December 11, 2013
Get It Now!Hardball Times Annual is now available. It's got 300 pages of articles, commentary and even a crossword puzzle. You can buy the Annual at Amazon, for your Kindle or on our own page (which helps us the most financially). However you buy it, enjoy!
And here's the full roster.
THT's latest e-bookThird Base: The Crossroads is THT's new e-book, available for $3.99 from the Kindle store. The good news is that anyone can read a Kindle book, even on a PC. So enjoy the best from THT in a new format.
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Let’s discuss the THT Annual (7)
Leverage Index by inning (4)
Three underrated acquisitions (3)
Nationals make great deal for Fister (2)
Transaction Analysis Lightning Round: Pierzynski, Nathan, Ellsbury, and more (1)
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Thursday, November 14, 2013
This is the place to leave your questions, comments and complaints about the THT Annual. We'll try to answer all questions as quickly as possible though we just might ignore your complaints. You can read about the Annual, including an abbreviated table of contents, in this post.
You can purchase the Annual at Amazon as well as the Kindle Store. There are plans to roll it out to Amazon Europe and Nook very soon. We get the most financial support if you purchase it for a dollar more at our own store, though you'll have to pay for shipping fees when you do. Sorry about that.
Regardless of how you get it, ask your questions about the Annual here. And a favorable review at Amazon would be very helpful too. Just sayin'.
Monday, December 09, 2013
Here's a little something you may not have known: on average, games get less critical as the game progresses. In other words, on average for all games, the ninth inning is actually less critical and tense than the first when measured correctly.
To illustrate the point, here is a table of the average Leverage Index of a play from the first through the ninth innings in the 2013 season, broken out by the top and bottom of each inning. Remember, all games go through the top of the ninth (barring a rainout), but games progress to the bottom of the ninth only when the home team is tied or behind. So you need to examine just the top of the inning to be sure you are capturing the true trend of a game:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Top 0.96 0.96 0.94 0.95 0.95 0.95 0.97 0.98 0.92 Bottom 0.97 0.94 0.94 0.96 0.93 0.95 0.95 0.96 1.74
If you look at just the top of the inning, the average LI of a game actually creeps up a little in the seventh and eighth innings but then drops in the top of the ninth. This was true in 2013 and 2012, and I'm pretty sure you'll find it's true in all seasons. Close games raise the LI of a play in later innings, but runaway games lower it and, on average, as measured by LI, the runaway games have a bigger impact than the close ones.
If you combine the top and bottom of all innings, you get this:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 All 0.97 0.95 0.94 0.95 0.94 0.95 0.96 0.97 1.21 2.44
(I threw in the 10th inning for the heck of it.) When you look at it this way, yes, games get more critical as they progress, but now you can see that this occurs only because of the selection bias of including the bottom of the ninth.
Why is there a selection bias when including the bottom of the ninth? First of all, the highest LIs tend to come in the bottom of the ninth, when the game is more clearly coming to an end from which there is no return. Said differently, the home team always has a chance to come back from a key play in the top of the ninth, but the visiting team has no chance of coming back against a key play in the bottom of the ninth. Hence, the bottom of the inning is naturally more critical.
Secondly, while there may be a relatively even balance between close games and blowaway games for the home and visiting teams, tie games (which tend to have higher LIs) are included in both innings. This will raise the average LI of the ninth in the very first play of the inning, everything else being equal.*
*Note: I looked it up. The average LI of the very first play of the bottom of the ninth inning was 1.48 in 2013, compared to 0.87 for the very first play in the top of the ninth.
Last fun fact: a majority (56 percent) of games go into the bottom of the ninth, even though home teams win 54 percent of the time. If I'm interpreting that correctly, it means that a little less than 20 percent (10/54) of home team wins are decided in the bottom of the ninth or later. Is my math correct?
