Ten Things I Didn’t Know Last Week

Every act of terror and murder, such as this week’s tragedy at Virginia Tech, is always a kick in the gut. No matter how many desperate and depraved acts we have seen on TV or the Internet, each one feels like something terribly new, something that teaches us again how vulnerable life can be and how senselessly it can end. If you’re a parent, it makes you want to you hold your children that much closer, knowing that you will eventually have to let go. It breaks your heart, no matter how removed you are from the scene and its victims.

This is a lesson no one should have to learn. Our deepest sympathies go out to the families and friends of the Virginia Tech victims.

On to lighter things learned…

It rains heavily on the East Coast.

Sheesh. Snow in the Midwest, then rain in the East. The weather was so bad that the bull made famous by Bull Durham was destroyed in a windstorm. When will it end? And can anyone explain to me why the Twins are thinking of building a stadium without a roof? Don’t they play in Minnesota? Are they serious?

When a fad becomes a trend.

I hope you subscribe to Heater magazine. Heater, the creation of John Burnson, is basically an electronic baseball magazine. For a mere pittance, you get two 65-page issues a week during the entire baseball season, chock full of stats and remarkably good commentary (yes, I contribute a weekly column. How did you guess?). John is a very creative guy, and his stats layouts and pictures are dynamite; each issue is packed full of great baseball knowledge for the fantasy fan.

Last Saturday’s issue included a column by THT’s David Gassko, in which he asked the age-old question: “When is it real?” That is, how many games does it take to know that a player’s surprising stats are for real instead of a statistical fluke? Here’s his answer:

Stat    Games to significance
Runs          100
HR             50
RBI            50
SB             30
BA            N/A

Now, David used a simple measure to calculate his significance threshold (an R-squared of 50%), but at least there was a method behind his madness. And the interesting thing is how few games it takes for a stolen base total to become a leading indicator, yet how long it takes big changes in batting average to become meaningful. In a word: never.

Options are becoming more and more popular.

In my Heater article this week, I took a broad look at all the contracts signed during the offseason. One of the things that struck me was just how popular contract options are becoming. During the offseason, about one-third of all free agent contracts included an option year, worth more than $380 million.

Nearly one-half of all contracts that included an option year were one-year deals, with a second-year option. I was a bit surprised by that, assuming that most option years would be associated with long-term contracts. Contract options used to be relatively simple things, in which the club could call an option on a player for a specific salary (or buy it out for a specific amount). Now, contracts can be triggered by all sorts of events, including playing time, a trade or MVP voting.

It gets complicated. For instance, if Jason Michaels has 375 plate appearances in 2008, he has the right to void the club’s $2.6 million option for 2009. If Craig Counsell is traded during the next two years, the third-year club option will turn into a player option. The sixth year of Brian McCann‘s contract will become a club option year if McCann doesn’t reach certain award thresholds in the previous five years.

I’ve tried to track and categorize all of these deals as best I can. Here’s a table of how I categorized each offseason option deal:

Type                         Dollars
Straight Club Option     $173,850,000
Club and/or Vesting       $74,900,000
Mutual                    $45,450,000
Vesting                   $40,425,000
Mutual/Vesting            $19,000,000
Player                    $16,000,000
Player/Club               $11,000,000
Club and/or Mutual         $2,600,000
Grand Total              $383,225,000

Hey, at least these guys are being creative, right?

There are two players under contract for 2014.

Alfonso Soriano ($18 million) and Vernon Wells ($21 million). Plus, Barry Zito has an $18 million club option for 2014 (which converts to a player option if he pitches enough innings in the previous years).

Just thought you’d like to know, in case you have plans for 2014.

The Mariners haven’t played a close game yet.

As of Wednesday, the Mariners had played nine games and not a one of them had been decided by one or two runs. Not a one was “close.”

How rare is this? Well, let’s see. The second-lowest figure is three: the Red Sox have played three close games in 12. Most teams have played 5-8. The Tigers and Diamondbacks have played 10. In fact, almost half of all major league games so far have been decided by one or two runs; 46%, to be exact. If you assume that the Mariners are just as likely to play close games as anyone else, then the probability of going nine games in a row without a close score is less than 1% (0.4%, if I did my math correctly).

The odd thing is that the Mariners are playing .500 ball; they’ve both won and lost blow out games. It’s a meaningless trend, of course, but it does explain why J.J. Putz has no saves.

