Sunday, June 30, 2013


Here's a quick and dirty look (we will let you decide which is the more prominent of these descriptors on your own...) at the distribution of offensive achievement by age, in the form of yet another of our handy (not-so-handy?) charts.

In case you skipped the title, the measure here is adjusted OPS (OPS+). These are broken down by ages (20-40), then slammed together into four age ranges (-25, 26-29, 30-34, 35+). These are the hitters who currently qualify for the batting title.

What does it tell us? That top-level hitting (150 OPS+ or higher) is strongly correlated in 2013 toward younger hitters, but that teams often carry below-average young hitters (see ages 23-25) either in hopes that they will improve or because they are playing positions at the left edge of the defensive spectrum.

The summary chart shows this a bit more directly. Young hitters are far more likely to be below-average in OPS+ (at least in 2013; we're gonna go back and look at this for past years soon...); players in Age Range 3 (30-34) seem to be around mostly because they can still hit.

Most of these occur in the age 30-32 range, however: when we break out the Age 3 data by 30-32, 33-34, we get 39-17 for the first group, 11-6 for the second group. Even with the selection bias, older hitters (who are still around at age 33-34 because they are supposed to be able to hit, or may have done so in the earlier portions of Age Range 3) are declining relative to league average (70% above the line for age 30-32, 64% for age 33-34).

More on this a bit later....

Friday, June 28, 2013


If you've been hanging around the world of baseball numberology for any length of time, you already know that the "age 27" season was identified by Bill James as the most likely year in which hitters have their peak season.

As long as this sabermetric chestnut has been around (and it's going on three decades), we must admit that we've never seen a list of the best age-27 seasons. James compiled some positional "All-Star type" teams organized around age back in the Abstract days, but that was a long time ago.

What prompted this was the stellar first half of the 2013 season that has been turned in by the Orioles' Chris Davis, who is (as would seem to make sense since we are mentioning him) having his age-27 season this year.

We did a little rooting around in the Forman et fil Play Index (remember, kiddies, it's not a free service, but it's well worth it...) and came up with the following list of age-27 seasons...this one is sorted by adjusted OPS (aka OPS+) and covers the seasons from 2000 to the present.

The chart shows you what we would have told you without the chart--namely, that Chris Davis has just been ripping things up thus far this season. (In fact, nothing other than the age-27 peak season scenario could have remotely prepared anyone for the type of season Chris has been turning in.

The top 25 age-27 seasons since 2000 (the five players from 2013 who are currently on the list are shown in orange) seems to break down into two types:  bonafide great hitters (Cabrera, Braun, Fielder, Guerrero, Pujols, Votto, A-Rod, Ortiz) and guys who packed their "career year" into their age-27 season (Hafner, Johnson, Choo, Ellsbury, Guillen). Most of the latter are folks who just skim their way into the lower echelons of the list--all of which makes Davis's performance so unusual.

But then we got to thinking. Assume for a moment that Davis manages to hold his 199 OPS+ level for the entire '13 season--where would that place him on the all-time age-27 list from all the way back in 1901. (In short, all of the twentieth century as well as the twenty-first.) Just who did have the greatest age-27 season?

You are probably not going to be surprised to discover that the answer to that last question is...Ted Williams.

And you are probably not surprised to discover that fourteen of the twenty-five players on this list are in the Hall of Fame. (#2 on the list--Barry Bonds--is a guy who's clearly going to have to wait awhile.)

What we see when we look at this chart is that Davis's OPS+ (as of 6/27) places him in the #6 slot.

So we've had about half of what is clearly a historic season from Davis.

But note that he's the only hitter from '13 who makes it onto the all-time Top 25.

And note also that there are now twelve players from post-expansion days (1961 on) who've made the Top 25 age-27 list--but there are only two hitters (Davis and Miguel Cabrera) on the lists for seasons turned in since 2000.

It's going to be interesting to see what Davis's numbers look like at the end of the year--will he still be on this list? If he is, he'll be one of the great "mystery guests" of baseball history.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


OK, fight fans, who is this guy...your task is to figure
out who he is before his name is revealed below
in conjunction with this "bummer in the summer" of
really bad teams trying to deny their rightful heritage....
Damn it, this is no fun at all. Is it gonna be one of those beisbol seasons where we are hoisted by the boring petard of mediocrity and competitive balance? Can't we at least have a couple of teams--hell, even one team--that's either superlatively good or shockingly, swear-word-inducingly bad?

