Was A-Rod tipping pitches?

Note: This article has been edited to include suggestions from the comments, particularly to look only at the Texas sample and account for the Texas park/pitchers effect.

Today was not a good day for Alex Rodriguez. After news broke earlier this year that he had tested positive for steroids in 2003, A-Rod tried desperately to regain some respect and trust by admitting not only to one-time use, but by opening up and putting it all on the table: three years worth of juicing that no one would have known about if not for his candor. Now, reports of use dating possibly back to high school and continuing past 2003 into his years with the Yankees have leaked, and regardless of how accurate these reports turn out to be, this news shatters a lot of the tenuous trust fans may have reluctantly given. But there are more, and potentially just as damaging, allegations to these reports than that.

The reports allege that A-Rod tipped opposing hitters to what pitches were coming in lopsided games when he was at shortstop with the expectation that those hitters would return the favour when he came up to bat. The steroid allegations are one thing. A lot of people were already convinced his use was not limited to when he admitted using, and to a lot of people, his use at all, let alone for 3 years, is already damning enough on that front. But this adds a few new barrels of kerosene for fans to throw on the proverbial fire. For a guy who already has a reputation as a selfish ass and a bad teammate, can there be much worse than news of deliberately selling out teammates to the opposing team under the small chance that they might in turn help him pad his stats a bit in a meaningless game?

Needless to say, his many detractors will likely run wild with this. However, that's not what we're here to do. There will be enough of that. What I want to look at is whether we can find any evidence of these new allegations. Unlike trying to find evidence in the numbers of steroid use, this accusation calls for a fairly straightforward approach. All we have to do is look at how batters A-Rod might have tipped hit in lopsided games with A-Rod at short, and compare that to how they would have been expected to hit.

First, we have to determine what hitters we want to look at. Based on the reports, they should be hitters who would have a chance to tip A-Rod back when he is at the plate, so we're talking about other middle infielders. This could also potentially include center fielders, but for now, let's stick with what we can be sure of and see what our sample looks like.

Next, we need to define what situations we want to look at that we would consider lopsided enough for A-Rod to consistently do this. I arbitrarily picked 2 different situations that I felt were sufficiently lopsided that if A-Rod were indeed tipping pitches, it should show up, but were common enough that I would still have a good sized sample to evaluate. One was any game that was at least 7 runs apart in either direction (either with A-Rod's team up or down). The other was any game in the 7th inning or later that was at least 5 runs apart.

Now that we have defined what we want to look at, it's on to the study. I looked at every time a middle infielder was at bat with A-Rod at short in one of these two situations and summed the results to get an aggregate line of what these hitters hit in each situation. Then, to determine what kind of numbers we should expect under normal circumstances, I looked at what the same hitters would have hit in the same number of plate appearances based on their numbers for that season as a whole. For example, in 1998, Chuck Knoblauch came to the plate 6 times with A-Rod at short and the score at least 7 runs apart, so I took what he hit in those 6 plate appearances and added them into the group of hitters with A-Rod at short, and then I took what he hit over the 1998 season as a whole, weighted it to 6 plate appearances, and added that into the group establishing what those hitters would be expected to hit. This was done for every middle infielder who batted in a lopsided game with A-Rod at short.

This left me with a total of 693 plate appearances in the first situation and 859 in the second. Both of these are right around or above a full season's worth of PA's for a player, so we're talking about a decent if not ideal sized sample. Here are the results, with the first row showing what the group was expected to hit and the second row showing what they did hit with A-Rod supposedly tipping pitches:

7+ Run Games

w/ A-Rod .281.422.333.755

5+ Run Games, 7th inning or later

Season .267 .392 .327 .719
w/ A-Rod .288 .452 .341 .793

Seventy OPS points is a lot. But guess what? That might not be all. I ran the above study again, but this time I left out plate appearances where a runner was on second. Since most batteries work out a series of signs that changes throughout a game to stop the runner on second from stealing and relaying signs to the hitter, there is a good chance A-Rod couldn't read them either in these PAs. Doing this dropped our samples to 551 and 695 PAs, but our lopsided-and-late sample is still a full season's worth. Here are the new results:

7+ Run Games

Season .268 .392 .328 .720
w/ A-Rod .284.440 .334 .774

5+ Run Games, 7th inning or later

Season .267 .391 .327 .718
w/ A-Rod .295 .472 .340 .812

Whoa. That looks like pretty damning evidence right there. Hitters all of a sudden picked up close to .100 OPS points late in lopsided games with A-Rod at short. We aren't quite ready to say for sure, though, because it's possible batters should hit better in these situations. For example, hitters might hit better in lopsided games. I used the same method to look at how middle infielders hit with anyone besides A-Rod at short in lopsided games compared to how they usually hit. This time, since I'm already dealing with a much larger sample (20-30 thousand PAs), I limited my data to the years 2000 on. Middle infielders hit about the same (-.002 OPS points) in 7+ run games and a fair bit worse (-.023 OPS points) in 5+ run games in at least the 7th inning. If we look at all hitters and not just middle infielders, the results are pretty much the same.

We should also consider that some of these PAs are taking place in Texas and against Texas pitching, where hitters generally do hit better. The majority of the PAs in the sample are in Seattle, where hitters hit a bit worse than average, so the Texas skew should probably not be enough to bring the whole sample up over .100 points compared to what those hitters would normally hit late in lopsided games. There was some interest in the comments in seeing specifically how much of the effect could be explained simply by the Texas skew, however, so we can look only at the Texas games and see if middle infielders benefit more than other hitters late in lopsided games (as I have done in the comments below-see comments for more details). As expected, both middle infielders and non-middle-infielders hit significantly better late in lopsided games against Texas than they normally hit (because they were hitting against, and often in, Texas), but the middle infielders improved far more than the non-middle-infielders. They improved by about .150 OPS points more than the non-MI group, which is even more than the improvement over the control sample we saw above in A-Rod's career sample at short without accounting for Texas.

That the increase is greater in Texas makes sense with the story, since that is where A-Rod has been accused of tipping pitches. He may or may not have been tipping pitches in Seattle as well, or he may have been tipping pitches only in his later years in Seattle. However, we still want to include them in this sample even though we suspect he may not have been tipping pitches there because, if nothing else, it's a simple way to regress the Texas sample. Looking at only the late-and-lopsided PAs in Texas gives us only 227 PAs, so we can't take the numbers at face value. Adding in the Seattle PAs gets us up to a full season's worth and greatly increases our confidence that the increase we are seeing is real.

All considered, that's close .100 points in OPS, in a full season's worth of PAs, that these hitters gained from having A-Rod in the field late in lopsided games. They basically morphed from Joel Youngblood into Dave Parker at the plate. Or from Adam Kennedy into Miguel Tejada. Notice especially the huge jumps in SLG: these hitters were flat out clobbering the ball like they knew what was coming. It's not like those pitchers in Texas needed any extra help without "Crash" Rodriguez screwing with their ERAs either. I hate to say it, but it appears from these numbers that something was up.

But hey, at least he never told someone to drill a bull in the head with a fastball. That we know of, anyway.
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One Pitch

One of the things I hope to do on this site is talk about turning points and key moments in games. Sometimes, there are subtle things that go unnoticed that affect the outcome of a game, positively or otherwise. I look for those moments in every game I watch, and I love to make note of them. I will use this time and space to talk about them. One such moment occurred in last night's game between my beloved St. Louis Cardinals and the Atlanta Braves. Read on.

. In what was an early game of back and forth momentum, the turning point came in the bottom of the 5th.

Before we get there, lets point out that the Braves took an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second. The Cards would bounce back in the top of the 3rd with a run of their own to tie it up.

