Thursday, October 30, 2014


Two-sevenths of the 2014 World Series was nail-biting one-run stuff--and for the sake of aesthetics and  those in need of medicinal remedies, the Giants and the Royals managed to save the best for last, providing all manner and form of baseball fans a reminder of the game's illimitable range. It probably won't stop the interminable whining about the game's so-called "lagging pace," but a riveting Game Seven (and we still wish it could be Eleven...) will do a lot to dampen such criticism for some time to come.

"Midwester angsters" can now save up for the next rainy day (something that folks in the Bay Area and parts south are doubtful will ever come...) and cling to the "might have been" mythos that seems to make the region into such a battleground between progressive and reactionary forces, often embodied in the same individual ("the pure products of America go crazy" indeed).

In the end, though, a courtly, no-nonsense southpaw from North Carolina stood as tall as just about anyone in baseball history. Madison Bumgarner turned back the baseball clock at least fifty years in several ways at once during the World Series, and it will become one of the game's greatest legacies.

It wasn't just the incredible level of performance throughout the post-season that peaked in the Fall Classic. It was the "stuff of legend" emergence from the bullpen in Game Seven to earn a five-inning save on two days' rest that put things over the top.

Sure, there were pitchers who threw complete games on two days' rest. In fact, there was Deacon Phillippe, who did it on one days' rest. But there's an extra component of drama when the ace who's an "ace in the hole" gets brought in to the middle of a game, as was the case with Bumgarner. It pitches the drama to an even higher level: it adds desperation to the recipe.

It turns out that no one has ever thrown a five-inning save in the post-season before last night. (Which is why it was so terrific that the official scorer decided to reverse his original decision to give Bumgarner the win; his singular moment deserves a similarly singular categorization.) The last four-inning save in a World Series occurred fifty years ago (1964), when Ron Taylor did it for the the Cardinals in Game 4.

We don't have the complete data, but it appears that there have been only about 150 saves in which the reliever went five or more innings (we're talking regular season now). The longest possible save is, of course, eight innings--and there is one of those in baseball history, turned in by the Orioles' Dick Hall, on June 18, 1961, in the second game of a doubleheader--remember them??--against the Cleveland Indians. Jack Fisher was knocked out with five runs scored and only one man retired in the bottom of the first; Wes Stock relieved him and got out of the inning.

Whereupon the O's scored eight in the top of the second (including a walk by pinch-hitter Whitey Herzog and a home run from soon-to-be "Marvelous" Marv Throneberry) to take an 8-5 lead. Hall replaced Stock (for whom Herzog had batted...) and tossed eight shutout innings of relief for The Longest Save In History.

--Yes, yes, the title of this post is rather misleading. But here is a revised, revamped and updated five-year post-season performance chart. It shows just how remarkable the Giants' post-season run has been over the time frame. (World Series winners in orange, World Series losers in "heightened" yellow.) The Royals will probably hold the record for the best post-season record associated with a non-World Series winner for a long, long time. We can't really say that this is an appropriate legacy (we do try to stop short of hubris--at least at this time of year, anyway...), but it is most certainly an interesting one.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


What you see is what you get with the chart below, our own trademarked display of "history in a grid."

Today, here are the top pitching performances in World Series history, as measured by Game Scores.

The chart shows you all of the games where the starter's Game Score was 80 or higher, in our semi-unique historical distribution.

(The Game Score formula can be found at Forman et fils if you are interested in those details. We are only partially keen on it, in fact, since it strongly fetishizes strikeouts--but it's still a useful tool when handled properly.)

What's interesting here is to see how the games have clustered--or not--over time. Who would have thought, for example, that the longest gap between top starter performances would occur in the mid-1970s (1973-77, to be exact)? Particularly seeing as how the 1967 World Series had only recently produced the record number of 80+ Game Scores in history?

One hundred years ago baseball was in the midst of an eightteen-year streak where there was at least one top starting pitcher performance per World Series (1905-1922). It was jump-started by Christy Mathewson (three shutouts in the 1905 Series), whose name you've been hearing a lot this post-season. Things became relatively sporadic until the sixties, when the last sustained string of 80+ Game Score performances occurred. Even with the recent re-ascendancy of pitching, we are still living in a time of embers when it comes to dominating starting pitcher performances.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


The Perez boys---Juan...
It's not too late to change the rules.

