Nationals Arm Race

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Repost: Why didn’t Carlos Gomez get more NL MVP support??

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Why didn't Carlos Gomez getting the same attention for MVP that Mike Trout gets?  Photo Denis Poroy/Getty Images via zimbio.com

Why didn’t Carlos Gomez getting the same attention for MVP that Mike Trout gets? Photo Denis Poroy/Getty Images via zimbio.com

[Editor's Note: I posted this initially on October 29th, 2013, and didn't get a SINGLE comment.  Maybe it got lost in the World Series hoopla; maybe all the readers of this blog were taking a post-season Nats break.  I'm reposting this and changing all the cases to past tense in the wake of 11/14/13's MVP voting.  I'd like to get some discussion here; if you are an ardent Mike Trout supporter and use WAR as part of your argument, i'd like to hear your thoughts on this post].

The title of this post says it all.  It is a simple question.

Brewers break-out star Carlos Gomez led the NL in bWAR in 2013.  Gomez played for a non-playoff team.  He augmented his 24-homer/.506 slugging bat with speed on the basepaths (40 SBs) and plus defense in center (he was just named to Bill James Fielding Bible Team as the best defensive Center Fielder in the game and won a Gold Glove).  Yet Gomez lost out on the MVP award, which went to Andrew McCutchen, a player who trailed him in the bWAR standings but who played for a playoff team.

Sounds an awful lot like the Mike Trout/Miguel Cabrera comparison, doesn’t it?

Gomez didn’t just lose out; he wasn’t even named a FINALIST for the NL MVP, meaning he wasn’t even in the top 3 candidates in the NL.  In fact, Gomez came in NINTH!  He wasn’t even close to winning despite leading the league in one version of WAR.

Why did nobody talk about Carlos Gomez for the NL MVP?  In fact, in the litany of post-season award prediction pieces I read, he was never really even mentioned.  You heard about McCutchen, Clayton Kershaw and Paul Goldschmidt as the top 3 NL candidates, then you heard about guys from the other playoff teams (Yadier Molina or Matt Carpenter from St. Louis, Joey Votto from Cincinnati, or Freddie Freeman from Atlanta).  Where’s Gomez on this list?

If you are a critic of the Miguel Cabrera pick and maintain that Mike Trout deserves the MVP in the AL and use “WAR” as a basis for your argument … then are you similarly arguing that Gomez should have won in the NL MVP right now?

I think the entire Trout-Cabrera argument is tired; I’m tired of hearing it and I’m sure people are tired of talking about it.  The critics of those who support Cabrera for MVP like to talk about the “narrative” of the MVP, how the award criteria definition on the ballots seems to imply that the winner “should” come from a playoff team.  But I’m of the opinion that those who blindly live by the WAR stat and support Trout but do NOT similarly demand support of Gomez are falling victim to their own “narrative” as well.  And that narrative is continued obstinance to a cause without looking up to see what else fits their world-view.

Ask yourself; if you think Trout is the AL MVP (this year or last year) … then what’s your argument that Gomez is NOT the NL MVP this year?  Where’s all the narrative-driven arguments about how “you shouldn’t lose the MVP because your teammates were bad” or that “the MVP doesn’t have to come from a playoff team.”  Because if you make those arguments in favor of Trout and not in favor of Gomez, then you’re a “narrative hypocrite” just like someone who says the reverse and supports Cabrera and McCutchen BECAUSE they played on playoff teams.

Gold Glove Awards review with Advanced Metrics

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Andrelton Simmons put up what most consider the best defensive season of 2013.  Photo via espn.go.com

Andrelton Simmons put up what most consider the best defensive season of 2013. Photo via espn.go.com

The recent years have been a rise in all sorts of statistical analysis in the game of baseball (as we all know), and one of the more important areas of research has been the measurement and tracking of defensive metrics.  The data we have at our disposal is not yet infallible, but the data has opened our eyes to the real impact that some major leaguers have on the defensive side of the ball.

We’re all quite familiar with the WAR-based arguments that have completely consumed last year’s AL MVP award voting as an example of modern statistics helping to shape the selection of a traditional award winner.  However, up until 2013, the Gold Gloves remained an award that was given out without practically any consideration given to any advanced metric, and the awards have been embarassed in recent years with some amazingly inept selections.  The two most laughable selections of recent memory were Rafael Palemeiro in 1999 (given a Gold Glove for his play at 1B despite the fact that he only played 28 games in the field that  year) and Derek Jeter in 2010 (a year in which he posted a -5.1 UZR/150, was dead last among all 59 AL shortstops in Total Zone Total Fielding and had the selection was openly mocked by the normally staid Baseball-Reference.com website).   Even the more defensible gold gloves over the past few years have been considered “wrong” by the stat-crowd, to the point where a number of national writers openly mock the awards and go out of their way to “ignore” th em.

This concerns me as a fan, and as someone who is keenly interested in the Hall of Fame merits of players.  I absolutely believe that when it comes time to judge players on the whole of their careers, that individual awards such as the Gold Gloves, MVP and Cy Young awards matter.  I want these awards to be relevant and properly awarded.

Two things have happened lately that give me hope:

  1. Bill James and a varied panel of baseball writers, statisticians in the field and former players now vote on The Fielding Bible awards each year.  The 2013 Fielding Bible awards are not league specific; they recognize the best in the majors at each position each year.
  2. The Gold Glove award committee for the first time in 2013 has incorporated a statistical element to the traditional surveying of players and coaches to choose the award winners.

(All winners/leaders listed below are on one common Google XLS here.  Listed are the winners of the GGs, Fielding Bibles, and then the leaders in each league by position of these Defensive stats: UZR/150, DRS, FRAA, and Total Zone.  I haven’t gone into the various definitions and pros/cons of these stats; I have a planned off-season defensive statistical overview post where I’ll go into greater detail).

First off, if you believe that the Fielding Bible panel has picked the best possible awardees, then you’ll be happy to note that every Fielding Bible award winner also received a Gold Glove this year.  Here’s the Fielding Bible winners by position for 2013:

Pos Fielding Bible Winner
C Yadier Molina, STL
1B Paul Goldschmidt, ARI
2B Dustin Pedroia, BOS
SS Andrelton Simmons, ATL
3B Manny Machado, BAL
LF Alex Gordon, KC
CF Carlos Gomez, MIL
RF Gerardo Parra, ARI
P R.A. Dickey, TOR

Now, here’s the Gold Glove winners, with the Fielding Bible award winners bolded:

Pos AL GG Winner NL GG Winner
C Salvador Perez, KC Yadier Molina, STL
1B Eric Hosmer, KC Paul Goldschmidt, ARI
2B Dustin Pedroia, BOS Brandon Phillips, CIN
SS J.J. Hardy, BAL Andrelton Simmons, ATL
3B Manny Machado, BAL Nolan Arenado, COL
LF Alex Gordon, KC Carlos Gonzalez, COL
CF Adam Jones, BAL Carlos Gomez, MIL
RF Shane Victorino, BOS Gerardo Parra, ARI
P R.A. Dickey, TOR Adam Wainwright, STL

As you’ll see below by looking at the various defensive metrics out there, most of the Gold Glove winners were merited.  In fact, there only seems to be one egregiously bad selection here (which we’ll get to below).  Nearly every other winner was at the top of one or more of the advanced metrics available by position for his league:

UZR/150 leaders per league (again, with Fielding Bible winners bolded):

Pos AL UZR/150 NL UZR/150
C
1B Mike Napoli, BOS Anthony Rizzo, CHC
2B Ben Zobrist, TBR Darwin Barney, CHC
SS Yunel Escobar, TBR Andrelton Simmons ATL
3B Manny Machado, BAL Juan Uribe, LAD
LF David Murphy, TEX Starling Marte, PIT
CF Colby Rasmus, TOR A.J. Pollack, ARI
RF Shane Victorino, BOS Gerardo Parra, ARI
P

Defensive Runs Saved leaders per league:

Pos AL DRS NL DRS
C Salvador Perez, KC Wellington Castillo, CHC
1B Mike Napoli, BOS Anthony Rizzo, CHC
2B Dustin Pedroia, BOS Darwin Barney, CHC
SS Pedro Florimon, MIN Andrelton Simmons, ATL
3B Manny Machado, BAL Nolan Arenado, COL
LF Alex Gordon, KC Starling Marte, PIT
CF Leonys Martin, TEX Carlos Gomez, MIL
RF Shane Victorino, BOS Gerardo Parra, ARI
P

