Sunday, June 29, 2014

2014: COMPLETE GAMES #54, #55...AND #56

Two more CGs last winner, one loser. The current W-L record for CGs is now 45-10 (.818).

The winner: Cleveland's Josh Tomlin, who evened his season record (now 5-5) with one of the best CGs thus far, a one-hit, 11-K gem over the Mariners. Tomlin showed some promise in 2010-11, but was sidetracked by injuries over the past two seasons. By virtually all measures, he was at the pinnacle last night.

The loser: Mashairo Tanaka of the Yankees, now with his first actual losing streak in MLB (and you will remember that he was 24-0 in Japan last year) as a result of an ill-considered pitch to Mike Napoli in the ninth inning. The result: a tie-breaking, game-winning homer as the Sox won in the Bronx, 2-1. (The Sox didn't give Jon Lester a chance for a CG last night, turning things over to Koji Uehara... Lester had already thrown 118 pitches through eight last night.)

We're sure that the CG was of little consolation to Tanaka or the Yankees...

[EDIT: Sunday night (6/29), Homer Bailey of the Cincinnati Reds joined the CG ranks with a three hit shutout of the (still) reeling Giants. The Reds won, 4-0, but must have been scratching their heads the next night (6/30), when recently reactivated Mat Latos allowed just one hit over seven innings but lost to the Padres 1-0. It's been quite a year for such anomalies...more on that a bit later.]

Saturday, June 28, 2014


With more legal matters in his past than those referenced by Mouse and the Traps (who??), Alfredo Simon is truly a man who casts a shadow. (And, at 6'6", 265 lbs., it's not a small one.)

But it's taken Simon (who started out his MLB career with an alias...) until well into his thirties to make a splash. Coming into tonight's game in San Francisco (one of four organizations he bounced through in his circuitous journey), Simon, in his third year with the Cincinnati Reds, was an odds-on favorite for a berth on the NL All-Star team thanks to a 10-3 record.

And tonight, facing a team for whom he compiled a 6-20 record while in their minor league organization, Simon allowed just three hits and one run over seven innings. He left trailing 1-0, but was bailed out of a loss when Brandon Phillips hit a two-run HR in the top of the ninth. (The Reds went on to win, 7-3 in eleven innings, pushing the reeling Giants a bit closer to the Dodgers in the NL West.)

Simon had a couple of useful years in the Reds' bullpen after being picked up on waivers from the Orioles in early 2012, but rookie manager Bryan Price (who never got out of the minors as a low-level pitching prospect for the Angels and M's in the 1980s) helped make the decision to put the hulking right-hander into the starting rotation.

The results have been--well, surprising. Most sabermetric stats remain skeptical of Simon: FIP fingers him to fade sharply, while his BABIP is low enough (.243) to raise eyebrows. Our Quality Matrix measure (QMAX) is a bit more sanguine, however.

Currently Simon's QMAX averages are 3.13, 2.88/6.01. His QMAX Winning Percentage (QWP) is .627. The range data is also encouraging: he's hit the "success square" just under 70% of the time, and tonight's game (his first "1S" game of the year) brought him above the 30% mark in the "elite square."

This is all uncharted territory for Alfredo, of course, and baseball logs are littered with guys with impressive first halves who took a dive during the dog days. But we suspect that he'll stay within striking distance of these performance stats over the rest of the year, so long as he doesn't suddenly develop a weakness for the long ball.

2014: COMPLETE GAMES #52, #53

The Tigers' Rick Porcello has always been one of those pitchers whose "true talent" (to cop to the phrase that defies digestion just as much as certain overcooked specimens of the Tango Love Pie™) has always lagged well behind his success. The righty has always been an insider's tout, more of a personality kid than a bonafide big league success--yet in the midst of upheaval in Detroit, he's still standing.

And he's also thrown sixteen consecutive scoreless innings, capped the other night (6/26) by a three-hit shutout against the Texas Rangers. Hit prevention seems to be improving for Porcello, but that may not be a function of anything other the slow-roasted, crust-infested gooey goodness of random variation.

Later that same evening, Adam Wainwright, definitely in the loop for the NL Cy Young Award, racked up his third CG of the season--but it was also his first losing CG, as his team (Cardinals) could not score at all against the Dodgers' Josh Beckett, Brian Wilson, and Kenley Jansen. Final score: LA 1, St. Louis 0.

By the way, 2014 is currently on pace to have 33% more 1-0 games than was the case in 2013. And the Cardinals have been in the most of these games thus far this year, a total of six 1-0 games. (They are now 4-2 in such games.)

Friday, June 27, 2014


We're back to baseball's "marquee" matchup--the New York Yankees vs. the Boston Red Sox--even though, in this particular Year of Our Lord, the tarnish on the silverware is hard to ignore.

The schedule makers might have been tipped off in advance, for there is little frisson in how the two teams will face each other--no closely proximate home-and-home series to be found in the latter half of the 2014 season, which diffuses things. (According to some reports, it's the second "clustered" series between the two clubs that produces the highest ratings results...we won't have any of that working for us from here on out.)

And aesthetically speaking, that's probably not something to mourn. While the parity that's breaking out all over (read: "mediocrity") has the Yankees within striking distance of the Wild Card, the underlying numbers all but scream that they are really not a better team than the struggling Sox, who've had an even more precipitous offensive decline in 2014 than what would have been predicted by those who ground up their rose-colored lenses after last year's "bearded miracle."

Last night's opener of the suddenly underwhelming collision between two teams that are more reminiscent of overweight canaries than chest-thumping primates [NOTE: no BTF pun intended, though if the gorilla suit fits...] showed just how ho-hum things can be between franchises that used to promise instant excitement.

Joe and Vidal have perfected the "mid-inning handoff" in 2014.
The Sox floundered against the Yanks' endearingly wobbly southpaw Vidal Nuno, with their Big Three (Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Mike Napoli) going 0-for-10 for the night. Meanwhile the Yankees found the long ball, hitting three HRs (two off starter Brandon Workman, who's been a bit of a bright spot for the Sox as they've been forced to shuffle their rotation over the past four weeks).

It was baseball that was strangely wan, not wanton; more soporific than scintillating.