We just keep going until one of these teams wins six games.

We play Games 8 and 9 back in San Francisco.

And then back to KC.

The TV folks will be happy: this year's World Series is gaining strength in the ratings. Extra games would be just what the doctor ordered.

...and Salvador--have had some very good
moments in the 2014 World Series.
And if everything went perfectly--meaning we got to Game 11, with two more travel days in the mix--we'd be able to blot out a lot of the coverage for the 2014 election, which would fall on the same day (November 4th).

Since Repubs are bigger baseball fans than Dems, this would redress the voting imbalance and tip the scales in several key races across the country. (For example, Kansas.)

It doesn't quite work in the structure of American elections, but what the heck...let's go for it anyway: it's time for a partisan chant to end all partisan chant:

"Four more games! Four more games!!"

Seriously: it has been a most engaging and unpredictably electric World Series thus far. As we write this, the Royals--still angling for a variation on the "immaculate conception post-season" (here's to you, FQRU!!)--are in the process of forcing a seventh game.

Let's get greedy, shall we?

[FOLLOWUP: After the Royals' 10-0 win in Game 6, we realized what has made this World Series so unusually interesting. It's not because the games have been close--in fact, it's been the exact opposite. (There has only been one game out of the six where the scoring differential has been less than five runs--which has got to be closing in on a record for the post-season.)

So--with all this random, back-and-forth salvoing; with the "one day it's one thing and the next it's another" -ing; with the opportunity for each side and its fans to revel and gloat in a gaudy display of extremity--what we have is a World Series that is an exact replica of the current American sociopolitical situation. The polarized results in these games match the polarized nature of the nation.

Which means that, at last, baseball is, at least in this fractious fortnight, the National Pastime once again.]

Sunday, October 26, 2014


To wage WAR, to zip up with FIP, or to quest down the road not taken with QMAX? The fix is in over at all the "advanced metrics" sites, where products that purport to combine predictiveness with probability prove only that they have more quirks than cut-to-the-chase insight.

Yet another case in point is the AL Cy Young choice in 2014, where WAR and FIP tell us that Corey Kluber is the consensus pick. It's interesting to note that these are the only two measures in which Kluber is the #1 choice, as demonstrated in the diagram at left.

Now don't take this as a slap against Corey. He had a fine year, becoming a much-needed ace for the Indians. He's just not quite on the same level (at least not yet...) with "FH."

AKA "King Felix" Hernandez.

WAR and FIP are measures that want to sweep up a lot of information and render them in a sequence of overly reductive equations. Please note that we are not dismissing them out of hand by saying this: we only want to issue a strong reminder that each stat has its limitations and caveats.

Neither of them can take what happened on the field and compare it to a more global probability of "what should have happened" using what actually happened. WAR doesn't even try to do this. FIP claims to do so, but makes a translation based on an equation-based summarization of "what should have happened."

QMAX uses what happens and translates it/compares it with a series of interlocking global probabilities, as represented in the forty-nine squares encompassing its grid category. (Remember that QMAX is an acronym for "Quality Matrix.")

It creates a series of stats that capture both value and shape. As such it is unique amongst all of its fellow measures. When we look at the matrix charts for Felix and Corey, we can actually see something different in their performance from the shape/pattern of the data.

Keeping in mind that the best games for a starting pitcher in QMAX are in the upper left and descend in quality toward the lower right, we can see right away (without any numerical support) that Felix was much better at avoiding games where he was "hit hard" (the region in orange that covers rows 6-7). Corey has nearly three times as many of these starts (8) than Felix (3).

And at the upper left, in the green region known as the "Elite Square," it's clear that Felix is ahead here as well (though Kluber's twelve ES games are nothing to sneeze at).

Each square in the matrix has an expected WPCT based on actual results (usually we use three years' worth of data to establish these--we call them QWVs (pronounced "qwivs"), for "QMAX win values."

When we add all of that up, we arrive at a winning percentage for the starter based on what his actual performance across all the squares in the matrix should produce if everything evens out. That's what WAR and FIP insinuate is the case for their measures, but really isn't.

The numbers for the AL starters show that Kluber had a fine year, but not as good as three other AL starters in 2014:

Two pitchers who missed stretches of the 2014 season due to injury--Garrett Richards and Chris Sale--were more effective than Corey when they were in there. WAR, which is a counting stat, penalizes them for that--which makes a certain kind of sense so long as you don't think of WAR as measuring quality (it's really measuring value).

