Ten Things I Didn’t Know Last Week

That Tigers offense is hitting on all cylinders.

I like to roll out this graph every once in a while. It shows the three main components of scoring runs: getting runners into scoring position (bottom axis), hitting when they’re in scoring position (left axis), and hitting home runs (the size of the circle). Here’s the American League:

image

Wow. Only the Yankees are getting runners into scoring position more often than the Tigers, and Detroit is hitting an amazing .323 with runners in scoring position. Last year, they batted .277 with RISP, so you can look for a fall there. But the most overlooked stat of all, at-bats with runners in scoring position, highlights their overall offensive prowess.

At the other end of the spectrum, you can see that Oakland has amassed a terrible record with runners in scoring position, batting a lowly .233—the lowest mark in the majors. The two worst American League batters in Win Probability Added right now are Bobby Crosby and Eric Chavez. Ouch.

Also, check out the White Sox. They are far to the left of every other team, meaning that they are much worse than any other team at getting runners into scoring position. The primary reason? They’re last in the majors in doubles. Ozzie likes to talk about small ball, but the White Sox really need to step up their medium ball.

Batters who get hit by pitches are better batters.

One of my favorite blogs, Plunk Biggio, recently ran a quickie analysis of the correlation between getting hit by pitches and batting well. As you can see, players who get plunked more than thirty times in a season are usually having very fine seasons, with a .310/.412/.430 batting line. As the HBP totals decline, so do the batting lines. Case in point: this year’s HBP leader is Chase Utley.

This makes perfect sense of course (why would a pitcher hit a bad hitter?), but I’m a little worried that Craig Biggio isn’t going to break the career HBP mark this season. Right now, Plunk Biggio projects a season-ending total of 287, tied for the all-time record with Hughie Jennings. Step it up, Craig!

Man, just thinking about getting hit by a pitch 287 times makes me hurt.

The 10 best pitchers of the last 50 years.

Last week, I mentioned that I’ve been spending a lot of time looking at Jeff Sagarin’s historic WPA statistics (or, in Jeff’s case, Player Win Averages). I added up some of the pitching numbers and came up with the following list of the 10 best pitchers of the last 50 years (remember that a win equals 0.5 WPA):

Pitcher               WPA
Clemens, Roger         77
Maddux, Greg           64
Seaver, Tom            60
Johnson, Randy         53
Palmer, Jim            52
Ryan, Nolan            44
Smoltz, John           44
Martinez, Pedro        42
Sutton, Don            41
Glavine, Tom           41

I don’t consider WPA the “ultimate stat,” but I think it’s pretty close. As you can see, six of the top 10 pitchers are currently active. And isn’t it interesting that both the greatest pitcher and greatest batter of the past 50 years (and, perhaps, of all time) are currently active? No chemical enhancements comments, please.

By the way, of the top 10 WPA batters of the last 50 years, only one (Barry Bonds) is currently active (Gary Sheffield is 11th). It’s ironic that we’ve lived through an age of relatively high scoring and great individual pitchers, but not as many great individual batters.

The next 10 best pitchers of the past 50 years.

Sorry, but I just love this stuff. I thought I’d go into the next top 10 pitchers in order (numbers 11 through 20) to show how some of the top relievers rate.

Pitcher               WPA
Perry, Gaylord         40
Mussina, Mike          40
Brown, Kevin           39
Hoffman, Trevor        39
Rivera, Mariano        37
Koufax, Sandy          37
Marichal, Juan         36
Schilling, Curt        36
Gibson, Bob            36
Gossage, Rich          34

First of all, it will be hard to keep Mike Mussina and Kevin Brown out of the Hall of Fame, based on these figures. And the top three relievers of the past 50 years (and certainly of all time, too) are Trevor Hoffman, Mariano Rivera and Goose Gossage. Saves may be a relatively meaningless statistic, but they’re not misleading in Hoffman’s case.

One other thing: Put Goose in the Hall! Now!

And the next 10 best…

Just one more list, I promise. There are some interesting hurlers in the 21-30 spots.