That the Sox would be listless away from Fenway is no longer surprising in 2014: they are hitting just .227 on the road so far this year. The team that used to hit doubles at a clip resembling machine gun fire  is mired in the middle of the pack in 2014--and is tied for fewest doubles on the road.

The Yanks don't look much different. But somehow they've managed to play five games over their Pythagorean projection, despite an indifferent offense featuring ancient warriors (Derek Jeter, Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Beltran, Ichiro Suzuki) and nondescript journeymen (Brian Roberts, Kelly Johnson). One can only hold one's breath in wonderment at where this team might be in the standings without Masahiro Tanaka (11-2, 2.11), whom the Red Sox will face in tonight's game.

We'll continue to hold out hope that both of these high-falutin' yet frabjously flatulent franchises will keep up the flounder act for all of '14, giving us that annus mirabilis wherein both of them are on the outside looking in when the post-season arrives.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

2014: COMPLETE GAMES #50, #51

The 2014 season's 50th and 51st complete games (we are still holding out Mr. Kershaw's five-inning game, for those who are keeping count...) could not have been more different from one another.

Dallas Keuchel's CG last Saturday night is the first "bad complete game" of 2014 (depending on how you've arrived here, you may have read about those already--the lowdown on "Bad CGs" can be found below). The quick definition is that this was a game where the starter went the distance and allowed five or more runs. In recent years (more details in the previous post...) these games have become exceedingly rare.

And as a matter of fact they are becoming scarcer than no-hitters (three for the seaosn thus far...)--which was the most recent addition to the year's CG totals--the not-quite-as-mighty-as-in-the-past Tim Lincecum victimizing the San Diego Padres once again (yesterday afternoon, at pitcher paradise Petco Park). The Freak is still capable of being dominating, but something definitely changed in 2012--it would be most gratifying if sabermetrics could actually figure out what it is, since the Giants (who aren't too shabby at developing pitchers) have yet to be able to do so.

Overall won-loss record for CGs now stands at: 43-8 (.843).

Current projection for total number of CGs for 2014 now stands at: 105.


As much as we like to fulminate about triples, we've got to admit that they're not as rare as complete games. (Though, when you quantify in a particular way, it's actually a close call: triples only account for 2% of all hits, while complete games occur in just over 2% of all games.)

Infinitely rarer than either of these, however, is a new entity that we've recently been able to identify. Vot's dot, you ask? Why, the "bad" complete game. Once relatively plentiful, this subcutaneous cousin of the CG are now down in single digits in any given year.

Just what is a "bad" complete game? There are a number of possible definitions, but the one we settled on is as follows: 

--It's a complete game in which the starter gives up five or more runs.

"Bad" complete games, as the chart at right indicates, constitute 10% of all complete games (at least the ones we can count using Forman et fils' Play Index, which takes us back to 1914). The figure is probably closer to 15% when you factor in all of the games back to 1871, where CGs were a much higher percentage of games played.

The chart tells us some other interesting things, though. First, the overall WPCT for these games is around .350, which is probably higher than what you might first think. But more intriguing is the movement of that WPCT over time, particularly how it relates to the changing percentage of "bad CGs" (relative to total CGs). 

As "bad CGs" began to decline from their peak in the 1920s (and, again, there's a good chance that the peak for these might well be in the 1890s), an odd thing starts to happen: the WPCT in these games actually goes up. How is that? Well, CGs are declining over time, save for the blip we see in the 70s; as run scoring goes down in the 60s, there's less incentive to leave a pitcher in for the whole game unless his team has also scored him a bunch of runs. If such is the case (and it was...), the pitcher has a much better chance of being the winner.

As we can see, that changed dramatically and irrevocably during the 70s, when the accelerating scarcity of CGs began to randomize the process. Increasingly, pitchers with "bad" CGs were those who fell behind early, then regrouped strongly and pitched well for the latter portions of a ballgame, but took a loss due to low run support in that particular game. That became the paradigm for these games as they became scarcer and scarcer trace elements.

And as you can see, in our five-year running WPCT chart, "bad" complete games began a slide to what  might best be termed an "accursed oblivion" in 1969, when the WPCT took a spectacular nose-dive. The offensive explosion and the Rockies' home park (first Mile High Stadium, then Coors Field) pushed the WPCT upward for awhile, but the continuing emphasis on the bullpen and the increased levels of anality in counting pitches soon removed any incentive for leaving a pitcher in to face more than 35 batters. (We should note that most of what are now losing "bad CGs"--and no pitcher has won a "bad CG" since 2002--are CGs of the eight-inning variety.)

Let's take a quick look at the yearly fluctuations of "bad CGs" (in the chart at right). This gives us a more detailed look at the pattern than what the decade summary at the top provides.

When we look at that, we see that the major decline in "bad CGs" starts in the mid-to-late 30s and continues virtually unabated until the late 60s (with only a post-WWII blip to brake its fall).

The 70s then brings back both the CG (look it up at the Forman et fils pitcher encyclopedia page) and the "bad CG," which doubles in frequency around 1974 and stays around that level (with a few perturbations) for the next twenty-five years. Again, the new millennium brought us the expanded bullpen (probably not what Donald Fagen was nattering about in the blanded-out "Aja," where he almost seemed sincere while intoning that it was the "age of the expanding man...") and a disinclination to let a pitcher who'd allowed too many runs (and faced too many batters) to go so deep into a game.

Think about it. Back in the day (the mid-1920s) there was often a chance for the ticket-buying public to see not one, but two "bad CGs" in the same game. We can track that at Forman et fils, where one particular report informs us that there have been 251 such games since 1914--but not a single one since July 7, 1986, when Mike Flanagan and Frank Viola both stayed in all the way as the Minnesota Twins edged the Baltimore Orioles, 7-6. (The pattern we referred to earlier--a big inning early, followed by very efficient pitching in the latter stages of the game--is present here in Flanagan's performance.)

We'll come back with another post about individual pitchers and "bad CGs," but let's leave you with the "heat map" for what we might call "dueling bad CGs"--a frequency chart that shows how many of these games occurred in what year.

