Thursday, June 25, 2009

NLCS Presents: Informed Political Discourse


New project: tricking search engines and link aggregaters by embedding (H.J. Res. 57) misleading (llama farming) words (Brangelina) and phrases (natural male enhancement) into my posts.

Towards that end, Evan Longoria will henceforce be referred to as Eva [sic] Longoria, and one or more of the words "hot," "nude," "naked," "sex," "movies," or "pics" will always precede and/or follow any mention of his achievements.

Example: Eva [sic] Longoria has slowed down a bit after his hot April/May start, but he still leads the A.L. in XBH and is in the top ten in runs created, batting wins, SLG, OPS, OPS+, HR, sextape, 2B, and TB.


Balloteering for positions.

Wondering who in the NL Central deserves a spot in the All-Star Game? I kind of was, so I wrote an article about it.

Really I was looking at who could reasonably be argued as one of the top two at a given position in the National League. I focused mainly on WAR, OPS+, and EqA. Here are the choices by team:

Chicago Cubs: None.
Fukudome comes close but he's tied for 8th among OF for WAR and his EqA is only .279. Ramirez would be up there but he actually tried to show some range in the field and his shoulder rebelled against this idea.

Cincinnati Reds: None.
Poor Joey Votto. He's having a great year but trails Pujols, Gonzalez, and Fielder in most categories. Brandon Phillips is having a good year as well but Utley and Sanchez edge him out. Ryan Hannigan is having a good year at the plate but is not as good offensively as McCann or defensively as Molina and they both lead him out in WAR.

Houston Astros: Hunter Pence
Pence is surprising me and I'll eat my words if he maintains this through the end of the season (BABIP .355 so far). Michael Bourn is tied with Fukudome at 8th for OF WAR and is having a slightly better year at the plate. I would be surprised if it is enough. I wouldn't be surprised if Rodriguez gets elected in what is expected to be his last year.

Milwaukee Brewers: Ryan Braun, Mike Cameron
Braun is developing into a true superstar which has me excited and nervous. There are stories about his marketability being targeted by all kinds of people and this makes it harder for me to envision him remaining in Milwaukee. Cameron started the year crushing at the plate and although he has cooled off his work in the field has been outstanding (20 FRAR, 9 FRAA). Fielder is trailing only Gonzalez and Pujols but it might be enough to keep him out.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Freddy Sanchez
Sanchez is having an excellent year at the plate and in the field and trails only Chase Utley among second basemen for WAR. Watch for him at the trade deadline as his contract ends with a club option for next year that the Pirates may not want to spend. This may be good for Freddy as the Pirates are terrible.

St Louis Cardinals: Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina
Pujols just barely edges out just kidding he is destoying everything. Yadier's decent year at the plate combined with his always awesome defense keeps him in the top two C for WAR.

EDIT: I realized as I finished writing that I ignored injuries. I know Beltran and Ibanez both may not play the game if elected which could open up windows for Fukudome or Bourn. I don't feel like going back and checking each leaderboard for injured players so my lists assume the game is being played in an XBox and injures are set to "only Aramis Ramirez."

Monday, June 22, 2009

Common sense

Albert Pujols has passed Chase Utley and now is the top vote getter for the All-Star game. While I encourage this seeing as how Pujols leads the league in everything there is a small discrepancy I'd like to acknowledge. All-Star ballotting is done by league and by position. Pujols leads all players in WAR with 5.5. The next closest NL 1B is Adrian Gonzalez with 4.7. Utley sits at 3.2. The next closest NL 2B is Freddy Sanchez with 3.0. It really shouldn't be this close.

It should be noted that Sanchez narrows the gap between himself and Utley mostly through defense even though he is having a good year at the plate.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Yeah, yeah, so I've been busy. Sue me. But while we're on the topic of the "worst" awesome player in baseball today, I'll float out a little nugget of conversation obliterating the St. Louis radiowaves lately.

A poll question on, the website for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, begged the question of this, and I paraphrase:

What would be worse for the city of St. Louis to lose? The St. Louis Rams, or Albert Pujols?

The answer, to me, is obvious. The answer was obvious to many people in my fantasy baseball league as well, only their obvious answer went the other way. Now, I hope you are right thinking people and understand the economic loss the city would sustain if a National Football League franchise were to leave town, which was my argument. One player, who very well may be starting a decline by 2011 (debatable, sure), is unquestionably better for the city to lose than a football team. In simple numbers, if Pujols leaves, one job leaves town. If the Rams leave, hundreds of jobs leave town or are lost completely. Simple mathematics.

Clearly the question is just that, a poll question. Most folks reading this blog are not from St. Louis, I assume, and thus don't really know how Cardinal management does business. Allow me to enlighten you. Now, I know, I know, "stop complaining, the Cardinals are competitive every year, yadda yadda yadda." I know. It's been a sweet ride. However, the Cardinals operate as a small market team. Our payroll is something like 81 million right now. Middle of the pack. Not showing off, not lagging behind. A lot of our success has come from, no offense, but from being in a shitty division. A .530 winning percentage is generally good enough to win the Central, but it's not the mark of a pennant contender. Granted in 2004 and 2005 the Cardinals were, in a word, great. But we won in 2006 with a shitty team that got hot at the right time.

