Tuesday, December 31, 2013


A brief respite from the avalanche of "non-save situation" data, so that we can briefly focus on the question that has plagued numbers guys for almost as long as most of 'em have been shaving...

...namely, do starting pitchers "pitch to the score"?

There have been several attempts to address this thorny issue, not the least of which is related to the annoying claim of some MSM writers when pressed to justify their support for Jack Morris over the long, agonizing years of his HOF candidacy.

Most of those were a bit over-ingenious (one of the things that "non-MSM" writers increasingly fail to apologize for when they are going on the attack in order to make the world safe for over-ingeniousness).

So we thought there might be a simpler way to look at the matter, particularly in light of the fact that Forman et fils has been kind enough to fork over ready access to the "splits data" from their massive files.

Part of that "split data" looks at the performances of pitchers with respect to the run support they receive. This has been broken into three "buckets": performance when the pitcher receives 0-2 runs; when he receives 3-5 runs; and when he receives 6 or more runs.

We can capture that data and make a side-by-side list of it (as we've done for the 50 pitchers with the lowest ERA in low run support games...er, that's 50 pitchers meeting that criterion, plus two "jokers" to round out the deck).

Now we should note up front that the list (at left) doesn't include everyone: the data isn't so easily accessible that we can get it for each run scoring category. Additionally, many pitchers from the deeper recesses of the past are not complete enough to meet our minimum standards for inclusion: 75+ GS  in low run support games (0-2); 100+ GS in moderate run support games (3-5); and 80+ GS in high run support games (6+). And even at that, some of the data here represents partial careers (most prominently Hall of Famers Walter Johnson and Pete Alexander).

Nonetheless, what the data shows us is that, in one way or another, a large plurality of pitchers do "pitch to the score." Twenty-two of the top fifty pitchers in low run support ERA show a pronounced pattern where their ERAs get worse in a linear fashion as their run support increases. And there are a few we neglected to highlight (in yellow) who conform to this pattern in less dramatic ways.

As a side note, it probably won't surprise you to discover that the top five pitchers on this list in terms of low run support ERA are all in the Hall of Fame (Johnson, Sandy Koufax, Alexander, Stan Coveleski, and Tom Seaver). Sorting the list this way turns up a lot of HOFers (24 out of 50, if we get brazen and include a few folks who are likely to get in soon--Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and--yes--Roger Clemens). Oh, yes: please note that if you're counting the bolded players, you'll get a number that's one shy of our "24" figure: we forgot to bold the name of Jim Bunning with the other HOFers.

The most spectacular manifestation of "pitching to the score" on this list belongs to Chris Carpenter. We wonder if Tony LaRussa knew just how much Carpenter tended to rise to the occasion depending on his run support. If so, that would provide another explanation as to why he left CC in that 1-0 game with the Phillies during the 2011 NLCS that got Mickey Lichtman's knickers twisted around his windpipe to such an extent that he's forever become a piece of talking sandpaper.

And this is as good a time as any, then, to introduce our two "jokers" in the deck--Jack Morris and Dave Stieb--two 1980s starting pitchers who've been given no small amount of heavily freighted comparison over the past decade (one that, as we finally fade the age of terrorism into the rearview mirror, will eventually be described as the time of the "Morris Wars"). Those attempting to stuff the toothpasty Morris back into the tube will be heartened to know that he most definitely does not pitch to the score, at least not by a classic "linear" definition. But those who want to claim that Jack's ERA was fluffed up by some "coasting" in high run support games have some ammo to work with, too.

One thing is for damn sure, however. Dave Stieb didn't pitch to no stinkin' score. And, in the eyes of those who want to find a way to enshrine counter-intuitivity in the Hall of Fame, that makes him a hero. Or, should we say, as we remember to quote Jim Bouton, a god-damned hero.

We'll do a little more with this data a bit later on. Meanwhile, back to that strange world of the "non-save situation"...

Sunday, December 29, 2013


A quick look at the individual landscape that has come into play in the "non-save situation" (NSV) over time (with especial emphasis on the last decade or so)...

What the heck is Mariano Rivera doing in an essay dealing with
pitcher wins in non-save situations? 
While overall decisions are up (an all-time high of 26% of all decisions came from NSV situations), the wins and losses are spread around in a random pattern. Ironically, the explosion of roster slots devoted to relievers and the increasing "specialization" of the bullpen is giving more relievers access to (what we demonstrated in Part 2) "tie game" point-of-entries.

In the 1980s, there were 23 pitcher-seasons in which a reliever won ten or more games in NSV situations. That figure dropped to 10 in the 1990s (though there were 17 additional pitcher-seasons with 9 wins). Since 2000, there have been only seven such seasons (last pitcher to do so: Alfredo Aceves in 2009).

From 1986-1999 (the fourteen-year period adjacent to 2000-13), there were four pitchers who had 50+ wins in NSV situations (Roger McDowell, Eric Plunk, Mike Henneman, and Paul Assenmacher). Over the last fourteen years (2000-13), no pitchers have come close to winning 50 games in these situations; only two pitchers (Mariano Rivera, with 42; Octavio Dotel, with 41) are over 40.

And yet there are more NSV decisions than ever before.

Who are the relievers with the best lifetime WPCT in NSV games? Using 20 wins as a minimum, there are five pitchers with .800+ WPCTs: Doug Bird (.824, 42-9); that man Aceves again (.815, 22-5); Wes Stock (.813, 26-6); Brendan Donnelly (.806, 29-7), and Grant Balfour (.800, 28-7). Keeping in mind that the NSV category is not a zero-sum (or, in this case, a .500 proposition), you might not be surprised to discover that the lowest WPCT for pitchers with 20+ wins is not shockingly low (.438, or 21-27, compiled by Dan Wheeler).

The worst individual season for a reliever with 10 or decisions was turned in by the Red Sox' Jim Willoughby in 1976: he went 2-10 in NSV situations. Willoughby had a 2.60 ERA over 72 IP in such situations that year. That's what one can call a nightmare season.

You know, now that we look at him a bit more closely,
Eddie Yuhas really does sort of resemble a...a vulture!!
As you might expect, our old pal Roy Face has the best-ever single-season WPCT in NSV situations, going a cool 13-0 for the Pirates in 1959. (As you probably recall, he was 18-1 for the year). Two other pitchers went 11-0 over a single season: the aforementioned Mike Henneman for the 1987 Tigers, and Matt Herges--who did the same thing for the 2000 Dodgers.

You may not be all that surprised to discover that Phil Regan, on his way to a celebrated year as all-purpose bullpen ace for the 1966 edition of the Dodgers, went 12-1 in NSV situations. But you will probably be astonished to discover that Eddie Yuhas went 11-1 in such situations for the 1952 St. Louis Cardinals. (Actually, you are saying--in spite of yourself--"Who is Yuhas?"...yes, you know you are.)

