Archive for the ‘random’ Category

The Somethingiest Something of the Aughts: The Hitters

September 16, 2009

Funny thing about writing a daily blog with no remuneration and no one to hold you accountable: sometimes life gets in the way and you don’t really feel like writing anything. Sorry about my absence on Tuesday, but real-life Monday sucked like you wouldn’t believe. Things now are…not okay, but they’re not getting any worse, so here’s your new thing.

As he often does, Rob Neyer made me think of something today. He pointed out (via some link to somebody else) that there’s something of a race for the batting champion of the decade, with Ichiro! and Pujols running pretty much neck-and-neck. Which left me wondering who led in all the various other categories, and by how much. And as long as I was wondering, I thought I might as well write about it. Verducci, the “somebody else” in Neyer’s post, did much the same thing, but I don’t care about that, and I’m going to look at some different categories and in a different way. So away we go, stats through Monday night:

Home Runs: Alex Rodriguez, 430
No surprise here. A-Rod led his league in homers five times this decade, and this is the first year he’s likely to finish out of the top eight (and he’s only four out of the top ten, with at least two of the dudes in front of him out for the rest of the season). What’s a little surprising is by how much A-Rod leads: he’s up by 62 over Jim Thome’s 368, meaning he’s hit about 17% more homers than anybody else this decade. The 1990s’ leader was Mark McGwire, with 405. The 1980s? Mike Schmidt, with 313. Eight players have hit more than 313 homers from 2000 through 2009, and I suppose Andruw Jones or Lance Berkman could make it nine or ten with a couple hot weeks.

Runs Batted In: Rodriguez, 1227
That’s right, the unclutchiest choker ever leads the decade in the lazy man’s ultimate clutchy stat, by a comfy 125 over Pujols (approximately one season’s worth, which is appropriate since Pujols didn’t start playing until 2001). Your 1990s leader was Albert Belle (really?) with 1099, and 1980s was Eddie Murray with 996. Murray’s total would place 10th in the 2000s, right between Big Papi and Bobby Abreu.

Runs Scored: Rodriguez, 1181
That A-Rod guy? He’s a good player. And one who stayed pretty healthy for an entire numerological decade, which has at least as much to do with it. This is a closer contest than the ones above, with Johnny Damon close behind at 1110. Derek Jeter and Bobby Abreu mean that four of the top five have spent at least some of the decade as Yankees. 1990s: Barry Bonds, 1091. 1980s: Rickey Henderson, 1122. Hey, score one for the eighties, almost!

On-Base Percentage (min. 3000 PA): Barry Bonds, .517
What what what? Bonds OBP’ed over .500 for the whole decade? Somehow that shocks me. But I guess OBPing .559 in 2001-2004, four of his five full years in the decade, will do that. Todd Helton is a distant second with a Coors-aided .439, with only three other players within 100 points of Bonds. Frank Thomas led the nineties at .440 (Bonds just behind at a merely fantastic .434); 1980s, Wade Boggs at an equal but more dominant .440.

Slugging Percentage: Bonds, .724
Naturally, and well ahead of Pujols at .630 (though Pujols will end up with nearly 2000 more plate appearances in the decade). 1990s: McGwire, .615 (Bonds right behind again at .602); in the 1980s, Schmidt at .540. In the aughts, you’d have to go to #19 before you drop below .540; Schmidt slots between Teixeira at .542 and Bagwell at .534.

OPS+: Bonds, 221
Well, duh. Pujols second at 173, then Manny at 160. Theoretically, this should be pretty constant across the decades, and it almost works that way, but doesn’t. Bonds paces the nineties again at 179, Schmidt the 80’s at 153.

Stolen Bases: Juan Pierre, 455
That surprised me a little, but Pierre has played since 2000 and was a regular from 2001 until late 2008, while Carl Crawford (#2 but way behind at 359) didn’t play full time until 2003 and missed about a third of 2008. 1990s: Otis Nixon, 478; 1980s: Rickey Henderson, 838. Rickey led that decade by a whopping 255 (over Tim Raines) and missed leading the 1990s by 15, coming in second place. He was #105 in the 2000s.

Hit By Pitch: Jason Kendall, 155.
Up by 17 on Jason Giambi. I never thought of A-Rod or Jeter as guys who get plunked a lot, but they’re both in the top ten; lots of plate appearances -> lots of stray inside fastballs, I guess. Chase Utley has been hit 104 times despite not becoming a regular until 2005. Craig Biggio was hit 147 times in the 90s (and was fourth in the 2000s at 132). Don Baylor crushed everyone else in the eighties with 160, 52 more than Chet Lemon and more than three times as many as #8 Lloyd Moseby.

