Ten Things I Didn’t Know Last Week

My email box has been full lately with mail from readers wanting to know when we’ll have 2005 Win Shares available. Hang in there, folks. I’m working on them, and I hope to have them ready sometime next week. I’ve worked on my first cut for the American League, and I can share one or two things with you:

Jon Garland is second in the American League in Win Shares.

As expected, Brian Roberts leads the league with 13 Win Shares at this stage, but Garland has ten, which is a remarkable total for a starting pitcher. Gary Sheffield and Miguel Tejada have nine each.

I live in Chicago and read the Chicago Tribune every day. Last week, there was an article with Matt Karchner, the player that the Cubs received from the White Sox in the Garland trade. The reporter wondered if Karchner will go down in history as the White Sox’s answer to the Ernie Broglio for Lou Brock deal, and I thought, “well, this is certainly getting out of hand.”

I like to root for the White Sox, but I’m a realist. Garland has a 2.41 ERA, yes, but a 3.53 FIP. The Sox have a DER of .763 when Garland’s on the mound and he’s only allowed 6% of his outfield flyballs to go over the fence. Even if he keeps pitching as well as he has, his ERA will surely climb into the three’s. And if he slips a bit, look for the four’s.

Enjoy it, White Sox fans, but let’s not go overboard.

That Red Sox outfield rocks.

Okay, I may be a little slow about this, but those Red Sox outfielders are quite the troop. Johnny Damon, Trot Nixon and Manny Ramirez rank second, fifth and sixth, respectively, among all AL outfielders in Win Shares. Damon has 33 Runs Created and is batting .372/.411/.487, along with an impressive .447 Batting Average with Runners in Scoring Position. Nixon’s numbers are 25, .337/.444/.592 and Ramirez’s are 29, .248/.370/.560.

Speaking of positions, the Oriole keystone combination of Roberts and Tejada rank first and fourth in the league in total Win Shares and the White Sox’s keystone ranks highly too: Iguchi is second among all AL second basemen and Uribe is third among shortstops.

Win Shares will be rolled out next week. I promise. In the meantime, I learned a few other things this week…

How to make sparklines.

As much as I love numbers, I love graphics more. There’s nothing more beautiful to me than a simple graphic that tells a story completely and intuitively. The guru of graphics, Edward Tufte, has invented something he calls Sparklines. They’re intense, simple word-sized graphics that fit right in the flow of the paragraph.

For instance, I can tell you that the Yankees had some big blowout wins earlier in the season amid many losses, and they’ve been winning by decent margins ever since. Or I can show the same thing you by inserting a sparkline of each game’s run differential. While I’m collecting the data, I can do the same for the slumping Dodgers , or experiment with a slightly larger image for the surging Padres .

I’d say the larger image wins on the computer screen for now, but I’ll keep playing with this new graphical “thing.” Cause it’s just way cool.

The Draft is Coming! the Draft is Coming!

The Major League Baseball Draft used to be a relatively low-key affair. I remember combing through newspapers trying to find out who had been drafted by which team. I remember having to wait several weeks after the draft to see the entire list for each team. And my memory is not so good — this was just a few years ago.

Times have changed, thanks primarily to Baseball America. Baseball America will have outstanding coverage this year, with a constantly updated draft tracker as well as a pre-draft blog. Other sources of info will likely include John Sickels’ blog as well as Bryan Smith of Baseball Analysts.

Names to watch include Stephen Drew and Jered Weaver, possible holdovers from last year’s draft, and Justin Upton, B.J.’s younger brother.

The Padres should always play in May.

Through Tuesday’s games, the Padres are 13-3 in May — two wins better than the Mets, Yankees, Red Sox and White Sox. The real story behind the Padres’ May drive has been their record in one-run games: 10-0. You may have noticed that in their sparkline.

The biggest losers in May are in the same division — the AL West’s Oakland A’s and Seattle Mariners. It’s amazing how quickly the AL West race has moved from a potential year-round four-team dogfight (the end of April) to a potential two-team race. Check out this graph:

image

The Padres are thriving at home.

Sorry. I was talking about the Padres. I took a look at home/away records and found some interesting things. Check out these wild swings:

Team     Home    Away   Dif   H/RS A/RS  Dif   H/RA A/RA   Dif
HOU     13- 7    2-16   11    4.8  2.8  -2.0    3.3  5.1   1.8
TBD     12-12    2-14   10    5.2  3.5  -1.7    5.7  6.5   0.8
COL      9-10    2-15    7    6.7  3.2  -3.5    6.7  5.2  -1.4
NYM     14- 7    7-12    7    4.3  4.8   0.5    3.8  4.9   1.1
SDP     15- 4    9-12    6    4.5  4.8   0.3    2.8  5.7   2.9

The Astros really should just stay home, where their offense and defense improve by two runs a game — a net swing of nearly four runs a game! Tampa Bay and Colorado are .500 teams at home, abysmal on the road. And the Mets’ pitching staff has taken full advantage of those jets flying over Shea.

But they have nothing on the Padre hurlers, who collectively have given up three more runs a game on the road than at home.

Kansas City is really bad.

All the famous Royal fans have been justifiably ranting about the woebegone Royals, from Rob and Rany to Bill James. I don’t mean to pile on, but I was fascinated by a few facts that just might be sparklineable.

The Royals are last in the majors in stolen base percent, at 42% which is ten points lower than the next-worst team (the Brewers). As this sparkline demonstrates , that’s way low. The team on the right, at 89%, is the Red Sox, who have been successful eight of nine times.

The Royals are next-to-last in the majors in converting save opportunities, at 33%. Only the Rockies are worse (25%). That’s Pittsburgh at 88%.

The Royals are last in hitting line drives, at 13.7% of all batted balls. The next lowest team is Detroit at 15.6%. On many sparklines, the Royals are not only last, they are last by a good margin.

Will Carroll has a new book out.

I remember when Will Carroll was just a guy with an email list, and I happily contributed the graphs to his first book, Saving the Pitcher.

Now, Will is a big media star, with columns in the New York Times along with his regular Baseball Prospectus gig. And Will (along with a few friends like Jay Jaffe) also has a new book out, called The Juice: The Real Story of Baseball’s Drug Problems. Thank goodness. If ever a subject needed a sane, rational overview right now, it’s baseball and steroids. I haven’t bought the book yet, but I will.

King Kaufman has an interview with Will on the Salon site (must sit through advertisement) and the New York Times ran a fine piece on pitchers taking steroids yesterday (registration required). And, along the same lines, I thought this article about the limits of the human body was fascinating, though no baseball players were included. No mention of drugs.

By the way, you can tell that Will is now a real professional author. His book has a subtitle.

RFK appears to be a pitcher’s park. Maybe.

When the Texas Rangers were the Washington Senators, they played in R.F.K. stadium from 1962 to 1971. During that time, RFK was a pitcher’s park, with most annual park factors between 94 and 100 according to Baseball Reference. Going into this year, one of the questions I had was how RFK would rate, given the increase in offense since the 1960′s.

Returns are early, as they say in Washington. But the very early evidence is that RFK is once again a pitcher’s park, on about the same order as the 60′s. I calculate a park factor of 91 so far this year which is based on eighteen home games and twenty-one away games. Due to the sample size, well, you shouldn’t really say much of anything. Let me give you some other examples:

Texas Rangers Park Factor in 2004: 111
So far in 2005: 94

Oakland Athletics’ Park Factor in 2004: 101
So far in 2005: 112

Florida Marlins’ Park Factor in 2004: 95
So far in 2005: 80

So let’s give this one a lot more time before coming to firm conclusions.

Yes, Virginia, there is a hamburger blog.

I don’t mean to stereotype you, but if you’re a baseball fan, you’re probably a red meat fan too. I believe this is a scientific fact. So you’d probably enjoy reading the Hamburger blog, which covers all things hamburgian, including top hamburger joints on the East and West coasts.

Mmm. Hamburgers. Hamburgers are one of those things that you have to learn to live without as you get older, as you can tell from my hamburger consumption sparkline by age . Still, I recommend Chicago’s Portillo’s over any hamburger I’ve had anywhere else, including In N Out.

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