Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Let's further examine the 25 teams who excelled at winning close games (ones decided by two runs or less). We'll display the data for these teams in two different ways...

The chart above is sorted in descending order of Pythagorean wins in close games (not actual number of wins, though the 2008 Angels--the all-time leader with 61 close-game wins--wind up on top of this chart as well.

But, no, wait--this chart is actually sorted in descending order of close games played. (The Angels do not hold the record for most close games played--that's held by the 1916 Washington Senators, who had 103 such games, though they only had 97 actual decisions...the teams with the most decisions in close games--101--are three teams from 1968: Mets, Dodgers, Twins; the '71 Astros; and the '83 Padres--none of whom exceeded a .515 WPCT.)

What we are trying to see here are patterns in terms of the number of games and the level of difference in actual games won vs. expected wins (Pythagorean). As you can see at the bottom of the chart, the top 25 teams at winning close games win just under eight more games than they're "supposed to" across these games. They give back about a game in their overall won-loss record in all the rest of their games.

Only eight of the twenty-five teams exceed the gains made in close games in their remaining (non-close) games. One of these was the 2012 Orioles, but the numbers (highlighted in yellow) indicate that the O's gained the least of any of this group. The teams that gained the most: the 1981 Reds (in just two-thirds of a season: '81 was baseball's first strike year); the 2004 Yankees, the 1970 Reds, and those 2008 Angels.

The O's made the greatest gain in close games, however--though Moneyball mavens might be surprised to discover that the 2002 A's were right on their heels. (Yes, that's right: the team that was supposed to prove how small markets could compete did so in large part due to winning an outsized number of close games.)

So, generally, teams that excel in close games gain a lot of ground from them, and fall back about 15% toward the "Pythagorean mean" in the rest of their games. Most of the teams that gain in non-close games, however, are ones that play the highest number of close games. But the teams that play the highest number of close games in their successful season tend to lose the most ground in the following year (an average of four more games lost from the previous year's total than teams that play fewer close games...the line of demarcation, as you'll see, is the average number of close games--70--in this sampling of teams).

Of the seven teams who gained ground in their non-close games during the season in which they played .667 ball in close games, only two of these improved in the following year: the '54-'55 Dodgers, and the '30-'31 A's. (This record would be notably worse if we hadn't barred the '81 Reds due to the vastly smaller number of games played in the strike year: the '82 team (at the bottom of the chart) had one of the more striking reversals of fortune in baseball history.

Now let's look at the same chart sorted temporally, from the present day backwards.

What's extremely interesting here is the fact that there's been a huge run of teams from the last decade (2001- ) who've landed on this list. In the past eleven years, eight teams have moved into the top 25 of close-game excellence. (Our chart, at the moment at least, breaks neatly into periods of divisional and non-divisional play.)

Note that all of the teams who played better in the following year are now revealed to be pre-divsional play teams. And note that while the average decline in the following year is virtually identical to the number of games gained in close games, the downturn for more recent teams is currently more than double the rate for pre-divisional play teams (-11 vs. -5.2).

All this doesn't bode well for the Orioles in 2013.

But there is a good bit more to this than merely looking at the Top 25 teams. We need to examine all of the teams in modern baseball history to get a total perspective on how close games factor into the overall structure of winning and losing. And we need to look at all of the teams who've made the post-season since the invention of the World Series to understand how these teams differ from also-rans with respect to close games.

We'll be back with all of that--shortly.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


This Marvin Miller.
It will linger in the news a bit longer than most death notices, because Marvin Miller was one of those singular figures in baseball history whose impact is, in the end, unmeasurable.

Not this Marvin Miller...
Miller passed away earlier this morning in his Manhattan apartment at the age of 95.

He had been retired from his post as Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) for thirty years, but his influence over the changes in baseball's economic structure and business practices had never waned over that time.

From one perspective, baseball lost its "innocence" when Miller's dogged efforts produced free agency in the particular form that's prevailed since 1976, brokering a structure that created a carefully balanced set of economic checks and balances which have been tinkered with, but never seriously revised.

Miller's efforts also indirectly contributed to a strain of sabermetrics that is based upon the economic precepts that issued from the ever-expanding envelope of free agent rules and strictures that have come to define the business practices of the game, all overlaid upon the classical task of evaluating raw baseball talent and developing it for success.

