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Archive for December, 2008

Something To Root For In ’09? How’bout Another Year For Billy Werber & Lonny Frey?

Posted by Steve Lombardi on December 31, 2008

I was just playing around with Baseball-Reference.com's Play Index Batting Season Finder...looking to see who were the oldest surviving  "regulars" among big league ball players...and I set the controls for "For single seasons, From 1901 to 2008, (requiring birth_year<=1910, death_year=0, PA>=502, and birth_year>=1899), sorted by greatest OPSp."  And, I got this list:

  Cnt Player            OPS+ BrYr DeYr  PA Year Age Tm
+----+-----------------+----+----+----+---+----+---+---+
    1 Lonny Frey         124 1910      585 1939  28 CIN
    2 Billy Werber       119 1908      716 1934  26 BOS
    3 Billy Werber       113 1908      663 1940  32 CIN
    4 Lonny Frey         112 1910      588 1935  24 BRO
    5 Lonny Frey         110 1910      620 1942  31 CIN
    6 Billy Werber       108 1908      707 1939  31 CIN
    7 Lonny Frey         108 1910      556 1934  23 BRO
    8 Billy Werber       103 1908      576 1937  29 PHA
    9 Lonny Frey         101 1910      663 1940  29 CIN
   10 Lonny Frey          99 1910      607 1936  25 BRO
   11 Lonny Frey          98 1910      667 1943  32 CIN
   12 Lonny Frey          98 1910      629 1941  30 CIN
   13 Billy Werber        96 1908      599 1938  30 PHA
   14 Billy Werber        96 1908      549 1935  27 BOS
   15 Lonny Frey          94 1910      557 1938  27 CIN
   16 Billy Werber        90 1908      639 1936  28 BOS

Seasons/Careers found: 16.

What's really cool about Werber and Frey is that they played in the infield, together, for the 1939 Reds.

It would be nice to see Cincy have a day for these two in 2009 - since it's the 70th anniversary of when they were teammates there.  And, of course, it would be nice to see these two get another year of watching baseball in 2009.

6 Comments | Posted in Season Finders

An unusual Mark Teixeira stat

Posted by Andy on December 30, 2008

You've heard lots and lots about Mark Teixeira over the last few weeks. Here's something you hadn't heard before. Teixeira has the most career homers through his first 6 seasons for a guy to play for at least 3 teams during that period. It's exceptionally rare for someone with his level of production to change teams so often before reaching free agency for the first time.

