Wednesday, July 31, 2013


As we say goodbye to the fourth month of baseball in 2013, our thoughts naturally turn in the direction of season's end and the accompanying awards that spark so much discussion...

...and Lord knows that this year we need to start focusing on that a bit earlier than usual, if only to get the bad taste out of our mouths from BS and his Draconian 'roid rage vendetta.

So (as is our wont) we found an issue that seems to have been overlooked by the kangaroo courtiers.

What is that issue?? Plainly, this: do Most Valuable Players have any tendencies to hit better in either half of the season? With eighty years' worth of MVP awards to examine, we've got enough of a sample size.

So we grabbed all of the data (from Forman et fil) for the MVPs selected by the BBWAA (excluding pitchers, and the awards given out in the strike years of 1981 and 1994) and ran the numbers. What we found is summarized in the table at right.

Over the timespan of the data, hitters have been a bit more than 4% better in the second half (measuring by OPS+). But the interesting trend here is how the level of second-half improvement is increasing.

Since 1980, MVPs have seen their second-half performance boost jump up from just under one percent to just under ten percent.

What could be the cause of this? Well, of course, it could be steroids. Several of the MVPs appearing on the "highest percentage gain" list have admitted to using PEDs. And the number of data points is small enough to be skewed by those results.

However, the list of top gainers (those whose second-half OPS+ was at least 20% higher than their first-half OPS+) is by no means dominated by recent players.

No, better overall conditioning is the likeliest explanation. While this list has more random results (spread across more of the 80+-year timeframe), its companion list--the top losers--is much more skewed toward the past.

The eight players whose data is shown in orange type give us another interesting little insight into how often a notable second-half improvement might sway the MVP results. The "Mrg" (short for "margin") column quantifies how close the MVP voting was in any given league-year. The eight players listed here--Ryan Howard, Ivan Rodriguez, Maury Wills, Alex Rodriguez, Marty Marion, Robin Yount, Mickey Cochrane, and Cal Ripken--all won their MVP awards by margins of less than 10%.

Who were the guys who coasted into their MVP awards? Three of the bottom five are found in three consecutive years in the AL from 1958-60. It turns out that Roger Maris had the greatest second-half drop (just under 40%) in his first MVP year of 1960 (he just barely beat out Mickey Mantle in both '60 and '61).

To his credit, Maris had a helluva first half in both 1960 (200 OPS+) and 1961 (179 OPS+).

The previous season (1959) is the one in which Nellie Fox set the all-time record for the lowest second half OPS/OPS+ of any MVP winner.

Jackie Jensen (AL MVP in '58) is  second to Maris in decline percentage (34%).

It's probably not surprising that Hank Sauer, who (prior to Barry Bonds) was the oldest MVP, ranks third on this list.

Dale Murphy's two consecutive MVPs in 1982-83 both make this list.

So the trend is clear: MVPs have been increasingly saving their best for last. Will that be the case in 2013?

Friday, July 26, 2013


With Cooperstown's weekend a dud in the eyes of the media, this year is one in which its creative, quirky alter-ego, the Baseball Reliquary, can benefit from the comparison.

Three generations of the Manny Mota family proudly assembled at the 2013 Shrine
of the Eternals ceremony to celebrate baseball's greatest pinch-hitter.

(Photo by Jeff Levie, courtesy of the Baseball Reliquary.)
The Reliquary's fifteenth induction ceremony for its Shrine of the Eternals was held in Pasadena last Sunday (their event is always held the week before Cooperstown's) and seemed to carry some additional weight. Media coverage, which has always been scant for the Reliquary, is beginning at last to reflect a greater understanding of what the great "anti-institution" is all about.

Perhaps it is that the word "Eternals" is finally beginning to resonate as a replacement for the word "Fame." The latter is nebulous almost to the extreme, leaving room for an almost imponderable range of  discussion and disagreement: in the case of Cooperstown it has become bogged down by questions of statistics and morality. But the former, while still flexible, conveys a region of existence that suggests something more elemental. It asks for an assessment that is more spiritual in nature--spiritual as opposed to religious, or moral, or statistical.

When tasked to select "Eternals" from such a viewpoint, the voting membership of the Baseball Reliquary has produced something unique and remarkable. While very few of the great players in baseball history are enshrined there, all those who are have some manifestation of a greatness in spirit.

That quality rarely, if ever, surfaces as a criterion for selection in Cooperstown. That's why the alternative approach, as represented by the Reliquary and its Shrine, is a necessary supplement (and, in some instances, a corrective).

This idea is catching on. In addition to our coverage, which can be found at The Hardball Times, you are also directed to a terrific article by David Davis at the more mainstream baseball media site Sports on Earth.

And consider joining the Baseball Reliquary. If you love baseball enough to read this blog, your love is clearly battle-tested enough for such a bold move.

Thursday, July 25, 2013


So this is the place where we have to fill like crazy, since what follows here (and in many fun-filled future installments...) is little more than a series of Excel mini-tables dressed to kill.

And one way that we do that is to have a lot of single lines (or at least they would be, if it weren't for the fact that there are all these effin' tables).

But we can fix that.

So, anyway, herewith we are championing the highly scorned and derided "small sample size." We know that these are only rarely on the side of credible, and are most often just downright worthless.

But think of them as the stat-man's version of junk food.

They have the carefully balanced test-tube flavoring, the preservative-induced long-lasting crunchiness, the heaps of extra sodium. They produce comfort via extremity, and they go well with just about every beverage known to man, G-D it.

