Saturday, May 31, 2014


Tim Kurkjian has an article up at ESPN that has gotten a predictable amount of promises much about the "unwritten rules" of baseball but, despite Tim's agreeable writing style, ultimately delivers very little aside from a series of "21st-century folksy" quotes.

Now what we'd really like in an article of this type is some attention to the principle of quantification. It's true that some of these so-called "unwritten rules"--the slow HR trot, pitcher retaliation for real or perceived slights of respect/etiquette, bunting in no-hit games, swinging 3-0 with a big lead--are either subject to a level of visual scrutiny not easy to capture in the data, or simply too rare to be worth counting. One suspects that most of these so-called "unwritten rules"--and there must be a bunch more than what Kurkjian decides to cover--are more related to the day-to-day necessity of simply wearing a jock strap than having much relevance to what actually happens on the field.

But there's one of Tim's five rules--yes, the one we deliberately left out of the above account (as Bugs says, "ain't I a stink-ah?")--that is actually quantifiable.

What is it? Stealing bases with a big lead. That we can count, albeit somewhat indirectly. (Forman et fils has not yet found a way to make stolen bases into something that can be traced through their "event" data--shame on you, boys!)

But not to fret, nor bitch too noted, we can get a pretty reliable count on this.

And it's kind of interesting. So far in 2014 (prior to the games of 5/31), we have a total of 957 stolen bases for the year. Of that total, 913 have been stolen with a relative score within four runs; 44 have come with the score differential at five runs or more.

That means that teams are violating the unwritten stolen base rule just under 5% of the time (4.6% to be exact).

This value is almost identical to what it was for the 2013 season (2693 SB, 136 with a 5+ run differential, 5% "unwritten rule violation").

"G#dd$%n m%th&rf^#ing Oakland A's stole
25 $#@%ing bases in 1976 with a five-run
differential! Take THAT, you %#&#ing wankers!!!"
We went back and looked at a couple of previous years, 1987 and 1976, when the SB/G ratio was at or near its highest levels since the end of the deadball era, and the numbers are largely the same. 7% of all SB attempts were violating the "rule" in '87; 4.5% were doing so in '76.

Would you be surprised to discover that the success rate of SB attempts with higher run differential are significantly better than those occurring within 4 runs? Our small sample here indicates that this is in fact the case. SB% in 5+ run differential (the "violation zone"...) is 81%, while the SB% when the score is from 0-4 runs different is just under 70%.

We're not sure if you (and the kid at left, who's more than a bit too "precocious" for his own good, if you ask us...) should get as hot and bothered as some ballplayers do when one of their opponents takes off on the basepaths when the score is lopsided, but now you at least know that your chances of being offended by an impertinent use of the stolen base is only about 1 in 20.

Friday, May 30, 2014


The Diamondbacks have a long way to go to get back into the race, but if they can get more performances like the one Josh Collmenter turned in last night (5/29), they just might find a way to overcome their agonizingly slow start in 2014.

Josh's three-hit shutout vs. the Reds (a 4-0 Arizona win) was accomplished with just 94 pitches. It was easily the most efficient performance of his career, topping a similar game against the Brewers during his rookie season (2011).

As we've said, there's something of an economy of scale that kicks in when pitchers go deep into the game--it seems to have flattened a bit in recent years, but it still shows up in the chart at left.

The interesting thing is how the distributions of innings per start has changed over the past 50-60 years...we'll post something more lengthy on this subject a bit later on.

Collmenter has been bounced back and forth from the rotation to the bullpen during his years with the D-backs...possibly this game will convince the team that he should be a starting pitcher.

Thursday, May 29, 2014


Encarnacion: his power stroke "hotted up" in May...
The Blue Jays let one get away tonight, blowing a 6-5 lead in the top of the ninth when Jose Reyes bounced a throw on what should have been the final out of the game; the Royals then scored twice in the tenth to bring an end to Toronto's nine-game win streak.

Still, it's been a good month for the Jays (20-8 thus far)...and, as we told you before the start of the 2014 campaign, they've got an actual shot at the playoffs--if they can get their pitching straightened out (particularly the bullpen).

Edwin Encarnacion has hit 16 HRs this month, and many of the other Jays have hit well, so it would be accurate to state that Toronto has hit its way into first place.

Oddly enough, May has been boom time for the Jays during the entire decade. Since 2010, they have the best won-loss record in May (82-56), a game and a half better than the Cincinnati Reds--and six games better than the next best team in the AL (White Sox).

Over the past five Mays, the Blue Jays have hit 208 HR, more than forty more than the next best team (the Red Sox, with 166). They've scored the most runs (732), and have the highest slugging average (.458).

Jose Bautista: cooled off in June...
June, however, has been a different story: while the Jays are still the team with most HR (132 in the four Junes from 2010-13), they rank sixteenth in run scoring for that time slice. As a result, they're under .500 (51-55, .481).

One of the main reasons for the difference between May and June is the hitting of Jose Bautista. Jose has a batting line of .308/.416/.616/1.033 in May; in June, however, that line is only .234/.357/.504/.861.

