26 July 2014

Joe Maddon Knows What Matters

One of the reasons you can't count out the Tampa Rays, besides a balanced lineup, solid defense and deep pitching, is their manager Joe Maddon. He's one of the best on the planet.

The Rays are hosting Boston as I write this, nursing a 2-0 lead with two outs in the fifth. Right-handed starter Jeremy Hellickson has walked a tightrope through 14 outs, allowing five hits and two walks over 96 pitches. 

If Hellickson retires Dustin Pedroia, his evening is complete and the scorekeepers can credit him with a win, as long as the Rays maintain their lead.

Instead, Pedroia rips a single up the middle, bringing up David Ortiz with a tiring Hellickson on the hill. Maddon doesn't like that matchup and he yanks his young starter in favor of a fresh southpaw.

Think about that. Hellickson had pitched a shutout and was one out from earning a win. Joe Maddon didn't care. Winning the game is more important.

The results are irrelevant. The best decisions only offer a better chance of winning, not certainty. In fact, Ortiz turned around a Jeff Beliveau heater -- right into the mitt of first baseman James Loney. The screaming liner ended the Red Sox' threat.

Hellickson won't get the win. Big whoop. The Rays will, or at least are in better position to. That would put them within three games of the Yankees and Blue Jays in the Wild Card race. And that's the statistic that matters.


22 July 2014

Marlins Get A Good Laugh About Dan Uggla

Were the Florida Marlins really smart when it comes to Dan Uggla or just really lucky?

The squat keystoner was released by the Braves last week after a year-and-a-half of hitting your IQ. With no takers on the market and a solid replacement in rookie Tommy LaStella, Atlanta dumped Uggla and will eat the $18 million left on his contract.

The Uggla whom Atlanta swapped infielder Omar Infante and lefty reliever Mike Dunn to acquire in 2010 appeared only in brief flashes, mostly during his first season in a tomahawk uniform. Whereas he batted .263 with 31 homers per 162 games for the Marlins, he slumped to .209 and 26 homers per 162 with Atlanta. Since moving north, his batting averages have headed south -- .287-.233-.220-.179-.162. That is what we call "trending poorly."

To make matters worse, Uggla is slow-footed and iron-gloved. Without his stick working, he's a muscled beer vendor.

Drafted by Arizona in '01, Uggla didn't make the Majors until he burst on the scene with Florida in 2006, hitting .282 with 27 bombs. Four similar seasons followed, exposing him to free agency as the fastest second baseman in history to reach 100 home runs and the first keystoner ever to smack 30-a-year for four consecutive seasons.

It's not like Miami brass knew Uggla had peaked, offering him a four-year, $48 million deal, which he wisely rejected. That's when they shipped him to Georgia.

Following a fifth straight 30+ home run season in Atlanta, Uggla inked a four-year, $52 million contract with the Braves at the age of 31. But the Marlins had sucked out all his talent had to offer, enjoying 19 wins against replacement over five years for the MLB equivalent of a dinner and a movie ($14.2 million).

For $61 million, the Braves salvaged 2.4 wins against replacement of value from him, worse than any one of his three best seasons in Miami. So today, at 34 and without a team, Dan Uggla will be some contender's pinch hitter, hoping a few well-timed hits, particularly in a playoff situation, can earn him another year in The Show.

For the Braves, the only salvation is that by paying Uggla not to play, they maximize his value (i.e., minimize his damage) and open up a roster spot. And the Marlins get to laugh and wipe their brows in relief.

21 July 2014

What Colby Lewis Really Meant

By now you know the enigmatic musings of Colby Lewis, the Rangers' pitcher who took issue with Blue Jay outfielder Colby Rasmus bunting against the shift.

"I told [Rasmus] I didn't appreciate it. You're up by two runs with two outs [in the fifth inning] and you lay down a bunt. I don't think that's the way the game should be played."

Lewis has been rightfully shredded here and here and here and here and frankly everywhere for conjuring a new unwritten rule.

But I think Colby Lewis was misquoted and now he's being unfairly criticized. 

What he really said was this:

"I told [Rasmus] I didn't appreciate having a 6.54 ERA. You're a .233 hitter and even you just got a hit against me. I don't think we Rangers, at 39-59, know the way the game should be played."