So in the shamelessness of a late July when you're too lazy to cook a proper meal (read: don't have time to do any real research other than copying a bunch of output from David Pinto's DbD dB), we find these little binges into small sample size stats to be harmless (and we have the signed waivers to prove it!).

And, hey, we love a simple, sibilant, snake-like acronym as much as anyone. Why jump the shark or shuffle off the mortal coil without the sinister sound effects that made all those slasher films with gratuitous nudity and people doing unimaginably stupid things to "advance" the "plot" so memorably execrable.

Which, naturally, is why we picked slugging average  as the "measure" here. That gets us the all-important, crucial-to-national-security-and-world-peace-and-ever-increasing-oil-company-profits "fourth S," the one that tells you that there's not just one snake in the room, but an entire platoon of creepy, crawling creatures that help those slasher films "motivate" nubile young actresses to... do what nubile young actresses do in silly, stupid slasher films.

So, for God's sake, just lie back and enjoy it. Think of it as casual sex, except without the STDs. You can always go a diet later. After all, it's only belly fat...

Small sample size slugging will not rot your brain or (perhaps more importantly...) your teeth so long as you heed the warnings on the label and play close attention to expiration dates. For example, realize that Cardinals' rookie Matt Adams, who has a .603 SLG in Busch Stadium III (see below), is quite likely to fall off this list any day now.

(And just in case you've actually been reading this instead of looking at the charts, this is a good a time as any to tell you that these tables simply list all of the players with .600+ SLG with at least 100 PAs in any particular ballpark.)

(And since there are many, many ballparks--though not as many as there are nubile young actresses--we are only displaying those parks whose names begin with "A" or "B." And, let's face it, current statistics prove that there are more ballparks beginning with "A" or "B" than there are nubile young actresses whose cup sizes are "A" or "B.")

Some of the names here will be well-known, others won't (and you already know what the "analogy" would be if we were shameless enough to keep grinding it out...but if we did that, you would naturally start rooting for us to be playing a real-life version of the James Caan role in Misery, which is not something that we would wish on you, even if you had it coming--but...hey, let's face facts, you probably do, particularly if you are still reading this).

We'll be back with more of these snappy, small-size treats (soon to be available in "fun sizes...), ranging into more alluring regions of the alphabet (at least with respect to...OK, OK, we won't sully it by saying it, you can fill in the blanks for yourself, via the miracle of inference...)--just as soon as we can conjure up the requisite amount of imponderable free-form freakout verbiage to sustain another installment of....

 (cue echo machine here)....


Tuesday, July 23, 2013


That thwack we've all just heard is the sound of a shoe dropping--from the top of the Empire State Building to the Gotham pavement below.

It came off the left foot of the notoriously lightweight Commissioner of Baseball--the man we call BS--and it managed to fall in such a way as to create only a glancing blow upon the thick-as-a-brick noggin of one Ryan Joseph Braun. (But interestingly, the blow will be felt with much greater force by just about everyone else.)

The inside story of the relationship between the Commissioner with a long conflict-of-interest legacy and the brash, brazen slugger playing for the team that the king of folksy twaddle used to own will never come to light, save for these snippets, brought to us (once again) by our courageous flying correspondent, Buzzy the Fly, who's going on a long holiday now that all the paperwork on the lingering stench that is known as Biogenesis will soon reveal itself to a besmirched, bemildewed nation.

Buzzy was a little excited yesterday, so his flying lawnmower tones were a bit more saddled with vibrato than usual, but the gist of his latest "inside the fortress" forays goes something like this:

BS and crew, having found a way to scotch Braun's 2011 positive test, certainly had reason to suspect that the Hebrew Hammer would realize that his favored location had allowed him to dodge a bullet. Back-channels (and in the regime of a guy like BS, back-channels are everything and everywhere...) soon indicated that Braun had decided that his position on the Brewers was akin to a get-out-of-jail-free card.

BAD assumption. Once burned, BS turned his back on protecting his former team and worrying about insulating the league's highest honor (the MVP award). He decided to do what they do in the movies--namely, follow the weasel.

Braun's barely concealed antics, including a dotted trail to Biogenesis, helped BS and crew ratchet up what looks to be--as Dave Zirin has ruefully noted--an increasingly Draconian drug testing policy. And the legacy that Braun's misplaced braggadocio hath wrought is weighted with shadows for the future.

For this "negotiated suspension" that sits outside the purview of the official rules of the drug testing policy just happens to grant BS a set of extraordinary (and extra-legal) powers that weren't in his pack of jokers until just now.

In the immortal words of Jim Gosger: "Yeah, surre..."
Now it's possible to skirt the rules based on so-called "extraordinary circumstances." Now (as Zirin rightly points out) there are (or soon will be) ancillary, unwritten and unnegotiated "rules" in play that give BS unwarranted latitude with respect to the MLBPA on this issue.

So Ryan Braun has not only been an arrogant putz, he's also been a Trojan horse for the MLBPA.

BUT there is a silver lining in all this. Buzzy reports that it's clear that due to the intense efforts involved in what is ID'd in a special file cabinet under the code name "Operation Recividist," BS no longer has any difficulty distinguishing Rob Manfred from Rob Neyer.

Make no mistake, however: for the players and their union, these are dark days. More thwacks are coming, and they will reinforce the fact that the actions of an arrogant few will have a chilling impact upon many.

