Archive for June, 2004
As many of you recall, Bill James wrote a computer simulation in which he attempted to discover whether there could ever be a hitter so dominant that it made sense to walk him every time he came to the plate. He used a modified Babe Ruth, and he surrounded him with a group of hitters not unlike the collection surrounding Barry Bonds on today’s Giants team (OK, that’s a stretch, but you get what I’m saying). In this simulation; if I remember correctlly, they scored almost a hundred more runs per season, and won more games (he ran thousands of seasons to eliminate statistical anomalies).
Now the NY Times runs an article in which some stats professor from Duke University, (with apparently no real understanding of the game of baseball, by my reading), has determined that walking Barry is somehow 0.1 runs per inning less effective than pitching to him.
First of all, they mention Bill James, but not the fact that he has already answered that question in the only measurement that matters, runs overall and wins. Second, the article offers nothing to the argument; and I mean nothing.
These weak efforts to reach the “stat-head” fan base are laughable. You want to reach us? Hire some of us. Hey NY Times, go get Alex Belth to write an online column for you. Hey SF Chronicle, I’m here, waiting for you to knock on my door. Chicago Tribune, go get Christian Ruzich now. USA Today, get David Pinto. What’s the holdup? Why have almost three years gone by now, and only a handful of traditional outlets decided it was worth the small cost to make an effort to access all of the terrific writing that is available for free!
I know for me, I wouldn’t ask for a lot. I’d do it for a real bargain, see what happens, I’d even do a two or three month trial, gratis, if I felt the demands weren’t too high. But no, instead, we get poorly written, weakly researched, insight-free crap like this. Oh well, I guess I’ll go re-read what I wrote, oh, only about a year ago:
I was re-reading my New Baseball Historical Abstract last night, and I came across the Babe Ruth comments page in which Bill James runs with the question of whether any hitter is so good they should be routinely walked, as opponents have sort of been doing to Barry Bonds these last three seasons. Take a look:
Is there any such thing as a hitter so good that it would make sense simply to walk him every time he came to the plate? If there was such a hitter, of course, it would have to be Babe Ruth. To test this, I established on a computer a lineup with Babe Ruth hitting cleanup in the middle of what is otherwise a worse-than-realistic offense. The team was:
1. Willie Wilson, CF (1988 .262/.289/.333)
2. Al Weis, 2B (1966 .155/.233/.187)
3. Gerald Perry, 1B (1985 .214/.282/.273)
4. Babe Ruth, RF (1921 .385/.523/.862)
5. Gino Cimoli, LF (1961 .234/.284/.337)
6. Don Wert, 3B (1970 .218/.307/.303)
7. Jamie Quirk, C (1977 .217/.251/.330)
8. Angel Salazar, SS (1987 .205/.219/.246)
9. Sandy Koufax, P (as a hitter only, career .097/.145/.116)
To make the distance between Ruth and the other hitters on the team even greater, I modified Ruth’s 1921 season slightly, taking away ten outs; instead of going 204 for 540 (.378), I changed him to 204 for 530 (.385), thus increasing his slugging percentage from .846 to .862.
I then ran the team through 1,000 simulated seasons, twice, In one simulation, I instructed the computer to simply walk Ruth every time he came to the plate. In the other run, I allowed the computer to pitch to Ruth (except walking him in those situations in which one normally would).
Conclusion? It’s not even close. Walking Ruth every time up does far, far more harm than good, even under these impossibly extreme conditions. The team for which Ruth hit .385 with 61 homers scored 601 runs per season, and finished with a winning percentage of .326. The team for which Ruth was walked everytime up scored 667 runs per season, and finished with a winning percentage of .380. As great as Ruth was, as terrible as his teammates were, he was still nowhere near the point at which it made sense to simply walk him every time he came to the plate.
Why is this true? Let’s assume Ruth came to the plate 726 times per season, which he did in this simulation (when he was being walked). If you pitch to Ruth 726 times, he’ll get 210 hits good for 532 Total Bases, a huge number, and Ruth will account for those bases while making only about 330 outs – a phenomenal bases/outs ratio.