Sacrifice Flies: Mike Lowell, 76.
Now that’s a surprise. One leadoff triple by Denard Span could mean that Lowell gets tied by the even more surprising Orlando Cabrera, now at 75, and don’t count out the less surprising Carlos Lee (74). After that, you hit Abreu at 66, and I don’t think he’s getting ten sac flies in three weeks. Frank Thomas had 82 in the nineties, Andre Dawson 74 in the eighties.

Double Play Groundouts: Miguel Tejada, 222.
Again, the identity of the leader is surprising, but even more surprising is the margin; Miggy is crushing Paul Konerko and his 193. Belle led the 1990s at 172, and Jim Rice predictably dominated the 1980s with 224. Rice’s 224 trumps Tejada’s 222 by more than it looks like, considering that (a) Julio Franco was second in the eighties at 166, which would’ve been seventh in the aughts, and (b) Tejada took over a thousand more plate appearances than Rice did to arrive at his total.

Plate Appearances: Bobby Abreu, 6864
This one could very easily change hands before the end of the decade, as Derek Jeter is only six behind Abreu and is batting leadoff for the best offense in the majors. Next is Tejada, a hundred behind Jeter. Biggio had 6794 in the nineties and Dale Murphy had 6540 in the eighties.

Hits: Ichiro!, 2005
He’s 85 ahead of Jeter or anyone else for the decade, which is especially impressive when you consider that he was in Japan for the year 2000. Going down the rest of the list, Pujols is the next one you’ll see that did not play at least a little big-league ball in both 2000 and 2009 (he’s ninth at 1697), and to find the next such player, you’d have to go all the way down to #33 and Jeff Kent, who retired after last season and may end up 600 hits behind Ichiro for the decade.

Jeter Is Just Alright with Me

September 11, 2009

So Derek Jeter has been in the news quite a bit lately. He is, after all, the most recent proud owner of a Viagra Milestone Moment. Yesterday, Craig was excoriated by legions of barely literate Yankee fans* in the comments to the NBC blog for suggesting that maybe seven separate stories by one newspaper surrounding the tying (not even setting, tying) of a single franchise record by a single player was overkill.

* I’m not making a generalization about Yankee fans at all, just talking about those particular Yankee fans, and I’m not exaggerating. Go read those comments and discover for yourself.

Also yesterday, Jason at IIATMS put up what I think is a really nice piece on what Jeter means to him as a fan. And I think that’s great. Jason expresses exactly what one should feel about a great player that’s played for your own team for 14 years.

I’ve been a pretty harsh Jeter-basher over the years (only mentioned him once on this blog, but it wasn’t friendly), but none of that has anything to do with how Yankee fans feel about him. And really, none of it has anything to do with Jeter himself; while I feel he’s showboated and behaved overtly selfishly more than the greatest leader in baseball history should, guys who play hard are fun, and he seems like a pretty solid character overall.

Rather, my problem has been with how the national media has taken all that love and all that character and rolled it together into this larger-than-life, iconic hero for the whole baseball nation. It obscures his weaknesses–which have been real and numerous–and takes a lot of attention away from other players who (if only momentarily) have been better. Kirby Puckett and Tony Gwynn were heroes to their own fans, and that’s a wonderful thing. And they were great players. But they weren’t the kind of players who should have dominated all coverage of the sport. I believe that essentially, Jeter is basically what would’ve happened if Puckett or Gwynn or Cal Ripken, Jr. had played his entire career with the Yankees instead. And that can get awfully annoying to the rest of us.

But let me change gears completely: I think it’s time for us — and by “us” I mean sabermetric types who are fans of teams other than the Yankees — to back the hell off and give Jeter his due. No, to this point, he arguably hasn’t been markedly greater than Barry Larkin or Alan Trammell, both of whom will have a hard time getting into the Hall, while Jeter will waltz in on the first ballot if he retires tomorrow. But those guys should be in the Hall, and the unfortunate fact that they haven’t gotten the attention they deserve isn’t a great reason to deprive Jeter of the credit he has earned.

Furthermore, you can’t really look at Jeter and compare him to those other guys and say “and he hasn’t even had his decline phase yet!” anymore. Yes, the decline phase is coming eventually, but Jeter is 35 years old. At 35, Trammell was no longer a full-time player, and immediately became a very bad half-time player for his final three seasons starting with age 36. Larkin had already declined significantly and was in his last year as a useful player. Jeter, meanwhile, is having one of the best seasons of his career.

