Friday, July 31, 2015

TRADE DEADLINE FRENZY AND THE WAR OF "CONVENTIONAL WISDOM"...*

*coming soon!

STARTING PITCHER ERA BY MONTH

Can teams overcome consistent mediocrity in one major performance area and make it into the World Series?

Of course they can...it happens more often than one thinks. For example, there have been fifteen teams who've made it to the World Series whose starting pitcher performance was below the league average for the season un question. 

Most of these teams got a lot of wins in the regular season from their starters: five of the fifteen logged 70+ wins from the pitchers who took the mound in the first inning. And, of course, none of these starting rotations were conspicuously under the league average: the worst was about 9% under the aggregate.

The teams in question: the 1947, 1952, and 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers; the 1967 and 1975 Red Sox; the 1972 and 1976* Reds; the 1982 Brewers; the 1987 Twins*; the 1988 A's; the 1993 Blue Jays*, the 1997 Indians; the 2006 Cardinals*; the 2007 Rockies; the 2009 Phillies.

Note that only four of the fifteen teams on the list managed to win the World Series (*).

Now we seem to have another team--those wonderfully confounding Kansas City Royals--who are trying to up the ante on their counterintuitive success last year with a close variant of the same. The Royals might become the first team to reach the World Series with their batters drawing less than 350 walks. But that would mean that they'd have to keep their hitting shoes on in all the games where their starting pitching (weaker than last year) flounders.

How have they gotten to a .600 WPCT? A bullpen that is amped up to an historic level of performance,  for one thing. And solid timely hitting across many of the splits (late and close, RISP, high leverage, game tied, two outs).

And, as our buried lede for this post demonstrates (in the table at right), they have been getting exceptionally consistent mediocre starting pitcher for the first four months of the 2015 season. 

As you can see, the Royals have the lowest deviation in their monthly starting pitcher ERA numbers. 

Indeed, it seems that consistent monthly performance (within some range of reasonable effectiveness) is what contributes to teams who exceed their Pythagorean projections.

Now, of course, you need exceptional performance from your bullpen to offset mediocrity--that's clearly happening for the Royals, and that's also the case for the Yankees. The A's, whose starters have been consistent on a monthly basis, don't have the benefit of even a good bullpen, so their consistency hasn't helped them stay in the playoff hunt.

The average deviation for MLB thus far is .59. The Royals and Yankees, despite having starting staffs whose overall performances are below league average, are managing to reap benefits from consistent mediocrity. It might be fitting if they face each other for the AL pennant.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

2015: COMPLETE GAMES #52, #53, #54, #55

A lull in complete games after the All-Star break, but a ten-game winning streak is in play, easily the longest of the season.

Cole (Cutie-Pie) Hamels: his no-no might be his swan song
for Philadelphia...
W-L records for 2015 CGs of eight IP or more (the only ones we recognize, which is why our totals do not match the number you'll find over at Forman et fils and elsewhere...) is now just under .750 (41-14).

We start at the most recent: Cole Hamels (#55, 7/25), the third no-hitter of 2015. Hamels, rumored all year to be on his way out of Philadelphia, threw 129 pitches in putting the total goose-egg on the Chicago Cubs, the most in a CG this year and tied with the Blue Jays' Marco Estrada, who had 129 pitchers over eight (non-CG) innings back on June 24.

It might be Hamels' last game for the Phils...if so, would that be the first time a pitcher was traded after throwing a no-hitter?

Elsewhere, the White Sox' Jose Quintana (#54, 7/24) scattered seven hits as he shut out the Indians (final score, Chisox 6, Cleveland 0).

And Clayton Kershaw (#53, 7/23) has two CGs in July and could be the first pitcher in recent memory to have three CGs in a month...Kershaw tossed a three-hit shutout at the Mets, striking out 11 (Dodgers won, 3-0)

Finally, Garrett Richards (#52, 7/18) helped put the struggling Red Sox (1-8 since the All-Star Break) into a hitting slump with a two-hit shutout (3-0 Angel win).

One last factoid: which team has had the most CGs thrown against them thus far in 2015? It's team currently in the hunt for the post-season: the Houston Astros (6 CG by opposing pitchers). Next highest: the Chicago White Sox with five.

