Monday, October 31, 2022


Joe the P. is at it here we are, once more cast in the role of the "truth police." 

In his blog entry for Game 2 of the '22 World Series, the prose-y poser ledes with what seems like a startling stat: "Framber Valdez's outing was the first time in three years that a starter in the World Series went more than six innings!"

That stat is "true." It's not "inaccurate"--as far as it goes. But before one buys into Joe P.'s trailing thesis (pitchers and batters are better than ever yadda yadda but it's unfair that so many studly relievers can follow starters into games yadda yadda and that explains why hitting is down yadda yadda yadda--yechh!) let's examine this stat "that kinda blows your mind and also seems perfectly obvious at the same time":

--It covers a total of 27 starts in the World Series: 12 in 2020, 12 in 2021, and 3 this year.

--It doesn't take into account the totals/percentages in MLB as a whole, or in the rest of the post-season.

In short, it's a heavily massaged construction geared to distract you from the full reality of what's happening in baseball so that you'll swallow that trailing thesis, an argument meant to deflect from the fact that sabermetrics has led inexorably to the situation we're facing--a game dangerously close to succumbing to two-dimensionality thanks in large part to the execrable concept of the "Three True Outcomes."

In other words, Joe the P. is shilling for the quant quackers in order to give them enough cover to figure out a way out of the mess they've helped create.

Now Joe may have actually had a good answer for that in the rest of his piece, which isn't accessible to those of us who don't want to have to pay for his insights. (That's right, folks--we do actually draw the line somewhere...we won't pay to be shilled.) But based on all available evidence, we think it unlikely that he did so...because it's more fun to post an oversimplified stat than it is to gather a larger cluster of data that might actually reflect reality.

So here's reality, as reflected by how deep starting pitchers now go into games during the post-season. The chart at right breaks down IP lengths/ranges for starters over the past six post-seasons (we're still missing a few games for '22, but there's enough there at this point to be more than workable in context). The thresholds are: less than 3 IP (<3); 3-5.67 IP (>3<6), exactly 6 IP (6), and greater than 6 (>6). 

Note that in 2022, there are 21% of GS that have gone more than 6 IP. In a word, huh? 

How is that possible, given the "truth" of Joe P.'s "mind-blowing stat"? Who's smoking what? 

Joe's smoking a brand called "selective sample size." His stat is for the World Series only, while ours is for the post-season as a whole. Prior to the '22 World Series, there have been 14 games in which the starting pitcher has gone more than six innings. That, added to Valdez' outing on Saturday night, works out to 21% of the starts in the '22 post-season. 

There's no question that SP outings were seriously curtailed in 2020 and 2021. But that's not the case in 2022--the figures for 6 and >6 add up to more than a third of the total GS in the post-season (35%), a figure that's actually higher than than the six year average (30%).

It's interesting to see the flashpoint for short SP outings in '21--a set of results that would've been much easier for Joe the P. to have seized upon for his argument...except for the fact that it wasn't just a case of "openers" (though that notion appears to have spiked in '21). It was also a case where we had an inordinate number of poor outings from starters--including two from Framber Valdez in the WS against the Braves.

Now the uptick in longer outings just might push ol' Poser Joe back to his earlier argument--that starting pitchers are just too good these days. But that would have to take into account the fact that three of the four starts made in the World Series were sub-par performances by top pitchers. 

Kinda hard to keep having it both ways--so best to lump them all together with a silly analogy about boxers, as Joe did in the part of the piece he was willing for the public to read. Which is worse--mixing incomparable sports or incompatible metaphors? We're not sure, but what's worse yet is doing both at the same time

Next year will tell us if baseball has found a way to internally adjust for the "launch angle" revolution in a way that will prevent it from entering into a new variation of the "second deadball era" that continues to haunt the overwrought and overrated sentries of "baseball knowledge." Their theories and models laid the groundwork for what we've experienced in the past six years, and they are increasingly desperate to escape the blame for what they've helped create. Joe the P. is just the most voluble--and visible--of these folk. Take his provocations with a tablespoon of salt.

Saturday, October 29, 2022


There, we've done it. We've given you a headline that's oh so similar to how our "friends" in the media do it. 

It's the perfect "take it or leave it" lede, suitable for anything from blogger "Passan Wannabe" all the way up (or down...) to USA TODAY (please pronounce it "oo-sah toe-day"). 

Of course, someone might get tripped up (inadvertently or otherwise) by that phrase "game typology." According to research, that happens about 23.6% of the time, give or take a decimal point. The vaunted "Malcolmian WTF? factor" used to have a much, much higher "hit rate," running in the low 40s--almost making it viable in the commercial marketplace (now some people, at the "metaverse")--but the steady encroachment of the "age of fracture" and the escalating "echo chamber" bedfellows of the media with post-neo-sabe tribalism have long since permitted most folks to simply bypass our outmoded click bait tactics.

