27 April 2005

"OK Alex Rodriguez, You Can Stay"

Alex Rodriguez had the most productive night of his career last night, driving in 10 runs with three homers and an RBI single in a 12-4 pounding of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, which is still a stupid name.

Alex Rodriguez Posted by Hello

The Yankee thirdbaseman had been hitting a respectable but unimpressive .280 with 4 homers and 15 RBI entering the game, but earned himself a whole lot of respect his performance last night. It was the third three-homer game or A-Rod's career, having previously accomplished the feat for both Texas and Seattle. I wonder how many other players have had three-homer games for three different MLB teams... The ten RBI was a personal record for A-Rod, who had previously driven in 7 runs for Seattle twice, but never more.

Naturally, these accomplishments should be taken with a grain of salt, lest we risk dubbing Alex "Mr. April". Most Yankee fans certainly won't soon forget or forgive A-Rod's 2-for-17 performance in the last four games of the 2004 ALCS against Boston, but performances like the one he had last night will certainly help buy him some time to redeem himself.

Historically, Rodriguez usually does pretty well in April, hitting .320/.401/.616, with his highest OBP in any month, and generally somewhat better than his career line of .305/.381/.574. The problem is that in September he has hit "only" .267/.357/.506. Not that an .863 OPS is terrible, not by any stretch. It's just that when 55,000 people go to a game expecting to see "Alex Rodriguez" and all they get is Craig Wilson, well, let's just say they can get a little irate.

All three of the bombs came off Angels starter Bartolo Colon, whom I am very grateful I forgot to pick up for my fantasy team yesterday. Colon entered the game 3-1 with a 2.60 ERA, having given up only one homer (to KC Royals rookie Ruben Gotay, if you can believe that) but after it took him 101 pitches to get through fewer than 4 innings of work agains the Yankees, Colon's ERA had jumped to 3.73.

I heard part of the Yankee broadcast on 880 WCBS out of NY last night, actually getting out of my car just before Alex's first homer of the night. Yankees announcer Suzyn Waldman mentioned that Colon has always had great "stuff" but that he tends to suffer lapses in concentration, making him something less than the pitcher his talent would portend. The argumant, such as it goes, is that Colon has trouble "gearing up" for the likes of the Royals, but no trouble getting himself prepared for the Yankees. So I looked into this, and not surprisingly, the conventional wisdom is not so wise.

Colon Posted by Hello

I looked at the winning percentages of teams over the span of time that Colon has been in the majors, from 1997-2004, using Baseball-Reference.com's schedule breaker-outer, to get a general idea of the qualities of the teams he's faced. A more accurate way to do this would have been to use the individual winning percentages from each season, as some teams that were bad in 1997 are now good (like the Twins and A's) and vice-versa (Baltimore, for example). But that sounds like a real time-consuming pain in the neck, so you're just going to have to suffer through my half-assed analysis with me.

-500 72 35 13 2 909.2 8.48 0.97 3.37 7.35 3.91 1.32
+500 49 41 15 5 718.2 8.87 1.15 3.36 6.99 4.12 1.36

The top line is Colon's combined performances against teams that have been, on average, sub-.500 for the years 1997-2004. The second line is for teams with a combined winning percentage over .500 for that span. (2005 is not included.)

Is it just me, or do those lines look pretty similar? He's got about 200 more innings against "bad" teams, owing to about 30 more games pitched, but all the averages per nine innings are very close. If anything, these numbers seem to show that he pitches better against bad teams, as most pitchers do (that's why they're bad teams), with slight edges in hit rate, home run rate, and strikeout rate providing an ERA not quite two-tenths of a run lower. And of course, better run support against "bad" teams gives him an impressive 67.3% winning percentage against them, compared to only 54.4% against "good" teams.

For the record, I don't think Colon is on his way to another 5.01 ERA for the year. Last season's stats were rathey flukey in that he gave up almost a hit more per 9 innings than he typically does, and his home run rate was a little high as well. If he can keep that one extra batter per game off the basepaths, there's no reason he can't win another 18 games with something like the 3.73 ERA he now sports.

And as for Alex Rodriguez, look for him to return to MVP-like form this year, leading the Yankees in most offensive categories, even if it does take him two weeks to drive in his next ten runs.

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22 April 2005

MLB Steroid Policy Not Working

The most recent round of steroid suspensions yielded nine new names, all of whom were minor leaguers and all of which again rhyme with "nobody." Or at least they mean that.

Only three players who were on major league 40-man rosters have been suspended for 10 days under the new policy: Tampa Bay OF Alex Sanchez, Colorado OF Jorge Piedra and Texas pitcher Agustin Montero. The latter two were in the minor leagues at the times of their suspensions.

The biggest name of the most recent group was Grant Roberts, who pitched for parts of the 2000-2004 seasons with the Mets, and had a largely undistinguishable 101 innings with a 4.25 ERA. Roberts got a 15-game suspension, rather than the 10 mandated by the major league policy, presumably because he was in the minors at the time it happened. The total number of suspensions stands at 47, but none of these suspensions was doled out to any kind of impact player.