Naturally, Eddie is the answer to the question "Who is the fifth guy in MLB history to go 11-1 in NSV situations, behind Bob Stanley, Doug Bird, Charley Kerfeld and Al Hrabosky?"). Unlike the rest of those guys, however, that 1952 season was effectively Eddie's only year in MLB. A starter (and an indifferent one, at that) in the minors, Yuhas became a bonafide "vulture" in his rookie season, but tendinitis left him permanently on the sidelines after just two games in '53.

Who had the most lifetime NSV wins? Na-ah. You'll have to come back for that...

Sunday, December 22, 2013


OK, now that we've established that there is a queer sub-set of pitching records that consistently avoid zero-sum outcomes, what does that mean? Just what is it, anyway--what games are these, how many of them are there, and what do we do with it now that we've discovered it?

A "non-save situation" (which we'll sometimes abbreviate as "NSV") has several possible identities. Let's examine them.

First, they are relief appearances. You could say that all starter innings are "non-save situations," but that's silly--sillier, in fact, than the definition of a save (which contains a few moments of unintentional hilarity).

We are looking at what relievers do when they are not in a game moment where they are trying to protect a close lead. What are the components that are part of what is a compound class of situations?

For one, you have games where a reliever comes in with the score tied. (These will prove to be the ones that contribute most to the wins and losses which fall into the "non-save" situation, as we'll see shortly.) Then there are games when the reliever enters with his team behind. (A smaller number of decisions--which, as you can surmise, are tilted heavily toward wins--manifest themselves from these situations.) And there are games where the reliever enters with a lead too large to be considered a save situation (most +4 situations, and everything above that). And, finally, there are games where the reliever enters with a lead that would be a "save situation" except for the fact that the inning in which he enters is too early (prior to the seventh).

Now, yes, there's some artificiality in this construct...BUT, it's interesting how this grouping of components creates a steady winning result. To get a sense of how many wins and losses come from where, we're going to use one of our favorite "punching bag" franchises, the Kansas City Royals, to walk us through how it works.

It turns out that the Royals' relievers, unbeknownst to even their ardent admirers, turned in a near-historic performance in "non-save situations" in 2013. The two charts at right demonstrate this in different ways. The top chart shows the top ten ERAs turned in by teams in "non-save situations" over the past fifty-six years (from 1958 to 2013...we picked 1958 because it's the first year where the records are 100% complete). The 2013 Royals are ninth on that list.

You'll notice, though, that most of the teams on this list come from the 1960s and early 1970s; thus they reflect an age in which pitching was at its zenith (and when run scoring was at its nadir). To correct for this, we created the second chart, which uses a version of ERA+ that's customized to the aggregate major league performance (measured in ERA) for "non-save situations.

When we apply that, and run the numbers again, we see that the 2013 Royals are actually the fifth best in terms of ERA+ during "non-save" situations. That's an incredible performance, and in large part due to that level of effectiveness, the Royals had a 31-16 record in games that were decided from "non-save situations."

We'll look at that performance in greater detail below, but first let's focus on what else these charts can tell us. We included the next season performance for the teams on both lists. There are five common teams on each (1966 Dodgers, 1969 Orioles, 1972 Pirates, 1976 Yankees, and 2013 Royals.) Only the Royals failed to reach the post-season. They also had far more decisions (a total of 47) that came about as a result of these situations than the other; the '69 O's had 40, but the others had far fewer--with the '76 Yankees having only 20. That leads to a question about the historical rate of frequency for "non-save situation" decisions, but let's defer that for just a minute while we look at what the "next year" data tells us.

What we see from the "next year" data is what often happens in other partial measures of won-loss results (WPCT in one-run games, for example). We see a regression to the mean here (remembering that the "mean" for these "non-save situations" is .574, not .500. On both charts, the level of effectiveness (as measured by ERA) and in terms of wins and losses (WPCT) drops noticeably in the "year after" data. (Individual teams, of course, often "beat the odds" in multiple seasons--we see that in the case of several teams on each list--the '69-'70 Orioles and the '76-77 Yankees, just to name two from the "common teams" on both lists.

Won-loss performance in "non-save situations" might be a better yardstick of "team luck" than the Pythagorean Winning Percentage (PWP), though we've seen that it's more correlated with winning in general. Still, if we look at the Royals' .660 WPCT in these games and compare that to the historical average (574), we see that they're between four and five wins above expectations for the number of decisions they had. It looks like their relievers, pitching in the tighter spaces of games that were up for grabs, were able to snag extra wins for their team in 2013.

Now let's get to the components of this performance. (By the way, not easy to do with current breakouts: Forman et fils takes you only part-way. For pitchers who both start and relieve, you have to go into the game logs to break out the data, which is just what we did for Wade Davis and Luis Mendoza, who mostly started for KC in '13.)

The tie-game data shows us that these are often do-or-die situations. The average percentage of decisions accounted for by "non-save situations" is 20% over the 1958-2013 time frame, but the Royals (47 decisions) were closer to 30% overall, and 39 of those decisions came from 90 games in which relievers entered into tie games, a figure well over 40%. (Of course, you can actually win a game in which you give up the lead while you're on the mound, which is what happened to Louis Coleman: the Royals took back the lead after he'd surrendered it and he got a "cheap win" out of it.)

So the Royals went 23-16 in games where pitchers entered with the scored tied; they went 8-0 in games when they rallied from behind with a reliever on the mound. (Bruce Chen won three of those before he was put back in the starting rotation; Louis Coleman got two wins in "come-from-behind" appearances.)

So this little exercise with the Royals gives us some perspective on how decisions break out of "non-save" situations. It appears that upwards of 85% of them derive from relievers coming into tie games, and that the overall winning percentage for this component is probably right around .500. The rest of them derive from "come from behind" scenarios, and the overall winning percentage for that component is around .975 or so--there just aren't all that many games where a pitcher blows a five-run lead and is tagged with a loss.

Right now we don't know where that total of eight come-from-behind reliever wins that the Royals posted in 2013 sits in the relative order of things. Is it high, low, or somewhere in between? It's not easy to generate right now. What's clear is that the Royals' relievers pitched extremely well in all of the other component situations that go into the "NSV" bucket: their collective ERA outside of tie games was 2.02. That, too, isn't easy to anatomize with currently available data: do relievers generally pitch better in "low leverage"? The Royals' relievers certainly did in '13; we'll need to look at that data in much greater volume and detail to understand it.

Let's circle back to the question of the percentage of decisions that happen in NSV situations, and how that may be changing/fluctuating. Our final chart (for this installment, at least) shows how that percentage has changed. This running three-year chart actually undersells the trend--in 2013, this percentage hit an all-time high at 26%.

