Dominican and Venezuelan players are often mistaken on a baseball field; they share the Spanish language so they are generally together, they have that Latin swag that is identifiable from miles away, and they also usually have names that challenge the diction of every single one of the American announcers.
What did we learn about various players and teams this month? Less than we'll learn in the next one.
Early season baseball is full of articles about “What we’ve learned so far” after a week, or two weeks, or a month of play. You can’t really blame the sportswriters and TV sports producers and podcast hosts who come up with these pieces. They have to talk about something, and there aren’t any pennant races or awards competitions to discuss in April.
As Russell Carleton has demonstrated, though, most measures of baseball performance take far longer than a week or three to stabilize. Drawing conclusions from a 10- or 20-game sample is akin to statistics problem sets involving drawing balls from an urn. A really, really big urn. With lots and lots of balls in it. When you draw a few balls from a really, really big urn with lots and lots of balls in it, you don’t get a good picture of what’s really in the urn.
We can look at the relevance of April numbers by correlating them to players’ full-year figures, and comparing the correlation in April to that of May, June, July, August, and September. (Throughout this analysis, April includes a few days of March play in the relevant years, and September includes a few days of October games.) To do this, I selected batting title and ERA qualifiers from each of the past 10 seasons and compared their monthly results to their full-year results. I had a sample of 1,487 batter seasons with corresponding monthly data in about 87 percent of months and 850 pitcher seasons with corresponding monthly data in 86 percent of months.
Admittedly, there’s a selection bias in April data, and it applies mostly to young players. Since I’m comparing monthly data to full-year data for batting title and ERA qualifiers, I’m selecting from those players who hung around long enough to compile 502 plate appearances or 162 innings pitched. If you’re a young player who puts up a .298/.461/.596 batting line in April, as Joc Pederson did last April, you get to stick around to get your 502 plate appearances, even though 261 of your plate appearances occurred during July, August, and September, when you hit .170/.300/.284. On the other hand, if you bat .147/.284/.235 in April, as Rougned Odor did, you do get a chance to bat .352/.426/.639 in 124 plate appearances spread between May and June, but you get them in Round Rock instead of Arlington. So there’s a bias in this analysis in favor of players who perform well in April (giving them a chance to continue to play) compared to those who don’t (who may get shipped out). This shouldn’t have a big impact on the overall variability of April data, though, since the presence of early-season outperformers like Pederson who get full-time status on the strength of their April is canceled, to an extent, by early-season underperformers like Odor who don’t.
So is April more predictive than other months? Here’s a chart for batters, using OPS as the measure, comparing the correlation between batters’ full-year performance and that of each month.
A second, totally different look at your favorite prospect.
Who was your favorite prospect bust? It’s not a really fun question, kind of the spiritual cousin of “What was your most heartbreaking romantic rejection?” and “What would you say is your greatest personal and professional regret?” But it is a question that I think is more likely to come up than the other two, if only because there are so many prospect busts to choose from and so many prospects tantalizing with what-will-ultimately-become-false promise. So, since we’re all friends here, I’ll ask again: Who’s your favorite prospect bust?
Mine is probably Brody Colvin. I’m a Phillies fan, and the “Baby Aces” period of farm system watching might be too particularized to be a communal memory, but you probably get the gist: There were three or four pitchers on the Phillies’ farm who looked like they might be future aces. As is wont to happen, only one, Jarred Cosart, has made the major leagues in any sustained way, and he’s currently languishing on the Marlins’ Triple-A squad. Colvin was even more disappointing. An overslot signee from the seventh round of the 2009 draft, Colvin never overpowered with strikeouts, but pitched to a 3.39 ERA/3.55 FIP at 20 years old in Single-A in 2010. There was so much to dream on there—maybe he’d put on muscle and velocity! Maybe he’d be the Roy Halladay replacement the team would need! Maybe he’d team up with Cole Hamels and solve mysteries!
