Thursday, February 28, 2013


Lauren Hillman: Her shape is fine...but her
voice is even finer.
Now surely we haven't simply gone horny and jumped the shark, no? It's true that we are known for every so often placing a nubile young woman in a prominent--but never, ever more than marginally compromising--position here in these virtual pages (as we are once again doing with our exceptionally gifted friend Lauren Hillman, who makes men's minds and knees weak due to her singular voice), but we don't pander to the "size matters" contingent.

(At least not in public.)

But somebody has to invent the "Boob Index," and if it wasn't Hugh Hefner or some fellow traveler with sticky hands, then we will just reach out and get down with it (or is that get up with it?).

It's time to shift blame, so we are pinning this one on our sometime compatriots at Forman et fil(s)--never sure what the exact progeny count actually is over there--who have compiled some interesting new baserunning info as part of their ongoing effort to drown us all in play-by-play data.

We've looked at the last five years of it while we should have been doing something else--and some of you who are reading this will know just what that "something else" was...but keep a lid on it, already--and, even without a "Boob Index," there is a lot to snuggle up with.

So, are we going to take the low road and try to tell you which team got to third base the most often? Of course not. And there are no arcane "cup size" calcs here, either. You guys just need to get what's left of your minds out of the gutter.

Let's look at some of what five years of baserunning data (as opposed to a five-year losing streak at can tell us. We can add up the total number of times a team reaches base on errors (ROE). The summary totals can be seen at left. The average team in MLB has done this 289 times over the past five year, or a bit less than 60 times a year.

The effective range, however, is about 20 ROE per year; the Rangers have averaged a bit over 66 ROEs from 2008-12, while the Diamondbacks have averaged only around 46 ROEs.

We can also look at the range of stolen bases over that same time frame. (That data is shown at right.) When we do that, we see a much wider performance span than what we see with ROEs. There's an astonishing difference in SBs over five years: the Tampa Bay Rays have stolen two and a half times as many bases from 2008-12 than the Detroit Tigers.

While we are on the subject of stolen bases, it's worth noting that in 2012 stolen base success rates moved up to 74% overall. And there's good news for those who are still fixated on getting to third base--turns out it's easier than you think! Those who do so made it 81% of the time in '12. And what's the range over five years for teams stealing third base? It's astonishingly large. The Rays have stolen third base 110 times over the past five years; the Tigers, with prim & proper "Grampa" Jim Leyland in charge, have stolen third base just nineteen times in the past five years (2008-12).

How aggressive are your baserunners at taking leads? The five-year pickoff data can give us a sense of that. Joe Maddon's Rays have had 141 baserunners picked off over the past five years. While you're probably expecting the Tigers (whose baserunners would seem to be standing right on the base being occupied) to be the team with the least pickoffs, but you'd be wrong: the Red Sox (60) have the least, closely followed by the Cubs (66), the A's (69), and only then the Tigers (72, tied with the Astros).

We're pretty sure that this was NOT what some
of you were hoping to see when the word "boobs"
was put on display here like a nonchalantly-
exposed bra strap...
But what about this "boob" thing, anyway? (And has anyone bothered to measure the average duration in these so-called "striptease" videos before the babe brings out the merchandise? We don't frequent these portals of higher learning, mind you, having been tossed out on our keister many years ago...but we hear a rising set of complaints that it takes more than a minute before the models begin strutting their stuff, which may have been OK back in the fifties--when men were men, goddam it--but with the levels of ADD having gone through the roof via the wholesale infantilization of everything, this just amounts to a rather sadist variant of cruel and unusual punishment.)

OK, OK. Let's get three-quarters of the way, at least, by trotting out the "OOB" portion of our (intentionally top-heavy) construct. "OOB" is "Out On Base," or what the STATS, Inc. folks used to call "baserunning outs." We see that the Angels are running into more outs on the basepaths than anyone else (averaging nearly 70 per season since '08, which works out to one such out every 2.2 games), while the A's and the Phillies have been the teams who've avoided having baserunners erased, averaging 47 per year).

We get the "BOOB" by manhandling another stat from the Forman et fil(s) bag of fun tricks, one entitled "Bases Taken". These are extra bases on hits; it turns out that there are about 38% more of these per year than there are stolen bases. So what we do is combine SBs and BTs, and we divide it by the overall outs on bases (CS and other OOBs) to determine what the overall level of baserunning attrition exists for a team in any given year. It turns out that the "attrition rate" or "Baserunning Out on Base" percentage (BOOB) has been right around 31% over the past five seasons.

