Monday, June 29, 2015


We read an essay recently with some semi-elaborate "controls" imposed to "eliminate survivor bias" which came to the conclusion that hitters in the present age come up and have their peak years in the first few seasons of their careers.

It's an astonishing idea...if something like that were true, it would mean that scouting is literally everything (imagine a so-called sabermetric study that proved it all came down to scouting!!) in terms of developing hitters.

So is it true? It could be partially on the money for a reason that bypasses the classical "age-27 peak" formulation--that players don't earn significant playing time until they are already pushing up against what most analysts have called the "peak years" (once upon a time thought to be from 27-31, but more recently seen as 26-29).

Of course, if players don't get significant playing time in MLB until they are 25, such a notion that their "first years" are their best is in "alignment" with what studies have identified as the "peak years."

As always, things can get muddled fast. Such alignment doesn't really tell us much. Its predictive value is tenuous at best. What we need to see is not a comparison for individual players from year to year: such a study actually suffers from "anti-survivor bias."

What we need to see is a chart that shows the degree of elite hitting that occurs at each age, what its distribution over time looks like, and what patterns emerge from that distribution.

And so we give you the great OPS+ distribution chart for ages 25 thru 28, collated for the years 1990-2015. You can see how many hitters had OPS+ figures equal to of higher than 150 at each age for those years, followed by the number of hitters ≥ 140, ≥ 130, and ≥ 120. A weighted numerical formula is applied to create the values in the "Tot" columns at right.

Finally, these are color-coded to show the values for the age-25 hitters in any given year as they move through the next three years, up to age-28. You can see them cascade upward and to the right in the columns at the right.

What you see there is a great deal of individual year fluctuation in the initial age-25 values. But what you also see is that there is often an ongoing correlation with the original established value in those age-25 years as they move across time (to age-26, age-27, age-28). There are "fat years" and "lean years" as represented in the fluctuating totals that you see in the far right column.

And, yes, as Brock Hanke surmised some years back from a different examination based on individual hitter career patterns, there is a good bit of "iambic" progression here--where the numbers go either up, down, up, down or down, up, down, up.

Mostly, though, we see that a really good showing of age-25 hitters in any given year will almost always lead to a high scores across the sequence of following years. Such a pattern is there in the age-25 hitters from 1993: they not only hold their value as they move into "peak seasons," they increase it over those years. There are similar patterns in 1994-97, 1999-2002, 2001-2004, 2005-2008, and 2009-2012.

There is no indication that hitters are peaking at age 25--either here or in the five-year average chart that is the analogue to the above table. Looking at the chart (at right), you can see that the age-25 average trails across most of the time covered by the chart--though it does have a brief flurry in the last 4-5 years. (However, that flurry does not suggest that hitters are having their peak seasons earlier in their careers: age-28 was the leader in the late 90s, only to be replaced by age-27 since 2006 or so.

The chart shows that, on average, the age-27 year five-year averages are rebounding strongly as we get closer to today. While age-28 is showing some slippage from its heyday (1995-2001: probably an artifact of the offensive explosion can say "steroids" if you must), it's not enough to convince us that any serious shift to younger peaks is underway.

We will endeavor to expand this data into the past, in order to compare it with what we're seeing in recent years, and we'll also try to extend it on either edge of the ages represented here, to see just what kind of curve manifests itself from the total set of ages (and find out if hitters over age 33 are really just "washed up" or not. For right now, though, retain your faith in age-27 as the likeliest year for players to reach elite hitting status. Reports of its demised have been highly exaggerated...

Friday, June 26, 2015

2015: COMPLETE GAMES #33, #34, #35, #36, #37, #38

Time to update the daily complete game chart for 2015 as CGs gain some more momentum. We may well have a "horse race" to 100 if the slow but steady increase in frequency during the second half of the season follows its usual historical pattern.

Of course all eyes will be on Max Scherzer in the wake of his back-to-back no-and-lo-hit games (#31, 6/14, the one-hitter vs. the Brewers; #35, 6/20, the no-hitter vs. the Pirates). That "double no-hit" thing is in play tonight and the coverage will be all-encompassing.

