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September 30, 2010

Changing Speeds

Closing Time

by Ken Funck

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With four days left in baseball’s marathon season, most eyes will be focused on the two matchups which have a direct bearing on the playoffs: the Padres/Giants pitching festival in San Francisco, and the Phillies/Braves set in Atlanta. Nonetheless, there are 13 other series to be played before we can close the books on the 2010 regular season. Often these late-season contests spark little interest outside of those with game tickets, family members on the team, or the need for a few more Joakim Soria saves to clinch their fantasy baseball championship. To add a little spice to these contests while our early-season heroes play out the string or prep for the postseason, I’ve decided to share with you a few slightly off-beat statistical milestones that could be met in the next few days. None of these numbers are as sexy as .400 or 61*, but they may help you appreciate a few of the more unexpected or unreported achievements of the 2010 season.

---

Candidate(s): Mark Reynolds and Carlos Pena, a.k.a., Los Dos Mendozas
Potential Achievement: Posting a batting average below .200.
Historical Relevance: Despite the fact that the term “Mendoza Line” has recently become somewhat of a cultural touchstone, by sitting at .199 going into Wednesday’s games Reynolds and Pena are flirting with a rare occurrence. The last player to receive enough plate appearances to qualify for a batting title while proving himself quite so fully unqualified for a batting title was Rob Deer in 1991—the Three True Outcomes hero hit .179 that year, lowest of the modern era. In fact, after rounding to the standard three digits, there have only been three qualifying sub-Mendoza seasons since Hitler violated the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact:

Sub-Mendoza Batting Averages For Qualifying Batters – 1941-present

Player

Team

Year

BA

"Official" BA

OBP

SLG

HR

TAv

VORP

Mark Reynolds

Diamondbacks

2010

.1992

.199

0.320

0.437

32

0.269

9.6

Carlos Pena

Rays

2010

.1991

.199

0.330

0.413

28

0.273

4.8

Rob Deer

Tigers

1991

.1786

.179

0.314

0.386

25

0.255

-4.7

Jim Sundberg

Rangers

1975

.1992

.199

0.283

0.256

6

0.204

-18.2

Tom Tresh

Yankees

1968

.1953

.195

0.304

0.308

11

0.253

12.9

Don Wert

Tigers

1968

.1996

.200

0.258

0.299

12

0.216

-8.7

Curt Blefary

Orioles

1968

.1996

.200

0.301

0.322

15

0.254

-1.9

Zoilo Versalles

Twins

1967

.1997

.200

0.249

0.282

6

0.202

-6.5

Whether you choose to count or dismiss Wert, Blefary, and Versalles due to their rounded batting averages clocking in at .200, this is still a short list. The most amazing number to me here is that Tom Tresh managed to score a 12.9 VORP while posting a downright Kendallian .195/.304/.308 line. No, that’s not a misprint. Tresh, who had earned the 1962 AL Rookie of the Year Award at shortstop for the Yankees filling in for an absent Tony Kubek (whose Wisconsin National Guard unit had been activated—picture something like that happening again), had received MVP votes as an outfielder as recently as 1966, and had moved back to shortstop for the 1968 season. That was the actual “Year of the Pitcher,” though, when hitters posted a combined .237/.299/.340 and shortstops in the junior circuit hit .221/.284/.305—in that light, Tresh’s contributions look downright useful.

If they both keep their batting average below .200, Reynolds and Pena would thus triple the number of sub-Mendozans to actually perform above replacement level, and would become the first duo to be “officially” below .200 in the same season since Teddy Roosevelt was vying for the votes of Monte Cross and Charles Moran in 1904.

Odds of Occurrence: Reynolds is currently nursing a sore thumb, though it sounds like he’s not done for the year—and he’s slated to face lefties Madison Bumgarner tonight and Ted Lilly on Sunday. Reynolds hits for a higher average against portsiders; on the other hand, both Bumgarner and Lilly are quality pitchers. Meanwhile, Pena can order off a menu stocked with Royals pitchers all weekend. It says here Pena gets his head above water, while Reynolds not only stays below .200, he becomes the only hitter in history to have a seasonal strikeout total higher than his batting average.

