Thursday, February 2, 2023

"PHISHING" FOR A SOLUTION TO THE HOF's SECOND BASE PROBLEM

THE evening before the astonishing email appeared, we'd had a spirited discussion about second basemen and the evaluation issues that seem to plague them--and turn many otherwise intelligent folk into wild-eyed zealots. (That said, however, we also noted how zealotry has "evolved" in the world of increasingly scientific disinformation, recognizing that it's both a mixed and a mixed-up landscape--particularly when it comes to matters as unimportantly essential as a Baseball Hall of Fame.)

We'd replied to a query from a shadowy "Cooperstown consultant" in the year prior to COVID regarding the dismal record of identifying second basemen for the Hall of Fame. We told them that the new methods undercut the old methods when it came to such a process. The ongoing inability to induct deserving second basemen, stemming from the stringent "front door" election requirements, and a diffuse, confused, and increasingly political "side door process," was now combining with a "grievance" mentality (a phenomenon hardly exclusive to baseball...) and was crippling the performance of  the current HOF voter population. 

We suggested a radical approach to the matter, one that had never been implemented previously. And we promptly put the matter out of our heads--even after Jeff Kent's stall-out at just under 50% of the vote in the most recent election. We weren't expecting to see any kind of action from the Hall, as they've adopted a chameleon-like approach to what have become increasingly Byzantine selection processes. 

But then came the email:

"Here at the Hall of Fame, we've tried to employ a hands-off posture regarding the induction process. We're proud to remind you that we have not tampered with the basic election requirements since our inception, as we still believe that a significant majority of support from the baseball writers is the proper approach in the real world (as opposed to the myriad alternative methods we've watched unfold over the past twenty-five years).

But we've come to the conclusion that there are more notable issues with the processes that go beyond our recent efforts to produce more timely results. We've looked for a remedy that might leapfrog some of the stubborn issues still plaguing those who participate in the process. 

Input from several sources convinced us to to take a different perspective. After much discussion, we've decided to employ an approach stemming from that recommendation. Thus we have assembled and implemented a special committee to examine and recommend a global set of inductees based on defensive position. 

Having been convinced that second base and third base were two of the most problematic defensive positions as regards the current status of inductees for the Hall of Fame, we convened a special committee to evaluate second basemen. We found enough consensus between competing perspectives and analyses to arrive at a greatly simplified benchmark for assessing these players, one that reminds us that offense is still a primary consideration for induction into the Hall. 

As many of you reading this know, the analytic tools created in the past forty years have become increasingly complicated, but we were convinced by a relatively simple diagram that five second basemen, with high offensive proficiency, ranging from the often-overlooked nineteenth century to the present day, were deserving of induction. After an additional round of discussion, our special committee concurred and ratified the action we are about to announce. 

First, however, you're directed to the diagram, where the five second basemen (whom we'll identify shortly) are visible in the diamond-shaped markers colored in light green. The rest of the second basemen already inducted into the Hall of Fame are shown with red-colored markers. Please take a moment to look at this diagram, which shows second basemen from left to right based on the year in which their careers ended, and see if you're able to identify the upcoming inductees.

The on-base plus slugging (OPS) method implemented by analyst Pete Palmer and baseball's official historian John Thorn nearly forty years ago remains one of the most useful approaches to offensive productivity, particularly when it is adjusted for various contexts. The chart above brought much needed clarity to a process that had become inordinately tangled and fraught over the years. It was particularly evident that the most recent second baseman who failed to achieve consensus for "front door" induction was merely the most visible example of a process that had unfortunately gone sour. 

Our special committee discussed all of the relevant aspects, and concurred in an approach that would clarify and resolve the cases relating to the five second basemen in question. From that outcome, we are extremely pleased to announce that these players, following the approach taken previously with Negro League players, will be inducted into the Hall of Fame beginning with the ceremony to be held later in 2023. The first two, being from deep in the past, will be jointly inducted; the other three will follow singly in subsequent years, as laid out below. 

Here are their names:

...and then, as if I were Fernand Gravey flitting open his eyes in the singular, matchless French fantasy  LA NUIT FANTASTIQUE (1942, directed by Marcel L'Herbier...), I suddenly realized that what I had been reading was all in my "mind" (or what's left of it...), and that I had, alas, been dreaming...and that, unlike Gravey, whose "nocturnal uproar" in pursuit of the spirited and delectable Micheline Presle had a real-life payoff, I would not be so lucky--and neither would the five second basemen shown with "little green dots" above. 

The Hall of Fame was, is, and probably always will be akin to a Sphinx, and all of those who spend their time attempting to reform it, perform workarounds with respect to it, or simply create their own, are either frustrated archeologists or variable, voluble and variegated looters who think that the "power of the pyramid" is working for them (and them alone)...

...but you, "dear reader," can figure out who these players are, by simply gazing on the "purloined diagram" above; after all, there are only five to be identified. You might even figure out who the three "see no evil, field no evil, hit very little" chimps are with the "red dots" well below the league average line of 100. They are highly beloved for their leather, but not for their wood--which has insulated them from the slings and arrows of the rock, paper, scissors world we live in...but not so our five, who still await their awakening from what remains a seemingly eternal nightmare.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

THE TOP 600 HALF-SEASONS/5: THE ONE-TIMERS, PART TWO

WE continue with the high-flying soloists from the master list of our two Top 300 lists from first-half & second-half performances since 1901. We pick up the trail again starting with the 1960s-70s:










You'll remember Roger Maris from our .700+ SLG list. This was Roger's best stretch in his career, and it occurred the year before he hit 61 homers. The offensive downturn in the 60s gives us some off-beat folk that might not seem to fit into such a list, but that's part of what makes this so interesting: you're not really expecting to see George Altman or Adolfo Phillips in such a list, but here they are. Ken Harrelson and Willie Horton do a good job of defying the Year of the Pitcher (1968), at least for half the year; in '69 Pete Rose keeps the single-digit HR performance from going the way of the Dodo bird with his spiffy closing kick that netted him a batting title. Reggie Jackson's first half that same season has one of the highest ISOBA (ratio of isolated power to batting average) rankings ever (.429/.287 = 1.494).

1970 starts the new decade off with a bang thanks to the intense firepower of Rico Carty and Tony Perez, both who push into the Top 100 thanks to some heavy all-around hitting. Perez's teammate, rookie outfielder Bernie Carbo, adds some extra offensive dimension that helps propel the Reds to a 70-30 start to the season. Carlton Fisk and Cesar CedeƱo both looked like future Hall of Famers in the first half of 1973; only one of them wound up making it. Rod Carew, on his way to an MVP season in 1977, slaps 14 triples and hits 394 in the first half, the closest to .400 anyone would get in this two-decade slice. Our main man Sixto Lezcano quietly ruled the world in July-August of '79, falling back into the 200's on the list due to a September fadeaway.








