Thursday, July 5, 2018

VITAL SIGNS JULY/1: THE FIRST FOUR DAYS

Offense and homers spiked over the first three days of July, but things cooled down somewhat on the Fourth...perhaps the hitters didn't want to upstage the fireworks.

After four days in July, runs and HR's are now behind last year's pace, while BB's are running ever so slightly ahead.

Of course, when we say behind last year's pace, we need to remember that the HR pace in July 2017 (1.25 per game) was the sixth highest monthly total in major league history. The current July 2018 pace for HR/G would rank tenth.

A stretch of especially warm weather is supposed to work its way across the country this week--we'll see how it affects offense. As a rule, the higher the temperature, the more runs and HRs. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

"TWO-WAY" NUÑO TORPEDOS HIS COMEBACK...

In the tiny-bubble world of baseball innovation, the Tampa Bay Rays continue to give us much. But even Kevin Cash may have gone too far last night when extra-inning desperation forced the Rays' manager to turn our favorite avoirdupois-challenged southpaw, Vidal Nuño, into a two-way player.

Nuño responded to this with the type of underdog intensity that one would expect from someone who is simultaneously marginal and overfed. With the Rays playing an interleague game in Miami, they were already letting pitchers bat; by the fourteenth inning, Cash was out of double switches--so Nuño found himself in the batter's box.

And before you could say boo, Nuño flared one down the left-field line that landed fair and rolled toward the stands in foul territory. Marlins LF Derek Dietrich got to the ball in a hurry and fired to second base--where Nuño, valiantly impersonating a baserunner, was trying to stretch his single into a double. (Vidal was 2-for-26 lifetime when the plate appearance had begun.) The result is telegraphed in our video capture...

So into the sixteenth inning we go, and the Rays have taken the lead again when it is once again Nuño's slot in the batting order. Hoping to save his bullpen, Cash lets him hit again. The pitch from Brett Graves is low and over the plate--right in Vidal's, er, "wheelhouse"--and the portly one uses his modified "sand wedge" swing to slap the ball into the right-field corner.

This one drives in a run, and looks certain to be Nuño's first major-league extra-base hit, but as he "motors" down the first base line, he comes up lame, clutching at his right hamstring. He's stopped at first by the injury and has to be removed from the game.

The Rays go on to win, and Nuño gets his third win of the year (remember, he was 5-21 lifetime when recalled from the minors late in May)--but earlier this morning he was placed on the disabled list.

It's definitely a "story of my life" scenario for Vidal, who'd frankly been startlingly stellar (3-0, 1.50 ERA) as a cog in the Rays' fog-shrouded machine since his return from oblivion. Ironic, of course, that he'd get injured as a hitter, as if some kind of cosmic compensation was needed for having had the audacity to double his lifetime hit total in the space of two plate appearances...

So the sun has set on Nuño's empire, at least for the foreseeable future.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

VITAL SIGNS REDUX 3: JUNE IN THE BOOKS

June's games and their associated data are complete: the early swoon abated in the second half of the month, keeping it essentially on track with the R/G, HR/G and BB/G produced in May. The comparison of June 2018 with June 2017 still remains stark, however, as our differential percentage chart indicates.

Last June, homers were hit at the most frequent rate of any month in baseball history (1.35 per team per game) and run scoring shot up to 4.91 per game. The downturn in June 2018 finished in double digits (4.33 R/G, 1.16 HR/G).

Another way to track this data is to pick a "base month" and measure the monthly deviations from it that occur over time. There are actually two ways to do this--one where you track the changes month-by-month, using the prior month as the basis for the calculation, and other where you measure every month against the "base month" and get a cumulative rate of change.

Both are of sufficient interest to display here. First, the month-by-month changes [at right]. The "base month" we're using here in September 2017, the "cool down" month in last year's long homer siege (4.58 R/G, 1.19 HR/G, 3.25 BB/G). We can then see that April 2018 hit less HRs but drew more walks: the net result was a slight downturn in run scoring. May gained in HR/G over April, but pitchers were much stingier in terms of walks, which caused another downturn in R/G. And our comments comparing May 2018 to its successor month can now be seen in percentage terms, where runs went up slightly despite small declines in HR/G and BB/G.

We get a different view of this when we redirect the comparison to show us the differential of each month from the September 2017 "base month." As you'd expect, the April 2018 data is the same (April is compared to September 2017 in each method).

But in May we see the "cumulative" effect kicking in. We can see that relative to September 2017, May 2018 shows a larger cumulative drop in R/G, brought on by the flip-flops in HR/G and BB/G that show a cumulative decline in each of these measures. The June data shows how this data starts to converge, as the combined cumulative downturn in HR/G and BB/G is now about 80% of the decline in R/G.

What can we expect in July? There's often a decline in HR/G and R/G from the peaks achieved in the previous month; last year was no exception. It's possible that the protracted batting average swoon that occurred in the first half of June might have righted itself, however, and we may see some modest gains in July. Stay tuned...