Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Upon further review (where have you heard that phrase before?), we've decided to calculate the Ptolemaic MVP rankings on a weekly basis. That will probably result in the season-end point totals looking a good bit like the actual MVP voting numbers as they're calculated from the BB-WAA ballots. (Just another way that we try to ease the more entrenched into our downright strange new world.)

For more details on just what a Ptolemaic MVP award looks like, simply type "Ptolemaic" into our slightly wayward search engine.

What's interesting about this updated approach is that the numbers get displayed and broken out by the seven offensive categories that get ranked--OPS, OBP, SLG, HR, RBI, R, and BA. We've tried to weight it so that the more useful stats (OPS, OBP and SLG) get a disproportionate weighting, but we've also decided to be pretty generous with the points for HR and RBI, if only to blend the two competing approaches to the MVP. (Yes, in the modern world it's called selling out to both sides: then again, one might suffer the following fate--which, once the punk-primed whelping subsided, would result in a "cancelled subscription"...)

But let's not get dragged down by such inexorable prophecy, and focus on the current results.

Let's start with the AL first:

We should note that the results here represent five weeks of data, which means that current AL Ptolemaic leader Josh Hamilton has been pulling down an average of a bit more than 14 Ptolemaic points a week since our rolling two-month snapshot data has kicked in.

However, the weekly totals show that Josh is declining: 18, 17, 17, 12, 8. That's also been the case for current runner-up Paul Konerko: 14, 12, 12, 10, 4.

Is anyone making a move? Well, Robinson Cano piled up 11 Ptolemaic points in the last week. That just might be the average weekly point total for the overall winner: we'll see.

Would we actually vote this MVP ballot in the order that the Ptolemaic method creates? In all likelihood, not quite. But it ain't bad.

Let's go over and take a look at the NL...

Joey Votto, already the BB-WAA MVP in 2010, is making a strong run for award number two this year and is now basically the mirror image of the man who stood in his way for the MVP award for so many years (Albert Pujols, still a few magic beans short of his usual killer tomato act).

A few interesting names on this list, including embattled NL 2011 MVP Ryan Braun. And then there's our old pal Melky Cabrera, trying to ride batting average to the top of the Ptolemaic thrill ride. (Melky is making Giants' GM Brian Sabean look like a genius again--two words: Jeff Kent--while embattled lefty Jonathan Sanchez is still struggling in KC.)

It's also rare to see a catcher as far up in the rankings as Carlos Ruiz. It won't last, but it will be one of the memories of spring 2012 that Carlos had such a lofty batting average--the highest for an NL catcher (at this point in time, at least) since Mike Piazza in 1997.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


We know that the following will not fly in the little world of baseball numberology...the reasons are both short and long. We know that to identify an era in time by a phrase that did not exist in that time frame is to incur the wrath of the historian--or at least that portion who wish to serve vigilantly as knee-jerk guardians of methodology.

And we know that the perspective of those who "man the barricades" in that world will never accept the idea that their concepts, murky and muddled as they may be, were in any way existent prior to the accepted lineage of "advanced statistical concepts" as they are now commonly accepted--and, indeed, taught in a smattering of college courses across this fair land.

But you know what? None of that bothers us. (As you would doubtless expect, if you are familiar with the landscape here.) None of that, in fact, matters one little bit.

We are going to suggest that despite any and all lack of articulation of the principles, ideas, and latter-day ideologies that have come to be known under the clustered term of "sabermetrics," there did come to exist a series of primordial intersections with basic concepts that in the past thirty years have been written about at an increasing pace. (The term ad nauseum comes to mind, but it's probably a tad too negative...even for us.)

Bill James has made a yeoman effort to capture the pre-history of sabermetric concepts in his Historical Baseball Abstract. Much of that work, which mercifully avoided the more recondite mathematics that the "neo" phase of the movement has mostly mired itself in, centered around managerial tendencies and the lineage of concepts passed through realms of influence (what James has occasionally referred to as "managerial family trees").

We're not here to talk about that, of course. To put it in football parlance, we're here to run a reverse, a maneuver that will take the original play (or concept) in a completely different direction and use the principle of surprise to make a gain downfield.

To do that, we'll look at one feature of baseball offense--the base on balls--and we'll see how often the teams in the National League reach a certain threshold over the league's history (beginning in 1901 and continuing to the present).

Why just the NL? Two reasons. First, of course, the lack of the DH gives us a unified data set. Second, the AL was more thoroughly revolutionized by Babe Ruth--if for no other reason than the Babe's own presence. He skews the data: if we were to use him, we'd be making claims about the 30s that, in the cold light of analysis, would clearly be premature.

So it's the NL, and here--at long last--is what the bald, blustery, oversimplifying revisionism is all about. When we look at the history of the NL in terms of its teams, we have 1140 team seasons (from 1901 to 2011). Of those, exactly 119 teams have managed to draw 600 or more walks in a season. That's just under 11%.

What we posit here (submitted, as Rod Serling might have said if he were a standup comic, for your disapproval...) is that any time the three-year average for the league exceeds 11%, we are, de facto, in a "sabermetric age."

When we chart that, as you can see above, we see that there have been three so-called "sabermetric ages" in NL history--the first immediately after World War II; the second beginning in conjunction with baseball's second expansion (the expansion, in fact, that was the only one in which four teams were added in a single year--1969); and the third commencing in 1996 and lasting throughout what Eric Walker (not Walt Davis!) termed the "sillyball era" (also the steroid era).

