Saturday, October 18, 2014

ALL-TIME ASTRAL TEAMS (aka ZODIAC LEAGUE)/11: LIBRA

Eleven down, one to go for the Zodiac League.

Libra is that sign that searches for "balance." But, as we'll see, the talent imbalance is likely to make things tough for the Libra "B" team. They are very likely to need a mess of help to stand alone.

But that "A" team has a real troika of hitting talent at the center of its lineup.

And they have a really fine five-man rotation (though we hamstring them a bit by forcing them to take the lesser Hall of Famer, Rube Marquard, in place of a couple of better choices for the #6 slot).

The Hall of Fame quotient is low--but as the saying goes, the meat that is on the bone is cherce...very cherce.

Without further ado, here's that A-team batting order:

Rod Carew, 2b; Mickey Mantle, cf: Jimmie Foxx, 1b; Mike Schmidt, 3b; Chuck Klein, lf; Dave Winfield, rf; Buck Ewing, c; Joe Cronin, ss

Schmidt, Klein and Winfield should have a field day driving in runs in this configuration, with the Mick likely to lead the Zodiac "A" league in runs scored.



The starting rotation will do just fine with Marquard parsed into swing-man parsimony:

Three Finger Brown, Whitey Ford, Jim Palmer, Juan Marichal, Rube Waddell, Rube Marquard

And, hell's bells, you get two Rubes for the price of one this way.

The bullpen isn't too shabby, either:

Dennis Eckersley, Trevor Hoffman, Jeff Reardon, Dick Hall, Bobby Shantz, Grant Jackson

With these guys, you will be able to play post-post-modern baseball with impunity.

Before we go to the "B" team, let's note that the Libras have some excellent players to man the "A" team bench...guys like Gene Tenace, Roy Cullenbine, Bob Bailey, Al Oliver, Jose Bautista, Brian Downing.

That's a very offensive bench...in the best sense of the term.



Now, the "B" team batting order isn't shabby (it's the pitching that will most likely prove to be the letdown). Take a look:

Joe Sewell, ss; Fred Clarke, lf; Andrew McCutchen or Wally Berger, cf; Mark McGwire, 1b; Eddie Mathews, 3b; Goose Goslin, rf; Robinson Cano, 2b; Tim McCarver (or, if you force us to play the HOFer, Rick Ferrell...) c

We lean toward McCutchen given a) his greater range of offensive value, b) his more modern mien and c) the addition of another "Mc" to the lineup (though we are not sure just how "Irish" he really is!).

And, as with the "A" team  there are still some fine hitters left to pine away for their chance: Carlos Gonzalez, Ichiro! Suzuki, Jack Fournier, Troy Tulowitzki, Evan Longoria. The "B" team will be a bit more interchangeable with these guys coming off the bench.

But the pitching looks as though it might be a bit sub-optimal in the "B" league...

Here are the starters:

Wilbur Wood, Will White, Jered Weaver, Zack Greinke, Harry Brecheen, Nap Rucker

A lot of Hall of Very Good to be found here, while other "B" squads have a bit more going for them. However, we did make sure that the Libra "B boys" had balance in their rotation--three from the right, and three from the left.

Here's the pen:

Todd Worrell, Randy Moffitt, Craig Lefferts, Kenley Jansen, Brad Ziegler, Darren Oliver

There's no wincing to be had when mentioning these names, of course. But the best guy here is Jansen, who's a big, menacing bag of fun who sometimes goes rather spectacularly up in smoke. These guys are simply a couple of standard deviations to the right of the optimum curve when it comes to how erratic they can be...and even in the Zodiac "B" league, this will present a problem.

But, being Libras, they'll have good old All-American fun no matter what...though they will almost certainly choose to leave Sandra Bernhard at home with her candle collection.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

IN SEARCH OF THE "IMMACULATE CONCEPTION" POST-SEASON

Even outside Kansas City they are going agog for the Royals.

The winning streak is up to six games--actually, nine if you go back to the middle of the Reagan era, when the Royals were last in the post-season: they rallied for three straight wins against the Cardinals to win what is still their only World Championship.

There is still a long way to go--six more wins, to be exact--but the Royals are starting to exhibit what those who have yet to discard their ouija boards like to characterize as "inevitability." A small, concentrated dose of scrappy playing and several dramatic wins in close games can't help but produce a lot of magical thinking.