As we noted, the "halcyon days" for two "bad CGs" in the same game was the mid-1920s, with 1936 (an offensive boom year in the AL) being something of a "last hurrah." It's interesting, though, how many of these games show up in 1918 and 1919--years that we (rightfully) associate with the deadball era. It's likely that a good bit of what happens here is due to the elevated unearned run totals of the times, due to the greater frequency of errors.

Clearly, though, the 14716 fans in attendance at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome (we like to call it the "Hump-Dome"...) had absolutely no idea that when they plunked down their dough on that summer's day in Minneapolis, they were watching what just might be the last game of its kind. While the changes in the game that have brought about this extinction are clearly warranted, it's still sad to contemplate the irrevocable loss of two starting pitchers battling it out from beginning to end, for better or worse. (In this case, mostly worse.) Somewhere where the sun is shining bright---possibly north-northwest of Mudville--there might yet be a frivolous but freighted anomaly, a throwback to the times when a team's relief corps didn't threaten to outnumber the number of men on the field.

Saturday, June 21, 2014


The Phillies' A.J. Burnett added himself to the 2014 CG roundelay last night (6/20) by scattering seven hits in St. Louis en route to a 5-1 win over the Cardinals.

That brought A.J.'s lifetime CG total up to two dozen (or 24, if you prefer to see that in numerals). His single-season high was seven--for the Marlins, back in 2002.


The two strains of neo-sabermetrics--"swagger" and "hysteria"--merged and metastasized in issues coalescing around starting pitchers.

The "swagger" involves all range and manner of analytic over-reach, from "new" and "better" ways to measure the true performance of a pitcher to the giddy quantification of any and all facets of the act of pitching.

The "hysteria" stems from the horrible awareness of risk that is first experienced, then exaggerated, and finally institutionalized within insider practices. It is further accelerated by the hyper-economic overlay that has overtaken the sport in the past two decades.

So much counting, so much modeling, so much measuring, so much over-investment in particular kinds of biased counter-intuitivity: we've met the enemy and it's ourselves.

And we are surrounded by holes. Black holes; wormholes; rabbit-holes.

Let's focus on "hysteria" today, as it has taken a back seat to "swagger" over the past half-decade or so, but has reared its head of late as a lamentable litany of young starting pitchers (who embody what we've termed, up top, as the "young phenom") has been providing the type of "night sky" show that enthrall astronomers but fill the neo-sabermetrician with dread.

Too much "swagger" about a subject that turns out to be only remotely understood--such as the continuing profusion of injuries to young pitchers (and in particular "young phenoms")--turns to a puddle of hysterical goo.

What's needed to at least allay these fears? Why, historical perspective, of course. Perhaps if these overcompensating careerists knew that the problem they so brazenly thought they could solve with a series of simple proscriptions (throw less innings, throw less pitches) was actually something that is more or less constant over time, they could find a different path through the forest.

And that's just what we hope to accomplish here, right now--by examining the "young phenom" from a larger historical perspective and with a complete absence of the over-ingenious measurements that actually get in the way of understanding the problem for what it really is.

The chart at right shows all of the "young phenom" seasons since 1901. We are defining the "young phenom" season as one in which a pitcher aged 23 or younger produces at least seven (7) Wins Above Replacement (WAR). There are 43 such seasons since 1901, produced by 35 pitchers.

The color-coding on the chart provides what we might call a "basic survival" rate for these pitchers, who were all worked hard at a young age--some more so than others. The pitchers coded in orange made less than 100 additional starts after their youthful peak seasons; the pitchers coded in yellow made less than 200 additional starts.

So we have a total of seven "young phenoms" whom we can say were, in some way, ruined by their early success. However, one of these phenoms (Babe Ruth) proved to have other more "marketable" skills, and was shifted off the mound. Another (Herb Score) was hit in the face by a line drive and could not recover from the trauma of that injury.

So that leaves five. Meaning that one out of seven, or about 14%, of the top young starters fell victim to arm injury and were unable to sustain their careers for more than a very few seasons after their breakout success.

We would expect the usual counter-argument: that this is a ridiculously small sample size; that we should use a much larger population of pitchers; that we should be trying to examine some more specific factors that point to cause-and-effect.

To which we reply, of course we should. But so many have done just that for so long and have so little to show for it, don't they?

It's better to look at the pitchers at the very top end of the spectrum, because the anxiety over "lost superstars" is the true locus of this hysteria.

If we know that the risk of virtually complete flameout (ironically, it's Bill James' namesake from the "Miracle Braves" who leads the pack here, having started only nine more games after his 1914 heroics at the tender age of 22...) is 14%, then we should be able to perform the simple act of subtraction to realize that six out of seven have at least had reasonably long careers.

In fact, the won-loss records for these 35 pitchers for the seasons immediately following their "young phenom" year adds up to the following: 4115 wins, 3125 losses, .568 WPCT, a 3.32 ERA.

That works out to an aggregate "rest of career" involving 250 additional starts (exact number: 249) beyond the peak (or, in this case, the latest) "young phenom" year (7+ WAR), producing an average subsequent won-loss record of 121-92.

The rest of the data for the "young phenom" group shows that more than a third of the them throw another 2000 innings over the rest of their career, just under a third of them win at least another 150 games, and less than a fourth of them win less than 50 games.

Jim Creighton: he died for your sins even before you committed them...
The problem--or, rather, the risk--involved with young pitchers who are extremely successful has been with us since the beginning of the game. We can only do so much to eliminate it. No matter what we do, it will fail to eliminate the problem. The best may be able to simply reduce the risk by 40% or so.

But it is beyond folly to have assisted in creating an environment where "hot-house flower" young flamethrowers are being created through mechanical techniques that make them virtual certainties for one or more surgical procedures, and then look the other way when assigning blame, or locating the root cause. The higher the K-rate, the greater chance that these altered mechanics are being employed; the higher the K-rate, the greater the chance for injury no matter the age of the pitcher.

The overuse of over-simplistic but so-called "advanced" measurement techniques has resulted in this "hysteria" within the "swagger." When the "swagger" identifies a problem and pig-headedly thinks it has solved it with a couple of math proofs that bear more resemblance to instant coffee than to Chateau Latour, we are greeted with hysteria and bewilderment. Quel surprise...

