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Predicting the 2013 End-of-Season Awards: how’d we do?

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Cabrera keeps the BBWAA in the news for the 2nd year in a row.  Photo AP via sportingnews.com

Cabrera keeps the BBWAA prominently in the news for the 2nd year in a row. Photo AP via sportingnews.com

Predictions versus Results review.  Did we go 8-for-8 in the BBWAA awards?  How about 12-for-12 including the Sporting News awards?  A tough task  (the Sporting News awards are notoriously squirrely).

Here was my 2013 Prediction post from Early October.  For some past history, here’s the 2012 version of this post, and here’s 2010 and 2011 prediction pieces as well in case you forgot who won the 2010 AL MVP (Josh Hamilton in a landslide; oh how far he has fallen).

Lets review my predictions versus the results.

American League:

  • AL MVP: Predicted Miguel Cabrera.  Actual: Cabrera.
  • AL Cy Young: Predicted Matt Scherzer.  Actual: Scherzer.
  • AL Rookie of the Year: Predicted Wil Myers.  Actual: Myers.
  • AL Mgr: Predicted Terry Francona.  Actual: Francona.
  • AL GM: Predicted Billy Beane.  Actual: Ben Cherington.
  • AL Comeback Player of the Year: Predicted Scott Kazmir.  ActualMariano Rivera.

National League:

  • NL MVP: Predicted: Andrew McCutchen.  Actual: McCutchen.
  • NL Cy Young: Predicted Clayton Kershaw.  Actual: Kershaw.
  • NL Rookie of the Year: Predicted  Jose Fernandez.  Actual: Fernandez.
  • NL Mgr: Predicted Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh.  Actual: Hurdle.
  • NL GM: Predicted Neal Huntington, Pittsburgh.  Actual: Huntington (2nd overall; best NL executive)
  • NL Comeback Player of the Year: Predicted Francisco Liriano.  Actual: Liriano.

Discussion:

  • AL MVP: Predicted Miguel Cabrera.  Actual: Cabrera.  Another year, another set of whiny posts from the ever-obstinate stat crowd about the AL MVP.  Cabrera gets first place on 23/30 ballots and cruises to victory.   I’ll say this: if you want a “best player” award that’s just driven by the WAR standings, then convince the BBWAA to create one.  A batting version of the Cy Young Award.  Oh but first you have to explain why the three WARs (Fangraphs, baseball-reference and Baseball Prospectus) don’t actually agree with each other, or why they vary so much, use different input parameters, change over time, and depend on defensive statistics that basically depend on estimates and admit they cannot measure every aspect of the game.   Until then, you have to deal with the vague definition of “valuable” and explain how someone can be the “most valuable player” on a team that finished last in its division.   In the mean-time, check out the voting; someone voted Trout SEVENTH in this race; i’m sure there’s going to be plenty of whiny posts in the baseball blogosphere about this reporter (yup, there were).
  • AL Cy Young: Predicted Matt Scherzer.  Actual: Scherzer.  Scherzer won overwhelmingly, getting 28 of 30 first place votes.  What’s more amazing is seeing who else got first place votes.  Anibal Sanchez?   Wow.  Who looked at the Detroit rotation and made the determination that Sanchez was the guy who led the line and not one of his teammates?
  • AL Rookie of the Year: Predicted Wil Myers.  Actual: Myers.   Tampa’s Wil Myers won in more or less a landslide, getting 23 of 30 first place votes.  It was a down year in the AL for rookies but Myers continues to show why the Tampa-Kansas City trade will haunt Royals fans for years to come.
  • AL Mgr: Predicted Terry Francona.  Actual: Francona.  I think the right guy won here; if you look at what Cleveland did this year with the squad they had, the accomplishment of Francona becomes even more distinct.  The vote was closer than I thought it would be (he took 16 of 30 1st place votes) over John Ferrell of Boston.  Bob Melvin gets some very deserved votes as well.  I was worried that this award would go to the Red Sox guy after their worst to first season (much like I believe the GM award was seemingly selected).
  • AL GM: Predicted Billy Beane.  ActualBen Cherington.  I completely disagree with this selection, but am somewhat irked with myself for being “talked out” of selecting Cherington by a column I read earlier this year about Beane.  Yes Cherington did an amazing job moving his malcontents and signing the players that enabled the Red Sox to win another World Series.  But honestly; how can you be the executive of the year with the 2nd or 3rd highest payroll in the game??  If Boston makes a $15M/year mistake in free agency … they just get another guy.  If a team like Tampa or Pittsburgh or Oakland makes a $15M/year mistake, it cripples them for years to come.  That’s why I feel a GM from a small market team that makes the playoffs is absolutely more deserving of this award over a major market GM, every time.
  • AL Comeback Player of the Year: Predicted Scott Kazmir.  ActualMariano Rivera.   I have no problems with this award; in fact i’m kind of mad at myself for not thinking about Rivera.  Everything about his career is amazing, and the last year, where he pitched at all-star levels after missing an entire season and being at such an advanced age just cements his legacy even more.

National League

  • NL MVP: Predicted: Andrew McCutchen.  Actual: McCutchen.   This one ended up being pretty easy to predict, an entirely narrative driven vote.  See my post on Carlos Gomez for why I say that. McCutchen got 28 of 30 first place votes, only missing out on the two St. Louis voters supporting Yadier Molina.
  • NL Cy Young: Predicted Clayton Kershaw.  Actual: Kershaw.  First place on 29 of 30 ballots, which i’m sure will touch off faux-anger articles the next day about why he wasn’t unanimous.  Our own Jordan Zimmermann got a slew of 3rd and 4th place votes (but ironically none from the local Washington writers who voted) and finished 7th overall.
  • NL Rookie of the Year: Predicted  Jose Fernandez.  Actual: Fernandez.  In a race that looked like it would be too difficult to call earlier in the season, Fernandez ended up dominating (taking 26 of 30 first place votes).  He wins over Yasiel Puig and a slew of excellent candidates.  Ironic how Shelby Miller finishes third but his fellow rookie teammate Michael Wacha was the post-season hero (and may be the more coveted player, since Miller’s name is already in trade rumors).
  • NL Mgr: Predicted Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh.  Actual: Hurdle.  This was perhaps the easiest award to predict after the NL Cy Young; Hurdle took first place on 25 of 30 ballots.
  • NL GM: Predicted Neal Huntington, Pittsburgh.  Actual: Huntington (2nd overall; best NL executive).  Huntington’s slew of moves on the trade and free agency markets over the last couple of years, combined with the team (finally?) showing some dividends from its drafting and farm system had them in the playoffs despite one of the lowest payrolls in the league.  Huntington is an easy choice for best NL executive.
  • NL Comeback Player of the Year: Predicted Francisco Liriano.  Actual: Liriano.  No surprise here: Liriano went from being fantasy waiver wire chaff to one of the best pitchers in the league this year.  How much longer can he keep this level of performance going from here?

I took out my two predicted “Firemen” of the year because, well, I have no idea if or when they’ll be announced.  The Rolaids relief man of the year award may be kaput; the website is down, they apparently havn’t announced it for 2013 despite every other post-season award having already been given out, and I wanted to post this sucker.

So in the end, I went 8/8 in major awards, 10/12 in all awards.  Not bad.  Of course, as one prominent writer pointed out, predicting the 8 main BBWAA awards this year wasn’t the hardest task in the world.   So I won’t crow too much at my own predictive capabilities this year :-)

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.

My 2013 End-of-Season award Predictions

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Clayton Kershaw may be the sole unanimous major award winner in 2013.  Photo via wiki.

Clayton Kershaw may be the sole unanimous major award winner in 2013. Photo via wiki.

This post is months in the making.  In WordPress I looked up the first revision and it was dated May 4th.  Its on at least its 50th revision.  Its crazy.  But its a fun piece to do, to kind of keep track of these awards throughout the season.  But with yesterday’s release of the top-3 candidates for each BBWAA award, I thought it was finally time to publish.  The top-3 announcement didn’t have too many surprises in it, but was eye opening for some of the also-rans in each category.

