Nowhere to Go but Up

In a recent post, I looked at the 2008 Rays' bullpen as a case study in bullpen success and how a bullpen can contribute beyond its ability in a single season to distort its value. In this post, I'd like to return to an earlier subject I've written on here, the 2008 Cardinals, to explore the opposite: how a bullpen can go wrong.

The Cardinals led the Majors in blown saves last year with 31 (tied with Seattle), and only San Diego lost more games in the bullpen, with Baltimore and Seattle tied with St. Louis at 31 bullpen losses. The NL average for blown saves was 23 per team (MLB average, 22), and for bullpen losses, 27 (MLB average, 25). The Cards' bullpen rated a little better in other areas, though still badly, but the blown saves and losses were the most visible numbers to the fans and the most intuitive for translating to win value. Unfortunately, these simple measures don't actually translate very well to win contributions. Instead, here's how they rated in some other areas (REW is Run Expectancy Wins, essentially an alternate WPA formula based on run probabilities instead of win probabilities):

ERA: 20th
FIP: 25th
K/9: 26th
BB/9: 23rd
K/BB: 25th
WPA: 22nd
WPA/LI: 21st
REW: 18th

As expected, the Cards' bullpen fared better in the metrics that don't differentiate between pitching and defense-ERA, WPA, WPA/LI, and REW-than in the ones that isolate pitching ability-FIP, K/9, BB/9, and K/BB-due to the good defense the Cards fielded behind them-but in both types of measures, they rated above the bottom 5 in baseball. Of interest to us here is how they ended up with all the blown saves and losses beyond where they rated in more advanced metrics (WPA had them as 1.92 wins below average, REW at .57 wins above average).

First, though, we might want to see how the Cards' bullpen ended up above average in REW when they were nearly 2 wins below in WPA. A number of pitchers varied a bit in these two categories, but by far the biggest discrepancy was from Jason Isringhausen, who posted a WPA of -2.97 but only a REW of -0.77, a difference of 2.20 wins. How can such a discrepancy exist? To answer that, we have to understand how the metrics are different. One key difference between WPA and REW is that the former incorporates Leverage Indexes while the latter does not: a 1-out solo home run, for example, will change the win probability of a tie game much more than of a blowout, but the run expectancy will change the same in each situation. There are more complicated implications of that, like how various hit-types compare to each other in different situations, but the basic differences more or less stem from that one idea. The Cardinal's bullpen WPA/LI (-0.42) reflects this and settles between the two measures. For Izzy, we can see this quite clearly in his gamelogs: the following table shows how he fared in his 13 appearances with a LI under 0.50 and how he fared in his 14 appearances with a LI over 2.00.

Jason Isringhausen, high and low leverage situations in 2008

LI<.5 13

In addition to this, Izzy also gave up 3 more runs in his next highest leverage appearance, putting all but 5 of his 28 runs allowed in the 15 highest leverage appearances of his 42 games. One of the two runs in his 13 lowest leverage appearances shown above was in the highest leverage of those games, and he didn't allow a run in his 7 lowest leverage appearances of the year. This fits well with anecdotal evidence, as Izzy was horrendous to start the year before losing the closer job and being shut down with a hand injury that some questioned as an excuse to get him off the roster. He then returned in a middle relief role and pitched much less abominably. Obviously, with the diminished role came lower leverage situations.

This seems to be one of two things, or likely a combination of the two, causing the discrepancy. It could just be a fluke, as such results in small samples tend to be, or Izzy may have really been pitching hurt early in the year as he was in his bad 2006 campaign. It is likely not any indication of nerves or other true skill of Izzy's, considering he has been better in higher leverage situations over his career than in less consequential situations, and he has a reputation, like a lot of closers, of not being completely right when asked to pitch without the game on the line.

In my last article on the 2008 Cardinals, I mentioned that it was debatable whether considering LI was appropriate in evaluating bullpens. In theory, using LI-weighted stats like WPA accounts for the best pitchers being used in the most crucial situations and the reality that not all situations a bullpen faces are of the same value, and such stats more closely approximate the actual contributions of a bullpen. There is enough noise in the random variation across different leverage situations, however, to counteract those benefits in simple WPA. It would take a more sophisticated method of compiling WPA (like weighting the closer's or other bullpen ace's peripherals more heavily in computing projections to account for their higher leverage usage) to take advantage of this. As it is, both WPA/LI and REW in one season are better predictors of a bullpen's WPA the following year than WPA based on the correlation exhibited in paired seasons since 2003. This means the true value of the Cards' bullpen, and what they should expect from the same cast next year, should be closer to the more optimistic values than the low WPA they posted.

This still leaves us with our initial question. We've looked at where the additional losses in WPA came from, but what about the additional losses in the bullpen's actual record? The blown saves can be partially explained by the Cardinals having the second most save opportunities in baseball and by the disproportionate number of losses distributed into blown saves (note how the blown saves compare to the League average and how the losses compare to the League average), but the Cardinals still lost 4 more games in the bullpen than the average NL team and 6 more than the average ML team. Why is that more than the WPA figure, and why can't we just use that as the bullpen's value?

