In the 1988 Baseball Abstract, Bill James introduces what he admits to being a “garbage stat”–the game score. For the uninitiated, the game score is a number, generally ranging from zero to 100, that’s used to evaluate a starting pitcher’s performance in any given outing. It’s scaled so that 50 is roughly an average start, 90 or higher is gem status and anything below, say, 15 is in Jaime Navarro territory. Like the man said, it’s a junk metric, but it’s an entertaining one. That doesn’t mean, however, that it can’t be improved upon. Game scores, as mentioned, were conceived 15 years ago, and in the intervening period we’ve learned a great deal about how much control pitchers exert over certain events. In light of this, perhaps it’s time to roll out Game Scores 2.0, with an eye toward what we now know about the art of pitching. As many of you know, semi-recent research has found that pitchers don’t have as much control over what becomes of balls in play as previously believed. Voros McCracken’s initial findings suggested that pitchers had almost no control over the fate of a ball once it left the bat (provided it stayed in the park). Subsequent research by Keith Woolner and Tom Tippett found that while pitchers didn’t have a great deal of influence over whether balls in play were converted into outs or fell as base hits, they did have a modicum of control over these events. Whoever’s right (I side with the latter position), pitchers appear to have much less influence with regard to hit prevention than we once thought. This principle–separating what pitchers control absolutely from what they control only partially–is where the rubber hits the road for GS 2.0.
Once upon a time, a long time ago, September was a cruel month for baseball. The weather dampened, the children went back to school, the nation’s attention turned to the Second-Best Sport, and many teams soldiered on with only pride and the next season’s paycheck to play for. Year after year, attendance slumped badly, with nothing to bridge the gap between the long, baseball-and-B-B-Q evenings of summer, and the crackling drama of the post-season. It was, like the moment just after intimacy, a time of unspeakable melancholy.
Then, one day, the Commissioner made the Wild Card. The Commissioner was a wise man, and he knew that the self-styled defenders of tradition would not like his creation. But they had complained about westward expansion and night baseball and the Designated Hitter and too many other things to count, and every time they had come back, first to queue in line when the gates opened in spring. Tradition wasn’t marketable anyway, not in the way that a tense battle for fourth place between the Marlins and the Phillies was.
The Wild Card, in fact, was a remarkable success. The Commissioner, never known for his fondness for crowds, became omnipresent in those Septembers, maintaining a furious itinerary, shaking hands with awestruck fans at every ballpark from Yawkey Way to Elysian Fields. The Commissioner took no credit for the Wild Card; he had created it, after all, in the Best Interest of Baseball, and what reward did a man deserve for the mere execution of his duty? It was, he said, remarkable only that it had not been thought of earlier, but that was the hallmark of all great inventions, like post-it notes and garage door openers.
And they lived happily ever after.
Ryan Smith writes: I’m a Cubs fan, and one of the more interesting stats that I remember about their promising 2001 campaign was Eric Young’s 43 doubles and 42 RBI. I thought it would be near impossible for a player to have as many as 25 doubles and fewer RBI than doubles. However, after a bit of research (nothing extensive), I learned that there had been a few guys to do it. Indeed, it is rare. Since 1901, there have been only 45 players with 300+ AB who had more doubles than RBI. The record for most RBI with more doubles is held by Mark Grudzielanek, who had 54 doubles, but just 51 RBI in 1997. Grudzielanek also holds the record for most AB in such a season with 649. Three other players have had 600+ AB and more doubles than RBI: Don Blasingame for the 1959 Cardinals (615 AB, 26 2B, 24 RBI), Sparky Adams for the 1931 Cardinals (608 AB, 46 2B, 40 RBI), and the aforementioned Eric Young. The fewest doubles that exceeded a player’s RBI total was done by Dick Howser playing for the 1965 Indians. In 307 AB, he hit just eight doubles, but had just six runs batted in (one of them on a home run). J.L writes: Interesting new statistical reports. I’m piqued by Pitchers Counterpart Profile. Why should I care how the opposing pitcher has pitched all season when looking at my pitcher’s record? All that matters is how opposing pitchers performed on the particular day they “faced” my pitcher. Unlike PQBF and BQPF, the two pitchers do not really “face” one another, therefore the results need not be filtered by considering their average performances. Counterpart quality is interesting to investigate questions like whether teams juggle their rotations to get their aces facing each other, or whether good run support came from a pitcher’s teammates having an unusually good day (better than you’d expect given who they are facing), or if a team was beating up on weak pitching. It may not have predictive value, but it has some explanatory power.
Can we really call the Braves a dynasty? The Twins have reached at turning point in the season, no doubt. And the Devil Rays finally ink the first pick in the 2003 draft, Delmon Young. All this and much more news from Atlanta, Minnesota, and Tampa Bay in your Wednesday edition of Prospectus Triple Play.
I’ll get right into the heart of this because Mark Prior’s 124 pitch performance tore me in two. As I’ve mentioned before, Prior tends to throw harder in later innings, and that held true last night as well, as he was reaching 96 mph in the 8th. For the first time, however, Prior lost velocity in the 9th, topping out at 93. Adding in the elbow drop, and you can imagine how I was hyperventilating and speaking to the TV in harsh tones. (Does it make even less sense to talk to the TV when you’re TiVoing the game, and you’re about a minute behind?)
Prior may have had a birthday last week, but he’s still in the heart of the injury nexus. Future owner Steve Stone rightfully pointed out in Tuesday’s broadcast that Prior was in “unchartered” territory, nearing 200 innings pitched–and that the collision with Marcus Giles may have been, in the long run, the best thing for him. Prior, as well as teammates Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano–who is even younger than Prior–are all near the top of the PAP charts. Comments from Dusty Baker seem to indicate that he’s more than willing to keep his young pitchers working down the stretch. While flags do fly forever, and the ineffectiveness of the Cubs’ bullpen should factor into his decisions, Baker also needs to remember that his young pitchers’ arms might hang limp–like the flags do on a windless summer day–if he keeps working them so hard.