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06-26

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Flu-Like Symptoms: Defying the Odds
by
Rob Mains

06-22

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6

Flu-Like Symptoms: Giving 'Em LIP
by
Rob Mains

06-19

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Flu-Like Symptoms: Singles Aren't Scoring Like They Used To
by
Rob Mains

06-15

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Flu-Like Symptoms: Meanwhile, Down on the Farm
by
Rob Mains

06-12

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6

Flu-Like Symptoms: Jon Lester, Elite Running Game Suppressor
by
Rob Mains

06-08

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Flu-Like Symptoms: The Speed Aristocracy
by
Rob Mains

06-05

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8

Flu-Like Symptoms: The Golden Age of TOOTBLAN
by
Rob Mains

06-02

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3

Flu-Like Symptoms: The Vogelsong Awards: May
by
Rob Mains

05-31

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10

Flu-Like Symptoms: The Wishful Thinking of Andrew McCutchen
by
Rob Mains

05-25

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2

Flu-Like Symptoms: You Gotta Love a Slugfest
by
Rob Mains

05-22

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2

Flu-Like Symptoms: Detroit's Earthworm Preservation Society
by
Rob Mains

05-18

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20

Flu-Like Symptoms: A Taxing Problem
by
Rob Mains

05-15

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Flu-Like Symptoms: The Worst Bullpen in Baseball
by
Rob Mains

05-11

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6

Flu-Like Symptoms: The Democratization of Dingers
by
Rob Mains

05-08

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Flu-Like Symptoms: The Marlins' Rotation So Far
by
Rob Mains

05-03

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3

Flu-Like Symptoms: The Vogelsong Awards Return
by
Rob Mains

05-01

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Flu-Like Symptoms: Judge-Ment
by
Rob Mains

04-27

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12

Flu-Like Symptoms: Blowin’ in the Wins (Part 2)
by
Rob Mains

04-24

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2

Flu-Like Symptoms: Marte, McCutchen, and Foolish Consistencies
by
Rob Mains

04-20

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14

Flu-Like Symptoms: Wearing One
by
Rob Mains

04-17

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9

Flu-Like Symptoms: Blowin' In the Win
by
Rob Mains

04-13

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10

Flu-Like Symptoms: The Scary Consequence of the Strikeout Scourge
by
Rob Mains

04-10

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2

Flu-Like Symptoms: Tracking Payroll Trends
by
Rob Mains

04-06

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8

Flu-Like Symptoms: Payrolls: It's All Relative
by
Rob Mains

04-03

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4

Flu-Like Symptoms: April's Biggest Lies
by
Rob Mains

03-30

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6

Flu-Like Symptoms: Extreme Makeover: American League Edition
by
Rob Mains

03-27

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3

Flu-Like Symptoms: Extreme Makeover: National League Edition
by
Rob Mains

03-23

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4

Flu-Like Symptoms: Has the Modern Bullpen Killed Late-Inning Comebacks? (Part Two)
by
Rob Mains

03-20

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Flu-Like Symptoms: Has the Modern Bullpen Killed Late-Inning Comebacks? (Part One)
by
Rob Mains

03-16

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3

Flu-Like Symptoms: One Not-So-Fine Day: Reliever Edition
by
Rob Mains

03-13

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35

Flu-Like Symptoms: The Strategic Argument Against the DH
by
Rob Mains

03-10

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4

Flu-Like Symptoms: Power and Speed
by
Rob Mains

03-06

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11

Flu-Like Symptoms: One Not-So-Fine Day
by
Rob Mains

03-01

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3

Flu-Like Symptoms: In (Restrained) Praise of Dave Stewart
by
Rob Mains

02-20

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9

Flu-Like Symptoms: Fit to be Tied
by
Rob Mains

02-16

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8

Flu-Like Symptoms: The Profitability Canard
by
Rob Mains

02-13

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9

Flu-Like Symptoms: The Year of the Balk
by
Rob Mains

02-09

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15

Flu-Like Symptoms: Slaying the Extra-Innings Dragon
by
Rob Mains

02-07

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16

Flu-Like Symptoms: PECOTA and Moving Markets
by
Rob Mains

02-06

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1

Flu-Like Symptoms: Counting Cardinals
by
Rob Mains

02-02

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Flu-Like Symptoms: New Year's Resolutions: Team Hitting
by
Rob Mains

