Thursday, May 30, 2013

TOP 25 HITTERS SINCE 8/1/2012

We are getting warmed up for the Ptolemaic MVP calculations, which will re-commence here in the next few days. Those, of course, use two-month data...what follows below is data with twice as much sample size--the top 25 hitters in baseball over the past four months worth of games (back to August 1, 2012). Our list is sorted by good old on-base plus slugging (OPS):

There are three, maybe four, names here that will be a bit surprising. Most of them can be found in the American League: once you get past the monster numbers put up by Chris Davis (going toe-to-toe with Miguel Cabrera for the HR lead), you'll be slack-jawed with wonder at the solid performances of a couple of members of the Oakland A's (Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss) who would never have been remotely considered as potential presences at or even relatively near the top of such a list.

Bryce Harper continues to outshine Mike Trout as a "pure" hitter even as we extend into what is roughly two-thirds of a season's worth of data. The Yankees, suddenly faltering a bit at the hands of their lowly crosstown rivals, might wonder whether they should have let Nick Swisher get away in favor of a lame "victory lap" for Ichiro!, what with only Robinson Cano hitting up to snuff. Looks as though they're going to need to get some of that "high-priced spread" back after all...


Monday, May 27, 2013

FOUR DAYS IN MAY: THE INTERLEAGUE "DRIP" INTENSIFIES

Here's a fact that might prove momentarily impervious to post-modern methods of research. In the new "slow drip" version of interleague play that's been introduced this year to riotous silence, there are as of this morning three teams in MLB who've yet to play a single cross-league game.

If you know where to look (and, really, why should we tell you--just because you read this blog? Good grief, we've a reputation to maintain...) you can find out the answers for your own bad selves. What we'll tell you is that these three "virgin" teams (in terms of interleague play only, we assure you...) are not all in the same league, and two of these teams have played each other already during the course of the 2013 campaign.

Earlier last week, the NL pulled even with the AL at 29-29, but then the schedule turned nasty and the Marlins were sent out to play the White Sox (with predictably dire results). So as we gear up for a four days in late May that will effectively double the number of interleague contests played in 2013, the AL has a slight lead.

It may or may not hold up (we are in the land of the small sample size here...) but so far the home-field advantage has been much more prominent in the "drip, drip, drip" mode of interleague play this year. Overall, home teams have won 40 of 61 contests (a .656 WPCT). That's a hundred points higher than the historical average. The AL, which set the yearly record for best interleague performance in home games back in 2006 (86-40, .683), is currently 18-7 (.720) at home in 2013. The NL, which set an all-time low in home interleague performance in 2012 (54-72, .429) is currently 22-14 (.611) at home in 2013.

It's been fashionable to declare that the AL is the superior league in part because of the interleague results, but the lack of comprehensive matchups, even over time, prescribes more caution in such an assessment than is often the case with the garden variety neo-sabe. The lack of balance in the team quality matchups in interleague games has intensified to the detriment of the NL in the past five years, and it doesn't appear that anyone is taking that into account prior to issuing their proclamations.

The matchups for late May (chart at left), which skew slightly in favor of the AL teams, reiterate the need for caution in such sweeping assessments.

This is the weirdest wrinkle in the history of interleague play, where the two teams will play "home and home" series in back-to-back two-game units. Buzzy the fly™ told us that we should have expected something like this, since he and his bunch of droning spies had noticed an increasing trend toward geometric patterns in the ties worn by BS during their ongoing surveillance of the Commissioner's Office.

Who are the three teams that haven't yet dipped their toe into the 2013 interleague drip? That's right: the Red Sox, the A's, and the Cardinals.

That will all change today.

[UPDATE: The AL took nine of sixteen interleague contests today. The chart shows the victorious team(s) in the 5/27 games in red so that the reader can see whether the visiting team (at left) or the home team (at right) was the winning team. Overall, the home team won in 12 of 16 games today, further bolstering the home team WPCT in '13--which now stands at 52-25, or .675.]

Sunday, May 26, 2013

A REPREHENSIBLE SLANDER IN "42"

The hell-hole that is present-day Hollywood (the shark pit that came into being in the 1980s in an increasingly squishy response to the escalating rapacities of Reaganism) has, after some considerable effort, taken down the baseball bio-pic.

Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey, here having a somewhat strained reunion
in the early 60s, would likely evidence even wider-eyed astonishment at
the ham-fisted dramatics and casual slander found in 42...
42, directed and written by Brian Helgeland, takes a page of out the demonological playbook usually reserved for the Fox News contingent and creates a completely false set of events to "bolster" a story that needed no such artificial augmentation.

Helgeland, a lauded veteran talent whose involvement in two problematic neo-noir "masterpieces" (L.A. Confidential and Mystic River) has given him the kind of credibility more akin to a ticking time bomb than any guarantee of principle or actual craftsmanship, has committed a completely unwarranted and reprehensible slander in his treacly, tendentious retelling of the Jackie Robinson story, and deserves nothing more or less than a lawsuit jammed up his posterior as a result.

Beyond the slander, there is also the abuse of history and fact. Even in a town that prefers to uncritically  apply legendary director John Ford's famous dictum ("Print the legend"), Helgeland has crossed the line with a carelessness that pins the "callous" meter.

What is that slander? The bald, false, made-up-out-of-whole-cloth assertion that pitcher Fritz Ostermueller was a flaming racist who "beaned" Robinson early in the 1947 season.

As Helgeland portrays it, Pirates righthander Ostermueller (who was, in fact, left-handed) yelled "You don't belong" at Robinson before delivering a pitch that hit baseball's pioneer of integration in the head--an action that purportedly started an on-field brawl that was supposed to been a pivotal moment in his acceptance by his teammates on the Brooklyn Dodgers.

