Ten Things I Didn’t Know Last Weekby Dave Studeman
March 16, 2006
Where hits landed last year.
I've talked about John Dewan's Fielding Bible before (and our own David Gassko recently reviewed it). It contains so much information that I like to pick it up and open to a random page, just to see what's there. I particularly like to refer to the hit charts, which show where hits landed against each team's defense.
One of the extra items they threw into the Bible (sounds funny, doesn't it?) was the placement of hits by each team's offense, for comparison's sake. When I took a close look at where hits fell for each team last year, I found a lot of differences. For instance, here's a list of the teams with the most and fewest hits through the infield (top and bottom five in each case):
Infield Hits SS/3B Hole Up Middle 1B/2B Hole Most Most Most Most HOU 138 FLO 139 NYY 223 PHI 130 FLO 131 HOU 139 DET 210 NYY 126 DET 112 MIN 138 KCR 206 ARI 116 MIN 110 DET 137 MIN 206 BOS 113 CHW 110 CHW 135 TBD 197 NYM 112 Least Least Least Least MIL 54 ARI 87 HOU 137 MIL 62 TEX 57 TEX 94 SDP 148 HOU 65 PHI 59 LAA 97 LAD 159 DET 66 CIN 68 WAS 98 WAS 162 FLO 76 CLE 74 CIN 99 CIN 163 COL 77 LAD 74Notice how both Florida and Houston garnered a lot of infield hits and hits through the left side, but neither team had many hits to the right side? Now look at hits to the outfield:
Front of LF LF Gap Front of CF RF Gap Front of RF Most Most Most Most Most FLO 144 TOR 181 LAA 114 SDP 185 CHC 140 TEX 134 BOS 170 COL 111 OAK 171 OAK 138 PIT 126 COL 165 LAD 111 PHI 165 TOR 135 COL 124 PHI 165 PHI 110 LAA 164 WAS 130 CHW 120 SDP 165 SFG 107 BOS 161 MIL 126 SFG 126 Least Least Least Least Least WAS 73 MIN 124 CIN 64 SFG 113 CHW 78 NYY 76 ARI 128 BAL 66 FLO 114 PIT 86 ARI 85 LAD 129 CHC 68 MIN 118 NYM 88 SDP 90 CHW 132 CLE 71 STL 122 SEA 88 CIN 92 KCR 134 ATL 73 HOU 125 KCR 93 FLO 93The Athletics stroked their outfield hits to right field; the Marlins didn't. Also, San Diego and Philadelphia were gap-hitting teams, which may be caused by their home parks. Here are the hits over the outfield (not including home runs) and down the line (right or left):
Over OF Down Line Most Most BOS 79 BOS 199 DET 79 CHC 199 PHI 79 LAA 192 FLO 79 CIN 191 PIT 77 TOR 180 Least Least SDP 44 PHI 122 CHC 47 CHW 130 NYM 48 LAD 140 BAL 50 NYY 145 LAD 51 NYM 146These last stats are certainly influenced by ballparks. For instance, the Green Monster ensures that Boston will usually be near the top of hits over the outfield. But the Red Sox also led the majors in hits down the lines. The Cubs hit down the line, not over the outfield. The Phillies were just the opposite. The Mets and Dodgers did neither very often.
You can probably find some other team trends in the stats.
Aaron Boone is hitting.
Someone asked me the other day which team would be this year's surprise team. My first inclination was to say Cleveland, but how much of a surprise would they be? They almost won the AL Central last year, despite suffering the most close losses of any team in the majors. They're young and improving, even though a few of their young batters (Martinez, Peralta, Sizemore) probably won't do as well this year.
But one of their older geezers, Aaron Boone, is having a good spring. If he keeps it up (and a strong slugging percentage is one of the few decent spring indicators of what might happen during the season), Cleveland will be that much stronger. Don't be surprised.
So is Edwin Encarnacion.
Boone used to be the Reds' third baseman, but that designation now belongs to Edwin Ecnarnacion, one of the better young hitters in baseball. Encarnacion has hit five home runs this spring, second to the Phillies' Ryan Howard, whose stardom is bustin' out all over.
There are a ton of good young third basemen in the game, aren't there?
Speaking of good young hitters, Tampa Bay's Joey Gathright and Jonny Gomes are two extremes on the same team. Gathright hit 66% of his batted balls on the ground last year, the highest total of anyone with at least 100 plate appearances. On the other hand, Gomes only hit 28% on the ground, which was one of the lowest figures in the majors.
I don't know why I find that so fascinating, but I do.
Bytown Won the North East League Championship.
We like to keep tabs on the oldest continuously played simulated baseball league, the North East League, which has been in existence since the early 1960s. The most recent season was one of the most exciting in their history, as reported by NEL founder Woody Studenmund:
In what may have been the most amazing pennant race in NEL history, the Bytown Lumbermen came from behind to beat the Cooperstown Phillies to win the NEL’s Eastern Division championship. Mark Featherstone’s team survived a season that had more ups and downs than any other in memory:
The Start: Bytown came out of the blocks flying, and just before the half-way mark in the season, they had a commanding lead on Cooperstown:
Bytown 57 17 .770 - Cooperstown 45 29 .608 12That’s right, the Phils were 12 games behind just before the teams turned for home. To make things even worse for Cooperstown, in the next game, the Lumbermen had a 6-1 lead over the Phils in the bottom of the ninth and threatened to extend the lead to 13 games.
