Monthly archives: May 2006
Roger Clemens re-signed with the Houston Astros today. He begins a tour of the Astros' minor-league system starting with a reunion with his son Koby in Class-A Lexington.
If all goes according to plan, he will be ready to pitch June 22 at Houston against the Twins. He'll be the highest paid player in the majors according to the USA Today at $22 M. He wears number 22. The guy really likes 22, you see.
It just seems a bit much for a .500 team. I know Clemens is a great pitcher, but that much money for something between a half to two-thirds of a season?
Let's say that Clemens pitches great upon returning and wins 11 games. They would still be paying him $2 M per win. Does that make sense?
That made me wonder what was the most any team paid a starting pitcher per win. But when I looked it up, there were so many that never won a game, that it made Clemens' deal seem frugal by comparison. I then went back and looked at just those pitchers who were paid more than the league average.
Here are the ones that never won game one sorted by salary:
As for the ones that at least won a ballgame, here were the most overpaid per win:
Two million dollars per win would put Clemens in a tie for 91st place with Elmer Dessens in 2004, Mark Langston in 1997, and Orel Hershiser in 2000.Then again, if he wins only five or so, that puts him in Kevin Brown territory.
I guess the bottom line for the Astros is to stir up the locals so he's already paid dividends. Now I can't wait for Koby's September callup/photo op.
And Endy Shall Endeth It
The Mets beat the D-Backs 1-0 in thirteen innings tonight on an Endy Chavez RBI single. I have to hand it to Willie Randolph. He's gotten great production from the role player, something the Phils could not do last year.
It's the first 1-0, thirteenth inning game in almost five years, and the D-backs lost that one, too. On September 2, 2001, Randy Johnson faced off with Brian Lawrence of the Padres. After twelve scoreless innings, Arizona loaded the bases with two outs but Mark Grace flied out to end the top of the thirteenth. It was their second straight inning leaving the bases loaded and the time in the ballgame (also, left full in the second).
Byung-Hyun Kim came in to pitch and surrendered a homer to his first batter, Ryan Klesko, and that was the ballgame. Tony Womack lead off and went 0-for-6.
Since 1993, there have been just four 1-0, 13-inning games including the one tonight. It is the 50th in recorded baseball history that it's occurred. Here are the rest:
Over the holiday weekend the Phils made a few moves that speak volumes about the direction the team is headed or rather the lack of direction. It all stems from their age-old dilemma of whether this team is playing for this season or for their future, and again the Phils management is facing answer that quandary with their typical deer-in-the-headlights stupor which they try to pass off as an insouciant swagger.
I had hoped that with an actual GM calling the shots as opposed to Ed "Wrong Way" Wade, the moves would start to make a bit more sense. Well, he started with signing overpriced fungible veteran talent like Sal Fasano, Julio Santana, and Ryan Franklin instead of acquiring a credible veteran arm for the rotation, something that the team has desperately needed since Kevin Millwood left town.
I was pleased when he left youngsters Ryan Madson and Gavin Floyd in the rotation. I was impressed and worried by his alacrity in promoting pitching uber-prospect Cole Hamels to the majors. And again Hamels found himself on the DL after just two starts. At least if he's out half the time, the time he is active will help the major-league team.
Finally, he called up Carlos Ruiz, the 27-year-old career minor-league catcher, to replace the injured starter Mike Lieberthal. Ruiz is the only viable option to be the starting catcher next year. Lieberthal's overly long an overly expensive contract is finally end this year. I was encouraged that Ruiz was getting a shot.
However, after a very slow start at the plate amid the grumblings of sudden hometown hero Sal Fasano, Ruiz got less of tryout than I likedhe started just ten of the twenty games the Phils played with Lieberthal out of the lineup. Then the Phils called up 33-year-old Chris Coste as a third catcher. Coste is a nice story, but the Phils have had much use for a third catcher since Bobby Keith Moreland was a rookie.
Now Ruiz is getting sent down with Lieberthal returning to the lineup although the Phils have some nice words in his wake.
"He learned fast on the job," catching instructor Mick Billmeyer praised.
"We know what we've got," manager Charlie Manuel said.
"And," according to Philly.com's Marcus Hayes, "They like it." That's nice. Hayes also quotes Ruiz on his hitting, "I was trying to do too much. Next time, I'll be more calm." Hayes counters, "[B]ut with some sharp line drives he showed signs of relaxing in the batter's box over the last week."
Also, Hayes points out that Ruiz through out two of four runners attempting to steal and the Phils went 6-4 in the games he started.
OK, so Ruiz is finally starting to click at the plate, the Phil like him especially behind the plate, they are doing well with him starting. Meanwhile, Lieberthal ranks 31st out of 40 catchers with at least 50 plate appearances in OPS and has zero homers. And his OPS (.712) is not out of line with his career trajectory at age 34 (he had a .754 OPS last year down from .826 in 2003 and .782 in 2004). The best that could be said of Lieberthal is that he is at least ahead of backup Fasano and his moustache (33rd).
So instead of letting a player who is in his prime (27) who could be part of the team in the future soak up some major-league at-bats, the Phils turn the job back over to a 34-year-old with no future with the team, a 34-year-old backup, and a 33-year-old career minor-leaguer. Did anyone say Johnny Estrada?
The Phils brass obviously think that getting Ruiz more Triple-A at-bats will help him and them more in the future than keeping him on the bench in the bigs. I offer that there is a third option: let him start.
OK, they still owe Lieberthal the rest of his $7 M contract for this year. Who cares if he is the starter or the backup? Send Coste back downhe served his purpose by getting a few days of nice press anyway. Send Fasano to whatever team needs a backup (the Braves might want to trade up from the flagging ex-Phil Todd Pratt), but keep his moustacheput it on the Phanatic. Bring up another player to back up the infieldit doesn't really matter who, just a live body as opposed to a useless third catcher.
The Phils option of starting Ruiz in the minors delays his major-league growth until next year, at which time he might be the default starter. Why not allow him the extra time this season so that he can hit the ground running next year? The answer is, of course, that they are in the playoff hunt and need to play for now. I submit that the Phils are a better team now AND in the future with Ruiz starting. Their 6-4 record with him starting shows that his growing pains haven't devastated the team. Besides this team is just three games over .500, is four games out of first, and 2-1/2 behind the wild card leader. Are they in the playoff hunt? Yes. Are they serious contenders? Not really.
Next, the Phils turned to Eude Brito as the last man standing to replace injured Jon Lieber in the rotation. It's a better option than moving Ryan Franklin out of the pen. So that's a plus. And you know the Phils will trade Brito to the Rangers for a marginal player a la Vicente Padilla and Robisnon Tejada at some point this year.
However, with Hamels returning from the DL soon, the Phils see an opportunity to tinker with the rotation while retaining Brito's starting services.
Charlie "I Need a Friggin'" Manuel hints to as much while providing the the sort of endorsement a GM gives a manager a week before firing him (watch out Dusty Baker), "Look, I don't want any pressure on our young pitchers... I don't want them to go out there and think, 'Oh, I've got to get this guy out or I'm going to the minor leagues.' "
Thanks Cholie. Gillick should fine this idiot whenever he opens his mouth. Just fill out the lineup card, count your lucky stars that you still have a job, and shut up.
The best the Phils should expect from Brito in this tryout is that he will prove to be a viable option should the Phils be able to unload Lieber or Lidle's contracts later this season. The Phils should leave the kids in the rotation for the rest of the season and evaluate them at season's end. The target should be to have a rotation of Myers, Hamel, Floyd, Madson, and some offseason veteran pickup for next year's rotation.
Meanwhile, rumors swirl that either corner outfielder, Abreu or Burrell, will be packaged in a deal for Dontrelle Willis. I have never been as impressed by Willis as everyone tells me I should be. Aside from a great season last year, I see him as another mercurial type of pitcher that the Phils usually develop within their own organization, never mind going outside the organization to acquire them.
Willis is just 24, however, and there's always the promise that bloomed in 2005. To give up their best batter (Abreu) to get him is a bit much for me.