Tom M. Tango asked for some follow-up information, so I’m going to post it here and on his blog. In 90% of all 2013 games, the Leverage Index rose about 2 at least once. Here is the percent of times it rose above two, by half innings
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Top 9% 13% 12% 14% 18% 21% 23% 26% 29% 100% Bottom 10% 12% 14% 18% 19% 23% 23% 26% 51% 90%
We've heard the sexier names that have gone off the board this offseason: Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran. But in the midst of these bigger transactions, lesser-known players are still garnering major league contracts. Here's some analysis on three major league acquisitions you may have missed that could have impact in 2014:
1) Giants sign RHP Ryan Vogelsong to a one-year, $5-million deal (with up to $1.5 million extra in incentives)
In a market in which quality pitching is fetching a premium, many teams may have missed out on a generally low-risk, high-upside starter in Vogelsong, who returns to the Giants for about the price of one win in the current market. Vogelsong's 2013 season was plagued by injury and poor pitching, as he finished the campaign with a 5.73 ERA and -0.6 fWAR. However, there's reason to be optimistic.
First, Vogelson's 2012 season was very stellar, as the righty posted 2.4 WAR and a 3.37 ERA (and xFIP of 4.15). Second, Vogelsong's .320 BABIP, 64.6 LOB% (left-on-base percentage), and 13.4 HR/FB% (home run-per-fly ball percentage) are all likely to regress.
Steamer and Oliver currently project him for FIPs of 4.11 and 4.26, respectively, which are completely reasonable. If Vogelsong can tap into his 2012 form, he'll be looking at serious money this time next year.
2) White Sox sign RHP Ronald Belisario to one-year, $3-million deal
We know they're not concerned with money, but it's curious that the Dodgers were willing to spend $10 million on Brian Wilson but not the ~$2.3 million Belisario was expected to receive in arbitration before being released by the club.
Belisario, like Vogelsong, had a mediocre 2013 after a fantastic 2012. Belisario had a 2.54 ERA and 3.10 xFIP in 2012, good for 0.7 WAR. His 2013, however, saw a decreased strikeout percentage and drastically increased BABIP, leading to a 3.97 ERA. Still, his 3.64 FIP showed it wasn't all bad, and Belisario kept the excellent groundball percentage he's had his entire career. Last year it was at 61.4 percent, which mitigates his high walk rate.
Considering Chad Qualls got a two-year deal at the same annual salary with an option for a third year worth $3.5 million, one has to think the Dodgers could've gotten a decent prospect for Belisario in the trade market. Anyway, this is the White Sox's gain.
3) Yankees acquire SS Dean Anna from the Padres for RHP Ben Paullus
Even though there are a good number of teams in need of a shortstop, the Yankees got one for Jeter insurance who could very well start on many teams. Anna will be going into next season at 27, an age when many position players begin to peak. As our own John Kochurov put it succinctly last season, "Dean Anna is the most underrated player in all of professional baseball." Playing for the Yankees this upcoming year, the secret may be out.
Anna has consistently hit in the minors, putting up a .331/.410/.482 line in Triple-A last season, good for a 140 wRC+. Steamer has Anna down for a 96 wRC+ next year, and Oliver has him at 89, both not bad numbers for a shortstop.
If you project Anna out for 150 games via Steamer, he sits at ~2.1 fWAR, which is above average. Meanwhile, he could always be a late bloomer who puts up a wRC+ above 100, in which case you could be looking at a 2.5-3.0 fWAR player. Not bad for a guy basically handed to the Yankees for free.
For the price of ~$9-10 million (or about 1.5 wins), you could get your hands on a fourth starting pitcher, a quality relief pitcher, and a starting shortstop whose downside projected wRC+ still would've bested the 2013 numbers of Alexei Ramirez, Jimmy Rollins, and Starlin Castro. Not every price in this market is insane.
Thursday, December 05, 2013
What a Tuesday we had. The MLB offseason hadn’t been too exciting up until this week, but things certainly are changing quickly. It seemed as though every time I logged on to Twitter, a new deal had been confirmed. Non-stop action. Since there were so many moves, I’m going to do a little lightning round analyzing just about everything that went down. Here we go:
Red Sox sign A.J. Pierzynski to a one-year deal worth $8.25 million
This just made a lot of sense. After losing out on Carlos Ruiz and Brian McCann, Boston needed a catcher and they got one. Pierzynski had a very down year in Texas posting a slash line of .272/.297/.425 with, by all accounts, below-average defense. Still, he did hit 17 homers, which is very valuable from behind the plate. With the options that were out there, or lack thereof, this made a lot of sense, especially on a one-year deal. The walks are problematic, but he still doesn’t strike out all that much, and he should fit in nicely with the hard-nosed culture in Boston.