The QMAX "range data" numbers at the right help to contextualize the results. It turns out that Felix reaches the "elite square" almost half the time--that's equivalent to Clayton Kershaw territory. Corey's 35% is down in the next tier with Sale, Jeff Samardzija, and Felix's teammate Hisashi Iwakuma.

Indeed, one of the reasons why Kluber doesn't rank higher is that his "Hit Hard" percentage (which we eyeballed above in the QMAX chart--orange region, remember?) is just too high to produce a dominant season. Being hit hard in one out of every four starts will knock you and your team out of some games. On the list above, Kluber is tied for tenth in terms of HH%.

The range data shows that Corey is pretty much middle of the pack amongst the top pitchers in the 2014 AL.

It would be ironic if Felix lost the Cy Young voting to Kluber because WAR and FIP actually aligned with starting pitcher win totals (Corey was tied for the most wins in the AL with 18, while Felix, who had seven no-decisions in games where he allowed one run or less, wound up with only 15).

That would demonstrate exactly what we've been asserting for quite some time now: that relying on any single measure to determine quality/value is risky at best and foolish at worst.

The same folks who voted for Felix back in 2010 when he was the best pitcher according to most of the measures (and is the case this year, as we've seen...) really ought to be doing the same in 2014.

Let's look at a few of the QMAX charts for the other notable AL starters in 2014. Garrett Richards was the only pitcher doing "a reverse" ("C" score higher than the "S" score) in the AL. Chris Sale is quite simply a helluva pitcher, and scary as all get-out to watch on the mound, either in the stands or in the batter's box. Max Scherzer was well off his 2013 form, and teams should be cautious about giving him big bucks (though someone will undoubtedly do so).

Finally, Phil Hughes is the new Tommy John. We haven't found anyone with a higher percentage of games in the "TJ" region (lower left, where many hits but no walks can still be successful...) in our database. As the table above notes, that's 59% of his starts.

Can he keep it up? Stay tuned...

Saturday, October 25, 2014


As the World Series stays close despite a dearth of close games, it's actually past the time when we should be trotting out one of our favorite toys.

What's that, you ask? Neither a train set, nor Peter Max's soon-to-be-auctioned collection of classic Corvettes.

No, it's the Quality Matrix, or QMAX "for short"--sorry, have to keep the FQQ (that's "fright quote quotient") up at a certain level of frequency per month or risk being mothballed by our surly sponsor--which, as you doubtless recall, is our tool for measuring starting pitcher performance.

QMAX remains a very fine suite of value and shape stats, with the added bonus of creating a bushelful of matrix charts that will either liven up any East Coast cockfight or make terrific abstract wallpaper for those who are tired of those predictable floral patterns.

And we are surprised--really and truly--to report that the NL race, which we're covering here in the first of two lightning-fast posts, turns out to have been a lot closer than the conventional wisdom indicated.

Measuring as it does a probabilistic accounting of hit and walk prevention, QMAX produces not only raw averages for each of these quality components, but also generates a winning percentage (we call it QWP--pronounced "quip"--for QMAX Winning Percentage).

We tend to think that QWP is the most reliable number to use in this data set, and that it's also the most reliable stat in terms of measuring overall starting pitcher performance. (We've tended to think that for a long time, actually, so perhaps it's more than just "tending", come to think of it.)

Most folks figure that it's a slam dunk for Clayton Kershaw, who had a great season and was rewarded with a great won-loss record (21-3). When WPCTs are that high, even the neo-sabe contingent don't put up much of a fight: it's slack-jaw time for the jackdaws (all except for Mickey Lichtman, who will tell you that none of 'em should ever pitch more than five innings).

But oddly enough, Kershaw was nearly matched in QWP by the Reds' Johnny Cueto, whose hit prevention was actually a bit better (59% of his games in the "S12" rows on the "S"--or hit prevention--axis, as opposed to Clayton's 56%) and who was "hit hard" (games in the "S67" rows...) in only 3% of his starts.

Interesting food for thought--that said, it's unlikely that Cueto is going to come in anything other than a distant also-ran to Kershaw. But Johnny had a helluva year.

