Monday, September 30, 2013


Not liking Sam Fuld is not liking life itself. He's never going to be anything close to a star--hell, he'll never even be the next Warren Newson--but he makes baseball a better game just by being the twenty-fifth man on the scrappiest team in MLB.

Sam was in the thick of it in Game 163 for the Tampa Bay Rays, having the type of night that Joe Maddon loves to orchestrate. Coming in as a defensive replacement in the seventh, Sam got a chance to hit in the ninth inning, with the Rays leading the Texas Rangers in their tie-breaker game, 4-2--and promptly slapped a single to center field. He moved to second on a Wil Myers's soft grounder...

...and then he undressed the Rangers' Tanner Scheppers on national TV.

No, that's not literally what happened...this is what we like to call a figure of speech. What actually happened was that Sam just took off for third base while Scheppers was readjusting his jock strap. As it turned out, Tanner had a better chance of throwing his jock to 3B Adrian Beltre than the baseball.

The throw was late and wide, and caromed off Beltre into short left field. Sam barely missed a beat in scrambling to his feet and coming home with the Rays' fifth run.

There had been hope a few years ago that Sam would be doing stuff like this nightly. But that wasn't to be--he just can't hit righties enough to be that type of player. And he has regressed in terms of drawing walks, a skill that he'd shown some proficiency at while working his way through the minors. But he has the perfect manager in Joe Maddon, who finds ways to use Sam that go a long way toward mitigating the fact that he's a below-average major league hitter.

It doesn't hurt that Sam is actually better coming off the bench than as a starter (.739 OPS lifetime as opposed to .625 as a starter) he demonstrated tonight.

Games like tonight will hopefully keep him in the big leagues a few years longer.

And that's a good thing indeed.

Saturday, September 28, 2013


"But wait...there's more!!" Miraculously, Ron Popeil still has all his
fingers after all those years of slicing and dicing...and so does QMAX.
With 2013 all over and done with (except for the pesky Wild Card race...), it's time to get the drop on everyone and strut our Cy Young Award stuff.

Of course, that means another dose of QMAX (short for Quality Matrix), BBB's feckless but faithful diagnostic tool (limited copies of the version that also makes sno-cones for the kiddies are still available if you know where to look).

In the NL, the world has pretty much conceded the award to the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw, and QMAX will not disagree. We'll see some strong performances from pitchers who are even younger than the Dodger ace, however.

In the AL, we still have some remnants of the lamentable "Kill the Win" cadre looking to get the Cy presented to hard-luck pitcher Chris Sale, who went 11-14 for the crash-and-burn White Sox (who just managed to win #63 earlier today to avoid being the third team in 2013 to lose 100+ games). Chris had a fine year, but he's not going to win. We figure he'll finish third or fourth.

What's interesting this year is to see the return of Tommy John to the QMAX leaderboards. No, we don't mean the affable 286-game winner--that would have been unprecedented, since Tommy is 71 years old and not even Satchel Paige was effective past the age of 59.

No, we mean the type of pitcher that Tommy represents...the one that builds a kind of walk-the-tightrope success story out of a series of games where they allow more hits than IP and manage to strand the runners. It's the region on the QMAX chart in the lower left corner, and--of course--it's named after Tommy (though I suspect he'd prefer a bridge, or a parkway, or possibly a baseball just have to take what you can get, Tommy).

Three TJ-style years were pulled off with great aplomb in 2013. It's been awhile since we've had pitchers with more than 40% of their games in that region of the QMAX chart, but two of 'em did it this year--the A's Bartolo Colon (43%) in the AL and the Cardinals' Adam Wainwright (41%) in the NL.

As many of you remember (though probably you've made some effort to forget...), QMAX produces a probabilistically-based winning percentage that we call QWP (pronounced "quip"--and why not?--short for QMAX Winning Percentage). With all the reams of data and numbers that QMAX produces, it's QWP that drives our assessment--whoever has the best QWP is our pick for the Cy Young Award.

In the NL, that's Kershaw (again). This is the third year in a row that he's been the King of the NL (though R.A. Dickey actually won the NL CYA in '12). Dickey faded away in '13 after the Mets shipped him to Toronto, but the Mets had a surprisingly viable CYA candidate on their squad this year in Matt Harvey (though we'll have to hope that he will find a way to return to form after suffering an elbow injury late in August).

Having a seriously impressive rookie campaign was Jose Fernandez. He couldn't keep the Fish from losing 100+ games, but he achieved what we used to call "Godhead" while on the mound in Marlins Park this year, posting a 1.19 ERA. (Jonah the K might like to know that this is the eighth best home ERA for a pitcher with 15+ GS in a season, as the chart at right notes. Let's all take a moment to remember Dean Chance, shall we?)

The "other lefty" up the coast, the Giants' Madison Bumgarner, quite probably sneaked up on everyone: a truly fine season.

Cliff Lee and Adam Wainwright are the "Tommy John" guys in the NL, though folks will doubtless think that these two guys strike out way too many guys to be termed "finesse" pitchers. We figure that Wainwright will get a lot of votes and might finish as high as second in the BBWAA (workhorse season, plus tied for the league lead in cough-cough-WINS-cough). Don't use the letter opener on the messenger, please.)

