Monday, December 9, 2013

Non-Obligatory Awards Post

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
My post rate my be dwindling, but nothing can keep me from commenting on the end of season MLB awards. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning waiting for the results to be announced to see what kind of insanity had been unleashed by the BBWAA. In a welcome event started last season, the BBWAA now posts the results of all the voters' ballots, so we here in the blogosphere can eagerly pick apart the voting patterns of the "experts" and further discover why much of baseball writing is in such a poor condition.

To start, I think overall the voters did a fair job this year. Trout was again obviously a more deserving MVP candidate than Miguel Cabrera, but that isn't an argument that is going to be settled any time soon. Other than that, I don't have a problem with any of the other award winners. The real fun comes though when we start looking down the ballots or at individual voters whose wild choices did not end up drastically changing the final results. Let's go through the awards and see what tidbits we can unfurl.

It's hard to get too worked up over the Manager of the Year awards. It's difficult to evaluate a manager's performance as viewers only ever get to witness their in game decisions without seeing any of the behind-the-scenes process which led to the result. This is why Manager of the Year tends to just go to the team that most outperformed preseason expectations. Clint Hurdle and the Pittsburgh Pirates seem to fall into that category in the National League. I find it amusing that Don Mattingly and Fredi Gonzalez finished second and third considering writers were calling for their jobs earlier this year. Their teams made the playoffs though, so I guess that qualifies as good managing. Mattingly also led his team back from being over 10 games down in the division and the timing of that lining up with Puig being promoted and Greinke getting healthy was probably a coincidence.

Over in the American League the top of the ballot seemed to shake out mostly fine. Although I do love the bit of homerism from Todd Wills of ESPN Dallas who gave Ron Washington his only third place vote. Even though the Rangers had an extremely disappointing season, Wills provides an excellent case for Washington's candidacy:
"What I saw on the following road trip to Tampa Bay and Kansas City was a manager that held things together and didn't panic. The Rangers went 3-4 on the trip and lost heart-breakers in St. Petersburg and Kansas City, and still Washington never wavered, setting the club up for that final seven-game homestand.

With the Rangers needing seven wins to have any hope of at least getting into a tiebreaker game -- the way the schedule set up for Cleveland and Tampa Bay, there was no other option -- Ron Washington's club did just that. They won seven straight games when they absolutely had to."
If that doesn't define managerial skill I don't know what else can. Forget the fact that if the Rangers went 4-3 on that trip they wouldn't have had to play a Wild Card play in game. Doesn't matter. Washington didn't waver and his team won when they absolutely had to!

Wil Myers won the American League Rookie of the Year award easily, picking up 23 of 30 first place votes. It wasn't exactly a strong rookie class this year, so it wasn't too surprising to see some third place votes scattered among guys like Cody Allen, Martin Perez, and David Lough. I wouldn't have voted for them, but it isn't outrageous. What is outrageous though is the ballot of Chris Assenheimer of the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram, representing the Indians, who gave Allen one of those third place votes but couldn't find any room on his ballot for Myers. I guess he appreciated Allen a lot having seen him the most, but if he wants to vote on a league-wide award he should also consider watching the rest of the league.

In the National League there were a number of outstanding candidates, but Jose Fernandez won the award deservedly, getting 26 of 30 first place votes. There's some more homerism fun to be had with the National League ballot though. Nolan Arenado's lone third place vote came from Denver writer Jack Etkin. One of Jedd Gyorko's two third place votes came from John Maffei from UT San Diego who was the only voter not to vote for Puig. In all fairness though, he does provide an awful explanation:
"A second baseman hit 23 home runs and played great defense. Maybe Puig's antics were in the back of my mind, but I really think the guy [Gyorko] deserved a third-place vote. I just felt he deserved it, not that Puig didn't."
This line of thinking is so incredibly narrow minded. Look at this player, he played well, forget how he compares to everyone else, just acknowledge that he played well. The Rookie of the Year ballot is a ranking system. Until Maffei understands that he shouldn't be allowed to vote.

Onto the Cy Young awards, where each ballot has five slots, providing two more slots than RoY ballots for insanity. In the American League Max Scherzer went 21-3 so he wins the Cy Young award. He did some other things really well too, but mostly he went 21-3. J.P. Hoornstra of the Los Angeles News Group had an interesting ballot with Chris Sale first, Yu Darvish second, and Max Scherzer third, the lowest vote that Scherzer received. Scherzer was better than Sale by almost any statistic, although Scherzer did get to face the White Sox lineup five times instead of the five times Sale faced the Tigers. That alone could push their performances much closer together which could be justification for voting for Sale, but that would make way too much sense. Hoornstra instead takes the "I'm a baseball writer who doesn't watch baseball" approach:
"Chris Sale got my vote for the Cy Young Award because he was the best American League pitcher I saw this season. I saw Sale twice, on back-to-back starts in May — once in person in Anaheim, and five days later on TV when he was pitching in Chicago."
Hoornstra also voted for Sale over Darvish because Darvish had his dominant stretch in April, not in August or September when the "Rangers really needed an ace and Darvish went five weeks between wins." Because you know, the games in September count for more than the games in April.

Matt Moore picked up two fourth place votes, both times being selected over Darvish, from Scot Gregor in Chicago and Dick Scanlon of the Lakeland Ledger, representing shockingly, the Tampa Bay Rays. Darvish pitched almost 60 more innings than Moore, with an almost half run lower ERA, a 0.224 lead in WHIP, and almost double the total strikeouts, all while pitching in the bandbox the Rangers call a home ballpark. So what did Moore have on Darvish? Well I couldn't find explanations from Gregor or Scanlon, so I'll assume it was the 4 win difference in their pitching records. Dick Scanlon really needs to publish his explanation though because I would love to see the justification that goes into putting Koji Uehara second on his ballot.

In the National League, Clayton Kershaw came one vote shy of unanimously winning the Cy Young award. Mark Schmetzer of Reds Report gave the lone dissenting vote to Adam Wainwright. I haven't been able to find an explanation from him. I probably shouldn't expect one, it's not like he's a writer or anything.

In homerism, Madison Bumgarner got his lone fourth place vote from Andrew Baggarly of CSN Bay Area because "There’s no way I was going to leave Bumgarner off my ballot, and if there’s bias involved, it’s only because I had the benefit of seeing him pitch every fifth day." For what I doubt is the last time, if it's your job to evaluate players from other teams, you should probably consider fairly evaluating players from other teams.

Craig Kimbrel got a lot of love, including four second place votes. Craig Kimbrel also only pitched 67 innings. He was amazing, but Adam Wainwright pitched 3.6 times as many innings. No matter how good Kimbrel was, he can't be good enough in such limited work to merit serious consideration over the top starters each year.

Onto the MVP vote where 10 names on a ballot provides all sorts of room for insanity. Miguel Cabrera captured 23/30 first place votes to win the AL MVP in what was basically a rehashing of the Cabrera vs Trout argument from last season. That's been done though, let's get onto the nonsense.

Bill Ballou of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette (Boston) gave Chris Davis his only first place vote and had Mike Trout ranked seventh. Trout was lucky to even end up that high on his ballot, as Ballou explains:
"I am a strict constructionist re: “valuable”. If the award were Player of the Year, Trout would get my vote. I’m of the school that in order to have “value” you have to help your team be good, at least to the point of contending. The Angels didn’t truly contend. To fully develop that logic, players from non-contenders should not be listed on the  ballot at all, but the BBWAA insists that we fill out all 10 slots, so I did, even though I did not think there were 10 worthy candidates from contending teams."
I'm just going to let that one sit and brew for a while.

