Tuesday, May 24, 2016

2016: COMPLETE GAMES #19-21

Our first day of the year with three CGs, and the first instance in 2016 of a game where both pitchers went the distance.

Well, sort of. But we'll get to that in a minute, because we also had the first instance of a pitcher throwing back-to-back CGs. That was Johnny Cueto, who drew the Padres again and this time shut them out on two hits as the Giants won, 1-0. (This was also the Giants' second consecutive 1-0 win, having beaten the Cubs by that same score in a nationally televised Sunday night game.)

Back to the dueling CG game. The winner in the game was Clayton Kershaw, who fanned seven and allowed just two hits. (This, too, was a 1-0 game.) The loser was Reds' lefty Brandon Finnegan, who gave the Dodgers just four hits, but the lone run he allowed sealed his fate.

The reason we said "sort of" is that Finnegan was batted for in the top of the ninth, which means if the Reds had managed to at least tie the game, it would not have been a CG for Finnegan after all. However, it's a situation where he wasn't actually replaced on the mound, so it stands as a CG.

CG pitchers are now 18-3 on the season. And the current pace for CGs at the end of 2016 is now at 76.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

FREQUENCY (OR LACK THEREOF...) OF "OLD SHORTSTOPS"...

So THIS is why Buffalo has been permanently "reclined" in AAA for all these years...
Not quite true that old shortstops never die, but they do fade away. We were prompted to take a look at the data on this when we looked up from our gen-u-wine refurbished Barcalounger™(and the way that thing still tilts despite the intervention of our slightly addled "handyman," the viewing angle was downright non-upright...) to discover that good old Jimmy Rollins is still grinding it out as the (mostly) starting shortstop for the Chicago White Sox.

Jimmy is 37 now, and we were curious to discover just how many 37-year old shortstops there have been over the course of baseball history. (And, no we did not conduct the research from the "comfort" of our Barcalounger, since whenever we do that, the blood rushes to our head and you know what that can lead to.)

We thought it would be best to go forward age-wise a bit, just to get some perspective on all this. So we started looking at players who had at least 75% of their games at shortstop beginning at age 33. (Naturally, Jimmy is one of those players.)

And it turns out (as the chart at left shows) that there have been 89 shortstops at age 33 who meet that criteria. These 89 shortstops have had many more than 89 total seasons, of course, because many of them kept playing SS for a number of years to come (think Honus Wagner, Luke Appling, Luis Aparicio, Omar Vizquel, and the favorite of post-neo-sabes everywhere, Derek Jeter). We would add up all of the stats for all of the shortstops who've played at age 33 and up, but we fear that the effect of such a statistical aggregate would inspire some readers to discuss how useless it is to play old players. While there is some merit to be found there, the call for youth in baseball is itself a tired old saw; what we hope to make clear with this data is how rare it actually is for someone to be playing shortstop past the age of 32.

So here's the table we created (at left). Note that 33 shortstops who played 75% or more of their games at short at age 33 managed to play 500 or more games at shortstop from age 33 on. That's kind of nifty: 33 at 33. That's 33 out of 89, or about 37%.

As you can see, those numbers start to dwindle rapidly. At age 34, the total number is down to 61, with only 21 playing 500+ games from age 34 on. There is something of a holding pattern at age 35-36, with the numbers settling in the 40s (total SS) and on just this side of double figures (500+ games) for those years.

It's at age 37--right where Jimmy is--where things take the final downward turn. In each decade across baseball history, it becomes uniformly rare to see anyone playing SS in the 37+ age range. The last time we had two 38-year old SS in the same decade was in the 1970s; it's happened only in two other decades (the 1940s and the 1900s).

So who are the guys who played over 500 games with 75+% of them at SS past age 37? You won't be surprised to discover that we've named them already...Wagner and Appling. It's actually Appling who played 500+ games from age 39 on; Wagner got moved to first base at age 43.

We don't expect Rollins to play 500+ games from age 37 on--his hitting probably won't hold up. But if he stays away from a Barcalounger (the damn thing has been known to fold you up inside it, pretzel-like, when the whim comes over it), he might just beat the odds.

A final note. The percentage of possible starting shortstops who've played at age 33+ is, as shown in the chart, is a bit over 3%. That's a low number. It's fluctuated over time, going as high as 6% in the 1910s and close to 5% in the 1940s, when able-bodied young men were siphoned off to war; it was just 2% in the 2000s, and right now it's just under 4% (that pesky Jeter, of course). So it's probably best if we actually savor these guys, because they really are rare.

2016: CUBS' CURRENT PROJECTION--97 WINS

On the other hand, we prefer more direct comparisons than what Cat Garcia (omnivorizing in sync with the octupoidal reach of Baseball Prospectus' franchiseable flatulence)... tossed into her salade niçoise the other day.

There, as always, you get the serially-massaged percentage probability along with error bars (where, unfortunately, last call comes before the first pitch...) and the type of writing that reminds us of L. Frank Baum's Princess Langwidere, the girl with a different head for every occasion.

Here, also as always, we do things with the blunt elegance of a jitterbugging caveman, one who's still saddened that Madonna never took the advice of her first agent and bought the kitsch capital of San Luis Obispo (and no, we're not talking about the mission).

