Archive for History

Andrelton Simmons Is Avoiding Strikeouts Like Tony Gwynn

Andrelton Simmons draws comparisons to Ozzie Smith for his defensive prowess. Both players are recognized as once-in-a-generation all-time greats at their positions, though Simmons has yet rival Smith’s Hall of Fame career.

Apart from the defensive skills, similarities have emerged between Smith and Simmons offensively, as well. Consider that, through the 2016 season, Simmons had taken roughly 2,500 plate appearances and put up a weak 85 wRC+. Compare that to Smith’s first seven seasons, through 1983, when he put up an even worse 74 wRC+ in more than 3,500 plate appearances.

Smith eventually turned his career around offensively, however, putting up a 103 wRC+ from 1984 through 1992 while producing 37 runs by means of the stolen base, a total which might even understate his total offensive value. Smith was bad on offense for quite some time, then he improved and was a good offensive player for a decent portion of his career. It’s possible we are seeing the same type of transformation from Simmons. The Angels shortstop put a 103 wRC+ last season at 27 years old; thus far this season, he’s doing considerably better, with a 143 wRC+ on the strength of his .331/.402/.466 batting line. Most remarkable about Simmons’ hitting numbers are the strikeouts — or lack thereof, rather — as Simmons has struck out in just 10 of his 200 plate appearances.

In 1998, Tony Gwynn stepped up to bat 505 times and struck out on just 18 occasions. The league-average strikeout rate of 17% at that point was nearly five times Gwynn’s 3.6% mark. Preston Wilson made his debut that season and struck out more times than Gwynn despite receiving only 60 plate appearances. Gwynn’s 3.6% strikeout rate isn’t the greatest of all-time. Joe Sewell struck out in under 1% of his plate appearances five times, while 68 players between 1919 and 1951 had qualified seasons with rates lower than 2%. There were 413 seasons during that time where a player’s strikeout rate was lower than Gwynn’s in that 1998 campaign. Gwynn himself even had four seasons with a lower strikeout rate than 1998, but when considering the overall context of strikeouts in the game, Gwynn’s 1998 season is probably the best of all-time. If Andrelton Simmons can keep this up, his season is going to be better.

Read the rest of this entry »


Jackie Robinson and the Integration Advantage

Sunday was Jackie Robinson Day around the majors, commemorating the anniversary — the 71st, this year — of the fall of baseball’s color line via Robinson’s debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers. But just as Robinson’s immeasurable courage in confronting racism and the immense talent he showed while playing at the highest level deserve more than a single day for paying tribute, so too is it worth remembering the black players who bravely followed in his footsteps and ensured that baseball’s great experiment would not be a one-off. In the two decades following Robinson’s arrival, the influx of talent, first from the Negro Leagues and then the sandlots and high schools whose players previously could not have dreamt of such an opportunity, radically transformed the National League, in particular.

Led by president and general manager Branch Rickey, the Dodgers, of course, got the jump. During Robinson’s major-league career, which lasted from 1947 to 1956, the Dodgers won six pennants as well as their lone Brooklyn-era championship in 1955. In addition to becoming a pioneer of tremendous importance, Jackie himself was the game’s third-most valuable player over that span according to WAR (57.2), behind only Stan Musial and Ted Williams. While the Dodgers had a great supporting cast of white players such as Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese, and Duke Snider, those teams also got great work from two Negro Leagues graduates whom Rickey had signed before Robinson even reached the majors — namely Roy Campanella, who debuted in 1948 and went on to win three NL MVP awards, and Don Newcombe, who debuted in 1949, won Rookie of the Year honors that season, and would later win a Cy Young and an MVP award.

Though Rickey lost a power struggle to Walter O’Malley and was forced to sell his share of the team following the 1950 season, the Dodgers furthered their dominance over the NL in part by continuing to sign talented black players. Under Buzzie Bavasi as general manager and Fresco Thompson as director of minor-league operations, the organization added right-hander Joe Black (1952 NL Rookie of the Year), infielder Jim Gilliam (1953 NL Rookie of the Year), outfielder Sandy Amoros, second baseman Charlie Neal, catcher John Roseboro, shortstop Maury Wills (1962 NL MVP), and outfielders Tommy Davis and Willie Davis (no relation), among others.

Amoros, Black, and Gilliam would augment the Dodgers’ Robinson-era core, and the latter remained a vital lineup cog through the transitional phase that included the franchise’s 1957 move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles and their return to powerhouse status behind the one-two pitching punch of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. Neal, Roseboro, and Wills would each spend at least half a decade in the minors and/or as understudies awaiting their shots before contributing to the team’s 1959 pennant and championship, with the latter two becoming more central alongside the two Davises as the team won championships in 1963 and 1965, and added one more pennant in 1966, Koufax’s final year. Tommy Davis, a left fielder, won back-to-back NL batting titles in 1962 and -63, while Willie Davis, a center fielder, was the position’s best defender this side of Willie Mays (his three errors in Game Two of the 1966 World Series to the contrary).

Read the rest of this entry »


Will King Felix Reach Cooperstown?

Felix Hernandez appears unburdened by his legacy in this freely available image.
(Photo: Keith Allison)

Felix Hernandez’s 2018 season got off to a rough start, as he was drilled on the right arm by a line drive in his February 26 appearance against the Cubs. The Mariners say he’ll miss just one Cactus League start, but on the heels of two subpar, injury-shortened seasons, M’s fans can be forgiven for curling up into the fetal position.