What's clear from the data above is that before, during and after all of these rather pathetic examples of overthink, the risk rate for "young phenoms" has been pretty constant over time. But, paradoxically, injury rates are arguably higher for lesser pitchers of all ages--and the effects of those injuries for lesser pitchers seems to be greater, more catastrophic (which makes perfect sense, since they have less ground to give before they are too ineffective to stay on a major league roster). However, we don't have a way to definitively quantify that, and until we do, "swagger" and "hysteria" will remain the reigning components in the ongoing banshee wail that passes for "sabermetric discourse."

Friday, June 20, 2014


The Mets finally join the ranks of the teams with CGs, thanks to Zack Wheeler.

Wheeler shut out the Marlins in Miami, allowing only three hits and fanning eight. The Mets tore a page from their '69 playbook and won the game 1-0.

The remaining teams without a complete game as we push past the 40% mark of the 2014 season are: Chicago Cubs, Colorado Rockies, Kansas City Royals, Pittsburgh Pirates.

Then again, the MLB-leading team in this stat thus far (St. Louis Cardinals) has only four CGs.

No team cracked double figures in 2013 (Tampa had nine) or 2012 (Detroit and Cincinnati each had nine). You have to go back to 2011 for that--when five teams, led by the Phillies (18) managed to amass more CGs than we're able to count with two hands.


It used to be that striking out a batter an inning (or 9 K/9, as we used to abbreviate it in the days prior to the Internet...) was a Big Deal. Not so much anymore.

While it's not quite gotten to that for the next step up that ladder (10 K/9), it's definitely moving in that direction.

There are now nearly eighty instances of a starting pitcher exceeding 10K/9 for at least 60 IP in a season (we'll explain that limit in a minute), with nearly three-fourths of them occurring since 1990.

Our handy "year chart" shows the distribution over the years since 1959, when Sandy Koufax was the first pitcher to crack the 10K/9 barrier.

As you can see, the number of instances has increased sharply in the past two decades. It appeared to be leveling off a bit thus far in the 2010's, projecting to around 25 for the decade, until the current glut of starters (nine in all) who are currently on pace for a 10K/9 season.

Those nine pitchers are (in descending order of K/9): Clayton Kershaw, Yu Darvish*, Stephen Strasburg*, Jake Odorizzi, Chris Sale, Masahiro Tanaka, Max Scherzer, David Price, Corey Kluber.

(The guys with * are the ones who already have at least one 10K/9 season under their belts.)

We picked 60 IP to get all of the starting pitchers in 2014 who are looking to be on track to qualify for the ERA title, and by doing so we did pick up some short seasons from the past: two from Sid Fernandez (1995, 1996: both under 100 IP) and Tony Cingrani from last year (104 IP).

Which pitchers are on this list the most? You may not be surprised to discover that the king of this stat is The Big Unit (aka Randy Johnson). He pulled off this feat twelve times: first time in 1991, last time in 2004.

Nolan Ryan is next with eight. Then it's Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez (five); Mark Prior and Koufax (four); Yu Darvish, Hideo Nomo, Kerry Wood, and (if he keeps it up this year) Max Scherzer (three).

Overall record of the pitchers on this list (including the nine guys from 2014): 1175-663 (.639 WPCT), 3.04 ERA.

Thursday, June 19, 2014


Apparently Clayton Kershaw has been keeping tabs on us...

We "downgraded" his five-inning complete game in a manner analogous to what the keepers of the record books did to no-hitters that had less than nine innings.

So the Dodgers' uber-ace went out last night (6/18) and tossed a no-hitter against the Colorado Rockies.

In the process, Kershaw struck out 15 and missed a perfect game only because SS Hanley Ramirez threw off-line to first, pulling Adrian Gonzalez off the base, allowing Corey Dickerson to reach on an error in the seventh inning.

The Dodgers won, 8-0, pulling within four games of the San Francisco Giants.

Kershaw has upped his K-rate significantly thus far in '14. After last night's game, his K rate has risen to just a bit more than twelve per nine innings.

Elsewhere, John Lackey pitched nine shutout innings for the Boston Red Sox--but did not get a complete game. (The Sox won the game in the bottom of the tenth, on consecutive homers from David Ortiz and the recently activated Mike Napoli, after giving up the lead in the top of the inning on a homer by the Minnesota Twins' Chris Parmalee.)

This was the second time in 2014 that a pitcher went nine innings but didn't wind up with a complete game; the first occurred on May 5th, when the Cubs' Jeff Samardzija did it. It happened only three times in 2013 and 2012.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


Hearts be still in those regions of the USA where the diaspora of "midwestern angst" has spread...those paragons of powder blue, the Kansas City Royals, are kicking up their heels.

NOT, despite rumors to the contrary, a picture of the right
side of Rob Neyer's noggin...
Today's 2-1 win over the out-on-their-feet Detroit Tigers is the tenth in a row for the team that has spawned more alliterative detritus than a room full of monkeys equipped with--no, not typewriters, not even lower life forms use those anymore--let's just say loaded with beta-ware. Yes, the Royals have been making monkeys out of their fans for the last quarter-century...and now, when the drumbeats from Joe Poz's bunkered Carolina hideaway have faded into the lingering dusk, they are making noises that just might make the seasoned sailor consider a quick lashing to the mast before those sirens start to dance on their eyelids.

But consider this: that ten-game winning streak (the first such in 2014; last season there were five of them) puts the Royals into a category of team that's hit our radar screens 82 times in the past twenty-five years. We can look at the season records of these teams, and discover how well a ten-game skein translates into year-long success.

The Royals' oddly-named mascot
(Sluggrr, for a team that perenially is
at the bottom of the HR totals) has
to watch from afar as the boys in pale
blue are powdering the ball at last...but
on the road (24, vs. 15 at home).
So what does it tell us? Of those 81 previous teams, 66 of them (81.5%) finished the season at .500 or better. The Royals, with their ten-and-counting streak this year, have pushed their WPCT up to .549; the aggregate WPCT for teams that have at least a ten-game win streak over the 1989-2013 time frame is .551.