Josh Donaldson got one first place vote, from Oakland Tribune writer John Hickey. He falls back on a similar "definition of value" argument:
As good as Trout was, the Angels finished 18 games out. There’s not much value in finishing third. Cabrera’s value was that the Tigers won their division. 

Right. Trout had the better speed and glove tools while Cabrera had the better Scherzer and Sanchez tools. But as if this argument isn't frustrating enough, he completely contradicts himself when he explains why he voted for Donaldson.
 My first place vote went to the A’s Josh Donaldson, even over Cabrera, because Cabrera was surrounded by a much superior lineup than was Donaldson. Such was Donaldson’s value, in my mind, that without him Oakland would have been a middle-of-the-road finisher. Donaldson wasn’t the best player. He was the most valuable.

So the skill of teammates only becomes a consideration if the team has made the playoffs. I can't believe I didn't figure that one out myself. Hickey also gave Adam Jones one of his two votes, a fifth place vote. Combined with the other eighth place vote he got was enough to put Jones in thirteenth place. Just to finish off his homerism streak, he also gave Coco Crisp his only ninth place vote. In more homerism, Salvador Perez got his only tenth place vote from Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star.

Onto the National League MVP where Andrew McCutchen won with 28/30 first place votes. I thought this vote would be a lot closer. Not that McCutchen isn't deserving, but he didn't really seem like a runaway candidate.

First the obvious. Yadier Molina got two first place votes. Both from the St. Louis writers. Rick Hummel's ballot is particularly interesting. He had McCutchen third behind Matt Carpenter, Craig Kimbrel in fourth because he doesn't understand the value of closers, and then some more homerism, giving Allen Craig an eighth place vote (he also received a tenth place vote). I haven't found his ballot explanation yet, but I assume it's filled with phrases like "if you watched the Cardinals as much as I did."

Heading over to the city of the other player to receive MVP votes, Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette showed that you can still submit a suspicious ballot even when voting for the MVP. He had Yadier Molina ninth in what seems like an attempt to separate Molina and McCutchen in the voting, which is a shame because the start of his ballot explanation hits all the checkboxes in what criteria I want voters to consider. I similarly also question why both Miami writers had Molina at either ninth or tenth on their ballots.

I'll be sure to return for similar nonsense after the Hall of Fame ballots are released.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Game 1 Running Diary

AP Photo/ Charlie Riedel
It's been a few months since I've posted anything here, so I figured doing a running diary of Game 1 of the World Series would be a good opportunity to spit out some of my opinions on the last few months and react to some of the culminating moments of the 2013 season.

To start, today is the 20th anniversary of Joe Carter's home run, which coincidentally was the last time the Blue Jays were in the playoffs. What interests me more today is that October 23, 1993 was Game 6 of the World Series, while 20 years later that same date hosts Game 1. If this series goes seven games, it will end on October 31. In Boston. The weather starts to get nasty this time of year and what we see on the field no longer reflects the sport that we watch all season. Play gets a little sloppier and players become unrecognizable as they wear massive face masks to shield them from the cold. I'm sure Fox has a lot to say about it, but starting the World Series on a Wednesday after the previous rounds would have finished at the latest on a Sunday is too many off days. Baseball is supposed to be an everyday sport and the additional time off only serves to remind most viewers that hockey has just started, football is in full swing, and basketball is a week away from starting, and these other sports may be more worthy of viewers' attention.

Some things I'm going to be thinking about tonight:
  • The first pitch is scheduled for 8:07 PM. I'll bet on the over. I'm just really hoping this game finishes before midnight. I don't know if these playoff games actually have lasted longer than previous years, but I've definitely found myself more frustrated than ever before. Game 1 of the Boston/Detroit series lasted 3:56 even though the Red Sox managed only one hit. Some of the magic of baseball comes from the lack of a clock, but people want to see action. If relievers plan on taking 90 seconds between each pitch then Fox is going to be very disappointed by the ratings drop off as the innings progress. Want to keep people watching baseball? Don't put them to sleep.
  • Carlos Beltran. His name has been all over the news these playoffs with his Hall of Fame credentials increasing with every clutch RBI. But it seems like we're talking so much about Beltran mostly because there's just no one else to talk about. Both of these teams have won the World Series in the last six years, so we have to look to someone new to create "what can this mean for him" storylines. Beltran has been very good for his career, but too infrequently exceptional. He seems to be one of the nice guys in baseball and he more than deserves this opportunity, but let's not heap too much weight on a few NLDS performances and claim that he's the greatest playoff batter of all time. Yes he's been good, but this is only his fourth trip to the playoffs but his 198 playoff plate appearances are only 2.2% of his regular season total.
  • Can you have too much of a good thing? I'm speaking of course about beards. As a graduate student I fully subscribe to the Church of Beard and facial hair growth seems to be an athletic event in academic circles. But if I have to see one more story about these guys tugging at each other I'm going to lose it. Hockey did it first.
  • "I can't wait to see Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly bat in Game 3 while one of Ortiz, Napoli, or Salty rides the bench," said no one ever.

Top 1, Lester/Carpenter: First pitch, 8:09 PM. Only two minutes late, so that's a promising start I guess. Nice running grab and throw by Drew to retire the first batter.

Top 1, Lester/Craig: Aggressive bats so far from the Cardinals. Beltran, Holliday, and Craig have all come out swinging hard. They better hope to get some hits, otherwise Lester going deep followed by an inning or two of the Boston bullpen could be a disaster for the Cardinals.

Bottom 1, Wainwright/Ellsbury: Adam Wainwright is 6'7", 230 lbs. But no, anyone can be a professional baseball player if they just want it enough. Ellsbury managed to foul off a big sweeping curve on 2-2 and fought his way to a walk. Ellsbury won that battle, but that pitch looks like it could be dangerous tonight.

Bottom 1, Wainwright/Victorino: There's been a lot of talk before the World Series about how Molina will cut down on the Red Sox excellent base stealing. I expected Ellsbury to challenge Molina early, and the big curve on the second pitch seems like it would have been a good opportunity. But one pick-off attempt later and a line drive to LF, we have the same base state and one more out on the board.

Bottom 1, Wainwright/Pedroia: Wainwright leaves a cutter hanging and Pedroia pounds it into center field to put runners on first and second. There were a couple big curves though that Ellsbury definitely could have stolen on earlier in the count. Maybe the Red Sox are scared of what Molina can do.

Bottom 1, Wainwright/Ortiz: First controversy of the World Series! Just an abysmal call from the second base umpire Dana Demuth. Kozma never caught the ball on the double play flip and dropped it before he even brought his hand to his glove. Shockingly the umpires actually convene and get the call right. You don't usually see that. Matheny comes out to argue the reversed call in an inane activity unique to baseball, yelling to kill time. Pete Kozma better get his act together because if he can't play good defense he has absolutely no value to the Cards. What should have been a routine double play now leaves bases loaded for Napoli.

Bottom 1, Wainwright/Napoli: Huge bases clearing double to the gap. Also a bobble by Robinson in the outfield lets Ortiz score on what would have been a much closer play at the plate. Poor defense so far from the Cardinals and Wainwright has hung a couple pitches up in the zone. His curveball has looked dangerous but it hasn't been finding the strike zone and the Red Sox batters are patient enough to wait that pitch out if it's not there.

End 1: Wainwright gets out of the inning without any more damage, but the team is in a major hole. It's hard to interpret the first inning. Wainwright left a few pitches up in the zone that were hit, but without the error it's still a 0-0 game right now. It might not matter though. The way Lester has been pitching, a 3 run lead may be enough.

Middle 2: Lester pounds the strike zone, and gets two quick strikeouts with his cutter and Matt Adams to hit into the shift. He's at 20 pitches through 2 innings and looking strong.

