A Baseball Blog - Scientific and Speculative Thoughts from Third Base

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Which Last Place Team Is Most Likely to Turn It Around?

We now stand a little over a fifth of the way through the season, past the point were divisions can see a total flip-flop over night. They haven’t fully stabilized yet, though; it’s still only been just over 30 games, after all, and there’s plenty that could still happen. I decided to take this thought to the optimistic end and ask “Which team currently in last place is most likely to turn it all around?”

Right now, there are actually essentially seven teams in last in their divisions, thanks to a tie out east: the Orioles, the Red Sox, the Indians, the Athletics, the Phillies, the Brewers, and the Rockies. There are undoubtedly some good teams in the bunch, as is usually the case after only a month and a half of third. Heck, I even picked some of those teams as division winners. But is there any reason to expect differently now that they’re in last? Going over them one-by-one:

Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies are probably the least likely to turn things around, out of this seven. Right now trail the NL East, with an 11-23 record that leaves them 9.5 games back. For as bad as having the worst record in the Majors sounds, what makes it worse is that they’re still outpacing they’re Pythagorean record by two games. Even GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. admitted they’re a little outmatched. And if they decide to start trading off veterans like Cole Hamels, it’ll only get worse. So yeah, this one is probably a no.

Milwaukee Brewers
Technically not as bad as the Phillies, with a 12-22 record. But playing in the same division as the current best team in baseball leaves them even further behind, at 11.0 back. On top of that, they’ve already fired their manager and announced that they’re sellers this year. So, once again, it seems pretty unlikely here.

Colorado Rockies
While we’re on the topic trade rumors, there’s one going around now that Troy Tulowitzki will be demanding one out of Colorado soon. It’ll already be difficult for the Rockies to bounce back with him; they’re 11-18 and 9.5 back. I predicted them to be in the running for worst team in the Majors at the start of the year and they’ve certainly lived down to that expectation. Troy Tulowitzki and Nolan Arenado are a nice starting point, but their ace is 24-year-old rookie Eddie Butler and their number two is Kyle Kendrick.

Oakland Athletics
They’re 13-22, so a tad better than the other teams covered, and only 8.0 games out, so there’s less work to do. Also, it seems they have less to turn around than most last-place teams; the A’s are one of two last-place teams with a winning Pythagorean record (the other, funnily enough, are the O’s). So the talent definitely seems to be there (although losing Jarrod Parker to injury again hurts, seeing as he would have helped a rather thin rotation). (Edit: Also, they'll be getting Ben Zobrist back, which should be a shot in the arm.)

Cleveland Indians
They’re a little worse off than the Athletics, thanks to an 11-20 record and a 9.0 game deficit, but I also anticipated them being stronger in the pre-season than the Athletics. Yan Gomes’s injury hurts, but Jason Kipnis is bouncing back, and Michael Brantley, Ryan Rayburn, and Carlos Santana are staying strong. Their starting pitching seems to be doing okay (Fangraphs puts them tenth in WAR), so if the lineup and rotation aren’t the big issues, what’s wrong? Well, their bullpen (21st) and fielding (25th) are bad. Are those going to keep up? Maybe, but I’d imagine they’re easier to fix (whether through concentrated effort or just a change in luck, since they’re both rather tempermental) than the first two things. Still, that’s a big early hole. It can be done, though.

Baltimore Orioles
Boston Red Sox
These two are easily the most likely. Despite being tied for last, they’re both doing rather respectably (15-18 for Boston, 14-17 for Baltimore), and are fewer games back from first (5.5) than some second-place teams are (the Cubs and the Giants, specifically). Starting from that close is already a pretty sizable advantage when handicapping these things.
If you want to bet on a single worst-to-first story, one of these two is your best choice. But which one? Well, while they are “tied”, Baltimore seems much better positioned to strike than Boston. They haven’t been outscored nearly as badly (a 16-15 Pythag, to Boston’s 13-20). Plus, there’s help coming off the DL: the Orioles finally got back J.J. Hardy, will see the return of Matt Wieters soon, will hopefully move young starter Kevin Gausman to the rotation upon his return, and will get Jonathan Schoop back eventually. Add in that Manny Machado, Chris Davis, and Ubaldo Jimenez seem to be having bouncebacks from weaker 2014 while the Red Sox struggle to find one above-average starter and that seems to make the difference. The Red Sox may also turn it around; even with their pitching weakness, they still have a lineup that can club any opposing team into submission. They just seem a little less well-rounded.

