Saturday, August 31, 2013


You know how we like to fixate on the triple...that's never going to stop. We're not quite ready to repurpose Burt Bacharach's "What the World Needs Now," but we're thinking about it.

There's a good chance that we'll wind up with less than 800 triples across MLB when the 2013 season comes to a close.

With the three-bagger now something that happens less than once in every six games, we are more than ever in need of our "190-foot line" defensive alignment.

We mentioned 1980 above. Why? Because that was the last year in a five-year upswing for 3Bs that's never even come close to being repeated.

And one of the reasons for that increase was the presence of triples-friendly ballparks. There were five parks that were seriously helpful in terms of producing extra triples in the mid-70s/early 80s:

• Veterans Stadium (Philadelphia), introduced in 1971;

• Busch Stadium (St. Louis), opened in 1966;

• Kauffman Stadium (Kansas City), opened in 1973;

• Exhibition Stadium (Toronto), the Blue Jays' first home, opened in 1977;

• And, last but not least, the Metrodome (Minnesota), opened in 1982.

Four of these five stadiums are no longer serving the major league teams they once represented.

And these stadia once supported a more prolific hope for extra triples, but each fell by the wayside as three-baggers begin their march to the sea.

A sixth ballpark, Yankee Stadium, had long been a triples haven. It remained so until 1976, when the park reopened with smaller distances and cozier power alleys. It took a few years for that to kick in, but when it did, it did so with a vengeance.

(It turns out that the New Yankee Stadium is every stingier when it comes to three-base hits.)

You can see the ongoing issue in the home/road comparisons of triples by team for these six parks.

Those green lines tell us everything we need to know about the pervasive, persistent and pernicious decline in triples that came about in 1981.

All of these teams saw a significant downturn in triples, and (with the exception of Kauffman Stadium in KC) all of these parks were replaced by parks that continued the downward trend of triples hitting in these parks. (Kaufmann, once a proflic source of triples in the 1976-80 timeframe, has seen its gross triples totals at home fall by 37%.)

When all of your triples parks dry up and blow away--or is that blow up and dry away...whatever it is, it (mercifully) ain't a line from "Rust Never Sleeps"--it's no wonder we need the 190-foot line.

Implement it, and without making any changes to existing parks, you will be able at least double the number of triples per game.

This will be an across-the-board increase that will happen at every single major league ballpark, regardless of size, shape or dimension. (And it might make the right hitter, playing in Coors Field, into the next Owen "Chief" Wilson.)

Sunday, August 25, 2013


Thanks to Max Scherzer, who went 19-1 despite the "death of the win" (something that, like the demise of Mark Twain, has been greatly exaggerated...), and to Marty Noble, for braving the slings and arrows to write about one of the most extreme seasons in baseball history.

What's that? Who? When? Where? (You erstwhile journalists can fill in the rest.) Well, it's ElRoy Face, the tiny (5'8") reliever for the Pittsburgh Pirates--just call him "Roy," it's a lot easier on you when you're typing--who was in the right place at the right time about as often as humanly possible in 1959 en route to setting a record for relief wins (18) and a WPCT record (.947) by virtue of losing once and once only.

But the title of up above there says: "Reliever Run Support." Say what? It's not something that you're going to find as a handy-dandy strap-on stat from Forman et fil, or anywhere else, for that matter (short of a consultation with Retrosheet wizards such as Tom Ruane, or Mike Emeigh, guys who've spent years making sabermetrics safe for research, and/or vice-versa).

In fact, it's quite probably an alien concept, particularly in the present-day baseball world, where relievers rarely go more than an inning at a time and the results of such quantification might seem egregiously random.

But just for S's and G's, let's define it. Relief pitchers who close out an inning are, in the following half-inning, the recipients of their team's run scoring efforts. That's true even if they get all three outs in the inning they pitched, or just one. If the team's next at-bats, in that adjacent inning, produce a ton of runs and turn the game around, the reliever will often get a win--but he'll also have received "X" number of runs of run support in that inning.

You can add that up for relievers just as is currently done for starters.

You just never see it.

Well, what better place to start adding it up than with a reliever who managed to vulture 18 wins in a single season?

And that is what is laid out for you, in our patented over-the-edge fashion, over at the right. All of Face's 57 appearances for Pittsburgh in 1959 are captured, with the run support in the relevant innings (we've taken to calling them "Pitcher of Record Innings Pitched," or PORIP, because--well, because somebody has to name these and when volunteers were solicited, everyone else took a step backwards...).

There are a few games where Roy (trying to stay away from the full name, lest we suddenly have an epidemic of Jetsons jokes...) doesn't have any PORIP associated with his time on the mound. This occurs when he--or any other pitcher, for that matter--records a one-inning save. (Which happens a lot these days, in fact.) That's why his PORIP total is lower than his actual IP.

So he has 83 PORIP, and in those innings the Pirates scored a total of 58 runs. When you do the math (OK, I'll do the math...58 divided by 83 times nine...) you'll see that the Pirates scored just under 6.3 runs per nine innings during Face's "face time."

