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December 29, 2005

Crooked Numbers

The Numbers You Saw

by James Click

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As the year draws to a close, it seems fitting to look back at some predictions and see how we did here at BP. While we could go back and look at projected standings (yes, I did pick the Devil Rays to finish third, the White Sox fourth and the Angels third), let's take a walk on the lighter side, revisiting a piece from BP's "Setting the Stage" series just before the season started. In that piece, I took a crack at some possible records we would see fall in 2005. Let's see how that worked out.

  • 715, 756: "Bonds will spend most if not all of the season on the DL instead of looking to become on the second player to put serious distance between himself and the number 700." In the first season of his career in which Barry Bonds failed to play at least 100 games, he managed to add just five home runs to his total. While it seems so easy to hand him the record--disregarding the media-generated morality standpoint and focusing instead on sheer inevitability--injuries are part of the game. It would be easy to run the same blurb about Bonds in next year's look ahead.

  • 166: "Games needed by Miguel Tejada to break Maury Wills' single-season record for games played." Alas, Tejada managed only 162 games for the fifth year in a row. It's too bad that modern players are so coddled and cannot match the durability and grit of those hallowed saints of yesteryear.

  • 78: "Hits needed by Rafael Palmeiro for the magic round number 3,000. … he should hit the big number right around the Orioles' 89th game: July 14th at Seattle." Once again, I was dead wrong. Palmeiro managed his 3,000th hit on July 15th.

  • 53: "Score, in Scrabble, for 'Javier Vazquez,' the highest score of all time for a baseball player's first and last names, as discovered by BP's Nate Silver." I received more mail about this item than most of my regular columns. This mantle has been taken up elsewhere, but I must warn all of you that if you're ever calculating player Scrabble scores, please be careful to note that there is only one "Z" in the tiles. It's oversights like this that are keeping Baseball Prospectus from becoming the national media megalith to which we all aspire, and for that, I apologize.

  • 26: "Home runs Sammy Sosa needs for 600." It was only four years ago that Sosa compiled a .328/.437/.737 line for the season while hitting 64 home runs and totaling 13.8 WARP. This year: .221/.295/.376 in barely 100 games, notching only 14 of those necessary dingers. If anyone needs examples of why not to sign players to backloaded, lengthy contracts, look no further than Sosa.

  • 752: "Walks needed by Frank Thomas to catch Bonds' career total." By totaling 16 walks this year to Bonds' nine, Thomas has closed the gap to 745. It's only a matter of time.

  • 32: "Welts needed by Craig Biggio to pass Hughie Jennings on the all-time HBP list." In one of the more impressive assaults on a career record, Biggio got himself plunked 17 times, closing the gap to 15. Only once in the last 11 seasons has Biggio not managed to get himself to first on an HBP at least 15 times. Of course, if I were the opposing pitcher and that infernal buzzing started every time he came to the plate, I'd probably plunk him, too, just to save myself the extra minute of sonic annoyance.

  • 2: "Players in 1997 with at least 619 AB (Biggio's total) who had fewer walks than Biggio's 34 HBP." As mentioned above, Biggio totaled 17 HBP this year in 590 AB. No player managed 17 or fewer free passes in 590 AB (Ivan Rodriguez's 11 walks came in 504 ABs), but take away Angel Berroa's three IBB and he comes in at 15 in 608 AB. This stat raises two questions: 1) Is there an emptier batting average than Berroa's .270/.305/.375 line? And 2) How bad does the next batter have to be to make someone intentionally walk Angel Berroa? (The answer is in the upcoming Baseball Between the Numbers.)

  • 67: "Age at which Julio Franco, the active leader, would pass Pete Rose in career singles…" This was a joke, but apparently the Mets didn't pick up on that.

  • 421: "Consecutive winning decisions needed by Terry Mulholland to pass Al Spalding on the career winning percentage list…" We're all still holding our breath on that one.

  • .0057: "Difference between Todd Helton and Bonds in career slugging percentage." A .320/.445/.534 line on the season has dropped Helton well behind Bonds in this chase. There would seem to be a place for a steroid joke here since seemingly every player who decreased in production in 2005 was a result of the new testing policy, but given Wayne Hagin's experience, it's probably best just to let it go.

  • 488: "Strikeouts needed by Sosa to pass Reggie Jackson as the most prolific whiffer of all time." 404 and counting…

  • 4.1, 0.3: "Percent chance of Ichiro Suzuki tying Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hit streak, based on his 2004 statistics." There were two numbers for this question, each one calculating Ichiro's chances a different way. Next year, Jimmy Rollins will no doubt be in the spotlight and we can all begin arguing about hitting streaks across seasons.

  • 1: a) "Stolen bases needed by either Scott Podsednik or Carl Crawford last year for their combined league-leading totals to match Rickey Henderson's record of 130 steals in a season in 1982." Podsednik (59) teamed up with Chone Figgins (62) for 121 total thefts, still nine short of Henderson. In the NL, it was Jose Reyes (60) and Juan Pierre (56) with 116. In 1982, Henderson was caught 42 times while stealing 130; Figgins and Podsednik were gunned down 40 times and Pierre and Reyes 32.

  • 1: b) "Difference in career sacrifice hits between Tom Glavine (186) and Omar Vizquel (185), the two active leaders." This one wasn't particularly close. Vizquel matched his career high set last year with 20 sacrifices to blow past Glavine (who totaled five) to move into the all-time lead in sacrifice hits with 205. Of those 20 sacrifices, only five times did the man Vizquel sacrificed come around to score. And of those five runs scored, three of them came on subsequent hits that likely would have scored the runner without the sacrifice; for example, a triple by Randy Winn following a sacrifice in the last game of the season. Given Vizquel's .271/.341/.350 line, he likely would have reached in seven of those lost plate appearances with base hits in five or six of them. Would those same five runs have scored if he had swung away instead of sacrificing? We'll never know, but it certainly seems likely that at least that many would have scored.

  • 4: "Days until Opening Day…" 94 days… (sigh)

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