A .700 QWP is terrific, although it doesn't resonate in terms of the MVP voting until the value increases to at least .750.  So both Kershaw and Cueto could very easily get mentioned in the lower reaches of the MVP ballot, based on QMAX. (In a year with few offensive standouts, they are likely to do a good bit better in the real-life voting.)

Here are a few more of the QMAX matrix boxes for 2014 NL starters.

Madison Bumgarner's playoff run is actually rather uncharacteristic of his 2014 season. His high S12% (53%) shows that he's eminently capable of stepping up to a dominant performance. For the Giants, they're most fortunate that he's decided to have a sustained run of it in the post season.

The new stat in the "QMAX range data" (sorry--but the FQ police are out there lurking,,,) is HQ. It represents the percentage of starts in which the pitcher gave up at least as many hits as innings. 

Anyone who can get below 30% for this measure is doing quite well...and in this measure Kershaw is actually only fourth best among 2014 NL starters. Oh, he's very close to the lead, but he's behind young Alex Wood of the Braves; the resurrected Jake (Don't Call Me Jesus) Arrieta, who brightened the Cubs' season; and "Dreadlock Johnny" (Cueto). 


Saturday, October 18, 2014


Eleven down, one to go for the Zodiac League.

Libra is that sign that searches for "balance." But, as we'll see, the talent imbalance is likely to make things tough for the Libra "B" team. They are very likely to need a mess of help to stand alone.

But that "A" team has a real troika of hitting talent at the center of its lineup.

And they have a really fine five-man rotation (though we hamstring them a bit by forcing them to take the lesser Hall of Famer, Rube Marquard, in place of a couple of better choices for the #6 slot).

The Hall of Fame quotient is low--but as the saying goes, the meat that is on the bone is cherce...very cherce.

Without further ado, here's that A-team batting order:

Rod Carew, 2b; Mickey Mantle, cf: Jimmie Foxx, 1b; Mike Schmidt, 3b; Chuck Klein, lf; Dave Winfield, rf; Buck Ewing, c; Joe Cronin, ss

Schmidt, Klein and Winfield should have a field day driving in runs in this configuration, with the Mick likely to lead the Zodiac "A" league in runs scored.

The starting rotation will do just fine with Marquard parsed into swing-man parsimony:

Three Finger Brown, Whitey Ford, Jim Palmer, Juan Marichal, Rube Waddell, Rube Marquard

And, hell's bells, you get two Rubes for the price of one this way.

The bullpen isn't too shabby, either:

Dennis Eckersley, Trevor Hoffman, Jeff Reardon, Dick Hall, Bobby Shantz, Grant Jackson

With these guys, you will be able to play post-post-modern baseball with impunity.

Before we go to the "B" team, let's note that the Libras have some excellent players to man the "A" team bench...guys like Gene Tenace, Roy Cullenbine, Bob Bailey, Al Oliver, Jose Bautista, Brian Downing.

That's a very offensive the best sense of the term.

Now, the "B" team batting order isn't shabby (it's the pitching that will most likely prove to be the letdown). Take a look:

Joe Sewell, ss; Fred Clarke, lf; Andrew McCutchen or Wally Berger, cf; Mark McGwire, 1b; Eddie Mathews, 3b; Goose Goslin, rf; Robinson Cano, 2b; Tim McCarver (or, if you force us to play the HOFer, Rick Ferrell...) c

We lean toward McCutchen given a) his greater range of offensive value, b) his more modern mien and c) the addition of another "Mc" to the lineup (though we are not sure just how "Irish" he really is!).

And, as with the "A" team  there are still some fine hitters left to pine away for their chance: Carlos Gonzalez, Ichiro! Suzuki, Jack Fournier, Troy Tulowitzki, Evan Longoria. The "B" team will be a bit more interchangeable with these guys coming off the bench.

But the pitching looks as though it might be a bit sub-optimal in the "B" league...

Here are the starters:

Wilbur Wood, Will White, Jered Weaver, Zack Greinke, Harry Brecheen, Nap Rucker

A lot of Hall of Very Good to be found here, while other "B" squads have a bit more going for them. However, we did make sure that the Libra "B boys" had balance in their rotation--three from the right, and three from the left.