Bottom 2, Wainwright/Drew: Drew pops up, Wainwright calls it, Molina gets a little close, and the ball just drops between them. Could this just be a disaster game where everything that could go wrong will go wrong? Somehow that's ruled an infield single. Sorry about your ERA Adam.

Bottom 2, Wainwright/Victorino: Kozma bobbles another ball. It would have been a tough play even if he got it, but that makes three balls this inning now that could have been turned into outs. Somehow this ball is ruled an error while Wainwright's missed popup is a hit. I'm sticking with disaster game. Pedroia up with bases loaded, one out.

Bottom 2, Wainwright/Pedroia: Joe Buck informs the viewers that pitchers are allowed to put their hand to their mouth in cold weather to keep it warm. In all other games they are only allowed to run their hands through their greasy hair and rub off-colour spots on their arms. Pedroia works to a full count, further ramping up Wainwright's pitch count, before he gets on top of one of Wainwright's curves and it sneaks under Freese's glove plating another run. Make that four gettable balls this inning that have landed for hits. The curve isn't getting many swing and misses, but it is producing grounders, they're just skipping by the fielders.

Bottom 2, Wainwright/Ortiz: Of course right after I jump on Beltran's Hall of Fame case he robs Ortiz of a grand slam. Low wall and Beltran just made that catch look easy, although it results in a sacrifice fly. 5-0 Red Sox.

End 2: Wainwright gets an easy grounder that this time no one messes up. The Cardinals luck has been flying around, between missed easy grounders and insane home run grabbing catches. At the end of it all though it's 5-0 and this game might be over before it's really even started (an hour in). Wainwright is up to 60 pitches, so getting even five innings out of him would be an accomplishment at this point.

Top 3, Lester/Kozma: Video of Beltran slamming into the wall and then going into the locker room to be checked out. Reminds me of Ben Tate finishing up the Texans game last weekend with four broken ribs. Kozma makes up for his errors by hitting the furthest ball he's ever hit, a light popup to Napoli.

Middle 3: Lester strikes out Carpenter to end the inning. 35 pitches through 3 innings and still going strong. Jon Jay was seen in the warm up circle for Beltran at the end of the inning. He wasn't officially changed yet though and we'll see if the extra time for the inning change gives Matheny a chance to change his mind on the substitution.

Bottom 3, Wainwright/Gomes: The substitution is complete and all the fuss about Beltran's first World Series now seems a little more ridiculous. Hopefully he's alright and comes back for the rest of the series. Gomes lightly pops up to first base and Matt Adams doesn't bobble it.

Bottom 3, Wainwright/Bogaerts: Kozma catches a ball cleanly!

End 3: Drew and Gomes both pulled balls deep and foul, but Wainwright throws an efficient 9 pitch inning without letting anyone on. He's going to need a few more like this, because if the top of the Red Sox order works deep into counts next inning Wainwright won't be long for this game.

Top 4, Lester/Jay: Just what the Cardinals want substituted into the game now, a guy batting .220 against lefties facing Jon Lester. Lester walks him on six pitches though and I find myself agreeing with McCarver in that Lester should have just attached him instead of trying to nibble the corners with off-speed pitches.

Top 4, Lester/Holliday: Some fun timeout games between Holliday and David Ross prolonging the at bat. None of this would really be necessary it pitch times were actually enforced. Lester gets his fifth strikeout when Holliday swings over an outside pitch.

Top 4, Lester/Craig: Craig hits a grounder just out of reach of a diving Stephen Drew. This would be a completely different game if both teams had Andrelton Simmons and Adrian Beltre on the left side of the infield. Only Napoli's double this game has really been solidly hit, the rest have just snuck through or have been errors.

Top 4, Lester/Molina: Another seeing eye single that finds its way between Bogaerts and Drew. If the Red Sox aren't in double play depth there definitely would have been a possibility of a play. This has been a weird game. Bases loaded with one out for Freese.

Middle 4: Lester gets out of the inning with a weak grounder back to the pitcher from Freese to start a double play. Lester may have given up two hits and a walk that inning, but nothing was hard hit and aside from the extra pitches thrown that inning he can't really have anything to complain about.

Bottom 4, Wainwright/Ellsbury: Fox shows a mic'd up John Hirschbeck explaining to Matheny what the umps saw on the first inning Kozma error. Unfortunately they leave out the part I really want to see which is how Matheny responds. I want to hear pointless arguing and what Matheny could possibly be saying to try and get his way. I'm genuinely curious. Two quick strikeouts for Wainwright.

End 4: Wainwright gets a big sweeping curve inside for strike two. Victorino responds by taking a 30 second walk around the plate before coming back and having a little chat with Hirschbeck before popping out. One day someone will explain to me why this is tolerated. Get in the batter's box and stay there, especially when you haven't swung or done anything to mess yourself up between pitches. 81 pitches total for Wainwright with the heart of the order coming up next inning. If he gets through that cleanly he could definitely get six innings in.

Top 5, Lester/Carpenter: Some more bad defense as Gomes bobbles a ball and lets Robinson and Carpenter both get an extra base. Five runs down with two outs it didn't make a lot of sense to go for the extra base on what turned into a close play, but it worked out here.

Middle 5: Drew makes another nice running play to get the Red Sox out of the inning. Up to 78 pitches for Lester, which probably means another two or three innings depending on how the game turns out.

Bottom 5, Wainwright/Pedroia: Robinson makes a nice running catch as he pulls up a little scared just short of the wall. I should probably learn who this Robinson guy is since it seems like we might be seeing a lot more of him this series.

Bottom 5, Wainwright/Napoli: I think I'm just going to keep picking on Kozma here because I can, but he was a little slow on the transfer on a double play and couldn't get Napoli at first. It certainly wasn't an easy play but I'm sure something that he will think about as he's sitting in the dugout.

End 5: Kozma makes a nice play going to his right and throws Napoli out at second making the previous missed play irrelevant except for the one extra pitch to Gomes wearing down Wainwright's arm.

Middle 6: 14 pitches, 3 easy outs for Lester. Nothing to see here folks, keep it moving.

Bottom 6, Axford/Bogaerts: Well looks like my earlier prediction of five innings for Wainwright was right. He only threw 95 pitches so this move is probably looking to keep his action limited for the future of the series since this game is likely already over. No need to tire out Wainwright for another inning in what is most likely a losing cause. It will be interesting to see if the Cardinals start bringing out their better relievers or their mopup guys. This seems like it could have been a good opportunity to just pitch Shelby Miller for the remaining four innings and save the rest of the bullpen for Game 2. Axford strikes out Bogaerts with some high heat.

End 6: Axford does his job and strikes out the side. The Cardinals pitching has looked good all game, even with the early action, but with Lester mowing down the Cards' batters it may all be for naught.

Middle 7: Two more strikeouts for Lester brings his total to eight. He's up to 102 pitches, so it seems like he's probably good for one more before handing the ball off to the bullpen to finish it off.

Bottom 7, Choate/Ellsbury: With another pitching change I'm guessing we're going to see at least four Cardinals relievers tonight. I see the point of getting some relievers some work after a long layoff, but if Wacha gets knocked out early tomorrow this could be dangerous. Ellsbury grounds out weakly to the left side, and we go to another call to the bullpen for Maness.

Bottom 7, Maness/Victorino: Seth "the ground ball machine (TM Joe Buck)" Maness gives up a hard liner to Victorino but a nice jump from Matt Adams gets the out.

Bottom 7, Maness/Pedroia: A bad throw from Freese and a bad scoop from Adams puts Pedroia on first. The left side of the Cardinals' infield has been abysmal tonight. This miscue brings in the third pitcher of the inning, Kevin Siegrist. As I said before, it may have just been better to stick in Shelby Miller and let him take his lumps for four innings (late edit: it will only be three innings since the Red Sox won't bat in the ninth if they're winning).

