SweetSpot: Statistical studies

What's the future for Bogaerts, Bradley?

September, 8, 2014
Sep 8
After putting their 2012 struggles behind them in 2013 with a World Series title, the Boston Red Sox find themselves in an all-too-familiar territory: On pace for a 90-loss season. Since 1962, the first year that both the American and National Leagues expanded to the current 162-game regular season schedule, there have been two teams -- the 1976-78 White Sox and the 1997-99 Cubs -- that wrapped a pair of 90-loss seasons around a 90-win campaign. Boston is set to become the third.

But unlike two years ago when the pitching fell apart, it's the club's offense that has become a black hole: The Red Sox have scored the fewest runs in the American League, hitting a collective .243/.316/.368 en route to posting a paltry .301 wOBA. For comparison's sake, last season the Sox hit .277/.349/.446 with an MLB-leading .347 wOBA.

While a lot of the club's offensive futility rests on the shoulders of disappointing veterans and stopgaps, a pair of highly anticipated rookies have struggled mightily during their first extended action in the big leagues. Twenty-one-year-old shortstop Xander Bogaerts is hitting .232/.297/.349 and 24-year-old center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. has hit .214/.288/.285.

With both players still locked into extended struggles -- Bogaerts is hitting .181 since June 1 and Bradley is back after getting demoted to Pawtucket -- it's time to start thinking about their respective futures. In other words, is there any precedence that suggests that Bogaerts and/or Bradley can turn into valuable big league bats?

Using Baseball Reference's Play Index, since the beginning of the Live Ball Era (1920) there have been just 12 players (not including Bogaerts) who entered their age-21 season with their rookie eligibility intact and posted an OPS+ between 65 and 85 while receiving at least 450 plate appearances (Bogaerts is at 81).

Of those 12, two finished their respective careers as above-average hitters (one of which ended in the Hall of Fame), three were roughly league average offensive performers, and the remaining seven were well below-average. The chart below illustrates the three groups, as well as OPS+ totals through their 20s as well as their final career mark.

Bogaerts TableESPN

It bodes well for Bogaerts that nearly half of the group went onto become established offensive contributors, but it shouldn’t be too surprising either given that younger debuting players are often considered better prospects. There are, however, a few patterns to note:

1. Minor league power appears to be incredibly important among the 12. Five players posted Isolated Power totals above .120 prior to their big league debuts; four of those five -- Chet Lemon, Marty McManus, Jose Guillen and Wil Cordero -- went on to become solid or better bats. And the fifth player, Zoilo Versalles, won the AL MVP in 1965. Bogaerts, for the record, owns the highest minor league ISO mark among the entire group, at .193, nearly 30 points higher than Lemon (.163).

2. Four players -- McManus, Guillen, Cordero, and Versalles -- posted an ISO north of .100 during their age-21 seasons; Bogaerts owns a .117 mark.

3. Of the five successful big league bats, four took tremendous leaps in production during their age-22 season, seeing a jump of at least 17 points in OPS+. In contrast, only one player -- Chris Speier -- took a similar development step forward during his second season among the below-average group. So Bogaerts' work next year looks like a vital step for his future success.

History has shown that not all struggling 21-year-old rookie bats are doomed. But, unfortunately, the precedent isn't quite as strong for Bradley.

Again, using Baseball Reference's Play Index, there were 51 players since the start of the Live Ball Era that were rookie-eligible 24-year-olds who posted an OPS+ between 55 and 75 and received at least 350 plate appearances (Bradley is at 62).

Of the 51, just three players -- Hall of Famer Luke Appling, Bill Robinson and Brady Anderson -- posted a career OPS+ above 100 (league average); four others -- Rich Aurilia, Whitey Herzog, Kevin Young and Mickey Witek -- own career marks above 90. Otherwise, the remaining 44 players were well below-average performers.

Appling, Anderson and Robinson all took tremendous jumps during their age-25 season, but so did nine other players, none of whom panned out during their careers. None of the seven solid performers slugged over .343 during their rookie seasons or ran a whole lot or even showed solid patience at the plate. Each did, however, perform well enough coming up through the minor leagues, but so did Chris Snyder, A.J. Hinch and Brian Anderson, a trio that belongs to the below-average group.

So, what exactly does history say about the futures of Bogaerts and Bradley? The odds definitely tilt towards Bogaerts, no surprise given his age and above-average power in the minors. He's continued to hit for decent pop in the majors with 26 doubles and nine home runs.

As for Bradley, the probability that he develops into even a manageable big league bat certainly seems like a long shot; just 14 percent of players to struggle in a similar manner during their age-24 season have gone on to become successful bats.

Joseph Werner contributes to the It's Pronounced "Lajaway" blog on the Indians and also writes at ProspectDigest.com.
So, these are the National League leaders in batting average entering Thursday:

1. Justin Morneau, Rockies -- .317
2. Ben Revere, Phillies -- .310
3. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates -- .307
4. Josh Harrison, Pirates -- .304
5. Aramis Ramirez, Brewers -- .304

Five other players -- Matt Adams, Daniel Murphy, Yasiel Puig, Paul Goldschmidt and Denard Span are also at .300 or above, although Goldschmidt will eventually fall off the qualifying leaderboards due to his season-ending injury (as Troy Tulowitzki already has).

Let's be honest here: This isn't exactly Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker dueling it out.

Morneau is a nice story, signing with the Rockies and having a nice season after struggling for years to perform at his usual All-Star level after suffering a concussion in 2010. Of course, hitting .317 or winning a batting title playing for the Rockies is hardly a unique achievement and Morneau hasn't hit .300 in a full season since 2008. Michael Cuddyer, another ex-Twin, won the NL batting title last season for the Rockies at age 34 -- after having never hit .300 before. Six different Rockies have won a total of eight batting titles. To be fair, Morneau isn't just riding Coors Field -- he's hitting .325 on the road and .310 at home.

In Revere's case, it's not so much that it's surprising that he's hitting .300 -- he hit .305 last year and .294 the year before -- it's that he's the perfect example of why batting average is overrated in the first place. He has no power (just one home run and 17 extra-base hits in 480 at-bats) and has just 11 walks. So while's second in the NL in average, he's just 41st in on-base percentage and 63rd in slugging percentage. Players like Revere are kind of what led to the whole creation of sabermetrics in the first place: There's more to creating runs than just getting singles.

Now, players of Revere's ilk have won batting titles before. Ichiro Suzuki won two titles, although compared to Revere he looks like Babe Ruth, and he hit .350 and .372 the years he won. Tony Gwynn had some years where he didn't hit for much power; in 1988, he won a title with a .313 average and just 34 extra-base hits (that's the lowest average to win a title since the mound was lowered in 1969). He also won the next year, hitting .336 with four home runs. Rod Carew won the AL batting title in 1972, hitting .318 with no home runs and just 27 extra-base hits. Matty Alou won the NL batting title in 1966 (.342) while hitting two home runs.

Still, Revere would easily be the "worst" batter to win a batting title. Here are the players with the lowest OPS (on-base plus slugging) to win a batting title:

Ben Revere, 2014: .696
Rod Carew, 1972: .749
Zach Wheat, 1918: .755
Dick Groat, 1960: .766
Tony Gwynn, 1988: .787
Matty Alou, 1966: .793
Pete Runnels, 1960: .795
Willie Wilson, 1982: .796

Those numbers don't adjust for the offensive environment of the season. OPS+ adjusts for that as well as home park. The worst five in this category, via Baseball-Reference.com:

Groat, 1960: 110
Runnels, 1960: 114
Billy Goodman, 1950: 117
Wilson, 1982: 118
Freddy Sanchez, 2006: 119

Revere's OPS+ is 96 -- below league average.

Under this method, Groat qualifies as the worst hitter to win a batting title. He hit .325/.371/.394 that year with two home runs and 32 extra-base hits. The average wasn't a complete fluke as he hit .300 three other times in his career. To show how times have changed, however, Groat also won the NL MVP Award as the Pirates won the pennant. Yes, he played shortstop and was regarded as the team leader (and wasn't a terrible choice with a 6.2 WAR that ranked seventh among NL position players), but the batting title most certainly helped.