So where is this team headed? It seems that another near-miss 86-win season is in the cards, which will again produce quite a painful year. Not only will there be the ache of playoff envy, but there are all the missed opportunities to groom young players if the team thinks they are in the hunt. If they only knew now that they would miss the postseason, they could try to rebuild this team for 2007.
Then again, if this team could come up with a direction that's further ahead of them then the end of their nose, we wouldn't be in this constant state of limbo to begin with.
[By the way, kudos to anyone who gets the Godfather reference in the title.]
Cub Your Enthusiasm
It seems that the intrigue surrounding the Cubs is down to when Dusty Baker will get his walking papers. I received this email earlier today:
Do I have the data available? I'm lousy with it.
I ran the historical numbers. That was a snap, but then I added in the numbers for this season based on the USA Today's payroll data and the projected records for all teams (based on the standings as of Monday night). Keep in mind that the payrolls may grow as the season progresses.
The Cubs are pretty bad, but can't compare to the Yankees of late. The Yankees have been good, but their spending outstrips their on-field success when it comes to this sort of analysis. I don't think the Boss minds much. Here are the numbers for the most extravagant based on overall dollars per win (by which I hereby risk ticking off two sets of people with whom I share this site):
I had to extend the list to get this year's Royals in there.
You'll note that there are no teams before 2001 on the list. So have teams just discovered overpaying for talent in the last five years or are we biased by the ever-inflating salaries in the majors? I think it's the latter.
I adjusted the payrolls based on the major-league average for the given season (actually, the average salary per player based on 25-man roster). Last year's Yanks still top the list:
This year's rendition of the Cubs come in at number 33. So maybe Dusty's not doing such a bad job after all.
By the way, here are the teams that did the best at adjusted payroll per win (ignoring certain teams from 1987 with incomplete data). Surprise, this year's gutted Marlins come in at number 2:
You may notice that aside from the 2001 A's there's not a ton of success on the list.
Base Relief III
Parts I and II
In part one of this series, we found that teams today retain leads better than any decade since the deadball era. However, the reason for this is that teams establish bigger leads today since their success in holding smaller leads (one-, two-, or three-run leads) has changed very little over the last fifty years or so. However, one has respect the way that middle relievers have stepped in as starters are getting pulled earlier all the time and have not missed a beat.
In the second part of the series, we found that late-game situations with any sorts of leads, small or large, teams on average have improved and continue to improve their ability to hold that lead, and apparently, that's thanks to the closer.
In the latest installment, I want to look at how the success rates across the majors varied over time.
My thinking is that if how much these rates vary (via their standard deviations) goes down, that means that the approach du jour has become more universally employed and the level of talent devoted to that approach is more uniform. If it goes up, then different approaches are being employed (e.g., some teams are using starters deeper into games or using closers in a non-save situations) or the teams have varying devotion to the approach and are therefore, devoting pitchers of varying talent to the role it defines.
Fortunately, I will not be publishing tables of standard deviations for the last hundred or so years, no matter how much I am inclined to do so, so this will be a shorter entry than the other two. I would publish the graph of how they varied but don't have a ready way to do it in this blog.
However, if there's one thing that makes for better reading than loads of table, it's describing said tables. So here goes
I ran the standard deviations per year from 1901 to 2005 for team success rates in four situations: leads retained after six innings, leads retained in the ninth inning, leads of three runs or less retained in the ninth inning, and one-run leads retained in the ninth. Of these, the success rates for leads (of any kind) in the ninth had the least variance and the rates for one-run leads in he ninth had (by far) the most. The variation in success rates for leads after six and for leads of three runs or less in the ninth were very close, though the former was slightly higher on average.
OK, teams with big leads in the ninth usually win, no big surprise. However, I also ran a trend for each set of data (using Excel's exponential trendline). I wanted to see if teams were getting closer in success rates over time or farther apart. My expectation was that all of the data would be getting closer together as modern relief pitching matured and teams developed more uniform use of bullpen pitchers.
The standard deviation in success rates for any type of lead in the ninth did go down slightly overall (from about .035 to .033). For three-run leads or less in the ninth, the standard deviations also went down (from .055 to .052) as did those for leads kept after six (.068 to .056). But I was surprised that given that longer schedules and more teams should help standard deviations become more uniform, I am surprised that they variation between them did not go down more.
The one big surprise was that the variance for one-run leads has gone up over the decades (from .099 to .111). This means that teams are witnessing more and more wildly varying success with holding one-run leads in the ninth as the closer role becomes more and more well defined. This phenomenon appears to be independent of how well teams are scoring runs in the given year. Low scoring seasons in the Seventies saw the same sort of increase as the high-scoring Nineties in general.
They did drop right after Bruce Sutter defined the modern closer role in 1979 and had an even bigger and longer drop after Dennis Eckersley redefined the role in 1988. However, three years since 1993 have seen the highest variance since 1963 (though none came close to the all-time high set in 1940, .147).
One encouraging trend is that the variation has gone down two of the last three years, but it is too early to tell if it's a new trend or just a blip on the radar screen.
Given that I am anticipating a new trend in reliever use to take shape anytime soon (since baseball had been averaging one every ten to twelve years previously), I'm expecting some monumental change to occur at any moment. Now that teams have the middle relief roles well established, maybe the one-run leads in the ninth will become more of an issue. Who knows, maybe it's time for the return of the starter-sum-closer to stop the scoring in the ninth. Or maybe the trend change a few years ago is real and the new post-Eckersley definition of a closer (more in the Gagne role) is already here.
Next, I would like to update my old reliever study to see if there is indeed a new approach that teams are using with closers.
Base Relief II
When we last left off, we established that teams today retain leads better than any decade since the deadball era. However, the reason for this, apparently, is that teams establish bigger leads today since their success in holding smaller leads (one-, two-, or three-run leads) has changed very little over the last fifty years or so.
However, I didn't offer any direct proof of this assumption. But the table below bears it out. It breaks down the game situations at the end of the sixth inning for all games:
Note that tie ballgames one-run leads are now at an all-time, and two- and three-run leads aren't that far behind. At the same time, leads of more than three runs are at an all-time high.
Therefore, teams have more leads than ever to hold, but they are bigger leads, and hence are easier to keep.
However, one has to keep in mind that teams are using more pitchers per game than ever. And as the table below demonstrates, innings pitched per start have been dropping steadily, with fits and starts, since the dawn of recorded baseball time (note, based on pure starter stats):
So maybe I am a bit hard on modern bullpens. Yes, they haven't helped teams today retain close leads any better than their counterparts did in the past. But more and more the leads are being held by members of the bullpen rather than starters. Being on a par with starters is actually quite an accomplishment especially when the guys holding the lead in, say, the sixth and seventh might be the fourth or fifth guy in the bullpen.
What happens as the game gets later and, one would assume, the team with the lead is more likely to use its closer? Let's look at the results for leads after seven and eight innings to see whether teams are improving on retaining leads as the game progresses.
Again, teams today retain leads after seven better than they have in a hundred years, and again their ability to hold one-run leads hasn't improved in the 2000s. It's actually very slightly below average even though it hasn't changed much in the last two and one half decades. Also, leads over three runs have been retained at the same rate since the Forties.
However, retaining two-run leads after seven is at an all-time high, and retaining three-run leads, though a much tighter group, has improved a full percentage point over the Nineties and is the highest it's been since the Fifties and Sixties. So there is some actual improvement in holding leads that starts to become clear after seven innings.
Let's see what happens after eight innings:
Well, there's definite improvement across the boards here, and that's thanks to the closer.
Now, which teams have been the best at retaining leads? Let's look at leads after six first:
And here are the worst:
Now, here are the best on the ninth:
And now the worst:
Next are the best at retaining a closer lead (three runs or less) in the ninth:
Finally, here are the best at holding a one-run lead in the ninth. There were too many teams at one hundred percent, so I listed the perfect teams with the most opportunities:
And the worst:
For this relief much thanks.
Relief pitching has been evolving ever since Harry Wright first inserted himself to spell a faltering starter back in the early days of the National Association, the stepfather of today's National League. Today, team's have closers, left-handed setup men, right-handed setup men, long relievers, situational lefties we've gone from 10- to 12-man staffs since five-man rotations became standard. Teams are approaching, on average, four pitchers per game (3.71 last year up from 3.55 at the start of the decade).