The record for most consecutive wins in the post-season is twelve. It has been done twice, by the same team (the New York Yankees), under vastly different circumstances.

The "real" record--twelve consecutive World Seres wins--was set by the Ruth-Gehrig squad in three consecutive sweeps (though by "consecutive" we don't mean in consecutive Series: after sweeping the Pirates and Cardinals in 1927-28, the Yankees took three years off while the Philadelphia A's dominated the AL--then they came roaring back in 1932 to bury the Chicago Cubs).

That mark was "tied" by the 1998-99 squad, which ripped through an ALCS, a WS, and an ALDS before finally dropping a game to the Red Sox in the 1999 ALCS.

Twelve teams have fashioned at least eight consecutive post-season wins. The most recent to do so before the Royals did it: the San Francisco Giants, who had a ten-game post-season skein snapped just a few days ago when the Nationals beat them. (The 1988-89 A's and the 1937-41 Yankees are the other squads with ten straight wins--again, the Yankees punking their opponents in World Series games.)

The "Wins Above Average" by defensive position for the 1969 NL (focusing on the Mets)...
The Giants fashioned a collective 0.90 ERA in those games; only the Orioles, in eight straight wins from 1966-69 (four against the last gasp of the Koufax Dodgers, three against Killebrew's Twins, and one before the roof caved in against the Mets), had a lower ERA in their streak.

Overall, teams with the longest consecutive post-season win streaks are doing so with their pitching: the top twelve squads, each with at least eight straight wins, have fashioned a collective 2.01 ERA.

The Royals haven't quite got that kind of pitching mojo working, at least not yet. But their ERA in the nine-game (thirty-year...) skein is a respectable 2.63.

It could be that baseball needs a kind of "immaculate conception" post-season, the one that comes along once every five decades. The Royals strongly resemble one of baseball's most noted "miracle teams"--the 1969 New York Mets.

True, the Mets won more games--but "by resemble," we mean that their strengths and weaknesses are highly similar. The snapshots of the "Wins Above Average" by position data available for each team at Forman et fils indicate that the two teams were strongest in left field (Cleon Jones for the Mets, Alex Gordon for the Royals), with lesser strength in center (Tommie Agee for the Mets, Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson for the Royals).

They had weak offensive infields, negligible right fielders--but they had solid pitching (though the Royals were more patchy in terms of starers--there is no Tom Seaver to be found anywhere near the 2014 KC rotation).

The other "upset" team in this mix is the team that won an upset World Series exactly one hundred years ago--the 1914 Boston Braves. (Ironically, in this age of sudden mediocrity, the Royals are probably more highly regarded as a potential Series winner than either of the "Miracle" teams.)

What further distinguishes the Royals from the 1969 Mets and the 1914 Braves is the team's lackluster finishing kick: The Braves went 29-7 (.806) from Game 120 to the end of the regular season; that's second best all-time amongst World Series winners (beaten only by the 1942 Cardinals, who went 31-6). Likewise, the Mets were superb down the stretch, finishing 1969 with a 32-11 record starting at game 120.

...and the same chart highlighting the Royals in the 2014 AL have a LOT of similarities.
Not so these Royals, who managed a 24-19 record over their closing 43-game patch in 2014. But they have been making up for lost time--upending the A's in a spasmodic "winner take all" Wild Card game (a bad idea for baseball, as we've noted elsewhere), upsetting a comatose (and overrated) Angels squad, and now giving the Orioles pause.

The "immaculate conception" concept usually means, however, that the team fades away and isn't heard from for a long, long time. The 1914 Braves fit that definition, while the 1969 Mets did squeak their way into the World Series four years later, thanks to a weak division and some clutch starting pitching. But they weren't heard from again for more than a dozen years.

If the Royals win another six games in a row, they'll have
the same canary-swallowing cat-like smiles that Steve'n'Judy
had on display here, way back in 1968, the year before the last miracle...
The Royals would bring post-neo sabermetrics around to a place strongly resembling where its tail exists,  but it won't matter much. They are likely to go the way of all flesh 2015 and beyond, but the midwestern contingent will have a moment of Reaganesque nostalgia to cling to in the long interregnum to follow, where a series of lifeboats will form a circle in the wine-dark sea and speak in hushed tones about that "shining city upon a hill" where everything is up-to-date but curiously out of step.

