Tuesday, April 25, 2023


The Tampa Bay Rays have rolled up to a 20-3 start, the best since the 1981 Oakland A's. Oddly, teams that have started 20-3 or better have not turned out to be slam-dunk post-season teams: while the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers went on to win the World Series and the 1946 Red Sox came up one game short, two other teams who had an .850+ WPCT after 23 games--the 1911 Detroit Tigers and the 1987 Milwaukee Brewers--didn't make the post-season at all. (The '81 A's made the post-season, but were knocked out early.)

When we move the needle a bit lower (down to teams that started .800 or better--those with 18-4 and 19-4 records), the percentages go up. Of the 16 teams in this category--including the ones mentioned above, and also including the 2003 Yankees, the 2001 Mariners, the 1986 Mets, the 1984 Tigers, the 1977 Dodgers, the 1938 Giants, the 1918 Giants, the 1912 Giants, the 1912 A's, the 1907 Cubs, and the 1902 Pirates--twelve made it into the post-season, and five were World Series winners.

So the Rays are in the 75% bracket with their 20-3 start.

These teams had an aggregate WPCT of .640, which works out to a won-loss record of 104-58.

Interestingly, the teams in the next bracket down--those who started .750-.799--actually won more World Series (eight: the 2018 Red Sox, the 1990 Reds, the 1958 Yankees, the 1940 Reds, the 1939 Yankees, the 1928 Yankees, the 1922 Giants, and the 1905 Giants). Overall, however, this group made the post-season only 59% of the time.

This group had an aggregate WPCT of .591, a won-loss record of 96-66.

And, finally, the group with 23-game starts between .725-.749: this is a much larger group, a total of 45 teams, all but two of them starting 17-6. Five teams in this group won the World Series: the 2016 Cubs, the 1998 Yankees, the 1944 Cardinals, the 1932 Yankees, and the 1913 A's. Twenty-three of the 45 teams made it into the post-season (51%). 

This group had an aggregate WPCT of .585, a won-loss record of 95-67.

Sunday, April 23, 2023


Last year (in Marienbad?) there were 300 instances of what at one point might have been considered baseball's form of "miscegenation"--that curious phenomenon known as "interleague play." As we know, the two "leagues" in baseball were arbitrary constructions based on ancient entrepreneurial largesse, long since codified (calcified?) into "tradition" and rarely messed with (except when it suited the purposes of the nefariously enshrined Budzilla).

'Twas truly a Roman spring that year in Marienbad, what with its abject
pastoral nonsense, and the same can be said for baseball in 2023...

For all that, interleague play remained mostly a "curiosity," as those 300 games per year amounted to only about 6% of the overall schedule. With the leagues having now been homogenized (Midasized?) and the Commissioner's office now occupied by an ersatz interventionist, that arrangement has been expanded (exploded?) into something utterly different. There will now be approximately 1350 "interleague games" in each season, beginning this year, which more than quadruples their number (now comprising just under 28% of all games played).

All of this has flown completely under the radar of the media acolytes too busy with the cosmetic rule changes that have been instituted to veer the game away from the catastrophic trends that have been cascading as a result of the 1-2 punch of "quants" and Statcast. Brashly insisting that batting average is a pointless statistic yet secretly relieved that it is showing a modest uptick from its invidious Maginot Line (.240), those "embedded" folk who live to make the game "safe for modeling" have studiously avoided any and all mention of this change, which might prove more significant than any of the other interventions (pitch clock, shift ban, bigger bases, restrictions on pickoff throws). 

Fortunately, however, the folk at Forman et fils (baseball-reference.com) have managed to retain their original (primordial?) interest in interleague play, and are continuing to provide (in a low-key and relatively inaccessible way) the results of such games. Since it had devolved into a kind of afterthought, the results of interleague play have most likely become so obscure as to have escaped your attention: for example, what was the overall record between the leagues in 2022 (the last "6% solution" year)? Does anyone know which teams did exceptionally well in interleague play last year? Or had a catastrophic 4-16 record in such games during '22? Or what the overall result between the leagues turned out to be? (Remember that some folks--names omitted, of course, to protect the guilty--used to claim, when the AL was winning a marked number of these games, that it was "proof" of which league was the strongest.)

