PI, PI, feed me PI

PI for $29? No not that pie, but PI—short for Player Index, which is a new and quite wonderful innovation from the folks over at Baseball Reference.

Every so often, about once a year by my count, a landmark baseball website is launched that changes the way we think about and do baseball analysis. In 2005 it was Fangraphs that wowed us with its fancy charts and daily game logs of LI and WPA; last year Hit Tracker provided detailed home run distance data and allowed us to see which player clubbed the ball the farthest; this year I reckon the accolade will go to Baseball Reference’s PI. Why am I so certain?

Well, baseball uber-legend, Sean Forman, who is related to George Forman incidentally, has spent the last few months hunkered down in front on his computer slapping a monkey-friendly web-based front-end on Retrosheet’s data mothership. Yep, all 60 season’ worth. That’s right; you no longer need three degrees from MIT to be able to manipulate play-by-play data. What is more is that Sean charges a miserly $29 for access to PI. Want to know who has the longest number of at-bats without walking, or in how many consecutive games a player has tripled, or what Carlos Beltran’s OPS was between June 12 and August 16, 2006? PI will tell you the answer in seconds.

Amazing, eh? Okay, so I made the George Forman thing up, but everything else is true, I swear. If you haven’t got $29 I urge you to beg, borrow, steal, sell your grandmother—whatever you must do, do it now.

Anyway, as you may have guessed I am a fully paid up member of the PI club and thought that to justify the heinous expense I’d try to get at least one article from it.

So, with no more ado here are is an octet of interesting things that I found with PI. Enjoy.

1. Most consecutive games where a team has given up at least one home run

Team    StreakStart     Streak End    Games     W        L       HR
SEA     06/07/2004      03/08/2004    26        7        19      54
HOU     14/05/2001      12/06/2001    26        12       14      51
CHW     26/08/1999      15/09/1999    20        4        16      35
MIL     11/05/1999      30/05/1999    19        8        11      40
LAD     29/08/1997      19/09/1997    19        8        11      33
PHI     17/05/2006      04/06/2006    18        7        11      30
MIL     30/05/2003      19/06/2003    18        8        10      33
KCR     28/08/2001      23/09/2001    18        7        11      30
CHW     30/07/1999      17/08/1999    18        8        10      32
FLA     30/08/1998      18/09/1998    18        4        14      33
PIT     15/04/1996      04/05/1996    18        8        10      27
KCR     27/06/1979      15/07/1979    18        4        14      33

Not surprisingly the leader board is peppered with teams playing in the home run happy days of the late 1990s and 2000s. In fact, the most aged team on the list is the 1979 Royals who had a streak of 18 consecutive games where the ball left the yard. Not surprisingly their record was a paltry 4-14 in that stretch. To show you how impressive (or unimpressive) a feat that was back in the day, the Royals’ tally wasn’t bettered until the Dodgers saw 19 homers sail over the fence in 1997.

The Astro and Mariners share the lead with 26 consecutive games where there was at least one ripsnorter. How impressive a total is this? Let’s run the math. Assuming that hitting a home run is a binomial event then the probability of scoring at least one home run a game is roughly 66%. So for 26 consecutive games the probability is less than 0.002% from the start of any potential 26 game streak. Pretty darn impressive if you ask me.

2. Longest team streak for a team scoring ONLY one home run a game

Team    StreakStart     Streak End    Games     W        L
SDP     02/08/2001      14/08/2001    11        6        5
TOR     06/04/2004      17/04/2004    10        3        7
SFG     05/07/1992      16/07/1992    10        8        2
KCR     01/08/1975      10/08/1975    10        8        2
ARI     08/05/1998      17/05/1998    9         3        6
BAL     31/08/1997      08/09/1997    9         3        6
NYY     23/08/1993      01/09/1993    9         4        5
SEA     12/06/1986      21/06/1986    9         5        4
CLE     23/08/1963      30/08/1963    9         3        6

This should not be confused with the antithesis of the previous streak. Here we’re looking at the number of consecutive games where a team clubs ONLY one home run. This list isn’t the domain of teams plying their trade in the drug-fuelled 1990s. Although the Padres, who lead with 11, secured the record in 2001, teams from the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and 00s are all represented in the top nine. Special mention should probably go to those pesky Royals who once more appear on this list in 1975—the glory days really have gone AWOL.

