21 May 2004

Congratulations to my lovely (and smart!) wife, Sunny, who graduated from Moravian College last weekend. (And congratulations to all of us cheap Bloggers, who now have a free means of posting images on our websites!) Posted by Hello

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RUN DOWN: Which team has the best fans?


It’s too bad this question isn’t which club has the worst fans in baseball. That one’s easy: the Phillies.

Say what you want about the judgmental New York fans or the unforgiving Boston media, but the City of Brotherly Love has easily got the worst fans in sports. What other city would throw snowballs at the opposing team, loaded with rocks or batteries? Where else might the crowd cheer as an opposing player is carried off the field on a stretcher? Who else would boo their own pitcher for not throwing 100 mph? In what other city would they boo Santa Claus? And then tell you how proud they are of the occurrence?

That’s right: Nowhere but Philly.

But that’s not the question. The question is who has the best fans, and frankly, I don’t know. It’s tempting to say that the Yankees have the best fans, since I am one, but hey, how hard is it really to be loyal to the best sports franchise in history? Like rooting for U.S. Steel, as they used to say.

Boston is another option, I hate to admit, because by all reports the Red Sox fans are as knowledgeable as any in the game, probably more so, and that counts for something. However, the recent emergence of all these Boston fans from the proverbial woodwork leaves me a bit skeptical as to their genuineness.

After Tuesday night, I might have even offered up the Braves’ fans as the best, for who else would cheer the opposing pitcher as he hurled a perfect game against their own team? But Atlanta’s attendance has been dropping, despite the team’s continued success, and they can’t even sell-out first round playoff games anymore. Guess all that success has gone to their heads. Somebody ought to explain to the good people of Georgia that you can’t finish the season any higher than first place.

Perhaps the best measure of a team’s fans’ character is their attendance, not just overall, but in light of the team’s performance. With this in mind, it seems to me that the Seattle Mariners and St. Louis Cardinals have had the most consistency in their attendance numbers for the last half-decade or so. These teams have also been fairly successful on the field, so it makes sense that their attendance has been good.

Furthermore, for St. Louis, even when the team wasn’t that good, they had Mark McGuire and his nightly home-run record chase as an incentive to watch. Not that this should discredit the good people of St. Louis, who by all accounts are great fans, but fair is fair. I’d go to the ballpark every night too if I thought I might see history.

We’d like to find, if possible, a group of fans that embodies the very spirit of support for the franchise. Fans that aren’t concerned with silly things like “winning” and arcane notions like, well, “winning”. Fans who go to the ballgame for one reason and one reason only: to get drunk, and get a tan. OK, so it’s two reasons. And with these criteria, one team stands cork-filled head and steroid-enhanced shoulders above the rest…

…the Chicago Cubs.

The Cubs' fans sure have nostalgia, and a nice ballpark, if not much recent success.  Posted by Hello

That’s right, they made the playoffs last year, winning 88 regular season games and drawing almost three million fans to a ballpark that’s nearly 90 years old and seats fewer than 39,000!

The year before that? They lost 95 games, but still drew 2.7 million fans to that ballpark. In 1998, a 20 year old phenomenon named Kerry Wood took the NL by surprise, took 20 Houston Astros down on strikes in one game, took 13 of 19 decisions and took home Rookie of the Year honors. The Cubbies took in 2.6 million at Wrigley Field. In 1999, Wood missed the entire season with Tommy John surgery, but the Cubs drew even more fans, 2.8 million! For a team that lost 95 games! Same thing in 2000: 97 losses, 2.8 million fans. 2001? An 88-74 record, good for third place in the NL Central, but still 2.8 million fans.

OK, so maybe they were a little tough on Steve Bartman last year. And maybe they’re a little bitter and jaded. After all, it’s been almost 100 years since their last World Series title. Actually, it’s been that long since they won any series in the playoffs. But consistency is consistency, and the Cubs are nothing if not consistent. Consistently underachieving, perhaps, but their fans are right there with them.

All 2.8 million of them.

See what my colleagues at BaseballOutsider.com have to say about this issue...

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19 May 2004

the Big Perfect Unit

Who says modern baseball favors hitters too much?