The Comeback: But then lightning struck, as the Phils roared back to score five runs in the bottom of the ninth. They then won the game in extra innings and proceeded to completely turn their season around by heading off on an almost absurd winning streak of their own. Over the next few months, the Phils were literally unbeatable, as they not only caught the Lumbermen but actually passed them and were three games ahead with just seven games left in the season!
Cooperstown 66 15 .815 - Bytown 51 30 .630 14For a combined:
Cooperstown 111 44 .716 - Bytown 108 47 .697 3The Stunner: With just seven games left in the season, Bytown clearly was the underdog because they were three games behind and had lost fifth starter Carlos Zambrano for the rest of the regular season due to injury. However, the Lumbermen confounded the odds by completely dominating the seven games. The Canadians outscored the Doubleday Fielders by a completely stunning 50-15 margin and won six of the last seven games of the season to win the pennant.
In the six Lumber victories, the average score was 8-2, and the only close game was the Cooperstown win. Bytown could have swept the series! Even with this domination, the pennant race came down to the last day of the season, but Tim Hudson outpitched Odalis Perez, 4-1 to cinch the pennant for the Lumbermen and prevent the Phils from winning their 23rd divisional championship.
Hitting line drives is a mixed blessing.
Over at BaseballHQ.com, Alex Patton published an article that collates our batted-ball stats to see if line drive hitters really do better overall. He grouped batters into groups of 50, based on how often they hit line drives and found that there are definite differences between them (percentages are expressed as a percent of plate appearances):
Bracket PA K BB GB OF IF LD Oth BA Hitters 1-50 28353 12% 8% 34% 22% 3% 19% 2% .287 Hitters 51-100 26889 14% 9% 33% 23% 3% 16% 1% .281 Hitters 101-150 29586 15% 10% 32% 23% 4% 15% 1% .275 Hitters 151-200 27331 17% 10% 32% 23% 4% 13% 1% .271 Hitters 200-216 9100 20% 13% 28% 23% 4% 11% 1% .260As a batter hits more line drives, his batting average increases. Good thing. But it's also interesting to note that, as line drives decrease, so do ground balls, and strikeout and walk rates increase.
It appears, from reading Alex's article, that the bottom tier is composed of players who hit mighty fly balls, such as Adam Dunn, Jason Giambi and Richie Sexson. In fact, some of the best sluggers in the game don't hit many line drives; they walk, hit powerful fly balls, or strike out trying.
The "run environments" of each ballpark, each year.
Lots of baseball historians will tell you that you can't understand historical baseball stats without understanding the environment in which the stats were compiled. Lots of baseball historians are right.
I was looking at the Lahman database the other day and decided to calculate the run environment of each ballpark each year (from 1900 to the present). The calculation was simple, thanks to Mr. Lahman. I simply multiplied the average number of runs scored each league and year by each team's park factor (which measures how many runs were allowed in the ballpark, relative to the overall average).
The lowest run-scoring environment was Brooklyn's Washington Park in 1907 (only 2.9 runs a game). The highest was Coors Field, of course, in 2000: 8.1 runs a game.
This isn't news, of course. But the raw numbers (8.1 vs. 2.9!) are pretty impressive and worth repeating. The difference between playing baseball in Washington Park and Coors Field would be almost as extreme as the difference between playing baseball in the USA and Finland.
Baseball is the national pastime in Finland, too. At least, something like baseball.
A couple of weeks ago, the Chicago Tribune's Rick Morrissey wrote about a brand of baseball they play in Finland (subscription required; here's a free article about Finnish baseball). This isn't the brand of baseball they're playing in the World Baseball Classic right now. As Morrissey says,
Something happened to baseball when it was brought back to Finland by Laurie "Wheatstone" Pihkala, who had seen a Red Sox game in 1907. Something strange happened, some weird Darwinian thing, as if the game got isolated on the Galapagos Islands of sports and went off in its own selective, mutative direction.This is what it looks like:
Looks like something Bugs Bunny would play, doesn't it?
How Bugs Bunny played baseball.
The latest great thing I've seen on the Internet is USS Mariners' review of Baseball Bugs. This is baseball research at its finest, such as the following examination of how Bugs is able to score when the throw home has him beat...
Bunny’s innovation extends to more than possible new discoveries about physics and the nature of perception. In his first hit, Bunny attempts to score an inside-the-park home run but finds a Gorilla covering home plate has received the ball. Bunny then shows him a pin-up of (we must believe) surpassing attractiveness, causing the player to go into fits of pleasure. This allows Bunny to score easily. If such beauty is indeed usable (and use of it does not violate the rules) and can be reliably applied, this is a clear innovation with applications in fields as diverse as anesthesia and crowd control.
Also, you might enjoy McSweeney's list of early Nintendo characters best suited for a fantasy baseball team. For manager, he nominates the gorilla from Donkey Kong:
Ozzie Guillen-esque in his inability to convey audible words or coherent directions to his team, the grizzled veteran succeeds by being a much-needed stoic presence during the long season. And when his players disagree with a call, Kong backs them as any good manager would. Unfortunately, now and then he overreacts and throws barrels at them, forcing him to watch the rest of the game on TV.
I know the Dick Cheney quail hunting incident is old news, but I just love this game.
The Twins have a really tall pitcher.
Minnesota has some great young pitching coming up through their system, but Loek Van Mil tops them all. The guy is 7' 1". If you ever meet him, be sure to ask how the weather is up there. Tall people love that.
How dogs fetch.
You know, if dogs can instinctively calculate the math required to catch a ball, why can't (insert name) catch a fly ball?
Dave was called a "national treasure" by Rob Neyer. Seriously. Comments about this article can be sent to him through the miracle of e-mail.