Ken brings the Funck with the first 21 of his 42 personal tenets of the game.
I have engaged in baseball conversations with a greater number of people in the past year since becoming a contributor to Baseball Prospectus than in the previous five years combined. Casual acquaintances, or good friends who aren’t particularly baseball zealots, have been interested in hearing what I write about, and how it might differ from what they read in the local paper or see on ESPN. Mostly these conversations are exceedingly pleasant, since like most people I like to talk about myself, and I can spend time pretending to be an “expert” with a willing audience to discuss concepts that many people have never really heard about or considered.
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A look at the surprise home run hitters of 2010, relative to their pre-season PECOTA forecasts.
On Tuesday night in Kansas City, Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista launched his major league-leading 26th home run, continuing one of the most unexpected power surges in recent memory. Long known as a journeyman with decent patience and a modicum of power, few expected Bautista at this stage of his career to suddenly turn into a long-ball machine. It’s always fun to see players suddenly show a propensity for the long ball—perhaps we identify with players who manage the baseball equivalent of the young Marty McFly balling up his fist and decking Biff with an unexpected haymaker.
Should the mainstream media be introducing sabermetric concepts into baseball analysis?
Let’s say you’re at the water cooler at work, or some other casual environment surrounded by acquaintances, and the conversation turns to baseball. Someone states that Jimmy Sticks is the best pitcher in the league since he has the best record; others back Jamar Pickett, who has the lowest earned run average. You happen to know that Sticks has gotten the most run support of any starter in the league, while Pickett pitches in front of a great defense in the most pitcher-friendly home park in the league, and neither player is in the top 10 in Support Neutral Win Percentage. What do you say?
A look at the best and worst free agent signings, at least at the season's midpoint, from last winter.
Like most sports fans, over time I’ve developed a love/hate relationship with the concept of free agency. Since I happen to root for a team that’s seemingly gone a galactic year since last winning a title, the idea of getting something for nothing (since it’s not my money being spent) and adding a player for “free” is a powerful one. From an entertainment perspective there’s something to be said for the off-season interest that the annual free agent feeding frenzy engenders, while on a sociopolitical level it’s hard to argue with the concept of a worker bargaining his own worth on the open market.
One man's exercise in trying to see what's involved in reviewing umpire calls.
In the weeks since Jim Joyce’s missed call at first base transformed Armando Galarraga’s rare perfecto into an even more memorable faux-hitter, lots has been said and written about expanding the use of instant replay in baseball. Some have come out against any increased use of technology to correct umpire mistakes, a few with arguments seemingly cribbed from King Ludd, but most with reasonable concerns about game length, undermining authority, and the difficulty of determining where to place runners after an overturned call. Others have supported increased use of replay in various forms, from allowing managers a set number of challenges, to the installation of a replay umpire to intervene when a suspicious call is made. While polls have shown a surprising lack of support among players for replay, a majority of fans seem to like the idea, and Bud Selig has at least tepidly agreed to ask his curiously-constructed “on-field matters” committee to explore the idea.
Pitchers are having more problems in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings than ever before.
Pretend for a moment that you’ve been hired to direct a major-league baseball team’s pitching staff, yet have no knowledge of current or historical pitcher-usage patterns. After pinching yourself to make sure you weren’t in the middle of a Walter Mitty daydream, and ignoring Groucho’s timeless advice by joining an organization that would choose you for such an important job, how would you go about structuring your staff? Your overriding concerns, of course, would be to: (a) allow the fewest runs possible; (b) keep your best pitchers healthy (unless you insist on remaining altruistic in the midst of a competitive environment, in which case you’ll probably try to keep all your pitchers healthy); and (c) ensure that those runs which are allowed are timed such as to add up to the fewest losses.
Cubs closer Carlos Marmol is on his way to setting a record for least contact allowed in a season.
As you may have noticed, Stephen Strasburg made his major-league debut last night. While the MLB Network crew virtually doused themselves in superlatives and set themselves on fire before, during and after the broadcast, Strasburg managed to live up to the hype, earning his first win and striking out 14 batters in seven innings without allowing a walk. The interwebs are rife with tales of Strasburg’s poise, his triple-digit fastball, and the command he displayed with his four-pitch arsenal.
Jim Joyce would not be the villian in the Armando Galarraga near-pefect game saga if MLB took full advantage of technology.
On Wednesday night, Jim Joyce blew a call at first base. It wasn’t the first call he’s gotten wrong, nor will it be the last. Other umpires also made bad calls yesterday—some because they were out of position, some because they’ve consciously decided not to enforce baseball’s rules exactly as written, but most because the human eye and brain are fallible. Everyone who’s played a sport of any kind knows this—as a player, you can be sure a volleyball was out, not just barely out but out by a foot, only to have every one of your teammates tell you they were sure it hit the line. None of this is news, and none of this is a tragedy—or at least it wouldn’t be, had the men who run Major League Baseball not consciously decided to ensure that it would become one but putting Jim Joyce alone on an island without any help.
The Phillies and Brewers combined for an amazing six lefty-on-lefty home runs on May 14 and hardly anyone noticed.
As Christina Kahrl has said, one of baseball’s well-worn tropes is that every game provides you the opportunity to see something you’ve never seen before. When you buy your ticket and settle into your seat, you hope to witness something unique, or historic, or even comic, but in a marathon season of roughly 2,430 games, not every game can be so obviously special—and the May 14 game between the Phillies and Brewers, in which the visitors from Philadelphia beat Milwaukee 9-5, appeared to be just such a mundane early-season contest. Ageless wonder Jamie Moyer ran his record to 5-2 on the season, key off-season acquisition Randy Wolf fell to 3-3 for the Brewers, and Milwaukee’s continued pitching woes managed to drag them five games under .500 for the year. Just another win for Philadelphia; just another loss for the struggling Brew Crew; just another box score to digest and forget.
A number of young hurlers are making strong comebacks in 2010.
Last week in this space, I took a look at hitters who had already exceeded their 2009 VORP in the early stages of 2010 and tried to determine whether those players were likely to build on their exceptional starts. This week, I’ll be doing the same for pitchers. I’ve selected the five starters and five relievers who have achieved the greatest VORP bouncebacks so far this year, compared to last year’s VORP tally or, for players that put up negative VORP performances last year, a replacement-level zero VORP. To make the starter list, a pitcher must have thrown at least 90 innings last season, while the cutoff for relievers is 40 innings. Those performance benchmarks are designed to ensure the players selected pitched significantly, if poorly, last season, and are off to a good start, rather than off to a mediocre start that’s much better than their disastrous 2009 numbers.
Ty Wigginton and Alex Rios are among many hitters who are far exceeding their 2009 production.
It’s mid-May, and now that the clanging stampede at the starting gate has faded, baseball is starting to settle into its normal, quiet rhythms. Division races are beginning to take some shape. Metrics are starting to develop some sample-size heft. The cream is rising to the top, with names like Ethier, Morneau, Cabrera, Cano, and Pujols holding most of the top spots on the VORP leaderboard. And there, wedged between Ryan Braun and Chase Utley, you’ll find Ty Wigginton and his 20.6 VORP.
A look at how a sabermetrician would have viewed a memorable Saturday afternoon game at Wrigley Field nearly 26 years ago.
It started as an ordinary Saturday afternoon game between a third-place club and a fifth-place club—sure, there were NBC broadcasters there, but not the main announcing team of Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola. They were in Atlanta calling the marquee matchup between Fernando Valenzuela and Pascual Perez, while this game featured a rookie starter looking for his first major-league win, and a nondescript veteran with a career 54-57 record. Before it was over, however, one player would hit for the cycle, another would stroke a bases-loaded pinch-hit single in extra innings to win the game, and neither would be remembered as the game’s hero. This Cubs/Cardinals tilt at Wrigley Field was one for the annals, and if you’ve ponied up the cash to log onto CompuServe to read this you probably want more detailed analysis than you’re likely to find in Monday's USA Today—and that’s what I’ll try to provide, along with some statistical tidbits from the recent cutting-edge work of “sabermetricians” Bill James, John Thorn, and Pete Palmer.