For the past few years, with the help of the game’s dedicated scorekeepers, I’ve tracked statistics for this annual charity baseball game between the Democrats and Republicans who represent us in Washington. Modeled after the Leaderboards page on FanGraphs, The Hardball Times’s sister site, my spreadsheet lists standard and advanced metrics for every senator and congressman to play in the Congressional Baseball Game since 2009—everything from RBI to wRC+. And it’s our key to figuring out who is going to win this year’s hotly anticipated matchup.
- 2B Raul Ruiz (.250/.400/.375, 95 wRC+)
- RF Pete Aguilar (.500/.667/.500, 150 wRC+)
- RHP Cedric Richmond (.786/.850/1.143, 242 wRC+)
- CF Patrick Murphy (.429/.636/.714, 159 wRC+)
- DH Jared Polis (.533/.556/.733, 153 wRC+)
- SS Tim Ryan (.462/.462/.538, 121 wRC+)
- 1B Joe Donnelly (.267/.421/.333, 95 wRC+)
- C Chris Murphy (.222/.300/.222, 60 wRC+)
- 3B Jared Huffman (.000/.000/.000, -20 wRC+)
- LF Tony Cardenas (.000/.400/.000, 69 wRC+)
- RHP Cedric Richmond (2.26 ERA, 4.99 FIP, 9.26 K/7, 2.47 BB/7)
Any analysis of the Congressional Baseball Game starts with Louisiana Representative Cedric Richmond, who is quickly becoming the Roy Hobbs of Congress—the Best Who Ever Played the Game. The 42-year-old former Morehouse College pitcher with the intimidating fastball has pitched every inning for the Democrats in the last five games while striking out 30.6 percent of batters. At the plate, he leads the “league” in hits, doubles, triples, runs, walks, OPS, and wOBA (weighted on-base average, an eye-popping .808). His 12 wRC represents nearly twice as many weighted runs created as any other player has in the same span. In total, he has amassed 1.9 wins above replacement in just five games. Last year, future Hall of Famer Carlos Beltran had 1.9 WAR all season.
Richmond is joined by a veritable Murderer’s Row in the middle of the Democratic lineup. Indeed, the five most valuable hitters in Congress are all Democrats. After Richmond, there is Colorado’s Jared Polis, who leads the world in RBI with 10 and boasts a .534 wOBA. Florida’s Patrick Murphy has a good eye (18.2% walk percentage) and solid pop (.286 isolated power, or ISO); Democrats are thankful he’s playing this year despite running in one of the nation’s most competitive U.S. Senate elections, against Sen. Marco Rubio, who decided not to vacate his seat after all. (At baseball, at least, he’s proven he can beat the GOP no matter who they throw at him.) Ohio’s Tim Ryan is an aggressive swinger (no walks in five games), but his hits against Republicans tend to land (.545 BABIP, or batting average on balls in play)—perhaps an asset if Hillary Clinton picks him as her running mate as is rumored. Finally, the Democrats’ fifth-best hitter, with 1.3 runs above replacement, isn’t even a starter: it’s pinch-running specialist Eric Swalwell of California. Swalwell leads Congress in stolen bases with seven and has never been caught; that gives him an unreal 47.9 speed score (Spd) and 1.4 weighted stolen-base runs (wSB).
Other Democratic players of note include Linda Sanchez, the game’s only female player who is a frequent pinch-hitter late in games. Only two congressional baseball players have career averages higher than her .500. Chris Murphy, the junior senator from Connecticut, isn’t valuable so much for his bat (a .522 OPS) as for his catcher’s mitt. He’s been behind the plate for each of Richmond’s dominating starts, and according to coaches, he is as good at blocking pitches in the dirt as he is at blocking the Senate floor—which he famously did last week as part of a 14-hour filibuster protesting Congress’s lack of action on gun control.
In fact, the gun issue may directly impact the game. On Wednesday, Democratic representatives began a sit-in on the floor of the U.S. House to demand a vote on gun-control legislation—including some Democratic ballplayers, such as California Representative Jared Huffman and Pennsylvania Representative Brendan Boyle. If the sit-in endures until first pitch, the Democrats could be down part of their roster—or they may refuse to play altogether as another form of protest against the GOP. A forfeit might very well be the only way for Democrats to lose the game this year, but if it scores them a larger victory, few will mind.
- C Rodney Davis (.333/.429/.333, 95 wRC+)
- 2B Kevin Brady (.368/.455/.421, 107 wRC+)
- SS Ryan Costello (.500/.667/1.000, 190 wRC+)
- RF Tom Rooney (.200/.200/.267, 45 wRC+)
- DH Barry Loudermilk (.333/.333/.333, 75 wRC+)
- CF Jeff Flake (.294/.294/.471, 85 wRC+)
- 1B Darin LaHood (rookie; no stats)
- LF Rand Paul (.143/.143/.143, 21 wRC+)
- P Mark Walker (.000/.000/.000, -20 wRC+)
- 3B Marlin Stutzman (.100/.250/.200, 52 wRC+)
- RHP Mark Walker (3.94 ERA, 8.10 FIP, 5.25 K/7, 3.94 BB/7)
Despite their 5–2 loss, Republicans felt like they scored a moral victory in last year’s Congressional Baseball Game: after giving up 55 runs in the previous three games, they finally figured out how to pitch. If they could only repeat that pitching performance in 2016 and match their six-run offensive output from 2014, they would finally win a Congressional Baseball Game for the first time since 2008. But, as the underlying stats reveal, that’s easier said than done.
The secret to Republicans’ newfound pitching success is North Carolina freshman Mark Walker, who fired five innings of one-hit ball last year before running out of steam in the sixth. He finished the game with four hits and three earned runs allowed in five and a third innings. It’s reason for optimism—until you look at his peripherals. As his .250 BABIP in a defensively challenged league (the seven-year average BABIP is .413) suggests, luck was on Walker’s side, as multiple Democratic line drives and fly balls failed to fall in for hits. Had they done so, they also would have done some damage, as Walker frequently worked with runners on, racking up three walks and three hit-by-pitches to only four strikeouts. Thanks to these poor ratios, sabermetrics aren’t a fan of Walker, assigning him a fielding independent pitching (FIP) value of 8.10. Unless Walker improves his command or his defense shows their improvement isn’t a mirage, 8.10 might be a better estimate of his ERA going forward.
The Republican offense, meanwhile, is led by the outstanding double-play combination of Kevin Brady and Ryan Costello. Brady is the dean of the Congressional Baseball Game, a fixture at second base for the GOP since the 1990s. The 61-year-old can still perform at a high level, as his .876 OPS shows. Costello is the opposite—a 39-year-old playing in just his second CBG—but he is so good that it took him only the one game to lead the veteran GOP team in offensive WAR. Last year, he ripped a long double that threatened to be the game’s first home run since 1997, and scouts describe him as a natural athlete at shortstop. Off the bench, Chuck Fleischmann and Steve Scalise are the Republicans’ best pinch-runners. Scalise (whose day job is the titular majority whip, making him the highest-ranking CBG player) has scored four runs in the last seven years to pace the GOP team. Meanwhile, Fleischmann leads his mates in wSB.
The rest of the offense has had a tough go of it against Richmond. Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, another who has been playing in the Congressional Baseball Game for decades, has power to rival Yasmany Tomas (.176 ISO) but, like the Dbacks slugger, could stand to walk a little more (.294 OBP). Rand Paul, the Kentucky senator you may have heard of, is known to be one of the game’s most dedicated players, even becoming the first active presidential candidate to play in the CBG last year, but his efforts have yet to translate into results (.126 wOBA, though he also suffers from an unsustainably low .167 BABIP). Another BABIP victim (also .167) is the retiring Marlin Stutzman of Indiana, who bravely ate innings for Republicans on the mound before Walker’s arrival and, much like David Ortiz, will play his final ballgame in 2016. And it will be interesting to see whether GOP manager Joe Barton moves Florida Representative Tom Rooney out of his usual cleanup spot amid a brutal cold streak (.200/.200/.267 in the last seven years). The longtime skipper rivals Dusty Baker in his respect for veteran players and those with the most hustle and grit.
If you live in Washington, DC, you’re encouraged to go witness this spectacle firsthand. Tickets cost just $10, proceeds from which go toward charities like the Boys and Girls Clubs, the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation, and the Washington Literacy Center. If you miss the cutoff for online sales, you can walk up to the Nationals Park box office anytime before first pitch, scheduled for this Thursday at 7:05 pm. Be sure to say hello if you come; this year, The Hardball Times will be attending the Congressional Baseball Game in person, so look out for postgame coverage next week.