Elsewhere recently: Madison Bumgarner added another CG loss to 2015's totals (#33, 6/17) when he and the Giants lost to the Mariners, 2-0. It's the tenth CG loss of the year, bringing the overall W-L record in CGs for 2015 to 28-10. (CG pitchers have won 19 of the past 23 after starting out 9-6 in the early going of 2015.)

Also: the Padres' Tyson Ross (#34, 6/20) got plenty of support from the Padres in his 8-1, four-hit CG vs. the D-backs...Jake Arrieta (#36, 6/21) baffled the Twins, throwing a four-hit shutout as the Cubs won 8-0...Seattle rookie Mike Montgomery blanked the Royals, striking out ten in a 7-0 M's win (#37, 6/23).

And joining David Price and Mark Buehrle in the "race" for most CGs, Houston's Dallas Keuchel scattered six hits in blanking the Yankees (#38, 6/25), giving him his third CG of the season.

The calendar chart confirms what we've seen previously: more CGs occur over the weekend (21 for Friday-Saturday-Sunday vs. 17 for Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday).

The current pace (measured without adjusting for rate changes in the second half of the season) is 84. When you make those adjustments, the projection moves upward to 95.

It's going to be close...stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


It's been awhile since we exposed the ideology behind the "pitch the kids" movement that blemished baseball analysis back in the late 90s, at a time when some of us felt the need to "fight the good fight" against the careerist forces that eventually overran the field.

And the time frame between teams who made the post-season with young pitchers supplying 900+ IP (from 1991, when the Braves did it, and 2008, when the Rays did it...) is just about as long as it's been since we went back and actually checked the numbers...about seventeen years. Time has flown.

But the ongoing rarity of teams giving 900+ IP to young pitchers (for our purposes, these are pitchers aged 25 and younger...) is still intact. Since the great "play the kids" manifesto (Baseball Prospectus, 1998 edition), there have only been five teams to take up the gauntlet. Only one of those five (the aforementioned '08 Rays) rode young pitching to the World Series. The rest did not, and none of those teams with 900+ IP from young pitchers made it to the postseason in any of their next three seasons.

This year, it looks as though the Braves have a solid chance to be the first team in the 2010s to rely heavily enough on young pitchers to exceed 900 IP. No other team (see table at right) projects to give more than 600 IP to youngsters.

History tells us that this strategy is a rare one. Since 1914, it's happened only sixty-seven times. Only 3% of all major league teams over a century's worth of data have given 900+ IP to young pitchers.

The table at left shows that much of this occurred in three decades--the 1910s, the 1960s, and the 1970s. These decades account for two-thirds of the instances of heavy young pitcher workload.

Over the course of seventy-four years (1917-1990), only three teams--the 1949 Brooklyn Dodgers, the 1966 Baltimore Orioles, and the 1986 New York Mets--made it to the post-season with young pitchers throwing 900+ IP.

Since 1991, it's become primarily a "southern strategy"--with five of the seven trams hailing from either Florida or Georgia. If the Braves make it over 900+ IP this year, that trend will continue.

But it's also likely that the results will remain the same--the teams that rely on "kid pitchers" are overwhelmingly likely to be also-rans (88% of all such teams have missed the post-season).

Friday, June 19, 2015


A quick chart, culled from the continually useful sources at Forman et fils, depicting team bullpen performance by month thus far in 2015.

Yes, sorted by ERA, which may leave a sizable portion of analytical types cold, but we prefer to keep this very simple, because what you're really looking for from relief pitching is quality and consistency.

What we can see from the chart is that there are three teams--the Royals, the Pirates and the Cardinals--who've been consistently killing in 2015. They are the only three with the yellow-to-orange color coding (sub-3 ERA) for each month thus far.

We can also see when teams are or were doing well, it often stemmed from fine work from their bullpen (the Yankees were hot in April, the Orioles and the Blue Jays both have been playing well this month, and the Cubs have kept themselves above .500 despite spotty hitting/starting pitching in June thanks to a boost from the relief staff).

Breaking performances down to the individual level would be next, but we don't want to get down into that here. One notable example of this if we decided to do so, however: the Dodgers got closer Kenley Jansen back in mid-May and he's been virtually lights-out (22K in 13 IP, 2-0, 9 SV, 0.75 ERA) but the rest of the Dodger pen has been an arson squad this month. They're still managing to win games at the moment, but this is a problem that could get out of control if they don't find a way to address it soon.