This is almost certainly due to the increasing use of the "squadron" approach to relief pitching. If the Tango Love Pie™ adherents have their way, and starters get pulled in an uber-Sparky Anderson scenario just after their second time 'round the batting order, we'd see this figure jump a good bit higher, probably somewhere close to 40%. That would tend to knock down the WPCT in NSV situations, because that seems to be the correlation (2013's highest-ever total of decisions produced only a .551 WPCT for the total number of decisions in NSV situations). That'd actually muddy the waters in terms of identifying the value in this data, but that's what happens when modelers go beyond predictive functions and decide to be prescriptive instead.

More data to come in our next several installments. 'Tis a brave new world for "neos"--"neo-traditionalists," that is.

Thursday, December 19, 2013


Modeling continues to be the "rage" in the post-neo age of sabermetrics, though it is being supplanted by a hybrid approach that is desperate to granularize that process down to the lowest possible level. Such approaches are really trial and error (mostly the latter...), but it's part of a process that is exceptionally eager to leave behind anything resembling traditional statistics.

But what if certain breakouts of traditional data, sub-sets of data that comprise their own niche, can lead us to perspectives and insights that do as much or more than the increasingly hyperbolic uber-modeling efforts? (You could say that DIPS--Defense-Independent Pitching Stats, if you've been down in a bomb shelter for the whole of the 21st century--is modeling based on traditional stats. But what we want to find out is whether there are combinations or selected subsets of traditional stats that can, without recourse to extreme levels of modeling abstraction, tell us things that we don't already know.)

It's just possible that one of these might exist in the form of a stat that's been hidden in plain sight as part of the data set at Forman et fils (and, to defiantly digress for a moment...we wonder if with the departure of Neil Paine for the greenback pastures of the shiny new 538.com, this means that we need to lop off the "s" in "fils" again...but we'll let that pass--for now, at any rate).

What's that stat? It's called the "non-save" situation. It captures most, but not all, of the wins and losses that are credited to a team's relief pitchers. We'll define just what that means in greater detail in part two, and we'll go much further in subsequent installments.

For now, however, consider the 50+-year history of wins and losses as they manifest themselves in the "non-save situation." This is no zero-sum scenario, as the chart demonstrates. Since 1958 (which is when the data starts to become complete), pitchers who record decisions in "non-save situations"--let's start using NSV as our abbreviation du jour--have a winning percentage of .574.

Yes, that's for all teams over that 56-season timespan. The average team, over all that time, wins games at a clip that would produce a 93-69 record over a 162-game season. (Of course, no one gets close to that many decisions--and the number of decisions fluctuates from team to team in each and every season.)

The chart also shows the NSV winning percentage of teams that make it to the post-season. If this were a random thing, that WPCT should be equal to or lower than the overall NSV winning percentage.

Of course--otherwise we wouldn't be writing this--it's not. The average figure (which, like the overall NSV WPCT, fluctuates from year to year) turns out to be .637.

There's something odd happening here, and, as our getting-really-long-in-the-tooth pals from Buffalo Springfield would say, what it is ain't exactly clear. We're going to spend some time over the next week trying to clear it up for you, so...you can't say you haven't been warned.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


You may have been one of those who scoffed at our notion of "tactical Hall of Fame" voting. (It would be hard to separate such scoffing from the general derision that seems to invade any aspect of a discussion about the HOF, however.) But the good folks who are on the latest incarnation of the Veterans Committee have done just that with their recent trifecta of inductees (Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa, Joe Torre).

And that is (mostly) a good thing--though it would be nice if the Committee could actually find a way to induct a player of at least semi-recent vintage on the sole merits of their playing career. This still seems to be an event that has been blocked by some type of childhood trauma, however....some kind of "group therapy" may be needed to make that possible once again.

Of these three, Torre is the closest thing to a on-field Hall of Famer; his playing career has much to recommend it, including a nifty reinvention once he arrived in St. Louis. As a manager, he's clearly the least of the three, though he had an undeniably impressive run with the Yankees.

Pinstripes, George....pinstripes, dammit!!
Cox and LaRussa have undeniable managerial credentials, and it's a fine thing that these three--who are so close in age--will go into the Hall at the same time. That's what we call good tactics...even if what the Vets Committee is doing is more than a bit transparent.

Our old sparring partner Jay Jaffe suggests that George Steinbrenner, Billy Martin, Ted Simmons, and Marvin Miller should (have) be(en) selected. We don't have a problem with any of that (no spit-takes, Jay!!), though it's a cryin' shame that George and Billy are both no longer with us--it would have been worth the trip to Cooperstown to see the two of them on the same dais.

And it would have been so touchingly American to see a convicted felon and an incorrigible alcoholic be given the fist-in-glove treatment at the holier-than-thou HOF.

But we'd add another name to the list--Tommy John. Forget all the numbers preachments, please. Tommy is in the 99th percentile in terms of squeezing the most out of his talent, a consideration that rarely if ever comes into play for those who spend their lives wielding spreadsheets. And part of that involves having had the courage to be the very first pitcher to undergo a procedure that, at the time, was  a complete crapshoot in terms of its potential for prolonging a career.

Tommy John and Dr. Frank Jobe, back in the Pliocene era...
Ironically, John's achievement may have been victimized by the subsequent ubiquity of the procedure. It's easy to forget just how cutting-edge all of that was back in 1974.

That pioneering step--coupled with the fact that Tommy won more games after his surgical milestone than he had prior to it--is more than enough reason for the Vet Committee to give him the nod.

It also doesn't hurt that he's alive.

So while it's great to see the three managers get their due--and the HOF will take advantage of the photo ops they'll provide, particularly if the BBWAA takes a powder again this coming January (chances are slim, but it pays to consider all possibilities)--the Vets Committee really needs to start putting players into the Hall.

They can start doing just that with Tommy John.

Sunday, December 8, 2013


Yes, we started our "astral" teams (that's actually astrological, but we figure some of you would turn up your nose if you read that in the title block...) with Sagittarius because we are part of that signage--and while most of you are indulging in the vicarious super-consumerism that is America's true national pastime these days (in the thrall of watching ballplayers and GMs mastering the art of exchange...), we are looking for new ways to slice'n'dice history.

After all, there will be time enough to evaluate all of this off-season feeding frenzy...hell, it's not even winter yet.

So, meanwhile, let's get a sense of how pitchers and hitters sort out when we start placing them into astrological buckets.

What we find in Sagittarius (birthdays between November 22 and December 21) is a group of ninety players with significant enough career achievements to make the cut onto a master list. We're probably going to find some variation in the strength of squad as we follow this idea through the zodiac--there have been studies that indicate that baseball birthdays tend to cluster in the second half of the year--but, for now, ninety seems like a reasonable benchmark.

