Friday, July 29, 2016

HITTERS OVER THE PAST 365 DAYS

Courtesy of David Pinto's Day-by-Day Database at Baseball Musings. Former MVPs in blue.

Here are the top guys...



Former MVPs in blue. David Ortiz plans to retire? Jeez.

Next tier...


Adrian Beltre looks like he will hang in to get 3000 hits. After he and Iricho! do it, however, it will be a long while before anyone else does it...

Third tier...


You can see how recent NL MVPs (Buster Posey and Andrew McCutchen) have declined...they have some work to do in the second half of 2016 to help their teams make the post-season.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

2016: COMPLETE GAMES #39-42

Updating the ever-ongoing CG chase to oblivion...

Ten days passed (from 6/25 to 7/5) between CGs 38 and 39.

The CG count at the All-Star Break: 42, nine behind the 2015 pace, a year that saw CGs dwindle down to exactly 100.

It's looking more and more likely that we will see CGs drop into double figures this season.

The team emerging as the practitioner of the CG: the San Francisco Giants, who now have eight (8!) complete games for the season. (And it's only July!)

Pitcher won-loss records in CGs remains quite high: 37-5 (.881)...compared with .780 (78-22) in 2015. Overall ERA for 2016 CGs is 0.72, as opposed to 0.92 last year. Last season there were 9 CGs with at least 4 runs allowed; thus far in 2016, that total is...zero.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

TOTS GETTING TATERED IN CINCY--A NEW HR RECORD ABORNING??

We all too often focus on baseball's offensive statistics from the point of view of the offense...which is natural, because the offense is what drives run-scoring. But we don't often look at the offensive stats that accrue from what opposing batters do versus the collective pitching staffs of individual teams.

For example, many people knew for years that the 1961 Yankees set a new team HR record. There were three reasons for this, in order of significance: Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, and the fact that the new record (240 HRs) was a nice round number.

But ask folks what team's pitching staff has surrendered the most HRs in a season and you will receive the "catwalk stare"--that blank look that runway models have brought to "perfection" as they avoid eye contact while making eye contact...

Hell, even we didn't know the answer. (But we promise that our stare will be "gimlet-eyed" at the very least.)

Before we reveal it, however, let's go on record with the fact that it's a record in grave danger of being shattered in 2016. If you've read the posts further below, you know that HRs are currently spiking, bringing us back to HR/G levels not seen since the early days of the 1990s offensive explosion.

And while investigating that trend, we stumbled onto the "Batting Against" statistics at Forman et fils and proceeded to watch our eyes pop when we saw that the Cincinnati Reds had already given up 154 HRs in the first 89 games of the 2016 season.

That rate extrapolates out to a staggering total of 280 HRs, which was characterized above as "shattering" the current record.

The current record for HRs allowed by a team is 241, which was set by the 1996 Detroit Tigers. (The team record for hitting homers has evolved up to 264, set by the 1997 Seattle Mariners, and there has always been a bit of a "lag" in the "homers allowed" stat.)

But those Reds look to be breezing their way to a total that will surpass that. We checked to see if this might be due to a series of short-term performers on the Cincinnati pitching staff who gave up some mind-boggling number of HRs before being sent to the back to the minors--one pitcher (Jon Moscot) fits that description, having allowed 10 HRs in just 21 1/3 innings. And Alfredo Simon, an established starter for the past several years who's currently sporting a 9.85 ERA, has also been prone to the long ball: 14 HRs in 53 IP.

That might seem to mitigate the Reds' chances a bit, but we also checked the HR/G rate in the first part of July, when neither of these estimable gentlemen were active--and they are still giving up taters at an elevated rate: 20 in the past ten games.

So this is going to be very interesting to track as the Reds' abysmal season plays out. (And poor overall performance, rather unsurprisingly, goes hand-in-hand with giving up carloads of HRs. Of the 71 teams that have allowed 200+ HRs, only 13 have managed to play at least .500 ball while doing so.)

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

2016: QMAX COMP...KERSHAW v. ARRIETA

Too bad that Clayton Kershaw is down indefinitely with back miseries, it would have been interesting to see just how his terrific start in 2016 would have played out with a full set of starts.

The Quality Matrix had "the Claw" as a sub-4 pitcher through his first 16 GS (2.56 "S," 1.31 "C", 3.87 "T"). His QMAX matrix chart was free of anything to the right of a "2C" game until his last start (when the injury surfaced).

