Monday, November 30, 2015


You may dimly remember a series of posts about an obscure stat that lives in the bowels of the data at Forman et fils--a statistical breakout for relief pitcher that they call "Non-save situations."

It appears at first (and quite possibly even second and third) glance to be a catch-all, garbage-like stat, capturing all of the performances by relievers when the game is either well under control (ahead  by four or more runs), or where the team is trailing--and also when the score is tied.

It also captures early inning usages of relievers (prior to the sixth inning) regardless of the game situation, but these are the rarest of the events that cluster into this odd "catch-all" area.

Oddly enough, however, these situations produce a .570 WPCT for the pitchers who get decisions in this "afterthought area." (That WPCT, by the way, is for one hundred and two seasons' worth of data: the won-loss totals for "non-save situation" decisions are 39671 (wins) and 29966 (losses),

When studying World Series teams, the question regarding these games in the context of the question in  our title is rather interesting with respect to assessing the meaning of this "outcome anomaly." Will it prove to be a random function--meaning that all teams, regardless of their overall won-loss record, win around 57% of the decisions that occur from these situations--or is it a function that is defined and controlled by team quality, where better teams have better WPCTs in their "non-save situations" decisions.

Now, if you read those blog posts, you'll already know the answer. It turns out that the function is indeed defined and controlled by team quality. Teams that have won the World Series have an aggregate WPCT of .656 in non-save situation decisions; teams that lost the World Series have an aggregate WPCT of .630 for this breakout.

So it's very likely that the thing that World Series winning teams have done best over the course of baseball history is to generate a significantly higher-than-average WPCT in games where the pitcher getting the decision is working in a non-save situation. Who woulda thunk?

Actually, with the number of decisions occurring in the non-save situation on the increase (due to the rise of reliever innings), it's becoming part of the strategic landscape--and a team with otherwise ordinary performance elsewhere can offset that with a top-flight performance in this obscure area. That was most definitely the case for the Royals in 2015 (24-11, .686 WPCT, 2.92 ERA) and the Giants in the previous season (30-7, .811 WCT, 2.80 ERA).

Thus a "garbage" stat, one apparently deserving the briefest of afterthoughts, is evolving into another key tool in winning games. And, as we noted in the earliest posts about it, it restores meaning in the won-loss stats...consider it another piece of moral relativism stuffed down the throats of those who probably aren't paying attention.

Saturday, November 14, 2015


There are literally hundreds of ways to try to answer the question in the title above...the first thing that needs to be done in order to narrow the focus is to decide what our point of comparison is. Are we comparing World Series champs to all other teams? Are we comparing them to all other playoff teams?

Or are we going to look at them only in terms of their opponents in the World Series?

Prior to 1969, of course, that was the only point of comparison we had. So to keep any potential data set operating on at least a semi-consistent basis, what we propose to look at here (in a series of posts to appear irregularly during the off-season) is what separates World Series winners and losers. So we are performing only a binary comparison here.

Even with that, we still have many ways to skin the cat. What type of performance are we talking about? Is it what happens in the World Series itself? No, that would be too small a sample size. We'd be better off looking at the in-season data for the two teams and seeing if any strong patterns emerge from it.

So--in-season data. What type of data? Pitching? Do we want to look at bullpen performance? Particular layers of that performance? What about hitting? What would be significant enough as a rough guide to capture differences? And will any of them prove to be more than a random pattern?

Well, no way to know without just diving in somewhere and hoping that it's not the shallow end of the pool. Reaching in semi-blindly, we're choosing to begin by looking at the teams' hitting with two outs. That's a large enough data sample in each season to be meaningful: we're not down to something that's only a tenth of the total plate appearances.

It turns out that this particular split data goes back to 1957, with a few other seasons prior to that available as Retrosheet fills in more play-by-play data further in the past. Interestingly enough, when we use the sOPS+ value from Forman et fils as a way of gauging how much better than average, we find out two interesting facts. First, World Series winners are, on average, 9% better than their overall league average in hitting with two outs. Second, the 1957 Milwaukee Braves, one of the very first teams for whom we have this data, have the highest sOPS+ value of any World Series winner, at 137.

The 2015 Royals, the most recent World Series winner, rank twelfth on this list, with a 119 sOPS+.

Oddly enough, the 1985 Royals--the last KC team to win a World Series, rank dead last (62nd) in this stat, with an 85 sOPS+.

The other interesting thing here is that we are seeing a lot of recent World Series winners on either extreme of this list. Particularly unusual is the fact that the San Francisco Giants, in all three incarnations of their recent even-year dominance of the World Series, were very poor performers when hitting with two outs.

So now what we want to know is: how does this stack up against the teams they beat in the World Series? All of the above wouldn't mean jack if the losing team in the Series had a higher sOPS+ in plate appearances with two outs. And it turns out that it is lower--not a lot lower (104), but lower.

But there is another nuance we should explore here--namely, when two teams face off in the World Series, does the fact that one of these teams performs better with two outs of any predictive value with respect to who is the eventual World Champion? Or is this simply another random variable?

The answer: there is some possibility that it is, in fact, an indicator--particularly in recent times. Measuring the data from the first year where we have both winners and losers available (1957), we see that the eventual World Series winner has had a higher sOPS+ when hitting with two out in 32 out of 54 Fall Classics, or 59% of the time.

But this was a 50/50 proposition from 1960 through 1982; since then, the odds are closer to 2 to 1 in favor of the World Series winner having a better 2-out hitting performance during the regular season that the World Series loser.

Interestingly, as the teams that make the World Series become more subject to the random forces that have taken hold due to the expanded post-season, the more robust this trend has seemed to become. In the past 20 World Series dating back to 1996, the team with better 2-out hitting has won 14 times (70%). And as the chart at right shows, the five-year smoothed ten-year average for this data shows an even higher correlation than that over the past ten years.

Small sample size? Of course. And none of this takes into account all of the intermediate post-season matchups that occur along the way to the Fall Classic. But it is interesting to note that this trend has strengthened even as teams in the World Series are declining in average WPCT due to the randomizing effects of the expanded post-season.

This is one we will have to keep an eye on moving forward...

Sunday, October 25, 2015


Let's sum up what we know about World Series geography in a succession of visual displays.

First, the overview of the percentages for the nine categories with at least one incidence (we're still looking for the first "South-South" World Series (in the table at right).

Since 1961, "East-Midwest" (the geographic matchup that we have for 2015) has been the highest (22%) but the incidences are much more spread around the categories now.

That's especially the case from 1998 to the present.

What about summing things up by basic region? (That is, East-Midwest-West-South, as we did up to a point in the previous post.) We really only need to do this from 1961 to the present, since the West and South simply didn't exist as regions until then.

This will look best in a "running total," and in a chart rather than a table, so here goes.

We can see that while the West got into the act early, the South languished and didn't get into the World Series action until 1991.

(And we should also remember that the Southern region consist of just five teams out of MLB's total of thirty, so it's likely to be trailing the pack. The Midwest region actually has twice as many teams in it than the South (with ten), so by rights they should have the highest percentage of team in the WS over this time span, but they don't: the East does.

Finally, here's a table that sums up what's been going on by region with respect to the World Series since 1991. We wind up at the bottom with the total number of WS appearances for each region as the numbers add up.

We also get the color coding for the times when there are years where the World Series occurs entirely with a single region (EE, MM, WW...remember, no "SS WS" has happened yet).

We can see that it's the Eastern teams who've managed to get into the most "all-region WS," with three over the past twenty-five years,

And we can see just how the West languished, reaching the WS just once in the first nine years of the time period, and not really showing something like a normal distribution until as late as 2010.

When you look at it this way, the South (with half as many teams in its region as the Midwest) has done a good job of holding its own.

And, in fact, the Midwest has had to stage a rally over the past five years to slip ahead, with a team in the WS in each season.

At some point we'll put all this together with which region actually won all of these World Series, but we'll save that until we know who wins this one. Stay tuned...

Saturday, October 24, 2015


Well, now we know what the "geographical configuration" of the 2015 World Series will be--with the Royals eliminating the Blue JAys, it'll be "East-Midwest."

That category (EM for short) is one of ten possible geographic "collisions" that exist due to baseball's franchise movement and its incremental expansion.