Anyway, let’s get our binomial calculator out again and calculate the odds. The probability of scoring only one round-tripper in a game is 37%, which makes the probability of doing that in 11 straight games an odds-defying 0.002%, which is, err, unlikely.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the longest streak for a team scoring AT LEAST one home run a game is the 2003 Texas Rangers at 27.

3. Number of consecutive games for a pitcher without issuing a walk

PI also allows us to look at individual hitter or pitcher streaks, as well as team streaks. An ability to issue few walks is obviously good, unless you are soft-tossing easy home run fodder down the middle of the plate. I have limited the above list to starting pitchers only, otherwise it’d be dominated by random LOOGYs and other specialist set-up guys who face few batters per game meaning that they quickly rack up impressive no-walk totals. Any guesses for who comes out top? Maddux anyone?

Player          StreakStart    Streak End    Games    W     L     SO    HR    ERA
Bill Fischer    07/08/1962     26/09/1962    11       2     8     18    7     4.06
Greg Maddux     25/06/2001     07/08/2001    9        8     1     45    3     3.03
Javier Vazquez  01/05/2005     04/06/2005    7        3     2     41    4     3.42
David Wells     06/09/2002     16/04/2003    7        6     0     36    4     1.87
Jimmy Key       20/09/1989     29/04/1990    7        3     2     29    4     5.45
Randy Jones     21/05/1976     18/06/1976    7        5     1     14    5     2.4
Dick Donovan    20/06/1963     20/07/1963    7        2     3     12    9     5.68
Jon Lieber      02/09/2006     28/09/2006    6        3     2     22    7     4.33
David Wells     24/08/2004     18/09/2004    6        5     0     28    6     3.07
Brian Tollberg  16/07/2001     22/08/2001    6        3     2     24    6     4.71
Greg Maddux     09/06/1995     06/07/1995    6        4     0     36    1     0.96
Bob Tewksbury   20/06/1993     17/07/1993    6        4     1     21    2     2.45
Orel Hershiser  11/08/1991     16/09/1991    6        2     0     18    1     3.52
La Marr Hoyt    13/07/1983     07/08/1983    6        5     1     24    6     4.23
Don Drysdale    18/08/1966     06/09/1966    6        1     3     21    3     3.86

Wrong.

A journeyman called Bill Fischer tops our list with a streak of 11. Who, exactly? As you may have guessed reading the rest of his stat line, Fischer isn’t the most impressive pitcher to have stepped onto the mound in the last 50 years; his career ERA 4.34 doesn’t compare too well to an overall league ERA of 3.92 when he pitched. Soft-toss he did because in this 11-game streak he had a 1-8 win-loss record, struck out fewer than two batters per game and gave up seven home runs. Ouch.

It’s no surprise to see finesse pitchers such as Greg Maddux and David Wells on the list, twice each in fact. Greg’s record streak of nine was set in 2001 when his powers were starting to wane but, boy, was he pitching well, as an 8-1 record, 45 strikeouts and only three homers allowed attest to. Did you know that Maddux’s career BB/9 rate is 1.8, but since 2001 it has been below 1.5? Who says control doesn’t improve with age?

