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January 14, 2004 12:00 am

The Class of 2004

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Jay Jaffe

The Baseball Writers of America's standards on what constitute a Hall of Fame pitcher are in a curious spot now, both when it comes to starters and relievers. Spoiled by a group of contemporaries who won 300 games from the mid-'60s to the mid-'80s (Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, Gaylord Perry, Don Sutton, Nolan Ryan, Phil Niekro), the writers haven't elected a non-300-winning starter since Fergie Jenkins in 1991. That Perry, Sutton and Niekro took a combined 13 ballots to reach the Hall while Ryan waltzed in on his first ballot with the all-time highest percentage of votes is even more puzzling. Apparently what impresses the BBWAA can be summarized as "Just Wins, Baby"--which is bad news for every active pitcher this side of Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux. Of the 59 enshrined pitchers with major-league experience, only two of them--Hoyt Wilhelm and Rollie Fingers--are in Cooperstown for what they accomplished as relievers. While the standards for starters are somewhat easy to discern (if lately a bit unrealistic), the growing number of quality relievers on the ballot, the continuous evolution of the relief role, and the paucity of standards to measure them by present some interesting challenges to voters. If there's an area in which performance analysis has struggled mightily against mainstream baseball thought, it's in hammering home the concept that the pitcher doesn't have as much control over the outcome of ballgames--as reflected in his Won-Loss totals--or even individual at-bats--hits on balls in play--as he's generally given credit for. Good run support and good defense can make big winners of mediocre pitchers on good teams, and .500 pitchers of good hurlers on mediocre teams. As such, it's important to examine the things over which a pitcher has control and account for those he does not. Once again, the Davenport system rides to the rescue.

[Note: The research for this piece, and much of the writing, was done prior to the Hall of Fame voting results being announced.]

INTRODUCTION

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January 6, 2004 12:00 am

The Class of 2004

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Jay Jaffe

With the 2004 STATLG-L Hall of Fame balloting now in the books, and the results of the BBWAA voting slated to be released this afternoon, there are few topics more prominent in baseball fans' minds than "Which players will make it to Cooperstown in 2004?" And rightfully so. Enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame is the highest honor a former-player can receive, and most fans are protective of that: a fact that has spurned countless heated debates over the years--rational, objective, and otherwise. With that being said, I thought it would interesting to see what some of Baseball Prospectus' newly updated measures of player evaluation had to say on the topic. For the uninitiated, BP's Davenport Translated Player Cards measure a player's value above replacement level for offense, defense, and pitching while adjusting for context--park effects, level of offense, era, length of season, and in Clay's own words, "the distortions caused by not having to face your own team's defense." The Davenport Cards offer the most sophisticated statistical summaries available; if you can adjust for it, it's in there. The basic currencies of the Davenport system, whether it's offense, defense, or pitching, are runs and wins, more specifically, runs above replacement level and wins above replacement level.

With the 2004 STATLG-L Hall of Fame balloting now in the books, and the results of the BBWAA voting slated to be released this afternoon, few topics are more prominent in baseball fans' minds than "Which players will make it to Cooperstown in 2004?"

And rightfully so. Enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame is the highest honor a former-player can receive, and most fans are protective of that: a fact that has spurned countless heated debates over the years--rational, objective, and otherwise.

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April 16, 2003 12:00 am

Testing the Nexus

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Lee Sinins and Will Carroll

One of the glaring weaknesses in the injury analysis game is the lack of data. As the injury database is built and populated, we are left with spotty research and anecdotal knowledge, especially when it comes to the crossroads of sports medicine and pitcher workloads. Adding to the problem is the lack of data for both minor league and college pitching. Since pitching is pitching, opponents of workload limitations often bring this up. In one of the first systematic studies of early pitching workload, Lee Sinins, creator of the Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia, studied 135 pitchers who threw 175 innings or more before the age of 22.

In one of the first systematic studies of early pitching workload, Lee Sinins, creator of the Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia, studied 135 pitchers who threw 175 innings or more before the age of 22. Age 22 is equivalent to the age-point found in Nate Silver's study on pitcher injury and age--the Injury Nexus--but was selected by Lee prior to the publication of Nate's study. Lee selected the pitchers from The Sporting News 1997 Baseball Register, giving us a distant enough perspective on many of the pitchers and allowing objective analysis on the possible effects of heavy workloads at such a young age. Unfortunately, innings thrown in winter leagues or in spring training could not be counted in this study as the data were not available. Innings were not adjusted for level and the totals are a sum for all levels in a season.

There were a few basic theories being tested in this study. First, the injury nexus would be tested. Despite the strong correlations between age and injury found by Nate Silver, real world numbers should match up closely. Second, while somewhat arbitrary, the 175-inning threshold seems to be a point where fatigue sets in for almost all pitchers. Young pitchers usually have not reached this threshold in their careers and the first test of this level often results in injury, massive failure, or a survivor effect.

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In response to a reader's e-mail questioning whether, as Conventional Wisdom states, left-handed pitchers tend to develop later than right-handers, Neyer wrote:

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There's a commonly held belief in sabermetric circles that catchers reach their offensive peak later that players at other positions. Presumably, the physical strain of playing catcher inhibits their development as hitters. The emergence of Darren Daulton at age 30 is typical of this phenomenon. However, to the best of my knowledge, there has not been a study to back up that intuition.

I decided at look at the issue in more depth, using the free player statistic database at http://www.baseball1.com. I did two different studies, looking for evidence that catchers peak later than players in general.

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