Friday, December 31, 2021


Three weeks ago we showed you numbers that demonstrated the escalating decline of starting pitchers' in-game innings pitched (in particular, the decline of 6+ IP outings). We promised to provide some more details on that--and we race the ball coming down in Times Square heralding a new year where the prospects of an interrupted season are as high as they've been in more than a quarter-century. (Talk about dropping the ball...)

Anyway, here's a chart that doesn't give you all of the team data (too all over the map over the period covered to provide a succinct, coherent pattern) but focuses on the top end--both in terms of the greatest number of 6+ IP games over the 2010-21 time frame, and in terms of the teams with the most success (defined here as the teams that made it into the World Series).

The patterns that emerge here are as follows: the teams with the highest number of 6+ IP starts are still reasonably robust (83 in 2021, despite the pronounced desire on most managers' part to be extra careful with starting pitcher workload), and that World Series teams have had a mostly consistent pattern of exceeding the MLB average for this stat by 12% over the past twelve years (nine of twelve years, and e should probably throw out 2020 due to the "very special" nature of that "season").

We won't post all the data, but when we look at the 30 MLB teams in 2021, the sixteen with winning records averaged 66 games where the starter went 6+ IP; the fourteen teams with losing records averaged 51 such games. So you can conclude that better pitchers still get a chance to go longer into games. Some of that could be that their best games get them into the seventh inning before they go too deeply into the "third time through" the batting order; or we might conclude (or, at least, surmise) that managers are not yet as slavish about that concept as certain fellow travelers of the Tango Love Pie™. 

If baseball manages to play a full season in '22, we expect the 6+ IP numbers to go up, possibly back to levels seen in 2018-19. We'll monitor that--if the labor situation permits. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, December 8, 2021


You've heard quite a lot about how starting pitching is akin to a endangered species, what with terms such as "opener" and "bullpen days" being bandied about over the past few years. 

Of course, "starting pitching" can never disappear from baseball, no matter how embattled those individuals may be, since a baseball game simply has to have someone take the mound in the first inning. (Unless they abolish the first inning, of course--and let's not give Rob Manfred any more cockamamie ideas: he already has enough for several lifetimes.)

But clearly something is happening to starting pitching--or, at least to starting pitchers--thanks to more of that "neo-sabermetric innovation" that has produced a series of distorted strategies via a cascade of domino effects that would have made John Foster Dulles a happy camper. 

Our task here: to document the recent changes in starting pitcher performance as manifested by a simple measure--the number of innings they are allowed to throw in any given game. We present data from the 2010-19 decade, along with the same numbers for 2020 and 2021.

This is the time frame in which the complete game went the way of the dodo bird, so you'll note that we lump games started (GS) into a catch-all category where the starter goes six or more innings. When we follow that number across the time frame, we notice that the total has dropped from being nearly two-thirds of all games down to just over one-third of all games.

You'll note that these tendencies, as measured in all of the breakouts shown above, are distorted by the pandemic-plagued 2020 season, which imposed extreme variants of "pitcher ecology" into the mix. In 2021, there is bounce-back in the "6+ IP GS" data, and it is enough of a recovery that we might expect it to continue in 2022 despite the widespread application of "two times through the batting order" stricture that is strangling discourse of late. 

Note that the percentage of pitchers getting into but not completing the sixth inning (as shown in the row summarizing the "5-5.67 IP GS) has seen a more incremental rise over the period.

One figure we probably should've put into the chart is the sum of the top rows, to show how many starting pitchers still make it into the sixth inning, since it's a measure that shows more of what the true impact of such strategic behavior produces. That number doesn't dip below 80% until 2016 (79%), but in the "thrust-counterthrust" of the launch-angle explosion in 2017-19 drops down to 71% in 2019. In 2020 starters were coddled due to the uncertainties that existed due to the long layoff between spring training and the start of the season, resulting in a drop below 60%, which in 2021 snapped back up to 66%.

And, finally, the new "trend" where the "two times through" mantra has asserted itself: games where the starter goes less than five innings. This is broken out in additional detail to separate games where the pitcher is ineffective (giving up 3 or more earned runs in the outing) with those where the pitcher is most likely being removed in lockstep with the "two times through" dictum.

The data shows that short starts have more than doubled since 2010, but that it didn't start to become a noticeable "two times through" phenomenon until 2018, when it began to be employed in response to the launch-angle explosion. That number spiked in 2020 and has resulted in the terminology associated with the practice becoming almost unbearably ubiquitous. It may be good news that those numbers subsided in 2021, but the numbers are still much higher than they were, even in 2017-18.

Shorter and ineffective starts have increased incrementally since 2010, but it's easy for us to forget that run scoring levels in 2010-15 dipped down to levels often well below 4.5 runs/game, which seems to be baseball's unspoken Maginot line (witness the widespread squawking about "anemic offense" early in the 2021 season when run scoring was under 4.5 runs/game, albeit accompanied with startlingly low batting averages). 

Overall, the use of short but effective starts has tripled since 2010, with the number really going through the roof in 2019 (in what must have been a response to the most egregious point in the launch-angle explosion). 

We'll want to track the <5 IP starts in '22 (assuming, of course, that there actually is a '22 season: Manfred and his merry band of robber barons are hard at work following their mentor Dulles with a "brinksmanship" variant of labor negotiations that is apparently a plutocrat's wet dream) as that will tell us if an increase in starting pitcher effectiveness will drive down the knee-jerk application of the "two times through" mantra. 

A bit later we'll return to this data, looking at it at the team level, to see if this approach is confined to a few teams, or if it actually is as widespread as the media folks would have you believe. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, December 7, 2021


Breathtaking hypocrisy & CYA (hint: this is not the acronym for the Cy Young Award...) commingled this past weekend when the kluged-up committees assembled to "rectify" long-standing oversights and voting errors in baseball's Hall of Fame--and gave their shabbiest performance to date. 

The committee once again left Dick Allen hanging, one vote shy of admission. It smacks of a set-up, just as the postponement of the vote in 2020 when Dick was losing his fight with cancer robbed him of being inducted while still alive.

Meanwhile, the committees selected four other men of color (Buck O'Neil, Bud Fowler, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva) as a massive form of overkill to deflect from their real message--which is that "uppity" folk will continue to be punished until "morale improves."

Meanwhile, the giddy Joe P., finally able to stop his ceaseless proselytizing for O'Neil (a fabulous ambassador for the Negro Leagues elevated to stardom by his performance on Ken Burns' documentary, but middling as both a player and a manager), suggested that the committee elected Oliva and Jim Kaat because they wanted to "elect people who were alive."

You see the problem with that statement, right? If the committee had met in 2020--which they easily could have done virtually, as everyone else in the world has been doing since the early months of the pandemic--they could have elected Dick Allen while he was still alive.

Of course, Dick probably would have fallen one vote shy at that point, too.

Minoso received an excess number of votes compared to the other candidates, which suggests that there was some hanky-panky in the back room.

Jayson Stark handled the ongoing situation vis-a-vis Dick with kid gloves at The Athletic: it's a useful read, because it points up just how bad things are in the "committee world" of the Hall of Fame. Oliva and Gil Hodges were elected with less than 2,000 career hits (just like Dick), and with significantly lower league-relative stats. Their election opens a Pandora's box of ersatz candidates that will further plague the process as it goes forward.

Hodges is a sentimental favorite here, but that is mostly due to his stewardship of the 1969 Mets. The Hall of Fame needs a place for managers who preside over miracles: Hodges should join Fielder Jones and George Stallings as part of a wing created to celebrate the great upsets in baseball history. These feats are dismissed in a hyper-cynical age, but they are an integral part of the lore of the game. 

Hodges shows up well in a performance comparison of first baseman during the span of his career, particularly from 1948-59, but it was also a time of transition at that position.

Elsewhere in the committee's assault on basic logic: why Kaat and not Tommy John? John has the human element in his favor--recovering from what was previously a career-ending injury to come within shouting distance of 300 wins. The procedure pioneered by Dr. Frank Jobe is not called "Jim Kaat surgery." 

Kaat has fewer wins than John, and a lower league-relative ERA (108 to 111). Arguments can be made to include or exclude both, but not one in lieu of the other

Meanwhile, the Socratic Gadfly reminds us that the early years committee, with its conveniently nebulous portfolio, went CYA with Fowler and O'Neil while once again snubbing Bill Dahlen (at or very near the top of nineteenth-century shortstops) and Bob Caruthers (in the "age of Ohtani," a peak candidate of breathtaking short-term accomplishment on the mound and at home plate).

(Note that the last player from the nineteenth-century major leagues to be enshrined in Cooperstown is Bid McPhee, who was waved in the side door back in 2000.)

It's inarguable that Fowler was among the very first victims of racial discrimination in organized baseball. That incontrovertible certainty outstrips our incomplete knowledge of his on-field prowess.

But the fact that two African-Americans were selected as part of a PR blitzkrieg undertaken by MLB to deflect from its ongoing woes while the rest of nineteenth-century baseball is summarily ignored tells us that "history" is being cynically stage-managed by the "powers that be."

The stench continues, and has at least another five years to waft ignominiously in the air until these committees are reconvened. Frank Frisch, much vilified by Bill James (even as he reached his lowest moment with his execrable, borderline libelous commentary about Dick) can now peer out from his casket and smirk at how "history" is repeating itself. 

So much stench, and so much blighted eternity...

[UPDATE 12/12]: Joe P. has again attempted to have his cake and eat it too in his recent blog post about the Hall of Fame, where he suggests that it was "liberating" for Buck, Gil, Minnie and Tony to be inducted. The question is: "liberating" for whom? We're all happy as f*ck for you, Joe: you got what you wanted--but at what cost to so many others? Many now await endless campaigns for the Steve Garveys of the world, with little logical recourse to prevent the roster of inductees from tripling over time as the folks who run the Cooperstown boondoggle will be sorely tempted to allow such a process to accelerate, all in the name of bringing more fans (and $$) into their picturesque little neck of the woods. Joe, as always, fails to see the real ramifications of what is likely a Rubicon event: that this is a "ca-ching" moment, not an "ah-ha" moment.]