Last week, inspired by the well-timed thievery of the 2004 Mets, we discussed the teams with the best stolen base percentages in recorded history. This week, we look at the other side of the coin– the teams with the worst percentages that the game has ever seen.
We’ve all got trade fever. Everybody is obsessed with the possibility that massive amounts of jockflesh will be migrating around and about the American and National Leagues. In many cases, it’s not even important that these trades ever even take place. No, what matters is the mere possibility that they might.
Which leads us to the advice portion of today’s effort: How to start, spread and maintain your very own trade rumor. “Why would I want to do that?” some of you might be asking. So that you can leave a mark on society, of course. So that you say that you did something with your life. Not everyone can be a big shot and start a corporation, but anyone can start a rumor. The true test of a person is not how much money they make, but how much misinformation they can circulate among the populace.
The 2004 Mets are on pace to do something that only eight other major league clubs (that we know of) have ever done: steal bases at an 80 percent clip. I say “that we know of,” of course, because for many years, nobody was writing down when men were getting caught.
Why not? Because America was a happier, more optimistic place back then. We weren’t all about negativity and failure in those days–no sir! Well, that’s one theory anyway.
The party line on steals in these parts is that they are overrated as an offensive weapon–you all know that. When a team gets up over an 80 percent success rate, though, even the most heart-hardened theft-cynic begins to contemplate granting absolution to the thieves. Hall of Famer Joe Morgan is often cited for his base-stealing acumen. Morgan stole right at about that rate for his career. These clubs are, then, his equivalent on the team level–or something like that.
At press time, the Brewers had been outscored by their opponents by a handful of runs. If they can get through the year like that and still manage to stay over .500, I say, “who cares?’ When you’ve been under .500 for 11 straight years, what does it matter if the string is broken by a season that isn’t aesthetically pleasing?
The Brewskers are getting some nice defense these days. In fact, this series features two teams that are among the best in Defensive Efficiency in the major leagues. This is a good thing for Milwaukee, too, because they are, essentially, a one-man offense this year.
Best Matchup (best combined adjusted third-order won-loss record with both teams being over .500): Boston @ Anaheim
Here’s the deal: before the season begins, you look at your team and realize they are not going to hit as much as they did the year before. What do you do? You get some better pitchers so you can reduce the bottom line on the other side of the ball. This is exactly what Theo Epstein did, and he stated as much. And you know what? It worked. The Red Sox are projecting to give up fifty fewer runs than they did last year while losing about the same amount on the offensive side. (Because of the nature of runs scored and runs allowed, the same differential at lower totals actually results in a better record, all other things being equal. This is why it’s going to be just about impossible for the Rockies to ever win 100 games.)
Tuesday night, 32 men from each league (selected by 64 separate and distinct methods), will battle it out for supremacy and the right to host the weekend World Series games and, in the process, get more traffic in bars with big screen televisions in the host city because people don’t have go get up early the next morning to work the night after Games 1 and 6. What I think would be much more interesting would be a tournament featuring All-Star teams from the six different divisions.
Knowing that this is a crazy idea (and having to belay the idea of them wearing uniforms identifying their divisional allegiance a la the Little League World Series), I have instead taken the liberty of selecting these six best-of teams. I’ve done it primarily using VORP, but with a touch of subjectivity thrown in here and there (but not too much, since analytical types such as we are, we’re conditioned to breaking out in rashes whenever we get too subjective).
Editor’s Note: Every so often, we lay our hands on a document that was probably not intended for public consumption. We are not at liberty to say how it is we come by these things because we do not wish to compromise our conduit thereto. Suffice it to say, we will continue to make these available to you as long as we can continue to “come by” them.