Many intriguing one-timers here, both well-known and obscure: six Hall of Famers and two (Dwight Evans and Gary Sheffield) with strong cases for induction. Among the others, Eric Davis' first half in 1987, with its astonishing blend of speed (33 SB) and power (27 HR) stands out despite the relatively low BA; Kevin Mitchell's 31 first-half HRs in 1989 probably helped him win an MVP Award that Bill James still insists belongs to Will Clark (alas, nowhere to be found in these peak performances). In that same year Lonnie (Skates) Smith's first half actually ranks higher on the all-time list than Mitchell's big-fly-driven dominance.

In the 90s, Andres Galarraga discovers that the air is just fine at 5,000+ feet; but his high-altitude feats are dwarfed by the incredible first-half performance of John Olerud, who nearly cracked the Top 50 with his old-style combination of high BA, moderate XBH, and excellent batting eye. A similar template worked for Paul O'Neill in 1994--his subsequent deep slump after the ASB was curtailed by the strike, permitting him to retain the batting title. By the middle of the decade power (and substances obtained to boost it) were inching into notoriety--we'll never know exactly what role those performance enhancers played in the numbers put up by Ken Caminiti and Mike Piazza, two men who tried to single-handedly carry their teams into the post-season (only one succeeded).











The only father-and-son combination on these lists emerges with Vlad Guerrero and his namesake, making their appearances here nineteen years apart. (It's still possible, even likely, that Vlad Jr. will become more than a one-timer.) The names of journeyman semi-stars having a three-month supernova are more plentiful here than in any of our other lists: Luis GonzalezJ. T. Snow, Travis Hafner, Mike Napoli, Jayson Worth come to mind. Also here are folk who looked to be superstars but faded away for one reason or another: Ryan Howard, Josh Hamilton, Troy Tulowitzki, Edwin Encarnacion, Alex Bregman, Cody Bellinger. Snow and Justin Turner prove that it's still theoretically possible to make these lists without hitting a lot of HRs, but it helps if your half-season just barely crosses over our (somewhat generous) 200 PA threshold. 

We'll hold off with a correlation of these seasons to MVP Awards until we complete our roundup of Top 600 seasons, which will continue with the "repeat offenders." The "two-timing" guys are up next...

Friday, January 27, 2023

THE TOP 600 HALF-SEASONS/4: THE ONE-TIMERS, PART ONE

OUR NEXT PHASE in the examination of peak offensive performances (our "Top 600" half-seasons, both first/second halves, as measured by OPS+) focuses on the batters who made it into this select pantheon once and once only. 

We'll see mostly Hall of Fame folk as we move through those who made the list at least twice (you're encouraged to guess how many times Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds did so). But the "one-timers" who appear in this post (covering the years 1901-1959) and the next (1960-present) are more than worthy of your attention. Names familiar and not coalesce here, and we democratize greatness as a result. 

Let's start with the Deadball Era:















Names in bold are Hall of Famers; names in red are those who (in our estimation, at least) have a case for induction. Primordial slugger Buck Freeman had an interesting career,  one of the very few hitters in the time frame who exceeded 20 HRs in a season. John McGraw, who will fall off this list in the not-too-distant future, is the only batter on the list who didn't hit a homer in his "hot half."

Topsy Hartsel was one of the holdover "walkmen" of the transition to the two-league setup; he didn't have walk rates as high as Roy Thomas, but possessed more power. HOFer Elmer Flick hit .378 in 1905 but didn't crack this list in either half of that year; his total of 15 triples in a half-season is impressive, but it was eclipsed by Ty Cobb in 1911. 

1911-12 brought a thaw in the wintry Deadball Era offense, and that's reflected in the four performances from 1912, where batting averages shot all the way up to .400 (Heinie Zimmerman, the power version; Johnny Evers, the singles-hitting version). Ed Lennox was a Federal Leauge fluke; Al Wickland is the total outlier, as that 141 tOPS+ figure suggests--he would be out of the majors within two years.

On to the 20s/30s:







Big BAs predominate in this time slice, with OPS values consistently pushing over 1.000 and higher. None of the big HR hitters in the decade are here, of course (because they made the list more than once) but you can see the drift toward more HRs in the mix as we move into the 30s. Ross Youngs, just barely on the list at this point, is the type of hitter who will almost never make the cut in the future (and not at all in the post-expansion era).

We see Lefty O'Doul chasing .400 in 1929 (he just missed); the career year of the obscure Ed Morgan in 1931; and in that same year we see Earl Webb hitting one double every two games in the first half, en route to what is still the single-season record for doubles (67). Later in the decade, Harlond Clift's half-season looks a lot like what is commonly seen in the twenty-first century.

And now, the 40s/50s:










The 40s brought the war, and lower offensive levels, along with some fascinating one-time peaks. Phil Weintraub, Dick Wakefield and Dom Dallessandro are guys that wouldn't normally wind up on a list of this type, though Tommy Holmes' blistering first half in 1945 is the closest that any "one-timer" in this time frame got to a .400 BA. 

The Walker brothers (Dixie and Harry) are the only siblings to appear on these lists.

The 50s return us to big slugging, but the BAs are lower, so there are no .700 SLG half-seasons to be found among the one-times. Rocky Colavito and Ted Kluszewski come closest, along with Bobby Thomson, the main offensive force behind the Miracle Giants in 1951.

We'll be back with the 1960s to the present shortly. Stay tuned...

Thursday, January 26, 2023

THE TOP 600 HALF-SEASONS/3: THE SLUGGERS

THERE HAVE BEEN 35 seasons in which a batter has slugged .700 or higher (nine by Babe Ruth). When we break seasons into halves, it creates roughly four times as many of these high-level slugging feats. There are more .700+ half-season sluggers (128) than there are batters whose BA was .400+ (48) or had a .500+ OBP (52). 

Of course, to slug .700--even for a half-season--it helps to hit .300: 97% of the members of the half-season .700 club (roll over, Pat Robertson...) did so. (A year's supply of popsicles to the "savant" who can name the four players to slug .700+ without hitting .300...you'll meet them here in short order).

But, as it turns out, it really helps to hit .350+ while you're doing it. 65% of the half-season .700+ sluggers hit at least .350 when they cracked either the first-half or second-half Top 300. (For sake of completeness, 15 of these folk hit .400+ while slugging at least .700: that's 12%. The last hitter to do so? Why, Barry Bonds, of course.)

Ruth and Bonds will be dominant in this category, despite the relative high number of half-seasons (the most recent of which belongs--of course--to Aaron Judge). And, as with our previous statistical categories, there are very few "mystery guests" on this list. We'll see all 128 shortly, but first let's put up one of our patented (or is that trademarked) TimeGrid™ charts (hmm...guess its trademarked!) to show the historical pattern--you'll see that at right.