That's a nice average, and it would be interesting to see where it ranks in terms of relievers. (Nice as it is, it's not as nice as the run support average that Max Scherzer has thus far in his 19-1 season: the Tigers are averaging 7.39 runs per game for him right now--and that's probably higher if we calculated it per nine innings.)

Marty Noble's interview with Face, reminiscing about this season, included a nicely self-deprecating observation by Roy, who was keenly aware of his good fortune that year. "I'd come in with a lead, give it up and then pitch well enough after my teams scored more so we could win. It happened so often, it was amazing."

Actually, it didn't happen that often. The chart shows that Face had four "blown wins"--somewhat confusing shorthand for "Blown Save Wins," where the pitcher does just what Face describes above. (It appears that the record for most "blown wins" in a season is six, held by Rollie Fingers, who pulled off that feat in 1976.)

The chart has a column where the cumulative PORIP is shown over the course of the season. That number peaks near eight per 9 IP in mid-June, which was the second consecutive month in which Face recorded five wins.

The chart shows that Roy had a lot of good fortune in extra innings--the Pirates scored 18 runs for him in 19 extra-inning PORIPs. As a result, ten of Face's eighteen reliefs came in extra-inning games.

What's astonishing about that won-loss record--beyond the mere fact of its existence--is that Face faded badly in the second half of the year. His ERA at the All-Star Break in 1959 was 1.12. Afterwards it was 4.82. Batters hit .194 against him prior to the break, .361 after. You can look all of that up here.

Our little chart at the left (monthly summary, including ERA and wins) shows that the Bucs ramped up their run support in August just when the fading Face needed it, scoring 15 runs in Face's 15 PORIP. That kept him undefeated for another month even as hitters were teeing off on him (they hit .410 against him that month).

We can run a Pythagorean estimate of what Roy's WPCT would be, using PORIP vs. his runs allowed. It's a bit out of whack compared to a starter, of course, because game contexts are more fluid and random when relievers enter the game than when a pitcher takes the mound in the first inning with the score 0-0. But we'll run it anyway, just because we can. It works out to a Pythagorean Winning Percentage (PWP) of .825. So, with that type of support, and with nineteen decisions, Faee was supposed to go 16-3.

Of course, the key phrase there is "with that type of support." It's doubtful that many relievers get support like that in a single month, much less a whole season. We'd be getting a lot closer to reality if we took the Pirates' 1959 R/G (4.23) and plotted it against Roy's RA/G. When we do that, his PWP is .694 (approximately 13-6 over a projected nineteen decisions).

But, let's face it, it's just not as interesting--or as much fun--as 18-1. Extremes may be fluky, but they are fun. And in this cockeyed caravan, you and me and a lapsed "deep dish" director (to be named later...) can dig their frantic fingernails into fun with enough force that we can live enough to laugh another day--and/or vice-versa.

Saturday, August 24, 2013


Just a quick continuation entry for the interleague stat leaders. Here we look at the top ten relievers by ERA who are active in 2013.

Minimum needed to qualfy for the list: 40 IP.

As you'd expect, Mariano Rivera dominates this list. While he's not the leader in ERA, he's the saves leader by a wide margin and he has a scarifyin' 0.793 WHIP.

That said, Grant Balfour is having a sensational run thus far in his 55 IP. There's little skating by on inherited runner data: the guy has simply been unhittable.

More on interleague pitching performances coming soon...

Thursday, August 22, 2013


Now here are some charts that we haven't seen anywhere else...

These depict the inning-by-inning earned run averages (ERA) for the thirty MLB teams. The first is the raw ERA; the second is ERA+ (with a little added enhancement).

It's more of the materials that are possible to break out at Forman et fil utilizing their (relatively) new "Split Finder" tools in their Play Index.

As you can see, the first chart is structured like those "heat charts" that you sometimes see on TV (and at other places that probably ought to know better). The MLB average shown at bottom gives you the ebb and flow by inning: the first inning is the one with the second highest amount of scoring, followed by a drop of around half a run in the second, with a slow creeping upward until the sixth inning, where the starting pitchers (who appear in 75% of those innings) start giving some serious ground.

We can see how the relief pitchers take over in the seventh; ERA progressively improves; by the ninth, the overall ERA is almost exactly a run lower than it is in the first.

This has prompted a number of theorists, a large group of which have been known to consume liberal portions of what we like to call the Tango Love Pie™, to push for a sizeable increase in the use of the relief pitcher at an earlier point in the game.

What we'd like to see Sean F. devise, however, is an output that breaks out inning-by-inning ERA in a way that separates starting pitching from relief pitching. We think it's likely that the relievers in the sixth inning aren't quite so wonderful, primarily for the reason that they're not quite as accomplished at pitching as the top-shelf relievers.

The second chart (ERA+) might be a better shorthand for all this. We get a better sense of who is above and below average with this breakout. We can also get a sense of just how good the Pirates' pitching staff has been thus far (full disclosure: these breakouts are a few days old).