But if you just walk him every time, what do you have then? 726 bases, and zero outs. That’s far worse. If you walk Ruth every time, Gino Cimoli, hitting fifth, drives in 151 runs per year – .267 with 9 homers, 151 RBI. A real hitter would drive in more than 200, It’s not worth it; it’s not close. There is no such thing as a hitter so good that he should be routinely walked.
I went and dug up each player and plugged in a real bad season, just so all of you wouldn’t have to (editor’s note: I didn’t bring the links, but if you follow the link to the archive, they’re still there). As you can see, that is one bad offensive team. It’s also interesting that he modified Ruth to push his slugging percentage and on-base percentage right up there with Bonds’ historic 2001 season.
Altered Ruth 1921 .385/.523/.862 61 HR’s 467 TB’s 145 BB’s
Barry Bonds’ 2001 .328/.515/.863 73 HR’s 411 TB’s 177 BB’s
Hmmmm…… Very interesting, don’t you think? Anyway, back to work.
How are you gonna argue with Bill on his conclusion, it seems pretty obvious that he is dead on. The question remains, then; why do teams continue to give Bonds, (and the Giants) a base or two per game for free? It seems evident that continually forcing your pitchers to work from the stretch almost every inning Bonds is up is a bad strategy. The Giants have been one of the winningest teams in the game these last three seasons, and their offense has been very effective, one of the best in the game, even with some pretty glaring holes (first base, catcher, and center field last season, third base and shortstop this year).
Nonetheless, the approach to Bonds hasn’t really changed since he hit the stratosphere in the first couple of months of 2001. Pitch around him as often as humanly possible, walking him in situations that fly in the face of baseball convetion, (men on first and second, for instance); and the Giants continue to take advantage of this generosity, winning and winning. Don’t forget, were it not for the Angels’ miracle rally in Game Six, we’d be talking about the defending World Champs. This season, with all the changes on the team and everything else, their offense away from the graveyard of PacBell continues to be one of the best in baseball…. in fact, let’s look at the last three seasons for the road warriors:
2001 .276/.345/.482 447 runs, second in the NL
2002 .273/.350/.471 426 runs, first in the NL
2003 .250/.325/.418 357 runs, tenth in the NL
2004 .252/.342/.387 175 runs, fifth in the NL
They’re actually a bit off from the last two seasons, most of which is due to the loss of Jeff Kent, who was simply awesome on the road. Anyway…. Just thought I’d throw that out there and see if I can’t get a rise from somebody. Walking Bonds seems to help the Giants more than it helps the opposing pitcher, and Bill James’ simulation just affirms my feeling that there is little advantage to the strategy.
I added the final stats from 2003, and where we are in 2004. When I wrote this piece, in July, the Giants were fifth in the NL in runs scored. That they finished tenth shows you that there were some weaknesses to that team that didn’t show up in the standings. Looking at the final stats from ’03, you can see how the loss of Kent was huge. But the Giants offense has lost more than just Kent, look at the slugging percentage drop, 100 points in four seasons. That’s a huge number of hits, extra-base hits, walks (and runs). First Burks, then Kent, and finally, Aurilia, that’s three hitters who flat-out raked. Add in the loss of Gallarraga, the hole in right field, the bench, (which right now, is atrocious, for Chrissakes, the first pinch hitter last night was gonna be Neifi Perez!), I mean, we’re talking about some drop-off.
OK, I’m going to tomorrow night’s game against the Blue Jays. My wife and I will be in the Club Level, section CL230, row D, seats 11 and 12. I Hope this doesn’t set me up for an assasination attempt
Anyway, posting’ll be light ’til I get back to the mountains on Friday. Go Giants.
Speaking of Superman, Bonds’ first half of ’04 is starting to look obscene.
.376/.628/.842 1.470 OPS 88 BB 12 SO
That’s right, boys and girls, he’s got an insane .628 on-base percentage. He’s well on his way to a 200 walk season, (he’ll pass Rickey Henderson for first all-time career walks within a month or so), and 48 of the 88 are intentional, so he’s probably gonna break his season record of 68 by the end of July. He’s four hits shy of .400, (May just killed him, what with the sinus infection and the back acting up, he managed just 12 hits).
He’s 38 home runs away from Ruth, and he’s averaging just about 2 at bats per Giants game played, they have 99 games left, meaning he should get something like another 200 AB’s; he’s hitting a home run every 7.38 AB’s, sooooo….
