Tagged: baseball

Ontology of Baseball Pitches

Its too soon in the season for me to write anything serious about the Red Sox, and I already bored people with my fantasy team. I’ll make up for it by calling attention to a great article by Max Marchi over at The Hardball Times on classifying pitches. Essentially, Marchi uses the MLB database of PITCH/fx numbers (which tracks the speed and break of every pitch thrown) to expand the traditional 6 categories for pitchers (fastball, curveball, slider, sinker, change-up) into 14 categories.

Here they are with his brief comments:

  • No. 1 – Slow change or, as they used to say in the past, simply slow ball.
  • No. 2 – Hard curve, tight curve.
  • No. 3 – Slider.
  • No. 4 – Heater (hummer, blazer…).
  • No. 5 – Sinker.
  • No. 6 – Floater, junk, feather.
  • No. 7 – Cutter, sailer.
  • No. 8 – This one tails to the throwing arm side. I would suggest tailing fastball, but according to Neyer and James, they used to call a pitch from a righty that runs into a right-handed batter a riding fastball.
  • No. 9 – I really don’t like the terms hard change and slow change, so I expect good suggestions from you for this and No. 1.
  • No. 10 – Slow curve, drop curve.
  • No. 11 – Low-arm-angle pitches. How do we call them as a group? Sidearmers? Submariners?
  • No. 12 – Okay, this is a fastball that’s not quite fast (high 80s), but stays up. I go with rising fastball.
  • No. 13 – Slurve.
  • No. 14 – Similar to No. 12, but 4-5 mph faster. Hopper comes to my mind.

Take a trip over there if you have time to peruse the whole article (its quality) and offer a few naming suggestions in the comments.

The Club that Carl Built

I’m reproducing a comment I originally posted over at More Cowbell concerning the Ray’s idea to open Club Trop [jimrome.com].

On the surface this might look like a bad idea. But, as a displaced Red Sox fan, I’ll say that the Trop isn’t a bad place to watch a game once you are inside the stadium. Outside the stadium is an industrial-wasteland-parking lot-hell hole.

Look, Boston fans might not want to admit it, but not everyone who goes to a Red Sox game goes for what happens behind the stripes. Take my dad and his friends: twice a summer, they rent a bus, buy a keg of beer, pack a ridiculous amount of food, and drive up to the stadium (about an hour ride). They drink, they eat, they enter the stadium. They watch two innings of baseball. Three if Manny would-have-been up next inning. Then they hit Lansdowne Street. Hard.

Do all Red Sox fans follow this pattern? No. Most? No. But I would estimate that at least 5000 fans at every game are there for the “Fenway experience.” Realizing this, Fenway has started taking tickets at the top of Lansdowne Street and allowing fans to move inside and outside of the stadium (though I’m pretty sure this is just before the game begins). Once you leave the stadium, there’s about 50 bars ready to welcome your tired masses yearning to be inebriated.

Now ask yourself: could the Rays use 5000 casual fans a game? Yes. They could use 500 more casual fans a game. 5000 fpg X 80 games = 400,000 more fans a season. 400,000 fans X 15$ a head = 6 million dollars more revenue. And, hey, six million dollars is precisely the difference between what Carl Crawford makes now and what the Red Sox will pay him to patrol Fenway (albeit, not Lansdowne St.) next year.

The Rays have to provide something other than a meat packaging facility to people indifferent to baseball. It might not be the Cask and Flagon, but Club Trop (which I will forever refer to as the “Club that Carl Built” just to irk you) is a start toward creating an entertainment environment.

The Best Team(s) that Never Won, or Apologies  Cleveland

This weekend, I heard a pro football commentator comment that the San Diego Chargers window for winning a championship was likely closed. They were a great, borderline dominant, team for half a decade, but never managed to “beat the big boys.” That got me to thinking: what is the greatest team to never win a championship? Now, I don’t mean single season here–I mean the most dominant franchise for a period of time that doesn’t have a ring to show for it. In football, I think of the Cunningham-White Eagles of the early 90s. But in baseball, the mid-90s Indians popped into my head. I had no idea how right I was until I spent my lunch hour looking over the numbers.

The 1995 Indians team won 100 games. In 143 chances. That, boys and girls, is a re-donkulous .694 winning percentage. But they lost the World Series. The Indians came back and won 99 games the next season, only to lose to the resurgent Yankees (remember when they actually developed talent and bought GOOD pitching?). They lost the World Series in 1997 after making the playoffs as a wild card team. Another 97 wins two seasons later ended in an incredible upset to the Red Sox (topic of another post). And though they would win 90 plus games two more times in 2000 and 2001, they never tasted postseason victory.

