Friday, July 31, 2015


Yes, geeks are at least as alienated as the rest of us...
Yes, we cheated with the can do that in Blogger (which, we suspect, will soon be a plot point in the new tech-geek noir series Mr. Robot). You see, we just knew that Ben Lindbergh would flap his wings somewhere over the Atlantic (not needing to get more than halfway to Paris to receive his "Lucky Lindy" accolades...) so having the data "pre-dated" (BTW, could that be a new slogan for on-line romance sites?? Oog, we hope not...) conveys our foreknowledge of just how the utterly odd numberologist meritocracy operates on the other side of its seams.

Of course our old pal Rob Neyer (not quite as much of a Mexican jumping bean in the employment department as Joe P., but some legends are best left alone...) jump-started the process in late July, when responding to the 7/31 trade deadline frenzy (there! we managed to tie this back to the subject line in less than two grafs--buy a round for those folks reeling over there at the bar!). Rob has always let others do the heavy lifting with the numbers (and why not--it just works up a sweat...) but his remarks about the trade deadline were another reminder of how he can be obtuse and acute at the same time, all while not knowing which is which.

Not quite the "cycle of sabermetrics," but ominously close...
Taking Wins Above Replacement (yes, that battered WAR-horse) as his Empedoclean jumping-off point, Rob dismissed (or, should we say more charitably, showed marked skepticism about) the entire "clown car show"--you can figure out where we lifted that one from--that was the 2015 trade deadline frenzy (there...twice in three grafs! That's the type of emphatic emphasis that might get us an interview with the Trump campaign).

Rob said (and we baldly paraphrase): since even the best player only generates about six WAR in a year, renting him for what is essentially the last third of the season only produces a small gain, so why bother?

Of course Rob then went on to ignore his own caveat and become embroiled in the "2015 trade deadline frenzy" (we must not be remiss in using the phrase AND honoring our contractual obligations to our long-suffering sponsor, "Fright Quotes R Us," a company that suffers fools just as well and as fast as you can make 'em), which is one of Neyer's classic M.O.'s (and, despite what he likely thinks, we love him for it).

What's missing, of course, is any follow-through with respect to this radical concept ("What if it doesn't matter?"). It's as if Rob's appendix--a remnant organ of the human body with no actual function except to go kerblooie in one out of every 934,477 members of the world population--tried to give his brain a vestigial reminder of the old days when he would actually do some research about some such assertion or question, and actually penetrated the blood-brain barrier, only to be drowned in a rampant, raging wave of glibness-inflused capillaries. (Hey, it happens to the best of us...Bill James just gave a soggy interview in which he plagiarized and bowdlerized himself at the same time.)

So, the question on the floor is (still is, that is...): does all this frenzy make any difference in what happens over the last third of a season? Glibsters of all denominations will focus on one player or one sequence of events out of context and trumpet it as "the key" to how things went down during late-season crunch time, but they don't capture anything large scale. And none of the tools developed by the numberologist wing gives us any direct way of measuring this--using WAR for this is a mystical sidetrip that's more like a pale sugar high as opposed to the hallucinogen-infused scientific prolegomena that it's cracked-up to be.

Which brings us back to Lindbergh, whose (G)rantland post-mortem on the 2015 trading deadline frenzy put a trace element of numerical context into play (providing, as he often does, a high-level summary with a patina of surface allure that is ultimately bereft of actual analytical value). Yes, Ben, we can tell that the GMs went batshit crazy in 2015--sure, the charts show that, but a) we knew that already and b) they really don't show anything there some actual meaning or context in the yearly fluctuations? And God forbid that we would try to analyize-predict-summarize the use value of this escalating fact of life in the little world of baseball insider squirmy-poo...

So, as is so often the case, we'll wrench a few precious minutes out of all the other things we are juggling (including those chain-saws we got in the deal for Melvin Upton, Jr.)--all those books and festivals on French film noir, the documentary film about Don Murray, etc., etc.--in order to generate a template for how to approach this subject.

Sure, it will be simplistic: there's no reason for it to be anything else. We need to measure the results, and by results we mean what actually happened in the won-loss record. Measuring how much WAR penetrated the blood-brain barrier is too ethereal to be of much use.

