Monday, August 18, 2014

2014: COMPLETE GAMES #83, #84

We were spared two more "cheap CGs" when the San Francisco Giants' protest was upheld and their 8/19 contest with the Cubs was "recategorized" into a suspended game.

Everyone in the Bass family is
"O-fer" vs. Rick Porcello...
Clayton Kershaw's fifth CG of 2014 (8/16, #83; keep in mind that one of these is, in fact, a "cheapie"...) proved to be the sixteenth losing distance-going effort in 2014. Kershaw gave up a couple of homers, allowing the Brewers to emerge victorious over the Dodgers, 3-2.

And last night (8/20, #84) Rick Porcello got his groove back with a three-hit shutout vs. the Rays at Tropicana Field in Tampa. The Tigers, now chasing the Royals, won 6-0 and climbed back to just a half-game back.

(Yes, some of you will notice that we cheated with the date stamp. When the post begins with an asterisk, all bets are off!)

Currently the WPCT when pitchers toss a CG in 2014 is .809 (68-16). And the current pace for CGs now sits at 108--which is an exact match for the lowest total in a season set back in 2007.

THE RANDOMIZING OF HIGH LEVERAGE*

*coming soon!

Friday, August 15, 2014

MEET THE NEW BOSS...SAME AS THE OLD BOSS

Oh, to be a fly on the wall. Fortunately, though, we've got that covered for you--with that truly unique baseball correspondent Buzzy the Fly, who not only survived a near-death experience at the hands of Commissioner-elect Rob Manfred, but has been buoyed by his participation in a special "pesticide resistance program" (which was not funded, despite rumors to the contrary, by our shadowy sponsors "Fright Quotes R Us").

We really need winged journalists these days, given that baseball's coverage often seems as "embedded" (there are those FQ's again--damn, but it's habit-forming!) as what we had to endure during the Iraq fiasco. Reading the news articles at MLB.com is the perfect cross between the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Pravda.

Buzzy, of course, has a somewhat different story about how things went down in the Baltimore putsch, much of it revolving around the real reason why resistance to Budzilla's template for corruption finally reared its ugly head.

But the bottom line is that it's still "the bottom line" that prompted the mini-revolt. Buzzy's recordings indicate that the "petulance quotient" for billionaires has followed the general trend of the stock market over the past five years.

Jerry Reinsdorf, "light-headed" back in July, was not
really the instigator of the "mini-revolt" against Rob Manfred
earlier in the week.
It's not enough to have a wired monopoly with carefully calibrated bylaws that skirt the level of scrutiny that baseball deserves to have placed on it (though, to be fair, one could say this about all too many aspects of American business).

Territorial rights and old grudges were not the true battleground in Baltimore, as has been widely reported. Buzzy's tapes indicate that it's the future of media that was instrumental in whipping up a last-minute frenzy of factionalizing. And part of the fallout in that area has to do with who will control the creation of "advanced data."

Now, none of these folk can be seen as the "good guys" (FQ alert). But it was Budzilla who decided to leave the "advanced data/media" issues in the roiling region of endless entrepreneurial kerfuffle. And his hand-picked successor Manfred will do the same. As certain owners have discovered, that is actually more of a constraining scenario for the use and growth of such information products than it is an opportunity or a strategic advantage.

This situation was not "resolved," it was simply tabled. But what it means for the next seven years is that we'll have more of the same with respect to the blighted vision of the game that has prevailed. The reign of an approach utilizing ineffectual committees whose answers are known before the questions are even posed will continue. Manfred will do his best to live up to The Who's dismay in "Won't Get Fooled Again": "Meet the new boss...same as the old boss."

But it's not an issue that will stay tabled for long. We may need to have Buzzy train an army of winged correspondents to keep up with this.

2014: COMPLETE GAME #82

The Royals have gotten hot again, and it's hard to argue with the fact that they've been doing some of that against good teams (though it's possible to wonder if Billy Beane didn't leave his offense just a little too depleted--particularly from the right side of the plate--in his reaching out for Jon Lester). The KC strengths (bullpen, defense) have been boosted of late by an uptick in hitting (particularly in clutch situations).

And now Jason Vargas. Like Ervin Santana last year, Jason has found a way (thus far) to keep the ball in the park--something that's not really been his forte in the past. Oddly, however, he's not really pitched all that well at Kauffman Stadium this year (4.27 ERA vs. 2.16 on the road).

QMAX (aka the Quality Matrix) shows us that Jason's 2014 numbers aren't really that much better than his lifetime performance. His QWP is only .520. His QERA+ (our version of adjusted ERA) is 104.

But what can one say after a three-hit shutout in which he retired the last 23 batters he faced? What Sandy Koufax said in his autobiography--we paraphrase: "[The .500 pitcher] always looks better than he really is, because his good starts are so good."