Monday, July 20, 2015

GETTING ETERNAL IN PASADENA

Please feel free to peruse our preview essay over at the Hardball Times on the 2015 Shrine of the Eternals induction ceremony which was held yesterday (July 19) in Pasadena to a standing-room-only crowd. (Thanks to Paul Swydan for moving earth and a part of heaven to make it happen on short notice..)

The Baseball Reliquary "formula" is, as we noted some years back when we were honored to give the Keynote Address, one part anarchy and two parts reverence...the Reliquary's signature event has an aleatory choreography held together by the deadpan glee of Executive Director Terry Cannon.

He and his main cohort, Albert (Buddy) Kilchesty, are nothing more or less than two knowing and mysteriously gifted kids who can let go of their balloons at a windy beach and somehow be assured that they will return into their hands just as they're ready to call it a day.

After seventeen years of these singular proceedings, we are no longer astonished by how it all happens. In fact, we don't even have to be there (as was, sadly, the case this year) to know that it all worked just as it's supposed to do.

You can read more about this year's inductees--Sy Barger (Topps baseball card innovator), Glenn Burke (baseball's first gay player), Steve Bilko (legendary minor-league slugger with a TV show title to his credit)--in the Hardball Times essay.

But you should strongly consider buying the new book by the Reliquary's Tony Salin Award honoree, Gary Cieradkowski, entitled The League of Outsider Baseball. Fabulously illustrated by Cieradkowski himself and filled with indescribable baseball lore, it's an Eternal in its own write.


Thursday, July 16, 2015

2015: COMPLETE GAMES #44, #45, #46, #47, #48, #49, #50, #51

Some of "baseball's best starting pitchers" made a run on CGs during the run-up to the All-Star break:

--Chris Sale (#44, 7/6), a six-hit, 4-2 win over the Blue Jays;
--Mark Buehrle (#45, 7/6), losing to Sale and the White Sox (becoming the first pitcher to have two CG losses in 2015);

--Johnny Cueto (#46, 7/7), looking like his 2014 self with a two-hit, 11-K shutout as the Reds beat the Nationals, 5-0;

--Clayton Kershaw (#47, 7/8), scattering eight hits and fanning 13 in a 5-0 shutout win as the Dodgers swept a four-game series from the lowly Phillies;

--Jeff Samardzija (#48, 7/9), a four-hit shutout over the perplexing Blue Jays (a team playing a good bit under their Pythagorean projection);

--Sonny Gray (#50, 7/12), rebounding from his bout with gastroenteritis with a a two-hit shutout for the A's (another underachieving team according to Pythagorus...) in their 2-0 win over the Indians;

--Jake Arietta (#51, 7/12), proving that 2014 was no fluke with a two-hitter over the Cubs' cross-town rivals (White Sox).

Eagle-eyed readers will note that we've not yet covered CG #49 yet. That's because CG #49 was not turned in by someone who's currently considered to be one of "baseball's best starting pitchers"--though he's been very impressive since being recalled from the minors on June 9th (2.15 ERA, 181 ERA+; 3.00 "S," 2.38 "C,"/5.38 QMAX "T").

Who is he? He's Taylor Jungmann, the Brewers' first-round pick in 2011. The song "Long, Tall Texan" fits Taylor to a T: the 6'6" Jungmann was born in Temple, TX and was drafted after his stint on the mound at the University of Texas.  His first career CG (#49, 7/11) was a three-hit, seven-K domination of the Dodgers in Dodger Stadium. (The Brewers have been playing much better lately--it all seemed to stem from a timely matchup with those aforementioned Phillies, with whom they'd been vying for the dubious honor of worst team in baseball. Their four-game sweep of the Phils led to an eight-game winning streak and a 14-6 record in the run-up to the All-Star Break...

...which is where we came in, so it's a good place to get out. The Brewers' turnaround gets an immediate test this weekend when they have to face off against the Pirates.)

Sunday, July 12, 2015

CARDINALS CURRENTLY 16TH ALL-TIME IN WPCT WHILE SCORING 3 RUNS OR LESS...

Yes, the headline says it all. It's hard to win games when you score three runs or less: since 1901, all teams have a .228 WPCT in such games.

Right now, the St. Louis Cardinals are winning at nearly double the frequency of the average team in such situations: as of today, they are 19-25 (.432) in such games.