"Immaculate conception" teams are baseball's point of connection with American exceptionalism, and one could argue that the game and the nation needs something like this to perpetuate its self-illusion. Who are we to argue with that, even if it's as bogus as a three dollar bill? As Stephen Stills, in his shining moment as "ersatz poet in search of a face-saving erectile dysfunction" once opined: "I am yours, you are mine, you are what you are--you make it hard."

Thursday, October 9, 2014

FIVE YEARS OF POST-SEASON PERFORMANCE...

Is it good news or bad news that the number of post-season baseball games continues to expand? We will, herewith, leave the opining to others (you can all exhale now...); herein we are merely counting results.

And what we count here is a small subset of recent post-season activity. Five years' worth (2010-14), to be exact. (You might quibble that it's not a full five years, and you'd be right. Consider it four years and counting.)

Why such a short time frame? A snapshot in time just might, in this case, be more informative and interesting than the complete data set. (We can always do that later...for example, when this year's post-season has concluded.)

More informative? Possibly. What teams have dominated the post-season (which, in its own way, has become a mini-marathon) in five-year clusters? "Domination" might be too strong a word...how abou simply discovered who has played the most post-season games in any five-year stretch? (Or, whose total of post-season games is the highest percentage of any five-year total of post-season games?)

Interesting, yes? Earth-shattering...likely not. But something with which to pass a little time while we wait for the next round of the post-season to commence.

So...would you be surprised to know that the St. Louis Cardinals have played the most post-season games since 2010? As of Tuesday night, they've been in 52 post-season contests, which easily outdistances the Detroit Tigers (38) and the San Francisco Giants (36).

We've organized the 2010-14 post-season performance (at right) by winning percentage. We've color coded teams by the number of post-season games they've played. The Cardinals are the "hottest," so they have the "hot orange" coloring; on the other side of the spectrum, teams with less than five post-season games are displayed in pale blue.

What leaps out from this table is the post-season performance of the San Francisco Giants. With two World Series wins (2010, 2012) to their credit, we could expect that they'd be safely above .500, but to be playing better than .700 ball in the post-season is more than simply stunning.

(Of course, missing the playoffs entirely, as they did in 2011 and 2013, might be part of the recipe for such a stellar WPCT. No "three and out" division series performances to sully things. But--give them credit: when the Giants get to the post-season, they have clearly been able to gear-shift upwards.)

So the question is--how have they done that? As is often the case, Forman et fils can help us to understand that.

It turns out that the Giants are doing it with great pitching. (Which is probably what you'd suspected was the case.) Giants' starters are a combined 18-9 over the timespan covered (beginning with the 2010 post-season and ending with the 2014 division series). The starters' aggregate ERA in these games is 2.44.

While Madison Bumgarner is now anointed as the Giants' best starter, it turns out that he's only 4-3 in the post-season with a 3.08 ERA. That's not bad, but that's actually a bit worse than the overall performance of demoted multiple CYA winner Tim Lincecum (4-2, 3.05).

Matt Cain (currently on the shelf) has been the Giants' post-season ace (4-2, 2.10), and the Giants have been able to replace him with Jake Peavy and Tim Hudson, both of whom stepped up nicely in their first post-season appearances.

But the real "secret weapon" for the Giants--at least since 2012--is Ryan Vogelsong, who's now 3-0 with a 1.19 ERA over 30 1/3 post-season innings. Vogelsong made his fifth consecutive post-season start in which he gave up one run or less on Tuesday night.

And the Giants' bullpen has been superb in the post-season as well. They simply haven't given any games away, and have proven to be great pitchers in tie games--all of which adds up to an overall 8-1 record with a 2.51 ERA.

Aside from fine performances from the three different closers who were in place during each of the Giants' post-season appearances (Brian Wilson in 2010, Sergio Romo in 2012, Santiago Casilla in 2014), Bruce Bochy has gotten amazing work from his two lefties--Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt--who've been on all three post-season squads and have combined to allow just eight hits and three runs (two earned) in 25 2/3 IP.

When you put all of that together, it's probably not all that surprising that the Giants have such a stellar post-season WPCT over the past five years. We'll wait 'til the 2014 post-season comes to an end before undertaking a more systematic examination, but you'd have to give the Giants a solid chance at being in the top five "five-year performers" since the post-season added its "third prong" in 1995. Stay tuned...