I want to focus a bit on the 1995 team, because, frankly, it is mind-blowing. Offensively, this team looks like somebody cheated the computer in a video game (veto trades? hell no). There is no need to offer any commentary, because you remember all of these guys. Just try to imagine that, in their prime, they all played for the same team: Jim Thome, Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga, Omar Visquel, and Sandy Alomar. Throw in a few veterans for leadership: Eddie Murray, Dave Winfield, Tony Pena. Seriously, this team lost. Wait, look at that line up one more time; please remember these numbers reflect only 143 games:

  1. Lofton .815 OPS, 13 3B, 54 SB
  2. Vizquel .684 OPS, 28 2B, 29SB
  3. Baerga .807 OPS, 175 hits, 252 TB
  4. Belle 1.091 OPS, 50 HR, 377 TB
  5. Murray .891 OPS, 21 HR,225 TB
  6. Thome .996 OPS, 97 BB, 252 TB
  7. Ramirez .960 OPS, 31 HR, 270 TB
  8. Sorrento .847 OPS, 25 HR, 165 TB (in 104 games)
  9. Pena/Alomar Who cares? Did you see what the rest of the team hit?

Besides the light hitting Visquel and Pena, no starter had an OPS below .800. The Indians team OPS that season was .839. I can’t find a list of the all-time single-season team OPS records; my bet is that this will best any team not playing in the late 1920’s or early 30’s.

As far as pitching, this rotation had three top-of-the-line guys, Dennis Martinez, Nagy, and the aged but crafty (and classy) Orel Hershiser. Those three combined for a 44 and 17 record. Their closer, Jose Mesa was in his prime and allowed all of 8 earned runs in 64 innings. He was 46 of 48 in save opportunities. The rest of the bullpen featured three pitchers with ERA’s sub 3.00. The worst ERA among relievers with at least 50 innings was rookie Jim Poole, with a 3.75.

Now, the 1995 did lose to the Braves, arguably the biggest bunch of underachievers in postseason history. But to think of all the talent that passed through this franchise during this period (as some departed, they signed or developed David Justice, Tony Fernandez, Bartolo Colon, Brian Giles, Travis Fryman, Richie Sexson, Russell Branyan, Dave Burba, and CC Sabathia–though he came late to the party). I don’t mean to rub salt in any Indians fan’s wounds. But, seriously, how the hell did this team lose?!? Oh yeah, that’s how

Yes, Yes It Will Happen (300 wins edition)

I’ve been sitting on this post for quite awhile, and I know the moment has somewhat passed. Still, I want to reject this commonplace notion that we will never again see a 300 game winner. While we likely won’t see one soon, the claims that we will never again witness a 300th win are ridiculous..

First, I thought it would be interesting to see how many wins the last four pitchers to reach 300 had accumulated by the end of the season in which they turned 29. Also included below is their average wins per season.

  • Clemens: 152 – 17
  • Maddox: 150 – 16
  • Glavine: 124 – 15
  • Johnson: 75 – 17

Johnson’s status as a late-bloomer makes him special but not unique–remember that the great Warren Spahn had only 86 wins when he turned 29; Spahn won 363 games. Two things to take away from this: on average, this last crop had 125.25 wins when they finished the season of their 29th year and averaged 16.3 wins over the course of their careers.

I did some more hunting around Baseball Reference to compare the contemporary crop of elite pitchers to these numbers. For those not yet 29, I projected out how many wins they are likely to accumulate according to their 162 game averages. For those over 29, I reported what they had at that age. Average win totals are based on 162 game expectations as well. Here’s what I got:

  • CC Sabathia: 122 wins at age 28, averages 16 per season, on pace for 149 wins. Sabathia, playing for the underwhelming Tribe for much of his career, has averaged 16 wins a season. He will win many more games if he stays in the pinstripes. While I think he is overrated, he could be a Bronx win machine for many years. The question is not if he’ll reach 300, but whether he’ll reach 350.
  • Carlos Zambrano: 99 wins at age 28, averages 15 per season, on pace for 126 wins. Admittedly, this one surprised me. I expected to see other names here. The Cubs have been competitive throughout much of Zambrano’s career–and although their ownership is in flux, I don’t see them completely falling apart as a franchise. Plus, the NL Central is not exactly a payroll murderer’s row. The question with Zambrano is likely whether he can control himself as well as he controls his fastball.
  • Mark Buehrle: 122 wins at age 29 (-4 off the pace), averages 15 wins per season. Ok, this might seem to support my opposition if Buehrle is third on the list. But he is a big lefty, plays in a strong baseball city, and has been nothing short of a horse his entire career. Given his control, I could see him losing some velocity but still be able to clip the corners well into his 40s.
  • Jake Peavy: 92 wins at age 28, on pace for 116 (-10 off the pace), averages 15 wins per season. I think we all know what has to happen for Peavy to have a shot at this: get the hell out of San Diego.
  • Johan Santana: 109 wins at age 29 (-17), averages 15 wins per season. You might have expected to see this name sooner, but Santana spent the majority of his first three seasons coming out of the bullpen. Since becoming a starter, his wins per season is 17.2. Although the Mets offense is costing him wins this season, and although the NL East is an extremely competitive division, the Mets figure to be a top salary franchise for his tenure there.
  • Roy Halladay: 95 wins at 29 (-31), 141 wins today, averages 17 wins per season. That 17 wins a season is incredible since, like Santana, Halladay spent the first few seasons of his career as a spot starter. Even this far down the list, playing in Toronto (as of today) in the brutal AL East, I think Halladay is the second most likely candidate, after Sabathia, to top 300. He reminds me most of Randy Johnson–a late bloomer who, once developed, couldn’t be stopped. The big difference is health–while Johnson has had back issues, he has never missed a single start due to his throwing arm. Halladay cannot make the same claim; the pursuit of 300 is equal parts talent, team, and stamina. As with Peavy, a change in location would likely help his win totals.

