Archive for August, 2014

Rising HBP Rates: Seeing the Symptom, Seeking the Cause

As I noted here on August 15, major league batters are being hit by pitches at rates not seen in over a century (measured by HBP/game). I offered data illustrating this but was at a loss explaining it. Fortunately, I spent the following weekend at the Saber Seminar in Boston, surrounded by a bunch of really smart people, so I posed the question to them.

To be clear, everyone was surprised by the conclusion. Through Sunday’s games, there were 67.4 hit batters per 100 games in 2014. That’s the highest rate since 2001-2008 which, in turn, is the highest since the two leagues were formed in 1901. (Note that these numbers are different from the ones in my original post. When I downloaded league totals from FanGraphs, I hadn’t realized that Games referred to player games, not team games. So I was using a denominator that was too large. The conclusions still hold. I’ve updated the figures in a comment to the August 15 post.) If you didn’t notice this spike in hit batters, join the club. This appears to be an entirely under-the-radar trend.

Asking around, I got several possible explanations. Dave Cameron, FanGraphs managing editor, suggested that since PITCHf/x has clearly demonstrated that left-handed hitters suffer from an elongated strike zone on the outside part of the plate, lefties might be setting up closer to home in order to reach those outside “strikes.” That would make them more likely to be hit by inside pitches.

To test this, I looked at data from 2010-13, when there were 63.8 hit batters per 100 games, and compared them to 1980-83, when there were just 32.6. Switching from HBP/100 games to HBP/1000 plate appearances (since games contain a combination of left- and right-handed batters), the hit batter rate went from 4.3 in 1980-83 to 8.3 in 2010-2013. Right handed hitters got hit at a rate of 4.6 per 1000 plate appearances in 1980-83 and 9.0 in 2010-13, an increase of 95%. For lefties, the HBP rate went from 3.8 to 7.3, and increase of…95%. Exactly the same. Handedness hasn’t been an issue.

Former major league pitcher Brian Bannister suggested that I correlate HBP rates to measures of power. He noted that he didn’t like to come inside on sluggers, for fear that they’d pull the pitch down the line and into the bleachers. I thought this was a sharp, counter-intuitive insight: A rash of longballs makes pitchers work away rather than come inside. With offense in retreat in recent years, pitchers are more willing to pitch inside, and when they miss, the batter gets hit.

I looked at three measures of power: home runs per plate appearance, slugging percentage, and isolated power. I correlated these metrics to hit batters per game for the period 1980-2013. If Brian’s hypothesis is correct, there should be a negative correlation–as power increases, hit batters decrease. However, the opposite was true: 0.84 correlation coefficient between hit batters per game and homers per plate appearance, 0.55 for slugging percentage, 0.65 for isolated power. Maybe my endpoints were wrong? I checked 1970-2013 and got pretty much the same results: Correlation coefficients of 0.84 for HR/PA, 0.66 for SLG, 0.73 for ISO. I was ready to think that maybe hit batters are a result of more power, not less, but then I picked 1990-2013. At least during those 14 years the correlations were weaker, coming in at 0.82 for HR/PA but 0.25 for SLG and 0.43 for ISO. That’s still consistent with the observation that hit batters have remained high in the post-PED era. I don’t see a strong case for fingering the long ball as a cause for hit batsmen, one way or the other.

SiriusXM radio host Mike Ferrin thought we may be seeing a cultural shift of sorts. In college ball, he pointed out, batters view getting hit as an on-base weapon. Might an influx of college players be driving up HBP rates?

Unfortunately, neither the FanGraphs Leaders board nor the Baseball Reference Play Index have college vs. non-college splits, so I looked at the most-plunked batters in 2013 and 1983. In 1983, players with four or more HBP represented the top 53 overall and collectively comprised 274 of 717 HBP that year, or 38%. Of those 53, 30 (56%) attended a secondary school in the US. (I am going to use “attended college” instead of “attended secondary school” going forward, but I mean players who went on for any schooling, including junior college, following high school in the US.) They were hit 10.2 times per 1,000 plate appearances. Players who didn’t go to college were hit 10.4 times per 1,000 plate appearances. That’s our baseline: No evidence of college kids leaning into pitches the year “Every Breath You Take” and “Billie Jean” were top hits.

Now, 2013. There were 15% more teams than in 1983. As it happens, there were 61 hitters with seven or more HBPs in 2013, and 61/53 = 1.15, so 61 is the appropriate sample size for consistency. Those 61 batters were hit 587 times, 38% of all HBP, just like our sample for 1983. Here are the relevant metrics:

  • Percentage of most-hit players who attended college: 57% (30 of 53) in 1983, 49% (30 of 61) in 2013
  • Percentage of HBPs by most-hit players that were players who attended college: 56% (167 of 298) in 1983, 47% (275 of 587) in 2013
  • HBP per 1,000 plate appearances, all most-hit players: 10.4 in 1983, 18.2 in 2013
  • HBP per 1,000 plate appearances, most-hit players who attended college: 10.2 in 1983, 18.5 in 2013
  • HBP per 1,000 plate appearances, most-hit players who didn’t attend college: 10.8 in 1983, 17.9 in 2013

Mike has a point. College players appear to be getting hit more, relative to other hitters, than they were in the past. The rate of HBP per 1,000 plate appearances increased 82% over 30 years for batters who went to college. However, the HBP rate for batters who didn’t go to college was up 65%, which is also pretty dramatic. And the list of HBP leaders has more players who didn’t go to college than in 1983. So while college kids may be bringing a lean-into-the-pitch ethic to the plate, there is still strong evidence that players who didn’t attend college are getting hit more, and the limited data I used don’t indicate that college kids are comprising a growing percentage of plate appearances.

Some of the commenters on my post from the 15th suggested that maybe HBPs are up because pitchers are throwing harder, giving batters less of an opportunity to get out of the way of an errant delivery. Per FanGraph’s PITCHf/x data, average fastball velocity has climbed from around 91 mph in 2007-9 to 92 mph in 2013-14. That’s a pretty tiny difference from a hitter’s perspective (about five milliseconds, or 0.005 seconds, over 60.5 feet), but it’s something. I’m not ruling it out.