FRAA Leaders per league:

Pos AL FRAA NL FRAA
C
1B Eric Hosmer, KC Paul Goldschmidt, ARI
2B Ian Kinsler, TEX Donovan Solano, MIA
SS Nick Franklin, SEA Andrelton Simmons, ATL
3B Manny Machado, BAL Nolan Arenado, COL
LF Andy Dirks, DET Carl Crawford, LAD
CF Alejandro De Aza, CWS Brandon Barnes, HOU
RF Shane Victorino, BOS Hunter Pence, SF
P R.A. Dickey, TOR Andrew Cashner, SD

And lastly here’s the Total Zone Total Fielding leaders:

Pos AL Total Zone Total Fielding NL Total Zone Total Fielding
C Matt Wieters, BAL Yadier Molina, STL
1B Mike Napoli, BOS Paul Goldschmidt, ARI
2B Dustin Pedroia, BOS Brandon Phillips, CIN
SS Jayson Nix, NYY Andrelton Simmons, ATL
3B Manny Machado, BAL Juan Uribe, LAD
LF Alex Gordon, KC Chris Heisey, CIN
CF Jacoby Ellsbury, BOS Denard Span, WAS
RF Shane Victorino, BOS Norichika Aoki, MIL
P R.A. Dickey, TOR Patrick Corbin, ARI

So, after looking at all these leaders, lets talk a bit about the Gold Gloves and ask ourselves whether they did a good job representing the best defenders this year.  Position by position:

CatcherSalvator Perez is as good an AL pick as any; the only other AL catcher in the mix is Matt Weiters.  On the NL side, Jadier Molina has earned his reputation and backs it up on the metrics side.  His only challenger being the little known Wellington Castillo from Chicago.

1st Base: Hosmer and Goldschmidt seem as good of picks as any; only Mike Napoli and Anthony Rizzo seemed close in either league.  Napoli may have been a better pick than Hosmer on the weight of the evidence.

2nd Base: There’s several decent candidates who were not honored, but I don’t think anyone is arguing vehimently against either Pedroia or Phillips as the winners.  Darwin Barney may be the most egreiged candidate.

Shortstop: the amazing Andrelton Simmons led every possible statistical category; there was no chance he was losing.   J. J. Hardy‘s selection wasn’t bad per se, but as you can see from the above tables four different AL shortstops led each of the four statistical measures.  None of them was Hardy though, making you wonder if his gold glove was slightly on reputation.

3rd Base: One day Manny Machado will move back to short (maybe) and challenge Simmons for the title of “Best Shortstop in the Game.”  But for now he has to settle for easily being the best defensive 3B in the game.  As with Simmons, Machado led every possible defensive measure at his position.  On the NL side, the choice of Nolan Arenado was a sound one, with only Juan Uribe really challenging him.  Thankfully the award didn’t go to someone like David Wright or our own Ryan Zimmerman based on reputation.

Left FieldAlex Gordon was a sound choice; the NL choice of Carlos Gonzalez may have been a disservice to one Starling Marte.  However, picking individual positions for the OF is somewhat tough, especially for the corners.  Fangraphs lists RF winner Gerardo Parra as a left-fielder for some reason.

Center FieldCarlos Gomez is a great pick (and is one of the reasons I posted my “Why no MVP support for Gomez” post in this space, which by the way, got almost no reaction from the readership…).   Adam Jones was nearly dead last in some of these range metrics and unfortunately has gotten this award via reputation (and his arm; still one of the best) as opposed to performance.   Jones is clearly the “Derek Jeter” of 2013, and the voters really erred badly on his selection.   Its hard for me to say who I would have preferred; Jacoby Ellsbury is the biggest name among the four guys who led the four different defensive numbers, but Ellsbury’s arm is weak (nearly last of any CF in the league) and a better candidate would have been Leonys Martin.

Right FieldGerardo Parra and Shane Victorino are the leading candidates for their leagues and both selections are warranted.  I know that Hunter Pence led the NL in FRAA, but his arm is awful (one of the worst of any RF in the league), so that has to count against him.   In fact, Victorino was as good as or better than Parra in most of these metrics (with the exception of Arm; Parra has one of the better arms in the league).  I’m guessing its arm strength that tipped the Fielding Bible balance to Parra.

Conclusion: I think the Gold Gloves did a pretty good job in 2013 of identifying the best overall defenders at each position.  With one significant exception (Adam Jones).  I think its time the sportswriters who have been purposely ignoring the awards come back into the fold.

 

Why isn’t Carlos Gomez getting MVP consideration?

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Why isn't Carlos Gomez getting the same attention for MVP that Mike Trout is getting?  Photo Denis Poroy/Getty Images via zimbio.com

Why isn’t Carlos Gomez getting the same attention for MVP that Mike Trout is getting? Photo Denis Poroy/Getty Images via zimbio.com

Simple question.

Brewers break-out star Carlos Gomez led the NL in bWAR.  Gomez played for a non-playoff team and augments his 24-homer/.506 slugging bat with speed on the basepaths (40 SBs this year) and plus defense in center (he was just named to Bill James Fielding Bible Team as the best defensive Center Fielder in the game).  Yet Gomez will likely lose out on the MVP voting to Andrew McCutchen, a player who trails him in the bWAR standings but who played for a playoff team.

Sounds an awful lot like the Mike Trout/Miguel Cabrera comparison, doesn’t it?

Why is nobody talking about Carlos Gomez for the NL MVP?  In fact, in the litany of post-season award review columns not only do I not see his name prominently mentioned, I’m not seeing it even mentioned in the list of top 5-6 candidates.  You hear about McCutchen, Clayton Kershaw and Paul Goldschmidt as the likely top 3 NL candidates, then you hear about guys from the other playoff teams (Yadier Molina or Matt Carpenter from St. Louis, Joey Votto from Cincinnati, or Freddie Freeman from Atlanta).  Where’s Gomez on this list?

If you are a critic of the Miguel Cabrera pick and maintain that Mike Trout deserves the MVP in the AL and use “WAR” as a basis for your argument … then are you similarly arguing that Gomez should win in the NL right now?

I think the entire Trout-Cabrera argument is tired; i’m tired of hearing it and I’m sure people are tired of talking about it.  The critics of those who support Cabrera for MVP like to talk about the “narrative” of the MVP, how the award criteria definition on the ballots seems to imply that the winner “should” come from a playoff team.  But I’m of the opinion that those who blindly live by the WAR stat and support Trout but do NOT similarly demand support of Gomez are falling victim to their own “narrative” as well.

Ask yourself; if you think Trout is the AL MVP (this year or last year) … then what’s your argument that Gomez is NOT the NL MVP this year?

Ask Boswell 6/17/13 Edition

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Anthony Rendon - What a draft day steal.  Photo: Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via chron.com

He’s continued to hit in the pros like he used to in college.  Photo: Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via chron.com

The Nats continue to struggle offensively.  They’re generally only above the Mets and the Marlins in key offensive categories, two teams that have basically given up for 2013.  They’re hitting worse than the Astros, a team that also had given up on 2013 before it started and whose payroll is 1/6th of ours.   Our best hitter Bryce Harper languishes on the D/L, but the team has (finally) made some adjustments and shed some of the underperforming players on its roster and rookie Anthony Rendon has been living up to his expectations.

So, what is Tom Boswell‘s weekly chat is going to be about?   Here’s his 6/17/13 version.  As it turned out many of the questions were about the US Open, and a few about Hockey and Football.  But lots about baseball.  As always I answer here before reading Boswell’s response and edit questions for clarity.

Q: Is Davey Johnson the problem with the Nats in 2013?

A: Despite some complaints about his Starting Pitcher and bullpen usage earlier this year, Davey Johnson isn’t the reason this team is losing.  Not with a team whose offense ranks 28th in the league in all the basic run-creating categories (Runs, Batting Average, OBP, and OPS+).   Changing the manager won’t help; all you can do is change the personnel.  And the Nats have done what they can; sending Tyler Moore and Danny Espinosa to the minors, calling up Rendon (slash line as of 6/16/13: .361/.426/.525; yeah that’s pretty darn good), giving Chris Marrero some at-bats.  The obvious: they need Harper back, they need the bench to start producing like it did in 2012, and they need Wilson Ramos to come back and spell the quietly falling-apart Kurt Suzuki (he’s now hitting just .215 with little power).  Boswell agrees; its the offense.