Monday, October 6, 2014

SCORELESS RELIEF INNINGS IN A SINGLE GAME, POST-SEASON

Quickly. It's obvious that Giants' swing man Yusmeiro Petit's six scoreless innings in SF's 18-inning win in Game Two of their NLDS vs. the Washington Nationals was nothing less than a superb performance.

But just how rare is it? Who are Petit's counterparts in length of scoreless relief innings in a single game?

Interestingly, none of the other six names on the list with him (all with at least six scoreless relief IP) did their thing in extra-inning games.

Ray Collins (not the actor who played Lt. Tragg on Perry Mason, or Boss Jim Gettys in Citizen Kane...), had the first such game, and it's still the longest scorleess relief performance in the post-season. Collins allowed five hits and no runs over seven innings for the Red Sox in Game 6 of the 1912 World Series, replacing the forgotten Buck O'Brien after he allowed five runs in the first. (O'Brien, who won 20 games for the Sox in 1912, lost twice to the New York Giants in that post-season and was never any good after that.)

The Indians' famous bragster Duster Mails, having gone 7-0 down the stretch during a tumultuous 1920 AL pennant race, got the quick call in the first inning of Game Three vs. Brooklyn. Mails stopped the Robins (it was the second and last pennant for Brooklyn's Wilbert Robinson) on just three hits over 6 2/3 innings, but Brooklyn won the game, 2-1. Mails was heard from again later in the Series, shutting out the Robins, 1-0, in Game Six. (Revenge was sweet for Duster, who'd failed an audition with Brooklyn in 1916.)

Forty-six years later, Moe Drabowsky relieved Dave McNally in Game One of the 1966 series between the Orioles and the Dodgers (who, at this moment at least, have a chance to reconnect in the Fall Classic again this year). It was the third inning, and manager Hank Bauer showed Sparky Anderson just what a "quick hook" was when the Dodgers chipped away at the Orioles' early lead. Drabowsky threw 6 2/3 scoreless innings. The Dodgers never scored another run in the Series.

In 1971, Bruce Kison replaced Luke Walker in the first as the Pirates struggled to contain the Orioles in Game Four. (The O's held a 2-1 lead in the Series at that point). Kison's 6 1/3 scoreless innings (allowing just one hit) allowed Pittsburgh to get back in the game. They won it, 4-3, and went on to beat Baltimore in seven games.

In 1999, Pedro Martinez took the mound in the fourth inning for the Red Sox after Bret Saberhagen and Derek Lowe had each been pounded. His six scoreless innings (eight K's) allowed the Sox to lace up their hitting shoes and carve out a 12-8 win in Game 5 of the ALDS.

The most recent since Petit was veteran lefty reliever Darren Oliver, who blanked the Cardinals for six innings in Game Three of the 2006 NLCS. Oliver's Mets lost the game, 5-0, and eventually lost the series, four games to three.

You may be wondering what is the record for the most scoreless relief innings in a game. Of course, Forman et fils can help you with that (at least back to 1914). The record is held by someone that neither we nor you nor anyone's dog named Boo will know--a pitcher named Bob Osborn (no relation to the longtime TCM host). Fourteen shutout innings for the Cubs vs. the Boston Braves, on May 17, 1927. (The Cubs won, 4-3.)

There is no truth to the rumor that Calvin Coolidge read of Osborn's achievement and decided not to run for re-election.

The full list of 10+ IP scoreless relief appearances is interesting, but we'll save that for another time. One teaser: the most recent pitcher to appear on this list: Dick Tidrow, with 10 2/3 scoreless innings against the Twins on August 25, 1976. You can bet the ranch that you'll never see something like that again in several lifetimes...

Friday, October 3, 2014

RANDOM THOUGHTS, EARLY POST-SEASON

Ever since the first "post-season" (a term we'd use to define a concept that began in 1969, when the simplest, most elegant form of baseball meritocracy was retired forever...) there have been tales of the unexpected.

These tales (or events, or occurrences...) come in two major forms:

1) astonishing performances by lesser-known, unheralded or downright maligned individuals;

2) stunning reversals of form by players of otherwise exceptional accomplishment.