So when we give you a projection, it's based on actions that focus on verbs, not adjectives that have been put through a post-Procrustean strainer and set forth against the sky like an etherized prepositional phrase laid out in the chaotic scrum of an emergency room.

How did we come up with the projection in the title of this blast-from-the-past post? (As in "past blasts" against our ancient fee-fi-foe-fum, who've brought us many emperors who have remained blissfully ungarbed through thick--mostly thick, we think--and thin.)

Houseley Stevenson and his terrible towel...
Here's how. We went to Forman et fils (and though we know Sean prefers to downplay it, he was a BBBA boy before he became emperor--the fully-clad emperor, BTW--of numbers) and dialed up in the Play Index all of the teams since 1901 who've started the season 28-11. (Prior to the 2016 Cubs, there have been eighteen such teams.)

We hooked up with our sharp-tongued friend William of Occam, lathered up, shaved clean and close (as prescribed by Houseley Stevenson in his outré cameo in Dark Passage, where he then proceeds to perform plastic surgery on a pathetic, desperate guy in order to make him look just like Humphrey Bogart...), and added up the season-ending wins and losses for the team...

...Computed the won-loss percentage (.599), and multiplied by 162...

...And--holy Catwoman! We have a projection (as opposed to that other thing you're hoping to induce so that we'll be distracted, a la Carlos Santana--you know, the other Carlos Santana--from your evil ways).

In short, 97 wins.

Do we think the Cubs will actually win 97 games? We must still say no, we strongly suspect the final total will be somewhat lower than that. Not by a lot, as we've said before...but lower. The reasons are numerous, at least three or four more than the fact that we still think Theo's smugness ideally should have to coagulate a good while longer, while reminding you that late-blooming egotists like (Uncle) Joe Madden can only be humble if the humbling experience of not winning the Big One is part of their recurring psychological plat du jour.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

2016: COMPLETE GAME #18

Continuing his torrid start in 2016, Chris Sale tossed his third CG of the year on Thursday, limiting the Houston Astros to just four hits and one run (with 9 K's) as the White Sox tried to stay within striking distance of the Cubs' exceptional success--who will win the battle of Chicago? And could this actually be the year--the first since 1906--for these two teams to meet in the World Series?

Tut, tut--let's neither feed the hype nor get ahead of ourselves. Sale is having a QMAX "S" renaissance while having a drop in K/9--something that seems to fly in the face of post-neosabe wisdom. Ben Reiter over at SI tries to dance through the various clichés, but winds up doing a modified goose-step: what the new data still hasn't found a way to pinpoint is whether a pitcher (other than Greg Maddux, perhaps) can consistently "pitch to weak contact." We'll have to see if what Sale is doing this year stays in play all the way to the end of the season...

Friday, May 20, 2016

WHAT DOES STARTING THE SEASON 10-30 PORTEND AT SEASON'S END??

As you might expect, the Minnesota Twins and the Atlanta Braves (who both started 0-9 and both completed the first quadrant of the 2016 season with 10-30 records) are very likely in for a long, long season.

We looked at the eleven other teams since 1901 to start the season with a 10-30 mark, and believe us when we say that the results are...ugly.

The average WPCT for these teams at the end of the season is .346.

Over 162 games, that translates to a 56-106 record.

The 1903 St. Louis Cardinals, the 1936 St. Louis Browns, and the 1987 and 1994 San Diego Padres all managed to lose less than 100 games. But those primordial Redbirds only played 137 games that season--and the 1994 Padres were spared due to Budzilla's Folly (aka the Players' Strike).

The most recent team to start the season 10-30, the 2013 Houston Astros, wound up at 51-111 for the full year. The 2006 Kansas City Royals came close to beating the 100-game barrier, but finished at 62-100.

Odds are great that both the Twins and the Braves are going to wind up north of 100 losses this season.

What team got off to the worst start? (Remember, we are talking 1901 to the present.) Why, the 1988 Baltimore Orioles, of course, who finished the first fourth of that year with a 6-34 mark...en route to a 54-107 season record.

Really bad teams do tend to get off to really bad starts--the 1928 Philadelphia Phillies and 1932 Boston Braves both began with 7-33 marks over their first 40 games, and their final records were virtually identical (43-109 and 43-111 respectively). The 1952 Pittsburgh Pirates went 8-32 at the outset, and wound up with a woeful 42-112 record at season's end. The 2003 Tigers were 9-31 in their first forty games, and cruised home to a 43-119 mark.

The only team close to the futility level of the 2016 Twins and Braves who went on go to the post-season? The 1914 "Miracle" Boston Braves, who began the year 12-27 but got hot in July and never looked back, pulling away for the NL pennant and going on to upset the heavily favored Philadelphia A's by sweeping them in the World Series.

Might we suggest that you don't hold your breath for this to happen with either of this year's slow-starting squads...

Thursday, May 19, 2016

2016: COMPLETE GAMES #12-17

As we noted, our coverage slacked off last week due to other events--and right at the time (as we suspected would be the case) when complete games would start to pick up.