Sunday, July 21, 2013


Note here that the title distinguishes (or attempts to do same) from "The Rivalry" as it has been written about for lo these many years.

We are here concerned with the results of the games played between the Yankees and Red Sox since 1901 (when they weren't even called by those names). We're going to include all of the games from that birthyear of the American League, however, because--frankly--the Red Sox need 'em.

Historically, the Yankees' level of domination is (as you would expect) unparalleled by any other franchise. They have a winning record in the regular season against every franchise they've played except one--and that one team is not the Red Sox. (It's the Cincinnati Reds, whom the Bombers have played exactly a dozen times and are 5-7 thus far against them.)

The Yanks are so far ahead on the historical level that there is only one team in the American League with a winning record against them--and that is only when the Yankees are the visitors. (Actually, this is a bit of a trick question, since the Milwaukee Brewers--no longer in the AL--also have the Yanks' number on their home turf, 110 games to 88.) But the team still in the American League with home field advantage is also not the Red Sox (though, as we'll soon see, they are tantalizingly close). It's the Detroit Tigers, who are 518-477 against the Yankees at home. The Yanks' overall .529 WPCT against the Tigers is their lowest overall WPCT against an AL opponent.

Yes,'s THIS homer, in THAT game, that has
the Yankees ahead in the head-to-head at Fenway.
How's that for a kick in the ol' head??
But the Red Sox are third best (Yankees are .544 against them; they are .542 against the Angels). And, as they play the rubber game of the first post-ASG series against each other tonight, they are just one game under .500 against the Yankees at home.

That record stands at 531-530...and now that you know about it, it might just wind up as one of those relatively inconsequential records that gets elevated into a kind of grinding, ongoing prominence, particularly in Beantown. Odd that this doesn't seem to have come up as part of the "conversation" between the two franchises in all this time...

We may get back to tracking the Fenway Park seesaw a bit later on--in fact, we might compile (against all odds...) a chart about it one of these days. This time, however, we'll focus on the overall chart and how the Yankees have fashioned their 182-game lead in the head-to-head competition.

As the chart (at right below) indicates, the historical advantage stems from two protracted time periods in which the Yankees were generally riding high in the standings.

The first one starts in 1920--and we know who moved from the Sox to the Yanks that year. (No, not Carl Mays--that happened the previous year!)

From 1920--when their head-to-head record against the Red Sox was .455 (180-216)--until 1937, the Yankees won 266 out of 395 decisions from the Sox, a .673 WPCT. (We didn't display that in the chart--we chose to feature running five-year Yankee WPCTs, which peak in the early 30s, right at .800. Ouch!)

From 1938-48 the Yankees' success subsides a good bit--but they still won just under 54% of their games with the Sox (128-111). A notable exception: 1946, when the Sox won 14 of 22 games (they also did this in 1948).

Starting in 1949, however, the Yanks would go on another pennant spree and another skein of playing impressively well against the Red Sox (200-135, .597). It pales in comparison to the domination of the 1920-37 time frame--you have to understand that during that period, the Yankees had a .616 WPCT in Boston. (Double ouch!)

This success was fueled by the Yanks' domination of the Sox in Yankee Stadium (113-55, .673). They were much closer in Fenway (87-80, .521).

The Yankees' slide in 1965-75 gave the Sox a chance to extract some temporary revenge (they played .571 ball against the Bombers over that eleven year span). And they held their own through 1992, clustering some short-term success in the 1988-92 time frame.

But neither Dan Duquette nor Theo Epstein were able to create any turnaround in the regular season results during their reigns as the Red Sox GM. Theo did better than Dan, bolstered by the 2004 miracle in the playoffs, but he didn't quite get the Sox into the plus column in regular season showdowns. He just missed breaking even (Yankees 84, Sox 82).

Last year, needless to say, was a freakin' disaster, as the Bombers won 13 of 18.

This year, the Sox have propped up a lot of areas on their squad that turned toxic in '12, and the Yankees are finally having the type of year that post-neo sabertoothed soothsayers have been predicting for the better part of the last decade--many of their old players have been shedding body parts (in some cases, right on the field of play!).

AS--all of the range, depth and empathy
as embodied in the vacant stare
found between the letters N and Y...
This is, in fact, the year where there is abundant opportunity available to them to rebound, given that the Yankees' offense is flailing around the ring at a level of spastic, glassy-eyed disbelief greater than any of that displayed by Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love.

Oops! WRONG Maude cast member!!
Damn it, we HATE it when that happens...
but that is a nice "historical arc," all right.
And it's the chance for them to get over .500 at home against these bone-breakin', gift-basket-givin', putrefyin', 'mogrifyin', Evil Empirin', better-battin'-Bea-Arthur-cleanup-anti-testifyin' mofos--at least once, if not for all time.

And you know that know that Beantown knows about it, Beantown wants it, they need it, and if anyone was actually counting in that place where bean-counting was born, they'd be smellin' it right now. Braggin' rights at home--for all time--achievable!

Something desperately needed now--before that patented September collapse kicks in again, the one that will put them into a late-season death race for Wild Card #2 in an amped-up rerun of 2011.

(You know, last time we checked, we could have sworn Bea Arthur was batting cleanup for the Yanks...)

[UPDATE: Think these teams don't know what the stakes are? Mike Napoli's second homer of the game in the bottom of the 11th sent the Sox home as winners in tonight's rubber match, 8-7. The Sox had previously blown a 7-3 lead and had squandered a scoring chance in the eighth when Napoli hit into an inning-ending DP.

The Sox thus pulled back into a 531-531 tie vs. the Yanks at Fenway. They'll have a chance to grab the  lead when the Bombers come back to Boston on August 16. Meanwhile, the red-hot Rays come to town tomorrow night for a very big four-game series.]

Thursday, July 18, 2013


We dropped the ball on this series, but we've now got all the data compiled and we'll get through it in quick order over the next few days.

For refreshers, you can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

We'll start here with a little added historical context, as it will become important to the unfolding story for us to know that the workload level for relievers undergoes its own rise and fall over the 56 years being examined. Here in part three (1985-1998) we will see the beginning of the great drop in workload maximums for relievers; as the chart at right reveals, the five-year running percentage of 100+-inning relievers falls off a cliff and heads toward absolute zero at something analogous to "terminal velocity."

The average IP for the highest workload reliever drops from 139 in 1971-84 to just 113 in 1985-98. The percentage of teams with 100+ IP relievers drops from 59% to 25%. (To show how this accelerates, we will preview the fact that this percentage drops to just 3% from 1999-2012.) By 2007, we will start to see the rapid extinction of the 90-IP reliever.

Performance-wise, it looks as though the rapid decline of workload stems the tide of "next year" decline: whereas next-year ERA+ values were 77% of the previous year in 1957-70, and 80% in 1971-84, that figure is 87% during 1985-98.

More than a fourth of these high-inning relievers (29%) had better ERA+ values the following year in this timeframe, as opposed to 18% in the previous periods (1957-70, 1971-84). Nothing earthshaking in those numbers, but they tend to support the idea that reducing the workload will mitigate the next-year decline for these pitchers.

And most of these pitchers began to do so in 1990: the nineties would see the greatest concentration of "better the next year" ever, with nine out of eighteen (we'll leave 1994 out for this...), or 50%. That percentage will shrivel to just 15% in 2000-09.

The last great workhorse reliever is Mark Eichhorn (157 IP in 1986 for the Blue Jays). At the time, it wasn't seen as being quite as aberrant as it now appears: Willie Hernandez had a Cy Young season in 1984 with his 35 saves and 140 IP. The year before, Bob Stanley had thrown 145 IP for the Red Sox.

(You may be noting that we've included the 1994 season in the data set. And wondering how much that inclusion affects the averages. When we take those two partial seasons out, the average IP shifts to 115. There is no shift in terms of IP for the "season after.")

It became clear that those workhorse guys would eventually break down. The nineties experimented with lowering workload, which (as noted) seemed to stem the tide of next-year decline.

The specializing trend where a workhorse middle reliever would move to a lower-inning closer role was probably best exemplified by Mariano Rivera, who went from being John Wetteland's setup man to the greatest closer in baseball history. But interestingly, Mo has never had more WAR than he had in 1996, when he threw 25% more innings as a setup man than he would ever have as the Yankees' shutdown ace.

Fear not...the more interesting (and disturbing) data is coming up, in Part 4. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


If you are not already familiar with our whimsical "five-ASG-in-one" concept, feel free to read our Hardball Times article from 2008 to get disoriented.

Remember, these are three-inning games. Trust us when we say that, at the present rate of growth in attention-deficit issues here in America, the game will be played this way by 2076.

This year the AL East and the NL Central get the byes in the first round. The AL West will send the AL Central home, thanks to the heroics of their Mariners contingent. The NL West will do the same to the NL East, thanks to the Giants contingent. (They may be having their troubles this season, but that core group is still filled with pride...)

The AL East will surprise everyone (except us, since we're making this up as we go along...) by starting Miguel Gonzalez, (snubbed in real life despite pitching better than teammate Chris Tillman) who will throw two perfect innings, followed by his fellow Oriole Darren O'Day, and they'll send the AL West home. The NL Central will use five straight hits from a gaggle of Cardinals and Pirates to score five runs off Patrick Corbin (proving that saving Clayton Kershaw for the last round is not always the best strategy).

In the showdown round, the NL Central and the AL East will go in extra innings. That's right, they'll play five innings...! We'll let you decide who won.

The chart of our divisional All-Stars is above. The actual All-Star position player starters are in black bold type (as are the selected pitchers). The actual All-Star position player reserves are shown in red bold type. If you eyeball it, you'll see that the AL East and the NL Central have a few more players on the actual team than the other two divisions, Note also the presence of lots of Dodgers and Padres in the subs, which will make for a lot of fun after the Zack Greinke incident--and look who made the team as a backup OF! (What can we say--the guy has been hitting the ball really well ever since he made baseball into a contact sport...)

What we like about our approach is that a lot more players get to play, and some of those chosen are often criminally overlooked, particularly relief pitchers. (Some of these guys you may have never heard of...and some you may never hear of again. And, if abounding rumors rebound into reality, some of these guys might just get suspended...) Since baseball is tilting toward the endless parade of relievers, we might as well do the same in the ASG. With the three-inning format and the chance of playing in three contests, managers have to use their starters more like starters (meaning, in this instance, having them actually throw two innings).

When time permits, we'll go back and look at the divisional All-Star concept all the way to the beginning of the three-division format. But we'll just go ahead right now and cop to the not-so-subtle agenda item involved in all this: namely, getting more back-up catchers on the All-Star team than can possibly make sense, because you need three of 'em just in case somebody gets racked up at home plate, or takes a foul ball off a finger, or says the magic word to a trigger-happy All Star umpire.