Bottom 7, Siegrist/Ortiz: And Ortiz makes the Cardinals pay once again for defensive errors, blasting a huge homerun to right field. Papi takes a curtain call, because why not? Joe Buck says Ortiz is the first lefty to take Siegrist deep all season. Playoff jitters maybe?

End 7: With the score up to 7-0, the only real question left now is how many relievers the Cardinals plan on using this game. On a side note, there is no way this Almost Human show that Fox keeps advertising makes it to a second season.

Top 8, Lester/Kozma: Lester goes to a full count against Kozma and looks a little slow on the mound before getting a groundout. Returning to the top of the order now I can't see Lester pitching into the ninth and I'm guessing if he gives up a hit this inning his night will be over.

Top 8, Tazawa/Jay: Lester gets a huge standing ovation after pitching a solid 7.2 IP, allowing 5 hits, 1 walk, while allowing no runs and striking out 8. Farrell looked like he wanted to save his bullpen by pushing Lester as far as he could, and after 112 pitches and some heavy breathing this inning it looks like he's done it. Not sure if bringing in Tazawa here is the best idea. If I was Farrell I might be looking a little deeper into the bullpen, or even Quentin Berry, to close out what seems like a sure victory. Tazawa does his job though and strikes out Jay on the inside corner.

Bottom 8, Martinez/Nava: Carlos Martinez has "electric" stuff. Thanks Buck. Nava comes in to pinch hit for Gomes and knocks Martinez's electric stuff into the LF corner for a double. The Cardinals definitely seem lucky at this point that they won't have to pitch a ninth inning. They're starting to get into the good part of their bullpen.

Bottom 8, Martinez/Bogaerts: We're officially at the three hour mark. Martinez throws some more of his electric stuff over Molina's head towards the backstop. Bogaerts hits a line drive sacrifice fly to put the Red Sox up 8-0. McCarver hopes that Bogaerts gets a lower jersey number next year signifying his permanent place on the team. Personally I hope that Bogaerts actually requested his #72 this year and every year, just because this is a stupid thing to talk about.

End 8: Martinez throws one up and in on Ross after a late timeout call. Hard to tell whether that was intentional and Molina went out to tell him not to do that in the World Series, or if this was just a part of his wild pattern from this game. Either way the issue probably dies here as Ross flew out to right. Hopefully the Red Sox burn a pitcher they hoped they would never have to use here in the top of the ninth to close out the game.

Top 9, Dempster/Holliday: I guess Dempster is a suitable sub, the Shelby Miller of the Red Sox if you will. And by that I mean the fifth starter turned reliever because playoff baseball is a different animal than regular season baseball. Holliday takes Dempster deep. Hopefully Farrell just ignores it and sticks with Dempster since we're going to need seven more of those before it starts to matter.

Top 9, Dempster/Freese: Freese almost gets thrown out at first on a hit to RF when he forgets that you are supposed to hustle and run out every ball.

End 9: I love it when games end on strikeouts, especially swinging strikeouts.

Final Thoughts: The Lester/Wainwright pitching matchup was closer than the final lines made it seem. Lester was an absolute stud, but aside from not being able to get his curveball in for a strike early, Wainwright did an adequate job. The defense behind him (and in front on his own almost-error) was pathetic and the early runs that it resulted in put the game out of reach early. Since the score was never close the game was played in a semi-reasonable amount of time (3:17 officially) as pitchers didn't pace the mound endlessly trying to build up the nerve in high pressure situations. I'm sort of writing this game off on what I think about the series. It was a series of weird plays followed by some late inning garbage when the game was effectively over. The one lingering question is on Beltran's status for the rest of the series. The Cardinals' outfield power is seriously weakened without him and his absence could swing the series.

Friday, May 3, 2013

That Was A Save?

According to rule 10.19 if the Major League Baseball Rulebook:
The official scorer shall credit a pitcher with a save when such pitcher meets all four of the following conditions:
  1. He is the finishing pitcher in a game won by his team;
  2. He is not the winning pitcher;
  3. He is credited with at least 1/3 of an inning pitched;
  4. He satisfies one of the following conditions
    1. He enters the game with a lead of no more than three runs and pitches for at least one inning;
    2. He enters the game, regardless of the count, with the potential tying run either on base, or at bat or on deck (that is, the potential tying run is either on base or is one of the first two batters he faces); or
    3. He pitches for at least three innings.
Rule 10.19.d.3 has always been a favourite of mine, triggered in often strange circumstances, and sending baseball writers into "When was the last time ___ happened" spins.

The role of the closer has significantly changed over time. Whereas the closer used to come in late game in a high leverage situation and then attempt to finish the game, larger and more specialized bullpen usage has generally turned the closer into a 9th inning role only. As the money in baseball has increased, with a seemingly direct relationship to saves, the leverage of a situation has become largely irrelevant and as long as a save is available in the 9th inning, the team's standard closer can be expected to get it.

Of Mariano Rivera's 619 saves, only 116 were greater than one inning and only 40 were less than one inning. Zero were three innings or more. Compare that to Dennis Eckersley who only has 390 saves, who had 106 saves of greater than one inning and 53 that were less than one inning. He was brought out when he was needed most.

So it's rarely closers now that get 3+ IP saves since it isn't their role. More often than not, these saves come in blowout games when a manager wants to conserve his bullpen. The 5 3+ IP saves this year have been accumulated by Erik Bedard, Drew Smyly, Aaron Loup, Tommy Hunter, and Michael Kirkman. These aren't exactly players that managers are dying to use in high leverage situations. It's why the smallest run differential in any of these games was 4 runs. This is hardly unique, last year the smallest run differential in these instances was 5 runs.

The following graph shows the number of 3+ IP saves each season since 1916. The number peaked in the 70s and 80s when pitchers weren't pitching as deep into games as the early part of the century, but the level of specialization was nothing like what caused the current crash.

The relievers of the 70s and 80s pitched as long as they needed to. Goose Gossage had 24 3+ IP saves, Pedro Borbon had 27, Roger McDowell had 27, Tug McGraw had 31, Rollie Fingers had 36, Dan Quisenberry had 37, and Gene Garber had 52, one behind the all time leader Hoyt Wilhelm, a knuckleballer. Gene Garber even had 13 saves of 4 innings or more.

The crazy part is that even with these ramped up workloads, these pitchers pitched insanely well during these long outings. The top 25 pitchers in number of 3+ IP saves had a 1.06 ERA during those outings, led by Goosage's 0.35 ERA. Even if we consider every 3+ IP save since 1916 the ERA only drops off slightly to 1.14, and no one has ever blown more than 4 saves while pitching 3 or more innings.

We probably won't see too many of these saves any time soon. The active leader is Derek Lowe with 9, and he was a former starter and is currently near the end of his career. behind him, Alfredo Aceves is the only other pitcher to even have 3, and he was just optioned down to AAA.

So it seems as the 3+ IP save will go down as a relic of baseball lore. From this point on we can only expect to see it in blowout 30-3 games until a manager decides to be a little more inventive.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Just Play The Game

Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer
This preseason, Curtis Granderson was hit by a pitch, breaking his forearm, and delivering a severe blow to the Yankee's slim chances to return to the postseason.

In mid-August of last season Will Middlebrooks' impressive rookie year was brought to an early end when his wrist was broken after being hit by a pitch.

In 2011, Marlon Byrd was drilled in the face by an Alfredo Aceves pitch, causing him to miss six weeks of the season. Watching the video, it seems like he's lucky to be alive.