Groat winning wasn't as strange as Goodman riding his .354 mark for the Red Sox to second place in the 1950 MVP vote. He was kind of the Josh Harrison of his day, playing all over for Boston, although he played in just 110 games and barely qualified for the title. Phil Rizzuto won the MVP but Goodman (four home runs, 68 RBIs) finished ahead of Yogi Berra, who only hit .322 with 28 home runs and 124 RBIs for the pennant-winning Yankees.

Anyway, if you like to follow the batting races, this year's NL race could certainly end up being one to forget. Although on the bright side it gives Phillies fans something to cheer for (although didn't they want to run Revere out of town last summer?).
From Tuesday's chat session:
Steve (Plantation, FL)

I was talking to my brother about outfielders, and I said "I want my left fielder to have a .350 OBP, 30 doubles, 20 homers, play solid D, and be a good baserunner." Then I asked, "How many players actually do this ?" I then concluded that there just aren't very many well-rounded players anymore. Andy Van Slyke, where are you now?

Interesting question. I did a quick search for 2013 and only five outfielders met Steve's criteria of a .350 OBP, 30 doubles and 20 home runs -- Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Michael Cuddyer, Matt Holliday and Shin-Soo Choo. Cuddyer probably falls short on the defensive side of things, knocking our list down to four, and that's giving Holliday the benefit of the doubt on the bases and Choo on defense (where he played out of position in center field).

I guess the issue: Is that a low number? And how rare is a player like Van Slyke, who does everything well? Steve's criteria don't seem too extreme, but his mention of Van Slyke maybe tells us how hard it is to excel in all phases of the game -- Van Slyke actually met Steve's standards just once, in 1987. Van Slyke's peak years came from 1988 to 1992, a depressed offensive era similar to the current one (minus all the strikeouts). In 1988, he just missed with a .345 OBP and 23 doubles. He had a bad year in 1989. In 1990 and '91, he hit 17 home runs each year. In 1992, he hit .324/.381/.505 with 45 doubles but missed Steve's criteria with just 14 home runs. (It was a great season, however, as he finished sixth among NL position players in WAR and fourth in the MVP voting.)

So Van Slyke was a terrific all-around player, but did hit 20 home runs just twice.

I did another search on Baseball-Reference.com for all outfielders since 1961 who reached: 20 home runs, a.350 OBP and at least average ratings on defense and baserunning metrics. I left out the doubles since I could only search four categories, but the 20 home runs serves as a proxy for power.

Under this criteria, we had five outfielders qualify in 2013 -- although not the same group, as Trout rated below average on defense. Those five were McCutchen, Jose Bautista, Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth and Carlos Gonzalez.

Here are the seasons with thee most outfielders who met those four standards:

9 -- 1962, 1999, 2001, 2007
8 -- 1961, 2006
7 -- 1996, 1998, 2000, 2009
6 -- 1963, 1964, 1987
5 -- 1982, 1985, 2003, 2004, 2011, 2013

Obviously, it makes sense that we see more of these seasons from the late '90s and 2000s, when offense spiked, making it "easier" to reach both the power and OBP numbers.

How many outfielders are on pace this year? A player with 14 home runs so far would be about on a 20-homer pace. Matching the other standards, we'd get three players -- Brett Gardner, Giancarlo Stanton and Carlos Gomez. Trout and McCutchen would both fall short due to below-average defensive ratings.

By the way, if we took fielding out of it and replaced that with Steve's 30 doubles, our top season would be 2001, with 13 outfielders. All the seasons with seven or more such outfielders occurred between 1996 and 2011.

(Ultimately, there would be a more precise way to measure "all-around" ability than raw numbers that don't adjust for era. And, no, we wouldn't just look at WAR. That's not really what Steve is asking. You can have a high WAR even if you're not a great fielder or baserunner -- see Manny Ramirez and others. Steve is simply asking about players who are good in all phases of the game.)

To the original question: Are we lacking all-around outfielders? I don't think so. Sure, we don't see the huge offensive numbers of a decade ago, but we have players like Trout, McCutchen, Stanton, Gomez, Gardner, Bautista, Yasiel Puig, Alex Gordon, Hunter Pence, Justin Upton, Adam Jones, Jacoby Ellsbury and others. Maybe they're not all quite as perfectly well-rounded as peak Andy Van Slyke or have one flaw (like Jones' OBP), but those are all good, exciting players. The game is in good hands.

Replay update: Midseason totals

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
The All-Star break seems like a good time to send out some fun stats on the new expanded replay system. All numbers are based on ESPN Sports & Information tracking, verified against MLB's play-by-play and a couple other sites that are tracking the same thing.

Based on the number of games played to this point, we are on pace to finish the season with 1,243 replays.

Total Overturned Confirmed Stands
Total replays 728 347 (48%) 183 (25%) 198 (27%)
Manager challenges 605 316 (52%) 114 (19%) 175 (29%)
Initiated by umpires 123 31 (25%) 69 (56%) 23 (19%)

"Confirmed" = video shows the call was correct.
"Stands" = video was inconclusive and the original call stands. Also note that MLB does not count the "record keeping" reviews (where they verify the count) as having any outcome; we are confirming or overturning based on whether they actually change the count from what was signaled.

Other notes:
  • Most challenges: 32 by Rays (won 11) and Blue Jays (won 9).
  • Fewest challenges: 12 by Reds (won 3).
  • Most successful challenges: 17 by Giants (of 27) and Royals (of 25).

Types of reviews:
  • Force plays: 318 (260 at first base, 48 at second, six at third, four at home plate).
  • Tag plays: 234 (27 at first base, 127 at second, 38 at third, 42 at home).
  • Home run: 55.
  • Home-plate collision: 39.
  • Hit by pitch: 23.
  • Catch versus trap: 18.
  • Fair/foul in outfield: 16
  • Other: 25.

  • Umpire with most calls reviewed: Bob Davidson, 17 (6 overturned).
  • Umpire with most calls overturned: Seth Buckminster, 11 (of 15 reviews).
  • Most reviews with none confirmed: CB Bucknor, 11 (7 overturned, 4 inconclusive).
  • Most reviews with none overturned: Chris Guccione, 6 (4 confirmed, 2 inconclusive).

You probably saw that Yoenis Cespedes did it again on Wednesday, misplaying a ball but recovering to show off his cannon and throw out Albert Pujols. That's nine assists on the season for Cespedes (four against the Angels), with eight coming in just the past 16 games, the first outfielder with that many assists in a 16-game span since Bernard Gilkey in 1997.

One thing you sometimes here is that outfielders with great arms don't rack up a lot of assists because runners never test them out. That simply isn't true. Look at some of the outfielders with a reputation for having a great arm:
  • Roberto Clemente led his league five times in outfield assists and ranked second four times.
  • Al Kaline led the AL three times and was second twice.
  • Dave Parker finished first, second or third in the NL each year between 1975 and 1980 (including 26 in 1977).
  • I mentioned Ellis Valentine in yesterday's post on great throws. He tied for the major league lead with 24 assists in 1978.
  • Jesse Barfield led the AL five times (three times reaching 20 or more assists) and was second twice.
  • Ichiro Suzuki twice led the league and three other times finished in the top three.
  • Royals left fielder Alex Gordon is known for his strong arm and he's ranked first, second and first in the majors the past three seasons.
  • Gordon's ex-teammate Jeff Francoeur has a cannon, and when he hit well enough to remain in the lineup he racked up 19 assists in 2007 (first in the majors), 16 in 2011 (second) and 19 in 2012 (first).

You get the idea. Here are the year-by-year top 10 leaders in outfield assists. Sometimes there are exceptions. Alfonso Soriano was never known for his great arm but he led the majors with 22 assists in 2006 and 19 in 2007. Maybe his arm was was better than it was given credit for or maybe he just had two great seasons in left field. (According to play-by-play data on Baseball-Reference.com, 23 of his assists over those two years falls into the "other" category of assists from those listed, which mostly means batters trying to stretch a base hit into a double.)