Q: Did Johnson screw up by not loading the bases in the Friday loss?

A: Situation: 2nd and 3rd with none out; do you load the bases?  I’d normally say that it depends on the matchups; a fly ball beats you anyway, so you’re looking for a pitching matchup that you can either get a punch out or a ground ball.  Well, they got their groundball; it just wasn’t enough to get the guy at the plate, who broke on contact and was fast.  A bases-loaded situation there means Suzuki doesn’t have to make the tag, just get the force out.  I guess Johnson could have loaded the bases.  Boswell points out the similarities to this and the NLCS Game 5 situation with Pete Kozma but doesn’t give an answer.

Q: Is Rick Eckstein culpable for the Nats Offensive woes?

A: Boswell answered an identical question on 5/28/13.   I’ll say the same thing again: I just don’t see how a hitting coach is responsible for players who suddenly hit 200 OPS points below their career averages as we’re seeing with a huge percentage of this team.  Rick Eckstein isn’t in the batter’s box; these guys are.  Boswell agrees, saying it isn’t Eckstein who is waving at balls a foot outside.

Q: Are the Nats just mentally fragile?

A: Possibly.  I think the weight of expectations is causing them to press.  But you have some veteran guys in that clubhouse (Jayson WerthAdam LaRoche especially) who should be leading the team and helping to manage this.  Maybe these guys just aren’t “Captain” material?  Notice too that the two most senior guys on the pitching staff (Dan Haren and Rafael Soriano) aren’t exactly the best role models either; Haren is struggling too much to command any respect, and Soriano doesn’t appear to be a big clubhouse influence (and I privately wonder if there isn’t lingering animosity towards Soriano’s signing from the rest of the bullpen, which seems relatively close in age and experience).  Boswell notes that the team leaders need to step up.

Q: Why is Dan Haren pitching again?

A: Asked and Answered here four days ago.  Boswell didn’t really answer.

Q: Should we eliminate pitcher Wins and Losses?

A: Well, if you’re a sabrematrician we should.  A pitcher can give up one hit in 5 innings (as Stephen Strasburg did on sunday) and take the loss, while a pitcher can give up 5 runs in 5 and get a win if his offense bails him out.  That in a nutshell is the issue most people have with the Win and Loss statistics.   I saw a stat on billy-ball.com today that Chad Billingsley took the loss in an 8-inning one-hit outing in 2011 (the run was un-earned to boot).  That’s pretty unlucky.  Bill James said recently that he continues to use W/L records simply because they’ve been the default way to express stats for pitchers for 100 years.  I now view them sort of as throw-away stats written ahead of the meaningful measurements for pitchers, things like Fip and xFip, perhaps Siera.  I like ERA+ and K/9 as good short-hand measurements too, but realize that every one of these stats has flaws.  The pitcher “Win” used to mean a lot more than it does now; when a guy went 9 innings every day instead of going 5 2/3 and having a bullpen close out more than a third of the game it becomes harder and harder to equate one with with another.  Boswell agrees.

Q: How much of Rendon’s hitting is a reflection of his talent, and how much of it is a product of teams not having a book on him yet? Certainly he’s not a .350 hitter, but is he a .300-.310 hitter?

A: Great question.  I think its part column A and part column B.  For one, he’s an exceptional hitter.  He wasn’t College Player of the Year as a sophomore at Rice by accident.  He should have been a 1-1 pick had it not been for lingering issues that dropped him into the Nats lap in 2011.  And in his short sample size so far in 2013 we’re seeing his great approach; fast hands, ability to use the whole field, opposite field power.  Now, a new hitter hasn’t had “the book” written on him (that’s what advance scouts do) so yes, we’ll expect to see teams identify weaknesses in Rendon’s swing and start pitching him accordingly.  The great players then adjust to the adjustments.  In the ESPN documentary Bryce Begins there was a very telling quote from Braves pitcher Kris Medlen, who commented that Harper had “already made the adjustment” to the way the Braves were pitching him from one series to the next.  The film then showed Harper fanning at a pitch to strike out .. and then clobbering the same pitch in a subsequent game.  That’s what pro hitters do to stay good, and that’s what Rendon is going to have to eventually do to keep his lofty average.  Boswell raves about his stat lines all the way up the minors.

A forkball after my own heart

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Robert Coello throws a very “old school” pitch. Photo wiki/flickr via james_in_to account.

Thanks to Rob Neyer for this article, posted 5/16/13 (and subsequently Jeff Passan in this 5/28/13 article and this Ted Berg USAToday article on 5/29/13) about Robert Coello, a journeyman hurler currently with the Los Angeles Angels who throws what one executive calls a “Knuckle-Forkball” but what in reality is an “Original Forkball.”  Not a “Split Fingered Fastball” mind you, but a true-on Forkball.  Neyer then goes into some research he did with Bill James on the pitch and has a pretty interesting history on this very rare pitch.

Neyer’s post has video of the pitch as it comes out of his hand (as does the Usatoday article) and indeed the ball knuckles and dives like a knuckler.  He only threw one forkball in his 5/15/13 outing but has thrown more than a few since and is getting some national media notice.

Here’s Pitch F/X data for Coello’s 5/15/13 outing.  They classified this pitch as a “FS,” pitch f/x lingo for “Fastball-Split” or a splitter.  He threw it at 79.5mph.  Since then, he’s thrown (I guess) 11 more Forkballs (now classified in Pitch F/X as a “FO”) at an average of 79.2mph.  By way of comparison, R.A. Dickey‘s average knuckleball velocity in 2013 has been 75.3mph.  And Dickey’s knuckleball is considered so effective because he throws it with such pace (Tim Wakefield only threw his 65-66mph for the last few years of his career).  Imagine if Coello can command this pitch and throw it consistently and frequently; he’d have a chance of combining a Dickey-esque fast knuckleball with his 91mph fastball.  That could be quite a combination.

So, why is this guy so interesting to me?  Because in my own abbreviated amateur baseball pitching career, I threw the same pitch!  Somehow over the years screwing around while warming up as a middle infielder I discovered this pitch; you jam the baseball between your index and middle fingers and then throw the ball such that it “pops” out of your hand (it will even make a popping noise, not unlike a soft snapping fingers noise) and begins knuckling towards its target.  It definitely is not a diving/sinking split fingered fastball motion; it knuckles in.  You can throw it with some pace; you throw it with the same motion and intensity as a fastball, except that it gets hung up in the webbing of your fingers and knuckles out.  It is relatively easy to control, especially if you throw over the top and just “aim” the ball at the middle of the plate.  I used it as a 3rd pitch but one outing in particular it was moving so much that my catcher called nothing but forkballs.

I always called it a forkball, but figured it knuckled instead of diving down like a typical split-fingered fastball because I wasn’t throwing it at the pace of a professional pitcher.  Now as it turns out, it looks like I was just throwing a “throw back” pitch rarely seen in the professional ranks.  Cool.

This world needs more Forkball pitchers!

Post-post update: Fangraphs Eno Sarris had a great article on him 9/23/13, showing multiple gifs of the pitch, as well as noting that Coello now has a top-30 wFB pitch thanks to the uniqueness of the forkball.

Written by Todd Boss

May 31st, 2013 at 7:01 am

Stats Overview Part II: Hitting stats on the rise: wRC, wOBA, etc

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Trout's BABIP was very high in 2012; what does this mean for 2013? Photo Gary Vasquez/US Presswire via espn.com

(Part 2 in a series: Part 1 talked about Whats Wrong with Old School Baseball Stats).

More and more in modern baseball writing, you see relatively new statistical creations thrown into articles in order to prove or disprove an opinion, and more and more you almost need a glossary to properly read these articles and properly understand what the author is attempting to say.  I always want to understand that which I read, and at the same time I want to make sure I stay current and up-to-date on the stats out there, so I decided to do a little research (and pen my own post while I was at it) into some of these newer stats that are being used.

I’ll write about each stat, give links to its calculation, write about how it may be used, then put in some rules of thumb by which to consider the stat.