Hernandez took the hill just 16 times in 2017 due to shoulder bursitis and was lit up for a 4.36 ERA and career-worst 5.02 FIP; his 17 homers allowed in 86.2 innings was more than he served up in four of his eight 200-plus inning seasons. His 2016 campaign, which was shortened to 25 starts by a right calf strain, featured a less-than-inspiring 3.82 ERA and 4.63 FIP, as well. His recent decline probably owes something to eroding velocity. Via Pitch Info, his four-seamer has averaged around 91 mph in the past two years, down from a high of 96 in 2008 and 93.6 as recently as 2014. The story is similar for his sinker. He’s not missing as many bats as he used to, and his home-run rate is soaring along with those of just about every other pitcher in baseball. In short, he looks more peasant than king.

Read the rest of this entry »


Roy Halladay Isn’t Just a Borderline Hall of Famer

The late Roy Halladay will appear on next year’s ballot. (Photo: DGriebeling)

Among the players who’ll appear on next year’s Hall of Fame ballot, Mariano Rivera is likely to stand out as a no-doubter in his first try. He’s the all-time saves leader. He was dominant in the regular season and even more dominant in the playoffs. He’s regarded as the greatest reliever ever, and he did it all with just a single pitch.

Roy Halladay might not possess the same quantity of superlatives as Rivera, but he is worthy of enshrinement and there is little reason to delay his entry to the Hall past next year. Halladay’s untimely passing will likely bring a more somber tone to his candidacy. At this site, both Jeff Sullivan and Dave Cameron wrote touching tributes to Halladay’s career after his death. That said, Halladay needn’t benefit from sympathy or nostalgia to earn a place in the Hall. His case on the merits is very strong.

Based on the traditional measures alone, the argument for Halladay is decent, if not rock solid. Some notable facts:

So this is already a good start, but Halladay’s case goes well beyond these basic facts, too.

Halladay’s career was defined by greatness in an era dominated by hitters. Consider: since 1901, only 203 pitchers have reached 2,500 innings. Of those 203 pitchers, Halladay’s 3.38 career ERA ranks just 91st. But offense was hovering around record levels during much of his time as an active player. Relative to the era in which he pitched, Halladay’s actually prevented runs at a rate 24% better than average, and that mark actually ranks 15th since 1901. All 14 pitchers ahead of him by that measure are in the Hall of Fame except for Roger Clemens.

Read the rest of this entry »


Larry Walker’s Credentials Bear Repeating

On this year’s Hall of Fame ballot, four former players saw at least a 10-point increase in their voting share over the previous year. Vladimir Guerrero sailed into the Hall of Fame, Edgar Martinez solidified his status as a near-lock for next year, and Mike Mussina looks like a strong candidate for the 2020 class, if not the 2019 one.

Larry Walker, on the other hand, needs a lot of help. He received just 34.1% of the vote this year, leaving just two more cycles for him to reach the 75% threshold required for election. It’s not just that Walker needs some help to get elected: he wants it, too. And, most importantly, he deserves it.

Paul Swydan previously made a good case for Walker’s inclusion in the Hall, comparing him very favorably to Vladimir Guerrero. Here, though, I’d like to directly address a few points that still seem to cause confusion.

He Wasn’t Just Good Because of Coors Field

A lot of the arguments for Larry Walker’s inclusion in the Hall — including on sites like this one — are based on his very impressive 68.7 WAR. That figure ranks 66th all-time among position players and 39th since Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. His WAR is sixth in that time among right fielders, just behind Reggie Jackson and ahead of every other right fielder you can think of except for a handful of all-time greats in Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Al Kaline, and Frank Robinson

Walker doesn’t lack for impressive numbers by traditional measures. He has a lifetime .313 batting average, for instance, behind only Clemente, Vlad Guerrero, Tony Gwynn, Stan Musial, and Ted Williams among outfielders who’ve recorded at least 8,000 plate appearances over the last 70 years.

Walker also fares well by counting stats. He hit a lot of home runs, a ton of doubles, and stole over 200 bases. The list of players with more doubles, triples, homers, and stolen bases is a pretty small group, composed of just Aaron, Carlos Beltran, Barry Bonds, Andre Dawson, and Willie Mays. He won an MVP award in 1997, receiving more than three-quarters of the first-place votes from the writers. He also has seven Gold Gloves, five All-Star appearances, three Silver Sluggers. He earned at least one vote for MVP in eight different seasons.

There are those who might dismiss Walker’s accomplishments out of hand simply because of Denver’s thin mountain air. It’s certainly true that, with regard to the counting stats, some mental adjustment is necessary. As for estimates of his overall value, though, such considerations are irrelevant: WAR already penalizes Walker for whatever benefits he received from playing half his games at Coors Field.

Read the rest of this entry »


Projecting the Hall of Fame Ballot Through 2023

A lot of people are disappointed that Edgar Martinez hasn’t been elected to the Hall of Fame yet — and, by extension, that he wasn’t elected during this most recent round of voting. But there’s good news on this front: Martinez’s chances of making the Hall of Fame have never been better.

Martinez debuted on the ballot eight years ago, garnering 36.2% of the vote. Five years after first becoming eligible for the ballot, though, his case had gained little headway. In fact, by 2014 and -15, he’d actually backslid a little, appearing on just 25.2% and 27.0% of ballots, respectively, in those two seasons. At that point, it appeared as though he had little chance of making the Hall of Fame.

In 2016, Martinez benefit from a healthy bump (to 43%) and then another big bump (to 59%) the next year. And while that improved his overall chances of earning admission, the probability that it would occur this year remained low. Consider: over the last 50 elections, only Ralph Kiner has been elected in one year after receiving less than below 60% of the vote the year before. Martinez will almost surely make it next season after a strong 70% showing this year.

Read the rest of this entry »


A Look Ahead to the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot

The late Roy Halladay will appear on next year’s ballot. (Photo: DGriebeling)

Congratulations to Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Chipper Jones, and Jim Thome. That quartet of fine players all received word yesterday that they’d earned a place in baseball’s Hall of Fame, each receiving more than 75% of the BBWAA’s vote.