But how do we know that all this effort has made any difference?
Are teams better off now? Do they hold leads any better than they did in the past? And if they do, does anyone know it?
Well, ever since I started delving into Retrosheet's game log data, I have been pondering how to answer those questions. I think I have the answer.
Taking the linescore data available, I was able to determine the games in which teams gained leads and how and if they retained them throughout baseball history. I did this for teams leading at the end of the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings in various situations. What follows are the results mostly in tables as is my wont.
It looks like the state of relief pitching is as strong as it's been since the dead ball era when complete games were prevalent and relief pitching was waiting for John McGraw to rediscover and reinvent it. Teams in the first half of the 2000s have been retaining leads at a 78% clip even as ties after six innings have become rarer and rarer (12.40% in the 2000s is the lowest ever) and scoring is still at record highs.
However, given the high scoring a 10-0 lead after six that ends up a 12-9 win would constitute holding a lead. Let's look at the lead-retention percentages, instead, based on the situation at the end of the sixth inning:
So retaining one-run leads has not improved since the dead-ball era, and the results for the others have stayed at about the same level for decades. We have just seen bigger leads at the end of the sixth, which are easier to hold.
It seems that all the specialization in the bullpen has not really improved a team's ability to hold a lead. Though there are of course other benefits like saving a starter's arm and creating more opportunities to second guess a manager.
Next we will look at those situations that more closely examine closers and key setup men, and we'll look at which teams have been the most effective at holding leads. But that's for manana.
Good Ol' Chowlie—He Just Didn't Care
There was a bit on the old TV show Mystery Science Theater 3000 in which they lambasted the producers of the monster movie that they were reviewing in one segment called, "They Just Didn't Care!" They shouted that phrase repeatedly over shots from the film of some of the supposed monsters with visible zippers and others wearing lycra bodysuits and sneakers. It ranks right up there with their top bits along with their examination for one film of the main character's proclivity to "put his leg up on things" or when the demented Torgo delivered a pizza.
Charlie "I Need a Friggin'" Manuel must be a fan of the show, or maybe he was watching it in the dugout during yesterday's extra-inning somnambulating by his Phils. "I Need A" left long reliever Ryan Madson in to soak up seven-plus innings throwing 105 pitches and batting twiceTWICE! Madson trotted out for his eighth inning of relief in the 16th but surrendered a leadoff homer to Carlos Beltran, thereby ending the rather odd marathon.
Madson was pitching well but it was not as if he was lights out on the mound. His first few innings were shaky at best, and I gasped every time he threw that big hanging curve. The Mets left men at first and second in his first inning of work, the ninth, with Kaz Matsui grounding out to end it. They left Reyes at second after he stole the base in the tenth. They left men at first and second in the eleventh and again Matsui grounded out, this time to Madson. The also had the leadoff hitter, Beltran, walk and steal second, but then he overran the bag and was tagged out. Two batters later David Wright started a second rally with a single that may have scored Beltran.
OK, so the Phils should consider themselves lucky to get three scoreless innings from Madson even though the Mets got men into scoring position in each inning and he walked four men (though two were intentional). With Madson batting second in the top of the twelfth, everyone including the Phils broadcasters expected "I Need A" to lift Madson for a pinch-hitter. But, incredibly, Madson came up to fly out to left to help the Phils go down in order. I guess "I Need A" was playing for a tiemaybe he forgot he wasn't at home.
The game looked like it was over when David Wright hit a ball to the right field wall that Bobby Abreu nabbed. It was a big hanging curve that looked like it was out of the ballpark when it came off the bat. The long flyout ended the inning, but anyone on the Phils side had to breath a deep sigh of relief.
So again, one would expect that Madson was gone, right? Nope, "I Need A" left him in to lead off the fifteenth by striking outagain he played for the tie.
The Phils offense was anemic in the second half of the ballgame. After scoring eight runs in seven innings, the Phils scored none on just four hits in the last nine innings. They went 4 for 25 with a walk, one hit batsman, one caught stealing, and ninecount 'em, NINEstrikeouts against five different Met pitchers, four of whom pitched during Madson's Harvey Haddix impersonation.
While they were sucking wind at the plate, "I Need A" nursed his twoTWO!backup catchers on the bench until the 15th inning. Yes, he kept Sal Fasano and his inflamed testicle in the game for fifteen innings (And speaking of which, if you Tivoed "House" and have yet to watch it, skip the scene when the patient goes to the bathroom and something, that will remain nameless, explodes. OH, THE HUMANITY!).
"I Need A" decided to pull a double-switchagain playing for the tiewhen Madson entered the game. He pulled David Bell who was 2-for-5 with a homer and 5 RBI and replaced him with Abraham Nunez, who would go 0-for-3. Now, I'm not Bell's biggest fan, but when a player is that hot, why replace him?
Well, for the magnificent double-switch, of course. The pitcher's spot in the lineup was due up second in the tenth. He had to make the move, right?
I won't even point out that they could have pinch-hit for Madson and brought in another pitcher. Well, maybe I will. The Phils had a day off the day before. Closer Tom Gordon had been used in one game (May 21) for just one inning since May 14, and that was in the ninth inning of a 10-5 win, a great use of one's closer. In classic Manuel style, Gordon worked the previous three games and nine of the previous 14, dating back to April 30. To quote Judge Smails, "The man's a menace!"
However, if they did want to get more than one inning out of Madson, they could have pulled double-switch with Fasano. He led off the next inning, was coming off an injury, and the Phils just added a third catcher to the active roster. Why not use them? Especially, in a potentially extra-inning game? Why do you have a third catcher if you don't pull your putative starter there? Insane.
And while I'm at it, I have to point out that Jimmy Rollins is killing this team's offsense. He went 1-for-7 yesterday, and is batting .241 with a .308 on-base percentage. You're in trouble when your leadoff hitting gets on just 30% of the time. He's been especially bad in May batting .210 with just a .297 OBP and a .642 OPS. He's getting killing by lefties: 163/275/.302/.577. It might be time to give up on switch-hitting when you're doing that badly.
The Phils are 26th in the majors in on-base percentage from the leadoff spot (.301). With Bobby Abreu strugglingfor him (I know he has a .949 OPS)at the plate, could it be time to try him in the lead off spot and see if his .449 OBP could be of use. OK, it may be nuts to bat your best hitter first, but what about trying Shane Victorino, who is batting .360 with a .407 OBP in 75 at-bats spelling Aaron Rowand in center. When Rowand returns, his .356 OBP couldn't hurt in the leadoff spot.
Whatever they do, if they do want to stay in the playoff hunt, they have to make a change at the top of the order. Rollins is an incredibly streaky hitter. If he again regains his stroke and becomes a credible leadoff man again, then that's a big plus. It opens up some options. But right now he's an albatross in the leadoff spot, one they cannot afford to have around their necks any longer.
Finally, this game, you probably heard, was the longest so far this season. It ranks among the longest the team has ever played. It's their 41st game that was 16 or more innings. The longest was a game on July 17, 1918 at Wrigley. They lost 2-1 to the soon-to-be NL Champ Cubbies in the 21st inning. Lefty Tyler went 21 innings for Chicago scattering 13 hits and one walk.
Here are all the games of 16 or more innings. By the way, they were 15-26 in these games:
Coste-ing Towards Mediocrity Again
The Phils, anticipating another 86-win season, have promoted 33-year-old catcher Chris Coste to back up/spell Sal Fasano, who is suffering from a moustache ache. And of course, the catching incumbent, Mike Lieberthal, is on the DL from that break he had in the Preaknessthey almost put him down on the field. The Phils wouldn't know what to do if they didn't have a couple of catchers in their mid-thirties on the active roster.
What's Barry Foote up to anyway?
The only non-trigenarian only the roster is Carlos Ruiz, who is sucking wind in the majors so far (.138/.161/.138/.299 in 29 at-bats). That's unfortunate given that they need the 27-year-old to step up and potential take over as starting catcher next year with Lieberthal's elephantine contract runs out.
But look at the bright side: Coste will become the oldest catcher to debut with the Phils in their 124-year history. When Coste enters his first game he will edge the old record-holder for the Phils (Harry O'Donnell) by at least 81 days.