It's questionable scriptwriting--and odiously false history. As all credible historical accounts of the incident indicate, Ostermueller pitched a 12-hit shutout against the Dodgers that day (May 17, 1947). Robinson was hit on the left wrist in the first inning; there was no brawl, and there were no harsh words uttered before or after Robinson was hit.

Robinson wound up 2-for-4 in the game, and made the final out (a grounder to third) as Ostermueller completed his complete-game "whitewash."

Ostermueller's daughter, Sherill Duesterhaus, was incredibly gracious even as she endured the pain of seeing her father wrongly accused of actions he did not commit and values that he did not hold. "I can understand Hollywood making a good story, but not at the expense of someone's memory and legacy."

In a world that is already far too litigious, it's certainly counter-productive to suggest that Ms. Duesterhaus file a lawsuit against Helgeland, whose cavalier rewriting of history has been rewarded by filmgoers to the tune of $90 million in ticket sales.

But it's what he deserves. It would be interesting to see how he would mount a defense for such an astonishing act of character assassination.

Helgeland also plays fast and loose with the September "rematch" between Robinson and Ostermueller, where he's depicted as hitting a walk-off homer against him. That's hard to do when you are playing a road game. Robinson did hit a home run in that game, but it occurred when Jackie led off the top of the fourth inning, in what was to that point a scoreless tie.

The director also suggests that Ostermueller was "afraid" to pitch to Robinson, having walked him in a previous at-bat. The actual game log for September 17, 1947 shows that Jackie was walked intentionally in the seventh inning, after he'd already hit a homer and a double. He was given the free pass to set up a double play possibility, since pitcher Hal Gregg was at second base with one out.

The moment that never happened: Fritz Ostermueller (as portrayed by actor
Linc Hand, who's using the wrong hand...) pointing at Jackie Robinson before
throwing a pitch that hit him in the head. NEVER HAPPENED, FOLKS.
Of course, none of that is a "good Hollywood story." But the story of Jackie Robinson is compelling enough without these types of egregious distortions and outright lies.

(And, in fact, the Dodgers did not actually clinch the pennant that day. They only clinched a tie for the pennant. But the "double dosing" of Ostermueller was just too convenient for a seasoned Hollywood hack like Helgeland to resist.)

Helgeland should issue an apology to Fritz Ostermueller's daughter for his slander of her father. Failing that, he should be barred from making any more films. For all his talent, he has shown the ultimate in bad faith, particularly in the service of a progressive cause. He needs to make amends.

This is not the place for a complete analysis of 42--an excellent effort at that has already been undertaken by ESPN's Howard Bryant, who covers the film from the lens of history and how that has already been fissured into a series of lingering legends. It is the place to wonder why it was necessary to add character assassination to an already leaking stew of historical shortcuts--some "understandable" (as Ostermueller's daughter suggests), but others simply exasperating.

It's one thing to be historically inaccurate, however--but entirely another to go out of one's way to slander an innocent bystander. Barring a public apology, Helgeland should be banished from Hollywood.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

BLAMTON

Albert Pujols: "leaning in" for success...
or turning into a "lean-to"???
(We are swamped, swamped, OK, let's say it again, swamped; hoping for some respite over the next few days to complete a few more items that will make insiders shrug and outsiders gurgle...so, we'll say "stay tuned" at the top of the damn essay for a change.)

Ol' Joe P. is at it again, harping on the struggles of poor little rich guy Albert Pujols, using and ignoring park effects as he goes, piledrivin' a heapin' helpin' of blame on the slow-startin' superstar for his team's current sorry state (the Angels are 18-27 as of this writing).

True enough that Albert has now had three consecutive slow starts in April and May, which doesn't quite make us get into lockstep with the ideological empiricists who cluck a lot about signing older players to large contracts. Makes us think that Albert is not doing what he needs to in order to be in shape for the season, and that his employers might want to get a message to him about it.

As it is, Albert's OPS+ is 105, which is lousy for him but is not something that should be costing his team more than a game, maybe two, up to this point. Joe might be waiting to write another one of these snifflin' pieces about rich little po'boy Josh Hamilton, who took more stuffing out of Arte Moreno's pocket this off-season and is proceeding to have a real live monster of an off-season himself (82 OPS+ thus far).

No, the real reason that the Halos are back in their Village of the Damned mode right now isn't really due to their offense (106 OPS+). It's due to the fact that they let three starting pitchers go during the off-season and replaced one of them with Joe Blanton.

Or, as we've taken to calling him: BLAMton.

Smile, Joe...you're making history.
Right now ol' Joe (sorry, hard to keep those Joes straight, especially since both of them have been on a parallel steep decline over the same time frame...) is 0-7, with an ERA of 6.62.

That's bad enough, but here's the freakin' "freak stat" that will cause what's left of your hair to curl: after nine starts, Blanton (sorry, that's BLAMton...) is allowing 15.4 hits per nine innings.

According to the fabulous Play Index at Forman et fil, that's the highest such average for any pitcher with nine or more GS (games started) in the history of the game. (Or, should we say, from 1916 until now; the Play Index only goes that far. But the even the lusty hitting in the 1890s didn't manage to produce a pitcher who exceeds Blanton's H/9 in nine or more starts.)

Claude Willoughby
Les Sweetland
Joe is allowing hits at a significantly greater rate than those 1930 Phillies hurlers (Les Sweetland, Claude Willoughby) who had to pitch half their games in the Baker Bowl.

He's about four-tenths of a hit per inning ahead of Jake Miller (15.0), a lefty who had a season from hell in 1930 (and who will drop off the list once Joe makes start #10: even the lowly St. Louis Browns wouldn't give Miller more than nine starts that year).