  Cnt Player             **HR**  Tms From  To   Ages   G    PA    AB    R    H   2B  3B  RBI  BB  IBB  SO  HBP  SH  SF GDP  SB   CS   BA   OBP   SLG   OPS  Positions Teams
+----+-----------------+-------+----+----+----+-----+----+-----+-----+----+----+---+---+----+----+---+----+---+---+---+---+----+---+-----+-----+-----+-----+---------+-----------+
    1 Mark Teixeira       203      3 2003 2008 23-28  904  3931  3414  566  989 223  13  676  442  60  694  53   0  22  79   13   3  .290  .378  .541  .919 *3/D957   TEX-ATL-LAA 
    2 Roger Maris         191      3 1957 1962 22-27  842  3522  3053  539  793 117  28  557  414  28  427  22   7  26  41   17   9  .260  .350  .504  .854 *98/7     CLE-KCA-NYY 
    3 Jason Bay           149      3 2003 2008 24-29  771  3259  2782  476  785 164  20  491  397  27  734  38   5  37  51   53  11  .282  .375  .516  .891 *7/8D9    SDP-PIT-BOS 
    4 Preston Wilson      140      3 1998 2003 23-28  751  3033  2716  412  724 153  12  472  255  10  750  37   4  21  80  102  45  .267  .335  .486  .821 *8/79     NYM-FLA-COL 
    5 Kevin Mitchell      135      3 1984 1990 22-28  688  2688  2378  369  661 125  19  412  274  52  439  13   2  21  39   24  26  .278  .353  .517  .870 *75/9683  NYM-SFG-SDP 
    6 Jason Thompson      130      3 1976 1981 21-26  803  3206  2739  374  718 109  10  466  427  30  484   4   5  31  67    6   6  .262  .359  .452  .811 *3/D      DET-CAL-PIT 
    7 Tony Batista        125      4 1996 2001 22-27  700  2644  2437  349  634 125  13  385  156   7  462  22   6  23  53   24  12  .260  .308  .476  .784 56/4D     OAK-ARI-TOR-BAL 
    8 Dolph Camilli       122      3 1933 1938 26-31  734  3142  2672  478  759 130  40  459  447   0  485  12  11   0  35   33   0  .284  .389  .500  .889 *3        CHC-PHI-BRO 
    9 Cory Snyder         118      3 1986 1991 23-28  728  2772  2597  312  624 117  10  357  142  16  702   6   6  21  51   19  14  .240  .279  .429  .708 *9/6735D8 CLE-TOR-CHW 
   10 Jimmie Hall         116      3 1963 1968 25-30  801  2814  2523  355  656  88  19  359  259  31  461   2  12  18  53   29  15  .260  .327  .448  .775 *879      MIN-CAL-CLE 
   11 Leon Wagner         113      3 1958 1963 24-29  642  2317  2063  306  571  66  11  344  207  26  300  20   7  20  21   18  14  .277  .345  .484  .829 *7/9      SFG-STL-LAA 
   12 Zeke Bonura         112      3 1934 1939 25-30  789  3481  3089  539  966 202  26  639  354   0  163  16  22   0  22   16   7  .313  .386  .504  .890 *3        CHW-WSH-NYG 
   13 Paul Konerko        111      3 1997 2002 21-26  673  2677  2413  349  692 131   5  410  207   8  343  33   1  23  86    3   1  .287  .348  .483  .831 *3/D57    LAD-CIN-CHW 
   14 Jermaine Dye        110      3 1996 2001 22-27  706  2846  2577  376  735 151  12  425  220  18  494  16   2  31  62   16  12  .285  .341  .481  .822 *9/7D8    ATL-KCR-OAK 
   15 Jeff Kent           107      4 1992 1997 24-29  757  2981  2705  386  728 156  13  439  188  15  548  48   9  31  54   27  21  .269  .324  .455  .779 *45/3D6   NYM-TOR-NYM-CLE-SFG 
   16 Wally Westlake      107      4 1947 1952 26-31  762  2904  2611  394  705  89  30  450  246   0  374  29  18   0  82   17   6  .270  .340  .450  .790 98/75     PIT-STL-CIN-CLE 
   17 Shea Hillenbrand    104      4 2001 2006 25-30  870  3538  3303  438  947 197  13  459  133  17  434  68   1  33 113   16   9  .287  .325  .449  .774 *53/D     BOS-ARI-TOR-SFG 
   18 Curt Blefary        103      3 1965 1970 21-26  821  3199  2697  364  645  96  20  358  419  42  405  28  32  23  39   24  23  .239  .345  .404  .749 739/2     BAL-HOU-NYY 
   19 Lee Thomas          103      5 1961 1966 25-30  860  3297  2932  375  766 103  21  394  303  26  353  28  18  16  76   22  10  .261  .335  .416  .751 39/78     NYY-LAA-BOS-CHC-ATL 
   20 Dale Long           101      3 1951 1959 25-33  705  2554  2248  292  610 100  28  361  265  32  372   5   7  29  56    4   2  .271  .346  .476  .822 *3/27     PIT-SLB-PIT-CHC 
   21 Andre Thornton      100      3 1973 1978 23-28  616  2332  1919  316  494  93  19  321  354  22  322  30   8  21  40   16  15  .257  .378  .482  .860 *3/9D5    CHC-MON-CLE 
   22 Woodie Held         100      3 1954 1961 22-29  609  2287  2015  269  499  77  13  299  223  18  448  19  14  16  46    6   6  .248  .326  .448  .774 *68/574   NYY-KCA-CLE 
   23 Sammy Sosa           95      3 1989 1994 20-25  658  2510  2317  330  587  93  24  304  140  16  585  20  17  16  46  125  58  .253  .300  .437  .737 *98/7D    TEX-CHW-CHC 
   24 Ken Harrelson        95      3 1963 1968 21-26  672  2460  2176  262  535  77  10  314  253  24  450   4  11  16  71   35  21  .246  .323  .421  .744 *39/7     KCA-WSA-KCA-BOS 
   25 Brad Fullmer         94      3 1997 2002 22-27  668  2540  2325  322  655 175  13  374  163  28  312  32   0  20  60   26  15  .282  .335  .489  .824 *D3/7     MON-TOR-ANA 