So there you have it. Maybe it’s partly my Orioles fandom clouding my judgment, but even trying to set that aside, no other last place team looks as ready for a turnaround.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Predictions for the 2015 Season

The 2015 season is fast approaching, which means it’s time for predictions! I’ve put a lot of time into these in the past, to decent-not-great results. So, in an effort to improve that track record, I’ll try to be less meticulous and just predict every division in one article. That doesn’t seem to make sense, but a lot of things in baseball don’t make sense either, so I’ll probably be fine. Onwards:

Monday, January 5, 2015

Predicting Today's Hall of Fame Starters, 2015 Edition

Last week, I kicked off the new year by looking way, way ahead, specifically at which active position players today might be making the Hall of Fame one day. As you probably could have guessed, today, I’m looking at the other half of the equation, the pitchers.

Again, my methods are as follows: first, I look at the median career Wins Above Replacement for Hall of Famers at each position. Then, I look at how many non-Hall of Famers (excluding active or not-yet-eligible ones) were at that mark at each age, excluding players on the ballot. Then, I take a simple percentage: number of Hall of Famers above the age-median WAR out of total players at that same mark. For pitchers specifically, I only looked at players who began their careers after 1920, due to how different the role was in the Deadball Era. Also, I made sure to only look at starters, as relievers are entirely different.

Also, the normal caveats: first, this doesn’t account for the possibility of people who missed the Hall one day making it via the Veterans Committee. Also, this doesn’t account for people who were Hall worthy but didn’t make it; this is just measuring people making the Hall of Fame, not having Hall-worthy careers. Also, keep in mind that not making these cutoffs doesn’t necessarily mean that a player won’t make the Hall (in fact, two of the three pitchers who look likely to make it to Cooperstown this year didn’t hit these marks).

Anyway, here are the median career WAR totals, the percentage of players that have made the Hall at that level, and the amount of WAR someone would need each season to stay on pace. Also, although I’ll only be covering players up through age 35, I included a little more because the numbers are interesting:

Friday, January 2, 2015

Predicting Today's Future Hall of Fame Hitters, 2015 Edition

In what’s becoming an annual offseason tradition, I decided to again look at which young and active players where on pace for the Hall of Fame. As in years past, I’ll start with hitters today and move onto pitchers in the next few days.

Just as a refresher on my methods: First, I look at how Hall of Famers were playing at each age and sort them by career Wins Above Replacement through that season. I look at the median, then see how many players were above the median at that age but didn’t make the Hall. Then, I simply see what percentage of players above that mark made the Hall.

Below is the chart with the results, including how much WAR a player would need to total at each level to stay on pace:


With that out of the way, let’s look at who made each mark this year.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My 2015 Hall of Fame Ballot

Once again, it’s time for me to cast my vote in the Baseball Bloggers Alliance’s Hall of Fame election. This year, they switched to a binary “Yes/No” choice for each player, rather than keeping the BBWAA’s system of a ten-person limit. That saved me the trouble of trying to decide whether to leave off the top choices to make room for the down-ballot players. So, briefly, here are my thoughts on each player.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Why Steroid Rumors Against Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza Are TotallyBaseless (Beyond the Obvious...)

This is more of a short collection of my thoughts as we lead up to the Hall of Fame announcements, to refer to this year and in future Hall elections. Unfortunately, It will probably take future elections. Baseball Think Factory’s Ballot Collecting Gizmo has Mike Piazza at 79.3% and Jeff Bagwell at 73.9% as we speak, and generally speaking, every player sees their percentage drop due to writers who don’t reveal their ballot. So while Piazza barely clears the 75% cutoff, he probably won’t make it this year, especially with four candidates ahead of him (last year, he went from 67.9% all the way down to 62.2%, and a drop off that size this year would leave him just over 73%). Bagwell, being further back, will almost certainly need to wait until next year.

This is not due to a lack of worthiness on their part; the fault lies totally on the electorate. Both are easily among the top ten at their positions all-time, and arguably among the top five. Bagwell hit 449 home runs, stole 202 bases and fell just shy of posting a .300/.400/.500 career batting line (he hit .297/.408/.540). His career weighted Runs Created+ (like OPS+, but properly weights OBP and slugging) is 149, and is fifth among first basemen with over 8000 plate appearances, and he was by most measures a good fielder. Piazza was the best hitting catcher ever. The only qualified catcher with a higher wRC+ is Buster Posey at 141, and he still hasn’t entered his decline phase; he’s played in a third as many games as Piazza.