For what it's worth, the Jays had a fine month of June in 2013 (17-9), led by their pitching (2.91 ERA). If they could do that again in 2014, they would definitely have their AL East opponents quaking in their boots. One of the pitchers who had a hand in last year's hot June, however, was Esmil Rogers--whose career has cratered since then. With a thin rotation and an unstable pen, the Jays will have to keep those hitting shoes dusted off next month to keep on keepin' on...


We nearly had three complete games last night (5/28), but the fateful ninth inning knocked out Anibal Sanchez (left with one out in 9th with a 1-0 lead, only to watch Joe Nathan serve up a walk-off HR to the A's Josh Donaldson) and Felix Hernandez (lost his shutout with two out in the ninth, but had the 3-1 win preserved by Fernando Rodney).

So it was left to A's lefty Scott Kazmir, who scattered six hits against the Tigers over nine innings, to turn in the season's 33rd complete game--and its 124th outing where starting pitchers pitched at least eight innings. Billy Beane, well-touted as a genius for more than a decade, is really looking like one as a result of his off-season signing of Kazmir.

But let's quickly look at that "pitching at least eight innings" thing while we're here. Are we seeing any greater number of such games in 2014 than in past seasons?

The chart tells us the answer: No.

The percentage of starters going 8+ IP is headed down again. As you can see at the tail end of YACSSD (that's Yet Another Chart Showing Systematic Decline...), that percentage bottomed out in 2007 (which also happens to be the year with the fewest CGs ever--112). It rose up over 10% again in 2010-11, but has subsided again.

Right now that 2014 percentage sits at just under 8% (7.9%, to be precise).

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


Twilight Zone scenario: Rod Serling as a
stand-up comedian...
The ninth inning--home of the quirky, often reviled baseball job description known as the "closer"--has crossed over into something resembling The Twilight Zone, a world of shadow and lack of contact where the K/9 inning rate is now exceeding nine on average. (There are now 39 teams in the Forman et fils Play Index split date whose pitchers are averaging ten or more K/9 in the ninth; pitchers for the 2014 Braves are attempting to set a new record at over 13 K/9, which would break the record--12.8--set by the Cubs' relievers in 2010.)

Of course, here at BBB we have quirkier ways of representing this "uber-power" relief pitching trend. Along with the rise in K/9, there is the rise of the "blow away" phenomenon. What's that, you ask?

OK, we'll bite. The "blow-away" is an inning in which the relief pitcher strikes out the side. We can count these for relievers with the current Play Index "layman" features; doing the same thing for starting pitchers will require a "non-layman" in order to find out how many times Sandy Koufax or Randy Johnson or Curt Schilling performed the "blow-away."

The chart at the right shows the evolution of the single-season record for these "blow-aways" as performed by relievers (who, of course, receive far fewer innings in which to do this). The record is held by (who else?) the Braves' Craig Kimbrel, who had 16 "blow-aways" in 2012. (He'd set the previous record--13--in the previous season, blowing past the Cubs' Carlos Marmol, who had 12 "blow-aways" in 2010.)

The chart also captures the number of pitchers with at least four "blow-aways" per season all the way back to 1960, when Ryne Duren (aka "the Bespectacled One) set the record while hurling for the New York Yankees. (You can follow the progression of the record by the off-colored squares in the table.)

We've created a "weighted total" for these "blow-aways" where we add up the total number of 'em as represented in the leader board. The total for 2013 (130) reflects the number of "blow-aways" contributed by pitchers with at least four of 'em in a season.

As you can see, 2013 has the high value here by a wide margin. Time will tell if 2014 will exceed it.

Some of the other "blow-away" luminaries from 2013 include Aroldis Chapman (12) and Greg Holland (11), both of who had more last year than Kimbrel (who had "only" 10).

Other names near the top from a bit further back in time: Eric Gagne and John Rocker (11, in 2003 and 1999 respectively--yes, that means that Rocker set the record, as that orange-shaded "1" in the 1999 row reveals). Brad Lidge rounds out the double-figure "blow-away" achievers, with 10 in 2005.

So who has the lifetime lead in this category? The answer--at the moment, at least--is Billy Wagner, with 66. Billy the Kid, not exactly the big, hulking type of closer that seems to have become the dominant image of later, clearly was the pioneer for what seems to be the inescapable advent of the "uber-power" reliever. (Kimbrel, however, has 48 "blow-aways" in 4+ seasons, so barring some kind of catastrophe, he looks likely to become the record holder at some point in the not-too-distant future.)

It looks as though the 2010s will become the "decade of the blow-away"--and, the way things are going, that could happen as early as mid-2016....


The Cardinals' Lance Lynn notched his first career CG and first career shutout last night (5/27) when he threw a five-hitter against the New York Yankees. St. Louis won, 6-0.

Lynn's CG featured the lowest number of strikeouts (just two) but was among the highest in terms of pitch count (126).

CG pitchers have a fourteen game winning streak in progress, and their overall won-loss record now stands at 27-5 for the season.

The current projected total for the number of complete games in 2014: 100.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


We need to study whether April is indeed the "cruelest month"--at least for batters. In 2014, it certainly seemed that way...particularly because batter strikeouts were occurring at a recklessly record pace.