Forty of the 78 teams (leaving the current Royals, and all three of the teams with ten-game win streaks in 1994, when there was no World Series) have gone to the post-season. That's just over 51%.

So that means that these Royals, with their great bullpen and their sudden flurry of offense (thus far, they've scored the most runs in the majors in June), are currently even money to make it into the playoffs.

Now, that's no lock, but it's a lot better than what's been the case for a long, long time. The questions needing more definitive answers--whether the Royals can add enough power to their offense, or continue with the tightrope-walking results of their starting staff (just three HRs in over 100 IP thus far in June)--are going to have to work themselves out over the course of the year, but the Royals might benefit from the indisputable fact that baseball, just like nature, abhors a vacuum.

So...flutter away, ye hearts of the monkey-men, stalwarts of the angst-ridden powder blue diaspora. The crumbs have been scattered; the trail of tears is locked--and loaded.


Complete game performances have their first 2014 losing streak.

Phil Hughes, in the midst of a nice turnaround with the Minnesota Twins after a fractious career with the Yankees, allowed two runs and eight hits over 8 IP last night (6/17) in Boston, but Jon Lester and a series of Red Sox relievers limited the Twins to only four score: Red Sox 2, Twins 1.

Combined with Jordan Zimmermann's 6/13 CG loss, that's a two-game losing streak in CGs.

Meanwhile, "game after" performances careened into the darker recesses of the QMAX chart with two ugly outings from Max Scherzer and Yu Darvish. Scherzer's was especially brutal, as he allowed ten runs and ten hits to the usually quiescent Royals, who've relocated their hitting shoes and are making noises in the lackluster AL Central race.

Which brings up a whimsical side issue worthy of some research: what's the worst pitching line score turned in for a game during a year in which the pitcher won the Cy Young Award? Keep your eyes open for a post about this in the near future...

Current projection for the total number of complete games in 2014 (keeping in mind that we continue to set aside Kershaw's five-inning CG): 106.

Monday, June 16, 2014


Tony Gwynn passed away yesterday. He was much too young, only 54. We can consider it a delayed "workplace-related" death, since the cancer he contracted came from a product (chewing tobacco) he was unlikely to have ingested had he not happened to be one of the elite singles hitters in the history of the game.

Gwynn was a first-ballot Hall of Famer whose "career shape" is almost certainly extinct. As the game has receded into a "three true outcomes" two-dimensionality, Tony's historical position is probably akin to the dodo bird or the carrier pigeon. While it's undeniable that hitting for power is valuable, it used to be the case that high-average, low-power hitters were not only useful, but welcome in the game for the particular skill set they embodied.

It's very likely that Tony Gwynn, with his high BA (.338 lifetime) and low HR total (135) will be the last of his kind.

The chart at right, culled from the treasures of Forman et fils' Play Index, provides a brief snapshot of Tony's particular skills and how they rank. He specialized in triumphing over adversity--as an inveterate student of the game's finer points, he was among the first to use video replays to analyze opposing pitchers, earning him the nickname of "Captain Video."

As these numbers indicate, Tony was at his best late in the game. That was the signature of a man who used his mind to maximize what were more limited natural gifts than those possessed by the other Hall of Fame outfielders in his generation.

At the end of August 1983, the San Diego Padres sent Sixto Lezcano to the Phillies, officially opening up right field for Tony. He hit .351 that September, .351 in 1984 and never looked back. The team he played with has only made it to the World Series when he was on its roster.

It will be interesting to see how long it takes before that team makes it back to the World Series. One hopes that when the Padres finally do win a World Championship, they will remember to dedicate it to their one-and only, once-and-always franchise player.

Sunday, June 15, 2014


We keep looking "under the hood" of that fading entity known as the complete game, which may be tantamount to looking a gift horse in the mouth...and we don't even have the excuse of being descended from a long line of dentists. As with so much of what happens these days, however, these things just can't be helped...

Would you be surprised to discover that the aggregate winning percentage in complete games since 1964 is below .800? The exact total: 21253 wins, 5604 losses, .791 WPCT. Probably not too surprising, given the former plentiful nature of CGs, though you may have expected complete games to produce more wins than that.

Turns out, though, that--back in the day--they did. Prior to 1973, pitchers who threw CGs had a significantly higher WPCT. The exact total from 1964-72: 6764 wins, 1092 losses, .861 WPCT.

From that point, however--as the chart at right depicts--CG WPCT took a hit. From '73 on, the aggregate CG WPCT dropped about a hundred points. The exact total from 1973 to now: 14489 wins, 4512 losses, .763 WPCT.

The historically astute among you out there (and who's to say you're not? You're certainly "out there" if you're reading this...) may have locked onto the specifics vis-a-vis the divergence in this data.

And you may well remember that 1973 was a watershed year in MLB history (and not just because it was the final season for Ron Swoboda, who was sent packing to the broadcast booth at the tender age of 29--and, according to many of you, not a moment too soon).

No, 1973 was the year in which the designated hitter (aka the "dreaded DH") was introduced to the game, creating some significant differences between the AL (who adopted the rule) and the NL (which didn't).

And as it turns out, one of these significant differences which evolved (or devolved, depending upon your perspective...) has to do with CG WPCT.

As the chart at left shows, the aggregate drop in CG WPCT that happens in 1973 would appear to be directly related to the implementation of the DH rule. AL CG WPCT drops below .700 in '73, while CG WPCT in the NL remains at the pre-DH level (somewhere above .850).

What's most interesting about this shift/schism is how it has persisted over time, even as the number of CGs went into freefall. Somewhere in the 90s, however, the pattern began to change...perhaps a new generation of AL managers began to veer away from what had previously been a knee-jerk reaction to let starting pitchers who were performing well in games where they were losing stay in the game all the way to the end.

However, as you can see in the chart, that change has remained mostly intermittent over the past twenty years, and while the gap has closed a bit between AL and NL, that's as much due to decline in the NL CG WPCT in recent years (a drop from .872 in 1973-93 to .844 from 1994 to the present) as an uptick in the AL (a .685 CG WPCT from 1973-93; .708 from 1994 till now).

