Author Archive

Do Teams Get Dragged Down by Jet Lag?

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No one likes to travel. Vacations are great and changes of scenery can be nice, but that doesn’t make the cramped bus trip or the bumpy plane ride any more pleasant. The destination may be worth it, but when was the last time you stood up after an hours-long voyage with your good mood still fully intact?

This sentiment is shared even by multimillionaires who make their livings playing a children game and are cheered by thousands of adoring fans every time they go to the office. In baseball, “getaway day” is dreaded, and while jet lag alone wouldn’t make the Indians fall to the White Sox (who’d’ve thought that would be a good example this year?), a team that just got in after a long flight is seen as being at a real, if relatively small, disadvantage at the start of a series.

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How Much Does Payroll Matter?

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Everyone knows that money matters in baseball. I’m a Cleveland fan, so you don’t need to convince me that my small-market Indians are at an unfair disadvantage when competing against teams like the Yankees and the Bank of Steinbrenner (in the immortal words of Ken Tremendous, “It’s like Scrooge McDuck’s gold coin-filled pool”). There’s no question that franchises with the financial flexibility to retain their stars, import new ones, and remain contenders even when their well-paid players bust have a leg-up from the get-go.

But we all know that money isn’t everything. Omar Minaya and the New York Mets gave us a years-long crash course in what happens large payrolls are spent poorly. Meanwhile, plenty of underfunded teams have had success, including last year’s Rangers and the Rays of both 2008 and 2010. Check my facts on this, but I’m pretty sure one or two low-budget Oakland A’s teams have had some mild success in the past too.

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Albert Pujols or Albert Einstein?

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There’s no question that Albert Pujols is one of the greatest players in the history of Major League Baseball. As the active leader in wOBA (.434) and wRC+ (169), it’s not easy to come up with a superlative that sounds like hyperbole for Pujols. But a commenter on his stats page gave it a try last week:

ALBERT Einstein had an IQ of 160. That means he is 60% more intelligent than the average human.

Albert Pujols has a wRC+ of 177 during the past 3 seasons. That means he is 77% better at the plate than the average big leaguer.

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The Next Jose Bautista

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Jose Bautista took the baseball world by storm in 2010 when, after six MLB seasons of doing nothing in particular, he emerged as a candidate for AL MVP. Compare his 54 homers, 124 RBI, and .995 OPS in 161 games last year to the 59 homers, 211 RBI, and .729 OPS he posted in nearly 600 games from 2004-09. Using WAR/PA, Bautista was more than 11 times better in 2010 than he’d been for the rest of his career.

Interestingly, Bautista’s breakout came just a year after Ben Zobrist came out of nowhere to become the second-most valuable player in baseball. After hitting .222/.279/.370 with just 15 homers, 57 RBI and -0.5 WAR in roughly a full season’s worth of games from 2006-08, Zobrist went bananas in 2009, hitting .297/.405/.543 with 27 taters, 91 knocked in, and 8.4 WAR.

Besides the fact that no one expected monster breakouts from either of them, 2009 Zobrist and 2010 Bautista had some interesting things in common. Both had extensive experience in the big leagues but neither had done anything particularly impressive. Both entered their seasons with at some questions about what their roles would be. And both had enjoyed out-of-nowhere power surges during their respective previous Septembers.

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Hall of Shame: Why BBWAA’s Secret Ballots Matter

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When the Baseball Writers Association of America announced Wednesday that Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven had been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, two worthy inductees who had waited too long were granted entrance to Cooperstown. But to judge the voting process solely by the selections of two worthy candidates would be to ignore the massive problems with the way the BBWAA does business.

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Keeping Up With the Musials

It’s safe to say that Andruw Jones has been one of the most disappointing baseball players in recent memory. Just five years ago, Jones was in the middle of a fantastic season wherein he hit 51 homers with a .922 OPS (despite a .240 BABIP) and was worth 8.3 WAR. As recently as 2007, he slammed 26 long balls while driving in 94 and accumulating 3.8 WAR.