But we need to know if that's been the case in the past. Because K/9 averages have dropped significantly in May--about half a K/9, in fact--and it's possible that this was just some kind of April aberration.

Are K/9 spikes in April a common thing?

The short answer: No.

Three tables for you here, variants of monthly K/9 rates for the years 2003-2014 (at least as far as we are in the current year, that is...) plus some brief "lookback" into the past (1993, 1983, 1973, 1963, 1953).

The first is overall K/9; second is K/9 by starters; third is K/9 by relievers.

Our color-coordination here: hot orange for the month where the highest K/9 rate occurs; a more sedate orange for instances where the high K/9 rate is shared in multiple months; pale yellow for the month where the second highest K/9 rate occurs.

As you can see, in all three instances, it's September that is by far the "cruelest month" in terms of K/9. It's been that way, apparently, for a long, long time--and it's remained that way even as strikeout rates have accelerated over the past decade.

So draw your own conclusions about where the K/9 rate will go over the course of the 2014 season. What's emerging from the data, for what it's worth, ain't exactly clear.

Are we reverting back to the merely near-record 2013 numbers, or does the pervasiveness of that September pattern mean that the early autumn will set a new record for breezy conditions?

All we know at this point is that the K/9 rate went down in May. (Oh, yeah--and "truth is beauty, and beauty is truth"--but John Keats was born too soon for Tommy John surgery.)

Sunday, May 25, 2014

2014: COMPLETE GAMES #30, 31

Two more complete games yesterday (5/25), both with particularly interesting wrinkles.

First, Josh Beckett--part of the notorious "mega-trade" between the Red Sox and Dodgers in August 2012 and thought by many to be a lost cause--made his "going the distance moment" into something special by throwing a no-hitter against the Phillies. (The Dodgers won, 6-0.)

It's the first no-no of the year, which is surprising given the continuing strides being made by starting pitchers.

This is not an odd-numbered year, which makes it an unusual one for Beckett to be pitching well (his odd-even splits: 76-43, 3.35 in odd-numbered years, 66-72, 4.48 in even-numbered years), but we're sure the Dodgers will take it.

Second, Astros lefty Dallas Keuchel continued his streak of first-rate pitching with a four-hit CG against the Mariners at home in Minute Maid Park. It was Keuchel's second complete game in his last three starts; in between, manager Bo Porter had allowed him to throw 128 pitches in an effort to give him a second consecutive shutout. (Just say no, Bo.)

Keuchel improved his record to 6-2; how ironic would it be, by the way, for the Houston Astros to have a star named Dallas? Again, we're sure that the Astros will take it.


The players who hit two triples in the same game remind us of just how marginalized an event the three-base-hit remains.

Twenty-year old Rangers rookie Rougned Odor (perhaps the Caribbean analogue to Drungo Hazewood?) slapped two triples in Texas' 12-2 pounding of the Tigers last night, making him the third player to do so in 2014. No one--and we mean no one--is going to know the names of the other two who've done it this season (without resorting to the Play Index at Forman et fils, that is).

Triples are so marginalized now that "great players" (as defined by the increasingly two-dimensional concepts that have taken hold over the past couple of decades) rarely hit them. And that means that "great players" almost never hit two triples in the same game; it's become a fluke event that arguably stems more from a defense being surprised by the ability of a lesser-light hitter to hit a baseball with something resembling gap power.

The last arguably "great hitter" to stroke two triples in the same game? The Rockies' Carlos Gonzalez.

The last player to hit two triples in the same game three times in a season? Jose Reyes. Reyes' lifetime total of two-triple games is eight, which ties him with another active player (but, like Reyes, not arguably a "great hitter"): Carl Crawford.

The rest of the list of top two-or-more-triples in a game contains some past names that might stir the hearts of those who have a faint hope that all batting events in baseball have a fighting chance to be more than fluke occurrences.

Those names? Willie Mays (10 lifetime 2+-3B games). Arky Vaughan (10). Pie Traynor (9). Heinie Manush (8). Goose Goslin (8). Ty Cobb (8). Paul Waner (7). Rogers Hornsby (7). George Brett (7). Earl Averill (7).

We've left out Bobby Veach, who's the all-time leader with 12, because many of you might not know him or consider him a "great hitter." We've linked to Bobby's page at Forman et fils so you can reacquaint yourselves with him; his late-blooming career means that he's not quite a Hall of Famer, but he's probably a good match for Carlos Gonzalez. 

Now it's true that several of these hitters had the benefit of parks that favored triples (Vaughn, Traynor, Waner, and to a lesser extent Manush and Goslin). But what's wrong with a park that favors triples? Why do we have no parks that do that anymore? 

You probably know the answer to that one, so we won't get too strident here.

The chart shows us that two-triple games have been extremely rare since the 30s, which means that this unique exciting offensive event has long been an afterthought in the game of baseball. 

Which is a needless shame. That needs to be corrected. As we've told you. 