Sunday, with all 30 MLB teams playing, 14 of them, nearly half, scored two runs or fewer, Including the Atlanta Braves, who struck out 18 times agains the Brewers' Ben Sheets. Sheets, however, at least had the courtesy to allow three hits and a walk, even a run to score, while beating the Braves.

Randy Johnson offered no such considerations last night. Again with all 30 teams playing, 11 of them scored two or fewer runs, including both teams that took part in Johnson's perfect game, a 2-0 win for the Arizona Diamondbacks over the Braves.

Of course, these are not your father's OldsmoBraves. They lost, as you know, Gary Sheffield, Javy Lopez and Vinny Castilla over the winter to free agency, and those three have combined for a .309/.393/.517 line with 18 homers and 74 RBI in the first month and a half of the season. D'ya think John Schuerholtz is reconsidering his decision to let all three go? I do.

Add to this (or subtract, really) the fact that both Braves starting middle infielders, rafael Furcal and Marcus Giles, the lineup's table-setters, were injured and unable to play, further diminishing the team's chances of getting a hit, much less winning. You've got a recipe for disaster, which is exactly what happened.

Johnson struck out 13 en route to his second career no-hitter, the first perfect game since David Cone's in 1999, the first by a lefty sincd David Wells' game against the Twins on May 17th, 1998, almost six years ago to the day. It was the first in the NL (not counting David Cone's Inter-league performance against the Expos in '99) since El Presidente, Dennis Martinez, clean-slated the Dodgers in 1991. (For the record, the Dodgers have had perfect games pitched against them three times, more than any other team. Tom Browning did it for the Reds in 1988, and Don Larsen pitched one against Brooklyn in the 1956 World Series.)

There are, of course, several interesting things to note about this game, most of which are covered by the mainstream media, so I won't rehash them. You come to Boy of Summer for something other than what ESPN tells you, so I'll try to make good on that promise.

Rob Neyer notes that it's not a terrible surprise that Randy Johnson was able to pitch a no-hitter, given how stingy he always is at giving up hits, and he's right. Indeed, Johnson seems almost good enough to do so every time he toes the rubber. What surprises me though is that Johnson was able to not allow any walks. His control, admittedly, is not so bad as it was in 1991, when he walked 152 in 201 innings (yikes!), or when he annually led the league in walks allowed from 1990-92. His last no-hitter included 6 walks and eight strikeouts, and since 1995 he's averaged almost three walks per nine innings (3.6 overall for his career), so the perfect game is that much more surprising.

The other interesting thing, I think, is the frequency with which perfect games occur these days. Take a look at the list of 9-inning perfect games:

Date Pitcher Team Opponent League
5/18/2004 Randy Johnson ARZ ATL NL
7/18/1999 David Cone NYY MTL AL/NL
5/17/1998 David Wells NYY MIN AL
7/28/1994 Kenny Rogers TEX CAL AL
7/28/1991 D. Martinez MTL LA NL
9/16/1988 Tom Browning CIN LA NL
9/30/1984 Mike Witt CAL TEX AL
5/15/1981 Len Barker CLE TOR AL
5/ 8/1968 Catfish Hunter OAK MIN AL
9/ 9/1965 Sandy Koufax LA CHI NL
6/21/1964 Jim Bunning PHI NYM NL
10/ 7/1956 Don Larsen NYY BRK AL
4/29/1922 C. Robertson CHI DET AL
10/ 1/1908 Addie Joss CLE CHI AL
5/ 4/1904 Cy Young BOS PHI AL
6/17/1880 Monte Ward WOR CLE NL
6/12/1880 Lee Richmond PRO BOS NL

Notice anything?

There seems to be a significant bias toward recent years. The National League was founded in 1876, and in the first 76 seasons of MLB as we know it, there were five regular season perfect games, plus one in the World Series. Then, in the 1960s, during a very pitcher-friendly era, three were tossed inside of five seasons, and then another drought, til 1981.

But from 1981 until last night, there has been a perfect game pitched about every 3-5 years! What the heck? 1981, 1984, 1988, 1991, 1994, 1998, 1999, 2004? That measley five-year span between Cone's perfecto in '99 and Johnson's last night was the biggest gap since the 14-year span between Catfish Hunter in 1968 and Len Barker (Len Barker!?) in '81.

