Friday, June 29, 2018


Third time's the charm, even if some (if not most) of what's written here leans heavily toward the charmless. We come to enshrine (or cast into limbo) the "as if real" career of one Brock Hanke, the architect and utility player of the San Antonio Trotters--a living, breathing anomaly in his own write.

And after having looked at the overall data (#1) and a semi-traditional evaluation (#2), we now subject him to the third degree--a disqusition according to WAR (Wins Above Replacement).

Most everyone reading here knows of WAR; a large subset of you will register misgivings for a method that steps away from direct league-relative measurement, that oddly mixes defensive adjustments into purely offensive statistical measures; a system that purports to work via a simple additive function set but breaks from this approach in creating its final values.

It is truly a case of misbegotten modeling--but in a world where the mysticism of money continues to provide a suppressive weltanschauung for the theories that hide how things really work, it has become a pillar of salt disguised as a pillar of orthodoxy. It is the only statistical measure that was subject to a "summit meeting" to hammer out a negotiated compromise for "replacement value," a concept already steeped in money mysticism to a point of no return.

WAR's status is currently at a point analogous to what we see in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy and her pals first visit the Emerald City; the bell and whistles they (and we) encounter are loud and intimidating, and make unreasonable demands on those who simply wish to remedy a few simple deficiencies in their lives/worldviews/thinking processes. We're not quite at the point where we can reveal the mathematical humbug (in the way that the Great Oz was exposed), but as with what we face in a distinctly un-Oz-like present-day America, we'd better brace ourselves for an avalanche of bluster in the wee hours before the truth will suddenly rise (in a long-delayed dawn).

All of which is to say that we had to create a version of WAR for Brock Hanke's career stats based on a bathtub-gin kluge, using the relationship existing between WAR values as calculated for players with similar offensive profiles with the Batting Runs values generated back in the "classical sabermetric age" by Pete Palmer and Gary Gillette. Those ratios provided us with the best estimate of what Hanke's WAR values would look like [table at right].

Note that these are the offensive values only. We did not keep track of defensive data in the games we played, occurring as they did in the pre-personal computer age. As he would himself cheerfully admit, Hanke was not much of a defender: the Trotters tried him out at third base, which did not make for a pretty picture (hey, the man is left-handed!). After a switch to catcher in mid-'72, he settled in at first base the following year, and would play 85% of his games there from that point onward.

At this point we should mention the "trad" stats you'd have seen in the previous two posts: .321 lifetime BA, 3023 H, 669 2B, 204 HR, 1685 RBI. On a mighty dynastic team with flashier players, Hanke was a hidden star, a solid OBP and RBI man. And the OWAR values, when added up, seem to confirm the notion that his career is of Hall of Fame quality.

But it's the "second order" usage of WAR--as a measure of "peak"--that will turn into the "valley of death" for Hanke at the hands of analysts. Systems devised by hack neo-sabes like Jay Jaffe, which simplistically try to split the difference between two inchoate and inadequate representations of offensive value, would penalize Hanke for not having a "peak" commensurate with his "career" value. (Hanke's "seven-year peak" in WAR is only 32--which, when utilized as part of the simple-minded averaging that is the basis of Jaffe's "system," leaves him with a "compromise value" of 58 WAR--which would leave him on the outside looking in as regards Cooperstown.)

Certainly there are better ways to use WAR than Jaffe and others have done: heck, they might even try converting it into a rate stat. When we do that, Hanke's value in the first baseman class gets an interesting boost. The average Hall of Fame first baseman puts up just under 5 WAR per year (using 660 plate appearances as the basis). That includes a few players (Jim Bottomley, George "High Pockets" Kelly) who are deficient both in terms of WAR/yr rate and career length.

Hanke's career length (25 seasons, 3200+ games, nearly 11,000 plate appearances despite an increasing amount of part-time play over his final decade) is not an issue. And his 4.99 WAR/660 plate appearances is right in the pocket for Hall of Fame first basemen.

But Jaffe's averaging method arbitrarily lops off 35% of Hanke's offensive value as measured in the rate stat. It's a bit less Draconian in the counting stat version, chopping off "only" 30% of the original year-by-year WAR total.

WAR itself would invariably adjust Hanke downward from his batting runs-derived value in the context of its opaque "methodology." And a generation of armchair analysts would prattle on about "complete players" in their hypertrophied mental-gymnastic assemblage of the Hall of Fame.

They would focus on what he could not do (hit HRs, run the bases, field like an All-Star) and find ways to minimize what he could do (hit, hit doubles, drive in runs at a rate elevated from the statistical norm, exceed his overall hitting rate stats as a pinch-hitter) in order to rally around the stultifying orthodoxy they wish to claim as "outside the box" thinking.

EPILOG: Of course, the question is whether a player with Hanke's offensive profile and specific career path could actually exist. Baseball and WAR, WAR and baseball now go hand-in-hand to curtail this possibility, boiling the game down increasingly--inexorably--to isolated power. The approach they are taking is slowly--inexorably--leading us toward a version of the game where there is zero chance that such a player could ever exist.
"Personally," the former Charlie O. the Mule "wrote" in his autobiography,
"the guy should be in the Hall simply for having the nutty idea that I could play
baseball in the first place."

And that's a shame, because as a player, Hanke is incredibly good for the game. He makes possible a type of human connection that the average fan needs in order to have sufficient choice in role models. You don't have to fit into an "elite" vision to still be excellent: there are many ways to be valuable, productive, inspirational. And you can wind up in the Hall of Fame because you were famous for not being the best, but something uniquely valuable.

That's an evaluation that WAR can never make--and that's why Brock Hanke (the "mythical" one and the "real" one--who's to know which is which?) is the type of figure that history (and this moment in history...) really needs to discover and embrace.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018


Taking the standard two-month snapshot, and as always with thanks to David Pinto's Day-by-Day database, we present the best hitters in baseball over the past two months as measured by OPS:

That's 34 hitters with a .900 or better OPS from April 25-June 24. The Reds have three hitters with .950+ OPS performances over this period (Joey Votto, Scooter Gennett and Eugenio Suarez), as do the Red Sox (J. D. Martinez, Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi). The Dodgers have three guys over .925 (Max Muncy, Joc Pederson, and Yasiel Puig).

The Indians have two hitters (Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor) with two-month OPS values over 1.000. A player they waived last year (Jesus Aguilar) has been a power monger for the Brewers for the past two months.

Did you ever expect to see Daniel Descalso on this list?

Not a lot of folks with really high walk totals here--Mike Trout, Votto, Shin-Soo Choo, and the Dodgers' latest turnaround hitter Muncy.

Here are some well-known names who've been struggling in one form or another for the past couple months:

Harper isn't even walking at his usual level since his three-week hot start at the beginning of the season. The NL may have adjusted to Hoskins; likewise could be the case for Sanchez. Perez rode the HR boost last year, and his continued focus in that direction is now cratering his BA. Braun's ongoing decline has been exacerbated by injuries, which are also the primary reason for Fowler's struggles this year. It is hard to understand why the Orioles are bothering to give Davis so much playing time...

Sunday, June 24, 2018


So here again we pick up the saga of the one and only Brock Hanke, rogue owner of Ye Olde San Antonio Trotters--and, if the numbers below are taken "as if real." a pretty nifty hitter to boot. The question we left you with last time: are these career numbers (repeated below, with slight corrections in the OPS column...) the stuff of Cooperstown?

A wrinkle that we must consider in such an evaluation is the time frame in which Hanke played, and the exact year in which he would have become eligible for the Hall. Hanging up his cleats and cashing in his franchise for whereabouts unknown at the end of 1995, he'd appear on the Hall of Fame for the first time in 2001. We would not expect him to come close to induction on that first ballot, but his basic traditional stats (3000+ hits, nearly 1700 RBI, .321 BA, and .414 OBP) would certainly keep him from falling off the ballot the first time around.

In 2001, Forman et fils (Baseball Reference) was in its infancy, and the WAR method was not nearly so ingrained in the brain stems of those who were fulminating in the post-Bill James era of statistical systems. (To the detriment of much and many, however, this would soon change.) 2001 brought us 9/11 and the beginning of a cascading quagmire, and baseball was just about to blow up too, thanks to Barry Bonds hitting 73 HRs and cementing the steroid witch hunt (yes, there really have been witch hunts in America, but they don't involve the Orange Menace, who is the biggest loud foul in the nation's history).

Hanke, then, would be only as controversial as the Trotters had managed to become within that alternative scenario, but he'd also be seen as a guy who'd never been close to being the best player on his team. (Not with that Mule the Trotters stole away from Charlie Finley--but that's another tall tale.)

Our job here is to look at various "traditional" (actually, "non-technical") stats--those that don't require complicated formulae and modeling assumptions--in conducting a preliminary evaluation of Hanke's Hall of Fame case. (We'll get to the "technical stats" in Part 3.)

So--hits. 3000 hits has been a bellwether stat for Hall of Famers ever since Cooperstown was invented. Only three players with 3000+ hits are likely not to be inducted in the Hall, at least for a good while: Pete Rose, Alex Rodriguez, and Rafael Palmeiro. We can expect the others (Derek Jeter, Adrian Beltre, Ichiro Suzuki, and Albert Pujols) to get the nod rather quickly once they are eligible for induction.

And, as you can see, down there in 29th place on this list, is Hanke.

Now it's true that it took him longer than anyone on the list to reach the 3000 hit plateau (twenty-five years), and for some that might raise a red (or possibly just a pink) flag. But that league-relative on-base plus slugging (OPS+, a stat just on this side of the "non-technical" least in our book) is (as noted earlier) quite robust. We have to remember that Hanke played mostly in a low-to-average run scoring era (the seventies and eighties). So the quality of his hitting is not subject to doubt.

Next: doubles. While Hanke was not a power hitter per se (he wound up with just over 200 HRs, but this averages out to only about nine per year due to his egregious longevity), he was exceptionally proficient with the two-bagger. He was what we might term a "precision gap hitter," with sufficient bat control to foil whatever outfield positioning was deployed against him. Even late in his career, the percentage of his total hits that went for doubles remained consistently around 22%, a very high percentage; his lifetime D/H ratio ranks 21st all-time.

On the lifetime doubles leaders chart, then, it's not surprising to find Hanke (with his 669 lifetime two-baggers) residing in the #5 slot on the list.

Next: runs batted in. Here's a stat that gets no respect any more: the arguments have been talked through until the listener is bluer in the face than those doing the take-down spiel.

All that said, however, you can see that the lifetime RBI leaders list contains a lot of Hall of Famers. Bonds, Rodriguez, Palmeiro and probably Manny Ramirez are going to remain "tainted" for some time to come, but the chart clearly shows us that hitters who can amass 1600+ RBI are, by and large, going to wind up in Cooperstown.

Again, there's the fact that Hanke took those twenty-five long years to compile his 1685 RBI; he has, as a quick look back at his stat line will show, only one season (1987) where he actually managed to amass 100+ RBI in a season.

But something else to consider is that Hanke's lifetime RBI/TB ratio is .387. Among hitters with 1600+ RBI, that ranks fifth all-time. And which hitters are on either side of Hanke's RBI/TB ratio? Why, Jimmie Foxx (.388) and Babe Ruth (.382), that's who. And those two hitters were able to generate a lot of RBI via HRs--something that Hanke mostly didn't do.

A small but notable aspect of the above stems from the fact that Hanke became a dangerous pinch-hitter in the latter stages of his career. (The "alt-universe" stats indicate that he was 6-for-13 as a pinch-hitter in his rookie season, and just kept delivering in the pinch for the next two dozen years. While he was never a pinch-hit specialist like Manny Mota, Jose Morales or Jerry Lynch, he did amass over 500 lifetime PAs as a pinch-hitter, hitting a sensational .353 and driving in more runs (150) than his total number of pinch hits (146). It's only a footnote in his career, but it's a boisterous one.

Next: on-base percentage. Here's a stat that can't be overlooked in terms of its correlation to offensive value. Our table at left shows the 35 hitters with more than 7000 lifetime plate appearances who compiled a .400+ OBP.

And sliding in at #20 on the list is Hanke, with .414. Of the 19 players ahead of him, 16 are in the Hall of Fame--and one of those not there is Bonds, still suffering from "the taint." (It also shows us that OBP is the key reason why Edgar Martinez is so tantalizingly close to being inducted, and appears to have a solid chance to make it in the 2019 voting. It's also quite likely that Todd Helton will eventually make it, though it might be via the Vets Committee.)

And, finally: adjusted OPS (OPS+). We've shown you Hanke's lifetime OPS+ of 143. What you haven't seen (yet) is where that ranks amongst hitters with at least 7000 PAs, and how many of them are in Cooperstown.

Hanke ranks 39th on the lifetime OPS+ list. Of the 38 players who are ahead of him on this chart (at right), 30 of them are in the Hall. The only exceptions are Bonds, Mark McGwire (both "tainted"), Dick Allen (he's listed in the dictionary as a synonym of "star-crossed"), Ramirez (likely "tainted"), Pujols and Miguel Cabrera (still active), Martinez, and Lance Berkman (most likely too short a career to make the cut).

Underneath him, the hitters with 140-142 OPS+ are thirteen in number. Eight of these are in the Hall, while four of the five who aren't are David Ortiz, Larry Walker, A-Rod, and Sheffield. (Frank Howard is the fifth, and the one most likely to remain on the outside looking in.)

SO...the prima facie case for Hanke is actually rather strong. He's weak on black ink and grey ink, but key counting and rate stats place him among the elite. In 2001, he might well have gotten 40-45% of the vote from the BBWAA.

But--of course--in our "real" world, we have WAR. And while that has yet to become the method of "denying due process" to all other statistical formulations, its proponents--like the Orange Menace--are hard at work trying to do so. In order to bring Mohammed to the mountain, we're going to have to walk through the valley of death and confront WAR.

Which is just what we'll do next time. Stay tuned...

Saturday, June 23, 2018


Heated-up weather and games scheduled in hitters' parks this past week (Coors, Fenway) bumped up hitting and run scoring a bit, but with eight days left in June, overall BA for the month is still in a range to be among the lowest in the history of the game (.243). Just for reference, the lowest monthly BA for June is .239, set in (you guessed it) 1968.

While runs and hits went up, homers stayed steady at a pace about 15% below last June. Of course that is still near the top of such HR/G measures in baseball history.

Walks made a comeback in the past week, but the overall rate for June is now just about on par with May, and doesn't seem to have any unusual characteristics at this time.

Friday, June 22, 2018


Pretend for just a moment that it's twenty years ago. Bill Clinton is President; Donald Trump is a real estate buffoon. The vampires of the Republican Party have not yet found the elixir that permits their "undead" to operate darkly in the light of day. And there is no Forman et fils (Baseball Reference, for those who've stumbled in here for the first time) or Phangrafs--worse yet, no David Pinto.

That means you're reading your baseball stats (if you were wonky enough to do so) in a thick volume entitled Total Baseball. And if your wonkiness extended into an alternative universe (little would we know that we'd really be needing one twenty years later...) you'd have a copy of that doorstop with a series of entries in TB's statistical reference section that told a different version of baseball history from 1971 on.

That would be the book with several odd-sounding franchises--the most notable (if not the most notorious) being the San Antonio Trotters. In 1998, the Trotters had been dissolved, disbanded, and dumped in the same place that, back here in the present day, one can only hope will be the not-too-distant resting place of Le Anti-Grand Orange; but what they did to baseball in the previous quarter-century was both beyond belief and beyond the pale.

Perhaps the chief architect of this meta-tectonic travesty was one Brock Hanke, who took a deck of cards one late-winter evening in 1971 and gave Robert Coover a serious run for his money. ("Dice are nice," Hanke proclaimed, "but I can knock the earth off its axis with this house of cards.") The rabbit hole that Hanke opened up at the feet of yours truly and a rotating cadre of unmentionables would soon invoke a dynasty so gloriously odious, so superciliously subversive, so patently absurd that it could only fold back on the funhouse image of America that would all too soon turn into a proto-fascist quagmire.

Hanke had only two saving graces in the midst of this mishegoss: first, there were no emails with which to taint the tattered remnant of his mortal being; second, by virtue of being the first playing owner of a baseball team since 1890 he was able to secure a semi-permanent roster slot for himself on the Trotters, where he slowly and painstakingly compiled a set of statistics like no other player before or since.

And so, if you blinked backwards, or ingested some mushrooms with extra mischievous "magic," you'd suddenly see a set of statistics in Total Baseball like those displayed in the table (above right). With league-relative stats at their zenith of usage (prior to the deadening era of WAR...), we see that Hanke, while clearly a curious specimen, is also undeniably a productive curiosity, what with his 143 OPS+.

The details of these twenty-five years are both beyond our ken and beneath contempt--there's that flashing image of the execrable Orange Kewpie Doll again--so we'll spare you from a narrative that likely would cause you to follow in the footsteps of Ray Milland's character in The Man with The X-Ray Eyes. What matters here is to take all this hoo-hah at face value and evaluate it with a relatively straight face, as if it were somehow "real."

The question on the floor is as follows: is this the statistical log of a (gulp!) Hall of Famer? We'll leave you lying on the floor with that slow drip of nitrous oxide seeping into your lungs, bound and gagged by these alien, improbable numbers. Don't even try to numb your senses with that years' supply of Novocaine chewing gum you see above you on the shelf, so close yet so firmly out of reach...just read the numbers until your eyes begin to cross; and, before you laugh yourself into a blissful unconsciousness, "double down" on your opinion of their overall quality. (Forget about the Hanke you may have met in real life: forgive--or overlook--his not-so-occasional weakness for buxom Goth girls. Focus on the man who defied the odds and, thanks to an unkempt seam in time and space, compiled these numbers like so much wreckage salvaged from the sea. Then decide whether these numbers qualify him for a plaque in Cooperstown, where his grin will be the spitting image of the cat who swallowed the canary.)

This trickster's Cheshire tale will continue anon...

Friday, June 15, 2018


Here are updated values for the run scoring levels (R/G), homers (HR/G) and walks (BB/G) in the first three months of the 2018 season as compared with the monthly figures in 2017. They are expressed in percentages (higher or lower).

As you can see, the figures for this June (as we approach the halfway point for the month) show an ongoing downturn that now register safely in double digits for R and HR. (The current HR/G rate for June 2018--1.15--is slightly lower than the rate in May--1.17--which is a reversal of the usual trend.)

Of course, last June produced the highest monthly HR/G rate in baseball history (1.35), so there is ample room for decline. The current rate in June 2018 is still the fifth highest HR/G rate for all months of June and ranks in the top 30 for all monthly HR/G averages.

Sunday, June 10, 2018


History is written by the winners, so it is important for us to know what we've lost (and what else is up for grabs). The saga of baseball's slow but accelerating rush into morbid two-dimensionality needs as many sub-chapters we can find if the counter-narrative is going to have chance to live to fight another day, so here we are again with a couple of quick examples of what we are losing.

1. We are losing a game where it's OK to be a non-HR hitter.

We can graph this by looking at the percentage of players who are hitting 20+ HRs in a season. What's interesting about the graph (at right) is that it shows baseball's inherent volatility from year to year on this issue. Well before our present malaise, the home run incursion became one of the ongoing battlegrounds. By the 1950s, as the graph shows, this issue had reached its first major crisis point, the 30% threshold. This persisted into the 60s despite the strike zone adjustment; but note how much more volatile the graph becomes at the end of the 60s. The first homer "spike" in 1987 got us to the 35% level, then there was subsidence for awhile (ignore the dip in the 90s--it's due to the strike year in 1994: no matter how much a banjo hitter might want to, he can't hit 20 HRs if they take 50 games away from you).

The percentage hits 40% at the turn of the century, after which there's a steady state in the mid 30s for awhile, before subsidence kicks in the post-offensive explosion era, which begins in 2009. We actually drop down under 24% in 2014, but run scoring is too low (just over four runs per game), so "something" changes in the second half of 2015. And in 2016-17, of course, that "perfect storm" occurred, setting two new records and breaking the 45% barrier to boot.

