May 19, 2013
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Monday, June 04, 2012
When you’re a franchise like the Chicago Cubs, it takes quite a bit of doing to challenge an all-time club mark for futility, but danged if the Cubs aren’t threatening to do it here in 2011.
On June 4, in the final game of a four-game series against the Giants, the Cubs lost by a score of 3-2. This means they were swept in that series and have dropped 15 of their last 18. In fact, they’ve now been swept in five of their last six series.
But that’s not what I want to note.
Not only have the Cubs lost a lot of games lately, but they’ve lost an impressive number of contests by that slenderest of all margins, one run. In fact, the Cubs have now dropped their last 10 one-run decisions.
And that’s where they threaten to make some unwanted franchise history.
This is the fourth time in their history the Cubs have dropped 10 consecutive one-run decisions. The franchise record is 11, set nearly a century ago. So if the Cubs drop the next game decided by one run, they’ll have tied a mark of frustration. Yeah, no one wants to do that.
This is the fourth time the Cubs have lost 10 consecutive one-runners. They did it in July 1915, September 1921, and May 1921—and now June 2012.
On May 14, 1972, they lost 2-1 to the Braves. It was their sixth one-run game of the year and they’d lost them all. They hadn’t one a game by one run since Sept. 18, 1971. Four of their close losses had come in extra innings.
But three days later they beat the Phillies 3-2 for their first close win of the year.
In 1921, they dropped 10 one-run games from Aug. 18 to Sept. 6. Then, after nearly two weeks without a close game, they finally won one, 1-0 over the Dodgers, to end their skid in these contests.
The 1915 slump is still the record. In the stretch of 18 games, the Cubs played in 11 contests decided by one run and lost every single one of them. Finally, on Aug 1, 1915 they won a 2-1 game, to end the streak at 11.
The 2012 Cubs got a chance to tie and even break the old club record. Their last close win was 1-0 over the Braves on May 9. Since then the Cubs have gone 5-18—which means 5-8 in games decided by at least two runs and 0-10 in the others.
Eventually the streak will end. All things do. But will it be in time to avoid breaking a 97 year old franchise record?
The Washington Nationals are leading the National League East by percentage points going into Monday's games. Major League Baseball's First-Year Player Draft begins Monday. These two events are not unrelated.
Two reasons the Nats are (finally) finding success are the contributions of Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, two of the most hyped draftees in history. And Washington had the distinct pleasure of selecting these players with back-to-back No. 1 overall picks in the 2009 and 2010 drafts.
After dealing with Tommy John surgery that cost him more than a year's worth of starts, Strasburg has returned to the form he displayed when he first burst onto the major league scene. He is punching out 10.9 batters per nine innings with a 4.65:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, leading to a 165 ERA+. Traditionalists eat up his 6-1 record and 2.35 ERA.
Harper is tearing it up right of out gate, posting a .288/.380/.542 triple-slash line, good for a 148 OPS+. He's also walking nearly as often as he strikes out and making highlight-reel defensive plays with regularity.
Basically, these guys are living up to the hype, which is saying quite a bit given the lofty expectations placed upon them. The funny thing is, the Nationals wouldn't have either of these terrific players if they weren't so terrible a few short years ago. By posting awful 59-103 and 69-93 records in 2008 and 2009, Washington "earned" the first pick in both of the following year's drafts.
Yes, this is exactly how the draft is supposed to work. The worst teams from the previous season get the first shot at the top talent in the draft with the hopes of developing that talent into a cheap, young nucleus around which pricey free-agent pickups and savvy scrapheap acquisitions can be added. Ideally, these players all gel a few seasons down the road and the former doormat becomes a potential juggernaut. The Tampa Bay Rays are another example of how this is supposed to work.
But Washington had the additional benefit not only of back-to-back top picks, but also of having these two preternatural talents available and ownership's support to pay what it took to sign them, spending roughly $25 million on two kids with no professional experience. And while the Rays can pin some of their success on multiple No. 1 overall picks, only David Price has contributed directly to Tampa Bay's winning ways. The Rays also took Josh Hamilton, Delmon Young and Tim Beckham at the top of the draft, but none of those players did much to push the Rays to the top of the AL East.