At the end of May we didn't have a lot of sensational excellence to self-galvanize about, but we had the Fish and the Astros--two teams that looked like they were on their way to seasons that would place them as deep in the toilet as anyone had been in a decade. Teams that win less than 50 games are so freakin' bad that they need to be cherished in spite of themselves; heading into June, it looked as though we had a clear shot for two of these teams in the same year (data that we already ran for you back when we were getting the parade permits in place...along with the Facebook pages and other social media doodads guaranteed to get out the folks in those cities to celebrate this achievement in style--aka a few hundred thousand rotten eggs reaching the hands of those in position to hurl them with impunity).

But, Crissakes already, these two teams suddenly found wheels for their wagon, and have spent most of this month actually making lemonade out of lemons, wine out of water, and Latin phrases out of ix-nay.

Now this is something to write your g-d Congressman about. It's one thing to strike down portions of the Voting Rights Act via a claim that its nearly half a century later and those states are now merely trying to suppress African-American votes instead of actually doing so, but it's beyond the pale when a couple of teams that are supposed to make rotten eggs smell clean and fresh by comparison start regularly beating up on the competition.

So how the f--- are they doing this? We decided to crank up David Pinto's handy Day by Day database (not quite rendered moot by the latest "features" agglomerated by the folk at Forman et fil) to determine how these two squads could push themselves to a combined winning record.

Pitching charts first--because this, as some of you probably suspected, is the place where the Fish and the Astros have made their most significant performance improvements in the past four weeks. As you'll see, both teams suddenly have functional rotations and each has its closer operating at full cylinder.

The Fish seem determined to cash in Ricky Nolasco, their highest-paid player and someone who has no  fear of making with the middle finger when it comes to his boss, Jeffrey (The Toad) Loria. Right now the key components of their bullpen (Steve Cishek, Dan Jennings, Mike Dunn) have been getting the job done. The team's ERA over the past four weeks is fifth best in the NL.

Can that last? Some of it will. Jose Fernandez is looking like an ace. Jacob Turner, despite not being all that overpowering, looks like he can pitch. But everyone will soon be worrying about their workloads, because they are both very young.

On the hitting side, the Astros are hitting more HRs than the Fish, but Miami did finally get Giancarlo Stanton back, along with Logan Morrison. These two guys, along with journeyman Ed Lucas, have made the Marlin offense just good enough to support an improving pitching staff--at least for the month of June.

Chris Carter is currently Da Man for the Astros: he's always been a contender for baseball's Human Wind Machine contest. There's not much chance that the rest of the guys who are managing to deliver some clutch hits right now (Matt Dominguez, Jason Castro) are going to keep it up.

Keep in mind that these two teams have had to push their way into .500 ball in order to make 100 losses something other than a foregone conclusion.

We're still figuring on mid-to-high 50s for these teams' final win totals. If one of these teams is likely to escape a hundred losses, it's more likely to be the Fish, as they seem to have managed to put together a more balanced pitching staff and a somewhat better middle of the lineup.

But all this positive performance is, frankly, just the kind of bummer in the summer we were hoping avoid. (It's too late on that score for Arthur Lee--and Carlos Lee, too, for that matter.) Why the hell couldn't these teams have done what the Brooklyn Dodgers used to do--namely, wait 'till next year?

It's enough to make a grown curmudgeon cry...

Monday, June 24, 2013


Part two of this look at what happened to "high workload" relievers in the year after they led the league in relief IP covers the years 1971-1984.

Legends: Orange background--greater than average loss in IP for next year;
Yellow background--less than average loss in IP; light blue background--
increase in IP; dark blue background--n/a due to strike year; black background--
n/a due to pitcher being converted to reliever. Orange text--greater than average
loss in ERA+ in next year; black text--less than average loss in ERA+; green
text--improvement in ERA+ in following year.
This period clearly displays a ramp-up of 100+ IP reliever performances, both in terms of maximum innings (Mike Marshall setting the all-time record in 1974) and in terms of the number of 100+ IP relievers. From 1957-70 there were 135 of these, or 4.8 per league per year); in 1971-84 that total was 208, or 7.4 per league per year. (The percentage of high workload relievers per team didn't go up quite so dramatically: it was 50% from 57-70, 59% from 71-84--though you need to adjust for the strike season in '81...when you bounce that one out of the sample, that percentage goes up to 63%.)

The chart shows that in the early 70s a few exceptional pitchers were able to build on high workload and sustain their success, at least for several years (Marshall, John Hiller, Rollie Fingers, Pedro Borbon, Goose Gossage), but that effect was short-lived. By the early 80s we see the high workload guys break down in terms of IP and ERA+ just as much as was the case in the 1957-70 data.