Saturday, July 13, 2013


We love David Pinto's Day-by-Day Database. Despite the new batting logs up and running at Forman et fil, David's queries are still more wide-ranging and more flexible, even if they don't include several useful stats that Sean and co. have provided.

Here's a little something as we stall for time to put together several more elaborate items...the Top 20 hitters (according to OPS) for the last year. That time frame would be July 13, 2012 until July 12, 2013--from last year to yesterday. You'll see that Miguel Cabrera just had a dandy year--too bad it will never show up in the record books.

It also shows some other interesting tidbits, but we'll get to those in a minute after we've referenced the item in our title. Last year at this time, the A's Josh Donaldson was at AAA (that's Sacramento, in case you were wondering). Since returning to Oakland last August, Josh has been the A's best player. It's a crying shame that he's playing third base in the American League, however, because the logjam of talent there is keeping him off the All-Star team.

An All-Star nod would have been icing
on the cake for Josh, but he seems
happy enough with a piece o'pie..
Jeez...there's Cabrera, Adrian BeltreEvan Longoria and even the Mariners' Kyle Seager to have to mess with, plus the highly-touted kid for the Orioles, Manny Machado (who got the nod for the backup slot behind Cabrera on this year's All-Star squad). Even our "5-in-1" All-Star concept (we'll get that out for you once again in the next couple of days...) would not guarantee Josh a starting berth. Sad to say it, because he's just been an incredible pleasure to watch over the past year...

Not too many surprises on this list, actually. We have Josh and Aaron Hill as the two unexpected ones (shaded in blue), but we should have probably done the same for Eric Chavez...truth be told, we really shouldn't have put Chavey up here, since he's really a bit short on playing time; but he's been doing so well for the D-backs that doing so was impossible to resist.

From the more prosaic perspective of Ye Olde Counting Stats, here are the leaders in various statistical categories according to our quirky calendar.

Hits: Cabrera 223, Mike Trout 209, Torii Hunter 208, Beltre 204, Adam Jones 202, Allen Craig 200.

Runs: Trout 135, Cabrera 127, Desmond Jennings 114, Justin Upton 112, Jones 111.

Doubles: Buster Posey 49, Machado 47, Albert Pujols 46, Jones and Dustin Pedroia, 44.

Triples: Starling Marte 14, Trout 12, Angel Pagan 11, Jean Segura 11.

Homers: Cabrera 55, Chris Davis 54, Edwin Encarnacion 43, Beltre 40.

RBI: Cabrera 162, Davis 133, Encarnacion and Adrian Gonzalez 121, Craig 120.

BB: Shin-Soo Choo 99, Joey Votto 97, Prince Fielder 95, Carlos Santana and Joe Mauer 94.

IBB: Cabrera 21, Robinson Cano 18, Votto 17, Pujols and Ryan Braun 15.

SO: Pedro Alvarez and Chris Carter 200, Mark Reynolds 199, Davis 195, Adam Dunn 192.

HBP: Choo 27, Carlos Quentin 19, Marte and Fielder, Jon Jay and Kevin Youkilis 17.

SB: Everth Cabrera 61, Jacoby Ellsbury 50, Carlos Gomez and Rajai Davis, 47, Ben Revere 44, Trout 42.

GDP: Michael Young 30, Matt Holliday 29, Pujols 28, Howie Kendrick 26, Cabrera 25.

You might be surprised to discover that Chris Davis has only grounded into five double plays over the past year. Then again, you might not.

At any rate, interesting lists because they are obscure. Not quite so obscure, however, as before--thanks to David P.'s DbD dB.

Thursday, July 11, 2013


Come to think of it,
Otsego Lake (adjacent to
Cooperstown) does look a
whole lot like a footprint...
Let's face it, folks, there are precious
few sabermetric discoveries that are
anywhere near as earth-shaking as
this footprint...
We don't want to oversell this discovery--heaven forfend that we follow in such large, loamy footprints with enough water in the mushy tread to fill Ostego Lake several times over.

This is just one of those essays that comes under the heading of "unfinished business," dating back to a discussion that we had with one of the more engaging contributors to BBBA, expatriate math professor Gerry Myerson, who since bidding us adieu (with a twirl of his moustache...) has been moonlighting as a folksinger and has been spotted as a headliner at a Sydney clogspot called The Loaded Dog.

Gerry had expressed extreme skepticism (in his case, that would amount to a slightly raised eyebrow...) about a claim we made that there was a pervasive tendency for September baseball to have lower offensive levels. (We'd eyeballed some data from one of the primordial sources available to us in the 90s, and had extrapolated from it that there was a 7-8% drop in offense in the final month of the season.

Several thousand fortnights later, we can now report that both of us were right. Thanks to the new "splits" tool in the Play Index at Forman et fil, we can compare components of offensive performance to the league averages and lasso them into charts and graphs. That means we can isolate months' worth of data, in this case data summed up to MLB levels, and compare them with the overall performance levels for each year.

When we do that (in the chart above left), we find that, for the years 1916 to 2012, overall offensive levels (as measured by OPS) are down in September-October by .013, or about 4%. We've chosen to show the data in running five-year averages, and that chart shows us that the downward trend, while pervasive, definitely appears to be weakening in recent times.