In the bottom of the third, Altanta would fight for two runs in front of their home crowd. The second of those two runs deserves some attention, both for the unusual circumstances surrounding it, and for the way it gives shape, meaning, and context to what I am calling the key pitch of the game.

Francouer is on third base with two out. He took third on a ground out to the third baseman, advancing the extra 90 feet on a fielder' choice. With the ball and the third baseman in front of him, this was a risk that not many baserunners would take with what would soon be the second out on the way. He is already in scoring position, and it will still take a hit to score him. Most don't take this chance, because the risk reward is not worth it.

But he took the chance. I was listening on my Satellite radio at the time, and was getting the feed from the Atlanta radio team. They pointed out how unusual it was that Francouer would take that risk, but then pointed out (with what would turn out to be remarkable prescience) that with Wainright on the mound, there was a chance for a breaking ball in the dirt that could score a runner from third. Fat chance, I thought, with Molina behind the plate. I'll be damned if before they got the last words out of their mouth, on the very next pitch, Wainright didn't throw a 55 foot sinking curve that bounced off Molina's chest. It took a quick and decisive action from Francouer to dare to succeed, but he went on first bounce and scored the go ahead run.

Now we fast forward to the bottom of the fifth. St. Louis would explode for four runs, and a two run lead as a result, in the top of the fifth. But as early in the game momentum would shift often, so too would Atlanta again threaten a big inning the bottom of the fifth. Bases are now loaded. Two out. St. Louis up 5-3. 0-2 count on Ross. Wainright misses with a curve - 1-2. Misses with another curve, 2-2 count. He tries a cut fastball that hangs high and outside, Ross lays off and the count is 3-2.

What will he throw? He missed bad with two curves. He threw a shitty cut fastball at 85 miles an hour that also missed bad. Bases loaded now with the runners taking off on his first move. He doesn't want lay in a fastball right down the middle, but he can't afford to nibble either. He remembers not just the two missed curve balls earlier in the count when he was ahead, but also the one two innings earlier which went wild and scored the go ahead run.

This is the pitch of the game. This is the key moment. This is the turning point, one way or the other. And this is where legends build their reputations.

David Ross knew what was coming - he figured like everyone else Wainright HAD to risk a fastball and hope he had more on it than Ross could handle. Which is why halfway to the plate there was a look of utter disgust on his face as he watched a 12-6 curveball drop out of his forehead and buckle his knees as it passed through the strike zone. A called third strike. Carlos Beltran and Brandon Inge both know that feeling of disgust. The umps arm went up, and Molina just jumped up and rolled the ball back to the mound and he and Wainright made their way back to the dugout.

The game would end on that 5-3 score.

One pitch, but my what a pitch.
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Who’s the Best Leadoff Hitter in Baseball?

Call me old fashioned, but I love good, well-executed small ball. I would probably go to the lengths of saying that I prefer it to the blazing fireworks of the long ball. There’s something about a guy stealing second, legging out a double, and going first-to-third that reminds me of why I love the game so much. That’s why, for example, I got more excitement from watching Pujols steal second and then getting knocked in by Ludwick last week against the Cubs than from his no-doubt grand slam blast the very next day (although I rather enjoyed both). That’s also why I love a good leadoff hitter – when they’re good, they’re the epitome of this style of play. This got me thinking: who is the game’s best leadoff hitter right now?

To answer this question, we must first consider a different question: what indicates a good leadoff hitter? Is there a simple metric we can use to assess this distinction? Perhaps the most obvious stat to look at would be on-base percentage. After all, the leadoff hitter is supposed to get on base so that the guys behind him can knock him in, right? In a way, yes, but OBP is hardly the best assessor for quality leadoff batters. In 2008 only six teams (Florida, Cleveland, LA Angels, Kansas City, Seattle and Washington) had leadoff guys who led their team in OBP. The highest OBP over the last three seasons for a leadoff hitter was .379 (H. Ramirez, Sizemore), which was good for 24th best during that span. Many leadoff guys don’t walk all that much, especially when compared to power hitters, which deflates these totals for them and thus renders the stat somewhat moot for comparison.