Thanks to the performances in the early 70s, this group loses less ground in terms of IP--falling off only about 21% (instead of the 27% for the 1957-70 group).

In terms of ERA+, however, the results are remarkably similar. The performance drop was 20.3% in the next year for the workload leaders in 1971-84, compared with 22.5% for the workload leaders in 1957-70.

Several of the workloads in the AL during the early 70s (Hiller and Lindy McDaniel) are notably different in that these pitchers would throw three or more innings at a rate much greater than anyone else in the time frame (and, quite possibly, in any time frame). Those seasons probably warrant closer examination just due to their anomalous nature; we'll delve into that after the conclusion of this series.

Working a reliever hard is clearly showing up as a poor long-term (or even "medium-term") strategy. We don't figure anyone will be surprised when individual reliever workload levels start to nosedive in our next fourteen-year period (1985-1998). Stay tuned.

Saturday, June 22, 2013


We've not had an update for awhile, because...well, because we've been under lock and key (something that a number of you have been recommending for years...), but now is just as good a time as any.

The NL can be thankful that they didn't have any more games scheduled against the Blue Jays, who have now won ten straight and have made the AL East (temporarily, at least) into a division will all .500+ teams.

As the schedule shows, we'll have a mini-swarm of interleague games next week, and the matchups there seem to favor the NL a bit, so that might be the Senior Circuit's best chance to get things squared up again.

We're not holding our breath, however. The NL has fallen back in recent weeks despite continuing to hold an edge in one-run games (currently 27-20 in their favor). So it's not possible to claim that they are victims of bad luck in the close ones...

Meanwhile, the "drip" approach continues to leave coverage of interleague play at a level that is best analogized in medical terms (as befitting our original remember, that sinister glucose bag?): there's only the faintest trace of a pulse.

[UPDATE: The NL didn't take advantage of its advantage in the recent flurry of interleague games, managing just a split over the past five days. The AL is still nine games ahead...]

Friday, June 21, 2013


Lots of stuff a-happenin' in the twelve days we've been off in search of the ozone layer, and we will catch up with as much of it as possible from now until the end of the month...

...but the first and foremost occurrence in the ongoing '13 season is the hitting slide that has (finally) arrived in the Bronx.

With their aging and/or highly-paid hitters in drydock for much of the first half of the season, many folks expected the Yankees to be having a tough time putting runs on the scoreboard. In April, however, with Curtis Granderson (AL HR leader over the previous two seasons), Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez on the shelf--and we won't even bring up (or will we??) Derek Jeter--the Bombers hit 36 HRs, tied for the most in the AL, led by the slugging of Robinson Cano (6 HRs) and off-season acquisitions Vernon Wells (7 HRs) and Travis Hafner (6 HRs).

Joe Girardi: The power outage (and those shades) have made
even broad daylight a good bit shadowier than usual...
As a result of that, the Yanks got off to a 16-10 start, helped in large part by going 9-1 in close games. That all leveled off in May, however, as Wells (.631 OPS) and Hafner (.581 OPS) cooled off dramatically. The Yanks began tinkering with spare part pickups (Brennan Boesch), and got a good month from journeyman Lyle Overbay, but they wound up just treating water (15-13 in May).

Now we're three weeks into June, and the Bombers (with Granderson back on the shelf and Teixeira struggling) have stopped hitting. In the first 20 games this month, the Yankees are hitting just .212 and have a combined OPS of .588. While there's still plenty of time for them to pull things together, that level of production would be the lowest of any team in any month during 2013--even (for goodness' sakes!) the Marlins.

So far, the Yankees have hit just 10 HRs in June--second-lowest in the AL. (Yes, that's right: the Royals, even in their get-up-off-the-floor mode, have hit only eight.) Wells, perhaps spooked by a return to his old West Coast "stinking grounds," has hit .105 during the month--and Hafner has been almost as anemic.

Remember that crack about the ozone layer? Well, here's
the hole in it--and (at least thus far in June, anyway...)
the hole in the Yankees' offense.
One other way to measure it is to look at the number of games in which the Yankees are scoring three runs or less. In 2012, MLB teams scored three runs or less in games 45% of the time. The Yankees had the lowest percentage of such games in 2012, just 32%.

In April this year, the Yanks were still very close to that performance level (34%, 9 out of 26). In May, however, they scored three runs or less in half their games (14 out of 28). Thus far in June, they've scored three runs or less in 11 of 18 games (62%).

Of course, they're still in the hunt in the AL East, and getting all of their veterans back after the All-Star Break could be just enough to get them over the hump. But they are really going to have to work for it, since there are three other teams in their division that have demonstrated that they can give them a run for their (wad of) money.