The "West" came into the picture in 1958; the South in 1962 (with the Houston Colt .45s, later the Astros).

As you'll see at the bottom of the chart (at right), the South has insinuated itself into the World Series 20% of the time since 1961...

...but the South has yet to crash through with that tenth category, the "South-South" World Series, a situation partially explained by the fact that the playoff-bound teams from the South have seemingly found themselves in the same league most of the time, making it extremely difficult to bring off the still-elusive "SS" World Series.

And that's why, in case you were wondering, there is no column on the chart for the "SS" series. When it happens, we'll add it.

Since '61, East-Midwest (EM) and East-West (EW) World Series have been the most plentiful, though our breakouts (1961-80 and 1981-2015) show that these two categories have faded into the pack over the past thirty-five years...

...with the East-South (ES) matchup having the highest preponderance (15%) over the past thirty-five years, thanks in large part to the 90s Braves.

If we measure from 1991, when the Braves began their run of World Series appearances (augmented by the Marlins in '97 and '03, the Rays in '08, and the Rangers in '10 and '11), teams from the South have appeared in 44% of the World Series over the past twenty-five years.

The "all-Midwest" (MM) World Series had a bit of a flurry in the 80s, but it then went nearly twenty years before manifesting again in 2006 (Cardinals-Tigers).

Overall, however, Midwest teams are well-represented in the Fall Classic over the past thirty-five years, appearing in 47% of the World Series since 1981 (and, like the South, in 44% since 1991).

Teams from the East have matched the Midwest's performance, appearing in 47% of the World Series since '81.

It's the West that's lagged behind: they have made it to the WS only 36% of the time over that time frame.

We'll sum up the breakouts in an aggregate chart next.


Since blogs work backwards, we'll be our usual prickly selves and reverse the reverse order, thus beginning (perversely) at the beginning.

As noted in the previous post (which is behind you, not in front of you...) World Series geography--the categories of regional identity for the two teams facing off in the Fall Classic--has expanded as baseball itself has grown.

Back in the day (pre-1953, to be exact), baseball had nine teams in the East and seven in the Midwest, and thus there were only three possible categories:

--East-East (EE)
--Midwest-Midwest (MM)
--East-Midwest (EM)

That changed, as we also noted previously, when the Dodgers and Giants moved west, giving us three new categories:

--East-West (EW)
--Midwest-West (MW)
--West-West (WW)

The Dodgers managed to inaugurate one of these new categories before the first expansion era hit, in 1959, with their playoff win over the Braves (then in their Milwaukee way-station between Boston and Atlanta) depriving us of another "all-Midwest" World Series.

The chart at left gives you a visual fix on the narrow geographical bandwidth of baseball's post-season, which was also quaintly "narrow" in the sense that the World Series, in those days, was--as it is increasingly hard to fathom--the only post-season baseball at all.

The "golden age" of East-East World Series is clearly to be found in the early history of the post-season, from 1903-24, when those matchups accounted for 52% of the World Series. The other two categories (remember, the only other two possible categories at the time...) split the remaiming World Series evenly.

There was a "last hurrah" for the "EE" category right after WWII, when eight of ten World Series from 1947-56 featured teams from the East (in fact, all but one of these teams being from New York).

But clearly the 1925-60 period was dominated by East-Midwest (EW) matchups, with "Midwest-Midwest" fading to a distant third. And the overall story for the pre-expanion period is that the two major categories (EE and EW) each accounted for the same percentage of World Series matchups (40%).

Of course, that will all change in the expansion era. But, since blogs work backwards, you already know that...

Thursday, October 22, 2015


We are not going to have an "all Midwestern World Series" this year, thanks to the New York Mets. (Which, from one perspective, is regrettable, as we tend to think that the Chicago Cubs, with math-meth-"magician" Joe Maddon at the helm, would have made a better story had they wound up doing in the World Series what they just did in the NLCS. (All the better for Theo Epstein's self-burnishing "legacy," don't you know.)

But snark is just a side dish here--the question that we are asking here (though the title of the post isn't quite in sync with it...) is how many World Series have there been with all-Midwestern teams facing off against each other?

When, for example, was the last "all-Midwestern" World Series?

Answer: 2006, when the St. Louis Cardinals swept the Detroit Tigers (thanks, in part, to some wild throwing--to first base--by Tigers relief pitchers).

We'll have some charts on this tomorrow, but let's at least answer the basic question here. First, however, let's anatomize the categories that exist for a geographic rendering of the World Series.

For many years, there were only two such categories--East and Midwest. Franchise movement altered that configuration in the fifties, with the West coming into the MLB picture in 1958 (Dodgers and Giants to the coast). The first expansion added the South, with Houston (particularly with their original "south-western" nickname, the Colt .45's). The South added more teams via franchise movement in the sixties (Braves) and seventies (Rangers), and would later on colonize Florida.

The West would add teams via expansion (Angels, Padres, Pilots--later replaced by the Mariners), eventually adding Arizona and Colorado. The A's would move to Oakland.

So, from the original possible categories of East-East (EE), East-Midwest (EM) and Midwest-Midwest (MM) that still operated by themselves as late as 1957, we have further categories of East-West (EW), Midwest-West (MW), West-West (WW), East-South (ES), Midwest-South (MS) and West-South (WS) that came into existence as MLB expanded.

The answer to the basic question--how many "all-Midwestern" (MM) World Series have there been--is fifteen. There have been five since the first year of expansion (1961):

2006 STL-DET
1987 STL-MIN
1985 STL-KCR
1982 STL-MIL
1968 STL-DET

That's rather monolithic for the NL representative, come to think of it....

More tomorrow...stay tuned.

Sunday, October 11, 2015


Chase Utley is a borderline Hall-of-Famer whose late start as a major leaguer has doomed him to a long, possibly infinte Veterans Committee purgatory. All across his career he's shown a command of the "little things" that win ball games.

Two of the most prominent of these "little things" are extra OBP in the form of walks, and superior, intelligent baserunning (as measured by stolen base success rate and out-on-the-basepaths stats).

All of the evidence surrounding Utley suggests that he is a thinking man's player.

Er,'re not on the base--and you've just screwed up
how people will remember you for the rest of recorded time...
So it's a "dirty old shame" (as Karen Carpenter would croon for us, had she not been the victim of her own takeout slide) that Chase Utley is now likely to be remembered mostly for a play on the basepaths that looks uglier and uglier the more it is replayed.

Worse yet is the unconscionable set of errors made by the umpiring crew in interpreting and ruling on what should have been the result of that play--which not only resulted in a needless season-ending injury to Mets' shortstop Ruben Tejada, but allowed the Dodgers to score four runs in an inning when the proper call would have resulted in them scoring none at all.

The irony is that the umpiring crew made one of the most egregious errors in baseball history while using the very system designed to prevent such errors from occurring.

So, as the title of this post indicates, what we have on our hands now is a "big painful mess that needs the rug the size of Jupiter in order to be swept out of view."

Utley's "slide" was probably not 100% intentional. It's one of those things that happens in athletic contests on rare and unfortunate occasions when two people moving in opposite directions wind up moving right into each other's path. The results are cataclysmic.

But the fact that Utley was uninjured as a result of the collision indicates that his intent was of a magnitude that cannot be overlooked by MLB. Plays of this nature, when there is even a scintilla of evidence pointing toward non-accidental intent, must be legislated in a way that makes it clear that no grey areas will be tolerated. The present and future health of players, particularly middle infielders, needs just as much special attention from MLB as is the case with catchers.

The simplest solution for baseball when such a play occurs--one that results in an injury--is to eject the player who caused the injury. Eject him immediately and without exception or recourse to appeal. (This does not apply, of course, when two teammates collide--only when injuries occur on the basepaths.)

The "big painful mess," aside from Tejada's needless season-ending injury, is that Utley was not called out (for any of three legitimate reasons which were, against all odds, completely overlooked) and a double play imposed as a penalty for causing the injury. (Replays indicate that Tejada was attempting to position himself for a throw to first when Utley slammed into him.)

We've previously suggested that players who cause injury, whether this way or by charging the mound (Carlos Quentin-->Zack Greinke), should be suspended for the length of the time that it takes the injured player to return to action. Applying that in this case, Utley should be suspended for the rest of the post-season.