I think you can see why most of the ESPN commentators screw this one up–the two most dominant pitchers in recent memory (Santana and Halladay) aren’t necessarily the two most likely to challenge the 300 win plateau. But please, stop the sky-is-falling madness talk that no one in the majors is on pace to win 300 games.

To be a homer, here’s one more:

  • Josh Beckett: 95 wins at age 29 (-31), averages 16 wins per season. My sole reason for considering Beckett is that he will likely spend the next decade playing for Boston. They will win a lot of games. If he can stay healthy, then, like Sabathia, he’s got a chance to win those “off” games (well maybe not Beckett’s “off” games–but that is another post). Beckett couldn’t stay healthy in his youth, and no doubt this will be a big concern moving forward. If he doesn’t completely break down, then he will be in an environment conducive to winning.

So, who did I miss?

Because Someone Asked Me To

On the 4th, a new acquaintance asked me to start an MLB blog. So here it is.

It seems as if I should probably lay down some personal information. I am a 32 year old professor of English born and raised in Plymouth, MA. While getting my master’s degree from Boston University, I had the luxury of living right on Beacon street, a two minute walk from Fenway. At age 26, I moved from Boston to West Lafayette, IN. Go Boilers.

During that time, I developed an affinity for local sports radio, and thus, listened to many of the Chicago radio stations. I lived through the recent transformations of Cub fans from happy (drunk) losers to angry (drunk) losers. It was an interesting experience.

Also during that time, the Red Sox won a World Series. Two, actually. I remember the immediate impact–coming home for Thanksgiving and seeing pennants and hats still littering graveyards. It is hard, borderline impossible, to explain to anyone not from Boston what baseball means to that city. This is not to downplay the emotional attachments of other cities. But Chicago has the Bears, New York the Giants, Philadelphia the Eagles. If I did have to acknowledge another city, it would be St. Louis. Despite their recent success, the Patriots aren’t at the center of Boston’s sports cartography. That location will always be at the corner of Lansdowne and Yawkey Way, Boston’s primary cathedral. Its congregation shared 87 years of misery, disappointment, heartbreak, loss.

But then it began to set in. The transformation was sudden. Nothing could prepare us. We were winners. We were not ready for this. I apologize to any person who has not been treated well by a 21st century Red Sox fan. Seriously, we are not built to win (the Celtics gave us some preparation, but the late 80’s and 90’s were a low decade for all Boston sports). This kind of instantaneous shattering of our “angry loser” subjectivity has left us a bit in shambles. We aren’t always the best winners. So, again, apologies to everyone, except the five drunks at the Rays game who rang cowbells in my ear for 3 hours straight.

Oh yeah, I live in Tampa now.

I’ll try to fill this space with discussions of sports, primarily baseball, but my attention tends to waver. Currently, I am interested in sabermetric approaches to baseball. I’ve been reading the Baseball Prospectus (their summer contest“Prospectus Idol” has been entertaining, and their articles page has a few must reads on team defense). While the math is a bit out of my reach (hey, I teach writing after all), I believe this contextual approach to statistics can benefit any fantasy baseball player or fan. I tend to spend my lunch hours exploring Baseball Reference. With chagrin I acknowledge that, neutralized across eras, Williams’ .406 in ’41 becomes a mere .389 — however, Pedro’s neutralized ERA in 2000 becomes a 1.49, .10 better than Gibson’s 1.59). Hopefully this kind of statistical chicanery will combine with nostalgia, passion, and contemplation to produce posts both contemporary and historic.

And, in case you didn’t know, the title of this blog comes from a Ted Williams quote: “Hitting is fifty percent above the shoulders.”