If you think the day after one year’s results are announced is too early to start thinking about the next year’s ballot, that’s fair. If you believe next year’s ballot is fair game, however, come with me as I consider what might happen next January.

First, a point regarding the sheer number of candidates. No players on this year’s ballot were in their 10th and final year of voting, so nobody was removed due to time constraints. That means that every player who was not elected this year and who also received at least 5% of the vote will be on next year’s ballot. Four players were inducted this year, though. Last year, it was three. The size of those two classes alone helps clear out the logjam of eligible candidates a bit.

Read the rest of this entry »


Four Deserving Hall of Famers, Omar Vizquel New to Ballot

As I noted in my post at the end of last week regarding Hall of Fame holdovers, the ballot is a bit of a mess right now. There are already seven players who’ve received at least 45% of the vote — generally a pretty good gauge of worthiness when it comes to the Hall — plus a handful of others (Larry Walker, in particular) who are lower on the ballot but deserve induction, as well.

Joining that group of deserving candidates this offseason is a collection of four additional players who merit a place in the Hall — as well as Omar Vizquel, who is getting a lot of votes in the early going. This year’s entries include one no-doubter (Chipper Jones), another who’s deserving and likely to earn induction on the strength of his offensive contributions (Jim Thome), and two more players who merit selection but whose case rests largely on defensive contributions (Andruw Jones and Scott Rolen).

Before we get to the contenders, let’s take a brief look at the players who’ve earned spots on the ballot with solid careers but lack much of a case for the Hall.

Read the rest of this entry »


A Manny Machado Trade Would Be Historic

Manny Machado possesses a rare combination of youth and talent. (Photo: Keith Allison)

The Orioles have seemingly come to their senses about their place on the win curve and, as such, are open to trading Manny Machado. On the other hand, it’s been nearly a week since that news broke, and we haven’t heard many concrete trade offers out for Baltimore’s All-Star infielder. Perhaps the news was overblown. Perhaps not. One thing we can say with certainty is that, if Machado were traded, it would be fairly historic.

Read the rest of this entry »


Hall of Fame Voters Have a Mess to Deal With

Last year, seven former players received at least 45% of the Hall of Fame vote while also earning less than the 75% necessary to actually get elected to the Hall. Seven former players, in other words, possessed sufficiently impressive credentials to merit serious consideration and were then all pushed to this year’s ballot for further review. Notably, this was one year after eight players returned to the ballot having received at least 40% of the previous season’s vote. The consequence of these developments? A very crowded ballot in 2018 — and that’s without even accounting for the newly eligible candidates.

It’s a state of affairs that’s rarely been duplicated in history. Back in the late 40s and early 50s, there was a considerable logjam of deserving candidates. Writers responded by including an average of nine-plus players per ballot, inducting 13 different players between 1951 and -55.

There was a similar issue in 1981, a year in which 10 players received at least 40% of Hall of Fame votes but only Bob Gibson was elected. The writers eventually elected Don Drysdale, Harmon Killebrew, Juan Marichal, and Hoyt Wilhelm, leaving the Veterans’ Committee to decide the rest. Jim Bunning, Nellie Fox, and Red Schoendienst, eventually earned a place in the Hall, while Gil Hodges and Maury Wills remain on the outside looking in.

It was shortly after that 1981 election that writers began to significantly downsize their ballots. Consider: from 1936 to 1986, the average number of players per ballot was at least seven for every season but 1946. From 1987 through 2013, however, the average decreased significantly, never once reaching the seven-per-ballot mark. The trend was particularly pronounced from 2006 to -12, when the average was just 5.7 players per ballot.

The last four cycles have seen an average of roughly eight votes per ballot, but with eight of the 12 Hall of Famers elected coming on the first try, ballots remain congested.

Read the rest of this entry »


The Hall of Fame Isn’t Worth Our Time

We love debating which baseball players deserve to be designated as the “best of all time.” In the last year alone, I personally have written about Larry Walker’s case to be regarded as one of them, as well as Andruw Jones’s. Over at The Hardball Times, we publish a piece that explores this notion seemingly every month, sometimes more. Two years ago, we devoted a whole week to the matter. In almost every case, these debates revolve around a player’s credentials for induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. But now, more than ever, the institution is unworthy of that authority.

I’m not suggesting everyone should cease attempting to identify baseball’s top players or most influential figures. History is important. I just don’t think that the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum should be the focus of this attention or serve as the arbiter of these decisions. One thing that struck me repeatedly while reading Jay Jaffe’s book, The Cooperstown Casebook, earlier this year is just how relentlessly the Hall of Fame has failed at the task of electing the best players to its institution.

Read the rest of this entry »


Modern Hall of Fame Ballot: Ted Simmons, Alan Trammell, and (Not) Lou Whitaker

This is the third post covering the Modern Era Ballot for the Hall of Fame. For a look at the pitchers, click here. For the first four hitters, click here. The introduction below might look familiar.

Last week, the Baseball Hall of Fame announced 10 candidates for consideration for the Modern Era ballot, which includes executives and players whose careers took place mainly from 1970 to 1987. This year, the candidates include one non-player, Marvin Miller, and nine players from that era: Steve GarveyTommy JohnDon MattinglyJack MorrisDale MurphyDave ParkerTed SimmonsLuis Tiant and Alan Trammell. Among the player candidates, we have an interesting mix: some who make their claim with a high peak, those who have longevity on their side, and one player with both. Over the course of three posts, I’m examining all the candidates. Today, we’ll cover the two most deserving position players. I’ll also look at one player left off the ballot.