In 2010, John Lindsey had his hand broken by a fastball, ending his season.

In 2009, Omar Infante was hit by a pitch, broke his hand, and missed almost three months of the season.

In 2005, Adam Greenberg came up for his first major league at bat with the Cubs, was hit in the head by the first pitch he faced, suffered a concussion, and didn't return to the majors until the Marlins honored an online petition and granted Greenberg a one day contract.

These are just a few instances from the last decade. Safety equipment has improved, but players are still frequently seriously injured by errant pitches, and we're still not all that far removed from Ray Chapman dying less than a day after being struck by a pitch to the temple.

What makes some of these incidents even more depressing is that these examples were accidental, hazards of a game being played by humans which involves throwing a ball upwards of 100 mph just a few feet away from someone's body. The slightest mistake, and the entire body is in danger.

Given these obvious extreme risks, I have to question the integrity of any pitcher who intentionally throws at a batter, and the integrity of the league that tolerates this sort of behavior. I'm motivated by a series of two incidents. The first happened in 2011 when Indians pitcher Carlos Carrasco threw at the head of Billy Butler after giving up a grand slam to Melky Cabrera. He was given a six game suspension, which due to Tommy John surgery was not served until the start of this season. This brings us to the second incident where in Carrasco's first start this season last night, he hit Kevin Youkilis with a pitch right after giving up a home run to Robinson Cano.

There are some unwritten rules in baseball which apparently justify hitting a batter. Take too long rounding the bases after a home run, bunt or steal a base in a blowout, be born on a Tuesday, and you can expect to be nailed in your next at bat. Hell, Cole Hamels hit Bryce Harper last season just to welcome him to the league. The real fun comes when it's not even you that has to pay the price for the supposed slight, but the guy that bats behind you in the batting order like in the two Carrasco cases.

I don't understand how we got to this point. How is it that in response to someone "showing you up" that a reaction tantamount to assault can just be considered "part of the game?" In what world is it acceptable to throw the kind of temper tantrum that these pitchers throw just because a batter took an extra second to admire an impressive home run? Want to be upset over something real? How about giving up the home run in the first place? Don't attempt to violently injure someone when the person you should really be angry with is yourself. There's something to be said about an eye for an eye, but there is really nothing any batter can do that could possibly justify having a pitch intentionally thrown at him. It isn't like it's even a fair fight. The batter has to just stand there and take it, and if he isn't too crippled after he has to just get up and walk to first base. The real shocking part of all this is that most batters are able to restrain themselves from charging the mound bat in hand. It seems like taking a free shot at the pitcher would come much closer to balancing the scales.

So let's eliminate this from baseball. It's childish and petty, but most of all extremely dangerous. Besides, how can it possibly be a good thing for baseball when star players are injured in senseless acts? Wouldn't the Yankees be a lot more marketable with Granderson patrolling center (but preferably left) field? Any pitcher who feels the need to intentionally hit a batter should be ejected and suspended for a lengthy period, I'm thinking at least 50 games. I wouldn't be upset either if criminal action was brought. There are inherent risks in any sport, but intent to injure can begin to fall outside of the domain of the Commissioner's office. Just ask Todd Bertuzzi. I guarantee no one with any sense will miss this from the game. Anyone who needs to prove they're a "real man" can do it within the rules of the sport. Can't abide by the rules of the sport or the law? Then you don't get to participate anymore.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses

Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America
Signing a free agent to a minor league contract usually generates far more enthusiasm for a fan base than what is appropriately deserved. Players generally have far greater name recognition than what their current talent levels should suggest. A player generally signs a minor league contract because it's the best available offer and that alone should be an indication of the player's current status. They're generally either old, injured, overhyped, or some combination thereof which would lead a team to take a chance on them without offering them any guarantee at the active roster.

Occasionally it works out well. Aging stars Eric Chavez and Freddy Garcia proved to be extremely valuable to the 2011 Yankees. More often than not though, there's no good news between the day the player signs and the day he's released as potential Hall of Famers Manny Ramirez and Vladimir Guerrero could attest to last season.

But I'm here to feed into the hype machine, so I present my five most intriguing teams this preseason for minor league contracts. Most of the players I mention now will probably never be mentioned again this season, but there's enough potential there to make a storyline worth following.

5. Pittsburgh Pirates
When your last winning season came when Barry Bonds was still wearing a size 7.5 hat, you have to take some chances on hoping a few players down on their luck can turn it around. In 2010 Jonathan Sanchez, coming off a World Series win, pitched 193.1 IP to a 3.07 ERA. How long ago that now seems. His stock has fallen to being traded for Melky Cabrera, to being designated for assignment by the Royals. Sanchez was a player who always had trouble with walks, but he struck out enough guys to stick around the majors. That turned around last year when his K rate dropped to 6.3 K/9 and his walk rate skyrocketed to 7.4 BB/9. The move back to the NL may help but he's going to need to show he can regain his control to make the team.

Jose Contreras is a former All-Star, World Series Champion, and Olympic Gold Medalist. Now he's 41 years old and has pitched 27.2 innings the last two seasons while spending most of the time on the disabled list. I'm sure the Pirates are only looking at Contreras for potential mop-up duty, but I feel like at this point it would be more dignified for everyone if Contreras called it a career. He's a Cuban defector who has earned over $67M successfully pitching in the majors. There's nothing left to prove. Gerrit Cole should be excited if these are the two guys he's going to have to beat out.

I thought Brandon Inge would be offered a major league contract from someone, but it looks like most teams are looking for a little more pop from their third baseman. The Pirates should have Alvarez permanently stationed at third, so Inge would figure to be no more than a utility man if he makes the team. He's never been a good contact player, batting a career .234, however neither has Alvarez. If he can make the team, Alvarez doesn't improve, and the Pirates are at all in contention, Inge's name my start to be heard a lot more.

4. Miami Marlins
After dumping almost their entire major league roster in the offseason, Marlins fans better hope there is something to look forward to in spring training. What they're looking at is a bunch of old castoffs from other teams, but at least there are a lot of them.

Chone Figgins has been the laughing stock of baseball since he joined the Mariners in 2010. It's so bad that the Mariners are paying Figgins $8M this season not to play with them. So while the rest of baseball is looking at a guy who batted .227/.302/.283 in three seasons in Seattle, Miami can dream of the guy who hit .291/.363/.388 with the Angels. Unfortunately for Marlins fans, a lot of Figgins' value came from his speed (7 straight seasons with 30+ SB), at the age of 35 his fastest days are likely behind him.

I don't know what to think about Casey Kotchman. He clearly doesn't have the bat to play first base and at this point in his career he isn't likely to develop power. I just don't see how any team with hope of contending (which I guess does exclude the Marlins) could possibly roster him. It's the opposite with Austin Kearns. He offers power but little else and unlike Kotchman is a minus defender. Maybe the Marlins can combine the two players to produce one serviceable one.

Kevin Slowey is young, but there's little evidence to suggest he's any good. He has a hard time striking batters out and he just spent 2012 on the disabled list. He was a prior second round draft pick, so there may still be hope for him to develop, but it doesn't look good right now. Chad Qualls on the other hand is 34, has a 5.24 ERA over the last 3 seasons with 6 teams, but somehow people keep seeing enough to warrant giving him 185.2 IP over that time. All I see is a pitcher in decline, but with the way the Marlins are going, anyone could make the active roster, especially if they want to delay some service time.

3. Tampa Bay Rays
It would seem unnatural to make a list like this without including the Rays. Where better to find overlooked talent than players looking for minor league contracts? Take for example a reliever who between 2009-2011 averaged 31 saves with 8.5 K/9. Closers like that usually have options on the open market. However those options become limited when you're forced to take a year off of baseball to return to the Dominican Republic to sort out legal issues. I think everyone in baseball will be looking to see if Juan Carlos Oviedo, formerly Leo Nunez, will be able to bounce back and have a successful season.

The Rays have stocked up on a couple bats that have shown amazing power, but not much else. Shelly Duncan has shown the ability to put the ball in no man's land but his .203 average last year makes it difficult to give him an every day lineup spot. Similarly Jack Cust can crush the ball, but after leading the league in strikeouts for three straight seasons he's been released by the Phillies, Astros, Yankees, and Jays without seeing major league playing time. Cust has at least shown he can take a walk, but both of these guys need to show they can do more with the bat then belt the occasional one out of the park if they want to see regular time.

2. Baltimore Orioles
My intrigue in the Baltimore Orioles focuses on a few pitchers who have been out of baseball for at least a year. Mark Hendrickson is 38 and last pitched for the Orioles in 2011 to a 5.73 ERA in 8 outings from the bullpen. Hendrickson is a former two sport professional athlete (played for the 76ers, Nets, Cavaliers, Kings) who was drafted six times before finally signing with the Blue Jays. He's a soft thrower who seems to prove the adage that if you're left handed and alive you can stick around in the game. As interesting as his career path is though I have a hard time seeing him stick around, especially for a team that wants to get back to the playoffs.

Joel Pineiro and Manny Delcarmen haven't pitched in the majors since 2011 and 2010 respectively but seem to offer slightly more realistic approaches, partially just because neither has hit the age of 35 yet. No one will ever mix these righties up with Roy Halladay but they've seen varied level of success at the major league level and could be assets to eat up some innings.

Jair Jurrjens is the most interesting case on the team. His original $1.5M with the Orioles seemed more than reasonable but a red flag in his medical history forced them to go for a minor league deal. He's only 27 and in 2011 he had a first half ERA of 1.87, won 12 games, and had major support to start the All-Star game. He seemed to be doing it with smoke and mirrors though, only able to strike out 5.3 per 9 innings and his second half saw him crash down to earth with a 5.88 ERA. His 2012 wasn't any better, lasting only 48.1 IP in the majors while spending time in AAA. Jurrjens is never going to be a high power pitcher but he has shown enough control in the past to be effective. It will be interesting to see if he can make it back to being a successful starter.

1. Cleveland Indians
The Indians have by far the most interesting collection of players on minor league contracts. Combined they have 8 All-Star appearances and an MVP. Jason Giambi hasn't been heard from in a few years, serving as a backup 1B in Colorado, but he'll be an interesting DH option on a team looking for some power. There were doubts as to whether he'd even play this season, after interviewing for the managerial job for the Rockies, but if Francona is looking for any sort of veteran presence Giambi will be at the top of the list.

The Indians have two of the most interesting recovery pitching projects in camp in Scott Kazmir and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Both pitchers have had major walk issues and have been absolutely terrible the last few seasons. In the last two years Dice-K has thrown only 83 IP to a 6.94 ERA while Kazmir has only thrown 1.2 IP in the same period in the MLB having been released by the Angels and pitching for the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League and the Gigantes de Carolina of the Puerto Rican Professional Baseball League to pass the time. Both pitchers have 200+ IP seasons on their resume though and were thought to be future staff aces. If Dice-K can start attacking batters again and Kazmir's fastball holds up they might be able to capture some of their former glory.

Rounding out the Indians camp are Matt Capps, Ben Francisco, Ryan Raburn, and Jeremy Hermida. Capps has had some injuries in recent seasons, but he still has a 3.38 ERA over the last three years and had a 42 save season in 2010. Francisco, Raburn, and Hermida will compete for outfield depth on the club. The outfield got a lot more crowded when Michael Bourn signed, but with a potential Stubbs platoon looming there may be an opportunity for one of these guys to break through.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

One Pill Makes You Larger...

I haven't talked to anyone in the industry about the recent Miami New Times article on Biogenesis and Tony Bosch's records, which apparently gives me the equivalent qualifications to write about this news as anyone else.

There is one important fact to keep straight now: this story is still very much in its infancy. The coming months will assuredly reveal more details from the investigation along with teams' and players' reactions. Any judgement we make now will likely be premature and any assertion as to how the consequences will unfold is almost entirely speculative.

I do have some preliminary reactions though. This is based purely on the information that is currently publicly available, but I'm going to play devil's advocate here and suggest that this newest PED break actually shows significant progress for baseball and that the MLB is doing a much better job in keeping drugs out of the league.

This is the first significant bust on the drug provider side since BALCO and it revealed only six names (ignoring athletes in other sports). This isn't to say that more names may not be revealed later, but only six players being implicated in a major drug bust is hardly indicative of an omnipresent drug culture.

To make an even greater case that baseball is being cleaned up, three of the six (Melky Cabrera, Yasmani Grandal, and Bartolo Colon) actually failed drug tests last season and were suspended. As to the case of Gio Gonzalez, none of the found records indicated that the substances that were provided to him were banned from baseball. So even though the players decided to step outside the lines, in four of the six cases MLB appears to have handled everything perfectly.

Alex Rodriguez and Nelson Cruz will surely have some questions to answer in the coming months. It's possible they were taking masking agents, that their tests happened to coincide with times they weren't using, or possibly that they never even took the drugs in the first place. Either way, in a society where we base our justice system around the fact that it's better to let a guilty man walk free than to lock up someone innocent, with the current information I think MLB should be pleased with the testing results of last season. This coupled with the implementation of HGH testing for this season should definitely give those who consider cheating second thought (about getting caught, not the consequences, although that's an entirely different discussion). Also, since the testing procedure and results are supposed to be private until a verdict is announced (cough... Ryan Braun... cough) it is possible that Rodriguez or Cruz may currently be dealing with a failed test unbeknownst to the general public.

None of this is to suggest that there aren't more providers or users out there, but if this is the result of a major investigation, I think the current state of drugs in the game is looking good.

I also think it's far too early to speculate on the future of these players. Alex Rodriguez will never play again? I think far too many steps are going to have to fall into sequence for that to come true. It's best to let this story play itself out and wait for the investigation to reveal more detailed information before rushing to judgement. Although if I'm Scott Boras I might be in Jon Daniels' ear right now letting him know how great a replacement Michael Bourn would be for a suspended Nelson Cruz.

On only a semi-related note, at some point we're going to have to have a serious discussion on why some of these drugs are illegal. Many such as anabolic steroids can have devastating effects if abused, however under the care of doctors have shown to have clear medical benefits such as helping AIDS and cancer patients maintain muscle mass. If HGH can be shown to safely help players heal faster from injuries, shouldn't we be encouraging its use? Anything can be dangerous if not administered properly by professionals. Performing Tommy John surgery on yourself with a kitchen knife in your basement would be a disaster, but no one is advocating preventing Dr. James Andrews from performing it.

It's time to seriously look at these drugs and determine their potential benefits and how they can help the athletes and improve today's game. It's possible that many of the stories we've heard from athletes, such as Andy Pettitte claiming he only used HGH to help recover, will become standard practices in the future. I'm not trying to imply that what Pettitte did was right, but I think we need to take a more critical look at "PEDs" instead of just labeling everyone under the blanket of "cheater." These drugs were found or created for medical purposes, and just because they can enhance performance, does not mean they should be banned.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Opening Day Starters

AP Photo/Al Behrman
Given a healthy rotation, every starter on a team will pitch about once every five games and all the starters will make approximately the same amount of starts. We tend to put a lot of thought into who a team's opening day starter is, often denoting them as the "Ace" of the staff, but from a statistical perspective, it doesn't really matter who starts the first game. If a team follows the rotation order perfectly it could make a difference of a an extra game around the all-star break or the end of the season, but there are likely to be more external factors which affect how often each starter takes the mound.

