Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Albert Pujols, By Himself

Last night Albert Pujols hit his 500th career home run. He is 34 years old and has hit 500 home runs, 529 doubles, and has a .321 career batting average. I thought I'd run a list of all 34-year-olds in baseball history with 500+ lifetime doubles and homers and a .320+ lifetime batting average:
Player HR 2B BA From To Age G PA AB R H RBI BB SO SB CS OBP SLG OPS
Albert Pujols 500 529 .321 2001 2014 21-34 1978 8638 7394 1440 2370 1517 1074 843 94 37 .409 .599 1.008
Generated 4/23/2014.

Well okay then. Just Pujols. How about if I relax that a bit: 34 years old, 475+ doubles and homers, .315+ lifetime batting average?
Player HR 2B BA From To Age G PA AB R H RBI BB SO SB CS OBP SLG OPS
Albert Pujols 500 529 .321 2001 2014 21-34 1978 8638 7394 1440 2370 1517 1074 843 94 37 .409 .599 1.008
Generated 4/23/2014.

Still an army of one. Pujols has been really, really good.

What if I knock it down to 450+ doubles and homers, .310+ batting average for a 34-year-old?
HR 2B BA From To Age G PA AB R H RBI BB SO SB CS OBP SLG OPS
Hank Aaron 510 484 .314 1954 1968 20-34 2279 9888 8889 1603 2792 1627 866 991 215 59 .373 .560 .933
Lou Gehrig 464 502 .344 1923 1937 20-34 1999 8941 7397 1771 2547 1880 1396 714 96 99 .451 .643 1.094
Albert Pujols 500 529 .321 2001 2014 21-34 1978 8638 7394 1440 2370 1517 1074 843 94 37 .409 .599 1.008
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/23/2014.

I'm calling that pretty good company.

Pujols may not have as much left in his tank as Aaron, who hit .282 with 140 doubles and 245 home runs after age 34, but up to now, we've clearly been watching one of the greatest hitters of all time.

Last Night's Sweet Play

Sweet plays, to be precise. The Marlins' 21-year-old righthanded pitcher, Jose Fernandez, absolutely toyed with the Atlanta Braves, who came into the game with the second-best record in baseball. His counterpart, 23-year-old lefty Alex Wood of the Braves, took the loss despite giving up four hits, no walks, and striking out 11 in eight innings, as Miami won 1-0.

Fernandez gave up three hits, no walks, and struck out 14. The Braves whiffed at 26 of his 109 pitches (20% of his fastballs and 30% of his curveballs). Despite one lousy start in just five so far this season, he now has an ERA of 1.99 and WHIP of 0.92, both lower than his Rookie of the Year numbers from last year.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Those Kids

The Los Angeles Angels and Washington Nationals are in the middle of a three-game series in Washington that's being billed as the first major league meeting between outfielders Mike Trout of the Angels and Bryce Harper of the Nationals. They're both great young players, of course. Trout was Rookie of the Year in 2012, the year he turned 21 in August, and has been the runner-up in the AL MVP voting in both of his first two full seasons. Harper was a 19-year-old Rookie of the Year in 2012 and an All-Star in each of his first two seasons. The Angels won the first game of the series last night, 4-2, as four Angels pitchers scattered three hits and LA's Raul Ibanez, who at 41 is almost as old as Trout and Harper combined, hit a pinch-hit bases loaded double in the eighth inning to drive in three runs. Trout was 2-for-5 with two singles and a strikeout while Harper for 0-for-3 with a walk and a whiff. The game was the first meeting between Trout and Harper since they were teammates in the Arizona Fall League in 2011.

It made me think: We know these guys are great, but how historically great are they? They're both good outfielders, but they're known mostly for their bats. They're also good baserunners. Through last year, his "age 21" season--the season during which he was 21 on June 30--Trout had hit 62 homers and stolen 86 bases. Through his age 20 season, also last year, Harper had 42 homers and 29 stolen bases. How many hitters in major league history have combined that kind of power and speed? Here's the list:

Hitters with 62 HR, 86 SB through age 21: Mike Trout
Hitters with 42 HR, 29 SB through age 20: Bryce Harper

That's it. Nobody else. Not Rodriguez, not Griffey, not Bonds, not Mays. Just Trout and Harper. 

For those of you in LA or Washington, or with subscriptions to mlb.tv or At Bat 14 (note: a Premium subscription to mlb.tv gets you At Bat 14 for free), the Angels and Nationals games start at 7:05 tonight and tomorrow night.

Last Night's Sweet Play

In case you don't start your day checking mlb.com videos, here's a fantastic double play from last night's Mets-Cards game.

Monday, April 21, 2014

How High-Quality is a Quality Start?

One of the easier-to-understand new metrics is the Quality Start, a statistic invented by Philadelphia Inquirer sportswriter John Lowe in 1985 (according to Wikipedia). (I suppose something that's been around 29 years isn't all that new.) A starting pitcher gets credit for a quality start if he pitches six or more innings and allows three or fewer earned runs. That's it.

The criticism you hear of a quality start is that three runs in six innings is a 4.50 ERA, which isn't very good. Of course, a perfect game's a quality start too. Do quality starts indicate pitching excellence or mediocrity?

I looked at quality starts in 2013. Here are a few tidbits:

  • There were 2,431 games last year, so 4,862 games started. There were 2,556 quality starts. That means about 53% of starts were quality starts. That doesn't sound that impressive. But wait.
  • The leaders: Clayton Kershaw and James Shields had 27, Adam Wainwright had 26, Cole Hamels and Max Scherzer had 25. By percentage of starts: Kershaw had quality starts in 82% of his starts, Shields 79%, Scherzer 78%, and Cliff Lee, Bartolo Colon, Chris Sale, and Matt Harvey all had 77%. Those are all good pitchers, including both Cy Young Award winners. That sounds good.
  • Teams that got a quality start won 65.6% of their games last year. That's the equivalent of going 106-56. That tells you that a quality start gives a team an excellent chance to win. 
All well and good, you're thinking, but do pitchers in quality starts actually pitch well? It turns out the answer is: Yeah, do they ever.

The major league average ERA and WHIP for starters last year were 4.01 and 1.306, respectively. The six-inning, three-run outing with a 4.50 ERA cited above would thus be below-average.

But that's not the norm. In their 2,556 quality starts last year, pitchers compiled a 1.93 ERA and 0.986 WHIP. The closest to those figures: Kershaw's 1.83 ERA and Jose Fernandez's 0.979 WHIP. Yes, it's true that a starter can get a quality start with a 4.50 ERA. That happened 213 times last year, 8.3% of quality starts. But on average, you're getting something like Kershaw and Fernandez when you get a quality start.

Monday, April 14, 2014

UPDATE - Reality Check: Milwaukee Brewers

Yesterday, the Brewers entered play with a 9-2 record, making them the 51st team since division play began in 1969 to start 9-2 or stronger. I ran a table showing that teams starting 9-2 since then have a slightly better than 50% chance of making the postseason. Now they're 10-2. Here's a list of teams since 1969 to start the season 10-2 :

  Year  Team       End of Season
  1971  Giants       Lost NLCS
  1978  Royals       Lost ALCS
  1981  Expos        Lost NLCS
  1981  Dodgers        Won WS
  1984  Padres        Lost WS
  1988  Indians        78-84
  1989  Rangers        83-79
  1990  Reds           Won WS
  1998  Padres        Lost WS 
  1992  Pirates      Lost NLCS
  1992  Blue Jays      Won WS
  1996  Orioles      Lost ALDS
  1998  Indians      Lost ALCS
  1998  Orioles        79-83
  1999  Indians      Lost ALDS
  2003  Yankees       Lost WS
  2005  Dodgers        71-91
  2011  Rockies        73-89
  2012  Rangers       Lost WC
  
The Brewers are getting into an elite field. They're only the 20th team to start the year 10-2 since 1969. Of the 19 predecessors, all but five were still playing in October. So 74% made the postseason. At this point we can say that if the Brewers don't make the playoffs, it won't be unprecedented, but it will be a bit of a surprise. Teams that start the year 10-2 are generally good teams.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Reality Check: Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers are the surprise team of the season so far. (Note to Reds and Red Sox fans: I'm talking about positive surprises.) They enter play today with the best record in the majors at 9-2. Last year, the team was 74-88 and was not considered to be contender this year (projected wins: Baseball Prospectus 80, Fangraphs 79, ESPN 75, On The Field of Play 79).

After just writing that the first week of the season doesn't mean anything, I'm not going to say that the Brewers' hot start means they're a lock for October. But let's look at teams from the divisional era (1969-present) that've started the season 9-2 or better:

  Year  Team       Record  Playoffs?
  1969  Braves       9-2      Yes
  1969  Cubs        10-1      No
  1971  Giants       9-2      Yes
  1972  Astros       9-2      No
  1972  Dodgers      9-2      No
  1974  Expos        9-2      No
  1975  Royals       9-2      No
  1977  Dodgers      9-2      Yes
  1978  Tigers       9-2      No
  1978  Royals       9-2      Yes
  1980  Reds        10-1      No
  1981  Dodgers      9-2      Yes
  1981  A's         11-0      Yes
  1981  Expos        9-2      Yes
  1981  Cardinals    9-2      No
  1982  Braves      11-0      Yes
  1982  White Sox    9-2      No
  1984  Tigers      10-1      Yes
  1984  Padres       9-2      Yes
  1987  Brewers     11-0      No
  1988  Indians      9-2      No
  1988  Yankees      9-2      No
  1989  Rangers     10-1      No
  1990  Reds         9-2      Yes
  1990  A's          9-2      Yes
  1992  Pirates      9-2      Yes
  1992  Blue Jays    9-2      Yes
  1994  Braves      10-1      No
  1996  Orioles      9-2      Yes
  1997  Orioles      9-2      Yes
  1998  Orioles      9-2      No
  1998  Indians      9-2      Yes
  1998  Padres       9-2      Yes
  1999  Indians      9-2      Yes
  2001  Twins        9-2      No
  2002  Indians     10-1      No
  2002  Giants       9-2      Yes
  2003  Royals      10-1      No
  2003  Yankees      9-2      Yes
  2003  Giants      10-1      Yes
  2005  Dodgers      9-2      No
  2006  Mets         9-2      Yes
  2008  Diamondbacks 9-2      No
  2009  Marlins     10-1      No
  2011  Rockies      9-2      No
  2011  Rangers      9-2      Yes
  2012  Dodgers      9-2      No
  2012  Rangers      9-2      Yes
  2013  Braves      10-1      Yes
  2013  A's          9-2      Yes
  
So if I counted those right, the Brewers are the 51st team to start the year 9-2 or better since 1969. Of those 50 teams, 27 of them, or 54%, made the postseason. (Of the teams that were exactly 9-2, 22 of 37, or 59%, made the postseason, as only 5 of 13 teams starting 10-1 or better were in the playoffs. Good thing the Brewers didn't win more than nine games!) So the Brewers have put themselves into a position in which they have, on paper, a little better than a 50/50 chance of making the postseason. They have as good a chance of continuing to win 82% of their games, though, as they do of sustaining their 1.87 ERA to date.