Last Wednesday on the Effectively Wild podcast, Baseball Prospectus’s Sam Miller noted that the rate of batters reaching base via catcher’s interference is near all-time highs. (And you thought hit batsmen per 1000 plate appearances was obscure…) He hypothesized that one of the reasons is that batters are standing further back in the batter’s box in order to get extra time — maybe like five milliseconds? — to identify and swing at an incoming pitch. By setting up deeper in the box, batters increase the possibility that their bat may hit the catcher’s glove at the end of their swing, drawing the catcher’s interference call. If that’s correct, wouldn’t moving back also give pitches that break horizontally — two-seam fastballs, sliders, cut fastballs, some changeups — more time to drift into the hitter? It makes sense!

Unfortunately, the numbers don’t back this up. The correlation coefficient between catcher’s interference and hit by pitches is 0.00 since 1962 (expansion in both leagues), -0.10 since 1969 (divisional play), and 0.07 since 1994 (three divisions per league). That doesn’t necessarily mean that the increase in hit batsmen isn’t caused by batters positioning themselves toward the back of the batter’s box, but it does say that whatever’s driving catcher’s interference isn’t the same thing that’s driving hit batters.

So basically I’m back to where I was going into the Saber Seminar. We’re seeing batters hit by pitches at rates not seen in a century. This change has not been widely reported, and I haven’t identified an obvious underlying cause. After talking to people at the Seminar, I still don’t have a great explanation. It could have a little bit to do with fastball velocity, or batter positioning, or players who went to college being willing to get plunked. But I haven’t identified a clear reason thus far. Even with smart guys helping me.


Pitches Seen: Baseball’s Boring Inefficiency

I think I might be the biggest fan of the world of the Ten-Pitch Walk.  I don’t know why, but I get overly excited when I see a player really battle for a long time, against everything the pitcher has, only to win the battle through patience.  Perhaps it’s because it’s so contrary to the spirit of what’s actually exciting about baseball; seeing players run around and field a batted ball.  It’s wholly a battle of attrition.  It’s the baseball equivalent of watching somebody run a marathon; you may not think the act itself is exciting, but it’s certainly an impressive feat in a vacuum.

So this has also lead to a fascination with pitches seen per plate appearance.  I’ve long wondered if certain teams place an emphasis on teaching their players to see more pitches per plate appearance.  It seems fairly self-evident that seeing more pitches is, in a microcosm, better than seeing fewer pitches.  You tire the pitcher out quicker, you see more data for your next at-bat to work with, and you give your team a chance to see what the pitcher has, and how he’ll react in different situations.  I hypothesized, purely based on colloquial wisdom, that the A’s would be good at this and the Blue Jays would be bad at this.  That’s not to say that one approach is better than the other, but just that some teams seem more patient than others.

Fortunately, FanGraphs has data available per hitter as to how many pitches they see.  I pulled that data out and found out each player’s average pitch per at bat since the year 2003 (the earliest we have this data, from what I can tell) and restricted the findings to active players only.  Then I ran some regressions to see if there was any correlation between pitches per at bat and useful batting stats.  Here’s what I found:

We see a slightly positive correlation between P/PA and wOBA.  It’s not really anything to write home about, but it’s more than negative.  It doesn’t seem immediately that seeing more pitches relates heavily to overall performance at the plate.  What about on base percentage?

Slightly better here, but still not great.  Seeing more pitches does have a little more correlation to getting on base, but there are plenty of aggressive swingers that don’t follow that model, so it means the correlation is loose at best.  What if we talk just about taking walks?

Here we have a real correlation.  .59 is a fairly strong correlation, and that makes sense.  The more pitches you see, the more likely you are to take a walk.  If you can successfully foul off anything in the strike zone, you will eventually walk (or the pitcher will die of exhaustion, either way, you win).  This is reasonably useful.  If you’re trying to find a way to make your team walk more, maybe you can invest in some players that see more pitches per plate appearance than normal.  This strong of a correlation makes me think about strikeout percentage too, though, because every pitch you foul off makes you closer (or just one whiff away) from striking out.

There is a positive correlation here, but not nearly as strong as between BB% and P/PA.  It’s stronger than the other useful stats like wOBA, but it’s interesting to know that seeing more pitches relates much more strongly to taking a walk than it is to striking out, at least on a grand scale.  There is some research to be done here to see what the odds are of a plate appearance as the pitch count increases, but I’ll leave that for another day.  My next thought was to see if there are, in fact, any teams that are better at this than other teams.  Here’s what we’ve got on a team level:

1 Red Sox 4.0506764011
2 Twins 4.0396551724
3 Cubs 3.9222196952
4 Yankees 3.9142662735
5 Pirates 3.9037861915
6 Astros 3.9028792437
7 Padres 3.9021177686
8 Mets 3.9009743938
9 Marlins 3.8916836619
10 Indians 3.8914762742
11 Athletics 3.8899398108
12 Phillies 3.8839715662
13 Blue Jays 3.8685393258
14 Cardinals 3.8634547591
15 Rays 3.8511224058
16 Rangers 3.8489497286
17 Dodgers 3.8480325645
18 Tigers 3.8314217702
19 Angels 3.8280856423
20 Diamondbacks 3.8161904762
21 Nationals 3.8146927243
22 White Sox 3.811023622
23 Giants 3.8038379531
24 Reds 3.8015854512
25 Orioles 3.8014611087
26 Braves 3.7944609751
27 Mariners 3.7358235824
28 Royals 3.7310519063
29 Rockies 3.7244254169
30 Brewers 3.6745739291

Well, my original hypotheses were not great ones.  The A’s and the Blue Jays, at 11 and 13, are both decidedly middle of the road teams.  I find it most fun in times like this to look at the extremes; in this case, the Red Sox and the Brewers.  The difference in pitches seen per plate appearance between these two teams is 0.38.  That may seem small, but it adds up.  If we assume the average pitcher faces 4 batters per inning, that’s an additional 1.5 pitches per inning, and 9 pitches by the end of the sixth, just purely by the nature of the hitters.  In a tightly contested contest, that may mean the difference between getting to the bullpen in the 7th rather than the 8th, or even the 7th rather than the 6th.

It should be noted that I limited this data set to 2014 (in contrast to the earlier data which was 2003 onwards) just so we could get a realistic look at roster construction, and to see if any teams are, right now, putting any particular emphasis in this area. The BoSox are carried by the very patient eye of Mike Napoli (4.51 P/PA), but hurt by the rather hacky eye of AJ Pierzynski (3.42 P/PA). Even on one team, that’s more than a pitch per plate appearance, which is pretty startling. The Brewers don’t have nearly the same difference; their best is Mark Reynolds with 4.04 P/PA and their worst is Jean Segura with 3.42 P/PA. As an aside, Chone Figgins is by far the best in this with a whopping 4.99 P/PA, though it was in just 76 PA. Kevin Frandsen brings up the rear with 3.16 P/PA in 189 PA. A lineup of all Mike Napoli‘s would see 24.3 more pitches than a lineup of Kevin Frandsens before the leadoff Napoli even comes up a third time. I would feel bad for that pitcher.