First, a brief word on the rules and procedures of this ballot, which is an updated version of the old Veteran’s Committee. Baseball has been separated into eras, with Early Baseball (1871-1949), Golden Days (1950-1969), Modern Baseball (1970-1987), and Today’s Game (1988-Present). Most players up through 1969 have had their cases considered many times. As a result, during this cycle (2016-2020), the Early Baseball and Golden Days players are scheduled to be evaluated just once, in 2020, with Modern Baseball and Today’s Game receiving consideration every other year from 2016 to -19. There are 16 voting members on the Committee for election, and players must receive 75% of the vote with voting members limited to four votes.

Read the rest of this entry »


Modern Era Hall of Fame Ballot: Garvey, Mattingly, Murphy, Parker

This is the second post covering the Modern Era Ballot for the Hall of Fame. For a look at the pitchers, click here. The introduction below might look familiar.

Last week, the Baseball Hall of Fame announced 10 candidates for consideration for the Modern Era ballot, which includes executives and players whose careers took place mainly from 1970 to 1987. This year, the candidates include one non-player, Marvin Miller, and nine players from that era: Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Ted Simmons, Luis Tiant and Alan Trammell. Among the player candidates, we have an interesting mix: some who make their claim with a high peak, those who have longevity on their side, and one player with both. Over the course of three posts, I’m examining all the candidates. Today, we’ll look at our first four position players.

First, a brief word on the rules and procedures of this ballot, which is an updated version of the old Veteran’s Committee. Baseball has been separated into eras, with Early Baseball (1871-1949), Golden Days (1950-1969), Modern Baseball (1970-1987), and Today’s Game (1988-Present). Most players up through 1969 have had their cases considered many times. As a result, during this cycle (2016-2020), the Early Baseball and Golden Days players are scheduled to be evaluated just once, in 2020, with Modern Baseball and Today’s Game receiving consideration every other year from 2016 to -19. There are 16 voting members on the Committee for election, and players must receive 75% of the vote with voting members limited to four votes.

In my evaluation of each player, I’ve included a collection of numbers. Besides WAR, the rest of these come from a system I devised (introduction here) that provides an escalating scale of points for all above-average seasons (HOF Points) averaged with WAR to come to a total HOF Rating. The averaged and median numbers that follow are first for all Hall of Famers at their respective positions. The BBWAA averages and medians are for those Hall of Famers voted in by the writers, who have historically had tougher standards.

Read the rest of this entry »


Modern Era Hall of Fame Ballot: Tommy John, Jack Morris, Luis Tiant

Last week, the Baseball Hall of Fame announced 10 candidates for consideration for the Modern Era ballot, which includes executives and players whose careers took place mainly from 1970 to 1987. This year, the candidates include one non-player, Marvin Miller, and nine players from that era: Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Ted Simmons, Luis Tiant and Alan Trammell. Among the player candidates, we have an interesting mix: some who make their claim with a high peak, those who have longevity on their side, and one player with both. Over the course of three posts, I’ll examine all the candidates. We’ll start today with the three pitchers on the ballot.

First, a brief word on the rules and procedures of this ballot, which is a updated version of the old Veteran’s Committee. Baseball has been separated into eras, with Early Baseball (1871-1949), Golden Days (1950-1969), Modern Baseball (1970-1987), and Today’s Game (1988-Present). Most players up through 1969 have had their cases considered many times. As a result, during this cycle (2016-2020), the Early Baseball and Golden Days players are scheduled to be evaluated just once, in 2020, with Modern Baseball and Today’s Game receiving consideration every other year from 2016 to -19. There are 16 voting members on the Committee for election, and players must receive 75% of the vote with voting members limited to four votes.

In my evaluation of each player, I’ve included a collection of numbers. Besides WAR, the rest of these come from a system I devised (introduction here) that provides an escalating scale of points for all above-average seasons (HOF Points) averaged with WAR to come to a total HOF Rating. The averaged and median numbers that follow are first for all Hall of Famers at their respective positions — which, in this case, is all starting pitchers. The BBWAA averages and medians are for those Hall of Famers voted in by the writers, who have historically had tougher standards.

Read the rest of this entry »


Tonight’s Matchup Is the Greatest of All-Time

The drama of the World Series — and perhaps this World Series, in particular — renders everyone a little prone to hyperbole. Under the influence of the present moment, one has a tendency to forget the great moments of the past. In the wake of a crucial play or big game, it’s not uncommon to make declarations that, upon further examination, fail to hold up to scrutiny.

Having acknowledged all of that, I would like to use this post to explain why tonight’s baseball game is the single-greatest matchup in the history of baseball.

Before 1961, Major League Baseball featured just 16 teams, separated into two leagues. Each team’s regular-season schedule consisted of games against just the seven other teams in their respective league. The team with the best record in each league at the end of the year moved on to the World Series.

Because of the way in which the schedule was constructed, it was easy for teams to beat up on the dregs of the league and come away with a strong record. It also meant that the good work of the regular season couldn’t be undone in the playoffs: because winning the league meant an immediate spot in the World Series, the notion of a “playoff upset” didn’t really exist.

By 1969, there were 24 teams in the majors. Another round, the Championship Series, was added to the postseason at that time. Expansion brought the league to 28 teams by the early 90s. The 1995 season marked the debut of the Division Series. Then, a few years later, Arizona and Tampa Bay joined the league. The degree of difficulty for reaching the World Series was greater than ever. Even teams that excelled in the regular season had to navigate a gauntlet.

That degree of difficulty is, in part, what makes the matchup between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros in the World Series so rare. Add to that the prospect of a Game 7, and you’re left with a decent argument for the greatest World Series matchup of all time.

Since 1903, the World Series has featured 39 winner-take-all games. Not all of these matchups took place between regular-season titans. In fact, two matchups of recent vintage — in 2002 between the Anaheim Angels and San Francisco Giants and 2014 between the Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants — both featured a pair of clubs that had failed to win their respective divisions.