See? That's totally understandable. So lay off poor Colby. He might not be in the Majors much longer.

 

20 July 2014

Is Andrew Rector A Douchenozzle? Reflections On A Mid-Game Snooze


Andrew Rector is either a genius or he’s an extremely not genius of any kind. I’d like to use more descriptive words but Andrew is the litigious sort. Which is the story here.
 
In case you hadn’t heard, Andrew Rector is the gentleman pictured below who entered into repose along with all his chins at a nationally televised baseball game. Being a proud, upstanding American, I consider this a sin on the order of knocking over a little old lady and smacking an ice cream cone out of a child’s hand. But if everyone who fell asleep at a baseball game were charged with a crime, we’d have to put fencing and barbed wire around America. And I’d have to bail out my otherwise-sweet wife.



Anyway, the game announcers -- Dan Shulman and John Kruk -- had some good, clean fun at Andrew Rector’s expense, speculating on the number of beers required to reach this particular Zen state.
 
From there, of course, the InterWebs picked it up and turned Andrew Rector into a cross between Bozo the Clown and Pig Pen. You can just imagine. Bloggers and tweeters called him a “fat bastard,” a “douchenozzle,” and also some unflattering things. 
 
And then tomorrow happened. In this case, tomorrow was April 14, by which time everyone would have forgotten about Andrew Rector except he sued Major League Baseball, ESPN and the announcers personally for $10 million, blaming them for heaping scorn and ridicule upon him.
 
Even a moron knows that this suit will die a slow, ignominious death. (I am not suggesting that Andrew Robert Rector of the New York metropolitan area is a moron. Considering that he filed the suit, there’s evidence that he has not achieved that vaunted status.) Suing ESPN and MLB for showing him in slumber (and apparent mid-droolage) is a fool’s errand. Suing the announcers for their tepid remarks is patent dopiness. Not that Andrew Rector is a dope, but his lawyer certainly is. (Note: From the semi-coherent ramblings of the lawsuit, he may not have a lawyer. Infer what you will.)
 
As a result of the lawsuit, millions of people around the globe who never noticed Andrew Rector conked out live on TV, or checked in on the disparagement of Andrew Rector on Twitter are suddenly aware that Andrew Robert Rector, a used car salesman in or around NYC (you can’t make this stuff up!) dozed ungracefully through the whole fourth inning of a Yankee-Red Sox tilt at The House That Ruth Built.
 
With his baseless and juvenile lawsuit, Andrew Rector has frittered away the sympathy his case inspired and catapulted the ridicule seven-fold, this time for good reason. And for that, you might think Andrew Rector is a flaming goober.
 
But is he? After all, you now know Andrew Rector’s name. You recognize his visage. You might be intrigued by his story. Maybe he’s just angling to extend his 15 minutes of fame to a half hour so that he can cash in. Think of the possibilities.
 
His people might be on the phone at this very moment encouraging the Yankees to do Andrew Rector Bobblehead Night, with the bobbling noggin on a rightward tilt. I see a book deal with a big advance: “Dreaming of Being A Thin Dodger Fan.” The endorsement deals from Tempurpedic and Jenny Craig practically sell themselves. A speaking tour, a magazine spread – and I do mean spread – Andrew Rector is positioning himself for all of it. The guy can stop selling cars – used or otherwise – and join the one percent.

Maybe Andrew Rector’s not a flaming goober. Maybe he’s a flippin’ genius.

18 July 2014

Clutch...My Stomach

One more shot at the out-of-control Derek Jeter narrative:

Did you catch the All-Star Game description of Jeter's .441 batting average in All-Star Games (now .480 after a 2-for-2 night)? 

"Derek Jeter has been clutch in the All-Star Game."

Of  the thousands of ballplayers over the 125-year history of Major League Baseball, only Derek Jeter could be described as clutch for performing well in meaningless exhibitions.

(Not to put too fine a point on it, but Jeter mostly batted in the early innings of those games, so his hits have come in non-critical moments of meaningless exhibitions.)

Clutch.

16 July 2014

Derek Jeter 174, Tony Gwynn 0

Fox issued 84 unnecessary mentions of Derek Jeter at the All-Star game and cut away to him unnecessarily 90 times, according to Baseball Prospectus. ("Unnecessary" in that he wasn't batting, baserunning or making a play.)

