Ten things I didn’t know last week

Walkoffs, Last Licks, and Final Outs

Bill Chuck and Jim Kaplan have written a book called Walkoffs, Last Licks, and Final Outs. It is, as the title suggests, a review of all the grand finales in baseball history. Chapters include the ends of tight pennant races and World Series, perfect games, streaks, and the final outs at major league stadiums and by Hall of Famers. There is also a chapter on players who died in the midst of their careers and a final chapter listing a bunch of fascinating “lasts” (such as the last and only time that teams used yellow baseballs. Hint: it wasn’t a Charlie Finley team).

Bill Chuck is the author of the entertaining daily Billy-Ball-mail series, and this book reflects his unique take on the game’s history. Like Rob Neyer’s recent Big Book of Baseball Legends, it’s not the sort of book you read straight through. As Chris Jaffe says in the Neyer review, “These books were ideal things to glance at while in the bathroom, answering nature’s call. Just to be clear, that was meant as a compliment.”

Walkoffs could serve as a reference book, but it will be best read as a stroll through baseball history. It’s a nicely written reminder of the capstones and quirks of the game. Take these quick examples:

  • 115: the number of consecutive games in which Joe Sewell didn’t strike out.
  • There has been one triple-header in modern major league history (1920: Reds vs. Pirates).

Buy it and enjoy.

2008 Win Shares are now available

We’ve got the 2008 Win Shares available on our site. Here’s a list of the major league leaders (though Tuesday’s games):

Player      Team  POS    Bat Pitch Field   Tot   WSAB
McLouth     PIT   OF     9.6   0.0   0.6    10      7
Utley       PHI   2B     8.6   0.0   1.0    10      7
Burrell     PHI   OF     8.6   0.0   0.7     9      7
Lincecum    SF    SP     0.4   6.7   0.0     7      6
Nady        PIT   OF     7.9   0.0   0.7     9      6
Furcal      LAN   SS     7.9   0.0   1.1     9      6
Berkman     HOU   1B     8.1   0.0   0.5     9      6
Santana     LAA   SP     0.0   7.3   0.0     7      6
Lee         CLE   SP     0.0   6.9   0.0     7      6
Youkilis    BOS   1B     6.7   0.0   1.7     8      6
Tejada      HOU   SS     6.9   0.0   1.6     8      6
Greinke     KC    SP     0.0   6.7   0.0     7      6

Two Pirates in the top five. Lincecum is the leading pitcher so far, with Ervin Santana, Cliff Lee and Zach Greinke close behind. How crazy is that?

By the way, we prefer to use WSAB for our rankings, because that includes the impact of playing time and “Loss Shares.”

You really shouldn’t be considering your All-Star votes yet. Give it time. But for the impatient among you, here are the Win Shares leaders at each position:

Win Share catching leaders

Catchers

Player       Team     Bat Pitch Field   Tot    WSAB
Soto         CHN      5.1   0.0  2.2      7       5
Mauer        MIN      4.1   0.0  2.1      6       4
Doumit       PIT      4.8   0.0  0.7      5       4

Geovany Soto is off to a great start—even better than most Cubbbie diehards might have hoped for. He’s batting .349/.442/.651 and nabbing 38 percent of would-be base stealers. He also has made only one error so far, and Win Shares gives him more fielding credit than any player other than Mark Ellis.

On the other hand, Joe Mauer has actually thrown out slightly more basestealers than Soto (40 percent), has also made only one error and has actually allowed fewer passed balls and wild pitches per game than Soto. As a result, Mauer is virtually tied with Soto in fielding Win Shares. And although he lacks Soto’s power, Mauer is raking with the bat (.337/.409/.446). Soto and Mauer also lead all regular major league catchers in batting WPA.

Another Pirate, Ryan Doumit, is also swinging the bat (.337/.367/.565) though he doesn’t have the glove of either Soto or Mauer. The worst catcher so far is Jason LaRue of the Cardinals, who is one Win Share below a bench-level player.