Five times as many triples a year is a consummation devoutly to be wished. A game in which Harry Heilmann--not nicknamed "Twinkletoes"--could hit 151 lifetime triples--is one that needs to return to the face of the National Pastime, too long preoccupied by gorging on the long ball.

We need that gol-darned "190-foot rule" (which, as you'll see, is slightly marked down from its earlier incarnation, but the principle is still the same....) and the frenzied half-inning of "constrained defensive alignment" to take us in a bold new direction.

Thursday, May 22, 2014


Last night (5/21) it was the Angels' Jered Weaver tossing a two-hitter (one a homer to Astros' rookie George Springer) as the Halos prevailed in a 1968-style contest, 2-1.

Weaver started slowly in '14, including a game in April where he surrender four homers to the Astros, but he has a 1.70 ERA in his last seven starts.

This was Jered's twelfth lifetime CG, and it was the most efficient in terms of pitch counts: he threw only 94 pitches, the first sub-100 pitch CG in his career.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


We've been hearing a lot about the "crisis" in starting pitching over the past ten years, during the apogee of the neo-sabe onslaught that pushed its way into baseball's front offices at the turn of the millennium.

Starters ostensibly could not go around the batting order more than twice; they were simply getting killed as they began that third go-round (batters 19-27, or what Forman et fils breaks out as "3rd PA in G as SP").

The crisis was so great that even esteemed, veteran analysts such as Craig Wright were convinced that shorter appearances by starters and an enlarged corps of relief pitchers to close things out would be the only way to adjust for the ongoing offensive onslaught.

But the data behind such claims was always sketchy at best. And, in the "post-neo" age, which took hold just as offense began to decline toward the levels we've seen over the past 3-4 seasons, we're still skeptical that such a "crisis" actually existed. It's more likely that the hitting philosophy that drove the offensive explosion was simply countered by a new wave of starting pitchers who could up the ante on the "stand and crank" approach that had shattered home run records and produced high run scoring levels.

Here we present a few charts, based on the "times through the batting order " data for starters that recently became readily available in the Play Index at Forman et fils. The data represented in these charts will clarify the claims of a "crisis" in starting pitching as related to the "times through the batting order" formulation.

First, here's the chart that shows the relative percentage of plate appearances (PAs) that starting pitchers face in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th time through the batting order as compared with the first time.

Looking here, you can see that there is indeed a "crisis"--but it's to be found in the 4th time through the order, not in the 3rd. Since the mid-70s, the percentage of PAs the fourth time around has dropped from 40% of the batters faced in the first time around to around 6%.

The fourth time around, in case you need some numerical orientation, accounts for batters 28-36 in any given game.

As you can see, this goes hand in hand with the precipitous decline in complete games that occurred with a very similar descent line from 1974 to the present.

How about performance? Is there a significant degradation in performance when we get to the later times through the batting order? Are we in the middle of a crisis?

Looking at the data, and risking a certain amount of derision by using ERA as the performance measure, we see that there was a crisis all right--but it happened in the late nineties.

ERA the third time around in the batting order ran between 90-99% of ERA during the first time around until the mid-nineties, when it took a big drop, down to around 85%. It's since righted itself, and has been consistently around 90% ever since.

So something did change, but the trend did not continue. We are not in the midst of a performance crisis in the third time through the batting order.

What is astonishing, however, is the data for the 4th time around. It actually shows us where the crisis in starting pitchers relative to complete games occurred, and why/how expanded relief innings came into play.

You can see it in the the mid-80s, where there's a downturn in relative ERA in the 4th time around that bottoms out in 1987. At this point, relief innings as a percentage of total innings begin to rise, and the removal of starters who struggle in the 4th time around produces a "survivor bias" where those who do make it into batters 28-36 actually exceed the overall performance levels for batters 1-9.

That "survivor bias" also took a hit in the same time frame that the ERA data for the 3rd time around hit its bump in the road. As Dick Enberg would say: oh, my.

But then the chart takes a surprising turn, with "survivor bias" for the 4th time around gaining momentum again (around 2004), and then suddenly jumping through the roof in the past three seasons.

And the raw data for ERA (table at right) supports this, by showing that 4th-time around survivors have been beating the overall 1st time around performance every year since 2007, and doing so quite handily over the last three seasons (including our partial current season in 2014).

Such data puts the lie to the idea that starters should invariably get pulled in the eighth or ninth innings because they are much more likely to give up runs than a relief pitcher. It's clear that, in general, managers and pitching coaches have a good sense of which starters can be permitted to continue deep into the game (i.e. the 4th time around), and the results in the above table bear that out.

Let's finish with a performance component that many believe is directly correlated to the changes in offensive levels over the past few seasons--strikeouts. Here we have a chart that shows the K/9 averages (again, relative to the first time through the batting order) for the 2nd, 3rd, 4th time around.

This chart might be said to show us how much of a starter's "stuff" remains as he goes through the game.

And this chart shows that as power pitching has come to the fore (beginning, in fact, around 1960 and slowly building over time to the astonishing crescendo that we're witnessing today), the ability of pitchers to hold their K/9 levels in subsequent times through the batting order has been increasing.