Joe is not pitching quite as badly overall as did Sean Bergman back in 2000 for the Twins, though folks will be shocked to know that despite a 9.66 ERA and a 1.065 OPS allowed, Sean was 4-5 at the time that he got banished by the Twins.

The year 2000 was, of course, a monster offensive season. The same is not the case for 2013, and Blanton's team has a home field that's a pitcher's park. That's precisely what makes this such a startling achievement.

Joe's QMAX "S" scores (the hit prevention measure: 1 is best, 7 is dire) look like this so far: 6, 7, 7, 7, 6, 4, 5, 7, 7. That averages to 6.22, which--yes--is the worst we've ever seen. Joe's "hit hard" percentage is currently 78%.

Blanton was always a guy who was hittable, but he was still a league average pitcher up through '09 (102 ERA+). Since then, his ERA+ is 80 (84 if you're compassionate and leave out the partial debris of '13).

Bad as that is, there's worse news for Halo fans. The Angels signed him to a three-year deal over the winter. (Of course, they can just eat the money...then Joe will go to the Yankees, room with Vernon Wells, and, summarily, rise from the dead.)

Vance's ugly shirt for an ugly season...
What's killing the Angels is not Pujols, it's a paucity of pitching--or, more accurately, an unwanted bounty of Blamton. He can't possibly keep this up all season, can he? Can he??

[UPDATE: Joe got off the schneid tonight, pitching creditably into the seventh inning and notching his first win when the Royals' ninth-inning rally fell short. He also lowered his H/9 down to 14.77 and is no longer the all-time "leader" in this category, thanks to the Twins' Vance Worley, who's been hit at a .418 clip over his last five starts and now has a H/9 of 15.17. Vance might just keep this record, at least for the foreseeable future, since he was sent to AAA after getting shelled by the Braves the other night.]

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

DOWN WHERE THE VALLEYS ARE LOW...

...and if you are really good at your old, obscure 70s musical references, you'll have that one all wrapped up before you can even crawl out your window.

But the other reference, guaranteed to be at least 51% pertinent to the ostensible subject of this blog, is to teams that are seriously circling the drain.

We were out front with our friends the Fish (aka the Miami Marlins), whose current record (11-27, .289) projects them to have the 17th worst won-loss record in major league history.

However, the Fishies are not alone. The Houston Astros have found even lower realms in the tank and are currently 10-29. That .256 WPCT projects to be the fifth worst in baseball history.

Fear not, the prospect of two teams finishing with sub-.300 WPCTs in the same season would not be a "first time ever" phenomenon. The accompanying charts which display all of the sub-.350 teams from 1901 to the present show us that it's happened three times before--in 1909, 1911, and 1939.

Just as rare as the sub-.300 daily double is the "hat trick of badness" (at least that's our name for it), where three teams play sub-.350 ball in the same year. Needless to say, we've never had three teams in the same league do this...something like that might just throw the earth off its axis. And, as poorly as the Angels are playing right now, it just doesn't seem likely that they're going to have their wings clipped that badly in '13.

But two sub-.350 teams in the same year used to be a common occurrence. It happened more often than not up until 1939. After baseball's first expansion in 1961, however, it became exceedingly rare, and has only happened five times in the past half-century.

We did get a "hat trick" in 2002, however, when the Brewers, Tigers and (Devil) Rays all slid in under .350.

Legend:
Green: teams in same year, different leagues
Yellow: teams in same year, same league
Orange: three teams in the same year
Those Astros have a shot to be the first three-peat bad team since the "glory days" of the New York Mets, who actually did it four times in a row from 1962-65.

Other teams that circled the drain for three consecutive seasons: the 1952-54 Pirates, the 1909-11 Boston Braves, the 1910-12 St. Louis Browns, the 1919-21 Philadelphia A's, the 1925-27 Red Sox.

The all-time champ for being buried in the valley, however: the 1938-42 Philadelphia Phillies. The concept of replacement level, which remains a bit thorny, might have its best definition right here. It's possible that the BBWAA put Chuck Klein in the Hall of Fame because he was the only player who was forced to be on all five of these woeful teams (though he did have a respite of sorts in 1939, when he wound with the Pirates for half of that season, and he hardly played in 1941-42).

One who escaped: Bucky Walters. One who didn't: Ike Pearson.

But the rueful joke is that Hugh (Losing Pitcher) Mulcahy volunteered to go into the military service even before Pearl Harbor because doing so was preferable to playing for the Phillies.

We've highlighted a few things in red on the charts. These are: extremes in runs allowed (1000 or more) and runs scored (less than 400); and teams whose actual WPCTs exceeded their Pythagorean percentages (PWP). Teams that play at this level of badness rarely exceed their Pythagorean projection; being this bad usually entails some extra bad luck as well. While this was relative common in the deadball era (about 25% of teams had WPCTs that exceeded their PWPs), it's become scarce [insert hen's teeth reference here] ever since: just over 10% of really bad teams have managed to do since 1920.

All together now: "Stay tuned...."

Friday, May 10, 2013

BASEBALL RELIQUARY 15--#1: MANNY MOTA

Manny Mota caught in the act...
The very fact that there seems to be absolutely no place in present-day baseball for a player like Manny Mota is a perfect reason why he should be celebrated.

And the voters at the Baseball Reliquary, in Year 15 of their quest to create a baseball Hall of Fame for the rest of us, have brought it all back home, honoring a singular hometown hero who has remained a fixture in the often hellish City of the Angels, playing and coaching for that other team...let's see, what's their name, anyway?

Anyway. The folks in Cooperstown have never come close to putting a pinch-hitting wizard into their pantheon of great players, but when you think about it a bit, you'll realize that anyone who can pick the splinters out of their butt, get off the bench, and get a hit in a clutch situation is doing something more than beating the odds.