His QWP (QMAX Win Pct), built from the probabilistic won-loss from each of the 49 sectors in the QMAX matrix grid, was an excellent but not superhuman .742. The reason it's not hovering closer to .800? You have to really avoid "hit hard" games...Kershaw's 13% is excellent but not superhuman. You've really got to be in single digits with respect to HH to optimize your QWP. (Now there's some jargon for the ages...)

Jake Arrieta is showing some slippage in comparison with last year's CYA form. Over his first nine starts, his ERA was 1.29--a good bit lower than what even his QMAX scores to that point (2.33 "S," 2.89 "C") would have projected...but these numbers were still close to his overall numbers in 2015.

In his last eight starts, however, Jake's control has gotten shakier and he's become a good bit more hittable...his ERA over this span is 3.79 and the QMAX totals (3.75 "S," 3.75 "C") have been bringing him back toward earth. Overall, his BB/9 is close to double what it was in 2015.

Jake's QWP over his first 17 GS in '16 is a solid but not great .650. His hit prevention is still very good (3.00 "S"), but as his QMAX matrix chart indicates, he's gotten a good bit more erratic.

Monday, July 4, 2016

DICK ALLEN REDUX, OR: SOME SHOULD TAKE THE FIFTH ON THE FOURTH...

In a perpetual party-hearty world of desperate iconoclastic conformity, where so many seem in the grip of an intellectual poverty draped in the Bible and the American flag, we come to the fourth of July in this year of mock-fear and silicone-implant trembling, and find ourselves squarely in that darkling plain where the old, otherworldly poet is supposed to intervene before the pure products of America go crazy.

And, man oh man, does all of that strung-out syntax bring us crashing back to Dick Allen, who contains more multitudes than William Carlos Williams' siren call or a universe full of Whitman's samplers--a man who discovered, like our outgoing president, that backlash is more powerful, more relentless, more festering than any force in the dark heart of white America.

Dick Allen did not bear his burdens with grace while he was playing baseball, and that--and the impact of the backlash that imprinted itself on his brilliant but mercurial career--is why he remains an outsider to this day, both in terms of the world at large and in the tiny circle of faux-meritocracy that we clench our throats to call the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Baseball had the healing moment for the 1960s--that frenetic and foul decade that continues to split the country into shards of hate--in its hands for many, many years. It had a chance for one of the great symbolic moments in its history, simply waiting for--no, not inspiration, but mere common sense. It had two players who represented the polarities of the 1960s, the frenzy and the frustration from all sides, the warp and the woof in that tensed canvas of a history that so many have since taken in vain.

Those two men? Ron Santo and Dick Allen. Opposed forces in all senses--Santo, a white working-class diabetic with a quick temper  and what was characterized by several teammates as a chip on his shoulder; Allen, a deceptively fragile behemoth who would not bow to the desperate plantation mentality that washed over baseball like a bad smell exactly during the years he was active in the big leagues.

The game didn't come easily for Santo--while he was a difficult, daunting personality, he was driven to succeed and arguably overworked himself into a premature exit--one of the reasons that it took so long for him to finally be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Allen, by contrast, made what he did at the plate look easy: he was so good at it, despite imperfect eyesight, that he knew he didn't need to go through what he considered to be the needless rigors of spring training, or pre-game hitting practice. He knew how to marshal his talents, and he kept everyone away from them. Santo kept everyone away by being the most belligerent obsessive-compulsive on any diamond that he inhabited.

Despite these issues, both men deserved a spot in Cooperstown. But baseball dragged its feet. Bill James didn't help when he turned into a mendacious, muckraking moralizer about Allen in his fascinatingly fetid The Politics of Glory. Yes, Bill, you will forever be a lugnut for the cruel and all-too-usual punishment that you let loose on Allen in the closing pages of a book that desperately needed a machete-wielding editor to save us from all that moralizing. It only made it more rancid that your publisher draped the first edition of the book in red, white and blue bunting, clearly inspiring you to later make some of the most ill-advised and insipid interpretations of the Warren Court this side of Glenn Beck in Popular Crime.

Had those words been tempered with mercy and an actual understanding of what was happening in the 60s and 70s, they could have led to the healing event that baseball needed and will never get--the seemingly unimaginable embrace of the Silent Majority and the "Black Maudit." Santo, wheeled onto the dais to give a tear-stained speech about his love of the game and the value of forgiving one's enemies, particularly oneself; Allen, striding with a gingerly grace, admitting that he'd hoped for the honor despite his pose of unwavering indifference and resignation, turning to Santo and saying to him, "Look, Ron, this time we really are teammates...and God bless you."