(1969 gave us the New York Mets, with a series of indelibly improbable events. A list of these over the ensuing forty-six years that "the post-season" has existed would almost be lengthy enough for a book (and, in fact, might be already: we haven't had time to check.)

We have an example of each "form of astonishment" already in 2014--in a single game, Cardinals-Dodgers NLDS Game #1.

First, Dodger catcher A.J. Ellis, suffering through his worst offensive season, joined the ranks of 141 other hitters by collecting four hits. Ellis' OPS+ was 68 in 2014, which might qualify him for the lowest  in-season OPS+ amongst all those who've collected four (or more) hits in a post-season game. (Let's see...Ryan Theriot in 2011...85 OPS+; Willy Aybar in 2008...94 OPS+...)

Not the lowest--there's Jose Vizcaino in 2000, with four singles in the World Series (Game One) for the Mets, whose  OPS+ that year, in a season split between New York and Los Angeles, was a combined 58.

A. J. had a home run among his four hits yesterday, but it was not part of anything that he or the Dodgers could feel good about, as their ace of aces, Clayton Kershaw, suffered a shocking meltdown in the seventh inning, allowing St. Louis to stage an eight-run rally en route to a 10-9 come-from-behind win. (It was a game that instantly upstaged the roller-coaster ride in the AL Wild Card game, which only two days earlier had staked a claim as one of the post-season's most exciting and calamitous contests--though much of that was dependent on its "sudden death" nature.)


WHICH brings us to our other "random" thought (feel free, of course, to substitute "vagrant" as the adjective in that verbal formation). We are completely turned off by the concept of the  "sudden death" play-in game. Let's count the reasons:

--The so-called "meritocracy" of non-division winners "separating wheat from chaff" is semi-dubious in theory, but is beyond so in practice, since it's entirely possible that division winners can have worse records than the wild card teams.

--"Sudden death" is great for football. It might, in fact, be the reason why that game is such a good fit for the post-modern "lifestyle"--you only have to invest so much time in a narrative, and it's pre-programmed for you. (Notice how much of the new narrative style in television has found a way to insert this into its episodic structure.)

But it's not great for baseball. In the context of a game that has always resolved its post-season with a series of games, it's a false note, an overly manufactured excitement.

No team should be so marginal as to have a "one-and-you're out" in the post-season. (Getting there...yes. If a play-in for a wild card slot is needed, then that is the exception.)

Years (and years) ago, we concocted a radical plan for a post-season that revamped the entire structure into a "mini-season." It was decidedly radical, even having teams play across leagues as part of the journey to the World Series. It even permitted two teams from the same league (gasp!) to wind up squaring off in the Fall Classic. (Based on the nascent notion, already grasped with tongue defiantly in cheek, that the ultimate voyeuristic transgression that baseball could foist off onto its fan base would be to allow for a scenario where the Yankees and the Red Sox could face each other for all the marbles.)

Some twenty years after that foray into surrealist black humor, the idea still makes more sense than any other. Since the Edenic simplicity of the old days is lost to us forever, we need to do something much more creative with the post-season, something that mirrors (in a compressed way) the features of the daily game that make it unique.

We should celebrate that dailiness in a way that combines with the excitement of gradual elimination, but do so in a way that cross-pollinates the competition so that each team plays all of its potential opponents in the post-season.

We won't elaborate (read: belabor) such a process in specifics here. (We might return to it later in the post-season, however.) But such an approach is something worth working toward, even though its chances of adoption are slight (the world of baseball is glacial, except when it isn't: you have to catch lightning in a bottle...or, rather, a group of disgruntled billionaires at the right moment...to transport the game into a realm that takes full advantage of its possibilities).

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

2014: SLOW DRIP DRIES UP (AT LAST!!): FINAL INTERLEAGUE RESULTS

If people would cease to care about Derek Jeter in the way that they've ceased caring about interleague play, we would really be on to something.

The 2014 battle between the AL and NL wound down with less suspense than the slow-motion "backing into the playoffs" in the final week of the season, as the AL went 14-4 in its home games during interleague play in September en route to a 15-9 final month to wind up with a 163-137 advantage over the course of the year.

We have several more tables for you in addition to the calendar overview.

First, we've got the overall interleague standings. Part of what got the Royals into the postseason was their superb performance against the NL in 2014 (15-5).