While there is no question that someone would have eventually pushed through the legal remedies that produced baseball's new economic order, it may well have waited another twenty years without Miller, an assiduous student of labor movements who knew that union organizing had already peaked prior to the point in time that the MLBPA had been created, and that it was of paramount importance to press the case for  a change in the labor structure of the game before the legal climate changed. It is inconceivable that the MLBPA could have made its advances during the Reagan years--so Miller's urgency and dynamic leadership was perfectly timed to achieve its results.

It is understandable why the Baseball Hall of Fame has seen fit to shun Miller--after all, the institution does not embrace history in the way that objective observers do. It's possible that they will see fit to honor him posthumously, in the type of empty gesture that certain types of institutions are known to do. Marvin Miller didn't care a hoot about such an honor--but it was an honor to hear him speak when the "Hall of Fame for the rest of us," the Baseball Reliquary, saw fit to honor him in 2003.

There will be much written on the occasion of Miller's passing, and it is a good thing that such will be the case--there are few true giants in history, and Marvin was one of them. Never shy to express himself, he was always eloquent and engaging, as charming as he was outspoken. One of the very best interviews with Miller was conducted by that singular sportswriter Dave Davis, just before his induction into the Baseball Reliquary's Shrine of the Eternals: it is characteristically blunt, and Miller's candor is bracing.

Monday, November 26, 2012


Here begins a little series on "close games" and how they've worked over the history of baseball. What they mean, and what they don't; whether playing exceptionally well in them over the course of a season is meaningful, or not.

And how they relate to bad teams, mediocre teams, good teams, and great teams.

A good bit of this interest in a subset of games comprising about 45% of the total number played in baseball history was piqued by the incredible run made by the 2012 Baltimore Orioles--a team widely considered to be mediocre, but one that came close to setting an all-time record for winning percentage in close games. It made us wonder about how often teams like the Orioles happen; what, if anything, such occurrences meant in terms of the next season; and whether some aspect of overall behavior with respect to close games has been changing over time as the game has evolved.

We can't guarantee that all of those ideas will get covered in this series, but we'll suck it up as best we can.

The chart at above right will ground us in terms of the frequency of close games--and, indirectly, will tie close game frequency to overall run scoring levels. It stands to reason that lower scoring will lead to a higher percentage of close games (and since we've gotten this far without defining that term, let's do so now: a close game is one that's decided by two runs or less). The peaks on this chart (1908, 1918, 1968) are among the low points in run scoring. The valleys on this chart (1903, 1936, 2001) are among the high points.

There is not an exact relationship here, but it's a strong one.

We'll look at individual extremes (the team level) in a later installment.

Where we want to go first is to look at the teams that excelled in close games. We've told you that the Orioles made a run at the WPCT record in '12; they fell short, but as the table at left demonstrates, they became just the fourth team in modern baseball history (sorry, 19th-century buffs, we're starting in 1901) to have a .700+ WPCT in close games.

The three teams with better records in these games are all pennant-winners who won well in excess of 100 games.

The Orioles are not the only non-pennant winner (though, of course, they were a playoff team). The teams that missed the post-season entirely on this list: the 1903 Highlanders, the 1907 A's, the 1908 Pirates, the 1928 A's, the 1954 Dodgers, and the 1981 Reds (though they were more of a technicality than anything else). "Mere" playoff teams who missed the World Series: 2001 Mariners, 2002 A's, 2003 Giants, 2008 Dodgers. Team (and city) screwed by a strike: 1994 Expos.

What is interesting about these "excelling" teams is that, on average, they play fewer close games than average. That average of 70 is slightly less than seven fewer close games than baseball's historical average. The O's total of 77 is just about dead-on with that average. The average team here finished well back in the pack in terms of the number of close games (as measured by the RkYr column). The major anomalies here: the 2008 Angels (what us noir fans like to call the "Frankie Machine" Angels, who rode Francisco Rodriguez's record-setting 61 saves to an identical number of close-game wins--a total that is the all-time record).

So what do these teams look like in the year after this exceptional performance in close games? How do their won-loss records compare? We'll look at that in Part Two.