Houston OF Adam Seuss was suspended for violating the steroids policy. Seuss immediately issued a press release in his own defense:

"I did not take steroids.
I would not take steroids.
I would not take them on a train.
I would not take them in the rain.
I would not take them in the clubhouse.
I would not take them with a mouse.
I don't like steroids, understand?
I did not take them, A-dam I am."

Three Baltimore Orioles minor leaguers were suspended: Gary Cates Jr., Rafael Diaz and Richard Salazar. Don't ask me, I don't know who they are either.

Two Atlanta Braves minor leaguers were suspended: James Jurries and Ricardo Rodriguez. Lucy is reportedly very upset with Ricky for getting suspended, and also because he wouldn't let her come to his games. The jury's still out on why James was suspended.

Eider Torrez, from the Cleveland Indians' organization, and Damien Myers, who had already been released by the Tigers, were the other two suspensions. Neither player was listed in Baseball Prospectus 2005, so I think it's safe to say that their clubs weren't counting on them for much output in the majors this year.

MLB reports that these nine suspensions were based on 251 tests performed Florida spring training camps. Cactus League testing yielded 37 suspensions (out of 925 tests). One came from off-season testing.

Grapefruit League Teams: 9/251 = 3.6%
Cactus League Teams: 37/925 = 4.0%
Offseason Testing: 1/Eleventy-Billion = ~0%

Hmmm...looks like maybe the offseason isn't the ideal time to try to test these guys, ya think? I expect that the vast majority of those tests were conducted under the previous testing policy, in which I believe that players were allowed to have their pet Rottweiler provide the urine for them. But don't quote me on that.

The only non-first offense suspension to date belongs to Oakland's David Castillo, who got a 60-game ban for the proverbial "strike three" offense. Doesn't look like David's going to have to worry about bringing the fruit salad to this summer's MENSA picnic, if you know what I mean. How can anyone be dumb enough to get caught three times, especially when the first two suspensions occurred under the old policy, which was supposedly so toothless that there were actually professional wrestlers on some teams' rosters?

Worse, yet, how can anyone be dumb enough to think this policy is actually working? We've got almost 50 suspensions to date, and not one of them is a guy you'd recognize on the street, even if he showed up in uniform. Until someone, a known player, a perennial suspect in the steroid conversation, actually recieves a suspension, I'm not buying this. It still reeks of the MLB Players' Association doing its best to protect its players, as it should, but not at the cost of the game's integrity and the fans' faith.

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21 April 2005

Random Yankee Baseball Notes...

Don't look now, but the Yankees have won two of their last three games! That's 67%! Woo-hoo!

They've scored 32 runs in their last three games. Of course, scoring 11 runs against the Blow Jays isn't really all that special. This is the team whose first two pitchers in their Monday game against the Red Sox were named "Bush" and "League". Honest. You could look it up.

Yankees hitters are currently combining for a .282/.369/.446 line, or an .814 OPS, almost exactly the same as the .811 OPS they put up in 2004, which helped them score 897 runs, second only to the Red Sox in all of MLB. The Yanks have scored 85 runs so far in 2005, good for 4th in the majors. If Tino Martinez (hitting .225) and Tony Womack (.245) don't start producing, it does not seem like the team will be able to maintain this pace, but at least for now the hitters have largely done their jobs.

Unfortunately, the rest of the Yankees' schedule has resulted in a 4-8 record, so their totals are not so impressive. To find out why, you need look no further than the pitching staff.

Ugh. On second thought, maybe you shouldn't look...it's too gruesome. An .843 OPS against and a 5.19 ERA, 23rd among the 30 MLB teams. Before yesterday they were 29th, ahead of only Colorado, which isn't saying much. The chief culprits have been...well, everybody, at some point or another, but the starters are mostly to blame. While racking up roughly 2/3 of the team's innings, Yankee starters have combined for a 5.48 ERA, better than only Tampa Bay and Colorado. Though they're only 1-3 between them, tonight's starter Mike Mussina and last night's winner Carl Pavano have a reasonably respectable 3.49 ERA. Before getting his first win last night, Pavano was on the verge of being run out of town, if not for the fact that the Yanks weren't in town. Yankee fans don't like to see a big-name free agent catch go winless in three starts to begin the season, especially after signing a $39 million contract over the winter. Last night's 8-inning, 2-run, no-walk performance seems to have bought him some time on the scheduled lynching.

Pavano Posted by Hello

The remaining starters, Kevin Brown, Randy Johnson and Jaret Wright, have combined for a technically mediocre 3-3 record, which belied the fact that they have been pasted for an abysmal 7.14 ERA combined, including 10 homers in under 47 innings. If they don't get their respective acts together, they may not win more than the three games they've gotten credit for already.

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18 April 2005

You Complete Me

Is it just me, or is the ghost of Steve Carlton posessing most of the Florida Marlins' starting rotation?