So the chart below, which uses 2014 for purposes of this presentation, captures the minimum of what we need to collate in order to begin the type of research that could be helpful in understanding what actually happens as a result of late-July "body wrangling" (in other words, something well beyond the well-wrought words of pundits dancing around a maypole of contingency).

Here you have the teams ordered in terms of their won-loss perframance over the "third third" (last third, games 109-162) of the season. You have their record up to game 108, the "straight projection" of what their 162-game W-L record would be, their actual record at the end of the season, the difference between the projection and the actual--and, finally, at right, the players they acquired at the end of July.

As you can see, it's mostly a self-fulfilling exercise--or, at least, it was so in 2014. Nuances that Lindbergh completely ignores, such as how many big-name (higher-WAR) players might be coming up for free agency in any given year, can make the process fluctuate significantly from year to year. What we see is that ten of the twelve teams who made the 2014 post-season gained ground from their projected season W-L record. (An average of 3 games better the ten teams that gained.)

There was one raging anomaly: the Oakland A's, who frittered away 11 games from their projection despite their trading activity.

There were also three teams (color coded in bright yellow) who were in the playoff hunt after 2/3rds of the season but made little or no trading effort and did the fall-down-go-boom thing (Blue Jays, Brewers, Braves). The Blue Jays didn't repeat that behavior this year.

And, finally, there were the Yankees, faced with unaccustomed oblivion, who actually made the biggest player grab this time last year, and got a boost of exactly one game over their pre-rearrangement projection...

You could (if you had time, and especially if you were being paid by so-called reputable sports media companies...) make such diagrams for all of the seasons since, say, 1995, and have a sense of how all this works. We doubt anything we say will chasten or motivate the fine feathered "friends" we are ruffling here to do so, but stranger things have happened (yes, that brings us back to the Trump campaign again, doesn't it?) Lord help us all...


Can teams overcome consistent mediocrity in one major performance area and make it into the World Series?

Of course they happens more often than one thinks. For example, there have been fifteen teams who've made it to the World Series whose starting pitcher performance was below the league average for the season un question. 

Most of these teams got a lot of wins in the regular season from their starters: five of the fifteen logged 70+ wins from the pitchers who took the mound in the first inning. And, of course, none of these starting rotations were conspicuously under the league average: the worst was about 9% under the aggregate.

The teams in question: the 1947, 1952, and 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers; the 1967 and 1975 Red Sox; the 1972 and 1976* Reds; the 1982 Brewers; the 1987 Twins*; the 1988 A's; the 1993 Blue Jays*, the 1997 Indians; the 2006 Cardinals*; the 2007 Rockies; the 2009 Phillies.

Note that only four of the fifteen teams on the list managed to win the World Series (*).

Now we seem to have another team--those wonderfully confounding Kansas City Royals--who are trying to up the ante on their counterintuitive success last year with a close variant of the same. The Royals might become the first team to reach the World Series with their batters drawing less than 350 walks. But that would mean that they'd have to keep their hitting shoes on in all the games where their starting pitching (weaker than last year) flounders.

How have they gotten to a .600 WPCT? A bullpen that is amped up to an historic level of performance,  for one thing. And solid timely hitting across many of the splits (late and close, RISP, high leverage, game tied, two outs).

And, as our buried lede for this post demonstrates (in the table at right), they have been getting exceptionally consistent mediocre starting pitcher for the first four months of the 2015 season. 

As you can see, the Royals have the lowest deviation in their monthly starting pitcher ERA numbers. 

Indeed, it seems that consistent monthly performance (within some range of reasonable effectiveness) is what contributes to teams who exceed their Pythagorean projections.

Now, of course, you need exceptional performance from your bullpen to offset mediocrity--that's clearly happening for the Royals, and that's also the case for the Yankees. The A's, whose starters have been consistent on a monthly basis, don't have the benefit of even a good bullpen, so their consistency hasn't helped them stay in the playoff hunt.

The average deviation for MLB thus far is .59. The Royals and Yankees, despite having starting staffs whose overall performances are below league average, are managing to reap benefits from consistent mediocrity. It might be fitting if they face each other for the AL pennant.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

2015: COMPLETE GAMES #52, #53, #54, #55

A lull in complete games after the All-Star break, but a ten-game winning streak is in play, easily the longest of the season.