No? Don't know and don't care? Well, then, we won't bother to give you those answers...

...but we will begin another one of those inchoate services (though not as inchoate as the "action" in Last Year in Marienbad...) that will periodically display the ongoing results of 2023's massively expanded (yet curiously overlooked) interleague play. Given the dynamic nature of interleague play as a result of this change, these numbers (as of 4/21) are already out of date, but never mind that--we'll update every couple of weeks or so just to stay in practice.

(Note the antiquated display of the Angels here as "ANA"--just one of those transient glitches that show up even in the most tightly run web sites.)

What's interesting in the early going is just how expanded interleague play might reflect (and possibly exacerbate) the game's declining competitive balance: the results as broken out by opponent quality (what we sometimes have referred to here as "GvB") show a marked tendency toward something akin to "replacement level" play, with good teams absolutely thumping bad teams.

Note also that it's an absolute dead heat (on a merry-go-round?) at this point (or, should we say, yesterday...), with the leagues tied at 37-37. (After yesterday's games, the NL is now actually ahead 41-39, with those 80 interleague games played over the first three weeks of '23 representing almost a fourth of the number of interleague games played in '22.)

Another strange feature in the early going is that there are still three teams (all in the NL) who have yet to play an interleague game at all. (We've highlighted them in green: they're all NL West teams.)

Some folk (including Bill James) have downplayed any potential impact of expanded interleague play on the standings as they will eventually manifest by season's end, but the early going suggests that there are some impacts to be had. The early success of the Cubs and the Pirates can be at least partially attributed to their performance in interleague games (the Cubs have benefitted from going 5-1 against sub-.500 interleague opponents during April. When we get further along with all this, we'll display interleague hitting and pitching stats for you--data that will contain close to 200 PAs and up to 50 IP for hitters and pitchers this year. What we can tell you right now is that Jarred Kelenic, the heavily-hyped Mariners' prospect who has struggled mightily over the past couple seasons, is currently the interleague leader in HRs with five, and has a SLG of .838 in such games. Might that have something to with the fact that a vast majority of interleague games aren't scouted as robustly as intraleague games have been, and that some players have been able to take advantage of that (at least in the early going)??

There will be a lot more to unpack here, and, as you already know by now, we at BBB are the "kings of baggage"...so you've landed in the right place: somewhere in that vast ethereal plane between Marienbad and the Hotel California). Your motto for '23 might just be: "Bombs away, it's interleague play!"

Stay tuned...perhaps the revolution will, in fact, actually be televised.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023


 Going into today's game at the embattled ballpark beckoning bleakly from Highway 880, the Oakland A's had lost 15 of their first 18 contests, many of them by a wide margin. (They would end up losing a third consecutive game later, despite a promising debut from pitching prospect Mason Miller, to take them further down the rabbit hole of a dreadful start to the 2023 season.)

They aren't the first team to start this badly--and of course, a few other teams have started with even fewer wins than the A's have--but, as our chart demonstrates, no team has begun the year with a pitching staff in such frightening disarray.

That earned run average (7.47) would give anyone pause, but note that the team closest to them (the '36 St. Louis Browns) played in a hitters' park during one of the most robust offensive seasons in baseball history. The A's play in a league that's currently about at the historical average for run scoring, and their home park has always favored pitchers. 

As you can see from the additional data supplied about these twenty other teams who've lost 15 of their first 18 games, only two teams got back to .500 after such a start--the 1996 Red Sox, who won 85 games, and the 1973 Cardinals, who started 5-20 but battled back to .500 by season's send. (Missing here are the 1907 Cardinals, whose ERA for the 18 game span is still unknown, and several teams who won only three games out of their first eighteen but who lost only 13 or 14 games due to ties: one of those teams, the 1914 Boston Braves, are the only team to have such a terrible start and make it into the postseason. They're still called "the Miracle Braves" more than a century later.)

While some of the worst teams in baseball history are shown here (the 1962 Mets, the 1952 Pirates, the 2002 Tigers, the 1932 Red Sox...), the fact is that these teams on average tend to recover to some a bit less catastrophic: their aggregate final season WPCT is .380, which works out to a 62-100 season. The A's won only 60 games last year, however, and while they're pushing a youth movement, not much of that seems to be located on the mound, which could make for a long season.