Then disaster struck. In 2008, after signing a two-year, $36 million with the Dodgers, Jones absolutely tanked, hitting just .158 with three homers and a .505 OPS; he struck out in more than a third of his at-bats and his once prodigious power disappeared, as evidenced by his Michael Bourn-esque .091 ISO.

In the 160 games Jones has played with the Rangers and White Sox in 2009-10, he’s regained some of his lost power, bashing 32 homers with a .244 ISO in just under 600 plate appearances. However, those numbers don’t seem particularly special for a guy who’s spent the majority of his time at first base and DH, especially when combined with a putrid .209 batting average. No one’s mistaking him for an All-Star.

And yet, there is no doubt that Andruw Jones belongs in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Wait, what?

For starters, let’s not be too hasty and dismiss his earlier offensive accomplishments. In 12 years with the Braves, he averaged 33 homers and 98 RBI per 162 games with an .824 OPS. He hit the 20/20 club three times, including his 31/27 season in 1998.

His 403 career homers put him 46th all-time — ahead of current Cooperstown residents Al Kaline (399), Jim Rice (382), Ralph Kiner (369), and Albert Pujols (okay, so he’s not in the Hall of Fame yet, but I’m sure they’re already planning out his plaque). And while 31 was a tad on the young side for a complete collapse, don’t forget that he had established himself as a key part of the Braves’ outfield before he was old enough to drink. But all of that is just icing on the cake.

Forget everything he did at the plate, on the basepaths, or in the dugout; if for no other reason, Andruw Jones deserves to be enshrined because of what he did in center field. Jones isn’t just one of the best defensive outfielders of his generation — he’s arguably the best-fielding outfielder of all time, and surely ranks among the top glovesmen in baseball history at any position.

Jones won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves from 1998-2007. Even opening it up to players who were honored in multiple, nonconsecutive years, that beats Ichiro (nine), Torii Hunter (nine), Andre Dawson (eight), Jim Edmonds (eight), Larry Walker (seven), and Kenny Lofton (four). The only outfielders who have ever done better are Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente (12 apiece), but I’m sure you’ll join me in condoning Jones for not quite living up to their lofty standard.

Of course, you could argue that Gold Gloves are a popularity contest, and aren’t necessarily the best way to determine the game’s best defenders (see “Kemp, Matt” and “Jeter, Derek” last year). It’s true, they don’t accurately describe Jones’ accomplishments — they don’t do them justice.

According to TotalZone (used for seasons from 1954-2001) and Ultimate Zone Rating (2002-now), Jones has saved 274.3 runs in his career with his glove. Two-hundred seventy-four point-three runs. That’s about 28-wins worth of value for his career without taking into account anything he’s done with his bat.

If that number isn’t terribly impressive to you, perhaps you should consider the context: it’s the best score of any outfielder in baseball history, and a look at the Top 10 shows that it’s not particularly close:

1. Andruw Jones 274.3
2. Roberto Clemente 204.0
3. Barry Bonds 187.7
4. Willie Mays 185.0
5. Carl Yastrzemski 185.0
6. Paul Blair 174.0
7. Jesse Barfield 162.0
8. Al Kaline 156.0
9. Jim Piersall 156.0
10. Brian Jordan 148.0

These statistics are far from perfect, and there’s definitely an argument to be made that the older numbers are particularly flawed. But even if we can’t use it to compare players of different eras (could the margin of error really be more than 70 runs?), we can see just how amazing Jones has been by comparing him to his contemporaries. If you noticed that the only other names of those 10 who played at the same time as Jones were Bonds (whose days as a serviceable fielder were numbered by the time Jones made his debut) and the woefully unappreciated Jordan, you can probably see where this is going.

Darin Erstad (146.6)? Ichiro (120.2)? Carl Crawford (119.8)? Lofton (114.5)? Mike Cameron (110.7)? Walker (86.0)? Edmonds (57.5)? None of them even come close. In fact, Jones’ score is better than any two of those names’ combined.