Win Share First Base Leaders

First Base

Player       Team     Bat Pitch Field   Tot    WSAB
Berkman      HOU      8.1   0.0  0.5      9       6
Youkilis     BOS      6.7   0.0  1.7      8       6
Pujols       STL      7.5   0.0  0.5      8       5
Kotchman     LAA      6.3   0.0  0.9      7       5
Morneau      MIN      6.4   0.0  0.5      7       5

This list has more familiar names. Some Astro fans were worried about Lance Berkman, but so far he has allayed those fears. He sports a .353/.428/.731 line and is third in the league in both batting average and slugging average.

The top American Leaguer is Kevin Youkilis, though he has played about a third of his games at third base. In fact, that’s the reason he leads first basemen in fielding Win Shares—most of those plays were actually collected while playing third, where he has played error-less ball. Obviously, it’s nice to see Albert Pujols back (seriously—a .503 OBP?). And Casey Kotchman is establishing himself as the offensive leader of the Angels.

Bringing up the rear is Texas’s Ben Broussard, three Win Shares under an average bench player, followed closely by disappointments such as Adam LaRoche, Jason Giambi and Ryan Howard.

Win Share Second Base Leaders

Second Base

Player       Team     Bat Pitch Field   Tot    WSAB
Utley        PHI      8.6   0.0  1.0     10       7
Uggla        FLA      5.3   0.0  1.1      6       4

There’s Chase Utley, and there is everyone else. Utley is batting .351/.429/.746, leading the majors in slugging. Yes, he has cooled a bit from his ultra-hot April, but not by much. Actually, he’s slugging .704 over the last seven days. It’s all relative.

Dan Uggla is continuing his homerific ways in Florida (.269/.348/.555), and he has also managed to up his batting average and OBP this year. Win Shares calls Utley and Uggla even in fielding prowess; that’s because Win Shares uses double plays as the primary measure of second base fielding prowess, whereas range is a secondary consideration. However, the number of double play chances is estimated, not actual, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this ranking change as the season progresses.

The top AL second baseman is, um, Howie Kendrick of the Angels. Kendrick has three Win Shares above bench, despite playing only 10 games. A .500 batting average will do that for you. Among qualified AL second basemen, Dustin Pedroia is the leader. The Yankees’ Robinson Cano is bringing up the rear among all second basemen, at four Win Shares below bench. That makes him the worst position player thus far this year.

Win Share Shortstop Leaders

Shortstops

Player       Team     Bat Pitch Field   Tot    WSAB
Furcal       LAN      7.9   0.0  1.1      9       6
Tejada       HOU      6.9   0.0  1.6      8       6
Ramirez      FLA      7.3   0.0  0.8      8       5

Rafael Furcal has bounced back with a vengeance. After a relatively disappointing .270/.333/.355 line last year, the guy is batting .366/.448/.597, and he’s the Win Shares MVP behind the Dodgers’ strong start (Blake DeWitt is second on the Dodgers in Win Shares. Crazy.).

Meanwhile, Miguel Tejada has taken to the National League like a fish to water, and the often overlooked Hanley Ramirez is ranked third. Win Shares doesn’t like Ramirez’s glove, but his Revised Zone Rating is about average. Has he turned the corner in the field?

The top-ranked AL shortstop is Erick Aybar of the Angels, who is four Win Shares ahead of the player he replaced, Orlando Cabrera. The shortstop with the lowest ranking is the Rockies’ Troy Tulowitzki, now on the DL.

Win Share Third Base Leaders

Third Base

Player       Team     Bat Pitch Field   Tot    WSAB
Jones        ATL      6.9   0.0  0.5      7       5
Figgins      LAA      6.2   0.0  0.3      6       4
Dewitt       LAN      4.2   0.0  1.4      6       4

The fabulous Chipper Jones making his Hall of Fame case rock-solid. A line of .426/.481/.739 is simply tough to beat at third, even though he carries a somewhat below-average glove. Chone Figgins is continuing his remarkable turnaround in Los Angeles, and the other LA third baseman, DeWitt, is third including 1.4 fielding Win Shares. DeWitt has an above-average Revised Zone Rating at third, plus he has racked up 62 assists in just 211 innings at the position, the highest pace of any NL hot-sacker.

The lowest-rated third baseman is Ryan Zimmerman (.224/.257/.343), three Win Shares below bench.