Of course, one thing that has never happened from '73 on is the AL having a higher WPCT than the NL for starters who throw CGs. Until 2014, of course. So far, at least, AL pitchers are 19-2 in their CGs (.905 WPCT), while NL pitchers are 20-5 (.800).

Of course, it's a subset of what has become an increasingly small sample size, and it takes something like that to create the possibility of such a single anomaly out of 40+ years of data. As we always do, we'll keep an eye on this one as 2014 unfolds...stay tuned.

Saturday, June 14, 2014


...And another technicality that might be worth exploring.

Jordan Zimmermann (Nationals) pitched a great game against the Cardinals last night (6/13)...but Lance Lynn and Trevor Rosenthal combined to pitch a better one as St. Louis beat Washington, 1-0, at Busch Stadium III.

And just why is Cliff Lee (...or should we say: Cliff Lee's
backside) being featured here, anyway? 
This was thus an eight-inning complete game loss for Jordan (his second CG in a row).

BUT...the Nationals batted for Zimmermann in the top of the ninth.

Which means that if they'd tied the score or gone ahead during that inning, there would have no CG for Jordan.

It's one of the odd artifacts of the scoring rules, of course, and it is the first such occurrence in 2014.

It would be interesting (at least to a few of us, that is...) to determine just how many of these "fudgy CGs" have occurred. Clearly there were more of them when there were more complete games, but how many more? As with some other such arcana, it will take a database talent to come up with the answer, as not all eight-inning complete game losses will feature the situation where the starting pitcher is pinch-hit for in an unsuccessful top of the ninth.

So...should these count as CGs? It's hard to say no, really, since the game circumstances don't permit another pitcher to appear in the game...and the "basic" definition of a CG is that the starter is the only pitcher in an official game, whether it goes five innings or nine innings.

But we'd still like to know how many of these types of CGs there are...dammit!

[EDIT: What we can tell lieu of a complete that the last "fudgy CG" (where the starting pitcher was batted for in the top of ninth for a team that failed to extend the inning) occurred on September 27, 2013. The pitcher in question? Cliff Lee, who struck out 13 but gave up an eighth inning homer to Chris Johnson. He allowed only three hits, but Kris Medlin and Craig Kimbrel shut out the Phillies on just two hits as the Braves beat Philadelphia, 1-0.]


They've gotten hot in Houston.

The Astros have won 15 of 21 since May 24 after their 7-3 win over the Rays this afternoon (6/14).

We thought you might like to know how they've been doing that.

Thanks to David Pinto's Day by Day Database, we can create in-season snapshots of data.

So we did.

They cover the 20 games from May 24 to June 13.

The Astros have been buoyed by solid pitching, particularly from Dallas Keuchel and Scott McHugh.

They hit 25 HRs in that time frame, and going into their 6/14 contest, they had moved up to third in the AL in homers (with 75).

Rookies George Springer and Jon Singleton were notable contributors during this time frame.

And Chris (X-Files) Carter continues to do little but hit HRs.

We wouldn't expect this to continue--certainly not at this pace. But if we can actually put two sentences into the same paragraph, then the Astros might not wind up as the Lastros in '14.

Friday, June 13, 2014


Was Max Scherzer the first starting pitcher to win a Cy Young Award without a single complete game to his credit?

The answer is...

No! Jake Peavy won the NL CYA in 2007 without a CG.

However, Jake had five CGs in years previous to his CYA season. Max's CG last night, as the wire services (and the blog brudderhood) have been screaming at us, was his first ever. It was a three-hit shutout, with 8 K's, vs. the White Sox.

We doubt that will prompt him to clean up his act, however. And that's a good thing.

Final score: Detroit 4, Chicago 0.


Yes, we are probably overdue for another visitation with one of the few universally useful precepts that emerged in the "neo-sabe" era--the notion of "regression to the mean."

And that principle has been highlighted and intensified in the data surrounding our ongoing "pet project" of 2014--the complete game.

Because CGs are quite clearly the exclusive province of starting pitchers, we can apply a favorite tool--the Quality Matrix (QMAX)--to an examination of what happens after a great individual performance.

QMAX tells us that, as they have dwindled, complete games are now almost exclusively "great performances." The aggregrate ERA for the 44 CGs (still not counting Clayton Kershaw!) demonstrates this as well: 0.52.

That's right. Half a run per nine innings. 27 of the 44 CGs thus far in 2014 are shutouts. There were two more games where no earned runs were permitted. Either way you slice it, more than 60% of all complete games feature performances in which no runs/no earned runs are allowed.

The QMAX data parses this further, and tells us more. As the chart shows, 25 of these games fall in the 1,1 slot (the very best games possible according to QMAX).

38 of the 44 CGs reside inside the "Elite Square" (the grouping of the four best performance gradations based on hit and walk prevention--the slots marked 1,1; 1,2; 2,1; and 2,2). That's 86% of the games.

The percentage of games in the "Success Square" (which, yes, we know, is not quite a square in the same way that a house is not a home...) is even higher. 42 of the 44 CGs fall inside it, which works out to 95%.

These are, then, with only a very few exceptions, the top hit and walk prevention games that occur during the season.

The next question is: what happens to these starters--the ones who've achieved a pinnacle of starting pitcher performance--when they start their next game?

What happens? They regress to the mean. And it's a bit shocking, in fact, because one might expect that these starters who reach the heights in such spectacular fashion (did we mention that their won-loss record in those CGs is 38-6 this year?) would actually be an aggregation that is a good bit better than the average starting pitcher.

But, in fact, when these pitchers take the mound the next time, they are, collectively speaking, quite ordinary. And both the QMAX data and the more basic measures bear that out.

In the QMAX data, the basic score rises from 1.68, 1.09/2.77 (a number that no individual pitcher could get remotely near...)  to 4.26, 2.59/6.85. The SS ratio drops almost in half (from 95% down to 49%). The ES ratio is only about one-fourth of what it was in the previous CG (23%, down from 86%). The "top hit prevention" games (those in the 1S and 2S rows of the matrix chart) drop almost as much as the ES data (from 86% down to just 26%). "Hit hard" (HH) games--the 6S and 7S rows shown in orange--jump from 2% to 36%.

In conventional stats, these starters go from a 38-6, 0.52 ERA performance to 13-15, 4.33 ERA in the "game after."