That ranks 16th all-time at the moment--though, of course, it's subject to change over the second half of the 2015 campaign.

As you might suspect, it's a distinguished group of teams. 36 of the other 45 team-seasons on the list (80%) went to the post-season, and twenty of them wound up winning the World Series.

With the recent emphasis on offense, it's been awhile since any team has made it onto this list--the last time was in 1995, when the Atlanta Braves did it.

In fact, 26 of the 45 occurrences took place during the Deadball Era. Six of them came into existence via the performance of the Chicago Cubs, whose pitching was so dominant in the years 1906-10 that these six .400+ WPCTs in games where they scored three or less all rank in the top fifteen all-time.

It appears that there are only four cases where teams with .400+ WPCT in such games faced off in the World Series (1909, 1911, 1951 and 1954).

Teams that play a lot of these type of games don't tend to be a lock to win the World Series, however. Teams who played 80 or more such games over the course of the season include six teams that didn't make the post-season at all.

There's an interesting difference between two adjacent Cardinals teams in the 1960s. The 1967 squad had 63 games in which they scored three runs or less, a .444 WPCT in those games (#5 overall) and won the World Series...while the 1968 team had 94 such games, a .436 WPCT in those games (#13 overall) but came up short in that year's Fall Classic.

This year's Cardinal squad is on pace to wind up with 81 games where they score three runs or less. That's only 11th overall in MLB this year, so they are not setting an alarming pace in this statistical subset. But they are chasing the 1968 Cards in terms of percentage of overall wins when scoring three runs or less: they are currently at 34% (19 of 56), while the '68 squad had 42% of their wins in such fashion (41 of 97). That's the highest percentage of low-run scoring wins, just a tad more than the 1918 Washington Senators (30 of 72, or 41.7%).

Monday, July 6, 2015

2015: COMPLETE GAMES #39, #40, #41, #42, #43

The "loss column" re-emreged in the CG listings over the past week: three of the last five CGs resulted in losses for the pitchers who went the distance:

--The Yankees' Michael Pineda (#39, 6/28), a 3-1 loss to the Astros;
--The Nationals' Max Scherzer (#41, 7/2), a 2-1 loss to the Braves;
--The Indians' Cody Anderson (#34, 7/4), a 1-0 loss to the Pirates.

The winners:

--The Mariners' Mike Montgomery (#40, 6/30), a 5-0 win over the Padres;
--The Red Sox' Clay Buchholz (#42, 7/4), a 6-1 win over the Astros.

Montgomery's game was the best of the bunch by all available measures: least runs allowed (0), least hits allowed (1), QMAX "S" score (1), game score (88). It was his second consecutive CG shutout, a feat he was unable to continue yesterday against the A's (though he did get the win as the M's edged the A's 2-1; Montgomery pitched only 5 1/3 IP as the sometimes shaky Mariner bullpen held it together to close it out).

In 2014, there were 60 CGs as of July 4th. The current "adjusted projection" for CGs in 2015, taking into account the tendency for more CGs after the All Star-Break, is now at 94.


Monday, June 29, 2015

ON THE NOTION THAT TOP HITTER YEARS HAVE SHIFTED TO "PRE-PEAK"...

We read an essay recently with some semi-elaborate "controls" imposed to "eliminate survivor bias" which came to the conclusion that hitters in the present age come up and have their peak years in the first few seasons of their careers.

It's an astonishing idea...if something like that were true, it would mean that scouting is literally everything (imagine a so-called sabermetric study that proved it all came down to scouting!!) in terms of developing hitters.

So is it true? It could be partially on the money for a reason that bypasses the classical "age-27 peak" formulation--that players don't earn significant playing time until they are already pushing up against what most analysts have called the "peak years" (once upon a time thought to be from 27-31, but more recently seen as 26-29).

Of course, if players don't get significant playing time in MLB until they are 25, such a notion that their "first years" are their best is in "alignment" with what studies have identified as the "peak years."

As always, things can get muddled fast. Such alignment doesn't really tell us much. Its predictive value is tenuous at best. What we need to see is not a comparison for individual players from year to year: such a study actually suffers from "anti-survivor bias."

What we need to see is a chart that shows the degree of elite hitting that occurs at each age, what its distribution over time looks like, and what patterns emerge from that distribution.