I don't really know what it means, but it's weird, isn't it? I mean, not as weird as, say, a couple that needs to be told to try actually having sex in order to get pregnant, but weird, nonetheless.

Spanning times in which offense was generally down (the '80s), and when it was at an all-time high (the late '90s), we still get a perfecto every three years or so.

Does it mean that this pattern will continue? Who knows? Past behavior may be the best indicator of future performance, but it's still no guarantee.

Is it a conspiracy among Bud Selig and those who run MLB to make sure interest in the game stays high? Doubtful. Selig and company can't conspire to tie their own shoes without consulting the 29 ownership groups, and there are just way too many loose lips in that bunch to ever hide something like this.

Well, whatever it means, I guess I'll look forward to 2007 or so, for the next perfecto. Any guesses on who's next?

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14 May 2004

Selig Responds to Challenges (no, not really)

Tongue-In-Cheek, Neb. (BS) -- MLB Commissioner Bud Selig's spoke at a sports banquet on Tuesday and miraculously managed not to mention illegal steroids, cheesy advertising ploys or the problems of the Montreal Expos. Instead, he rambled on ad nauseum about the beauty of baseball and its enduring popularity. Or at least he tried to...

Unaware that this was actually a gathering of disgruntled bloggers and baseball writers, Selig told a crowd of more than 1,200 that the momentum created by last year's dramatic playoffs and World Series has carried over. Crowds are up 15 percent compared with the first month and a half of the 2003 season, and he predicted major-league attendance would set a record at more than 70 million this year. Selig did not happen to mention how, exactly, one can legitimately describe events occurring five months apart as being somehow linked by "momentum" but then explaining what he means is something most of us have come not to expect from him.

"If nothing else, the major league baseball postseason demonstrated the remarkable power of the game, the attraction of the game, the durability of it and the ability to captivate the attention of the public," Selig said. He then followed this by saying that, "It also demonstrated that even a franchise as wealthy as the Yankees can't win all the time. Money doesn't always translate into success." Wait a minute. No, he didn't.

Selig took some ribbing from the head table regarding baseball's reversal of its decision to allow bases to be stamped with advertisements for the movie "Spider Man 2."

Unexpectedly, ESPN columnist Rob Neyer stood up and asked, "Hey, I thought you guys were doing that promotion thing for the kids, weren't you? To reach out to the youth of America? I mean, your own man, MLB President Bob DuPuy, actually said, 'It's part of our effort to market the game in a holistic style, but mostly to market it to a whole demographic: kids.' Aren't you interested in marketing to kids anymore?"

Selig wouldn't be baited, though. He essentially ignored Neyer's inquiry and tried to continue with his prepared remarks. Interrupted again though, this time by John Perricone, Selig was unable to finish his statements.

"Hey, Seligula, did you hear that the government released all those steroid test results? Turns out the entire 2003 Florida Marlins team was using, so you'll have to forfeit that World Series to Superman and the Giants! Ha! Just kidding!"

Selig did not respond verbally, though he did appear to pee his pants in the middle of Perricone's remarks.

During his 10-minute speech, Selig showed reverence for the sport he oversees. He said the game has a social responsibility to the nation.

"What about baseball's social responsibility to the people of Minnesota, not to threaten to contract a team that's smart enough to have three straight winning records and two consecutive division titles, despite a payroll one-third that of the Yankees and a twenty-year old stadium?! Contract THIS," the young man said, and then heaved a stack of papers toward the Commissioner. These later turned out to be previous blog entries, to which the young man attempted to refer in a conversation with Selig after dinner. The young man was identified as Aaron Gleeman.

Selig avoided the confrontation with Gleeman, stating that he had no idea what Bobby Kielty's GPA was, and for that matter, couldn't even recall where Kielty went to college.

Baseball's proudest moment, Selig said, came when Jackie Robinson became the first black to play in the major leagues in 1947. Selig also touted the millions of dollars baseball has donated to charitable organizations.