So non-stolen base efforts to take an extra base are slightly less successful than stolen base attempts themselves...would you have thought that to be the case?

What's most interesting to look at: the range of difference in a single season. It's much greater year-to-year than it is when aggregated, so the element of chance comes into play and can assist teams in winning some extra games (possibly up to as many as three or four) in any given year due to their avoiding Outs on Bases. The fluctuations from one season to the next can be dramatic: look at the data for Atlanta in 2011-12 (as shown in the chart at right).

It's probably surprising to see the Phillies as the team that has consistently performed best in this game aspect, but the data confirm it. In 2012, a certain amount of the Oakland A's success can be attributed to their ability to avoid outs on the basepaths. But over five years, it seems that only the Phillies and A's have been able to consistently do this; virtually all of the other teams are within a couple of percentage points of the MLB average.

There does seem to be a repeating correlation here that teams doing well in this stat year-to-year tend to win more games than teams who don't, but it's not pronounced: teams with lower-than-average BOOB scores averaged 86 games in '12, 84 in '11, 88 in '10, 82 in '09, 87 in '08.

Individual player totals might be interesting to look at, and we'll try to do that at some point in the future. It might provide an interesting corollary to the baserunning component of Wins Above Replacement, which could probably use it. Imagine that: the BOOB Index quite possibly providing a Sanity Clause. Have we no shame?? Answer that at your own risk...

Sunday, February 24, 2013


Well, this is interesting...the Yankees seem hell-bent on turning the clock back to 1989, when the team that has churned more butter than those striped cats in Little Black Sambo was last in the red vis-a-vis its won-loss record. (Just in case you've forgotten, the Yankees circled the tree for four consecutive losing seasons from 1989-92, and even a number of Democrats who grimaced through GHWB's broccoli-infused reign went on record to say that these were some of the happiest years of their lives.)

Why do we say this? Why, because the Bronx Bombers have been shedding players at an alarming rate  since the conclusion of the 2012 season. Now they are piling up another sub-group of payroll recipients who will be on the sidelines for an indeterminate amount of 2013.

First, there was our old pal Derek Jeter, who fractured his ankle in the playoffs. Then there was Alex Rodriguez, whose decline threatened to reach terminal velocity over the winter and will miss an indeterminate amount of the 2013 season.  Next: Phil Hughes, who twisted, then began to shout when he tweaked his back. The Yanks are likely to be worried about this injury for a good bit longer than the initial two-week layoff they're giving Phil.

Granderson: out ten weeks with a fractured forearm...
And now: Curtis Granderson, the team's home run leader in 2012--and, in fact, the major league leader in HRs over the past two years with 84 (ten more than Miguel Cabrera and Ryan Braun)--suffered a forearm fracture in the Yankees' first spring training game.

This is shaping up to be the grandaddy of all austerity programs. The Yankees' uncharacteristic restraint in the 2012-13 offseason has now become a set of manacles, and there are no longer any bullet-proof adjustments open to them.

Their acquisitions since their abrupt departure from last year's playoffs--Kevin Youkilis and Travis Hafner--will have to reverse their career arcs in order to provide the Yanks with any kind of buffer. It was already clear that this year's edition of the Bombers was going to need all of the pitching it can get in order to offset an unaccustomed offensive anemia (at least by their standards); now, with these two forced to carry a full-time load, we've gone from fissure to fault line in the Bronx.

There's virtually no depth on the Yankee bench in '13, in direct contrast with earlier years. This is a team that will be starting 39-year-old Ichiro! Suzuki in right field this year. Full time.

This is looking more and more like a Yankee team that will score less than 750 runs for the first time since 1992. If catastrophe strikes (Rodriguez out most of the year; downturns from Jeter, Youkilis, Ichiro!, and Robinson Cano; another injury to the recently fragile Hafner), this team could actually get below 700 runs. If they do, they just might make a run at 75-80 wins for the season.

People have been talking about the Yankees collapsing for years, but this squad is now shaping up to have the type of sluggish start last seen in 2008, when they were 20-25 in late May and never did get into any kind of overdrive for the entire year.

This season could make '08 look like a walk in the park. Can Brett Gardner become the leadoff man we haven't seen in the past twenty years? Will the depleted bullpen seize the day even with Mariano Rivera coming off his injury? Can Eduardo Nunez step in for Jeter and hit .350? Clearly the answer to that last question at least needs to be memorialized in a time-honored fashion, as signified by the picture at left.