There are also some outfielders who can get high assist totals because they're good at charging balls. Barry Bonds fits this description as he didn't have a strong arm but led the NL in assists in 1990 and ranked in the top four five other times between 1987 and 1995. Tim Raines had a weak arm but had a 21-assist season. This is part of what made Ichiro such a good right fielder; I've always thought his actual arm strength was overrated a bit but he was so good at coming in on the ball he was effective at holding runners.

Still, assists aren't everything. Preventing a runner from advancing doesn't show up in the assist column but has value. Thanks to play-by-play data that goes back to the 1954, we can track this information and compare an outfielder's ability in preventing runner advancement to other outfielders. Baseball-Reference lists a category called Rof, which is Total Zone Outfield Arms Above Average -- the number of runs above or below average an outfielder saved based on baserunner kills and runner advancement. For example, go here for 2013 and go to the second table and click on the Rof column to sort by the leaders.

I went and looked at each season since 1954. A lot of the same names show up among the leaders year after year. I also noted all seasons where an outfielder saved at least seven runs above average or led the majors (if it was below seven). Using that definition, these players showed up most often:

Jesse Barfield: Six times
Dwight Evans: Five times
Roberto Clemente,, Andruw Jones, Raul Mondesi, Larry Walker: Four times
Bobby Abreu, Johnny Callison, Rocky Colavito, Jim Edmonds, Jeff Francoeur, Cesar Geronimo, Alex Gordon, Ken Griffey Jr.: Three times.

That's a pretty decent proxy list for "Best arms of the past 60 years."

One more thing we can do. We can look at the percentages of times a baserunner was "held." For right fielders, Baseball-Reference looks at five situations (single with runner on first, single with runner on second, double with runner on first, flyout with runner on third and flyout with runner on second) and then calculates the percentage of times the baserunner didn't advance, or hold percentage.

Here are how some right fielders fared in that area in their careers (numbers only while playing right):

Raul Mondesi: 52.7 percent
Alex Rios: 51.2 percent
Ichiro Suzuki: 50.8 percent
Jeff Francoeur: 50.7 percent
Bobby Abreu: 50.2 percent
Ellis Valentine: 49.4 percent
Larry Walker: 49.2 percent
Jesse Barfield: 49.0 percent
Vladimir Guerrero: 48.8 percent
Al Kaline: 48.3 percent
Roberto Clemente: 48.1 percent
Dwight Evans: 46.7 percent
Dave Winfield: 46.2 percent
Dave Parker: 44.7 percent (he was above 50 percent early in his career and then got fat and slow)

Anyway, that's not meant to be comprehensive, just some names I looked up. The MLB average has changed a little over time. For example, during Abreu's career, the average MLB hold percentage was 46 percent. For Barfield, it was 42.5 percent. During Clemente's career the hold percentage was 40.9 percent. So the hold percentage has increased through the years, which could be the result of various factors: Better arms, more athletic right fielders who can charge the ball, smaller ballparks compared to the multi-purpose Astroturf stadium of the '70s and '80s, slower or more cautious baserunners and so on.

Two more notes. The best season an outfielder had with his arm, at least according to Rof, is tie between Barfield in 1989 and Richard Hidalgo of the Astros in 2003, both 14 runs better than average. Barfield split that season between the Blue Jays and Yankees and racked up 20 assists with a hold percentage of 53 percent in right field (he also played a bit of center that year). Barfield didn't win the Gold Glove that year (he won just two) as the AL Gold Gloves went to Devon White, Kirby Puckett and Gary Pettis, three pretty good center fielders. Hidalgo, playing right field, had 22 assists and a hold rate of 56 percent.

Finally, maybe the most obscure name I came across was an outfielder for the expansion 1977 Blue Jays named Steve Bowling. Other than 14 games with the Brewers in 1976, that was his only season in the majors. He played 87 games in the outfield that year, but started just 58 of them and yet piled up 14 assists, second-most in the AL. Did he have a cannon for an arm? Who knows, but maybe the best arm of the past 60 years belongs to him and not Clemente or Barfield.
Baseball's First-Year Player Draft begins Thursday and the first round is going to be heavy in pitching -- including heavy in high school pitching. Left-hander Brady Aiken is expected to become just the third high school pitcher selected first overall (after David Clyde in 1973 and Brien Taylor in 1991). High schoolers Tyler Kolek and Touki Toussaint are also projected as top-10 picks and all told Keith Law has six high school pitchers going in the first round of his mock draft.

With Aiken and Kolek expected to go in the top three, I thought it would be interesting to go back and check out the history of high school pitchers in the first round.

The draft began in 1965 and in the early years teams placed an emphasis on high schoolers. In part, this was because college baseball wasn't as advanced as now, but there was also some old-school bias against college players. In the first draft, 15 of the 20 first-round picks were high school players. The next year, 16 of 20 first-rounders were high schoolers. In 1970, 21 of 24 first-round picks were high schoolers and in 1971 all 24 first-rounders were high school players.

That was also the year the 11 high school pitchers were selected in the first round, the most ever. Two of them -- Frank Tanana and Rick Rhoden would go on to lengthy MLB careers -- but none of the five pitchers that went in the top 10 did much (combined career Wins Above Replacement for those five: 2.7). Meanwhile, the Phillies drafted a shortstop from Ohio University named Mike Schmidt in the second round.

Let's break up the draft into five-year chunks to check some data and results on high school pitchers to see how trends have changed over the years.

Total first rounders: 29
Top-10 picks: 16
Top five choices: Jon Matlack (39.7 WAR), Gary Nolan (25.9), Joe Coleman (23.7), J.R. Richard (22.3), Don Gullet (18.5).
Others with 10+ WAR: Ken Brett.

Nolan and Gullett reached the majors as teenagers with the Reds but arm injuries shortened their careers. Coleman actually debuted in September of 1965, the year he was drafted; he'd throw four straight years of 280 innings from ages 24 to 27 and was never the same after that.

Total first rounders: 37
Top-10 picks: 15
Top five choices: Frank Tanana (57.9), Rick Rhoden (35.9), Rick Sutcliffe (34.3), Scott McGregor (20.4), Larry Christenson (10.6).
Others with 10+ WAR: None.

As you can see, not a lot of success in this period. Of the 15 pitchers who went in the top 10, only Christenson reached even 4.0 career WAR. The five high schoolers who went in the top in 1971 is tied for the most ever. Their names: Jay Franklin, Roy Branch, Roy Thomas, Roger Quiroga and David Sloan. Certainly, it was a combination of bad picks, injuries and mismanagement that led to the failure for pitchers to develop in these years, as was the case of Clyde -- taken first overall by the Rangers in 1973 and immediately rushed to the majors.

Franklin was drafted second overall by the Padres and started 14 games for Class A Tri-City of the Northwest League that summer, completing eight of them while striking out 134 in 108 innings. The Padres actually called him up that September and he gave up three home runs -- one to Hank Aaron -- in the one game he started. That would be the only game he started in the majors. The next year he hurt his elbow and then his shoulder and missed the entire season. He pitched five more years in the minors but never made it back. A sign of the times in the pre-Tommy John surgery days.

Later, he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. In 2011, he was living in a group home in Virginia. "I feel like I let a lot of people down because they were expecting so much out of me," Franklin told the Washington Post. "When I hurt my arm and didn’t make it, it was a big disappointment, not only to me, but I’m sure also for my family. ... I just accept the past, that’s all you can do. You can’t get away from it. I can’t get away from it. I have to go on and try to forget about it."

Total first rounders: 30
Top-10 picks: 14
Top five choices: Bruce Hurst (34.8), Mike Morgan (26.6), Bill Gullickson (23.6), Richard Dotson (16.3), Steve Trout (13.5).
Others with 10+ WAR: Scott Garrelts.

Draft philosophies began changing during this period. In 1975, a record-low 188 high school players were signed and in 1977, for the first time, more college players were drafted than high school players. Basically, teams were scrimping on money and signing college players was cheaper. This was also the era when several teams pooled their resources for the Major League Scouting Bureau, allowing them to save money.

Total first rounders: 23
Top-10 picks: 6
Top five choices: Dwight Gooden (53.2), Duane Ward (10.6), Brian Holman (9.3), Ron Robinson (8.2), Pete Smith (5.2).
Others with 10+ WAR: None.