For those of you still with us, "game typology" for the World Series is set into place after Game 1 is concluded (and what a Game 1 it was last evening, as Phillies got off the floor after falling behind 5-0 to pull out a 6-5, ten-inning win). There are four types of game sequences in the semi-closed system of the World Series, related to Game 1 outcomes and where the game was played. Last night's game was played in the AL home park, which forms part of the game typology (perhaps we should call it "game sequence typology," eh?). Who won the game between the AL and NL opponents forms the other part.

Thus you have four types of World Series that are defined from the location and outcome of Game 1. The game was played in the AL park, and the NL team was the winner. We mark that "NA" (which some of you shiftier-eyed types will immediately note also means "not applicable") which slots the game into a subgroup of 22 that clump together out of the four overall possibilities ("NA" you know; "AH" would've been the type/designation for this series had the Astros won the game; "AA" would have been a Game 1 in Philadelphia won by the Astros, and "NH" would be a Game 1 in Philadelphia won by the Phillies.)

The chart color-codes game locations based on the color chosen for the leagues--orange is AL, yellow is NL. This chart selects only those games that started in the AL city and feature wins by the NL team in Game 1. "NA" is short for "NL" and "away."

And so we can now look at the World Series outcomes that fall into this category "NA" and take a look at their outcomes. (Note that the winner of each World Series is shown in bold type.) The Phillies-Astros matchup in '22 will be the 23rd such member of this subgroup, and it will either produce the 13th instance where the NL team wins the World Series or it will produce the tenth instance where the AL team recovers from the loss and wins the World Series.

And yes, that does indeed mean that the current tally in this subgroup is 12-10 in favor of the NL, which means that, according to this high-level (and small-sample) oddsmaking, the Phillies currently have a 55% chance of winning the World Series. 

Now, it's probably lower than that, given the odds we quoted the other day (32% chance of winning against a team with a regular-season win total 10+ wins higher; 17% chance against a team with a seasonal win total 16+ wins higher). If we triple-weight the G1 outcome with those other factors, the Phils are up to ~44%. And the home park advantage that kicks in beginning at G3 would also push their odds up further. Essentially the Phils' G1 win virtually neutralizes the Astros' previous "win differential" advantage.

What the chart also tells us is that, in this sub-group of series, G2 has gone to the AL 16 out of 22 times. That' 73% of the time. It should be noted, though, that in the games where the NL team takes a 2-0 game lead on the road by winning G2, those teams are 3-2 in terms of the World Series outcome: winning in 2019, 1963 (Dodgers' sweep of Yankees), and 1914 (the Miracle Braves sweep the Philadelphia A's), but losing in 1996 (Yankees roar back to beat Braves) and 1985 (Royals get some help from Don Denkinger).

Note that the two of the last three World Series are in this group (2019, the crown jewel of the "counterintuitive" World Series, in which the road team won every game, and 2021, where the Astros' offense turned sluggish in Atlanta and the Braves' pitchers silenced Yordan Alvarez). This subtype has been quite prominent in the 21st century: its 2022 incarnation is the ninth time it's happened in 22 years, as opposed to just 13 times in the first 99 World Series. 

What will happen? Stay tuned...

Thursday, October 27, 2022


We interrupt our look at "second-half bruisers" to provide you with our self-styled preview of the 2022 World Series between the Philadelphia Phillies (the latest in a long line of "October upstarts") and the Houston Astros (the current surrogate for many who traffic in "evil empire" tropes).

The data at right gives you the outcome and length of the 28 World Series that feature teams squaring off against each other with what the subject line characterizes as "high win differential." How high? Ten games or more in the regular season standings. (That just leaves out our old faves, the '69 New York Mets, who were nine games behind the pace of the Baltimore Orioles when they "brought on Ron Stupid" and threw a blanket over them.)

What should be noted up front is that the win differential (19 wins) between the Phillies and Astros is the second-highest in baseball history for World Series opponents, exceeded only by differential in the 1906 World Series between cross-town Chicago rivals, the Cubs and the White Sox. That resulted in the first great upset in World Series history, with the "Hitless Wonders" from the South Side winning in six.

But as the chart also shows us (reading upward here, from the green section into the two shades of yellow) there wasn't another such upset where the "David" team knocked off Goliath for nearly fifty years, when the New York Giants engineered their fabled sweep of the 111-win Cleveland Indians. Things were just kind of orthodox back in the old days, ya know? 

Interestingly, though, the rate of these "win differential mismatches" has not changed much in the pre- and post-expansion eras. These things seem to be pretty random, and show a tendency to cluster (three in a row from 1938-40, five in a row from 1984-88, three out of five from 2005-09). 

Since expansion, however, the outcomes of these contests have become much more random. After the 12-2 run of the team with the big regular season advantage essentially trampling out the vintage of their lesser-win opponent, it's all even-steven in the years leading up to now. The other hallmark indicator of such matchups--short series of 4 or 5 games--has faded a bit, as evidenced by the seven-game "rope-a-dope" win engineered by the Washington Nationals against those cheatin', trash-can bangin' Astros in 2019 (a World Series that really seems like a lifetime ago).

So--what to expect from this matchup? Well, aside from a lot of strikeouts, we did manage to tease one small-sample indicator from the pile of data. In matchups where the win differential of the teams is at the high end (16 games or more), the results strongly favor the team with the greater number of regular-season wins. In those six World Series, the "Goliath" team has a 5-1 record against the "Davids."

The Phillies have had a great little run, but they were aided by a seeding system that (as we noted previously) gives too much opportunity to the wild card teams and that possibly penalizes the best teams by keeping them off the field to "go flat" (as happened to the #1 and #2 seeds in the NL this year, the Dodgers and Braves, both eliminated in division series upsets). The Phillies didn't have to face the best team in baseball to make it to the World Series, but they will get a reasonable facsimile in the Astros, who are probably hungry to toss off some of the tarnish they've been wearing since the "trash can scandals" created the latest absurd overreaction from the "embedded media" (a force that just might be as much of a threat against democracy as the "trashy" forces unleashed against the government in 2017, and who, unlike the Astros, are still banging their trash cans as loudly as possible).

The average length of the World Series with a 16+ win differential between opponents is just under five games. So, if things stay with the realm of that dynamic, the most likely outcome is a win for the Astros in five games. And this is a year where, in so many ways, it would be as comforting as it would be useful to have a "reasonable outcome," despite the "allure of the other." 

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

SIZZLING UP THE SECOND HALF/9: 1980-89, 1990-99

We combine the 80s and the 90s because the former decade is arguably the low ebb of hot second-half performances and would make for an extremely perfunctory post. It does start off with a bang, however...

George Brett's second half in 1980 catapulted him closer to a .400 season than anyone since that threshold had last been met by Ted Williams in 1941. It was also the first time that someone had hit over .400 during the second half since Williams did it in 1957.

Mike Schmidt had a nice, albeit shortened, run in the second half of 1981 once the players' strike had been settled. Another third baseman, Doug DeCinces, had a solid run in the latter half of the following season.

After clubbing an uncharacteristic 24 homers in the tater-tastic year of 1987, Wade Boggs reverted to his standard hitting profile in 1988 and forged an excellent second half, pushing his BA up to .380 and sustaining a base on balls place that pushed his season total to well over 100. More orthodox second-half peaks were turned in by Schmidt, Jose Canseco, Brook Jacoby and Jack Clark--only one of which had much synergy with any team success (Canseco's A's cruised to the World Series that year, only to be upended by the offensively challenged Los Angeles Dodgers).

The beginning of the Barry Bonds era dominates the 1990-93 time frame, along with Frank Thomas' early success. Note Ken Griffey Jr.'s rather uncharacteristic second half scald in 1991, before his power surge kicked in. And George Brett gets within hailing distance of his 1980 second-half eruption a decade later, catapulting him to his third (and last) batting title.

1995-96 ups the game a bit more, with Bonds previewing his OBP chops in '96. He was overshadowed by the power of Ken Caminiti, however, whose stellar (steroid-enhanced?) second half led the San Diego Padres into the playoff for the first time in a dozen years. 

Albert Belle was a precursor of what was coming in the immediate post-strike era, where homer production went through the roof.

Belle pushed his second half success further in 1998, crashing into the Top 40 with astonishing numbers (.387 BA, .816 SLG). Mark McGwire also produced two 30+ HR second halves en route to his smashing of the home run record. Larry Walker cleared .400 for his 1998 second half run, a feat that would be duplicated only two more times between then and now.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022


The seventies--a decade for which we could use a do-over in hopes of forestalling the latest wave of ignorant backlash in America--had its moments while it lasted. Baseball was in a milder format, with a certain level of suppression in place to ensure that no sluggers came within shouting distance of Babe Ruth's home run record. Offensive levels bottomed out, recovered, relapsed, and finally moved past anemia (but headlong into eighties anomie...) when expansion occurred in '77. 

OK, we'll stop with the conflation and get on with the figures...

1970 saw an uptick in offense, particularly in the NL, and Willie McCovey and Carl Yastrzemski were there to take advantage. Their heroics did little to help their teams make it into what from now on would be called "the post-season"...

We'll have to go back and look at players' ages to get a better handle on that distribution among high-end second-half performance, but one suspects that, after the numbers we'll see during the 2000-09 decade from Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron's age-37 performance, ranked #24 all-time with a 231 OPS+, will be among the most impressive. 

Joe Torre, slimmed down and moved from catcher to third base, had a throwback season (high BA, middling power) in his MVP season.

Run-scoring levels dipped again in '72 (as the nation overwhelmingly picked the "wrong man"--no, not Henry Fonda--for president). It was most prevalent in the AL, where three stalwarts--Dick Allen, John Mayberry, and Bobby Murcer--cracked the Top 300 at varying levels despite relatively low BAs. It was that type of year. 

Over in the NL, Billy Williams put together his finest season for the Cubs, leading the league in BA, SLG, OPS and OPS+ and probably cementing his Hall of Fame chances. (He was actually hotter in the first half, which we'll see eventually when we cover that data for you a bit later on.)

These are the fallow years, with (usually) just one hitter cracking into the Top 300. Davey Johnson went to Atlanta in '73 and refined his HR stroke; Jeff Burroughs refined his batting eye and nailed down his line drive hitting, at least for awhile in '74; John Mayberry returned one last time to the form that made many believe he'd be the key superstar of the 70s (sadly, he was not); Joe Morgan brought stolen bases back into the equation (even though they don't factor into OPS/OPS+) and locked down his second MVP award with a nice run in '76.

In '77, one flake and one Hall of Famer pushed against the singularity and had top-notch second halves in the same season (imagine!). Oscar Gamble had the better performance according to OPS+, but George Brett's counting stats were more impressive, and we know which one of these guys we're likely to see on this list again...

The late 70s saw the advent of two slashing lefty batters: Dave Parker and Fred Lynn. They didn't maintain the pace they set in the second half of the decade, but they fashioned long and effective careers. 

Our man Sixto Lezcano proved to be a more wayward type, and seemed to attract brushback pitches that knocked him from the lineup and sapped his full potential as a hitter, but in '79 he was a glorious offensive force, leaving a strong footnote about what he could do at his best. '79 was a bittersweet summer in many ways, but the heartbreak and foreboding it contained was offset by Lezcano's superb second half (particularly in July and August, when it looked like he might own the world). 

Monday, October 24, 2022


Into the sixties we go, with another batch of second-half stalwarts. Frank Robinson and Henry Aaron will be along promptly...

Here's Frank, with a blowtorch second half that gets him close to the Top 40. Ted Williams takes his final bow this year, pushing himself just into the Top 300 with that famed home run in his final at-bat. Eddie Mathews comes up big in the clutch, delivering 80 RBI.

Norm Cash pushes up to #62 with his second-half performance during the AL expansion year in '61, putting him ahead of Mickey Mantle and Jim Gentile; note that OBP! As we noted in our writeup of the '62 season, F. Robby was arguably the real MVP in the 1962 NL.

Our first sighting of the ever-so-steady Henry Aaron, not firing on nine cylinders, but just cruising along in '63, the year of the strike zone change. Willie Mays and Orlando Cepeda also had great second halves, but it wasn't enough to get the Giants back into the World Series. Young Boog Powell, playing in the outfield (!!), has a stellar year (and second half) in 1964. Mays and Billy Williams, who'd both been off to exceptionally hot starts in '64, turned up the heat in the second half during the following year.

Pitching starts to get overwhelming in 1967, buy that doesn't stop Carl Yastrzemski from climbing the mountain to get the Red Sox into the World Series. During that same year, Roberto Clemente turned back the clock to the Deadball Era with a style of hitting that had been AWOL for some time. The year before, Frank Robinson moved over to the AL, won the Triple Crown, and got his HR stroke down as he led the Orioles to a shocking sweep of the defending champion Dodgers in the World Series. 

1968 took so much wind out of the sails of major-league hitters that it's not surprising that only Clemente found his way onto this list; with the low overall OPS for baseball that year, he actually cracks into the Top 200. In '69, Rusty Staub finds his HR stroke, Willie McCovey cools off from his hot first half but still makes it to #110 for "part deux," and Pete Rose chases down the Mets' Cleon Jones in the second half to win another batting title. (And note that nobody really wanted to pitch to Harmon Killebrew: in the second half of 1969, he has more walks than hits.)

As you'd expect, there are no .400+ hitters in this group; no .500+ OBPs registered (McCovey was closest, at .459); and only one SLG above .700 (Mays, in '63). But kindly note that we haven't seen the last of Henry Aaron...

Sunday, October 23, 2022


We move into the fifties, with holdover superstars and a procession of African-American sluggers coming into their own...let's get to it:

1950 was a big hitters' year overall, which might explain why no one cracked the Top 300 with a second half performance. There were four of them in 1951, top-lined by sluggers amping it for two teams that met in a fateful payoff series (Bobby Thomson and Roy Campanella). It's clear that Thomson's heroics that year weren't limited to his walk-off homer against Ralph Branca.

Negro League veteran slugger Luke Easter was the "king of the second half" in 1952.

Slugging came back into vogue in 1953-54, with three sluggers (Eddie Mathews, Stan Musial, Duke Snider) each posting a SLG north of .700. Ted Kluszewski found his power stroke in the second half of 1954 and kept on mashing the ball at an accelerated rate into the 1956 season. 

And here is our first Willie Mays sighting...

And our first Mickey Mantle sighting...

Do you remember the player who actually hit better (we're talking BA right now...) than Ted Williams' monumental.454 in the second half of 1957? We'll tell you later...for now, however, savor the astonishment of a 306 OPS+.

Ernie Banks gets his HR stroke in gear this year, just two shy of 30 over the last half of 1957.

Mantle, Mays and the short-season heroics of young Willie McCovey...but nobody topped 40-year-old Ted Williams: his ranking in 1958 was at #76, still better than everyone who'd been on the lists for 1956-57 and 1958-59.

The only African-American sluggers not to make an appearance on the second-half lists in the 50s: Henry Aaron and Frank Robinson. Fear not; we will see them in the 60s...

In the 50s we have one .400+ BA, two .500+ OBP, one .800+ SLG...all attributable to Ted Willliams. They were three more SLGs above .700. There were 17 instances where players hit 20+ HRs in the second half, and just once instance where a player made it into the Top 300 with a BA lower than .300 (Duke Snider, 1957).

Williams set a new record for highest OBP in a second half (a mind-boggling .594), but his .454 second-half BA fell just short of Harry Heilmann's .457 back in 1927. As Casey Stengel liked to say: you could look it up. All hail Heilmann!

Saturday, October 22, 2022


Back to those hitters who--yes--sizzle when the weather gets hot (and don't cool off in September). 

We are up to the 1940s now--a decade that, due to WWII, will feature a few very unfamiliar names. Let's get started...

Remember, whenever you see numbers in red typeface, you're looking at a newly-set "second half" record. And Ted Williams' stretch run in '41 produced new records in BB and OBP. His second half in this year ranks #3 all-time in OPS+.

Joe DiMaggio's famous 1941 hitting streak occurred from mid-May to mid-July, and wasn't part of his second half--which, as you can see,  actually proved to be inferior to the second half he put up in 1940.

Teddy Ballgame wasn't too shabby in the "summer of '42" before going off to war. Two young hitters from St. Louis--Enos Slaughter and Wally Judnich--pop into prominence here. One would wind up in the Hall of Fame, while the other would flame out by the end of the decade and become a forgotten man.

Stan Musial, not yet hitting HRs, still has a very solid second half in '43; Dick Wakefield looks like a budding superstar in '44, but he'd return after the war and prove to be disappointing. 

Nobody had a sufficiently hot hand in 1945 to crack the Top 300...

What? Someone actually puts up a half-season with a higher OBP than Ted Williams? Yes, indeed: it's our man Roy Cullenbine, hitting close to .400 in what is by far the greatest half-season of his career. (He'd hit .224 the next year and get released.) And Whitey Kurowski out-slugs everyone during the 1946-47 stretch runs--even Ralph Kiner, who hits 31 of his 54 HRs in 1947 in the second half.

And Harry (the Hat) Walker had his joy & fun in his half-season in the sun in 1947, with the lowest HR total of any player making the Top 300 during the 1940s.

A fascinating second-half duel between Musial and Willliams plays out as their two teams just miss their chance to finish in first place. Ralph Kiner hits 31 HRs in the second half again.

Summing up: there's one .400+ half-season (Williams in '41), four instances of a .500+ OBP (Williams 3 times, plus Cullenbine), and two half-seasons with .700+ SLG (Williams in '41 and Musial in '49). Of the 29 half-seasons in the 40s that make it into the Top 300, 16 occurred in the AL, 13 in the NL.

The 50s are up next...

Friday, October 21, 2022


We've been swamped and sidetracked in the past ten days, and owe you more entries in the "second half" historical survey--they'll resume tomorrow. 

But a friend wrote about the dominant performance of the seeming ageless, apparently indestructible Justin Verlander in Game 1 of the ongoing ALCS between the Astros and the Yankees, and chimed in with a question about where Verlander's excellent 2022 comeback season ranked in "recent memory" in terms of starting pitcher performance. 

And so, sans further ado, here is some data related to that reminds us rather sadly about the passage of time and the all-too-common fungibility of starting pitchers. But the date also allows us to relive some tremendous seasonal achievements that all-too-easily slip away from our memory banks. Here we go:

We'll do this from bottom to top, in groups of ten. These are ranked by ERA+; we could get a totally different list order by using OPS+ (batter vs. pitcher hitting data normalized to league), but that has a less direct correlation to runs allowed, so we'll buck our own tradition and cleave toward analytical orthodoxy.

Many folks here still pitching--Burnes, Manoah, Noal, Kershaw, Sale (just barely), Ohtani, and (of course Verlander). In this group there is very little to distinguish one performance from another, particularly when you peruse the key rate stats (raw ERA, H/9, HR/9, BB/9. SO/9). Odd to see what we might think of as a non-descript Randy Johnson season here (#41), but that might be based on a lingering connection to W-L record. Note, though, that the only other pitcher in this group with a hard luck WPCT--Felix Hernandez--won the Cy Young Award in 2010.

We also see Shohei Ohtani's fine year in the context of the 21st century--excellent, but not earth-shattering. Some of that is due to the fact the starting pitchers--even the elite ones--are simply pitching fewer and fewer innings per year. Our table at right shows how that has changed as we enter the third decade of this volatile century. 

Again, the 31-40 group is tightly bunched, but there is more variation in the /9IP stats. Verlander's 2019 season shows up here at #31 with a tremendously dominant H/9, but he was very susceptible to the long ball in that freakishly homer-happy year. The rate stats for Derek Lowe (#39) twenty years ago look downright quaint in comparison to what we see elsewhere. Youthful greatness snuffed out is represented by Mark Prior (#33) and Jose Fernandez (#40). Still active from this list: Verlander, Ryu (just barely), Kershaw, Scherzer, Strasburg (just barely), and Sandy Alcantara (who has an outside shot at the NL Cy Young Award).

Very few active pitchers to be found in the 21-30 group, who cluster in the first decade of the 21st century (which seems like a radically different time, now, doesn't it?). The only active pitchers here are Gerrit Cole (#23), who will start the pivotal G3 of this year's ALCS against his former team, and Dylan Cease (#29), the White Sox righty who had a breakout year in 2022 (and needs, but won't get, a mound-mate whose last name is Desist). Cease and Clay Buchholz (#22), the mercurial "magic arm" of the Red Sox back in the Theo Epstein Era, are two guys who are noticeably wilder than their counterparts on this list. 

In case you're wondering, the minimum number of IP to appear on this list is 140, which is how Roy Halladay (#24) made it onto the list. On this list twice is Randy Johnson (#21 andn #27) for back-to-back years with 300+ Ks and plenty of wins (an aggregate 40-13 record).

And the Big Unit cracks the list one more time as the 11-20 segment takes us to ERA+ values exceeding 200. (We eyeball it here, but it seems highly likely that Johnson's 2000-02 seasons mark the only time anyone struck out 300+ batters in three straight years. (A quick check of Nolan Ryan's career stats indicates that he's actually the guy who did it first, from 1972-74.)

Pitchers who are still active in this segment include Sale (just barely), Greinke (ditto), Kluber, Kershaw, Hendricks, Trevor Bauer (actively in suspended animation), and Julio Urias, who we're figuring has the inside track on the '22 NL CYA. Zack Greinke's 2009 season is an outlier that we've discussed before; excellent HR prevention and an elevated strand rate allowed him to produce numbers that look better than they really were, offsetting his 48th best H/9 value.

And now: the Top Ten, as it stands after the 2022 season:

There's "our man" Greinke again, at #4, with his most brilliant season (2015, before he became a truly wandering man-boy). Several short seasons push their way onto this list: Clayton Kershaw's otherworldly but injury-shortened 2016 (#2), and the forgotten Rich Harden, who gave us just a brief glimpse of what might have been. (Imagine being traded during a season when you're compiling numbers like that...)

And. of course, there's Pedro Martinez, whom we failed to mention when he showed up at #14...because we knew we'd be seeing him twice here in the Top Ten--including what is almost certain to be the pitching "season of the century" (#1) that he rolled right out of the box in 2000. That OPS+ value is not a misprint, even though every time one looks at it, one swears that it must be.

And, at #5, there's Verlander, with a comeback season for the ages at the age of 39. (Only the embattled Roger Clemens, at #3, was better at a more advanced age.) He joins three other pitchers at this rarified level who are still active: Jacob deGrom, Jake Arrieta (just barely), and Blake Snell.

Before we sign off, here are some charts that show the distribution of these years by decades. 2022 produced six seasons now in the 21st century Top 50, making it the most populous year thus far. New entries to the list have been coming at an elevated rate since the "Launch Angle" era thrust itself upon us; 19 of the top 50 starting pitcher performances currently on the list come from 2017-2022...and that's with 2020 disqualified due to its "part-season" status due to the pandemic.

And how do our five segments (1-10, 11-20, 21-30, 31-40, 41-50) fan out across time? The chart at left gives us a look. The 2010 decade remains the most numerous, and has more than half of these top performances in all but one of the ten-game units. 

When we break that data into halves, we see that the 2020 pitchers are finding room for themselves primarily in the bottom half of the list. Verlander's stellar work in '22 put present-day pitchers into a slot in the Top 10.

One final chart--this one looks at the correlation of H/9 and BB/9 and its relationship to the raw ERA turned in by the pitchers on the Top 50 list. 

This chart operates a bit like a QMAX matrix chart, assigning two scores to each season based on how good each pitcher's hit prevention (H/9) and walk prevention (BB/9) was, and then assigned a slot in the matrix based on ranges (as displayed in the table at right. 

Because these are all such top-flight performances, the range of difference is not nearly as pronounced as it'd be if we were working with all of the starters in the 21st century, but note that the groups with the best combined hit and walk prevention (in the boxed area in the upper left of the diagram) is notably better than the groups with the more modest values for H/9 and BB/9. Despite what still persists as "received wisdom" among the original "neo-sabes", hit prevention still matters. 

Thursday, October 13, 2022


We move into the 30s as we continue to survey the hitters who surged in the second half. There will be many familiar names along with a few surprises. If you are new to this, know that this list is the top 300 second-half performances per the batter splits at Baseball Reference and it has been sorted in descending order of OPS+. Statistical shapes for these hitters are still relatively diverse, but that will start to change as we move closer to the present day. Let's get started...

Al Simmons' injury-plagued second-half in 1931 just made the cut in plate appearances--it was quite a run for the mainstay of the Philadelphia A's, who won their third consecutive pennant (but were upset by the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series that year.) Chick Hafey of the Cards made it onto this list for the second time in '31 with his own .400+ second half.

Of course the biggest bopper of them all is the fellow who ranks lowest on this chart according to OPS+: Hack Wilson, who set records in second-half HR and RBI in his incredible 1930 season. (Hack's 191 RBI for the season weren't enough to get the Cubs back into the World Series that year, however).

Babe Ruth's truncated second half in 1932 produced a new record for OBP (a staggering .557) and boosted this performance into the top fifteen all-time despite the relative modesty of the counting numbers. Ruth hit .379 in the second half of '32 but became the first player to rank in the Top 300 of second-half performers with a sub-.300 BA (which we've color-coded in white text on a flashing orange background). Jimmie Foxx became the premier hitter in the AL in the early 30s, hitting 58 HRs in 1932...and his follow-up season wasn't too shabby either!

Lou Gehrig pushes his way into the Top 40 with his second-half performance in 1934, though the Yankees do not win the pennant; Hank Greenberg's Tigers do that in both '34 and '35, with Hank's doubles-dominant years providing a lot of firepower. (Greenberg hit 63 doubles in '34, nearly 60% of them in the second half--and his total of 36 second-half doubles set a record that has yet to be broken.) Arky Vaughan hit .385 in 1935, so you can anticipate what his first-half numbers are going to look like...!

Some new names here--Rudy York, Earl Averill, Dolph Camilli and Joe DiMaggio--join the second-half sizzlers. Averill is the first hitter to hit .400+ since the 1931 season, and Lou Gehrig comes within one RBI of tying Hack Wilson's 1930 record total. (The Gehrig-DiMaggio tandem has its one truly devastating season, combining for more than 200 little more than half a season!)

More new names--including one we'll be seeing a lot of in the coming years (Ted Williams). But it's Johnny Mize who crashes into the Top 30 with a truly awesome second-half performance. Hank Greenberg hits 58 HRs in 1938, 36 of them in the second half--a new record. Jimmie Foxx, now in Boston, hits 50 on the year but can't quite keep pace with the masher from Detroit. The Browns' fine third sacker Harlond Clift hits 26 of his 34 HRs in the second half to push his way into the Top 200.

In this decade, only three .400+ BA performances, but twelve .700+ SLG performances (ten of them in the American League; the NL offensive environment takes a nosedive after the monster 1930 season). But our first and only sub-.300 BA season (thus far) in the Top 300 second-half performances occurs in the AL, and it's Babe Ruth who does it. 

Back soon with the 40s...

Wednesday, October 12, 2022


Robbie Ray gave up three in a game to the A's, for Crissakes...
Here's the straight scoop, kiddies: you don't pitch to Yordan Alvarez when he can beat you a ballgame. 

You cannot finesse this. You can't try bringing in your ostensible left-handed ace (whether he actually is one, like Clayton Kershaw, or just plays one on TV, like the Mariners' Robbie Ray), grab a MyPillow and assume the fetal position. It won't work.

The card-carrying quant quacks, from Bill James on down, will put their overheated, overrated and overdetermined hackles up in attack display when we continue this sentence with the phrase "intentional walk," but there are times when there is literally no other recourse. If Joe the Poser is right in assuming that Alvarez' three-run turnaround/walkoff homer yesterday was "inevitable," then M's manager Scott Servais should have righftully said "bullsh*t."

He could have walked him and let some lesser being take a shot at beating his team. That decision was entirely within his power, and yet he appears to have been bullied by the quant culture into backing away from his best-case scenario--one still utilized by managers when faced with various incarnations of desperate situations.

It's probably no coincidence that Alvarez wears the same
uniform number as McCovey...
And let's reinvoke that situation. M's leading in the game 7-5, with two outs in the top of the ninth, two men on base (one due to the M's closer, Paul Sewald, hitting a batter) and Alvarez at the plate. 

Old-style baseball would "tut-tut" at an intentional walk here: the unwritten rule being broken is "don't put the winning run on base." But the winning run is at home plate, and even with HR/G down, this is Yordan freakin' Alvarez at the plate--arguably today's analogue to Willie McCovey

So let's say you walk him. Bases are now loaded. The next hitter, Alex Bregman, had hit a homer his last time up. He's a solid hitter (he's batting cleanup, for Crissakes). But he is NOT Alvarez. You can pitch to him in a situation like this. And the most likely thing that will happen with Bregman is that you'll get him out (in which case you've won the game) or you will walk him (87 walks this season: Alex is a good candidate to be a guy who hits .225, with 25 HRs and 120 walks in one of the next two seasons). 

Let's say you walk him. Golly jeepers, the Astros have scored a run! But you're still up 7-6 and now the batter is Kyle Tucker--a guy who can hit HRs, for sure, but a lesser hitter than either Alvarez or Bregman. Sewald, with his 4.5 H/9 average, has a very solid shot at retiring him if it should come to that.

The problem with Robbie Ray, as Joe the P. pointed out, is that he's just too homer-prone to be put into a situation like this. (Joe, of course, didn't follow up to point out that many of the M's pitchers have trouble with the long ball--Sewald, for all his hit prevention, gave up 10 HRs in 64 IP, so there's risk there. There's always some risk.)

Or, if you don't think that Sewald's got what it takes on this day--and he'd struggled in Game Two of the Wild Card series--why not give the ball to Erik Swanson, whose record in '22 strongly suggests that he could handle lefty hitters? Swanson was the only man NOT used in that wild Game Two in Toronto, when Servais threw everything but the kitchen sink--and Swanson--at the Jays. 

