It was June, and things weren’t looking good for the Diamondbacks. Already 15 games behind the surprise Padres, they just dropped an inter-divisional series at home. Against their natural geographical nemesis – the Yankees. And they had only one day to regroup as they took their 28-45 record on the road to face yet another regional foe – the Tampa Bay Rays. “I’ll take ‘The states that host spring training games’ for $200, Alex”.
Their hitters weren’t hitting and their pitchers were getting hit. Haren, the staff ace, had an ERA of 4.67, which was on the right side of five compared to the one sported by Edwin Jackson, who would get the ball on that Friday to take on the suddenly mighty Rays and their more than 2,000 very rabid fans.
So, of course, Edwin Jackson went out and hurled a complete game shutout, in what was possibly the most non-dominant dominating performance in baseball. He faced 36 batters and ran the count to three balls on more than the third of them. He walked eight. Yet, both Jackson and his manager kept stubbornly moving along until the last one of the Rays found his way to the bench and the scoreboard was still showing 0 hits for the home team. In a meaningless game for his team, Edwin Jackson wrote history and became only a second Diamondback to throw a no-hitter. He also threw 149 pitches that night.
Being a baseball manager is rather exciting compared to what most other 70-year olds get to spend their afternoons doing, but it’s still rather boring. There just isn’t that much to do.
In basketball you can call a timeout and scream at the bunch of seven-footers. You have your own little Etch-A-Sketch pad. You can substitute all you want. All you want. Imagine LaRussa under such circumstances.
In football you get to pick one of 200 plays that you drew up, minute after minute, all while simultaneously communicating with NASA satellites and avoiding streams of 350 lb bodies rushing to and away from the field. People really shouldn’t weigh 350 pounds.
And I am certain that there are various forms of entertainment that hockey coaches can engage in, and I would gladly mention them if I cared about the sport enough to know anything about it.
But as a baseball manager, you are left out of all the fun. First, you are called a manager and not a coach for a reason. You can not outsmart the other guy by secretly preparing a new play. You can’t teach a killer 3-2 zone. You don’t really teach or coach anything at all. And worst of all, even when the games start, well, there still isn’t much to do. And if you look at the following data, you’ll see that they have to wait for hours for what limited fun they might have.
And yet some people expect the Oakland Athletics to score runs. I mean, they really do – and they have the numbers for it.
Most of you are probably familiar with the concept of run expectancy. It is a fancy expression telling us how many runs scored on average between a certain baserunners/outs situation and the end of that particular inning. That number tells us what we should expect, or better said, it tells us what other teams did when facing a similar situation in the past.
It is helpful, as there are only 24 different situations in baseball and roughly 200,000 plate appearances every year. Structuring the data and being able to analyze so many events helps us try to answer some of the very basic questions about strategy in baseball. Is it helpful to bunt that runner over from second base? Walk that slugger with the first base open? It also gives some indications why we lately saw the shift from evaluating on-base and slugging as being equally worthy (OPS) to accepting on-base to be more important (wOBA).
Let’s look at them graphs.
PxP stands for both play-by-play and pitch-by-pitch, although if judged by how procrastinatingly* slow I go about it, the best description is probably peu à peu.
* I think I just made up a word.
Nowadays, baseball data is easily available, freely and abundantly. You want FIP, wOBA or WAR? You can get it, often in more than one flavor. Useful additives included, like adjustments for leagues and parks, baselines and weighted factors. While the precision and the functionality of said stats continue to rise, their complexity often only allows for acceptance, not for in-depth understanding of how they function.
Life Is Easy, When You’re Up On The Mountain
And You’ve Got Peace Of Mind
Like You’ve Never Known
But Then Things Change And You’re Down In The Valley
Don’t Lose Hope For You’re Never Alone
(The McKameys, God On The Mountain)
Personally, I think Billy Martin said it best when he said, “Hey! I can drive!”
Of course, this is not my opinion, but one of the guy who dreamt to be the starting centerfielder for the Boston Red Sox. Me? I think Joe Maddon said it best when he started rookie John Jaso over Dioner Navarro last week: “It’s not very complicated. Jaso, he’s hot.”
I will leave it to other people to battle it out whether the word hot is properly used when describing Eva Mendes or above average results in baseball over a period of time. I will use the word and show what I came up with in my first crack at Retrosheet play by play data.
I realize (well, sort of, since I never read it) that Tango covers similar topic in The Book. Apart from having a much cooler name, I am sure his analysis is done in a more scientific way and is more valuable. But, hey, I live on AN, he doesn’t, so this is what you get.
Yes, there are too many left-handed pitchers in baseball.
Depending on whom you ask, there are anywhere between 7 and 12 per cent of left-handed people on Earth. If you ask Curtis, he will be quick to educate you that in ancient Mesopotamia left hand was used as a metaphor for misfortune, natural evil, or punishment from the gods. And then he will point at Jamie Moyer and let you do the math.
Italians call a lefty “maldestro” – a bad right-hander. Swedish go even further, using their word for left-hander (vänster, don’t try pronouncing this at home) as a root for term vänsterprassel, meaning cheating, infidelity, adultery. There is hardly a language without a more or less derogative expression for the minority handedness and there is hardly a sport these oppressed creatures call home more often than baseball.