Tigers sign Joe Nathan to a two-year deal for around $20 million
People were taking guesses as to where the Tigers would spend the money they Doug Fister">saved on Doug Fister, and here it is. They’ve been struggling to find a reliable piece to anchor the back of the bullpen, and now they have it. The money wasn’t too explicit, reported to be in the $20 million range for two years. Nathan, 39, is coming off a great year in which he pitched to a 1.39 ERA (2.26 FIP) while striking out over ten batters per nine innings.
Nathan is a nice get for a team that badly needed relief help (4.01 bullpen ERA in 2013), but I don’t get trading Fister for the package that they did and only signing Nathan. I think there might be more coming (perhaps signing Shin-Soo Choo?), but I’m willing to give general manager Dave Dombrowski the benefit of the doubt because he has such a good track record when dealing with the trade market.
Athletics trade Jemile Weeks to the Orioles for Jim Johnson
This was probably the most un-Athletics move ever. In the early 2000’s, the A’s were known for producing their own closers from within and then trading them when their value was high enough. With Grant Balfour becoming a free agent, Billy Beane needed to add something to his bullpen, and that he did by trading for Orioles closer Johnson.
Over the last two years, Johnson has been one of the better closers in baseball, pitching to a 2.72 ERA (3.35 FIP) with a groundball rate hovering around 60 percent while saving over 100 games for Baltimore. Johnson should be due more than $10 million in 2014 via arbitration, which makes it a weird trade for Beane.
In return, the A’s sent second baseman Weeks to Baltimore. Weeks was successful when he was first brought up in 2011 (111 wRC+ in 437 plate appearances), but he had a rough 2012 (73 wRC+) and spent most of 2013 in Triple-A, where he hit .271/.376/.369. Obviously, the O’s are betting on Weeks bouncing back his 2011 level.
Rays acquire Heath Bell and Ryan Hanigan via three-way trade (Diamondbacks and Reds)
I can’t be the only one who sees the Rays turning Bell into the next Fernando Rodney. Rodney, of course, had been an inconsistent performer until his time with the Rays and then was converted into one of the better closers in baseball.
Bell’s strikeout rate has been ticking up in the last few years while he’s cut down his walks, and he’s due for some home run regression (18.5 HR/FB% as compared to a 8.9 percent career average). I’m sure Tampa could adjust something mechanically, as well, in order to help him like they did with Rodney.
As for Hanigan, he’s known for being a very good defensive catcher, something they clearly are stressing after giving Jose Molina a two-year deal. However, Hanigan has struggled with the bat in recent years, though he can take a walk and has a higher career walk rate than strikeout rate. These are two small, low-cost moves that could wind up being solid pick-ups.
Rangers trade Craig Gentry to the Athletics for minor leaguers Michael Choice and Chris Bostick
Gentry, 31, is an outfielder who relies heavily on his legs, his defense, and his ability to hit southpaws. The fact that he’s under team control through 2016 makes him very valuable, and the way that Oakland utilizes platoons makes me believe he will be a nice asset.
For Texas, Choice is one of Oakland’s top prospects and could fill an outfield corner as early as 2014. He brings some pop and some ability to get on base, and with the Rangers losing Nelson Cruz, Choice is a cheap, young option.
Bostick is actually one of the first players I ever scouted when he was in short-season ball, and I liked him a decent amount. He makes solid contact, is athletic, and could wind up being a solid second baseman at some point. Last year at Low-A, he hit .282/.354/.452, so he should move up to High-A Myrtle Beach with the Texas organization and will join an already great group of prospects.
Athletics trade Seth Smith to the Padres for Luke Gregerson
The Padres acquired Smith, 31, a corner outfielder who is strictly a platoon bat. He hit .253/329/.391 with sporadic playing time in a crowded outfield in 2013. With Carlos Quentin and Will Venable already in place, I’m not sure what role Smith will play in San Diego.