Nevertheless there is a certain amount of prestige in being named the opening day starter. It's the first big draw of the season and teams want to put out the best possible team out on the field. There are many reasons which one could be named the opening day starter, not all of them having to do with performance. Often the longest tenured member of the staff will get the opening day start as a token thank you, and to be the face of the franchise for the public.

If you were to ask me a year ago who the Jays opening day starter would be in 2013 I would have said Romero. He was one of the best pitchers on the team and had the best history with the franchise. Things can change quickly in a year though. Romero had a terrible season, ending in off-season shoulder injury, and the Jays pulled off a couple massive trades with the Mets and the Marlins to restock the rotation.

I don't think there's a default opening day starter on the Jays team, and really any member would be a reasonable choice. Romero has tenure, Morrow was the best Jays pitcher last year, Johnson and Buehrle have both piled up opening day starts as staff aces, and Dickey is coming off a Cy Young season. So it occurred to me that if Morrow or Dickey were to get the start, four out of the five members of the Jays rotation would be opening day starters at some point in their careers. This seemed like a lot and off the top of my head only the 2011 Phillies in recent memory would be able to match that feat. The Phillies actually topped it with five: Halladay, Lee, Oswalt, Blanton, and Contreras out of the pen. Hamels has yet to start an opening game.

With five previous opening day starters on the team I thought about what the most a team has ever had. To beat five, you probably need to have at least one starter coming out of the bullpen. 

This is a little more likely than you might think. For every Halladay and Verlander being put out by a team, there is a team just rolling the dice and hoping that at least one of their pitchers will still be in the majors by the end of the season. The last two seasons alone have seen the likes of Bruce Chen, Jeremy Guthrie, Kevin Correia, Luke Hochevar, Mike Pelfrey, and Tim Stauffer start opening day. It isn't just bad pitchers either but also players who have aged beyond their usefulness as starters. Carl Pavano, Ryan Dempster, Brett Myers, Fausto Carmona, and Livan Hernandez have all started opening day in the last two years and many of those have either already ended up in the bullpen or are clearly destined to show up there soon.

If we go back a decade to 2002 we see opening day starters, Chan Ho Park, Jeff Weaver, Jon Liever, Kevin Jarvis, Livan Hernandez, Ron Villone, and Tanyon Sturtze, who all ended up serving bullpen time later in their careers. So to make it simple, how does a team get more than 5 opening day starters on their roster? By filling their bullpen with ex-starters who either got too old, too injured, or were really never good enough to be starters in the first place.

What kind of a team loads up with players like this though? The obvious answer is great teams. They load up their rotation with at least four of these guys, and fill in their bullpen with a few more. But does this entirely make sense? If a team has a real ace they end up starting opening day for a long time. Half of Jack Morris' Hall of Fame case is his 14 opening day starts. So how do these guys all end up on one team. One possibility is that they aren't top quality starters any more and their original team has let them go. Players like that can be collected by anyone, particularly poor teams that could overpay slightly and offer the pitcher one last chance at glory. Let's see how well reality matches up.

Before we look into generalities let's take the teams with the most opening day starters as case studies. The most opening day starters on a team is eight, and the record is held by three teams.
  • The 1998 Red Sox are the most recent example. That team had Pedro Martinez, Tim Wakefield, and Bret Saberhagen as starters all season, Pete Schourek as a spot starter, and Dennis Eckersley, Greg Swindell, Carlos Reyes in a bullpen anchored by closer Tom Gordon. So how did this collection come together? Pedro was making his first of eight straight opening day starts while rotation mates Wakefield and Saberhagen had come to Boston a few years earlier to revive their careers. Tom Gordon started the season before, but after splitting duties in 1997, this was to be his first full year as closer. Eckersley was in the final year of his career and Swindell had moved to the bullpen in 1996. Schourek and Reyes were both midseason acquisitions to help the Red Sox pennant push. It didn't help as the Red Sox finished 92-70 and lost to the Indians in the ALDS.
  • The 1963 Cleveland Indians had Mudcat Grant, Dick Donovan, Jack Kralick, and Pedro Ramos in their rotation with former Opening Day starters Early Wynn, Jerry Walker, Jim Perry, and Gary Bell in the bullpen. Unlike the '98 Red Sox, this Indians team wasn't very good and were in the middle of a stretch of average finishes, including 79 wins this season. They were looking for any starter who could stick, which explains how five of their eight opening day starters had made their starts for the Indians. Grant made the 1963 start, Donovan made the 1962 start, Perry made the 1961 start, and Gary Bell made the 1959 and 1960 starts before being moved to the bullpen. Perry was also traded for 1962 Twins starter Jack Kralick in May. The Twins also provided Ramos who was traded to the Indians before the season. Early Wynn was 43 and the previous 6-time opening day starter moved to the bullpen for this, his final season. Jerry Walker previously started with the Orioles but was traded to the Indians and ended up in the bullpen after his 1962 season ended with a 5.90 ERA.
  • The 1947 Pittsburgh Pirates are the final team with eight opening day starters on their roster. Their rotation had Kirby Higbe, Fritz Ostermueller, Tiny Bonham, and Preacher Roe. Roger Wolff and Rip Sewell made spot starts while Jim Bagby and Hugh Mulcahy came out of the bullpen. The Pirates were not a good team (62-92) and looking for pitchers, which explains why the four guys I mentioned in their rotation were all 31 or older. In fact their opening day starter in 1947 (and 1943) was the 40 year old Sewell who spent half the season in the bullpen. Higbe and Mulcahy were both prior starters with the Phillies, although in '47 Higbe started 30 games while Mulcahy played in only 2 and was released in May. Fritz Ostermueller started opening day for the Pirates the previous two seasons, while Preacher Roe started in '44 but after a season with a 5.14 ERA in '46 didn't deserve the opening day start, which he continued to justify with a 5.52 ERA in '47. Tiny Bonham was the opening day starter for the 1943 Yankees and joined the Pirates in a trade in the offseason. Roger Wolff and Jim Bagby were purchased during and before the season respectively and both put up ERAs above 4.70. For both, 1947 would be their final season in the majors. Most of these players were washed up by this season which helps to explain the Pirates last place finish in the National League.
It's clear that opening day starters can come together in many ways. The three examples with the most feature three wildly different teams all with very different reasons for gathering the starters, and all having the starters at very different points in their careers. We can look to see if there is a relationship between the amount of opening day starters a team has and their success. The following graph shows the amount of wins teams have (scaled to a 162 game season) compared to the number of opening day starters they have.

Wins given the number of Opening Day starters on teams' rosters
There is a definite upwards trend in terms of number of wins. A team with only one opening day starter wins on average only 74.6 wins while a team with five opening day starters wins on average 87.4 games. Above five starters the trend is less obvious, for one for the various reasons that a team may acquire so many starters as illustrated by the example above, but also due to the small sample size. The following table shows how many teams fit into each bin for the number of opening day starters. The amount of data available clearly becomes more limited with six or more starters.

Number of Opening Day StartersNumber of Teams

It's definitely important not to mix up correlation with causation. Although having more Opening Day starters may make a team better, especially if they are acquired in their prime, a team often has more Opening Day starters because they are already a good team and looking for an extra player or two to push them over. I think this is more of an interest piece than looking for any real cause-and-effect algorithm for wins. The way teams are constructed and the changing roles of players as they age and change teams provides some insight into the history of baseball. The amount of data for the higher number starter sets should also increase now given the greater number of teams and more liberal use of relievers. In studying all the teams since 1901, 22.4% of the teams with 6 or more opening day starters on their roster occurred in 2000 or later.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Hall of Fame Ballot Oddities

I think every BBWAA member who didn't vote for the PED era players should have to go back and re-read what they were writing in the 90's (if they were even writing about baseball then) to see how well their current version of history matches up with what was really going on in the baseball world at the time.