It's also good to note that bullpen performance can be extremely fungible. Three teams who did well with relievers last year--Mariners, Padres, A's--are all struggling with their pens this year. There are no gimmes, or automatic answers, particularly in this segment of the game.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

2015: COMPLETE GAMES #26, #27, #28, #29, #30, #31, #32

David Price takes the lead in CGs for 2015 with two in a row (#26, 6/5; and #28, 6/12), giving him a total of three for the year.

The Giants' Chris Heston (as you'll doubtless recall) threw a CG when he tossed his no-hitter vs. the Mets (6/9, #27).

Two losing CGs occurred on the same day (6/ was NOT a Friday, alas), one for Zack Greinke (#29, a 2-1 Dodgers loss to the Padres) and the other for Kendall Graveman (#30, a 1-0 A's loss to the Angels).

The next day (6/14, #31) Max Scherzer stuck out 16, the most since Brandon Morrow fanned 17 Tampa Bay Rays in a CG back in 2010. Morrow threw 137 pitches that day; Scherzer threw 119. They both threw one hit-shuouts.

(To show how things have changed just from five years ago with respect to pitch limits, there were 166 games in 2010 where pitchers threw 119+ pitches; in 2015 thus far, there have been only 17 such games.

And Anibal Sanchez, struggling for much of the season, turned things around (6/15, #32) with a two-hit shutout against the Reds.

After starting the season 6-5, CG pitchers now have their won-loss record up to 23-9 for the year to date.

At this point last year, we had 46 CG en route to a total of 113.


The real winners in baseball's "hacking scandal" (which the actual facts will reveal is almost impossibly tame by real-world information technology) will be those in the consultancy itself, who will find ways to continue their reprehensible agenda of secrecy in order to feather their own nests.

Obscured in the hue and cry around the improper accessing of Astro executive Jeff Luhnow's user account is the fact that an absurd, inappropriate, and wrongheaded culture of proprietary entitlement has developed over the past fifteen years as MBAs have emerged as the inheritors of baseball's bizarre version of the "auteur theory."

In our view, all forms of proprietary information systems--with the exception of internal memos about actual personnel decisions--should be banned from MLB and replaced by a centralized operation that makes any and all analytical work about baseball available to all.

Transparency was the watchword of sabermetrics in its infancy, though one wonders if Bill James even remembers that this is what he instinctively--and correctly--insisted upon when he first "broke the wand" after his initial series of Baseball Abstracts in 1988. (Bill, of course, "jumped the shark" in 2003 and joined the Boston Red Sox, glamorizing the function of "consultant" and creating a floodtide of corporate copycatism that he'd spent the bulk of his career castigating.)

Of course, the world is a different place now--thanks (among other reasons...) to the damned Soviet Union self-desctructing and leaving America to screw up the world on its own, causing a majority of its citizens to absorb a mindset at once arrogant, defensive, and knee-jerk self-justifying, sniffing out new pretexts for "exceptionalism" and privilege in the manner of a steroid-laced pig searching for truffles.

And that seems to suffice in the minds of careerists everywhere as they pour like lemmings into the front offices of MLB with visions of proprietary information systems dancing in their heads like PCP-laced sugar plums, their brains altered by infantile visions of ongoing domination. A mutant subpopulation has emerged, fueled by a hyperintense immersion in overdetermined math modeling and some kind of fluke enyzme reaction to particular dosages of energy drinks--and they have poisoned baseball's intellectual currency for the foreseeable future.

Some will want to argue that this is the capitalist spirit at work--that the "pure competition" in the game is what will promote the best new information. But the "competition," as we now see, is anything but "pure." What's needed instead is a centralization of baseball's information development system, and a strict set of bylaws that create the maximum amount of blowback on individual franchises who attempt to develop information on their own.

This isn't the first time we've broached these ideas at this blog...but today the ground has shifted in the situation in a very urgent way. We call on Commissioner Rob Manfred to seize this moment and call for a study group to implement significant changes to baseball's information management and advanced statistical development efforts--changes that will deliver baseball from the poisonous, self-aggrandizing climate of elitist exceptionalism that is a blight upon the culture of the game.