I like seeing how well I can predict these awards by reading the tea leaves of the various opinions that flow into my RSS feed (here’s 2012′s version of the same post with links to prior years).  The goal is to go 8-for-8 predicting the major awards, with an even loftier goal of going 12-for-12 adding in the unofficial Sporting News awards.  I succeeded in 8-for-8 in 2010 and 2011, but missed out last year by over-thinking the Manager of the Year award in the AL.   This year is going to be tougher; the NL Rookie award and the AL Manager of the Year award are going to be coin-flips.

Here’s links for the MLB Players of the Month, to include Player, Pitcher and Rookies of the month, though frankly these monthly awards don’t amount to much.  But they’re fun to go see who was hot and how they ended up (think Evan Gattis).

Here’s links to some mid-season award prediction columns from Tom Verducci, Matthew Pouliot and Jayson Stark.  Here’s an 8/27/13 post from Keith Law, a 9/5/13 post from Cliff Corcoran, and a 9/25/13 prediction piece from USA Today’s Frank Nightengale that may be very telling about the Cabrera/Trout debate.   Lastly a few end of season pieces from Stark, Passan, Pouliot NL and AL, Gammons, Keri, Olney, Heyman.

Lastly here’s a great Joe Posnanski piece complaining about the faults the typical BBWAA voter has in their methodology.  He touches on some themes I mention below.  Remember this is a prediction piece, not who I necessarily think should actually win.

Without further ado, here’s my predictions and thoughts on the awards (predicted winners in Blue).

  • AL MVP:  Miguel Cabrera (May’s AL player of the month) and was leading the league in nearly every offensive category through a big chunk of the season before injuries cost him a lot of September.  There’s talk of another Cabrera-Mike Trout competition for the MVP in 2013, but I think the same results will hold as in 2012.  It comes down to the simple question; how can you be the “MVP” of a last place team?  That vastly over-simplifies the debate of course, but it is what it is.  I continue to be impatient with holier-than-thou writers who ignore the BBWAA definition of the award and who think this MVP should just be a ranking of the seasonal WAR table.  This award is not (yet) the “Best Player” award, and if it was then Trout would be the easy winner.  Of the also-rans:  Chris Davis tied the AL-record for pre-All Star break homers and finished with 53, but he’s likely #3 in this race.   Rounding out my top 5 would be Josh Donaldson and  Manny Machado.  Names briefly under consideration here earlier in the season (and possible top 10 candidates) include Joe Mauer and Evan Longoria.
  • AL Cy Young: Max Scherzer started the season 13-0 and finished 21-3.  This will propel him to the award despite not being as quite as good overall as his top competition.  Yu Darvish was on pace for nearly 300 strikeouts for a while before finishing with 277 and is likely finishing #2.   Despite a losing record pitching for one of the worst teams in the league, Chris Sale pitched to a 140 ERA+ for the second season in a row and should be rewarded with a top-5 finish.  Hisashi Iwakuma has fantastic numbers in the anonymity and depression of Seattle and will also get top-5 votes.  Rounding out the top 5 could be one of many:  Clay Buchholz was unhittable in April and weathered  accusations of doctoring the baseball from the Toronto broadcast team (Jack Morris and Dirk Hayhurst specifically), but then got hurt and may fall out of the voting.   Felix Hernandez put up his typical good numbers early despite a ton of kvetching about his velocity loss early in the season, but tailed off badly in August to drop him from the race.  Anibal Sanchez‘s 17-strikeout game has him some buzz, and he led the league in both ERA and ERA+.    Matt Moore became the first young lefty to start 8-0 since Babe Ruth and somewhat quietly finished 17-4 for the game-163 winning Rays.  Lots of contenders here.  Predicted finish: Scherzer, Darvish, Iwakuma, Sale, Sanchez.
  • AL Rookie of the Year: Wil Myers may be the winner by default.  Nobody else really stands out, and the biggest off-season narrative involved Myers and the big trade, meaning that nearly every baseball fan and writer knows of Myers’ pre-MLB exploits.  Jose Iglesias put up good numbers in the Boston infield before being flipped to Detroit, and is a great candidate but most of his value resides in his defense, meaning old-school writers won’t vote for him over Myers.   Past that, the candidates are slim.  Justin Grimm‘s fill-in starts for Texas were more than adequate.  Nick Tepesch is also holding his own in Texas’ rotation.  Coner Gillaspie and Yan Gomes are in the mix.  Texas’ Martin Perez put himself in the race with a solid year and got some last-minute exposure pitching in the game-163 tie-breaker.  Leonys Martin is another Texas rookie that has quietly put up good numbers.  Myers’ Tampa Bay teammate Chris Archer could get some votes.  Predicted finish: Myers, Iglesias, Perez, Archer and Martin.
  • AL MgrJohn Ferrell in Boston for going worst to first may be the best managerial job, but Terry Franconia in Cleveland deserves a ton of credit for what he’s done with significantly less resources in Cleveland and should win the award.  Its hard to underestimate what Joe Girardi has done in New York with injuries and the media circus this year, but this award usually goes to a playoff bound team.  I’ll go Franconia, Ferrell, Girardi.
  • (Unofficial “award”): AL GM: Initially I was thinking Ben Cherington, Boston.  He traded away all those bad contracts, brought in several guys under the radar, leading to a 30 game swing in its W/L record.  Though, I agree with David Schoenfield; with Oakland’s 2nd straight AL West title it’s hard not to give this to Billy Beane.
  • (Unofficial “award”): AL Comeback Player of the Year: Nate McLouth has come back from the absolute dead for Baltimore, though technically he was decent last year too.  Josh Donaldson has come out of nowhere for Oakland, but really had nowhere to come “back” from.  John Lackey and Scott Kazmir both rebounded excellently from injury plagued seasons.  I think the winner has to be Kazmir by virtue of his slightly better record over Lackey.  Editor’s update: this award was already given and I got it wrong: Mariano Rivera won for his great 2013 comeback; I completely forgot about him.  We’ll cover the results versus my predictions in a future post.
  • (Unofficial “award”): AL Fireman of the YearGreg Holland, despite some sympathetic desire to give it to Mariano Rivera on his way out.  Joe Nathan is also in the AL discussion.  Jim Johnson is not; despite leading the league in saves for the 2nd year in a row he blew another 9 opportunities.  I hope the voters see past that.

Now for the National League:

  • NL MVP:  Andrew McCutchen is the shoe-in to win, both as a sentimental favorite for the Pirates first winning/playoff season in a generation and as the best player on a playoff team.  Clayton Kershaw‘s unbelievable season won’t net him a double, but I’m guessing he comes in 2nd in the MVP voting.  Paul Goldschmidt has become a legitimate stud this year and likely finishes 3rd behind McCutchen and Kershaw.  Rounding out the top 5 probably are two from Yadier Molina, Freddie Freeman and possibly Joey Votto as leaders from their respective playoff teams.  Also-rans who looked great for short bursts this season include the following:  Jayson Werth (who is having a career-year and making some people re-think his albatros contract),  Carlos Gomez (who leads the NL in bWAR, won the Gold glove and led the NL in DRS for centerfielders but isn’t being mentioned at all for the NL MVP: isn’t that odd considering the overwhelming Mike Trout debate??  I’ve made this case in this space to little fanfare in the past; if you are pro-Trout and are not pro-Gomez, then you’re falling victim to the same “MVP Narrative” that you are already arguing against), and maybe even Matt Carpenter (St. Louis’ real offensive leader these days).
  • NL Cy Young:  Clayton Kershaw put together his typical dominant season and won’t lose out to any of his darling competitors.  He may be the only unanimous vote of the major awards.  Marlins rookie phenom Jose Fernandez probably finishes #2 behind Kershaw before squeaking out the RoY award.   Matt Harvey was the All-Star game starter and looked like he could have unseated Kershaw, but a later season swoon and a torn UCL in late August ended his season and his chances early.  He still likely finishes #3.   Others who will get votes here and there: Jordan Zimmermann (who nearly got to 20 wins),  Adam Wainwright (who is back to Ace-form after his surgery and is put together a great season), St. Louis teammate Shelby Miller,  Patrick Corbin (Pitcher of the Month in May), Cliff Lee (who has been great for the mediocre Phillies), and perhaps even Zack Greinke (who finished 15-4; did you know he was 15-4?).  Predicted finish: Kershaw, Fernandez, Harvey, Wainwright, Corbin.
  • NL Rookie of the Year: Seems like its coming down to one of 5 candidates: Fernandez, Puig, Miller, Ryu and Teheran.  I’d probably vote them in that order.  Shelby Miller has stayed the course filling in St. Louis’ rotation and may also get Cy Young votes and seemed like the leading candidate by mid June.  Evan Gattis, the great feel-good story from the Atlanta Braves, started out white-hot but settled down in to relative mediocracy.  Tony Cingrani continued his amazing K/9 pace from the minors at the MLB level, filling in quite ably for Red’s ace Johnny Cueto but was demoted once Cueto returned and struggled with injuries down the stretch.   Didi Gregorious, more famous for being the “other” guy in the Trevor Bauer trade, has performed well.  Meanwhile don’t forget about Hyun-Jin Ryu, the South Korean sensation that has given Los Angeles a relatively fearsome frontline set of starters.  Yasiel Puig took the league by storm and hit 4 homers his first week on the job.  Jose Fernandez has made the jump from A-Ball to the Marlins rotation and has been excellent.  Julio Teheran has finally figured it out after two call-ups in the last two years and has a full season of excellent work in Atlanta’s rotation.  The question is; will narrative (Puig) win out over real performance (Fernandez)?  Tough call.
  • NL MgrClint Hurdle, Pittsburgh.  No real competition here.  Some may say Don Mattingly for going from near firing in May to a 90 win season … but can you really be manager of the year with a 250M payroll?
  • (Unofficial award) NL GMNeal Huntington, Pittsburgh.  It really has to be Huntington for pulling off the low-profile moves that have paid off with Pittsburgh’s first winning season in 20 years.  Ned Colletti‘s moves may have resulted in the best team in the league, but he has the benefit of a ridiculously large checkbook and I hope he doesn’t win as a result.
  • (Unofficial “award”): NL Comeback Player of the Year: I’d love to give this to Evan Gattis for his back story but that’s not the point of this award.  I’m thinking Carlos Gomez with Milwaukee for his massive out-of-nowhere season.  But honestly the award has to go to Francisco Liriano.  Editor’s update: this award was already given and I got it right: Liriano indeed won.
  • (Unofficial “award”): NL Fireman of the YearCraig Kimbrel, who looks to finish the year with a sub 1.00 ERA for the second year running.   Edward Mujica and Aroldis Chapman in the discussion but not really close.

 

Game 1 ALDS and Game 2 NLDS Pitching Matchup thoughts

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We’re on a roll; 5-for-5 so far in predictions for individual games.  Lets see if we can keep it going now that all four divisional series are in full swing.  Cnnsi probable pitchers are here, along with some good stats.

NLDS Game 2: Pittsburgh-St. Louis: The Pirates are going with young phenom Gerrit Cole while the Cardinals curiously are going with their least effective playoff starter in Lance Lynn.  (Side note: I thought Lynn would be left off the playoff roster by virtue of being the 5th best St Louis starter; instead it turns out the Cardinals are moving Shelby Miller to the bullpen for the playoffs, ostensibly because Miller “looked tired” down the stretch.  BS: he lowered his ERA during the month of August.  How is this not a “shutdown” of some sort, and if so where’s the righteous indignation that followed the Nats shutting down Strasburg in 2012 for a medical reason?).   Lynn pitched to a 91 ERA+ on the year, struggled for most of the season but finished strong by posting a 2.82 ERA in September (going against a bunch of also rans for the most part).  He pitches significantly better at home, perhaps one reason to get his NLDS start in now before the teams move to Pittsburgh.  Lynn has faced Pittsburgh 5 times this year, but more importantly was his last two outings against the Pirates in August.  Both times they got to him; 4 runs in 5 innings on 8/15, 7 runs in 4 innings on 8/31.

Meanwhile Pittsburgh counters with its 2nd best pitcher in Cole.  Cole’s potential and minor league pedigree are well known to prospect watchers, and his arrival to the majors was heralded as the coming of the next big thing.  Oddly though, initially Cole looked mortal; it took him 17 MLB starts before he had a scoreless outing.  Like Lynn, Cole vastly improved once September came, capped off by 7 innings of shutout ball he threw at Texas and a 6 inning/12 strikeout outing in late September.  To be fair, like Lynn Cole’s September starts were also filled with also-rans.

The Cardinals hit.  And they especially hit right-handers (best in the NL in several macro batting categories, including BA, OPS, wOBA and wRC+).  Despite my liking Cole, I have a feeling the Cards are eventually going to get to him.  Will the Pirates get to Lynn first?  I’m betting so; after last night’s beating and emotional letdown, I think the Pirates re-group and take game 2.

NLDS Game 2: Los Angeles-Atlanta: The Braves are in trouble; after getting embarassed by Clayton Kershaw last night they have to go up against a pitcher of nearly the same quality in Zack Greinke.  Greinke was hurt early, and struggled to find his form until the season was half over.  But now he’s on a roll; he hasn’t given up more than 2 runs in an outing since July 25th.  In his last 6 starts he’s given up a total of 7 runs.  The Braves are going to have a hard time scoring on him.   In Greinke’s only start against Atlanta in June, he pitched 7 shutout innings, giving up just 4 hits.  I see a similar outing tonight; perhaps 7 innings giving up 1 or 2 runs and punching out 7-8 guys.

Meanwhile, Atlanta counters with Mike Minor, who hasn’t pitched badly per se down the stretch but certainly hasn’t pitched that dominantly; Atlanta has lost his last 6 starts.  However, in two starts against LA Minor has been good.  I can see Minor holding the Dodgers at bay and getting this to the bullpens, where Atlanta has the very distinct advantage.  I’m predicting a very close Atlanta victory tonight to send it back to LA.

ALCS Game 1: Tampa-Boston: After a disastrous 2012 season, Boston is back and is set to bash their way through the playoffs with its league-best offense.  In game 1 Boston throws its ace Jon Lester, who has lowered his season ERA three quarters of a point in the last 2 months going against mostly a solid diet of playoff-calibre and AL east teams.  The Rays hit left-handers pretty well (108 wRC+) but Lester has mostly handled them in 4 match-ups this season.

Meanwhile Tampa is hampered by its two play-in games costing them their two best arms.  They start the ALDS with their #3 starter Matt Moore, no slouch himself at 17-4 with a 3.29 ERA and 116 ERA+.  However Moore is struggling down the stretch; since a fantastic 2-hit shutout in Boston in late August, Moore has finished 6 innings just one time and has had to be taken out of games early due to high pitch counts and unusual wildness (Moore leads the league this year in wild-pitches; very odd considering how well he controlled the ball in the 2011 playoffs).  Boston is just as patient a team as Tampa at the plate (they’re #1 and #4 in terms of BB% in the majors), and Boston can wait out Moore to get to Tampa’s fatigued bullpen.

All in all, I think Boston waits out Moore, gets into Tampa’s bullpen and gets a win.  Lester holds Tampa at bay and Boston takes game 1.

ALDS Game 1: Oakland-Detroit: Presumed AL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer gets the ball in game 1, going against the ageless Bartolo Colon, who at 40 may have just had his best season (his WAR for 2013 is a full 1.1 wins better than his Cy Young winning season in 2005).  Scherzer may be averaging 10 K/9, but the last time he hooked up with Oakland he got beat.  Likewise, the last time Colon faced Detroit he shut them down.  With Miguel Cabrera hurting and the Tigers offense limping into the post-season, with Scherzer oddly inconsistent down the stretch, and with Colon entering the post-season nearly unhittable (he’s given up just 4 earned runs in his last 5 starts, three of them on solo homers), I think we’re about to see an upset in game 1.  I’m going with Oakland.

 

 

MVP Races getting interesting…

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I usually don’t do post-season award analysis until, well, the post-season.  But this year the MVP races seem like they could end up being really interesting.  So lets take a look at who’s in the hunt.

The MVP candidates year in and year out generally are chosen by the voters using these criterion (fair or not):

  1. Best player on the Best teams
  2. Outstanding performances from players on non-playoff teams.
  3. Generally position players, except in a year when no position player really stands out.
  4. East Coast Bias.