Or maybe he’d be out of baseball entirely in 2014. Such are prospects, as we know all too well. I could rattle off 20 prospects, Phillies and non-Phillies alike, who I thought would be surefire major leaguers and got summarily drummed out of the prospect corps, while afterthoughts like Adam Eaton or Khristopher Davis wandered into the major leagues and hit enough to earn a full time job over a number of years. Or while pitchers like Jacob deGrom and Corey Kluber managed to shake their non-prospect status and become truly elite in a way that the Brody Colvins of the world could only dream of.
I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, though. Prospects are weird. They develop weirdly, their minor-league numbers translate weirdly, and their potential often isn’t valued properly until it’s all but determined. Don’t worry, I’m not about to go on a “prospects are just prospects” rant, like a 2005 screed being eviscerated on Fire Joe Morgan. No, I’m going to be arguing that, figuratively speaking, what we understand as a prospect has never existed. I’m taking my cue here from Jean Baudrillard’s provocatively titled The Gulf War Did Not Take Place. In this book, which encompasses three essays, Baudrillard – famous for his theories of “hyper reality” and “simulacrum” which described the anomie and detachment of postmodern, contemporary culture – is not literally arguing that the Gulf War of 1992 never happened. Rather, he is arguing that the Gulf War as we imagine we experienced it never happened: There was no “war” as we might expect, but a series of shock and awe styled attacks that overwhelmed and destroyed the enemy before war could really happen. That it is considered a war at all, Baudrillard would say, is all thanks to concerted media repackaging after the fact. In that way, glossing the politics here for the sake of brevity and sanity, the Gulf War (Such as We Imagined It) Did Not Take Place.
And in the same way, Your Favorite Prospect Bust Did Not Take Place, and also what’s more, Your Favorite Prospect Success Story also Did Not Take Place.
Brody Colvin, for instance, was not who I imagined he was. He was not some sort of saving grace for a thin-ish Phillies system; there were no “baby aces”; Roy Halladay wasn’t going to be replaced or even going to be pitching past the first month of 2012. Much of what I still understand about Brody Colvin’s life as a prospect is part of this narrative I wrote about him through the lens of my own fandom. In reality, he’s a 25-year-old dude, going on 26, who is on at least his second career, not of his own choice, and probably not because of anything that he or we can pinpoint.
In the fourth inning, Donaldson walked again. Bautista followed with a 6-4-3 double play.
In the sixth, Michael Saunders singled, and after Donaldson lined out, Bautista grounded into a 4-3 double play.
Three at bats, three GIDPs. How far was Bautista from a single game record? Pretty close, it turns out. A quick check from Baseball Reference’s Play Index indicates that the record is four, held by Joe Torre, back when he was a Met.
That struck me as odd. Not that Torre held the record—you’d figure it’d be set by a slow right-handed batter--but that it had been achieved only once. There’ve been over 210,000 major league games played since 1876, with 18 or more individual lines for each one of them. More precisely, there have been nearly 176,000 games played since the Retrosheet era, for which we have fairly complete (and Play Index-able) records, began in 1913. And in that time, Joe Torre, on July 21, 1975, is the only player to have had a day like this:
· First inning, following a single by Felix Millan, runner on first with one out: 1-4-3 double play
The thesis, antithesis and synthesis for what's fun about baseball in the Papa Slam era.
As spring sets in, and the soft breeze cools us during a pleasant evening turning into night, our biological clocks click in unison and we all know what time it is: It’s the time when Fun In Baseball becomes A Thing again.
Inexorably, like the salmon returning to spawn, the baseball writers of America and the young fans of the game stop whatever they’re doing to examine player actions and determine what’s so fun about watching a baseball game anyway. Is the Papa Slam fun? Is Dellin Betances fun? Is this fun?
If a woman is ever going to make it to the top of baseball's pyramid, more girls are going to need to be welcomed at the base of it.
Softball isn’t baseball, and yet we’re told it is. We’re told from a very young age that if we want to play baseball, we have to satisfy ourselves with this different sport entirely, a sport that should have its own rich heritage and history but instead, despite the fact that it comes from a different place, is looked down on as inferior to baseball.