He probably won’t catch him this season. According to my calculations, he’s gonna hit about 28 more home runs this season, which will give him 46 or so, (which appears to be all the NL will allow him to hit in a season anymore. After hitting 73, he’s hit 46, 45, and this year, he’ll finish with something like 46 again), leaving him with 704, 705, something like that. If he can somehow get an extra five home runs this season, that would set him up for a historic 2005 campaign, in which he could pass Ruth and Aaron in the same season. Good Golly, Miss Molly.
So I guess that’s why the New York Times chose today to publish this Lee Jenkins steroids article. Jenkins is guilty of every writing crime in the book here, as he rehashes the last six months of articles and columns written on the subject in a lame effort that once again singles out Bonds.
As the Giants finished their marathon road trip 7-7 by finishing off the Orioles today, winning 7-3 behind Barry Bonds 18th home run of the season. the good news is that the Giants come home in pretty good shape in the NL West. the bad nes is that they will be playing the rest of June against real teams.
I’m going to be at the Toronto game on the 16th, down by the visitor’s bullpen, should anyone want to say hello. I am bald, have a goatee, and will be with my 2 year old daughter Michael and my beautiful wife Ann, should you recognize me, say hello.
So now the Giants are 5-5 as they stagger through this road trip from hell. Last night’s 4-3 loss to the Devil Rays, (that was the San Francisco Giants 2003 Gold Glove rightfielder Jose Cruz knocking in the winning run in the 10th inning, by the way) was a wasted Jason Schmidt gem, something this team cannot afford to do. The loss prevented the Giants from getting 3 games over .500 for the first time this season, and after today, the Giants are done playing the little leaguers.
That’s right, after a 19 game stretch against the worst teams in the league (feasting on mediocrity, the Giants reeled off a ten game win streak, and have posted a 15-6 record against the second division, awaiting todays’ result), it’s time for the G-men to play real games again, a terrifying prospect for the likes of Hermanson, Tomko and Rueter. As Brian Sabean watches the waiver wire for more castoffs and has beens, the Giants season is on the line. Baltimore, Toronto, Oakland and Los Angeles are on the schedule for the next 21 games, at which point we’ll be in July, and, barring a miracle, the Giants will be back in last place.
The Giants are 4-4 on their current fourteen game road trip, after beating the Rockies 10-5 yesterday. Pedro Feliz went deep twice (11 home runs), Torrealba hit a three-run homer, and they finished their four game series in Colorado with 41 runs.
With a chance to finish this marathon with a winning record, the Giants are playing tough, tougher than this writer would have thought. Their hitting is starting to come around, but their pitching remains wildly inconsistent. Let’s take a look….
Bonds .374/.633/.861 1.494 OPS 16 HR
Feliz .284/.300/.505 .805 OPS 11 HR 10 2B team leading 33 RBI
Grissom .304/.349/.480 .829 OPS 21 X-base hits
Alfonzo .315/.376/.413 .789 OPS 12 RBI (for the month of May)
Pierzynski 27 hits in his last 91 at bats, 19 RBI 9 X-base hits (since May 1st)
On the pitching side, however, you’ve got Schmidt, occasionally Jerome Williams, and a bunch of stiffs. Sabean has to make a move for more starting pitching.
Hermanson 51.1 IP 50 hits 6 HR 16 BB 5.96 K/9IP 3.86 ERA
Rueter 66.1 IP 87 hits 7 HR 23 BB 20 K 2.71 K/9IP 5.29 ERA
Schmidt 69 IP 44 hits 6 HR 22 BB 74 K 9.65 K/9IP 2.61 ERA
Tomko 66 IP 87 hits 8 HR 25 BB 32 K 4.36 K/9IP 5.86 ERA
Williams 67.1 IP 68 hits 8 HR 6.42 K/9IP 4.68 ERA
It bears mentioning that PacBell is one of the toughest places to hit a home run in all of baseball. Since moving there, the Giants pitching staffs have been among the stingiest just about every year. This season, the Giants have allowed the fifth most home runs in the NL, with 65. At home, they’ve already given up 28 home runs, which is 11th in the NL, but still way more than normal.