Monday, November 19, 2012


Shameless plug # 2112b: BTW, we've long since forgiven
Mr. Murray for not being much of a baseball fan...
We've been absolutely swamped this week with location work on our continuing labor of love, the decidedly non-baseball documentary Don Murray: Unsung Hero, which decamped to NYC for a week of interviews and verité footage in and around the Big Apple (the great but undervalued Mr. Murray is an East Rockaway native), so we've had to sit out the playbacks on the AL MVP.

And, frankly, that's just as well. Because the war of words that issued from Miguel Cabrera's selection was a watery bloodbath (save, of course, from a few folks misusing the radio in their time-honored fashion) that just might start to indicate to many that awards voting is not necessarily the best path for either proselyting or cementing ideological purity.

The big problem in the perspective of that vote, in fact, stems from those who've staked their own reputations (and their twilight status as "insiders" thanks to baseball's indiscriminate entrepreneurial approach to information technology) on what their One Big Number is supposed to tell us. While most of these folk (we won't name any names today, but you know--and they know--who they are...) like to make a few circling motions in the wind about how these stats aren't definitive of anything, such practiced acts of false modesty are just that.

And in the case of the 2012 AL MVP, virtually all of the intrigue in it stems from the fact that one system ranked Mike Trout's non-offensive value at such an extreme level that it made the comparison with Cabrera into something egregiously lopsided. Our suspicion is that the 28 voters entrusted to decide the AL MVP (and--hey, really? just twenty-eight?? is that not one of the most ridiculously small sample sizes ever for such an important honor???) may well have looked at the various "advanced numbers" as part of their decision-making process. Trout was touted heavily in the MSM while his performance was at its peak from late July-mid August, and at least a smattering of those voters are known to reference those numbers. kinda looks like a Presidential tracking poll, doesn't it??
We'll never know for sure unless we can get all of the two-dozen-plus-four to talk (so far, the number who've given a public rationale for their vote can still be counted on the fingers of one hand...), but we strongly suspect that there were another 6-8 voters who were on the fence between Cabrera and Trout who looked at the distance between the two players as represented by the version of WAR at Forman et fils and simply shook their heads in disbelief. It's possible that the idea that a player en route to winning a Triple Crown could be so inferior to another player in that same year--not slightly inferior, mind you, but massively inferior--just seemed so incredible to them that it pushed them back into voting for Cabrera.

And, really, you can't blame them for being incredulous. We admit to having the same initial reaction, and before we embarked upon our East Coast odyssey in November, we spent a few days in St. Louis with long-time pal Brock J. Hanke and revisited the old defensive methodology that had been in place during the days of the Big Bad Baseball Annual (BBBA for those of you who've worked hard to forget...) in search of some kind of perspective on all this.

Hey, if we looked as good as this little guy, we'd be on TV...
Craig Calcaterra said that statheads don't want to be God: while
that's true, Craig, you don't have to be God to engage in a holy war.
What we found was a bit baffling. It was clear that Trout, while clearly an above-average center fielder, was not the best in the league as measured by a variant of the old method that included baserunner advancement data (something not available to BBBA during its publication run). All variants that we generated seemed to indicate that a series of factors--the modeling assumptions in outfielder defensive value, the quirks in the zone rating systems being used, and the lack of an observational method that indicated how many discretionary put-outs existed where a corner OF could have made the play--all of these combined into a kind of "perfect storm" that elevated Trout's defense from the very good to the other-worldly.

Our various methods for calculating center field defensive value for the 2012 AL consistently suggested that Trout's projected value was being overstated. The five variations that were developed ranged from an over-estimate of 0.4 wins on the low end to 1.9 wins at the top end. Our overall delta was +1.1 defensive WAR (rounding up just slightly).

So you can pretty much halve those defensive WAR numbers, from 2.1 to 1.1 (2.14 to 1.06, to be egregiously exact). Numbers wonks will still say that Trout was more valuable than Cabrera, of course, and no one (at least no one here) is trying to get them to stop. They'll continue the argument, however, by claiming that Trout was more valuable offensively as well, which is where the baby and the bloodbath water start to splash into observers' faces and induce a case of pinkeye.

There are also assumptions and flaws in the park factors being used to calculate offensive value, and we spent some time on a recent airplane ride revisiting those issues, too. The standard method for calculating park factors is incapable of handling the schedule variations that have come into play thanks to interleague play and the flukish micro-climates that now proliferate in the detailed batting data of hitters. Faced with this fact about a decade ago, we looked for ways to adjust those factors for our own amusement, and discovered that several adjustments that move the park factors back toward the league average constitute the best possible way to prevent distortions.

