Sunday, July 20, 2014

INDUCTION DAY AT THE RELIQUARY: THE "THREE FORCES" IN BALANCE

We are ~1200 miles away from Pasadena today (7/20), thus unable to savor the unique confluence of reason, passion and appetite that comes forth during the Baseball Reliquary's Shrine of the Eternals induction ceremony.

Today's festivities will differ from last year's in that none of the inductees will be present, but such has happened before without detriment to the depth of feeling or the off-center sense of connectedness that has been the hallmark of the Reliquary's induction affair since its beginnings in 1999.

We often speak of the three "elemental forces" at work within the selection criteria resulting in the specific individuals who emerge as Shrine inductees. These qualities separate them from other prospective candidates and--mostly--from those who are enshrined at Cooperstown.

Of the three forces--adversity, extremity, and otherness--it is the last one that seems to edge out its companions as the one with the most influence over the continually shifting voter population of the Reliquary. Executive Director Terry Cannon noted that even as some folk come and go in terms of their  participation in the "anti-organization's" activities, it seems that those who become attracted to it share a continuing desire to celebrate and honor those who are somehow "different," either ethnically or existentially.

That's not quite so much the case in 2014, however, as "otherness" plays a significant role in only one of this year's inductees. There is little "otherness" to be found in Dizzy Dean, despite his brash extremity, or in Don Zimmer, despite his valiant efforts to overcome the adversity of serious injury. Only in Rachel Robinson--Jackie's resilient, supportive wife--do we see such qualities manifested: in her gender (rarely intersecting at any fundamental level with the game) and in her ethnicity (what was clearly at the time an "out group").

In our own crude and subjective measures of the forces as they apply to the yearly inductees, 2014 is the lowest year for "otherness" since 2009, and it is also one of least intense years with respect to the three forces in the history of the Shrine (least intense years by our measures: 2010, 2002, 2012, 2014; most intense years: 2004, 1999, 2005, 2011).

We can see the overall ascendancy of "otherness" in our running three-year chart of the forces. And we can see the decrease in intensity and the overall coming into balance (at least for the 2012-14 three-year sample, at any rate) of all three forces.

Now, does this mean something--or, for that matter, anything? Quantifying these forces might be seen as going too far; they contain enough nebulousness and overlap to become confounding. We also don't want to intimate that "lack of intensity" in terms of these forces constitutes any kind of value judgment on the inductee selections themselves. There are no truly extreme outliers in the Shrine inductees based on this type of quantification; any value judgments directed at individuals are left to those who wish to find other characteristics with which to do so.

The Baseball Reliquary will soon enter its third decade, and this is the one that we suspect will determine if it will emerge as a unique force in the national conversation about baseball, or whether it will find itself resigned to a colorful kind of "cult status." This year's Shrine ceremony will be a kind of holding pattern with respect to that, but the next few years will be the ones where those opportunities are likeliest to present themselves. As we wish Terry and Buddy (Kilchesty) and the Reliquary faithful a wonderful day in Pasadena today, we ready ourselves for our own followup to their ongoing "purpose pitch." Stay tuned.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

2014: RETURN OF THE "MATCHUP"? FELIX VS. GARRETT RICHARDS

The half-way world of starting pitcher "insurgence" that we've seen in 2014--marred as it is by a rash of injuries--has had one salutary benefit: the return of the glamorous, anticipation-inducing "starting pitcher matchup." Those ever-appropriative hipsters at Fangraphs have pushed into this territory with their consumerist "Watchability Index," which begs (as usual) for follow-through data measuring whether such measures actually track with what happens in the games that their system anoints.

But tonight (7/19), in what's now slotted in consumer-o-nomic lingo as "the second game of the second half," we do have a matchup with massive "anticipation potential." (The preceding sentences, BTW, have been sponsored by our good friends at "Fright Quotes R Us.")

What's that square-off? It's purely (and refreshingly) a West Coast phenomenon, with the upstart Seattle Mariners, defying some as-yet determined precepts of various loosely-related natural laws, are trying to compete with the money machine that "Anaheim Artie" Moreno (oops, another nickel residue-al to the feckless FQRU ex-felons...) has assembled down in the wilderland of Orange County. Many cylinders are firing for the Angels of late (.750 WPCT in their last 36 games), and one of these pounding pistons is pitcher Garrett Richards, who is nearing the crossroads where hot streaks meet genuine stardom.

