Almost no popular statistic will be "worthless," exactly, and a good discourse might require more specific objections.
I’ve spent a lot of time recently, much more than I care to admit, discussing the end-of-season awards with casual fans. I don’t know why, but it’s something I do. I think that baseball fans becoming generally more informed is a good thing for all concerned. I have no illusions that my ranting and raving actually accomplishes that, but I keep chasing that carrot (often in blatantly unproductive ways). Anyway, something good came out of it, because I’ve had an idea about how to improve this sort of discourse, from our sabermetrically-inclined end. It’s not an entirely new idea—Bill James, for one, has talked about things like this quite a bit over the years—but it’s one I think it’s worth calling back to mind now and then, and I hope I might have a slightly different way of framing it.
You know what the big debate going on right now is—and, no worries, this post won’t actually touch on thatwholething at all—and you can imagine that certain issues are coming up a lot. Things like the value of RBI and batting average. Elsewhere—in discussing David Price vs. Justin Verlander for the Cy Young Award, for instance—pitcher wins come up quite a bit.
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Ichiro Suzuki's major-league career has been great, but, because of where he was born, it will be short. Will it be enough for Hall of Fame voters?
Despite what has been a tremendous week for Ichiro Suzuki (he hit .533/.563/.867 from September 19th to 24th), there's been understandable speculation that one of baseball's most iconic figures is coming toward the end of the line. Not that he has to, but if he retires at the end of the year, Ichiro will finish somewhere north of 2600 hits in 12 Major League seasons, with two batting titles, the single-season record for hits, in excess of 450 stolen bases, 10 (consecutive) Gold Gloves and All-Star appearances, a Rookie of the Year award and an AL MVP. It's a short but storied MLB career, and it's going to lead to a lot of questions about whether Ichiro belongs in the Hall of Fame.
There's no doubt that, at his peak, Ichiro was a Hall of Fame-level talent. The problem, of course, is that his career in the majors began when he was 27. If he retired this year, Ichiro would finish with fewer than 2000 games. Historically, the Hall of Fame has found a place for players with short careers. Indeed, 48 players who played the majority of their careers in the 20th and 21st centuries have made the HOF despite finishing below that playing time threshold. These players even include inner circle Hall of Famers like Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson, Arky Vaughan, Hank Greenberg and Home Run Baker.
Why are shortstops so bad this year, and does it mean anything for the future?
We know that positional strength comes and goes in cycles, like most other things in life. The early and mid-90s were great for first basemen and elite starting pitchers, the late 90s and early aughts for shortstops. The time since then has mostly been dominated by Albert Pujols, but it’s been pretty excellent for outfielders and second basemen, too. We can debate those classifications, I suppose, but you get the idea.
Over the last few years, though, I’d argue that the fates have shaken things out more or less evenly. In 2010, the MLB top 20 position players by WARP included at least one of every position but catcher (Joe Mauer came in at 22); in 2011, the top 12 had one at every position. The top 20 for 2012 includes 11 outfielders, three third basemen, three catchers, two second basemen, and, shockingly, just one first baseman. I’m pretty sure that each of the last three seasons has been branded the Year of the Pitcher at one point or another, but I’m not sure that’s totally justified, either; there are great pitchers, of course, but not so many or so dominant that they seem to dominate the sport.
I was flabbergasted when I heard the news today, relayed by Craig Calcaterra at Hardball Talk, that Keith Hernandez was considering shaving his mustache. It's not that facial hair is invariably a good thing, but it does give its wearer additional texture and makes him more interesting. Hernandez's soup-sopper has been a part of his face since the 1970s and has been an iconic representation of the man and what he stands for. Let's be honest, without the mustache, Keith Hernandez would be no more loved and appreciated today than his baseball doppelganger, John Olerud.
Both are undeniably fine ballplayers. Smooth-swinging lefty first basemen with line drive swings, excellent patience, and slick gloves. Heck, they played the same number of years, finished within 60 hits and 15 runs scored of one another, and are separated by one point of OPS+ (Olerud 129 vs Hernandez 128).
Some players get hit by pitches so often that it must be a skill. But is it a good skill to have?
You don’t read much about the hit by pitch, except tangentially, and then only when some pitcher gets in trouble for throwing at some hitter. For the most part, the HBP just isn’t that interesting; it doesn’t happen often, and when it does, it doesn’t mean all that much. The run-value result of an HBP is basically indistinguishable from that of a walk, and it happens about a tenth as often. HBPs can be exciting or aggravating or scary when they happen while you’re watching a game, but after the fact, if no one got hurt or suspended, they’re hard to care about.
Some guys are really, really good at getting hit, though, and I’ve always thought they were pretty interesting. Carlos Quentin is the overall leader among players to have compiled at least 2000 plate appearances since 1961 (I put the cutoff, somewhat arbitrarily, at the onset of the 162-game schedule; here’sthetop 200)—he’s been hit by pitches in 4.1 percent of his career plate appearances, better than the career walk rates of Yuniesky Betancourt, Miguel Olivo and Bengie Molina. All those plunkings do add up; if Quentin’s 4.1 percent HBP rate were reduced to the 2012 NL average of 0.76 percent, he’d have 21 career HBP instead of 112, and his career .349 OBP would drop all the way to .326.