Don't count your pigs till they come in for a crash landing...but this just might be a year for the rest of us to savor.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Looking at 20-year results over the past forty years of baseball history (1973-2012) shows us that certain teams have been masters of their fate while others have taken it on the hoof, so to speak. The movement toward greater separation between winners and losers--a feature that was dominant in pre-expansion baseball--is captured in the chart of selected teams at right.

In 1992, the twenty-year trends showed only one team (the very late-blooming expansion team in Seattle) playing below .450, and only two teams (out of 28) playing under .460. The top team over the previous twenty years (the Dodgers) had just a .539 WPCT over that span.

In 2012, there were two teams playing well under .450, and four teams playing under .460. The short-term good news was that several of the teams near the bottom of the twenty-year standings (the Orioles, the Tigers, the Rays) were bouncing back from lean times.

Those two twenty-year doormat teams, however, were franchises that had been in the top fourth of performance in the 1973-92 time frame, a period that straddled the first decade and a half of free agency--a period that was remarkably free from dynasties. While the 80s had many problems (labor strife, collusion, etc.), the decade produced a more competitive brand of baseball than at any other point in the game's history.

But two of these teams, at the opposite edges of the Midwest, the Royals and Pirates, became the poster children for the next wave of baseball's squeeze play, becoming the doormats, the teams that wouldn't innovate, who couldn't manufacture a balanced crop of talent to compete and by the beginning of the new century seemed to exist solely to collect revenue sharing income.

(The teams that rose up to become consistent winners in this time frame, the Braves and the Giants, weren't known for "innovation" as it's been defined by the little world of neo-sabermetrics--they simply built around existing top talent and emphasized pitching. Which is something that neither the Royals nor the Pirates did.)

So here we are, with the 2013 season looming, and we see most folks in the field remaining obsessed with the Royals. (Recall how much of the "movement" hails from the region.) People are still living and dying--mostly the latter--with those powder-blue buffoons with the fruitlessly fruitful farm system.

Why not obsess about the Pirates instead? Crissakes, here's a team with just as much "Wallow Quotient." (We'll have to quantify that someday. Someday...) We look at the Pirates and say, "Ar-r-r-r-r...", but that's only because some impish person gave us a "Pirate Encyclopedia" T-shirt and we have been unable to see straight ever since.

Percentage of innings given to pitchers
age 25 or younger, NL, 2010-12
Let's try that again. We see a Pirate team that has stockpiled a group of young pitchers with significant potential (Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, Kyle McPherson, Justin Wilson, Jeff Locke, Phil Irwin) and spent much of last year with a series of veterans in their starting rotation. Over the past three seasons, the Pirates have been exceptionally loath to give a young pitcher (age 25 or younger) a chance in their rotation, while teams like the Braves, D-backs, A's, Rays, and Reds have pushed hard in that direction with significant success.

So, in 2013, we can say that the Pirates really need to sift through this solid corps of pitching prospects and bring them along. Three of these guys should be part of their rotation this year--we're figuring on Cole, McPherson and Irwin--and only by aggressively implementing such an approach are they going to be able to determine which of these guys will be making the type of contribution to their success that will have a sustained payoff.

Unlike the Royals, whose development strategies have focused on pitchers with high-risk profiles (read: marginal control), Pittsburgh's current crop is for the most part built around hurlers with excellent control. They have that rare situation where an entire group has managed to advance into the high minors without shedding that characteristic, as is so often the case with pitching prospects.

The Pirates are on the brink of something, but they need to risk walking that plank, and they need to do it now. They need to develop an ace (maybe two) out of this crop and move our pal Wandy Rodriguez down the depth chart (we love the guy, as you know, but he's a #3 guy on a winning team).

Sometimes you have to be bold. The Pirates proved last year that a sidelong, sideways approach to sneaking up on the league had too many leaks in the bottom of the boat.

This is the year of living dangerously for them. Here. Right now.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


A playfully grandiose kick-start for spring training occurred yesterday, with our old pal Prince Fielder smack dab in the middle of it.

Topps and Prince teamed up to create the world's largest baseball card (90' x 60'), which was put on display at an adjunct field near the Detroit Tigers' facility in Lakeland, FL.

We think Topps nailed this one. There's no one with a "shadow print" that's anywhere in the vicinity of Prince's, so if one was going to "go large," he's the guy.