It’s not just outfielders, either. Jones’ TZR/UZR is the second best of all-time, behind only Brooks Robinson. Compare his 274.3 runs saved with Cal Ripken Jr.’s 181.0, Ivan Rodriguez’ 156.0, Luis Aparicio’s 149.0, and Omar Vizquel’s 136.4. He even beats true defensive legends like Joe Tinker (180.0), Honus Wagner (85.0), and the amazing Ozzie Smith (239.0). If you can go toe-to-toe with the “Wizard of Oz” in the field, you barely need a pulse offensively to deserve a place in Cooperstown.

Jones hasn’t had time to slowly build up his score by being a consistently solid fielder; instead, he grabbed the bull by the horns and has enjoyed some of the best individual defensive seasons in baseball history.

In 1998 — at age 21 — he was worth 35 runs in the field, which at the time was tied for the second-best defensive performance since tracking began in 1950. In 1999, he promptly went out and beat that, earning 36 TZR. All told, he appears on the Top 80 list for single-season Total Zone Rating five times. And that’s not including UZR, which has been kinder to him than TZR since 2003.

Will the BBWAA vote him in when his time comes? Probably not. Even assuming the voters have learned how to use the newfangled defensive metrics by then (far from a sure thing, given that a majority of NL Cy Young voters implicitly declared wins to be the most important pitching statistic last year), there are too many reasons for them to doubt his candidacy.

While TZR and UZR make sense and are great tools for getting a general idea of a player’s defensive prowess, they’re too inconsistent for fans to take as the word of God (though, in my opinion, a 70-run lead is more than enough to cancel out the margin of error). Aside from that, you’ve just got a free-swinging, power-hitting outfielder (a dime a dozen over the last 20 years) who fell off a cliff right before his 32nd birthday. He’d have to return to his younger form and maintain it for at least a few more years in order to have a realistic shot at Cooperstown.

But, as the Beatles once sang, “all you need is glove” (unless I heard that wrong), and that’s what Ozzie Smith proved when he got more than 90 percent of the vote for the Hall of Fame in 2002. Combine phenomenal defense with a solid bat (remember those 403 homers?) and there’s no question Andruw Jones deserves a spot in Cooperstown.

Lewie Pollis is a freshman at Brown University studying political science. He also contributes to,, and Green Pages, the quarterly publication of the U.S. Green Party.

Subjectivity Objectified: Measuring Fans’ Biases with All-Star Votes

It doesn’t take a hardcore sabermetrician to realize that the All-Star vote is a sham. After all, the undeniable best catcher in the game received only the 11th-most votes at his position, and Omar Infante made the cut while MVP candidate Ryan Zimmerman had to sit at home (not the fans’ fault, but still).

But even if it’s impossible to distinguish the game’s best players by looking at the vote totals, I wondered if it would be possible to gather some more unorthodox information from the results: namely, the impact of fans’ biases on their ballots.

I quickly scratched out an equation for a statistic I made up, called “All-Star Score,” to measure how deserving a player is of fans’ votes for the Midsummer Classic:

All-Star Score = (Wins Above Replacement* + 2) ^ 2

*—numbers as of the All-Star Game

I calculated the All-Star Scores for each player listed on the ballot and added them together. I then added up the total All-Star votes cast (Major League Baseball releases the vote totals for only the Top 25 outfielders and Top 8 vote-getters at other positions per league, so I used 300,000 as a baseline for those players whose results were not available) and divided that by the composite All-Star Score to find out what the average All-Star Score Point was worth (just under 74,000 votes).

Finally, I calculated the votes-per-All-Star Score points ratios for each team, then divided that by the league average to get an estimate of what proportion of votes each team’s players got relative to what they deserved. The numbers below show each team’s relative figure as a percentage—a “Bias Score” of 100 would mean the team received exactly the right amount of support (of course, no club came out at 100).

I’m fully aware of the flaws in my experiment: the statistics used were compiled after the voting, not during it; I’m sure my 300,000-vote estimate for the lower-tier players is extremely generous to some and a big low-ball to others; and, of course, there’s no guarantee that my little equation represents the ideal proportion of All-Star votes a candidate should receive.

