Ten Things I Didn’t Know Last Week

One of the things I didn’t learn this week is a great opening line, though I read a couple:

Tom Glavine has always relied on the kindness of strangers. Large, bulbous strangers in black pads and face masks, that is. The idiosyncrasies of any given umpire has usually either made Glavine’s pitching day or ruined it.

and…

Regret hangs on Steve Butler like a spare tire.

The first quote is from Kaley’s Flushing Local blog, and the second is from an excellent article about Steve Butler, who was the best player on a high school team that included Alex Rodriquez and Doug Mientkiewicz. I recommend reading both of them.

Let’s move onto the things I did learn:

Florida and Toronto are the best teams in their leagues.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s early in the season and all that. I say, who cares? It’s baseball; don’t jump to conclusions, but don’t let “small sample sizes” get in the way of the thrill. Through Tuesday’s games, the best team run differentials (runs scored minus runs allowed) belonged to Florida (25) and Toronto (20).

Just like last year, Florida is off to a hot start. Yes, they’re 4-4, but all their losses have been close games, and all their wins have been blowouts. And, just like last year, their pitching has led the way: the Marlins lead the league with a 1.51 ERA. Now, the realists will point out that their FIP is close to league average at 3.71, and a lot of their good pitching is actually good DER. They’re right, but remember our mantra: Who cares?

It’s all about the bats in Toronto, where Eric Hinske is third in the league in Slugging and Runs Created, and the rest of the offense is not too shabby, either. Yes, Toronto started the season with a three-game series against the Devil Rays. But they’ve maintained their winning ways against the Red Sox and A’s — which means that this early season spurt is as legitimate as can be.

Will both teams keep it up? Who knows? Everyone should enjoy their youth while they can, and that goes for baseball seasons too. By the way, our friends Rich and Bryan have a nice review of the opening of the season at Baseball Analysts.

Maybe the White Sox won’t hit in the clutch this year.

Over the last few years, the AL Central has been the doormat of Major League baseball. Outside of the Twins, there has not been a team that could consistently hold its own against non-division rivals. I think that’s changing this year. The White Sox, Tigers and Indians are all more talented than they were last year, and the Twins are still in the improvement stage of the aging curve, too.

The AL Central competition will be a very interesting race to watch. Already this year, we’ve seen Chicago and Cleveland parlay three of four games into one-run nailbiters. The White Sox are doing it with pitching; they lead the league in ERA at 3.66. But their offense is tied for second-worst in the league at 3.86 runs a game. The culprit? Clutch hitting. The Pale Hose are only hitting .175 with runners in scoring position, the lowest figure in the majors. Last year, if you recall, they batted .292 with RISP.

There have been lots of lead changes late in the game early this season.

Now, I’m kind of upset about this, because I noticed an early-season trend last week when preparing for a radio appearance on Brendan Mathew’s show on KRMS 1150 in Missouri. Brendan and I were looking for early-season trends, and I noticed that there have been a lot of late-inning lead changes. In fact, it’s been hard to pick a Game to Review because there have been so many thrilling, late-inning gems.

My complaint is that the Associated Press and other newshounds apparently listen to Brendan’s show, because they picked up on the trend and ran an article about it yesterday, the day before my column was published! Grr. Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me.

Here’s the data: Through Tuesday’s games (109 in all) there had been 44 blown saves, according to our friends at Baseball Info Solutions. That’s a 40% rate. In all of last year, there were 623 blown saves in 2,428 games, or a 25% rate.

Normally, blown saves are not the most useful stat, but on a team level they represent the number of lead changes late in games. This isn’t a distressing long-term trend or anything. It’s just indicative of the wicked good baseball we’ve been watching lately.

Baseball is from France.

According to a new book entitled Baseball Before We Knew It: A Search for the Roots of the Game by David Block (will there ever again be a title without a subtitle?), baseball is not really quite “America’s game,” as Walt Whitman famously intoned. In fact, the book says that legitimate claims to baseball’s birth can be made by a few mostly European countries, including France. In particular, French nuns.

Now, I’m not someone who gets very excited about the origins of the game, or whether baseball is authentically American or not. After all, we Americans have a knack for taking foreign things and making them uniquely our own, just like we did with French Fries, right? But this book does sound pretty interesting, and you can read more about it in the New York Times’ Sunday Book Review.

The Marlins and Indians have a leg up on their competition.