Rather interesting to note that hitters started taking a September swoon right at the beginning of the Depression (feel free to page Dr. Freud...but last we heard he was opening for Gerry at The Loaded Dog). Out of 95 years worth of data, there have been only eleven Septembers when the hitters have hit higher during that month than for the year as a whole. Three of those eleven, however, are in the last decade (2007, 2008, and 2011). In the last thirty years, the decline has--well, declined--to just -.007, less than half the gap from 1916-79 (-.016).

The reasons for such a pattern have to be somehow related to fatigue; cooling temperatures might be part of it, too. (We might find that the eleven years where the OPS was higher than average resulted from hotter than average Septembers.)

So, yes, Gerry, there is a downward trend in September; but it wasn't quite as big as we thought it was. (Though it used to be bigger. Come to think of it, many things used to be bigger...but that's another story for another time--and probably another continent.) Keep on s(w)inging, Gerry...

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


This data is available in a number of places (...of course, at Forman et fil) but it isn't broken out in this particular format.

We give you the first three months of the 2013 season (April, May, June).

In the AL, no starting staff has thrown down a truly great month (sub-3.00 ERA). The A's and the Astros have had the best ERA in a single month, both of these in June.

It's clear that if the O's are going to stay in the hunt, they're going to have to improve their starters' performance.

The reliever totals show only one consistent team--the Rangers. The Royals and the Twins have been getting better work than the Rangers,while the Blue Jays' pen had simply an eye-opening month of June--which helped fuel their eleven-game win streak.

The Rays had a tough couple of months from their relievers, buy they had a very solid June.

Over in the NL, the Pirates mixed and matched their starters in May and June, and parlayed that into two months of solid performance. Their division rivals--the Cards and Reds--have also had good work from their starts (though St. Louis had some backsliding in June.) The teams with the biggest brick walls in their rotations over the first three months are the Brewers, the Giants and the Padres.

The Dodgers' starting pitching is coming around, but their bullpen remained inconsistent; they'll need to solve that problem in order to push toward the top of the NL West.

The Braves just seem to figure out a way to get a solid pitching staff in place, year in and year out.

Best bullpen in baseball right now? By the ERA numbers, it's the Twins. That should indicate to you that we are thus far having a very strange year...

Sunday, July 7, 2013


Warning: this is not quite the usual use of the term "mapping," as you'll soon see.

We are first providing a list of all 52 players who hit 30 or more home runs in their team's first 88 games.

Why? Well, because we used O's slugger Chris Davis as the initial "mapping agent." Davis has hit 33 homers in the Orioles' first 88 games (he's missed one of those games--most of the folks on this list have  not missed very many games for reasons that may be self-evident, but we'll state the most significant of them now: you can't break the HR record if you miss very many games).

Digression alert: looking at Davis' page over at Forman et fil today is a surreal that's unlikely to be the case soon. He's got the same number of HR and RBI thus far in 2013 as he had for all of 2012. While we hope that our call-out won't wind up being some kind of analogue to the infamous Sports Illustrated jinx for Davis, his HR performance got us thinking about all the times that a hitter has come into the All-Star Break with 30+ homers.

We think this list probably captures most of them, but there may be a few All-Star Games that happened after 90+ games, and a few folk may have slipped through the cracks.

None of those, however, ever set a HR record. We have all of those guys on the list: Babe Ruth, three times (1920, 1921, 1927); Roger Maris (1961); Mark McGwire (1998); Barry Bonds (2001).

And, yes, we know that Ruth actually set the HR record four times, but in 1919 that new record entailed 29 HRs for the full season, so he couldn't be on this list. (We're sure he'll get over it.)

Just in case you were wondering: yes, that's
a hat that Ford Frick is waving to the crowd,
not an asterisk...
Those record-setters are shown in blue type. Chris Davis, just for the sake of reference--and those notorious, more-PC-than-thou statements about how he considers that Maris is still the record-holder (but waddabout da asterisk, Chris? Jeez, man, donchew wanna comfort the moldering corpse of frickin' Ford Frick already??)--is shown in red type.

But it's the "mapping chart" that might wind up being the most interesting portion of this little exercise. By laying out all of the years in BB history from 1900 to the present in a handy grid, we can map all the years in which hitters have had "30 HRs in their teams' first 88 games", which is a reasonable proxy for guys who have some kind of shot of breaking the HR record (particularly if you decide to adopt Davis's party line).

In most of these years, of course, there were no real threats to the existing HR record, but it's interesting to see the clustering. Five in the 20s (four of them Ruth) and five more in the 30s (one of them Ruth). One in the 40s (Johnny Mize). Five in the 50s and six in the 60s (nice numerological congruence--style points that even the Soviet judge can't dispute).

Then the slowdown in the next two decades (per Brock Hanke and his likely correct conspiracy theory about the Lords of the Game trying to ensure that no one else would climb Mt. Ruth): three in the 70s, just two in the 80s.

And, then, of course, all Hell breaks loose. Almost half of the "assaults" on the HR record occur in the 90s and the 00s--a total of 24. (Collect 'em all!)

The truly intense period--the one that Roids ragers want to sink their teeth in and keep biting until the giant pimple head of Barry Bonds explodes in a clattering confirmation of hateful, hellish guilt--occurred between 1997-2001, where no less than fifteen such forays occurred, including some unlikely names (Tino Martinez, Greg Vaughn, Brady Anderson, Luis Gonzalez).

(The years in which the record was actually broken are shown with a box drawn around the number.)