This season, on the other hand, we have two juggernauts. The Dodgers won an MLB-best 104 games. As for the Astros, their 101 wins ranked second in the American League, although that maybe doesn’t fully account for their accomplishment. Consider: in the 10 years before the 2017 season, the 101-win threshold had been reached only three times.

Read the rest of this entry »


Justin Verlander: Hall of Famer?

If you tune into the World Series tonight, chances are pretty good that you’ll be able to watch at least one future Hall of Famer — and likely, even, that you’ll see several.

Of the participants in this year’s Series, Clayton Kershaw is already a lock. Both Carlos Beltran and Chase Utley are in the twilight of their careers but have strong cases for inclusion without doing any more work. Among younger players, Jose Altuve is already off to a great start, and early-20-somethings Carlos Correa and Corey Seager have certainly made their mark.

Meanwhile, there’s one player expected to appear in tonight’s game who occupies an in-between category. On the one hand, he hasn’t yet established unassailable Hall of Fame credentials and is past his peak. On the other, he seems poised to compile a few more reasonably productive years. Justin Verlander has a decent case for the Hall right now, but the next few seasons will determine how persuasive his case ultimately is.

Read the rest of this entry »


Game Five Was as Weird as It Felt

As illustrated by basically all the win-probability graphs featured here on any given night of the season, the average baseball game tends to be composed mostly of plays that, individually, have little influence on the outcome but which, when taken collectively, push the game towards one conclusion or the other.

This graph from the Brewers-Cardinals game on the last day of the season illustrates the point:

You can see Brett Phillips’ home run annotated here. That one play shifted the probability of victory about 20% in Milwaukee’s direction. Other than that one event, however, the game is defined mostly by a series of small ups and downs before it flatlines in favor of the Brewers in the ninth.

This is the how these win-probability graphs typically work. There aren’t often moments where, based on one play, you tell yourself, This game is over — or, alternatively, Wait a second, this changes everything. There’s usually some build-up, an accumulation of smaller moments leading to a bigger one.

This World Series, however, has abandoned the slow burn. It continues to produce big moments at an unprecedented rate.

If we define a “big moment” as the sort of play the produces a win-probability change of 25% or greater — that is, a play that brings a club back from precipice of defeat or, alternatively, appears to render a tight battle over — we find that 96 of the 113 World Series played since 1903 have featured four or fewer “big moments” over the course of an entire series. This year’s World Series matchup between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros has beaten that number this series… in a single game… twice.

*Setting the bar at .25 is admittedly somewhat arbitrary, but going too much higher increases the rarity of something that doesn’t occur all that often. Even using the threshold of .33, for example, would reduce the number of instances by half. Similarly, lowering the bar to .18 would double the amount of plays. Although slightly haphazard, .25 seems to set a decent balance.

When the Dodgers and Astros combined for five game-changing plays in Game 2 of this series, it was unprecedented, and I wrote about it at length. To briefly recap: prior to Game 2, there were just three World Series games with four plays featuring a WPA of at least .25. Only 11 other World Series games had even had three such moments. Game 2 had five of those big, single-plays that change a game.Sunday’s night’s Game 5 matched that number and produced an even wilder result than we saw just last week.

As I did after Game 2 to provide some context, here are the biggest plays of this year’s postseason by WPA, with Sunday night’s game now included.

Biggest Plays of the 2017 Postseason
GameDate Inning Outs PlayDesc HomeTeam AwayTeam WPA
10/25/2017 10 2 Enrique Hernandez singled to right (Grounder). Logan Forsythe scored. Enrique Hernandez advanced to 2B. Dodgers Astros .468
10/15/2017 9 2 Justin Turner homered (Fly). Yasiel Puig scored. Chris Taylor scored. Dodgers Cubs .394
10/29/2017 10 2 Alex Bregman singled to left (Fliner (Liner)). Derek Fisher scored. George Springer advanced to 2B. Astros Dodgers .391
10/7/2017 8 1 Bryce Harper homered (Fly). Victor Robles scored. Nationals Cubs .388
10/14/2017 9 1 Carlos Correa doubled to right (Fliner (Liner)). Jose Altuve scored. Astros Yankees .369
10/25/2017 9 0 Marwin Gonzalez homered (Fliner (Fly)). Dodgers Astros .350
10/25/2017 10 0 Jose Altuve homered (Fliner (Fly)). Dodgers Astros .350
10/29/2017 5 2 Jose Altuve homered (Fly). George Springer scored. Alex Bregman scored. Astros Dodgers .340
10/29/2017 9 2 Chris Taylor singled to center (Grounder). Austin Barnes scored. Astros Dodgers .306
10/24/2017 6 2 Justin Turner homered (Fly). Chris Taylor scored. Dodgers Astros .306
10/25/2017 6 2 Corey Seager homered (Fly). Chris Taylor scored. Dodgers Astros .306
10/7/2017 8 1 Ryan Zimmerman homered (Fly). Anthony Rendon scored. Daniel Murphy scored. Nationals Cubs .300
10/6/2017 8 0 Jay Bruce homered (Fly). Indians Yankees .298
10/29/2017 5 1 Cody Bellinger homered (Fliner (Fly)). Corey Seager scored. Justin Turner scored. Astros Dodgers .284
10/6/2017 3 2 Aaron Hicks homered (Fliner (Fly)). Starlin Castro scored. Gregory Bird scored. Indians Yankees .278
10/12/2017 5 2 Addison Russell doubled to left (Grounder). Willson Contreras scored. Ben Zobrist scored. Nationals Cubs .271
10/25/2017 11 0 George Springer homered (Fliner (Fly)). Cameron Maybin scored. Dodgers Astros .261
10/9/2017 8 3 Anthony Rizzo singled to center (Fliner (Fly)). Leonys Martin scored. Anthony Rizzo out. Cubs Nationals .259
10/29/2017 7 1 Cody Bellinger tripled to left (Fliner (Liner)). Enrique Hernandez scored. Astros Dodgers .258
10/16/2017 2 2 Todd Frazier homered (Fliner (Fly)). Starlin Castro scored. Aaron Hicks scored. Yankees Astros .258
10/9/2017 8 2 Josh Reddick singled to left (Grounder). Cameron Maybin scored. George Springer advanced to 3B. Red Sox Astros .253
10/9/2017 5 1 Andrew Benintendi homered (Fly). Xander Bogaerts scored. Red Sox Astros .253
10/6/2017 6 2 Francisco Lindor homered (Fliner (Fly)). Carlos Santana scored. Yan Gomes scored. Lonnie Chisenhall scored. Indians Yankees .251
Orange = Game 2
Blue = Game 5