Pretty much every stat here is defined and available at either Baseball-reference.com or fangraphs.com.  BaseballProspectus.com also has some more obscure stats discussed further below.  I’ve always thought that B-R’s interface was so much easier to navigate that I tend to search there first, but a more complete set of stats is at fangraphs.

1. BABIP.  Batting Average on Balls in Play.  Most people know this one, but it is an important stat to consider in conjunction with other stats (especially the older Batting Average and Earned Run Average).   The calculation, as it is seen at Wikipedia, measures basically how many balls put into play (removing from consideration home runs) turned into hits.  Interestingly it penalizes the hitter for hitting sacrifice flies (not sure why).  This stat is kept for both individual hitters and for pitchers.

How is BABIP used? The measurement is essentially used as a checkpoint for fluky seasons.  If a pitcher has a very high ERA but also has a very high BABIP, one can explain that he’s been unlucky and his talent level lays somewhere below his posted performance on the year.  Ironically, the two leaders of Pitcher BABIP in 2012 were both on the Tigers; Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer had BABIPs of .344 and .333 respectively; this delta is probably going to lead to both of these guys having better ERAs in 2013.  If a hitter has a decent hitting season but also has a high BABIP, one usually says that the hitter was “lucky” and is due to regress (Mike Trout in 2012 had a Babip of .383.  That’s really high, probably unsustainably high, and he probably regresses statistically in 2013).

MLB Average/Rule of thumb: .290-.300 depending on the year.

When BABIP is high: a hitter is considered to be “lucky,” and future regression of more batted balls being turned into outs is expected.

When BABIP is low, a hitter is considered to be “unlucky,” and future improvement of more hits on batted balls is expected.

Caveats using BABIP: there are many arguments about whether some pitchers “baseline BABIP” should be modified based on their talent or capabilites.  For example, Mariano Rivera‘s career BABIP is .262 while R.A. Dickey‘s BABIP since he turned into a Mets knuckleballing starter is around .275.  Rivera’s lower baseline is probably attributed to his amazing cutter and his pure skill, while Dickey’s is most likely due to the fluctuations of hitting his knuckleball.  Meanwhile, some hitters maintain higher than average career BABIPs (two extreme examples that immediately come to mind are Ichiro Suzuki and Nyjer Morgan, with career BABIPs of .347 and .336 respectively.  Why so high?  Because both are skilled at bunting (or at least hitting choppy grounders) for base hits, artificially inflating their baseline BABIP.

2. ISO; Isolated Power.  As posted on Wiki, Isolated power can be simply calculated by subtracting a hitter’s batting average from the slugging percentage, or as it is more eloquently defined at FanGraphs, ISO is essentially a measure of how many extra base hits a batter hits per at-bat.  Slugging tells you how many bases per at bat a hitter obtains, but ISO strips out singles to isolate a player’s capability of hitting doubles, triples and homers.  Here’s a couple of decent examples from 2012; our own Bryce Harper hits a ton of extra base hits; he’s posted a .206 ISO for the 2012 season.  Meanwhile we know that the aforementioned Nyjer Morgan is not a very powerful hitter and ISO shows it; he’s at .069 for the 2012 season.  The league leaders for ISO reads like a list of MLB’s best sluggers.  Giancarlo Stanton would have led the league in ISO had he qualified; he posted a fantastic .318 ISO in 2012.

How is it used? ISO is used to measure how good a hitter is at getting extra-base hits.

MLB Average/Rule of thumb (from Fangraphs page) .145 is considered an “average” MLB ISO figure.  .200 is pretty good, .100 is poor.

Caveats using ISO: as with many sabremetric-tinged stats, small sample sizes greatly skew the figures.  Fangraphs says 550 ABs is needed before really drawing any judgements.

3. wOBA; Weighted On Base Average.  Created by Tom Tango, wOBA is a relatively newer statistic that attempts to improve upon the traditional batting statistics we use (Batting Average, Slugging and On Base Percentage) by measuring cumulative “weighted” hits that a batter may achieve.  It is based on the premise that the three traditional stats just mentioned all treat hitting events relatively the same.  Is a single equal to a double?  No, but in Batting Average it is.  Is a double worth half as much as a home-run?  No, but in the Slugging Percentage it is.  Each hitting event is weighted and added together, with increases/decreases for stolen bases/caught stealing thrown in, to arrive at a measurement that attempts to better quantify pure hitting.

How is it used?  wOBA attempts to be set to the same scale as the league wide OBP, which seems to hover around .315-.320 year to year.

MLB Average/Rule of thumb (from Fangraphs page) .320 is a good “league average” number.  .370 is great, .300 is poor.

Caveats using wOBA: There are several to keep in mind; the weights change  year to year, in order to normalize the stat across generations.  It is NOT normalized to park factors, so hitters in places like Boston and Colorado will have artificially inflated wOBAs to their true value.  Lastly, there’s zero context given to the game situation when measuring hits (i.e. was there a guy on third with one out?  Was it a close game in the 9th?)  I think particular situation is nearly impossible to measure in any stat, but it is important.

4. RC/wRC: Runs Created and Weighted Runs Created.  Runs Created is a stat that Bill James invented in one of his earlier Baseball Abstracts (1985) in order to try to measure simply how many runs an individual player contributed to the team in a given season.  It was improved upon vastly in 2002 to be much more detailed and accurate; the original version over-emphasized some factors of hitting.  It is a complicated statistic (see its wiki page for the formula).  The aforementioned Tom Tango improved upon the basic RC by creating the Weighted version of the statistic based on his own Weighted OBA statistic (which he believed more closely measures the proper “value” of each hitting event).

How is it used?  Individually, RC and wRC need to be understood in context of an entire season.  It isn’t until we get to wRC+ (see below) that a side-by-side comparison is capable.  Its like saying “Player X has 105 hits.”  If that’s through 75 games, that’s pretty good; if that’s for an entire season, well that’s pretty poor.

MLB Average/Rule of thumb (from Fangraphs page) RC and wRC both have roughly the same scales.  60 is average, 100 is great, 50 is poor for a full season.

Caveats using RC and wRC: They are basically full season counting numbers.  In 2012, Trout started in the minors, so his RC and wRC totals are less than his MVP competition Miguel Cabrera.

5. wRC+/wRAA: Weighted Runs Created Plus/Weighted Runs Above Average

wRAA and especially wRC+ are touted by fangraphs.com as being very good “single number” statistics to properly measure a player’s hitting ability.  I often use OPS+ as a singular number to measure a hitter; fangraphs specifically calls out this number and recommends using wRC+.

How is it used?  Both numbers basically measure the same thing.  wRC+ is a bit easier to explain; 100 is the league baseline, and points above or below the average are expressed as “percentage points above or below the league average.”  So, a person with a 120 wRC+ is considered to be 20% better at creating runs than the average major leaguer.  Cabrera and Trout ironically tied for the MLB lead for 2012 in wRC+, each posting a 166 wRC+.  Meanwhile wRAA (per fangraphs.com) “measures the number of offensive runs a player contributes to their team compared to the average player” and is scaled to zero.  wRAA is essentially a direct calculation from wOBA, so if you’re using one you can likely ignore the other.

MLB Average/Rule of thumb (from Fangraphs page) for wRC+: 100 is average while for wRAA zero (0) is average.  20-25 percentage points above is great, while 15-20 percentage points below is bad.

Caveats for using: Unlike wOBA, wRC+ is park- and league-adjusted, indeed making it an excellent single number by which to measure players.  Otherwise the caveats for these weighted averages are all about the same; they seem to be based on an weighting of hits that you may or may not agree with.


What have I learned from looking into these hitting stats?  I need to keep BABIP in mind.  I like ISO but I don’t see it gaining real credence over slugging percentage.  And I should probably start using wRC+ more than OPS+.

Part 3 coming up on Pitching advanced stats.

Have we seen the last 300-game winner? (updated post 2012 season)

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San Francisco Giants starter Randy Johnson acknowledges the crowd after the Giants beat the Washington Nationals 5-1 for his 300th win, in the first game of a baseball doubleheader Thursday, June 4, 2009, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Despite being much maligned as a method of judging a starting pitcher’s worth, the “Win” is still the essential goal of every starter in the majors and the accumulation of them over a season or career still inspires much thought and discussion.  The magical “300 win” threshold remains one of the more challenging career objectives for any starter, and remains an interesting benchmark to discuss.    Only 23 pitchers in the history of the game have reached 300 wins.