Here's the pen:

Todd Worrell, Randy Moffitt, Craig Lefferts, Kenley Jansen, Brad Ziegler, Darren Oliver

There's no wincing to be had when mentioning these names, of course. But the best guy here is Jansen, who's a big, menacing bag of fun who sometimes goes rather spectacularly up in smoke. These guys are simply a couple of standard deviations to the right of the optimum curve when it comes to how erratic they can be...and even in the Zodiac "B" league, this will present a problem.

But, being Libras, they'll have good old All-American fun no matter what...though they will almost certainly choose to leave Sandra Bernhard at home with her candle collection.

Sunday, October 12, 2014


Even outside Kansas City they are going agog for the Royals.

The winning streak is up to six games--actually, nine if you go back to the middle of the Reagan era, when the Royals were last in the post-season: they rallied for three straight wins against the Cardinals to win what is still their only World Championship.

There is still a long way to go--six more wins, to be exact--but the Royals are starting to exhibit what those who have yet to discard their ouija boards like to characterize as "inevitability." A small, concentrated dose of scrappy playing and several dramatic wins in close games can't help but produce a lot of magical thinking.

The record for most consecutive wins in the post-season is twelve. It has been done twice, by the same team (the New York Yankees), under vastly different circumstances.

The "real" record--twelve consecutive World Seres wins--was set by the Ruth-Gehrig squad in three consecutive sweeps (though by "consecutive" we don't mean in consecutive Series: after sweeping the Pirates and Cardinals in 1927-28, the Yankees took three years off while the Philadelphia A's dominated the AL--then they came roaring back in 1932 to bury the Chicago Cubs).

That mark was "tied" by the 1998-99 squad, which ripped through an ALCS, a WS, and an ALDS before finally dropping a game to the Red Sox in the 1999 ALCS.

Twelve teams have fashioned at least eight consecutive post-season wins. The most recent to do so before the Royals did it: the San Francisco Giants, who had a ten-game post-season skein snapped just a few days ago when the Nationals beat them. (The 1988-89 A's and the 1937-41 Yankees are the other squads with ten straight wins--again, the Yankees punking their opponents in World Series games.)

The "Wins Above Average" by defensive position for the 1969 NL (focusing on the Mets)...
The Giants fashioned a collective 0.90 ERA in those games; only the Orioles, in eight straight wins from 1966-69 (four against the last gasp of the Koufax Dodgers, three against Killebrew's Twins, and one before the roof caved in against the Mets), had a lower ERA in their streak.

Overall, teams with the longest consecutive post-season win streaks are doing so with their pitching: the top twelve squads, each with at least eight straight wins, have fashioned a collective 2.01 ERA.

The Royals haven't quite got that kind of pitching mojo working, at least not yet. But their ERA in the nine-game (thirty-year...) skein is a respectable 2.63.

It could be that baseball needs a kind of "immaculate conception" post-season, the one that comes along once every five decades. The Royals strongly resemble one of baseball's most noted "miracle teams"--the 1969 New York Mets.

True, the Mets won more games--but "by resemble," we mean that their strengths and weaknesses are highly similar. The snapshots of the "Wins Above Average" by position data available for each team at Forman et fils indicate that the two teams were strongest in left field (Cleon Jones for the Mets, Alex Gordon for the Royals), with lesser strength in center (Tommie Agee for the Mets, Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson for the Royals).

They had weak offensive infields, negligible right fielders--but they had solid pitching (though the Royals were more patchy in terms of starers--there is no Tom Seaver to be found anywhere near the 2014 KC rotation).

The other "upset" team in this mix is the team that won an upset World Series exactly one hundred years ago--the 1914 Boston Braves. (Ironically, in this age of sudden mediocrity, the Royals are probably more highly regarded as a potential Series winner than either of the "Miracle" teams.)

What further distinguishes the Royals from the 1969 Mets and the 1914 Braves is the team's lackluster finishing kick: The Braves went 29-7 (.806) from Game 120 to the end of the regular season; that's second best all-time amongst World Series winners (beaten only by the 1942 Cardinals, who went 31-6). Likewise, the Mets were superb down the stretch, finishing 1969 with a 32-11 record starting at game 120.

...and the same chart highlighting the Royals in the 2014 AL have a LOT of similarities.
Not so these Royals, who managed a 24-19 record over their closing 43-game patch in 2014. But they have been making up for lost time--upending the A's in a spasmodic "winner take all" Wild Card game (a bad idea for baseball, as we've noted elsewhere), upsetting a comatose (and overrated) Angels squad, and now giving the Orioles pause.