Comments Off | Posted in Season Finders

Longest post-season hitting streaks

Posted by Andy on December 29, 2008

Most consecutive post-season games played with at least one hit:

                   StreakStart  Streak End Games    AB    R    H   2B  3B  HR  RBI  SO   BB   SB   CS   BA   OBP   SLG   OPS  Teams
+-----------------+-----------+-----------+-----+------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------+

 Manny Ramirez      2003-10-14  2004-10-27    17     73   11   24   4   0   3   12   12   10    0   0  .329  .400  .507  .907 BOS                                         
 Derek Jeter        1998-10-13  1999-10-27    17     70   16   26   3   2   1    7   13    8    3   1  .371  .436  .514  .950 NYY                                         
 Hank Bauer         1956-10-03  1958-10-04    17     76   10   24   2   1   6   16   13    1    1   0  .316  .325  .605  .930 NYY                                         

 Pat Borders        1991-10-12  1993-10-06    16     59    5   22   4   0   2    8    3    3    0   0  .373  .391  .542  .933 TOR                                         

 Marquis Grissom    1995-10-03  1996-10-02    15     69   11   26   3   1   3    5   10    2    6   2  .377  .403  .580  .983 ATL                                         
 Rickey Henderson   1989-10-04  1990-10-19    15     61   14   25   4   3   4   12    6   10   13   2  .410  .486  .770 1.256 OAK                                         

I checked the full list to try to find the most recent active streak. Whatever it is, it's way down the list.

1 Comment | Posted in Streak Finders

The (continually) dying art of the complete game

Posted by Andy on December 27, 2008

It shall come as no surprise to anyone that the Complete Game is a dying art. That's not news. But I thought I'd graph a couple of the sets of numbers to show just how rare it's becoming.

Firstly, here are the fraction of starts in MLB games that resulted in complete games.

(click on the graph for a larger version)

Basically, complete games have been in decline for as long as we have detailed data, except for a small renaissance in the late 60s through mid 70s. Whereas it was routine back then to see more than 1 out of every 4 starts result in a complete game (meaning that, on average, 1 out of every 2 games featured a CG by either of the starters,) the average has now fallen below 3% yearly, a decrease of a factor of 10 from 50 years earlier.

Here's another way of looking at it, one that allows us to look waaaaay back. Checking out the progressive complete game leaders page allows us to see what the leading career total was among active pitchers each season. Here's a graph of that data.

Here we see that prior to 1950, it was common for the active career CG leader to have at least 300 career complete games. Not so anymore. When Greg Maddux retired a few weeks ago, he was the career leader with 109 CGs. Now it's Randy Johnson with just 100. The next 3 guys after Johnson are all effectively retired already: Curt Schilling (83), Mike Mussina (57), and Tom Glavine (56.) Two more guys who also might not pitch anymore come next: John Smoltz (53) and Pedro Martinez (46.) That means that when RJ retires, the career leader will almost certainly have fewer than 100 career CGs.

Incidentally, the big drop-offs on the above graph occurred when the far-and-away active leader retired, such as Pud Galvin in 1892, Cy Young in 1911, Walter Johnson in 1927, Burleigh Grimes in 1934, Robin Roberts in 1966, etc.