So, after Randy Johnson‘s reaching the benchmark, and after a number of recent start pitchers also hitting the plateau (Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens and Tom Glavine), are we ever going to see another 300-win pitcher?

Here’s some other reading on this same topic by the likes of John Dewan (referencing Bill James‘ annual predictions on who may reach 300 wins with his percentile chances), David Schoenfield (in a dated piece predicting Roy Halladay‘s chances for getting to 300 wins), and an early 2012 piece from Jon Paul Morosi talking about Clayton Kershaw‘s chances.

Achieving 300 wins in a career is getting more and more difficult.  Here’s some interesting stats  about reaching 300 wins for a starter in the modern baseball age:

  • If a pitcher were to enter the major leagues at age 23, he would need to AVERAGE 20 wins for the next 15 years to reach 300 and pitch until age 38.
  • Put another way, that same pitcher entering at age 23 would have to average 18 wins for 17 seasons to reach 300 by about age 40.
  • The majors have had ONLY Eleven 20-game winners in total over the past 5 seasons.  (Seven of which have come in the last two years, echoing the “rise of the pitcher” and the collapse of the PED slugger era, so perhaps its getting easier to accumulate wins).
  • 5-man rotations mean that starters are averaging 33-34 starts a year, down from the 38-40 starts that Pitchers would get just 20 years ago.
  • Because of mania over inning counts, specialized relievers, and an obsession with using “closers” in save situations, starters now only earn decisions in around 69% of starts, down from 78.5% of starts in 1972 (source Jay Jaffe‘s article, referenced further down).  This means the average pitcher only gets about 24 decisions from their 33-34 starts, making the 20-game winner even that more rare.  One can argue that better pitchers get more decisions because they’re more likely to pitch into the 7th and 8th innings, by which time their team should have scored enough runs to win for them.  But the fact remains that a lot of wins and losses are in the modern bullpen.

In 2009, just as Randy Johnson won his 300th, I had two long winded discussions (one in April 2009, another in June 2009) an older version of this blog that I maintained with friends about the demise of the 300-game winner.  Blog author Jason Amos did a great summary in this posting along with some great links.  Now, with another 3 seasons in the books, I thought it might be interesting to see who we were considering as candidates just a few years ago and who might be the next “best” candidates to get to 300 wins.  I’ll address candidates and their chances as we present pitchers a number of different ways.

(coincidentally, the 300-game winner spreadsheet I’m using for this post can be found at this link, and in the Links section along the right hand side of this page).

Here’s the current list of active wins leaders post 2012.  For brevity’s sake here’s the top 10 (and I’ve included Jamie Moyer as being “active” for the sake of this argument):

Rank pitcher age wins
1 Jamie Moyer 49 269
2 Andy Pettitte 40 245
3 Roy Halladay 35 199
4 CC Sabathia 31 197
5 Tim Hudson 36 197
6 Livan Hernandez 37 178
7 Derek Lowe 39 175
8 Mark Buehrle 33 174
9 Bartolo Colon 39 171
10 Kevin Millwood 37 169

Of this list of top 10 active win leaders, clearly most of them are never going to reach 300 wins.  Jamie Moyer has not yet retired at age 49, but the odds of him even making another MLB roster seem thin. Likewise Livan Hernandez and Derek Lowe may struggle to get guaranteed contracts in 2013.  Andy Pettitte has returned and pitched effectively for the Yankees this year, but he’s 50+ wins away from the plateau and only seems likely to maybe pitch one more year.   Bartolo Colon does have a contract for 2013 but it may be his last season, and Kevin Millwood is just too far away.  Tim Hudson, despite his strong performances the last few years, is just too far away at this point as well.  The chances of any of these guys to reach 300 wins is 0%.

How about the rest of this top 10 list?  Specifically CC Sabathia, Roy Halladay and Mark Buehrle?  There’s some intriguing candidates there. Lets look at their chances a slightly different way.

When Randy Johnson hit 300 wins, two Baseball Prospectus authors posted similar posts to this with some interesting analysis.  First, Jay Jaffe used a fun little stat he called the Jaffe Blind Optimism method (JABO), which takes a pitcher and assumes he will win 15 games a year until age 42.  Well, this incredibly optimistic formula leads us to a new set of more reasonable candidates.  I changed the formula slightly and only ran out the 15 wins/year til age 40 and got this list:

Rank pitcher age wins Jaffe 15wins/yr avg->40
1 CC Sabathia 31 197 332
2 Felix Hernandez 26 98 308
3 Clayton Kershaw 24 61 301
4 Trevor Cahill 24 53 293
5 Justin Verlander 29 124 289
6 Matt Cain 27 85 280
7 Mark Buehrle 33 174 279
8 Yovani Gallardo 26 69 279
9 Chad Billingsley 27 80 275
10 Roy Halladay 35 199 274

By this analysis we see that CC Sabathia looks like a pretty sure bet to hit 300 wins, and for good reason.  He’s been healthy, he plays for a team that is constantly winning, and he doesn’t have to pitch like a Cy Young award winner to get wins in New  York (21, 19 and 15 wins his last three seasons).  He has always been healthy and just needs 5 more solid seasons to be very close to the 300 win plateau.  He’s signed through 2016 (with an option for 2017), and there’s no reason to think he’s not going to see that contract through.  His elbow-injury scare in the post-season turned out to be innocuous, but we’ll keep an eye on his health status in 2013.  If he loses a season or more to injury the chances of his making 300 wins declines precipitously.  Felix Hernandez has nearly a 100 career wins at age 26, and also seems like a decent bet to hit 300 wins at this point.  But, he’ll need to move to a winning team to make this task easier on himself; he’s only won 13,14 and 13 games the last three seasons because of dreadful run support.  He’s signed through 2014 and I’d be surprised if he stays in Seattle (unless they turn that franchise around in the next 3 years).

Clayton Kershaw and (surprisingly) Trevor Cahill appear here by virtue of a lot of early career success (Cahill was an 18 game winner for a bad Oakland team at age 22 in the majors, no small feat).  While both have been injury free thus far, it is really difficult to project 24yr olds as staying healthy deep into their 30s.  So, we’ll say they’re promising for now but need to get to about 150 wins before we can really start projecting their odds.  Yovani Gallardo has quietly been racking up wins as Milwaukee’s “ace,” but is sort of in the same boat as Kershaw and Cahill; he’s only 26, so its hard to see how he’ll sit at age 30.  If he’s got another 60-70 wins in four year’s time, we’ll talk.

Justin Verlander‘s 24-win season in 2011, as well as his established status as the “Best Pitcher in Baseball” right now, has launched him into the discussion.  The problem is that he “only” has 124 wins entering his age-30 year.  He needs to average 18 wins a  year for the next decade to have a shot.  That’s a tall task, especially considering how well he pitched to just get to 17-8 this year.  It isn’t out of the realm of possible, but it is a longshot.

Mark Buehrle and Roy Halladay are both aging workhorses whose chances of reaching the plateau are dimming.  Buehrle has just moved to the hyper-competitive AL East and wasn’t exactly dominating to begin with.  Meanwhile Halladay’s injury struggles have limited his wins the last couple seasons, likely knocking any chance he had of hitting the plateau.  I’ll give them each non-zero chances, but barely non-zero.  I’ll give them both the benefit of the doubt because they both seem like the kind of pitchers who could pitch well into their 40s and get the extra wins they’d need to move over the top.

Matt Cain and Chad Billingsley are both mentioned because they had a ton of wins before the age of 25; both in reality are not accumulating wins at the pace they’ll need to stay even close to hitting the 300-win plateau.  Plus Billingsley struggled with an injury this year and may be affected next season.  Chances right now; slim.