They never mentioned Tony Gwynn once. Not once.

Today MLB and Fox, under widespread withering criticism for a blatantly shameful misorder of priorities, issued a statement claiming that they ignored Gwynn because they didn't want to slight Jim Fregosi, who also died since the last All-Star Game.

Oh, never mind then.

When did Major League Baseball hire Ryan Braun for their PR department? 

So here's a fun game: 

Which notable attempt at spin has reached the highest level on the laugh meter?
1. We're emancipating the oppressed Germans of Poland and Belguim. -Adolf Hitler
2. It was a wardrobe malfunction. -Justin Timberlake
3. We have repelled the Americans. -Baghdad Bob
4. The Civil War wasn't about slavery. -Embarrassed Southerners
5. Well, Frank Cashen died too, ya know. -MLB and Fox

I used to think that Fox was the worst network for MLB because they obviously don't like baseball or know much about it. But now I realize, it's a perfect marriage.

R.I.P. Tony Gwynn. You were a great ballplayer and a good man who died way too young.

14 July 2014

Texas Rangers: Missed It By That Much

If you picked the Texas Rangers to win the AL West, or to compete for a Wild Card, or at least to outplay the Oakland A's, you're not alone. Texas has won 90+ games each of the past four seasons, annually sports a lineup of big-boy bats and worked a pair of deals this year for a couple more boppers. 

But as the great philosopher Maxwell Smart observed:

"Missed it by that much."

The Rangers are not going to win the AL West. They are not going to compete for a Wild Card. They are currently 20.5 games behind Oakland and the gap widens daily.

The Rangers are, in fact, in last place in Major League Baseball. They trail the Cubs, the Padres and even the Astros. One more loss drops them behind the Toledo Mud Hens.

Texas represented the American League in the World Series in 2010 and 2011. Since then, they've lost Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Cliff Lee, C.J. Wilson, Michael Young, Mike Napoli, Joe Nathan, Mike Adams, David Murphy, Bengie Molina and Chris Davis. They traded a superb player, Ian Kinsler, for a superb hitter, Prince Fielder. 

What they have left is Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus and Yu Darvish. Fielder is done for the season after contributing three home runs. Free agent signing Shin-soo Choo is up to his on-base ways but not much else. Number-two starter Colby Lewis sports a 6.54 ERA.

Somewhere between locusts and slaying of the first born have come a plague of Ranger injuries. Fielder is done due to a neck injury after playing every game of the previous three campaigns. Infield phenom Jurickson Profar -- the reason GM Jon Daniels traded Kinsler -- can thank a shoulder tear for keeping him off the field. Outfielder Kevin Kouzmanoff's .362/.412/.617 brilliance lasted until April 23 and neck surgery. Catcher Geovany Soto is toast after tearing a ligament in his knee. Rotation cog Matt Harrison lasted four starts before a spinal nerve flared. DH Mitch Moreland's on the shelf following ankle surgery. And Derek Holland, the team's second-best pitcher, has yet to visit the mound.

Oh, the humanity!  

The results have been grotesque. The team isn't hitting. They're not fielding. After Darvish, they're not pitching. They're third in the AL in stolen bases but first in caught stealing (a miserable 65 for 104). They're last in the league in ERA and ninth in on-base and slugging. With starters like outfielder Michael Choice, who's hitting .177, imagine how painful their bench is. (Here's some help: Carlos Pena, who's hitting .136  with one home run, is not the worst backup on the roster.)

So the Rangers are done in 2014. The question is whether their window was closing or whether return from injury will catapult this squad back into contention next year. Watch whether Daniels starts flipping veterans in order to restock the barren upper levels of the farm to know which way they perceive themselves.
 

13 July 2014

What the Sports Media Learned From LeBron James

And so The Decision Part Deux ends to reveal the following: LeBron James learned from his mistakes in The Decision; the sports media learned nothing.

With his move back to Cleveland, LeBron not only rolls back the decision to leave, he erases much of The Decision, that tone-deaf extravaganza in which he rubbed Ohio's face in his departure and became Public Enemy Number One.

Given another chance, he conducted his search in private, informed Heat brass and teammates in advance and made the announcement in print. It was a complete repudiation of the game plan four years prior.

