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Off-Season Haiku: We Are All Wilson Ramos

    Home, with family We feel safe, comfortable Protected, at ease   Is it real, or not The safety, security Or just a belief   Who is watching you Are your neighbors friend or foe How you ever know   The games we play, games ...

HangingSliders is back. Sort of.

It’s been a long while since I’ve posted here. Almost two months. But if you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you know I’ve been busy writing about baseball. Very busy. In early September, I started writing weekend features for Bas ...

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Pedroia or Ellsbury? Ellsbury or Gonzalez? Gonzalez or Granderson? What about Zobrist? Who’s Zobrist? It’s all about Bautista. Bautista? He doesn’t play on a winning team. Don’t forget Verlander. Verlander? He’s a pitcher. A pitcher can’t be a league MVP. Yes he can. No he can’t. Yes he can. No he can’t.

Sound familiar? That pretty well sums up the current debate over who should win the American League MVP Award this season.

While I can find fault with the terms of the discussion, the players on everyone’s list of AL MVP candidates makes sense. Oh, and I’m delighted to see Ben Zobrist getting some ink.

One player skirting the edges of the discussion is Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera. He’s not my pick for MVP, but Cabrera is having an outstanding year.

To be sure, Cabrera posted better overall numbers in 2010, when he came in second to Josh Hamilton in MVP voting. But in some offensive categories, Cabrera is at or near career bests.  His performance this season is all the more remarkable given the self-inflicted wounds Cabrera suffered early this year.

Just a few days into spring training, Cabrera was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. Details of the incident were ugly (resisting arrest) and the aftermath was worse. This wasn’t the first time Cabrera had done something incredibly stupid and dangerous while drunk. After a week of tests by doctors and addition specialists, MLB recommended that Cabrera participate in a “multi-faceted, professionally-administered” alcohol treatment program. Cabrera agreed.  A month later, Tigers manager Jim Leyland seemed to be the only person still predicting a big year for Cabrera.

Leyland was right.

Here’s how Cabrera’s offensive performance so far in 2011 compares to the players on everyone’s AL MVP short list:

3rd in Batting Average at .328, behind Adrian Gonzalez (.345) and Michael Young (.336)

5th in Slugging Percentage at .554, behind Jose Bautista (.645), Curtis Granderson (.591), David Ortiz (.587) and Adrian Gonzalez (.559)

4th in BB/K at 1.14, behind Dustin Pedroia (1.25), Bautista (1.20), and Ian Kinsler (1.20)

2nd in On-Base Percentage at .432, behind Bautista (.453)

2nd in wOBA (Fangraphs) at .418, behind Bautista (.457)

2nd in wRC+ (Fangraphs) with 166, behind Bautista (194)

Even with a .554 slugging percentage, Cabrera’s power is down from last season’s high of .622 with 35 doubles, 48 home runs and 111 runs scored. On the other hand, Cabrera will set new career bests in Walk Percentage (15.2) and Strikeout Percentage (14.0) if he maintains his current levels.

When it comes to WAR (Wins Above Replacement), Cabrera takes a big hit with his sub-par defense–as he has throughout his career. Well, except for 2005, when Fangraphs rated his third base defense at 15.8 on the UZR/150 scale. As of the end of play on August 29, Fangraphs has Cabrera with an fWAR of 4.9, good for 11th in the American League. Baseball-Reference ranks Cabrera higher with a bWAR of 5.1, good for 7th in the American League. With just average defense, Cabrera would most certainly be on everyone’s short list for MVP candidates this year.

So while Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander gets most of the team buzz (with some saved for catcher Alex Avila), Cabrera has been the Tigers’ excellent and consistent workhorse. No one has played more innings for the first place Tigers so far this season. That’s why it was nice–at least for me–to see Cabrera did miss a game last week for the birth of his third child.

Miguel Cabrera won’t win the AL MVP Award this season. But if the Tigers make the playoffs (and Baseball Prospectus has their odds today at 87.3%), don’t be surprised to see Cabrera with some post-season awards hardware in his hands.

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So many baseball websites now features a Tweet of the Day, either as a daily feature or as an occasional good laugh.  You know I like to do things a bit differently around here.  So in my first Tweet of Yesterday, I’m going to highlight a tweet that was so good, so funny, that it got better with age.

We now know that Hurricane Irene has forced the cancellation of the Mets-Braves games scheduled for Saturday and Sunday. But yesterday afternoon, the weekend scheduling at CitiField was very much up in the air.