01-30

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2

Flu-Like Symptoms: New Year's Resolutions: Team Pitching
by
Rob Mains

01-26

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Flu-Like Symptoms: New Year's Resolutions: Command
by
Rob Mains

01-23

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2

Flu-Like Symptoms: New Year's Resolutions: Control
by
Rob Mains

01-19

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2

Flu-Like Symptoms: New Year's Resolutions: Pitchers' Plate Discipline
by
Rob Mains

01-16

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9

Flu-Like Symptoms: New Year's Resolutions: Hitters' Plate Discipline
by
Rob Mains

01-12

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3

Flu-Like Symptoms: New Year's Resolutions: Ground-ball Pitchers
by
Rob Mains

01-09

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Flu-Like Symptoms: New Year's Resolutions: Ground-ball Hitters
by
Rob Mains

01-05

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12

Flu-Like Symptoms: New Year's Resolutions: Going the Other Way
by
Rob Mains

12-20

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7

Flu-Like Symptoms: How Versatility Became Cool
by
Rob Mains

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June 26, 2017 6:00 am

Flu-Like Symptoms: Defying the Odds

0

Rob Mains

Every streak has an exception, and we've got the weird teams to prove it.

Saturday, in an 8-3 victory over the Rays, three Orioles pitchers (Dylan Bundy, Donnie Hart, and Mychal Givens) ended Baltimore’s streak of 20 straight games with five or more runs allowed.

I’d become aware of the streak a week earlier, at the BP Ballpark Event in Baltimore. (If you haven’t been to these before, they’re really fun, and you can still get tickets for the events in Pittsburgh and Minnesota.) Sitting in the stands, watching the Orioles beat the Cardinals 15-7, a couple of the knowledgeable fans who were with us pointed out that the O’s had given up five or more runs in what was then a near-record 13 consecutive games.

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How worn down are worn-down relievers after all?

On June 13, Andrew Miller relieved Trevor Bauer with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth inning of the Indians' game against the Dodgers, tied at 2-2. He struck out Yasiel Puig to end the inning and retired all three batters he faced in the seventh. In the top of the eighth, though, he allowed a home run to Cody Bellinger and a single to Yasmani Grandal. He was pulled in favor of Bryan Shaw. Miller took the loss.

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Teams are becoming less and less dependent on singles to generate runs.

Last year, I wrote about how singles have been in a steady decline, setting an all-time low (as a percentage of plate appearances) in 2016. Today, I’m going to look at singles and something to which singles are related: Runs. Runs aren’t headed in the same direction as singles, as this chart encompassing the 30-team era shows.

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Does losing in the majors and winning in the minors eventually lead to long-term success?

I was going to show you two lists of major-league teams, ranked highest to lowest. There are 30 teams, so that kind of list can run pretty long. Maybe you don’t like reading tables with 30 lines. So I’ll do you a favor. I’ll shorten the first list for you. It’ll still make my point, but you won’t have to plow through as many rows.

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June 12, 2017 6:00 am

Flu-Like Symptoms: Jon Lester, Elite Running Game Suppressor

6

Rob Mains

The unexpected success of the man who wouldn't throw to first.

One of the most unexpected events of the month—heck, of the season—occurred on Saturday, June 3, in the fifth inning of the Cardinals-Cubs game:

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June 8, 2017 6:00 am

Flu-Like Symptoms: The Speed Aristocracy

0

Rob Mains

Billy Hamilton, Dee Gordon, and the Gini Coefficient.