And so we give you the great OPS+ distribution chart for ages 25 thru 28, collated for the years 1990-2015. You can see how many hitters had OPS+ figures equal to of higher than 150 at each age for those years, followed by the number of hitters ≥ 140, ≥ 130, and ≥ 120. A weighted numerical formula is applied to create the values in the "Tot" columns at right.

Finally, these are color-coded to show the values for the age-25 hitters in any given year as they move through the next three years, up to age-28. You can see them cascade upward and to the right in the columns at the right.

What you see there is a great deal of individual year fluctuation in the initial age-25 values. But what you also see is that there is often an ongoing correlation with the original established value in those age-25 years as they move across time (to age-26, age-27, age-28). There are "fat years" and "lean years" as represented in the fluctuating totals that you see in the far right column.

And, yes, as Brock Hanke surmised some years back from a different examination based on individual hitter career patterns, there is a good bit of "iambic" progression here--where the numbers go either up, down, up, down or down, up, down, up.

Mostly, though, we see that a really good showing of age-25 hitters in any given year will almost always lead to a high scores across the sequence of following years. Such a pattern is there in the age-25 hitters from 1993: they not only hold their value as they move into "peak seasons," they increase it over those years. There are similar patterns in 1994-97, 1999-2002, 2001-2004, 2005-2008, and 2009-2012.

There is no indication that hitters are peaking at age 25--either here or in the five-year average chart that is the analogue to the above table. Looking at the chart (at right), you can see that the age-25 average trails across most of the time covered by the chart--though it does have a brief flurry in the last 4-5 years. (However, that flurry does not suggest that hitters are having their peak seasons earlier in their careers: age-28 was the leader in the late 90s, only to be replaced by age-27 since 2006 or so.

The chart shows that, on average, the age-27 year five-year averages are rebounding strongly as we get closer to today. While age-28 is showing some slippage from its heyday (1995-2001: probably an artifact of the offensive explosion itself...you can say "steroids" if you must), it's not enough to convince us that any serious shift to younger peaks is underway.

We will endeavor to expand this data into the past, in order to compare it with what we're seeing in recent years, and we'll also try to extend it on either edge of the ages represented here, to see just what kind of curve manifests itself from the total set of ages (and find out if hitters over age 33 are really just "washed up" or not. For right now, though, retain your faith in age-27 as the likeliest year for players to reach elite hitting status. Reports of its demised have been highly exaggerated...

Friday, June 26, 2015

2015: COMPLETE GAMES #33, #34, #35, #36, #37, #38

Time to update the daily complete game chart for 2015 as CGs gain some more momentum. We may well have a "horse race" to 100 if the slow but steady increase in frequency during the second half of the season follows its usual historical pattern.

Of course all eyes will be on Max Scherzer in the wake of his back-to-back no-and-lo-hit games (#31, 6/14, the one-hitter vs. the Brewers; #35, 6/20, the no-hitter vs. the Pirates). That "double no-hit" thing is in play tonight and the coverage will be all-encompassing.

Elsewhere recently: Madison Bumgarner added another CG loss to 2015's totals (#33, 6/17) when he and the Giants lost to the Mariners, 2-0. It's the tenth CG loss of the year, bringing the overall W-L record in CGs for 2015 to 28-10. (CG pitchers have won 19 of the past 23 after starting out 9-6 in the early going of 2015.)

Also: the Padres' Tyson Ross (#34, 6/20) got plenty of support from the Padres in his 8-1, four-hit CG vs. the D-backs...Jake Arrieta (#36, 6/21) baffled the Twins, throwing a four-hit shutout as the Cubs won 8-0...Seattle rookie Mike Montgomery blanked the Royals, striking out ten in a 7-0 M's win (#37, 6/23).

And joining David Price and Mark Buehrle in the "race" for most CGs, Houston's Dallas Keuchel scattered six hits in blanking the Yankees (#38, 6/25), giving him his third CG of the season.

The calendar chart confirms what we've seen previously: more CGs occur over the weekend (21 for Friday-Saturday-Sunday vs. 17 for Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday).

The current pace (measured without adjusting for rate changes in the second half of the season) is 84. When you make those adjustments, the projection moves upward to 95.

It's going to be close...stay tuned.