This will make teams think twice about condoning the type of behavior that creates unnecessary risk on the playing field--something that a smart player like Utley certainly knew was the case, and had the option to not "put into play" in last night's game.

Joe Torre, who is getting too old to be involved in such serious matters, is almost certain to whitewash this--his hands are tied by the shabby actions of everyone involved in last night's "painful mess." But MLB can institute a coherent, consistent policy with respect to this "terror on the basepaths."


We told you the previous post in this ongoing series, on the final day of the 2015 regular season, we noted that we had hit 99 on the complete game list and that we would have at least one more that day to keep the "quest for double figures" in play for another year.

And so it was...

10/4 Cole Hamels, TEX (vs. LAA, 3-hitter, 9-2 win)

Interestingly, there were only 98 games in 2015 where pitchers threw 8 2/3 or more IP, regardless of whether they had a complete game. That should remind us that a sub-set of CGs are games where the pitcher throws eight innings--and, of course, loses. There were 19 such games in 2015.

A look at the official stats will show you that there were actually 104 CGs in 2015...but once again we remind you that those extra four CGs were due to games called early due to rain. (We do not recognize any CGs of less than 8 IP as legitimate.)

So...clearly we can't get any closer without dipping down into double figures. Next year projects to be another down-to-the-wire type of affair with respect to this endangered species...

Sunday, October 4, 2015


We were taking a snooze with our phone--a phrase that might describe most of the Western world these days--opening one eye, then the other, keeping tabs on the final day (no more plural "daze" for the 2015 season, that's for sure...) and we found ourselves corn-fed over to Sports on Earth, where stringer extraordinaire Paul Casella provided a shocking little data point.

What was that shock? No teams in the past twenty years (1995-2014) who played .700+ ball in September (to keep our "cred" with those who genuflect in Mecca-esque formation to Forman et fils, let's specify that as being "Sept-Oct" in the monthly splits...) have gone on to win the World Series.

Well, holy hangnail...that actually is a shocker, and Casella doesn't quite deserve some of the snark he's getting in the comments section over there (we think most of those comments are some kind of whacked linguistic algorithm created to simulate human beings, part of the meta-sophistry of post-modern least we hope real people aren't that ignorant and mean-spirited).

But we do think Casella should have provided one additional piece of context, just so he wouldn't be vulnerable to the "freak show stat" accusation.

What's that? Why, of course, it's the September-(October!) WPCT of the teams who won the World Series.

We've taken the liberty of accessing Forman et fils for that data, and it's what you see at right. As you can see, 1995-2001 was a "cold spell" for World Champs in the month prior to the post-season, with no teams playing over .600 and an average WPCT of just .525.

In the past thirteen years, however--that's 2002-2014--the eventual World Champs have been a lot better in the season's final month, with ten teams playing over .600, and seven over .650 (but, yes, as Casella noted, none over .700). The aggregate WPCT in the final month over the past 13 years is .625.

We'll update this with the final Sept-Oct WPCTs of the 2015 playoff teams. However, a preview: the only post-season team with a .700+ WPCT during the last month (and purportedly doomed to fall short of winning the World Series...) is--you guessed it--the Chicago Cubs.

2015: COMPLETE GAMES #88-#99

Yes, that's right. We are down to the last day of the 2015 season, and we are sitting on 99 complete games. (Now, we know that the total at Forman et fils says 103, but please recall that we don't "recognize" short-inning CGs--any of them that are less than eight innings in length).

So if we can get through today without another CG, we will (according to us, at any rate) have achieved the next level in baseball extinction.

We aren't betting on it happening today, however. There are 32 team-games today, and odds are good that there will be at least one CG out of that mix.

Staying with our log of 2015 CGs, here are the most recent twelve of them that have occurred since our last accounting:

#88 (9/12) Madison Bumgarner, SF (vs. SD, one-hit ShO, 9Ks)
#89 (9/15) Josh Tomlin, CLE (vs. KC, a 2-1 loss)
#90 (9/15) Jon Lester, CHC (vs. PIT, 2-1 win, 5-hitter)
#91 (9/16) Jorge de la Rosa, COL (vs. LAD, a 2-1 loss)
#92 (9/21) Jeff Samardzija, CHW (vs. DET, one-hit ShO)

#93 (9/22) Jake Arrieta, CHC (vs. MIL, three-hit ShO, 11Ks)
#94 (9/25) Rich Hill, BOS (vs. BAL, two-hit ShO, 10Ks)
#95 (9/25) Carlos Carrasco, CLE (vs. KC, one-hit ShO, 15Ks)
#96 (9/29) Clayton Kershaw, LA (vs. SF, one-hit ShO, 13Ks)
#97 (9/30) Mike Leake, SF (vs. LAD, two-hit ShO)

#98 (10/2) Alfredo Simon, DET (vs. CHW, a 2-1 loss)
#99 (10/3) Max Scherzer, WAS (vs. NYM, no-hitter, 17Ks)

We remain on the cusp...

A few quick facts related to 2015 CGs:

--Pitchers' WPCT in these games, which had a slow start this year, eventually returned to something close to the historical average (.778, 77-22).

--Two AL teams, the Royals and the Astros, have had by far the most CGs thrown against them this year, with ten and eight respectively. The Royals, as befitting a season where they've continued last year's post-season overachievement into an entire adjacent year, have managed to win four of those games, which (as you'd suspect) is the highest total for that in 2015.

--Another AL team, the Indians, has the most CGs by its pitchers this year, with a total of 11.

Some may say that CGs have become as scarce as they are trivial. But somehow they become more intriguing as they become more endangered. Just how far will this trend go? Would altering the strike zone a la 1962-63 produce an uptick, or are baseball insiders now so locked into the mega-bullpen mishegoss that even a full return to deadball-era offense wouldn't turn the tide?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015


Those ever-lovin' Royals have made it into the history books again.

The team handed the most paradoxical of all possible volitional acts in the world of baseball--love bestowed uncritically by erstwhile "sabermetricians"--has found a way to undercut that devotion even while achieving post-season success for the second straight year (yes, yes, you'd really better stop the presses before they overheat and explode).

How have they done that, you ask? By simply swinging the bat. 

KC has become the first team to have back-to-back appearances in the post-season boasting offensive totals where their team total for batters' walks is below 400 BB. 
It's only the ninth time a playoff team has had 399- BB since 1914. As the chart at right shows, until the Royals did it for the first time in 2014 it had only occurred once in the past eighty years.

And now they've done it again.

We used to think that teams who didn't add to their OBP dimension by drawing more walks than the league average were doomed to failure. (Most of the playoff-bound teams with ultra-low walk totals were average offenses at best.)

This precept is probably still more true than not, but leave it to the Royals to wave a large, counterintuitive bear claw at those of us trying to get through our silly vacation drive in a National Park to be named later without being mauled to death.

The Royals are proving that the sabermetricians who love them are forced, if not to look the other way, then at least to keep their car windows closed as they cruise through the post-season. 


The Quality Matrix (QMAX) verifies what a number of other analysts and the other numbers suggest--it's a tight, tight race for the 2015 NL Cy Young Award.

For those who've crawled under a rock at any point over the past twenty years, QMAX was the first of the "counterintuitive" performance measures for starting pitchers, utilizing a matrix grid to measure performance quality and then calculating a purely probabilistic performance value, the "QMAX winning percentage" (with the impish acronym of QWP, or "quip" for short).

With several tweaks over the years to better represent total bases allowed per start, QMAX is better than ever and we remain convinced that it provides the most accurate set of measures for starting pitcher performance.

For 2015 in the National League, QMAX shows a close three-way race between Jake Arrieta of the Cubs (whose revised pitching style strongly reminds us of Denny McLain), and the right-left combo of the Dodgers, Zach Greinke and Clayton Kershaw, who've already collected three CYAs between them.

The QMAX matrix boxes for the six leading pitchers in the league (in alpha order: Arrieta, Gerrit Cole of the Pirates, Jacob DeGrom of the Mets, Greinke, Kershaw, and Max Scherzer of the Nationals) are displayed on the right.

