Archive for June, 2013

Cooperstown and Tom Glavine Just Don’t Mix

Normally, I wouldn’t even address a pitcher’s won/loss record.  They aren’t useless, they aren’t irrelevant, but they are something that should be overlooked when evaluating a player’s performance.  Front offices don’t look at a pitcher’s wins and losses, so why should we?  Exactly.  They should be nothing more than a fun little stat to add to all the other fun little stats that have use, but are closer to useless than practical.

But 305 wins for a pitcher, well that’s extraordinary.  But an extraordinary number doesn’t necessarily translate into extraordinary performance.

The 305 wins (and 203 losses) HAS to be looked at, and addressed.  Because in 2014 when Tom Glavine is considered for induction into baseball’s most prestigious sanctuary, those 305 wins are going to be discussed, frequently.  Very frequently.  Nearly every old-school writer, former player and most fans of Glavine’s era, are going to be backing him up, using that number: The number 305.

Just to delve into wins and losses for a second if you happen to have come across this article in an old-school mindset:

A pitcher controls less than half of the outcome of a baseball game.  The offense controls 50 percent.  The fielders control some.  And we can add in that a manager affects some of the game too, we just don’t know how much.  So we will just use a manager’s impact, whatever it may be, and include that in the production of the offense, pitching and defense.

So you can see there why wins and losses should not be looked at when determining the quality of a pitcher.

So what is it that makes a Hall of Famer?  Greatness.  Yes, simply put, greatness makes a Hall of Fame player.  They do great things on a baseball field, for a long enough period of time, to allow us as critics to say, “Wow, that guy was a great player.”  A player can actually go through his career without being exceptional at any one aspect of his game, yet still be an exceptional player, a Hall of Fame player, a great player.

Yet, when it comes to pitchers, the guy kinda has to be great at pitching.  Because pitcher fielding is nearly useless.  And a pitcher’s bat is normally about the equivalent of Jeff Francouer’s swings against sliders out of the strike zone.


Tom Glavine was a very good pitcher.  He accumulated 63 fWAR in his career, 74 bWAR, 118 ERA+, 3.54 base ERA.  Very, very good pitcher.  His WAR totals are right in that threshold where Hall of Famers “on the brink” usually sit.  Players that could be looking in, or looking out, based on a little subjectivity and bias from the writers who induct these guys.

But Tom Glavine had a 3.95 FIP.  And if you believe in FIP; that’s not great.  He pitched in the National League, so that FIP includes the pitchers he faced — which are easier to strike out, less likely to walk, and extremely unlikely to go deep.

Two times in Glavine’s career, he struck out more than seven batters per nine innings.  He kept his walks under control, walking 3 per nine throughout his career.  But that’s not “exceptional.”  Neither that nor his strikeouts per nine innings are.

Glavine won two Cy Youngs, and finished in the top-five in voting six! times.  Remarkable, yet equated to the subjective.  I’m not saying he didn’t deserve those awards, I’m just saying that a lot of noise goes into the process of who receives the award.

Dwight Evans was a very good baseball player.  One of the better defenders at the corner and well above average offensively.

Orel Hershiser racked up 204 wins in his career and once went 59 consecutive innings without allowing a run.

As for Tom Glavine, he pitched very well, for a long, long time, on one of the greatest runs by an organization that any sport has ever seen.  He made it to the postseason several times because of the talent of he and his supporting cast.  And during his time in October, he performed incredibly well.  To the tune of a 3.30 ERA in 218 innings.  And that probably meant his opponents were better than average offenses than he faced in the regular season, given that they were good enough to qualify for postseason play.

But listen to some of the deserving  names for the potential 2014 Hall of Fame ballot:

Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Edgar Martinez, Alan Trammell, McGwire, Frank Thomas, Mike Mussina and Jeff Kent.

Then you have a few outsiders that aren’t quite in the same caliber: Sammy Sosa, Jack Morris, Rafael Palmeiro, etc.

There are so many more deserving players than Glavine in next year’s class.  But there are clouds overhead with many of them.  And Glavine doesn’t have a cloud following him around wherever he goes.