We have 56 hitters and 34 pitchers on the master list, which we've broken out in those two categories. You will see the Hall of Fame players' names displayed in red type. There are currently a total of 14 who are enshrined: 11 hitters (seven outfielders: Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Medwick, Al Kaline, Larry Doby, Jesse Burkett and Joe Kelley; one second baseman: Tony Lazzeri; two catchers: Johnny Bench and Gabby Hartnett; and one utility player: Deacon White) and three pitchers (Hoss Radbourn, Fergie Jenkins, Lefty Gomez). Five other players, however, are highly likely to be inducted in the future: Craig Biggio, Ivan Rodriguez, Larry Walker, Mariano Rivera and David Wright). Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, the longtime DP duo for the Phillies, are probably longshots.

There are enough players here to make up two forty-man rosters, and the question we'll confront as we go further into the issue of "astral" teams is whether we should make an "A" squad and a "B" squad, or whether the two squads should be "balanced." The former idea would seem to be the more interesting way to go, allowing for three eventual comparisons via simulation games--the "A" league, the "B" league, and a series of "A" vs. "B" faceoffs.

For the Sagittarius "A" team, we've tossed together most of the Hall of Famers and the better pitchers. That 25-man squad looks like this:

Pitching: Starters--Radbourn, Jenkins, Mussina, Gomez and Tiant; Relievers--Rivera, Marberry, McDaniel, Nen, Hall.
Catching: Bench, Hartnett, White.
Infield: Starters--Stovey, 1b; Lazzeri, 2b, Rollins, ss; Wright 3b; Subs--Johnson, Kuenn, Collins.
Outfield: Starters--Cobb, lf; DiMaggio, cf; Kaline, rf; Subs--Kelley, Minoso.

For the "B" team, we've taken the so-called "lesser" players and given them that hard-to-patent but you-know-it-when-you-see-it "underdog mentality":

Pitching: Starters--Reulbach, Appier, Shawkey, Finley, Flanagan; Relievers--Smith, Henke, Papelbon, Soriano, Righetti.
Catchers--Rodriguez, Freehan, Scioscia.
Infield: Starters: Vaughn, 1b; Utley, 2b;. Bell, ss; M. Williams, 3b; Subs--Biggio, McAuliffe.
Outfield: Starters; Medwick, lf; Doby, cf; Walker, rf; Subs--B. Johnson, C. Williams, Nilsson.

Before we con one of our long-time, bleary-eyed associates into playing the games that go along with the full complement of teams to be assembled for this "astral" plane, we'll assemble the full forty-man rosters for each of the teams in The Zodiac League. Who knows...maybe we'll interest someone in publishing the results in something resembling real time.

We'll do what all good astrologers suggest and follow the ecliptic: look for the next installment (Capricorn) during the Xmas-New Years' interregnum.

Saturday, November 30, 2013


Life is short, time is money, and the Hall of Fame will not keep you warm on a winter's night.

Here is the first cut at what would be our "tactical Hall of Fame ballot" in 2014. It probably won't change, though some of the estimates given for BBWAA support of these players is likely to undergo a certain amount of refinement in the next few weeks. We will jump off the gangplank and await a similar leap from Chris Jaffe (no friggin' in the riggin', Chris!).

First, the ballot, then the explanation. (We will get a running start for the jump overboard...)

In alpha order: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Frank Thomas, Larry Walker.

Aiiee!! Shark alert! So, where the eff are Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, and Rafael Palmeiro? Stashed in the hold, that's where. None of these guys has a prayer for the foreseeable future. Bonds and Clemens will hang on the ballot and still have a shot to outlive the outrage sometime in the next decade. McGwire and Palmeiro are toast, and will have to wait for the Vets Committee.

So where are Curt Schilling, Sammy Sosa, Alan Trammell? Let's answer those in succession.

Schilling is overrated by many of the "advanced" metrics. That's not to say that he isn't "Hall-worthy." But we aren't going to try to fight against the win no matter how much mouthfoam comes from the crumbs left in the Tango Love Pie™-tin. Once Maddux, Glavine, and Randy Johnson are inducted, it will likely be a race between Mussina and Schilling for the next slot (with Pedro Martinez as a dark horse due to his peak performance, which will resonate with the BBWAA).

Sosa's OPS+ (128) just ain't high enough, no matter how many 50+ HR seasons he had. He's going to drop off the ballot, but he'll likely be a Vet Committee pick.

Trammell made a nice gain in 2012, but he stalled last year and this is year #13 on the ballot for him. He's just not in a position to make the necessary jump. He and Lou Whitaker, his long-time keystone partner, should both go in the Hall, and if the world could somehow become fair and just the two of them will still go in together via the Vets Committee toward the end of the decade.

We also gave up the ghost on Lee Smith, who is going to have to wait for the Vets Committee.

[EDIT: You ask about Jeff Kent. The Great Curmudgeon is also deserving of a slot in the Hall, but with ballots as stacked as they'll be in the next few years, he'll probably start in high single digits and disappear until the folks above get their dessert (and their entrées) from the side-door guardians.]

Regarding our ballot, a few notes. We stay with Raines because he's going to take a hit, and his cluster of skills and stats deserve to be honored. Likewise with Edgar Martinez, whose brilliant late-blooming career (9th best all-time in OPS for players who played a full decade in their thirties) should not be denied. Larry Walker needs some votes to stay in the game; he's going to languish for awhile, but this is only year #4 for him--we still think he might make it in the last 2-3 years of his initial eligibility.

The others should not be particularly controversial. Some folks think Glavine is a bit soft, but no 300+ game winners have been denied (except for Clemens, and that's a temporary matter). He's not likely to make it in Year 1 (we figure around 60%), but it won't take too long.

Tactically, this is the most effective ballot for playing all the angles in the Hall of Fame voting. It lets everyone who is significant and not completely buried by 'roid rage to stay in the game. And staying in the game is better than staying the course (but you knew that....) and is almost as good as a stay of execution. And we won't pass up the chance to quote our favorite phunny philanderer from The Apartment, David Lewis, a man capable of appreciating another's play even if it means that he'll need to find another nesting place for nookie. His advice to Jack Lemmon is something that every bloodied but unbowed American male should take to heart as he tries to get on the scoreboard:

"Stay with it, Buddy boy!!"

Thursday, November 28, 2013


Hey, now, it's electric emperor-boy Elagabalus! Read about his
unmentionable exploits at the unimpeachable Uncyclopedia...
We are not amused.

We wonder if the recent news of a leading purveyor of jackoff journalism's latest friggin' in the riggin' (Darren Viola will know that reference, natch, and quite possibly our old pal Tom Hull, who writes a colder, meaner blog than we do and actually underplays his best stuff) will come back to haunt everyone.

If you don't know about it, Deadspin--the snarkertainment site that fuels its version of a tabloid trashorama punky reggae party by snorting used battery acid rather than going the route of the gurgling bong, has bought the Hall of Fame vote of a BBWAA member and is going to have some kind of noisy "phun" with that "phact" between now and early January.