Let’s see, OBP won’t work for this – what about runs? I mean, isn’t the main job of the leadoff hitter to set the table and score his team’s runs? Again, this is partially true, but it is hardly an indicative stat for which to judge a leadoff man’s success on its own. Much like with OBP, only seven teams (Florida, Detroit, Seattle, Texas, Arizona, Tampa Bay and Washington) had leadoff hitters who led their team in runs (Eight, actually, if you count Baltimore, where Roberts and Markakis were tied.).

So not OBP and not runs. Hey, how about steals? Unlike with OBP and runs, leadoff hitters will almost exclusively be the leaders in this category. The problem with this, however, is that just because this category excludes most other types of players doesn’t make it the best means of assessment for this group. It’s almost like using height as the sole method of recruiting the center for your basketball team, or speed as your only factor for considering a wide receiver (cough, Al Davis, cough). Guys like Juan Pierre, Willy Taveras and Michael Bourn perennially rank among the league’s best base-swipers, but you probably wouldn’t want these guys at the top of your line-up everyday because they don’t actually get on base enough.

Our main problem is that we have yet to identify the main responsibility of a leadoff hitter. Sure, they’re supposed to get on base, score runs and exhibit their speed on the bases, but these are all just components that contribute to a successful leadoff man. A great leadoff hitter is someone who, in my opinion, allows others to easily bring him in. Basically, it’s not enough to simply get on base – you want to be able to put yourself in scoring position on your own ability to make it as easy as possible for the high-average guys hitting immediately behind you to bring you in.

The question then becomes what are the ways in which you can put yourself in scoring position? There are basically three major ways a player can do this on his own (AKA, without any errors or other defensive contributions): hitting a double, hitting a triple and stealing a base. Obviously, there is some defensive involvement with each of these scenarios, but it is at least limited enough to say that the batter is primarily responsible for these outcomes. With this in mind, I developed the following formula to measure a player’s scoring position efficiency (SPE):

2B + 3B + SB


The three scoring position situations are divided by plate appearances minus home runs because this factors in all of the circumstances in which a player can reach first (walks, HBP). It discounts home runs because these are plate appearances that don’t concern these results. There’s no need to detract from a player’s rate because of plate appearances where he drove himself in, but there’s also no reason to count it towards his scoring position efficiency since it doesn’t allow others to bring him in.

Also, I chose not to weigh triples over doubles even though it’s obviously much easier to score from third, especially with nobody out. Likewise, steals of third are not distinguished in any way from steals of second. The idea with this stat was to provide a convenient yet accurate assessment of a player’s ability to give other batters the chance to bring him in with a hit. I say this because while a sac fly will score a run, it won’t ignite an offense like a run driven in as the result of a hit will. In this way this metric also shows how big of a catalyst a player is for his offense.

Here are all the players have at least a 10% SPE over the past three seasons combined:

Player SPE
Jose Reyes 15.9%
Hanley Ramirez 14.1%
Carl Crawford 13.9%
Brian Roberts 13.4%
Jimmy Rollins 13.4%
Juan Pierre 13.3%
Willy Taveras 12.6%
Chone Figgins 12.0%
Eric Byrnes 11.5%
Alex Rios 11.4%
Alfonso Soriano 11.3%
Grady Sizemore 11.1%
Shane Victorino 10.9%
Bobby Abreu 10.3%
Matt Holliday 10.3%
Rafael Furcal 10.1%
Ian Kinsler 10.1%
David Wright 10.0%
Carlos Beltran 10.0%

Keep in mind that this list was not excluded to leadoff hitters, so it’s somewhat significant that it’s dominated by the presence of leadoff guys. It’s not necessarily surprising with the weight of steals, but I think it’s still significant. It’s also important to remember what exactly this means – this isn’t meant to be the ultimate leadoff hitter stat, just a more thorough assessment than just looking at runs or steals.