In 1980 and '84, no high school pitchers were selected in the top 10. The college game had gained a lot of ground -- in part, because teams hadn't escalated signing bonuses at all, even for top picks. Rick Monday, the first pick in 1965, received $104,000. Darryl Strawberry, the first pick in 1980, received $152,000. Even in 1987, Ken Griffey Jr. signed for $160,000. Kids not drafted high didn't receive near those bonuses, thus making college an easier decision. Teams had also undoubtedly sensed that drafting high school pitchers was risky and college players were paying a high dividend.

Total first rounders: 18
Top-10 picks: 6
Top five choices: Alex Fernandez (28.9), Steve Avery (14.0), Kent Mercker (12.5), Brian Bohanon (8.9), Tommy Greene (7.1).
Others with 10+ WAR: None.

Fernandez, drafted 24th by the Brewers in 1988, didn't actually sign; the White Sox would draft him again, fourth overall in 1990. Note that three of the five pitchers who made it were drafted by the Braves -- Avery, Mercker and Greene. The highest-drafted high schoolers in this period were Avery, Willie Banks by the Twins and Roger Salked by the Mariners, all taken third overall. Banks never developed while Salked was a top prospect until he hurt his arm.

Total first rounders: 25
Top-10 picks: 7
Top five choices: Chris Carpenter (34.5), Steve Karsay (11.2), Shawn Estes (11.2), Jamey Wright (10.1), Todd Ritchie (6.3).
Others with 10+ WAR: None.

Andrew Marchand of ESPNNewYork has a terrific piece on the oral history of Taylor, the left-hander with the big fastball the Yankees took first overall in 1991. While Taylor hurt his shoulder in a bar fight, you can see there was a low success rate from this period, with only Carpenter having a significant big league career. You do wonder: Was the failure of many of the pitchers from this era one reason offense soared beginning in the mid-'90s, or did the steroids-inflated offense cause some of these guys to fail?

Total first rounders: 35
Top-10 picks: 8
Top five choices: Roy Halladay (64.7), CC Sabathia (55.0), Josh Beckett (35.2), Kerry Wood (27.7), Jon Garland (22.5).
Others with 10+ WAR: Gil Meche, Jake Westbrook, Brett Myers.

Halladay went 17th overall in 1995 and Sabathia 20th overall in 1998. Beckett, taken second overall in 1999, is one of just three high school pitchers taken in the top three since 1990 (James Taillon, second in 2010, and Chris Gruler, third in 2002, are the others).

Total first rounders: 33
Top-10 picks: 14
Top five choices: Zack Greinke (39.1), Cole Hamels (35.7), Matt Cain (32.8), Adam Wainwright (32.5), John Danks (20.9).
Others with 10+ WAR: Scott Kazmir, Chad Billingsley, Gio Gonzalez, Gavin Floyd.

An upswing in top-10 picks returned in this period, although only Greinke of the players listed above was a top-10 guy. While teams were getting much better at developing pitchers and keeping them healthy, five high schoolers went in the top 10 in 2000 and none reached the majors -- Mike Stodolka, Matt Harrington, Matt Wheatland, Mark Phillips and Joe Torres. Meanwhile, Wainwright went 29th that year. Still, we had a higher success rate for this period than any other, and you have to think that managing workloads in the minor leagues was a big reason why (and perhaps, just better scouting).

Total first rounders: 25
Top-10 picks: 6
Top five choices: Clayton Kershaw (34.1), Madison Bumgarner (13.3), Rick Porcello (8.0), Jarrod Parker (6.0), Shelby Miller (4.1).

Zack Wheeler is also in the group. Gerrit Cole was unsigned by the Yankees after going 28th overall in 2008. The highest-drafted high schooler in this period was Matt Hobgood, fifth overall by the Orioles in 2009. Kershaw went seventh in 2006 -- after five college pitchers.

Total first rounders: 24
Top-10 picks: 6

Jose Fernandez and Dylan Bundy are the two high schoolers to have reached the majors -- and both underwent Tommy John surgery, as has Taillon.

Defining rotation slots in terms of WAR

May, 30, 2014
May 30
As we watch prospects begin to develop or see new players acquired via trade or free agency, everyone is always quick to classify a starting pitcher into a spot in the rotation. We hear things like "He projects to be a low-end No. 2 or high-end No. 3 starter" or "He's an ace." But what exactly does that mean? I decided to do a small bit of research to see what the spots in the rotation actually look like.

The Baseball Reference Play Index Tool is an amazingly useful tool whenever you feel the need to dork out and immerse yourself in numbers. It requires a subscription, but it's well worth it. For my study, I used the tool to gather data from 2000-2013 in a quest to find out what exactly an ace pitcher looks like.

To put a qualifier on the data, I filtered to only pull pitchers who qualified for the ERA title, which means they pitched at least 162 innings in the season. This basically gave me a group of pitchers that pitched the entire year. They may have missed a few starts here or there, but for the most part it weeds out guys who either split time between the pen and the rotation as well as guys who either got hurt or were replaced due to inefficiency. To make this list, you really had to be a starter all season long.

If you're like me, you feel a little frustration when your team can't keep five consistent starters in the rotation all season. If you've been reading my View From the Bleachers blog at all over the last 10 years, I make no secret that I hate bullpens with a passion and believe strongly in filling them with guys from your system and spending money on other components of the team. However, how feasible is that request when it comes to the rotation? I was a little surprised by what I found. Looking at the chart to the right, you will see the number of players who pitched at least 162 innings in each season.

Not surprisingly, there aren't enough guys who can give you 162-plus innings to fill out each rotation in baseball. Over the last 14 seasons, the average number of guys who met the requirement per season was 87. That's less than three per team. Stop and think about that for a second. What's even more insane is that we know that the pitchers are not distributed equally, which means there is the potential that a team could have no pitchers who meet the requirements. There simply isn't enough talent or enough healthy pitchers out there.

Now that we have the knowledge that there aren’t enough quality starters to go around, we have to figure out a good way to then classify pitchers. Seeing that we don’t have enough guys to simply take the top 30 and call them aces and downward through 150, I decided to divide the average number of qualifiers by five, the number of spots in a rotation, and group guys into one of those five tiers. What I got in terms of results was actually quite nice.

For sorting purposes, I ranked players by WAR, which summarizes nicely into a single number that matches up well to Cy Young/MVP voting. Generally the higher WAR guys tend to be right in the mix for those awards, so it seemed the most logical stat to use. After taking all the results, I organized it into a summary that showed the average WAR by spot in the rotation, assuming 17 slots for each spot in the rotation. For the fifth spot, I used 17-plus players as some years there were leftovers.

There were two main things that stood out to me about this data that I thought were worth pointing out.

First, we need some perspective as to what the scale is generally considered when it comes to WAR. FanGraphs does a nice job explaining the stat and providing some context:

Scrub: 0-1 WAR
Role player: 1-2 WAR
Solid starter: 2-3 WAR
Good player: 3-4 WAR
All-Star: 4-5 WAR
Superstar: 5-6 WAR

Aces, should you be able to get one, are huge difference makers. A true No. 1 starter is a guy who is capable of winning the Cy Young Awar. These guys stop losing streaks, the guys other teams don’t want to face. However, how difficult is it to get a guy who pitches so well that he compiles a WAR of 6 or higher?

Seeing that I write a Cubs blog, I decided to look back at the Cubs and see what we find. I looked only at the expansion era (1961-2013) and came up with a total of just 15 instances where the Cubs had a pitcher who would qualify as a No. 1. Here is the list:

Fergie Jenkins, 1971: 10.3
Dick Ellsworth, 1963: 10.2
Rick Reuschel, 1977: 9.4
Greg Maddux, 1992: 9.2
Bill Hands, 1969: 8.4
Mark Prior, 2003: 7.4
Fergie Jenkins, 1970: 7.3
Fergie Jenkins, 1969: 7.2
Ryan Dempster, 2008: 7.0
Carlos Zambrano, 2004: 6.7
Ken Holtzman, 1970: 6.4
Kerry Wood, 2003: 6.2
Fergie Jenkins, 1968: 6.2
Rick Sutcliffe, 1987: 6.1
Don Cardwell, 1961: 6.1

It's not as easy as you might think, so when it happens in Chicago, we need to pay attention. That's what made 2003 so special, with Mark Prior and Kerry Wood. However, aside from Fergie Jenkins, the Cubs haven’t had a guy actually repeat this for more than one season.

