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August 10, 2004

Murderer's Row: How Good Are the Cardinals Now?

by Chaim Bloom and Keith Woolner

The Cardinals already had a fearsome lineup core. With the addition of Larry Walker, it's now one of the best the game has ever seen. Eat your heart out, Miller Huggins.

May 26, 2004

Aim For The Head: Hidden Perfect Games Mailbag

by Keith Woolner

Leave it to Randy Johnson to ruin a perfectly good trivia question. At the end of my previous article on "Hidden Perfect Games," I included a trivia question on the remaining pitcher who tossed two perfect games (hidden or not), having already named Pedro Martinez and Tom Browning. In the meantime, Randy Johnson threw an "official" perfect game on May 18th, to go along with a hidden perfect game in 1998, to add his name to list of those attaining multiple perfection. In response to the original question, many people sent in their guesses...

April 27, 2004

Aim For The Head: Hidden Perfect Games

by Keith Woolner

Cleveland Indians pitcher Jake Westbrook recently drew attention for an outstanding seven-inning perfect relief appearance. Interestingly enough, he retired the last batter he faced his previous appearance, and the first five batters of his next apperance (en route to a complete game win over the Tigers), for a total of 27 straight batters retired. There's that "27" again--a perfect game, albeit one "hidden" across three appearances. Following Westbrook's accomplishment, I became curious about the idea of "hidden" perfect games--instances where a pitcher retired 27 batters in a row, but may have done it across multiple appearances; i.e. the pitcher retired the last 15 batters he faced in one start, and the first 12 batters he faced in his next start, he would have a streak of 27 batters retired, and thus have a "hidden" perfect game. Relievers could qualify as well, if they had, for example, nine straight 1-2-3 one-inning appearances.

April 1, 2004

Aim For The Head: Discovering True Clutch Hitters

by Keith Woolner

The following article was part of Baseball Prospectus' April Fool's Day content for 2004. Sabermetrics has grappled with this issue for the past two decades, trying to discover whether clutch hitting existed, who the clutch hitters were if they did exist, and how much effect they had on the game. Most studies focused on situations that could be defined by objective criteria that related to the subjective impression of being "clutch"--batting with runners in scoring position, and batting in the late innings of close games being the two most common examples. However, in thinking about this recently, I realized that we had been approaching this in entirely the wrong way. Defining clutch in terms of a particular characteristic in a point in time fails to capture the common understanding of the term--delivering when it means the most to your team. Without having the larger context of the game in which to evaluate clutchness, any attempt to measure it is doomed to failure. So, what larger context applies in this situation? Clearly, the outcome of the game is paramount.

February 11, 2004

Aim For The Head: Memory Lane

by Keith Woolner

The defining moment of my Red Sox fandom must have been the first major league game I ever attended--naturally it was at Fenway. It was 1979, we were going to a game to celebrate my birthday, and the Sox were playing the Angels. Someone had mentioned to me that it was really rare for your team to win the first time you go to see them in person, and therefore it would be really unusual if the Sox were to pull it out that night. For some reason, I believed him--I was young, and much more easily swayed by faulty reasoning then. It's funny the things you remember. At the ballpark, I had a slice of what was to me at the time, the greatest slice of pizza I'd ever had--which upon reflection probably meant it was a greasy mess. But the fact that I was eating it at Fenway Park made it great.

February 10, 2004

Baseball's Hilbert Problems: 23 Burning Questions

by Keith Woolner

"Who of us would not be glad to lift the veil behind which the future lies hidden, to cast a glance at the next advances of our science and at the secrets of its development during future years? What particular goals will there be toward which the leading sabermetric spirits of coming generations will strive? What new methods and new facts in the wide and rich field of sabermetric thought will the new years disclose?" Here at Baseball Prospectus, we're not completely immune to the general fascination with the recent turn of the world's odometer. So, with this edition marking the final year of the second millennium, let's take a look forward at what the third holds for us seamheads. Our inspiration comes from a similar effort nearly 100 years ago. In 1900, a mathematician named David Hilbert addressed the International Congress of Mathematicians in Paris and delivered what was to become history's most influential speech about mathematics. Hilbert outlined 23 major problems to be studied in the coming century. In doing so he expressed optimism about the field, sharing his feeling that unsolved problems were a sign of vitality, encouraging more people to do more research. The above quote is, in fact, a bastardization of the opening statements of Hilbert's speech. Hilbert referred to mathematics instead of sabermetrics and spoke in terms of "centuries" instead of "years." Given the relative youth of sabermetrics and baseball analysis compared to math, it's appropriate to use a period of smaller scope than Hilbert. The quotes that appear periodically throughout this essay are similarly taken from Hilbert's speech and altered to refer to baseball analysis.

