Today, I want to look at the relevance of a hot start on a team’s overall winning record. (I know–where do I get these ideas?)
As I write this, the aliens who have collectively taken over the Kansas City Royals’ entire roster are 14-3, the best start in team history. Not to be outdone, the Yankees are 15-3 and have outhomered their opponents this year by the miniscule margin of 35 to 4, which is a stat that deserves its own DTN article, if not its own episode of The X-Files. And both teams are trying to keep up with the Giants, who after Sunday’s loss are 15-3 despite outscoring their opponents by the downright-reasonable margin of just 107 to 81.
The topic of the meaningfulness of hot starts has intrigued analysts since the Tigers’ remarkable 35-5 start in 1984 persuaded Bill James to look at the subject in his 1985 Abstract. One of the major problems with this sort of data analysis is just getting the data for the day-by-day standings for every day in baseball history. James, working by hand, only had data from 1965 to 1984, but then he did not have the services of the incomparable, indispensable David W. Smith (the W. stands for “Support Project Retrosheet!”), who graciously provided me with just the data I needed.
So far, this column has been a day-by-day review of factoids. That’s a fun and profitable way to review box scores, but this week I have re-oriented Box Lunch toward a topical focus, using Earl Weaver’s maxims to introduce a variety of subjects. There’s little worth knowing about baseball that Weaver hasn’t already covered, and so far I have found more than 40 observations in Weaver on Strategy that are relevant to things we can study using box scores as the primary source. This week the emphasis is on how managers select and use their rosters.
“When a manager has been pushing the same buttons day after day and losing, he’d better start pushing different ones.”
Alan Trammell is doing the drunkard’s walk. On Wednesday he started Bobby Higginson in center field. It was the first time Higginson played the position in the majors, and he hasn’t played there since. And then on Saturday, with his team sniffling along at 1-14 and losing its 16th game 9-2, Trammell had Craig Paquette pinch-hit for Higginson. It was the eighth inning and Royals reliever Albie Lopez was working on his fifth consecutive scoreless inning, so maybe it was despair, and maybe it was the managerial equivalent of Brownian Motion, but the move had no strategic justification. Removing your best hitter is the worst way to start a rally. Paquette is Trammell’s de facto designated pinch-hitter, so maybe he was trying to keep Paquette fresh. Pinch-hitters come in cold and they can’t really be kept fresh, but even if you could crisp them up with two or three swings every other day, what would be gained by wasting one of your stars’ turns on a bag of sand like Paquette? It wasn’t a platoon decision. Higginson is a lefty and Paquette and Lopez are righties. If Higginson was injured you can’t tell by the box scores; he had played the previous inning and was back in the lineup the next day, and there was nothing in the next day’s news about an injury to Higginson. All I can think of is that Trammell was either conceding the game by giving him a breather or–this has to happen sometimes–a leisurely bathroom break.
In this installment of Prospectus Triple Play, Prospectus authors look at the Red Sox closer situation, the Reds’ injury woes, and Ryan Klesko’s improved defense for the Padres. Plus tips o’ the cap to Trot Nixon, Kevin Millar, and Brian Lawrence.
Would you kill someone for $1,000? What about $10,000? How far do I have to go before you start thinking “Well, do I know them? Are they bad people?” Or the opposite question: How much would you pay to prevent someone from being killed?
This is the choice baseball faces when they consider their security. It’s much like the choices architects make when they construct ballparks: price, speed, and ease of construction each weighed against comfort, quality, security, earthquake resistance.
Baseball this last week was forced to re-assess the balance it had struck, when four fans ran out onto the field during a White Sox game, including a guy who apparently was really fond of umpire Laz Diaz’s leg (and was stomped for his love).
Normally, UTK comes to you powered by a fine beer or a gourmet coffee of some sort. Tonight, it couldn’t be much more different: I’m ‘powered’ by NyQuil and about two boxes of Puffs with the lotion in them (ick). We’ll keep things short, sweet, and I hope reasonably coherent, but no guarantees. Like that’s any different from any other day…