The hot sauce that's "a punky reggae
party in every bottle." Need they say
more? We think not...
We see it as overgrown East Coast renegade ex-frat boys pranking "the pose" to ridicule a voting process that doesn't need any more trouble than it already has. So, from now on, we gonna take to calling them "Dreadspin."

We think it has about a 40% chance of causing enough backlash to create what is probably the greatest of all unwanted voting results in the history of the BBWAA.

Yep, that's right. We call that "the spectre of Whisky Jack."

Whisky Jack, purportedly in his trusty union suit, after having
observed that Detroit being back in the playoffs was like
"wearing old underwear." We can hardly wait to see what
he says (and what he wears!!) on the dais at Cooperstown...
Enough self-righteous indignation on the part of the BBWAA, put into focus as a result of this jockstrap grandstanding, might just be the catalyst to turn Year 15 of the Jack Morris "vision quest" into the unsightly nightmare that so many have been railing about.

Perhaps there's a theory buried in the bottom of Dreadspin's seemingly endless supply of Red Bull™ that such an outcome would produce an acid rain of protest from the world at large that it would bring down the BBWAA's "contract" as Hall of Fame electors.

Don't bet too much on that, kiddies.

Of course, Dreadspin would suggest that it's the entire voting process that's messed up--the steroid era having its own calamitous impact. That's a done deal, and there is still time for all (or at least most) of that to work itself out. And it's still likely to happen, despite this stunt.

But the one artifact of this skullduggery might just be to blight the dais at Cooperstown with the man that the numbers community wants to stake through the heart.

And while Bob Marley won't be here to lead the Exodus, the ranks of the Wailers will surely be increased a thousandfold...

Saturday, November 23, 2013


Fifty years ago today, much of America was glued to its television sets in the aftermath of John F. Kennedy's assassination, which had occurred the day before. Events would soon become even darker: the following day, the alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, would be gunned down on national television (an event slightly more trauma-inducing than today's "wardrobe malfunctions").

In honor of a man taken well before his time, here's a photo of the young JFK as he meets with three baseball players prior to Opening Day at Fenway Park (April 22, 1946). This is a freely available photo and many of you might have seen it at Forman et fils, under the name of the obscure ballplayer in the shot, whom we'll get to in a minute. (A nit: the caption for the picture as shown at Forman et fils references JFK as "Senator," which was not the case when the photo was taken: Kennedy would make his first run for the House of Representatives in the fall of 1946, so in this photo he is still a private citizen.)

JFK hasn't quite filled out in the photo--he looks more like a singles hitter here than would be the case when he occupied the White House, where we see a somewhat fleshier version (possibly due to the regime of medication needed to keep his hidden condition--Addison's Disease--under control).

Two of his three companions in the photo are also all-time greats: Ted Williams (left) and Hank Greenberg (right). The player on JFK's right, however, is a footnote. He is Eddie Pellagrini, who was a 28-year old rookie shortstop for the Red Sox that year. Like Kennedy, he was a Boston native, and this was his first game at Fenway as a member of his hometown team.

There was something of a storybook ending to the proceedings at Fenway that day, possibly influenced by the presence of the future President. Pellagrini replaced Red Sox starting shortstop Johnny Pesky in the fifth inning, who'd been hit by a pitch from the Senators' Sid Hudson. In the bottom of the seventh, in what was his first major league at-bat, Pellagrini homered off Hudson with what proved to be the winning run in a 5-4 Red Sox win.

(We tend to either gloss over or sugarcoat these moments, not quite able to reconcile the events on the field with the individuals who make them happen. Professionals are supposed to downplay their feelings, after all. But a moment like this must have been heady indeed, particularly for a 28-year-old rookie still rusty from four years away at war and knowing quite well that he was in all likelihood the most expendable man on his team's roster.)

Eddie P's future in MLB would not be so spectacular (or so tragic) as the man with whom he's photographed. Unlike JFK, he couldn't hit the curve ball. He was shipped to the St. Louis Browns after the 1947 season, went back to the minors, and played for three more NL teams as a utility man.

But his post-MLB career was distinguished. He would return to his hometown in 1957, becoming the baseball coach at Boston College, a position he held for 31 years, which included three appearances in the College World Series.

Interviewed shortly after his retirement in 1988, on the 25th anniversary of JFK's assassination, Pellagrini recalled the moment captured in the photograph. He remembered Kennedy's toothy smile, that he was put into the picture because he was a "Boston boy," how unusual it was to be in a photo with a future president. "It all happened so fast," he said. "In the blink of an eye. It makes me sad to think that it only took about the same amount of time to end a man's life."

Thursday, November 21, 2013


There's absolutely no truth to the rumor that Andrew McCutchen's
folks circulated this picture of Paul Goldschmidt to NL MVP
voters just before the end of the season...
We noted that the Ptolemaic MVP method--which in its somewhat truncated 2013 implementation had its AL leader finish #1 in the voting (Miguel Cabrera) and its NL leader finish #2 (Paul Goldschmidt)--is in need of additional nuance and context. This seems like as good a time as any to ruminate a bit on just what some of that might be.

We'd already alluded to the idea of positional adjustments, which occur in the various manifestations of the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) method. Among the first goals of WAR--in its original incarnation back in the 1980s, before it became putty in the hands of increasingly feverish tool-and-die, widget-obsessed atom-splitters--was to more equitably measure player value based on the impact of playing more difficult defensive positions. (In other words, players who play up the middle have tougher defensive assignments and have generally hit less well that those who play on the corners.)

So a "Ptolemaic" method could simply gather the WAR data for its snapshots and add those up (or average them) over time. But since the defensive component of WAR as implemented from play-by-play data remains (how to say this politely...) "problematic," we'd hate to buy that pig right now, even if poked. (Otherwise, we 'd be selling you the notion that Carlos Gomez was the MVP in the 2013 National League, just as the leaderboard at Forman et fils suggests).

So, at best, a total WAR value would only be one component in a revamped Ptolemaic MVP. Players at the top of the defensive rankings would have the 4-3-2-1 point scale applied just the way it's done for  OPS, OBP, SLG, etc. We wouldn't weight it in a way that could propel even a top-flight up-the-middle fielder into first place when his hitting isn't in the top ten (Gomez was 13th in OPS, 20th in OPS+ in the NL this past season).

Clearly there are many slippery slopes available when we consider this topic. Given that incontrovertible reality, the first step in terms of creating a truly credible "MVP to date" projection is to have a thorough road map of historical MVP voting patterns. To do that, we created four versions of the table you see (below, at right).

This one has the MVP results for the American League since 1969. (As you'll remember, 1969 was the beginning of divisional play, which began the escalating alteration of the post-season, both in perception and in basis of fact.) We picked the AL because it has more potential "aberrations" in its MVP selections--as Jon Bernstein pointed out way back in the "glory daze" of rec.sport.baseball, the AL MVP voters have been prone to select pitchers for the MVP, while the NL voters have kept pitcher honors strictly limited to the Cy Young Award.