We've also combined innings in the summaries at the right of this chart. Interesting to note how well the Cubs' starters pitch in the first three innings--second only to the Pirates--but how they fade away as the game goes on. (They have a downright lousy bullpen.) The Braves have a great second wind in the latter part of the game--their "transitional performance" in innings 6-8 just blows everyone away and is clearly a key aspect of their success in the NL East this year.

Please also note that our bolded figure in the ninth inning, intended to highlight the best team performance (primarily the closer), is wrong. While the Royals have had a wonderful performance in this inning (largely due to the yeoman work of Greg Holland), it's actually been the Oakland A's who've been the best in the ninth inning thus far in 2013.

Interesting to note as well that there are two teams who start out below average in innings 1-3 but who diverge from there, with the result that they are in radically different locations in the standings. Those two clubs? The Rays and the Astros.

We'll have to go back and look at this data for 2012, but we're guessing that the San Francisco Giants have had a significant performance downturn from their starters over the first three innings of games in 2013.

All in all, a set of numbers worth taking a look at. We still want to see the starter-reliever breakouts, particularly for the sixth and seventh inning, but this is nice stuff.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


Can this possibly be a baseball topic? "Early showers" might conjure images of the hectic bathing schedule at that quaint institution of the past, the boarding house; or it could refer to the shorthand evoked in predictions of tomorrow's weather. Either way, we're off-topic.

No, what we have here is failure--not to communicate, as the protagonist in Cool Hand Luke is able to transform into a virtually perfect storm of indiscriminate mayhem--but failure to make it out of the first inning.

As with just about everything that is shocking and extreme about the game, however, the incidence of starting pitchers being removed from the game prior to finishing the first frame has taken a nose-dive.

We have two charts to measure this. The first (above right) simply shows the number of times a starter goes less than an inning. The one (lower left) recasts the data into a rate (in this instance the number of "early showers" per 1000 games.

If this sounds vaguely epidemiological, that's because it is. Clearly the practices of managers have produced a decline in starters leaving in the first after a frightful shellacking. The peak of this "disease" occurs in 1965, and while there's the usual "up and down" motion to be found in the stats, it's pretty clear that it is all downhill from here.

Ironically, teams with nine-man pitching staffs  pulled their starters in the first inning at a seriously elevated rate. Today, we are facing the extinction of the "early shower." The rate per 1000 batters was always near or above 30 until '65, and we've been in virtually uninterrupted decline ever since.

It's what you might call "an epidemic in reverse."

Sunday, August 18, 2013


The news reports will tell you that the Los Angeles Dodgers' 42-8 record from June 22nd through August 17th is the best such 50-game streak since 1942. And that's definitely good to know, in a sound bite kind of way.

Less frequently those reports will provide the factoid that the greatest 50-game streak in baseball history (defined as 1901 to the present...) belongs to the Chicago Cubs, which occurred in the deadball era. The 1906 squad, which finished the year 116-36, had a 50-game stretch in the second half that year where they went an incredible 45-5.

What we're not getting from any source, however, is just how often baseball teams have relatively protracted periods of playing close to .800 ball.

For the sake of what we're doing here, we're going to term such an occurrence as a "scald," and will define it as being any fifty-game stretch in which a team wins 39 or more games. (There is one exception to the 39-game rule: teams who win less than 39 games but have higher than a .780 WPCT due to tie games, as you'll see in the 1914 Boston Braves below.)

We will only count one such "scald" per team in the year during which it occurs, rather than counting up the number of equivalent W-L records (or lower: if a team goes 41-9 in games 76-125, then goes 40-10 in games 77-126, we're not going to include that one as well). We want to get the most elemental list with which to work.

When we do that, we find that there have been 53 such "scalds." The Yankees have had nine of these (1927, 1928, 1938, 1939, 1941, 1947, 1953, 1978, and 1998). The Red Sox have had four (1912, 1915, 1946, and 1978). The A's (who had three during the last decade) have had eight: five in Philadelphia (1902, 1913, 1914, 1929, 1931) and three in Oakland (2001, 2002, 2005). The Giants have had seven, all in New York (1904, 1911, 1912, 1913, 1936, 1951, 1954). They are the only team in baseball history to have "scalds" in three consecutive seasons.  The Cubs have had five (1906, 1907, 1909, 1910, 1945). Four of theirs came in a very productive five-year period.

The only times there have been "scalds" by teams in the same league during the same year: 2001 (A's and Mariners); 1977 (Yankees and Royals); and 1909 (Cubs and Pirates). Just three times in 112 years.

Of course, in today's game we can have teams from different leagues who each had "scalds" with neither of them making it into the World Series: 2002 (A's and Braves).

The Dodgers have just achieved their second "scald." The first one came in 1953: this was the Brooklyn team that won the most games ever in franchise history (105).

Out of the 52 scalds that have fully completed seasons, we find that 44 of these teams have either won pennants or finished first in their division. Obviously, there aren't very many "fluke" teams to be found on these lists.

We've broken these out into three separate lists--deadball era (1901-19), liveball era prior to expansion (1920-60), and expansion era (1961- ). As the charts will show, there was a 21-year hiatus between "scalds" between 1954 and 1975.