He'll also become just the ninth catcher in baseball history to debut after turning 33. Quincy Trouppe, who was barred until the majors were integrated, is the oldest at a few months over 39. Here's the full list:
Coste will also become the tenth oldest to make his debut as a Phil. Here are the oldest:
Lee Riley was coach Pat Riley's fatheranother in a long list of Phils who were overshadowed by a relative.
Also, Kleinhans was involved in one of the worst trades in Phils history when they sent future Hall-of-Famer Chuck Klein off to the Cubs for three scrubs and cash, one year after his triple-crown season. At least they got him back two years later.
Ah, it is a rich history being the worst franchise in sports history. Welcome, Chris Coste.
Comeback! Baby, Come Back to Me
Last Tuesday, the Yankees came back from a 10-1 deficit in the third to beat the Rangers, 14-13, on a walk-off, two-run Jorge Posada homer with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. It was the fourth time in Yankee history that they had come back from a nine-run deficit to win a ballgame.
That made me wonder what was the greatest comeback in baseball history, or at least in recorded baseball history. I started by loading Retrosheet's game log data. It took some time to dissect the data, but I found out a couple of things. The greatest comeback of all time was from a 12-run deficit. And that was done twice. On June 15, 1925, the A's came back from twelve runs down to the Indians in the sixth and seventh innings to score 13 in the bottom of the eighth and win 17-15. On August 5, 2001, the Indians, avenged that loss 76 years earlier, by coming back from twelve down to the M's in the third to seventh innings, tying the game in the bottom of the ninth, and then winning 15-14 in the eleventh inning.
Here are all of the recorded comebacks from nine or more runs. You may note that games appear multiple times, that is, if the lead changes but still meets the nine-run cutoff:
Sorry, the Yankee 10-run comeback the other day inspired me. I've been busy ever since then trying to incorporate Retrosheet's game log data into my own little data stores. The first results of this data merger are in, and I hope are interesting. As far as the greatest comebacks of all time, the best was from a 12-run deficit, but that's fodder for another day.
I decomposed the linescore information and was able to determine the average results per inning. On average, the home team outscores the visiting team .491 to .475.
The first inning is the highest scoring (.523 runs for the visitors and .615 for the home team). The home team as a matter of fact outscores the visitors in every inning until the ninth, when they destroy the homeys, .460 to .236 (though this does include games in which the home team leads and therefore, does not bat). Then in extra innings, the visitors have an advantage in every frame until small sample size overwhelms them in the 24th inning.
Here's a table of the average score per inning with the lead between innings and at the end of each inning, the number of lead changes expected per each inning, and the total (and percentage) of games for which the given inning is reached:
Big Unit of Measure
What's up with Randy Johnson?
For a pitcher that won the Cy Young four years straight, 1999-2002, and then after an injury-abbreviated season, came back to almost the same peerless level (171 adjusted ERA) in 2003, his Yankee career is getting less memorable all the time.
Last year he did go 17-8 with 3.79 ERA but that was the highest he had recorded in a full season in 15 years. Even though it was 17 points better than the park-adjusted league average (his worst adjusted ERA in 14 seasons). This season, his ERA is almost double what it was before he came to the Yankees (5.13). He's had two starts in ? in which he has failed to get out of the fourth inning and has not finished the seventh since beating the O's 7-1 with eight innings on April 23.
And if that weren't bad enough, his strikeout have been plummeting. After recording at least ten strikeouts per nine innings in every full season from 1991 to 2004(with a high of 13.41 in 2001), he fell to 8.42 Ks per nine innings last year, which should have been a large red flag going into this season. His current rate (6.15) would be the lowest of his 19-year career by a full strikeout per nine innings.
All of this made me wonder if his rapid (apparent) decline had anything to do with his almost freakish height. Maybe by looking at comparable players throughout baseball history, we could have predicted that Johnson was a candidate for career deterioration. But there are only a handful of players that are comparable in stature to the 6'10" Sr. Unit. Then again, maybe a pitcher who was 6'5" in the Twenties would stand out as much.
So what I did was I adjusted the height of all pitchers throughout baseball history based on the average height. I based it on the player's height adjusted for the average height in the year in which he debuted. Those at least one standard deviation above the average height will be the comparable pitchers to Johnson. They are the "Tall" group (type of 1). The ones at least one standard deviation less than average are the "Short" group (type 3). The rest are just "Average" (i.e., type 2, except ones with no reported height, which are type 0).
Given all that, here are the twenty tallest pitchers in baseball history based on adjusted height:
See, the aptly named Johnny Gee comes out ahead of Johnson even though he is an inch shorter because he played almost seventy years ago when players were, on average, about an inch and one half shorter than today.
Now here are the shortest, headed by another aptly named player:
Next, I ran the total numbers by height class by age ranges. Below are the results. Note how the "Tall" players take longer to develop, have a shorter by better peak (especially in strikeouts) and then rapidly decline (even in strikeouts). Remind you of anyone?
Phil of Streaking?
The Phils are so hot, they can win a game with just one hitter. Yesterday, they beat the once red-hot Reds, 2-1, in twelve innings with both runs coming from Ryan Howard solo homers. They are now 13-1 in their last fourteen games stretching back to April 30. The only loss came in a 13-4 drubbing at the hands of the division rival Mets four wins ago.
They haven't had a streak this hot since "Streaking" was hot.
This team has never recorded a fourteen-game win streak and has only matched the current 13-1 streak a handful of times (that is, since 1901). This is the sixth season in the last 105 that they have had this hot a streak.
Here are the other 13-1 runs in chronological order:
The Phils have outscored their opponents by 26 runs even with the 9-run Mets loss.
For each of the seasons above, here are the team's final records and postseason performance if any:
Two playoff appearances and just one World Series appearance in six tries is not that encouraging. So before you get to crazed about the Phils being two games behind the Mets, keep in mind that this team is eminently mortal.
Even though Howard, Utley, Rowand, and Victorino have had OPS's over 1.000 during the streak, lead-off hitter Jimmy Rollins has quickly returned to mediocrity (.709 OPS in May), this team still has David Bell (.736 OPS in May) eating up at-bats, and the catchers (Lieberthal, .764; Fasano, .663; and Ruiz, .205) have not been lighting Phil and Phyllis Phillie's phire. Though one can point to Bobby Abreu's .626 OPS and say that there's room for improvement.
The pitchers have had even a greater turnaround. John Lieber has gone from execrable (0-4, 7.04 ERA in April) to excellent (3-0, 3.32 ERA in May). The same could be said of rookie Gavin Floyd (2-2, 6.57 in April to 2-0, 2.45 in May). And now uber-prospect Cole Hamels has joined the rotation. Of course, Corey Lidle (7.88 ERA in May up from 4.40 in April) is still a drag on the rotation (hopefully Madson mach II will replace him later this spring). Meanwhile, out of the bullpen Rheal Cormier, Arthur Rhodes, and Geoff Geary all have zero ERAs this month.
Keep in mind that the best that any Phillies team has ever done over a twenty-game stretch was 19-1 in 1977 (Aug 3 to 23). That team led by Schmidt, Luzinski, and Carlton went on to win the division. To match them, this team will have to sweep two .500 or better teams in the Brewers and Red Sox. Keep in mind that the Mets have to deal with the Cardinals and Yankees, however.
All this keeps reminding me of last season, and it worries me. You'll remember that the Nats surged out in front until they were passed by the Phils in 2005. Then the Braves left them both in the dust, as is their wont. Of course, these Mets are not the relocation-mad Nats of 2005 and these Phils should be in a better state than last year's model, which was reeling from the loss (or play) of Jim Thome early in the year.
Given all this, there's enough for even an old malcontent like me to be optimistic.
The weather, as if saving the drama for tomorrow night's highly anticipated Cole Hamels debut, mercifully ended tonight's rubber match between the Phils and Mets after just five innings with a 2-0 Phillies win. The Phils quietly take two of three from the Mets while being outscored 17-11, however.
The Cole Hamels era thus begins with the Phils trailing the Mets by an improbable three games, having won ten of eleven games.