Note that we placed the crossover value at the historical NL average (11%) so that the many years of "zero" (600+ walks was virtually non-existent for an NL team prior to the 1940s) will show up more dramatically. (A veritable sea of red, in fact, stretching below the line, all the way to zero.)

Now we've already suggested that some readers will quibble--perhaps violently--with this cheeky revisionism. What they should realize, however,  is that these are time frames where one of two things happened: offense exploded and took walks with them, or some other set of forces, conscious or unconscious, permitted teams and their managers to include strike zone judgment in their offensive approach.

Those formulations will allow the quibbler to suggest that the last fifteen years, when stat analysis and its associated proselytizing has increased at a rate that is somewhere to the north of the term "exponentially", is simply an unconscious reflection of the offensive explosion. However, what we see when we look at the actual NL teams that exceeded 600 walks in the 1996-2010 time frame (a total of 59 teams, 38 of which occurred from 1996-2002 and only 21 from 2003-10) is that they run the gamut of run scoring.

In short, they are not all skewed to teams that had such potent offenses (relative to their overall offensive context) that their walk totals were simply inflated by any sort of "fear factor". (Such a factor, of course, must be granted for several of the Giants squads in the early 2000s, when a player--Barry Bonds--with a skewing factor analogous to that of Babe Ruth was present.

The upshot is that this was a time frame in which certain teams embraced this concept, and it had its most sustained occurrence over that fifteen year span.

However, what the far right side of the chart is seeming to indicate to us is that this age has past.

All of which suggests that our claims about the misplacement of emphasis in the neo-sabe movement might well be on-target: namely, that misplacement has resulted in a series of its core tenets atrophying.

Do we have any NL teams in 2012 on pace to join the ranks of 600+ walk teams? No. The current leader in walks--the Los Angeles Dodgers--is on pace to walk 567 times.

Now we know that simply drawing a lot of walks is no outrageous guarantee of success. However, the 119 teams that walked 600+ times have an aggregate winning percentage of .533 (10147-8904). NL teams that have walked 500-599 times average out to .509; those that walk 400-499 times have an aggregate WPCT of .490. And those that walk less than 400 times in a year (leaving out 1981 and 1994) have an aggregate WPCT of .468.

So--as sabermetricians used to passionately argue--there's some basic, intrinsic advantage in drawing more walks (for teams as well as for individuals). More importantly, however, it's something that adds dimensionality to baseball--something that, as we noted awhile back, is slowly but noticeably decaying. The increasing lack of dimensionality in the recent game is attributable--at least in part--to a lack of dimensionality in neo-sabe thinking as it has infiltrated the front office and remained oblivious to the features of its own "sabermetric age" as manifested (alas, temporarily) in higher walk totals. The "consultancy culture" has rushed past its earlier precepts, and has overlooked one of the movement's original rallying cries. What grand irony...could it be that we've lived through our great age without knowing it, and that it's slipped through our fingers?

Monday, June 25, 2012


We said it fifteen years ago. The so-called "new" perspective on baseball, as marketed by those whom we've both jeeringly and jocularly termed "neo-sabermetricians", would semi-consciously wind up being virtually indistinguishable from the mainstream writers that the "new voices" have held up to similar scorn and ridicule.

What happens with most of these writers is that they have a lamentable tendency to fall in love with their own voice. And much like the beat writers and newspaper columnists, they soon become semi-conscious caricatures of themselves, spooning out product that is meant to be digested as disposable content.

Now, of course, these folk are getting paid for their work--an artifact of a parallel version of the "good old boy" network that works against critical thinking and pushes toward a variant of the journalistic "cult of personality"--so they have to write something. While some of these folk are good writers in other contexts, their work in the feature/column/filler mode becomes nothing more or less than throbbing gristle.

A few recent examples:

Evan Hughes on the "post-Moneyball"A's. (g)Rantland is a site where no lack of nuance is left unexplored, and Hughes--a literary maven with a breezy, semi-chauvinistic chronicle of Brooklyn's literati that strains to tie threads together in a manner akin to tying shoelaces from each half of a pair of shoes to the other one--is caught in the slummy marshes as he tries to eke out a "Defence of Billy Beane."

Hughes conflates the very natural underdogism (in fairness, awfully hard to suppress) that the current A's have perfected via Beane's most manic incarnation of "throw it against the wall and see what sticks" with the one cogent feature of the A's long journey that remains continually underrepresented: their long-held recognition that the "crappy park" in which they play creates a kind of haven for the astonishing quantity of pitchers they've run through their organization since 2002, when the Moneyball myth became the siren call for an increasingly addled "civil war."

Brandon Moss: not even the next Jack Cust, kiddies.
We certainly don't mean to ridicule the fan-boy impulse--after all, even the most strict adherent to the "model modality" (of which Hughes is a relatively wan example...) was, at some point, a wide-eyed acolyte. But it's woefully premature to posit that the A's are actually in a mode where they are building a new core from the shock troops that Beane has assembled.

The likely outcome in 2012, despite the plucky, entertaining snapshots in the first three months that the A's have provided, is a slow but steady fade into the recesses of the AL West. Their hitting uptick in June will, alas, prove to be a temporary aberration.

Hughes is far from offensive here; he's just a man who strings together elegant sentences with a curious lack of inflection--all of which underlines his whimsical determination to indulge a desire to slum in the sports pages. He's most revealing in what he elides--which is the fact that, despite the occasional exceptions, the "unfair" game now barely permits even one small-market team a chance to defy baseball's stacked deck over a series of years. (Or have we all forgotten about the contemporaneous "anti-As"--the 'aught decade Minnesota Twins?) We can root for the A's and the Rays and the Pirates and (your team here) all we want, but the magical synthesis of castoffs and canny draft choices is much, much rarer than what the neo-sabe spin doctors would lead you to believe.

