Archive for June 2010

Why Jim Rice?

06/24/2010

Jim Rice’s career is a standard sabermetric punching bag, and that is probably unfortunate.  I think we can all acknowledge that Rice was an excellent player, one of the best ever to play the game.  However, his status as a Hall of Famer is rather more debatable.  To help illustrate the difficulties, I want to compare Rice with his true contemporaries, that is, the other regular Red Sox outfielders from the first year of his career to the last.  See the chart below:

Games HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ WAR Black Gray
Yaz 3308 452 1844 285 379 462 841 129 88.7 55 206
Smith 1987 314 1092 287 366 489 855 137 63.4 4 124
Lynn 1969 306 1111 283 360 484 845 129 47.3 15 69
Rice 2089 373 1451 298 352 502 854 128 41.5 33 176
Evans 2606 385 1384 272 370 470 840 127 61.8 15 113
Greenwell 1269 130 726 303 368 463 831 120 23.5 0 45
Burks 2000 352 1206 291 363 510 874 126 47.9 6 45
Miller 1482 28 369 269 346 350 696 93 15.1 0 1
Armas 1432 251 815 252 287 453 740 103 13.7 13 54

To explain the common names,that is Reggie Smith, Dwight Evans, and the immortal Rick Miller.  The problem with Rice is simple, why is he Yaz’s only companion in the Hall of Fame?  Clearly, Yastrzemski is the best player of the lot.  It is not a close case.  Miller and Armas trail behind everyone else, with Mike Greenwell not far ahead.  The rest of the list, though, looks remarkably similar.  It is tough to draw a line that includes Rice, but excludes Smith, Lynn, Evans, and Burks.  So why Jim Rice?

The closest I have to an objective answer is RBI’s. That is the only stat where he really pulls ahead of the rest of the list. He trails Evans in home runs, his OBP is dead last of the main group, his OPS trails Smith and Burks, his OPS+ trails Lynn and Smith. Yet he is the Hall of Famer.

Let me throw it to the group. Why is Jim Rice in the Hall of Fame? Which of the folks in the chart above do you think should join him?

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The NHL Awards

06/23/2010

Tonight the NHL hands out its regular season awards. I am going to focus on the four primary awards, giving brief thoughts on who should win and why.

Hart Trophy (MVP):

Alexander Ovechkin – Going up against Sidney Crosby and Henrik Sedin, this will be a close race. Sedin led the league in points with 112, while Ovechkin and Crosby tied for second with 109. Crosby led in goals with 51, with Ovechkin second at 50. Ovechkin led in plus/minus (goals scored while you were on the ice – goals scored by the other team while you were on the ice) at +45, Sedin came in 5th at +35, and Crosby trailed dramatically at +15. To separate these incredibly close players, I would point to the plus/minus numbers and the team success of the Capitals. An MVP is not determined by which team was best, but I consider that a useful tiebreaker when players are as close as these are. A final note: If Ovechkin wins, he will become only the third player to win three straight Harts, joining Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky. If he wins this year, and also the next five years, he will tie Gretzky’s record of 8 straight MVP’s. Good luck with that.

Norris Trophy (Top Defenseman)

Drew Doughty – Doughty has zero chance, I think, and will surely finish third behind top scorer Mike Green and top reputation Duncan Keith. Both played on significantly better teams, and both scored more. However, the award is for top defenseman. Though Doughty does not have the scoring prowess of either of his fellow nominees, his 157 hits dwarfs the totals of Green (133) and Keith (46). In a slate that does not include Bobby Orr, I look for a skater who plays sound defense; his offensive success is distinctly secondary. For me, that is Drew Doughty.

Vezina Trophy (Top Goalie)

Ryan Miller – Call me a homer, I pick the Sabre to win. For Martin Brodeur, this is a career nomination. His career is matchless, but this season cannot match up to his competition. Ilya Bryzgalov was essential to the turnaround of the Coyotes this season, but he trails Miller in save percentage and goals against. In the end a goalie is supposed to make saves and prevent goals. Miller did it better than either of his fellow nominees, and he should win easily unless Brodeur gets some sort of career appreciation vote. Just 5 more Vezina wins, and he can tie Dominik Hasek for the Sabres record. Good luck with that.

Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year)

Tyler Myers – I almost picked Mike Duchene to avoid picking multiple Sabres to win, but Myers has the best numbers. It is a strange ballot, with one forward, one defenseman, and one goalie. They are, to say the least, hard to compare. However, the forward, Duchene, only scored 7 more points than the defenseman, Myers, and he trailed the Myers by 12 in plus/minus. A forward should dramatically outscore a defenseman, and Duchene did not. Jimmy Howard, the Red Wings goalie, played for a two-time defending Stanley Cup finalist, and he put up good but not great numbers. This is a team that took a mediocre goalie like Chris Osgood and turned him into a Stanley Cup champion. In this case, I fault Howard a bit because the Red Wings underperformed. An argument could be made for all three, and I think this is the most wide open of races, even more than the Hart. I would side with Myers.

I know this site is lacking in hockey fans, but any thoughts from anyone?

Revisiting Predictions at the 70 Game Mark

06/21/2010

Earlier this year, I wasted all of our collective time by putting up some predictions for the upcoming baseball season. How are they going now that teams are 70 games in?

Standings:
AL East – Yankees (First place by 1)
AL Central – Twins (First place by 1.5)
AL West – Rangers (First place by 3.5)
AL Wild Card – Rays (First by .003 over the Red Sox)

NL East – Phillies (Third place, 5.5 back)
NL Central – Cardinals (First place by 1.5)
NL West – Rockies (Third place, 4 back)
NL Wild Card – Braves (First place in East by 2.5)

Obviously I am pleased with the American League results, and I think I have a decent chance of pulling off the season sweep there. Odds are, at least one National League pick will miss, given that I have two teams off the pace. We will see.

Awards:
AL MVP – Evan Longoria – Been very good, but currently trails Robinson Cano and Justin Morneau in the MVP race.
AL Cy Young – Felix Hernandez – Been good, but not the best on his own team. Right now, the favorites look like David Price and Cliff Lee.
AL ROY – Brian Matusz – Disappointing year on an Orioles team even worse than expected.

NL MVP – Albert Pujols – In a supposed down year, he still leads the NL in OBP and OPS. He is quietly 4th in the NL in home runs. His biggest challenge is his own stats the last couple of years.
NL Cy Young – Chris Carpenter – This was a typo. As you can clearly see, I meant to type Ubaldo Jimenez.
NL ROY – Jason Heyward – Still the frontrunner, especially if Strasburg’s limited innings make him sit out September.

All in all, the predictions aren’t looking as bad as I expected. I expect both Cy Youngs to be deeply wrong, and I see little hope of Matusz turning things around for the ROY. Pujols might lose the MVP, but he will be in the debate as will Longoria. We will see.

The Best Pitcher of the Last 50 Years

06/16/2010

Sometimes, I feel the need to ask big questions with no clear answers.  Today the question is, who is the best pitcher of the last 50 years?  For starters, let’s set a quick ground rule.  In order to qualify, a pitcher needs to have pitched the best part of his career in the last 50 years.  So pitchers like Warren Spahn, who pitched until 1965, are eliminated from consideration.  Second, my primary concern is career value.  Dwight Gooden had a stunning peak from 1984-87, but his career does not measure up.  The same will eliminate Sandy Koufax.  In his prime he may have been as good as anyone to throw the ball, but the prime is too short to measure up.  For purposes of this blog post, I’ll talk about primes only as they illustrate larger career value and dominance.

I think most fans would give one of three answers: Tom Seaver, Roger Clemens, and Greg Maddux. All are good picks, and you can’t go wrong with any of these answers. For my purposes, I want to set Clemens aside, because I don’t want the entire post to devolve into a discussion of steroids. I think if you can look past the steroids, he is the right answer. For purposes of this post, I am not looking past steroids. That leaves Seaver and Maddux. Who’s better?

WAR Wins K/9 BB/9 ERA ERA+ HR/9 Cy WHIP
Seaver 105.3 311 6.8 2.6 2.86 128 0.7 3 1.12
Maddux 96.8 355 6.1 1.8 3.16 132 0.6 4 1.14

This is a quick overview of each player’s career. By Wins Above Replacement, ERA, K/9, and WHIP, take Seaver. By Wins, ERA+, BB/9, HR/9, and Cy Youngs, take Maddux. Seaver also won a Rookie of the Year to even out the award debate. The closeness of these numbers reflect the closeness of the debate. Depending on which stat you weight the most heavily, either pitcher can be favored. Next, let’s consider dominance by era.