How about the sports media, did they alter their approach? Well, ESPN didn't run an hour-long special, but that was probably not their choice.

Beyond that, it was the same endless jabbering bereft of a single fact. People described as "insider extraordinaire," people who had speculated wrongly for weeks the first time around, were back drawing conclusions without data, non-stop, 24-hours-a-day for as long as LeBron was deciding. I heard one "insider extraordinaire" dismiss claims of a Cleveland return because LeBron and Cavs management hadn't met. They had, of course; the "insider" was too busy opining on the radio to find out.

LeBron James demonstrated why he is not only a transcendent basketball player and an insightful businessman, but also a great leader. Sports media demonstrated why it shares none of his qualities, drew no lessons from its shameful 2010 performance and improved absolutely nothing since then. 

Thank goodness for baseball broadcasts.

12 July 2014

Two Morals In a Very Small Story

Here's a baseball story with two morals.

Corey Kluber notched his ninth win last night in Cleveland's 7-4 victory over Chicago. Kluber has been an All-Star contender based on a 9-6, 3.01 half-season that features good peripherals including a complete game and 4.5-1 K-BB ratio.

Last night was vindication for Boston manager John Farrell's decision to bypass Kluber for the honor. The righty from Stetson managed six innings while surrendering four runs on eight hits, two walks and a home run.

The Tribe tallied three times in the fifth to bail Kluber out of a deficit. Then the real bailing began. Relievers John Axford, Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen shut the door over the final three frames, fanning six of the nine batters they faced -- all outs. That is, Cleveland's defense was asked to make all of three plays behind the trio of firemen.

Allen gets credit for a save, and why not: he struck out the side. Shaw and Axford receive bupkus, except the warm feeling that their work, combined with a potent Indian offense, secured Corey Kluber a "win." 

(In the interest of redundantly flagellating an equine corpse that long ago achieved rigor mortis, the Associated Press dedicated their first two game summary paragraphs to Kluber's sub-stellar performance and none to his successors.)

The morals of the story are familiar: 1. Pitching wins are the ultimate evidence that correlation is not causation. 2. If it's not measured it's not valued by the old fogies who still think RBIs are about "clutchness," but that doesn't mean we shouldn't value it.



06 July 2014

More Fun With Game Write-Ups

More evidence you can't spell "dumb" without "AP."

At the bottom of the wrap-up of a 6-5 Marlins win over the Cardinals, most of which reasonably features Jeff Baker's pinch-hit RBI single with two outs in the ninth and Casey McGehee's game-tying hit following a courageous 11-pitch at-bat, the AP mentions the following:

Mike Dunn (6-4) worked a scoreless eighth and Steve Cishek finished for his 19th save in 21 chances.

It's true that Dunn and Cishek worked a scoreless frame each, relinquishing a single each. It's true that Dunn is credited, according to antiquated rules developed during the Taft Administration, with six wins and four losses on the season, though anyone with even a glancing knowledge of the game recognizes that reliever W-L records are as illuminating as a Ryan Braun quote. It's also true that the flying speed of an African Swallow is roughly 29 mph if it's unladen.

Here's what else is true: Before Dunn entered the game, Sam Dyson hurled two pristine innings, allowing no hits and fanning three batters. He coaxed as many outs as Dunn and Cishek combined and was far more effective doing so. 

And before Dyson, failed starter Jacob Turner entered the game in the fourth inning with runners on, a four-run deficit and the game one safety from breaking wide open. He ended the threat with a strikeout and then pitched a perfect fifth, after which the Marlins plated three runs to tighten the score.

No one has created a phony measurement to describe the contribution Dyson and Turner made to the win, and so the AP appears unable to explain their value. But it was significantly greater than either Dunn's or Cishek's; indeed it's greater than both of theirs combined.

Because we have these utterly worthless and time-worn numbers we can assign to Dunn and Cishek, they can read their names in newspapers across America. The real pitching heroes, Sam Dyson and Jacob Turner, get the consolation prize of a mention in a sad little blog read by few comely and available young women.


Balls and Strikes Around the Midpoint

After a nice start, the Rockies have dropped 36 of their last 50 contests. That's the worst 50-game stretch in team history.

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The Dodgers' Dee Gordon has stolen more bases (41) so far in 2014 than eight whole teams. The Red Sox have swiped just 27, and run into outs twice as many times (18) as Gordon.

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The bold A's-Cubs trade featuring Chicago's top two pitchers and Oakland's top two prospects tells us two things: Oakland is all in to win the World Series in 2014 and the Cubs have no intention of contending in 2015. Billy Beane has accomplished everything but a championship run in his career and the window is the widest open it will ever be, particularly with New York, Boston, Tampa Bay and Texas all shadows of their former selves. 

In Chicago, it's the third straight year they've swapped their top two starters (remember Ryan Dempster, Paul Maholm, Scott Feldman and Matt Garza) for a minor league traffic jam that has already yielded Jake Arrieta. But Jed Hoyer & Theo Epstein know that when the Cubs are ready to compete they'll need some reliable veterans as bulwark for the roster, so the fact that they've moved Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammels means next year isn't "when." 

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In 13 starts, Clayton Kershaw has walked 12 batters and fanned 115. And pitched a perfect game. And saved money on razors. In case you're wondering if he's any good.

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The Padres lag the Majors in runs scored with 259, but have tallied eight or more five times. Those five games account for more than one-sixth of their season's scoring.

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More on Padre batting futility: six of their starters are hitting below .220 and their top slugger (Seth Smith) is on pace for 17 homers and 50 RBI. 

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Baltimore's Chris Davis busted out to 53 jacks and 1.004 OPS last year. So far in 2014, he's at 13 and .705, weighed down by a .201 batting average. Credit the popularity of the shift. On balls the lefty slugger pulled last season, he batted .468 and slugged .937. This season: .271/.608. On balls up the middle: last year, .416/.964; this year, .348/.609. (He's batting and slugging zero on his strikeouts, which are numerous.) Shifts can be beaten but evidently not by him, at least not yet.

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The last time neither the Yankees nor Red Sox was above .500 on Independence Day, the Dow stood at 3,000, Prince Charles and Princess Diana separated, and Euro Disney opened in Paris. And the Blue Jays won the World Series.

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Nelson Cruz is the best visiting hitter in Fenway Park's 102-year history, slugging .400/.457/.726 in 105 plate appearances. Imagine how good he'd be if he were still taking drugs.

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The Royals have hit 50 home runs, on pace for 91. The Blue Jays have already crushed 113. That explains why Toronto is five games over .500 and Kansas City just four.

03 July 2014

A First New World Problem

"Dude, that's a First World problem." 

What a great new aphorism. It elegantly observes that most of the irritations in our lives are mere inconveniences borne of the luxury we have, to forgo the daily need to fill our bellies, elude predators and find shelter from the elements.

The pièce de résistance though, is the ignorance of the saying. These are not First World problems because we don't live in the First World. We live in the New World, which is why Africa and much of Asia is the Third World. The First World is places like Bohemia, Saxony and Prussia.

In any case, the Washington Nationals are now suffering a very first world problem, with the return of Bryce Harper from injury. Harper, who slots in at left or center, has been spelled by Ryan Zimmerman, his predecessor as "face of the franchise." Once a Gold Glove third baseman, Zimmerman has arm issues that make long throws to first problematic. 

No problem. Zimmerman has been enjoying the outer pasture in Harper's stead and stud rookie Anthony Rendon has taken his big stick to the hot corner. Until now. 

With Harper's return, Nats skipper Matt Williams has some decisions to make. If he returns the phenom to left, does he sit Zimmerman and his lifetime 34 wins against replacement (at age just 29) or does he slot him back at the manager's old position? If Zimmerman is back at third, does Rendon sit or move to the keystone -- which he played in the minors-- in place of Danny Espinosa? Espo's not much at the dish but he's a nifty fielder, partly responsible for the team's league-best ERA.

Or does Zimmerman stay put, Harper slide to center and Denard Span take a seat? Like Espinosa, Span's not getting it done at the plate, but the team would take a defensive hit from moving him. Maybe Harper should bump Zimmerman who should bump Rendon who should bump Espinosa who should bump Ian Desmond at short. That would get the left handed (or switch-hitting) bats of Harper, Espinosa and Span (as well as first baseman Adam LaRoche and catcher Jose Lobaton) into the lineup against righties.

In fact, every team would like this issue with its lineup. The Red Sox have to send David Ortiz to play in first base traffic during interleague games. The Tigers can't hide Miguel Cabrera's concrete shoes because Victor Martinez isn't fit for fieldwork. And God help us: Adam Dunn has taken his glove out onto the diamond 28 times this year -- eight of them, in the outfield. So Washington's extreme flexibility is refreshing.

Sensibly, the Nats seem to be employing the "every available option" approach. Sometimes Span will come in as a defensive replacement. Some games will see Espinosa on the bench. Harper and Zimmerman will get a break now and then to limit their injury opportunities and pinch hit when needed. Interleague games will provide more options. And all the nine guys into eight slots will become irrelevant as soon as one of them inevitably tears a pull, quads an oblique or hamstrings flu-like symptoms.

It all spells less playing time for bench warmers Nate McClouth and Kevin Frandsen, but neither is even replacement value in a combined 250 plate appearances this year. If anything, the nine-into-eight dilemma strengthens Washington's biggest weakness -- its bench.


01 July 2014

The Hardest All-Star Vote

Which All-Star voting method do you employ?

The Cesar Izturis Method -- Pick a player without bonafides based on 12 good weeks, regardless of the rest of his career arc. Izturis was an '05 honoree after hitting .345 through June 1. He batted .173 the rest of the way without power or speed and ended the season at little more than replacement level.

The Jason Giambi Method -- Just choose the best players regardless of their accomplishments so far that year. Giambi batted .237 with 12 homers in the first half of '03, then slammed 29 in the second half and finished the season with a .939 OPS, 48% above league average.

The Derek Jeter Method -- Exercise your franchise for the retiring hero whose production took a wrong turn at Aging Street and isn't going to find its way back, just because you want to see him start one more time. 

The Cespedes-Puig Method -- Go for the glitz, the glam! The All-Star Game is just entertainment!

The Braindrizzling Method -- Mix two cups of Giambi with one cup of Izturis and season with a soupcon of Puig. There is no one on my ballot struggling in the first half. There is no one on my ballot who hasn't done it before. Rookies have to wait their turn unless their turn has turned.

My AL ballot:
1B - Miguel Cabrera, Detroit
2B - Robinson Cano, Seattle
SS - Alexi Ramirez, White Sox
3B - Adrian Beltre, Texas
C - Sal Perez, KC
OF - Mike Trout, Anaheim
OF - Jose Bautista, Toronto
OF - Michael Brantley, Cleveland
DH - Victor Martinez, Detroit

Cabrera is the first baseman unless he steps on his glove and breaks his hand four games into the season and doesn't play again. Everyone else has done it before, to varying degrees. You could have gone Josh Donaldson of Oakland at third and someone else, say all-around Alex Gordon of KC, as the third outfielder. 

Others -- Nelson Cruz, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Abreu, Jose Altuve, Melky Cabrera, to name a few -- deserve consideration, but not as starters. And of course Derek Jeter and Paul Konerko are retiring stars who should be selected in some other capacity because they clearly aren't contenders at their positions today.

My NL ballot:
1B - Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona
2B - Chase Utley, Philadelphia
SS - Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado
3B - Todd Frazier, Cincinnati
OF - Giancarlo Stanton, Miami 
OF - Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh
OF - Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles

Any ballot not including Tulo, Giancarlo and Cutch should be incinerated. Puig and Milwaukee's Gomez are both good third outfield choices; I don't trust Dee Gordon, but if he's for real, he's a fine choice at short with his defense and his 40 steals. And Anthony Rendon of Washington is a stud at...um...third? second? first? 

Third was a tough choice: Frazier is having the best half year and has hit well before. If David Wright's pedigree is more your cup of tea, have a swig of that.

But wait, I haven't selected an NL catcher. Well you try choosing just one from this group:

Evan Gattis, Atlanta -- .290 with 16 bombs and passable defense in his first full-time duty.
Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee -- .334 with 37 extra-base hits
Devin Mesoraco, Cincinnati -- .310 and 14 jacks in only 48 games
Yadier Molina, St. Louis -- .280 and his Yadierness behind the dish
Buster Posey, San Fran -- .293 with power and an MVP trophy sticking out of his pocket 

What an embarrassment of riches at backstop. I put Lucroy on my team; he's a budding star and will vindicate the choice. But the bigger question is which two don't make the squad at all? 

Catchers authored a dismal .687 OPS last year, worst by position except for shortstops and 13% below league mean, including pitchers. These five are averaging .872, 24% clear of league average. That's the difference between five guys who bat .230 with four home runs and this quintet, averaging .300 with 11 jacks. 

Something to savor at the halfway mark.

23 June 2014

New Discovery: Scoring More Runs Is Good!

Which would you rather your team did, score an extra 12 runs every 11 days or an extra seven runs every 11 days?

Ha, trick question! Because to get this question right, you have to know something that isn't in the question.

Without this extra bit of information, Major League managers, players and broadcasters -- particularly that last group -- are getting this question wrong.

What you have to know is that scoring runs is good. Scoring more is better. Ha, I didn't mention that the first time!

And so, three times this weekend, I heard broadcasters rhapsodizing about how a batter had "sacrificed his batting average" in order to hit a ground ball to the right side that moved a runner from second to third. The phrase in quotes is from Don Sutton, a Braves announcer who pitched during the '60s and sometimes sounds like he's still there. 

The is no valor in sacrificing a runner to third. It is simply dumb.

On average, with a runner on second and none out, teams plate 1.083 (more) runs. ("More" because the team might have already scored.) With a runner on third and one out, they score, on average .94 runs. Don, that's fewer runs. Hitting to the right side to trade an out for a base diminishes a team's ability to score runs.

It's even worse with one out. Teams reduce by nearly half their run-scoring ability by trading a second out for advancing a runner to third. The advantage gained by the ability to score from third on an out is more than wiped out by all the lost possibilities that sacrificing an out derails.

Two caveats: 
1. All this assumes average players all around. Obviously, a pitcher should try to hit to the right side. So should a weak #8 hitter if a good pinch hitter waits on deck. 
2. There's nothing wrong with hitting to the right side. Making an out -- in any direction -- is where the screws loosen.

But suppose your team just needs one run? You're tied in the bottom of the ninth. Or in extra innings. Or the pitchers are dominating and one run is worth its weight in gold.* That's a different story. In that case, moving the runner to third with no one out adds a run every 25 opportunities. It's more or less a wash. But with one out it still reduces the chances from 42% to 27%.

*Runs are abstract concepts without weight, even on, like, Jupiter. Better they should be worth their number of letters in gold. Or their game score influence, though I don't know how to translate that into avoirdupois. So forget the whole thing. Runs are really important in that situation, whatever one we were talking about...

The upshot: it's generally a stupid move. Hit to the right with a runner on second, sure, but not at the expense of trying to reach base safely. Unless you're the Padres, in which case your team's goal is evidently to score fewer runs.


21 June 2014

Parity Begins at Home

The derision funneled Seattle's way for rolling out the golden carpet to free agents Robinson Cano and Fernando Rodney, and making fat-wallet pitches to several others, has stood the test of half a season. The weak-hitting Mariners are bobbing along at two games over .500, a million games behind the Oakland steamroller.

But those two acquisitions have a middling team in the middle of the playoff hunt. On the first day of summer, Seattle stands two games out of the Wild Card, part of an eight-team scrum.

Except for Oakland and Toronto on the plus-side and Houston and Tampa Bay in the negative, the entire American League is within three games of even. That means that Cleveland, who can't win on the road; Detroit, who've lost 20 of 30; and Boston, who dropped 10, won seven and lost five straight; are all still very much in the mix.

Ditto in the senior circuit. The Dbacks, Padres, Mets and Cubs have recused themselves from the 2014 playoffs, but it's a free-for-all besides that. In the NL East, the phading, phourth-place Phils are phour notches under .500, the phiphth-worst team in the NL. And they're just 3.5 games shy of their division's lead.

It makes the competition wondrous for fans, not so much for general managers. If you're the last-place White Sox, are you buyers or sellers at the trade deadline? You're just five games out of the lead in the AL Central. How about the Yankees, currently in the lead for a Wild Card, but living large off luck and bracing for the next cascade of injuries to your geriatric club?

If you're the Rays, you're plying every contender, pretender and upender with visions of David Price hurling them to victory. There could be a long line vying for trade bait capable of helping a team win that extra game or two.