The fifth starter spot is essentially garbage. Looking at the chart and the legend, we see that the average WAR of 0.2 is a replacement-level pitcher.

That got me wondering if it was even worth it to go with the five-man rotation. Would it be better to find a way to use a four-man rotation in an effort to get more out of the quality guys and simply use them fewer innings? I'm not sure what the answer is there, but maybe a team will try a four-man rotation again. Ultimately, it shows me that if you can have even a replacement-level pitcher in the fifth spot, you're probably ahead of the game. Essentially just minimize the damage in that spot.

The other thing I found interesting is that the quality produced by the fifth spot in the rotation has declined in recent seasons. It could just be small sample size but in the 14-year period, 2012 and 2013 were the only years we saw below replacement-level from the back-end guys.

After collecting all the data and summarizing it into the chart that shows us what we can expect from each slot, I decided to go back to look to see how the Cubs graded out since 2000 on each of these spots in the rotation based only on guys who qualified for the ERA title with their WAR in parenthesis.

2000 (65-97 record) -- Jon Lieber (3.7) and Kevin Tapani (1.2)
2001 (88-74) -- Lieber (3.9), Wood (3.3), Jason Bere (1.7), Tapani (1.0) and Julian Tavarez (-0.1). (Note: Tavarez missed the 162-inning mark by two outs, so I included him anyway.)
2002 (67-95) -- Matt Clement (4.4) and Wood (4.3)
2003 (88-74) -- Prior (7.4), Wood (6.2), Carlos Zambrano (5.5) and Clement (2.8)
2004 (89-73) -- Zambrano (6.7), Clement (3.7) and Greg Maddux (3.2)
2005 (79-83) -- Zambrano (5.6), Prior (3.6) and Maddux (2.8)
2006 (66-96) -- Zambrano (5.2)
2007 (85-77) -- Ted Lilly (4.1), Zambrano (3.4), Rich Hill (3.4) and Jason Marquis (0.8)
2008 (97-64) -- Ryan Dempster (7.0), Zambrano (4.3), Lilly (4.1) and Marquis (2.5)
2009 (83-78) -- Lilly (5.0), Randy Wells (4.2), Dempster (3.5) and Zambrano (3.0)
2010 (75-87) -- Wells (3.2) and Dempster (3.0)
2011 (71-91) -- Matt Garza (2.8) and Dempster (0.8)
2012 (61-10) -- Jeff Samardzija (1.8)
2013 (66-96) -- Travis Wood (4.4), Samardzija (1.0) and Edwin Jackson (-1.3)

Joe Aiello runs The View From the Bleachers, a blog on the Cubs since 2003.
EJ Fagan of It's About the Money with some interesting charts on run scoring through the years.

As you know, run scoring has decreased dramatically the past few seasons. You may think one reason for that is that bullpens are better than ever with all those guys pumping it in at 95 mph, or pitching more innings and thus allowing starters to go all-out while throwing fewer innings.

While starters are averaging fewer than six innings per start this year, the relationship between starters' ERA and relievers' ERA actually peaked back in the 1980s (in 1982, for example, starters had a 4.05 ERA compared to 3.43 for relievers). Of course, back then starters went deeper into games and more complete games were thrown, so bullpens only had to rely on a top fewer guys.

What's somewhat interesting is the difference this year is very close, at least by ERA: Starters have a 3.89 ERA while relievers have a 3.61 ERA. Going by runs allowed per innings, however, 2014 compares to the past two seasons. Relievers are about half a run better per nine innings:

2014 starters runs per nine: 4.30
2014 relievers runs per nine: 3.93

2013 starters runs per nine: 4.33
2013 relievers runs per nine: 3.88

2012 starters runs per nine: 4.55
2012 relievers runs per nine: 4.00

Basically, as EJ's charts show: All pitchers have been getting stingier in recent years (even with all the injuries to starters this year, they're allowing as many runs per nine innings as last year).

Hot trend: Position players pitching

May, 26, 2014
May 26
On May 22, Danny Worth got the final three outs of the Tigers' 9-2 loss to the Rangers. In doing so, he took his part in one of the most bizarre trends of the year: Barely a quarter of the way through the 2014 season, Worth was already the 10th different position player to pitch in a game.

Usually, we here at YCPB love watching position players pitch because it's inherently unpredictable. Yet, already we've had nine teams use a position player to throw a mop-up inning; Milwaukee has used both Martin Maldonado and Lyle Overbay while the Dodgers had Drew Butera pitch twice. Worth also made a second appearance on May 24. (Others: Dean Anna of the Yankees, Mike Carp of the Red Sox, Steve Tolleson of the Blue Jays, Leury Garcia of the White Sox, Mitch Moreland of the Rangers and Daniel Descalso of the Cardinals.) It doesn’t end in the majors, either: Jeff Francoeur has made five relief pitching appearances for the Triple-A El Paso Chihuahuas, leading to speculation that the outfielder may be attempting to convert to the mound full-time.

So the question, does this just seem like an unusually high number, or is it really an aberration? We asked Sean Forman of Baseball-Reference to help us out and discovered that not only is there an increased number of non-pitchers pitching, but that the absolute number is shockingly high.

Ten position players have pitched. Even though this number has been trending upwards in recent years, that’s already more position players pitching than in 10 of fourteen seasons since 2000. In 2009, 2012, 2013, and now 2014, 10 or more position players pitched; prior to 2000, you have to go back to 1989 to find the last occurrence, and after that you have to go back nearly a century to 1918 -- when Babe Ruth was a member of the Red Sox, and the St. Louis Cardinals led the majors in homers with 27. Again, we’re only a quarter of the way through this season.

An increase in position players pitching might have been expected back at the height of the "Steroid Era," when run totals were higher. However, only five position players pitched in 2002 and 2003 combined. In 2001, the year Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs, only seven position players pitched. The real upward trend doesn’t start until 2009, with virtually no hints that such a thing would be coming.

So, why the increase? There is no definite answer, but it may have something to do with the specialization of pitchers. Teams are carrying more pitchers, but their roles are becoming more and more regimented. Not only is the one-inning closer a huge part of the game, but set-up man, seventh-inning guy, LOOGY, ROOGY, Second Lefty, and other specialists who rarely throw more than an inning also exist. Most teams don’t carry more than one long man -- if that -- out of the bullpen, either. When starters don’t stay long in the game, either due to poor performance or innings caps and/or pitch counts, and the long man isn’t available, teams may be forced to use position players.

Will this trend continue? If 2014 continues at the pace it’s established, roughly 40 position players will pitch, which will blow 2013's Live Ball Era record of 13 out of the water. Who knows -- one day, a pitching appearance from a position player might be more appropriate for our friends at @canpredictball. We think the Babe might approve.

I'm watching a game the other day. It doesn't really matter which one as the specifics aren't important. There was a runner on third with one out, late in a close game, and the batter struck out. The ex-player analyst in the booth goes into a little soliloquy about how back in the day batters in his era would cut down on their swings in that situation and put the ball in play, whereas now players just hack away, strike out too often and fail to drive in that run.

You've undoubtedly heard your local announcer say something similar at some point.

But is it true? As strikeouts continue to rise, it certainly seems like batters are striking out a lot more in those one out/runner on third sitautions. We've all been frustrated when that happens with our team, especially when it's a potential trying or go-ahead run on third in the late innings.

Well, as a wise man once said, let's go to the data. Here's a chart listing results comparing the overall MLB batting results in various seasons to results with one out and a runner on third. I've listed overall batting average, strikeout percentage (as a total of all plate appearances), home run percentage (as a total of all plate appearances) and the percentage of runs scored (runs scored divided by total plate appearances, but eliminating PAs that ended in a walk or hit by pitch):

OK, what's the data mean? As you can see, batters generally hit for a much higher average with one out and a runner on third. Part of this is because, yes, batters do strike out less often in this situation. Even today's batters cut down their strikeout rate, so maybe they are focusing more on putting the ball in play.