Ruth and George Sisler were the first hitters to slug .700 or higher in a half-season: they both did it in 1920. Ruth was the first, however, as he slugged over .800 in both halves of the 1920 season, while .400+ hitter Sisler just slipped over the .700 line (.702, to be exact) in the second half. The two of them kicked off a wave of such half-seasons from that point, with 50 more occurring over the next two decades, including eight .700+ SLG half-seasons in 1930 alone.

But it would take six decades (1940s through 1990s) for hitters to slip past the total of .700+ SLG half-seasons that occurred in the 1930s, with the totals in the '70s and '80s barely registering a blip on the radar gun. The offensive explosion morphed into high-level slugging in the second half of the '90s with the likes of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa (and let's not overlook the mostly forgotten Albert Belle); the slugging onslaught went into overdrive in 2000-01, with 13 such half-seasons, and the first decade of the 21st century slipped past the '30s mark (with benefit of twice as many teams, of course). Even with the homer barrage in the second half of the 2010s, the incidence of .700+ SLG half-seasons slipped back to '90s levels--and one suspects that we'll be lucky to see frequencies similar to what we saw back in the 1950s. 

Let's get started with the roll call of these half-season slugging peaks:











There are 25 half-seasons in the 1920s, 14 of them by Babe Ruth. Rogers Hornsby has seven: he also hit .400+ in five of those half-season, peaking at #13 overall in the second half of his 1924 season, where he has a dizzying slash line: .451/.541/.767. The other four hitters who squeezed onto the list: Lou Gehrig, Jim Bottomley, Harry Heilmann, and the aforementioned Sisler.

Buried in the data is an intriguing "back to front" achievement by the Babe. (Remember that "back to front" is our way of combining a second half of Year 1 with a first half of Year 2.) In the second half of his 60-homer season in 1927, Ruth hit 31 HRs. What's been lost to us until now is the fact the the Babe hit 32 homers in the first half of 1928: when you add those two half-seasons together, you find that Ruth hit 63 HRs over 151 games in this "back to front" configuration. 

On to the 1930s:












As you'll see, the Babe wasn't quite done: he had three more of these half-seasons from 1930-32. He's supplanted by Jimmie Foxx, who compiled seven .700+ SLG half-seasons during the decade. Close on Foxx' heels is Lou Gehrig, with five. Of the 28 half-seasons here, the vast majority (21) occur in the AL, which remained a slugging league throughout the decade. In 1936, Bill Dickey becomes the first catcher to crack the .700 SLG level, with .703 during the first half of the year. A year later, the Yankees' platoon outfielder George Selkirk matches Dickey. And which second half do you prefer in 1938: Foxx' workmanlike .701, Hank Greenberg's then-record second-half  HR total (36), or Johnny Mize's lower HR totals but huge all-around hitting (.389, .750 SLG)?

Now we move into the more "fallow period" of .700+ SLG half-seasons, the period from 1940-1999 where instead of seeing two of these per year, as was the case in the 20s/30s, we see a frequency that's more like one every two years:













The big-hitting names of this period are all here, but with greatly diminished frequency. The man who shows up here the most is also the most maligned players in baseball history: Mark McGwire (four appearances clustered around his HR-hitting exploits from 1996-2000). Ted Williams, Stan Musial and Mickey Mantle all make three appearances, with two each from Willie Mays, Duke Snider, Larry Walker, and (wait for it...) Albert Belle. In the midst of McGwire's now-shunned 70-HR season in 1998, when he slugged over .700 in both halves of the season, Belle's second half produced the highest half-season SLG in forty years, an unfathomable .816, boosted in part by a .387 BA, exactly one hundred points higher than that turned in by Reggie Jackson in 1969, the only man to have more extra-base hits than Belle (but whose half-season contained seventy more plate appearances).

Check that--Musial's second half in 1949 has more XBH that Belle in 1998, as does Belle himself in his 1995 second half (where he slugs .787). Ditto for Edgar Martinez, whose doubles pace in the first half of 1996 was such that he appeared to be a lock to break Earl Webb's record for most two-base-hits in a season (he didn't). The one-off half-seasons here are undeniably intriguing: Roger Maris, not in his 61 HR year of 1961, but in his first half-season as a Yankee the year before; the homer exploits of Hank Aaron and Willie Stargell in 1971; George Brett's curtailed hot streak in 1983; ditto for Mike Schimdt in the strike season two years earlier; Ken Caminiti's astonishing (and controversial) eruption in the second half of 1996; and Mike Piazza's valiant attempt to carry the Dodgers to a division title in 1997 (he didn't).

As noted, the pace of these .700+ SLG half-seasons picked up in the late 90s, and just exploded in every direction in the decade that followed:












Of course, some of this renascence of half-season slugging prowess is due to the presence of Barry Bonds, who appears on this list nine times. That's not quite as dominant as Ruth was in the 20s, but the Babe had the advantage of being the original "Sultan of Swat" and didn't have much "competish" for the first half of that decade. Bonds' four seasons from 2001-04 are both glorious and infamous: it's one of the staining aspects of baseball "discourse" in the 21st century that his achievements here are shunned and reviled instead of being celebrated as among the most astonishing sustained feats in the history of the game. 

When Bonds finally subsides in 2004, his mantle is taken up by Albert Pujols, who generates four .700+ SLG half-seasons through to the end of the decade. Another reviled player getting punished in the Hall of Fame voting, Manny Ramirez, shows up here eight years apart (2000 and 2008, the year of "Mannywood" in Los Angeles). Sammy Sosa, yet another rejected/ejected slugger, contributes two impressive second halves in the slugger supernova years of 2000-01. And Todd Helton, about to go in the Hall of Fame, slips on the list twice with Coors Field-enhanced totals.

Again, the one-off players here are both interesting (and possibly suspicious to some): Carlos Delgado, Luis Gonzalez, Jason Giambi, Jim Thome; Javy Lopez (only the third catcher on the list), Jim Edmonds, Derrek Lee (on fire in the first half of 2005), Ryan Howard (ditto in the second half of 2006).

The seasonal frequency of .700+ SLG half-seasons starts to wane in the second half of the 2000s, leading toward a downturn that follows in the 2010s. "Launch angle" mishegas eats away at overall batting average, which (as noted) is still a factor in fueling .700+ SLG, so the players who've achieved in recent times have a strong tendency to be in the midst of blistering short-term career peaks:







The "tOPS+" column, which measures how much higher the player's half-season OPS is relative to his OPS for the entire season, shows a pronounced uptick here. Two hitters--Jose Bautista and Christian Yelich--have "back to front" season-length short-term peaks that are astonishing in their intensity: Bautista actually hits 61 HRs in his conjoined half-seasons, while Yelich is not far behind with 56. Who knew? (That's a preview of some of the "back to front" conjoined seasons we'll be seeing in this space later in 2023--stay tuned.) 

The only other hitter on this list twice is Bryce Harper (first half of 2015, second half of 2021). Mike Trout, a steady .600 SLG kind of guy, cracks the list only once,  in 2017 (during the first of what's turned into an unsettling trend of injury-related absences). The other names here often involve massive in-season hot streaks: David Ortiz and Edwin Encarnacion in 2015 (check those tOPS+ values). There are some fun one-offs here: Mike Napoli (the fourth catcher on the list); the flame-on, flame-out Chris Davis; the desert summer of J.D. Martinez (calculate that HR/PA ratio, and remember it was 2017); Nelson Cruz, continuing the renaissance of right-handed sluggers in the fever-dream year of "launch angle."

And, finally, Aaron Judge, whose second half scald carried him to the AL home run record with the highest half-season SLG since Bonds in 2004. How hot was he? Keep that "tOPS+" figure in mind and realize that Judge hit 33 HRs in the first half of 2022! That's how hot he was--hot enough to make people turn away from a fraught mid-term election and focus intently on his simultaneous chase of Maris' "Yankee HR record" and the fortunes of his suddenly flailing team that had looked like an all-time juggernaut until going kersplat in August. What reckoning will the Yankees really face for having to pay through the nose to retain Judge, who probably won't approach these heights again? That's part of what we'll all witness in the intervening years, as America attempts to fend off its carload of careening cretins hell-bent on having a heinous "hot streak" of their own. ("Launch angle" is the bane both of baseball and politics, n'est-ce pas?)

Finally, let's take our .700+ SLG half-seasons and combine them with what we've seen previously for .400+ BA and .500+ OBP to examine a Time-Grid™(there's that trademark again...) which puts them all together. Doing it in this way, of course, will double-count (and occasionally triple-count) the same half-season, but it's still a good "heat map" of overall short-term peak performance. The results smooth out these separate-but-related achievements a bit, but reinforce the notion that the clustering we still see in this data occurs in large part from the dominance of Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds in their respective eras. We shun and discount Bonds to our own detriment...

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

JACK MORRIS IN REVERSE: THE NEO-SABE CRUSADE FOR ANDRUW JONES

Years (and years!) ago, we suggested that the great outsider horde of "statheads" who took after baseball's establishment media would find that when their infiltrations succeeded, they would look up one day and discover that they'd become just what they professed to hate.

Take that ball and shove it, Michael!
We wrote those words in 1999, and the metamorphosis of baseball discourse has proceeded apace in the intervening years, leading to several key flashpoints in the "agency" of who controls the vertical/horizontal when it comes to making judgments of value. The neo-sabes received a boost in the first decade of the new millennium thanks to Michael Lewis, who helped to accelerate a mainstream platform for a variant of sabermetric analysis that purported to encompass a "total systems" quantification of player value (while also starting a "bum's rush" of "analytic talent" into the pre-frontal lobes of baseball front offices).

That "system"--Wins Above Replacement (WAR)--emerged victorious in a protracted battle against the trailing edge of the elder media, but the radicalization that occurred in the process has left an infection that continues to fester. We flash back to a dozen years ago, when the population shift within baseball's media world was just beginning: as they watched the transformation of their turf, the elder media decided to stick it to the upstart generation by voting in a player that they knew would create howls of derision from the "new breed." It would be their parting shot, a form of revenge for the scorn they'd endured for the better part of two decades.

Who was that player? It was Jack Morris, a 250-game winner to whom they'd been reasonably indifferent toward as a Hall of Fame candidate for the first nine years of his eligibility (back then, players were allowed 15 years to "mature" into viable "enter through the front door" candidates). A whispering campaign began for Morris in his tenth year; it proceeded in two steps until, in 2012, he suddenly leaped up to a 67% vote share (within shouting distance of the 75% induction threshold).

Morris' "Marlboro Man" image was not enough to get him across the finish line: he peaked in year fourteen with 68%. But he was quickly elected by a "vets committee" (read: a carefully selected group of "bagmen") based on the time-old conventions used in Hall of Fame voting which state that the side door is open to those who came close to the front door...if we say so. 

And this is a lesson that's not lost on the up-and-coming "advanced metrics" generation of media hounds. 

Cue up, then, Andruw Jones. The love affair with the young Andruw amongst what quickly morphed into the "neo" set was beyond ardent. The embers of that flame are impossible to hide even today, as the current "media generation" looks to pull off what their curmudgeonly forebears could not--to conduct a successful propaganda campaign to put an undeserving candidate into the Hall of Fame through the front door.

The task at hand is more arduous and fraught, however, because the length of time to operate such a campaign has been cut down by a third--thus poor Andruw is a victim of the Hall of Fame's more urgent need to prevent the election of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, which could realistically be achieved only by cutting the ballot eligibility length from fifteen years down to ten.

We are not here to rehash in detail the arguments for or against Jones. We've exposed the "pro" side via its most senior exponent, Jay Jaffe, who has bigger issues to deal with regarding Fangraphs' dwindling fan base than his klunky management of the "Andruw Jones fanboy network." Knowing that many vested interests are in lockstep with such an effort, Jaffe attempts to soft-pedal his sales pitch, but he's simply not any good at doing so despite his best efforts. He does what he can to deflect dissenting research, but it's mostly based on arguments about defense that amount to little more than special pleading. 

(We confess that we are in some ways more interested in the apparent quicksand around Fangraphs' efforts to use social media as a battering ram for Jones's candidacy--we first reported on that here, even before things got out of control. In his most recent Crowdsource post-mortem, Jaffe is forced to admit that voter participation in his propaganda efforts has dropped by nearly 50% from 2022 to 2023. Most fortunately for Andruw Jones, more of "the faithful" stuck around rather than disappearing down a rabbit hole, so that despite receiving less votes overall in 2023 than in 2022, his percentage of the "remaining voters" shot up tantalizingly close to the magic BBWAA admission threshold of 75%. How convenient for those influenced by simplistic numerical psycho-flummery! But it appears that Jaffe's "army" is thinning out behind him.)

Jones's candidacy rests upon a value method that remains seriously flawed. WAR has a series of distortions that just can't be reconciled so long as its treatment of "defensive replacement" via values assigned to its "defensive spectrum" are improperly constructed. It is a flawed "rate stat" that is turned via various forms of pettifoggery into a "counting stat," thus creating strange and borderline comical results, even on the offensive side. For example: Andruw Jones has 39 OWAR and a 110 OPS+; Dick Allen has 70 OWAR and a 156 OPS+. Let's leave aside the defensive analytical disasters that push Allen below Jones via the system's perilous adjustments, and focus on the offense. Is Allen--a truly great power hitter who played in a time of historically low run scoring--really twice as good a hitter as Jones--a middling hitter with very good power who played in one of baseball's most copious run scoring eras? No: that's an exaggeration based on cumulative flaws in WAR. OPS+ gives us a much better sense of the two players' league-relative value.

Jones' case rests on a flimsy combination of "peak" value and an overall value method that has distorted his defensive achievements. Two analysts named Chris--Bodig and Dial--have exposed various aspects of these distortions. You can read Bodig's take on this issue here, which references the work of our long-ago colleague Dial--whose defensive research Jaffe attempted to bury, but whose arguments were convincing for the influential scribe Jayson Stark (who continues to hold the line against voting for Jones with his most recent ballot).

Others not on the Andruw bandwagon include Bill James, whose Win Shares system also gives Jones excessive props for defense but doesn't create a "negative distortion" in its defensive spectrum gradations, permitting a more reasonable spread of offense-defense across all defensive positions, and whose results for Jones strongly suggest that despite his spectacular defensive peak, he falls short of enshrinement. And, somewhat surprisingly, Christina Kahrl, our old sneering bete noire, who has broken ranks and omitted Jones from her ballot.

Also not convinced, apparently, are the "silent voters" in the BBWAA who still comprise about half the voting bloc despite ongoing purges in the past half-decade. Andruw's support amongst those voters appears to remain shaky: according to the famous Hall of Fame Tracker, he loses more ground than any of the candidates amongst these voters. Just how much of that remains in place in the 2023 vote may prove fateful for those who are in it for the "ten-year plan." 

Our earlier modeling of the 2023 HOF vote, updated to represent the Tracker's latest totals, is pretty consistent with that of Twitter HOF maven Jason Sardell, with the exception of the predictions for Andruw. Exactly where in the 50s that he lands can potentially make a very big difference in how things play out over the last four years of his ballot eligibility. (Our calculation shorthand is in the table, by the way: the "Drift" column expresses historical calculations of "voter inertia" as it applies to players based on where they are in their time on the ballot: that's why Jeff Kent, Gary Sheffield and Billy Wagner have values over 1, since they are late in the process. That offsets the partial "delta" data that we have for votes captured by the Tracker; we average the two, then apply that value to the 2022 percentages to estimate the 2023 percentage.

Of course, we must conclude with a cynical observation. Andruw Jones will go into the Hall of Fame someday, because the current crop of media folk will get his percentage close enough to the BBWAA threshold in order to make the same argument to a "vets committee" that was made for Jack Morris. But they do need to keep the momentum going: 59% would be a helluva lot better than 50% psychologically. Because these folks hold a grudge--rightly or wrongly--against their predecessors, and they've put Andruw Jones in their basket in looking for their strange form of retribution. 

How will it turn out? We'll know later today...and as the foundations of "western society" twist and groan in the wind, Dick Allen's ghost adds a gust of laughter breaking free from our earthly din.

[UPDATE: A pleasant surprise for the Hall of Fame and for Scott Rolen, who made it over the line and was inducted in the 2023 balloting with 76% of the vote. Jason Sardell's model was a bit closer than ours on a majority of the other voting results: Helton 72% (looking good for 2024), Wagner 68% (also with a good chance next time), Sheffield 55%, Beltran 47% (we were a bit closer on this than Sardell...), Kent 47% (a shame), A-Rod 36% (a joke), Ramirez 33% (a travesty), Vizquel 20%, Pettitte 17%, Abreu 15%, Rollins 13%, Buehrle 11%, Frankie Rodriguez 11%, Torii Hunter 7%.

And...Andruw at...58%. That will keep the pressure on for the frontal assault, which has four more chances to succeed. Jones is in a better position than Morris, who had 52% of the vote with four more ballots remaining. The siege of dWAR will continue until morale improves...]

Saturday, January 21, 2023

THE TOP 600 HALF-SEASONS/2: THE .500+ OBP GUYS

THE point is more than noted that those .400 "half-seasons" we showed you last time don't really mean much to modern-day fans (and even less to that caviling cadre of splenetic "analysts"). 

This is due to the continuing relentless assault on batting average--and the fact that half-seasons have never meant anything to anyone in terms of analysis. (The ruts we are stuck in are deep and muddy...)

And with the season unit the only sub-mental game in town, .400+ hitters are so rare (with no full-season instance in 70+ years, it's basically thought extinct) that they simply have little resonance. 

But as you might expect, our response to this is exactly the same as the one that the Reverend Scot Sloane gave to Joan Caucus when she dumped him...

BUT we still say that half-season peaks are a way to grasp what's realistically possible for hitters for a reasonably sustained time period. We saw that in such a formulation, .400+ hitters are still rare (accounting for only 8% of the Top 600 (Top 300 for first half/second half, combined into one data set). A .500+ on-base average is also quite rare: at the seasonal level, it's actually rarer than a .400 batting average (going back all the way to 1871, only 21 instances in baseball history, as opposed to 35 .400 hitters).

So what about .500+ OBP half-seasons? How many of those are in the Top 600? The total for .400 hitters was 48; the total number of .500+ OBP half-seasons turns out to be just slightly more than that, with 52

How many of these .500+ OBP half-seasons come from players who also hit .400+ during the half-season in question? Glad you asked...







So there are 14 half-seasons where a .500+ OBP is accompanied by a .400+ BA. We've listed them above in descending order of BA. The three hitters who've done this the most are Tris Speaker, Rogers Hornsby, and Ted Williams (three times each). Ty Cobb managed to do it twice; the other three hitters who managed to do it once are Babe Ruth, Harry Heilmann and Barry Bonds.

Of course, you've seen these guys before--twice before, in fact...first when we published the chronological lists of the two Top 300 half-seasons (second half, then first half), and again in our last post. Now you'll see the 38 other hitters who achieved a 500+ OBP without also hitting .400. (Quick question for you to ponder: has there ever been anyone in baseball history whose had a .500+ OBP over a half-season while hitting less than .300? The answer is coming up, but first, here are the hitters with .500+ half-season OBPs whose BAs are between .360-.399:










Again, these are displayed in descending order of batting average (just because we can!). We've just highlighted a few of the 24 .500+ OBP half-seasons for you here: first, one of twelve (!!) Babe Ruth half-seasons that are part of this BA range, from 1930, one of the two half-seasons here where he hit 32 homers (a total later tied by Frank Thomas in 1994, which we've also highlighted).  We've highlighted Joey Votto for being the most recent member of the list; in context, and we've picked the second of two .500+ OBP half-seasons by our man Roy Cullenbine--a man who wasn't really used full time in either of the seasons in which he peaked. (There are 24 half-seasons in the above table, but only eight other hitters aside from Cullenbine, who's easily the most anonymous of the bunch. Not any more!)

Now, if you're reading the BB column, you already know that these guys are walking a lot (even the guys hitting .400+ in these half-seasons are safely above league average in that category). But perhaps Barry Bonds' first half of 2004 is leaping out at you...that walk total is not a misprint (131 walks in half a season!). Just imagine what it's going to take in terms of BBs for anyone to amass a .500+ OBP while hitting less than .300. (Do you have a guess as to whom that lone individual is? Make it quick, because he's coming right up...)







If you guessed Bonds, you were right on the money: he did it in the first half of his final season in 2007. (BTW, we can get a "back to front" look at Bonds for second half of 2001/first half of 2002 in this data cluster: for that time frame, Barry hit 61 HRs, drove in 121, scored 131 times, drew 198 walks, and hit .351. We'll have more "back to front" data for you as we get closer to Opening Day.)

Note that seven of the fourteen players in the this lower BA region of the .500+ OBP half-season club come from the 21st century, including one each from the past two years: Juan Soto in '21, Aaron Judge in '22. Along with Ryan Howard in 2006, those two present-day boppers had the biggest performance uptick relative to their pace earlier in the year.

Let's run a Time-Grid™ chart for the 52 .500+ OBP guys, so we can see what the historical pattern looks like...as will be clear, the major uplift for these occurrences can be found in three decades, the 1920s, the 1940s, and the 2000s--occurrences which are tied primarily to the three most dominant hitters in baseball history: Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and Barry Bonds. Of course, Ruth had help from Speaker and Hornsby, which is why you have 18 of the occurrences in that decade (representing just a tad more than a third of the total number of instances). Williams is the spear-carrier for the 1940s, though his most dominant half-season occurs late in his career, in that magical second half of 1957. The 2000s light up the board primarily due to Bonds.

Let's close by looking at power (we'll use "isolated power" to measure that) and walk percentage (BBP) in a scatter-chart, which is something that will visually confirm the specific uniqueness(es) of the Babe, Teddy B. and Bad Boy Barry. By "splaying" BBP and ISO on a scatter chart, we can see the "shape continuum" of uber-peak performances and determine how likely it is for a hitter with less power to be able to beat the odds and make it onto the .500+ OBP list. 

What the chart shows is that the BBP range is always well above league average, but extends out to percentages that seem utterly surreal (a 40+% BBP rate?). The color coding of the data points give us a chance to see the placement of seasons from Ruth (data points filled in with black), Williams (data points filled in with orange) and Bonds (data points filled in with yellow). As you can see, they each inhabit a specific region in the chart. In Bonds' case, it's literally a region where no man has gone before. 

Note the data point in gold--that's Heilmann, with 12% BBO and a solid but not spectacular ISO (.273). (Remember that Harry's the one who hit .457 in his second half.) And then check out the two data points in red--another singular region occupied by the only moderately powerful Roy Cullenbine. (The five players below Roy in ISO are all guys from the Deadball Era--Ty Cobb, Frank Chance, John McGraw--or from the early 1920s: Tris Speaker. We are not likely to pass that way again, though we can keep a candle in the window in hopes for a half-season like Cullenbine's.) The closest to such a season is captured by the data point in green: that's Joey Votto in 2015. Because of his HRs, he's not really all that close to Roy.

We'll be back a bit later on to show you all the hitters who cracked into the half-season Top 600 exactly once. Then we'll go "up the food chain" and show you the folks who made the list on two or more occasions. You can probably guess who has the most of these based on what you've seen here, but there will still be some surprises along the way...stay tuned.  

Thursday, January 12, 2023

THE TOP 600 HALF-SEASONS/1: THE .400 HITTERS

So...who am I, anyway--and
and why am I here? (see below...)


We continue to combine, consolidate and assemble the data from our forays into half-seasons, which previously appeared here under the titles SIZZLING UP THE SECOND HALF and CRANKING FROM THE START.  We're now ready to begin sharing the findings from having slammed all of the top six hundred half-seasons together...

...and, from our standpoint at least, what better way to dive in than with the hitters who managed to hit .400 or better over a half-season. The .400 hitter has been such a rara avis that it is mostly discounted as much of anything other than a curiosity, and in an age that has been relentlessly ruthless about denigrating the very idea of batting average, this list will produce a dismissive yawn from the UAC (that's "usual arrogant cadre"--or "contingent," if you prefer). 

Those of you who prefer at least a vestige of romance in the squidgy edges of life, however, may be intrigued to discover that at the half-season level there is still such a thing as a .400 hitter. The most recent instance occurred just six seasons ago (that's 2016, and you'll need to look below to find out who it was). As opposed to about a dozen full-season instances since 1901, there are forty-eight (48) .400+ half-seasons, mostly populated by the usual suspects...but with a few intriguing surprises. 

Now if you've been following along all the while, you've seen all of these "upper 48," but never altogether in one listing. And you won't see them in a single list here, either; rather, in three lists showing how the .400 half-season was first fairly common, had a bit of an explosion with the introduction of the live ball, and then faded away into its own form of rarity (but, as noted, still short of extinction).







The names of Hall of Famers are shown in bold type. (The only folk with a .400+ half-season who are not in the HOF are "miscreants" of some sort: the "cheaters"--Joe Jackson, Barry Bonds--and the terminally wayward--Mike Donlin, Heinie Zimmerman. And one other recent guy who hasn't retired yet--you'll have to wait for that...)

Note how this list is dominated by Ty Cobb (six entries out of fourteen). So we should revise our statement about .400+ half-seasons being fairly common and state that they were relatively rare except for Cobb. We're highlighting the slash-line stats in boxes for half-seasons with an OPS of 1.100 or higher, as well as boxing the top counting stat achievements. As many of you know 1911-12 was a notable "thaw point" in the Deadball Era, with offense jumping up sharply--and that's in evidence here, with six instances of .400+ half-seasons occurring in those years. 

But note that Nap Lajoie is the only hitter here to have two .400+ half-seasons in the same year.

Now it's time to explode!!









And it was the original offensive explosion, with batting average ultimately jumping nearly fifty points from where it had been just a decade earlier (eventually peaking in 1930, the year that culminated the cannon fodder of the 1920s). 

What you'll notice, though, is that the .400+ half-seasons don't really showcase homers--and that even goes for Babe Ruth's lone appearance on this portion of the list (fear not, he's highly represented in the Top 600 half-seasons: it's just that all but one of his entries have sub-.400 BAs). 

The man who dominates this list is Rogers Hornsby, with seven appearances during the 1920s. For all that, he still doesn't manage to match Lajoie by having .400+ BA half-seasons in the same year. It's hard not get a bit aflutter at that .451 BA in the second half of 1924, however.

But that is not the record for highest half-season batting average. That record is held by the "mystery man" from our photo above: it's Harry Heilmann, who hit .457 in the second half of 1927 to cinch his only full-season .400+ season (he hit .390+ three other times). A good modern-day comp for Heilmann is Edgar Martinez--both right-handed hitters, many more doubles than homers. (Edgar walked a lot more, however.) Heilmann and Tris Speaker appear on this 20s list three times, with George Sisler joining them twice. 

We forgot about Lefty O'Doul being the other non-Hall of Famer who snagged a .400+ half-season. He did have the Baker Bowl working for him in 1929, but we won't hold it against him...

And at the beginning of the decade, the star-crossed Ross Youngs showed why John McGraw kept his picture on his office wall long after the feisty Texan had passed away at only 30 years of age.

Now, the subsidence after the uplift...







We get five more .400+ half-seasons in the 1930s, and three in the '40s (with Ted Williams finally matching Lajoie by having both half-seasons in the same year). Since 1948, we've had only five more instances, though three of them did occur in consecutive decades recently, with the most recent being the still-active Joey Votto in 2016.

Again, no huge homer heroics are associated with this sub-species of high offensive achievement, though the #1, #3 and #4 half-seasons (as measured by OPS+) all occur here--two from Williams and the other from Barry Bonds (when folks suddenly realized it was a good thing to just walk him--even with the bases loaded). 

A quick nod backwards to 1936, when my 17-year-old father was likely enthralled by the exploits of his favorite player, Earl Averill, whose second half must have been awfully sweet to watch.

You may have noticed the "tOPS+" column at the far right. That's another nice feature from Forman et fils (aka Baseball-Reference) which compares the OPS+ for the half-season with the OPS+ of the player's full season for that year. The scale sets 100 to average, so if you look at Williams' two entries for 1941 you can see that his second half was a good bit better than his overall year (113), while his first half was just the opposite (87). If you go back over the lists, you'll see some high scores in the "tOPS+" column for hitters--which means that they got insanely hot relative to their standard level of play. One of the highest such "tOPS+" numbers belongs to Joey Votto, the most recent addition to the list. All of these half-seasons represent a pinnacle of performance, but "tOPS+" gives us a way to measure just how far "over their heads" the players with .400+ half-seasons really are playing. (Note: it also works for sub-.400 half-seasons...)

Will we see any more of these types of half-seasons? While they've become increasingly rare, there is at least some chance that the pendulum will swing back at some point to make high-BA/moderate power hitting a viable concept. But perhaps it's better if they remain rare, so that the romance of elusiveness might stay with us. The chances of seeing 21 of them in a decade again (as in the 1920s) is pinned right at zero, however...

We'll move on to OBP and SLG in the next installments. Stay tuned...


Wednesday, January 11, 2023

THE "ATHLETIC 13" SHOWS MENTAL BLOC(K) FOR HOF VOTING

So why the damn pic of Olivia Wilde,
anyway? Wait for it...
We are now less than two weeks away from the official results for the 2023 Hall of Fame voting, and certain patterns in that vote have again asserted themselves--and, in some cases, with a vengeance.

Our look at the Hall of Merit's "mock vote" earlier produced mixed emotions in us, but having looked at the collective results from the 13 voters from The Athletic, we can say that those "mandarins" who huddle under the semi-bedraggled roof at the Baseball Think Factory were a more balanced bloc of voters than the "semi-embedded scriveners" in the game's dubious virtual world of journalism. 

Of course, the Andruw Jones thang that's going on is a travesty, but it's a manifestation of an even larger issue which we'll tackle as we get closer to the full reveal of the BBWAA results. The Hall of Merit folks had more than twice as many voters in their sample, which benefits them in that they did not exhibit the type of slavish uniformity that we'll see in the votes from the "Athletic 13" bloc. (The BTF mandarins did whiff in varying degrees on Jeff Kent, Bobby Abreu and Andy Pettitte, failing to give them sufficient support to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, even though each of these fine fellows was elected to the Hall of Merit. Yes, Virginia, that tells you--and me and that dog named "Booe!"--that it's much easier to make it into the Hall of Merit than to the Hall of Fame...one thinks that the opposite really should be the case.)

But we reserve our real scorn for the Thirteen (sidestepping any irrelevant digressions about the talent and character of Olivia Wilde, who will always be the real--yet still somehow fake--Thirteen...) if for no other reason that their votes actually count

And so let's peruse their bloc(k)-y vote. Note that since our disdain has been more than teased to you already, you won't be surprised that we've devised a meta-empirical grading scheme for the Thirteen's voting results. And those results are color-coded for our (and possibly your) amusement...

First, someone in the Thirteen should've taken one for the team and dissented from the lamentable uniformity displayed by the unanimous votes for Todd Helton and Scott Rolen. Yes, these two are close to getting inducted--but it's just bad form to bandwagon. You say it was a secret ballot? Don't be naive...

But in our system, had just one of them dropped out of the Helton-Rolen Express, they'd get a "just about right" designation--which, as you will see, would have salvaged a more respectable showing. Instead, they wind up in our very special (and "inside baseball"-like) category called "contextually overrated." That will cost you points, gents: -1 point for each

And, of course, there's Andruw. One voter did come to his senses here and jumped off the "Fondue train," but it won't salvage the group as a whole, whose 92% figure for a man who deserves maybe half that much support is going to cost them bigly (sorry!). "Massively overrated" is the worst faux pas possible in this endeavor, garnering a penalty of -5 points for every such infraction. (Overrating is much worse than underrating, as most of us know when we're really forced to look at ourselves in the mirror.)

The bloc was also too high on Carlos Beltran, who will likely come in just under 50% when the final tally is in. Beltran belongs in the Hall, but his support needs to grow: he's not a first-ballot inductee. Just a couple of votes difference in a bloc of this type would save them from being docked -2 points for the secondary offense of a voting result that falls into the "somewhat overrated" category.

Since we apparently trying to light Frankie
Rodriguez
on fire (see below...), we thought we'd 
let Billy Wagner handle it for us...


Good news (at last). The bloc got into the sweet zone with Gary Sheffield and Billy Wagner. We give out +5 points for each instance of getting it "just about right." (Full disclosure: we ran out of baby bears a few years ago, and porridge the year after that.) So if you're keeping score at home, you'll know that the running score for the Thirteen at this point is 10 + (-5) + (-2)  + (-2) = 1. Will they be able to keep their VAR (Votes Above Replacement) in positive territory?

We must be joking, right? To quote a person we hope we never see on a cable news show again: "you betcha." The bloc(k) falls apart faster than what's going to happen in the House of Representatives by coming in below the proper vote percentages for Abreu, Pettitte, third-timer Mark Buehrle, and first-timer Francisco Rodriguez. For context, we figure Abreu "should" be at close to 50% at this point in his tenure on the ballot: one more vote would have given them another "just about right," (henceforth abbreviated JAR...) but--them's the breaks. Pettitte should be around 40% so that he might get close enough in his second five years on the HOF ballot to squeak over the line in year ten: the bloc(k) missed that, too. Buehrle should stay on the ballot: as with Abreu, one vote from these clowns would've gotten the into "JAR land," but no...

Frankie Rodriguez is a special case here, since relievers are a dicey proposition with respect to the Hall. The brilliant but erratic F-Rod doesn't have anything like the credentials of Wagner, but he still deserves about 15-20% of the vote in his first time out to get a chance to stay on the ballot and have a very long-shot chance of catching fire if the wind shifts. (Hmm, that's a very strange way of putting it...even for us!) But that's not happening, and the bloc didn't show any signs of grasping the concept--so that's another -2 points for youse bums.

But it gets worse. There's still the "tragically underrated" category, with its -3 point penalty. The bloc(kheads) go up in flames themselves with simply catastrophic undervotes for Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez, two first-ballot Hall of Famers who are part of baseball's Great Scapegoating fiasco. Just how much of this mentality has sunk into the "new breed" of scrivener is fully on display here. (A pox on you grope-thunkers!)

Worst of all, though, is a result that you might not initially see as an underperformance--we're talking about our old pal Jeff Kent. Yes, 54% seems not so bad, and it's higher than his '22 percentage. But that '22 percentage was criminally low, and where the tragedy tire explodes all of us across the highway is in the fact that this is Jeff's tenth and last time on the ballot. (And Kent is the last guy who came on the ballot when the rules said he had fifteen years to make it.) The bloc(k) should have been cognizant of that, and Kent's percent should have matched that of Sheffield and Wagner. So that's another -3 for our Thirteen. (And it should be more, but despite having to write about this, we're in a pretty good mood...so we won't pile on.)

As you can see, going easy on that last beyond-lamentable, brain-dead faux pas won't save these clowns from falling well below the VAR "replacement level" line. They had several chances to save themselves, but they were too bloc(k)-y for their own good (and they weren't helped by having Keith Law amongst them: few folks can get on the wrong side of this kind of stuff more consistently than ol' Keith, a dyed-in-the-Worsted-wool elitist who believes in a "small Hall" and has conveniently overlooked the fact that the barn door has been long since kicked wide open on that score...yes, you're really a wonder, Keithy boy, and not in a way that's even remotely good).

So the final tally is in--accompanied by a resounding thunderclap of flatulence. Thus the Thirteen rode through the valley of Death....and right on over Wile E. Coyote's backup cliff. They blew past their numerical mirror image and didn't look back. (We can hardly wait to see Phangraf's Crowdsource results, which should be out soon and good for some bitter guffaws, before the BBWAA official tally most likely leaves everyone on the outside looking in.) More to come...stay tuned.

Friday, January 6, 2023

FINALLY...THE "CRANKING FROM THE START" TOP 300 SUMMARY

So little time, so many spinning plates...we've been spending much time plotting our moves for 2023 film shows--so much so that the task of verifying the decade-by-decade breakouts in the Top 300 first half performances just kept slipping through the cracks. And then there was the new year, which has brought us Kevin McCarthy's farcical engagement with the Mendoza Line...

...but we've managed to get past all that at last, so without further ado, here are the counting numbers for various statistical categories associated with the Top 300 first half super-achievers (as measured by league-adjusted on-base plus slugging, or OPS+). These are broken out by decades, as you'll soon see...

You can compare these raw numbers to what we presented back on 11/20/22 for the Top 300 second half behemoths by clicking on the link in this sentence. You'll note the patterns are similar, but not identical...and you'll note that the "trough" in high-end offensive performance occurs in the same place for both: the 1980s.

Of course, this data is more intelligible (if not useful) when it is presented in "percentage of totals" format, so we'll move right on and slap that up here for you right now:


Now we can see the patterns in the data, many of which will remind you of what we saw previously in the "second half" breakouts. The batting average for Top 300 members has shifted over time from the .350-.399 range into the .300-.349 range; OBP has been steadily a .400-.499 range since the dawn of recorded baseball time; SLG spiked highest when coupled with the first offensive explosions in the 1920s/1930s and had a brief "return to center stage" in the trailing edge of what some still like to call "the steroid age." The number of HRs hit in the first half by these hitters has leapfrogged dramatically in recent years due to two factors: 1) the increased emphasis on hitting HRs, "launch angle," and other associated claptrap; 2) the institutionalization of an early April/late March start to the season, which places more games in the first half.


There is no one decade that is "most representative" of the game as seen through this lens of achievement, because the patterns have shifted back and forth rather in the fashion of a clenched fist. 

We might get a better sense of the overall pattern, as was the case with the second half data shown back in November, by bundling most of the decades into two (with the exception of the 1960s...as Barbara Stanwyck said about Charles Coburn in The Lady Eve: "and what an exception!")


We'll post this chart in tandem with the second half chart at some point soon; in the meantime, here are some takeaways from the above. 

First and foremost, it's officially impossible for a low-power hitter to generate enough OBP these days to push themselves into the Top 300: remember, that <10 HR column at the far right of the green-colored columns represents only half a season! (This falls in line with our observations some years back in the late, lamented Hardball Times Baseball Annual, as outlined in any essay entitled "In Search of the Anomalous Superstar.") 

Second, 20+ HRs in a half season is now the norm for anyone in the Top 300, a trend that first surfaced in the low offense 60s and seems to again be de rigeur for anyone in the 2020s (looking like a decade of falling offense). 61% of the hitters in the Top 300 in the 60s met or exceeded the 20 HR+ half-season; as you can see in the breakout at bottom (the two halves of baseball history), that total is 64% since the dawn of expansion, and is more than double the rate for the 1900-1959 period.

(Note again that these figures are more pronounced than in the case of the second half data because more and more games are played prior to the All-Star break now.)

And finally, note that to make the Top 300 these days, it's pretty imperative that you have to be able to slug .600+ one way or another...and most of the time that's hitting a lot of HRs.

What's reassuring in all this is that a half-season is enough elapsed time, baseball-wise, to prevent hot streaks from creating truly freakish stat lines that might show up in the data. Fortunately, it's almost as tough to slug .700 for a half-season than it is do it for a full season--and given everything else we seem to be experiencing in this age of spinning plates, that qualifies as mental comfort food in a world where "leaders" seem to excel mostly in hurling their plates against the wall.