2004 185 home runs allowed overall At home 79 home runs allowed (projected)
2003 136 home runs allowed overall At Home 61 home runs allowed
2002 116 home runs allowed overall At home 42 home runs allowed
2001 145 home runs allowed overall At home 49 home runs allowed
That, my friends, is a trend; and not a good one. There is little doubt that the pitching staff as currently constructed, is not a championship caliber staff. The offense may be just good enough to contend (although I doubt it), but the pitching, particularly the starters, is terrible, and must be improved if the team is to make some noise.
The NY Daily News has a comprehensive look at the USADA, the agency that has taken over drug testing for Olympic athletes. It’s worth a read, as it details the vast differences between the perceived rights of the Olympic athletes and baseball players.
Don’t take this comparison too far, but baseball players are organized, unionized, as it were; while Olympic athletes are not. Just as employers have enjoyed a tremendous historical edge in dealing with unorganized workers, Olympic athletes stand alone against any and all charges of wrong-doing. They have no strength in numbers, no real ability to force the powers that be to respond to their demands for privacy, financial rewards, workplace safety, whatever.
Baseball players, on the other hand, do. As everyone knows, they have one of history’s greatest unions; they have enjoyed an amazing run of success, essentially winning every battle they’ve ever had with management. Because of their union, ballplayers have long resisted the calls for drug-testing, primarily on the grounds of privacy. Random drug testing is, quite simply, a humiliating experience.
Thirteen days ago in Mt. Pleasant, Mich., a doorbell rang. It was 8 a.m. on a Monday morning. Tara Nott Cunningham, Olympic weightlifter and Sydney gold medalist, was still asleep. She answered the door in her pajamas.
Her visitors were a man and a woman, doping-control officers, or DCO’s, as they are known to the 3,200 elite athletes around the country who regularly receive their visits. The DCO’s had U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) shirts and badges, and they knew Cunningham would be home; she had dutifully submitted her quarterly Athlete Location Form, letting USADA know of her whereabouts every day for the ensuing three months.
“It’s a good thing I didn’t go yet this morning,” Cunningham joked. Then it was into the bathroom, where Cunningham had her unannounced, any-hour, any-day drug test, in which she had to get naked from her torso to her thighs, and produce a urine sample in front of the female DCO, who, according to the USADA Athlete Handbook “must have a clear and unobstructed view of the passing of the sample.”
To my thinking, there is something significant happening here. The clarion call for baseball players to relent has sounded; and the pressure is not likely to lessen, (especially if the BALCO case ends with players being named). Random drug tests have become commonplace in the United States, but keep in mind, as workers have seen the protection afforded by unions erode, (union power over the last several decades is as low as it has been in history); they have also seen their wages and benefits grow stagnant.
I have yet to figure out the connection, and perhaps I never will; but I feel it’s there. I understand the need for “clean” competition. I also believe that there are inalienable rights, and what Tara Nott Cunningham jokes about is a serious breach of those rights. No matter what these athletes say about their desire for a drug-free Olympics, I find it hard to believe that they would submit to such intrusions if they didn’t have to. Would you?
The Giants stopped their slide with an offensive onslaught against the Rockies last night, winning 13-6 . Bonds hit his 673rd home run, among the four that the Giants blasted, and Jason Schmidt won his 7th of the season, although he wasn’t as sharp as he’s been lately (certainly Coors Field must have had something to do with it).
Giants GM Brian Sabean made a couple of moves sure to change the shape of the NL West, releasing Jeffrey Hammonds, and bringing up Cody Ransom and Todd Linden.
And Keith Emmer has a common sense approach to perfect games in today’s NY Sports Express. “The truth is, a perfect game is more of a statistical anomaly than the mark of a great pitcher.” Go, now.
But not the way they were last week. After last night's 11-5 loss to the D'backs, the Giants have now lost three straight to drop back down below .500. Even though their offense gave them a lead in two of the three games, their pitching was
, quite frankly, woeful.
No one was immune, from poor starts to equally ineffective relief; and they simply do not have the offense needed to overcome leads again and again.
As I said earlier this week; I sure hope Sabean didn't look at that winning streak and feel like he could quit working on improving the team, because he still needs to do that.