And then there’s that defense. I remain thoroughly convinced that Jeter has never been even an average shortstop, and I think Bill James was probably more or less right when he wrote that he was one of the worst regular shortstops we’ve ever seen who was allowed to stay at the position for more than a year or so. Moreover, it still kind of pisses me off that they moved A-Rod to third for him, when A-Rod was obviously the superior shortstop. But. UZR and plus/minus aren’t available before 2002, and I don’t trust any other defensive stats. Even the new measures are subject to wild fluctuations from year to year that can’t just be explained away by players having good years or bad years. But by UZR, Jeter has had two awful years, one bad year, and four more or less average years since 2002, and now this year he’s been above zero, and actually very good (+5.1). I’m not prepared to believe that a guy who can look that good at age 35, and average so many other times, is as awful as we once thought.

Another common stathead criticism of Jeter is that (in a given year) he’s not even the best player on his own team, and I guess I get that when you’re trying to combat all the Jeter love, but it also strikes me as a little silly–the fact that Bernie Williams is having a great year or A-Rod is A-Rod shouldn’t take away from Jeter’s greatness any more than Nick Punto and Delmon Young being bad at baseball should take away from Mauer’s MVP candidacy. And at any rate, now — at an age when most middle infielders, even the best of them, are in serious decline or retired — Jeter unquestionably is the best player on his team, and that team is the best team in the game right now. So that doesn’t work anymore either.

Finally, there’s his consistency. Jeter has been one of the two or three best shortstops in the American League every single year for at least the last twelve and possibly more, and that’s really something when you’re playing at the same time as A-Rod and Nomah and Miggy. That’s more than one can say for Trammell or Larkin, both of whom fluctuated quite a bit over their careers (and Larkin was always hurt). Jeter could justifiably have won two MVPs, and would be in line for a third deserving MVP this season if not for Mauer.

No, Jeter is not one of the three or four best Yankees of all time. It’s profoundly silly to compare him favorably to Ruth, Mantle, Gehrig or DiMaggio. But he’s a great, great player, certainly among the greatest of our current time, and it’s time to stop begrudging Yankee fans their right to enjoy that. And maybe to start enjoying it just a little bit ourselves? I can’t believe I just said that.

Totally cool to keep ripping on ESPN and Tim McCarver, though. I mean, everybody has a breaking point.

Should Hitters be Platooned More Often?

September 2, 2009

Ryan Howard is a good hitter. A very, very good hitter. He has a .921 2009 OPS and a .961 career OPS (142 OPS+). Howard’s splits look like this:

vs. RHP, career: .307/.409/.561 (1.071)
vs. LHP, career: .224/.308/.446 (.754)

Against righties, Howard is every bit the monster he’s reputed to be. Against lefties, he’s a well below-average first baseman. But wait, there’s more:

vs. LHP, 2008-09: .212/.290/.406 (.696)
vs. LHP, 2009: .198/.284/.348 (.632)

Every club’s AAA squad has a right-handed hitter who could probably play a passable first base and put up a .700 OPS against left-handed pitching.

Of course, you can’t platoon Howard. You should, but you can’t. His overall numbers and his resultant reputation are just too good. He’s not going to lead the NL in homers and RBIs every year by platooning. Also, in his (almost deserved) MVP year of 2006, he did put up a .923 OPS against lefties (which is pretty much the whole difference between MVP-quality Howard and the last couple years’ pretty-decent-first-baseman Howard).

But consider another case. Tonight, the Twins were facing White Sox southpaw John Danks. They started Jason Kubel at DH and in his customary #5 slot in the order, and they started Delmon Young in left field and in the #8 slot. Forget for a moment that it’s crazy to play either of these guys in the field, and just consider this (vs.LHP/vs.RHP):

Kubel’s splits, career: .667/.844, 2009: .622/1.010
Young’s splits, career: .805/.697, 2009: .861/.578.

Kubel, looking at his total line, has always been a good hitter, and has been one of the 15 or so best hitters in the league in 2009, with a 140 OPS+ and .387 wOBA. Young, on the other hand, has been as disastrous as ever, with a 78 OPS+ and .288 wOBA. Yet: Kubel is just as helpless against lefties now as he’s always been, or even more so–the only difference is that he’s crushing righties rather than just holding his own against them. No matter how lovely his overall numbers are (and add a .300 average, 22 homers and 77 RBI to that OPS), Kubel has no business ever serving as the designated hitter against a left-handed pitcher. Ever. Delmon Young is Kubel’s perfect platoon partner, and DH vs. LHP may be the only role for which Young is actually suited.

There’s another great reason to platoon, too. Say you’re playing a team with a southpaw starter but a shortage of lefties in the ‘pen, or a right-handed closer that you know they’re going to use in the ninth. How awesome is it to have the luxury of using Ryan Howard or Jason Kubel (or your righty thumper if the situation is reversed) at exactly the right time, rather than just hoping his turn in the order comes up when you need it to?

