Ten Things I Didn’t Know Last Week

What a long, strange week it’s been. Consider…

Infantile managers

Last Saturday, Lou Piniella lost his cool on a correct umpire call, later conceding that “I was going to argue if he was out, safe or whatever.” Evidently, Piniella wanted to get in on the previous day’s embarrassing dugout action between Carlos Zambrano and Michael Barrett. Or he wanted to “shake up the team.” Or something.

I guess it sort of worked; the Cubs won their next two games convincingly. But things really were falling apart at Wrigley, and it’s hard to believe that a managerial rant can make much difference.

If it can, consider the case of Philip Wellman, the manager of the minor league Mississippi Braves. This rant has been a big hit on You Tube, and it’s easy to see why. But I found the entire thing pathetic instead of funny. The guy was just putting on a show instead of fighting for his team. I guess it falls under the heading of minor league entertainment but, if so, it doesn’t make me want to attend a minor league game.

A couple of innings later, three of his players were also thrown out of the game, following their manager’s lead (hat tip, BBTF). Seems to me that’s the real difference a managerial rant can make: turn players into whiners.

I guess the Braves don’t feel too bad about it. They suspended Wellman for three games, which is less than Piniella’s four-game suspension.

Gary Sheffield sounding racist

What else can you call it when you hear Sheffield spout things like “Where I’m from, you can’t control us. You might get a guy to do it that way for a while because he wants to benefit, but in the end he is going to go back to being who he is,” as he said in a recent GQ article. Unfortunately, that remark will just reinforce the perception that black players aren’t team players, and will ensure that only short, white players like David Eckstein will continue to win awards for “hustle.”

It’s too bad, really, because Sheffield has some useful things to say. There is a difference in the backgrounds of Latin American and black ballplayers and baseball can be doing more to appeal to young blacks in the USA. But I personally think he’s off base when he says that the relatively low proportion of black baseball players is “a baseball issue.” It’s a deep-seated cultural issue that isn’t going to change easily.

Buzz Bissinger losing his cool

Did you hear the radio interview with Buzz Bissinger about his Sunday New York Times Kerry Wood article? (subscription required). Bissinger was already a controversial figure for the anti-sabermetric slant in his book Three Nights in August, and he lost it when the interviewer challenged his assumption that young pitchers are spending less time in the minors these days.

Some folks at the Baseball Think Factory took a random sample of well-known pitchers and came up with this list:

Pitcher, Minor League Innings (numbers courtesy of The Baseball Cube)
Steve Carlton, 306
Nolan Ryan, 287 (and quoted by Bissinger in the piece)
Don Sutton, 249
Tom Seaver, 210
Jim Palmer, 129
Bert Blyleven, 123

And a few current players with no durability issues:
Johan Santana, 334
C.C. Sabathia, 232.7
Mike Mussina, 178

Baseball Prospectus’s Clay Davenport took a more systematic look and found that major league pitchers who debuted in 1973 had pitched 423 innings in the minors, while pitchers who debuted last year pitched 434 minor league innings. And Joe Posnanski has conducted his own research into the matter.

Buzz Bissinger seriously doesn’t know what he’s writing about, and should be forced to prove his points before someone publishes his stuff again.

A-Rod’s got bad karma

Meanwhile, controversy continues to dog Alex Rodriguez. First he was discovered hanging out with a “mystery blonde”, accompanied by the shocking revelation that he hangs out in strip clubs. Then he called off an infielder on a pop fly, when he wasn’t actually on the field with a glove. Kind of bush league, but mild compared to something Ty Cobb might have done. Then he hit a game-winning home run in the ninth inning of a nationally televised game.

Talk about paradoxes: A-Rod leads the majors in All-Star voting, but is the subject of trade rumors.

Really, if you want to understand Alex Rodriguez, just throw all of those news items in a box, shake them up and see what the insides look like. It won’t be pretty, but that is A-Rod’s karma: relatively mild misbehavior, heroic achievements, high pay, controversy.

You can win a ballgame with no baserunners.

Thank goodness they continued to actually play baseball last week, just to distract us from everything else. Last Thursday, the Blue Jays beat the White Sox, 2-0, on two solo home runs and literally nothing else. According to the Blue Jay announcers, it was the first time in the history of the game (or, at least since 1900) that a team had won a game without getting an actual runner on base (in other words, not including guys trotting around the bases on home runs). (Hat tip: SABR buddies)

The best fielders in 2007

Meanwhile, baseball analyst Mitchel Lichtman has posted his fielding statistic, Ultimate Zone Rating, for the first two months of the year (as well as the last three years). Lichtman created UZR several years ago, and it remains at the cutting edge of fielding metrics today. Justin converted the UZR data into NL team fielding rankings, and compared them to THT’s team fielding stats, which are less sophisticated than UZR. It’s good to see the THT stats hold up relatively well, but it’s better to see the actual UZR.

Some of the things I learned from UZR:

  • Adam Everett continues to be the best shortstop in baseball, with +9 runs. Can he finally win the Gold Glove that he deserves this year?
  • Jeff Kent, who is normally a decent fielder, has been terrible this year. In fact, UZR ranks him last in the majors among all positions, at -15 runs.
  • Grady Sizemore, the Indians’ center fielder, tops the list at +12 runs, closely followed by third baseman Pedro Feliz (+11) and Jose Cruz (+10, between left and right field).
  • This was a shocker to me: the best fielding team in the majors has been the Cubs, at +41 runs overall. The only fielder with a negative UZR is Cesar Izturis (-3), the Gold Glove winning shortstop. Alfonso Soriano (!) leads the team, with +9 runs (all in left field). In limited play, Felix Pie already has +6 runs.
  • The Yankees, usually one of the worst fielding teams, have been close to average this year (-5 so far) though Derek Jeter is still ranked near the bottom among shortstops (-7, third-worst in the majors).
  • The best infield has been San Francisco’s (thanks mainly to Feliz and Omar Vizquel) and the worst has been Tampa Bay’s (Ty Wigginton and B.J. Upton being the primary culprits).
  • The best outfield has been the Cubs’ (despite the catcalls aimed at Matt Murton and Jacques Jones) and the worst has been Boston’s (J.D. Drew has been awful, as has Manny Ramirez). I can’t help thinking there are some park factors unaccounted for in these two cases.