I expect Glavine to get voted in:  305 wins.  No storm-cloud.  Played for a great, winning organization.  Seemed to be well-liked by anyone that came across him.  Or at least I know of no incidents surrounding him.

This will be why Tom Glavine gets into the Hall of Fame.  Because of very good pitching, along with very well-known variables by anyone that knows anything about Tom Glavine.

But I don’t think he should be inducted.  He was never an exceptional pitcher.  It wouldn’t be an egregious decision by any means.  And he wouldn’t be the worst player in the Hall of Fame

But the most exceptional thing about Tom Glavine’s career was that he, or anyone for that matter, could pitch that well, for that long.

Breaking Down the Swing: Best Hitters of 2012

Often players will be credited for being very efficient with their swings, or evaluators and coaches will praise a hitter for having tremendous bat speed.  Those who work with hitters and study the art of hitting on a regular basis know that it takes a lot more than being a good athlete or having fast hands to be a successful hitter.  I myself work with many amateur hitters at Carmen Fusco’s Pro Baseball & Softball Academy in New Cumberland, PA.  We use video analysis as an integral part of the learning process, and I spend many hours outside of work devoted to breaking down MLB, MiLB, and draft-eligible players’ swings and pitching deliveries.  In this study I have conducted, I wanted to collect data regarding the best Major League hitters’ swings to discern what actually matters and is worth commenting on from a mechanical perspective of a hitter.

Going into this project, I wanted it to be primarily a data-driven approach to what players do in the batter’s box.  This is a study of hitters’ mechanics at the Major League level, hopefully useful in producing predictive or at least somewhat comparative parameters to be applied to unproven professional or amateur players.  Many criticisms and compliments get heaped on hitters for how their swings work and the correlation to big league success.  However, I have not seen many of these thoughts backed up with hard evidence as proof or even fact-based suggestions that they are truly instrumental to a player’s results on the field.  I will mix in many of my own thoughts here and there as well, but this is meant to be used as an objective analysis of hitters’ mechanical processes.

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Rebuilding on a Crash Diet: The Brewers and a Calamitous May

To describe May, 2013 as an awful month for the Milwaukee Brewers would not do it justice.

In fact, the Brewers were downright putrid, winning only six games the entire month.  Their record in May was so bad (6-22) that it tied the worst month in franchise history: the August turned out by the 1969 Seattle Pilots, who ended the following season in bankruptcy, followed by a permanent road trip to become the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Brewers ended the month of April only a half game out of first place.  The Brewers ended the month of May 15 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals, managing the impressive feat of losing 14.5 games in the standings in one month.  Now that is a tailspin.

CoolStandings.Com currently gives the Brewers a 1 in 250 chance of making even the wild-card play-in game.  GM Doug Melvin admitted there is no chance the Brewers will be buyers this year at the trade deadline.  Rather, they will either be in a sell mode, seeking high-ceiling prospects a few years away, or keeping the assets they have, presumably only if they cannot get anything in return.  In short, the Brewers are suddenly rebuilding, and are focusing on  stocking up their farm system and developing controllable rotation talent.

But, rebuilding is a complicated topic in small markets like Milwaukee.  As Wendy Thurm has noted, the Brewers, with their limited geographic reach, have one of the smallest television contracts in the league.  Thus, the Brewers rely upon strong attendance to deliver profits for Mark Attanasio and his ownership group.  In recent years, the Brewers’ attendance fortunately has been some of the most impressive in baseball, particularly in comparison to the size of the Milwaukee metropolitan area.  Over the last five years, the Brewers have consistently approached or exceeded three million fans, despite challenging economic times.  So, one thing the Brewers cannot afford is a collapse akin to the mere 1.7 million fans they drew in 2003 during a terrible season — not if they want to make the investments in future talent required to make the franchise a perennial contender.