The talk about teams possibly emphasizing this data made me wonder if I could make a huge difference if I compiled a team solely to do this; just make sure the pitchers throw a ton of pitches.  With that, I present to you the 2014 All-Stars and Not-So-All-Stars in this area, with a PA minimum thrown in to eliminate Figgins-like outliers:

All-Stars P/PA wOBA
C A.J. Ellis 4.344444444 0.311
1B Mike Napoli 4.353585112 0.371
2B Matt Carpenter 4.20647526 0.362
3B Mark Reynolds 4.179741578 0.341
SS Nick Punto 4.033495408 0.293
LF Brett Gardner 4.305959302 0.332
CF Mike Trout 4.219285365 0.404
RF Jayson Werth 4.399714635 0.364
DH Carlos Santana 4.297962322 0.356

 

Not-So-All-Stars P/PA wOBA
C A.J. Pierzynski 3.33404535 0.32
1B Yonder Alonso 3.603264727 0.318
2B Jose Altuve 3.266379723 0.321
3B Kevin Frandsen 3.41781874 0.296
SS Erick Aybar 3.415445741 0.308
LF Delmon Young 3.450895017 0.321
CF Carlos Gomez 3.517879162 0.321
RF Ben Revere 3.544046983 0.296
DH Salvador Perez 3.366071429 0.331

Despite the fact that there isn’t a strong correlation between wOBA and P/PA directly, it’s worth noting that the P/PA All-Stars are significantly better than the Not-So-All-Stars. Their difference in wOBA is .328 as compared to .314. The Not-So-All-Stars certainly present a fine lineup though; the All-Stars just have the benefit of having Mike Trout in their lineup. It’s nice to know that this is one other area that Mike Trout simply is amazing at, confirming the obvious. The All-Stars have a collective P/PA of 4.26, while their counterparts sit down at 3.43. That’s .83 pitches per plate appearance, which over the course of two turns through the lineup is 14.94 pitches; that’s definitely something notable.

So, it appears this is a demonstrable skill with some value, though not a ton. We can see that some teams are better at this than others, and we see some positive benefit from this, most notably in walk rate. While we see plenty of players on both sides of the scale who are excellent ballplayers, the data does seem to suggest that seeing more pitches is better than not doing so, though only marginally on a league wide scale. When we isolate leaders in this area vs. those more aggressive, we can see some startling differences though, suggesting that perhaps there is an advantage to be gained here.


The A’s: Taking Roster Construction to the Next Level

I started writing this post prior to the trade deadline; viewed through this lens, the Lester-and-Gomes-for-Cespedes trade makes even more sense for the A’s than it already did, especially considering their parallel acquisition of Sam Fuld from the Twins.

The A’s are ahead of the curve again.  This time it’s not just about better overall player evaluation (concentrating on certain metrics that other teams undervalue), but about building a roster that maximizes each player’s skill set to get the most out of the talent on your roster.  I wrote a while back that WAR is not the be-all, end-all of player evaluation, emphasizing that there is more to Wins than WAR.

WAR is great at certain things; it’s useful to remove factors that are outside a player’s immediate control: park factors, sequencing, etc.; it’s useful for comparing players across eras by controlling for run scoring environments and translating Runs to Wins; it’s also useful because it encompasses multiple aspects of a player’s skill set (hitting, defense, baserunning), and uses the same units (Runs and Wins) to combine these into a single number.  It’s a nice package.

But if I’m a GM, I don’t evaluate each player in a vacuum.  I want to know how he fits into my system, my lineup, my park, etc.  A given player will bring different value to different teams.  Some examples:

  • Certain players might be more tailored to certain parks based on their offensive profile.  A contact hitter who hits a lot of infield singles and steals a lot of bases isn’t worth as much (compared to a team playing in league-average conditions) to a team filled with roided-up sluggers playing in pre-humidor Coors field – the value of those stolen bases and infield singles just isn’t as high.  WAR does normalize for park factors, but it assumes all players are affected by a given park equally, which on its face isn’t true.
  • A player’s contribution varies based on how his team uses him.  If a team platoons a player so that he often has the advantage, his offensive contribution (per plate appearance) will be increased, whereas if he faces a more standard distribution of pitchers, his contribution would be lower.  Likewise if he plays a position he’s not as used to for the good of the team, his own contribution (as measured by WAR) will be less than if he plays his primary position.
  • Likewise, defensive versatility has value to a team.  A player who can play multiple positions allows his team more flexibility in roster construction and in-game management; setting the daily lineup, platooning, and late-game substitutions (matchups when pinch-hitting, or defensive replacements – especially double-switches in the NL).

As a GM, you don’t just add up each player’s projected WAR (and add in the replacement-level constant) and say that’s how many you project to win that year.  There are all kinds of interrelated variables at play that will determine how your team performs.

The A’s are the epitome of this philosophy and appear to be better at this optimization of roster construction.  They’ve loaded up on defensively versatile players with outsized platoon splits and are the king of the platoon.  They’ve started doing this in the last few years, and this year even more so.  Take a look at MLB averages for platoon splits as compared to the A’s:

League:

Matchup PA OPS
vs RHP as RHB 45802 0.686
vs RHP as LHB 44345 0.719
vs LHP as RHB 22940 0.739
vs LHP as LHB 9951 0.651
With Platoon Advantage 67285 0.726
Without Advantage 55753 0.680

A’s:

Matchup PA OPS
vs RHP as RHB 998 0.714
vs RHP as LHB 2021 0.755
vs LHP as RHB 925 0.751
vs LHP as LHB 260 0.584
With Platoon Advantage 2946 0.754
Without Advantage 1258 0.687

We notice two things: first, the A’s splits are a bit wider than the league splits: their righties hit better against lefties by about the same split as righties league-wide, but their lefties really hammer righties: a .171 OPS split for A’s lefties, as compared to a 0.068 split for lefties league-wide.  They’ve made a conscious effort to go after this style of player.  Second is the distribution of plate appearances: the average team gets 55% of its plate appearances with the platoon advantage.  The A’s get 70% of their plate appearances with the platoon advantage.  They’ve constructed their roster in such a way that they can alter their day-to-day lineup as much as possible to maximize the platoon advantage.