So here’s my idea, for some future really, really ballsy manager and/or GM:

We need to stop thinking of “hitting” as a skill. Rather, there’s hitting vs. LHP and there’s hitting vs. RHP, and they’re totally separate skills, and your ability to do one doesn’t make it a whole lot more or less likely that you can do the other.

So Ryan Howard has been awesome, and has put up some awesome stats, but he hasn’t somehow earned the right to keep sucking against LHP by virtue of being awesome against RHP, any more than Tim Lincecum has earned the right to start in center field by virtue of being an awesome pitcher.

This kind of thinking would lead to a lot more platoons in more extreme situations (and there are a lot of them), and teams would properly value right-handed hitters whose numbers look bad because they hit against RHP 70% of the time, but who are highly valuable as the less-used half of a lefty/righty platoon. But even more commonly, it would change the way managers set batting orders and rest players. Almost every player (as we all know, but which I don’t think people pay enough attention to) has a significant split in favor of opposite-handed pitchers. For instance, Mauer is a Hall of Fame .951 career vs. LHP and a merely pretty-good-for-a-catcher .762 vs. LHP, and while he deserves to start most games against both, he’s probably not a #3 hitter against lefties, and he should never get a day of rest when a righty is on the mound unless the team has faced six righties in a row. Even Roberto Alomar, a switch-hitter and future Hall of Famer, probably batted high in the order far too often against LHP, against whom he had an OBP 50 points lower than he had against RHP (.337/.386).

It’s not a big deal on a case-by-case basis (except in extreme cases like Howard and Kubel), but a manager who really looked at these things, roster spot by roster spot, and utilized significant platoon advantages whenever possible — in setting the lineup and order and actually using platoons where appropriate, not merely pinch-hitting at the end of the game — might pick up an extra win or two over the course of the season. And DHing Kubel against lefties just has to stop.

Frivolous Friday

August 21, 2009

Bit of a cop-out today. Again. But a fun one this time, I think.

First things first, though: it’s 2009, and ya gots ta do what ya gots ta do.

Ergo, you can now become a fan of the blog on Facebook or follow the blog (-slash-me) on Twitter. I hope you’ll do both. Not much going on in either place yet, but stuff will happen eventually.

Also, this blog now has an e-mail: BillDailySomething (at) gmail dot com. So if you’ve got something to say that you don’t want to share with (a tiny, tiny portion of) the world, send it there. Sometime soon I’ll have a box where you can access all that stuff. In the meantime, join the FB page and follow me on Twitter anyway.

Second: so I’ve been a fan of The Onion for something like thirteen years now. Just brilliant, funny stuff. And they were all over the baseball today.

First: I actually think their written stuff has declined a bit in the last few years, but this little number is pretty perfect. That’s baseball.

And where they’ve fallen behind in the written content, they’ve made up for with their marvelous fake-tv stuff. At least as amusing as the bit itself is how perfectly they’ve mimicked the ludicrous excess of Sportscenter:

Baseball Superstar Accused of Performance-Enhancing Genie Use

A Few Observations on Andruw

August 20, 2009

When will this guy stop talking about the Rangers? It’s all Rangers all the time at this blog allasudden!

I don’t have a ton to say today, but I’ve been thinking about Andruw Jones.

First, the Dave Cameron article
Away back on May 1, I linked to an article that Cameron, one of my favorite baseball writers, wrote on April 28 called Welcome Back, Andruw (and then responded to criticism over that, Cameron did, with this piece on the usefulness of small sample sizes). My feelings on it were only insinuated in this space, but you could pretty much tell (or tell for sure if you read my comments below the initial article) that I was really skeptical about basing anything on 35 plate appearances by anybody, no matter how great those 35 were.

Since April 28? Jones has gone on being a part-time player, batting .204/.312/.463 in 253 PA to drive his season batting average from .370 to .222, his OBP from .514 to .337. He’s still got tons of HR power (a rate of 39 per 162 starts). but not a lot else.

I doubt Dave will say it–after all, Jones is better than he was in 2008 (it would be hard to be worse), and, for the year as a whole, better than 2007–but he got one wrong for once. Not just with Andruw–a guy with a .300ish OBP (as he’s been since the 28th) who is mostly a DH and LF just isn’t a particularly useful player–but with his ruminations on small sample sizes. Line drive rates and contact rates and all that fun FanGraphs stuff are approximately as susceptible to sample size fluctuations as batting average and homers. As I pointed out in the comments to Dave’s initial article, Andruw Jones had almost the exact same stretch in 2007 as he did to start 2009–but in July, not April, so nobody even noticed. Small samples are interesting, not useful. A great month should adjust our expectations for what we expect a guy’s final line to look like (as I tried to do a few times very early on), but we should wait a bit more than 35 PA before we start adjusting our expectations for the rest of the season.