"Hey, you know what else was a pretty proud moment for the Dodgers?" another heckler stood up to ask, "turning a nice $120 million profit in just five years when they re-sold the franchise." It was Doug Pappas. "And did you really expect us to believe that the freaking Dodgers were losing $40 million a year? What kinds of fools do you take us for? Whose 'charitable organization' is getting all that money? Darren Dreifort? Mmfpph ack!" His words were stifled by a gag as several unidentified men in white suits subdued Pappas and dragged him from the banquet hall.

Selig attempted to continue. "Baseball has served as a bridge of the generations," he said. "How many of you still remember the first time you walked into a ballpark on the hand of a parent or grandparent and first experienced that great expanse of grass?

Apparently thinking that this was something more than a rhetorical question, David Levens and Zachary Manprin responded, "Hey, you know where's there's a pretty nice expanse of grass? Oakland Colliseum. All that foul territory? One of the few pitchers' parks left in the major leagues? An affordable day at the ballpark? I mean, sure it's kinda nondescript and not perfectly suited to baseball, but we've made the playoffs four straight seasons, with two MVPs and a Cy Young Award to boot. But maybe we should push for a publicly-financed new stadium, so we can become the booming success that, say, the Milwaukee Brewers are!"

Selig reiterated that he does not, in fact, own the Brewers anymore, but otherwise had no comment.

Feebly, and clearly worn out from all the confrontations, Selig labored on, "Baseball is a great game, but it is more than a game because of its incomparable history."

"Speaking of history," interrupted Mike Carminati, "did you ever decide what to do with Pete Rose? The Dowd Report is ridiculously biased, but the man's admitted to betting on baseball now, so there shouldn't be any question now. Here, take a look at this..." Carminati then attempted to pull out an Excel spreadsheet with some obscure statistics from players banned for gambling in the 19th century, but Selig left the podium before he could finish.

Selig, it should be noted, arrived at the banquet late and left early. He was whisked to a waiting limousine and was unavailable to reporters. A spokesman for Selig said that he had an appointment with a plastic surgeon, where he would undergo a procedure to prevent himself from talking out of both sides of his mouth.

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11 May 2004

Who is the best sleeper of 2004 thus far?

The baseball statistical leader boards, in April and May, are often filled with the names of relative unknowns. Who would have guessed that Ron Belliard, with a career .272 batting average, would be leading the AL with a .383 clip, or that Jake Westbrook would one of the best ERAs in the AL? Heck, Roger Clemens almost qualifies as a sleeper himself, as the retired-for-about-20-minutes pitcher has six wins, a 2.11 ERA and more strikeouts than Pedro Martinez.

Ah, but with a few exceptions, many of these names will not be there at the end of the season. Belliard, Westbrook, R.A. Dickey, Francisco Cordero, Tom Glavine and a host of others are getting it done with smoke and mirrors. Their presence among the league leaders is due mostly to luck, capitalizing on their good fortune either in terms of batted balls not falling in for hits (Al Leiter has 13 walks and only 22 strikeouts despite his NL-best 1.53 ERA) or run support (Shawn Estes has a 7.34 ERA, despite his 4 wins).

Clemens and Bonds and most of the usual suspects will still likely be among the names we’re discussing in September, as will some newer names, but the real sleepers are the ones who come out of nowhere and produce for most of the season. Lew Ford, currently hitting .344 as the Twins’ primary DH, may be one of those, as he hit ~.300 with good plate discipline at every level of the minor leagues.

But the best sleeper may still be sleeping. Twins 1B prospect Justin Morneau is hitting .361/.407/.664 at AAA Rochester right now, with 9 homers, ten doubles and 26 RBI in 29 games. He’s the real deal, too, as Baseball Prospectus 2004 said, “Morneau’s not just going to be a good hitter. He’s going to be positively great. How great? Healthy, prime Fred McGriff great.”

So stick around. When the Twins realize that the empty .300 average and overrated defense of Doug Mientkiewicz aren’t worth his $3 million salary, Justin the Sleeping Giant will wake.

The best is yet to come.

Now go see what the others at Baseball Outsider think about sleepers...

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06 May 2004

Say It Ain't So, Joe...

Would it not amaze you, if you were a business analyst, to find out that Jack Welch or Bill Gates was staunchly and stubbornly convinced that the secret to success in the business world was having a lot of money in your bank account?