19 June 2014

Is A Perfect Game Just Lucky?

Here's another entry from the Things We've Learned from Sabermetrics file:

No-hitters are just lucky three-hitters, and might not even be very well-pitched games.

In fact, as documented in this space, several recent whitewashings have underwhelmed. When the starter allows seven walks and a hit-by-pitch, fans just three, requires a fence-defying grab by an outfielder and enjoys an unearned strike call on a 3-2 count with the bases loaded, there's nothing to celebrate.

That's why Clayton Kershaw's essentially perfect game last night (his shortstop threw away an easy out) in an 8-0 shellacking of Colorado absolutely sparkled. There's not a ton of luck involved when the pitcher dispatches 15 batters without involving his defense. Last year's NL Cy Young Award winner employed such a filthy curveball and slider that the Rockies were able to produce only meek grounders for the majority of the remaining 12 outs.

In fact, basically any 0-walk, 15-strikeout game is a gem. Any hurler who can flummox the opposition so thoroughly is almost certainly allowing only fortunate singles. No one ever dominates the other team so profoundly while allowing six extra base hits.

Bill James's Game Score metric rates Kershaw's perfecto the second-best pitching performance in a nine-inning game ever, behind Kerry Wood's one-hit, 0-walk, 20-strikeout mindbender in May of 1998. (To make Wood's accomplishment even more amazing, he delivered it in just his fifth career start at age 20 against an excellent Astros team and received just two runs of support from the Cubs.)

Second best ever? Yeah, that sounds like Clayton Kershaw.

18 June 2014

Time Waits for No One, And It Left Without Ryan Howard

Those were the days, my friend
We thought they'd never end.
We'd sing and dance, forever and a day.

Ah yes, the heady days when Philly's Ryan Howard and St. Loo's Albert Pujols were tearing up NL pitching. Howard snagged the Rookie of the Year and the MVP in consecutive seasons, slugging 58, 47, 48 and 45 homers, driving home 136+ four straight seasons, earning top-5 MVP finishes each year. 

Prince Albert, meanwhile, less prolific with the ribbies, got aboard at clips of .403, .394, .439, .415, .430, .431, .429, .462,  and .443, while slamming between 32 and 47 home runs. 

Back then, before the walls built against new analysis began crumbling down, there was debate about who was the better first baseman. Though Pujols hit for higher average, ran the bases far better, played vastly better defense and even matched Howard's strength -- power, there were still those who preferred the RBI machine. It's funny in retrospect.

Even in Howard's 2006 MVP season, Pujols was so laughably superior it's fun to look back. Howard wowed the voters by pacing the circuit with 58 jacks and 149 knocked in while batting .313. Not too shabby. But not Pujols-worthy. Albert "only" cranked 49 and "merely" drove home 137 while posting a higher batting average, higher on base average and higher slugging percentage. Howard ran in slo-mo and couldn't field a question. Pujols out-performed him six ways to Sunday, and earned 2.4 more wins against replacement. Just the difference between them was a year's work for a quality starting first baseman.

Fast forward to 2010, when the two stars turned 30. For a while there, in the 90s and early '00s, steroids masked the effect of aging and we all fell victim to its comely wiles. But time waits for no one unjuiced, and Albert's been no exception. Since entering his fourth decade, Pujols has missed an average of 36 games and flashed pedestrian first baseman batting skills -- 28-86-.287/.361/.525 for a total of 21 wins against replacement in four seasons plus this one.

That's how a superstar ages. Want to see how time ravages a good-but-flawed big man? Let Howard re-enter the batter's box. In these same four-plus seasons, Howard has missed 59 games-a-year and hit just 20-74-.254/.332/.472 for a total of two wins against replacement. Howard can't catch a cold, circle the bases in a fortnight, hit lefties or stay on the diamond. He's a $20 million albatross in Philly who will eventually help get Reuben Amaro fired. (Or he won't, which means denizens of the City of Brotherly Love will suffer a long, excruciating and likely futile rebuilding process.)

No one argues anymore that the immobile whiff-factory with better teammates should win the MVP on the back of plated runs. We understand OBP and SLG, the importance of defense and baserunning and everything else. It's fun to watch hindsight clear up the vision of those who couldn't see.