Richards has had a serious uptick in performance that QMAX (aka the Quality Matrix...sorry, no fright quotes!) can help anatomize for us. Last year, Garrett scuffled around as the Halos remained purgatory-bound. As a starter (in 17 GS), he was hittable (just under 4.2 in the "S" score). His "top hit prevention" (S12) was just 29%, his "hit hard" (HH) was 35%. QMAX graded him out as a sub-.500 pitcher (.496).

That has all changed dramatically thus far in '14. Garrett is now the king of the "power precipice" (PP, the region at the upper right of the QMAX chart). His hit prevention figures have improved from 4.2 to 2.7 (yes, lower is better here, just like ERA). That improvement, should it hold up over the course of the whole season, would be one of the most dramatic in baseball history.

Richards has gotten wilder than was the case previously, but not in a way that is particularly alarming. Apparently, what he's done to induce lack of contact (and Garrett's K/9 is a prominent part of his improved hit prevention, rocketing up from 6.3 to 9.1) has had some effect on his command. Right now, though, he's living proof that power pitching can accommodate rough edges.

Tonight, however, Richards will match up against an undisputed ace. (You know someone is in that category when he can be referred to by his first name.) That name? Felix.

The M's kingpin is seemingly on his way to his best season yet, pushing his way into the sub-5 region of the QMAX measures (2.70 S/1.95 C = 4.65 T) and a series of QMAX range data values that have their own category of "fright quotes": 5% "hit hard" (HH), 75% "success square" (SS), 50% "elite square" (ES).

The ultimate QMAX measure, the QMAX Winning Percentage, which we (as you would expect) abbreviate as "QWP" (or "quip," for those who like vowels with their phonemes...) shows that Felix is raking at better than a .700 clip this season (.704 to be exact). That's enough to create some noticeable separation from Richards, who's cruising just a bit above .650 in the "gospel according to QWP."

Both pitchers have been scalding in their last seven starts. ERA comparison: Felix 1.36, Richards 1.45.

The M's, coming off a tough 16-inning loss last night in Anaheim, need their Kingpin to bowl over the Halos tonight. For Richards, it's a chance to make a statement about where he belongs in the pantheon of starting pitchers.

Don't miss it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

2014: COMPLETE GAMES #62, #63, #64, #65

We are catching up during the ASB on the cluster of CGs that occurred right before the break...with four full-length performances and one five-inning game (the Orioles Kevin Gausman vs. the floundering Yankees, a game to bookend with the short CG turned by Clayton Kershaw back on June 8th) to note here.

First, the oft-rejected Edinson Volquez, now with the Pirates, tossed the second CG of his career on 7/10 when his teammates put on a hitting show against the Cardinals in a 9-1 win. Still not quite resembling the pitcher who was so effective for the Reds back in 2008 (17-6, 3.21 ERA, 9.5 K/9), Volquez has nonetheless won his last four starts, fashioning an ERA of 0.90 over those games.

That same day, the aforementioned Kershaw went the distance against the Padres in a 2-1 win, striking out eleven. Clayton is 9-1 in his last ten starts with an ERA of 0.97.

On 7/11, one of the A's new rotation anchors, Jeff Samardzija, lost an eight-inning CG to the Mariners in Seattle, running up against M's ace Felix Hernandez. It was the thirteenth CG loss in 2014.

Two days later, Clay Buchholz, making his fourth start for the Red Sox since coming off the disabled list on June 25, tossed a three-hit shutout against the Houston Astros in Minute Maid Park, striking out 12. Clay, whose ERA was 7.02 when he went on the DL in late May, has a 2.73 ERA since returning to action.

An interesting side question remains and is worth answering: how many more CGs could there have already been in 2014 if the pitch count police weren't so well-entrenched? It turns out that there are thirty more games thus far in '14 that feature eight innings pitched and less than a hundred pitches. That's roughly half again as many CGs that have actually been thrown this season.

There have been four eight-inning games with less than ninety pitches thrown, one of which was a CG (Jordan Zimmermann's three-hit loss to the Cardinals on 7/9).

One pitcher has thrown three of these "almost complete games": Hisashi Iwakuma of the M's, who did it three times within a twelve-game span back in May.

The current CG pace for 2014 is now 111.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

ALL-TIME ASTRAL TEAMS (aka ZODIAC LEAGUE)/8: CANCER

The Zodiac League steams onward into the freakier regions of the ecliptic...in this case, Cancer the Crab, where emotions (according to the literature, anyway) are both highly intense and terribly tucked in.