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The Mets are fielding like crazy.

The Dodgers have a better record, but the Mets are the behemoth of the NL, so far, with a run differential of 34 (67 runs scored and 33 runs allowed). Funny thing about that runs allowed figure, however, is that all those runs have been prevented on the field. Take a look at the graph: the Mets have the best Defense Efficiency Record in the league by far, and the worst Fielding Independent Pitching (the result of strikeouts, walks and home runs). That’s just crazy.

How have they done it? Well, here are some keys:

  • 21% of all the flyballs allowed by the Mets have been infield flies. That’s a whopping total (average is 12%) and explains why the Mets’ batted balls have been so “fieldable.”
  • The Mets outfield has been average, but the Mets’ infield has been airtight, converting 83% of all ground balls into outs. The major league average is 75%.
  • Mets pitchers have left 86% of all men to reach base against them on base; the league average is 73%. That’s because opponents are batting only .120 with men in scoring position.

The Mets lead the major leagues in every category I just mentioned.

Sammy Sosa has set the major league record for most time elapsed between stints on a team.

Well, that was a mouthful. But I learned from the SABR-L mailing list that it’s been 17years since Sammy was last in the Rangers organization, a year longer than the previous record (16 years, held by a couple of players):

Sammy Sosa      Texas    1989    2007    17
Joe Kelley      Bos N    1891    1908    16
Willie Keeler   NY N     1893    1910    16
Patsy Donovan   Bkln     1890    1906    15
Waite Hoyt      NY N     1918    1932    13
Babe Herman     Bkln     1931    1945    13
Nap Lajoie      Phi A    1902    1915    12
Eddie Collins   Phi A    1914    1927    12
Pete Alexander  Phi N    1917    1930    12

This list was compiled by SABR’s Gerry Myerson. He’s not claiming it’s complete or official, just the best list he could create. Isn’t it interesting that, despite the longevity of some of today’s players, all of the previous recordholders played before 1945?

Jackie Robinson’s splits

Speaking of SABR-L (one of the best benefits of being a SABR member—join now!), Retrosheet’s David Smith posted the following splits for Jackie Robinson, based on his batting order position:

Position  AB   R   H  2B 3B HR RBI HP  BB  SO SF   BA  OBA   SA
First     80  15  25   6  1  1  14  0  10   7  0 .313 .389 .450
Second   999 205 288  55 12 22 110 18 120  66  0 .288 .375 .433
Third    645 130 207  32  4 20  90 12 110  41  0 .321 .429 .476
Fourth  2483 496 818 157 32 79 439 35 382 139  2 .329 .426 .514
Fifth    112  18  31   5  0  1  12  2  18   9  0 .277 .386 .348
Sixth    290  47  84  12  5  7  45  3  58  12  5 .290 .407 .438
Seventh  191  26  48   3  0  6  17  2  34  10  1 .251 .368 .361
Eighth    49   7  12   1  0  1   5  0   6   2  1 .245 .321 .327
Ninth     28   3   5   2  0  0   2  0   4   4  0 .179 .281 .250

Robinson spent the most time in the cleanup spot, not exactly what you’d expect from a dashing baserunner like Jackie Robinson. His batting line of .329/.426/.514 shows that he was pretty comfortable there.

Brad Wilkerson is swinging and hitting the ball again.

Brad Wilkerson, the main man the Rangers picked up for Alfonso Soriano, had a rough year last year. This year, he seems to be off to another slow start, but Scott Lucas has found something he likes in Wilkerson’s pitch stats.

Specifically, Scott has found that Wilkerson is missing the ball less often, swinging and missing only 17% of the time, in line with his historical performance. Last year, he swung and missed 23% of the time. Scott’s conclusion is that Wilkerson is swinging the bat better than he did last year, and he’s likely to turn his season into a good one. Lo and behold, he’s homered in the last two games.

Time will tell, of course, but pitch-specific analysis like this is probably one of the next waves of baseball writing and analysis, thanks to the generosity of sites like Baseball Reference, which reports pitch data on all major league players.

Pizza Fight at Fenway

Did you catch the pizza flip at Fenway Park on Monday? If not, watch this video of it. The announcers are hilarious. “Here Comes the Pizza!” And here’s the full story.

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