Ten Things I Didn’t Know Last Week

Rafael Palmeiro apparently took steroids.

What a shock to baseball. Oriole first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, who seemed to personify the game’s virtue at the Congressional hearings and was recently the subject of heated Hall of Fame debates, tested positive for steroids in May. Palmeiro apparently tested positive for stanozolol, the same drug used by Olympic sprinter Ben Johnson. Stanozolol is not some wimpy steroid substance associated with dietary supplements; it is the drug of a true steroid user.

I’m no steroid expert, but at the risk of upsetting some readers, let me list some of my opinions regarding this brouhaha:

  • Many baseball players have obviously been taking steroids for some time now. This is not news.
  • Professional baseball, as run by its owners and labor leaders and reinforced by the mainstream media, tacitly encouraged this behavior.
  • The Congressional hearings were a joke, and I am still upset that Congress wasted its time on this issue when it is sending young men to war.
  • Unlike many other observers, I thought the most honorable speaker at the hearings was Mark McGwire, who refused to perjure himself.
  • The baseball media are incredibly two-faced when they express shock at these revelations, because many of them complicitly knew what was going on all along or, at best, chose not to know.

Baseball fans everywhere should be upset with the players, sure, but they should be more upset with the “journalists” who cover baseball, and even more upset with baseball’s leadership. Let’s not forget where the true blame lies.

Mid-season trades can work out for both teams.

Speaking of baseball reporters, the Chicago Tribune’s Phil Rogers stated in last Sunday’s column that mid-season deals for veterans are “sucker deals,” and don’t work out for the team trading away young players 80% to 90% of the time.

This is one of those statements that people make based on impressions, and not on real insight. You have to be very careful when analyzing these types of deals, as we did when discussing the Alexander/Smoltz trade—a trade that Rogers would probably claim came out in the Braves’ favor. What’s more, people don’t tend to remember the deals in which the prospects don’t pan out. Here are some examples:

  • On July 18, 1993, the Braves traded three young players (Melvin Nieves, Donnie Elliot and Vince Moore) to the Padres for first baseman Fred McGriff. The three youngsters went on to accrue a total of 26 career Win Shares, compared to McGriff’s subsequent 185 Win Shares. And the Braves won quite a few pennants along the way. The Braves have a knack for trading young players for veterans.
  • On July 31, 1995, the Tigers sent pitcher David Wells to the Reds for three youngters (C.J. Nitkowski, Dave Tuttle and Mark Lewis). The Reds won their division and Wells went on to rack up 121 more Win Shares. The three young players the Tigers received collected 17.
  • On May 17, 1985, the Cardinals traded outfielder Lonnie Smith to the Royals for a young outfielder named John Morris. Morris contributed eight Win Shares in his career; Smith amassed 103 more, and the Royals were World Champs in 1985.

Admittedly, this issue requires real analysis, and I’ve just pulled some trades off the junk heap as examples. But be careful of false impressions.

Speaking of midseason trade analysis, Mike Carminati has an interesting series evaluating midseason trades of the past.

Curt Schilling was involved in five bad trades

Speaking of one-sided trades, Rich Barbieri recently made the point that Curt Schilling has been involved in five of them, which is something I had never thought of before. Each time Schilling was traded, it was good news for the team getting him, bad news for the team giving him up.

As Rich says, I wonder if that’s a record for most one-sided trades. Sounds like another analysis.

The first literary baseball game was played in Cooperstown.

I’m a Cooperstown junkie, but even I didn’t know this. According to this website, the first literary reference to baseball was placed in the town of Cooperstown, thanks to America’s first true novelist, James Fenimore Cooper. Not only that, but Cooper’s book, published in 1838, places the street game on the exact spot as today’s Hall of Fame. So maybe Cooperstown does have a claim as the “home of baseball,” if you believe in book learnin’.

Reading this excerpt, however, reminds me that I never made it all the way through The Deerslayer.

George Brett was a streaky hitter.

Bill James is attacking, one by one, the list of conclusions he questioned in Underestimating the Fog. Recently he questioned the conclusion that “clutch hitters don’t exist” in a By The Numbers publication, and now he has written an article attempting to disprove the notion that “batters don’t get hot and cold.”

I’m not enough of a mathematician to critique his effort, but I found the article as insightful and interesting as his usual fare. And I particularly enjoyed reading through the Hot Hand website that James posted to.

Also, if you haven’t read this (admittedly long) article about clutch hitting, I highly recommend it.

You can make your own sparklines!

You probably know that Oakland is just plain hot, but check out this sparkline of the A’s wins (on the top) and losses (on the bottom) image since May 30. On the sparkline, the middle line indicates home games, and the gray bars indicate games that were decided by two runs or fewer.

The A’s are 43-14 since May 30th, which leads the major leagues. The second-best record in that time period belongs to the Houston Astros image, while the worst teams during this time have been former high flyers Baltimore Orioles image and San Diego Padres image.

That was an experiment to see if you think adding context-specific sparklines to a paragraph adds more information. If you think it does, you can create your own sparklines at the Hardball Times Team Sparkline Machine. Created by Bryan Donovan, this application allows you to customize your own team sparklines, view them and download them, if you’d like. That way, you can post them in your own article or blog. Just another public service from your friendly THT website.

Speaking of website innovations, Rob McMillin has been doing something interesting on his 6-4-2 Dodger/Angel blog. Rob has set up a system that posts the performance of Dodger and Angel farmhands from the night before, including comments and links to player pages. Great job.

