Author Archive

Spring Training in September

I very much love the game of baseball, and like anyone who loves the game, there are some things about the way Major League Baseball produces the game that drive me crazy. One of the glaring voids in the new collective bargaining agreement is the continued use of expanded rosters in the month of September. For the first five months of the season, managers have 25 players to use throughout the course of a game – but when the calendar flips over to the last month of the regular season, skippers are suddenly allowed to call on up to 40 players to take the field in a single game.  There is no justifiable reason for why the rules of the game should change this dramatically when the games matter the most – if you believe that sort of thing.

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Beating the Defensive Shift

Baseball folklore claims Indians manager Lou Boudreau devised the defensive shift to combat a Ted Williams hot-streak. Boudreau admitted the strategy was meant as more of a psychological ploy rather than a legitimate baseball tactic. In some sense, Boudreau’s unconventional stunt worked since Teddy Ballgame stubbornly refused to take advantage of all the open real estate he was presented with.

Even if its origin has been debunked, the defensive shift is widely accepted as a conventional baseball strategy today. Broadcasters and mainstream writers only seem to point out the gaping hole on the left side of the infield when the hitter who is subject to the shift is going through a slump. If you ask the player himself why he doesn’t lay down a bunt or attempt to hit a ground ball where the third baseman (and sometimes even shortstop) should have been standing, he’ll probably tell you he’s paid to drive the ball and hit homeruns, not bunt. The reality of the situation is runs are runs, regardless of how they’re generated. How good does a player need to be to justify continuously attempting to over-hit the shift?

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Best Rotation Ever? Best. Rotation. Ever.

Last winter when the Phillies were revealed as the mystery team that scooped up Cliff Lee off the open market, every baseball mind in the country pondered: Is this the best rotation ever? Dave Cameron chimed in on the topic and concluded this was no case of hyperbole. The consensus around the blogosphere was that entering the 2011 season, Philadelphia had collected the most talented group of starters baseball had ever seen – at least on paper.  Even if you only paid attention to the Phillies peripherally this season, you certainly know the trio of Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Lee didn’t disappoint. But the label of being the best rotation ever is a towering level to live up to. How did the rotation – on a whole – stack up against its historical competition for the title of “Best Rotation Ever”?

The following numbers and rankings are composed from all of the starts made for each team, not the combination of totals for each player that made a start. Check out the leaderboards here.

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Breaking Down Stolen Base Break-Even Points

If you read this site, you’re probably familiar with the rule of thumb that says stolen bases are only beneficial if they are swiped with roughly a 75% success rate. This number stems from looking at a run expectancy chart and comparing the difference in expected runs after a successful stolen base and the difference in expected runs after a failed attempt. At some success rate, the entire benefit a team received from stolen bases is cancelled out by the combined detriment of all of the failed attempts – this is the break-even point. Of course the break-even point is not the same for every situation. Previous studies have shown this required success rate drops as the game moves into the later innings and increases the further a team is down by – but what do these break-even points look like based on the number of outs in the inning?

Stealing second base:

The chart below plots the expected run difference versus stolen base success rate based on the 2009 to 2011 run expectancy charts. This plot was included primarily as a sanity check, but you can see that regardless of the number of outs in the inning, the break-even point, which is the crossing of the x-axis, falls between the 70% to 75% success rates we’d expect to see.

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Anatomy of the $100 Million Contract

Thirteen years ago, Kevin Brown became the first Major League Baseball player to sign a $100 million contract. Since then, 27 other contracts have at least hit that number — and this winter will add several more.

Albert Pujols is a virtual lock to surpass the $100 million mark – and Prince Fielder, Jose Reyes and C.J. Wilson are definitely in the running, as well. We know that high-dollar, long-term contracts have rarely worked out for the teams offering them, but I want to take an up-to-date, comprehensive look at this no-longer-rarefied group. I created three visuals that tell us what we should have expected from each player; how his performance throughout the contract compared to seasons prior to the contract; and how his production should be valued at based on open-market rates. I’m only going to touch on a fraction of what these visuals say, so I encourage you to add comments of your own.

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Exploring Pitching Tendencies

When discussing why a certain pitcher is effective, baseball people will most often cite stuff and command. Since these two attributes are easily detectable from simply watching the game, it’s understandable why they are so heavily cited. One thing that is often overlooked in understanding the successes or failures of pitching is how pitcher’s attack hitters. Turn on any game and you’ll undoubtedly hear an announcer say something like, “I’ll tell you what Jim, that high and tight fastball is setting up a slider down and away,” or “that changeup slowed his bat down, let’s see him try and zip a fastball by him.” It always struck me as odd that if the guidelines for selecting what pitch to throw were that standardized, then I can hardly see how it would be a wise choice to use those guidelines. Outside of facing Mariano Rivera, if a hitter knows what pitch is coming, it is a distinct advantage.

One can approach this subject from dozens of different angles. The first question I set out to answer is: Do pitchers exhibit any obvious tendencies to use a certain pitch based on what they previously threw?

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Ivan Nova – An Uncommon Rule 5 Story

Ivan Nova’s rookie season ended on a sour note Thursday night with a strained forearm and a loss to Detroit. While his campaign probably received a bit too much attention as a result of his gaudy win total, the 24-year-old’s season could hardly qualify as anything less than a success. Nova ranked fourth among all rookie pitchers with a 2.7 WAR and seventh in xFIP among rookies with at least 100 innings this season.

What makes Nova’s case particularly interesting is that before the 2009 season, the San Diego Padres selected him in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft. Just days before the season began, Nova was tendered back to the Yankees after giving up eight runs in 8.2 innings of relief work during Cactus League play. The Rule 5 success stories that baseball fans most-often cite are the cases like Johan Santana, Joakim Soria and Josh Hamilton — where players went on to become valuable pieces for their new teams. But when do Rule 5 players become successes after being returned to the team that had once given up on them?

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