A player not considered "good enough to start" is going to have to overcome a series of conceptual problems when the question of greatness is proffered. But, in the Reliquary formulation, the singularity of the role and the extremity of the achievement are the key factors involved in any evaluation of worth.

The Reliquary voters recognized this, and, despite the fact that Manny spent much of his time in the shadows of the dugout, made him the highest vote-getter on their 15th Shrine of the Eternals ballot.

When you consider the nature of Manny Mota's achievement, you realize that he is among the most singular of all players. There have been other proficient pinch-hitters (Mark Sweeney and Lenny Harris in recent years, Smoky Burgess and Jerry Lynch in the 50s and 60s), but no one else carried a credible aura of stardom by simply being the man who was saved to hit in the key late-inning situation.

Mota's career as baseball's greatest pinch-hitter didn't begin auspiciously. In 1962, his first partial season, when he was still with the San Francisco Giants, he was just 1-for-15 as a PH. Traded to the Pirates that offseason, he began to get the hang of it, and in both 1965 and 1966 hit over .350 coming off the bench.

As a right-handed hitter with little to no HR power, Manny had a tough time winning a regular job. People seemed to think that he couldn't hit righties, though all of the data--even right from the beginning of his career--refutes this notion. He had a number of useful seasons for the Pirates, but he was let go in the 1969 expansion draft, an occurrence that would bring him to the Dodgers and to his particular brand of anonymous immortality.

Manny had a poor year as a PH in '69 (just 2-for-16); maybe it was all the moving around. But in 1970 he would begin what turned into a decades' worth of late-inning heroics, much of it centered in Dodger Stadium. In a hundred and one plate appearances there from 1969-82, from the seventh inning on, with the score tied or with the Dodgers trailing by one run, Mota had a simply incredible run of success.

How successful, you ask? In these situations, Mota had 29 pinch-hits in 78 at-bats. That's a batting average of .372. Honed down to making contact with the ball, he had virtually no power--just three doubles and no homers, but opposing pitchers treated him as though he were Babe Ruth, walking him 17 times, six of those intentionally. It works out to a .474 OBP.

Included in this cascade of high-pressure, everything-on-the-line success were eleven go-ahead events (hits or productive outs), six game-tying events, and eight walk-offs. Let's cover those walk-offs, just to give you some flavor:

Manny has become well-known for his bicycling exploits
during spring training...which prompts the thought that he
might just ride into the Pasadena Central Library to
accept his award on Shrine of the Eternals Day (7/21/13)...
September 20, 1970--Manny singles off the Astros' George Culver in the bottom of the tenth to score Billy Grabarkewitz. The Dodgers win, 7-6.

June 26, 1974--Manny singles off Altanta's Tom House in the bottom of the ninth to score Dave Lopes. The Dodgers win, 5-4.

Then there was the month of May 1976, when Manny had three walk-off pinch hits, including two in consecutive games.

May 1, 1976--Manny singles off the Cardinals' Al (The Mad Hungarian) Hrabosky (who was really mad when it happened...). Steve Garvey (the mad baby-maker!) scores; the Dodgers win 4-3.

May 22, 1976--Manny's thirteeth-inning sac fly brings home the winning run off Houston's Paul Siebert as the Dodgers win, 6-5.

May 23, 1976 (the very next day)--Manny's tenth-inning, bases-loaded single off the Astros' Ken Forsch gives the Dodgers another 6-5 walkoff win.

Manny wasn't quite done with the walk-off stuff in 1976. He did again on August 18th, against Tom Seaver (silly managers, leaving their ace pitchers in the game into the ninth inning...), doubling in Bill Russell with the game-winner. Final score: Dodgers 3, Mets 2.

August 4, 1979--Manny's eleventh-inning single off the Giants' Gary Lavelle plates Joe Ferguson as the Dodgers win, 4-3.

September 24, 1980--Mota singles against the Giants' Mike Rowland in the bottom of the twelfth; Steve Garvey (with pregnancies still in single figures...) scores. The Dodgers win, 5-4.

It's no wonder that Dodger fans would give Manny a standing ovation simply for appearing in the on-deck circle.

And that's exactly what the audience in Pasadena is going to do on July 21st when Manny makes his way to the podium to acknowledge his rightful place in the Shrine of the Eternals.

It might be the longest ovation in the history of the ceremony. Don't miss it!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

BASEBALL RELIQUARY 15--#2: LEFTY O'DOUL

All aboard the Baseball Reliquary
"magic bus"...
The second-highest vote-getter in the 15th Baseball Reliquary Shrine of the Eternals ballot is Francis (Lefty) O'Doul, the colorful, late-blooming hitting star who became a profound force in the introduction and development of baseball in Japan.

O'Doul had too short of a major league career and spent too much of his later life managing in his home town of San Francisco at a time when that city was a minor league baseball town to be given serious consideration for Cooperstown, so (once again) the Reliquary voters have found a seam in the selection process and driven the Reliquary bus (shown in black & white above at left in order to spare the squeamish....) right through it.

Lefty O'Doul arriving in Japan in 1954, along with some obscure couple...
O'Doul combines peak performance (something generally maligned in neo-sabermetrics) with the cachet and resumé of a pioneer, and it's not surprising to discover that the Reliquary voters inducted him on only his second time on the ballot.

We love him, too, but not only for the reasons already listed. We fondly recall our old All-Star Baseball™ days with the inimitable Brock Hanke and several other merry pranksters from a period not too far removed from the picture at top left. As we assembled our fondly remembered and carefully preserved squad (named, of course, the Cynics), we became enamored with the Lefty O'Doul disk that Ethan Allen's minions had mis-measured...instead of the disk being a representation of Lefty's lifetime totals, the disk was close to being a replication of his stellar 1929 season, in which he led the National League with 254 hits (still the league record) and a .398 batting average.