His odd historical stance aside, Davis is probably owed a debt of thanks. It's good to have someone restart the process of hitting a serious bunch of HRs in the first half of the season, so we can all get comfortable with that--and so that we can all just relax back into the long view of history. In a time frame when overreaction has been the defining principle of just about everything in America, here is one way that at least a portion of us can start unclenching the teeth, unlock the middle finger from its customarily extended position, and--in the immortal words of June Allyson in arguably her greatest role (as the Depends™ spokesperson)..."get back into life!"

We know, we know... you first.

Saturday, July 6, 2013


So WTF are we free-associating here? This: those
missionaries in war-torn China are analogous to the
"insider neos"--their agenda deviates more than a bit
from what they claim their mission is. [Oh, and--of
course--as is usually the case even in pre-Code films,
Babs is not nearly so svelte nor so (sigh...) diaphanous
as we are led to believe is the case.]
It's not fun to file negative reports, despite what some may perceive from these pages as barely restrained glee packed between our highly-charged dependent clauses. All too often the laughter, the parody, the semi-sotto voce sleight-of-hand is employed simply to keep from crying crocodile tears. (But don't cry for us, Argentina, or whatever your name is...we're brave enough to keep quaffing The Bitter Tea of General Yen.)

Today we bring more evidence that sabermetrics, as practiced and parsed in the front office of baseball teams, provides more heat than light. Research that leapfrogs theory in order to rush into application is the hallmark of what we've taken to branding (and we choose that word knowing its reverberations in the math-meets-MBA enclaves of shiny careerists) as the "neo" phase of baseball numberology.

The troubling truth is that the result of these applications, appearing in so many directions as the length of the "neo" incursion into the ongoing chaos of front office "thinking" begins to enter its own "institutional" phase, we are seeing signs of this analysis producing changes that promote increasing two-dimensionality in the game as we see it on-field.

Some of this is, in fact, positive. But, as we've noted before, many of the "sins" of pre-sabermetric theory aren't quite so heinous or indiscriminate as what's been portrayed. While the so-called "cutting edge" is being bandied about in questionable applications of WAR and dubiously-conceived attempts to further compartmentalization in modeling (witness the "pitch framing" quantification movement, which we'll get to later in the year), many of the original ideas that informed sabemetric notions of value have been allowed to atrophy. We find that instead of promoting extremes in performance, the current trends indicate that these approaches are moving performance extremes toward extinction.

We're not talking about HR records, or batter's strikeouts, or any of the trends that tend to ebb and flow in tandem with the forces that contribute to the fluctuations of runs/game. In this instance, we'll focus on an area that is an indirect but significant contributor to offense--the batter's base on balls.

As we've noted before, the trends in offense in the 90s (and that carried into the second half of the 00s)--a virtually uniform focus on isolated power (ISO) have, as offensive levels continue to decline, resulted in a loss of high-walk hitters. This decline actually presaged the eventual downturn in offense, and, like batter's strikeouts, is threatening to become monolithic.

Let's have at the numbers and see what has happened with high-walk hitters (HWH) over time. Our definition of HWH is a walk pct. at 15% or higher in a batting-title qualifying season. There have been 945 of these player-seasons in 215 league-years from 1901 through the present. We will look at this data in two different ways to demonstrate how different perspectives can shift one's perspective on an issue.

The chart above shows the number of players per year with 15% or higher BBP. It's a wild chart with three major spikes--two of which seem related in some way to expansion. Player spikes occur in the late 40s, the early 70s and right at the fin de siecle (which, when you pronounce the phrase properly, conjures up Adam Dunn as a genie with a giant hole in his swing).

The spikes, as you can see, were short-lived, and you can see that since 2009 the remedial uptick has collapsed in a fashion disturbingly reminiscent to what happened to the stock market in 2008 (the operative phrase is: "going south").

But, in fact, this chart is misleading. Not wrong, per se, but inaccurate in how it represents what's happening. Why's that? Because there are far more hitters in the post-expansion world of baseball (basically the right half of the chart) than there were before. There should be an increase in the number of HWH (high-walk hitters, in case you've forgotten).

To see what's really happening, we need to see the percentage of possible hitters who are HWH. There are twice as many "possible hitters" by our definition in 2013 than was the case from 1901-1960, and our next chart reflects that reality.

Quite a difference, eh? The two subsequent spikes now pale in comparison to what happened in the late 40s (and we still don't really know what was going on in those years, save for things like the presence of Tommy Byrne). The totals flatten out in the mid-70s and are much closer to the historical average (shown, as in the first chart, as the breakpoint between the black region and the color region).We can now see that the 90s only created a few HWH around a power boom and its spike was very modest.

And when we examine it in this context, we can see that the title of our blog post ("extinction of the extremes") is no overstatement. As of this year, HWH are more endangered than they've been since the deadball era.

So are the neo-sabes really to blame for this? How can they actually be influencing on-field behavior and actively contributing to this precipitous decline? Consider it a failure of theory combined with a set of distractions in practice: if anyone drawing a salary to be an "advanced baseball thinker" had actually thought about this, they would have realized that hopping on the ISO bandwagon would eventually create a series of changes in the possible relationships of OBP and SLG that could remain in existence once ISO became such a monolith. By encouraging and condoning a single approach to hitting, the possible relationships between OBP and SLG would narrow and calcify, and would very likely result in just what we're seeing in the chart.