Each line has the MVP, team played for, the team's winning percentage (WPCT), whether it made the post-season (Y/N), position in its division, the MVP ranking by WAR, and the MVP ranking by OPS.

When we get to the third column from the right, the display turns into data for what we will call the "WAR MVP"--if and when the top-rated player in WAR for that year is different from the MVP winner. Right from the top of the chart we can see that this happens a good bit. (We color-coded the WAR and OPS leaders in light blue so that they will stand out.)

Other pertinent color-codings: green indicates a player that won the MVP or was the "WAR MVP" for a wild card team; orange indicates MVP or "WAR MVP" whose team finished under .550 and did not make the post-season; yellow highlights players who were MVPs or "WAR MVPs" on teams that finished below .500.

Just to be clear, this is one of four such tables (AL 1969-2013; NL 1969-2013; AL 1931-68; NL 1931-68). We'll get around to publishing the other three of these at a later date. These form the basis for some generalized findings about MVP voting behavior, focused on three key elements: where the team of the MVP (or "WAR MVP") finished in the standings; the ranking of MVP by WAR and OPS. Those findings are summarized in two tables that can be found below--the first for 1969 to the present, and the second for 1931 to 1968.

Before we summarize the results from those tables, we should note that the average WPCT of a team with the MVP is .592. That's been in decline every since the first year that the BBWAA voted for the MVP, when they selected the A's Lefty Grove in the AL (team WPCT of .704) and the Cardinals' Frank Frisch in the NL (team WPCT of .656). In the master table above, the AL average for the MVP is .579.

That value for the "WAR MVP," however, is even lower, down at .548. That's because a pure numerical method won't take into account where teams finish in the standings. And, as the table above shows, there are far more "WAR MVPs" on sub-.500 teams (a total of nine) than is the case for actual MVP winners (only two).

Our two historical summary charts (rendered, perhaps metaphorically, in shades of blue...) show one reason why a Ptolemaic method needs to know about team performance. Only 3% of MVPs come from teams with sub-.500 records. (And note that this rate is consistent on both the 1969-2013 table and the 1931-68 table below.)

That helps explain why Andrew McCutchen didn't win in 2012 (Pirates faded below .500) and why he did win this year (Pirates make the post-season). Paul Goldschmidt (aka Mr. Sombrero...) had better overall numbers than McCutcheon--including in the Ptolemaic data--but his team (the Diamondbacks) finished 81-81.

"WAR MVPs" come from sub-.500 teams about five times as often as in "real life" (14%). That figure is on the rise during divisional play (20% since 1969). BBWAA voters have clearly taken team finish into account at a seriously elevated level from the get-go: the percentage of MVPs from non-post season teams is just over 27% since 1931, while "WAR MVPs" have come from twice as many non-post-season teams (55%).

This pattern seems to be hardening in recent years. Since Cal Ripken was AL MVP in 1991 playing for an Orioles squad that won only 67 games (.414 WPCT), 90% of all MVPs have come from teams making the post-season. (Some of that might come from the addition of the wild card team, but it's hard to get the exact handle on just how much of an effect is present.) That figure stands out from the other "quartile" measures that you'll find in the two tables (marked "MVP From PS team 19xx--xx"), which show a remarkable consistency in that percentage (71% for 1931-49; 66% for 1950-68; 67% for 1969-91) until the last twenty years.

One interesting comparison is to see the contrasting percentages in the two  eras for the percentage of real-life MVPs who finished lower than fifth in WAR. That figure is noticeably higher in the 1969-2013 period (27%) than it was during 1931-68 (17%).

By now, of course, we are somewhat removed from the numbers that need to be contextualized for the Ptolemaic MVP, but it's probably worth it in order that we might get a sense of how WAR would shape the MVP awards if it "ran the zoo." One thing that's worth noting is that it restores the embattled Alex Rodriguez to a level of prominence that has been swept away by the ongoing subterfuge of controversy. A-Rod can be seen as having won three real-life MVPs in which WAR agreed with the BBWAA, along with three more "WAR MVPs" (in 1998, 2000, and 2002) that were given to others (with only the 2000 MVP, which went to Jason Giambi, being a reasonable alternative). While he's no Barry Bonds or Willie Mays in terms of "WAR MVPs" (Bonds would have eleven, Mays ten), A-Rod's total of six such "WAR MVPs" ought to put him back in our eyes as one of the game's greatest players.

So, to sum up, the Ptolemaic MVP method should add WAR as a component, despite its myriad problems; it should take into account the BBWAA voters' rising tendency to give MVPs to players on post-season teams; and it should consider some other possible ways to implement some positional adjustments.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


The worm has turned in the ongoing "grievance hearing" in New York. Alex Rodriguez, set up in a monkey court by a judge selection process that has all the "stacked deck" attributes of the Warren Commission, has replaced his trademark pout with something closer to a death stare now that the "shocking" news has leaked that Bud Selig won't be ordered to testify as part of the proceedings.

Buzzin' Fly, back on duty after having 343,434 of his eye cells replaced via arthroscopic surgery right after the World Series (amazing what they can do for winged insects these days, thanks to the pioneering work of Dr. Zoltan Szasz, who joked that he "put the fly back in the flyboy" as he gave Buzzy the tools he needed to stay noisily hidden in plain sight after a near brush with death when he was grazed by the greasy backhand of Rob Manfred...you'll never get that close to ol' Buzzy again, shyster boy!!), reports that the proceedings are unimaginably tense, nearly as volatile as the ongoing concern about the Jack Morris Hall of Fame vote that, if it goes the wrong way, could spell the end of either Obamacare or The World As We Know It™.

It should not be a surprise that the man who has reigned over what we smilingly (to keep from cryingly) refer to as "the B.S. era" would not be found within several kilometers of a witness stand. But perhaps ol' Budzilla will regret the fact that his absence from the monkey court will provide A-Rod and his seemingly endless conga line of lawyers with a credible appeal process in a legal setting where there is one judge instead of three monkeys.

That process has a high likelihood of enjoining MLB from suspending A-Rod in 2014 pending the resolution of an actual lawsuit.

If that happens, it's very possible that A-Rod will keep playing until he retires--after his contract with the Yankees expires.

In a world besotted with its pursuit of meta-ironic outcomes, that would be one that might prove to be just what the doctor ordered.

So, Mr. B.S., you might want to reconsider your decision to duck and run. Unless, of course, you really have something to hide. After all, there are some conspiracy theorists (some of whom are about to face a cruel expiration date in a couple of days, as the crescendo of interest in the fifty-year-old JFK murder will pass behind a full moon and go into eclipse...) who believe that Richard Nixon was actually framed in the Watergate coverup. Surely there are some overzealous henchmen willing to fall on their briefcases for you, who will say that your chronic, ongoing hearing loss made it impossible for you to know that improper evidence collection activities were occurring.