Win Share Outfield Leaders

Outfield

Player       Team     Bat Pitch Field   Tot    WSAB
McLouth      PIT      9.6   0.0  0.6     10       7
Burrell      PHI      8.6   0.0  0.7      9       7
Nady         PIT      7.9   0.0  0.7      9       6
Willingham   FLA      6.7   0.0  0.3      7       5
Ramirez      BOS      6.0   0.0  1.0      7       4
Church       NYN      5.5   0.0  1.3      7       4
Damon        NYA      6.0   0.0  0.4      6       4
Hinske       TB       5.3   0.0  0.3      6       4
Hunter       LAA      5.2   0.0  1.0      6       4
Ellsbury     BOS      3.8   0.0  1.8      5       4
Upton        ARI      5.7   0.0  0.6      6       4
Hamilton     TEX      5.7   0.0  0.5      6       4

Win Shares doesn’t differentiate between the outfield positions, because that type of specific position information isn’t available for many seasons, so I’ve listed a slew of outfielders for your consideration. I wasn’t prepared to see Eric Hinske on this list, but he’s off to a .289/.396/.622 start. He’s not a pure outfielder, however, having logged time at both first base and third.

Both Justin and B.J. Upton have six Win Shares; Justin ranks slightly higher in WSAB because he has played in two more games than B.J. has.

Torii Hunter‘s nice start in Los Angeles has been overlooked a bit, I think. He is sure outplaying that other LA center fielder, Andruw Jones (three Win Shares below bench). Carlos Gomez isn’t anywhere near the top of this list, but did you know that he has a .973 Revised Zone Rating? The major league average for center fielders is .915.

Win Share Starting Pitchers Leaders

Starting Pitchers

Player       Team     Bat Pitch Field   Tot    WSAB
Lincecum     SF       0.4   6.7  0.0      7       6
Santana      LAA      0.0   7.3  0.0      7       6
Lee          CLE      0.0   6.9  0.0      7       6
Greinke      KC       0.0   6.7  0.0      7       6
Peavy        SD      -0.1   6.4  0.0      6       5
Saunders     LAA      0.0   6.5  0.0      6       5
Zambrano     CHN      0.1   6.0  0.0      6       5
Olsen        FLA     -0.6   6.4  0.0      6       5
Webb         ARI      0.2   5.4  0.0      6       5

It’s not that the leaders on this list are surprising. Maybe just unexpected. Lincecum and Santana have great arms and all, but they’ve had sensational starts. You get the more expected names on the bottom half of this list: Jake Peavy, Brandon Webb and Carlos Zambrano.

You know, there have been a number of bouncebacks this year. Ervin Santana had a miserable 2007, but he has certainly found himself this year. Zambrano was disappointing last year—not so far this year. It’s great to see Scott Olsen bounce back.

I also want to put in a word for Pitching Runs Created, which is my personal favorite pitching stat. Zambrano leads the majors in PRC, and Edinson Volquez is second (Volquez has four WSAB).

By the way, Micah Owings has 1.5 batting Win Shares, just slightly less than his 2.4 pitching Win Shares.

Win Share Relief Pitchers Leaders

Relief Pitchers

Player       Team     Bat Pitch Field   Tot    WSAB
Soria        KC       0.0   4.6  0.0      4       4
Papelbon     BOS      0.0   4.3  0.0      4       3
Rivera       NYA      0.0   4.0  0.0      4       3
Pinto        FLA     -0.1   3.8  0.0      4       3

KC’s Joakim Soria has yet to allow a run in 13 innings; that’s tough to beat. Papelbon has actually allowed three (!), but he has also pitched in more critical situations than Soria has. In fact, Papelbon’s 1.68 WPA leads all major league relievers. When it comes to impact, I’m a big believer in WPA for relievers.

So did you know that, according to WPA, the Marlins have the second-best bullpen in the majors? They’ve contributed 2.7 wins above average, second only to Oakland’s 3.1. Renyel Pinto leads the effort, with 1.18 WPA, far ahead of the Marlins’ saves leader, Kevin Gregg (0.27 WPA).

The worst relievers have been Colorado’s Manny Corpas (-1.78 WPA) and Cleveland’s Joe Borowski (-1.39).

That’s the Win Shares story so far this year. I’ll update them every week or two throughout the season.

References & Resources
Previously, this article included a quote from Last Licks that was factually incorrect. The author has admitted his mistake, so I took out the quote. I still highly recommend the book.

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