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April 18, 2008

Prospectus Matchups

The Multi-Stretch

by Jim Baker

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A friend of mine, who now owes me $500 for not mentioning his name in this context because he is a respectable member of society these days, went through a period of accelerated alcohol intake a number of years ago. For him, any event was a reason to party. He and some buddies went to Shea Stadium and ended up spending the entire game in the Diamond Club, soaking up cocktails. When the ninth inning ended in a tie, allowing them to keep the booze bag strapped on, he coined the immortal phrase, "Extra innings means extra drinks." I'm pretty sure it hasn't made it to Bartlett's Familiar Quotations or even Paul Dickson's Baseball's Greatest Quotations, but it should have. It's probably best for society that it hasn't, though.

Anyway, I was thinking about Bennie (not his real name) while the Mets and Nationals were soldiering on into extra innings last night at Shea. When they reached the middle of the 14th, the remaining fans were invited to participate in the "14th-inning stretch." Not too long after this, the Rockies and Padres went the Mets and Nats one better, playing through the 21st-inning stretch into the 22nd frame. In that game, both teams celebrated their own 14th-inning stretch by scoring a run to keep the game going.

So, how long has the multi-stretch tradition been going on? We know that it's been at least seven months, as the Padres and Rockies had a 14-inning tune-up for last night on September 21, 2007, and it was captured on video by this YouTuber. Anecdotes found via web search provide other examples going back a few years. I also found this from Ray Corio, writing in the New York Times on June 24, 1991: "So far, there is no custom of a 14th-inning or a 21st-inning stretch, though there's nothing improper about doing so, by any stretch of the imagination."

Was this true? Had nobody lightened up the proceedings at a long game with a 14th-inning stretch prior to 1991? Was there no 28th-inning stretch in Pawtucket during their 33-inning game with Rochester in 1981? Are we certain that the fans at Braves Field didn't enjoy three stretches on May 1, 1920, when Joe Oeschger of the Robins battled Leon Cadore of the Braves to a 1-1 tie in 26 innings? (For a great read, check out the game story in the Times for the Oeschger-Cadore duel. Don't you wish newspapers still contained prose like this: "When darkness drew its mantle over the scene, forbidding further battling, both teams were still on their feet, interlocked in a death clutch and each praying for just one more inning in which to get in the knockout blow." Be sure to study the box score, too. That game had 158 balls put in play, only three of which went for extra bases and only one of which was turned into a double play. There was only one stolen base.)

Did anyone out there in Prospectusland experience a multi-stretch prior to the 21st Century?

Those Who Do Not Learn From History Are Doomed to Keep Reading About it Until They Realize They're Reading the Same Thing Over Again

As part of our continuing effort to bring sanity to the proceedings of the early going and give our readers an alternative to the April hype found elsewhere, I thought it might be informative to take a look at April standings from a year ago. What was everyone buzzing about in the middle of April 2007? What was perplexing our minds then and how did those early returns hold up over the long haul?

In the American League East, the eventual champion Red Sox were already in first place. As is often the case, though, there were the Orioles, tempting their long-frustrated followers with a 10-7 start. The Yankees were at .500. Little did they know that they had just embarked on a seven-game losing streak that would portend a first half of mostly mediocre play.

In the Central Division, a plucky little team up in Minnesota was showing everybody how it was done, racking up an 11-5 start and leaving the 7-9 Indians in their wake. Right behind them were the White Sox, thumbing their nose at that 72-win PECOTA projection with a decent 9-7 opening. In the West, the A's were showing that reports of their demise were greatly exaggerated, riding a 9-8 start into first place.

In the National League East, the Phillies were letting the Mets and Braves have their way with things, stepping to the rear with a 5-11 overture. In the Central, the Cubs were letting yet another season slip away from them by dropping 10 of their first 17, while out in the West, the Dodgers had taken charge with a major league-best 13-5 record, burying the 7-11 Rockies six games in arrears.

If you come across anyone hyperventilating about the early going in 2008, be sure to point them to the before and after aspect of the historical standings page from this time last year. That ought to slow their breathing a bit.

Catch 'em If You Can; If Not…eh…

The Twins are off to a great start on the basepaths again this year, leading baseball with 19 swipes while getting caught only three times. That's the best percentage among teams that are running a lot. It's not as good as last year's jump, though. The Twins stole bases on their first 17 attempts in 2007. It wasn't until game number 22 that a Twin was nailed on the bases (Nick Punto, courtesy of Zack Greinke and John Buck of the Royals).

Twins sack thieves are picking up where they left off last year, with an overall success rate of about 73 percent. That's why taking A.J. Pierzynski to task for only catching 16 percent of those trying to steal against him last year doesn't strike me as valid criticism in these times of theft proliferation. (Furthermore, three different sources--Baseball Prospectus, Retrosheet, and ESPN.com--list Pierzynski's success rate in 2007 at 24.4 percent, not 16.)

Currently, only one catcher in the majors has thrown out over half those trying against him. Jesus Flores of the Nationals caught his one running foe so far. Even with the small sample sizes of April, the rest are already at 50 percent or below. Pierzynski is usually right around the major league average in this department--a department, by the way, that's importance is increasingly open to debate.

My Confession

This has been hard for me to say, but it was time the people who hired me at BP knew that I am five years older than I've been saying I am. Since I confessed it to them a couple of days ago in a memo, I've already begun to notice some signs of aging--as though the very lie was keeping me youthful. My typing has slowed down and I don't seem to be able to find the research I need as fast as I did when I was pretending to be five years younger. When I create an Excel spreadsheet now, the columns kind of interweave together and the numbers jump around, as though they were little bugs. When I watch games on the TV, I find myself asking announcers to repeat themselves. Can they even hear me? I don't think so, since they never heed my request. I'm also having trouble following the ball as it comes off the bat, even on slow-motion replays. This is what comes from lying, I suppose.

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