It’s awards season again, with people across the country anxiously awaiting the results of the Oscars, the Pulitzer Prizes, and of course the most prestigious award of them all. Yes, it’s time for the third annual Golden Gun Award, honoring last year’s most valuable catcher arms. The winner is the major league leader in Stolen Base Runs Prevented (SBRP), which measures the number of runs a catcher saves his team by throwing out opposing basestealers. It is calculated from the number of opponent steals (SB), the number of runners the catcher throws out (CS), and the number of runners the catcher picks off (CPO), using this simple formula:
SBRP = 0.49*(CS+CPO) – 0.16*SB
And the winners are…
Before delving into those harrowing inhabitants of the Baseball Prospectus statistics page like VORP, RARP, EqA or any other acronym that sounds like a debutante sneezing or something uttered on Castle Wolfenstein circa 1986, it’s worth asking: What’s wrong with those comfy traditional offensive measures like RBI, batting average and runs scored? This Baseball Prospectus Basics column is going to address that question and, ideally, demonstrate why the traditional cabal of offensive baseball statistics tell only a piece of the story. Later, someone smarter (but shockingly less handsome) than I will take you on a tour of the more advanced and instructive metrics like the aforementioned VORP, RARP and EqA. For now, though, we’ll keep our focus on why we need those things in the first place.
The Angels must keep Darin Erstad in center to take full advantage of their off-season moves. The Greg Maddux signing improved an otherwise uninspiring free agent shopping season for the Cubs. The Tigers could win 25 more games this year by virtue of their off-season moves plus regression to the mean. These and other news, notes and pontifications out of Anaheim, Chicago and Detroit in today’s Prospectus Triple Play.
So, here’s the thing. I’m going to spend more time answering reader mail this year, because I get great feedback and I haven’t done a good job of responding to it.
But I’m also going to turn the spotlight on that feedback a bit more often, because there are a lot of good ideas that come in that deserve a wider audience. (There’s also the too-frequent reminder that I make mistakes, but I digress.)
The Kansas City Royals forgot to take their calcium; the team had more breakdowns than Zelda Fitzgerald. George Brett’s knee blew out, forcing him to miss the first six weeks of the season. Frank White’s leg sent him to the DL in July. There was no regular shortstop because both Onix Concepcion and U.L. Washington were hurt (though not because Washington swallowed his toothpick), leaving the position in the hands of chronic non-hitter Buddy Biancalana. Third base rested in the hands of veteran understudy Greg Pryor. Propelled by a 4-for-37 May, Pryor posted a .301 OBP and .356 SLG, a far cry from what Brett would have provided. Then there was Willie Wilson’s drug-enforced vacation, which left the team with an ugly outfield of Darryl Motley, Pat Sheridan, and Butch Davis. Only Steve Balboni remained to carry the offense. Balboni, a 27-year-old rookie first baseman/four-time minor league home run champion, had been buried at Triple-A Columbus by the Yankees because (a) he wasn’t an expensive free agent (b) he struck out a lot, and (c) he had been lapped by a prospect named Don Mattingly. The Royals had liberated him from New York the previous December by dealing reliever Mike Armstrong and catcher Duane Dewey, one of the more perspicacious trades in team history.
What the Royals lacked in positional depth they made up for in young pitching. At season’s outset, Kansas City envisioned its top four starters as Paul Splittorff (37), Larry Gura (36), Dennis Leonard (33), and Bud Black (27, and excellent). The best plans of mice and men quickly ran into the Grim Reaper of Old Pitchers: Splittorff was battered in three starts and summarily retired; Leonard missed the entire season with a knee injury; Gura started well then declined precipitously over the balance of the season. After 10 starts, Gura sported a 3.59 ERA. He allowed 70 runs over his next 101 innings and was yanked from the rotation.
Necessity being the mother of invention, the Royals deployed their every pitching prospect, in the process creating the pitching staff that would get them to the World Series just a year later. The new rotation retained Black, who was pitching his way to a 257-inning/3.12 ERA season (league ERA, 4.00), and added Charlie Leibrandt (unestablished at 27 and freshly returned from a year’s exile at Omaha), Danny Jackson (22), Mark Gubicza (21), and Bret Saberhagen (20). Though not all of them were consistently successful that year, Kansas City had performed one of the greatest player-development feats of all time, introducing four of the best pitchers of the era simultaneously.