What on earth do these two guys have to do with the topics
being discussed here? You may (or may not...) find out below.
For example, Trout's home park is though to be a reasonably extreme pitcher's park, but when you make adjustments for exactly where the Angels played in 2012 (including games in Coors Field) and when you make league-average run environment adjustments, the park snaps back a good bit closer to neutral (from 92 to 98). A smaller but similar adjustment in the opposite direction also affected Cabrera's home park (Comerica Field).

At issue as well the amount of actual value stolen bases and double plays should assume in such a system. We wish that Forman et fils would add stolen bases to their invaluable Play Index data, so that the context of these events could easily be captured and analyzed. Leaving it to the WAR formula, which applies a rote expected win value approach to the event, is not sufficient. A look at players' stolen bases in terms of eventual run scoring is feasible with play-by-play data: when we do the labor-intensive work to look at it for Trout and factor in the events that ultimately weren't needed to result in a run scored, we see that the total number of baserunning runs that are produced in the calculation are cut almost in half--5.3 vs. 10.1. (A similar measure shows that Maury Wills' 1962 season, with a similar success rate but with more than twice as many SB/CS, grades out at 12.9 instead of 19.2.)

When we do all that, and when we halve the run values assigned to GIDPs, the WAR value shifts a bit: the result of these adjustments effectively reverses the OPS+ value at Forman et fils as shown for Trout (171) and Cabrera (165). The gap in the Batting Runs stat is also widened (Cabrera gains a couple of runs there, while Trout loses one). All of that gives Cabrera an edge in the basic offensive WAR stat (7.7 to 7.3).

Now, we don't know that ours are the definitive values...we don't know if anyone has the "right" answer. But it's clear that these numbers have taken on a great deal of importance in the tone and shape of the argument, and we seem to revisiting something similar to the extremist psychology gripping the political landscape in this country--a psychology that stems, in large part, from an impatience on the part of those who are pushing toward reason which results in a conflation of method with meaning.

So what the eff does that last sentence mean, anyway? Let's contextualize from the election results. The fact that Nate Silver was right about the Presidential polls does not mean that it was right to vote for Barack Obama. (That was the right choice, in our not-so-humble opinion, for a whole host of other reasons). What's happened with the AL MVP race, however, is precisely that--a set of numbers were masquerading as reason itself, when those numbers needed aggregation, further interpretation, historical comparison--anything but the puffed-up certainty that accompanied them in certain circles during the latter stages of the 2012 season.

The best that can be said for Ocker's mystifying vote
for Adrian Beltre for #2 is that it was...anomalous.
It was, in effect, a variant of the "Romney spin" that much of the political punditocracy was playing out in the latter stages of the election campaign. And it proved to be just as (in)accurate in predicting the winner of the AL MVP award.

Let's close with a thought about what would have happened if the hard-sell harping on that outrageously high gap between Trout and Cabrera hadn't turned away some voters who may have been receptive to shifting their vote. If eight voters had shifted from Cabrera to Trout, we'd wind up in a virtual tie: that vote tally would shift from 362-281 to 322-321. Then, if the inestimably unmentionable Sheldon Ocker of the Akron Beacon Journal hadn't been the lone wingnut deviation from the Cabrera-Trout binary (either voted 1-2 or 2-1 by 96% of the voting population), we mighta coulda (shoulda?) had a tie in this MVP race, something that traditionalists and the various flavors of Stalinists in the little world of numberology might have found a way to live with--a kind of benevolent whitewash to the watery bloodbath that will now continue to divide rather than unite.

(In any event, we sure as hell would like to have seen a much larger BBWAA voting population involved in this result...with technology and analysis being what it is today, the notion of limiting the voting population to league beat writers and a few other random chimps is as outmoded as the Model T. We wonder what a full BBWAA membership vote on the 2012 MVP might have looked like.)

That day is further off, and while in the real world it's the "bad guys" who are keeping that from happening, here in this little sub-region of "reality" it's the "good guys" who are doing same. And the "good guys" should know that it's much more possible--and much more feasible--to have "co-MVPs" than "co-Presidents." Keeping that dichotomy in mind might keep things in better perspective.