So, the Brewers face an obvious challenge: the team needs to lose enough games to obtain a prime draft position, and thereby maximize its chances to draft a top-ceiling player with minimum bust potential.  At the same time, the Brewers need to avoid losing in any drawn-out fashion, because a corresponding and sustained decline in attendance could hemorrhage desperately-needed cash from their balance sheet.  As Ryan Topp and others have argued, this need to maintain attendance in the short term seems to be one reason why the Brewers have systematically traded away what previously was an excellent farm system, with the apparent goal of maintaining the aura of a competitive team.

How does one navigate this problem?  Well, the best solution could be to experience a May like the Brewers just suffered.  Doing so addresses two problems: (1) it abruptly puts the team on course to get a top 5 draft pick, and (2) it achieves this result so abruptly, and in this case so early in the season, that the fan base can still — at least in theory —enjoy much-improved baseball for the remainder of the season without jeopardizing that draft slot.  In short, when you can take your medicine over the course of one month, instead of over an entire season, you really ought to do it.

As to the draft:

Thanks to May, the Brewers currently have the fifth-worst record in baseball at 23–37.  As of the morning of June 8, 2013, FanGraphs predicted that the Brewers will end the season tied for baseball’s fourth-worst record with the New York Mets at 73–89.  Provided that 2013’s top five draft picks all reach agreement with their teams, the Brewers are on pace for a top-5 draft slot in 2014.

The Brewers have not had a top-5 pick in the Rule 4 draft since 2005, when they picked some guy named Ryan Braun.  Before 2013, the top five slots in the draft provided, among others, Buster Posey (#5, 2008), Stephen Strasburg (#1, 2009), Manny Machado (#3, 2010), Dylan Bundy (#4, 2011), and Byron Buxton (#2, 2012) — the types of superstar prospects the Brewers have been denied for years, and which they need to anchor their next generation of players.  At the end of April, and before May occurred, the Brewers were on track for yet another mid-round pick slot.

As to the rest of the season:

It is unlikely that the Brewers will continue to suffer the combination of injuries and dreadful rotation pitching that helped ruin their May.  FanGraphs seems to agree, predicting that the current Brewers roster (or something like it) will essentially play .500 baseball for the rest of the season, even while maintaining one of the five worst records in the game.

Average baseball is not contending baseball, but average baseball at least would offer Brewers fans — already pleased with Miller Park’s immunity from rain delays — a reasonable likelihood of seeing a win on any given day.  In 2009, the Brewers were able to bring in over three million fans, despite finishing under .500 overall.  In 2010, the Brewers ended up eight games under .500, but still brought in 2.7 million fans.  It remains to be seen whether playing .500 baseball for the rest of the 2013 season would be sufficient to keep fans coming through the Miller Park turnstiles, but if so, the increasing remoteness of May could be a significant factor, particularly if the team can convince fans that “one bad month” does not represent the current Miller Park experience or true caliber of the team.

Of course, it is also possible that the Brewers will be able to trade significant assets at the deadline in exchange for the prospects Doug Melvin wants.  If so, their projected record could, and probably would decline.  (This is necessarily not a bad thing, given that 68.5 wins is the average cut-off to secure a top 5 draft spot from 2003 through 2012).  If that happens, the Brewers will have a further challenge on their hands in trying to provide even average baseball for their fans, and maintain the attendance they need.

That said, the Brewers’ remarkable close to 2012 — an incredible .610 winning percentage from August through October — was accomplished after trading away Zack Greinke and calling up minor league talent to plug gaps in the rotation left by Greinke’s trade and Shaun Marcum’s injuries.  If the Brewers are once again able to make advantageous trades at the deadline, and also able to play even .500 ball for the rest of the year, they are still in a position to do so without hurting their chances to get the impact player they need in the 2014 Rule 4 draft.

If they can pull both of these things off, much of the thanks should be given to the horrible month of May.