To repeat: there is no "right" answer here. No course of action that is bulletproof. But you simply cannot let yourself be beat by the best hitter on the other team. It's just dumb. Looking at the historical distribution of intentional walks since the DH was put into the American League in 1973, we see than 39% of the IBBs issued in that time frame have been given to #3 and #4 hitters. There's a reason for that: these are the guys that you don't want to let beat you!

"Stupid, stupid, stupid!"
But it made for great TV, great headlines, great faux-sabermetrics telling us that it's the first time it's ever happened in the post-season yadda yadda yadda. (Folks in the "embedded" media don't seem to grasp that post-season stats make up about four seasons' worth of data, so there are a lot of things that haven't happened yet in the post-season.) So perhaps all that dumbness was a Good Thing after all. 

Don't you believe it. The only action that makes sense is to put the behemothic Alvarez on first base and take one's chances with a mere human being. We invoke the wonderful Barbara Bel Geddes in Vertigo after she shows James Stewart the picture of herself as Carlotta Valdes...

[UPDATE: In tonights Padres-Dodgers game in Los Angeles, when faced with a similar moment of peril--though in the seventh inning--Padres' manager Bob Melvin ordered an intentional walk to bypass the Dodgers' #3 hitter Freddie Freeman and load the bases for cleanup hitter Will Smith with San Diego clinging to a 4-3 lead. 31-year old rookie reliever Robert Suarez, signed by the Padres this past winter after he'd spent six years honing his craft in Japan, with a H/9 profile similar to that of Paul Sewald, managed to retire Smith to end the Dodgers' threat...and the Padres, snake-bit all year against the Dodgers (5-14 overall, 2-8 in Dodger Stadium) held on for a 5-3 win.]

We now return you to your regular programming.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022


OK, back to the second half...and back to 1920, the birth of the live ball era. Our charts here capture the hitters whose OPS+ placed them in the top 300 second-half performances in baseball from 1901 to 2022. Let's get started...

Babe Ruth's second half in 1920 ranks #2 all time in terms of second-half OPS+, a staggering 297. Note in the stat line that the Babe had more runs scored than hits, in large part because pitchers had become all too aware of his menacing presence at home plate and walked him 83 times in 66 games, setting a new record for second-half performance. (All record-setting totals that we encounter on our journey through the second half are shown in red.)

An interesting contrast in this season is available to us in the stats of George Sisler, en route to the first of two .400+ seasons. It's a superb second half, but dwarfed by Ruth's OBP and SLG: nevertheless, it registers in the top 40 (four hitters tied with a 225 OPS+).

Joe Jackson and Ross Youngs, two players who had their careers cut short, round out the hitters in the Top 300, with Ross joining the group with a .400+ half-season. (We'll quantify that for you a bit later.)

In '21 Ruth sets records in second-half runs scored, homers and RBI, with a 262 OPS+ good for ninth place all-time. His '22 is solid but undistinguished by comparison, coming in at #232.

We have our first Rogers Hornsby sighting on the second-half list in 1922, with the first of several .400+ half-seasons. Tris Speaker makes his second-to-last appearance on this list, with his first .400+ second half: note his strikout totals. And converted pitcher Reb Russell, who wasn't even with the Pirates until the second half of the year, has an epic partial year with a mind-bending RBI/G rate.

The Babe just keeps rollin' along in 1923 and 1924, even managing a .400+ half-season (in the year that he hit .393 overall). He ranks #6 and #31 all-time with these two half-seasons, but would hit the wall in '25 thanks to his infamous "tummy ache."

Hornsby hits an incredible .451 (setting, temporarily at least, a new record for highest second-half BA) in 1924 en route to his .424 season. Speaker makes his last appearance on the list (a very respecable #72 overall) with another .400+ second half, with Harry Heilmann (.413) joining him. Rounding out the list for '23-'24 is the great-but-mostly-forgotten slugger for the St. Louis Browns, Ken Williams.

Hornsby is the only hitter crashing the top 300 in 1925, and it's an unremarkable achievement by his standards. Ruth rebounds in '26 with a solid closing kick, good enough for #20 all-time. 

It's '27 that has the most fascinating contrast, as two totally opposite styles of hitting collide in the second halves produced by the Babe and Harry Heilmann (who sets the all-time record for highest BA in a secon half, with a mind-blowing .457). Harry hits a hundred points higher as measured in BA, but Ruth outpoints him in SLG (setting a record for most homers in a second half, en route to that ever-mystical sixty...) and winds up edging him out all-time in terms of OPS+, 247 to 245.

1928 and 1929 produce a bumper crop of excellent second-half performances, but none of them come close to cracking the Top 40. Heinie Manush and Lefty O'Doul join Hornsby in the .400+ BA group, and we must turn ourselves in for not documenting on the chart that O'Doul set a record in '29 for the most second-half doubles (at least until Earl Webb jumps into the picture in 1931). 

All in all, 12 .400+ BA performances and 13 .700+ SLG performances. Chick Hafey's .412 OBP is the lowest of anyone on the 1920-29 list; surprisingly, the next lowest belongs to Babe Ruth (.413 in 1922). (How about them apples?)

On to the!