Now, the figures are not dramatic. As we can see, there was a lull in the late 70s (you might call it the last stand of the finesse pitcher...) but since then, the gains in K/9 rate retention in later times through the order have been consistent.

There is certainly no existence of a dramatic downturn in performance in later times through the order here, no matter how you measure it. The "crisis" referred to is one that occurred ten to fifteen years ago and is no longer a feature of the data.

(Now the "injury crisis" is another matter. That we'll deal with a bit later on...)


I think we need a Devo reference, or else I'm gonna be sad, I think it's today, or any other day when "the troubles" seemed so far to drown out those sorrows (following the sage advice of Mark M. and Jerry C.) we'll break out the bullwhip.

Let's ride Rany's ticket, the one that involves an E-coupon and a submarine (boy, we're really stretching the oblique-i-tude thing you know, we'll bring back William Beebe and his gol-fer-snickin' bathysphere or something...) and follow up on his paean to Brad Ziegler with--you guessed it, Yet Another List.

Ziegler, the crafty submariner who makes Mr. Jazayerli's heart skip a beat, is, in fact, the holder of an odd record.

He's currently the pitcher in baseball history (1901-2014) whose FIP (if you don't know what FIP is, you have obviously been living in a bathysphere for longer than we should probably mention...) is highest relative to his ERA.

Crudely speaking (and why not? We've already got the bullwhip into the conversation...), that means that Brad is doing the best job of exceeding his expectations with respect to effectiveness.

According to FIP, that is.

The list follows below, and contains the 53 pitchers whose lifetime FIP is at least 20% higher than their ERA.

Some interesting names here, as you might expect, including three Hall of Famers (OK, they haven't inducted Mariano yet, but you can rest assured that it is merely a formality. And yes, you're right, there are actually four HoFers here, we've omitted mentioning Babe Ruth because he's not in the Hall due to his pitching.)

This is primarily a list of relief pitchers, but it's very interesting to see Jim Palmer here. Many analysts have speculated that Palmer's career totals are better than what his peripheral stats suggested would be the case;  FIP suggests that the Oriole defense might well have been a reason for this.

All of the currently active pitchers are shown in bold type: Ziegler is joined by five other relievers, though only Craig Breslow and Tyler Clippard are anywhere near him on the list.

And thank God (or whatever divine force to which you must supplicate...) for a list that fiinally gets Buttons Briggs on it.

It's a fun list because it combines some really great players with some people you probably have been trying to get out of your mind (Alan did he get 400 lifetime IP, anyway? How did he not get forty lashes and a one-way trip in the diving bell a whole helluva lot sooner than that?? Baseball is littered with arcane mysteries...)

2014: COMPLETE GAMES #27, 28

It was the first night in 2014 where complete games were turned in by "repeaters." Adam Wainwright (Cardinals) and Julio Teheran (Braves) had already gone the distance in a game earlier in the season.

Wainwright's domination of the Arizona Diamondbacks was virtually complete: he allowed only a fourth-inning double to Paul Goldschmidt. He improved his season record to 7-2, lowered his ERA to 1.85 (second behind the Cubs' hard-luck Jeff Samardzija, and just ahead of Johnny Cueto). Wainwright, who's finished second in the NL Cy Young voting twice (2010 and 2013) and third once (2009), seems to have his sights set on bagging that prize in 2014.

Teheran threw a somewhat more prosaic shutout as the Braves helped the Brewers continue to slow down, besting them by a 5-0 score. Julio scattered six hits and struck out eight, improving his record to 3-3 (the Braves have averaged just under 3.2 runs in Teheran's starts this year, as opposed to 4.2 in 2014) and dropping his ERA to 1.92.

QMAX scores for these guys thus far in 2014: Wainwright 2.7 "S", 2.2 "C"/4.9 "T"; Teheran 3.0 "S", 2.4 "C"/5.4 "T". Their top hit prevention games are up sharply at this point in time: Adam has been in the 1S/2S region seven times out of ten, Julio six out of ten. (We'll run a complete QMAX report a bit later on, probably right around the first of June.)

The updated projection for the total number of complete games in 2014 is now: 101.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


Here's a hasty chart showing the current records for teams facing "good" clubs (those with records over .500). Note that this year, this list could change dramatically from day to day; we have so many teams hovering around .500 that it's funny (that's "peculiar," not "ha ha."

The teams are sorted in descending order of success in the current season.

The records against .500+ teams in 2013 are shown side-by-side with this sort.

A few teams with sizable performance differences are highlighted.

Note that the A's are currently having a run of games against sub-.500 teams (or maybe that's teams they've pushed back under .500 from beating them). They've only got nine games against viable opposition. The next closest is Milwaukee, which might possibly explain their hot start this year...cold opponents.

The Rays, who usually hold their own against good opposing squads, are really struggling this year. The Astros, having another bad year,  are actually improving from a mind-boggling .191 WPCT against good teams in 2013. (That WPCT is the sixth worst such WPCT since 1901, ranking 2357th out of a total of 2362 team-seasons...).

Sunday, May 18, 2014


Angels lefty C. J. Wilson joined the 2014 CG club with a five-hit whitewashing of the Tampa Bay Rays in Anaheim last night. The Angels scored twice in each of the first three innings and cruised to a 6-0 win.