Second, on defense
This is just a passing thought, because I’ve watched Andruw just twice this year and have no idea what I’m talking about. But: he’s just 32 years old. I know he’s gained some weight, but has he really fallen so far in two years that he’s gone from a (deserving) Gold Glover in 2007 to a DH in 2009?

I just can’t believe that. First, even in 2008 when he looked completely lost and useless with the Dodgers, UZR had him as approximately an average center fielder. Second, in his limited time this year (5 games in RF and 12 in LF), his UZR has been great (doesn’t mean much, but it doesn’t mean nothing, either). Third, he’s tried five steals in what was, let’s face it, not very many times on first base, and he’s only been caught once. I have to believe that he’d at least hold his own if given a chance in left, and, I mean, he’s Andruw Jones. How do you not even try him in center, even once?

Now, the Rangers’ D has been great (and is probably the biggest part of their success). Consider: UZR thinks Michael Young is as bad at 3B as he used to be at SS, but no one else on the team has been more than 1 run below average at any position. With Nelson Cruz and Elvis Andrus, they’ve got two of the best at their positions in the game, and even Josh Hamilton (who looked horrible last year) has put up a good number. But anyway, Hamilton has been hurt, and guys need rest now and then. How has Andruw gotten a total of 17 innings in the OF? Has he really lost that much at 32?

Third, a weird observation about his splits
Putting those crazy first 35 PA back into play, so for the whole season: .224/.302/.552 vs.R, .220/.380/.420 vs.L. 13 of his 17 HR have come against righties, but 20 of his 30 walks have come against lefties.

That’s two totally different players. You might think a lot of guys are two different players based on their splits, but all that usually means is that one is a good player and one is a bad player. Andruw is two totally different players–of roughly equal value, but just about as different as they can be. Against righties, he’s Dave Kingman; against lefties, Max Bishop.

I’m sure that’s not that unusual, especially with less than a full season’s worth of PA. But I thought it was kind of funny.

My Favorite Thing Today: pants

August 14, 2009

So things are going to be light here for a few days. Real light. And it might be more like ten days. I’m sure I’m overreacting to some degree, but I feel like I could work 48 hours a day for the next week and still not get done everything I need to get done.

So in lieu of my own posts, unless and until I have something I just really need to say, I’m going to link to one thing somewhere in the tangled series of tubes that I really like. And I’m going to go off the map a little bit — I assume that everyone who reads this blog is also reading Lar, Jason, Mark, Josh, etc. every day (and my other blogger friends whenever they get around to posting) like good little boys and girls.

My favorite thing today isn’t even about baseball; I promise I won’t make a habit of that. But as it turns out, a guy I was playing a lot of softball with in law school not so very long ago is now freelancing for ESPN’s Page 2, and yesterday he posted a story that I thought was really clever and pretty funny: walking a mile in John Daly’s pants. It’s on the front page of Page 2 as I type this, so it’s not “off the map” to most of the sports-loving world, but I kind of doubt I get a lot of overlap with the Page 2 crowd. So, if you haven’t checked it out yet, you should.

So that’s it! Incidentally, don’t ever search for John Daly images at work. I didn’t, thankfully, but, well, just don’t…

Drastically changing the mound height was a terrible idea. Let’s do it again!

August 13, 2009

Yesterday, Bill Conlin came up with quite the conlin.

In a nutshell (and I really don’t think I’m being unfair to his work at all, but you be the judge): with the pitcher’s mound higher than it is now, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams and Lefty Grove did good things. Therefore, baseball should raise the mound back to where it was in 1968. They lowered the mound after 1968. This was ostensibly to restore the balance between pitching and hitting, but really it was to restore the balance between the AL and NL. Because, see, the NL was more racially diverse, and was better. Rose led the league in batting average at .335 in the NL, while Yastrzemski led the AL at .301. There were a bunch of Hall of Famers in the NL, and only a couple in the AL. Bob Gibson is in the Hall of Fame, while the pitchers who put up great numbers in the AL in 1968 are not. Therefore, the NL was a whole lot better than the AL, and baseball saw this as a problem, so they lowered the mound just to make the AL as good as the NL again, and now they should raise it again. Ruben Amaro, Jr. doesn’t think they should do that. Ruben Amaro, Jr. is an idiot.