So, yes, the front office brain trust should have been able to see this coming--or at least some of it. What will they do when they discover that someone (even a sardonic semi-curmudgeon) is holding their feet to the fire for such passivity as hitters manage to take more pitches per PA on average than in the years when we actually had a robust total of HWH? Well, they'll shift the focus to the pitchers, claim that the trend toward five-inning starters and the "long-sequence" bullpen is the reason for this.

But much of it is based on the fact that no one is thinking about the training issues involved in batter strike-zone judgment. As "essentialists," the front-office neos have to rely on their models more and more conspicuously, and their ability to study such issues as how to train hitters to draw more walks is curtailed once they start believing that the actual offensive value of a walk (in a strictly Linear Weights model) is relatively slight. Once the idea is cast aside, put in the bottom drawer, shoved in the filing cabinet as they run computer models and "go out for coffee" (Rany J.'s "brave new world" circa 1998, now all too prevalent a mindset from front office to mom's basement), it atrophies.

That atrophy, that extinction, is what's shown above.

(Looking at this from the vantage point of rolling five-year averages mitigates things just a little bit, but not enough to take the sting out. Players who can work the count for walks are simply disappearing from the game, right before our eyes.)

Now it's also possible that someone will attempt to rebut by suggesting that walks have been leached out of the "market inefficiency" and are perfectly fine with increasingly constricted variances. That kind of thought, however, produces a rolling wave of two-dimensionality that is likely to creep into other areas. The so-called "opening of knowledge," at least as it's being practiced, may ironically make baseball into something two-dimensional. Twenty or thirty years from now, should these types of trends continue, we may well have found that sharp minds have produced a very dull object--namely, a game that is mind-numbingly uniform.

Are we on that road? Could be. In fact, it's quite likely.

Can sabermetrics reverse course and find a way to advocate for greater diversity in the face of its lockstep-inducing methodology? Hard to say. The signs don't look good, however.

While it's too soon to simply start crying, odds seem to favor that the end result of the peculiar type of compartmentalized tracking that's taking hold will simply be a detailed record of the tracks of our tears--for what we've lost, and for what might well be unrecoverable.

Thursday, July 4, 2013


Two for the price of one today as we put up the final chart for June and give you the first look at the interleague schedule in July. (Remember, wins for the NL are in blue; for AL, in orange.)

The AL continues to slowly (but inexorably) gain the upper hand as we move from "drip" to "steam" here in the early weeks of summer. (Congressionally-mandated digression™ here: have you noticed that "summer" actually begins on the longest day of the year and then proceeds to dial itself back to even-steven at the fall equinox? Perhaps it's just the seasonal depression kicking in, but that's psychologically all wrong...we should have half of summer building up to an apex, and the other half declining to a mid-point between solstice and equinox. This way, the buildup goes right into a letdown...and that just sucks.)

Here are some interleague statistics you almost certainly have not seen anywhere 184 games thus far, the NL has outhomered the AL 196-173.

The AL has walked almost one hundred more times, however (548-458) and has the lead in OBP, .313 to .306.

The NL has been hit by pitches about 50% more often (79 to 52).

The AL has more SH, 61 to 49. (We aren't currently able to break that down to games played in AL and NL parks, but we want to. We also want summer to have its longest day in the middle of the season, but you already knew that. Or were trying to forget...)

The NL has twice as many triples (40 to 20). The AL has more doubles (330 to 310).

Two players have hit three HRs in an interleague game this season. Both play in the NL: Dioner Navarro (Cubs) and Ryan Zimmerman (Nationals). They join sixteen other hitters to do so. The most surprising names on that list: Tyler Houston (in 2000), Hee-Seop Choi (in 2005), and Chris Heisey (in 2011). Maybe we'll tell you the rest of those names one day; then again, maybe we won't.

So let's get depressed as we sign off...from the beginning of summer to the start of fall, we lose 2.6 minutes of daytime per day. That's not quite as depressing as the same rate of loss from fall to winter, but it still sucks.

But hey...have a happy Fourth anyway.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013


Or, rather, Homer and Virgil.

With Mr. Bailey's second career no-hitter last night, he has now evened things up for the linchpins of the Classical Canon (as it is sometimes still called--in distant, disparate institutions chartered to make brightness fall from the air, so to enable ignorant armies the necessary latitude to clash by night).

It is possible that Homer Bailey is beginning to at last round himself into form as a truly solid pitcher. (Dusty Baker might make more of an effort to give him that extra day of rest--over the past few years, Bailey has shown much more zip on the mound when he has five days between starts, as was the case last night.)

He has a ways to go, however, before reaching the level of Virgil Trucks, who passed away (at the ripe old age of 95) in March of this year and thus had no opportunity to see his "literary doppelganger" join him in the pantheon of multiple no-hit pitchers.

Virgil still has one thing on Homer in this instance (thus probably ensuring that he'll never suffer the fate of his namesake and spend thousands of years being considered by many as a pale reflection of someone's greater achievement). His two no-hitters occurred in the same season (1952), in what was otherwise a dismal year for him (5-19 for a terrible Tigers squad who averaged less than three runs a game for him in his starts that year).

Homer can certainly feel for Virgil in terms of that: thus far in '13, Bailey has gotten no runs at all from his Cincinnati teammates in four of his starts; they'd scored two runs or less in half of his appearances prior to his no-no.

So: symmetry, of a sort, for two scrappers with talent as mercurial as any winged messenger who'd stop mid-flight to sing their praises. Baseball's hold on those who love it would be a good bit thinner without these resonantly unexpected juxtapositions.

Call it an incongruous congruence. Oh, go ahead...