Of the 11 biggest plays in this year’s playoffs, eight have come during the World Series. The fact that it’s the World Series doesn’t make these plays more likely. Any individual game can produce dramatic swings — only one in three actually do have plays with a WPA of at least .25 — but this matchup has produced more dramatic moments than we’ve seen throughout the rest of the playoffs. Individual plays aren’t the end-all-be-all of excitement. In the bottom of the seventh inning on Sunday, for example, the Astros increased their win expectancy from 35% at the beginning of the inning to 93% by the end due to multiple plays of significance, but no single play did as much damage as the plays in the chart above.

When we consider the sheer number of plays we’ve seen in this World Series that have changed win probability by 25%, it blows away every other series we’ve seen, as the graph below shows.

The World Series of 1912, which went eight games due to a tie in Game 2, featured eight big moments. Fred Merkle, who is known mostly for his “boner” in the 1908 series, very well could have been the hero in Game 8 after recording an RBI single off of Smoky Joe Wood in the top of the 10th that put the New York Giants ahead 2-1. He didn’t receive the distinction, however, as Tris Speaker produced an RBI single off of Christy Mathewson to tie the game and then a bases loaded sacrifice fly ended the series.

The 1975 World Series, perhaps most famous for Carlton Fisk’s Game 6 homer, also had eight big moments, including an RBI single by Joe Morgan in the top of the ninth of Game 7 that broke a 3-3 tie with two outs. This year, the Dodgers and Astros tied the record in Game 5 when Jose Altuve’s three-run homer tied the game at 7, and the two teams broke it three times before the game ended. Here are some of those same numbers from the graph above, but only showing the leaders.

All the years of the World Series omitted from the chart above — and there are number of them — featured fewer game-changing moments over the entirety of the series than occurred in Game 2 and Game 5 of this year’s Dodgers-Astros matchup alone. More than one-third of all series had either one or zero moments of that magnitude. They weren’t necessarily boring, but they might have lacked for some particularly big moments.

We’ve had eras off good and bad pitching and eras with a lot of homers, but we’ve never had a World Series quite like this one. Maybe the ball is juiced and slippery and maybe the teams and the bullpens are worn down because of the long season and increased usage of late, and maybe everybody is trying to hit it out of the park, but we aren’t just talking about homers here. Three of the five biggest plays on Sunday night were on batted balls that stayed in the park. Two were singles. Because we haven’t looked at it yet, here’s the win-expectancy graph from Sunday.

When looking at Game 2, I couldn’t help but compare it to probably the craziest World Series game anyone has ever seen: Game 6 in 2011. While Game 2 this year had five “big moments,” the moments back in 2011 were bigger at the top, and there was a lot more depth in terms of tension and moments. Game 5 comes a lot closer to matching up with Game 6, which, as an elimination game, carried a bit more weight in terms seasonal leverage.

Here are the top-20 plays in terms of WPA for each game:

Game 6, 2011 vs Game 5, 2017
Game 6, 2011 Game 5, 2017
Play LI WPA WPA LI Play
David Freese tripled to right (Fliner (Fly)). Albert Pujols scored. Lance Berkman scored. 3.33 .538 .391 4.34 Alex Bregman singled to left (Fliner (Liner)). Derek Fisher scored. George Springer advanced to 2B.
Lance Berkman singled to center (Fliner (Liner)). Jon Jay scored. Albert Pujols advanced to 3B. 6.42 .471 .340 1.84 Jose Altuve homered (Fly). George Springer scored. Alex Bregman scored.
Josh Hamilton homered (Fly). Elvis Andrus scored. 2.95 .428 .306 4.56 Chris Taylor singled to center (Grounder). Austin Barnes scored.
David Freese homered (Fly). 2.19 .376 .284 2.61 Cody Bellinger homered (Fliner (Fly)). Corey Seager scored. Justin Turner scored.
Lance Berkman homered (Fly). Skip Schumaker scored. 0.84 .217 .258 2.05 Cody Bellinger tripled to left (Fliner (Liner)). Enrique Hernandez scored.
Adrian Beltre homered (Fliner (Fly)). 1.53 .213 .234 1.91 George Springer homered (Fly).
Michael Young doubled to left (Fliner (Liner)). Josh Hamilton scored. 2.02 .172 .233 1.92 Yulieski Gurriel homered (Fly). Jose Altuve scored. Carlos Correa scored.
Yadier Molina walked. Lance Berkman scored. Matt Holliday advanced to 3B. David Freese advanced to 2B. 4.75 .162 .205 2.36 Jose Altuve doubled to left (Fliner (Liner)). Alex Bregman scored.
Jon Jay singled to left (Fliner (Fly)). Daniel Descalso advanced to 2B. 3.31 .140 .170 2.87 Logan Forsythe singled to left (Liner). Chris Taylor scored. Justin Turner scored. Enrique Hernandez advanced to 3B.
Nelson Cruz homered (Fly). 0.9 .125 .164 2.27 Corey Seager doubled to left (Fliner (Liner)). Joc Pederson scored. Chris Taylor advanced to 3B.
Ian Kinsler hit a ground rule double (Fliner (Liner)). Craig Gentry scored. 1.26 .117 .136 2.07 Austin Barnes doubled to center (Fliner (Liner)).
David Freese walked. Lance Berkman advanced to 3B. Matt Holliday advanced to 2B. 3.61 .109 .130 1.79 Carlos Correa doubled to left (Liner). George Springer scored. Jose Altuve advanced to 3B.
Elvis Andrus singled to left (Fliner (Liner)). Ian Kinsler advanced to 3B. 1.52 .096 .110 1.54 Justin Turner doubled to center (Fliner (Fly)).
Mike Napoli singled to right (Liner). Nelson Cruz scored. 1.59 .095 .072 1.96 Justin Turner walked. Corey Seager advanced to 2B.
Josh Hamilton singled to right (Grounder). Ian Kinsler scored. Elvis Andrus advanced to 3B. 1.76 .091 .072 1.35 Yulieski Gurriel doubled to left (Fliner (Fly)).
Daniel Descalso singled to right (Liner). 1.64 .086 .070 1.34 Yasiel Puig advanced on a stolen base. Logan Forsythe advanced to 2B on error. Error by Yulieski Gurriel.
Matt Holliday walked. Lance Berkman advanced to 2B. 2.1 .079 .066 0.77 Carlos Correa homered (Fly). Jose Altuve scored.
Nelson Cruz reached on error to left (Fly). Nelson Cruz advanced to 2B. Error by Matt Holliday. 1.08 .079 .060 1.96 Enrique Hernandez walked. Chris Taylor advanced to 3B. Justin Turner advanced to 2B.
Ian Kinsler singled to center (Grounder). Derek Holland scored. Ian Kinsler advanced to 2B. 0.78 .077 .060 0.69 Austin Barnes singled to left (Fliner (Liner)). Logan Forsythe scored.
Lance Berkman walked. 2.4 .075 .059 1.76 Andre Ethier singled to left (Grounder).

Ultimately, even the games from the current World Series — objectively crazy as they’ve been — can’t compete with Game 6 from 2011, which featured three win-probability changes of at least 40%. Where Sunday night’s contest can match up with 2011 is the significance of the plays after the top three. If we simply average the top-10 plays, it comes to 28% for 2011 and 26% for Sunday night. If we go down to the top-20 plays, the averages are 19% and 17%, respectively.

While we might not remember it with all the hits, Sunday’s game also had its share of big outs. In Game 2, there were just two plays where the pitcher’s team increased its chances of winning by at least 10%; on Sunday, there were four. That doesn’t quite measure up to the seven from Game 6 in 2011, but it isn’t too far off. Game 6 also has the 11 plays with a leverage index greater than 4.0, compared to just one in Game 2 and three in Game 5.

Game 2 was crazy. Game 5 was even crazier. We aren’t guaranteed more of the same in the next contest (or two), and odds are actually against it. It felt surreal watching Sunday’s game go back and forth. The numbers support that feeling. Removing emotion from the equation reveals just as crazy an outcome as it felt watching — which for me, enhances my already great appreciation for the game.


Game Two Was Objectively, Historically Crazy

In terms of significant, game-changing moments, no World Series game in history compares to Wednesday night’s epic between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros. In the sixth inning, Corey Seager hit a two-run homer off of Justin Verlander to break a 1-1 tie. In the top of the ninth, Marwin Gonzalez hit a solo shot to tie the game 3-3. In the 10th, Jose Altuve broke the tie with a solo shot. In the bottom half of that same inning, Enrique Hernandez’s RBI single tied the game, and then in the top of the 11th, George Springer hit a two-run homer that would put the Astros up for good. Each of those five plays increased the scoring club’s chances victory by 25% according to Win Probability Added. That’s never happened before in a World Series game.

Since 2002, only one in three games have produced plays with at least one play with a WPA of .25 or greater. To put that in greater context, consider: there have been only 18 plays total this posteason that produced a WPA of .25 or greater.  Here they are, in order of impact on win probability:

Biggest Plays of 2017 Playoffs by WPA
GameDate Inning Outs PlayDesc HomeTeam AwayTeam WPA
10/25/2017 10 2 Enrique Hernandez singled to right (Grounder). Logan Forsythe scored. Enrique Hernandez advanced to 2B. Dodgers Astros .468
10/15/2017 9 2 Justin Turner homered (Fly). Yasiel Puig scored. Chris Taylor scored. Dodgers Cubs .394
10/7/2017 8 1 Bryce Harper homered (Fly). Victor Robles scored. Nationals Cubs .388
10/14/2017 9 1 Carlos Correa doubled to right (Fliner (Liner)). Jose Altuve scored. Astros Yankees .369
10/25/2017 9 0 Marwin Gonzalez homered (Fliner (Fly)). Dodgers Astros .350
10/25/2017 10 0 Jose Altuve homered (Fliner (Fly)). Dodgers Astros .350
10/24/2017 6 2 Justin Turner homered (Fly). Chris Taylor scored. Dodgers Astros .306
10/25/2017 6 2 Corey Seager homered (Fly). Chris Taylor scored. Dodgers Astros .306
10/7/2017 8 1 Ryan Zimmerman homered (Fly). Anthony Rendon scored. Daniel Murphy scored. Nationals Cubs .300
10/6/2017 8 0 Jay Bruce homered (Fly). Indians Yankees .298
10/6/2017 3 2 Aaron Hicks homered (Fliner (Fly)). Starlin Castro scored. Gregory Bird scored. Indians Yankees .278
10/12/2017 5 2 Addison Russell doubled to left (Grounder). Willson Contreras scored. Ben Zobrist scored. Nationals Cubs .271
10/25/2017 11 0 George Springer homered (Fliner (Fly)). Cameron Maybin scored. Dodgers Astros .261
10/9/2017 8 3 Anthony Rizzo singled to center (Fliner (Fly)). Leonys Martin scored. Anthony Rizzo out. Cubs Nationals .259
10/16/2017 2 2 Todd Frazier homered (Fliner (Fly)). Starlin Castro scored. Aaron Hicks scored. Yankees Astros .258
10/9/2017 8 2 Josh Reddick singled to left (Grounder). Cameron Maybin scored. George Springer advanced to 3B. Red Sox Astros .253
10/9/2017 5 1 Andrew Benintendi homered (Fly). Xander Bogaerts scored. Red Sox Astros .253
10/6/2017 6 2 Francisco Lindor homered (Fliner (Fly)). Carlos Santana scored. Yan Gomes scored. Lonnie Chisenhall scored. Indians Yankees .251

Of the eight biggest plays in the postseason this year, four occurred in Game 2. Hernandez’s single in a losing effort produced the highest WPA of any play in this postseason.

Read the rest of this entry »


The Mike Trout MVP Precedent

Most of the time when we talk about Mike Trout, we ask if anybody has ever done what he’s doing. Sometimes the answer is Mickey Mantle or Ty Cobb or Albert Pujols, but a lot of the time the answer is no and what Trout is doing is unprecedented. Today, we are asking two related questions:

  1. Could Mike Trout deserve the American League Most Valuable Player Award despite missing 39 games earlier this season?
  2. Does Mike Trout have a realistic chance to win MVP despite missing 39 games earlier this season?

While answering the second question might help prove the first through precedent, let’s restrict ourselves in the first part to the value Mike Trout provides. On Friday, I talked about Jose Altuve’s candidacy for MVP and showed this chart:

American League WAR Leaders
Name WAR ROS WAR EOS Projection
Jose Altuve 5.7 1.7 7.4
Mike Trout 4.5 2.8 7.3
Aaron Judge 5.8 1.4 7.2
Mookie Betts 4.4 1.8 6.2
Jose Ramirez 4.2 1.5 5.7
Andrelton Simmons 4.3 1.4 5.7
George Springer 3.8 1.5 5.3
Justin Upton 3.5 1.2 4.7
Justin Smoak 3.7 0.8 4.5
Carlos Correa 3.9 0.2 4.1

Through August 3

Things have already changed considerably. This is what the top of that chart looks like now.

American League MVP Candidate Projections
Name WAR ROS WAR EOS Projection
Mike Trout 5.1 2.6 7.7
Jose Altuve 5.9 1.6 7.5
Aaron Judge 6.0 1.3 7.3
Andrelton Simmons 4.6 1.3 5.9
Mookie Betts 4.2 1.5 5.8
Chris Sale has 7.0 WAR, but the above list only includes position players.

So Trout is currently projected to be the AL position player WAR leader at the end of the season. If he keeps up his current pace and gets close to the the 200 more plate appearances he is projected for, he is going to get above 8 WAR. Trout is currently above a 200 wRC+, a number that hasn’t been reached since Barry Bonds and done by only nine players in non-strike seasons in history. He will actually have to exceed his projections in PAs to qualify for the batting title, as he is currently set to fall eight short. Read the rest of this entry »


Dodgers Pursue All-Time Win Record

Things have been looking up for Justin Turner and the Dodgers this season. (Photo: Arturo Pardavila III)

Back in 1906, the Chicago Cubs won 116 games, lost just 36, and put up a .763 win percentage equivalent to 124 wins in a 162-game schedule. Over the next 50 or so years, three other teams won at least 110 games, and another 11 posted at least 105 wins in a season. In 1961, Major League Baseball added eight more games to the schedule, giving us the 162-game schedule that we have today. Over the next 55 years, only two teams won more than 110 games, with more teams equaling greater parity, making it tougher to put up gaudy win totals. The New York Yankees put up a modern-day record 114 wins in 1998 on their way to a World Series title, but they were bested by the 2001 Seattle Mariners, who tied the all-time record by winning 116 games on their way to not winning the World Series. The Los Angeles Dodgers are perhaps the first team since with a shot at topping the 1906 Cubs and 2001 Mariners. The Dodgers have a shot at 117.

After all the moves at the trade deadline, the Dodgers’ record stood at 74-31, a .705 winning percentage, best in all of baseball by a healthy margin over the Houston Astros. If we assume the Dodgers would just win games at the same rate going forward, the team would end up with 114 wins. Here are a few different scenarios for LA going forward:

  • If they go roughly .500 (28-27), they will finish with 102 wins.
  • If they hit their rest-of season projections (34-23), they will finish with 108 wins, which would be tied for fifth since 1961, and also behind the 1927 Yankees and a few teams from more than 100 years ago.
  • If they continue at their current pace of wins (40-17), they will win 114 games, tied for third with the 1998 Yankees and behind only the 2001 Mariners and the 1906 Cubs.
  • If they play their final 57 games like their most recent 57 games (46-11), they will finish with 120 wins, four more than any other team.

While outplaying their projections by the seven games necessary to tie the record and eight games better to beat the record isn’t exactly likely, their record thus far, especially since mid-May indicates it is something the team is capable of. Losing Clayton Kershaw for any amount of time is certainly a blow, but picking up Yu Darvish and getting massive reinforcements for the bullpen certainly lessens that loss and could make the team even better. Read the rest of this entry »