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.