January 21, 2004

Aim For The Head: Three True Outcomes, 2003

by Keith Woolner

Periodically, Baseball Prospectus pays homage to the "Three True Outcomes" and those players who excel at creating them. A long-time inside joke at rec.sport.baseball, discussion of the Three True Outcomes (or TTO) has appeared on the pages of BP for years. In short, the Three True Outcomes are plate appearances that end with events that do not involve the fielders: the home run, the walk, and the strikeout. Somewhat ironically, the TTO have gained prominence in recent years with Voros McCracken's controversial (and oft-misstated) theory that pitchers do not differ significantly from each other on their ability to prevent hits on balls in play; thus making their primary differentiators of value the rates of strikeouts, walks, and home runs they allow. But the Three True Outcomes are, at their core, a celebration of hitters, epitomized by the patron saint of the TTO, and the prototype for early BP book covers, Rob Deer. With that in mind, we start with a list of the top hitters for 2003, according to the percentage of their plate appearances that ended with a True Outcome.

September 17, 2003

Aim For The Head: Reader Mail, and More New Stat Reports

by Keith Woolner

Ryan Smith writes: I'm a Cubs fan, and one of the more interesting stats that I remember about their promising 2001 campaign was Eric Young's 43 doubles and 42 RBI. I thought it would be near impossible for a player to have as many as 25 doubles and fewer RBI than doubles. However, after a bit of research (nothing extensive), I learned that there had been a few guys to do it. Indeed, it is rare. Since 1901, there have been only 45 players with 300+ AB who had more doubles than RBI. The record for most RBI with more doubles is held by Mark Grudzielanek, who had 54 doubles, but just 51 RBI in 1997. Grudzielanek also holds the record for most AB in such a season with 649. Three other players have had 600+ AB and more doubles than RBI: Don Blasingame for the 1959 Cardinals (615 AB, 26 2B, 24 RBI), Sparky Adams for the 1931 Cardinals (608 AB, 46 2B, 40 RBI), and the aforementioned Eric Young. The fewest doubles that exceeded a player's RBI total was done by Dick Howser playing for the 1965 Indians. In 307 AB, he hit just eight doubles, but had just six runs batted in (one of them on a home run). J.L writes: Interesting new statistical reports. I'm piqued by Pitchers Counterpart Profile. Why should I care how the opposing pitcher has pitched all season when looking at my pitcher's record? All that matters is how opposing pitchers performed on the particular day they "faced" my pitcher. Unlike PQBF and BQPF, the two pitchers do not really "face" one another, therefore the results need not be filtered by considering their average performances. Counterpart quality is interesting to investigate questions like whether teams juggle their rotations to get their aces facing each other, or whether good run support came from a pitcher's teammates having an unusually good day (better than you'd expect given who they are facing), or if a team was beating up on weak pitching. It may not have predictive value, but it has some explanatory power.

August 15, 2003

Aim For The Head: New Stat Reports

by Keith Woolner

For those of you who haven't noticed, we are debuting several new statistical reports this week that will be updated daily throughout the season. All of these reports are currently available as a free preview at our Statistics page. Some of these reports, however, will be offered as part of Baseball Prospectus Premium in the coming weeks and months.

August 13, 2003

Aim For The Head: Pete Rose and the Hall of Fame

by Keith Woolner

If Pete Rose is, in fact, reinstated after the season, as previously reported, he becomes eligible to be placed on the Hall of Fame ballot. For many fans, his on-the-field qualifications are a foregone conclusion. As baseball's all-time hits leader, 17-time All Star, the 1973 MVP, and key member of the Big Red Machine, it's hard to deny that Rose has some impressive credentials. And indeed, baseball fans voted him onto the All-Century Team as one of the finest players of the 20th century. However, there's been a reassessment of Rose's value as a player over the past 15 years, as sabermetrics has advanced our understanding of how offenses work, and how teams win. As the importance of On-Base Percentage has been recognized, and measures such as OPS (On-Base Percentage Plus Slugging average) have become popular, Rose has become a poster boy for the overrated star--one whose game consisted of hitting a lot of singles, and posting a high but empty batting average. Some have gone as far as to say that Rose doesn't deserve to be in the Hall of Fame on the merits of his playing career, even excluding any gambling controversy. But is this a revisionist history by the statheads, or an honest, updated assessment of a former star?