On the break of such an auspicious media event, I thought it might be interesting to look at the best Phils debut seasons for pitchers all time. If Hamels does establish himself as the number one starter, not exactly a Herculean accomplishment given the competition, and continues to strike out at least a man an inning with sub 2.00 ERAs, will his 2006 season be the best debut for a Phillies pitcher ever?
Here are the best first seasons for a Phils pitcher based on Win Shares. Notice that I don't say rookie season, given that a player can retain rookie status for years if his major-league experience is limited. This investigation is just looking for players in a similar situation to Hamels:
This is everyone with at least 10 Win Shares in his first year. You might notice that the only man on the list who debuted in the last twenty years is Bruce "Roughed Up" Ruffin, whose best years came in the Rockie bullpen.
Though you hear the organization stating that Hamels is the best young arm the Phils have developed since Robin Robertsthanks for the pressure guys, the man to aim for is really Ray Culp. If Hamels can equal his numbers, the Philly faithless will be quite happy indeed. As for the dead ball-era and nineteenth century pitchers, it's very difficult to compare a pitcher from this era especially a young one who has had a history of injuries and will be handled gingerly, like Hamels, to pitchers from those eras. Hamels has very little chance of bettering Grover Cleveland Alexander's 28-win rookie year.
Given the dearth of recent players on the list, let's look at how some of the more notable ones debuted:
Wow, that's a whole lot of pain, that is. Aside from Ruffin and Charlie Hudson, that's not much to crow about, and that's going back thirty-five years. Even when a pitcher had some career success (e.g., Jackson, Ashby, and Gross), very little of it was with the Phils.
One would be hard-pressed to find a worse track record than that. It doesn't give me a whole lot of confidence that the team will reverse this trend with Hamels, but I keep telling myself that this is why the team finally hired a real, life baseball man in Pat Gillick. He's developed pitching before. Hopefully, he can do it again with Hamels. Then I start worrying about his back, but I digress
In an abrupt about-face of player development style, the Phils have fast-tracked Cole Hamels to the majors and will start him against the Reds Friday, the team announced today. He will replace #5 pitcher, Ryan Madson, in the rotation. Madson returns to the pen from whence he came.
The Phils responded to the much-anticipated news by terminating their nine-game win streak in stupendous style. The Phils fell behind 10-0 tonight and committed three errors before their first hit. Lovely! And they were letting situational lefty, Aaron Fultz, soak up the pointless innings and hefty run totals. They ended up losing 13-4.
Hamels joins a rotation that owns a 5.20 ERA and which has had three members with an ERA over 6.00. Madson of the 6.82 ERA was the logical choice to be displaced from the nest in favor of Hamels.
After spending two years and change in high Single-A (Clearwater) though only pitching 12 games, the former number-one pick started on the fast track to the rotation by moving up to Double-A Reading last year, going 2-0 with a 2.37 ERA in three starts, and then promptly prematurely doing himself an injury thereby ending his season. Actually, his back injury happened amid the three starts, but you get the idea.
The quick ascent continued this season. After a slow start in spring training due, again, to the back trouble, Hamels went 1-1 with a 1.77 ERA in four starts. He also collected 29 strikeouts in just 20.1 innings. Next up was Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre where Hamels starts began to become the stuff of the local headlines. In three starts, he went 2-0 with a 0.39 ERA. But that doesn't tell the half of it: Hamels recorded 36 Ks and only one walk in 23 innings. And that was it.
The Phils now feel that Hamels is ready for the majors. I am of two minds on the topic. I applaud the Phils for allowing a pitcher to move quickly to the rotation for the first time since probably Randy Lerch. I get a sense that this is a Pat Gillick-maneuvered move, which also makes me sanguine given his past success in developing pitching in Toronto and Baltimore.
However, this might be a bit too quick. This is a pitcher who has never collected more than 101 innings in any professional season, and that was his first year in short-season Single-A Lakewood and High-A Clearwater in '03. Since then, he's thrown 16, 35, and 43.1. That's not a whole lot.
There's some gut reaction I have that this is just too quick. This is a player who didn't throw an inning in spring training and who started in Double-A. The guy seems to have the stuff, but do the Phils need another project in the rotation?
Besides, the timing is bad given that Madson is the man holding the hot potato and must return to the pen. The Phils are still too conservative to go with three rookie starters in the rotation, especially when two of them own 6.00+ ERAs (and I know Madson is not a rookie but is a rookie in the rotation). The also think they are contenders still which limits how much they will experiment with youngsters. If this happened closer to the All-Star break, they could potentially move one of their veteran starters, neither of whom have a future in Philly.
My feelings are similar to how I felt when the signed Jim Thome and David Bell. I knew the contracts were ill-advised and that they would pay dearly for their excesses (and are) at the tail-end of both contracts. But for this team to change gears and actually try a new strategy hey, it only happens once every decade or two. They change managers and players and plans but it's all a series of reactionary moves, not a new strategy altogether. Also, those signings were to held promote their then-impending stadium move. Now, they turn to Hamels again to get the locals excited. Philly had been more excited by the Eagles draft than anything the Phils did, at least until this nine-game win streak.
So I am cautiously optimistic. It will be exciting to see a raw talent with his stuff face major-league batters. I hope his back and his luck hold out. Given the Phils' track record with pitching prospects, I can't imagine the odds are in his favor. However, like the rationale made by Spinal Tap's latest of 36 drummers, all of which had died under mysterious circumstances, one would have to expect that the law of averages would catch up with them at some point.
Lost in this media blitz is another rookie, Carlos Ruiz, who was called up to replace injured starting catcher, Mike Lieberthal. My opinion on Ruiz is that he should be given every opportunity to show that he is a legitimate major-league catcher. Sal Fasano's Fu Manchu be damned! He's now 26, and rather than letting him Johnny Estrada off to another franchise, why not give Ruiz a chance?
The Phils have no other viable options after Lieberthal's contract runs out this season. They may re-sign Lieberthal at less money or go after some other catcher in the free agent market, but my preference is to allow the youngster to take over and spent the Lieberthal Amigo money on a decent starting pitcher. Ruiz probably won't become the next Mike Piazza, but he should be at least as good as Lieberthal next year and will be a heck of a lot cheaper.
The Topless Towers of Blue Jay-dom
Was this the face that launch'd a thousand ships,
The way Josh Towers has started this season couldn't be more different from how he ended the 2005 season.
On September 30, he threw a complete-game, 10-1 victory over the Royals scattering nine hits and striking out six while walking none. This capped off his second straight month with a 3-2 record and an ERA under 2.50.
Things went so well that the Jays gave Towers a two-year, $5.2 M contract as part of their "We're ready to compete with the Yankees and Red Sox" campaign this past winter.
Towers came out of spring training as the number two pitcher in the rotation. Everything sounds good, right?
His first outing, he was given a four-run lead over the Twins, but he gave up a four-run fourth, which included a ball off his foot, and then a leadoff homer to Shannon Stewart to fall behind 5-4. The Blue Jays eventually lost 13-4. He owned a 7.71 ERA, which now looks good.
Towers is now a perfect 0-7 in seven starts with a 10.09 ERA and has pitched as much as six innings just once. He has twice failed to get through the third inning. Opponents are batting .380 against him. Let me repeat, Three-eighty! His WHIP is 2.18. He projects to 0-35 with 273 hits allowed in 152 innings.
And yet the Blue Jays are 17-15 and just three games behind the Sox in the AL East. They were 80-82 last year, so one could argue that their push last winter, Towers contact notwithstanding, has been a success. Remove Towers' 0-7 record and the Jays are 17-8, a half-game ahead of the Sox.
This made me wonder what was the worst record recorded on a winning team. Here are the pitchers with at least twenty losses and a losing record for a winning team:
But Towers current pace blows away Brian Kingman's 8-20 twenty-six years ago. As a matter of fact, I find it difficult to put it in any sort of historical perspective.