---

Candidate:Felix Hernandez
Potential Achievement: 31 Quality Starts
Historical Relevance:Admittedly, a starter giving up three or fewer earned runs over six or more innings isn’t a transcendental feat. However, when a starter does this virtually every time he takes the mound, it’s a sign of greatness. After Tuesday’s typical befuddlement of the Rangers, King Felix has posted 30 quality starts in his 34 trips to the bump. Below you’ll see the only pitchers to reach that milestone since Disco Demolition Night:

Starters with 30+ Quality Starts, 1979-2010

Player

Team

Year

QS

GS

QS%

W

L

ERA

Felix Hernandez

Mariners

2010

30

34

88.2%

13

12

2.27

Randy Johnson

Diamondbacks

2002

30

35

85.7%

24

5

2.32

Greg Maddux

Cubs

1992

30

35

85.7%

20

11

2.18

Bret Saberhagen

Royals

1989

30

35

85.7%

23

6

2.16

Mike Scott

Astros

1986

32

37

86.5%

18

10

2.22

Dwight Gooden

Mets

1985

33

35

94.3%

24

4

1.53

Steve Carlton

Phillies

1980

32

38

84.2%

24

9

2.34

That list’s more difficult to make than J.D. Salinger’s holiday card list. If Hernandez takes to the mound against Oakland on Sunday, he’ll have a chance to post more quality starts than any starter in almost a quarter-century—and he could raise his quality start percentage to even more stratospheric heights:

Highest QS%, 1950-2010 (min. 30 starts)

Player

Tm

Year

QS

GS

QS%

W

L

ERA

Dwight Gooden

NYM

1985

33

35

94.3%

24

4

1.53

Bob Gibson

STL

1968

32

34

94.1%

22

9

1.12

Tom Seaver

NYM

1971

31

35

88.6%

20

10

1.76

Dave McNally

BAL

1968

31

35

88.6%

22

10

1.95

Tom Seaver

NYM

1968

31

35

88.6%

16

12

2.20

Felix Hernandez

SEA

2010

30

34

88.2%

13

12

2.27

Wilbur Wood

CHW

1971

37

42

88.1%

22

13

1.91

Sandy Koufax

LAD

1966

36

41

87.8%

27

9

1.73

Roger Clemens

BOS

1990

27

31

87.1%

21

6

1.93

Don Sutton

LAD

1980

27

31

87.1%

13

5

2.20

One more quality start will raise the pitching czar’s quality start percentage to 88.6 percent, tied for third-best on the list and trailing only magical seasons by Dwight Gooden and Bob Gibson. In a word, that’s impressive.

When looking at seasons with 30+ quality starts, Hernandez is a lock to set the record for fewest wins, a mark previously held by Claude Osteen, who was 15-15 in 1965. No one has ever tallied that many quality starts and posted a losing record, though if Hernandez loses his final start his .500 record will match not only Osteen but Bert Blyleven’s 17-17 mark in 1972 for lowest winning percentage. There are some voices that have argued this might actually help him in the Cy Young Award voting, as more savvy voters will use this as an opportunity to throw the final shovel of dirt on the notion that the win and loss statistics are the best way to measure pitchers. I’m not so sure—to me, it seems that those who equate pitching wins with value still own more shovels, and will use this as an opportunity to reassert their current (if hopefully fleeting) dominance. After all, Jack Morris would certainly never have given up that first-inning home run to Jose Bautista last week, since his team wasn’t ahead, and Morris would have shamed his teammates into plating a run en route to a 1-0 victory, not a 1-0 loss. Just sayin’.

Odds of Occurrence: The Mariners are considering shelving Hernandez before he can make his final start. I suspect, though, that they’ll let him try to earn his 14th win. He’d be facing Oakland, and you have to like his chances to post a quality start. My Magic 8 Ball say he gets to pitch, gets a no-decision, and still doesn’t win the Cy Young Award.