Wouldn't you be astonished if, as an aspiring actor, you read an interview with Tom Cruise or Kevin Costner in which he stated that the primary concern for an upcoming actor is to make sure he gets roles in movies that will pay him $20 million?

Wouldn't you just laugh out loud if one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff held a press conference explaining that the key to winning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is making sure we kill more of theirs than they do of ours?

Wouldn't you just stand there agape if you went to a Billy Graham Crusade and heard him say that the best thing for you to do with your life would be to make absolutely sure that God chooses you as one of The Elect?

How ridiculous would this be, for the so-called "experts in their field" to preach to you that the best measure of your value is something that is either completely out of your control, or a result of your circumstances, once you've already ascended to the pinnacle of your profession?

In a related story: Joe Morgan.

Well, as ridiculous and laughable as these scenarios sound, Joe Morgan manages to somehow get away with doing exactly that, pretty much all the time. Joe has written books on baseball, has a weekly chat on ESPN.com (which Mike Carminati performs the service of picking apart for us), writes columns for the website and he even propounds, from his nationally broadcast bully pulpit on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball, these silly ideas about what makes a good baseball player. Morgan, as ESPN is so apt to point out, was the NL MVP in 1975 and '76, so you'd imagine that he would know what makes a good baseball player, since he was a great one. Except he doesn't.

Joe Morgan will tell you, for instance, that ERA is an overrated statistic, and that the real measure of a pitcher's abilities is Wins & Losses. Never mind that there's an entire league in MLB in which the pitchers almost never get an opportunity to actually produce some of the offense that would be necessary for them to be credited with a win in any given game. Never mind that even in the league in which pitchers do "hit", they do so at the bottom of the lineup, where there is little or no pressure to contribute very much offensively. A pitcher may do the absolute best he can, shutting out a team for nine innings, and striking out every batter in the process, but allow an unearned run to score because he has the Marx Brothers playing infield defense behind him, and be credited with a loss. Conversely, a pitcher may allow five or six runs per game, but still get credit for the win, because his teammates become indwelled by the 1927 Yankees whenever he takes the mound.

Take, for example, Jeroime Robertson, the erstwhile Astros rookie who "won" 15 games in 2003, with a 5.10 ERA. How good was he? He was so good that the Astros bumped him from the rotation for 14-game loser Tim Redding and his 3.68 ERA, and then sent him to AAA. Then, just to make it very clear how valuable those 15 wins were, they traded Robertson to the Cleveland Indians for a AA-level non-prospect and the rights to a minor league outfielder they had already taken in the Rule 5 draft. Sounds to me like the Houston front office believed that the 5.10 ERA said a lot more about Robertson's abilities (and future) than those 15 wins did.

But I digress. This column is actually going to look at another of the Sabermetric Sins that Morgan commits regularly: Overvaluing Runs and RBI.

Morgan's latest column on ESPN.com deals primarily with two issues, the "realness" of the 2004 Texas Rangers and the relative merits of Runs and RBI as compared to such arcane notions ar on-base percentage. Let's take the second part first, shall we?

On-base percentage has always been an important stat, but RBI and runs scored are the truest tests of what a player does to help his team win. Once runners get on base, someone needs to drive them in. OBP by itself does not equal success. How often does a team get four walks in an inning to drive in a run? OBP is essential, but a good OBP alone does not guarantee a win or a successful season.

To Morgan's credit, and he does deserve some, he admits that OBP is essential. This is, in fact, the best thing I think I've ever heard or read from him about the subject. And he's not wrong about someone needing to drive in the runners on base in order for them to score, but he fails to see that the crucial point in building an offense is finding the people who will get on base in the first place. He still manages to cling to the old adage that scoring and driving in runs are the best measures of a hitter's quality, without recognizing that the "skill" of clutch hitting doesn't really exist.

Don't believe me? Take a look at the teams that have led the majors in batting average with runners in scoring position over the last five seasons, including this one:

BA RISP 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
1 Rockies Indians ChiSox Royals Astros
2 Royals Seattle Angels Atlanta Detroit
3 ChiSox Rockies Yankees Seattle Angels
4 Giants Giants Rockies Toronto Atlanta
5 Indians Royals Astros Boston Twins
6 Toronto ChiSox Boston ChiSox Royals
7 Texas Astros Seattle Oakland Texas
8 Oakland Texas Cards Expos L.A.
9 Seattle Oakland Arizona Florida Reds
10 Yankees L.A. Texas Angels Florida

Five years, fifty positions, 23 different teams.

