Ten Things I Didn’t Know Last Week

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MLB is just the sport that can’t say no.

This is old news, but Major League Baseball decided to start the World Series in the middle of the week instead of its traditional Saturday. What’s more, MLB recently decided to start the Series later than usual, to give teams more rest during the prior playoffs. This means that Game 7 of the World Series is scheduled for November.

May I say, this is ludicrous. Baseball is the summer game, not the winter game. The sight of baseball players playing the most important games of the year in freezing cold weather makes me ill, and it probably has a similar impact on the players. Yes, I know this is inevitable. Baseball will always say yes to television, and more games means more money. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

And while you’re listening, Bud Selig: Go watch Barry Bonds’ record-breaking home run. Stop worrying about appearances. The guy is going to post a fantastic milestone and cap a brilliant career. Perhaps he took steroids while you looked the other way. So did a lot of other players—stop helping the media make a villain of Bonds. Move on, for crying out loud. And while you’re at it, disband the George Mitchell witchhunt.

I agree with Joe Sheehan on this one. MLB should be proud of the steps it’s finally taken to address the steroid and amphetamine issue. Dredging up the past only serves the media (who are foaming at their collective mouths to find villains). It doesn’t serve MLB or its fans. You’ve got a fine testing program in place, and you’re facing up to an issue that was swept under the rug for years. Declare victory and move on.

The Padres are terrible at stopping basestealers.

Speaking of old news, I missed this one. Last year, the Padres set a major league record of sorts. They were the worst team in the Retrosheet era (1957 to the present) at stopping base runners. With Mike Piazza primarily behind the plate, the Pads caught only 15% of baserunners attempting to steal, shattering the record of 17.6%, set by the 2003 Phillies.

Why do I mention this now? Because the Pads are in the process of shattering the record again. Despite moving Josh Bard and Rob Bowen behind the plate in Piazza’s stead, the Pads have caught only 12% of baserunners stealing this year.

Get the lead runner.

Speaking of basestealers, we recently received an intriguing question in our THT Mailbag. To paraphrase the question: If a Met pitcher is on first base with no outs and Jose Reyes grounds to the second baseman, is the second baseman better off throwing Reyes out at first instead of the pitcher at second? Is speedy Jose Reyes at first base a worse situation than a (presumably) slow-moving pitcher at second?

Man, that’s a good question. Reyes is a fearsome basestealer, on track to steal 80-90 bases this year, and he’s been thrown out only 17% of the time (that’s downright Padresian). Also, Reyes has the speed to score from first on a long single, certainly on a double. Given his speed, should the second baseman throw him out at first instead of the pitcher at second?

I wasn’t sure how to answer this question, but then I remembered that Tangotiger has built a neat little online tool called the Markov Run Calculator. You can input batting assumptions into the calculator and it will estimate the number of runs that will score. What’s more, it will calculate the expected number of runs for each base/out situation. And what’s even more, it will let you make assumptions about baserunning.

So here’s what I did. I took Tango’s original baserunning assumptions (going from first to third on a single, etc.) and made them a lot more conservative, and then I looked up the “run value” of a baserunner at second base. Then I made his baserunning assumptions a lot more aggressive and looked at the “run value” of a baserunner at first base. In other words, I created a pitcher at second scenario and a Reyes at first scenario and compared the two.

It turns out that the pitcher scenario still will score more runs than the Reyes scenario, .678 runs to .658 runs. But that’s pretty close. Now, if you add in Reyes’ habit of stealing second, well, that actually doesn’t improve the run projection. That’s because Reyes does get caught sometimes, and the times he is erased from the basepaths negate the times he moves forward.

There is one other wrinkle, however. If you assume that your catcher is, um, I don’t know, maybe Josh Bard, then Reyes’ run value jumps up to .691. At that point, the second baseman may actually be better off throwing out Reyes instead of the pitcher. So, the answer to the question is: It depends on the catcher (and, to be fair, the pitcher on the mound can have a big impact on baserunning, too). The break-even point is about a 19% caught stealing percentage.

All of these are estimates, of course. But it’s a pretty intriguing thought exercise.

Another fielding system

Speaking of Tangotiger, his recent blog entry pointed to a new fielding system that has been created by the mathematic types at the University of Pennsylvania. I won’t comment on the system itself (see the blog for useful comments) but there are lots of cool graphs.

Things I learned from the SABR Baseball List & Record Book

Speaking of fielding statistics, did you know that Mike Boddicker had 49 putouts in 1984? On the all-time list of putouts by a pitcher, most seasons occurred before 1900, but Boddicker’s record stands out as the fifth highest total of all time—a huge anomaly. I wonder if he was a master of the infield pop fly to the pitcher, or really good at covering first base? Or something else?

That is just one little tidbit that I culled from the SABR Baseball List & Record Book, which I received from SABR, natch. You may think that every single record under the sun is available on the Internet, but that’s not true. SABR’s publication is a unique and useful take on some of the best records and lists in baseball history. I may soon write a “Ten Things I Learned” column dedicated to it; there’s that much there. Get it.

Free baseball books on the Internet.

Speaking of record books, you can now read the 2007 Sporting News Record Book online for free. I remember when the Record Book was one of my most prized baseball possessions. With the advent of the Internet, TSN decided it might as well just give it away. In a way, that’s a shame; the end of an era. In another way, that’s progress.

And, if you haven’t read it yet, you can now read Moneyball for free on the Internet. Don’t know how long this link will last, so check it out while you can.

The most doubles in a game.

Speaking of records and the Internet, you may remember that I posted something last week about the most singles in a game without any extra base hits. The number was 22, by the Dodgers in 1988. I got into a little e-mail conversation with one of my readers about it, and we researched a few similar angles on Baseball Reference.

This one surprised me: The record for most doubles in a game, without any other kind of hit, is nine, set by the Atlanta Braves in 1998. The remarkable thing about that number is that the second-highest number is five. Talk about annihilating records: The Braves almost doubled the record (at least the record from 1957 to the present).

You know, I must have known about that at the time. Maybe if you poked some electric probes in my brain the memory might resurface. But the great thing about having a poor memory is that I’ll never stop learning things, even if I am just learning them again. I’ll never run out of colum fodder.

The friendliest players in the major leagues.

Speaking of… well.. oh, dang. I can’t think of a good connection here. But did you see Sports Illustrated’s poll of the friendliest players in the majors? (Hat tip: Ballhype). Evidently, first basemen, left fielders and designated hitters are friendly guys. In other words, guys who can’t field have time to chat.

So here’s my baseball personality test: Are you a chatty first baseman or a sullen shortstop?

Nate Silver tells the Marlins where to go.

Nate Silver had a couple of articles at Baseball Prospectus about the best potential markets for major league teams. In the capstone piece, he reviewed a list of potential cities for the Marlins to move to (subscription required). Nate recommends Charlotte, N.C., and has this to say about the area:

There is, to my mind, exactly one place that would clearly be viable for the 31st major league franchise, and that place is Charlotte, North Carolina. The South as a whole is underrepresented in the major leagues, which is what enables the Braves to control such a substantial TV audience. Charlotte is no metropolis, but it is conveniently located at the center of several mid-size markets, including the Winston-Salem/Greensboro/Raleigh-Durham corridor along I-40, and Columbia, South Carolina. What’s more, the area is growing rapidly, and would give both the Braves and the Nationals a natural rival in the NL East.

It’s the usual good stuff from BPro.

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