Wilson hadn't thrown a complete game since 2011; this was his seventh lifetime CG and his second shutout.

Some eyebrows might go crooked when they see C. J.'s pitch count total: 127. Only Cliff Lee has thrown more in a complete game this season; there have only been seven games where the starter has thrown more than 125 pitches thus far in 2014. Wilson has two of those games (he threw exactly 125 pitches against the Yankees on May 6th).

Saturday, May 17, 2014


The chart at right provides a look at who's doing what to whom with respect to "close games."

Recall that "close games" are defined as games which end with a run differential of two runs or less. (Which, of course, is one run, because--well, you know because...don't you??)

Five teams are over .600 in close games thus far (Brewers, Orioles, Twins, Giants, Tigers). Four teams are under .400 (Blue Jays, Reds, Astros, Cubs).

That is no misprint for the Cubs, they're 3-17 in close games thus far in '14. That WPCT of .150 is more than eighty points below the lowest full-season close game WPCT in the history of the game (1935 Boston Braves, who went 18-59 in such games, for a WPCT of .234).

The Astros, with their 6-14 mark (.300 WPCT), are only five slots up from the bottom.

The Giants and the Padres have been in the most close games thus far--each with 28. The Rangers have played in the least (prior to tonight's games, that is...), with just 16.

The overall percentage of games that are "close games" is still over 50% in 2014--the exact figure is 51.2%.

2014: COMPLETE GAMES #24, 25

Two more complete games last night--the Blue Jays' Drew Hutchison outdueled Yu Darvish in Texas, hurling a three-hit shutout as Toronto prevailed, 2-0. The 23-year-old Hutchison (another young pitcher on the 2014 complete game list, but the first to have had Tommy John surgery) struck out six and threw a total of 105 pitchers. It was his first lifetime complete game.

Elsewhere, the Orioles' Chris Tillman shut out the Royals in Kansas City, scattering five hits in a 4-0 Baltimore victory. Tillman, who turned 26 in April, stepped up his game in 2012, consolidated it last season, and appears to have established himself as the O's ace. If the Orioles can get the rest of their rotation to step up and Chris Davis starts hitting HRs again, they could make things very tough for their AL East rivals.

The current projection for total number of complete games in 2014 now stands at: 98.


These are the dregs of the lineup, the #7-8-9 slots, where truly proficient hitters rarely exist. (Yes, we know that some batting order combinations, as demonstrated in our 424 HR post a little while back, will come up with some solid-looking numbers, but these are mostly the exceptions.)

As you'll see, the lifetime leaders in these slots do not generate particularly high HR totals. That's because--as noted--the batters on these lists that you recognize as being good hitters did not tend to bat in these batting order positions (BOPs) for very long.

This is particularly true for the #7 slot, where you'll see a number of names that you wouldn't expect to batting there.

The #8 slot does turn up some interesting names, however (and as you look at it, you'll also notice that there are a lot of catchers on the list...something to do with the lingering predispositions of lineup construction). Still, it's strange to see Gabby Hartnett on this list, or Chris Hoiles.

The most surprising name found in the #8 slot, however, has got to be Dwight Evans, who struggled for a number of years as a batter before turning into a near-HoFer.

Back to the catcher connection for a brief stat: 19 of the 28 names on the #8 slot leader list were guys who spent half the game in a crouch.

The most surprising thing about the #9 slot list is that there are still so many pitchers on it. After 40+ years of the DH, you'd have expected there to have been enough "critical mass" to push more of them off the list (or at least further down it). The fact that Wes Ferrell ranks #6 in hitting homers in the #9 slot  is rather astonishing, and (among other things) tell us that he shouldn't have been batting ninth.

A few interesting juxtaposition on the list: Hall of Fame pitchers Red Ruffing, Bob Lemon and Warren Spahn are right behind Farrell in the #7-8-9 positions in the #9 BOP.

And then there's the tie between Don Drysdale and Bucky Dent. Make of that what you will...

Sadly, our old pal, Yuniesky Betancourt, who shoulda coulda hadda chance to top this list with that late surge of hitting, had two things mess him up: 1) he was traded to the National League, where he was unlikely to bat #9, and 2) he got the Big Ticket to Japan after the 2013 season, stopping cold his inevitable rise to the "top" of this list.

All of which is here to remind you that life is bitterly unfair, particularly to those toiling in the margins.

Thursday, May 15, 2014


Continuing his remarkable opening salvo in 2014, the Reds' Johnny Cueto notched his third complete game yesterday, a three-hit shutout against the Padres. Cincy won the game 5-0.

In addition to the complete game, Cueto pitched eight or more innings for the sixth time in '14, which is twice as many times as the next group of starting pitchers in 2014 (among them Adam Wainwright, Julio Teheran, C. J. Wilson, and Tim Hudson).

Cueto only managed that feat once in 2013, a season in which he was slowed by injuries. In 2012, a season in which he threw over 200 IP, he pitched at least eight innings in a start four times.

(The leaders in 8+ IP games for the past several years: Cliff Lee had 13 such games in '13; Justin Verlander had 15 in '12; James Shields had 15 in '11; Lee had 17 in 2010.)


Thus far in the 2014 season, starting pitchers are curtailing right-handed hitters at levels that haven't been seen in more than twenty years.

The chart tells the tale. Prior to the offensive explosion in 1993, the total of starting pitchers who held right-handed batters to an OPS under .600 was usually in the the high teens. 

That number fell into single digits in 1993 and, with only a few exceptions, stayed there until 2011.

The current spike thus far in 2014 is likely to subside somewhat as the season plays out, but it remains a striking indicator of what seems to be a changed state of affairs.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


Tonight, the Yankees' splashiest off-season acquisition, Masahiro Tanaka, improved his record to 6-0 with a four-hit shutout against the Mets at Citi Field, striking out eight.

It was Tanaka's first complete game in the majors. While pitching in Japan for Tohoku Golden Eagles from 2007-13, Tanaka amassed 53 CG.

A quick look at Tanaka's QMAX numbers thus far: 3.63 "S", 1.75 "C"/5.48 "T", with only two games in the top hit prevention region (25% of his starts). Not overpowering, but mighty effective nonetheless...

424 HR

That's the current "theoretical maximum" total of homers that any individual team "could hit" based on...

...the highest total of HRs hit by hitters in a particular Batting Order Position (BOP).

Now that's the total by every hitter who batted in the BOP, not just a single player in a BOP, as we've been showing in our recent series of posts.

Think of these as the "abstract BOP" HR leaders.

It's actually refreshing to see that there are three BOPs (#2, #5, #7) whose top totals were hit in years much deeper in the past than anyone might expect.

You may be able to figure out who were the primary residents of these "top BOPs" by looking at the team and the year. We hope so, because we're not going to tell you who they are...

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

2014: COMPLETE GAMES #19, 20, 21

We had to wait a full week, but Tuesday night produced a hat trick of complete games, bring the season total up to 21. (Salute at your own risk, and on your own time.)

First, the lowly Astros fired a salvo in their quest to own bragging rights in the state of Texas with their 8-0 win over the Rangers. Lefty Dallas Keuchel, who--frankly--hasn't shown a lot of upside even on his way up from the minors, scattered seven hits in posting his second career complete game (#1 came in his second career start, back on June 23, 2012, against the Cleveland Indians).

The Astros' young infield turned four double plays in support of Keuchel, who has shown a marked improvement in his K/BB over the past 20+ GS.

Next, crafty veteran Bronson Arroyo did his own scattering act for the Diamondbacks in Phoenix, dodging a couple of threats from the Washington Nationals en route to a 3-1 win. Paul Goldschmidt smacked two doubles against Stephen Strasburg and drove in two as the Snakes won their eleventh in nineteen games since starting the year with a 5-18 record.

For Arroyo, it was career complete game #16 (363 total GS).

Last, and certainly not least, the Tampa Bay Rays' ace David Price, who'd been seriously up-and-down in his last five starts, persevered in Seattle tonight, battling pitch-for-pitch with the M's Hisashi Iwakuma, who left after eight with a 1-0 lead only to have the bullpen cough up a hairball in the ninth.

Price struck out 12 en route to his tenth lifetime complete game. Last year, Price was a league leader in the AL in compete games--with four.

The updated projection for total number of CGs in 2014: 88.

Monday, May 12, 2014


As the wags are wont to say: "it's a whole new ballgame."

The American League roared back this past week, winning 17 of 26 interleague contests held from May 5-11.

They went 10-4 playing in AL home parks, and 7-5 while playing on the road in NL parks.

As a result, things are all knotted up 35-35 going into today's games (May 12th).

The Blue Jays, who'd been playing lethargically in the previous two weeks despite hitting a notable quantity of dingers, climaxed a five-game win streak against the NL by slugging five homers against the Phillies. (Returning to intraleague play, they reverted to conundrum/enigma status, dropping three straight at home to the Angels.)

The Rockies and the Blue Jays are hitting the hardest against the opposite league (1.003 and .925 OPS in seven games played respectively.) Of the teams with more than five interleague games played, the Cubs and the Indians are the marshmallows (each sporting a .551 OPS in six games).

There are currently two teams who've yet to play a single interleague game. Can you name them?

No, not the Yankees and Mets...but these two clubs start a home-and-home four game faceoff tonight.


This is just a little memo/To remind you of my demo
Put it in the mail a week ago/Haven't heard it on the radio tho'

And why should you, anyway, young mister whippersnapper Jimmy Webb? Just because at the time (1968) you'd written a dozen hit songs and left that freakin' cake out in the rain? Don't you know that everything is fungible--'cept taxes and death, that is? Don't you know that screaming at disembodied voices and projecting anger onto a strawman is little more than meta-irony run amok?

Oh...hello!! Just a vagrant thought, not meant for public consumption. This is just a little sketchbook entry/Meant for the masses (not the gentry), a kind of private pandering to the public. We just wanted to get a quick sense of how our friends at the thirty major league franchises were faring in terms of what chicks dig the most...y'know, the long ball?

Yeah...we's only a cupcake.
We told you it was a "crude comp"!!!
We know there are more sophisticated ways to project offensive totals, we've been reading about 'em for awhile now...but we figured that a "crude comp" (shorthand for "straight-ahead, unmassaged data projection from a fixed point early in the season") would at least give us something to shoot at while sanitation officials clean up all that spoiled green cake icing down in MacArthur Park.

I got two sleeves I tore off the Beatles/Had 'em sewn on with the magic needle
Now I can play like George and Ringo/Haven't heard it on the radio tho'

A sophisticated projection system is kinda sorta like playing lead guitar and drums at the same time, which means that--all else being equal--you've got to do a lot of overdubbing. It works a lot better for individuals than it does for teams...but we wanted to see these numbers anyway. So we took the team totals as of the crack of dawn, and did a straightforward projection--a "crude comp," stitched 'em together, and took a quick look at what teams project to hit more HRs at the end of '14 than they actually hit in '13.

According to the "crude comp," ten teams project to hit more HRs, nineteen project to hit less HRs, and one team (Arizona) is going to match their previous season total.

Now believe us when we say we'd don't believe much of any of this. We'll come back at year's end just to see how this "crude comp" fares with respect to the actual numbers. (For example, we have no idea who's going to keep hitting all those HRs for the Astros--or the Giants--or even the Rockies. And can the Royals really stay toe-to-toe with the lowest team HR total since 1991 [Cardinals, with 68]?)

It's the bottom line that's of most interest. An aggregate loss of 10HRs per team means a modest downturn in HRs for 2014--around 300 less than the year before. That would put HRs at their lowest frequency since 1993, inhabiting a region that had its previous existence in--not in 1968, with all that green icing conspiring with the high pitching mound to thwart the long ball, but during the not-so-staid late 50s, when the War was Cold (and death'n'taxes were still defiantly unfungible). From 1955 through 1962, to be exact, when the HR/G ratio was in the nine-tenths range, just as it is right now.


About 2 1/2 years back we wrote a piece looking at late-blooming hitters and their prospects for the Hall of Fame. You can go back and read it here at your leisure. As you'll see, we didn't talk much about those chances as they related to Chase Utley and Kevin Youkilis: instead, we tried to use a group of late-bloomers to provide perspective on how these two players would age.

A picture such as THIS is probably not going to enhance
Chase Utley's prospects for the HoF...
As is usually the case, things become clearer when they actually happen. When evaluating the future prospects of Utley and Youkilis, we didn't quite take into enough account the warning signs in Youkilis' injury-riddled downturn over the second half of 2011. We saw more warning signs in Utley's downturn, in part because Chase was able to play more games.

Oddly, though, Utley's injury-riddled 2012 actually suggested that there was more of a second act available to him that what seemed to be the case previously. He struggled mightily against left-handers upon his return, bottoming out at around .160 vs. them in early August; he seemed to have stamina issues as well, hitting a woeful .125 in late innings over his first fifty games.

By the end of 2012, Utley was on his way to righting the ship, and despite another injury in May 2013 that knocked him out for a month, he regained his power and put himself in position for a second wind in his career.

Howard Megdal suggests in his Sports on Earth article that Chase is already in the running for the Hall of Fame thanks to his five superlative peak seasons from 2005-9. That's probably an overstatement right now, however: Utley has played less than 1400 games and will need to at least get very close to 2000 to earn a push through Cooperstown's front door.

Youkilis had a rocky start (2-for-20) in '12, and had played himself out of Boston by late June (though many, including us, still figured he had something left in the tank). And, at first, he rallied after his trade to the Chicago White Sox: his first 18 games looked a great deal like the Youk of old. He even staged a triumphant return to Fenway in mid-July, going 5-for-12 and slamming a three-run homer off Jon Lester.

Yep, always wanted to know how to spell "Kevin Youkilis" in Japanese...
But he then endured a 5-for-41 stretch through to the end of the month, and followed later with a 9-for-68 skein over the first three months of September. The former "Greek God of Walks" (who, in fact, wasn't Greek at all...) stopped drawing them (only one BB in his final 14 games with the Pale Hose).

2013 made it clear that injuries were just too likely to disrupt what by now was a highly fragile "offensive ecosystem" for Youk. Excess weight created a chronic back problem. Over his last 16 games before going on the DL for the rest of the year, he hit just .119.

In 2014, Youkilis has Andruw Jones for a teammate--with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of the Japanese Pacific League. Jones has 12 HRs thus far; Youk has one. He's played in about half of the Eagles' games thus far.

Late bloomers have a tough time--particularly in terms of the HoF. Ask David Ortiz (whose Cooperstown credentials are continually met with skepticism) and Edgar Martinez (like Papi, mercilessly downplayed due to being primarily a DH). Chase gets a big break that these two won't get due to playing a tough defensive position, and playing it well. Our spit-in-the-wind estimate is that Utley has about a 30% chance of making it, down a bit from 35% entering 2012; Youkilis, on the other hand, has gone from 10% in 2010 to 0% in 2014.