Many, many thanks to MGL for publishing his UZR results during the season.

Win Shares leaders

Last Friday, I posted Win Shares stats for the first two months of the year. We’ve been posting Win Shares on our site for four years now, and I figure at this point I don’t have to introduce them anymore. If you’re new around here, you can read more about them in this article. I have been meaning to further modify Win Shares, but I keep hearing rumors that Bill James has been working on a new version so I haven’t bothered. I may revisit the underlying structure of Win Shares someday but, for now, I prefer to use Win Shares Above Bench as my preferred metric.

Through last Thursday’s games, Vlad Guerrero had 12 WSAB, three more than the next-highest total. Vlad is on an MVP tear, and he’s even +2 in UZR so far this year. Other players of note among WSAB leaders:

  • J.J. Hardy and Orlando Cabrera are the two top shortstops. Hardy has made the biggest impact with his bat, Cabrera with his glove (though UZR doesn’t rate his glove as highly as Win Shares does). They both have nine WSAB, trailing only Vlad.
  • Josh Beckett, Dan Haren and Jake Peavy are the top-rated pitchers, with eight WSAB. Peavy and Haren lead the majors in Pitching Runs Created, though Beckett’s PRC total has slipped since I ran the Win Shares. Beckett also gets a small boost from his 8-0 record.
  • Francisco Cordero is rated the top relief pitcher in baseball, with six WSAB (he’s ranked second, according to WPA). There are a slew of relievers tied with five WSAB, including the unlikely figures Dustin Moseley (who has a great ERA but hasn’t pitched a lot of leveraged innings) and Casey Janssen (not a saves leader but he’s got a 0.92 ERA and has pitched in key situations).
  • Among team leaders:

When it comes to ultimate baseball statistics, I’m torn between Win Shares and WPA. Both have their flaws, and neither one includes an advanced fielding metric like UZR. MGL developed his own ultimate stat with Super Linear Weights, which Sean Smith recently calculated for this year. All three systems have pluses and minuses (as does Baseball Prospectus’ VORP, which has gotten a lot of press recently) and the ultimate one-stat-that-compares-all-and-satisfies-all is probably beyond anyone’s reach. Of course, that’s what makes this stuff so much fun.

The all-times leaders in defensive substitutions

Brandon Isleib recently parsed the Retrosheet data (1957 to the present) to derive the following list of all-time leaders in defensive substitutions at each position:

POS   Player             Subs
C     Rick Dempsey        291
1B    Mike Jorgensen      415
2B    Al Weis             205
SS    Rafael Belliard     291
3B    Garth Iorg          220
LF    Greg Gross          298
CF    Paul Blair          350
RF    Jim Eisenrich       152

Yes, the all-time leader in defensive substitutions is the man who was born the same day that Babe Ruth died, Mike Jorgenson. In 1978, Jorgenson pinch-ran for Mike Hargrove a lot and would up replacing him at first base 61 times, the single season record since 1957. Overall, he appeared in 96 games and had 97 at-bats.

I love lists like this.

Who was drafted when by whom.

Jorgenson was the 61st pick in the 1966 draft. The year before, Ken Holtzman was the 61st pick. Since 1965 was the first year of the major league draft, you wouldn’t be wrong to conclude that the first two 61st draft picks have been the best 61st draft picks in the history of the major league draft (other contenders are Craig Swan, Joe Magrane and Jesse Crain). Stuff like that used to take a long time to figure out, but no more. Thanks to Baseball Reference’s latest addition, you can cut draft data all sorts of ways.

For instance, David Price of Vanderbilt is widely considered the likely first pick in today’s draft. In the first 16 years of the draft, there was only one college pitcher taken with the overall first pick. Since then, there have been three or four every decade. Here’s the full list:

Year  Team      Pitcher          College                       Record     ERA
 2006 Royals    Luke Hochevar    University of Tennessee
 2002 Pirates   Bryan Bullington Ball State University             0-0   13.50
 1997 Tigers    Matt Anderson    Rice University                  15-7    5.19
 1996 Pirates   Kris Benson      Clemson University              68-73    4.34
 1994 Mets      Paul Wilson      Florida State University        40-58    4.86
 1989 Orioles   Ben McDonald     Louisiana State University      78-70    3.91
 1988 Padres    Andy Benes       University of Evansville      155-139    3.97
 1983 Twins     Tim Belcher      Mount Vernon Nazarene Colleg  146-140    4.16
 1981 Mariners  Mike Moore       Oral Roberts University       161-176    4.39
 1976 Astros    Floyd Bannister  Arizona State University      134-143    4.06

There are a lot of fine pitchers on this list, but there are a lot of broken dreams too.

By the way, Baseball Prospectus ran a great study of high school vs. college pitchers in the draft last year, and Justin did a nice job of summarizing the results in this post.

What those sabermetric terms mean

We’ve put a lot of work into our statistical glossary, but we were recently outdone by Pizza Cutter. Back to work…

References & Resources
As one reader pointed out to me, Luke Hochevar wasn’t pitching in college at the time he was drafted number one overall. He was pitching in an independent league. Still, that doesn’t change the concept of the list: #1 overall draft picks who had already pitched in college.

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