Here are all the pitchers who finished winless with at least seven losses with their career totals. You'll note that many of them are relievers:
Again 0-35 would destroy Terry Felton's 0-13 1982 season. Maybe looking at the most losses in a season all time would be more illustrative of how bad Towers is doing:
So no one has hit 35 losses since 1897 when baseball was still experimenting with three-man rotations. Here are the most losses since 1900:
Of course, the one problem in this analysis is that the Blue Jays will never let Towers get close to 35 losses. One would have to expect that if he continues to under-perform, he will be removed from the rotation before the All-Star break. Felton's 0-13 record, however, is in reach given the money the Jays are paying him and will be paying him through next season. That's an awful lot of money to pay to guy especially when he was coming off a career year. Consider as well that Towers owned a 7-8 record 4.60 ERA at the end of July 2005, which was about his career average. His career year was based on his performance in his last 12 starts (6-4, 2.47 ERA).
So maybe Towers won't make history, but maybe the Jays should have reconsidered before giving him a two-year contract based solely on a two-month performance.
Jason Kendall should be the happiest fellow on the planet. He is making $11,571,429 this season for being a sinkhole in the A's offense.
But instead of enjoying being one of a very limited number of players who have profited from a Billy Beane mistake, Kendall seems like one ticked off "A". Not only did charge the mound and unceremoniously Fosberry Flop on Angel John Lackey for a ball slightly high and inside. Now, he sour-grapes over having to accept his proper punishment, a four-game suspension, calling the majors "a badminton league"--though it should be pointed out that they soon will be employing pink bats.
To quote the eminent Mr. Kendall, "I understand I have to be suspended, but it's not like I went out and picked a fight. Nothing would have happened if he wouldn't have said anything to me, if he wouldn't have taken three steps hard at me."
I think that MLB should suspend Kendall for fifty games since he had to have violated their drug policy to believe any part of that statement.
[I]t's not like I went out and picked a fight Ah, yes, it is. That's exactly what you did, Jason.
Nothing would have happened if he wouldn't have said anything to me, if he wouldn't have taken three steps hard at me I don't know what the difference is between sharp and dull steps areit may be like cheddar. But Lackey didn't take any steps. He stood in front of the mound after receiving the ball from the catcher. As for what Lackey said, I can't say, but I can't imagine what would be so provocative as to justify Kendall inciting a riot.Well, Kendall has an answer for that too, " I get called out by Lackey. He calls me out and disrespects me and I'm supposed to sit here and have him yell at me?" Oh, you got called out. I think you're allowed to murderlize the dude then. Are you supposed to just sit there? Yes, you live in a society where physical attacks are against the law. I'd love to see this prima donna cowboying up with real live humans after his career is done. That'll make a great COPS episode.
Speaking of when baseball will become a spectator sport for Kendall, that eventuality seems to get closer by the minute. Not only have his ratios been atrocious in two seasons in Oakland (currently .244/.360/.293), the man has failed to hit a home run in almost two seasons. His last dinger was on July 27 against the Braves when he still played for the Pirates, and that was, at the time, his first homer in a month.
As a matter of fact if Kendall can finish 2006 as the starting catcher of the A's and fails to homer, he will be the first regular player not to homer for two straight seasons since 1995. Here are the last men to do (or not do) it:
As for the last catcher to do it, you have to go back sixty years, and only a handful have done it since the deadball era:
Given that this is a player who once hit as many as 14 home runs in a season, and has 67 in his ten-year career, one has to wonder if Kendall has taken some sort of antidote for steroids. Of all the regular players to record two straight zero-homer seasons, only one hit more in any previous season. Here are the most homers hit in a previous season by such a player:
As for the career homers, for a catcher with two straight no-homer seasons, the previous high was Rick Ferrell's 28. Here are the most career homers for any regular player who failed to homer in two straight seasons:
Lo Dufus and the Fallen Angel (Say Hey!), Part II
As a follow-up to the atrocious Paul Lo Duca/Angel Hernandez baseball play cum Porter Goss CIA scandal metaphor, I turn to Rich Marazzi's great The Rules and Lore of Baseball. Marazzi does not document the same play as we witnessed yesterday, but then again his exposition is based on actual rules, not those dreamt up on the spot in an umpire's head.
By I digress. Marazzi has two examples of rule 5.10 being employed that, though they are just tangentially related to yesterday's call, prove to be entertaining and enlightening. And hey, it's a slow Monday with a handful of games including a Barry-less Giants offering.
So without further ado .
Re. Rule 5.l0(c-1) If an accident to a runner is such as to prevent him from proceeding to a base to which he is entitled, as on a home run hit out of the playing field, or an award of one or more bases, a substitute runner shall be permitted to complete the play.
Nick Bremigan tells a story about an incident that took place in a minor league game in the mid-1960s:
OK, that was entertaining but had little to do with the Lo Duca play. The second example comes a bit closer
Re. Rule 5.10(e) When the umpire wishes to examine the ball, to consult with either manager, or for any similar cause [the umpire in chief shall call "Time"].
This rule came to focus on the night of June 11, 1957, in a game played between the Yankees and White Sox.
Lo Dufus and the Fallen Angel (Say Hey!)
Or for a more straightforward title, try "Fire Angel Hernandez" on for size.
Angel: Even elephants are afraid of me.
Yesterday, in the top of the second with the Braves at bat in a scoreless game against the Mets, home plate ump Angel Hernandez let all heck break loose after he actually had to make a tough call at the plate and thereby lost any concept of equilibrium.
The situation was that Brian McCann was on third and Ryan Langerhans was on first base with one out in a 0-0 tie. The pitcher, John Smoltz, was up, and he tapped a ball in front of the plate.
McCann made what was probably an ill-advised sprint for the plate. The catcher, Paul Lo Ducawho you should keep in mind now has "Team Player" tattooed on his forehead because it's been said of him so oftenmade a nice barehanded grab and then lunged for the streaking/lumbering McCann about three feet up the third base foul line.
Here came the first controversy: Hernandez called McCann safe, and after watching about four replays of the play, I cannot say that was a bad call. I thought that one replay showed Lo Duca's hand being slightly deflected by McCann's back pants pocket, meaning that the runner was out, but even as an agnostic, I couldn't swear on a short-stack of bibles (or pancakes) that it proved anything. Let me just say before we proceed that even if Hernandez did get the call wrong, which I cannot prove, it was a pretty dang close one.
But here's where pandemonium ensued: "Team Player" Lo Duca exasperated by the call spiked the ball in front of the plate and pursued the ump.
Now, as I said this was not a bang-bang, dead-to-rights out. It was definitely open to interpretation. Even the replays were inconclusive. Lo Duca, again a "Team Player", had no justification to react the way he did.
This was Chuck "Blauch Head" Knoblauch to the nth degree.
If you forget the play, on October 7, 1998, the Indians beat the Yankees (4-1) with three runs in the twelfth inning in game two of the ALCS due in large part to a play by Knoblauch. With future Yankee Enrique Wilson on first, Travis Fryman attempted to bunt him to second. The ball was fielded cleanly by first baseman Tino Martinez, but his throw hit Fryman in the back. Knoblauch, who was covering first, argued with the umps while the ball rolled away by. Wilson came around to score before the ball could be retrieved, thereby scoring what would be the winning run.
Knoblauch felt that the batter-runner should have been out for violating the basepaths. It was a valid argument that is often made on such a play, but it almost always happens after the ball has been rustled and the play is dead. There is a time and a place after all.
Whereas Knoblauch's error was one of omission"Oops, I have to pick up the ball?"Lo Duca's was an error of commission"Play be damned, I'm ticked off. Therefore, I don't need to retain control of the ball while arguing."
His real words were even dumber, "I spiked it pretty good, probably better than Ickey Woods, but I didn't do the Ickey Shuffle." Yuck, yuckYuck! Paul DePodesta is smiling somewhere.
Hernandez then made his second call, and I can't argue with this one either. He ejected the slightly peeved Lo Duca.
But then a series of calls ensued that I defy anyone to justify without somehow causing an internal embolism and subsequent lobotomy to allow the myriad of (mostly false) interpretations of the rules to make some semblance of sense.
The results of the play were that the batter (Smoltz) had to remain at first, but that the runner from first (Langerhans) was allowed to advance to third. Don't ask me why. It seemed completely arbitrary to me.
Bobby Cox must have had a similar reaction, because he argued himself out of the game and into the locker room. I have no problem being aligned with Cox, the best manager of his era, rather than Hernandez, arguably the worst ump of his era, when it comes to a baseball question (I can't comment on their political views or favorite films).