Now, during the height of the steroid era, batters were hitting for a slightly higher average with one out/runner on third -- as high as .353 in 2001 and 1994. But the overall average in 2001 was .270, so the increase with a runner on third and one out is close to the increase we see now.

In 1988 and 1989, however, when the overall run scoring environment was similar to today's totals (4.14 and 4.13 runs per game compared to 4.17 in 2013 and 4.19 in 2014), we do get some different results.

The MLB average was .254 both of those seasons, not much higher than 2014's .251 or last year's .253. But batters hit .352 in 1988 and .351 in 1989 with one out/runner on third. Overall strikeout rates were much lower back then so it's not a big surprise that batters in 1988 struck out 3 percent less often than this year; that translates into more balls in play and more hits. As a result, the overall percentage of runs scored was 61.7 percent in 1988 and 59.3 percent in 1989, slightly higher than we've seen in recent seasons.

When you go deeper into history, however, today's rate of runs is actually historically on par with the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Here, decade-by-decade totals of the percentage of runs scored -- the first excludes home runs hit by the batter and the second one would simply be the percentage of times the runner on third scores:

1950s: 54.0 percent/56.2 percent
1960s: 52.3 percent/54.4 percent
1970s: 53.0 percent/54.7 percent
1980s: 57.5 percent/59.5 percent
1990s: 57.7 percent/59.9 percent
2000s: 56.6 percent/59.2 percent
2010s: 55.2 percent/57.9 percent

OK, we are down slightly this decade from the past three. Still, even though batters are striking much more often than in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, the runner on third is actually scoring at a higher rate -- and the rate is only 2 percent less than in the 1990s.

If you think about all the in-game logistics going on now -- more relief pitchers throwing harder than ever and fewer batters available to pinch-hit and get the platoon advantage -- I'm surprised the percentage isn't much lower.

Bottom line: Old ballplayers love to talk about how the game was better more fundamentally sound in their day and how players understood situations better and so on and so on.

It's not true. From what I can tell, batters are doing about the same as always in those "choke up and put the ball in play" situations.
As I wrote my Blue Jays blog Thursday, I watched (or half-watched) the Royals-Mariners game, a tense pitching duel between Danny Duffy and Hisashi Iwakuma. Duffy dominated a Mariners lineup that struggles against left-handers, while Iwakuma -- in his second start back from his spring training finger injury -- induced 21 swings and misses on pitches out of the strike zone. For all the talk about Masahiro Tanaka's great splitter, don't forget that Iwakuma used that pitch as a big weapon last year, when he finished third in the Cy Young vote.

OK, let's look at two plays involving Royals manager Ned Yost.

In the third inning, Mike Zunino was on third with two outs. Yost had Duffy intentionally walk Robinson Cano, giving up the platoon advantage to instead pitch to Corey Hart, who singled in the game's only run (Zunino's double and Hart's hit were Seattle's only two of the game). In his career, Duffy has been tougher on lefties and Hart has hit lefties better than Cano has, and it did seem a little early to issue an intentional walk, especially when you had the platoon matchup. Still, a lot of managers have taken that approach against the Mariners this year: Don't let Cano beat you.

Joe Posnanski, who hates the intentional walk, broke down the decision here and also tears into Yost:
But what drives me nuts is a manager who today believes one thing, tomorrow believes a second thing, the next day goes back to the first thing, the day after that believes something else entirely. In this, you not only lose the strategic edge (which may or may not be trivial) you also leave your players kind of bemused. If you hit the .300 OBP guy everybody likes at leadoff, they might stand behind you. If you hit the .300 OBP guy at leadoff one day, pull him the next because he doesn’t get on base enough, put him back in the leadoff spot because your gut tells you he’s about to get hot, take him out again because he doesn’t get on base … you leave EVERYBODY ticked off.

Ned Yost is like this. He’s a "gut" manager, meaning he not only makes odd decisions because they feel right in the moment but, heck, tomorrow he might do something entirely different because his gut boomed a different rumble.

Because of this, I have no idea how Yost feels about the intentional walk. Last year, Yost’s Royals allowed the second fewest intentional walks in the American League -- only Boston had fewer. The year before that, however, they led the American League in intentional walks. The year before that, they were near the top, his last year in Milwaukee the Brewers were near the bottom.

The guy’s all over the map, and it’s not only with intentional walks. Sometimes he will use a closer in a tie game on the road, sometimes he won’t. Sometimes he will sacrifice bunt in a certain situation, the next time around he will not. It’s maddening. I’m not saying the Yost should act the same way every single time -- of course he should adjust to the moment. But in the end, what do you stand for as a manager?

How rare was this kind of intentional walk? Last season, there were 38 intentional walks in American League parks in the third inning or earlier (10 of those to David Ortiz). Only three of those intentional walks were issued when the pitcher had the platoon advantage, all three curiously enough to Adrian Beltre:

Lucas Harrell of the Astros twice walked Beltre on Aug. 19, both times with one out. Once, with a runner on third, once with runners on second and third.

• On Aug. 7, the Angels' Tommy Hanson walked Beltre with one out and runners on second and third.

So Yost's two-out walk to Cano was unprecedented, at least compared to 2013.

What if we ignore that it was early in the game? Overall, there were 96 intentional walks all season across both leagues with a runner on third and two outs, regardless of the inning. Ignoring situations in which the No. 8 hitter was walked to get to the pitcher, I found only eight instances all year when a batter was intentionally walked with a runner on third and two outs despite the platoon advantage:

• April 21: Detroit's Doug Fister walked Albert Pujols in the seventh inning of a tie game to pitch to Josh Hamilton (Fister stayed in the game and Hamilton lined out). That was interesting since that gave the platoon advantage to Hamilton.

• June 7: Atlanta's Jordan Walden walked Yasiel Puig in the eighth inning of a tie game to pitch to Mark Ellis.

• July 9: Baltimore's Kevin Gausman walked Beltre (again!), down by two in the seventh. But Brian Matusz came on to pitch to A.J. Pierzynski.

• July 24: The Cubs' Kevin Gregg walked Paul Goldschmidt in the 10th inning of a tie game to pitch to Cliff Pennington.

• July 31: The Rangers' Tanner Scheppers walked Mike Trout in the eighth inning of a tie game to pitch to Mark Trumbo.

• Aug. 23: The Indians' Rich Hill walked Justin Morneau in the seventh inning while trailing by a run. A little weird since Morneau can't really hit lefties. Cody Allen came on to face Josh Willingham, who promptly doubled in two runs.

• Aug. 30: Jose Fernandez walked Dan Uggla in the fourth inning down by a run to pitch to B.J. Upton.

• Sept. 13: The Rockies' Adam Ottavino walked Goldschmidt in the sixth inning of a tie game, but Josh Outman came on to face Eric Chavez.

I think you can see that all those situations make a lot more sense than walking Robinson Cano in the third inning, other than maybe the Pujols-Hamilton decision (although Hamilton was really struggling at the time).

OK, on to the ninth inning Thursday. The Mariners' Fernando Rodney comes on for the save. He's been a little wild this season and entered the game with six walks in 13 innings, although none in his previous six appearances.

He walks light-hitting Alcides Escobar on four pitches, including a 3-0 fastball way off the plate. That brings up leadoff hitter Norichika Aoki, who takes ball one. And then bunts. According to Baseball-Reference.com's win expectancy chart, the bunt actually increased Seattle's chances of winning from 74 percent after the walk to Escobar to 78 percent.

Now, you can argue that Yost was going for the tie, and in a battle of bullpens the edge goes to Kansas City. But you have to get there first.

To me, here's what made the bunt a bad decision: Don't you have to make Rodney throw a strike before you give away an out? Or even two strikes? Because Aoki has good bat control, you could still bunt with two strikes or even hit and run with the speedy Escobar on first. In fact, after the bunt Rodney proceeded to walk Eric Hosmer on five pitches. Rodney worked out of it from there, striking out Billy Butler and getting Salvador Perez to ground out, but what happens if the Mariners aren't given a free out?

I'm left wondering what Yost brings to the Royals as manager. His strategic decisions -- such as hitting Escobar leadoff much of last season -- have been roundly criticized in Kansas City and elsewhere. If part of a job as manager is to help young players reach their potential, would you say the Royals players (especially the position players) have done that? OK, we'll give Yost credit for Alex Gordon, who turned around his career under Yost in 2011. But Hosmer? Perez? Mike Moustakas? I'm not saying Yost is to blame or not to blame, but it's fair to say they haven't achieved at levels once expected. The Royals did have a great pitching staff last year, and he got a lot out of Ervin Santana and the bullpen, so maybe Yost (a former catcher) is better with pitchers.

Overall, however, I agree with Posnanski: Yost leaves me confused.
One of the craziest games of recent years took place on Monday, when the Phillies scored five runs in the bottom of the eighth to take a 6-5 lead, only to blow it in the ninth when Dan Uggla hit a grand slam for the Braves off Jake Diekman.

One reason it turned into a crazy game was Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon was unavailable, having pitched the three previous days, saving a 6-3 game, pitching an inning in a tie game and then saving a 4-3 lead on Sunday.

Ryne Sandberg certainly isn't unique in not using his closer for a fourth day in a row. Last season, only one relief pitchers pitched five days in a row -- Tanner Scheppers of the Rangers, on the final four days of the regular season and the tiebreaker game against the Rays. A reliever pitched four days in a row just 33 times and most of them weren't closers. The only closers to do it more than once were Edward Mujica and Joe Nathan.

Anyway, what I wonder: Is this something new, not using your closer four days in a row? Maybe not. The Captain's Blog tweeted this on Monday after I tweeted that Goose Gossage would have pitched four days in a row:

The Captain wasn't quite right. Gossage also pitched four days in a row, Sept. 5-8, 1980. Of course, as Gossage himself would be quick to point out, closers didn't just pitch the ninth inning back then. Gossage pitched two innings four times in those eight appearances (and in 1978 even had a seven-inning relief appearance).

Mike Marshall was another 1970s reliever. In 1974 he won the National League Cy Young Award for the Dodgers, pitching in 106 games and 208.1 innings. From May 17 through 24 that year he appeared eight days in a row, pitching a total of 14.2 innings. OK, Marshall was sort of a freak. So let's check a few other guys to see how often they pitched at least four days in a row:

Rollie Fingers: 7 (most: 6)
Bruce Sutter: 5 (most: 6)
Dan Quisenberry: 12 (most: 4)
Lee Smith: 12 (most: 6)
Dennis Ecksersley: 1 (most: 4)
Billy Wagner: 6 (most: 4)
Trevor Hoffman: 10 (most: 4)
Mariano Rivera: 4 (most: 4)
Jonathan Papelbon: 0

No real surprises here. Since total appearances for closers hasn't really changed much in 30 years it's not a big surprise that the '70s and '80s guys didn't pitch all that often four days in a row. Eckersley was clearly handled very carefully and as you can see, Papelbon has never done it (and, in fact, has appeared three days in a row just 19 times).

I think what has changed in recent seasons is managers announcing before a game that a reliever isn't available. I guess they want to stop the second-guessing before it can begin.

By the way, the record for most consecutive days (not games) pitched is Kent Tekulve, who pitched nine days in a row for the Phillies in 1987, giving up one run in 9.1 innings. He pitched in 90 games that year, totaling 105 innings. That wasn't even the biggest workload of his career. In 1978-79 with the Pirates, he pitched in 91 and 94 games and 135.1 and 134.1 innings.
One of the great unanswered questions of sabermetrics is how much value a manager brings to a team. Maybe it's ultimately something that can't be properly evaluated, since aside from on-field strategic moves, much of what a manager does is difficult or impossible to measure, like communicating with players and staff, keeping a positive clubhouse or dealing with the front office and the media.

But we all agree that a good manager has value. How responsible was John Farrell for the Red Sox winning the World Series? How much credit do we give Mike Matheny? If Joe Maddon is worth four extra wins a season for the Rays, should he be getting paid $20 million per year instead of an estimated $2 million? When teams are currently paying free agents about $6.5 million per win on the open market, what's a good manager worth? Joe Girardi, probably the highest-paid manager, gets $4 million per season, so you could make the argument that the Yankees aren't placing much value at all on Girardi's abilities. (Not that managers should be paid on the same scale as players, but isn't a win a win, no matter where it comes from?)

Anyway, Jon Shepherd of Camden Depot conducted a study to at least give us to a starting point on evaluating managers. He compared projected records to actual records for every team since 2003 and figured out how many wins each manager was above or below the preseason projection. (He used Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projections for 2003-09, Marcel for 2010-11 and ZiPS for 2012-13.) It's far from perfect -- if Clayton Kershaw blows out his shoulder, that reflects on Don Mattingly's record even though it's no fault of his own -- but it gives us some results to consider.

For managers who have managed at least three seasons, Jon's top five in wins added per 162 games were Farrell (+5.7), Fredi Gonzalez (+5.5), Tony La Russa (+5.0), Mattingly (+4.7) and Ron Washington (+4.4). You can get the rest of the top 10 by clicking the link above. Interesting that Gonzalez, Mattingly and Washington, three managers the stats guys love to criticize, fared very well in this study. It's also worth noting that Farrell, Gonzalez, Mattingly and Washington are regarded as good communicators with their players.

The bottom five (there were 42 managers in all who had managed three seasons) were Manny Acta (-8.1), John Russell (-7.7), Jerry Manuel (-5.9), Bob Geren (-4.7) and Alan Trammell (-3.0), none of whom are managing now. Eric Wedge was next on the list and he's not managing either. The much-maligned Dusty Baker ranked 36th.

The one guy I was surprised to see not in the top 10 was Maddon, the guy I consider the best manager in the game. His year-by-year totals courtesy of Jon:

2006: -8 (61 actual wins versus 69 projected wins)
2007: -12 (66 actual wins versus 78 projected)
2008: +8 (97 actual wins versus 89 projected)
2009: -7 (84 actual wins versus 91 projected)
2010: +6 (96 actual wins versus 90 projected)
2011: +6 (91 actual wins versus 85 projected)
2012: -3 (90 actual wins versus 93 projected)
2013: +4 (92 actual wins versus 88 projected)

Total: -6.

Of course, take away those first two seasons and Maddon fares much better. Still, the projection systems are usually high on the Rays, so the perception that Maddon is extracting tons of extra value out of a roster of mediocre talent may not really be true. Even the 2008 team that came out of nowhere was projected to do well, at least by Baseball Prospectus. Of course, you can argue that some of the players project well because Maddon uses them in the right situations (he doesn't play Sean Rodriguez much against right-handed pitchers, for example). And the Rays have mostly kept their starting pitchers healthy, which is a credit to Maddon and pitching coach Jim Hickey.

Maddon is still my No. 1 manager ... and I'd pay him more than $2 million per season.

SABR Day 3: Evolution versus revolution

March, 15, 2014
Mar 15
PHOENIX -- As the third and last day of SABR’s third Analytics Conference wound down, I wanted to focus on the question that I came into it with, asking whether or not sabermetrics today is more revolutionary or evolutionary. Moneyball’s pop culture status has been safely achieved with Brad Pitt mugging for an analysis revolution already won. Have all the great discoveries already been made with the proliferation of sites like Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs, and with every organization employing their own teams of analysts?

This seemed like an especially relevant question to ask after talking with Voros McCracken after the first night’s proceedings. McCracken is the inventor of DIPS theory, the most important discovery in sabermetrics in the last 25 years -- and perhaps also the last great discovery. Making an observation of that magnitude, something that changes the way all of us see the game, including those of us who have been in the analysis community for decades, is extraordinarily rare. If you’re familiar with Thomas Kuhn’s "Structure of Scientific Revolutions", it seems like we’ve been more engaged in doing the basic science and communicating its lessons to a growing audience since Voros gave us the game’s last big paradigm shift.

Take valuation models: There's nothing really new about the idea of assigning dollar values and arguing at length about how to price a player's performance and his expected performance; it’s cool, but it all basically spins from the work the late Doug Pappas was doing in the 1990s. Value over replacement and WAR? I thank Pete Palmer for getting us started on that track more than 30 years ago.

What about this new research on catcher framing? The work delivered by Ben Lindbergh, Baseball Prospectus or new Indians hire Max Marchi is radically changing our understanding of the value of catchers as receivers. It’s new and compelling, but you could argue that the original observation goes at least as far back as Earl Weaver choosing Rick Dempsey for his skill as a receiver over a better-hitting backstop brick like Earl Williams almost 40 years ago, and then subsequently writing about it in "Weaver on Strategy."

So I turned to several sabermetric thought leaders in attendance at the conference to ask them, are the new analytics just documenting previously observed phenomena? Has sabermetrics become more evolutionary than revolutionary?

Rob Neyer, Fox: "Wow, it’s a fantastic question. I just recently started re-reading Kuhn. I think Kuhn would say we’re still in the evolutionary stage, that we are waiting for something else to be revolutionary. I think that we’re just sort of going step by step. Even the new data that we’ve got coming is just more steps in that process. We can’t know what the revolution will be until someone does it. I think there will be something, but no, we are not revolutionary. As exciting as the new data’s going to be, there’s going to be something even more wildly exciting after that, but something which a lot of us will reject. When I think back on Voros McCracken and DIPS, I was impressed when Bill James not only didn’t reject it but embraced Voros’ findings, and said, ‘I should have seen this a long time ago.’ Bill hasn’t always been immediately willing to embrace new information, but he was all over that one, and I admire him for that. But you’re right, it’s been a while. In fact we’re still grappling with Voros, but you can’t talk about pitchers without talking about what Voros discovered. Maybe the new data will create an environment or inspire someone, but right now I think we’re just talking about using the new data to further the things we already understand."

Keith Woolner, Director of Baseball Analytics, Cleveland Indians: "I think there are elements of both. I think that there’s a constant refinement of something simpler, like offensive models -- those have gotten better as our data has gotten better. Every once in a while, you’ll get something that really creates a new area -- especially at this conference, that’s been catcher pitch framing. That was something that we had the data for a while, but it was not publicly released, discovered or discussed. That is, I think, the revolutionary step, just because it was not an area where there had been a lot of focus before. I think that, as we get new data sets, the catcher framing and all of the PitchF/X analysis at the event came about because there is a new source of data, that told us things about what was going on in the game that we didn’t have before. That tends to be the impetus for creation of the more evolutionary things. And because we’ll have this new tracking system from MLBAM, that could be the next source of some evolutionary advances in sabermetrics. It’s less about the technology, and more about the information content.”

Cory Schwartz, VP of Stats, MLB.com: "I would still qualify it as evolutionary, but the pace of the evolution has increased considerably over the last 5-7 years, obviously with the influx of PitchF/X data, but PitchF/X data has enabled research into other areas using existing datasets. I think once we are able to roll out the complete field-tracking system and start to introduce some of that data into public space to whatever extent it might be, I think that will further increase the pace of evolution and perhaps bring about what we would consider revolutionary turning points.”

Sean Forman, Baseball-Reference.com: "I would agree it’s evolutionary. I think it’s revolutionary in the sense of the amount of data that we’re able to collect now. The thing is, you don’t see revolutions coming, so I’m sure there’s going to be something that comes along and blows us away, probably in the next five years. But right now I think batting is a fairly solved problem, I feel like with pitching, we know that we’re not going to know a lot about pitching and that it’s inconsistent, and obviously with fielding we’re expanding our knowledge there. I guess I would lean to the evolutionary side. Pitch framing could be the next big discovery, but I’m hesitant to put much on something that’s predicated on fooling an umpire, and whether that’s a long-lasting effect that we’ll actually see. It’s true, in terms of paradigm shifts, I feel like Voros’ discovery is one of the last ones we’ve seen."

Vince Gennaro, President of SABR: “I think we’re operating on two planes. Some of the concepts that have been around for a while, we’re continuing to evolve them, which is healthy. At the same time, I think technology is helping us revolutionize some other areas. I think when we see what MLBAM unveiled a couple weeks ago, you’re going to see dramatic changes in the way we measure defense. I think there are revolutionary aspects -- largely technology-driven or data availability-driven -- which are starting to tap into our things we’ve always had on our ‘do’ list, but then the good news is that we’re continuing to evolve the tried and true sabermetric concepts.”

Andy Andres, sabermetrics teacher at Boston University: "A really hard question. Certainly, everything has been evolving throughout time, going back to Harry Chadwick on up. But in the past era, created near Moneyball, you’ve seen real revolutions in technology (PitchF/X), you’ve seen real revolutions in defense (the BIS database), and analytically this idea of DIPS and FIP was a big deal, changing how we thought about pitching. If you define those as revolutions, we’ve had lots of revolutions. Now we’re bumping up to a period where there’s not a whole lot new besides catcher framing -- potentially another revolution -- so if I define revolutions as real, significant changes in analytics and our understanding of the game, we will continue to have these revolutions. Some people might say this is just the evolving nature of science, but however you want to define it, we’re never going to stop learning something about the game.”

Kevin Tennenbaum, junior at Middlebury College (and presenter on a panel about Bayesian forecasting): "I think it’s a little bit of both, but we’ve reached an evolutionary stage where we’re kind of using basic math or economics to find the value of different players and different strategies within the game, and we’ve kind of plateaued on that. We’re getting more and more people that are in the game who can really work with more advanced mathematics. That’s where the revolution will come, where we’re looking at things like Bayesian statistics and more advanced decision sciences, machine learning, computer-science algorithms that allow us to analyze these new large datasets.”

Dan Fox, director of baseball systems development, Pittsburgh Pirates: "Generally speaking, as player tracking from MLBAM comes online, the insights that we gain from that might be revolutionary, because any new dataset is going to bring with it stuff that we haven’t thought of yet. An example like what people have done with pitch framing and PitchF/X years after it was released is probably an indication that there will be things there that we won’t know for several years, but people eventually figure out that are much different than what we think today. So, player tracking? Probably revolutionary. Other stuff, up until then? Probably evolutionary, other than with teams’ willingness to invest more in their analytics departments, the teams are probably going to continue to move much faster, so there may be insights when you combine the medical, scouting and performance data that they have internally, that we just haven’t had previously. Who knows? There’s probably insights that some teams have had that we haven’t had that we’d think were revolutionary."

Which, going forward, is perhaps the fundamental challenge. From its inception, going back to the founding of SABR in the '70s and beyond, sabermetrics has relied on open-source information that has engendered and perpetuated its dynamic conversation about the game. The extent to which a generation of researchers have profited from Major League Baseball’s willingness to share that information through PitchF/X has extended that tradition. If all of us will continue to profit from the insight of sabermetricians pushing the boundaries of their science beyond evolution and into new revolutions, much will depend on that continued free sharing of information. Sabermetrics’ legacy of victory in the marketplace of ideas demands nothing less.

Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.
Christina Kahrl just posted an essay discussing the lack of superstar closers in today's game. Once you get past Craig Kimbrel and Joe Nathan, it thins out in a hurry. Greg Holland and Kenley Jansen were dominant last year, but that was Holland's first season as a full-time closer and Jansen has yet to record 30 saves in a season. Even Aroldis Chapman had five blown saves.

Compare with, say, 15 years ago. In 1999, you had Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, Billy Wagner, Robb Nen and John Wetteland. Beyond them, you had long-time closers such as Roberto Hernandez, Ugueth Urbina, Jose Mesa, Troy Percival, Jeff Shaw, Armando Benitez and Todd Jones, plus short-term guys such as John Rocker and Matt Mantei.

One reason for the lack of superstar closers today may be a simple explanation: Teams and managers have come around to the notion that most good relievers can close, and they are more willing to give a new kid the ninth inning. The volatile world of closers is represented in the chart below that lists the closers for each team over the past three seasons and the projected closer for 2014. Only Kimbrel is projected to be his team's closer all four seasons. Only eight teams are projected to have the same closer as in 2012.