We haven't gone back to look at whether this is something that shows up in the data in other years, but the playoff-bound teams did quite well in interleague play in 2014: 127-93 (.577 WPCT).

Teams that played over .500 but didn't make the postseason (and by the way, did you know that there was only one non-playoff team in the NL this year that managed to finish over .500 this season, as opposed to four in the AL?) also fared rather well in inteleague play: 56-44 (.560 WPCT).

The "bad" (sub-.500) teams took it on the chin: 113-163 (.409 WPCT).

The most interesting chart, however, has nothing to do with individual successes or failures amongst the 30 individual teams with respect to interleague play. It is the ongoing (presumably random) bias that continues to favor the AL in terms of quality of opponent.

As you can see, the AL played only 40% of its games against NL teams with winning records in 2014. That certainly doesn't hurt their prospects any! As the chart shows, the NL--which plays the good teams of the AL reasonably well at home (46-44)--just takes it on the chin in road games against .500+ AL opponents (25-65, .278 WPCT).

We figure that this amounts to about a six-game advantage for the AL over the course of interleague play. Based on calculations that adjust for the "good team" bias, the NL would add six more wins against the AL if games are balanced for quality of opponent. They'd still trail in games won, 157-143, but there's no question that the vagaries of the interleague schedule are not favoring the NL.

And they haven't done so for the past five years: AL teams have played sub-.500 NL opponents in 57% of all interleague games since the 2010 season.


Monday, September 29, 2014

2014: COMPLETE GAMES #111, #112, #113

Three more CGs on the final weekend of the 2014 regular season, bringing us to a grand total of 113 (remember, we aren't counting any CGs where the IP total is lower than eight innings...).

The Nationals had a mini-crescendo over the weekend, with Doug Fister's three-hit shutout (#111, 9/26) against the Marlins one-upped by Jordan Zimmermann, who added to the lore of "last day of the season" heroics by tossing a no-hitter at the Fish (#112, 9/28) to close things out.

Sonny Gray (#113, 9/28) could not let down either the flailing A's or his mother (whose birthday fell on the final day of the '14 campaign). His six-hit shutout, leading Oakland to a 4-0 win over the Texas Rangers, pushed the A's into the post-season (even as they set a record for the worst WPCT in the second half for a playoff-bound team: .433 WPCT).

As we noted in the last post, we're likely going to stick with the CG watch in '15, simply because there's an awfully good chance that managers will continue to "knee-jerk" with respect to pitch counts. The number of CGs could more than double if pitchers were permitted to go on into the ninth when their pitch counts are at or below 105 pitches, but the chances are slim that this will happen any time soon.

At left is the final "calendar chart" for 2014 CGs. The basic trends we noted last time were not altered over the last portion of the year...

--CGs are rarest on Mondays (just six all year).

--Wednesday was the most likely day to see a CG in '14 (23), with Thursday (21) a close second.

--The Tuesday-to-Thursday axis (62 CGs out of that total of 113) dominated in terms of "days of the week."

The numbers in orange on black have nothing to do with either the O's or the Giants (who have one more opportunity to bring us a double shot of Halloween colors for the World Series this year); they refer to the number of days in each month when there was at least one CG.

That's a total of 82 days in a season that lasted a little over 170 days (we aren't counting the late March stretch after Budzilla's premature you-know-what for the season and the formal beginning on March 30), which means that there was an average of at least one complete game every other day.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

ACTIVE HIT LEADERS: A PARABLE FOR OUR TIME

Why a parable? Why a duck? Hell, why bother, for that matter? Because somebody's got to do it--and besides, we've got the ticket to ride, and we don't care.

For you see, parables are written by people who once cared not wisely but too well. And so it goes, even though where it's going, no one knows.

Or cares.

So...now that that's understood (!), let's move right on to the parable, shall we? Poor Fergus McFollicle has torn out the remaining scraps of hair from his head (you can call it a bald pate if you like, he doesn't care...) trying to keep up with the crescendo of chatter over the end of the Jeter Affair that is (mercifully) wrapping up this weekend. (Imagine if the Yankees had made the post-season!) C.O. Jones reports that Fergus is so frazzled by the clatter he's been forced to track over these past several weeks that he's considering several job offers with the intelligence community simply in order to relax.