Last month, I introduced the Gini Coefficient, a statistic better known for measuring income inequality, as a way to measure inequality among home run hitters. The conclusion was that as home runs have become more prevalent, their distribution has become more equal: There is less inequality among home run hitters (measured by the Gini Coefficient for home runs among all batters with 50 or more plate appearances) than ever before, and inequality has steadily declined since the Babe Ruth-dominated 1920s. The record number of home runs in recent years has been the product of more and more batters hitting 20-plus, not a handful of standouts hitting 40, 50, or more.

I thought that was an interesting finding. By and large, there hasn’t been that kind of shift in baseball. Take strikeouts. You probably know that strikeouts have been steadily increasing, pretty much throughout baseball history. Here’s a chart showing the percentage of all strikeouts per season generated by the top strikeout hitters, where “top” is defined as the n players with the most strikeouts, and n equals the number of teams in the league (e.g. the top 16 through 1959 and top 30 since 1998):

I threw in a trendline for you, but you really don’t need it. The percentage of strikeouts generated by the “strikeout elite” has declined, but ever so slightly. It barely counts.

The Gini Coefficient for batter strikeouts concurs. It measures inequality on a scale from 0 (perfect equality) to 1 (perfect inequality). As with my work with home runs, I’m using every player with 50 or more plate appearances in this analysis:

That’s not much of a trend. The distribution of strikeouts has remained pretty constant over the years. And that’s how most metrics worked. Singles? Pretty flat. Doubles? Becoming a little more equal, but at a very slow rate. Walks? Almost no change, year to year. Nothing I found is as dramatic as the increasing equality of home run hitters. Nobody dominates home runs in baseball the way Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Hack Wilson did in the late 1920s.

But I did find one area in which baseball is becoming less egalitarian rather than more: Speed. Of the traditional baseball stats, the two that correlate best to speed are triples and stolen bases. Yes, we have advanced stats, like BRR, but let’s concentrate on those that fans can see at the ballpark or on TV.

Stolen bases are an obvious speed statistic. Last year, Billy Hamilton—we all agree he’s fast, right?—had 58 stolen bases. Billy Butler, arguably the slowest player in baseball, has five ... combined in his 10 major-league seasons. Fast guys steal bases. Slow guys don’t.

Let’s first look at the stolen bases by elite basestealers—again, I’m defining this as the top n basestealers per year, where n is the number of teams in the majors—as a percentage of all stolen bases.

That’s not a straight upward trend, the way the proportion of home runs hit by elite sluggers has been mostly straight down, but the direction is generally upward. Through 1930, the top 16 basestealers accounted for fewer than 30 percent of all stolen bases. The last time that occurred was 1941. That peak, when it topped 40 percent, fell mostly between 1958 and 1973, when stolen bases were in a long-term trough (the only years with fewer than 0.5 stolen bases per team per game were 1930-1972) and a few basestealers (notably Lou Brock, Bert Campaneris, Maury Wills, and Luis Aparicio) were dominant.

The gradual concentration of base stealing among an elite handful of players is reflected in the Gini Coefficient as well.

Stolen bases have always been the province of a handful of players; the low-water Gini Coefficient of 0.64 in 1920 isn’t really all that low. But while recent years are more egalitarian than the 1950s-1960s peak of inequality, the general trend is that stolen bases are becoming more unequal, not less.

Why should that be? Well, stolen bases, unlike most batting outcomes, include a measure of discretion. Batters don’t look into the dugout to see if the manager is flashing the “hit a home run” sign. Hitters don’t think that taking a walk isn’t worth the risk if their team’s trailing by four in the late innings. While some base stealers have a permanent green light, most are sent at the discretion of their coaches.

Yet, despite cries that base stealing is lost art (cries that are not something new), and evidence that teams are not attempting steals as often as they should, stolen base attempts are not out of line with historical averages:

So what’s going on? I think it’s a combination of two factors. First, managers are more aware of run and win expectancies than they were in the past, so they’re less likely to call for a stolen base when they are more likely to result in the loss of a precious out. Here’s a graph of stolen base success rates:

When you’re being judicious in attempting steals, you’re going to concentrate your attempts with your very best base stealers.

The second factor is, again, run and win expectancy tables, but from the point of view of the batter rather than the baserunner. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to send Jonathan Villar when Eric Thames is at the plate, since a dinger will score Villar from first base just as easily as from second base. In a rising run environment, stolen bases are less valuable on the margin—you might as well stay put and wait for someone to drive you in—making their value, again, less appealing for all but the best basestealers.

Triples, though, are another story. Yes, there are situations when a runner doesn’t want to risk stretching a double, but for the most part, triples are the outcome of skill, not choice. And the concentration of triples among the top hitters is indisputable.


Like stolen bases, this was a pretty concentrated distribution in the first place. But it’s become more concentrated as the years have gone by (even though there have been some incongruous leaders).

Inequality in baseball? There’s not much evidence of it when players have bats in their hands. But once they start running, things become much more stratified. Billy Hamilton, Dee Gordon, and Trea Turner (top three in stolen bases, among league leaders in triples) are in the contemporary baserunning one percent.

Thanks to Rob Arthur for Gini Coefficient consultation.

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Ryan Theriot would be so proud.

On Thursday, May 11, there were only 11 games scheduled, and one of them, Baltimore at Washington, was rained out. Two of the remaining 10 games had notable endings.

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Honoring the best of the overlooked.

This monthly award is named in honor of Ryan Vogelsong who, in 2011:

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May 31, 2017 6:00 am

Flu-Like Symptoms: The Wishful Thinking of Andrew McCutchen

10

Rob Mains

Andrew McCutchen bouncing back seemed reasonable, but maybe it shouldn't have been.

Last year was a sad one for Andrew McCutchen and the Pirates. The team finished 78-83, 25 games behind the Cubs in the National League Central, breaking a streak of three straight postseason appearances (yes, as a Wild Card, but still). And one of the reasons for the downturn was the former MVP, who had hit .298/.388/.496 over his seven-year career in Pittsburgh. In 2016, the man whose 2015 BP Annual comment simply said, “Practically the perfect franchise player,” slumped to .256/.336/.430, all career lows.

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Two teams, double-digit runs, by decade.

Recently on Effectively Wild, listener Andrew emailed: “How many runs need to be scored in a game in order for it to be considered a slugfest? Is it strictly a runs thing? Do a certain amount of home runs need to be hit? Do both teams need to be doing the slugging?”

Hosts Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan kicked around the definition of a slugfest. They didn’t come up with a firm definition, though Lindbergh thought that both teams had to score double-digit runs.

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May 22, 2017 6:00 am

Flu-Like Symptoms: Detroit's Earthworm Preservation Society

2

Rob Mains

Tigers pitchers keep it in the air.

Balls hit in the air are one of the big stories of the 2017 season. A record number of them are going over the fence, but the larger narrative has been about how players are seeking to hit more balls in the air—elevate is the term of choice—with improved results. Ryan Zimmerman—nearly stick-a-fork-in-him done last year, MVP contender this year—is the poster child, but greater launch angles have been a theme throughout the game.

Rob Arthur of FiveThirtyEight has pointed out that this hasn’t necessarily benefited hitters, but it is, if nothing else, a thing. How big a thing? Well, through games of Saturday (all 2017 statistics in this article are through Saturday), 45.7 percent of batted balls have been hit on the ground this year, compared to 46.1 percent in 2016, which in turn was lower than 2015’s 47.0 percent. So far this year, batters are hitting ground balls at the lowest rate since 2011.

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May 18, 2017 6:00 am

Flu-Like Symptoms: A Taxing Problem

20

Rob Mains

Do high taxes drive away athletes?

The Wall Street Journal op-ed section is not known for its fondness for taxes. So it wasn’t a surprise, at least in terms of the editorial board’s predilections, to see this headline earlier this month: “Tax Rates and Professional Losers: A new study says high taxes could cost your team a championship.”

I’ve included a link, but the article is behind the WSJ’s paywall, so I’ll summarize the argument for non-subscribers. The key paragraph:

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