Ten Things I Didn’t Know Last Week

Oakland A’s pitching prospects don’t hurt their arms.

Over at the USS Mariner, Derek Zumsteg has been building the pieces of an extensive review of minor league pitching injuries, and his most recent article pulled the pieces together into an insightful crescendo. The high note was finding that the Oakland A’s have experienced no injuries among their top pitching prospects over the last 10 years.

The Mariners have for many years had a “pitch through the pain” philosophy, the failure of which is likely best exemplified in Gil Meche’s struggles and the organization’s dim view of his complaints. They have in general seemed reluctant to shut a pitcher down and slow to diagnose serious problems, as with Rafael Soriano’s rest-and-rehab, the push to have him return early, and the eventual surgical outcome of that course. The Mariners have one of the worst records with keeping their pitchers healthy.

Contrast this with the Athletics, who take nearly the opposite approach, and it could not be more stark. The A’s have experimented with different pitcher development approaches; they attempt to apply advances in medicinal research, do “prehab” and invest what little money they can on aggressive work to prevent injuries. The A’s have the best record of keeping their pitchers healthy.

Unfortunately, for A’s fans, this doesn’t erase the pain of injuries to their staff ace Rich Harden and their ace shortstop Bobby Crosby.

The kids are making the difference in the NL East.

The NL Wild Card race is coming down to the Houston Astros and the National League East. The remarkable development in the NL East this year has been the contributions made by the young players in this once-geriatric division. Consider…

The National League East may remain very competitive for a very long time.

Lloyd McClendon is no longer the Pirates’ manager.

I don’t really know what to say about Lloyd McClendon, who never made an impression on me either way. Of course, whoever replaces McClendon probably won’t have much of an impact on the team, but you can’t blame the Pirates for shaking things up.

This has been a summer of manager discontent. Jim Tracy’s head has been called for many times this summer (a development Jon Weisman articulately addressed recently), concerns continue to be raised about Dusty Baker in Chicago, Met fans have been scratching their heads over Willie Randolph’s strategic moves and Catfish Stew wonders if Oakland’s Ken Macha (a native of Pittsburgh) will move on to replace McClendon.

I’m sure I’ve missed a few.

Andruw Jones is not even the Braves’ MVP, let alone the league’s.

I wrote that one just to get your attention. We’ve gotten a lot of Win Shares questions lately. In particular, folks want to know why Andruw Jones only has 22 Win Shares, third on the team behind Marcus Giles (24) and Rafael Furcal (23). The answer is relatively easy: Andruw has not batted well with runners on base.

Overall, Jones is batting .270, but he’s batting only .213 with runners in scoring position (RISP). What’s more, only 38% of his home runs have come with runners on base, even though 51% of his at-bats have been with runners on. So even though he may wind up with 50 home runs and well over 300 total bases, he hasn’t had the impact many players with his stats have.

That’s how Win Shares sees things. On the other hand, when the game is on the line Andruw is batting .299/.368/.714, according to ESPN’s splits. (See when the game is “close and late:” seventh inning or later, game within one run either way.) Plus, he’s hit a home run nine out of 77 times in close and late situations. It appears that Andruw hasn’t been hitting well with runners in scoring position, but he has been hitting well when the overall game is on the line.

So, okay, maybe he is the Braves’ MVP. But proclaiming Jones the league MVP when a certain Cardinal first baseman has 12 more Win Shares is sort of missing the big picture.

Lloyd McClendon’s team has hit well with RISP.

A year ago, I wrote an article describing how teams score. I made a graph of three things for each league: how often runners reached scoring position, how well each team hit with RISP and how many home runs the team hit (the circle size). Here’s the same graph, updated for 2005:

image

As you can see, the Pirates’ problem hasn’t been batting with runners in scoring position; it’s been getting them into scoring position in the first place. At the same time, St. Louis leads the league in both batting with RISP and getting runners into scoring position.

There are a lot of other insights that can be pulled from this graph (check out how few home runs the Marlins have hit). But I’ll leave that to you.