If you throw out Colorado, who until recently almost always led the majors in everything offense-wise due to their ballpark, you've only got three of the fifteen teams that manage to repeat their performances among the top 5: Atlanta(2003-04), Kansas City and the Tribe (both 2000-01). For that matter, Atlanta's standing on this list is in serious jeopardy, since they're clearly not as good an offense as they were last year and they've hardly got any of the same hitters they had last year (Sheffield, Lopez, and Castilla left in the off-season, and Chipper's been hurt this year), so there's really not much to compare anyway. In the top ten, it's a little better, with 18 of 38 possible non-Colorado teams repeating, or 47.4%. You can do better flipping a coin.

Well, you may say, "Those are teams, and teams turn over players a lot. Surely there must be players who can consistently hit in the clutch?" Well, by this same (admittedly limited) measure, there are, or I should say, there is.

Mike Sweeney.

	2000	2001	2002	2003

1 Helton Suzuki Ramirez Helton
2 Cirillo Alomar Sweeney Sweeney
3 Sweeney Conine Bonds Posednik
4 Delgado Biggio Tejada Sheffield
5 Thomas Beltran Bernie I. Rodriguez

The only players who re-appeared on the 2000-2003 top five lists of players's batting averages with runners in scoring position were Todd Helton (who plays in Coors Field, and therefore will almost always hit well in almost any situation) and Mike Sweeney. Don't get me wrong, Sweeney's a fine player, and he's hitting .367 with RISP this season, but he's not typically one of the first players mentioned when people start talking about drafting a fantasy team, you know?

The perfect example of this is the defending World Series champion Florida Marlins. Florida finished 15th last year in OBP (.333) among 30 MLB teams. But when the Marlins got runners on base, they were good at forcing the issue -- using the hit-and-run, stealing bases and exhibiting aggressive baserunning ... all of which help produce runs.

Unbeknownst to Joe Morgan (but knownst to us), the 2003 Florida Marlins are the perfect example...to illustrate my point, though, not his. Do you see what Morgan does here? It's subtle, but read what he says again and see if you can detect the flaw in his argument...

...back already? OK, here's what he does: He cites a team that is known to have had success in winning (the Marlins won the NL Wild Card and then beat three teams to win the 2003 World Series, of course) and mentions that they did so DESPITE the fact that they did not get on base any more frequently than the San Diego Padres (a .333 clip, to be precise). So far, this is true. He then mentions the things they did to supposedly augment this relative weakness and allows you (the reader) to assume that these tactics MUST have been successful, because after all, the Marlins won, right?

Well, yes, they did win, but not the way Joe's argument implies. It is true that they finished 15th in team OBP, but they also finished 17th in Runs scored. You'd imagine, wouldn't you, that if their small-ball techniques were actually helping them to score runs, to take advantage of the few times they had runners on base, that they might be ranked higher in runs scored than their rank in OBP, wouldn't you? Or at least the same? But the Marlins are actually ranked lower in run scoring than in OBP, which would tend to speak against stealing bases and moving runners over as useful approaches to scoring runs. In fact the 2003 Marlins won on the strength of their pitching (10th in MLB in ERA), and luck, as they won about 4 more regular season games than their Pythagorean projection would have suggested they'd win, based on the runs they scored and allowed. Not small-ball.

As I see it, a good hitter either scores runs or drives in runs -- and a great hitter does both. Great hitters will account for about 200 runs per season (a combination of runs scored and RBI). When you look at baseball history, that's the benchmark for great hitters like Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays (as well as today's great hitters, like Barry Bonds). The most important stat in baseball is the combination of runs scored and RBI.
(bold added)

Is that true? Do managers and general managers and scouts really use the addition of runs and RBI as a measure of how successful a player is or will be? Seems to me I'd have heard something about that if it were actually happening.