As the charts will show, there is a lot of depth to be found in the Sign of the Crab (and there's a lot of room for a sabermetric parody of astrology...or vice versa, n'est-ce pas? Sorry, as the Man in the Big Suit says, got no time for that now). A lot of "might have been Hall of Famers but for..." here, which means that when they're on, you're getting more peak performance.

But it's hard to say whether this will translate on the field (or, should we say, on to a simulated field). To get the most out of this team, you might have to play the games one-by-one...which is not something that the masters of dissing simulation and "press the button and go out for coffee" tend to favor.

There are six Hall of Fame pitchers, and one or two more who might make it in the distant future (C.C. Sabathia and Tim Hudson). There are several really good "almost" or "should be" HOFers (Dave Stieb, George Mullin, Jesse Tannehill), so the "B" team looks to have a shot at having one of the more effective pitching staffs in the "lower league."





But we do have to do some adjusting to get the "A" team into competitive shape. When we do that, here's what we get for a starting lineup:

Lou Boudreau, ss; Jim Edmonds, lf; Joe Jackson, rf; Roger Connor, 1b; Harmon Killebrew, 3b; Andre Dawson, cf; Joe Torre, c; Billy Herman, 2b.

Swamped, dammit!!!
The starting rotation (we still like the six-man, just because we can) is a blend of old and new:

Carl Hubbell; John ClarksonMickey WelchStan CoveleskiDave StiebC.C. Sabathia

The relievers:

Goose GossageSparky LyleEddie FisherEd RoebuckJavier LopezEnrique Romo

A very interesting team. Will it win anything? We've got to admit, we like its chances.

We'll come back in a bit and fill in the "B" team for you--we are swamped right now on other projects.

[EDIT: OK, back to the "B" team after a whole lotta shakin' and movie screening (see link for details).

Here is the lineup/batting order we'd go with for the Cancer "B's":

Willie Randolph, 2b; Derek Jeter, ss; Ken Williams, rf: Carlos Delgado, 1b; Pedro Guerrero, 3b; Babe Herman, lf; Heinie Manush, cf; Yadier Molina, c.

The rotation: George Mullin; Jesse Tannehill; Tim Hudson; Jack Quinn; Frank Tanana; Lee Meadows.

The bullpen: Doug Jones; Joe Sambito; Al Hrabosky; Brendan Donnelly; Jack Aker; Ken Sanders.

That outfield will be quite an adventure...you'll be seeing a LOT of Willie Wilson as a defensive replacement. But it's another interesting team...one that will hit a lot better than one might first think.]




Sunday, July 6, 2014

2014: COMPLETE GAMES #60, #61

Two more CGs over the first two days of the Independence Day holiday weekend, one by a repeater.

On Friday (7/4), Chris Sale fanned 12 Mariners to record his second complete game of 2014 as the White Sox beat Seattle, 7-1. Chris upped his season record to 8-1 while lowering his ERA to 2.16. It was his second CG of the year. Despite missing some weeks due to injury, he's insinuating himself back into the Cy Young conversation.

Yesterday (7/5), Matt Garza allowed only two hits to the Reds as the Milwaukee Brewers made a single run scored in the first inning stand up for a 1-0 victory. Garza, who's been up and down this year, struck out nine and improved his season W-L record to 6-5.

The key features of complete games would be hit prevention (4.4 H/9), walk prevention (1.1 BB/9) and avoidance of the long ball (just 14 HR allowed in 541 IP). All of that contributes to a minuscule ERA in these games, holding steady at 0.60.

Current pace for total number of complete games in 2014: 113. If that holds, we won't be breaking the record for fewest CGs, set in 2007.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

A QUICK ANATOMIZATION OF THE "WALKOFF GAME"

We hear a lot about "walkoff games"--you know, the ones where teams win in the bottom of the ninth (or in some number of subsequent extra innings).

They certainly seem to excite the media: the particular type of closure clearly makes better copy. The fans in attendance (depending on which team is being rooted for, of course) are also quite likely to enjoy such a heightened finish.

But we don't know much about them other than that. Particular questions--such as how many of these games are tied at the point when the outcome is decided vs. games in which the winning team comes from behind to register a walkoff win--are harder to pin down.

The basic facts about walkoff games, however, can be gleaned from some elbow grease (actually, it's really now "finger grease" that does it, since we are usually typing in some command at Forman et fils in order to acquire the necessary data).