So, to distract him long enough so that he won't make yet another ill-advised career decision, we've devised what we've taken to calling "the parable of the hits." Now, hits have taken a hit over the past twenty years: as a baseball statistic they are now considered just about as meaningless as RBIs; but we wanted to look at them in a way that no one seems to have considered during this long rush-to-a-modeled-reality phase that has afflicted baseball--and everything else that's been touched by the "lounge lizard MBA approach" (yes, yes, a quick nod in the direction of our sponsor, "Fright Quotes R Us," a company that doesn't care about anything, either, except how many times a fright quote appears across the cockeyed caravan that we call the Internet).

How to get to parable from the increasingly parabolic? In this case, simple--though tedious, as Forman et fils displays how semi-manual and repetitive some of the research still is when one thinks outside the box. (And Sean might actually care about that, except he's too busy buying boxes of Band-Aids for those clanky defensive "metrics" to which he's committed himself.)

We went through and compiled the yearly list of the active hit leaders beginning with the first year in baseball history that the active hit leader had 2000 or more hits. That occurred in 1888, which happens to be another of those election years in America where a candidate (Benjamin "Don't Call Me Bennie" Harrison) won without carrying the popular vote. (You see, the Electoral College doesn't care, one way or the other.) As we compiled the year-by-year list--all the way to 2014--we kept track of the number of hitters with 2000+ hits, with 2500+ hits, and 3000+ hits.

We wanted to see the ebb and flow of the active hit leader board, if for no other reason than the fact we'd never seen it before: if it had been thought of by anyone, it had been discarded (for reasons we've already covered above).

We also wanted to see how many of the yearly active hits leaders were Hall of Famers, just to see how reliable a statistic hits proves to be, despite its precipitous decline in the minds of the increasingly overzealous.

Now, we'll get to the findings, but first we have to fill a little time here so that there's enough text here to cover the size of these jumbo tables we've created. (Not that you care about our problems...)

So, here (at right) the first fifty-three (53) years of data, from 1888-1930. What we see here are three clear trends. First, twelve of the thirteen players who appear on the active hits leader list (and we include all hitters still active with 3000+ hits in any given year even they aren't actually #1) are in the Hall of Fame. (Only George Van Haltren, who held the #1 slot in 1900-01, missed the Hall. And yes, that's right, nobody cares.)

Second, such a list tends to be dynastic. Cap Anson (ten consecutive years as the active hits leader from 1888-97), Honus Wagner (six years, from 1912-17), and Ty Cobb (eleven years, from 1918-28) dominate this list.

Third, there is a kind of generational component in the ebb and flowof the active leader list. We see big drops in the leader list from time to time as a result  (Anson to Bid McPhee in 1898, for example; another is Wagner to Cobb in 1918, something that might not be immediately apparent, since folks tend to lump those two guys into the Deadball Era--whereas Cobb's dominance of the active hits list lies mostly in the heavy-hitting twenties).

So now let's move on to the next large swatch of active hits leaders data, covering the next fifty-nine years (1931-1989).

As will be clear, the patterns we discussed above are readily apparent here as well.

We see the same high correlation of active hits leaders with Hall of Fame slots (aside from Pete Rose, we have three "unworthies" who slipped their way into the active hit leadership due to various lull points: Doc Cramer back in the late 40s, and two ex-Dodgers, Steve Garvey (1987) and Bill Buckner (1988-89).

And the tendency for dynastic succession interspersed with some generational chaos is also here.

It turns out that Stan Musial was the "man" with the active hits lead for the longest time, pushing his way to the top in 1952 due to a dearth of long-career players at the time (WWII had messed up the generational continuty). He stayed right there for twelve consecutive years until he retired in 1963.

And there was the big drop when that happened: the new active hits leader, Nellie Fox (who held that slot for two years before his retirement in '65) had almost a thousand fewer hits when he became the leader.

The only greater drop occurred in 1986-87, when Garvey took over the top spot from Rose, with close to 1700 fewer hits.

We also see an ebb and flow in the number of active hitters with 2500+ hits during this time frame. Expansion has something to do with it, of course, but there seems to be a clustering effect that takes hold about every 7-8 years. Despite the greater profusion of 3000+ hit players, we only have two instances where we have three of them active in any single year.

So let's push on to the present day (our third and last table covers the years 1990-2014). With this group, we see a few changes in the patterns.