Surely there is a chance that you aren't the most corrupt scumbag to ever be Commissioner of MLB, yes?

But cheer up...there's always the "twinkie defense." Thank God they are back in production...

Our suggestion: buy a truckload and start feeding your face. But be careful--gorge in the right dose, as those little hummers have a downright embarrassing side effect if they're not force-fed in just the right way...


Wednesday, November 13, 2013


If you've not read about the (still changing) concept of the Ptolemaic MVP, you can get some (hopefully) useful background here. We are still tinkering with the method, and had hoped to be able to spend more time adjusting, expanding, and refining this year, but that just wasn't in the cards. (We'll discuss a bit of what we're planning to introduce as we move it forward for 2014.)

The nickel tour of what the Ptolemaic MVP is about is as follows: two-month snapshots of offensive data are captured, ranking points assigned to three counting stats (R, HR, RBI) and four rate stats (BA, OBP, SLG, OPS). We capture this data anywhere from eight to one hundred and twenty times (the latter extreme requiring  automation that has yet to be implemented...) and add up the points, and voila! You have your MVP based on the agglomeration of many "peak" performance measures.

Now there are some problems with using the raw data, as any numbers person will be only too glad to tell you. Clearly some kind of park factor adjustment is needed, though not as much as what's used in the player value calculations at the high-visibility numbers sites.

There are some weighting issues for the stats used to create the point rankings that need additional attention. We'll go through one example of that below, using the inevitable comparison between Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera as the basis for it.

What we have in the current Ptolemaic MVP method is something that is more likely to capture the thinking process of the BBWAA (though this year, we suspect it will be less accurate in its prediction than was the case in previous efforts).

So, first--the Ptolemaic MVP results for the two leagues. We've shown the top 25 for each. There are problems here, fo' sho'. Expect Yadier Molina to be much higher than he shows here: a positional adjustment is clearly also needed. (We'll need to tinker with past results and look for reasonable values for such add-ons, in the way that Bill James did it for the Hall of Fame Monitor etal.)

The consensus seems to be that Andrew McCutchen, who finished first in the Ptolemaic NL MVP race last year but third in the official voting, is going to take it in '13: he ranks fourth on our list. (Some of that is ballpark--with some adjustment for Coors Field, it's likely that he's going to be ahead of Carlos Gonzalez.) It's clear that the HR-RBI points as deployed are working in the favor of sluggers: Paul Goldschmidt, ranked first in the NL Ptolemaic MVP "voting," outpoints McCutchen 45-4 in those categories, which certainly looks to be a distortion.

In the AL, we don't expect Chris Davis to finish higher in the actual MVP vote than Trout, whose singular combination of skills is well-known to the voting populace by now. How much better known it is will be interesting to determine as he goes up against Cabrera for the second consecutive season.

One thing the Ptolemaic system can do is adjust SLG (and, by extension, OPS) by factoring in net stolen bases and double plays into equation. (We think that DPs should "half-weighted" in the formula because we are taking so many snapshots.) The chart at left shows Trout and Cabrera's point scores for the ten snapshots we took this year (we wanted it to be more, and we've figured out a way to easily do at least three to four times more of them in '14), followed by a comparison of their adjusted OPS (factoring in net SB and DP into SLG) with their standard OPS values. Trout gains a lot of ground when we make this adjustment, and he winds up ahead of Cabrera in adjusted OPS (OPSa) in one additional snapshot.

We didn't try to adjust the point totals this time, but we expect that if we had, Trout would have climbed over Davis and would have gotten a good bit closer to Cabrera.

We will work it some more and return to this in '14. What we expect to see tomorrow is a slightly closer race between Cabrera and Trout in the AL, and a close race between McCutchen and Goldschmidt in the NL, with the winners being the players on the playoff teams.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


Sean F.'s unerring eye
We are holding back one more day on the Ptolemaic MVP (it's best to have those results absolutely "fresh" in the mind when the officious--oops, that's "official"--announcement is made on Thursday...and we know that the average attention span in America has atrophied by 19% in the past twenty years--almost 1% a year, the pundits wail...!), so consider this to be our hedge against mental deflation.

NOT Mrs. Forman...at least not Sean's
"Mrs."--though she is named "Forman,"
and the kid (now out and available at stores
near you...) was named "Sean."
In lieu of that, we will dance like a Cossack while trying to avoid a fate that involves swimming with the fishes, and take this opportunity to announce that we are finally going back to describing the indispensable Baseball Reference site as Forman et fils. (No, we don't think Mrs. Forman has just emerged from the delivery room: this change involves professional personnel, not tiny folk in search of swaddling clothes.)

Those who have been paying attention (ahem...) will recall that we dropped the "s" on "fils" despite its grammatical/phraseological (and, let's face it, political) incorrectness when we learned that the employee roster had been trimmed awhile back. (In fact, our information was incorrect as well: the total number of B-R personnel did not decline down to just two. Our apologies for having created this misrepresentation.)

Since it has come to our attention that a few fey folk (in the usual fey locations...) were suggesting that this monicker was due to a less-than-ept mastery of foreign language construction, we are delighted that Sean F. has brought more folk into his fold so that we can officially remedy this perceived gaffe with (uncharacteristic) good cheer.

Note to Darren Viola: kindly
cue up the John Cale track...
Of course, we could greet this welcome "new hire" news with a laundry list of items that need to be implemented in order to make the pre-eminent sports stat site into something even greater (possibly even post-eminent), but that's something that should be handled in a different way--possibly by the denizens at the Baseball Think Factory, where crusty Tango Love Pie™curmudgeons can launch more posts than Rossana Podesta as Helen of Troy: an extended "want list" created by committee would be a lot more useful to the number-ist baseball community than all that neo-sabe "sword and sandal" sophistry.

So, congrats to the new "sons of Sean"--may they take us even deeper into the data than we had ever dreamed possible. The brave new world of baseball knowledge is, as Mr. T.S. Eliot once noted, "...spread out before us /Like a patient etherised upon a table." So go for it, Forman et fils--we beseech you to help rouse us from our collective stupor...

Monday, November 11, 2013


OK, so why this now?? Well, we love misdirection, particularly when it's right in front of awards season. Tomorrow we'll post the Ptolemaic MVP data for 2013, and we expect that only one of the leaders there will actually win the award (as was the case last season).

What we might get from the chart below (top 40 hitters by OPS from July 1, 2012 to July 1, 2013) is the concept (admittedly brittle...) of "MVP carryover." As you'll see in the data below, the two 2012 MVP winners (Miguel Cabrera and Buster Posey) were also the leading hitters by OPS for their respective leagues in the July-to-July "follow-up" period.