Apparently, Hernandez claimed that time was called when Smoltz advanced. There are just two fundamental problems with this call: 1) No one on the defense sought to have time called, and there was no indication that it indeed was called in any of the replays I saw. 2) If time were somehow miraculously called without actually being signaleda sort of immaculate timeoutwhy allow the leading, and much more important, runner to advance to third and not the trailing runner?
As for issue two, it looked like to me that Lagerhans was crossing the bag at second and Smoltz had yet to touch first when the spike happened. If that was the event that caused time to be calledI'll go into that in a secondcould Hernandez have determined that Lagerhans was on his way to third at the time and therefore, should be awarded that base? I would agree with an interference call that went this way, but this was an instance when time was called. Accordingly, the play is dead and the runners cannot advance. If Smoltz had yet to touch first, you let him have the base on continuation but how does third base enter into the argument?
Now, back to time being called. Here is the rule that elucidates "Time" calls. I'll include the rule in its entirety (because I'm verbose), but will break out the individual conditions and codicils to the rule for further investigation:
OK, we can dismiss conditions (a), (b), and (c) automatically. No manager was on the field at the time of the play, so (d) can't apply. No fielder left the fieldunless you count Lo Duca launch to Marsso (f) can't apply.
The only ones left are (f) and (g). Perhaps Hernandez was going to get another ump's opinion on the call at home (i.e., (f)), but since he did not do so after the melee, I highly doubt this is why time was called.
That leaves (g): Lo Duca was ejected so Hernandez assumed that "time" was called and the play was dead. But this interpretation is at odds with the overriding condition at the endand this is why I included the entire rule. Condition (h) states that only (b) and (c)(1) can cause an ump to call time while a play is in progress. We have already determined that those conditions did not apply even remotely.
Therefore, this is what I think happened: Hernandez must have missed ump school the day that 5.10(h) was taught. He assumed the play was dead when he ejected Lo Duca. Then he realized that he made an oopsie. To compensate the Braves on his ludicrous call, he awarded third to the leading runner in some sort of continuation justification. However, he failed to realize that it made no sense to leave the trailing runner at first or could come up with no justification with moving him to second given his loopy interpretation.
Let's consider what Hernandez's interpretation of 5.10(g) means. Let's suppose that there's a sharply hit line drive down the third base line with a runner at first and the score tied late in a game. It's clear that the runner will score the leading run. Let's say the first baseman punches the batter as he crosses the bag. He is instantly ejected, but the runner, who has just passed second, can go no farther than third since the play is dead upon the ejection.
Sounds a bit counter-intuitive, eh?
Now, aside from the horrific series of calls on this play, there was another serious problem with Hernandez's umpiring abilities. This might be sour grapes but both Mets starting pitcher Jose Lima and "Team Player" Lo Duca said that "Hernandez told them that he was calling pitches farther off the plate strikes for Smoltz, but not for Lima."
"When the umpire said 'I'm going to give you a couple of inches off the plate, but I'm not going to give you 4-5 inches because you're not John Smoltz,' I'm trying to protect my pitcher," the highly quotable Lo Duca said.
Now, the ramblings of these two highly questionable players may be easily dismissed if it were the first time that this type of allegation had been made.
A few years ago, there were similar allegations against the impish ump:
The Braves were most incensed by Remlinger's pitch to Womack to start the eighth that was called a ball when it looked like strike three...Womack said Hernandez told him "he was calling them up and down, not in and out." Arizona starter Rick Helling said he'd been told the same thing by Hernandez.
Hernandez still thinks it's "his" strike zone to call how he would like depending on the pitcher, team, situation, or his mood on the given day.
Throw in a couple of other highly questionable, memorable calls (see below), and you get a guy who should have been cleaned out along with the Richie Phillips comrades a few years back.
I'll leave you with a series of miscalls that Hernandez has made and that I have documented over the years.
Angel Hernandez caused a small stir in August 2001. He called Cub Ron Coomer, trying to score on a wild pitch, out on a close play at home that would have tied the score in the sixth. Steve McMichael, former football player and pro wrestler, had been enlisted to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the seventh inning stretch, which he decided to introduce by promising to talk to Hernandez after the game. Hernandez promptly ejected McMichael, perhaps the first time that an individual not involved in the game has been ejected by an ump. He once called Brave Michael Tucker safe at home on a sac fly to win an 11-inning game even though the throw clearly beat Tucker. In 2001 he changed a home run to a long foul fly-ball strike after the batter had rounded the bases and had taken a seat in the dugout. Also, in 1996 Kenny Lofton left his bat at home in a sort of protest of Hernandez calling him out on strikes. Hernandez kicked the bat away in an act called the most unprofessional thing that manager Mike Hargrove ever had seen on a ball field.
In the 2003 ALCS (10-8-2003) Hernandez, the rightfield ump, called a Todd Walker homer a foul ball even though one could see that the ball hit the foul pole (meaning it was a home run) with the naked eye on a replay at normal speed. He was overruled on the call by homeplate ump, Tim McClellan, which led to these immortal words from Steve Palermo, the ump's version of Scott McClelland, "McClellan [Tim, that is] was 150% sure" of call. Good night, Gracie.
When George Steinbrenner was busy hiring, firing, rehiring, refiring, etc. managers as if he were following the instructions on a shampoo bottle (rinse repeat ), no one could have imagined that the Yankees would have their fourth thousand-win manager on his watch. But Joe Torre did just that today.
Torre, with a win over ex-Phil Robinson Tejeda and the Rangers (aren't all the Ranger pitchers ex-Phils?), joined Joe McCarthy, Casey Stengel, and Miller Huggins as 1000-win Yankee managers. He becomes just the 21st manager to win a thousand games with one team.
Here's the full list. Torre and Cox are the only active ones. The Yankees have the most with four men on the list:
Shut Up Corey Lidle and Confidence in Superiority
The other day, Corey Lidle when asked about Barry Bonds' home run milestones said, "I don't think it's legitimate". He added, "It's sad. I'm not a player-hater. I like to see players get paid as much as they can. But without friggin' cheating."
Of course, Lidle won't be facing the Giants in the current series (in which the Phils have already taken two games). So it's a really gutsy move. Besides, sadly, Corey Lidle's stats are "legitimate".
When I pointed this out, my friend Chris wrote back:
I noticed Lidle's walked only three hitters this year.
Actually,Lidle doubled his season total in his last start and now has 6. He's also striking out about a man an inning. He's making his case to stay in the rotation after Cole Hamels gets promoted sometime next month, which is bad. If Lidle stinks up the place, he gets replaced. If he doesn't, they move Madson back to the bullpen (cutting Leiber, since he's supposedly #1, would be too imaginative for this team).
Re. the number of games to prove superiority, well, it depends. First, let's assume that the outcome is 50-50. That is, that either team has an equal chance of winning. I know it ignores homefield advantage but it simplifies things a bit. It also depends on the confidence interval we're talking about.
At 80% confidence, you'd need about 10 games (9.615 to be exact).
At 90% confidence, you'd need about 68 games (67.240).
At 99%, it's exactly 16,641.
So given that, there have only been two postseason series that have declared a winner with at least 80% confidence, and both were in the 1880s, the 1887 & '88 NL-AA Championship series.
Where Have All the Gagnes Gone? Pt II
Jon Papelbon's season did not start as expected. The Red Sox were ready for him to ascend to the rotation, but after a disappointing spring training (5.06 ERA in a team-leading 21 spring innings), they moved him to the bullpen on March 24. He was expected to fill the long relief role and was to be followed by Mike Timlin and closer Keith Foulke.
In the season opener, Papelbon pitched a perfect ninth in a 7-3 win over the Rangers. Two days later, he picked up his first save striking out two of the three men he faced. It was just his second professional save (the other coming last year with the PawSox, and it should be mentioned that he picked up 7 saves in his last year at Mississippi State).
With David Wells going on the DL in mid-April, he would seem the natural choice to take Wells' spot in the rotation. But, Papelbon had already recorded 5 saves and had pitched six scoreless innings (with 5 Ks, no walks and just 2 hits allowed). So the spot fell to Lenny DiNardo, the Red Sox answer to Lou Merloni on their pitching staff.