Prince has 260 lifetime HRs thus far, which means he needs to hit 15 this year in order to be "hitting his weight."

Seriously, those 260 HR put Prince 15th on the all-time list for HRs by the age of 28. He's seventeen behind his Tiger teammate, Miguel Cabrera (who had 277 HR through age 28).

Of the fourteen guys ahead of him on that list, one three (Andruw Jones, Juan Gonzalez, and Adam Dunn) are not going to go into the Hall of Fame.

The jury's still out on Prince in that respect, but we're sure that his giant baseball card is going to make it in--if they can only figure out a way to get it inside!
By the way, there's no truth to the rumor that the Tigers pulled a fast one yesterday and substituted flame-throwing relief pitcher Bruce Rondon for Prince in this photo shoot.

The two of them are likely to set some records in 2013 for the largest quantities of buffet food consumed on a road trip, a home stand, a 24-hour period. A whole new value system--CAR (Calories Above Replacement)--will need to be implemented in order to keep up with their antics...

Monday, February 11, 2013


Sticking one's nose into the past, particularly the back pages of BBBA (short for Big Bad Baseball Annual, in case our blog name did not shout this out loudly enough for yez...) is often hilarious, sometimes sobering--and occasionally both at the same time.

One of our two "art" essays for BBBA 1997 (bearing no relation to the mensch-like work of Art Martone, the Red Sox correspondent who gracefully braved our pages during those tumultuous years) was all about a dystopian future for baseball. Which one, you say? Well, it was one that didn't quite arrive (at least not yet)...not that we really expected it to, of course. It was an exercise in extremity, an experiment in spoofery, a joyful jeremiad of left-wing faux-paranoia (something that was right to be in the air in 1997, however; for little did we know how soon we'd be plunged into those eight years of government-as-terrorist-against-its-own-country that would follow).

It was also kinda stupid, but by now you're used to that, too. Looking back on it, with all of the overwrought internationalism that this spoof--entitled "Baseball's Org Chart 2010"--brought to bear on the little world of baseball, these so-called "horrifying" results wouldn't actually be worse than anything ol' BS has laid on us in real life since that time. The cynical use of the steroids issue is a good bit more reprehensible, given how it continues to poison history.

According to the spoof essay, in 2010 we were supposed to have had something called "the Global League" stuffed down our throats once outsider corporatists had breached baseball's time-honored monopoly. There was an overwrought, overdetermined schedule (natch) which went on and on and on, with playoffs that would make even the NBA blush.

Reading all this (in the Angels' team essay--for some reason, we really enjoyed not writing about the Halos in anything remotely resembling an analytic vein in those days), we can't help but think that if Al Gore had been awarded his rightful place in the White House in 2000, then Shrubski would have wound up as Commissioner of Baseball and just about everything we outlined in the spoof would have come to pass. Better in baseball, one shrugs ruefully, than in the Middle East.

Of course, the part of all this that makes the most sense is the "post-globalist" phase, the years where the structure begins to metastasize, and the dearth of regulation that would have been part of a Shrubskite policy would have made the game over into a mirror-world of oligopoly (quoting--at last!--from said spoofery):

What happens to the players in all this? Well, the natural tendency in a true corporate structure is verticality. The effective result will be that certain teams begin to dominate their leagues due to unfair revenues (remember, revenue sharing will go out the window under this scheme: baseball is far less attached this scheme than football). After a ten-year period in which haves and have-nots will become more clearly defined, baseball's corporate czar (probably someone who is a cross between Edgar Bronfman of Seagram's* and Peter Ueberroth: let's call him Petgar Bronfmanroth for the sake of tongue twisting) will force a realignment of leagues into "competitive zones," creating one elite league and two lower leagues for the smaller markets.

(S)whirling images from upper left : Bronfman displaces his "finger to
the world"; (Mani) Petgar's rueful self-portrait; and another Petgar seals
the deal by revealing that it's all just another variant of rug merchantry...
After corporate globalization, we will have regionalization; but, as Bronfmanroth will note, it will be regionalism of the best sort, as it will pit the little guys against the big guys. Baseball has always thrilled to the underdog (Petgar looking wistful at this point) and now there are twenty-four little guys who can focus on beating the big boys. It's a perfect, stratified world, and salaries are controlled by making one league capable of absorbing all of the really good, high-priced talent, while the rest of the schlubs make much less hoping for the call to the "real" big leagues.

[*NOTE: Bronfman has been with as many companies since this was written as he's had women "with child," which just shows to go you that there's no better defense than a good offense.]