The "immaculate conception" concept usually means, however, that the team fades away and isn't heard from for a long, long time. The 1914 Braves fit that definition, while the 1969 Mets did squeak their way into the World Series four years later, thanks to a weak division and some clutch starting pitching. But they weren't heard from again for more than a dozen years.

If the Royals win another six games in a row, they'll have
the same canary-swallowing cat-like smiles that Steve'n'Judy
had on display here, way back in 1968, the year before the last miracle...
The Royals would bring post-neo sabermetrics around to a place strongly resembling where its tail exists,  but it won't matter much. They are likely to go the way of all flesh 2015 and beyond, but the midwestern contingent will have a moment of Reaganesque nostalgia to cling to in the long interregnum to follow, where a series of lifeboats will form a circle in the wine-dark sea and speak in hushed tones about that "shining city upon a hill" where everything is up-to-date but curiously out of step.

"Immaculate conception" teams are baseball's point of connection with American exceptionalism, and one could argue that the game and the nation needs something like this to perpetuate its self-illusion. Who are we to argue with that, even if it's as bogus as a three dollar bill? As Stephen Stills, in his shining moment as "ersatz poet in search of a face-saving erectile dysfunction" once opined: "I am yours, you are mine, you are what you are--you make it hard."

Thursday, October 9, 2014


Is it good news or bad news that the number of post-season baseball games continues to expand? We will, herewith, leave the opining to others (you can all exhale now...); herein we are merely counting results.

And what we count here is a small subset of recent post-season activity. Five years' worth (2010-14), to be exact. (You might quibble that it's not a full five years, and you'd be right. Consider it four years and counting.)

Why such a short time frame? A snapshot in time just might, in this case, be more informative and interesting than the complete data set. (We can always do that later...for example, when this year's post-season has concluded.)

More informative? Possibly. What teams have dominated the post-season (which, in its own way, has become a mini-marathon) in five-year clusters? "Domination" might be too strong a abou simply discovered who has played the most post-season games in any five-year stretch? (Or, whose total of post-season games is the highest percentage of any five-year total of post-season games?)

Interesting, yes? Earth-shattering...likely not. But something with which to pass a little time while we wait for the next round of the post-season to commence.

So...would you be surprised to know that the St. Louis Cardinals have played the most post-season games since 2010? As of Tuesday night, they've been in 52 post-season contests, which easily outdistances the Detroit Tigers (38) and the San Francisco Giants (36).

We've organized the 2010-14 post-season performance (at right) by winning percentage. We've color coded teams by the number of post-season games they've played. The Cardinals are the "hottest," so they have the "hot orange" coloring; on the other side of the spectrum, teams with less than five post-season games are displayed in pale blue.

What leaps out from this table is the post-season performance of the San Francisco Giants. With two World Series wins (2010, 2012) to their credit, we could expect that they'd be safely above .500, but to be playing better than .700 ball in the post-season is more than simply stunning.

(Of course, missing the playoffs entirely, as they did in 2011 and 2013, might be part of the recipe for such a stellar WPCT. No "three and out" division series performances to sully things. But--give them credit: when the Giants get to the post-season, they have clearly been able to gear-shift upwards.)

So the question is--how have they done that? As is often the case, Forman et fils can help us to understand that.

It turns out that the Giants are doing it with great pitching. (Which is probably what you'd suspected was the case.) Giants' starters are a combined 18-9 over the timespan covered (beginning with the 2010 post-season and ending with the 2014 division series). The starters' aggregate ERA in these games is 2.44.

While Madison Bumgarner is now anointed as the Giants' best starter, it turns out that he's only 4-3 in the post-season with a 3.08 ERA. That's not bad, but that's actually a bit worse than the overall performance of demoted multiple CYA winner Tim Lincecum (4-2, 3.05).

Matt Cain (currently on the shelf) has been the Giants' post-season ace (4-2, 2.10), and the Giants have been able to replace him with Jake Peavy and Tim Hudson, both of whom stepped up nicely in their first post-season appearances.

But the real "secret weapon" for the Giants--at least since 2012--is Ryan Vogelsong, who's now 3-0 with a 1.19 ERA over 30 1/3 post-season innings. Vogelsong made his fifth consecutive post-season start in which he gave up one run or less on Tuesday night.