The Royals are looking to make the playoffs with eight of their ten regular hitters producing OPS+ values below league average. Their starting rotation is overachieving (QMAX and FIP, as is often the case, are in agreement here). But they have a favorable schedule down the stretch. It won't only be the "midwestern angsters" who'll be holding their breath.

Getting back on topic for the post: CGs have slowed down again in the past week. The projected total for 2014 has slipped back to 109. (The record for fewest CGs in a season, you might remember, is 108).

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

ELIAN EASES INTO THE RECORD BOOKS

It's precisely because baseball is as close as it gets to a pure meritocracy that the game's marginal players are so interesting. And that brings us to the saga of Elian Herrera, who managed (against long odds) to get himself into the baseball record book a month ago.

Herrera, now 29, has only a little bit of pop in his bat, mostly doubles, and it took him five years to get out of Class A ball after being signed out of the still-burgeoning Dominican baseball factory back in 2003. The Dodgers didn't even put him into rookie ball until 2006. It became clear that Elian's only path to the big leagues would be as a jack-of-all-trades type, so the natural second baseman quickly volunteered his way into playing the outfield. Over the next four years, the Dodgers would move him all around, providing him with enough polish at six defensive positions to make him into a viable utility man.

He finally made it to Albuquerque (AAA) in 2012, and the Coors-like conditions at his home field proved more  than congenial: Elian hit .400 at home and found himself up with the big club in early May.
God bless him...Elian Herrera is STILL struggling out there
in the outfield.

For about thirty games, it looked like it might be a Cinderella story for Herrera, who was not only hitting over .300, but was getting on-base at greater than a .400 clip. But reality set in at that point, and Elian went into a major tailspin. He struggled in the outfield and at the plate, and the Dodgers sent him back to Albuquerque in early July.

After Elian spent another year there in '13, the Dodgers opted for Justin Turner as an upgrade at utility player, and Herrera found himself on waivers. Former Dodger organization man Ron Roenicke, now manager of the Brewers, tipped off his club that Herrera was worth a flyer, and so Elian got a chance to discover life in the Midwest.

That path of discovery began in Nashville, and has proved to be a veritable roller-coast ride so far. Elian has been up and down between Nashville and Milwaukee four times in '14, operating as the 26th or 27th man on the Brewers' roster. It was his most recent return to the big club, though, that permitted him to get into the record books.

Just how did he do that? Why, by slapping out five hits in one of his rare starts. On Sunday, July 13th--"getaway day" for the All-Star break--Herrera collected four singles and a double, scoring three times and driving in two as the Brewers clomped the Cardinals, 11-2. While there are likely close to three thousand players who've had five or more hits in a game (the total at Forman et fils, going back to 1914, stands at 2220), it's still an elite accomplishment for a major leaguer.

The wrinkle for us here is not just the mundane magic of a man on the margins. It's located in the spot in the batting order in which Elian managed his feat. Herrera was batting eighth in the Brewer lineup on  7/13 when he rapped out his five hits.

So that leads us to wanting to know just what the distribution of 5+-hit games looks like when we apportion them across the batting order.

And the answers can be found in the chart at left, where you'll see what likely makes perfect sense. There is a clustering effect at the top of the batting order, with a high preponderance of these games in the #1 and #2 slots.

Makes sense, yes? These guys are the likeliest to get a fifth or sixth chance to bat in a game. So even though they may not be the best hitters on their team--and often it's not close--the vagaries of small sample size distribution and the innate structure of the game works in their favor.

The chart also tells us that Elian Herrera is one of just fourteen players to slap out five or more hits in a game since 2000 while hitting eighth in the batting order.

Of course, it's even rarer to pull this off while batting ninth (just 20 times in one hundred years). And, prior to the DH, we are talking about virtually non-existent. It has happened a total of six times since 1914. The last pitcher to slap out five hits in a game? Mel Stottlemyre, who did it on September 26, 1964.

That's nearly fifty years ago. And it's likely to be another fifty before a pitcher does it again.

But let's not let that distract us from a kindly nod in the direction of Elian Herrera, who found a way to take advantage of his second chance in the big leagues.

PASSING OF A RETROSHEET GIANT...

Just a very brief note to memorialize one of the seminal figures in baseball research whose untimely passing is a significant loss for all of us. Clem Comly was just 59, far too young to be lost both to friends (who were legion) and from the ongoing task of reconstructing the day-by-day brick-and-mortar of baseball history (at which he excelled).

Comly's years of yeoman service in Retrosheet and the Society for American Baseball Research are the type of shining legacy that deserves some kind of official commemoration. We can trust that his friends and colleagues will find a way to create an appropriate ongoing remembrance in his honor.

A more detailed memorial notice can be found at the SABR site via this link.

Monday, August 11, 2014

2014: COMPLETE GAMES #76, #77, #78, #79, #80, #81...