Nobody scored any runs for Stephen Strasburg in DC this year...he'd be a great KTW candidate, since he had only eight. He's still a little erratic, but one of these years he's gonna really turn it loose.

In the AL, we grit our teeth to keep from smilin' as we point to the data that confirms that Max Scherzer, the target of those who would tattoo counterintuitivity onto the inner right thigh of Ayn Rand, is the top starter in the Junior Circuit for 2013. But how can he have a better QWP than Clay Buchholz (who wound up 12-1 and is going to get a smattering of votes), who has such a much better ERA?

Because Clay had a good bit of fortune in stranding baserunners while he was on the mound in '13 (about a half-season's worth, as the GS indicates). His QMAX ERA was 2.78 (Max's was 2.67).

Japanese pitchers are making a go of it in the AL, in contrast with the less-than-stellar results in prior years. Hisashi Iwakuma ranks third in QWP, and Yu Darvish is fifth (Darvish has one more start coming tomorrow, in a very significant game for the Rangers' playoff chances...we'll fix his QMAX info once that game is concluded).
In between them is Sale, who had some great peak games in '13 (a higher percentage of anyone in the AL in terms of reaching the "elite square," the upper left corner where the best games are located and the WPCT is usually upwards of .800).

Sixth on the list is Anibal Sanchez, who will get some support from those who place their faith in ERA+. He had a fine year, but he's not the best pitcher in the AL...his QMAX ERA is 3.29.

Finally, we expect to see a few sentimental votes for Bartolo Colon, who has become the Caribbean's answer to Tommy John. The concentration of games in that "TJ" region is bordering on surreal...even though he's not a credible CYA candidate, his resurrection has been a fantastic story and just another example of the fairy dust that has swirled back into the residue of design in Oakland.

So how would we vote? We take it straight down the QWP line (almost):

NL: 1. Kershaw 2. Harvey 3. Fernandez 4. Bumgarner 5. Lee
AL: 1. Scherzer 2. Iwakuma 3. Sale 4. Buchholz 5. Darvish

How do we think they'll finish in the voting?

NL: 1. Kershaw 2. Wainwright 3. Lee 4. Zimmerman 5. Fernandez
AL: 1. Scherzer 2. Iwakuma 3. Sale 4. Colon 5. Darvish

We'll check back once the CYAs are announced....stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


[UPDATE 10/3: All over but the wheezing at this point, of course--but we wanted to close this off with a couple of observations...

The Indians, who got bounced in the wild-card playoff game, just crushed sub-.500 teams in '13--a staggering 56-18, easily the best in the AL. They were fourth-worst in games against .500+ teams, however (36-52). The former got them to the playoffs, but the latter made a quick exit likely.

And--note that all six teams originally in the wild card hunt when we started this on 9/16 managed to all post victories on the same day only once--on the final day of the season.]

[UPDATE9/29, late a.m.: As we suggested about a week ago, the Indians were in a great position schedule-wise to take control of their destiny for the post-season...and they are on their way toward winning their tenth consecutive game against a sub-.500 ballclub en route to the playoffs.

Tampa and Texas are trying to win in order to force a one-game playoff. The Rays were matching W's with the Indians but faltered against the Blue Jays in the first two games of their final series. A win today would keep them in the hunt. Texas sends Yu Darvish to the mound in hopes of keeping their seaosn alive.

A similar schedule advantage down the stretch did not work for the Yankees: they could only split six games vs. the Giants and Jays, and they were put out of the race when the Rays came to the Bronx and swept a team comprised mostly of tired old retreads. 2013 is only the second year since 1996 that the Yankees have missed the playoffs.]

No six-way tie to tangle up the post-season this year, kiddies. Naturally, it's a shame: we'd love to have seen five acts of foreplay before the main event, but then again we're just kinky that way.

Last night it certainly seemed that the Indians were the team of operatic destiny, blowing a lead in the top of the ninth to the lowly White Sox and then charging back on old warhorse Jason Giambi's pinch-hit walk-off homer. The Rays have matched the Tribe's five-game winning streak, and these two teams seem to be sprinting toward the finish line. The Rangers are now the only team really in the race with either of them.

The Royals ran up against the Mariners' impressive rookie right-hander James Paxton last night, and wound up being blanked, 4-0. That puts them four behind the Indians with five to play. While Ned Yost has done a fine job deploying his pitching staff, particularly in the second half of the season, KC just hasn't developed a consistent enough offense to get itself over the hump in 2013. Of all the teams vying for the post-season, the Royals have scored six or more runs in a game the least number of times (41). The three division winners in the AL (Boston, Detroit, Oakland) are 1-2-3 in that stat, and have a collective average of 64 such games.

Monday, September 23, 2013


Sure, you could look these up for yourself. Sure, they're a small sample size. But the same can be said for M&Ms, and that doesn't stop anyone from munching.

So just this once (he said, as he made an oblique approach on her left bra strap), take a look at these September 2013 stats, without fear of being caught en flagrante...just for a quick thrill that will get your blood flowing...

...and enable to get you through the day with a reminder that you are still alive, and that it's OK to keep on chooglin'.

Sunday, September 22, 2013


Just a quick, quick note this AM, as we are going to go on the lam again (perhaps unduly influenced by our recent reading of Dan J. Marlowe's ferocious 1962 tome The Name of the Game is Death, a nasty cup of cappuccino frosted on top with the 1969 sequel One Endless Hour...) but kudos to the Red Sox' Clay Buchholz for finally taking one on the chin yesterday.