Cole (Cutie-Pie) Hamels: his no-no might be his swan song
for Philadelphia...
W-L records for 2015 CGs of eight IP or more (the only ones we recognize, which is why our totals do not match the number you'll find over at Forman et fils and elsewhere...) is now just under .750 (41-14).

We start at the most recent: Cole Hamels (#55, 7/25), the third no-hitter of 2015. Hamels, rumored all year to be on his way out of Philadelphia, threw 129 pitches in putting the total goose-egg on the Chicago Cubs, the most in a CG this year and tied with the Blue Jays' Marco Estrada, who had 129 pitchers over eight (non-CG) innings back on June 24.

It might be Hamels' last game for the Phils...if so, would that be the first time a pitcher was traded after throwing a no-hitter?

Elsewhere, the White Sox' Jose Quintana (#54, 7/24) scattered seven hits as he shut out the Indians (final score, Chisox 6, Cleveland 0).

And Clayton Kershaw (#53, 7/23) has two CGs in July and could be the first pitcher in recent memory to have three CGs in a month...Kershaw tossed a three-hit shutout at the Mets, striking out 11 (Dodgers won, 3-0)

Finally, Garrett Richards (#52, 7/18) helped put the struggling Red Sox (1-8 since the All-Star Break) into a hitting slump with a two-hit shutout (3-0 Angel win).

One last factoid: which team has had the most CGs thrown against them thus far in 2015? It's team currently in the hunt for the post-season: the Houston Astros (6 CG by opposing pitchers). Next highest: the Chicago White Sox with five.

Monday, July 20, 2015


Please feel free to peruse our preview essay over at the Hardball Times on the 2015 Shrine of the Eternals induction ceremony which was held yesterday (July 19) in Pasadena to a standing-room-only crowd. (Thanks to Paul Swydan for moving earth and a part of heaven to make it happen on short notice..)

The Baseball Reliquary "formula" is, as we noted some years back when we were honored to give the Keynote Address, one part anarchy and two parts reverence...the Reliquary's signature event has an aleatory choreography held together by the deadpan glee of Executive Director Terry Cannon.

He and his main cohort, Albert (Buddy) Kilchesty, are nothing more or less than two knowing and mysteriously gifted kids who can let go of their balloons at a windy beach and somehow be assured that they will return into their hands just as they're ready to call it a day.

After seventeen years of these singular proceedings, we are no longer astonished by how it all happens. In fact, we don't even have to be there (as was, sadly, the case this year) to know that it all worked just as it's supposed to do.

You can read more about this year's inductees--Sy Barger (Topps baseball card innovator), Glenn Burke (baseball's first gay player), Steve Bilko (legendary minor-league slugger with a TV show title to his credit)--in the Hardball Times essay.

But you should strongly consider buying the new book by the Reliquary's Tony Salin Award honoree, Gary Cieradkowski, entitled The League of Outsider Baseball. Fabulously illustrated by Cieradkowski himself and filled with indescribable baseball lore, it's an Eternal in its own write.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

2015: COMPLETE GAMES #44, #45, #46, #47, #48, #49, #50, #51

Some of "baseball's best starting pitchers" made a run on CGs during the run-up to the All-Star break:

--Chris Sale (#44, 7/6), a six-hit, 4-2 win over the Blue Jays;
--Mark Buehrle (#45, 7/6), losing to Sale and the White Sox (becoming the first pitcher to have two CG losses in 2015);

--Johnny Cueto (#46, 7/7), looking like his 2014 self with a two-hit, 11-K shutout as the Reds beat the Nationals, 5-0;

--Clayton Kershaw (#47, 7/8), scattering eight hits and fanning 13 in a 5-0 shutout win as the Dodgers swept a four-game series from the lowly Phillies;

--Jeff Samardzija (#48, 7/9), a four-hit shutout over the perplexing Blue Jays (a team playing a good bit under their Pythagorean projection);

--Sonny Gray (#50, 7/12), rebounding from his bout with gastroenteritis with a a two-hit shutout for the A's (another underachieving team according to Pythagorus...) in their 2-0 win over the Indians;

--Jake Arietta (#51, 7/12), proving that 2014 was no fluke with a two-hitter over the Cubs' cross-town rivals (White Sox).