We were lucky--or were we?--that virtually none of this came to pass in the thirteen years between the time it was spoof-prophesied and the year it was "supposed to happen." Instead, we had a huge offensive explosion, a backlash against it that was almost as large, and a few telling changes to baseball's rules that would make it a lot easier to take the game down the road outlined in aforesaid spoof.

Steve Treder blows a series of sour notes in the general direction
of the Yankees...
Or did it happen and we were lucky not to know that it did? Some of our colleagues, like Steve Treder, who get a good bit more testy than we are even extrapolated to be by those who twist those dials between "A" and "B," really have it in for the idea that there could be a team with uber-bucks that would get a permanent seat at the stock exchange, so to speak. (Steve was referring to the Yankees, of course, but now we have the Dodgers trying it, too; who's to say that this trend won't develop over the next decade while most of us are hoping that American politics will stabilize in a way that will keep the Supreme Court from becoming the greatest threat to democracy...)

There, at last, the digression that aptly comes back to the central point: it could be so much worse.

There actually could be a guy named Petgar Bronfmanroth!

Thursday, February 7, 2013


Defining just what constitutes a "backup catcher" is a tricky prospect; we all have an image or idea of what such a term means, but it's likely to be one that fluctuates significantly according to the individual. We suspect that this first fledgling effort will be followed with a series of secondary definitions to cover all of the cases, but we will start with something that's tightly self-contained. (The better to dazzle you with our footwork in future installments...)

Here is our first cut at the concept...a "backup catcher" is one who receives more than 150 plate appearances but less than 300 plate appearances and whose plate appearance-to-game ratio is less than three per game. Some teams utilize their regular catcher enough to prevent the "backup" from qualifying by this definition: at some point later on we'll measure that phenomenon, though we suspect that such usage has become increasingly more common as we get closer to the present day.

What we want to know here is how many catchers have had at least three seasons which qualify according to the above set of conditions. That total: 194.

Additional seasons, as you might expect, prove to be a good bit more scarce: only 111 catchers have four or more seasons that meet the criteria; 54 have five or more seasons; 32 have six or more; 14 have seven or more; just 5 have eight or more.
Little did anyone know back in 1969 that Buck
Martinez would become the most prolific
backup catcher in baseball history...

The "king" of backup catchers by this definition is Buck Martinez, with ten such seasons. One gets the impression that Buck's gift for gab, which has manifested itself in a series of different gigs in his post-playing days, may have also contributed to his curious longevity as a marginal player. Amazingly, Buck never had a season where he had more than 300 plate appearances--meaning that he was never, ever considered worthy of the starting job.

Most of the catchers at the top of this list have come from more recent times--you will recognize names such as Jose Molina, Paul Bako, Doug Mirabelli, and Junior Ortiz. Most of these fellas were just as light with the bat as Buck (only Mirabelli's lifetime OPS+ is above 80). Most of these guys simply couldn't hit enough to hold their jobs, but they had some other skill that kept them around--something that might not be especially quantifiable.

The other trend here is an odd one in a baseball world that is (if you believe the rhetoric, that is) increasingly dominated by economic determinism. As the chart below shows, the efflorescence of the "backup catcher" began in the 1910s (at a point when platooning first became popular). Our measure here is the number of backup catcher seasons per team as calculated by averages over decades (1900-09, 1910-19, 1920-29, .... 2000-09, 2010-12).

We see some fluctuation (a big drop in the 30s, possibly tied to a series of big-hitting catchers), but the average of "backup catchers per team" stays high through the 60s, and then begins its decline. That average is now at its lowest since the first decade of the twentieth century.

But at the same time, there are more recent catchers hanging on in this capacity, and at higher numbers of seasons. With baseball salaries being what they are, you'd think that teams would simply try out young catchers and rotate them; but we see a tendency to rely on the hard-to-quantify skill sets of a series of veteran players who clearly aren't earning their roster slot with their bats.

So, as you brave the gales of winter awaiting the clarion call of "pitchers and catchers" (coming not a moment too soon!), ask yourself: why is this so? What is the je ne sais quoi of these backup catchers? Is there some mystical commingling of experience, game calling, pitch framing, and defensive prowess that makes them into guys who miraculously overstay their welcome? Or is it just cheap labor operating under the radar of free agency? Sometimes it's the marginal things that illuminate the big picture--and sometimes those margins are carrying the dust of eons...