Ten Things I Didn’t Know Last Week

David Ortiz is hot.

imagePerhaps the Red Sox first baseman is hot under the collar, since some folks think a designated hitter doesn’t deserve to be called the Most Valuable Player. But he’s particularly hot at the plate, as the Gross Production Average (GPA) sparkline on the left shows. This is a sparkline of Ortiz’s GPA throughout the season, on a 10-game rolling average. As you can see, he’s turning up the heat at the end of the season when it matters most, with a GPA of .531 over the last 10 games.

imageWhat about the competition you ask? On the left you see Alex Rodriguez’s GPA sparkline. His peak was even higher than Ortiz’s, though it occurred earlier in the season. Their total GPAs (unadjusted for ballpark) are just about even: .337 and .342. Ortiz gets points for batting well with runners in scoring position; A-Rod gets points for putting up his numbers in a pitcher’s park. So who deserves the MVP? They’re both great batters having great years. I guess it comes down to fielding vs. timing.

Frank Thomas has been missed.

It’s nail-biting time here in Chicago. That’s what happens when your team plays .500 ball while the Cleveland Indians start playing like the 1939 Yankees, culminating in this week’s terrific Chicago/Cleveland three-game series.

As I was listening to Tuesday night’s game, Sox announcer Darrin Jackson stated that a resurgence by Scott Podsednik could add one to two runs a game for the White Sox. I was stunned. Apparently those Sox announcers still believe in “Ozzieball.”

Podsedniks OBPIt’s true that Podsednik experienced a prolonged slump recently, as this sparkline of his OBP indicates (ignore the .000 — that’s when he was on the disabled list). And he’s clearly lost his confidence on the basepaths. But Podsednik isn’t the guy who’s been missed the most.

One of the best-known stats of the year is Oakland’s winning percentage with and without Bobby Crosby. Here’s a similar stat: The White Sox have scored 5.3 runs a game when Frank Thomas has been on the active list, but only 4.4 a game without him.

It’s true that Thomas wasn’t his awesome self when he played this year. But he is still second to only Paul Konerko on the team in Runs Created Per Game. And, as The Cheat has pointed out, his presence seemed to have a positive effect on other Sox batters (most notably Carl Everett).

If you want to play “what if” scenarios with slumping or injured players, try thinking about the White Sox with a healthy Frank Thomas all year long.

Podsednik had 12 home runs last year. This year he has none.

Just thought I’d mention that. No player in the history of baseball, with at least 300 at-bats each season, has gone from 12 or more home runs to zero the next year. The irony is that he is now playing in US Cellular Field, one of the most extreme home run parks in the majors.

The American League’s three divisions are the closest ever.

It has been such a great year for pennant and Wild Card races that the Baseball Gods must be smiling. There are a lot of ways to evaluate how close these races have been. Mike’s Baseball Rants took a look recently and found that only 4.5 games separated the first-place team from the second-place team in each American League division, IN TOTAL. That is the lowest number since the three-division structure was created, though we obviously still have a few games yet to play before we can book this record.

Mike also found that the Dodgers have a chance for the worst record ever by a team that began the year 12-2. I totally forgot that the Dodgers started the year 12-2.

Actually, my brother likes to call them the “Los Angeles Dodger” for those times when there’s only one starting player remaining from the beginning of the season. Here’s an excerpt from a recent e-mail he sent me:

Yesterday, walking into Dodger Stadium, I looked up at the four huge murals over the Loge entrance, the four players pictured are:

Drew—out for the season
Izturis—out for the season
Perez—injured, possibly out for the season
Gagne—out for the season

Speaking of Baseball Gods, the Dodgers must have angered them somehow. Seems to me that the Dodgers are tied for this year’s most significant “what if” scenario, along with Barry Bonds’s knee.

What Cool Standings Are

Cool Standings is the name of a website that updates each team’s odds of making the playoffs. Baseball Prospectus does this too, but Cool Standings includes a graphical interface that is, well, cool. I particularly like the team dashboards.

Thanks to David Pinto’s Baseball Musings for the heads up.

The record for most runs scored in a game without a multi-run inning is seven.

Sounds boring, right? Talk about esoteric… But esoterica is exactly what this site is about, and it makes for a great read. This past week, this blog ran a series on one-run inning games that included cool patterns like this one. I’m hooked.

Stuffy McInnis was caught as a runner in six different triple plays.

That’s the record. In addition, Stuffy (did people really call him that?) batted into two triple plays (the record is four) which means he was called out in eight different triple plays. This certainly seems to qualify him as one of the unluckiest batters/baserunners ever.

That’s just one of the gems I picked up from Baseball’s Triple Plays, a site that seemingly has everything you’d ever want to know about triple plays. Careful; this is the sort of site that can grab your attention for several hours.

Dwight Gooden threw a lot of pitches at a very young age.

At Baseball Analysts, Rich Lederer has been having a discussion about Dwight Gooden’s unrealized great career. The question, spurred by Bert Blyleven’s comments about Gooden’s drug use, is whether pitching too many innings was also a factor in his decline. Even sportswriter Bob Klapisch gave an opinion, claiming that Gooden’s decline was totally due to drug abuse.