We took a look at the last ten years worth of "walkoff games" (2004-2013) in order to do what the title suggests--a "quick anatomization."

First, how many? The average number of walkoff games per team over the ten-season period is 15. That includes both "walkoff wins" and "walkoff losses." The highest number of walkoff games over the time frame? 27, by the Oakland A's (15-12) in 2004. The lowest? Five, by the Houston Astros (1-4) in 2004.

The burning question here, of course, is: do playoff teams do better in terms of wins/losses in walkoff games? And do they have more or less or about the same number of these games? (Keep in mind that the percentage of walkoff games over the past ten years is only around 9% of all games played.)

The answer: playoff teams do fare better than average in walkoff games. Over the last ten years, the aggregate record of playoff teams in walkoff games stands at 674-538 (.556).

Teams that win the World Series, however, are somewhat less successful in these type of games. Over the past ten years (2004-13), the World Champs are only 81-69 (.540)  in walkoff games.

Overall, the average frequency of walkoff games doesn't change based on team WPCT. The average number of walkoff games for playoff teams is 14.4, which is less than the overall average (as noted, earlier, exactly 15).

Is there anyone who went undefeated in such contests, i.e. never suffered a "walkoff loss?" Yes, there is: the 2012 Baltimore Orioles had seven walkoff wins--and no walkoff losses.

You should also know that there are 22 non-playoff teams with at least a .667 WPCT in walkoff games covering the 2004-13 timeframe.

Thus it appears that we are not going to gain any startling insight from the walkoff game. Though they do not quite "even out" over a ten-year period: while fifteen of the thirty MLB franchises have WPCTs in walkoff games between .475-.525, there is a lingering performance range which reaches from the Rays (.572), Twins (.571) and A's (.563) at the top, to the M's (.405), the Jays (.428) and the Cubs (.442) at the bottom. And, oddly enough, the team with the greatest performance deviation from year-to-year in this time frame is none other than the New York Yankees, who've posted seasonal WPCTs in this data slice ranging from .250 to .833 while making it into the post-season.

So there is some reason but a paucity of rhyme to be found in the walkoff game...which means we can safely let the media fixate on them without an undue amount of loathing.                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Thursday, July 3, 2014

2014: COMPLETE GAMES #57, #58, #59

We are amused (and chagrined...) to discover that some of you are eager enough to read these blog posts that you get to them just as soon as the little notification thingee does its thang (hmm...thingee doin' its thang...the seventies just refuse to die, don't they?).

Half-a-Million Contac™ Tiny Time Pills, by Victor Landweber
And we have a lazy habit here of posting a tease right before midnight to ensure that we don't have too many posts on the same day (because we HATE that...) and we don't want to fiddle with the mechanisms permitting the blog entry to have a timed release, but we've always been dubious about those "tiny time pills" and the one time we actually tried to use that feature we discovered that our blog entry was nowhere to be found.

So, in deference to some of you who have been a bit peeved by this practice of ours, we're gonna do the following. Whenever we pull this stunt, we're going to put an asterisk (*) in the title line. That way you'll know to wait for the next notice, which (unless we get more loopy than what those "non-tiny time pills" have been doing to us) will be asterisk-free and will contain a bit more content (but not too much more, of course...) than the cryptic phrase "coming soon."

OK? OK. So that's all good, and we'll see you later.

He may be red hot, but we like him in blue...
Oh, wait--right...there are some more of those pesky CGs to report (pays to actually read the title of the essay, n'est-ce pas?). While we're here, then...

Rick Porcello (7/1) threw the first complete game in 2014 in which the pitcher didn't strike anyone out. The lowest total previously in 2014? Two, by Lance Lynn in his CG from 5/27.

We were wondering if paucity of K's had anything to do with what happened to a CG guy in his very next start. (You may recall that we're tracking the "game after the complete game"--the current averages, BTW, are: 48-11, 0.60 ERA in the CG; 20-21, 4.16 ERA in the game after the CG.) Do guys who go all the way without a lot of K's do worse than their high-K counterparts? (We'll leave it to you for the "Special K" jibes...go ahead, get it out of your system.)

The answer--at least according to the sample of CG pitchers in 2014 who fanned five or less--is no. Their ERA in their follow-up games is 4.17, so you can offically throw a blanket over these guys with impunity (and no asterisk, either).