We've included runs scored/runs allowed data with the teams' records, as well as two other measures that derive from that info: the Pythagorean Winning Percentage (PWP) and the difference in projected wins (PW) between the PWP and each team's actual winning percentage.

For the 53 teams with "scalds," it turns out that they have averaged 3 more wins in real life than what is projected for them by their PWP.

The most basic thing we can see from that data is that certain teams have had a sizable "luck" quotient during their "scalds." The Dodgers' just-completed skein is one of those where the team won at least five additional games more than what their PWP projected to be the case. There have been eight teams whose "scalds" have involved at least five additional real-life wins as compared to their PWPs: the 1907 Cubs, the 1909 Pirates, the 1913 A's, the 1923 Reds (one of the few non-pennant winning teams to make this list), the 1930 Cardinals, the 1951 Indians (another of the non-pennant winners), the 1983 White Sox, the 2001 Mariners, and now the 2013 Dodgers.

When we compare the summary data of the "scalds" from these three eras, we find some interesting trends that might well have bearing on some other recent phenomena in what we might term (for lack of anything better...) the "applied theory of winning."

These trends are consistently going in one direction for each measure, from the deadball era through the  pre-expansion liveball era into our ongoing post-expansion 30-team model.

Teams who have scald are having a lower PWP as time goes on (.753 in the deadball era; .738 in the pre-expansion liveball era; .724 in the post-expansion era). They also have a lower real-life WPCT, but that's declined by just ten points instead of thirty.

The percentage of teams who "scald" who have less than a .750 PWP has increased from 59% in the deadball era to 67% in the pre-expansion liveball era. to 87% in the post-expansion era.

The percentage of teams who beat their PWP expectation by less than two games has dropped from 42% in the deadball era to 19% in the pre-expansion liveball era, to 13% in the post-expansion era.

The average gain in real-life wins over the PWP expectation has risen from 2.3 games in the deadball era to 3.2% in the pre-expansion liveball era to 3.6% in the post-expansion era.

Even though this is a small sample of teams, these trends track with the increasing standard deviation in real-life WPCT/PWP that has occurred in the recent past, where changes in the post-season and the ability to exploit structural features of the expanded size of the pitching staff have come into play.

Increasingly, this "optimize to exceed expectation" is moving from anomaly to nascent strategy. The downturn in offense in the past few years seems to driving a good bit of what's occurring, and the little flurry of teams who markedly exceed their PWP projections may turn out to be more than just a random event.

As we say here--stay tuned.

Saturday, August 17, 2013


The Yankees are back in Boston this weekend, and a number of things are different from when they were last there (July 19-21). And some of the data that we presented when we wrote about the historical Yankees-Red Sox Fenway rivalry has been subject to further review.

We present an update and a correction/clarification.

First--and foremost--the Yankees have the dreaded A-Rod back with them, apparently for the balance of the season. His fate will likely wind up in arbitration, and possibly beyond--we can only hope that the revelations behind BS's 'roids witch-hunt will fully surface and come back to bite the cheese-king in his pock-marked posterior (and, please: don't ask us how we know this...).

A bit distracted by the prodigal's return, the Yanks dropped three to the White Sox, but they have found their hitting shoes after what had been a long and fruitless search and have won six of their last eight, including a 10-3 series opener at Fenway Park.

The Red Sox have been giving ground for the last week, and they still have to contend with the ghoulishness of their most recent Septembers. It's been a nice comeback thus far, but there are no sure bets.

We reported that the struggle for supremacy in Fenway between these two teams had gotten all knotted up as a result of the Sox' victory back on July 21. Upon further review, that information is not accurate--we were including pre-Fenway games between the teams in 1901-1911. And it turns out that the two teams played games at Braves Field during the years 1929-32 and thus the Fenway count had to be adjusted downward a bit.

After last night's Yankee win, the Bombers still hold a 465-463 lead against the Sox in Fenway Park. So Boston can square up their long battle against the Yankees in Fenway by winning the next two games.

We've charted (above) the ebb and flow of that "battle for Fenway" (telescoping the chart to 1916 so as to reign in the data range), which shows the cumulative WPCT for the Red Sox at the Fen over that time, as well as the running ten-year WPCTs. It turns out that the 70s and early 80s were the "golden age" for Sox fans to enjoy their team taking it to New York at Fenway. (The Sox were 53-32 against the Yankees at Fenway from 1970-79.) It's been something of a roller-coaster ride ever since, with the Sox getting over .500 at home vs. the Arch Enemy for a brief point in time, but then falling back again in recent years (they are 13-18 thus far in the 2010s).

The Yankee-Red Sox matchups in '13 were backloaded--they have nine more games against each other this year, and five more in Fenway. Lots of possibilities for mayhem are still in play...

[UPDATE: The Sox got the drop on the Yankees' best starter (Hiroki Kuroda) and cruised to a 6-1 win behind comeback kid John Lackey. The Yanks' lead in Fenway is back down to the absolute minimun at 465-464.]