Bullpen losses do not isolate the work of the bullpen in the same way as the other stats above. Losses are influenced by the situation inherited by the bullpen as well as the run support provided by the offense. A bullpen that comes into a tie game in the fifth and gives up 1 run with no run support will take the loss, but one that comes in down by 1 in 8th and gives up 5 runs to prevent a 5 run rally in the 9th from winning the game will not, even though the latter did much more to hurt its team and contributed much more to the loss. For the Cards' bullpen this year, run support in particular was an issue.

The Cardinals led 87 games through 6 innings last year and were tied through 6 in 17 more, a good 9-10 games better than their Win-Loss record. The difference between the first 6 innings and the last 3 was not all in the bullpen, though. The offense was scoring on a pace of 5.10 runs per game through 6 innings in games last year, but only 4.33 runs per game in innings 7-9. In general, teams score less in the final 3 innings, but even after accounting for that, the Cards scored .27 runs more per game than the average team through 6 but .06 runs fewer per game than the average team in the final 3 innings. The offense's skew toward helping the starters more than the relievers redistributed some of the losses to the bullpen. The difference in run support was substantial enough cost the bullpen about 2 extra losses that should have been pinned on the starters instead. Again, this fits the general perception, this time in regard to the over-performance of the rotation.

In this case, there really is nowhere to go but up. This won't all be of benefit to the Cardinals, because a good chunk of the improvement in the bullpen is bound to be in areas that didn't actually hurt the team, namely the redistribution of losses among the rotation and the the bullpen, but some of it will. This also doesn't account for changing personnel: Izzy will likely be gone, Perez and Motte should be up the whole year, Kinney should be a much bigger contributor, and Trever Miller will shore up the left side of the pen. Russ Springer, the Cards' best reliever, is gone for 2009, and the second left-handed spot is still uncertain. So the focus here is less about projecting for next year (an area the Rays article dipped deeper into) than about looking at what went wrong this year. Still, it would seem highly unlikely that the bullpen will look so ugly again next year, even without the personnel moves, unless they do something absurd like give Jose Oquendo a set up role or keep letting Randy Flores pitch over better options (like, oh, say, Aaron Miles).
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Jim Rice, HOF?

Rickey Henderson once declared himself the greatest who ever lived-he was talking about baserunning, which probably isn't accurate, but he was undeniably one of the greatest, and probably the greatest, leadoff hitter the game has ever seen. So isn't it delightfully ironic that the news of the induction of this man who spent his whole career celebrating his own greatness, the time when we should all be celebrating it, is instead overshadowed by the debate sparked over the induction of his classmate, Jim Rice? After all, debate is more interesting than agreement, and Rice is one of the most controversial inductions in some time.

A lot has been written on Rice's credentials and why he doesn't belong in the Hall of Fame, so I won't go over everything, but the one thing his supporters seem to hinge everything on is how he compared to his peers over a 12 year period from 1975-1986. Nevermind for a moment that that was essentially his entire effective career (he hung on for 3 more years, but declined rapidly, slugging just .408, .406, and .344 in his those final years) and that 12 years of pretty good hitting has never really been grounds for the Hall of Fame: let's just look at those 12 years and see what he did and who he compares to.

As his supporters point out, he led the AL in HR, H, RBI, and SLG over those 12 years (unless you count players who didn't play the whole 12 years, like Don Mattingly, in the SLG category).  Mike Schmidt, of course, had 90 more HR and a better SLG over those 12 years, but played in the NL, as did Dave Kingman, who hit 15 more HR (in 700 and 1600 fewer ABs, respectively).  Less commonly cited is the fact that Rice led the AL over those 12 years in outs by 261 and GDP by 95.  He was 3rd in in the AL in Ks, but he walked 115 fewer times than Gorman Thomas and 249 fewer times than Reggie Jackson (who was 40 by this time), the 2 ahead of him.   It makes sense that he would be at least near the top in most counting categories:  only Steve Garvey had more ABs, and there were only 13 other hitters even within 1000 ABs of Rice in those 12 years (partially because he played so much, but also because he played for the offensive powerhouse Red Sox and especially because he didn't walk much), so leading the group in a bunch of counting stats isn't necessarily grounds for enshrinement.

Let's ignore these counting totals for a moment and try to make some more substantial comparisons to some of the best hitters of his era.  Note especially Rice's propensity for making outs and his poor batting eye.

From 1975-1986
RiceSchmidtBrettWinfieldMurray (10 yrs)
HR350 440207282275

Keep in mind that this is pretty much the entire case for Rice-the others all had significant careers beyond these 12 years, and none are in the Hall for this one stretch.  Still, Mike Schmidt was clearly the best hitter over these 12 years with everyone else pretty far back.  George Brett was the best hitter in the AL (in addition to the advantage in the raw numbers, keep in mind he was hitting in Kauffman-a pitchers' park, while Rice was hitting in Fenway, a right-handed hitters' heaven).  Had Brett and Rice switched places in KC and Boston, we would never be having this argument.  Eddie Murray also made a strong case after missing the first 2 years in this stretch.

