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April 19, 2005
Small Sample Size Buffet
BEST MATCHUP (Best combined record with both teams being over .500): Minnesota @ Chicago White Sox
I went to great lengths to discuss the White Sox's lack of walks last time out. No sooner had the ink dried on the article (yes, we write with quills and submit on foolscap) than the Sox drew four walks against Joel Pineiro Friday night. They were blanked the next day by Ryan Franklin and got a pair against Gil Meche on Sunday. Last night, they were shut out by Kyle Lohse and Matt Guerrier. The Sox are now averaging about 1.5 walks per game. Am I dining at the Small Sample Size Buffet? Absolutely, but while a home-run barrage can be written off as one of those things, there's something about a lack of team walks that screams "lifestyle choice."
They're facing Brad Radke tonight and the over/under on White Sox walks is 0.5. Damned if the Pale Hose don't keep winning, though. This would be the time where I make some sort of ridiculous threat like, "if the White Sox finish with 250 walks or fewer and a winning record I'll eat a popsicle covered in fire ants."
On an opposite note, Colorado Rockies pitchers went into play last night having walked more batters than they struck out. A solid start by Shawn Chacon last night helped them get closer to balancing the books, but it makes one wonder: What happens if they go the whole season and keep this up? It's been nearly 50 years since any team pulled off this ugly trick. The last two clubs to do it were the Kansas City Athletics and Washington Senators of 1956. When you look at the list of teams so disposed, it looks as though baseball created a rule against teams walking more than they struck out in the 1956-57 off-season because, after it being a fairly frequent occurrence, it stopped cold turkey at that point. There isn't even an outlier club to point to.
While it was clear that this trend was dying out in the early '50s, it's still a fairly sudden disappearance. From 1946 to 1950, half the clubs in the majors walked more batters than they struck out. From 1951 to 1955, that number dropped to under a quarter. Prior to that, it was a fairly steady parade of seven to 10 teams with higher totals in the 1920s. You'd have to go all the way back to 1914 to find a year in which no club walked more than it struck out. Between 1904 and 1908--the very height of the Dead Ball Era--only two teams managed the feat. The highest figure ever came in 1925 when only three of the 16 teams struck out more batters than they walked. The 1929 and 1949 seasons both saw just four teams manage it.
In the last 50 years, only five teams came within 10% of "achieving" the 1:1 mark, and even with that, it's been nearly a quarter century:
Ratio Year Team W/K 1.030 1975 Brewers 624/643 1.032 1979 Blue Jays 594/613 1.076 1982 Athletics 648/697 1.077 1973 Brewers 623/671 1.092 1979 White Sox 618/675The worst ratio within the last 10 years came courtesy of the Brewers in 1995 (1.159). The Tigers of '96 are the next closest (1.221).
Can the Rockies keep going on like this? Do the main contributors to the problem have a history of this sort of behavior? Byung-Hyun Kim has always had outstanding ratios, but he's 5:10 so far. Jason Jennings has been getting wilder with each passing season, but he's still better than a 50-50 proposition. Joe Kennedy will go a long way toward not making this a reality, although Chacon has had two seasons with pretty dicey ratios (out of four). Jamey Wright is certainly capable of doing his part to getting the Rockies in the bad section of the history books: His career K:BB rate is just 601:578. Jeff Francis is off to the kind of start that gets a fellow sent down (nine walks, three Ks) before he can do any real damage.
Yes, it's the early going, but it is interesting to ponder the existence of two such statistically-outlying teams playing simultaneously, seemingly working at cross-purposes with history.
WORST MATCHUP (Worst combined record with both teams being below .500): Tampa Bay @ New York Yankees
Savor it while you can. Whatever schadenfreude you can get from seeing the Yankees playing poorly, suck it out with a straw because you won't see it for much longer. Don't you hate the fact that George Steinbrenner has one of his patented little-girl-lost-her-Mary-Janes-on-the-playground hissy fits and the Yankees respond within two innings with a 13-run barrage? You know he thinks he made that happen.
I like the idea that after the Yankees scored 13 runs last night the first man out of the dugout to start the comeback for the Devil Rays was Alex Sanchez. I'm reminded of the lone protester staring down the T-72s in Tiananmen Square. That he drew a walk (Ken Singleton pointed out he only went to a three-ball count 26 times last year) and later scored underscored the wackiness of the night.
How pointless is it to get upset/happy about the Yankees' 4-8 start? Consider that in the Yankees' greatest season of the recent era, the one in which they won 114 games and steamrolled through the playoffs, they also went 4-8. The difference? They had the good fortune to do it in September, when that sort of run might warrant a paragraph in a story rather than the "IT'S WAR!" headlines seen in every paper in town. On Sept. 4, 1998, the Yankees were cruising at 100-38. They then proceeded to do just what they did in the first two weeks of this season. This dropped them all the way down to 104-46. Ergo, the Yanks can still win 114 games this year.
BIGGEST MISMATCHUP (Largest disparity in records with one team over .500 and the other under .500): Los Angeles Dodgers @ Milwaukee
Man, that sweep at the hands of the Angels in the final weekend of exhibition season sure took the wind out of the Dodgers' sails, didn't it? If you'll recall, Los Angeles got off to a similar start last year. It's hard to believe this is the same team that was scrapping for runs less than two years ago. In spite of losing Adrian Beltre, they've upped their output so far compared to last year. Naturally, they won't keep scoring over six runs per game, but it's not unrealistic to think they'll score over five, which would be an upgrade from last year's 4.7. What is especially interesting is that they've done this with no contribution from J.D. Drew to speak of.
Here's a letter from a reader:
I can no longer tell how deep a fly ball is going as it comes off the bat. This feeling has grown over a period of years, after decades of having a pretty good guess of how deep a ball had been hit (whether live or on replay). A poke to right goes to/over the wall. A line drive to left-center goes over the wall when I thought it would take a couple of bounces to the fence. I realize many parks are smaller than many of those I got used to seeing growing up, though I assumed it was essentially a combination of the ball being wound tighter and the players being stronger (both the hitters and the pitchers, since faster pitches can lead to longer shots when contact is made). Obviously steroids has played into this, though I don't know how truly widespread it is/was.
However, I am struck this year by how often my instincts are once again correct as to where the ball is going. Am I dreaming? I am not focusing on the steroid issue when I watch a game, or whether there's been a huge decrease in use (I believe there has, probably starting a year or two back). I'm just watching and going by the usual gut feelings as the ball is hit. I just ask that you watch for yourself and see if I'm hallucinating.
Dave: It is the steroids. You need to stop taking them because they are obviously clouding your judgment.
Tom Gorman contributed background material to this column.