This is not a piece about Sarah Hudek. I don’t know her motivations, and I can’t blame her for taking a reported softball scholarship to a well-reputed university instead of continuing to play baseball at a community college in Louisiana. I don’t know what her thought process was, I don’t know what might have gone into this decision, but I do know that even if she had continued to play baseball, there wasn’t really anywhere for her to go after two years.
It’s hard enough to find and maintain and grow a competitive college baseball team on the anemic number of scholarships maintained and mandated by the NCAA. I can understand why a coach, especially a D1 coach, especially a D1 coach in any kind of competitive conference, would shy away from giving any part of a scholarship to a woman, and why a woman might not be able to take even the piddling amount potentially offered to attend an expensive university.
The brain behind the Sydney Blue Sox lives in Chicago and runs an Analytics Department staffed with American volunteers.
Two years ago, while on a study abroad program, Anthony Rescan was placed on assignment with the Sydney Blue Sox of the Australian Baseball League. Rescan, a Chicago-based, statistically savvy baseball fan, soon saw his role with the team grow, and he has since been named Director of Baseball Operations and American Scouting—a position that, due to league rules, is unpaid. This winter, he began staffing his previously one-man department with American scouts and analysts. He writes about what baseball in Australia is like, the challenges of building a team in such an unusually structured league, and what's next for sabermetrics in Sydney.
Baseball in Australia is unique. Not “kangaroos at shortstop” unique, but unique nonetheless. The differences lay not in the style of play but in how the league works and where it sits in the baseball world. The quality is high—anecdotally, around Double-A—but it sits in a limbo between loose major-league affiliations and something similar to independent baseball. As a front office member, I see this show through in the challenges—both day-to-day and long term—that a team faces.
The Australian Baseball League is a winter league. This means a shorter schedule (56 games) played in between the end of the minor-league season and spring training. Thus, like most winter leagues, the native players flock back to fill rosters. With them come affiliated, non-Aussies, and non-affiliated players. Essentially, the scheduling offers a very diverse mix of players, from guys who topped out at Triple-A and then fell into the American Association to 17-year-olds who hail from a place like suburban Sydney.
Either the Orioles will rub our noses in it again, or they'll make a little history.
You probably heard that the Orioles have started the season 7-0. This is notable for several reasons. First, this is the first time the O’s have gone 7-0 to start the season, though the team’s progenitor, the St. Louis Browns (nee Milwaukee Brewers), went 9-0 to start its lone pennant-winning season of 1944. Second, it’s an uncommon accomplishment. In the 116 seasons since the modern era began in 1901, this is only the 27th time a team’s started a season 7-0. Third, it’s a harbinger of success, as the 26 teams before this year that started 7-0 all finished at .500 or better, with 11 going to the postseason and five winning the World Series. Fourth, the Orioles were, well, not expected to be really good.
As of this morning, BP’s Playoff Odds simulator projects the Orioles to finish 79-83. That’s not great, but this being the contemporary American League East, a swing of six games would put them in first. So the Orioles could be an okay team, or they could be a mediocre team. The upside, of course, would be the team’s third postseason trip in the past five years. Based on historical precedent, what’s the downside?
Of the 26 teams to start 7-0 before the Orioles, here are the ones that stand out as the weakest.
Can the season's schedulemakers make a schedule with fewer rainouts?
On Friday afternoon, I attended the Mets home opener at Citi Field, undoubtedly a great and celebratory day for Mets fans (as a Phillies fan, it was just another day in the countdown to J.P. Crawford, Nick Williams, et al.). But it was also mid-40s with a stiff breeze and plenty of cloud cover. Saturday’s forecast called for 38 and rain, so even though I planned on going to the game, I ended up staying home. As these weather patterns are not uncommon for April in the Northeast or Midwest, the friend I planned to go to Saturday’s game with asked why MLB even schedules early-season games in northern climates rather than just starting the season in warm weather stadiums or domes. We were not the only ones wondering. So let’s look at whether it would even be feasible to avoid scheduling home games for cold climate teams and reasons why it likely will not happen.