Actually, Lefty's still alive, so it can't be his ghost. For that matter, it's not just the Fish either, it's most of the National League. Looking at the box scores from the last week or so, it seemed to me that there was a disproportionately high number of really impressive performances by starting pitchers. It seemed like every day there was another complete game, another shutout, aother 8-inning, 2-hit, 9 strikeout box score, and it didn't seem right.

Or, perhaps more accurately, it didn't seem normal. Isn't this supposed to be the Age of the Hitter? Isn't this supposedly the greatest offensive era in history? A time when a 40-year old with bad knees can win a batting title and get walked out of sheer fear more often than anyone else in his league gets a hit? An era in which everybody (it seems) can hit 20 homers in a season? When even a 5'9", 178-pound secondbaseman can slug almost .900, at least for two weeks? Where's the offense, man?

So, to figure out what was going on (I know this is gonna be hard to believe, but stick with me here...) I did some research. I looked at the contributions of starting pitchers through the first two weeks of this season and compared the numbers to last year's overall numbers. (Just comparing to the first two weeks of 2004 might have been more appropriate, but hey, what do you expect from someone who does this in his spare time?) And here's what I found:

I'm wrong.

Well, I'm wrong about the American League, at least. Take a look:

  G      IP     IP/GS   ERA  CG  CGF  SHO
170 1000.33 5.88 4.39 5 34 0
2266 13352.33 5.89 4.83 79 29 33

American League starters have averaged almost exactly the same number of innings per start (IP/GS) this season as they did all of 2004. Though there has not yet been a complete game shutout pitched in the Junior Circuit in 2005, they only happened about once every 69 games last year, so if two of them happened tomorrow we'd be nearly right back on pace. The frequency with which complete games occur (CGF) is actually down just slightly from 2004, as we've had a CG only once every 34 games this season, compared to once every 29 last year.

The one interesting thing to note here is that run scoring, at least scoring of earned runs against starting pitchers, is significantly down. Last year's AL starters had an ERA of 4.83, and so far in 2005, AL hitters are crossing the plate at a rate almost half a run lower than that. Unless there are just a lot more errors being made, this seems odd. I guess it seems odd either way.

The National League, however, may be a slightly different story:

184 1105.34 6.01 4.05 9 20.44 7 26.29
2266 13236.66 5.84 5.05 71 31.92 36 62.94

The Senior Circuit is showing a slight increase in average innings pitched by starters, from 5.84 last year to just over 6 this year, or a difference of about half an out per game. Starters' ERA is down an entire run, to 4.05, a huge drop from last season. Furthermore, complete games are happening much more often, every 20 games or so, compared to every 36 games last year, and complete game shutouts have occurred more than twice as often, ever 26 games compared to every 63 last season. Suddenly, at least in the National League, starters know how to pitch again!

Why might this be?

The first thing that occurred to me was: Barry Bonds.

Barry hasn't played, and he is an incredible offensive (and sometimes, incredibly offensive) player, so maybe he's the difference, right? Nope. Even if Barry is worth two runs per game more than whatever stiff they're trotting out to left field in his stead (he's not), that would still only bring the NL ERA up to 4.23, still more than 3/4 of a run below last season.

On a broader scale, maybe it's the steroid testing policy? I mean, if the players were afraid of getting caught and stopped taking them, then naturally you'd expect offense to be down, right? We can't know just how many players aren't taking steroids anymore, so there's really no way to measure this directly. On the other hand, (there's a wedding band,) and it's not as though the steroid policy has turned up anyone significant yet. The only two players to serve suspensions (Tampa Bay CF Alex Sanchez and Rockies CF Jorge Piedra) are unimpressive players on unimpressive teams, no one who might have been expected to alter their whole league's run-scoring abilities. (In his defense, as unimpressive as the Devil Rays may be, they have a better record than my favorite team...but then so does everyone else in the AL.)

Maybe the anomaly isn't this year, but last year. The rate at which complete games are occurring in the NL works out to about 127 over the course of the season, and even though the last year the NL saw that many complete games was 2000, last year's rate of 71 was an all-time low, by a significant margin, as the second-lowest occurred in 2001, with 96. Similarly, the American League total of 79 in 2004 was also an all-time low, way below the previous record of 103, also set in 2001. Without needing to pinch-hit for the pitcher late in a game, you'd expect the AL to have more complete games in general, even though run scoring tends to be lower in the NL.

So maybe all we're really seeing is the return of some sanity to major league baseball, in National League parks, if not in the American. Pitchers are supposed to be able to finish a start once in a while. It should be possible for a starter to pace himself and not have to exert all his available energy with every pitch, thereby ensuring that he will never ever be able to throw more than a hundred pitchers, and certainly never finish a game. If it really is the steroid policy, and some of the edge hitters have enjoyed for the last decade is beginning to recede, then I'm grateful. If pitchers can get batters out and complete a start without throwing 120-140 pitches to do it, the I want to see more of it. It will be better for everone involved.