Having the first pick is great—it's yielded such talents as Justin Upton, Joe Mauer, Adrian Gonzalez, Alex Rodriguez, Chipper Jones and Ken Griffey Jr. over the last couple of decades—but using that pick on the right player is crucial. After all, Matt Bush, Bryan Bullington and Brien Taylor have gone No. 1, and nobody remembers any key on-field contributions they've made.
Draft well, develop your minor league talent, and spend wisely to supplement that talent. It seems so straightforward, but we all know it's not. Just ask the Pirates.
But when it works out—and the baseball gods bless you with two consecutive über-talents—things can come together very quickly. Just ask the Nationals.
Yankees 5, Tigers 1: If I were to tell you that one of this game's starting pitchers -- Justin Verlander or Phil Hughes -- was going to toss a complete game, I'm guessing none of you would have guessed it would be Hughes. But that he did, allowing one run on four hits. Verlander loses his third in a row. Him pitching lights-out had been the last preseason expectation being met for the Tigers. Now they seem utterly lost.
Mets 6, Cardinals 1: Well, it took them 26 innings of a 27 inning series to actually score a run, but the Cards got on the board in this one at least. But, yeah, just a train wreck of a weekend for St. Louis. Or, if you prefer, a buzz saw of a weekend for Mets pitching. I mean, not often that the six innings of ten-strikeout, shutout ball that Jon Niese posted last night would be the third best pitching performance in a given series, but there you are.
Blue Jays 5, Red Sox 1: Quick, what's this? Answer: a plot of where the pitches Daniel Bard threw in Toronto yesterday ended up. The Jays had a 5-0 lead after two innings with Bard having given up only one hit. Jose Bautista hit a three-run homer and was walked to force in a run. But really, I think Bard walked almost everyone in Ontario yesterday, so it's not like it was that big a deal.
Diamondbacks 6, Padres 0: Trevor Cahill added to the parade of excellent pitching performances yesterday, twirling a six-hit shutout. Paul Goldschmidt homered and ran his hitting streak to 12 games. Note: you can't really "twirl" many other things than a shutout. And using "ran" as a verb like I did there, while not exclusive to sports streaks, has a very high correlation with them.
Giants 2, Cubs 0: Barry Zito: does he (all together now) finally have it together, or is he merely a barometer of how bad the Cubs are? (8 .1 IP, 4 H, 0 ER).
Braves 3, Nationals 2: Halley's Comet. The McRib. A Braves victory over the Nationals. You savor them when the come because they are just so damn rare.
Royals 2, Athletics 0: Oakland was shutout again, this time by former A Vin Mazzaro who, with all due respect, shouldn't be shutting out anyone for that long. Of course it was the third time in the past four games the A's have been blanked, so your Aunt Tilly could probably pitch six innings of shutout ball against them. They've lost 10 of 11.
Marlins 5, Phillies 1: Carlos Zambrano gave up one run over seven and two thirds and hit a homer. Even before the homer, on paper, I think Zambrano was a bigger threat than the Phillies cleanup hitter: Hector Luna.
White Sox 4, Mariners 2: Chris Sale went the distance, allowing two runs against what has, recently anyway, been a pretty potent Mariners attack. He leads the AL with a 2.29 ERA. From the AP gamer: "Kevin Millwood was beset by control problems." This is not a repeat of, well, most games since 2006 or so.
Rangers 7, Angels 3: the Rangers snap their four-game skid behind a couple RBI apiece from Nelson Cruz and Elvis Andrus and a decent showing from Matt Harrison.
Pirates 6, Brewers 5: James McDonald continues his fine work, striking out eight in six innings while allowing a single earned run. Brooks Conrad played a little shortstop in this one for Milwaukee. Which is an interesting choice.