Nonetheless, I think the results are both somewhat meaningful and interesting:

Tier 1: The Unloved (79 and below)

1 White Sox 47
2 Royals 47
3 Athletics 48
4 Padres 49
5 Giants 50
6 Cubs 56
7 D-Backs 57
8 Blue Jays 59
9 Indians 59
10 Nationals 59
11 Orioles 60
12 Rockies 66

If you look at the vote totals, seeing the Royals and A’s at the top of the list shouldn’t come as a surprise: they’re two of the three miserable teams that didn’t get a single player on the voting leaderboards. Meanwhile, the starting nine for the Orioles—the only other club to be completely neglected—have been so bad that Baltimore landed in the middle third of the Bias Scores despite having the absolute minimum number of votes. Ouch.

It’s no surprise to see struggling teams like the Indians and Diamondbacks fall this low, but I would have expected Padres, Blue Jays, and Nationals fans to show their favorite players a little more love in light of their teams’ expectations-beating early performances. And I’m shocked that the Rockies haven’t been able to generate more excitement, what with their recent string of comeback wins in playoff races.

However, I’d say the biggest upsets here are the teams from Chicago—particularly the Cubs. North Side fans have a reputation of being among the most loyal and passionate in baseball (after more than a century without a championship, they’d have to be). It’s a telling sign that something is very wrong in Wrigleyville.

Tier 2: The Average (80 to 120)

13 Marlins 80
14 Pirates 81
15 Reds 84
16 Red Sox 90
17 Astros 102
18 Mariners 114
19 Rangers 120

The first team that jumps out at you here is Boston: how can Red Sox Nation be classified as a relatively unbiased fanbase? Take a look at the leaderboards and it becomes clear. Adrian Beltre finished behind Michael Young, Kevin Youkilis got barely half the votes of scuffling Mark Teixeira, even local hero David Ortiz fell behind the anemic Hideki Matsui. Derek Jeter has been better than Marco Scutaro, fine, but does he really deserve six times as many votes?

Two teams in this grouping redefine pathetic. A 20th-place finish for Andrew McCutchen is enough to put the Pirates squarely in the middle of the pack because their eight candidates have combined to be of less value than Dan Uggla. Astros fans, meanwhile, turn out to have a positive bias because of Lance Berkman’s eighth-place finish at first base. That’s what happens when your team has a negative composite WAR.

The two AL West teams are both interesting cases. The Mariners don’t have much of a reputation for a strong fan base, but people love Ichiro and the now-retired Ken Griffey Jr. raked in over a million votes. Given that the Rangers have the third-highest team vote total in the game, you might expect them to have a far higher Bias Score. But you might not realize that Texas also has the third-highest composite WAR.

Tier 3: The Coddled (121-150)

20 Tigers 126
21 Angels 129
22 Dodgers 129
23 Cardinals 134
24 Brewers 138
25 Mets 146

Most of these names were pretty predictable. The Brewers are probably the most surprising team to be ranked this far up. Their high score is entirely the fault of Ryan Braun, who led all outfielders with just under 3 million votes despite a significant offensive dropoff and horrific defensive, even by his standards.

Tier 4: The Overindulgent (151-190)

26 Braves 159
27 Rays 163
28 Twins 171
29 Phillies 181

Eight years ago, the Twins were on the verge of falling victim to contraction. Three years ago, the Rays had never finished a season with more than 70 wins. If you’d said then that both teams would soon have some of the most passionate fans in baseball, you would have been laughed out of the room.

Tier 5: The Insane (191 and up)

30 Yankees 199

I’m sure some commenter will accuse me of writing this article for the sole purpose of blasting the Yankees. I’ll say here for the first and only time that, while their coming out on top was somewhat predictable, this is just how it happened.

Just look at the vote totals. A-Rod over Beltre two-to-one, Curtis Granderson over Alex Rios by a nearly three-to-one margin, Teixeira over Paul Konerko almost five-to-one, Jeter over Cliff Pennington by over 10-to-one. Is there any logical explanation for that? And this isn’t even taking into consideration Nick Swisher’s Final Vote victory over Youkilis.