[FURTHER UPDATE: In the midst of more media frenzy related to the lingering bad blood between the Yankees and their controversy-soaked prodigal, A-Rod has a homer amongst three hits and the Bombers cuff around lefty Felix Doubront, beating the Sox, 9-6.

Two quick thoughts: 1) teams should not throw lefties at the Yanks if they can possibly avoid it, as this squad has proven to be notably feeble against righties this season; 2) the Sox will need to sweep their final 2013 home series with the Bombers in order to take possession of the historical lead in the "battle of Fenway." (Current standing: NYY 466, BOS 464.)]

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Is there a secret reason why this guy is so damn relaxed? Could it be
that he's a god in some uncharted alternate universe???
Forman et fil just keeps hitting 'em out of the park. A little tear always forms in our left eye as we write this: Sean F. began his career with us and has gone on to bigger and better things. (Of course, that tearing might actually be due to a bout of hay fever...)

Anyway, a recent innovation over at the House of F is the ability to play with player splits data. Any and all of that information can now be parsed into a series of leaderboards that do justice to that old mysterious phrase "six ways to breakfast" (in fact, Brock Hanke always used to say "six ways from breakfast," but he's never up early enough in the day to eat breakfast, which probably explains his odd prepositional shift...).

And, as the title of this little ditty strongly implies, one of those categories that can parsed along with your scrambled eggs is--you guessed it!--the mysterious world of interleague play. There are now seventeen years of this oddly endearing abomination to add up, and adding it up is a snap (you don't even have to go out for coffee any more, Rany my boy, you can just coat that sugar cube with your favorite lysergic substance and dream of those Royals in the post-season!).

Aside from the various leaderboards, though, Sean has created another breakout for all of the split data that allows us to peek into an even more secret world. Along with the information for the split data, he brings over the players' overall OPS to compare with the OPS for the individual split.

For interleague play, that allows us to see which hitters have been gods or bums relative to their overall performance level. Turns out that there is some variance to be found here, and it's fun if not absolutely fab or fascinating:

Would you have expected that the batter with the most improvement in interleague play from his lifetime performance turns out to be--Brennan Boesch? (The above list shows batters with 200 or more plate appearances in interleague play. We've shaded the players with 500+ PAs in light blue to show where the leaders would be if the playing time requirement was made more stringent: it shows you how much the leaderboard would tighten up.)

It's a great list because the players on it (with a few exceptions) aren't great. If nothing else, it will give baseball announcers something else to talk about when any of the active players on this list come to the plate. (And doubtless annoy those who are overly infected with the "small sample size" syndrome.)

So those were the "interleague improvers." Now let's look at the "interleague decliners."

So was it his scary-bad performance performance in interleague play that prompeted Giancarlo Stanton to change his name? (By the way, these figures are a few days old: Stanton, who hasn't changed his name in a while, is actually now up to a -.255, so he might well leave this bottom-dwelling region to your friend and mine, Randall Simon.

We've again shaded players with 500+ PAs in blue, so you can see that it's actually Bret Boone who stunk up interleague play over nine years while accumulating a season's worth of data.

Now you might be wondering who hit the absolute best and absolute worst in interleague play. The best? A boring answer (and a vexing one, for those still raging about 'roids): Barry Bonds (1.153 OPS). The worst? He's on the above list of "decliners" (we're tempted to say recliners, but we've been watching a bit too much of late-night TV and their silly commercials--and by the way, do not buy the "Forever Comfy"... on day 91, the damn thing will break open and you'll have the gelatinous goo that the damn thing is stuffed with all over your car and your posterior: stick with foam dice).

Oh, sorry: the answer is Gary Bennett (.509 OPS). We did want to note, however, that our old pal Yuniesky Betancourt is #12 on this list. Lowest interleague OPS for an active player: Cesar Izturis (.525 OPS), currently ranked 5th worst.

Now, of course, we can also sum up interleague play in terms of counting stats. One problem with these lists, however, is that they tend to have Alex Rodriguez at or near the top of them. (This will no doubt create more consternation for our chum Tyler Kepner at the NYT, who had to be put back on some of our spare meds after his ferocious screed about A-Rod the other day. This was something akin to the weeks-old whipped cream on top of a dubious dessert that often gets served up when libel and slander are allowed to run amok; but, let's face it, there are times when all one can do is keep the customer satisfied.) 

But what the hell...let's look at 'em anyway. We have the HR leaders (Jim Thome), the RBI leaders (gasp! A-Rod), the R leaders (Derek Jeter, with A-Rod third), the BB leaders (Thome again, inching ahead of Bobby Abreu and Bonds), and the XBH leaders (Torii Hunter, slippin' ahead of A-Rod).

Of course, these lists tend to more closely mirror other, more conventional leader lists that could be constructed starting in the mid-1990s.  But on each of them there are at least a few surprises to be found.

And we hope that when Johnny Damon starts his inevitable self-promotion for the Hall of Fame, he will remember to give proper credit to the first source for his high standing on several of these interleague leader lists. (Nothing like a few extraneous lines of statistical pattern to fatten what is, alas, a  rather meagre HOF resumé...)