Given the way O'Doul was known to play the OF, you could almost
believe that he was the greatest one-legged hitter of all time...
We used to beat the snot out of that league, in no small part due to that O'Doul disk. Those were the days, my friend, we thought they'd never end, up in a small attic room sequestered (before that, too, became a dirty word...) from the ruffians in our college dorm. Lefty had a penchant for big games (as a look at his game logs at Forman et fil will show, that was also true in real life....) and there were several occasions where we had to scoop up the disk to protect it from harm when O'Doul had come up with his fourth hit of the game, often a two-run double pushing the surly Cynics back into the lead.

Along with Harry Heilmann, O'Doul is the guy who came closest to hitting .400 in a season without doing so. Looking at the 1929 game logs, we can see that it was the month of June that doomed his effort: he hit just .294 that month, while hitting over .400 in all of the others. He made a mad rush toward .400 in the final week of the season, hitting just over .550 in his last nine games. If he'd gotten one more hit in the second game of that doubleheader on 10/5/29, he'd have made it. (He'd already gone 4-for-4 in Game One.)

Since we are in a digressive mode here, let's toss up a question for any of our discerning readers out there...can anyone explain why the 1929 Phillies had five days off at the end of the year before playing a doubleheader on the final day of the season? The entire NL schedule over the last week of the '29 season is simply bizarre as hell...one or two games played a day, with the entire league sidestepping its way to the end of the year. Anyone know what the rationale for this was? Was there a massive rainstorm over the Midwest and East Coast? Or had some wacky tobacky infiltrated the NL schedulers' office during the previous winter??

O'Doul became a fixture in his hometown, managing the San Francisco Seals for 17 years and opening an eponymous restaurant (no, that's not a fancy synonym for "vegetarian"...) that is still in operation today. The food is sometimes compared to O'Doul's fielding skills, but like its namesake it is long on conviviality...one goes there for the companionship, not the cuisine.

We should also note that Lefty O'Doul was the first American to be inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame. Japan is a place that honors pioneers, even those from another country. O'Doul's thousands of hours spent in Japan had a huge payoff, paving the way for the international game that we have today.

So it's safe to say that the Reliquary voters are 2-for-2 thus far...but what will you make of their #1 choice? Stay tuned...

BASEBALL RELIQUARY 15--#3: EDDIE FEIGNER

Terry Cannon and Buddy Kilchesty
in earlier days...
The membership of the Baseball Reliquary, that sun-dappled anti-institution whose two head honchoes take turns impersonating Nathan Detroit and Sky Masterson (whose stats you will not be able to locate over at Forman et fils), has spoken.

Ballot #15 in the Reliquary's Shrine of the Eternals election process has been collectively cast, and individually counted (no chads--or Chads, for that matter--were found anywhere in the greater metropolitan area of Pasadena...) and the results are in.

We'll cover each new Eternal individually here over the next few days.

We present in reverse order of the popular vote (the top three vote-getters get in: there are now 45 members). #3 in the voting, but #1 on the softball field for more than twice as long as the effective life of the Berlin Wall, is the incomparable Eddie Feigner (1925-2007), a virtually unhittable pitcher who combined blazing speed with trick pitches to compile a winning percentage of over .900 (to be exact, .901) in more than a half-century of barnstorming across America (and around the world).

Eddie "The King" Feigner in action.
What made the show more electrifying was that Feigner, billed as "The King and His Court," would field a four-man team--a pitcher, a catcher, a first baseman and a shortstop--against an opponent fielding the full complement of nine players. A fastball clocked at 104mph, thrown from softball distances (46 feet), was more than enough to overcome the personnel disadvantage.

Statisticians could, and still can, revel in the extremity created by a numerical compilation of "the King's" feats. Stats compiled through 1998 indicate that Feigner struck out more than 15 batters per nine innings in over eleven thousand games. Pitching blindfolded (!!), he struck out more than 50% of the batters he faced (52.4%, to be exact)...which works out to a little over 14 batters per nine innings. In the immortal words of Pepe le Pew: incroyable!



Naturally, with an act this extreme, Feigner would over time become a bit too caught up in the trappings of Americana, veering toward a representation that tilted toward the flag-waver contingent. It can be explained (without being condoned) by the fact that something clearly akin to a divine source created Eddie Feigner's right arm and made it a hundred times more indestructible than Nolan Ryan's. With an enduring gift of that nature, God would, of necessity, be writ large. And a large dollop of faith would come in handy when one's life is spent so relentlessly on the road.

But none of that entered into the experience of seeing the King (and his Court) in person. The 1959 promo video (above) provides a solid glimpse of that. It was (and still is) a kind of mind-numbing experience.

Curry Kirkpatrick's classic profile of Eddie Feigner, written more than forty years ago and published in Sports Illustrated (8/21/72), is probably still the best place to get the flavor of the man. It's clear even then that he was larger than life, and that in the sheer uniqueness of his extremity he was pre-destined to be a Shrine of the Eternals inductee.

(The formal induction ceremony for the 15th class of the Shrine of the Eternals will be held in Pasadena on July 21st. There will be free cookies, and three more "front-door" inductees than will be the case in Cooperstown the following week.)

Monday, May 6, 2013

MORE HOME RUNS THAN WALKS

There have been 153 player-seasons in which a hitter's home run total exceeds their number of bases on balls. This was once an extremely rare feat: in terms of players with at least 300 plate appearances in a season, it didn't occur in major league baseball for more than forty years after its inception.

That first player, Dave Robertson, hit 12 HRs and walked just 10 times in 1917 while playing for the pennant-winning New York Giants. That HR total led the league. He was thus the very first low-average, low-walking slugger, and pioneered a type of hitter that, while not particularly common in this extreme manifestation, would become increasingly plentiful as the game transformed itself.

But, as the breakouts by decade (at left) and by decade-year (at right) will indicate, this trend did not take off until the 1980s. Going into 1980, there were just 38 such seasons; since then, over 33 years, there have been 115 more, an average of exactly five per season.

These seasons might be slowing down a bit, however: over the past five years (2008-12), the average is only three per season.

The average quality level for this type of low-walk slugger is not exceptional: these seasons average out to an OPS+ of slightly under 113. The representative raw numbers: .279/.312/.502. The best OPS+ season turned in by a HR>BB hitter is 170 (Wes Covington, in 1958). The worst was 56 (Virgil Stallcup, who only hit 8 HRs but found a way to draw even fewer walks, with just six).

Igor and Pudge: two guys who definitely didn't walk off the island...
Who has the most such seasons? That would be our old friend Juan--as in Juan Gone...Juan Gonzalez. He had six such years from 1992 to 2003, including three years in a row from 1995-97.

Right behind him, however, is his long-time Rangers teammate Ivan Rodriguez, with five such seasons, three of them in Texas (consecutively from 1999-2001) and two with the Tigers (2005, 2007). Strangely, Pudge and Juan never managed to do it in the same season.

Tied with Pudge is another, significantly more obscure catcher, one who will need to catch a break to get another season with 300+ at-bats in order to take a run at Juan. Who's that, you ask? The answer is Miguel Olivo, who managed this feat in four consecutive seasons (2006-2009) and managed to get just enough ABs with the Mariners last year to notch #5.

The third and final player with five HR>BB seasons: slugger Tony Armas.

Another of our old pals, Dave Kingman, had four such seasons, as did Matt Williams. The following fine folk managed three HR>BB seasons: Vinny Castilla, Andre Dawson, Don Demeter, Shawon Dunston, Bengie Molina, Joe Pepitone, and Alfonso Soriano.

So, as you can see, you could theoretically put together an entire starting lineup comprised of hitters who had at least three seasons where their HR>BB and have something of a shot at getting the team ratio to approach 1:1.

Who had the highest HR:BB differential amongst these 153 player-seasons? That would be Dante Bichette, who hit 40 HRs for the Rox in 1995 and drew only 22 BBs, for a margin of 18. He just beats out Dawson (49 HR/32 BB in 1987, or +17) and Soriano (39 HR/23 BB in 2002, or +16).

The Princess (Astor) to the beseiged Tom Jeffers (Joel McCrea) in
The Palm Beach Story: "Is there anything other than Topic A"? 
It would be mind-numbing to watch a team like this, and we can be thankful that these guys are still representative of a major extreme in the game. In fact, only a few of these players are all that close to having a lifetime 1:1 ratio for HR/BB. Armas is the closest, with 251 HRs and 260 BBs (.97:1); Juan Gone is next, with 434 HRs and 457 BB (.95:1). These are probably the two more serious "crankers" in baseball history, a couple of guys on "Topic A" as often as the eternally horny Princess Centimilla (Mary Astor) in The Palm Beach Story (1942). (If you haven't seen it, go watch it...you'll discover why the director is called "the great Preston Sturges.") Olivo is next, with 143 HRs, 154 BBs (.93:1).

But there is only one player in baseball history who retired with HR>BB in a career that had more than 1500 plate appearances. Who is that?

Greene: the only 1500+ PA
guy with more HR than BB.
That man is Todd Greene (71 HR, 67 BB). Greene had a big season in the minors of this type (40 HR, 24 BB) and had all the tools needed to fill this most singular of roles in the history books. Todd just went out of his way to avoid taking the free pass, with a walk rate 20% lower than the league average after the count went to 3-0, and failing to get a single hit when he made contact with a 3-0 pitch.

Rosario: the "Great Hope" for the
HR > BB marching and chowderhead society.
However, there is someone waiting in the wings who might just beat Todd at his own game. The Rox' slugging young catcher Wilin Rosario had 28 HR and just 25 BB last year; his current lifetime totals are 38 HR, 31 BB. He looks like the spear-carrier for this "movement," along with Mike Morse (18 HR/16 BB in '12, 9/8 thus far in '13) and possibly Mark Trumbo and J.C. Arencibia.

As noted, the heyday of this type of player would seem to have come and gone; but the ongoing trends that have hitters swinging harder, making contact less often, and showing a disinclination toward greater plate discrimination might keep a crop of these hitters around. If that's the case, some GM needs to just accumulate 'em all and go for the gusto.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

UP TO DATE IN KANSAS CITY

They are really getting up the hopes of Joe P. (and Rob N. and Rany J.) in Kansas City right now.

How's that? The Royals pulled out a come-from-behind win against the White Sox this afternoon, rallying for two runs in the bottom of the ninth to tie before pushing over the winning run in the tenth to win, 6-5.

Marvin Hudson: "Wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it, Getzie..."
Chris Getz: "Yup, three lifetime HRs, three intentional walks."
Ned Yost: "Hell, that's three more IBBs than I had in my whole career!"
(We do have to wonder, though, just what was going through Pale Hose skipper Robin Ventura's mind in that bottom of the tenth, when he intentionally walked light-hitting second baseman Chris Getz (??!) to ostensibly set up a two-out force play, only to watch reliever Brian Omogrosso--just recalled from the minors--lose the strike zone to George Kottaras, surrendering an unintentional walk to load the bases.