What's exceptionally interesting to us is the fact that in neither of these game populations, there are no games in the boxed region at the upper right of the chart, where hit prevention is great but walk prevention is spotty--a region we've named the "Power Precipice." While it's not really surprising that there aren't any CGs in this region--allowing walks means throwing more pitches, and the defining feature of the 21st-century CG is that there are few walks (1.0 per 9 IP) and a high amount of economy of scale with respect to pitch counts--it is nothing short of astonishing that there are no such games in this region to be found in the "game after" data.

Tommy John...a medical procedure, a QMAX region, a
clothing about a string of burger joints??
Instead, there are 10 games (26%, equal to the top hit prevention--S12--region) which fall in the lower left region where hits allowed are greater than average but walks are still exceptionally low--a zone we call the "Tommy John" region.

It should also be noted that K/9 in these CGs is not an aggregation or clustering of high-K performances: the average K/9 here is 7.3--right about average for all starting pitchers in 2014. The K/9 in the "games after" is actually a bit higher, at 7.5.

So we can conclude that CGs, at least as they are manifested in 2014, have a noticeable selection bias toward finesse pitchers as opposed to power pitchers--and this explains why the "regression to the mean" here actually goes a bit beyond "the mean." The pitchers who strike out five batters or less in their complete games outnumber those who strike out nine or more by about 35%, and their aggregate ERA in their "games after" is 5.92, more than two runs higher than the higher-K pitchers (3.63).

The suspicion here is that this effect has (as we said) intensified as complete games have grown significantly more scarce in the last twenty years. We'll go back and look at this for past years, and then we'll see just how consistent this manifestation of "regression to the mean" really is...

Thursday, June 12, 2014

2014: COMPLETE GAMES #42, #43

Two more last night (6/11): the Rangers' Yu Darvish tossed a six-hit, ten strikeout whitewash against the Miami Marlins at home in Arlington, and in Seattle, the Yankees' Masahiro Tanaka improved his record to 10-1 and kept his floundering team within striking distance in the AL East (and in the terminally crowed "wild card" race) with a six-hitter in New York's 4-2 win over the Mariners. (Ex-Yank Robinson Cano spoiled Tanaka's shutout in in the ninth inning with a one-out, two-run homer.)

A little more research will be required to determine if this is the first instance of two Japanese pitchers throwing complete games on the same day. We'll get back to you on that a bit later, but what we can say is that this most recent incarnation of Japanese starters has easily been the most successful.

As of today, Tanaka and Darvish have a combined record of 17-3, and without them their two teams would likely be a good bit further down the standings.

2014: PARITY

Here's a very quick visual that will show you just how even-steven things still are across MLB in 2014.

The teams in bright orange are the ones between .475-.525.

There are twice as many of those (as of today's standings) than was the case last year (14 to 7).

STDEV for MLB in WPCT this year is .060. Last year at this time it was .087.

We'll crunch the data for more seasons a bit later on, and see where things stand in a larger historical context.

Monday, June 9, 2014


Jordan Zimmermann, who's rounded into a fine "finesse" pitcher for the Washington Nationals over the past three years, found the right team in the right park at the exact right time yesterday. At San Diego's Petco Park, Jordan hurled a two-hit shutout against the slumping Padres, striking out 12.

How slumping are the Padres? Zimmermann's rotation mate Tanner Roark threw a similar game on Friday night, striking out 11 Padres in eight innings. The final scores in each game were identical: Nats 6, Padres 0.

There was another complete game on Sunday, but it was one shortened by rain. Clayton Kershaw was given credit for a CG when the Dodgers-Rockies game was called in the middle of the sixth inning.

Since 1914 (according to the Play Index at Forman et fils), there have been 1318 CGs where the pitcher threw less than eight innings. That amounts to just under 2% of all CGs (1.6%, to be exact). Oddly, as complete games continue to decrease, these "phantom" CGs have become a higher percentage of the total (since 2006, the percentage is 3.8%).

For our purposes here, then, we've decided to omit these shortened CGs from the list. We'll note them when they happen, but we will keep a separate count that reflects only games that go the full distance.

That also affects the number of CGs that we would consider to be the lowest total achieved over a single season, which occurred in 2007. There were four "foreshortened" CGs that season, which reduces that all-time low number to 108 (from 112).

So that is the new number that the 2014 managers have to shoot for in their quest to "lower the bar" WRT CGs.

Sunday, June 8, 2014


Now, to be even-handed (!) about this, the change over the past twenty-five years is not dramatic...but it's still notable.

Back in 1988, when offensive levels were a bit lower than they are now, when batters swung at the first pitch in their plate appearances, they missed about 54% of the time.

As the chart shows, that number drifted upward slowly over the following ten years, had an odd spike in 1998 (expansion year "swingitis"??), then settled in at between 55--56% until 2006, when it began to nose up again.

We passed 58% in 2011 and hit 59% last season; so far in '14, hitters are down just a touch from that all-time high. (At least we think it's the all-time high...we'd need to have pitch-by-pitch data for a year like 1968 in order to be absolutely sure.)

We'll come back and look at a couple of other nuances about results on and after the first pitch in just a bit.

Saturday, June 7, 2014


The Cardinals' Shelby Miller might have turned in the most impressive complete game of the 2014 season thus far when he tossed a three-hit shutout vs. the blazing hot Toronto Blue Jays earlier today (June 7).

The Jays had won seventeen of their last twenty games going into the contest, and had been shut out only once previously in 2014.

We'd be interested in being able to split out batting stats as they apply to pitchers--for example, the RISP hitting for the Cards (which remains mired in the bottom five of MLB thus far in 2014). Miller's run support thus far in '14 is 3.6 per game, but it would be interesting (at least to us) to see more detail in how those runs are scored. Miller has a winning record due to three "cheap wins" that he managed earlier in the year, which may have come from clutch-hitting-derived run support.

The projected total of complete games for the 2014 season is holding steady at 106.

Friday, June 6, 2014


Yes, we did say that the Giants would be struggling. Silly, wasn't it? Still, it was easy to project starting pitching problems (Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong having struggled in '13, plus the 40% shot that Tim Hudson would not pull things together after his ankle injury), and an ongoing weakness with the bat (the 2013 was particularly bereft of power).