Eagle-eyed readers will note that we've not yet covered CG #49 yet. That's because CG #49 was not turned in by someone who's currently considered to be one of "baseball's best starting pitchers"--though he's been very impressive since being recalled from the minors on June 9th (2.15 ERA, 181 ERA+; 3.00 "S," 2.38 "C,"/5.38 QMAX "T").

Who is he? He's Taylor Jungmann, the Brewers' first-round pick in 2011. The song "Long, Tall Texan" fits Taylor to a T: the 6'6" Jungmann was born in Temple, TX and was drafted after his stint on the mound at the University of Texas.  His first career CG (#49, 7/11) was a three-hit, seven-K domination of the Dodgers in Dodger Stadium. (The Brewers have been playing much better lately--it all seemed to stem from a timely matchup with those aforementioned Phillies, with whom they'd been vying for the dubious honor of worst team in baseball. Their four-game sweep of the Phils led to an eight-game winning streak and a 14-6 record in the run-up to the All-Star Break...

...which is where we came in, so it's a good place to get out. The Brewers' turnaround gets an immediate test this weekend when they have to face off against the Pirates.)

Sunday, July 12, 2015


Yes, the headline says it all. It's hard to win games when you score three runs or less: since 1901, all teams have a .228 WPCT in such games.

Right now, the St. Louis Cardinals are winning at nearly double the frequency of the average team in such situations: as of today, they are 19-25 (.432) in such games.

That ranks 16th all-time at the moment--though, of course, it's subject to change over the second half of the 2015 campaign.

As you might suspect, it's a distinguished group of teams. 36 of the other 45 team-seasons on the list (80%) went to the post-season, and twenty of them wound up winning the World Series.

With the recent emphasis on offense, it's been awhile since any team has made it onto this list--the last time was in 1995, when the Atlanta Braves did it.

In fact, 26 of the 45 occurrences took place during the Deadball Era. Six of them came into existence via the performance of the Chicago Cubs, whose pitching was so dominant in the years 1906-10 that these six .400+ WPCTs in games where they scored three or less all rank in the top fifteen all-time.

It appears that there are only four cases where teams with .400+ WPCT in such games faced off in the World Series (1909, 1911, 1951 and 1954).

Teams that play a lot of these type of games don't tend to be a lock to win the World Series, however. Teams who played 80 or more such games over the course of the season include six teams that didn't make the post-season at all.

There's an interesting difference between two adjacent Cardinals teams in the 1960s. The 1967 squad had 63 games in which they scored three runs or less, a .444 WPCT in those games (#5 overall) and won the World Series...while the 1968 team had 94 such games, a .436 WPCT in those games (#13 overall) but came up short in that year's Fall Classic.

This year's Cardinal squad is on pace to wind up with 81 games where they score three runs or less. That's only 11th overall in MLB this year, so they are not setting an alarming pace in this statistical subset. But they are chasing the 1968 Cards in terms of percentage of overall wins when scoring three runs or less: they are currently at 34% (19 of 56), while the '68 squad had 42% of their wins in such fashion (41 of 97). That's the highest percentage of low-run scoring wins, just a tad more than the 1918 Washington Senators (30 of 72, or 41.7%).

Monday, July 6, 2015

2015: COMPLETE GAMES #39, #40, #41, #42, #43

The "loss column" re-emreged in the CG listings over the past week: three of the last five CGs resulted in losses for the pitchers who went the distance:

--The Yankees' Michael Pineda (#39, 6/28), a 3-1 loss to the Astros;
--The Nationals' Max Scherzer (#41, 7/2), a 2-1 loss to the Braves;
--The Indians' Cody Anderson (#34, 7/4), a 1-0 loss to the Pirates.

The winners:

--The Mariners' Mike Montgomery (#40, 6/30), a 5-0 win over the Padres;
--The Red Sox' Clay Buchholz (#42, 7/4), a 6-1 win over the Astros.

Montgomery's game was the best of the bunch by all available measures: least runs allowed (0), least hits allowed (1), QMAX "S" score (1), game score (88). It was his second consecutive CG shutout, a feat he was unable to continue yesterday against the A's (though he did get the win as the M's edged the A's 2-1; Montgomery pitched only 5 1/3 IP as the sometimes shaky Mariner bullpen held it together to close it out).

In 2014, there were 60 CGs as of July 4th. The current "adjusted projection" for CGs in 2015, taking into account the tendency for more CGs after the All Star-Break, is now at 94.