Not that we really wish Clay any ill will (sorry, no poll data being created to let y'all vote on whether we really mean that...!), but if he'd continued his amazing run all the way to the end of the season and wound up with a 13-0 record, it might have produced a seriously strange dilemma in the minds of the BBWAA (known for being seriously strange upon occasion, and with a penchant for ongoing dilemmas).

Even the hoary war-horse WAR would have been in a bit of a pickle. It's almost always used as a counting stat, but if Clay had wound up with, say, 5.5 WAR in just 110 innings of work (as you doubtless know, Buchholz went 93 days between starts due to neck and elbow issues), that rate of WAR/IP would have been hard to ignore, as it dwarfs the rates of Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, Hisashi Iwakuma and the latest entrant in the "Kill the Win" sweepstakes, Annibal Sanchez (the current possessor of the ERA+ lead).

"Get off your knees, son, and stand tall. You've made the world
a better place, and Lord knows we all"
The BBWAA voters will probably wind up giving Clay a few votes--despite missing three months, he was a palpable contributor to the Red Sox' 2013 success (Boston is 13-2 in his starts, which by our back-of-the-envelope calcs is worth between six and seven extra wins over what we all somewhat nebulously call a "replacement" pitcher). But if he'd been 13-0, there would have a great deal of mystique in that won-loss record that just might have been too irresistible to not have come into play--which would have made him the perfect combination dark horse pick/stalking horse for the Love Pie™ brigade.

Better not to muddy the waters (unless you are on the south side of Chicago), so thanks to Clay B. for keeping this brouhaha on the simplistic side.

Thursday, September 19, 2013


We warned you that Ptolemy would just can't keep a wily Egyptian down.

Actually, what's returning is our "Ptolemaic MVP" doodad, where we take "epicyclical" snapshots of various two-month slices of offensive data and add it up to provide a modular view of in-season performance.

Below we have the most recent snapshot of just the raw "Ptolemaic overlay" as yet. (We'll get to that after the season comes to an end on September 29.) There's a chart for each league of the hitters with .850+ OPS from July 19 through September 18 (AL first, then NL).

What comes out of this snapshot is the potential for endless ideological blathering in the Mike Trout vs. Miguel Cabrera showdown. As we suggested last year, just make 'em co-MVPs: most everyone will slink back into their man-caves and/or momma's basements and there will be a semblance of peace in the valley.

However, there's a little more. Turns out that our data, which we sliced down at the 100 plate appearance level to look for any unusual names, actually did just many of you knew there was a second Chris Davis who was ripping things up in the batter's box?

OK...technically, that's Khris Davis. (Sue us, everyone else is.) He's having some fun in September playing left field for the Brewers, who have a certain arrogant putz who's been mysteriously absent from the Milwaukee lineup of late--we last heard he's taking his new BFF, a former MLB drug tester, on a long bus ride in the Carpathian mountains.

As Chris Davis slows down, this other Davis has popped up just to make things more confusing for baseball fans and the various national agencies who are surveilling all of us.

Blame the NSA for the fact that we 
can't find a picture of Shane Victorino 
getting plunked in a Red Sox uniform. 
At the top of the NL chart we have this year's presumptive MVP, Andrew McCutchen, (Ptolemy told us that McCutchen was the NL MVP in 2012.) Buster Posey, who came out of nowhere to snatch the MVP with a great second half last year, is nowhere to be found on this list. (This year it's Hunter Pence--heating up just in time to declare free agency.)

Please note who's been spearheading the Nationals' recent surge--Jayson Werth, who is giving McCutchen a real run for his money.

This just in...thank you, CIA!!
You'll note that the Red Sox have a lot of players on the AL list. It's been a year in which the Boston brain trust looks even smarter than it is, because virtually all of their off-season moves paid off. That happens sometimes. What the data doesn't show, however, is the odd occurrence over the past six weeks where one of their proficient batters, Maui native Shane Victorino, has suddenly become a clay pigeon for opposing hurlers.

In the last six weeks, Shane has been hit with a pitch 14 times. Up until August 3rd, he'd had only 3 HBP. He's had more HBPs than BBs over the stretch, which is ordinarily something than only someone like Wilin Rosario could do (see the bottom of the NL chart).

Shane isn't likely to play in tonight's game against the O's, but it's not because he was injured when hit by a pitch--he jammed his thumb swinging the bat. Go figure.

Ptolemy returns in October with a retrospective countdown as we look ahead to the MVP awards.

Monday, September 16, 2013


Changing times, changing patterns: the history of baseball is a nothing more or less than a litany of such alterations.

Here's another one: as relief pitching became more of a factor, there has been a rise and a fall in the number of games (and the number of innings) in which a reliever will make an appearance with zero days of rest.

The shape of that rise and fall is part of a larger story of how the pitching staff has changed over time, and how managers continue to be more and more derivative rather than innovative.

Relievers rarely had to make appearances with zero days rest in the early days. The record for the most such innings (as shown in the table at right) remained under forty until the astonishing season turned in by Andy Karl in 1945.