I’m not going to get into an argument about whether the “MVP” means the “best player” or “most valuable” here.  I’ll leave that to the multitude of other people who can’t get over this distinction.  For me, the “MVP” still is a subjective award not entirely driven by the guy with the best WAR on the season.  There are plenty who cannot get over the fact that Mike Trout had s uch a fantastic statistical season last year and didn’t win the MVP.  Not me; I don’t see how you can be the “MVP” of a league when your team finishes 20 games out of first.

If the season ended today, your 5 playoff teams per league would be:

  • NL: Divisional Winners Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles with St. Louis and Cincinnati meeting in the wild card game.
  • AL: Divisional winners Boston, Detroit and Oakland with Tampa Bay and Texas meeting in the wild card game.

The NL playoff picture seems mostly set; the two wild card leaders have a decent lead on Arizona that seems, well not insurmountable but surprisingly strong.  The AL picture is a bit more unsettled; lots can still  happen in the AL East, and there’s three teams within 4.5 games of the wild card right now (Cleveland, Baltimore and Kansas City).  And that’s to say nothing of the Yankees, who are in the hunt but seem more of a sideshow these days than a contender.

So, using these guidelines, lets look at the leading players that are likely to be in the MVP race.  All stats are as of 8/10/13.  Per team, lets look at the “leading” player both statistically and “honorarily.”

Lets start with the NL:

  • Atlanta: Andrelton Simmons leads the team in bWAR, with almost all of it coming on the defensive side of the ball.   He’s hitting .243 and your voter base just doesn’t have an appreciation for defensive exploits just quite yet.  Justin Upton started out scorching hot and still has great stats on the year, but has cooled so significantly that I don’t believe Atlanta has an MVP candidate.  They have 4-5 really solid hitters and solid pitching driving them to their divisional title.
  • Pittsburgh: it begins and ends with Andrew McCutchen, a serious leader for the award right now.  He’s tied for the league lead in bWAR and is having an outstanding season.  Starling Marte has broken out this year but nobody denies that this is McCutchen’s team.  Pedro Alvarez leads the NL in homers but is otherwise good, but not great, in other offensive statistics.
  • Los Angeles Dodgers: Yasiel Puig leads the team’s hitters in bWAR while taking the league by storm, but he’s only slightly ahead of Hanley Ramirez, who is having a relatively quiet break through season.  But neither guy has played in half the team’s games, leaving a lot of pundits to call for Clayton Kershaw, who is tied with McCutchen for the NL lead in bWAR to get MVP votes.  While I don’t advocate this scenario, it would not surprise me to see Kershaw win the Cy Young and get a top-5 MVP finish.
  • St Louis: Yadier Molina continues to be the transcendent catcher in the NL and is the “spiritual leader” of the Cardinals, but he has gone down with injury and may be losing MVP steam.  He no longer even leads his own team in bWAR (Matt Carpenter does), but remains a good candidate.
  • Cincinnati: the obvious candidate here is Joey Votto, But something seems like Cincinnati’s scuffling as of late combined with the flashier candidates out there will lead to Votto getting votes but not the award.

Other NL Candidates to consider:

  • Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt is in the top-10 in league bWAR for the Diamondbacks, but unless this team makes a huge run to the playoffs he’s merely going to be a top-10 vote getter.
  • Milwaukee’s Carlos Gomez is tied for the league lead in bWAR, but his streakiness and his team’s place in the standings is going to make it tough for him to get anything other than a top 10 finish.
  • New York‘s David Wright is also putting together a great season, sitting in the top 10 in league bWAR almost entirely on the back of his bat (surprising given his prowness at third).  As with Gomez, the Mets position in the standings hurts him badly.  And his recent D/L trip (which seems like it may end his season) ends his chances.

My opinion of the NL voting right now: McCutchen, Kershaw, Molina, Votto, Gomez.


Over in the American league, the playoff situation may be murky, but the MVP race is pretty straight-forward.  There is a lot to shake out in terms of the playoff positions and the candidates from those teams don’t seem to stand out as much.  But as with 2012, there are two leading MVP candidates and we seem set to have the same arguments this year as last.  But lets go team by team:

  • Boston is being led by their two best players, Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia.  They are both top-10 in bWAR and are having excellent seasons.  Voters likely won’t be able to tell between them and they’ll split the vote with both guys getting top-10 MVP seasons.
  • Detroit: Is there any question?  Miguel Cabrera, who despite negative defensive bWAR is leading the AL.  Max Scherzer will get serious Cy Young consideration but not MVP votes, not with Cabrera and other candidates.
  • Oakland: Jody Donaldson has become the latest “who is that?” player that Oakland has found to drive them to a pennant in a division they have no business competing in.  But east-coast bias and lack of star-power will work against him.
  • Tampa Bay: It has to be Evan Longoria, once again, the face of the franchise.  But as with year’s past, he’s toiling in relative obscurity in front of half the fans that should be supporting a team this good.  And a lot of credit will go towards Wil Myers‘ call-up, taking away Longoria votes.
  • Texas: the story of Adrian Beltre‘s career; he’s a darn good player and nobody gives him enough credit.  Texas has shed many of its name players over the past few seasons, but Beltre continues to provide great value on both sides of the ball.  The transcendant player on Texas this year is Yu Darvish, who will struggle in the Cy Young race (subject of anohter post).

Other AL Candidates to consider:

  • Baltimore may very well sneak into a WC slot as they did last year, entirely on the backs of two guys.  Chris Davis is having a great power season while Manny Machado is having a historic 20-year old season in general.  Both guys have top-10 bWAR seasons and, as with the Boston guys, may split votes here.  Machado in particular looks like he’s already put himself in the “Trout-Harper” discussion for most transcendent young player in the game.
  • Los Angeles Angels: Here we go again.  Mike Trout has put “sophomore slump” naysayers to shame, posting as good or better numbers across the board in 2013.  Interestingly, Trout’s defensive component in 2013 is significantly hurting him whereas in 2012 it gave him a huge boost; his defensive component in bWAR is actually *negative* for 2013.  A topic for another day, the ridiculous swings we see in defensive advanced stats.  In any case, as with 2012 I think Trout’s team’s underperforming will hurt him and he will lose out again.  It is what it is.

My opinion of the AL voting right now: Cabrera, Trout, and then I have no idea.  Right now I’d probably go Machado, Ellsbury and Davis.

 


There’s still a lot of season to go, so lots could still happen. But I’m putting early markers on McCutchen and Cabrera. Both well deserved.

More R.A. Dickey Animated Gifs

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R.A. Dickey throwing another knockler. Photo via wiki/flickr user dbking

R.A. Dickey throwing another knockler. Photo via wiki/flickr user dbking

A few months ago I posted a Youtube video showing a Catcher’s point-of-view look at R.A. Dickey‘s knuckle ball coming in.

Here’s a couple more cool graphics that have popped up on various blogs that I read.

  •  From imgur/r/baseball, an animated Gif of Dickey’s knuckler as it travels to the plate.  Done by the same fellow @DShep25 who did similar Gifs of Yu Darvish‘s repertoire and of Miguel Cabrera‘s ability to hit homers from any point in terms of plate coverage.  (h/t to BusinessInsider blog).
  • And here’s a story to go with the above images from the author himself, Drew Shephard on fangraphs.com.

Still amazing that his 2013 numbers are so bad right now (6-8, 4.90 ERA, 1.388 whip, all significantly worse than his Cy Young numbers from last year).  The Blue Jays are only 6-9 in his starts, a big reason why they’re in last place in the AL East right now.

And then, since its related to these cool graphics, here’s a study (again from BusinessInsider’s Sports blog) about the Physics of a Curve Ball.  Its no wonder Dickey reportedly didn’t even travel with the team when they went to Colorado; he knew his pitches wouldn’t have any movement.

Written by Todd Boss

June 20th, 2013 at 12:26 pm

Ask Boswell 5/13/13 edition

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Zimmerman keeps making news for the wrong reasons. Photo AP via tbd.com

I was out all last week, hence the radio silence here.  I couldn’t help posting yesterday though about the Nats blowing another excellent start.  So lets get back into the swing of things with another episode of Tom Boswell‘s weekly chats, this one for 5/13/13.  As always I write my response here before reading his, and sometimes edit questions for clarity.

Q: With the technology we have today, do we really need umpires anymore?

