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September 22, 2000

From The Mailbag

Umpire Stolen Base Rates and Scott Sheldon

by Baseball Prospectus

Tough Cops... and Other Ones

I just finished reading your article about umpires and stolen-base percentage. I just want to point out one factor that you did not consider in your article which throws all your statistics out the window. You did not mention whether they made the right call or not. If Chuck Meriwether called out 41 of 55 base stealers and he was correct on every one of them, then there is no bias. It would be better for you to look at which umpires make the correct call as opposed to those who don't get the call right as much.

Until you add in the "correct call" factor, you cannot say or prove that there is any bias.


Actually my article does address the "correct call" factor in an indirect way. For example, Terry Cooney called out 46% of basestealers, while Larry Goetz called out 23%, in over 550 attempts each. There are two possible explanations:

  1. The runners attempting steals with Goetz at second were much better basestealers than those with Cooney at second (and/or the pitchers/catchers were worse)

  2. Cooney was making more incorrect out calls than Goetz (and/or Goetz was making more incorrect safe calls than Cooney).

If the explanation is (1), what could cause that? It's not just chance--the sample size is too large for that big a disparity to be random. There might be other reasons for (1), and I could be convinced with more evidence, but at this point I'm skeptical. Given the evidence I've seen so far, I find (2) to be a much more plausible explanation of the disparity.

--Michael Wolverton

Interesting article. Perhaps the umpires towards the extremes in calling out would-be stealers are paired with umpires who have extremely large/small strikezones?


Yes, I thought about the possible role that the home plate umpire might play in these numbers. My best theory is that the plate umpire would have his biggest impact in the number of steal attempts, not the CS%. For example, a small zone would mean more runners which would mean more opportunities for steals.

However, you could imagine some ways that the home ump could influence CS% as well. For example, a small strike zone might mean the pitcher has to throw more fastballs, which could mean more caught stealings.

Like I said before, there's plenty of room for me and others to look into these issues in more detail.

--Michael Wolverton

Scott Sheldon

I'm hoping one of you will help me out with this. It's a silly trivial point regarding Scott Sheldon's 9-positions-in-one-game feat, but it's driving me crazy.

My question concerns the inning where Sheldon pitched to one batter. If I remember it correctly, Sheldon came in from left field to pitch, and Pedro Valdes came in to play left, at which point, because Sheldon is still in the active batting order, there were 10 active batters because for one third of an inning Mike Lamb and Valdes (who came in to bat in Lamb's slot in the batting order) were in the game at the same time. Is this possible? Unless Matt Perisho (the pitcher who Sheldon relieved) played LF while Sheldon pitched, it would seem that there's a glitch here. Valdes replaced Lamb in the batting order, but apparently they were both in the field at the same time. is this possible or did a rule get overlooked here in this admittedly unimportant 13-1 blowout?


It's a good question. My suspicion is that the Rangers lost their designated hitter once Sheldon became the pitcher, and that Valdes entered the game in the DH's spot in the order. But I can't find anything in the DH rule (major league rule 6.10) that says that explicitly. The DH rule is clear that the Rangers lost their DH when Sheldon went to another position one out later, but what if he had finished the inning?

Here's the reasoning I would use if I were umping that game: If the Rangers are bringing in a player, they have to designate the player in the lineup that he's replacing. The only spot he could possibly replace is the DH's spot, so Valdes technically entered the game as DH and then immediately moved to left. Once the DH becomes a fielder, the Rangers lose their DH (under rule 6.10).

It's a stretch, but that's the best interpretation I can come up with.

--Michael Wolverton

Transaction Analysis

While I almost always read Transaction Analysis and nod my head in approval, I have to beg to differ with the Seattle section of the piece that concludes that Brian Lesher would possibly be a nice post-season roster addition as a pinch-hitter for John Olerud. The argument has as its basis Olerud's .660 OPS this season against lefties. I'd argue that this season isn't nearly a large enough sample size to interpret much from it. Over the past three seasons (97-99), in a sample size of 463 at bats, Olerud has produced .298/.419/.434. And on a team with as many weaknesses at the Mariners have, there is no need to have a partner for a guy putting up a .853 OPS against lefties. Olerud did also have a poor '99 season against lefties (.247/.380/.325 in 166 at bats). And if you want to argue that '99 + '00 should lead to a guy like a guy like Lesher possibly making the post-season roster, then I think that could be a valid argument. But considering the many other weak spots, I still think the Lesher audition for a post-season roster is probably a mistake.


Generally speaking, I agree, up to a point. Single-season platoon data is never enough in itself to draw final conclusions about a player and his need to be platooned; if anyone did, we'd rush into silly judgments about Jeff Bagwell or Frank Thomas, either of whom have had enormous swings in performance against lefties over the years. That said, I nevertheless see good reasons for using Lesher on ocassion.

Beyond this season, what has Olerud's differential been since the '94 strike?