Sunday, June 14, 2015


Of the 280,000+ home runs hit in what we call major league baseball since 1871, four--and only four--can be said to occupy a region widely considered to be diabolical.

What's that, you ask? Some kind of sop to fundamentalism seeping into the groundwater here, or something? True enough that a lead pipe was applied to our noggins, which accounts for our week-long absence here (prolonged exposure to bad airline air led to a brief respiratory crisis)--but...fear not, we've not joined some latter-day figment of the Moonies or anything.

The fourth of these diabolical long balls was hit just yesterday, which might help you figure out this shameless little ruse. It was hit by Alex Rodriguez, who these days doesn't have to do anything, really, to be mentioned in the same breath as the Anti-Christ.

And there the game is given away (but never thrown: shaken, yes, but never--ever--stirred!). Alex, who must've been thinking about the matter because it took him nearly twenty games to hit it, smacked a Bud Norris fastball over the fence in the sixth inning of yesterday's game vs. the Orioles for his six hundred sixty-sixth lifetime home run.

Yes, that's right. Six-six-six. Alex joins Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds as exclusive possessors of Biblically bestial home runs.

The details of those other homers are worth a look, actually. Naturally enough, Ruth did it first, almost eighty-two years to the day that Alex would. On June 10, 1933 in what was the first game in a doubleheader the Yankees played against the Philadelphia A's, Ruth hit lifetime homers #665 and #666 in successive at-bats against Lefty Grove.

It didn't help his team's fortunes: the Bombers (as they were often called in those days) went on to lose the game, 9-5.

As for Alex's edition of the Yankees: his sixth-inning homer tied the score at 4-4, but the New York bullpen went kerblooie and the O's wound up winning, 9-4.

Hank Aaron, like Ruth, found himself playing in a doubleheader on the day he hit his diabolical, bestial, arch-fiendish, etc. homer, and he also hit two in the game--though they were homers #666 and #667. It happened on September 2, 1972, when the Atlanta Braves were playing the lowly Philadelphia Phillies. Aaron's two HRs in that game helped lift the Braves to a 10-7 win.

And, of course, there's Barry Bonds, a man for whom Anti-Christ is actually on the mild side as epithets go. Bonds hit #666 on April 19, 2004 in a game against the San Diego Padres. It was surrendered by David Wells, who was past his sell date at this point (but it does bring another Yankee connection into the lore). Bonds' team, the Giants (you remember!), wound up winning the contest by a score of 4-3.

One last thing, not relevant to our bestial point of focus: not reported so widely in the wake of his joining the "six-six-six club" is the fact that Alex is now sitting at 2995 hits (just might be a matter of days before he reaches 3000).

It's a year of milestones that the Yankees should be grateful to have on their calendar, but that won't stop them from trying to special plead their way out of paying Alex for any that he achieves. How's that for diabolical??

Sunday, June 7, 2015

2015: COMPLETE GAMES #22, #23, #24, #25, #26

Two rookies are among the five most recent complete game performances in MLB during 2015. Here are the new additions to the CG list:

--Mark Buehrle (6/3), with the first back-to-back CG wins of the year (and his third CG of 2015), tossed a six-hit shutout against the Nationals in an 8-0 Toronto win;

--Corey Kluber (6/3), in a losing effort vs. the Royals, allowing nine hits and four runs as KC beat Cleveland, 4-2;

--Aforementioned rookie Lance McCullers (6/3), registering a CG in his third big league start, allowing only four hits and fanning eleven as the Astros beat the Orioles, 3-1;

--Rookie #2, Chi Chi Gonzalez (6/5), tossing a three-hit shutout against the Royals in a 4-0 Texas win. Chi Chi tied Josh Collmenter and Buehrle for fewest strikeouts in a 2015 CG, with two.

--David Price (6/6), halting Detroit's losing slide with his second complete game of the year, fanning eleven in a 7-1 win over the White Sox.

We are now a third of the way through the season and one-quarter of the way to 100 CGs.

Saturday, June 6, 2015


Yes, the ellipsis was meant as the shameless device that it is, morphed into the dreaded "page-click" scam that the Internet now provides with seemingly every semi-sleazy "feature" featuring an abundance of skin and a breathtaking scarcity of content.