The Ten Highest BABIPs Since 1945

Earlier this season I looked at the ten lowest BABIPs since 1945, investigating what, exactly, this statistic can teach us about hitters. The conclusions ranged from clear to not-so-much: your batting average on balls in play will be lower if you’re too slow to beat out infield grounders, if you hit an unusually low number of line drives, if you’re getting poor contact by swinging at bad pitches, and if you’re just plain unlucky. Sometimes players saw their power numbers drop along with their BABIPs, most likely because of an inferior approach at the plate which caused weak hits, but sometimes players saw their power numbers rise sharply: one of the ten lowest BABIPs ever belongs to Roger Maris, because he put 61 balls out of play and over the outfield fences.

Will our high scorers clear things up?

What is BABIP? (Copied from the First Post)

Batting average on balls in play is exactly that: when you hit the ball and it’s not a home run, what’s your batting average? Imagine you’d only ever batted twice; first you hit a single and then you struck out. Your BABIP would be 1.000. If a single and a groundout, .500. After seven games of the 2013 season, Rick Ankiel had two home runs but no singles, doubles, or triples, so his BABIP was .000.

Across any given season, the average BABIP tends to be about .300. All this means is that, when you hit the ball at professional defenders, there’s a 70% chance they’ll get you out.

The Ten Highest BABIPs Since 1945


10. Willie McGee, 1985 (.395). McGee’s presence here isn’t surprising, since his hallmarks, aside from excellent hitting skills (and not much power), were speedy outfield defense and quality baserunning. It’s easy to imagine McGee beating infield grounders, hustling out hits, or being above average at driving the ball, even though some of those statistics weren’t tracked at the time.

9. Derek Jeter, 1999 (.396). Jeter’s 2006 ranks 17th on the list, too. Jeter’s 266 infield hits since 2002, when batted-ball data started being counted, ranks second among all hitters in that decade-plus. First place? You’ll find out who that is in a minute (if you don’t know already).

8. Wade Boggs, 1985 (.396). Hey look, two top-ten BABIP seasons in the exact same year! Boggs edges McGee and the whole league with 240 hits in 161 games, 187 (77.9%) of them singles. During all his batting-title years, his BABIP was high, bottoming out at .361. Lucky? No: more like extremely good contact skills.

7. Austin Jackson, 2010 (.396). Jackson’s breakout season in center field for Detroit (that .396 BABIP led him to a .293 average) was followed by a breakup 2011 when his BABIP dropped 56 points (still above average!) and his batting average and on-base percentage fell 54 and 28 points, respectively. So far in 2013 Jackson’s at a career low on balls in play, but he’s also dramatically reduced his previously ugly strikeout rate, which has bolstered his return to the ranks of the truly outstanding.

6. Andres Galarraga, 1993 (.399). Before Galarraga cranked out 47 home runs at the age of 35, he had an also highly improbable 1993. Triple slash, 1989-1992 (509 games): .246/.301/.399. Home runs in those 509 games: 62. Triple slash in 1993: .370/.403/.602.

Three observations. First, Galarraga’s batting average never came within fifty (!) points of that again. Second, this was his first season in Colorado, although it wasn’t a full one, as he only played 120 games. The Coors boost to his power was minimal, at first. Third, the guy could not take a walk.

5. Ichiro Suzuki, 2004 (.399). Will anyone be surprised to see Ichiro here? Speedy, with a near-mythical gift for hitting, Ichiro also has a gift for avoiding fly balls (23.8% flyballs, fourteenth-lowest in baseball since we started counting in 2002). And another thing we’ve been counting since 2002: Ichiro has 463 infield hits, 40% more than second-place Derek Jeter. In 2004, Ichiro had 57 infield hits in 161 games, or about one every series. Since 2002, Mark Sweeney has 12 infield hits in 690 games.

4. Roberto Clemente, 1967 (.403). Clemente was in the middle of a run of six consecutive 6.0+ WAR years. His high batting average on balls in play made this one his most valuable of all (7.7), 40 points above his career average (which was identical to his BABIP the year before). Clemente hit six fewer homers and five fewer doubles but 19 more singles, explaining the paradox that his slugging percentage rose while his power actually dropped.

