Ten Things I Didn’t Know Last Week

Where hits landed last year.

I’ve talked about John Dewan’s Fielding Bible before (and our own David Gassko recently reviewed it). It contains so much information that I like to pick it up and open to a random page, just to see what’s there. I particularly like to refer to the hit charts, which show where hits landed against each team’s defense.

One of the extra items they threw into the Bible (sounds funny, doesn’t it?) was the placement of hits by each team’s offense, for comparison’s sake. When I took a close look at where hits fell for each team last year, I found a lot of differences. For instance, here’s a list of the teams with the most and fewest hits through the infield (top and bottom five in each case):

Infield Hits      SS/3B Hole         Up Middle         1B/2B Hole
      Most               Most               Most              Most
HOU    138        FLO     139        NYY     223       PHI     130
FLO    131        HOU     139        DET     210       NYY     126
DET    112        MIN     138        KCR     206       ARI     116
MIN    110        DET     137        MIN     206       BOS     113
CHW    110        CHW     135        TBD     197       NYM     112

      Least              Least              Least             Least
MIL     54        ARI      87        HOU     137       MIL      62
TEX     57        TEX      94        SDP     148       HOU      65
PHI     59        LAA      97        LAD     159       DET      66
CIN     68        WAS      98        WAS     162       FLO      76
CLE     74        CIN      99        CIN     163       COL      77
LAD     74

Notice how both Florida and Houston garnered a lot of infield hits and hits through the left side, but neither team had many hits to the right side? Now look at hits to the outfield:

Front of LF       LF Gap             Front of CF       RF Gap         Front of RF
      Most               Most               Most              Most              Most
FLO    144        TOR     181        LAA     114       SDP     185    CHC        140
TEX    134        BOS     170        COL     111       OAK     171    OAK        138
PIT    126        COL     165        LAD     111       PHI     165    TOR        135
COL    124        PHI     165        PHI     110       LAA     164    WAS        130
CHW    120        SDP     165        SFG     107       BOS     161    MIL        126
                                                                      SFG        126
      Least              Least              Least             Least            Least
WAS     73        MIN     124        CIN      64       SFG     113    CHW         78
NYY     76        ARI     128        BAL      66       FLO     114    PIT         86
ARI     85        LAD     129        CHC      68       MIN     118    NYM         88
SDP     90        CHW     132        CLE      71       STL     122    SEA         88
CIN     92        KCR     134        ATL      73       HOU     125    KCR         93
                                                                      FLO         93

The Athletics stroked their outfield hits to right field; the Marlins didn’t. Also, San Diego and Philadelphia were gap-hitting teams, which may be caused by their home parks. Here are the hits over the outfield (not including home runs) and down the line (right or left):

Over OF           Down Line
      Most               Most
BOS     79        BOS     199
DET     79        CHC     199
PHI     79        LAA     192
FLO     79        CIN     191
PIT     77        TOR     180

      Least              Least
SDP     44        PHI     122
CHC     47        CHW     130
NYM     48        LAD     140
BAL     50        NYY     145
LAD     51        NYM     146

These last stats are certainly influenced by ballparks. For instance, the Green Monster ensures that Boston will usually be near the top of hits over the outfield. But the Red Sox also led the majors in hits down the lines. The Cubs hit down the line, not over the outfield. The Phillies were just the opposite. The Mets and Dodgers did neither very often.

You can probably find some other team trends in the stats.

Aaron Boone is hitting.

Someone asked me the other day which team would be this year’s surprise team. My first inclination was to say Cleveland, but how much of a surprise would they be? They almost won the AL Central last year, despite suffering the most close losses of any team in the majors. They’re young and improving, even though a few of their young batters (Martinez, Peralta, Sizemore) probably won’t do as well this year.

But one of their older geezers, Aaron Boone, is having a good spring. If he keeps it up (and a strong slugging percentage is one of the few decent spring indicators of what might happen during the season), Cleveland will be that much stronger. Don’t be surprised.

So is Edwin Encarnacion.

Boone used to be the Reds’ third baseman, but that designation now belongs to Edwin Ecnarnacion, one of the better young hitters in baseball. Encarnacion has hit five home runs this spring, second to the Phillies’ Ryan Howard, whose stardom is bustin’ out all over.

There are a ton of good young third basemen in the game, aren’t there?

Speaking of good young hitters, Tampa Bay’s Joey Gathright and Jonny Gomes are two extremes on the same team. Gathright hit 66% of his batted balls on the ground last year, the highest total of anyone with at least 100 plate appearances. On the other hand, Gomes only hit 28% on the ground, which was one of the lowest figures in the majors.

I don’t know why I find that so fascinating, but I do.

Bytown Won the North East League Championship.

We like to keep tabs on the oldest continuously played simulated baseball league, the North East League, which has been in existence since the early 1960s. The most recent season was one of the most exciting in their history, as reported by NEL founder Woody Studenmund:

In what may have been the most amazing pennant race in NEL history, the Bytown Lumbermen came from behind to beat the Cooperstown Phillies to win the NEL’s Eastern Division championship. Mark Featherstone’s team survived a season that had more ups and downs than any other in memory:

The Start: Bytown came out of the blocks flying, and just before the half-way mark in the season, they had a commanding lead on Cooperstown:

Bytown                57   17   .770      -
Cooperstown           45   29   .608     12

That’s right, the Phils were 12 games behind just before the teams turned for home. To make things even worse for Cooperstown, in the next game, the Lumbermen had a 6-1 lead over the Phils in the bottom of the ninth and threatened to extend the lead to 13 games.