First, there's no dynastic pattern. (At least not until Jeter took over in 2010. He's the first hitter since Rose in 1986 to hold the active hits lead for five or more seasons.)

Second, the pattern of multiple active hitters with 3000+ hit totals is more pronounced--or, at least it is up until 2002. Some have speculated that Jeter's outsized veneration has to do with returning us into an era with a 3000+ hit player. It looks more like a combination of East Coast media hype and a cohesive mainstream press attempting to steamroll the backlash from (mostly) the post-neo set who have operatically overstated Jeter's (very real) defensive shortcomings, but Derek did make the climb to the highest lifetime hit total since Rose (he ranks 6th all-time).

And that just might be a residual reason for all the rancor. We remember how unseemly Rose's pursuit of the hit record was in the mid-80s. There has probably been some transference of those feelings from that event in a certain subset of baseball's collective memory that has glommed onto Jeter. And, to a certain extent, they're right: Jeter is the epitome of a media phony, whose "humility" is manufactured as cheaply and baldly as the products that came from Kathie Lee Gifford's infamous sweatshop.

But some people project even more onto this than is actually there. They waste valuable time and effort on the maelstrom of media spectacle, and by doing so feed further into it. They have created a kind of caring that is untenable and unusable, and that will have little or no effect on those who've swallowed what the media has concocted. If anything, they will actually reinforce it.

In short, they should take a look at this list, and all the other leader lists, and realize that "fame" and "value" (and "fright quotes") are all wispy shadows of a reality that isn't really any more real just because we keep score and have all the numbers that go along with it.

They should let go, and cease to care. They should simply admit that, despite his shortcomings on and off the field, Derek Jeter was a great player and, barring some unforeseen scandal, he is going to be in the Hall of Fame in 2020.

He will be overrated by many. He won't be the first, and he won't be the last. But fixating on him won't solve anything.

We'll return to this data a bit later from a couple of different vantage points. Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

2014: COMPLETE GAMES #105, #106, #107, #108... (AND #109, #110)

The Great Complete Game Chase is over. Yesterday (when all our troubles weren't nearly so far away as we might have hoped...) was the backbreaker, as the tie that had been achieved back on September 17th was finally broken.

It was the Mariners' Taijuan Walker, in a hard-luck, 1-0, eight-inning loss to the Blue Jays, who came to rest with #109, which put 2014 beyond the record low for CGs established back in 2007. (The M's, poised to give Oakland and Kansas City a real run for a Wild Card slot, have dropped four straight to steer themselves right over the edge of the horizon.)

And #110 followed from a pitcher (Kyle Lohse) whose team (the Brewers) had preceded the M's in playing themselves out of the post-season. Kyle was 7-1 in early June when he recorded his first CG of the year; his ERA in his next sixteen starts (prior to his second CG yesterday) was 4.97.

Previously, we'd seen the return of Andrew Cashner, who had 2014's very first CG--an electrifying one-hitter with eleven K's--but who was sidelined twice during the year. We're not sure if Andrew will ever be able to remain healthy for a full season, but if he does...watch out. His second CG (#105 on the year, on 9/15; a two-hit, 1-0 shutout win against the Phillies) was nearly as impressive as his April gem.

Next was the Cubs' Jake Arrieta (#106, 9/16), continuing his astonishing transformation in '14 after protracted mediocrity in his stints with Baltimore, completing a one-hit, 13-K shutout against the Reds.

9/17 brought us two more CGs: Adam Wainwright (#107), who scattered seven hits as the Cardinals pushed the Brewers out of the playoff hunt with a 2-0 win; and #108--from the Indians' on-the-rise Carlos Carrasco, who brought the hammer down on the Astros (a two-hit, 12-K shutout).

While we're thinking about shutouts: the total for the year (62) is nowhere close to the record for least in a season (43--set, as with the CG low, in 2007). Remember, this refers to shutouts by starters pitching a complete game; overall team shutouts--where the starter and any number of relievers who follow collectively blank the opposition--went up in 2014 to 344, which is the second highest total in baseball history, behind only the 1972 season (357--of which 295 were CG shutouts).

We're thinking we should stay with this in 2015, as odds are high that the situation will be much the same. Can managers take the CG below the "100 a year" horizon? There's no reason to rule it out...