AND they're not alone--now after 19 games, there is a chance that we'll have two teams begin the year with a WPCT of .200 or lower in their first twenty games of the year. The Royals are 4-15, and they are showing attributes similar to the A's. Over in the National League, the Rockies and the Nationals both have five wins, but they are looking like teams that will fuel the greatest level of competitive imbalance in the game that we've seen for quite some time. "Tanking" has been for some time now the sobriquet for a component of the small-market substructure in the game, but it could be spreading to some of the larger markets as well. 

That said, it's still relatively rare to have teams start out this badly, as shown in our TimeGrid™chart at left. We made this chart before the A's loss today clinched them as the 44th such team in baseball history, but the Royals could join them, which would be only the sixth time that two or more teams had such catastrophic season starts in the same season. (The classical clustering of such early stumbling occurred in the 1960s, but that was clearly due to two rounds of expansion that took place in that decade; as you can see, the 2010s brought more of these events than in any decade other than the 60s, and things seem to be proceeding apace in this decade as well. As we like to say at this juncture: stay tuned...
[UPDATE: The A's staged a comeback in their game on Friday 4/21 and won 5-4 over the Rangers, to win their fourth game of the year and up their WPCT to .200. Later that evening the Royals were totally shut down by Shohei Ohtani and two Angels relievers, suffering their 16th loss in twenty games to become the 45th team to start a season with a WPCT of .200 or lower. It's looking like an extremely long year for these two enfeebled franchises...]

Friday, April 14, 2023


The Rays roll on, though they might take a hit from the possible fallout surrounding the early departure of their third ace, lefty Jeffrey Springs (an ulnar nerve malady that is still being diagnosed). The combination of high BA/longball and top-notch pitching is usually a winning one, and Tampa has parlayed an abundance of all three to a 13-0 start, matching the record held by two teams from the 1980s (the '82 Braves and the '87 Brewers).

Neither of those teams made it to the World Series in those years, however, and we've shown you previously that exceptional success in the very early going is no guarantee for post-season glory. So while all the other media outlets are now surrounding that story, we'll move on to some different ways of looking at this issue (as is our charter here...even more than the "lost art of diatribe").

SO here you go...our first TimeGrid™ chart of the day shows you the winning percentages after 13 games for all of the World Series champs since 1903

We've given it our version of the "heat map" treatment so you can see how that first-thirteen-game performance has been distributed over time. 

As you'll see, the two best starts amongst World Series champs after 13 games belong to the 1966 Orioles and the 1984 Tigers (12-1, a .923 WPCT). 

In the next rung of fast-starting world champs, we have (chronologically): the 1907 Cubs, the 1918 Red Sox, the 1955 Dodgers, the 1957 Braves, the 1981 Dodgers, the 1990 Reds, and the 2018 Red Sox. All of these fine folk were 11-2 after thirteen games (a WPCT of .846). 

And so all of the possible combinations (including a few involving less than 13 decisions in the first thirteen games played: you might enjoy looking for those--or not...) then flow down from there, until you get to the 23 World Series champions who were playing under .500 ball after 13 games. The lowest of the low, the cell in the table shown with a pink background, appears early in baseball history: the 1914 "Miracle Braves," then playing in Boston. 

THE average WPCT after 13 games for the aggregated World Champs is .626: you should be able to pick out that value where it appears, down in the lower right of the table. We've added the averages for the Expansion era (1961- ) at the very bottom, to show that the average early WPCT has been decreasing as the number of MLB teams increases. Decade-by-decade averages have also been computed, which show an increasing fluctuation in the WPCTs since expansion began.

We also (whimsically...) added the "year-ending-in" averages at the bottom of each column, so you'll know that the World Champs have played the best over their first 13 games in years ending with a "0", a "7", and an "8". (And you'll see that since expansion, WS winners in years ending with a "9" have had just a .500 WPCT. Does it mean anything? Not really...but you might find it amusing.)

And we also compiled the same data for the World Series losers: it's a symmetry thing we have--or so we're told...

That data provides us with a nifty little counterpoint for what we've seen in the "winners" data. The losing team is just a couple of notches below the performance level of the champs, as the .600 aggregate first-13-game WPCT attests.

The fastest starters in the losers' bracket all went 11-2 (.846 WPCT): those would be the 1915 Phillies, 1924 Giants, 1998 Padres, and the 2003 Yankees

There have been 26 teams who've reached the World Series only to lose that began the year with a sub-.500 record in their first thirteen games. The all-time slowest starter of these is another "miracle" team: the 1951 New York Giants (2-11). 

And, as with the winners, there has been a noticeable decline in early-season performance amongst these tams, particularly in the 21st century--with thirteen of twenty-two losing World Series teams starting out with a sub-.500 WPCT in their first thirteen games. 

We'll come back with the head-to-head results shortly, in order to provide all you gamblers out there with a possible data point to use when we get within range of the Fall Classic. We'll leave you with the lede as we get the lead out and move on: "[insert breathless tone here] Does early-season performance provide an indicator for whom to bet on in the World Series?" Stay tuned...but don't hold your breath.

Thursday, April 13, 2023


AS we've told you throughout this sprawling series that's examined "half-season" peak performance, it's possible to use these breakouts to look at an entirely different concept of a "season" by combining the second half of Year A with the first half of Year B. (Adjacent seasons only, of course.)

That's what we mean when we use the term "wraparound season." It's arguably just as valid as measure as the official "all in one calendar year" approach that's tied to the team results. But even there (as we've occasionally suggested here, as part of our random dance with the unorthodox and experimental...) the notion of past year team performance impacting on the results in a subsequent season still has potent potential for erstwhile innovators (most of whom show congenital imaginative limitations having to do with various forms of institutional pomposity).

So our notion of "wraparound seasons" will likely be similarly constrained, but trust us when we say that they can still be sources of fascination for those willing to venture outside the so-called "canonical strictures." And to ease them into the consciousness of those who've been subject to the "long gaslighting" of the game with respect to home runs--note that the common lede for daily game coverage in the 21st century has to do with home run distances--we'll tease all of you here with our version of the same...

...a presentation of "wraparound seasons" that produce a combined "2nd half A/1st half B" containing at least 50 home runs

Remember, these "seasons" don't really exist--except, of course, that they do if you'll just let them be.

So, here we go:

We've shown you Babe Ruth's wraparound seasons that conjured up performances including 50+ HRs. The Babe was the first player to have consecutive wraparound seasons where his combined totals produced 50+ HRs (including 63 in 1927-28), but he wasn't the only hitter to do so. The other one is here, in the personage of a hitter often referred to as "The Beast": Jimmie Foxx.

"Double X," as he was also known, compiled 50+ HR wraparound years in 1932-33 and 1933-34. Here's his companion "year":

That works out to 804 total bases over two "wraparound years"--not too shabby. 

Next up (and, yes, we're doing this in chronological order) is Ralph Kiner, who also hit 50+ HRs in the standard seasonal notation. (Things will get interesting further down when we present 50+ HR wraparound seasons for folks who never did so in the accustomed way.) 

Ralph gets a few extra games than what would otherwise be the case in those pre-expansion days, whens seasons were only 154 games, but it's still below the current setup so we won't sweat it.

We now move up about 45 years to the next instance (in case you're wondering, Willie Mays just missed the list with his 1965-66 wraparound year: 49 HRs) which is the first where the player never hit 50+ HRs in a "regular" season. Think you know who it is? Take a look:

Didn't remember the Big Hurt, right? That first half of the infamous "strike season" (1994) is one of the great offensive performances of all time, and it carried Frank Thomas over the 50-HR threshold. And there's his 400 total base "season" to boot...

The next guy won't be surprising, but the timing of his "wraparound" season might be:

This is Mark McGwire partially in the year after the year after his 70 HR season in 1998. (Got that?) It doesn't partake of any portion of that (now widely reviled) record-breaking year. This 1999-2000 wraparound shows the consistency that McGwire achieved until another knee injury took him out of the running, hastening his retirement in 2001. His HR pace is slowing a bit in 2000, but are you really going to complain about it? All this in just 138 games...

Who's next? Who else but McGwire's partner in "crime"...

Now stalled in the court of no resort for a lifetime of no recourse, Sammy Sosa (and don't call him Slammin' Sammy: he's been slammed enough already...) exceeded 60 HRs three times but has only the one relatively modest 50+ wraparound year. He was always a bit overshadowed by someone else doing just a bit more than he did, and 2001 was no exception: Sosa can take "solace" in knowing that the guy he was chasing that year is the most unilaterally reviled fellow of all...

Barry Bonds hit 39 HRs in the first half of 2001, taking full advantage of the "high strike" that pitchers thought they could bust by people. (They did that to others, but not to Barry.) This is what happened in the 365 days after that, where they slowly but surely stopped pitching to him. And why shouldn't they stop throwing strikes to a guy who slugged .908? (All Bonds did in the second half of 2002, by the way, was hit .404. But go ahead, despise and dismiss the greatest hitting seasons you'll see in a dozen lifetimes...)

Like Hank Aaron, Albert Pujols hit 700+ HRs without ever hitting 50+ in a "normal" season. Now isn't that just suspicious as all Hell? What kind of self-respecting god of lumber thunder has no lightning rod season to slam our non-towel-adorned heads against the wall with shock and awe? Fortunately, we can wrap this wraparound season around our gaslighted craniums and save those towels for self-strangulation...

But here's one that will blow what's left of your mind right off (pay no attention to that man on the grassy knoll...): 

Yes, here it is: the most recent 60+ HR "season," as brought to you by the now almost totally-forgotten Jose Bautista, who might still have a mission named after him (or, perhaps re-named, along with the construction of a phony bell tower to "historicize" the purely fictional events portrayed with such ham-fisted panache in Vertigo). Twelve-thirteen years ago seems like several lifetimes, doesn't it, given the insane crap that has occurred in America since, all apparently due to the election of a single well-dressed mixed-race man to the White House. (And meanwhile, the "late stage" illness of baseball as manifested by the continuing frequency of 50+ HR wraparound seasons remained undiagnosed until Statcast became its own "barrel-infused" bastion of backlash. Choke on that "Love Pie," you churls!)

But would you have predicted (or even remembered) this wraparound season, preemptively blighted by the quants who wanted to overlook the not-quite-so-pronounced peak of Miguel Cabrera as expressed via the "normal" seasonal notation? The more "reasonable" conservatives still holding forth in the now enlightened-but-benighted BBWAA did give him two MVP awards that the bleating whitebread neos wanted to give to young, whitebread Mike Trout, and the hissy fits are still echoing ten years later. Sure, Trout is great, but so is the sleek but suspect texture of Wonder Bread, and there's no wraparound cellophane to be found in any of Mike's numbers that comes close to this peak. In short: corn > flour. 

And here is the latest 50+ HR wraparound season where both halves are in the Top 600, belonging to the already-fallen Christian Yelich. ('Tis true that Aaron Judge hit 51 HRs in his 2021-22 wraparound season, but his second half in '21 was well out of the Top 300 range in terms of overall performance, so it is deemed to not count in this context--please address your appeals to the circuit "judges" in Texas and Florida.) All in all, a remarkable peak for one who flew under the radar for so long (in Florida...) and had to escape to a more northerly bastion of gerrymandering to reach his full potential. 

We will soon see if the mighty "brother of Moses" will carve out another wraparound season with 50+ HRs in the 2022-23 combo: check back at the All-Star break, where we'll promise to break it to you more gently that what has proceeded (and preceded) here. After all, we have our quotas to meet just like anyone else, and we can't keep that claim about the "lost art of the diatribe" up there on that glistening green background without delivering the goods at least once in awhile...

Coming soon: some kinder, gentler wraparound seasons. Stay tuned, and remember that your frabjous friends The Fugs still support contraception via the most primitive, simplistic (yet surprisingly effective) method

Give it a try while we wait for the verdict on Judge, won't you?