The Comeback: But then lightning struck, as the Phils roared back to score five runs in the bottom of the ninth. They then won the game in extra innings and proceeded to completely turn their season around by heading off on an almost absurd winning streak of their own. Over the next few months, the Phils were literally unbeatable, as they not only caught the Lumbermen but actually passed them and were three games ahead with just seven games left in the season!

Cooperstown      66    15     .815        -
Bytown           51    30     .630       14

For a combined:

Cooperstown          111      44    .716    -
Bytown               108      47    .697    3

The Stunner: With just seven games left in the season, Bytown clearly was the underdog because they were three games behind and had lost fifth starter Carlos Zambrano for the rest of the regular season due to injury. However, the Lumbermen confounded the odds by completely dominating the seven games. The Canadians outscored the Doubleday Fielders by a completely stunning 50-15 margin and won six of the last seven games of the season to win the pennant.

In the six Lumber victories, the average score was 8-2, and the only close game was the Cooperstown win. Bytown could have swept the series! Even with this domination, the pennant race came down to the last day of the season, but Tim Hudson outpitched Odalis Perez, 4-1 to cinch the pennant for the Lumbermen and prevent the Phils from winning their 23rd divisional championship.

Hitting line drives is a mixed blessing.

Over at BaseballHQ.com, Alex Patton published an article that collates our batted-ball stats to see if line drive hitters really do better overall. He grouped batters into groups of 50, based on how often they hit line drives and found that there are definite differences between them (percentages are expressed as a percent of plate appearances):

Bracket              PA     K     BB    GB    OF   IF    LD  Oth    BA
Hitters 1-50       28353   12%    8%   34%   22%   3%   19%   2%  .287
Hitters 51-100     26889   14%    9%   33%   23%   3%   16%   1%  .281
Hitters 101-150    29586   15%   10%   32%   23%   4%   15%   1%  .275
Hitters 151-200    27331   17%   10%   32%   23%   4%   13%   1%  .271
Hitters 200-216     9100   20%   13%   28%   23%   4%   11%   1%  .260

As a batter hits more line drives, his batting average increases. Good thing. But it’s also interesting to note that, as line drives decrease, so do ground balls, and strikeout and walk rates increase.

It appears, from reading Alex’s article, that the bottom tier is composed of players who hit mighty fly balls, such as Adam Dunn, Jason Giambi and Richie Sexson. In fact, some of the best sluggers in the game don’t hit many line drives; they walk, hit powerful fly balls, or strike out trying.

The “run environments” of each ballpark, each year.

Lots of baseball historians will tell you that you can’t understand historical baseball stats without understanding the environment in which the stats were compiled. Lots of baseball historians are right.

I was looking at the Lahman database the other day and decided to calculate the run environment of each ballpark each year (from 1900 to the present). The calculation was simple, thanks to Mr. Lahman. I simply multiplied the average number of runs scored each league and year by each team’s park factor (which measures how many runs were allowed in the ballpark, relative to the overall average).

The lowest run-scoring environment was Brooklyn’s Washington Park in 1907 (only 2.9 runs a game). The highest was Coors Field, of course, in 2000: 8.1 runs a game.

This isn’t news, of course. But the raw numbers (8.1 vs. 2.9!) are pretty impressive and worth repeating. The difference between playing baseball in Washington Park and Coors Field would be almost as extreme as the difference between playing baseball in the USA and Finland.

Baseball is the national pastime in Finland, too. At least, something like baseball.

A couple of weeks ago, the Chicago Tribune‘s Rick Morrissey wrote about a brand of baseball they play in Finland (subscription required; here’s a free article about Finnish baseball). This isn’t the brand of baseball they’re playing in the World Baseball Classic right now. As Morrissey says,

Something happened to baseball when it was brought back to Finland by Laurie “Wheatstone” Pihkala, who had seen a Red Sox game in 1907. Something strange happened, some weird Darwinian thing, as if the game got isolated on the Galapagos Islands of sports and went off in its own selective, mutative direction.

This is what it looks like:

image

Looks like something Bugs Bunny would play, doesn’t it?

How Bugs Bunny played baseball.

The latest great thing I’ve seen on the Internet is USS Mariners’ review of Baseball Bugs. This is baseball research at its finest, such as the following examination of how Bugs is able to score when the throw home has him beat…

Bunny’s innovation extends to more than possible new discoveries about physics and the nature of perception. In his first hit, Bunny attempts to score an inside-the-park home run but finds a Gorilla covering home plate has received the ball. Bunny then shows him a pin-up of (we must believe) surpassing attractiveness, causing the player to go into fits of pleasure. This allows Bunny to score easily. If such beauty is indeed usable (and use of it does not violate the rules) and can be reliably applied, this is a clear innovation with applications in fields as diverse as anesthesia and crowd control.

Also, you might enjoy McSweeney’s list of early Nintendo characters best suited for a fantasy baseball team. For manager, he nominates the gorilla from Donkey Kong:

Ozzie Guillen-esque in his inability to convey audible words or coherent directions to his team, the grizzled veteran succeeds by being a much-needed stoic presence during the long season. And when his players disagree with a call, Kong backs them as any good manager would. Unfortunately, now and then he overreacts and throws barrels at them, forcing him to watch the rest of the game on TV.

I know the Dick Cheney quail hunting incident is old news, but I just love this game.

The Twins have a really tall pitcher.

Minnesota has some great young pitching coming up through their system, but Loek Van Mil tops them all. The guy is 7′ 1″. If you ever meet him, be sure to ask how the weather is up there. Tall people love that.

How dogs fetch.

You know, if dogs can instinctively calculate the math required to catch a ball, why can’t (insert name) catch a fly ball?

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