It's that time of year: St. Louis in the postseason, its fans in the spotlight, the rest of the country unhappy. We let a Cardinals fan defend the Best Fans In Baseball.
Brian Gunn grew up in St. Louis, Missouri and for years ran a Cardinals’ fan blog called Redbird Nation. A former guest contributor to sites like The Hardball Times and Baseball Analysts, he now works as a screenwriter in Los Angeles. We around here like him a lot, and we like his writing a lot, which is why we are letting him do the one thing the Internet generally does not abide: Stick up for Cardinals fans.
When I was growing up in St. Louis I’d sometimes be hanging out with my grandma, and the city of Dallas would come up in passing. Like we’d hear someone mention the Dallas Cowboys, or J.R. Ewing would be on TV, or we’d see some news clip about something that happened in Dallas. And every time my grandma would seethe with anger and mutter through her teeth: “Ooo, I hate Dallas!”
If you asked her why, she’d reply, matter-of-factly, “’Cause they killed Kennedy.”
Aaron Judge has long arms. Hitters with long arms have swing-and-miss issues. Do two sentences make a destiny?
Few things scare scouts off a hitter more than high strikeout totals. We’re trained to look past the numbers and to see just the player, rather than be swayed by, for example, gaudy numbers in an extreme hitting environment or against inferior competition—or the reverse. But high strikeout totals are one number that can set off scouts’ alarms. Even the most successful minor-league hitters can, and usually will, struggle when they get to the majors if they have extreme swing-and-miss issues. As George Springer showed this year, a hitter with extreme strikeout tendencies can still be productive; that production might just come with a painfully low batting average.
A few weeks ago, I talked about how predetermined biases about a player can affect the evaluation process, especially with prospects for whom expectations play a large part. In the case of Yankees outfield prospect Aaron Judge, however, even if we can strip away all of the background information, forget about his success in college and forget that he was selected in the Yankees in the first round, we can’t ignore that he is a tremendously large human being. I mean, he’s just massive.
We know certain things that are generally pretty true about tall hitters. They typically hit for more power than their shorter counterparts, and at the same time, they generally swing and miss more. Part of that is due to the aforementioned propensity for power (as powerful swings tend to bring whiffs), but part is due to physics. Taller hitters have longer arms, and long arms make for long swings. The longer a swing, the more holes in it.
The rest of this article is restricted to Baseball Prospectus Subscribers.
Not a subscriber?
Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get access to the best baseball content on the web.
What makes a moment slow-motionable? What makes a moment made for soft focus and sepia? What will make you cry this month? It's complicated.
Throughout the playoffs, sportswritin' fella Miles Wray will be writing for us about the production of postseason baseball. What Miles takes that vague phrase to mean will be as much of a surprise to me as it will be to you. Here’s his first piece.
Octoberness, along with all of playoff baseball, is something just slightly separate from regular baseball; not necessarily better or worse so much as easier to recall, easier to retell, easier to manipulate. Regular baseball is feeling your arms sunburn as the losing manager slowly strolls out to pull another reliever in an 8-2 game. Octoberness is David Ortiz launching a ball over the Monstah at midnight, his breath misting in the air as he rounds the bases. Regular baseball is Aramis Ramirez. Octoberness is David Freese.
What are we talking about when we talk about disappointment?
"(A box score) doesn't tell how big you are, what church you attend, what color you are, or how your father voted in the last election. It just tells what kind of baseball player you were on that particular day." –Branch Rickey
If only it were still that simple. Back when Rickey was making personnel decisions for major-league organizations, and those last three traits were actually factors in how people were judged, it was a lot easier to evaluate a ballplayer without knowing too much about him. But with phones and tablets now as essential to the scouting toolbox as a stopwatch, with three different prospect rankings appearing on players’ Baseball-Reference pages, with signing bonuses public (and publicy debated), with the conversation about some players’ draft stock now rivaling the lifespan and intrigue of a presidential primary, that’s no longer the case.
Colin Moran is not a bad baseball player. The University of North Carolina doesn’t recruit bad baseball players. Bad baseball players don’t get popped sixth overall in the major-league draft. And bad baseball players don’t hit .296 between High- and Double-A, as Moran did in 2014, his first full year among the professional ranks.