So, what are we talking about with the young King of Smirk, Dodgers' rookie Joc Pederson, who crashed into one of the most crowded outfields last season (until half of them crashed and burned, that is, and Matt Kemp was traded to the Padres, apparently obsessed with having an even more crowded outfield than their nemesis to the north) and has emerged as the front-runner in the NL ROY sweepstakes.

We are, as we used to do a good bit more when there were a good bit more of them, talking about walks. Pederson is highly unusual in that, as a young player, he has shown a very good batting eye: he walked exactly 100 times in the minors last year. He has retained that during the first two months of 2015 and is currently on pace to draw 106 walks for the year.

There have only been five rookies in MLB history who've drawn 100+ walks:

--Bill Joyce (123 in 1890, playing for Brooklyn Ward's Wonders of the Players League)
--Roy Thomas (115 in 1899, with the Philadelphia Phillies)
--Lu Blue (103 in 1921, with the Detroit Tigers)
--Ted Williams (107 in 1939,, we think you know who he played for)
--Jim Gilliam (100, in 1953, with the Dodgers while still in Brooklyn)

Joc is on track, but everything will have to break right: he'll need to stay healthy and play in just about every game, because his pace is right on the cusp of making it over the line. Being moved to the top of the order would seem to help, since it will tend to get him more plate appearances, but he seems to be walking less in the #1 slot.

As we so often say...stay tuned.

Monday, June 1, 2015

2015: COMPLETE GAMES #19, #20, #21

Three more CGs, one on each of the three previous days...

--Mark Buehrle (5/29), tying his Toronto teammate R.A. Dickey for the most runs allowed (four) in a winning CG in 2015, in a 6-4 Blue Jay win over the mighty Twins, 6-4. It was Mark's second CG of the year--the earlier one being a loss to the over-the-moon Astros on 5/17.

--Dallas Keuchel (5/30), becoming the first pitcher in 2015 to throw back-to-back CGs, following Buehrle's pattern of loss-win, throwing an eleven-strikeout, four-hit shutout at the White Sox in a 3-0 Houston win.

--John Danks (5/31), doing something that is increasingly rare, throwing a 10-hit shutout as the up-and-down White Sox righty returned the favor to the Astros in a 6-0 Pale Hose win. Last year there was only CG where a pitcher allowed 10 hits or more (Cliff Lee); there was only one in 2013 and 2012 as well, two in 2011. You have to go back to 2010 before you need more than the fingers on one hand to count them. Danks also reversed a trend in which the last six such games resulted in losses. From 2008 to the present day, pitchers with CGs in which they allow 10 hits or more have a record of 8-16.

Danks walked a tightrope to bring home this shutout--he allowed three doubles and a triple and still managed not to allow a run.

There were 15 CGs in May (not counting those four "shorties" we discussed earlier...) and if that pace were maintained over the remaining four months of the season, we would wind up with a total around 80.


We'll keep going in bits and pieces on this subject, and will return to it ASAP as time permits.

Moving from the decline in "ultra-quick hooks," we are best advised to now look at the overall distribution of starting pitcher inning ranges for all games started over the past century. (Again, thanks to Retrosheet and Forman et fils for developing and "accessible-izing" this data.)

The table (at right) shows the percentage of games in each time range (1914-1929 at first, followed by decade breakdowns up to the present day). The decline curve for the < 1 IP games that we showed you in the previous post is going to be dwarfed by the one for those games in which the starting pitcher went 9-9.67 IP. We'll show you that comparison a bit later on.

We've color-coded this chart to show the direction of change--orange for when the percentages are rising, and yellow for when they are declining. We added a little "color intensity" (and here's to "Fright-Quote-R-Us-dot-com," the folks who "sponsor" our merry little adventures....) to certain of the data cells to show a more rapid rate of decline.

The bold type shows which column has the highest percentage of games in each "time zone." As you can see, the "baton" gets passed from 9-9.67 IP to 7-7.67 in the 1980s, and then moves on to 6-6.67 IP in the 90s, which is now consolidating its lead as we move forward.

Next up: winning percentages and all that "rot."