Just for the sake of argument, here’s the next 10 players ranked by the modified Jaffe system:

Rank pitcher age wins Jaffe 15wins/yr avg->40
11 Zack Greinke 28 91 271
12 David Price 26 61 271
13 Johnny Cueto 26 60 270
14 Gio Gonzalez 26 59 269
15 Carlos Zambrano 31 132 267
16 Jered Weaver 29 102 267
17 Jon Lester 28 85 265
18 Jair Jurrjens 26 53 263
19 Ervin Santana 29 96 261
20 Tim Lincecum 28 79 259

I posted this list because a number of these players were formerly listed as good candidates to hit 300 wins.  Specifically, Carlos Zambrano, Jered Weaver, and Tim Lincecum.  Zambrano may be out of baseball in 2013, Lincecum may not even be a starter any more, and Weaver, while clearly getting a ton of wins lately needs a slew of 19-20 game winning seasons to catch back up.  The collection of 26-yr olds in David Price, Johnny Cueto, and our own Gio Gonzalez are all well behind the paces being set by fellow-aged pitchers Hernandez, Cain and Gallardo, though it isn’t hard to see any of these three post multiple 18-20 win seasons in the coming years.

So, here’s my predictions of the chances by player discussed above (anyone not listed here specifically also sits at 0% chance of making 300 wins):

Name age wins % Chance
CC Sabathia 31 197 90%
Felix Hernandez 26 98 75%
Justin Verlander 29 124 33%
Clayton Kershaw 24 61 25%
Trevor Cahill 24 53 20%
Roy Halladay 35 199 10%
Yovani Gallardo 26 69 10%
Mark Buehrle 33 174 5%
Matt Cain 27 85 5%
Chad Billingsley 27 80 5%
Jamie Moyer 49 269 0%
Andy Pettitte 40 245 0%
Tim Hudson 36 197 0%
Livan Hernandez 37 178 0%
Derek Lowe 39 175 0%
Bartolo Colon 39 171 0%
Kevin Millwood 37 169 0%

Conclusion: I believe we will see another 300-game winner.  I think Sabathia has a very good chance of making it, as does Felix Hernandez at this point in his career.  But injuries can quickly turn a 300-game career into an “out of baseball by 36″ career, so nothing is set in stone.

Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 12/31/11 edition

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Its Hall of Fame ballot time. Let the Jack Morris arguments start-up again. Photo John Iacono via si.com

This is your semi-weekly/periodic wrap-up of Nats and other baseball news that caught my eye.  With the approaching Hall of Fame nonsense, er I mean news cycle approaching, I’ll throw in a HoFame section.

Nationals In General

  • Transcribed from a radio interview by Tim Dierkes, here’s Mike Rizzo on CF and 1B.  This is the first time I’ve seen Rizzo mention NEXT year’s FA class in terms of looking for talent and it makes you wonder if we don’t already have our entire primary starting 15 set (8 out-field players, 5 starters and setup/closer) for 2012.   I can live with Jayson Werth in CF, since it opens up lots of FA possibilities in RF.  In fact, I smell a separate post coming…
  • Former Nat Lastings Milledge is going to Japan to try to resurrect his baseball career.
  • Scouting-specific SeedlingsToStars.com site looks at Anthony Rendon.
  • The USA Today does an in-depth, position-by-position overview of the team and where it stands.
  • Another Tom Boswell article that I disagree with; he thinks Prince Fielder isn’t “right” for the Nats.   I’m sorry; but Fielder is a run creating machine (he created 35 more runs last year than Michael Morse, by way of comparison, which roughly equates with his 5.2 Wins Above replacement value).  Yes we have LaRoche who is plus defense, but is he going to come back to 2010′s form or is he going to be a lost cause again?  Meanwhile, Fielder looks set to take a shorter term deal and re-try his hand at the FA market when he hits 30.  Wouldn’t you sign him for 3yrs $70M?  You put Fielder at 1B, keep Morse in Left, groom Bryce Harper to play center and keep Werth in right.   For the next 3 years.  How difficult is that?  Boswell talks about where to put Rendon; well; you put him wherever you have a need.  Put him at 2nd and move Espinosa to short.  Or you trade someone to free up room.  This team’s problem isn’t the need for a lead-off slap hitter; we need a big run producer in the middle of the order.  Someone to replace what Adam Dunn gave us for two years.
  • Ryan Tatusko posts his 2011 recap of his minor league season plus his time in the Venezuelan Winter League.  I wish more players were as blogger-friendly as Tatusko.

Hall of Fame Specific

  • A pro Edgar Martinez take with the important quote, “There is a position called DH…”  I have changed my own stance on this issue in recent years, especially when considering relief pitchers as hall of fame worthy.  If you argue that a closer and his 60-70 innings is somehow more valuable to a team than a designated hitter’s 650 at bats, then I’d have to disagree.  On my hypothetical ballot, Martinez is in.
  • Excellent review of active MLB players under HoFame consideration by Fangraph’s Dave Cameron.   Also, the comments discussion brings up a number of other players.  He uses primarily career WAR to determine the player’s value, which I’m somewhat hesitant about (in most cases WAR is an accumulator stat, as a mediocre player who stayed very healthy will have a higher WAR than an excellent but shorter-lived career).
  • This article really got to me, to the point where I commented on both the original post by Jay Jaffe at Baseball Prospectus and the discussion at TangoTiger‘s InsideTheBook.com blog.  Jaffe’s hall of fame measuring system (called JAWS) somehow has determined that Brad Radke, the middling pitcher for the Twins who had basically one standout season in his career, was a BETTER player career-wise than Jack Morris.  How would any sane baseball observer possibly come to this conclusion?  This is where the modern blogger’s over-reliance on statistics really gets to me.  I have not read into why this system ranks Radke so high while ranking Morris so low but suspect it is due to a reliance on the same calculations that go into the ERA+ statistic (of which Radke’s career ERA+ of113  is better than Nolan Ryan‘s career era of 112).

Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • Oakland continues to dismantle itself: Boston trades OF prospect Josh Reddick and two other players to Oakland for closer Andrew Bailey and outfielder Ryan Sweeney.  This is after Boston acquired Mark Melancon earlier in the off-season; they now have completely remade the back side of their rotation.  Clearly the team is moving Daniel Bard to the rotation, having just traded for his replacement.   Reddick was clearly seen as surplus to requirements, despite putting together a decent 2011 season, but you have to wonder if the team is going to be satisfied with Sweeney starting in RF.
  • Keith Law makes a good point during his analysis of the Bailey move, saying that adding Bailey is a far better move than paying Jonathan Papelbon $50M.  I agree completely and think that anyone who pays $10M+ per year for a guy who throws 70 innings and who only really has about 50% “high leverage” plate appearances (see last year’s splits for Mariano Rivera and Papelbon to see that 57% of Rivera’s plate appearances were in “high” leverage situations as a high, while Papelbon was at 47%) is just wasting money.  Find a hard thrower in your organization (say, like Drew Storen for the Nats), install him as the closer as a rookie, then ride him til free agency and then cut him loose and start over.  Relievers are fungible talents, they come and go, mostly are failed starters since they don’t need the full repertoire of pitches to be successful, and are cheaper to come by.
  • (hat tip to ck of the Nats Enquirer): The Baltimore Sun reports that Scott Boras and Prince Fielder were in the Baltimore/DC area to meet with an owner not named Peter Angelos.  More links on the topic from Federal Baseball.  Gee, I wonder who it could be?  Why would those two fly HERE and not directly to the city of the owner in question, unless the owner of the team in question was either a) the Nationals, or b) an owner of a MLB team who lives in this area but owns a team based elsewhere, or c) an owner of another team just happened to be in DC for some odd reason (odd because Congress is out of session, which would seem to eliminate most any possibly lobbying reason).  Don’t get me wrong; I think Adam LaRoche can contribute in 2012 and it seems ludicrous to think he can’t at least get close to his 2010 numbers, but Fielder is a 5+ WAR player who probably makes us the favorite for the NL wild card if we sign him, right now.

General Baseball News

  • Wow, two LOOGY articles in the same day.  Bill James answered a question about the evolution of the LOOGY and posted this link describing its birth (apparently by Tony LaRussa in the 1991 season).  I also never knew that the term “LOOGY” was coined by none other than Rob Neyer.  And TangoTiger points to some of the same research.  Mid 30s lefties everywhere have LaRussa to thank for their extended careers.
  • Could you imagine this happening in today’s game?  The first intentional pitch would have resulted in ejections.  Certainly modern umpires would not let a pitcher throw pitch after pitch at an opposing batter.  Clearly these umpires let this game get out of hand.
  • Will MLB step in?  USAToday’s Seth Livingston thinks that the Oakland payroll dumping trades this off-season may get the attention of the front office.  Hard to see why; according to Cot’s the Athletics are only signed up for around $17M of guaranteed contracts in 2012 right now, before a slew of arbitration cases.  They non-tendered 3 of their 10 arbitration cases but kept a couple of their more expensive guys (Cot’s thinks they had 14 arbitration-eligible players; I havn’t cross-referenced outrights and DFAs but know they had 10 arb tender decisions).  Of those they did tender, they have since traded away Sweeney, Gonzalez, Bailey, Breslow and Cahill.  Geeze.  Baseball-Reference thinks they’ll get to $50M in payroll; I wonder if they’ll get to $35m frankly.  And, its looking more and more like this could be something like a 50-win team.  Things could get ugly in the Bay area in 2012.
  • This would be a loss for us prospect hounds: Keith Law is reportedly interviewing for a front-office position with the Houston Astros.  Law takes a very specific, opinionated viewpoint towards player development, drawing from his experiences in the Toronto organization (which itself during his time took a rather college-heavy approach to the draft which ultimately wasn’t as successful as the team wanted, ultimately contributing to the end of JP Ricciardi‘s reign.
  • An interesting exercise; USA Today builds an unbeatable MLB team for the median MLB payroll.  Honestly though, I’m not sure just how challenging this exercise is.  If you gave me $86M (the median payroll they used) you should be able to put together TWO such teams.  There’s enough pre-arbitration and arbitration-controlled talent in the league to be able to do the same task for something approaching a $20M payroll.  A future blog post?  :-)
  • Follow-up on Alex Rodriguez‘s experimental Germany treatment; this op-ed piece from Jeff Passan on the blurry line between PEDs and legitimate surgical procedures.  The article has a very in-depth description of the A-Rod procedure and raises the question as to what defines a Performance Enhancing Drug?  I have had similar discussions; why are Steroids “bad” but Cortisone “good” in terms of usage?  What do Cortisone shots do?  They enable a player to play through pain that otherwise may keep him out.  Uh … isn’t that the definition of a “performance enhancing” substance??  Steroid’s aren’t illegal; they’re just controlled.  But so is cortisone; you can’t just inject yourself with the stuff without a doctor’s order.  Passan takes things one step further, comparing the healing effects of HGH with these new treatments that A-Rod and Bartolo Colon got and makes a very good point; the WADA uses 3 categories to define a doping drug and everything we’ve described here can be argued to fit those criteria (except that only HGH and Steroids have been determined to be “bad” by the powers that be).  There’s something inconsistent here.

Collegiate/Prospect News

  • Seedling to the Star’s scouting report on Braves phenom prospect Julio Teheran.  Teheran’s stock has slipped somewhat in the past two years, especially given the inevitable comparisons to fellow pitching prospect phenom Matt Moore.  While Moore’s 2011 MLB debut was nothing short of amazing (including his 7 innings of shutout ball in the playoffs), Teheran posted a 5.03 ERA in about 20 MLB innings throughout 2011.  It was bad enough to probably rule Teheran out of the 2012 rotation plans and send him back to repeat AAA.  But if he can put things together, he’ll join an arsenal of young arms in Atlanta that seems set to be their next wave of starters in the ilk of John Smoltz and Tom Glavine.


General News; other

  • Baseball meets modern America: Joe Maddon and the rising Latino population in his home town of Hazelton, PA, as written by Joe Posnanski.
  • 67-56?  I’ve never seen a football game with such a ridiculous scoring line.


2012 Hall of Fame Ballot thoughts

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Can we please elect one of the best hitters of the last 30 years? Photo via bill37mccurdy.wordpress.com

On November 30th, the BBWAA announced the 2012 official Hall of Fame ballot.  Let the cavalcade of Hall of Fame opinion pieces begin! (just a few early examples here, here, and here).

We all knew who was eligible for this ballot, thanks to the excellent work at baseball-reference.com.  All the anticipated ballots are available for perusal along with statistical summaries of each player’s career and a few Bill James-inspired metrics created to give simple statistical measures of Hall-worthiness.

2012′s ballot is the last year before the Steroid accused superstars start becoming eligible (Bonds, Sosa, Piazza, and Clemens are all on the 2013 ballot for the first time, in addition to Schilling and Biggio) and the narrative about Hall of Fame voting turns to morality voting for the next decade or so.  Gee, I can’t wait.  All these players played in an era where there was no testing against PEDs and no MLB-specified rules against PEDs, but voters continue to penalize these players as if testing WERE being done, as if there WERE rules at the time they played.  Meanwhile nobody talks about the PEDs that were prevalent for the last 30 years or so (amphetamines, or “greenies” in baseball parlance), and many players from the latter part of this decade freely talk of playing on speed.  Frankly, it isn’t fair.  We didn’t penalize Bob Gibson and put an asterick next to his accomplishments for pitching in a pro-pitcher, massive ballpark era did we?  No; that was the game at the time.  We don’t talk about how baseball fields used to be caverns with 480 foot distances and 30 foot walls, making triples far more common than homers.  No; that was the game at the time.  And frankly. the steroid era will eventually be remembered for what it was.  Sometimes I think the anti-PED crowd is just a bunch of middle-aged white guys who are really peeved that an arrogant black ballplayer in Barry Bonds broke the cherished home run records of storied players from their youth (Babe Ruth and the far more likeable Henry Aaron).  But I digress.

That being said, I like doing these Hall of Fame blog posts, if only because I usually disagree with the rest of the baseball blog-o-sphere on what really constitutes a Hall of Famer.  I’ve been watching baseball long enough to form my own independent opinions on players and not depend on revisionist historians turning mediocre players into other-worldy hall-of-fame electees (see Blyleven, Bert and my stated opinions on his Hall-worthiness ahead of the 2011 ballot, and especially read the comment section where people refuse to address any aspect of Blyleven’s playing career and only use statistics to canonize him).

Notwithstanding that comment, I believe we’re being too parsimonious with Hall of Fame elections.  Nate Silver from the NY Times wrote on this same topic in January of 2011, pointing out another interesting fact about the Hall of Fame (namely that roughly 13% of active major leaguers at various points in the 1930s and 1940s are now in the Hall).  I’m not advocating that we need to be looking at 10% of current active major leaguers for the hall, but I am advocating that we be less “parsimonious” with the voting.  This may seem contradictory to my opposing the candidacy of Blyleven; not so.  There are a number of very deserving candidates who are not getting the votes they need.  There seems to be several reasons for this:

  • Players whose accomplishments in the pre-Steroid era are being discounted for the lack of “big numbers” (Larkin, Raines, Trammel, McGriff to certain extents).
  • Players who toiled in the Steroid era are either users/suspected users (McGwire, Palmeiro), or are being caught in the steroid web (Bagwell).
  • Players who are suffering from a conflict of opinion in the voter base for various reasons (Smith, Morris, Martinez).

I’m not sure how to resolve any of these situations frankly.  But I’d hate to have these players languish on the ballot and age off of it and have to wait for some nebulous Veterans committee to enshrine them after they’re dead (see Santo, Ron).  Some people advocate modifying the voting methodology, but in reality there’s no easy fix.

Back to the 2012 ballot: the only candidate eligible for the first time this year worth any discussion is Bernie Williams.   For me, Williams was a nice player who retired early instead of facing the inevitable end of his Yankee career.  He was part of a great core group of home-grown Yankees that formed the core of the late 90s dynasty team and will certainly be remembered as a great franchise player.  That’s not enough; he was never the best player on his own team, he never sniffed an MVP vote and he never accumulated enough production to warrant being a focal point in the opposition.  He had a great 5-year run … but if we were electing people on 5-year runs then Juan Gonzalez would already be in.