We've been extrapolating the 2014 complete game total for four months now, noodling around with the concept as part of a look at baseball's "endangered species" (and let's take time to bow/scrape to our "sponsor," that august but shadow-frought meta-enterpreneurial collective "Fright Quotes R Us")...

...but we hadn't taken the time to examine the underlying pattern in the recent CG data to see if delving into even smaller sample sizes could prove informative. We will do that in this entry...eventually.

But first let's note that August has started out with a bang (feel free, however, to substitute your own loud noise or representation of same here...) with 10 complete games in the first ten days of the month.

Our old pal Johnny Cueto returned to the CG column (#76, 8/5) with a five-hitter against the Indians as the Reds score a 9-2 win. It was Johnny's fifth CG of the year, and his first since 5/15.

On that same day, the Rangers' Colby Lewis went the distance (#77) with a six-hit shutout as Texas routed the White Sox, 16-0. Colby is vying for the slot on the CG list that is more than a bit unseemly: he's in the running for "pitcher having the worst season who threw a CG." And an "FQRU" to you, too, Mr. Lewis...

The Royals' August surge has been fueled in part by starting pitcher performances--with two of these being complete games. Jeremy Guthrie (#78, 8/7) was in the thick of things as the Royals cleaned up in interleague play (the hapless D-Backs and the struggling Giants), constituting a turnaround from his subpar work in recent weeks. And nominal staff ace James Shields (#81, 8/9) contributed a four-hit shutout a couple of days later.

Meanwhile, Madison Bumgarner (8/8, #80) became only the fourth pitcher in 2014 to have back-to-back CGs--but, like Jordan Zimmerman earlier in the year, his second route-going game resulted in a loss (again, to the white-hot Royals).

And finally, the A's received a plum performance from latest acquisition Jon Lester (#79, 8/7), who threw a three-hit shutout at the Twins. Lester's next start will be against those streaking Royals later this week.

So the long chase for record-breaking scarcity continues...and these ten CGs in the first ten days of August makes us wonder just how likely is it that the 2014 season will come in under the low mark (108) set in 2007. (Remember, we've removed CGs under eight IP for our count, so looking at Forman et fils will give you different numbers.)

The chart at right is an attempt to at least anatomize (if not answer) the question. Monthly totals for CGs are displayed: high totals for each month (covering years 2007-14) are shown in orange; low totals are shown in green.

When we do the arithmetic, we find that 31% of all CGs in 2007-13 occurred during the last two months of the season. If 2014 matched that average, the total of CGs for the year would come in at 103. The current extrapolation for the year, however, based on the current ratio of CG/G, works out to 112.

Looks like we may go right down to the wire...

Friday, August 8, 2014

2014: THE PATTERN IN THE CARPET FINALLY EMERGES...

The ugly chic of the 60s as captured in the creation of the "non-place" in DEAD HEAT...
James Coburn and Aldo Ray either don't notice or don't care.
We are seeing some movement from the teams that were previously buried "in the pack" of a 2014 season that seemed to be settling for the a kind of parity best described by the phrase "dead heat on a merry-go-round."

Four teams--the Orioles, the Yankees, the Royals and the Pirates--have been making noise since the All-Star break. Interestingly, the only team out of this group that indulged in a "roto wire" makeover at the end of July was the one that plays in the Bronx.

Can the M's escape the horse latitudes??
The Royals may at last benefit from some karma. Even though the Tigers landed David Price at the last possible moment at the "horse latitudes" trading deadline, they have been floundering rather noisily in the past ten days, which might actually give the long-suffering team from KC a shot at the division crown (as of this writing, they are only a game and half behind).

Two other teams are hanging around the AL wild card race (and we are likely down to a race for one wild card slot, unless the Angels take a serious powder). Who's that? Why, those snappy 1977 expansion teams, the Jays and the M's. Toronto needs Edwin Encarnacion to give them enough offense to hit their way past their deficiencies. Seattle needs to keep their pitching healthy and get something resembling production from Kendrys Morales and Austin Jackson.

What will surprise you is that the M's have the second best Pythagorean Winning Percentage in the AL right now. Yes, that's right: second--they have slipped past the Angels. Right now, however, they're playing six games under that projection.

Mara Branscombe: the "new age" Camilla Sparv??
Over in the NL, the Great Muddle seems destined to continue. The Pirates, waiting for the condemning in-print folly of ex-Prospectus kackster Jonah Keri, now masquerading as a meta-numerate mediot, have found themselves and are back in the thick of things.

The other NL Central teams (Brewers, Cardinals, Reds) have been up and down since the All-Star Break; St. Louis is the one team here that went for the bold makeover at the "fluid body" deadline, and thus far the results of their pitching revamp (John Lackey, Justin Masterson) is spectacularly inconclusive. Underpowered offenses seem to be the order of the day in the NL Central, except for the Brewers, who've been betrayed mostly by their bullpen (2-7, 4.44 since the first of July).

