Sunday, August 14, 2011
A streak as hot as it is long
By The Common Man
Hitting streaks are fun. Long streaks like Dan Uggla's are weird little statistical anomalies that require an immense amount of luck to achieve, but they are still extremely interesting to follow. The pressure on ballplayers who have passed the mystical 30-game mark is incredible, and every at-bat takes on more and more symbolic importance as a streak continues.
AROUND THE SWEETSPOT NETWORK
View from the Bleachers
Who can say what happens in the mind of Carlos Zambrano? He is enigmatic and mercurial, but that only scratches the surface. He's paid as a No. 1 starter, yet possesses the demeanor of a petulant 1st grader. Carlos is no stranger to controversy or conflict, but something felt a bit different on this Friday night in Atlanta. This time there was no one to blame but Carlos. In prior years his catcher, his first baseman, his manager, countless umpires, and even a Gatorade cooler have found themselves in his path. But in Atlanta, Carlos was alone and stranded on the mound -- after perhaps the most disappointing performance of his career, he resorted to throwing aggressively at Chipper Jones in what appeared to be an effort to get himself ejected.
Here's an article from 1961 that focuses on how the ball has changed throughout the years and whether it was a time of "Rabbitball." This is just another in a long line of articles since the dawn of baseball trying to explain why certain remarkable performances occur. What I think the take-home message here is that sometimes athletic achievements are the result of three general factors: the natural (e.g. a player's own genetic makeup and environmental history, changes in regional and national weather), the 'unnatural' (e.g. cheating, changes in ballpark dimensions, characteristics of the baseball, fluxes in competition level due to schedules/teammates/expansion/racism/etc), and general luck (e.g. sample sizes, improbable sequences).
Austin's Astros 290 Blog
So unfortunately, it's "that time of year" -- when fans begin to think of what may happen next year instead of continuing to subject themselves to the mental suffering that comes with following a team as bad as the Houston Astros -- for about three months now. While I admit that watching the young infusion of players on the field has been quite entertaining, it's only natural that I submit to you faithful readers what the lineup should look like for the team in 2012.
That said, while the list of long streaks is headlined by great players like Joe DiMaggio, Willie Keeler, Pete Rose, George Sisler, Ty Cobb, Paul Molitor, Rogers Hornsby and Bill Dahlen, it also contains random long streaks by less popular players like Tommy Holmes, Luis Castillo, George McQuinn, Benito Santiago and even the infamous Hal Chase.
With a first-inning single against the Cubs, Uggla became just the 23rd player in baseball history to get a hit in at least 33 consecutive games. He tacked on a home run in the fourth to add an exclamation point to his streak-extending day.
It has been an amazing turnaround for Uggla, who was hitting .173/.241/.327 through the Fourth of July. Since Independence Day, it has been all fireworks for the Braves second baseman. He's hit an astounding .376/.434/.761 since then, becoming the middle-of-the-order run-producer the Braves envisioned he’d be when they traded for him this offseason and signed him to a five-year extension.
Indeed, Uggla's incredible stretch has fueled the Braves’ offense in the long weeks since, as it has jumped from producing 3.93 runs per game before Uggla's streak to 4.79 since. He has helped them weather injuries to Brian McCann, Chipper Jones and the struggles (due to injury) of Jason Heyward. Given how white-hot he's been over the past month-plus, Braves fans have to be feeling much better about both their prospects for this season and Uggla's ability to play up to his $62 million deal over the long term.
Yet amazingly enough, Uggla dug himself into such a huge hole at the start of the year that his season line still looks horrible. He's batting just .232 on the year with an on-base percentage of .299. All of the advanced metrics agree that his fielding is absolutely horrible -- as it always has been -- pegging him somewhere around 10-13 runs below average so far. His line-drive percentage despite his recovery remains at a career-low 14 percent, his popup rate is still tied for his career high, and his GB/FB ratio remains 10 percent higher than any time since his rookie season.
It was a perfect storm of season-opening awfulness that still has not been properly explained, but Uggla has been doggedly clawing his way back since. While the defense won't improve, it's almost a given that he will continue to add value to the Braves down the stretch and into October if they hold on to the wild-card slot. His horrific April, May and June were huge aberrations in the context of his full career, as he struggled to make good contact.
Still, this season looks bad. Among all the players in major league history with at least 33-game hitting streaks, Uggla ranks dead last in OBP by a cool 21 points. His nearest rival, Chase, played in 1907 during the Deadball Era, when the entire league had an OBP of just .302. Uggla also has the third-worst OPS of any player on the list (.752), with little hope of catching Wee Willie Keeler (.783).
His production during the streak itself has been incredible, though. Among the 15 long streaks that we have data for, Uggla's 1.166 OPS ranks fifth behind just those marks of Hornsby, Holmes, Joltin' Joe and Molitor. Regardless of what he does from here on out, Uggla will be one of the most unlikely members of this exclusive club.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
Sometimes speed kills -- Elvis Andrus won't escape this rundown.