A few things that stood out to me: I was somewhat surprised to see Pierre and Taveras so high on this list since they’re not very big extra base threats at all. This shows me that such an abundance of steals can sometimes compensate for severe lacking in other areas, but it’s still not enough for me to favor this group of leadoff hitters as a whole. The top five really come as no surprise, as they are generally perceived to be the cream of the crop for this kind of player (even though Crawford isn’t a leadoff hitter for the Rays). I would’ve expected Sizemore and Soriano to be a little higher up, but their more substantial home run numbers hurt them for this particular assessment.

Not to be anti-climactic, but the real purpose of this article was to present a new angle on assessing the quality of a leadoff batter. I think too often people view this spot in the lineup too simplistically and try to put too much importance on one stat, especially in the popularity of fantasy baseball with steals. I’m not saying that this new measure is perfect, but it does look more accurately at what a leadoff batter does on his own to put himself in position to score.

In answering the question, though, I would say that Reyes is the game’s best right now. He’s clearly above everyone in this measure because he has a rare combination of base-stealing speed and instinct as well as gap power. He’s also scored 14.5% of the Mets’ runs over the past three years (which leads the Mets, which has no shortage of run-scorers) – third behind only Hanley Ramirez (15.9%) and Ichiro (14.7%) for their respective teams during that span, but those two played on much lesser offensive teams.

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Establishing Context: the Myth of the Left-Handed Specialist

As fans, we often find things to criticize in our team's on-field management. As analysts, we do the same. Sometimes these criticisms are warranted ("Now batting leadoff, Corey Patterson"), but sometimes they are misguided rants born of frustration. Moves don't always work out, but that doesn't mean that, given the information available at the time, it wasn't the right decision. One common situation that tends to raise a lot of unnecessary ire is the usage of a bullpen in platoon situations, particularly regarding how left-handed specialists are used.

The situation generally plays out in some form of the following variation: a lefty comes in to face a left-handed hitter, gets him out, and then is left in to face a right-handed hitter, whereupon the clamouring begins and continues to all hours of the night, and often into the next day, or through the next day if it is a travel day, in living rooms, press boxes, stadium seats, bars, messageboards, etc., crying for the manager's head, or about the manager's head, by people who believe they are in the manager's head. In these discussions, you will often hear things like: "He's fine when he's used properly, but you can't let him face righties." The assumption here is that proper usage of a left-handed specialist would be to face very few, if any, right-handed hitters. The problem with this assumption is that it is made without a sufficient understanding of context.

Roster spots in MLB are limited commodities. As such, substitutions have to be used wisely. Managers simply don't have the option to switch pitchers every time a change would create a more favourable match-up. What is best in the context of an at bat is not always what is best in the context of a game, let alone what is best in the context of a 162 game season. As such, the ideal of a left-handed specialist who only faces lefties and makes appearances 1 or 2 hitters at a time until a righty comes up is little more than a myth. That perception, while deep-seated in the baseball community, is unfounded. Those lefty-only pitchers don't exist as people seem to think.

Since 2000, there have been 73 times (about 8 pitchers a year on average) a pitcher has faced more left-handed hitters than right-handed hitters in at least 25 IP. There have been 30 where a pitcher has faced more than 55% lefties. Only 4 times has a pitcher faced fewer than 40% right-handers (2 of those were Mike Myers, the closest thing to the myth we've seen, who is also the only one to top 62% lefties faced in at least 25 IP).

There have only been 19 pitchers since 2000 who have faced more lefties than righties in at least 25 IP in more than one season, and only 5 who have faced more than 55% lefties multiple times. Only 13 pitchers with at least 50 IP have faced more lefties than righties in their careers since 2000, and only Jesse Orosco (from age 43 on) and Mike Myers have faced more than 54% lefties. Forget pitchers who face almost exclusively left-handers - pitchers who regularly face a majority of lefties year in and year out are rare, and almost everyone who is a regular roster member for any length of time ends up at least close to even on the number of lefties and righties he faces. Short-term or September call-ups are one thing, but if you are going to give a pitcher a permanent roster spot, he will have to bear at least a moderate workload (at least 40-50% of all batters faced in most cases, and usually more) against opposite-handed hitters. To expect that not to happen is not reasonable, given historical usage of left-handed specialists.

Additionally, pitchers can't get away with only facing one batter at a time throughout a season. Since 2000, Jesse Orosco is the only pitcher to make at least 25 appearances in a season and average fewer than 2 batters faced per appearance. Eighty-two (about 9 per year) times has a pitcher faced fewer than 3 batters per appearance in a season with at least 25 games. Twelve pitchers with at least 50 career appearances since 2000 have faced fewer than 3 batters per appearance, and only a third of those have 150 career appearances since 2000. Unless opposing teams are regularly going to run out multiple lefties in a row without pinch-hitting for any of them, your left-handed specialist will have to stay in to face right-handers a lot of the time.

There are, of course, times that managers should play the matchups. In high leverage situations, the value of a single plate appearance can justify the burning of a pitcher. When a bullpen is particularly rested, or when fresh call-ups are stocking the pen, or late in games when 1 pitcher has born most of the load, the cost of a pitching change is lower, and managers can afford to play more matchups. In September when rosters are expanded and teams in pennant races need every advantage they can get, or in the postseason where there is extra rest between games and each at bat is critical, there is little reason to conserve pitching changes at the expense of your chances at getting the out. However, as fans, we need to realize that in most situations over a season, there are factors to be considered beyond the present at bat, and often times those factors are simply more important than getting the best possible matchup in every plate appearance. In the case of permanently rostered left-handed relievers, that means that they have to face righties. There isn't any way around it.

What a left-handed specialist means in today's game is not that a pitcher does not or cannot face right-handed hitters. It means that he is among the handful of relievers who face more lefties than righties, or is at least close to 50-50 between them. Much beyond that, while often the expectation of fans, is not reasonable. I have no idea why such a strong perception otherwise exists when it has never been true. I first noticed how many righties left-handed specialists faced when writing another article on left-handed specialists late last year; at that point, I was shocked to see the pitchers I was looking at facing so many righties. This offseason, I read an article on a well-known statistical website by a respected writer calling out Ron Gardenhire's usage of Denys Reyes for facing so many righties when he was in fact among the lowest in baseball in percentage of right-handers faced. With such an ingrained idea, I can't really blame fans for not realizing that it is so unfounded, but it is this type of lack of awareness of proper context that leads to far more distress among fans than is called for. One of my goals with this blog is to try to establish a stronger sense of context for areas of the game where such is lacking, and this is one issue that jumped out as being in dire need of context. So hopefully next time you see your manager leaving a pitcher to face in a situation he seemingly doesn't belong in, you can have a better idea of why.
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In Search of a Modern Babe Ruth

Babe Ruth is a unique hitter in the history of the game. No one before or since has dominated Major League Baseball quite like he did. Sure, Aaron and Bonds hit more home runs. Williams may have rivaled his production. Musial, Cobb, and Mays rose to majestic heights in their day. But Babe Ruth was the man in ways none of them were. Over his career, 3.5% of all home runs hit in the Majors were off of his bat. In the 1920s, 4.7% of all home runs hit in MLB were his. One in every 10 AL round trippers hit that decade were Ruth's. Over his career, Ruth had more home runs in a season than another entire team 90 times (and 4 more where he equaled another team's combined total), including 1920 when his 54 home runs were more than all but 1 of the other 15 teams in the Majors.

Where are we ever supposed to find another hitter like that?

The fact is, we're looking so hard at the Bondses and Pujols and A-Rods, scrutinizing the modern game's greats, that we missed him. Back in the late-70s and through most of the 80s, we had a hitter like that, and almost no one seemed to notice. Someone who dominated the league with 7.2% (and that's in the expansion era!) of all MLB production in his dominant stat. Someone who, in 11 short but brilliant years, outproduced 125 entire teams, and twice outproduced every single one of the other 25 teams in MLB.

By now, you are no doubt racking your brain for the identity of this spectacular hitter. How could you have missed production like that? I'll be honest with you: I don't understand how he slipped through the cracks of history either. Because the simple fact is, no one has ever reached on Catcher's Interference quite like Dale Berra. Not even the Babe. Maybe it was his pedigree that made him great (as a young child, he groomed his swing clipping the mitt of his dad Yogi in the backyard of their New Jersey home), or maybe it was just the late, dragging swing that led the shortstop to a career .236/.294/.344 slash line. Whatever it was, he made an art of hitting the wrong object with his bat, and for that, he became his generation's Babe Ruth.
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The Secret to Jeter's Fielding

Just a quick post while I'm watching the Cleveland-New York game on the MLB Network. Cleveland tried a double steal with 1 out on what ended up being a weak pop up to shallow left. DeRosa was the trail runner on the play and never picked up the baseball, and he completely rounded second before realizing it was a weak pop up to shallow left and turned around to run back. Jeter, who made the play on the pop up, threw him out by a good 15 feet. Basically, it was a play that any shortstop in the game would have made. Catch a pop up and throw it to first when the guy is 80 feet from the bag.

Of course, this is the perfect play for Costas and Reynolds to explain to us how, despite all the evidence to the contrary, Jeter's poor fielding is saved by all these great plays he makes that never show up in the stats. What great awareness he had to think to check the runners after he caught the ball! Forget that every fielder from Little League up is trained to do that on every play. When Jeter does it, it's brilliant.

This, of course, provided to perfect segway for them to bring up another great play he made yesterday, when Cody Ransom had to come in to his left away from the bag to field a grounder with Gabe Kapler on second. Naturally, Jeter, who was already ranging toward the bag, was responsible for covering third on the play, and he did. Ransom proceeded to pretend to look Kapler back to second (ignoring that he was straying too far from the bag and could have been picked off at that point, but that's another issue) and then throw to first, when Kapler immediately took off. Teixeira then fired across the diamond to gun the guy at third for the double play. The most notable thing about this play? The tag by Jeter, apparently. He had to reach for it, but it was still a play that most shortstops make without issue. They went on and on in the booth about these great plays that you can't measure, and how you can't appreciate his defense without watching him every day, and that the sabremetricians will never get that.

The problem, it would seem, with watching Jeter play short day in and day out, is that it leaves you little time to watch anyone else play short. So you don't realize that the play you just saw Jeter make that doesn't show up in the stats is also made by the rest of the league.

But hey, what do I know? Apparently I don't even watch the games. Although, with this sandwiched between Jim Kaat talking about how he introduced the slide step to the game to validate his criticism of Sabathia's stretch motion ("I don't want to act like I invented anything, but...) and Bud Selig barging uninvited into the press box to talk about steroids, who could blame me if I didn't?
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Useless Trivia: homering from both sides in the same game

On Monday, Felipe Lopez became the first player to homer from both sides of the plate on Opening Day in MLB history. An inning later, Lopez' teammate Tony Clark became the second. Needless to say, they were also the first set of teammates to homer from both sides of the plate on Opening Day in Major League history.

Just how rare a feat is this in general, though, ignoring the arbitrary Opening Day limitation? In Retrosheet's PBP files, which date back to 1954 and cover nearly 85,000 games, only one other pair teammates has accomplished this feat: Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams on April 23, 2000. That wasn't the only history Tony Clark was making, though.

In the Retrosheet era, Chili Davis and Eddie Murray hold the record for most times homering from both sides of the plate in the same game, each with 11 such games. Tied for third behind them with 10 each are Ken Caminiti, Mickey Mantle*, and, as of Monday, Tony Clark.

Some other interesting tidbits about players who have homered from both sides in one game (all figures since 1954):

-86 players have accomplished the feat a combined 227 times

-Nick Swisher has the most such games since 2000, with 7 in only 4 full years. He has had at least one such game every year since becoming a full-time Major Leaguer and has a total of 5 in the last 2 years.

-Felipe Lopez, while he has a 20 HR season on his resume, is not exactly known for his power. However, his 73 career HR are not even close to the fewest by anyone to accomplish the feat. Steve Jeltz, who homered from each side on June 8, 1989, has only 5 career home runs. Donnie Scott, Brian Simmons, and Rob Bowen have all also done it with single-digit career HR totals.

-If Lopez were to accomplish the feat again, his 75 (minimum) career HR would not even be close to the fewest by anyone with multiple such games. Burton Ellis did it on August 1, 1963 and then again in the first game of a doubleheader on September 7 the following year despite only hitting 17 career HR. Jeff Davanon (33 career HR), Jose Reyes (61), Melvin Nieves (63), and Mark Belhorn (69) have all done it twice with fewer career HR than Lopez as well. Dale Sveum did it 3 times with only 69 career home runs.

-The defensive position played most frequently by players to homer from both sides in the same game is center field, with 50 of the 227 games coming from center fielders. The only position to have never done it is pitcher. Next fewest is DH with 14 games, followed by second base and left field with 20 each.

-Ken Singleton's 246 HR make him the most prolific switch hitting slugger to never homer from both sides in the same game.

*Since Retrosheet's PBP files currently only go back to 1954 (and are missing a handful of games from the first couple decades the data is compiled for), this does not include the first few years of Mantle's career, so this might not be his complete total.
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Baseball-Reference site overhauled

Just a quick post to let you know that one of the best sites for historical statistics just got better. Baseball-Reference.com (link in the list in the right margin) has added a number of features that bring it up to the high standards of other top stat sites like FanGraphs. I won't pretend that I can cover them all here, but I'll try to hit on a few of the most interesting things and let you explore the rest.

The first thing you may notice is that the layout has taken a step backwards. B-R has never had a flashy design, but it did have a solid format that was easy to use and worked fairly well visually. Now, the bare-bones structure remains, but the visual composition is lost as it looks like a bunch of tables thrown on a white background. I don't know if this is being worked on or not, or if the layout was published unfinished to get the new content out sooner. The only reason I am posting about the layout is because it could turn some people away. Don't let it. They didn't change it just for the hell of it. They added a ton of new functionality that necessitated some change in the layout. Now included are several advanced statistics and PBP breakdowns available on each player's home page and accessible through drop-down menus. These include several of the ratios found at Fangraphs plus plate discipline, baserunning, and situational data.

Also new are some better fielding numbers. Where Fangraphs has become the prime site for current players is largely in their UZR publication, as it is now the best place for defensive valuations. As long as UZR remains above all other defensive metrics in detail and quality, no other site can really compete without also licensing the stat, but where UZR lacks, B-R now picks up the slack. I'm talking about what is already B-R's biggest strength: historical data. They have now licensed Sean Smith's Total Zone (something some of us have been waiting a long time for), and now have the best pre-UZR (most of the last 50+ years) defensive valuations freely available on the web.

B-R has taken another cue from other stat sites and made their stats sortable, which was one of the shortcomings of the old site. This also now comes with yearly leaderboards for players as well as teams, which gives you plenty of new things to sort.

One of the coolest new additions, at least in my opinion, is that you can now convert any table to CSV data that can then be saved and imported into a spreadsheet. This was another huge shortcoming of the old site, as gathering data in a useful form was much more difficult than from other sites.

I'll let you explore the rest, but a huge thumbs up to Sean Forman for the new additions to his site. We appreciate the hard work.
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