For the rest of the remaining candidates, I’ll borrow some from last year’s version of this post.  I’m not going to go into major statistical analysis for each candidate (that analysis is freely available on most every major baseball blog site out there), but will state my opinion with a few choice links.  On my hypothetical ballot I’d vote for:

  • Jeff Bagwell: a career 149 OPS+.   That’s a career averaging nearly 50% better hitting than the average MLBer.  That he’s being lumped in with actual PED users without a shred of proof has become the latest hall of fame “cause” on the internet, starting with this excellent article accusing BBWAA writers of “plagiarism” (when I think he really means laziness, frankly).  At least I support this one.  Here’s an excellent case for Bagwell.  You won’t find anyone penning a “case against” him that doesn’t claim that he’s a PED user without the proof.
  • Jack Morris.  The “anti” sabrematrician selection.  Here’s a link to the most canonical case against Morris, as well as Joe Posnanski‘s anti Morris (and anti-other) rant.  And here’s a case for Morris from former Washington Post writer Richard Justice, now with MLB, which goes a lot towards my way of thinking about the guy.  Lots of people seem to be spending as much time arguing AGAINST him as they did arguing FOR Blyleven.  I wonder why that is?  Maybe there really just is a kind of pitcher who you had to see in context versus looking at his stats after the fact.  Nolan Ryan “only” had a 112 ERA+ for his career and was barely a .500 pitcher, yet was a first ballot overwhelming hall-of-famer.  There’s some disconnect here.  For me, the vote for Morris is about the “feeling” of a dominant pitcher, just as Blyleven was about the “feel” of a mediocre pitcher, no matter what his eventual career stats looked like.  For people who say this is fallacy, I say this: judgement of a player can not ONLY be done by looking at his stats.  Morris had a reputation for “pitching to score,” though sabrematricians have attempted to debunk that pitching-to-score exists for some time (see this link on baseball prospectus, then note at the bottom that despite 3500 words he says “none of this proves it doesn’t exist.”) but he also had a reputation for being the “Best pitcher of the decade.”  Bill James published a list of factors to consider, when evaluating a player’s candidacy, and the one takeaway I got from that list was (paraphrased) whether or not a player was the best on his team, the best in his league, a guy that the other team was afraid of.  Morris was that, for a period of more than 10 years.  His last two seasons took him from a 3.70 era to a 3.90 career era, and may have pushed him over the edge to his current stat-nerd polarizing stance.  For me, he was THE pitcher of the 80s, led one of the most dominant teams ever (the 1984 Tigers) and pitched a 10-inning complete game win in one of the best games ever played.  Those things stand for something, and should add up to more than a clinical analysis of his era+.
  • Barry Larkin: lost in the shadow of Ozzie Smith for so long, that people forget that he was an excellent defender AND a great hitter.  Long overdue for enshrinement.  Here’s a pretty stat-heavy analysis FOR him.
  • Tim RainesCase for.  Its hard to find cases against.  Raines, like guys like Trammell and Larkin, played in the shadow of Rickey Henderson for so long and was always judged to be 2nd best.   But his accomplishments, especially during the earlier part of his career, should be enough to get him into the Hall.
  • Mark McGwire: He was a lock before the PED ensnarement.  I say “ensnared” despite him using a completely legitimate supplement at the time.   He didn’t try to hide it either.
  • Edgar Martinez: I recently watched one of the games from the great series “MLB’s greatest games” of the last 50 years, and one of the games was the great game 5 playoff in 1995 between the Mariners and the Yankees.  David Cone in that broadcast said that Martinez was “the best right handed hitter he ever faced.”  And it struck me; Martinez indeed was one of the most feared hitters of his day.  Look at his career: he didn’t play a full season til he was 27 and he played a ton of DH.  He also retired with a career slash line above the mythical .300/.400/.500 targets.  For those that discount his heavy use at DH I ask one simple question: if you think Martinez didn’t contribute that much by just being a DH, then how can you possibly support the inclusion of a one-inning relief pitcher/closer?  Who do you really think contributes more, a DH with his 650 PAs or a relief pitcher with 60-some innings in a season?   In reality, you can’t.  It just takes an uber-DH like Martinez to press the issue.

Specific Names i’d leave off and why:

  • Alan Trammell: I just don’t think he was a dominant enough player to warrant inclusion.  I’d place him well behind his peers at shortstop for the ERA.  There’s plenty of support for him in various forums though, with good arguments for him.
  • Lee Smith: My tried and true argument; closers are incredibly overvalued, and especially closers with lifetime ERAs in the 3.00 range and with a career whip that’s closer to a league average than it is to dominant.  Sorry; Smith isn’t a HoFamer for me.
  • Larry Walker: the whole “he played in Colorado” angle probably isn’t as true as we think, but he still enjoyed a bump in his stats because of it.  Otherwise he’s in the hall of Good, not the Hall of Fame.
  • Rafael Palmeiro: its less about his idiotic stance in front of congress as it is about his method of “accumulating” his way to historic numbers.  Much like the discussion we’ll eventually have about Johnny Damon (who is only a few hundred hits away from 3000 but clearly isn’t a transcending player), Palmeiro was always a good, solid guy but never that much of a game changer.
  • Don Mattingly: I would love to vote for Donny Baseball, but being the Captain of the Yankees just isn’t enough (well, unless you’re a NY writer).  Retired too early, not enough power for a first baseman, peaked at 25 and struggled into his 30s.

Let the comments calling me an idiot for supporting Jack Morris begin.

Pettitte was a very good pitcher… but no Hall of Famer

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Pettitte stares down another hitter. Photo noahhunt.org

Andy Pettitte‘s retirement (see my previous post for thoughts on its effect on the Yankees season) has lead to a series of inevitable posts about his Hall of Fame worthiness.  Si.com’s Joe Sheehan wrote this opinion piece after Pettitte’s retirement, saying that “Modern era of baseball demands Cooperstown find place for Pettitte.”  I won’t really go into his arguments except to say that he believed that Bert Blyleven was “wildly overqualified” for the hall, a position that I “wildly” disagree with and posted as much here about a month ago.  So its doubtful that I’d agree with his sentiments.

(Note; for the purposes of this article we will ignore the fact that Pettitte’s chances of getting voted into the hall in light of his PED usage admissions are somewhere between zero and nil anyway, and just think of his career in its merits).

So far, from what I’ve seen from the baseball columnists who have opined on the subject, there seems to be about a 50-50 split pro and con for the Hall.  Joe Lemire seems to agree with Pettitte’s own assertion that he is not Hall-worthy, Buster Olney thinks he’s a borderline candidate but th inks that he may be a Veteran’s committee inductee some day, and Jayson Stark thinks he’s not quite Hall worthy.

For me, Pettitte is NOT a Hall of Famer.  His career numbers show him to be a consistent hurler who was essentially a very good #3 pitcher on a number of very good Yankees teams.  He finishes his career with a 240-138 record, a career 3.88 era, 1.357 career whip and a 117 career ERA+.  His season-ending accomplishments include:

  • 3rd place in his Rookie of the Year voting (losing out to Marty Cordova and Garrett Anderson)
  • 5 years (out of 16) receiving Cy Young votes, though only one of those 5 years was actually meaningful in terms of the voting.  He finished 2nd to Pat Hentgen in the 1996 voting.
  • 3 all star appearances.

His enduring legacy is his post season career, where he has more appearances and more wins than any other pitcher.  He pitched in the post season in 13 of his 16 professional seasons, had 42 starts altogether, and compiled a 19-10 record with a 3.83 era and 1.304 whip.  These numbers are more or less in line with his career numbers, indicating that he was a good pitcher but not great.

I would be a stingy hall voter.  For me the qualifications of a Hall of Fame pitcher include all the analysis of career achievements, but also some semantical arguments:

  • Was the pitcher ever the best player on his team for a consistent period of time?  (no)
  • Was the pitcher a guaranteed shut-down hurler who was worth the price of admission? (no)
  • Was the pitcher regularly an all star and frequently STARTED the all star game? (no)
  • Were you, as a fan of the opposing team, ever “scared” to hear that Pettitte was going against your team? (not really).

At the bottom of Pettitte’s B-R page, his Hall of Fame Monitor score puts him at 42 .. which is better than Jack Morris but below the 50 range that generally qualifies a player as a HoFamer (this is Bill James‘ concoction and the one overall HoF score that I agree with).  But also more telling is the list of pitchers that Pettitte is most like.  Top two: David Wells, Kevin Brown. .  Ironic that these guys were also middle-of-the-rotation Yankees hurlers who gained many wins by virtue of being along for the ride on one of the best teams ever constructed (the late 1990s Yankees teams).

Bottom line; Pettitte was a good teammate and by all accounts a nice guy who made an awful lot of money in his career and goes down as one of the most decorated Yankees ever.  But he’s not one of the BEST ever.