Depending on how one chooses to define “cold climate,” there are 12-14 teams for whom April weather poses a significant risk to home games. I defined “cold climate” as any city with an average high of 60 or below or an average low of 45 or below, and then added Washington to the list out of an abundance of caution (Saturday’s game in Washington was postponed, so perhaps this is recency bias). Admittedly, it’s not a perfect sample and this weather data contains averages for the whole month, whereas for our purposes we are probably only worried about the first two weeks of April, but it provides a decent starting point. Over a third of the league would be affected by such a proposal.
Does "three contributing rookies" correlate more closely to "rebuilding team" or "really good team"?
Flying cars, beaches in Kentucky, and Lucas Giolito—the future is going to be awesome. At the same time, we have no idea exactly how things will turn out. Still, armchair prognosticators and analyst-experts alike do our best. As such, the Baseball Prospectus staff published predictions for the 2016 season. As was noted by readers—and discussed briefly on Effectively Wild—the Twins have two interesting facets to their seasonal predictions. First, the top three predicted finishers in the American League Rookie of the Year voting are all members of the Twins: Byron Buxton, Jose Berrios, and Byung-Ho Park. Second, the Twins are projected to win just 78 games by PECOTA, but the staff predicts that they’ll come in fifth in the American League Central.
The best question here is this: Could the Twins be both a team with the three best rookies in the American League and also be a last-place team? There’s only one way to find out. (Just kidding, there are probably three.) But here’s one way: We can go back and look at previous years’ Rookie of the Year voting, examine the other teams that have had multiple ROY candidates, and see how they've fared.
I’m not looking for anything so strong as running the table for all three top spots in the Rookie of the Year voting. (Spoiler alert, that hasn’t happened in the past 30 years.) All I want is to find two or more rookies who received 5 percent of the vote. As such, I looked at the past 30 seasons—going back to the 1986 campaign. In the end, I found 15 teams in the past 30 seasons who fielded two players (or more) who earned 5 percent or more of the Rookie of the Year votes.
Opening Day is about lasting memories, but also completely forgettable non-memories.
Put yourself in a parlour with your six grandkids many decades from now, a cup of tea and a box full of vintage baseball cards. You're painting a picture for them of what baseball used to be like. Your 9-year-old grandson Mischief, or whatever kids are named 45 years from now, pulls out a card and asks you, "What about Jimmy Rollins? Who was he?"
You'll lead with the Phillies. Then a spark in your brain, and you'll recall the short time with Dodgers. Will you remember the White Sox? That's the question. One day after Jimmy Rollins started at shortstop for the White Sox on Opening Day, that's the question.
Opening Day starting pitchers are pretty easy to figure out: Staff ace, or something close to that—Price vs. Kluber, Archer vs. Stroman, Harvey vs. Ventura, that kind of thing. Position players aren’t the same. You’ll frequently get the weak half of a platoon, or the injury fill-in, or the prospect who doesn’t pan out. For the most part, Opening Day starters are regulars or established bench players with substantial time—past or future—with their club. Sometimes, though, a starter is someone who winds up having a did-that-really-happen tenure with his team, the kind of player you see in an Opening Day lineup listing years later and say either “Who was that?” or “When was he with the team?”
This is a list of the Opening Day starters who played the fewest games with each of the 30 major-league teams. (I excluded the inaugural seasons of expansion teams, on the theory that they were mostly just playing the hand they were dealt.) I went back to the beginning of divisional play in 1969, so this is nearly a half-century of history. For teams that moved, I’ve included their predecessors: Pilots/Brewers, Senators/Rangers, Expos/Nationals.
Good jokes and teams ranked by strength. Sounds like a Hit List.
We can't have a Hit List without Hit List Factors, and we can't have Hit List Factors without some results. But rather than deprive you of the good jokes, here's Something Like A Hit List. We'll return to our normal Hit List format in a few days.