We also took the time to compile the yearly interleague HR leaders.

Why did we do that, you ask? Well, two reasons...

First, it easy to do, thanks to Sean F. (See the "go out for coffee" jibe above.)

Second, we were still hunting for some unusual names. There was some hope that the earlier compressed nature of the interleague schedule (which only went by the bye in 2012) would create what  seasoned professionals in this field call an anomaly.

And we found one. It was just by what used to be called "the skin of one's teeth," however.

It took sixteen years for the interleague HR leader to produce what today is known as a "WTF moment."

That's when Trevor Plouffe stepped up and slammed his ninth interleague HR during what we used to called the "in-season off-season" (before BS took that away from us by dribbling it out like a colic-stricken baby).

When Plouffe made that ball go poof, he tied an actual, bonafide slugger (Jose Bautista) for the '12 IHC (that's Interleague Homer Crown).

Trevor is the only guy on this list with a season-high HR total of less than 25 who has the single-season lead in interleague homers.

Fear not, however: this has not led us into determining who has the highest ratio of interleague homers to overall homers.

Even we know when we are going too far.

[EDIT: We have even smaller sample sizes to explore in those "interleague improvers" and "interleague decliners." (Though "decliners" is not quite the right word--makes it sound as though these guys are refusing to play against the other league.)

But in the mysterious case of Buster Posey, he might want to consider doing just that. The 2012 MVP might well be wearing a Superman suit under his jersey, because there is no doubt that the American League (at least in the regular season...) is his version of Kryptonite. See for yourself...

Well, it's only 38 games, right? Time for the hissing from the "SSS" police, n'est-ce pas? But it's dramatic nonetheless. And these stats are no longer up-to-date, for that matter: Posey has had three more interleague games since we ran them.

And you'll be interested to know that his "Diff" total is now... -.333 (!!). He's gone 0-for-10 in those games.

You can bet we'll be keeping an eye on this one.]

Saturday, August 10, 2013


Before we get into the wonky-but-delightful QMAX data, let's quickly note that there are a gaggle of folk who are waiting to exhale right now. Why? Well, because the Royals--who've had a mad, roller-coaster type of season thus far, have gotten as hot since the All-Star break as they were cold in May and have edged into the fringes of the playoff race.

Oddly, that charge has created a bit of a "gag rule" situation for the tiny but influentially voluble KC contingent--you know, the guys who get identified around here with their first name and the initial of their surname. (Actually, it's probably toughest for Bill J., since he is more classically bifurcated by personal and professional identification. And if you're wandering over to Bill's site these days, you've probably noticed that he's been in a much mellower mood than in years past...stemming, no doubt, from the current success of his employers. Fear not, Bill, that will change...)

Bruce Chen: transcending the "bubble to baseball" barrier...
The Royals have been on a 17-4 run since the All-Star Break, but they've gained only half a game on the Tigers, who've gone 16-4 in that stretch. Both teams are being led by their pitching. Before Ervin Santana got lit up yesterday (the Royals won anyway), KC starters had a 2.44 ERA since the ASB.

A good bit of that comes from the dramatic and, yes, heartwarming re-emergence of Mister Enigma himself, Bruce Chen. Here at BBB we've always loved the inscrutable Mr. Chen, a guy who has seemingly worn out every welcome but ours. After a downright dicey season in the Royals' rotation last year, KC got creative and made him into their "long man" (something to praise the Lord and pass the ammo about, in fact, since just about everyone else has tossed this concept into the dumpster).

He was fine in that role, but when Luis Mendoza struggled, KC brought B.C. back into A.D. and the man of a thousand mysterious smirks has made Peter Lorre (and AL batters...) look like amateurs ever since. His first start produced six innings of one-hit, shutout ball, and he's not been appreciably worse in any of the four GS that have followed: as of now, his ERA as a SP (um...should that be "an SP"??) is 1.14.

But the Royals' starters, good as they've been, haven't matched the work turned in by the Tigers' rotation during the same timespan. Comparing ERAs tells us something: the Royals have a fine 2.78 ERA in their last 21 games, but the Tigers' starters are pretty much otherworldly at 1.87. As always, however, QMAX can give us more context.

Here are the QMAX matrix charts for the Royals and Tigers starters over their last 21 games (through games of August 9th). The basic averages show that the Tigers' starters are significantly better at hit prevention: 2.9 vs. 3.9. The range data shows what you ought to be able to pick out with the naked eye from the matrix start: the Tigers' starters have been exceptionally good at avoiding "hit hard" games during the two teams' concurrent hot streaks. Their "hit hard" (HH) percentage is slightly under 10%. The Royals' starters? 33.3%. ("Hit hard" games produce an average team WPCT of a little more than .250.)

There's also the matter of the ratio between "top hit prevention" games (the ones in the top two rows of the QMAX chart) vs. the "hit hard" games (the ones in the bottom two rows.) The Tigers have better than a 5-to-1 ratio in these over the past 21 games (57% to 10%), while the Royals are only a little above break-even (38% to 33%).