Monday, November 12, 2012


Those Most Valuable Player awards are coming soon--very soon (in fact, in three days). Rookie of the Year awards were announced today: baseball's two youngest wunderkinden, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, were the winners. (Trout was a unanimous pick; Harper edged out Arizona starting pitcher Wade Miley.)

Trout's ROY award turns up the heat on a controversy that had been boiling since early September. At least as much division within the little world of baseball pundit-dom had swirled around the American League MVP award as that evidenced by the Presidential election campaign, which finally pushed the Mike Trout vs. Miguel Cabrera showdown off center stage in mid-October.

We are not here to rehash that protracted fusillade of argument: it will unquestionably heat up all on its own in just a few days, as tradition is likely to trump the brave new world of "advanced metrics." (That's our guess, at any rate.) We cobbled together the Ptolemaic MVP method from an old acquaintance, a soothsayer on the lam who has remained inordinately fond of serpentine motion; it takes seven relatively mainstream statistics (four rate stats: OPS, OBP, SLG, BA; three counting stats: R, HR, RBI) and assigns values to each measured against a series of two-month performance snapshots.

The results for the American League will boil the blood of one faction, while leaving the other in that oddly pleasant twilight state that often occurs at opportune moments when one is conveniently near distilled spirits.

While we recognize that the argument for Trout includes his defense, we doubt that the BBWAA is going to focus much on that. And, frankly, we consider the non-offensive measurements in "advanced metrics" too problematic to endorse. Our personal view is that you could throw a blanket over the top two candidates. We're not going to lose sleep over either man being named MVP, and neither should you.

We've broken out the rate and counting stat totals separately, and we've highlighted the hitter with the most points in each of the categories. (Notice that it's Prince Fielder with the most points for OBP, and Edwin Encarnacion is tied for most points in HRs.) However, Miguel Cabrera, who won the Triple Crown, led or was tied for the lead in Ptolemaic points across five of the seven stats. Mike Trout led in one (runs scored).

Now if we'd added a one-vs. zero ranking for net stolen bases, Trout would have crept a good bit closer: there were a total of 22 two-month snapshots taken for the Ptolemaic MVP in '12, and Mike would have gotten a point in at least sixteen of those, while Cabrera would have gotten none. (However, Cabrera would still have about a twenty-five point lead.)

We will be curious to see what the vote totals look like, as we've tried to tailor the number of snapshots to get the system within shouting distance of the voting structure used by the BBWAA. We suspect it will be about as close as what we see here.

Over in the NL, we're actually expecting to see the Ptolemaic leader, Andrew McCutchen, fall short in the voting as a result of a significant second-half decline by his team (the Pittsburgh Pirates). The general expectation is that the Giants' catcher, Buster Posey, who had a strong second half as his team pulled away from the NL West and went on to a World Series win, is going to win the award.

"Ptolemy," however, suggests that Buster is only ranked third in the overall scheme of things. McCutchen scored highest in five of the seven stat categories (tied with Posey for BA). Defending MVP Ryan Braun, who arguably had a better year this season, isn't given much of a chance due to the controversy surrounding his positive drug test last winter, but he should receive a sizable vote total nonetheless: he led in the HR and RBI categories.

As we like to say:

Sunday, November 11, 2012


Those of you who drop in here at varying rates of frequency (yes, we know exactly who you are and applaud your fearlessness and semi-infinite indulgence...) will know that we have occasionally taken a shot or two at Nate Silver, who's taken a whole lot worse than what we've previously tossed his way during the last two weeks of the 2012 presidential election.

Those momentous events, and Silver's sterling performance throughout them, has caused us to do some further reflection about the arc of his career and what that might mean in terms of future "advanced analysis" in baseball.

Silver's original work for Baseball Prospectus--the PECOTA system (with its malign advertising--not Nate's doing, we are certain--positing "deadly" accuracy) and his touting of the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays--helped to vault him into a position where his next career move would be well-received. The climate was perfect for a "poll of polls"-type aggregation; while and Sam Wang at the Princeton Election Consortium had been well ahead of Nate in pioneering such concepts, Silver applied himself to such a task at a level of detail and dedication that outstripped his colleagues, and was thus in a position to become the leader in what we cautiously call the "statistical pundit" sub-area of political analysis.

