Ten Things I Didn’t Know Last Week

We introduced a new feature at The Hardball Times last week, the Ten Things I Didn’t Know Last Week column. I originally wanted to refer to it as Ten Things That Pushed Ten Other Things Out of my Brain Last Week, but my editor said I couldn’t. That’s what I get for working with an editor who’s twenty-eight years younger than me. He’ll understand what I mean in a couple of decades.

Anyway here are the things that qualify for whatever the title is this week:

Tall infielders catch all the pop flies.

You probably know the complaint: tall guys get all the breaks. Tall guys make more money than short guys. Tall guys attract more women. Tall guys can breathe more easily in crowded subways (personal experience).

And now we find out that tall infielders catch more infield fly balls. According to uberstatistician MGL, the height of an infielder correlates with the number of infield flies he catches. In this thread at the Baseball Think Factory, MGL stumbled upon the fact that tall guys just seem to take charge on infield flies, which is why David Eckstein seems to catch so few of them.

But that’s okay. Being short has its advantages too.

Curses are ubiquitous.

The Red Sox apparently broke the best-known curse in baseball this past October, but some retrospective analysis shows just how insidious that curse was. We all know that the Curse began with the single most lopsided transaction in baseball history, right? You also may have read an article I posted a few weeks ago that also shows that the Red Sox have the worst trading record of the last forty years. And Mike Carminati took it a step further and found that the Red Sox have traded a net total of over 1,000 Win Shares (about 335 wins) to the Yankees in mutual transactions in their history of swapping players.

Well, I’ve stumbled across a new facet of the Curse: the Red Sox have lost more talent in expansion drafts than any other major league team. In the very first expansion draft, the Angels selected Jim Fregosi from the Red Sox’s minor league system, and Fregosi went onto become probably the best shortstop of the 1960′s. No player drafted in the expansion draft has ever accumulated more than Fregosi’s 261 career Win Shares, though Bobby Abreu will almost certainly catch him someday (barring injury). Overall, the Red Sox have lost over 700 Wins Shares through the expansion draft.

George Michael is some kind of Columbo.

The Sports Machine host, not the singer. The detective, not the yogurt. SABR circulated its Baseball Research Journal the past couple of weeks, and I had a few reactions after reading it. Bill James’s essay Underestimating the Fog has received the most attention, but I was fascinated by George Michael’s essay Identifying Mystery Photos in which he marks up ten photos that he has investigated.

It seems he’s been collecting old photos of sliding baseball players for years (talk about specific hobbies!) and many of them aren’t captioned. He’s learned to pick up clues from each photograph to help him identify the players and the situation. Clues include “Dirty shoes suggest that it is not early in the game.” “The runner is clearly safe on the play, so according to the scoreboard this must be the first run of the game.” “A double band appeared on the sleeve of the Cubs’ uniforms in 1935 and 1936.” Great stuff.

Pitchers don’t like to get hit by pitches.

One of the articles in the Baseball Research Journal dealt with the higher rate of batters hit by pitches in the American League. A question that has been studied quite a bit is whether batters are hit more often in the AL because pitchers don’t have to bat and possibly face “retribution.” The issue is complicated by the fact that pitchers at bat don’t get hit as often by pitches anyway, and this may be the sole reason HBP rates are higher in the AL (DH’s being more likely to be hit than pitchers).

Anyway, the BRJ article looks at overall HBP rates and applies a mathematical factor to normalize for pitcher at bats. And, in a beautiful example of not underestimating the fog, they conclude that you can’t really say HBP rates are higher in the AL due to pitchers having no fear of retribution.

The trouble is that this subject was well covered by JC Bradbury and Doug Drinen last July, in a much more sophisticated analysis. Their conclusion was different — some of the difference in HBP rates does indeed appear to be because AL pitchers don’t have to worry about getting hit in return. Although the BRJ article referenced several other printed studies in this area, they seem to have missed this one.

Clint Courtney was the first major league catcher to wear glasses and the first to wear an oversized mitt for catching knuckleballs.

A friend gave me a present the other day: The Catcher by Rob Trucks (Virgil’s nephew). This is a wonderful little book that includes the history of the catching position, interviews with lots of catchers (who have great stories) and, most interesting to me, a timeline chapter that graphically highlights the major developments in catcherdom.

Really, I just picked the Clint Courtney factoid at random. I could have used a number of neat facts and stories from the book. It’s a light and informative read — evidently the first of a series of position-specific books from Emmis Books — and I recommend it to anyone interested in the subject.

Steve Trachsel is scheduled for back surgery.

I’m no Will Carroll, but I do have herniated discs in my back. Three, to be exact. And I have to tell you, they are painful. Sometimes the swelling can be brought under control, but once you rupture your disc, it never heals. You have to be sure to lift with your legs for the rest of your life.

Some players recover well from back injuries; others don’t. I don’t know what will happen with Trachsel, but I hope the Mets use this to give Matt Ginter the opportunity he deserves.

Pitchers have some control over line drives, but not a lot.

After I wrote an article earlier this week highlighting some of the major variances between line drives and batting average for batters and pitchers — and after I said that “we” don’t really know how much influence pitchers have over line drives hit off them — I received an email from a reader who pointed me to Ron Shandler’s most recent Baseball Forecaster. Evidently, there is a study in the Forecaster that found a .314 correlation between pitchers’ line drive rates in one year and the next.

For comparison, Tom Tippett found that strikeout rates have a .73 correlation between years (1.0 is a perfect correlation), walk rates have a .66 correlation, home runs are at .29 and BABIP is .16. There may be systematic differences between the studies, but it appears that line drive rates for pitchers may be about as predictable as home run rates.

By the way, we have an agreement with Baseball Info Solutions to present the same stats to you in 2005 that we presented in 2004, with an improved interface. This extra data will allow us (and you!) to perform more detailed analyses with two year’s worth of data.

The decreased foul territory at Dodger Stadium won’t have as big an impact as I had assumed.

THT’s Tom Meagher, in his Fourth Outfielder blog, answered a question that my brother and I have been wondering about: what will be the impact of the extra seats behind home plate in Dodger Stadium. Tom estimates that it will yield only one additional run every six games in total, or one run per team every twelve games.

In 2004, teams scored an average of 3.7 runs a game in Dodger Stadium, for a park factor of .88. One run every twelve games will raise that average to 3.8 for a park factor of .90. Slowly but surely, Dodger Stadium is becoming less and less of a pitcher’s park.

There is already a rolling grass field in Japan.

Last week, I opined that I wanted to see the rolling grass field that is supposed to be in the new Mets’s stadium, if it ever gets built. Well, several readers emailed me to let me know that such a field already exists already exists in Japan. Unfortunately, the grass field is for soccer; they use Astroturf for baseball! Still, I should have known there would be something like this in Japan already. Thanks to the readers who pointed this out to me.

This is funny.

That’s My Vader… Now imagine the same scenario with George Steinbrenner. And if you’re actually tempted to take in the Congressional steroid hearings, you might want to read Casey Stengel’s congressional testimony instead:

“I had many years that I was not so successful as a ballplayer, as it is a game of skill.”

References & Resources
Tangotiger ponted me to MGL’s excellent article from over a year ago, that lists rates of batted ball types, strikeout rates and other goodies.

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