So it's not like Rice was head and shoulders above his contemporaries, even for his relatively short effective career.  In fact, he was pretty far behind the best hitter of his time.  He had other contemporaries who were just as good or better hitters over that time, and they all kept hitting for a long time after he stopped.  If someone were to deserve induction based on just 12 years, they had better be 12 damn good years, as in, among the best 12 year stretches ever.  Like Sandy Koufax-type stuff.  Not just in the company of some of the best hitters over those 12 years in one of the biggest lulls in offensive starpower in baseball history.  I could compare Rice's 1975-1986 stretch to 12 year stretches by Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Stan Musial, Lou Gehrig, or a number of other hitters, but I think we all know how it would turn out.  It's not like Rice's stretch was close to anything special historically.

In fact, for half of that 12 year period, he wasn't even clearly the best hitter in his own outfield.  Take a look:

From 1981-1986

Dwight Evans pretty much outhit him across the board.  Perhaps you thought I was going to go with Fred Lynn here, and I could have, since he was a pretty comparable hitter to Rice in the other half of the sample, but Rice did at least hold a significant slugging advantage over Lynn.  He doesn't even have that over Evans.  It's hard to say a guy was the dominant hitter of those 12 years when he wasn't even the best hitter on his team for half that time.

Another term people like to throw around when discussion Rice is "feared".  He was, allegedly, the most feared hitter in baseball for those 12 years.  Opposing managers and pitchers were slow in catching on, though.  From 1975-1980, he didn't lead his team in intentional walks a single time (Lynn led the team twice, Evans three times, and Yaz once).  He fell short of the team lead again in 1984, this time to Tony Armas.  In all of baseball, oddly enough, pitchers seemed to fear the better hitting Schmidt and Brett quite a bit more, as they intentionally passed them each twice as many times as they did Rice.  Other hitters who were intentionally walked more than Rice over those 12 years:  our old friends Winfield and Murray, Rod Carew, Reggie Jackson, Ken Singleton, Greg Luzinski, and Jack Clark.

I mentioned earlier that Rice benefitted from playing in Fenway.  The primary reason I included OPS+ in the first table above was because it is park-adjusted, so you can get an idea of how much Rice benefitted from Fenway (notice, for example, how his raw OPS compares to Dave Winfield's, but how Winfield's is actually better once you park adjust it).  Even this adjustment understates the advantage Rice had because Fenway is so skewed toward helping balls hit to left:  park-adjustments are done based on the overall park, which, in Fenway's case, is tempered by the deep center and right-center fields.  I don't like home-road splits in general, but in this case, they're the simplest way to demonstrate the kind of boost Rice got from Fenway because of the skews in the overall park factors.

Jim Rice Career Home/Road Splits
HomeRoadDifferenceML-ave. diff.

Notice the huge jump in slugging especially, which is what Rice was best known for.

All this is to say, Jim Rice was not really the clear standout hitter his candidacy requires.  He was not even close to the best hitter in baseball in his peak.  His production dropped off a cliff and he was out of baseball long before his contemporaries' production waned.  His 12 good years certainly don't compare to anything baseball's greatest hitters have done in 12 year periods, and his career doesn't stack up with other HOF hitters.  Heck, it doesn't even stack up that well against Jim Edmonds'.  And all this ignores the fact that he was a poor defender at a non-premium position in the easiest park in baseball to play that position, and a DH for much of his career, as well as ignores his baserunning.  He is a prime example of our general overvaluation of power hitting and our under-appreciation of defensive value, positional and park adjustments, patience at the plate, and complete sets of skills in power hitters.  His represents our tendency to look for roundabout ways to find support for a case in the numbers when the numbers just aren't there when you look directly at them.  Going back to Schmidt and Brett, they both were good third basemen in their primes, Schmidt in particular, in addition to being better hitters, which made them much more valuable players, even ignoring the longevity they had over Rice.  Winfield was a better fielding outfielder.  These guys were all much better players than Rice, who played and were productive a lot longer on top of it.  To list Rice as the best hitter of his era is severely uninformed, given that Mike Schmidt and George Brett played throughout his career, and once you consider the Fenway effect, to even list him amongst the elite hitters over his short 12 year period of productivity in an era very short on great hitters is something of a stretch.  To extend that from listing him among the best hitters of his era to listing him among the best players of his era is beyond that.  And for 12 years of that, he belongs in the Hall of Fame?

Oh yeah, Congrats, Rickey.
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Baseball Boring?

The title 3-D has a couple of meanings. There is the obvious and less than elegant fact the it represents its three contributors: John C., John Jacob, and Adam Dorhauer. Like I said, not very elegant, but certainly serviceable.

But it also suggests our vision for the site - to cover baseball from every angle and in every possible dimension. That has a bit more elegance to it, to be sure.

I read my two son’s work, and I am impressed at their ability to ingest statistical data, and regurgitate some pretty sophisticated analysis. And that is certainly a dimension of this great game I can’t get enough of.

But it is not my forte. I bring a different set of skills. I’m a story-teller. I’m an author whose skills are more anecdotal than analytical. My contributions to the site will be qualitatively different, and I hope you appreciate that. It is, as the title suggests, a different dimension.

I often am told by those who just don’t get it that baseball is, um, boring.

I can’t understand that. I truly can’t.