[UPDATE 6/22: The Yankees have called up switch-hitting outfielder Zoilo Almonte, one of those many, many shadowy Caribbean free agents signed as schoolboys who are (or at least used to be) exempt from the strictures of the draft. Almonte, in his eighth year as a Yankee farmhand, came up with a bang last night--his first big-league HR--and drove in three runs today to help the Bombers find some offense at last. His presence seems to have lit a fuse under Vernon Wells's flickering Sterno can...VW came off the bench and delivered a game-winning, pinch-hit, bases-loaded double to push the Bombers past the floundering Rays, 7-5. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays have now won ten in a row but need to keep it up as they get a large swatch of games against AL East rivals in the next week...]

Sunday, June 9, 2013


In the sabermetric history of the game, a great deal of emphasis gets placed on the changing usage of the bullpen. As is usually the case, that emphasis veers away from historical understanding and toward what we like to call the "Silhouette Theory" of baseball analysis (as typified in the title of the famous song sung by the legendary and long-forgotten doo-wop group of the same name: "Get A Job").

Be that as it may (and may it evolve past that at some point before baseball theory becomes nothing other than self-caricature), pitcher workload structure--for lack of a better term--has changed a lot in the past six decades. Starters throw fewer innings, there are more highly defined roles in the bullpen, and there is precious little evidence that any of this actually protects pitchers from injury or has anything to do with the changes in offensive levels (either up, beginning in 1994, or down, beginning in 2008).

It's a complicated matter, to be sure, and our lil' ol' blog is not the place to get you bogged down in the particulars. What we can do is take a look at certain aspects of the issue in a manner that might show some long-term historical trends.

And that's what this little series will do. We will present it in four parts, showing what happened to relief pitchers who led their league in relief IP in the year after that feat. (Note that these pitchers are not always the best ones in that given year; but the quality level in the high workload season is usually quite high--it will get higher as the workload levels decrease over time.)

The four parts (twice as many as what Julius Caesar did to Gaul...stop da presses!) break out into groups of fourteen years. The portion here covers 1957-70, and will be followed (in fairly short order) with groupings the present 1971-84, 1985-98, and 1999-2012.

What do we see in this list? The raw numbers tell us that the twenty-eight workload leaders (as shown on the chart at right) threw an average of 130 IP in their workhorse year, and dropped off to an average of 95 IP in the next year. (That's an average workload dropoff of 28%).

They also tell us that the quality of their work took a serious nosedive as well. (Whether this is "regression to the mean" will be worth a semi-lively discussion by those who are part of the "Silhouette Theory" school of neo-post-neo-sabermetrics; we are going to remain agnostic on that issue for the moment, particularly since we are only posting the first 25% of the data results at this time.) The average ERA+ for these workhorse relievers in their heavy workload year was 142; the next year it dropped 23%, down to 110.

Jim Bouton gave us the term for a less-than-desirable
baseball groupie: "Joe Torre with tits"...but it's
clear that Jack Lamabe's "counterpart" would
definitely have been named "Miss Congeniality."
The pitchers whose ERA+ went up in the following year are shown in green type. None of these pitchers (Tex Clevenger in 1958, Larry Sherry in 1960, and Wayne Granger in 1969) had exceptional ERA+ values in their workhorse season: they are all under the average ERA+ for the group.

Twelve pitchers had a greater decline than the aggregate in both IP and ERA+; they are shown in orange type.

Seventeen pitchers had an IP decline in excess of the aggregate. In this group, IP decline is greater than ERA+ decline.

Only one of the pitchers (Jack Lamabe, displayed in reverse white-on-black) was converted into a starter in the following season. As you can see, that didn't prove to be too good of an idea.

It's a truism at this point in history that workhorse relievers are at risk for injury and ineffectiveness. What we want to see is if the same trend continues when the threshold that defines "workhorse" shifts as bullpen usage shifts--which it will most definitely do when we get in to the latter two groupings.

As we say, stay tuned.

Thursday, June 6, 2013


The interleague "drip" continues on into June...

We'll post up the completed May chart over the weekend.

There will be a bit of a flurry in cross-league games late in the month, but we won't be seeing any reprise of the full-on interleague schedule that was the case in the days after Memorial Day.

Who is playing well in the "drip" version of interleague play?

The Rays. They're 9-1.

The Mets. They're 7-1,

The Cubs. They're 7-2.

Detecting a pattern here? Yes: the teams whose nicknames have four letters are hotter than sh*t in interleague play this year.

Who's playing like sh*t in interleague play this year??

Yes, of course. The Marlins (1-8).

And the Brewers (2-7). We know that Mr. BS doesn't own them anymore, but there's something comforting about having his former club turning into a giant, rancid piece o'cheese this season.

Oh, yes: the Giants (2-6). The defending champs have been struggling since mid-May: they've lost 13 of their last 21 games, and their pitching has been shaky.

Stay tuned...

Monday, June 3, 2013


Quickly, we are behind schedule due to untimely illness and a desire not to dwell too long on one of the ongoing sore points in our seemingly endless bitch-slap of the KC contingent, who are likely to have Neil Young's "Helpless" in heavy rotation at this point in time...

...but, gol'darn it, we tried to warn you four weeks ago: in fact, we tried to be downright gentle about it.  But it doesn't matter: harsh, or soft, argued with "scientfic precision" or literary scalpel, the facts are what they are: there is some serious bad mojo surrounding the Royals and those mournful mountebanks in the various strata of the neo-sabe inflected media (see, we pulled the punch...we could have said "infected" instead of "infLected").

The second sixth of the season seems to have been the one in which the Royals (and, by extension, Joe P. and Rob N. and Rany J.) fell through the trap door once more. But even we were a bit surprised by the length and force of that fall, given where KC had been after the first sixth of the year.

As the chart at right demonstrates, the Royals underwent an astonishing reversal in the second sixth of 2013, a classically fearful "white boy fall down go boom" sequence that seemed to happen by degrees. According to Pythagoras (PWP), KC managed to win four fewer games than they "sbould have" over the span of games.

And this was fueled by a notable feat that we don't (yet) have a way to easily contextualize. Over this stretch of time, the Royals managed to lose twelve consecutive close games.

Don't mis-read that, please. They did not have a twelve-game losing streak in the conventional sense. Over a three week period, from May 6 to May 27, the Royals lost every game they played that involved a run differential of two runs or less.

That will definitely assist in losing four more games that you "should" during a particular skein of games, now, won't it?

We seriously doubt that this is some kind of record, but Forman et fil doesn't have a way to tease this data out of their vast trove as yet, and we're informed it might be awhile before they can toss it into their giant SQL blending machine.

Let's just say that, wherever it sits in the overall history of close-game losing streaks, it sure sucked the air out of the tires of the KC marching and chowder society's carefully patched-up jitney.

Guthrie: 5.74 ERA in second sixth...
One thing we can do, though, is look at how the Royals lost those twelve consecutive close games. It turns out that (just to make the twist of the knife a bit more excruciating), they blew leads in nine of these games--five of 'em in late innings. Again, we don't have an "anatomy of losing" on hand that tells us what the normal pattern for suffering a loss entails--how many games where the team never lead or was always behind, as opposed to games where they blew a lead--but we're willing to toss out the idea that this is likely close to a 50-50 proposition, and that out of any twelve losses, only a couple of them should be late-inning blown leads.

Santana: 4 HRs allowed in first 36 IP;
9 HRs allowed in next 41.
Davis: 7.76 ERA in
second sixth...
So bad luck (bullpen failures), a dip in run scoring (-1.1 per game for the second sixth as opposed to the first), and serious regression from three of the Royals' starting pitchers (Ervin Santana, Jeremy Guthrie, and Wade Davis) allowed KC to fall through yet another trap door.

In the case of Santana and Guthrie, the gopher ball hurt them (in this stretch, the two starters by themselves gave up more HRs than the Royals' batters managed to hit--18 HRs in just 11 GS, as opposed to only 13 HRs in 27 games by the offense). In the case of Davis, it's becoming clear that the Royals' attempt to convert him back into a starter is just not working.

Of course, KC needs to fix its offense, which also fell through the trap door. They gave away four, maybe five games in this stretch, which doubled down on the downside of the luck they had in the first 27 games in 2013. Their run differential was only a bit worse than the White Sox, who also scored less than 3.5 R/G in the second sixth but managed a respectably mediocre record (12-15).

They just need to quit finding that trap door. But it really does seem to be this franchise's unavoidable signature--and its signature "talent."

[UPDATE: Pat put-down conclusions notwithstanding, keep in mind that even with the woeful swoon in the second sixth of the thirteen, the Royals are not without a solid chance at both respectability and improvement. That, of course, only underscores how bad they've been, both in recent years and over the past two decades. But there's no reason not to think that they'll win more games that they did in '12. It's just that certain weaknesses are now exposed, ones that seem likely to keep them from becoming a serious contender. They will have a stretch of ten games with contending teams starting next week, and they'll need to show some turnabout capability in order to keep this season from looking like so many of the ones that have preceded it.]