Omogrosso, trying to get something over for a strike, then served up a hittable pitch to Alex Gordon, who singled in the winning run.

Someone please send the following note to Robin: less is more. Don't get too tactical with a guy like Getz, for Crissakes! The one thing that the well-traveled Kottaras can do is take pitches, and that's just what he did, passing along the inning to someone--Gordon--who can really hit. That red "L" goes on your forehead, Mr. V.)

The Royals are now 17-10, which is their best first sixth of the season since 2003, when they started 18-9. That was also the last year in which they finished over .500.

Interestingly, this is a team that has rarely started well out of the box: that 18-9 start in '03 was the best "first sixth" in franchise history. They've started 17-10 only two times previously--in 1973 (eventual finish: 88-74) and in 1989 (eventual finish: 92-70).

If Alcides keeps this up for another
year, they just might name a
restaurant after him...
The powder-blue kids have a flame-throwing bullpen, starters who are in varying stages of defying gravity, they are getting inspired play right now from CF Lorenzo Cain (who probably can't keep it up) and SS Alcides Escobar (who probably can). They are 10-4 in close games, 11-5 against sub-.500 teams, and 10-4 at home (where they've yet to play a .500+ team).

The next fortnight will provide a much better idea of whether what we've seen thus far can be sustained deep into the season. After one more with the (very) Pale Hose, KC will see three .500+ teams (O's, Yankees, A's) with a trip to Anaheim to play the underachieving Angels. If they play .500 ball through that stretch, then we might all begin to think that their retooled starting staff can stay in the top half of the league.

You know what we say here, so say it in unison: stay tuned.

YUNIESKY (!!!) ... & ADEINY (!!!!)

Ever since Yuniesky had the Nike logo embossed into his
forehead, he's been a beast--I tell you, a beast...
Law of Murphy's second-hand sample size...since singling him out for some of our seemingly inexhaustible supply of scorn, Yunieksy Betancourt has hit 6 HRs and slugged .587. That puts him into the running for this year's John Freakin' Mabry Award, which began in 2002 when the A's dumped herbulant party boy Jeremy Giambi off to the Phils and suddenly had Mabry hit .400 for the next month.

And, speaking of Philly, Roy Halladay's march to the Hall of Fame has suddenly come up smack against the Alps, thanks to another shockingly poor outing today...startling in no small way due to the opponent that roughed him up to the tune of nine earned runs in 2 1/3 innings. (Roy's ERA for the '13 campaign now stands at an unsightly 8.65.)

Who is that opponent? Why, it's our friends the Fish, who are finding unlikely ways to push their R/G average up toward three. Today's hero is not Giancarlo "Dusty" Stanton, who went on the DL after he went down for the count on the basepaths late last week.

There it goes...an opposite-field grand salami for
vegan wunderkind Adeiny Hechavarria...
Instead, it's the just-reactiviated Adeiny Hechavarria, the young shortstop who came over in the grand frying-pan-into-the-fire sale with the Blue Jays during the offseason. (The Jays received a lot of front-line talent in that deal, and traded for R.A. Dickey, who seems to have left his knuckleball on Mt. Kilamanjaro: it's now not certain if they will be able to keep their won-loss record ahead of the team that they so assiduously "fleeced.")

Today, at least, fans of the new, improved Fish Fillets--we've lightly dusted that old '98 nickname, added a hint of tarragon and chipotle, and set our blowtorch to "blue-blacken" (since teal is, alas, no longer an option down in Fishland...)--will be able to forget all about the high-priced spread, since Hechavarria has driven in seven runs thus far in the game.

Yep, two bases-clearing blows--a triple and a homer. Wonder if anyone has ever hit for the cycle with each at-bat occurring with the bases loaded...do you think that might just be the Holy Grail for a hitter? Think it's ever been accomplished? We'd love someone to calculate the odds of such a feat...

...but if anyone is likely to do it right now, it's either Adeiny (a couple more ABs still to come in Philly)...or, of course...Yuniesky.

Friday, May 3, 2013

94 INTERLEAGUE GAMES ON THE WALL, 94 INTERLEAGUE GAMES...

...and, yes, we'll let you finish the lyrics to that little ditty on your own time.

As always, we note that there just doesn't seem to be any other place that provides a comprehensive road map of the "slow drip" that is interleague play here in the '13.

That drip will become more of a full-fledged trickle in late May, when a bizarre mirror-image home and home series between ostensible "natural rivals" will take place.

In the meantime there will be several days where the drip will magnify into something akin to an ooze: May 7 and 8, for example, when we'll have five interleague games on each of those days; and May 14 and 15, when there will be three.

"Walter, this interleague play thing
is so out of control that it's giving
me an itch around my anklet..."
Just in case you were wondering (let's interject Fred MacMurray's riposte to Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity here: "I wonder if you wonder"), the home team in these listings is shown on the right.

It appears that the Padres, Rockies and Rays are the teams that will spend most of their time outside their own leagues during May: each will play ten interleague games during the month.

Alas, no interleague trysts (Babs and Fred notwithstanding...) are scheduled between 2013's teams maudits: the Marlins and the Astros, each currently sporting identical 8-21 records. We think they should just swap out the Pirates for the Fish on May 17-18-19: the world really needs to know who's the worst team of them all...

Thursday, May 2, 2013

THE QMAX FILES: TIM HUDSON

Since everyone and his little freakin' brother wants to get in on the Tim Hudson and the Hall of Fame mini-Ernie (our slang for a small imbroglio...), we are here...strategically late to the party as is our wont.

Hudson won his 200th game the other night, one of those spectacularly meaningless milestones here in the benighted age of enlightenment. His winning percentage--equally meaningless, mind you--is currently .657.