I’ll be the first to admit that this isn’t a definitive study—the rankings would surely be shuffled around if the full, precise vote totals were available (especially towards the lower end), and I don’t think anyone believes for a second that fans in Houston are more loyal than their counterparts in Boston. But I still think the results are somewhat telling, so in the future, fans in Minnesota and Wisconsin might want to think twice before complaining about East Coast bias.

Lewie Pollis is a recent high school graduate from outside of Cleveland, Ohio. He will be attending Brown University starting in Fall 2010. For more of his writing, click here.

No Soup For Ubaldo

There probably isn’t a single baseball fan in the country who hasn’t heard Ubaldo Jimenez been called “lucky.”

For several weeks now, analysts have devoted countless hours and vast amounts of energy to debunking the theory that Jimenez is—as his 13-1 record and 1.15 ERA suggest—one of the best pitchers in the history of the game. And with good reason.

There’s no question Jimenez is a talented pitcher entering the prime of what will certainly be an impressive career. But he’s not an all-time great, and he’s certainly not the greatest of all time.

Jimenez’ 7.8 K/9 rate is impressive (though not legendary—he’s looking up at not only Tim Lincecum and Josh Johnson, but guys like Javier Vazquez and Felipe Paulino), but it’s not enough for us to turn a blind eye to his wildness (3.2 BB/9). A 2.44 K/BB ratio is nothing to sneeze at, but it’s nothing compared to Dan Haren (5.05), Roy Halladay (5.63), or the superhuman Cliff Lee (16.75).

As a result, Ubaldo’s FIP is a more mortal-looking 2.93. That’s nothing to sneeze at, and it’s the seventh-best mark in the game. But it’s more than two-and-a-half times his ridiculous 1.15 ERA.

And that’s before you consider Jimenez’ ludicrously low 3.8% HR/FB rate. That’s why his 3.61 xFIP is significantly higher even than his FIP—and that’s normalized for a pitcher in a neutral park, not one who plays half his games at the launching pad that is Coors Field. Substitute his xFIP for his ERA and ignore the wins (naturally, he wouldn’t have as many if he gave up more runs) and you’ve got a questionable All-Star, not a unanimous Cy Young.

So where is all this luck coming from?

The fishiest thing about Jimenez’s season so far is his 91.2% LOB rate. In other words, fewer than one out every 11 baserunners he’s allowed have ended up crossing the plate. The discrepancy between his strand rate and the norm (72 percent) is greater than the overall range of qualified pitchers’ LOB rates in 2008.

It makes sense that a better pitcher would strand more runners; the better the pitcher, the better the chance of making an out, so there is less opportunity for the other team to score. But Jimenez’ 91.2% figure places his performance well outside the reach of logic and fully inside the realm of luck.

Consider the case of John Candelaria, whose 88.8% strand rate in 1977 stands as the closest anyone has come to pulling a Ubaldo over a full season since at least 1974. The year before that, his strand rate was 72.5%; the year after, it fell to 76.8%. Simply put, you can’t sustain a number like that unless you’re playing Xbox.

Then, of course, there is the issue of Jimenez’. BABIP. I’m a firm believer that pitchers have some degree of control over where and how hard the ball is hit. I wouldn’t think it noteworthy if Ubaldo’s hit rate had merely slipped to .290, or .280, maybe even .270. But if you think the ability to induce weak contact is the reason his hit rate stands at an historically low .239 mark, I’m going to have to stop you right there.

It takes a lot more than talent for a pitcher to sustain a hit rate that low for more than a few weeks. Since 1989, only one pitcher has posted a hit rate at or below Jimenez’ current .239 mark over a full season without it ballooning 50 points or more the following year.

Now, some say that Jimenez’ hit rate is explained by the kind of contact he’s induced—his 13.8% line-drive rate is the third-lowest in the league, and his 54.9% groundball rate ranks fifth. But there’s no refuge in that argument, either.

Looking at tRA, which (unlike FIP) takes his batted-ball profile into account, Jimenez is expected to give up 3.09 runs per nine innings. That’s not a bad number by any stretch, but it’s not good enough to put Ubaldo in the history books. So even if you assume that his low line drive and HR/FB rates are the product of sustainable skill and not felicitous chance, Jimenez could be expected to give up nearly three times as many runs if he had neutral luck.