Now playing 2B for the
D-backs...Mr. Teenage Heartthrob??
Our selection criteria (July 1 through July 1) affords the opportunity for more than 162 games in the sample, and we see that happen occasionally here (five of the forty were "super-durable"). Our qualifying figure here was 400 PA (thanks to some friendly "persuasion" applied by the creator of the oh-so-outré "Luann" comic strip, Greg Evans, who was inexplicably eager to see his namesake player, Aaron Hill, show up on the leader boards. (No, we don't know why: the character hasn't shown up in the strip in years...)

How much this list differs from its more conventional "cousin" might be worth knowing, too, if only to have a sense of the variability of in-season data.

Sometime during the hot stove season, when we're not swamped with more pressing matters, we'll take a look at this info over past seasons. It's probably going to be a 50-50 proposition, since there is some demonstrable bias in MVP awards given for hot second half performances (covered in an earlier entry).

Thanks to David Pinto and his Day-by-Day Database for the above data.

Saturday, November 9, 2013


Please note at the outset that the word in the title is "ephemeral," not "effeminate," which might come to mind in an odd "inside baseball" type of way as we flesh out our most unusual story.

Strikeout pitchers weren't always dime-a-dozen in baseball. The trend in that direction began in the late 50s/early 60s, assisted (temporarily) by a strike zone change, and has since moved into an escalating phase of play that is a key factor in the accelerating homogeneity and uniformity of the present-day game.

That trend was arrested, briefly, in 1969 when both the strike zone and the pitching mound were modified. And a retrospective look at that time frame reveals a surprising, little-known fact about just what team was in the forefront of that short-lived "counter-movement" towards finesse pitchers.

Yankees' K/9 rates, 1964-1981
So who was it? The New York Yankees--the recently fallen Yankees, in what we might now term their "CBS receivership" (in a phase that might yet become familiar to us again over the next few years). As the chart at right demonstrates, the Yankees had begun a full-fledged flight (their dapper, media-savvy president at that time, Michael Burke, would have uttered the word "investment" as a purportedly soothing synonym...) into the world of soft-tossers. By 1972, this transformation was complete, and Yankee pitchers were last in the AL in strikeouts by a wide margin.

Today we call it "pitching to contact," which has the slightly condescending air of much of what's been developed over recent years to color our knowledge as much as improve it. The only piece of "wisdom" pertinent to the finesse pitcher is that he's at greater risk for injury, particularly if given heavy use at an early age.

It's possible that the above mantra has been repeated for so long, however, that we are no longer even willing to think that a finesse pitcher can be successful at all in the major leagues. 1972 might as well be  1872 as far as current theory is concerned: even "control" pitchers such as Cliff Lee and Adam Wainwright strike batters out at a rate higher than what the AL managed as a league forty-one years ago.

The shocking story inside the 1972 season as played out in the American League, though, was that for most of that year, the best pitcher in the league was one who struck out barely more than two batters per nine innings.

His name: Steve Kline. Not the feisty southpaw reliever of recent vintage, but the 6'3" right-hander drafted out of high school in the seventh round by the Yankees in 1966. Kline weathered a rough patch in the minors during 1969 and made it to the big leagues in 1970, where he struggled a bit despite a career high 4.4 K/9 rate. Yankee pitching coach Jim (Milkman) Turner--remembered mostly from his double-talking ways as described in Jim Bouton's Ball Four--applied his own soft-tossing tenets to Kline, and hooked him up with Thurman Munson, who was emerging as starting catcher and team captain. Munson would be behind the plate for 30 of Kline's 32 starts in 1972.

Kline refined his approach further as a result, and from early June through late August, produced an exact half-season (16 GS) that--despite striking out less than two men per nine innings--rivaled the bottom-line performance of Bob Gibson four years earlier. Over those starts, spanning 128 IP, Kline's ERA was 1.20(!!). Along with Munson, Bobby Murcer and Sparky Lyle, he was the key figure in the slow-but-steady resurgence of a sluggish, slow-starting Yankee squad that would move to within a half-game of the AL East lead in mid-September before losing twelve of their final seventeen contests.

Our old friend QMAX (the Quality Matrix) provides us with a useful breakout of Kline's all-too-brief assignation with transcendence, as well as capturing the shape and quality of the other significant starting pitchers in the 1972 AL. Kline's ability to change both the angle and the speed of his slider seemed to become elevated to a level approaching hoiiness during this stretch: his groundball tendencies also reached an all-time high. His QMAX total for these starts was 4.06 (2.31 S; 1.75 C), which is astonishing for anyone--much less a pitcher who is striking out just under two men per nine innings.

Kline would fade in September, and he would experience a progressive series of arm problems in 1973.   It's easy for us now to toss him into the pile of abused young pitchers who were littering the game (and, despite all kinds of modern-day precautions, still do so today).

Yankees manager Ralph Houk began the '72 campaign with a strict four-man soft-tosser rotation (in addition to Kline, there was the "last Yankee ace" Mel Stottlemyre, who would tear his rotator cuff in 1974, and two lefties, Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich, who became better known for their off-field activities). Still, Houk was reasonably careful with Kline early in the season: he didn't make a start on three days' rest until June 11th, the game in which his great 16-game streak began.

And it would be hard to argue with the results in the ten starts Kline made on three days' rest: 6-2, 1.45 ERA. We can now point with horror to that, and to his 236 IP at the age of 24, but in the context of 1972 these weren't extreme totals. Five pitchers had more than 40 GS; seven pitchers, including 21-year-old Bert Blyleven and 25-year-old Nolan Ryan, had more than 280 IP.

It was a marvelous year for starting pitchers: while the AL produced far more twenty-game winners in the years adjacent to 1972, superb seasons were turned in by every conceivable style of hurler, from flamethrowers (Ryan) to knuckleballers (Wilbur Wood, whose September slump as he pressed on to 375+ IP probably cost the upstart White Sox their shot at the eventual WS champ Oakland A's). Gaylord Perry won the Cy Young award, but QMAX tells us that Catfish Hunter was just as good. Other notable seasons were turned in by Jim Palmer, Mickey Lolich, and Luis Tiant. The QMAX charts (provided for Perry, Hunter, Lolich, Ryan and Wood) show just how that success is spread around in the varied shapes of performance.

For half a season, however, Steve Kline was better than each and every one of these arguable Hall of Famers. Just because he couldn't sustain that level of excellence is no reason why he should be consigned to the dustbin of history. We may never see another pitcher like him again--and, despite the dire prognosis that seems to accompany such masters of the pitching microsphere, contemplating that realization is more than a little bit sad.

Steve Kline is currently the coach of a high school baseball team in his home state. He's 66 now. When the Cy Young Awards are announced next week (Wednesday, November 13th), let's hoist one in his honor, too. But be sure to pour it into a glass...in honor of an unsung glass-armed hurler who quietly electrified the AL just over four decades ago.