Pitching for YAWPT (that's Yet Another Woeful Phillies Team...they were 46-108 this season), Karl appeared in 67 games, of which only two were starts, had 180 IP, led the league in saves with 15, and threw an astonishing total of 64.2 innings on zero days rest.

Needless to say, his ERA the next season went up by nearly 60% (from 2.99 to 4.96) and he was out of MLB after the 1947 season.

Another Phillies pitcher, Jim Konstanty, approached Karl's zero-rest IP total in 1950 (for a team that made it into the World Series). Konstanty set a record for relief wins with no days rest that year, with six (later broken by our old pal Roy Face in 1959 en route to his 18-1 record in relief). The next year, Konstanty's ERA in zero-rest games ballooned to 6.87.

Innings and games with zero rest increased during the 1960s: there were five seasons in which the leader in this recondite category had 50+ IP.

That all led up to Mike Marshall's singular 1974 season. The outspoken Marshall, who still insists at age 70 that he can pitch every day without injury or loss of effectiveness, threw 92.2 innings in games where he'd also pitched the day before. That has remained the record for nearly 40 years, and it's likely that it will never be broken.

Marshall and other pitchers still got heavy zero-rest usage into the 1980s, but the usage pattern shifted dramatically in 1990. There has not been a pitcher with more than 40 zero-rest IP since Rob Murphy in 1989.

As the five-year IP and G averages show (see chart at right), there's been a remarkable drop in the innings leader since then, while the leader in games with zero-rest has plateaued.

What we have now is a "system" where many relievers make shorter appearances on zero days rest.

More saves are compiled on zero days rest in such a structure, of course; the specialized roles that are now in place (some substitute "arbitrary" and "artificial" for that adjective, however) make this possible. (The current record for zero-rest saves is 27, set by Francisco Rodriguez in 2008, who unsuprisingly set the major league record for saves in the same season.)

Mariano Rivera has 216 zero-rest saves in his career, which is the lifetime record. Trevor Hoffman is second, with 190. In the era of the one-inning save, this connection between overall records and those compiled with no days rest is, as noted, not surprising.

What will almost certainly create eyebrow lift, though, is the identity of the man who threw the most innings with no days rest. You might think it's Marshall: after all, he had the 92 zero-rest IP in '74. It's a good guess, but it's wrong: Marshall is second. And no, it's not Rivera (he's tied for tenth on the list with 311.1 IP).

Other big names (Rollie Fingers, Gene Garber, Ron Perranoski, Sparky Lyle, even the ageless Jesse Orosco) are not the answer. If you are really clever (like Brock Hanke), you'd guess ageless knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm--hell, all of these guys are ageless), but you'd be wrong. He's third, with 361.1 zero-rest IP.

It's actually amazing to discover that this man has a 140 IP lead over his closest rival. He also appeared in the most games on zero days rest, a total of 384.

That man is submariner Kent Tekulve, one of the mainstays of the Pirate bullpen in the 70s and 80s.

Teke, as we used to call him, had that deceptive, sweeping underhand motion, a knuckle-dragging motion that looked more like lawn bowling. (As the picture shows, he also came in sidearm a good bit...this shot makes it look as though he was double-jointed--at the elbow!!)

Over his career, his total of zero-rest innings pitched is 533.1.  (You can see the full list of pitchers with over 250 zero-rest IP over on the right: there are currently a total of 30 such pitchers lifetime.

Tekulve came along just as the crest of the zero-rest strategies was occurring; he was the perfect specimen for such a usage pattern, and he thrived on it (2.38 ERA).

Today, he would probably lead the league with 35 zero-rest IP per year, but he'd never built up his lifetime to anything close to what he was able to achieve in those wild-ass days of all-out, pitch-till-you-drop relief pitching.

(Note that Rollie Fingers is sixth on this list, while bigger, taller, faster Rich Gossage is not in the top 30.)

But Tekulve is your man, even if he looks like a toothpick.

Can a slot in the Baseball Reliquary's Shrine of the Eternals be very far away? We think not.

Sunday, September 15, 2013


[UPDATE 9/24: The Rays completed a four-game sweep of the Orioles, which leaves the O's five games out with six to play. They have been, as some of us are wont to say, completely forked. The Rangers won their opening game with the Astros, and need a sweep: their opponent for the final weekend (the Los Angeles Angels) has been playing quite well in September. The Royals continue to show a lot of grit: they edged the Mariners in Seattle, 6-5, in twelve innings...but they will likely need to win all six remaining games and hope for some type of faltering from the three teams in front of them.

The Rays finish on the road: they have three with the Yankees in the Bronx, beginning tonight with Matt Moore facing Hiroki Kuroda. The Indians host the White Sox, with white-hot Ubaldo Jimenez on the mound for them. Yu Darvish pitches for the Rangers in Arlington this evening against the Astros (106 losses and counting). And the Royals send the unsinkable Bruce Chen against the Mariners' rookie righthander James Paxton in Seattle.

[UPDATE 9/23: Life is getting dire for the Orioles and the Yankees...the O's lost their third consecutive game in Tampa, failing to solve rookie Enny Romero, who was wild (4 BB in 4.2 IP); the Yanks left Andy Pettitte in for one too many batters, and the Giants plated the winning run in the eighth, nailing Pettitte with a loss in his final start in the Bronx.