In his tenure, Cardinal owner Bill DeWitt has done nothing to indicate that he is much more than a money grubbing owner. The payroll is always middle of the pack - I believe we are 14th currently. The team is generally competetive but not stellar...juuuuust good enough to stay competetive until October. Couple that with the fact that we are 4th in terms of highest ticket prices with the most expensive concessions in the league, and old Billy Boy is making money hand over fist. I get that it's a business, but the team could always be so much better, and it's more than a coincidence that we never go out and get a FA who isn't a "project" (Kyle Lohse, Kip Wells) who we can get off the scrap heap and hope Dave Duncan can work another miracle. The last "big" free agent we picked up was Jason Isringhausen, I believe, and he wasn't that big. Before that it was Ron Gant. They've done well through trades (Jim Edmonds), but then again they've also done not so well (Dan Haren).

My point through this incoherent rambling is this: the Cardinals are in no way a sure-fire lock to re-sign Albert Pujols. He'll command 25-30 million a year, and more importantly he wants to win. Not squeak by and have a shot at the Central, but he wants a team that is committed to giving him protection and a team that is a perennial contender. All the folks in my fantasy league and all the yahoos on sports talk radio better deal with the good possibility that Albert might be gone in 2011 and it won't be the end of the world. We'll come away with a fucking HAUL of young stud talent that should shore up two positions and 2/5 of the pitching staff for years to come - and theoretically we'll have another 30 million to spend on free agents (yeah, right!).

Believe me, I'd love to have my cake and eat it too. But since I know I can't, Pujols can go and give me the prospects. I'd rather have 5-10 more years atop the standings than .500 ball or worse with 1/3 of our salary going to one dude. Oh, and let us keep the Rams - no matter how shitty they are.

Comparing Pirates Aces

Only one team remains in my WAR-based analysis of NL Central aces of the last half century: the Pittsburgh Pirates. Once again, I had to do some digging to find my four candidates. Two were obvious: Doug Drabek, whose brilliant 1990 campaign is an early formative baseball memory of mine, and Dock Ellis, charter member of the Shrine of the Eternals and subject of some of the great baseball stories of the '60s and '70s. Once I bolstered my Pirates knowledge with a bit of research, I realized that to round out my final four I need look no further than the Bobs: Bob Friend and Bob Veale. Both were excellent pitchers who get overlooked because, with the exception of Friend's World Champion Pirates of 1960, their teams were mediocre to terrible. But, as I hope to show, they were extremely valuable on the mound during their tenures in Pittsburgh.

Because Friend started pitching before my available WAR data (his rookie year was 1951, but Sean Smith's WAR database begins with 1953), he gets short shrift in this analysis. But, once each pitcher's seasonal WAR is graphed in descending order, it becomes pretty obvious that Friend was still far and away the most valuable Pirates pitcher of the past half century:

Friend easily outpaces the rest of the Pirates pitchers on my short list. His 48.2 Pirates WAR is likely low by 2-3 wins since neither his 1951 nor his 1952 season is accounted for (which, by the way, is why I haven't included a career WAR graph as I have in previous posts), but Veale's 26.8 is the next highest total, and he's not even close. Veale surprised me, actually. I expected him to beat out Drabek, which he did (26.8 to 21.8), but I expected Drabek's peak to be higher. Basically, I figured that Drabek burned a bit brighter but not for long enough, when in fact Veale's Xth best year beat out Drabek's Xth best year every single time. Impressive.

Unfortunately, Ellis surprised me, too. I was really pulling for Dock to make a better showing than the 14.5 WAR he put up as a Pirate. But he just didn't produce like the other three men on my list (though I will say this for Ellis: how many stories do people tell about Bob Friend throwing at every single batter he faced in order to motivate his team?).

Next up: the final "battle royale" between the top pitchers from each team. Gibson! Jenkins! Higuera! Oswalt! Rijo! Friend!

Numbers! Graphs! Unicorns! Exclamation marks!

Nothing to see here.

Just an "All-Star" going 0 for 2 with no runs scored, no RsBI, and no talent. He did leave two men on base though so at least his day wasn't a total waste.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

This Person Exists

From "Farnsworth said he owned two American bulldogs, one about 80 pounds and the other about 90 pounds. They're named Strike and Rambo."

Stone. Strike. Rambo. Wow.

A most unimpressive homerun by Pujols.

A solo shot when his team wins 11-2 is not enough to convince me Pujols is anything other than another overrated superfart.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Pujols sucks it up while the rest of the Cardinals...join him in sucking it up

Pujols went 0 for 3 yesterday in a none too surprising move, given his general awfulness. The Cards only got three hits off of Cliff Lee who carried a no hitter into the eighth so the good news is that Pujols wasn't dragging his team down for once.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Is This the End of Zombie Shakes...Eric Chavez?

Unfortunately, it's the end of Chavez's 2009 season at the least, and perhaps of his career, as the oft-injured Athletics third baseman will have back surgery yet again.

Chavez hasn't played more than 90 games since 2006, and he hasn't been even close to 90 games since 2007. But from 2000 to 2006, he was a perennial Gold Glover who hit for power and was consistently above average in OPS+. Put simply, he was a bright young star in the A's system (despite, incidentally, never making an All-Star team) who got hurt in his prime:

As a fan and an athlete myself (though, as evidenced by the fact that I write about baseball rather than playing it, not much of an athlete in the grand scheme), I hate to see this sort of thing happen to a player; Chavy seemed to have found his groove as a consistently All-Star caliber third baseman (something that, hopefully, voters outside of Oakland would have eventually recognized) when the injury bug bit.

But as much of a shame as it would be to see Chavez forced to walk away from the game so prematurely, it would be even worse to see him ruin his chance at a healthy post-baseball life if he stages an ill-conceived comeback attempt. So here's hoping that whether next year finds Chavez stepping to the plate in uniform to continue his career or in a suit to end it, A's fans give him the standing ovation he deserves.

Best of luck, Eric.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Today's Pujols bashing posted after the 1st inning.

Nice strikeout. I assume the rest of his day went about the same.

I Shin-Soo Choo Choo Choose You

That's right, I went there.

Just when non-Zach-Greinke things couldn't get any worse for the Royals...well, you know the rest of that cliché. Shin-Soo Choo won the game for the Indians on Thursday with a walk off single against Royals reliever Kyle "Professor" Farnsworth—and off a particularly well- (or, depending on your perspective, poorly-) placed seagull.

The ridiculous end to Thursday's game prompted a particularly entertaining post from Joe Posnanski (I'm reminded of the mostly-wonderful Royals by Mail).

Choo's seagull shot also puts him in second place on my all-time gullball list, which now reads as follows:

1.) Randy Johnson
2.) Shin-Soo Choo
3.) Randy Johnson
4.) Randy Johnson
5.) Randy Johnson
6.) Randy Johnson
7.) Randy Johnson
8.) Randy Johnson
9.) Randy Johnson
10.) Randy Johnson

Todd Helton, the Hall of Fame, and a Rain-Delayed White Sox Game

This past Thursday, I attended my first game at U.S. Cellular Field since September 20, 2006 when the Tigers came to town and beat the Southsiders 6-2 in what was, for all intents and purposes, playoff caliber baseball. The Tigers were in town on Thursday, as well, albeit on a much drearier, rainier day. Caleb and I sat through a three hour rain delay before the game began, during which we had a couple beers, listened to stadium organist Nancy Faust play all manner of amazingly hilarious renditions of popular music from the past forty years (her first selection after we arrived at the ballpark at 12:45 was this), and watched 7+ innings of the Brewers-Rockies series finale on the jumbotron.

* * *

It was while watching the Brewers game that I saw a familiar poll question appear on the bigscreen: is Todd Helton a first-ballot Hall of Famer? Len Kasper and Bob Brenly brought up this very question when the Rockies came to town earlier this year, and then as now I felt as though the commentators were asking the wrong question. The question, I thought, shouldn't be whether or not Todd Helton is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but whether or not Todd Helton is a Hall of Famer at all. With those questions in mind once more, I decided to do a little digging into Todd Helton's Hall of Fame case.

Any discussion of Todd Helton's Hall of Fame candidacy, of course, has to begin with his 2000-2004 seasons, during which he was an absolute monster. Just to put Helton's performances during that stretch into perspective, I took his five year season lows and put them all together to create his worst composite season during that period:

.329/.429/.577, 1.006 OPS (147 OPS+), 182 H, 39 2B, 2 3B, 30 HR, 319 TB, 98 BB, 104 SO, 0 SB, 5 CS, 107 R, 96 RBI

Obviously, those numbers don't add up due to my ridiculously imprecise "methods," and it's worth noting that a whole lot of those lows are from Helton's 2002 campaign, but I can't imagine a single major league GM who wouldn't love to add that kind of production to his lineup for even one year, let alone five. That's a superstar year, and it is in every way possible the worst year that I could cobble together for Helton during his five year peak.

But the next issue that any Helton-for-the-Hall discussion needs to deal with is his power outage after the '04 season. Since 2004, Todd Helton has never hit more than 20 home runs, and he's done that only once. In fairness to Helton, he still gets on base like a beast (if he maintains his .384 OBP for the rest of the 2009 season, it will be his lowest since 1998, his first full year in the bigs), and there are plenty of Hall of Fame hitters who either lost their power or never had any in the first place. Of course, most former power hitters who went on to the Hall of Fame enjoyed longer peaks than Helton (whose power peak lasted six years, including 1999), and most of the guys who never had any power in the first place were slick glove and/or speed men up the middle of the diamond (with some obvious exceptions like Boggs and Gwynn). Helton is a first baseman, and this year's Hall of Fame voting was not particularly kind to the most recently eligible all-OBP no-SLG first sacker.

Still, there's no denying that Helton was a monster for five or six years, and has been a very valuable ballplayer for another three or four. But how valuable, exactly, and how has his value stacked up against Hall of Fame hitters in general and, in light of the first ballot question, first-ballot hitters in particular?

The first question seems like the logical place to start. Helton's numbers were eye-popping during his peak years, but so were those of a lot of other players in the early aughts (lest we forget). So how good was Helton in context, and how valuable has he remained post-peak? Pretty valuable, as it turns out, as recently as 2007. Here's how Helton's numbers have translated into baseball currency (runs) over the course of his career, including adjustments for position:

Offense includes batting, baserunning, and GIDP values; Defense includes TotalZone and infield double play numbers, and Positional is the RAR system's way to account for different positions on the diamond. Math whizzes who aren't familiar with RAR will notice that the three values I've given first don't add up to the total RAR values. That's because I haven't graphed the replacement level values that go into converting from "raw" runs above average to runs above replacement.

But the graph is still telling: during his peak years, Helton was worth between 60 and 90 RAR for the Colorado Rockies, and much of that was on the strength of his bat (though it's worth noting that Helton's reputation as an excellent glove man at first is warranted; he has been above average on defense throughout most of his career). But are those big seasons enough for Cooperstown to come calling?

My immediate thought was to simply compare Helton's production to that of the already enshrined. Fortunately for me, several folks over at Beyond the Box Score (JBrew and TucsonRoyal in particular) have already done quite a bit of legwork in order to establish baseline Hall of Fame performance levels using Wins Above Replacement (WAR), which frequent readers of NLCS (both of you!) will recognize as one of my favorite statistics. (To put my first graph in context, 10 RAR ~ 1 WAR.)

My next move was to use JBrew's data for average Hall of Famer WAR and compare it to Helton's 12-year career (as of the end of 2008):

As you can see, Helton's best seven seasons compare favorably to those of the average Hall of Famer, but then Helton falls off a comparative cliff.

But the question raised by both the Cubs and Brewers telecasts that prompted me to perform this analysis in the first place was not whether Helton is a Hall of Famer, but whether Helton is a first ballot Hall of Famer. Comparing him to the average resident of Cooperstown doesn't do much to answer that question. So I narrowed the dataset down to include only those players who were inducted into the Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility (data available here).

As it turns out, all but six first-balloters (Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, and Jackie Robinson) played recently enough that most or all of their careers are included in Sean Smith's historical WAR database. Once I had worked out what the average first ballot inductee's WAR looked like, I graphed Helton again, this time against the very creamiest of the crop:

Helton still stacks up pretty well in his top seven seasons; in fact, there doesn't seem to be much of an upward jump in Cooperstown standards when we limit the HoF WAR sampling to first balloters:

In general, the difference between a first ballot Hall of Famer and the average Hall of Famer (importantly, the "average" HoFer values include first balloters) is about half a win per year. Based on WAR, we can see that during his peak years Helton was playing like a borderline first-ballot Hall of Famer, then like a slightly below average Hall of Famer during his remaining good years, and that he's been well below the average immortal in the remaining five years of his career. And this twelve year WAR graph is something of a best case scenario right now, as most players who end up in Cooperstown these days played for much longer than 12 (soon to be 13) seasons:

That's an awful lot of ground for Helton to make up. In order for him to look like a first ballot Hall of Famer, he'll need another five or six years in the 3-5 WAR range, and Helton is already 35. That doesn't mean he won't be a Hall of Famer if he hangs up his spikes tomorrow; hell, he might already be a first ballot Hall of Famer in the eyes of enough voters for him to find himself at the podium in 2014 accepting his election as the Rockies' first representative in Cooperstown. But by at least one metric (and one that I tend to put a lot of stock in), he sure doesn't look like a first ballot Hall of Famer—and perhaps not even like a Hall of Famer, period.

In light of this, perhaps the question that we should be asking isn't "Is Todd Helton a first-ballot Hall of Famer?" or even "Is Todd Helton a Hall of Famer at all?" but rather "Why are we asking about Todd Helton's Hall of Fame chances right now?" His peak, while impressive, probably won't be enough for enshrinement on its own given the historical context, not to mention park effects, which I haven't even mentioned in my analysis [EDIT: though they are accounted for in WAR] but which will absolutely come into play any time a Rockie finds his way to a Hall of Fame ballot. And who knows? Helton could surprise us all and put up four or five good years before calling it quits. So let's wait and see what the next few seasons have in store for Helton, as well what next year's vote has in store for the first legitimate Hall of Fame candidate to put up most of his numbers in Denver, Larry Walker, before we go trying to figure out if Todd Helton has punched his ticket to Cooperstown.

* * *

I was, of course, unable to argue my point so clearly off the cuff, but Caleb and I talked of Helton and the Hall regardless. Were I to show Past Dave and Past Caleb the first half of this post, they'd both be rather surprised: we gave Helton a rather dismal shot at election at the time. But we were perhaps overly pessimistic, particularly in light of the ray of hope that was 2007.

When the game finally began around 4:00, Caleb and I had already been watching baseball and talking baseball for over three hours, but Chicago-Detroit didn't disappoint. Floyd pitched a gem, Thome and Granderson (the two players who both Caleb and I were most invested in) had big games, and thanks to Granderson's 2-run shot off of Bobby Jenks in the top of the ninth, there was plenty of drama late.

And of course, this was a Sox game, so when Ramon Santiago hit a solo home run in the eighth, the whole stadium gave him the booing of a lifetime (quoth Caleb, "Who bothers to boo Ramon Santiago?").*

*Before any furious Sox fans try to remind me: Yes, I'm well aware that Cubs fans en masse are just as bad.

But the highlight of the day for both of us, by far, occurred in the bottom of the second when highly touted prospect Gordon Beckham strode to the plate and this happened. That's right, the kid's entrance music is "Your Love" by The Outfield. Beckham gave one of Edwin Jackson's offerings a pretty good ride to left center, but it died on the track. He got good wood on another pitch in his second at-bat against Jackson, but to no avail.

Fortunately, he hit a home run with "Your Love" and, in doing so, instantly became both Caleb's and my favorite player on the White Sox (sorry, Jimmy T.). He also softened the blow of having to watch A.J. Pierzynski hit a home run to right. As I said to Caleb, "If every Pierzynski home run is followed by Gordon Beckham walking to the plate to that song, I hope he hits 170."

Going into the top of the ninth, I laid out my plans for the ideal game: the Tigers would score two runs to tie the game and the White Sox would be shut down in the ninth, sending us to extras and setting up Gordon Beckham's first Major League home run, a glorious walk-off in the bottom of the whatever. When Curtis Granderson took Bobby Jenks deep to tie things up, things were looking good for the Perfect Game.

But the ninth inning didn't work out quite as planned. Brian Anderson led off with a single off Joel Zumaya. Zumaya then mishandled Chris Goetz's sacrifice bunt attempt and threw the ball away, putting runners on second and third. Josh Fields walked to load the bases, bringing up Scott Podsednik with a chance to win the game. I told Caleb that if Beckham couldn't win the game, a Podsednik-struck walk-off grand slam would be one hell of a consolation prize. He quickly agreed.

And then things got weird.

Podsednik fouled a ball towards the third base side that Brandon Inge chased like a madman. Inge lunged into the stands in shallow left with a bead on the ball only to have it deflected away by a Sox fan. While Inge, furious, began to argue for fan interference (an argument that Jim Leyland and some of his staff joined), the fan raised the ball triumphantly in his hands and turned to all corners of the stadium to bask in the adulation of the rest of the ballpark. (On our way out of the park, we walked right past this guy while he, gesturing furiously and with the ball still in his hand, screamed "I took it away from you!" at every Tigers fan he passed.)

I have an inordinate amount of respect for Section 510, which joined us in booing this jerkbag until we were blue in the face. This includes several fans who were decked to the nines in Sox apparel, one of whom yelled "Let 'em fuckin' play!" in front of his gradeschool daughter.

What made this scene even more odious is the fact that, during the rain delay, we'd been "treated" to the White Sox World Series film, during which we'd watched Joe Crede make his amazing catch in the '05 series in much the same spot at Minute Maid Park as Podsednik's foul had landed at U.S. Cellular. At the time, Caleb and I had talked about how classy the fans in Houston were for getting out of the way of a ballplayer in general, and an opposing ballplayer in particular, and allowing him the chance to make a play. We had no idea how portentious such a line of discussion would turn out to be.

It's worth noting, by the way, that with all of Inge's momentum taking him away from the plate, not to mention the fact that he fell into the stands to try to make a play, Anderson probably could have tagged up and scored from third even if Inge had caught the ball. But, as history will forever show, Podsednik got another chance, and hit a sharp grounder through on the right side to end the game. It's likely that the Sox would have won regardless, but it was a shame to see a fan intentionally break up a play like that.

Come on, guys. Let 'em fuckin' play.

Apples and better baseball players

Albert Pujols did hit a homerun yesterday but was totally outplayed by Shin-Soo Choo who went 3 for 4 with 3 RBI. Also, Shin-Soo Choo is much better at pleasing women.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


While the rest of the Cardinals were busy getting 17 hits Albert Pujols only managed one. Way to go, lameass. I'm sure Barden enjoyed being stranded too.

Talkin' 'bout Walkin'


Joe Posnanski has been writing about the base on balls quite a bit of late, first on his blog, and more recently in a combined effort with Bill James on Between the two articles, Posnanski and James make numerous claims, some anecdotal and some statistical, concerning the benefits of the "free pass" (as well as, indirectly, why calling a base on balls a "free pass" is a misnomer), all while correctly assuming that the walk is and always has been underappreciated.

But it's worth noting that, even during the early days of the game, there were proponents of the base on balls. Posnanski and James tell some wonderful stories about players and managers who fall into this category, but their only examples of off-field opinions on the walk are negative: the lack of a BB column on baseball cards back in the day, the ridiculous (for those of us who, like James and Posnanski, dig OBP) caveat issued in the first MLB statistical guide to include walk totals for hitters, and so on. Yet as early as 1917, F.C. Lane, then editor of Baseball Magazine, wrote this article, in which he extolls the benefits of the walk and claims that "ignoring the base on balls puts a decided premium on sheer blind slugging and discourages brainy inside baseball." It was 1917, and Lane was already attempting to quantify the benefits of each method of reaching base and, in doing so, was seeing past a hopelessly incomplete (and frustratingly elevated, then as now) batting average statistic that elided walks entirely. It's a wonderful piece, and is made all the better for its syntactical similarities to a certain late night television host's take on old time baseball.

Comparing Reds Aces

Cincinnati is the next stop on my tour of NL Central aces from the past half century, and although the Reds don't have a Bob Gibson or a Fergie Jenkins to show for the last fifty years, they have sent a lot of talent to the mound (certainly more than I anticipated when I started stratching my head and thinking "Jose Rijo and...?"). There was Mario Soto, whose struck out 1248, tops among all big leaguers, during a six-year run from 1980-1985. Then there was Tom Seaver, who came over from New York in the late seventies and was still a solid to very good pitcher (ignoring 1982, of course) even though his best years were behind him. Nowadays, Aaron Harang heads the Reds staff despite slipping a bit in '08 and early '09. Along with Rijo, these three make for a solid group of pitching talent for the purposes of my admittedly cursory, WAR-centric analysis.

First up (as usual), here is each player's year-by-year WAR as a Red. Note that only Soto started his career in Cincy (though Harang only spent a little over a year in Oakland before being traded to the Reds for Jose Guillen in 2003):

I must say, I really expected Seaver's '82 season to have costed the Reds more than ~1 win (Seaver's WAR was -0.8). Sure, he only started 21 games that year, but it was by far his worst season: 5.50 ERA (67 ERA+), 1.617 WHIP, 11.0 H/9, 1.1 HR/9, 3.6 BB/9, 5.0 K/9, and 1.41 K/BB is not a typical Tom Terriffic line. But Seaver's 1982 campaign serves as a useful example of just how difficult it is to significantly affect a team's chances of success (positively or negatively) as a single player, making all four of these pitchers' peaks that much more impressive.

Based on the career path graph, Rijo and Soto clearly have the edge in WAR, and graphing each pitcher's WAR in descending order makes that edge even more obvious:

Rijo takes the gold, as it were, with 34.3 WAR in a Reds uniform, with Soto in second with 26.9. Seaver and Harang are well behind the top two due to a combination of lower peaks and shorter service time, with 18.7 and 17.3 WAR, respectively, though Harang will likely add to his total, particularly if he starts pitching like 2007 Aaron Harang again rather than 2008 Harang. As for Mr. George Thomas Seaver...well, there's a reason he's sporting a Mets cap on his Hall of Fame plaque. He was still (mostly) a very good pitcher in Cincinnati, but his best years were in New York, where he was worth a staggering 75.8 WAR over 11+ seasons.

Of course, now that you, dear reader, know that Jose Rijo, not Tom Terrific, is the most valuable Reds pitcher of the past fifty years, I recommend stocking up on soon-to-be obscenely valuable Rijo memorabilia from the early '90s. Sure, Donruss printed about 62 million sets of the '91 line, but it's bound to be worth something someday soon. Right? Right?

On an unrelated note, I have several hundred vintage Jose Rijo cards for sale. Free or best offer.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

New Policy

So as much as it pains me to do it I am going to post inflammatory things about Albert Pujols each game until Steve posts more.

OOOhhh, nice 0 for 4 line. Way to get struck out by the mighty Josh Johnson too.

Unfortunately (or not), I now hate three of the players featured.

Top five moments from Homer at the Bat:
5. "I still like him better than Steinbrenner."
4. Mr. Burns's original desired lineup included a player that has been dead for 130 years.
3. Lenny's imagination of Homer with a laser that incinerates his opponents.
2. "Lord Palmerston!" "Pitt the Elder!"
1. The closing credits song.

I am prepared to defend all of these.

I should note that I compiled this list after my original intention of a sabermetric analysis of the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant softball team fell through due to lack of data. The only thing I could say for certain was that because every at bat shown/known for Homer and Daryl is a homerun (one HBP for Homer) Daryl's VORP is technically 0.0.

Comparing Astros Aces

One of the benefits of researching this staff ace series is that I've had a chance to dig into the numbers for some pitchers who I remember vividly from my earliest days as a baseball fan and, in doing so, quantify or challenge assumptions I've made about these players for as long as I knew why the IP column on the back of my baseball cards sometimes included numbers with decimals.

Mike Scott is one such pitcher. I remember (inaccurately, as it turns out) Scott and Nolan Ryan striking out 300 hitters each in the same season more than once when, as it turns out, Scott "only" struck out 300+ once in his career (in his insanely dominant 1986 season), and the two never struck out 300 in the same season. In fact, Ryan never struck out 300 in an Astros uniform at all! The closest he ever came was 270 in '87 (though he struck out 301 in his very first season with Texas). I remembered Scott as the dominant pitcher he was on the back of the baseball cards I collected as a kid, not as the pitcher who had a short but amazing run and then faded, as so very many players do. It's a good thing I'm not, say, a Hall of Fame voter who abhors research and votes based on impressions I formed of players ten, fifteen, or even twenty years ago.

That said, both Scott and Ryan absolutely belong in this discussion. Scott came up with the Mets before being traded to Houston and breaking out in the mid-80's and enjoying a stretch of five years as a top-flight starter. I assume Ryan needs no introduction. Rounding out the Final Four are J.R. Richard, the former first-rounder who appeared to be on the fast track to super-stardom before a stroke tragically ended his career, and Roy Oswalt, the underappreciated ace of the current Astros staff.

The elephant in the room, at least from recent years, is Roger Clemens, but although he was absolutely lights-out in two-and-a-half seasons with the Astros, he didn't pitch in Houston long enough to merit consideration, and his ridiculous 2006 and 2007 decision holdouts hamstrung Houston significantly (even in 2006, when Clemens eventually joined the team midseason and pitched brilliantly).

With the contenders established, let's start by looking at each pitcher's Astros WAR as it fits into his overall career path:

Scott's peak is far-and-away the most impressive when measured by WAR, but all four pitchers enjoyed peak seasons in the 6.0+ WAR range, so when it comes to career WAR, consistency and longevity will win this race. Since all four pitchers were with the Astros for 9-10 years, longevity is essentially out the window. As for consistency, both Oswalt and Ryan were worth ~2 wins to the Astros at minimum each year, but Oswalt's low end and high end WAR values were better than Ryan's, making him the favorite. Graphing each pitcher's WAR in descending order from best season to worst season makes Oswalt's edge obvious:

Oswalt, as the second graph illustrates rather vividly, blew away the competition in an extraordinarily talented field with 36.4 WAR as of last season, and his lead is only going to increase. Ryan was over ten wins behind with 26.2. Scott and Richard, on the strength of their brief but brilliant peaks, were just behind Ryan with 23.5 and 22.4 career Astros WAR, respectively.

Since the Astros began play in 1962 (as the Houston Colt .45's), every single season in Houston is covered by Baseball Projection's wonderful WAR databases, which means that Oswalt, while certainly not the best pitcher the Astros organization has every sent to the mound, has done more than any other Astros pitcher in franchise history to add to the "W" column. And he's a damned fine pitcher in his own right, lest cries of "compiler!" be made. In eight full seasons, Oswalt has thrown 200+ innings six times, struck out 200 twice (and dipped below 150 only once), never had an ERA+ of less than 120, and only once had a WHIP over 1.250. He has a career ERA of 3.20 for an ERA+ of 136 (that's 36% fewer earned runs than the average pitcher over his entire career!), a 1.205 WHIP, 7.4 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, 3.57 K/BB, and 0.8 HR/9 (Crawford Boxes be damned!). He's even won 20 games twice and 19 games once, for those who care about wins.

And yet, Oswalt seems to be perenially overshadowed by flashier stars in his division or even on his own team (Clemens and Andy Pettitte, anyone?). Hell, he couldn't even take home RotY honors in 2001, despite a fantastic rookie campaign, because some jerk named Pujols decided to put together one of the greatest rookie seasons in history.

So if somebody starts talking NL Central aces and doesn't mention Oswalt (or, if he remains in the division, Ben Sheets for that matter), remind him or her just how good the Astros ace really is. And if any of you Houston fans see Roy Oswalt on the street, give him a hug and thank him for his unparalled contributions to your team. He deserves it, the big lug...

Monday, June 8, 2009

Pujols: "1-run Sac Flies are for Little Girly Men"

Despite a great catch by the Rockies' Carlos Gonzalez, Albert Pujols managed to drive in two runs on one sacrifice fly this afternoon in St. Louis. Pujols is hitting .333/.455/.682 for an OPS+ of 197 (!) so far on the season, and remains on pace for 50+ homers, 35+ doubles, 130+ walks (against less than 60 SO), ~180 hits, ~130 runs, ~150 RBIs, nearly 400 TB, and—perhaps most astonishing of all—20 stolen bases.

Those readers (do we even have readers?) who remember my Pujols post from April 28th will note that he remains on pretty much the same comically absurd pace six weeks further into the season.

Tune in next week when Pujols will hit a home run while playing defense.

Wide open

It should be noted that the NL Central is shaping up to be a race to the wire with no real favorite and everyone contending. Even though the Brewers hold a two game lead they are only at +22 in run differential, lowest among all division leaders (but tops in the NL Central). In fact, the run differential in the NL Central (51; Brewers +22, Astros -29) between the highest and lowest team is the smallest margin of all the divisions in baseball. The Astros are the only team in the division with a negative run differential (still only seven games back) and only the AL East can make the claim of only one team in the red (Baltimore -60, with the other four teams crushing). The point is, don't sleep on anyone in the Central to make a run and don't get too down if your team drops eight games straight. They aren't out of it yet.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Comparing Brewers Aces

The Brewers were a tougher team to find "aces" for than the Cubs or Cardinals. Obviously, there's Ben Sheets in the aughts, but the 70's, 80's, and 90's initially seemed like a wasteland for Brewers pitchers based on my (admittedly limited) memories of the club during the early days of my youth. Fortunately, a bit of research turned up some specters of baseball card collections past: Teddy Higuera, who I'd always thought was a flash-in-the-pan sort of player but who had several good years beyond his three dominant seasons; Mike Caldwell, who was a flash-in-the-pan but burned brightly for a couple years in the late 70's; and Bill Wegman, a slow-and-steady type who had two strong seasons in the early 90's and was largely average otherwise.

The list isn't chock full of Hall of Famers, but it made for an interesting comparison regardless. First, here's each player's WAR as a Brewer:

The season numbers on the x-axis represent each year of the player's career, so a player with a value at (1, y) began his career as a Brewer, while players further along the axis began their careers elsewhere and joined the team in year x of their careers (in this case, only Caldwell was a rookie outside of Milwaukee).

Here's the same data, but sorted in descending order from highest-WAR season as a Brewer to lowest:

As it turns out, Higeura was better than I'd remembered. Aside from his three big seasons, he also posted a WAR over 2.0 three more times, giving him a career WAR as a Brewer of 28.3, easily beating Sheets' second place total of 23.9. Bill Wegman, meanwhile, played tortoise to Mike Caldwell's hare, as the two came in third and fourth with WAR totals of 16.2 and 15.9, respectively.

It's worth noting, however, that Sheets put up his WAR totals in three fewer seasons than Higuera, and that although he is rehabbing from elbow surgery, he's still probably the best arm on the market right now (seriously, if nobody signs him to an incentive-laden contract after the draft, I'll be beyond baffled—Sheets is an ace when healthy, and he's bounced back from injury before). If the Brewers resign him, he could easily pass up Higuera with a good season or two. Plus, as Caleb would probably be quick to remind me if I failed to mention this, we may well be talking about Yovani Gallardo in a few years. But for now, Teddy Higuera is king of the mountain amongst Brewers aces in career WAR [edit: dammit, Caleb was right].

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Continuing Adventures of Juan Pierreborg

.367/.431/.473. 55 hits (10 2B, 3 3B, 0 HR) in 49 games. .904 OPS (138 OPS+). 14/15 BB/SO. 13/4 SB/CS. Abandon all hope, ye who pitch here.

Lest We Forget Rick

No, I wasn't [only] joking when I wrote my letter of apology to Rick Reuschel last month; I really do have every intention of posting Rick-related analysis on this site whenever I perform it or, better yet, stumble across it. And stumble I did! Cyril Morong of Cybermetrics posted an old article of his in which he makes a case for Big Daddy as a Hall of Famer. I'm not sure I buy Reuschel's Hall credentials (I need to do a bit more digging before I cast my inconsequencial yea or nay), but the article is a great read regardless.

Comparing Cardinals Aces

About a month ago, I compared Cubs aces from the last half century using pitcher WAR after a graphical tribute to Greg Maddux and Fergie Jenkins yielded some interesting results. At the time, I ran the numbers for the entire NL Central with the intention of turning the results into the NL Central Stage post whence spawned all lesser NL Central Stage posts. But compiling everything into one uberpost proved daunting at best, and so I went small and stuck to my Cubbies.

Nevertheless, I had all this data on my harddrive, so I thought, "Why not revisit my original data and break it all into manageable chunks in order to circumvent my own laziness?"

Having successfully outsmarted myself, I can now present to you round two of my team-by-team ace analysis: the St. Louis Cardinals.

When it comes to Cardinals pitchers of the past half century, there's Bob Gibson and then there's everyone else. But for the sake of argument, I wanted to plot Gibson against some other Cards aces. The trouble was, there really haven't been many between Bob Gibson's time and now. I settled on Matt Morris and Chris Carpenter, two recent pitchers who put together (in Morris's case) a string of good years or (in Carpenter's) a couple dominating years on the hill for the Redbirds. To put things in perspective, I added Bob Forsch, a solid but hardly dominant hurler from the 70's and 80's (pretty much immediately post-Gibson), to the mix, then graphed all four pitchers' career WARs with St. Louis. The results were illuminating, to say the least:

The next graph is of the same dataset, but organized in descending order:

Clearly, my "Bob Gibson and everyone else" instinct was spot on, at least with pitcher WAR as my graphical guiding star. But I honestly didn't expect Gibson to so completely dominate the other pitchers on this list. Obviously, Gibson's peak years were absolutely absurd. (1968: 304.2 IP, 1.12 ERA, 258 ERA+, 0.853 WHIP, 268/62 K/BB? That's inhuman, even in the Year of the Pitcher.) But I really expected Carpenter's 2005 Cy Young season to hold up to the competition better than it did. By WAR, Carpenter's best season would only have been Gibson's ninth best (and almost a win and a half back from the eight spot!).

But what really shocked me was how much perspective Forsch really added to the Cardinals ace conversation. Forsch, a consistently average to above-average starter, was probably the second most valuable Cardinals pitcher of the last half century (career-wise, that is) despite having only one truly excellent year.

Carpenter has a shot at bridging the gap if he can stay healthy. In six starts this year, he's pitched like a demigod. His line so far? 38.0 IP, 0.71 ERA, 598 ERA+, 0.632 WHIP, and 31/5 K/BB. But Carpenter hasn't pitched a full season since 2006, and though he's only 34 and locked up by the Cards until 2011, there's a huge difference between a 34-year-old pitcher and a 34-year-old pitcher with a history of serious injury. And even if Carpenter can outpace the forgetable (but, and I can't emphasize this enough, valuable) Forsch, there's no catching Gibson.

Interestingly, the Cards have had their fair share of dominant relievers over the decades. Bruce Sutter, Lee Smith, Todd Worrell, and Jason Isringhausen all spent time as kings of the Cardinal bullpen. But when it comes to starters...

(wait for it)

...there was Bob Gibson. And then there was everyone else.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Professor Pedro Bigrocket

The four best pitchers of our generation? Probably. A hyper-literate Dominican pornstar? Definitely.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Big Numbers

Randy Johnson won his 300th game tonight against the Washington Nationals (in his first try at #300, no less). I'd throw together a celebratory graph, but the fine folks at Beyond the Boxscore already have.

One thing's for certain. Nobody, ever, under any circumstances, will ever win 300 games ever again. Ever.

EDIT: How did I overlook the opportunity to post a video of the greatest pitch ever thrown?