I hear them say that nothing happens for so much of the game, so what is the point.

I can’t understand that. I truly can’t.

In the last week alone, three different people have suggested this to me.

And in response, I tell them a story.

It’s August of 1996. We are on day 11 of our 14 day excursion through the America that is baseball. Each night would find me, an eleven year old John Jacob and a ten year old Adam - with their uncle and my brother Jay - in a different city every night watching a major league ball game. One of the best things about this trip (about which I will tell a number of stories on this site) was that the second week of this trip coincided with the boy’s first week of school. They actually got out of school for a whole week to complete this trip. Mom wasn’t all that thrilled with this. The teacher’s sure weren’t happy. And the boys learned first hand how to live by my own life’s philosophy: it is easier to get forgiveness than permission.

This afternoon, day 11, would find us at Comiskey (excuse me, US Cellular) Park on the South side of Chicago. As if Bill Veeck himself had come back from the dead, it was ‘Bring Your Dog to the Park Day’ - the bleachers were filled with dogs barking and tails wagging and hind legs lifting.

It was late in the game. I was sitting in the nose-bleed seats in what must surely be the steepest upper deck in all of baseball, directly behind home plate.

Runner on second.

Pitcher toeing the rubber, going into the stretch.

This is one of those quiet moments in the game, between pitches, where the uninitiated and uniformed look and say, “Geez this is boring. Nothing is happening - why doesn’t somebody hurry up and do something?!”

Here is what they missed.

As the pitcher toed the rubber, he looked in to get the signal. Sitting upstairs and behind the plate, there was no way for me to catch the catcher’s signal. But, I was in the perfect spot to see him move six inches to his right with a right-handed batter at the plate.

A quick look as the pitcher came out of his stretch saw the second baseman shift slightly to his left, and the center fielder move two steps to his left - not too soon, so as to tip the batter, mind you - but not so late that they could not properly react to the intentions of the informed battery.

The pitch is released, and subtle though this may be I watched the catcher move his glove from in front of his chest, where the target had been set, about ten inches back toward the center of the plate - where both the pithcer threw it and the hitter found it.

It was not great contact he made, but he centered it enough to hit a seeing eye single right back through the box.

Second baseman? Just under his glove in what would have been his attempt to field a slow ground ball and expel the threat for the third out.

Center fielder? He came charging in, knowing what had become evident to all - the runner from second was not slowing as he rounded third.

It would be a close play at the plate - a true banger. In the upper deck, we held our breath. Seeing the play from where we did left us without sufficient evidence to determine the outcome - we needed the umpire. After a brief pause, during which the sliding runner and the stalwart catcher would both peer up in hopeful expectation at the same unmasked man we were all now watching - the arbiter flew both arms out to his side at shoulder level, palms down. We couldn’t hear the call, but we could see it. He was safe.

And why was he safe?

A short slide to the right just fractions of seconds before the pitch would be delivered by the catcher...,

which would cause a short slide to the left by the second baseman and two steps to the left by the center fielder...,

all of which were done with the certain expectation that the man on the mound would do what he was asked.

He didn’t. Just how difficult is it to hurl a ball at 90+ miles an hour with a margin of error of about 2 inches or less? Try it some time.

And what are the consequences of not executing at that level of excellence?

Games are won and lost on these minute details.

Had the pitcher hit his spot, the second baseman would have made the play.

Had the pitcher hit his spot, even if the second baseman tripped over his shoelaces, the center fielder would have made the play charging at the grounder on a more direct line, not having to come at it from his right, reaching across his body to field the ball before making his throw.

And those are the little differences that make all the difference. We would have seen the umps thumb instead of his palms.

That’s one pitch.

Not a damn thing going on.

Quite simply, baseball is one of life’s greatest pleasures.
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Recipe for Regression: a case study in bullpens

A good bullpen is a wonderful thing-look at where it got the Rays and the Phillies this year. The bullpen plays an undeniably major role in many teams' success and is often the piece that vaults them to the next level. It's also true, however, that compared to the starting rotation and the line-up, the bullpen provides far less value. Tom Tango estimates that only about 10% of the value provided to a team comes from the bullpen, right about the value Win Shares gives it. The relatively low value of the bullpen makes it difficult to build a team around long-term, but it is still possible to ride a hot bullpen to short-term success. The problem with that is that the high returns teams get out of these bullpens are usually not sustainable over multiple years, and the value of even a good bullpen is bound to come back down to earth.

Over the past 5 paired seasons, teams that ranked in the top 5 in baseball in WPA (win probability added-essentially how many wins they contributed over the year) by their bullpens one year averaged 7.43 wins from the bullpen in the year they were in the top 5 and dropped an average of 6.03 wins the following year. So teams with great bullpens one year carried over less than a fifth of the win value over average the next. Of the 25 teams to be in the top 5 in bullpen WPA from 2003-07, only 5 (20%) were able to stay in the top 5 the following year (for comparison, 17% would stay in the top 5 just by random chance), and 21 (84%) regressed the following year. So a great bullpen, while often a key ingredient to a successful team, generally does not hold extreme value from one year to the next.

This is of particular interest to this year's big surprise team, the aforementioned Rays. There was a lot of talk last year about the Rays' "different hero every night" on offense and stellar starting pitching, but the #1 reason they were where they were was their bullpen. The rotation, while it was good, wasn't even the best in the division-Toronto's staff earned that distinction-and was pretty comparable to Boston's staff. The offense was pretty much average and certainly worse than the Sox' line-up. Where they really distinguished themselves and made up that ground was in the bullpen.

Fangraphs lists the Rays' team bullpen WPA as 9.30, the best in baseball. That's more than double the wins contributed by their offense and starting pitching combined. With an average bullpen, they were basically the Blue Jays (about an 86 win team). Luckily for the Rays, they didn't have an average bullpen. Wins are wins no matter where you get them, and 9 or 10 wins from the bullpen are just as good to the Rays as getting those wins from anywhere else.

To the 2008 Rays, that is. What we want to know is what that does for the 2009 Rays. Can they repeat their 08 performance? Chances are, as shown above, no. Where does all that production go, though? It can't just disappear into thin air. So let's look at where the production came from and try to figure out what can happen to turn a great bullpen into a fairly pedestrian one.

The Rays' bullpen did abnormally well in high leverage situations when it counted more last year. Their WPA/LI, which measures what the pen did with every at bat equally weighted, was significantly lower than what you'd expect from a bullpen that won that many games, meaning the bullpen was not pitching well enough to win nearly that many games in general. By multiplying the bullpen's WPA/LI by its LI*, we can get how many wins they should have contributed based on how well they actually pitched, regardless of situation. Doing this leaves the expected win value of the Rays' bullpen 4 wins shy of their actual win value. Again, great for the 2008 Rays, but not such a good sign for the 2009 Rays.

Chances are, if you believe in clutch performance, you're shaking your head by now. The Rays won with a great clutch bullpen performance in 2008, and maybe they just have great clutch pitchers. You know, guys like Jason Hammel, J.P. Howell, Scott Dohmann, and Gary Glover (their top 4 relievers in outperforming their season numbers in high-leverage situations). Not exactly the best group of pitchers, but part of the Rays' success was that they got so many contributions from the weaker back end of their pen, so maybe these guys' best skill is their clutch ability, and maybe they really can repeat it. Let's check out their career WPA-(WPA/LI)xLI* before this year, and then in 2008-

WPA over expected


It doesn't look like any of these pitchers has any repeatable clutch skill. In fact, every one of them had done worse in higher leverage situations over his career before this year, when they combined to contribute 3 wins over the expected value based on how well they pitched. Glover, who somehow managed to contribute .21 wins above average in 34 innings for the Rays, was cut mid-season and went to Detroit, where he managed to post a WPA of -1.07 in just 20 innings. That, in case you're not familiar with the relative scale, is horrible. In part, it was avoiding those kind of performances from their worst pitchers that made the Rays so successful.

Judging from where their clutch performances came from, it doesn't seem likely that they can come close to repeating them. So that's bad news to the tune of 4 wins for the 09 Rays, even if they pitch just as well. Even that could be difficult for them, though. They not only had pitchers contributing significantly beyond their performances, they had pitchers performing well beyond their career norms. The most exaggerated example of this is Grant Balfour, who went from being a walking punch-line (7.3 BB/9 in 24.2 IP in 2007 for a guy with that name?) to one of the best relievers in baseball in 2008.


Bill James '0974.012.044.502.683.01xx1.28
Marcel '0957.09.163.952.323.55xx0.57

Marcel is the more pessimistic projection here, but both projections have Balfour regressing quite a bit next year (though not nearly to his pre-2008 self). His regression, based on his '09 projections for ERA and IP, is likely to knock 1-1.5 wins off his 2008 value. He also picked up an extra half a win by pitching disproportionately well in higher leverage situations, as discussed above, so it would be well within reason for Balfour to be worth a full 2 wins less next season. As a player with little Major League history, injuries that sidetracked his career, and one big break-out season under his belt, on top of just being a reliever in general, he is about as difficult to project a player as you'll find, though, so he could also be better than that. Still, there is very little chance of him posting another 1.54 ERA.

If we apply the same exWins formula to the 2009 projections of Tampa's top 3 relievers from 2008, we can see how many wins difference to expect from all 3 of them. Here are the differences in their 2008 seasons and '09 projections, along with the difference in WPA in 2008 when distributed evenly across all leverage situtations (dist.).

exWin differences b/w 2008 and '09 projections


Between the three of them, Tampa can likely expect a drop-off in the range of 5.5-6 wins. The specific distribution among the three could change if Balfour or Howell get more closing opportunities and Wheeler gets moved to a set-up role, but that's basically just shifting their leverage indexes around without changing the overall picture much.

Throughout their bullpen, they had guys outperforming their histories, and they didn't really have anyone flop on them. The chances of their whole bullpen repeating that are pretty slim. Guys are going to fall on the wrong side of their projections next year, and they aren't going to get such great over-performances. That doesn't mean they can't compete next year, but if they are going to contend with the Sox and the rest of the AL, they'd better start finding production in other places, and fast.

*Multiplying WPA/LI by LI would seem like it would just give you WPA, but it doesn't because WPA/LI is it's own separate stat calculated separately from the season WPA total and average LI. WPA/LI takes the WPA of every individual play and divides it by the LI for that play, and then adds those together. LI on its own is just the average LI of all plays. WPA/LI is a better measure of the intrinsic value of a player's performance, as it considers all situations equally, whereas WPA gives you a better idea of the actual effect a player had on his team's games. WPA/LI x LI is a good balance between the two.

**exWins is the number of wins above average expected from a pitcher using a pythagorean approach with his ERA as the runs allowed and the league average ERA as the runs scored. The formula is explained in one of Tango's posts on the linked article.
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The 40/40 Club: Who's Got Next?

One of my Christmas gifts this year was a calendar. Not a wall calendar, mind you, but a desk calendar that has a tear-away page for every day of the year. It was issued by FOX Sports, and each page has a different bit of sports trivia on it. It certainly wasn’t my flashiest gift, but it’s already proven itself to be surprisingly thought provoking. For example, yesterday’s fact stated that there are only four members of baseball’s 40/40 club: Jose Canseco (1988), Barry Bonds (1996), Alex Rodriguez (1998) and Alfonso Soriano (2006). While that may not be the greatest collection of baseball history’s talent, there’s no questioning the fact that it is exclusive company. I guess I never really thought about the fact that only four had done it, but it did get me thinking about who might next earn membership to this club.

After looking up stats over the past couple of years, I came up with the following cast of characters as being those with the most legitimate shot at reaching this mark:

Player HR SB FB% HR/FB ASD* Pull SB%
Beltran, Carlos 27 25 33.3% 15.7% 394.6 gap 89%
Holliday, Matt 25 28 32.7% 17.5% 408.4 center 93%
McLouth, Nate 26 23 46.9% 10.9% 389.2 line 89%
Ramirez, Hanley 33 35 36.7% 19.2% 405.5 gap 75%
Rios, Alex 15 32 38.3% 7.4% 389.7 line 80%
Rollins, Jimmy ('07) 30 41 44.2% 10.7% 375.3 line 87%
Sizemore, Grady 33 38 45.7% 14.5% 387.4 line 88%

* = Average Standard Distance; an average distance of homeruns, in feet, that neutralizes external factors like weather and ballpark

What strikes me about this list is that, with the exception of Holliday, these are not guys who are known primarily for their power, nor will they likely ever be known for their power. Beltran has been a prolific power hitter at times throughout his career, but I still think of him as a “speed” guy more than a “power” guy. This is worth noting because of the members of the 40/40 club, Soriano is perhaps the only guy I would think of as a speed-first type of player – and that’s only because Chicago continues to bat him lead-off. I’m sure some of my perception of them has to do with the fact that I’m more familiar with their later careers where their speed had waned significantly, but the list of 40/40 hopefuls certainly seems like a list of guys whose speed will hold up throughout their entire career.

Anyway, my original intent with this article is to see who might become the next member of the 40/40 club, let’s look through everyone individually. Beltran, who’s one of my personal favorites, certainly has the ability – he’s achieved 40 homers and 40 steals in different years, and he was 2 homers shy of the mark in 2004. Some worry about a decline in ability, but for someone who will be 32 next season, I don’t think a continued decline is imminent. His solid homerun distance and proven gap power bode well for this. However, only a third of Beltran’s batted balls were flies last year, which was really low for him. If this spikes like it did in ’06 and he gets more stolen base opportunities (his stolen base success rates have been consistently good), he could have a shot at it. Since the latter scenario is far less likely to happen at this stage in his career, however, I wouldn’t bet on it.

Holliday, as I stated before, is the oddball on this list because he has typically not been considered much of a speedster. 2008 was a bit of an anomaly for him in this regard, as he shattered his career marks for stolen bases and times caught stealing (meant he had less last year). Holliday could very well continue to be a 40 homerun threat even in Oakland, but don’t expect him to get anywhere near 40 steals. Oakland is not a running team, and I wouldn’t expect a middle-of-the-order guy to change that based off one good year.

Nate McLouth’s power helped establish him as a legitimate outfield threat last year, but his speed has always been a major asset of his. I honestly don’t think he’s likely to achieve either 40 homers or 40 steals, but he’s more likely to get closest in steals. McLouth hits an unusually high amount of flyballs, so it’s not as if he’s going to get any more opportunities for homers. Unless his HR/FB rate increases dramatically, then expect mid-twenties to be his ceiling level in regard to homers.

And then there’s HanRam. Ramirez can truly do it all, and his youth likely means that he has yet to realize his fullest potential. He’s had more than fifty steals twice, but his 33 homers from last year stand as his current career high. I would not at all be surprised to see this vault over 40 next year, though. With age, he has increased his HR/FB rate and his average standard distance for homeruns, and his spray chart proves that he has strong power to straight-away center as well as opposite field. And with a flyball rate of 36.7%, he could also see a marked increase here. Clearly, Ramirez has a more than decent shot at joining the 40/40 club. The only caveat I would issue for him is that he may get less stolen base opportunities as he becomes a stronger power hitter, and his stolen base percentage is far from stellar.