A: You know, the answer is probably “Yes, we could replace Umps with robots” and have a better product on the field … but the implementation details seem so difficult that I doubt it ever really fully happens.  You have to have real people on the field to deal with all the randomness that occurs in baseball games.  I think the best eventual solution will be to have challenge systems put in place like we have with Football, only hopefully done much much faster.  Sort of like the NHL’s New York-office based replay officials.  The strike zone issues we’re seeing lately though are troubling; can you automate a strike zone call with players who move and bend over in mid-swing?  How do you establish a strike zone for these guys?  Inside and outside are no problem, but up/down is tough.  Boswell supports robot strike zones.

Q: If Harper had been just a normal everyday player, coming up through the system, would that swing of his — namely the left foot coming up and the seemingly wild attack at the ball — have been beaten out of him by now by the coaches?

A: Not necessarily.  But if Bryce Harper had been a “normal” prospect instead of an uber-prospect then I think he would have had adjustments pushed onto him.  There have been successful players with that trailing foot off the ground; Frank Thomas and Roberto Clemente come to mind.  I always have a pet peeve personally when I see a  hitter who lifts his back leg; I have the same issue in my own swing and was told by a high school coach that it was a flaw.  Well, I don’t think guys like Clemente and Thomas were flawed hitters.  I think it is what it is; if you feel comfortable hitting off your front foot and are successful, then so be it.  Boswell notes Clemente and a few others who have this trait, and agrees with me that it’s an overstated issue.

Q: Is this the breakout season for Jordan Zimmermann? Is it the changeup? I’ve never seen him look so in control out there.

A: Can it be as simple as Jordan Zimmermann has finally fully recovered from Tommy John surgery?  Fangraphs shows pretty consistent frequencies and speeds of his pitches from last year to this year.   One thing that jumps out for me right now is his very low BABIP (.209 so far this year).  That smells like some regression.  So while he can’t sustain his ridiculous numbers (1.59 ERA through 7 starts), he does seem to be on track for a very good season.  Cy Young capable?  With his current W/L streak and peripherals, he may pitch his way into the conversation.  Boswell notes that Zimmermann would have been in top 10 of league ERA last year with a few more IP, and that poor run support has cost him wins for years … so this all likely is Zimmermann finally getting the full package.

Q: How concerned are the Nats about Zimmerman’s shoulder?

A: Can’t speak for the team, but is anyone happy with Ryan Zimmerman‘s throwing issues right now?  Nothing has changed from what I wrote in Mid-April about the situation.  And I don’t know what the team is going to do with him.  Jon Heyman quoted an anonymous competing Front Office executive after Zimmerman signed his big deal that the Nationals “now have two $100M contracts but no $100M players.”  It pissed me off at the time … but is really hard to argue against now.  Will these contracts hamper this team’s development and/or ability to sign all its players in a few years time?  We’ll see.   Boswell mirrors what i’ve written before; the team has no place to put Zimmerman and they have to just ride it out.

Q: Drew Storen looks like a different pitcher this year. ERA is up to 4.73, and for the first year since his debut I’m nervous when he takes the mound. What gives?

A: A great question.  Others here have predicted that Drew Storen may be demoted this season due to performance.  His blowing of the Gonzalez gem was just one more nail in his coffin.  But a look at the stats shows that he’s basically been unlucky so far this year.  Most of his peripherals are improved in 2013 over last year; his K/9 is up, BB/9 is down.  His BABIP is incredibly high right now (.370).  Despite an ugly ERA his fip/xfip numbers are normal and low.   His velocity is a tick lower this year but not appreciably so.  I think he’s just been unlucky and will improve with more innings as he regresses downwards to the expected mean.  The one thing stats can’t measure though is his mentality; is he “depressed” because he’s not the closer?  Any way you spin it, the acquisition of Rafael Soriano represented a “demotion” for Storen, and it comes on the back of a pretty demoralizing NLCS game 5 meltdown last year where Storen single handedly lost the series for a team that most thought was the best in the game.  Boswell says his stuff is still “plenty good” but that he’s screwing around with too many pitches in his outings, relying on his sinker too much.  He needs to just go after hitters.  I agree; young guys have a tendency to nibble and work backwards if they’re too clever (see Bauer, Trevor) and need to listen to their pitching coaches.

Q: When errors occur or a bad call is made, Strasburg appears to have a difficult time making the necessary pitches to get out of an inning. Is this just an example of him being 24 and still learning or is there a bigger long term issue?

A: Great question again (lots of good ones here).  We’ve all played behind pitchers who lost their composure when a simple error occurs behind them (in adult leagues, this pretty much happens on every other ground ball, so you have to learn to go with it).  Stephen Strasburg‘s mental breakdown after Zimmerman’s latest throwing error, leading to 4 unearned runs and a loss in a game where I thought perhaps he had no-hitter stuff, was really disappointing.  Is it him being young and immature?  Could be, though I have never gotten the impression that Strasburg ran on the immature side.  How can you, when you have so much career hype?  But the evidence speaks for itself; when your manager and your catcher call you out in the press for losing your composure, you have some work to do.  Boswell posted a fantastic stat; 15% of Strasburg’s career runs allowed were unearned, twice what Justin Verlander has allowed in his career.  That’s incredibly telling.  Strasburg needs to work on his mental approach after bad things happen behind him.

Q: So Bryce has cooled off some, but what concerns me more is that even when he was scalding hot, he was hitting LHP. Should we be concerned? His OPS against LHP is .502.

A: I’m not concerned about Harper’s Lefty split, since nearly every left-handed batter in the game has a bad lefty split.  He looked downright awful against lefties in 2012 (highlighted by his 5-K game against Andy Pettitte and the Yankees), but has made adjustments.  Now it seems that the league has re-adjusted, so Harper needs to re-adjust.  So far in his young career, Harper has shown how well he adjusts (he’s years above his age in this regard), so I have confidence he’ll be ok.  Boswell prints some great numbers so far for Harper and says he’ll be ok.

Q: I recently read two articles that said that sabermetics considers a strikout to be no better or worse than any other out. This fact does not seem to make sense because missing the ball completely with two strikes eliminates any chance for productive outs, for foul balls leading to another chance, or reaching base due to normal batting average on balls in play. Also, psychologically, a strikeout has to be more deflating to the individual and team than another out.  Thoughts?

A: There’s a weird dichotomy in sabremetrics in this regard: batter K’s are “not that bad” but Pitcher K’s are what everyone strives for.  Doesn’t this seem at odds with itself?  The only reason I can think that a K is “ok” if you’re going to make an out is if it somehow prevents a double play.  But this is a research-worthy topic.  I also heard a great stat on a podcast; 3 players struck out 40 or more times in April of this year (if memory serves it was Jay Bruce, Chris Carter, and Mike Napoli).  Joe DiMaggio didn’t strike out 40 times in a season his whole career.  The league is just different now.  Boswell doesn’t really say much on the question other than the DP angle.

Q: Yesterday’s game was as strong an argument as I could make for the National League to use the Designated Hitter. Gio should have been allowed to finish the game with his low pitch count and excellent throwing, but he was pulled for a batter (who did nothing). Forget tradition! If we had the DH, we could have kept Michael Morse! And we probably would have won yesterday.

A: A good ancillary point to my rant on Gio Gonzalez‘ replacement the other night.  I support a DH across both leagues and posted many good reasons in this space in March 2013.  No reason to repeat them here, but this question goes to points #2 and #4 in my March post (fan experience and NL pitcher’s getting limited).  Boswell talks about the Gio decision and not really about the DH.

Q: Is Zim still among to the top 5 or top 10 3rd baseman in the majors in your opinion?

A: Interesting question.  A quick glance at the Third Basemen on depth charts around the league leads to this list of players who I would take right now over Zimmerman: Miguel Cabrera, Evan Longoria, Adrian Beltre, David Wright, and maybe even Chase Headley or David Frese. Now counting contract status/potential at this point given Zimmerman’s money owed and his declining performance on both sides of the ball, I’d think hard about Manny Machado, Bret Lawrie, Todd Frazier, Nolan Arenado, Pedro Alvarez and Pablo Sandoval.   Of course, potential is potential and Zimmerman already has a long list of accomplishments in this game, so on the whole of his career i’d put him just behind Wright in the above list.  So yeah I think its safe to say he’s a top 5 third baseman right now.  Ironically in my Yahoo Fantasy list, he’s also #5 and listed exactly behind the four guys in that upper grouping, in that exact order.  Boswell says no, not defensively.  But i’m not sure that’s entirely how you judge players these days.  Cabrera isn’t exactly a gold glover at third but would anyone say he’s not the “Best Third Baseman” in the game?