---

Candidate: Brett Gardner
Potential Achievement: Posting the highest rate of pitches per plate appearance (data since 1988)
Historical Relevance: So far, Gardner has seen 4.62 pitches per plate appearance—not only the highest in baseball this year, but he’s lapping the field in the data sample I have, which goes back to 1988. The current record holder is (unsurprisingly) Rickey Henderson, who posted a 4.54 P/PA mark back in 1994.

Gardner has also displayed a near-historic talent for keeping his bat on his shoulder. By offering at a mere 31 percent of pitches he’s seen, Gardner is displaying a studied indifference to the pitches he’s thrown last surpassed by Barry Bonds in 2004. The only other player since 1988 to match or surpass Gardner’s pace is (again) Henderson, who dominates this category with four seasons under 31 percent. Yankees fans can only hope the surprising Gardner, whose 4.1 WARP is one of the year’s most pleasant surprises, can continue to emulate Henderson’s basepath-burning, pitcher-fatiguing, table-setting ways—without choosing to refer to himself in the third person.
Odds of Occurrence: To fall behind Rickey’s mark, Gardner would have to put the first pitch he sees in play 37 straight times. With only four games left, this is pretty much a mortal lock.

---

Candidate(s): Your 2010 Toronto Blue Jays
Potential Achievement: The highest team isolated power score in history
Historical Relevance: It’s nice to think that the fourth-best team in a division containing arguably the three best franchises in baseball might get to win something, even if it’s just an appearance in a Dos Equis ad: “They don’t always get hits, but when they do, they prefer extra bases.”

Who would have thought that a franchise employing Lyle Overbay at first base could set a record for team isolated power (i.e., slugging percentage minus batting average)? Toronto currently sports a .205 ISO, just a shade ahead of the 1997 Mariners (2004), while only two other teams have posted scores over .200: the 2003 Red Sox and the 2005 Rangers. The big story, of course, is the unexpected power shown by the re-conditioned Jose-Bot 2010 this year, but he’s not the only one: Alex Gonzalez (in half a season), Vernon Wells, John Buck, Edwin Encarnacion, Travis Snider, Aaron Hill, Adam Lind, and even Overbay are among the league’s top 100 in isolated power. To maintain such a lofty rate means lots of extra base hits and not so many singles—and with a league-lowest 39.6 percent ground-ball rate each of the last two years, the Blue Jays have shown a knack for doing just that.
Odds of Occurrence: It’s a slim lead, but I imagine Toronto will be swinging for the fences this weekend in Minneapolis. I’m betting on the Blue Jays—or at least I would, if I could find someone willing to bet on what would probably be one of the most ridiculous proposition bets in history.  

Ken Funck is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ken's other articles. You can contact Ken by clicking here

Related Content:  The Who,  Mark Reynolds

31 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

yadenr

This was a fun read, thanks for the finds. So both Pena and Reynolds could become the first ever 100/300/400 slash lines? TTO eat your heart out!

Sep 30, 2010 00:02 AM
rating: 4
 
harderj

At least Pena won't join Reynolds as the first player ever to have "more" strikeouts (200+) than batting average (sub .200).

Sep 30, 2010 10:38 AM
rating: 1
 
jlefty

Excellent article. I do, however, say this about all articles which give me another reason to love Brett Gardner.

Sep 30, 2010 06:59 AM
rating: 5
 
bozarowski

He really is a fascinating player to watch. He also very much slipped through the projection cracks in the minors, assuming he sustains this success into the future then very few analysts foresaw a player of his caliber.

Sep 30, 2010 07:24 AM
rating: 0
 
awayish

dat grit

Sep 30, 2010 11:33 AM
rating: 0
 
dianagram

You missed one .... if the Pirates manage to get swept in Florida starting tonight, they will finish the season with the worst road record (16-65) since the adoption of the 162-game schedule ('63 Mets went 17-64 on the road). Offsetting this is that they nearly joined the 2006 Devil Rays as the only teams in the last 60 years to play .500 ball at home and under .250 on the road. The Pirates went 40-41 at home this season.

Sep 30, 2010 07:03 AM
rating: 7
 
dianagram

Also with regard to the Pirates ... they've been outscored 444-238 on the road, an AVERAGE of 2.675 runs PER GAME. Only one team since 1901 has had a worse average run differential on the road, the 1949 St. Louis Browns (2.744 runs, as they went 17-60 in their road games).