I got an e-mail from Yankees.com today imploring me to vote for Hideki Matsui for the final slot on the American League team. First of all, I’m a little shocked that I’m even on the Yankees.com mailing list. Second, I’m even more shocked that the Yankees are actively campaigning to get one of their own onto the squad. How utterly undignified. It’s like those ads movie companies run in the trade publications promoting their pathetic offerings for Academy Awards. “Members of the Academy, for your consideration: Ben Affleck in Gigli…” Campaigning is for dog catchers and county aldermen, not the most successful, storied and–allegedly–classy franchise in American sport.
Perhaps I doth protest too much. After all, the All-Star Game voting and selection is so completely bescrewed that it’s much too late to bring any sanity to the proceedings now. If you would like to take a stab at doing so, however, you wouldn’t be voting for Matsui.
Biggest Mismatchups (Largest disparity in records with one team over .500 and the other under .500): Minnesota @ Arizona
This is the time I make a confession and beg forgiveness. I come to you with hat in hand, although I don’t really own a hat, so that leads to another confession: I stole the hat in my hand so that I might come to you with hat in hand. In any case, back to my original confession: I picked the Diamondbacks to win the National League West. What was I thinking? I don’t even remember. I think I was trying to be “different.” Most folks were picking the Giants with a few renegades going for broke on a Padres upswing. Another tiny minority had the Dodgers. I guess I took all this in and decided I needed to be iconoclastic. Where did it get me? Coming to you with a stolen hat looking for absolution–that’s where.
Why should the Diamondbacks trade Randy Johnson? Because George Steinbrenner wants them to? What is this madness that has beset baseball wherein a team goes south for a year and is suddenly expected to offload every manjack on the team who has the talent to stick his head above replacement level? Arizona plays in a division built on a sandy loam. The Diamondbacks could very easily reload in the offseason and come back and cop this thing in 2005. Having Randy Johnson still in the fold would certainly help in that regard. In modern baseball it seems, we have come to expect that both babies and bathwater must both be drained to the sea.
Best Matchup (Best combined record with both teams being over .500): Boston @ New York Yankees
We seem to have reached a point in baseball history where it is–what is the word?–understood that the Yankees somehow deserve to get the best available player on the trading block. When they don’t, their owner and fans appear shocked. With Freddy Garcia gone to Chicago and Carlos Beltran now in Houston, it will be interesting to see how firm Arizona’s resolve to keep Randy Johnson will be. The Newark Star-Ledger has also been kicking up some Tom Glavine-to-the-Yankees talk. It stands to reason. Glavine has been the best pitcher in baseball so far in 2004 (39.3 VORP, besting runners-up Mark Mulder and Carl Pavano), so it only makes sense that he should be on the Yankees. Why? Because it’s the Yankees’ world and we’re just the extras sent over by Central Casting to fill in their background.
It was my pleasure to see former A’s great Rickey Henderson play for the Newark Bears on Wednesday night. I’m reminded of that scene in “Eight Men Out” when Joe Jackson is playing out the string on an independent team late in life–except, of course, that Henderson is not banned or anything like that. His at-bats were much like you remember them from his major league career. He came to the plate five times and saw a total of 32 pitches. He drew two walks and hit a single. His first trip to the plate came against Bill Pulsipher of the Long Island Ducks. On a night when Jason Isringhausen pitched for the Cardinals and Paul Wilson was resting up after pitching for the Reds the night before, Pulsipher looked pretty bad. Not that he was necessarily hit hard–none of the five hits he gave up were especially tagged (he also walked a batter without retiring anyone). It was his appearance. If he is serious about getting back to the majors, he needs to trim some ballast. Spare tires are acceptable only after one has won 15 games in a season.
I would have bet real, actual cash money that more 1931 teams would have made the top 10 given that the entire league fell off by 61 points from 1930, but only the Pirates made the cut. Every National League team dropped by at least 44 points. Four Pirate regulars slugged over .500 in 1930; the high man the next year was Hall of Famer Paul Waner, at .453.
On the other hand, we have the Tigers, a team that finished 116 points behind the Red Sox last year in slugging. They have closed that gap to just 11 points through this juncture of the season.