Of course, two weeks into the season is not the best time to do a retrospective on it, so we'll need to check back in this October, and see if the policy is really helping. If NL starters are still holding a collective ERA around 4.00 and finishing a start every 20 games or so, I'll be happy even if the only other players suspended are more Darryl Hamilton than Darryl Strawberry.

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15 April 2005

Weekend Update...

I wish I had more to say about last night's Yankees-Red Sox game, but you probably already know it all: The Red Sox' manager and hitting coach both got ejected for arguing balls and strikes, Randy Johnson surrendered three homers but toughed it out for 7 innings, Gary Sheffield was assaulted by a drunken idiot Red Sox fan, Yanks lost, 8-5.

Now on to other stuff...

There is apparently a survey about steroids in baseball you can take over at Web Surveyor:

Steroids in Baseball Online Survey

I know this because people keep emailing me about it, so hopefully now they'll leave me alone. If this is the sort of subject that gets you hot under the collar (steroids, not annoying emails) then go take the survey and tell them Boy of Summer sent you. Apparently if I refer the most people to their survey I can win a free Sony PSP, whatever that is. About the only way this happens is if I take the survey myself and nobody else ever does, so I don't see it happening. Gosh, I hope that PSP thing isn't something I actually need.

On a more interesting note, someone named Peter Handrinos has a website called United States of Baseball, which I have linked at the left there, the spiffy-looking eagle logo. Some nice writing in general, including a retrospective on the 1994-95 baseball strike. Go check it out.

Dan Mclaughlin continues his Established Win Shares Studies with the NL Central EWSL here. Interesting stuff.

The Team Hub link to your right is a website offering stats and info packages for you based upon your favorite teams. It's a pay-for-play deal, but it seems like a neat little niche they've got there.

There are several other new links as well, like Shaking Spears (which reportedly does not have any effect on Britney's lack of common sense) and Potfry, which has a name I don't get but lots of sarcastic baseball writing I do.

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14 April 2005

Curt Schilling: Greatest American Ego

Sometimes life just isn't fair.

For example, despite being as big a baseball fan as I think I am, I had not yet had an opportunity to watch an actual baseball game yet this year. Even Opening Night, with my Yankees playing against the "World Champion Boston Red Sox" (my Spell Checker keeps trying to tell me that's a typo...), somehow I managed to miss. Something about hanging out with friends, I think. And then last night, with the same two teams playing on a channel I could actually watch (ESPN2), I was looking forward to getting home on time to see the start of the game, but work kept me at the office until nearly 7PM, so I had no choice but to only listen to and/or miss the first three innings or so as I drove the 45 minutes home and then made dinner. All of this while other people, not nearly the informed, intelligent and good-looking baseball fans that I am (though perhaps with more hair) get to watch games whenever the heck they feel like it.

But my lot was not so bad as some. Curt Schilling, for example, Red Sox Ace and Greatest PostSeason Hero He Can Remember, finally made his 2005 debut last night. Schilling, you may recall, was last seen in public bleeding profusely from a festering shrapnel wound in his leg, firing shots into enemy territory in a apparently doomed effort to keep the bad guys at bay, all the while trying not to drown in a pool of his own blood, which is generally considered a pretty nasty way to go. The advancing enemy onslaught always seemed just moments away from engulfing Schilling and his comrades, oozing ankle wound and all, but in an act of heroism not seen since the Greatest Generation stormed the beaches at Normandy, or maybe Jim Brown in the Dirty Dozen, Curt kept firing until he could fire no more...

...and then was lifted for a relief pitcher. OK, so maybe Normandy still has a bit more nobility associated with it, but you sure couldn't tell from listening to Schilling talk about himself, could you?

Curt Pitching Posted by Hello

Anywho, Schilling's long-awaited return finally occurred last night, and at least the Yankee radio announcers seemed to think that he was surprisingly sharp considering the long layoff. Through the first four innings, he had thrown 53 of 68 pitches for strikes, and though he was "only" hitting 91 on the radar gun, he had given up only three hits and no walks in that span. Then, in the fifth inning, he gave up a dribbler to the secondbaseman, who despite the Giambi Shift, somehow screwed up a routine ground ball so badly that he couldn't even throw out lead-footed Jason. Then Tino Martinez hit an automatic double to right-center field, and Tony Womack walked.

Let me say that again: Tony Womack, who walks only slighlty more often than Stephen Hawking, took a base on balls. When a pitcher who never gives up walks gives up a walk to a guy who never takes walks, it's called a "bad sign", you know? C'mon people, this isn't Quantum Physics. Oh, sorry Dr. Hawking.

So maybe Terry Francona should have had Mike Timlin getting ready at this point, but we all know what a tough guy Schilling is, so even if Timlin had been warm, they might have needed the Jaws of Life to pry Curt off the mound. Unfortunately for Curt and for Boston, they left him in, and Derek Jeter singled in a run, keeping the bases loaded with only one out. Gary Sheffield lofted a fly just deep enough to center field to sacrifice in a run, tying the game. A strikeout to Hideki Matsui ended the inning.