Sep 30, 2010 13:40 PM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Ken Funck
BP staff

Great adds -- those are two I didn't notice! After losing last night, the Buccos will need to take two out of three over the weekend to keep from at least sharing the worst road record.

There were a few others I saw which I didn't include:

1)Boston and Arizona both have team P/PA rates over 4 -- no teams have ever done this (since 1988), in fact only 6 teams have been above 3.95.

2) Carlos Marmol is still on track to set a record on K/9 --he's currently at 15.95 K/9, with Eric Gagne's 14.98 K/9 in 2003 the current record. Marmol's K% excluding IBB stands at 41.85%, which would be fourth all-time behind Gagne 2003 (45.1%), Billy Wagner 1999, and Brad Lidge 2004. He's still way ahead of the pack as far as the lowest percentage of plate appearances ending in a player making contact: 40.92%. The previous record was 46.43%, by Armando Benitez in in 1999. Almost 60% of batters facing Marmol this year have either walkeded, whiffed or gotten plunked. That just amazes me.

Oct 01, 2010 07:00 AM
 
dianagram

If you lowered the IP floor on the K/9 requirement, Braves rookie Craig Kimbrel would be top dog. In 20.2 innings to date, he has K'ed 40 ... a nice 17.42 Ks per 9.

Kimbrel could set the all-time K/9 record for 20 or more IP in a season:
http://bbref.com/pi/shareit/QnbUP

Oct 03, 2010 08:38 AM
rating: 0
 
dianagram

Interesting to see the difference in VORP between Reynolds and Pena, given their similar stats .... once again proving the shallowness of the 3B pool.

Sep 30, 2010 07:07 AM
rating: 0
 
tballgame

Was the Salinger crack because he is a recluse or because he's dead? Is there a living recluse that can carry the torch for future reclusive humor?

Sep 30, 2010 09:01 AM
rating: 0
 
CRP13

Kim Jong-il?

...bet that's the first time he was mentioned on this site...

Sep 30, 2010 13:09 PM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Ken Funck
BP staff

Because he's a dead recluse -- the least accessible recluse of all.

Oct 01, 2010 07:01 AM
 
Peter Benedict

Fun article! The use of statistics to improve our understanding of the game is all well and good, but I love statistics as trivia. I'd enjoy seeing more of this.

Sep 30, 2010 09:10 AM
rating: 2
 
newsense

The 1968 Mendozas and quality starts really shouldn't count, or at least have an asterisk.

Sep 30, 2010 09:51 AM
rating: 0
 
GoTribe06

I really enjoyed this article, and am delighted at the idea behind it. You can never have too many reasons to follow baseball, especially near the end of the season.

Sep 30, 2010 10:07 AM
rating: 0
 
GoTribe06

I also love the Dos Equis ads. "He is the life of parties he has never attended."

Sep 30, 2010 10:26 AM
rating: 0
 
ScottyB

Fun article!!!

Sep 30, 2010 10:56 AM
rating: 0
 
jtrichey

A lot of you probably know this, but it is one of my pet peeves. The Mendoza line is not .200, but a shifting line in the newspaper wherever Mario Mendoza appeared. It goes back to when the Sunday newspaper used to print everybody's batting stats in order of batting average. Thus, you could look for Mario Mendoza's name and see that anyone underneath him was really struggling.

Sep 30, 2010 16:07 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Ken Funck
BP staff

Another example of how language evolves. Mendoza Line, for better or worse, now seems to be permanently associated with .200. Here's hoping you can eventually make peace with it, and it doesn't keep you permanently flustrated -- a word which was my pet peeve, but has now actually made it into the dictionary. I'm still bitter about that, so I feel your pain, jt.

Oct 01, 2010 07:09 AM
 
jtrichey

My favorite sub .200 batting average piece of trivia is that the 1988 World Champion Dodgers had not one, but two near regulars that finished under .200. Alfredo Griffin hit .199 in 354 PAs and Mike Davis hit .196 in 310 PAs. Yes, the same Mike Davis that Dennis Eckersley walked in front of Kirk Gibson.