Q: No doubt that Jayson Werth is a phenomenal locker room presence and his home run in the playoffs last year was one of the highlights of the year, but he missed half the season last year and is on the DL now. He turns 34 next Monday and the Nats have him on contract for 4 more years. What do you think they can legitimately expect from him?

A: I think you expect Jayson Werth to contribute in the same ways he did in 2012; around a 125 OPS+ with some power and a lot of OBP.  Eventually he moves to left field, where he should be a excellent defender in the latter years of his contract.  It is what it is: the Nats paid him for his four years of unbelievable offense in Philadelphia, and he’ll be lucky to get back to that level in his mid 30s.  Boswell agrees.

Q: Is Denard Span the best centerfielder we’ve had since Clyde Milan? I don’t recall seeing a smoother Washington centerfielder.

A: Easily the best “all around” player to play center since the team moved here.  I’d probably argue that Rick Ankiel was better defensively and clearly had a better arm, but Denard Span‘s consistency at the plate gives him the easy nod overall.  Can’t speak to years prior to 2005.  Boswell agrees and signs off.

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.

Stats Discussion Part I: What’s wrong with Wins and RBI?

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Cabrera's MVP award was thought to be on the backs of "bad stats." Is this a bad thing in general? Photo AP via sportingnews.com

(First Article in a series discussing Baseball Statistics that I mostly wrote months ago and was waiting for downtime to post.  As it happens, the posts that I have in the can for months on end tend to get rather bloated; this one is > 3000 words.  Apologies in advance if you think that’s, well, excessive).

(Note: a good starting point/inspiration for this series was a post from February 2012 on ESPN-W by Amanda Rykoff, discussing some of the stats used in the movie Moneyball.  Some of the stats we’re discussing in the next few posts are covered in her article).

The more you read modern baseball writing, the more frequently you see the inclusion of “modern” baseball statistics interspersed in sentences, without definition or explanation, which are thus used to prove whatever point the writer is making.   Thus, more and more you need a glossary in order to read the more Sabr-tinged articles out there.  At the same time, these same writers are hounding the “conventional” statistics that have defined the sport for its first 100 years and patently ridiculing those writers that dare use statistics like the RBI and (especially as of late) the pitcher Win in order to state an opinion.  This is an important trend change in Baseball, since these modern statistics more and more are used by writers to vote upon year ending (and career defining) awards, and as these writers mature they pour into the BBWAA ranks who vote upon the ultimate “award” in the sport; enshrinement into the Hall of Fame.

This year’s AL MVP race largely came down to the issue of writers using “old-school” stats to value a player (favoring Miguel Cabrera and his triple-crown exploits) versus “new-school” stats to value a player (favoring Mike Trout, who may not have as many counting stats but has put in a historical season in terms of WAR).  And as we saw, the debate was loud, less-than-cordial, and merely is exacerbating a growing divide between older and newer writers.  This same argument is now seen in the Hall of Fame voting, and has gotten so derisive that there are now writers who are refusing to vote for anyone but their old-school stat driven pet candidates as a petulant reaction to new-school writers who can’t see the forest for the trees in some senses.

A good number of the stats that have defined baseball for the past 100 years are still considered “ok,” within context.  Any of the “counting stats” in the sport say what they say; how many X’s did player N hit in a season?  Adam Dunn hit 41 homers in 2012, good for 5th in the league.  That’s great; without context you’d say he’s having a good, powerful season.  However you look deeper and realize he hit .204, he didn’t even slug .500 with all these homers and he struck out at more than a 40% clip of his plate appearances.  And then you understand that perhaps home-runs by themselves aren’t the best indicators of a player’s value or a status of his season.

Lets start this series of posts with this topic:

What’s wrong with the “old school” baseball stats?

Most old school stats are “counting” stats, and they are what they are.  So we won’t talk about things like R, H, 2B, 3B, HR, BB, K, SB/CS.  There’s context when you look at some these numbers combined together, or if you look at these numbers divided by games or at-bats (to get a feel for how often a player hits a home run or steals a base or strikes out a guy).  In fact, K/9, BB/9 and K/BB ratios are some of my favorite quick evaluator statistics to use, especially when looking at minor league arms.  But there are some specific complaints about a few of the very well known stats out there.  Lets discuss.

1. Runs Batted In (RBI).   Or as some Sabr-critics now say it, “Really Bad Stat.”   The criticism of the RBI is well summarized at its Wiki page; it is perceived more as a measure of the quality of the lineup directly preceeding a hitter than it is a measure of the value of the hitter himself.  If you have a bunch of high OBP guys hitting in front of you, you’re going to get more RBIs no matter what you do yourself.  Another criticism of the stat is stated slightly differently; a hitter also benefits directly from his positioning in the lineup.  A #5 hitter hitting behind a powerful #4 hitter will have fewer RBI opportunities (in theory), since the #4 hitter should be cleaning up (no pun intended) the base-runners with power shots.  Likewise, a lead-off hitter absolutely has fewer RBI opportunitites than anyone else on the team; he leads-off games with nobody on base, and hits behind the weakest two hitters in the lineup every other time to bat.

I’m not going to vehemently argue for the RBI (the points above are inarguable).  But I will say this; statistical people may not place value on the RBI, but players absolutely do.  Buster Olney touched on this with an interesting piece in September that basically confirms this;  if you ask major leaguers whether RBIs are important you’ll get an across-the-board affirmative.  Guys get on base all the time; there’s absolutely skill and value involved in driving runners home.  Guy on 3rd with one out?  You hit a fly ball or a purposefully hit grounder to 2nd base and you drive in that run.  Players absolutely modify the way that they swing in these situations in order to drive in that run.  And thus RBI is really the only way you can account for such a situation.  The Runs Created statistics (the original RC plus the wRC stats) don’t account for this type of situation at all; it only measures based on hits and at-bats.

(As a side-effect, the statistic Ground-into Double Plays has a similar limitation to RBI: it really just measures how many batters were ahead of you on base as opposed to a hitter’s ability to avoid hitting into them.  But thankfully GIDP isn’t widely used anywhere).

2. Batting Average (BA): The isolated Batting Average is considered a “limited” stat because it measures a very broad hitting capability without giving much context to what that hitter is contributing to the end goal (that being to score runs).  A single is treated the same as a home run in batting average, despite there being a huge difference between these two “hits” in terms of creating runs.  This is exemplified as follows: would you rather have a .330 hitter who had zero home runs on the season, or a .270 hitter who hit 30 home runs?   Absolutely the latter; he’s scoring more runs himself, he’s driving in more runs for the team, and most likely by virtue of his power-capability he’s drawing more walks than the slap hitting .330 hitter.  More properly stated, the latter hitter in this scenario is likely to be “creating more runs” for his team.

Statistical studiers of the game learned this limitation early on, and thus created two statistics that need to go hand in hand with the Batting Average; the On-Base Percentage (OBP) and the Slugging Percentage (SLG). This is why you almost always see the “slash line” represented for hitters; to provide this context.  But, be careful REPLACING the batting average with these two numbers (or the OPS figure, which represents On-Base percentage + Slugging).  Why?  Because Batting Average usually comprises about 80% of a players On base percentage.  Even the highest walk guys (guys like Adam Dunn or Joey Votto) only have their walk totals comprising 17-18% of their OBP.  If you sort the league by OBP and then sort it by BA, the league leaders are almost always the same (albeit slightly jumbled).  So the lesson is thus; if someone says that “Batting Average is a bad stat” but then says that “OBP is a good stat,” I’d question their logic.

Lots of people like to use the statistic OPS (OBP+SLG) as a quick, shorthand way of combing all of these stats.  The caveat to this is thus; is a “point” of on-base percentage equal to a “point” of slugging?  No, it is not; the slugging On Base Percentage point is worth more because of what it represents.  Per the correction provided in the comments, 1.7 times more.