And the Giants' bullpen has been superb in the post-season as well. They simply haven't given any games away, and have proven to be great pitchers in tie games--all of which adds up to an overall 8-1 record with a 2.51 ERA.

Aside from fine performances from the three different closers who were in place during each of the Giants' post-season appearances (Brian Wilson in 2010, Sergio Romo in 2012, Santiago Casilla in 2014), Bruce Bochy has gotten amazing work from his two lefties--Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt--who've been on all three post-season squads and have combined to allow just eight hits and three runs (two earned) in 25 2/3 IP.

When you put all of that together, it's probably not all that surprising that the Giants have such a stellar post-season WPCT over the past five years. We'll wait 'til the 2014 post-season comes to an end before undertaking a more systematic examination, but you'd have to give the Giants a solid chance at being in the top five "five-year performers" since the post-season added its "third prong" in 1995. Stay tuned...

Monday, October 6, 2014


Quickly. It's obvious that Giants' swing man Yusmeiro Petit's six scoreless innings in SF's 18-inning win in Game Two of their NLDS vs. the Washington Nationals was nothing less than a superb performance.

But just how rare is it? Who are Petit's counterparts in length of scoreless relief innings in a single game?

Interestingly, none of the other six names on the list with him (all with at least six scoreless relief IP) did their thing in extra-inning games.

Ray Collins (not the actor who played Lt. Tragg on Perry Mason, or Boss Jim Gettys in Citizen Kane...), had the first such game, and it's still the longest scorleess relief performance in the post-season. Collins allowed five hits and no runs over seven innings for the Red Sox in Game 6 of the 1912 World Series, replacing the forgotten Buck O'Brien after he allowed five runs in the first. (O'Brien, who won 20 games for the Sox in 1912, lost twice to the New York Giants in that post-season and was never any good after that.)

The Indians' famous bragster Duster Mails, having gone 7-0 down the stretch during a tumultuous 1920 AL pennant race, got the quick call in the first inning of Game Three vs. Brooklyn. Mails stopped the Robins (it was the second and last pennant for Brooklyn's Wilbert Robinson) on just three hits over 6 2/3 innings, but Brooklyn won the game, 2-1. Mails was heard from again later in the Series, shutting out the Robins, 1-0, in Game Six. (Revenge was sweet for Duster, who'd failed an audition with Brooklyn in 1916.)

Forty-six years later, Moe Drabowsky relieved Dave McNally in Game One of the 1966 series between the Orioles and the Dodgers (who, at this moment at least, have a chance to reconnect in the Fall Classic again this year). It was the third inning, and manager Hank Bauer showed Sparky Anderson just what a "quick hook" was when the Dodgers chipped away at the Orioles' early lead. Drabowsky threw 6 2/3 scoreless innings. The Dodgers never scored another run in the Series.

In 1971, Bruce Kison replaced Luke Walker in the first as the Pirates struggled to contain the Orioles in Game Four. (The O's held a 2-1 lead in the Series at that point). Kison's 6 1/3 scoreless innings (allowing just one hit) allowed Pittsburgh to get back in the game. They won it, 4-3, and went on to beat Baltimore in seven games.

In 1999, Pedro Martinez took the mound in the fourth inning for the Red Sox after Bret Saberhagen and Derek Lowe had each been pounded. His six scoreless innings (eight K's) allowed the Sox to lace up their hitting shoes and carve out a 12-8 win in Game 5 of the ALDS.

The most recent since Petit was veteran lefty reliever Darren Oliver, who blanked the Cardinals for six innings in Game Three of the 2006 NLCS. Oliver's Mets lost the game, 5-0, and eventually lost the series, four games to three.

You may be wondering what is the record for the most scoreless relief innings in a game. Of course, Forman et fils can help you with that (at least back to 1914). The record is held by someone that neither we nor you nor anyone's dog named Boo will know--a pitcher named Bob Osborn (no relation to the longtime TCM host). Fourteen shutout innings for the Cubs vs. the Boston Braves, on May 17, 1927. (The Cubs won, 4-3.)

There is no truth to the rumor that Calvin Coolidge read of Osborn's achievement and decided not to run for re-election.