The East and West aren't quite so murky, with only two teams in each division making a play for things. The Braves have a crippled pitching staff and an enigmatic offense, so it's looking more and more like they will drift in at or near .500. That leaves the Nationals by default in the NL East. On the other side of the country, the Dodgers have played sluggishly all season, and the edges of their starting rotation has been turning up with intermittent flakiness and/or injury, but they do have the most overall talent in the league and that should keep them from blowing it. The Giants stopped hitting homers in June (they hit more round-trippers in April than they hit in June and July combined) and they'll have to get back to the long ball to bolster a sagging pitching staff.

We expect the Pirates will assert themselves into the #4 slot (first wild card) and that it will be a knotty, molasses-like stretch drive for the #5 slot between the Cards and Giants--though the Reds and/or the Braves might patch something together and make some noise.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

ALL-TIME ASTRAL TEAMS (aka ZODIAC LEAGUE)/9: LEO

It's the "showy" sign--at least that's what all the astrology mavens like to claim.

It's frickin' Leo the Lion, and in the Zodiac League (which, by all rights, should have its simulation staged in San Francisco...note to self: suggest that fearless game-runner relocate long enough when we are done previewing all this schlock to give the Bay Area its due) it is quite simply a packed house.

One hundred and eighty-seven players with enough "look-at-me" juju to make the cut and have their names inscribed into the master list. It's no wonder that the fingers feel like lead pellets.

And, as you might expect, there are some serious "look at me" players to be found on this list.

As in three of the greatest ballplayers who will be long on the outside looking in when it comes to the Hall of Fame (not that we're talking about those punters anymore after their chickensh*t rule change).

As in: Bonds, Barry; Clemens, Roger; Rodriguez, Alex.

The presence of these three "amigos" should have all versions of the press--the throwback racists; the so-called "mediots," inheritors of the tradition of ignorance; and the new breed of overly-numerate kacksters--swarming around this team like the creatures unleashed when a rock is rudely wrested from its chthonic moorings.

Heck, when we witness a juxtaposition like this one, it almost makes us want to actually believe in all this schtuff.

But that's a discussion for another time (and probably another universe). So let's focus on the lineups and pitching staffs for the Leo "A" and the Leo "B" team--with the proviso that this is one "B" team that will be loudly disputing its status--these are folks who need reinforcement(s).

Just to placate them, we'll talk about the "B" team first. We're going to exercise a thimble full of caution and place Mike Trout on this squad...figuring that three years doth not a mega-God make. (Five or six years, maybe: but not three.)

So here's the "Leo B" lineup:

1. Mike Trout, cf;
2. Cupid Childs, 2b;
3. Roberto Clemente, rf;
4. Sherry Magee, lf;
5. Harlond Clift, 3b;
6. Nomar Garciaparra, ss;
7. John Olerud, 1b;
8. Jorge Posada, c.

The pitchers we've selected for the "B" starting rotation:

Andy Messersmith, Dolf Luque, Max Lanier, Max Scherzer, Tiny Bonham, Rube Walberg.

The pitchers we've selected for "B" bullpen:

Troy Percival, Greg Minton, Paul Lindblad, Bill Campbell, Larry Sherry, Gerry Staley.

It's a fun team, though probably a bit on the whiny side. We especially like having two Maxes in the starting rotation. But it's likely to be a bit on the short side in terms of power.

The "Leo A" team doesn't suffer quite as much in that department, as you'll see:

1. Larry Doyle, 2b;
2. Alex Rodriguez, ss;
3. Barry Bonds, cf;
4. Harry Heilmann, rf;
5. Carl Yastrzemski, lf;
6. Todd Helton, 1b;
7. Sid Gordon, 3b;
8. Ted Simmons, c.

Now it's a darn shame that Sid can't be on the same team with the two Maxes, but the compensating factor is that we have Barry and Harry batting back-to-back. And we're sure that sometime we'll drop A-Rod down in the order just to get Larry, Barry and Harry properly aligned.

Too bad that Sherry and Gerry are trapped on the "B" team. But thank goodness Huey, Dewey and Louie have a previous engagement.

The "A" starting rotation will allow us to sweep all of this under the rug (or the Tuscan sun, depending on what you're willing to read when you take that summertime funky ride/just to tan your hide):

Christy Mathewson, Roger Clemens, Burleigh Grimes, Don Drysdale, Larry Corcoran, Vida Blue.

And the "A" bullpen is a thing of perverse beauty (and believe us when we say we know more than we want to about that topic):

Hoyt Wilhelm, Billy Wagner, John Wetteland, Clem Labine, Huston Street, Tom Burgmeier.

Now this is a "look at me" team that's worth looking at. They may not win (though they just might), but  they will make a lot of noise.