Rob Neyer on R.A. Dickey. We love R.A. Dickey too--but, Rob: come on...Dickey's astonishing hot streak came against a series of weak-hitting teams (Pirates, Padres, Rays, Nationals, a Cardinal team in the midst of a week-long nosedive (no-hit by Dickey's rotation mate Johan Santana), and an Oriole lineup that's shown a lot of "all-or-nothing" qualities.

R.A. Dickey: he reached the top of the mountain, but no one
(not even a knuckleballing mystic) can stay there for long...
When he's not got out his pom-poms, Rob is a bit more likely to point out countering facts, such as the one demonstrating that Dickey has been getting much better run support so far in '12 (5.34 R/G as opposed to 3.75 last year).

The fan-boy variation here that moves toward the cringeworthy is the notion that Dickey has a "hard" knuckleball that's somehow revolutionized the entire notion of "snake jazz" (as so wonderfully coined by Dave Baldwin). Dickey had his fantastic run against teams who are at or near the top of their respective leagues in batter strikeouts. It was great fun, but for Rob to leap off a tall building without a net in search of terminal velocity disguised as paradigm shift is the type of behavior that he used to excoriate with a ferociously wielded (if not always platinum-blade sharp) rapier. There's something cartoon-like about Rob's rapprochement with the writers he used to so gleefully grenade.

Joe Pos on Kevin Youkilis. Here is the quintessence of the mawkish fanboy, distilled in melodrama as masterfully overwrought as the sappy set-up in Vertigo where Konstantin Shayne revels in the bloated pathos of the Carlotta Valdes shaggy-dog story. ("The sad Carlotta...the mad Carlotta"--one can subsitute Youk's angry goatee for Carlotta's hypnotic hair-whorl, and you will just about be ready to jump off that church roof yourself.) Pos comes off like the led-by-the-nose Scotty Ferguson (James Stewart) who thinks with his dick and figures out a way to be culpable for the death of two women, who were somehow the same woman.

That's just what Pos does with Youk, referred to via a grossly overdetermined maudlinalia, all but left for dead. This is an ersatz case study that somehow tries to reclaim the Red Sox as exemplar of the Moneyball approach to offense--one that Billy Beane proved was fungible in 2002, when his A's rode their pitching (not their hitting) to storied prominence. Youk is somehow elevated to a central role in the Red Sox' mid-decade success, which is some serious delusion on Pos' part. (Fact: Youk had three excellent seasons, but he was not a dominant player.)

And the underlying assumption herein that Youk is through (more baldly hedged than usual by Pos, whose writing here skews heavily to a manic-depressive undercurrent and a unshakable overtone of extreme haste) is another strange manifestation of the ongoing despair over the decoupling of the Epstein-James Era (the overstated, overrated underwiring in the Beantown ballclub's copiously padded brassiere) when there is still no reason to write off the '12 Sox as a contender. (While they are flawed and mediocre, it looks increasingly like a year of uncommon parity in the AL East, and they have plenty of time to recover.)

Now Pos is really, truly, and for worse as well as for better a mainstream scribe, despite his attempts to stake out a kind of Roger Ebert territory within the little realm of sports, and so all this sleeve-drowned-in-briny-tears stuff is playing to that long tradition of overwrought hackdom that's the long, interminable decline phase from the days of Runyon and Lardner. From reading this piece, you'd think that Youkilis had suffered the same fate as Nick Adenhart.

Now that was a story with agonizing pathos--a bonafide baseball tragedy. If Youk's departure from Boston actually comes close to such a heartbreaking event, then it should have been written about with a keen sense of understatement.

It should have evoked the sad resignation of Vertigo's Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes), when she suddenly recognizes that she's lost Scotty for good.

Instead, we get Pos not only leaping off the church tower, but trying to take his readers with him.

No doubt about it, guys: you all need some time off. Whether the exact amount should be weeks, or months, or years isn't yet clear. But don't call us...we'll call you.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Dave Baldwin, turned by the Topps
photographer into the spittin' image of
Howdy Doody...
We're a few years late to the party, but Dave Baldwin's work is timeless and its level of entertainment (in all senses of the word) is unflagging. A man who fearlessly explores his inner resources, Baldwin is a living paradigm shift, and his transformation continues apace. The reader can glimpse and reach/grasp it in his more-than-baseball memoir, Snake Jazz--a book that every baseball fan, no matter their orientation, should read in order that its wisdom and humor can seep into as many mental pores as possible.

The title of our entry pays homage to Baldwin's hilarious leitmotif that recurs (which, of course, is what a leitmotif does...) throughout his memoir. (Hint: the well-traveled Baldwin heard this phrase on a frequent basis during his baseball-related peregrinations.) The hardest thing that I've had to do was to have to put down Baldwin's book in order to take care of other pressing matters that kept encroaching on my reading time; it's a virtual certainty that you, dear reader, will have the same reaction once you begin reading it.

Baldwin's baseball journey was long and circuitous, beginning as a child and wafting through sixteen years in what the insiders still like to call "O.B." (though Baldwin shows that the word "organized" is, in many ways, a mere concession to wishful thinking). Relating tales that touch upon so many aspects of the game that have been argued about in "advanced" circles, Baldwin connects science (the field he transformed himself into as his baseball career moved past middle age) with myth (the region where art and poetry converge, an area that Baldwin has gone on to explore and practice with uncommon skill) in order to celebrate baseball as a rite of random passage in the mere mystery of life itself.