It should have happened in 2009, the year we installed an African-American in the White House, before he spent too much time trying to appease the forces of white darkness that would look to thwart and hound his every move, and turn back the clock in favor of oligarchy, sexism, and fear-based hate. Those two elderly ballplayers,  on the Cooperstown dais on a Sunday not too far removed from the fourth of July, would have told the country that it was finally all right to quit fighting about the 1960s, to put it behind us at last--to let go.

But--no. It didn't happen. Santo had to die before he could be inducted, and one figures at this point that, after the one-vote-short fiasco that was the Veterans Committee result in 2015, that the same fate is now set in the house of cards for Dick Allen as well. One could hope that the new biography of Allen by Mitchell Nathanson, the curiously entitled God Almighty Hisself, with its (mostly) meticulous look at Allen's career and the media reception he encountered, would provide additional impetus to Allen's induction chances, but the response to the book has been mostly tepid.

That may be due to the fact that Nathanson often fails to get the flavor of Allen the ballplayer into his narrative. A careful, even-handed recitation of Allen's life as a lightning rod is detailed to a fault, but it rarely brings alive what Allen's presence on a baseball field was like--which was electric in the extreme. In his rush to examine the 1976 season as an example of how Allen could not step away from controversy when it came to management's attitude toward minority players, he undersells Allen's on-field contributions. Pointing out that Allen had only seven home runs in late June, he omits to mention that this total had been amassed in 119 ABs, a ratio that works out to a total of at least 30 HRs over an entire season. He mentions that Allen bristled at being dropped to seventh in the batting order, but he omits the fact that Dick was put back in the fifth slot after hitting .395 in the twelve games he hit from the #7 slot. In short, the world doesn't know (and mostly doesn't want to know) that Allen, when healthy in 1976, was close to his usual self (155 OPS+).

The man who made it look easy at the plate played hard on
the field...maybe too hard: he had more than his share of injuries.
The reason why Dick Allen belongs in the Hall of Fame is because he is one of the game's greatest hitters, and his peak is sufficient to carry him over any wonky "measurement standards" that can be imposed by those who purport to be objective but who ought to recuse themselves due to various forms of ideological bias. His career (1749 games) was short by some people's idea of a Hall of Famer, that's true, but these folk are loath to hear any excuses or extenuating circumstances, even as they create elaborate rationalizations for other, more favored, less "threatening" players.

As we've said many times, the Hall of Fame needs to be as large and inclusive as it can be in order to maximize its own scope and impact--it must reach out to all the people in order to make its message synonymous with the real meaning of the fourth of July, which is  not flag-waving and liquor consumption but "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Those who would tamper with others in those latter elemental efforts should find themselves in front of the kangaroo court that they've allowed to be installed in the so-called highest legal institution of the land and be forced to take the Fifth Amendment in response to relentless and protracted questioning.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

2016: A CRISIS IN AL STARTING PITCHING?

The answer to the above question certainly seems to be yes, and it appears to be occurring in the context of an overall resurgence of home runs--with primary emphasis on the AL.

Here are some salient monthly breakouts in 2016 by league that will show you how this is progressing this year (table at right).

We were lulled to sleep in April by low BA/OBP totals. But the AL quickly rebounded in May and pushed its HR/PA percentage over 3 (which is the benchmark for what we term a "slugging league").

They upped the ante even more in June, and the NL started to come along for the ride, pushing their HR/PA above 3 as well. 

The June totals indicate that offense, at least in the AL, is not just creeping back, but has flooded the game, pushing offense levels back in the direction of the offensive explosion years. We can measure that in two parallel historical comparisons.

First, here (at left) are the R/G rankings by month for the last 100 months of major league baseball (sixteen years from 2000-2015 plus the first four months of this year--with the caveat that the July 2016, added after our deceptive "post date," is a very small sample).

The heat chart certainly shows how offense slowed down in 2008, and then really took a dive from 2010 through most of 2015. But as you can see, things started to change in August of last year--and, from what we can tell, nobody really picked up on that. This year, we had a slow opening month, but look what's happened since.

What we can see when we create the same breakout for HR/PA over the last 100 months of baseball (at right) is what is driving this change. It's simple: home runs are up, way up. Most of the gain in the overall HR/G stat in 2015 from the year before seems to have come in a significant uptick in HR frequency in the last two months of the year, and that trend has made an astonishing acceleration as we approach the summer of 2016. 