Coincidentally, all of the limitations of BA are attempted to be fixed in the wOBA, which we’ll discuss in part 2 of this series.

3. ERA: Earned Run Average.  Most baseball fans know how to calculate ERA (earned runs per 9 innings divided by innings pitched), and regularly refer to it when talking about pitchers.  So what’s wrong with ERA?

Specifically, ERA has trouble with situations involving inherited runners.  If a starter leaves a couple guys on base and a reliever allows them to score, two things happen:

  • those runs are charged to the starter, artifically inflating his ERA after he’s left the game.
  • those runs are NOT charged to the reliever, which artificially lowers his ERA despite his giving up hits that lead to runs.

ERA is also very ball park and defense dependent; if you pitch in a hitter’s park (Coors, Fenway, etc) your ERA is inflated versus those who pitch in pitcher parks (Petco, ATT).  Lastly, a poor defense will lead to higher ERAs just by virtue of balls that normally would be turned into outs becoming hits that lead to more runs.  Both these issues are addressed in “fielder independent” pitching stats (namely FIP), which are discussed in part III of this series.

A lesser issue with ERA is the fact that it is so era-dependent.  League Average ERAs started incredibly high in the game’s origin, then plummetted during the dead ball era, rose through the 40s and 50s, bottomed out in the late 60s, rose slightly and then exponentially during the PED era and now are falling again as more emphasis is placed on power arms and small-ball.  So how do you compare pitchers of different eras?  The ERA+ statistic is great for this; it measures a pitcher’s ERA indexed to his peers; a pitcher with an 110 ERA+ means that his ERA was roughly 10% better than the league average that particular year.

4. Pitcher Wins.  The much maligned “Win” statistic’s limitations are pretty obvious to most baseball fans and can be stated relatively simply; the guy who gets the “Win” is not always the guy who most deserves it.  We’ve all seen games where a pitcher goes 7 strong innings but his offense gives him no runs, only to have some reliever throw a 1/3 of an inning and get the Win.  Meanwhile, pitchers get wins all the time when they’ve pitched relatively poorly but their offense explodes and gives the starter a big lead that he can’t squander.

Those two sentences are the essence of the issue with Wins; to win a baseball game requires both pitching AND offense, and a pitcher can only control one of them (and his “control” of the game is lost as soon as the ball enters play; he is dependent on his defense to get a large majority of his outs, usually 60% or more even for a big strike out pitcher).  So what value does a statistic have that only measures less than 50% of a game’s outcome?

The caveat to Wins is that, over the long run of a player’s career, the lucky wins and unlucky loseses usually average out.  One year a guy may have a .500 record but pitch great, the next year he may go 18-3 despite an ERA in the mid 4.00s.  I have to admit; I still think a “20-game winner” is exciting, and I still think 300 wins is a great hall-of-fame benchmark.  Why?  Because by and large wins do end up mirroring a pitcher’s performance over the course of a year or a career.  The downside is; with today’s advances in pitcher metrics (to be discussed in part III of this series), we no longer have to depend on such an inaccurate statistic to determine how “good” a pitcher is.

Luckily the de-emphasis of Wins has entered the mainstream, and writers (especially those who vote for the end-of-year awards) have begun to understand that a 20-game winner may not necessarily be the best pitcher that year.  This was completely evident in 2010, when Felix Hernandez won the Cy Young award despite going just 13-12 for his team.  His 2010 game log is amazing: Six times he pitched 7 or more innings and gave up 1 or fewer runs and got a No Decision, and in nearly half his starts he still had a “quality start” (which we’ll talk about below briefly).  A more recent example is Cliff Lee‘s 2012 performance, where he didn’t get a win until July, getting 8 no-decisions and 5 losses in his first 13 starts.  For the year he finished 6-9 with a 3.16 ERA and a 127 ERA+.  Clearly Lee is a better pitcher than his W/L record indicates.

(Coincidentally, I did a study to try to “fix” pitcher wins by assigning the Win to the pitcher who had the greatest Win Percentage Added (WPA).  But about 10 games into this analysis I found a game in April of 2012 that made so little sense in terms of the WPA figures assigned that I gave up.  We’ll talk about WPA in part 4 of this series when talking about WAR, VORP and other player valuation stats).

5. Quality Starts (QS) Quality Starts aren’t exactly a long standing traditional stat, but I bring them up because of the ubiquitous nature of the statistic.  It is defined simply as a start by a pitcher who pitches 6 or more innings and who gives up 3 or less earned runs.   But immediately we see some issues:

  1. 6 IP and 3 ER is a 4.50 ERA, not entirely a “quality” ERA for a starter.  In fact, a starter with a 4.50 ERA in 2012 would rank  him 74th out of 92 qualified starters.
  2. If a pitcher pitches 8 or 9 complete innings but gives up a 4th earned run, he does not get credit for the quality start by virtue of giving up the extra run, despite (in the case of a 9ip complete game giving up 4 earned runs) the possibility of actually having a BETTER single game ERA than the QS statistic defaults to.

Why bring up QS at all?  Because ironically, despite the limitations of the statistic, a quality start is a pretty decent indicator of a pitcher’s performance in larger sample sizes.  Believe it or not, most of the time a quality start occurs, the pitcher (and the team) gets the win.  Take our own Gio Gonzalez in 2012; he had 32 starts and had 22 quality starts.  His record? 21-8.  Why does it work out this way?  Because most pitchers, when you look at their splits in Wins versus Losses, have lights out stuff in wins and get bombed during losses.  Gonzalez’s ERA in wins, losses and no-decisions (in order): 2.03, 5.00 and 4.32.  And, in the long run, most offenses, if they score 5 or more runs, get wins.  So your starter gives up 3 or fewer runs, hands things over to a bullpen that keeps the game close, your offense averages 4 runs and change … and it adds up to a win.

I used to keep track of what I called “Real Quality Starts (rQS)” which I defined as 6 or more IP with 2 or fewer earned runs, with allowances for a third earned run if the pitcher pitched anything beyond the 6 full innings.  But in the end, for all the reasons mentioned in the previous paragraph, this wasn’t worth the effort because by and large a QS and a rQS both usually ended up with a Win.

6. Holds: A “hold” has a very similar definition as the Save, and thus has the same limitations as the Save (discussed in a moment).  There was a game earlier this season that most highlights the issues with holds, as discussed in this 9/21/12 post on the blog Hardball Times.  Simply put; a reliever can pitch pretty poorly but still “earn” a hold.

Holds were created as a counting stat in the mid 1980s in order to have some way to measure the effectiveness of middle relievers.  Closers have saves, but middle-relief guys had nothing.  The problem is; the hold is a pretty bad statistic.  It has most of the issues of the Save, which we’ll dive into last.

7. Saves. I have “saved” the most preposterous statistic for last; the Save.  The definition of a Save includes 3 conditions that a reliever must meet; He finishes a game but is not the winning pitcher, gets at least one out, and meets certain criteria in terms of how close the game is or how long he pitches.  The problem is that the typical “save situation” is not really that taxing on the reliever; what pitcher can’t manage to protect a 3 run lead when given the ball at the top of the ninth inning?  You can give up 2 runs, still finish the game, have a projected ERA of 18.00 for the outing and still get the save.  Ridiculous.  And that’s nothing compared to the odd situation where a reliever can pitch the final 3 innings of a game, irrespective of the score, and still earn a save.  In the biggest blow-out win of the last 30 years or so (the Texas 30-3 win over Baltimore in 2007), Texas reliever Wes Littleton got a save.  Check out the box score.

I wrote at length about the issue with Saves in this space in March of 2011, and Joe Posnanski wrote the defining piece criticising Saves and the use of closers in November 2010.  Posnanski’s piece is fascinating; my biggest takeaway from it is that teams are historically winning games at the exact same rate now (with specialized setup men and closers) that they were winning in the 1950s (where you had starters and mop-up guys).

I think perhaps the most ridiculous side effect of the Save is how engrained in baseball management it has become.  Relievers absolutely want Saves because they’re valued as counting numbers they can utilize at arbitration and free agency hearings to command more salary (I touched on in a blog post about playing golf with Tyler Clippard this fall; he absolutely wanted to be the closer because it means more money for him in arbitration).  Meanwhile, there are managers out there who inexplicably leave their closer (often their best reliever, certainly their highest paid) out of tie games in late innings because … wait for it … its not a save situation.  How ridiculous is it that a statistic now alters the way some managers handle their bullpens?