Yet to hear many evaluators talk—to hear me at certain points during this season—you might think Moran is just terrible. Throughout a season of sitting behind home plate, I saw no player inspire more head shakes, shoulder shrugs and eye rolling than Moran. "How was this guy the sixth-best amateur player in the country last year,” I heard from more than one scout. I wasn't terribly kind in my initial write-up of Moran, saying "I came away feeling very underwhelmed with the player."
Many a day has passed, the night has gone by, but still I find the time to put that bump off in your eye.
Sam Miller: So with Jason Parks gone, we thought it was appropriate that the staff assess his tenure here and make sure that his future employers know what they're getting: A guy who will write the occasional scouting report in the voice of Bud Cort's character in Electric Dreams; a guy who will push to sign every cast member from the Venezuelan remake of The Outsiders based solely on the way they wrap cigarette boxes in their t-shirt sleeves; and so on.
So, everybody: Now's the time to pile on. Consider this something like a roast. Profanity follows.
It was classic McLain: charming, cocky, arrogant, reckless. A rebel or a punk, take your pick, and your choice likely depended on your age and your politics. Just 24 years old, McLain had played by his own rules his whole life, and as the first 30-game winner in baseball in 34 years, he could get away with just about anything.
On September 19, 1968 at Tiger Stadium, Detroit right-hander Denny McLain was cruising along in the top of the eighth with a 6-1 lead over the New York Yankees. He had won his 30th game five days earlier, and the Tigers had already clinched the American League pennant. When Yankee first baseman Mickey Mantle came to bat with one out and nobody on, McLain let Mantle know that he would give him whatever pitch Mickey wanted. Mantle signaled for a fastball letter high, McLain delivered it, and Mantle hit it into the right field seats for his 535th career home run. Although McLain was coy after the game in the locker room, everyone knew what had happened.
It was classic McLain: charming, cocky, arrogant, reckless. A rebel or a punk, take your pick, and your choice likely depended on your age and your politics. Just 24 years old, McLain had played by his own rules his whole life, and as the first 30-game winner in baseball in 34 years, he could get away with just about anything. He knew it. He had a prickly relationship with his teammates, managers, and the fans, all of whom he was apt to criticize in the press. Bill Freehan, his catcher, once wrote, "The rules for Denny just don't seem to be the same as for the rest of us."
On the mound, he was a gunfighter. He pulled his hat brim down so low that he had to cock his head upwards to see the signs from his catcher. He worked fast and without deception. He used fastballs and hard sliders for the most part, challenging the hitter with every pitch. If a batter hit the ball hard, the next time up McLain would give him the same pitch in the same location.
Off the field, McLain's life was equally carefree and, it would turn out, even more reckless. His idol was Frank Sinatra, not so much for his singing voice but because he exuded wealth and power. He was an accomplished organist--he played the Ed Sullivan Show, headlined gigs in Las Vegas, cut a few records. He flew his own airplane.
In 1969 McLain and Pete Rose co-authored an instructional booklet called "How to Play Better Baseball." The project likely did not require that Rose and McLain get together to work on the book, which is unfortunate. If they had, they would have discovered that they had a lot in common.
McLain won the Cy Young Award, MVP, and the World Series in 1968, and won the Cy Young again in 1969 when he won 24 games. He made $100,000 from the Tigers, and at least that much off the field. He seemed to be living the dream life. And suddenly, he wasn't.
The phrase "a walk is as good as a hit" has echoed through our noggins since Little League. Though not exactly true, the ability to reach base without putting the ball in play is a valuable offensive weapon; advances in sabermetrics have enabled us to quantify the value of a walk and hit-by-pitch quite precisely.
As a guy who regularly leads his slow pitch softball team in walks, I have an appreciation for players who find ways to take a leisurely stroll to first base. Ron Hunt's maddening ability to get some part of his body in front of a pitched ball, Dale Berra's knack for having his bat tick the catcher's leather, Lance Blankenship coaxing four wide ones while hovering around the Mendoza Line--all are uncanny talents.
This study is designed to identify hitters that had the greatest percentage of their offensive game as a result of walks and hit-by-pitches. This is very different than leading the league in the counting or rate statistics attached to those categories. Ted Williams led the American League in bases-on-balls eight different times, but was such a force at the plate that he still would have been an outstanding offensive player had he walked half as often. The idea is to recognize players who made the slow walk up the first baseline an art form, who were and are somehow able to finagle pitches outside the strike zone despite being less than imposing figures with a bat in their hands.
