Wednesday, December 31, 2014


Two quick data items to illustrate the impact of the inexorable, long-term, continuing transition toward a two-dimensional game glutted (and, increasingly, glutted strategically) by an over-emphasis on the long ball.

First, the source data for these. It's a series of extractions from the Play Index at Forman et fils, capturing all of the players with a three-year walk percentage (abbreviated BBP) of 12.5% or higher. (There have been just over 2600 instances of this since the three year period of 1900-1902 through the most recent, which, of course, is 2012-14.)

One of the things that protects the three-dimensional aspect of baseball strategy is that players can have characteristics that are seemingly contradictory in nature. In other words, things that might seem mutually exclusive--speed and power--can co-exist. Often these mutually exclusive characteristics do become truly and irrevocably separate: power and speed are well-known to separate by the age of a player, for example.

But they still tend to co-exist to at least some extent. Which is how the game perpetuates some semblance of three-dimensionality.

Another such area of "semi-mutual exclusivity" is low power and the ability to draw walks. As the game morphed into a version of itself where home runs were much more frequent, changes in how walks and low power co-existed came about. Our patented "telescope chart" (at right), which puts yearly data into a grid organized by decades, shows what happened with respect to "low power" hitters with well-above-average walk totals.

The shocking part of this chart is found at the bottom, where you can see that such hitters have literally disappeared from the game.

These players were always a rather small minority (the overall average for players with 12.5+% BBP and an isolated power average under .100 now resides at about 13% of all such hitters with a 12.5+% BBP), but even into the nineties these players continued to exist.

That is no longer the case--and this trend actually pre-dates the offensive downturn of the most recent years.

So perhaps some of our "pundit pals" who scoop up so many of our ideas (without giving proper credit from where they come from, by the way...) will be ready to mount the barricades with this one, given that it can fit into a meme about baseball is going back to the "second deadball era" (specifically, 1966-71, as captured by the "zeroes" on the above chart).

All that makes for a good headline, but it doesn't get at the fact that all this is a most interesting and baffling backfire for a sport suddenly inundated with "metrics" and "analysis." We have a lot of trouble keeping our food down when confronted with that first term, but we are (despite whispers to the contrary) not against the second term, particularly if it could be used for some long-overdue self-reflection on the part of its most flamboyant purveyors.

Our second data item: a more specialized look at how even more elite "walkmen" (the term we coined back in the nineties for glorious anomalies such as Max Bishop, Roy Cullenbine, Eddie Yost, Ferris Fain, and a few other folks who didn't hit with power but managed to take walks at a rate equivalent to the most feared power hitters) have inexorably been requiring an increasing level of isolated power in order to achieve ultra-high walk totals. (For this chart, players need to have a three-year average BBP of 15% or higher.)

Dave Magadan, attempting to explain to a young fan just what has
happened to all the low-power walkmen. 
As the arrow and the ovals demonstrate (see chart at left above), the power axis for walkmen has continued to climb. One wonders if it can go any higher before the game really starts to lose some of its second dimension along with its third.

Notice, also, down in the lower right corner of the chart--the complete absence of any sub-.100 ISO hitter with 15+% BBP. No one has done that over a three-year period since 1995-97.

Who was that last low-power "walkman"?

Why...Dave Magadan, of course. (Doesn't everyone know that??)

Monday, December 29, 2014


A quick one as we work up another, more elaborate "tale of two-dimensionality"...

Ever wonder just how often baserunners go from first to third on a single? Score from first on a double? Score from second on a single? Or are you the type that would rather focus on individual data, a la TOOTBLAN?

Not that TOOTBLAN isn't worth some of your time. However, there's more to baserunning than just how often players get thrown out. (This is another area where Bill James pushed folks down a particular path only because the data was suddenly so easy to compute...he's had more than his alotted share of these moments.)

What we need are some benchmarks. Forman et fils take us part of the way with their presentation of baserunning advancement data; they decided to lump all advancement together, though, despite having enough detail in the three separate advancement categories mentioned above.

So we decided to provide that detail--and, while we were at it, graph the changes that it has undergone over the past thirty years.

By collecting, collating, and averaging these three advancement categories, we can see if things like run-scoring levels, increases in home runs, etc. are having an effect on how often baserunners take extra bases.

And our chart at right suggests that it's a kind of "split decision" (you know, the ones that make boxing fans suspicious). It turns out that there's been a noticeable decline in the percentages for going from first to third and from second to home on a single (red line and purple line respectively).

Going from first to home on a double, however, has gone through some downs and ups but is currently quite close to the frequency that was in place back in 1982 (remember, these are four-year averages, and "1982" refers to the years 1979-1982; "2014" refers to the years 2011-2014).

(Note that these figures are the decimal equivalents of percentages: .700 at the top means 70%, etc.)

So what's causing it? High run scoring? Complacency? More aggressive outfield play? The vagaries of globalization?? Hard to say. But it's clear that baserunning has become more conservative over time. Whether consistently lower run-scoring levels will eventually affect these trends is something about which we'll simply have to "wait and see." The trend lines are pointing slightly up. We can only hope, of course--the fact of the matter is that this is another indicator of the game's creeping rapprochement with two-dimensionality...and it really would be a good idea to reverse the trend.

Saturday, December 20, 2014


We are too busy with other things to push much of the usual "new content" out at this time (and for some time to come), so we will "go topical" for awhile, as circumstances permit.

We won't be trying to do much with the Great Off-Season Upheaval, at least not at this point, since all signals are that we are still in the midst of it and anything more than a single-team spotlight (as was the case in our most previous post) would be woefully premature.