Have you already figured out how crazy this is? ‘Cause, frankly, this is a busy day for me, so I don’t have a lot of time to explain it to you. But here, look at this:
1968 AL: .637 OPS, 2.98 ERA, 3.4 R/G
1968 NL: .641 OPS, 2.99 ERA, 3.4 R/G

If Ichiro! were playing in the 1968 AL, Ichiro! would probably hit .350, even while Yaz finished second at .301. And that wouldn’t do a thing to change the balance or imbalance between the leagues. Randomly listing facts about the league leaders in certain statistics is just about the worst way you could possibly look at balance between the leagues as a whole. And in fact, Conlin doesn’t just list facts, he lies about them: in extolling the NL, he cites the fact that McCovey led the NL with 36 homers as though it shows you how much better the NL was, but doesn’t mention that over in the AL, Frank Howard hit 44 and Willie Horton hit 36.

To Conlin, the AL was embarrassingly atrocious; the NL produced “below-average but not anomalous offense.” Back in reality, though, the difference between the two leagues was essentially a rounding error (and they were both very, very anomalous). You know how I feel about Conlin generally, but this is poor even for him. In almost any other profession, if you put in the effort and showed the level of competence Conlin does in this piece, you’d be investigated and probably fired.

Here’s a big reason why I hate the writing of hopeless hacks like Conlin: they have the ability to take things I really believe in and, just by writing in support of those things, make me start looking for reasons to disagree with those things. I do think that lowering the mound was a short-sighted, kneejerk reaction to a very weird season (and a pretty weird five or six seasons). It was silly. They shouldn’t have done it.

Additionally, I don’t doubt that, in the beginning, the AL as a whole was slower to integrate than was the NL as a whole. The lag in some AL teams’ response to integration was deplorable, and I don’t doubt that it hurt competition. For a while.

On the other hand, I don’t think that the mound height is to blame for the high ERAs or low inning totals of today. Starting pitchers threw a lot more innings in the 1970s, low mound and all, than they did in the 1950s or 1960s. Pitching ruled, low mound and all, in 1988-1991. It’s a cyclical game. These things happen. Also, I’m not totally convinced (without research) that the competitive disadvantage from the AL’s collective racism lingered all the way to 1968, the year 22 A.J. (Anno Jackie, The Year of Our Jackie 22). The fact that the NL seemed to have all the great players of color doesn’t mean that the AL wasn’t trying. Hank Aaron and Willie McCovey were a lot better than Willie Horton or Tony Oliva, but they were all about equally non-white.

And on a third hand, or something like that, I totally agree with Amaro. Changing the mound height back to where it was more than 40 years ago would be exactly as drastic and rash a change as the one Conlin is denouncing for being too drastic and rash. There’s just no reason to do that, and there’s no reason to believe that doing so would do the things Conlin thinks it would.

Anyway, read the article, have a good laugh. The craziness and all-around logiclessness of the whole thing is really pretty amazing.

But then come back and tell me what you think of the mound height thing (or what you think you would’ve thought if Conlin’s article hadn’t turned you instinctively against the idea).

Stuff I’m thinking about

July 29, 2009
  • After the standing ovation the Dome fans gave Mark Buehrle after his bid for a second consecutive perfect game was broken up in the 6th inning last night, I’ve decided it’s time to give up my resentment of Buehrle, all based on the litany of incredibly stupid things he said to or about the Twins five or six years ago. He’s a hell of a pitcher, and hardly the most offensive thing on the Sox (Hawk, Guillen, Pierzynski, and Kenny Williams, in that order). From now on, he’ll be on my list of likeable White Sox players (Thome and Buehrle, in that order).
  • And oh, yeah, Buehrle set a major league record last night by taking that perfect game into the 6th inning. With the 17 in a row he retired last night, the 27 in a row from the perfect game, and the final batter of his outing before that, he retired 45 straight batters, shooting past the old record held by his teammate, Bobby Jenks. So, a hearty congrats to Buehrle…if throwing two no-hitters in his career was unlikely for him, 45 batters in a row is like winning the lottery. (And then the Twins won anyway, so all is well.)
  • Vikings fans: everything’s okay again. Hallelujah; the nightmare is (apparently) over.
  • You probably didn’t notice this because he’s a Nat, but Josh Willingham hit two grand slams on Monday. Ruth, Gehrig, Mays, Aaron, Griffey, Bonds or McGwire? No. Willingham, Mueller, Tatis, Tabor, Hoiles, Nokes, York, and pitcher Tony Cloninger? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes, among a select few other, similarly surprising names (and F-Rob).
  • Here’s a contemporary article on Cloninger’s two slams, which I have to say were quite a bit more unlikely and interesting than Willingham’s. And here’s the boxscore. Cloninger’s career OPS was a very pitcher-like .486, and outside of 1966, his career highs in parts of seven other seasons were two homers and eight RBI, or exactly the total he came up with in those two swings in one game in ’66 (he added a ninth RBI in the game). Even better, Cloninger had had a two-homer, five-RBI game less than three weeks earlier.
  • How is Omar Minaya not history already? This was about the most incompetent display I’ve ever seen by an executive of anything.
  • I continue to believe that the Rays are the best team in the East, and in the entire American League. But they’re six and a half games behind the Yankees for first, four behind the Red Sox for the wildcard, and have Texas and conceivably even the White Sox or Twins to contend with for that as well. They may be better teams than the Yankees and Red Sox, but I don’t think it’s likely that they’re that much better.
  • I dislike the wildcard, but the National League wildcard race is shaping up to be the most (and before too long, could end up being pretty much the only) interesting race in the Majors. Fully half the league (Florida, Atlanta, St. Louis, Houston, Chicago, Colorado and San Francisco) is within three games of the wildcard lead, and since two of the divisions are already virtually wrapped up by Philly and LA, those teams will really be fighting for that one spot. It shouldn’t exist, but I’ll be interested in seeing who gets it anyway.