Dave Baldwin, Third Base Coach: phantasmagoric
as his own journey through (and beyond) the game
As a scientist and as someone who was a long-time baseball insider, Baldwin offers a mild perspectival correction for those of us who would--as Wordsworth said--"murder to dissect" (here at BBB, we plead half-innocent):

The gears and wheels of the baseball game machine are wonderfully wobbly, however. Many skewing factors prejudice the data this machine produces--managers (either cunning or pigheaded), extreme infields (either tall grass or slippery turf), loaded equipment (either carpentered bats or manicured balls), and even an unscrupulous Tacoma sportswriter are beyond the purview of those who track stats. And there's no reason to expect things to "even out"... There are more wriggly things in heaven and earth, for ratios, than are dreamt of in your statistics.

The hardest thing I have to say, actually, is something that I hope won't dampen Dave Baldwin's spirits. My copy of Snake Jazz, purchased second-hand, contains evidence of abandonment by someone who was more than a passing acquaintance...the individual to whom the book was inscribed by Baldwin, and who received a personal letter from Dave's wife (enclosed in the copy of the book when it arrived in my mailbox), for some reason decided to give up his copy. Such an occurrence, whether out of callousness or desperation, is a sad fact to note, as Snake Jazz (which is given a full and satisfying definition in the book's glossary) is precious cargo. It will take something truly cataclysmic to pry this volume from my bookshelf.

Let's be the first to nominate Dave Baldwin--painter, poet, writer, scientist, and pitcher--for the Baseball Reliquary's Tony Salin Memorial Award. Here's hoping we will see him in Pasadena in 2013.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Intuitively, we know that any baseball team that manages to win ten or more games in a row is almost certainly better than average. And ergo ipso, any team that loses ten or more games consecutively is almost certainly going to have a losing record over the course of the season in which such a lengthy losing streak occurs.

However, we don't know what the effect actually looks like over a smattering of seasons. How much better than average for the win-streak teams? How much worse than average for the losing-streak teams?

We will get to that (or you can simply cheat and look at the results at the bottom of the chart at left). The old back-of-the-well-thumbed envelope approach, however, might look like this: start at 81-81, add or subtract the ten games. The win-streak team would be 91-71; the losing-streak team would be the opposite.

But, wait, that's not right...we have to subtract out the ten games and go from a .500 value that's ten fewer games than the full season. 162-10 = 152, so: 76-76. Add ten to the win column for the win streak: 86-76. Add ten to the loss column for the losing streak: 76-86.

Don't like the .500 assumption? You're probably quite right. Losing that many games in a row is not something that a .500 team is very likely to do. Our chart of the past 13 seasons over at the left (which you've probably peeked at already...) shows that of the forty teams who've had a 10-game winning streak, only five wound up with a losing record during the year in question.

And of the forty-six teams that have had a ten-game losing streak (there are three teams who've managed to have two ten-game losing streaks in the same season: all three of these teams, as you'd expect, lost 100 or more games during the year in question) only four of them had winning records.

So the first approach--subtracting from 81--actually gets closer to the real-life totals. The aggregate won-loss record for teams who have a ten-game winning streak is .553, or about 89.5 wins per 162 games. The aggregate won-loss record for team who have a ten-game losing streak (to be accurate, that's ten or more consecutive wins or losses) is .422, or about 68.5 wins per 162 games. (This would go up to close to 71 wins if we removed the double-dippers.)

And that gives you some more specifics about something that you were all experts about, generally speaking, before we went off and crunched the numbers just to hear them squeal in terror and delight, as good numbers should always do when they are given a good pinch.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


Jayson Stark is getting all googly-eyed over starting pitching over at ESPN. Nothing wrong with that, generally speaking: we've all become aware that the balance has shifted in the past several years and that a bumper crop of successful young starters has been making its mark.

What Jayson seems to be overlooking, however, is that much of this is a National League phenomenon.  (We pointed this out a little while ago, when we looked at the monthly ERA figures.)

Jayson's excitement over sub-3.00 ERAs for starters should be directed to a breakdown by league--where it's clear that nearly three-fourths of those currently fashioning sub-3.00 ERAs are pitching for NL teams. (Not that it's helping them against the AL that much in the interleague phase, however...the AL relievers are still setting a blistering pace, and some of that could be due to their ability to dominate NL hitters.)

What we have for you today, kiddies, is a QMAX snapshot of thirteen NL pitchers--most of them young, but several who aren't--as a way of getting a bit further into the matter. There are one or two omissions here (Cole Hamels comes to mind) that will probably vex someone, but most of 'em are here, particularly the ones who've broken through in the past year or so. All of these pitchers are currently in the Top 15 in the NL for either ERA or ERA+.

As always, we start with the QMAX matrix chart, which shows the distribution of the starts as they grade out in the method. For first-timers, understand that upper left (1,1) is best, producing an aggregate ERA of 0.87; lower right (7,7) is worst, producing an aggregate ERA of 17.40. We're going to list and discuss them in alphabetical order, as it's premature to take the overall QMAX averages too seriously at this stage of the year.

The general consensus is that a sub-6 total  ("T" score) signifies what people in other contexts like to call a "rotation ace." All-time great seasons are those that drop below 5 (a good look at that region, and some of the more memorable seasonal achievements in baseball history, can be found back in last year's essays...simply search for Justin Verlander).

That "orange range" at the bottom of the QMAX diagram is what's called the "hit hard" region. Top-flight pitchers find a way to avoid this region: so far, three NL starters have managed to avoid it altogether in 2012: the Braves' Brandon Beachy, the Pirates' James McDonald (whom we wrote about earlier...) and the Giants' Ryan Vogelsong.