As we've mentioned earlier, this is a recipe for morbid two-dimensionality (which is baseball's equivalent state for morbid obesity) and its danger is that it will actually take offensive levels back down to the 1960s. This is not a situation achieved in ignorance, as was the "second deadball era" which stemmed from a knee-jerk strike zone change; this is a situation based on fifteen-plus years of relentless application of neo-sabe ideology masquerading as math/model-derived "wisdom." When you see a spike of this nature, you're seeing the application of several simultaneous factors that are calculated to increase a particular style of offense at the expense of others.

The chart demonstrates that the style has been with us for close to seventy years now (since the 1950s) but it was allowed to metastatize during the offensive explosion era. The steroid backlash did little to change its inherent approach, however, and the factors we discussed in a recent post coalesced within and around the institutionalized neo-sabe "TTO"-dominated ideology.

The chart is useful in showing that there are yearly adjustments that have often occurred with respect to HRs (more accurately, in HR prevention) and it appears that 2018 is going to be an adjustment year. Nine days into June, HR/G are at 1.2 for the month--down from the record 1.35 set in June 2017. More revealingly, perhaps, is the fact that overall batting average is still down about 20 points (from .263 last June to .242 thus far this June), indicating that the pitcher adjustments are aimed at the source of last year's HR-fueled rise in offense (4.91 R/G last June, 4.23 thus far this June).

You can see some of that in the updated comparison numbers between 2017 and 2018 (above right), though they don't spell it out in the numbers quoted above, but rather as the rate of change this year relative to last. Adjustments...or the neo-sabe sop "regression to the mean"? Time will tell, and we'll see who gets to write the real history of what baseball has done to itself.

2. The near-extinction of hitters whose offensive value is not HR-based, but comes from BBs and "balls in play."

Even in an age where 30% of all possible hitters were hitting 20+ HRs, we still had a silver lining: low-HR hitters whose other skills (BA, walks, doubles, and--yes--triples) gave them plenty of value and a place at the top of the batting order.

And given what you've just read above, you shouldn't be too surprised to know that this age is definitely not that age. The offensive explosion allowed for those types of players, because, as the historians like to say, "a rising tide floats all boats."

But the historical data shows that there are two eras where low-power, high-walk players (defined as 12.5% of more of all plate appearances, and less than 10 HRs with at least 300 PAs) have simply disappeared: the 60s, and the past two decades.

The year-by-year and decade-by-decade averages (at left) of the "percentage of possible players" who fit the above profile show how this "offensive safety net" has ebbed and flowed--and how it's been stripped away since the beginning of the 21st century.

You can see what the strike zone change in 1963 did to this type of player: it just killed them. Of course, there were some adjustments made by hitters, but the overall result was to eliminate 50% of such players from the game over the decade of the 60s.

That stabilized and began an upward progression over the next three decades, continuing into the offensive explosion. In 2000 the average was a relatively robust 4.7%. And then...POW! A new paradigm emerged, in tandem with a semi-official re-institution of the high strike. That marginalized this type of player; and, aside from a few random fibrillations toward the end of the last decade, we now have essentially flatlined.

These are also the years in which the "neo-sabes" have penetrated the insider world of baseball.

As we've said before, these are the culprits. These are the folks who own this. These are the folks who are now pointing fingers in every possible oblique angle about the "perfect storm" of HRs while continuing to concoct statistical "analyses" whose biased underpinnings have shoved baseball's offensive variety out in front of an onrushing bus.

This is the history that they've been permitted to write--and this is the history that will have to be wrested away from them and rewritten. Stay tuned, and hold onto your heads...

Friday, June 1, 2018


The table (below right) gives it all to you in four data points.

Runs went up very slightly in April 2018 as opposed to April 2017. They went down by a somewhat more sizable margin in May.

Home runs were down virtually the exact same percentage amount in the two months of 2018 than where they were at in 2017.

The interesting question is what will happen in June. Last year the HR explosion made June the highest HR/G month in the history of baseball.

Will HRs fall by more than 10% this month? Or, possibly, more? Or will warmed-up weather "take the ball for a ride" again? One thing is for sure: Alan Nathan and his "men in tights" don't have any idea, either.