Instant replay now, please

July 27, 2009

A week ago today (I think I can finally talk about it now), the Twins blew a ten-run lead to fall behind the A’s 14-13. They appeared to tie the game in the top of the ninth, when Cuddyer came around from second on a wild pitch and slid in comfortably ahead of the catcher’s throw to the pitcher covering the plate. The umpire called Cuddyer out, however, ending the game.

But Cuddyer was safe. There’s absolutely no question about it. You could see it live on TV. You could see it, in fact, from any possible angle except the one at which the umpire had chosen to place himself. He was inexcusably out of position, and thus blew the call in an absolutely critical spot. It was terrible, and the umpire, Mike Muchlinski — apparently a minor league umpire substituting for a regular crew member — should never see action in the majors again. Still, though, it was an isolated incident, it was a non-regular umpire, and it was publicized enough that we can expect the rest of the umpires around the league to take a lesson from it. Hard to get too worked up about it, in the big picture.

Until yesterday. With the Cubs up 3-1 in the eighth, the Reds are threatening a comeback, with runners on the corners and only one out. On a fly ball to medium center, Edwin Encarnacion tries for the plate. Fukudome makes a great throw, he’s called out, and the inning is over.

Except he wasn’t out, not by a long shot. This was an even worse call than Muchlinski’s; it’s not clear if Cubs catcher Koyie Hill ever tagged Encarnacion, but if he did, that didn’t happen until at least two thirds of Encarnacion’s body had safely crossed the plate. And there was no trickery or other confusing element of the play; it was a close enough play as plays at the plate generally go, but not that close. There’s no excuse for getting that one wrong. So instead of it being 3-2 with a runner on second and two outs in the 8th, it’s 3-1 going into the bottom of the inning, in which the Cubs score two and effectively put the game away. So it didn’t change the outcome of the game as clearly as Muchlinski’s screwup did, but it was an even more obvious screwup, and it certainly may have changed the outcome.

Even worse? This time, it wasn’t some triple-A schlub. This umpire was Laz Diaz, a real-life Major League umpire who’s been at it for over ten years. Replays showed he got into the exact same position Muschlinski had gotten himself into, completely screening himself off from actually viewing the play that it was his job to interpret. So much for learning from the other guy’s mistakes.

So it seems to me that at least one, and very likely both, of these two things are true:
(1) Laz Diaz and Mike Muchlinski are incurably incompetent; or
(2) we need instant replays across the board, now.

If it’s (1) and not (2), what we need is a league-wide audit of the umpires, and for the ones who can’t handle basic things like getting into the proper position on a play at the plate to be made gone (or at least heavily retrained). But why not just implement (2) regardless?

Really, what’s the serious argument against instant replay, and how can those considerations possibly mean more than the importance of getting the calls right and avoiding altering the outcomes of games by virtue of terrible calls? This seems unbelievably simple to me. Yeah, you make the game a little longer, you take some (possibly very little, depending on how you implement it) of the humanity out of the game, and so on. But you get the calls right, and you protect the integrity of the games against incompetence like Muchlinski’s and Diaz’s.

There’s a lot of room to argue about how to go about it and how pervasive to make it, how the replay should be triggered, etc., but I don’t see the argument that replay should be kept out of the league altogether, or limited to home run calls as it is now. We have the capability to get calls like these right (and have for decades now), so we should get them right. What am I missing?