Braves beat writer extraordinaire David O’Brien was tweeting the various possibilities.  One follower (Bigbraves95) asked O’Brien about the possibility of a double-header on Saturday.  Here’s the tweet and response:

Notice how I said that O’Brien and Bigbraves95 were tweeting about a possible double-header. I figured that out from Bigbraves95′s use of the abbreviation DH.

Well, at least one of O’Brien’s followers–who I assume is at least a baseball fan, if not a Braves fan–wasn’t quite sure what was going on.  Here’s the exchange between O’Brien and EJF1180:

I think O’Brien handled it as well as he could.  What do you think?

 

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What’s the most fashionable idea in major league baseball right now? That Jim Thome’s 600th home run is more impressive than Derek Jeter’s 3000th hit? I only wish. Shirseys? Nope.  The MLB Fan Cave? Absolutely not.

No, the most fashionable idea right now is pointing out that the San Diego Padres, in last place in the National League West, have scored more runs than they’ve allowed, which gives the Padres a better run differential than a lot of other teams. Some tweets from the last few days:

It’s true. At the end of play on Sunday, August 21, the Padres had scored 496 runs but allowed only 492, for a run differential of +4 but their win-loss record was 59-70. The San Francisco Giants, on the other hand, had scored 439 runs and allowed 454 for a run differential of -15, yet had a win-loss record of 68-60.

And the AL Central? By the end of the day on August 21, the Tigers had scored 573 runs and allowed 572 (+1) but were leading the AL Central with a win-loss record of 68-58. The Indians were at -7 but with a winning record of 62-61 and the White Sox were at -8 with an even record of 63-63.

Why all this attention on run differentials? Because runs scored, runs allowed and the run differential are the key ingredients in the Pythagorean Winning Percentage–the formula originally developed by Bill James to determine a team’s expected winning percentage.  James theorized that a team’s expected winning percentage was more closely indicative of a team’s performance than its actual winning percentage.

As explained by Baseball-Reference.com:

 

The rationale behind Pythagorean Winning Percentage is that, while winning as many games as possible is still the ultimate goal of a baseball team, a team’s run differential (once a sufficient number of games have been played) provides a better idea of how well a team is actually playing. Therefore, barring personnel issues (injuries, trades), a team’s actual W-L record will approach the Pythagorean Expected W-L record over time, not the other way around. Expected W-L is almost always within 3 games of actual W-L at the end of a season (although a recent exception is the 2005 and 2007Arizona Diamondbacks, who both beat their expected W-L by 11 games). Deviations from expected W-L are often attributed to the quality of a team’s bullpen, or more dubiously, “clutch play”; many sabermetrics advocates believe the deviations are the result of luck and random chance.

 

James’ original formula was simple and straightforward:

 

W%=[(Runs Scored)^2]/[(Runs Scored)^2 + (Runs Allowed)^2]  (^2=to the power of 2)

 

Over the years, sabermetricians have developed variations on the original. If you’re interested in that nitty-gritty, you can read more here and here.  I’m using the Baseball-Reference formula:

 

W%=[(Runs Scored)^1.83]/[(Runs Scored)^1.83 + (Runs Allowed)^1.83]

 

Back to the Padres.  With 496 runs scored and 492 runs allowed, the Padres’ Pythagorean winning percentage is .503 which would result in a win-loss record of 65-64.  The Padres’ actual record is 59-70. That’s a difference of 6 games. How to explain this? Is it the result of trades or injuries or luck or something else?

The answer is: I don’t know. But I’ve noticed something interesting about the Padres’ runs scored/runs allowed numbers that may shed some light on the question.

With 496 runs scored over 129 games, the Padres average runs scored per game=3.84. And with 492 runs allowed over 129 games, the Padres average runs allowed/game=3.81. The Padres, like all teams, have outliers at the extremes: games where they scored significantly more than their average runs scored/game and games where they allowed significantly more than their average runs allowed/game. The outliers, it turns out, appear to have a relationship to the fact that the Padres’ Pythagorean Winning Percentage is significantly better than its actual winning percentage.

Let me explain.

I looked at the final scores of all Padres games to date this season here. I identified the Padres’ five best games in terms of runs scored and added up the runs scored in those five games (69). I then looked to see the percentage of those runs to the total number of runs scored in the season (69/496=13.9%). I did the same with the Padres’ five worst games in terms of runs allowed (59/492=12%).