It’s called the interleague schedule. I’ve griped about this before, but the interleague schedule gives some teams an advantage. The Marlins get to play the Devil Rays twice, while the Mets have to play the Yankees twice. The Indians play the Reds, Diamondbacks and Rockies, while the Twins play the tougher-than-you-think Brewers.

To quantify this phenomenon, I took each team’s interleague schedule, and ranked it by the quality of the opposition as determined by SG’s Diamond Mind projections for 2005. Here is a list of each team’s Opponents’ Winning Percentage during the interleague squall:

American League East
BAL         .478
TB          .507
TOR         .509
BOS         .509
NYA         .520

American League Central
CLE         .452
DET         .469
CHA         .484
MIN         .491
KC          .499

American League West
TEX         .507
SEA         .517
OAK         .524
LAA         .535

National League East
FLA         .494
WAS         .518
ATL         .521
PHI         .522
NYN         .543

National League Central
HOU         .480
CIN         .483
STL         .505
CHN         .510
PIT         .516
MIL         .519

National League West
COL         .456
ARI         .468
LAN         .487
SD          .494
SF          .497

Among supposedly contending teams, the biggest differences in opponents’ strengths are Cleveland/Minnesota and New York/Florida.

You may want to print this out, fold it and put it in your duct tape wallet for future reference.

I feel happy/sad about the Washington Nationals.

Do your kids paint happy/sad faces? Mine do. The Nationals are off to a 4-4 start in their new environs. I’m happy about this, because I want this franchise to succeed, though it would be nice if someone just plain bought it first. And yet I’m sad knowing that they could have succeeded in Montreal, given the right leadership.

Does anyone else think about the old national sports newspaper, The National, every time they hear the Nationals mentioned? Remember those old radio commercials with Frank Deford talking about what a great name “The National” was? “I’ll have a National!” “Gimme a National!” It just rolled off his tongue. Speaking for myself, every time I hear someone mention The Nationals, I think of Frank Deford from fifteen years ago.

ESPN had a list of the thirteen teams that have relocated since 1900. The best winning percentage among all of them in the first year of relocation was the Milwaukee nee Boston Braves’ .597 in 1953. The worst was the St.-Louis-Browns-to-Baltimore-Orioles’ .351 the very next year. Most ominously, the two teams that have relocated away from Washington (Minnesota and Texas) are among the five worst.

Personally, I want the Nationals to do well because it’s time they did. I at least want them to do better than The National.

The Seattle Mariners have been the most profitable team in baseball the last five years.

According to this Forbes article, the Mariners rank fourth in revenue, fourth in attendance, and third in media revenue among all major league franchises. And first in profits. How do they do it? Two things:

1. The “sweetest” stadium deal in the business.
2. Ichiro

This, I absolutely did not know. If you’re interested in more information about the business of baseball, I recommend the Business of Baseball website.

With a hat tip to the USS Mariner.

Don Malcolm has a blog.

Don Malcolm was the editor of the old Big, Bad Baseball Annual, which competed with Baseball Prospectus for the title of The Baseball Annual in the late 1990′s. I enjoyed the BBBA, particularly a pitching graph they developed called QMAX.

Malcolm has remained a lone voice in the sabermetric wilderness ever since, and now he’s established his own blog. This is very, very good news for the online baseball community. Be sure to check it out.

And in response to popular demand, there is also now a curling blog.

There’s a new conspiracy in town.

Reader Jim Mohl, who will eventually receive co-writer credit one of these days, has been closely following my investigation of the alphabetical order of American League teams. As noted last week, the re-christened Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim broke up a five-team stranglehold by the American League Central over the middle of the alphabet, but it has had other, sinister, ramifications in the AL West. Here are Jim’s comments:

When the 4 teams are put in alphabetical order now, you get this:

Los Angeles
Oakland
Seattle
Texas

Now, what is the most popular new show on television this year, not counting Desperate Housewives? LOST. Not only that, but it appears on ABC, which is owned by Disney. And Disney formerly owned the Angels. The plot thickens.

The title of Jim’s email to me was “The Selig Code.” Which, all kidding aside, is a great title for an article.

Drawing a smiley face on your bill can increase your tip.

But only if you’re a woman. Research has shown that female waitresses who draw smiley faces on their bills receive 18% more in tips, but male waiters who do the same receive 9% less! Talk about sex discrimination. Here’s a link to the research, which is actually kind of interesting.

I used to be a waiter, and it never ever occurred to me to put a smiley face on my bill.

See you next week.

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