If you want to know how often we really see something new in baseball, look to the pitching lines.
It’s true that, as they say, every time you watch a baseball game you see something you’ve never seen before. Monday, for instance, I saw a swinging strikeout, followed by a groundout to second base, followed by (after the teams switched sides) a pop-out to shallow right field, followed by a groundout to shortstop, followed by a single to left center, followed by a groundout to second, followed by (after the teams switched sides) a flyout to right, followed by a single to right. Never seen that sequence before. History was made. Save your ticket stubs.
The trick isn’t seeing something new, but seeing the right new thing. The other trick is caring about the new thing, because not every new thing is a bunt called foul, then called fair, then converted into a triple play. Ben Lindbergh wrote last week that Tom Milone was the first pitcher ever to produce an 8/3/0/0/3/0 (innings/hits/runs/earned runs/walks/strikeouts) pitching line, which is a more typical new thing.
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A writer who never saw Jack Morris pitch watches him in action for the first time and comes away even less convinced that the traditionalist case for his candidacy should earn him a call to Cooperstown.
You might not know it from watching the World Series, but it often makes sense for a manager to pinch hit for his starter before the late innings.
Believe it or not, most of our writers didn't enter the world sporting an @baseballprospectus.com address; with a few exceptions, they started out somewhere else. In an effort to up your reading pleasure while tipping our caps to some of the most illuminating work being done elsewhere on the internet, we'll be yielding the stage once a week to the best and brightest baseball writers, researchers and thinkers from outside of the BP umbrella. If you'd like to nominate a guest contributor (including yourself), please drop us a line.
Mitchel Lichtman, or MGL, has been doing sabermetric research and writing for over 20 years. He is one of the authors of The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball, and co-hosts The Book blog, www.insidethebook.com. He consulted for the St. Louis Cardinals from 2004 to 2006, as well as other major-league teams. He holds a B.A. from Cornell University and a J.D. from the University of Nevada Boyd School of Law. Most of the time these days you can find him on the golf course.
It's time to take a tip from Vegas and predict the over/unders on AL player performances for 2011.
Around this time of year, our old friend Joe Sheehan was wont to write a column about value bets for the upcoming baseball season, looking at the Vegas betting lines for team records and trying to discern where statistical analysis could help a bettor find an edge against the house. It was always one of my more favorite pieces of the year, since I’ve always been interested in such things, and more to the point, I’ve always thought it would be fun to let loose my internal Ace Rothstein and determine where the line should be set.
A new way of adjusting for a player's environment.
One of the fascinating things for baseball fans is the differences between ballparks--the role that the very park itself plays in baseball is probably unique in sports. Different ballparks bring a very different character to the proceedings, and of course, they can even change the course of the events on the field.
It doesn’t help that MLB’s rules on the subject can be remarkably vague on the subject--at one point it states that “[a] distance of 320 feet or more along the foul lines, and 400 feet or more to center field is preferable,” which does little to indicate what might be allowed. This, of course, gives great latitude to ballpark designers, and they’ve taken advantage of that latitude.
A conversation with that rarest of cats in the minor leagues, the inked Wildcat from Northwestern.
Chris Hayes has emerged from the humblest of baseball backgrounds to the doorstep of the major leagues. A walk-on at Northwestern University, Hayes worked his way up to the team's closer his senior year. Following graduation he spent a year in the independent leagues before signing with the Kansas City Royals as an undrafted free agent in 2006.
The former White Sox workhorse talks about how pitching has changed in the last 25 years and some of his "Winning Ugly" rotation mates.
Currently the pitching coach for the Triple-A Charlotte Knights, Richard Dotson had a solid, albeit unspectacular big-league career from 1979-1990, winning 111 games and making the American League All-Star team in 1984. Dotson's best season was 1983 when he went 22-7 with a 3.23 ERA, helping lead the White Sox to their first post-season appearance in 24 years. A first-round pick by the Angels in 1977, Dotson went to Chicago the following winter in the six-player deal that also included Brian Downing and Bobby Bonds. Now 49 years old, Dotson has coached in the White Sox organization for each of the past six seasons.
Ease up there, Hemingway, we're talking about pitchers, and whether we're missing a few from the last couple of decades.
When we see the level of offense go up or down in baseball-and it has been down dramatically this season-we tend to attribute it to everything other than the players themselves. In any given downturn, it's the bats, or the baseballs, or the ballparks, or the drugs that the players are injecting themselves with. Or all of those things. But what if it isn't all about context? What if, when offense is up, it literally does mean that there aren't very many good pitchers?
An in-depth discussion about mechanics with the motion analysis coordinator and coach of the National Pitching Association.
Pitching is both an art and a science, and from youth leagues to the big leagues, so is the challenge of keeping pitchers healthy. The National Pitching Association (NPA) is on the cutting edge of research and instruction on all three fronts, and many of their concepts are shared in their forthcoming book, Arm Action, Arm Path, and the Perfect Pitch: a Science-Based Guide to Pitching Health and Performance. David talked to the NPA's motion analysis coordinator and coach, Doug Thorburn.
Former big leaguer Mike Pagliarulo shares some ideas about consulting and information within MLB.
Mike Pagliarulo hit 32 home runs for the Yankees in 1987, and was a key contributor to the World Series champion Twins in 1991, but his impact on the game has arguably been greater since retiring. Successful, and sometimes controversial, "Pags" has been at the forefront of scouting Japanese baseball for the past 10 years, both advising and correctly predicting results on both sides of the Pacific Ocean. A third baseman during his playing days, Pagliarulo hit .241 with 134 home runs over 11 big league seasons with five teams.
Returning to a subject from this past winter, Dan digs in to discuss the all-time greats.
"It is the best game because the players look like us. They are not seven feet tall, they don’t weigh 350 pounds, and they don’t bench-press 650. We can relate to them. We can see them—they’re not obscured by some hideous face mask, and they don’t play behind a wall of Plexiglas—we can touch them and we can feel them. I see Greg Maddux with his shirt off, with his concave chest and no discernible muscles, and I marvel: This is one of the six greatest pitchers in the history of the game? I see Tony Gwynn with his shirt off and I see a short, fat guy with the smallest hands I've ever seen on an athlete, and I wonder: 'This is the best hitter since Ted Williams?'...They are regular guys, at least most of them, who just happen to be really, really good at something that everyone else is not."
--Tim Kurkjian, from chapter one of Is This a Great Game, or What?: From A-Rod's Heart to Zim's Head--My 25 Years in Baseball