Maybe it's just me, but wouldn't you say that these guys drove in/scored 100 runs because they were great hitters, rather than (as Joe implies) that they were great hitters because they drove in/scored 100 runs? I'm not a Minor League scout, but somehow I seriously doubt that there's anything on a standard scouting report discussing how many runs a player scores or drives in. Scouts talk about a hitter's swing, his mechanics, his physique, patience, power, batting eye, etc. They don't mention runs scored or batted in because those are situational stats, a result of opportunity more than talent, and not something you can project. The greatest hitters in history "accounted" for 200 runs because their managers knew they were great and therefore batted them amongst the other good hitters on the team, thereby maximizing their opportunities to score and/or drive in runs. Barry Bonds (who, by the way, must have had an "off" 2003 by Morgan's standards, with only 90 RBI) would not be a 100-Run, 100-RBI guy if you batted him 8th or 9th in that Giants' lineup.

Bill James did a study (in the New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, p.785) in which he illustrates the silliness of walking a batter (Babe Ruth circa 1921, in this case) every time up. He placed a slightly modified Ruth in the cleanup spot within a lineup of really terrible hitters, and then ran separate simulations to show what would happen if

A) Ruth was walked every time he came up and
2) Ruth was allowed to hit within this terrible lineup.

Well, the A) lineup outscored the 2) lineup significantly, with about 10% more runs per season on average and winning about ten more games per season.

And the #5 hitter behind Ruth in this illustration? Gino Cimoli. An outfielder with a career line of .265/.315/.383, who never hit more than ten homers or drove in more than 72 RBI in a season in reality, suddenly becomes great by Joe Morgan's standards, with a .253 average and 9 homers, but 151 RBI. Can you say "victim of circumstance"? That's great. I knew you could.

I view baseball as an individual game within a team concept. It's individual because, whether you're hitting or pitching, you're the one standing there. But everything is done in the context of teamwork and team play (putting the team first). RBI and runs are the ultimate measure of a player's contribution to a team, and they're also dependent on teammates. Home runs, though, are the ultimate measure of a power hitter's individual accomplishment.
(bold added)

Again, Morgan does acknowlege that RBI and Runs depend upon one's teammates, but he doesn't seem to give enough weight to the concept. Look at the way he just throws this line in amongst a paragraph describing the role of home runs in the game and how the team/individual aspects of the game interact. Does that make it seem like Joe gets the notion that OBP is the most important component to scoring runs? I don't think so.

Look, Joe, if you had a published e-mail address, I wouldn't have to keep fisking you like this, but you don't, so let me lay this out for you:

1) To win a game, you need to score more runs than the other team.
2) To score runs, you need to have men on base, and then drive them in somehow.

I think we both agree on these points. Here's where it gets a little tricky:

3a) It is difficult, if not completely impossible, to predict which players will hit best when it most matters, and it is all but impossible to make sure your best hitters are at the plate when you've got runners on base

3b) It is much easier to predict/project which hitters will be able to get on-base consistently from year-to-year, as you can see here:

OBP	2000	2001	2002	2003	2004

1 Indians Seattle Yankees Boston Houston
2 Rockies Rockies Seattle Yankees Orioles
3 Giants Indians Arizona Cards Indians
4 Seattle Houston Boston Toronto Rockies
5 Houston Oakland Giants Atlanta Texas
6 Oakland Texas Angels Rockies Twins
7 Cards Giants Oakland Seattle Yankees
8 ChiSox Arizona Philly Philly ChiSox
9 Yankees Cards Texas Twins Boston
10 Angels Twins Cards Giants Reds

The same forty opportunities to repeat here as we had with the last table, but this time only 17 different teams appear, not 23. And even if you don't include the Rockies, the ratio of repeaters is over 68%. (At the end of the 2004 season, don't be surprised if that ratio is higher, as I have serious doubts about whether the two Ohio teams will still be among these ranks come September. Well, maybe the Reds will.)

there4) It logically follows that it is easier to build a good offense by acquiring guys who will get on base a lot, so that when they do hit, there will be runners to drive in. Not necessarily that it's the only way to do this, but it's easier.

So there you have it, Joe. I imagine that you've hear dthe argument before, but it seems that either you're unwilling or unable to consider it. If you had an email address, I could write to you directly, instead of having to bring this up in public all the time, but you don't, so everybody gets to read my rants instead.