In Gregerson, Oakland acquires yet another solid reliever who pitched to a 2.71 ERA (2.70 FIP) in 66.1 frames. He’s been a very solid set-up guy for the Padres and should continue that role in Oakland. The A’s now have a very nice set of arms back there in Gregerson, Johnson, Ryan Cook, and Sean Doolittle.
Marlins sign Jarrod Saltalamacchia to a three-year deal worth $21 million
The Marlins got a 42 wRC+ out of their catchers last year, which was the worst in all of baseball. So this was position at which they definitely could have used an upgrade, and they got it. Salty is coming off of a career year (117 wRC+) and brings some pop to the table, hitting 55 homers over the least three seasons. He might not be a very good defender, but I think this is pretty good value considering the contracts Ruiz, Pierzynski, and McCann have gotten.
Rockies trade Dexter Fowler to the Astros for Jordan Lyles and Brandon Barnes
I’m a pretty big Fowler fan, so I liked this one for the Astros. Fowler, 28 in March, hit .263/.369/.407 (106 wRC+) in 2013 after having a career 2012 (122 wRC+). He’s a good defender based on the multiple-year sample that UZR gives us, and he draws his fair share of walks.
Moving away from Coors Field should be taken into account, but his career wRC+ on the road is 92, which isn’t that bad. I also think it’s worth noting that Fowler has played many road games against the Dodgers, Padres, and Giants, who all have big pitchers' parks.
As for the return, Lyles has to be seen as a starter, though he hasn’t found success at the big-league level due to not missing enough bats. Barnes is a good defensive outfielder, but that’s kind of it. He posted some very good numbers in the minors, but in the year-plus that he’s been called up, he’s struggled mightily on offense, and he’s only two months younger than Fowler.
Yankees sign Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year deal worth $153 million
This came completely out of left field. Carlos Beltran seemed like the guy to go to the Bronx, but Ellsbury is the outfielder they have landed to a pretty hefty contract. My first instinct was that it was an overpay, but I do think it’s reasonable. Ellsbury plays an elite center field, he’s a big plus on the basepaths, and he hits for a good average. We saw he hit for a lot of power in 2011 and not much since, but we know that there is some ability for that skill, and it could play up with the short porch at Yankee Stadium.
One of the biggest concerns here is about Ellsbury staying on the field. He has been known to spend chunks of time on the disabled list, most recently because of a stress fracture in his foot in September. A couple of other things to note here are that he makes a lot of contact and players similar to him (who rely on speed and defense) don’t age as poorly as perceived.
A lot people won’t like this deal and will talk about how bad it will look in the last couple of years, but what long-term deal doesn’t? This move makes the team a lot better now, and when your team in in the mid-80s win range, every win added is a big one because of how much closer it puts you to the playoffs.
Monday, December 02, 2013
On Monday night, news broke that the Tigers had traded starting pitcher Doug Fister to the the Washington Nationals for utility man Steve Lombardozzi, reliever Ian Krol, and pitching prospect Robbie Ray, according to Chris Cotillo. This one raised many eyebrows because it came out of nowhere and also because of the seemingly small return going to Detroit.
Fister, 30 in February, is coming off a year in which he pitched to a 3.67 ERA (3.26 FIP) in 208.2 innings and 32 starts. It should be noted that this is Fister’s highest ERA since 2010, which could be attributed to a .332 BABIP, 34 points above his career average. When you combine all of this with a very nice groundball rate, you would think making the switch out of Comerica shouldn’t hurt him too much. It should also be noted that he’s missed a start here and there, but he’s still managed to throw at least 160 innings in each of the last four years.
Fister will be going through his second year arbitration this year and Matt Swartz projects him to make a very reasonable $6.9 million. He’s not due to become a free agent until after the 2015 season. It’s a very good addition to a starting rotation that already ranked sixth in the majors in FIP last year.
As far as the Tigers side of the trade goes, I’m not sure I get it. They gave up a mid-rotation starter (which is pretty valuable these days if you take a look at the free agent market) and got back a couple of extra pieces and a pitching prospect. I understand that they wanted to free up a spot for Drew Smyly to start, but I thought they would have been able to fetch a bit more.
However, Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski has a very good track record with trades (Max Scherzer, Austin Jackson, etc.) and we’ve seen that they’re looking for more financial flexibility (as we saw from the Prince Fielder trade), so I guess we’ll have to see. But for now, it looks like Washington is getting the better of this one.
Thursday, November 14, 2013
10 years ago today a trade happened that really, truly, madly, deeply helped one team more than the other. This trade was special. Many trades are debacles on the field, but this one happened to be a debacle on and off the field. In fact, it’s arguable that the off-the-field stuff is what really makes this trade so special. It’s one of the most one-sided trades of the 21st century.
On Nov. 14, 2003, the Twins gave catcher A.J. Pierzynski to the Giants for three players, and that trio clearly helped Minnesota more than A.J. helped San Francisco.
Now, A.J. isn’t a bad player. In point of fact, he has had a very long and productive career, and this trade came right in the middle of it. You wouldn’t expect him to be the short end of the stick in a really one-sided trade. But nevertheless, this is a trade that gives Giants fans convulsions to this day.
While A.J. has his talents, he also has one big issue. He may very well be the most disliked player in baseball. Normally, that isn’t a big deal. Athletes are there to play and win games, not to knit quilts together. They don’t have to actually like each other. But Pierzynski—especially back then—had the knack for being extra-specially dislikable. There’s a reason why polls of all major leaguers continually show him to be the guy most people want to bean.
In fact, the first sign that Pierzysnki might be a problem for San Francisco came immediately after the trade’s announcement. To say the Twins players were happy with it would be an understatement. This went beyond the classic, “Great trade! Who’d we get?” reaction. The players all but united to form a giant conga line across Minnesota. My goodness they hated that man.
Eh, who cares? Like I said, athletes don’t have to like each other. True, but in San Francisco, A.J. got along even worse with his teammates. Regardless of how little the Twins liked him, they kept him around for three years as a starting catcher. One year was more than enough for San Francisco. They non-tendered him after the 2004 season.
It was an odd non-tendering. Sure, Pierzynski had a down year, but he still hit .272 with moderate power. No, he wasn’t great, but he certainly was the most talented catcher the Giants had at the time.
But that wasn’t the point. This wasn’t about talent. This was about his personality. The Giants thought he was such a clubhouse cancer, such a jerk, that they had to get rid of him. So they did.
To be fair, A.J. Pierzynski latched on with the White Sox where he became a franchise fixture for the better part of a decade. People still often dislike him, but he proved he wasn’t a malignant, fast-acting clubhouse poison. You can make a decent argument the Giants just overreacted when they dumped him.
But dump him they did, after just one season; a season where he had a WAR of 0.5.
And what did they give up for one season?
Well, the least important man going to Minnesota was minor league pitcher Boof Bonser. He had a decent rookie year in 2006, going 7-6 with a 4.22 ERA but he rapidly fell apart. The Twins soon dumped him. If that was all the Giants gave up, they would’ve clearly gotten the better of the deal.
But there was another minor league pitcher in the deal: Francisco Liriano. Here is where the hurt really comes for San Francisco. In 2006, F-bomb went 12-3 with a spectacular 2.16 ERA and an un-Twins like 144 strikeouts in 121 innings. He soon developed arm problems and has never been that good since, but he still had a few more solid moments for Minnesota. And with a big season like his 2006, that’s all it takes to put Minnesota well ahead of this trade.
But, alas for the Bay Area, Liriano wasn’t the gem the Twins unearthed in this deal.
Not only did the Giants send two pitching prospects, but they also added a hurler with major league experience; a failed started turned middle reliever Joe Nathan.
Well, he’d been a middle reliever in San Francisco. But Ron Gardenhire made Nathan the closer, and he turned into Super Joe. He made four All-Star teams in the next six years. In one of his years off the team, he posted a 1.58 ERA. In seven seasons with the club, he saved 260 games while posting a 2.16 ERA. With the exception of Mariano Rivera, he might have been the game’s best closer in that span.
In all, those three pitchers gave the Twins 27.4 WAR, which is nearly 55 times the value the Giants received.
So yeah, that was a really one-sided trade made 10 years ago today.
