown than a major league outfielder), and the lumbering Eric Hosmer was able to score all the way from first base as a result.

But the Royals, without their long-time closer Joakim Soria, were forced to bring in the large and enigmatic Jonathan Broxton, a man who'd driven thousands of Dodger fans deeper into drink during his controversial tenure in Los Angeles.

Repeat as necessary: do NOT pick up the
funky chick you find in the stands reading
this book...repeat, do NOT....
Good old J.B., as we used to call him whenever he made a ninth inning into something as intricately unfathomable as a Gil Orlovitz "novel," tried to walk Daric Barton. His 3-2 pitch was low and outside; Barton tossed his bat away and was ready to take a trot to first. But home plate ump Jim Reynolds rang him up, and A's fans figured that monotony had just become, well, monotonic.

But pinch-hitter Seth Smith hit a grounder to KC SS Alcides Escobar, who suddenly got a case of the dropsies, fumbling the ball. He recovered quickly and threw to first, but Smith beat the throw.

Then J. B. went to work. He walked Jemile Weeks. He walked Eric Sogard. (Yes, THE Eric Sogard.) Our friend Coco Crisp, batting for the first time, had a chance to redeem himself for his spaghetti-armed performance in the top of the inning. As seems to be his wont, he made it half-way to heroism, slapping a grounder that was too far away from KC's second baseman Yuniesky Betancourt to permit anything more than a force play at second, allowing the tying run to score.

This is when the game went surreal. J.B. then proceeded to hit Yoenis Cespedes with a pitch. This re-loaded the bases, bringing Johnny Gomes to the plate. (The joy of small sample sizes has Johnny doing a glorious all-or-nothing act in 2012: he has only two hits for the year...but they are both homers. #2 had come earlier in the ball game.)

Halley's Comet in the night sky...that's Jonathan
Broxton, aka Mr. Cactus, posing in the
right foreground.
So what does Broxton do, with the sacks drunk and the boat reeling in the best Rimbaud fashion?

Why, yes, of course. He hits Gomes with his very next delivery, forcing home the winning run.

Surreal is when it takes thirty seconds for the fans--and the players on the field--to know that they've actually won the game.

And it turns out that such a feat is pretty rare. Those who saw Broxton hit two batters in a row to cough up a game witnessed something that the record books indicate has only happened once previously--in May 1966, when Stu Miller plunked Al Weis and Tommie Agee (neither of them Miracle Mets at the time, but mere Chicago White Sox) with the same result.

It's sort of like a goofy version of Halley's Comet...every 46 years this strange spectre returns. Don't expect to be around in 2058 when it happens again, but our first at-the-park experience of 2012 redeemed itself at the end.

Monday, April 9, 2012

THE 0-3/3-0 THANG...

The Yankees and the Red Sox got off to 0-3 starts this year; so did the Giants, Padres, Braves and Twins.

Conversely, the Rays and the Diamondbacks (the two most recent additions to MLB) both started 3-0; so did the Dodgers, Mets, Tigers and Orioles.

This is not the type of season-opening streak
we're talking about here. (Of course, this is also 

not a picture taken at a baseball game...)
Does this mean anything in terms of the eventual outcome of the season? We went back thirty seasons and tracked all of the teams that started 3-0 and 0-3 over that time frame to see what happened. Here's what we found:

Of the 90 teams from 1982-2011 (not including 1994 and 1995) that began the year 3-0, 27 were division champs. Five more made the playoffs as wild card teams. That's a 35.6% success rate.

The overall record of these 90 teams: 7633-6935 (.524).

Of the 88 teams from 1982-2011 (again, no '94 or '95) that started 0-3, only nine were division winners. Two more were wildcard teams. That's a 12.5% success rate.

The overall record of these 88 teams: 6782-7463 (.476).

So over the past thirty years, teams that go 3-0 to start the year are just under three times likelier to make the postseason than teams that go 0-3.

In 2011, four teams started 3-0. Two of them--the Rangers and the Phillies--made the post-season. The other two (Orioles and Reds) won 69 and 79 games respectively.

Four teams began 0-3 in 2011. Two of these--the Rays and the Brewers--went on to the post-season. The Red Sox, who also started 0-3, somewhat famously allowed the Rays to sneak into the playoffs. The other team dropping its first three--the Astros--finished 56-106.

Two-thirds of the teams that started 3-0 finished at .500 or higher at the end of the season. Just under 40% of the teams that started 0-3 finished at .500 or higher.

Four teams (the '85 Cardinals, '98 Yankees, the '99 D-backs, and the '03 Braves) won 100+ games despite starting the season 0-3. Two teams (the '02 Devil Rays and the '08 Nationals) lost 100+ games despite starting the year 3-0.

Sunday, April 8, 2012


We've been messing with more of our "bathtub gin" versions of team prediction/projection tools, piggybacking off a weighted average of the various player projections that are floating around in the Internet ether.

It's all educated guesswork at best, and translating some kind of playing time estimate for close to 900 players is something that could take months without producing anything more than a greater level of intricacy in the guesswork, so what we do is get weighted averages for the hitters and pitchers, establish the rate stats (OBP/SLG for hitters, ERA and WHIP for pitchers), estimate park factors, whip into the old BBB blender, ultimately producing OPS+ and ERA+ estimates for each team.

With those estimates, we then have a couple of formulas that translate these into a projected win total. (We have to fudge a little bit, since we try to set the baseline at 100, which varies from how it's done by our old pals at Forman et fil, who leach out pitcher batting from their OPS+ calculations.

The question you may ask is: why not just use a direct Pythagorean WPCT (PWP) method by estimating the runs scored/runs allowed. That would be fine if we knew what the run scoring level was going to be in the upcoming season. We don't know: in fact, no one does. So we stop short of trying to estimate that, and just rely on the league-relative components. Frankly, these tend to distort a bit on the extremes as compared with PWP; one of these years, when we have a little more time, we have several ideas about how to factor in some supporting data that will minimize that from happening. Most of the time, however, it doesn't really come into play.

So, after all that, let's look at the projections for the Half-on-a-Limb League-Relative Component method, bathtub gin Version 1.01. What you see in the 2011 data on the left side of each table is the converted OPS+ and ERA+ for the teams. These have been adjusted from the Format et fils data to allow our formula to add up to the right number of league wins (if we'd used theirs, that would not happen).

As with the PWP data, our "Xw" (Expected win) total for 2011 varies from the actual win totals. These variations, and their direction from actual wins, are generally similar to the PWP data, though they tend to produce a somewhat higher overall deviation.

Since the method of arriving at the estimates is a weighted average of several other systems, it tends to push things a bit toward the middle. This shows up in the AL Xw estimates for 2012 a bit more strongly than usual. There is only one team projected to win less than 70 games according to the BBB "blender": the Orioles. And there's no one projected to win more than 92 games.

It's a similar situation in the NL, where only the Phillies (at 93 wins) are projected to crack the 90-win barrier. This makes for some tight divisional races: the Cards and Reds are predicted to win up in a dead heat in the NL Central, while the NL West shapes up to be a close fight between the D-backs (sliding back a bit from last year) and the Dodgers (kicking up a notch or so from 2011).

We're not suggesting you take this to the bank, but we think it's interesting enough to work on the formulas more (particularly by using historical data to look for any deviation patterns that can be discerned and then taken into account). And it's a reasonable opening benchmark for a periodic revisit during the upcoming season: we'll come back to this every six weeks or so. Stay tuned.

Thursday, April 5, 2012


Odds now strongly point toward the end having come for one of our latter-day favorites, Vladimir Guerrero, who hasn't latched on with a club over the winter and is still on the outside looking in as the season gets underway (as a cold snap in the East starting us out with games that threaten to bring back the spectre of 1968).

