A new book looks at the many obstacles along the route to becoming a major-league city.
The history of the business of baseball is filled with at least as many scoundrels and thieves as the history of the game on the field. Google something like "worst owners baseball history" and you'll find reams of blog posts and articles with stories of racism, and rich men laying waste to cities, and incompetents, and all manner of other hoodlums. Of course, team owners never act alone. Cities and counties and states are run by the same power elite that produces the lead dogs of sports franchises, and leagues frequently have help from local politicians in their schemes to build boondoggle stadiums, place expansion franchises, and shift teams from city to city.
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Randy Johnson was one of the most dominant pitchers of his or any era, but his peak wouldn't have been possible without continual mechanical tinkering.
I remember reading an article as a college student that described how Randy Johnson had made a mechanical adjustment that allowed the large lefty to extend his release point by more than a foot. The sheer thought of the Big Unit getting 12 inches closer to the plate was equal parts terrifying and fascinating, as physics class had taught me about the advantages inherent in decreasing the distance that the ball travels, ranging from increased perceived velocity to a reduced drag effect on the baseball (I would later learn to appreciate the ripple effect on the timing of pitch-break). The story also marked the first time that I heard the name Tom House, as Johnson had mastered his new techniques through Nolan Ryan and his pitching coach with the Texas Rangers, learning from the man who would be my future mentor in my first exposure to real baseball science.
Johnson’s distinguishing characteristic was his exceptional height: at 6’10”, he was one of the tallest pitchers ever to play in the majors. His height gave him an intrinsic advantage on the mound that is often misunderstood in the mainstream. The plot thickens when one watches his delivery, as Johnson's strategy of slinging the ball from an ultra-low arm slot flies in the face of conventional wisdom, which emphasizes downhill plane. His sidewinder approach was decidedly old-school, harkening back to 12-time strikeout king Walter Johnson, who was known as the hardest thrower of his day and a tireless workhorse who personified the true “ace” label. At 6’1”, Walter was a large human for the early 20th century, and his nickname, “The Big Train,” is essentially a century-old analogue of Randy's “Big Unit” epithet.
Chris Sale pitches well once again, and once again looks disgusting doing it.
In four games from last Tuesday through last Saturday, the Mariners scored 45 runs, which was roughly the same number of runs that they'd scored in the previous two seasons combined. Yesterday, the universe acted to restore order, using Chris Sale as its agent. Sale pitched a complete game against the M's in Chicago, limiting them to two runs on two walks and five hits and pulling the string on Hawk Harrelson's back that makes him say "He gone!" on eight separate occasions.
How much does pitching on a downhill plane affect a pitcher's ability to get ground balls?
Here we are in the middle of the Information Age, with access to more data than the human mind can possibly process, and yet the dissemination of baseball information has been muted by a language barrier. Baseball fans are becoming increasingly savvy about the nuances of the game, with sophisticated analytical tools at their disposal, but access to the dynamics of play on the field is often clouded by a filter of scout-speak. If we were playing poker, then the dealer would need to remind the scouts in seats eight and nine of the “English only at the table” rule in order to prevent them from trading secrets that fly under the radar of other players.
There are dozens of entries in the pitching section of the scout-speak dictionary, from “command” and “control” to “arm action.” One of these buzzwords is “downhill plane,” a term that refers to pitch trajectory that has a steep slope on its approach toward the hitter. It seems to follow that pitchers who possess a high release point would induce a higher rate of ground balls. The logic behind the idea is simple enough, as anyone who has thrown a tennis ball against a wall can attest, but the statistical evidence paints a different picture.
The inaugural edition of the Research Mailbag explores pitchers starting both games of a doubleheader, players with the same name, and Opening Day starting pitchers.
Welcome aboard, and thank you for joining me for the maiden voyage of the Baseball Prospectus Research Mailbag. This week’s mailbag features two reader questions as well as the answer to a topic Kevin Goldsteinpondered on Twitter a few days ago. Along the way, we’ll explore long, contrasting days had by Wilbur Wood and Don Newcombe, the baseball card collection I maintained as a child, and the worst starting pitchers deployed by defending World Series champions on Opening Day.
Feel free to send me a note with your research questions (please remember to include your name and hometown) for possible inclusion in future editions.
Pitchers continue to get injured while batting, so should baseball continue to require NL pitchers to hit?
I'm not known around the Internet as the world'sbiggestA.J. Burnettfan. During last Wednesday's BP roundtable, I even dusted off an old Simpson's riff: "I'm a well-wisher in that I wish him no specific harm." Now, to set the record straight, any voodoo dolls I may have referenced over the past decade or so for any player exist only in my breathlessly hyperbolic narratives, and I would never actually wish injury on a ballplayer, particularly not such an injury as befell Burnett later that day. The recent trade that sent the enigmatic righty from the Yankees to the Pirates mandates that he practice his hitting and bunting, and unfortunately, a less-than-stellar bit of work on the latter sent a ball into his own face, fracturing his right orbital and necessitating surgery. Fortunately, it does not sound as though he suffered a detached retina, which could have threatened his career.
There are major differences between statistics, and it is important not to misuse them.
In this day and age, baseball players are defined by their statistical attributes much more than they were a few decades ago. That isn’t to say that stats rule all by any means, but rather that teams are starting to be built with more of an eye toward numbers than in the past or at least with an eye toward numbers that provide more information. We have witnessed the defensive revolution. This past offseason, not only did the Red Sox make a conscious effort to bring aboard the darlings of fielding metrics—Mike Cameron, Marco Scutaro, and Adrian Beltre—but teams shied away from the likes of Jermaine Dye, who averaged 33 home runs and a .279/.347/.528 line over the last four seasons, because his overall contributions were not in line with his asking price. And last offseason, the glut of hard-hitting but poor-fielding corner outfielders suffered financially; it’s hard to imagine players with skill sets similar to those of Adam Dunn and Bobby Abreu being offered so little even just a few years ago.
Measuring the rate at which a pitcher strikes batters out is an important part of the toolbox.
Statheads and strikeouts…it's an age-old romance. For pitchers, we'll tell you that strikeouts are the biggest predictor of a hurler's future success. When batters go down, though, while we acknowledge that the whiff is an out--a negative result--it's an out we put on a pedestal as one of theThree True Outcomes (along with the walk and the homer). A noble out, I guess.
The first Game of the Week of the 2006 season features a pair of AL ace starters with warts, on opposite ends of their careers.
Today, we're watching the top two teams in the land, as per the Prospectus Hit List: the Tigers and Yankees, at lovely Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan. Detroit was roasting yesterday, 93 degrees on a sunny Memorial Day afternoon. Coming into this week's four-game series against New York, Detroit is in first place in the NL Central, two and a half games ahead of the White Sox. Prior to being shut out by Cleveland the day before, the Tigers had won eight in a row.
With Francisco Liriano and Johan Santana set to become Minnesota's two finest pitchers, Jim wonders about the dominance of other lefty tandems in recent baseball history.
Speaking of Santana, the Twins have it within their grasp to piece together one of the finest one-two lefthanded punches of recent memory. Francisco Liriano, currently on the roster of the Dominican Republic and one of the more promising arms in the world, has a shot to make Minnesota's rotation. Whether the Twins choose him or Scott Baker at this juncture, there is no doubt he will be in the picture in the near future. If Minnesota brings him along as carefully as they did Santana, that future might be a bit delayed.
Jonah witnesses the Randy Johnson of old turning into the Randy Johnson who's just old.
Time and again during Sunday's tilt between the Indians and Yankees,
Johnson got into trouble. The Indians started each of the first five innings with a runner on base.
Johnson's fastball kept catching the middle of the plate, leading to
hits into the gaps. But just when the Tribe looked ready to blow the
they'd blow it by hacking at fastballs up and out of the zone, the only
could throw by anyone. That impatience, along with Johnson's
some Indians base-running blunders and some Yankee luck, combined to
Bombers in a game they should have lost early on. Here's what