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Today marks a rather strange anniversary. For most of the baseball world, it doesn’t mean a thing. It had nothing to do with any game being played. (Who plays games in November anyway?) It wasn’t any transaction or front officer maneuvering.
It was one guy who was underemployed writing a letter to another guy who was self-employed. And they all lived happily ever after.
On Nov. 13, 1988, a young man who had just dropped out of college and didn’t know what to do with his life wrote a letter to a writer/thinker he admired, asking to be his research assistant.
The letter writer was Rob Neyer. The recipient was Bill James.
I’m assuming that most of you out there in reader-land recognize those names. Bill James is the biggest name in sabermetrics, and did more than any other person to popularize the new way of approaching the game that has become part of the mainstream in the 21st century. Rather fittingly, James has joined the mainstream, joining the Boston Red Sox front office about a decade ago.
Today’s anniversary, though, is more about Neyer. James had already made his mark 25 years ago, with his series of annual abstracts, and his Historical Abstract. But Neyer was the guy getting off the ground.
Much to his own surprise, James called Neyer up and offered him the job as research assistant. Neyer stayed on for the next four years, before moving on to become a freelance writer. By the late 1990s, he’d found his niche, writing five columns a week for ESPN.com.
Sitting behind this keyboard, I have no idea how many of you were paying attention to the burgeoning online sabermetric community back in those days. But if you were, you’ll remember that in those days before Twitter, before blogs caught on, before Moneyball, if you wanted sabermetrics on the web, there were two places you could go. There was this little site just starting to get attention called Baseball Prospectus. And there was this guy at ESPN named Rob Neyer. Given the size of the platform ESPN gave him, Neyer was the most public and prominent sabermetric writer working on a regular basis back then. Bill James is great, but he’d broken the wand years ago. Prospectus was, as noted just getting started.
I remember that ESPN even gave Neyer his own message board wherw statheads like me could congregate. I spent plenty of time at the late, great Rob Neyer Message Board posting under the name clespider99.
Neyer’s central role gradually diminished. Prospectus took off (helped by Neyer giving it some attention). Generation Blog got going. Baseball Think Factory arose as a central watering hole for sabermetrics. Oh, yeah—The Hardball Times showed up, and so did FanGraphs and various other sites. Neyer still churned away, his series of columns changing into blog postings at ESPN. Eventually, he and the four-letter parted ways, and Neyer now resides at SB Nation.
But Neyer’s trek all began with that letter to Bill James—a letter written 25 years ago today.
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
The 10th Hardball Times Annual is now available at your local online bookstore. I know it's hard to believe, but we've done this thing 10 times now. I'm proud to say that I think this one is the equal of any of the others.
Like most of the other Annuals, this one includes a recap of the division races as well as our special "Championships Added" coverage of the postseason. In addition, we've got our usual array of commentary, history and analysis. There are over 30 articles and 300 pages of great content from a tremendous lineup of writers, including Bill James, Joe Posnanski, Rob Neyer and many others. Plus, there are a couple of extra features we think you'll enjoy.
Here's a quick table of contents:
Recapping the 2013 Season
Reviews of each division, plus Brad Johnson's coverage of the postseason.
The Year in Frivolity by Craig Calcaterra
Six Years to Glory: The Pirates Return to October by John Perrotto
The Science of the Art of Receiving a Pitch by Jeff Sullivan
Expunging Frank: The Dodgers' Remarkable Turnaround by Mike Petriello
Everything But the Game: The 2013 Astros by Larry Granillo
Case Studies: Breaking Out and Breaking Bad by Blake Murphy, Mike Podhorzer and Carson Cistulli
Rebuilding: How Six Teams are Doing it (or not) by Jeff Moore
On the Difference Between Hitting and Pitching Prospects by Bill James
Five Fateful Offseason Decisions by Rob Neyer
Blowing Up the Spot: why Third Basemen Stand How They Do by Eno Sarris
GM in a Box: Brian Sabean by Steve Treder
White Bred: Major League Baseball's Intern Issue by Dave Cameron
Finding the Translation: Quantifying Asian Players by Bradley Woodrum
The Summer of '86 by Joe Posnanski
Roger Clemens' Place in History by Craig Wright
The Most Storied Postseasons by Dave Studenmund
Birthday Bonanzas by Chris Jaffe
Shifty Business, or the War Against Hitters by Jeff Zimmerman
Voting Patterns for the MVP and Cy Young Awards by Shane Tourtellotte
The Strike Zone during the PITCHf/x Era by Jon Roegele
Loss in Movement as the Game Progresses by Noah Woodward
Uncovering the Mysteries of the Knuckleball by Alan Nathan
Game Theory Modeling the Batter-Pitcher Confrontation by Dave Allen and Kevin Tenenbaum
Revisiting The Book's "Mano a Mano" Chapter by Steve Staude
In addition to these tremendous articles, Shane Tourtellotte has created a baseball crossword puzzle for you, in honor of the 100th birthday of that particular pastime. Also, Carson Cistulli provides his unique leaderboards—intriguing and interesting baseball stats that you're not likely to find on your own. By the way, our case studies focus on the years of Chris Davis, Josh Hamilton, Jose Fernandez and Shelby Miller.
It's a whole lot of book, and we have made it available in print or in electronic form. You can buy it now for $15.99 from our CreateSpace page and it will soon be available at Amazon too. I'll post the link in the comments once it's available there.
In addition, we will have electronic versions available—Kindle and Nook—as soon as the publishers clear them. I'll add a notice here when those are available.
The THT Annual is a proud tradition of ours; there's something for every baseball fan in those pages. Enjoy!
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
The overriding picture in my head from this year's postseason is of Jim Leyland, hunched in his Tigers jacket in his last days as a manager, wearily walking his 68-year-old body out to a mound in Detroit or Oakland or Boston. He takes the ball from a pitcher a third his age and gives the kid a perfunctory pat.
Several minutes, several TV commercials and a batter or two later, the scene repeats.
Such is the case in Boston the night of Oct. 13, eighth inning, Tigers ahead 5-1. With left-handed hitter Jacoby Ellsbury coming up, Leyland brings in lefty Drew Smyly to replace reliever Jose Veras. Smyly walks Ellsbury, loading the bases. Out comes Leyland again. How's that Sunday night football doing? Switch back. Al Albuquerque is the new pitcher; he strikes out Shane Victorino, then gives up a hit to Dustin Pedroia, loading the bases. Leyland enters from from stage right, Joaquin Benoit from the bullpen. We'll be back.
And we are, just in time to see David Ortiz grandly slam Benoit, the Tigers, and Leyland's moves.
It feels like it's happened a lot in October baseball, 2013. The manager makes a pitching change, and it explodes. Has it really been that bad? The examples abound:
—Leyland brings in Rick Porcello, relieving Albuquerque, in the ninth inning of Game Two of the ALDS. The first batter he faces is Stephen Vogt. The last batter he faces is Stephen Vogt, who singles in the winning run for Oakland.
—Same series, other team: Oakland manager Bob Melvin replaces Ryan Cook with Brett Anderson, eighth inning, Game Five. Anderson walks Alex Avila, wild pitches in a run, gives up a two-run double to Omar Infante. Ball game.
—Tigers again, this time against Boston. Smyly comes out, Veras comes in to pitch to Victorino with the bases full. Home run, series to the Red Sox in six.
—Let's go to the other league. It's the 13th inning of the NLCS opener, and finally a crucial enough time in a tie game for Dodgers manager Don Mattingly to go to his closer. With two on, one out, Kenley Jansen, the 13th pitcher of the night, relieves Chris Withrow. Carlos Beltran ends the almost-five-hour game with a single and the game-winning RBI.
—And then there was the third game of the World Series Saturday night. Five times Mike Matheny or John Farrell walked out to replace the man on the mound. The first batters the five new pitchers faced went single, single, double, RBI-producing out, double.
I know we tend to remember those dramatic displays of unfortunate pitching changes more than routine displays of competence, so I perused this year's postseason play-by-plays. I was looking at pitchers inserted mid-inning, presumably because the manager felt the new guy had a better shot at the next batter than the incumbent.
The fact is, the success-to-failure ratio of relievers in those circumstances has come down on the side of failure this fall. Starting with the Tampa Bay-Texas play-in game for the last Wild Card, pitchers coming in during an inning have allowed 27 hits (nine for extra bases) in 93 at-bats—a .290 average. Hitters have touched them for an on-base percentage of .336.