Upon reflection, even though he threw only 14 of 25 pitches for strikes in the fifth inning, Schilling wasn't really hit all that hard. He gave up a ground rule double and a bloop single, but Giambi's hit should have been an out and Sheffield's RBI actually was an out, so if it weren't for fluke infield single by Giambi, Curt might have gotten out of the inning unscathed. As it was, he was scathed twice, and now was pitching in a tie game.

Whether Francona should have yanked him after the walk to Womack or not is debatable, I'm sure, but it would seem that after laboring through the fifth inning, and now having thrown 93 pitches (at 5 MPH or so below his usual level) and not very far removed from a five and a half-month layoff, it seems like a 5-inning, 2-run, 93-pitch performance was a pretty reasonable expectation for this outing, and it might have been the wisest decision to send Schilling to the showers before the start of the sixth.

Alas, this was not to be, and Curt returned to the game in the 6th, proving even less effective than he had been in the 5th, and giving up three more runs, this time on homers from Jason Giambi and Bernie Williams. On the plus side, he did throw 9 of 13 pitches for strikes, but that hardly consoles a 5-2 deficit you won't have the opportunity to right.

The reason I bring up "fairness" is not that there was some debate as to whether or not one of the hits dropped inside or outside a foul line, but because this same night, Yankee pitcher Jaret Wright received much better than he deserved, in my opinion. Through the first four innings, he had allowed two singles, two doubles and four walks while throwing only half of his 78 pitches for strikes. Not many pitchers survive long allowing two baserunners per inning, and yet Wright somehow managed to give up only one run through that span. The third inning proved particularly brutal as he managed only 12-of-35 pitches for strikes, with a double and three walks but only one run on a sac fly by Big Papi.

Wright Posted by Hello

Unfortunately, this was the first inning I actually got to watch, and even I could see that his arm was in front of his body, causing him to rush his delivery and not follow through properly, leaving his pitches either way up or way down and out of the strike zone. Even though 9 of his last 11 pitches had been out of the strike zone, Edgar Renteria inexplicably swung and grounded out, though it did take a very nice play by Gold Glove Shortstop Derek Jeter (No Spell Check, not this one either...) to end the third. Yankee pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre must have given him a good lecture or something during the top of the fourth, because he came back and retired the Red Sox much more easily in his half of the inning, throwing 11 of 15 pitches for strikes and whiffing two while allowing only a single to Jason Varitek. Even the leadoff homer by Trot Nixon (apparently Wright got tired of walking him) in the fifth didn't seem to rattle him, as he got through the inning relatively easily.

And so, despite allowing 11 baserunners in only five innings, with two strikeouts, Jaret Wright picked up his first win as a Yankee. Somehow, on a night when Wright was wrong, the rest of the Yankees picked up his slack.

And despite pitching much better for the same five innings, Schilling lost because his manager didn't know when to say "when" and left him in too long in his first start of the year. A healthy, 23-year old may be able to hurl consecutive, ~100 to 115-pitch shutouts to start the year after a normal Spring Training experiance, but maybe a 38-year old recovering from surgery might be better handled with "kid gloves." Wouldn't hurt him to learn a little humility either, you know?

Even if he is the Greatest American Hero. No wait, that's someone else.

Greatest American Ego Posted by Hello

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11 April 2005

Pedro Martinez: Duel Personalities

A classic pitching duel. One for the ages? Probably not, but it must have been a lot of fun to been a Mets fan in the stands or in front of the TV yesterday afternoon as Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz went toe-to-toe for seven innings and change.

Pedro Posted by Hello

After a less than stellar re-debut (re-but?) as a starter on Opening Day (six earned runs in 1.2 innings), Smoltz was masterful this Sunday, as good as he had ever been, allowing only two runs and no walks while striking out 15 in 7.1 innings. If this performance was any indication, Smoltz will be just fine returning to the rotation this year, as long as he can stay healthy. That 7.1 inning performance was the longest he'd been out there since September 1999, before he missed all of the 2000 season following his eleventeenth reconstructive elbow surgery. And though I couldn't find the data to prove it, I'm sure 115 pitches are more than he's throuwn in several years as well. Let's hope he holds up, because it sure is a lot of fun to watch him pitch.

Unfortunately for him, he picked a bad time to be awesome, because Pedro was, er..., awesomer, fanning nine while allowing only two hits and one run in a complete game, his first since last August, which had been his first complete game since September of 2003.

Pedro Martinez was once one of the greatest pitchers in the game, and he will no doubt go down in history among the greates pitchers in history. But at this point in his career, 33 years old and having just posted the highest ERA of his career, he's certainly not what he used to be.