I included Alex Rios because many thought his power numbers would increase after his formidable 2007 campaign and were thus disappointed with his ’08 totals. His significant drop-off in both flyball rate and HR/FB rate account for this decline, but I don’t think he gets anywhere near 40 with his best possible power year. Like McLouth, he would need an uncharacteristically large jump in HR/FB rate for this to be possible.

You’ll notice that I used Rollins’ totals from 2007 instead of 2008. I chose to do this because his ’07 numbers are more reflective of what people believe he’ll do in the future. (It should also be noted that, while I only posted one year’s worth of stats, I looked at multiple years for all players and made note of trends in stats.) Although he came close in 2007, I don’t see him even getting that close again. Again, like McLouth and Rios, he’d need a better HR/FB rate. He’s also handicapped by his meager average standard distance, which was by far the lowest of this group.

Finally, there’s Sizemore, who’s one of my brother’s favorites. Honestly, I wasn’t sold on him for quite awhile, but the more I’ve looked into his numbers, the harder it’s gotten to resist him. Last year was a career year for him in many areas, and he’s young enough where he can continue to show improvement. I like his chances of 40 steals – his success rate has increased with his stolen base totals. He’ll still need to gather another 7 homers, but I think he’ll have a shot at this, as well. While his reliance on the pull-shot troubles me, the fact that his HR/FB rate appears to be on the rise may counteract some of this.

Overall, I think it’s very likely that we’ll see at least one more addition to the 40/40 club in the near future, and I think it may even happen this year. Ramirez and Sizemore are both already pretty close, and they’re both entering their prime talent years. I also wouldn’t rule out Beltran, even at his age. After all, two of the current members – Bonds and Soriano – had their 40/40 season while they were in their 30’s. Just a little something to watch for next year, because I know how much you love historical achievements.
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The Next 3000 K Pitcher?

Pitching talent, it would seem, follows its own kind of zodiac. Pitchers dominated the 60s where guys like Gibson, Koufax, et al took the game by storm and then, just as suddenly disappeared until we were left with debates over whether Jack Morris or Bert Blyleven was the pitcher of the decade in the 80s. Great pitchers got so rare that when any did happen to show up, we dismissed them as mere relics of the past (when was the last time those Morris-Blyleven junkies ever stopped to think that Nolan Ryan pitched right on through the 8os?). What the hell happened?

The zodiac happened. And it was about to turn over again. Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Curt Schilling came en masse to save baseball from ever having to debate Morris or Blyleven again. Sure, those kinds of pitchers were still there, except they were called Kevin Brown and Mike Mussina and no one had to think of them as anything other than pretty good pitchers. Now those guys are all either gone or on the way out, though, and we're once again left waiting to see if the new crop of twenty-somethings turn out to be greats in their own right or just more Doc Goodens. Who will be the next to join the elite company that so many of that last generation just entered into? Who will get to 3000 Ks? Right now Santana and then Sabathia seem to be on track-time will tell how far they make it.

There is one pitcher, and only one, with any kind of shot at 3000 before Santana. He's the only one in the 30s with a prayer at it now that Moose is retiring. The thing is, though, he's not that great. He's 31 years old and has no shot at the Hall of Fame, 3000 or not. You could even ask a group of fans if they'd want this guy on their team, and a fair number would probably say no. Even the ones who say yes are probably thinking as a 3 starter or worse.

Not that he deserves that rap. He's no HOFer, that's for sure, but he's been as dependable a starter as there is for a long time now, and he's put in some very good years. He eats innings, he doesn't walk a lot of hitters, and of course he has the strikeouts. His name is, in case you haven't guessed it (no, you haven't, you just read ahead), Javier Vazquez. As crazy as that sounds, it's true-Javier Vazquez could be the next pitcher to reach 3000 strikeouts. Don't believe me? Take a look.

Right now, Vazquez is 31 years old and needs 985 more strikeouts to get to 3000. He's struck out right about 8 batters per 9 innings in 2270 IP over his career so far. In the history of Major League Baseball, only 10 other pitchers have had a K/9 better than 7.25 in over 2000 innings through age 31. Half of them have 3000 strikeouts. Only 2 have had better K/9 rates than Vazquez at those benchmarks and not reached 3000-Sam McDowell, who was already pretty much done by 31, and Sandy Koufax. So if he sticks around long enough, 3000 may very well be within reach.

How long is long enough? Assuming he strikes out between 6 and 7 batters per 9 over the rest of his career (a drop of between 1 and 2 batters per 9 from his current career rate), which is well within reason given that his last 4 years have all been above his career rate, and his last 2 have both been in the top three in his career, he would need about 7 more years at 30-35 starts a year (30 at 7 K/9, 35 at 6 K/9), or 210-245 more starts. Obviously fewer if he keeps his K/9 rate above that (i.e. 190 more starts if he strikes out 7.5 per 9). How reachable are those numbers?