On the other hand, they've struck out 27 of the 106 first batters they've faced and induced five double plays.
(I have no idea how pitchers called on mid-inning do over a whole season, but for purposes of comparison, the major-league-wide batting average this year was .253, and the OBP was .318.)
As for the two teams still alive:
The Red Sox have changed horses midstream 28 times in the postseason and put out the next batter 18 times. Their relievers are just 50-50 in such situations in the World Series.
The Cardinals? Over the whole postseason, they've given up seven first-batter hits and a walk in 21 plate appearances. In the Series, Matheny has called for help in the midst of an inning eight times. The result: three batters retired, two singles, a walk and two homers.
Sometimes, when you go to the fireman, you're playing with fire.
Friday, October 25, 2013
40 years ago today, the Cubs began breaking up that old gang of theirs. On Oct. 25, 1973, they traded star pitcher Fergie Jenkins to the Rangers.
The Cubs hadn’t had much success since WWII. They won the last wartime pennant in 1945, and then had a winning record in 1946, but then entered the long dark night for Cubs fans’ souls. From 1947-66, their best record was an 82-80 record in 1963. Yeah, that’s bad.
But in 1967 they went 87-74, beginning a six-season streak of winning record. They never won a pennant (of course) but they had a really solid core. Helmed by Hall of Fame manager Leo Durocher, the club had a quartet of Hall of Famers serving as the focus of their team; leftfielder Billy Williams, third baseman Ron Santo, aging infielder Ernie Banks – and Fergie Jenkins.
Clearly, Jenkins was a key part of the run. In each of those winning seasons, Jenkins posted 20 or more wins. He averaged 21 wins a year, over 300 innings, nearly 40 starts – all while posting a fine 3.00 ERA.
Behind Jenkins and his fellow stars, the team had middle infielders Don Kessinger and Glenn Beckert, and catcher Randy Hundley, who all started for the team for years. A series of quality pitchers worked alongside Jenkins over the years, including youngsters Burt Hooton and Ken Holtzman, as well as veterans Milt Pappas and Bill Hands.
It was a good club, and though they never finished in first they had a nice stretch from 1967-72. But then came 1973. That’s the year that old gang got old, finishing 77-84.
Banks had already retired. (Frankly, he was past his prime before the club had become good). Durocher (also past his prime) left in the middle of 1972. But they still had Santo, Williams, Jenkins, Kessinger, Beckert, Hundley, Pappas, and Hooton.
But Oct. 25, 1973 showed they wouldn’t have them for much longer. The Cubs decided to rebuild, and Jenkins was the first to go. By the time Opening Day 1974 occurred, joining him out the door was catcher Hundley (to Minnesota), second baseman Beckert (to the Padres), and Ron Santo (to the crosstown White Sox). Also, Milt Pappas retired. The Cubs would also trade Sweet Swingin’ Billy Williams during the 1974 season.
The rebuild wouldn’t be very successful, as their next winning season wouldn’t come until 1984. They wouldn’t have consecutive winning seasons again until the 21st century.
This particular trade, however, didn’t work out too badly. Sure, Fergie Jenkins would have a career year in 1974 with the Rangers, winning 25 games with a personal best 328.1 innings. But the Cubs had a nice gem coming to them in the deal: young third baseman Bill Madlock.
While Jenkins tore up Texas in 1974, Madlock finished third in Rookie of the Year voting, batting .313. Then he won a batting title in 1975, hitting .354. He then repeated as champ in 1976, batting .339. Sure batting average is overrated and Wrigley Field inflates averages – but that is nice. Meanwhile, Jenkins staggered his way to a 17-18 record in 1975 with a rising ERA. And that was his last year in Texas.
In those two years, Jenkins had 10.8 Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Madlock had 11.6 WAR as a Cub from 1974-76. Then the Cubs flipped Madlock for Bobby Murcer.
It wasn’t a bad trade necessarily for the Cubs, but it did signal the end of an era—one of the few good eras the Cubs have had in the last 70 years. And that era ended 40 years ago today.