His reputation at this point is that of a 6-inning pitcher, or, if you will, a 100-pitch pitcher. The reality isn't quite that bad, though there is some evidence that his effectiveness drops off considerably after the 100-pitch mark:

2003-04 Splits for Pedro Martinez

                 BA    OBP   SLG  OPS     
Pitches 1-105: .227 .290 .363 .653
Pitches 106-?: .297 .350 .378 .728

Granted, lots of pitchers would love to only allow a .378 slugging percentage (you reading, Eric?), regardless of the game situation, but for Pedro, this denotes a considerable fall-off.

Two caveats should be given with these data, though. The first is that the high-pitch count data are gleaned from a very small sample size, only 74 at-bats, as compared to the first lot of data, which occurred in 3,154 at-bats. Because the sample size is so small, it's skewed severely by his 2003 numbers, when he allowed 12 hits (mostly singles) in 33 at-bats at the ends of high-pitch count games. Neither the 2002 nor the 2004 numbers show such a severe disparity, but I didn't think it was fair to look at his 2003 stats without showing his most recent work.

The second caveat is that this does not include his performances in the playoffs the last two years, when he was, shall we say, not so good late in games, especially when his pitch count exceeded 100. I didn't have a good way to evaluate those and I can't take the time to go through every pitch and do all the math. Sorry.

The other reputation, that of a six-inning starter, is one that should be taken seriously too, though. As I mentioned, it had been eight months since Pedro had hurled a complete game, and even though he tossed only 101 pitches this Sunday, I got to wondering how he tends to follow up such performances:

Comp Game 9 7 1 0 1 10 117 1.00
Next Game 6 6 3 1 1 7 101 4.50

Like I said in my last mini-analysis: small sample size, so take it with a grain of salt. It should also be understood that any drop in performance may have had more to do with the relatively high pitch count (117 on average) in these complete games than it had to do with the actual innings.

However, with that said, you can see that Pedro has not typically followed up these appearances all that well. He averages only 6 innings, and hit hit-, walk- and home run-rates all increase, as does the strikeout rate, ever so slightly. I only used his last four complete games and the games immediately following them for these data, but it does seem that at least for the last couple of seasons, Pedro found that he was a tough act to follow, even when he followed himself.

So, come Saturday when Pedro faces former Met Al Leiter, don't be toos urprised if he "only" produces a Quality Start, something like the 6-inning, 3-run performance he averaged above. Against Leiter, that may be enough to win anyway.

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07 April 2005

Frank Thomas, Hurt of Fame

UPDATE: Due to Frank Thomas' recent retirement announcement, I've updated this article a little, here.

The topic of yesterday's conversation on ESPN Radio's morning talk show was the Hall of Fame, not just for baseball, but for any sport. The basketball Hall of Fame had recently inducted two coaches who are still active in that role, something that no other sport does, including baseball. Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic, the hosts of the show, therefore felt compelled to ask...

1) why this disparity exists, and

B) if you could put current players in the Hall of Fame, who would get in?

Naturally, they discussed several players from several sports, but one of the few baseball players mentioned was Frank Thomas, and Mike Greenberg contested that The Big Hurt should not get into Cooperstown right now. Despite having covered the Chicago sports beat during Thomas' best years in the early 1990's, and admitting that Thomas was putting up numbers comparable to Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, and Hank Greenberg, Mike Greenberg maintained that his drop-off after that removed him from the running.

Frank Thomas Posted by Hello

This is about the silliest thing I've heard all week. I could understand if they were saying that Frank Thomas, moderately productive outfielder of several 1950s and '60s National League teams, didn't belong in the Hall of Fame. That Frank Thomas hit .266 in 16 seasons, never hitting .300 in any of them, finishing in the top ten of the MVP ballot only once (4th in 1958), and never leading his league in anything but games played, hit-by-pitch and sacrifice flies (once each). That Frank Thomas certainly doesn't belong in Cooperstown.

But this one? The Big Hurt? The 1B/DH who has terrorized American league pitchers for the last decade and a half? Let's look at his credentials, along with someone else's, shall we?

Name     AB     R    H     2B   HR   RBI
Hurt 6851 1308 2113 444 436 1439
Splint 6583 1598 2307 463 447 1607

Hurt .308 .429 .567 996 162
Splint .350 .489 .645 1134 190

The 'Hurt' line is, of course, Frank Thomas' career to this point. The second line is that of the Splendid Splinter, Ted Williams, through his age 39 season, a comparable number of games to what Thomas has played so far, with an adjustment to put them on equal footing in terms of plate appearances.

Are they the same? Of course not. Nobody was as good as Ted Williams, in his generation or any other, save perhaps Ruth and Bonds. But are they close? You're damn right they are. Williams had a few more of just about everything, but not a lot more of anything. He struck out a lot less, but so did everyone else at the time. Pitchers throw harder now, and relief pitchers are trained to get the strikeout, with Thomas having to face them much more often than Williams did.

The second set of stats, their averages, shows a much greater difference between them, but it also shows something else. That last statistic is park and league-adjusted OPS (On-base plus Slugging), a rough but effective measure of a hitter's prowess. Ted Williams ranks second all time, behind only the babe. Thomas is tied for 12th, with eight of those 12 already in the Hall. The other four are:

Joe Jackson, who's banned for life for a betting scandal, just like Pete Rose, or something.

Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds, who aren't yet eligible, but who will be elected when their time comes, in all probability.

...and Pete Browning, who played almost half of his ~1200 game career in the 1880s American Association, beating up on sub-standard pitching while all the best players were in the National League.

Thomas is one of only a handful of players to hit over .300/.400/.500 in a career of over 1000 games. Almost all of the rest are in Cooperstown or will be some time soon. Here's that list:

Already in the Hall of Fame:
Brouthers, Dan
Cobb, Ty
Delahanty, Ed
Foxx, Jimmie
Gehrig, Lou
Greenberg, Hank
Heilmann, Harry
Hornsby, Rogers
Musial, Stan
Ott, Mel
Ruth, Babe
Speaker, Tris
Williams, Ted

Not eligible because of the lifetime ban for the 1919 Black Sox Scandal:

Jackson, Joe

Not eligible because they're still active or recently retired (years played):

Martinez, Edgar (18)
Thomas, Frank (15)
Walker, Larry (16)
Ramirez, Manny (12)
Jones, Chipper (11)
Abreu, Bobby (9)
Helton, Todd (8)

Walker and Helton are only on this list because they've played most or all of their careers in Colorado, and Walker is likely to drop off as he's now in the decline stage of his career, playing in St. Louis, and his career OBP stands at .401. Edgar Martinez, despite playing three more seasons than Thomas, played in only 120 more games, and did not hit for nearly as much power ("only" 309 homers). Ramirez, Jones and Abreu, all excellent players currently, aren't likely to improve upon their current career averages being already 30 or older, but are having Cooperstown worthy careers for now.

So that's 14 Hall of Famers, one banned but otherwise Hall-worthy player, one potential Hall of Famer in Edgar, three guys who should be enshrined eventually if they follow normal career paths, and two guys who needed the help of the best hitting environment in major league history to get into this discussion at all. Pretty good company, I think.

Let's look at where Thomas falls in history:

Rank: 100 77 47 31 51 19 77 11

Overall, he's got to be one of the two dozen or so best hitters in history, and maybe only beneath Jimmy Foxx and Joe DiMaggio among right-handed hitters. Even without giving him credit for time he's spent injured, his numbers are already Hall-Worthy. With 3 or 4 more years, he's going to end up in the top 20-25 in homers, RBI and Extra-base hits, the top 50 in doubles and total bases, and perhaps the top 75 or so in runs scored. Bill James listed him as the tenth best firstbaseman ever back in the 2000 edition of his Historical Baseball Abstract, and since then he's had two and a half productive seasons, and one and a half seasons lost to injury. That still adds to his career value, in my mind.

The radio host's contention was that because Thomas has been injured so much the last several years, and because he didn't maintain the pace he started in the early 1990s, and "didn't do anything in the playoffs", his Hall of Fame chances have passed. While certainly the first two of those things are true, should they really cause us not to vote for Thomas when he becomes eligible for Cooperstown?

From 1991 to 1998, Thomas racked up eight consecutive seasons with at least 100 runs, 100 walks and 100 RBI. No, he didn't maintain that pace, but since no one had ever put together more than four such seasons consecutively before, why should we expect it from him? (Jeff Bagwell later had six.) And that streak includes not one but two strike-shortened seasons, making it all the more impressive.

Thomas made five All-Star Games in that span, and won two MVP Awards, in 1993 and 1994. He's also finished in the top ten in the MVP voting six other times, and 15th one other time. Only ten players in history have amassed more MVP shares than Thomas, and they're all in the Hall, except Bonds, who's still playing. We hope. For that matter, 12 of the next 13 players on that list after Thomas are also in the Hall, and the 13th is Pete Rose. (I guess 13 isn't his lucky number.) Only three of the next 25 or so elligible players have not been elected, and Thomas is obviously far above them. In short, anyone considered so frequently and so seriously as the MVP of his league is by definition a Hall of Famer.

It would be unfortunate if Thomas is unable to return to form in June or so, and even worse if he were unable to return at all. But if he weren't elected to the Hall of Fame when his time comes? That would really be a Big Hurt.

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04 April 2005

Alex Sanchez: Scapegoat or Closet Body-Builder?

The first casualty of the new MLB drug-testing policy was felled yesterday. Tampa Bay outfielder Alex Sanchez, an otherwise largely unremarkable player, now has a place in the record books. That is, besides being perhaps the only player ever to play on a 106-loss team and then get traded to an even worse one the folowing year. How's that for being born under a bad sign?

Actually, Sanchez was born under the Communist regime that rules Cuba, and having escaped from there in 1994, Sanchez now works in the Communist regime known as Major League Baseball. Well, Commissioner Bud Selig would like it to be Communist, or at least he'd like you to believe that it needs to be Communist in order to survive. But enough about politics.

