In August, there was a league rate of 4.1%, the highest since August 2009. And now in September there’s a league rate of 4.4%, the highest since August 2004. Again, yes, I know, it’s a partial month, but let’s put some stuff together. In this season’s second half, which is nearly complete, the league rate of home runs on contact has been 4.1%. Since 2000, there have been 32 individual “season halves.” This half’s rate would rank third-highest, behind only the first half of 2000 and the second half of 2004. The first half’s rate this year, incidentally, ranks 24th. The seasons below it are fairly recent. In the second half, homers have taken off, and they’ve taken run-scoring with it. It’s not just your favorite team that’s scoring more runs lately. It’s most of the teams. Sorry if that’s discouraging?
In 53.5 percent of the fictional seasons, Donaldson exceeds Trout. But in the other 46.5 percent, Trout betters Donaldson. With such an even split, it’s difficult to say for sure whether Trout or Donaldson has contributed more to his team’s success. If we use WAR as our guide, we have little basis to determine which player deserves the MVP more. The confidence interval on Donaldson’s WAR is simply too large to be sure that he’s the more valuable of the two. That’s not to say that Donaldson isn’t our best guess, only that we are not confident in that guess; Trout is a perfectly defensible choice as well.
Mulder probably also started being a little more careful in his delivery. He might have noticed a small mistake he made on the pitch before and made a point to correct it on the next one. There is no room to make a mistake in a runners-in-scoring-position scenario. So while a pitcher might rely on muscle memory in a different at-bat, now he finds himself thinking about the thing that he does with his left elbow. This might actually improve his pitches (or might not), but for something that is usually automatic and does not require a lot of thought, it suddenly becomes something that requires a lot of energy-draining pondering.
We know that pitchers generally lose some of their mojo as the game goes along and the pitch count climbs higher. But there's something to be said for the idea that perhaps not all pitches are created equal. If a pitcher finds himself with a lot on his plate mentally, should his manager airlift him from the game a little earlier than he might otherwise?
James wasn't exactly wrong. He said that a four-man rotation was feasible and possible, and could be successful. He didn't say it was probable. His hypothesis remains untested. What's jarring is how it seems certain not to be tested, maybe ever again. Injuries haven't been prevented more successfully as teams have gradually decreased their reliance on each individual pitcher on their staff, and while run scoring is down, "pitchers are better" is perhaps fourth or fifth on a good list of reasons for that.
Based on only this very limited evidence, Mets fans shouldn’t worry, and Jays fans shouldn’t get overconfident. We know the playoffs are pretty random, and this doesn’t look like a way to be able to see how they’ll go. I can even turn the tables around: while the Mets have struggled some against better opponents, they’ve throttled the crap out of weaker ones. And while the Blue Jays have crushed better opponents, they haven’t kept that up against weaker ones. It’s a lot like platoon splits and hitters — you don’t want to pay too much attention to the splits themselves, because you can probably get the most information from the overall performance. The Mets have done worse than some teams in one area, and better in the other. That which is encouraging and discouraging cancels out.
Ideally, a good manager would be able to bring his team to heights thought impossible based on its on-field talent, and since 2003, every MOY has done that. All 24 winners since then helped their respective teams beat their PECOTA projections.
Six of the 12 American League managers who won the award managed teams projected to finish below .500, and each guided his team to a percentage of .500 or better. Tony Peña with the 2003 Royals accounted for the largest bump, with a 117-point gap between his team’s actual winning percentage and what PECOTA projected. (That team really was a miracle.)
Let's make this clear: A zero-homer regular is fundamentally distinguishable from a one-homer regular. That might sound silly to the statistics-minded, but I believe it's true. While zero-homer seasons often are the result of fluke or environment or not being allowed to complete the season, there is a subspecies of big-league batter (or there was one, at least) that actually lacks the power to hit a home run. The difference can sometimes be of kind, not of degree.
This phenomenon—going three years without a regular hitter failing to homer—is not, in itself, new, nor is it sufficient evidence that players of this type have permanently disappeared. No player qualified for the batting title with zero homers from 2002 to 2004, nor from 1996 to 1998. Each time, someone did eventually turn the trick again, so the recent history of the Fraternity of the Powerless is a spotty but resilient one. There always seems to be a guy buzzing on the horizon, or one seeing his power evaporate even as he clings to a regular job.
If you delve deeper, it’s a little more complicated. Below is the graph of the relationship between pace and home runs per fly ball output for 500-plus qualified batters since 2007. While the output looks promising, and the relationship is significant (p is less than .0001), the relationship is not strong. A player’s pace at the plate explains about 10.1% of their power output. That’s weaker than the relationship of a player’s batting average on balls in play from one year to the next — and that’s generally considered a weak relationship.
Many in player development believe that, with good makeup and the right mentality, players can build their skills at any level. For Nichols, players need to have the fortitude to handle failure and be able to embrace the possibility that they will struggle before they succeed: “makeup is as important as talent, in my opinion. Baseball will humble anyone. If you don’t love the game and the competition, you are not going to survive.” Similarly, Levin says that most players will respond well to a difficult assignment, and he values players who aren’t afraid of failure: “if you think a guy will mentally struggle (with a difficult assignment) he may not be a guy you want in your system anyway.”
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