Way back when (in the latter stages of the Clinton administration...), we used to debate the ultimate career arcs of Guerrero and Andruw Jones, with various folk making the case for one vs. the other. Today that debate begins to come to it end, what with Guerrero's race run and Andruw playing out the string as a platoon player with the Yankees.

Of course, the debate may never end, because we have the twin towers of WAR (Wins Above Replacement), which purport to rank player performance. The offensive side is pretty cut and dried; it's been around for years and is essentially unchanged from its inception. The defensive side has been hyped mercilessly in the past decade, part of the major makeover of sabermetric stats that purportedly raise the bar in terms of our understanding. Andruw Jones, before he ate his way out of being the cross between Willie Mays and Garry Maddox, had several simply unbelievable seasons--so sayeth WAR, that is. (We are still firmly convinced that the center field stats have always had their value inflated in the models, and that if one corrected for that, the overall defensive value would be more accurately redistributed...Jones would still rank near the top for the seasons he had, but the value placed on those outlying putout totals would be proportionately lowered, and would decrease his overall WAR totals.)

Vlad was clearly the better hitter, and by a wide margin (nearly 20 wins). The two players' OPS+ values (140 for Vlad, 111 for Andruw) provide another form of confirmation. (Oddly enough, one stat where Vlad is in the lead when we compare their stats is quite surprising for those who remember the players in the late 90s: Vlad wound up with 181 stolen bases, while Andruw, whose speed as a young player caused many to melt, currently has 152.)

Of course, Andruw is still playing, as he survived his catastrophic meltdown in 2007-08 and has emerged as a viable platoon player vs. lefties. He might have enough juice left to overtake Vlad's lifetime HR total (Andruw has 420 going into 2012; Vlad had 449 at the end of the 2011 season).

Going into 2009, no one would have expected that Andruw would actually remain in the majors longer than Vlad. So what happened? As we said, Jones recouped his swing against lefties, while over the course of 2009-11, Vlad lost his.

Our three-year running charts give us a snapshot of how this occurred. Andruw was a beast against lefties when he came up, but it's clear that he's been on something akin to a rollercoaster against lefthanded pitchers since the late nineties--and, in fact, the deep dip that he took against southpaws in 2001-2003 is quite probably the thing that cost him a shot at being a superstar and going on to the Hall of Fame. His hitting against righties stabilized fairly early and remained reasonably consistent for the better part of eight years, but it took an extremely sharp dip beginning in 2008 (and only just re-emerged last season).

It looks as though Vlad's decline has been coming for some time now, though our survey of five key split stats (Vlad's results when he hits fly balls, his results against flyball pitchers, his hitting on the first pitch thrown to him, his record against power pitchers, and his hitting against lefthanders) show that the ones that seem to have precipitated his collapse--and such a term must be used, based on the data--are his  hitting against power pitchers and lefties.

It would be interesting to both graph and tabularize this data for many hitters, for we might learn some tidbits about the nature of decline in aging hitters...for example, do certain splits operate as leading indicators or predictors of impending collapse?

Vlad's OPS data in selected years for five major offensive splits.
We see this in a bit more relief when we look at it in tabular form, an approach that juxtaposes single-year stat values. Those selected totals, spanning 2-4 year gaps in Vlad's career, show a hitter whose inability to hit power pitchers would seem to be the key to his career decline. (It's the one with the lowest peak level of accomplishment; his hitting against lefties is second.)

The injuries to Vlad's knees have made him into a DH, and that cut down his options in terms of signing with a team for 2012. Of course, we are filled with impish self-interest  here, but we'd like to see Vlad get a shot with Toronto--it'd be a return to Canada, and it turns out that Vlad has hit .359 there over the years (with a 1.011 OPS). The place he doesn't want to go, however, is Minnesota--he's hit only .221 in the Metrodome, and while his batting average is higher in the Twins' new home (Target Field), he showed no power whatsoever there and his OPS is actually lower there than in the old Dome.

All in all, a sad day, as we all rediscover the old adage that getting Thanks for the memories, big guy.