After monkeying around with various combinations of on-base percentage, batting average and slugging percentage, I tossed them aside and settled on the following formula, calling the result the "Walking Man Quotient" (WMQ):
The denominator is part of the basic formula that Clay Davenport uses to calculate Equivalent Average (EqA). Dividing it into the walk and hit-by-pitch components approximates those components as a percentage of the hitter's total offensive output. Patient sluggers like Williams and Mickey Mantle will occasionally have a high WMQ in years when their numbers are down, but the players with the best ratios will neither hit for average nor power while still collecting scads of walks and hit-by-pitches.
With that background, here are the Top 20 single-season WMQs of all-time (post-1900, minimum 400 plate appearances):
While we wait breathlessly for word from Cooperstown about the results of the new Veterans Committee balloting, the STATLG-L Internet Hall of Fame voters have spoken their collective mind here on BP.
While we wait breathlessly for word from Cooperstown about the results of the new Veterans Committee balloting, the STATLG-L Internet Hall of Fame voters have spoken their collective mind here on BP.
Well, sort of. The voting patterns on the two ballots (Players and Composite) were rather similar in some respects. On both ballots, only one person received the support of as much as half of the voters. On both ballots, the average voter cast votes for only a small number of candidates. On both ballots, nearly half of the candidates were able to attract the votes of fewer than 10% of the IHOF voters.
It turned out to be a pretty good day for Chicago at the top of the Players ballot. If the Hall of Famers cast their ballots in a manner similar to what our 1,789 participants did, the long, long wait is finally over for Ron Santo. The great Cubbie third baseman made it past the 75% plateau with 42 votes to spare; he was named on just over 77% of the ballots. With just over 40% of the vote, Minnie Minoso, who spent much of his career playing for the White Sox, finished a distant second to Santo. The only other man to garner as much as one-third of the votes on the Players ballot was Dick Allen, who spent three years on the South Side (among them, his 1972 MVP season). As a long-suffering Phillies phan, however, I will forever remember him in red pinstripes.
The complete tally on the Players ballot is displayed below:
Between a careful analysis of what data is available, the creative use of proxy variables in estimating injuries throughout time, and the application of some principles of sports medicine, we are at least in a position to make some educated guesses about the nature of pitcher injuries. Our particular focus in this article will be the progression of pitcher injury rates by age.
Pitching is an unnatural act that invites injury. The stress it places on the bones of the shoulder, arm, and back is immense. The strain it places on the 36 muscles that attach to the humerus, clavicle, and scapula is remarkable. It is widely accepted by sports medicine practitioners that every pitch causes at least some amount of damage to the system.
It seems fair to say that the study of pitcher injuries is an important part of sabermetric analysis. The statistical evidence available to test theories about pitcher injuries, however, is often missing. While there are databases that contain every recorded statistic from the days of Al Spalding and beyond, and others that document every play of every game in the past 30 years, a comprehensive database of player injury history simply doesn't exist.
However, between a careful analysis of what data is available, the creative use of proxy variables in estimating injuries throughout time, and the application of some principles of sports medicine, we are at least in a position to make some educated guesses about the nature of pitcher injuries. Our particular focus in this article will be the progression of pitcher injury rates by age.
Methodology and Statistical Results
To create an actuarial backbone for our study, we applied the same approach that is used to calculate attrition rate in the PECOTA forecasts. Attrition rate describes the percentage of pitchers who experience a decline in their innings pitched of at least 50 percent. Such a dramatic decline will not always indicate that a serious injury has occurred--it can also reflect demotion, retirement, and so on. However, by placing a few restrictions on our dataset, we can serve to limit these cases, and use attrition rate as a reasonable proxy for catastrophic injury.
In order to be included in the study, a pitcher needed to have pitched at least 150 innings in the previous season, with a park-adjusted ERA no more than 10 percent worse than his league average. That is, our study was focused on pitchers who had already pitched at least one effective season in the major leagues, and who were likely to have every opportunity to do so again in the absence of significant injury. All pitchers from 1946-2002 were considered, with innings pitched totals prorated over a 162-game schedule. The chart below tracks attrition rate at different ages throughout a pitcher's career.
There is enough evidence to perform at least an exploratory empirical analysis of what types of skills are best accentuated by Coors Field.