The full list of 10+ IP scoreless relief appearances is interesting, but we'll save that for another time. One teaser: the most recent pitcher to appear on this list: Dick Tidrow, with 10 2/3 scoreless innings against the Twins on August 25, 1976. You can bet the ranch that you'll never see something like that again in several lifetimes...

Friday, October 3, 2014


Ever since the first "post-season" (a term we'd use to define a concept that began in 1969, when the simplest, most elegant form of baseball meritocracy was retired forever...) there have been tales of the unexpected.

These tales (or events, or occurrences...) come in two major forms:

1) astonishing performances by lesser-known, unheralded or downright maligned individuals;

2) stunning reversals of form by players of otherwise exceptional accomplishment.

(1969 gave us the New York Mets, with a series of indelibly improbable events. A list of these over the ensuing forty-six years that "the post-season" has existed would almost be lengthy enough for a book (and, in fact, might be already: we haven't had time to check.)

We have an example of each "form of astonishment" already in 2014--in a single game, Cardinals-Dodgers NLDS Game #1.

First, Dodger catcher A.J. Ellis, suffering through his worst offensive season, joined the ranks of 141 other hitters by collecting four hits. Ellis' OPS+ was 68 in 2014, which might qualify him for the lowest  in-season OPS+ amongst all those who've collected four (or more) hits in a post-season game. (Let's see...Ryan Theriot in 2011...85 OPS+; Willy Aybar in 2008...94 OPS+...)

Not the lowest--there's Jose Vizcaino in 2000, with four singles in the World Series (Game One) for the Mets, whose  OPS+ that year, in a season split between New York and Los Angeles, was a combined 58.

A. J. had a home run among his four hits yesterday, but it was not part of anything that he or the Dodgers could feel good about, as their ace of aces, Clayton Kershaw, suffered a shocking meltdown in the seventh inning, allowing St. Louis to stage an eight-run rally en route to a 10-9 come-from-behind win. (It was a game that instantly upstaged the roller-coaster ride in the AL Wild Card game, which only two days earlier had staked a claim as one of the post-season's most exciting and calamitous contests--though much of that was dependent on its "sudden death" nature.)

WHICH brings us to our other "random" thought (feel free, of course, to substitute "vagrant" as the adjective in that verbal formation). We are completely turned off by the concept of the  "sudden death" play-in game. Let's count the reasons:

--The so-called "meritocracy" of non-division winners "separating wheat from chaff" is semi-dubious in theory, but is beyond so in practice, since it's entirely possible that division winners can have worse records than the wild card teams.

--"Sudden death" is great for football. It might, in fact, be the reason why that game is such a good fit for the post-modern "lifestyle"--you only have to invest so much time in a narrative, and it's pre-programmed for you. (Notice how much of the new narrative style in television has found a way to insert this into its episodic structure.)

But it's not great for baseball. In the context of a game that has always resolved its post-season with a series of games, it's a false note, an overly manufactured excitement.

No team should be so marginal as to have a "one-and-you're out" in the post-season. (Getting there...yes. If a play-in for a wild card slot is needed, then that is the exception.)

Years (and years) ago, we concocted a radical plan for a post-season that revamped the entire structure into a "mini-season." It was decidedly radical, even having teams play across leagues as part of the journey to the World Series. It even permitted two teams from the same league (gasp!) to wind up squaring off in the Fall Classic. (Based on the nascent notion, already grasped with tongue defiantly in cheek, that the ultimate voyeuristic transgression that baseball could foist off onto its fan base would be to allow for a scenario where the Yankees and the Red Sox could face each other for all the marbles.)

Some twenty years after that foray into surrealist black humor, the idea still makes more sense than any other. Since the Edenic simplicity of the old days is lost to us forever, we need to do something much more creative with the post-season, something that mirrors (in a compressed way) the features of the daily game that make it unique.

We should celebrate that dailiness in a way that combines with the excitement of gradual elimination, but do so in a way that cross-pollinates the competition so that each team plays all of its potential opponents in the post-season.

We won't elaborate (read: belabor) such a process in specifics here. (We might return to it later in the post-season, however.) But such an approach is something worth working toward, even though its chances of adoption are slight (the world of baseball is glacial, except when it isn't: you have to catch lightning in a bottle...or, rather, a group of disgruntled billionaires at the right transport the game into a realm that takes full advantage of its possibilities).