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, 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'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. 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 honor of an unsung glass-armed hurler who quietly electrified the AL just over four decades ago.

Thursday, November 7, 2013


A quick note...more detailed and elaborate entries in process, but here is a perspective we've not seen elsewhere, so thought it would be worth pointing out.

No fan-based favoritism intended or implied (and no disrespect/disloyalty to my good friend Brock Hanke and his beloved hometown team in St. Louis), but it should have been the Dodgers and the Red Sox in this 2013 World Series.

After the jawdropping transaction made by the two teams in late 2012, signifying so much that is both apposite and opposite in the bloated bombast that has overtaken the faux auteurist world of baseball management, it would have only been right that these two franchises square off in the Fall Classic.

The franchise that jettisoned its high-priced spread, and the money-drunk conglomerate that took those "assets" (let's stay in "CIA mode," it's so much more entertaining than CYA mode...) off their hands--it would have been the perfect meta-irony for a world besotted by its own eye-rolling.

And speaking of ironies: the Cardinals defeat a CYA level left-hander (Clayton Kershaw) twice to move into the World Series, only to become helpless (and wrenched from their season-long RISP magic) against a lesser lefty (Jon Lester) whose superb performance got something akin to short shrift in the long shadows of David Ortiz.

The Dodgers were not as good a team as the Cardinals, but it sure would have been interesting to see Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez back in Fenway Park.

It's our loss.

One final question: Theo who??