The average for "hit hard" (HH) games was over 35% in 2006; it's dropped to 29% thus far in 2012. Most of these guys are well below that: only the Reds' Johnny Cueto (23%), the Mets' knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (23%), the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw (21%, a high figure for him), and the Diamondbacks' Wade Miley (20%) are anywhere close to the league average.

Of course, there are some nuances in the "HH" region that you should assimilate. It's not a monolithic zone: the "6" region is less toxic than the "7" region. A pitcher hurts his team's chances to win about twice as much by "rolling" a 7 than is the case when he winds up in the 6 zone. That will make a noticeable difference when we compute the QMAX Winning Percentages, which are calculated from the actual won-loss records recorded in each "matrix zone" (1,1; 1,2...1.7; 2,1; 2,2...2,7; and so on to 7,1; 7,2...7,7).

All of the pitchers here (with one exception) have upwards of 60% of their their starts land in the "Success Square" (the region includes the yellow square at the upper left of the chart out through the area outlined in blue: it's not actually a square, but you need to remember who you're dealing with here).  The regions outlined below and to the right of the "success square" are also areas where it's possible to pitch successfully, via extremes of finesse pitching (plentiful hits, virtually no walks) or sheer stuff (few hits, but often more walks than hits).

Of the pitchers here, only young Beachy is showing signs of trying to live in that latter region, which we call the "power precipice." And only Matt Cain, the pitcher here with the best and most consistent control, is showing any pronounced tendency toward the other region, which is named after Tommy John.
Some tendencies in the chart that demonstrate that pitchers are working at the limits of their achievement abilities are visible here. For example: Ryan Vogelsong, who's been a terrific reclamation project for the Giants (and they've needed him to stay on track in '12 as they try to get Tim Lincecum straightened out). Ryan is showing some tendency now toward what QMAX identifies as "Jekyll-and-Hyde" performance--he's either on or he's off. Fortunately, this has yet to manifest itself into the more extreme "hit hard" region on the lower performance end, but it's close to a red flag. (For the sake of our nostalgic allegiance to the "art-punk" movement, let's call it a pink flag.)

A similar potential problem should be noted for Wade Miley. When he's good, he's really good; but when he's not, he's trending toward the other extreme. He may not have enough "juice" to consistently dominate, which means he's likelier to regress than just about everyone else here.

Here is the summary data for the NL thirteen. Ten of these guys are currently operating at a sub-6 level; one of the ones who's not--the Nats' Gio Gonzalez--is extremely accomplished at hit prevention, so his overall effectiveness shows up better than the "T' score would tend to indicate. "Backwards" pitchers like Gonzalez and Beachy (and possibly Lance Lynn) are living in a more dangerous and fragile realm, however: if they don't make some kind of leftward shift on the chart after 2-4 years, it's another flag, closer to red than pink.

The basic data does not have much predictive tendency, but whenever a QWIP is close to or below 10% of a "T" score, it's an indicator that the pitcher's performance is being augmented by some amount of good fortune. Cueto, Vogelsong, Miley and Jackson are the guys with the lowest such ratios on this list: they are the guys who figure to regress. That's two indicators for Miley.

The range data fills out the rest of the picture. We have no one pitching at anything remotely resembling  an historic level; for that, you need 50% in the "Elite Square" (the yellow region at the upper left of the matrix box--no one's doing that so far this year) and upwards of 80% in the "Success Square." Only McDonald and Stephen Strasburg are above 80%.

Despite the downturn in hitting, we're not really seeing any truly startling demonstrations of hit prevention from these pitchers. These are all very good numbers, but much of what the best are doing here is bringing enough to each outing to avoid being hit hard. (In the case of Strasburg and Beachy, we believe that unflinchingly; we're becoming more convinced that McDonald's adjustments have made him more consistent, but probably haven't produced a total transformation into a truly dominant pitcher; and we think Vogelsong is probably living on borrowed time, with an ERA that will be sliding upward toward 3.50 or so by the end of the year.)

At the moment, our money on who'll be the top three guys in the NL when the season's over would be Strasburg, Kershaw, and Cain. The reasoning is only partly based on QMAX (there, we said it!) but much of it is informed from what the range data conveys.

Cain is currently demonstrating an ability to pitch all across the left side of the QMAX chart; amongst all these pitchers, only he and Kershaw have demonstrated a consistent ability to push toward 50% of their games in the Elite Square. It looks as though he's now a complete pitcher, with superb control to go with an ability to dominate.

Strasburg is only one more refinement away from moving toward the realm of Pedro or Clemens.

Kershaw has had a patch of inconsistency in the past month, but he's the only other pitcher who can live in the C1 zone consistently over a ten-start period. Odds are high that he'll won't be far off his 2011 performance level when the 2012 season comes to a close.

Friday, June 15, 2012


Buzzy 1: still at large...
The imbroglio that ate Chicago...
or was that Milwaukee?
Hazard pay is again due to our embattled (and monotonously-inflected) correspondent Buzzin' Fly, who selflessly cloned himself to invade the slick sanctums of all those involved in the carefully choreographed shoe-dropping that was the final play-out of the Ryan Braun imbroglio.

Carl Sawatski: no friend to the
fly--or to the logo on his cap... Talk
about a reverse platoon differential!
Buzzy (as he's known to those who've learned not to swing wildly whenever he comes within swatting range...) carried the tiniest of wires on his various forms of unregenerate regeneration as he gave his all (more than "all" of his "all," in fact) for you, dear reader, as we made one last-ditch attempt to penetrate the double-talk, the misdirection, the burn-while-reading pyro-conspiratorial shenanigans that took hold in baseball's so-called "highest places."