Wins ERA K K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WHIP ERA+
Seaver 3 3 5 6 0 0 3 3
Maddux 3 4 0 0 9 4 4 5

The number reflects the number of times each led the league in that category. Again you see a close race. Seaver leads in K, K/9, and ties in Wins.  Maddux leads in ERA, ERA+, BB/9, HR/9, and WHIP, though the WHIP and ERA leads are minuscule.  This chart, I think, highlights the difficulties in comparing each player.  Seaver was an incredibly effective power pitcher, as the K totals reflect.  His three WHIP titles, I think, highlight his broader effectiveness by noting how few baserunners he allowed even without a  single BB/9 title.  Maddux, in contrast, is arguably the best control pitcher in major league history.  He led the league in fewest BB/9 an unheard of 9 times.  He rarely gave up the longball, and he allowed minimal baserunners.  Though not the strikeout pitcher of Tom Seaver’s class, he still had good K numbers.  So who’s better?

A final complicating factor is team quality. Each pitcher won a single World Series. Seaver’s teams made it twice, and Maddux made it 3 times. Maddux made the playoffs 13 times, in an era of expanded playoffs and smaller divisions, while Seaver made the playoffs only 3 times. Maddux clearly had better teams behind him, but the Braves were defined by their pitching, not their hitting. In this context, I am not sure how much Maddux’s stats rely on team quality. Andruw Jones is the only elite fielder who spent the bulk of his career backing up either pitcher, though each had a number of good fielders come through.

I lean toward Greg Maddux. My leanings likely are affected by how many more times I saw Maddux than Seaver, but I still lean that direction. The number of single season titles, I think, point to a slightly more dominant pitcher, and the career numbers are so close as to be indistinguishable. There is my case for Maddux. What do you think? Who is the best pitcher of the last 50 years? Please make your case in the comments, because I would love to hear it.

Quick Web Round-Up

06/14/2010

I am training in a new job at work this week, so my already lax posting schedule is likely to slow up a bit more. For those interested, here are a few recent articles I’ve found particularly interesting.

In light of Ken Griffey, Jr.’s retirement, maybe we should remember an even more accomplished but long-forgotten center fielder.

In the comments on the above post, the author mentioned Richie Ashburn as the 9th best center fielder ever. My first thought was, “Overrated.” Then this post reminded me that Richie Ashburn has the highest OBP when leading off the game of any player since 1952. Looks like I was wrong, and maybe #9 is a little low.

Bill Buckner was actually a good baseball player? Yes, he really was.

Pete Carroll and USC? I told you so.

Until I can update again, enjoy these links. Feel free to pass on anything else in the comments that you have found lately that is worth wider attention.

The Strange Career of Jim Palmer

06/07/2010

How did Jim Palmer become one of the great pitchers of his generation? Consider this chart briefly:

Wins ERA K/9 BB/9 HR/9 Cy IP/162
268 2.86 5 3 0.7 3 249
284 3.34 6.4 2 1 1 243
329 3.22 7.1 3.2 0.7 4 245
287 3.31 6.7 2.4 0.8 0 245
224 3.26 5.2 2.5 1 1 240
324 3.19 9.5 4.7 0.5 0 232
314 3.11 5.9 2.3 0.7 2 248
318 3.35 5.6 3 0.8 0 233

The number of Cy Young awards probably give away who is who, but just in case they are, in order, Palmer, Ferguson Jenkins, Steve Carlton, Bert Blyleven, Catfish Hunter, Nolan Ryan, Gaylord Perry, and Phil Niekro.

Palmer sticks out for three reasons. First, he averages the heaviest workload, though only slightly. Second he has by far the lowest ERA. And most importantly for my question at the top, he has an atrocious set of strikeout/walk numbers. Palmer has the lowest K/9 of anyone in the group, and he has the worst K/BB ratio of anyone on the list by a decent margin. How do you get from that to the Hall of Fame career of Jim Palmer?