4. Number of consecutive 10+ K games

Player             StreakStart  Streak End   Games    W       L       BB      SO      HR
Pedro Martinez     19/08/1999   09/04/2000   10       8       1       11      130     2
Randy Johnson      13/04/2001   13/05/2001   7        3       2       13      90      5
Pedro Martinez     15/04/1999   18/05/1999   7        6       1       13      84      1
Nolan Ryan         19/05/1977   16/06/1977   7        4       2       45      90      3
Randy Johnson      31/07/2002   25/08/2002   6        5       0       14      79      3
Randy Johnson      25/04/2000   21/05/2000   6        3       1       11      71      6
Randy Johnson      20/07/1999   16/08/1999   6        3       1       11      65      4
Randy Johnson      19/06/1998   16/07/1998   6        4       2       10      74      5
Pedro Martinez     03/06/1997   30/06/1997   6        2       2       15      72      3
Nolan Ryan         25/09/1972   18/04/1973   6        5       1       25      76      1
Johan Santana      20/06/2004   11/07/2004   5        3       2       8       58      4
Pedro Martinez     12/05/2001   04/06/2001   5        3       1       7       59      3
Pedro Martinez     25/06/2000   28/07/2000   5        3       0       6       58      5
Randy Johnson      24/09/1999   14/04/2000   5        5       0       4       56      5
Randy Johnson      28/08/1998   18/09/1998   5        5       0       9       63      0
Curt Schilling     15/08/1997   06/09/1997   5        3       0       6       58      1
Pedro Martinez     14/08/1997   04/09/1997   5        2       2       14      59      4
Randy Johnson      09/06/1993   30/06/1993   5        4       1       14      60      3
Nolan Ryan         22/08/1989   12/09/1989   5        1       3       15      58      2
Dwight Gooden      27/08/1984   17/09/1984   5        4       1       10      65      1
J.R. Richard       16/09/1979   10/04/1980   5        3       1       10      63      1

Hey, this is a fun list. What we are looking at here are hurlers who have recorded the most consecutive 10-strikeout games—the elite power pitchers. If you go to a game and see a pitcher mow down 10 you’re impressed; if you see that same pitcher do it 10 times on the bounce you’ll probably need a slap round the face with icy water. It has happened folks. Yes, you heard correct. When Pedro Martinez was at his most dominant in 1999 & 2000 he had 10, yes count them, 10 consecutive games in which he struck out more than 10 batters. Wow. His K/9 over that period was an astonishing 15.3!

That isn’t the only time Pedro appears. He is also tied for second, and third, and fourth … you get the picture. Actually, studying this list gives us a great idea of who the all-time uber-dominant power pitchers are. The Big Unit, Martinez and Nolan Ryan are serial representatives. In fact, only three players have had a consecutive streak of six or more … those three players have done it a jaw-dropping 10 times combined.

We know that the league K/9 rate has consistently grown over time so perhaps it’s surprising that there aren’t a few more recent seasons on the list. The most recent entry was Johan Santana’s strike-fuelled 2004 season when he had a five-game streak for 10 or more strikeouts—his only appearance. Commentators and analysts often compare the dominance of Santana to that of Martinez. Based on this list it’s discussion over.

5. The shutout king

Player             StreakStart  Streak End   SHO     IP      H       BB      SO
Don Drysdale       14/05/1968   04/06/1968   6       54      27      9       42
Orel Hershiser     05/09/1988   23/09/1988   5       45      26      8       31
Bob Gibson         06/06/1968   26/06/1968   5       45      21      5       35
Luis Tiant         19/08/1972   04/09/1972   4       36      16      7       31
Gaylord Perry      06/09/1970   19/09/1970   4       36      15      3       20
Ray Culp           13/09/1968   25/09/1968   4       36      18      8       43
Luis Tiant         28/04/1968   12/05/1968   4       36      14      7       35
Ray Herbert        01/05/1963   14/05/1963   4       36      15      3       22

This list is dominated by older players. That shouldn’t be surprising given the changes in pitcher use over time. Had the Retrosheet database not stopped in 1957 I suspect Don Drysdale wouldn’t even have made the top 20. As things stand Drysdale holds the record with a streak of six. There must have been something in the water in 1968 since four out of the eight highest shutout streaks were in that year. One standout performance is that of Orel Hershiser and his legendary 1998 season where he went 23-8 with an ERA of 2.26. In that time he had 15 complete games and eight shutouts, five of which were consecutive. Hershiser was the first man to throw more than four consecutive blanks in 16 years.