The New York Times reporting on the long, prolonged shoe-drop that accompanied Braun's successful appeal--the only paper in the country, by the way, who went beyond the "reportage" delivered by the AP stringer who repeated verbatim MLB's plate-spinning--gets us to the point where it's dimly possible to see that some carefully orchestrated "falling on one's sword" folderol was unleashed upon a public with an attention span so short that it can't be measured with existing technology.

Das: not so blue to be leaving
the employ of MLB??
Ken Belson was looking for someone, anyone, to comment upon the firing of long-time, respected arbitrator Shyam Das, but all he was able to acquire for publication was something that was more circular than cryptic:

"Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association decline to comment, but a person with knowledge of the decision said that the Braun decision was only one of several factors that led to Das's dismissal."

Ah, yes, the old "person with knowledge" gambit. Aside from the fact that such an individual is in fact an empty elevator shaft ride down from Ye Olde Reliable Source, what we have here is a transparent effort to sweep the entire matter under the rug--which was what we told you would be the case back in March, when our pal Buzzy got wind of the machinations being put into play in order to keep Bud Selig's old franchise (the Milwaukee Brewers) from both embarrassment and from a undue disadvantage in the attempt to defend their 2011 NL Central division championship.

Buzzy discovered that Das was both fatigued and frustrated by MLB's need to have their cake and eat it too regarding the Braun affair--where the expectation was that Braun would escape via a technicality and the high-ups in the Commissioner's office would feign outrage, and that it was a Das associate who suggested to MLB that they cover up their actions by having Das refrain from following through with what he'd done for close to two dozen drug hearing cases over the past decade--namely, issue a formal, written report.

Jorge Luis Borges
The somewhat sing-songy voice was unidentifiable, but a remarkable phrase of recursive legalism was captured by that tiny, tiny wire: "By delaying the usual mode of closure, you will create an opportunity to manufacture your own sense of closure via which no one else will even know that you've achieved closure."

IT sounded like literary theory straight from the surreal streets of Buenos Aires--a rambling, musical disquisition that the aging Jorge Luis Borges might have uttered to a coy amanuensis (Alfredo Bioy Casares?), but it was as much legal sleight-of-hand as a literary postponement: something furtive this way comes.

The absence of a legal text is like a plot ellipsis--it changes the landscape of discourse, it hides the truth in the name of something that can never be given an identity. Once the press discovered the identity of the MLB employee who administered Braun's test (quick, now--do you remember his name?), it was imperative for the entire matter to fall off the radar.

A week after we wrote our semi-fanciful insider's account, Buzzy 2 intercepted a call from Das's secretary indicating that he'd be giving up his office upon the expiration of the current lease. That date? June 15th.

Buzzy 2: R.I.P.
Unfortunately--tragically--that was Buzzy's last transmission. It seems that secretaries are more efficient at rooting out prying pests than Commissioners.

There will be "less ambiguous language" in the testing protocol section of MLB's drug testing procedures. But the actual events in the Braun case have been rendered permanently ambiguous, permanently blurred. And the actual value and accuracy of the drug testing program itself remains just as ambiguous and just as blurred.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


And, quickly, again thanks to David Pinto's Day by Day Database, here is a condensed version of the pitching leaders and trailers as of June 10, 1987...

Hall of Famers are shown in red type. (Stupid formatting errors are shown wherever they appear...)

You are, of course, interested to know (in spite of yourself) what some of the end-of-season stats for some of these guys looked like... Charlie Leibrandt wound up 16-11, 3.41. And perhaps you're thinking that this is one of Bret Saberhagen's big Cy Young Award seasons. That'd be a big fat negativo, sahib.

Don Sutton, trying desperately to hold onto the lifetime homers allowed record, wound up 11-11, 4.70 and would slog through about a third of the 1988 season before retiring. Bert Blyleven, trying desperately to catch Sutton, was coming off a season in which he allowed 50 HRs; he'd wind up allowing 46 more this year, eventually going 15-12 with a 4.01 ERA. (He'd take a sharp nosedive in '88, going 10-17, 5.43).

And Jack Morris would turn his season around--at least in terms of his ERA--in the next start. Ol' Jack, the odds-on favorite to make the Hall of Fame in 2013 and turn the Internet into one long recitation of Allen Ginsberg's most (in)famous poem, would become the hard-luck pitcher than many have wished him to be in the rest of the 1987 season, managing just a 10-9 won-loss record despite a 3.02 ERA.

Monday, June 11, 2012


As Casey Stengel used to say (before he stopped saying anything): you could look it up. But if you did that, I wouldn't have to, and I wouldn't like that. David Pinto's Day-By-Day Database is a meta-guilty pleasure, and we gotta take those where we can get them these days.

So here is what the batting leaders looked like after games were played on June 10, 1987.

You may recall that this season, 25 years ago, was the big boomin' homer season, and that it caused the Lords to upshift a strike zone that had been shrunk to a upper region that barely went north of the belly button.

Let's look at the NL first. Walkman John Kruk (would he have been better thought of--hell, would he have been better, period--if his name had been Jack...nah, he probably would've started swinging for the fences and turned into a pumpkin) was having a helluva year with that .470 OBP, but this was the season that the other Jack--or should I say the only Jack--Jack Clark--was seriously scary. Dale Murphy was having his best season, and that's saying something for a guy who'd already won two MVP awards.

Eric Davis was threatening to be the first 40-40 player in the game's history. He didn't make it, but that feat would happen in the year immediately following 1987--pulled off by everyone's favorite Cuban uncle, Jose Canseco.

Some of the names here are more than a bit astonishing. Jeff Leonard? Hitting nearly .350, OPS over 1.000? Candy Maldonado? A .987 OPS? One can be excused for blinking. Mookie Wilson? Glenn freakin' Hubbard, for Crissakes? A .455 OBP?? Ozzie Virgil? Sid Bream? Cranklin Stubbs??

We went a little deeper in the 1987 AL data simply to make sure that we captured Joe Carter. Actually, Joe had had a pretty good season for the Indians the year before and it simply wasn't clear at this point that the rest of his career would look a lot like the numbers he was putting up in '87. (However, it didn't take that long for it to become evident.)

Rob Deer, who'd started out like a house afire (we showed these stats once before, back in late April), is still having a fine season--as with many of these folk, he'd wait till the All-Star Break to work on his swan dive.

Old-time fans of Larry Sheets and Mike Davis may now quietly shed a tear for two guys who were looking like stars as of early June 1987.

A lot of AL first baseman had the "meh syndrome" working in '87. There's a bunch of 'em--Pete O'Brien, Greg Walker, Wally Joyner, Kent Hrbek, Glenn Davis, even Eddie Murray--who are having fair-to-middlin' seasons (.800-.850 OPS with good-but-not-great power numbers)

This will eventually be George Bell's MVP year, and that was not really all that good of a thing...but ol'George was lucky in that the NL voters chose Andre Dawson, whose credentials for the award were similar to Bell's--league leading HR/RBI totals. It took everyone's mind off the fact that Bell wasn't the best player in his league, either.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


Updating and expanding those month-by-month ERA charts posted awhile back...we'll figure out how to have them carry a bit more info by and by, but for now here's a quick read on the "range of perturbation" for starter and reliever units thus far in 2012.

There are definitely trends to be identified here. Focusing on the AL East first, we can see that the Orioles need to address their starting pitching, while everyone else in the division seems to be rounding into competitive shape for the rest of the season.

Over in the Central, the Tigers have had a rough start from their starters in June, while the Royals are showing an uptick after a couple of rough months...the Twins are the only AL team with a 5+ ERA from their starters in all three months.

In the West, the Angels have gotten back into to the race thanks to a reversal in starting pitcher fortune with the Rangers.

The performance gap between starters and relievers seems to be approaching its apex in the AL, due mostly to a virtually-across-the-board surge from the bullpens. Five teams are currently sporting bullpen ERAs under 3. While there's still plenty of June left, the AL's collective 2.85 ERA is the lowest monthly value for the bullpen in twenty years.

Meanwhile, over in the NL, June is currently bringing forth a pitching resurgence from the Atlanta Braves [EDIT: those numbers will change somewhat after today's blowout loss to the Blue Jays], while the Cinderella story that is the Pittsburgh Pirates needs to address its declining starting pitcher performance lest their season get squashed by a pumpkin-like offense.

In the East, the Mets are trying to overcome a bad bullpen, while the Nats are settling into a nicely balanced performance from both staff segments. The Phillies are having a shocking June swoon from their starters (Roy Halladay is injured), and the Marlins are also on the hook.

The Reds have ridden their bullpen to the top of the NL Central, but like the Pirates their starting pitching has gotten balky thus far in June. The Cards' pitching came out hot in April, but has been struggling mightily ever since. The Brewers dug themselves a hole early, but they seem to turning things around. The young Astros pitchers have hit the wall hard in June, a trend that's likely to send them back toward the NL Central basement.

Coors Field is moving back in the direction of its so-called "glory days"--it appears that the humidor needs some kind of overhaul. The Dodgers and Giants have, for the time being at least, rendered the NL West into a two team race, with only the D-Backs looking as though they've got a shot to pull together enough pitching to regain some traction.

We're not seeing nearly as much difference between starter and reliever performance in the NL, which leads to the quaint notion that an outsized portion of the ostensible reason why the AL is a "superior" league (a neo-sabe core concept for the past few years...) is due to having better relievers. Given the level of importance that relievers are usually assigned in the run-win models, that's nothing more or less than a kick in the head--or, possibly, a blow aimed a good bit lower.

We'll check back on this around the All-Star Break...

Saturday, June 9, 2012


Periodically we grouse about the decline of dimensionality in baseball. This sometimes leads us to create outlandish ideas for how to give the game a larger set of tools for increasing the ways in which runs can be scored. The sabermetric movement, with any and all of the prefix discriminators that we like to slide into the discussion, is--unwittingly, perhaps--an agent working in the opposite direction.

In fact, it may be hastening a kind of philosophical uniformity stemming from its own "empirical" imperatives.

There can be little doubt that the power game (as first manifested by Babe Ruth) transformed baseball. The oscillation in offense since the Babe cast his giant shadow over baseball has mostly devolved around an increasing institutionalization of the power game as the dominant strategy. It isn't coincidental that sabermetrics appeared at a point when home runs were on the decline (late 70s/early 80s). Within a decade, players with high secondary averages (one of the early measures developed by Bill James) were routinely being championed over players with high batting averages.

A decade later, a neo-sabe movement championed a "three true outcomes" construction that stopped just short of suggesting that isolated power (a measure of the number of extra bases over hits--defined separately by Jamesian alter-ego Eric Walker as "power average": total bases divided by hits) was the key to the offensive universe.

Extra bases on hits--and walks. The other "true outcome"--strikeouts--was decriminalized by a series of calculations about run expectancy that showed they were not a bad thing in terms of run scoring.

Bobby Abreu--an increasingly rare throwback
to the old-style "walkman"...
But there are some curious aftereffects from this philosophy--which has come to dominate the offensive structure of baseball over the past twenty years. The greater uniformity of these "active" offensive agents has, over the course of this time, marginalized the "passive" components in offense--singles and walks.

Particularly walks. There was a time when players did not have to be power hitters to draw walks, but such players have become increasingly rare. The lack of historical perspective in sabermetrics (even in the face of the sweeping overview presented by James in the two editions of his Historical Baseball Abstract) resulted in that type of player becoming increasingly marginalized as sabermetric ideas collided with the front office.

Today, that player is virtually extinct. Why is that? Because focusing on the three true outcomes will eventually leach walks from the outcome set, and the game will become increasingly two-dimensional.

Can we measure this? Of course we can. Can we determine when the emphasis on power and lack of contact began to overwhelm the third components? Sure. Can we trace the decline of the classic "walkman"--the player capable of drawing walks at a rate 50% above the league average despite possessing power that is league average or less? Absolutely. Let's take a look:

This chart is a slight recasting of what you'd see if you graphed walks/game over baseball history. One caveat to the title of this graph: this is percentage of PAs for players who walked 13% or more and who had at least 300 PAs in each individual season. We also didn't smooth this chart (no three-year averaging or anything).

What you can see is the Great Walk Spike in the late 1940s, a trend that had first begun in the 1930s when sluggers poured into the game but had been interrupted by World War II. After the percentages had leveled off in the late 50s/early 60s, walking was dealt a serious blow when the strike zone was expanded in 1963--you can see that the percent of PAs from high-walk hitters was instantly cut in half.

A sawtooth pattern then ensured over the next twenty years, as baseball seemed to be settling into a percentage that roughly mirrored its historical average (9%). As power surged in the late 90s, walks followed suit--but only briefly. They would regress in the 00s, and would dip to a level not seen since the 60s in 2011.

This chart doesn't break things out by type of hitter, however. There's more to the patterns here, and we can visualize them more comprehensively by separating hitters into above-average and below-average ISO groups:

Here we can see the overall frequency of high-walk hitters in terms of ISO levels. You can immediately see that the Great Walk Spike in the late 40s was a joint effort--a confluence of walk-taking from both types of hitters. And you can see how the low-power walkman took a dramatic nosedive over the decade of the fifties, stabilized briefly in the years of expansion, but dropped to its lowest level to that point in history in the mid-sixties.

And then you can see how the low-ISO walkman re-established a fairly stable value over the next twenty-five years, only to drop to all time lows during the last decade.

High-ISO walkmen--hitters whose threat of the long-ball forced pitchers to treat them with greater care--took over in the fifties, and the frequency relationship between the two groups remained reasonably similar until the mid-90s, when high-ISO walkmen PA percentages spiked to all-time high levels.

But guess what...the walk spike due to power hitting has proven to be a transitory phenomenon. A countertrend has emerged; pitchers seem to have pushed past the knee-jerk need to issue walks to everyone capable of hitting 20+ HRs in a season.

As a result, however, guys who can get on base without anything more than the occasional threat of the long ball (chicks or no chicks...) have, unlike Abraham Lincoln's vision of America as expressed in the Gettysburg Address, perished from the face of the earth.

The neo-sabermetric philosophical decision to lump walks into the "three true outcomes" hegemony has created a set of statistics that encourage a false context for examining offensive value. Walks are not really part of an all-or-nothing situation the way home runs and strikeouts are--they are not a totality unto themselves, they are as partial an event as any ball in play. The insight that plate appearances that result in the ball remaining out of play are much more valuable is undercut by two facts: a) as noted, walks are a special, partial class of "true outcome" and b) the continuing increase in strikeouts is happening as much at the expense of walks as hits.

Walks reached a 23-year low in 2011--with just under 3.1 per game, they hadn't been as low as that since 1988--a year in which there was a strike zone change after a record year for homers. That is the result of a counter-trend that developed in response to a set of offensive conditions that increasingly concentrated offense in isolated power. The irony for sabermetrics is that, in 2012, the "market inefficiency" in baseball is walks--one of the original rallying points for the movement.

Out of the broadcast booth and back into the
lineup for ya, Joe Morgan!!!
Rob Neyer (not always our whipping boy here, his occasional whelps to the contrary) touched upon this point about six weeks ago: "...what makes baseball so interesting is the variety of things that might happen." True enough, and we still have a great deal of that: we just don't have as much of it as we used to. We need to find ways to add more triples, more walks, less strikeouts--and we shouldn't be afraid to implement some odd-looking rules to see what they do. If anything, sabermetricians should be advocating these things--and many of them would be, if they hadn't become part of a consultancy culture.

We need to get back to a game where Rod Carew and Joe Morgan can exist again--players with unique combinations of skills and strengths that literally cannot exist in the game as we know it today.

[EDIT: In case you wonder what the breakouts for high-walk players look like thus far in 2012...the overall percentage is 8.3%, up from 5.5% in 2011 but still below baseball's all-time average. Currently low-ISO walkmen are up a good bit (2.5%), but several of these players won't receive 300 PAs over the course of 2012, so this figure will regress somewhat by season's end. High-ISO walkmen have also rebounded somewhat, accounting for nearly 6% of plate appearances, up from just 4.7% the previous year. A back-of-the-envelope projection is that walkmen will wind up between 7.0-7.5% of all PAs in 2012, which would still be around 20% below the all-time average.]