To evaluate a team, look at their record in non-close games.

Joe Sheehan did something really neat in a recent Baseball Prospectus article (subscription required again). He listed the record of each team in one-run games and all other games to show how one-run records can hide the true strength of a team.

Here’s a related list: the record of all teams in games decided by more than two runs. This shows the underlying strength of all teams by eliminating the relatively close ones:

AL East     W     L     Pct
BOS        40    27    .597
TOR        38    26    .594
NYA        37    28    .569
BAL        36    30    .545
TB         17    39    .304

AL Centr    W     L     Pct
CHA        30    18    .625
CLE        27    20    .574
MIN        28    25    .528
DET        25    30    .455
KC         20    40    .333

AL West     W     L     Pct
LAA        29    20    .592
OAK        36    25    .590
TEX        28    27    .509
SEA        24    35    .407

NL East     W     L     Pct
ATL        37    23    .617
FLA        36    28    .563
PHI        32    29    .525
NYN        31    30    .508
WAS        22    24    .478

NL Centr    W     L     Pct
STL        32    15    .681
HOU        34    23    .596
MIL        30    22    .577
CHN        28    32    .467
PIT        25    33    .431
CIN        24    37    .393

NL West     W     L     Pct
SD         27    30    .474
LAN        22    28    .440
ARI        21    33    .389
SF         21    37    .362
COL        15    38    .283

Notice how the Nationals sink to the bottom, and how Milwaukee and Toronto rise closer to the top? These standings are arguably a better indication of each team’s true talent than their complete record. In the end, however, they count close games too.

In other team news, the Chicago White Sox received a big assist from the schedule makers this year. They have played most of their games image against the AL Central and NL West, two of the weakest divisions in baseball. Their record is 28-24 against all other divisions. I don’t mean to belittle the White Sox’s record. I’m just saying that they might be challenged in the postseason.

Also, the Mets lead the National League in stolen bases with 92 so far (Houston is second with 88). The Mets have never led the league in stolen bases.

Doc White rarely faced the Washington Senators.

Doc White was a lefty who pitched for the White Sox in the early 1900s. According to the Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers, his key pitches were a drop ball and slow ball, which Senator batters must have smacked, because Doc White didn’t pitch against the Senators for nearly five years. This was very hard to do back in the days of the eight-team league. Though he never got to pitch there, White was both born and buried in the nation’s capital.

We’ll probably never know what White talked about on the mound with his manager and catcher, but this article from The Seattle Times chronicles some hilarious mound conversations in more recent times. Thanks to Baseball Primer for the link.

Derek Lowe and Brad Halsey are the unearned runmen.

Unearned runs were a lot more common in Doc White’s day. For instance, he gave up 45 earned runs and 37 unearned runs in 1904. Fielding has improved so much since then that no one really talks about unearned runs anymore, but they count just as much as earned runs. Sometimes, when you see a discrepancy between a pitcher’s ERA and his Win/Loss record, unearned runs are the culprit.

I was curious about the unearned run leaders this year, which means that you’re going to suffer through another list. Here are the pitchers (and their fielders) who have given up the most unearned runs so far:

Player         Team      IP     RA     ERA   UERA  UER
Lowe D.        LAN     144.3   5.11   3.99   1.12   18
Halsey B.      ARI     125.3   5.03   3.81   1.22   17
Santos V.      MIL     117.0   5.08   4.08   1.00   13
Pavano C.      NYA     100.0   5.94   4.77   1.17   13
Marquis J.     STL     131.3   4.66   3.77   0.89   13
Wright J.      COL     117.7   6.81   5.81   0.99   13
Robertson N.   DET     126.3   4.70   3.85   0.85   12
Buehrle M.     CHA     155.0   3.66   2.96   0.70   12
Suppan J.      STL     124.0   5.08   4.28   0.80   11
Maroth M.      DET     132.0   5.32   4.57   0.75   11
Haren D.       OAK     138.3   5.07   4.36   0.72   11

Derek Lowe and Brad Halsey lead all other pitchers by a wide margin, and you can safely say that their ERAs are deceiving. Now, here are the pitchers who have allowed zero unearned runs, ranked by how many innings they’ve pitched:

Player         Team      IP      RA     ERA   UERA  UER
Lawrence B.    SD      140.0    4.50   4.50   0.00    0
Ramirez H.     ATL     132.0    4.36   4.36   0.00    0
Washburn J.    LAA     131.7    3.28   3.28   0.00    0
Francis J.     COL     127.3    5.16   5.16   0.00    0
Patterson J.   WAS     117.7    2.60   2.60   0.00    0
Pineiro J.     SEA     117.3    6.06   6.06   0.00    0
Wells D.       BOS     117.3    4.45   4.45   0.00    0
Lilly T.       TOR     104.3    5.52   5.52   0.00    0
Williams W.    SD      101.7    5.05   5.05   0.00    0
Perez O.       PIT      83.3    6.16   6.16   0.00    0

If you believe, as I do, that pitchers should be held accountable for ALL the runs they allow, these are the guys you should be receiving extra credit.

Sin and virtue are equally good investment strategies.

If you’re looking to plunk your hard-won savings into a mutual fund, you’ve got a basic choice between good (the Ave Maria Catholic Values Fund) and evil (The Vice Fund). According to an analysis by Slate, these two funds have been outperforming the S&P 500 in recent years, although vice has been picking up steam in recent months. Maybe they invested in BALCO…

Played Curveball yet?

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