There’s no doubt that Gooden ruined his career (and, more importantly, his life) by taking drugs. But there’s also very little doubt that he was overused at the tender ages of 18, 19 and 20. In that first year, 1983, he had an incredible record for Single A Lynchburg, striking out 300 and walking 112 in 191 innings. I applied Tangotiger’s pitch count estimator to those numbers and found that Gooden threw an estimated 3,356 pitches at Lynchburg. So far this year, only three major league pitchers have thrown more often. As I said, he was 18 at the time.

Mets’ manager Davey Johnson saw Gooden pitch in the minors, and he convinced General Manager Frank Cashen that Gooden was ready for the major leagues in 1984. Johnson was right, as Gooden went on to compile a 2.60 ERA with 276 strikeouts in 218 innings. He threw approximately 3,475 pitches, including 15 games in which he probably threw over 120 pitches. I estimate that he threw 142 pitches on September 1 and 140 on July 27. He was 19.

Next was 1985, the year Gooden dominated hitters as few pitchers ever have, with a 1.53 ERA and 268 strikeouts in 276 innings. That’s a lot of innings; in fact, only two major league pitchers have reached that mark since (Charlie Hough and Roger Clemens in 1987). Did I mention that he was 20 years old at the time? I estimate he threw 4,068 pitches that year, including 153 on October 2 after throwing 140 in his previous start. There were five games in which he threw at least 140 pitches.

For a bit more perspective, I applied Baseball Prospectus’s Pitcher Abuse Points (PAP) to Gooden’s pitch count. BPro’s research indicates that every pitch thrown in excess of 100 pitches in a start has a wearing effect on a pitcher’s arm. In fact, it is exactly research like this that has led to a new understanding of how to handle young pitchers.

According to PAP, Gooden racked up 437,598 PAP in 1984 when he was 19. This year, only strong-armed Livan Hernandez has surpassed that score. Carlos Zambrano is second at 160,000 (a total for which the Cubs’ manager has been criticized by some Cubs’ fans). In 1985, Gooden reached over 820,000 Pitcher Abuse Points. Baseball Prospectus doesn’t have PAP stats for all years listed, but it appears as though that figure has been exceeded only once in the last 10 years, by the aforementioned Hernandez.

I glanced through Davey Johnson’s great book covering the 1985 season, Bats: The Man Behind the Miracle, and found several references to Gooden’s workload. Johnson was aware of Gooden’s workload; in fact, Cashen urged him to do something about it. Johnson didn’t.

Of course, I would prefer Doc only throw 250, 260 innings. But you have to take into account that Dwight doesn’t throw as many pitches in a game as most power pitchers. He’s unusual. Nolan Ryan will throw 150 pitches in a ballgame. Dwight seldom gets over 140. Most of the time it’ll be between 100 and 130. So the strain is less.

We certainly have a different attitude about pitch counts today, don’t we? Nolan Ryan was truly unique in his ability to handle a large number of innings. But it’s also worth noting that he was rested more often early in his career, and he didn’t reach Gooden’s level of Innings Pitched until the age of 25.

I’m not saying that drugs didn’t ruin Gooden’s career. Of course they did. But if we don’t also remember that Gooden was tremendously overworked at a very young age, we’ll have forgotten an important lesson.

Chris Young pitches the way Alfonso Soriano hits.

Take a look at the batted ball lines of Alfonso Soriano and Chris Young, both of the Texas Rangers:

Player           PA      K     BB     GB     OF     IF     LD    Oth
Soriano A.      638    18%     6%    26%    33%     3%    14%     3%
Young C.        658    20%     7%    24%    31%     4%    13%     1%

These two guys have very similar profiles. The exception is that Soriano has hit 35 home runs and is creating 5.4 runs per game, while Young has allowed only 18 home runs and is only giving up 4.5 runs a game. Which suggests an interesting study: can you compare batters and pitchers based on their batted ball lines, and use that comparison to forecast their future performances?

Sounds like an offseason project. In the meantime, I’ll just say that you’ll find the batted ball lines of every qualified major league hitter and pitcher in the Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2006. Please support the site and order your copy today.

This is why I love this game.

There were seven one-run games last Saturday, September 17, including one in which Chacon beat Chacin. In the game, the Yankees became the first team in history to play five different players with at least 300 career home runs.

Plus there was one extra-inning game, in which the Nationals’ invincible Chad Cordero gave up a two-out ninth-inning game-tying grand slam to San Diego’s Khalil Greene, and the Padres eventually won 8-5. A congressional investigation was quickly conducted.

To top it off, the Phillies scored 10 runs in the ninth inning after being shut out for the first eight to beat the Marlins 10-2.

The night before, Manny Ramirez was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded and the score tied in the bottom of the tenth for a “walk-off HBP” against Oakland. And last Wednesday, Gabe Kapler ruptured his Achilles tendon running the bases on Tony Graffinino’s home run and had to be removed for a pinch runner in the middle of the play. For the pinch runner, Alejandro Machado, it was his first time on base in a major league game.

Sometimes this column just writes itself. Is there any other game that is even remotely as fascinating?

References & Resources
I’ve made two changes to the original article. An alert reader noticed that I had my facts wrong regarding pitchers reaching the 276 inning mark. And two others noticed that the record for batting into triple plays was wrong (I thought it was three). Thank you!

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