The five reasons for not voting for them, as I can tell, are as follows:

1) Not understanding how to evaluate baseball players
2) Not understanding what the Hall’s standards are
3) Running out of space on the ballot (rather justified, especially given this year)
4) Imposing an artificial limit on your ballot beyond the existing ten-man limit (which is not at all justified, especially given this year); or
5) Penalizing them for imagined PED use

The latter is the most irritating. The perception is that, as sluggers, Piazza and Bagwell are more likely to have been taking steroids. They’ve never been linked to them in any official capacity, though. And on top of that, good luck finding any consistency in characteristics among players busted for taking steroids. Even among the batters, there’s no common link, with almost as many slap hitters as sluggers.

But both have additional “strikes” against them, in the mind of voters; both are seen to have “become” power hitters.  Even if we ignore the wide range of results we’ve seen in players taking steroids, in both cases, there are plenty of other factors in play.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Brian Giles: The 2015 Hall Ballot's Forgotten Candidate

We are fast approaching 2015, and with it, the announcement of who will be added to the Hall of Fame. January 6th is the big day, and already we’re starting to get an idea on who might be in and who might not. I’ll be posting my ballot in a few days, but there’s one specific player that I want to focus on for the time being. Someone who probably won’t get a second thought from most voters, let alone a vote: Brian Giles.

I suppose you could say that part of my reason for wanting to write about Giles is personal. I lived in Pittsburgh for a while when I was younger. It wasn’t enough to make me a Pirates fan (really, given the awfulness of those early-2000s Pirates teams, it’s a minor miracle I didn’t develop a burning hatred for the entire sport), but it gave me a soft spot for the team and the stars from that era. I’ve written about Jason Kendall and Jack Wilson already (here and here, respectively), but Brian hung up his cleats a little earlier than either of them. So I’ll take this temporary return to relevance as an excuse to reflect on all that he did, since most people probably won’t be.

To start with, a personal story. At least, this isn’t really relevant to the rest of the article, so I’ll just say it here. Back when I played Little League, I used to look forward each year to seeing what jersey number I would get and who had that number in the Majors. I remember the year that I got 24 specifically because it was Brian Giles’s number. I don’t remember if I ever got 8 for Cal Ripken, or 17 or 27 for Scott Rolen, or any of my other favorite players from back then, but 24 sticks out in my mind.

As a young child in Pittsburgh, I remember thinking the Pirates would be good soon. Even after the chances of me actually being a fan of the Pirates were basically zero, you still sort of overestimate the hometown team. So when 2003 came around, I figured that the Pirates would be competing that year. After all, they had Kendall and Giles and Wilson and Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton and Reggie Sanders and Matt Stairs and Kip Wells and Kris Benson and Jeff Suppan and Josh Fogg and Randall Simon

No really, I actually remember being excited about Randall Simon and Josh Fogg. It’s easy for a small child to get caught up in the newness of acquisitions and the blind optimism of local fans and so on. That team would disappoint, going 75 and 87 for their eleventh straight losing season (officially halfway done with the streak, though!), with Giles and several of the other players being shipped out midseason.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Who Will Be the Last Active Player from the 1990s?

The offseason is the team for indulging in strange, off-the-wall investigations. And so, I will take this opportunity to explore a question that occurred to me during the regular season: who will be the last active player who debuted in the 1990s?

I really wish I remember what inspired this question, but the context is lost to the sands of time, as all the remains is a note on my “To Do” list that says “WHO WILL BE THE LAST PLAYER FROM THE ‘90s?” Apparently, I was really excited about it when it occurred to me, and that’s all that really matters.

With that, I headed to Baseball-Reference’s Play Index to find out who all was left from the ‘90s. The details of my search were pretty simple: sort by ascending year of debut, active players with last season 2013 or later. I thought about setting final season to 2014 or later, but I figured there might be a few cases of players who were active in 2014 but couldn’t play due to, say, injury, or steroid suspension.

With those criteria set, I got a list of 30 players who fit the criteria. However, I had to cull the list even more, as some of the results were no longer possibilities. Derek Jeter, Paul Konerko, Bobby Abreu, Eric Chavez, Ryan Dempster, and Alfonso Soriano have all announced their retirements. I suppose comeback tours are all possible, but I don’t know that we should be betting on them happening. That leaves us with 24 names.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Offseason Plan #2: Baltimore Orioles Edition

Earlier this week, Nelson Cruz officially became a Seattle Mariner. And yesterday (well, it was yesterday when I started this…), Nick Markakis became a member of the Atlanta Braves for the next few years. As an Orioles fan, Cruz moving on was expected for more or less all of 2014. And Markakis, while a sentimental favorite as a nine-year veteran of the Orioles, seemed gone as soon as rumors began to surface that he and the Orioles had hit a rough patch in negotiations.

