Designated HitterOctober 10, 2011
John Denny: The Forgotten Cy Young Award Winner
By David Bromberg

A friend of mine, Ross Moskowitz, is the director of Camp Westmont, a beautiful summer camp in the Pocono Mts. of Pennsylvania. It's the kind of place every kid should be able to attend at least once in their lives. He's also a baseball man. Played Division One NCAA baseball at the University of Maryland. So when he told me that John Denny was going to be his baseball instructor this past summer, I thought it would make for a very interesting story/interview. How does a good pitcher become the best pitcher in the world for one season and win the Cy Young award? From Bob Turley to Randy Jones to Mark Davis to Pat Hentgen, just to name a few, there have been a bunch of pitchers who've taken that step.

I spent a morning with John Denny at the end of August. He's 58 years old now and has kept in great shape. Simply put, he's one of the nicest, soft-spoken people I've ever met. Aside from working for the Arizona Diamondbacks for a few years, he hasn't had that much to do with Major League Baseball since he retired in 1986. Like most former ballplayers, he has a amazing memory of games, players, even specific at-bats from 25-35 years ago. He's also quite introspective about himself and his place in the game's past. His response to my question "So you won Game One of the 1983 World Series?" was unexpected. "Yeah, how about that," as if he still couldn't quite believe his good fortune. We went off topic at times, but his stories about his Hall of Fame teammates were worth hearing. I turned on the tape recorder.

David: In looking at your career, the numbers tell a story of a pitcher with obvious talent, twice leading the NL in ERA, who would follow those seasons with quite a few off years. Were injuries a major factor?

John: Injuries were a big problem for me. My rookie year, 1975, I started the season 2-2 for St. Louis, they sent me back to Triple-A for a month. When I came back, I won seven games in a row, I'm 9-2 and some people were talking about me as a Rookie of the Year candidate. One day, I'm jogging in the outfield in Cincinnati and I tore a lateral ligament. We were only a few games out of first, so I pitched through it and wound up 10-7. The next year, 1976, I was healthy and led the league in ERA (2.52). Then, in 1977, I started the season 7-0 and I strained my hamstring covering first base, then tore that hamstring at Dodger Stadium. And I wound up going 8-8. 1978, I was healthy again and had another good year (14-11, 2.96 ERA).

David: Who was your manager with the Cards?

John: Red Schoendeinst was my first manager, then Vern Rapp and finally Ken Boyer. This was right before the Whitey Herzog era. I would've loved to have played for Whitey, but I was traded to Cleveland. But I loved my time in St. Louis. I played with Joe Torre, Bob Gibson and Lou Brock. They were true professionals and some of that rubbed off on me.

David: So you go from a great baseball city to playing in Municipal Stadium?

John: It was tough. That park seated 80,000 people, so even if we had 40,000 people in the stands, which we rarely did, it was half empty. And I think that affected a lot of our players. We had a good rotation. Bert Blyleven, Rick Sutcliffe, myself, Rick Waits, who won 15-16 games one year. Later, Len Barker. After a few years, I became a free agent while with Cleveland. And George Steinbrenner offered the world to me, but I turned him down.

David: I never knew that.

John: My agent handled it all. I never met Steinbrenner, but his quote the next day in the newspapers was something like "John Denny will never wear a Yankee uniform as long as I'm alive." I would've loved to have played for the Yankees, but word was he was very interfering, came down to the locker room all the time. I didn't think I could play for an owner like that.

David: I've never been shy about my feelings for him. I believe he demeaned the game more than anyone in my lifetime. Younger people, especially Yankee fans, forget just how hated he was in New York until they started winning again in 1996.

John: Well, he offered me the best contract with wonderful perks and opportunities for the future. I would've been way better off financially. But my thinking was I worked very hard and I played the game very hard. And I pictured myself working my butt off, putting every ounce of energy I had into the game. I was a thinking pitcher and I studied the hitters. And I pictured if things weren't going well, he'd call me into his office and air me out. And then go to the papers and tell them what he just did. I didn't want to put myself in that situation. And I eventually wound up with the Phils and I loved my time there. I missed almost the entire 1982 season, but then got involved with a strength and flexibility coach that Steve Carlton recommended and he helped me enormously.

David: Before we get to your time with the Phils, let me ask you, "Who was your toughest hitter to face? Who lit you up?"

John: Easy, Tony Gwynn. His pitch recognition was incredible. So I'd make some adjustments and the minute I thought I had him, he'd make adjustments too. Always one step ahead of me. As time went on, I thought I was starting to figure him out. If he had a weakness, it was inside. But you couldn't live in there. The moment you thought you could pound him inside, he'd make that adjustment and take you deep. So I'd go to my sinking fastball and start to pitch him away, but he used to take that to left field really well.

David: How was Willie Stargell to face?

John: I don't know what my actual stats against him were, but I'll tell you this story about Stargell. I was pitching in Pittsburgh one night and I threw him a fastball, down and away. He turned that sucker around right up the middle. I could hear that ball singing as it went by me. It short-hopped the fence in left center for a double. He hit it so hard and I remember thinking to myself that ball might've killed me. From then on, I pitched him only inside and I didn't care if he hit it five miles. He was a true professional too, an old school guy and I was a newer type of player. And I learned so much from the old schoolers.

David: Who else?

John: Pete Rose. I pitched a great game one night with St. Louis against the Big Red Machine — Monday Night Game of the Week. The next day he calls me over before our game. I'm 23 years old and I'm wondering what does Pete Rose want to talk to me about? He says "John, I just want to tell you last night you threw one hell of a ballgame. Your fastball was in on my hands all night. But I'll tell you something, next time I'm gonna get you good, you S.O.B." More than anyone, he helped show me how to be a professional and still show respect to the other team and the other players and still be the man and the player you need to be.

David: Let's talk about the 1983 Phils and your Cy Young season. Who was your pitching coach there?

John: Claude Osteen, who had been my teammate and pitching coach with the Cardinals. He was the perfect pitching coach for me.

David: The 1983 Phils are one of my favorite teams. The team had started to age quite a bit, had a lot of veterans, Schmidt, Carlton, Rose. Then they get even older by adding Joe Morgan and Tony Perez at the end of their careers and they win the pennant. Remarkable story.

John: They called us "the Wheeze Kids." (The 1950 pennant winning Phils were called the Whiz Kids).

David: Right. Now, obviously, you were healthy. Did you add a new pitch, change your motion?

John: No, but a few things happened. First, I was in great shape, the best of my career. I had started working out with a strength and conditioning coach, Van Hoefling. He had been with the Los Angeles Rams and when Roman Gabriel was traded to the Eagles, Van followed him to Philly. And Lefty and I got involved with him. And he was great for me. But no new pitch or motion. I was basically a fastball, curve pitcher. And I could add some sink or movement to both of them, so I guess I threw four pitches.

The biggest difference was that I was playing on a team with guys who knew how to win and it rubbed off on me.

David: It was attitude?

John: Attitude and being in great shape. Here's one example and this is what I loved about Pete Rose. I'd get two strikes on a batter and I'd hear him yell or whistle from his position at first base. "You got two strikes on this guy, you know what to do." Because you never want to lose a batter with two strikes on him, you need to finish him off. And Rose was the kind of guy who pounded it home. Just like his career. He took the talent he had and pounded it home, never let up. He stayed on me all year. I am so blessed I was able to play with him. And Lefty and Schmitty and Morgan and Perez too.

Lefty and I had lockers next to each other. Talk about two different guys. I was a Christian and he believed in Eastern religions, mysticism. But we were so close, worked out in the offseason together. One time I said to him, "Lefty, I've never thrown a slider in my life, show it to me." So he held the ball up, put his hand up and says "I just turn my wrist a little bit like this and I throw the shit out of it." (Laughter).

He had great catchers in Bob Boone and Tim McCarver who got to know him as well as he knew himself. I don't recall Lefty shaking off many pitches. And it was a combination of three things. I know what I'm doing out here, I really don't need to take charge because my catcher is handling it very well and I know I can throw what they want.

David: What a huge advantage for a pitcher.

John: Oh yeah. One of the things I tried to do was not to get into a disagreement with any catcher. If he's calling for a fastball down and away and I want to throw up and in, I would say to myself "What the heck, I can throw down and away and still get this guy out." And it made me a better pitcher and it also made my catcher better too because now he knows that I trusted him and then they would work even harder and call a better game." And Lefty had his catcher's trust and that's huge.

David: What was it like in 1983 to look behind you and see Rose at first, Morgan at second and Schmidt at 3rd?

John: You know, the first real ballgame I ever saw in my life, I was ten years old (1963) and my Little League coach, who I still stay in touch with, he was like a father figure to me, took me to Los Angeles from where I was born and raised in Arizona.

David: Were you a Dodgers fan?

John: Well, actually I used to listen to the Giants all the time because I could get KNBR radio very well where I lived. Willie Mays was my favorite player. So he took me to a Dodgers/Giants game. Juan Marichal and Don Drysdale and the Dodgers won 1-0 in the bottom of the 9th inning. I can still remember Marichal throwing that incredible overhand curve for a strike with that big leg kick. So at 10 years old, I get to see two great Hall of Fame pitchers in this great pitching duel and in 1983, I get to play alongside five Hall of Famers.

Now we played mostly on Astroturf back then. Perez, Morgan and Rose were all on their way out, had already lost a step, but anytime there were runners in scoring position, they'd always dive for balls. They saved me run after run after run. They always gave it everything they had and we won the pennant that year to a large degree because of their professionalism. And that leadership rubbed off on Schmitty and we desparately needed that because he could be quite volatile. The fans could really get on him.

David: Give me an example of Schmidt's leadership.

John: I was pitching against Nolan Ryan in Philadelphia. I was down 2-1 in the bottom of the 8th. Ryan was so unhittable that day, throwing darts. Top of our order, he goes through the first two guys. Garry Maddox or Gary Matthews, I can't remember which, draws a walk. Schmitty comes up and Ryan had been making him look terrible all day. Schmitty had no chance. Ryan was on the attack the whole game — attack, attack. He goes 3-2 on Schmitty. And Schmidt would always try to analyze what pitch was coming. Everyone on the bench was hoping for a fastball, because if Ryan dropped that hook on him, he had no chance.

Ryan was grunting on every pitch, never saw anyone throw harder than he did that day. He was so intimidating. Fastball. Ball landed in the second deck and we won the game 3-2. Now that's talent, but it's also leadership because Schmitty knew no one else on our club could touch Ryan that day. It was up to him.

David: So you win the pennant and you win Game One of the World Series?

John: Yeah, how about that.

David: Was the game at the Vet?

John: No, it was in Baltimore, won it 2-1, beat Scott McGregor. I gave up a home run to Jim Dwyer, who was my minor league teammate on the Cardinals, pitched well rest of the game. Only game we won.

David: 19-7, 2.37 ERA, Cy Young Award, win a World Series game.

John: Pretty great year to live through.

For the past 30 years, David Bromberg has lived in Northeast Pennsylvania, former home of the Scranton/Wilkes Barre Red Barons (Phils Triple A team) and current home of the S/WB Yankees Triple A team. He was dubbed "the most inveterate baseball fan in northeast Pa. by Ron Allen, who hosted the local nightly sports radio call-in show there.

Designated HitterJune 13, 2011
Harmon Killebrew and “Versatility”
By Mark Armour

The recent death of Harmon Killebrew prompted many touching reminiscences about a man with seemingly no enemies, despite carrying around the nickname of “Killer” for most of his life. (He did not really need a nickname; both his first and last names are unique in major league history.) By all accounts, he was a gentle and loving person, who also happened to hit home runs more frequently than anyone of his time. He hit 45 or more round trippers six times in the 1960s, while no other American League batter did it more than once. For baseball fans of a certain age, no player will ever better personify the word “slugger.”

Another interesting thing about Killebrew, perhaps unique among Hall of Fame players: he was repeatedly shifted between three defensive positions throughout his career, getting 44% of his starts at first base, 33% at third base, and 22% in left field. While many players shift positions along the defensive spectrum as they age, moving from shortstop to third base, or from left field to first base, Killebrew’s managers shifted their star hitter, nearly to the end of his career, depending mainly on the other players on the team. (It would be as if Tony LaRussa started playing Albert Pujols at third base. Oh, wait …)

Let’s review:

1954-58. Forced to start his big-league career early because of the bonus rule, Killebrew spent parts of five seasons as a little-used infielder for the Washington Senators.

1959. Having traded Eddie Yost, manager Cookie Lavagetto gave Killebrew the third base job. Harmon responded with a league-leading 42 home runs, and started his first All-Star game.

1960. Harmon remained at third until mid-season, when Lavagetto decided he needed to get Reno Bertoia into the lineup (or Julio Becquer out of it) and shifted Killebrew across the diamond to first base.

1961. With the franchise now in Minnesota, Killebrew spent the first half of the 1961 season splitting time between first and third, until Sam Mele became the skipper in mid-season and kept Killebrew at first. (I am not going to recite lots of offensive statistics, so just go ahead and assume that Killebrew hit 45 home runs and batted .260 with a bunch of walks, since he did that every year.)

1962. Just prior to the start of the 1962 season, the Twins acquired Vic Power, a great defensive first baseman, and moved Killebrew to left field for the first time.

1963. Left field.

1964. Left field. Tony Oliva took over in right field in 1964, and Power was discarded early in the season, creating a perfect opportunity to get Killebrew back to first base. Instead Mele shifted Bob Allison and left Killebrew in the outfield.

1965. Killebrew moved to first base (and Allison to left), but Harmon began shifting to third often by mid-season so that the team could play Don Mincher against right-handed pitchers. In early August Killebrew hurt his arm during a collision (while playing first base), but returned in September and played all seven games—at third—in the World Series.

1966. He played all 162 games, moving between third base, first base, and left field depending on who else Mele wanted to play. The Twins also had Cesar Tovar playing all over the field, leaving Mele about seven million possible defensive alignments. Tovar played this role for several years.

1967. Mincher was traded to the Angels, allowing Killebrew to play a full season at first base (160 games) for the first time in his career.

1968. A full-time first baseman again, Killebrew ruptured his hamstring in the All-Star game stretching for a throw on Houston’s AstroTurf (which was blamed at the time for the injury). When he returned in September Rich Reese had taken over at first, so manager Cal Ermer put Harmon (recovering from a severe injury) back at third base to play out the season.

1969. New manager Billy Martin took one look at the 33-year-old slugger coming off major surgery, and decided to return Killebrew to the 3B-1B role, allowing Martin options at the other corner spot. Harmon started all 162 games (96 at third base, 66 at first), drove in 140 runs, and won the MVP award, while the Twins nabbed the inaugural AL West title.

1970. Martin was replaced as skipper by Bill Rigney, who made Reese more of a full-time player. Killebrew started 129 games at third, but still managed 26 back at first.

1971. Killebrew again played both corner spots, though Reese’s poor season (.219) gave Killebrew several long stretches at first, where he started 82 times.

1972. For the first time since 1958 (when he played just nine games in the field), Killebrew played just one defensive position, first base. He was 36 and had slowed down quite a bit, though he could still rake (138 OPS+).

1973-75. With the advent of the designated hitter, the elderly Killebrew seemed to have a ready-made role. Unfortunately, the Twins also had a hobbled Tony Oliva, who needed the role even more. Killebrew eventually made it to DH, but spent his final three seasons fighting injuries and ineffectiveness.

OK, so the question is: how much defensive value did Harmon Killebrew have? According to bWAR, Killebrew’s cumulative defensive value was -7.6 wins, meaning that his place on the field cost his teams nearly 8 games on defense when compared with a replacement level player. Killebrew was a big guy, not fast, and no one ever accused him of being a good glove man. On the other hand, one wonders whether he could have been better on defense had he been allowed to play one position (preferably first base) for 15 years.

More importantly, did Killebrew’s ability to play multiple positions, often day-to-day, provide additional value to his team? In 1969 Martin played Harmon at third base 2/3 of the time so that Rich Reese could play first base. In an otherwise undistinguished career, Reese hit .322 with 18 home runs (good for a 139 OPS+), Killebrew had his best year, and the Twins led the league in runs. According to bWAR, Harmon’s (mostly) third base play cost the team 1.3 games on defense. This might be true, and Harmon’s isolated value might have been better had he just played first base all season and let Frank Quillici or someone play third. In order to get Reese’s bat in the lineup (or Mincher’s, Power’s, or Bertoia’s), Killebrew was asked to play a position he could not play particularly well.

It seems to me that Killebrew’s “value” to the Twins might have been greater than his statistical record might show.

Another player shifted around the diamond throughout his career was Pete Rose. Unlike Killebrew, Rose did not move day-to-day—he stayed in one place for several years before moving on. Also unlike Killebrew, Rose was an outstanding defensive player for part of his career, before being asked to move again. Rose came up as a second baseman in 1963, then moved to left field (1967), right field (1968), left field (1972), third base (1975), and first base (1979). Let’s examine his move to third base.

Rose won two Gold Gloves in right field, where he had good range though only a fair arm. He was moved to left field in 1972 largely in deference to Cesar Geronimo, a great defensive player with a cannon. In left field, Rose was outstanding. How outstanding? According to the defensive runs metric used on baseball-reference.com, here are the best outfielders in baseball over the years 1972-74, in aggregate.



Pete Rose 52

Paul Blair 52
Cesar Geronimo 34

Bill North 30

Bobby Bonds 26



Other than Rose, these are all center fielders. As a hitter, Rose trailed only Willie Stargell, Cesar Cedeno and Reggie Jackson in batting runs among outfielders, making him every bit as valuable as he was famous.

Nonetheless, in May 1975 Sparky Anderson moved Rose to third base. The effect on the Reds was to replace third baseman John Vukovich, hitting .211 with zero home runs, with left fielder George Foster, who would hit .300 with 23 home runs. Rose continued to hit as well as ever, and the team won 108 games and the World Series.

Over the 1975 and 1976 seasons combined, Rose had the sixth highest total of batting runs in the major leagues, but rather than being worth two wins per season on defense (as he had been in left field) he was now worse than replacement level. Meanwhile, George Foster became a star and the Reds won two championships. Anderson could have moved Foster to third base, but he thought Rose could handle it. Given what happened to the Reds, I am forced to conclude that Anderson knew what he was talking about.

So, what am I saying? I am not saying that there should a new statistic to measure flexibility, nor am I suggesting that the WAR values we have become familiar with are wrong, or should be adjusted. I am saying: assessing “value” is complicated.


Mark Armour is a baseball writer living in Corvallis, Oregon, and the director of SABR’s Baseball Biography Project. His book Joe Cronin: A Life in Baseball was published in 2010 by the University of Nebraska Press. He and Dan Levitt are working on a sequel to their 2003 book Paths to Glory.

Designated HitterApril 20, 2011
Soundtrack of a Prospect
By Joe Lederer

I snuck out of work a little early to catch the biggest headliner Southern California had to offer this past Friday. No, I’m not talking about The Black Keys or Kings of Leon, two of the biggest acts performing at Coachella, one of the largest and most popular music festivals west of Rosenblatt Stadium. Instead of driving 130 miles east to Indio, I headed 30 miles north to Jackie Robinson Stadium, home to the 23rd-ranked UCLA baseball team and the stage of the country’s top amateur pitching – if not overall – prospect, Gerrit Cole. The Bruin righty was set to toe the rubber against Pac-10 rival and 20th-ranked University of Arizona Wildcats.

I knew the drive from Huntington Beach to Los Angeles would afford me time to listen to some tunes, so I prepared the trip with a “2011 Coachella” playlist, chock-full of the weekend’s performers. What follows is a breakdown of Cole’s performance along with concurrently performing acts from Coachella’s Friday set times.


4:28 PM – Ozomatli, “City of Angels”

But see we’re living in LA
And what you thought was the sun
Was just a flash from the K

Living within walking distance of Long Beach State’s Blair Field, I’ve been lucky enough to watch the collegiate careers of such hurlers like Jered Weaver (Long Beach State), Ian Kennedy (USC), and Ricky Romero (Cal State Fullerton), to name a few. While living in San Diego, I also checked out Friday night starts by Stephen Strasburg (San Diego State) and Brian Matusz (University of San Diego). I was excited to add Cole to the list of college arms I’ve witnessed up close.

Cole, who checks in at 6’4” and 220 pounds, is expected to be one of the first two picks in this June’s draft, improving on his 28th-overall selection by the Yankees in the 2008 draft. With what many consider three - if not four - “plus” pitches, Cole ranks third all-time (321) on the UCLA career strikeout list, trailing only former Bruin Alex Sanchez (328) and teammate Trevor Bauer (354).

I promised my buddy Jason, who I’m meeting for tonight's tilt, that I’d be there early so we could watch some of the pre-game action before the crowd arrives. Jason, being a University of Arizona alum, is just as excited to see sophomore Kurt Heyer pitch as I am to see Cole. Heyer, U of A's Friday night starter for a second-straight season, ranks third in the nation in strikeouts, so a low-scoring affair could be in the cards tonight.


5:46 PM - Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, "Flashback"

Everyone was lurking on the streets
Always searching, always meeting for some action
Getting near the satisfaction

Well, so much for getting to sneak an early peek at Cole. I finally roll into the parking lot of Jackie Robinson Stadium with only a few minutes to spare before the 6:00 PM first pitch. Coincidentally, Friday's game marked the 64th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking Major League Baseball's color barrier and a few minutes before game time, this tidbit was brought up by the public address announcer, to which the entire crowd greeted with cheers.

As I made my way to the ticket booth to meet Jason, I feared that the turnout for this game was going to be pretty good, which should be expected for a Friday night game between two ranked teams and a legitimate college star on the mound. I was worried that a seat behind the plate among the scouts was out of the question, but as Jason and I walked up the steps along the first base line to the concourse, we were both pleased to see most had put their general admission tickets to use behind each teams' respective dugouts. We made our way to the third row, where I promptly set-up shop, doing my best "amateur scout scouting amateurs" impression.

Notepad, check. Game notes, check. Team stats from collegesplits.com, check. Stop watch, check. iPhone in camera mode, check. Stalker radar gun, no dice. But the two guns directly in front of me and the one next to me would work just fine.


6:14 PM - Ms. Lauryn Hill, "Everything is Everything"

It seems we lose the game
Before we even start to play

As we watched Cole toss the last of his warm-up pitches to begin the game, Jason turned to me and said "My Wildcats don't have a chance." I nodded in agreement, as Cole's delivery was anything but max-effort. Working from the far leftside of the rubber, his fastballs flew out of his right hand (three-quarter slot) with ease while registering a ho-hum 94 and 95 on the radar gun in front of me. The rest of Cole's body (athletic with a thick lower torso) followed right behind in a repeatable, smooth delivery.

Cole started the game as well as one could, striking out the first two batters looking and swinging, respectively, then getting catcher Jeff Bandy to fly out to shallow left-center.

As Heyer took to the hill and started his sequence of warm-up pitches, I noticed a stark difference between the two pitchers’ motions. Heyer, who’s listed at a generous 6’2” and 200, has a not-so-fluid, dipping motion towards the plate. “Looks like [Roy] Oswalt,” Jason says, and he’s right. Heyer’s velocity doesn’t look overly impressive, so I’m guessing his funky delivery, movement on pitches and ability to spot the ball are the factors leading to his mounting strikeout totals.

Not to be outdone by Cole, Heyer retires the side in order: ground-out, strikeout looking, strikeout looking. “Maybe we do have a chance,” Jason tells me as Heyer hops over the first base chalk line toward the Arizona dugout.


6:26 PM – YACHT, “It’s Coming To Get You”

It’s coming to get you
It’s coming to get you, get you
It’s coming to get you

Cole starts off the top of the second by throwing a 96-mph heater on the outside corner of the plate. There is a buzz around where we are sitting, as the scouts compare radar gun readings and scribble down notes after every pitch. It seems Cole has more guns pointing at him than Mussolini.

Cole breezes through the inning and the heart of the Arizona order, fanning two and getting a third to pop out in foul territory behind first base. Cole’s using his fastball to blow past hitters for strikes and also set them up to look silly when he unleashes his slider and change-up, both arriving at the plate with the same velocity (87 MPH) but with much different action: the slider travels on a more horizontal plane while the change-up seemingly adds weight a few feet from the bat and suddenly disappears from view.


6:58 PM – Afrojack, “Take Over Control”

I want you to take over control
Take over control
Take, take, take, take over control

At this point, Cole’s velocity on his fastball has been consistent and impressive, but not overpowering. He is, however, mixing his pitches well and keeping the hitters off balance, working the ball mostly on the inner and outer parts of the plate. Any mistakes seem to miss high with the fastball and away to right-hand hitters with his off-speed pitches. Cole has thrown quite a few balls out of the strike zone at this point but Arizona hitters haven’t been helping themselves, either fouling off the pitches or swinging and missing altogether. While calling Cole wild this early in the game would be unfair, he’s been effective while missing the plate.

With the game still scoreless in the top of the third inning, a Cole slider catches a little bit too much of the plate and Arizona’s Seth Mejias-Brean pokes a single to centerfield for the game’s first hit. In an all-to-familiar play since the NCAA’s latest imposed aluminum bat standards, Arizona tries to move the runner over by way of bunt, but the batter fouls out after a two-strike attempt. I understand scoring runs against Cole won’t be easy, but Arizona carries the third-best team batting average in the nation and their slugging percentage is good enough to rank 10th. Speedster 2B Bryce Ortega is given the green light to swing the bat and promptly turns on a 0-1 fastball and launches it over the shallow left fielder’s head, and one-hops over the wall for a ground-rule double. Back to the top of the lineup, Joey Rickard weakly grounds out to third base for the second out of the inning, but Mejias-Brean scores on the play. Wildcat 1B Cole Frenzel then golfs a weak liner down the first base line for a double, plating Ortega. Cole gets the ball back and pounds his fist into his glove in frustration. Detractors of Cole, especially when he prepped at Orange Lutheran, would bring up that he was immature or showed signs of frustration that would lead to trouble on the mound. To me, Cole’s reaction to the two runs was merely a sign of his competitive nature that I expected him to channel into a positive focus. Two pitches later and another out via the air (foul-out to 1B) and Cole was out of trouble. Through three innings, Cole has shown good command (no walks and only one three-ball count), five strike outs, only one well-hit ball and is facing a 2-0 deficit. So goes the life of a pitcher, right?

UCLA helps Cole out by scoring three runs in the bottom of the inning due to a string of five hits and one free pass issued by Heyer. Heyer’s fastball hasn’t been missing bats like Cole’s has but his movement is impressive and his fastball has been sitting between 90 and 92-mph.


7:25 PM – Cold War Kids, “Broken Open”

I have been broken open
This was not my master plan

Jason and I spend the third inning chatting with the scouts surrounding us, including two representing the Seattle Mariners (who own the #2 overall selection in this year’s draft and could very well land Cole if Rice University’s Anthony Rendon is taken by the Pittsburgh Pirates with the first pick). Also in attendance are scouts from the Cleveland Indians, Milwaukee Brewers and San Francisco Giants. Sitting two rows behind me with a radar gun and notepad is a gentleman in a University of Vanderbilt visor and windbreaker. Vandy at the time of the game was ranked #1 by Baseball America but after dropping two of three against South Carolina over the weekend, the Commodores currently rank #4. No doubt Vanderbilt is looking towards NCAA Regional play and advance scouting against possible post-season opponents.

The fourth inning was of no interest, unless you are impressed by Cole striking out the side and hitting 98 on the gun twice. One of the Mariner scouts asks the non-uniformed Arizona Wildcat player in front of us who is charting the game if he thinks Cole will touch 100 mph and the teen nods yes and the scout concurs. Unfortunately, Cole wouldn’t hit triple-digits during the game, but it should be noted that he maintained 98-mph velocity in the 7th inning and 96-mph with his 123rd and final pitch of the game.

In the fifth, Mejias-Brean flies out – with only one game to draw conclusions from, it seems to me that Cole will be a fly-ball pitcher as a professional - then Arizona puts together back-to-back singles to bring up Rickard, who promptly deposits a 1-1 fastball over the leftfield fence for a three-run homer. Cole hangs his head for just a second before getting a new ball from the umpire but one can’t fault him on it…had Rickard been using a wood bat, it most likely would have been shattered into pieces but with an aluminum bat, he was able to turn on the ball and fist it 335 feet. The five runs would be all Arizona needed to tag Cole with the loss.


7:42 PM – Interpol, “All of the Ways”

Tell me you're fine
Tell me it's hard to fake it time after time
Who is this guy

Three batters into the sixth and I was convinced that this was going to be Cole’s last inning. A one-out error by his shortstop caused Cole to drop his head and slump his shoulders while he tried to collect himself on the mound. Arizona followed up with yet another weakly hit single, leaving runners at the corners.

During the earlier part of the game, Cole’s delivery to the plate out of the stretch was a consistent 1.28 seconds but now, at barely 80 pitches, Cole was up to 1.31 and 1.32 seconds to home. His slider was becoming flat and he was increasingly missing his spots. It seemed fatigue (or disappointment) had started to set-in. Then, Arizona decided to lay down a bunt to bring the runner at third home. The bunt rolled toward the left side of the mound and Cole pounced on it and with his momentum taking him towards the plate, he quickly flipped the ball to his catcher, who applied the tag just before the Arizona runner slid into home. “Out!” shouted the umpire and even over the roars of the home crowd, Jason and I could hear Cole grunt “Yeah!” and give his best Tiger Woods upper-cut fist pump.

As quickly as it had disappeared earlier in the inning, energy/adrenalin/confidence returned to Cole and he fanned the next Wildcat batter, the last pitch being a hard changeup that dove away from the batter. As Cole sprinted into the dugout, the scouts talked among themselves about Cole’s recovery during the inning.


7:58 PM – Sleigh Bells, “Rill Rill”

So this is it then?
You’re here to win, friend

One scout returns to his seat after taking a break during the bottom-half of the sixth inning. Instead of holding a radar gun while we watch Cole take the mound in the seventh inning, the grizzled talent evaluator turns his attention to the steaming cup of chili he bought at the snack bar. The smell of the cheese and onions teases my empty stomach so I lean over to the scout and ask, “How would you rate the chili? It smells like a 70.” Without missing a beat, the scout plays along. “Usually it’s an 80 but the weather tonight is too warm, so it’s only a 60.”

Cole’s game is back on track, as he retires the side in order, including a three-pitch strikeout of Frenzel, capped off by a 87-mph back-door slider on the outside corner to freeze Arizona’s #2 hitter.


8:19 PM – Brandon Flowers, “Playing With Fire”

They seem to be leaning
In the wrong direction

First impressions of Cole when I saw him warming up in the bullpen before the game was that this is a big kid with girth in all the right places for a power pitcher: butt, quads and calves. After seeing him repeat his delivery pitch-after-pitch and field his position well, I was fully convinced of Cole’s athleticism. What I saw next left me (and Jason and the scouts and the fans and, most importantly, Robert Refsnyder) off-guard.

With one out in the top of the 8th, Refsnyder laced a single to right field. Throughout the game, Cole kept runners in check with casual tosses to first and flashed a double-move a few times when he was facing runners at the corners. After a few throws that caused Refsnyder to slide headfirst back to the bag, Cole showed a set of quick feet, firing a shin-high bullet to the bag, catching Refsnyder leaning and erasing the runner from the base paths. Cole gave another first pump as the ball was returned. One pitch later - a 96-mph four-seamer resulting in an infield pop-up – and Cole’s night was over.


9:23 PM – Cut Copy, “Hearts on Fire”

There’s something in the air tonight
A feeling that you have that could change your life

During the drive home, I didn’t listen to any music. I replayed most of the night in my head, trying to figure out the negatives I’d need to bring up when breaking down Cole’s performance. As I parked my car, I checked the UCLA website for the night’s boxscore to compare with my game charts. The final stats, along with my scribbled down notes, left me with barely, if any, red flags or weaknesses to assign the UCLA pitcher.

Cole’s final line: 8 innings, 123 pitches, 9 hits, 5 runs (all earned), 0 walks, 11 strikeouts. Of the 33 batters faced, Cole threw 22 first-pitch strikes. He gave up a hard-hit, ground-rule double, a college-bat home run and that was about it. His velocity and movement confirmed what all the scouting reports had said. Physically, Cole looked the part of a top-notch prospect. Sure, it wasn’t his best outing of his young career and it wasn’t a game I’ll tell my grandchildren about ... the chili, on the other hand … but he flashed enough brilliance to show why many expect him to become the top pitching prospect the minute he signs with his new Major League team.

So there you have it, the soundtrack of a prospect. Cole is clearly no one-hit wonder and, based on the hype and performance I witnessed, he’ll be music to a team’s ear come June.

Designated HitterMarch 01, 2011
Roberto Clemente's Autograph
By David Bromberg

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a collector of autographs, baseballs, baseball cards, etc. As a kid in the '50s, I'd buy baseball cards to look at, memorize the stats on the back and to flip them (heads or tails, against the wall, anything we could think of). The following spring, I'd throw out last year's cards and start again. The most fun about getting autographs was you got to be next to the player to ask for it. That was thrill enough for me. It never crossed my mind that people in the future would make money from collectibles.

I was a Pirate fan living in New York City during the '60s. There weren't many of us. Roberto Clemente was my guy. In the same way that Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays or Sandy Koufax were your guys if you were a Yankee, Giant or Dodger fan. I loved him, wanted to play like him and tried to emulate him on the field. And I wanted his autograph. I can tell you literally dozens of great Clemente stories that I was around for during this era. Here's one of my favorites.

Getting Clemente's autograph was not the easiest thing in the world. He went through his baseball life with a chip on his shoulder. Not that he wasn't justified. With the exception of Jackie Robinson, I doubt any ballplayer was treated as badly by the press as Clemente was and he took every slight personally. He was black, Latino and spoke not one word of English when he came here in 1954 at the age of 19. Sportswriters, perhaps just not used to dealing with Latino players, would quote him phonetically, which made him look bad. "I theenk I have goood seeson." Learning to speak English was not easy for him.

You had to ask for his autograph when he was in a good frame of mind. Me and my buds would go down to the hotels where the teams were staying when they were in town to play the Yankees or Mets. Most teams stayed at the Hotel Roosevelt, the Pirates at the Hotel Commodore. We'd get there on Saturday mornings just before the bus would take them to the Bronx or to Shea and ask for their autographs in the lobby. Most would sign, some wouldn't.

I first got Clemente's autograph on August 18, 1964, which I knew was his 30th birthday. I was rowing boats six days a week all summer as a dock boy at Brooklyn Day Camp. I called in sick that day and went to Shea for an afternoon Pirate/Met game. Back then, I used to write to the Pirates for glossy photos of the players and they'd always oblige. So I had a few pages of Forbes Field stationery with me.

After the game, I waited outside the clubhouse for the Pirates to board their bus. Clemente comes out and a bunch of kids swarm around him. "Can I have your autograph, Roberto?" For whatever reason, he wasn't signing that day. Frank Oceak, the Pirates 3rd base coach, sees me holding my pen and paper and tells me, "Talk to him in Spanish and he'll sign for you." The proverbial light bulb goes on over my head! I took three years of torturous Spanish classes with Mr. Capitano in Junior High School!! "Roberto, Feliz Cumpleanos," I say. He puts down his suitcases, smiles and signs his name on my Forbes Field paper. I kept telling myself that Roberto Clemente likes me. A great moment.

Many decades later, the autograph on that paper is worth quite a bit. Supply and demand. Clemente didn't sign that many and died at age 38. Pete Rose has made his living by signing his name for the past 22 years. I took my Clemente autograph to a card show one time and showed it to a dealer, who immediately offered me $500 for it. Which told me it was worth much more than that. It is not for sale.


For the past 30 years, David Bromberg has lived in Northeast Pennsylvania, former home of the Scranton/Wilkes Barre Red Barons (Phils Triple A team) and current home of the S/WB Yankees Triple A team. He was dubbed "the most inveterate baseball fan in northeast Pa. by Ron Allen, who hosted the local nightly sports radio call-in show there.

Designated HitterFebruary 13, 2011
Remembering Woodie Fryman and the 1966 Pirates
By David Bromberg

Woodie Fryman died last week at the age of 70. He was as average a pitcher as you can be. 141-155 during an 18 year career. He used a double-pump windup, which you didn't see very much of anymore when he broke into the majors in 1966. He was 12-9 that year with a 3.81 ERA — not bad for a rookie. Until you consider that Forbes Field was a huge pitcher's park, this was during the enormous strike zone era, and he pitched three consecutive shutouts in a two-week stretch. The rest of his season was absolutely average. The one thing that stands out is that he threw four one-hitters. I was at the first of them.

I was a rabid Pirate fan living just a few miles from Shea Stadium. July, 1966 and Fryman is pitching a Friday night game at Shea. One aside. The 1966 Pirates will forever be my favorite team. Matty Alou won the batting title, Willie Stargell had his first big power year, and shortstop Gene Alley and second baseman Bill Mazeroski helped set the all-time record for double plays in a season. And then there was Roberto Clemente. He won the National League Most Valuable Player award that year. If your only memory of Roberto is the 1971 World Series, picture him dominating games like that for an entire season. He was something to see. The Pirates were thrilling to watch and I almost never missed a game when they came to town.

Pittsburgh led the NL for most of that season, eventually finishing third to the Dodgers and Giants, three games out of first place. Whenever they team played in San Francisco or Los Angeles, I'd stay up very late listening to the games, trying to get Bob Prince coming in above the static calling the games on WWVA radio, out of Wheeling, West Virginia. The crime of that season was the Dodgers had Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, the Giants had Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry, and we had only Bob Veale and Al McBean!! You call that fair???

Back to Fryman's gem. Ron Hunt leads off the game for the Mets. Chops a ball over Woodie's head. Gene Alley, at short, charges it and tries to one-hand it and throw to first, but the truth is not even Ozzie Smith or Omar Vizquel could've made that play. Infield single. Hunt gets thrown out trying to steal second base and then 26 up and 26 down. A one-hit shutout. Faced only 27 batters. No incredible fielding plays, just 26 up and 26 down. Easily the best pitched game I've ever seen in person. Stargell hit two home runs and the Pirates won 12-0.

After the game, Pirates manager Harry Walker insisted on speaking to Dick Young of the Daily News, the official scorer that night. These were two rather hot-headed guys. Walker wanted Young to change the infield hit to an error, so at least Fryman could have his no-hitter. The whole thing escalates, pushing, shoving and cursing. Walker was suspended for one game and Young wrote articles for days afterward about what a jerk Harry Walker was.

By the time the Pirates became an NL power (five NL East titles between (1970-75), Woodie Fryman was long gone. But I'll never forget that night 45 years ago.


David Bromberg has been going to baseball games since 1955. He was at Yankee Stadium two days before Don Larsen's perfect game in 1956 and at Shea Stadium two days before Jim Bunning's perfect game in 1964. He's never attended a no-hit game.

Designated HitterAugust 17, 2010
The WAR Against Age – The Pitchers
By Doug Baumstein

In my last article, I examined at what ages the forty greatest hitters* of all time, as measured by Wins Above Replacement (“WAR”), had their five best seasons to learn about aging patterns and how certain individual players fared. Here, I take a look at forty top pitchers and their best seasons. Because pitcher usage has changed dramatically over time, I eliminated all pitchers who played the bulk of their careers before World War II.

I don’t think that Walter Johnson’s typical workload of 350+ innings in his best seasons or Cy Young’s 400+ innings in his best seasons is particularly enlightening for purposes of today’s game because modern players are unlikely ever to pitch like that again. That is to say nothing of Old Hoss Radbourne’s 19.8 WAR season in 1884, in which he pitched 678 innings and went 59-12. (Considering his ERA-plus was 207 that year, and he pitched about 2/3 of his team’s innings, I think his WAR (he had 20.3 when you factor in hitting), although the highest single season number of all time, seems a bit low). In any event, after taking out the old-time pitchers, the top-40 post-World War II pitchers takes you down to number 67 of all time, Dave Stieb.

I plotted on the bar graph below the top 5 pitching seasons measured by WAR (I did not factor in WAR for hitting) for the 40 top-rated post-war pitchers (200 data points in all). For comparison sake, I have also included the chart for hitters from my last article, adjusted so that the pitchers and hitters are set out in the same scale.

Top 40 WAR (Post-World War II) Pitchers:

Top%2040%20WAR%20Hitters.png


Top 40 WAR Hitters:

Top%2040%20WAR%20%28Post-World%20War%20II%29%20Pitchers.png


The Pitchers vs. the Hitters

The first thing that jumps out from looking at these graphs is that pitchers seem to spread out their peak seasons far more than hitters. Although great hitters and pitchers start putting up peak seasons at age 20, the pitchers are far more likely to have a peak performance late in their careers. Just three hitters had one of their best seasons at age 38 or later (one was Barry Bonds at 39, one was Ted Williams who had his fifth best season and one was Cap Anson), and none at age 40, whereas the pitchers had 10 such seasons starting at 38 (5% of the sample) and four at 40 or 41, by which time all great hitters had tailed off. Similarly, the peak for pitchers is far less prominent than for hitters. For the hitters, 103 of the best seasons, more than half the sample, were between ages 26 and 31. For the pitchers, by contrast, at the same ages (which is also the six year span with the highest number of peak years) there are just 88 of the 200 seasons recorded. The median age for a pitcher’s top season was 29, a year later than for the hitters. Another interesting observation is that aggregately both the hitters (at 29 and 30) and pitchers (at 28 and 29) showed a decrease in peak years before spiking again. In my last article, I had chalked up this anomaly as merely a sample size issue, but now I wonder if there is something more at play. Perhaps players need an adjustment period to cope with diminishing physical skills.

The Individual Performances

One of the things that makes an exercise like this interesting is to look at the individuals who make up the sample and examine some of their performances. On the old side, it is not shocking that Phil Niekro and Ryan put up great age 40 seasons. John Smoltz, had the other age 40 season on the chart, which I found surprising. Warren Spahn’s age 41 season ends the chart. (Incidentally, at a baseball card show when I was 13, Spahn taught me how to throw a knuckleball. He claimed he threw one once in his career, popping up Ted Kluszewski. He also recounted how kids at Ebbets field threw sandwiches at the visiting pitchers in the bullpen, and he and his teammates would collect them and, occasionally, eat them).

Smoltz, for his part, was the pitcher with the biggest range among his top 5 seasons, producing them from ages 24 to 40. Other pitchers with a greater than ten year span for their best five seasons include Roger Clemens (23-34), Spahn (26-41), Bert Blyleven (20-33), Nolan Ryan (26-40), Steve Carlton (24-37), Mike Mussina (23-34), Rick Reuschel (24-36) (one of the most surprising things I saw was that Reuschel has the 30th highest WAR for pitchers all time, ensconced between Tom Glavine and Bob Feller, two no-doubt Hall of Famers (or future Hall of Famers)), Jim Bunning (25-35), Tommy John (25-36), Jerry Koosman (25-36), David Cone (25-36), Chuck Finley (26-37) and Frank Tanana (20-30).

On the young side of the spectrum, the eight age 20-21 seasons on the chart belong to six pitchers, Blyleven, Feller, Don Drysdale, Dennis Eckersley, Tanana and Bret Saberhagen. Blyleven, 13th all time in pitchers’ WAR (making it very hard to deny his Hall of Fame credentials, but Rich speaks far more eloquently on that subject than I do), turned in four of his top-5 season at 20, 22, 23 and 24 (with his fourth best season at 33). Perhaps his underwhelming won-lost records for those early years (16-15, 20-17, 17-17, 15-10, respectively), coupled with a long career thereafter of being very good has caused him to be underrated in the popular (sportswriters’?)
consciousness.

Feller, another young peak performer, suffers no such lack of recognition among baseball’s cognoscenti, and for good reason. Rapid Robert’s best five seasons were at 20, 21, 22, 27 and 28. Of course, he missed all of his age 23-25 seasons, and most of his age 26 season, to World War II, creating an equally compelling “what might have been” discussion as the one for Ted Williams. Another “what might have been” could easily be created for Frank Tanana, who put up four of his top 5 seasons between 20 and 23, including three 7+ WAR seasons from 21-23. To put that in perspective, among the last ten Cy Young award winners (Lincecum twice, Peavy, Webb, Carpenter, Grienke, Lee, Santana, Sabathia, and Colon) they have just four 7+ WAR seasons aggregately in their careers (Grienke, Lee and Santana twice). Had Tanana not blown out his arm, he may have been among the all time greats. That he was able to reinvent himself into an effective junk-baller is a credit to him.

On the other end of the spectrum, late peaking pitchers include knuckleballer Phil Niekro (his top five were between age 35 and 40), fireballer Randy Johnson (31, 33, 35, 37 and 38), spitballer Gaylord Perry (between 30 and 35) and sinker baller Kevin Brown (31-35). Smoltz had three of his best seasons at 38-40, but his other two top seasons were at 24 and 29.

Brown was also one of the models of consistency with a definitive peak, putting up his best five seasons in a row. Robin Roberts (23-27) was also on that list. Greg Maddux (26-31), Sandy Koufax (25-30) and Hal Newhouser (23-28) each put up their best six seasons in a row.

Conclusion

When viewed aggregately, pitchers, like hitters, apparently age in predictable ways, with peak years likely to take place between 26 and 31. On deeper inspection, however, it is clear that pitchers are less predictable. A 37 or 38 year old pitcher, or even older, has a reasonable possibility of turning in a personal peak year, whereas a hitter is not likely to do so. Indeed, each of the five oldest peak years for hitters have extenuating circumstances (Bonds (37 and 39) because of presumed steroid use, Williams (38) because service in World War II almost certainly cost him a top season when he was younger, and Cap Anson (37 and 38) because he played in the equivalent of baseball’s pre-historic times, where talent was almost certainly not as uniformly recognized and spread out among the leagues. If those players’ late career seasons are discounted, no top hitter would have had a peak season after 36. By contrast, the top 40 post-war pitchers put up 15 (7.5%) of their top seasons at 37 or older. Nor is it clear that a single type of pitcher is destined for late-career success, as pitchers such as Phil Niekro, Spahn, Randy Johnson, Carlton, Ryan, Smoltz, Koosman, Cone, John, Finley and Reuschel each put up one of their best five seasons at 36 or older.

If anything, the late success of pitchers seems to show what baseball fans already understand, that pitching effectiveness is not the result of merely being able to throw hard (no doubt each of these pitchers could throw harder when they were younger). Rather, factors such as an improved or learned pitch, better control, or even better discipline and thought processes on the mound no doubt contributed to many pitchers’ late career resurgences. Another conclusion that should be apparent is that next year’s prized free agent, Cliff Lee, who will be entering his age 32 season, is not nearly as assured of regressing from his incredible current peak as a 32 year-old hitter would be. No doubt, many GM’s are willing to bet that he can produce excellent seasons in his mid-30’s, just as some
great pitchers have done before.

* Note that I intentionally omitted Albert Pujols from that analysis, as it is by no means clear that he may not still have one of his five best seasons in the remainder of his career. In posting that article, the footnote on that subject apparently became embedded.

Doug Baumstein is an attorney and Mets fan living in New York.

Designated HitterJuly 30, 2010
The WAR Against Age
By Doug Baumstein

In this article I examine at what ages baseball’s very best hitters had their best seasons as measured by wins above replacement (“WAR”). I looked at the top 40 position players in career WAR and plotted their top 5 seasons against their age during that season. Thus, with 200 data points in all, I created the below chart plotting a player’s personal top 5 season against his age. 

Screen%20shot%202010-07-29%20at%209.14.29%20PM.png
Among superstar position players, personal top 5 seasons occurred anywhere between ages 20 and 39. The median age of a top 5 season is 28, although among the players selected, a top 5 season was generally as likely to occur during the age 26, 27, 28 or 31 seasons. Presumably, the relative lack of age 29 and 30 seasons among the 200 seasons looked at has more to do with small sample size, but the decline in the chart is worth noting nonetheless.

Obviously, looking just at the numbers is not that enlightening, so I also noted some of the more interesting results as they pertain to individual players. For example, the three 20-year old seasons that were among the personal top 5’s of the players on the list belonged to Mel Ott, Al Kaline, and Alex Rodriguez. I, for one, would not have guessed that one of A-Rod’s best seasons was his first complete season. The four 21-year old seasons that make the list belong to Rickey Henderson, Eddie Matthews, Jimmie Foxx and Ken Griffey Jr.

On the other end of the spectrum, the 39 year-old season belongs to Barry Bonds, who likely found his fountain of youth in a syringe. The two age 38 seasons on the list almost certainly had nothing to do with chemical enhancement, as they belong to Cap Anson and Ted Williams. Anson, as it turns out, was not only a great old-time player (even if less than a great human being), but was one of the greatest old players, turning in his best five seasons at 29, 34, 36, 37 and 38. Williams, for his part, of the top 40 hitters, had the biggest age gap among his top 5 seasons, turning in one at 38 and one at 23. That, however, is likely more a function of geopolitics than playing ability, as Williams turned in an 11.0 and 11.3 WAR season at the age of 23 and 22 in 1942 and 1941 and an 11.8 and 10.3 WAR season during his age 27 and 28 seasons in 1946 and 1947. Although, had he played and not fought in World War II there is no guarantee he would have exceeded the 9.9 WAR season he had at 38 years-old (10 WAR seasons are few and far between), had he had one such season during the three years between 1943 and 1945, the 15 year difference among his top 5 seasons would not have existed. Other top players who turned in at least two of their top 5 seasons more than ten years apart include Barry Bonds (age 28 to 39), Tris Speaker (24-35), Al Kaline (20-32), Carl Yastrzemski (23-33), Joe DiMaggio (22-33), Rickey Henderson (21-31), A-Rod (20-31), Eddie Matthews (21-31) and Chipper Jones (24-36).

A number of players put together their 5 best seasons in a row, showing a true peak and incredible consistency. Those players include Hank Aaron (25-29) (I always thought of him as someone who had his best years late, but he actually peaked on the young side), Honus Wagner (31-35) (a renowned older superstar), Joe Morgan (28-32), Wade Boggs (27-31) (I would not have guessed that he was a top 40 WAR hitter, and he was actually number 27, ahead of George Brett (number 30) who I consider the better player), Charlie Gehringer (30-34) and Rod Carew (27-31). A few others put up their best 5 seasons in a six year span, including Roger Connor (27-32), Roberto Clemente (31-36) and Jeff Bagwell (26-31). I find Clemente’s late surge especially interesting. I have always believed that, to the casual fan, Clemente was one of the most overrated players ever. He died after his age 37 season, shortly after the most productive stretch of his career, possibly increasing the halo effect surrounding his untimely and tragic death, and potentially creating a stronger impression of his playing abilities than might otherwise have been deserved had he gone through a typical decline phase.

I also looked at some players outside of the top 40 to see if there were any interesting patterns. Craig Biggio showed a consistent peak, turning in his top 6 WAR years from 28-33. Jim Edmonds showed a late peak, turning in his top five years from 31-35. Paul Molitor’s top five seasons also showed a late peak at the ages of 34, 35 and 36, although his age 25 and 30 seasons also constitute his top 5.

Conclusion

When I started this exercise (and I did look at a lot more stars from the so-called steroid era, even if they were not in the top 40), I expected to see that modern stars, as a result of advances in training, exercise, medicine and performance enhancing drugs would turn in the best “old” seasons. Other than Barry Bonds’ anomalous age 39 season, the evidence seemed to point the other way, as players such as Honus Wagner, Cap Anson and Roberto Clemente all showed later peaks than typical current-day star players. Also, I was surprised that 7 (or roughly one in six) of the superstars who I looked at turned in one of their top 5 seasons at age 20 or 21. While it is not surprising that superstars break in early, it is surprising that many had among their best seasons before they legally could buy a beer in today’s world (although Jimmy Foxx didn’t seem to have a problem in procuring a beer in his time).

I also performed a quick review of post-World War II pitchers. Although I did not find anything all that surprising, pitchers seemed to show a far greater dispersal in value at different ages. Time permitting, I will take a look at that data and prepare a similar study, and see if pitchers age differently than hitters or whether their peak seasons generally occur during their late 20’s.

Doug Baumstein is an attorney and Mets fan living in New York.

Designated HitterJune 01, 2010
A Lifetime on the Road
By Doug Baumstein

One of the great insights of the sabermetric revolution is the recognition that when evaluating a player, context counts. Ballparks, scoring environments, teammates, leagues and a host of other factors often give the illusion of success (or failure) to a ballplayer’s career. In this article, I take a look at some players through the prism of their road statistics to try to tease out differences in performance and ability that may cause you to think differently about certain stars of the last 50 years.

Intuitively, we recognize that hitters who play in great environments like Coors are benefitted and that players in cavernous stadiums are generally hurt. I am not sure, however, that we ever truly appreciate that some players, as a result of hitting style, luck or other reasons, are inordinately benefitted or hindered by their home ballpark.

By looking at just a player’s career road statistics, I try to separate out the effect of a player’s home ballpark and come to some interesting observations when certain hitters are compared “all else being equal.” The theory is simple, by examining a player’s away statistics, we get to view a player’s production playing at what is close to a league-average neutral park because all the park’s except the player’s home stadium are counted. The methodology is also equally simple, for purposes of this article, I will lay out a player’s slash statistics (avg./obp./slg.) and double his home runs, hits, RBIs and runs accumulated on the road so that the totals replicate traditional career numbers. Obviously, players play very similar amounts of games on the road and at home, so doubling does not reflect differences in opportunity and, by focusing on career statistics, sample size problems are easily avoided. Also, the players I compare here (usually with a player A and player B format) were contemporaries, so they may be playing in the same ballparks at the same time (although league differences may skew the results a bit). Nevertheless, the “road career” I have created here often differs markedly from the numbers we associate with a lot of the great players discussed.

From looking at a lot of home and road splits, I made a number of observations I will pass on. For a host of reasons, some of which we can guess about, over the course of their career, players generally perform better at home than on the road. Additionally, players probably deserve some credit for learning to take advantage of their home ballparks (or were recognized by talent evaluators for having skills that would translate well to a particular ballpark), so taking away their home stats probably over-penalizes a player a bit. Finally, it is clear that two venerable ballparks, Fenway and Wrigley, result in giant advantages for certain hitters. So I suspect that a number of Red Sox and Cubs fans will have particular views about this article. All the players discussed below had complete careers after the retro sheet era, so there are not gaps in their numbers. Without further ado, here are some comparisons for discussion:

Example 1 – The Hall Of Very Good

For my first example, I am comparing two players whose careers largely overlapped in the National League. Both were multiple gold glove fielders playing the same position in the middle of the defensive spectrum. Both played in lower run scoring environments than today. Both are in the Hall of Merit, but only one is a cause celebre as an unjust Hall of Fame snub.

Player A won 5 gold gloves, was an eleven time all star and won one MVP. He performed better at home and his slash line away is .277/.340/.443. If he spent his career on the road, he would have accumulated 2066 hits, 268 homers, 996 RBIs and 1056 runs.

Player B also won 5 gold gloves (starting right after the run of Player A) and was a nine time all star. His highest MVP performance was fourth. He too performed better at home, and his slash line away is .257/.342./406. His “career on the road” yields 2092 hits, 256 homers, 1176 RBIs and 958 runs.

Both players are pretty even, but seeing the above, I would take Player A. If you haven’t guessed, Player A is Ken Boyer, Player B is Ron Santo. Santo mashed at Wrigley over his career (.296/.383/.522), but was just ordinary on the road. Take away the Wrigley advantage, and these guys were about as even as they come in playing ability. (The comparison above is not entirely fair, because, even though their careers overlapped, Santo peaked in the ultra-low scoring environment of the late 60’s, by which team Boyer’s career was basically over.) Nevertheless, the numbers cause me to question whether Santo really is as deserving for the Hall of Fame as many now believe (and frankly, I did before looking at his splits).

Example 2: The Best Right Handed Hitter of the Steroids Era?

The next four players were all born within a few months of each other in 1968 (two share a birthday, which already will alert some trivia buffs). These right handed sluggers debuted between 1988 and 1992. Who was the best?

Player A has a .297/.414/.511 slash line on the road. His career on the road yields 2444 hits, 418 dingers, 1630 RBIs and 1368 runs. He is a 5 time all star and two time MVP. With the glove, he is best remembered as a hitter.

Player B has a .288/.384./.501 slash line on the road, and would have had 2704 hits, 1594 runs, 494 homers, and 1670 RBIs had his entire career been played on the road. He was a nine time all star and his best showing for MVP was second. Although not a good fielder, he was versatile, having played all over the diamond during his career. He is also generally regarded as one of the surlier stars of the past twenty years.

Player C has a .291/.398/.521 away slash line, with 2306 hits, 1422 runs, 430 home runs, and an even 1500 RBIs. He was a four time all star, one time MVP and garnered one gold glove (and was generally regarded as a good fielder).

Player D has a .320/.388/.572 slash line. This road warrior’s away career would have garnered 2328 hits, 1094 runs, 464 homers and 1414 RBIs. He was a twelve time all star and his best showing for MVP was a couple of second places. Oh, did I mention he was a catcher?

If you haven’t guessed, the above are, in order, Frank Thomas, Gary Sheffield, Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza. Piazza’s power and overall hitting on the road is astounding, as he gets an additional 20 to 30 points in average over the other greats here and sports a slugging percentage fully 50, 60 and 70 points better than Bagwell, Thomas and Sheffield, respectively. Piazza had the unlucky circumstance of having played most of his career in Chavez Ravine and Shea, two parks that are tough on right handed power hitters. Even his short stopovers in Oakland, San Diego, and a week of games for the Marlins were all played in pitchers’ parks. He is one of the small percentage of players whose road numbers are better than his home numbers (.294/.364/.515). He averaged 38 homers per 162 games on the road. A good argument can be made that Piazza was the best right-handed hitter of this bunch. I don’t know that many would have argued that before seeing the numbers. Rather, I imagine most people would think Frank Thomas was the best hitter of this group. Thomas, for his part, had 100 more home runs at home than on the road, showing he may have benefitted inordinately from favorable home parks well suited for his hitting. His career home numbers, primarily at Comiskey, are a phenomenal .305/.424/.599.

As a side note, Manny Ramirez, who is four years younger than this group, has even more impressive away numbers (as well as a much closer association with the “steroids era” than Thomas, Bagwell and Piazza). At the time of this writing, his road slash numbers are .313/.408/.582, even better than Piazza’s, and he has produced comparable line, .313/.414/.596, at home.

Example 3: a Trio of 3000-Hit Slap Hitters

When I think of great career hitters for average, three names that jump to mind are Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs and Rod Carew. Among the three, they all finished with between 3010 and 3143 hits, all hit between .328 and .338, with on base percentages between .388 and .415 while slugging between .429 and .459. Below are three slash lines, and the number of hits they would have if they played all their games on the road.

Player A: 3088 hits, .323/.385/.425

Player B: 3172 hits, .334/.384/.451

Player C: 2774 hits, .302/.387/.395

In order, that is Carew, Gwynn, and Boggs. Carew and Gwynn, on the road, hit like Rod Carew and Tony Gwynn. Wade Boggs hits like Al Oliver (career 2743 hits, .303/.344/.451).

Boggs is not the only 3000 hit-club member who received a big boost from Fenway. One of the most notable “road careers” is that of Carl Yastrzemski, who put up a career .264/.357/.422 on the road, with what would have been 3194 hits, 430 homers, 1644 runs and 1562 RBIs. Not a lot of .264 hitters get to 3000 hits, so it is hard to believe that Yaz could have gotten there without the benefit of a home park that suited him well and helped keep him in the lineup for 23 years. His career line at home is an impressive .306/.402/.503.

Example 4: Let Wrigley Double Your Pleasure

Now let’s take a look at three Cub icons, Ryne Sandberg, Billy Williams and Mr. Cub himself, Ernie Banks. I have compared the first two to long-time Tigers Lou Whitaker and Al Kaline (the number one and three most comparable players to each, respectively, according to Baseball Reference) and Banks to his top comparable, Eddie Mathews. Only one of the long-time Cubs’ road numbers hold up, can you guess who?

So here are the second sackers:

Player A: With a .269/.326/.412 line, this second baseman’s road career yields 2256 hits, 1184 runs, 908 RBI and 236 homers.

Player B: With a .274/.357/.406 line, this second baseman would have tallied 2394 hits, 1310 runs, 1070 RBIs and 196 homers with a career entirely on the road.

And the outfielders:

Player A: With a .278/.349/.459 line, this outfielder’s life on the road would garner 362 homers, 2596 hits, 1363 RBIs and 1298 runs.

Player B: With a .292/.369/.458 line, this outfielder would clout 346 homers, with 1510 RBIs, 1568 runs, and 2998 hits if his career took place solely on the road. I am pretty sure he would not have found a way to get a couple more hits.

And the slugging infielders:

Player A: His .259/.311/.462 on the road would result in 444 homers, 2424 hits, 1454 RBIs, 1168 runs and an inordinate number of outs.

Player B: His .277/.382/.529 line would result in 548 homers, 2468 hits, 1574 RBIs, 1624 runs and likely consideration as a member of the inner circle of Hall of Famers.

In all the examples above, the Cub is always Player A. Take Ryne Sandberg out of Wrigley, and he doesn’t look like a Hall of Famer, even for a second baseman. Of course, his .300/.361/.491 career line at Wrigley counts toward his bottom line, so he skated in to Cooperstown. In this exercise, however, Whitaker’s career looks more impressive than Sandberg’s when you factor in the longer effectiveness as well as the additional 30 points in on base percentage. That Whitaker couldn’t even manage to stay on the Hall of Fame ballot is a travesty.

Williams holds up remarkably well (and better than I would have thought), considering he wasn’t quite the hitter Kaline was when factoring in home numbers. Williams’ home slash stats of .302/.374/.525 are still much better than his road numbers, however.

The Mathews/Banks comparison is especially revealing, as Banks and Mathews played in the same league at the same time. Mathews simply laps Banks. Mathews was better on the road than at home (.264/370/.488) over the course of his career. Hank Aaron, Mathews’ right-handed power-hitting teammate, produced virtually identical numbers home and away, so it is not self-evident that the Braves’ ballparks were a burden on right-handed power hitters. (Willie Mays, like Aaron, also produced virtually identical numbers at home and on the road, refuting the oft-repeated, and oft-debunked, myth that his power numbers were sapped by unfortunate home venues.) Banks was a different, and better, hitter at home, where he had a career line of .290/.348/.537, a more than .110 point difference in OPS. Considering he played fewer than half his games at shortstop, had Banks spent his “career on the road,” so to speak, it is not clear he would have been a Hall of Famer, and certainly would not have been thought of as an elite member of the Hall, as he generally is now.

Conclusion

I suspect a lot of people will argue that this methodology is unnecessary because OPS plus factors in home ball parks or that a player should receive full credit for taking advantage of his environment. I think, however, that looking at only road statistics serves as a great equalizer in assessing such questions as, “who was better?” When we ask that question, we generally don’t mean to look merely at accumulated statistics without context, but to examine the question in light of a platonic ideal of a great hitter. A great hitter is a great hitter at home, on the road or in the middle of a cornfield. Hits, and especially home runs, are often the result of hitting a ball well in a stadium that rewards it, and not all players end up in parks that reward their skills. Simply, ballparks do not behave equally or match a hitter’s strengths equally. By looking at the amalgamated statistics of a player on the road, I believe we gain better insight into a player’s performance by eliminating the home field advantages or disadvantages that a player faces in half his at bats.

Finally, for some parting thoughts, here are some other observations I made. For example, I always considered Kirby Puckett and Don Mattingly interesting comparables in terms of Hall of Fame debates. Puckett hit just .291/.330/.431 on the road compared to .302/.353/.450 for Mattingly. In my mind, neither cuts it as a Hall of Famer based on their short careers. If I ever thought there was an offensive difference between Dave Winfield (.289/.356/.485) and Eddie Murray (.286/.356/.482) I certainly can’t believe there is one now. I find it hard to make a strong case for Jim Rice as a Hall of Famer based on his weak road stats (.277/.330/.459), especially when Edgar Martinez (.312/.412/.514) is such a long shot. I have a heightened appreciation of Jeff Kent (.290/.353/.504) who toiled for several teams, mostly in pitchers’ parks. The magnitude of difference between Larry Walker on the road (.278/.370/.495) and at home (.348/.431/.637), while predictable, is nevertheless astounding.

Often, a review of splits confirms our perception of a player, but in some cases, it challenges it. While not the ending point of all debates, looking at road statistics provides new and often unexpected insights.


Doug Baumstein is an attorney in New York and Mets fan.

Designated HitterMay 29, 2010
Pick Six
By John Fraser

The near perfect website called Baseball Reference rents out the heading sections of its player-pages to help support its unequalled statistical product. Unique to this kind of sponsorship is that the Reference auctions off access to the headings, creating a kind of fan marketplace, with better players yielding higher prices than lesser players. This means the player pages of legends like Ted Williams and Willie Mays are nabbed by blogs or memorabilia companies eager to piggy-back on more visible pages. Yet the lesser, and more importantly cheaper, player-pages typically have far more clever text; usually some blend of sarcasm and nostalgia created by someone very bored and devoid of real commitments, someone like myself.

One of my favorites of this type headlines Giants great Johnnie LeMaster’s page. Submitted by David Rubio, it reads “Underachievers have always had a place in my heart. Johnnie was a favorite of mine.” The LeMaster line led me searching for more. I thought another Giants shortstop would be a natural target for someone with the right love of the esoteric and immature, Jose Uribe. Unfortunately no one had bothered to sponsor poor Jose. But the drifting got me thinking about a question: who is the greatest shortstop to ever play for the San Francisco Giants? My instinct was to dismiss recent players outright, I had watched every shortstop since the mid-80s and not one of them had found a place in my heart. I also knew little about the 6-hole guys who played for the early teams so my curiosity and presumptions led me to the beginning, 1958.

The mid-fifties were not kind to the New York Giants. Although a young Willie Mays had transfixed the city since stepping on the field in 1951, the Giants lingered in the shadows of the two outer-borough clubs for much of decade. The idea of the team moving was also not a novel concept in 1957. The Giants had bounced around Manhattan since the inception of the club in 1883, so news of a potential move rarely startled a fan-base who was so comfortable with moving that they brought the name of their home, the Polo Grounds, to each new stop. Throughout the '50s there was often talk that the team would go west, although most thought Minneapolis-St. Paul the likely place because the Giants AAA affiliate played there and an aggressive group of locals enticed Giants’ owner Horace Stoneham with promises of a world class stadium that fans could actually drive their cars to. And, unlike the Dodgers, who played in the middle of Flatbush just off Prospect Park, the Giants, partly due to their very urban roots, attracted fans from the white collar commuter-class from lower Up-state, Connecticut, New Jersey, and city dwellers that, although not quite indifferent, were typically less rowdy and tribal than their neighbors from the working-class enclaves on Long Island. These different demographics, along with routine discussions about the team moving, wrought different reactions when both teams decided to move west for the 1958 season. Although Giants fans were disappointed, there was nothing like the shock and pain that Brooklyn-ites displayed when the Dodgers announced the news. In fact, there is a line that Giants fans were the kinds of people who had been leaving the east coast for California since the end of the war anyways and that Dodgers fans would never leave Brooklyn. Although this was of course hyperbole, it captured some sense of the two divergent moods as the two clubs headed to California.

In the San Francisco of 1958, like much of the country, the post-war boom was not over but stalling. Democratic politicians, like the little known junior senator from Massachusetts, were talking about a stagnant America, tying the aging and ever-golfing President Eisenhower to the slowing of the American economy and the waning of US influence abroad. But still for many, San Francisco represented everything vibrant and open about the American experiment: possessing all of its virtue absent its Puritan baggage. Landing a Major League Baseball seemed to finally ratify worldly greatness on a city that was always looked upon as the loose and brash cousin of the established cities of the eastern seaborne. San Francisco had always possessed wealth and art and physical beauty, but now it had Mays. And owner Horace Stoneham had his ballpark that people could drive to, although not quite yet. The club started out in the Mission, at Seals Stadium before a raucous crowd basking in major league validation. At shortstop was a 29 year-old Manhattan hold-over named Daryl Spencer. “Big Dee” was a tall, lean man and not very good at hitting or playing the field. He had a little pop, especially for the era, but he peaked his rookie year, 1953, on a bad team that felt the loss of Mays’s stint in the service. Spencer continued to be a decent home run hitter through the decade but never topped his inaugural season and fizzled out for the Giants after the first year in San Francisco.

Next year Spencer moved over to second base to make room for defensive specialist Eddie Bressoud. The LA product was a classic pre-Ripken era shortstop; slight, quick-feet, and a really bad hitter. Although still sharing the load with Spencer for some of the time, Bressoud played most of the games in ’59 and 60’. He hit around .230, got on base very little, and kept a lot of runs from being scored by the other team. The Giants were as mediocre as Bressoud both years, finishing 3rd and 5th respectively. Bressoud’s departure cleared the way for the Puerto Rican youngster, Jose Pagan, one of the slough of young Latino infielders that invaded the league in the late 1950s. But like Bressoud, Pagan struggled at the plate. His first year with the reins he hit .253, stole 8 bases, and played above average shortstop. Next year he remarkably finished 11th in the MVP voting, and looking at the numbers, I can’t see any rational reason why. The Giants were good of course, making it to the World Series for the first time in the new digs in ’62, but Pagan stole very little, hit very little, got on base very little, and played mundane, although beautiful, shortstop. It reminds how much of baseball evaluation was, and is, fueled by eyeballs. Baseball people still think they can see a good baseball player when actually you can only count how good a baseball player is.

Pagan hung around, achieving what most clubs expected out of shortstops of the time, then ripened and fell in 1965 for Jayson Werth’s grandpa, Dick “Ducky” Schofield. Ducky had a long career, starting in St. Louis in 1953 and wrapping up with a bad Brewers team in 1971. Schofield was not much more than a space-holder for the Giants in ’65. They traded Pagan outright for the veteran early in the season and got the raw end of the deal. Schofield was like a bad clone of Pagan: wiry, slick, and unable to hit pitches. He barely hit .200 and the Giants cut their losses after the season and waived the plucky Ducky.

Known primarily as a well-loved Giants second baseman, the man who filled shortstop for most of the ’66 season was Tito Fuentes. Cuban born, Fuentes is an interesting historical footnote because he was one of the last Cuban players signed before the American embargo against Cuba, which in unwitting Orwellian Doublespeak Congress dubbed the Cuban Democracy Act. Fuentes played sparingly in ’65, spelling Schofield and playing some second and third. In ’66 he won the job and, in the light of hindsight, played no better than average. But context being truth, average play, especially when done with Latin flourish, looked a lot better than it actually was. Tito finished 3rd in the Rookie of Year that year and won over Bay Area hearts with his smile and glove. Tito moved over to second full-time the following year where he became a baby-boomer favorite, playing slick D and hitting half-way decent on several unmemorable teams in the '70s.

Tito’s move to second allowed former Astros manager Hal Lanier to step in. The prospect apparently fit the mold better than Fuentes, being both average with the glove and a bad hitter. I suspect Hal was the typical manger type; very good at explaining how much he knew about the game, how good his instincts were, but not very good at actually playing baseball. Hal never hit above .231 as the Giants starting shortstop and never slugged above .300. It’s remarkable, going through the research for this piece, how stubbornly ignorant the baseball world was for so long. Tracking shortstops, there was a numbing faith in perceived characteristics that often had very little to do with play on the field. Perhaps no other position in the sport has been shaped by “type” more than shortstop.

Lanier lingered through the late '60s until he was uprooted by Chris Speier. Speier was a scout’s dream, and also a case study in how scouts often get it wrong. Michael Lewis goes into this in Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, how some scouts can develop an odd visual attraction to a player. Billy Beane became convinced that he was touted so highly not just because he could run fast and hit baseballs a long way on occasion, but because he looked like an all-American kid. It has instilled in him, as an evaluator, a penchant for the overlooked chubby guy or the undersized pitcher—so long as they can play. Chris Speier looked like an all-American kid when the Giants drafted him with the second pick overall in 1970. He was a golden boy; local legend (just across the bay in Alameda), sandy haired, and fresh from UC Santa Barbara where he was second team all-conference, but hadn’t exactly lit the place on fire. If scouts had bothered to investigate they would have likely found that Speier was a good all-around athlete with a good attitude and lots of holes in his swing. Speier breezed through the minors though, posting a pretty solid year in AA Amarillo with 6 pops and a .285 clip.

The lone season in Amarillo sold the organization who gave Speier the starting job in 1971. Yet they kept Lanier around, likely to teach the kid the game and Hal must have taught him everything he knew because Speier turned into a prototypical Giants shortstop. His rookie campaign with the big club did not go well but he followed it up with an impressive sophomore season that landed him in the All-Star game. Looking at the 1971 All-Star game is interesting because it suggests that the Giants were not the only club infatuated with the idea of type. Starting that game for the National League was Cub favorite Don Kessinger. Kessinger defined the shortstop type: 6’1”, 170, scrappy, smooth, and very bland in the batter’s box. Unfortunately for the Cubs, and the league really, Kessinger was the best of the type, playing in six all-star games over a seven year period spanning the late '60s and early '70s (the one year he missed his numbers were virtually identical to the award seasons). So it is easy to see how the Giants might be coaxed in to believing their young all-star would be very good indeed. And if Speier had simply replicated what he had accomplished his sophomore season he likely would have become the obvious answer to the question I pose here—but that did not happen. In '73, another all-star campaign it should be noted, Speier regressed in every phase of the game. He dipped in all the relevant offensive categories and had one of his worst seasons defensively, using the Reference’s version of UZR figures. The following year he was awarded another presence in the All-Star based on very Kessinger-like play. After '73 Speier did not have another productive season but remained the Giants starting shortstop for another three years. As testament to how powerful this concept of the shortstop type remained in baseball into the '80s, even after Ripken showed what was possible, Speier managed to play another 16 seasons in the big leagues.

By now, even if you never saw LeMaster play or are not familiar with his numbers, you can probably guess which type of shortstop he was. But before we get to 1978 Tim Foli deserves a word. Drafted first overall by the Mets in 1969, Foli was, you guessed it, 6’0”, 179, smooth, scrappy, and apparently a great teammate, convincing one that being a great teammate is synonymous with being a bad hitter. Ever heard someone say Ted Williams was a great teammate? The Giants, in a deal similar to the Lanier/Pagan trade, acquired Foli when they sent Speier to the Expos the first month of the season, 1977. He was Speier’s age and his double at the plate, yet Foli was not just average in the field the way his predecessor had been—he was better than average and at times he was excellent. Although his error totals crept into the teens most years, he covered a great deal of ground and had the knack of making outs on balls that most shortstops could just simply not get too. His UZR number of 16 in 1974 with the Expos is Vizquel-like and his steady 7s and 9s through most of his career put him in nice company. The Giants would have been far better off holding on to Foli but they couldn’t resist young Johnnie LeMaster—who true to type was of course an awful hitter, but was also dreadful in the field. The Giants were burdened with LeMaster as their everyday shortstop for seven seasons and it’s not coincidence that some of the worst Giants teams to date were helmed by Johnnie LeMaster at shortstop. I’m sure he was a great teammate but he was a very bad baseball player.

Jose Uribe brought the Giants a level of consistency at shortstop that they simply had not found since moving west. Uribe’s offensive numbers are no better than his predecessors—although his ability to steal bases separates him from the pack—but defensively he was good. His second full year in the big leagues, after a shaky rookie campaign, he had an excellent defensive season, racking up a 15 UZR. When the Giants needed him most, during the ’87 playoff year, he scored a 9 in the field and had his best offensive year with a huge spike in OPS and batting average. Following Uribe was what the Giants thought would be their first real break from type. Not necessarily in build, because Royce Clayton was similar in stature to the others, but the Giants thought they found a shortstop who could actually be a force offensively. He ended up showing that he could, becoming a good hitter and base-stealing threat, but only after the Giants had passed on him.

Although his first two years were productive and in 2007 he pulled off the best UZR clip of his career, 23, Omar Vizquel’s years with the Giants were not his best. He was a solid player however, and gave the Giants a chance to compete in the final years of the Bonds era. Ignoring Renteria because of his brief time in San Francisco, we’re left with the surprising answer to my question, Rich Aurilia—and it’s not even close. During Aurilia’s prime he was a critical part of the Giants success and in 2001 had a capstone, MVP-type season with 37 homers, 97 RBIs, a .324 batting average, and led the league with 206 hits. He hit over 10 homers eight times in his career, drove in over 60 six times, and played serviceable shortstop with above-water UZR ratings for most of his prime. But I think this all might have been a waste of time because if you go to Aurilia’s Baseball Reference player page, the sponsor heading reads simply, “The best shortstop in San Francisco Giants history.” They got it right.


John Fraser is a historian with the California State Parks and a longstanding member of a fantasy baseball league. For added excitement in his spare time, John reads the sponsorship entries on Baseball-Reference.

Designated HitterApril 26, 2010
How to Score More Runs? Play the Best Hitters
By Mark Armour

In the past twenty years Major League Baseball has seen a pronounced increase in run scoring, a phenomenon often credited to the use of performance enhancing drugs. You may have heard about this. Teams scored 4 to 4.5 runs per game nearly every year from 1975 and 1992 but have exceeded those levels ever since, scaling 5 runs per game in 1999 and 2000. Although diluted pitching is mentioned on occasion, or smaller ballparks, or a smaller strike zone, this period is likely destined to be known as the “steroid era,” reflecting the popular consensus of the causes of the higher offensive levels. Those who believe that the use of PEDs has decreased in recent years point to the major leagues 4.61 runs per game last year, the second lowest total in the past 15 years. More skeptical people would point out that the offense is still at a higher level than it had been in the previous 40 years. Either way, run scoring is often seen as a proxy for the prevalence of PEDs.

Of course, there are other explanations for the run scoring, and the true cause is likely a combination of several factors which work together. To give just one example, the strike zone, especially about a decade ago, had shrunk to such a degree that a bulked up slugger could repeat the same powerful stroke on every swing. Whereas Henry Aaron's swing had to be flexible enough to handle a letter high fastball and a breaking ball at the knees, Mark McGwire’s swing did not. The reduced strike zone, I would argue, helped lead to the bulked up bodies and the various methods, good and bad, of attaining them. The causes work together.

One factor often overlooked in the increased offense is a very basic one: managers are choosing to play better hitters than they used to. As an illustration, I present the story of Don Buford.

Buford was a college football and baseball star at USC who did not begin his pro career until he was 23. He always had great on-base skills (walking over 90 times twice in the minors) and even a little power, despite his 5-feet-7, 160 pound frame. In 1963, at age 26, he led the International League in batting average, doubles, runs scored, and stolen bases and was named the minor player of the year by The Sporting News. The White Sox organization moved him to third base in 1962, and then moved him to second base for his rookie major league season of 1964. He never became a great infielder, but he was a fine offensive player right away. In 1965, he hit .283 with 67 walks and 37 extra base hits, standout numbers in the 1960s especially for a middle infielder. He was not a kid, 28 years old, but one of the better players in the American League.

In 1966 Eddie Stanky replaced Al Lopez as manager, took one look at Buford and decided he needed to steal more bases and bunt more. This sort of worked—Buford stole 51 bases, and led the league with 17 sacrifices—but he was a less valuable player. The 1967 White Sox contended until the final weekend despite hitting .225 and scoring just 3.28 runs per game, both totals next-to-last in the league. Buford was seen as epitomizing this team—chopping down on the ball to beat out hits, hitting behind the runner, stealing bases—and the club was seen as proof that you could win without any hitting. After the season the White Sox made a six player deal with the Orioles, sending Buford and two pitchers for Luis Aparicio, a good shortstop who would fit right into their offense.

With the Orioles Buford had no place to play, as the club had Brooks Robinson at third base and Dave Johnson at second base, and manager Hank Bauer used Buford as a reserve infielder. At the All-Star break he had started 22 games and played in 26 others, mainly at second, and was hitting .234. During the break, Bauer was fired and replaced by first base coach Earl Weaver.

Usually when a manager, especially a rookie manager, takes over at mid-season he just keeps doing what the other guy was doing. Why call attention to the fact that you thought your predecessor was wrong? Earl Weaver did not really think that way. Weaver had managed against Buford in the minor leagues, and believed that he was a better player than Bauer did. In his first game as manager, he played Buford in center field and hit him leadoff in the order. Buford walked and scored in the first, homered in the fifth, and the Orioles beat Washington 2-0. Buford led off every game the rest of the season, and responded by hitting .298 with 11 home runs and 45 walks in the final 82 games of the season. In 1968, these were star numbers. “Don Buford is the spark plug,” said Frank Robinson after the season, “the guy who always gets on base, who doesn’t scream or yell, but when you see him out there on a sack, you just have just got to bring him home.” Buford scored 45 runs in the second half of the season.

Buford led off for the Orioles the next three years, and helped ignite a league-leading offense for one of the greatest teams ever assembled. Buford did not become more valuable as a player by lifting weights or moving to a better park so much as he played for a manager who allowed him to be the player that he could be. Weaver did not want Buford to chop down on the ball and run like hell to first base. According to Buford, Weaver just wanted him to get on base and hit line drives.

This pattern is also seen in the career of Joe Morgan, a similar, though decidedly better, player. They were about the same size, both second basemen, though Buford was out of position there, and both had decidedly underrated on base skills. While Buford’s skills were misunderstood by Eddie Stanky, Morgan’s were misunderstood by Harry Walker. Morgan hit .260 every year with a bunch of steals, so Walker had him sacrifice and hit behind the runner. Morgan also had extra base power and walked 90 or 100 times a year, but middle infielders were not really judged that way in 1970. Morgan’s power was seen more as a source of trivia than part of the conversation when discussing his value.

Unlike Walker, and unlike most everyone else at the time, Morgan knew how a baseball offense worked and he did not mind telling people about it. When a reporter asked him about his stolen bases, he would say, “Stolen base totals don’t impress me unless the player has a high stolen base percentage.” He talked about getting on base even when no one was asking him about it. Walker did not care for Morgan’s outspoken confidence, an attitude Morgan believed was racially motivated. When he was leading the Astros in home runs in the middle of the 1971 seasons, Morgan said, “This team’s going nowhere if I lead the team in home runs.” When he did, in fact, lead the team in home runs and his team finished fourth, he reminded reporters of his earlier prediction, adding, “no matter what some people might tell you.” Harry Walker correctly interpreted this as a criticism of his baseball acumen, and Morgan was soon sent to the Reds in an eight-player deal that kicked the Big Red Machine into a new gear.

While Earl Weaver has received proper credit for his role in utilizing the talents of Don Buford, Sparky Anderson’s effect on Morgan has gotten less attention than it warrants. While some in the press were raving about the Astros acquisition of Lee May in the deal, it was Anderson who said of Morgan, “He gets on base an awful lot of times. His on base ratio is unbelievable.” Unlike Walker, who considered himself a teacher of hitting, Anderson told Morgan to get on base and crush the ball whenever he swung. The Reds already had two big egos in Pete Rose and Johnny Bench, and Anderson was perfectly comfortable adding a third. Anderson later called Morgan “the smartest man I ever coached.” Walker was threatened by Morgan’s obvious intelligence, while Anderson considered it an asset. Bench and Rose quickly saw what they had, and made it clear that chopping down on the ball would not be acceptable.

So what do we make of all this? In the past generation or so, there has been a growing appreciation for plate discipline, the willingness to see a lot of pitches and get on base. Teams are stressing this skill in the minor leagues, players are becoming more aware of the value of patience, and managers are utilizing on-base percentage in deciding who makes the team and who plays. Assuming this is a good thing, that managers are doing a better job of playing the right guys and directing the offense more effectively, than it stands to reason that this revolution should, in and of itself, be leading to more runs being scored.

Weaver was ahead of his time in his ability to put the right guys on the field, with Buford being perhaps the best example of this. Similarly, Sparky Anderson deserves credit for allowing Joe Morgan to be Joe Morgan. In today’s game, there is a much greater understanding of how runs are scored and how players should be developed to produce those runs. This appreciation has, every obviously, led to higher scoring games. Returning to pre-1993 offensive levels will take more changes than just removing performance enhancing drugs.


Mark Armour is a baseball writer living in Corvallis, Oregon, and the director of SABR’s Baseball Biography Project. His book Joe Cronin: A Life in Baseball was recently published (to good reviews) by the University of Nebraska Press. He and Dan Levitt are working on a sequel to their 2003 book Paths to Glory.

Designated HitterApril 07, 2010
What Opening Day Tells Us (or not)
By Bill Parker

I totally understand where it comes from, but there's nothing quite like the elation and consternation that surrounds every little thing that happens on baseball's Opening Day. Every individual event is a good sign or a bad sign (or both); guy A got three hits and is ready to take a big leap forward; guy B took an oh-fer and is on the way out. This much attention won't be paid to a game again until October.

Ultimately, of course, we all know that there are 161 more of these (or 2415 of them league-wide, minus a few rainouts), and what happened in this one doesn't mean any more (or less) than what happens in any of the others. But just for fun, I thought I'd use my indispensable Baseball Reference Play Index subscription to look at some big opening day successes and failures and at what those players did for the rest of the season, and see whether any patterns emerge.

Two Homers

Albert Pujols managed to hit two out on Monday, to no one's surprise, and so did Garrett Jones. Since 2000, 24 other guys have done it a total of 27 times (including another by Pujols) with Dmitri Young hitting three out in 2005. The list includes prodigious sluggers like Bonds, Pujols, Guerrero, and Juan Gonzalez; guys having uncharacteristic power years like Shannon Stewart (who hit two out on opening day 2000, a year in which his 21 HR eclipsed his second best by 62%) and Ivan Rodriguez (who went on to hit 27 in just 91 games in 2000); and others like Felipe Lopez (who hit just 7 more homers in all of 2009) and Corey Patterson (11 more in 82 more games in 2003). Oh, and Chris Shelton (who got just 408 more PA in 2006 and has had just 145 more in the majors since) and Tony Clark (who had just 74 more PA and 2 more HR left in his 2009 season, and very likely his career).

In those 27 seasons, the players have averaged 27 home runs per season, one homer every 19.7 plate appearances, 33 homers per 660 PA. Over those 24 players' entire careers, they've averaged a homer every 22.9 PA, or 29 every 660.

So you could look at it a few ways. On one hand, guys who hit 2 homers on opening day see their season-long homers increase by 13.8% over their career norms, which sounds like a lot. On the other hand, they've already hit two of those, so for the rest of the season -- assuming they're healthy and good enough to play the season out at all -- they've only got two "extra" homers left. Basically, it seems to me, the fairest thing would be to expect them to hit from games 2 to 162 the exact same number of HR that you had expected them to hit all season long. The two on opening day are a nice bonus, but not a sign of a sudden transformation.

Four Hits (or more)

As a Twins fan, I was all set to start grumbling about Carlos Gomez's debut with the Brewers, but then I was reminded that in his first five games with the Twins, Go-Go did this. Gomez, Pujols and Carlos Gonzalez all went 4-for-5 on Monday. Just how little does that mean for their next six months or so?

Well, as you'd expect, darn little. 20 guys managed four hits on opening day last decade (two of them, Craig Biggio and Aaron Miles!!?!, got five -- and then Miles turned around and got 4 again the following year). And like the homer-hitters, they're all over the map. 2009's hit-collecting heroes were Adam Lind, who never looked back, and Emilio Benifacio, who never looked so good again.

In the seasons in which those 20 hitters collected four or five on opening day, they combined to hit nearly .291. In the years prior to that one (which I should've done above, no doubt, rather than looking at their careers as a whole -- and even better, I should be looking at only the preceding three seasons or so -- but it's too late now), they hit a shade over .280.

Seems fairly significant, but a lot of it is just that great opening day itself; give them one hit that day rather than four (or two rather than five, so we're subtracting 60 hits and 0 AB from the whole), and their collective single-season average drops to .284. And, a lot of it is driven by Derrek Lee, whose four hits on opening day 2005 was the kickoff to a campaign in which the theretofore .266 hitter hit .335; if we remove Lee from both sides of the equation, the other 19 were career .282 hitters who hit .288 that season (and if we then take three of their 4-5 opening day hits back out, the season average drops to .281, almost exactly their prior career averages).

All of which is to say that I don't think the data support a conclusion that a player who collects four hits on opening day is likely to perform better the rest of the season than he has in the past. It so happens that Gomez and Gonzalez might both be ready to break out in some way this season (and let's be honest -- if Pujols just decided to hit .400 this year and went out and did it, would you be that surprised?), and if they do, maybe you'll hear people say that you could see the change in them from day one of the new season.

But I don't think you could.

The Oh-fer

Seven different guys were saddled with oh-for-fives on opening day 2010, including some pretty big names: Jacoby Ellsbury, Denard Span (who swung the bat like he thought if he hit it it might find his mother again), James Loney, Skip Schumaker, Aaron Rowand, and the Cabrerae Orlando and Melky. Those seven guys went 0-for-35 with a walk (Melky's) and 10 strikeouts.

Every year there's a guy or two who surprises everybody by just stinking up the joint all year (or just for the first half), seemingly from day one. Last year it was Ortiz and Burrell. Seems like Paul Konerko has been that guy two or three times in his career. Are one of these seven going to be That Guy 2010?

There are 68 guys who went at least 0-for-5 in opening days since 2000, and that's too many for me to check, so I'm going to keep the sample similar to the above and go from 2006 on. That gives us 27 names -- 25 0-for-5s, and Jason Bay and Placido Polanco each went 0-for-6 in 2008 (Polanco racking up an eye-popping -.354 WPA).

Let's see...this group of guys actually put up better batting averages in their oh-fer year than they had previously; they were career .267 hitters who, that season, hit .274. But the takeaway point here is that there's just no correlation with anything at all. Matt Holliday started off the 2007 season 0-for-5 and had the best year of his career, finishing second in the MVP voting. Jose Reyes started 2006 0-for-5 and made the jump from .273/.300/.386 to .300/.354/.487. On the other hand, Andruw Jones' opening day goose egg was the harbinger of his sudden collapse in 2007. Jeff Francouer started his first full season with a big zero, and ended up showing his true colors after a promising half-season in 2006. Travis Buck had a promising partial year in '07, but '08 was awful from day one, and he's never recovered. JJ Hardy and Ryan Doumit had nightmarish 2009s, and both of them got started on it straight away. David Dejesus' bad start to 2007 led to his worst batting average by 20 points and worst full-season OPS by nearly 60.

Interestingly, a couple other guys had kind of famous collapses either the year before or the year after their oh-fer start. Alfonso Soriano came up empty to start 2008, but wasn't terrible until 2009. Jason Bay's 0-for-6 in 2008 looked like a carryover from his awful 2009, but he came back strong. Other guys are just bad hitters -- Jason Kendall, Willie Tavaras. And a lot of others were just their normal, every-season selves having a bad day.

So if a guy has a really, really bad opening day, is that a bad sign? Well, it's not a good sign. And for some guys, it certainly seems to be the beginning of very bad things. But for many more, it's just a bad day. If you think you can tell one apart from the other, go ahead and take your chances.

The Auspicious Debut

Since 1920 (as far back as BBREF goes for these purposes), there have been 30 guys who (a) made their major league debut on their team's opening day and (b) hit a home run in that game. (Nobody's ever hit two or more.) Jason Heyward, the Jay Hey Kid, was the 30th.

I'm not going to mess with a spreadsheet for this one, but it's a good idea to take a look at that list. A couple really good players on the list. Orlando Cepeda, Ken Boyer, Luis Gonzalez, Will Clark. And a lot of guys I've almost never heard of. And Jordan Schafer, and Kosuke Fukudome, and Kenji Johjima, and Travis Lee.

On the other hand, sorting the list by age tells a different story. Heyward was the second-youngest ever to do it, less than a month behind Hall of Famer Cepeda, and the next guy to have done it was nearly a year older (though it's worth noting it's a guy who totaled 79 PA in the big leagues). But it's not like he's surrounded by great players on that list. He just happens to be right behind one guy who was really good for a fairly long time.

The point is, as I guess the point of all of this was: Jason Heyward might be every bit the special player everybody thinks he is, but one home run -- even one 450-foot home run in one's first-ever at bat -- doesn't prove it, or even provide particularly strong evidence of it. If there's anything we can learn from any of these opening day stats or events, it's months (or, in Heyward's case, years) before we know we can learn those things, and that they weren't just random blips. Opening day is just about the greatest day of the year, for all kinds of reasons. But I think I'd find it even greater if people didn't get in quite such a tizzy over one day (or even one month, or two, but that's another post) in a looooooooong season.

Bill runs the blog The Daily Something, featuring a largely sabermetrics-focused post on some topic related to baseball five days a week. You can become a fan on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

Designated HitterMarch 27, 2010
Pat Rispole and the 1957 Brooklyn Dodgers
By Stan Opdyke

Author's Note: While it is safe to say anyone who visits this blog knows something about the Brooklyn Dodgers, few people know anything about Pat Rispole. Pat lived in Schenectady, New York. He taped an astounding number of baseball games during his lifetime. In 1957 Pat taped Brooklyn Dodger broadcasts. After the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, he taped Yankee games. Beginning in 1962, Pat taped New York Met games. He taped many World Series broadcasts. Pat also recruited people from around the country to tape baseball games. Pat traded reel-to-reel tapes he had from his extensive sports and non-sports collection to people who taped baseball broadcasts for him. Pat Rispole died at the age of 53 on June 10, 1979. A portion of Pat's enormous audio collection was sold after his death to John Miley, who purchased many of Pat's sports tapes, and to Phil Gries, who purchased many of Pat's non-sports tapes. Phil has catalogued the tapes he purchased from Pat's collection and the numbers are amazing. Phil has 3,131 audio broadcasts from the years 1957 to 1977, mostly consisting of TV shows, with a few radio broadcasts mixed in. A few dozen Met and Yankee radio broadcasts from 1972 that somehow were not included in the sports tapes sold to John Miley were included in the tapes sold to Phil Gries. Pat Rispole left us with audio treasures that live on long after his death. I hope this article will inspire someone to write a more detailed article about Pat and the recordings he made.


On April 16, 1957, Pat Rispole tuned in Albany radio station WOKO, threaded a tape onto his reel-to-reel tape recorder, and pushed the record button before the Phillies Robin Roberts delivered the first pitch of the game and season to Brooklyn Dodger lead-off hitter Jim Gilliam. Twelve innings later, after a 7-6 Dodger victory, Pat had a complete-game broadcast preserved on tape. Clem Labine got the win that night, but Pat Rispole deserves credit for the save.

Twelve 1957 Brooklyn Dodger radio broadcasts, including the season opener mentioned above, are currently available for sale to the public. Years ago John Miley transferred the 1957 Brooklyn Dodger broadcasts discussed in this article from Pat Rispole's reel-to-reel tapes to cassette tapes and then later, as technology changed, to CD's. John sold the cassettes and CD's to the public through the Miley Collection. John had former Boston Red Sox broadcaster Ken Coleman put a brief statement on each cassette and CD that he sold. In every Miley Collection recording I have heard, Ken Coleman's opening remark is the same: "This is Ken Coleman speaking. We present for you another complete game broadcast from the Miley Collection. We hope that you enjoy." Well, that's good enough for me. I hope you enjoy what follows.

April 21, 1957 Pirates/Dodgers at Ebbets Field

The Dodgers brought a 3-0 season record into the first game of an Easter Sunday doubleheader against the Pittsburgh Pirates. This game, recorded by Pat, was the first Dodger loss of 1957. When the season ended, there would be sixty-nine others to add to it. Brooklyn won eighty-four games in 1957, so the Bums had a good year.

Don Newcombe was hit hard and often in this 6-3 loss to the Pirates. In the third inning, Newcombe gave up back-to-back-to-back solo homeruns to Frank Thomas, Paul Smith and Dick Groat. Newcombe was removed with one out in the third, after giving up four earned runs and seven hits. Rene Valdes pitched effectively in relief, going 3 2/3 scoreless innings before being replaced by pinch-hitter Sandy Amoros. The final Pirate runs were scored on a two-run homerun by Bob Skinner off of Sandy Koufax.

Brooklyn was held to two hits by the pitching of Vern Law, Bob Purkey and Roy Face. The Dodger runs were scored in the ninth on a three-run homerun by Carl Furillo. The only other Dodger hit was a fifth inning single by Gil Hodges.

May 7, 1957 Reds/Dodgers at Ebbets Field

A Dodger fan might not want to hear what was preserved on Pat's tape. The Cincinnati Reds won 9-2, although the game was not as lopsided as the score indicated. Going into the top of the ninth, the Dodgers trailed 4-2. Dodger relief pitchers Ed Roebuck and Ken Lehman were hit hard in the ninth, and the Reds turned a close game into a rout. Hal Jeffcoat pitched a complete game for the Reds, allowing six hits, three walks, and two unearned runs.

The major baseball headline that night was not the Dodger loss. In the second inning of the broadcast, Dodger announcer Al Helfer relayed the sad news that in the Cleveland-New York game young Indians pitcher Herb Score was hit in the face by a line drive and carried from the field on a stretcher. The injury cut short what looked to be a brilliant career.

May 14, 1957 Dodgers/Braves at County Stadium

This broadcast recorded by Pat Rispole must be heard to be believed. In 6 2/3 innings, Milwaukee starter Bob Buhl walked nine, gave up five hits, and came away with a 3-2 victory. In the sixth inning, Buhl walked the bases loaded with none out. Roy Campanella lifted a fly ball to Braves' right fielder Hank Aaron for the first out of the inning. Carl Furillo, the Dodger runner at third, was anchored to the bag even though Hank Aaron's throw was to third base. Vin Scully, mentioning to his listeners that the Dodgers had squandered a gift run, described Furillo angrily kicking the third base bag after the play was over. The baserunning gaffe was highlighted when Buhl struck out Don Zimmer and retired Don Newcombe on a pop fly to shortstop Johnny Logan to end the inning. The Dodgers scored two runs in the seventh, but the squandered chance in the sixth proved costly in a 3-2 Dodger defeat. Newcombe pitched effectively, but got the loss.

May 30, 1957 Dodgers/Pirates at Forbes Field

This first game of a Memorial Day doubleheader, recorded by Pat, was a 4-3 Dodger victory. The Dodgers won behind the pitching of Sal Maglie. Brooklyn scored its runs in the middle innings against Pirate starter Vern Law. In the fourth, Duke Snider singled in Gino Cimoli; in the fifth, Don Zimmer hit a sacrifice fly that scored Roy Campanella; and in the sixth, Duke Snider hit a two-run homerun. Clem Labine preserved the Dodger victory with 1 1/3 innings of shutout relief.

June 4, 1957 Cubs/Dodgers at Ebbets Field

To the delight of everyone who has heard this game, Pat Rispole recorded an absolute gem of a broadcast. Sandy Koufax was the Dodger starter, and as was the case so often, the combination of Koufax and Vin Scully was sensational. Read the words, but try to imagine Vin saying them:

"Just the start of things, so pull up a comfortable chair. If you want to take your shoes off, go ahead, wiggle your toes, and we hope you'll have a cold Schafer or two throughout the evening. Dodgers and Cubs opening the homestand."

"1 and 2 pitch, fast ball got him swinging, and that thing was moving, so maybe Koufax is starting to loosen up a little bit. He wasn't very fast to Morgan or Speake, but that last strike to Ernie Banks had something on it."

"The runners go, the 3-2 is cut on and fouled away down the right field line on top of the roof and out of the ballpark. So the kids that are listening to the ballgame on the soda-pop stands outside, you'll run that one down, almost to Bedford Avenue."

"Koufax ready, now the 1-1 pitch, fastball cut on and missed and that was moving, 1 and 2. So one thing I'm pretty sure about this stage of the game now, Koufax has loosened up. He appeared to be a little stiff pitching to Morgan, even though he struck him out. Pin-wheeled his arm around, did a couple of knee bends, now he's starting to pitch with a loose motion."

"We understand at the agency, that we now have a young girl writing commercial copy. And I'll bet ya her fine hand was in that last one, 'sunlight on a drift of snow.' Well, all right. (In the background, Jerry Doggett is heard saying, 'Thanks Vin.') (Vin laughing lightly) Zimmer batting .229. (The commercial played between innings and read by Jerry Doggett included the line, 'And when you lift a glass of Schaefer, man it's like sunlight on a drift of snow.')"

"And the strike one pitch, fastball cut on, there is a high foul to the right of the plate. Neeman coming back, right to the lip of the dugout, and can't make it. The ball lands on the roof. And somebody makes a great catch by the name of Barney Stein. Barney who takes great sports photos for the New York Post, he's also the Brooklyn Dodger official photographer. And that thing kangarooed from the dugout roof right up into the camera booth, and there was Barney to grab it. He dropped a nine thousand dollar camera in the process. No, not really."

"I might have said earlier, with the first two batters up there, that Koufax appeared not to be loose. But now he is firing. He struck out the side in the second inning."

Koufax no-hit the Cubs through 5 1/3 innings, striking out eight batters in the process. With Bobby Morgan on base via a walk, Bob Speake broke up the no-hitter and shutout with a homerun. The Dodgers, leading 7-2, allowed Sandy to pitch into the eighth inning, when he ran into trouble again. A single by Bobby Morgan and a walk to Bob Speake brought Ernie Banks to the plate with one out. Banks belted a three run homerun to narrow the Dodger lead to 7-5. Koufax retired Lee Walls, but when Frank Ernaga doubled, Walt Alston lifted Koufax for relief ace Clem Labine. In 7 2/3 innings, Koufax walked five, struck out twelve, and gave up five earned runs on four hits. Labine pitched out of trouble in the eighth and ninth innings to secure the Dodger victory.

The Dodger offense got started early with three first inning runs. The big hit in the inning was a two RBI double by Roy Campanella off the Schaefer scoreboard in right. Brooklyn scored three more in the third to break the game open. The final Dodger run was a fifth inning solo homer by Gil Hodges against pitcher/author Jim Brosnan.

July 14, 1957 Braves/Dodgers at Ebbets Field

A come from behind victory is always fun if your team gets the win. The Dodgers trailed 2-1 going to the bottom of the ninth in this game recorded by Pat. In the ninth, Gino Cimoli reached on a leadoff walk. Gil Hodges then belted the first pitch he saw from Braves starter Bob Buhl over the left field wall. Gil's homerun made Johnny Podres, pitching in relief of Sal Maglie, a winner by a 3-2 score.

At the close of play on July 14th the Dodgers were tied for fourth place with the Reds. The Dodgers were only 2 1/2 games behind the first place Cardinals. The sixth place Giants were nine games out.

July 20, 1957 Cubs/Dodgers at Ebbets Field

Twenty-one year old Don Drysdale was the starter and winner in this 7-5 Dodger victory recorded by Pat. The Dodgers scored four runs in the first to overcome a first inning Cub run. Ex-Cub Randy Jackson's solo homer in the sixth gave the Dodgers a 5-1 lead. The Cubs were able to make the game uncomfortably close with three unearned runs in the seventh inning. Clem Labine secured the Dodger victory with 2 1/3 innings of one run relief pitching.

After the July 20th victory, Brooklyn was in second place, 1 game behind Milwaukee. Only three games separated the top five teams in the league. The sixth place Giants were 11 games behind the Braves.

July 28, 1957 Dodgers/Reds at Crosley Field

Johnny Podres and Carl Furillo were the pitching and hitting stars in this 7-2 Brooklyn victory recorded by Pat. Podres was a masterful pitcher on the road all season long, and this two run complete game performance against the Reds was no exception. Podres fell behind 1-0 in the first after giving up a RBI single to Frank Robinson. The Dodgers tied it in the third, and then in the fourth Carl Furillo hit a grandslam against Reds starter Brooks Lawrence. The Dodgers scored two in the eighth and the Reds answered in the bottom of the inning with a Ted Kluszewski pinch hit solo homerun to finish the scoring for both teams.

At the close of play on July 28th the National League pennant race was tightly bunched at the top. The first place Braves were 1 1/2 games ahead of the third place Dodgers, and only 3 games ahead of the fifth place Phillies.

August 5, 1957 Giants/Dodgers at Ebbets Field

This game recorded by Pat was the opener of a four game series against the Giants. Don Drysdale pitched 8 2/3 innings to earn his ninth victory of the season in a 5-2 Dodger win. Clem Labine got a one out save by retiring Willie Mays on a ground ball to shortstop Charlie Neal to end the game and strand two Giant runners on base The Dodgers scored single runs in the second, third and fifth to take a 3-2 lead. Two insurance runs in the seventh made a nervous ninth inning easier to bear.

The Dodgers lost the next three games of the series to the Giants. The August 7th loss was crushing. Brooklyn gave up five runs in the ninth inning to turn a 5-3 lead into a heartbreaking 8-5 loss in a game played at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, NJ. The three defeats sent Brooklyn into a tailspin that coincided with a hot streak for Milwaukee. From August 6th to August 18th, the Dodgers played exclusively against two second divisions teams, the Pirates and Giants. During that stretch Brooklyn went 5-9. The Braves during that same stretch went 10-3 playing against two first division teams, the Reds and Cardinals. At the close of play on August 18th, Brooklyn was in third place, 7 1/2 games behind first place Milwaukee. Brooklyn was still in a pennant race, but things were not looking good.

August 31, 1957 Giants/Dodgers at Ebbets Field

This 7-5 Dodger victory recorded by Pat was the next to last game ever played between the Dodgers and Giants at Ebbets Field. Ed Roebuck was the pitching and hitting star. Roebuck pitched 3 1/3 innings of shutout relief and hit a solo homerun. The Dodgers took a 4-2 lead in the fifth inning on a two run homerun by Gil Hodges. The Giants took the lead away in the sixth on three unearned runs. With two outs and none on in the bottom of the sixth, Roebuck singled to start a two run rally that gave the Dodgers the lead. Roebuck added an insurance run with his homerun in the eighth.

Brooklyn was in second place after the victory, 7 games behind Milwaukee. A doubleheader loss to the Phillies at Ebbets Field a few days later on Labor Day all but eliminated the Dodgers in the pennant race. The double defeat dropped the Dodgers to third place, 10 games behind the Braves.

September 8, 1957 Dodgers/Giants at the Polo Grounds

This Sunday afternoon game is the last game of the season currently available to the public from the recordings Pat Rispole made of 1957 Brooklyn Dodger broadcasts. Any baseball fan with a sense of history should listen to it. The game, the last meeting ever between the historic New York rivals, was won by the Giants, 3-2. Jerry Doggett broadcast the first four innings and a somber Vin Scully took over in the top of the fifth. Vin, contemplating the likely departure of the Dodgers and Giants from New York at the end of the season, was at his brilliant best:

"I don't know how you feel about it at the other end of these microphones, whether you are sitting at home, or driving a car, on the beach or anywhere, but I know sitting here watching the Giants and Dodgers apparently playing for the last time at the Polo Grounds, you want them to take their time, 2-0 pitch is low ball three, you just feel like saying: Now don't run off the field so fast fellas, let's take it easy, we just want to take one last lingering look at both of you."

"Yes, the Giants and the Dodgers, baseball's greatest rivalry, being played for perhaps the last time at the Polo Grounds. And it doesn't make you feel very good."

"Well it's funny, but being a kid raised in New York and you sit here watching this ballgame and looking at the Polo Grounds, and your memories go wild. Strike one pitch to Gino is down low. Not just baseball, they had some great football games, and great stars who played here at the P.G. You can almost see them running around out there...... Did you ever see a Fordham-St, Mary's football game, years ago before the war? That's something you remember."

"We roll to the last of the sixth inning in this ballgame, the last time these two teams will play at the Polo Grounds. Memories, memories."

"And so to the ninth inning, what very well may be the last inning ever played here at the Polo Grounds between the Giants and the Dodgers."

"So if it is the last inning of the last game to ever be played between the Giants and the Dodgers here at the Polo Grounds, if time is going to slam the door on this great rivalry over here, then Sandy Amoros has the privilege of being the fellow with his foot in the door, trying to keep it open. Amoros hitting for Eddie Roebuck."

"Marv [Grissom] ready, the 1-1 pitch to Amoros, cut on and bounced down to O'Connell, Danny up with it, he throws, that does it. The New York Giants saying good-bye to the Dodgers and vice-versa here at the Polo Grounds and the Giants win it 3-2. We'd be remiss [not] to say it's kind of a sad day for everybody concerned, if this will be the final game played here."

"And you just kind of say good-bye and let it go at that. I guess everybody has his own thoughts, and that will do it. Final score 3-2 New York."

Although the September 8th Dodger-Giant game is the last recording made by Pat from the 1957 Dodger season that is currently available for sale to the public, one other game, the last game ever played by the Brooklyn Dodgers, is so significant that I would like to review it briefly. No article about the Dodgers final year in Brooklyn would be complete without it.

On September 29th the Brooklyn Dodgers ended the 1957 season at Connie Mack Stadium against the Philadelphia Phillies. Ed Bouchee hit a two-run homerun to give Philadelphia the only runs they needed in a 2-1 victory. Brooklyn born Sandy Koufax was the last pitcher to throw a pitch for the Brooklyn Dodgers when he retired Willie Jones on a strikeout. The catcher who caught Sandy's last pitch was Brooklyn-born Joe Pignatano. In the ninth, Bob Kennedy hit a fly ball to Phillies centerfielder Richie Ashburn for the final out of the game and season.

The next Dodger regular season home game was played in Los Angeles. The 1958 Dodger home opener was not broadcast on an upstate New York radio station. If it had been, Pat Rispole probably would have recorded it.

*******************

Sources and notes:

Retrosheet was on my computer almost constantly while I wrote this article. What a fantastic website. The information on Retrosheet is free and copyrighted by Retrosheet. Interested parties may contact Retrosheet at www.retrosheet.org.

The broadcasts recorded by Pat Rispole were the other main source I used in writing this article. John Miley has released some of Pat's many baseball recordings, including all the Brooklyn Dodger radio broadcasts I have discussed in this article, in his Miley Collection. I have been a customer of John since basically forever. He has never failed to provide quick and reliable shipment of the orders I have placed with him. I thank John for a lengthy phone conversation I had with him several years ago. I didn't take any notes about the conversation at the time, but notes weren't needed. What John told me was so interesting I could not forget it. I am not sure I would have written this article unless I had that conversation with John Miley.

Phil Gries has been very helpful to me from my first email to him. Phil purchased many of Pat Rispole's non-sports tapes. I thank him for some very interesting emails. Phil attended the July 4, 1957 doubleheader at Ebbets Field against the Pirates. How I envy him; I wish I had seen a game at Ebbets Field. Phil lived in Brooklyn on Bedford Avenue, which makes him a legend in my book.

I spoke on the phone to John Furman, a friend of Pat, for about twenty minutes on February 15, 2010. I thank him for an interesting conversation about his friend. I also thank Paul Thompson, who sent me informative emails about taping baseball games for Pat and getting tapes from Pat in return.

Thanks, too, to Donald from Detroit, AKA Polo Grounds 1957, whose last name I do not know and whose internet comment years ago made me aware for the first time of the name of the fellow who taped all the games that I enjoyed hearing so very much.

I also thank Pat Rispole. RIP. In my phone conversation with John Furman, John described Pat as being quiet, articulate, kind, and generous. Anyone who enjoys listening to baseball broadcasts from the 1950's and 60's should join me in thanking Pat, for he is the person most responsible for the rich audio history we have of baseball radio broadcasts from that era. I have enjoyed writing about him. I hope the readers of this blog have enjoyed learning a little about someone who did so much to preserve an important part of baseball history.

Update (4/16/10): Stan received his wish as Jennifer Gish of the timesunion.com wrote a "more detailed article about Pat and the recordings he made." Congrats to Stan and Pat.

Designated HitterFebruary 08, 2010
Evaluating Baseball's Managers
By Chris Jaffe

[Editor's Note: Chris Jaffe, writer for The Hardball Times, has written a new book, “Evaluating Baseball’s Managers.” The commentary below is the introductory essay to EBM’s Chapter 5, which is titled “Rise of the Fundamentalists, 1893-1919.”]

The importance of managers peaked at the turn of the century. They inhabited a specific period in the evolution of baseball between two crucial metamorphoses of the game. First, in the late nineteenth century, field generals like Gus Schmelz and Ned Hanlon caused the rise of the modern manager and the extinction of the old business manager. By placing a premium of the preparation of players before contests and handling strategy during them, the position of manager came into its own. A generation later, the rise of the front office diminished the manager’s position by serving as a rival power source within the franchise. Between these transformations, managerial power in the sport crested. Managers ascended into the ranks of ownership with greater frequency than at any other time in baseball history, as there were fewer steps between themselves and owners. Even those who did not own a share of the club frequently had considerable autonomy. When John McGraw became Giants manager, he told the owners which players to keep or remove from the roster, indicating who called the shots for that franchise. Not all managers wielded such authority in this era, and many held considerable power in the future, but they had their strongest opportunity to control the entire franchise at the turn of the century.

Managerial power also reached its zenith because coaching was more important in this period than any other. Old time baseball is often remembered as a glory era, when players dedicated themselves to the craft of the game in a way that modern players with their supposedly softer attitudes never could. Though this attitude is very frequent in the modern day, ideas that the old-timers were better, wiser, and more dedicated are as old as the game itself.

People look at John McGraw and his devotion to those precious fundamentals. He ordered his players come to the park to practice and work out for several hours every day, making the athletes perform precisely in accordance with his formidable will. Other managers, like Frank Chance, made a similar fervent push for sound ball. Chance’s Cubs had a well-earned reputation as the sharpest players in the league.

However, not only was the deadball era far from being the golden era of fundamentals, but the evidence used to make it seem like a Mecca of proper execution are the very facts that indicate otherwise. John McGraw did not want his players practicing constantly because they were so committed, but because those who earned a spot in major league baseball commonly displayed poor fundamentals. The book Crazy ‘08 by Cait Murphy provides an interesting window into baseball during the 1908 NL pennant race. Despite focusing on teams that diligently practiced their basics – McGraw’s Giants and Chance’s Cubs – examples of shoddy play litter the book. It was not a matter of errors; the gloves and conditions of the day made muffed grounders understandable. The problems went deeper. Virtually every game contained at least one boneheaded play that could not be blamed on the conditions. Flies landed between fielders. A base runner would be doubled off on a pop up. An outfielder would misplay a grounder for an inside-the-park home run. These plays still happen, but not nearly as often. If the Cubs and Giants played like that, imagine how the doormats played. There were also some extremely smart plays, but the floor for proper conduct was much lower in 1908.

It seems strange that teams that practiced so religiously played so poorly, but think for a second. Much of what is now received wisdom was still being worked out. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, players slowly began figuring out how to work together, or back each other up. For example, what should a catcher do when a base runner is caught in a run-down between first and second? Where should the shortstop go when the runner on first heads for third on a single to right? People are not born knowing the answers.

Look at it from the point of view of someone born in 1879 earning a roster slot in 1900. He grew up in a world where even the best players at the highest levels were still learning the core basics. It did not trickle down to Iowa’s cornfields or Pennsylvania’s coal mines overnight. Neither TV nor radio existed to teach him how the pros acted. Odds were very good he had never seen a big league game, and may not know anyone who has. Sandlot baseball has always been self-regulating, but there is usually at least some fundamental knowledge for kids to rely on. When he starts playing semipro ball, his manager was likely another player, probably under 30 years old himself. That man hopefully has some exposure to the basics being threshed out, but that was not guaranteed. Even if the skipper had basic knowledge of fundamentals, perhaps he cannot coach well. Depending on the club’s finances, he might be a business manager. If a kid could hit or possessed a strong arm, he would receive playing time, no matter how ignorant he was of fundamentals.

Thus you end up with the following story told by baseball historian Fred Stein. In 1897, a rawboned young buck called Honus Wagner began playing for the Louisville Colonels. His manager, a not yet 25-years-old Fred Clarke, told the kid to “lay one down” in his next at bat. Instead, Wagner hit a home run. Appreciative of the result but curious as to why the rookie ignored his instructions to bunt, Clarke asked Wagner what happened. Shamefacedly, the future Hall of Famer shortstop admitted he had never heard the phrase “lay one down” before. He had no idea what his manager was talking about. This was the situation Clarke, McGraw, and Chance contended with.

Fundamentals first have to be developed. Then they diffuse. Next, their instruction becomes institutionalized. Once the lessons become second nature to one generation, the next wave can be fully and immediately immersed in them. Nowadays, high schoolers are better versed in solid fundamentals than many big leaguers a century ago. After enough years and decades go by, fundamentals are so ingrained even Little Leaguers learn them, and you assume that everyone getting paid to play the game knows them by heart. Even a poor kid from the Dominican Republic has access to more knowledgeable adults and coaches than was the case for an 1890s Wisconsin farm boy.

This might oversell the point. At SABR’s annual convention in 2007, I heard Cait Murphy talk about what she learned from researching her book, and she was surprised at how advanced the level of play sometimes was. Examples of intelligent play existed – for instance the Cubs had worked out an impressive system of defensive signals amongst each other. However, such plays coincided with embarrassing miscues, as the floor for acceptable play was quite low. A wide discrepancy existed in the quality of fundamental ball played in these years. The more advanced examples of shrewd gamesmanship were often the result of major league managers instilling those values into their charges.

This explains why coaching fundamentals mattered so much for this generation of managers. The basic ideas of how to play had been worked out, now it was a time to diligently instruct them to the players. McGraw, Chance, and their ilk focused on the fundamentals because their players so sorely lacked knowledge that these pointers could significantly improve squads.

A century later, in his bestseller Moneyball, Michael Lewis introduced the phrase “market inefficiency” to baseball fans. He argued the 2002 A’s won 103 games despite a low payroll because they realized the baseball world undervalued the importance of on-base percentage. By exploiting this gap between reality and perception, A’s GM Billy Beane made his team a winner. A century earlier, the market inefficiency was fundamentals. The best managers, such as McGraw and Chance, were those who could transform raw clumps of talent into majestic creations. One should not underestimate how important sound play was back then. In the early twentieth century some teams made 100 fewer errors a year than their rivals. Combined with improved base running, solid mental play, and all those other little things, proper fundamentals were worth many wins.

Chris Jaffe is an instructor of history and a columnist for the The Hardball Times. He lives in Schaumburg, Illinois. For more information about Chris Jaffe and Evaluating Baseball’s Managers, visit the author’s website.

Designated HitterJanuary 23, 2010
Baseball on the Radio in New York City in 1953
By Stan Opdyke

Author's Note: Ernie Harwell's birthday is January 25th. When I sat down to start writing this article last month, I had that birthday in mind as a deadline. I thank Rich for allowing me to print it here in time for time for Ernie's birthday. Happy Birthday Ernie. Listening to you broadcast a game was always a pleasure.


In 1953, a baseball fan in New York City turning the radio dial had several delightful choices. The trio of Red Barber, Connie Desmond and Vin Scully were the voices for the Dodgers; Russ Hodges and Ernie Harwell called Giant games; Mel Allen, Joe E. Brown and Jim Woods were the broadcasters for the Yankees. Never before and not since have so many excellent broadcasters congregated in one city in one season to broadcast big league baseball.

Before 1939, the three New York teams, fearful that radio play by play would curtail attendance, kept radio broadcasts out of their ballparks. There were some exceptions to the radio ban. A few opening day and other scattered games were aired. All-Star games and the World Series were broadcast on New York radio stations. However, New Yorkers were unable to hear major league baseball on a regular basis until Larry MacPhail, brought to New York from the Cincinnati Reds to take over operation of a moribund Brooklyn Dodger franchise, broke the radio blackout in 1939.

Red Barber was the first of the seven legendary broadcasters of 1953 to take the air for a New York team for a full season of games. Red's first broadcasting job, taken while he was a student at the University of Florida, was at radio station WRUF in Gainesville, Florida. During his time at WRUF, Barber was able to hear the powerful signal of Cincinnati's WLW at his home in Gainesville. Red followed that radio signal to its source to audition for a job at the radio station that has long been dubbed as "The Nation's Station" because of the wide sweep of its AM transmitter.

In 1934, Red realized his goal of a job at WLW. Powel Crosley, the owner of stations WSAI and WLW in Cincinnati, took over control of the Cincinnati Reds during the Great Depression. With a team and two radio stations, Crosley naturally looked for a broadcaster to air the games of the team he owned. There were plenty of capable broadcasters in the Cincinnati area, but the job went to the young man in Florida who had never broadcast or even seen a big league baseball game.

Red's radio work involved more than sports and baseball broadcasts. Only about twenty Reds games were broadcast on the radio in 1934, so Red worked more as a staff announcer than as a baseball broadcaster in his first year in Cincinnati. The next year Red's baseball broadcasting career blossomed. Larry MacPhail brought lights to the Reds home park in 1935, and the Reds played the Philadelphia Phillies in the first night game in major league history on May 24th. Red Barber broadcast that game over the new Mutual Broadcasting network. Red's call of the major's first night game was the first sporting event ever carried by Mutual. After the end of the regular season Red was back in the national spotlight as a broadcaster for Mutual's coverage of the 1935 World Series between the Cubs and Tigers.

Red stayed in Cincinnati until the end of the 1938 season. Powel Crosley did not want to see his talented broadcaster leave. Red was offered more money to stay in Cincinnati than he would make in Brooklyn, but the lure of greater career possibilities in New York caused Red take the Dodger job.

Mel Allen will always be remembered as the voice of the Yankees. However during his early years as a baseball broadcaster Mel was actually the voice for two major league teams, the Giants and the Yankees. After Brooklyn broke the New York radio blackout, the Yankees and the Giants in 1939 joined forces to broadcast their home games over WABC. Brooklyn broadcast its entire schedule, home and away, although road games were recreated.

The principal broadcaster for the Yankee and Giant games in 1939 was Arch McDonald, a veteran broadcaster who had done Senator games in Washington, DC. McDonald's assistant was Garnet Marks. Marks was fired early in the season, and in June of 1939, Mel Allen was hired to take his place. After the 1939 season, McDonald returned to Washington and Allen became the primary broadcaster for Yankee and Giant home games in 1940.

Like Red Barber, Mel Allen was raised in the South. At the age of fifteen Mel enrolled at the University of Alabama. After completing his undergraduate degree, he began law school, also at the University of Alabama. While in law school, Mel became the public address announcer for University of Alabama football games. Shortly before the 1935 season the radio broadcaster for University of Alabama football games quit. The P.A. announcer was transferred to the radio booth to call Alabama football and a brilliant broadcast career was born.

In 1936, Mel traveled to New York for a winter vacation. While in New York he decided to audition for a job, and he landed a staff position at CBS radio in early 1937. Allen appeared in a variety of capacities for CBS including game shows, soap operas and big band broadcasts. In 1938 Mel appeared along with France Laux and Bill Dyer for CBS radio coverage of the World Series between the Cubs and Yankees. It was the first of many World Series broadcasts for perhaps the most recognizable voice in baseball broadcasting history.

Connie Desmond was the third of the seven legendary broadcasters to arrive in New York. In 1942 Desmond was hired to work at radio station WOR. Connie began his broadcasting career in 1932 in his hometown, Toledo, Ohio. During the 1942 baseball season, Connie teamed up with Mel Allen to broadcast Giant and Yankee home games over WOR. Connie also worked at WOR in a variety of capacities, including music shows that featured his own singing.

Red Barber's assistant broadcaster, Al Helfer, went into the military after the 1942 season. Desmond met with Barber and asked for Helfer's job. Connie was hired as Barber's assistant. In 1943 the Giants and Yankees did not broadcast any of their games, so Connie and Red were the only big league broadcasters on the air in New York during the 1943 season.

After World War II, a pivotal figure in New York baseball broadcasting returned from military duty. Larry MacPhail returned to New York, but not with the Dodgers. MacPhail became a co-owner of the Yankees and once again he brought change to baseball broadcasting in New York. MacPhail was not satisfied with the broadcasting partnership between the Giants and Yankees. In 1946, the Yankees began broadcasting all their games, home and away, on WINS. Mel Allen, also out of the military, returned as the principal Yankee broadcaster. The Giants hired Jack Brickhouse as their primary broadcaster in 1946. For the first time, all three New York teams were on the radio for a complete season of home and away games.

Russ Hodges was the fourth of the legendary broadcasters to reach New York. In 1946, Russ was hired to assist Mel Allen on Yankee broadcasts. Before taking the Yankee job, Hodges broadcast for the Cubs and White Sox in Chicago, and for the Senators in Washington, DC. Like Allen, Russ Hodges was a law school graduate. Hodges stayed with the Yankees until the Giants hired him to be their primary broadcaster for the 1949 season.

Ernie Harwell arrived in New York during the 1948 season to broadcast for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Ernie began his baseball career at an early age. When he was five years old he was a bat boy for visiting teams of the minor league Atlanta Crackers. At the age of sixteen, Ernie became the Atlanta correspondent for the "Baseball Bible," the Sporting News. Harwell began his broadcasting career at WSB in Atlanta in 1940 after graduating from Emory University. Ernie broadcast Atlanta Cracker games before the war, and after being discharged from the Marines, he resumed his baseball broadcasting career with the Crackers in 1946.

Ernie was brought to New York to fill in for an ailing Red Barber during the 1948 season. That year, the Dodgers began live broadcasts of their road games. Red Barber became severely ill with a bleeding ulcer during a Dodger road trip. Connie Desmond took over as the sole broadcaster for the Dodgers while Dodger management sought a replacement for Red. The Dodgers looked to Atlanta and the talented Harwell to fill in during Red's illness. However, Ernie was under contract to the Crackers, so Ernie's boss in Atlanta, Earl Mann, needed to be compensated for losing his play by play broadcaster. For the only time in major league history, a team traded a player for a baseball broadcaster when the Dodgers shipped minor league catcher Cliff Dapper to Atlanta for the services of play-by-play broadcaster Ernie Harwell.

Ernie remained with Red Barber and Connie Desmond through the end of the 1949 season. Ernie left the Dodgers to join Russ Hodges in broadcasting New York Giant games in 1950. To the delight everyone who has had a chance to listen to him during the past sixty years, Red Barber chose Vin Scully to replace Ernie in the Dodger broadcast booth.

Vin Scully graduated from Fordham in 1949. While he was in college he worked at the campus FM station and also played the outfield on the varsity baseball team. Vin sent letters to radio stations up and down the Eastern seaboard in search of a broadcasting job after graduation. He landed a temporary job as a summer replacement announcer in Washington, DC for the CBS affiliate, WTOP. Management at WTOP appreciated his talent, but at the end of the summer, they had no permanent job for him. Vin left Washington with a promise of a future job at WTOP, but no immediate employment.

Vin returned to his home in New York and contacted CBS radio in search of a job. Vin was able to meet with Ted Church, who was director of CBS radio news. Church had no job for him, but he did introduce Vin to Red Barber, who in addition to being the Dodger play-by-play broadcaster, was the director of sports for CBS radio. Red had no job to offer, though he was favorably impressed after talking with the youngster.

One of Red's primary duties as director of sports for CBS radio was selecting broadcasters to go to various college games throughout the country for the CBS college football roundup show. Luckily for Vin, in 1949 Red was unable to find a broadcaster for the Boston University-University of Maryland football game played at Boston's Fenway Park. Red remembered the young man he had met at CBS headquarters in New York and arranged for Vin to fill in at the last minute in Boston. Vin's performance impressed Red enough to give the youngster another assignment on the football roundup and a chance to be a major league broadcaster for the Dodgers.

Vin joined the Dodger broadcast booth after an eventful meeting with Red Barber and Branch Rickey that took place after Red returned to New York from a 1949 college football broadcast on the West coast. In an interview with author Ted Patterson for the splendid book, The Golden Voices of Baseball, Vin recalled the terms of his employment: "The agreement reached was that I would go to spring training on a one-month option. Either I make it, or they could lose me in the Everglades."

Jim Woods was the last of the seven legendary broadcasters to reach New York. In 1953, Jim teamed with Mel Allen to broadcast Yankee games. Joe E. Brown joined Woods and Allen for some Yankee broadcasts, but Brown primarily worked on the Yankee pre- and post-game shows. Woods had an eventful career before he arrived in New York. Jim replaced Ronald Reagan as the football radio voice of the Iowa Hawkeyes in 1939. After spending four years in the military during World War ll, Woods eventually landed in Atlanta where he replaced Ernie Harwell after Ernie left the Crackers to broadcast for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Woods followed Ernie's path to New York as a major league broadcaster in 1953.

The seven splendid broadcasters were together in New York for just one season. Ernie Harwell left the Giants to become the principal broadcaster for the Baltimore Orioles in 1954. Harwell's departure was not the only shift in the New York baseball broadcasting landscape. After the 1953 season, Red Barber left the Dodgers to join Mel Allen and Jim Woods in the Yankee broadcast booth.

Vin Scully and Connie Desmond continued as Dodger broadcasters in 1954. However, Connie missed some games because of alcoholism. In 1955, the only year Brooklyn won the World Series, Connie was gone from Dodger broadcasts. Dodger owner Walter O'Malley gave Connie a last chance to continue his career in 1956, but when Connie began drinking again, he was replaced for good by Jerry Doggett before the end of the season.

The Yankee broadcast team of Mel Allen, Jim Woods and Red Barber stayed together until the end of the 1956 season. Phil Rizzuto, whose Yankee playing career ended in 1956, was hired to replace Woods as a Yankee broadcaster. Woods was able to stay in New York by shifting to the Giants broadcast booth in 1957.

The departure of the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants for Los Angeles and San Francisco after the 1957 season forever changed the face of baseball and baseball broadcasting in New York. Vin Scully and Russ Hodges relocated with their teams to the West coast. Remarkably, in 2010, Vin will begin his 61st consecutive season as a Dodger broadcaster. After the 1957 season, Jim Woods departed New York for Pittsburgh, where he teamed with Bob Prince to form one of the best play-by-play tandems in the history of baseball broadcasting.

In 1964, Mel Allen was fired by the Yankees. Mel broadcast for the Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians after leaving New York. Mel returned to the Yankees as a cable-TV announcer for SportsChannel in 1978. His primary fame though after 1964 was as the voice for the popular TV show, This Week in Baseball. TWIB with Mel Allen was on the air for seventeen terrific years.

Red Barber, the man who in 1939 was the first broadcaster for a New York team, was the last of the seven legendary broadcasters of 1953 to broadcast for a team in New York. After the 1966 season Red was fired by the Yankees. In the last years before his death, Red returned to radio as a regular guest of Bob Edwards on NPR's Morning Edition.


Sources:

Sports on New York Radio: A Play by Play History by David J. Halberstam is an absolute gem for anyone interested in the history of sports broadcasting. Ted Patterson's Golden Voices of Baseball is rich in pictures and commentary about the history of baseball broadcasting. The book includes two CD's containing excerpts of the author's interviews with various broadcasters. Both books are well worth their purchase price.

Also useful in this article were interviews of Vin Scully and Red Barber broadcast on Larry King's radio show for Mutual in 1982. A partial transcript of the King-Barber interview is available at Dodger Thoughts. I also used material from a radio program produced by a Cincinnati NPR station that was narrated by Marty Brennaman. The CD is available for purchase through the Cincinnati radio station's internet site.

Ross Porter's essay about Ernie Harwell, gives some details about Ernie's life that I included in my article. Also, Ernie has an audio scrapbook that is rich in information and is a delight to hear. It is available for purchase on the internet.

Some of the material about Mel Allen was taken from Mel's obituary in the New York Times. The obit from the New York Times is online. There are a few errors in the obituary though. Also helpful was a taped interview of Mel done by baseball broadcast historian Curt Smith.


Stan Opdyke grew up on the East Coast listening to baseball on the radio. He still prefers baseball on the radio (if the broadcasters are good) to baseball on TV.

Designated HitterJanuary 18, 2010
Comparing the Performance of Baseball Bats
By Alan M. Nathan

The game of baseball as played today at the amateur level is very different from the game I played growing up in Rumford, Maine in the early 1960s. In my youth, wood bats ruled. Nowadays, almost no one outside the professional level uses wood bats, which have largely been replaced by hollow metal (usually aluminum) or composite bats. The original reason for switching to aluminum bats was purely economic, since aluminum bats don’t break. However, in the nearly 40 years since they were first introduced, they have evolved into superb hitting instruments that, left unregulated, can significantly outperform wood bats. Indeed, they have the potential of upsetting the delicate balance between pitcher and batter that is at the heart of the game itself. This state of affairs has led various governing agencies (NCAA, Amateur Softball Association, etc.) to impose regulations that limit the performance of nonwood bats. The primary focus of this article is on the techniques used to measure and compare the performance of bats.

Any discussion of bat performance needs to begin with a working definition of the word “performance.” Or, said a bit differently, what is meant by the statement, “bat A outperforms bat B”? Among people who have thought about this question, a consensus has emerged that a good working definition of performance is batted ball speed (or simply BBS). Generally speaking, if you want to improve your chances of getting a hit, then you want to maximize BBS, regardless of whether you are swinging for the fences or just trying to hit a well-placed line drive through a hole in the infield. The faster the ball comes off the bat, the better are your chances of reaching base safely. So, we will say that bat A outperforms bat B if the batter can achieve higher BBS with bat A than with bat B.

Which then brings up the next question: What does BBS depend on? I answer that by writing down the only formula you will find in this article:

BBS = q*(pitch speed) + (1+q)*(bat speed)

This “master formula” is remarkably simple in that it relates the BBS to the pitch speed, the bat speed, and a quantity q that I will discuss shortly. It agrees with some of our intuitions about batting. For example, we know that BBS will depend on the pitch speed, remembering the old adage that `'the faster it comes in, the faster it goes out.'' We also know that a harder swing—i.e., a larger bat speed--will result in a larger BBS. All the other possible things besides pitch and bat speed that BBS might depend on are lumped together in q, which I will call the “collision efficiency.” As the name suggests, q is a measure of how efficient the bat is at taking the incoming pitch, turning it around, and sending it along its merry way. It is an important property of a bat. All other things equal, when q is large, BBS will be large. And vice versa. For a typical 34-inch, 31-oz wood bat impacted at the “sweet spot” (about 6 inches from the tip), q is approximately 0.2, so that the master formula can be written BBS = 0.2*(pitch speed) + 1.2*(bat speed). This simple but elegant result tells us something that anyone who has played the game knows very well, at least qualitatively. Namely, bat speed is much more important than pitch speed in determining BBS. Indeed, the formula tells us that bat speed is six times more important than pitch speed, a fact that agrees with our observations from the game. For example, we know that a batter can hit a fungo a long way (with the pitch speed essentially zero) but cannot bunt the ball very far (with the bat speed zero). Plugging in some numbers, for a pitch speed of 85 mph (typical of a good MLB fastball as it crosses home plate) and a bat speed of 70 mph, we get BBS=101 mph, which is enough to carry the ball close to 400 ft if hit at the optimum launch angle. Each 1 mph additional pitch speed will lead to about another 1 ft, whereas an extra 1 mph of bat speed will result in another 6 ft. On the other hand, if the bat were a “hotter bat” with q=0.22, that would add 3 mph to BBS, adding a whopping 18 ft to a long fly ball.

The master formula tells us that the quantities that determine bat performance are the collision efficiency and the bat speed, leading us to ask our next question. What specific properties of a bat determine its bat speed and collision efficiency? There are two such properties: the ball-bat coefficient of restitution (BBCOR) and the moment of inertia (MOI). In the following paragraphs, I’ll explain what these properties are and how they contribute to bat performance. The interplay among the various quantities is shown schematically in the picture below.

Alan%20Nathan%20Batted%20Ball%20Speed.png

Nathan%20Photo%20with%20Caption.pngLet’s start with the BBCOR, which is a measure of the “bounciness” of the ball-bat collision. First a brief digression. During a high-speed ball-bat collision, the ball compresses by about 1/2 of its natural diameter and sort of wraps itself around the bat, as shown in the accompanying photo. It then expands back out again, pushing against the bat. During this process, much of the initial energy of the ball is converted to heat due to the friction from the rubbing of threads of yarn against each other. Try dropping a baseball onto a hard rigid surface, such as a solid wood floor. The ball bounces to only a small fraction of its initial height, reflecting the loss of energy in the collision with the floor. A wood bat with its solid barrel behaves more or less like a rigid surface. But a hollow aluminum bat is different since it has a thin flexible wall that can “give” when the ball hits it. Some of the ball’s initial energy that would otherwise have gone into compressing the ball instead goes into compressing the wall of the bat. The more flexible the wall, the less the ball compresses and therefore the less energy lost in the collision. This process is commonly called the “trampoline effect,” and the BBCOR is simply a quantitative measure of that effect. A wood bat has essentially no trampoline effect and has a BBCOR ≈ 0.50. Hollow bats can have a substantially larger BBCOR, leading to a larger q and a correspondingly larger BBS. For example, a bat with BBCOR = 0.55 will have about a 5 mph larger BBS. Indeed, the technology of making a modern high-performing bat is aimed primarily at improving the trampoline effect—i.e., increasing the BBCOR and consequently the BBS. For aluminum this is achieved by developing new high-strength alloys that can be made thinner (to increase the trampoline effect) without denting. The past decade has seen the development of new composite materials that increase the barrel flexibility beyond that achievable with aluminum, giving rise to a new generation of high-performing bats.

We now turn to the MOI, which depends on both the weight of the bat and the distribution of the weight along its length. For a given weight, the MOI is largest when a larger fraction of the weight is concentrated in the business end of the bat (i.e., the barrel). The MOI affects bat performance in two ways in that both q and the bat speed depend on it. A larger MOI means a larger q (and vice versa), in complete agreement with our intuition. A heavier bat will be more efficient than a light bat in transferring energy to the ball. But, contrary to popular belief, it is not the total weight of the bat that matters but rather the weight in the barrel, where the collision with the ball occurs. That’s why it is the MOI that matters and not just the weight. But a larger MOI also means that the bat won’t be swung as fast, which again agrees with our intuition. Once again, research has shown that it is the MOI of the bat and not just the weight that affects swing speed.

The fact that the MOI affects bat performance in two opposite ways raises an interesting question. If I have two bats with the same BBCOR but with different MOI, which one will have the larger BBS? For example, if I “cork” a wood bat, which reduces its MOI, will the resulting increase in swing speed compensate for the reduction in collision efficiency? Current research suggests that the answer is “no” and that corking a bat does not lead to a larger BBS. For a detailed account, see this article. By the way, corking a wood bat does have some important advantages, even though higher BBS is not one of them. By reducing the MOI, the batter will have a “quicker” and more easily maneuverable bat, allowing him to wait a bit longer on the pitch and to make adjustments once the swing has begun. So, although corking a bat may not lead to higher BBS, it certainly may lead to better contact more often.

For bats of a given length and weight, the MOI will generally be smaller for an aluminum bat than for a wood bat. After all, a wood bat is a solid object, so a larger fraction of its weight is concentrated in the barrel than for a hollow nonwood bat. Here is another simple experiment you can do. Take two bats of the same length and weight (e.g., 34”, 31 oz), one wood and one aluminum, and find the point on the bat where you can balance it on the tip of your finger. You will find that the balance point is farther from the handle for the wood bat than for the aluminum bat, showing that a larger concentration of the weight is in the barrel for the wood bat. However, keeping in mind the corked bat discussion, the lower MOI for an aluminum bat results in no net advantage or disadvantage for BBS. The real advantage in BBS of aluminum over wood is in the BBCOR (i.e., the trampoline effect).

Let’s talk briefly about how bat performance is measured in the laboratory. Details can be found at this web site. Briefly, the basic idea is to fire a baseball from a high-speed air cannon at speeds up to about 140 mph onto the barrel of a stationary bat that is held horizontally and supported at the handle. Both the incoming and rebounding ball pass through a series of light screens, which are used to measure accurately its speed. The collision efficiency q is the ratio of rebounding to incoming speed. The MOI is measured by suspending the bat vertically and allowing it to swing freely like a pendulum while supported at the handle. The MOI is related to the period of the pendulum. Once q and the MOI are known, these can be plugged into a well-established formula to determine the BBCOR. To calculate BBS, the master formula is used along with a prescription for specifying the pitch and bat speeds, the latter of which will depend inversely on the MOI.

Various organizations use this information in different ways to regulate the performance of bats. The Amateur Softball Association regulates BBS, using laboratory measurements of q and MOI along with the prescriptions noted above to calculate BBS using the master formula. For the past decade, the NCAA has regulated baseball bats by requiring that q is below some maximum value and the MOI is above some minimum value, the latter limiting the swing speed. Together the upper limit on q and lower limit on the MOI effectively limit the maximum BBS. The maximum q is set to be the same for nonwood as for wood. The lower limit on MOI is such that the best-performing nonwood bat outperforms wood by about 5 mph. You may have seen the words “BESR Certified” stamped on NCAA bats. The BESR is shorthand for the Ball Exit Speed Ratio; numerically, BESR = q + 1/2. Starting in 2011, the NCAA will instead regulate the BBCOR, taking advantage of the fact that for bats of a given BBCOR, the BBS does not depend strongly on MOI. Moreover, the NCAA has set the maximum BBCOR to be right at the wood level, so it is expected that nonwood bats used in NCAA will perform nearly identically to wood starting next year.

Alan Nathan has been a Professor of Physics at the University of Illinois since 1977. His research specialty is experimental nuclear/particle physics, with over 80 publications in scientific journals to his credit. He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society. For the last decade he has added the physics of baseball to his research portfolio and has written numerous papers on the subject for scientific journals, primarily on the physics of the ball-bat collision and the aerodynamics of baseball in flight. In addition, he has given many talks on the subject to both scientific and popular audiences and maintains a "physics of baseball" web site that is visited frequently. He is Chair of SABR's Baseball & Science Committee and a member of the scientific panel that advises the NCAA on issues related to bat performance.

Designated HitterDecember 28, 2009
Edgar Martinez and the Hall of Fame
By Michael Weddell

Edgar Martinez is listed for the first time on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot. While Martinez is a very long shot for actually earning 75% of the writers’ votes in his first year of eligibility, I believe that Martinez meets the historical standards for Hall of Fame entry and should earn one’s vote.

Evaluating Edgar Martinez’ career presents some fairly unique challenges.

  • Martinez played the majority of his career at DH, eventually finishing third behind Harold Baines and Hal McRae in career games played at DH. How do we evaluate a player who made no defensive contributions for most of his career?

  • If one votes for Edgar Martinez, does that open the door for too many other candidates, such as Fred McGriff who also makes his debut on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot?

  • Martinez had a somewhat short overall career compared to other Hall of Fame caliber players. How does he compare to position players with roughly comparable career length?

  • Even measuring Martinez’ offensive contributions can be a bit tricky because he excelled at getting on-base and hitting doubles during an era better known for home run hitting.

Let’s start with that last challenge, and then we’ll work our way backwards through the remaining challenges.

First a Detour: wOPS+

I love using the OPS+ statistic (called adjusted on-base + slugging percentages) compiled at www.baseball-reference.com. It does most of the heavy lifting for us since it is adjusted for ballpark effects and the offensive context of the league and year. It’s readily accessible, because one can easily sort and filter based on it. The scale is also easy to grasp: 100 is average, and OPS+ scores above 100 are better than average.

The problem with OPS+ is that using on-base percentage plus slugging percentage just isn’t very accurate to start with. On-base percentage is considerably more important for creating runs. How much more important? Well, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel here. Tom Tango wrote recently that one can greatly improve OPS+ by weighting the on-base percentage by 1.2 and the slugging percentage by 0.8. We’ll call it weighted OPS+ or wOPS+. To be precise, we’ll define it as:

100 * (1.2 * OBP / lgOBP + 0.8 * SLG / lgSLG -1)

This will give us a statistic adjusted for offensive levels and home ballpark, is an accurate reflection of offensive contributions toward creating runs, and is still fairly easy to compute. We use just four pieces of input data, all of which are readily available in the Special Batting section of player batting data on baseball-reference.com.

We’ve got our shiny new hammer. Now let’s go find some nails.

Edgar’s Moderately Short Career

One objection to Edgar Martinez’ possible Hall of Fame credentials is that his career was a bit short by Hall of Fame standards. Martinez totaled 8,672 plate appearances, which isn’t too short. Let’s look at those with 7,500 – 9,500 plate appearances who played since 1901 and see where Martinez’ career batting quality ranks among those with similar career lengths.

Name wOPS+
Rogers Hornsby 171
Mark McGwire 157
Manny Ramirez 152
Joe DiMaggio 149
Jeff Bagwell 147
Edgar Martinez 147
Harry Heilmann 145
Jim Thome 145
Alex Rodriguez 144
Jason Giambi 142
Chipper Jones 142
Willie Stargell 141
Brian Giles 139
Mike Piazza 139
Larry Walker 137
Duke Snider 137
Arky Vaughn 136
Norm Cash 136
Will Clark 136
Jack Clark 136

These are the best batters in baseball history with career lengths roughly similar to Edgar Martinez’ career length. Obviously, it includes active players, with statistics through 2009, many of whom will retire with longer careers but with somewhat lower wOPS+ as they complete their decline phases.

Where’s the cutoff between the Hall of Famers and the non-Hall of Famers? If we ignore steroid problems, everyone above Brian Giles appears to be a Hall of Famer, although others may read the data differently. Jason Giambi’s Hall of Fame credentials are questionable, but he had a very high peak, with three consecutive top 5 MVP ballot finishes.

Below Brian Giles on that last table, one can still be a clear Hall of Famer by batting well and playing a premium defensive position, such as Piazza and Vaughn did, but we start to enter a gray area. There are many, many Hall of Famers below the top twenty that I listed, but it’s a dicey proposition the further down one goes. Incidentally, new Hall of Famer Jim Rice has a career wOPS+ of 124 on this list, not that he represents the dividing line between whether a guy comfortably fits into the Hall of Fame.

Edgar ranks sixth, surrounded by Hall of Fame caliber players. Here’s our starting point, that Edgar Martinez had a Hall of Fame caliber career based on the quality of his batting.

Edgar versus Crime Dog

Another worthy objection to letting Edgar Martinez into the Hall of Fame is that we end up with far too many modern batters in the Hall. Edgar wasn’t really that special, right? For example, looking just at the newcomers for next year’s 2010 ballot, if one votes for Edgar, doesn’t one first have to vote for Fred McGriff?

Not necessarily.

Comparing career wOPS+ totals shows a clear advantage to Martinez. However, now that we are comparing McGriff, a guy with a much longer career, that may not be a fair comparison. Edgar had an unusual career progression, with his early years spent clobbering minor league pitching and a short decline phase at the end of his career. Let’s instead look at individual years to see, in their best seasons, which player was a better batter. Here are all of their seasons where they had enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title (502 in most years, but less for 1994-95 due to shortened seasons):

Name Year wOPS+
Edgar Martinez 1995 184
Edgar Martinez 1997 166
Edgar Martinez 1996 166
Fred McGriff 1989 163
Fred McGriff 1992 161
Edgar Martinez 1992 161
Edgar Martinez 2001 160
Edgar Martinez 1998 157
Edgar Martinez 2000 155
Edgar Martinez 1999 153
Fred McGriff 1988 152
Fred McGriff 1994 151
Fred McGriff 1990 150
Fred McGriff 1991 146
Edgar Martinez 2003 142
Fred McGriff 2001 141
Fred McGriff 1999 140
Edgar Martinez 1991 139
Fred McGriff 1993 139
Edgar Martinez 1990 134
Fred McGriff 2002 122
Edgar Martinez 1994 121
Fred McGriff 1995 118
Fred McGriff 1996 117
Fred McGriff 1998 112
Fred McGriff 2000 110
Fred McGriff 1997 106
Edgar Martinez 2004 95

I don’t know whether Fred McGriff will eventually be in the Hall of Fame or not, but this table rather clearly shows that Edgar was the better hitter, with 8 of the 10 best seasons between the two of them. Martinez shouldn’t have to wait in line behind McGriff on anyone’s Hall of Fame ballot.

Stop Ignoring the 600-Pound Gorilla in the Room!

Probably the biggest objection to voting Edgar Martinez into the Hall of Fame is one that I’ve ignored so far: he spent the bulk of his career as a designated hitter.

How much is a player with no defensive value worth? According to Tom Tango’s positional adjustments, which are used for the Win Value metrics on Fangraphs.com, a DH is 22.5 runs per season worse than the average non-DH position player. However, Tango added back in another 5 runs for the difficulty of batting as a DH, resulting in a -17.5 runs per season positional adjustment.

What is so difficult about being a DH? It’s a little bit like having to be a permanent pinch hitter, and we all recognize that it is more difficult to perform well as a pinch hitter coming in cold off the bench. As summarized on p. 113 of The Book by Tango, Lichtman and Dolphin:

Players also lose effectiveness when being used as a designated hitter; the DH penalty is about half that of the PH penalty. This does vary significantly from player to player – some players hit as well as a DH as they do otherwise, while others perform as badly as pinch hitters.

So there can be a unique skill at batting well as a DH.

The result is that an average DH is worth about five runs per season less than an average fielding first baseman. Yes, that’s a disadvantage, but it isn’t huge. A DH can be more valuable than a below average first baseman with comparable batting statistics because the difficulty of batting as a DH partially offsets the defensive value of a below average fielding first baseman.

Being a DH is a negative marker for a Hall of Fame candidate, but, viewed rationally, it shouldn’t be an impossible hurdle.

Comparing Edgar to Other DHs

Perhaps the easiest way to evaluate Edgar is to just compare him to other DHs. We have to have some designated hitters in the Hall of Fame, right? Paul Molitor is already there and a plurality of his games played, including most of his best seasons, were when Molitor played primarily as a DH. Frank Thomas played over half of his career as a DH and he’ll be in the Hall eventually. It’s not unreasonable to think that we ought to have a couple of Hall of Fame DHs considering that the American League has had designated hitters since 1973, a span of over 35 years.

So here’s a list of the top 20 seasons for designated hitters, again using our wOPS+ rate statistic:

Name Year wOPS+
Edgar Martinez 1995 184
Frank Thomas 1991 180
David Ortiz 2007 169
Edgar Martinez 1997 166
Edgar Martinez 1996 166
Travis Hafner 2005 164
Milton Bradley 2008 163
Frank Thomas 2000 160
Edgar Martinez 2001 160
Travis Hafner 2004 159
Travis Hafner 2006 159
Edgar Martinez 1998 157
Manny Ramirez 2001 157
David Ortiz 2006 157
Edgar Martinez 2000 155
Rafael Palmeiro 1999 154
David Ortiz 2005 153
Edgar Martinez 1999 153
Hal McRae 1976 153
Jim Thome 2006 152

These are very fine seasons. You may remember that Milton Bradley led the American League in raw OPS in 2008, yet his season ranks only seventh on this list.

I don’t have any trouble eyeballing this list and concluding that Edgar Martinez has had the best career as a DH of any player in history so far. The best DH in history is not Hall of Famer Paul Molitor, nor future Hall of Famer Frank Thomas. It’s not Harold Baines, the longevity leader, or David Ortiz, the popular current star at DH. It’s Edgar Martinez.

That’s a Hall of Famer.

Other Considerations

According to the Hall of Fame:

Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

As far as integrity, sportsmanship and character go, let’s point out that Edgar Martinez was once honored with the Roberto Clemente Award for charitable contributions to his community. I also am unaware of any claims that Martinez used performance-enhancing drugs, for those inclined to go there. I don’t see much room for debate: character issues will not hurt Martinez’ candidacy.

While I would be surprised if the BBWAA membership agrees with me, in my opinion, Edgar Martinez is a Hall of Fame caliber player and should be voted in.


Michael Weddell is one of the Research & Analysis columnists for the fantasy baseball website www.BaseballHQ.com and a contributor to Ron Shandler’s Baseball Forecaster: 2010 Edition. Michael roots for the Tigers with his wife and adult children in metropolitan Detroit.

Designated HitterDecember 17, 2009
100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die
By Jon Weisman

[Editor's note: In conjunction with Stan Opdyke's guest column on Connie Mack and Vin Scully, author Jon Weisman has granted us permission to publish "Vin," the number two item in 100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. As a lifelong Dodgers fan, Jon has listened to Scully broadcast games for four decades. In his wonderful book, he covers (among other topics) Vin, Jackie, 32, Fernandomania, Ebbets Field, The Move, Coliseum Carnival, Chavez Ravine, 'The Worst Club Ever to Win a World Series,' Walter Alston, Campy, Piazza, Dodger Dogs, Roseboro & Marichal, Arrive Late/Leave Early, Branch Rickey, Dodgertown, Nightline, The First High Five, and a section on Maury Wills that Weisman aptly named 'Go. Go. Go. Go. Go' after the chant that I can remember echoing throughout Dodger Stadium in 1962 when I was seven years old. This book is not only a must own for Dodgers fans but an entertaining and enjoyable read for baseball fans in general.]


He’s an artist. Of course he’s an artist. You don’t need a book to tell you that, to tell you that the man could broadcast paint drying and turn it into something worthy of Michelangelo, to tell you that his voice is a cozy quilt on a cold morning, a cool breeze on a blistering day; that he’s more than someone you listen to, that he’s someone you feel.

But saying he’s an artist is not meant as a cliché or as a convenient way to sum him up. It’s meant to stress that spoken words at a baseball game are themselves an art form, and, sure, sometimes they’re the equivalent of dogs playing poker, but when Vin Scully strings words together (and he’s done so at Dodger games — extemporaneously, mind you — for 25,000 hours or more), they’ll carry you away on wings.

If it weren’t so satisfying, it could make you weep.

100ThingsDodgersFinal300px_wi.jpgBut it’s not as if Scully – and at this point, it’s hard to resist referring to him by his first name, so vital and personal is the Dodger fan’s relationship with him – sets out to construct pieces for the Smithsonian. His principal goal has always only to simply tell you what’s going on. He’ll never miss a pitch. He will make a mistake here and there, and in that respect he’s like everyone else on the planet. But he never, ever loses sight of his task.

He is prepared with background on the players and the teams he covers. He has a knack for sifting out what’s interesting about the men on the field, and an infectious childlike enthusiasm for what he discovers. Reflecting his desire not to leave any listeners or viewers in the dark, he’ll repeat stories on different nights of the same series, but as long as you know that’s part of the deal, there’s no issue.

“One of the biggest reasons that I prepare is because I don’t want to seem like a horse’s fanny, as if I’m talking about something I don’t know,” Scully said in an interview. “So in a sense you could say I prepare out of fear. That’s really what you do. I think I’ve always done that since grammar school.”

That may be equal parts humility and truth. Scully’s utter genius, however, is the way he reacts when the moment takes him beyond preparation, the way he offers the lyrical when other broadcasters remain stuck in the trite. He offers bon mots covering pedestrian occurrences: Who else could deliver baseball play-by-play’s timeless philosophical comment: “Andre Dawson has a bruised knee and is listed as day-to-day. … Aren’t we all?” His work during Sandy Koufax’s perfect game, Hank Aaron’s 715th home run, Bill Buckner’s error and everything in between are all unforced majesty.

As far as rising to the occasion, Scully’s landmark call of Kirk Gibson’s showstopping, history-making homer in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series was practically its equivalent from a broadcasting perspective, minus the gimpiness. “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened” ranks with Al Michaels’ “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” among the most memorable lines in sportscasting history for spontaneously summing up a moment. And yet, could anyone have been less surprised that Scully came up with such a wonderful remark? His broadcasts have been dotted with them ever since he joined the Brooklyn Dodger broadcast team in 1950 as a recent Fordham college graduate who had been singularly dreaming of such a job since boyhood.

“When I was 8 years old, I wrote a composition for the nuns saying I wanted to be a sports announcer,” Scully said. “That would mean nothing today – everybody watches TV and radio – but in those days, back in New York the only thing we really had was college football on Saturday afternoons on the radio. Where the boys in grammar school wanted to be policemen and firemen and the girls wanted to be ballet dancers and nurses, here’s this kid saying, ‘I want to be a sports announcer.’ I mean it was really out of the blue.

“The big reason was that I was intoxicated by the roar of the crowd coming out of the radio. And after that one thing led to another, and I eventually got the job as third announcer in Brooklyn. And I never thought about anything except the first year or two not making some terrible mistake is all. I worked alongside two wonderful men in Red Barber and Connie Desmond, but I never thought about becoming great. … All I wanted to do was do the game as best I could. And to this day that’s all I think about.”

Lots of people try to do their best, and for that they all deserve praise. But the best of some is better than the best of others, and even though he can’t bring himself to say it, we know into which of those categories Scully fits. Regardless of how intense or carefree one’s love for the game might be, Scully measures up to it and redoubles it. The Dodgers’ play-by-play man is an American Master.


Jon Weisman is the founder and writer of the Los Angeles Times blog Dodger Thoughts, the leading website providing commentary on the Los Angeles Dodgers. For more than 20 years, he has written for the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Daily News, SportsIllustrated.com, The Hardball Times, and other publications about baseball and virtually every other high school, college and professional sport. He has also written live-action and animation television scripts for shows including So Weird, W.I.T.C.H., Starship Troopers, Men in Black, and Disney's Hercules, and is currently Associate Editor, Features for Variety. A holder of degrees from Stanford and Georgetown, Weisman lives in Los Angeles with his wife and three children.

Designated HitterDecember 17, 2009
Connie Mack and Vin Scully
By Stan Opdyke

At an inconsequential Spring Training game in Florida in 1950 the torch was passed. In the broadcast booth for the Brooklyn Dodgers was a nervous youngster who at the ripe old age of 22 was about to begin his big league broadcasting career. On the field below him was a very old man who was about to begin his final year in major league baseball. The old man stepped down as manager of the Philadelphia A's after that season. Sixty years later, the young man in the broadcast booth is still the broadcaster for the Dodgers.

The major league careers of Connie Mack and Vin Scully intersected at the midpoint of the 20th century. Connie Mack was born Cornelius Alexander McGillicuddy in 1862, before the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, at a time when Abraham Lincoln was President and America was engaged in the Civil War. Today, Vin Scully is broadcasting for the Los Angeles Dodgers at a time when a black man is President.

Connie Mack began his major league career in 1886 as a catcher for the Washington Senators of the National League. He played with the Senators for four seasons. In 1890, Connie, along with many of his fellow players, bolted the National League to form the Players League. Unfortunately for Connie and his fellow players, the Players League folded after just one season.

In 1891, after the demise of the Players League, National League owners assigned Connie's contract to Pittsburgh. During the 1894 season Connie took over as playing manager for the Pirates. After a poor finish in 1896, Connie was fired by the Pittsburgh owner.

Connie's dismissal proved to be a blessing. In 1897, Connie left the National League to join Ban Johnson's Western League as a manager, part-time player, and part owner of the Milwaukee franchise. When Johnson transformed his Western League into the American League at the turn of the century, Connie Mack was poised to resume his major league career, this time as a manager and an owner.

In 1901, Ban Johnson sent Connie to Philadelphia to establish an American League franchise in that city. Connie built a strong team and in 1905 his Philadelphia Athletics played and lost in the World Series to John McGraw's New York Giants. Connie's teams remained powerful through the 1914 season. When the A's lost the 1914 World Series to Boston's "Miracle Braves," Connie jettisoned the team he had developed, much like the Florida Marlins would do after the 1997 World Series. Like the Marlins, the Philadelphia A's sank to the bottom of the standings.

In the mid-1920s, Connie began building a team to rival the accomplishments of his earlier championship A's teams. In the latter part of the roaring 20s and the early years of the Great Depression, Connie's A's defeated powerful New York Yankee teams that featured Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. The Great Depression led Connie to dismantle his team. Once more, the Philadelphia A's went to the bottom of the American League standings.

Connie was unable to build another championship team; the A's did not win another World Series title until the franchise shifted to Oakland. Connie Mack remained as manager of the Philadelphia A's throughout all the last place finishes the franchise endured. No doubt Connie's ownership of the team saved him from the fate that inevitably befalls managers of losing franchises.

Age and infirmity caused Connie to step down as manager after the 1950 season. Shortly thereafter, amid rising debt, the Mack family lost control of the franchise. The team relocated to Kansas City after the 1954 season.

As Connie Mack's career was coming to a close, Vin Scully began an amazing broadcasting career that is still in progress today. Vin attended college at Fordham and worked on the campus FM radio station. After graduation, in search of a broadcasting job, Vin sent his resume to radio stations both near and far from his New York home. Vin's letter writing bore fruit; he was hired as a temporary summer replacement announcer at WTOP in Washington, DC, the same city where Connie Mack made his big league debut in 1886.

Vin has said that going from a college FM station to an on-air job with the CBS affiliate in the Nation's Capitol was like going from the campus to the big leagues. Vin's stay in the big league atmosphere of WTOP was short lived; the management at WTOP told him that though they liked his work, they had no permanent job for him. Vin left Washington with vague promises of possible future employment at WTOP, but when he returned to his New York home he had no broadcasting job.

Vin's career took off after a meeting with Red Barber, who would become his mentor. Red hired Vin for a radio broadcast of a college football game in Boston for the CBS football roundup show. In a 1982 radio interview, Barber told Larry King about the circumstances that led to Vin being hired by the Dodgers (thanks to Jon Weisman for permission to quote from his transcription):

I was out at the end of the football season, doing a California-Stanford football game. And at halftime, the engineer handed me a note and said, "Ernie Harwell has joined Russ Hodges at the Polo Grounds. So flying back to New York, I kept thinking, "Who are we gonna get? Who are we gonna get for the third man?" Then I said, "That red-headed fellow that went up to Boston did a good job." So I sent for him, and talked to him for a bit. And then I said, "Would you be interested?"

Well, his eyes got as big as teacups. So I said, "You'll have to talk to Mr. Rickey." Well, in about an hour Mr. Rickey called back, and he said, "Walter"—he always called me Walter—"Walter, you've found the right man."

I cannot imagine any baseball fan who would dispute Mr. Rickey's assessment. Red Barber and Branch Rickey provided Vin with his initial opportunity, but the youngster had to make the most of it. Vin reported to Spring Training in 1950 with as much pressure to make good as any big league player looking to earn a job.

A few years ago in a 2006 interview on a Seattle Mariners pregame radio show, Vin was asked by Mariner broadcaster Rick Rizzs to recall his first broadcast for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Vin responded:

Well, I think the very first one was an exhibition game and we were playing the Philadelphia Athletics and the manager that year was Connie Mack. Now the next year Jimmy Dykes became the official manager but my first broadcast was with the A's in Vero Beach with Mr. Mack right there in the black suit, and the celluloid collar, and the straw hat. So, I remember in that game I think Ferris Fain was the first baseman and it seems to me there was a triple play which Red Barber called and I remember sitting there thinking, "He made it sound so easy," and I was scared to death.

Vin's career after that Spring Training game has made him an eye witness to some of the most memorable moments in baseball history. Vin was in the same radio booth as Red Barber when Red had the unfortunate duty to describe Bobby Thompson's home run in the third game of the 1951 National League playoffs. Vin was on the air for a much more joyous occasion, the final out of the 1955 World Series that brought Brooklyn its only world championship. A year later, Vin, along with Mel Allen, broadcast Don Larsen's World Series perfect game. On September 29, 1957, Vin was at Philadelphia's Connie Mack Stadium to broadcast the last game in the franchise history of the Brooklyn Dodgers. In 1958, he broadcast the first game played by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Vin also brilliantly called the last inning of Sandy Koufax' perfect game in 1965, a call that can be heard here thanks to Rob McMillin. He was in Atlanta in 1974 for the radio call of Hank Aaron's historic 715th career home run. In 1986, he was on national television at the World Series to call a little ground ball that went through Bill Buckner's legs. In 1988, he was at Dodger Stadium to make a memorable call ("In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened") of Kirk Gibson's dramatic pinch hit World Series home run.

On the radio show where he reminisced about his first big league broadcast, Vin was asked, "Vinnie, how long do you want to do this?" Vin's answer was, "I don't know, but I can tell you a favorite expression of mine: If you want to see God smile, tell Him your plans."

After 60 years in the broadcast booth, Vin is nearing the end of his extraordinary broadcasting career. When Vin is in his final year, whenever that may be, I hope that some youngster will be in the first year of a six-decade long baseball career. If that happens, and if that person is a worthy successor to Connie Mack and Vin Scully, more than 60 years from now a postscript to this story can be written.


Stan Opdyke was a Dodgers fan as a kid during the Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, and Maury Wills era. His biggest baseball thrill was watching Koufax pitch the Dodgers to the National League pennant on the last day of the season at Connie Mack Stadium in 1966. He also got Vin Scully's autograph at Connie Mack Stadium in the mid-1960s. Vin was standing in the dugout before the game, and he called out his name and asked him to sign his autograph book. Scully graciously did. Meanwhile, the other kids looked at him like he was nuts. Why would he want an autograph of someone who looked and dressed like their father?

Designated HitterNovember 23, 2009
Common Run-Production Formulae Evaluated
By Eric Walker

A Review of Basics

There are two sets of equations that together constitute the backbone of the art of modern statistical analysis: those that project team games won from runs scored and runs yielded, and those that project team runs scored (or yielded) from some combination of reasonably available team statistics. Since that second type is so important, it is worth taking a look at the many specimens out there—their logical bases and their actual performance.

Here we will look at what the more common formulations are and how they stack up against one another. The survey will cover the period of 1955 through 2009. The reason it starts in 1955 and no earlier is simply that several of these methods use stats that simply weren't available before 1955 (such as IBB or SF).


As an aside, let me say that in the course of preparing this overview I was struck by two things: how few people seem to understand how to write out equations, in particular how to use nested parentheses, and how many seem willing to specify some non-standard statistic without then defining it exactly. As to writing out equations, first consider this piece of simple arithmetic:

X = 3 x 5 + 7

Is the wanted answer 22 or 36? That depends on whether the writer intended--

X = (3 x 5) + 7

or

X = 3 x (5 + 7)

That is not an artificial example: one of the formulae evaluated below is given (in several places around the web) in exactly this form:

R = A*B/(B+C) + D

Jolly good luck deciphering that without extrinsic information. On further examination of the associated text, it turned out that what was meant was—

R = (A x [B / { B + C } ]) + D

— which brings up the other point about writing out equations: there are other enclosure marks than the parenthesis, to wit the bracket and the brace, both of which are illustrated in the preceding example. Using them makes untangling nested expressions very much easier.

(In principle, there is an implied order of precedence for arithmetic operations such that parentheses are often not needed, but not only do few people know it—I'd have to look it up—but there is never any guarantee that the writer of a given equation knows it either, or even knows that it exists.)

My other peeve is illustrated by these sorts of formulae:

R = ( [1B x 3] + [2B x 5] + [3B x 7] + [HR x 9] + [BB x 2] + [SB x 1] - [Outs x 0.61] ) x 0.16

R = (0.47 x 1B) + (0.78 x 2B) + (1.09 x 3B) + (1.40 x HR) + (0.33 x (BB+HB) + (0.30 x SB) - (0.60 x CS) - (?? x [AB-H]) - (0.50 x OOB)
  —  (ignore the ?? as it is not germane to the point here)

In the first, whatever is "Outs"? In the second, whatever is "OOB" (even when expanded to "Outs on Base")? Is "Outs" all outs made by the team? Outs made only by batters? A particular estimate of all outs (such as [AB - H] + SH + SF + CS + GDP)? And what about OOB? Is it all team outs minus batters' outs? Some particular combination of standard stats (such as GDP + CS)? Or what? Which bodily part experiences the pain if the actual, exact meaning is explicitly stated? (Mind, not every formula presenter is guilty of all, or even any, of those sins; but altogether too many are.)



An interesting side question is just what stats is it "fair" to use? For example, one writer states that he means a particular term in a particular formula to signify an out made by a player trying to stretch a single into a double or a double into a triple (or the rare case of a triple into an inside-the-park home run). That's clear, and no doubt meaningful in the context, but whence such data? OK, yes, Retrosheet.org has it all there for those with the diligence and patience to mine it, and Baseball-Reference.com has done an awful lot of that mining. But whether a particular stat is "readily" available can be a tough call.

I suppose at bottom much depends on ultimate purposes: if the idea is to write up a technical paper examining the mechanisms of run-scoring, then anything that can be extracted from the record is fair dinkum; but if the idea is to make a tool suited for frequent and straightforward work, then using stats not readily available would seem to render the equation containing them unsuited for its purpose.

There are, though, a couple of stats that are sort of on the margin. Those are CI, catcher's interference, a typically very small but nonetheless official and significant stat, significant in that it is a component of PA, plate appearances—but is almost universally left out of published PA tallies and almost never published in itself (and suppose there's a Dale Berra or Roberto Kelly on the subject team?). And there's Eb (opponents' errors allowing an otherwise-out batter to reach base, which Baseball-Reference lists as ROE for "Reached On Error"). Omitting CI will—for most teams in most years—have very little, if any, effect, but I am surprised that Eb is so generally unused. (In the one case it is used, estimating it instead of using the exact number decreases average accuracy by about 0.08 of a run, which is about 0.1%; that may not seem like a lot, but wait and you'll see.)

Before we get to specifics, we ought also to consider what we are looking for and how to determine if we are getting it. What we want, of course, is accuracy: we want to feed in the stats for a team and, ideally, always get back the exact number of runs actually scored by the team that posted those stats. Obviously, we will not in general be able to get perfect results, so the way we evaluate various equations is by how closely they approximate perfection.

Formula makers have devised various ingenious ways to measure how well such things do; here, I will use some simple metrics that seem to my possibly naive mind to well express what we are seeking. The first, and foremost, is simply average percentage error. If formula X estimates Rest runs for a given team in a given year, and that team actually scored Ract runs—so that the absolute error is Rest - Ract runs—the percentage error will be:

Epct = 100 x ( [Rest - Ract] / Ract)

Expressing error as a percentage is important, because absolute error sizes—actual numbers of runs off— are misleading: an absolute error of 10 runs signifies one level of accuracy for a team that scored 400 runs and quite another for one that scored 800 runs.

If we then take the unsigned value of the percentage error (that is, ignore whether it is positive or negative), we have a measure of the relative size of the error. We can then just average all the percentage error sizes over whatever time span we are examining to get an overall average percentage error size. That tells us how closely, on average, the subject formula's estimate of runs came out relative to the actual value.

But average size of error is not the only metric of importance. If a runs predictor is truly modelling run scoring fairly well, then its errors ought to be symmetrical: that is, they should scatter evenly around perfect accuracy. A formula that comes in with a given average size of error but has, say, twice as many over-estimates as under-estimates is clearly not working as well as one of roughly equal size accuracy that comes in with its errors about evenly divided between over and under.

Finally, we would expect that the better a runs-predictor is working, the more nearly its cumulative total error with + and - considered will trend to zero. That is, the cumulative sum of all its errors over the subject time span (with over- and under-estimates cancelling) should be nearly zero. This is related to but slightly different from the criterion above.

And for completeness, we should still also tabulate the absolute sizes of errors, both as an average error in runs and as—to keep the control freaks happy—as a standard deviation in runs.

With all that understood, we can turn to particular run-scoring formulae. All such run-scoring equations fall into two broad classes, which we can call "linear" and "multiplicative"; each has its devotees, and we will take an overview of each class separately.

The Formulae

The Multiplicative Approach

The Theory

The basic idea behind multiplicative approaches is quite simple: run-scoring consists in getting runners on, then driving them in. Equations based on that principle are "multiplicative" because they are probabilistic--that is, they seek to estimate the probability of runs scoring based on the occurence of certain game events. It is a base fact of probability analysis that the probability of two independent events both occuring is the multiplicative product of the independent probabilities of each one occurring: if the chance of a randomly selected person being male is 50%, and the chance of a randomly selected person being blue eyed is 16%, then the probability that a randomly selected person is a blue-eyed male is 8% (0.5 x 0.16). In multiplicative run-scoring equations, the factors being multiplied represent the probability of a batter getting on base and the probability of another batter advancing any runners already on base.

For the first term, the chances of a batter getting on base, it might seem that all that is needed is the now-familiar on-base percentage; but the OBP does not take into account the reality that a man who has successfully reached base may then be thrown out on the bases. A man thrown out on the bases may as well have never reached base (as far as the chances of his becoming a run scored), so multiplicative formulae need to in some way estimate net runners on base. That is not as easy as it might sound, because some data are not so easy to obtain. For example, by definition, total plate appearances equals runs plus left on base plus total outs:

PA = R + LOB + Outs

so that

R + LOB = PA - Outs

(And, of course, R + LOB is the number of men who reached base and were not later thrown out.) But total team Outs made is not so easy a datum to come by, unless one can find lines of "opponents' pitching"; otherwise, one has to assemble it from numerous pitching splits. If one has that capability, then one can use the exact datum; if not, one has to estimate it.

(Sidebar: for reasons best known to themselves, few if any stat services any longer tabulate LOB, once one of the fundamental stats ("No runs, two hits, one man left on base, and at the end of five . . . ." It can be adduced, using the simple equation above, if one can first assemble a total team Outs datum.)

If one has to estimate, some stats for runners thrown out on base are commonly available: caught stealing (CS) and grounded into a double play (GDP, or GIDP). But there are far more ways than those to be put out on the bases: pickoffs, throwouts trying to extend a hit, and so on. The general approach of multiplicative formulations is to either take the gross OB and multiply by an empirical estimation constant, or to take the gross OB, subtract what is known about outs on base, then apply an empirical estimation constant.

The base-advance component is the trickier of the two, and it is in constructing that component that multiplicative equations most differ from one another. The simplest and most obvious runner-advance stat is hits; moreoever, since the more extra bases a hit goes for the more it will advance any runners on, hits in any run-advance component are invariably weighted. The simplest weighting, one commonly used, is the Total Base (TB) value, which assigns each hit a weight equal to the number of bases (that is, for example, 3 for a triple). More advanced approaches use different weightings that presumably better represent the effective runner-advance value of a given hit. (To clarify: if one examines the eight possible base-occupancy situations, it is clear that overall a triple will not have 1.5 times the advance value of a double—what the exact relative values may be is something each formulator works out on his own, by such means as seem good to him.)

But, while hits must clearly dominate base-advancing, there are many other stats that reflect actions that can advance runners on base. Those include walks, hit batsmen, and catcher's interference, which will move along any runners on first or in sequence thereafter; stolen bases, which are pure (no batter action) base advances; sac bunts and sac flies; wild pitches and balks; and certain errors. Determining values for these lesser but not negligible actions is another thing each analyst working on the question has to do for himself.

(Note, though—and this applies to the linear methods, too—that while certain of the "lesser" stats may triflingly increase accuracy for a formula that works with actual, historical data, they will be deceptive if used when such formulae are to tried prospectively (that is, for predicting the future based on the past), because those actions are not under the control or influence of the offense. Such things as balks, wild pitches, and opponents' errors are essentially random happenings, and so a general empirical constant is best used to stand in for those things as a whole.)

The Formulations

I will here just list each and show the equation as I gleaned it from one or more sources on the web. If any of those equations seem to anyone reading this as incorrect expressions of the maker's intent, please email me. The accuracy surveys will come after we have introduced all the equations of both classes.

At least as early as 1964, a run-scoring equation of passable accuracy existed: Earnshaw Cook's "DX", which has an average accuracy of around 3½ percent, and which had a "simplified" form essentially identical to the original famous "Runs Created" formulation Bill James put forth 15 or 20 years later. For this evaluation, I tried to use all the current methods I could find documented around the web. I probably missed some, and would be pleased to hear from anyone who has one or more others to suggest (just email me with the formula—written out nicely, please, as spoken of earlier—and some info on who made it when), and if enough roll in I will try to assemble a follow-up survey. But for now, these are they:

Basic Runs Created:


(H + BB) x TB
RC = -------------
AB + BB

This (hereafter RCbasic) was Bill James' first opus. Its chief virtue is its extreme simplicity of both form and calculation: one can easily understand it, and one can easily reckon it.

Stolen-Bases Runs Created:


(H + BB - CS) x (TB + [0.55 x SB])
RC = ----------------------------------
AB + BB

This (hereafter RCsb) is a modification of the "Basic" version to account for the value of, yes, stolen bases (and the corresponding caught-stealings).

"Technical" Runs Created:


RC = (H + BB + HB - GDP - CS) x (TB + [0.26 x {BB - IBB + HB}] + [0.52 x {SH + SF + SB}]) / PA

PA = AB + BB + HB + SH + SF

This (hereafter RCtech) is a substantially greater modification of the "Basic" version, to account for all sorts of other lesser data.

"Technical" Runs Created, 2nd Version:


RC = (H + BB + HB - GDP - CS) x
(TB + (0.26 x (BB - IBB + HB)) + (0.62 x SB) + (0.5 x (SH + SF) - (0.03 x SO) / PA

PA = AB + BB + HB + SH + SF

This (hereafter RCtech2) is a minor variation of the form above.

"Technical" Runs Created, 2nd Version, alternate:


RC = (H + BB + HB - GDP - CS) x
(TB + [0.24 x {BB - IBB + HB}] + [0.62 x SB] + [0.5 x {SH + SF}] - [0.03 x SO]) / PA

PA = AB + BB + HB + SH + SF

This (hereafter RCtech2a) is another very small variation of the RCtech2 form (0.26 becomes 0.24).

"Technical" Runs Created, 3rd Version:


RC = (H + BB + HB - GDP - CS) x
(BaseWeights + [0.29 * {BB - IBB + HB}] + [0.492 * {SB + SH + SF}] - [0.04 * SO]) / PA

BaseWeights = [1.125 * 1B] + [1.69 * 2B] + [3.02 * 3B] + [3.73 * HR]
PA = AB + BB + HB + SH + SF

This (hereafter RCtech3) is the most complex yet of the variations on the RC formula; it is the only one to assign non-TB weights to base hits.

Base Runs:


BaseRuns = (A x [B / {B + C}]) + D

where:

A - H + BB + HB - HR - (0.5 x IBB)
B - (BaseWeights + [0.1 x {BB - IBB + HBP}] + [0.9 x {SB - CS - GDP}]) x 1.1
C - (AB - H) + CS + GDP
D - HR

BaseWeights = [1.4 x TB] - [0.6 x H] - [3.0 x HR]

This (hereafter BR) is David Smyth's offering in this category. Wikipedia cites Tom Tango as stating that BaseRuns models the reality of the run-scoring process significantly better than any other run estimator. (We shall see.)

Total Offensive Productivity:


AdvR = (BaseWeights + [0.301 x {BB + HB}] + [0.526 x SH] + [0.912 x SB]) / PA
Adv = (AdvR x 0.867) + 0.0412
OBnet = PA - Outs

TOP = OBnet x Adv

BaseWeights = 1B + [1.551 x 2B] + [3.455 x 3B] + [4.421 x HR]
PA = AB + BB + HB + CI + SH + SF
Outs = all team outs

This (hereafter TOP) is mine own. It is sufficiently complex that the making of it (above) is split into multiple pieces for comprehensibility, since it uses the y = mx + b method for best-fitting the relation between runners scored and base-advance events.

Total Offensive Productivity, Dumbed-Down:

This (hereafter TOPdd) is as above, but with all coefficients rounded to only two decimal places of accuracy. No recalculating was done (though the coefficients do interact). The point was to see if using three decimal places, which many but not all formulae do, made any material difference.

Total Offensive Productivity, No Error Data:


PA = AB + BB + HB + CI + SH + SF
AdvR = (1B + [1.551 x 2B] + [3.455 x 3B] + [4.421 x HR] + [0.301 x {BB + HB}] + [0.526 x SH] + [0.912 x SB]) / PA
Adv = (AdvR x 0.867) + 0.0412
OBnet = (0.907527925021 x [H + BB + HB + CI + Eb - HR - CS]) + HR
Eb = 0.017734746015 x ([AB - H)] + SH + SF)

TOP = OBnet x Adv

This (hereafter TOPnoEs) is the full formulation except with opponents' errors (Eb)—and thus net runners on base—estimated by a couple of empirical coefficients. I inserted it here to show how much estimating net on-base does or does not cost accuracy as compared to using exact values (because they are not always simple to obtain). Because this is estimating a datum that should be known exactly, it uses full-accuracy constants (no point in double-crippling it)

The Linear Approach

The Theory

In a sense, there is no theory to linear methods (usually referred to as "linear weights", though that really signifies only one such method). Linear methods are based on what we might call the "ant on a globe" principle: place an ant on the surface of a sufficiently large globe and the surface, though actually curved, will seem flat. Indeed, we humans experience that every day on planet Earth, which is why so many people believed it flat for so long. Linear methods are not concerned with the full shape (and hence describing equation) of the relations between common baseball stats and runs scored: they assume that over the relatively short stretches of such curves that we are in practice concerned with, the relations can be considered to be straight lines (hence "linear"). From that assumption, it follows that one can construct runs by simply adding up the effects of each stat that might have some influence on run scoring, with that stat appropriately "weighted" by an empirical constant derived from experience.

The chiefest objection to linear methods is that they do not actually model run-scoring, which is a non-linear process. Countering that indubitable assertion is the sheer fact that they can and do produce good results. Further, they have this virtue: you can construct team values from individual-player values by simple addition.

(You cannot do that for multiplicative methods because in general the product of the averages is not equal to the average of the products. What that mouthful means can be shown quite easily:
X x Y = Z
2 x 4 = 8
4 x 8 = 32
-------------
3 x 6 = 18 but ([8+32]/2) = 20

That is, averaging the X's and the Y's and multiplying those averages gives a different result than averaging the individual Z's.)

The Formulations

Estimated Runs:


ER = ( [1B x 3] + [2B x 5] + [3B x 7] + [HR x 9] + [BB x 2] + [SB x 1] - [Outs x 0.61] ) x 0.16
Outs = (AB - H) + CS + GDP

This (hereafter ER) was created by Paul Johnson and got a nice write-up from Bill James; James seems to despise linear methods, and it is widely reported around the web that he apparently did not recognize Johnson's formulation as a linear method. There are other variants of this method, as described farther below; which version came first I cannot readily ascertain.

Estimated Runs a:


ER = ( [1B x 3] + [2B x 5] + [3B x 7] + [HR x 9] + [{BB + HB + CI} x 2] + [SB x 1] - [Outs x 0.61] ) x 0.16
Outs = (AB - H) + CS + GDP

This (hereafter ERa) is the above, but with HB and CI included; I just tried those on an off chance, and it much the results, so I include it.

Estimated Runs 2:


ERP = ([2 x {TB + BB + HB}] + H + SB - [0.605 x {AB - H + CS + GDP}]) x 0.16

This (hereafter ER2) is a variation on the method above; as I said, I don't know which came first.

Estimated Runs 3:


ER3 = (TB * 0.318) + ([BB - IBB + HB - CS - GDP] * 0.333) + (H * 0.25) + (SB * 0.2) - (AB * 0.085)

This (hereafter ER3) is a yet another variation on the ER method. (The numbering, again, does not here imply a sequence.)

Extrapolated Runs:


R = (0.50 x 1B) +
(0.72 x 2B) +
(1.04 x 3B) +
(1.44 x HR) +
(0.34 x [HB + BB - IBB]) +
(0.25 x IBB) +
(0.18 x SB) -
(0.32 x CS) -
(0.09 x [AB - H - SO]) -
(0.098 x SO) -
(0.37 x GDP) + (0.37 x SF) +
(0.04 x SH)

This (hereafter XR) is one of Jim Furtado's efforts at a linear formula; there is another one, listed below. I am unsure of their order of creation.

Extrapolated Runs 2:


xRun = (1B x .51) +
(2B x .8) +
(3B x 1.14) +
(HR x 1.46) +
([{BB - IBB} + HBP] x .33) +
([IBB + SB] x .18) +
([SH + SF] x .21) +
([CS + GDP] x -.17) -
(0.10 x Outs)
Outs = (AB - H + SF + SH + CS + GDP)

This (hereafter XR2) is a modified version of the above. I am unsure, actually, which version preceded which.

The Shoot-Out

The Results

Just for fun, I also included, as a sort of baseline, what one might call an "worst-possible-way" method. All it does is assign every team in every season the league-average runs for that league and season—that is, it doesn't "predict" at all, but assumes every team is "average". Any way of "projecting" runs that does worse than this is actually "anti-predicting".

The column headings are mostly self-explanatory, but here are notes on a couple. "Cumulative Error" is all actual errors added up, with sign (that is, plus and minus); the lower, the better. "Per Team-Year Error" is just the Cumulative Error divided by the number of team-seasons it was gathered over; it is not terribly important, but helps put the cumulative number in some sort of perspective.

As noted, the data are from the years 1955 through 2009, inclusive. The formulations are listed in order of average percentage accuracy, lowest to highest. The envelope, please . . . .

Method Average
Error
Percentage
Cumulative
Error
(Runs)
Per
Team-Year
Error (Runs)
Average
Error
Size (Runs)
Standard
Error
(Runs)
Percent
Under
Percent
Exact
Percent
Over
Averaged 7.67653288572 +66 +0.0484581497797 52.7459618209 66.1521968803 49.0% 0.6% 50.4%
ER 2.95275569685 -16061 -11.7922173275 20.6174743025 25.9099639273 69.7% 1.2% 29.1%
RCbasic 2.92417501178 -2292 -1.68281938326 20.281938326 25.6796805975 51.2% 1.4% 47.4%
RCsb 2.90765660618 -2690 -1.97503671072 20.1820851689 25.416645688 51.9% 1.2% 46.8%
RCtech 2.85383691716 +9611 +7.05653450808 20.0007342144 25.3367764524 38.5% 2.1% 59.3%
ER3 2.75487616896 +4123 +3.02716593245 19.1138032305 24.0931787811 46.2% 1.3% 52.5%
BaseRuns 2.75190018218 -11315 -8.30763582966 19.1651982379 24.1673232912 64.3% 2.1% 33.6%
RCtech2a 2.75003868729 -2586 -1.8986784141 19.1365638767 23.9341798885 53.5% 1.6% 44.9%
RCtech2 2.74082458403 +1592 +1.16886930984 19.1174743025 24.24.0136808913 48.9% 1.5% 49.6%
XR2 2.68914080266 +7057 +5.18135095448 18.6218795888 23.5352846865 41.4% 1.4% 57.2%
ERa 2.68565957806 -7257 -5.3281938326 18.6439060206 23.6679360665 59.1% 1.4% 39.5%
ER2 2.67680686519 +3144 +2.30837004405 18.5374449339 23.4423017981 45.1% 1.7% 53.2%
TOPnoEs 2.59951137936 -323 -0.237151248164 17.9596182085 22.8709281276 48.8% 1.5% 49.8%
RCtech3 2.5773991588 +1858 +1.36417033774 17.8325991189 22.5678176251 45.6% 1.8% 52.6%
XR 2.53012140594 +4370 +3.20851688693 17.4948604993 22.1657307104 42.8% 1.4% 55.8%
TOPdd 2.46168703878 +2360 +1.73274596182 16.9779735683 21.6911728627 45.3% 2.3% 52.3%
TOP 2.44818804968 +120 +0.0881057268722 16.9133627019 21.6186642088 48.9% 2.5% 48.6%
(The darker lines are multiplicative measures, while the lighter are linear.)

Some Reflections

First off, it is manifest that the best of the multiplicative and the best of the linear methods produce results that are quite close enough for folk music. Second, it is clear that the differences in performance of all these methods are far less consequential than the general accuracy of all. For perspective, let's keep in mind that a difference in accuracy of 0.14% is only about one run per team per season. Look at it: best to worst is only an average difference of less than 4 runs per team per season.

One thing, though, that is clear is that none of the linear methods is really close to a symmetrical distribution of its errors. That is scarcely a fatal flaw, but it does suggest that they are, as is known, not modelling process but empirically matching data. Now there are a lot of empirical constants in the multiplicative methods, too, but the thing is that the linear systems are their constants, and nothing else.

I thought it might be useful to take a look at graphical representations of a couple of these methods. For economy, I chose the best linear and the best multiplicative methods. Here they are:

TOP projected vs. Actual Runs graph
XR projected vs. Actual Runs graph

There are differences, but you've got to look awfully hard to find them. And you will also notice—again, if you look carefully—what a tabled presentation would show better (but is too long for here), which is that these two rather different methods get mostly the same results for the same teams (look at the odd little dots that are fairly isolated), which demonstrates what we already knew: that variations from projection are essentially chance.

My own summing-up is that if you need convenient ease of use, as when doing calculations by hand, the XR method is easiest. If you want the sense that you're really modelling what happens, want best available accuracy, and have the use of a computer to do the heavy lifting of calculation, use the TOP formula. (The needed stats can be downloaded from various standard sources.)

The question of how these various methods can be used to analyze individual players is a fascinating one, but, owing to length, one for another time.


Eric Walker has been a professional baseball analyst for over a quarter-century. His paper "Winning Baseball", commissioned by the Oakland A's for the purpose, first instructed Billy Beane in the concepts later called "Moneyball"; Walker has also authored a book of essays, The Sinister First Baseman and Other Observations. Walker is now retired, but maintains the HBH Baseball-Analysis Web Site.

Designated HitterNovember 12, 2009
Exploring the Intangibles of Catching
By Brent Mayne

Baseball and statistics go together like peanut butter and jelly. The fact is, just about every position on the field can be successfully evaluated with numbers. But, in my opinion, the catching position is one spot that requires closer inspection. Rating receivers is hard to quantify because this position relies so heavily on intangibles.

Allow me to explain and show you how I see it from a catcher’s perspective. For every pitch, you’ve got about eight million variables coming at you. Who is the hitter and how have I attacked him in the past? What is the game situation? What are your pitcher’s strengths and weaknesses? What is the game plan/scouting report? Who is the umpire and what is his strike zone today? What does your manager want? The list goes on and on. And you need to process all this information and put down the correct number...right now.

Because for me, calling a game and having a good relationship with your pitchers and the umpire may have more of an effect on your team than anything else you might do. These intangibles aren’t flashy and won’t put butts in the seats like a home run hitting catcher can, but it might translate to more wins for your team.

I also believe good receivers must be good psychologists. You’ve got to know every individual on the staff and know whether they need to be kicked in the ass or patted on the back. The same applies for the umpire behind you. You’ve got to figure out what makes these guys tick and how to get results. Whether it’s playing the tough guy, the smart guy, or just offering words of encouragement, a good catcher knows how to get the most out the people he works with.

In this essay, I’d like to briefly cover some of these intangibles—communicating with pitchers, pitch selection and pitch counts, and controlling the pace of game. Before I get into that though, I hope you’ll indulge me as I go off on a little jag about coaches calling pitches. One last note, forgive me if I come off like I’m teaching. I’m a coach’s son and have a lot of that blood in me!

Coaches, Please Don’t Call the Game

Hear me out as I get something off of my chest. It concerns the epidemic I see of coaches calling pitches from the dugout. This bothers me on so many different levels I don’t even know where to start. Honestly, I think it should be outlawed and banished from the game. To begin with, how about the time it takes for the catcher to look over every single time to get a pitch selection? It drives me nuts to watch games that drag on forever as the coach satisfies his ego. I mean, what is the upside? Shouldn’t the kid be learning his craft? What good are you doing as a coach if you are turning out pitchers and catchers who cannot think and make quality decisions for themselves? It’s like graduating from school and not knowing how to read. Trust me—coaches don’t call pitches in pro ball. And the way things are going, amateur baseball is unleashing heaps of brain-dead players into the professional ranks. Yes, kids are going to make mistakes; yes, they are going to make stupid decisions. But that is how they learn. As pitching great Christy Mathewson wisely stated, “you can learn little from victory. you can learn everything from defeat.” Calling a game is a huge part of a catcher’s and pitcher’s development. Having a coach call the games stunts growth.

The bottom line, anyway, is: the best pitch a kid can throw is the one he can un-leash with conviction, even if it’s not the perfect choice. There is no way he can do that if the pitch is coming from the dugout. Talk about handcuffs. How about the little subtleties and changes only the catcher can notice in a hitter’s stance? The coach can’t possibly see that from his perch. How can a receiver anticipate and plan ahead when he is just robotically putting down signals? None of it makes any sense, and it drives me crazy. You may see pro catchers glancing into the dugout to get signs and think that if it’s good for them, it’s good for you. Let me tell you that except for rare instances, these glances have nothing to do with pitch selection. they almost always deal with controlling the running game—when to pitch out, throw over, slide step, and so forth. If you pay close attention, you will notice that pro catchers rarely look over when no one is on base. To be honest, if I were the manager, I would let the battery control the running game, too. But that is a whole different subject. Don’t get me started!

I was very fortunate to play for coaches and managers who never put the hand-cuffs on me. They would make corrections when I was wrong and suggestions when appropriate; however, they never stunted my growth by taking away the reins. As a result, the ability to call a good game and the subsequent trust that developed with my staff turned out to be my strong points. They kept me in baseball a long time and made the house payments. I am very grateful to my coaches for trusting me and seeing me through the learning curve.

I’ll finish this little rant with a plea to amateur coaches everywhere. Please take your hands off the steering wheel and let go of some of the control. Teach your players well, and then unleash them on the game to do what they will. A smarter, better developed athlete will emerge, the pace of the game will improve, and, trust me, the decisions won’t be half bad—maybe even better than yours.

Communicating with Pitchers

Now let’s switch gears and focus on the importance of the pitcher and catcher being on the same page. A good receiver takes the time to know his pitcher’s likes and dislikes and finds out where he (the pitcher) feels his limits are. He’s a good communicator and asks questions. Questions like: Do you like to throw the fastball up when ahead in the count? Do you like to bounce your breaking ball in the dirt? If we are in a strikeout situation, what is your best “out” pitch? Ask him to list his pitches in order of his confidence level. As a catcher, you want to get to the point where you and the pitcher are of the same mind. Your pitch choices are the same as his. As he stands on the rubber and decides on the next pitch, you want your signal to more or less take the words right out of his mouth. Nothing is better than when a pitcher and catcher are on the same wavelength and together slice through the opposing lineup.

Taking the time to communicate and learning how to call a good game helps a catcher earn the trust of his staff. Most great receivers aren’t remembered as box of rocks. Having the ability to put down the right signs takes a huge load off the pitcher’s shoulders by letting him focus on execution rather than choices. Yogi Berra summed it up nicely when he wisely stated, “Think! How the hell are you gonna think and hit [or pitch] at the same time?” Helping shoulder the mental load of pitch calling can help your staff concentrate on what’s important: throwing strikes.

Pitch Selection and Pitch Counts

I don’t have an enormous amount of information regarding proper pitch selection because what might be right for one situation won’t fit another situation. A huge list of variables must be filtered through the mind of the catcher, and they are constantly in flux. Some of the components affecting the decision-making process are the strengths of the particular pitcher, the weaknesses of the hitter, the game situation, and the umpire, to name just a few. Like I said, the list goes on and on and is rarely the same twice. Even though there is nothing written in stone, here are a few of the guidelines I followed.

The catcher’s primary focus should be to help the pitcher get outs as quickly and efficiently as possible. Keep your pitcher focused, and don’t let him get caught up in the thrill of making hitters look bad or the trap of trying to make a perfect pitch. Realize that the idea is not so much to “trick” hitters but rather to pound the strike zone in good locations, resulting in quick outs. Keep the pitch count down. Make the opposition swing the bat often and early by keeping your pitcher around the strike zone. I’ll take a first pitch ground out over a strikeout any day of the week. Both scenarios result in an out; however, the ground out requires only one pitch whereas the strikeout takes at least three. Over the course of a game, those numbers can really add up. Keep the pitcher focused on being efficient rather than wasting energy on something else.

Along those same lines, it’s important for the catcher, coach, and pitcher to realize that there’s rarely a pitch you just can’t throw to someone. Usually, even a “bad” pitch selection thrown in the right spot will work. From years of experience seeing thousands of outs, I can tell you that more often than not success or failure depends on the location of the pitch. I will say that again: location, location, location. It’s like real estate. that being said, don’t fall into the trap of setting up on the corners too much or letting the pitcher get too “fine.” If he is obsessed with throwing the ball in the perfect location (i.e., down and right on the corner), then unless his name is Greg Maddux, he is not going to be throwing a lot of strikes. You don’t want to put the hitter in the driver’s seat by getting yourself in counts where you have to pipe a fastball. Again, make hitters swing the bat and get quick outs by pounding the strike zone early with quality pitches.

The last thing to mention on the subject of what pitch to call is always to go with your pitcher’s strength. For example, if confusion arises because a certain hitter is known as a great change-up hitter but that is also your pitcher’s best pitch, go with the change-up. Again, if that is the pitcher’s best chance of throwing a strike in a good location and he can do it with conviction, then that is the best choice no matter what the scouting report says. Always call the game according to your pitcher’s strength instead of the hitter’s weakness.

Pace of Game

As a catcher, you also control the pace of the game. You’re kind of like a point guard in basketball. You can push the ball up the court and play the fast break game or you can slow it down and stall. The speed pedal is under your foot, and by toying with it you can control momentum shifts. I’m not going to lie—as a general rule, I have a heavy bias for pushing the action. I love quick play and recommend it for a number of reasons. That being said, when the offense was rolling and crushing my pitcher, I definitely tried to break the opposing team’s momentum by slowing down the action. Outside of that situation, though, I tried to put the signs down quickly and confidently and felt that doing so positively impacted my team. How so? Well, for one thing, I liked to get my pitcher in the groove of getting the ball, getting on the rubber, and letting it go. Like I’ve said before, the less time a pitcher has to think, the better. Pushing the action also keeps your defense on its toes. I know from playing middle infield that there is nothing worse than a pitcher who takes a minute in between every pitch. How about this reason—fans love quick games. But probably the biggest and best reason for speeding up play is that you take the opposition out of its comfort zone. In general, ballplayers know how to play the game at one speed—slow. Most have no idea how to compete at a quick pace. Pushing the issue by getting the ball back to the pitcher right away and quickly putting down the signal makes good sense if for no other reason than it makes the opposition uncomfortable.


Brent Mayne was a major league catcher from 1989 to 2004. He played most of his career with the Kansas City Royals but also spent time with the Mets, A's, Giants, Rockies, Diamondbacks, and Dodgers. He ranks 75th in the history of baseball with 1,143 pro games caught, and his .993 career fielding percentage is 4th all-time. Brent also has the distinction of being the only catcher in the twentieth century to have won a game as a pitcher. He caught Bret Saberhagenʼs no-hitter in 1991. An All-American in college, Brent was drafted in the first round (13th pick overall) and inducted into the Orange Coast College Hall of Fame in 2006. Mayne was a decent hitter with occasional power and compiled a career high .301 batting average in consecutive seasons (1999-2000).

In retirement, Mayne has gone on to serve on the board of directors of the Braille Institute and the Center for Hope and Healing. He is also the author of a book titled "The Art of Catching" and creator of a website, blog and podcast series at www.brentmayne.com.

Designated HitterSeptember 21, 2009
Best Fastballs in Baseball
By Chris Moore

A few weeks back, Jeremy Greenhouse presented a new method for evaluating who throws best pitches in baseball. Building on work by Dave Allen and John Walsh, the principle is to evaluate pitches based on their outcomes. Jeremy's innovation was to use regression to predict the likelihood of each outcome, given the velocity and movement of each pitch. Previous methods (such as those at FanGraphs, have the problem of giving too much credit to lucky pitchers. If two pitchers throw exactly the same pitch, Bronson Arroyo may get an out, and Chris Carpenter gives up a hit. The outcome-based method would give exactly the same credit to both pitchers.

While Jeremy was working on his analysis, I was working in parallel on a similar method. I've used a kernel density estimator and expectation-maximization algorithm to classify each of the 480,000 pitches throw by right-handed pitchers to right-handed batters between 2007 and 2009, and then estimate the likelihood of relevant outcomes. Some differences, instead of movement and velocity, this analysis includes five parameters: horizontal location, vertical location, velocity, vertical movement, and horizontal movement. Further, we can look at each pitch along each dimension in isolation to give a rough estimate of the importance of each dimension.

Note that although this method is not biased to favor lucky pitchers, it may be biased to punish pitchers with "intangibles." We can build any physically measurable factor into our model, but that won't help us quantify the value of "deception." I fully believe that some pitchers have strange deliveries that throw a batter's timing off, and some are better at sequencing their pitches. This method will undervalue them, because it is essentially evaluating each pitch in isolation. This method will fail to account for pitch selection or sequencing, or any contextual variables. Having a variety of pitches allows a pitcher to set up better pitch sequences, which will make the same fastball more successful. This method can't account for that.

Relative Importance of Components
Once each pitch was evaluated along each of the 5 dimensions, we could look to see how well these values correlated with the overall value of the pitch. This is sort of daft--we have a high powered mathematical algorithm that takes into account high-order statistical dependencies, and then we use a linear regression to evaluate the components. In using the regression for this step, we will lose the ability to look at nonlinearities and interactions, but its a first step. Depending on which pitches we look at (just 4-seamers, or all fastballs), this linear model explains 50 to 90% of the variance.

Regardless of how which pitches we include, the most valuable component is Velocity (with a beta of .592), followed by vertical location and movement (.494, .338 respectively). horizontal location limps in next at .163, and horizontal movement had might as well stayed home, at .070. These numbers change slightly depending on the parameters of the model, and the filters and such, but the general picture remains the same.

Top 20 Fastballs

Here is a list of the top 20 fastballs thrown between 2007 and August 2009, inclusive. Pitches are averaged by pitch type (4-seam fastball, FB; 2-seam fastball, FT; cut fastball, FC), for each pitcher and then ranked by average value. The marginal value of the pitch dimensions are summarized in Control, Velocity and Movement, evaluated by calculating how much value would drop by removing these dimensions. These values are represented as weighted Z scores.


Rank Player Value Type Control Velocity Movement
1 Zack Greinke -0.0313 FT 1.13 2.68 0.90
2 Roy Halladay -0.0304 FT 0.73 2.19 0.72
3 Ronald Belisario -0.0181 FB 0.38 2.05 0.33
4 Ubaldo Jimenez -0.0166 FB 0.33 2.14 0.25
5 Jonathan Broxton -0.0164 FB 0.18 1.87 0.09
6 Felix Hernandez -0.0155 FB 0.38 1.94 0.25
7 Roy Halladay -0.0150 FC 0.50 0.96 0.55
8 Heath Bell -0.0149 FB 0.41 1.39 0.28
9 Mariano Rivera -0.0130 FC 0.19 1.32 0.32
10 Bobby Jenks -0.0123 FB 0.31 1.15 0.07
11 Daniel Bard -0.0122 FB 0.13 1.42 -0.01
12 Brandon Morrow -0.0118 FB 0.11 1.20 0.21
13 Joel Zumaya -0.0112 FB -0.08 1.95 -0.14
14 Vin Mazzaro -0.0106 FB 0.34 1.04 0.26
15 Andrew Bailey -0.0101 FC 0.38 0.51 0.37
16 J.J. Putz -0.0095 FB 0.20 0.96 0.14
17 Joe Nathan -0.0092 FB 0.19 0.63 0.26
18 Freddy Dolsi -0.0090 FB 0.12 1.47 0.12
19 Chris Carpenter -0.0090 FB 0.24 1.34 0.26
20 Kevin Jepsen -0.0090 FB 0.18 0.99 0.13

Pitcher Plots
Below, I've plotted the pitch values on a pitch-by-pitch basis for a few pitchers I selected arbitrarily. The first plot shows the movement and the velocity of each pitch, to give a sense of how successful the pitch classification system was. The second and third plots show the expected value of each pitch plotted against its X location and velocity.

#1 Zack Greinke, 2-Seam Fastball

Greinke's two-seam fastball was given the highest rating in both control and movement and velocity. These values reflect how much the value of the pitch decreases when you remove that dimension from the equation. So it is a little misleading, since a better pitch has more to lose if you remove an important dimension. There are many guys who throw harder than Greinke, but there are no pitchers who would suffer more if they suddenly had league-average velocity.

#2 Roy Halladay, 2-Seam Fastball
#7 Roy Halladay, Cutter

My classification system says that Halladay has 3 pitches: the 2-seam fastball, the cutter, the curveball. He probably has a change-up that is being misclassified as well. But however you split it, they are a very good pair of pitches. The value-by-location plot shows pretty good control; he hits the outside half of the plate frequently.

#3 Ronald Belisario 4-Seam Fastball

If you don't know who Ronald Belisario is, you're not alone. His fastball averages 95 mph, and crosses the plate in the zone 56% of the time. He has a 1.92 ERA in 65 innings, though with a somewhat low BABIP. We only have 319 pitches to analyze, so he's likely getting somewhat lucky,

#5 Jonathan Broxton, 4-Seam Fastball

Broxton has a crazy good, totally boring fastball. Its all about velocity. He averages nearly 97 mph, and you can see from the value by velocity graph that he can touch 100, where his value spikes. His vertical movement is good, averaging 10 inches. He also has good command, hitting the strike zone 57% of the time. No bells or whistles here, just heat.

#9 Mariano Rivera, Cutter

If Rivera wasn't included as one of the top fastballs, we'd know something is wrong. Want to see something really beautiful? Check out the histogram at the bottom of the value-by-location plot. That's control.


#11 Daniel Bard, 4-Seam Fastball
Our scouts tell us Bard relies a 96 mph fastball that can reach 101 mph and a 82 mph slider wih bite. He also supposedly has a high 80s cutter, a low 90s sinker, and a change-up. We don't have enough data from Bard to see his full range--he only barely makes the 100 pitch minimum--but we can still get an initial look.

Pitch F/X agrees with the scouts: he has a very consistent 97 mph fastball with 11 inches of vertical movement. He relies heavily on the fastball and slider, but he has also thrown a handful of change-ups. He has not yet thrown a low 90s sinker or high 80s cutter in the majors. The lateral location of his pitches looks bimodal, almost like he's either trying to throw inside, or hit the outside edge. Those inside pitches account for many of his worst pitches. His best pitches were high and outside.



#27 Jonathan Papelbon, 4-Seam Fastball

When he's not dancing, he throws this...

Other Rankings of Note
#22 Adam Russell
#29 Grant Balfour
#30 Josh Beckett
#32 Matt Lindstrom
#43 Frank Francisco
#45 Justin Verlander
#50 Zack Greinke's other fastball


Designated HitterSeptember 17, 2009
Unraveling the Batter’s Brain
By Dave Baldwin

[Editor's Note: Dave Baldwin is a former MLB pitcher. He pitched for the Washington Senators (1966-1969), Milwaukee Brewers (1970), and Chicago White Sox (1973). His best season was 1967 when he posted an ERA of 1.70 with 12 saves. Dave has been a member of the Society for American Baseball Research since 2002.]

Part of any pitcher’s job is to understand what goes on in the murky, cobwebby recesses of a batter’s head as the ball is hurtling toward the catcher’s mitt. In fact, this is a pitcher’s most formidable task because the wiring of the batter’s brain is a neuronal mishmash, poorly understood even by the best of baseball’s neuroscientists.

But let’s not be too hard on the batter’s poor brain—it is asked to do an incredibly tough job. During the first two-thirds of the pitch’s flight, the batter simultaneously collects information and performs critical calculations with respect to the ball’s trajectory. From these calculations, he predicts where and when the ball will be at the potential point of impact with the bat. When the ball is approximately twenty feet from the ball/bat contact point, a decision is made and the batter commits to taking the pitch or swinging. That decision is absolutely irreversible if the batter is taking, and if the batter is swinging, he can’t change the trajectory of the bat’s sweet spot (although he can still attempt to check the swing by pulling his hands against his body).

So Little Time

A good fastball traveling at, say, 90 miles per hour (mph) takes about four-tenths of a second or 400 milliseconds (msec) to get from pitcher’s hand to the contact point (assuming the pitcher releases the ball about five feet in front of the pitching rubber and contact is made about a foot in front of home plate). The batter’s noggin has about 270 msec or a little more than a quarter of a second to get its ducks in a row and start the swing. But, although the bat has started its journey, the batter’s conscious mind is still unaware that the batter has decided to swing.

How do we know this? In the 1970s, neurophysiologist Benjamin Libet conducted a series of experiments to determine the relationship between the conscious intention to carry out an action and the initial brain activity that must precede the action. He found that the brain lights up about 350 msec before the conscious mind is aware the action is to be taken (Libet, 1985; Libet, et al., 1983). But the batter’s brain has only 270 msec to decide whether and where to swing. If these decisions were to be made by the conscious mind, the ball would be in the catcher’s mitt before the batter could do little more than start moving the bat. In fact, the ball is only 50 msec (about seven feet) away from the contact point when the batter’s conscious mind finally realizes that he is swinging the bat. The batter can do nothing to alter the swing in that final 50 msec. Thus, he is hitting with his unconscious mind.

What we are calling the “conscious mind” is primarily the cerebral cortex. The “unconscious mind” comprises those brain components that collectively produce mental phenomena occurring without the person being aware of them. The ancient, deep-brain region called the limbic system (amygdala, hippocampus, hypothalamus, etc.) is a major part of the unconscious mind. It interacts with the cerebellum, a brain structure responsible for coordinating muscle activity during the batter’s actions. This is the same quick neural circuitry that tries to save a hiker who is the target of a rattlesnake’s strike. A hiker dodging a two and a half-foot strike of a five-foot snake has about 200 msec to come to the conclusion to jump—even less time than is granted the batter, but the hiker’s problem is much simpler, of course.

What the Batter's Brain Must Do

Let’s consider the steps the batter’s brain must take during those critical 270 msec. First, the unconscious apparatus must gather information about the behavior of the ball. If it fails in this initial task, the batter might just as well go up to the plate with a wet noodle instead of a bat.

The batter needs to begin collecting pitch information as soon as possible. To prepare for this “quick read,” the batter’s conscious mind concentrates on an imaginary “box” where he expects the pitcher’s release point to be. Thus, his cerebral cortex is thoroughly occupied and doesn’t hinder the unconscious mind. If he has guessed correctly and the ball is released from that box, he can begin to evaluate the pitch as it leaves the pitcher’s hand. Otherwise, the batter must spend precious milliseconds searching for the ball.

Not only must the batter predict where the ball will be at the instant of bat/ball contact but when the ball will arrive there, as well. To do this, the batter observes the trajectory and calculates the rate at which it is changing in each of the spatial dimensions. The visual parameters used by the batter to accomplish this are the apparent size of the ball’s image (used to estimate distance to the ball), distance of the image off the foveae of the batter’s retinas, and the horizontal angles of the right and left eyes. The time until bat/ball contact is calculated by the ratio of the image's apparent size to the rate of change of this size. These calculations are performed without the batter’s awareness.

During the early stage of the trajectory, the image seems to be coming very nearly directly at the batter’s eyes, but as the ball gets closer to the contact point, the horizontal angles of the eyes expand, and the eyes have increasing difficulty keeping the image on the foveae. In fact, the eyes aren’t able to follow the pitch all the way to the ball/bat contact—the image “outruns” the foveae when the ball is about five feet from the contact point (Bahill & Baldwin, 2004). This doesn’t matter since the batter can do nothing at that point to alter the trajectory of the bat’s sweet spot. During the last five feet of the pitch’s flight, the batter would do just as well if he had his eyes closed.

Note that the ball “appears” to approach the contact point more rapidly in the later stages of its flight, even though the 90 mph pitch actually slows by about eleven and a half mph because of drag force during the flight. The batter’s mind makes adjustments for this phenomenon. To experience this illusion, watch the median stripes on a highway as you travel at a constant speed of 60 mph. A stripe that is quite distant down the highway will seem to creep toward you, while a stripe very near the car will seem to whiz by, even though the car is moving at the same speed relative to the two stripes, of course.

Besides using the visual clues discussed above, the batter might also check out the ball’s spin pattern for indication of pitch behavior. Some batters report seeing a pattern of stripes (and maybe a dot) made by the red seam as it whirls around the axis of the ball; some say they can’t see anything but a gray blur. If a batter’s unconscious mind recognizes the spin of the pitch, it has information about the direction and magnitude of the ball’s spin-induced deflection (Bahill, et al., 2005). The trajectory of any spinning pitch (i.e., one that isn’t a knuckleball) will be deflected by the spin to some extent. Hitting a baseball is a skill of precision—the batter must adjust to even a slight deflection.

I surveyed fifteen former major league position players and found that only eight remember seeing the seam spin pattern. These results might indicate visual differences, or they might stem from variation in the way the pattern is processed and stored in the brain. Coaches generally assume that the ability to see the spin pattern will make for a better hitter, but the success of a batter doesn’t seem to be related to his ability to recall seeing this pattern. Using two Hall of Famers as examples, we note that Frank Robinson has reported he was able to see the seam, but Mike Schmidt has said he was never able to see it (Schmidt, 1994).

Taking Advantage of the Batter's Brain

How can the pitcher benefit from knowing how the batter’s brain works? For many decades pitchers have known how to “set up” the batter for an out pitch. The pitcher does this by using the residual image of the previous pitch to confound the hitter. This works because the image resides somewhere in the unconscious mind, retained in short-term memory. The pitcher sets up the batter by showing him a pitch—say, a high, inside, smoking fastball. The batter can’t help but maintain the memory for some short period—long enough to allow the pitcher, working quickly, to come back with an ever sooooo slooooow curve while smoke is still hanging around in the batter’s cranium. Psychologists call this “visual priming”—an earlier visual stimulus influences response to a later visual stimulus. Knowing how to set up the batter is an important part of knowing how to pitch.

The pitcher can also benefit from a distraction of the batter’s unconscious mind or from giving the cerebral cortex extra information to process, thus interfering with the unconscious operations. I once had a catcher who would, on occasion, toss a handful of dirt on the batter’s shoes just as the pitcher was releasing the ball. He would do this only on a crucial pitch at a crucial point in the game. This made the batter’s unconscious mind spend some milliseconds trying to deal with the surprise.

Another way to accomplish this is to startle the batter with a loud or threatening noise. A few pitchers in baseball history have developed the knack of giving out a resounding grunt just as they released the pitch. And I remember hearing of a catcher who, now and then, would blast the batter with an ear-splitting whistle at an opportune moment. Both of these tricks distracted the batter. The unconsciousness switches from processing visual information to handling the unexpected auditory information. This switch has some real-life practical applications, such as heeding the snorting of a charging rhinoceros.

Several pitchers have had success in giving the batter’s conscious mind plenty of time to make decisions. The “eephus” thrown by Rip Sewell in the 1930s and ‘40s, and Steve Hamilton’s “folly floater” of the ‘60s are prime examples of pitches that worked well in part because they allowed the batter’s clumsy cerebral cortex to get involved. These pitches were lobs that reached a height of twenty feet or more at the apex. Pitches tossed to such a height take more than a second to reach the potential contact point—long enough to give the cerebral cortex plenty of time to get wound around itself, pondering how to slant the swing.

This is a difficult problem because a swing angled with a slight uppercut (usually the most effective angle on a normal pitch) will cut perpendicularly across the path of the descending lob, making timing the swing extremely difficult. The best angle with respect to timing the lob is an acute uppercut, one that will result in a high pop-up if the batter manages to make contact. Anyone who has attempted to fungo line drives has realized that tossing the ball high makes the task very challenging. To avoid this dilemma, experienced fungo hitters, such as Jimmie Reese, would give the ball a very short toss and hit it when it is almost stationary, near its apex.

The batter’s mind usually fails to resolve the swing-angle problem of the lob. Late in his career Steve Hamilton told me that, although he had thrown the folly floater many times, it had resulted in a hit only once—Frank Howard, showing remarkable presence of mind, had tapped the pitch over the first baseman’s head for a looping single.

Researching the Batter's Brain

In this article we’ve seen that batters’ brains carry out very complex operations. Given the importance of the unconscious components of the batter’s mind, perhaps research into how they are affected by various performance enhancers would be appropriate. For example, we have evidence that some scents—those of lemon, peppermint, and cinnamon—have a beneficial affect on the cerebral cortex, resulting in improved performances in mental and physical tests (Zoladz, 2005), but little is known about how these or more powerful performance enhancing chemicals affect the unconscious mind. With advances in technology giving us extremely precise measurements of the pitch, the hitting process, and the concomitant patterns of neural activity, we might be able to learn a great deal about what happens in the batter’s unconscious mind. In the future, the batter’s box might become an indispensable neurophysiological laboratory.

Note: In this article, all times are rounded to the hundredth of a second, and distances are rounded to feet.

References:

Bahill, A.T. and Baldwin, D.G. 2004. “The rising fastball and other perceptual illusions of batters.” In Biomedical Engineering Principles in Sports. G.K. Hung and J.M. Pallis, eds. NY: Kluwer Academic / Plenum. pp. 257-287.

Bahill, A.T., Baldwin, D.G., & Venkateswaran, J. 2005. “Predicting a baseball’s path.” American Scientist, 93(3):218-225.

Libet, B. 1985. “Unconscious cerebral initiative and the role of conscious will in voluntary action.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 8:529-566.

Libet, B., Gleason, C. A., Wright, E. W., and Pearl, D. K. 1983. “Time of conscious intention to act in relation to onset of cerebral activity (readiness-potential): The unconscious initiation of a freely voluntary act.” Brain, 106:623-642.

Schmidt, M. and Ellis, R. 1994. The Mike Schmidt Study: Hitting Theory, Skills and Technique. Atlanta: McGriff and Bell Inc.

Zoladz, P.R. and Raudenbush, B. 2005. “Cognitive enhancement through stimulation of the chemical senses.” North American Journal of Psychology, 7:125-140.

Dave Baldwin is a former pitcher, geneticist, and engineer. He is now retired and living in Yachats, Oregon. His memoir is described at http://www.snakejazz.com/.

Designated HitterSeptember 03, 2009
Ivy League to MLB: Advanced Metrics and Minor League Baseball
By Shawn Haviland

Hello loyal readers of Baseball Analysts. My name is Shawn Haviland and I am a right-handed pitcher in the Oakland A’s organization, currently pitching for the Kane County Cougars in the Midwest League.

Prior to being drafted by Oakland I attended Harvard University, graduating in the spring of 2008. After playing in the Northwest League for the Vancouver Canadians I began blogging about my experiences, starting with my off-season workout regimen and continuing on through the season recapping each start and discussing other parts of the minor league experience. I’ve been reading The Baseball Analysts for a while and really enjoy the work that they do so hopefully I can keep up the high standard that has been set.

I became interested in advanced metrics a few months before this season when I first heard about Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) through my search for answers as to why I was striking out more than a batter per inning but still had a batting average against of over .260. It seemed like every time they put the ball in play it was going to be a hit. From there I was hooked on the “numbers behind the game.” Despite my interest, the “saber metric revolution” hasn’t really made a huge impact on minor league baseball from the standpoint of how pitchers approach the game.

Minor league pitchers focus on only a few statistics: ERA, WHIP and K/BB ratio. Our pitching instructor preaches that if you want to advance to the next level (the only thing that minor league players really care about) you need to have a below league-average ERA, a WHIP below 1.3 and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of at least 3 to 1. Seems easy enough but as I know now I have less control over these statistics than I would like to think.

For example, my season this year has been a tale of two different halves. The first half of the year I was very successful hitting each mark, I was in the top 10 in the league in ERA, had a WHIP below 1.3 and was averaging approximately 8 strikeouts and 2 walks per game. The second half of the year my strikeout-to-walk ratio has stayed around 3 to 1 (7.5 to 2.8) but my ERA and WHIP have shot up, despite the fact that I feel like I have executed my pitches better in the second half of the season than the first half. What happened, you might ask? The answer here seems to be that my BABIP has gone up almost every month all the way up to over .360 in August.

Month BABIP ERA
April .303 2.35
May .304 3.06
June .346 5.61
July .327 6.46
August .368 4.54

(You can check out my full month-by-month splits and other assorted numbers of interest on minor league splits.com.)

I know that BABIP is not the only factor that is affecting my ERA but it certainly is not helping me achieve the organizational goal of having a below league-average ERA. The fact of the matter and the unfortunate thing for anyone victim of high BABIP, is that these stats are not prevalent in minor league clubhouses. Coaches see a rising ERA and think that the pitcher is pitching worse, which may be the opposite of the case.

Now if I handed that last paragraph to the majority of minor league baseball players I probably would be met with a blank stare. However, if I asked minor league pitchers about their ground ball ratio, most would be able to tell you exactly what their ratio is (mine is .89) and how they are trying to improve their ratio by throwing different pitches to force ground balls.

Batted ball type is the area where advanced metrics has broken into minor league baseball. Our roving pitching instructor Gil Patterson constantly says that it is “impossible to hit a ball out of the park if it is on the ground.” During instructional league we talked a lot about if you are able to make the hitter hit the ball on the ground the worst-case scenario, unless they hit the ball directly down the line, it is going to be a single. If you can make a team hit three singles to score a run you are going to be very successful. While BABIP is slightly higher on ground balls than fly balls it is worth the sacrifice because doubles, triples and home runs are what really hurt pitchers and allow for multiple runs to be scored very quickly.

Pitching for ground balls also eliminates the effect of the ballpark you play in. Our High-A team is in Stockton, California, in the hitters’ paradise that is the California League. Every pitcher that I have talked to says, “Pick up a sinker or a cutter in Kane County because you are going to need it in Stockton.” If you turn on the television and watch any major league baseball game the number of pitchers who are throwing predominantly four-seam fastballs is dwindling. Brian Bannister is a perfect example of this, in that he as all but scrapped his four-seam fastball and instead throws a sinker and a cutter.

The majority of teams in the major leagues rely heavily on home runs as a source of run production; and after the high-powered offense era pitchers are finally catching up and realizing that velocity is not the most important factor in success (although it is nice to throw gas) but rather the ability to make the hitter hit the top of the ball truly breeds success. Armed with this information, pitchers, like Bannister, are making adjustments to force the hitters to keep the ball in the yard.

This brings up the argument as to what is more important: pitch type or pitch location. When we have our pitchers' meetings to formulate the game plans against opposing hitters, axioms like, “he can’t hit a curve ball,” or “he has a long swing, so he won’t be able to catch up to a fastball,” are consistently thrown around. I have never liked speaking in absolutes because I don’t think that there is a hitter in pro ball, or college baseball for that matter, who can’t hit a certain pitch. The players who have a hole that blatant were weeded out long ago. However, there are players who cannot hit a well-located fastball or curveball. My point being that every hitter can hit a fastball belt high right down the middle or a hanging curveball so to simply throw a pitch that the hitter “can’t hit” is not enough. As with real estate, pitching is all about location, location, and location. Although I have no statistical proof, I would argue that throwing the “wrong” pitch in a good location is going to lead to a lot more success than throwing the “right” pitch that is poorly located.

Vladimir Guerrero is one of the best fastball hitters in the game today but you will see him weakly hit a well-placed fastball. Hitters have the hard job, they need to recognize what pitch is coming and then hit a round ball with a round bat to a place that is not occupied by a defensive player. As a pitcher, all you have to do is locate your pitch and let the batter hit it at someone. Statistics tell you that more times than not the hitter is going to get himself out.

Thanks for reading. If you have any thoughts or questions, feel free to leave comments below, email me or check out my blog Ivy League to MLB.

Designated HitterAugust 27, 2009
Walking Off
By Larry Granillo

“...in the Retrosheet era.”

There's no denying the immense drama that surrounds the walk-off home run. From Bobby Thomson in 1951 to Bill Mazeroski in '60, Kirk Gibson in '89, Joe Carter in '93, Big Papi in 2004 and more, the walk-off home run has been inspiring writers and baseball fans alike for decades. It's even helped get certain players elected to the Hall of Fame.

Thanks to SABR, we know that the current leaders in career walk-off home runs are some of the all-time greats: Frank Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Jimmie Foxx, Stan Musial, and Babe Ruth, all with 12 career walk-offs. It's a formidable group and, unlike the Thomsons and Mazeroskis above, there's not a single surprising name on that list.

But the home run is not the only way to earn a walk-off victory. For our purposes, we’ll use the most liberal definition of a walk-off victory (WoV), which is "a run-scoring event in the bottom half of the last inning of the game that gives the home team a winning margin." This means that any event that causes a run (or runs) to cross the plate can be considered a "walk-off". Base hits, ground-rule doubles, bases loaded walks, steals of home, sacrifice flies, passed balls, wild pitches, errors, balks, and even interference can all lead to a WoV.

I thought it'd be interesting, then, to do a study of these non-home run walk-off events. When you start looking at the data, you find that there are a lot of questions that can be asked: if Ruth, Mantle, Robinson, et al are the leaders for home runs, who are the leaders for the other categories? Is it a certain type of hitter? And what kind of situation leads to the most WoV's? Are there any seasons where the WoV was abnormally frequent?

And once you start poking around with those questions, more come flooding out: who has given up the most WoV's? What pitcher-batter combo has teamed up for the most WoV's in history? In that same vein, what batter-baserunner combo has teamed up to score the most WoV-runs? Does the list change if we only consider the baserunner who scored the winning run? And who is the baserunner who has scored the most winning runs in WoV's? What about non-winning runs?

As you can see, there is plenty to answer about walk-off victories if we just look at the data – and some of it is bound to be interesting. So, using the Retrosheet play-by-play data from 1954-2008, this is what I've found. I'll break the discussion into Batters, Pitchers, and Baserunners to keep it manageable. And if there's something about the data that I didn't include or that I haven't considered, please let me know.

The Basics

But first, some general information about WoV’s.

In the Retrosheet era, there have been 9,887 games ending in a walk-off fashion. The top five walk-off events in that time are so:

Walk%20Off%201.png

Error, wild pitch, fielder’s choice, and triple are the only other walk-off categories that occurred more than 100 times. Excluding the nearly 2,800 games won by walk-off home runs, the teams with the most walk-off victories (and defeats) are as follows:

Walk%20Off%202.png

Again, this data only spans the Retrosheet era. It’s still surprising to see the Astros so high on career victories, though, considering how many other teams had a seven-year head start.

Finally, before we get too deep into the details of the batter and pitcher data, it seems like this is a good place to list the single-season leaders for walk-offs, for both pitchers and hitters. As with most everything else, this list excludes walk-off home runs:

Walk%20Off%203.png

The Batters

Looking at the remaining 7,100 non-home run walk-off events, the vast majority were officially scored as singles (4,805 walk-off singles). Many are more complicated than a mere base-hit (one-, two-, and even three-base errors, etc) but, for our purposes, they will be counted as a single.

We also find plenty of non-batting events in the data: stolen bases, balks, wild pitches, and passed balls are all there in the data. If we remove those from consideration for now - so that we don't credit, say, Cliff Floyd with a walk-off hit when John Rocker balks in the winning run - then the leaderboard for most career walk-off victories, non-home run variety looks like this (and, yes, we do count HBP, BB, errors, and other events that the batter initiated in this list):

Walk%20Off%204.png

There are quite a few unsurprising names on that list, Hall of Famers known for their run producing ability. But there are also a number of very surprising names. Manny Mota is number one? Dusty Baker tied with Pete Rose for number two? Rusty Staub? Ted Simmons?

A couple of interesting things to note: nearly half of Mota's non-home run WoV's came as a pinch hitter (he also has one walk-off HR to his credit). That's nine times he was called in from the bench in a game-changing role in which he came through to win the game. Talk about your go-to guy off the bench. Also, Frank Robinson appears in the top 10 on this list, with 15 non-home run WoV's (including one sacrifice), which is very impressive in itself. However, he also sits atop the walk-off home run leaderboard with 12. Combining the two, he sits all alone at the top of the WoV leaderboard, with 27 homers and non-homers alike. Yet another reason to love the career of baseball's most underrated superstar.

Breaking those down even further, here are the walk-off leaders in each of the more standard offensive categories:

Walk%20Off%205.png

And the less-than-standard offensive categories:

Walk%20Off%206.png

It should be noted that there are no players with more than one walk-off HBP. And please also note Frank Robinson atop the walk-off doubles list. That's 17 career walk-off extra base hits. He's the walk-off king.

But what about the inning/outs situation? When are WoV's most likely to happen? The table below shows the frequency of non-home run WoV's in the 9th through 14th innings, broken down again by the number of outs.

Walk%20Off%207.png

And, finally, who is most likely to get that WoV? Is it the high-average/high-OBP guys in the leadoff spot or the sluggers in the middle of the lineup, or does it even matter? With Manny Mota, Pete Rose, Andre Dawson and Frank Robinson all atop the leaderboard, it's hard to say.

Walk%20Off%208.png

The Pitchers

The "walk-off hit" has a very different meaning when you flip it around and start talking about the man on the mound. Whereas the batter and his teammates are thrilled by the moment - the journey from tension and worry to joy and exuberance is as quick as the flight of the ball - the pitcher and his teammates are devastated, walking off the field with heads hung down. As a pitcher, that is the one situation that you do not want to be in: the guy giving up the lead completely and for good, with no chance to recipricate.

Being the all-time leader in this category, then, is one of the more dubious honors in baseball. Who do we find on the leaderboard?

Walk%20Off%209.png

Similar to the leaderboard for hitters, this includes all events a pitcher might be considered responsible for, including wild pitches and HBPs. Passed balls and errors are excluded. We also continue to exclude home runs from the discussion.

Seeing Hall of Famers Rollie Fingers and Goose Gossage on the list shouldn't be too much of a surprise, considering the number of the games that they closed out. Frank Linzy and Ron Perranoski are the biggest surprises, as they only finished 342 and 458 games, respectively. After them, it's Mike Marshall who finished the fewest games in his career, with 549.

The fact of the matter is, if you keep putting the same guys out time and again in the ninth inning (and later) of tight ballgames, they're inevitably going to lose some games. It's almost amazing that, of Rollie's 709 games finished, he only gave up the walk-off in 36 of them (49 if you include home runs).

Not all walk-off losses (WoL) are the same, though. In the table below, the data is broken down by the size of the lead that was blown.

Walk%20Off%2010.png

And, in the interest of thoroughness, the same list, but with walk-off home runs included, is provided below:

Walk%20Off%2011.png

Finally, the question needs to be asked, what batter-pitcher matchup has ended in the most walk-offs?

Maybe not surprisingly, we don't have to go too far back to find the answer: between Sept 12, 2004, and Sept 1, 2005, Atlanta's Andruw Jones earned the walk-off victory in extra innings from Montreal's/Washington's Luis Ayala three separate times. Here are the three games (I had to include HRs in this search to find a unique candidate):

  • Sept 12, 2004: Montreal @ Atlanta, 8-8, bottom 12, no outs, runner on first - RBI Double
  • July 26, 2005: Washington @ Atlanta, 2-2, bottom 10, 2 outs, bases loaded - four pitch walk
  • Sept 1, 2005: Washington @ Atlanta, 7-7, bottom 10, 0 outs, bases empty - solo home run

No other batter-pitcher matchup ended in a walkoff more than twice.

The Baserunners

One thing about walk-off's is that we remember them for the batter. The runner who earned his way onto the basepath and actually scores the run is easily ignored. For example, when we think back to Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, it's not Jay Bell that we remember for scoring the winning run, it's Luis Gonzalez.

But in the long history of the Major Leagues, it seems certain that there are some players who found themselves in these situations over and over again. At some point, you have to start thinking that they may have some actual skill at it. The leaders for most walk-off runs scored (and most walk-off winning runs scored) are as follows (excluding batter-runners scored via home runs):

Walk%20Off%2012.png

Now there's a list that shows some greatness. Nothing but Hall of Famers and quality run scorers. It makes perfect sense that they would be on base for so many WoV's.

Eyeballing the list, it seems that it’s the top of the order guys – the #1 and #2 hitters like Rickey and Rose – who cross the plate the most. And while this makes intuitive sense, it seems worth checking. The list, excluding batter-runners scoring themselves via home runs, is below:

Walk%20Off%2013.png

Okay, so no surprise there. But where do the winning runs come from, though? From what base?

It should be obvious that, across all WoV's, the winning run scores from third more often than any other base. But does this carry across all walk-off types, though? The table below shows the frequency in which the winning run scored from each base for the major offensive categories. If the game is tied, the first runner to cross home plate is considered the 'winning run'; if down by 1, it's the second runner to score, and so on.

Walk%20Off%2014.png

And just for kicks, here's a list of players who scored the most winning runs by driving themselves in via the home run. I know that we're not really focusing on the walk-off home runs in this post, but it seems worth exploring for a minute. It's good to see Frank Robinson at the top of the list again.

Walk%20Off%2015.png

And finally, as with the pitchers, the question has to be asked, what is the most prolific walk-off batter-baserunner combo, and does it change if we look only at the winning runs? Excluding walk-off home runs, the list looks like this:

Walk%20Off%2016.png

The most surprising thing about those lists is how none of the top walk-off run-scorers show up. It's probably a product of player movement, but it's hard to say for sure. Don Kessinger and Kirby Puckett are the only players on the list who were also driven in three different times by an additional player. Pete Rose and Rickey Henderson, while never being driven in by the same guy four times or more, do have two different teammates who they matched up with three times each.

(Oh, and I’d talk about the stolen base leaders right here, but, sadly, they aren’t all that interesting. Of the 22 walk-off steals, no player has done it more than once. George Brett, Pete Rose, Rod Carew, and Eddie Murray are the biggest names on the list, with no Rickey Henderson or Tim Raines to be found. A few are recorded as steals of home, but many are also due to errors. In short, it’s a mish-mash.)

Conclusion

Well, that’s about all I can manage to squeeze into this post without delving into utter minutiae. (How often has a game been won with a walk-off single by the number 7 hitter with a runner on second with one out in the 10th and the home team down by one run? Who scored the most winning runs from first base in 1973?) There seems to be an unending amount of information to be found in the walk-off listings. I just hope I’ve been able to share the interesting facts.

In the end, though, I don’t think there’s a typical walk-off scenario to be found. The hitters at the plate, the baserunners who score the winning runs, and the pitchers who are responsible for the loss are all sufficiently varied in their notoriety/stats/skills that it really does seem to be “the luck of the draw.”

If I did have to describe the “typical” walk-off victory – with the caveats above – it would be this: it’s a tie-game in the bottom of the ninth and the top of the order is coming up. The leadoff hitter (or #2 hitter) gets on base and is moved into scoring position, where he is driven in by either a base hit or home run from the middle-of-the-order power guys. It helps to have all-star-or-better quality players batting in either of those lineup positions.

I’m guessing you probably could’ve guessed that. Still, it’s always nice to have the data to back it up. Now, the next time you see your team get that walk-off hit, you can say that you saw it coming.


Larry Granillo lives in Milwaukee and writes the blog Wezen-Ball.com, where he uses some do-it-yourself statistical analysis and various contemporary accounts (including newspapers and magazines) to look at the game of baseball, both past and present - and, whenever possible, at where the two meet.

Designated HitterAugust 20, 2009
Solo Homers Will Not Break Your Back
By Rob Iracane

A good deal of words have been written decrying the increased home run numbers thanks to the unfortunate placement of outfield walls in the new Yankee Stadium. In their efforts to faithfully reproduce the exact dimensions from the old park across the street, the Yankees nailed the distance from home plate in almost all of the right places. Right field corner, left field corner, straight-away centerfield, and the halfway marks between. However, they failed to take into account a nifty new scoreboard that covers part of the wall in right field and, unfortunately, causes the wall to lose its gentle curve. In effect, a good deal of the right field wall is about nine feet too close to home plate. What you have, in effect, is a straight wall in right field that simply begs left-handed hitters like Johnny Damon to deposit an easy homer above its shallow border. But really, is this really part of some sort of dastardly plan by the Yankees to grab advantage over their foes? I think not.

To date, there have been a whopping 185 home runs hit at New Yankee Stadium, already 15% more tater tots than were hit at the old place last season. But while 50% of the homers last year were hit with no runners on base, that figure has risen to 65% in the new place. On average over the past few years in the MLB, about 58% of home runs are of the solo variety. Is there something about the new park that decreases scoring overall even as homers fly out at a record rate? To wit: New Yankee Stadium is only seventh in the league for scoring; last year, the old place was ninth. Scoring is up only 0.5 runs per game between the old park and the new park. If the Yankees and their opponents keep up their current pace of slamming homers, the new place will end up with 240 homers hit, a full 50% more than last year, or about one extra homer per game.

Those two increases don't seem to mesh well. If the Yanks and their opponents are hitting an extra home run per game but scoring is only up half a run per game, where is that extra run going? Obviously, the huge percentage of solo home runs is providing solace to opposing pitchers who have been victims of the short dimensions in right field. Take Indians starter Anthony Reyes. On April 17th, the Indians lost to the Yankees by one measly run, 6-5, despite Reyes and two relievers allowing five homers to the Yanks. But, all five homers were solo shots, which kept the Indians alive in the game (they only had one home run in the game, a solo shot).

So what explains the high percentage of solo home runs in the New Yankee Stadium? One explanation is almost so obvious that I missed it at first: when a guy who hits in front of you hits a home run, he is unclogging the bases of those pesky baserunners. That leaves you, the batter, with an empty canvas on which to paint your own home run. Sorry, but that will only be one RBI for you, sir. In fact, Johnny Damon and Mark Teixeira have accomplished the back-to-back trick six times already this year, a franchise record. They've done it three times at home and the rest of the team has done it four more times, plus one occurrence of back-to-back-to-back home runs. That's nine home runs that must be solo shots because the gentleman ahead did the hitter a favor and cleared the bases.

Not that allowing all these solo home runs is going to get any pitcher off the hook, but if scoring is only up by half a run per game, then at least any wary pitcher nervous about giving up the farm when visiting Yankee Stadium can relax. You might give up a bunch of home runs, but if you're smart, you'll wait until the bases are empty.


==========

Rob Iracane co-edits Walkoff Walk, a thoughtful blog dedicated to baseball and the human condition. He and Kris Liakos have been active for over 18 months and their biggest claim to fame is posting a video of a shrimp running on a treadmill backed by "Yakety Sax" whenever an MLB team wins on a Walkoff Walk.

Designated HitterJuly 30, 2009
The Staticky Charm of AM Radio
By Tommy Bennett

There's something human in static. Record collectors are fond of saying vinyl recordings have a warmer sound than their digital brethren, but I think the real humanity is in the airwaves.

I.

Medium wave amplitude modulation radio broadcasting was invented just a few years after the dawn of the modern era in baseball (when the rules we are familiar with today became codified). Guglielmo Marconi was awarded the first patent for the radio in the United States in 1900. Six years later, Reginald Fessenden propagated the first AM transmission from Brant Rock, Massachusetts. Radio remained a hobbyist's pursuit until it exploded in the wake of World War I. The 1920s heralded the beginning of the Golden Age of radio. It is no coincidence that the 1920s also represented the Golden Era of baseball.

Radio represented one of the first mass-media in the United States. Just as mass media were fueling national culture and the development of full-fledged consumer culture in the 1920s, so too was radio building the very first media markets. The first radio call of a live baseball game was broadcast on the first commercial radio station, Pittsburgh's KDKA. On August 5, 1921, Harold Arlin used a shoestring setup (he used a modified telephone) at Forbes Field to announce a contest between the Pirates and the Phillies.

The Pirates won 8-5. It was a brief game, lasting less than two hours, but featured a home run by Phillies centerfielder Cy Williams and a triple by Pirates third baseman Clyde Barnhart. It must have been thrilling to hear Arlin describe that moment when a runner approaches second base so fast that it dawns upon the announcer that the runner might just be headed for third.

For several years, subsequent broadcasts were not conducted live, but rather were recreations from play-by-play wire accounts. They often lagged innings behind the action on the field. But they also opened up the game to a broader audience. Despite owners' fears that radio would discourage fans from showing up at the ballpark in person, the prevalence of baseball radio broadcasts grew apace. As radios became centerpieces of the American living room, baseball enmeshed itself as part of the daily life of millions.

II.

The reality of a live broadcast is that the time is difficult to fill, and the long pauses or awkward attempts at filler make the broadcasts intimate. Indeed, Harold Arlin remembered not being exactly sure what to do or say:

"Nobody told me I had to talk between pitches [...] Sometimes the transmitter didn't work. Often the crowd noise would drown us out. We didn't know whether we'd talk into a total vacuum or whether somebody would hear us."

What's remarkable about baseball on the radio is just how much sense it makes. Most sports are chaotic, with infinite possible constellations of players on the playing surface. In baseball, there is only the count (of which there are only twelve states), the base/out situation (of which there are 24 states), and the inning (which of course there are usually nine). When the announcer relays that the shortstop, batting in a 2-2 count with runners on the corners, has roped a line drive down the third base line, you can imagine just what it looks like. With that sort of information alone, millions of boys and girls have surreptitiously used a transistor radio to reconstruct the Polo Grounds or Shibe Park right there in English class.

For decades' worth of Opening Days, the transistor radio was a shibboleth for manic baseball fans celebrating for the first time all winter the rich sounds of staticky play-by-play in their ear. You can make us work or go to school, they secretly shared, but you cannot make us pay attention.

And the broadcasters were our friends. They spent so much time talking into the emptiness and to each other that radio broadcasts became intimate. Radio announcers Graham McNamee, Red Barber, Mel Allen, Jack Brickhouse, Vin Scully, Harry Caray, and Harry Kalas (and countless others) became as members of an extended family.

III.

A few select stations pumped their frequencies with such potency that their broadcasts arced along the contours of the earth, through hills and mountains all but unimpeded, to even rural communities (the places we today call exurbs). Clear channel AM stations (like New York's WFAN and Chicago's WGN today) had no competition on their particular frequencies for hundreds of miles, allowing them to reach hundreds of thousands of households with every broadcast.

Slowly, radio broadcasters cottoned on to the cadence and style of a live broadcast. They began to fill up the empty space between pitches with players' statistics, provided to them on mimeographed sheets reproduced from media guides. Their catchphrases became just as reconstructable as the base-out state on the field. They were indelibly marked into memory.

Slowly, media markets emerged. Regional rivalries heightened as fans followed every play of every game and homer announcers embellished and enlarged the truth. Before there were regional television deals or network-neutrality violating online streaming video websites, a team's radio station provided the crucial link between fans and teams that remains the solitary reason why baseball became America's pastime.

IV.

The beginning of the decline of baseball on the radio was marked by one of baseball's iconic moments. It was one of those giants of broadcasting, the voice of the Giants, Russ Hodges, who penned its first epitaph. On October 3, 1951, Bobby Thomson roped a line drive off Ralph Branca over the left field fence at the Polo Grounds, giving the Giants a ticket to the World Series. Even to someone like me, much too young to have experienced the Shot Heard 'Round the World myself, it sounds more like this:

"There's a long drive--it's gonna be, I believe--THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT!"

Coincidentally, the third game of the three-game tiebreaker was also the first coast-to-coast live broadcast of a baseball game on a different frequency band: VHF television. NBC broadcaster Ernie Harwell's pedestrian call ("It's gone!") goes unremembered. In fact it is a sort of cosmic accident that Hodges's radio call was recorded at all, as a fan happened to record the final few innings to share with a friend.

Even though millions caught the game on the radio, the fact that something so spectacular happened on the live television broadcast made everyone who saw it an instant convert. Brian Biegel, in Miracle Ball (which chronicles his search for the Thomson home run ball) quotes Hall of Fame curator Ted Spencer:

"It was a special moment because it may have been the first thing we saw on TV in our house--1951 was the year we got a TV. I've always talked about it as baseball's first TV event. That home run was played continually all that night. Remember, there's no satellite, there's no twenty-four-hour-a-day news. News was fifteen minutes in those days--6:00 to 6:15 local and 7:00 to 7:15 NBC. But it was all over the place. It was fabulous. I think from that point on, baseball and TV really came together."

Regularly scheduled television programming had begun just four years prior to the Shot Heard 'Round the World. In 1950, just 9.0% of American households had a TV set. By 1951, the number was 23.5%, the largest year-over-year percentage point increase on record. And for all those early adopter households, this was one of the first "event television" moments. While radio remained an important part of baseball broadcasting, it never again held the place it once did.

V.

My experience with baseball on the radio has been very personal. As a young boy (an only child, no less), I would sneak to my family computer, which was the first I had used with a microphone. I would imagine a situation--inevitably the ninth inning and certainly with the bases loaded. Somehow it always seemed that Darren "Dutch" Daulton was at the plate (although on his nights off, John Kruk could pinch hit). Huddled next to the Macintosh SE, I would record myself doing Harry Kalas's home run call over and over again: "Outta heeeeere!" I can only imagine how many other kids have done the same thing (or perhaps some slightly less technological analog) since baseball was first broadcast over AM radio.

I don't dislike baseball on television; of course I enjoy watching it. I enjoy following a game on the computer with Gameday because it allows me the same sort of constructed reality that the radio did. Now that streaming video and audio are available on cell phones and laptops I wonder about the fate of that essential baseball institution, the radio broadcast. We live in a world of blackouts and interrupted coverage, of Joe Buck and Scooter the animated baseball. They spend so much time filling the pauses, and they say so little of much importance, because they really don't have to say anything. The action, after all, is right there to watch on the field. With the recent news that Vin Scully plans to retire after the 2010 season, I worry that we may be witnessing the final years of baseball on the radio.

I hope that the radios--the ones on workbenches and in cars, the ones stowed away in school lockers and backpacks, the ones perched on radiators in bathrooms and high up on the shelf at gas stations--I hope they don't disappear. Because to listen to baseball on the radio is to imagine the game, to imagine yourself there, to imagine the men in the booth. If it dies, I fear we will lose that imagination as well.

----------
Tommy Bennett writes for Beyond the Boxscore. He is a law student living in New York and a lifelong Phillies fan.

Designated HitterMay 14, 2009
Johan Santana's Fast Start in PITCHf/x
By Harry Pavlidis

Johan Santana - have you heard of him? He's pretty good. The man is the ace of the Mets, was the ace of the Twins, and is one of the best left-handers in the game. He does it with a consistent, metronomic delivery that pumps out four difficult pitches.

cfx#lhhrhhmphpfx_xpfx_zdeg
Change-up (CU)1427152127581.27.06.8134.6
Two-seam fastball (F2)102216685692.07.67.8135.7
Four-seam fastball (F4)1992645134792.25.410.2152.1
Slider (SL)58232226084.50.53.6171.3

Notes: PITCHf/x data from Gameday, classifications by the author ("cfx"); data covers 2007 (partial), 2008 and 2009; mph is the average speed at 55 ft. from the back of home plate; pfx_x and pfx_z are the lateral and vertical deviation from the path of a spin-less ball (inches); deg is the angle of the spin axis

flightpaths.PNG

Santana's slider is one of the best in baseball, which is a fine indication of the consistency of his delivery. But that's all old news. What brings me here is to explore Johan 2009. He's off to a great start, even better than years past, which begs a simple question. What's he doing differently? If anything, that is.

It's early, and I'm only looking at games through May 6, so this doesn't include Johan's most recent start. Some trends have emerged that merit watching. That's about all you can do with most early season returns. Keep that in mind.

The biggest change is in pitch selection. Johan is throwing far more four-seam fastballs (or simply "fastballs") and far fewer two-seam fastballs ("sinkers"). Santana also appears to be throwing fewer sliders, a pitch he mostly uses against lefties. His change-up is primarily a gift to right-handed hitters everywhere (the gift of zilch, that is) but got a little extra use against lefties in 2008.

piecharts.PNG

That's a siginficant increase in heaters. Another look is from a four-start moving average of pitch mix.

linegraph-1.PNG

I made sure to include this chart, because, when you squint, you can see a giraffe. But why is he doing this? Santana's four pitches are all above average. The change is one of the best, and both of his fastballs and the slider are solid pitches.

    rv100
CH  -3.7
F2  -1.7
F4  -2.0
SL  -1.5

If you're going to cut back on two pitches, they'd be the sinker and slider. I'm not sure why you would, neither pitch is hurting anyone but Santana's opponents. Breaking it down by season and, for good measure, batter hand, you do start to get the idea that the sinker and slider aren't what they used to be, while the change and fastball may be even better.

runvalues.PNG

It's early, Santana is one of the greats and can beat you a few ways, so I'm not reading too much into this. I'm working with a short season and a partial data set (2007 didn't have full PITCHf/x coverage), too. But he's pitching well, he is throwing more heaters and fewer sinkers, and Santana's change-up is still a world beater.

Harry Pavlidis writes for Beyond the Box Score, The Hardball Times and Out of the Ivy. His own blog, Cubs f/x, feels neglected once in a while.

Designated HitterApril 23, 2009
WAR and Remembrance
By John Walsh

Baseball fans love to argue. Did Dustin Pedroia really deserve the MVP award last year? (After all, he was only 18th in the AL in OPS.) Sure, Manny can hit (can he ever!), but he gives it all back with the glove, right? On the flip side, is Adam Everett, with his fabulous defense, a valuable player? We older folks like to argue about the players of our youth: For example, who had the better career, George Brett or Wade Boggs? In the end, it usually comes down to putting a value on a player, a total value that includes hitting, defense, baserunning and everything else.

Well, Sean Smith -- you know, the guy who does the CHONE player projections -- is putting an end to some of these arguments. What Sean has done, bless his soul, is evaluate players on just about every aspect in which a player contributes to winning. And he's done this for all players going all the way back to the middle of the last century. Bravo, Sean!

So, what are these different aspects of baseball, the important contributions a player can make towards winning? Here's the list:

o batting
o baserunning
o avoidance of grounding into double plays
o defensive range
o catcher defense
o defensive arm for outfielders
o double-play proficiency for infielders

Sean has analyzed over 50 seasons of play-by-play data available at Retrosheet and determined each player's value in the above categories, expressed in runs above or below that of an average player. For the defensive categories, players are compared to the average for that position. I won't go into the methodology for all these categories, you can refer to Sean's explanations here. I do want to mention Sean's Total Zone system, which he uses to measure defensive range. After hitting, defensive range (and catcher defense) is the biggest contribution to a player's value. Total Zone uses Retrosheet play-by-play data to evaluate defensive range for all players of the last 55 years or so. It's a clever system that squeezes just about every bit of information from the play-by-play data, data that is not as complete as modern play-by-play data from professional statistics providers like Baseball Info Solutions or STATS, Inc. See here for more details on Total Zone.

Of, course there's a lot more here than just defense, as you can see in the list above. Now, we've known how to measure baserunning and outfield arm proficiency for a while and the other categories, given the Retrosheet data are treated in a similarl way. The important thing that Sean has done is to 1) put in the dirty work to make all these different evaluations and 2) put them altogether to allow us to get a total picture of player value. Oh, and 3) he's posted it all on the web for all to use (at no charge).

Do you realize how great this all is? I recently wrote an article for the Hardball Times that did an in-depth comparison of Carl Yastrzemski and Manny Ramirez. I got the hitting from baseball-reference.com, defensive range from Sean's own Total Zone system and the outfield arm ratings came from my own work at THT. I couldn't locate comprehensive baserunning information, so I had to work that out (a less complete analysis) on my own. Now, to write that article, I would could do all my "shopping" at Baseball Projection.

Sean then goes a couple of steps further with the data he has compiled. He translates "runs above average" to "runs above replacement", since a player's true value is best measured against a replacement level player. Along the way he gives each player a "position adjustment". Remember when I wrote that range is measured against the average defender at the same position? Well, the position adjustment accounts for the fact that the value of an average fielder is not the same for each position.

The last step is translating runs into wins and, since we are now relative to replacement, these are Wins Above Replacement, or WAR. I've been very brief in describing the system, if you want more info about determining overall player value, I heartily recommend a series of posts at FanGraphs, which goes through the process step-by-step, starting here.

Speaking of FanGraphs, those good folks have been doing similar work. They also produce WAR values for all players, using a different fielding system (known as UZR) and play-by-play data purchased from Baseball Info Solutions. Their data set goes back only a few years, though, so you need to use Sean's WAR database, if you want to look at, I dunno, who really should have won the MVP awards in 1974...

-------------------------------------------------------------

Jeff Burroughs is the guy who, when reciting the names of MVP winners, you always leave off the list. Well, him and Zoilo Versalles, I guess.* It's not that he was underserving of the award, although, he was, as we shall see shortly. It's just that looking back, he doesn't seem like much of a star. He actually was a very good hitter for a few seasons and I'm sure he's not the MVP-winner with the worst career.

*What? You mean, you don't find yourself reciting the names of AL MVP winners? That's strange, I do it all the time. Pennant winners and World Series champs, too. Just don't ask me who the 13th President of the United States was.

Jeff Burroughs in 1974 was probably the best hitter in the American League. The 23-year-old Texas Ranger hit .301/.397/.504, which is even better than it looks, since offensive levels were quite a bit lower 35 years ago. Burroughs finished third in on-base average and slugging percentage and finished among the top ten in just about every important offensive category. He only led the league in one category, but it was the right one for garnering MVP votes: RBI.

We can get an overall measure of Burroughs' hitting by considering the Batting Runs part of the WAR database. Here are the AL leaders for 1974:

 ------------------ ------ --------- 
| Name             | Team | BatRuns |
 ------------------ ------ --------- 
| Jackson_Reggie   | OAK  |      49 | 
| Burroughs_Jeff   | TEX  |      48 | 
| Carew_Rod        | MIN  |      35 | 
| Allen_Dick       | CHA  |      34 | 
| Rudi_Joe         | OAK  |      34 | 
| Yastrzemski_Carl | BOS  |      33 | 
| Bando_Sal        | OAK  |      27 | 
| Tenace_Gene      | OAK  |      27 | 
| Gamble_Oscar     | CLE  |      27 | 
| Grich_Bobby      | BAL  |      27 | 
 ------------------ ------ --------- 

Burroughs is right there with Reggie Jackson at the top of the list. Jackson finished fourth in the MVP balloting, which may be explained by Burroughs' advantage in RBI, 118 to 93. In any case, from a hitting standpoint, Burroughs was certainly not a bad choice for MVP.

But, baseball is more than hitting, of course — how did Burroughs do in the non-hitting categories? Burroughs was not a fast player, at all, so we don't expect him to excel at baserunning, defensive range and avoiding the GDP. But did he at least hold his own? Did the 1974 American League MVP at least approach the average players in the "extra" categories? I'm sorry to report that he did not.

Here's how Burroughs fared in the non-hitting categories:

o Defensive range - Burroughs was 17 runs worse than an average right-fielder. That's the worst range mark of any AL player in 1974.

o Outfield arm - sometimes slow guys have good arms. Not in this case. Burroughs cost his team an additional five runs with an ineffectual throwing arm.

o Baserunning - Two stolen bases and three caught stealings give you an idea of Burroughs' speed. He was also below average in advancing on the basepaths, giving him a net baserunning value of -3 runs.

o GDP - Burroughs grounded into 17 double plays in 1974, a few more than the average batter would have, given the same opportunities. Good for -2 runs.

o Position - it's not his fault, of course, but Burroughs played right field in his MVP year, which is an offense-first position. The adjustment for right fielders is -8 runs.

The 1974 AL MVP was below average in every single non-hitting category for a grand total of -35 runs. Yikes, that negates a good chunk of his batting runs (which was +48, you'll recall). In fact, without considering hitting, Burroughs was the very worst player in all of baseball in 1974 and he was one of only four players who was below average in each of the non-hitting categories. This dude was seriously one-dimensional.

So, who should have won that 1974 AL MVP? Well, if you don't require your MVP to play on a playoff team (Burroughs's Rangers did not make the playoffs), then you could rank MVP candidates according to their overall win value, or WAR:

 ----------------- ------ --------- ------- ----- ------ ------ ---------- ------ 
| Name            | Team | Batting | Range | Arm | BsRn | GIDP | Position | WAR  |
 ----------------- ------ --------- ------- ----- ------ ------ ---------- ------ 
| Grich_Bobby     | BAL  |      27 |     5 |   3 |    5 |   -2 |        4 |  6.9 | 
| Jackson_Reggie  | OAK  |      49 |     0 |  -2 |    0 |    2 |       -8 |  6.7 | 
| Carew_Rod       | MIN  |      35 |    -9 |   2 |    5 |    2 |        4 |  6.6 | 
| Rudi_Joe        | OAK  |      34 |     0 |   3 |    1 |    1 |       -8 |  5.6 | 
| Campaneris_Bert | OAK  |      13 |     6 |   1 |    4 |    1 |        8 |  5.4 | 
| Money_Don       | MIL  |      19 |     0 |   2 |    3 |    0 |        4 |  5.4 | 
| Maddox_Elliott  | NYA  |      19 |     4 |   6 |    4 |   -1 |       -2 |  5.1 | 
| Bando_Sal       | OAK  |      27 |    -4 |   0 |    1 |    0 |        3 |  5.0 | 
| Tenace_Gene     | OAK  |      27 |     4 |   0 |   -5 |   -1 |       -2 |  4.6 | 
| Robinson_Brooks | BAL  |       5 |    14 |   1 |    0 |   -1 |        4 |  4.4 | 
 ----------------- ------ --------- ------- ----- ------ ------ ---------- ------ 
BsRn - baserunning runs
Range - includes catcher defense 
Arm  - includes infield DP rating

For me, it comes down to Bobby Grich, Jackson and Rod Carew. Pay no attention to the 0.3 wins separating these three — no system is accurate enough to distinguish players this close. Grich played a prime defensive position and played it exceptionally well. He won a Gold Glove at second base in '74, and was excellent with the bat and on the basepaths. Reggie, we already saw, was one of the top two hitters in the league, and he hangs on to those batting runs by coming out average in the other categories (except for position adjustment). Carew was top notch in everything except defensive range (he was still playing second base at this point).

In the actual vote, Grich finished ninth and Carew seventh. You might notice the absence of somebody from the above list: Jeff Burroughs, who totaled 4.0 wins over replacement for the season.

-------------------------------------------------------------------

Over in the National League, the voters did not fare much better: they elected Dodger first basement Steve Garvey over several more valuable players. The problem in this case was not neglecting the other categories (although I suspect many writers did so), but rather not doing a good job of evaluating offensive value.

Sean Smith's WAR database rates Garvey as the NL's ninth most productive hitter in 1974:

 --------------------- ------ --------- 
| Name                | Team | Batting |
 --------------------- ------ --------- 
| Schmidt_Mike        | PHI  |      49 | 
| Wynn_Jimmy          | LAN  |      47 | 
| Morgan_Joe          | CIN  |      46 | 
| Stargell_Willie     | PIT  |      46 | 
| Smith_Reggie        | SLN  |      40 | 
| Zisk_Richie         | PIT  |      33 | 
| Bench_Johnny        | CIN  |      32 | 
| Garr_Ralph          | ATL  |      31 | 
| Garvey_Steve        | LAN  |      29 | 
| McCovey_Willie      | SDN  |      28 | 
 --------------------- ------ --------- 

Why did the voters elect Garvey over these other superior hitters? Well, some of these guys were on non-contending teams, including Mike Schmidt, but that doesn't explain why Garvey's teammate Jimmy Wynn finished fifth in the voting (not to mention the Pirates, Reds and Cardinals in the above list).

Garvey batted .312/.342/.469 on the year, with 21 homers and 111 runs driven home. He did not lead the league in any category, though he was Top 10 in several. Here's my take on how he won the MVP: he batted over .300, knocked out 200 hits and had the highest RBI total of players on an NL playoff team (the other being the Pirates). That and the great hair, of course.

Did Garvey do anything in the non-hitting categories to boost his case and vault him over the better hitters in 1974? No, not really. Here are the numbers:

 --------------------- ------ --------- ------- ----- ------ ------ ---------- ------ 
| Name                | Team | Batting | Range | Arm | BsRn | GIDP | Position | WAR  |
 --------------------- ------ --------- ------- ----- ------ ------ ---------- ------ 
| Garvey_Steve        | LAN  |      29 |     0 |   0 |    3 |    2 |      -10 |  4.8 | 
 --------------------- ------ --------- ------- ----- ------ ------ ---------- ------ 

I don't think of Garvey as a speedster, but he was above average in the speed categories of baserunning and avoiding double plays. He was average in defensive range and arm (although he was famous for having a very weak arm), but he takes a -10 run hit for playing first base. An overall WAR value of 5 is nothing to be ashamed of, but Garvey was not among the ten most valuable National League players in 1974:

 --------------------- ------ --------- ------- ----- ------ ------ ---------- ------ 
| Name                | Team | Batting | Range | Arm | BsRn | GIDP | Position | WAR  |
 --------------------- ------ --------- ------- ----- ------ ------ ---------- ------ 
| Schmidt_Mike        | PHI  |      49 |    17 |   1 |    1 |    2 |        4 | 10.0 | 
| Morgan_Joe          | CIN  |      46 |     3 |   1 |    8 |    1 |        4 |  8.8 | 
| Wynn_Jimmy          | LAN  |      47 |    12 |   2 |   -1 |    2 |       -2 |  8.4 | 
| Bench_Johnny        | CIN  |      32 |    11 |  -1 |   -1 |    0 |        9 |  7.5 | 
| Evans_Darrell       | ATL  |      18 |    18 |   2 |    2 |    1 |        4 |  6.8 | 
| Stargell_Willie     | PIT  |      46 |     1 |   1 |   -2 |    0 |       -7 |  6.2 | 
| Rose_Pete           | CIN  |      18 |    15 |   5 |    4 |    1 |       -9 |  6.0 | 
| Smith_Reggie        | SLN  |      40 |     8 |   0 |   -2 |   -3 |       -7 |  5.7 | 
| Cedeno_Cesar        | HOU  |      20 |     4 |   4 |    7 |    1 |       -2 |  5.7 | 
| Oliver_Al           | PIT  |      28 |     6 |  -4 |    6 |   -3 |       -4 |  5.2 | 
 --------------------- ------ --------- ------- ----- ------ ------ ---------- ------ 

Wow, look at the fabulous season that Mike Schmidt had. Best hitter in the league, one of the best defensive players and above average in all the other categories. Achieving a WAR of 10 is no small feat: it has only been done 36 times since 1955.

The fantastic thing about having this WAR database (did I thank Sean for this yet?) is it makes clear just how some very good players end up getting underrated, because a lot of their value comes in the non-hitting categories. Jimmy Wynn, Darrell Evans and arguably Cesar Cedeno fall into this group. Wow, just noticed that Pete Rose had a great year with the glove in 1974.

In case you were wondering, Steve Garvey ranked 14th in WAR in the NL in 1974.

-------------------------------------------------------------------

So, I hope I have given you a flavor for just how useful Sean's WAR database really is. You could use it to answer many, many questions, of course. Which players are underrated because much of their value is in the non-hitting categories? Which players were the most well-rounded or one-dimensional? Who had value because of speed and who despite of a lack of it? Or let's talk about teams: The 1985 Cardinals stole 314 bases — how much impact did their baserunning have on their offense? Were they the best baserunning team of the last half-century? Who were the best defensive teams and the worst?

Oh, the mind reels at the possibilities. All the numbers are there, waiting to be looked at. Thank you, Sean.

John Walsh is a regular contributor to the Hardball Times. He welcomes comments via email.

Designated HitterApril 16, 2009
Precisely Inaccurate
By Eric Walker

Perhaps the widest and deepest pitfall lying in wait for any who deal in numerical analyses is forgetting the distinction between precision and accuracy. If I state that Team X's opening-day first pitch was delivered at 1:07:32 pm, I am being quite precise; but if in fact it was a night game, then the statement that the pitch was made sometime between 7:35 and 7:40 pm, though far less precise, is far more accurate.

It is all too easy to be hypnotized by the ability to calculate some metric to a large number of decimal places into believing that such precision equates to accuracy. As a case in point, let us look over the concept of "park factors". It is undoubtable that ballparks influence the results that players achieve playing in them, and in many cases--"many" both as to particular parks and as to particular statistics--those influences are substantial. Park factors are intended as correctives, numbers that ideally allow inflating or deflating actual player or team results in a way that neutralizes park effects and give us a more nearly unbiased look at those players' and teams' abilities and achievements. So much virtually everyone knows.

The idea behind the construction of park factors, stated broadly, is to compare performance in a given park with performance elsewhere. As an example, a widely used method for educing park factors for a simple but basic metric, run scoring, is the one used by (but not original to) ESPN. The elements that go into it are team runs scored (R) and opponents' runs scored (OR) at home and away, and total games played at home and away.

           (Rh + ORh) ÷ Gh 
  factor = ───────────────
           (Ra + ORa) ÷ Ga

That comes down to average combined (team plus opponents) runs scored per game at home divided by the corresponding figure for away games. Let us see what some of the things wrong with that basic approach are, and if we can improve on it.

A "park factor" is supposed to tell us how the park affects some datum--here, run scoring. Perhaps the most obvious failing of the ESPN method is made manifest by the simple question compared to what? In the calculation above, run scoring at Park X is being compared to run scoring at all parks except X. Thus, each park for which we calculate such a factor is being compared to some different basis: the pool of "away" parks for Park X is obviously different from the pool of "away" parks for Park Y (in that X's pool includes Y but excludes X itself, while Y's includes X but excludes Y itself). Now that rather basic folly can be fairly easily corrected for; let's call the average combined runs per game at home and away RPGh and RPGa, respectively. Then, if there are T teams in the league,

                        RPGh 
  factor = ───────────────────────────────
           {[RPGa x (T - 1)]   [RPGh]} ÷ T

But there remain considerable problems, the most obvious being that the pools are still not identical, in that schedules are not perfectly balanced: Teams X and Y can, and probably do, play significantly different numbers of games in each of the other parks. Even if we throw out inter-league data, which is especially corrupt owing to the variable use of the DH Rule, we still have differing pools for differing teams, at least by division (and possibly even within divisions, owing to rainouts never made up). Well, one thinks, we can see how to deal with that: we would normalize away data park by park, then combine the results, so the "away" pool would, finally, represent the imaginary "league-average park" against which we would ideally like to compare any particular park's effects.

Let us remain aware, however, before we move on, that there are yet other difficulties. We have been using the simple--or rather, simplistic--idea of "games" as the basis for comparing parks' effects on run scoring. But even at that level, there are inequalities needing adjustment, in that the numbers of innings are not going to be equally apportioned among home batters, away batters, home pitchers, and away pitchers, in that a winning team at home does not bat in the bottom of the last inning. There is also the further question of whether innings are the proper basis for comparison. For most stats, the wanted basis for comparison is batter-pitcher confrontations, whether styled PA or BFP. But there are complexities there, too. A batter's ability to get walked, or a pitcher's tendency to give up walks, might seem best based on PAs or BFPs; but higher numbers of walks mean a higher on-base percentage, which means that more batters will get a chance to come to the plate (it is that "compound-interest effect" of OBA that is often not properly factored into metrics of run-generation, individual or team: not only is the chance of a batter becoming a run raised, but the chance of getting that chance is also raised). That will increase run scoring in a manner that a metric measured against PAs will not fully capture. And there are yet other questions, such as whether strikeouts should be normalized to plate appearances or to at-bats.

But for our purposes here--getting a grand overview of the plausibility of "park factors"--such niceties, while of interest, can be set aside. Let's look at the larger picture. Let's say we want to get a Runs park factor for Park X. We have seen that we need to use normalized runs per game on a park-by-park basis if we are to avoid gross distortions from schedule imbalances and related factors. How might that look for a real-world example? Let's take, arbitrarily, San Francisco in 2008. Here are the raw data:

Walker%201.png

And here are the consequent paired raw factors:

Walker%202.png

But, because we have used a particular park for these figurings, all those numbers are relative to that park. What we want are numbers relative to that imaginary "league-average" park. For example, if we had chosen the stingiest park in the league, all the factors would be greater than 1; had we chosen the most generous, all the factors would be under 1. But all we have to do is average the various factors--in which process we assign the park itself, here San Francisco (I refuse to use the corporate-name-of-the-day for that or any park), a value of 1, since it is necessarily identical to itself--and then normalize the factors relative to that average. When we do that, we get what ought to be the runs "park factor" for each National-League park relative to an imaginary all-NL average park:

Walker%203.png

The average is not exactly 1.000 owing to rounding errors, but it's close enough for government work. If we sort that assemblage, it looks like this:

Walker%204.png

But before we jump to any conclusions whatever about those results, let's ponder this: they were derived from data for one park, one team. Yet, if the methodology is sound, we ought to get at least roughly the same results no matter which park we initially use. Imagine a Twilight-Zone universe in which the 2008 season was played out in some timeless place where each team played ten thousand games with each other team, yet still at their natural and normal performance levels as they were in 2008. Surely it is clear that we then could indeed use any one park as a basis for deriving "park factors" since, in the end, we normalize away that park to reach an all-league basis. In that Twilight Zone world, any variations from using this or that particular park can only be relatively minor random statistical noise. San Francisco is to Los Angeles thus, and San Francisco is to San Diego so, hence Los Angeles is to San Diego thus-and-so (in a manner of speaking). So what do we see if we try real calculations with real one-season data? Let's continue with the National League in 2008. Shown are the "park runs factors" for each park as calculated from each of the other parks as a basis. If the concept is sound, the numbers in each row across ought to be roughly the same. Ha.

park%20factor.png

Well, now we know something, don't we? This just doesn't work. But it's not the methodology. Nor is it the various minor factors we saw earlier: those don't produce 3:1 and greater spreads in estimation. No, what we are dealing here, plain and simple, is the traditional statistical bugaboo--an inadequate sample size. Here is a possibly instructive presentation: the averaged run-factor values from that table above compared to what the simplistic ESPN formula yields:

Walker%205.png

Instructive, indeed. The agreement is not perfect, as we would not expect it to be. The "average" column is a little better than the ESPN column because it allows better for the differing numbers of games on the schedule, but by using the average for each park of the values derived from all the other parks we are approximating the ESPN method.

The entire point of this lengthy demonstration has been to lift the lid off those nice, clean-looking, precise park-effect numbers to show the seething boil in the pot. The end results are not totally meaningless: we can say with fair credibility that San Diego's is a considerably more pitcher-friendly park than Colorado's, and that the Mets and the Marlins were playing in parks without gross distorting effects. But to try to numerically correct any team's results--much less any particular player's results--by means of "park factors" is very, very wrong.

But wait, there's more! (As they say on TV.) If the problem is a shortage of data, why not simply expand the sample size? Use multi-year data? That would be nice, and useful, were no park changed structurally over a period of some years. But consider: not even counting structural changes, in the last ten seasons (counting 2009), a full dozen totally new ballparks have come on line. When one considers that pace, plus the changes (some even to a few of those new parks), it becomes painfully obvious that trying multi-year data is as bad or worse. Even for a particular park that might itself not have been at all changed for many years, there remains the issue that the standard of comparison--that imaginary league-average park--will have changed, probably quite a lot, over that time, owing to changes in the other real parks. So we can't use multi-season values, and single-season values are comically insufficient for anything beyond broad-brush estimations, estimations more qualitative than quantitative.

I should point out that none of this is today's news. In 2007, Greg Rybarczyk at The Hardball Times noted that the home-run "factor" for the park in Arizona was 48 in one season and 116 in the next. Back in 2001, Rich Rifkin at Baseball Prospectus remarked that "Unfortunately, it is problematic to average out a park factor over more than a few years because the conditions of one or more of the ballparks in a league change. New stadiums are built, existing stadiums change their dimensions, and abnormal weather patterns have an impact." (Regrettably, the next sentence was "Nonetheless, a 10-year sample is likely to be more accurate than a one-year accounting.") Probably the defining essay on the subject is the 2007 paper titled "Improving Major League Baseball Park Factor Estimates", by Acharya, Ahmed, D'Amour, Lu, Morris, Oglevee, Peterson, and Swift, published in the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective. But, justifiably proud as they are of their improved methodology, even they concluded that "Unfortunately, the lack of longer-term data in Major League Baseball . . . makes it extraordinarily difficult to assess the true contribution of a ballpark to a team's offense or defensive strength."

Precisely accurate.

Eric Walker has been a professional baseball analyst for over a quarter-century. His paper "Winning Baseball", commissioned by the Oakland A's for the purpose, first instructed Billy Beane in the concepts later called "Moneyball"; Walker has also authored a book of essays, The Sinister First Baseman and Other Observations. Walker is now retired, but maintains the HBH Baseball-Analysis Web Site.

Designated HitterMarch 26, 2009
As They See 'Em: A Fan's Travels in the Land of Umpires
By Bob Timmermann

Back in 1988, in an attempt to make a little extra money during graduate school at UC Berkeley, I tried out to be an umpire for intramural softball. We were given a brief instruction on what to do and a mock game was set up as a tryout.

I was working first base and there was a grounder hit to the second baseman. I tried to remember where I was supposed to stand (about 15 feet behind the bag at a 45 degree angle to either side depending upon whether or not the throw was coming from the left or right side of the infield). The ball was hit... somewhere... and I ran to stand in position. Except I stood near the pitcher in the middle of the play. And then I tripped over my own feet and fell over. I found other part-time employment.



Bruce Weber, a New York Times reporter, had a bit more success when he visited the Jim Evans Umpire School back in 2005 and he ended up writing an interesting book about the lives of umpires, both minor and major leaguers, in his As They See 'Em: A Fan's Travels in the Land of Umpires (Simon and Schuster, $26).



Starting with the bizarre world of umpire school (one student's employer told him "they have a school for that?"), where prospective umpires are put through drill after drill to get them to see a game as an umpire does, instead of as a fan. Weber also has some interesting stories about how umpires are drilled in how to argue with managers and players, and even more importantly, how to take off their mask without having their cap fall off. The latter is extremely important it turns out, although if more umpires start using the hockey style masks, that arcane art may disappear.

Like players, umpires are taught where to position themselves and how to anticipate plays. The most common time you will see an umpire out of position is when a player does something completely unexpected, such as throwing to the wrong base. After all, if the player shouldn't throw to a certain place, why should they be in position to cover a situation caused by a player's mental error.



As Weber points out, umpires are part of baseball that has no constituency that likes it. Players and managers don't like umpires, and umpires like to call players "rats." Front offices don't like umpires. Even the Commissioner's Office, which employs umpires, really doesn't like them. Former Commissioner Fay Vincent says that teams view umpires like they were bases, just pieces of equipment that you have to have to play the game.



One of the hardest things Weber faced in writing his book was getting people to talk to him. Players and managers generally didn't want to speak to him because they feared payback from umpires. Even Earl Weaver, long out of the game, wouldn't speak to Weber about umpires. Umpires didn't want to speak too much out of turn because they feared for their job security.

Umpires who graduate at the top of their classes at one of the two umpire schools (Harry Wendlestedt operates the other one), are given jobs in Rookie or Short-season A leagues as parts of two-man crews who drive hundreds of miles between cities and stay in motels that often appear as if they have hourly rates. MLB views minor league umpiring as "seasonal work" so the pay is low, sometimes around $800 per month. It's a job you have to love somewhat because most people could make better wages at McDonald's.

For the privileged few who make it to the majors (there are 68 full-time MLB umpires), the job becomes even more tense. Every call is scrutinized and there is nothing positive that an umpire can do. They can only screw up.



Since an MLB umpire's job is so coveted, Weber could only get a few umpires to speak to him on the record and even some were not entirely forthcoming. The disastrous mass resignation plan of 1999 has left deep wounds among the corps of umpires. Interestingly, Weber points out that even though umpires were no longer separated by league at the time, the battle lines in that dispute split along AL-NL lines, with the AL umpires (who long felt that they were below the NL in the pecking order) taking the opportunity to assert leadership in a new union.

I found the best parts of the book when Weber goes into some detail about the mechanics of umpiring. It's one part of baseball that few people seem to care about, unless they think an umpire screwed up. Then people are experts on the matter.



For example, when there is a bunt play going on and the defense puts on "the wheel" play, watch the umpires. They don't move. They have to watch the bases. But if there is a ball hit down the left- or rightfield lines, the umpires will wheel around, while the infielders will generally stay by their bases to make a play on a runner or the batter-runner. (If you want to be an umpire, learn to say "batter-runner," "ball-strike indicator," and don't let anyone call you "Blue.") Umpires also have responsibilities to make sure that all the runners touch their bases and it's a subtle skill that they pick up over time.



Weber also gets umpires to explain how pitchers like Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine get seemingly wider strike zones than other pitchers. Briefly, it's because those pitchers have such good control that they can keep placing the ball further and further on the corner of the strike zone. And then they are able to work inside and outside the edge until the outside edge of the strike zone gets wider because of the umpire's perception of where the pitches go. Maddux and Glavine in a sense have earned bigger strike zones because of their skill, and not just because of their reputation.



One thing that did surprise me is how open umpires were to technological improvements in the game. Replay review of home runs was welcomed because the umpires know how difficult some parks were for making those calls. It's likely that in 2009, umpires will err on the side of calling a ball in play rather than a home run because it is simpler to remedy that call with replay rather than the other way around.



The final chapter of the book includes interviews with umpires who have made some of the most controversial calls in recent history: Larry Barnett (who didn't call interference on Ed Armbrister in the 1975 World Series, despite Carlton Fisk's protestations), Doug Eddings (of the 2005 ALCS call involving A.J. Pierzynski and Josh Paul and the dropped third strike), Richie Garcia (of Jeffrey Maier fame), Tim McClelland (who was the umpire for the George Brett Pine Tar Game and The Did Matt Holliday Touch The Plate Game), and Don Denkinger (1985 World Series Game 6, bottom of the 9th).

Each umpire gets a chance to explain what they did and didn't see or what they did or didn't do. Denkinger freely admits blowing the call on Jorge Orta, but explains how it came about. But that will likely not satisfy Cardinals fans. Some of them still want blood 24 years after the fact.



Weber wants fans to have a greater appreciation for the work that umpires do. The umpires are far from a perfect lot. They are profane. They are sexist (the few female umpires who have been in the minors were treated horribly). They aren't there to make the fans or players happy. They are at games to keep them under control. It's a job that not many people have the ability or temperament for. But those that do it, do care about doing their jobs well. Nevertheless, I predict plenty more complaining about umpires this year from just about everybody. It's one of baseball's constants.



From the benches, bleak with people, there went up a muffled roar,

Like the beating of the storm waves on a worn and distant shore.

"Kill him! Kill the umpire!" shouted someone in the stands,

And it's likely they'd have killed him had not Casey raised his hand.


- From "Casey at the Bat" by Ernest Lawrence Thayer, 1888

Bob Timmermann, formerly of The Griddle, is a senior librarian for the Los Angeles Public Library and runs One Through Forty-Two or Forty-Three.

Designated HitterMarch 25, 2009
A Long Time Ago In A Galaxy Far Away. . .
By John Brattain

[Editor's note: John Brattain, a writer for The Hardball Times, Baseball Digest Daily, and his own blog Ground Rule Trouble, and a sincere friend of Baseball Analysts, passed away on Monday due to complications from heart surgery. John, who is survived by his wife Kelly and two daughters, was 43 years old. Known as "The Bones McCoy of THT" at the Baseball Think Factory, his signature line was "Best Regards, John." In sympathy and as a tribute to John and his family, we present his guest column — a terrific piece about Robert Lee "Indian Bob" Johnson — from December 22, 2005. Best Regards, John. - Your Pals at Baseball Analysts.]

* * *

One of the great oddities in baseball is how we perceive players. If a player does one or two things spectacularly well, he ultimately ends up being better regarded than players who do a lot of things well. Of recent vintage was 1998 and 1999 when home run behemoths Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa got all the ink over players like Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr. Earlier in the decade in Canada RBI man Joe Carter had a higher profile than Larry Walker. Or, if you wish to go back to the 1970's and 1980's, you'll find more casual fans have heard of Dave Kingman over Dwight Evans.

For that matter, don't you find it odd that Tim Salmon never went to an All-Star Game? Not one.

Bill James said in his book Whatever Happened To The Hall of Fame--The Politics Of Glory that players who do one or two things well tend to be overrated while those who do a lot of things well tend to be underrated.

Today we're going to talk about an historically underrated player. He didn't have one ability that defined him but didn't have a single hole in his game: he could hit, hit with power, run, field and throw. Baseball-Reference has tests that involve Black Ink and Gray Ink. Black Ink describes how often a player led the league in some statistical category; Gray Ink describes how many times he finished top ten in the league. This player has two points of black ink but 161 points of gray ink.

In other words, he was never the best, but consistently among the best.

We're talking about Robert Lee "Indian Bob" Johnson.

Johnson was born in Oklahoma in 1906, and his family soon moved to Tacoma, Washington. He left home in 1922 at age 15 and began his baseball career with the Los Angeles Fire Department team. Because Johnson was part Cherokee, he was subjected to the nickname "Indian Bob," just as other players of Native American ancestry had similar epithets foisted upon them in this era.

Johnson was soon playing semi-professional ball. When his brother, Roy Johnson, became a professional, he felt buoyed. He said, "When Roy became a regular with San Francisco in 1927 I knew I could make the grade in fast company. I had played ball with Roy and felt I was as good as he was."

However, Johnson failed trials with San Francisco, Hollywood, and Los Angeles. He did not play professionally until Wichita of the Western League signed him in 1929. Johnson played in 145 games at two levels and batted .262 with 21 HR while slugging .503. After again hitting 21 HR (in just over 500 AB) the following season in Portland, he went to spring training with the Philadelphia A's but didn't make the roster due to his inability to hit the curveball. Over the next two seasons in the minors, Johnson batted a combined .334 with 51 HR while slugging .567 and showing both patience at the plate and a powerful throwing arm in the outfield.

Opportunity knocked in 1933 as Connie Mack sold off veteran Al Simmons to the White Sox leaving Johnson and Lou Finney to battle for the leftfield job in spring training. Johnson won the job and had an excellent freshman season at age 27...

 AVG/ OBP/ SLG  Runs 2B 3B HR RBI OPS  RCAA
.290/.387/.505  103  44  4 21  93  134   37

...and was generally considered the league's finest rookie.

Johnson would quickly prove that 1934 was no fluke. On June 16th, the A's and White Sox played a twin bill. After losing the opener 9-7, the A's come back to win game two 7-6. Johnson went 6-for-6 with two home runs (both off Whit Wyatt), a double, and three singles. Four days later, he hit his 20th round tripper of the season against the Browns giving him the league lead (he finish fourth). He also enjoyed a 26-game hitting streak. After two fine seasons, Johnson was beginning to get recognition as he was named the starting left fielder of the American League All Star team in 1935. Johnson also finished fourth in the loop in home runs for the third time in his first three seasons and enjoyed his first 100 run/100 RBI season (he had topped 100 runs in both 1933 and 1934).

Despite turning 30 in 1936, Johnson kept right on raking and showed a little extra speed on the base paths, hitting a career high 14 triples. In both 1936 and 1937, he ripped 25 HR driving in 100 runs despite not getting 500 AB in '37; of interest, on August 29 he again victimized the White Sox in a doubleheader as the A's set a new AL record in the opener of a twin bill by scoring 12 runs in the opening frame, six of which were driven in by Johnson. After four years in the majors, other aspects of Johnson were becoming known around the league. Johnson was a bit of a practical joker, and it was in 1937 when Yankees' HOF second baseman Tony Lazzeri pulled a prank on him, knowing he would probably appreciate the joke.

Lazzeri doctored a ball over the course of two weeks by pounding it with a bat, soaking it in soapy water, and rubbing it extensively with dirt and finally coating it with white shoe polish to make it look like new. Bill James described it as a ball that was "as dead as Abe Lincoln." It was so heavy and lifeless that it would plop down harmlessly once struck with a bat.

Lazzeri sprang his joke on September 29 long after the Yanks had clinched the pennant. During an inning in which Johnson was due to bat, he ran out to second base with the gag ball in his pocket. When Johnson stepped into the batter's box, he trotted out to the mound and switched balls with Yankee southpaw Kemp Wicker. Wicker grooved Lazzeri's "mushball" down the pipe and Johnson took a mighty cut and hit it on the screws. However, rather than hitting a prodigious moonshot, the ball plopped harmlessly foul behind the plate while a perplexed Johnson stood there wondering just what the hell happened while the other players and the crowd burst into laughter.

Johnson continued to get better as he aged as he put together his best two seasons at 32 and 33, topping 110 runs/RBI both years while batting at least .300/.400/.500. On June 12, 1938, Johnson was a one-man wrecking crew against the St. Louis Browns, hitting three bombs (and a single) and driving in all eight runs.

1938 and 1939

 AVG/ OBP/ SLG  Runs  2B 3B HR RBI OPS  RCAA
.325/.422/.553  229   57 18 53 127  146   95

Johnson was also developing the reputation of being an athletic fielder. He lead the AL in assists twice (in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, the best outfield arm of the 1940's is said to be either Johnson or Dom DiMaggio and he was also 4th all-time in outfield assists per 1000 innings) and also filled in occasionally at second and third base (poorly it should be added). He was named to the AL All-Star team both years.

Johnson finally began to show the effects of age during his age 34 and 35 seasons and started to lose some bat speed. Connie Mack even felt the need to give his star slugger time off from covering the expansive left field pasture at Shibe Park, playing him 28 games at first base in 1941. He still had power and a sharp batting eye and remained a potent RBI man, topping 100 RBI in both 1940 and 1941--the latter his seventh straight season over the century mark.

Johnson's power started to wane in 1942 as he suffered through his worst season statistically to that point in time, failing to hit 20 HR or 90 RBI for the first time in his career. However, part of this was attributable to the fall of offense across the board due largely to players enlisting in the military for WWII. His OBP and SLG marks were still good for top 10 finishes in the Junior Circuit and good for fifth in MVP voting. After continually clashing with Mack over pay, the manager finally said goodbye, sending him to the Washington Senators for third sacker Bob Estalella and Jimmy Pofahl. Baseball Almanac notes that this was the only time in baseball history where a player who led his team in RBI for seven straight years was traded.

Johnson lasted one year with the Senators where age and huge Griffith Stadium all but neutered his power as he slugged a career low .400, and for the first and only time in his career he failed to hit at least 10 home runs (7). He was sold to the Boston Red Sox by Griffith who later regretted the move. The diluted war-time talent in the majors coupled with Fenway Park's hospitable climate for right-handed hitters allowed Johnson to finish out his major league career in style. In a season which either spoke highly of Johnson's ability at age 38 or spoke poorly of the level of war-time talent left in the majors by 1944--*cough* Browns win the pennant...Browns win the pennant *cough*--Johnson enjoyed his finest statistical season (including hitting for the cycle on July 6):

 AVG/ OBP/ SLG  Runs  2B 3B HR RBI OPS  RCAA
.324/.431/.528   106  40  8 17 106  174   61

Still, a lot of other fine players also played through the war years including HOFers Paul Waner, Chuck Klein, and Joe Medwick and didn't play as well as Johnson. Further, he was able to play 142 games in left field and enjoyed his first season on a team .500 or better since his rookie year as the Red Sox finished 77-77. For his efforts he was named to his seventh All Star team and finished 10th in MVP voting. As World War Two dragged on to 1945, Johnson was able to enjoy one last moment in the major league sun. He played 140 games in left field and provided the Red Sox with 82 runs created (AL left fielders averaged 67 RC in 1945), which earned him his eighth and final All Star nod. With the war over, Johnson pushing 40, and the return of Ted Williams, the Red Sox and Johnson parted company and he continued his career with the Milwaukee Brewers in the American Association.

Despite his advanced athletic age, Johnson managed to hit .270 with 13 HR and a .456 SLG in 94 games. He moved on to Seattle of the Pacific Coast League for the next two years, batting .292 with 35 doubles, 12 HR and a .441 SLG in 487 AB. Johnson, now 44, went home to play for and manage the Tacoma Tigers in the Western International League where he wielded a potent bat, hitting .326 with 13 doubles, five homers and a .463 SLG in 218 AB. He didn't play in 1950 but resurfaced briefly in Tijuana the following year at age 46. Johnson batted .217 in 21 games, then hung up his spikes for good.

So how do we measure Johnson's career? He probably missed being a Hall of Famer by a whisker. Johnson was hurt perceptually due to playing on second-division teams never reaching the World Series or even coming particularly close to one. He was also overshadowed by all-time great outfielders like Joe DiMaggio and Williams. Further, he finished his career during the second World War. Also working against him was his consistently high level of play; his OPS never going higher than 174 or dropping below 125 and always provided above-average offense for his position. He never had an eye-popping, jaw-dropping season that nets players MVP awards. He is also perceived by many to be the equivalent of the Phillies fine outfielder of the 1940's and 1950's, Del Ennis.

In short, he was invisible.

However, when we examine his record, he fits right in with four contemporary outfielders who are in the Hall of Fame and three of whom--like Johnson--finished their careers during WWII: Earl Averill, Klein, Medwick, and Paul Waner.

Player              AVG   OBP   SLG Runs   HR  RBI  OPS  RCAA* 
Bob Johnson        .296  .393  .506 1239  288 1283   138  413 
Earl Averill       .318  .395  .533 1224  238 1164   133  391 
Chuck Klein        .320  .379  .543 1168  300 1201   137  409 
Paul Waner         .333  .404  .473 1190  139  957   134  588**
Joe Medwick        .324  .362  .505 1198  205 1383   134  368 
Del Ennis          .284  .340  .472  985  288 1284   117  145

* Runs Created Above Average is a counting stat
**Waner's career length is the longest of the six players

As mentioned, a lot of folks dismiss Johnson's achievements because of a superficial statistical similarity to Del Ennis. I threw Ennis in here to show that he's not at all comparable to the above group. His HR/RBI totals are similar but he's last in AVG/OBP/SLG, runs, OPS and RCAA. The difference between Johnson and Ennis' respective levels are about the same as Rusty Greer (120 OPS /149 RCAA) and Chipper Jones (141 OPS /429 RCAA); nobody suggests that Greer and Jones are similar as hitters. In the chart above, we can see how close Johnson's level of play was to Hall of Fame quality. His eight All Star selections reflects the high regard contemporaries viewed Johnson. After Al Simmons was sold to the White Sox, Johnson all but became the Athletics offense. During his ten years with the A's, the team created 7612 runs. Johnson was responsible for 1162 (15.26%). The roster over that ten years were -420 RCAA while Johnson had 317 RCAA.

Although never topping statistical lists, Johnson was consistently among the leaders. From the period 1930-50, Johnson was tied for second in doubles (396), eighth in triples (95), third in home runs (288), third in runs (1239), second in RBI (1283), sixth in OBP (.393), sixth in SLG (.506), and fifth in OPS (.899). Here are the top ten finishers in RCAA (totals accumulated before 1930 and after 1950 are not counted):

1.    Ted Williams                908   
2.    Joe DiMaggio                695   
3.    Babe Ruth                   460   
4.    Bob Johnson                 413   
5.    Charlie Keller              394   
6.    Earl Averill                356   
7.    Tommy Henrich               274   
8.    Jeff Heath                  261   
9.    Al Simmons                  250   
10.   Roy Cullenbine              215

Johnson's RCAA is 73rd all time. When you consider that, along with being a fine fielder with a terrific throwing arm, you begin to appreciate the complete package that was Robert Lee "Indian Bob" Johnson. Truly an All Star in the fullest sense of the word and an unappreciated talent. When you look back at some of the superb players to grace the diamond in the 1930's and 1940's, don't forget about the man that patrolled left field at Shibe Park for a decade.

John Brattain writes for The Hardball Times and his work has been featured at About.com, MLBtalk, Yankees.com, Replacement Level Yankee Weblog, TOTK.com, Bootleg Sports, and Baseball Prospectus.

[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]

Designated HitterMarch 19, 2009
Unicycles and Delusion
By Geoff Young

One option would be to stay away from the games, to stop caring altogether. Another would be to wallow in the hangover of 99 losses and declare all decisions a disaster before they are even conceived, let alone executed. The more radical among you might prefer simply to enjoy a fine day at the ballpark and the respite it brings from more mundane concerns.

Losing sucks, but it beats going to work.

Enough with the pep talk. What's actually happening with the Padres?

There is a theory, backed by data, that Petco Park significantly benefits pitchers. There is another theory that every theory breaks at some point. Well, maybe; I just made that up. The important point is that the current staff is going to crank every faucet in the house at the same time and see if the pipes hold. But it won't be a one-time test; it'll be a way of life.

If you like offense, you go to Coors Field. If you like pitching, you go to Petco Park. If you can't figure out what the heck you like, try watching the Padres this year. Ask yourself exciting philosophical questions such as, "How bad can a pitcher be and still derive benefits from that ballpark?" Perhaps the environment -- when inhabited by the likes of Cha Seung Baek, Kevin Correia, and Josh Geer -- will collapse. It could be that both Petco Park and the rotation will be annihilated when they collide. I'm not saying it's likely, but you have been warned.

Silk Print Shirts and Bowlers

On the bright side, Jake Peavy and Chris Young are still here for now. Peavy is very outspoken and Young is very tall. If baseball doesn't work out for them, they would make a great comedy team. I have visions of Peavy cracking wise and Young playing the straight man. Maybe they could solve murder cases together and have a boss who can't abide by Peavy's behavior but who can't afford to part with him either. Peavy would wear silk print shirts and Young would don a bowler. Wackiness would ensue, probably over some minute misunderstanding.

Meanwhile, the bullpen is going to get a lot of work. That is thrilling if your name is Chris Britton or Mark Worrell, and you've always wanted to pitch in the big leagues. It is thrilling also if you are a fan. I am obligated here to mention that an old definition of "thrill" is "To perforate by a pointed instrument; to bore; to transfix; to drill."

I didn't say it would be fun. I said it would be thrilling.

Amusingly, and a point that is missed by many, the strength of this team will continue to be the offense. It will be disguised by Petco Park, of course, but Brian Giles will get on base, Adrian Gonzalez will mash, and Chase Headley will have worked through his awkward phase -- at the plate, at least; defense is a different story. Pray for everyone's health when the ball is hit his way. It may not help, but at least you'll feel proactive.

Like a Slow Corey Patterson

Kevin Kouzmanoff puts another theory to the test. Seven men have struck out 130 times or more in a season while drawing 25 walks or fewer (arbitrary points, but you get the idea):

Bo Jackson, 1988, age 25: .246/.287/.472, 25 BB, 146 SO
Cory Snyder, 1989, age 23: .215/.251/.360, 23 BB, 134 SO
Alfonso Soriano, 2002, age 23: .300/.332/.547, 23 BB, 157 SO
Corey Patterson, 2002, age 22: .253/.284/.392, 19 BB, 142 SO
Jeff Francouer, 2006, age 22: .260/.293/.449, 23 BB, 132 SO
Kevin Kouzmanoff, 2008, age 26: .260/.299/.433, 23 BB, 139 SO
Carlos Gomez, 2008, age 22: .258/.296/.360, 25 BB, 142 SO

We can learn two things from this: First, do not name your kid Cor(e)y. Second, it's easier to get away with these things if you have football in your hip pocket as a backup plan. Sorry, did I say hip? My bad.

Oh, you were looking for a useful lesson. Okay, here's one: If you are not Alfonso Soriano, don't attempt this strategy.

The stupid part is I actually think Kouzmanoff can hit. But that's just from watching him; the numbers make my head explode. It's like the tired old saw, "I need that like I need a slow Corey Patterson." And if that isn't a tired old saw, it should be.

Irresistably Immovable

The shenanigans aren't limited to on-field activities either. Matt Vasgersian hopped in his El Camino of the Imagination (with apologies to Carl Sagan and anyone who lives in Missouri) and schlepped off to Jersey to do the MLB Network thing.

Ownership is changing hands as we speak. John Moores, who once rescued San Diego from Roseanne Barr's former boss, is now being rescued by Manny Ramirez's former agent. As they say, the dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had.

Payroll isn't expected to change. Neither is fan cynicism or disinterest. Weather will continue to be numbingly benign, and most of us will have our health. One hundred losses is a possibility, as is a World Championship. Other possibilities include, but are not limited to:

  • Completing a triathlon
  • Winning the lottery
  • Flying to the moon
  • Getting trapped in an oil painting

Be ready. Lack of preparation is not an excuse.

Still, I find the irresistible/immovable nature of this year's pitching staff at Petco Park... irresistible. Hey, we all have our perversions -- some are more interesting than others.

I want to see how far a Geer fastball will travel in that ballpark. I want to watch Headley ride around on his unicycle in left field. I want to bask in the glow of my own delusion.

I want to hang out and enjoy the games, no matter how hard anyone tries to kill my buzz with their so-called "reality." Is that so much to ask? Well, is it?

Geoff Young covers the San Diego Padres at Ducksnorts, and is a regular contributor to Baseball Daily Digest and Hardball Times. He has written three books about the Padres, the most recent being the Ducksnorts 2009 Baseball Annual, published in March 2009. Geoff lives in San Diego with his wife and two dogs.

Designated HitterFebruary 19, 2009
Groundballers
By Baseball Analysis at Tufts

Last week, we looked at how we can interpret groundball averages and what they tell us about the defensive overshift. Now, we'd like to examine some of the more interesting points in our dataset. Of all left-handed batters with at least 200 grounders since 2002, who had the most success with the worm-burner?

gbavg.jpg

The chart is sorted by groundball average, which for lefties averages out around .225-.230. It is followed by expected groundball average based on pull-to-opposite-field-groundball ratio, speed score, percentage of groundballs to center field, homers per ball in air, and bunts per plate appearance.

Fred Lewis is quite the ballplayer. He has one of the top speed scores in our sample, and according to Pizza Cutter’s speed scores, he was one of the top 35 fastest players in the game last year. But he makes the most of his abilities. Not only can he leg out grounders, but by advanced metrics, he’s an above average left-fielder and baserunner. He stretches hits into triples and is willing to draw a walk to boot. Just wanted to make that observation before we get to...

Land of the Rising GBAVG

Ever notice that all four current Japanese Major League regular position players bat left handed? Though Ichiro Suzuki, Akinori Iwamura, Hideki Matsui, and Kosuke Fukudome all slugged at least 95 points higher in Japan than they have in America, there is one department in which they presumably haven’t suffered since coming overseas. All four players have a strong propensity to reach base via the groundball. Iwamura, Ichiro, and Fukudome all show up on the top 10 list, while Matsui checks in with a .246 groundball average, impressive considering his affliction going the other way. Calculating the difference between their groundball average, and their “expected” groundball average, all four come up in the 20 most “lucky” hitters. However, we wouldn’t attribute their success to luck at all. Ichiro is famous for his unique swing, in which he opens his bottom half and basically is halfway down the line by the time he makes contact. Could this be a method that is taught in Japan? If so, it would probably give someone a much better chance than other lefties of reaching base on grounders. Looking at cherry-picked at-bats, we can say that Iwamura, Matsui, and Fukudome all at times follow similar approaches.

We can estimate that without this skill, over the observed years, Iwamura would have a .260 batting average instead of .280, while Ichiro would be a .310 hitter instead of .330, Matsui .285 instead of .295 and Fukudome .245 instead of .255. This is a remarkable ability. It would be difficult to quantify, but perhaps teams can start timing how long it takes for a batter to get to first following contact. While Matsui has yet to bunt in his career, Ichiro, Iwamura, and Fukudome all get hits on over half their bunt attempts. Perhaps in Japan they emphasize getting down the line, and perhaps in America they should start looking into that. (Cough, Manny, Cough.)

The players we've looked at so far all make the most of their speed and groundball opportunities. But who doesn't? Without further ado...

The Willie Mays Hayes All-Stars

“You gotta stop swingin’ for the fences though, Hayes. All you’re gonna do is give yourself a hernia. With your speed you should be hittin’ the ball on the ground, leggin’ ‘em out. Every time I see you hit one in the air, you owe me twenty pushups.” --Lou Brown (Major League)

Disclaimer: It would be quite a rare instance to find a player who would actually benefit from hitting more grounders than flyballs. We suggest referencing The Hardball Times Baseball Annuals to find specific run values for players' different batted ball types. These are simply players who do a great job reaching base on grounders but fail to do so often.

Chone Figgins: From the right side, it’s acceptable that he doesn't hit many groundballs. Batting righty, he has hit only .230 on grounders over the last six years, while he is also more likely go earn a hit when he gets underneath the ball from that side of the plate than when he does so from the left side. Meanwhile, Figgins not only bats a robust .290 on grounders from his left side but is also very successful bunter. So when Figgins swings for the fences with his career .100 ISO from the left-handed box, know he might be better off legging out grounders.

Iwamura: Aki may have been a 30 homerun a year hitter in Japan, but not anymore, as he is twice as likely to have his groundballs go for hits than his fly balls. His homerun per flyball ratio has decreased to 3.7% this year, and the average true distance of his homeruns has gone down nearly ten feet as well, according to hit tracker. But he’s still a monster when he puts the ball into the turf, except he does so at only a league average rate.

Mark Bellhorn is the final player on this list, and oddly, another 2b/3b combo. Bellhorn may never get another cup of coffee, so it is likely too late for him to change his approach. But it warrants mentioning that he's always been underappreciated in his career due to his strong secondary skills, and he's been able to compile a nice groundball average despite a low groundball percentage.

Curtis Granderson and Brian Roberts could also be on this list, except that they're able to hit however they please and remain successful. Both players hit balls in the air almost twice as often as on the ground, though they hold solid career GB averages in the .265-.275 range. But Roberts consistently hits for decent power, and while Granderson has been excellent at reaching base on ground balls all four full years of his Major League career, he has done a good job of decreasing his groundball percentage as his power has increased--perhaps a conscious decision. Take a look at these graphs:

granderson.jpg

Follow the green lines. As his groundball percentage decreases, his production as measured by wOBA has increased. Though he hit .305 on grounders this year, putting the ball on the ground actually hurt his overall line it appears. He's a better hitter when hitting fewer groundballs, or he hits fewer groundballs to be a better hitter. Either way, he's done a great job improving at the plate

Taking a quick look at righties who weren’t in our dataset: Over the last three years, the only player to have popped up 20% of his fly balls was Eric Byrnes, with a 25.2 infield flyball percentage. As one of the faster players in the game, he could probably use to hit a few more grounders, and he has hit .296 on them since 2002. Carlos Gomez has a similar batted ball profile to that of Byrnes, except without the same type of pop, so he'll either want to develop some muscle or stop racking up 140 strikeouts with a .360 SLG when he might be better off at times pounding the ball into the ground and beating out the throw.

On the reverse end, grounders have been death to Mark Sweeney, Casey Kotchman, and Russ Adams, to the tune of a sub-.200 average, yet they still hit more balls on the ground than in the air.

That's it for our findings on batted ball data. Big thanks to FanGraphs and BillJamesOnline for making this type of data available. And we'd also like to express our deepest gratitude to Rich Lederer for hosting our research.

Leanne Brotsky, David Estabrook, Jeremy Greenhouse, Kimberly Miner, and Steven Smith assisted in writing this article. We would also like to thank Evan Chiachiaro and Dan Rathman, and Anthony Doina who participated in Baseball Analysis at Tufts’ research committee. Any questions can be directed to TuftsBAT@gmail.com.

Designated HitterFebruary 12, 2009
BABIP: Progressing and Regressing Groundball Out Rates
By Baseball Analysis at Tufts

A couple of weeks ago, Rich Lederer asked what variables account for extraordinarily low groundball out rates. So, using a similar method to that which Peter Bendix and Chris Dutton used to find expected BABIP, we dug deeper and ran a regression to find expected average on groundballs.

Intuitively, one would think that faster players with the ability to find holes in the infield have the best success rates on groundballs. As Lederer pointed out, defensive alignments and batter handedness are also variables that will affect groundball average. While infield shifts are difficult to quantify, we still attempted some statistical approaches to analyze their effects. And to account for handedness, we limited our sample to only left-handers or switch-hitters batting lefty. Our sample included 206 players with at least 200 total ground balls since 2002. We then ran a linear regression to find the factors that influence a batter's groundball average.

Five variables were significant at a one percent level in our regression—a ratio of pulled groundballs to opposite field groundballs, the percentage of grounders hit to center field, a speed score developed by Bill James, bunt hits per plate appearance, and homers per ball in air. The R-squared is .4648. Here is the regression output, if you're into that sort of stuff.

The location of groundballs along with the batter’s speed seem to have the most influence on groundball hit rate, confirming our suspicions. Hitting the ball the other way forces a longer throw, and busting it down the line on grounders is probably the most advantageous way a player can utilize his speed. Velocity of groundballs was difficult to account for. Line drive percentage and grounded into double play percentage, which are likely tied with the hardness of a groundball hit, proved insignificant. Many of you might know the split in batted ball hit average is about .715 on liners, .235 on grounders, and .140 on fly balls. Now, we can break that down further with this data. Lefties hit for a lower average on grounders than righties by about 10-15 points. Opposite field grounders and grounders up the middle from lefties go for hits on average about 30% of the time, while pulled grounders go for hits only 15-20% of the time. Interestingly, hitting homeruns has a negative impact on pulled and total groundball average, but is one of the most significant positively correlated variables that go into opposite field average. One guess is that power hitters tend to hit weaker groundballs to the right side when they roll over their wrists. Or perhaps they pull the ball into a shift, which seems to be supplied only to power hitters due to a likely managerial bias. But when these homerun hitters do hit opposite field groundballs, however rarely, they are apparently more likely to go for hits than opposite field grounders from slash hitters.

One of the main reasons we calculated our expected average value was to examine the exaggerated infield shift more closely. In our sample, we came up with nearly 20 players who we believed to have been “overshifted,” a defensive alignment in which the shortstop plays on the second-base side of the bag and the second-baseman goes to short right field. The shift was originally introduced as a way to get Ted Williams out, and it was brought back in vogue to foil Barry Bonds. By comparing a player’s expected average with his actual average, and using several more basic methods, we were able to draw conclusions about the use of the shift. An average significantly greater than the corresponding expected average indicates that our regression model does not account for something affecting the hitter – maybe a defensive shift.

The players whose expected groundball average most exceeded actual groundball average were Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark Teixeira, Adam Dunn, and Jack Cust. Their averages all fell at least 20 points below their expected averages, while Jack Cust’s came up almost 30 points short. With this information, we looked at their traditional BABIPs with men on base and nobody on base as a loose measure to determine when these batters are being shifted, and when they’re not. We should note that the average BABIP with men on is slightly higher than with nobody on, and for pull-hitting lefties, there will be an even greater difference as the first baseman will often have to hold on a runner, opening up the hole between first and second base. Bonds, Palmeiro, and Cust all gained at least 30 extra points of BABIP with men on, and Bonds had a .265 BABIP with nobody on and .338 with men on. Dunn showed little split, while we could not isolate Teixeira’s situational left-handed at-bats from his right-handed at-bats. All of these players pull their groundballs at least six times as much as they hit grounders to the opposite field, and they all have slow speed scores, making them prime candidates to be victims of the shift.

Other players who get shifted and who have averages below their expected averages include: Prince Fielder, Justin Morneau, Mike Jacobs, and Jason Giambi. Giambi’s BABIP has been an astounding 95 points higher with men on than with nobody on.

What was almost as interesting was the list of shifted players whose average exceeds their expected average – potentially meaning the shift is not effective against them. David Ortiz, Carlos Pena, and Travis Hafner all fit into this category. There was no noticeable difference between skill sets of these player and the first group, so some other factors must explain this difference. Perhaps this second group includes hitters who are better at locating their hits against the shift. Ortiz does have a split of 45 points between his BABIP with men on vs. nobody on, so we won’t discount the impact of the shift on him.

Within this group of shifted batters, there were some other noteworthy discoveries. Ryan Howard has an incredibly high pull-to-opposite-field-groundball ratio of 11.875—the largest in our sample—yet his average and expected average were about equal, as both values fell within the .200-.205 range. Given his dramatic pull/opp ratio, we have little doubt that the shift has affected him, so we dug deeper to find the answer. Looking at the MLB.com provided hitting charts, and checking the locations of his groundball outs, there is a cluster of outs in short right field over the last two years, but not prior, meaning the decision to shift him might have been recent. Indeed, in 2005-2006, Howard hit .237 on grounders, and then when the shift came into play regularly in 2007-2008, he hit only .175 on grounders. Also notable were Hafner's and Morneau’s extremely low pull/opp ratios, which were 3.98 and 2.99 respectively. According to this statistic, neither player would be an obvious candidate for the shift – yet both are shifted, and as said earlier, it would appear that the shift is detrimental to Morneau. However, the 3-4 defense applied to Hafner never made much sense, as he has rather moderate pull-to-opposite-field-groundball and groundball-to-flyball ratios.

Finally, we looked for any left-handed batters with high pull percentages, who would therefore be good candidates for the defensive shift. Nate McLouth had a pull/opp ratio of 10.208, but his speed statistic is quite high, explaining why teams probably choose not to shift him. If you’re fielding balls in short right field, you won’t get a fast player out. Nick Swisher’s pull/opp ratio 10.92 yet teams do not shift him. Russell Branyan and David Dellucci are also strong candidates for a shift, but none of these players follow the hulking power hitter profile, so managers don’t think twice about creative ways to get them out.

We ran a logistic regression using a value of one if we had evidence that the player had been shifted and zero if not. It turns out that homerun-per-flyball and groundball-to-flyball ratios have been the most significant factors in determining what players get shifted. Bonds’ expected shift score was one, meaning that he is truly the prototype of shifted players. Pull percentage and intentional walks per plate appearance were also significant at a five percent level, but we believe that opposite field groundball rate should be taken into account as well. Evacuating that side of the infield against a hitter who hits any significant amount of opposite field groundballs is simply giving away hits, no matter how many pulled grounders get taken away. There is a clear managerial bias to shift power hitters, while not taking enough into account batted ball location.

Our study is not perfect. We found no good way to quantify the shift, which would allow us to distinguish between players who receive a full shift and those who receive a partial one, or those who are shifted all the time and those for whom only some teams put on the defensive shift. Nevertheless, our study shows some interesting results. By comparing expected ground ball and actual averages, we believe that the shift had the most significant impact on Bonds, Palmeiro, and Cust, and that it had a surprisingly little impact on batters like Ortiz and Pena. In addition, we suggest that Swisher might be a good candidate to shift, and we suggest that managers make decisions based on evidence rather than player reputation. These are only basic observations, yet they shed some light on the hard-to-quantify defensive shift.

Leanne Brotsky, David Estabrook, Jeremy Greenhouse, Kimberly Miner, and Steven Smith assisted in writing this article. We would also like to thank Evan Chiachiaro and Dan Rathman, and Anthony Doina who participated in Baseball Analysis at Tufts’ research committee. Any questions can be directed to TuftsBAT@gmail.com.

Designated HitterFebruary 05, 2009
2009 Projections with Hit Tracker
By Greg Rybarczyk

Oh, no, not another projection system! Why would someone want to join the logjam of current systems? In no particular order, we have ZiPS, CHONE, Oliver, Marcel, Bill James, PECOTA and no doubt some others I haven’t stumbled across (sorry). All of these systems are designed to tell us how MLB players will perform next season, but none of them can convincingly claim to be more accurate than all the rest. When I look at any particular player’s projections in the various systems, I see a lot of similarity, which makes me suspect there must be some degree of groupthink going on. I believe there is some potential to improve performance forecasting by doing something different.

In the following paragraphs, I will outline a system for forecasting using Hit Tracker, an aerodynamic model for flying baseballs that is well-known for providing accurate home run measurements. I can guarantee that the Hit Tracker system will be different. Better? I won’t be able to say for sure until the 2009 season is over.

Background: How We Forecast Now

Why is it so difficult to forecast a player’s performance accurately? One huge reason is that every one of the current systems for performance projection starts from a set of data — the player’s prior year’s "box score stats" — that is positively riddled with statistical noise (chief among these uncontrolled noise factors are the dramatic differences in ballpark configurations and playing conditions across the 2,430 games played in 30 different parks over the course of six months).

Let’s consider another familiar form of forecasting: weather. In the 19th century, after the invention of the telegraph, weathermen began to form their predictions by first learning the weather "upwind," and then adjusting those measurements to come up with a forecast. "How hot will it be tomorrow? Well, it was 85 degrees today in the state where our weather seems to be coming from, so we’ll start with 85 and then adjust it up or down according to our experience. It’s usually a little hotter there than it gets here, so let’s say 82 degrees…" They didn’t call them "city factors" back then, but they could have.

After computers became available in the mid-20th century, weathermen became meteorologists, and the process of forecasting weather has continued to become more involved and mathematical as the years have gone by. Contemporary meteorologists now monitor a much larger array of parameters, and they feed these lower-order parameters into elaborate computer-based models to arrive at predictions for the higher-order outcomes like temperature, or winds, or precipitation. Thanks to more accurate measurements, and more detailed models, weather forecasts are dramatically more accurate today than those of even only 10 years ago.

In my opinion, baseball forecasting systems resemble the "19th century weatherman" system described above: to forecast something, measure something (well, in baseball we should say "count" something) that has happened already, then adjust this number to predict what hasn’t happened yet. So, to predict a player’s home runs, for example, the starting point is always his prior year’s total for home runs (or perhaps a weighted total from several seasons). From this starting point, various adjustments are applied to arrive at a final projection. Never mind where those home runs were hit, or how far they flew, or how much help or hindrance the weather may have provided them. Just count and adjust.

Starting from last year’s total assigns an equal value to what may in reality be very different events. For example, Jeremy Hermida hit two radically dissimilar fly balls last year, each of which cleared the home run fence: first, a windblown 321 foot homer in San Francisco on Aug. 20th, and second, a 443 foot rocket in Miami on July 19th. In a game context, they count the same, but when we are trying to measure the likelihood of future home runs, we should acknowledge that the outcome of one of those fly balls (the short one) was entirely dependent on its ballpark and weather context, while for the other fly ball, the ballpark and weather were irrelevant to the outcome. The short fly ball could only have become a home run in a park with a very shallow RF fence like AT&T Park, and only with the help of a tail wind. The long one would have been a homer in every park major league baseball has ever been played in, in any wind short of a hurricane blowing towards home plate.

Any system that cannot recognize the difference between two events such as these Hermida home runs cannot hope to consistently generate highly accurate predictions. I don’t mean this as a criticism of anyone who has created a projection system, don’t get me wrong. But I do believe that those systems have reached the limit of their capabilities, with average errors of around 60-70 points of OPS, and any further refinement of these models will probably just chase the statistical noise around in circles.

Something Different

How can we get away from the practice of predicting future outcomes by using prior outcomes? I believe that the key is to consider the lower-level processes that lead to the final result of any particular batted ball. Some of these are the landing point of the hit, how hard the ball was hit, and the physical environment that the ball was hit in. For those batted balls where the physical environment is crucial (i.e. long fly balls), we need to measure the trajectory of the ball, the fence dimensions of the park, and the weather. For the rest of the batted balls, where the physical environment isn’t very important to the final result, we don’t need to.

In Hit Tracker, I have developed a method for analyzing the trajectory of long fly balls and projecting them into each of the 30 MLB ballparks for the purpose of generating a performance forecast. It is my hope that this system will yield more accurate performance forecasts.

How It Works: Steps in the Hit Tracker Forecasting Method

  • Observe all long fly balls hit by a player in the past 1-3 years.
    • A long fly ball is defined as any ball the player hit that might have approached or cleared the fence, if hit in any of the 30 MLB ballparks in any reasonable weather conditions.
    • This very liberal standard is applied to ensure that all the long fly balls are captured. Having a few not-so-deep flies in the data set won’t cause any problems, because if a particular ball turns out to be a flyout in every park, this is equivalent to not including that ball in the analysis.
  • Analyze each long fly ball in its actual weather conditions, to determine its launch characteristics (Speed Off Bat, Horizontal and Vertical Launch Angles, Spin).
  • Note each long fly ball’s original result (2B, 3B, HR, Flyout, etc.).
  • Project each long fly ball into each of the 30 MLB ballparks, in the average weather conditions for that ballpark (calculated over a 5-year period).
  • Note the hypothetical result of each projected fly ball in each ballpark.
    • Balls that fly far enough to clear the fence are judged to be home runs.
    • Balls that hit the fence more than 8 feet above field level are judged to be extra base hits.
    • All other balls are considered to be "catchable," and are analyzed further using a range model.
    • The range model uses standard assumed initial positions of outfielders, a distance vs. time model for an average outfielder, the actual landing point of the ball and the time of flight of the ball to determine if the ball would have been caught.
    • An empirical method was used on approximately 1,000 actual fly balls to determine the 50/50 likelihood boundary between outs and hits, in terms of time and distance from the closest outfielder. This boundary is then used as the evaluation criteria for catchable balls: balls inside the range circle of any outfielder for a given time of flight are flyouts, and balls outside it are extra base hits.
  • For each ballpark, count the net hits and bases for the long fly ball data set:
    • For each ball that was originally a hit, but projected as an out, give a -1 for hits and –X for bases (e.g. for a ball that was originally a short home run to RF in Yankee Stadium, but which projects to be caught in Fenway Park, give -1 hit and -4 bases.)
    • For each ball that was originally an out, but projected as a hit, give +1 for hits and +X for bases (e.g. for a ball that was originally a flyout to LF at Yankee Stadium, but which projects to hit the Green Monster in Fenway Park more than 8 feet up, give +1 hit and (usually) +2 bases.)
    • For each ball that was originally a hit, but which projects to be another sort of hit, give ± X bases (e.g. for a home run to RCF in Shea Stadium that projects to be an extra base hit in Citi Field, give -2 or -1 bases, depending on the speed of the runner, the location of the hit and the time of flight.)
  • Apply the net adjustments to hits and bases for all the long flies to the player’s actual stats for the season in question. Calculate OBP/SLG with the adjustments. This becomes the player’s projection for that ballpark.
  • For projections based on multiple years of long fly balls, apply appropriate weighting factors (e.g. 3-2-1) to the projections for each ballpark.
  • Using the MLB schedule for the season of the projection, create a projection for the player as a member of each team by multiplying their performance averages in each ballpark by a weighting factor proportional to the number of games each team plays in each park.

Case Study: Manny Ramirez

To further illustrate the method, I am going to highlight some of the findings from the Hit Tracker Analysis of Manny Ramirez over the years 2006-08, and his forecast for 2009.

First and foremost, I hope Manny Ramirez re-signs with the Los Angeles Dodgers for 2009, because Dodger Stadium is an absolutely perfect place for him to hit. I am not saying it is perfect for everyone; in fact, Dodger Stadium is a difficult place to hit for average or below average hitters, because its fences are deep in the corners where lesser hitters typically place their home runs. I am saying that Dodger Stadium is perfect for Manny. Manny’s swing, particularly his phenomenal power to center and right-center field, is ideally suited for the dimensions and environmental conditions of Dodger Stadium. I described the unique layout of Dodger Stadium (deep corners, shallow alleys and center field) in detail in my article, "Hit Tracker 2008," which was published in the 2009 Hardball Times Annual earlier this off-season.

At the opposite extreme, Manny’s home from 2000 to the 2008 trade deadline, Fenway Park, has robbed him of a great number of home runs over the years, perhaps as many as 50, as well as many other extra-base hits. Fenway’s very deep right-center and right fields have turned many of Manny’s towering opposite field drives into outs, and its 37-foot high Green Monster has turned many of his blistering drives to left and left-center field into doubles (or even singles).

A popular image exists of the Green Monster adding lots of extra-base hits to a hitter’s total by turning shallow fly balls into wall-scraping doubles, but this hasn’t been the case for Manny: in the three seasons 2006-08, Manny only hit 6 doubles at Fenway that would have been outs at Dodger Stadium. Over the same period, Manny hit 23 flyouts, 5 doubles and 1 triple at Fenway that would have been home runs at Dodger Stadium.

In the first 4 months of 2008, Manny encountered a particularly bad run of luck with his deep fly balls; despite racking up 20 home runs during that time, Manny could have gotten a lot more. Here is a list of Manny’s deep fly balls for the Boston Red Sox in 2008 that were not actually home runs, but which would have been home runs on an average day in Dodger Stadium. Where the weather negatively impacted his fly ball to a significant degree, this is listed as well:

  • April 2, 2008 at Oakland, 407 ft. flyout to deep CF, lost 11 ft. of distance from wind and temperature.
  • April 5, 2008 at Toronto, 387 ft. double to LCF.
  • April 8, 2008 at Boston, 395 ft. triple to RCF, lost 25 ft.
  • April 11, 2008 at Boston, 361 ft. flyout to RF, lost 7 ft.
  • April 17, 2008 at New York Yankees, 395 ft. flyout to CF, lost 3 ft.
  • April 24, 2008 at Boston (7th inning), 383 ft. double to RCF
  • April 24, 2008 at Boston (9th inning), 402 ft. flyout to CF
  • May 5, 2008 at Detroit (2nd inning), 415 ft. double to RCF
  • May 5, 2008 at Detroit (3rd inning), 416 ft. flyout to CF
  • May 6, 2008 at Detroit, 404 ft. flyout to LCF
  • May 7, 2008 at Detroit, 402 ft. flyout to CF
  • May 18, 2008 at Boston, 368 ft. flyout to RF, lost 9 feet
  • May 19, 2008 at Boston, 386 ft flyout to CF, lost 11 feet
  • May 23, 2008 at Oakland, 356 ft. flyout to RF, lost 6 feet
  • June 4, 2008 at Boston, 364 ft. flyout to RF, lost 18 feet
  • July 9, 2008 at Boston, 429 ft double to LCF off top of Monster
  • July 19, 2008 at LA Angels, 378 ft double off RF wall
  • July 27, 2008 at Boston, 410 ft flyout to RCF triangle
  • July 30, 2008 at Boston, 367 ft flyout to LCF, lost 11 ft

Now, to be fair we have to look at the good luck Manny encountered during that same time frame. Here’s the list of Manny’s deep fly balls for the Boston Red Sox in 2008 that were actually home runs, but which would have not have been home runs on an average day in Dodger Stadium (there are 4):

  • May 12, 2008 at Minnesota, 354 ft home run to RF
  • May 27, 2008 at Seattle, 361 ft home run to RF
  • June 1, 2008 at Baltimore, 382 ft home run to RF, got +23 ft help
  • July 8, 2008 at Boston, 384 ft home run to LF, got +32 ft help

That’s a net of 15 balls hit by Manny in the first 4 months of 2008 that had the power to fly out of Dodger Stadium, but which didn’t make it out where Manny actually hit them. Watching the video of these hits, the disbelief and disgust on Manny’s face was apparent after several of his blasts came up short due to deep fences, cold/windy weather or a combination of the two. Once he was traded to LA, those balls started making it out at a much higher rate: Manny connected for 9 home runs in only 80 at-bats in Dodger Stadium in 2008.

Forecast: Manny Ramirez 2009

Manny’s forecast for 2009 is based on analysis of all 248 long fly balls he hit during the 2006, 2007 and 2008 seasons. In 143 games in 2009, Manny should continue to perform extremely well in a Dodger uniform: the Hit Tracker forecast projects him to post the following numbers:

Los Angeles Dodgers: .430 OBP, .641 SLG, 1.071 OPS and 36 home runs (including 21 at Dodger Stadium).

As of the posting of this article, Manny is still a free agent, so here are forecasts for some other teams Manny might sign with:

San Francisco: .428 OBP, .618 SLG, 1.047 OPS, 32 home runs.

NY Mets: .417 OBP, .566 SLG, .983 OPS, 26 home runs.

More Forecasts

Here are the Hit Tracker forecasts for several other MLB players. Some of the projections are based on three years of data (2006-08), while some are based only on one year of data (2008). The three-year forecasts are expected to be more accurate.

Forecasts Based on 2006-08 Data

Jason Bay, Boston Red Sox
Boston: .368 OBP, .501 SLG, OPS .869, 27 HR’s

Adam Dunn, free agent
LA Dodgers: .394 OBP, .587 SLG, .981 OPS, 47 HR’s
Washington: .389 OBP, .555 SLG, .944 OPS, 43 HR’s
NY Mets: .382 OBP, .506 SLG, .888 OPS, 35 HR’s
Atlanta: .387 OBP, .543 SLG, .930 OPS, 41 HR’s
Boston: .392 OBP, .549 SLG, .941 OPS, 39 HR’s

Forecasts Based on 2008 Data Only

Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees
New York Yankees: .420 OBP, .588 SLG, 1.008 OPS, 32 HR’s

Matt Holliday, Oakland Athletics
Oakland: .418 OBP, .563 SLG, .981 OPS, 28 HR’s
San Francisco: .426 OBP, .593 SLG, 1.019 OPS, 32 HR’s
Boston: .420 OBP, .557 SLG, .977 OPS, 25 HR’s
New York Yankees: .422 OBP, .584 SLG, 1.006 OPS, 32 HR’s
New York Mets: .417 OBP, .546 SLG, .963 OPS, 24 HR’s

Nate McLouth, Pittsburgh Pirates
Pittsburgh: .348 OBP, .484 SLG, .833 OPS, 29 HR’s

Validation

In an attempt to validate the Hit Tracker forecasting method, I analyzed the 2007 long fly balls of three players who changed teams during the 2007-08 off-season: Torii Hunter, Aaron Rowand and Jim Edmonds. Using this data, I projected their 2008 results as a member of the teams they ended up with, and compared to their actual performances in 2008.

Torii Hunter

HT Projection as Los Angeles Angel: .325 OBP, .485 SLG, .810 OPS, 25 HR’s
Actual as Los Angeles Angel: .344 OBP, .466 SLG, .810 OPS, 21 HR’s

Slightly off on the home runs, but overall a very good projection.

Aaron Rowand

HT Projection as San Francisco Giant: .373 OBP, .507 SLG, .880 OPS, 25 HR’s
Actual as San Francisco Giant: .339 OBP, .410 SLG, .749 OPS, 13 HR’s

This is terrible, but there is an explanation: on June 6th, Rowand sustained a right quadriceps injury that hindered him the rest of the year. His actual production splits are as follows:

Through June 6th: .396 OBP, .526 SLG, .922 OPS, 23 HR’s (pro-rated for a full year)
After June 6th: .303 OBP, .338 SLG, .641 OPS, 9 HR’s (pro-rated for a full year)

The HT projection matched the pre-injury Rowand reasonably well, considering the small sample size of about 1/3 of a season. Since the forecast was based on a relatively injury-free 2007 season, this is a fair comparison to make, I think. By the way, if anyone ever comes up with a way to predict the performance of a player who plays hurt through the final 96 of his 152 games, do me a favor: a) tell me what the stock market is going to do in the next year, b) wait a couple days, c) tell the world. In a year, I’ll be rich, and you’ll be famous!

Jim Edmonds

HT Projection as SD/CHC: .346 OBP, .488 SLG, .834 OPS, 18 HR’s
Actual as SD/CHC: .343 OBP, .479 SLG, .822 OPS, 20 HR’s

This is another good projection. Edmonds hit a lot of deep fly balls to left-center field in 2007 that were caught in his home park, Busch Stadium. That tendency carried over to the following season, but it didn’t help him in San Diego, where he started the year. However, after a May trade to the Cubs, Edmonds found a place where that swing worked well. Left-center field is the most favorable spot in Wrigley Field for home runs, and Edmonds took advantage, hitting 6 of his 11 Wrigley home runs into the bleachers in front of Waveland Ave. On the road he picked his spots well also, hitting 7 of his 9 away homers to left and left-center field. A projection that either didn’t factor in Edmonds’ home park, or which couldn’t discern his tendency to hit the other way with power, would be at a disadvantage when trying to accurately forecast Jim Edmonds.

More Thoughts About Forecasting

Here are some possible adjustments I considered, but decided not to include in the Hit Tracker system:

BABIP Adjustment

Regressing a player’s numbers towards the league average BABIP is a common tactic in projection systems. Instead of leaving alone all the non-long fly balls, I considered trying to adjust these hits according to the hitter’s BABIP, e.g. taking away an appropriate number of hits from the projection if the player showed an unusually favorable BABIP during the prior season(s).

My objection to this method is that I don’t feel that I can be certain that a player’s unusually high (or low) BABIP was due to luck instead of due to some underlying real factor. I don’t want to assume that a player’s BABIP should be a certain value, and regress back towards that value, because I don’t feel confident enough that I can pinpoint what that value should be for each individual player. I definitely don’t want to regress all hitters towards a common BABIP. In any event, the use of three years of data to generate projections should minimize any possibility of a player’s wildly aberrant BABIP ruining his projection.

Age Adjustment

Adjusting a projection for a player’s age is another common tactic which has some merit when one’s objective is to be correct "on average," for a large group of players. However, I feel uncomfortable applying an aging correction factor "across the board," without any regard for a player’s particular situation. Perhaps on average hitters lose a small amount of their power each year, but I don’t feel like I can say for which hitters that is true, and for which hitters that is not true, so I have chosen to leave out an aging factor.

I freely admit that an ideal forecasting system of the future will include some method for predicting the effects of aging on future performance, and that I am leaving it out. In the future I hope to be able to incorporate predictive aging into the HT model in terms of lower-level parameters such as speed off bat, or the direction of hits, rather than a crude adjustment of the final results. Such changes in hitters’ spray patterns can readily be detected (a good example is Jim Edmonds, whose long fly balls have decreased in distance and shifted from RF towards LF for the past several seasons.)

Modeling aging in this more detailed manner should also allow for situations where a decline in raw hitting performance does not manifest in a decline in results, such as a power hitter who loses a bit of distance on his fly balls, but still clears the fence with room to spare. I don’t want to paint that hitter, or any hitter for that matter, with the broad brush of "aging means the numbers get smaller"…

Overall "Regression to the Mean"

Some systems regress all of a player’s box score stats towards a selected value, typically a mean value for a subset of the population such as the AL, NL or all of MLB. The purpose of doing so is to account for the possibility that, due to limited sample size, a player has fortuitously outperformed or underperformed their true talent level. The league mean values are used because it is believed that it is impossible to accurately pinpoint a player’s true talent level.

It is certainly true that in any large sample of players, there will be some players that significantly outperform their true talent, some who significantly underperform, and some who perform roughly at their true talent level. In a system where box score outcomes are the only form of data, it makes sense to regress the outcomes to the mean: even though such a system might make some strange predictions (a career high 3 homers in 2009 for Juan Pierre, who has hit one ball out of the park in his last 1,097 at bats?), overall it will perform better than it could without applying such regression.

However, the Hit Tracker system accounts for variation from true talent level in a different way: by including all long flies instead of just homers, the luck factor for ballparks and weather is removed. By including multiple years of data, the sample size becomes even bigger, further decreasing the need to compensate via some form of regression to the mean. With these methods in use, I don’t feel it is appropriate to also add 75 or 80 at-bats from Gabe Gross to the reigning NL MVP’s numbers from 2008 before trying to predict how Prince Albert will do next year.

Advantages of the Hit Tracker System

  • The Hit Tracker system goes a long way towards removing statistical noise from the projection. Most good or bad luck a player may have had because they hit a particular ball in a large or small park, in favorable or unfavorable weather, will be removed.
  • Analyzing all long fly balls increases the sample size for evaluating power potential, which is one of the most important variables in performance projection. This method makes it possible to detect unlucky trends (Adam Dunn hit 16 balls more than 400 feet that were not home runs in 2008), or lucky trends (9 of Mark DeRosa’s 21 homers in 2008 were blown over the fence by the wind.)
  • Team-specific projections are created, but without the use of the extremely blunt instrument known as Park Factors. Because park-based projections are used, the fit of a player’s spray profile to a park’s dimensions and weather is included, and is crucial. The frequency of visits to other parks is also included, capturing the importance of the unbalanced schedule and the vagaries of the interleague schedule.
  • Hit Tracker projections are based entirely on what a player does, rather than what an average player does. Since the HT method is focused on making an accurate projection for a single player (and not an entire league), it does not use across the board regression to the mean. Regression to the mean compensates for variables that are missing from a model: Hit Tracker measures those variables instead.

Disadvantages

  • The HT method is time-consuming. The observation data required for this method is not for sale, and the analysis can only be done by me.
  • The HT method requires video of all batted balls for the player in question. If any hits are not available, the accuracy of the forecast may be reduced proportionally to the percentage of missing balls.
  • Because the method depends on analysis of long fly balls, there is a limited ability to evaluate rookies.

Between now and the beginning of the 2009 season, I hope to post some more forecasts for other players, or perhaps expand some of the one-year forecasts listed above to three years. After the 2009 season we’ll have a chance to see how well this method did. I’m hoping that Hit Tracker will be able to bring the process of making projections forward to where weather forecasting was in the 1970’s: occasionally way off, more often on the money, but still far short of perfection (which is forever out of reach). Then we’ll figure out what the next step is…

Greg Rybarczyk is the creator of Hit Tracker, an aerodynamic model and method for recreating the trajectory of batted baseballs. With Hit Tracker, Greg has analyzed more than 15,000 MLB home runs over the past 3 seasons; a multitude of data on hitters, pitchers, ballparks and more can be found at hittrackeronline.com. While not tracking hits, Greg works as a reliability engineer, and he lives in the Portland, OR area with his wife and two children. Feel free to contact Greg at grybar@hittrackeronline.com.

Designated HitterJanuary 29, 2009
A Curt Look at a Hall of Fame Career
By Joe Lederer

"I'd like to think I did well. I'd like to think that, if I had a must-win game, the guys I played with would want me to have the ball. But no, I don't think I deserve to be in the Hall of Fame." – Curt Schilling, January 29 on WEEI AM 850's "The Big Show"


Last week, the always present and oft self-promoting Curt Schilling showed some rare humility over the Boston radio waves and downplayed his chances at one day ending up in baseball's Hall of Fame. Now some will believe that Schilling only understated his case in order for talking heads (and typing hands) to do what I'm doing right now: make a pitch on Schilling's behalf. Even so, because of his polarizing personality among teammates, fans and the baseball writers, Schilling — unfairly or not — may need all the help he can get.

Given the fact that he's fallen short of all those "important" Hall of Fame benchmarks (300 wins, a trophy case full of Cy Young Awards, a Baseball-Reference page listing dozens upon dozens of All-Star appearances, a Wikipedia page featuring quotes on how feared Schilling was on the mound, etc.), the forty-two year old righty looks like a marginal candidate to earn a bronze bust in Cooperstown. All that said, I'm going to state a strong case for Schilling's enshrinement. I mean, "hey man, even though I'm part of the 'younger people on the Internet,' I saw Schilling play his entire career and I always thought he was a Hall of Famer."

The easiest place to start is to look at Schilling's career performance compared to his peers:

Schilling%20vs.%20Peers.png

The names listed above are arguably the top ten pitchers during Schilling's career, spanning from 1988 to 2007. There's no question the top five pitchers are no-brainer Hall of Famers (say what you will about the ongoing Roger Clemens saga, but The Rocket is as much an "inner-circle" Hall of Famer as he is a jerk.) After the first five Schilling contemporaries, the numbers start getting blurred but one thing that is clear is that Schilling was one of the best among the next group anyway you slice it. However, before we are so quick to label him "sixth or seventh or eighth best" during his career, let's look a little closer at Schilling's numbers versus the top tier.

Schilling became a full-time starter in 1992 after arriving in Philadelphia – how'd Jason Grimsley work out for ya, Houston? – and was a mainstay in the big league rotations until injuries hit in 2005, forcing him to make 20 appearances out of Boston's bullpen. Even so, he still started 66 games his last three seasons (2005-2007). If we take the top-tier hurlers from the chart above and look strictly at their numbers from 1992 to 2007, Schilling's case for the Hall becomes that much stronger:

Schilling%201992-2007_2.png

During that stretch, Schilling was second in complete games, first in K:BB and third in K/9. Schilling betters the group's average in complete games, strikeouts, walks allowed, K:BB, K/9 and WHIP. By the way, if you didn't know, Schilling's K:BB ratio (4.38) ranks first all-time since 1900. Sure, it's just one stat off the back of a baseball card, but c'mon people…Schilling was a great pitcher, one of the very best in all of baseball for sixteen years — a period which includes at least five Hall of Famers.

One could also look at some Bill Jamesian Hall of Fame metrics, like the Black Ink test, the Gray Ink test, Hall of Fame Standards and Hall of Fame Monitor and Schilling once again stacks up favorably.

Schilling%20Jamesian%20HoF%20Metrics.png

The lack of shiny hardware will be an easy thing for many to knock Schilling on, but he did have three second-place finishes in Cy Young Award voting — 2001 and 2002 in the NL and 2004 in the AL. Below are Schilling's three runner-up seasons…seasons good enough to win almost any other year:

01-02-04%20Stats.png

I mean, really, is it fair to hold it against Schilling that Randy Johnson (2002) and Johan Santana (2004) were unanimous winners those years? And if awards are your bag, then don't overlook his NLCS MVP from 1993, his World Series co-MVP from 2001 and his back-to-back Pitcher of the Year awards by The Sporting News in 2001 and 2002. If feel-good stories are also your kind of thing, throw in his 1995 Lou Gehrig Memorial Award (best exemplifies character and integrity both on and off the field), his 2001 Roberto Clemente Award (selected for character and charitable contributions to his community) and his 2001 Hutch Award (best exemplifies the fighting spirit and competitive desire to win.) Fluff? Yes, but all part of the package, baby.

Finally, it'd be foolish not to touch on Schilling's postseason record. Everyone remembers Game 6 of the 2004 American League Championship Series, fewer people can recall how dominant he was in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, and unfortunately not enough people recall how important Schilling's Game 5 start in the 1993 World Series was to the Phillies. But three amazing postseason starts does a Hall of Fame career not make. To truly appreciate Schilling's big game dominance, you have to look at his entire playoff career totals:

Schilling%20Postseason.png

Need I say more?

Hmm…let's review. Lots of strikeouts to go along with very solid numbers across the board, unfairly not enough All-Star appearances or Cy Young Awards to please the over-the-hill (or is it under-the-bridge?) Baseball Writers Association of America, an outstanding postseason record, possibly abrasive personality…Geez, does that at all sound familiar? (Oh, give me a break…I'm a Lederer for cryin' out loud!)

The case is pretty clear and the statistics don't lie. So Curt, the next time you want to go on record about your unworthy-for-the-Hall career, put a sock in it, bloody or otherwise.


Joe Lederer is the Assistant General Manager of Riverwalk Golf Club in San Diego. Besides working on his PGA Class A membership, Joe spends way too much time cooking and reading Nietzsche and not enough time working on his short game. Joe gets his baseball writing chops from his mother.

Designated HitterJanuary 22, 2009
Baseball's Hall of Fallacies
By Conor Gallagher

It's been well documented that Jon Heyman has a prejudice against, in his words, "younger people on the Internet who never saw [Bert Blyleven] play." This bigotry in and of itself is sad, but it also is a prime example of one of the most effective logical fallacies: the Ad Hominem. Essentially, as a rebuttal to an argument, one attempts to discredit the person or group of people who present the argument, without discrediting the argument.

The power of this faulty reasoning lies in its ability to change the course of the discussion. Politicians love this fallacy because it allows them to place people who disagree with their policies into negative categories. For example, one might state that proponents of gun control are elitist or out-of-touch. "It's easy," one might argue, "to be for gun control when you live in an exclusive, gated-community and can afford a fancy alarm system." "But wait," the proponent of gun control responds, "I grew up on a farm and live in a ground level apartment in a rough area of town." At this point, they have lost the argument because the debate has changed from the possible benefits or consequences of gun control, to defending one's own character.

We have seen this happen in many of the responses to Heyman's comments: "I'm 70, I saw Blyleven and yes, I use the Internet" or "those stories [Heyman] broke are really not very interesting…" These types of responses which either defend one's own character or attack Heyman's only indulge a discussion that is completely irrelevant to the merits of Blyleven's Hall of Fame candidacy. Sadly, this fallacy is often quite successful to that end.

The Ad Hominem rears its ugly head in many forms. The Circumstantial Ad Hominem is when one argues that a person only supports something because it is in their best interest to do so. One might argue that Pitcher A thinks Blyleven belongs in the Hall only because they have similar stats to Blyleven, and thus it will help their own candidacy. Again, this does not address the underlying arguments that Pitcher A may be making. One's own personal interest is irrelevant (or circumstantial) to those arguments.

The Ad Hominem Tu Quoque discredits an argument by pointing out a person's hypocrisy. For example: "Your statement that Blyleven doesn't belong because of his winning percentage is not valid because you voted for Nolan Ryan who had a lower winning percentage." The fact that someone is a hypocrite does not make their argument invalid. In this case, attention is directed away from why winning percentage is a lousy litmus test for the Hall of Fame.

Another similar fallacy is False Dilemma, which is a distortion of the logical truth P or ~P: either P is true or it is false. With False Dilemma someone will argue P or Q, as if there is some causal link between the two. An example of this fallacy is subtly used by Heyman: people either do not think Blyleven is Hall worthy (P) or they never saw him pitch (Q). The purpose of this fallacious argument is really to stop the opposing voices: either you agree with statement A or you are [fill in any insulting, degrading characterization – in Heyman's case he uses ignorance]. Now the stage has been set so that before anyone disagreeing with Statement A speaks up, they are perceived in a negative way or thought of as sympathizers to a negative group. Often, the discussion will skip right to the insulting characterization as in the following exchange: "I disagree with gun control." "Oh, so you're a hick." Notice that the following fallacious statement is implied here, but never actually stated: either you support gun control or you are a hick. Now the argument can move to a discussion of a person's character without ever having to address the reasons why the person disagrees with gun control.

Another common fallacy used in Hall of Fame discussions is the Relativist Fallacy: stating that something is true in certain situations but not others. With Blyleven, we often hear that he isn't Hall worthy because of his low career winning percentage. When it is pointed out that he has a higher winning percentage than Nolan Ryan, the Relativist Fallacy follows: that doesn't apply to Ryan because Ryan got to 300 wins.

My point with all of this is not to further the Blyleven arguments, Rich and Sully have already done a tremendous job of that. My purpose is to point out that it is extremely difficult to engage in ANY Hall of Fame discussion without running headfirst into a logical fallacy. Take the common argument against Blyleven or for Rice: "he just didn’t feel like a Hall of Famer," or "he was one of the most feared hitters of his time." Both of these arguments are the logical fallacy Appeal to Emotion, whereby emotion is used as evidence of fact. Perhaps it really felt that way to some people at the time but feelings are not facts and often run counter to reality (as statistical analysis has shown with Jim Rice).

Consider the argument that, if Jim Rice goes into the Hall of Fame, then dozens of other similar players also have to be considered and presumably, these dozens of other players are not Hall worthy. This fallacy is known as Appeal to Consequences of a Belief. The consequences of Jim Rice going into the Hall of Fame are not evidence that he does not belong. Furthermore, let's assume that BBWAA got it wrong with Rice and he does not belong. That does not mean that the BBWAA now has to get it wrong with the dozens of similar players that do not belong.

I wondered at the fact that Appeal to Emotion, Appeal to Consequences and Relativist Fallacy are so often considered good evidence of Hall of Fame candidacy. I then went to the Hall of Fame website and looked up the BBWAA rules for election. Any player who played for at least 10 years is eligible to be voted on. However, this is the only guidance given with regards to voting: "voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played." It also goes on to state there are no automatic elections for outstanding achievements.

Essentially, there are no base standards for Hall of Fame induction. The election system itself is based on the logical fallacy Appeal to Belief: if a certain percentage of a group believe something to be true, then it must be true. Therefore, if 75% of the BBWAA believe someone is a Hall of Famer, they are a Hall of Famer. It is amazing to me that the previous sentence is both a fact and a logical fallacy.

In some ways, it's disheartening to look at the Hall of Fame in this light. It seems that, when talking about the Hall of Fame, all logical arguments reach a dead end. Lacking any concrete standards, all Hall of Fame discussions are eventually reduced to irrational arguments. Furthermore, because there is no logical basis for Hall of Fame entry, examining those who are already in the Hall offers no help. In fact, relying on the current members would also be a logical fallacy: Biased Sample, whereby conclusions are drawn from a sample that is unreliable.

So how can we change the course of the dialogue surrounding the Hall of Fame? I believe that first and foremost we need a logical basis from which to begin. It's time that we reevaluate what it actually means to be a Hall of Famer. A set of minimum, objective standards would help to mute much of the illogical cacophony out there today. While I would leave the actual standards up to someone more qualified than I; it should probably start somewhere with ERA+, OPS+ and win shares: stats that can be used across the many different eras of baseball. Certainly, the standards will be hard to agree upon in the first place and will probably be heavily criticized and even outright rejected by the BBWAA (if not completely ignored). However, without a logical foundation to the Hall, all emotional and irrational arguments will continue to be relied upon and Jon Heyman's gut feeling will have more influence than statistical analysis.

Heyman is not alone in his hostility toward a growing demand for more concrete and quantifiable measures of greatness. But his comments underscore that there has been a real shift in the way baseball is being viewed. No longer are fantastical, unquantifiable and largely indefensible beliefs (such as Derek Jeter being a Gold-Glove caliber shortstop) acceptable to a growing number of baseball fans. Whether or not this change originated with "younger people on the Internet" is irrelevant. The fact is that the current method of evaluation is based upon flawed logic and is being met with discontent. Any attempt to marginalize that discontent should consistently be met with the very thing it cannot handle: more sound, logical thinking.

Conor Gallagher is a paralegal in Chicago, IL. He is also an aspiring winemaker with dreams of moving to California this summer. His passion for baseball and baseball statistics in particular began at the age of eight or so when his father taught him how to keep box scores and they would play APBA together.

Designated HitterDecember 18, 2008
Jim Rice, the Hall of Fame, and the Numbers
By Christopher D. Green

Of all the personal testimonials honoring Jim Rice, my favorite is that of the much-beloved late commissioner of baseball, Bart Giamatti, who once wrote that Rice was “the Hammer of God sent to scourge the Yankees.”[1] That alone, in the minds of many baseball fans (outside of New York), should be enough to let Rice through the gates of the game’s Valhalla, Cooperstown’s Hall of Fame.

But, alas, Jim has stuck out 14 times with the Baseball Writers Association of America, and a debate rages over whether this final time will be the charm. Of course, even if he fails – or, rather, if the writers who vote on such matters fail him – his case will be shuffled off to the Veteran’s Committee where he may yet attain immortality. However, opinion across the land seems to be that there is something slightly dodgy and even undignified about entering the Hall in this manner, as though one has come through an inadvertently unlatched back door.

A lot the debate over Rice’s fate has been carried on at the level of “I saw him hit a home run against the [fill in a team name here] when I was [fill in an age under 10 here] and it was the most awesome sight I ever witnessed. [Therefore he should go to the Hall.]” We also see fierce, dramatic but intensely subjective judgments of the stature Rice had when he played. Pitchers, it is said by some, feared him, perhaps more than any other batter in baseball at that time.

SABR members and their intellectual brethren have debated Rice’s qualifications at a somewhat more sophisticated level (mostly), examining Rice’s statistics and awards while comparing his record to those of others who have (and haven’t) had their images inscribed on Cooperstown plaques. Consider, for instance, the claim that Rice was feared by opposing pitchers. Perhaps so, but then what are we to make of the fact that he never received more than 10 intentional base on balls in any one season? By this measure of “feared hitter,” Rice falls behind not only contemporaries Dale Murphy, Garry Templeton, Dave Winfield, and Dave Parker, but also Ted Simmons and Warren Cromartie (each of whom had two or three seasons with 20 or more IBB. With 77 career IBB, Rice is tied for 179th all time, along with players such as Jerry Grote, Ken Henderson, Claudell Washington, and Rice’s one-time teammate Fred Lynn.

In 16 seasons, Rice had a batting average of .298 with 2452 hits and 382 HR – each just a little short of the lifetime statistics that (used to?) assure one a ticket to the Hall. Still, Rice was an All-Star eight times and an MVP once (and he finished 3rd in MVP voting two other times, once in his rookie year, in which he lost to fellow rookie teammate Lynn). If the basic statistics fail to provide a clear answer, one can bring in second-generation statistics to help elucidate matters. For instance, Rice’s OBP was.352 and his SLG was .502, for an OPS of .854. This is just ahead of Hall-of-Famers Eddie Collins and Billy Williams, but behind non-Hall-of-Famers such as Reggie Smith and Jack Clark. So there is nothing decisive here for Rice’s case either. He remains precariously balanced on the cusp of greatness, like a star that is visible in the night sky only if you look slightly to one side of it.

The real statheads among us indulge in even more exotic stuff, like Bill James’ quantitative estimates of similarity among players.[2] Perhaps not surprisingly, Rice scores most similar to another legendary “tough case” for the Hall: Orlando Cepeda. In 17 seasons, Cepeda had 2351 hits (101 fewer than Rice), 379 HR (3 fewer), a .297 career BA (.001 lower), and a .849 career OPS (.005 lower). He was an All-Star 7 times (one fewer), a Rookie of the Year (one more), and an MVP once (tied). Rice fans will note that their man was just slightly better in nearly every case, and that Cepeda ultimately made it into the Hall. But Cepeda hit in an era of tougher pitching (lgOPS of .724 vs. .744 in Rice’s era) and, as a result, Cepeda has a slightly higher park-adjusted league-normalized *OPS+ (133 vs. Rice 128). Again, nothing decisive here. Let us move on. James has also developed some estimates of the likelihood of players entering the Hall. Naturally, Rice is low on one (HoF Standard = 44, where the avg. HoFer scores about 50) and high on the other (HoF Monitor = 144.5, where 100 represents a likely HoFer).

And so, finally, we come to James’ most recent, most influential, and perhaps most complicated estimate of player value: win shares. I won’t go into the calculations here (you can find it on the internet if you are interested), but win shares is supposed to tell us how many additional wins a given player was responsible for with his bat, his fielding, and (if applicable) his pitching. It is well-tested and well-known. It has its quirks, to be sure, but it is generally accepted to do a good job at measuring player performance.

How many win shares did Jim Rice have over the course of his career? 282. How good is that? It is tied with Boog Powell, the one-time MVP, mostly-Oriole LF-1B of the 1960s and 1970s. Powell is not, it should be noted, in the Hall. Fred Lynn is two win shares below Rice. He is not in the Hall. Minnie Minoso and Sal Bando are one win share ahead of Rice. They are not in the Hall. Amos Otis and Toby Harrah are a little further ahead (+4 and +5, respectively). George Sisler is 10 ahead and Dale Murphy (another notoriously tough HoF case) is 12 ahead, tied with Shoeless Joe Jackson. Then Cesar Cedeno (+14), Frank Howard (+15), Home Run Baker (+19), Ken Singleton (+20), Bobby Bonds (+20), Harold Baines (+25), and finally Orlando Cepeda at 310 win shares, a full 28 ahead of Rice.[3] At last, we have some solid evidence that Rice’s career contribution was, in cold reality, just a little below that usually needed to make it into the Hall; that perhaps his presence in Boston made him more visible nationally than Cepeda, who labored mostly in San Francisco and Atlanta (where he worked in the shadows of Willie Mays and Hank Aaron), but not actually quite as good a player.

A number of people have made exactly this case in the debate currently swirling around the vote for the 2009 Hall of Fame induction class. Of course, the win shares numbers are just evidence. They do not constitute definitive “proof.” One can continue to debate, among other things, the relative weaknesses of the various measures used, the importance of “peak” years, and a variety of “intangibles” that are not captured by any of the numbers. Fair enough. But this is how this sort of debate productively proceeds – from impressions, to statistics, to comparative statistics, to better comparative statistics, and so on. For instance, on 14 December 2008, David Kaiser posted an analysis of this kind to the SABR-L list, using win shares (among various other measures) to answer a number of questions about whether Rice should be in the Hall of Fame. Kaiser concluded:

The answers to this quiz are interesting because they show Rice as an almost classic case of a player writers tend to overrate: coming up with the Red Sox in one of their glory eras, he put up some spectacular home run and RBI numbers in his first few years and had one truly fantastic season. As a result he did quite well in MVP voting and was picked for a lot of All-Star games but his actual value was only once (1978) as large as it seemed, his secondary numbers were very poor, and he faded out quickly.

But then comes along Gabriel Schechter, a Research Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum, who wrote in a posting to the SABR-L list on 15 December 2008:

I simply want to register a strong protest over David [Kaiser]'s use of win shares as the primary tool of his analysis…. Rice played in the 1970s and 1980s, so how is it fitting to apply a sabermetrical measure that wasn't even created until 2001? Aren't those questions supposed to reflect how the player was regarded AT THE TIME he was playing? To say that Fred Lynn or Carlton Fisk had more win shares than Rice in a given season and equate that with considering Lynn or Fisk as more highly regarded than Rice is ridiculous.

And so we come to the real point of this column, which was not, it may surprise you to learn, to contribute to the Jim Rice HoF debate but, rather, to discuss the justice of using modern statistical tools (like win shares) to decide historical questions (like whether Jim Rice was so great a ballplayer that he belongs in the Hall of Fame).

I do not know Mr. Schechter’s views of statistical analysis generally. There are some fans (and players and managers) who believe they see plainly with their eyes (and with their memories), and that statistics, with all their fussy formulas, only confuse the issue. Without further ado, I commend to them the cognitive psychological work of people such as Paul Meehl, Gerd Gigerenzer, and Nobel prize-winner Daniel Kahneman to disabuse them of their misapprehension. I will assume that Mr. Schechter, instead, is only objecting to the casting back of modern statistics into historical eras. I suspect, however, that he has confused two superficially similar, though, in point of fact, quite distinct complaints. The one, to which many object, has to do with creating leader boards and records for statistics that did not exist when a particular season was played. So, for instance, claiming that Three-Finger Brown led the NL in saves four years running, from 1908-1911 (5, 7, 7, 13), seems a little silly not just because there was no such statistic for Brown to lead the league in then, but also because the conception of the relief pitcher as a kind of “specialist” with a particular “function” (such as “saving”) was not yet in place in Brown’s time. It is a little like claiming that Hannibal had more “tanks” than the Romans on account of his use of elephants. I have some sympathy with this objection.

However, that is not what is going on when Mr. Kaiser (and others) use win shares to analyze the performance of players past. First of all, there is nothing that goes into computing win shares that would have been foreign to Rice or his cohort: hits, at bats, bases on balls, total bases, outs, etc. Mr. James has just stirred a little differently a pot of wholly familiar ingredients. Second, the point of doing this kind of analysis is not (only) to create a retrospective leader board, but rather to use quantitative methods to analyze Rice’s performance relative to his peers (and to others throughout the history of major league baseball). With a modicum of judiciousness, there is nothing in the least ridiculous about this process. Indeed, we do it all the time.

To wit, which of these historical questions are ridiculous? How many people lived in the city of Rome in 44 bc? What proportion of them were slaves? What was the average life expectancy? What were the leading causes of death? Among the land owners? Among slaves? Across genders? All of them require quantitative answers. All of them were questions that went unasked (and unanswered) by the Romans themselves. That does not make them historically illegitimate. Consider more questions of the same type: What proportion of the US population spoke English as a mother tongue in 1776? What proportion of the American population approved of Abraham’s Lincoln’s actions in 1863? Would Woodrow Wilson have won the 1912 presidential election if either William Howard Taft or Theodore Roosevelt had dropped out of the race?

The people of these eras did not have either the data or the methods (or both) to answer such questions definitively, but certainly there is nothing to prevent us from using the methods we have since developed on the data that we still have from those times to develop answers that are in some ways better than the ones people of the time in question could have generated (for instance, computers make it possible for us to manipulate huge masses of data that would have been impracticable, if not strictly impossible, prior to their invention).

Far from being illegitimate, a statistic like win shares is precisely the kind of evidence to which members of the BBWAA should attend more fully when deciding questions like whether Jim Rice was as good a player as the others who are now in the Hall. It allows us to separate dispassionate consideration of the merits of the case from contentious but ultimately irrelevant stories of who thrilled us when we were young. Isn’t that exactly why the BBWAA waits five years after a player retires before considering his case for entering the Hall – to let passions cool and allow the facts to rise to the surface?

-----

Notes:

[1] Giamatti, A. Bartlett (1998). "The Green Fields of the Mind." In A Great and Glorious Game: Baseball Writings of A. Bartlett Giamatti. Algonquin. Available on-line at: http://mason.gmu.edu/~rmatz/giamatti.html.

[2] The source I used was baseball-reference.com.

[3] I have only picked a few familiar names between Rice and Cepeda. In fact there were 56 players separating the two on the all-time win shares list, as of 2002. (Players like Frank Thomas have since passed Cepeda. Others have, no doubt, crept between them from below Rice in the intervening years.)

Christopher D. Green teaches statistics in the Department of Psychology at York University in Toronto. His academic research is mostly concerned with the history of psychology.

Designated HitterDecember 04, 2008
Baseball's Bear Market? Why 'Caution' is the Keyword This Winter
By Shawn Hoffman

Free agents are just waiting for that first shoe to drop. Once one mega-contract is signed, others will surely follow. Or at least, that's the optimistic tone agents are trying to set, amidst all sorts of negative indicators.

The New York Times ran a piece last week that noted how slowly the free agent market was moving, relative to the past five offseasons. The obvious assumption is that the economy is forcing teams to be more cautious, and that the players could be in for a rough winter.

I touched on this a bit on Squawking Baseball on Monday. The Times' data, in itself, isn't overly convincing; the sample sizes are too small to have any real meaning, and these types of dead periods happen at some point in every offseason. But with that said, this is the behavior we would expect in this type of economic atmosphere.

To see how this dynamic plays out, it's important to consider how teams value players to begin with. If you remember back to Econ 101, companies will hire employees up until the point when marginal revenue equals marginal cost. So if the A's project that Rafael Furcal will bring them $15 million in additional revenue next season, they should be willing to pay him up to $15 million. This number is his marginal revenue product (MRP).

Sounds simple enough, but a player's MRP is tied to many different factors. The most obvious, of course, is the player's production. In our hypothetical, the A's could project that Furcal is worth five additional wins, and each of those wins is worth $3 million, making his MRP $15 million.

But what if the A's, worried about the economic climate, decided to do a whole new set of revenue forecasts for 2009, and found that ticket sales were likely to take a huge hit? Or that demand for playoff tickets (should the team get that far) would be much lighter than normal, resulting in lower prices? All of a sudden, the rewards of winning 5 more games and possibly reaching the playoffs are much smaller. This, in turn, means that Furcal's marginal value to the team is much less, so his MRP (or the salary the team would have been willing to pay him) goes down as well.

It's unlikely that MLB, as a whole, will see a decline in revenue next year (I've actually been very bullish on this front). But there is obviously a tremendous amount of uncertainty, which generally (and rightfully) should lead individual teams to set very conservative revenue projections, and therefore very conservative budgets.

Bud Selig has gone out of his way to make sure the owners and general managers realize all of this. During the last recession, which began in 2001, baseball revenues stagnated. The teams, used to double-digit growth, kept adding on expenses accordingly. The result was almost disastrous, with the Devil Rays and Tigers reportedly almost missing payroll.

Scott Boras has a different take, of course, citing teams' record profits and large cash positions. "I always look at baseball revenues, and in the last seven years they have gone from $3 billion to $6.5 billion," he said. "If baseball revenues drop off, that's something we'll look at, but if there is a drop-off, it is not going to be dramatic."

He continues, ""You can't say just because one sector is bad, all others are as well. Baseball is doing very, very well."

In a lot of ways, he's right. But it's also his job to be optimistic, and he's not taking into account the most fundamental aspect of the market: budgets are set based on next year's projections, not last year's performance. And there will be a tremendous amount of uncertainty, if not overt negativity, priced into teams' budgets.

That uncertainty lies in several areas of each team's operations. Taking a closer look, we can break it down by the major sources of revenue. Depending on the team's market, competitiveness, and brand loyalty, certain factors will be more pressing than others (i.e. the Pirates should be very concerned about almost all of them, while the Yankees just need to sell their last luxury suite):

1) Season ticket sales. This should be a pretty tough market for season tickets, relative to years past. The financial crisis hit in mid-September, and the economic news isn't likely to get better before Opening Day. That means teams will be facing constant headwinds, as consumers will be less likely to spend on expensive, discretionary goods such as season ticket packages. Teams will probably have to rely more on corporations, which will be much harder in certain places than others (think Detroit).

2) Individual game tickets / gameday-related sales (concessions, parking, etc.). These are linked, obviously, since the more tickets a team sells, the more concessions they will sell, as well. Teams often have a tipping point during the season, where fans either come in droves because the team is competitive, or stay away because the team is out of the race. In a good economy, a bad team may still be able to draw fans in August and September, since consumers have cash to spend. But in this current atmosphere, bad teams could set multi-year lows in attendance.

3) Luxury suite sales. Most of these should be sold by now. For those still left, it will no doubt be a tough atmosphere. But the supply is so small, teams should still be able to sell out, even if they have to lower prices a bit. This won't be a tremendous hit for a team's overall revenue intake.

4) Corporate sponsorships. Corporate sales vary tremendously, team to team. Some may have most of their inventory locked up in long term deals. Others may have several partners up for renewal, which isn't the best situation to be in right now (especially if one of those partners is General Motors). For those that have inventory available, most new deals are closed between January and Opening Day. There may have to be discounts in order, but, much like with luxury suites, most teams shouldn't see a huge year-over-year decline.

5) National media contracts. These are fixed for next season.

6) Local media contracts. Like the national media contracts, most (if not all) teams are already set with their local media contracts. Teams that own their RSN, or sell their own radio advertising, may see some declines. But cable, especially, is a pretty good place to be right now, since the networks are paid subscriber fees by the operators.

7) Merchandise. This is squarely in the consumer realm, so that's not good. If there's any way to efficiently boost merchandise sales in 2009, it's to do it virally through MLB.com. I've often advocated taking down MLB.com's pay-walls, opening up the video vault that sits in downtown Manhattan, and building an incredible online content collection. This would make MLB.com an even better destination site than it is today, and in the process create tons of new advertising inventory that MLB could either sell, or use to push its own products.

8) Revenue sharing. Imagine trying to set a budget for next year, when much of your income relies on the performance of others. For a big market team, this means possibly writing a larger check, even in the face of declining revenues. For a small market team, it means having no control over a huge chunk of earnings. Of all the unknowns going into 2009, this may be the biggest one.

Given all that, it's no wonder general managers are being cautious. In the past, when they could count on year-over-year growth, long-term contracts weren't quite as risky. Derek Lowe's four-year, $36 million deal seemed terribly expensive in January of '05. But after four years of massive industry-wide expansion, it looks downright cheap. (Don't think Paul DePodesta thought about that back then?)

On the flipside, long-term contracts that were signed in the late '90s and early '00s were considered albatrosses by 2003. When Alex Rodriguez was traded to the Yankees, few could have imagined that he would even consider opting out (let alone get an even bigger deal) just four years later.

In good times, multi-year deals are calculated risks. In bad times, they're fireable offenses. No GM wants to be stuck with bad contracts and a shrinking budget.

So what are the likely results? The teams with some breathing room, like the Yankees and Red Sox, will keep taking calculated risks. The top tier of players (CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira) should get very nice deals. But the great majority of the small- and mid-market teams will be extremely conservative, and that will bring down overall demand (and salaries) for the rest of the players on the market.

In particular, look for long-term deals to be shorter than most people are expecting. No GM wants to be collared with bad contracts in this environment, and the smart ones (of which there are more now than ever before) will be extremely careful.

In all, not such a rosy outlook. But it's really more of a call for conservatism by Selig (and Paul Volcker, apparently), reminding teams of the legitimate pain many of them went through during the previous downturn. Given the magnitude of this recession compared to the last one, expect the teams to heed the advice.

Shawn Hoffman writes about business and baseball at Squawking Baseball. In real life, he is a principal in web startup Veritocracy.

Designated HitterNovember 20, 2008
Manny Syndrome
By Paul Anthony

Manuel Aristides Ramirez was all of 15 months old on Aug. 23, 1973, when Jan Erik Olsson walked into Kreditbanken, a Stockholm bank on Normalmstorg square, shot a member of the Swedish police and took four people hostage.

The hostage crisis continued for five days as Olsson and his alleged accomplice, Clark Olofsson, negotiated with police and even the Swedish prime minister. During the ordeal, the four hostages were said to express more fear of the police than their captors. A criminologist working with police noted the attitude and coined a phrase that provided Olsson and Olofsson some measure of infamy long after the robbery was forgotten: “Stockholm syndrome.”

The aforementioned Ramirez left the Boston Red Sox – all but forced his departure, if reports are to be believed – at the end of July, nearly four months ago. Yet stories continue to leak about the tumultuous final month between Ramirez and the team that paid him handsomely for nearly eight years, and none of them portrays the clearly mercurial slugger as the nice guy.

On the field, the situation seems to have turned out as well for everyone as could be expected: the Red Sox received a left fielder that essentially replaced Ramirez’s pre-trade production, the Los Angeles Dodgers got an otherworldly performance from Ramirez that pushed them into the playoffs, and Ramirez and his agent, Scott Boras, will make a killing in free agency.

Everyone wins but me.

I don’t need your pity – at least not anymore. As a Red Sox fan, I’ve seen two world championships and witnessed more playoff appearances since 2002 than in the previous 13 years combined. Dealing with the drama of Manny Ramirez was easily worth those rings.

But it’s becoming clearer that for much of the seven-plus years Ramirez was in Boston, we as fans were Manny’s hostages. He pouted, lied to the press (and consequently to us), showed up late – or not at all – to All-Star Games and managerial meetings alike, refused to pinch hit when asked or even refused to play.

He did this before the current ownership bought the team in 2001. He did it during the 2002 transition year before Theo Epstein was named general manager. And he did it nearly every season since Epstein took the reins in 2003. The incidents all became part of “Manny being Manny.”

And while the Red Sox made some efforts to rid themselves of his shtick – placing him on waivers and nearly engineering his trade to the baseball wilderness of Texas being the most notorious – we as fans never seemed to fully believe the import of these stories.

Moreso than even David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez was the face of the Red Sox, and we were happy with this scenario. At least I certainly was. Heck, there’s an orange-and-white feline with an attitude that stalks my house and answers – when he feels like it – to “Manny.”

How did we let this man fool us so?

The evidence was there, even before 2008, that Ramirez cared little for the Red Sox and their fans, none at all for Boston and its culture. When John Henry met Ramirez in 2002, the first thing he heard was a trade request. When Grady Little, a man whose surname speaks to his accomplishments in a Red Sox uniform, benched Ramirez for refusing to pinch hit during a ninth-inning rally in 2003, Henry and Larry Lucchino were approached a second time about a trade.

It all happened again in 2005, and it seemed the fans had enough. Ramirez was booed at the plate that July, as his trade demands and lollygagging to first reached team-distraction proportions. But when the trade deadline expired – a three-team deal having fallen through – Ramirez seemed to renew himself to Boston, receiving a standing ovation in his first at-bat back and telling anyone who would listen that he wanted to win another World Series with the Red Sox.

Frustration turned to rejoicing, and we took Ramirez at his word. When he sat the final month of the lost 2006 season and stories began to crop up alleging he had quit on the team, I rejected these rumors. No proof, I said. No evidence.

Things seemed rosier than ever after the second championship in 2007. Ramirez began talking to the press again after his tremendous ALDS walk-off home run off Francisco Rodriguez, he began reading “The Secret,” he told the sportswriters he wanted to stay in Boston, and he expressed ambivalence about when or whether the Sox picked up his two options after the season.

With Ramirez still productive, his $20 million options no longer seemed excessive. It seemed impossible to imagine a future without the suddenly happy, suddenly affordable Manny Ramirez. He still had his moments, but there were those other moments, too – the mid-double-play high-five with a fan, the trips into the Green Monster. They were goofy. They weren’t always appreciated, but they were the kind of antics that make the game fun, that make you believe some guys aren’t out there thinking only about the money.

Perhaps that was why it was so easy for some of us to accept the mythos of Manny being Manny. The talented hitter who wanted to do nothing more than hit. Not an idiot – I always rejected that slur – but simply happy and secure in his own world. One could understand why he didn’t like the microscope of Boston, and his brilliance with the bat couldn’t help but smooth over the rough patches over the years.

Then he hired Scott Boras.

I don’t know whether Boras put Ramirez up to the things he did once the 2008 season began. For that matter, I don’t even know what exactly Ramirez did and what he’s merely suspected of doing. All I know is what’s been said, but that it fits closely with what we know has actually occurred.

We know Ramirez shoved traveling secretary Jack McCormick. We know he got into an in-game dugout scuffle with fan- and organization-favorite Kevin Youkilis. We know he suddenly demanded the Red Sox pick up his first option, and that he considered any sign of caution or prudence on Boston’s part to be disrespectful.

I watched these goings-on with dismay. What happened? Ramirez was having the as-expected rebound season from his subpar 2007. It shouldn’t have surprised me that he changed his mind, but it did nonetheless. For some reason, I kept hoping that this time he meant it. This time would be different. This time Ramirez cared. Turns out it wasn’t. Turns out he didn’t.

July was the worst yet. He sat in back-to-back games against the Yankees, complaining of a sore knee. When the Red Sox sent him to get an MRI, he couldn’t remember which one was sore. When he pinch-hit against Mariano Rivera on what was supposed to be a day off, he never swung the bat in taking three straight strikes.

It might have been the most controversial single plate appearance of 2008 in Red Sox Nation. Was Ramirez fooled by three devastating cutters from a Hall-of-Fame pitcher – two of which were borderline strikes? Or was he making a statement about his intentions if the Red Sox failed to trade him by the July 31 deadline? The maddening thing is we’ll never know. Again, I found myself defending Ramirez.

But the end was coming. Apparently, the Red Sox threatened a suspension – a threat made more believable by Boras’ inability to deny it. He made comments too ridiculous to laugh off, alleging the Red Sox lied to their players, telling the press he was “tired” of the team. He wanted out. He was clearly doing everything possible to ensure that would happen.

At the time, I wrote:

I may be tired of him. I may not love him anymore. I don't think I even particularly like him after the events of this weekend. But he's still our Manny. For better or worse, he's wearing the laundry, and that means we root for him. Just like we'd root for Barry Bonds or Alex Rodriguez if they wound up in red and white.

No matter how tired Ramirez is of the Red Sox, or the Sox of him, they need each other if they want to play baseball this October. And that means we need him, too.

That was three days before Ramirez was sent to LA in a three-way trade with the Pirates for Jason Bay. The Red Sox turned around their flatlining season and played baseball in October after all. Ramirez got what he wanted. The Red Sox, after their seemingly annual attempts to be rid of him, finally got what they wanted.

So why do I feel so unhappy?

Much ink has been spilled, many megabytes filled about the Manny Ramirez saga – his time in Boston, the trade that sent him west, his resurgence at Chavez Ravine. I have no interest in further repeating the many words said on the matter, many by his own teammates. I can only offer one fan’s perspective – one that renders me incapable of seeing things in the stark rhetoric many have employed to vilify Ramirez or, alternately, the Red Sox organization.

It seems clear that Ramirez through his actions was the aggressor here, for reasons perhaps only he knows. Yet it’s difficult to harbor resentment for what certainly appears to be a clear case of a player attempting to hold a team hostage – and receiving all that he demanded.

He gave us so much, after all. Ask any group of Red Sox fans for their favorite Manny moments, and you’re not likely to leave any time soon. There’s the simple magnitude of the numbers he posted – statistics that likely will ensure his induction into the Hall of Fame with a “B” on his cap. There’s the two rings, the World Series MVP, his place as half the greatest 3/4 combination of our generation.

Others may be able to push all that aside and demonize the slugger, dismiss his time in Boston and turn away without glancing back as he heads toward mega dollars this offseason. I cannot. He was our Manny. We were his hostages.

Paul Anthony is a native Connecticutian transplanted to Texas, where he covers politics for a daily newspaper. His (unpaid) night job is as a co-blogger at YFSF, which has provided a peaceful coexistence for Red Sox and Yankee fans since 2003. While there, he has compiled a list of the Top 50 individual Red Sox seasons of all time.

Designated HitterOctober 02, 2008
NLDS Preview: Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Chicago Cubs
By Rob McMillin

I'm Rob McMillin, author of the Dodgers and Angels blog 6-4-2, and a long-time reader of Rich's The Baseball Analysts through several homes. Patrick Sullivan asked me to do a review of the Dodgers and Cubs in preparation for their upcoming National League Division Series, and so here I am.

The long-term regular-season matchup for the Dodgers versus the Cubs is remarkably even — as of the end of 2007, it was 1,009 wins and 1,007 losses for the Dodgers. But change that to the Los Angeles era, and it becomes much more lopsided, as the Dodgers won the all-time series 343-281. The 84-win 2008 Dodgers are 2-5 against the Cubs this year, but that record may prove fairly useless for predictive purposes when it comes down to the postseason.

While the main reason for this is the Dodgers' acquisition of Manny Ramirez, there are other mitigating factors in play. Along with David Mick of Another Cubs Blog, we'll take a look at both teams head-to-head and review the teams position-by-position. As always, rate stats are indicated as AVG/OBP/SLG (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging average).

SCHEDULE

Game 1: Wed., Oct. 1, 6:30 PM ET on TBS - LAD (Derek Lowe) @ CHC (Ryan Dempster)
Game 2: Thu., Oct. 2, 9:30 PM ET on TBS - LAD (Chad Billingsley) @ CHC (Carlos Zambrano)
Game 3: Sat., Oct. 4, 10 PM ET on TBS - CHC (Rich Harden) @ LAD (Hiroki Kuroda)
Game 4*: Sun., Oct. 5, TBD on TBS - CHC (Ted Lilly) @ LAD (TBD)
Game 5*: Tue., Oct 7, TBD on TBS - LAD (TBD) @ CHC (Ryan Dempster)

* if necessary

RECORDS

         HOME      ROAD     TOTAL
LAD     48-33     36-45     84-78     
CHC     55-26     42-38     97-64
Head-to-head results: CHC, 5-2

OFFENSE

        RUNS   AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS   OPS+  
LAD     700   .264  .333  .399  .732    95     
CHC     855   .278  .354  .443  .797   109 

PITCHING AND DEFENSE

        RUNS   AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS   ERA+  
LAD     648   .251  .315  .376  .691   120 
CHC     671   .242  .316  .395  .711   117

Position-By-Position Breakdown

Catcher
Russell Martin's (.280/.385/.396, 650 PA, 13 HR) numbers have descended considerably from his astonishing 2007 campaign (.293/.374/.469); perhaps not coincidentally, some of this is due to his league-leading 149 games caught, a figure he shares with Jason Kendall of the Brewers. Breaking it down by innings caught, Kendall takes the lead outright with 1,328.1, while Martin is almost a hundred outs behind him at 1,238. Defensively, Martin has slipped some, as his throwing mechanics seem to have gone haywire, recording 11 errors. It's not at Gary Bennett levels, but it's something to pay attention to. Having watched both fairly extensively, they're both capable of calling good games, and in neither case should their inability to throw out base-stealers (both are hovering around the 25% mark) be held against them.

Geovany Soto (.285/.364/.504, 563 PA, 23 HR) won the 2008 job behind the plate with his stellar performance in September of 2007. He's among the best catchers offensively and he's above average defensively. He missed the last few games the Cubs played because of a hand injury, which is something that has been recurring to Soto in 2008. The Cubs say he's ready to go for Game 1. Soto is most likely going to win Rookie of the Year in the NL, but what's more impressive is that among Cubs position players, nobody has been more productive.

Rob says: Soto has the edge mainly because of his offensive game.

David says: Edge goes to the Cubs.

First Base
A lot of James Loney's (.280/.385/.396, 651 PA, 13 HR) value is tied up in his high batting average, and as he was unable to keep up his insane batting average on balls in play from 2007 (when he hit .350), and sure enough as it fell to .284, so did his average, and more ominously, his slugging percentage. Loney's weakness is his inability to hit lefties consistently, with a .249/.303/.361 line that has led to a late-season experiment using Nomar Garciaparra in a platoon role at first. This will only arise as an issue with the only lefty Cubs starter, Ted Lilly, but the difference — a small-sample-sized .339/.424/.643 — makes him a potent force.

Derrek Lee (.291/.361/.462, 698 PA, 20 HR) got off to a great start in April. He had a horrid May and the rest of the months were disappointing for Lee, the Cubs and their fans. He's essentially been a .750ish OPS hitter since April. Overall his numbers were still solid, but his defense is overrated (+1.1 runs) and his offensive skills are in decline. Lee's still capable of getting hot and if he could get hot like he was in April for these playoffs, an already outstanding offense becomes that much better.

Rob says: Cubs have the edge thanks to Lee's sizeable offensive prowess. It should be noted, however, that Lee hit eight home runs in April and hasn't hit more than two in a single month since May.

Dave says: Dodgers. Lee is a better offensive player than Loney, but Loney is about 13 runs better on defense. (ed note, nice call, Dave!)

Second Base
"What," Cubs fans might be asking, "is Blake DeWitt (.264/.344/.383, 421 PA, 9 HR) doing at second?" Well, they could be pardoned for their confusion; earlier in the year, he was the Dodgers' starting third baseman, but as the season progressed and his hitting didn't, he eventually earned a return trip to AAA Las Vegas. Nevertheless, he still finished 2008 atop the Dodgers' leaderboard for innings at third, but once the Dodgers traded for Casey Blake and realized that Jeff Kent is too fragile to stay on the field anymore, they moved DeWitt to second and recalled him to play there in the Show.

Mike Fontenot (305/.395/.514, 284 PA, 9 HR) was probably the best role player in all of baseball this season. He's limited in that he can only play 2nd base, but he's had a very good defensive year and his offense has helped the Cubs when they need extra production the most. Fontenot won't play much against lefties (only 21 ABs in 2008), but the Dodgers have four righties starting in the series. His .398 wOBA was the highest on a team that led the league in runs scored.

Rob says: This is a clear win for the Cubs with the caveat that this matchup really shows the limitation of position-by-position analysis.

Dave says: Edge to the Cubs here.

Third Base
There is no doubt that Casey Blake (.251/.313/.460, 233 PA, 10 HR w/ Dodgers) marks an offensive improvement over DeWitt (at least at this point in their respective careers), but whether it was worth giving up catching prospect Carlos Santana for a two-month rental remains to be seen. The further away from July he's gotten, the worse his offense has become (.220/.297/.415 in September).

Aramis Ramirez (.289/.380/.518, 645 PA, 27 HR) has more big hits since he joined the Cubs in 2003 than I can remember. On top of that, over the last 5 years he's been one of the best 3rd basemen year in and year out. In 2008 he improved his plate discipline and set a career high OBP of .380. The defense is above average as well. If the game is on the line, the Cubs want Aramis Ramirez at the plate.

Rob says: Another win for the Cubs, one which ends up quite large once you consider the gap between recent performance (Ramirez is hitting .342/.386/.566 in September).

Dave says: Cubs

Shortstop
This is probably the most perplexing move the Dodgers have made to date; Rafael Furcal (.357/.439/.573, 164 PA, 5 HR) returned to service very late from a lower back injury that knocked him out most of the season (his last regular season game was May 5). With only days to go in the regular season, no rehab stint in the minors available to tune him up, there's no reason to believe he'll be effective against live pitching. He was insanely hot to start the season, as his 2008 numbers suggest, but he's the Dodgers' biggest question mark. It will be interesting to see what Joe Torre does with him if he can't hit, especially considering the Dodgers' options most of the year have been the not-ready-for-prime-time Chin-Lung Hu and Royals castoff Angel Berroa.

Ryan Theriot (.307/.387/.359, 661 PA, 1 HR) is playing out of position. He's one of the worst defensive shortstops in the game (-9.7 runs). Lou still isn't asking for my advice so he's stuck at the position. Theriot did hit .300 this season and much more importantly, he posted an OBP of .387. Much like last year, Theriot faded down the stretch (.686 OPS in August, .660 OPS in September). Despite that, Theriot enters the NLDS 11 for his last 19 with 6 walks in that span.

Rob says: If Furcal is healthy, a huge if, he provides the Dodgers a win, but we won't know what Furcal we're getting until the postseason opens.

Ryan says: Dodgers. If Furcal doesn't play much then the edge goes to the Cubs.

Left Field
The Cubs have a very good offensive left fielder in Soriano who nevertheless is still far behind Manny Ramirez (.396/.489/.743, 229 PA, 17 HR); Manny has been simply otherworldly with the Dodgers. While nobody thinks Manny will continue this hot (almost half his home runs have been hit in the two months since coming to LA), it's more than enough to make up for his defensive lapses in left, something both players are prone to.

Alfonso Soriano (.280/.344/.532, 503 PA, 29 HR) had had a disappointing year defensively. He had been so very good since he moved to LF in 2006, but the combination of age and leg injuries seems to have caught up with him. Soriano led the team in home runs despite missing about 50 games. I think he's the one offensive player the Cubs have who is capable of carrying the rest of the team. If Soriano doesn't hit in the postseason (and let's be honest, he hasn't done much of that in his career), the starters will have to be at the top of their game.

Rob says: The Dodgers win handily here.

Dave says: Dodgers. It's not even close. As good as Soriano is, he isn't Manny.

Center Field
Matt Kemp's (.290/.340/.459, 657 PA, 18 HR) conversion to center was belated but necessary thanks to the acquisition of noodle-armed Juan Pierre and the collapsing Andruw Jones. Kemp logged much of his time in right prior to his conversion, but his bat (so far) plays better in center field. Kemp isn't a dancing bear defensively, but neither is he among the league's elite.

Jim Edmonds (.235/.343/.479, 298 PA, 19 HR) was picked up in May after an awful start with the Padres. As a longtime Cardinal, no Cubs fan wanted to root for Edmonds, but he made it remarkably easy to. It's as if he reverted back to the prime of his career. His .394 wOBA is 2nd on the team and his .568 slugging was the highest. My biggest concern at the time of the signing was his defense. Nobody could have predicted the offense and it turns out nobody could have predicted how well he'd play CF either. His .931 RZR was the highest since before 2004. His 45 OOZ were equal to 2005 in nearly 530 fewer innings.

Rob says: This is a slight edge to the Dodgers who don't have to give up average to get power, especially since the Dodgers won't be sending a lefty to the mound in the series.

Dave says: Cubs

Right Field
Andre Ethier (.305/.375/.510, 596 PA, 20 HR) has become a solid presence in the Dodger outfield this year, hitting for decent power and average, especially so in August (.292/.346/.615) and September (.462/.557/.692). Opinions differ wildly over whether Ethier has taken a step forward on a permanent basis, but he's been hitting out of his mind lately. Even before that, Ethier emerged as one of the team's top two hitters all year.

Mark DeRosa (.285/.376/.481, 593 PA, 21 HR) had a career year in 2008. He took over RF for the struggling Fukudome in early September with Fontenot moving to 2nd against righties. DeRosa isn't your typical RF. He's an infielder by trade, but in his big league career he's proven he can play just about anywhere. He adds above average defense in RF as well. He posted a .382 wOBA in 2008 and like so many of the other Cubs, his OBP was very good (.376).

Rob says: This represents a substantial win for the Dodgers, whether Piniella starts DeRosa or Fukudome.

Dave says: Cubs. Like 1st base, defense is the deciding factor here. Ethier and DeRosa have had similar years offensively (.382 wOBA for DeRosa, .385 wOBA for Ehtier), but DeRosa is 15.8 runs better defensively. Just after I finished writing this, I noticed that DeRosa's left calf may still be too sore for him to play RF, which means Fukudome would play RF with either DeRosa or Fontenot at 2nd. If that's the case, edge to the Dodgers.

Bench

After a futile dalliance with Gary Bennett earlier in the season, the Dodgers settled on Danny Ardoin as their reserve catcher.

Angel Berroa may get a start at short if Rafael Furcal doesn't feel up to it or is showing he's obviously not ready to play. Nomar Garciaparra and Jeff Kent will provide right-handed power off the bench unless Ted Lilly is starting. Pablo Ozuna will almost certainly be relegated to the role of late-innings defensive replacement for Casey Blake, and the od pinch-running job.

Both teams are carrying only one reserve outfielder. In the Dodgers' case, Juan Pierre is likely to be a designated pinch-runner; his starting days were all but over in the regular season, and it's hard to imagine Joe Torre using him for anything else. Felix Pie doesn't seem likely to get much playing time after he played himself out of the outfield. This is a wash, not that it much matters.

Reed Johnson has been the other half of the CF platoon and since the Dodgers are throwing righties at the Cubs, he won't get much playing time. Like Edmonds, he was picked up after his former team released him and the 2 of them have combined to put together a very good season for the Cubs in CF. Johnson can hit lefties rather well, doesn't field as well as some may think, but has had a real good season for the Cubs.

Kosuke Fukudome lost his starting job sometime in late August or early September after months of struggling to hit the ball. He won't be asked to do that much in the playoffs and he'll get a chance to be a defensive replacement. His defense is matched by only a few in all of baseball. He is spectacular on with the glove. Just can't hit.

Others: Ronny Cedeno (INF), Henry Blanco (C). Felix Pie (CF), Daryle Ward (1B/RF)

Rob says: Too close to call.

Dave says: I'll call it even because in that few plate appearances, literally anything is possible.

Starting Rotation

Derek Lowe 14-11, 3.24 ERA, 211 IP, 136 ERA+
Chad Billingsley 16-10, 3.14 ERA, 200.2 IP, 141 ERA+
Hiroki Kuroda 9-10, 3.73 ERA, 183.1 IP, 119 ERA+

Derek Lowe had early trouble but has come on strong in the second half with a 2.38 ERA. His key is getting outs on the ground with his heavy sinker; if he's giving up line drives, something's wrong with his game. Chad Billingsley is the staff's real ace, and many expect this NLDS will be his coming-out party; he hasn't attracted a lot of national attention because of a fairly slow start. He's whiffing about a batter an inning, while walking less than half that (201/80 K/BB). Like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates, you never know what you'll get from Hiroki Kuroda, seven scoreless innings or seven runs in the first. That overstates things, though, as Kuroda has been about what the Dodgers had expected despite some injury problems in midseason.

Ryan Dempster 17-6, 2.96 ERA, 206.2 IP, 152 ERA+
Carlos Zambrano 14-6, 3.91 ERA, 206.2 IP, 115 ERA+
Rich Harden 5-1, 1.77 ERA, 71 IP, 254 ERA+
Ted Lilly 17-9, 4.09 ERA, 204.2 IP, 110 ERA+

Ryan Dempster was closing games for the Cubs the last 3 years and now he's starting Game 1 in the playoffs. He's earned it. In only one start this year did Dempster allow more than 4 earned runs. He allowed 4 in only 5 starts. 22 times he's allowed 2 or fewer runs. He posted a 2.96 ERA this year, which stunned just about everybody. He's been the best starter the Cubs have had from start to finish.

Carlos Zambrano has had a couple of injuries in the 2nd half. They say neither is serious, but you never know. His first half was tremendous and he appeared to be more consistent than I had ever seen him. Then the 2nd half started and he was also consistent. Consistently not very good. Despite the no-hitter, Zambrano could just never get settled back down after coming back from injury.

Rich Harden has been unbelievable as a Cub. In 71 innings, he's allowed only 4.94 hits per 9 and has struck out 11.28 per 9. His ERA is 1.77. I'm still getting familiarized by Rich Harden, but from what I can gather, if he can take the mound, odds are your team is going to win the ballgame. In 9 of his 12 starts with the Cubs he allowed 1 or 0 runs. He allowed 2 runs twice and in the other start he allowed 4 runs.

Ted Lilly is coming off 4 consecutive wins giving him a career high 17. Lilly got off to a terrible start posting a 6.46 ERA in April. He posted a 3.33 ERA after the break and held hitters to a .223 batting average. Ted has had severe reverse splits in 2008. From 2005-2007 righties posted a .756 OPS and lefties a .712 OPS against Lilly. That's typical. But in 2008, lefties have hit him for a .928 OPS and righties only a .673 OPS. He's developed a cutter this year that he uses on right handed hitters and it has worked very well. He's not throwing the big over the top hook as often so that may be why the lefties are hitting him better. Maybe it's just sample size.

Rob says: Despite a formidable rotation on both sides, the Cubs have a slight advantage because Dempster and Harden are perhaps a bit better than Lowe and Kuroda, and also because they won't be asking their starters to work a three-man rotation.

Dave says: Dodgers. They have the advantage in Games 1, 2 and 5 if necessary. I don't think it's a huge edge by any means. I think Lowe and Dempster are quite similar and their numbers are comparable. Billingsley has a big advantage over Zambrano, Harden has a big advantage over Kuroda, Lilly has a good advantage over Maddux and then we're back to the Game 1 starters for Game 5. Fairly close, but overall edge to the Dodgers.

Bullpen

Joe Beimel 5-1, 2.02 ERA, 49 IP, 219 ERA+
Jonathan Broxton 3-5, 3.13 ERA, 69 IP, 141 ERA+
Clayton Kershaw 5-5, 4.26 ERA, 107.2 IP, 104 ERA+
Greg Maddux 2-4 5.09 ERA, 40.2 IP, 87 ERA+
James McDonald 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 6 IP
Chan-Ho Park 4-4, 3.40 ERA, 95.1 IP, 130 ERA+
Scott Proctor 2-0, 6.05 ERA, 38.7 IP, 73 ERA+ Takashi Saito 4-4, 2.49 ERA, 47 IP, 178 ERA+
Cory Wade 2-1, 2.27 ERA, 71.1 IP, 195 ERA+

The Dodgers have a far superior bullpen to the Cubs in general, but there are holes on both sides that are likely somewhat illusory. The Dodgers won't see Jason Marquis or Bobby Howry except in a blowout, and similarly, the Cubs won't see Greg Maddux or Scott Proctor, and possibly Chan-Ho Park. The two teams are actually closer than you might think, because Takashi Saito, the Dodgers' former closer, hasn't been quite the same since returning from a midseason injury that forced the Dodgers to give an extended look to Jonathan Broxton in the ninth. Neither team's closer is a sure thing, as their ERAs attest, but they have been good all year.

The Dodgers use Park in middle relief, though he has been decreasingly effective as the season has worn on. Despite underwhelming stuff, Cory Wade has quietly assembled an excellent season, and will likely see substantial work. The Dodgers' late decision to add James McDonald to the postseason roster could mean they intend to use him anywhere, but I include him here; like Wade, he doesn't have the best stuff, but the late callup from AA has managed to suppress offense in small samples. The Dodgers will likely call on Joe Beimel to face lefties, where he has generally been very useful.

Neal Cotts 0-2, 4.29 ERA, 35.2 IP, 105 ERA+
Bobby Howry 7-5, 5.35 ERA, 70.2 IP, 84 ERA+
Carlos Marmol 2-4, 2.68 ERA, 87.1 IP, 168 ERA+
Jason Marquis 11-9, 4.53 ERA, 167 IP, 100 ERA+
Sean Marshall 3-5, 3.86 ERA, 65.1 IP, 117 ERA+
Jeff Samardzija 1-0, 2.28 ERA, 27.2 IP, 198 ERA+
Kerry Wood 5-4, 3.26 ERA, 66.1 IP, 139 ERA+

Kerry Wood took over for Ryan Dempster as the team's closer this year. He's done a pretty good job. He's been spotty at times. 3.31 ERA, 6 blown saves, but he's allowed a measly .638 OPS. He's converted 10 of his last 11 saves.

Carlos Marmol is good at sports. That's something we'll occasionally say around my parts after Marmol has just made a few hitters look silly. He's allowed a .135 batting average against. A .507 OPS. He's allowed 4.12 hits per 9. He walks his fair share of batters and is prone to giving up the long ball. He went through a really tough stretch in June that saw his ERA balloon from 1.75 up to 3.61 prior to the All-Star break. Since then it's been only 1.29.

Bob Howry has had a pretty bad season after several stellar years as a closer and a set-up man. To give you an idea how bad it's been for Howry this year, the month of September was his most promising month. He only made 9 appearances as Lou was kind of afraid to keep giving him the ball, but 7 of those were scoreless ones in a row. Unfortunately, they were bookended by an outing on September 2nd in which he didn't record an out and allowed 4 earned runs. On the final day the season he gave up a couple runs. So in Bob's most consistent month he still managed to have an ERA of 8.10.

Neal Cotts is the Cubs LOOGY. Lefties have hit .269/.329/.522 against him this year in 67 at-bats. This has been an issue lately for the Cubs and it likely will be one at some point in the NLDS.

OTHERS: Jeff Samardzija (7th inning, groundballs, wide receiver), Sean Marshall (long/middle relief, LOOGY), Jason Marquis (long/middle relief)

Rob says: The Dodgers have a far superior bullpen to the Cubs in general, but there are holes on both sides that are likely somewhat illusory. The Dodgers won't see Jason Marquis or Bobby Howry except in a blowout, and similarly, the Cubs won't see Greg Maddux or Scott Proctor, and possibly Chan-Ho Park. The two teams are actually closer than you might think, because Takashi Saito, the Dodgers' former closer, hasn't been quite the same since returning from a midseason injury that forced the Dodgers to give an extended look to Jonathan Broxton in the ninth. Neither team's closer is a sure thing.

Dave says: Dodgers. They beat the Cubs at pretty much every spot in the bullpen.

***

Prediction

Rob says: (ed note: He abstained.)

Dave says: I feel that based on what I've written above I should say I think this will go down to the 5th game. But I don't think it will. I think the Cubs win this series in no more than 4 games. I'll go with Cubs in 4 because Bill James' log5 method gives the Cubs the highest odds of winning it in 4 at 22.5%. I think the Dodgers offense is improved with Manny, but it's still not equal to the Cubs lineup. The Cubs have a rather large edge offensively, as well as defensively, that I think the Cubs advance to the NLCS.

Designated HitterSeptember 30, 2008
Why the Angels Won't Win the World Series
(And the Cubs Will Win it All)
By Ross Roley

As Angels fans across Southern California settle in for a long and exciting playoff run, they’re justifiably hopeful that this year will match their success of 2002 when they won a World Championship. The Halos won 100 games this season, have the best record in baseball, and enjoy home field advantage throughout the playoffs. They acquired Torii Hunter and Mark Teixeira to augment an already potent lineup featuring Vlad Guerrero. Their starting rotation is arguably the best among the playoff participants, while their bullpen sports the all-time single season saves leader in Frankie Rodriguez. The Angels should be the favorites to at least make it to the World Series. Unfortunately, the odds are not in their favor. My opinion is not based on injuries, pitching matchups, rally monkeys, curses, or anything of that nature. It’s based on cold, hard historical data. Reviewing the playoff and World Series results since the current wildcard format began in 1995 reveals some surprising results that would make Gene Autry roll over in his grave.

Consider these facts:

  • The team with the better record has won only 49% of all playoff series since 1995 (43 of 88).
  • In 2001, Lou Piniella’s Seattle Mariners won 116 games and failed to reach the World Series.
  • 12 other teams have won 100 games since 1995 and failed to play in the Fall Classic, including the Braves four times.
  • 5 more 100-win teams played in the World Series and 4 of them lost.
  • From 1995-2007, only the 1998 Yankees became World Series champs with the best record in baseball (Boston tied for the best record last year).
  • A wildcard team has made it to the World Series 9 times in the last 13 years, claiming 4 world championships including 3 of the last 6.
  • In 2006, the Cardinals won the World Series with only 83 regular season wins.

Basically, it appears that anything can happen in the postseason…and usually does. So, let’s break down the Angels’ chances one series at a time. Admittedly, some of the sample sizes used below are not very large, but the data reinforces just how unpredictable baseball has been in the wildcard era.

Division Series – Angels vs. Red Sox

  • Since 1995, the wildcard team has won a startling 58% of their opening series (15 of 26 series) including 55% (6 of 11) against #1 seeds.

    In a format where the #1 seed plays the #4 seed, one would expect the top seed to breeze through this round, when in fact quite the opposite is true. Perhaps it’s because the wildcard winner might be more “battle tested” and have more momentum going into the playoffs due to a hotly contested race against multiple foes, whereas, the top seed typically wraps up a playoff berth much earlier and coasts into the playoffs with less competitive edge. Possibly it’s due to overconfidence by the higher seed, or less pressure on the underdog, or the inherent riskiness of a short series. Or maybe it’s just pure blind luck. Whatever the reason, it’s not good for the Angels. The probability of the Angels advancing out of the first round is at most 45%.

    On the other hand, the Cubs can thank their division rival Brewers for a stroke of good fortune. If the Brewers had lost the wildcard race to the Mets, the Cubs would have faced the wildcard team in this round just like the Angels. Instead, they will play the #3 seeded Dodgers. Historically the #1 seed wins a 1 vs. 3 matchup a whopping 85% of the time (11 of 13). So the Cubs dodge a bullet and their likelihood of advancing out of the first round is 85%.

    League Championship Series

  • Since 1995, the team with the better record has won this round 56% of the time (14 of 25) while the #1 seed has also won 56% of the time (10 of 18) assuming they survive the first round.

    If the Angels get past their first series, things look better for them in the LCS. Interestingly, the results during the modern format (1995 to present) nearly match historical results for the LCS dating back to 1985 when MLB changed from the best of 5 games to 7 games. From 1985 to 2007, the team with the better record won 24 of 42 best of 7 LCS’s, or 57%, with identical records occurring twice. The probability of the Angels winning the ALCS (if they make it that far) is therefore estimated at 56% while the Cubs also would have a 56% chance in the NLCS.

    World Series

  • The team with the better record has won only 38% of the World Series titles since 1995.

    This is another stunner. The reason for this phenomenon could be a case of low sample size or because of overconfidence by the favored team or any other number of human factors, but the recent data is completely counter-intuitive. Nonetheless, it’s bad news for the Angels since they have the best record of all the playoff teams. On the bright side, the AL has won 5 of the last 13 Fall Classics. Also, since 1903 the historical chance of winning the World Series with a better record than one’s opponent is a more realistic 53% with a much larger sample size (54 of 101). Weighting these 3 factors equally, I estimate the Angels’ chances of winning the World Series if they get that far to be around 51%. The Cubs have a better record then everybody except the Angels and they had the same record as the Rays, but they’re in the National League so their chances are a little less at 46%.

    Prediction

    If the Angels have a 45% chance of winning their first round, 56% of winning the second round and 51% chance of winning the final round, then the estimated likelihood that they win it all is only 13% (.45 x .56 x .51). This is only a tad higher than if all 8 playoff teams had an equal shot at the championship which would be 12.5%. Unfortunately, that’s the way the recent history has worked out. Using the same basic methodology, here are the handicaps for all 8 teams.

  • Angels: .45 x .56 x .51 = .13
  • Cubs: .85 x .56 x .46 = .22
  • Rays: .36 x .50 x .53 = .10
  • Phillies: .31 x .46 x .48 = .06
  • AL Central Champ: .64 x .44 x .54 = .15
  • Dodgers: .15 x .44 x .49 = .03
  • Red Sox: .55 x .50 x .53 = .15
  • Brewers: .69 x .46 x .49 = .16

    Cubs fans rejoice! Disregard the last 100 years! The Cubs have the best shot of winning it all this year according to recent playoff data; albeit their odds are only slightly better than 1 in 5 so don’t rejoice just yet. The wildcard Brewers are next at 1 in 6, while their first round opponents, the Phillies have only a 6% chance. This is primarily because the #2 seed has won a paltry 31% of the time (4 of 13) in first round matchups with the wildcard team. Once again, it’s a very small sample size, so it should all be taken with a grain of salt. In the AL, the wildcard Red Sox and whoever comes out of the AL Central have the best chances of becoming world champs but their odds aren’t even 1 in 6. The Cinderella Rays with the second best record in baseball are the underdogs in the AL with only a 10% chance. Meanwhile, the team with the best record in baseball, the Angels, has only the 5th best chance of winning the World Series!

    This methodology can also be used to predict the possibility of cross town rivals meeting in the World Series. There are two such possibilities this year. Citizens of the Windy City are dreaming of an all-Chicago World Series. First, the White Sox need to qualify for the playoffs (still TBD as I’m writing this), but if they do, the likelihood of the Cubs playing the South Siders in the Fall Classic is 13%. Sorry Los Angelenos, but the chance of your ultimate baseball scenario known as a “Freeway Series” in Los Angeles is much lower at only 4%.

    Summary and Conclusion

    Many people call the baseball playoffs a “crapshoot” including Braves skipper Bobby Cox. A’s GM Billy Beane was quoted in Moneyball as saying: “My (expletive) doesn’t work in the playoffs. My job is to get us to the playoffs. What happens after that is (expletive) luck.” The historical data presented in this article absolutely supports those sentiments. Considering that 51% of all playoff series are won by the lesser team indicates that it might as well be a coin flip. The MLB playoffs are indeed a crapshoot. Good luck to the Angels, the Cubs and all the playoff teams…with emphasis on LUCK.

    Ross Roley is a lifelong baseball fan, a baseball analysis hobbyist, and former Professor of Mathematics at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He is partially responsible for instant replay in the major leagues this year having highlighted the issue here on Baseball Analysts early in the 2006 season.

  • Designated HitterAugust 21, 2008
    The World of Catcher's Interference
    By Bob Timmermann

    "X - reached first on catcher's interference"

    The line above has often been used in baseball box scores to denote one of baseball's orphaned statistics: catcher's interference. It is an event that happens just infrequently enough for people not to care about it, but important enough that the official scorer has to report all instances of it in the totals of a game. The play doesn't count as an at bat for the batter, but the batter doesn't get credited in his on-base percentage for reaching base safely. But a batter who came up just once in a game and reached base on catcher's interference would keep a hitting streak going. A batter reaching base on catcher's interference who comes around to score is an unearned run, but batters who reach after him are usually earned runs.

    For reasons I've never figured out, I felt that it was one of my missions in life to keep track of this play on my blog, The Griddle. I note the last instance of it on the sidebar and ask people to let me know when the play occurs, which invariably happens when I'm away from a computer, out of town, or busy with some other mundane task, like eating.

    The baseball rule that spells out catcher's interference is Rule 6.08(c):

    The batter becomes a runner and is entitled to first base without liability to be put out (provided he advances to and touches first base) when:

    The catcher or any fielder interferes with him. If a play follows the interference, the manager of the offense may advise the plate umpire that he elects to decline the interference penalty and accept the play. Such election shall be made immediately at the end of the play. However, if the batter reaches first base on a hit, an error, a base on balls, a hit batsman, or otherwise, and all other runners advance at least one base, the play proceeds without reference to the interference.

    All that boils down to is that if the catcher's mitt touches the batter's bat before he completes his swing, catcher's interference is called. And when it happens, nobody, except for the batter, catcher, and umpire really knew what is happening. The umpire calls time and the batter is told to go down to first and everyone sort of scratches their head for a while trying to figure out what happened. Eventually "Error 2" will flash on the scoreboard and then everyone will be puzzled and look around. On TV, the announcers will look at replays and try to figure out what happened. And, after a few minutes, the befuddlement ends and the game goes on. (In theory, any fielder could interfere with the batter's swing and get called for interference, but such an instance hasn't turned up.)

    Why does the play happen? I've never gotten a good answer from watching it happen, but I think (and this is highly speculative) that most catcher's interference plays happen on breaking balls. And they often happen when the batter makes a very late swing or the pitch comes in to a location that the catcher isn't expecting. So you end up with the combination of a weird swing and the catcher trying to grab a pitch in an unexpected location. This puts the bat and glove on a collision course of sorts.

    Pitchers, who tend to have very poor swings at the plate, seem to get a disproportionate number of catcher's interference calls. Baseball-reference.com lists 64 instances of a pitcher getting on base via catcher's interference since 1956. Chris Short accounted for 11 of them and he was also the last AL pitcher to reach base on catcher's interference, back when he was playing for the Brewers in 1973.

    According to David Nemec's book "The Rules of Baseball," catcher's interference wasn't put in the rulebook until 1899. Prior to that time, catchers would occasionally try to disrupt a batter's swing by tipping the bat with his glove. Connie Mack claimed that he pioneered this strategy, but that's likely because he lived a long time and nobody was going to argue with him. However, it didn't happen too often because catchers tended to stand well behind (anywhere from 10 to 25 feet) behind the batter because they didn't have much protective equipment and valued keeping their hands, heads, and ... um ... manhood ... intact. Catchers would only move in closer if there were runners on (to prevent stolen bases) or there were two strikes on the batter (catching the third strike cleanly is one of baseball's oldest rules.)

    I asked Phil Birnbaum to go through Retrosheet's data to find out how often catcher's interference had been called in the years that data is available (1956-2007). And Phil even made a graph. And after studying the graph, I believe that you really can't tell much about it.

    Catcher's Interference Calls, 1956-2007
    Catcher%27s%20Interference.gif

    The number of instances of catcher's interference has gone up in recent years, which I think can be attributed to the increase in the number of games and better protective equipment for catchers that let them set up closer to the batter, even if it's by a couple of inches. However, the number of occurrences isn't exactly staggering, although it does happen more frequently than a complete game shutout now.

    Baseball's all-time catcher's interference king is Pete Rose, who reached on catcher's interference 29 times in his career. His first one came on August 8, 1963 when Clay Dalrymple of the Phillies was nailed for it. Rose's final catcher's interference came over 22 years later on September 19, 1985 when Larry Owen of the Braves was called for it during a 9-run ninth inning by the Reds.

    The single season record is held by Roberto Kelly, who got eight catcher's interference calls while playing for the Yankees in 1992. Kelly's knack for reaching first on catcher's interference earned him a trip to Cincinnati the next season in a trade that netted the Yankees Paul O'Neill.

    Dale Berra of the Pirates holds the National League record for catcher’s interferences in 1983 with seven. Berra never had another CI call the rest of his career. Although Retrosheet doesn't have complete data on Dale's dad, Yogi, it appears likely that the gene for reaching on catcher's interference wasn't passed down from father to son, as Yogi has none in his stats.

    Five times a player has reached on catcher's interference twice in one game. Pat Corrales did it twice for the Reds in 1965 (August 15 and September 29). The others were Ben Geraghty of the Phillies back on April 26, 1936 and also two Mariners: Dan Meyer on May 3, 1977 and Bob Stinson on July 24, 1979.

    Catcher's interference has turned up in the postseason seven times, five times in the World Series. Roger Peckinpaugh of Washington was the first player to get one and it happened in the first inning of Game 7 and Peckinpaugh picked up an RBI as the bases were loaded. Rose had one in Game 1 of the 1970 World Series. George Hendrick had the last one in the World Series in Game 3 of the 1982 World Series. Richie Hebner of the Pirates (Game 3 in 1974) and Mike Scioscia of the Dodgers (Game 5 in 1985) have the only LCS catcher's interferences.

    The leader among active players in catcher's interference calls is Darin Erstad of the Astros with 13. Craig Counsell of the Brewers is engaged in a neck and neck battle with Erstad with 12 CI calls. Erstad is the only player I've ever seen reach on CI in person, back on July 19, 1998 when Chris Hoiles of the Orioles knicked Erstad's bat. Or at least that's what I believe happened as I recall also that I had to stare into the sun most of the game, so pretty much anything that happened at home plate was just a rumor to me.

    Edwin Encarnacion of the Reds could be the next big thing in the world of catcher's interference, picking up eight early in his career. However, Encarnacion hasn't had a single call this year and he could be losing momentum in his quest to go after Rose's record.

    In Boston, since the Curse of the Bambino has been lifted, it's now time to talk about the Curse of Darren Lewis. Lewis reached first on catcher's interference back on September 13, 1998 courtesy of Tigers catcher Paul Bako. And no Red Sox player has reached on catcher's interference since then, the longest current drought for any franchise in the majors. How much longer will the people of Boston have to suffer? (My book proposal about this has gone nowhere which shows that there is a limit in the publishing world to the number of Red Sox-themed books there can be.)

    There have been just nine catcher's interference calls so far in 2008. Three of them have come from Lyle Overbay who had never had one prior to this year. Carl Crawford has had two. Other players who have had one haven't fared well. Claudio Vargas of the Mets found himself taken off the Mets 40-man roster and is now playing in AAA New Orleans. Travis Hafner has been hurt most of the year. Guillermo Quiroz of the Orioles has hit .202 as a backup catcher. Milton Bradley has had a solid year, although he seemed to be getting more and more mysterious injuries after his catcher's interference on June 28.

    For many players, they can have long careers and never once have a catcher's interference. Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Cal Ripken, and Brooks Robinson are four notable players with long careers who never had an entry in the catcher's interference column on their ledger.

    Frank Robinson received one catcher's interference in his long career and that came back on April 27, 1963 in Houston. John Bateman of the Colts interfered with Robinson in the seventh inning. Robinson must have been a little upset as he went and stole second and scored on an RBI single from John Edwards for the only run of the game.

    There is only one documented case I know of when a game ended on catcher's interference. That was back on August 1, 1971 when the Dodgers were hosting the Reds. In the 11th inning of a 4-4 tie the Dodgers had the bases loaded with two outs and Willie Crawford up against Cincinnati reliever Joe Gibbon.

    Manny Mota was on third for the Dodgers and either thinking that Gibbon wasn't paying attention to him or Crawford had no chance to get a hit against Gibbon, Mota tried a steal of home. Reds catcher Johnny Bench jumped out from behind the plate and stood in the base path to tag Mota.

    This brought into play the seldom used Rule 7.07, to wit:

    If, with a runner on third base and trying to score by means of a squeeze play or a steal, the catcher or any other fielder steps on, or in front of home base without possession of the ball, or touches the batter or his bat, the pitcher shall be charged with a balk, the batter shall be awarded first base on the interference and the ball is dead.

    Home plate umpire Harry Wendelstedt called catcher's interference on Bench and a balk on Gibbon and Mota came home with the winning run. Rule 7.07 is peculiar because it imposes two different penalties for one act: catcher's interference, which allows the batter to reach first and the runners move up if forced, and a balk, which allows all the runners to move up one base. So how did Mota score? Did he score on catcher's interference or on a balk?

    I discussed the play with Dave Smith of Retrosheet two years ago at the SABR Convention in St. Louis. And we agreed that the play had to be catcher's interference first because Crawford was awarded an RBI on the play, which he wouldn't have received for a balk.

    So what have all these words taught people about catcher's interference? Likely very little. Catcher's interference is just a small freak play in the larger scheme of baseball. But it happens and you have to count it to make your box score balance. It's a loose end that you have to watch out for. You can take solace that I'm paying attention so you don't have to.

    Bob Timmermann is a librarian who lives in South Pasadena, CA. He is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research. He writes about variety of baseball-themed topics at The Griddle. Some of them are even important.

    Designated HitterAugust 18, 2008
    Waiting is the Hardest Part
    By R.J. Anderson

    Tom Petty has a song that proclaims “The waiting is the hardest part.” I think it is beyond safe to say the Tampa Bay Rays know the saying and perhaps the song quite well.

    The long wait on Major League Baseball to grant the area a team, then the first season, then for the aging slugger obsession to fade out. Then for a rebuilding process that never really happened, and then finally waiting for a change in ownership. The latter happened in November 2005, but, until this year, it was more waiting, although this was different; this was reshuffling assets, this had direction and purpose.

    Mainstays like Aubrey Huff, Julio Lugo, Danys Baez and Toby Hall were shipped out within a season without big-named replacements, leaving some fans wondering how much this new regime actually cared about winning. Sure, the days of Brian Meadows closing and Tomas Perez playing shortstop are terrifying in their realness, but all along the prophecy of B.J. Upton and Delmon Young soon taking over helped to soothe our qualms.

    They took chances on players who others were tired of waiting on. Greg Norton, Ty Wigginton, Carlos Pena, Hee Seop Choi, Al Reyes, and the list goes on of former top prospects or useful parts that were casted aside from bigger organizations. Not too many players were willing to play in Tampa at any costs, and especially not at the price the Rays offered.

    Although winning is finally here, the residuals from the waiting game are stamped all over this team with 18 of the 25 players currently on the active roster (no Carl Crawford or Evan Longoria) being acquired by Andrew Friedman. Many of the success stories from this year arise from foresight and the willingness to withhold temperamental judgments. Despite the public’s rage at not acquiring big names or making “statement moves” Friedman and company decided they wouldn’t back down.

    There’s Grant Balfour, the fiery Australian with one pitch that he uses 89% of the time. Acquired in a trade, which is a common theme for this roster, Balfour worked through control issues in triple-A Durham following his designation for assignment in March. Upon his return, he looks less the guy who walked 7.30 per nine last year and more like a 13 strikeout per nine relief monster that has a 3.57 K/BB ratio.

    On most nights Balfour is blazing his fastball to Dioner Navarro, the emotionally tested catcher who the Rays chose not to replace this past off-season despite a .641 OPS. Navarro was more than a tad bit unlucky last season with 17% of his batted balls being line drives that resulted in only a .253 BABIP. Navarro was named to the American League all-star team this season, his second full season since Friedman acquired Navarro, Jae Weong Seo, and Justin Ruggiano for Toby Hall and Mark Hendrickson in mid-2006.

    Joey Gathright and Fernando Cortez were dealt for J.P. Howell who had such a contrast in AAA and MLB statistics that most were labeling him a quadruple-A player. Thankfully Howell’s absurdly high BABIP regressed while Howell has been getting more grounders and solidifying himself as one of the go-to relievers for Joe Maddon.

    Of course Maddon himself is a symbol of the patience exhibited by this franchise. A team looking to make a statement to the fan base that losing isn’t acceptable could’ve easily declined Maddon’s dual options for this season and next. After all Maddon guided teams had finished with the worst record in the league both of the past two seasons, but the Rays persisted that Maddon was indeed the man to lead this team through its transition.

    The Rays are now looking at perhaps the most rewarding of waiting projects with Rocco Baldelli. He will probably never reach Josh Hamilton status, but Baldelli was one of the original Rays golden children. As a 21 year old rookie he amazingly broke into a Lou Piniella starting lineup and didn’t perform too bad. Yet as we all know Baldelli’s body has nearly derailed his once great potential down to just shy of 130 games since 2005.

    Before this year waiting is all the Rays and their fans ever really had. When Troy Percival signed with the Rays for less money part of his reasoning was feeling as if this team had a legitimate playoff shot; most took this as sugar coating his desire to be a closer. Cliff Floyd would follow not too long after using some of the same key words. Ace Scott Kazmir made the boldest of statements in spring training by stating this team would definitely compete for a playoff position. Most rolled their eyes and said “We’ll see.”

    Seeing is believing, patience is a virtue, and the Rays are in first place in late August.

    R.J. Anderson is Senior Editor of DRaysBay and Beyond the Boxscore.

    Designated HitterAugust 04, 2008
    The Cubs, MLB, and a Cuban Missile Crisis
    By Maury Brown

    Before we get started, don’t let the title fool you; this isn’t about that abysmal Cubs team that went 59-103 with El Tappe, Lou Klein, and Charlie Metro at the helm. And no, the world is not on the precipice like those days in 1962 when Kennedy and Khrushchev took the world to the brink of nuclear war. But, there is an arms race going on with this story, although not of the pitching variety.

    The sale of the Chicago Cubs from Sam Zell, the new owner of the Tribune Company, is nearing its final stages, and with it, history will be made. The sale of the Lovable Losers, Wrigley Field, and a 25 percent stake in ComcastSports Chicago will be bringing in well over $1 billion, thus surpassing the Red Sox sale in 2002 and setting the bar for other storied franchises that might come up for grabs, as well as push the needle up on all other clubs – big or small – if and when they hit the market. Somewhere, Harry Caray is saying, “Holy Cow!”

    Five approved bidders that have reached the second round in the process each have submitted bids around that jaw-dropping $1 billion. Those bidders include Thomas Ricketts, whose father Joe founded the TD Ameritrade brokerage, Michael Tokarz, chairman of MVC Capital Inc., Sports Properties Acquisitions Corp., who has Henry Aaron and Jack Kemp as public representatives, but is headed by Andrew Murstein, a New York taxi company magnate, and fueled by a $200 million shares sale this past January, a group headed up by Hersch Klaff, a real estate investor, and Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, and Chairman of HDNet, an HDTV cable network.

    In a striking turn of events, the bidder deemed to be a near lock for the package, Madison Dearborn Partners CEO, John Canning, Jr. is sitting on the outside looking in after offering up an initial bid of approximately $800 million, a figure that while large, came in a cool $200 million below where those that made the cut landed. Canning, a minority owner of the Brewers, and a close friend of Bud Selig, fits MLB’s personal profile better than the best Armani suit, but at the end of the day, the Cubs sale is in such rarified air, at least in terms of the sale price, that Canning’s pull with the MLB brass simply couldn’t keep up dollar signs.

    And, while Canning may seem to be out of the running, there is certainly the possibility that he could pull together more capital and get right back in the mix. The question on MLB’s mind is, will he? This is, after all, the Cubs, a club that has been successful while being the Kings of Futility. There are brands in baseball, but short of the Yankees, Red Sox, and possibly the Dodgers, is there a name that resonates across America as well? MLB needs -- nearly demands – an owner like Canning. Because, sitting on the doorstep and knocking hard is the antithesis of what an MLB owner is like today.

    Mark Cuban, a man whose exceptional worth (reportedly $2.8 billion) was gained through new technology, selling Broadcast.com to Yahoo! and in the process became a billionaire. And while those Armani suits describe Canning, Cuban is one who seems to see the black turtleneck and jeans ala Steve Jobs as being “dressed up.” He’s a jeans and tees guy, something that most anyone with a pulse would have a hard time seeing the vast majority of the ownership brethren ever wearing.

    Cuban, the NBA Mavericks owner, has been the one driving the arms race forward in the Cubs sale. A man that seems so driven to gain access to the Cubs that he reportedly has offered an initial bid of $1.3 billion, thus making it clear: you want to play hardball, bring your wallet.

    With Canning out (for the moment; maybe longer), Cuban becomes the wild card, and in some ways, the prohibitive favorite. Here’s why.

    Sam Zell, while wishing to retain a minority share of the Cubs, really has no interest in the baseball holdings tied to Tribune. Zell’s main motivation to keep that minority share is for tax dodge purposes. Earlier this year, when there was talk of the typical glacial process associated with an MLB sale, Zell said on CNBC’s Squawk Box, “Excuse me for being sarcastic, but the idea of a debate occurring over what I should do with my asset leaves me somewhat questioning the integrity of the debate. There’s a lot of people who would like to buy the Cubs and would like to buy the Cubs under their terms and conditions and, unfortunately, they have to deal with me.”

    In other words, a rigged deal where a lower bid is accepted by the MLB owners could have consequences; possibly of the legal variety. With Zell having a $650 million debt payment obligation due in December and approximately $250 million in medium-term notes due in 2008, he’s in need of the highest offer, and can you blame him? Going back to that 2002 sale of the Boston Red Sox, many will recall that Charles Dolan offered up $40 million more than the winning bid submitted by John Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino. $40 million might be one thing. If Cuban throws, say, $100 million more at the Cubs than the other bidders, MLB will be hard pressed not to accept.

    But, here’s the real thing that could possibly scare the owners: It isn’t that Cuban is a wild card. It isn’t that he doesn’t dress the part. Cuban could wind up being brilliant.

    The Cubs are an underutilized brand. Wrigley hasn’t been fully tapped. Cuban took the Mavericks, in a city where the Dallas Cowboys are somewhere short of religion, and made them a player in the NBA. After purchasing the Mavericks in 2000 for $200 million, Forbes valued them at $461 million, the sixth highest rated valued franchise in the NBA. What if Cuban decides to do the same with the Cubs? How do you think Jerry Reinsdorf would feel about that?

    The fact that the club that would be impacted the most by a Cuban winning bid is also owned by a man that knows Cuban through the NBA smacks of the ironic. Reinsdorf, who owns the White Sox, also owns the Chicago Bulls. How did Jerry vote on Cuban coming to the NBA? He said no. Where does Jerry sit in order of the ownership brethren? He’s as close to Bud Selig as one can get. Cuban getting through the door will not be easy, but not impossible. He’s been on record as saying he’s opposed to guaranteed contracts in the NBA. Imagine if he put his weight behind that concept in MLB?

    As I wrote in late May (Thwart A Cash Heavy Deal By Cuban? Try A Marriage) the one real shot that MLB has to thwart this cash heavy Cuban missile crisis is to pull together bidders in an attempt to get the profile, and the money together. Then, Zell wins, and MLB wins. This was done with the sale of the Washington Nationals where real estate developer Ted Lerner was married up with Stan Kasten, who to date is still the only executive to hold the position of president across three major league sports franchises at the same time (Braves, Thrashers, Hawks). Sports Properties Acquisitions Corp could be that player. Henry Aaron and Jack Kemp certainly would be more stately than a man that has sang Take Me Out to the Ballgame, and racked up over $1 million in league fines through the NBA.

    The difficulty, of course, isn’t the “stateliness”, it’s the money. With the credit markets taking a massive hit, pulling together capital is not exactly easy these days. Bud will be working the phones overtime to try and get the players together.

    The one thing known in this deal is expect the unknown. Over, and over, and over I wrote how the deal was wired for John Canning, and Cuban was simply the Bombay Sapphire in the mix – a pawn being used to gin up the price. With Canning looking like he’s out of the mix, anything seems possible. But, let’s dream a bit. Let’s say that a year from now, it is Mark Cuban that wins the bidding, and is the owner of the Cubs and Wrigley Field. Isn’t it safe to say that the league will be more colorful for it? That Cuban would bring a competitive element? That in bringing his wallet to the table, he increased the value of all MLB clubs? Look for the next set of bids to occur in September, and the finalized deal announced shortly after the World Series. It seems then, and only then, will we know who will own the Cubs, and whether Mark Cuban is sitting at the table.

    Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is contributor to Baseball Prospectus, and is available as a freelance writer.

    Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.

    Designated HitterJuly 31, 2008
    Dee-Fense . . . Dee-Fense . . .
    By Myron Logan

    Last year, Justin Inaz popularized a new fielding stat, based on the freely available data from the Hardball Times. This year I decided to set up a spreadsheet (one that can automatically update!) and keep track of fielding performance, using Justin’s process. While there are plenty of advanced fielding metrics out there, such as MGL’s Ultimate Zone Rating, David Pinto’s Probabilistic Model of Range, and John Dewan’s Plus/Minus, I figured, if anything, it wouldn’t hurt to have one more. It may not get as detailed as those listed above, but it’s pretty good and it’s available all the time (and for free).

    The Methodology

    The Hardball Times provides us with some great information to evaluate fielding performance. On their fielding stats page, they report, for each and every player, the number of balls hit into the player’s zone, the number of plays made on balls in their zone, and the number of plays made on balls hit outside of their zone. With these three numbers in hand, we can get a pretty solid grasp of a player’s fielding performance. But, before we get to that, we’ve got a few definitions to get out of the way:

  • BIZ (balls in zone) – This is the number of balls hit into a player’s zone. A zone (or zones) is defined as the area on the field where at least 50% of balls are turned into outs, at the position in question.

  • Plays – This category is simply plays made on balls in zone.

  • OOZ (out of zone plays) – This is the number of plays a fielder makes on balls hit outside of his zone.

    Now, how do we go about turning three numbers into a decent fielding metric? Well, let’s take a look at Mariners’ shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt, as an example. He’s had 244 balls hit into his zone, and of those 244 chances, he’s turned 200 of them into outs. The average shortstop turns about 83% of balls in zone into outs, so we would expect the average SS to make about 203 plays, if they had 244 chances. Betancourt is about -3 compared to average.

    How do we handle out of zone performance? Betancourt’s made just 17 out of zone plays so far in 2008. The average shortstop makes about .13 out of zone plays per in zone chance*, so we’d expect the average SS to have about 32 out of zone plays, given Yuni’s in zone chances. This puts Betancourt at -15 on OOZ balls and about -18 plays overall.

    *One major assumption is being taken here. That is that the number of in zone chances a player gets also reflects the number of out of zone chances he’ll have. Since we don’t know exactly how many OOZ chances anyone actually has, we have to estimate this number somehow. Some people believe innings or total balls in play or something else would be a better proxy, but I’m using in zone chances here.

    We now have Betancourt at -18 plays, but we’re not quite done yet. It’s a lot easier to work in terms of runs because that’s generally how we measure things in baseball, so we have to make one final conversion. Using the numbers derived from Chris Dial, we can turn plays into runs, simply by multiplying plays by .753 for shortstops (it varies by position as saving a play in, say, the outfield, is, on average, more valuable than saving a play in the infield). Betancourt now ends up at about -13 runs, or the second-worst MLB shortstop, ahead of only Bobby Crosby (-14.6).

    That is essentially what you do, with every player, at every position (of course, Excel makes that a little bit easier, or at least it’s supposed to, if you know what you’re doing).

    The Good and the Bad

    There are a number of reasons why this metric (stat, translation, conversion, whatever you want to call it) is pretty darn good, and there are also, of course, many limitations.

    Positives:

    • It’s based on play-by-play data. It doesn’t try to estimate opportunities based on regular fielding stats. Rather, the folks at Baseball Info Solutions use video analysis of each play to derive the numbers. It’s a big step up over Range Factor and some of the other non-pbp metrics.

    • It counts both in zone and out of zone performance, and it also keeps them separated (so you don’t get problems like this). I see a lot of people looking at RZR (plays/BIZ) and maybe trying to eyeball OOZ performance. Well, now you don’t have to do that. They’re both combined so you can get a picture of a fielder’s total contribution (at least in the range aspect of fielding).

    • It’s available for free and we can update it when we want. Some of the more detailed metrics are often not updated until the end of the year, or are behind a paywall, or aren’t displayed at all for various reasons. Well, this may not be the most detailed -- more on that later -- but, thanks to the folks at The Hardball Times, it’s always there for us!

    Negatives:

    • There aren’t a lot of adjustments, like you’ll see in, say, something like Ultimate Zone Rating. For example, there isn’t an adjustment for the speed of the ball. A scorching grounder to the shortstop is going to look just like a routine ground ball, as long as they’re both in the shortstop’s zone, by this metric. Also, there are no park adjustments, and that could be a problem, especially in the outfield.

    • A ball is either determined to be in the fielder’s zone or out of it. We all know that all balls hit into a fielder’s zone are not created equal. If one player gets a bunch of balls on the fringe of his zone one year, it could make him look worse than he really is, though we expect stuff like that to even out as we get more and more data.

    • As mentioned above, we don’t know exactly how many opportunities a fielder has out of his zone. We can make as estimate, but there could certainly be problems with it.

    • It certainly does not include every aspect of fielding; rather it concentrates on the range aspect. For instance, things like pop ups and double plays aren’t included for infielders, throwing arms aren’t included for outfielders, and scooping bad throws out of the dirt isn’t considered for first basement.

    I think that, if we keep the limitations in mind, this can be a very useful number to look at. Of course, we can’t get carried away with two-thirds of a season’s stats, both because of the limitations mentioned above, and because of the relatively small amount of data we’re working with. With that said, let’s take a look at the best and worst teams and individual fielders so far in 2008.

    Teams

    Below are all 30 teams listed, in order of runs saved above average (through Monday, July 28):

    STL     45.1
    ATL     39.4
    CHN     35.7
    OAK     35.1
    SD      31.0
    HOU     28.3
    PHI     28.0
    LAN     27.5
    MIL     22.4
    TOR     18.5
    LAA     15.4
    NYN     10.3
    TB       9.0
    SF       4.7
    CHA     -2.8
    SEA     -5.5
    COL     -6.1
    BOS     -7.3
    DET     -7.6
    ARI     -8.6
    WAS    -10.8
    CLE    -12.9
    BAL    -17.0
    CIN    -19.2
    PIT    -24.3
    TEX    -26.4
    FLA    -38.1
    NYA    -48.9
    MIN    -49.2
    KC     -58.4
    

    The Cardinals come out on top, at about 45 runs above average. The Cards are led by a great infield trio of Adam Kennedy ( 14.9), Albert Pujols ( 11.5), and Cezar Izturis ( 10.2). The Braves are also anchored by three great infielders in Yunel Escobar ( 17.4), Chipper Jones ( 16.5), and Mark Teixeira ( 10.6). The Cubs are led by rookie right fielder Kosuke Fukudome ( 15.5). Other standouts include Derrek Lee ( 7.2) and Mike Fontenot ( 6.8).

    The Royals find themselves trailing the majors, at 58 runs below average. They have eight players that are at least 5 runs below average or worse. Minnesota’s been hurt badly by their infield defense: Justin Morneau (first, -10.7), Alexi Casilla (second, -6.1), Brendan Harris (short, -5.6), and Mike Lamb (third, -12.6). The Yankees can thank most of their poor rating to Bobby Abreu, who trails the majors at 27.5 runs below average.

    Best and Worst Fielders

    The subtitle there is a bit of a misnomer, as you’d like to have more than one year of data to truly determine the best and worst fielders. But here are the top 20 fielders so far in 2008, ranked in order of runs saved above average (these aren’t per 150 innings or anything, by the way – this is the player’s total so far):

    Utley, Phi      25.0
    Rolen, Tor      23.8
    Beltre, Sea     21.8
    Ellis, Oak      18.3
    Hardy, Mil      17.5
    Escobar, Atl    17.4
    Giles, SD       16.9
    Jones, Atl      16.5
    Fukudome, Chi   15.5
    Hannahan, Oak   14.9
    Kennedy, Stl    14.9
    Berkman, Hou    13.9
    Winn, SF        13.2
    Anderson, CHA   13.1
    Votto, Cin      12.9
    Rios, Tor       12.7
    Gutierrez, Cle  11.5
    Pujols, Stl     11.5
    Helton, Col     11.3
    Figgins, LAA    11.1
    

    And how about the trailers:

    Abreu, NYA      -27.5
    Wells, Tor      -21.9
    Jacobs, Fla     -17.9
    Encarnacion,Cin -15.9
    Hawpe, Col      -15.5
    McLouth, Pit    -15.3
    Griffey Jr, Cin -15.1
    Mora, Bal       -14.8
    Blake, Cle      -14.6
    Crosby, Oak     -14.6
    Ramirez, Bos    -14.1
    Betancourt, Sea -13.3
    Ordonez, Det    -13.3
    Lamb, Min       -12.6
    Easley, NYN     -12.5
    Hermida, Fla    -12.5
    Quentin, CHA    -12.1
    Cantu, Tor      -12.1
    Castillo, NYM   -12.0
    Kinsler, Tex    -11.8
    

    Figuring you might be interested in, oh, say, the 800 some players in between the top and bottom 20, here’s the full spreadsheet.

    There you’ve got ratings at every position, positional averages in some of the key stats, and team totals again. Feel free to use it however you’d like, of course, and let me know if you have any questions. And let me know if I’ve messed anything up, be it in the spreadsheet or in any of my rambling above. I am by no means any type of expert on fielding analysis, but I find it fascinating, and I hope you do too.

    Myron Logan writes about the Padres and baseball at Friar Forecast.

  • Designated HitterJuly 14, 2008
    They Were All-Stars – Believe It or Not!
    By Al Doyle

    With baseball's annual All-Star Game just around the corner, many fans are thinking about great names of the past and present. Each midseason contest includes a heavy dose of talented young players, perennial stars and future Hall of Famers.

    Does that mean every All-Star is a big name with a glittering stat sheet? Not exactly.

    The rules of All-Star selection - at least one representative from each team, no matter how inept (insert the 1939 Browns, '42 Phillies, '52 Pirates, '62 Mets and 2003 Tigers here) - plus last-minute replacements for injured players means a few journeymen sneak into All-Star status. In some cases, a first-half hot streak turns a mediocre player into the baseball equivalent of Cinderella, and the humble roster filler gets an invitation to the All-Star ball.

    So who are some of the least deserving honorees? Here are the accidential All-Stars.

    Bobo Newsom's 20-16 record for the hapless 1938 Browns (59-95) looks good enough for All-Star consideration, but it came with a 5.08 ERA that was 29 points above the American League average of 4.79. Newsom's 226 strikeouts and 192 walks were second in the AL.

    Max West's 1940 numbers - a .261 average with 7 home runs and 72 RBI in 524 at-bats - are hardly the stuff of legend. Despite that, the Boston Bees (the name of the Braves from 1936 to 1941) outfielder made a big impact on that year's 4-0 victory for the National League. West hit a three-run homer in his only All-Star plate appearance. He left the game in the second inning after bruising his hip while crashing into the wall during an unsuccessful attempt to catch a Luke Appling double.

    Phillies pitcher Cy Blanton was selected in 1941. He finished the season at 6-13 with a 4.51 ERA for the perennial cellar dwellers. The Philadelphia A's also offered little to choose from during that time. Catcher Hal Wagner hit .236 in 288 ABs with 1 HR and 30 RBI in 1942 but still made the All-Star roster.

    Eddie Miller was a slick fielder, so it wasn't his .209 average that turned the Reds shortstop into a 1944 All-Star. Miller's 357 putouts, 544 assists and .971 fielding percentage led the league. Miller sat the game out due to injury, and he was replaced by Pirates infielder Frank Zak. How did the slap-hitting backup (just four extra-base hits in 160 ABs) become an All-Star? The game was played at Forbes Filed, and having a hometown player meant the National League needed to find one less train ticket in a time of scarcity and rationing.

    Browns pitcher Jack Kramer made the squad in 1947. He finished the season 11-16 with a 4.97 ERA. While that might be decent by the lowly standard of the Brownies, it definitely wasn't All-Star quality. Tigers hurler Ted Gray was 10-7 in 1950, but a 4.40 ERA was nothing to brag about.

    White Sox righty Randy Gumpert had his 15 minutes of All-Star fame in 1951 despite a 9-8, 4.32 record. Reds second baseman Grady Hatton was a slick fielder, but he hit just .212 in 430 ABs.

    Browns shortstop Billy Hunter pinch-ran in the 1953 game. The rookie hit .219 (also his career average) with 1 HR and 37 RBI in 567 ABs during the franchise's final season in St. Louis. Teammate Satchel Paige joined Hunter and pitched in relief just days after his 47th birthday. On the NL side, lefty Murry Dickson finished 10-19 with a 4.53 ERA for the 50-104 Pirates.

    Dick Stigman sat on the bench in both 1961 All-Star Games, as two July exhibitions were played each year from 1958 to 1962. The Indians lefty finished the season 5-11 with nine saves and a 4.51 ERA. Red Sox reliever Mike Fornieles (9-8, 4.68, 15 saves) gave up a run in a third of an inning in Game 1.

    Senators catcher Don Leppert didn't appear in the 1963 contest. His stats for the season include 211 ABs, 6 HR, 24 RBI and a .237 average. Defensive and pitch-calling skills can put a poor-hitting catcher on the All-Star roster, and Andy Etchebarren pulled off that feat two years in a row. The Orioles reciever hit .221 with career highs in HR (11) and RBI (50) in 1966. Etchebarren followed with a .215, 7, 35 stat line in 1967. He did nothing more than warm up pitchers as an All-Star.

    Slim pickings from expansion teams led to the inclusion a pair of journeyman catchers on the 1969 rosters. Chris Cannizzaro of the Padres (4 HR, 33 RBI, .220) and Royals backstop Ellie Rodriguez (2 HR, 20 RBI, .236 in 267 ABs) made the trip to RFK Stadium in Washington, but neither player appeared in the game.

    Rangers first baseman Jim Spencer was known as a slick fielder (.999 fielding percentage and just one error in 1973), but his 4 HR, 43 RBI and .267 average are hardly the norm for a heavy-hitting position. Spencer went 0 for 1 as pinch-hitter in the '73 summer classic.

    Angels infielder Dave Chalk hit .252 with 5 HR and 31 RBI in 465 AB in 1975, but that didn't keep him off the All-Star roster. Just nine doubles and three triples further illustrates Chalk's lack of punch. It wasn't defense that turned Chalk into an All-Star. He led AL shortstops in errors (29, .938 fielding percentage) despite playing just 99 games at the position. Chalk was more dependable at third base, and he repeated as an All-Star in 1976 at that position.

    Steve Swisher lived up to his name with a .216 lifetime average. A solid defensive catcher, he represented the Cubs in 1976, but didn't appear in the game. Swisher's .236 average with 5 HR and 43 RBI in 377 AB was the high point of his career. Swisher's son Nick has made a reputation for himself as a slugging OF/1B for the A's and White Sox.

    Dick Ruthven made two NL All-Star squads with less than impressive numbers. The right-hander was 14-17 with a 4.20 ERA for the Braves in 1976. Ruthven led the NL in losses that year.

    A 12-7 record in strike-shortened 1981 looks good, but it was accompanied by a 5.14 ERA. Ironically, Ruthven wasn't an All-Star during his best season - a 17-10, 3.55 performance for the Phillies in 1980.

    Biff Pocoroba is known by those who like unusual baseball names. The Braves catcher hit .242 with 6 HR and 34 RBI in 289 AB when he made his only All-Star team in 1978.

    Ongoing expansion led to more eligible players and fewer desperation picks. The usual problem in recent years had been a lack of roster spots for every deserving candidate, something that usually wasn't an issue when the major leagues had just 16 teams.

    Rangers pitcher Roger Pavlik was a 1994 All-Star. The 15-8 record looks fine, but the 5.19 ERA is another story. Paul Byrd's 4.60 ERA was paired with a 15-11 record for the Phillies in 1999. The control specialist gave up an unusually high (for him) 70 walks in 199.2 IP.

    Rays closer Lance Carter had a strong first half in 2003 before fading after the All-Star Game. He finished the season with a 7-5 record, 26 saves and a 4.33 ERA.

    Former Brewers closer Derrick Turnbow was cruising along with an ERA in the 3.00 range when he was named to the NL squad in 2006. That number rose to the 4.50 level by the time the All-Star Game was played. Bad turned to horrendous in the second half. When he wasn't giving up walks, Turnbow was getting hit hard. One of baseball's best closers in 2005, Turnbow ended 2006 with a 4-9 record, 24 saves and a 6.87 ERA, and he has never recaptured the magic of a few years ago.

    The lesson? Being an All-Star is a great honor, but it says nothing about a player's long-term prospects.

    Designated HitterJuly 11, 2008
    Great Moments in Frivolity, Part II
    By Craig Calcaterra

    Yesterday we looked at March's monkeyshines and April's assininity. Today we wrap up with May, June, and July. What? July's not over yet? No worries. I'm sure no one will do anything stupid or noteworthy for the rest of the month.

    May

    Multiple news outlets profile the Royals' dynamic duo of Zach Greinke and Brian Bannister. They make for a great story. One guy is a much better story, however. I mean, when you consider all of the adversity he has overcome and the affliction with which he has struggled, man, you just get misty. I'm talking, of course, about Brian Bannister and his ability to hold a job without possessing a Major League fastball.

    Sticking with the Royals, on May 2nd, reliever John Bale, frustrated at yet another poor performance, breaks his hand after punching a door. At the time he has a 7.63 ERA, which means that he was probably doing his team a favor by putting himself on the DL. Inspired, the Giants put pictures of one of the guys Barry Zito's ex-girlfriends hooked up with on every door in the clubhouse, hoping for a similar miracle.

    Paul DePodesta, the Padres Special Assistant for Baseball Operations, starts his own blog. Team President Sandy Alderson is generally supportive, but hopes that DePodesta is strongly considered for the Mariners' vacant GM position so that he can get the use of his basement back.

    Hall of Famer-elect Rich Gossage rants about how it takes three pitchers today to do the job that he and his bullpen brethren did back in the dark ages of the 1970s and 80s. Juan Marichal, Bob Gibson, and Sandy Koufax roll their eyes. Cy Young, Pud Galvin, and Tim Keefe inquire from beyond about what, exactly, a "bullpen" is.

    Giants' GM Brian Sabean announces that he thinks his team can yet contend in 2008, lauding his players for overcoming all of the "challenges" and "question marks" they faced coming out of spring training. Sabean fails to mention, however, that all of the challenges and question marks were the result of his own failure to draft and develop a position player during virtually his entire tenure as General Manager.

    Jon Lester throws a no-hitter against the Royals. Unfortunately, this is the only Red Sox game in weeks not featured on ESPN, so no one outside of Kansas City or New England gets to see it.

    It is revealed that Roger Clemens routinely dispenses pitching advice to Joba Chamberlain via text message. While some express concern, cooler heads prevail when it's pointed out that Chamberlain is 22 years-old, and as such is much too old to hold Clemens' interest for long.

    Officials from the State of Maryland hold a ceremony renaming a portion of I-395 outside of Camden Yards "Cal Ripken Way." Best thing about it: it's a very durable road, and thus resurfacing will not be necessary until 2024.

    June

    There's a lot of talk about Chase Utley for MVP. It rages throughout most of the month, but eventually subsides when someone points out that he's not even the best-hitting second baseman in the NL East whose last name starts with the letter "U".

    Joba Chamberlain makes his much anticipated debut as a starting pitcher. He only lasts three innings. The short outing has nothing to do with his lack of effectiveness, however. Rather, there are so many reporters assembled for the game that the Yankees' media relations people thought it would be a good idea to make Chamberlain available for interviews beginning in the bottom of the fourth.

    To hype the All-Star Game, Major League Baseball creates the "Statues on Parade" promotion, in which replicas of Lady Liberty are painted with the logos of all 30 Major League teams and placed in strategic locations around New York City. Many clever wags make jokes at what might happen to a statue painted with a Red Sox logo sitting on a street corner in the Bronx. No one seems to worry, however, about plastering the racist image of Chief Wahoo over one of our nation's greatest symbols of liberty.

    Ozzie Guillen goes on an expletive-laced tirade following a bad White Sox loss, going so far as to call out Sox GM Kenny Williams, who fires back at Ozzie the following day. A few days later, Mariners manager John McLaren goes on a tirade of his own, and he is immediately defended and supported by Mariners' management as "having a right to be upset." Weeks later, McLaren is fired and Ozzie has the White Sox in first place. The lesson here: chemistry is overrated.

    The Rangers and Indians play a midweek, four-game series in which 78 runs were scored, all of the games exceeded three hours in length – in fact three of the four pushed four hours – and sloppy play prevailed. Box scores documenting these crimes against baseball humanity are sent to the International Court of Justice in the Hague for further investigation, and a Truth and Reconciliation Committee is formed. Experts believe that the mental wounds inflicted by this atrocity of a series can one day heal, but it will take time.

    Geddy Lee, the lead singer and bassist for Canadian progressive rock band Rush, makes one of the largest ever single donations of memorabilia to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. After he leaves, the entire staff of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum runs to the nearest computer to try and figure out just who the hell Geddy Lee is.

    In a USA Today story, experts are quoted as saying that, in order to limit arm and shoulder injuries, an 11- or 12-year-old pitcher should be limited to 85 pitches in one outing, players 10 or younger should be limited to 75 pitches, and 22 year-old New York Yankees' pitchers from Nebraska should be limited to 65.

    In the latest of what seems to be a never-ending string of embarrassing stories about Roger Clemens, the New York tabloids report that, in addition to steroids, Clemens used Viagra as a performance enhancer. While many have alleged that "roid rage" was the cause of the tension between Clemens and Mike Piazza during the 2000 World Series, these new revelations shed a whole new light on things.

    The Sporting News, the one-time Baseball Bible that has since fallen into near-obscurity, relaunches. Middle-aged men all over America are overjoyed that they will soon again be receiving week-old box scores in the mail every Tuesday afternoon.

    David Ortiz becomes a U.S. citizen. Due to a series of complex treaties, however, it is still the case that any children he and his wife have during the baseball season will be subjects of Red Sox Nation.

    The Mets fire Willie Randolph one day into a west coast road trip. Many commentators take issue with the late-night timing of the termination. Underreported is the fact that the Mets refuse to give their former manager a plane ticket back home. Randolph is last seen near the ride board at the UCLA student union.

    The Yankees announce plans to put a Hard Rock Café in New Yankee Stadium. In explaining the reasons behind the move, Hank Steinbrenner says "we wanted the quality of the food we serve to the fans at New Yankee Stadium to reflect the quality of play they can expect to see on the field. It made perfect sense, therefore, to go with the overpriced and overrated fare of the Hard Rock Café!"

    Good News: Cito Gaston is rehired as manager of the Toronto Blue Jays. Bad news: Paul Molitor, Roberto Alomar, and John Olerud are nowhere to be seen.

    Bad news: Major shoulder surgery likely puts an end to Curt Schilling's baseball career. Worse news: major shoulder surgery likely marks the beginning of Curt Schilling's television career.

    A story out of San Diego reveals that the Padres are looking to dump Greg Maddux. This story appears mere days after the Padres sign Brett Tomko. While Padres management continues to try and identify the reasons for the team's considerable struggles, experts note that doing things like keeping guys like Brett Tomko and dumping guys like Greg Maddux may be part of the problem.

    July

    It is announced that a Bon Jovi concert will be held in Central Park in connection with the All-Star Game. In related news, it is announced that the first 10,000 fans in Yankee Stadium on the night of the game will receive Swatch Watches, Cabbage Patch Kids, and jelly shoes.

    C.C. Sabathia is traded to the Brewers. Extra beer, bratwurst, and large pants are immediately dispatched via convoy to Milwaukee.

    In a reaction to the Sabathia trade, the Cubs pick up Rich Harden, and the Cardinals rush Mark Mulder back into the rotation. The Astros, Pirates, and Reds stand by slackjawed, unaware that teams can actually be buyers at the trade deadline.

    Alex Rodriguez's marriage falls apart amid allegations of infidelity with Madonna and drunken dalliances with strippers. A-Rod is understandably confused by the fallout in the tabloids. For years he has been criticized for not being Mickey Mantle, and the moment he finally does something the Mick would do, he's attacked for it.

    The wrecking balls come to Tiger Stadium. I wish I had a joke for this one, but I just don't.

    Enjoy the All-Star Break. I think we all need it.

    Craig Calcaterra is an attorney from Columbus, Ohio. When he's not defending the innocent and preserving democracy, he writes the baseball blog ShysterBall.

    Designated HitterJuly 10, 2008
    Great Moments in Frivolity, Part I
    By Craig Calcaterra

    On Monday, Rich took a look back at the important business of the 2008 season to date: who's winning, who's losing, and why. Unimportant business is important too, however, so over the next two days I’ll be providing a rundown of the ephemeral, the trivial, and the pathetic events of the season's first half. Today: March and April.

    March

    Following a poorly-played spring training game, Royals' manager Trey Hillman delivers a verbal reprimand of his entire team on the field in front of over 5,000 fans at Surprise Stadium. Sources in the crowd report that Hillman was particularly displeased with the way that the Royals lollygagged the ball around the infield, lollygagged their way down to first, and lollygagged in and out of the dugout. This, according to pitching coach Bob McClure, made the Royals "lollygaggers."

    Billy Crystal signed with the Yankees and faced Pirates' pitcher Paul Maholm in his only at bat. He struck out, but looked pretty good doing it, especially for a sixty year-old man. Since it was a one-day contract, the Yankees released him that afternoon. Brian Cashman regrets the decision, however, after watching Robinson Cano post a .151/.211/.236 line in April.

    Tensions flare between the Yankees and Rays after a hard slide which broke the wrist of New York's backup catcher Francisco Cervelli leads to a spiking/beanball war. This marks the last point of the season in which the Yankees would compete with Tampa Bay in any meaningful way.

    In the greatest display of labor solidarity since the 1994-95 strike, the Boston Red Sox announce that they're boycotting their season-opening series against the A's in Tokyo unless coaches and staff are given a promised $40,000 bonus. Reporters, bloggers, and the professionally outraged are deeply disappointed when the strike ends approximately seventeen minutes after it begins.

    Miguel Cabrera and the Tigers agree to an eight-year, $153M extension. When asked to comment, Tigers' GM Dave Dombrowski notes that such a large and long deal may be foolish when talking about a slow first basemen or DH, but it's an absolute steal for a third baseman.

    An advance copy of Vindicated, Jose Canseco's new book is released, and once again Canseco is trashed as a liar and sleazeball. Among the crazy, outlandish things claimed by Canseco this time is the allegation that Alex Rodriguez was known to make advances towards women who were not his wife. How dare he besmirch the integrity and fidelity of a class act like Alex Rodriguez in such a fashion!

    Spring training ends with a series in the Los Angeles Coliseum, and the regular season begins with a series in the Tokyo Dome. Ah, tradition!

    April

    Moises Alou admits to Associated Press columnist Jim Litke that he wouldn't have caught that foul ball in Game 5 of the 2003 NLCS even if Steve Bartman hadn't reached for it. He later recants and returns to claiming that Bartman interfered. Somewhere Steve Bartman is living under an assumed name and not finding any of this funny in the least.

    Bill Buckner makes an emotional return to Fenway Park, where he is greeted warmly twenty-two years after his famous misplay in the 1986 World Series. This is not to be mistaken with the emotional return he made to Fenway Park as a player in 1990, where he was greeted warmly four years after his famous misplay in the 1986 World Series. It should likewise not later be mistaken with the emotional return he will make to Fenway Park in 2016, thirty years after his famous misplay in the 1986 World Series.

    Miguel Cabrera is moved from third base to first base. When asked for comment, Tigers' GM Dave Dombrowski notes that such a move makes perfect sense given the contract extension to which the Tigers signed Cabrera a month before. Such a large and long deal would be foolish when talking about a player at an injury-susceptible position like third, Dombrowski says, but it's an absolute steal for a guy at a safe position like first base.

    A book reveals that Mickey Mantle had an affair with Doris Day during the filming of "That Touch of Mink" back in 1962. Day denied the reports at the time, but Mantle's wife fled to Paris to be with pop singer Frankie Avalon and then immediately filed divorce papers. The whole thing was splashed all over the New York tabloids.

    Former Blue Jays' third baseman Ed Sprague admits that, over the course of his Major League Career, he took amphetamines and Androstenedione and once hit a home run with a corked bat. As a result, Game 2 of the 1992 World Series is retroactively awarded to the Atlanta Braves. The teams are currently scheduled to meet at the end of the 2008 season to play a deciding Game 7. Jack Morris is set to start for the Jays, assuming someone can wake him up from his afternoon nap.

    A Red Sox fan/construction worker at New Yankee Stadium secretly buries a David Ortiz jersey in concrete in an effort to jinx the Yankees. Someone talks, however, and his plan is disrupted. The jersey is removed, but not before an excavation subcontract is put out for bid and awarded, raising the price of the stadium an additional 296 million dollars.

    The University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports releases its annual report on diversity in baseball. Its findings: that the percentage of Blacks in baseball is lower than it has ever been. This is similar to the study's findings for the previous two decades, and will continue to be the case until generations of interbreeding renders the entire human race a sort of tannish color. When that happens, The University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports will issue a report noting that the percentage of non-tan players in baseball is lower than it ever has been.

    CC Sabathia goes 0-3 with a 13.50 ERA in his first four starts, rendering him an untradable pariah.

    The Tampa Bay Rays sign Evan Longoria to a multi-year, multi-million dollar extension after six days of Major League service time. Realizing that they missed the window to obtain that kind of contract security, old timers Cole Hamels and Prince Fielder take factory jobs to make ends meet.

    Elijah Dukes completes his community service for misdemeanor drug charges by cleaning out cages at a zoo. His lawyer is immediately disbarred for failing to argue at Dukes' sentencing hearing that playing for the Washington Nationals was already more than enough punishment.

    In what is just one of many skeletons released from Roger Clemens's closet as a result of his defamation lawsuit against Brian McNamee, it is revealed that the Rocket had a longstanding affair with country singer Mindy McCready that began when she was still a teenager. Meanwhile, the eighty some-odd guys named in the Mitchell Report who didn't make a federal case out of it go on with their mostly rich, mostly happy, and mostly uneventful lives.

    On April 29th, the Rays meet the Orioles in a battle for first place in the AL East. I don’t have a joke for that one as over two months later, I’m still trying to process it.

    Craig Calcaterra is an attorney from Columbus, Ohio. When he's not defending the innocent and preserving democracy, he writes the baseball blog ShysterBall.

    Designated HitterJune 26, 2008
    An Ode to Baseball Cards
    By Chad Finn

    Twenty observations, anecdotes, half-truths, non-sequiturs, and sweet, sweet memories of a childhood spent with cardboard.

    (Or, one item for every penny a pack cost 30 years ago.)

    1. Your favorite set is most likely the one from your first year of collecting or following baseball. For me, it’s the simple, elegant 1978 Topps set, though I was later fond of the overproduced and now utterly worthless ’87 Topps set - you know, the ones with the fake wood paneling that were apparently designed with your dad’s old station wagon in mind. I have a good buddy who insists the blindingly gaudy ’76 Topps set was the best ever produced. Then again, it was his first year of collecting, and he happens to be color blind. Looking at those cards too long is probably what did it.

    2. A rare card in your collection allows you to dare to dream of untold riches . . . at least temporarily. I could not have been the only 11-year-old in 1981 who discovered he owned the allegedly scarce ‘‘Craig’’ Nettles Fleer card, immediately got dollar signs in his eyes, and began plotting to buy a new 10-speed, cards by the case, a Cheryl Ladd poster, perhaps a red Lamborghini, and whatever else it is that 11-year-olds desire. (FYI: The Nettles wasn’t so rare after all; it now goes for $2 on eBay. I still haven’t got a Lamborghini, or for that matter, a decent bike.)

    3. Other than perhaps a photographic archive at Cooperstown, cards serve as the premier visual history of the sport. And we’re not just talking about classics such as Mays in ’52, The Mick in ’56, or Koufax in ’66. Baseball cards also remind you, for instance, that Barry Bonds once had Kenny Lofton’s physique, a
    muttonchopped Ozzie Smith
    actually made the Padres’ McDonald’s-inspired uniform look somewhat cool, and Oscar Gamble’s ’fro set a hair-raising standard never to be duplicated except possibly on the dance floor of Studio 54 in the summer of '77.

    4. In the ’70s, Topps’s graphic artists and air-brushers were hired only after they failed the Tippy the Turtle test for the Art Instruction Institute: Did Greg Minton really look this? Was Mike Paxton actually one-dimensional? And did Andy Etchebarren seriously have a monobrow covering his entire forehead?(Wait . . . he did? That’s not airbrushed? The poor man.)

    5. Other than having their own page on baseballreference.com, nothing validates an obscure player’s career more than appearing on his own card. Tom Newell, a personal favorite whose entire big-league life consisted of two relief appearances with the ’87 Phillies, appeared on two major-league cards. Not a bad ratio.

    6. Rated Rookies often proved second-rate, and Future Stars more than occasionally turned out to be future insurance salesmen. One example of this phenoms-and-flops phenomenon is the ’87 Donruss set, which rated the top rookies to be Greg Maddux, Mark McGwire, Bo Jackson, Rafael Palmeiro . . . followed in the Donruss lineup by Pat Dodson, Bruce Fields, Ken Gerhart, and Jim Lindeman. But when you’re batting close to .500 in anything, I suppose you’re doing okay.

    7. And who am I to judge anyway, for in my occasional attempts at investing in rookies, I proved comically inept at forecasting a player’s future. In a related note, if you know someone who wants a block of 100 1989 Topps Sil Campusano cards, I’m easy to reach. Heck, I’ll even throw in 50 1986 Topps Andres Thomases. But I’m keeping the 25 1986 Otis Nixons.

    8. A childhood addiction does not lead to a life of crime: When I was in fourth grade, I got busted sneaking off school grounds at lunch to go to the neighborhood store and buy a hot dog and a few packs of . . . baseball cards. (What, you thought I’d say Virginia Slims?) Instead of confessing, I went with the tried-and-true ‘‘it must have been another kid that looks like me’’ defense, and when that Rusty Hardin-caliber argument crashed and burned, I lied and said I had the okay from my parents to do it. My masterstroke: A forged permission slip scribbled in broken cursive saying something like, ‘‘My sun Chad has permishin to by hot dogs at lunch so you can leave him alone now so he can go by hotdogs at lunch. And baseball cards also. Now leave him a lone. Thanks, Chad’s mom.’’ Needless to say, my scam soon ended with a tearful confession in the principal’s office. My parents’ punishment was both cruel and ironic: They took away my baseball cards for something like a month.

    9. The Cal Ripken Jr. rookie card was never my most cherished from the 1982 Topps Traded set. Why? Because on his lone big-league card, an obscure (47 career at-bats) Mariners outfielder named Steve Stroughter appears to be proudly showing off a lovely lime-green booger in his nostril. That’s why. And no, some of us never do outgrow adolescent humor.

    10. Growing up on the mean streets of Bath, Maine, I never saw anyone riding their bicycles with baseball cards in the spokes. And if I did, I’d have shoved the ungrateful little punks off their banana-seated Huffys and rescued all the Garry Templetons, Oscar Zamoras, and Felix Millans as if they were my own cardboard children. Because that’s how I rolled, yo.

    11. Ken Griffey Jr.’s 1989 Upper Deck rookie card is a legitimately iconic card, as Darren Rovell explained so well in a Slate.com article last month, but not necessarily for the right reasons. The advent of Upper Deck, with its attractive, high-end cards, signaled the official transition from a hobby to a business, driving away countless collectors such as, well, me. I hate to sound like one of those ‘‘Back in my day . . . ’’ grumpy geezers, but it simply became too much for the mind (and wallet) to keep up with all the complicated and expensive Topps Chrome, SPx, Fleer Flair, and SP Authentics sets the companies relentlessly cranked out. And for the life of me I will never understand why a splinter or a swatch from a game-used bat or jersey is so appealing. I guess I’m just old.

    12. It’s always a kick to see current managers the way they were as players, 30 or so years and 30 or so pounds ago: You know, back when Terry Francona had a mane, Lou Piniella didn’t yet have rabies, and Joe Torre looked . . . pretty much the same, actually, albeit with fewer nose hairs.

    13. Those two cards you needed to complete your set would forever elude you, no matter how many packs you bought. Someday I will get you, Kiko Garcia and Gene Pentz! (Raises fist, shakes it furiously at the sky.) Someday, I will get you! (All right, probably not.)

    14. The snot-nosed neighborhood kid who refused to trade you his doubles of Garcia and Pentz when he knew your desperation is now the same jerk-store refugee who just offered you Chien-Ming Wang and Phil Hughes for Brandon Webb and Edinson Volquez in your Rotisserie baseball league. Dude, you really need better friends.

    15. The infamous 1989 Fleer Bill Ripken error card was all different kinds of awesome. Me, I always wondered what it said on the rest of his bats.

    16. If you close your eyes right now, you can still smell the pink rectangle of gum/cement that came in Topps packs through the ’70s. Sure, the thing tasted about as good as a Jorge Orta card, and with less nutritional value, but to my 8-year-old self, it was a slice of creative genius. It was gum! With baseball cards! Why, of course I chewed it, every single stick from every single pack. In a related note, I’m pretty sure I’ve single-handedly paid for my dentist’s ski getaway in Aspen.

    17. Dental reconstruction wasn’t the only downside to the so-called gum. Inevitably, that coveted Rickey Henderson rookie card would end up damaged by the gum’s sticky, chalky residue, while your 328th Mario Mendoza would escape unscathed. Sometimes there is no justice.

    18. Like the game itself, they enhanced your bond with your dad. There were few things that brought me more joy as an 8-year-old then when my father would return from a trip to the store with two packs of ’78 Topps, and I still remember him sitting on the floor with me in my bedroom and helping me sort my cards so that traded players were with their new teams. Maybe I’m overly sentimental — okay, I am overly sentimental — but the memory is my version of Ray Kinsella’s catch with his dad.

    19. . . . and someday, they will enhance my bond with my own children. Though my collecting nowadays consists of an occasional convenience store impulse purchase — the usual adult responsibilities, the advent of the $4.99 pack, and the realization that it was maybe a little odd for a grown man to hoard pictures of other grown men halted that habit — my tens of thousands of cards are tidily tucked away in the attic and my home office, waiting to be rediscovered by my young children a few years from now. Hopefully, they’ll never notice that Gene Pentz and Kiko Garcia are nowhere to be found.

    20. ‘‘The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading, and Bubble Gum Book’’ is a literary classic and should be taught in all high schools throughout the United States and certain parts of Canada. If you enjoyed reading this anywhere close to as much as I enjoyed writing it — and bless your cardboard-lovin’ soul if you did — then I guarantee you will treasure this nostalgic look at cards of the ’50s and ’60s, written with delightful wit by Brendan C. Boyd and Fred C. Harris. I’d love to read a sequel featuring cards of the ’70s and ’80s but it’s hard to imagine it would do the original justice.

    Chad Finn is a sports copy editor at The Boston Globe and the founder and sole writer of Boston.com’s Touching All The Bases, a blog that takes a passionate but irreverent look at Boston sports. He lives in Wells, Maine, with his wife Jennifer, their children Leah and Alex, and a cat named after Otis Nixon.

    Designated HitterJune 12, 2008
    Mariners Foibles
    By David Cameron

    As I write this, the Seattle Mariners have the worst record in baseball at 24-42. They stand 16 1/2 games behind the first place Angels and, worse, they stand a staggering nine games behind the third place Texas Rangers. The team will have to play inspired baseball for the rest of the season to just avoid finishing in last place, and suffice it to say, this isn't how the front office saw the 2008 season going.

    "It's a completely demoralizing position we're in right now, based on the completely legitimate (preseason) expectations" was the line recently offered up by General Manager Bill Bavasi after last week's sweep at the hand of an Angels roster missing Vladimir Guerrero and Chone Figgins in a series where John Lackey didn't take the mound. Even with the reality of lousiness staring them in the face, the executives in charge of compiling this roster are unwilling to admit that this team was assembled poorly. It wasn't just a bad move here or an underperforming player there, but a long series of poor decisions that have led to this abysmal season. In fact, the foundations for this failure were laid years ago. Let's look at where this disaster started.

    October 27, 2003

    Coming off a 93 win season that saw the team fade down the stretch and fail to make the playoffs, Pat Gillick resigned as GM and was replaced by Bill Bavasi, but the basic plan for that offseason was laid before Gillick ever stepped aside. Central to that plan was the decision to decline an offer of arbitration to Mike Cameron, who badly wanted to stay in Seattle. Cameron was vastly underappreciated by the organization due to his contact problems and their failure to understand just how valuable his glove was in center field. Two weeks later, they announced the signing of Raul Ibanez to play left field, shifting Randy Winn to cover center in Cameron's absence. At the time, they noted the defensive downgrade but explained that it would be more than offset by the offensive improvement. Ibanez has hit well since returning to Seattle, but his defense in left field can only be described as atrocious and is one of the most glaring issues that has sunk the 2008 team to the bottom of the A.L. West. The seeds of the Ibanez-as-LF disaster were planted on the day that the team decided to jettison Cameron and make a conscious decision to sacrifice defense while chasing minor offensive improvements.

    January 8, 2004

    The Mariners organization has long been infatuated with player personalities and their effects on team chemistry, often making headscratching decisions based not on on-field ability but instead on thier preconceived notions of leadership and how the game is supposed to be played. That move is typified in the decision to literally give Carlos Guillen to the Tigers, as the organization had grown weary of his late-night drinking and his perceived negative influence on Freddy Garcia. They decided that they would rather go with Rich Aurilia as their shortstop - a guy who more fit their mold of how players should approach the game than Guillen. Aurilia was a gigantic bust and was released four months later, while Guillen has gone on to become one of the American League's best infielders ever since. It was impossible to see Guillen's breakout coming at the time, but the logic used - choosing to field a worse baseball team in order to have better people on it - has haunted the organization repeatedly over the years.

    December 15, 2004

    After a disastrous 2003 season, the organization was determined to make a big splash and find some new offensive stars to build around, using their financial advantage over the rest of the division to rebuild through free agency. They coveted Carlos Delgado's left-handed power, but after a long dance with him over contract terms, they got tired of waiting and threw $52 million at Plan B - Richie Sexson. Heading into his age 30 season and coming off a major injury while possessing classic old player skills, making a long term commitment to a player with Sexson's profile looked remarkably foolish at the time, and the concerns we raised about guaranteeing an aging Sexson big money have proven true with time. He's simply aged very poorly and is not a major league quality starting first baseman anymore, but the Mariners owe him $15.5 million for the 2008 season. Instead of looking at an aging veteran heading for decline and finding a younger, cheaper alternative, the organization focused on intangibles such as Sexson's intimidating power and ability to be an RBI man. Unwilling to admit that they had missed the boat on how he was going to age, Mariners fans instead got to watch his career end mercilessly during both the '07 and '08 seasons, while Sexson became the embodiment of everything wrong with this team.

    December 22, 2005

    If there's one glaring flaw the front office of the Mariners has, it's a total inability to evaluate pitching talent. They come from a bent that is entirely seduced by results and cares nothing about the process or the context that those results were produced in. Nowhere is this more obvious than when the Mariners gave Jarrod Washburn a 4-year, $37.5 million deal to leave the Angels and join their starting rotation. Washburn was coming off a 2005 season where he posted an obviously flukey 3.20 ERA, built entirely on a house of runner-stranding cards. His league high left-on-base percentage predictably regressed to the mean, and he went right back to being the #5 starter that he's been for years. Instead of being a solidifying force in the rotation, Washburn has given the M's 445 innings with a 4.72 ERA in a terrific pitcher's park since signing. Despite having to watch him implode in 2008, the M's are on the hook for another $10 million in salary in 2009, and they'd be lucky to give Washburn away at this point. Thanks to a pitching analysis based on results, the organization continues to just wildly misunderstand how to predict future run prevention, and this is most obvious with the Washburn contract. By the way, the next best offer Washburn had on the table was 2 years at a total of $14 million.

    January 4, 2006

    Faced with a strong desire for some "left handed sock," the M's focused on a list of low-cost, one-year options to fill the hole at Designated Hitter. Completely ignoring the entire concept of replacement level, the M's disregarded every player on the planet that wasn't a proven veteran with a long track record of success, essentially ensuring they were going to get a washed-up old timer on his last legs. That guy turned out to be Carl Everett, and his could-see-it-coming-a-mile-away failure both doomed the offense and led to an even more heinous transaction, when the Mariners shipped Asdrubal Cabrera and Shin-Soo Choo to Cleveland in separate deals to acquire the DH platoon of Ben Broussard and Eduardo Perez. Neither of the new acquisitions did much to help an offense that was in disrepair, and the careless giving away of talented youngsters in search of proven veterans depleted the farm system of guys who could have helped the team down the line. When asked directly why the team chose Everett over free talent guys such as Carlos Pena, Bavasi replied that "we know Everett can hit 5th or 6th in the line-up, and Pena just hasn't proven that he can do that yet". Good call, Bill.

    December 7, 2006

    In another transaction that was bad enough on its own and unbelievably horrible based on the future events it led to, we have the inexplicable Rafael Soriano for Horacio Ramirez trade. The M's were tired of Soriano's lack of durability and believed that his elbow was a ticking time bomb, so they set out to trade him at the winter meetings that year. They settled on a left-handed National Leaguer with a NL fastball because "he'd won some games before" and the Braves were willing to make him available. Ramirez was a complete disaster, giving the Mariners 100 innings of below replacement level performance before getting released. To replace Soriano, the Mariners then converted 2006 #1 draft pick Brandon Morrow into a relief pitcher, believing that they needed a new power arm to replace the one they just lost. Two years later and Morrow is still stuck in the bullpen, losing precious development time and not being able to be viewed as a potential option for the rotation. Because Morrow wasn't considered starter material, the Mariners blew $48 million on tub-of-goo Carlos Silva and then spent a first round pick on Josh Fields in the 2008 draft in order to have a new power reliever in the organization to allow them to move Morrow back to the rotation eventually. By trading Soriano, the M's not only got back a horrible pitcher, but they also opened several holes on the roster that they then spent precious valuable resources trying to fill.

    December 18, 2006

    Finally, the cherry on top of this amazing series of bad roster moves. Determined to not let Everett go down as the worst designated hitter in organizational history, the M's made the decision to fill their DH role for 2007 with a broken down middle infielder who had the power of an eight-year-old girl. The Nationals simply wanted to move Jose Vidro, who didn't fit in a league where defense was required, and somehow convinced the Mariners to pick up $12 million of the remaining $18 million left on Vidro's contract. The rationale given was that a move to DH would somehow restore the 32-year-old's power and, besides, they really needed a #2 hitter who didn't strike out, despite the fact that they had a team full of guys whose best skill was contact and lacked power. Not surprisingly, Vidro's power never returned, and he's posted a .289/.350/.376 line since coming over in the trade from Washington. Only in Seattle would that be acceptable as a performance from a designated hitter completely incapable of playing the field or running the bases, but somehow, that's what the organization decided they wanted. Vidro's presence on the roster not only kept the remains of Ibanez comically chasing fly balls in the outfield, but it also has forced them to keep top prospect Jeff Clement languishing in Tacoma while he destroys Pacific Coast League pitching. Hilariously, Vidro's 2008 performance has been so terrible (.215/.260/.323) that most fans are amazed he hasn't been released yet, but John McLaren's lineup construction veers so far from reality that he's spent the last two weeks alternating between the 3rd and 4th spots in the batting order. Seriously, Vidro, he of the .583 OPS, spent several games hitting cleanup for the Mariners recently. I wish I was kidding.

    Through it all, the Mariners front office has demonstrated a staggering lack of ability to evaluate and project major league talent. They have repeatedly misunderstood what makes a winning team and made brutally bad choices that are compounded by even worse decisions trying to fix the problems created by the first act of ignorance. Through it all, they've doggedly maintained that their ways are effective and will work despite mountains of evidence to the contrary. Team President Chuck Armstrong, talking about the season and the job status of the front office on May 25th, uttered the following quotes:

    "In my 23 years, I have never ever seen anything like this," Armstrong said "We saw it the other way in 2001. I mean, you have to ask yourself, 'How did the Mariners win 116 games that season with that roster, compared to this roster?' This is just as inexplicable the other way."

    "Their positions are secure," Armstrong said "They are not to be blamed for what's going on."

    "We have given no thought to making any changes in managerial personnel," Armstrong said. "Same for the GM. Listen, he's part of the solution, not the problem."

    What's worse than abject failure? How about rooting for an organization that can't even recognize the problem from the solution? The Mariners executives are so rooted in their ways, so dogmatic in their wrongheadedness, that there is seemingly no light at the end of this long tunnel that we call being a Mariner fan. $117 million dollars in payroll has bought them a roster on pace to lose 104 games, and through it all, they won't admit responsibility. It's inexplicable, after all. What else is there to be said?

    David Cameron, along with Derek Zumsteg, authors the ussmariner.com blog that covers the Seattle organization in more depth than they care to admit. He also writes daily for fangraphs.com as he looks to remember what it's like to enjoy watching baseball again.

    Designated HitterMay 15, 2008
    Just How Good Is Chipper Jones?
    By Chris Dial

    Whose career has been more productive – Ken Griffey or Chipper Jones?

    Ken Griffey Jr. is about to hit his 600th home run. He has had a tremendous career and is a walk-in Hall of Famer. Griffey’s career has been lauded as one of the best ever. Rightfully so – Griffey is a terrific player, and has been most of his career. It will be great for him to reach 600 home runs and join a very small group.

    Griffey is in the last year or so of his career. After the various PED scandals, Griffey is often anointed as the clean one from the era, and so he’ll get to be the face of “the best player” for the 1990s and 2000s. Mostly because he is much more popular than Alex Rodriguez.

    Griffey has also been a centerfielder with the hitting career of a first baseman. The hitting he’s provided at his position only serves to maximize his value. He has always had a big defensive reputation, although many analyses have shown him to be just okay in his early career and downright awful in center late in his career. He’s been moved to right field, which helps his defense, but also increases the “requirement” on his batting performance at a time when his production is waning. Griffey’s bat has still been good coming into 2008, around average and above replacement level.

    What does this have to do with Chipper Jones? Chipper is hitting a ton to open 2008, and even though it is just mid-May, articles have cropped up about the possibility of him hitting .400 for the season. Now, that is silly enough in its own right. The good news is it puts the spotlight on Chipper and gotten people to consider the quality of his career.

    Chipper Jones is a great third baseman. He’s always been a top tier hitter and a solid fielder. While Chipper’s prowess with the bat is never questioned, his rank among great third basemen has. The problem is traditional metrics have shown Chipper to be a poor fielder. His Range Factor (Assists plus putouts per game) has routinely been below league norms. In the face of a significant groundball pitching staff with Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, and lots of left-handed pitcher innings, Chipper “should” have seen many more chances than league average. To be converting fewer outs than league average could only mean he is a poor defensive third baseman. Chipper being moved off third base in 2002 to a weak fielder position in left field demonstrated that even the Braves recognized Chipper’s shortcomings.

    Traditional metrics are wrong. Chipper’s defensive play is one of the most misunderstood performances in baseball. Chipper’s defense has been below average exactly twice in his thirteen-year career. He’s averaged about +4 defensive runs per season. For his career, he’s about 50 runs above average defensively.

    What does this have to do with Ken Griffey? Griffey is going to be considered one of the greatest centerfielders ever to play. He’s going to be mentioned alongside Mantle, Mays, Cobb, Speaker. Chipper may or may not end up being mentioned alongside Schmidt, Mathews and Brett. He could end up being mentioned with Brooks Robinson and Pie Traynor, or worse, Ron Santo.

    Ken Griffey is playing his 20th season, and he’s had a great career. He has accumulated over 1000 VORP (Value Over Replacement Player from Baseball Prospectus) in runs. Griffey hasn’t been great overall with the glove, and he averages just -4 runs, plenty of that coming from his last few years in center. For Griffey’s career, which has seen its decline phase, he has 1017 VORP runs and -79 defensive runs saved. He will head to the HoF with approximately 938 runs to his credit, as he’s unlikely to improve either of those marks significantly.

    Chipper Jones is headed toward summer hitting over .400. Well over .400. He has 888 VORP runs and 52 defensive runs saved. He’s got quite a few more runs to pile up this season, and will play several more seasons. Chipper already has 940 runs. In Chipper’s decline phase, his defense may regress, but he’s going to pile up many more offensive runs.

    So what is a good VORP over twenty years? Griffey is number four in total VORP over the last 20 years, behind Bonds and Frank Thomas and ARod. Everyone over 800 VORP is a future hall of famer, with the exception of Rafael Palmiero. The top players:

    Barry Bonds
    Frank Thomas
    Ken Griffey Jr.
    Jeff Bagwell
    Alex Rodriguez
    Edgar Martinez
    Gary Sheffield
    Rafael Palmeiro
    Roberto Alomar
    Craig Biggio
    Manny Ramirez
    Mike Piazza

    Ken Griffey Jr., rightfully, will be recognized as one of the greatest players of this, or any generation, and will forever be lauded as one of the finest players ever – possibly inner circle. Chipper Jones has been every bit as good and so many people are unaware of what they are watching. Chipper isn’t just good, and he isn’t just great. Chipper is an all-time great RIGHT NOW. Hopefully he can chase .400 long enough so everyone remembers him that way.

    ============

    Chris is a pharmaceutical research manager, which is good, because as a Mets fan, he knows where to find the anti-depressants. Turn-ons: Mets, defensive analysis, vodka. Turn-offs: The F'N Cardinals, feel-good stories, any form of adjusted Range Factor. His writings can be found at Baseball Think Factory. Consider yourselves warned.

    (Ed. Note: For another exemplary Chris Dial work, have a look at this piece over at BTF on advanced defensive metrics.)

    Designated HitterMay 11, 2008
    A Mother's Trip Down Memory Lane
    By Pat Lederer

    I'm Rich's mother and agreed to "do" this story for Mother's Day. He and his son Joe are flying home today after spending a week on the east coast, attending games at Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, and Shea Stadium, as well as visiting Cooperstown for a couple of days.

    My credentials – I probably should say credential – are having been married to a sportswriter for thirty years. There were definitely some perks.

    Receiving four season tickets to the Dodgers games during the eleven years (1958-68) George covered them for the Long Beach Press-Telegram. These tickets probably had a lot to do with our immense popularity at that time.

    Rubbing elbows with the players. Unlike today's multi-millionaire players, the athletes in the sixties were very approachable. We carpooled back and forth to and from the airport with the likes of Gino Cimoli and Stan Williams; played bridge with the Roebucks and Ginger Drysdale. Drove to spring training games in Phoenix with Jeri Roseboro, bought flatware from one of the Sherry brothers during the off-season (can't remember which one), received an etched-glass invitation to Frank Tanana’s wedding (didn’t go, can’t imagine now why not), were guests of the Drysdales at their Hidden Hills home and traded recipes with Pat Reiser (as in Mrs. Pete).

    Receiving a color television set for Christmas from the Dodgers after they won the World Series in 1959! We were the only ones in our large circle of friends (remember the season tickets?) to own one and we certainly were popular the following week during the Rose parade! Think that would be a conflict of interest today? The Dodgers even handed out meal money to the writers before every trip. In cash!

    Accompanying George on a road trip. That was an event! I flew on the "Kay O" Dodger plane with the team. As an interesting aside, the plane landed to refuel on a distant tarmac in Grand Island, Nebraska. I loudly shared (shouted?) that I was born in Grand Island, Nebraska. Some wag loudly proclaimed, "Nobody was born in Grand Island, Nebraska!" The trip included stops in St Louis, New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco. The World's Fair was taking place near Shea Stadium, and I was able to view Michelangelo's Pieta from a moving sidewalk before going to a game. Highlight! One day, after a game in New York, Maury Wills took George and me on a tour of Greenwich Village. We stopped in several bars where he was well known and in the last one he was invited to play Banjo with the small jazz band. Incredible!

    Richard has written about the two pair of shoes, complete with pitching toes that Sandy Koufax gave to our left-handed pitching teenager, Tom, when he retired. Only one shoe has survived. And the priceless souvenir that is the official scorer's (George) score card, framed along with Walter Alston's lineup card that hung in the dugout of Sandy Koufax's perfect game. Cooperstown wants that, but we are hanging on to it!

    It seemed like George was on the road so much during those years – six weeks each spring in Vero Beach and every road trip during the season – that we jokingly referred to him as "Uncle Daddy." But those were wonderful times, the memories of which we will treasure forever. Happy Mother's Day to me and all the other baseball wives and widows!

    Designated HitterApril 24, 2008
    Pitchers Can Be Clutch, Too!
    By David Appelman

    While there's usually much chatter about clutch batting and whether it exists or doesn't exist, it seems as though clutch pitching doesn't get nearly as much attention as it should. If you believe batters step it up a notch when the game is on the line, it'd be only natural that pitchers also know when the game is on the line and would try a little harder in those situations, too.

    There are lots of stats to measure how "lucky" a pitcher is, such as batting average on balls in play and left on base percentage. There's also ERA estimators such as FIP, which take into account walks, strikeouts, and home runs and then estimate what a pitcher's ERA should have been. But the problem is, none of these stats take into account how important a situation is in a game and that's where Leverage Index comes in to play.

    Leverage Index measures the importance of a particular situation based on the game state (inning, score, runners, outs) of a game. It ranges from 0 to 10.9, with 1 being an average situation and 10.9 being the most important situation possible.

    So let's look at which players have had the most and least success in high-leverage situations (LI of 2 or more) the past six years by looking at the difference in FIP between high-leverage situations and all other situations. I chose FIP because ERA doesn't really work for starting pitchers when looking at high-leverage situations and FIP is a better measure of a pitcher's overall skill. To qualify for this study, pitchers must have pitched a minimum of 50 high-leverage innings.

    The "Clutch" Starters:

    Name	        (other LI)(high LI)     Dif
    Brad Penny          4.02      2.78      1.24
    Jake Peavy          3.67      2.44      1.23
    Chris Carpenter     3.72      2.75      0.97
    Jeff Suppan         4.81      3.92      0.88
    Jason Marquis       5.21      4.47      0.74
    Dontrelle Willis    4.13      3.41      0.73
    Jason Johnson       4.69      4.03      0.66
    Victor Zambrano     5.30      4.64      0.66
    Mike Maroth         5.13      4.48      0.65
    Matt Morris         4.36      3.72      0.64
    

    Topping the list is Brad Penny, followed by 2007 Cy Young winner Jake Peavy and then 2005 Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter. These three pitchers over the past five years have done exceptionally well in high-leverage situations. The real difference maker for Peavy is that he's allowed just a single home run in over 69 high-leverage innings.

    The "Un-Clutch" Starters:

    Name	        (other LI)(high LI)     Dif
    Odalis Perez        4.17      5.76     -1.59
    Jeff Weaver         4.43      5.93     -1.50
    Kyle Lohse          4.66      5.86     -1.19
    John Lackey         3.79      4.87     -1.08
    Jason Schmidt       3.41      4.42     -1.01
    Roy Oswalt          3.34      4.27     -0.93
    Jose Contreras      4.46      5.37     -0.90
    Jamie Moyer         4.73      5.56     -0.83
    Tim Wakefield       4.61      5.39     -0.78
    Johan Santana       3.17      3.94     -0.77
    

    I can't say I'm incredibly surprised to see Jeff Weaver near the top of this list, but it's definitely interesting to see the likes of John Lackey, Roy Oswalt, and Johan Santana as "un-clutch." In high-leverage situations Santana has a slightly increased BB/9 and HR/9, Oswalt's K/9 drops nearly 2 points with a slight increase in BB/9, and Lackey's K/9, BB/9, and HR/9 all head about half a point in the wrong direction.

    Time to check in on the relievers:

    The "Clutch" Relievers:

    Name	           (low LI) (high LI)    Dif
    Joaquin Benoit        4.60      3.62     0.97
    Jason Frasor          4.15      3.22     0.93
    Francisco Rodriguez   3.21      2.29     0.93
    Jonathan Papelbon     3.06      2.20     0.86
    Ryan Madson           4.49      3.78     0.71
    J.C. Romero           4.51      3.96     0.55
    Chad Bradford         3.67      3.13     0.54
    Kyle Farnsworth       4.11      3.60     0.51
    Eric Gagne            2.22      1.73     0.49
    Todd Jones            4.08      3.60     0.49
    

    I must admit Eric Gagne's FIP in high-leverage situations is rather ridiculous; however, I should note this does not include his 2008 stats. In high-leverage situations, Jon Papelbon strikes out over 1 more batter per 9 innings and walks 1 less per 9 while K-Rod lowers his HR/9 by a considerable amount.

    The "Un-Clutch" Relievers:

    Name	           (low LI) (high LI)    Dif
    Jason Isringhausen    2.97      4.78    -1.80
    Justin Speier         3.97      5.56    -1.59
    Keith Foulke          3.49      5.03    -1.54
    Guillermo Mota        3.70      4.98    -1.28
    Jesus Colome          4.65      5.76    -1.11
    Jorge Julio           4.40      5.39    -0.99
    Fernando Rodney       3.83      4.80    -0.98
    Alan Embree           3.50      4.44    -0.95
    Billy Wagner          2.60      3.52    -0.93
    Cliff Politte         4.36      5.21    -0.85
    

    It's a little surprising to see that Jason Isringhausen who has 212 saves since 2002 is not that great when it counts. In high-leverage situations he walks 3 more batters per 9 innings. Wow. And Keith Foulke appears to have a home run problem in those tight spots along with Billy Wagner.

    It's always fun to look back and see who has been clutch, but are the same pitchers clutch every year? Unfortunately not. There's pretty much no correlation from year-to-year when it comes to how pitchers do in high-leverage situations compared to how they do in non-high-leverage situations.

    So it looks like the same rule that applies to batters also applies to pitchers: you can tell who has been clutch, but you can't predict who will be clutch.

    David Appelman is the creator of FanGraphs.com.

    Designated HitterApril 03, 2008
    Real Fans Love the DH
    By Bob Rittner

    What do the following have in common? Sandy Koufax, Lefty Grove and Dazzy Vance. Right, they were all truly awful hitters. What about these three? Harmon Killebrew, Ralph Kiner and Hank Greenberg? Right again. They were all mediocre to poor fielders.

    Somehow all six managed to get elected to the Hall of Fame.

    Let's try another quiz. What connects Wes Ferrell, Don Newcombe and Bucky Walters? Well done, they are among the best-hitting pitchers in history. On the other hand, the similarity among Paul Blair, Roy McMillan and Jerry Grote is that they are among the best fielders at critical defensive positions. Except, in this case, none of the six is in the Hall of Fame with the only one receiving any support being Ferrell.

    We can consider the issue another way. Suppose two shortstops are competing for a roster spot. Shortstop A is a brilliant fielder but barely adequate with the bat. Shortstop B is a decent enough fielder and a star with the bat. Is it conceivable a team might choose B over A? On the other hand, Pitcher A is a decent hurler with a great bat while B is a brilliant pitcher with no bat at all. Is there any chance that the team would select A over B for the rotation?

    In other words (assuming we answer the questions the same way), while we ascribe practically no value to a pitcher's hitting and never evaluate their effectiveness based on their bats, we insist that they should come to the plate to do that which we do not value. We rhapsodize over a game where the pitcher is a "complete" player, but only care about it when arguing theoretically. In practice, it plays no part in our choices.

    There are three categories of reasons why I consider the Designated Hitter the superior form of baseball and the non-DH game as fundamentally dishonest. One concerns baseball strategy. A second has to do with the nature of the game and the third rests on the evolution of the game.

    Contrary to commonly accepted belief, the DH increases strategic choices and eliminates one of the more egregious sins of baseball managers. For all the sentiment about how important it is for managers to decide when to use a pinch hitter or make the double switch, that is a vastly overrated strategic decision. In almost every case, the choice is made for the manager; every fan pretty much knows when the manager has to pinch hit in a game. The exceptions are rare. And while not quite so dramatic, the decision to pinch hit for a weak hitting defensive shortstop or center fielder remains in the DH game. As for the double switch, I am genuinely amused by the stress put on the complexity of this move, as if an AL manager moving to the NL needs hours of special courses to understand and utilize the concept.

    The same holds for the sacrifice bunt. In most cases, its use is pre-determined by the situation, and we all know exactly when it will happen. The few variations from this standard practice hardly alter the predictability of it in the vast majority of cases. And, of course, there is also the abomination of the one-out sacrifice bunt. Can you imagine it ever being used except in the case of the pitcher at bat? It is the baseball equivalent of the quarterback taking a knee at the end of the game. Its purpose is not to score but to avoid losing. In fact, watching pitchers run to first base or come to bat with no intention of swinging or simply to swing wildly 3 times so as to avoid getting hurt or tired violates the competitive nature of baseball. I know there are exceptions, which is the point. They are exceptions. In most cases, the pitcher's spot is where the pitcher can relax a bit, where there really is no competition. The focus on the eighth-place batter getting on base so as to clear the pitcher's spot from the next inning when you really are trying to score demonstrates the fundamental dishonesty of pitchers coming to the plate.

    The above discussion leads us to the real strategies. With the pitcher due up, the #8 hitter will rarely try to steal. The possibilities of hit and run or run and hit are virtually eliminated. The effort of the baserunner to distract the pitcher is pretty much discarded and is even less likely if the pitcher gets on base. With a DH, every spot in the lineup becomes part of the offense and all the strategies remain at the manager's disposal. There is far more suspense and far more interest generated in every at bat. Every at bat is competitive and none can be thrown away. It is honest baseball.

    The very nature of baseball demands that pitchers not come to bat. It is incompatible with their function on the field, which is fundamentally different from every other position. Our very language, describing people as players OR pitchers, reflects the basic understanding of this fact. Is there any other position where it is conceivable to call someone with a line of .173/.193/.208 or .194/.234/.287 a good hitter for his position? But that is what we say of Greg Maddux and Warren Spahn, the perpetrators of those rate stats. True, there are outliers, some pitchers even serving occasionally as pinch hitters. Red Ruffing (.269/.306/.389) was one of the truly great hitting pitchers. He slugged 36 home runs or one for every 54 ABs. That is about as good as it gets outside of Wes Ferrell. Don Drysdale sometimes pinch hit, although his career line was only .186/.228/.295. He did, however, hit 29 home runs or one every 40 ABs. Great hitting pitchers are still lousy hitters.

    But there is an elephant in the room. George Herman Ruth, the ultimate outlier. He hit and pitched brilliantly and simultaneously. And he demonstrates my point. Even the Babe could not keep it up. In fact, as his hitting prowess developed, he increasingly cut back on his appearances as a pitcher. In his last year in Boston, he pitched just 133.3 innings and had his least impressive results. Once in New York, he gave up pitching altogether, appearing in just 5 more games during his career in rather undistinguished fashion. Had he been able to combine strong pitching with great hitting, it would have made sense to have him do both, appearing as the #3 hitter as a pitcher while playing outfield the other days, but that was never tried once in NY. There may be other reasons for not maximizing his effectiveness as both hitter and pitcher, I suppose, but I think it most likely that it could not be done. In recent years, there have been some efforts to combine the two functions as with Brooks Kieschnick with middling results.

    The fact remains that the pitcher's function is so specialized and unique, requires such concentration on particular skills, that it is not reasonable to expect them to divide their attention by focusing on batting to the extent they can become adept at it. I know many pride themselves on working on their hitting and on particular skills like bunting but, no matter the pride, it has to remain a minor component of their efforts. And even more than ever before, such minimal attention to hitting cannot lead to a really usable skill in the majors, the rare (apparent) exception like Micah Owings aside.

    Which leads us to the evolution of the game. At its inception, pitching was a different creature from what it has become. The pitcher was in many ways the least important team member at the start, limited to pitching underhand and having to place the ball where the batter wanted. In the early history of the game, specialization was less developed, players moving from position to position regularly, including pitchers. It made sense for the pitcher to hit as he was no different from the other players. In fact, even the greatest stars like Ed Delahanty and Honus Wagner were expected to play infield and outfield. The tradition of specialization evolved, and I wouldn't be surprised if some early 20th century commentators can be found who decried the modern ballplayer who lacked the completeness of earlier stars by playing just one position.

    This specialization was particularly spectacular in the case of pitchers. The skills they increasingly needed to succeed precluded them from developing their offensive capabilities. Even the greatest pitchers – Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson and Mordecai Brown – were terrible hitters. Partly this was because they did it so much less than before, although the great 19th century pitchers were awful hitters, too. Over the years, pitchers got fewer and fewer ABs, fewer opportunities to practice the skill on the field of play. Old Hoss Radbourne got to bat over 300 times in three separate seasons. Mathewson's high was 133 ABs, Tom Seaver's 95, and Maddux never topped 91. Relief pitchers, of course, nearly never come to bat.

    We need to recognize that asking pitchers to hit eliminates the essence of the game which is fair competition. We remember the occasions when pitchers get a bit hit or contribute with the bat because it is so rare, and that is not a legitimate argument because what we should want is for every AB to provide the reasonable possibility of real competition. We do not justify a situation because of accidents. We get sentimental about the tradition of baseball in which pitchers hit, but we have to recognize that the game has changed and the urgency of correcting a mistake from the start, including placing pitchers in the lineup, should be corrected to reflect its increasing absurdity.

    Were we starting fresh to create the game in 2008, it would make sense to separate the pitcher from all other players. There is no reason to keep it because the people who developed the game in the 1800s made the mistake to include them.

    Bob Rittner is a retired history teacher. He plays softball to maintain the illusion of youth and shuffleboard as a hedge against that illusion being smashed.

    Designated HitterFebruary 28, 2008
    Facing the Facts on Clemens
    By Jonathan Mayo

    A lot has changed since I started writing my first book, “Facing Clemens.” What was meant to be a fairly cut and dry baseball book about what it’s like for a hitter to try and ply their craft against the Rocket over the course of his career has obviously turned into much, much more. That being said, I still maintain the book has relevance. Regardless of where you stand on the current news surrounding Roger Clemens, the challenge of trying to hit him hasn’t changed. Perhaps his career has been forever tainted, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t one of the toughest pitchers of all-time for a hitter to try to make a living off of.

    The numbers, of course, more than back it up. He finished the 2007 season – now certainly his last – eighth on the all-time list in wins. Only one pitcher whose career was after 1940 is ahead of him: Warren Spahn. You’ve seen the other victory numbers. He’s first all-time on the active list and he reached 350 wins with the second fewest losses in the game’s history, behind only the guy who’s name is on the pitching award.

    Now, before all the sabermetricians click elsewhere or write me off as an old fogey who knows nothing, I’ll go further. Wins, of course, can be misleading because they are so often not within a pitcher’s control. Clemens is second all-time in strikeouts and his name can be found on career leaderboards in a host of categories from things that show off his longevity, like games started or innings pitched, to his dominance, like shutouts, or to “new-fangled” stats like adjusted ERA+, which measures a pitcher’s ERA against the league average with ballpark effects taken into account (he’s ninth all-time, in case you were curious). Something like that helps bridge the generational divide for a “greatest pitcher of all time debate.” When stacked against his contemporaries, it almost isn’t fair. He leads just about every active career statistical list.

    Then, of course, there’s the hardware and honors. With the seven Cy Youngs, the MVP Award, the 11 All-Star appearances, the World Series rings and total appearances, he’s off the charts on the Black Ink and Gray Ink Tests. The scores, 100 (fifth all-time) and 314 (eighth), speak for themselves. So does his Hall of Fame Monitor mark (336, second only behind Walter Johnson) and the Hall of Fame Standards Test score (73, eighth all-time behind Grover Cleveland Alexander). Now these numbers may be a bit meaningless now in terms of Hall of Fame chances, but it does give a more complete picture of just how dominant this guy was for 24 years.

    In trying to determine who would be the best subjects for the book, I dug deeply into the numbers behind Clemens’ career (a quick thanks to the folks at retrosheet.org is essential at this point). I was quick to find who had faced Clemens the most (Cal Ripken Jr.), who had had some level of prolonged success against the Rocket (Ken Griffey Jr., especially in their AL days) and who really hadn’t had any luck at all (Torii Hunter and his 0-for-28).

    Of course, numbers in baseball are like layers of an onion. Once you start peeling, you find more. How many realized that in Roger Clemens’ two 20-strikeout games, 10 years apart, he walked a grand total of zero? That’s right, no walks and 40 strikeouts over 18 innings (As an aside, I also learned Clemens wasn’t supposed to pitch against the Mariners that fateful night in 1986. He was slated to go the game prior, but it had been rained out.).

    In researching for the Ripken chapter, I discovered that the Hall of Fame Oriole never once struck out more than 100 times in a season. In fact, the only two times he was over 90 were the first two seasons of his career when he was redefining what a shortstop could and should be. He struck out a grand total of 1305 times in 11,551 at-bats, or once every 8.85 AB. He whiffed 17 times in 109 at-bats against Clemens for a 6.41 per AB average.

    A lot of fuss was made about the controversial time, in 1998, about how Clemens was scuffling in the first half, then “miraculously” turned it around in the second. Clemens had a 3.55 ERA in that first half and 120 strikeouts in 119 IP. I’m not saying this exonerates the man, but that first-half figure alone would have put him right near the top 10 for the year in ERA. The league ERA, by the way, was 4.61. Even in 1996, his last with the Red Sox when he was supposedly finished, he was sixth in the league with a 3.63 ERA while topping the league in K/9 and overall strikeouts.

    Where does that leave us now in trying to figure out his legacy? It’s an extremely difficult question to answer. I’m not one who usually does everything by numbers – one of the things I appreciated about doing this book is how the stats were backed up by experiences, recollections from actual human beings. But sometimes, numbers can be the most impartial.

    So let's say we completely believe the Mitchell Report and the ensuing testimony and Clemens started taking performance enhancers in 1998. Let's take a look at his career at that point. He had won four Cy Young Awards and gone to seven All-Star Games (I’m counting the 1998 Midsummer Classic because he earned that one pre-injections, according to the report). He’d earned five ERA titles, an MVP Award, gone to a World Series and led the league in those dreaded wins three times. He also took home four strikeout crowns and a pitching Triple Crown in 1997.

    He had 213 wins at the end of the 1997 season. He had a 2.97 ERA. There wasn’t a league average ERA during that span under 4.00. Is that enough for a Hall of Fame career? Maybe not quite – though the Sandy Koufax argument could be made – but it’s not far off.

    Even the biggest detractors of Clemens wouldn’t argue that he would’ve had to hang ‘em up in 1998 if it weren’t for Brian McNamee. The odds of him pitching another nine years are slim, but an argument could be made that he would’ve been done by, say, 2003, the year he “retired” for the first time in the World Series against the Marlins. Go ahead and take away the Cy Youngs in 1998 and 2001, if you must. Truth be told, his Yankee numbers aren’t all that overwhelming and his ERA, at best, hovered around where that 1998 first-half figure was. You have to figure he falls into about 13 wins per year as a Yankee, rough estimate. That’s another 65 victories to bring him to 278, all the previous hardware and a career ERA probably not too far off from his current mark of 3.12 (Again, league average in his career: 4.46).

    What’s my point in all of this? To be honest, I’m still not sure. Like many fans, albeit one with a vested interest, I’m trying to figure all of this out. I’ve been covering the game long enough for nothing to shock me one way or the other. One thing is certain: Clemens’ image is forever tarnished, regardless of what happens in the future. I can’t foresee the Baseball Writers Association of America voting him into the Hall of Fame any time soon, assuming he actually is retired.

    What I would ask is for those voters, as well as fans trying to make up their minds as well, to take a closer look at the numbers, even deeper than I’ve delved here. I think you might find, beneath the scandal, the congressional hearings, the “he said, he said” of the past few months, there’s still a pretty damn good pitcher under all of it, warts and all, who made it extremely difficult for hitters for a really long time.

    Jonathan Mayo is a senior writer for MLB.com. He joined Major League Baseball’s official website in April 1999 and has covered three World Series, seven All-Star Games, the Opening Series in Japan and Puerto Rico, the Caribbean World Series in Mexico, and the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska. More recently, Jonathan has focused his efforts on covering minor league baseball, the baseball draft, the Arizona Fall League, and baseball’s winter meetings. You can learn more about him and his first book on his website.

    Designated HitterFebruary 15, 2008
    My Son-in-Law the Ballplayer
    By Lisa Winston

    The list actually started back when I arranged for Derek Jeter to take my then-4-year-old daughter to her senior prom.

    List? What list?

    Okay, I guess a bit of backtracking is probably in order here, yes?

    I first met Jeter when he was a Yankees minor league prospect. Over the course of his breakthrough 1994 season, when he fast-tracked from Class A Tampa to Double-A Albany to Triple-A Columbus, and his 1995 campaign at Columbus before he made it to the big leagues, I got to know not only Jeter but his family as well, his parents and sister and grandmother and aunt.

    There was no doubt in my mind he was going to be a mega-superstar. He had all the tools but beyond that he had poise, he was smart, he was sweet and to top it all off he looked like one of those statues of a Greek or Roman god you see in the first chapters of the Art History 101 books.

    I was the minor league editor at USA Today's Baseball Weekly at the time and at the end of 1994, we (okay I) named him our Minor League Player of the Year.

    We'd never had a minor league player on the cover of the paper, and though I left prior to the 2006 season I don't believe that with the exception of Michael Jordan there has ever been a minor leaguer on the cover of the publication to this day, in its 17 years of its existence. But it looked for awhile like that might change.

    We had a portrait of him in Yankee pinstripes (though he had yet to make his major league debut), with those sea-green eyes and that half smile which, as I wrote to open the feature, "makes the Mona Lisa look like she’s on the verge of a nervous breakdown." And as luck would have it, we didn't have any other major player features running that week so until the last minute, it appeared that Derek Jeter would become the first minor leaguer to grace the cover of Baseball Weekly.

    Until, that is, about a day before we went to press, when a power-that-be decided that we couldn't possibly put a no-name minor leaguer on the cover because no one would know who "that Jeter guy" was. So instead it was hastily replaced by a stock action picture of Frank Thomas which had absolutely no connection whatsoever to anything in the paper. (Oh and just for the record, in case you're wondering, no, that power that be was NOT Paul White, who has always been as big a proponent of getting minor leaguers their due as I was).

    Imagine what a collector's item that paper would be now had it been the first national cover of Derek Jeter, two years before he took New York by storm and won the American League Rookie of the Year award.

    So anyway, before I digress too much (oops, too late!) … fast-forward to the end of 1995. Jeter has been called up to the big leagues but is obviously nowhere near the superstar status that he will reach in a year or so.

    I get a phone call from a former colleague who now worked for a luxury car dealership in the New York area, a company that apparently worked with the Yankees when it came to leasing cars for their players. They were looking for a personal reference for the new kid and remembered that I knew him. Could I tell them a little bit about him?

    I am not kidding. They were asking ME for a personal reference for Derek Jeter. And this is what I told them:

    "The best way I can describe Derek Jeter is that this is the guy you want to show up at your front door the night of your daughter's senior prom."

    And that became the genesis for my "Players You'd Want to Take Your Daughter To The Prom" list. Which eventually morphed into the "Players You'd Want Your Daughter To Marry" list, which was more elite.

    It's something I've bandied about with co-workers, with front office executives, even with other players (about half of whom say "I'd NEVER let my daughter marry a baseball player").

    Maybe it's a girl thing, but my husband totally doesn't get it. He is convinced that my "Players I'd Want My Daughter To Marry" list is really just a euphemism for a "Players I'd Want to Date If I Were 25 Years Younger And Single And Didn't Work in Baseball Where It Would Be Totally Unprofessional Not To Mention A Conflict Of Interest" list.

    Totally not true. This list is totally about character. In short, it's all about heart (cue the chorus of "Damn Yankees" or the 1969 New York Mets on the Ed Sullivan Show).

    And yes, you skeptics, there are players who fit the bill. And for the sake of brevity (obviously not my strong point) I am going to narrow this down to my top three on my "Current Major Leaguers I'd Want My Daughter To Marry If She Were Older And They Weren't Already Happily Married" list.

    Disclaimer: I have been covering baseball for almost 20 years now. And despite the sometimes prevailing thought by the general public that most professional baseball players are complete asses, the truth is my list of Complete Asses That I Would Rather Chew On Tinfoil Than Ever Let Breathe The Same Air As My Daughter list is much shorter than the other one (maybe I'll do that for next year's DH).

    With that in mind, I worry about hurting the feelings of some great guys I've gotten to know over the years. But I don't think any of them would argue the three I'm writing about: Dave Roberts, Sean Casey and Kevin Millar.

    The trio may corner the Major League market on niceness, kindness and heart. All three go above and beyond when it comes to being active in their communities and charitable foundations, and not just for show and not just when the cameras are clicking.

    Dave Roberts, outfielder for the San Francisco Giants, is not only one of the nicest guys in baseball, he is quite simply one of the nicest people I've ever met, period.

    Originally drafted out of UCLA by the Tigers back in 1994, he's been the proverbial journeyman, with the Giants being his seventh organization. But it was in his very brief tenure with the Boston Red Sox that "Doc" reached that nirvana of baseball immortality.

    It's the ninth inning of Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees, the Sox trailing 4-3 and an inning away from elimination. Roberts, who was in to pinch run, ironically, for Millar, steals second against Mariano Rivera. The Sox rally, Roberts scores the tying run and, well, you know the rest. And as I watched the game from a hotel room in Arizona, on the road for Arizona Fall League, I knew that Roberts had just ensured himself fame forever and a head full of cheap champagne.

    And all I could think was "this couldn't happen to a nicer guy."

    Born in Okinawa, Japan, Roberts enjoys dual citizenship as the son of an American-born Marine dad and a Japanese mom, and has always been a proud ambassador for all of his cultural roots. As a member of the 1999 Team USA squad that earned the United States the berth in the 2000 Summer Olympics where they won their last gold medal, he was both a team leader and its leadoff-hitting sparkplug.

    It's funny that there is this "connect" among the three guys on my list. On the one hand, Roberts and Millar were teammates on that historic world champion 2004 Boston Red Sox team.

    But one of my favorite Roberts stories is one that Sean Casey himself told me. When Roberts was traded by Detroit to the Cleveland Indians in June 1998 for outfielder Geronimo Berroa, he joined the Double-A Akron Aeros. The guy who lost the most playing time with the acquisition of Roberts was outfielder Mark Budzinski, a teammate of Casey's at the University of Richmond and one of his best friends.

    Casey, himself originally an Indians prospect, had been traded the previous off-season to Cincinnati but stayed in close touch with Budzinski. When he commiserated with his friend on his decreased playing time, he told me later, Budzinski's response was something along the lines of: "The thing is, Dave Roberts is such a great guy I can't even get upset about losing time to him."

    It is the newly inked Boston Red Sox first baseman Casey himself, though, who is most widely acknowledged to be, officially, the Friendliest Guy In Baseball. A recent poll in Sports Illustrated, conducted among Major Leaguers themselves, saw a whopping 46 percent of the respondents name Casey (let the record show that Roberts ranked fourth and Millar sixth so I am not alone in my opinion here).

    I had the great good fortune of first getting to know him well before he made it to the big leagues, back when I covered the Indians' first winter development program in Cleveland in January 1996, just a few months after he was drafted. From the "small world" department, one of his best friends from college happened to live in my town, just down the block from my own daughter's best friend.

    It says something about how friendly he was that this fact would even come up, no less the tidbit I learned about his having worked making bagels at the local Stop N Shop when he was playing Cape Cod League baseball.

    It was easy to see how Casey had earned the nickname "The Mayor" for his incredible natural chatty ease with everyone he meets, not just the players who pass through his first base watch over the course of a game. And it certainly didn't surprise me to learn that then-farm director Mark Shapiro literally cried two years later when his team dealt Casey to Cincinnati for pitcher Dave Burba.

    Now, I realize that Millar may seem to be the "one of these things is not like the others" name on this list to the uninitiated. I mean, this is Rally Karaoke Guy whose 18-year-old self got down and dirty to "Born In The U.S.A." on a nightly basis on the Fenway Park scoreboard. The guy who made taking ceremonial shots of Jack Daniels before a big game a team tradition. A guy known for his bizarre facial hair, his passion for Harley Davidson motorcycles and tattoos.

    Is this really the kind of guy I'd want my daughter to marry?

    Bet your ass it is.

    If Dave Roberts is the nicest guy in baseball and Sean Casey is the friendliest, then it is Kevin Millar who has the game's biggest heart.

    A non-drafted free agent who made his way to the big leagues through the independent Northern League and by all accounts Against All Odds (which he has tattooed on his arm), he brings his unbridled passion and enthusiasm and love for the game to every aspect of his life. And to other people's lives as well.

    Back in 1997, when he was earning Eastern League MVP honors with the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs, Millar got to know a young fan named Morgan Grant and her family who hailed from nearby Pownal, Maine.

    Morgan was terminally ill with brain cancer, but she and her family rarely missed a Sea Dogs game and not surprisingly it wasn't long before the scrappy Millar was her favorite player. The two forged a friendship over that summer that resulted in his helping to grant one of her last wishes – to come with her family to visit him that winter in southern California.

    When Morgan was too weak to change out of her pajamas, Millar simply got into his own jammies and the families had a pajama party. It was there in California that Morgan took a turn for the worse and passed away, having spent her final days with the people she loved the most.

    How can you not love a guy like this?

    By the way, you may have noticed that Derek Jeter isn't on the list. I honestly think that there comes a level of superstardom where a guy is automatically eliminated from the list. Because truthfully I wouldn't want my daughter to be married to someone with whom she couldn't even go out to Outback without causing a small public riot.

    So Derek, you're off the hook. But in case you were wondering, Dana's senior prom is May 2. Time flies, doesn't it? I realize you probably can't make it, but if you feel like sending a corsage, you know where to find her.

    Lisa Winston writes for MiLB.com, where you can read about any Minor League player she would ever consider getting for her roto team.

    Designated HitterJanuary 31, 2008
    The Yellow Hammer
    By Russ McQueen

    [Editor's note: Russ McQueen and my brother Tom were All-CIF pitchers on the Lakewood High School team that won the California Interscholastic Federation championship at Anaheim Stadium in 1970. Russ played on four consecutive NCAA championship teams at USC. He was named the College World Series MVP in 1972 when he pitched 14 shutout innings in relief while chalking up three of USC's five wins and saving a fourth. A 1970s CWS All-Decade selection, McQueen tossed a no-hitter vs. Cal to mark the opening of Dedeaux Field on 3/30/74. Russ was drafted by the California Angels in June 1974 and pitched three years in the club's minor league system.]

    As I recently read some of Rich's articles, I was taken back to the Lakewood High baseball field one dreary, overcast, fall Saturday morning.

    Seated in the third base dugout, I tried to stay as close to manager, scout and former Dodger pitcher Ed Roebuck as possible, to catch whatever he might say to help me comprehend the game of baseball. He might even ask me to get loose and pitch an inning or two; that is, if he ran out of pitchers or happened to remember I had thrown batting practice the last several Saturdays.

    There was nothing unusual about seeing new faces, arms and bats at "The Lake" on a Saturday morning. After all, it was a scout league where minor leaguers and some college guys would show up for some work. A few of us high school guys came out in case... well, just in case.

    A new fellow came by that morning with a big equipment bag and exchanged quick hellos and howaryas up and down the line. He meant nothing to me, and I figured him for another lower minor leaguer looking for some work. Mr. Roebuck caught his eye and offered, "Get loose and work a couple innings if you want to."

    "If you want to?"

    I thought no more about it, other than to spend an inning or so quietly lamenting the fact that I'd now have to wait at least two more innings to have any hope of hearing those words myself.

    Then something happened.

    The new guy took the mound and things changed. An air of expectancy took hold, and the place got quiet. Sounds were reduced only to those necessary. It felt like a premonition of something terrible, or terribly great, like right before a big fish takes your lure and you know in your gut he's about to hit.

    The first batter took his stance. Fast ball, strike one called. Not bad, right down at the knees and on the inside corner. With considerable zip. Not the one he wanted to hit, I thought. But then the new guy threw something I had never seen before. It was gorgeous, and it was terrible, and I wasn't sure I had seen it correctly. Fast like a heater, but in front of the plate it made a wicked dive, down and a little bit away from the batter, who buckled at the knees. Strike two called. Hearts beat faster – I know mine did.

    "Throw it again," I prayed.

    He did, only this time the batter mustered up a feeble excuse for a swing and made his retreat back to the bench, where he joined other mortals to watch the continuing carnage.

    Five more up, five more down. One guy grounded out, but everyone else fell to that monstrous, terrifying curve ball.

    I've seen the Grand Canyon and the Grand Tetons. I've walked into Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park and Wrigley Field on a Sunday afternoon. I've been to dozens of countries all over the world and seen it all. But I have never seen anything more riveting than that curve ball on that one cool, gray Saturday morning.

    I have always remembered that awesome pitch as a big hammer the new guy swung and pounded batters with. It certainly went way beyond any fair deal I ever witnessed. To say "he threw a curve" was to understate the terror of the act. However ordinary the new guy looked to begin with, to me he had become substantially taller, heavier, and more dangerous.

    For a moment there was no one sitting between me and Mr. Roebuck. "That's some kind of a curve ball," I managed, trying to make it sound as casual as I could so Mr. Roebuck wouldn't think I was overly impressed.

    "Son, that's a pure yellow hammer," replied Roebuck. "And that is Bert Blyleven."

    Russ McQueen, a CPA with PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, is married to his wife Betty (thirty-two years) and has three sons, including Matt, first baseman for the Biola University Eagles.

    Designated HitterJanuary 24, 2008
    I'm OK, You're OK
    By Bob Rittner

    I think the most productive discussion is the one where, after spirited debate, each person argues in favor of his opponent's case. And the least productive is when each person comes away convinced he is right and has demolished his opponent's arguments.

    I would like to spin off from the Mark Armour In Defense of the Hall of Fame thread to consider the differences between traditional baseball writers and the contemporary analytical community. The distinction is not always stark; I always considered Leonard Koppett an analyst, and I enjoyed reading Arthur Daley, Roger Angell and others who brought the game to life for me and often provided a sense of intimacy with the players. Often, they brought to the issues facing the game an intellectual perspective that stimulated thinking on subjects like expansion or the DH rule or the Curt Flood case.

    And often they were fine writers whose humor and ability to delineate the character of particular people expressed the mood of the game and enhanced the joy of watching and thinking about it. I still alternately laugh and tear up reading Larry Ritter's "The Glory of Their Times" even while cringing at some of the cliches from Lefty O'Doul and others. Periodically I listen to excerpts on tape from some of Ritter's interviews, and hearing Sam Crawford describe Rube Waddell or barnstorming in the mid-west, or Hans Lobert discussing Honus Wagner's kindness to the rookie or Fred Snodgrass defending himself and Fred Merkle from the criticism both have endured makes the game real and vibrant. I really think it is required reading (or listening) for any baseball fan.

    But in my mind, with rare exceptions, these were not really analysts. They were writing about the game as literary figures, creating plots and climaxes and denouements and using all the approved techniques of novelists. What mattered was the story. Baseball was the arena in which to exhibit character and moral principles. And stories were built around those issues. Players rose to the occasion or choked, were heroes or goats, overcame all sorts of obstacles and odds or failed to deliver for their teammates and fans.

    The stories were exciting and sometimes even had whispers of truth in them, but they had nothing to do with what was really happening because most of what really happens is mundane and not terribly exciting. The job of these writers was to extract the drama from the details and to make the story as interesting as possible.

    After a time, certain themes (often reflecting virtues like sacrificing for the team or out-thinking the opposition) became fixed orthodoxy, elevating strategies like sacrifice bunts and moving runners over and the psychology of winning to the status of gospel or leitmotifs in most story lines. I have sometimes speculated that in the first decades of the 20th century when the sport was considered disreputable by many and the province of hooligans, in an effort to make baseball more respectable, books and articles by Christy Mathewson (or his ghostwriter) and others focused on the "inside game," the intellectual components of baseball, and praised the cleverness and psychological maneuverings of manager John McGraw. The effect was not simply to make baseball a more intellectually and morally respectable game, but it simultaneously established the basic principles that hardened into "the Book."

    I was satisfied with this sort of baseball writing and raised my son with my recollections of baseball in the 1950s and discussions of columns in the mainstream newspapers and books of the 1970s. When he was a teenager, he returned the favor by introducing me to Bill James. And in my mid-40s, I became dissatisfied. Of course, James was interested in the stories and anecdotes. (In fact, I was sometimes irritated when I expected a hard analysis of some player's ranking in his Abstract only to be treated instead to some tangent about Dick Williams socializing with Sal Bando.) But alongside were questions and a serious attempt to find some way to answer them. I did not always follow the math, but I did understand the logic, and it was exciting. I still read the columns but they were not enough. The columns were about human interest and could have been on any subject. James and company were about baseball specifically.

    In a way, the sabermetricians have created a problem for the traditional columnists. The early journalists always used stats, but they were rarely the key to any argument, and they generally were rather simple and commonly understood. They were the details that lent depth to a story, like descriptions of scenery and characters' physical traits in a novel. The journalists' audience, training and medium are not conducive to detailed statistical analysis. When Murray Chass mocks VORP and the like, I think he is actually making a valid point (I am really biting my tongue now) in the context of what would be acceptable in a mass circulation newspaper.

    Of course elements of sabermetrics can and should be incorporated into the columns, and the movement has earned the right to be respected by columnists. Some have and do, and even those who ignore or resist progressive statistical analysis are clearly influenced by it, at least on the margins. OBP has almost gained the status of BA, albeit not quite, even among traditionalists. But to ask them to accept its approach as authoritative or to defer to its judgments is futile. They can include OBP, even ERA+ or OPS+ in their assessments, but their style precludes the charts and graphs and more detailed statistics. You don't ask Tolstoy to include a chart of the nationalities of prisoners in "War and Peace."

    And the reason is not that they are wrong. It is that the two groups are engaged in different purposes. And while it is easy for sabermetricians to apply the approach of traditionalists to liven up their writings, it is not so easy for traditionalists to incorporate statistical models and arguments in theirs. So there is frustration on both sides.

    When a traditional columnist writes an article defending a position, sabermetricians attack using all the tools at their disposal, and sometimes with sarcasm and nastiness. If the columnist dismisses their arguments, they pile on. But it is even worse if he tries to meet them on their own grounds. Without the expertise, his statistical arguments appear juvenile and then the attacks often turn vicious and personal. A successful career journalist, out of his depth in this kind of debate, finds himself the object of mockery, and with the internet, there is now a public forum for the ridicule. The problem is there is no common ground. The traditional journalist is not wrong; he simply has a different purpose, and to critique him is like arguing with Shakespeare that Hamlet should have compromised with Claudius or brought him before a board of inquiry.

    When an issue like the Hall of Fame elections arises, the problem is magnified because for statistically minded analysts there are objective criteria from which to begin the discussion. But to many traditionalists, the key word in the discussion is "Fame" as in who do people know, who had an impact on the story.

    Jack Morris exemplified qualities that suggest he is a Hall of Fame character; Bert Blyleven did not. Jim Rice dominated because that is the story line, and for anyone who lived in his era, it makes perfect sense. It does not matter to those who are now voting if the statistics belie the claim.* When I watched a Yankee game and Rice came to the plate, I was scared. I was not as worried when Dwight Evans was at bat. I may have been wrong, but Rice felt like a star and Evans a supporting player. To say the journalists are wrong does nothing to advance the discussion because these players are first and foremost literary figures to them. You and I may know that Watson and Crick were far greater men than Alexander the Great and Napoleon, but in the pantheon of human heroes, you can bet Alexander will get in first, and nobody is going to identify Crick as Crick the Great.

    I do think there can and ought to be dialogue between the "schools of thought," but I think it requires mutual respect for and recognition of the divergent approaches. The dichotomy is probably not as dramatic as I have suggested, but I do think it would help if in debating points each side tries first to ascertain where there is common ground so they can talk to each other rather than at each other.

    *I am reminded of reading that the Medieval books about the Lives of the Saints were almost entirely fictitious as narratives of events. Their truth was in the morals of the stories, the standards of behavior and faith the saints represented. So a particular saint may not even have existed, but the virtue of courage or charity he exemplified did exist and was true.

    Robert Rittner is a retired high school history teacher from Westchester county, NY, now living in Clearwater, Florida. He has been a baseball fan since 1951, moving to Florida in part because of the opportunity to watch baseball regularly. He is also starting to hit a little better in his softball league.

    [Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer Newsblog.]

    Designated HitterJanuary 10, 2008
    In Defense of the Hall of Fame
    By Mark Armour

    [Editor's Note: As always, the views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Baseball Analysts and/or its writers.]

    Over the holidays, I spent a lot of time poring over issues of The Sporting News from the 1960s. Typically distracted by stories that have nothing to do with my task, I came across many discussions about who should be in the Hall of Fame. This was 45 years ago, so the articles were about guys like Sam Rice, George Kelly, Elmer Flick, or Jim Bottomley, written by Shirley Povich, Fred Lieb, Lee Allen, or Taylor Spink, with testimony from Branch Rickey, Joe McCarthy, or Casey Stengel, old men who knew a thing or two about talent. There were stories like this every off-season, largely anecdotal, well-written, and fascinating. My reading has been like a refresher course in early 20th century baseball.

    What was missing from these newspapers were all of the “No” votes. Back in the day, a writer would pull out his typewriter to support some old ballplayer, but there were no stories about why someone was overrated or unqualified. Had baseball blogs existed in 1962, some modern expert could have lectured Povich about Sam Rice’s WARP score, or blasted Rickey for his silly misevaluation of George Kelly. But we missed out on all of that good fun, and eventually all these guys, and others like them, got in.

    The argument for George Kelly, as I recall it, went something like this: starred on offense and defense for the only National League team ever to win four consecutive pennants (still true), won multiple HR and RBI titles, credited by John McGraw with getting more important hits than any man who ever played for him, and had a cool nickname (“Highpockets”). Using the standards of the time, that’s a decent argument. Not perfect, insufficient even, but not a bad resume. Kelly was a fine player.

    There are very few people around anymore who think George Kelly should be in the Hall of Fame (Bill James has suggested he is the worst player in the Hall), though there are also few people around who know anything about him—what teams he played for, his impact on those teams, what his great manager thought of him, how he played the game. All we know about him, or think we know about him, is how good his statistics were. Not good enough, apparently.

    I am not suggesting that George Kelly “deserves” his plaque—whatever that means. Rather, I am saying that the man and his accomplishments and his stories have been buried by the avalanche of his Hall of Fame case. The memories and opinions of Fred Lieb and Branch Rickey have been replaced with … what exactly? Is there anyone out there that has anything to say about any of these players besides their statistics? Forget George Kelly, does anyone have any colorful stories about Bert Blyleven or Andre Dawson to help me get through the winter? Even Joe Posnanski, one of our best bloggers, has felt a need to serve up endless “How Good Was He?” columns this winter. Say it ain’t so, Joe.

    Having read dozens of Hall of Fame arguments on the web in the past few weeks, by good people, some of them my friends, I find several problems with them in the main. Walking timidly into the lion’s den, let me summarize.

    Recently there has been some debate on various internet sites, including this one, about who deserves to vote in Hall of Fame elections. Let me tell you what I think. If I were in charge of the process, I would require that all voters understand what the Hall of Fame actually is before gaining the privilege. I would make every voter take a history test. There are 200 members of the Hall of Fame who were chosen based on their play in the major leagues, and I would expect each of the voters to understand (at the very least) the careers and qualifications of all of those men—the highlights, great moments, opinions of contemporaries.

    Does this mean that the correct 200 players are in the Hall of Fame? No, of course not. Does this mean that 200 is the right size? No. However, I suggest that whatever standards you come up should be “reasonably” consistent with the current membership list. If you want to say that the voters overvalue the players of the 1930s, or that 3B is underrepresented, or there are not enough Yankees, you must do so while not dynamiting a 70-year-old institution. You want to ignore the bottom 10% of the Hall, we can live with that.

    Jay Jaffe, a fine writer and analyst over at Baseball Prospectus, invented a measure called JAWS (which uses WARP as its basis) and compares new candidates to the JAWS score of the average HOF player at his position. Actually, if I have this right, he first removes the worst inductee at each position (and four pitchers) and then uses the average of the rest. This process might suggest that Jay believes that half of the Hall of Fame is unqualified, or at least suspect. My bright friend Rob Neyer uses Win Shares, but has a similarly strict standard, recently writing, "I believe that if a player is among the best dozen or so at his position, he belongs in the Hall of Fame; or, alternatively, that if he's better than half the players at his position already in the Hall, he belongs in the Hall of Fame." When considering that there are about 18 HOFers per position now, and that there are several non-inductees that Rob supports, he is implying that about 40% of the current members are unqualified.

    I mention Jay and Rob because they are two of the more talented and visible writers on this subject, and I suspect most people reading this agree with them on this issue. With all due respect, and writing as a product of the same general community of thought, I have a different view.

    Look, I am down with the idea that the Hall of Fame contains several questionable players. (Not bad players—there are no players even remotely “bad” in the Hall of Fame.) But, I am sorry, if you want to impose standards that 40% or 50% of the current Hall does not reach, then, in my opinion, you should not get to vote. You are ignoring what the Hall of Fame actually is. You can’t wave away 40% of the Hall and claim to be interested in helping. And there are no “tiers” in the Hall of Fame either—every member is honored equally.

    Parenthetically, if every voter was like Rob and Jay, and only voted on, for example, the best 12 players at each position, the actual HOF bar would be even higher than that. All voters are not going to agree on who these 12 guys are, and you need 75% of the vote. The effective standard becomes that 75% of the voters have to put you in the top 12. Which I suspect would leave you with something like 8 guys per position. We will reach the point where we only elect superstars and relief pitchers. Oh look, here we are.

    Another problem with the analytical arguments is that they are so … strident. The current message from the stat community to the Hall of Fame and its voters goes something like this: “Your institution is riddled with poor selections, and most of the current voting writers are morons. P.S. Please find enclosed my application to join your fine group.” It’s a bit like saying, “I don’t like your wife, but if you have me over for dinner I can give her a few tips on her attitude.”

    Every time some poor writer released their Hall of Fame ballot last month, unless it had the “right” guys on it, the voter was deemed not smart enough, unthinking. I don’t really want to quote examples because I am in enough trouble already, but, trust me, if you voted for Jack Morris you were mocked. (Sure, Morris had more Win Shares and the same WARP as Rich Gossage, and no GM in their right mind would prefer Gossage to Morris, even before considering Morris’s epic post-season performances. Apparently “relief pitcher” is a separate position now. Coming soon: the top 12 “seventh-place hitters”. But I digress…)

    Jim Rice received 72% of the vote on Tuesday, an overwhelming consensus of support, 12% more than Franklin Roosevelt’s 1936 landslide over Alf Landon. Are these 72% all just not smart enough? Four hundred journalists, many of whom saw Rice play hundreds of time, just need to think this through properly? How did we all get so confident? I submit, sheepishly, that perhaps it is we who need to open our minds.

    Me? Sure, I have argued for all the “smart” guys—Ron Santo and Bert Blyleven and Tim Raines—at cocktail parties. Even Tony Oliva, which is a big hit, believe me. But I suggest we all could use a little humility. The idea that we can confidently separate Dale Murphy and Andre Dawson statistically is nuts—who you prefer is basically a matter of taste. Defense, adjusting for eras, quality of competition, integration, position, post-season play, intangibles? If you are approached by someone who claims to have unraveled these issues statistically—I strongly urge you to run.

    My final problem with all of the analytical Hall of Fame arguments: there are too many of them, and they all say the same thing. Once you have decided to use Win Shares, or WARP, or JAWS, there is really no need for a lengthy explanation. If you want to explain the internals of Win Shares and make the case for why you are using it as opposed to something else, go right ahead. But once you have defined the parameters of the debate on your terms, there is nowhere to go unless you typed some of the numbers incorrectly. The reason people come up with a different answer is that you confidently co-opted the question.

    The only way one can add to the conversation is to supply some sort of color or nuance—a description of performances in big games, quotes from opponents or managers, a great World Series catch, your own personal memories. Does this matter? I suggest it matters in one sense at least: without it, you don’t really have an article that hasn’t been written before. Are you all really going to write the same Jim Rice stories again next year?

    When I was about 12 years old, I received a little book for Christmas about the Hall of Fame, written by Ken Smith (who was the librarian at the Hall for many years), containing biographies of all of the current members. It was not great literature by any means, but I must have read that paperback three or four times, and it played its small part in my baseball education. Reading about Hugh Duffy and Tommy McCarthy got me curious about the great Boston Beaneater teams of the 1890s, just as Frankie Frisch and Dizzy Dean brought me to the Gas House Gang, and Eddie Collins and Frank Baker to the powerhouse Athletics teams of the early 1910s. Although the book focused on the players, it was the great teams that made the stories interesting. The teams, it seemed to me, were what baseball history was really all about.

    I think we all agree that if George Kelly had played for the Phillies in the 1920s instead of the Giants, he would not be in the Hall of Fame. (He would actually be more respected than he is, since instead of being a “joke Hall of Famer” he would be an “unappreciated star”.) However, he *did* play for the Giants, and this seems wholly relevant to the conversation. John McGraw somehow won ten pennants with Christy Mathewson (who was only around for five of them) and a bunch of players like George Kelly—great defenders who could hit a little. The only NL team ever to win four straight flags, the 1921-24 Giants, had four Hall of Famers: Frankie Frisch, George Kelly, Ross Youngs, and the shortstop (Dave Bancroft, giving way to Travis Jackson), all but Frisch considered “mistakes” by today’s experts. How many Hall of Famers should be on this great team? It is consistent with the purpose of the Hall of Fame, in my view, to honor baseball’s champions.

    If you begin with the premise that the 200 guys in the Hall of Fame should be the 200 statistically-best careers in history, a premise all analysts have rallied around, then George Kelly does not have a case. If you modify this premise, if you believe that being on this great Giants team gets him extra points, that the word of John McGraw carries additional weight, that first base defense was more important at that time and place than it is today, that career length is less important to you, we start inching along and suddenly his case seems less ridiculous. This is not a case I would make, but this is the case that the people who lived and watched those teams made about George Kelly. If the guy who John McGraw thought was the best player on a four-time champion—if this is the worst guy in the place, how bad can it really be?

    Don’t worry, I am not asking for your support for George Kelly, although I do suggest you pause at his plaque the next time you are in that great museum in Cooperstown. He’s got a nice story. Jack Morris and Jim Rice have nice stories too, and the smart people advocating their candidacies are worth a listen.

    Mark Armour writes baseball from his home in Corvallis, Oregon. He was the co-author, with Dan Levitt, of the award-winning book Paths to Glory, the editor of Rain Check: Baseball in the Pacific Northwest, and the director of SABR's Baseball Biography Project. His next large project is the life of Joe Cronin. He can be reached at markarmour@comcast.net.

    Designated HitterJanuary 06, 2008
    Friends
    By Pat Jordan

    It's nice to have friends, especially friends one makes during the course of business. It's even nicer if those new friends are celebrities. Take Mike Wallace, for example. At 89, Mr. Wallace has made a lot of celebrity friends during the 40 years he has been a reporter for CBS's "60 Minutes." Not friends like Yassir Arafat, maybe, but friends like George Steinbrenner, the owner of the New York Yankees, of whom Mr. Wallace says, "I like Steinbrenner, he likes me, we became good friends." It was through his friendship with Steinbrenner that Mr. Wallace made friends with one of Steinbrenner's celebrity hirelings, Roger Clemens, of whom Mr. Wallace says, "He became my friend. He trusts me." Which is no doubt why, when Mr. Clemens' name appeared prominently in the Mitchell Report, he turned to Mr. Wallace to help clear his name from accusations by his former trainer, Brian McNamee, that Clemens took steroids and Human Growth Hormone in his late 30s and 40s to enhance his pitching career.

    Tonight on "60 Minutes," Mr. Clemens will sit for an interview with Mr. Wallace, because, Mr. Wallace says, "He trusts me." Hopefully, Mr. Wallace can be, as he says, "objective." Tomorrow, according to Rusty Hardin, Mr. Clemens' lawyer, Clemens will submit to questions from a host of reporters, the first time he will speak off-the-cuff so to speak, to a roomful of reporters, some of whom may not be his friends. Previously, Mr. Clemens has denied Mr. McNamee's allegations that he injected Mr. Clemens with steroids and HGH through press releases emitted by his lawyer and his agent, and through a staged video in which Mr. Clemens denies McNamee's allegations directly to a camera.

    I had a chance to become friends with Mr. Clemens in 2001, when I interviewed him for a profile in the New York Times Sunday magazine. But, alas, our friendship did not take. Despite the fact that I, like Mr. Wallace, felt I too had been objective in my profile, Mr. Clemens did not concur. In fact, he called me up after the story appeared and berated me over the telephone. When I asked him what he didn't like about the story, he said, "I didn't read it." I responded, "Then how do you know you don't like it?" He said he was told by his "friend," and the co-author of one of Mr. Clemens' books, Peter Gammons, the ESPN-TV analyst, that he should hate it. In fact, Mr. Clemens hated my profile so fervently that he had me banned from the Yankees' clubhouse during the years he remained with the team.

    I would later learn that one of the many things Mr. Clemens hated about my profile of him was my description of his fawning relationship at the time with his friend Mr. McNamee, who lived in the pool house of Mr. Clemens' Houston estate. On the first day I interviewed Mr. Clemens in Houston I had dinner with him and Mr. McNamee at the most exclusive steak house in Houston. The bill was for over $400, which I paid. Mr. Clemens said, "I’ll get you tomorrow." The next day he bought me a taco at a Mexican Restaurant. But the point of my profile of Mr. Clemens was less about his parsimoniousness than it was his strange relationship with Mr. McNamee. During the dinner at the steakhouse Mr. Clemens asked Mr. McNamee for his permission to have a steak (McNamee nodded) and a baked potato (McNamee nodded again, but added a caveat, "Only dry."). The same scenario played itself out at the Mexican Restaurant. Clemens pointed to an item on the menu and Mr. McNamee either nodded, or shook his head, no.

    During the three days I followed Mr. Clemens around Houston, he seemed like a child beholden to the whims of the sour, suspicious, and taciturn McNamee. It seemed as if Mr. Clemens would not do anything to his body, or ingest anything into it that Mr. McNamee hadn't approved. I found it strange that, at 38, Mr. Clemens still had to have someone dictate his diet and workout regimen down to the minutest detail at this late stage of his illustrious career. In fact, Mr. Clemens' devotion to Mr. McNamee's diet and workout routine seemed almost like a spiritual quest that must not be impeded. When Mr. Clemens and Mr. McNamee went on a long run one day and they came across another runner, lying on the ground, in the throes of a heart attack, they called for help. When Mr. Clemens related that story to me, he ended it by saying, "We were having a good run, too."

    I also found it strange that, at 38, Clemens had the energy of a teenager. Clemens' workouts lasted 10 hours a day with only breaks for lunch and dinner. They began at 9 a.m. under McNamee's watchful eyes, with light weight-lifting for an hour, then an hour run, then a trip into Clemens' own personal gym, where he did a few hours of calisthenics, wind sprints, and throwing before going to lunch. After lunch, Clemens and McNamee went to an exclusive Houston men's gym (Clemens told me that President Bush worked out there), where Clemens pedaled a stationary bike for an hour and then performed a heavy weight-lifting routine for another hour. Then after dinner at home, Clemens worked out again until 9 or 10 in the evening.

    Just watching Clemens work out over a day exhausted me. I wondered where he found the energy to sustain such a maniacal pace when I, at a similar age 20 years before, had been unable to work out for more than a few hours a day without being drained. At the time I interviewed Clemens, I was training for an amateur body building contest and, like Clemens, I adhered to a strict diet and a strenuous weight-lifting and calisthenics routine. But nothing I did at 41 compared to the 10 hours-a-day routine McNamee put Clemens through.

    This brings me by a circuitous route to Tom Seaver, the Hall of Fame pitcher from the 1960s to the 1980s. Now Seaver and I were friends. Not the best of friends. Not intimate friends. Just friends. In the early 70s we lived only a few miles from each other in Connecticut. On the weekends we played one-on-one basketball games against each other at the Greenwich YMCA. They were rough, no-holds-barred games marked by a lot of uncalled fouls, bruises, and bloody noses. I always let Seaver win those games; after all, he was Tom Seaver, but he denies this.

    Whenever Seaver pitched badly I'd call him every so often to give him advice.

    "Tom, you're throwing too many breaking balls."

    "You really think so?"

    "Absolutely."

    "What the hell do you know?"

    Seaver and I had a lot in common. We were both big men in our playing days. Six-one, 200 pounds. We were both pitchers. Bonus babies. Tom signed with the Mets for a $50,000 bonus and I signed with the then Milwaukee Braves in 1959 for a $50,000 bonus. We both threw hard. I threw harder than Seaver, of course, but he will never admit that. He had better control than I did (at least I will admit that). And a longer career. His lasted 20 years. In the major leagues. Mine lasted three years, in the minor leagues. And then out. Back home, at 21, lugging bricks and mortar up a rickety scaffold for a Lithuanian mason.

    Over the 40 years of our friendship, I still call Seaver every now and then, mostly to remind him that I threw harder than him. His response is always the same, "In your dreams." My response is always the same. "But I did, Tom, I did!" Then he will say, "Yeah, and between us we won 311 major league games." I say, "Precisely!"

    Like Clemens today, Seaver in his day was considered the most dominating pitcher of modern times. He did win 311 games over a 20-year career, and would have won another 50 or so if he had pitched into his mid-40s like Clemens has. But he didn't. He lost his fastball at 38, pitched without it for several more seasons with varying results, and retired. During his career, Seaver, too, was famous for his strict diet and strenuous workout routine. In fact, he was one of the first baseball players to begin lifting weights to enhance his performance. It had been considered taboo, particularly for pitchers, likely to make them feel too muscle-bound and inflexible.

    I visited Seaver once at his home in Greenwich, Conn., in the dead of a cold winter. Seaver lives in Calistoga, Calif., today. Seaver took me down into his basement where he had set up a net to catch baseballs. There, with a bucket of balls beside him, and his breath billowing in front of him, Seaver grunted and sweated for 30 minutes as he pitched baseballs into that net.

    I was so impressed with his diligence that I asked him why he bothered to throw on such a cold, January day. He gave me a little sideways look as if I'd asked the stupidest question, and said, "Because it's my day to throw."

    After the Mitchell Report on the use of performance-enhancing drugs was published, I checked the records of Seaver and Clemens. In his first 12 seasons with the Boston Red Sox, Clemens posted a 192-111 record. In his first 12 years with the Mets, and the Cincinnati Reds, Seaver posted a 219-117 record. Over Seaver's last eight years with the Reds, Red Sox, and Chicago White Sox, he posted a 92-78 record. Over Clemens' last 11 years with the Toronto Blue Jays, Yankees and Houston Astros and then the Yankees again, he posted a 162-73 record, a winning percentage appreciably better than in his younger years.

    While Seaver struggled with that declining fastball in the latter stage of his career, Clemens kept throwing hard. Seaver's decline in those final seasons was the normal drop-off for a pitcher who had relied on an exceptional fastball for a good part of his success. Clemens' improved record in his later years was an anomaly for a fastball pitcher. (Knuckleball pitchers like Phil Niekro, and junk ball pitchers like Jamie Moyer have pitched successfully into their 40s because they rely on finesse, not strength.)

    A fastball pitcher still throwing in the mid-90s after the age of 40, as Clemens did, is a true rarity, except if his name is Nolan Ryan, who was blessed by God. It goes against the laws of nature, although I suspect that a case can be made that Clemens' incredible late career success could be attributed to the strict diet and fabled workout routine of his former trainer and friend, now his adversary, Brian McNamee. Which I also suspect is the case Clemens will make to his friend, Mr. Wallace, when Mr. Wallace interviews him tonight on "60 Minutes."

    Pat Jordan, author of "A False Spring," and "A Nice Tuesday," is a freelance writer. His latest book, "The Best Sports Writing of Pat Jordan" (Persea Books), which features profiles of both Roger Clemens ("Roger Clemens Refuses to Grow Up") and Tom Seaver ("The Best of Friends"), will be released next month.

    Designated HitterNovember 29, 2007
    An Analysis of Terry Ryan's Talent Acquisition as General Manager of the Minnesota Twins
    By Dan Levitt

    In modern baseball the general manager is ultimately responsible for the talent level in an organization, most importantly at the major league level. Given the relationship between winning teams and better players, general managers have historically been evaluated based on team success. While a pragmatic measure, it has two notable drawbacks. First, it ignores all the extenuating circumstances that go into a team's gain and loss of players: general managers operate under different financial constraints; they initially join clubs with far different levels of talent, and have different levels of autonomy to shape the scouting personnel, minor league operations, and the major league on-field staff. Second, simply using team success as a yardstick is a very coarse measure that limits our ability to understand the strengths and weaknesses of a general manager. What were his specific successes and failures that led to his club's record?

    With the recent resignation of Terry Ryan as the Minnesota Twins general manager, I thought it might be interesting to take an objective look at some aspects of the position that can be measured. Using the Retrosheet transactions database maintained by Tom Ruane, I evaluated all the moves made by the Twins after Ryan's hiring in September, 1994 through the end of 2005. Obviously this type of analysis assigns the ultimate responsibility for all transactions--rightly or wrongly--to the general manager. For a number of reasons I did not include an analysis of the draft. For most types of transactions one can compare value received to value surrendered. To evaluate the productivity of the amateur draft and the farm system, however, one needs to calculate the productivity of other franchises to use as a baseline--this is a study for another time.

    To evaluate the general manager this analysis reviews the value of players lost via free agency (Fg), release (R), the expansion draft (X), waivers (W) and trades (T), and players acquired via amateur free agency (Fa), free agency (F), waivers (W) and trades (T). Unfortunately this is not quite as straight forward as it might be: for example players who become free agents and are subsequently re-signed; in the database these players are shown as both lost via free agency and gained through free agency. The net effect is zero, but it increases the total volume of talent coming and going: for instance, Brad Radke's re-signing after the 2004 season. Another example is players who come and go before they become established major leaguers. As an illustration of this issue, Casey Blake was claimed on waivers, lost on waivers, reclaimed on waivers, and subsequently released before he achieved any significant major league playing time. While it makes sense to account for them this way--each transaction needs to be evaluated on its own merits--these multiple moves can make the talent velocity appear greater than it might otherwise be.

    Of course one also needs some way to value the players involved in the transactions in order to assess them. Win Shares is a metric created by Bill James that works well for this purpose. Using a complex set of formulas, it allocates team wins to individual players. The method allocates three win shares for each win; for example, 300 win shares will be allocated to the players on a 100 win team. As a benchmark, a 30 win share season is typically MVP caliber, and 20 win shares is an all-star season. For each player involved in a transaction, I calculated the win shares he would earn over the balance of his career. For players still active, win shares are calculated through the 2006 season (obviously, some of these players will significantly increase their career totals).

    So, what does Ryan's scorecard look like? The table below summarizes the cumulative win shares surrendered and gained in all the Twins transactions from the fall of 1994 through the end of 2005.

    Win Shares from Twins Transactions, Fall 1994 - 2005

    Type    Type Description            From Min   To Min
    -----------------------------------------------------
    Fg      Free Agency Granted              430        -
    R       Released                         251        -
    X       Expansion Draft                   93        -
    Fa      Amateur Free Agent Signing         -      111
    F       Free Agent Signing                 -      656
    W       Waiver Pick                       60      154
    T       Trade                            807      922
    -----------------------------------------------------
            Total                           1641	   1842
    

    Despite working under relatively tight financial constraints for most of his tenure, Ryan lost surprisingly little talent to free agency. No player with more than 50 win shares remaining left the major league roster as a free agent. Only Travis Lee, one of four amateur draftees declared free agents because they were not tendered a contract within the mandatory 15-day period, produced more than 50 win shares over the remainder of his career.

    Surprisingly, Ryan's two most significant personnel blunders resulted from releasing two players with significant major league ability, and both came after the 2002 season. In October he released Casey Blake, who would go on to become a valuable contributor with the Indians. More significantly, in December Ryan compounded his error by releasing David Ortiz, who became a perennial MVP contender. Both could have played important roles on the Twins competitive teams from 2003 through 2006.

    The Twins did not really lose any significant players through waivers (although technically they lost and then regained Blake over a three-week period). The loss of Damian Miller to the Diamondbacks in the expansion draft proved surprisingly costly. Miller went on to a number of seasons as a quality major league catcher.

    Given his financial constraints, is not surprising that Ryan never really exploited the free agent market. Over his tenure he signed only one major league free agent, Kenny Rogers, with over 50 win shares remaining. Some of his most worthwhile signings included re-signing his own declining veterans on a short-term basis, such as Radke and Shannon Stewart, and finding useful role players at a reasonable price, such as Mike Redmond.

    Minnesota has not kept up a sufficient Latin American presence. In the mid-1990s the Twins landed two players who would develop into useful major leaguers--Luis Rivas and Juan Rincon--but have signed none of consequence since. Ryan's staff did smartly pluck Bobby Kielty from the U.S. amateur ranks. The Twins have neither lost nor claimed any significant players on waivers except for Blake, as noted previously.

    Ryan distinguished himself most clearly in his ability to make quality trades. His worst trade, in terms of value differential, was the swap of Todd Walker to Colorado for two players with less than two win shares remaining in their careers. In Ryan's defense, with this transaction the Twins also received cash. On the other hand, his regime can be credited with several outstanding deals. The swap of A.J. Pierzynski and cash for Francisco Liriano, Boof Bonser, and Joe Nathan has been widely hailed, but a number of others were also highly productive. He acquired Johan Santana for Jared Camp in a trade of Rule 5 draft picks. Ryan landed Eric Milton and Cristian Guzman for Chuck Knoblauch--although Knoblauch's unexpectedly quick falloff makes this trade appear more prescient than it probably was. Trading Dave Hollins for David Ortiz was also a great move, unfortunately later vitiated by the latter's release.

    A general manager's job entails more than talent acquisition, and sometimes a team is in a position where the key decisions involve sorting out the talent (including possibly surrendering more talent than one receives) to alleviate an abundance at one position and a dearth at another. But the luxury of rearranging one's talent first requires building a solid talent base. Ryan consistently surrendered less talent than he received as he built the team that captured four division championships between 2002 and 2006.

    Appendix

    The table below summarizes all Minnesota Twin transactions of at least 10 win shares between the fall of 1994 when Terry Ryan became the GM and the end of 2005. The table should be moderately self-explanatory, but a couple of comments may be in order for trades. The "TransID" column ties the players to a particular transaction, so that all players identified with the same TransID were part of the same trade. A few transactions identified as a trade show only one player; in these instances the other players involved did not make the major leagues.

    Min Twins Transactions (>10 WS), Fall 1994 - 2005

    DateID        TransID      Type      Player              Team        From Min        To Min
    19960619      22943        Fg        Lee, Travis                         72.8              
    19961004      33661        Fg        Reboulet, Jeff                      26.6            
    19981029      39348        Fg        Steinbach, Terry                    11.9        
    19981221      26718        Fg        Meares, Pat                         13.2        
    19991007       8367        Fg        Cordova, Marty                      23.1        
    19991015      12658        Fg        Fiore, Tony                         10.1        
    20011008      26077        Fg        McCracken, Quinton                  19.6        
    20011019       6461        Fg        Carrasco, Hector                    19.5        
    20011105      20603        Fg        Jones, Todd                         35.6        
    20031026      15777        Fg        Guardado, Eddie                     17.5        
    20031026      39476        Fg        Stewart, Shannon                    30.1        
    20031027      17104        Fg        Hawkins, LaTroy                     20.6        
    20031028      14799        Fg        Gomez, Chris                        16.2        
    20031029      35073        Fg        Rogers, Kenny                       46.9        
    20041028       3435        Fg        Blanco, Henry                       11.3        
    20041028      33228        Fg        Radke, Brad                         21.5        
    20041101      21947        Fg        Koskie, Corey                       16.5        
    20051028      20511        Fg        Jones, Jacque                       16.9        
    19950713      39482         R        Stewart, Scott                      15.3        
    19960401      13631         R        Fultz, Aaron                        18.9        
    19970516      30220         R        Olson, Gregg                        21.5        
    19981003      34439         R        Ritchie, Todd                       32.8        
    20001220      23436         R        Lincoln, Mike                       13.5        
    20021014       3412         R        Blake, Casey                        48.1        
    20021216      30458         R        Ortiz, David                       101.4        
    19971118      27370         X        Miller, Damian      ARI             92.5        
    19951009      34458        Fa        Rivas, Luis                                       24.7
    19961104      34373        Fa        Rincon, Juan                                      35.6
    19990216      21343        Fa        Kielty, Bobby                                     50.3
    19950613      39481         F        Stewart, Scott                                    15.3
    19951205      27848         F        Molitor, Paul                                     40.7
    19951208      28907         F        Myers, Greg                                       24.0
    19951211        302         F        Aguilera, Rick                                    31.2
    19960102      18388         F        Hollins, Dave                                     23.8
    19960129      21020         F        Kelly, Roberto                                    24.6
    19961205      39347         F        Steinbach, Terry                                  28.6
    19961212      40617         F        Tewksbury, Bob                                    16.8
    19961218      40139         F        Swindell, Greg                                    29.0
    19961220      30219         F        Olson, Gregg                                      21.5
    19970124       7751         F        Colbrunn, Greg                                    27.8
    19971216      28221         F        Morgan, Mike                                      13.6
    19971223      14199         F        Gates, Brent                                      12.0
    19980114      27003         F        Merced, Orlando                                   18.3
    19990104      39349         F        Steinbach, Terry                                  11.9
    19990127      43376         F        Wells, Bob                                        24.3
    19990603      12657         F        Fiore, Tony                                       10.1
    20000401      27793         F        Mohr, Dustan                                      31.2
    20001219      32882         F        Prince, Tom                                       12.1
    20010330       6460         F        Carrasco, Hector                                  23.9
    20010413      26076         F        McCracken, Quinton                                19.7
    20010530      12661         F        Fiore, Tony                                       10.1
    20030109      14798         F        Gomez, Chris                                      18.5
    20030317      35072         F        Rogers, Kenny                                     57.6
    20031207      39477         F        Stewart, Shannon                                  30.1
    20031218       3434         F        Blanco, Henry                                     16.7
    20040108      13638         F        Fultz, Aaron                                      14.9
    20041123       6724         F        Castro, Juan                                      13.1
    20041124      33691         F        Redmond, Mike                                     12.9
    20041207      33229         F        Radke, Brad                                       21.5
    19941104      34714         W        Robertson, Rich     PIT                           15.0
    19980403       6456         W        Carrasco, Hector    ARI                           31.7
    20000523       3409         W        Blake, Casey        TOR                           48.4
    20010921       3410         W        Blake, Casey        BAL             48.2        
    20011012       3411         W        Blake, Casey        BAL                           48.2
    20031120      15803         W        Guerrier, Matt      PIT                           10.7
    20041014      13639         W        Fultz, Aaron        PHI             12.0        
    19950608      49355         T        Courtright, John    CIN                            0.0
    19950608      49355         T        McCarty, David      CIN             18.0        
    19950706      49364         T        Rodriguez, Frank    BOS                           21.2
    19950706      49364         T        Aguilera, Rick      BOS             31.2        
    19950707      49365         T        Klingenbeck, Scott  BAL                            0.0
    19950707      49365         T        Erickson, Scott     BAL             54.0        
    19950731      49386         T        Coomer, Ron         LAN                           53.1
    19950731      49386         T        Hansell, Greg       LAN                            6.3
    19950731      49386         T        Parra, Jose         LAN                            5.3
    19950731      49386         T        Guthrie, Mark       LAN             25.9        
    19950731      49386         T        Tapani, Kevin       LAN             49.4        
    19950919      49365         T        Bartee, Kimera      BAL                            2.9
    19951030      49386         T        Latham, Chris       LAN                            3.8
    19960826      49492         T        Mahomes, Pat        BOS             14.3        
    19960829      49496         T        Hollins, Dave       SEA             23.8        
    19960913      49496         T        Ortiz, David        SEA                           137.7
    19961211      49520         T        Walbeck, Matt       DET             18.9        
    19961217      49492         T        Looney, Brian       BOS                            0.0
    19970814      49587         T        Colbrunn, Greg      ATL             27.8        
    19970820      49591         T        Kelly, Roberto      SEA             15.4        
    19970905      49597         T        Myers, Greg         ATL             17.6        
    19971009      49591         T        Mays, Joe           SEA                           44.7
    19971212      49630         T        Becker, Rich        NYN              0.0        
    19971212      49630         T        Ochoa, Alex         NYN                           30.3
    19980206      49642         T        Knoblauch, Chuck    NYA             69.7        
    19980206      49642         T        Buchanan, Brian     NYA                            9.8
    19980206      49642         T        Guzman, Cristian    NYA                           79.7
    19980206      49642         T        Milton, Eric        NYA                           68.4
    19980206      49642         T        Mota, Danny         NYA                            0.0
    19980731      49693         T         Barnes, John       BOS                            0.0
    19980731      49693         T        Kinney, Matt        BOS                            7.3
    19980731      49693         T        Merced, Orlando     BOS             18.3        
    19980731      49693         T        Swindell, Greg      BOS             19.3        
    19980825      49709         T        Morgan, Mike        CHN             13.6        
    19981103      49709         T        Downs, Scott        CHN                           11.6
    19981214      49735         T        Ochoa, Alex         MIL             27.5        
    19990521      49771         T        Lohse, Kyle         CHN                           41.5
    19990521      49771         T        Ryan, Jason         CHN                            1.9
    19990521      49771         T        Aguilera, Rick      CHN              4.3        
    19990521      49771         T        Downs, Scott        CHN             11.6        
    19991213      49836         T        Santana, Johan      FLO                           101.1
    20000715      49891         T        Sears, Todd         COL                            1.9
    20000715      49891         T        Huskey, Butch       COL              0.0        
    20000715      49891         T        Walker, Todd        COL             74.5        
    20000909      49936         T        Ford, Lew           BOS                           41.6
    20000909      49936         T        Carrasco, Hector    BOS             23.9        
    20010328      49973         T        Frias, Hanley       ARI                            0.0
    20010328      49973         T         Moeller, Chad      ARI             16.4        
    20010728      50015         T        Jones, Todd         DET                           35.6
    20010728      50015         T        Redman, Mark        DET             40.6        
    20010730      50017         T        Lawton, Matt        NYN             48.9        
    20010730      50017         T        Reed, Rick          NYN                           18.7
    20020712      50111         T        Buchanan, Brian     SDN              8.8        
    20020712      50111         T        Bartlett, Jason     SDN                           18.5
    20021115      50142         T        Kinney, Matt        MIL              5.1        
    20021115      50142         T        Valentin, Javier    MIL             21.4        
    20030716      50199         T        Kielty, Bobby       TOR             27.3        
    20030716      50199         T        Stewart, Shannon    TOR                           39.0
    20031114      50237         T        Pierzynski, A.J.    SFN             38.6        
    20031114      50237         T        Nathan, Joe         SFN                           47.1
    20031114      50237         T        Liriano, Francisco  SFN                           16.3
    20031114      50237         T        Bonser, Boof        SFN                            6.5
    20031203      50245         T        Milton, Eric        PHI             13.5        
    20031203      50245         T        Punto, Nick         PHI                           21.6
    20031203      50245         T        Silva, Carlos       PHI                           31.0
    20031215      50254         T        Mohr, Dustan        SFN             14.2        
    20031215      50199         T        Gassner, Dave       TOR                            0.1
    20040731      50322         T        Mientkiewicz, Doug  BOS             13.3        
    20051202      50425         T        Castillo, Luis      FLO                           17.2
    20051202      50425         T        Bowyer, Travis      FLO              0.0        
    

    Dan Levitt's forthcoming biography of New York Yankee general manager Ed Barrow is scheduled for release in the spring of 2008 from the University of Nebraska Press. He co-authored (with Mark Armour) the award-winning book Paths to Glory: How Great Baseball Teams Got That Way. Dan has also published numerous baseball related articles and short biographies.

    Designated HitterNovember 14, 2007
    Baseball Trading Economics 101
    By Doug Baumstein

    As we enter the off-season with few marquee free agents on the market, the talk around baseball will start to revolve around potential trades. Fans, sportswriters and even real life GM's will start thinking about what they would be willing to offer other teams to get them to part with their stars. As George Costanza once mused, "I think I got it. How 'bout this? How 'bout this? We trade Jim Leyritz and Bernie Williams, for Barry Bonds, huh? Whadda ya think? That way you have Griffey and Bonds, in the same outfield! Now you got a team!" Unfortunately, a significant number of fans, sportswriters (and even the occasional GM) don't understand the basic rules that govern (or at least, should govern) trade value in baseball. So before the Mets go trading Jose Reyes and Mike Pelfrey for Johan Santana and Jason Bartlett, it is time to learn about the concept of lease equity.

    Lease equity is, in a word (OK two), the easiest way to understand the trade market and assure that your team isn't selling its future for a short-term rental (yes, I am thinking of you, Houston Astros, for trading Jason Hirsh, Taylor Buchholz and Willy Taveras for Jason Jennings). The concept is simple, every player under contract has a certain value, in dollars, which is a function of the length they are under control and the amount of money they are owed. To figure out lease equity, you simply determine the difference between the relevant term of a player's contract and what that player would receive (or you, as the GM, would be willing to pay the player) as a free agent on the open market. So, if a player has a two-year contract for $10 million, but would likely get a two year contract for $15 million, that player has a lease equity value of $5 million. Significantly, lease equity value need not be positive. An albatross of a contract has negative value and, accordingly is only moveable as part of a salary dump. Indeed, a star can have negative lease equity value, as evidenced by the unwillingness of any team to pick up Manny Ramirez's contract a couple of years ago when he was left on waivers.

    Under this scenario, it is clear that the most valuable commodity is a young star player locked up for multiple years. Indeed, a superstar at $15 million can have the same lease equity value as a replacement player at league minimum. Which brings me to an important concept, lease equity is not the same as quality. Having a team with lots of valuable commodities doesn't mean you will have success. Just ask the Florida Marlins, who have some great inexpensive players and not much success to show for it. Conversely, a team full of pricey veterans, think the Yankees, can be a powerhouse without a lot of contributions from its players with the most lease equity. A market priced Bobby Abreu or A-Rod added more to the Yankees success than guys like Joba, Hughes, Cabrera or Cano. What having a player with a positive lease equity value does is twofold: a GM can use that "saved" money elsewhere to improve his team within his budget or, alternatively, he can trade that value for other players who may have more value (as a player) or are a better fit for his team.

    There are some other concepts that need to be understood, before we start figuring out how lease equity affects trade scenarios. The first concept is that control (i.e., the lease) is the key to value. Even if an arbitration eligible player does not have a contract for the next year, as long as his estimated value is higher than his probable salary (likely based on the arbitration rules), that player has positive lease equity value. The trick, of course, is estimating his salary and his likely free agent value.

    The second issue to note is that lease equity value is market based. Unless a free agent takes a home town discount (which is rare because when a player signs an early extension, he is not really providing a discount but trading upside for security, just ask Chris Carpenter and the Cardinals), a free agent's lease equity is zero at the time he is signed. If the market determines that Gary Matthews or Juan Pierre is worth $50 million for 5 years, that is the market for a mediocre center fielder, irrespective if it is a "good" deal. The market is "right," because it constrains what a GM can do with his money or the lease equity value of the players he controls, the two primary assets that a GM has in building a team. Other signings also provide a good jumping off point for determining the values of players who are years from the market, like a Grady Sizemore (worth a lot more annually than Pierre or Matthews) or Lastings Milledge (probably fairly comparable).

    The third issue to consider affects the way that "likely salary" is estimated. At this point, it's not unreasonable to assume that, if he hits the market a year from now, Johan Santana will command a six year $150 million contract. But $25 million a year is not the right number to plug in to determine his value in a trade right now. Santana is under contract for one year now at $13.25 million. If he went on the market and sought only a one year contract, he may well receive $30 million or higher. The reason for this is simple. As a one-year bet, the team takes a much smaller risk in terms of injury and future performance than with a long-term contract. Thus, a team would pay more, per year, for a shorter contract. After that, the player is still presumably available at market rate and the team can evaluate its needs then. Also, draft pick compensation if he leaves is also of some value. In other words, for evaluating trades, the shorter the remaining contract, the higher the assumption that needs to be made with respect to the per year annual salary.

    The fourth issue to keep in mind is that, for prospects and young players, it may be hard to make a good estimate of future performance and reasonable minds may, and usually will, differ. That is how some players become busts and some trades for prospects go down as the worst in history. But just because it's hard, it doesn't mean it's impossible. The ability to project prospects is a cottage industry these days. Additionally, prospects are almost never likely to have negative lease equity value because if they fail, they will never cost much, and the option value of them being major league contributors can be estimated. Recognizing diamonds in the rough (think Terry Ryan getting Francisco Liriano as a throw-in for Pierzynski), is thus incredibly valuable to a team.

    The fifth issue to note is that lease equity value in a contract may differ from team to team. When a player signs a free agent contract, the team that has the most need and willingness to meet that price makes the payment, thus establishing the value at the top. Based on market conditions, competitiveness and other factors, lease equity value in a trade can differ from one team to the next. The Mets might pay $35 million for one year of Santana, the Dodgers $30 million and the Royals $15 million. Those numbers factor into any offer that is made. Because lease value is subjective, each GM can determine it for his team separately.

    The sixth issue to keep in mind is that lease equity value is a blunt instrument. Because we never know what a player will get on the open market (think of the collective reaction to Gil Meche's contract), the best we can do is estimate within a couple of million dollars. This may sound real rough, but when you factor in real numbers, you can see that it does not prevent appropriate consideration of trades. Also, because it is an art more than a science, there is no need to discount back the dollars in a salary or for determining equity value.

    So What Is Santana Worth

    Now comes the fun part, let's talk trade and value.

    If the Twins decide they can't re-sign Santana this Winter, he will probably be the best player traded this Winter. As noted, he is set to make $13.25 million, at which point he will be a free agent and then may be acquired for "only" money at the market rate. For argument's sake, I am willing to say that if Santana was looking for only a one-year deal this offseason, he may fetch over $30 million. So let's assign a lease equity value to him, optimistically, at $20 million. Now, here in New York, no doubt based on his subpar September there are already beat writers and some fans talking about including Jose Reyes in a trade for Santana. Reyes is signed, including options, for the next four years (including an $11 million option in 2011) for $29.5 million. If Reyes were to be a free agent, for the four years covering his age 25-28 years, I think he likely would get $19-20 million per year, if not more, leaving him a lease equity value at around $45-50 million, far more valuable than a single year of Santana. (Note that I assume fairly high values for young players. This is because, unlike most free agents, if they were to sign today, a GM would be able to buy the peak years, whereas for most free agents, they are already at or past their peak.) It is also hard to see how the Yankees could give up the likes of Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain, or the Dodgers to part with Kershaw, Billingsley and Loney for one year of Santana. Of course, trades are made in a market, and if the Dodgers are offering multiple players with high lease values like Kershaw, Billingsley and Loney, then the Yankees better offer a more valuable group if they expect to complete the trade.

    But Santana is not the most valuable pitcher likely to be the subject of off-season rumors. Dan Haren is under control for the next three years (including options) for $16.25 million. Considering Barry Zito's contract, three years of Haren is probably a safe bet to cost $60 million. That $45 million or so in value is, at minimum, a sign to any thinking GM that, before pulling the trigger on the winning bid for the Santana sweepstakes, he should see if Billy Beane will take that package for Haren. The other A's pitchers likely to be the subject of rumor, Harden (under control for 2 years at $11.5 million) or Joe Blanton (three years of ML service, so three years of control subject to arbitration eligibility) will be much better deals for the budget-minded trader. Indeed, Harden, with his injury history, probably wouldn't get much more than two years at $15 million total (although he could outperform that significantly), indicating that he is not nearly as valuable to most teams. If Beane gets offered Milledge or Clayton Kershaw for him, he should probably jump at it.

    Concluding Thoughts

    Long gone are the days when, because of the reserve clause, a GM would make a trade based on the pure baseball talent of the players at issue. Today, dollars are the primary mover of trades, whether it is in a salary dump or a trade of a bargain player that will soon become unaffordable as a free agent. Whether consciously or unconsciously, lease equity value appears to inform the thoughts of most GMs making trades. Even rich teams, like the Mets and Yankees, have recently refrained from doing whatever possible to bring in top talent, instead recognizing that young, under-control players are the coin of the realm in today's baseball market. Remarkably, most journalists and fans don't think this way, as is clear when they talk about what it will take to get Santana. But GMs know they have budgets and that they can't just give away young cheap talent in exchange for market rate stars and expect to succeed in the long run. As long as a GM is mindful of the value he controls and the market for players, he will be able to get the most out of his resources. And, next time you hear that it the Twins are "demanding" Grady Sizemore for Santana, calmly know that Mark Shapiro and the Indians, if they have any sense, are not going to bite.

    Doug Baumstein is a New York City lawyer and Mets fan.

    Designated HitterNovember 09, 2007
    Runner’s Reluctance - Part Two
    By Ross Roley

    In Part One of this two-part series we explored the reluctance of runners and coaches to take risks on the basepaths, discovering that 97% of those attempting to advance on centerfielders were successful in 2006 while the break-even point is significantly lower than the actual success rate for every conceivable situation. I concluded in that article that runners and coaches were incredibly risk averse. In this article I will attempt to quantify the lost opportunity associated with this conservative strategy.

    The numbers from 2006 tell us that less than half (47%) of baserunners attempted to advance on balls hit to centerfield while 97% were successful. From that existing state, let’s imagine that 3rd base coaches start sending runners more frequently in an attempt to take more chances and score more runs. One can easily surmise that the success rate would steadily go down as more runners take the chance. In Economics, this is referred to as the Law of Diminishing Returns. Let’s assume that for each additional 1% of attempts (which rounds to 75 runners), the success rate drops by 1%. So the first 75 guys succeed at a 96% rate, the next 75 at 95% and so forth. The chart below graphically frames the problem under discussion. It shows what this notional curve would look like (in green) compared to a break-even level of 71% (red). Also included in the graph is a purple line showing what would happen if every additional runner were thrown out and another line in blue showing what would happen if the rest of the attempts were at the break-even rate of 71%.

    Graph3.jpg

    Notice how 17% more baserunners would have to take the risk and all of them get gunned out before the overall success rate equals the break-even point of 71% (where the purple and red lines intersect). Obviously it wouldn’t be advisable to send 17% more guys knowing they would all get thrown out. In fact, it wouldn’t be advisable to send any runners who had a 0% chance of success. Instead, a coach should theoretically send anyone whose chance of success is better than the break-even rate of 71%. So any curve above the blue line would result in a positive number of runs scored.

    To estimate the number of additional runs that could be scored if runners and coaches were more aggressive, we examine the notional data more closely. Going back to the Expected Run table introduced last time, the weighted average of outcomes where a runner is successful in trying for the extra base comes out to .29 additional runs for the remainder of an inning (the reward), while failures cost .71 runs on average (the risk). Coincidentally, .71 and .29 add to 1.00 and the break-even rate happens to be the same as the risk, i.e. .71. Using these values for risk and reward, the table below calculates the net runs scored by each set of 75 attempted baserunners.

    Notional Data – If Runners Were More Aggressive

    Runners     Success    Number       Successes    Failures      Net Runs
                Rate       Thrown Out   (*.29)       (*-.71)
    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    75          0.96        3           20.9         -2.1          18.8
    75          0.95        4           20.6         -2.8          17.8
    75          0.94        5           20.3         -3.6          16.7
    75          0.93        5           20.3         -3.6          16.7
    75          0.92        6           20.0         -4.3          15.7
    75          0.91        7           19.7         -5.0          14.7
    75          0.90        8           19.4         -5.7          13.7
    75          0.89        8           19.4         -5.7          13.7
    75          0.88        9           19.1         -6.4          12.7
    75          0.87       10           18.9         -7.1          11.8
    75          0.86       11           18.6         -7.8          10.8
    75          0.85       11           18.6         -7.8          10.8
    75          0.84       12           18.3         -8.5           9.8
    75          0.83       13           18.0         -9.2           8.8
    75          0.82       14           17.7         -9.9           7.8
    75          0.81       14           17.7         -9.9           7.8
    75          0.80       15           17.4        -10.7           6.7
    75          0.79       16           17.1        -11.4           5.7
    75          0.78       17           16.8        -12.1           4.7
    75          0.77       17           16.8        -12.1           4.7
    75          0.76       18           16.5        -12.8           3.7
    75          0.75       19           16.2        -13.5           2.7
    75          0.74       20           16.0        -14.2           1.8
    75          0.73       20           16.0        -14.2           1.8
    75          0.72       21           15.7        -14.9           0.8
    Totals
    1875        0.84       303         456.0       -215.3         240.7
    

    Notice the Law of Diminishing Returns in action in the far right column, with fewer and fewer net runs scored as the success rate goes down. The table also reinforces my earlier statement that the optimal strategy is for a 3rd base coach to send anyone with a chance of success greater than .71. After that, the net runs scored is a negative value and the tactic becomes counter-productive.

    The value in the lower right of 240.7 represents an estimate of the additional runs all 30 major league teams would’ve scored in 2006 (using the notional set of data) if they all used an optimal baserunning strategy for balls hit to centerfield with runners on base. This comes out to 8 runs per team, which is not a lot. However, including balls hit to left and rightfield, the estimate grows to 26 runs per team (14% more balls are hit to left and right than to center). If one makes the assumption that runners are equally reluctant to try for an extra base with no baserunners in front of them (i.e. stretching singles into doubles, etc.), the estimate grows to 50 runs per team since approximately 47% of baserunning opportunities occur with nobody on base.

    I concede that it’s quite a stretch to assume runners are reluctant to stretch hits at the same rate as they are in advancing on hits. Unfortunately, Retrosheet data doesn’t lend itself to the kind of analysis required to test that assumption. Regardless, one can safely say that “runner’s reluctance” could easily cost the average team 30-40 runs a year. This is significant. Using Bill James’ Pythagorean Theorem for run differential, it equates to 3-4 extra wins per season. Any team would love to have 3 or 4 extra wins. All it apparently takes is more aggressive baserunning.

    At this point, it’s important to dispel a myth. The optimal strategy is not one where the actual results are equal to the break-even rate. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Viewing the table of notional data above, the optimal strategy has a success rate of .84, not the break-even value of .71. Including the initial 2006 data (97% success rate on 3500 attempts), the total success rate for an optimal strategy is somewhere around 92%. So the optimal strategy occurs neither where the red and purple lines intersect in the graphical chart above, nor where the blue and green lines intersect. Rather, the optimal strategy occurs where the slope of the blue line becomes parallel with the slope of the green line, which occurs about when the blue line crosses the 92% success rate for our notional data.

    One could argue that this estimated optimal success rate of 92% is not so far removed from the actual success rate of 97%, and maybe runners and coaches aren’t wasting so many opportunities after all. I considered this possibility and rejected it because of the likelihood of miscalculations by the coach/runner along with calculated decisions to be more risk averse or accept more risk depending on the game situation. Allow me to illustrate with an example.

    Suppose a 3rd base coach is faced with a series of baserunning decisions where the runners have a chance of success listed in the table below. The optimal strategy would look like this if the break-even rate is 71%.

    The Optimal Strategy

    Player     Chance of Success   Decision
    Player A   100%                Send
    Player B   90%                 Send
    Player C   80%                 Send
    Player D   70%                 Hold
    Player E   60%                 Hold
    Player F   50%                 Hold
    Player G   40%                 Hold
    Player H   30%                 Hold
    Player I   20%                 Hold
    Player J   10%                 Hold
    Player K   0%                  Hold
    

    The expected success rate for the data above with optimal decisions would be 90% (the average of 80%, 90% and 100%). However, sometimes the coach sends a runner when he shouldn’t, or holds a runner that he should send just because humans make mistakes. Similarly, late in a game when trailing by multiple runs, teams will play station-to-station baseball and take no risks at all. Likewise, trailing by one run, a team might take additional risks to try and score that tying run. Considering these factors, the actual results may look like this.

    Possible Results with Mistakes and Risk Adjustments

    Player     Chance of Success   Decision
    Player A   100%                Send
    Player B   90%                 Hold – Risk
    Player C   80%                 Hold – Mistake
    Player D   70%                 Hold
    Player E   60%                 Send – Mistake
    Player F   50%                 Send – Risk
    Player G   40%                 Hold
    Player H   30%                 Hold
    Player I   20%                 Hold
    Player J   10%                 Hold
    Player K   0%                  Hold
    

    Notice how the expected success rate under these conditions becomes 70% (the average of 50%, 60% and 100%). So even though the optimal strategy has a 90% success rate, the actual success rate could be considerably lower because of miscalculations and risk adjustments. That’s why I still believe the actual MLB success rate of 97% is an indication of extreme “runner’s reluctance” given that the break-even rate is 71%.

    So far, this notional analysis has looked at all centerfield running situations from 2006 in aggregate. In reality there is a theoretical curve similar to the one above for every situation – every baserunner, every batting order, every ballpark, every pitcher, every defense, every inning, every out, every score, every…well you get the picture. There are literally millions of ways to slice a finite set of data.

    Astute readers will recognize that the notional data used in this analysis is merely, well notional. The truth is that nobody knows what the actual curve looks like. For all we know, the curve has a steep drop-off similar to the worst case curve. The notional data was based on the assumption that each additional 1% of baserunners experienced a 1% lower success rate. If the rate was doubled and each 1% of baserunners resulted in a 2% lower success rate, the estimate of lost opportunity would essentially be cut in half. If, however, the success rate dropped at a slower rate, say half as quickly as the notional data, the run estimate would be twice as large. Although the shape of the curve and the magnitude of the lost opportunity may be mere estimates, we can be reasonably sure that there are some additional runs to be squeezed out of baserunning considering the large difference between a 97% actual success rate and the 71% break-even rate.

    Now it’s up to MLB teams to use this information to their benefit. I would like to see them start sending more runners in an intelligent way. Third base coaches should have the break-even rates in their back pocket and refer to them in between pitches in anticipation of possible baserunning decisions. Teams should spend some off-season time doing video analysis of their ballplayers to determine success probabilities for each player in various situations. Likewise, teams should thoroughly scout opposing outfielders’ arm strength and accuracy to estimate probability adjustments depending on who fields the ball and where it’s fielded.

    For decades, baseball has analyzed and timed the stolen base attempt to the nth degree - from the pitcher’s time to the plate, the catcher’s time to release, to the length of lead by the runner and number of steps and time to 2nd base. I’m not aware of any similar effort for other baserunning situations. With MLB victories worth million of dollars, now is the time to start putting emphasis on this long-neglected area, and correct the problem known as “runner’s reluctance.”

    Ross Roley is a lifelong baseball fan, a baseball analysis hobbyist, and former Professor of Mathematics at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

    Designated HitterNovember 08, 2007
    Runner’s Reluctance - Part One
    By Ross Roley

    Sometimes I think most baseball strategy has been figured out thanks to sabermetricians like you and me. Then I discover that a major facet of the game is being mismanaged at a shocking rate.

    Let me explain. I recently undertook a study to analyze the importance of outfield arms, starting with centerfielders. I used Andruw Jones as a case study to determine how many baserunners he’s able to prevent from advancing compared to the average centerfielder. What I learned was that Jones, generally regarded as having one of the best outfield arms in baseball, only prevented 9 runners from advancing in 247 chances last year compared to the average centerfielder. Why so low? Is it because Jones doesn’t have such a feared arm after all? Certainly not. Instead it appears baserunners are incredibly reluctant to advance on anybody; basically only taking the risk when it’s a sure thing. Here’s how I came to that conclusion.

    Using Retrosheet data from 2006, the success rate of runners attempting to advance on a ball hit to centerfield with less than two outs is seen in the following table.

    Less Than 2 Outs        Chances   Attempted    Out       Success
                                      Advance      Trying    Rate
    ----------------------------------------------------------------
    1st to 3rd on single    1079      305          6         .98
    2nd to home on single   1039      700          22        .97
    1st to home on double   469       243          13        .95
    1st to 2nd on flyball   1385      23           2         .91
    2nd to 3rd on flyball   1008      360          11        .97
    3rd to home on flyball  689       599          15        .97
    Total                   5669      2230         69        .97
    

    Notice how 61% of baserunners don’t even try for the extra base with less than 2 outs. Of those who challenge the outfielder, only 3% get thrown out, and only 1% of all baserunners facing the decision of whether or not to advance get gunned down. That’s what I meant when I said they take the risk only when it’s a sure thing.

    Here’s the same chart with 2 outs.

    Less Than 2 Outs        Chances   Attempted    Out       Success
                                      Advance      Trying    Rate
    ----------------------------------------------------------------
    1st to 3rd on single    699       262          3        .99
    2nd to home on single   813       784          33       .96
    1st to home on double   304       225          8        .96
    Total                   1816      1271         44       .97
    

    So with two outs and the runners moving on contact, and in a situation where one would expect to see additional risks taken because of the greater possibility of stranding runners, the success rate is the same at 97%.

    There are three possible explanations for the high overall success rate. One is the possibility that runners and coaches are extremely reluctant to try and advance for fear of getting thrown out and the shame that comes with it. Certainly, being thrown out can be a rally killer, but a 1% failure rate is almost like taking no risk at all.

    Another explanation is the extreme difficulty in throwing a runner out from centerfield. Consider all the unlikely things that must happen for a runner to be thrown out. First the defender must field the ball cleanly, then hit the cutoff man with a strong throw, or throw a strike from the outfield to the base in question. If cutoff, the infielder then needs to turn and throw a strike, usually from the outfield grass, without first looking. If all these things go right, there’s still a chance the ball might hit the baserunner. If not, the fielder needs to catch it cleanly, often on a hop, position himself properly and apply the tag. A play at the plate brings additional challenges. A ball thrown from centerfield frequently hits the pitcher’s mound knocking it offline or slowing it down, while the catcher must try and block the plate and brace himself for a collision while still making the catch and applying the tag.

    The final possibility is that centerfielders as a whole don’t possess exceptionally strong throwing arms. Rightfielders tend to have the strongest arms because of the need to make the long throw to third base. Also, the prototypical centerfielder is slender and swift, hardly the type of ballplayer known for a cannon arm (yes, I’m referring to you Juan Pierre and Coco Crisp). Ichiro is the exception that makes the rule although he was a rightfielder for his entire MLB career until late in 2006.

    Of the three possible explanations for a 97% success rate, the second and third go hand in hand connoting a degree of difficulty that is undeniable. But, given the difficulty of the task, wouldn’t baserunners be more inclined to take the risk? Which brings us back to explanation #1 – there must be a decided reluctance among runners and coaches to try for the extra base.

    How reluctant are they and what is the right amount to run? For that we turn to a methodology frequently used to analyze the value of the stolen base. It’s based on the Run Expectancy table here, i.e. the number of runs one can expect for the remainder of an inning given the number of runners on base and the number of outs. From the table, one can calculate the break-even point for various strategies. For instance, if staying put on a base is expected to yield 1.2 runs for the remainder of an inning, and going for the extra base increases the yield to 1.4 runs, but the result of getting thrown out would decrease the expectancy to 1.0 runs, then the risk is equal to the reward and the break-even point is a 50% success rate.

    Using that methodology, the generally accepted break-even point for stealing second base is between 67% and 75% as described in this Baseball Analysts article earlier in the season. This type of analysis is common for stolen bases and bunts, but to my knowledge has never been published for runners trying to advance on batted balls - until now.

    The graph below shows all the possible scenarios and break-even points for 0 outs and 1 out compared to the actual success rate for each situation.

    Graph1.jpg


    Notice how the break-even points are usually lower with one out than with no outs. This implies that runners should take more risks later in the inning, which makes sense because the more outs there are, the greater chance of a runner getting stranded on the bases. The exception appears to be when a runner is trying for 3rd on a flyball. In that situation, he should be more cautious with one out than with no outs.

    Also, the break-even point can be wildly different depending on the number of outs. For instance, with a runner on 3rd and nobody out, the break-even point on a flyball to centerfield is .72 (the flyball being the first out), whereas with one out (two outs after the flyball is caught) the break-even point is a miniscule .34. The break-even analysis indicates that coaches should send guys from 3rd almost every time on a flyball to center with one out. Even if they’re thrown out 65% of the time, the net result will be positive. Basically the risk of sending a dead duck to the plate is worth it compared to relying on the next batter to knock the run in. And yet, the actual success rate in that situation is an incredible 98%! The chart visually depicts that in every situation the actual success rate far exceeds what one would expect using break-even analysis.

    Clearly the run environment has a lot to do with break-even points. This includes the ballpark, the stinginess of the pitcher and defense, the score of the game, and the ability of the upcoming batters to drive runs in. Runners should be more cautious with big boppers hitting behind them, while they should be more aggressive toward the bottom of the batting order. Dan Levitt has a good discussion of run environments in his analysis of bunting here. For the sake of simplicity, this analysis ignores the run environment and looks at the situation as a whole, based on a season’s worth of data.

    It’s somewhat ironic how the prototypical batting order has the speedy guys up front who would naturally be more aggressive baserunners, followed by the run producers who create a run environment where the speedy guys should be less risky on the bases. I guess I subscribe to the theory that those with the highest OBP should bat in the #1 and #2 spots regardless of how fast they are. But, that’s another topic for another day. Now back to the issue at hand.

    With two outs, the chart is simpler because of the absence of runners advancing on flyballs, and looks like this:

    Graph2.jpg

    When trying to score with 2 outs, the break-even probability is between .40 and .55 depending on the situation, while the actual success rate is well north of .90! Once again, the chart indicates that the actual success rate is significantly higher than the break-even value for every situation. This data reinforces my previous verdict that runners/coaches are phenomenally risk averse when it comes to taking the extra base.

    For as long as I can remember, baseball announcers were always warning fans that it’s a mortal sin for ballplayers to make the first or third out at 3rd base. The data above tests that claim and supports half of the general tenet. With two outs, the highest break-even mark is at 92% when a runner tries for 3rd on a single. Similarly, the first graph showed us that runners trying to advance to 3rd on a flyball caught for the second out have break-even rates of 97% with a runner on 2nd and 92% with runners on 1st and 2nd. So it’s clear that making the final out at 3rd with two outs is not recommended. However, with nobody out, the story is different. Runners trying to advance to 3rd have a break even rate of 81%, but runners trying to score have break-even rates of 91% or 87% depending on the situation. So it appears that the greater sin is getting thrown out at home with nobody out, not at 3rd.

    Although my analysis was conducted using only balls hit to centerfield, the results appear to be similar for hits to left and rightfield. According to Dan Fox in his 3-part series on baserunning here, the total success rate from 2000-2004 is .94 for balls hit to leftfield and .96 for balls hit to right not counting runners advancing on flyball outs. It should also be noted that the break-even numbers are conservative estimates. The actual break-even value is lower than indicated because the analysis ignores the possibility of trailing runners advancing on a throw, or of a throwing error allowing a runner to take an extra base. Finally, the analysis doesn’t look at singles stretched into doubles, doubles into triples, or triples into inside-the-park homers because the Retrosheet information doesn’t lend itself to that level of detail. Assuming similar reluctance and success rates, one can extrapolate the information to conclude that the total impact of runner’s reluctance is significantly higher than any estimate based only on baserunners trying to advance.

    In conclusion, this is what we know so far:
    1. Runners and coaches are extremely reluctant to go for the extra base on centerfielders
    2. This “runner’s reluctance” applies not only to balls hit to centerfield as studied here, but to left and rightfield as well
    3. Break-even analysis indicates that actual success rates are universally higher than break-even rates
    4. In general, runners should take more risks as the number of outs increase
    5. Runners should be the most cautious when trying for 3rd with two outs, or when trying for home with zero outs (not 3rd as the old adage states)
    6. With two outs, runners should try for home even if the failure rate is greater than 50%.

    What we don’t know is the impact of runner’s reluctance relative to runs scored and wins. For that you’ll have come back tomorrow for Part Two of the analysis.

    Ross Roley is a lifelong baseball fan, a baseball analysis hobbyist, and former Professor of Mathematics at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

    Designated HitterOctober 25, 2007
    My No-Longer Lovable Red Sox
    By Mark Armour

    As the Boston Red Sox get ready to play another World Series, for the first time in several decades their players will do so without the added burden of overcoming someone else’s history. While the 2004 Red Sox likely had the support of most fans around the country, this support has largely evaporated in the intervening three years. In fact, a growing number of people now find the team and its fans tiresome and insufferable. How could this have happened? Do we really deserve this scorn?

    I first started following the Red Sox in earnest in 1968, known in New England as “The Year After,” very much in the glow of The Impossible Dream. I was seven years old and a fourth generation rooter of the Old Towne Team. I recall listening to the radio with my great-grandfather in the early 1970s, talking about the long-ago days when the team won pennants regularly. I did not choose to become a Red Sox fan, any more than I chose my brown hair, blue eyes, or allergies. Sure, maybe I took to the game more than the rest of the family did, preferring the Game of the Week over a trip to the beach, but it wasn’t like I picked which team I was going to root for. I am sure if I had grown up in a family of Yankee fans I would today be self-absorbed and have an enlarged sense of entitlement. (I kid, I kid.)

    Although I did not choose my team, and though my team always lost at the end, the Red Sox were something I wore with pride. I grew up in southeastern Connecticut, where Red Sox fans held a majority position among many dissenters. The Red Sox did not win, but they were good enough so that every year you could construct a plausible case for how they could win. (I know, because I would write up the case, longhand, with tables and charts, in a spiral notebook. “Luis Alvarado will take over at 3B and capture the rookie of the year award, Sonny Siebert will win 18 games, Jerry Moses will club 18 home runs …”). The Red Sox did not finish below .500 until I was out of college. They generally ended up finishing 2nd or 3rd, just good enough so that winning next year seemed possible. I considered myself lucky. I got to root for Tony Conigliaro and Reggie Smith and Luis Tiant, and they won more games than they lost every year. How great was that? I listened to most of their games on the radio, and (by the age of 10) kept score.

    This seemed perfectly normal, though perhaps a bit excessive. I was a Red Sox fan, and we were the smartest and best fans in baseball. I knew this because the announcers on the Game of the Week said it, and the national magazine writers wrote it. We never left the game early, knew all the strategy and rules, and cheered good plays by opposing players. Roger Angell, who wrote baseball essays for the New Yorker, regularly mused about Boston’s beautiful ballpark and faithful fans. Even though I only went to a game or two a year, it seemed they were speaking or writing about me. When I became an adult and moved near Boston, I began going to more games and keeping score at the ballpark, proudly sitting amongst my fellow smart and faithful fans. It seemed we were better looking than other fans, too.

    The near-misses and disappointments began to pile up, surely. The year-end setbacks of 1972, 1977 and 1978 each hurt in its own way, and the 1974 collapse was a particularly tough blow. But the fun always, always, outweighed the grief. The 1975 World Series is remembered just as much for the great performance of the Red Sox as it is for the champion Reds, the seven-game defeat celebrated more than mourned. After the Series, I wrote a thesis on baseball for my sophomore English class, which was well received by my baseball-loving teacher. When I went away to college in upstate New York in 1978, I was among a lot of Yankees and Mets fans, but I never thought, “Gosh, you guys are lucky that you got to experience a World Championship.” I watched the Bucky Dent Game a few weeks later, in a dormitory lounge surrounded by Yankee hats. I am sure I was hassled about this, but it was (mostly) good-natured. Your team was your team, and I could still talk baseball until 3:00 in the morning with Yankees and Mets fans.

    After the brutal loss in the 1986 World Series, the worm began to turn on Red Sox loyalists. For the first time, stories began to appear that we were not only loyal and smart, but also “long suffering” and “wallowing in misery.” (Who, me?) In 1990, Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy wrote the book The Curse of the Bambino, which described the history of the Red Sox as a torturous trail of tears, and their fans as cynical brooding people whose identities relied on the pain caused by their team. In Shaughnessy’s world, Red Sox Nation (a term he coined) would crumble to dust if the Red Sox ever won the World Series. And he blamed all of it, especially the 71-year championship drought, on a “curse” placed when the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees. Although most of the premises of the book were nonsense, it sold very well, has been the basis for an HBO documentary, and is still in print 17 years later.

    Had the term “Red Sox Nation” been in vogue in 1975, it would have been used to describe a loyal, friendly, intelligent group of fans. There was no wallowing that I was aware of. I recently re-watched the 1975 World Series, and the announcers never mentioned any suffering. The Red Sox were a proud and storied franchise who had not won in 57 years—many teams (the Cubs, the White Sox, and the Phillies) had gone longer, and the great Reds in the opposite dugout had waited 35 years themselves. I believe that the fans Shaughnessy described in his book (“Oh, woe is me”) did not exist in appreciable numbers until he created them. With The Curse, it began to dawn on a segment of Red Sox fans that, by golly, we have suffered. Blaming it all on a curse, or on the sale of Ruth, seemed therapeutic, and more satisfying than passing it all off as a bunch of bad juju.

    I moved away from the city in 1993, going clear to the other side of the country. When I told my mother I was moving West, she was mainly amazed that I could leave the Red Sox. In some ways, I have not left them at all, though I have been to Fenway Park less than 10 times since moving. Within a few years I began hearing from friends back in Boston that Red Sox fans had become intolerable. Naturally, I came to their (our?) defense. “You are imagining this,” I told them. “Dan Shaughnessy does not speak for us, stop reading his column.” The good-natured rivalry between the Red Sox and Yankees, I was told, had become truly hateful. “Yankees Suck” (or “Jeter Swallows”) T-shirts were being worn by children. Keep score? Nah, they were too busy screaming obscenities about the opposing players.

    In 2000, Glenn Stout and Richard Johnson wrote Red Sox Century, an impressive history of the team’s first 100 years. Stout and Johnson rightly ridicule the “curse”, bringing the Red Sox fan back to his or her rightful place of dignity. Instead, they roast the team for 82 years of incompetence and bigotry, in essence claiming the team has not deserved its loyal fans. The problem with the team had not been the sale of Ruth at all. In fact, using tortured and fanciful reasoning, the Ruth sale was proper and defensible, and the ensuing deals which created the first Yankees dynasty were smart trades that just happened to not work out. The holes in their theory are too plentiful for an article of this size, but the book has many things to recommend it, and gives many unknown stories and players their due.

    Although a more impressive piece of research than Curse of the Bambino, its tone was unsatisfying in a different way. Tom Yawkey was not the loveable old coot from my youth—he was a racist. For that matter, so were Eddie Collins, Joe Cronin and Mike Higgins. The Red Sox should have had Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays, but instead we got Don Buddin and Tommy Umphlett. The authors concluded that the team did not win because they were not good enough to win, and they did not deserve to win.

    This is not right either. The Red Sox had lost four World Series in Game 7. Obviously they were good enough to win any of those games, as they had beaten their opponent three times in the Series already. And although it is true that the team was the last to integrate, this sad fact still makes them only marginally more onerous than the team who was second-to-last, or seventh-to-last. When it comes to race, there was a lot of shame to go around in the America of the 1950s, and I am not willing to lay it all on Tom Yawkey.

    What was most unsatisfying is that neither book captures all of the fun I have had following the Red Sox. Shaughnessy presented me as living a life of agony, and Stout as wasting my time on a bunch of bigots and losers. In fact, I have enjoyed nearly every minute of it. There are plenty of things about the world that get me aggravated. Following baseball, rooting for the Red Sox, is basically a hell of a lot of fun. My memories of sitting in the stands with my grandfather, or listening to the radio at our cabin in Maine, are not marred by what might have happened in 1949. There was no wallowing.

    So in 2004, you may have heard, the Red Sox finally won the World Series. For those who wondered what would happen when this blessed event finally occurred, the answer was: Unconstrained Joy. The biggest celebration in the history of the city. And not just in Boston. The team’s triumph was a great national baseball story.

    And now? If the team was ever the “lovable loser,” those days are long gone. The Red Sox have the second highest payroll in the game, which makes its fans’ continued complaints about the Yankees higher payroll seem a bit tacky to the followers of the other 28 teams. Many Red Sox fans who were quick to defend their team’s “choker” label now happily pin the label on the Yankees instead, while reveling in their own team’s show of grit and character. The breaks of 1978 (Lou Piniella’s miracle stab in the playoff game) were just bad luck, while those of 2004 (Tony Clark’s double bouncing into the stands) were forgotten in the rush to make fun of the Yankees.

    But that’s not right either. Reading those last sentences over, I see that I am also guilty of painting the picture with too fine of a brush. If there is a Red Sox Nation, it is very fractious and complicated. There is no unanimity of opinion or attitude about the team or anything else. At the end of the day, I should only speak for myself.

    “It is foolish and childish, on the face of it, to affiliate ourselves with anything so insignificant and patently contrived … as a professional sports team,” Roger Angell once wrote. That was 32 years ago, and since then I have taken on a career, a home and a family, and put away (most) childish things. Not all of them. It was the “business of caring,” Angell concluded, that justifies the affiliation. It does not so much matter what one cared about, he wrote, as long as one could retain this feeling in their soul. “Naiveté—the infantile and ignoble joy that sends a grown man or woman to dancing and shouting with joy in the middle of the night over the haphazardous flight of a distant ball—seems a small price to pay for such a gift.”

    As a fan of the Boston Red Sox, I submit that the team is no more, and no less, worthy of my caring than they were five years ago, or thirty years ago. The winning has changed the labels applied to me, but the new labels are no more accurate than the old labels. Winning is fun, don’t get me wrong. But I had fun in 1969, when we finished a gentleman’s third. Maybe it was even more fun—I was eight years old, after all. But in thinking it over, I admit that I miss the days when Red Sox fans were admired and thought to be the smartest guy in the room. Maybe we weren’t, but I liked hearing it.

    But really, I just want to be treated like any other fan. I know faithful Indians followers, smart Pirates nuts, proud Phillies loyalists, and, yes, kind Yankees fans. My wish is that they all experience the occasional championship banner, but also that they enjoy the journey every year. But none of them, and certainly not I, can represent a Nation, or be made to pay for the sins of their team.

    Mark Armour writes baseball from his home in Corvallis, Oregon. He was the co-author, with Dan Levitt, of the award-winning book Paths to Glory, the editor of Rain Check: Baseball in the Pacific Northwest, and the director of SABR's Baseball Biography Project. His next large project is the life of Joe Cronin.

    Designated HitterSeptember 13, 2007
    Stealthy and Wise
    By Bruce Regal

    Across Major League Baseball thus far in the 2007 season (through September 11), 74.5% of all stolen base attempts have been successful. This success rate is significantly higher than it has ever been since outs caught stealing began to be regularly recorded as a category of event. The league-wide stolen base success rate has been inching up in recent years but this season that success rate has taken a significantly new additional leap forward.

    Adding up all stolen bases and stolen base attempts from 1957 through 2006, one finds that over that fifty-year period 66.6% of all stolen base attempts were successful. Before 2004, only in 1987 (70.1%) and 1995-96 (70.0% and 70.7%) did the overall MLB rate poke up briefly and slightly over the 70% threshold and in each case settled right back down within a year or two to the range of about 68% or so.

    Over the past few seasons, however, the SB success rate has been rising a little bit each year, from 68.2% in 2002 to 69.4% in 2003, 70.2% in 2004, 70.6% in 2005 and then last season, 2006, the rate inched up again to its highest level of the past 50 years, 71.4%. And now, in 2007, instead of seeing any regression to a mean or any continued small increments of increase, we seem to be seeing a major acceleration of the recent increase in the SB success rate, from 71.4% in 2006 to 74.5% to date in 2007.

    It is possible, perhaps, that in the last few weeks of the 2007 season a huge drop in SB success rates across MLB will bring the complete full-season number back within the expected historical range. But I can't think of a reason why stolen base success rates should drop significantly in late season games. Most likely the final 2007 numbers will look pretty much like the current rate between 74% and 75%, a result like nothing seen in the last 50 years.

    What's happening here? I was curious to see whether the number of stolen bases has remained the same and just outs caught stealing have declined, suggesting players are getting faster or catchers slower, or alternatively whether stolen base attempts overall have declined, suggesting that teams are becoming more selective in their attempts and declining to run at all in lower percentage circumstances where they might have tried to steal previously. In general, the trend appears to be the latter – more selectivity.

    Over the 1960s, teams averaged about .67 stolen base attempts (SBAs) by each team per game. In the 1970s that went up dramatically to about .96 SBAs per game. In the 1980s, attempts went up even a bit more, to about 1.1 SBAs a game. In the 1990s, attempts remained about 1.1 SBAs a game. But in the current decade of the 2000s, attempts have dropped dramatically to about .81 per game, and dropped to as low as .75 a game in 2005.

    This drop in stolen base attempts presumably reflects a strategic reaction to the explosion of home runs in the late 1990s, which reduced the reward vs. risk ratio of stolen base attempts: the more likely it is that batter at the plate will hit a home run, the less rational it is for the runner on base to take the risk of trying to steal. But in the last couple of years, and especially in 2007, teams have seemed to learn that they had maybe grown a little too cautious, that if they exercise due care they can still take some extra steals without getting caught much more. Stolen base attempts have gone from .75 per game in 2005 to .80 in both 2006 and again so far this season. What has differed this season from last year is that of those .80 attempts per game in 2006, .57 represented successful steals and the other .23 were outs caught stealing, while this year .60 have been successful and only .20 have been outs caught stealing. With the most dramatic of the home run onslaught years apparently now behind us, teams seem to be intelligently readjusting their strategies to maximize stolen base attempt value – avoiding overly aggressive and risky attempts but not leaving high quality base advancement opportunities unused. The result is a rate of success on stolen base attempts that is unprecedented in the recorded history of such rates.

    Are there differences in the stolen base success tendencies between the NL and AL? Both leagues are experiencing historically high success rates this season, the NL a bit higher than the AL, 75.4% in the NL to 73.6% in the AL, but the trend applies to both. The small edge in success rate for the NL matches the average edge the NL has had over the AL in success rates over the preceding 50 years, which has been about 1.6%. From 1957 through 2006, NL teams were successful stealing bases 67.4% of the time, compared to 65.8% of the time for AL teams, so both leagues in 2007 are ahead of their 50-year average success rate to an almost identical, and in each case very substantial, degree.

    One other question that might be asked is whether the recent high level of stolen base success rates reflects a decision by teams to choose catchers more skilled on offense and less skilled at cutting down runners than in the past. Beginning in 1993 (coincidentally or not, the year of the most recent addition of major league expansion franchises), offensive performance by catchers, as well as by major league hitters generally, increased rather dramatically. Overall OPS in the majors in 1992 was .700, which had been about normal for many years – overall OPS had not been above .748 in any season since the 1930s. Then suddenly major league OPS jumped, first to .736 in 1993 and then to .763 in 1994, and has not been below .748 in any season since then. Catchers' hitting has followed along. After plodding along for years in the range of the .660s to the .680s, OPS by major league catchers jumped in 1993 to .714 and then to .727 in 1994, and has been below .700 only once (2002) since 1993.

    Catchers as a group generally end up with an OPS in the range of 96% to 97% of overall league OPS, and that has been no different in the high offense, post-1993 years than it was before that. Over the full 50 years from 1957 to 2006, catcher OPS was 96.6% of major league OPS; from 1993 to 2006 that percentage was 96.5%. In 2007, catcher OPS is .712, actually a little bit lower than it has been on average since 1993 (.724). The increase in stolen base success percentage that is the topic of this article has occurred in just the last three or four years, and especially 2007. There is no indication that this increase is associated with any similarly recent jump in catcher offense, either an absolute jump or a jump relative to overall league offense.

    For years prior to 2007, the underlying data on stolen bases, caught stealings, games played and league and catcher offense used in this article comes from Lee Sinins' marvelous Complete Baseball Encyclopedia database. I copied the relevant data into Excel and then added the appropriate formulas to get annual success rates and attempts per game rates. For 2007, I used the SB, CS and G data from the absolutely essential baseball-reference.com. For those interested, here's the stolen base success rate (SB/(SB+CS)) that I found for each year 1957-2007 and the stolen base attempts (SBA) per team per game ((SB+CS)/Games Started) for each year:

     	     SB 	        SBA Per Team 
    Year      Success Rate      Per Game 
    1957	    57.9%	            0.54
    1958	    58.9%	            0.51
    1959	    62.8%	            0.55
    1960	    62.8%	            0.59
    1961	    63.6%	            0.58
    1962	    65.8%	            0.63
    1963	    61.8%	            0.62
    1964	    62.1%	            0.58
    1965	    64.8%	            0.69
    1966	    61.1%	            0.74
    1967	    59.4%	            0.71
    1968	    61.9%	            0.75
    1969	    62.3%	            0.76
    1970	    63.9%	            0.77
    1971	    62.9%	            0.72
    1972	    62.1%	            0.78
    1973	    62.6%	            0.84
    1974	    64.3%	            1.00
    1975	    64.8%	            1.01
    1976	    66.4%	            1.19
    1977	    62.9%	            1.14
    1978	    65.0%	            1.10
    1979	    65.1%	            1.09
    1980	    67.2%	            1.16
    1981	    64.8%	            1.12
    1982	    66.3%	            1.14
    1983	    67.3%	            1.17
    1984	    66.7%	            1.08
    1985	    68.4%	            1.08
    1986	    67.2%	            1.17
    1987	    70.1%	            1.21
    1988	    69.9%	            1.12
    1989	    68.4%	            1.08
    1990	    68.5%	            1.14
    1991	    66.6%	            1.11
    1992	    67.1%	            1.16
    1993	    66.3%	            1.08
    1994	    68.6%	            1.03
    1995	    70.0%	            1.04
    1996	    70.7%	            1.01
    1997	    67.9%	            1.08
    1998	    68.6%	            0.98
    1999	    69.3%	            1.02
    2000	    68.8%	            0.87
    2001	    68.8%	            0.93
    2002	    68.2%	            0.83
    2003	    69.4%	            0.76
    2004	    70.2%	            0.76
    2005	    70.6%	            0.75
    2006	    71.4%	            0.80
    2007¹	    74.5%	            0.80
    

    ¹ through 9/11/07

    Bruce Regal is a New York attorney, with an avocational interest in baseball. He maintains Metaforian, a blog devoted to the New York Mets and Baseball.

    Designated HitterAugust 08, 2007
    Roid Monster (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Tolerate 756)
    By Brian Gunn

    Let’s say you’re a PR director for a major-league baseball team. And you want to design your dream player, the guy who’ll look just perfect on the cover of a media guide or during a photo op at the hospital ward.

    You want him to be a fun player – someone who plays with glee. You’d also want him to be a battler, maybe the type of guy who had to overcome a rough upbringing, or some physical deficit. He’d be selfless – kind to coaches and teammates, never showboating or yapping off. He’d be gritty, clutch, someone who always rises to the occasion and leaves it all on the field. And lastly, you’d want to make him… well, not white necessarily – that’s not essential these days – but someone who’s not about race, someone who makes his race a non-issue. What you’d end up with is someone who plays with a mix of joy and humility. You’d end up with Kirby Puckett, or Sean Casey, David Ortiz, Stan Musial.

    What you would not want – the last thing in the world you’d want – is Barry Bonds. In fact, you could take just about every positive PR attribute I mentioned above, turn it on its head, and you’d have Barry Bonds. He’s not a team player. He comes from a privileged baseball background. He’s self-important and swaggering. He’s irritable. He badmouths his superiors. He plays the race card. He even, for a long time anyway, had a rep as a choke artist (think 1991 NLCS and his turkey-wing throw to try to get Sid Bream). And as for giving it 110% in the Gas House style of, say, Craig Biggio – well, let’s just say Bonds has thrown a lot of spotless uniforms onto the postgame laundry pile.

    That Bonds is MLB Enemy #1 is not news. Hell, Rick Reilly owes at least half his weekly shtick to Bonds bashing, and every hack sportswriter (this includes you, Curt Schilling) has had a field day portraying Bonds, as Bill Maher once said, “like he’s the BTK Killer.”

    Here’s the thing, though. I basically agree with those sportswriters. Sure, their methods are cheap, their thinking knee-jerk, but, like them, I absolutely loathe Barry Bonds. I hate how he adores his home runs and sometimes turns doubles off-the-wall into long singles. I hate how he comes across like every jock asshole you knew in high school. I hate how he paraded his son Nikolai before the media during spring training, 2005 – the kid was barely a teenager, clearly dying inside, but Bonds insisted on using him as a prop for his persecution complex, instructing photographers to take pictures of him “so you guys can see the pain you’re causing my family.”

    But more than anything else about Bonds, I hate his voice. You don’t expect it from a guy of his stature. You expect something commanding, stentorian. Instead it comes out gentle and sedated. Or, more accurately, it comes out synthetic, as if he shared a soul with HAL 9000. It’s so out of character with everything else you know about the man that it creeps me out. It’s always reminding us, as Jeff Pearlman put it, that Bonds is “completely, undeniably 100% full of shit… Nothing he says holds any meaning.”

    So yes, I hate Bonds. But truth be told, I don’t hate that he’s the new home run king. And I think it’s a complete waste of time to get exercised about 756. How come? Well, I can think of five reasons:

    (1) No one has any idea how much Bonds has been helped by steroids.

    Well, let me rephrase that: some people have some idea how much Bonds has been helped by steroids. But unfortunately they don’t form a consensus, and each of them would admit that he’s more or less playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey. Nate Silver estimated that steroids give position players 10 extra points of AVG, OBP, and SLG. J.C. Bradbury found that the benefits are negligible. Others – notably Patrick Hruby, who reckoned that about a hundred of Bonds’ homers can be chalked up to steroid use – fall more in line with popular thinking.

    Even with these studies, we’re still left with a quagmire. How many other players were using steroids during Bonds’ home run spree? How much of an advantage was he getting? More to the point, how many pitchers were juiced up over the last ten years? (Oddly enough, Bonds hit #755 off of Clay Hensley, who, unlike Bonds, has actually failed a drug test.)

    And did steroids make Bonds more durable or less durable as he got older? Sure, the evidence shows that Bonds hit more homers after age 35 than anyone in history, but evidence also shows that steroid use can lead to soft-tissue deterioration, tendon damage (particularly triceps tendon injuries, the kind that caused Bonds to miss 7 weeks in 1999), as well as the type of back and knee problems that have plagued Bonds the last few years. When you look at the shortened careers of known or alleged steroid users like Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Jason Giambi, you wonder if steroids gave Bonds a boost when it came to breaking short-term records, like the single-season home run record, but had mixed results when it came to toppling career records, like Aaron’s 755.

    Of course, we’ll never know. And that’s precisely the point. Until we have good, solid data – as opposed to armchair theorizing – regarding the effects of steroid use on ballplayers, then I think it’s best to extend a bit of graciousness (the kind, incidentally, that often seems missing from Bonds himself) and give him the benefit of the doubt. Because the bottom line remains that Bonds was a great ballplayer – the best of our generation – before he supposedly began taking “the clear,” and he’s been a great ballplayer, one of the very best in the league, even after he presumably stopped using steroids. That’s no small feat for a man well into his 40’s.

    And if nothing else, we can say that Bonds is truly the greatest steroids hitter in major league history. I know, I know, that’s a stupid statement, satisfying to no one… but then again, as Chuck Klosterman pointed out rather amusingly, the Beatles took performance-enhancing drugs (how else do you think they came up with side two of “Revolver”?), and no one holds it against them.

    (2) Bonds is a product of his era, just as Aaron and Ruth were products of theirs.

    A few weeks ago, baseball’s éminence grise, Bill James, was asked if players using performance-enhancing drugs should be treated differently by history. He replied:

    I look at it this way. There's a rule in basketball against traveling but the NBA has pretty much stopped enforcing it. Well, they still call traveling but they will allow you to take about five steps without dribbling as you are running toward the basket. There was no "decision" not to enforce this rule; they just kind of lost track of it. They started not calling one step and progressed to not calling two steps, not calling three steps, and eventually they just kind of lost track of the rule. Should the players who took advantage of this failure to enforce the rule be banned from the NBA Hall of Fame? After all, aren't they cheating? They're not obeying the rules. Julius Erving, out. The Hall of Fame doesn't need cheaters like you. Kobe, Michael, get out. If you don't play by the rules the way Elgin Baylor did, you're not deserving.

    Or it is, rather, the responsibility of the LEAGUE to enforce the rule? It seems to me that it might be the responsibility of the league to enforce the rule rather than the responsibility of the media to punish those who didn't obey the rule that wasn't being enforced. I won't name any players, but there are a whole bunch of superstars who are now or are going to be involved in the PED accusations. We CAN'T start picking and choosing who we honor on that basis. It's hypocritical, and it's impractical. And it diminishes the game.

    I think James’ analogy breaks down at some point. After all, lax traveling calls in the NBA are presumably applied equally to players of each era, whereas steroid-users gain an advantage over not just players from other eras, but against players in their own era, i.e., the ones not using PED’s. What’s more, in basketball, traveling is out in the open, so to speak. We can watch TV, judge who travels, who doesn’t, and make our historical adjustments accordingly. That’s not the case for baseball players who are hiding their drug use.

    Nonetheless, I think James’ general point holds: that is, that Bonds is a product of a systemic set of values, a culture. It’s the same point Jesse Jackson made recently, when he told the Chicago Sun-Times, "My question is, if 400 guys tested positive, do you put asterisks by all their names? Do you put asterisks by [spitballer] Gaylord Perry's name? Do you put asterisks by guys who had the ultimate enhancement [by] denying others a chance to compete?" (Hat tip: Studes, for the link)

    I forwarded these comments to a friend last week, and he emailed me back: “if pre-1947 ball was not ‘all it could be’ because of the color line (a theory I think everyone with a brain would agree with), and post-1980s ball is ‘tainted’ because some used steroids, does that mean we've only had 40-45 years of undisputed competition?” I wrote back that, in fact, every era has been tainted in some way, with statistics constantly subject to some distortion or other. One era might not allow people of color, another might be tainted by steroids or amphetamines, another by the height of the mound, another by the system of selecting and promoting players from foreign countries, another by primitive approaches to heath and recovery, another by using too much plate armor, another by weird strategies and shibboleths, like the one that says it’s unmanly to swing from the heels or take a walk now and again. Some of these are probably a stretch, but I really think people are naïve if they don’t think that every record carries with it some kind of implied asterisk.

    At first blush this sounds like the biggest bummer of all time. Does this mean that we can’t trust any of our numbers? Does it mean that the subject of Bonds vs. Aaron will never be settled? This goes against the very grain of sports, the thing that most distinguishes it from our everyday lives – i.e., the fact that sports has clear-cut winners and losers. The closest analogy I can think of for Bonds’ home run chase is the 2003-2004 college football season, when USC and LSU split the national championship. Actually, a better analogy might be the 2000 presidential race, when I thought Bush won, you thought it was Gore, and all of us were both right and wrong. In this way 756 is a sign of our times, in which there are no longer any truths, only perspectives, opinions, fragments, and the kind of anti-foundational stuff that gave night tremors to Nietzsche, Foucault, et al.

    And yet… and yet… Isn’t that, at least in part, what makes baseball so entertaining? Yes, baseball’s numbers are tainted – but imagine if the opposite were true. Imagine if every number were set in stone, static and inarguable. What a drag that would be! How much more fun to share a beer with a buddy and argue, say, how many home runs Ted Williams would’ve hit had he not been drafted. Or what would have happened to Jose Cruz if he hadn’t played in the Astrodome. Or if Johnny Beazley had been born after the advent of Tommy John surgery. Yes, we want baseball to be obvious and dependable, but it seems we are at least equally charmed by the game’s elusiveness. I find that rather encouraging.

    (3) Bonds’ home run crown isn’t as bad for Hank Aaron as you might think.

    I’m sure by now you’ve all seen footage of Bud Selig reacting to Bonds’ record-tying 755th career home run. He basically made an ass of himself, I thought – standing up only after he was prodded, putting his hands in his pockets, showing all the enthusiasm of an 8-year-old boy forced to sit through Sunday service. As Joe Sheehan pointed out, Selig’s enmity for Bonds stems from his reverence for the man he’s replacing atop the leaderboard, Hank Aaron. (Sheehan doesn’t offer any evidence for this connection, but it certainly rings true.)

    Selig isn’t alone in sizing up Bonds vs. Aaron. To root for one, it seems, is to root against the other, just as folks back in 1974 tended to take sides for either Ruth or Aaron, but not both. If this is the case today, then surely Aaron is winning. In fact, the last few weeks have seen an outpouring of love letters to The Hammer, most notably a Sports Illustrated magazine cover, with the inside story declaring him “The People’s King.” (Incidentally, that’s as many SI covers as Bonds landed for the entire four-year period 2000-2003. I know Bonds notoriously froze out the magazine after they published a 1993 story about him entitled, “I’m Barry Bonds, and You’re Not,” but geez… Bonds was in the midst of the greatest hitting binge in major-league history and that’s all he got? One cover?)

    Anyway, the point is that Aaron has been enjoying a renaissance lately, one that wouldn’t be possible without his purported nemesis, Mr. Bonds. The irony is that Hank Aaron was not especially beloved in his day, and I’m not just talking about the racist yokels who mailed him death threats in 1974 (the ones who caused Aaron’s mother to mistake the celebratory fireworks after her son’s 715th home run for sniper shots, of all things). I’m talking about good, respectable baseball folks who had nothing in particular against the Hammer, but never embraced him the way they embraced, say, Roy Campanella, or Willie Mays. Next to them Aaron seemed charmless and remote. And it was all too easy for people to mistake Aaron’s quiet reserve for something more sinister: laziness – surely a byproduct of the casual racial stereotypes of that time. (His first manager, Charlie Grimm, once asked about Aaron, “why doesn’t he sleep on his own time like everybody else?”)

    But the years have been good to Aaron. Unlike DiMaggio, a beloved star who became a depressing figure in his final days (when we heard stories about his friendlessness, or the way he disowned his only son, leaving him to live in a junkyard trailer in northern California), and unlike Mark McGwire, who until recently was treated like a national savior, Aaron has only grown more likable with time. (Ironically enough, if Aaron played today, he’d probably be dogged by steroid rumors – look what a twig he was when he first came into the bigs, then look at the beefy guy who experienced a career high in home runs at age 37.)

    The great sportswriter Jim Murray once wrote about Aaron, “He underplays like a British actor. Willie [Mays] attacks the game. Aaron just gets it to cooperate with him.” This whole flap about Bonds and steroids might be yet another way in which Hank just got the game to come to him.

    (4) Bonds’ record will be broken anyway.

    I read somewhere recently that DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak is so improbable, so statistically preposterous, that you’d have to replay the entire history of baseball something like eight times before it’s likely to happen again. Like Cy Young's 511 wins or Nap Lajoie's .426 single-season average, we probably won’t live long enough to see anyone match it.

    Barry Bonds’ mark for career homers is not one of those records. Nate Silver wrote an article recently in which he gave Alex Rodriguez a 28% chance of hitting 800 jacks, and a 10% chance of hitting 900. Of course, that still means A-Rod will most likely fall short of the record. But he’s just one guy. What if you matched Bonds against the field?

    Suddenly the record looks much iffier. If you use Bill James’ Favorite Toy (which, admittedly, is much less sophisticated than the PECOTA system Silver used), you’d find that Bonds is projected to hit 787 lifetimes bombs when all is said and done. Sounds reasonable. Here are his closest competitors, the active players with a non-zero chance of hitting 788:

    A-Rod           32.3%
    Pujols          21.3
    Andruw Jones    14.7
    Adam Dunn        8.5
    Ryan Howard      1.4
    

    Combine their chances and you get a 41% chance that none of them will hit 788, ergo, a 59% chance that at least one of them will.

    And that’s just the names above. For as long as baseball is still around, players will have a crack at the record. Maybe one of those guys above will break it. Or maybe it’s some newbie, like Justin Upton. Or Justin Upton's child. Or grandchild. After all, Bonds was only nine years old when Aaron surpassed Ruth.

    The bottom line: until someone enters Sadaharu Oh territory – 868 lifetime home runs – then I think the home run mark will remain very breakable.

    (5) Admit it – you love that Bonds broke the record.

    Sally Jenkins, who writes for the Washington Post, suggested recently that, when the moment came for Bonds to break the record, he should have laid down his bat and walked away from baseball, preserving the game’s dignity and turning himself into the greatest folk hero of all time.

    Whatever. As I said earlier, I hate Bonds, but I like hating Bonds. He’s the perfect villain – our Voldemort, our Dr. Evil, our Galactus, Devourer of Worlds. I think it’s perfectly appropriate that he’s on top.

    One thing that’s always irked me (and I’ve harped on this before, both here and here) is the idea that baseball should be a beacon of moral values, or that ballplayers should be “role models.” Honestly, what kind of idiot looks to a guy who wears cleats and hits baseballs as an exemplar of virtue? I like ballplayers because they’re entertaining. The game offers a rich panoply of characters, both good (Jim Eisenreich, Larry Walker) and bad (A.J. Pierzynski, Carl Everett), and we’d all be a little poorer without them. The truth is, Bonds’ home run chase is one of baseball’s all-time great stories, breathtaking and absurd at the same time.

    Because I’ve talked a lot about steroids, I’ll close with my favorite quote on the subject, from one of baseball’s most breathtaking and absurd characters, Rickey Henderson. A reporter once asked him if Ken Caminiti’s estimate that 50% of big-league players were taking steroids was accurate. His response? “Well, Rickey’s not one of them, so that’s 49% right there.”

    So let’s tip our caps to Barry Bonds, the best of that 49% – and really, let’s be honest, the best of the other 51% too.

    Brian Gunn is a screenwriter living in Los Angeles who formerly headed up the baseball website Redbird Nation.

    Designated HitterMay 24, 2007
    The Value of the Stolen Base: A Comparison of MLB and NCAA Division I Baseball
    By Mike Current and Chad McEvoy

    Over the years there has been a great deal of debate amongst baseball insiders and fans over the value of the stolen base. Some, such as longtime Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver, have argued that the stolen base is rarely worth the risk. Others, however, view the stolen base as a valuable means of applying pressure to the opposing team's defense. The question is: Which side is right?

    Most past research on the stolen base seems to side with Weaver. Using data from Major League Baseball, researchers have found that stealing at less than a 75% success rate is detrimental to success. Joe Sheehan explains in Baseball Prospectus Basics: Stolen Bases and How to Use Them that when considering stolen bases, one must consider both the cost and the benefit. Therefore, the break-even point for successful base-stealing is so high because outs are more valuable than bases in nearly every instance. For example, the Run Expectancy Matrix created by Baseball Prospectus reveals that a runner on first base with no one out is worth approximately 0.864 runs. A successful steal of second base would raise that figure to 1.173. However, a failed stolen base attempt drops that number to 0.270. In this example, the loss is nearly two times the gain.

    In the same article, Sheehan also suggests that the secondary effects of base-stealing, such as putting pressure on the opposing pitcher and defense, do not exist. In fact, he goes as far as to suggest that a runner at first base is more disruptive to the defense than a runner at second base, simply because the first baseman must hold the runner on and the middle infielders are forced to cheat toward second base to have a chance at a double play.

    While these findings have been consistently replicated and are generally accepted by Sabermetricians and others when talking about professional baseball, there has been little or no research conducted examining the stolen base at other levels of play. As a Division I college baseball coach, this leads me to wonder: Is the stolen base a more valuable offensive weapon in college baseball than it is at the professional level?

    The numbers seem to indicate that the stolen base is more a part of the college game than it is the professional game, even to the casual fan who has taken a few minutes to compare player and team statistics from both levels. For example, in 2006, the Los Angeles Angels led all of Major League Baseball in stolen bases with .91 stolen bases per game. That same season, the average Division I college baseball team stole 1.2 bases per game, with the national leader averaging slightly more than three stolen bases per game.

    A deeper analysis of both college and professional statistics is even more revealing. A series of multiple linear regression models were created using data from both NCAA Division I and Major League Baseball. The models used both stolen bases per game and caught stealing per game to predict runs scored, while controlling for base-stealing opportunities. The results were interesting. The first set of regression models, examining the relationship between stolen bases per game and runs scored, revealed that in college baseball, runs per game increased by .295 with each stolen base per game. However, in Major League Baseball, runs per game actually decreased by .208 with each stolen base per game. While it seems strange that a successful stolen base attempt would result in fewer runs scored, it is likely explained by the fact that teams stealing more bases generally do so to compensate for a lack of offensive firepower (i.e. power hitting). Therefore, it is not the stolen base itself that is costing the team runs but the team's overall style of play. The second set of regression models, analyzing the relationship between caught stealing per game and runs scored, indicated that in college baseball, runs per game decreased by .304 with each unsuccessful stolen base attempt per game. In Major League Baseball, the cost of a failed stolen base attempt was even more severe at .845 runs per game.

    So what do these findings actually tell us? In the most simplistic sense, they indicate that the stolen base is indeed a more valuable offensive weapon in college baseball than it is in Major League Baseball for two reasons: 1) The reward for a successful stolen base attempt is greater; 2) The cost of an unsuccessful stolen base attempt is less significant. Therefore, because they have more to gain and less to lose, it makes sense for college teams to utilize the stolen base more liberally. However, the fact that college baseball teams attempt considerably more stolen bases per game than do big league teams seems to suggest that many college coaches are already aware of this more favorable "risk/reward" ratio.

    That being said, it is also important to acknowledge and understand the limitations of these findings. The biggest weakness of this study is the inability to examine specific situations. Therefore, while the above findings provide information about the big picture, they offer little or no guidance relative to specific in-game strategy decisions. In other words, there are a multitude of factors (i.e. the ability of the base runner, the opponent, the game situation, etc.) that were not considered in this study but are extremely influential in the outcome of any base-stealing attempt. As a result, coaches must remember that the actual "risk/reward" ratio changes with the situation. Below is a more detailed look at factors that must be considered before attempting a stolen base.

    The Base Runner
    The speed and base-running ability of the runner are extremely important when deciding whether or not to steal a base. It makes the most sense to run when the base runner is fast and has good instincts.

    The Hitter
    The ability of the hitter at the plate is extremely important. It makes the most sense to attempt a stolen base when the hitter at the plate is a double play threat and/or when the hitter has little chance of driving a runner in from first base.

    The Pitcher/Catcher
    The ability of the pitcher and catcher to stop the running game is also important. A pitcher that is slow to the plate is much easier to run on than one who is quick. Similarly, a poor throwing catcher is easier to run on than one who throws well.

    The Game Situation
    Research has repeatedly shown that in the majority of Major League Baseball games, the winning team scores more runs in one inning than the losing team does in the entire game. This revelation backs up Earl Weaver's advice to play for the big inning, especially early in games. Therefore, one-run strategies, such as the stolen base, make the most sense in situations where one run is of great importance (i.e. late in games or in low-scoring games).

    Michael Current is an assistant baseball coach at Illinois State University. He graduated from Blackburn College with a degree in Communication and recently completed his master's degree in Sport Management at Illinois State University. Last summer, Current served as an assistant coach with the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox in the prestegious Cape Cod League, where his team won the league championship.

    Dr. Chad D. McEvoy is an Assistant Professor of Sport Management in the School of Kinesiology and Recreation at Illinois State University, where he is the coordinator of the sport management program. Dr. McEvoy has published articles in journals including Sport Management Review, Sport Marketing Quarterly, International Journal of Sport Management and Marketing, and Sport Management and Related Topics.

    Designated HitterMay 17, 2007
    Sinister Thefts
    By John Rickert

    In a recent broadcast, Joe Morgan mentioned that a base-runner who is able to read the pitcher can find it easier to steal off a left-handed pitcher because lefties are slower to the plate then righties.

    If this is so, then it ought to show up in the results. To start, I went to retrosheet.org to look at some splits. What were Joe Morgan's totals? He is listed as stealing 520 bases in 645 attempts vs. RHP (80.6%); and 167 out of 204 vs. LHP (81.9%). Next, I estimated the number of opportunities as singles plus walks - certainly not a perfect measure, as pitching changes sometimes occur (I suspect that this is a small effect) and often 2b is occupied (perhaps a larger effect, though it ought not differ by more than a few percent between LHP and RHP), but it should offer a decent approximation.

    Pro-rating per estimated opportunity (Eopps), Morgan's totals were:

    vs RHP: .213 SB and .051 CS
    vs LHP: .149 SB and .033 CS
    

    If Morgan found lefties easier to steal on, it seems odd that he'd steal only 2/3 as frequently against LHP. His success rate suggests that he might have been able to read LHP well enough to only go when he had a good chance of success, but the fact that he ran less often is in conflict with a general "easier to steal" claim.

    Let's start by trying to set some context. What patterns do base-stealers have? I'll look at the frequency (attempts divided by estimated opportunities) and stolen-base percentages for all players. The graph shows the frequency of attempts vs. the success rate starting in 1951, the first year that both leagues counted caught stealing (CS). (Data from baseball databank)

    For example, in 1951, the SB frequency was .0582, and the SB pct. was .589; in 1952, the frequency was .0576 (nearly the same), but the SB pct. dropped to .551, causing the path plotted to plummet nearly straight down. The SB pct. then increased fairly steadily through the 1950s, reaching a new equilibirum in the .60-.66 range. At that point, the frequency began to rise rapidly as Luis Aparicio and Maury Wills experienced success, moving the path to the right. With Lou Brock's record-breaking performance in 1974, the frequency rose beyond .100, and the greater emphasis on the cerebral aspects popularized by folks like Brock and Morgan led to a new rise in the SB pct., which passed .667 for the first time in 1980. By this time, Tim Raines and Rickey Henderson were entering the picture, and steal attempts reached a new equilibrium in the .112-.127 range, while SB pct. gradually improved from .65-.67 in 1975-84 to .67-.70 in 1985-1994. As the new offense-friendly parks entered the league and the home run explosion started, the frequency began to drop, while success rates continued to rise, reaching .700 in 1995. In six of the last seven years, the frequency of steal attempts has been in the .081-.090 range, while SB pct. has risen each of the last four seasons (from .682 in 2002 to .694, .702, .706, and .714), making it appear that we are in the middle of a new transition.


    Year Freq Pct. R
    Freq
    R
    Pct.
    L
    Freq
    L
    Pct.
    1957 .056 .579 .059 .572 .051 .542
    1962 .065 .658 .073 .657 .049 .618
    1967 .080 .594 .084 .609 .069 .544
    1972 .086 .621 .090 .645 .073 .553
    1977 .118 .629 .126 .647 .101 .578
    1982 .119 .663 .128 .677 .098 .617
    1987 .127 .701 .136 .723 .111 .646
    1992 .122 .671 .122 .680 .122 .650
    1997 .112 .679 .115 .693 .103 .635
    2002 .090 .682 .092 .697 .083 .632
    2006 .085 .714 .088 .728 .078 .670

    Plotting the SB vs. left / SB vs. right paths on the same graph produces a tangled web. So instead, let's look at the differences, R - L, for both frequency and success rate. This is still rather tangled, but it does seem to show that the difference between LHP and RHP has diminished in recent years. In 1962, the RHP frequency was .073, the LHP frequency .049, making a difference of .024 in the frequencies. Despite stealing less often against LHP, the difference in SB pct. against LHP (.618) and RHP (.657) was one of the lower totals of that era. The difference in frequencies stayed in the .020-.030 range until the late '80s, when the frequency of attempts vs. LHP began to rise, topping out in 1992 at .1224 vs. RHP and .1221 vs. LHP, a difference in frequency of only .0003, the left most point plotted on the freq. vs. pct. graph below. The frequency differences seemed to have stabilized around .010, much lower than the differences seen 20-30 years ago. During this time, the difference in SB pct. appears to have decreased as well. Thirty years ago, differences like those of 1977 were typical, the SB pct. vs. RHP was .647, vs.LHP it was .578, a difference of .069. SB pct. differences were generally in the .060-.080 range then. But in the last twenty or so years, the difference in SB pct. has been in the .040-.080 range, with the 2006 difference of .058 (.728 vs. RHP and .760 vs. LHP) representing a typical difference in success rates. Overall, success rates have increased in the last 50 years, but sucess rates against LHP have increased even more than success rates against RHP. The LHP advantage in holding base runners appears to have decreased, runners are stealing against them at frequencies and success rates that are closer to those of RHP than they were a generation ago.

    As base-stealing became more frequent, the increase against RHP
    was greater than the increase against LHP, then the RHP frequency
    leveled off. Both have receded in recent years.

    A related question pops up regarding the interplay between experience and aging. As players get more experience, many presumably learn ways to improve their success rate, but they also slow down. So next, we'll take a look at the Freq/Pct graph based on the players' age as of July 1.

    Young players steal more frequently, through age 25, and then gradually taper off. The sucess rates are pretty consistent, except for a drop during the initial increase in frequency, and a rise during the rare steals by older players. It's not clear to me whether this is due to player experience, or a bias in created by removing the lesser players.

    The younger (greener) players are represented by green, the older by blue.

    Do these same trends hold for the leading base-stealers? To consider this, I took a look at the players who stole at least 300 bases in the retrosheet years (1957-1998, 2000-2006). There were 26 of these. A look at their aging patterns shows that it is similar to those of the general base-runner, except that the base-stealers stayed near their peak rate for several more years than the average player. As the base-stealers aged, their relative frequency of attempts versus LHP seems to increase, but their success rate drops. This makes it unlikely that more experienced base-stealers are picking up extra cues against LHP.


    Here are the rates for the 26 base stealers, their average, and the overall major league average for 1957-98, 2000-06.
    Name R
    Freq  
    R
    Pct.        
    L
    Freq  
    L
    Pct.        
    Freq.  
    ratio
      L/R
    Alomar .207 .813 .173 .763 0.84
    Aparicio .240 .790 .208 .751 0.87
    BarBonds .168 .796 .170 .745 1.01
    BobBonds .323 .752 .237 .659 0.73
    Brock .413 .767 .416 .721 1.01
    Butler .286 .718 .230 .599 0.80
    Campaneris .340 .776 .380 .748 1.12
    Cedeno .382 .765 .291 .724 0.76
    Coleman .544 .801 .652 .826 1.20
    DeShields .335 .780 .312 .725 0.93
    Grissom .254 .806 .278 .744 1.10
    Harper .286 .771 .252 .793 0.88
    Henderson .405 .835 .399 .755 0.98
    LeFlore .477 .796 .370 .682 0.77
    Lofton .319 .799 .248 .787 0.78
    Lopes .367 .851 .230 .753 0.63
    Molitor .170 .813 .215 .756 1.26
    Moreno .495 .747 .499 .672 1.01
    Morgan .264 .806 .182 .819 0.69
    Nixon .445 .790 .447 .718 1.00
    Raines .327 .879 .230 .738 0.70
    Sax .300 .728 .274 .678 0.91
    OSmith .250 .813 .218 .756 0.87
    Wills .320 .740 .357 .732 1.11
    Wilson .425 .853 .251 .760 0.59
    Young .322 .764 .298 .667 0.92
    Avg. .317 .794 .287 .737 0.90
    ML Avg. .103 .682 .088 .617 0.85

    Most of the leading base-stealers stole more frequently and more successfully against RHP. But several ran more often against LHP, and Joe Morgan, Tommy Harper and Vince Coleman had a higher SB pct. against LHP. The leading stealers relative frequency of attempts was a little higher, 90% as frequently as against RHP, while the general population attempted steals only 85% as often against LHP, but the difference in success rates was nearly identical, 6.7% vs. 6.5%. This is consistent with LHP being tougher to run on in general. But are there LHP who are easier to run on than RHP?


    To look at base-stealing from the "who's pitching?" perspective, I went through the Retrosheet team rosters, which conveniently include pitchers' SB/CS/PO data in the fielding data (for example, for the 1975 Red Sox). Breaking these into left- and right-handed pitchers gave the following totals:

    Hand   Est.Opps     SB      CS   Pickoff     Freq.   SB Pct.
    RHP     1284662   89828   41938    6437     .1026     .682
    LHP      533131   28812   17894    6151     .0876     .617
    

    Other than a slight increase in Freq. and SB pct. for pitchers near 40, the aging patterns graphs were pretty flat.

    Next, I considered pitchers with at least 1000 estimated opportunities. There were 400 RHP and 177 LHP. These RHP saw stolen-bases attempted at a rate of .1037, while the LHP were at .0884, rates nearly identical to those of all pitchers. The SB pct. were slightly lower against these pitchers, .660 vs. RHP and .592 vs. LHP. Are there left-handed pitchers that are among the easiest pitchers to steal on? The answer... very few. The graph here shows these 577 pitchers, plotting frequency vs. SB pct. The extremes are represented by Dwight Gooden whose frequency was .205 and SB pct. was .780. The highest SB pct. was against Mark Clear at .872, with runners going at a frequency of .174. The least-run-on pitcher was Whitey Ford, with a frequency of .025, one steal attempt for every 40 estimated opportunities, and a SB pct. of .385. The lowest opponents SB pct. was turned in by Billy Pierce at .341. Pierce's frequency was also low, at .031. Most of the hard-to-steal-on pitchers are left-handed, most of the easy-to-steal-on pitchers are right-handed.



    What about Morgan's statement that LHP are slower to the plate? If so, perhaps most base-stealers aren't reading the pitcher well enough to take advantage of the slower delivery. Until Retrovideo comes along, we won't be able to answer this definitively, but now that several World Series broadcasts are available on DVD, maybe we can start to study the question directly. Conveniently enough, one of the DVDs available is the 1975 World Series. Watching the Series, I discovered that the broadcasters said that Morgan claimed to be able to read the Red Sox pitchers, and that he wouldn't get caught stealing again - he wasn't. During game seven, the claim was made that Morgan had picked up something in Bill Lee's delivery and had passed the information on to Dave Concepcion and Ken Griffey. But when they got to first, there were three pitches on which they were heading back to first when the pitch was delivered - not exactly a great jump to get. On the other hand, when Morgan stole second during the game, he started for second base less than a tenth of a second after Lee began his delivery home, allowing Morgan to steal second standing up. That's a very quick jump. There's the anecdotal evidence. How long do the pitchers take to deliver the pitch? I looked at all games in the 1975 World Series, and portions of games 5 and 6 in the 1986 World Series.

    To measure the time to the plate, I took the time from when the pitcher first started stepping toward home until the time the pitcher released the ball. I timed pitchers who were working from the stretch and found that most take about the same amount of time in the stretch whether or not there is a runner on first with second open. Without doing a detailed study, I found only two exceptions in the few games that I looked at: Firstly, with Joe Morgan on first with second base open, Luis Tiant knocked nearly a quarter of a second off his delivery time. Secondly, in the 1986 World Series, Roger Clemens dropped about a tenth of a second off his delivery time with a runner on first and second open, relative to his other pitches from the stretch.

    The graph below shows the delivery times that I recorded for pitchers pitching from the stretch in the 1975 World Series and the 1986 World Series (games 5 and 6). Again, pitchers who throw with their right wing are in the red state, and those who throw with their left wing are in the blue state. The bars represent two standard deviations on the estimation of the mean time.


    The average of the mean delivery times for the 18 RHP was 1.10 seconds, for the 9 LHP, 1.21 seconds. Some of the extremes here are notable. Dwight Gooden has the highest attempt frequency during the past 50 years as well as the season with the most opponents stolen bases, 60 in 1990. The second highest single season total is 56 by Gooden in 1988 and Floyd Youmans in 1986. Sid Fernandez was the easiest LHP to run on in the last 50 years, with both the highest frequency of attempts and highest SB pct. among all LHP with at least 1000 estimated opportunities. Don Gullett is tied for the second lowest opponent SB pct (at least 1000 estimated opps) behind Billy Pierce's .341 (for 1957-1964). Gullett and Kirk Rueter were at .345. (Rueter's 1999 data is not available.) Gullett's delivery times may be related to his low steal rate. More study is needed. Out of curiousity, I checked to see how a young Joe Morgan ran against a young Don Gullett. Morgan was on first base three times with second open, and did not attempt to steal.

    In summary, what did I find?

    • Left-handed pitchers are more difficult to steal on.
    • Some base-stealers appear to have been able to steal as well or better against LHP than against RHP.
    • LHP appear to take more time to pitch from the stretch than RHP
    Early indications are that if a left-handed pitcher does get the ball delivered quickly, he may be very tough to run on. More study is required to see if these early results hold up. It would also be interesting to go into the Retrosheet play-by-play data to see if, for example, Joe Morgan did manage to exploit some LHP cues to allow him to steal on them at will, or if there were any pitchers who Vince Coleman did not run on.

    John Rickert teaches mathematics at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, and joined the Society for American Baseball Research in 1983 after reading John Davenport's Baseball Graphics and Bill James' Baseball Abstracts.

    Designated HitterMay 10, 2007
    How Sabermetrics Helps Build a Better Ballgame
    By Nate Silver

    It's been several months since Murray Chass woke up one morning and decided to devote the last six paragraphs of his column to criticizing Baseball Prospectus. As I replied at that time, what most took be aback about his column was its assertion that sabermetrics "threatens to undermine most fans' enjoyment of baseball."

    Naturally, I think quite the opposite is true. Here are seven ways in which sabermetrics has helped to improve the fan's experience:

    1. Enhancing the Quality of Play.

    There has been a great deal of debate about just how much the quality of play has improved in baseball over time. What nobody debates, however, is that the quality of play has in fact improved substantially. There are a great number of reasons for this, first and most importantly because the size of Major League Baseball's potential player pool has tended to grow more quickly than the number of teams in the league.

    A small part of the improvement in quality, however, might be the result of the sabermetric movement. In a forthcoming essay for It Ain't over 'til It's over: The Baseball Prospectus Pennant Race Book, I developed something called the Efficiency Index, which operates by comparing the performances of the best backups in the league to the worst regulars in the league. The idea is that if the best backups in the league are much better than the worst regulars, then the league is doing an inefficient job of distributing talent, presumably because of great disparities in wealth, scouting acumen, or aptitude for talent evaluation.

    The Efficiency Index has improved over time, particularly with the widespread introduction of the farm system in the 1950s. There has been a smaller but perceptible rise, however, within the past 5-10 years, and particularly within the last 2-3 years, which coincides with the widespread introduction of sabermetrics into the thought processes of major league front offices. There is no longer any reason to Free Erubiel Durazo!, or Frank Catalanotto, or Kevin Youkilis, or Chad Bradford. Those guys are getting a chance to play, and they're helping to resolve asymmetries in the talent distribution process.

    This takes for granted, of course, that fans would rather see Kevin Youkilis play baseball than say J.T. Snow, which is almost certainly the case if he's donning the uniform of your favorite team, but perhaps less so if we're coming at this from the standpoint of pure aesthetics. That is really just the tip of the iceberg, however. Consider: would the Red Sox have matched Daisuke Matsuzaka's price if not for the work of people like Clay Davenport, who helped us to understand the high quality of baseball in Japan? Would Jake Peavy be the best pitcher in the National League, or would he have been a victim of high pitch counts? Would Curtis Granderson be patrolling center field for the Tigers, or would he have been written off because he came from a tiny college program in a northern state, doomed to see his skills and desire atrophy in the lower minors? Even if you think the answer to these questions is "well, probably," baseball is replete with examples of potentially great players whose skill sets slipped through the cracks, and not all of those guys were Jack Cust types.

    2. Democratizing the Media

    Don't get me wrong. I'd have a tough choice deciding between ESPN and the other 400-odd channels in my cable lineup, provided that some allowance could be made for The Sopranos. But there's developed an increasingly blurry line between the people who cover the baseball industry, and the people who profit from it.

    At the one extreme, you have the obvious potential conflicts of interest. The Tribune covers the Cubs while also owning the ballclub. I believe The Trib generally does a good job of managing these conflicts, but - full disclosure - I have been a frequent guest on WGN Radio. At the other extreme, you have the more vaguely insidious conflicts, such as Buster Olney blogging about "fantasy sleepers" when he clearly has no interest in the subject. And there's nobody much left to police the conflicts of interest, because if you don't have a relationship with the leagues themselves, you probably have relationships with the major media players (full disclosure #2: "you" includes Baseball Prospectus).

    What we do have, however, is the blogosphere. The blogosphere has generally not been interested in covering the meta-issues of the sports media - there's no mediamatters.org for sports, unless you want to count Fire Joe Morgan. But it does an absolutely superlative [corrected] job of covering baseball itself. At the risk of being self-aggrandizing in an Al-Gore-Invented-the-Internet kind of way, I believe a great deal of that has to do with the lower barriers to entry that sabermetrics helps to facilitate, in terms of its tendency to allow objective knowledge about the game to go forth and multiply. The very thing that Murray Chass seems to fear is the very thing that makes him less important. Baseball fans can still read Murray Chass if they want - but they can also read Rob Neyer or Tangotiger or Rich Lederer. Once you realize that the arrangement of the Yankees' locker room has less to do with their success or failure than simple things like how often Johnny Damon gets on base, you're armed to debate about them without having to tip your hat to insider knowledge.

    3. Leveling the Playing Field

    One of the great myths of Moneyball is that sabermetrics is something that's the domain of small-market clubs; as the Red Sox have shown, there is little intrinsic connection between a team's financial and analytical dispositions. Nevertheless, having a core competency for statistical analysis provides another dimension along which a team can compete. Since statistical analysis is relatively cheap to execute, this has tended to lessen the intrinsic advantage of large-market clubs, which in turn provides "hope and faith" to a larger number of fans. As a corollary, the analytical approach represents another potential strategy that teams can gravitate toward, which increases the genetic diversity of the sport.

    4. Opening up the Owner's Box (and the General Manager's Office)

    Fans have always debated about the game's greatest players. But as difficult as it can be to determine whether Hanley Ramirez or Jose Reyes is the better player, it is even more difficult to determine whether Billy Beane or Terry Ryan is the better general manager, or corporate ownership is better than having a megalomaniac like George Steinbrenner. Sabermetrics, particularly when it pursues angles related to economics, empowers us to discuss the game off the field to a more profound extent. As a result, while the sport itself has a six-month season, baseball fans have grown accustomed to enjoying a twelve-month news cycle, and the Hot Stove League can approach the pennant races in excitement. It is no coincidence that the Baseball Prospectus website gets more traffic in March than it does in April, and more in November than it does in July.

    5. Enlivening the History Books

    The birth of the National League now predates that of the oldest living person, so there's nobody on earth who can claim to have seen every Hall of Famer play. If you look at the vigorous debate at places like the BBTF Hall of Merit, however, you wouldn't know the difference. Sabermetrics provides perspective, and that perspective can just as easily be applied to the past as to the present. Baseball has the richest history of any major sport, and while sabermetrics owes a great debt to that history - it helps to have 130+ years of observations to work with when you're developing a statistical model - that history owes an increasing debt to sabermetrics.

    6. Now Geeks Can Play, Too

    Each year, Baseball Prospectus takes internship applications and asks the candidates to submit short writing samples; it's likely that more than half of these writing samples will contain some reference to Theo Epstein. Most of us are not natural athletes, and although sabermetrics has probably not penetrated the industry to the point where the ex-jock/old boy's network culture has been irrevocably changed, it certainly opens up a career in the industry to a wider array of people than might have had access in the past. Keeping those sorts of dreams alive has to help with the sport's audience. And while relatively few of us will be fortunate enough to have a career in the industry itself, we're all able to experience the next best thing in the form of fantasy baseball, which has a mutually reinforcing relationship with sabermetrics.

    7. Knowledge is Power

    I don't want to sound like Richard Dawkins debunking the Santa Claus myth, but I believe there is inherent good in the pursuit of objective knowledge. Sabermetrics can occasionally demystify certain constructs that it might be pleasant to believe - like the existence of the Clutch Hitter, baseball's answer to Santa Claus - but is that necessarily a bad thing? And sabermetrics tends to spark new questions as well as resolve old ones. Perhaps the Clutch Hitter has been relegated to the status of the Loch Ness Monster, (or perhaps he hasn't), but sabermetrics has provoked us to look at things like player development and the relationship between pitching and defense in entirely different ways, just to name a couple.

    What ultimately bothered me about Mr. Chass' article was its anti-intellectualism. Perhaps Chass would prefer that all knowledge about the game be disseminated by the Old Gray Lady on her stone tablets - "Thou Shalt Not Make the First Out at Third Base" / "Thou Shalt Not Worship False Statistics" - but the rest of us are having a lot of fun with this stuff, and we're building a better ballgame in the process.


    Nate Silver is the Executive Vice President of Prospectus Entertainment Ventures; inventor of PECOTA, the BP projection system; and writes "Lies Damned Lies," a column about modern statistical analysis. He lives in Chicago.

    Designated HitterMay 03, 2007
    Was the 1990s Home Run Production Out of Line?
    By David Vincent

    In the last five years, baseball fans have read and heard a lot of commentary from politicians and the media about what a travesty the home run totals have been since the mid-1990s. The average fan, having heard this mantra so much, has come to believe it is true. But is it?

    In order to examine this question, we need a way to compare eras. Raw counting totals will not suffice. The method employed here is a "home run production rate." It is calculated not by dividing homers by at bats, similar to batting average, but by calculating how many circuit drives were hit per 500 plate appearances. The 500 plate appearance standard was chosen because the official minimum performance standard for individual batting championships as listed in rule 10.22(a) [in the 2007 edition of the rules] is 3.1 plate appearances times the number of games scheduled for each team. Thus, in the 162-game schedule, 502 plate appearances is the minimum, but that was rounded