But Tim has rarely dominated his league, he has an indifferent K/9 ratio, suffers from a dearth of "black ink," and has pitched for successful teams in almost every season of his big league career (13 out of 15 .500+ finishes, and an aggregate team WPCT of .554 over that span).

So virtually no one in the little world of sabermetrics thinks he's a Hall of Fame candidate, even though virtually all pitchers who've won 200+ games and have a WPCT of .600 or higher are in the Hall.

The scary part for the sabermetric crowd: the ELO rater at Forman et fil places Hudson #92 on the list of all-time starting pitchers. (The ELO rater is a program triggered by those who participate in a binary "rating game" comparing two players and generating an overall ranking from the sum of these queries.)

The slushalyzer™ in action? Naw, sorry, it's a post-space
age "action painting" entitled "Churnin' Urn of Burnin' Funk"
...but you knew that.
Who's #91 on that list? That's right: Jack Morris.

After a revelation such as that, it's time for QMAX. We grabbed all of our data on Tim, put it through our slushalyzer (the one we sold to Jamba Juice™ some years back, which allowed us to retire from the icebox in hot pursuit of James Taylor's long-misplaced "churnin' urn of burnin' funk"), and have crawled on our belly through the volley of Disco Demolition Night to give you the real skinny on Hudson.

The QMAX range charts, which sum up all of the funny little numbers in the seven-by-seven bi-directional matrix that also doubles as an expressway to your heart, tell us exactly what we told you back in 2000: Hudson is good, not great. Solid, not inspiring. Crafty, not overpowering. A bend but not break type, the pitcher who actually exemplifies all of those sweaty, sulfurous intangibles so often ascribed to Whisky Jack.

Tim is one of those very good-to-excellent pitchers who went through an identity crisis, starting out as a semi-wild strikeout pitcher, but hitting his stride when he lowered his K rate and his BB rate, learning how to bend but not break (and thus becoming a comic genius, at least according to Alan Alda's character in Crimes and Misdemeanors). He's not overpowering (not too many more top hit prevention games--the S12 column--than the "hit hard" column), and he's not an absolute finesse pitcher, though in some of those years he's well into the Tommy John family of hurlers.

He's a sly, resourceful tweener, a guy who (in the most hated parlance of baseball known to mom's cellar-dwellers...) "knows how to win."
Figures in orange are career highs; figures in yellow are career lows;
figures in purple represent extremes in categories (Power Precipice
and Tommy John" that aren't directly related to performance values.

And if he wins 250 games he will probably get into the Hall someday, especially if his WPCT stays above .600.

But what about his actual value? Well, the QMAX "bottom line" is what we call the QWP (pronounced "quip"...as you might expect...it stands for "QMAX Winning Percentage") which gives you what this probabilistic method calculates as the derived value of the starting pitcher. That figure (.570) is definitely under the threshold of a Hall of Famer, but it's a very solid number that is in the same neighborhood as nearly two dozen starting pitchers who are in the Hall of Fame.

The part we like about it, though, has nothing to do with the Hall of Fame, or any of the other "value approaches" that are bandied about like a bag of jelly beans that's come open as it's being tossed across the room.

video

There's another way to approximate a pitcher's "real" winning percentage, which is to take his WPCT and divide it by his team's winning percentage, then normalize to .500. When we do that for Hudson, we get .657/.554*.5 = .593.

But QMAX also calculates and uses the overall team winning percentage for the games started by the starting pitcher, not just his own decisions. When we add all that up for Tim (all 411 starts thus far), his teams--the A's and the Braves--are 259-152 when he starts. That's a .630 WPCT.  When we perform the same calculation as above, but substituting the team WPCT for Hudson's personal WPCT, we get: .630/.554*.5= .569.

Tim's career QMAX winning percentage (QWP)--as you'll see above--is .570.

Now they're not all that dead on...but it's something to ponder, even if you are overly enamored with wins/WPCT or overly convinced of the "what is it good for" of WAR. QMAX is, indeed, that churnin' urn of counter-intuitive, probabilistic insight into the value of a starting pitcher--and the shape of that value to boot.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

AND INTERLEAGUE PLAY AFTER ONE MONTH IS...

...well, it's something akin to a coinflip, but...de-centered, elliptical, quite possibly obloid.

It's exactly like a two-headed coin flip, to be as precise (and as surreal) as possible, all at once.

It's a roller coaster that suddenly, without warning, turns into a mobius strip.



It's...aw, to hell with all those analogies and the accompanying literary confuffulations. It's damn close. The AL has pulled ahead, 14-13, having won eleven of the last sixteen games.

You can see the results at your left. (We were thinking about putting in the actual scores of the games as they were played, but we were stricken by a wood sliver from hell during the return of the World's Greatest Film Poster Collection You've Never Heard Of--take that, Paul Leibowitz!!--and, mercifully for some of you, had our typing time severely restricted for a few days there. We have no idea how all those young wizards are so proficient using their thumbs, but it's nice to know that this is still what separates from the other animal orders.)

Brace yourselves, however. While we had but 27 interleague games tricking our way in April, we will have 94 of them in May (which probably means that, pace T.S. Eliot, April is not the cruelest month after all).

You'll see that schedule here in a day or so. We remain astonished to discover that we are the only folks providing any kind of semi-systematic coverage of the great interleague drizzle of 2013 (insert imagery here of post-expiration-date salad dressing blown through the air by giant wind machines, leaving mysterious stains on landscape and fabric, engendering media frenzy over a mutant off-product from so-called "clean coal" processing that's quickly dubbed "balsamic black carbon" by those racing to turn panic into the latest fashion trend) but it's quite possible that we are--snif!--the only ones who care.

Of course, it's possible that by the end of the year, we won't care, either...