Today 569 10-year members of the BBWAA put their collective brainpower together and came up with absolutely nothing. This wouldn't be so bad if you're a fan of a small Hall or if there were no good candidates. Unfortunately the greatest power hitter in the history of baseball an the all-time leader in Cy Young awards were making their first appearance on the ballot.

It's a shame really. It's a shame that traffic to the induction ceremony at Cooperstown this year will be slim. It's a shame that we're going to have to continue the PED era debate for at least another season. It's a shame that with players like Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Mike Mussina, Jeff Kent, and Frank Thomas being added next year that the ballot will become even more crowded and vote-splitting may cause some deserving members to fall below the 5% threshold.

It's a shame that some voters choose to make the ballot more about themselves than about the Hall of Fame. Five members submitted blank ballots which to me seems thoughtless and selfish. Was there really not one deserving member on the ballot, or was the vote returned blank as a form of protest?

I can complain forever about the results though, instead I thought I'd point out some things that jumped out at me as really not making any sense. This year the BBWAA has published  the ballots of 108 (at the time of writing) of their voting members, some with links to the justifications for their ballots. Although I don't agree with the mental gymnastics some members of the morality police are doing to keep the likes of Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, and Sosa off their ballots, I at least understand the position that they're coming from. On the other hand, some ballots just made absolutely no sense at all to me.

Barry Bonds won 7 MVP awards. Roger Clemens won 7 Cy Youngs. Both of these totals are completely unprecedented. If it wasn't for the PED issue I don't see how either of these players wouldn't be unanimous selections. It shocks me then that Clemens got 8 more votes than Bonds did. None of the 108 published voters contained a ballot with only one of these names so I can't read any justification, but I fail to understand how someone could vote for Clemens but not Bonds. Is it because Bonds was convicted on one count of obstruction of justice while Clemens was not? I'm really grasping at straws here.

Let's make a quick comparison:

Jeff Bagwell2150231444915171529202.297.408.540.40576.7
Edgar Martinez205522473091219126149.312.418.515.40564.4

In addition to both spending their entire careers with the same team their stat lines are pretty similar. One big difference is that Bagwell spent 2112 of his 2150 games in the field while Martinez spent 1463 games at DH. Throw in an MVP award for Bagwell with three top-three finishes, compared to only one for Martinez, and Bagwell definitely has the better Hall of Fame case. Given that the only connection either of the have to PEDs is the era in which they played, I don't understand how a voter could put Martinez on his ballot without putting Bagwell on as well. However there are five incidents just on the published ballots (three of which come from Honorary voters). I'll defer to Paul Gutierrez to explain the rationale:
Jeff Bagwell, he's the wild card. His stats jump out at you now, but he never really jumped out at me as a player. The steroid suspicions on him are strong, but that's not what's keeping him off my ballot.
I don't know what that means. Maybe try some research, figure out why that discrepancy exists between your recollection of him and the stat sheet.

Jack Morris. Ace. Stud. Work Horse. A man so great, that three voters felt it would be an insult to crowd a ballot with any other names. Of the three men, two are now Honorary voters, and two actually work for Ken Gurnick makes it simple, "As for players from the steroid era, I won't vote for any of them." Glad he put so much thought into that one, pretending a couple decades of baseball never happened. Marty Noble is "not comfortable with the suspicions" he has so he's not voting for the PED era players either. Instead, he's voting for Morris for the first time because he's "been swayed by evidence presented this year about his complete games and innings." It's shocking that it took until Morris' 14th year on the ballot for that evidence to become available. Whether I agree with Noble's vote for Morris or not, it shouldn't take 14 years to look up some of the most basic stats. Murray Chass was the third voter to only vote for Morris, but he's basically a professional troll.

I'm reminded of a story from Barry Stanton from 2011 when he was explaining his vote for BJ Surhoff (I don't have the link to the original):
In 1976, I was just out of college and working my first job at the Port Chester (NY) Daily Item, covering a Babe Ruth 13-year-old tournament. The starting pitcher for the team from Rye was supposed to be their star, a big kid named Rich Surhoff, whose father Dick had played for the NY Knicks in the 1950s. Surhoff did, in fact, make it t the major leagues, spending nine games with the Philadelphia Phillies. But that day, the pitcher's younger brother was the one who caught my attention. He was only 12 years old and playing with the older kids, playing shortstop. On consecutive plays, I saw him range behind third base to the left field line and throw out a runner, then range the other way all the way behind first to catch a tricky pop that eluded a teammate. 
After that game, I told BJ I thought that someday, I'd be watching him in the major leagues. For the next few years, I watched BJ become a local star at Rye HS, covering his games occasionally. And I remember telling him then that someday, I'd be voting for him for the Hall of Fame. Surhoff, went on to a career at UNC, became the No. 1 pick of the draft, played on our first Olympic baseball team. He had a very good (though not great) career for 18 years in MLB. And then there he was on my ballot (I've been a BBWAA member since 1985 and have had a Hall of Fame vote since '95). So I remembered that promise (though I honestly can't say if BJ does) and checked the box.
I'm reminded of this whenever I see that a couple people ended up voting for someone who has absolutely no place in the Hall of Fame. Sometimes there's a nice personal story, so if the voter took the rest of their ballot seriously and had room beneath the 10-player maximum for the token vote, I don't really have a problem with it. Unfortunately sometimes you start seeing ballots with a few too many of these guys and it starts to raise some flags.

Yasushi Kikuchi voted for Biggio, Schilling, Julio Franco, and Bernie Williams. I can't find an explanation from Kikuchi to justify this.

In her first HoF vote, Jill Painter voted for Craig Biggio, Shawn Green, Kenny Lofton, Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, and Bernie Williams in one of the more confusing ballots I've seen. The only information I've really been able to get from her is off her tweets in which she isn't a fan of PED users and that Bagwell and Raines may have been using. This is a mess.

I wouldn't have voted for Lee Smith. He was a very good reliever early in his career, then rode his closer reputation to rack up saves for many more years when his numbers just weren't the same. I don't view his save total too impressively but I do understand how some voters do. What I can't understand is how on a ballot with Clemens, Morris, and Schilling, that Smith would be the only pitcher that a person would vote for. The starters on the ballot were far superior players that are much more deserving of a vote. I can't access any good explanations from Michael Knisley, Paul Sullivan, or Ann Killion though.

The entire voting process is a mess and it's only going to get worse and more cluttered in the coming years. A major cause of the problem is on the voters. Whether I agree with them or not, many put a lot of work into their ballots, which to be fair is often the most we can ask from the writers. However many are careless, or use the opportunity to get up on their soapboxes and deliver the message on steroids that they forgot to give 15 years ago. Worse still are those voters that clearly don't follow or care about baseball anymore. I don't think it's a coincidence that many of the strangest ballots I saw belonged to Honorary members. The process needs to be cleaned up.

We should also stop pretending that the last couple decades never happened. Steroids were institutionalized by baseball just like amphetamines were in the decades before, or racism and blacklists in the decades before that. It's not a good thing, but neither is a vote for the PED players an endorsement of the use of steroids. We have to acknowledge what the era was and that everyone was a part of it, not just the players who were juicing. Players have to be evaluated in the proper context. It's the same reason magic numbers like 500 home runs aren't as magical anymore. Numbers were inflated in the 90's which resulted in players like McGriff or Palmeiro putting up outstanding numbers while never being close to the best first basemen in the league. Context is everything.