The Padres five best games in terms of runs scored account for a greater percentage of the Padres total runs scored than the Padres five worst games in terms of runs allowed account for their total runs allowed.  That tells me that the Padres five best games for run production are skewing the Pythagorean Winning Percentage toward a more favorable record than the Padres actual record.

I then ran the numbers for the top 3 teams in the AL Central. Remember, we started this journey with the observation that the Padres had a better run differential than all the teams in the AL Central.  I wanted to see if the outliers for the Tigers, Indians and White Sox showed any relationship to the difference between those teams actual winning percentage and their Pythagorean winning percentage. I also ran the numbers for the other teams still contending for a playoff birth: Red Sox, Yankees, Rangers, Angels, Phillies, Braves, Brewers, Diamondbacks and Giants.

Here are the results:

TeamRuns ScoredRuns AllowedActual RecordPythagorean RecordTop 5 Games in Runs ScoredTop 5 Games Runs Scored/Total Runs ScoredTop 5 Games Runs AllowedTop 5 Games Runs Allowed/Total Runs Allowed
Tigers57357268-5863-635555/573=9.6%72 72/572=12.6%
Indians52453162-6161-626666/524=12.4%6363/531=11/9%
White Sox50751563-6362-645454/507=10.7%7373/515=14.2%
Red Sox67052677-4977-497474/670=11%5959/526=11.2%
Yankees67548777-4881-448080/675=11.9%5858/487=11.9%
Rangers65153773-5575-637474/651=11.3%6666/537=12.3%
Angels50248769-5966-625959/502=11.8%6060/487=12.3%
Phillies55641081-4479-466060/556=10.8%5151/410=12.4%
Braves53146476-5272-565353/531=10%5959/464=12.7%
Brewers56651776-5269-565858/566=10.2%6161/517=11.8%
Diamondbacks56555769-5864-636565/565=11.5%5656/557=10.1%
Giants 43945468-6062-665858/439=13.2%5151/454=11.2%

 

Like the Padres, the Yankees and the Rangers are underperforming when compared to their Pythagorean Winning Percentage. But unlike the Padres, the Yankees’ and the Rangers’ five best run scoring games as a percentage of their total runs scored is less than the five worst runs allowed games as a percentage of total runs allowed. For the Yankees, the percentages are the same (11.9%).  For the Rangers, the five worst games for runs allowed % is slightly higher than the five best games for runs scored % (12.3% v. 11.8%).  Perhaps this means that the Yankees and Rangers are due for regression to their actual record. Or perhaps it means that my observation about the Padres is meaningless. Or something else.

But wait, there’s more.

The Tigers, White Sox, Angels, Phillies, Braves and Brewers follow the opposite pattern. Those teams are all outperforming their Pythagorean Winning Percentages.  And for all of them, the five worst games in terms of runs allowed as a percentage of total runs allowed is greater than the five best games for runs scored as a percentage of total runs scored.  The outliers for these teams for runs allowed is skewing the Pythagorean Winning Percentage toward a less favorable record.

The Red Sox are performing precisely how their Pythagorean Winning Percentage expects. The Indians are right around there, too.

And that leaves us with the Giants and Diamondbacks, the two teams battling for the NL West division title. Well, if you can call their performances lately as “battling.”  Both teams are significantly outperforming their Pythagorean Winning Percentage and yet both teams’ five best games for runs scored as a percentage of total runs scored is significantly greater than the five worst games for runs allowed as a percentage of runs allowed. In other words, the Padres, Diamondbacks and Giants all follow the same pattern for their outliers, and yet the Padres are significantly underperforming, and the Giants and Diamondbacks are significantly outperforming, their Pythagorean Winning Percentages.

What does it mean? For sure, the Giants and Diamondbacks have had to contend with serious injuries to key players. And the Padres traded away key players at the deadline. So perhaps those factors are to blame for the topsy-turvy NL West.

At a minimum, it’s further confirmation that the National League West is the most volatile division right now.  And the Padres are in line to be serious spoilers for either the Giants or the Diamondbacks.  The Giants have five games remaining against the Padres (with two starting tonight) and the Diamondbacks have six games with the Padres.

The next five weeks will be interesting. Buckle up.