Since 1947, 40 pitchers besides Vazquez have thrown at least 190 innings in every season from ages 27-31. Like I said, the guy's durable. Of those 40, 2 are still active, so I threw them out. One was Darryl Kile, whose tragic death made him unsuitable for this sample. That left 37 pitchers who have shown the kind of consistency and durability Vazquez has in the 5 years leading up to 31. Of those 37, 15 (41%) went on to start more than 210 games over the rest of their careers, and 12 (32%) went on to start more than 245. Obviously, a number of the pitchers above those thresholds were very good pitchers and better than Vazquez, which helped them get those extra years. So I narrowed the sample to the 14 pitchers who were in the same range of ERA+ over those 5 years as Vazquez. Four of them (29%) were above the 210 start threshold over the rest of their careers, and 3 (21%) were above the 245 start threshold.

So historically, pitchers with Vazquez's durability have pretty decent odds of going into their late 30s. Throw in the fact that 5-6 good years could put him within reach of 3000, and his odds of hanging on an extra year or two go way up. Also consider that he could conceivably pitch beyond that-then he has a larger margin in how many starts he can miss in a year or how much his strikeout rate can slip.

I know it sounds crazy, but strange things happen in the lulls in the zodiac. It gave the 80s Morris vs. Blyleven-so why can't it give us Vazquez for 3000? Besides, it's not like crazy things haven't happened to the record books. Sosa hit 600 HR. Palmeiro got 3000 hits and 500 HR. Vazquez striking out 3000 wouldn't be that strange. And while it's still something of a long-shot, if it does happen, when everyone else is wondering how the hell Javier Vazquez got there 6 or 7 years down the road, you'll know exactly how.
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Five years ago, my wife bought me what I now call the second best gift she has ever given me: Satellite Radio (the greatest would come a couple years later when, come Christmas morning I would open up a box in which would be found a Stan Musial rookie card - I cried when I saw that. And that would be the same Christmas my son would give me a Nolan Ryan rookie card. Beat that for best Christmases ever).

What I couldn't believe is that from that point forward I could listen to baseball analysis, games, or commentary 24 hours a day. I was in heaven. Over 200 stations, and the only time I listen to anything but MLB radio is when they are in commercial.

So, guess what I was doing at 4:00 this afternoon? With a mix of hope and skepticism, I turned on MLB TV. The hope was that now, whether on the road or in my living room, baseball would always be accessible to me. The skepticism was how worthwhile it would be. I mean, Bud Selig had something to do with this - so how good could it be?

After my first four hours, I'm hooked. The first hour, with Mat Vaskergian, Al Leiter, Harold Reynolds, and Barry Larkin was fine. It was good.

And my programming told me that some game from the past would follow. Not until right before it would come on would I discover that they were going to rebroadcast in its entirety Don Larsen's perfect game, including the original commercials. I say the entire game, but for some reason the first inning and the first out of the second inning are lost - so they picked it up from there. In between innings, Bob Costas would interview Yogi Berra and Don Larsen. As moving as the game itself would be, the best moment would come when Yogi, having caught the final pitch that would strike out Dale Mitchell, would run up the line and leap in Don's arms and MLB TV would split the screen and show a close-up of Don Larsen, 80 years young, watching that moment. The look on his face - that was the best moment.

What can I say? I'm hooked. I can't imagine leaving my couch, ever again.

Some interesting insights, having now watched this most historic of games and heard the interview with Yogi and Don:

the pace of the game, perfect game though it may have been, was so much quicker than it is today

the broadcast time was split by two solo performers: the Yankees Mel Allen and the Dodger's 28 year old Vin Scully

there were no instant replays and stop action, so... did Duke Snider make that catch off the bat of Yogi in the 4th or did he trap the ball? Either way, it was spectacular

how odd was it to hear, after watching Mantle make that incredible catch himself an inning after Snider's, Larsen say he never considered Mantle that great an outfielder?

we hear players today talk about how much the strike zone has shrunk - this really makes it clear. Wow.

Jackie Robinson played 3rd in this game for Brooklyn - I was not expecting that, even though I knew he ended his career there. He hit a foul ball of the facade at top of the stadium way down the left field line that was incredible.

listening to Yogi and Don talk about the antics in the dugout once everyone knew what was at stake was delectable - a sweetness unexpected. Don said his leg was shaking as he took the mound in the 9th.

a couple near misses: Jackie leads off the second with a line shot off of third baseman Carey's glove, which ricochets to McDougald at short who throws to nail an older Jackie at first; Snider comes up with two out in the 4th and hits a line shot into the upper deck just inches foul; Sandy Amoros comes up in the 5th and hits a shot inches foul into the lower right field deck.

Don Larsen admitted two things that I found touching and amusing: he thinks about what he did that day 53 years ago every day of his life, sometimes several times; when he walked off the mound, he didn't know he had thrown a perfect game (a no-hitter yes, but perfect game - no) and would not learn of that until a reporter mentioned it to him in the dugout long after the game was over.

and finally, and this could only happen in baseball, to celebrate this great moment in both Yankee and baseball history, the Yankees a few years back asked Don Larsen to throw the game's first pitch to Yogi Berra. On that very day, in Yankee Stadium, David Cone would throw his own perfect game. Don stayed and watched the entire game - the only full game of baseball he has watched since his retirement. As Costas would quip having heard that: "OH, so I guess if it isn't a perfect game you won't watch?"

Only in baseball, my friends, only in baseball. You gotta love it.
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