3. Manny Ramirez, 2000 (.403). This is one of seven seasons in which Manny posted a BABIP above .350. I looked at batted ball data, available from 2002 onward, and found that Manny’s 22.6% line drives ranked 31st among the 481 hitters who’ve racked up more than 1,500 plate appearances since. Of course, Manny was inconsistent in that stretch. His .373 BABIP in 2002 coincided (or not!) with a line-drive rate of 25.3%. (Mark Loretta sits at first since ’02, 26.0%, while at second with 25.2% is Joey Votto, more on whom shortly.)

2. Jose Hernandez, 2002 (.404). I was alive and watching baseball in 2002 and I had never heard of Jose Hernandez. The Brewers shortstop had four pretty good seasons (1998-99, 2001, 2004), three terrible ones (1996, 2000, 2003), and a rather miraculous 2002 which found Hernandez riding a tidal wave of good luck on balls in play. His average rose 39 points, and dropped by 63 the next season; he struck out in literally one-third of his at-bats (188 Ks); his power numbers were unchanged. But, aside from luck, there was another big change. This was the first year batted-ball data is available, and the only year where Hernandez’ flyball rate was below 30%. Between Hernandez, Ichiro, and Jeter, flyball rate is a significant predictor of BABIP.

1. Rod Carew, 1977 (.408). What does it take to have the highest career BABIP of any finished career since 1945? (“Hang on,” you say, “what’s with this ‘finished career’ business?” “Ah,” I say, “Austin Jackson and Joey Votto are in the lead.”) Carew’s career BABIP is .359. Carew’s 1974 ranks 19th on this list (.391). So the guy was a great hitter: but his 1977 was extraordinary. An 8.5 WAR season, it saw a dramatic spike in singles, plus career highs in doubles, triples, and (tied with 1975) home runs. There was also an MVP award.


Again, some of the things we learned are unsurprising: speed is good; being an all-time great contact hitter is good. But there’s a twist: Jose Hernandez benefited from a whole lot of luck, and Rod Carew had the year of his life, but most of the guys here are obviously disposed to high BABIPs based on their skills. We were able to blame a lot of the bottom-ten seasons on hard times and bad breaks, but most of these guys are exceptional hitters with speed and contact ability.

And there’s a new factor begging for our attention.

When we looked at the ten lowest BABIPs, we were unwittingly at a disadvantage, because only one of those low seasons took place while batted-ball data was documented. Three of our ten highest have happened since 2002, though, as well as #13, 14, and 17, which means we have evidence of a new factor.

Hit more line drives, and your batting average on balls in play goes up.

Hit more fly balls, and it goes down–fast.

As a Community Research writer, I can’t insert a chart here; as a lazy person, I don’t have a chart to insert. But the next step in our inquiry is very, very clear. Does fly ball hitting suppress BABIP? Is it because of the increase in home runs, the ease with which defenders catch the ball, both, or neither?

Even More Pertinent Conclusion

We live in the golden age of BABIP. If I had done this “Ten Highest” post including 2013, the present season would have accounted for 40% of the list.

Among the top 20 BABIP guys with more than 700 games played in their careers, there are some retirees: Rod Carew (#2), Ron LeFlore (#7), Wade Boggs, Roberto Clemente, Kirby Puckett, Tony Gwynn, Willie McGee, and John Kruk. But 12 of the top 20 guys are currently active: Joey Votto (#1), Derek Jeter (#3), Shin-Soo Choo (#4), Matt Kemp (#5), Joe Mauer, Miguel Cabrera, Ichiro Suzuki, Matt Holliday, Michael Bourn, Ryan Braun, Wilson Betemit, David Wright.

As commenter Ferd pointed out last time, the league average BABIP was .260 in 1968; when I started the series, I relied on research which assured me that BABIP was consistent over time, but this is clearly not true. This means that there are two more lines of inquiry we should follow.

1. Why are so many BABIP leaders currently active? Is it a change in hitting style? Is it a change in pitching style? Is it a change in the data being used or the calculations being made? Or is it simply because most of them haven’t gotten older, slower, and less talented at the plate, and once they all age and retire order will be restored?

2. Wilson Betemit? How did that happen?