He now has a major-league leading ten saves. He still has not given up an earned run in 15.1 innings pitched and has just allowed 7 hits and two walks while striking out 16. His opponents are batting .137 against him. He projects to what would be a major-league record of 62 saves.
Meanwhile, incumbent closer Keith Foulke has taken on a pseudo-lefty spot reliever role even though he is a right-handed pitcher (huh?).
Once upon a time, teams felt the need to come into the season with a strong veteran closer in order to compete for a playoff spot. Actually, that was last winter when the Mets nabbed Billy Wagner from the Phils. Now it seems that teams are ready to hand the job over to any decent-throwing stopgap solution.
Has relief pitching, or at least teams' approach to relief pitching, regressed to the point it had been in the olden days when, as John Thorn said in The Relief Pitcher, "[I]ts image [was] as a rest home for aging starters and as audition studio for green kids"? Just replace "aging starter" with "aging middle reliever".
Well, the first test would be to take a look at the average age of a major-league closer. Keep in mind that I define a closer as the man who was the leader (or co-leader) on his team in saves. The stats are through 2005:
The average age dip drop in the first six years of this decade. It was the first drop in closer age since the 1970s when closers first became superstars.
So does this mean that given that teams are seemingly handing out closer jobs to youngsters AND aging journeymen? Perhaps a different approach would be more illuminating.
What if we looked at closer retention? That is, how do teams do on average at retaining their closers from year to year? If a team believes in the closer role, they will devote a pitcher with enough talent to last more than one year in the role (data through 2005):
Again we see the numbers dipping for the current decade. Teams are retaining their closers at a lower rate than they had for the past two decades.
Maybe, you'll point out, that is just a function of higher turnover in general. Billy Wagner, for example, went from Philly to New York but remained a closer throughout. He changed teams via free agency because he was in demand not because the Phils lost faith in him as a closer.
Here are the breakdowns per decade of how well closers retained their role, if not their team, from year to year:
This shows the numbers were affected by higher turnover per team on the closer role. However, it does show that closers in general lose their jobs more often than in the previous decade.
Another trend we are seeing is that a team will rely on a player who had been a closer in the past. Guys like Tom Gordon, Joe Borowski, and Tim Worrell are returning to the closers job after a hiatus. How often, historically, do teams turn to veterans who may not have been a closer in the previous season? Here are the numbers:
Again there's a severe decline this decade.
You may point out that this decade accounts for just six seasons given that the current season is barely underway. Maybe these trends will reverse over the entire decade.
Let's look at the closers per team from 2005-06 (stats through Tuesday's games). First, here are the closers for the past two seasons per team:
Here are the numbers for the categories we looked at above: whether the man was the closer on the same team in the previous year, whether he was a closer for some team in the previous season, and whether he closed previously though not necessarily in the previous year:
All of these trends are reversing in the ongoing season. Whether that's a full reversal or just dumb luck is yet to be seen. However, it seems to belie what we thought we knew about closer use this season, Jon Papelbon notwithstanding.
So what does it mean? Baseball has seemed to be on the cusp of another reinvention of the closer role for a few seasons. Bill James' so-called "bullpen by committee" approach in Boston failed. The super closer in the Gagne mold has lost resonance since Eric Gagne became the new Mark Fidrych.
So it seems that what we are seeing is a lot of flux this decade. Whether it will lead anywhere remains to be seen.
Where Have All the Gagnes Gone?
Glancing at the leaders in saves after one month of play, one will see more unfamiliar names than familiar ones. For every Lidge and Isringhausen, there are two Papelbons, Jenksi, or Turnbows. Even a few of the veteran names are better known as setup than as closers (Gordon, Weathers, Reitsma).
B.J. Ryan left Baltimore for a massive free agent contract in Toronto. He now owns five saves to his replacement Chris Ray's 7. Tom Gordon, a newly reinvented closer in Philly, has out-saved Billy Wagner, the man he replaced (8 to 7), as well as Mariano Rivera, the man he used to set up for (8 to 4). Dan Miceli, who had a brief trial in the Yankee bullpen a few years ago, now has as many saves as Mo for the Devil Rays (of all teams), but Rivera always seems to start slow. Miceli, who has been in the majors since 1993, has already recorded his second highest save total trailing just his 1995 total of 21.
So, not to overly belabor the point, but this has been an odd year so far for closers.
Anyway, with all of the young and untried closers, I wondered with what the highest save total was for a rookie. Of course, it does depend on your definition of a rookieI looked at guys with fewer than 50 career innings and 40 career games to start the season.
Here they are with the previous game and innings totals if you don't like my definition and want to filter down your own list:
It seems that at least one of the younger guys will beat Sasaki's "record" easily this year, but there's a lot of season left to play.
Besides the neophytes, there are a number of veteran closers who are still pretty young and will be approaching the 100 save milestone. Lidge and Francisco Rodriguez both came up in 2002 and should both pass 100 if they remain healthy. Chad Cordero could join them if his team can win more than a handful of games this year.
That made me wonder who was fastest to grab 100 saves. Here are the men to do it within five years of reaching the majors:
It will be interesting to see how some of these younger guys and retrofitted vets perform over the entire season. If teams see that they can cut payroll by going to someone untried in the closer role, the practice, which has been gaining momentum over the last couple of years, might become standard. Why sign B.J. Ryan if you can get Chris Ray? If you don't have Mariano Rivera, why not try someone new instead an establishedread overpricedbut mediocre closer?
Three for the Tank
We have now completed the first month of the season, and amid the rousing successes like the Reds and White Sox, we should not overlook the abysmal failures.
So far three clubs have a sub-.300 winning percentage: Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and Florida. It's not as if anything less, or rather more, was expected of these franchsies. The Pirates and Royals have become baseball's version of the LA Clippersthough I need to be reminded that they made the NBA playoffs this year, so as a Sixers fan, maybe I shouldn't pick on any other team at this point. The Marlins had a wholesale makeover cutting about three-quarters of their payroll. They will be the first franchise in baseball history to completely overhaul all of their starting position players (the only holdover is Miguel Cabrera, who is in a different position).
So the only drama remaining for these three stooges is to see how bad they can be. Can one of them be the worst team of the last hundred years or so? The current record holder for that dubious honor is the 1916 A's with a .234 winning percentage. KC's current 5-17 record is seven percentage points worse than that.
Here are the worst teams since the early days of baseball (i.e., min. of 100 games):
Even if the Royals don't out-crappy the '16 A's, this could be an historic season for shoddy play. Right now, all three of these teams have a winning percentage under .300: KC .227, Pittsburgh .269, and Florida .273. And not too far behind are the Nats (.320), who are one loss away from joining the other sub-.300 teams.
Baseball has not had three teams below .300 in the same season since 1890 when the Players League challenged the (then) two established major leagues, the National League and American Association. We haven't seen four sub-.300 teams since 1884, when the Union Association challenged the other two leagues. The only other years in which there were three sub-.300 teams were prior to the organization of the NL.
Here are all the major-league seasons with three or more sub-.300 teams:
If you think that these three teams have just run into some early-season bad luck and that at least one of them will pull out of their current nosedive, consider that this sort of tripartite sucking has been pretty rare even in the early going in seasons past. Here are the only seasons since 1901 in which three clubs have had a sub-.300 winning percentage though 22 games (there were not any with more than three):
You'll note that the '81 Royals made the postseason in a strike-interrupted season. Besides that just two clubs have gone on to reach .500 (both in 1902).
However, one can argue that only two teams in the list finished with a record below .300. So that does not help our argument for all three this year to finish below .300.
One thing's for sure, the Marlins will have more rumors about where they will move than wins this year. With the Pirates in a new stadium, the Twins acquiring an apparent new stadium deal, and the Nationals apparently finding new ownership soon, the Royals might be the frontrunners to join Florida as the most likely to get contracted when the owners earn the right to extinguish teams without the players union's approval at the end of the year.
It's hard to believe how far a franchise that looked so great for so long has fallen.
This is my site with my opinions, but I hope that, like Irish Spring, you like it, too.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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