Pitcher               WPA
Blyleven, Bert         33
Eckersley, Dennis      33
Drysdale, Don          32
John, Tommy            32
Saberhagen, Bret       30
Blue, Vida             29
Carlton, Steve         28
Appier, Kevin          28
Wilhelm, Hoyt          28
Wagner, Billy          28

This is where the Hall of Fame arguments get interesting. Of all the pitchers on this list, only one is currently active (Billy Wagner) and about half of the rest (Dennis Eckersley, Don Drysdale, Steve Carlton and Hoyt Wilhelm) are in the Hall. Note Bert Blyleven at number 21. Also note that Eckersley’s totals include both his starts and relief appearances.

Among other notable pitchers, Ferguson Jenkins is 48th on the list, Catfish Hunter is 59th, Jack Morris is 78th and Bruce Sutter is 86th.

Mark Prior and Kerry Wood should have been awesome.

Speaking of great pitchers, the Baseball Reference Stat of the Day blog looked at the top young strikeout pitchers of the Retrosheet Era and found that two well-known Cubbies are at the top of the list. Yes, Kerry Wood and Mark Prior have the best strikeout ratios of any pitcher in the first three years of his career, but the Cubs have very little to show for it now. That’s not exactly news, I know, but still…

They say that strikeout rates are the best indicator of how well a young pitcher will pitch into his career, but those same pitchers can also break your heart.

Billy Williams is the sixth-best batter of the last 50 years.

As long as we’re talking Cubs…

I won’t bore you with a list of the top WPA batters (I’ll bore you with that another day), except for this nugget: Billy Williams is the sixth-best hitter of the past 50 years. Now, I like Billy Williams a lot (I still have my old Billy Williams glove), but I never would have guessed he’d be ranked the sixth-best hitter on Sagarin’s site. He’s ahead of many well-known hitters such as Joe Morgan, Harmon Killebrew, Frank Thomas, Mike Schmidt, and Al Kaline, just to name a few.

Williams doesn’t appear to have batted in more “leveraged situations” than other batters, though he did hit much better with men on base (.305) than with the bases empty (.278). Still, I’m still struck by how well he rates in WPA. Honestly, I think WPA has discovered something new here: a batter who was probably considered one of the top 50 of all time could actually be one of the top 20 (in terms of actual run creation and win contribution). That’s a huge jump.

Williams finished first in the NL in WPA once, second place twice, and third, fourth and fifth place one time each. That’s six times among the to five players in the league. Only Bonds, Mays, Aaron and Killebrew ranked among the top five more often.

Baseball is like quidditch, sort of.

While waiting for the last Harry Potter book to arrive in my local bookstore, I started thinking about the similarities between baseball and quidditch, which is sort of like very complicated rugby in the air. On the surface, the two sports don’t have a lot in common, but I did think of a few things:

  • Both sports are played outdoors. In baseball, pitchers and friends play in a park, while in quidditch, chasers and friends play on a pitch.
  • In quidditch, beaters use bats to keep bludgers from their teammates. In baseball, batters use bats to hit baseballs away from the other team’s fielders.
  • Both sports have had drug scandals. Baseball has had amphetamines, cocaine, steroids and HGH to name a few, while Harry pretended to sneak that vial of Felix Felicis into Ron’s tea in the sixth book.
  • Finally, both sports have snitches. Quidditch has a golden snitch; baseball has Kirk Radomski.

By the way, if you had gone to the Portland Sea Dogs’ game last Sunday, you would have gotten a free copy of Quidditch Through the Ages.

More evidence for statistics over scouts.

The Yankees found their latest reliever by just looking at his numbers and taking a gamble on him (Hat tip: BBTF). Can’t you just hear some salty old baseball guy grinding his teeth and telling you that visual perception is everything and numbers are misleading?

If you run into him anywhere, show him this.

How the Dodgers are scoring runs.

I’m going to finish our little column with the graph that began it, this time for the National League. In case you were wondering how the Dodgers are scoring runs…

image

Despite a lack of home runs (only the Nationals have hit fewer in the NL this year), the Dodgers have managed to get lots of at bats with runners in scoring position, and they have batted .292 in those situations (including a .366 average with runners on third). The interesting question is, how have they managed to rack up so many at bats with RISP?

Honestly, I’m not sure. They’re only average in doubles and triples. But it appears as though the Dodgers are bunching their hits, batting .261 with no one on, but .294 with someone on base, any base. When you bunch hits together, runners move into scoring position and eventually score.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to read a 600-page book this weekend.

References & Resources
I first wrote about the run scoring graphs three years ago. Many thanks to Jeff Sagarin, Retrosheet and Baseball Reference for the stats and hard work.

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