Wednesday, September 30, 2015


Those ever-lovin' Royals have made it into the history books again.

The team handed the most paradoxical of all possible volitional acts in the world of baseball--love bestowed uncritically by erstwhile "sabermetricians"--has found a way to undercut that devotion even while achieving post-season success for the second straight year (yes, yes, you'd really better stop the presses before they overheat and explode).

How have they done that, you ask? By simply swinging the bat. 

KC has become the first team to have back-to-back appearances in the post-season boasting offensive totals where their team total for batters' walks is below 400 BB. 
It's only the ninth time a playoff team has had 399- BB since 1914. As the chart at right shows, until the Royals did it for the first time in 2014 it had only occurred once in the past eighty years.

And now they've done it again.

We used to think that teams who didn't add to their OBP dimension by drawing more walks than the league average were doomed to failure. (Most of the playoff-bound teams with ultra-low walk totals were average offenses at best.)

This precept is probably still more true than not, but leave it to the Royals to wave a large, counterintuitive bear claw at those of us trying to get through our silly vacation drive in a National Park to be named later without being mauled to death.

The Royals are proving that the sabermetricians who love them are forced, if not to look the other way, then at least to keep their car windows closed as they cruise through the post-season. 


The Quality Matrix (QMAX) verifies what a number of other analysts and the other numbers suggest--it's a tight, tight race for the 2015 NL Cy Young Award.

For those who've crawled under a rock at any point over the past twenty years, QMAX was the first of the "counterintuitive" performance measures for starting pitchers, utilizing a matrix grid to measure performance quality and then calculating a purely probabilistic performance value, the "QMAX winning percentage" (with the impish acronym of QWP, or "quip" for short).

With several tweaks over the years to better represent total bases allowed per start, QMAX is better than ever and we remain convinced that it provides the most accurate set of measures for starting pitcher performance.

For 2015 in the National League, QMAX shows a close three-way race between Jake Arrieta of the Cubs (whose revised pitching style strongly reminds us of Denny McLain), and the right-left combo of the Dodgers, Zach Greinke and Clayton Kershaw, who've already collected three CYAs between them.

The QMAX matrix boxes for the six leading pitchers in the league (in alpha order: Arrieta, Gerrit Cole of the Pirates, Jacob DeGrom of the Mets, Greinke, Kershaw, and Max Scherzer of the Nationals) are displayed on the right.

We see that Arrieta has the most "1S" games (the top row of the matrix box), His second-half performance lifted the Cubs away from the pack and (as we write this a week later than the date on the post--amazing how we do that, ain't it?) into the NLDS with yet another 1,1 game in the wild-card shootout game, where he outpitched the Pirates' Cole.

Greinke did not dominate in "1S" games to the same extent, but he made up for that with a bushel of "2S" games, tighter control (as measured by the "C" axis of the chart--the columns that classify walk prevention) and few "hit hard" games (the bottom two rows which depict what are generally the worst outings of starting pitcher).

Kershaw's matrix chart is similar to Greinke's. After a slow start, Kershaw pitched almost as well over his last 25 starts as Arrieta did over his last 20 (at least according to QMAX: the ERA values differ a bit more, but it's clear that ERA can be affected by transient factors, particularly in smaller sample sizes).

QMAX tells us that the Mets' DeGrom was the fourth best starter in the NL in 2015, with only a few stray "ultra-bad" outings (the "7S" row) that betrayed him.

Cole and Scherzer, despite either excellent won-loss records or ultra-impressive individual games (Cole's .700+ WPCT, Scherzer's two no-hitters), were a bit further down the pantheon. The big problem for these two was a higher number of "hit hard games"--Scherzer in particular (a total of twelve starts in which he gave up more hits than innings pitched, and a stretch in August where he was extremely susceptible to the long ball).

We put the matrix box info together into a summary report that captures the essential performance data--the percentages of games within key regions on the chart: the "Success Square" (the not-quite-square green region, where pitchers win from fifty-five to ninety-five percent of the time); the "Elite Square" (the interior yellow region where the average team WPCT for these games is over .800; the "S12" or "top hit prevention" region, where Greinke and Arrieta hit over sixty percent of the time; the previously mentioned "hit hard" region, where Greinke and Kershaw were both under ten percent; and other measures of more counterintuitive success regions ("Power Precipice" or high walk-low hit, in the region at upper right, "Tommy John" or high hit-low walk, in the region at lower left); plus measures of control ("C1, "C13", capturing the values for games cut across the columnar data instead of the rows, which measure that elusive concept known as "stuff).

When we do that, we get the table above, which suggests that Greinke is the narrow winner, by virtue of a better score in the basic QMAX averages, appearing the three rightmost columns.

Our guess is that Arrieta will win the Cy, as he's a major part of the Cubs' overreach into the playoffs thanks to a simply tremendous stretch run where his QMAX average was down in regions achieved over full seasons by pitchers such as Bob Gibson in 1968 and Pedro Martinez in 2000. To be exact, from June 21 to the end of the season: 1.95 "S", 2.15 "C", 4.10 "T", .830 QWP. That's hard to argue with, and, for once, we won't.


It's essentially a two-man race for the Cy Young Award in the 2015 AL.

Two lefties--veteran David Price, whose 230-mile relocation from Detroit to Toronto was a significant component in the Blue Jays' drive to the AL East division title, and Dallas Keuchel, whose steady performance (particularly at home) was central to the Houston Astros' ability to hang on despite a rocky second half (just 28-30 from August 1st to the end of the season)--were the league's best starting pitchers.

The Quality Matrix (QMAX for short), invented in these parts some twenty years ago, gives it to Keuchel by virtue of him having a larger number of "top hit prevention games" (the S12 region, the top two rows in the QMAX matrix chart).

Particularly decisive was Keuchel's higher number of "1S" games (and his lead in 1,1 games, which tipped his "quality winning percentage" (abbreviated "QWP") higher as a result of a more marked probability of success in such games (the "1S" row produces a projected WPCT of .860; the 1.1 square is better than that, with a .915 WPCT over the past three seasons).

As a result, Keuchel's QWP (.654) gives him just a bit of distance from Price (.630) in the CYA race.

Here are the top six starting pitchers in the AL according to QMAX. Felix Hernandez was hit hard a good bit between late May and late August--definitely much more of a Jekyll-Hyde performance from him than in any previous season.

Sonny Gray was ahead of the pack in mid-August, but gave ground down the stretch. Sonny has a slighter build than the others on this list: he might need a little extra care in how he's used in order to avoid what looks like a case of wearing down as the season goes on.

Thursday, September 17, 2015


We started to write the title of this post in the form of a question...then stopped ourselves.

We momentarily forgot exactly how much we loathe that faux formulation.

We don't want to either lead you to water or make you drink--we figure many of you are drunk enough already, and don't need to get any wetter than you already are.

So...on that cheery note, we gear-shift into expository mode, with the thesis spread out like that patient etherized on the table notionalizing the claim that we just might have lived through the great "golden age" of high-walk hitters.

The first table-and-chart data, submitted here for your approval, would seem to indicate that such is the case.

For goodness' sakes, look at the record-setting number in 2000 (17 hitters with 100+ BBs).

And look at the spike in the five-year average for 100+ BB players--a dozen walkmen (alas, sans headphones...) at the peak of the chart in 2003.

Looks like a slam dunk for our recent past (2003 also being that wonderful year in which good 'ol Dubya smirked at us in his flight suit with his "mission accomplished" claptrap--those of us who weren't led to the Kool-Aid know just what was actually "accomplished" while Georgie Boy fiddled with his zipper...) but, hey, there could be a surprise coming...

--and it ain't even October, when many of the most disgusting surprises occur, particularly in a "tinkle-on-your-neighbor land" where every year is now seemingly an "election" year.

Actually, many of you won't be surprised to discover that the above data was somewhat massaged and manipulated. While it's actually true (as in the numbers aren't faked...), it's still an inaccurate representation of the percentage of possible high-walk hitters that existed in any given year over the history of the game.

Why's that? Because the simple count-up of these guys doesn't take into account how many possible hitters there are in seasons with differing numbers of teams. We must remember that there are nearly twice as many teams in baseball now than was the case in 1960.

We have to adjust for that, just as we should adjust for the shocking revelation that the Republican clown is not the best use of your entertainment dollar--hell, tearing off your toenails with a pair of pliers is actually less painful.

When we adjust for the number of possible hitters in baseball, and recalibrate the "counting" numbers into percentages, we get the true picture of when the "golden age" of high-walk players occurred.

Those who've dared to delve into the bowels of this blog, or who've read the mysterious but not musty back issues of BBBA, will know that this "golden age" occurred in the years immediately after World War II, with 1949 being the peak year.

And the "percentage of possible" table and chart demonstrate this for us. We had a nice run of "walkmen" in the late 90s-early 00's, but it doesn't match the levels achieved in the late 40s.

And, by the percentages, the decade we're in now--the terrible teens, as they will probably be called at some not-too-distant point in the future--is actually putting up high-walk player percentages more akin to the big-strike-zone 60s or the deadball era.

That means we have about as much overall variety from hitters in the present-day game that we have from the "individuals" in that clown car.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

2015: COMPLETE GAMES #73-#87

Over the past 22 days, there have been 15 more CGs, including two no-hitters (Mike Fiers, #75, HOU vs LAD; Jake Arrieta, #78, CHC vs LAD--has there ever been a post-season team that was no-hit twice in a season?).

Here is the rundown:

#73--Alfredo Simon, DET 8/20 (one-hit ShO vs. TEX)
#74--Chris Archer, TBR 8/20 (one-hit ShO vs. HOU)
#75--Mike Fiers, HOU 8/21 (no-hitter vs. LAD)
#76--Justin Verlander, DET 8/26 (one-hitter vs. LAA)
#77--Derek Holland, TEX 8/30 (three-hit ShO vs. BAL)

#78--Jake Arrieta, CHC 8/30 (no-hitter vs. LAD)
#79--R.A. Dickey, TOR 9/2 (four-hitter vs. CLE)
#80--Clayton Kershaw, LAD 9/2 (six-hitter vs. SFG, 15 Ks)
#81--Chris Rusin, COL 9/3 (six hitter vs. SFG)
#82--Josh Tomlin, CLE 9/4 (four-hitter vs. DET)

#83--John Danks, CHW 9/4 (seven-hitter vs. KCR)
#84--Wade Miley, BOS 9/5 (five-hitter vs. PHI)
#85--Bartolo Colon, NYM 9/5 (nine-hit ShO vs. MIA)
#86--Kyle Gibson, MIN 9/6 (six-hit loss to KCR)
#87--Colby Lewis, TEX 9/11 (two-hit ShO vs. OAK)

For the first time in 2015, the projection for CGs has exceeded 100 (it's at 100.3 as of this morning). We have three weeks of the season to go...looks like it could go right down to the final day.

Sunday, September 6, 2015


So just how do the teams in our post-modern post-season structure belly up to the bar for fall ball? How many times do teams that make the playoffs have poor months along the way? And is August the "month of decision" for most of these teams, or does September produce as much excitement as the loopy Lords suggest is the case?

We will have to beg off on Question #3 for now, because we haven't gone back to run the numbers yet. (Fortunately, our current double wild-card thingee is a mercifully recent phenomenon, so we should be back with those answers at season's close.)

We suspect that the chart (at right) will answer some or all of the other questions, however. We have five months of the 2015 season broken out into the 30 WPCTs in each month--a total, thus far, of 150 WPCT data points (we are leaving the team names out to protect the guilty and to keep the chart from frying your eyes).

What we see here is that only eight of 150 monthly WPCTs for the teams currently in position to make the 2015 post-season were under .500. That's 5.3% of the WPCTs. Not a lot of margin for error--at least not this year--where it seems that August has separated the wheat from the chaff (barring any spectacular tailspins...can you say Cubbies, anyone?).

What we see here is that August is clearly a month of "separation"--six playoff-bound teams played over .650 ball during the month. (The WPCTs of currently playoff-bound teams are shown in bold type.)

We should note, for purposes of symmetry, that there are six instances of teams playing over .600 ball in any given month and not being (at least not currently...) playoff-bound. The most notable of these teams: the Minnesota Twins, who were 20-7 in May but have fallen behind the Texas Rangers for the second wild-card slot.

August is also the only month where no playoff-bound team played under .500. April, which had close to as many top-performing teams as August, had two playoff-bound teams (the Rangers and the Toronto Blue Jays) under .500--with the Rangers starting out in a big hole (.333).

We'll look at all this more deeply when we get to the end of the year...stay tuned.