Just a Day: May 23, 19091981

July 2, 2009

So, last week was my wedding anniversary, and I took the opportunity to write about all the stuff that happened on that particular day. It was fun! So I thought that today, I’d look at some other random day in baseball history. I went to this site and had it pull random numbers: between 4 and 10 for the month; between 1 and [30 or 31] for the day; and between 1953 and 2008 for the year. Here’s what I got this time:

May 23, 1981.

(Okay, so I originally entered 1901 to 2008, and it came up with 1909. Which would be great…except that as you probably know, Retrosheet and Baseball Reference only have boxes from 1953 on [and from 1920-1930, which I’ll have to wade into sometime], and without that it’s really hard to come up with enough to say unless you happen to fall on a really momentous day, which isn’t the point. So 1981 it is!)

Anyway, on Saturday, May 23, 1981…

  • The Dodgers beat the Reds, 9-6. Rookie sensation Fernando Valenzuela (hey, check out the sponsor of that page!) has his second poor-ish start in a row after going 8-0 with 8 CG and an 0.50 ERA in the first 8 starts of his career. He still goes 8 innings, but gives up five runs, four earned, with six walks. Another notable rookie, Dave Stewart, bails him out by striking out two in a perfect ninth, and the Dodgers score four in the top of the tenth to give Stew the win. Ron “The Penguin” Cey belts his ninth home run of the young season, but he’s only got four more in him in this injury- and strike-shortened year. The win put the Dodgers at a MLB-best 29-11 (.725), already 6.5 games up on the NL West. Quite similar to 2009, when the Dodgers were 30-14 (.682) on May 23 and 8.5 games up on the (smaller and weaker) West.

    The 1981 squad would go on to finish first in the West for the first half, but play 27-26 ball and finish 4th in the second half, giving them a second-best-in-the-West record that would have kept them out of the postseason in any other year in history. The Reds, meanwhile, finished with the best overall record (66-42, .611) but didn’t win either half. The Dodgers won the World Series, while the division-best Reds watched the entire playoff run from their couches. Weird, weird year.

  • Gene Green passed away at just 47. He had one very solid year with the bat, in 1961, while with the hundred-loss Senators (though he did lead the league in GIDP). Oddly, I can’t find any indication anywhere of how it happened that he died so young.
  • Mike Schmidt hit his 14th home run of the season in the Phillies’ 6-4 comeback win over the Pirates. That put him on pace for 58, assuming a 162-game season. He finished the year with 31 in just 107 team games, a 47-HR 162G pace. He ended the short season leading the national league in HR, OBP, SLG, R, RBI, total bases, extra-base hits, walks, times on base, and OPS+ (199). And the career .267 hitter even finished fourth in the league in batting average at .316, the only time in his career he went over .293. Those extra 55 games might have given him a real chance at the majors’ only triple crown since 1967. Or (certainly more likely) he might have fallen back toward his career norms. Just too bad we didn’t get a chance to find out.
  • This was a big day for multiple-extra-inning games. The Rangers manage just seven hits in 12 innings, but also draw ten walks in beating the Mariners 6-4. Bill Stein pinch-hits in the 9th and ends up the star, going 2-for-3 with 3 RBI. The Rangers had been down 4-0 before scoring four in the ninth to tie, and added two in the twelfth to win.
  • That wasn’t even the longest game of the day…and neither was this one, though it came just one out shy. Rickey Henderson’s sacrifice fly plates Mitchell Page, and the Athletics beat the Blue Jays 3-2 in 15 innings. Henderson, in his second of four consecutive years leading the league in both stolen bases and caught stealing, goes 3-for-6, but is caught stealing for the 10th time after leading off the first with a single. Interestingly, this game featured a matchup of the very best and the fourth-worst leadoff hitters of all time: Rickey for the A’s, Alfredo Griffin for the Jays. Thankfully, the not-insane team won this one. Future A’s manager Ken Macha came in on defense in the 9th and went 3-for-3 against his future employer.
  • This was the longest game of the day — in outs, though almost certainly not in minutes. The Royals beat the Twins in 15 innings, 1-0. Paul Splittorff goes 11 shutout innings (six hits, two walks, two Ks…no pitch counts available, sadly), and Roger Erickson matches him for 9.1 of those innings (seven hits, one walk, seven Ks). It ends when Willie Wilson singles home pinch runner Danny Garcia, who played 12 games in ’81 and was never heard from again.

What I love about this, based on the inadequate sample of the two I’ve done so far, is that when I first start looking at the chosen day, it looks kind of boring and uninspiring, but as I dig into it, there’s always something. Like the Dodgers-Reds, and the three games that totaled 42 innings. I hope you enjoyed reading it some tiny percentage of as much as I enjoyed researching it…