There’s no question Ubaldo Jimenez is a good pitcher, or that his is an arm to watch for years to come. But once the winds of fortune stop blowing in from the Coors bleachers, no one will mistake him for the best pitcher in the game.

Lewie Pollis lives outside of Cleveland, Ohio, and will be starting at Brown University in Fall 2010. Like at least half the people who will read this article, his dream is to be GM of a baseball team. For more of Lewie’s writing, click here.

Jeter, Jeter, Numbers Beater

About a month ago, I wrote an unintentionally controversial article about some puzzling patterns in Derek Jeter’s early season numbers.

There were two main contradictions within his statistics: that he was on pace for the best power numbers of his career while posting his highest ground ball rate ever, and that he was posting a career-low strikeout rate while swinging at a dramatically larger proportion of pitches thrown outside of the strike zone.

My critics claimed that I was reading too much into the stats too early in the season. Under normal circumstances I would have agreed, but it was more than the numbers themselves that were puzzling. When a person hits more home runs on fewer fly balls and makes better contact with worse pitch selectiveness, the results contradict the logic, no matter how small the sample size.

Four weeks later, I think it’s appropriate to revisit the situation and see how things are shaping up.

Overall, the discrepancies have become less dramatic, but the contradictory trends are still in place.

As I predicted, his power numbers have come back down to earth. He’s now on pace for 16 homers (down from 26 at last writing) and 98 RBI (down from 130). Neither would be a career high, but both would be above his norm.

But Jeter’s unprecedented groundball tendencies haven’t abated. Over two-thirds of balls off his bat (67 percent) have been on the ground—by far the highest such figure in the American League. While that’s a slight decline from the 71 percent mark he posted last month, it’s by far the highest of his career and a full 10 points above what he posted from 2002-09.

Meanwhile, his 16 percent HR/FB rate is the highest it’s been since 2005. Coincidentally, the 2005 season was the only other time in his career that his groundball rate hit 60 percent. So basically, the more he puts the ball on the ground, the more likely it is that each fly ball he hits will clear the fences. I’m not sure if that’s really a contradiction, but it’s certainly an odd correlation.

One thing is clear: this isn’t a common trend. This year, Jeter is the only player in the AL who has both a groundball rate over 50 percent and a HR/FB rate over nine percent.

But the more dramatic (and interesting) statistical oddity stems from the collapse of Jeter’s plate discipline.

Over his career, Jeter has been one of the most selective hitters in baseball, hacking at less than 20 percent of balls out of the strike zone. This year, that number has ballooned to 31.3 percent. Simply put, he’s chasing bad pitches. That’s not an insult or a criticism—that’s an indisputable, objective fact.

The sample size isn’t too small to start drawing conclusions. Jeter has seen 288 pitches outside the zone and swung at 90 of them.

As one might expect, this trigger-happy approach has had a negative effect on his walk rate, which, at five percent, is a career low. It’s less than half of the walk rate he posted last year.

Similarly, you’d expect his strikeout rate to shoot up into the stratosphere, right?


While Jeter’s 14 percent whiff rate is a sizable increase from last month’s nine percent figure, it’s still inexplicably lower than it ought to be, given Jeter’s history and his newfound aggressiveness.  How is that possible?

My first thought upon revisiting these numbers was that, in addition to swinging at more pitches off the plate, Jeter was starting to be less discriminatory with pitches thrown in the zone. That made sense, and I was embarrassed that I hadn’t thought of it a month ago.

But it turns out that’s not right either—in fact, it’s actually the opposite. This year, Jeter has chased a career-low 69 percent of balls in the zone, compared to 74 percent for his career. Simply put, Jeter is swinging at more bad pitches and fewer good ones.

I plugged in the numbers and found that, while 80 percent of the pitches he’s swung at since 2002 were good, just 69 percent of balls he’s chased in 2010 would have been called strikes.

And yet, Jeter’s 86 percent contact rate is the best of his career.

This just doesn’t make sense.