That term--"pundit"--is, of course, a loaded one, as it has unsavory associations both here (where we assiduously and aggressively practice our brand of "anti-punditry") and in the world of the media as a whole, where it is virtually unavoidable for those who pass through the portals and become insiders to avoid what we like to call the "gasbaggery quotient."

Michael "the Bone" Barone's vision of the 2012 election: red-state rosiness
at its thorniest...
What is notable--and refreshing--about Nate Silver is that he has successfully resisted the temptations to turn into a traditional "pundit" even though the role was there for the taking. The 2012 election, with its heavily-pitched battle centered around the dangerous question of whether or not America would turn back the clock on its historic decision of 2008, was a minefield of siren-like events pushing pundits toward Circean rocks where they could be wrecked--and in retrospect it seems clear that much of the polling apparatus in place for the election was nothing more or less than (as the Sex Pistols once infamously "sang"...) "frigging in the rigging." The subtle and not-so-subtle bias that was constantly in play during the final month of the 2012 election campaign can be quantified, thanks to Nate's methods: 21 of 25 polling organizations who conducted five or more polls in October were overestimating Mitt Romney's candidacy.

The actual 2012 election results--as predicted by Nate Silver.
All of that was in stark contrast to what Nate's method was tracking. (And--let's be fair--the methods of Sam Wang and the anonymous aggregator at

In the end, only Republican party hacks will resist the notion that what these "statistical pundits" were doing was--despite being immediate sucked into the vapid vortex of "liberal media bias"--injected a badly needed dose of objectivity into an otherwise malevolent political prescription.

What's clear to us is that Nate found an area--political polling--where the level of complexity in the analysis was a good bit less forbidding than what's actually the case in baseball, and where the strengths of his statistical toolmaking could make a direct impact on our ability to see what is happening before our eyes. (As you know, this remains the biggest area of disconnection for sabermetrics--what happens in any individual game does not often directly translate into the modeling efforts that have come to dominate that field.) Politics, however, is actually easier--a good bit easier--to model. While our old pal Brock Hanke's claim that polling has gotten so good that everyman can be his own aggregator still has a lot of merit, we now tend to think that this election showed how such a system as Nate's, when applied with rigor and consistency, can cut through even the efforts of some portion of the pollster population to influence public perception and tilt the election results in one particular direction. (Such tactics are more subtle and devious than many that have already been practiced in America, as a reading of this Harper's article will demonstrate.)

It is a warm feeling, indeed, to know that those who would attempt to willfully distort aspects of the political process in order to unduly influence an election can be both neutralized and then exposed; that is the added value that the work of Silver and Wang etal have demonstrated to us in 2012. The prospects for how we examine politics in the future have been bolstered by such an occurrence, and it is almost as important as the need for America to not turn its back on the historic change that its electorate wrought in 2008--breaking the color barrier for high office, and repudiating policies that relied on distortion and privilege. Policies, in fact, that are antithetical to the original principles of this nation.

Oops...wrong image...sorry Nate, we're sure the folks
will find your book anyway (and this one's a bit more, er,
"metaphorical" for the pollster-pundit situation...)
So what will Nate Silver do now? He's in an enviable position--he could easily continue in the role of political stats guru for the rest of his days after the events of the past three weeks. But it's not quite a full time job--after all, he found enough time to write a book (The Signal and the Noise), which demonstrates that he has broadened his horizons concerning the science of prediction. What we hope is that he will find a way to kick himself upstairs in terms of political analysis and, over time, find a way to return to baseball, where the field could use someone who possesses both the name value and the totalizing tendency to headline the type of long-term analytical project that would operate at a think-tank level (as opposed to the highly flawed entrepreneurial models in place today).

Of course, such an approach is not going to happen until baseball's BS Era comes to an end. Let's face it, used car salesmen--no matter how they try to transform themselves--remain averse to the concept of think tanks. That probably means that our scenario for Silver could not and cannot happen until after the 2016 election. Which, come to think of it, might be just as well--given the way that the Republicans are reacting to their "upset" loss in 2012, it's likely that we'll need Nate's steady hand at the tiller for at least one more election cycle before he decides what to do with the rest of his life.