Which leads to the topic of this post--which is also woefully premature. But it's an interesting snapshot in time that we can return to later, so here goes.

Thus far, in the voting reported by Darren "Repoz" Viola (Baseball Think Factory's long-time punmeister), who has of late been joined by young Ryan Thibs (actually, we have no idea how old Mr. Thibs may be, but his tone is so earnest and eager to please that one wants him to be young if only to bolster a lingering--if endangered--set of received stereotypes), the early Hall of Fame results contain one exceptionally astonishing result.

What's that? "That" is John Smoltz. Earlier we'd written that Smoltz deserves a plaque in Cooperstown, but that his career as a whole doesn't create a compelling case for him to rise above other already-on-the-ballot pitchers who are working their way through the player logjam. Our specific comparison was Curt Schilling, whose career parallels Smoltz's in many ways--including a stellar post-season record.

But, in the early going, Smoltz is exceeding 85% of the vote. (Schilling, who received 29% of the vote in 2014, is also polling much better in the early going, and it is looking like we might have a "year of the pitcher" in the immediate ruckus surrounding last year's reprehensible change in ballot eligibility length.)

So what is the reason for this unexpected ballot strength? All "objective" measures don't account for it. Our guess is that Smoltz is receiving a big boost for having been with one of baseball's most historically successful franchises (the Braves, who appeared in every non-canceled post-season from 1991-2004).

Even more than Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, Smoltz is identified with the Braves due to his longevity with the franchise. His stint in the bullpen from 2001-04, after recovering from an arm injury that cost him the entire 2000 season, seems to have added lustre to his resumé, as did his late-career success once returned to the rotation (44-24, 135 ERA+ from 2005-07).

All of that, as impressive as it is, does not translate into a first-ballot induction. At least not in our book. That is why we are astonished by what we're seeing thus far. (We suspect that Smoltz will ultimately fall short of enshrinement this time round--but, then again...) It is a reminder that other factors beyond the individual achievements (however those may be measured) will occasionally take charge in a voting process that is, at best, only semi-rational.

Friday, December 12, 2014


After their "Latin land grab" (Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval), the Boston Red Sox have moved from the world of elite free agents into the demimonde of tontons flingueurs--a phrase that an inebriated Frenchman might hurl at the parade of slightly shopworn pitchers who will now apparently populate the Boston starting rotation.

Now pitching for the Red Sox....Lino Ventura???
(The English translation of tontons flingueurs, by the way, is "crooks in clover" and refers to a team of semi-inept heist artists who stumble into a job that literally materializes at their feet...and that's just about what's happened in terms of the Sox rotation, which looks like a random laundry list come to life.)

It's going to be a "blue collar" staff (instead of "blue chip," which would have been a good description of the Phillies "Phour Aces" awhile back, before the two Roys--Halladay and Oswalt--turned into pumpkins) and that is, in fact, a lot more refreshing than loading up on the type of heavy, four-course meal that often just grinds away at your digestive system, leaving you more bloated than a beached whale.

The Sox ace is still Clay Buchholz, the man of many on-mound mood swings, but we're sure that Bill James (in his wise but crotchety counsel) is convinced that Clay will morph back into form now that he's turning 30. (There are so many conflicting reports about how to assess and project starting pitchers that one's head could spin right off one's head, but Bill is probably right, at least in this case.)

Behind him now are Joe Kelly, coughed up by the Cardinals in the John Lackey trade; Rick Porcello, on hand from the Tigers in exchange for the sullen (or so they say...) Yoenis Cespedes; Dixie-fried southpaw Wade Miley, acquired from the Diamondbacks; and Justin Masterson, another enigmatic righthander who will try to disprove Thomas Wolfe's infamous maxim.

All in all, this doesn't look to be any better or worse than what the Royals trotted out last year on their way to that improbable trip to the World Series, but they had a bullpen that was beyond "blue chip." The Sox don't have that component in place--at least not yet--and that's something they'll need to address if they expect to contend with these guys as the basis of their starting rotation.

But we do love the "blue collar" move here, as it signals some intriguing combination of creativity and desperation, and we prefer our Red Sox experience (both with the team and with its uniquely obnoxious fan base) to be one based on roiling anxiety and inchoate currents of dread. So...onward into that uncertain dawn...and remember that you can always bleach the snot out of those blue collars if need be.

Sunday, December 7, 2014


Some of our absence here of late is due to an incredibly hectic schedule in other phases of life--yes, folks, there is more to existence than the vagaries of horsehide...

...and some of it stems from the rhythms of baseball's off-season timing as it has morphed over the past couple of decades, with its less predictable (in fact, downright lumpy) event patterns. Much of our commentary in this time frame would be dangerously indistinguishable from the pseudo-speculative drivel passing for analysis in the four billion corners of the blogosphere--and while we would unquestionably be more cunning and prescient than 95% of the bandwidth-clog available to plague your synapses, it's just not worth the effort when so many other, more effective ways of amusing yourselves to death are so readily accessible...

Of course, we've still got plenty up our sleeve, and we promise to get back to unraveling it soon enough...but, for now, let's check in with a quick rejoinder to the silly sub-faction of what used to be called the "Veterans Committee" in the (ahem...) Hall of Fame voting process.

Yes, they're b-a-a-ck. Tomorrow (about twelve hours from now, in fact) the results of the "Golden Era Committee" (sounds like they should all be dipped in something, now, doesn't it?) voting process will splurt itself out into public view, much like the sound of a 99.99% empty toothpaste tube excreting its final effluvium onto an unsuspecting toothbrush.

