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.

Friday, April 11, 2014

And Blake, the Much Despised...

You hear about it, now it's actually happened. In last night's White Sox-Indians game, Chicago rookie Jose Abreu had his second consecutive two-homer game. But the coolest thing he did was on a foul ball. As Fox Sports Ohio reports,


But that wasn't even the most shocking part of his night. That came off a foul ball -- a foul ball that was in the process of disintegrating as Abreu literally ripped the cover off it he hit it so hard.

(If you don't get the headline, you really need to brush up on the classics)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Please, Let Him Get On Base.

Because when he does, Billy Hamilton has to be the most entertaining player in the game when on the basepaths.

Monday, April 7, 2014

What We've Learned So Far

We're a week into the season. What can we conclude from the games that've been played so far?

NOTHING.

It's only a week, for crying out loud. 

In the week ending last April 24, NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw was 0-1 with a 4.35 ERA and a 1.74 WHIP. Did that tell us anything? In the week ending last June 12, AL MVP Miguel Cabrera batted .167 with one extra-base hit in 27 plate appearances. Did we learn anything from that? In the week ending last May 7, the eventual World Champion Red Sox were 1-6, outscored 47-22, and dropped three straight to the lowly Twins. What did that indicate? A span of seven days over a six-month season is tiny. It is far too small a sample to mean anything. 

It's a long season. We're less than 4% into it. Don't read anything into anything quite yet. Just enjoy the play.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Reality Check: Stretching Them Out

I enjoy The Will Leitch Experience podcast (though I usually skip the episodes involving sports I don't care follow, i.e., pretty much everything other than baseball). Last week he had three consecutive appearances by Joe Sheehan, whose newsletter I strongly recommend. Joe previewed the 2014 season for all 30 teams. When discussing the Cardinals, he and Will talked about plans to move young pitcher Carlos Martinez from the bullpen to the rotation.

Joe mentioned that giving a young pitcher experience in the bullpen to prepare him for a starting role has become rarer in baseball due to the predominance of one-inning specialists. In 1965, the Baltimore Orioles had 19-year-old pitcher Jim Palmer in 27 games: six as a starter and 21 as a reliever. In those relief appearances, he pitched 56 innings, an average of exactly two and two thirds innings per relief appearance. That workload helped prepare Palmer for a Hall of Fame career as a starter.

Since the speaker here was Joe Sheehan, one of the top analysts in the game, the purpose of this Reality Check is not to determine whether Sheehan's assessment is correct. It is. The question is, how right is he?

I looked at five-year periods of baseball beginning in 1965, Palmer's rookie year. I used Baseball Reference's Play Index (invaluable research tool) to count the number of seasons in which a pitcher younger than 25 had at least 15 relief appearances of at least two innings. These appearances, we could reasonable conclude, are better than a shorter stint at preparing a young pitcher's arm for the rigors of starting. Here are the results. In the table, "# Seasons" means the number of seasons within the date range in which a pitcher younger than 25 had at least 15 relief appearances of at least two innings:

   Years   # Seasons   Prominent example
  1965-69     30       Ferguson Jenkins, 25, 1966
  1970-74     59       Bill Lee, 24, 1971
  1975-79     60       Jack Morris, 18, 1978
  1980-84     39       Rick Sutcliffe, 16, 1980
  1985-89     38       Chuck Finley, 16, 1987
  1990-94     15       Pedro Martinez, 31, 1993
  1995-99     15       Chan Ho Park, 15, 1996
  2000-04     13       Johan Santana, 18, 2000
  2005-09      5       Brandon McCarthy, 18, 2000
  2010-14      2       still waiting
Source: Baseball Reference Play Index. 

As you can see, over the past 50 years, there have been several cases of Hall of Fame and All Star-caliber starting pitchers who have begun their career pitching long relief. As the bullpen has evolved into a series of one-inning specialists, Sheehan's right: it's become hard for a relievers to develop the arm strength to move into the starting rotation. We may be looking a future with fewer stars starting out in relief like Ferguson Jenkins and Pedro Martinez and more promising youngsters who break when they try to move out of a short-outing relief role like Joba Chamberlain and Neftali Feliz.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

2014 Predictions: AL East

As Yogi Berra is alleged to have said, it's tough to make predictions, especially about the future. These predictions for upcoming season are going to be pretty quick and dirty. You don't want to spend a lot of time reading them anyway, do you? Unlike other prognosticators, though, I'll revisit these to see how badly I did.

Since baseball games are the product of runs scored and runs allowed, I'm going to focus on those two metrics in developing my 2014 predictions. Here's the National League WestCentraland East and the AL West and Central.

Boston Red Sox - 97-65 in 2013, 5.3 runs scored per game (1st in MLB), 4.0 runs allowed per game (13th in MLB): The World Champions didn't add much over the offseason, though they are obviously a good team. They have two rookies (SS Xander Bogaerts and, as soon as Grady Sizemore gets hurt, CF Jackie Bradley) in the lineup and a bunch of guys on the wrong side of 30 who are more likely to be worse than better compared to last year. Prediction: Fewer runs scored, more given up, 90-72.

Tampa Bay Rays - 92-71, 4.3 runs scored per game (11th in MLB), 4.0 runs allowed per game (11th in MLB): Everybody likes the Rays, and with SP David Price still with the team despite rampant trade speculation, the strong starting rotation's intact. But outside of 2B Ben Zobrist, 3B Evan Longoria, and RF Wil Myers, I just don't see them scoring a lot, and Price, arbitration-eligible next year and a free agent in 2016, could still be traded. Prediction: Fewer runs scored and allowed,  88-74.

New York Yankees - 85-77, 4.0 runs scored per game (16th in MLB), 4.1 runs allowed per game (15th in MLB): They added a ton of talent via free agency, but they lost the best second baseman in baseball, they're old, and they were lucky last year, compiling a league-best 30-16 record in one-run games. I think they'll be better, but not that much better, for Derek Jeter's farewell tour. Prediction: More runs scored and allowed, 87-75.

Baltimore Orioles - 85-77, 4.6 runs scored per game (5th in MLB), 4.4 runs allowed per game (22nd in MLB): In 2012, they had the best record in the league in one-run games. In 2013, they had one of the worst. If they can split the difference, they'll be better. They added free agents SP Ubaldo Jimenez and DH Nelson Cruz but otherwise this is the same team as last year's. Prediction: Fewer runs scored and allowed, 85-77.

Toronto Blue Jays - 74-88, 4.4 runs scored per game (9th in MLB), 4.7 runs allowed per game (27th in MLB): The Jays were last season's biggest disappointment, done in by underperformance and a plague of injuries. But here's the thing: they changed almost nothing. They're counting on better health, which is probably a good bet, and marked improvement from a lot of players, which probably isn't. Prediction: More runs scored, fewer allowed, 78-84.