Wednesday, April 12, 2023


OUR headline might suggest to you that we aren't partial to the Tampa Bay Rays, an organization that post-neo sabe types take for granted as validation for all of their precepts (good, bad, and worse)--but nothing could be further from the truth. We are quite partial to them because in their spangled new-fangleness they also do old school things better than other, more cash-stuffed organizations. We've been doing more with less here for years, and so have they--thus as we curmudgeon our way through baseball's often feckless peregrinations, the Rays consistently produce fond thoughts.

But that doesn't mean we are going to anoint them as the slam-dunk champs of the still young 2023 season just because they've started the year out at 11-0, with a pitching staff combining for an ERA below two runs per nine innings (to be exact, 1.73 as of this morning). No, we won't do that, and neither should you (or the often-too-often numbing numberologists in the media). 

Remember the 2022 Yankees, whose hot start across all of the month of April was followed breathlessly by media hounds as if we were witnessing a new variant of the Resurrection (pardon us, but the vestige of the Easter Holiday still brings out our more blasphemous tendencies...). Until, of course, they weren't. They turned out to be just a pretty good team with one great slugger, a solid starting rotation and a great but fragile bullpen. The 2023 Yankees might be a better team, and due to the vagaries of the game, they might not win as many as the over-celebrated 2022 squad. 

But more on that later--we're here to put the Rays' blazing start into historical perspective. (That's why the pay us the big bucks to stay in the backwater and perfect our linguistic sniping even as we advocate for stricter gun control.) We took to the portals of Forman et fils (aka baseball-reference.com) to use their revamped "spam search" engine--OK, OK, span search engine, which conveniently shows us how teams with short-term performance extremes fare over the course of the full season.

And, as is often the case, we discovered some intriguing (and somewhat counterintuitive) data. That is what you see cascading down the right side of the page, and it's what we will now interpret for you. 

SO what have we got here? A paradox, perhaps, though one of small sample size--after all, it's not every day that a team starts 11-0 with a pitching staff that appears to have two Johnsons, a Koufax and a Seaver in its starting rotation. In fact, only three teams since 1913 have had such a start.

And the other two didn't win the World Series. In fact, they didn't even make it into the Fall Classic.

Yes, they won their divisions. (Oddly, though, these teams--the 1981 A's and 1982 Braves--had these hot starts in adjacent years, more grist for the "clustering theory of randomness" that our old pal Ken Adams lampoons in his email address: 2random4chance.) But they weren't hugely dominant teams.

This counterintuitive pattern persists in the next tier of hot-starting teams, the ones that began the year with a 10-1 mark. Of these teams (which, by the way, include the 1969 Cubs, who had a fall-down-go-boom September as they were lapped by those Miracle Mets), only one--the 1915 Phillies--made it into the World Series, which they promptly lost. 

This group--the 10-1 teams--has produced a shocking amount of also-ran seasons: the aggregate winning percentage for these eight teams is only .544. Only two of the eight have even made it to the post-season. 

So 11-0 and 10-1 teams have a 40% chance of making it to the post-season (4 of 10) based on the existing historical data. (Of course, when you go to Forman et fils and look up the Rays, you'll see they're given a 96% chance of making the post-season: that's because they're using a far bigger sample to calculate such odds.)

And when we look at the teams that started 9-2 with great pitching (and note that our secondary sort in these lists is by ERA...), we see a return to a more orthodox expectation: of the 36 teams in this group, 20 have made it to the post-season, 15 have made it to the World Series, and 11 have actually become the World Champs. 

Thus the data still strongly suggests that the Rays will have an excellent season--but note that none of baseball's uber-achievers (1906 Cubs, the various behemoth Yankee teams, the '75 Reds, the '85 Mets, the '01 Mariners,  the '18 Red Sox that Bill James fatuously calls "one of the greatest teams of all time," or last year's Dodgers) are on this list. They didn't manifest legendary, fetishizable properties until later on in the year. Their "proof" came via the long haul, not the heady, early daze of the dawn. 

All of this will be a distant memory in a matter of a few weeks, and will be well out of the rear-view mirror by the end of the year. The data shown above is our best guide to how things might shake out for the currently high-flying Rays, who could be a wire-to-wire wonder, or might also take a tumble off that wire like a falling Wallenda. Stay tuned...