Twins 6, Indians 3: Break up the Twinkies! They've won five of six. Since their tone-setting sweep of the Tigers, the Indians are 2-7. So, so much for tone-setting.
Astros 5, Reds 3: Houston wins for the first time in nine tries. Jordan Lyles gave up only two earned runs over seven innings.
Rockies 3, Dodgers 2: Alex White shuts out the Dodgers into the seventh inning before running out of gas, but it was enough to give L.A. its sixth loss in seven games.
Rays 8, Orioles 4: Productive weekend as the Rays put the Orioles in the rear-view mirror in the AL East. It's been a nice run for the O's, but it's probably over.
Ten years ago today, one of the most famous drafts in baseball history occurred. It’s not so famous for the spectacular level of talent in it. Oh, there was talent, but that’s true of all drafts. No, this was the draft made famous because of its depiction in a bestseller.
June 4, 2002, was the day of the Moneyball draft made famous by Michael Lewis in his book.
The book as a whole was clearly favorable to Oakland GM Billy Beane and the A's different approach to the game. A decade down the line, some parts of the Moneyball book and Beane’s actions hold up. The emphasis on on-base percentage is here to stay, and DIPS has won greater acceptable. That team did win 103 games despite a low payroll and several high-profile free agent defections in the previous season.
But today is the 10th anniversary of the draft. How well does it hold up? The book noted that many veteran A’s scouts decided to leave the team that year, feeling that they weren’t wanted or respected. The book presents this as a stats-vs.-scouts debate and clearly sides with the former, thinking the A’s were going to use stats to find greater value.
Well, those prospects have not become great players, and by now many of their careers are either over or in their second acts. Time to evaluate how they did.
As it happens, 13 players the A’s drafted in 2002 made the majors for at least a cup of coffee. That’s the most of any franchise, narrowly edging the White Sox at 12 and Colorado with 11. That’s nice, though, to be fair, given all the free agent compensation picks the A’s had, you’d expect them to score well here.
More importantly, though, isn’t the quantity of future big leagues but their quality. According to WAR, those dozen White Sox players created 9.1 wins in their career. That’s nothing too special.
Well, using WAR as a shorthand for overall value, the A’s again come out on top, with 49.3 WAR drafted. Second place are their Bay Area rivals, the Giants, with 38.1 WAR, then the Dodgers (37.3 WAR), Milwaukee (36.5 WAR), and Boston (36.2 WAR) rounding out the top five. So the A’s not only finish first but have a healthy lead on the pack just behind them.
Aye, but that’s misleading. The single-best player Oakland drafted in 2002 was pitcher Jonathan Papelbon, whom they didn’t sign. His 16.1 WAR (and counting) didn’t do a damn thing for the A’s, so he really shouldn’t count.
Let’s adjust. How much WAR did teams get from the players they actually signed in 2002? Well, the A’s got 27.2 WAR from draftees they actually signed. That’s still really good, but it’s not first place, it's sixth.
The Giants and Dodgers keep all of their WAR scores for 2002 to stay atop the leaderboard, then come the Tigers (34.6 WAR), Braves (28.1), and Reds (27.8), followed by the A’s.
So it was a good draft, sixth-best in baseball that year, but there’s still a bit of irony here. A little over half of Oakland’s value in that draft comes from Nick Swisher (14.4 WAR). He’ the guy the stats and scouts guys all agreed was a keeper. The revolutionary part of Oakland’s draft, the part the book really played up—the post-Swisher draft—netted the A’s about 12-13 wins. That ain’t bad. That’s nice, but it’s nothing really special.
So it was a good draft, but not nearly as good as Lewis portrayed it to be.
Oh, if you’re curious, by WAR, three teams got negative value from the 2002 draft: Montreal (-0.3 WAR), Toronto (-0.5 WAR, run by Beane’s old assistant J.P. Ricchardi), and Baltimore (-0.7 WAR). Texas had exactly 0.0 WAR. Houston rounds out the bottom five at 1.4 WAR.
Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that occurred X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you just want to skim the lists:
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