Since our last post on the subject (on Friday the 13th) there have been six more, including the first two CG losses on the year. (The CG won-loss record for 2016 now stands at 15-2.)

Over at left we have your first look at the 2016 complete game calendar display. We'll fill it in and try to remember to post the final version at season's end. Dates in pink are days when there was one CG; dates in purple are dates where there have been two CGs. (We will color-code further when/if we have days with more than two CGs.)

Here's a quick list of the recent CGs:

#12--Chris Sale (CHW) joined Clayton Kershaw with his second CG as the White Sox beat the Yankees, 7-1

#13--Justin Verlander (DET) racked up the first CG loss of 2016 as Chris Tillman and two Orioles relievers blanked the Tigers; Verlander allowed only four hits and a run, but the O's prevailed, 1-0.

#14--Matt Andriese (TBR) tossed a nifty two-hit shutout at the Oakland A's as the Rays won 6-0.

#15 and #16--A real rarity, with Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto tossing back-to-back CGs for the Giants against the Padres at Petco Park; Bumgarner fanned eleven, Cueto eight. (Johnny's CG was his second of the year, knotting him with Kershaw and Sale.)

#17--Steven Wright (BOS) became the first pitcher in 2016 to win and lose a complete game when he went eight innings in a 3-2 loss against the Royals in KC's Kauffman Stadium.

ANOTHER LOOK AT "BAD COMPLETE GAMES"

We'll stick with CGs for a bit, since we've been swamped of late with non-baseball stuff.

Let's take another look at "bad complete games," which are another item on the verge of extinction (as the table at right indicates.)

We've broken this out a bit differently than the last time we looked at this--here we define a "bad CG" as one where the pitcher allows five runs or more (with no need for those runs to be earned runs, as was the case previously.)

As you can see, occurrences have dwindled, reaching a permanent single-figure status in 2001 and moving onto "countable on the fingers of one hand" in 2003. This might be the year where we don't see any of them at all.

The other table (over at the left) shows the data by decade, with WPCTs (which, as you'd expect, have also trended downward, with a sharp drop for "bad CGs" since 1990.

Friday, May 13, 2016

2016: COMPLETE GAMES #10, #11

You didn't think we'd forgotten that Max Scherzer actually threw a complete game in his 20-K effort against the Tigers on 5/11, did you? Good gravy, if Max had struck out 20 guys in 8 IP and been pulled for the knee-jerk pitch count overcorrection that, among other things, is surely bringing CGs down into double figures, it would have been all over the sports pages...imagine not giving a guy a chance to own the single-game strikeout record.

As it was, Max had a chance to set the record, but Tigers catcher James McCann got his bat on the ball on the 0-1 pitch, grounding out to end the game.

Truth told, Max has been pretty erratic this year; he's allowed 11 HRs in just 52 IP, including two in his 20-K game. His ERA is 4.15, and while that will very likely improve, he's not a consistently elite pitcher the way he's been in previous seasons.

And, FWIW, his CG here represents the most runs allowed by a starter-two--in all eleven CGs thus far in 2016.

Now, for a consistently elite pitcher, we spin the dial over to Clayton Kershaw, the first pitcher to appear twice on the 2016 CG list, who mowed down the Mets last night with a 3-hit, 13-K shutout. Final score: Dodgers 5, Mets 0.

Kershaw has a 1.74 ERA thus far, 3 HRs allowed in 62 IP, and--as noted earlier--a surreal K/BB ratio (now 19.25...77 K, 4 BB).

In the 11 CGs of 8 innings or more (remember, we toss out that bogus 6-inning "CG" from Phil Hughes), the pitchers in question have combined for a collective ERA of...

0.27.

MAX MOVES UP THE LIST

Max Scherzer's 20-K performance against his old team (Detroit Tigers) got us to thinking about ways to examine the number of games where pitchers strike out more men than innings pitched.

We decided to eschew (now there's a word you don't hear every day...) the "double-digit" approach, though we wanted to incorporate those games into the mix.

So we decided to query things up at Forman et fils by looking for games where pitchers had lasted at least six innings into the game and had a K/IP ratio of at least 1.33.

And when we ran the query, we were interested to see where Scherzer ranked. We figured he would be reasonably high up on it.

But we really weren't prepared for what we found.

No, Max isn't at the top of the list. Far from it. But as of Wednesday, after his 20-K night, he did rank in the Top 10. (As we write this, he's now tied for eleventh, since Clayton Kershaw just fanned 13 and has moved into the tenth slot all on his own.)

What is really astonishing is the number of such games racked up by Randy Johnson. We figured on Nolan Ryan being at the top of the list. He's second, but Johnson's 192 such "big-K/IP ratio" games is way ahead of everyone else. He flew by Ryan and never looked back...

Pedro Martinez is a distant third with 107 such games.

On our table, the color coding is as follows: orange means still active; rich yellow means HOFer; pale yellow means no longer active and not (yet, at least) in the HOF.

As you'd expect, big-K games produce a great deal of success, as a .709 WPCT attests. Johnson's 107 wins in such games is also a record--one that no one on this list looks like they are going to approach.