The Indians completed a sweep of the lowly Astros (105 losses); they have the day off before starting a three-game set with the White Sox. The Royals and Rangers engaged in a terrific pitching duel, with Justin Maxwell breaking things up in the tenth inning with a grand slam. They move to Seattle, where they will once again start rookie Yordano Ventura against the Mariners. They won't face Felix Hernandez in the series, though Hisashi Iwakuma will be on the mound in Wednesday's game.

[UPDATE 9/22: Rangers, Rays, Indians and Yankees were winners last night; a little distance has opened up between the top three teams fighting for the two wild cards slot (Rays, Rangers, Indians) and the others (O's, Royals, Yankees).

Today the Rays make an unusual move in starting 22-year old lefty Enny Romero, a highly-regarded prospect, against the O's. It will be back-and-forth-between-rotation-and-bullpen Alexi Ogando for the Rangers vs. James Shields for the Royals. And it will be Petit vs. Petttitte in the Bronx in what will be Andy's last home start; the sometimes-celebrated Yankee southpaw will be going for career win #256.]

[UPDATE 9/21: Yankees, Royals, Indians and Rays (in 18 innings) are last night's winners, with Cleveland moving into the second wild card slot. The O's need a win today, and they send Miguel Gonzalez against Alex Cobb and the Rays.

Ivan Nova will try to keep the Yankees' momentum going against the Giants; the Bombers got a boost from A-Rod's 24th grand slam, but will probably need to win seven of their last eight to have a shot at a wild card slot.

[UPDATE 9/20: Ten days left...Looking at the chart today, you have to figure that the Indians have got a great chance to be one of the Wild Card teams, with nothing left but games against sub-.500 teams. Last night their unlikely hero, Matt Carson, broke things up with the Astros with a walk-off pinch-hit single in the bottom of the 11th; Matt is now 7-for-9 on the season. Hiroki Kuroda failed for the Yankees, John Lackey stifled the Orioles on just two hits, and the Rangers knocked out Matt Moore to salvage a split against the Rays.

Now Texas goes to KC, where the Royals have a chance to make some serious noise in the race. The O's head to Tampa for four with the Rays, while the Yankees come home for a little late-season interleague play against the Giants: tonight's matchup features two struggling former Cy Young winners, Tim Lincecum and C.C. Sabathia.]

[UPDATE 9/19: The chess game continues...Bruce Chen keeps the Royals in the hunt as his solid run continues; the Rays, Yanks, and O's keep winning while the Rangers look for something to end their second consecutive September freefall. Today: a fine pitching matchup in fourth and final game of the Rangers-Rays series--Yu Darvish vs. Matt Moore. The Yanks send their best (Hiroki Kuroda) against the peaky Blue Jays.]

[UPDATE 9/18: The O's and Indians came from behind to win; the Rangers made quick work of the Rays' Jeremy Hellickson; and the Yankees were baffled in Toronto by R.A. Dickey. Lefty Wei-Lin Chen, whose last start in Fenway in late August was shaky, will square off against the Red Sox' Jake Peavy, while the Yanks will hold their breath (or is it their nose?) and send Phil Hughes (4-13) to the mound against the Blue Jays.]

[UPDATE 9/17: The Rays and the Royals won yesterday (winners shown in red). Everyone plays today. KC plays a hunch today and starts righty Yordano Ventura, who's making his major league debut. Scott Feldman, the O's best starter over the past four weeks, gets the start in Fenway tonight against Ryan (Dumpsy) Dempster. In Toronto, it's Andy Pettitte vs. R. A. Dickey as the Yanks try to get over the fact that they are no longer the Kings of Fenway.]

Now weren't we darned prophetic when we suggested that the Wild Card contenders in the AL were muddling their way into mediocrity?

No fewer than six teams--the O's, the Indians, the Royals, the Yankees, the Rays and the Rangers (from left to right across what used to be your radio dial)--are bobbing and weaving, spluttering and serpentining their way toward the finish line.

It's the baseball analogue to slouching towards Bethlehem. The bottom row on the chart (at right) captures the mediocrity marching on: the combined won-loss records for these six teams since game 130 is 54-59. Only the Royals have actually been playing well; the two teams who still lead in the Wild Card standings--the Rays and the Rangers--have been taking on more water than a pregnant whale.

(That doesn't even make sense, come to think of it--but you get the idea anyway...)

So the "cheat sheet" chart will get updated daily--and, like the obnoxious shills that we are (and only we could be plural when we're so singular), we'll be pinging you every chance we get to keep you in a kind of cryogenic frenzy.

Home games are in yellow; road games in green. This part of the schedule is pretty balanced (we were going to say "even-steven," but we don't know if we're supposed to capitalize that name, so we won't bother).

The second row from the bottom shows you how many games each team has left with opponents who are over .500. Looking at that info, we get the sense that the Indians and the Yankees have the easiest "down the stretch" schedule, with just three games against teams with winning records. Conversely, the Rays and the O's have the toughest time,with the O's drawing the booby prize (six games left with the Red Sox).

Vidal Nuno clearly has much better things to do than
shore up the leaky starting rotation in the Bronx...and his pal

Derek Jeter is free to stop by with a fresh supply of gift baskets.
The Yanks have two days off, more than anyone else, which might give them a chance to optimize their pitching rotation--except that their starters have been resisting optimization for most of September. It sure as hell makes you pine for Vidal Nuno--even if you can't quite remember just who that is...