1999: .380 OBP, .325 SLG
1998: .467 OBP, .513 SLG
1997: .414 OBP, .476 SLG
1996: .301 OBP, .281 SLG
1995: .333 OBP, .350 SLG

I'd argue that using a three year sample ranging from 97-99 is not indicative of Olerud's career pattern. Four of the last six years would give us the general hint that Olerud is simply not as good a hitter against left-handed pitching, so I feel pretty comfortable stating that a platoon mate for left-handed starters that just blow left-handed batters away is not a bad thing to have if you're the Mariners.

--Chris Kahrl

The Rest

I'm confused. Looking at your analysis of team pitching, I see that Phillies pitching seems pretty damned good this year--yet the team is really stinking it up.

If their pitching is that good, why isn't the team better?


Unfortunately for the Phillies, teams do not live by starting pitching alone. While Philadelphia has quietly turned out one of the league's elite starting rotations this year, their offense has been embarrassing (fourth worst in the majors by EqA and last in the NL in runs scored), and their bullpen has been even worse (third worst in the majors by ARP).

It's essentially a case of bad timing for the Phillies; if they'd gotten this year's starting pitching performance along with their 1999 levels of offense and relief pitching (above average in both cases), they'd be in contention for a playoff spot right now.

--Michael Wolverton

I've been having an email exchange with a Tigers fan in Ann Arbor for the greater portion of the morning. He's planning on going to see Steve Sparks face off against Tim Wakefield during the BoSox' visit to Detroit, and was wondering when the last time two knuckleballers matched up as starters versus each other.


Though it hasn't happened this year yet (unless I've forgotten about a knuckleballer who's still around), it did happen three times last year all involving Tim Wakefield (albeit once was as a relief appearance):

August 28, 1999

PITCHER              TEA A IP      H   R  ER  BB  SO
-------------------- --- - ----- --- --- --- --- ---
SSparks/ANA          ANA S 5.1     6   6   6   4   1
TWakefield/BOS       BOS S 6.1     9   4   3   1   1

May 2, 1999

PITCHER              TEA A IP      H   R  ER  BB  SO
-------------------- --- - ----- --- --- --- --- ---
TWakefield/BOS       BOS S 3.0     6   4   4   5   1
TCandiotti/OAK       OAK S 5.0    11   5   5   1   1

August 6, 1999

PITCHER              TEA A IP      H   R  ER  BB  SO
-------------------- --- - ----- --- --- --- --- ---
SSparks/ANA          ANA S 6.0     6   3   3   5   4
TWakefield/BOS       BOS R 1.0     0   0   0   0   0

--Keith Woolner

I'm not sure if you can help solve an office question, but the other day at the water cooler the guys and I were trying to figure out who holds the record for fewest pitches thrown in a complete (9 inning) major league game.


The lowest recorded pitch count for a 9-inning game is held by the Braves' Red Barrett, who threw a 58-pitch complete game in 1944.

--Mat Olkin

I'm 16, and for the past couple of years I've wanted to become a general manager of a professional baseball team. I realize that I'm not going to wake up some morning and be one. I was hoping you could give me some information on what I need to do to get started. Taking sports management courses in college seems like a good idea. Anything you could tell me would be great.


Unfortunately, the easiest way to get a job in a major league front office is to play baseball first. Hopefully, you've got a good curve or a flashy pivot move. The contacts you make during even a one year major league career have proven themselves invaluable over and over again.

Failing that, I can give you the same advice I would give anyone looking to work in a specific industry or company. The most important thing you can do to further your efforts is to get a job in the organization--and I mean any job: shuffling mail and running for coffee certainly apply. You have an added advantage: at this point in your life, with your parents hopefully still covering your living expenses, you can and should consider working for free for a club.

The upshot? This gets you in the door, and people meet you. If you do a good job, are enthusiastic and people-friendly, and show that you are knowledgeable about baseball in a non-obnoxious fashion, you've got a huge advantage over a bunch of people emailing in resumes when it comes time for management to fill the next open position. The company I work at doesn't have anything to do with baseball, but it is considered a desirable place to work and I get questions like this sometimes. I've seen people work their way up from suboptimal positions and pay grades into really good jobs by taking this point of view, rather than being choosy and waiting for their "dream job" to suddenly materialize in front of them.

Of course, while you are doing this, continuing your education never hurts. Sports management is a reasonable option, if that's what interests you. Teams also need management familiar with contract law, public relations, and advertising.

Several executives in MLB have taken this route to their current positions, and it's certainly the tactic I would recommend.

If you can dance, you could try the MC Hammer route with some current owners, though I wouldn't chance it with Peter Angelos. Try not to imitate Hammer's moves too closely. Nobody likes a poseur. And remember: no matter how cool you think that "Lickey Boom Boom Down" song is, keep your Snow album at home until you're confident of your job security.

Best of luck.

--Dave Pease

We'd love to hear your thoughts on anything baseball-related at info@baseballprospectus.com. We'll publish the best of what we get frequently at www.baseballprospectus.com.

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