Pretty amazing to see the HR/PA rate in the month just concluded up there with the rates achieved in 2000--the year with the highest R/G average in the history of baseball (not counting the 1890s).

And we can see more clearly how big the jump in HR/PA was in August 2015 and how it is driving this crisis in pitching. 

Time will tell if this is just an aberration, such as the one you can see in August 2009, and to a lesser extent in August 2011 and July 2012. But given the movement over the past six monthly data points since August 2015, we're not getting the feeling that this is an aberration.

As for the crisis in AL starting pitching, here's a simple chart that can put that into perspective. This displays the breakout of starting pitcher ERA in for each of the first three months of the season. Note that in June the bottom falls out of AL starting pitching, with nine of fifteen teams posting ERAs of 5+ for the month. (And that includes the Orioles, who hit 56 HRs--matching the highest monthly total of any team in past 17 yearrs--and averaged .300 for the month, allowing them to have a winning month of June anyway.)

And for what it's worth (small sample alert), the Indians, whose starters bucked the June swoon, have hit a speed bump early in July, including a 17-1 shellacking in which ace Corey Kluber had a ugly outing. That's mostly due to the matchup (Blue Jays) but it points out that offense is back, and it's the long ball that is leading the way. We were complaining about baseball being two-dimensional in recent years, but now we may be seeing its return to one-dimensionality. 

Yes indeed, 2016 is shaping up to be quite a year on all fronts...

2016: COMPLETE GAMES #28-#38

What with the phenomenon of starting pitchers "giving ground" performance-wise (see the previous post, being written later...), we really may see the first year in baseball history where the CG total fails to break into triple figures.

Last year there were 40 CGs going into July, and we wound up with 60 more to wind up with exactly 100 for the season. As we've noted before, there is a tendency for CGs to increase in frequency in the second half of the year, so while the current projection when extrapolated without adjustment suggests around 80 CGs, we expect that number to somewhere between 92-96.

June produced only 12 CGs, as opposed to 20 in May. Parallel with the Indians' late June streak, their starting pitchers were not only pitching extremely well (bucking that trend we reported on earlier, being written later--what can we say: blogs are backwards...) but they were going deep into games like nobody's business (4 CGs for the month, and three in four days).

What else can we say? These CG pitchers this year are really smokin' in terms of hit prevention. Ten out of the eleven most recent CGs have been "1S" games according to QMAX.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

SANITY (?) PREVAILS IN THE MLB TEAM HOME RUN CHASE...

We were shocked yesterday when we consulted the general major league stats/standings and discovered what team was leading in home runs...

No, not the Braves, who probably won't hit as many all season as this team has hit in just 56 games (now 57...time keeps passing, you know?).

To keep this semi-suspenseful for those of you who don't spend every morning keeping track of what players are on which teams, we will namecheck the members of this unlikely aggregation:

Logan Forsythe (17)
Desmond Jennings (14)
Brad Miller (11)
Brandon Guyer (8)

Have you figured out the team yet? And have you figured out that the numbers in (parens) are not these players' 2016 HR totals, but their career highs in HRs? We continue...

Curt Casali (10)
Logan Morrison (23)
Steve Pearce (21)
Corey Dickerson (24)

Now that's a little better, but full disclosure reveals that the the first guy and last guy on this mini-list are both hitting under .200. Pressing forward...

Steven Souza (16)
Evan Longoria (33)

OK, the jig is up. (Always wanted to use that in one of these blog posts.) Longoria is the giveaway if you hadn't gotten it earlier. The team HR leaders in MLB on 6/7/2016 were...the Tampa Bay Rays? With their top ten HR hitters projecting to a max total of 177?

Interesting to say the least. There is something of a "southern strategy" when it comes to just trying to hit homers all the time and let the chips fall willy-nilly (as they are wont to do). Of course the Braves and the Fish blow this notion out of the water, with their combined HR totals in '16 barely reaching the league average for a single MLB team. But there are the Astros (with less of a claim to this approach without the hulking presence of Chris Carter).

And there are the Orioles ("southern"? well, "border"...) who remain besotted with the "tater tot" offensive strategy. They've been at or near the top of the MLB HR charts for a number of years now (they are first in HRs over the past four-plus seasons with 937, which is 70 ahead of the more recently-fabled "murderer's row" in Toronto).

And sanity reared its ugly head yesterday, when the Rays were shut out by the Diamondbacks--and the O's blasted four HRs in a 9-1 win over the Royals. That put Baltimore back on top in the HR race--a race they are pretty likely to win.