So...the Giants have hit 69 HRs in their first 61 games in '14, after hitting only 107 the year before. They are on a pace to hit 183 HRs for the year, though we suspect the total will be closer to 150 when all is said and done.

And there's the bullpen. As of tonight (6/6), the Giants' relievers are 16-5 with a 2.34 ERA. That puts them bubbling right around the Top Ten bullpen ERAs in baseball history. Of course, we've all come to expect this from Sergio Romo...but we might not be so sold on Jean Machi (5-0, 0.33 ERA).

But look...we're burying the lede (again--and you can bet that somebody out there has the stats on that, too). What the Giants are really doing to take things by storm roughly three-eighths of the way through 2014 is that they are absolutely taking it to teams over .500. (We were going to say "good teams," but that is harder to determine today than ever: we'll get back to that in a minute.)

The Giants are 20-7 against teams playing .500 ball or better. (Er, oops...with all these teams at or near .500, these figures can jump around a bit...right now, with Cleveland--swept by the Giants last month in their ongoing skein against interleague opponents--dropping under .500 with a loss tonight, that means the Giants are suddenly only 17-7 in these games.) As Margo Channing said, fasten your seat belts.

And it's the pitching that's doing it. Their ERA against .500+ teams is 2.57, which would be the best in baseball history. All of the starting pitchers except for Matt Cain have ERAs under three--Madison Bumgarner is 5-1, 2.06 thus far. (He was just as superb in such games in '13, but the Giants didn't score much for him and he went just 7-5, 2.15. Cain, Lincecum and Vogelsong were 11-19 in those games last year, with an ERA over five; so far this year they're 5-3, 3.12).

The Giants' hitters are doing well in one clutch stat: RISP with two outs, where they have the highest OPS in all of baseball thus far. Who are the guys doing well in this situation? Angel Pagan (healthy again and a great catalyst for the Giants' offense) and Mike Morse (whose 20 RBI in this breakout category is the highest total in baseball thus far).

So can the Giants keep this up? History says no: the team with the best W-L in recent memory (Mariners, 2001) did not keep their WPCT against good teams above .700. But the G's have a good shot at 90+ wins, barring any serious catastrophes. Given all of the floundering going on in '14, that would easily get them into the post-season, where they can try to work their sudden "even year" magic one more time.

Thursday, June 5, 2014


So how do we get a more comprehensive understanding of what's happened to the triple over time (and not getting trapped in the "frog in the pot" situation by watching the slow boil of declining "per game" values)?

We can start with a look at how the ongoing "active" leader at the point of his retirement compares with the man who holds the second safest record in baseball (most triples in a career: "Wahoo" Sam Crawford, with 309...the safest record in baseball? Most triples in a season: Owen "Chief" Wilson...hmm, they must have known then that the triple was going to go the way of the Native American).

When we do that, we get a table that looks like what's over at the right. 

It tells us that the triple took its biggest "hit" in the interstice between the retirements of Ty Cobb (1928) and Paul Waner (1945). From that point on, we've been doing a slow fade, dropping from Waner's 62% of maximum to Carl Crawford's 38%. Given current conditions, it's likely to go lower.

Now, no other major stat has anything remotely like this happening to it. Homers? Pish. Doubles? Posh. Sacrifice hits? Not even.

Now someone out there will object that Carl Crawford is not retired. No, but he's over 30 and he's had two serious injuries in the past three years, and as a result, his triples totals are virtually certain to be little more than a trickle from this point forward. And, in fact, it's the change in aging patterns with respect to triples that is probably the most worrisome aspect of the ongoing malaise, decay, proto-extinction, etc., etc.

How can we get a handle on what's going on with aging patterns? We can look at the top five triples hitters whose careers culminate in the ascending decades of baseball history for two age ranges--players up to age 29, and players age 30 and over--and take a look at how they compare over time.

And, just because we can, we've made them into our own versions of the semi-infamous "heat charts" that have become so popular in recent years (like most of what's surfaced in the "post-neo" age, they're more than a little bit oversold, but what isn't these days?).

These "heat charts" show that triples didn't really start heavily declining as age 30+ events until the 1950s, at which point there was an increasing divergence between the two age groups.

This is something that redefines a certain aspect of "speed score" assumptions, which tend to treat triples monolithically over time as manifestations of speed, when in fact the triple was, at least for the first hundred years of its existence, at least as much of a power stat.

The 50s are clearly the Rubicon for the triple in terms of the falloff in age 30+ frequency. In our decade, we've got an uptick in the -29 age data because of the presence of Crawford and Jose Reyes, a couple of semi-throwbacks to the "silver age" of three-baggers. But look at how fast things fall off behind them. And the age 30+ shows us the first top five 3B guy with less than 40 3B.

As the commentator said when the Hindenburg caught fire: "That's not good."

And we have a final summary table that demonstrates that the rate of decay in triples is moving in the direction of the "terminal velocity" seen in our last photo.

The table shows the averages for the two age ranges (under "Top 5"), then computes the precent of maximum for each ("% Max"), and then renders the rate of decline in each decade ("Rate") and the overall decay rate relative to the theoretical maximum (which, if you computed the triples/game rate, occurs in the first half of the 1910s).

We can see that the rate of decay has fluctuated across decades as the range between the top five in each age range has moved around, but that the overall "percent of maximum" as registered in the far right value (which we are calling "decay": it should be "overall aggregate decay from maximum," but that's an even bigger mouthful than we would say with a spoonful of peanut, "decay," OK?) stabilized over a six-decade period (1950s to the 2000s).

In other words, it was a relatively stable rate of decay through those years. But it's not looking that way halfway into the 2010s.

And a good bit of it is stemming from a sudden new decline in triples hit by players aged 30 and over.

Without replacements in the coming seasons for aging (and injured) players like Crawford and Reyes, both of whom have just stopped hitting triples, we are looking at a new level of near-extinction for the three-bagger.

Is there any way to stem the tide, or (even) reverse it? Of course there is, and we'll be kicking all that around again soon...stay tuned.