August 4, 2003

Premium Article Aim For The Head: Supercycles

by Keith Woolner

Apologies for my absence as of late, especially to those adoring fans who actually noticed that I was gone (both of you... Hi Mom! ... ah, who'm I kidding, my mom doesn't read Baseball Prospectus). That said, unlike the majority of AFTH columns, this edition isn't prompted by a reader question, but rather my own interest in a baseball anomaly. I've been interested in "hitting for the cycle" for some time. Though it's primarily a novelty achievement (having each of the four specific types of hits), it does represent a an admirable feat. It has happened 79 times between 1972 and 2002 by 74 different batters. Five batters managed to do it twice: George Brett, Cesar Cedeno, Frank White, Bob Watson, and Chris Speier. The novelty aspect of hitting for a cycle has led to interesting situations, such as whether a batter who already has a double, triple, and home run should stop at first on a would-be double to get his name in the footnotes of baseball history. Clearly, a game with two doubles, a triple and a home run is a more valuable accomplishment than a cycle, and so, while acknowledging the uniqueness of hitting for a cycle, I'd like to introduce a term for having a game at least as good as hitting for the cycle.

May 15, 2003

Aim For The Head: Understanding MLVr

by Keith Woolner

In Baseball Prospectus 2003, we introduced a new rate metric in lieu of Equivalent Average (EqA), which graced the pages of previous editions. This metric, Marginal Lineup Value Rate (MLVr), measures how much offense a player produces compared to an average player. Since the publication of BP 2003, one of the most common questions I've received concerns what the scale of MLVr is, or in other words, what a "good" MLVr is. As a new and unfamiliar metric, MLVr lacks the built-in recognition factor that something like EqA had, which was designed to follow the familiar batting average scale. The tradeoff, however, is that the "units" of EqA don't measure anything--one point of EqA doesn't equate to one run, or a tenth of a run, or a fraction of a win, or anything else that's tangible. Equivalent Average is essentially a dimensionless index that follows offense production, but does not, by itself, measure it. Instead it's made so that the "installed base" of baseball fans can understand it. MLVr takes the opposite tack, choosing to express results in terms of runs per game, (and more specifically, runs per game above or below a league average player), rather than a more familiar scale. This makes it more useful for quantitative analysis, at the expense of being more opaque to casual baseball fans.

April 1, 2003

Aim For The Head: A Big Change for OBP

by Keith Woolner

Keith Woolner takes a second look at OBP, righting a big wrong in the process.

March 25, 2003

Premium Article Aim For The Head: Opening Day Starters

by Keith Woolner

First, I want to apologize for the long absence of AFTH from the web site. In addition to the usual off-season book-writing duties, I spent the winter relocating to the east coast from California as well as welcoming a new baby to the family. But I'm getting settled now, and hope to be writing AFTH and doing other research again in between feedings and diaper changes.

November 22, 2002

The Daily Prospectus: Balanced Lineups Redux

by Keith Woolner

Soon after yesterday's installment of "Aim For The Head" appeared on the web site, my e-mail starting getting reader comments.

November 21, 2002

Premium Article Aim For The Head: Are Balanced Lineups Better?

by Keith Woolner and Rodger A. Payne

Based solely on offense, expected runs created - given the scenario that your total starting lineup team OPS was fixed at a certain number. Would you be better off building a team with a few superstars, balanced off with some truly horrible players or a team of mostly mediocre players?

August 30, 2002

Aim For The Head: Quality Starts

by Keith Woolner

This week's question comes from Sam Grossman, who writes: What percentage of "quality starts" results in Ws, Ls and NDs for the starting pitcher? What about Ws and Ls for the team? Has this been consistent across time (effect of bullpens, etc.)?

August 20, 2002

Greatest Living Pitcher: Running the Numbers to Settle the Argument

by Keith Woolner and Jonah Keri

July 18, 2002

Aim For The Head: Scoring Early and Often

by Keith Woolner

This week's question comes from Chuck Valenches, who writes: I am the broadcaster for the Pirates' Triple-A club, the Nashville Sounds. We do a promotion where fans are encouraged to write in and "Ask the Sounds".... One question we received we cannot find an answer for. Q. Has there ever been a game in which both teams scored at least one run in every inning, and when was the last time it happened?

July 12, 2002

Aim For The Head: Long Plate Appearances Mailbag

by Keith Woolner

More mailbag.

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