Allow Me to Present an Incredible Baseball Coincidence

To make it clear right off the bat, this has nothing to do with Shohei Ohtani or Giancarlo Stanton. This has nothing to do with the current offseason market, and, frankly, this has nothing to do with baseball from any of the past few decades. This is just built around a historical fun fact, but, you know, we all need breaks. And we all need improbable fun facts.

You can probably think of a few baseball coincidences on your own. One I personally can’t forget is that both Ken Griffey Jr. and Stan Musial were born on November 21 in Donora, Pennsylvania. There’s Roberto Clemente’s career ending at exactly 3,000 hits. I don’t know what you do and don’t remember, but I have a coincidence to add to the list. It takes a little explaining, but I think the destination is worth it. Maybe you won’t agree in the end, but I’ve been thinking about this since I found it by accident during a podcast last week. I feel compelled to speak my truth. I have to share this little statistical story.

It wasn’t long ago that Dave was disagreeing with Bill James’ critique of WAR. Somewhere, probably on Twitter, Dave made the remark that, if you follow James’ line of thinking to its logical conclusion, you’d end up only caring about numbers posted in wins. Now, you’d never want to do that seriously, because you’d be senselessly eliminating way too much information, but that still stuck in my head. And, conveniently, Baseball Reference provides player splits by game outcome.

This past season, in team wins, batters posted an .871 OPS. Meanwhile, in team losses, batters posted a .624 OPS. These are, overall, very similar player pools, but of course nothing about the splits is surprising. Wins are selective for better performance. Losses are selective for worse performance. Stanton had a 1.338 OPS in wins and a .676 OPS in losses. This is self-explanatory. And to make it easy, Baseball Reference provides a stat called tOPS+, which compares a split against the overall number. A mark of 100 would be average. Hitters in wins just had a tOPS+ of 132. Hitters in losses just had a tOPS+ of 67.

During one episode a week of Effectively Wild, I try to find some interesting little statistical nugget. Last week, I decided to search to see if there were ever any hitters who were better in losses than wins. That wouldn’t make any sense — it wouldn’t be reflective of any innate trait or skill — but, when you have so much data, funny things can emerge. So I searched all-time batting splits using the Baseball Reference Play Index, and I set a career minimum of 500 plate appearances in losses. I sorted the results by tOPS+. Here is the top of the list.

Only two players emerged. Given the plate-appearance minimum, only Andy Allanson and Johnny O’Brien were better hitters in losses than in wins. O’Brien is the leader here, with a tOPS+ in losses of 107, giving him a lead by six points. You can see in that image that I’ve clicked through to O’Brien’s player page. I wanted to know more about him.

O’Brien played in six seasons, in the 50s. For his career, he batted 906 times, and most of that playing time came with the Pirates, for whom he debuted in 1953. Fun fact aside, he had a fairly unremarkable big-league career, but the Baseball Reference page told me that Johnny was the brother of Eddie O’Brien. More, he was the twin brother of Eddie O’Brien, and there haven’t been very many of those. Eddie O’Brien also debuted with the Pirates in 1953. He played for the Pirates through 1958, batting 605 times. Eddie frequently played shortstop, and twin brother Johnny frequently played second.

In 1956, 1957, and 1958, both brothers made pitching appearances. And even before they were major-league teammates, they achieved a certain level of fame as teammates playing college basketball in Seattle. The backstory is a good one, but just to get us moving along, I couldn’t not look. Johnny O’Brien holds a little-known record, having posted a 107 tOPS+ in losses. He was better in losses than he was in wins. What about Eddie?

Eddie O’Brien, for his career, posted a 107 tOPS+ in losses. He was better in losses than he was in wins, by the exact same amount.

Now, it’s all about the minimums. Johnny O’Brien holds the record if you set the minimum to 500 plate appearances. He batted 509 times in losses. Eddie batted 364 times in losses. But here’s what happens if you drop the minimum to 300 trips to the plate. Here’s the whole top of the all-time leaderboard.

There are just 19 hitters who have been as good or better in losses than wins. This is for as long as Baseball Reference has historical records. Two of the hitters are twin-brother teammates, who both finished with an identical tOPS+ for the split. I know that tOPS+ itself is a modern and convoluted statistic, but it doesn’t manipulate any numbers. It just puts one number over another. I don’t know if this is as wild to you as it is to me, but when I found this in the splits, my hands trembled for a couple of minutes. There have been countless studies in the past, attempting to examine whether twins share some kind of telepathic connection. Personally, I think it’s all bunk, but now there’s a Baseball Reference split staring me in the face.

This is my current favorite improbable baseball coincidence. It could end up topped or forgotten tomorrow or the next day, but for now, I’m glad to have the chance to share this with you. Now back to your regularly-scheduled hot-stove rumors.

We hoped you liked reading Allow Me to Present an Incredible Baseball Coincidence by Jeff Sullivan!

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Da Bear
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Da Bear
Jeremy
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Member
Jeremy

Of *course* there’s a relevant Sam Miller article to link to

thestatbook
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thestatbook

It’s a crying shame that Miller’s brilliant article gets lost among the juvenile crowd over at ESPN. That was a superb article, and the comment section brought out annoying trolls.

Johnston
Member
Johnston

Personally I feel that people who don’t condemn Barry Bonds in the strongest possible manner for his blatant cheating are annoying trolls, because Barry Bonds didn’t generate those numbers, chemicals did.

Different people see things differently.

timprov
Member
timprov

I agree and we should condemn every player who has used chemicals to be better at playing baseball.

Paul22
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Paul22

Babe Ruth took an extract of sheep testicles to get stronger. Ended up in the hospital sick as a dog

tornadothor
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tornadothor

I guess you think the amphetamine use in the 60’s & 70’s was ok?

Professional competition nearly always brings those who will win by any means available.

The Duke
Member
The Duke

This argument which gets spewed everywhere drives me crazy

A) the players themselves have often said this didn’t really impact the game meaningfully

B) one thing that didn’t get caught does not make the other a good or a desirable thing or something that shouldn’t be called out

This logic arguement always leads to “anything goes”.

Sleepy
Member
Sleepy

Personally I feel that people who don’t condemn any pitcher who had Tommy John surgery in the strongest possible manner for their blatant cheating are annoying trolls, because the pitcher didn’t generate those numbers, the cadaver tendon surgically sewn into their arm did.

Different people see things differently.

sadtrombone
Member
sadtrombone

It is pretty amazing that anyone could write any story about Barry Bonds and *not* mention the word “steroid” in any context at all.

It doesn’t bother me nearly as much as Johnston (we have plenty of other spaces to condemn Bonds, and this wasn’t the focus of the article by any means). But it does seem like a pretty big oversight when talking about Bonds’ accomplishments to not at least mention the word.

Captain Tenneal
Member
Captain Tenneal

What’s the point, though? Mentioning steroids is exactly the same as mentioning that he’s black or the MLB home run leader. Literally everyone who’s reading already knows.

Nats Fan
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Member
Nats Fan

I heard babe Ruth took horse steroids his entire career and its believable since he was part owner of a race track were horse steroids were legal and being used on every horse.

francis_soyer
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francis_soyer

So by 2004, were teams just walking Bonds as a silent steroids protest ?

Matt
Member
Member
Matt

That’s basically Simpson’s Paradox. Fun to see a “real world” application of it.

Captain Tenneal
Member
Captain Tenneal

How did anyone downvote this? This is the name of the phenomenon Miller was describing!