What allows the A’s to do this?  Defensive versatility (and the DH).  They’ve got guys like Brandon Moss playing LF/RF/1B/DH; Craig Gentry playing all OF spots; Stephen Vogt playing RF/C/1B; Alberto Callaspo, John Jaso, Josh Donaldson, and Bud Norris dividing time between DH/1B/3B/C; and so on.  All this versatility allows them to mix and match their lineup to get as many plate appearances with the platoon advantage as possible.  And, by not being pulled down by having any full-time DH, they get additional flexibility.

Cespedes didn’t really fit in with this philosophy.  Nearly all his appearances came in LF – 343 PAs, compared to 17 as a CF and 69 as a DH.  With the exception of Donaldson (423 PAs as 3B), he had the highest concentration of PAs at a single position.  The next-highest was Crisp, a switch-hitter, with 306 PAs as a CF.  Everyone else is playing all over the field.

Cespedes has a bit of a platoon split (0.844 OPS vs. 0.765), but not as much as other A’s like Reddick (0.843 vs. 0.398 this year), Donaldson (1.098 vs. 0.704), or Norris (1.031 vs. 0.771).  Gomes’ platoon split: 0.875 vs. 0.722.

So maybe the A’s think there isn’t that big a difference between Gomes and Cespedes, especially considering that Cespedes’ defense can be partially replaced by Fuld’s, his performance against lefties can be replaced by Gomes, and his performance against righties can be replaced by the left-handed Vogt, who stands to get more appearances in LF now.  If they play their cards right, Fuld/Gomes/Vogt is a better player than Cespedes.

The A’s appear to have a leg up on the competition.  Rather than evaluating players in a vacuum and estimating “How many wins we will get if we add player X and remove player Y?”, they’re looking at “What does our lineup look like with player X?”  “How will his presence affect the number of plate appearances players A, B, C, and D get (with platooning taken into account)?”  “How will our various defensive alignments look?”  “How does his presence affect the availability of late-game pinch-hit and defensive replacement options?”  And for each of those questions, they boil it down to the impact on expected runs, expected runs allowed, and expected wins.  They’re all-in for this year, and they’re pulling out all the stops to optimize their lineup.

Next up, I want to look at whether there are any signs of the A’s trying to get a similar edge based on:

  • Park factors – targeting players who fit in with their park
  • Clutch hitting ability; the A’s lead the league in the split between hitting with runners on base vs. with the bases empty; why?  Is it just luck, or have they found a way to get players who are better at hitting with runners on base?

Ferguson and the Cardinals

During spring training I was watching the Mariners, harassing Jesus Montero falling down while fielding and in awe of Robinson Cano’s crazy cool nonchalance, when it occurred to me that most of these guys were maybe not great people. To which those watching with me said, in other words, duh. Baseball players were my childhood heroes, and while there are players like Sam Fuld respected for how they think about the game, I think most baseball fans, including myself, generally grow to favor a player for their athletic performance, or how they wear their hat.

The Mariners players are probably just fine human beings, don’t get me wrong, but are they kind of people that I could be friends with? How does Justin Smoak treat his wife? How does Dustin Ackley vote? What’s the deal with Cano’s child support issues? What do these guys, making at least the major league minimum half-million dollars, think about Seattle’s rise in minimum wage? Brandon Maurer looks like might be a fan of legalized marijuana…what does Jack Z’s drafted core of white dudes from Florida and the Carolinas think about gay marriage?

That said, it’s clearly unfair to judge baseball players on their beliefs. Carl Everett doesn’t believe in dinosaurs. So what?

The internet has been abuzz with the tragedy and ongoing protests in Ferguson for a while now, and this puts the St. Louis Cardinals in an tricky position. People have strong, vitriolic and polarized responses to the Ferguson protests, and the Cardinals clearly wanted to remain as neutral as possible without leaving the issue unaddressed. Here is the team’s official statement:

“Ladies and gentlemen, for over a century Cardinals baseball has been an integral part of the fabric of St. Louis — bringing us together as a community and enriching our lives in so many important ways. St. Louis is good community with good people who care about one another, our neighborhoods and our city. In recent days we have all been heartbroken by a series of violent events that do not reflect who we are as a people. We ask that you join us tonight in taking a stand against violence as we unite as one community.”

Here’s what Mike Matheny had to say:

“It’s a sad situation. It’s a tough situation for our city. Hopefully, all the voices that are trying to get this resolved get it resolved quick…This is a great city with a lot of great people and we’d just like to all see this get resolved.”

At face value these comments seem admirable, nonpolitical. That said both, Matheny and the Cardinals also seem to be wishing this all away. Perhaps when Matheny wants everything “resolved,” he is quietly suggesting police reforms. Perhaps when the Cardinals refer to “violence,” they refer to all of the original shooting, looting, and police response to protesting. But, as I read those statements, the team and Matheny just want things to get back to normal.

St. Louis prides itself on being the both the kind of city those statements describe, and a baseball town, averaging both the second-highest attendance and second-best TV ratings this year. Not only has the status quo has been great to the Cardinals organization and great for baseball fans, but also it would a big stretch to lay any blame on a baseball team for underlying racial issues in a given city.

But. That the Cards broke camp as one of three clubs with no African-American players is almost certainly not because of any malignant franchise philosophy rather than because MLB has seen a huge decline in African-American ballplayers. In the 1970s, baseball was 27% African-American, now it’s 8.5%. It should be noted that the Cardinals are known for drafting college players, and that may have an impact on the racial chemistry of their teams but the Cardinals draft the way they do for strategic reasons, and they’ve obviously been really successful.

What the Cardinals do demonstrate is the whiteness of baseball. Baseball has increasingly become a game of privilege. The decline in African-American players has in some part influenced by the expense of baseball equipment compared to other sports while income and wealth inequality has grown since the 1970s and the gap between African-Americans and Caucasians is wider than it’s ever been before. Many, including myself, treat baseball as an escape and an entertainment, and as an entertainment I don’t think baseball’s demographics demonstrates an issue itself so much as it demonstrates privilege, and white privilege, in general — it’s a privilege to be entertained.

Do our entertainers have to be good people? No. They have to be entertaining.