Largest improvements in team slugging, 2003-2004:
White Sox: +32
Baseball exists in two parallel universes. It serves two masters. It has a foot in two worlds. It straddles a fence. It balances on two horses like a rider at an old west show…and so on and so forth.
On the one hand, it must entertain its paying customers and viewers. On the other, it is the prime directive of its participants to succeed. Often, these two missions are at odds (although you would never get most of the men inside the game to admit to that).
While some plays are completely frustrating on a strategic level, they serve to entertain the paying customer and home viewer. These are, for the most part, the plays that have long been called into question by the analytical sector of the baseball community. Even those of us in that community cannot deny that when they occur, they can be visually dynamic and bring a jolt to the heart while they’re happening. It is only afterward, when the dust has settled and the nitro pills we so desperately require have done their good work that we call into question the logic of such moves–no matter how much they may have thrilled the eye while they were underway.
Closest Matchup (Teams with records most resembling one another): Texas @ Cincinnati
Anyway you smack the numbers around, the Reds are riding for a fall. As we all know, teams that get outscored the way they have don’t fare well in the long run. Going into last night’s game against Philadelphia, the Reds had been outpolled by 24 runs. This put them five or six games ahead of where they should be, depending on which version of the Pythagorean you want to use. Having said that, you can find that entire 24-run differential in their meltdown against the A’s last week. If you toss that series away, they’d actually be 284-284 in runs scored and runs against. This still means they’re playing over their heads, but not by as much. Are we letting one disastrous series get in the way of assessing them honestly? On the other hand, that disastrous series helped call attention to the fact that this was a team riding a little too high.
Do you miss the time when a 34-28 record was a 34-28 record? You know, back in the good old days, when they didn’t used to clog the mind by putting the number of runs a team scored and allowed right there so you could make your own value judgments. Actually, newspapers still don’t do that. Instead, they give us streak info and interleague play records. What is interesting is that the NFL standings have had the points for and against since…well, ever since I can remember. When you think about it, with a smaller schedule, NFL PF/PA can get skew a lot worse than a baseball record can. I’d like to see newspaper sport sections leap into the 21st Century and start including runs scored and runs against, wouldn’t you?
Back before Al Gore invented Sabermetrics, I would have forgiven Sports Illustrated for their cover story on Derek Jeter and slumps. In this day and age, though, I have to get more from a publication of S.I.’s stature than the usual interview-the-player/manager/GM/ask-the-anonymous-scout kind of article. The topic of slumps is a fascinating one beginning with the concept of whether they–like alien invaders, auras and repressed memories–even exist at all. There were several times in Tom Verducci’s article that I thought he was going to veer into that very area. At one point, he quotes Bob Uecker (lifetime .200 batting average but, let us never forget, a man who always walked at least once every 10 at-bats) as saying, “I had slumps that lasted into the winter.”
Here was an opportunity for a great segue into a couple of paragraphs into how things tend to even out over time for the good hitters and “slumps” seem permanent for the bad ones–and by “bad” I mean, those with lower batting averages. Which is another problem with the piece–it’s all about batting averages. With so much research afoot about balls in play and the declining import of BA, the article treats the stat like the intended audience was the 1955 subscriber base of Sport magazine. Did we learn nothing from the Yankee experience of April 2004? S.I. is a great magazine with some of the best photos ever taken on the planet, and several writers who kick the language in the ass. In other words–they have what it takes to be more probative than this.
Time was that the baseball amateur draft was held in relative quietude, unnoticed by fans and media alike. In the past few years, that has changed dramatically. While still not as over-the-top as its football and basketball counterparts, baseball’s drafting of schoolboy and collegiate talent gains more notice with each passing year.
In spite of the increased scrutiny, there are still a large number of young men out there who escape notice in the days and weeks leading up to the draft. Baseball Prospectus presents here a few of those players more deserving of national attention.