We see that Arrieta has the most "1S" games (the top row of the matrix box), His second-half performance lifted the Cubs away from the pack and (as we write this a week later than the date on the post--amazing how we do that, ain't it?) into the NLDS with yet another 1,1 game in the wild-card shootout game, where he outpitched the Pirates' Cole.

Greinke did not dominate in "1S" games to the same extent, but he made up for that with a bushel of "2S" games, tighter control (as measured by the "C" axis of the chart--the columns that classify walk prevention) and few "hit hard" games (the bottom two rows which depict what are generally the worst outings of starting pitcher).

Kershaw's matrix chart is similar to Greinke's. After a slow start, Kershaw pitched almost as well over his last 25 starts as Arrieta did over his last 20 (at least according to QMAX: the ERA values differ a bit more, but it's clear that ERA can be affected by transient factors, particularly in smaller sample sizes).

QMAX tells us that the Mets' DeGrom was the fourth best starter in the NL in 2015, with only a few stray "ultra-bad" outings (the "7S" row) that betrayed him.

Cole and Scherzer, despite either excellent won-loss records or ultra-impressive individual games (Cole's .700+ WPCT, Scherzer's two no-hitters), were a bit further down the pantheon. The big problem for these two was a higher number of "hit hard games"--Scherzer in particular (a total of twelve starts in which he gave up more hits than innings pitched, and a stretch in August where he was extremely susceptible to the long ball).

We put the matrix box info together into a summary report that captures the essential performance data--the percentages of games within key regions on the chart: the "Success Square" (the not-quite-square green region, where pitchers win from fifty-five to ninety-five percent of the time); the "Elite Square" (the interior yellow region where the average team WPCT for these games is over .800; the "S12" or "top hit prevention" region, where Greinke and Arrieta hit over sixty percent of the time; the previously mentioned "hit hard" region, where Greinke and Kershaw were both under ten percent; and other measures of more counterintuitive success regions ("Power Precipice" or high walk-low hit, in the region at upper right, "Tommy John" or high hit-low walk, in the region at lower left); plus measures of control ("C1, "C13", capturing the values for games cut across the columnar data instead of the rows, which measure that elusive concept known as "stuff).

When we do that, we get the table above, which suggests that Greinke is the narrow winner, by virtue of a better score in the basic QMAX averages, appearing the three rightmost columns.

Our guess is that Arrieta will win the Cy, as he's a major part of the Cubs' overreach into the playoffs thanks to a simply tremendous stretch run where his QMAX average was down in regions achieved over full seasons by pitchers such as Bob Gibson in 1968 and Pedro Martinez in 2000. To be exact, from June 21 to the end of the season: 1.95 "S", 2.15 "C", 4.10 "T", .830 QWP. That's hard to argue with, and, for once, we won't.


It's essentially a two-man race for the Cy Young Award in the 2015 AL.

Two lefties--veteran David Price, whose 230-mile relocation from Detroit to Toronto was a significant component in the Blue Jays' drive to the AL East division title, and Dallas Keuchel, whose steady performance (particularly at home) was central to the Houston Astros' ability to hang on despite a rocky second half (just 28-30 from August 1st to the end of the season)--were the league's best starting pitchers.

The Quality Matrix (QMAX for short), invented in these parts some twenty years ago, gives it to Keuchel by virtue of him having a larger number of "top hit prevention games" (the S12 region, the top two rows in the QMAX matrix chart).

Particularly decisive was Keuchel's higher number of "1S" games (and his lead in 1,1 games, which tipped his "quality winning percentage" (abbreviated "QWP") higher as a result of a more marked probability of success in such games (the "1S" row produces a projected WPCT of .860; the 1.1 square is better than that, with a .915 WPCT over the past three seasons).

As a result, Keuchel's QWP (.654) gives him just a bit of distance from Price (.630) in the CYA race.

Here are the top six starting pitchers in the AL according to QMAX. Felix Hernandez was hit hard a good bit between late May and late August--definitely much more of a Jekyll-Hyde performance from him than in any previous season.

Sonny Gray was ahead of the pack in mid-August, but gave ground down the stretch. Sonny has a slighter build than the others on this list: he might need a little extra care in how he's used in order to avoid what looks like a case of wearing down as the season goes on.

Thursday, September 17, 2015


We started to write the title of this post in the form of a question...then stopped ourselves.

We momentarily forgot exactly how much we loathe that faux formulation.

We don't want to either lead you to water or make you drink--we figure many of you are drunk enough already, and don't need to get any wetter than you already are.

So...on that cheery note, we gear-shift into expository mode, with the thesis spread out like that patient etherized on the table notionalizing the claim that we just might have lived through the great "golden age" of high-walk hitters.

The first table-and-chart data, submitted here for your approval, would seem to indicate that such is the case.

For goodness' sakes, look at the record-setting number in 2000 (17 hitters with 100+ BBs).

And look at the spike in the five-year average for 100+ BB players--a dozen walkmen (alas, sans headphones...) at the peak of the chart in 2003.

Looks like a slam dunk for our recent past (2003 also being that wonderful year in which good 'ol Dubya smirked at us in his flight suit with his "mission accomplished" claptrap--those of us who weren't led to the Kool-Aid know just what was actually "accomplished" while Georgie Boy fiddled with his zipper...) but, hey, there could be a surprise coming...

--and it ain't even October, when many of the most disgusting surprises occur, particularly in a "tinkle-on-your-neighbor land" where every year is now seemingly an "election" year.

Actually, many of you won't be surprised to discover that the above data was somewhat massaged and manipulated. While it's actually true (as in the numbers aren't faked...), it's still an inaccurate representation of the percentage of possible high-walk hitters that existed in any given year over the history of the game.

Why's that? Because the simple count-up of these guys doesn't take into account how many possible hitters there are in seasons with differing numbers of teams. We must remember that there are nearly twice as many teams in baseball now than was the case in 1960.

We have to adjust for that, just as we should adjust for the shocking revelation that the Republican clown is not the best use of your entertainment dollar--hell, tearing off your toenails with a pair of pliers is actually less painful.

When we adjust for the number of possible hitters in baseball, and recalibrate the "counting" numbers into percentages, we get the true picture of when the "golden age" of high-walk players occurred.

Those who've dared to delve into the bowels of this blog, or who've read the mysterious but not musty back issues of BBBA, will know that this "golden age" occurred in the years immediately after World War II, with 1949 being the peak year.

And the "percentage of possible" table and chart demonstrate this for us. We had a nice run of "walkmen" in the late 90s-early 00's, but it doesn't match the levels achieved in the late 40s.

And, by the percentages, the decade we're in now--the terrible teens, as they will probably be called at some not-too-distant point in the future--is actually putting up high-walk player percentages more akin to the big-strike-zone 60s or the deadball era.

That means we have about as much overall variety from hitters in the present-day game that we have from the "individuals" in that clown car.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

2015: COMPLETE GAMES #73-#87

Over the past 22 days, there have been 15 more CGs, including two no-hitters (Mike Fiers, #75, HOU vs LAD; Jake Arrieta, #78, CHC vs LAD--has there ever been a post-season team that was no-hit twice in a season?).

Here is the rundown:

#73--Alfredo Simon, DET 8/20 (one-hit ShO vs. TEX)
#74--Chris Archer, TBR 8/20 (one-hit ShO vs. HOU)
#75--Mike Fiers, HOU 8/21 (no-hitter vs. LAD)
#76--Justin Verlander, DET 8/26 (one-hitter vs. LAA)
#77--Derek Holland, TEX 8/30 (three-hit ShO vs. BAL)

#78--Jake Arrieta, CHC 8/30 (no-hitter vs. LAD)
#79--R.A. Dickey, TOR 9/2 (four-hitter vs. CLE)
#80--Clayton Kershaw, LAD 9/2 (six-hitter vs. SFG, 15 Ks)
#81--Chris Rusin, COL 9/3 (six hitter vs. SFG)
#82--Josh Tomlin, CLE 9/4 (four-hitter vs. DET)

#83--John Danks, CHW 9/4 (seven-hitter vs. KCR)
#84--Wade Miley, BOS 9/5 (five-hitter vs. PHI)
#85--Bartolo Colon, NYM 9/5 (nine-hit ShO vs. MIA)
#86--Kyle Gibson, MIN 9/6 (six-hit loss to KCR)
#87--Colby Lewis, TEX 9/11 (two-hit ShO vs. OAK)

For the first time in 2015, the projection for CGs has exceeded 100 (it's at 100.3 as of this morning). We have three weeks of the season to go...looks like it could go right down to the final day.