Let’s start by disposing of the most obvious explanation. Palmer’s component stats are not a result of a long decline phase. He peaks at 6.4 K/9 in 1966, his second season, and he only tops 6.0 in two other seasons. For his prime, from 1969-1977, Palmer averages 5.4 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9, a 1.88 K/BB ratio. That ratio brings him even with Phil Niekro for his career, and Niekro had the second worst ratio, behind Palmer, on the chart above. Yet in that stretch Palmer is putting up 275 innings per season with a 2.53 ERA. Even at his peak, Palmer was a great pitcher who walked a lot and did not strike out many, unlike basically anyone else since WW2.

Second, the Orioles played in a slight pitcher’s park. Memorial Stadium, where they played for Palmer’s entire career. The multi-year park factor for the park hovered in the mid-90’s, artificially depressing Palmer’s ERA by a bit, but not by much. He is not pitching at Dodger Stadium in the 1960s with a park factor near 90.

Third, and this is the key, Palmer played in front of the best left side of the infield in baseball history. As one bit of proof, consider career Total Zone Runs, a measure of how many runs a particular player saved with their glove. #1 on the list? Orioles 3rd baseman Brooks Robinson. #2? Orioles shortstop Mark Belanger. Combine that with #10, Orioles center fielder Paul Blair, and you have the perfect environment for a low strikeout pitcher to succeed. For this reason, Palmer’s ERA is much lower than his FIP, 2.86 to 3.50, and his BABIP for his career is an astonishingly tiny .255 (Greg Maddux, for example, is at .295).

Why was Jim Palmer a great pitcher? He fit his team perfectly. Nolan Ryan would have been wasted on the Orioles. When you are backed by superior fielders like Robinson, Belanger, and Blair, contact is acceptable or even desirable. I can’t think of a pitcher more suited to his team than Palmer, and that carried him to three Cy Young Awards, 3 World Series championships, and the Hall of Fame.

A Quick Look at Armando Galarraga

06/03/2010

Last night, as I am sure you all know by now, Armando Galarraga sort-of threw a perfect game.  Now “sort-of” does not make a lot of sense when we are talking about perfect games.  They are like pregnancies; you either are or you are not.  If you have seen the lowlights, though, you know why I use sort-of.  Let me run down a series of thoughts on this game to put it in a bit of context:

1. This is not the worst call ever. A single call that did not change the outcome of a lowly regular season game in early June, by definition, cannot be the worst call ever. Don Denkinger is still on the hook.

2. This situation is probably not as unusual as we think. The call will be famous because it occurred on out 27. A perfect game could as easily be lost by a blown call on out 1, out 15, or any in between. In fact, a blown call prior to out 15 or so is almost certain to be quickly forgotten. Galarraga is not the first pitcher to catch a bad break, and he will not be the last.

3. Galarraga deserves as much credit for his handling of both out 27s as he does for the rest of the game. Instead of throwing a temper tantrum when the call went against him, he instead smiled briefly then calmly retired the next hitter. As a parent, that is the model of sportsmanship and professionalism that I will highlight to my children for years to come.

4. Bud Selig will not intervene. As precedent, consider two bits of history. In 2008, CC Sabathia lost a no-hitter on a questionable hit in the 7th inning. The hit could easily have been an error on Sabathia. Instead, the Brewers lost the appeal and Sabathia threw a one-hitter. In 1917, Ernie Shore came in to relieve Babe Ruth after Ruth walked the leadoff hitter and was ejected. The leadoff hitter was thrown out stealing second, and Shore retired the next 26 batters in order. Until 1991, Shore was credited with a “perfect game in relief.” Now he simply is part of a joint no-hitter with Ruth. Neither of these situations are precisely analogous to Galarraga, but they show baseball’s attention to the perverse vagaries of the game.

5. Galarraga would have fit well into the list of perfect game pitchers. The perfect game is by its nature a fluky accomplishment, as it is based on the outcome of a single game. Galarraga is not nearly the pitcher Roy Halladay is, but he fits quite well with other perfect gamers like Don Larsen, Charlie Robertson, Dallas Braden, Len Barker, Mike Witt, and Tom Browning. All of them had one great game, unlike other perfect game Hall of Famers like Cy Young, Addie Joss, Jim Bunning, Sandy Koufax, Catfish Hunter, and future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson.

What are your thoughts? What if anything should the commissioner do in response to the missed call? Should this be the leading edge for increased instant replay? What does anyone else think?