We can calculate an estimated ERA for the starters using all of the probabilistic data that gets collected as part of QMAX. Though it doesn't use an algorithm that includes HRs like FIP (which doesn't quite do what it sets out to do, for reasons we've touched upon previously), the QMAX ERA (QERA) is a good estimate of what a "zero degree" reality would produce for a starter (or even a group of starts by multiple pitchers) based on probabilistic adjustments.

When we do that, we see that the Royals' starters have an QERA (think of it as an expected ERA) of 3.67. Their actual ERA, 2.78, was a good bit better. Why? Some luck in stranding runners, in both innings wholly pitched by starters and by those where the Royals' relievers came in during the middle of an inning. Royals relievers have stranded 14 of their last 15 inherited runners over this 21-game span. That's one reason why the Royals have been 6-1 in one-run games and 8-1 in close (≤ 2 r) games since the ASB.

The Royals' starters have a QWP (Quality Winning Pct.) of .567 over the last 21 games. That's good, but it's not the type of performance that would, by itself, drive a 17-4 run. Excellent relief pitching, including five clutch performances dampening opposition rallies, combined with an uptick in the Royals' batters' performance with RISP, has added roughly four wins to their totals.

Verlander: starting to look like his old bad self instead of merely being bad...
The Tigers, by contrast, are doing a good bit more of it with their starting pitching. Their QERA is 2.22, and they project to an aggregate .671 QWP all on their own. (And remember, they are beating their QERA: their actual ERA over the span is 1.87.) For much of the season, Justin Verlander has been the fourth best starter on the staff; with his recent return to form, the continued proficiency of Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, and Annibal Sanchez, and a stretch of better-than-average pitching from Rick Porcello, the Tigers are on a roll.

One of these days we'll figure out a QWP-like number for relief pitchers and for hitters; these will combine with the QMAX data for starters to give us a better breakout of value. It just might be one that will provide a more complete, more accurate gauge of a team's quality of play during any given stretch. It would also take into account the strength of schedule: while you'd expect an old Royals skeptic (read: lampooner) to point out that KC has done a lot of damage lately against bad teams (10-2 vs. 7-2 against .500+ teams), the facts are that the Tigers have had virtually the same profile (they are 11-1 vs. bad teams, 6-3 against good teams). All of this has to get factored in to such a measure. (Chances are that the great neo-sabe orthodoxy will reject it out of hand, of course, but--as you know if you're reading this--that's never stopped us.)

[EDIT: Bill J., probably hoping for a split in the Royals-Red Sox series at this point--there's less margin for error for the Sox than you might think--can breathe easy tonight: the Sox cooled off KC, 5-3, giving Jeremy Guthrie another "hit hard" outing along the way. The Tigers took apart Phil Hughes in the Bronx tonight, hitting three HRs, including #35 from Miguel Cabrera.

Next week is KC's biggest series of the year--five games in Comerica Park. They've more than held their own against the Tigers thus far (5-3), so one should not scoff at their chances. But they need to come up big in that series if they are going to really be credible. Don't exhale yet, gentlemen!]

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


In the fourth fourteen-year increment, we find a startling fact about what happens to those relievers in the year after they are given heavy use.

First, we find that the average league leader in reliever IP has dropped well below 100. Over the course of the 1999-2012 span, that figure has frequently descended into the 80s.

But cutting down innings has not resulted in a more consistent year-to-year performance.

And it has not appreciably affected the aggregate drop in high-workload relievers that occurs in the year after.

In the last fourteen years, it appears that managers have deployed extra relievers, cut down the top-level workload by putting more people into more games for less innings per appearance--and they've created a situation where these relievers' decline in innings and effectiveness in the following year is getting more pronounced, not less.

As you peruse the chart, you'll notice another unusual feature. In the early part of the time frame (up until 2005 or so), there were a sizable number of repeaters on the list--Scott Sullivan, Scot Shields, Salomon Torres, Guillermo Mota.

Five years ago, that trend came to a screeching halt. High workload guys are simply not repeating.

The three smaller charts appearing in the text that follows sum up the changes over the 56-year sample.

The first chart, tracking innings pitched in the next year (IPny), shows that the loss for these reliever s is steady at around 80% of the previous year (or, for those of you playing along at home, just over 20%).

The second chart, tracking aggregate ERA+ from previous year, shows that the last fourteen years have suddenly produced a group of high-workload relievers who are markedly lower in the 1999-2012 time frame. The overall figure is just about 20% for the past fifty-six years; for 1999-2012, that decline percentage is up to 27%.

Third and last, the percentage of teams with 100+ IP for relievers began at about 50% in the fifties. After rising in 1971-84 (59% as opposed to 50%), it just falls off a cliff in the 90s (25% from 1985-98) and is just about to hit the canyon floor in the 00s (just 3% from 1999-2012).

Using relievers in more games and less innings--at least based on the guys at the top of the IP lists--is not producing greater resilience in relievers. And it's not producing better performance in the following year.

[EDIT: You can view Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of this series by clicking the links.]

Sunday, August 4, 2013


No truth to the rumor that the remains of "Cactus Jack" Garner
are buried under the remnants of this ramshackle "debating hall,"
but many Hall of Fame "discussions" now originate from this location...
The facts are incontrovertible.

The more divisions MLB creates, the fewer interesting races occur within those divisions.

Is the trade-off--surrogate races for what might prove to be an ever-increasing number of wild-card slots--worth anything more than a bucket full of John Nance Garner Joy Juice?

Many may think so, but (as usual) we look for something different, something more akin to a Platonic ideal--a scenario where not only wild-card races are closely contentious, but each division as well.

But the problem is stated in our second paragraph (which is also our second sentence, as we practice being as pithy as "Cactus Jack," who lived to the ripe but prickly age of 98 by down a bucket full of his notorious libation on a bi-weekly basis...we can only be thankful that Jack Morris wasn't blessed with the same nickname, else he'd already be in Cooperstown by now).

OK, not so pithy. (We'll leave that to some of our swell friends and acquaintances over the years.) But the chances of a division race containing an interesting race (see below for our definition...) is, over the course of the twenty years in which the three-division set-up has been in place, a ten percent scenario.

There have been 120 division races since the advent of three divisions. Over those seasonal races (20 x 3 x 2), there have been a total of 12 that have had three teams within five games or fewer of the division crown at season's end.

The chart at left lists all of the "games behind" data for third-place teams in all 120 division races (including the current status of those divisional races in 2013). As you'll see, in only three seasons (1994, 2007, and 2012) have we had two divisional races where the third-place team is within five games or fewer of first place.

This has occurred most often in the AL West (including two times in a row at the very beginning of three-divisional play, but the 1994 data is tainted both by the strike of that year and the fact that none of these teams was managing to play .500 ball at the point in which the season had its plug pulled).

But when we expand our list to count the number of times that the third-place team has finished ten or fewer games out of first, we see that the AL West is not quite so closely-fought. They have only five such occurrences, tied for lowest with the NL East.

Of course, there's no rhyme or reason (not to mention warp or woof) in these figures as they break out by division. As you can see, the "10-" row at the bottom of the chart shows that third-place teams finish within ten games of the division leader only a bit more than a third of the time.

In the current year (2013), we have three divisional races (the AL East, where the O's are trying to stay in the hunt; the AL Central, where the surging Royals are trying to gain ground on the Tigers and Indians, who've been equally hot; and the NL Central, where the Reds are scuffling to stay within striking distance of the Pirates and the Cardinals) that have a chance to crack into the "close divisional race" scenario.

One question you may be asking yourself--did conventional pennant races produce a higher percentage of outcomes where third-place teams were within five or few games of first place than has been the case in our current three-division set-up?

The answer: conventional pennant races did indeed do so. They did it at nearly twice the rate of frequency. Not counting the two incredibly tight pennant races that occurred in the two years that the
Federal League operated (1914-15), conventional pennant races (1901-1968) produced third-place teams within five games of the lead in 26 instances, or 19% of the time. 15 occurred in the National League, 11 in the American League.

Friday, August 2, 2013


The slow drip of interleague play continues, and the National League continues to slip-slide away.

At the end of May, the American League led 62 games to 58. From that point until the end of July, they've won 54 of 96 games (a .563 WPCT) in their interleague matchups.

One thing to keep in mind, however--and there has been a strong tendency in the sabe press to overlook this fact--is that the schedule strength in the random yearly matchups has not been equal for both leagues.

This year is no exception.

Thus far, the NL has played 24 more games against winning AL teams than vice versa.

That may not sound like much, but in the context of interleague play (217 contests thus far through 8/1), the AL has played only 41% of its games against winning NL teams.

The NL team that's getting killed the most in interleague games thus far in 2013: the Colorado Rockies (3-12). Nine of those games have come against winning teams; they're 2-7 in those games. They had the misfortune of having games scheduled against Toronto in June--just when the Blue Jays were in the midst of their 11-game winning streak.

Thanks to Forman et fil (and we do try to thank them as often as possible...) we can now capture statistical summaries for interleague play. We'll be running those leaderboards here soon, since we can't resist such recondite research.

The oddity in this year's data comes explicitly from the scheduling changes implemented for interleague play in 2013. It was highly unlikely in previous years that hitters could wind up playing more than 18 interleague games in a season, mostly due to the placement of the games in a highly concentrated part of the schedule.

Not so this year. Alfonso Soriano played in 20 interleague games for the Cubs--their entire interleague schedule for 2013--prior to his trade to the Yankees last week. He's already played in two more as the Yankees make a West Coast swing that features interleague contests against the Dodgers and the Padres.

It's possible that Soriano (who leads in opposite-league HRs thus far this year, with seven...) will play in as many as 28 interleague games in 2013.

The August schedule is interesting largely due to the fact that the three teams closest to each other in the AL East will each spend a hefty slice of the month playing National League teams.