6. Most hitless batter since 2000

Let’s round off our octet by looking at some of the achievements of our nation’s hitters. One limitation on data access is that PI has a 30-second timeout. While that is enough time to parse all pitching records since 1957, it is hopelessly inadequate when it comes to hitters. This is further compounded by my writing this in a God-forsaken third world county where carrier pigeon would be faster than the internet. With that in mind I restricted these data from 2000 to 2006.

Player            StreakStart    Streak End    Games       AB        Teams
Alberto Castillo  16/06/2001     17/07/2001    9           22        TOR
Brad Ausmus       20/06/2006     30/06/2006    8           31        HOU
Scott Spiezio     15/04/2005     13/08/2005    8           27        SEA
Yorvit Torrealba  30/08/2005     10/09/2005    7           21        SEA
Nook Logan        09/08/2005     02/09/2005    7           19        DET
Juan Castro       11/06/2005     22/06/2005    7           20        MIN
Brook Fordyce     04/07/2004     06/08/2004    7           22        TBD
Brandon Phillips  27/05/2003     04/06/2003    7           27        CLE
Damion Easley     23/04/2003     15/05/2003    7           21        TBD
Jack Wilson       01/05/2002     10/05/2002    7           25        PIT
Andy Sheets       16/04/2000     19/05/2001    7           21        BOS-TBD
John Mabry        26/09/2000     06/04/2001    7           22        SDP-STL
Torii Hunter      23/04/2000     30/04/2000    7           24        MIN

This is not a list that you want to be on. Alberto Castillo, who tops this list, didn’t have the most glittering offensive career with an overall batting line of .222/.295/.296 (no, that is not a typo). If Mario Mendoza hadn’t been born we could be talking about the Castillo line right now. Also not a surprise is the presence of Astros catcher Brad Ausmus, who is standing proud in joint second place—though his career year of .275/.365/.418 is passable compared to others, I suppose.

Scott Spiezio is also worth an honorable mention. His finest year with the timber certainly wasn’t 2005, as a line of .064/.137/.149 tells. Although he only had 47 at-bats all season he still managed a run of 29 without making contact or taking a trot to first. Oh, one other comedy factoid with which to impress your friends is his OPS+ that year … an impressive -27 (as computed by Baseball Reference).

7. Most games with at least one stolen bag since 2000

Player            StreakStart    Streak End    Games    SB    CS
Corey Patterson   27/05/2006     05/06/2006    9        11    0
Chone Figgins     27/09/2005     03/04/2006    6        7     0
Jose Reyes        17/07/2005     23/07/2005    6        8     0
Luis Matos        01/10/2001     05/10/2001    6        6     0
Dave Roberts      24/09/2006     28/09/2006    5        6     0
Carlos Beltran    10/08/2005     19/08/2005    5        5     0
Torii Hunter      18/04/2005     22/04/2005    5        6     0
Scott Podsednik   23/08/2003     27/08/2003    5        6     0
Brian Roberts     30/06/2003     05/07/2003    5        6     0
Roger Cedeno      06/09/2002     10/09/2002    5        5     0
Alfonso Soriano   21/07/2002     27/07/2002    5        5     1
Juan Pierre       07/05/2001     12/05/2001    5        5     0
Tony Womack       07/08/2000     12/08/2000    5        7     0

You might remember this one because Corey Patterson set the record last year at a canter (no pun intended). He managed to bag-nab in an impressive nine consecutive games—which is 50% more than the next highest since 2000. Although we restricted this list to seasons later than 2000 those with an eidetic memory will recall that Paterson co-holds this record with Ricky Henderson.

This list doesn’t hold many surprises with the usual speed merchants like Pierre, Soriano, Beltran and Hunter, jostling for position near the top.

Hey, is that Tony Womack I see on the list? Yep. I would have given him more chance to appear on the preceding list rather than this one; not because he is slow (he isn’t), but because I could never imagine him getting on base in five consecutive games. Who next, Cristian Guzman?