Ten men have been propped up for disappointment, dismay, or deafening silence (for those candidates who are already dead and gone...) at the hands of sixteen guys in search of an easy way out. The names of those ten men, in alphabetical order:

Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Gil Hodges, Bob Howsam, Jim Kaat, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Billy Pierce, Luis Tiant, Maury Wills.

(The four names in bold, BTW, are those folk who've been honored already by our friends at the Baseball Reliquary, whose membership inducted Messrs. Allen, Minoso, Tiant and Wills into their Shrine of the Eternals.)

Now, our view, remaining consistent with the notion that "fame" is equal parts excellence and notoriety, thus demanding the widest of all reasonably possible nets to ensnare players and other forms of baseball ligan, is that five of the folk listed above have claims for Cooperstown.

Those five: Allen, Boyer, Hodges, Minoso, Tiant.

Why not the other five?


(Howsam) No GMs should be on this ballot--apples/oranges. There should be a separate process for them.
(Kaat) Fits the definition of a "compiler," and is without any other compelling narrative.
(Oliva) Peak is not high enough or long enough.
(Pierce) Not enough peak, overly unbalanced home/road performance.
(Wills) Too much of a one-trick pony.

Of this group, Hodges and Minoso received the most votes from the "Golden Boys" previously.

How many votes will each of these guys get this time? Include us out of that particular masturbatory manifestation. All we'll say is that it will be close for Minnie and Gil, but it will be no cigar for Tiant (a damned shame, too, since no one looked more jaunty with a stogy than ol' Looie, and we'd love to see him light one up on the dais...).

We will hope that Allen will get seven or eight votes this time, signaling that at least some of the silly, sanctimonious hypocrisy and "received lugnut-ism" that so many have inherited from the single most reprehensible set of sentences ever written by Bill James will at last dissipate into the ether...but we won't hold our breath--or yours, either. [EDIT: In fact, we harbor suspicions that Howsam is on the candidate list primarily as a means to insure that this voting body will have a "safe" choice, one that bypasses any controversy concerning the merits of those who actually played on the field.]

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


Yes. We did.

Um, no. We didn't.

What we said (back in late July, when the craven folks who run the HOF changed their voting procedures) was that me, you and ten-plus million dogs named Boo (the perfect appellation in this instance, n'est-ce pas?) should boycott these mofos until they rescind this rule.

Just as folks today want to send a message to the cloistered world of uber-wealthy white greedocrats that the justice system actually pay lip service to its own procedures (cough-Ferguson-cough), those of us who want to protect the principles of fairness should make sure that we give these holier-than-thou, pompous pariahs a battering at the cash register.

That said, we did not say that we would cease and desist with respect to the results of Hall of Fame balloting--effed up as it now is.

Sorry to dash any hopes out there. (Or, alternatively, sorry to interrupt your sleep...)

We'll keep this brief. We dodged Whisky Jack, at least for now. There is nothing egregious on the ballot in that way, at least not for awhile (we'll let you figure out who the next Whisky Jack might be on your own).

There are too many worthy players to put on a 10-man ballot (wonder if the HOF chimps would be brazen enough to decrease that as well? Don't put anything past these guys...), which forces us (and you, and Boo, and the journalistic demimonde who actually get to vote on all this) to create a tactical ballot.

That means, as noted previously, leaving off Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, who will probably have to wait into their late sixties before they finally get the call.

With that doubly reluctant double omission, we get down to the folks that go on the ballot:

New eligibles: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez.

No-brainers here.

The other guys that should go in this year (but only one will): Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell.

That's right: just Biggio, who barely missed (two votes) last year. Clearing the decks here with two worthy guys somehow still caught up in the 'roids rage idiocy--Piazza and Bagwell--would be the way to go, but as Mike O'Hara (Orson Welles) says in The Lady From Shanghai: "It's a bright, guilty world." (Actually, he could have left off the first adjective in that assertion...)

The "movie star...and the rest!" (figure out that reference without Google, and win a free used cigar!): Tim Raines, Edgar Martinez, Larry Walker, Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling.

Folks will want Alan Trammell here. He's worthy, but no amount of effort will get him elected (14th year, 20% of the vote last time). Sammy Sosa is tainted, Gary Sheffield has a strong enough case of "Dick Allen Disease" that he will struggle to stay on the ballot.

Some folks think John Smoltz will rise up the ballot in short order and join his Atlanta amigos in 2016/17. We would like some of what they are smoking. Smoltz has 95% of the case that Schilling has, but--just like birth order in family dynamics--he's coming on board behind a candidate who is a better (and older, more established) version of what he is. Figure on 15-20% for him at this point, and no real traction until Schilling rises up the ballot (which will take a few more years). He belongs, but given the new reprehensible rule, he (like many others) may have to go in via the side entrance.

Folks will think we are stubborn about Edgar Martinez, and they're half-right. Somewhere, somehow, there has to be leeway for non-numeric considerations in this type of voting. Not that Edgar isn't qualified numerically. He's just the victim of a lot of overthinking by bright folks who should know better. Even in a jammed ballot, room must be made for players who bring an inestimable aesthetic dimension to the baseball diamond. Edgar managed to do that as well or better than anyone despite rarely taking the field. He did so as the most interesting batter of his generation to watch while at the plate (and if you don't think so, you aren't watching enough baseball).

Only a few players make the batting process into something intensely cerebral, and do so in a way that radiates across an entire stadium. Edgar is one of those select few. There will a spot for him on our HOF ballot until the bitter end.

There it is. Nothing more needs to be said until the votes have been counted. Of course, that won't stop anyone, now, will it?

Thursday, November 20, 2014


We wrap up the Zodiac League previews with a stinging proviso--that the Scorpio "A" team is sitting on a starting rotation that is as deadly as the scorpion's tale itself.

Sometime soon--when we are not editing a movie, planning a film festival, or putting the finishing touches on our new office space--we will consolidate all of the info regarding the Zodiac League, and get ready to actually play it. Will our off-the-cuff predictions be worth a pitcher of John Nance Garner joy juice?

(Oddly enough, John Nance Garner--FDR's first vice president--was born on November 22.)

The Scorpio "A's" (that's "A-team," not Athletics, in case you're arriving here for the first time...) aren't sitting especially high in hitting. Here is their projected batting order:

Bid McPhee, 2b; Bill Terry, 1b; Stan Musial, lf; Ken Griffey Jr., cf; Ed Delahanty, rf'; Roy Campanella, c; Pie Traynor, 3b; Rabbit Maranville or Bobby Wallace, ss

Lineup slots 2-6 are pretty solid (Bill Terry is a bit better than most people think, and Campy should drive in a lot of runs), but the edges are a bit fuzzy.

But the pitching--particularly the starting rotation--will give you goose bumps.

Walter Johnson, Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, Bob Feller, Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling

Willie Hernandez, Bob Stanley, Al Holland, Joe Page, Jim Brewer, Mark Eichhorn

In the immortal words of Hughie Jennings (not on this team...): "Ee-yah!"

The "B" team is more "balanced" in that its pitchers are just about as spotty as its projected batting order:

Toby Harrah, 2b; Rick Monday, cf; Gary Sheffield, rf; David Ortiz, 1b; Ralph Kiner, lf; Vern Stephens, ss; Ned Williamson, 3b; Deacon McGuire, c

The "A" team could use Stephens, but the rules are that we go with the Hall of Famer on the "A" team (unless there are none for any particular defensive position). The "B" team, which doesn't have to follow that rule, thus gets a badly needed break.

Here's the pitching:

Jim Bunning, Carl Mays, Dwight Gooden, Jim Kaat, Dave McNally, John Candelaria

Rawly Eastwick, Armando Benitez, Pete Richert, Gene Garber, Jeff Nelson, Joe Hoerner

There is a lot of pitching depth in Scorpio-land, certainly more than any other astrological sign. The "A" team is seriously loaded, and it will be very interesting to see how they do.

All we need do now is set the controls for the heart of the sun...

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


The irony of the 2014 World Series? That the two teams slogging it out at the end both had offenses that eschewed (one of our favorite words...) a key aspect of offense--the base on balls--that's been a hallmark of sabermetric theory since its earliest days.

An even bigger irony--that the "midwestern angster" component of sabe discourse is yoked to a team--the Kansas City Royals--who are the leading exponent of "anti-sabermetric" offense. Yes, it is grimly amusing and, like so many things in America, reveals the terminally schizoid nature of the so-called "land of the free."

We'll see all this in the charts below. What they measure is the number of games in which a team (any and all of the thirty franchises from 2000-14) draws zero, one, or two walks (≤ 2 BB).

The first chart (above) is a simple frequency distribution. The average team has had a little under a thousand such games over the past fifteen years (993 to be exact). As the chart shows, the Royals, with 1235 such games, have more than a hundred-game lead over the next highest team (the Baltimore Orioles, with 1122).

By all accounts, Carlos Santana was a free swinger...
Now this is a not inconsiderable handicap to winning, as teams have an overall .391 WPCT when they draw two or fewer walks in a game. Being a free-swinging team, as the Royals have consistently been over the past fifteen years, is one of the major reasons why they have mostly been a losing team.

As the chart shows, the Royals did not change their evil ways (baby...) over the past two years, when they chugged up to semi-respectability and charged their way into the ball as a bull in a china shop disguised as Cinderella. They remained defiantly themselves--and benefitted from the fact that, as offense has tanked over the past 4-5 years, it has retrenched away from the base on balls to such an extent that the impact of free-swinging has been nullified.

You can see that in the overall team average, which has crept upward over the past five years until it is at its highest total since the late 1960s.

We have another way of measuring that change, by taking this data and turning it into league-relative averages. When we do that, and when we identify the teams who've made the post-season over the past fifteen years, we can see the pattern in the data relative to "sabermetric" offenses and team success.

And when we do that, as we have in the above chart, we can see that there is a strong pattern (post-season teams are 10% better at avoiding low-walk games--the lower number is better in this case) that has begun to decay in recent years.

When we look at the data this way, we see that the Royals had the most "anti-sabermetric" offense to reach the World Series (winner in orange, loser in yellow) in the past fifteen years.

The 2014 World Series pitted two teams that had little interest in the base on balls. The Giants and the Royals were the two free-swingingest teams to square off relative to the league in the past fifteen years--and, quite probably, in the history of the World Series. (We'll check on that, one of these days, just to make sure.)

Measuring from the league-relative standpoint, we can see that the most "sabermetric" offenses (using just this one index point...) over the past fifteen years are the Yankees and the Red Sox, with the A's and Phillies right on their heels. (Though the Phils have backslid a good bit in the past few seasons.)

By this measure, the Royals again leap out as the most "anti-sabermetic" offense by a wide margin--twelve percentage points over the next most free-swingingest team (the O's).

Of course, in the current environment, it doesn't seem to matter. 2014 nearly neutralized the base on balls as an indicator of team quality; it remains to be seen if that trend will continue. But one thing is for sure--you can take it to the bank that the Royals will be swinging with abandon, win or lose.

Sunday, November 2, 2014


We were curious, so we went to Forman et fils and found out who has hit the best (and worst) in the post-season for the past ten years.