Up until now, the Coors Field Wars have been fought from the top down. There have plenty of theories advanced about what sort of hitter should do well at Coors. Joe Sheehan presented one theory (players who put the ball in play make best use of Coors), Rany Jazayerli presented another (high altitude provides a comparative advantage to whiff-prone hitters by reducing strikeouts), and Dan O'Dowd has tested out both theories and then some in his manic building and rebuilding of the Rockies.
What hasn't been done, at least so far as I am aware, is a systematic study of what sort of hitters actually have benefited from high altitude. Baseball in Denver is no longer a novelty; the Rockies have accumulated tens of thousands of plate appearances in their decade of existence. There is enough evidence to perform at least an exploratory empirical analysis of what types of skills are best accentuated by the ballpark.
Including the Mile High years, there have been 29 hitters with significant major league experience in another organization who accumulated at least 130 plate appearances in a season in purple pinstripes. Although it would be stretch to call any of those hitters an established superstar prior to his initiation as a Rockie - Larry Walker can make the best case - they represent every possible permutation of strength and deficiency. It would be hard to identify two more opposite players than Dante Bichette and Alex Cole, who took the outfield together in the Rockies' first ever home game on April 9, 1993.
I turned back the clock and ran PECOTA projections for each of these 29 players. There are only a couple of differences between this set of forecasts and those that appear in this year's book. First, because we do not have Davenport Translations that far back into time, only major league stats were used; thus the emphasis on established major leaguers. Second, all players were projected into a neutral park and league. The PECOTA system makes certain assumptions about how to apply park effects - all players are not treated equally. In this case, however, we're using our forecasting system to test out certain theories about actual performance, and not the other way around; introducing PECOTA's notions about park effects would bias the analysis.
We can get away with comparing park-neutral forecasts to park-affected results by using a measure for value that places all players back on an equal footing - in this case, Equivalent Average. Our nouveau Rockies are listed in the table below, sorted by the difference between their expected and actual EQA.
The Cubs, Padres, Astros, Giants, and A's are among the best-run and best-stocked minor league operations in baseball and they each have an affiliate in the Pacific Coast League. It's not too much of a stretch to say that the two best hitting prospects in the high minors will play in the PCL this year, as will the game's two best pitching prospects. The minors' most extreme pitcher's park is here, along with Colorado Springs, among the minors' top three hitters' parks. Inspired by an episode of The Simpsons, baseball in Albuquerque has been revived after a couple years' hiatus. The PCL is famous for its pinball scores but there are other, better reasons to pay attention to it this year.
Whenever "competitive balance" is debated, the debaters inevitably turn to published information about team payrolls to support their positions. This sounds straightforward. Unfortunately, "team payroll" is a fluid concept. The four most widely reported measures each use different methods and can lead to different conclusions.
Whenever "competitive balance" is debated, the debaters inevitably turn to published information about team payrolls to support their positions. This sounds straightforward... but unfortunately, "team payroll" is a fluid concept. The four most widely reported measures each use different methods and can lead to different conclusions.
The four measures are (1) the Opening Day payrolls reported by the AP and USA Today a week or so into the season; (2) the August 31 payrolls reported by MLB after the season; (3) the August 31 average team salaries reported by the MLBPA after the season; and (4) the luxury tax payrolls reported by MLB after the season.
The first three have a lot in common. Each begins with the salary of every player on a club's 25-man roster, or its major league disabled list, as of the stated date. Each computes each player's base salary in the same way: the actual amount he is paid during the season, plus a pro-rated share of his signing bonus and the discounted present value of any part of his salary which is deferred to a future year. Each has a common flaw: by taking a snapshot of the roster as of a specific date, it ignores the effect of midseason player moves.
The MLBPA's formula has a more serious flaw which renders it essentially useless for meaningful team-to-team comparison. Its averaging method involves dividing the club's total payroll by the number of players on its roster-plus-DL. However, the size of the disabled list varies widely from team to team. In 2002 just 26 players were used to compute the Kansas City and Oakland averages, while San Diego's average was based on a 36-man roster. Thus while the August 31 payrolls for Oakland and San Diego were virtually identical, Oakland's reported average was $450,000 higher. Given the other information available, that's an unacceptable variance.
Here are each club's 2002 payrolls as computed by the three other methods: