Monthly archives: September 2004
Dunn KO's Bonds
Here are the new leaders:
Note: Mark Bellhorn is currently at 174 with three games to go.
However, Dunn's 2004 season is just 31st in baseball history when it comes to strikeouts per plate appearance. Witness:
By the way, Dunn was not alone today. Mark Prior struck out 16 Reds today, but the Cubs still managed to lose, 2-1, to fall a full game behind the 'Stros in the wild card hunt.
NYC CCC II
Start spreading the news. The Yankees just won 6-4 on a walk-off two-run home run by Bernie Williams with one out in the ninth. They have now clinched the AL East and became just the fifth team in baseball history to win 100 games in three consecutive seasons.
If the Yankees win tonight—they are currently tied 4-4 in the 7th with the Twins— they will not only clinch their seventh straight division title. They will become only the fifth team in baseball history, and the first in Yankee history, to win 100 games in three consecutive seasons.
Here are the other four:
If we project the records of teams that played before a162-game schedule, here are the 39 teams that would have qualified based on winning percentage:
The Yankees, in theory, would have qualified seven times. The St Louis AA-NL club qualifies 7 times as well, and the Boston-Atlanta NA-NL club qualifies 8 times. If the Yankees win tonight, then they would match the Braves franchise "record".
As the Arizona Diamondbacks prepare to finish out their season, there are just a few questions remaining:
- Can Randy Johnson do anything in his final start (Oct. 2) to get him into serious contention for the Cy Young award?
The D-Backs, losers so far of 110 games, go into their final series of the season facing a San Diego team whose playoff hopes may still be alive though hanging by the thinnest of threads—they are two and one-half games behind the Astros in the wild card race with four games left (including one with the Giants tonight). No matter what happens in this final series, Arizona is assured of being the second worst non-expansion team in forty years.
The best that they can hope for is a 52-110 record and the worst a 49-113. Both are pretty bad this final series will help determine how history remembers this team and the gradation of their suckiness. By putting forth their worst effort Arizona can be remembered as one of the worst teams in recent memory. So let's all pull for them, or rather against them, okie dokie?
But what if the fail us and actually sweep the Pod People. Let’s say San Diego loses to the Giants, virtually eliminating them (they would still be three back with three to play and three teams ahead of them). The Padres come to town demoralized and lose all three games.
The D-Backs would finish 52-110 (.321 winning percentage), which would still be the hundredth worst record in baseball history. Being in the top 100 of 2475 team seasons (and 2009 in the "modern" era) is pretty impressive. Also, their 21-52 second half record would be the fortieth worst since the advent of the All-Star break.
Here are the worst team records since World War II:
(Note 1969 was the inaugural year for both the Expos and the Padres.)
However, let's assume that the Padres are still battling for a playoff spot, that the D-Backs play their typically lackluster series, and they lose all three games. They would finish 49-113 (.303) with an 18-55 second-half record. That would be a bit more special.
They would have the 76th worst record in baseball history and the 23rd worst in the modern era.
Here are the teams that would be worse since the horrific 1899 Cleveland Spiders:
It makes a Phillies fan proud.
Anyway, their 18-55 second-half record would be the sixth worst team record in a half since 1933, the first year of the All-Star game. Here are the worst ever:
It kind of puts the 2003 Tigers in perspective, huh?
Now, the D-Backs missed an opportunity to be truly awful. After losing six straight and eight of nine, Arizona screwed up and won the first two games of the Brewers series. On Monday, Johnson beat Ben Sheets, 3-1, in the battle for best pitcher on a godawful team, and Tuesday the D-Backs handed Brooks Kieschnick his first loss of the season.
If the D-Backs had lost those two games and then their last four of the season (for a season-ending eleven-game losing streak), they would have ended up 47-115 (.290) and 16-57 (.219) for the second half. There are just 62 teams with a record was than that, and just 14 since 1901. Here they are:
That's elite company. Their second half would have been the fourth worst ever and the worst in 42 years (see list above). Oh well, better luck next time.
Also, Randy Johnson may win on Saturday pushing his win total to 16, an impressive feat among the ruins of his team. Johnson, however, cannot do something that has not been done in 32 years. He cannot win a third of his team's victories.
He had been on pace to do so in August, but it is now a mathematical impossibility. Let's say Johnson wins his last start and the D-Backs lose their two other games. That puts him at 16-14 and the team record at 50-112, close but no cigar. It's just too hard to do with five-man rotations.
Here are the only pitchers since World War II to have done it:
Alas, I fear that no matter happens to the D-Backs this weekend, their legacy is in jeopardy. With a terrible season coming just one year after the horrific Tigers (43-119) year last season, no one will remember how truly awful they were especially in the second half. And that's a shame.
Milton the Monster?
Wait, I have more headlines that are equally bad:
OK, by now you've heard about Milton Bradley's meltdown, or as those neophyte pun-dits at ESPN termed it, "Miltdown". The gist is that Bradley threw a bottle into the stands after it was thrown on the field in his general vicinity. You may have also heard that Bradley was suspended for five games, the remainder of the Dodger's season, as a result of his actions.
I did not get to see the play until tonight because of the time difference. I had read plenty about it though and it ran the gamut though the majority came down hard on Bradley.
Here's what I saw:
First, Bradley dropped a fly ball apparently in the lights that allowed the Rockies to go ahead 3-0 in the top of the eighth. I say apparently given Bradley's body language on the play and Vin Scully's play-by-play, good man that Scully. Anyway, Giovanni "Ribisi: Carrera, the Dodger pitcher, practically threw a temper tantrum on the play.
As the next batter dropped a single to center to lengthen the lead to 4-0, the camera cut to Bradley, who had picked up a bottle in the stands. Scully didn't know whether it was glass or plastic, but he was vehemently castigating the unknown fan for throwing it.
Bradley, already upset over his misplay, walked to the right-field bleachers and after engaging one fan briefly, slammed the bottle apparently onto the concrete floor of the stands.
Bradley's teammates quickly had him backpedaling toward the dugout. En route he was ejected very quickly from the game. He removed his jersey and as he approached the dugout was greeted by the fans, who were booing the ejection. Bradley, however, in his fit of pique thought they were booing him and he swung his arms wildly up and down, which only served to excite the fans more, apparently in his favor. A Dodger quickly hustled Bradley into the dugout and up the runway to the clubhouse. The Dodgers came back to win 4-3 anyway.
Throughout Scully was sympathetic to Bradley, who was, so it would seem, the target of the offending item. I thought that Bradley slammed the bottle more in frustration than revenge, since it was not directed toward any fan (in sharp contrast to Frank Francisco's chair flinging a couple of weeks ago).
Actually, I think it's odd that so many are comparing the incident to the anticlimactic Jose Guillen flare-up the other day that got him suspended for the rest of the season and postseason. The issues are clearly more akin to the Francisco scrum. First, Guillen was insubordinate to his manager. No fan was involved at all. This is a chain-of-command issue, and for some reason sports take this more seriously, like the army courtmarshalling soldiers for disobeying orders.
The Francisco and Bradley incidents both involved fans. I consider this a much worse violation for many reasons. First, it opens the club up to a lawsuit for liability whether or not it can be proven. Second, it's about the worst PR move on the planet. It's like an ad against baseball being wholesome family entertainment. Heck, you can't even take your kid to the stadium without worrying that some player, let alone the inebriated jerk sitting next to you, will accost you. It also opens the player up to a civil suit, again as in the Francisco case.
In the Bradley case, he was provoked by a fan physically attacking him in his own stadium yet. Francisco was just attacked verbally. Also, Francisco directed his aggression at a group of fans with a pretty harmful object, a folding chair, as if it were a wrestling match. Bradley threw the bottle, it appeared to me, at the ground, and those plastic bottles are distributed to fans for the precise reason that they do less damage than conventional glass bottles.
Basically, I thought it was a bad incident all around and that Bradley deserved to be suspended. The whole incident seemed a bit overblown, however, probably due to the heat of the pennant race. I am surprised to what extent Bradley was demonized for his actions though.
I think the fine is fair. The Dodgers will not be hampered by it in the playoffs but it is for a substantial enough time to send Bradley and the rest of the players a message.
Bradley has seemed contrite since the incident and has said that he will seek help to deal with his anger. That's the right approach as far as MLB is concerned, and it actually would help the very talented but mercurial player.
Should the Dodgers collapse and let the Giants, who trail by three games with four left to play, win the division, the Dodger faithful should do to the miscreant fan, whom I heard was apprehended, what the Cubs did with the Steve Bartman ball this spring training. He'd blowed up real good.
[Mike's Baseball Rants does not advocate violence except in the punchlines of jokes. Warning Happy Fun Ball should not be thrown or touched in any way.]
The Angels just went up one-half game by beating the Rangers, 8-7 in 11 innings just minutes ago. The Angels came back from a 4-3 deficit in the third and 6-5 in the ninth.
The A's lead the M's 2-1 in the 7th.
Update: The A's just lost 4-2. The Angels are ahead by one game.
Were There Swift Boats in San Juan?
There's a spot opening at Mt. Rushmore for Reagan:
"The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly as necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else. "
Where is the Bull Moose party when you need them anywho? All we get is the BS party.
I'm sorry, back to baseball now. I just had to do my part to embolden Kerry for tomorrow night.
In the Clinch
The Yankees clinched at least a tie for first with a doubleheader sweep of the Twins, 5-3 and 5-4 (over Johan Santana) as the Red Sox and Pedro Martinez (loser of four straight) lost 9-4 to the ever-tough D-Rays. Vazquez faces Radke tomorrow night in the Yankees' regular season finale at Yankee Stadium. They will have chilled champagne on hand. It would be the Yankees sixth straight division championship.
The Phils clinched their second consecutive winning season with an 8-4 win over the Pirates. It is the first time in twenty years that the Phils have had two consecutive winning seasons.
Those two paragraphs speak volumes about these two franchises and explain why my five-year-old is a Yankee fan.
Peter the Grate
Frank Rizzo: "He's a real chaza! Tony, you know what a chaza is?"
Oriole owner Peter Angelos will apparently make out like a bandit in the deal to move the Expos somewhat near his mediocre Baltimore team if this report by Jayson Stark is any indication.
Angelos, whose team paid a paltry fee to move into the then-Washington Senators territory—either $100 K or $250 K depending on who you believe—, will get previously unheard-of concessions from Major League Baseball.
Baseball is willing to guarantee that the Orioles will earn a still-to-be-negotiated minimum in annual revenues. If their revenues fall below that figure, MLB would make up the difference.
The man whose organization imploded under the weight of his trying to be the new Steinbrenner (are they still paying Albert Belle?) is now a welfare mother suckling at the teat of Bud Selig and MLB—sorry for the image. If no one comes out to see his lackluster club, he still gets paid. If he decimates the club and then Carl Pohlad-esque wants to cut bait and dump his club but can no longer get his price, MLB will make up the difference. Plus there's no need to put up his own cash for a cable network, Bud TV will set him up throughout the Balto-DC area.
It's like Henry Hill's description of how the mob bleeds a company dry in "Goodfellas", "You got no business? FU, pay me. You had a fire? FU, pay me. The place got hit by lightning? FU, pay me." The only difference is that the mob, MLB, is the one getting bleed. What incentive does Angelos have to make an honest effort with the O's? If the late great Doug Pappas were still with us, I'm sure he would be able to show that Angelos could make more money if his team loses.
Let's give it a try. The Orioles reduce their salary by a third a la the Brewers. The O's payroll was $51.6M at the start of the season, twentieth in baseball. Let's say they go down to $40M. The will lose Rafael Palmeiro's $4M contract at the end of the year. The lose David Segui's $7M-per-year, Omar Daal's $4.5 M-per-year, and Marty Cordova's $3.5 M-per-year contacts at the end of the year. That's $19 M right there and all you get rid of is dead weight and 40-year-old future Hall of Famer. Then there's Jerry Hairston ($1.55 M), who lost the second base job. They dumped Mike DeJean's $1.5 M contract on the Mets and can buyout Buddy Groom for $250 K, instead of picking up his $3 M option. That's a total savings of $25 without substantially affecting the team's on-field performance. Subtract, say, $5 to pay warm bodies to replace those players and to retain other players, and the Orioles can very easily get to the $30-$35 M payroll range.
If there's backlash from the fans and attendance is down, the Orioles will a) get money from revenue sharing and the luxury tax and b) if that's still not enough, their welfare deal kicks in. So Angelos can cut costs to the bone and still field a team that's not much worse than today, he's guaranteed money from various sources to keep his revenue at a certain level. If he cuts payroll even more, say, to the point that the Orioles are a perennial doormat, he saves the additional payroll costs and still makes the revenue. It's better for him to pay his players less, which will, at some point, translate into a worse product on the field, than it is to overpay in order to compete with the Yankees and Sox. He'll be able to pocket more that way. Even Angelos will be able to figure that out.
And the Washington Expos will now be saddled with Oriole games being broadcast to their new fan base. I hope that MLB includes them in the cable package and doesn't make them fend for themselves. Then again, with the O's disincentivized from putting a quality product on the field, the metro fans may come a-runnin' for the new Senators.
And get this, Angelos not only wants the deal for as long as he owns the team but wants to keep the support system in place in perpetuity:
[T]he biggest remaining sticking point in negotiations with the Orioles is the length of time for which baseball would be willing to make those guarantees. The Washington Post reported Tuesday night that MLB has offered to extend the guarantees for as long as Angelos owns the club, but Angelos is pushing to keep them in effect indefinitely.
So MLB may still be paying off this deal when your grandkids are paying off George Bush's deficit while finishing up the war in Iraq. Hard to believe, Harry.
Omar the Met Maker
The AP reports that the Mets are set to hire Expo GM Omar Minaya as the head of baseball operations. Met GM Jim Duquette will report to Minaya, meaning that he has gotten a promotion.
Omar Minaya? The man who went through talent more quickly than Donald Trump when the Expos were still good and in the process traded away their highly touted minor-league system. The man whose only trades this year were to acquire Jeriome Robertson, trade Peter Bergeron, and, oh yeah, trading away any players with any trade value (Orlando Cabrera, Carl Everett, and Alex S. Gonzalez, who was acquired in the Cabrera trade) except for Jose Vidro and Brad Wilkerson. Isn't this just a bone that MLB is throwing to Minaya for being a good company man in aiding in the Expo talent redistribution.
But, hey, these are the Mets, the team that leaked they were firing Art Howe at the end of the season to see how it would play in the court of public opinion and then were forced to make it public. Come to think of it, it's a match made in heaven. Now, the Mets will finish out the year with their lame duck manager and try to determine what positions three of their regulars (Mike Piazza, Jose Reyes, and Kaz Matsui) will be playing next year.
The farce that is the ownerless Montreal cum San Juan Expos will apparently end tomorrow. According to reports Major League Baseball will announce Wednesday that Expos will be moved to Washington for next season.
The writing was on the wall when earlier today Baltimore owner Peter "Chaza" Angelos intimated that a deal could be done if baseball could slake his ego or some such conditions:
"I still stand by my original position, that there should not be a team in Washington," Angelos said.
After the conversation with the Sun, Angelos had to be rushed away for an emergency nose-ectomy. You have to admire a man who can out-scum Bud Selig. Everyone knew that this deal had to be made. It was two years ago for crissake that it was leaked that the Expos proposed home schedule was labeled "Washington". Baseball never really had any other viable option or at least never considered one. Angelos was able to stave off their overtures until now and, I'm sure, will exact his ounce of flesh before the deal is done.
Anyway, finally the Bleeding Expos will have a real home and a real owner, whomever that might be. It is the first time in 33 years that a major-league franchise has been relocated (i.e., the Senators moving to Arlington). Baseball gets to tap into the rich baseball history in Washington. It is the third oldest baseball area after all (behind New York and Philly--check your NABBP history). Pictures of Walter Johnson and Clark Griffith will abound and expect plenty of ye olde tyme uniform appearances (unless the Twins own the rights to those). President John Kerry will get to throw out the first ball next year (if there is a god--I'm not optimistic). Hopefully, the season openers will return to Cincy and DC. And baseball gets to extort a new stadium from another community. It's win-win all around.
Meanwhile, as my friend Murray points out, the man behind the curtain has sold the Brewers to a Los Angeles investor for $180 M. Coincidence? "Read the book!" Of course, Bud Selig no longer has anything to do with the sale. His daughter is running the Brewers. Bud's 28% stake in the club is held in trust so he is completely disinterested in the clubs fate. (Should we mention that his and the other owners' partial ownership of the Expos makes their sale a conflict of interest? I guess it's bad manners.)
The Brewers end up being sold for just two million less than the large-market Angels went for last year even though they have had 12 straight losing seasons and were reportedly $133.2 M in arears at the end of last season. Of course, the Brewers have been at the fore at reducing team payroll. Last offseason they lost then-team president Ulice Payne over the decision to cut payroll from $40 to $30 M. Luckily for the Brewers, the Doamondbacks agreed to take one of the few players who had been paid a decent salary by the Brewers, Richie Sexson, for a slew of cheap, young, talented-enough players.
Anyway, in one day, Bud Selig may go from the owner of parts of two teams to an owner of none probably making more than a Halliburton government contract in the process. It's a good thing that Selig can no longer directly decimate a club. However, he is now free to step up his indirect havoc-wreaking of baseball as a whole, not a good thing. Expect wraparound ads on player uniforms, an extra round of playoffs, and homefield advantage in the league championship series determined by spring training games coming to a theater near you soon.
A little discussion unfolded over at Will Carroll Presents regarding who is the most salient Hall of Fame ommision, the most deserving person who is eligible but not in the Hall. It sounds interesting, but be warned: it's not the Baseball Hall of Fame that's being discussed but rather the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame.
And guest columnist Scott Long says that the "Ron Santo" of the R'n'R Hall is, or are, The Cars. The have a good argument but I support Gram Parsons, the godfather of country-rock.
Here's my complete list (included suggestions from others that I agree with):
I admit that they are idiosyncratic choices, but that's kind of the problem with the R'n'R Hall of Fame. By the way, I stand by the assessment that Lovin' Spoonful is the Tommy McCarthy of the R'n'R Hall.
This is the way the world ends
The Phils were officially eliminated from postseason with a 6-1 loss to the Pirates at Citizens Bank Park yesterday. The game was emblematic of this phrustrating season.
Phils starter Eric Milton retired the first eight Pirates that he faced and did not give up a hit until Ty Wigginton's eventual game-winning two-run homer in the fourth. First baseman Jim Thome was out of the lineup still recuperating from a collision from a week ago.
The Phils managed only five hits and one run in 6-2/3 off of Oliver Perez, who also allowed four walks. They didn't get a man past first base until the fifth inning. They started off the sixth with two straight walks and then an RBI single by David Bell, and with me at first and second, down by three runs, proceeded to go down in order with two infield popouts and a strikeout. The last seven Phils batters were retired in order even though the Phils were still trailing by three runs.
And of course, there were appearances by 2004 acquisitions Roberto Horrendous, Felix Rodriguez, and Todd Jones (who of course gave up two runs). With all the need to replace ineffective or injured players throughout the year, all the Phils could get were relief pitchers and the since-released Paul Abbott. The relief pitchers have ranged from good (Rodriguez) to horrifically bad (Jones and Hernandez), but as a whole were bandaids on a staff infection.
And typically manager Larry Bowa was out of touch with the reality staring him right in the face: "Anytime you get X'ed out, it's disappointing," he said. "Now you try to win as many games as you can and finish as high in the standings as possible."
The Phils are in theory battling the Marlins for second place in the NL East. They have a one-game lead.
They also need one more win to cement a winning season. 2003-04 would be the first two consecutive winning seasons in a row in twenty years(!). 1983-84 was the last and it also marked the end of the Phils ten-year golden era in which they won their only World Series championship (1980), made two of their five all-time World Series appearances, won the division five of the six total times since divisional play started in 1969, and reached the playoffs six of the total nine times in their history.
They would also need to win their final six games to improve on last year's 86-76 record.
But wherever they end up from here is irrelevant. I added a rundown of the past thirty years—their success in the Seventies and early Eighties and lack of success (before and) after that—which is much more pertinent to the Phils future. This club has been remade over the past two seasons to be a playoff contender this season, their first in the new stadium. But they are finishing with just about the same record as last year, which was the same record they had in Larry Bowa's Manager-of-the-Year winning first season (2001).
There are only three starting position players left from 2001: Abreu, Rollins, and Burrell. (Lieberthal, who was injured, Perez, Glanville, Pratt, and Michaels were also on that team). Wolf, Cormier, Telemaco, and Padilla are the only men left from the 2001 staff. But the more things change, the more they stay the same.
So where do the Phils go from here? To quote Charles Zipp in "Airplane", "I don't know where" the Phils we be, "but it won't smell too good, that's for sure." The Phils have a ton of money invested in four players (Abreu, Thome, Burrell, and Bell), and of the four only Bobby Abreu can be viewed as an unalloyed success. Jim Thome and David Bell have had their share of success on the field this year but are both on the wrong side of thirty and are becoming more and more fragile.
Pat Burrell has had two straight disappointing seasons and this year started strong (.313 batting average and .974 OPS through May) but finished weak (no batting average over .250 or OPS over .758 for an entire month in the four months of season) and missed a month due to injury. He did improve over his devastating 2003 season, but one has to wonder if he is closer to his .828 OPS this season than his .920 two years ago (His career OPS is .822).
Of the rest, one would assume that marginal-at-best shortstop Jimmy Rollins will return if for no other reason but inertia of the Newton's First Law variety. The same goes with the aging Mike Lieberthal behind the plate.
Then there's second base, where Chase Utley is the heir apparent but in typical Bowanian fashion has just 31 at-bats in September sapping his offensive output (.226/.314/.323/.637) for the month after an encouraging callup (.341/.348/.614/.961 and 3 homers in 44 at-bats in July. Is he the starter next year or is it Placido Polanco? Your guess is as good as the Phils brass.
The same goes for center fielder Marlon Byrd, who has been a sinkhole in the lineup (.226/.286/.320/.605). Actually Byrd's season appears to be a psychological experiment as much as year as a ballplayer. He started the season as the leadoff hitter and starting center fielder though Bowa and Wade hung onto former starter Doug Glanville as an unnecessary no-hit sixth outfielder. Then when Byrd struggled, Bowa moved him up and down the lineup like a yo-yo with no rhyme or reason and started to spot start Glanville after an extra-inning, walk-off home run against the Expos on April 18 (one of his two homers for the season) after he replaced, of course, Byrd in the field.
As his struggles continued, Byrd was sent down to Triple-A and forgotten—it was sort of like the fetus frightening machine in Monty Python's "The Meaning of Life". As he struggled in the minors, the Phils tried and failed to pry Steve Finley from Arizona. At the trade deadline, after six weeks in the minors, his major-league career was resuscitated and he was again named their starting center fielder. Even though his numbers were pitiful in Triple-A, we were told that his spate of home runs (two)over the previous week demonstrated his ability to hit major-league pitchers again. It was a miracle!
In 37 games and 152 at-bats at Triple-A, he batted .263 with a .309 OBP, .388 slugging percentage, and .697 OPS. He had 2 homers, 13 runs scored, 17 RBI, 2 stolen bases and three caught stealing. This didn't bode well. And since returning to the lineup, Byrd has been just as bad if not worse than in the first half. First trial: .224/.297/.304/.601. Second trial: .225/.260/.342/.602. At least he's consistent.
And don't even discuss the pitching staff. It's been a wasted year for Randy Wolf and Vicente Padilla, with injuries and mediocre performance, but they will probably anchor the staff next year. Rookies Ryan Madson and Gavin Floyd deserve to be given spots in the rotation. Madson has pitched so well all year and shows such potential that it's amazing the Phils braintrust has not been able to get him even a spot start down the meaningless stretch—unbelievable!
That gives the Phils two mediocre but once promising pitchers and two extremely promising but untried pitchers going into next year. Kevin Millwood, Cory Lidle, and Eric Milton are potential free agents and appear to be gone. Milton, the loser yesterday, may have sealed his fate with a 3-3 second half performance after an 11-2 start. It's not that he has pitched any worse in the second half (his ERA is actually slightly lower), but it gives the Phils an excuse not to open the coffers to re-sign him.
Then there's the enigma that is Brett Myers. He is just 24 but appears to have played himself out of a job. He'll probably follow in the grand tradition of all once promising Phils pitchers (Duckworth, Combs, Wright, Carman) and fade into oblivion probably after three or four years of destroying the Phils' or someone else's middle relief corps.
The relievers are in flux. Closer Billy Wagner has been inconsistent and injured most of the year and has an option for $9 M next year or buyout for $3 M. He has hinted that he would prefer to be bought out.
So what happens next? Logically, a scape goat will be found. There were rumors earlier this month that Larry Bowa would be anointed as the sacrificial lamb, er, goat and that he would be fired at the end of the season, sort of like the Art Howe situation in New York but the issue never came to a head once the Philly media made the Eagles the cynosure of their attention and affection.
If it were me running the club, I would get rid of GM Ed Wade, Bowa, and the coaching staff. They have all been equally abysmal. But it's not me or you or anyone else with two brain cells to rub together. Team president Dave Montgomery runs the club, which brings us back to the history of the club over the last thirty years. Montgomery has run the club since June 1997 when former owner Bill Giles euthanized himself while still retaining a position the Phils as the chairman of the board.
Yes, the Phils are no longer the doormats they were in 1997, but in his seven and a half years, they have yet to win a division or finish better than 86-76. They have had .500 or better seasons in only three of his part of eight seasons.
And yes, he did invest money in the team in the past two offseasons. However, the Phils were left to fend for themselves throughout the season, the feral children of the NL East. Besides, in his first five and one-half seasons, he wasn't exactly a spendthrift.
The strategy for next season will be interesting. Will they continue to spend and hope that the fan's honeymoon with the new park isn't over? Or will they return to their miserly ways after realizing their last two years' spending has been for naught?
I'm guessing the latter myself. I never thought the team's change of heart was anything more than a short-term strategy predicated on the new stadium revenue. The fans have always supported the team passably well, and probably will continue to do so even if the spending spree is done, at least that's what the brass will think. It will be interesting to see what is done with the potential free agents.
What is a fan to do? There's not much effect that they can have other than not re-ordering season tickets for next year. But that may cause the Phils' front office to cut back more.
It will be interesting, but one thing's for sure. We'll be going through it all again—the recriminations, the blame game, the unfulfilled promise—around this time next year. Same bat time. Same bat channel.
The Angels may end the night tied for first place in the AL West after a 5-3 over the Rangers. However, the main show, the pennant race, is getting upstaged by an ongoing melodrama over the fate of left fielder Jose Guillen. Guillen, if you hadn't heard, has been suspended for the remainder of the regular season and the playoffs by the Angels after an incident on Saturday.
Guillen was lifted for a pinch-hitter and threw a temper tantrum. Here's how ESPN described it:
Guillen walked off the field as the A's changed pitchers, tossed his helmet toward the side of the dugout [manager Mike] Scioscia was standing in and walked to the opposite side of the dugout before entering. He tossed his glove against the wall.
My initial reaction was that the incident didn't sound like that big a deal. Guillen is a wel-known malcontent so maybe that was the last straw, but Frank Francisco it was not. It seemed an especially odd move, for a team fighting for its playoff life to eliminate one of its better players.
And it unfolded oddly. First, Guillen was merely benched for Sunday's game (the same game that saw Vlad Guerrero win the team MVP with a week left in the season(?)). Scioscia spoke to Guillen after the Sunday game said that he expressed an understanding of "the magnitude of his actions" though he did not "initiate an apology".
Then suddenly the benching became permanent, at least for 2004. As of this morning the suspension (without pay) was just for the regular season leaving Guillen possibly and oddly still available for any perspective playoff games. Then the Angels extended the suspension this afternoon to include the playoffs.
Now, the players union is getting involved filing a grievance in Guillen's behalf tonight. An arbitrator will hear the case Friday. Keep in mind that Guillen still has a year left on his contract.
After hearing all of that, I had to see the play—I hadn't sent the game. I brought up the replay on MLB.tv and went to the play. Here's what I saw: Guillen led off the bottom of the eighth inning of a 3-3 tie with the A's. He was hit on the calf by an 0-1 pitch and trotted done to first. He appeared to be anything but angry. Next, he was lifted for pinch-runner Alfredo Amezaga. The announcers mentioned this as if it were a matter of course, perhaps due to being hit on the leg. The A's chose that moment to make a pitching change and as the broadcast went to commercial, they had a closeup of Guillen's perplexed face. When they returned from commercial, all seemed normal. The announcers made no mention of anything untoward occurring during the break. Now, whether this was done so as not to give Guillen attention, sort of like not airing a fan that runs on the field, or because the incident was so minor that the announcers chose not to mention it or happened not to see it at all, I couldn't tell. Whatever the case, it's an odd and possibly anticlimactic way to end a player's season.
I still don't get it. The guy's a nit and he should be fined/suspended, but for the entire season and playoffs? H has slumped in the second half but his numbers are not terrible. First half ratios: .301/.368/.509/.877. Second half: .284/.330/.481/.811 (though .241/.277/.329/.606 in Sept.). He's got the third best OPS on the team in the second half. Besides this is a team that has devoted 545 at-bats to David Eckstein (.339 slug and .683 OPS). True, he's not a corner outfielder, but Guillen's replacement, Jeff DaVannon has been far from spectacular (.278/.363/.411/.774) especially in the second half (245/.310/.382/.692).
Could Guillen have been that big of a nudnick? The Angels claim that their "decision came after Guillen's third public incident of misconduct this season".
Ah, he was on double-secret probation. The only problem is that I don't recall the other two. I Googled it and couldn't find them. I guess that's the double-secret part. Actually, I lied, I found one. There was a public incident on May 25 in which Guillen felt that his teammates (read pitchers) should have came to his aide (read thrown at opposing batters) after he was hit by a pitch. Guillen apologized to the team the next day. I still can't find the other one though. And to again cite "Animal House" this whole affair seems to be exactly what the collective Delta house coughed into their hands at their trial, B.S.
My hope is that the arbitrator forces the Angels to rescind the suspension and force them to play him (so that he has a chance to hit some milestone like 30 homers; otherwise they'd be stunting his career). The Angels lose the division in the last weekend in Oakland even though Guillen has a great series. There's public outcry over the incident and Guillen is retained for next season. They deserve each other after all.
Oriole Manager Lee Mazzilli has an interesting solution to the Expos situation. He says that in order to placate Baltimore owner Peter Angelos due to the proposed move of the Montreal franchise to nearby Washington, D.C., the O's should be swap leagues with the would-be Senators.
"Switch leagues," he said Sunday. "Milwaukee did it. It's something to think about. There would be rivalries with the Phillies, Pirates, Giants. It's very intriguing."
Mazzilli appears to be channeling the great John Candy's character, Dewey Oxberger, in "Stripes", who explained his enlistment thusly: "I thought to myself, 'Join the army.' It’s free. So I figured while I’m here I’ll lose a few pounds. You got, what, a six- to eight-week training program around here, a really tough one, which is perfect for me. I’m going to walk out of here a lean, mean fightin’ machine!" It sounds like just as well thought-out an argument.
First, Mazzilli should learn who's in the NL East before making proposals. I know that the Pirates were in the East back in Maz's playing days, but they moved to the Central a decade ago. As for the Giants reference, maybe Mazzilli thinks they are still in New York.
As for the Phils, they have been designated "natural" rivals—I think that's the term—for interleague play. They are guaranteed to play each other every year anyway, at least until the farce that is interleague play is put out of our misery.
By switching leagues, the Orioles would miss hosting the team that is number one in road attendance (the Yankees) and the team that's third (the Red Sox). (Baltimore is 18th, Tampa 23rd and Toronto 25th). They would gain new rivals who draw slightly worse: the Mets are 12th, the Braves 16th, the Marlins 19th, the Expos 20th, and the Phils 27th (that's depressing). Which group would you rather have?
The good news is that the O's could move from a perennial second-division AL East team to NL East division favorites by next year if they pick up a pitcher or two. Then again, Cox and Mazzone will probably resurrect Cy Young, Lefty Grove, Walter Johnson, and Christy Mathewson for their staff next year, a feat slightly more impressive than what they have done over the last year or two.
As for the Brewers, yes, the did switch leagues in 1998, but a) they were the first team in over 100 years to switch major leagues and their best record since switching has been 74-87. Here are all the teams that have switched leagues in baseball history. The last teams before the Brewers were part of the National League-American Association merger in 1892:
Also, my friend Mike suggests, they should send the O's instead back to the International League. In the nineteenth century, this did happen commonly to clubs who lost their charter in a then-major league. The last team to leave the majors for the minors was the old Baltimore Orioles, who left the major-league American Association in favor of the Atlantic Association in 1891. They destroyed the opposition and were back in the AA fold by August and then were merged into the NL for 1892.
As for other teams that went from the minors to the majors, the Indianapolis Blues nee Capital Citys moved from the League Alliance in 1877 to the NL in 1878 and the Buffalo Bisons joined the NL in 1879 from the International Association. When the one-year Union Association started hemorrhaging teams during the 1884 season, they propped themselves up by co-opting the minor Northwestern League’s entire roster. Oh, and technically, the original eight American League teams were the descendents of minor-league clubs from the Western League (1893-1899) and minor-league AL (1900). (Detroit was the only original WL club to survive with its city affiliation intact.)
But I digress, It should be pointed out that the Orioles themselves were interlopers in the Senators' territory when the moved to Baltimore in 1954. They were required to pay just one hundred thousand dollars for the honor, and went from perennial doormats as the Browns to, for a time, one of the best organizations in baseball. And then Angelos bought the team. When the Senators were shifted to Minnesota for the 1961 season and a new team was placed in D.C., all to placate the owners of proposed Continental Baseball League, the new Senators were not required to pay any territorial fees. Reports have the Orioles making about one hundred million off of their rights this time around.
The Kruks of the Problem
When a thing is said to be not worth refuting you may be sure that either it is flagrantly stupid—in which case all comment is superfluous—or it is something formidable, the very crux of the problem.
Right, Miggy, and then there's the third category that's both—flagrantly stupid and formidable. Or in other words, the John Kruk Awards or the First-Annual Krukkies. Each one is worse than the next.
Here they are:
Most Valuable Player: Chone Figgins
All right, get back up off the floor and sit back in your chair. OK, stop the laughter before it gets maniacal. Calmate. Take a deep breath.
Not only does Kruk pick a utility player as the MVP of a team or a league, Kruk proclaims that he's "just talking about the most valuable player in the game today."
Close your eyes and think about that.
John Kruk, a man who is a professional baseball analyst on probably the most popular baseball show (Baseball Tonight) on the most popular sports channel (ESPN) in the country, has picked Chone Figgins as the Most Valuable Player in the game today. Maybe Figgins would be in the running for funniest name, but MVP?!?
Let's take at Figgins numbers to see if there's something to this. He has 5 home runs, 57 RBI, and 75 runs in 538 at-bats. Hmm. Maybe the ratios are more impressive: a .288 batting average, a .345 on-base percentage, a .411 slugging percentage, and a .756 OPS.
Let's put that in context. Since his Krukkie Award-winning major-league MVP, let's see where his stats ranks among his peers, all major-league batters. He's 66th in batting average, 99th in OPS, 122nd in slugging percentage, and 119th in OPS. He's tied for 146th in RBI and 88th in runs. He's also 115th in Value Over Replacement Player. He is 10th in stolen bases and second in triples, however. Oh, and Kruk mentions that he is a switch-hitter: His OPS is 19th among 28 qualifying switch-hitters.
But for Kruk, it's not about the numbers:
Think of what the Angels have gone through this year with injuries. At one time or another, they lost Troy Glaus, Garret Anderson and Darin Erstad, had to give Vlad Guerrero some time at DH because of his problems, and now Adam Kennedy is done for the year. Every time an injury happened, Chone stepped in and kept them on track.
Wow, that does sound impressive. If Figgins were the best player on his team and played multiple position, plugging gaps, that would be extremely valuable. But he is fifth on the team in VORP among position players and is fourth in VORP among the sixth Angels with at least 500 at-bats.
And then there's this:
I know about Bonds and Pujols and all those guys. But they show up to the ballpark every day knowing they're going to play and where they're going to hit in the order. Not Chone. He has to take a few grounders all over the field, and then find some time to hit. If you think that doesn't sound like a big deal, imagine going to work every day and not knowing what your boss will have you do that day -- but you have to be prepared for all of it.
Oh, so that's what makes Figgins so special.
There's only one problem with Kruk's argument. The type of player he describes isn't a premier type of player likely to win an MVP. That type of player is called a gofer, a man Friday, a spare part. Do you put your best employee through an uncertain existence or rather use a supernumerary to plug the most pressing hole on a given day?
Yes, it's a very nice story that Figgens has been able to plug the many holes on the club, but if he were truly more valuable than the men he's replacing, they wouldn't have a job when they came back. If I were an Angels fan, I would love Figgens, but then again, I was a big George Vukovich and Joe Lefebrve fan, too.
To think that there is a baseball analyst on the planet who is witnessing what may be the greatest offensive season in baseball history and then picks Figgens for an MVP and not funniest name, is criminal. At least he does mention Barry Bonds "and all those guys" in passing. Disgraceful.
Most Valuable Pitcher: Brad Lidge
He also picked Brad Lidge, he of the 87.1 IP, for Most Valuable Pitcher. Yes, he's been great, but there's no way his 87.1 innings have been as valuable as Clemens' 201 or Oswalt's 223. Their respective VORPs: 34.6, 57.2, 46.4. He may be the third most valuable pitcher on his own team. These two should have been called the Idiosyncratic Awards.
Lidge is 41st in VORP in the majors and is behind Mariano Rivera among closers.
Makes The Most Out Of Nothing Award: David Eckstein
This is too good not to re-print verbatim:
I don't know if you've ever watched Eckstein play, but let me put it this way -- if you lined up every major leaguer from Yogi Berra's era to today and said pick out the guy who doesn't belong -- everyone would pick Eckstein. Come on! The guy looks like he should be in Little League!
People have been saying exactly the same thing about Eckstein since 2002, and it wasn't even fresh by the time the playoffs rolled around that year. I swear if I thought Kruk could read, I would accuse him of plagiary.
Kruk doesn't know if we've ever seen Eckstein play? He's been a starter in the majors for four seasons and has played in the World Series. As far as getting the most out of Eckstein, he has a .674 OPS this year. Last year's .651 OPS was 21% worse than the park-adjusted league average. Eckstein may not be long for the majors with the way he's batting, but he's award-worthy to Kruk.
Kruk should be fired for this insane drivel. This is the kind of pap that your local paper wouldn't dare to print. And yet he's one of a few ESPN.com "personalities" who are available without joining their premium service. I would say that this was a nadir for ESPN.com if I didn't think that they would just continue to get worse.
With seven days to go in September, Mike's Baseball Rants has already broken its all-time record for number of visits in a month. This is the third straight month of doing so.
Thanks for stopping by and y'all come back now, ya hear?
Four More Years! For More Years!…Of Playoffs
The Yankees clinched a playoff spot tonight with a 7-3 win over the Devil Rays. They also lead the Red Sox now by four and one-half games. With nine games remaining, New York has a magic number of 6.
New York becomes the first team to either reach the playoffs or win their division/league for eleven straight years, 1994 to 2004. There were no playoffs in strike-shortened 1994 season, but the Yankees did lead their division at the end of the season. They have either won their division (1996 and 1998-2003) or the AL wild card (1995 and 1997) each year since.
The Braves have not missed the playoffs since 1991, but they were trailing the Expos for the NL East lead in 1994 when the season came to an abrupt end. They are, however, the only other team to have eight consecutive years of either qualifying for the postseason or winning their division league outright (1995-2003). They are one win or one Phillies loss away from making that nine.
Aside from them, no team has ever claimed more than five consecutive playoff spots and/or division/league titles. Here are the ones that won at least five in a row:
Note that the A's will make the list if they win their division this year.
There are only twelve teams that won at least four straight and five of them are Yankee teams:
There are 37 teams that have done it at least three times in a row:
After that it gets a bit silly.
If you eliminate the wild card backdoor to the postseason and include just division/league winners, the 1995-2003 Braves have the longest streak, nine years. The Yankees are currently on a six-year streak. Both teams will likely extend their streaks this year.
Next on the list are the 1995-99 Indians and 1971-75 A's (five years).
In an effort to drain every possible drop from the well, I have one final chapter in history of baseball rookies:
Effects on Winning:
First, I found that the percentage of rookies on a team correlated poorly to team success (.335 correlation coefficient). Then I took a look at teams' weighted ages and weighted experience level (i.e., weighted by percentage of games played) to see if they correlated to winning. They didn't either (0.3490 for team experience and 0.2157 for age).
Someone at Baseball Think Factory(which I still call Baseball Primer) suggested that perhaps it was a curvilinear relationship. That is, that teams with a large percentage of rookies and teams with a large percentage of vets would both perform poorly, while teams with a more balanced composition would perform best.
So I took my raw data and plotted Rookie Percent, Average Weighted Team Age, Average Weighted Team Experience, and Average Weight Team Debut Age (i.e., Age minus Experience). Unfortunately, they did not reveal a facile relationship to winning. I am unable to reproduce them here, but I'll hit the more salient points.
In all of the graphs (except debut age), teams that performed very poorly (with a winning percentage below around .375) had a large percentage of rookies and young, inexperienced players. As the winning percentage got lower the relationship got much stronger.
However, the rest of the graph ever so slightly did express this curvilinear relationship. But it was more like a dish than a bowl. Also, the percentage of rookies held between steady 15% and 20% for the rest of the graph. It was the most flat of all the graphs.
The Experience expressed the most arc, and the curve on the winning side of the graph (above .500) was slightly higher. With a winning percentage of around .400, the average experience level was between four and four and one-half years. It then increased to under six years at around a .475 winning percentage. The average seems to exceed six years slightly at a .550 to .575. Then it slopes down to about five and one-half years as the winning percentage approaches .700.
The Age graph, though flatter, expresses the slightly curvilinear arc that Experience did. At a .400 winning percentage, the average age approaches 28. It then holds steady between 28 and 29 until a .625 winning percentage. Again the above-.500 teams are slightly older (maybe by a half year). Above .625, the age drops quickly to between 27 and 28 (this may be due to the smaller sample size being heavily influenced by younger, nineteenth-century teams).
Finally, the debut age is the flattest of the lot, holding steady around 23 throughout. There is a slight age bump (to just under 24) with winning percentages under .375. Above .625, the graph dips close to 22. However, in both cases as the percentage gets more extremely, the graph returns to the norm (23).
So if there is any relationship, it's not very strong. If you're building a team for this year, just get the best players available regardless of age and experience.
Finally, here's a rundown of how well rookies perform by decade, split up into batting and pitching. In each case, the typical statistics for all rookies are derived and then they are normalized by the major-league average (a la Baseball Reference's OPS+, though with no compensation for ballpark).
First let's look at some general numbers for all players:
You'll not that players are getting older and more experienced, and that their "debut age" is getting higher even as analysts claim that players are getting rushed to the majors. Also, the Forties stand out as the only decade with a debut age over 24, clearly being greatly affected by the dearth of talent during World War II. The Sixties, the first decade of expansion and of the amateur draft, saw debut ages drop dramatically. As the leagues stabilized in the Eighties, the experience went up, but it took more hits in the last two decades probably due to two more rounds of expansion (and potentially more foreign-born players in the majors).
Now let's look at the batters. First, here are some basic demographic numbers (Age+ is the average rookie age normalized for all players):
You'll notice that rookies have been getting older for the past five decades even though the disparity between rookie and veteran players holds steady (Age+ of 85-86). Also, teams have consisted of fewer rookies and they have gotten a smaller percentage of the at-bats since the Sixties.
Now here are the average and normalized rookie batting statistics:
Well, gee, rookies really stink. Aside from stolen base percentage, they just are not very good at all. Let's see if the pitchers fare better…
Here are the demographic data for rookie pitchers:
Here are the rookie pitching stats (Note sub-100 normalized data represent worse than average values throughout):
That's not much more encouraging than the rookie batting stats. Again aside from one stat (Strikeouts per nine innings), the rookie pitchers are considerably worse than average.
It's no wonder teams have been eschewing rookies for veterans over the past five decades, right? That's why GMs are more willing to employ Wil Cordero and Jose Offerman rather than promote from within.
Well, that's the simplistic conclusion. Yes, rookies are on average worse than veterans. However, that doesn't mean every rookie will destroy your staff or become a sinkhole in your lineup. It also doesn't mean that every retread will salvage your team. It just means that GMs have to be a bit more discerning when it comes to the rookies they promote. Many will excel, but the GM will have to do his homework. It just seems that GMs historically (at least over the past five decades) have been more willing to take the easier route and just rely on a retread with a lengthy resume so that he'll have something to point to when they eventually fail.
I took a look at the average age for rookie throughout baseball history. Long story short, the numbers have held pretty steady at around 23-24 years. (I have the yearly average in a table but don't want to overwhelm you with it here.) With the birth of the NL (1876) it dipped to under 21, then quickly returned to the 23-24 range. When the rival leagues sprang up in the early to mid-1880s, again the age dipped down to under 22, but was back to the norm with the birth of the AL (1901). With the third major league (1914-15) and World War I, the average rookie age again dipped down to almost 22. World War II caused the only upward spike (to 26!). The first round of expansion followed by the amateur draft, caused the last dip down to 22 and the first since 1885-87. The average age stayed below or around 23 under 1980. Since then it’s been slowly increasing and has been above 24 since 1991. The average age in 2003 was about 24.5.
The biggest influence outside of sudden expansions and/or wars has been the amateur draft especially when it first started. Also, expansion, either by adding new leagues or expanding existing ones, caused the age to lower until the last couple of rounds. Perhaps the depth of talent is such that in recent years the best approach is to look to veteran minor leaguers.
Finally, here are the debut ages by decade represented as a percentage of all rookies:
As the majors became more organized the over-35 rookie died a quick death. The amateur draft brought a large number of rookies under 22 even as the under-18 set disappeared. Finally, over the last few decades, the younger (under 22) rookies have been disappearing and while the 22-to-25-year-olds have slipped slightly, they remain the most populous with 26-30 gaining strength.
There's No Method Acting in Baseball
ESPN has a fun rundown of the greatest baseball movie characters by position. It's a shame that they didn't include TV so that Dancin' Homer Simpson, "Coach" Ernie Pantuzzi, Chico Escuela, and Charlie Brown could make the list. And what, no Bugs Bunny? He did play every position for goodness sake.
Anyway, here's my list:
SP- Ebby Calvin 'Nuke' LaLoosh, "Bull Durham" (I sometimes get wooly)
Are You Experienced? Have You Ever Been Experienced?
Earlier today, I took a look at the number of rookies per team throughout baseball history to see if it had anything to do with that team's record. I found that the percentage of rookies on a team correlated poorly to team success (.335 correlation coefficient). However, I said that a more thorough investigation based on team experience was in order. So here goes…
The first hurdle was to determine what team experience meant. I mean, a team may have a wily old veteran on the bench mentoring a rookie at the same position in the starting lineup. If you average the two, you would end up somewhere in between, even though the veteran may only play a third as much as the rook.
My solution was to weight each player's experience by the number of games played and then normalize by the total number of team games. The idea is to represent the experience for the team on the field on a given day. I know that this treats a pinch-hitter like a starter who plays a full game and that it under-represents modern starting pitchers, but I'm OK with that. I know Baseball Reference weights by games and at-bats, but then you separate pitchers and position players. Also, it under-represents Barry Bonds (because of the walks). I like the idea of the "team on the field" as the basis
Anyway, I ran the numbers for experience as well as player age (weighted in a similar fashion). Here are the most experienced teams in baseball history:
Hmm, I thought that we were told that players today are rushed to the majors. It seems like there are a bunch of old dolts in the majors today. Let's check age next:
The problem is that neither correlates well to winning (0.3490 for team experience and 0.2157 for age). The next thing that occurred to me is to look at age minus experience, that is the debut age (in theory) of the players. One would expect that the younger a player debuts the better he is:
Well, that's an odd mix. There are a lot of teams from World War II. Anyway, the correlation coefficient is not much better than for age (-0.2179) though teams with players who debut younger do do slightly better.
Finally the completist in me wants to show you the other end of the spectrum for each category. Here are the least experienced teams (ignoring the 1871 NA teams, the first major-league teams):
The youngest teams:
Now the youngest debut teams:
Holey O Zone, Baseball!
It seems appropriate that on the day in which George Bush was trying to sell the U.N. on the stability in Iraq—sorry, I know, too political—Major League Baseball decided to announce the creation of a new statistic. It's called the O Zone Factor and like the volatile gas for which it's named and which breaks down into simple oxygen when exposed, the basis for this stat crumbles as one exposes it to the air—how's that for stretching an analogy to the breaking point?
[O Zone] measures a team's success at scoring runners from second or third base, as well as its ability at preventing opponents from doing so.
Well, that sounds nifty, doesn't it? But does it mean anything? Here's MLB's justification:
While there are many team statistics which help explain a team's winning percentage and its playoff chances, recent history has shown that a positive O Zone Factor is important : from 1999-03, 34 of the 40 playoff teams finished the season with positive O Zone Factors (meaning they had more success batting than in the field with runners on second and third). Last year's World Champion Florida Marlins had the ninth best positive O Zone Factor and in 2002 the World Champion Angels had the best O Zone Factor of all 30 teams.
You just can't beat anecdotal rationalizations. So why try? Let's look at the basis for the O Zone Factor—Sounds like a new reality show, right?
The basic idea is that we take the offensive and defensive ratios of runs scored by a team's players in scoring position to the number of men to get into scoring position. Ratios are great, whiz-bang things, but subtracting ratios is just plain dumb since the denominator or divisor is different in each ratio. Here's an example: A team gets 1000 runners in scoring position and scores just 500. Its opponents get only 750 runners in scoring position but plates 400 of them. Its O Zone would be 500 divided by 1000 minus the result of 400 divided by 750 or -0.0333 (negative .03-bar). They would have outscored their opponents by 100 runs in these situations but still would have a negative rating.
Okay, but maybe somehow the stars align and O Zone Factor really does capture the essence of winning. It would be easy to test. Unfortunately, given that the stat is "available exclusively" at MLB.com and its team sites and they only have stats for 2004 posted, our analysis would be based on a small, era-centric sample size.
However, let's forge ahead and see what we get. I'd like to run RF-RA or Pythagorean winning percentage (which is based on runs for and against after all) versus O-Zone to see which correlates best to winning percentage.
Here goes for the 2004 stats available. MLB for some reason refers to O Zone here by its non-marketing friendly name of NET-RS-RISP-%, Net Runs Scored Per Runners in Scoring Position Percent. I added Runs Scored Minus Runs Against and Pythagorean Expected Winning Percentage:
There's our raw data, and now for the correlations…O Zone's correlation coefficient (to winning percentage) is .7368. Both RS-RA and Pythagorean PCT correlate significantly: .9516 and .9512. Even MLB's own made-up intermediate stat NET RS-RISP (net runs scored minus runners in scoring position) correlates better: .8967. Maybe they should have stopped there.
Juan Red Rookie
The 2004 Cincinnati Reds had an opening-day roster with not one first-year player on it. That's not that unusual. However, the Reds proceeded to play over 130 games, brought players up, traded for players, expanded their roster for September, and yet did not add one player to the roster who had never played in the majors before.
Then on September 4, the picked up rookie pitcher Juan Padilla on waivers from the Yankees. Padilla is a rookie (I'm using the term "rookie" to mean first-year player throughout, though baseball has a more technical definition to determine eligibility for the Rookie of the Year awards). However, Padilla did pitch six games earlier in the year for the Yankees.
That means that the Reds will likely spend the entire season without a player appearing in his first major-league game. That seems pretty unusual but is it? Let's check.
Here are all of the teams throughout baseball history who qualify in descending chronological order:
It's happened just thirty-three times, and just twice in the last twenty seasons. That's pretty rare.
You'll also notice that for the most part these teams have been pretty successful veteran clubs. Only four had sub-.500 seasons, and their average winning percentage is .597. The 2004 Reds don't fit that mold. Usually when a team has a losing season for the second year in a row, like the Reds, they try some new blood. Unfortunately, the Reds were fooled by their first-season success momentarily and apparently don't have much fresh meat in the minors.
Now, the Reds are also not the first team on the list to have one first-year player who first played with another major-league team earlier in the year. The 1889 American Association Brooklyn Bridegrooms (grandsire of today's Los Angeles Dodgers) had one first-year player, Charlie Reynolds, a catcher who played one game on May 8 with the AA Kansas City Cowboys before appearing in 12 Brooklyn contests.
The 1881 NL Cleveland Blues had a player, Bollicky Bill Taylor, a pitcher-outfielder-third baseman who appeared in games for the Worcester Ruby Legs (forerunners of the Phillies, 6 games) and Detroit Wolverines (1) earlier in the season. Taylor went on to win 43 games in 1884 as the majors expanded briefly to three major-leagues but would only win a total of fifty for his career. He also managed to squeeze in 61 games behind the plate though he apparently was not a catcher when he came up.
All of this rookie talk got me to thinking of the reverse. Were there any teams comprised solely of rookies, and how did they fare? We'll it's kind of a trick question. Here's the answer:
Well, when you're the first major league, everybody who plays for you will be a rookie. How about the next highest percentage of rookies? Here are the ones over 75%:
Still, these are old teams, many from new leagues. How about in the "modern" era? Here are the ones since 1900 comprised 50% or more of rookies:
The highest since 1950 were the second-year 1963 Houston Colt .45s nee Astros at 44.44% (20 of 45 players). Here are the highest since 1950. Note that the post-World Series Marlins had the highest percentage of rookies in the last ten years:
You may also notice that teams with a high percentage of rookie players are just not that good. Very few have winning records. I ran the numbers to see if a high percentage of rookies correlates to a poor winning percentage. Basically, do (mostly) veteran teams perform better? Well, it does correlate but not very strongly (.335 correlation coefficient). I guess it's best to get the better players no matter what experience level they are. Eventually, I'll expand this study to look at veteran teams based on years of experience and see if that corresponds better to winning, but that will have to be another day.
Of Inhuman Bondage
Remember that thou art mortal.
As Barry Bonds blurs past 700 home runs en route to—dare I say it?—800 and potentially Sadaharu Oh’s all-time professional home run record (868), we should keep in mind that we are witnessing greatness that cannot be evaluated solely on home runs.
I've already enumerated the reasons why this may be Bonds' best season ever and, therefore, the best season in major-league baseball history. But Bonds' past four years, the ones after he turned 35, mind you, may be the best four-year span in baseball history as well. These four years follow and improve vastly upon an already first-ballot Hall-of-Fame career. Take a look at his ratios and some salient stats broken down by era:
Bonds 2001-04 dwarves the previous Bonds even though his most similar batter at the time was Mickey Mantle and he had an OPS that would have been thirteenth all-time.
His four-year on-base percentage (2001-04) is .558. That's almost fifty points better than the next man, Babe Ruth 1920-23. Here are the top ten previous four-year OBPs (min. 1000 plate appearances):
By the way, that is John McGraw, the manager. He was once a tough-nosed third baseman, who drew a ridiculous number of walks and times hit by a pitch for Brooklyn (among others) at the end of the nineteenth century.
And before you say that (Bonds' high OPS) is attributable mainly to his ungodly walk totals, consider that his four-year slugging percentage (.812) would be the first over .800 ever. Here are all the men who have slugged over .700 for four years:
Bonds' four-year OPS is 1.370, which is over 70 points higher than the previous high. Here are the previous highs. Again it's basically the best four-year spans for Bonds, Ruth, and Williams:
And what's incredible about all this is that Bonds has done this over a period in which the opposition has done its best to take the bat out of his hands as much as possible. He has been walked, either intentionally or semi-intentionally, and hit by a pitch at a ludicrous pace. Here are the breakdowns by era:
Even though his overall walk rate has "just" doubled (almost), his intentional walks are up over 200% and his hit by a pitch ratio is up about 150%. That means that Bonds gets to bat only about two-thirds of the time that he steps to the plate as opposed to four-fifths of the time prior to 2001. Remember that Bonds had two seasons with 147+ walks prior to 2001, too. His at-bats per game have dropped by .6 over this period even though his plate appearances per game have remained unchanged (4.2655 prior to 2001; 4.2638 since).
Given what Bonds has done when he has been allowed to bat, it's not surprising that teams are trying to avoid pitching to him, but the strategy appears to be failing. He has hit home runs 60% more often over the last four years than previously based on total plate appearances. Even in his limited at-bats Bonds has delivered more often, almost doubling his home run-to-at-bat ratio and increasing his home runs per game from .23 to .37 (a 60% increase).
Given that Bonds is just 54 home runs away from the all-time record, you have to wonder where he would be if his opponents had actually pitched to him over the last four years, and of course, his production remained at the same level over the extra at-bats. He has 207 homers over the last four years, but if he had been given the same number of at-bats, instead of being walked or hit by a pitch, over this period as previously, he would project to 250. That would leave him at 744, just eleven shy of the record. It would also be the most ever by a player over a four-year period. His 207 are still tied for eleventh, and with a couple of weeks left in the season, expect him to crack the top ten. Here are the men who hit over 200 dingers over a span of four seasons:
However, the lost walks would reduce his walk totals by 45% over the period (from 731 to 405), leaving him with "just" 1952 for his career. That would leave him 238 short of Rickey Henderson's total and would place him just fourth all time (behind Henderson, Ruth, and Ted Williams). So I guess it's robbing Peter to pay Paul, I guess, if Paul makes one-quarter of what Peter does.
It will be interesting to see where Bonds career goes from here. Can he maintain the high level of play as he begins his first full season after the age of forty? If so, will teams continue to walk him at a ridiculous rate or develop a new approach? How will the inevitable decline occur, all at once or in stages? And when will it happen?
I leave you with one curious thought about Bonds' future. If he declines slightly and is just one of the best players in the game as opposed to possible the greatest hitter ever to play, opponents may more quickly abandon their walk-him-at-all-costs strategy, giving him more at-bats with which to obliterate the home run record. Perhaps, he'll have better numbers, at least the counting kind, if he is slightly more mortal over the last stage of his career. That alone makes him one of the most unique players, if not the best, to ever play the game.
Barry Bonds hit his 700th homer tonight off of Jake Peavey in the third inning. He becomes the first active major-leaguer with 700 homers in almost 28 years. Hank Aaron hit his 700th oh July 21, 1973, almost 38 years after Babe Ruth retired. At this pace the next man will hit 700 home runs in 2022. Of course, Bonds, who will still be playing, will be approaching 1500 home runs by then.
Apparently, negotiations between the players and the owners in Japan have fallen through and the players will strike this weekend. Tom O'Malley was unavailable for comment.
The Prodigal Catcher
A certain man had two sons:
Todd Zeile, who plans to retire at the end of the season, is set tonight to make his first appearance behind the plate in fourteen years. Zeile came up as a catcher with the Cardinals in 1989, started to play other positions in 1990, and in 1991 moved from behind the plate in favor of third base apparently for good.
Zeile's last game as a catcher was on September 1, 1990 against the Braves. It was his 105th of the season, but the next game he was at first base, where he had played in nine of his last 13 games. He had been splitting time with Tom Pagnozzi behind the plate, but newly installed manager Joe Torre (who replaced Red Schoendienst, who replaced Whitey Herzog mid-season) installed Pagnozzi behind the plate for good on September 3. On September 5, Zeile played his first major-league game at third base and played well enough that his last 24 appearances of the season were at third. The transition took, and he didn't play different position again until the Cardinals moved him exclusively to first base at the start of the 1995 season to make room for the then-newly acquired third baseman Scott Cooper, who incredibly was coming off two straight All-Star years. He ended up just 34 times there before he was traded to the Cubs and returned to third. (Thank you Retrosheet.com.)
Anyway, Zeile's fourteen-year absence from the "tools of ignorance" is not the longest on record. On September 20, 1931 Cardinals manager Gabby Street, who had retired 19 years earlier, played the last three innings of a 6-1 win over Brooklyn behind the plate en route to a World Series championship year. The 48-year-old recorded one putout and one assist—throwing out the only attempted base stealer, Babe Herman—in the game.
Zeile's 14-year absence from behind the plate, however, is the longest break for a player who was playing continually during the span. The previous high was eleven years by Red Murray, who also came up with the Cardinals playing all three outfield positions and catching seven games in 1906. Murray played nine more seasons with the Cardinals, Giants, and Cubs and played the outfield, mostly right field, almost exclusively (one game at second base for the Cubs). Though it sounds like a scene from "The Natural", he made a catch in 1912 that saved a win for Christy Mathewson just as lightning jarringly struck the earth and lighted up the sky. In 1917 after a one-year break from the majors, Murray returned to the Giants as a part-time outfielder but he also played one game behind the plate.
Also, of note is Ed Sprague another catcher-cum-third baseman, who had a nine-year gap from behind the plate (1992-2001). He, too, moved from behind the plate in his sophomore year and didn't return to it until his final season for one appearance. Sprague sticks out amid the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century players, who dominate the list of prodigal catchers.
Here are the catchers who had breaks from behind the plate of nine or more seasons:
To demonstrate how rare such a long break is today, here are the catchers with breaks of five or more years over the last thirty years:
Competitive Balancing Act III, Scene II—Games Back to Where You Once Belonged: Competitiveness Expressed in the Playoff Race Quality
Other entries in the series:
Competitive Balancing Act I—The King James Version: An Overview of the Literature, Scenes I, II, III, and IV
In the last installment we showed that the last three decades have been, by far, the best for competitive balance based on teams in the playoff hunt at the All-Star break. Next, let's break down historically (by decade) how teams in each strata at the break have finished the season:
So there have been more teams close to the division leaders at the break and those teams have won the division with more regularity. Of course, adding more divisions will do that.
To be continued…
Competitive Balancing Act III, Scene I—Games Back to Where You Once Belonged: Competitiveness Expressed in the Playoff Race Quality
Other entries in the series:
Competitive Balancing Act I—The King James Version: An Overview of the Literature, Scenes I, II, III, and IV
A false balance is abomination to the Lord: but a just weight is his delight.
The study I did on team records split into first and second halves got me to thinking about exploring competitive balance in the game based on the number of teams that are in the playoff hunt throughout the season.
However, how does one quantify that? At what point during the season do you measure this? Well, the All-Star break was the obvious one given the previous study. That is the traditional start to the playoff hunt, but what other dates would make sense? And what about the sixty-odd seasons before the All-Star game was instituted?
Well, I will belay those issues for the time being and take a look at the halves data we have right now. Perhaps, it will help us approach the second issue of quantifying competitive balance.
Here's a table of the number of games back a team was at the end of the first half and its final position at the end of the season, summed across all of the All-Star seasons (1933-2003). Given that the size of leagues/divisions varied across eras, I have summed all positions from fifth to tenth:
You'll notice that though 65% of first place teams at the break finish the season in first, the odds drop off severely from there. The percentage drops to about 10% at five games back at the break. Then they fall of to around 5% until you get to ten games back. Finally, after twelve games back the percentage of division winners drops to zero.
Therefore, we can say that competitive balance can be measured by the number of teams in those ranges. The ones that are in solidly in the playoff hunt are five games back or fewer at the break. Those that are in the hunt but more on the periphery are more than five games back but no more than ten. And teams that are already out by the break are those that are twelve or more games back.
Let's take a look at how these proposed standards did over time:
So clearly there are more teams in the playoff hunt in the last three decades. However, there are also more division crowns available.
To be continued…
Francisco: Ruder Than Kreuter or Aping Oprah?
I have now seen the footage of the little conflagration last night at whatever they Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum now via the great MLB.TV, and I know no more than I did before by just reading about it.
With two strikes on Rod Barrajas, the announcers noticed some flareup in the Ranger bullpen. By the time the cameras were trained on the bullpen, there was just a group of people milling about menacingly though a chair did fly into the crowd a good ten or so feet. The announcers wouldn't know who threw it for some time. The woman whom, we are later told, the chair hit was visibly bloodied but it wasn't possible to tell the reason why at the time. The footage does show how close the crowd was to the bullpen area, which is an old style hugging-the-foul-line type pen. That's why there were folding chairs out there in the first place. They're used for the relievers to sit on until call to warm up and then fold away easily, and therefore, a nice little package to fling a good ten/fifteen feet into the crowd. They're the remnants of players leaving their gloves on the field.
Now what happens?
Apparently, the woman will threaten to sue and probably secretly settle for a huge amount of money. The deal will be contingent on her secrecy as a matter of fact. Baseball can win the argument that a ball hitting someone in the stands is not out of the ordinary and therefore, it's incumbent on the fan him- or herself to be vigilant in this case. The same cannot be said for chairs or other furniture.
Frank Francisco will draw a big suspension, I would expect. It may be the rest of the season. When Chad Kreuter went into the stands at Wrigley, he only received an eight-game suspension, but he was responding to a personal assault, no matter how slight, and he attacked his assailant, not an innocent bystander. Francisco threw a chair into a crowd which contained, apparently, at least one person who was razzing someone in the bullpen, maybe Francisco. He hit and apparently caused physical harm to someone who was, as far as one can tell, an innocent bystander. The Oakland announcers alluded to a fan who is a real troublemaker in that section, whom they thought was the instigator. But whatever that fan or those fans, if it was more than one, said, they were just words. Yes, those fans should be removed from the game—there's no place for excessively brutal personal attack at the park. But no one deserved to have a chair thrown at him.
Will Francisco draw a larger fine than John Rocker (three months but just 28 games, which an arbitrator cut to 14, in 2000) for his, to quote Ali G, racialist statements or Lenny Randle, also a Ranger, (thirty games in 1977) for punching his manager, Frank Lucchesi, or Pete Rose (thirty games in 1988) for shoving an ump. One would have to expect that he'll outdo Bill Madlock's 15-game suspension in 1986 for "mocking" an ump. And he'll probably be joined by a teammate or two.
One thing's for sure, the Rangers don't need their bullpen decimated when they are hanging onto the barest fringes of a playoff hunt (six games back in the division and eight in the wild card). And baseball doesn't need another black eye, especially on the day that Oprah Winfrey decides to hysterically reward everyone in her audience with a brand new car. Maybe Francisco was just emulating Oprah but only had a chair to give away—he couldn't afford a car on a rookie's salary.
I couldn't stand watching Oprah for five minutes, but she does have something to teach baseball about entertainment: keep the fans happy. It's a lesson that baseball continually fails to learn, but the game's so great that we go back for more even without the free car.
Joe Morgan Retirement Chat Day
Today, I consider myself (consider myself) the luckiest chat session on the face of the earth (the earth). Two years ago I left Ohio with two very bad knees and a dream to lampoon Joe Morgan's chat sessions. I thank God the dream came true.
Boo hoo hoo hoo…
Ah, deep breath…I'm better now. Anyways, if you hadn't noticed, the other day ESPN moved Joe Morgan's chat along with a Vicente Padilla flotilla of content to its premium Insider service. That means that if you want to worship at the altar of Joe Morgan's intellect, you have to pony up forty smackers a year.
It’s another step in the inuring of America to pay for previously free content on ESPN.com while dumbing down the content that is provided. The last wave took Rob Neyer, the most readable of all the ESPN analysts—not that that is a major feat—, off the free side of ESPN, where he had been for years. I remember reading Neyer some six or seven years ago when he was basically a blogger, though they didn't call it that, at ESPN, I think, supposedly intended for fantasy baseball. Now, you have to pay to read Neyer. (As for me, I'd rather finish the book on pitchers that he co-penned with his mentor Bill James that I've had on my nightstand for months.)
It's all part of the shortsighted Disney moneygrab that has disserved them for some time but has been accelerated with all of the problems over the last year or so. First, Pixar, the group that produced most of the Disney hits over the last few years, announced that it was separating from the company after it fulfilled its contract. Disney CEO Michael Eisner and the Disney family started wrangling over control of the company. Next, Comcast stepped in and attempted a hostile takeover bid but finally relented. In March, a shareholder revolt forced Eisner to step down as the chairman of the board though he remained CEO. And finally Eisner announced just the other day that he was stepping down after his contract expires in 2006. It seems that as Disney the company has unraveled, their hunger for short-term cash flow has increased and spread throughout its empire, ergo the attempt to force its readers to pay the ESPN Insider fees.
Not only am I averse to paying money for basically anything, I am doubly confounded by the prospect that his chat is now no longer in the public domain. Should I reprint the content of his chat, I leave myself open to the animus of ESPN. The thought of my soldiering on leaving myself and my sitemates at A-B open to censure was cause for some consternation for them. After seeing the war that MLB brought to the fan sites in 2002, I don't blame them. I can't lampoon something without referencing it in some way and that would be referencing privileged info.
Morgan is probably pleased as punch since no one on the net can now point out the rampant illogic of his impromptu sessions. The Primates forewent it. I'm letting him slide. His chats will no longer be derided since hardly anyone will see them. It's like in the IT world when a network professional thinks the perfect network is one that doesn't get used and therefore, never breaks down.
Morgan can say that Dave Concepcion is the best man not in the Hall of Fame—he isn't. Morgan can say that Billy Beane wrote Moneyball—he didn't. Morgan can say that the A's live and die in the postseason by the three-run-homer sword even as he says that the perfect playoff team is in the Oakland model of two premier starters and a good closer. Better yet, Morgan can evade or ignore questions he doesn't like to pontificate about how the young whippersnappers today are inferior to the players in his day and especially the Randolph Scott-esque Big Red Machine.
No one will call him on it because no one can. Bloviate on, oh mighty warrior.
But I can't even blame Morgan. He just works for the intellectual sinkhole that is ESPN. This is a network that has been headed in the direction of PTI and Rome is Burning for some time. Even the once proud SportsCenter is turning more and more into a commercial for itself, the ESPYs, or ESPN in general. Baseball Tonight has dumbed down substantially with the ludicrously bad John Kruk replacing the surprisingly good Bobby Valentine. Meanwhile, the mercurial Harold Reynolds who seemed to improve having Bobby V as a partner has fallen off the charts by apparently trying to outdumb Kruk this season with a fair degree of success.
It’s even worse at ESPN.com where you can still read Peter Gammons' unedited, William Faulkner-esque prose at least for the time being but other than that it's a lot of AP stories. One would think that ESPN.com is making enough money off of the banner ads, popup ads that obscure the text of the articles, full-window ads that preceded the actual text, and ad nauseum ads scrolling by in ESPN "Motion". By next season, your local paper's site will have more content than what was once the best baseball site on the web, ESPN.com, and you won't have to wade through the embedded advertising to get to the scores.
As for Joe Morgan Chat Days, consider this homage your friggin' gold watch:
“Baseball’s Glad Lexicon”
All human errors are impatience, a premature breaking off of methodical procedure, an apparent fencing-in of what is apparently at issue.
When I was in high school, I remember Darryl Dawkins, the Sixers powerful center famous for breaking backboards, getting called quite often for merely touching the player he was defending. It seemed whenever Double D dared to touch an opponent in the most incident way, he got whistled for a foul. It seemed to happen more often depending on how important the game was. Today players manhandle their opponents especially on offense and often it is overlooked by the refs. Shaquelle O'Neal nearly barrels over the defender but since it is his personal style hardly if ever gets called for the offense foul.
It is a matter of respect. Shaq's a suoerstar so he gets the calls. Dawkins was very good player for a time, but he was always seen more as a destroyer of backboards than finely nuanced performer.
Whatever the reason, it points to the inconsistency of the refereeing in the NBA. Whether a call is made is so extremely subjective, depending on the player, the home team, the ref, the TV audience, the importance of the game, and the point in the game that play occurs. You have to have a good feel for sarcasm to appreciate the game of basketball.
But baseball's supposed to be above that. Sure, balls and strikes can vary though the umps have become more consistent in the last couple of years, but all other calls should be cut and dried. There's no clock, no traveling, no three-second rule. Either someone catches the ball or not.
Yesterday, Billy Wagner was thrown out of a ballgame for throwing a couple of balls close to Cliff Floyd in a play that, on the surface, closely resembled Jorge Julio headhunting Augie Ojeda last Tuesday. Julio had just given up the go-ahead and eventual winning runs in the ninth on a Michael Cuddyer home run. The catcher set up outside but Julio's pitch was right at Ojeda's head. Julio was promptly ejected and has since been issued a suspension.
Wagner came in with a two-run lead and promptly relinquished it with a first-pitch, two-run single through the hole on the left side by Wilson Delgado. Wagner threw two pitches high and tight to Floyd and veteran ump Dana Demuth promptly ejected Wagner. The second came with the catcher setting up outside. Wagner was incensed, had to be physically removed from the field by teammates, and from the dugout threw his hat, a cooler, and a newspaper (The New York Times) on the field assuring that he will surely be fined. The Phils eventually won 11-9 in thirteen innings.
While Julio's pitch was an obvious attempt at revenge by a pitcher who had already lost the game. Wagner's pitches came with the winning run at first. Also, Wagner threw Floyd two fastballs and his fastball had had poor location the entire outing. His fastball was high and outside to all of the righthanders that he faced. Floyd, a lefty, got the same pitch in the same location except for him it ended up being high and tight. Besides Wagner's poor pitch location, he was clearly struggling the entire outing. The Mets were teeing off easily on him. Consider as well that this was the first batter than Wagner had hit all year. There was no logical reason for Wagner to be headhunting Floyd and a veteran ump (I think he was umpiring when I was a kid) like Demuth should have known that. Besides Wagner is a veteran who has no reputation as a headhunter and that should have been considered in the highly subjective call.
I don't know if the Julio ejection had anything to do with Wagner's ridiculously quick and unnecessary hook but it best it's another example of the umps making themselves bigger than the game. Yes, Wagner's behavior after the call merits some sort of censure. However, Demuth should be reprimanded for the poor call and for his hand in creating the situation. It's silly enough that umps can warn both benches when a player on one side has blatantly hit an opponent, highly questionable preemptive ejections should not be condoned.
The Revenge of Chris Peterson
And you thought it was hard to keep Bobby J. and Bobby M. Jones straight when they were on both the Mets and Padres over the course of three seasons.
The Tribune Company, owners of the Cubs and a lucrative newspaper chain, had two employees named Mark Guthrie in 2003, one a newspaper boy, or as they are called today, the PC term, "carrier" and the other a veteran lefty reliever. Erroneously, over $300 K of the reliever's salary ended up in the carrier's bank account and $ 26 K of it is still outstanding. The two sides are still working through the details of its full return.
Meanwhile Dave A. Roberts still insists that Dave W. Roberts owes him a Nate Colbert-signed ball that he left in the Padres clubhouse in the winter of 1971-72, when W. replaced him on the team.
[By the way, Chris Peterson was Chris Elliott's character on "Get a Life", a paper boy, or as he put it, "Head paper boy!"]
The Halves and the Halves Not, Part V
Before we finish up this little dissertation, there are just a few open questions to investigate. First, do baseball teams over the course of their histories have personalities that we can see by looking at the first-half/second-half splits?
Here are the overall records per club per half along with the expected winning percentage and the variance from actual. In addition the disparity between their first and second half records (at a franchise level) are listed below each club. Note that migratory clubs have totals for the entire franchise as well as for each stop along their journey:
The Devil Rays, owing to their short existence, enjoy the best improvement in the second half, 27 points. But the Cardinals (26), Royals (20), and Blue Jays (19) are not far behind, three teams with a fair amount of playoff exposure from less than large-market cities.
The steepest decline in the second half is typical experienced by the Angels (27), Mariners (21 points), and Giants (16). The Rangers franchise typically experiences just a 4-point dropoff, but since moving to Arlington averages 25 points probably due to the especially doggish days of summer in Texas.
Dynasty (No TV party tonight)
Perhaps looking at an entire franchise history is too cumbersome. Teams move to new locations and/or new stadiums. Owners change. Besides younger teams seem far more extreme when compared with the original 16.
Let's break up the teams into smaller time segments to determine if their personalities in a certain era come more to the fore. Here are the top second half improvements for an entire decade:
Keep in mind that the D-Backs were only in existence for two years in the Nineties. Also, the A's ability to improve in the second half in the 2000s (what do we call this decade anyway?) is on full display, but remember that we are only halfway through the decade. The early Musial-era Cardinals look like the best to improve over a full decade. They went to four World Series in that decade.
Now here are the teams that slumped the worst in the second half:
The Indians of the Sixties were a team that had nine managers in ten years. No one manager stayed longer than two years. And they had six in-season managerial changes on the decade. All of that for just two winning seasons but a bunch right around the .500 mark.
Here are the greatest overachievers, the teams whose actual winning percentage outpaced the expected winning percentage by the widest margin for a half over an entire decade:
It's no surprise, especially to Red Sox fans, that the Yankees have been strong finishers of late. The Big Red Machine finished strong as well. On the other hand, the Brooklyn Dodgers of the Fifties may have disappointed so often because they typically overachieved in the first half. The same goes for the Cubs of the Seventies (but more so).
Here are the biggest underachievers in a half over an entire decade (based on actual versus expected winning percentage):
Finally, here are the best and worst halves over an entire decade all time:
(It's good to be the Yankees in the Thirties.)
(But not so good to be the Phillies in the Forties.)
What does it mean to start off the season under .500? Does it severely limit your chances to win a pennant or a World Series? What about under .400? What does it mean to go into the break with a .600 winning percentage? Are you guaranteed a playoff berth? .650?
Let's take a look at how teams in certain winning percentage ranges finished the season. First let's take a look at the percentage for each range to see if they generally improved, stayed the same or declined in the second half (The highest for each range is bolded—read left to right in each row):
You'll note that very few teams witness their winning percentage changing that drastically in the second half. Also, teams in all ranges over .500 tend to slip toward .500 though the better first-half teams slip less. Teams below .500 do not generally improve, however. The worst teams (<.300) remain the worst. The next worst (.300-.349 and .350-.399) tend to improve somewhat. But the teams between .400 and .500 tend to slip (.400-.449) or remain the same (.450-499).
Next, what does the first-half winning percentage mean for the final position in the standing that a team will occupy? Here are the position breakdowns for the first half winning percentage ranges (Note that a good bit of this depends on the vagaries of the divisional configuration of the leagues over time. E.g., the worst teams tend to end up eighth instead of tenth since there were many more years with 8 teams per league rather than 10.):
What does it mean for your final winning percentage?
Now, what are the odds that teams in the given ranges at the break will make the postseason?
Wow, that's pretty tough. Teams that start out in the ranges below .550 n the first half have virtually no chance of making the postseason and none under .400 have ever made it. Only one out of two teams in the .550-.599 range make it and two out of three in the .600-.649 range. Even tams that have a .650+ winning percentage in the first half have no better than an 80% chance of getting into the playoffs.
Finally, here are the teams that won World Series divided by first half winning percentage range:
So historically, unless you have a better than .550 winning percentage, you have virtually no chance of winning the World Series. Above that range, apparently how well you do in the first half does help determine your chances of winning the Series.
What about second half performance and World Series expectations?
So apparently a very good second half is slightly less important than a very good first (or at least it has been historically). However, teams below .600 in the second half look like pretty bad bets. The Yankees have been struggling to reach that mark (and have succeeded thanks to the D-Rays). Cubs, Rangers, and Giants fans may not have much to cheer for ever if their teams do end up making the playoffs (The other contenders are over .600 in the second half).
The Halves and the Halves Not, Part IV
Second Half Surge
Many in New York are worried about the Yankees' chances in the postseason given they way they have slumped in the second half. Meanwhile Red Sox fans are kvelling over their chances to win a much-coveted World Series crown given the way their team has played in the second half. Is there any basis in fact for these expectations?
Next, let's look at whether a team's improvement in the second half portends greater success in the playoffs. Here are the top ten second-half improvements for all playoff teams:
You'll note that only two of them won more than half of their playoff games.
Here are the ten worst:
You'll note that three teams, one more than on the top ten list, that won more than half of their playoff games. This doesn't bode well for using second half improvements as a predictor for postseason success.
Finally, I ran the numbers for second-half improvement and postseason winning percentage and the correlation coefficient was -0.073. If anything an improvement in the second half runs counter to postseason success ever so slightly.
Perhaps looking at the entire playoff population is misleading. Teams with huge leads at the break may tend to slump in the second half because of the large lead even though they have a superior team that shows up in the postseason. Let's limit the study to just those teams that were not in first place at the break but won the division/league in the second half (I'm sorry, I'm ignoring wild cards here—just too involved).
This at least reversed the correlation but it was still extremely weak (coefficient of 0.0076). So maybe we shouldn't keep blaming Billy Beane and the A's.
Pythagorean Pathos, Part Two (Say that three times fast)
Let's now compare how well second-half Pythagorean winning percentage predicts success in the next season as compared with a number of other factors.
Here are the correlation coefficients for each:
2nd-half Pythagorean PCT: .583
Pythagorean percentage correlates slightly better than winning percentage, but it loses out to the overall winning percentage (though none correlate very well).
To Be Continued…
The Royals scored 11 runs today in the third inning of the first game of a doubleheader with the Tigers en route to a 26-5 win. Oddly, the Royals hit just one home run (by Angel Berroa) and were out-homered, 2-1.
The two teams were more than halfway to the all-time record for total runs scored in a doubleheader, 54, but the Royals ran out of steam and were shut out by Jeremy Bonderman, 8-0. By the way, 54 runs have been scored in a doubleheader twice in baseball history: the A's (19) and the Red Sox (35) in 1939 and Red Stockings (43) and Reds (11) in 1894.
Also, Joe Randa went 6-for-7 and scored six runs, tying the "modern" single-game record. Guy Hecker actually set the record at 7 for Louisville (AA) in 1886. This was just the third time someone had scored six runs in a game for an AL team (Spike Owen in 1986 and Johnny Pesky in 1946, both Red Sox, are the others). Twelve men have done it in the NL—Mel Ott twice—and the last was Shawn Green in 2002.
Randa could have matched the doubleheader record of nine, except that he didn't. That record is held by Herman Long, Boston (NL) in the 1894 doubleheader above and by Senator Mel Almada in 1937.
And it was quite a debut by Lino Urdaneta. Check out his lino: 0 IP, 5 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 1 BB, 0 K. Opponents are batting 1.000 vs. him, have a 1.000 OBP, a 1.000 Slug (all 5 hits were singles), and 2.000 OPS.
The Halves and the Halves Not, Part III
The Best of Halves, The Worst of Halves
One other thing about the Braves, as well as the Cards, they have a winning percentage well over .700 in the second half (.706 and .750 as of Monday, respectively). Here are the teams that sustained a .700+ winning percentage for an entire half season:
By the way, the Cardinals fell from fourth (.765) and the Braves from ninth (.735) with losses yesterday (two by the Braves).
Now, for the losers: the Diamondbacks (.220) and Brewers (.294) have been horrific in the second half. Let's look at the all-time worst halves:
The D-Backs are fifth all-time, right behind the expansion-year Mets and well ahead of last year's Tigers, both halves. It's too bad that they were just bad and not abysmally so in the first half or we would have one of the worst teams of all time. They do project to 113 losses which is pretty bad though. Maybe they can try a bit harder, lose their last 23 games, and tie the Mets for second in the most losses by a team ever. Still at 113, they will come in tied for sixth. Here are the leaders:
The Red Sox are now just two games behind the Yankees, something that seemed extremely unlikely for large segments of the season. It seemed that they were 10-1/2 games back for months. Many statheads (including me) pointed to their Pythagorean expected winning percentage and said that the Red Sox caught catch the Yankees.
So does a Pythagorean winning percentage that outdistances the actual winning percentage in the first half of a season augur improvement in the second half of the season?
Here are the 25 teams that had expected winning percentages at least 75 points higher that their actual winning percentage in the first half of the given season. For each, the improvement in their (actual) second half winning percentage is listed:
The Red Sox actually don’t even make the list. Their expected winning percentage was just 24 points better than actual in the first half. However, a bigger issue in the division was that the Yankees were well outperforming expectations.
Actually, there were a fair number of teams outdistancing expectations in the first half and many have returned to earth. Here's what I said about it a week before the break:
Keep in mind that the Reds also exceed their expected winning percentage by 86 points. They own a 44-38 (.537) record but by their run differential one would expect them to have won only 45.1% of their games. So surely the difference is caused by the smaller sample of games. Over a full season things will even out, but will the run differential change to fit the record or will the record change to more closely fit the run differential?...
So hat has happened in the second half to the teams that have outdistanced their first half expectations? Here are the worst offenders with the winning percentage difference for the second half:
The Yankees and Reds both appear on the list and both have had severe declines in the second half.
Actually, you'll notice on both lists that there are a good number of teams that defy their Pythagorean expectations in the second half. I checked the correlation coefficient for the two and found it was just .356, not all that convincing. Yes, teams generally do as their expected winning percentage dictates, but it's not a very strong correlation.
Now that the Pythagorean formula is let us down as a predictor of future success, let's take a look at how much a strong finish affects a team in the next season. We are always told that the local nine finished strong last season, their midseason callups looked good, and it all bodes well for the current season. It's practically a mantra in Philadelphia.
Is their momentum from season to season? Does a team that finishes strong one year improve in the next? By the same token, do aging teams that decline in the second half continue to decline in the next season? Let's take a look. Here are the teams that improved the most in the second half and what they did the next season:
Now here are the ones with the worst declines in the second half:
Again neither table appears to express a correlation between second-half success carrying into the next season. But let's run the numbers for every season.
I got a correlation coefficient of -0.0134, meaning that there is a slight trend in the opposite direction. Not only is there no evidence of momentum from season to season, if anything the trend tends to reverse ever so slightly.
To be continued…
The Halves and the Halves Not, Part II
So how precipitous was the Braves second-half turnaround when put in a historical context? Let's take a look at the top 25 or so second-half improvements in baseball history (or at least since 1933) based on winning percentage improvement:
The 2004 Braves are eighth (stats as of Monday). Surprisingly the last-place 1997 Phils had the greatest percent change in the second half. However, the went from dreadful to pretty good, except that the bad far outweighed the good. The miraculous 2001 A's are the only team ahead of the 2004 Braves to post at least a .500 record in the first half, like the Braves.
Now, let's compare this year's second-half failures to the all-time worst:
I'm sorry, I had to go until the '78 Red Sox. Anyway, we can be proud. The 2004 Reds, Mets, and Brewers all made the list. There still is a most of a month left in the season, but all are good bets to stay there. And the Reds just renewed Dave Miley's contract?!?
OK, back to the biggest second-half improvement. To put a finer point on the issue, let's just look at teams that made the playoffs:
I extended the list down to the 2003 Marlins to illustrate that they were not all that unique. The 2004 Braves would be second on that list, not too shabby.
Comeback on Your GB
Another way to look at this issue is to evaluate the teams based on the number of games back they were at the half. Here are the teams that overcame the biggest deficits to win a playoff berth (wild cards included):
Based on this criterion, the Braves second-half surge does not look so unique. They were just a game behind the Phils at the All-Star break. However, the Red Sox were seven back. If they overcome the Yankees, that would represent a pretty successful second-half comeback. By the way, you probably knew that the '78 Yankees would top the list (ignoring wild cards).
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Phils and Rangers have both fallen from first to third. Here are the greatest collapses based on how far a team fell in the second half. All of these teams were leading division (or were tied for the division lead) at the break:
26 other teams fell into third in the second half, so the Phils and Rangers are in good company.
To be continued…
The Halves and the Halves Not
Why do we get halfway there? Why do we get halfway started? Why when we get halfway there, do I feel it's so half-hearted?
—"Halfway There" from Genesis bassist Mike Rutherford's final solo album (which I own in glorious vinyl).
The surprise is half the battle. Many things are half the battle, losing is half the battle. Let’s think about what’s the whole battle.
—Elliott Ness in the "Untouchables"
A half-smart guy, that’s what I always draw. Never once a man who’s smart all the way around the course. Never once.
—Femme Fatale Agnes in the film "The Maltese Falcon"—she must have been a Phillies fan—penned by a cast of thousands, among them William Faulkner.
One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.
—Jane Austen, Emma
With individual milestones being set potentially by Barry Bonds (700 home runs, .600 OBP, a googleplex of walks) and Ichiro Suzuki (hits, singles), it's easy to lose sight of how unusual a year 2004 has been, and promises to continue to be in the waning weeks, for team records.
Three of the six division leaders at the All-Star break have already lost their lead and look like longshots at best to regain it. The Yankees have seen a onetime 10-1/2 game lead dwindle to 2-1/2 as the Red Sox pour it on in the second half and Yankee pitchers injure themselves punching walls and allow record-breaking runs allowed (i.e., 22-0). Should the Red Sox pass the Yankees, as their Pythagorean expected winning percentage has augured all year, all three of the AL division leaders at the break, the Yankees, White Sox, and Rangers, will have lost their lead.
The NL has been slightly more consistent with the Cardinals and Dodgers leading their divisions most of the year. However, the East has seen its leader at the break fall below .500 (of course, the Phils) as well as a miraculous turnaround by its current leader (Get it? Miraculous…Braves?). Also, the NL Central, which had five of six teams at or above .500 at the break, has seen two clubs supposedly in the pennant race (the Reds and Brewers) fall completely off the map.
While the Diamondbacks have sold off many of their veteran stars and have been losing at a potentially record-setting pace in the second half, many other teams have surged. One now almost expects this sort of thing from the A's and the Marlins are duplicating or at least approaching last year's turnaround. However, the Red Sox have been second-half slumpers if recent memory and anecdotal history serve.
Here is a breakdown of the league standings by half and overall with the change in the winning percentage between the two halves:
There's not a lot of consistency in there besides the continual putrescence of the Mariners. The biggest turnarounds were by the Braves (.217), Expos (.173, going from doormats to a better than .500 team), the Cardinals (.144, who went from very good to great), Red Sox (.128), and Astros (.120) in that order. Meanwhile, many other teams sloughed through second-half collapses: Brewers (-.229), Reds (-.209), Mets (-.186), D-Rays (-.136), and D-Backs (.124). All of them beat out first-half division leaders Texas, Philly, and Chicago (South Side) for biggest dropoffs.
This all seems quite unusual when one considers the old adage that the leader at the break is almost guaranteed a postseason spot. But is it really that unusual is the adage inaccurate?
Also, many are pointing to second-half surges by the Braves and Red Sox as good omens for the postseason. The Yankees dropoff in the second-half is said to portent a quick exit come October. But is there any reason to expect these things to come true? Does second-half success correlate to postseason success?
Does one's Pythagorean winning percentage predict future success? Do teams with an expected winning percentage that outstrips its actual winning percentage in the first half of a season tend to become world beaters in the second half, like the Red Sox have?
Finally, should rebuilding teams that have improved in the second half, like the Expos, Rockies, O's, and Indians, expect to improve next year? By the same token, should teams like the Reds, Brewers, Mets, Diamondbacks, etc. be more concerned due to their second-half failures? Is there momentum from year to year that can be generated by a good/bad second half? Does the expected winning percentage in the second half affect the momentum more than the actual winning percentage?
Unfortunately, the conventional statistics do not support this type of study. Sure, you can go to ESPN.com and look up the first- and second-half splits for any active player, but just getting the standings at the All-Star break takes some clever calculations. And that's just for this season—forget about the full historical record.
I decided to endeavor to create the yearly first-half and second-half splits from the resources available. Using a table of All-Star game dates, I queried Baseball-Reference's "Standings on Any Date" tool to derive a table of team records by first- and second-half splits. Keep in mind that I used the All-Star Game date to delineate the two halves. When there were two ASG's in the late Fifties/early Sixties, I used the first date. Also, the All-Star Game started in 1933 so the data (for now) consists of only the past 72 seasons.
First-Half Leader to Sub-.500
With my table in hand, I set out to explore the issues above. First, being a Phils fan, I took a look at first-half leaders who ended up under .500 for the season. The Phils are currently one game under .500, have reportedly already fired their manager, and are embarking a series with the red-hot Braves. The White Sox (one game over .500) could also suffer this fate.
So how many times has it happened in the past? Survey says:
The Rangers ended up in "first" in the strike-shortened 1994 season even though they were under .500. They were under .500 at the All-Star break as well. The Pirates were a .500 team in the first half in 1997.
The last team to go from a division leader above .500 in the first half to a sub-.500 club in the second was twenty years ago, the White Sox in 1984. They and the Phils just might do it again this year.
Entire League in Upheaval
As I mentioned, potentially all three first-half division leaders in the AL will be unseated by the end of the season. Has this ever happened since baseball went to the division format in 1969?
Well, it hasn't been done since 1989 when both AL leaders (the O's and the Angels) faltered in the second half. However, even though that represents a 15-year gap, it had been done fairly regularly in the Seventies. The AL in 1977, 1978, and 1983 and the NL in 1973, 1979, and 1983 saw both their division leaders in the first half fall by the wayside come October. 1983 saw all four division leaders (Montreal, Atlanta, Toronto, and Texas) get supplanted by other teams (Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Baltimore, and the White Sox, respectively). No league has had this occur since the majors went to three-division league though.
All-Star Break Adage Test
Next, let's check if the old adage about leading at the All-Star Break being a good omen for winning one's division. Here's a breakdown by decade of the division leaders at the break (including ties) and whether they won or lost the division:
Well, aside from the Forties and the Nineties, it doesn't look like being the first-half leader carries much weight. In the Forties, however, if you lead your league at the break, then you were almost a lock to go to the World Series. I am not surprised that as more teams are added to the postseason, the percentages were low. I am surprised, though, that they remained about the same in the Sixties and Seventies when the number of playoff teams doubled.
It does appear that as more teams are added, there is a lull before the percentage drops. Look at the dropoff in the 1980s after divisions were added in 1969 or at the lower percentage in the current decade after baseball expanded to three divisions in 1994 and witnessed an increase in the number of teams retaining their first-half lead. It could be that it takes organizations a number of years to a) realize that they too can take advantage of the additional playoff spot(s) and b) develop and/or acquire the requisite talent to do so. Adding the playoff spots at first just spread enabled the elite talent to take advantage of the extra spot. Consider the 1993 Giants and Braves NL West showdown.
To be continued…
Nifty, Five 40s or Cripes!
Barry Bonds hit his 40th homer of the year and the 698th of his career tonight. He has now hit 40 or more in each of the last five seasons. That's the fourth longest such streak in baseball history, but it's not even good enough for second best among current streaks.
Both Alex Rodriguez and Sammy Sosa have a six-season streak going. Babe Ruth hit 40 home runs in seven consecutive seasons (1926-32), the longest streak. A-Rod currently has 33 and projects to 39, so he has a decent shot of matching Ruth. Sosa, however, has just 29 dingers which projects to 35. Unless he hits a very hot streak, his streak will end.
Frances Forfeit, II
I’d like to correct my previous entry. Elias said that the last forfeited game due to a no-show was in 1918. There have been a slew of forfeited games since 1918 for other reasons.
Here are the ones I came up with before I found the mother lode at—where else?—Retrosheet:
August 10, 1995 @Dodgers 1-Cardinals 2 (Ball day, forfeit trailing 2-1 in ninth)
July 12, 1979, second game, @White Sox 0-Tigers 0 (Disco Demolition night)
September 15, 1977 Orioles 0-@Blue Jays 4, 5th (Earl Weaver pulls O’s off the field after citing hazard in bullpen, a tarp held down by bricks.)
June 4, 1974 @Indians 5-Rangers 5 (Ten-cent beer night, forfeit in ninth tied 5-5).
September 30, 1971 @Senators 7-Yankees 5 (Final Washington game: Two outs in ninth leading 7-5, Senators had to forfeit when fans riot.)
July 18, 1954, second game @Cardinals 1-Phils 8 (For stalling. Cards start stalling in 5th believing that local ordinances prevent lights from being turned on.)
August 21,1949, second game @Phillies 2-Giants 4 (Debris thrown on field due to umpire's call that Richie Ashburn trapped a ball)
September 26, 1942, second game (Last game of season) @Giants 5-Braves 2 (a riot at the Polo Grounds started by young cranks who had been admitted in exchange for scrap metal in a war drive caused the Giants to forfeit in the eighth).
June 6, 1937, second game @Phils 2-Cardinals 8 (Stalling)
August 30, 1913 @Phillies 8-Giants 6 (Waving hats and handkerchiefs in center field bleachers. Game called forfeit by umpire Brennan, riot ensues, fans attack Giants players and umps as they try to board train, and police have to draw revolvers to quiet the crowd. League president Lynch overturns decision following a Phils protest, giving Phils 8-6 win. Upon Giant protest NL directors order game completed October 2, with the Phils winning 8-6)
April 11, 1907 @Giants 0-Phillies 3 (Opening day: Forfeit due to snowballs).
June 9, 1901 @Reds 13-Giants 25 (Riot)
May 13, 1896 @Chicago (NL) 4-Boston (NL) 10, 11th inning (Time Keefe, who umpired after his playing days were over, called this a forfeit after the Beaneaters scored 6 in the top of the 11th and Chicago stalled for the tie.
By the way, Retrosheet has no listing for the last no-show forfeit that Elias cites (September 2, 1918, Indians at Browns, doubleheader). The day was Labor Day (at least it was the first Monday in September) and was the last game of the season, with no games for St. Louis or Cleveland. But Restrosheet has no mention of a forfeit, or dual forfeits, on that day. Neither team's record reflects a forfeit (actually, the Indians did win by forfeit earlier in the season against the A's). Cleveland finished 2.4 games out of the league lead that year.
Salerio. Why, I am sure if he forfeit thou wilt not take his flesh. What’s that good for?
Shylock. To bait fish withal—if it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge.
--William "Author" Shakespeare in The Merchant of Venice. The two characters are referring to Antonio, whose cargo was lost at sea.
The Yankees requested a forfeit in a scheduled doubleheader against the Devil Rays. However, the request has already been all but refused by the commissioner, "Given the stage of the season we are in, and the exciting pennant races, it is critical that we do everything to decide the championship on the field."
What's unusual about the situation is that Hurricane Frances entered the picture thereby changing their scheduled doubleheader on Sunday into a single game at 7:00 PM on Monday. The Yankees president, Randy Levine, referenced the forfeit rule that, "states that if your team is here and ready to play, and the other team isn't here and not ready to play, there should be a forfeit, and we believe there should be a forfeit," Levine said. Double negatives notwithstanding, Levine is referring to the following rule:
The Devil Rays did arrive and were ready to play within five minutes of the final scheduled time. The Yankees claimed that the D-Rays had ample time to leave Florida in order to make the original schedule time and therefore, should forfeit. But it seems to be little more than a fishing expedition by the Yankees brass, who simply don't want to reschedule the game for this week.
Forfeits, once a rather common occurrence in the game, have all but been eliminated from baseball. Elias Sports Bureau says the last major-league forfeit was in 1918. I did find a reference to a minor-league forfeit in 1958 in Rich Marazzi's The Rules and Lore of Baseball:
This is a very obscure and seldom used rule, but it was invoked on June 22, 1958, in a minor league game between Olean and Erie. Olean had originally announced a 7:00 PM starting time for its Sunday games, but later changed the time to 4:00 PM in an official league release to all clubs.
Manager Steve Gromek's Erie Sailors arrived 50 minutes after the game was supposed to start. Gromek claimed that the game was originally set for 7 PM, but his words were wasted when umpires Bob Brooks and (Hurricane) Francis Powers forfeited the game to Olean.
New York-Penn League president Vince McNamara upheld the forfeiture.
There are seven codicils to the forfeit rule, each of which is pretty interesting in and of itself. The Yankees cited the proper part of the rule. However, they failed to mention the fact that a forfeit of this nature (as are many of the others) is a judgment call by the umpires. It all seems an empty exercise for a team that should have other concerns (read, the Red Sox) in its collective mind.
The Peasants Are Revolting, Part II
So the Japanese players are willing to follow through on their vote authorizing a strike if the owners follow through with their plans to merge two teams, Orix and Kintetsu. The players have three demands, including suspending the proposed merger for one year, and if they are not met they claim they will strike.
The odd thing is that they will just stop playing for weekend games only, in order to, I guess, hit the owners as hard as they can without a full walkout. I would think that a full-out strike would be more effective, but consider what happened to Richie Phillips and the Umpires' union. Maybe a few more viewings of "Mr. Baseball" will help me decipher this inscrutable riddle.
Jeff Kent-Walt Weiss Memorial Baseball Darwin Awards, VIII
Never punch a drunk with your pitching hand!
—Crash Davis in "Bull Durham"
Kevin Brown decided to top Kyle Farsnworth by punching a clubhouse wall yesterday. At least he knew enough to take Crash Davis's advice: he hit that wall with his non-pitching hand. Of course, Crash would also have reminded him that he is a 39-year-old, oft-injured and much needed veteran pitcher in the midst of a pennant drive, who has no business punching walls with any part of his person.
The Cruelest Season
No apologies ever need be made, I know you better than you fake it
—"1979" by Billy Corgin and Smashing Pumpkins
The season wasn't supposed to end this way for the Philadelphia Phillies. It was supposed to end in the postseason, not a fourth-place finish. But after a late August sweep at the hands of the Braves, that's where the team was headed.
They had seemingly made the all the perquisite changes to finish in the money. There was the superstar former third baseman from Ohio who had been signed to for a long-term, highly lucrative contract to fill in at first base. The rotation wasn't set until the acquired a starter late in the offseason. And even though their deep staff, in both the rotation and the bullpen, was supposed to be a great asset, their team ERA was among the worst in the league all season. Their long-term manager was viewed as possibly the most intellectually challenged in the majors and had been embroiled in rumors for most of the season. And even though they were struggling to stay in contention at the trade break, they made no big moves. In fact the only changes to the team that they made all season long was to tweak the rotation and to pick up a veteran reliever or two who had been a complete disappointment.
It is the Phils' most disappointing season.
No, I don't mean this season as many, including Jabba Conlin, are saying. I mean 1979.
In 1979, the Phillies had just come off three straight division championships, all of which ended in failure in the League Championship Series. The Phils signed Pete Rose in the offseason, not knowing where he would play. He had been a third baseman the previous season, in which he had his 44-game hitting streak. The contract was historic. To quote Chico Escuela, "Beisbol be bery bery good to Pete Rose. Three point two milly-on dollars." Yes, back then in the early days of free agency, an $800 K salary was phenomenal. To my knowledge, this was the Phils' first foray into free agent.
The decision was made to place Rose at first, with the far superior defensive player already at third in Mike Schmidt. Incumbent first sacker Richie "The Hack" Hebner was shifted to the outfield in spring training but the writing was on the wall. He was shipped to the Mets for a pitcher that I remember a club rep calling "one of the top 50 pitchers in the National League." With that inauspicious introduction, Nino Espinosa went on to have a pretty good couple of years with the club.
The Phils also picked up a great defensive second baseman in Manny Trillo and reliable fourth outfielder and pinch-hitter in Greg Gross from the Cubs.
The Phils' only changes in 1979 were to acquire Jack Kucek and Doug Bird to provide help for the pen that never materialized and to coax out of retirement a bench player, Buddy Harrelson (who had lost his uniform number to former foe Rose). They also dropped two former stalwarts of their rotation in Jim Kaat and Gentleman Jim Lonborg. Manager Danny Ozark, a man who for whom Stengelese was his primary language, was finally let go after the team slipped to 65-67 and replaced by Dallas Green, for whom the Phils would win a World Series the next season.
Anyway, by adding Rose, the Phillies were supposed to finally take the postseason to the next level. After Rose, they were 2:1 favorites to win the National League. To quote Zander Hollander in The Complete Handbook of Baseball, 1979 Season, a sort of poor man's SNL Baseball Guide, "The Phillies didn't need to add anything, but when they added Rose, they added enthusiasm, team leadership, a relentless bat, and perhaps a world's championship…[Philadelphia's] where the National League pennant, and perhaps the World Series trophy, may reside after '79."
Unlike this year's club that started in a 1-6 hole, the 1979 edition was 14-5 and tied for first at the end of April. As late as May 17, the had the best record in baseball with a 24-10, .705 mark. They then lost a three-game series to the then-second-place Expos at home, giving up 10 runs, a remarkable amount in those days, in each of the last two games. They still remained in first but by only a half-game over Montreal.
They then proceeded to lose six out of their next nine (or nine of twelve if you include the home series against the Expos). On May 25, the Phils were shut out by the Cubs' Lynn McGlothen, 3-0 at home, fall into a tie with Montreal for first. They were a half-game behind the Expos on May 29 when they started a three-game series in Montreal. The Expos behind Steve Rogers, Bill "Spaceman" Lee, and Scott Sanderson shit the Phils offense completely down the entire series, outscoring the Phils 12-0. They ended the series 3.5 games out with the eventual division champs and World Champs, the Pirates, six games back in fourth.
On June 8, the Phils fell to fourth, where they would eventually wind up. They never got closer than two games out of first even as the Pirates supplanted the Expos late in July.
Yes, greater things were expected of the 2004 Phillies, but the 1979 edition was supposed to win it all. Given that this same team with very minor changes (i.e., gaining a couple of months of Lerrin LaGrow and two weeks in September of Sparky Lyle) that did indeed win the Series in 1980, those were valid expectations.
The lot of the 2005 Phils does not look quite so rosy. They will go into the offseason with major question marks at center field and in the leadoff position. They have big contracts devoted to David Bell and Pat Burrell, both of whom lost time to injury and were not unalloyed successes when healthy. They have an aging catcher in Mike Lieberthal with no viable backup. They have two qualified starting second baseman, but the organization cannot seem to make up its mind which to keep and which to trade and may pull another Ryne Sandberg by trading Chase Utley.
The entire staff, which has been atrocious for most of the year, will be in upheaval. Closer Billy Wagner has already openly discussed leaving (he has an option year but can somehow block returning). There are two free agents in the rotation (Millwood and Milton), and apparently at best, only one (hopefully Milton) will be back. The other three (Myers, Wolf, and Padilla) have basically lost a season to injury and/or ineffectiveness. Youngsters Ryan Howard and Gavin Floyd have joined the team, but it is uncertain what their future (esp. for Howard) with the club will be.
With the Expos probably getting real ownership and the Mets' young players potentially improving, the Phils could very quickly become the worst team in the division. Anything could happen especially with this division again looking wide open in the offseason, but given the cash invested in Thome, Abreu, Burrell, and Bell, the uncertainty in the front office, and their inability to make worthwhile trades, the Phils seem to be a longshot at best to improve considerably.
That is disappointing. The disappointment of '79 faded very quickly in limelight of '80. This year's disappointment may become legendary given the new stadium and the team's probable future flounderings. And that's saying something for this franchise.
Ichiro and Barry, II
Suzuki is also on track to set the single-season record for singles. The record is 206 and Ichiro is on pace for 222. Here are the all-time leaders:
Suzuki is currently at 183.
Barry Bonds is on course to register the fewest hits by a batting champ in a full 162-game schedule. He projects to 136 and the record is 149 by Bonds himself in 2002. Oddly, Manny Ramirez's152 in the same year, 2002, is second. And I'll leave his record-destroying walk totals for another day.
The Ichiro and Barry Show (They Hit and Hit and Hit'n'Hit'n'Hit)
Ichiro Suzuki and Barry Bonds are leading their respective leagues in batting and are now within 4 points of each other, but they are doing it in very different ways.
Ichiro, as I pointed out and got waylaid by M's fans, is doing it by relying heavily on singles, perhaps at a record-setting pace.
Meanwhile, Bonds may be having his best offensive season to date, and therefore possibly the best offensive season ever. His great batting average may be the least impressive of his ratios. His current on-base percentage is .608. No batter has ever had an OBP over .600 over a full season in major-league history. He holds the record with a .582 OBP in 2002. No other batter in history is within 50 points of him (Ted Williams had a .553 OBP in 1941). This is, of course, helped greatly by his record-setting base on balls pace. Right now he is 13 walks behind the (i.e., his) single-season walk record (198 in 2002). He is on pace to walk 225 times this year. No other batter in baseball history would be within 50 walks of that record (Babe Ruth's 170 in 1923 is the best non-Bonds total).
His slugging percentage (.821) would rank fourth all-time. Bonds has slugged over 1.000 for a month twice (April and August).
His OPS is 1.429. Its over 40 points better than the current record (1.387) that he set in 2002. His OPS against lefties is 550 points higher than against right-handers, and yet his OPS vs. right-handers would rank fourth in the majors, a few points behind Albert Pujols, one of the few men mentioned along with Bonds as a potential MVP candidate.
Barring injury, Bonds will blaze past 700 home runs this season, and even though he is 40, we could conceivably see him pass Aaron by the end of next year, at which point we may be discussing the odds of him reaching 800 home runs and then Sadaharu Oh's professional home run record (868).
Here are Bonds's 2004 splits:
Ichiro is on pace to collect 265 hits, eight more than George Sisler's single-season record. What's so remarkable about his season is that he started off so slowly and still has a good chance to break the hits record. He also has reversed his trend to slump in the second half. As a matter of fact, if you combine his first half stats in 2003 and his second half stats this year, you get a pretty good season. Here are the better halves of the last two seasons and the worse halves, both combined. It's quite a difference:
So Ichiro and Bonds are both having remarkable seasons for different reasons. Together as potential batting champs, they are remarkably at different ends of the hits spectrum. While Ichiro is on pace to set the single-season record, Bonds may have one of the lowest hit totals for a batting champ ever. He has 113 hits right now and projects to 137 for the season.
Here are all the batting champs with 137 or fewer hits in a season all time:
Note that a number of these champs (demarcated by an +) won their titles in an era in which the rules to qualify for the title were different and they wouldn’t win under today's rules. Also, Ted Williams' 1954 season is listed (with an asterisk) because under today's rules he would have won the title (even though Bobby Avila has the title in the record books). Williams walked too often and back then qualification was based on your at-bats total.
One last tangent: here are all the batting champs how would lose their titles if today's rules were in force. I encourage MLB to do as they did with no-hitters, go back and drop the batting titles that were given to men who just had to play in either 60% of their team's games or 100 games for a season. Believe me, we won't miss them. (Note: the adjusted batting average reflects the current rule of adding in hitless at-bats to bring the batter's plate appearance total to the minimum):
One final note, though Williams should have won the title in 1954, many point to his 1955 season as another example of his being screwed over by the lousy qualification rules. Actually, his plate appearance total for that year is well below the minimum (by 60). His .356 becomes an adjusted average of .300, forty points behind Al Kaline.
The Indians beat the Yankees 22-0 at Yankee Stadium tonight in the most lopsided loss in their history. The Indians scored the 22 runs on 22 hits and 8 walks and left 10 men on base. Omar Vizquel went 6-for-7 with three runs and four RBI. The only spot in the order without a hit was sixth (Casey Blake and John McDonald, who both played third).
Yankee pitching lines were the stuff of legends. Vazquez 1-1/3 innings, 5 hits, 6 runs (all earned), 2 walks, and one strikeout. Sturtze: 3 innings, 6 hits, 7 runs (all earned), 2 walks, 1 strikeout, and 1 home run. Nitkowski: 1-2/3 innings, 3 hits, 3 runs (all earned), 3 walks, and 1 strikeout. Loaiza: 3 innings, 8 runs, 6 runs (all earned), 2 walks, three strikeouts, and 2 home runs. Meanwhile, Cleveland's Jake Westbrook went seven innings, allowing just 5 hits and no walks while striking out 5.
According to Baseball-Reference, this is just the fourth shutout in which the victor scored 20 or more runs since 1901. The others were Detroit 21-0 over Cleveland in 1901, the Yankees 21-0 over the Philly A's in 1939, and the Pirates 22-0 over the Cubs in 1975. No shutout since 1901 has been more lopsided than the Yankees-Indians tonight.
Since 1901, there have only been 13 other games with a margin of victory of at least 22 runs. They are:
The Red Sox are now 3-1/2 games back. And Leon's getting laaaaaaaaarger.
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About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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