BTW, that was Rick's second straight CG shutout. We'll have to dig through Forman et fils to come up with the pitcher who last had three consecutive CG shutouts...

The Padres' Tyson Ross (7/2) tossed CG #58 vs. the Reds down in Petco Park, where the pitcher-friendly confines have been a significant factor in his career turnaround. (Tyson's lifetime ERA in Petco Park, spanning 120+ IP over the past two years, is 2.05. Elsewhere, it's 4.77.)

And yesterday (7/3), the Jays' R.A. Dickey gave his bullpen a rest, going all eight innings in what tured out to be the eleventh CG loss of 2014. Dickey has been nothing more or less than a league-average pitcher since his acrimonious departure from New York in the 2012-13 offseason following his Cy Young year. The Jays have a $1M buyout clause after 2015, and right now we strongly suspect that they'll exercise it.

SLOW DRIP UPDATE: 2014 INTERLEAGUE PLAY (THRU JUNE)

That slow drip of interleague play continues...and we really do have to admit that Budzilla was right about it being splayed out this way, kind of like a pesky slow leak in a milk carton. (As is virtually always the case, when BS is right, he's right for the wrong reasons. Which, by the way, is more often than not the corollary circumstance surrounding "success.")

The AL remains in the lead, and it looks like much of it is due to the fact that the vagaries of the random schedule are providing them a slight edge in "quality of opponent." They've played 11 fewer games against teams with .500+ records, and their current margin (through games of July 3) is entirely explained by this "QoO" phenomenon.

The AL is also doing better in low-scoring games: they're 34-27 in games where the total number of runs scored is six or less.

The NL has a slight lead in one-run games (30-27 in those).

In smaller samples, the AL has a notable lead in extra-inning games (14-8). With respect to these types of games, it's odd to note that 2013 showed a huge spike in extra-inning interleague games. There were 39 such games last season, easily the highest total since the beginning of interleague play. (The NL made a late run at the AL last year in part due to their 24-15 mark in "EI-IL" games. To which you are cordially invited to say "EI-EI-O.")

We ran out of boxes for the June graph, so couldn't give you a tally for the month as part of the above info--as it turns out, it was a virtual dead heat: the AL eked out a 32-31 advantage for the month.

July isn't quite the kindest month in terms of interleague play--our old buddy T.S. Eliot would be dismayed to know that April wins those honors, at least in 2014, with the fewest interleague games of any month (37, as opposed to July's 39).

Of course, we should really add the All-Star Game to the list of interleague games, now, shouldn't we? Particularly since there are still approximately 45% of you out there who still prefer that it be the only interleague game.

There's an acronym, though, that describes the likelihood of interleague play being abolished. Since it is a profanity, however, we will simply refer to it in its abbreviated form...

FFC.

Now, oddly enough, the good folks at Acronym Finder don't have this one in their database. They have 83 other possible acronyms, mind you, but not this one.  And, given their squeaky-geeky clean predilections (consider that one of their definitions for FU is, um, "Forget You" (as they say, the "polite" form), you know that your chances of finding it there are identical to the likelihood expressed in the phrase itself.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

2014: COMPLETE GAMES #54, #55...AND #56

Two more CGs last night...one winner, one loser. The current W-L record for CGs is now 45-10 (.818).

The winner: Cleveland's Josh Tomlin, who evened his season record (now 5-5) with one of the best CGs thus far, a one-hit, 11-K gem over the Mariners. Tomlin showed some promise in 2010-11, but was sidetracked by injuries over the past two seasons. By virtually all measures, he was at the pinnacle last night.

The loser: Mashairo Tanaka of the Yankees, now with his first actual losing streak in MLB (and you will remember that he was 24-0 in Japan last year) as a result of an ill-considered pitch to Mike Napoli in the ninth inning. The result: a tie-breaking, game-winning homer as the Sox won in the Bronx, 2-1. (The Sox didn't give Jon Lester a chance for a CG last night, turning things over to Koji Uehara... Lester had already thrown 118 pitches through eight last night.)

We're sure that the CG was of little consolation to Tanaka or the Yankees...

[EDIT: Sunday night (6/29), Homer Bailey of the Cincinnati Reds joined the CG ranks with a three hit shutout of the (still) reeling Giants. The Reds won, 4-0, but must have been scratching their heads the next night (6/30), when recently reactivated Mat Latos allowed just one hit over seven innings but lost to the Padres 1-0. It's been quite a year for such anomalies...more on that a bit later.]