 

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Henry Sosa, Henry Sosa

Wears his socks high, like hose-a

Henry Sosa, Henry Sosa

Former Giant, now oppose ‘em

 

Danny Runzler, Danny Runzler

Throw balls in the zone, sir

Danny Runzler, Danny Runzler

No walks, hits or runs, sir

 

Brandon Belt, hometown boy

Baby Giraffe, just like a toy

Brandon Belt, hometown boy

Three run homer, brings such joy

 

Danny Runzler, Danny Runzler

That’s too many walks, sir

Danny Runzler, Danny Runzler

Early shower for you, sir

 

From the bullpen runs Mota

Amped up like on soda

For strike zone, need a decoder

Don’t be the goat-a

 

Altuve, Bourgeois,

Martinez, Paredes

Who are these young lads

Eating breakfasts of Wheaties

 

Tie score after four

Four to four, no team would score

Scheirholtz tried on a fly

Martinez shut the door

 

And on it went

And on and on

Players on bases

No runs could be conned

 

‘Till the Panda stepped up

With a runner on first

And smacked a two-run homer

It was way, way gone

 

The Giants limp home, tired and hurt

One day off to rest up, then back on the dirt

The Padres are mashing, need to stay alert

If they want playoff logos on more Giants shirts

 

 

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Ladies Links: Episode 2

by Wendy Thurm on August 19, 2011

I introduced Ladies Links last month in which I highlight and provide links to outstanding women baseball writers. Why Ladies Links?  Because there are terrific women baseball writers on the interwebs who love watching and listening to and writing about baseball and have insightful and interesting things to say.  Giving them a little more attention is a good thing.

Episode 2 features:

  • Stephanie Liscio of It’s Pronounced Lajaway — A Cleveland Indians Blog with The Darkest Day in Indians History on the 91st anniversary of the death of Indians shortstop Ray Chapman.  The day before his death, Chapman was hit in the head with a ball thrown by Yankees pitcher Carl Mays.
I look forward to your feedback on the Ladies Links feature in general and the specific links provided.  When you come across outstanding women baseball writers, click the contact button at the top right and send me a link for future Ladies Links editions.

 

Enjoy.

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In last night’s game between the San Francisco Giants and the Atlanta Braves, the Giants scored one run in the top of the first inning. As Matt Cain prepared to take the mound for the Giants to pitch the bottom of the first, the tweets starting rolling in:

Indeed, it’s a common sentiment among Giants fans and observers that if the Giants score the first run of the game–just one run–then the burden is on the Giants starters and bullpen to win the game with that one run of support.

But it turns out–not surprisingly–that the Giants have won only two games all season by the score of 1-0. Matt Cain was the starter in one of those games and got the win. Tim Lincecum was the starter in the other 1-0 Giants victory, but Brian Wilson got the win when the Giants scored in the bottom of the ninth.  The other 14 games where the Giants scored only one run resulted in losses.

The Giants do succeed when they score first, posting a 36-24 record for a .600 winning percentage. In games where the Giants do not score first, their record is 31-33, for a .434 winning percentage.  That’s 31 comeback wins for the Giants–more than I expected. Probably more than you expected, too.

But the real key to the Giants success in 2011 is what my friend Evan Combs (@evancombs) calls “the race to 2.”  We even have a hashtag for it: #raceto2. Let me explain.

The Giants have played 124 games so far in 2011. Four of those games resulted in a 1-0 score (the two Giants victories mentioned above and two 1-0 losses for the Giants).  So in 120 Giants games, one team or both teams scored at least two runs.

In 58 of those 120 games, the Giants were the first team to two runs. In 62 of those games, the opposing team was the first team to two runs.

When the Giants are the first team to score two runs in the game, their record is 50-8. That’s a winning percentage of .860.  

This holds true when the opposing team scores the first run of the game. It also holds true when the Giants take a 2-0 or 2-1 lead, lose that lead and comeback to win. It hold true at home and on the road. Simply being the first team in the game to two runs provides a huge advantage for the Giants.

And the Giants’ advantage when they get to two runs first is bigger than their opponents’ advantage when they get to two runs first.  In the 62 games where the Giants’ opponent puts two runs up before the Giants did, the opponents are 47-15 for a winning percentage of .758.  Very good, for sure, but not as good as the Giants’ winning percentage of .860.

So the next time the Giants take a 1-0 lead in a game, don’t tweet about how that one run needs to hold up.  Tweet about the #raceto2.  And if the Giants are the first team to score two runs in the game, sit back and enjoy.

 

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