Before I get a slew of e-mails salivating over Womack’s stolen base prowess consider this: Out of all the players who have swiped more than 300 bags in their career, Womack has the fourth-highest success percentage.

8. The extra-base king in six-division play history

For this question I was able to extend the analysis back to the early 1990s.

Player          Streak Start   Streak End    Games    2B    3B      HR
Chipper Jones   26/06/2006     16/07/2006    13       8     1       6
Morgan Ensberg  08/04/2006     21/04/2006    11       5     1       8
Bobby Abreu     07/05/2005     18/05/2005    11       4     0       9
Bill Mueller    30/04/2003     15/05/2003    11       8     1       3
Paul O'Neill    22/07/2001     01/08/2001    10       6     0       4
Cliff Floyd     12/07/2001     21/07/2001    10       5     1       7
Richard Hidalgo 03/09/2000     12/09/2000    10       9     1       5
Ken Griffey     19/07/1993     29/07/1993    10       2     0       8
Wily Mo Pena    07/04/2005     21/04/2005    9        6     0       5
David Ortiz     19/04/2004     29/04/2004    9        9     0       2
Ben Davis       25/07/2002     25/08/2002    9        5     1       4
Todd Hollandswor18/04/2001     27/04/2001    9        9     1       2
Scott Spiezio   16/06/1999     17/08/1999    9        6     0       4
Shawn Green     17/07/1999     25/07/1999    9        6     0       4
Bobby Abreu     13/06/1998     21/06/1998    9        7     1       1
Darin Erstad    07/04/1998     18/04/1998    9        6     1       4
Brady Anderson  02/08/1997     13/08/1997    9        7     1       3
Jeff Bagwell    16/05/1997     25/05/1997    9        5     0       6
Harold Baines   04/05/1997     17/05/1997    9        11    0       2
Sandy Alomar    28/09/1996     13/04/1997    9        6     0       6

Woo-hoo! If you didn’t know that I am a Braves fan you do now. As with the Patterson example, you may remember Chipper returning from the DL and single-handedly excavating the Braves from a disastrous 3-20 slump last year. Again this list contains the usual suspects with offensive juganoughts like Ortiz, Ensberg and Abreu near the top. Perhaps Abreu is a bit of a surprise as he is more noted for his on-base prowess than his power. Indeed, in 2005, the year of his entry he only slugged .474, with 24 homers. I guess that’s why they call it a streak.

Every list throws up an aberration and this is no exception. Todd Hollandsworth, whom I didn’t know could hit, let along hit for power, sneaks onto this list. According to Baseball Reference in 2001 his line was an eye-popping .368/.408/.667 at Coors Field. I know Coors is a hitter’s park but that’s insane. Closer inspection reveals he only played in 33 games, which may explain a thing or two. Still, don’t bother with Bonds and Balco, get the Feds into the Centennial State! Denver ain’t called Mile High City for nothing.

Final Words

Guess what? I had a ton of fun writing and researching this article. It is amazing what you can find with just a little work given the tools available today. This article barely scratches the surface of what Sean is trying to do with PI. It was only launched in late 2006, and according to his site there are still a bunch of things he wants to add. I, for one, can’t wait.

Are you feeling hungry? Go and eat some $29 PI.

References & Resources
I’m not the only person to have been consuming PI over the last couple of week. It would be only fair to mention Ryan Armburst’s diary entry at Beyond the Boxscore, which is similar to what I did here. Imagine my annoyance when I saw that having already penned my article a couple of weeks ago I spied Ryan’s entry. Although Ryan published his note first I’d like to think that I had the idea before him! Even if I didn’t only one of our factoids overlaps—the 10 K pitcher streak. I thought about changing it but it is probably the most interesting factoid so didn’t.

Either way we all owe a debt of gratitude to Sean Forman at Baseball Reference and all the folks at Retrosheet who work tirelessly to make these data available.

Also I want to say a quick thank you to David Gassko, who helped me with a couple of stats questions. Any errors that remain are mine.

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