ARod is one of the greatest ever.

So now I’m stating the blatantly obvious. But Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez is having another MVP-type of season. He’s batting .321/.422/.605 with nine runs created a game and 29 Win Shares (tied for the league lead) overall.

If he finishes with 34 Win Shares (just a guess) ARod will have a career total of 315. Only 10 players have had a greater career total at the age of 29. Here’s the list of all 300+ Win Share holders at the age of 29, including only players who played after 1900:

Player                       WS
Ty Cobb                     418
Babe Ruth                   413
Mickey Mantle               401
Mel Ott                     352
Walter Johnson              349
Tris Speaker                343
Rogers Hornsby              336
Hank Aaron                  322
Eddie Mathews               319
Eddie Collins               317
Jimmie Foxx                 314
Christy Mathewson           305

That’s pretty good company.

Albert Pujols will probably have around 183 Win Shares at the end of this year. At 25 years old, that would put him on the same pace as ARod (184) despite having started a year later. I knew you were going to ask.

You can find the career Win Shares of all current players on our Win Shares page.

IRod ain’t walking.

I found the batting equivalent of Carlos Silva, and he plays in Detroit. Catcher Ivan Rodriquez has walked only seven times this year, an incredibly small amount for a regular player. In fact, it’s half the next-lowest major league total (players with at least 400 at bats) of 14, held by Angel Berroa and Robinson Cano. That’s the company IRod has kept this year.

While IRod has never been a patient hitter, he’s at least received 16 walks in his worst year, and he walked 55 times just two years ago. Here’s a sparkline of his number of walks each year of his career: The good news for Tiger fans is that IRod has been his old self behind the plate, throwing out 48% of baserunners after nabbing only 29% last year. But his deterioration at the plate—he’s creating only 3.9 runs a game—doesn’t bode well for the value of that long-term contract. Remember, players tend to improve their batting eye with age. Rodriguez hasn’t.

Neither are the White Sox.

I haven’t heard much about small ball or smart ball or Ozzie ball lately. Which is a good thing. The White Sox’s offense has been just terrible. Take a look at this “how teams score” graph for the 2005 American League:

image

The White Sox have the second-lowest walk total in the American League which, along with their poor batting average, means they have had the fewest at-bats with runners in scoring position, by far. Once again, I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about other AL teams.

Defense sure has been indifferent lately.

Retrosheet’s David Smith posted a wonderful list in the SABR-L mailing list a year ago, and it was recently resurrected during one of those typically great SABR chats. It’s the number of “defensive indifference” stolen bases that have occurred over the last umpteen years. Defensive indifference is when the defense doesn’t contest a runner stealing a base, so the official scorer doesn’t give the baserunner credit for a stolen base.

Year    DI
2004   247
2003   219
2002   201
2001   213
2000   199
1999   166
1998    54
1997   122
1996   124
1995    88
1994    82
1993    85
1992    85
1991    78
1990    42
1989    50
1988    36
1987     5
1986     1
1985     4
1984     3
1983     7
1982    12
1981     3
1980     3

I rarely remember hearing about defensive indifference in my younger days, and now I see why. We can all rest easy knowing that we’re being safeguarded from inflationary stolen base numbers!

Best oufield arms.

Protrade recently ran an article about runners advancing on fly balls and which outfielders have been most successful at foiling them. The article included two great features:

  • Zone graphs of a baseball field highlighting which zones are most likely to result in a baserunner advancing on a fly, and
  • lists of which outfielders have prevented the most advancements, given where they caught their fly balls.

The list doesn’t really contain any surprises, but analysis like this deserves to be read and re-read.

Spoeaking of great outfield arms, the Braves’ Francoeur is tied for the National League outfield lead (with Floyd and Cabrera) with 11 outfield assists. The thing is, he’s racked up his total in 404 innings, while Floyd and Cabrera have played over 1,000 innings. Think they’ll stop running on him soon?

RIP, Maynard G. Krebs.

References & Resources
Thanks to the Balls, Sticks and Stuff guy for pointing out the ProTrade article.

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