I also researched complete game losses. It's generally more similar, but such games were more common in the 1970s than in the late 50s and 60s. In the late 1950's, about 5-5.5% of starts resulted in complete game losses. That number fell to 3% in the 1960s before peaking at 7% in 1974. Since then, it has gradually dropped, to 5% in 1979, then 4% in 1983, then 3% in 1989, then 2% in 1994, and falling below 1% in 2003. This past year, just 30 starts, or 6/10ths of 1% were complete game losses.

2 Comments | Posted in Game Finders

Bouncing Around with Style

Posted by Raphy on December 25, 2008

When Mark Teixeira takes the field for the Yankees next season, he will be playing for his 4th franchise in 3 years. Since 1901, 43 Players (36 if you remove players with multiple overlapping seasons) have been on 4 franchises in 3 years while playing at least 400 games. Here is the list:

Player **OPS+** Tms G From To Ages Positions Teams
Cliff Floyd 142 4 403 2001 2003 28-30 *7/9D FLA-MON-BOS-NYM
Roy Cullenbine 137 4 415 1942 1944 28-30 *9/7538 WSH-SLB-NYY-CLE
Roy Cullenbine 137 4 410 1941 1943 27-29 79/358 SLB-WSH-NYY-CLE
Bobby Bonds 131 4 460 1977 1979 31-33 *9/D CAL-TEX-CHW-CLE
Jose Guillen 126 4 432 2003 2005 27-29 *97/D8 CIN-OAK-ANA-WSN
Ken Harrelson 126 4 419 1967 1969 25-27 *93/7 WSA-KCA-BOS-CLE
Dan McGann 121 4 405 1898 1900 26-28 *3/4 BLN-WHS-BRO-STL
David Segui 117 4 414 1998 2000 31-33 *3/D97 SEA-TOR-TEX-CLE
Todd Zeile 111 5 481 1996 1998 30-32 *5/3 PHI-BAL-LAD-FLA-TEX
Todd Zeile 109 4 467 1998 2000 32-34 *53/D LAD-FLA-TEX-NYM
Sammy Strang 109 4 410 1901 1903 24-26 *5/4896 NYG-CHC-CHW-BRO
Jose Cruz 107 5 426 2003 2005 29-31 *9/87 SFG-TBD-LAD-ARI-BOS
Willie Davis 106 4 445 1973 1975 33-35 *8/97 LAD-MON-STL-TEX
Jeromy Burnitz 106 4 436 2003 2005 34-36 *98/7D NYM-LAD-COL-CHC
Todd Zeile 105 5 436 1995 1997 29-31 *5/37 STL-CHC-PHI-BAL-LAD
Willie Horton 105 6 417 1977 1979 34-36 *D/7 TEX-DET-TOR-OAK-CLE-SEA
Lee Thomas 105 4 419 1964 1966 28-30 39/78 LAA-BOS-CHC-ATL
Dave Parker 104 4 433 1989 1991 38-40 *D/39 OAK-MIL-TOR-CAL
Tommy Davis 104 4 433 1967 1969 28-30 *7/398 NYM-CHW-HOU-SEP
Willie Davis 101 4 434 1974 1976 34-36 *8/97 MON-STL-TEX-SDP
Kenny Lofton 100 5 412 2001 2003 34-36 *8 CLE-SFG-CHW-PIT-CHC
Tony Fernandez 100 4 401 1992 1994 30-32 *6/54 SDP-NYM-TOR-CIN
Chad Curtis 100 4 406 1995 1997 26-28 *87/9 DET-LAD-NYY-CLE
Jay Payton 99 4 424 2003 2005 30-32 *78/9D COL-SDP-OAK-BOS
Mike Mitchell 98 4 414 1912 1914 32-34 *97/8 CIN-PIT-CHC-WSH
Tony Gonzalez 97 4 412 1968 1970 31-33 *8/79 PHI-SDP-ATL-CAL
Eric Byrnes 96 4 412 2004 2006 28-30 *78/9D OAK-COL-BAL-ARI
Keith Moreland 95 4 419 1987 1989 33-35 53/D72 CHC-SDP-DET-BAL
Chad Curtis 95 4 413 1996 1998 27-29 *87/9D LAD-DET-NYY-CLE-NYY
Eric Byrnes 94 4 429 2005 2007 29-31 *78/9D COL-OAK-BAL-ARI
Willie Montanez 93 4 448 1978 1980 30-32 *3/D NYM-TEX-SDP-MON
Brian McRae 93 4 446 1997 1999 29-31 *8/D NYM-CHC-NYM-COL-TOR
Steve Finley 91 4 413 2004 2006 39-41 *8/D LAD-ARI-LAA-SFG
Tommy Davis 91 5 413 1968 1970 29-31 *7/398 CHW-HOU-SEP-CHC-OAK
Gary Matthews 91 5 407 2001 2003 26-28 *89/7D PIT-CHC-NYM-BAL-SDP
Jose Hernandez 90 4 454 2001 2003 31-33 *6/58437 MIL-PIT-COL-CHC
Deron Johnson 89 5 404 1973 1975 34-36 *D3 PHI-OAK-MIL-BOS-CHW
Cass Michaels 88 4 412 1950 1952 24-26 *4/5 WSH-CHW-WSH-SLB-PHA
Charlie Hayes 87 4 402 1994 1996 29-31 *5 COL-PHI-PIT-NYY
Lyn Lary 84 4 417 1934 1936 28-30 *6/3 NYY-BOS-WSH-SLB
Royce Clayton 75 4 426 2004 2006 34-36 *6 COL-ARI-WSN-CIN
Roberto Pena 73 4 417 1968 1970 31-33 *6/453 PHI-SDP-OAK-MIL
Tony Womack 71 4 401 2002 2004 32-34 *64/89 ARI-COL-CHC-STL

A few notes:

1. Over the last 2 seasons Teixeira has a OPS+ of 151 in 289 games. He has a chance to be at the top of this list.

2. Aside from Texiera, the only player to play at least 270 games and on 3 different franchises in the last 2 years is Jason Kendall. In that time Kendall has had an  OPS+ of 68. Should Kendall switch franchises during the season, he  could wind up at the end of the list.

3. Todd Zeile appears 3 times on the list. In the 6 years from 1995 to 2000, Zeile played over 900 games for 8 different franchises. Amazingly enough, Zeile would have qualified again just 4 years later, but he fell 5 games short. In all, in the 10 years from 1995-2004 Zeile played for 11 different franchises and still played 1435 games.

1 Comment | Posted in Uncategorized

Dock Ellis Passes

Posted by Steve Lombardi on December 20, 2008

Dock Ellis passed away yesterday. (Hat tip to BBTF.) Few realize this, but, while Ellis was best known for his days with the Pirates, he was a member of one of the best Yankees starting rotations in terms of wins. Via Baseball-Reference.com's Play Index Pitching Season Finder, here are the only Yankees teams where more than one starting pitcher had 17+ wins. As you can see, the 1976 trio of Catfish Hunter, Ed Figueroa and Dock Ellis were workhorses for Billy Martin that season.

 Year Lg Team                              Number Players Matching
+----+--+---------------------------------+------+-----------------------------------------+
 1927 AL New York Yankees                       4 Wilcy Moore / Waite Hoyt / Herb Pennock / Urban Shocker
 1923 AL New York Yankees                       4 Sam Jones / Waite Hoyt / Joe Bush / Herb Pennock
 2003 AL New York Yankees                       3 Andy Pettitte / Roger Clemens / Mike Mussina
 1976 AL New York Yankees                       3 Catfish Hunter / Ed Figueroa / Dock Ellis
 1963 AL New York Yankees                       3 Ralph Terry / Jim Bouton / Whitey Ford
 1951 AL New York Yankees                       3 Allie Reynolds / Vic Raschi / Ed Lopat
 1932 AL New York Yankees                       3 Lefty Gomez / Red Ruffing / Johnny Allen
 1928 AL New York Yankees                       3 George Pipgras / Waite Hoyt / Herb Pennock
 1924 AL New York Yankees                       3 Waite Hoyt / Herb Pennock / Joe Bush
 1922 AL New York Yankees                       3 Bob Shawkey / Joe Bush / Waite Hoyt
 1921 AL New York Yankees                       3 Carl Mays / Waite Hoyt / Bob Shawkey
 1920 AL New York Yankees                       3 Carl Mays / Jack Quinn / Bob Shawkey
 2006 AL New York Yankees                       2 Chien-Ming Wang / Randy Johnson
 2002 AL New York Yankees                       2 Mike Mussina / David Wells
 2001 AL New York Yankees                       2 Mike Mussina / Roger Clemens
 1998 AL New York Yankees                       2 David Cone / David Wells
 1980 AL New York Yankees                       2 Ron Guidry / Tommy John
 1979 AL New York Yankees                       2 Tommy John / Ron Guidry
 1978 AL New York Yankees                       2 Ed Figueroa / Ron Guidry
 1974 AL New York Yankees                       2 Pat Dobson / Doc Medich
 1969 AL New York Yankees                       2 Mel Stottlemyre / Fritz Peterson
 1968 AL New York Yankees                       2 Stan Bahnsen / Mel Stottlemyre
 1964 AL New York Yankees                       2 Whitey Ford / Jim Bouton
 1962 AL New York Yankees                       2 Ralph Terry / Whitey Ford
 1956 AL New York Yankees                       2 Johnny Kucks / Whitey Ford
 1955 AL New York Yankees                       2 Whitey Ford / Bob Turley
 1950 AL New York Yankees                       2 Ed Lopat / Vic Raschi
 1949 AL New York Yankees                       2 Vic Raschi / Allie Reynolds
 1948 AL New York Yankees                       2 Vic Raschi / Ed Lopat
 1938 AL New York Yankees                       2 Lefty Gomez / Red Ruffing
 1937 AL New York Yankees                       2 Lefty Gomez / Red Ruffing
 1936 AL New York Yankees                       2 Monte Pearson / Red Ruffing
 1934 AL New York Yankees                       2 Lefty Gomez / Red Ruffing
 1926 AL New York Yankees                       2 Urban Shocker / Herb Pennock
 1915 AL New York Yankees                       2 Ray Caldwell / Ray Fisher
 1910 AL New York Highlanders                   2 Russ Ford / Jack Quinn
 1906 AL New York Highlanders                   2 Jack Chesbro / Al Orth
 1905 AL New York Highlanders                   2 Jack Chesbro / Al Orth
 1904 AL New York Highlanders                   2 Jack Chesbro / Jack Powell

R.I.P. Dock.

1 Comment | Posted in Season Finders

Something For Sabathia To Shoot For

Posted by Steve Lombardi on December 14, 2008

Playing around with Baseball-Reference.com's Play Index Pitching Season Finder, I set the controls for "Playing for the NYY, For single seasons, From 1901 to 2008, Throws LH, (requiring GS>=30, ERAp>=120, WLperc>=.600, and SO>=150), sorted by greatest ERAp" in an attempt to find some of the most dominant seasons by a Yankees' left-handed starting pitcher.  Here are the results:

  Cnt Player            ERA+  GS  W-L%  SO Year Age Tm
+----+-----------------+----+---+-----+---+----+---+---+
    1 Ron Guidry         208  35  .893 248 1978  27 NYY
    2 Lefty Gomez        191  34  .656 194 1937  28 NYY
    3 Lefty Gomez        175  33  .839 158 1934  25 NYY
    4 Whitey Ford        170  36  .739 172 1964  35 NYY
    5 Andy Pettitte      155  35  .720 166 1997  25 NYY
    6 Ron Guidry         146  30  .692 201 1979  28 NYY
    7 Jimmy Key          139  34  .750 173 1993  32 NYY
    8 Whitey Ford        130  37  .680 160 1962  33 NYY
    9 Andy Pettitte      129  34  .724 162 1996  24 NYY
   10 Whitey Ford        128  37  .774 189 1963  34 NYY
   11 David Wells        127  30  .818 163 1998  35 NYY
   12 Lefty Gomez        122  30  .615 163 1933  24 NYY

Seasons/Careers found: 12.

What's interesting here, at least to me, is that Lefty Gomez (1933-34), Ron Guidry (1978-79), and Andy Pettitte (1996-97) did this in back-to-back seasons and Whitey Ford (1962-64) did it in back-to-back-to-back seasons.

CC Sabathia will be a Yankee, at least he should be, for the next three seasons - at a minimum.  Can he fashion two "great" seasons in a row, during this time, and join this list?  Time will tell...

3 Comments | Posted in Season Finders

100+ RBI in 3 straight years for OF

Posted by Andy on December 12, 2008

In this piece about Raul Ibanez signing with the Phillies, Jayson Stark points out that only 5 outfielders have had 100 RBI in each of the last 3 seasons.

                   From  To   Ages Seasons Link to Individual Seasons
+-----------------+----+----+-----+-------+------------------------------+
 Magglio Ordonez   2006 2008 32-34       3 Ind. Seasons
 Carlos Lee        2006 2008 30-32       3 Ind. Seasons
 Raul Ibanez       2006 2008 34-36       3 Ind. Seasons
 Carlos Beltran    2006 2008 29-31       3 Ind. Seasons
 Bobby Abreu       2006 2008 32-34       3 Ind. Seasons

When I saw that, I was surprised that only 5 OFs had done it. I was sure that in the mid 1990s, the total was higher. But I was basically wrong. Most 3-year periods from 1993 onward, there were 3 to 5 guys (occasionally 6) who had done it for the 3 years previously. Before that, only 1 to 3 outfielders had usually done it in any given 3-year period.

4 Comments | Posted in Season Finders

More on catchers

Posted by Andy on December 11, 2008

Recently I wrote that the Red Sox should try to keep Jason Varitek because catcher's offensive contributions have been steadily in decline. My metric of 20 HR, 75 RBI seasons was (reasonably) questioned by some, so here is a less arbitrary way of looking at it.

Using the basic splits across the major leagues (such as can be found here) I've graphed OPS+ contributions by positions as far back as the data goes, to 1956.

Here is the raw data:

So remember that an average major leaguer comes in at 100. A quick look at the above graph reveals things like:

  • Overall, there is far less spread among the positions today than there used to be, save for the early 1980s when the spread was also small.
  • First baseman have been the biggest contributors, leading baseball almost every year. The difference was huge back prior to the mid-70s, when 1B's occasionally had OPS+ values as high as 130!!
  • Other above-average contributors have been RF, LF, DH, 3B, and CF, with each of those positions being above 100 nearly every single year.
  • Centerfielders have been on a continuous decline over the last 50 years. In the late 1950s, they were as highly ranked as 1B and the corner outfielders. By the 1970s, third basemen had caught CFs. In the last 5 years, CFs have now fallen below 3B.
  • Catchers, shortstops, and second basemen have been below average nearly all years.
  • However, while catchers show a steady decline over this 50-year period, 2Bs and SSs have come closer to the pack, consistently hitting 90 or higher the last bunch of years.
  • Finally, and more to the main point of this post, catchers how now fallen to be the least-contributing group in baseball. They have been dead last or tied for last in 7 out of the last 8 years.

There are numerous other interesting things that can be gleaned from the above graph, such as the bumps up in 1998 for 1B and RF when McGwire and Sosa when on their HR-hitting sprees. I encourage you to take a more detailed look at the plot on your own.

For those who'd prefer a simpler view, I offer this 10-year average of the above data. So, for example, the data for 2008 is an average of the values by position for the years 1999 through 2008.

This graph very clearly shows the gradual and continual decline of catchers. They were close to average in the 1960s but have steadily fallen off. By this 10-year average, they've actually become the worst group in baseball in the last 2 years.

Accepting the fact that catchers are the least productive hitters, this doesn't mean that the Red Sox should accept a terrible offensive player at the position. What it does mean, though, is that they are unlikely to be able to find a catcher that is a truly significant contributor, and assuming that Varitek's value to the pitching staff is real and significant, I feel that they are better off with him than with some other offensively-average catcher.

5 Comments | Posted in Splits

Red Sox should keep Jason Varitek

Posted by Andy on December 9, 2008

There has been much discussion about whether the Red Sox should try to retain Jason Varitek. Aside from having Scott Boras as his agent, the basic argument can be boiled down like this:

PRO: Varitek is an amazing catcher with a fantastic memory and is a huge boon to the pitching staff (a fact that I have never heard anybody dispute)

CON: Varitek has been a pretty poor hitter over the last 1.5 seasons (also a fact that I have never heard anybody dispute.)

I would argue that the Red Sox should keep Varitek, assuming they can find a 2-year contract that makes sense. I believe that offensive contributions from catchers are thought to be more significant than they are.

Those of us old enough to remember baseball back in the 80s and earlier recall that catchers were rarely major offensive forces. Players like Johnny Bench and Gary Carter were very much the rarity and not the norm. It's easy to forget now, but when Mike Piazza first came along, he was so often heralded as the greatest offensive catcher since Bench or perhaps ever. The graph below shows that it was during The Steroids Era that catchers saw unprecedented offensive success, at least when measuring by number of 20 HR, 75 RBI seasons.

The red points are the data and the black line is a 5-year average.

It wasn't until the mid-1990s that as many as 5 catchers ever had such output in the same year. At this time, the 5-year average hit 4 catchers per year, an average that was never reached previously in MLB history.

It's also true that we've seen a significant dropoff from 1999 to this past season. The high of 5 catchers in 1999 has come down to just 2 catchers the last 2 seasons.

However, the above graph is tough to understand in a vacuum. For instance, the number of teams and number of games in a season has changed over the years. In theory, more catchers should be getting 20 HR, 75 RBI seasons these days than in past decades simply because there are more teams now. Plus, trends in the game have changed, with run scoring going through peaks and valleys, making it more or less likely at different times for any given player to achieve certain statistical totals. We know that lots of players accumulated large HR and RBI totals in The Steroids Era.

So, let's normalize performance by catchers. First, I determined the total number of 20 HR, 75 RBI seasons each year by players at any position, and then found the fraction each year that were achieved by catchers. That tells us a lot more while eliminating factors such as number of teams or games.

Wow, I bet you weren't expecting this, were you? What this graph is telling us that pretty continuously over the last 80 or so years, catchers have contributed fewer and fewer 20 HR, 75 RBI seasons to baseball. Some of this could be because fewer catchers are playing enough games to achieve these totals, but my guess is that it's more than that. Other than the extreme drop-off in the three year period 1988-1990, catchers today are contributing the smallest percentage of 20 HR, 75 RBI seasons since the mid-1940s.

Why do I think this means that the Red Sox should resign Varitek? Basically, I'm saying that as a .220 hitter, his offensive contributions are not so much less than could reasonably be expected. An average catcher over 450 AB might produce 15 to 20 more hits a year, and while those additional hits would produce a few more runs, that difference may well be balanced by Varitek's added value to the pitching staff as compared to an average catcher.

Mind you, if Boston had the opportunity to go out and get an above-average catcher such as Brian McCann, that guy would likely be more valuable than Varitek. But with good catching at such a premium, as it usually has been for most periods in baseball history, Boston is unlikely to be able to acquire such a player and is far better off sticking with Varitek.

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