Thanks for giving me something to gripe about.

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05 May 2004

Apprehending An April Apparition

Rob Neyer's latest column discusses the relative merits, and potential futures, of the reigning AL-Champion NY Yankees and the reigning Worst Team Anyone Can Remember, the Detroit Tigers. As recently as Saturday, the Yankees and Tigers had the exact same 13-11 record, despite the apparent gaps in talent and the definite gap in payroll. (Of course the Yankees have done nothing but win since then and the Tigers have done nothing but lose, but that's beside the point, at least for now.)

Neyer made the points that the Tigers have

A) Scored more runs this season than every team but Houston, which is remarkable after they outscored only the anemic Dodgers last season


2) Scored almost exactly the same number of runs (156) as they have allowed (161), which means that their (now) 13-14 record is just about what you'd expect.

What Rob didn't mention, at least not explicitly, was that if they've scored more runs than almost everybody, and they've allowed even more, then it logically follows that their pitching staff must not be very good.

In fact, their pitching staff is horrific, having allowed an average of almost six (!) runs per game, earned or not. The team's 5.76 ERA is lower than only Colorado's 6.38, which is so bad that the Rockies have already decided to throw in the towel on the season and are now experimenting with a 4-man rotation! In the long run, according to Baseball Prospectus' Rany Jazayerli, this may be the best thing for the Rockies and for all of baseball, but in the meantime it smacks of hopelessness.

The Tigers have a 5.52 ERA at home, despite the fact that Comerica is supposed to be a pitchers' park. The first 20-game loser in over two decades (actually 21, if you're scoring at home), Mike Maroth has a 3-1 record this season, as does Jeremy Bonderman (who lost 19 games last year, and only didn't lose more than that because Tigers' manager Alan Trammell mercifully removed the 20 year old from the rotation in early September). However, their 6-2 record belies the fact that the two have combined for a 4.81 ERA this year. For that matter, no Tigers starting pitcher has more than one win to his credit, and no pitcher with more than eight innings of work under his belt has an ERA lower than Maroth's 4.26. This is not a good sign, but then we expected their pitching to suck, so why should this surprise us?

Mike Maroth is the best pitcher on a bad team.

The other thing that Neyer didn't mention was that the Tigers aren't likely to keep up their run-scoring pace.

The real danger here, especially for those few remaining Tigers fans out there, is that you'll get your hopes up and think the Cats will actually pull off this ~.500 record thing for the whole season. Well, don't hold your breath. Even though their 156 runs scored ties them for second place among all major league teams, their .771 OPS places them squarely in a tie for 12th place in MLB, among offensive jugger-nots like L.A. (122 runs scored), Kansas City (126) and Florida (127). So how did the Tigers, with a relatively mediocre "offense" manage to put up more runs than almost everybody in their first 27 games?


Seriously, look at their splits, overall as compared to their runners on base and (especially) runners in scoring position


Total 0.278 0.422 0.349 0.771
ROB 0.296 0.443 0.382 0.825
RISP 0.317 0.498 0.409 0.907

A team that goes from hitting like D'Angelo Jimenez to hitting like Carlos Beltran, just because there are runners in scoring position? They can't keep this up.

For perspective, from 2001-2003, teams that finished the season with an OPS around .771 generally scored about 800 runs on the year, which isn't terrible by any stretch. It just isn't the 936 runs the Tigers are currently "on a pace to" score. There simply is no evidence that anyone, a team or an individual, has any kind of special ability to "turn it on when it counts" or "hit well in the clutch" or whatever. Sure, there are teams and players who in fact do these things, but you can't predict it, and you sure can't plan your offensive strategy around it. And so it appears that all their current lead in run-scoring really means is that the Tigers have that much farther to fall when the law of averages catches up with them and they get drawn back into the pack.

Of course, having the worst pitching staff in the AL and a mediocre offense is a huge step up from having the worst pitching staff in the AL and the worst hitters, but it might still make them the worst team in the League, overall. Still, though, the Tigers (and their fans) should be moderately pleased with the possibility of being a league worst 63-99 instead of a league-worst 42-119.

You've got to walk before you can crawl. Wait a minute, strike that. Reverse it.

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