Sep 30, 2010 16:09 PM
rating: 0
 
NYYanks826

Two things...

1) Looks like, unfortunately, King Felix won't get the chance for his 31st QS on Sunday. M's are shutting him down.

2) I think the Jays secured themselves that ISO record. Six homers in Minnesota tonight, including two more by Jose-Bot 2010!

Oct 01, 2010 00:29 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Ken Funck
BP staff

The Jose-Bot was programmed to reach 60, so he'll need to get two more in each game over the weekend. Since he's my Strat right-fielder, I'm rooting for him/it.

Remember how he started the season as the Jays' leadoff hitter?

Oct 01, 2010 07:16 AM
 
harderj

He's a free agent in my league...wonder where he'll fall.

Certainly no later than 2nd round, and I'm guessing 1st.

Thoughts?

Oct 01, 2010 08:27 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Ken Funck
BP staff

Of course that depends on the league, the size of your rosters, etc. My league's AL-Only and we have a roster of 36, including minor league players, so if Bautista were available he's definitely a first rounder. Even in other league types, I'd have to think Bautista would be a first round pick -- he'll probably be a 3 at third base again, and he's actually crushed righties more than lefties (not that he isn't playable against lefties). Some contending team will definitely scoop that up, even if they think it's a fluke.

Oct 01, 2010 09:10 AM
 
harderj

Thanks. Ours is an 11 team league with 50 protected players each.

Players I'd rather have than Bautista, even if I'm trying to compete:

1. Jason Heyward
2. Buster Posey
3. Stephen Strasburg
4. Carlos Santana
5. Other suggestions?

Oct 01, 2010 10:01 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Ken Funck
BP staff

Looks like your league only lets you draft carded players, so I'm surprised Bautista's card last year wasn't in the Top 550 -- it was a decent card against lefties (then again, it wasn't THAT great, so in a mixed league maybe it wasn't good enough to play).

Of the other new carded players you didn't list, I like Hellickson and Mike Stanton a lot, though not as much as your top 4. Bumgarner and Garcia (he didn't get a card last year, did he) get knocked down a bit for being lefties; Daniel Hudson probably isn't as good as he's pitched so far, though I like him enough to have drafted him last year.

Oct 01, 2010 11:07 AM
 
harderj

Yes, Hellickson, Stanton, Bumgarner, and to a lesser extent Garcia (of the two lefty pitchers, I like the Giant :-) are on my radar screen; what do you think about Aroldis Chapman and Mike Leake?

Last year I drafted Tommy Hanson, Brett Anderson, and Brian Matusz, so I'm not completely averse to lefties on my staff, and I like MadBum a lot.

Oct 01, 2010 11:55 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Ken Funck
BP staff

I'd consider putting Chapman in with your top 4, though I worry about injury. Don't think he'll get enough innings to get a card (unless you count computer-only cards -- my league doesn't).

Not quite so hyped about Leake -- personally, I like Hudson better.

Oct 01, 2010 12:07 PM
 
harderj

Thanks for the further thoughts.

You're right about Chapman probably not having a card (though KRod did his first year with only 6-2/3 or something innings, partly because he was so instrumental in the playoffs, so there's precedent).

Other rookies I'm trying to sort include Logan Morrison, Ike Davis, Freddy Freeman, Justin Smoak, Chris Carter, Neil Walker, Starlin Castro, Pedro Alvarez, Chris Johnson, Austin Jackson, John Jay, Tyler Colvin, Brett Wallace, Alexi Ogando, Jordan Walden, Kyle Drabek, and Drew Storen.

Any of these clear first rounders, you think?

Joaquin Benoit is also a free agent in our league, since I cut him two years ago...

Oct 01, 2010 17:42 PM
rating: 0
 
NYYanks826

I do remember that. Funny how things work out.

I also remember back in June, when he had around 17 homers, there was an analyst (I think on ESPN), who predicted that he would slow down and probably finish between 25 and 30 homers, because there was no way he could keep up this pace.

Whoops.

Oct 01, 2010 10:11 AM
rating: 0
 
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