The White Sox and Twins, who've been playing some seriously lousy baseball in the past couple of weeks (didn't stop the Rays from losing to the Twins on Sunday, however...) will continue to make some strategic appearances, but the Astros, the league's newly-minted doormat, will be featured in ten games across this desolate landscape, giving hope to the Indians, the Rangers and the Yankees as these teams grind out the remainder of the schedule.

The AL East doormat, those eternally disappointing Blue Jays, will be on hand for nine games (three each for the Yankees, O's and Rays).

A six-way tie, like John Lennon's presumptive working-class hero, would be something to see--and it might drive the unredeemable BS and his malevolent minions into an entirely new realm of catatonia if it were to happen. If such occurred, the best thing to do would be to just pick two names out of a hat.

Saturday, September 14, 2013


Division leaders shown in orange;
Wild card leaders in yellow;
Wild card contenders in pale yellow;
Also-rans in light blue...
There are some folks skulking around in the various hell-holes of the Internet (and you know how hellish such places can get...) who seem to be wondering how the Oakland A's are doing as well as they are in the 2013 AL post-season chase.

Most everyone seems to "get" that that A's have a good thing going in terms of developing pitchers...that they've found a way to use their infamous "Boneyard" (the Coliseum) as a way to maximize that talent and gain an advantage (the A's are 47-27 at home in 2013).

What they might not "get" is the A's are a surprisingly solid offensive team, third overall in the AL in run scoring and second only to the Red Sox on the road in 2013. This is a team that can hit homers, led by Brandon Moss (17 away from and the unsinkable Coco Crisp (13 on the road, and a career-high 19 for the season).

Just how are they doing that? By taking advantage of their at-bats where the platoon advantage is in their favor? As the chart shows, the Red Sox and the A's have been the best hitting teams when batters have the platoon advantage working their way (righty batters vs. lefty hurlers, lefty batters vs. righty hurlers).

The A's .777 OPS in these "with the advantage" (WOPS) is a good bit behind the Red Sox (.849), but they have hit more homers in these situations than everyone except the Orioles (who have "homer clusters" in Chris Davis and Adam Jones).

The A's and the Indians have managed to get a very high number of PAs "with the advantage" in 2013 (about a full season's worth of PAs more than the league average in these situations) and it has added some "oomph" to the A's offense in particular.

A's manager Bob Melvin, a Bay Area guy (born in Palo Alto, but went to Berkeley), seems to have warmed to the concept of platooning, and it has clearly paid off for the A's in 2013. They've not hit well when they are going "against the platoon" (just a .658 OPS, or AOPS), but all those extra PAs "with the platoon" have done a good job of offsetting that.

Monday, September 9, 2013


Ah, schadenfreude: where would we be without it??

It's time for a few extreme scenarios as we enter the final three weeks of the 2013 regular season. Which means it's time to turn to four teams whose fortunes have been, shall we say, overrepresented in the non-mainsteam media.

Greg Holland: a season for the ages...
First, and quickly, the Royals. We told you they'd most likely be above .500 in 2013. They've shored up their starting rotation, their bullpen is still functioning on all cylinders, and they've been resilient at home, where they've done a good job of stealing a few extra wins. This week is likely where it makes or breaks for them--six games on the road against the two teams ahead of them in the AL Central (Indians and Tigers).

Of course, what's happened is that the AL East teams (Rays, O's and Yanks) have flattened out, and this has created a muddle of mediocrity in the standings region where the Wild Card teams are decided.

And that brings us to our next topic: the Rays and the Red Sox. Two years ago on this date, the Red Sox had a 6 1/2 game lead over the Rays for what was then a lone wild card slot. (Any resemblance of that to "lone gunmen" theories is to be strictly tossed overboard...)

You all remember what happened. And you can bet that the Red Sox-Rays series in Tampa starting tomorrow night will have fans and team officials holding their collective breaths. The Boston brain trust has done a wonderful job of reassembling their team, with some canny platoons and a wholesale return to form for most of the players who sleptwalked through the dismal 2012 season.

The hitters have shown a marked tendency to hit the long ball when the team has a lead: their OPS in that situation (.835) is fifty points higher than the Tigers. They put on a tremendous demonstration of that in the just-concluded series with the Yankees, coming close to turning the tables on the stumbling Bombers for several of those ill-remembered "Boston massacres" (2006 and 1978).

Could this man--discarded like moldy lunch
meat by the Red Sox after their 2012
"rope-a-dope disguised as meltdown"--
come back to haunt them in September 2013??
The Rays have had a lot of trouble recently, losing ten of their last fourteen, and they had a very slow start in their head-to-head with the Sox, losing nine of the first twelve games in '13. This is the last series between the two clubs, and if the Rays are to mount a comeback resembling what they pulled off in 2011, they'll need to get the broom out.

The Sox are well-set of the series: they have Clay Buchholz back, and they've got late-season acquisition Jake Peavy going in game three against the Rays' struggling Jeremy Hellickson. While the Rays still have a solid shot for a wild card slot, those of us who pride ourselves as "agents of discord" are holding out for the prospect of a sweep and some sweat-band moistening in Beantown.

We can't really expect that the Sox can take a tumble like the one that put them into the "for the ages" pages in 2011, but consider this: despite winning six of eight thus far in September, the Boston staff has an ERA of 5.33. 'Twas the pitching that killed them down the stretch in '11. (Just sayin'!!)

Finally, there's Pittsburgh. Seems as though every time the Pirates get close to the 80-win mark, they come down with a case of scurvy. They've lost four in a row since winning #81, and despite their improvement they still have a frightening knack at losing ugly. The first part of the week doesn't look good: they've got to take their reeling pitchers into Arlington to play the Rangers. Offense is down in the Texas park this year, however, and that might be a silver lining....the Bucs will have ace Nelson Liriano on the mound in tomorrow's game.

Remember, kiddies, it's not a genuine Bud Selig Kewpie Doll™
unless it has the signature hand-to-the-right-ear feature. Don't
settle for a cheap imitation... And remember to pound that Bud!!
While we don't want to see a Bucs collapse, fans in DC and Phoenix have mostly that hope to hold onto for a chance to get back into the playoff hunt. The races for the post-season in the NL have been a snooze-fest since the Dodgers turned into superheroes back in late June; the cruel result of the wild card structure is its ability to create a scenario where what would be a very interesting three-team race is merely a footnote.

What happens when the wild card produces something as dreary as what's likely to happen in the NL this year? This is the time for an enterprising entrepreneur to manufacture the Bud Selig Kewpie Doll™, which shouldn't merely have pins stuck in it--you can use it as a chew toy for the family dog, or drop it out on your driveway and run over it as many times as will be therapeutic--or you can assuage any pyromaniac tendencies and light the sucker on fire.

Choose your favorite method--but, hey, feel free to use trial and error to determine which one you like best...

[UPDATE: There will be no Red Sox "fold" in 2013. They've won four of five this week and they've got the Yankees right where they want them going into what will be the final contest between the two arch-rivals this year--pinned nearly a dozen games back in the standings, and tied for the bragging rights at Fenway. A win tomorrow (the Ides of September...) will give them the lead, and an entire off-season to savor it.

The Pirates got a great performance from rookie Garrett Cole to get them their eighty-second win; buoyed by that, they rolled through Texas with nothing less than panache. The NL Central's lock on the post-season still looks likely, though the Nationals have been making a last-minute charge.]

Friday, September 6, 2013


[EDIT: See below for update.]

The rancid, rock-hard crust of the Tango Love Pie™ is wafting through the early September breezes again, inducing a slew of innocent bystanders to reach for clothespins, gas masks, Haz-Mat gear.

This year's bogus ideological pincushion isn't new: it has been on the hysterical, lapsed empiricists' hit lists for quite awhile now...

It's "the win."

Not satisfied to simply downgrade pitcher's wins (and won-loss record, and WPCT) to a lesser position in the minds of the fans, the miscreant masterminds of the Love Pie Brigade want to stomp the win to death.

Frankly, they sound like the type of lunatics who all too often get shipped to some Third World country where brigands get paid to terrorize villages and lay the groundwork for military juntas--and, what's more, they're proud of it. Just like Elmer Fudd in What's Opera, Doc?, they've got the "magic helmet."

Except--when one puts on this "magic helmet," a disturbingly unpleasant brown substance starts to dribble down one's face. One thing that substance is not is "curiously refreshing"...

Once again, they are rattling their tarnished sabers over the Cy Young Award. Once again, it's the American League. Back in 2010, Felix Hernandez was the best pitcher in the AL despite having a 13-12 record. He won the Cy Young Award. He deserved it. Most measures other than wins and losses confirmed this, including our own Quality Matrix (QMAX).

It seems that the Love Pie™ Brigade wants to take the theoretical notion that a pitcher can have a losing record and still be the best pitcher in the league and ram it down the public's throat. That wouldn't be such an objectionable thing--if the pitcher in question was actually the best in the league.

What bothers these usual suspects is that the leading candidate for the AL Cy, Max Scherzer, has been unusually lucky in run support and won 19 of his first 20 decisions. (He's now 19-2). Even though Scherzer leads in many rate stats, the idea of him winning the Cy with such a potentially spectacular won-loss record is worse than flouride in drinking water. It's a symbol of accelerating moral rot. It's a blight on those for whom truth, justice and the shards of the American way have been lodged in a tangled, tortuous world of capricious counterintuitivity.

Who's the man who puts the corn meal in the crumbly crust of the Love Pie Brigade? It's Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox. Chris is having a fine year, but the Pale Hose are even paler than usual and they have scored only 3.25 r/g for him this season. As a result, he's only 10-12.

Since his ERA is close to Scherzer's, and since the WAR system suggests that Sale is not all that far behind (WAR, of course, resides somewhere between "protean" and "trickster" in the lexicon of "advanced" stats that have been transmogrified by the slice'n'dice of the Love Pie™ Brigade...), then it's an adrenaline-filled no-brainer for them to trash Scherzer in favor of Sale.

It's blatant, puffed-up, pie-eyed self-interest, self-promotiion disguised as "expertise," and another giant leap into the sodden crust of counter-intuition.

QMAX, of course, doesn't bother with ideology. It doesn't look at actual wins or losses. It has its own semblance of counter-intution--the difference, however, is that it doesn't try to massage the numbers to produce a desired result. It just takes the pitcher data, calculates hit and walk prevention, combines it, synthesizes it, and puts it against the probabilities--all of which provides as objective a measure of quality as possible.

So what does QMAX say? Well, you've seen the charts that have floated by as we've stuck our fork into what is the most inedible crust yet produced by the Love Pie Brigade. QMAX tells us that Max Scherzer is, as of this moment, the best starter in the AL.

Max's Quality Winning Percentage (QWP) is .689.

Chris Sale's is: .641. The Mariners' Hisashi Iwakuma, the crafty finesse pitcher from Japan (bet you couldn't tell that unless I told you...), is third at .629.

Now there's still enough time for this to change. Scherzer is the best, but it's not s slam dunk. If he falters, and Sale picks it up, the rankings could change.

And trust us...if Sale had the best QWP, even with losing record, we'd be right there letting you know that. But we wouldn't be spinning the numbers and trying to cram an obsessive strain of counter-intuition down people's throats.

Right now, the "tango" being danced by the Love Pie Brigade is just a goose-step of hot air and bullying tactics. Right now, Scherzer is the AL Cy winner.

So feel free to stick that fork in the place it will do the most good. And if you've been partaking of the Tango Love Pie™, by all means keep those antacid tablets handy.

[UPDATE: As circumstance would have it, Max Scherzer and Chris Sale hooked up last night as the Tigers came to Chicago. Umpire Brian Gorman interjected himself into the game with undue force by tossing Miguel Cabrera out in the middle of his first at-bat. (The call he'd made--that Cabrera had swung at a pitch that veered sharply and hit him below the right knee--was questionable at best.)

Advantage Sale. He pitched a great game, four hits and run in eight innings--a 1,1 in the QMAX ledger. Max may have been affected by what happened in the top of the first: he gave up a couple of runs and would eventually leave after four innings, having surrendered five runs. It was one of those erratic, mixed-signal starts that were much more common from him in earlier seasons. His QMAX score for the night: 6,4,

So that tightens up the race between Scherzer and Sale...Max's QWP drops to .678 while Sale's rises to .652. Sale has edged ahead in a couple of the QMAX range measures: "success square" and "elite square," while Max still holds leads in top hit prevention games (S12) and in avoiding "hit hard" games (HH).

As we noted above, if Chris Sale takes the QWP lead by season's end, he would be our #1 choice in the Cy Young vote. Right now, he's still #2, but things have closed up after that odd night in Chicago.

Hisashi Iwakuma had a middling night last Friday, registering a 6,3 game (8 hits in 5.2 IP) against the Rays. As a result, QWP dropped to .621. He'll pitch again on Friday.

There's a potential irony that's looming: Chris Sale has four, maybe five starts remaining. He's now 11-12, and there's a solid chance that he might wind up over. 500 by season's end. The "principle" being fought for by the crusty "Kill the Win" cadre might well curdle up like whipped cream left languishing on an abandoned piece of Tango Love Pie.™ Stay tuned...]

Thursday, September 5, 2013


OK, this is a quickie, but we promise it will feel good, particularly for those of you who have negative ju-ju about the Los Angeles Dodgers. (You know you're out there...)

We talked about their turnaround a couple weeks back, looking at their "fifty game scald" (42-8) and where that ranked historically.

They've stayed solid since then. They are 67 games into their turnaround, and the record is 53-14 over that span.

As the chart shows, that's the best such 67-game skein over the past 25 years.

But does it win you anything? Sure, 95% of these teams go to the playoffs. But just playing great for a 67-game stretch--being the best at it in any given year--doesn't mean that you'll win the World Series. (Cue up Billy Beane robot voice: "The playoffs are a crapshoot.")

Still, it's somewhat surprising that only three teams with the best 67-game skeins in each year from 1989 to 2012 have won the World Series. That's only 12%. We thought it might be a little higher than that--and probably it is when we get out of the expansion era. But that time frame might start to pick up a bunch of teams who had hot 67-game streaks and didn't win the pennant.

We'll check that out. You just sit back and know that the odds of the Dodgers winning the World Series have not been helped by their 67-game skein. So there!

Sunday, September 1, 2013


So the NL needed a big push in August to get back in the "race" for interleague bragging rights. But the AL had an advantage early in the month, with match-ups featuring better AL teams vs. lesser NL teams.

After being shocked by a 5-0 NL sweep on August 2nd, the AL went 9-1 in the next two days and pretty much stuck a fork into the NL's hopes for a come-from-behind victory.

Late in the month, the Red Sox played well on the West Coast (not something they're known for when they play against teams in their own league...) and they had the good fortune to miss both Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke in Los Angeles.

All the more reason why we should take the interleague results with a grain of salt even as we keep on pushing to bring you the news that virtually no one wants to know.

September doesn't bode well for the NL, either. With eight interleague series left, only three of those remaining favor them (Jays/D-backs, M's/Cards, Reds/Astros). After the Brewers blew a lead this afternoon and wound up being swept by the Angels, there are 23 games left; the NL would have to go 19-4 to wind up in a tie.

Only one September series features a matchup of two teams likely to be in the post-season; we had three of these in August (A's/Reds, Rays/Dodgers, Red Sox/Dodgers). The NL took six of those eight games.

Too bad it's not just a bit closer: the season needs some added spice...

...especially since the A-Rod circus won't happen until deep into the off-season.