What is the solution?  I think there’s absolutely value in trying to measure a high leverage relief situation, a “true save” or a “hard save.”  Just off the top of my head, i’d define the rules as this:

  • there can only be a one-run lead if the reliever enters at the top of an inning
  • if the reliever enters in the middle of an inning, the tying run has to at least be on base.
  • the reliever cannot give up a run or allow an inherited run to score.

Now THAT would be a save.  Per the wikipedia page on the Save, Rolaids started tracking a “tough save” back in 2000, and uses it to help award its “Fireman of the Year” award, but searching online shows that the stats are out of date (they’re dated 9/29/11, indicating that either they only calculate the Tough Saves annually, or they’ve stopped doing it.  Most likely the former frankly).


Phew.  With so many limitations of the stats that have defined Baseball for more than a century, its no surprise that a stat-wave has occurred in our sport.  Smart people looking for better ways to measure pitchers and batters and players.

Next up is a look at some of the new-fangled hitting stats we see mentioned in a lot of modern baseball writing.

Jack Morris, Statistics and the meaning of the Hall of Fame

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

(coincidentally, this is the exact same picture and exact same caption as I used last year.  Nothing w/r/t Morris has changed).

Every year about this time comes the inevitable Jack Morris battles when it comes to deciding whether or not he’s a Hall-of-Famer.  Those who argue against him (and argue they do, rather loudly, as exemplified by writers such as David Schoenfield, Rob Neyer, and Joe Posnanski and easily found at nearly any baseball blog, almost all of which are extremely anti-Morris) typically point at Morris’ career ERA, his ERA+, his career WAR and then argue that he was actually a mediocre pitcher.  They have all sorts of arguments against “pitching to score” and even make arguments that middling starters from the 90s are actually “better” than Morris.

My one overriding opinion on the whole “Hall of Fame” worthiness argument is that the stat-inclined seem to be missing the whole point of the “Hall of Fame.”  It isn’t defined as the “Hall of the Best  Statistically Significant players above some arbitrary benchmark.”  If it were, then arguments comparing Morris to Rick Reushel or Brad Radke (both of whom have higher career WARs than Morris) would be important.  (side note: Ironically, this is the same distinction that these people generally also miss when talking about the “Most Valuable Player” award; it isn’t the “Best Player” its the “Most Valuable,” and therefore you can’t just give me a gazillion stats that tell me why Mike Trout had a better season than Miguel Cabrera and call me an idiot for saying that Cabrera was the MVP this year.  How can you be the MVP of a 3rd place team that would have still been a 3rd place team with or without you?  How can you be the “most valuable” player in the league but have zero impact on your team’s standings or the playoffs?  But I digress).

No; its the Hall of FAME (emphasis mine).  It should be the Hall of the most FAMOUS people in the game’s history.  And inarguably Jack Morris is more famous than either Reushel or Radke (since these two pitchers are often used in comparison).  And since its baseball writers themselves that a) remember Morris as being better and more famous than he was according to specific career-measuring stats like WAR, and b) do the voting themselves, its likely that Morris may very well get into Cooperstown despite other people feeling that he’s a lesser pitcher.  Its why a pitcher like Catfish Hunter has been elected already, despite his having even worse career numbers (in the sabre-slanted statistical categories that the new-wave know-it-all bloggers constantly refer to) than Morris.  I can’t recall ever reading one single article talking about how bad it is that Hunter is in the hall of fame, but it seems that EVERY single baseball blogger and columnist out there under the age of 30 has written multiple times about how its the death of the legitimacy of the Hall of Fame if Morris makes it in.  I just don’t get it.

A lot of these arguments seem to be driven by one stat: Career WAR.  People look at that one overriding stat and make their arguments.  My biggest problem with career WAR is its “accumulator nature.”  It rewards a healthy, mediocre pitcher who makes a ton of starts and accumulates a ton of strikeouts and wins and innings pitched. Meanwhile a better pitcher with a higher peak who ends his career earlier won’t “score” as high in career WAR.

The two pitchers in particular i’m looking at in the above paragraph are Bert Blyleven (career bWAR of 89.3) and Pedro Martinez (career bWAR of 80.5).  There is not one person in their right mind that would say with a straight face that Blyleven was a “better” pitcher than Martinez.  But, if you look at the WAR without context you’d argue that was the case.

Blyleven during his career, for those of us actually old enough to have seen him play, was a mediocre pitcher.  Plain and simple.  In 22 seasons he made 3 All Star teams and received Cy Young votes only 4 times, never coming close to sniffing the award.  Morris on the other hand, received Cy Young votes in 7 of his 18 seasons and started the All Star game 3 times.  Morris STARTED more all-star games than Blyleven ever made.  Blyleven was traded for relative nobodies a number of times in his career, and the prevailing press of the day referred to him as a middling pitcher.  Only after he’s retired, when we “discovered” statistics like ERA+ and FIP and realized he was better than his numbers at the time indicated did we make the push for him into the HoF.

Why do I point out All Star appearances and Cy Young voting?  Because in the context of the Hall of Fame discussion, they’re important.  You can quibble about the meaning of all star appearances (certainly they’ve been diluted in the last 20 years) and cy young votes all you want, but the fact is this: if you REALLY want to know who the writers felt were the best players of their day, then all star appearances and Cy Young/MVP voting is vitally important.

But here’s my main point: why can’t the Hall recognize BOTH the likes of Blyleven (better than people realized at the time) AND also recognize Morris (overrated statistically but still historically significant and thus “famous” enough for enshrinement)?  Why do people devote so much time towards disparaging the case for Morris?  Yes, Morris gets undue credit for his fantastic 1991 World Series Start, for leading the 1984 Tigers, for leading the 1980s in Wins.   If you ask any player or manager in the game at the time, they’d likely tell you Morris was one of the best.   But these are all the same aspects that make him “Famous” and thus a likely candidate for the Hall of FAME.  These are the same reasons why a fine pitcher like Curt Schilling, who also was part of some iconic moments in the game’s history, also should be in Cooperstown (in my opinion).

I just feel like the nature of sports writing has come to the point where people use statistical measures as the be-all, end-all proof of everything in baseball.  And then they forget that the game is played by humans, that there are ALWAYS some things that cannot be measured, and just because some statistic has been cheapened in today’s game (I’m thinking of the pitcher Win) does not mean it was always cheapened.  I know there’s people out there who wrote doctoral thesises about how Morris never “pitched to score.”  But how do you measure a pitcher who knows he’s gotta go 9 innings, who knows he’s not getting pulled in the 6th inning for a lefty-on-lefty matchup, who knows he’s more likely to throw 160 pitches than 95?  I absolutely think there’s something in the “pitching to score” arguments, if only because I have played with pitchers who absolutely would coast through games when they got a lead, or who would “take innings off” against in order to preserve their arm to go 9 full innings.  Unless you had a biometric measure on every single pitch Jack Morris ever threw, correlated to the weather, the score, his team’s bullpen status and his manager’s whims, you can NOT tell me that Morris did or did not pitch to score, let up with a big lead, or cruise through innings knowing he may have to go 9 on a 100 degree day.  Just because you can’t prove something mathematically doesn’t mean it still doesn’t exist.  Tom Verducci did an excellent piece recently on Morris and his innings pitched and complete games in context, somewhat related to this topic.

Morris comes from a transitionary time in baseball, before specialized relief pitchers, before the power of the 90s and before PEDs.  He comes from a time severely under-represented in the Hall (think of players like Dale Murphy, Alan Trammell, Denny MartinezOrel Hershiser and Bret Saberhagen: these were the stars of the 80s and some of them barely got 2% of the HoF vote), a side-effect of the ridiculously talented players we saw in the 90s and thus victims of the inevitable comparisons, falling wanting.  He holds an important place in the history of the game, in the narrative of the 1980s, and of the fantastic 1991 World Series.  Cooperstown is a museum, not a spreadsheet.

Call me ignorant, call me old school.  Whatever.  Maybe I’m just tired of the negative rhetoric.  I say “Elect Jack Morris.”