First, the leaders (by OPS):

We've put boxes around players who appeared in the 2014 World Series. People have been proclaiming Lorenzo Cain as the "breakout star" of the post-season, but the member of the Royals who hit the best (and by a wide margin) in the post-season was Eric Hosmer.

And then there's the Panda...

Next, the players with the statistical lead in all the other counting stats not captured in the leaders list:

You'll not be surprised to notice that leading in a number of these categories is highly correlated with the number of post-season games one gets to play.

Notice, though, that triples (our old and continually endangered pal) are particularly scarce in the post-season.

Finally, the trailers--the guys who, for one reason or another, just can't get it going in the post-season:

So, in the post-season, the difference between Angel Pagan (who missed the 2014 post-season with a back injury) and his caddy Gregor Blanco is minuscule.

And the folks who thought that Salvador Perez (who was actually OK in the World Series, but ice-cold in the balance of the 2014 post-season) should have been hit for in the final at-bat of Game 7 have a little something with which to put their barstools into second gear.

Finally--if your last name is Cabrera, you definitely want to change it before you enter the post-season. [ADD: Unless your first name is Miguel, that is...]

Saturday, November 1, 2014


We used the word "hubris" the other day (actually, in the post immediately preceding this one). That was unwitting (as opposed to half-witting...) prescience on our part, for we could not know at the time that another egregious example of overweening arrogance would crop up so soon after the conclusion of the World Series.

And it's not exactly a surprise that it involves Theo Epstein. Theo, of course, is the Most Overrated Baseball Executive In Baseball History, having been far less responsible for the Greatest Cultural Awakening to occur during the Shrub administration (the "advent" of the Red Sox") than virtually anyone believes.

Theo has a theatrical legacy in his family, so he (along with many other master manipulators) has some heightened skill with fake symbolism, flim-flam, and what's semi-affectionately known in the parallel world of the Beltway Bandits (and don't think baseball insiderism isn't all about that same sh*t...) as "weasel words." (And let's stop for a moment to thank our fabulous sponsor, Fright Quotes R Us, currently in negotiations for a merger with "the whole enchilada" of urban dictionary web sites in order to deliver irreverence directly to your email address for a very nice price...)

Now, "weasel words" and "hubris" are not completely synonymous...though they often keep the same company. The former is usually an outgrowth of the latter, though Theo was probably incredibly precocious when it came to this and was already highly accomplished in the practice prior to secondary school.

So it should not raise any eyebrows that he is currently trying to weasel his way out of the type of grasping behavior that overly-entitled insiders with an overly-practiced, baked-in look of searing intensity employ in order to create the requisite amount of psychological distance from the all-too-willing-to-be-callow media.
Rick (Rich) Renteria wasn't much of a hitter in
his baseball career, but no one could blame him
if he was tempted to take the bat to the noggins
of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer

It's the type of behavior that believes inherently (in a manner parallel with the less fortunate who are endowed with such traits, who are merely sociopaths...) that they should be able to get away with anything and everything they want.

Hence the exceptional shadiness involving Joe Maddon, a late-blooming egotist in search of a legacy, and Rick (Rich) Renteria, a garden-variety, anonymous foot-soldier with a upside managerial profile like Terry Francona. The former has an outsized reputation--though not as outsized as Theo, who always looks as though he was just broken out of his own plaster-saint replica (there's rumored to be just such an artifact in the Cubs' executive washroom...). The latter is just some guy to stand there and get pissed on when the time and occasion call for it, no matter if he might have demonstrated a good bit more affinity for the job than anyone initially suspected.

Theo's "weasel words," of course, as he brazenly attempts to deflect attention from what at the least is breach of faith (and the worst? Don't stop short of the "T" word...), are front and center in his disingenuous obloquy.

We'll take this "Uncle Joe" over
the other one (left): less ego, more
comic timing...
What we suspect is that the outgoing, puddle-headed pooh-bah (aka Budzilla) will soon be knee-deep in what should be called "the Rick Renteria Affair" but will instead have the sh*t (for once...) flow upstream to "Uncle Joe," who might decide that he should have been "movin' kinda slow"--or at least, slower--when it came to giving the middle finger to the Rays.

So, to wind down the wind machine (you may cheer as you see fit...), we won't be surprised to discover that there will have to be some compensation made to the Rays once all the slime boils over. We think that shortstop prospect Addison Russell is just about the right cost for Theo and Jed (and Granny and Jethro, too).

Anything less, in fact, would be--a scandal? In baseball, where insider sh*t is more sanctioned than in the Washington world of lobbyists?? No, just another example of "rugged individualist" hubris trumping ethics--again.

Of course, what would also be a kick in the head would be if the Rays turned around, hired Rick Renteria--and won the World Series in 2015.

Thursday, October 30, 2014


Two-sevenths of the 2014 World Series was nail-biting one-run stuff--and for the sake of aesthetics and  those in need of medicinal remedies, the Giants and the Royals managed to save the best for last, providing all manner and form of baseball fans a reminder of the game's illimitable range. It probably won't stop the interminable whining about the game's so-called "lagging pace," but a riveting Game Seven (and we still wish it could be Eleven...) will do a lot to dampen such criticism for some time to come.

"Midwester angsters" can now save up for the next rainy day (something that folks in the Bay Area and parts south are doubtful will ever come...) and cling to the "might have been" mythos that seems to make the region into such a battleground between progressive and reactionary forces, often embodied in the same individual ("the pure products of America go crazy" indeed).

In the end, though, a courtly, no-nonsense southpaw from North Carolina stood as tall as just about anyone in baseball history. Madison Bumgarner turned back the baseball clock at least fifty years in several ways at once during the World Series, and it will become one of the game's greatest legacies.

It wasn't just the incredible level of performance throughout the post-season that peaked in the Fall Classic. It was the "stuff of legend" emergence from the bullpen in Game Seven to earn a five-inning save on two days' rest that put things over the top.

Sure, there were pitchers who threw complete games on two days' rest. In fact, there was Deacon Phillippe, who did it on one days' rest. But there's an extra component of drama when the ace who's an "ace in the hole" gets brought in to the middle of a game, as was the case with Bumgarner. It pitches the drama to an even higher level: it adds desperation to the recipe.

It turns out that no one has ever thrown a five-inning save in the post-season before last night. (Which is why it was so terrific that the official scorer decided to reverse his original decision to give Bumgarner the win; his singular moment deserves a similarly singular categorization.) The last four-inning save in a World Series occurred fifty years ago (1964), when Ron Taylor did it for the the Cardinals in Game 4.

We don't have the complete data, but it appears that there have been only about 150 saves in which the reliever went five or more innings (we're talking regular season now). The longest possible save is, of course, eight innings--and there is one of those in baseball history, turned in by the Orioles' Dick Hall, on June 18, 1961, in the second game of a doubleheader--remember them??--against the Cleveland Indians. Jack Fisher was knocked out with five runs scored and only one man retired in the bottom of the first; Wes Stock relieved him and got out of the inning.

Whereupon the O's scored eight in the top of the second (including a walk by pinch-hitter Whitey Herzog and a home run from soon-to-be "Marvelous" Marv Throneberry) to take an 8-5 lead. Hall replaced Stock (for whom Herzog had batted...) and tossed eight shutout innings of relief for The Longest Save In History.

--Yes, yes, the title of this post is rather misleading. But here is a revised, revamped and updated five-year post-season performance chart. It shows just how remarkable the Giants' post-season run has been over the time frame. (World Series winners in orange, World Series losers in "heightened" yellow.) The Royals will probably hold the record for the best post-season record associated with a non-World Series winner for a long, long time. We can't really say that this is an appropriate legacy (we do try to stop short of hubris--at least at this time of year, anyway...), but it is most certainly an interesting one.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


What you see is what you get with the chart below, our own trademarked display of "history in a grid."

Today, here are the top pitching performances in World Series history, as measured by Game Scores.

The chart shows you all of the games where the starter's Game Score was 80 or higher, in our semi-unique historical distribution.

(The Game Score formula can be found at Forman et fils if you are interested in those details. We are only partially keen on it, in fact, since it strongly fetishizes strikeouts--but it's still a useful tool when handled properly.)

What's interesting here is to see how the games have clustered--or not--over time. Who would have thought, for example, that the longest gap between top starter performances would occur in the mid-1970s (1973-77, to be exact)? Particularly seeing as how the 1967 World Series had only recently produced the record number of 80+ Game Scores in history?

One hundred years ago baseball was in the midst of an eightteen-year streak where there was at least one top starting pitcher performance per World Series (1905-1922). It was jump-started by Christy Mathewson (three shutouts in the 1905 Series), whose name you've been hearing a lot this post-season. Things became relatively sporadic until the sixties, when the last sustained string of 80+ Game Score performances occurred. Even with the recent re-ascendancy of pitching, we are still living in a time of embers when it comes to dominating starting pitcher performances.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


The Perez boys---Juan...
It's not too late to change the rules.

We just keep going until one of these teams wins six games.

We play Games 8 and 9 back in San Francisco.

And then back to KC.

The TV folks will be happy: this year's World Series is gaining strength in the ratings. Extra games would be just what the doctor ordered.

...and Salvador--have had some very good
moments in the 2014 World Series.
And if everything went perfectly--meaning we got to Game 11, with two more travel days in the mix--we'd be able to blot out a lot of the coverage for the 2014 election, which would fall on the same day (November 4th).

Since Repubs are bigger baseball fans than Dems, this would redress the voting imbalance and tip the scales in several key races across the country. (For example, Kansas.)

It doesn't quite work in the structure of American elections, but what the heck...let's go for it anyway: it's time for a partisan chant to end all partisan chant:

"Four more games! Four more games!!"

Seriously: it has been a most engaging and unpredictably electric World Series thus far. As we write this, the Royals--still angling for a variation on the "immaculate conception post-season" (here's to you, FQRU!!)--are in the process of forcing a seventh game.

Let's get greedy, shall we?

[FOLLOWUP: After the Royals' 10-0 win in Game 6, we realized what has made this World Series so unusually interesting. It's not because the games have been close--in fact, it's been the exact opposite. (There has only been one game out of the six where the scoring differential has been less than five runs--which has got to be closing in on a record for the post-season.)

So--with all this random, back-and-forth salvoing; with the "one day it's one thing and the next it's another" -ing; with the opportunity for each side and its fans to revel and gloat in a gaudy display of extremity--what we have is a World Series that is an exact replica of the current American sociopolitical situation. The polarized results in these games match the polarized nature of the nation.

Which means that, at last, baseball is, at least in this fractious fortnight, the National Pastime once again.]

Sunday, October 26, 2014


To wage WAR, to zip up with FIP, or to quest down the road not taken with QMAX? The fix is in over at all the "advanced metrics" sites, where products that purport to combine predictiveness with probability prove only that they have more quirks than cut-to-the-chase insight.

Yet another case in point is the AL Cy Young choice in 2014, where WAR and FIP tell us that Corey Kluber is the consensus pick. It's interesting to note that these are the only two measures in which Kluber is the #1 choice, as demonstrated in the diagram at left.

Now don't take this as a slap against Corey. He had a fine year, becoming a much-needed ace for the Indians. He's just not quite on the same level (at least not yet...) with "FH."

AKA "King Felix" Hernandez.

WAR and FIP are measures that want to sweep up a lot of information and render them in a sequence of overly reductive equations. Please note that we are not dismissing them out of hand by saying this: we only want to issue a strong reminder that each stat has its limitations and caveats.

Neither of them can take what happened on the field and compare it to a more global probability of "what should have happened" using what actually happened. WAR doesn't even try to do this. FIP claims to do so, but makes a translation based on an equation-based summarization of "what should have happened."

QMAX uses what happens and translates it/compares it with a series of interlocking global probabilities, as represented in the forty-nine squares encompassing its grid category. (Remember that QMAX is an acronym for "Quality Matrix.")

It creates a series of stats that capture both value and shape. As such it is unique amongst all of its fellow measures. When we look at the matrix charts for Felix and Corey, we can actually see something different in their performance from the shape/pattern of the data.

Keeping in mind that the best games for a starting pitcher in QMAX are in the upper left and descend in quality toward the lower right, we can see right away (without any numerical support) that Felix was much better at avoiding games where he was "hit hard" (the region in orange that covers rows 6-7). Corey has nearly three times as many of these starts (8) than Felix (3).

And at the upper left, in the green region known as the "Elite Square," it's clear that Felix is ahead here as well (though Kluber's twelve ES games are nothing to sneeze at).

Each square in the matrix has an expected WPCT based on actual results (usually we use three years' worth of data to establish these--we call them QWVs (pronounced "qwivs"), for "QMAX win values."

When we add all of that up, we arrive at a winning percentage for the starter based on what his actual performance across all the squares in the matrix should produce if everything evens out. That's what WAR and FIP insinuate is the case for their measures, but really isn't.

The numbers for the AL starters show that Kluber had a fine year, but not as good as three other AL starters in 2014:

Two pitchers who missed stretches of the 2014 season due to injury--Garrett Richards and Chris Sale--were more effective than Corey when they were in there. WAR, which is a counting stat, penalizes them for that--which makes a certain kind of sense so long as you don't think of WAR as measuring quality (it's really measuring value).

The QMAX "range data" numbers at the right help to contextualize the results. It turns out that Felix reaches the "elite square" almost half the time--that's equivalent to Clayton Kershaw territory. Corey's 35% is down in the next tier with Sale, Jeff Samardzija, and Felix's teammate Hisashi Iwakuma.

Indeed, one of the reasons why Kluber doesn't rank higher is that his "Hit Hard" percentage (which we eyeballed above in the QMAX chart--orange region, remember?) is just too high to produce a dominant season. Being hit hard in one out of every four starts will knock you and your team out of some games. On the list above, Kluber is tied for tenth in terms of HH%.

The range data shows that Corey is pretty much middle of the pack amongst the top pitchers in the 2014 AL.

It would be ironic if Felix lost the Cy Young voting to Kluber because WAR and FIP actually aligned with starting pitcher win totals (Corey was tied for the most wins in the AL with 18, while Felix, who had seven no-decisions in games where he allowed one run or less, wound up with only 15).

That would demonstrate exactly what we've been asserting for quite some time now: that relying on any single measure to determine quality/value is risky at best and foolish at worst.

The same folks who voted for Felix back in 2010 when he was the best pitcher according to most of the measures (and is the case this year, as we've seen...) really ought to be doing the same in 2014.

Let's look at a few of the QMAX charts for the other notable AL starters in 2014. Garrett Richards was the only pitcher doing "a reverse" ("C" score higher than the "S" score) in the AL. Chris Sale is quite simply a helluva pitcher, and scary as all get-out to watch on the mound, either in the stands or in the batter's box. Max Scherzer was well off his 2013 form, and teams should be cautious about giving him big bucks (though someone will undoubtedly do so).

Finally, Phil Hughes is the new Tommy John. We haven't found anyone with a higher percentage of games in the "TJ" region (lower left, where many hits but no walks can still be successful...) in our database. As the table above notes, that's 59% of his starts.

Can he keep it up? Stay tuned...

Saturday, October 25, 2014


As the World Series stays close despite a dearth of close games, it's actually past the time when we should be trotting out one of our favorite toys.

What's that, you ask? Neither a train set, nor Peter Max's soon-to-be-auctioned collection of classic Corvettes.

No, it's the Quality Matrix, or QMAX "for short"--sorry, have to keep the FQQ (that's "fright quote quotient") up at a certain level of frequency per month or risk being mothballed by our surly sponsor--which, as you doubtless recall, is our tool for measuring starting pitcher performance.

QMAX remains a very fine suite of value and shape stats, with the added bonus of creating a bushelful of matrix charts that will either liven up any East Coast cockfight or make terrific abstract wallpaper for those who are tired of those predictable floral patterns.

And we are surprised--really and truly--to report that the NL race, which we're covering here in the first of two lightning-fast posts, turns out to have been a lot closer than the conventional wisdom indicated.

Measuring as it does a probabilistic accounting of hit and walk prevention, QMAX produces not only raw averages for each of these quality components, but also generates a winning percentage (we call it QWP--pronounced "quip"--for QMAX Winning Percentage).

We tend to think that QWP is the most reliable number to use in this data set, and that it's also the most reliable stat in terms of measuring overall starting pitcher performance. (We've tended to think that for a long time, actually, so perhaps it's more than just "tending", come to think of it.)

Most folks figure that it's a slam dunk for Clayton Kershaw, who had a great season and was rewarded with a great won-loss record (21-3). When WPCTs are that high, even the neo-sabe contingent don't put up much of a fight: it's slack-jaw time for the jackdaws (all except for Mickey Lichtman, who will tell you that none of 'em should ever pitch more than five innings).

But oddly enough, Kershaw was nearly matched in QWP by the Reds' Johnny Cueto, whose hit prevention was actually a bit better (59% of his games in the "S12" rows on the "S"--or hit prevention--axis, as opposed to Clayton's 56%) and who was "hit hard" (games in the "S67" rows...) in only 3% of his starts.

Interesting food for thought--that said, it's unlikely that Cueto is going to come in anything other than a distant also-ran to Kershaw. But Johnny had a helluva year.

A .700 QWP is terrific, although it doesn't resonate in terms of the MVP voting until the value increases to at least .750.  So both Kershaw and Cueto could very easily get mentioned in the lower reaches of the MVP ballot, based on QMAX. (In a year with few offensive standouts, they are likely to do a good bit better in the real-life voting.)

Here are a few more of the QMAX matrix boxes for 2014 NL starters.

Madison Bumgarner's playoff run is actually rather uncharacteristic of his 2014 season. His high S12% (53%) shows that he's eminently capable of stepping up to a dominant performance. For the Giants, they're most fortunate that he's decided to have a sustained run of it in the post season.

The new stat in the "QMAX range data" (sorry--but the FQ police are out there lurking,,,) is HQ. It represents the percentage of starts in which the pitcher gave up at least as many hits as innings. 

Anyone who can get below 30% for this measure is doing quite well...and in this measure Kershaw is actually only fourth best among 2014 NL starters. Oh, he's very close to the lead, but he's behind young Alex Wood of the Braves; the resurrected Jake (Don't Call Me Jesus) Arrieta, who brightened the Cubs' season; and "Dreadlock Johnny" (Cueto). 


Saturday, October 18, 2014


Eleven down, one to go for the Zodiac League.

Libra is that sign that searches for "balance." But, as we'll see, the talent imbalance is likely to make things tough for the Libra "B" team. They are very likely to need a mess of help to stand alone.

But that "A" team has a real troika of hitting talent at the center of its lineup.

And they have a really fine five-man rotation (though we hamstring them a bit by forcing them to take the lesser Hall of Famer, Rube Marquard, in place of a couple of better choices for the #6 slot).

The Hall of Fame quotient is low--but as the saying goes, the meat that is on the bone is cherce...very cherce.

Without further ado, here's that A-team batting order:

Rod Carew, 2b; Mickey Mantle, cf: Jimmie Foxx, 1b; Mike Schmidt, 3b; Chuck Klein, lf; Dave Winfield, rf; Buck Ewing, c; Joe Cronin, ss

Schmidt, Klein and Winfield should have a field day driving in runs in this configuration, with the Mick likely to lead the Zodiac "A" league in runs scored.

The starting rotation will do just fine with Marquard parsed into swing-man parsimony:

Three Finger Brown, Whitey Ford, Jim Palmer, Juan Marichal, Rube Waddell, Rube Marquard

And, hell's bells, you get two Rubes for the price of one this way.

The bullpen isn't too shabby, either:

Dennis Eckersley, Trevor Hoffman, Jeff Reardon, Dick Hall, Bobby Shantz, Grant Jackson

With these guys, you will be able to play post-post-modern baseball with impunity.

Before we go to the "B" team, let's note that the Libras have some excellent players to man the "A" team bench...guys like Gene Tenace, Roy Cullenbine, Bob Bailey, Al Oliver, Jose Bautista, Brian Downing.

That's a very offensive the best sense of the term.

Now, the "B" team batting order isn't shabby (it's the pitching that will most likely prove to be the letdown). Take a look:

Joe Sewell, ss; Fred Clarke, lf; Andrew McCutchen or Wally Berger, cf; Mark McGwire, 1b; Eddie Mathews, 3b; Goose Goslin, rf; Robinson Cano, 2b; Tim McCarver (or, if you force us to play the HOFer, Rick Ferrell...) c

We lean toward McCutchen given a) his greater range of offensive value, b) his more modern mien and c) the addition of another "Mc" to the lineup (though we are not sure just how "Irish" he really is!).

And, as with the "A" team  there are still some fine hitters left to pine away for their chance: Carlos Gonzalez, Ichiro! Suzuki, Jack Fournier, Troy Tulowitzki, Evan Longoria. The "B" team will be a bit more interchangeable with these guys coming off the bench.

But the pitching looks as though it might be a bit sub-optimal in the "B" league...

Here are the starters:

Wilbur Wood, Will White, Jered Weaver, Zack Greinke, Harry Brecheen, Nap Rucker

A lot of Hall of Very Good to be found here, while other "B" squads have a bit more going for them. However, we did make sure that the Libra "B boys" had balance in their rotation--three from the right, and three from the left.

Here's the pen:

Todd Worrell, Randy Moffitt, Craig Lefferts, Kenley Jansen, Brad Ziegler, Darren Oliver

There's no wincing to be had when mentioning these names, of course. But the best guy here is Jansen, who's a big, menacing bag of fun who sometimes goes rather spectacularly up in smoke. These guys are simply a couple of standard deviations to the right of the optimum curve when it comes to how erratic they can be...and even in the Zodiac "B" league, this will present a problem.

But, being Libras, they'll have good old All-American fun no matter what...though they will almost certainly choose to leave Sandra Bernhard at home with her candle collection.