Friday, November 9, 2012


We will break from "tradition" and make a few overt political remarks here in the aftermath of the 2012 election. Some said that it was more important that Barack Obama be re-elected this year than it was for him to be elected in the first place. While that isn't quite true, it was nonetheless a significant moment in the troubled recent history of this nation. Reaffirming that race is no impediment to achievement required that the often embattled Obama claim a second term; this broadens the lens on America's ongoing struggle with equality, and shows that at least one aspect of the problem (which has accelerated exponentially since the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980) is at last moving in the right direction. We wish him the best of luck as he continues in what is one of the greatest high-wire acts in American history.

And now let's look at elections from a completely different perspective. What are the results in the World Series when we look at those results in conjunction with the American presidential election cycle? Well, you can see the master list of these championship teams in the chart at left (winning team, league, party of the winning candidate).

You'll note that the President's favorite team, the White Sox, is nowhere to be found on this chart. But you'll note that the American League had quite a run of election year World Series titles back in the day--seven consecutive wins in the election years 1912-1936.

So which party has won more Election Year World Series? It's been a seesaw battle of late, after the Democrats had an early lead. They'd taken over in 1936, and held that lead for nearly fifty years before the Republicans caught up in 1984. As the table above at right shows us, the Dems now have a slight edge, 14-13. As the chart at right shows, the seesaw seems to be with us as a semi-permanent houseguest.

That's not the case for the leagues, however. That same table above displays, American League teams have a clear lead in terms of election-year World Series winners.

That lead (currently 17-10) took hold in 1916 when the Red Sox won their second consecutive election year World Series, which would be followed by five more AL titles from 1920-36. The only period in which in the NL has had any dominance occurred from 1976-1988, when the NL won three of four election-year championships.

After the AL won four consecutive election year World Series from 1992-2004, NL teams have staged a comeback in 2008 and 2012.

Our final chart (actually, it's a table...) shows the number of election-year World Series wins by team. As you might expect, the Yankees have the most, with seven. Only one other team has managed to do it more than twice.

Sunday, November 4, 2012


Use the chart below to contextualize the great young hitters of baseball history.

By looking at the columns below, we can see why so many people are as excited about Mike Trout as a platoon of housewives at a Tom Jones concert. The kid is only the sixth age-20 player to crack 40 batting runs (using the offensive component of WAR, in order to offend the least number of folk across the techno-political spectrum).

Players who are still active are shown in red.

There are 33 players who had a 50+ batting run season by the age of 23, and as you might expect, there are only a handful of these who aren't in the Hall of Fame (Dick Allen, Jose Canseco, Juan Gonzalez...we are presuming that Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr. and Frank Thomas will make it in).

Pete Reiser (l) and Pee Wee Reese sneaking in past
curfew during the Dodgers' 1942 spring training. 
You will note that we are seriously on the left side of Ye Olde Bell Curve with the folks on the chart. No 19-year-old prodigies cracked the 40 BR barrier (not unless you count my fictional years with the San Antonio Trotters, that is...but that's another story). We have just six at age 20, ten at age 21, and seventeen at age 22.

Two non-HOFers at age 21 (Cesar Cedeno and Hal Trosky) start the parade of young players who didn't sustain their early brilliance. They are joined at age 22 by Allen (a special case), Jimmy Sheckard, Boog Powell, and Pete Reiser.

When we reach age 23, we have a bifurcation in career achievement at the 50 BR line. Two of the sixteen (Canseco and Gonzalez--we're not counting Shoeless Joe in the group, as he's another special case...) fall out of the HoF from the 50+ group, while we see at least six of the twenty-one who have or who are likely to remain on the outside looking in at the Cooperstown plaque room (Troy Glaus, Hanley Ramirez, Fred Lynn, Jeff Burroughs, Don Mattingly and Tommy Davis).

And should we go down further (into the 30-39 BR group), we'd find a higher percentage of players whose fine early years didn't sustain into a sufficient level of career excellence to crack the HoF).

Mike Trout--a stone wunderkind. From this list it's hard to imagine that he won't wind up being one of the all-time greats. Note, too, the presence on the list (in fact, appearing twice) of the man that a certain segment of the population (no, they don't comprise 47% of anything...) is not going to be marking on any form of ballot--former hitting prodigy and Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera.

How many appearances will Trout make on this list? The only player who made it in every year from age 20-23: Ted Williams.