That said, many rappers have been vocal in their support of the Ferguson protesters (while others have not). That a rapper might be more articulate than a baseball player, or manager, shouldn’t be any surprise in that rappers make their living with language. I don’t expect Robinson Cano or Matt Adams to have a stance or statement about Ferguson, and it shouldn’t be expected of them.

The Cardinals, though, probably felt they had to make a statement, and they did. To attempt neutrality on a subject like Ferguson is tough, as it’s such a polarizing subject, and neutrality here is akin to apathy. What the Cardinals want is a move back to status quo, for financial reasons or otherwise, and as a baseball organization in a billion-dollar industry they shouldn’t be expected to want anything else.

Before Ferguson politicized the idea of St. Louis, the Cardinals were already busy making themselves look bad.

Mike Matheny, All-Star Game manager, started Adam Wainwright over Clayton Kershaw. He used two Cardinals relievers as well, so, in total, Cardinals pitchers had one-third of the innings in a loss that he probably thinks counts. Wainwright went on to admit to ‘grooving one’ to Derek Jeter and the Cardinals, in general, looked terrible.

After the All-Star Game, the Cardinals announcers played off Matheny’s move as rewarding his guys, and said it’s what All-Star managers usually do. In a more recent game they described Kolten Wong as the clear front-runner for NL Rookie of the Year, despite his having about one-third the WAR of Billy Hamilton at the time. Hamilton has a skillset easily appreciated by traditional measures, so while his UZR has certainly inflated his WAR, it’s also tough to look past a .270 batting average and 40+ stolen bases.

The Cardinals organization seems to like to toot their own horn. On the one hand, what team doesn’t? On the other hand, Matheny and the announcers both have demonstrated an inability to act with fairness and understanding when ‘their own guys’ are involved. So who are the Cardinals’ guys in Ferguson? They’d tell you it’s not any group or side, but the language of their statements suggests they’re certainly not with the protesters.

In 2001, in the midst of their 116-win season, the Mariners asked the city of Seattle to shut up the iconic trains whistles in broadcastable earshot of Safeco Field. Their reasoning, as offered to the city:

“[To] ensure that Seattle and Safeco Field are shown in the best possible light — something we are sure you will agree is important given the less than favorable opinion many people have of Seattle in the wake of the WTO and the Mardi Gras riots.”

The Mardi Gras riots mentioned were racially charged and resulted in 70 injuries and one death. Neither event is looked back on rosily. But in 2001 the Mariners, and in 2014 the Cardinals, missed the point.

Bill James defined sabermetrics “as the search for objective knowledge about baseball” and FanGraphs is an extension of that search. Matheny wanting Ferguson to be “resolved” is a little different than wanting a pitcher to resolve an issue in his mechanics. Objectively there is something wrong happening when people protest. Protesters feel there a problem or inequality, and whether they are justified may be subjective opinion but in this case someone died needlessly. Wanting that to go away isn’t going to fix anything. Objectively there are still a lot of things wrong with our country, and baseball isn’t one of them, but MLB shouldn’t position itself in the way of progress either. This is the sport that Jackie Robinson played, after all. Baseball can make a difference.


Searching for the Existence of Team Clutch as a Repeatable Skill

As you’ve probably heard by now, the Baltimore Orioles have made a habit of outperforming their run differential these last three years. In 2012, they finished the year 93-69, but their +7 run differential suggested they didn’t play much better than a .500 team. This year, they’re at it again. They currently sit atop the American League East with a 73-52 record, but their peripheral stats suggest they’ve lucked into a few wins along the way.

This has inevitably led to some disagreement over the true talent of recent Orioles teams. On the one hand, it’s been well established that things like BaseRuns and Pythagorean records do a pretty good job of predicting a team’s win-loss record. But at the same time, Buck Showalter’s Orioles have been pulling this off for a while now. Even if you understand and accept the concept of random variation, its a little hard to believe that the Orioles’ run has been entirely due to luck.

Jeff Sullivan recently penned a convincing article, dispelling the myth that clutch teams remain clutch over an extended period of time. He compared teams’ first-half clutch scores to their second-half scores, finding no correlation between the two, concluding that “team clutch” is not a repeatable skill.

Sullivan’s argument is pretty persuasive, but Major League teams today are sort of like like a Ship of Theseus: They experience lots of turnover over the course of a year, and come September, many look completely different than they did on opening day. Perhaps a comparison of half-seasons might not be picking up on the “magic” that often exists for only part of a year, when a team had the right combination of players on its roster.

To test whether this might be the case, I looked at month-to-month correlations for all consecutive months from 2009 to 2013. I also broke things up by hitting clutch and pitching clutch to see if there might be a phenomenon that exists on only one side of the ball.

Rplot04Rplot Rplot01

There isn’t much going on here, as all three trend lines are pretty darn close to flat. But we do see a slight upward slope to the trend line for pitchers. Its not enough to be statistically significant (P-Value=.27), but maybe it could be picking up on something. For instance, it doesn’t seem far-fetched that some managers might be better than others at deploying relievers in situations where they’re likely to succeed. The 2012 Orioles’ bullpen, after all, was more clutch than average in all six months of the season. So maybe their success had something to do with the way Buck Showalter managed his bullpen? Let’s see if we see anything more definitive by breaking up the correlations up by starters and relievers.

Rplot02 Rplot03

Nada. Both rotation and pitching clutch show no signs of correlation, which implies that the hint of a relationship for month-to-month pitching clutch was purely statistical noise. Pretty much any way you slice it, there’s just no evidence suggesting that team clutch is in any way a repeatable skill, even over very short periods of time. Some teams — like the Orioles — do manage to string together consecutive months of clutch performance. But the overall lack of correlation between consecutive months shows that a team’s clutch performance is about as random as a coin flip. If you flip a coin enough times, you’ll eventually get 10 heads in a row. By that same logic, you’re bound to find a stretch as extreme as the Orioles’ if you string together enough three-year stretches.

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and their infinitely useful splits data.


Oakland is Fine Without Cespedes

I’ll try to avoid covering too much of the same ground covered right here on Wednesday, but talk about why the Yoenis Cespedes trade will still probably help Oakland this season.  The A’s are generally considered a pretty smart front office, and I think they saw a problem that needed fixing.  I also think that their offense is worse without Cespedes, so we will have to get to that too.

The main source of confusion in this trade stemmed from the fact that the pitching staff seemed to be a strength.  So why would a team trade away one of their middle of the order bats to bolster an already solid part of their team?  The answer is that the team wants to win in the playoffs, and the horses of the rotation for the first half were not going to continue their success.