Sunday, September 6, 2015


So just how do the teams in our post-modern post-season structure belly up to the bar for fall ball? How many times do teams that make the playoffs have poor months along the way? And is August the "month of decision" for most of these teams, or does September produce as much excitement as the loopy Lords suggest is the case?

We will have to beg off on Question #3 for now, because we haven't gone back to run the numbers yet. (Fortunately, our current double wild-card thingee is a mercifully recent phenomenon, so we should be back with those answers at season's close.)

We suspect that the chart (at right) will answer some or all of the other questions, however. We have five months of the 2015 season broken out into the 30 WPCTs in each month--a total, thus far, of 150 WPCT data points (we are leaving the team names out to protect the guilty and to keep the chart from frying your eyes).

What we see here is that only eight of 150 monthly WPCTs for the teams currently in position to make the 2015 post-season were under .500. That's 5.3% of the WPCTs. Not a lot of margin for error--at least not this year--where it seems that August has separated the wheat from the chaff (barring any spectacular tailspins...can you say Cubbies, anyone?).

What we see here is that August is clearly a month of "separation"--six playoff-bound teams played over .650 ball during the month. (The WPCTs of currently playoff-bound teams are shown in bold type.)

We should note, for purposes of symmetry, that there are six instances of teams playing over .600 ball in any given month and not being (at least not currently...) playoff-bound. The most notable of these teams: the Minnesota Twins, who were 20-7 in May but have fallen behind the Texas Rangers for the second wild-card slot.

August is also the only month where no playoff-bound team played under .500. April, which had close to as many top-performing teams as August, had two playoff-bound teams (the Rangers and the Toronto Blue Jays) under .500--with the Rangers starting out in a big hole (.333).

We'll look at all this more deeply when we get to the end of the year...stay tuned.

Monday, August 31, 2015


As always, apologies for the scramble--there is just too much happening all at once these days...

We want to examine, as simply as possible, the claims made by various members of the "me-me-media" concerning the purported proliferation of young talent in the game during the 2015 season. Are we living through a year that offsets all of this peculiar (even by American standards...) political buggery by virtue of the fact that a crop of fuzzy-cheeked Hall of Famers are parachuting into our consciousness?

Sure, sure, the me-me-media folks didn't put it that way--and why would they slam together the two areas in American culture that wonk the wonk without walking the talk? Really, now, what's in it for them? We need rosy news somewhere, n'est-ce pas, so why not get teary-eyed about young athletes while they still stir our hearts and loins?

But the question, of course, is whether 2015 is a year where young superstars are mega-abundant at levels never seen before. And the answer to that question is to be found, as it often is, in two of our patented "decade-year" charts.

The first chart shows us all of the players aged 23 and younger who qualified for the batting title and had OPS+ values of 100 or higher in any given season. While this doesn't directly address the issue of Hall of Fame talent because it's not restricted to "dominant" seasons by young hitters (some of whom, in fact, flame out...), it does show us the ebb and flow of good-to-great young hitting talent over the course of baseball history.

Seasons with numbers in white are ones with three leagues;
seasons with numbers in blue are expansion years.
In other words, it actually shows us something more than what we were originally asking, which is (usually, at least...) a good thing.

What the chart shows us is that young players were exceptionally abundant in the primordial years of the sport, when the playing conditions were more primitive and careers were shorter. The start-up of the professional game clearly began with something of a selection bias, which explains the high averages of  good-to-great young hitters in the 1870s and 1880s.

After that, there's a lull in great young hitting talent until 1909-10, which ushers in a solid little spike in the 1910s. We have a few small spurts (late 20s, late 30s-early 40s), but there is no big spike again until the 60s and 70s...and, despite continuing expansion, the amount of young hitters having good-to-great offensive seasons has drifted downward over the past three-and-a-half decades.

2015 is definitely an up year, but it is not a dramatic increase. (True, there are some young players, such as Keith Schwarber and Carlos Correa, who don't show up on this list, but qualifying for the batting title is a more than reasonable data constraint for such a study.)

Now let's look at this from the "percentage of available hitter slots" perspective. Here we take the raw number of good-to-great young hitters in a season and divide it into the number of possible hitting slots available in the league. When we do that, we take into account the fact that there are more of these hitting slots available in the post-expansion era.

And when we do this, it tends to level out the data a bit more--and it explains why some people think that the influx of young hitters in 2015 is such a big deal. We see the early selection bias in baseball first two decades even more clearly; we see that the 1910s are cut down some due to the existence of the Federal League.

We see that the 50s weren't quite as bad as the raw data made them look, and the 60s and 70s weren't quite so spectacular because expansion created more available hitting slots.

And we see that young hitting talent in the baseball hasn't been over the historical average (4.3%) since 1992. Baseball's offensive explosion in the nineties may have been aligned with players in their young prime (24-27) coming into their own just as conditions began to seriously favor them.

As you can see, good-to-great young hitting seasons bottomed out in the 2000s--part of a long-term downward trend that had a brief reversal in 2005-7. The uptick in 2013 was overlooked because there were no real "supporting" players (like Schwarber and Correa this season) to add subsidiary bulk to the group.

So, with the subsidiary bulk in play in 2015, and a bonafide uptick to boot, it's easy for some people to get overly excited about the crop of young players out there and hype them prematurely.

We'll know a lot more about this in 2017, when we see if any of these hitters are flashes in the pan.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

2015: COMPLETE GAMES #61-#72

Busy, busy, busy--and the 2015 season keeps chugging along. Next time around we'll print a new calendar chart for complete games...

It took a week for CGs to surface in August, but the activity has been "up-stepped" (you're welcome, "Fright Quotes R Us"...) since then, with twelve complete games in eleven days from 8/7 to 8/17. (And we know that #73 occurred earlier tonight, with the Tigers' Alfredo Simon stepping out of a dismal season with a go-the-route performance.)

Here's the lowdown on those dozen add-ons to the 2015 CG rolls...

--Sonny Gray (#61, 8/7)...a five-hitter over the Astros in a 3-1 A's win.

--Corey Kluber (#62, 8/9)...three-hitter, 10 K's, as Cleveland routed the Twins, 8-1.

--Colby Lewis (#63, 8/ of three losing CGs out of our most recent dozen, as his Rangers came up short in a 4-2 loss to the Seattle Mariners.

--Johnny Cueto (#64, 8/10)...a four-hit shutout over the Tigers as the Royals' big stretch-run rental came up big in his first appearance in KC (final score: Royals 4, Tigers 0).

--Madison Bumgarner (#65, 8/11)...12 K's and five hits allowed as his Giants beat the Houston Astros, 3-1.

--Williams Perez (#66, 8/11)...the Braves' rookie came up on the short end against the Rays in a 2-0 loss; Perez has the lowest strikeout total in a CG thus far in '15 (he fanned only one over his eight innings).

--Hisashi Iwakuma (#67, 8/12)...the crafty M's righthander, recently back from an extended stint on the DL, tossed a no-hitter vs the Baltimore Orioles, striking out seven and walking three in a 3-0 Seattle win.

--Corey Kluber (#68, 8/14)...his second CG in a row, a one-hitter marred only by Joe Mauer's fourth-inning HR; the Indians beat the Twins, 6-1.

--Masahiro Tanaka (#69, 8/15)...coming up big for the Yankees in their game against division rival Toronto--a five hitter with 8 Ks as New York prevailed, 4-1.

--Chris Rusin (#70, 8/16)...the lefty let go by the Cubs late last year is trying to make a go of it in thin air--and on this night he blanked the Padres (at Coors Field!) in a 5-0 Rockies win.

--Madison Bumgarner (#71, 8/16)...the Giants' ace matches Corey Kluber's back-to-back August CG feat with a three hit, 14-K flattening of the reeling Nationals (final score: SF 5, Washington 0).

--Carlos Rodon (#72, 8/17)...the 2014 #1 draft pick of the White Sox is feeling his way in the majors this year, but his first CG was a losing effort: his two HRs allowed (to Albert Pujols and C.J. Cron) brought him down as the Angels made the solo shots hold up in a 2-1 win.

The current pace for the season's-end total of CGs now stands at 98. We may very well go down to the last week as we count off to the "magic" 100 barrier...

Monday, August 10, 2015


Yes, that's the question...we can play this game every so often, if only because we just want to see what the results look like.

We are looking for best duo-trio-quartet-etc. of "young hitters" (age 23 and younger) in any given season. The OPS+ boundary line is 150.

Naturally, we are prompted by the fact that, so far, this year (2015) two stellar campaigns are being turned in by Bryce Harper (age 22, 204 OPS+) and Mike Trout (age 23, 181 OPS+).

Of course, they might not hold this performance level over the whole year, but right now they look formidable (individually, of course, and--more importantly for our purposes here--collectively).

Will we find a better duo-trio-etc. in years past? Let's move backward in time and find out.

Our next duo occurs in 1993: Ken Griffey Jr. (age 23, 171 OPS+) and Juan Gonzalez (age 23, 169 OPS+). Hard to remember that Juan Gone had seasons like that, nicht war?

Then, to 1991: Griffey again (age 21, 155 OPS+) and Frank Thomas (age 23, 180 OPS+).

From there, it's back all the way to 1972, where we pick up two players who failed to hold their high-flying youthful performance levels: John Mayberry (age 23, 168 OPS+) and Cesar Cedeno (age 21, 162 OPS+).

Next: 1964, with Boog Powell (age 22, 176 OPS+) and Dick Allen (age 22, 162 OPS+).

Our first trio occurs in 1955, with Mickey Mantle (age 23, 180 OPS+), Eddie Mathews (age 23, 170 OPS+) and Al Kaline (age 20, 162 OPS+). These guys turned out pretty well, though Mathews and Kaline didn't match these early numbers going forward.

The previous year (1954) Mantle and Mathews became the only repeating pair (at least thus far) with age 22 seasons with OPS+ values of 158 and 172 respectively. They are joined by Willie Mays (age 23, 175 OPS+).

From there, we slip backwards to 1942: Ted Williams (age 23, 216 OPS+) and Stan Musial (age 22, 151 OPS+)

The previous year (1941) it's Williams (age 22, 235 OPS+) and Pete Reiser (age 22, 164 OPS+).

We go next to 1937: Joe DiMaggio (age 23, 166 OPS+) and Rudy York (age 23, 151 OPS+).

Next: 1935, with Arky Vaughan (age 23, 190 OPS+) and Joe Medwick (age 23, 151 OPS+).

The year previous (1934) features Hank Greenberg (age 23, 156 OPS+) and Hal Trosky (age 21, 150 OPS+).

In 1929 and 1930, we have another repeater duo in Jimmie Foxx (ages 21 & 22, 173 and 161 OPS+) and Mel Ott (ages 20 & 21, 165 and 150 OPS+).

Before that, we travel back all the way to 1911, for Joe Jackson (age 23, 191 OPS+) and Tris Speaker (age 23, 157 OPS+).

In 1910, we have a quartet (let's not press our luck by asking them to sing, however). They are: Ty Cobb (age 23, 206 OPS+), Speaker again (age 22, 170 OPS+), Fred Snodgrass (age 22, 154 OPS+) and Eddie Collins (age 23, 152 OPS+). That's three Hall of Famers and a lawn problem.

Cobb,  Collins and Speaker were a trio in 1909, when they were all a year younger.

In 1907, Cobb (age 20, 167 OPS+) pairs up with Sherry Magee (age 22, 169 OPS+).

Further back--1901--we have: Jimmy Sheckard (age 22, 169 OPS+) and Sam Crawford (age 21, 167 OPS+).

Now, into the nineteenth century: in 1890, we have the only instance of a trio who represent three major leagues in the same year: Cupid Childs (American Association, age 22, 180 OPS+); Mike Tiernan (National League, age 23, 160 OPS+); Jake Beckley (Players League, age 22, 152 OPS+).

Into the 1880s:

--1889: Denny Lyons (AA, age 23, 159 OPS+), Mike Tiernan (NL, age 22, 159 OPS+)

--1888: Oyster Burns (AA, age 23, 153 OPS+), Mike Tiernan (NL, age 21, 152 OPS+)

--1887: a quartet, three in the AA: Bob Caruthers (age 23, 169 OPS+), Oyster Burns (age 22, 164 OPS+), Denny Lyons (age 21, 162 OPS), with Fred Carroll (age 22, 150 OPS+) joining them from the NL.

--1886: Bob Caruthers (AA, age 22, 201 OPS+...why isn't he in the HoF??), Fred Carroll (NL, age 21, 150 OPS+)

--1884: a quartet: Buster Hoover (UA/AA, age 21, 188 OPS+), Pete Browning (AA, age 23, 174 OPS+), Fred Carroll (AA, age 19, 156 OPS+), Ed Crane (UA, age 22, 152 OPS+). Crane converted to a pitcher when he moved to the NL after the Union Association folded...

--1882: Pete Browing (AA, age 21, 223 OPS+), Ed Swartwood (AA, age 23, 188 OPS+).

--1881: Fred Dunlap (NL, age 22, 156 OPS+), Dan Brouthers (NL, age 23, 181 OPS+).

--1880: Roger Connor (NL, age 22, 169 OPS+), Abner Dalyrmple (NL, age 22, 160 OPS+).

Into the 1870s, the first decade of pro ball:

--1878: Paul Hines (age 23, 177 OPS+), Lew Brown (age 20, 153 OPS+), Abner Dalrymple (age 20, 151 OPS+).

In the National Association now...

--1873: Ross Barnes (age 23, 207 OPS+), Cal McVey (age 23, 157 OPS+).

--1872: Ross Barnes (age 22, 211 OPS+), Cap Anson (age 20, 200 OPS+), Davy Force (age 22, 179 OPS+). Who has ever thought of "Pop" Anson as a young man? It seems to cut against reality...

--1871 (aka The Dawn of Time): Levi Meyerle (age 21, 237 OPS+), Ross Barnes (age 21, 185 OPS+), Cal McVey (age 21, 175 OPS+), Ezra Sutton (age 21, 159 OPS+).

Barnes and McVey are the only teammates age 23 or younger to exceed 150 OPS+ together in the same year. It happened in the first year of pro ball--and it hasn't happened since...

Thursday, August 6, 2015

2015: COMPLETE GAMES #56, #57, #58, #59, #60

Catching up to these "rare gems" (we'll let you tease out that reference--it bears an indirect relationship to the pitcher's mound...) about a week into 2015's second-to-last month brings forth an astonishing discovery--no CGs as yet for the month of August. (Last year there were 23 CGs in August, the highest monthly total for the 2014 season.)

The Indians did their part at the end of July, however, with three consecutive CGs (Trevor Bauer, 7/28, #56; Corey Kluber, 7/29, #58; Carlos Carrasco, 7/30, #59). We will have to spend some time in the bowels of Forman et fils' Play Index to determine the last time that there were three consecutive CGs for a team...we'll report back on that in a later installment.

Bauer's CG loss to the Royals on the 28th snapped the ten-game CG win streak in play at the time; since then, however, a new four-game skein of wins is underway, including:

--The A's Sonny Gray (7/28, #57), a three-hit, nine-K 2-0 shutout over the Dodgers;

--The wins from Kluber and Carrasco;

--Seattle's promising but streaky Taijuan Walker (7/31, #60), a one-hitter (in keeping with his mercurial nature, that one hit was a home run...) with 11 Ks, in a 6-1 win over the Twins.

Current pace, taking into account the slight uptick that happens at the end of the season, calls for 95 CGs by season's end.

Friday, July 31, 2015


Yes, geeks are at least as alienated as the rest of us...
Yes, we cheated with the can do that in Blogger (which, we suspect, will soon be a plot point in the new tech-geek noir series Mr. Robot). You see, we just knew that Ben Lindbergh would flap his wings somewhere over the Atlantic (not needing to get more than halfway to Paris to receive his "Lucky Lindy" accolades...) so having the data "pre-dated" (BTW, could that be a new slogan for on-line romance sites?? Oog, we hope not...) conveys our foreknowledge of just how the utterly odd numberologist meritocracy operates on the other side of its seams.

Of course our old pal Rob Neyer (not quite as much of a Mexican jumping bean in the employment department as Joe P., but some legends are best left alone...) jump-started the process in late July, when responding to the 7/31 trade deadline frenzy (there! we managed to tie this back to the subject line in less than two grafs--buy a round for those folks reeling over there at the bar!). Rob has always let others do the heavy lifting with the numbers (and why not--it just works up a sweat...) but his remarks about the trade deadline were another reminder of how he can be obtuse and acute at the same time, all while not knowing which is which.

Not quite the "cycle of sabermetrics," but ominously close...
Taking Wins Above Replacement (yes, that battered WAR-horse) as his Empedoclean jumping-off point, Rob dismissed (or, should we say more charitably, showed marked skepticism about) the entire "clown car show"--you can figure out where we lifted that one from--that was the 2015 trade deadline frenzy (there...twice in three grafs! That's the type of emphatic emphasis that might get us an interview with the Trump campaign).

Rob said (and we baldly paraphrase): since even the best player only generates about six WAR in a year, renting him for what is essentially the last third of the season only produces a small gain, so why bother?

Of course Rob then went on to ignore his own caveat and become embroiled in the "2015 trade deadline frenzy" (we must not be remiss in using the phrase AND honoring our contractual obligations to our long-suffering sponsor, "Fright Quotes R Us," a company that suffers fools just as well and as fast as you can make 'em), which is one of Neyer's classic M.O.'s (and, despite what he likely thinks, we love him for it).

What's missing, of course, is any follow-through with respect to this radical concept ("What if it doesn't matter?"). It's as if Rob's appendix--a remnant organ of the human body with no actual function except to go kerblooie in one out of every 934,477 members of the world population--tried to give his brain a vestigial reminder of the old days when he would actually do some research about some such assertion or question, and actually penetrated the blood-brain barrier, only to be drowned in a rampant, raging wave of glibness-inflused capillaries. (Hey, it happens to the best of us...Bill James just gave a soggy interview in which he plagiarized and bowdlerized himself at the same time.)

So, the question on the floor is (still is, that is...): does all this frenzy make any difference in what happens over the last third of a season? Glibsters of all denominations will focus on one player or one sequence of events out of context and trumpet it as "the key" to how things went down during late-season crunch time, but they don't capture anything large scale. And none of the tools developed by the numberologist wing gives us any direct way of measuring this--using WAR for this is a mystical sidetrip that's more like a pale sugar high as opposed to the hallucinogen-infused scientific prolegomena that it's cracked-up to be.

Which brings us back to Lindbergh, whose (G)rantland post-mortem on the 2015 trading deadline frenzy put a trace element of numerical context into play (providing, as he often does, a high-level summary with a patina of surface allure that is ultimately bereft of actual analytical value). Yes, Ben, we can tell that the GMs went batshit crazy in 2015--sure, the charts show that, but a) we knew that already and b) they really don't show anything there some actual meaning or context in the yearly fluctuations? And God forbid that we would try to analyize-predict-summarize the use value of this escalating fact of life in the little world of baseball insider squirmy-poo...

So, as is so often the case, we'll wrench a few precious minutes out of all the other things we are juggling (including those chain-saws we got in the deal for Melvin Upton, Jr.)--all those books and festivals on French film noir, the documentary film about Don Murray, etc., etc.--in order to generate a template for how to approach this subject.

Sure, it will be simplistic: there's no reason for it to be anything else. We need to measure the results, and by results we mean what actually happened in the won-loss record. Measuring how much WAR penetrated the blood-brain barrier is too ethereal to be of much use.

So the chart below, which uses 2014 for purposes of this presentation, captures the minimum of what we need to collate in order to begin the type of research that could be helpful in understanding what actually happens as a result of late-July "body wrangling" (in other words, something well beyond the well-wrought words of pundits dancing around a maypole of contingency).

Here you have the teams ordered in terms of their won-loss perframance over the "third third" (last third, games 109-162) of the season. You have their record up to game 108, the "straight projection" of what their 162-game W-L record would be, their actual record at the end of the season, the difference between the projection and the actual--and, finally, at right, the players they acquired at the end of July.

As you can see, it's mostly a self-fulfilling exercise--or, at least, it was so in 2014. Nuances that Lindbergh completely ignores, such as how many big-name (higher-WAR) players might be coming up for free agency in any given year, can make the process fluctuate significantly from year to year. What we see is that ten of the twelve teams who made the 2014 post-season gained ground from their projected season W-L record. (An average of 3 games better the ten teams that gained.)

There was one raging anomaly: the Oakland A's, who frittered away 11 games from their projection despite their trading activity.

There were also three teams (color coded in bright yellow) who were in the playoff hunt after 2/3rds of the season but made little or no trading effort and did the fall-down-go-boom thing (Blue Jays, Brewers, Braves). The Blue Jays didn't repeat that behavior this year.

And, finally, there were the Yankees, faced with unaccustomed oblivion, who actually made the biggest player grab this time last year, and got a boost of exactly one game over their pre-rearrangement projection...

You could (if you had time, and especially if you were being paid by so-called reputable sports media companies...) make such diagrams for all of the seasons since, say, 1995, and have a sense of how all this works. We doubt anything we say will chasten or motivate the fine feathered "friends" we are ruffling here to do so, but stranger things have happened (yes, that brings us back to the Trump campaign again, doesn't it?) Lord help us all...


Can teams overcome consistent mediocrity in one major performance area and make it into the World Series?

Of course they happens more often than one thinks. For example, there have been fifteen teams who've made it to the World Series whose starting pitcher performance was below the league average for the season un question. 

Most of these teams got a lot of wins in the regular season from their starters: five of the fifteen logged 70+ wins from the pitchers who took the mound in the first inning. And, of course, none of these starting rotations were conspicuously under the league average: the worst was about 9% under the aggregate.

The teams in question: the 1947, 1952, and 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers; the 1967 and 1975 Red Sox; the 1972 and 1976* Reds; the 1982 Brewers; the 1987 Twins*; the 1988 A's; the 1993 Blue Jays*, the 1997 Indians; the 2006 Cardinals*; the 2007 Rockies; the 2009 Phillies.

Note that only four of the fifteen teams on the list managed to win the World Series (*).

Now we seem to have another team--those wonderfully confounding Kansas City Royals--who are trying to up the ante on their counterintuitive success last year with a close variant of the same. The Royals might become the first team to reach the World Series with their batters drawing less than 350 walks. But that would mean that they'd have to keep their hitting shoes on in all the games where their starting pitching (weaker than last year) flounders.

How have they gotten to a .600 WPCT? A bullpen that is amped up to an historic level of performance,  for one thing. And solid timely hitting across many of the splits (late and close, RISP, high leverage, game tied, two outs).

And, as our buried lede for this post demonstrates (in the table at right), they have been getting exceptionally consistent mediocre starting pitcher for the first four months of the 2015 season. 

As you can see, the Royals have the lowest deviation in their monthly starting pitcher ERA numbers. 

Indeed, it seems that consistent monthly performance (within some range of reasonable effectiveness) is what contributes to teams who exceed their Pythagorean projections.

Now, of course, you need exceptional performance from your bullpen to offset mediocrity--that's clearly happening for the Royals, and that's also the case for the Yankees. The A's, whose starters have been consistent on a monthly basis, don't have the benefit of even a good bullpen, so their consistency hasn't helped them stay in the playoff hunt.

The average deviation for MLB thus far is .59. The Royals and Yankees, despite having starting staffs whose overall performances are below league average, are managing to reap benefits from consistent mediocrity. It might be fitting if they face each other for the AL pennant.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

2015: COMPLETE GAMES #52, #53, #54, #55

A lull in complete games after the All-Star break, but a ten-game winning streak is in play, easily the longest of the season.

Cole (Cutie-Pie) Hamels: his no-no might be his swan song
for Philadelphia...
W-L records for 2015 CGs of eight IP or more (the only ones we recognize, which is why our totals do not match the number you'll find over at Forman et fils and elsewhere...) is now just under .750 (41-14).

We start at the most recent: Cole Hamels (#55, 7/25), the third no-hitter of 2015. Hamels, rumored all year to be on his way out of Philadelphia, threw 129 pitches in putting the total goose-egg on the Chicago Cubs, the most in a CG this year and tied with the Blue Jays' Marco Estrada, who had 129 pitchers over eight (non-CG) innings back on June 24.

It might be Hamels' last game for the Phils...if so, would that be the first time a pitcher was traded after throwing a no-hitter?

Elsewhere, the White Sox' Jose Quintana (#54, 7/24) scattered seven hits as he shut out the Indians (final score, Chisox 6, Cleveland 0).

And Clayton Kershaw (#53, 7/23) has two CGs in July and could be the first pitcher in recent memory to have three CGs in a month...Kershaw tossed a three-hit shutout at the Mets, striking out 11 (Dodgers won, 3-0)

Finally, Garrett Richards (#52, 7/18) helped put the struggling Red Sox (1-8 since the All-Star Break) into a hitting slump with a two-hit shutout (3-0 Angel win).

One last factoid: which team has had the most CGs thrown against them thus far in 2015? It's team currently in the hunt for the post-season: the Houston Astros (6 CG by opposing pitchers). Next highest: the Chicago White Sox with five.

Monday, July 20, 2015


Please feel free to peruse our preview essay over at the Hardball Times on the 2015 Shrine of the Eternals induction ceremony which was held yesterday (July 19) in Pasadena to a standing-room-only crowd. (Thanks to Paul Swydan for moving earth and a part of heaven to make it happen on short notice..)

The Baseball Reliquary "formula" is, as we noted some years back when we were honored to give the Keynote Address, one part anarchy and two parts reverence...the Reliquary's signature event has an aleatory choreography held together by the deadpan glee of Executive Director Terry Cannon.

He and his main cohort, Albert (Buddy) Kilchesty, are nothing more or less than two knowing and mysteriously gifted kids who can let go of their balloons at a windy beach and somehow be assured that they will return into their hands just as they're ready to call it a day.

After seventeen years of these singular proceedings, we are no longer astonished by how it all happens. In fact, we don't even have to be there (as was, sadly, the case this year) to know that it all worked just as it's supposed to do.

You can read more about this year's inductees--Sy Barger (Topps baseball card innovator), Glenn Burke (baseball's first gay player), Steve Bilko (legendary minor-league slugger with a TV show title to his credit)--in the Hardball Times essay.

But you should strongly consider buying the new book by the Reliquary's Tony Salin Award honoree, Gary Cieradkowski, entitled The League of Outsider Baseball. Fabulously illustrated by Cieradkowski himself and filled with indescribable baseball lore, it's an Eternal in its own write.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

2015: COMPLETE GAMES #44, #45, #46, #47, #48, #49, #50, #51

Some of "baseball's best starting pitchers" made a run on CGs during the run-up to the All-Star break:

--Chris Sale (#44, 7/6), a six-hit, 4-2 win over the Blue Jays;
--Mark Buehrle (#45, 7/6), losing to Sale and the White Sox (becoming the first pitcher to have two CG losses in 2015);

--Johnny Cueto (#46, 7/7), looking like his 2014 self with a two-hit, 11-K shutout as the Reds beat the Nationals, 5-0;

--Clayton Kershaw (#47, 7/8), scattering eight hits and fanning 13 in a 5-0 shutout win as the Dodgers swept a four-game series from the lowly Phillies;

--Jeff Samardzija (#48, 7/9), a four-hit shutout over the perplexing Blue Jays (a team playing a good bit under their Pythagorean projection);

--Sonny Gray (#50, 7/12), rebounding from his bout with gastroenteritis with a a two-hit shutout for the A's (another underachieving team according to Pythagorus...) in their 2-0 win over the Indians;

--Jake Arietta (#51, 7/12), proving that 2014 was no fluke with a two-hitter over the Cubs' cross-town rivals (White Sox).

Eagle-eyed readers will note that we've not yet covered CG #49 yet. That's because CG #49 was not turned in by someone who's currently considered to be one of "baseball's best starting pitchers"--though he's been very impressive since being recalled from the minors on June 9th (2.15 ERA, 181 ERA+; 3.00 "S," 2.38 "C,"/5.38 QMAX "T").

Who is he? He's Taylor Jungmann, the Brewers' first-round pick in 2011. The song "Long, Tall Texan" fits Taylor to a T: the 6'6" Jungmann was born in Temple, TX and was drafted after his stint on the mound at the University of Texas.  His first career CG (#49, 7/11) was a three-hit, seven-K domination of the Dodgers in Dodger Stadium. (The Brewers have been playing much better lately--it all seemed to stem from a timely matchup with those aforementioned Phillies, with whom they'd been vying for the dubious honor of worst team in baseball. Their four-game sweep of the Phils led to an eight-game winning streak and a 14-6 record in the run-up to the All-Star Break...

...which is where we came in, so it's a good place to get out. The Brewers' turnaround gets an immediate test this weekend when they have to face off against the Pirates.)

Sunday, July 12, 2015


Yes, the headline says it all. It's hard to win games when you score three runs or less: since 1901, all teams have a .228 WPCT in such games.

Right now, the St. Louis Cardinals are winning at nearly double the frequency of the average team in such situations: as of today, they are 19-25 (.432) in such games.

That ranks 16th all-time at the moment--though, of course, it's subject to change over the second half of the 2015 campaign.

As you might suspect, it's a distinguished group of teams. 36 of the other 45 team-seasons on the list (80%) went to the post-season, and twenty of them wound up winning the World Series.

With the recent emphasis on offense, it's been awhile since any team has made it onto this list--the last time was in 1995, when the Atlanta Braves did it.

In fact, 26 of the 45 occurrences took place during the Deadball Era. Six of them came into existence via the performance of the Chicago Cubs, whose pitching was so dominant in the years 1906-10 that these six .400+ WPCTs in games where they scored three or less all rank in the top fifteen all-time.

It appears that there are only four cases where teams with .400+ WPCT in such games faced off in the World Series (1909, 1911, 1951 and 1954).

Teams that play a lot of these type of games don't tend to be a lock to win the World Series, however. Teams who played 80 or more such games over the course of the season include six teams that didn't make the post-season at all.

There's an interesting difference between two adjacent Cardinals teams in the 1960s. The 1967 squad had 63 games in which they scored three runs or less, a .444 WPCT in those games (#5 overall) and won the World Series...while the 1968 team had 94 such games, a .436 WPCT in those games (#13 overall) but came up short in that year's Fall Classic.

This year's Cardinal squad is on pace to wind up with 81 games where they score three runs or less. That's only 11th overall in MLB this year, so they are not setting an alarming pace in this statistical subset. But they are chasing the 1968 Cards in terms of percentage of overall wins when scoring three runs or less: they are currently at 34% (19 of 56), while the '68 squad had 42% of their wins in such fashion (41 of 97). That's the highest percentage of low-run scoring wins, just a tad more than the 1918 Washington Senators (30 of 72, or 41.7%).

Monday, July 6, 2015

2015: COMPLETE GAMES #39, #40, #41, #42, #43

The "loss column" re-emreged in the CG listings over the past week: three of the last five CGs resulted in losses for the pitchers who went the distance:

--The Yankees' Michael Pineda (#39, 6/28), a 3-1 loss to the Astros;
--The Nationals' Max Scherzer (#41, 7/2), a 2-1 loss to the Braves;
--The Indians' Cody Anderson (#34, 7/4), a 1-0 loss to the Pirates.

The winners:

--The Mariners' Mike Montgomery (#40, 6/30), a 5-0 win over the Padres;
--The Red Sox' Clay Buchholz (#42, 7/4), a 6-1 win over the Astros.

Montgomery's game was the best of the bunch by all available measures: least runs allowed (0), least hits allowed (1), QMAX "S" score (1), game score (88). It was his second consecutive CG shutout, a feat he was unable to continue yesterday against the A's (though he did get the win as the M's edged the A's 2-1; Montgomery pitched only 5 1/3 IP as the sometimes shaky Mariner bullpen held it together to close it out).

In 2014, there were 60 CGs as of July 4th. The current "adjusted projection" for CGs in 2015, taking into account the tendency for more CGs after the All Star-Break, is now at 94.