Sanchez' suspension is not, to return to the battlefield metaphors, the slaying of Goliath by David. (Goliath was placed on the DL by, ironically enough, the Giants.) If anything, this is Goliath (MLB) stringing up David (Alex) by his thumbs for the rest of the Israelites to see as an example. This is the Philistine army taking a squire, nay, a waterboy, and having him dragged around the field by his ankles, except of course without all the glorious history that Hector had before Achilles so shamed him. Sanchez is nothing more than a display, a warning to the rest of the players, that they too could be so shamed.

But is Sanchez more than that? The suspension of Sanchez makes for headlines only for headlines' sake. He's not a star. Heck, he's barely even employed. Despite having hit .322 last season and stealing 19 bases, Sanchez was released by the Tigers this spring, and was competing for a spot with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, a team so bad that they set a franchise record last season by winning 70 games.

The reason for this is that while he did hit .322, he did so in only 79 games, and his measly seven (7!) walks gave him a .335 on-base percentage, good for 176th in the majors among the 276 players who got at least 300 plate appearances. As a leadoff hitter, Sanchez' OBP ranked 22nd out of 26 major leaguers with at least 300 plate appearances in that role. And he more than engulfed those 19 successful steals with 13 unsuccessful ones, costing his team more runs than he produced in doing so. Even the Tigers can do better than that, they hope.

The Devil Rays, who never met a toolsy, impatient outfielder they didn't like, snatched him up to fill that role for them, at least while toolsy, impatient Rocco Baldelli is busy knee-habbing. D-Rays manager Lou Piniella complained about having to make a lineup change the day before the season began, saying, "Sanchez had come in here and hit the ball. Now we've just got to make adjustments, and we will." The Tampa Bay front office did not comment, at least not to me.

Generally speaking, I'm usually one of the first people to try to shoot down a conspiracy theory. The more people involved in an alleged conspiracy, the less likely that the conspiracy actually exists, as radio host and monthly conspiracy theory killer Michael Medved often explains. But this one has potential. Lemme 'splain:

MLB has a new drug testing policy. Lots of new substances banned, year-round, random testing, blah, blah, blah. You know this. Someone has to be the first person suspended. There are about 1200 players on the 30 teams' 40-man rosters, plus maybe another 300 or so on the DL or being shuttled back and forth between AAA and the majors. That's 1200 players, or an average of 100 or so being tested per month. We know that in 2003, with a much weaker testing policy, somewhere between 5% and 7% of the random tests came up positive, triggering the completely inneffective 2004 policy, probably because a player knew that once he'd been tested, he was in no danger of being tested again, making it much easier to avoid detection.

Even if only 5% of players are currently using banned substances, and I don't think any reasonable observer believes that the number is actually that low, we should be seeing an average of approximately five players suspended every month. Sanchez makes one. Where are the other four, or ten, or even one?

Are you going to try to convince us that Alex Sanchez, generously described as "5'10", 180-lbs", with 4 career home runs, is the only player among the 100+ players tested last month who came up positive? Such an assessment would be doubtful at best, downright preposterous and deceitful at worst. The management of MLB never ceases to amaze me in their underestimation of the intelligence of its own fanbase.

I expect that in actuality, Bud Selig had in his posession something like 6-10 or more "positive" test results, and wanted to set off this timebomb with as little "ka-boom" as possible. Let's see...suspend Bobby Superstar? Bad. Hmmm...Alex Sanchez? Who's he? Nobody. Expendable. A simple casualty of war. Good!

Better yet, perhaps a scapegoat, so the commissioner's office can say they're doing their jobs, suspending players who test positive, and prompting figures like Joe Torre to say stuff like,

"The fact that the testing evidently worked, that's what we want to find out. We want to get the fans' trust back, and that's the only way it's going to happen. This is a good sign - not for Sanchez - but it gives credibility to the way they are testing."

Actually, Joe, the fact that you seem to think it's working lends more credibility to the process than the suspension of some pip-squeak nobody on a team that will contend only for last place in the standings and in attendance.

And no kidding, "not for Sanchez". Alex has had a roller coaster of a month. He saw his mother and brother, recently escaped from Cuban opression themselves, for the first time in 11 years in mid-March. Then, two days later, after having hit OK but apparently playing lackluster defense for the Tigers, he was released. Picked up by a team with even worse prospects than Detroit, he hit extremely well and won a starting job, only to find out that he had become an unwilling pawn in the chess game between the MLB Players' Association and the Commissioner's office. Sanchez was sacrificed to appease the gods, or more precisely, the beat writers and by extension, the fans, that all is well with MLB and its shiny, new drug testing policy.

For his part, Sanchez contends that he's never taken steroids "or anything else like that", and it's hard not to believe him when he looks like that. But he apparently took something, and he and his colleagues ought to be a bit more careful about what they ingest from here on out, because now that this scapegoat has been loosed into the woods, there's nothing keeping El Bud from naming more positive test result victims. And the next set of names will probably be a bit more familiar to us, and not so easily forgettable as Alex, um...Alex..., er..something.

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