However, that doesn’t change that the team has lost two outfielders (or “outfielder”, in the case of Cruz) in a week (this also isn’t even to mention that the surprisingly effective Delmon Young might also depart, as he’s a free agent). So where does the team go from here? Well, first it helps to look at what they’re losing. (Note: While reliever Andrew Miller, I won’t focus on him as much both because they only had him from the Trade Deadline on and because it’s easier to limit the scope of this article to what the Orioles can do for their offense.)

Let’s start with Cruz. In 159 games, the slugger put up 40 home runs to lead the league. However, that doesn’t tell the full story; his weighted Runs Created+ was only 137, indicating he was only 37% better than league average. That’ll happen when you have a .333 OBP. Granted, that’s still respectable (tied for 17th in the majors last season), but it’s not like leading the league in homers. And to be fair, at 34, it’s unlikely that Cruz himself will duplicate that performance in 2015. Add in that he was primarily a DH, and that when he did field, he did so poorly, and you have yourself a player who was worth just shy of 4 Wins Above Replacement in 2014 (3.9, Fangraphs).

By WAR, Markakis is an even easier replacement. The right fielder was worth 2.5 Wins on the strength of a 106 wRC+ and better fielding metrics than he’s posted in years. Like, a full win better than anything he’s done in five seasons (although still not deserving of the Gold Glove award he received), in fact, which makes me expect regression in that department in 2015. Add in that he’s apparently facing neck surgery (albeit offseason surgery), and I’m even more glad that the Orioles didn’t get into a bidding war with Atlanta.

But still, those are two players the Orioles will have to replace. What are their options?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Crazy Offseason Plan #1: Chicago Cubs Edition

This is just a short thing while I’m in between larger projects, but I felt it was worth sharing. We’re finally in the offseason, and it’s time for backseat GM-ing. This is the result of a pair of stories, so let me introduce each of them first before explaining where they tie in.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Best Active Players Without a World Series 2014: The Quiz

I've been busy lately, but I had time to post the follow-up to my piece from a bit ago, the Sporcle quiz of the Best Active Players Without a World Series. Now that the Giants are the 2014 Champions, I could remove Tim Hudson from the list. That leaves 63 more for you all to guess. Have fun!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

First Round of Awards Voting, 2014

I've been busy lately, and I will eventually post my reasoning behind my voting. However, I need to post some of my ballots now so that they'll count in the Baseball Bloggers Alliance awards. So here are four of the ten awards:

AL Manager of the Year
1. Buck Showalter, Orioles
2. Mike Scioscia, Angels
3. Joe Girardi, Yankees

NL Manager of the Year
1. Mike Matheny, Cardinals
2. Clint Hurdle, Pirates
3. Bruce Bochy, Giants

AL Rookie of the Year
1. Jose Abreu, 1B, White Sox
2. Marcus Stroman, SP, Blue Jays
3. Kevin Kiermaier, OF, Rays

NL Rookie of the Year
1. Jacob deGrom, SP, Mets
2. Billy Hamilton, OF, Reds
3. Ender Inciarte, OF, Diamondbacks

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Best Players Without a World Series, 2014 Edition

As I wrote a few weeks ago, this offseason looks like it might be one of the best drought-busters in recent memory. That got me thinking, though, specifically about an article I wrote last year (and the accompanying Sporcle quiz). Who are the best active players without a World Series win? Does the quantity of new teams in the mix for the World Series mean that a similar number of titleless players will be appearing in the Fall Classic this year?

I’ll probably make another quiz later this year, once the World Series itself is over and we know who all we can cross off the list. For now, though, let’s just look at these unfortunate souls and see who has the best chance of having their misery alleviated.

First, I used a pretty straight-forward methodology. I just went down Baseball-Reference’s list of most Wins Above Replacement among active players and manually took out anyone who had played on a champion. Right now, 64 of the top 100 players are without a title to their name. (WAR totals as of 9/24).

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Most Underrated Players of (Offset) Decades, Part Two

This is part two of the most underrated players by offset (as in, starting in years than end in a 5) decades. It took me a while to come back to it, but I finally did. For part one, see here.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Directionless Rockies Continue to Baffle Me

I don’t understand the Colorado Rockies. At all.