Jesse Chavez had posted a 3.14 ERA prior to the All-Star break, and since then it has been 4.37 with most of that has been from the bullpen.  Cracks in his performance were showing in June and he was failing to get deep into games, so there was no way they were going to count on him as an option in the postseason.

Drew Pomeranz was showing some signs of being an option before he got hurt, but the injury cut short his opportunity and made him too big of a question mark to count on.

The most important guy in the equation was Sonny Gray.  He has been very good so far this year, but he is heading into uncharted territory fast and it is starting to show.  Last year Gray threw 182.3 innings between triple-A and the majors.  He is now at 162.7 with more than a month before the playoffs even start.  He was still going strong in July, but his velocity had peaked in late May and early June and has slowly been coming down ever since.  They were right not to trust him if August is any indication.  Since the trade Gray has posted a 4.94 ERA, his K-rate is down, and players are hitting him harder.

That all leaves Scott Kazmir and two players that had already been acquired in Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.  Hammel has been bad since the trade with only one start where he made it 6 innings.  Honestly Samardzija’s been pretty bad as well, but prior to the Cespedes trade he had put together a couple good and a couple mediocre starts.  If your only two guys you trust going into October are Samardzija and Kazmir, things are probably not feeling very good.

All of this lead to Jon Lester who so far has been everything they want him to be except that the team has struggled during the time since his arrival.  The hitting collapsed with Coco Crisp, Jed Lowrie, Brandon Moss, and Derek Norris being especially bad.  Steven Vogt also came back to Earth a bit, and the Jonny Gomes/Sam Fuld replacement for Cespedes has under-performed so far.

The solid 3-4-5 of Cespedes, Josh Donaldson, and Brandon Moss lost a piece, and they don’t really have a great option to plug into the 5 hole consistently.  Josh Reddick has come on recently to help in a somewhat depleted offense, but they are keeping him at the bottom of the order since he has been anything but trustworthy over the past couple seasons.

This has hurt the offense for sure and simple confidence intervals of before and after the trade show a significant drop in output.  At the same time I assume they saw this coming to some extent.  Guys like Norris and Vogt were playing way over their heads and were likely to regress some.  Only the weird collapse of half the offense at one time has made it look as bad as it is.  It is unlikely that this rough stretch will be sustained.  It also didn’t help that the Royals, Rays, Braves, and Mets were all on the schedule and are above-average run-prevention teams.

If I were the A’s I would still be happy about this trade.  Lester, Samardzija, and Kazmir is a much better way to head into the post season.  Catching the Angels just became more likely due to the unfortunate loss of Garrett Richards too.  Billy Beane has been to the playoffs, and almost certainly will be again this season.  He wants to win in the playoffs, and this pitching staff gives him a good opportunity to do so.


Ben Revere and the Emptiest Batting Average Ever

I was listening to the Jonah Keri Podcast on Grantland recently, and he had Phillies beat writer Matt Gelb on the show. Gelb talked about all the sad things that Phillies fans are already tired of discussing, but he did make a statement that I found particularly poignant. He described Ben Revere’s season as something to the effect of “the emptiest batting average ever.” By empty, he means that while Revere is hitting above .300, an impressive feat in this offense-starved MLB landscape, he does so with almost no walks or extra-base hits. His value at the plate is almost entirely in the form of singles. This comment got me thinking: just how empty is his batting average?

As of this writing, Revere is hitting .314 with a .331 on-base percentage and a .371 slugging percentage. For comparison, the average player has a substantially worse batting average (think .240) but with a similar OBP and a substantially better SLG. To illustrate with normal stats, Revere has 27 total doubles, triples, homers, and walks this year. So far in 2014, there are 42 players with at least 27 doubles, 8 players with at least 27 homers, and 144 players with at least 27 walks.

But how rare is it to have this single-happy nature with such a high average? To look for players to compare to Revere historically, I looked for other player seasons since 2000 which had enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title with a batting average at least as high as Revere’s but a walk rate and isolated slugging (slugging minus batting average) below his.

But there weren’t any, so I extended the search back to 1980.

Still nobody. 1960?

Nothing.

1900?

Zilch.

Now, to be fair, Ben Revere himself hasn’t completed a full season, so let’s use a more relaxed criterion of 400 plate appearances (Revere has 459).

OK, you get it.

In fact, since 1900 (it’s not worth going earlier because seasons were much shorter then), the only player with at least 400 plate appearances that had as high of a batting average with as little other hitting value is … Ben Revere. That’s it.

I’m not really sure that there’s much to be done with this information, but it’s a pretty shocking finding. As a member of a roster that’s overpaid and underperforming across the board, Revere’s limited skillset has been overshadowed by his more compensated counterparts. However, I was fascinated to discover that on a team that has had plenty of notable failings, Revere has had perhaps the most “unique” and “special” stats of any of them, as long as you’re not taking annual salary into account.

If you disregard his sub-par defense (especially compared to what you would expect from a guy with his speed), Revere really isn’t a terrible offensive player. If you took away all of his steals and instead turned that many singles into doubles, he’d have a slugging percentage around the league average. The problem is, a single followed by a steal isn’t as valuable as a double because it doesn’t advance runners on base, so his value would really be something less than that of a player with league-average slugging. Even if he posts a batting average way above the mean in any given season, he never walks or gets extra-base hits, so he has to sustain that mark against all kinds of luck and defensive factors in order to give the Phillies even passable offensive value. It’s a game that the Phillies seem interested in playing, and it’s defensible because of his obviously high average and stolen base totals, but I’m just not sure if they’re going to win that way.


The A’s Declining Offense

Take a turn around Twitter or any major baseball news source and you’ll hear a familiar echo about the former best team in baseball; the offense hasn’t been the same since the deadline.  When the A’s traded away Yoenis Cespedes for Jon Lester, the impact to the lineup was noticeable.  They wagered they could get the same level of production out of some combination of Jonny Gomes, Stephen Vogt, and Sam Fuld.  In the first half of the season, the A’s were a top-six team in wOBA, OBP,and wRC+ all while being second to last in BABIP.  It’s safe to say they were rolling. Now they aren’t.  Since the deadline, the A’s have become a bottom-third team in all the aforementioned stats.  It’s easy to look at these stats and say that Cespedes was clearly the catalyst of something in the offense.

While much has been written about the rumors of Oakland emphasizing clubhouse chemistry the last couple years, Cespedes has never really been written as one of the chief leaders in that category.  We typically hear names like Coco Crisp, Scott Sizemore, the aforementioned Jonny Gomes, and Sean Doolittle mentioned there.  Cespedes by all accounts was just a crazy athletic guy who didn’t really cause any trouble, but wasn’t exactly a team leader.  Yet the fact remains: the A’s have refused to hit since the deadline. Sure, 17 games isn’t a gigantic sample size, but it’s pretty reasonable when evaluating team performance.  Baseball Prospectus just three years ago theorized that a reasonable prediction could be made of a team’s overall season after fifteen games,  so we’ve got something substantial to work with.  Is there another pattern, though?  Let’s take a look at the team’s month by month performance.

A’s wOBA wRC+ OFF WAR
April 0.339 119 25.2 7.3
May 0.330 113 15.6 5.8
June 0.314 102 2.6 4.1
July 0.312 100 0.2 3.4
August 0.288 84 -11.1 1.5

We see a steady decline here in the A’s performance, not a sudden jump.  The A’s started off really hot, leading the league in most offensive categories in April.  A notable decline can even be seen in May, as the A’s began their meteoric rise to the top, though they held steady in the top three in most categories.  In June, the team dipped even further, down to a mark that was only slightly above average.  They looked to be leveling off there to a rather league-average team in July, which wasn’t encouraging, but maybe suggested a possible rise back up to looking like a playoff team. In August, though, the wheels have come off.  The A’s have dipped below league average in most categories, and their win totals have suffered as well.  Can we blame all of this on Cespedes?  Let’s take a look at some wOBA numbers for chief contributors to the Oakland offense:

It’s a bit cluttered, but the dark blue line in the middle labeled wOBA is the team as a whole; see the steady decline as we’ve noted.  In April, we see all of these guys hovering between a .300 wOBA and somewhere above .420.  Nearly all of them are now either .300 or far below it; the one exception being Josh Donaldson, who has picked it up again since a dismal June.  Even Cespedes, having been traded to the Red Sox, is having an unremarkable August since performing poorly in July.  Let’s take a look at a wRC+ graph, with some of the members removed for clarity:

Here we see six players who routinely batted in the top five in the batting order having horrible Augusts.  Stephen Vogt and Brandon Moss, two lefty platoon bats being pressed into full-time duty in the outfield lately, lead this group with a 91 wRC+, which is below the average line.  John Jaso, Coco Crisp, and Derek Norris have been downright horrible, with wRC+’s in the barely digestible territory. So yes, the A’s have been bad since Cespedes has left the team.  It’s clearly not just the loss of his bat; the vast majority of the team, outside of Josh Donaldson and the surprisingly resurgent Eric Sogard and Josh Reddick, have been really, really bad.

So if the whole team is flailing, perhaps Cespedes was more of a sparkplug than we previously had attributed?  More importantly, did Billy Beane fail to see a trend here?  The A’s were trending downwards in hitting as demonstrated, so why the need for pitching?  Well, the A’s were unfortunately not exactly trending very well in pitching either.  They were third in pitcher WAR through April, but then plummeted to 19th in May, and further dipped to 21st in June before rising a bit to 17th in July. The A’s were a decidedly middle of the road team when it came to pitcher WAR, and FIP seems to agree, ranking them about the same spot everywhere.

So why make the trade?  If anything, this trade has only served to confuse fans.  What do we make of a team with three above-average catchers who all tank right after a trade for a top-flight starting pitcher?  While all the fans are clamoring for Jimmy Rollins to come and help the middle infield, we’ve got Eric Sogard being one of the few bright spots in the offense, and nobody seems to care. All we know is that the A’s are in trouble.  Whether it’s because Cespedes was the glue or because the A’s are peaking at the wrong time, they’re all of a sudden facing down the dire straits of a one-game coin flip at the end of the season, despite being the most aggressive pursuer at the trade deadline. The A’s can cling to a few bastions of hope; maybe their BABIP dropping all the way to .260 in August shows that they’re just a bit unlucky.  It’s either that or face the fact that sometimes the best-laid plans of mice and men fail, and pray that Jason Hammel doesn’t have to start the Wild Card game.


Time for Giants to Part Ways with Hector Sanchez

San Francisco Giants backup catcher Hector Sanchez is a ball magnet.

Every single time he plays — and this is no exaggeration — he takes a savage beating behind home plate. Foul tips rock his hockey-style catcher’s mask at least three or four times a game. He also takes baseballs to the shoulders, fingers, feet and groin like you would not believe.

So to no one’s surprise, Sanchez finds himself on the disabled list with a concussion. And the Giants are taking their time bringing him back, as the team is all too familiar with concussions caused by multiple blows to the head (Mike Matheny’s playing career came to a screeching halt because of multiple concussions sustained when he strapped on the tools of ignorance for San Francisco back in 2006).

While it may seem cruel to add insult to injury, now is the perfect time for the Giants to part ways with Sanchez.

The trouble is that Sanchez’s bat is a ball magnet, too — and not in the good, solid contact kind of way. He simply can’t stop swinging at pitches in or out of the strike zone.

Simply put, Sanchez is not a good baseball player, while his replacement, Andrew Susac, is.

Sanchez has been one of the worst players in MLB this season. Take a look at how he’s fared in some key statistical categories, along with how those stats rank among fellow National Leaguers with a minimum of 170 plate appearances:

OBP K% wOBA wRC+ O-Swing % Swing %
.237 (2nd-worst) 31.1% (6th-worst) .237 (2nd-worst) 52 (4th-worst) 47.1% (2nd-highest) 63.0% (highest)

This chart essentially shows that Giants fans have selected an appropriate nickname for Sanchez. They call him “Hack-tor”.

Susac, on the other hand, is known for his plate discipline. He’s never had a BB% lower than 12.9% in four minor league seasons (Sanchez’s career BB% is 4.0%). Susac’s slash line for AAA-Fresno this season was .268/.379/.451. Hopefully he never goes back.

In 26 plate appearances for the Giants this season, Susac has a .250 average and a .308 OBP. He’s swung at just 22% of pitches outside of the strike zone (compared to 47.1% for Sanchez) and he’s struck out only 19% of the time (31% for Sanchez). Perhaps most importantly, Susac has already been worth 0.1 WAR, meaning he’s added value to the team even though he’s played in only parts of 10 baseball games. Comparatively, Sanchez has been worth -0.2 WAR in 66 games, meaning that even an average minor league replacement player would have been more valuable.

And Susac is an average replacement-level catcher at worst. In fact, it’s hard to argue that he is that bad. So there’s essentially no question that Susac is superior to Sanchez.

In a baseball era where it is increasingly accepted and known that getting on base — not making outs — is the most important baseball skill, Sanchez has proven himself to be a free-swinging out machine.

That’s why the era of Susac ought to be upon us. What’s more, backup catcher is an especially interesting position on this Giants team.

There is increasing sentiment within the organization that Buster Posey needs to be moved out from behind the dish. He’s arguably their most valuable offensive player, but as a catcher, he requires frequent days off, and the physical demands of catching already seem to be wearing Posey down.

Offensive skills deteriorate faster for catchers than for non-catchers, so as Posey ages and navigates the seven remaining years of his 9-year, $163 million contract, the Giants are absolutely right to seriously consider moving Posey to a less demanding and offensively-crippling position.

Third baseman Pablo Sandoval will be a free agent after this season, and if he walks away, it will create a glaring hole at third base — a hole that could be filled by Posey. Posey played all over the diamond in college, including shortstop and pitcher, so it’s at least possible that he could man the hot corner next year and beyond. If Posey moves to third base, Brandon Belt could stay at first and Susac could settle in as the everyday catcher.

But if the Giants re-sign Sandoval, there could be a logjam if the Giants indeed have intentions of getting Posey out of the squat.

Belt has good speed (he has 23 steals in 409 MLB games and he’s only 26 years old), so it’s possible he could play a decent left field, allowing Posey to play first base and Sandoval to stay at third. This is not ideal, and I understand that it’s possible Belt will not be a good defensive outfielder (but hey, he can’t be worse than Michael Morse, can he?).

Even if Posey remains behind the plate, he gets a lot of rest (as most catchers do), so it’s important to have a good backup catcher if at all possible. That’s why it’s time for the offensively skilled Susac to leapfrog the offensively challenged Sanchez on the organizational depth chart.

Sorry Sanchez, but Susac is the catcher of the future. It’s time to let him play.


On Chris Davis and How He Isn’t Hitting Very Well

A fair amount has been written about both Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles and his season. Put simply, Davis has been a train wreck combined with a tire fire. He was the third-best hitter in all of baseball last year, which is shocking for me to even write considering how bad he is right now. This is just a snapshot of his numbers between 2013 and 2014.

__ Batting Avg. On-base % ISO BABIP wOBA wRC+
2013 0.286 0.370 0.348 0.336 0.421 168
2014 0.191 0.296 0.202 0.241 0.302 89

So everything is worse, which — not surprisingly — leads to a worse season. While he’s still hitting for great power, it’s nothing close to what he was hitting in 2013. It would be pretty easy to look at his BABIP, which often is an indicator of how lucky a hitter is, and say Davis has just been tremendously unlucky this year, and was super lucky last year.

And you wouldn’t be wrong, necessarily. He has been unlucky this year. But his career BABIP is .323, which isn’t too far off from the .336 he posted last year. So I guess a positive here is that if the season were, I don’t know, 250 games instead of 162, Davis would probably stop being so unlucky and get closer to normal. Unfortunately it’s not 250 games, so he might not turn it around so quickly.

When hitters have a major breakout year like Davis did in 2013, it maybe shouldn’t be too surprising if they drop back a little in the following season. It often is a surprise, but pitchers scout those hitters a little harder, coaching staffs focus on them more, and so on and so on. So naturally, if a pitcher realizes a hitter totally crushes sliders and fastballs, that pitcher — if he’s not a dummy — will likely throw fewer sliders and fastballs, or at least fewer of those that are hittable.

Using pitch values from FanGraphs, we can see that, last season, Davis was that guy who crushed fastballs and sliders (and changeups, too).

Pitch Values Fastballs Sliders Cutters Curveballs Changeups
2013 1.7 3.4 1.98 0.94 5.71
2014 0.98 0.9 2.3 -3.07 -2.27

So Davis was better than most at hitting fastballs in 2013, and he was even better at hitting sliders and changeups. This year, though, he can’t seem to hit any of those three kinds of pitches as well, and he pretty much can’t hit a curveball or changeup at all.

Would you like to guess what non-fastball pitches he’s been getting more? Did you guess curveballs and changeups?  If you did, congratulations! You’re correct! Pitchers have adjusted to Davis hitting fastballs and sliders, and they’ve started to give him more curveballs and changeups, which, again, he can’t seem to hit this year. So part of Davis’ problem could simply be that he’s being pitched to differently.

And it’s not only that different kinds of pitches are coming to Davis. Pitchers are throwing low and away more often, and it’s hurting his numbers. Below is what I’m going to call an animation showing where pitches are coming to Davis. It’s from the catcher’s point of view, and it reads like a heatmap; white is neutral, red means more pitches are coming in that location and blue means fewer pitches are coming in that location.

pitch percent

So it’s pretty clear that 2014 pitchers are focusing on Davis low and away, which is a good idea since Davis is having trouble hitting those pitches, as shown in this second animation, or whatever it is.

avg

So pitchers are coming at him differently, and he’s hitting differently. In 2013, Davis could basically hit anything in the strike zone and even a little bit below the zone. This year, he seemingly can’t hit the ball unless it’s low in the zone, and even then it’s a little shaky.

He’s also changed his approach a little bit. While Davis is chasing fewer pitches out of the zone, he’s also swinging less in general, even at strikes, and that’s a trend that’s been going on since 2012. And not swinging at strikes isn’t always a bad thing; Joey Votto swings less than almost anyone, and he’s a pretty good hitter. What’s a little troubling is that Davis is making less contact when he does swing, and that’s also a trend two years in the making. Of course, when a guy is hitting .286 and blasting 53 home runs, who cares if he’s making less contact? But when those 53 dingers turn into 21 and that .286 average drops below .200, we can start to be concerned.

So it’s all kind of going against Davis right now. He’s trying to be more patient, but pitchers are recognizing that and throwing him more strikes. And when he gets behind in the count, it makes things a little more difficult. Plus those mean old pitchers are throwing him pitches he doesn’t hit so well. It’s been an off year for Davis, and he’s still hitting for really good power. Not as much as 2013, but still a lot. If he can do that, and maybe turn things on for the last 35 or so games and into the playoffs, his team could make some kind of run. Maybe not a great run, but some kind of run.