The Red Sox aren't the first team to fight with their manager, and they won't be the first to regret it, either.
OK, stop me if you've heard this before:
A controversial and attention-seeking manager of a major market team antagonizes a popular leader on a team that was expecting to contend for the pennant and faces a revolt in the clubhouse, resulting in team meetings, front office involvment, and bold pronouncements. And the whole drama plays out in the press.
Bill revisits a question raised on this site earlier in the season, and asks whether Heyward's excellent two months give us a more definitive answer.
There needs to be a catchy two-word phrase, along the lines of “gambler’s fallacy” or “winner’s curse,” for the understandable but generally ill-advised thought pattern that gets applied to guys like Jason Heyward. The rule underlying the fallacy is something like: the more hype a prospect receives upon his debut, the more overlooked and underrated he will become as soon as (inevitably) it turns out that he can’t immediately become Willie Mays or Albert Pujols.
It’s an exceptionally clunkily-worded rule, which is why we need the title phrase.
The Blue Jays called up a promising minor-league outfielder to replace Jose Bautista. The Blue Jays called up the wrong promising minor-league outfielder to replace Jose Baustista.
As you’ve probably seen, the Blue Jays got some tough (and slightly weird) news on Monday night, when Jose Bautista felt some pretty powerful discomfort in his wrist after crushing a long foul ball, and had to leave the game. X-rays and an MRI all came back fine, but it nonetheless worried the Blue Jays enough that they placed him on the DL Tuesday. He’s out until at least August, meaning that Bautista—who had played in each of the Jays’ first 90 games—will be limited to no more than the 149 he played last year.
It’s a huge and potentially fatal blow to a team whose playoffchances were mostly wishes and dreams anyway, but these kinds of unfortunate events invariably mean a great opportunity for somebody. In this case, that somebody is Anthony Gose, a not-yet-22-year-old outfielder who is one of the fastest players in pro ball (and who was acquired from the Astros in 2010 in a trade for Brett Wallace, essentially his antithesis). He’s perhaps the fourth-best prospect in a very deep farm system, ranking 68th in Kevin Goldstein’s preseason top 100.
MLB lets everything go dark for two whole days after the All-Star break. That's a mistake.
I got back into town last night just before the first pitch of the All-Star Game, after spending a week at a cabin in the Internetless north woods of these United States. As such, my last seven days has been much more of this:
Do you appreciate what Omar Vizquel has done? That is to say, do you really, really appreciate it?
Last Saturday, the Blue Jays were in the middle of scoring six runs in the ninth inning against an imploding Marlins bullpen, to break a 1-1 tie and roll to a 7-1 win. With one out in the inning, one run already in, and runners on second and third, the Jays called on a little-used utility infielder, then hitting .228/.267/.228, to pinch-hit for pitcher Darren Oliver (whose career batting line is actually a tick better than that, but being an American League middle reliever, he hasn’t swung a bat since 2006). The pinch-hitter grounded into a fielder’s choice, with the runner on third gunned down at home, but would later come around to score on Colby Rasmus’ three-run homer.
That unsuccessful pinch-hit appearance isn’t the kind of thing that would generally kick off a Baseball Prospectus piece (especially four days later), and I can’t think of a single reason why it ever should, except that the pinch-hitter in this case was Omar Vizquel. And Omar Vizquel is 45 years old, and still (occasionally) playing in a major-league middle infield. On Tuesday, Vizquel announced that he planstoretire after this season.
Fredi Gonzalez's bullpen usage has had a major overhaul, but one reliever is resisting the change.
Fredi Gonzalez swore he would change, and he has. Dusty Baker never learned to love Mark Bellhorn, and Joe Torre never became a young player’s manager, but Gonzalez took the bullpen pedal off the floor. The Braves' manager started the 2011 season racing his bullpen around every turn, and by September the team was left with bald tires and in need of a pit-stop just sort of the finish line, blowing an eight-game lead to lose the wild card to the St. Louis Cardinals. It was the biggest collapse in National League history. When the season ended, Gonzalez promised that next year would be different, and he changed… but perhaps he isn’t the only Brave who needs to adjust his strategy.
Gonzalez’s mantra in early 2011 was win early and win often, seemingly viewing nearly every game as an opportunity to use one of his big relievers Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty, and closer Craig Kimbrel—a three-headed, three-armed force of despair and dashed hopes for a comeback. If the Vikings sacked villages and carried off its riches, the VOK-ings sacked opposing hitters and carried off their manhoods. Gonzalez went to them even if the situation didn’t follow the conventional wisdom as to when a manager should deploy his best relievers. This resulted in an unrealistically heavy workload for the trio, with the number of one-run games the Braves had in the first half (24) only serving to exacerbate an-already unrealistic pace for the pitchers.