News came out yesterday that the team had resigned pitcher Jorge De La Rosa to a two-year deal. And it made me remember something I had thought of many times before: I’m pretty sure the Rockies don’t really have a strategy.

Sure, they have a solid core. Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez are great…when they aren’t injured. Nolan Arenado has prospect pedigree and has shown talent at the major league level (hopefully he avoids the problems with injuries the other two have had). After that, though, they are surprisingly shallow in talent. Sure, Charlie Blackmon, Drew Stubbs, and Corey Dickerson are okay, but that’s pretty much every other decent part they have left.

And you know what’s the sad thing? It didn’t have to be this way.

You know when the last time the Rockies had a winning season was? 2010. It wasn’t even that successful a season, either, with only 83 wins. And yet, here are the things they have done since then to improve:

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A Different Way to Look at Parity: Analyzing World Series Droughts

I was looking at the playoff picture for this year and was struck by something interesting: this might be the freshest playoff picture we’ve had in years.

I’m not really sure what made me think of that. I think I was just reflecting on how odd it was that the Yankees and Red Sox and Phillies and Braves and Tigers and Cardinals were all of out of or falling out of contention a few weeks ago. Since then, the Cardinals have come roaring back into first place, but I still thought it might be worth looking at somewhat analytically.

It was a pretty simple process. I simply looked at the teams currently in place for a playoff spot, then looked at what year they last won the World Series. Next, I repeated this for each year of the wild card era. I realize that this method isn’t perfect, but it’s a quick and easy way to look at it, and since the number of teams who win the World Series each year has remained more constant than the number of teams in the playoffs to begin with, this method seemed more stable from year-to-year.

So, for example, this year’s playoff picture looks as such:

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Most Underrated Players of (Offset) Decades, Part One

Last week, Graham Womack of Baseball Past and Present did a run down of the most underrated players per decade (the rest of the pieces are linked to at the bottom of that one). It was fun, and I wanted to do something quick and related. So, I decided to look at the same topic, but shifted half a decade. Basically, the only difference is that I look at decades that start with a 5 year and end with a 4 year (for example, 2005-2014). With those parameters, who are the most underrated players?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

A Look at Joe Mauer's Hall of Fame Case, and the Sorry History ofCatchers in the Hall

I was at the Houston Astros game yesterday, which means that I got to see Joe Mauer single in the first inning. This brought him to 1499 career hits, which he followed up during today’s day game with hit number 1500 in the first inning. It’s a big mark for one of the game’s longtime greats, and as I am wont to do, it made me think about his place among the all-time greats.

There are a lot of ways to go about looking at it, so let’s start with the most basic. Right now, Mauer stands at 1501 hits, thanks to his single and home run today. If he made it to 3000 hits, even the most brain dead of Hall voters would surely vote for him. Well, maybe not “surely”, but it would at least check off the arbitrary milestone box that so many voters seem to fall back on to avoid critical thought.

Let’s take a rough estimate of his chances of 3000 hits, then, since 500 home runs probably isn’t happening. Bill James’s career projection tool is good enough to use for our purposes. It requires full seasons, though, so let’s try and estimate where he’ll be at the end of the year first. Right now, Mauer sits at 87 hits in 79 games, with 43 games remaining. Let’s assume he continues at his current pace of 1.1 hits per game and plays in 35 of the final 43 games. That would give him about 38.5 hits left this season, which we’ll round to 39. That means he’d finish the season with 126 hits, for a career total of 1540.

It’s easy to forget with all of his injury troubles, but Mauer is only 31. With our inputs, the projector spits out a career total of 2310 hits for Mauer, with a 3% chance to reach 3000 hits. 2310 hits might seem like a disappointment, but that would rank fourth all time among players with at least half of their games at catcher. The only other catchers with even 2200? Ivan Rodriguez, Ted Simmons, and Carlton Fisk.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Predicting Hall of Fame Pitchers, Part II; or, Breaking Down the Likely Candidates by Age Group

Now that I’ve gotten ranting about the stupidity of the Hall electorate out of my system from the other day, now it’s time for the actual predictions. What players active today are on a Hall of Fame pace? In case you don’t feel like looking back at the piece from the other day, here’s the data:

Median WAR
# HOF at median WAR
# Non HOF at median
# non HOF still on ballot
% in HOF

Since I conducted this study back before the season started, I’ll be primarily using Baseball-Reference WAR numbers from before the season started, although I won’t rule out referencing present-day stats. Now then, on to the players: