Oct 20

Bad Teams, Great Baseball

This past Friday, David Schoenfield on ESPN published an article that pointed out that this World Series features two teams with the fourth lowest combined wins in Series history. He even goes on to say that as far as quality of teams, this Series might just be one of the worst matchups ever. It was a fun article, meant to point out that we’re seeing two teams that few imagined would be in the Fall Classic, but as with such things, the Facebook cognoscenti called Schoenfield an idiot for publishing such tripe.

Well, I do not believe Schoenfield is an idiot, and I considered his piece more whimsy in the spirit of the magical runs both the Royals and Giants are on than an attempt to be serious, but it did make me wonder if this year we’re really scraping bottom in the century plus of historical precedent.

To rate each one of these Series (dating back to 1903) I used run differential as my guide to determine team quality. Sure, I could break each team into their unique components, try to find a common measurement, assign points, argh! That would be crazy. I want to enjoy the early weeks of sweater season and watch great baseball (even if Fox has given the finger to everyone on the East Coast who has to work by starting these games past eight), not spend my hours confirming/refuting Schoenfield’s article. Since the object of baseball is to win games by outscoring your opponent, and good teams should outscore their opponents more, run diff is my statistic of choice.

Is Schoenfield correct, then?

Based upon the all-mighty run diff, the 2014 pairing is the weakest in the history of the World Series. There, I’ve said it. This World Series is horrible, and we should all just watch the NBA preseason instead.

The Giants outscored their opponents by 51 runs this season, which was eighth in the Majors and third in the NL, while the Royals outscored opponents by 27 runs, good for 11th in the Majors and seventh in the AL. Their combined total of 78 runs was seven less than the next lowest in 1987, and that featured the Twins, the only Series participant (and winner!) to have a negative run differential at -20. In fact, 2014 and 1987 were the only years where the pair had less than 100 combined.

Individually, the Royals and Giants rank fourth and seventh worst for run differential. The three teams above the Royals are the 1987 Twins (-20), the 1973 Mets (18), and the 2006 Cardinals (19), and the 1959 Dodgers (34) and 1985 Royals (48) appear right after. So, no, we’re not exactly discussing juggernauts.

On the flip side, the seasons with the largest run differential combined between the two teams are the 1939 Yankees/Reds where the two outscored their opponents during the season by 583 runs (411 of those by the Yankees), the 1942 Cardinals/Yankees (568), and the 1927 Yankees/Pirates (535).

Just to be thorough, the top two teams in terms of run differential have met in the Series 36 times, though the majority of those happened prior to 1969 (when the format changed for the postseason from a single round). In fact, since the Tigers/Cardinals matchup in 1968, the top two teams (run differential only) in the Majors have met in the Series six times, last year’s Red Sox/Cardinals being the latest. The Red Sox and Cardinals have met in the Series four times as the top two (2013, 2004, 1967, and 1946).

If you’re still with me, I won’t bore you with tables or attempt to belabor the point any longer. This wasn’t a rigorous examination of team quality, and honestly, run differential is about as arbitrary as using team wins. In reality, the two go hand in hand since run differential is a good indicator of a team’s win total. It’s probably why I picked it because I’m lazy and I didn’t want to do independent research.

Despite what win totals and runs for/against tell us, I’m looking forward to this World Series more than any other in a quite a while. Maybe it’s because Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, and Madison Bumgarner could each win his third title, or that Travis Ishikawa returned just in time to earn his second, or maybe it’s because all those years of promise for the Royals is turning into a postseason of continued heroics for the likes of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon, and Lorenzo Cain. Jeremy Affeldt was 31 when this San Francisco run started in 2010, is now 35, and who knows how many seasons remain.

Wins and run differential won’t tell us about those, about the stories or the walk-offs or just who employs the better third basemen (because in this second season, both Sandoval and Moustakas have been amazing), and when it comes down to it, in terms of quality, I don’t know if this postseason could get any better.

I wouldn’t bet against it, though.

Oct 15

On Randal Grichuk’s Day

Read the rest of this entry »

Oct 14

Could the O’s Use Chris Davis Now?

With the Orioles down two games and facing a steady diet of Royals right-handed flamethrowers, I suppose the obvious question is whether the presence of Chris Davis would have made a difference. Davis, left off of the ALCS roster because he still had five games remaining on his suspension prior to the series opener, is a powerful left-handed bat that if nothing else would have given the O’s lineup some balance. As it stands, with the middle of the O’s order right heavy, Royals manager Ned Yost hasn’t had to worry about matchups except to go chalk with Herrera, Davis, and Holland.

Right handed? Check. High 90s fastball? Check. Go get ‘em, kid!

At first it might seem strange to think a guy who hit (loosely using the term here) .196/.300/.404 for the season could provide any real value, but when the righty Steve Pearce is suddenly struggling at a .158/.273/.158 clip in the postseason and especially so in the ALCS (0-for-9 with two strikeouts and a lot of pop ups), Davis’ absence becomes all the more glaring because of his history of success against righties. For his career, Davis has hit .263/.338/.513 against right handers with a 125 wRC+.

The O’s could sure use some of that now.

Davis also has a remarkable ability to crush fastballs, particularly against righties, batting .289 against pitches considered Hard (via BrooksBaseball.net) with 65 career home runs. Just so you don’t think most of that came via his monstrous 2013 campaign where he hit .286 with 53 home runs, during ’14 he hit .252 with 13 of his 26 home runs against right handed pitches considered hard, though much of that success came from cutters and sinkers. He hit just .165 against fourseam fastballs with 49 Ks in 109 at-bats. Yikes. Well, the Royals pitchers are likely to throw a sinker or offspeed at some point, right?

If Davis were to provide value against the barrage of Royals bullets, how has he fared against the aforementioned relievers? Since the beginning of 2012 when Davis first joined the Orioles, he is 1-for-6 against Herrera with three strikeouts, 1-for-2 with a K against Davis, and is 0-for-2 with a K against Holland. Would Yost even bother to bring in the lefty Brandon Finnegan, someone Davis has never faced, when these three have kept him to a pair of singles and five punch outs? Of course, Yost would have to get to his bullpen and James Shields and Yordano Ventura might be vulnerable. Davis was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts against Ventura this season, yet has been more successful against Shields, going 3-for-12 with a double and a home run. In 2014, however, he was 0-for-3, all on ground outs, and those Ventura at-bats were when Ventura’s electric arm was fresh without the stress of 183 regular season innings and an additional 7 1/3 entering his Saturday start in Baltimore.

If there’s evidence that Davis would have been the difference maker, then I’m not seeing it. Unless you want to argue that his bat would have chased Shields from Game 1 sooner, but scoring against Shields wasn’t the problem; keeping Chris Tillman from loading the bases for Alex Gordon to play hero was. Tillman wiggled free from a bases loaded jam against the Tigers, but the Royals are playing to a Disney script in these playoffs1.

The lesson: do not give the Royals a chance to make highlight reel plays. Because they will. Repeatedly.

So maybe instead of replacing the righty Pearce he’d have taken over for Ryan Flaherty (this is exactly what would have happened anyway so it’s not like this is brilliant deduction) at third base, but Flaherty has been fantastic in the postseason, batting .375/.444/.375 in the ALCS with a huge two out single in Game 1’s fifth inning to plate both Adam Jones and Nelson Cruz. Flaherty went 3-for-5 in that game, but in Game 2 he was 0-for-3 with a walk and flubbed an easy grounder in the ninth, so it’s not as though his defense has been so spectacular you cringe to see Davis out there.

The way Davis was swinging the bat this year, though, his true value might have been off the bench. Maybe when Pearce comes up with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the seventh in Game 2, Buck Showalter could have pinch hit with Davis. Does Yost stay with Herrera here or go with the rookie Finnegan? Who knows?

So, in the end, the verdict is maybe Davis would have provided value, but the way he was hitting this year probably not. Entering Game 3 of the ALCS, 22 games of a 25 game ban later, the O’s go with what they’ve got.

  1. It’s also a tough time to be associated with pizza in Michigan. Former Domino’s Pizza CEO David Brandon has been coming under fire as the University of Michigan AD and Tigers owner and Little Caesars co-founder Mike Illitch seeing his bullpen collapse, not to mention all the bad press carbohydrates have been receiving by nutritionists anymore.

Oct 14

Steve Pearce Is Due

I’m waiting for that moment when Steve Pearce turns on 99 mph Kelvin Herrera fastball and deposits it in the left field bleachers. It has to happen. The Orioles players will stream from the dugout like kids, joyously bounding for home, as Pearce jogs around the bases, his mind at ease because he finally guessed right.

In a postseason that has seen Mike Moustakas play the hero, belting four homers in six games when he hit 15 all season, and Eric Hosmer reminding everyone that bloop RBI singles do deserve celebratory dusting off of shoulders, then Pearce has to be next because his magical 2014 campaign can’t end with a .158/.273/.158 batting line that saw his best chance for an ALCS defining hit get robbed by Alex Gordon.

Much has been written about the well-traveled Pearce1, but here are the important things to know: Pearce hit 21 home runs this season, which was more than the 17 he’d hit in his previous 290 games in the Major Leagues since his various appearances since 2007. In any other season where he had 100+ at-bats, he’d never hit higher than .261/.362/.420 (last year with the O’s) where he hit .293/.373/.556 this season, and his 6.0 bWAR this season brought his career total up to 6.6. A magical 2014 indeed. This postseason was made for someone like Pearce.

He’s had his moments. In Game 2 he flew out weakly to left in the seventh with the bases loaded and one out, and he then struck out to end the game on a nasty Greg Holland slider in the dirt. Game 1 saw his opportunity to bring drive in Adam Jones with a gapper end in the mitt of a diving Alex Gordon. It’s like the Royals magical run and Pearce’s are of similar poles. Sigh. Isn’t there room enough for everyone?

At the moment, Pearce just looks confused. The Royals pitching staff has him guessing at location and pitch: he’s swung badly on enough changeups that he hasn’t been able to feast on the fastball, something he did with regularity in the regular season. During the season, Pearce hit .344 against pitches defined as hard (as per BrooksBaseball.net, using the PITCHf/x data) with 17 home runs. Now those fastballs are being fouled back or turned into harmless pop flies without any oomph behind it. To be sure cold, rainy days in Baltimore don’t help matters, but Adam Jones hasn’t suffered, nor has Gordon or Moustakas for that matter.

Facing the Royals staff isn’t easy. It’s almost unfair to go from the 96+ mph fastball of Yordano Ventura to bat against Herrera, Wade Davis, or Holland. For a fastball hitting machine like Pearce, he has to turn on one of them, right?

Down 0-2, the O’s can’t blame Pearce for their losses. You can look to the starting pitching that has allowed nine earned runs in 8 2/3 innings or the normally steady Darren O’Day suddenly serving up runs when he’d been so filthy throughout the regular season. It’s not like the O’s haven’t had their chances.

Game 3 is tonight, and with it is another opportunity for Pearce to shine. In one of the best postseasons in recent memory, with games seemingly decided in the last at-bat in every game, isn’t it his turn?

Baltimore fans sure hope so. So do I.

  1. Well traveled? How’s this for jet lag: 2012 saw him released by the Twins, signed by the Yankees, purchased by the O’s, selected off waivers by the Astros, purchased back by the Yankees, and then signed off the waivers by the O’s again.

Oct 02

Bumgarner, Volquez, and Wednesday Night

In the end, all the debate about whether Clint Hurdle should have pitched Gerrit Cole or Edinson Volquez didn’t really matter all that much. Not when Madison Bumgarner left the Pirates bats silent inning after inning, striking out 10 and walking one in a complete game four-hitter that was . . . impressive. What the Pirates needed was someone with the stuff and ability to keep the Giants scoreless, and if that was the criteria then Volquez was as good a choice as anyone, entering the game with an 18-inning scoreless streak. Cole, who has the stuff to overpower an opposing lineup, has just one outing in 2014 where he’d tossed up repeated zeroes, a five inning affair on July 4th.

Volquez escaped trouble in the second, only to hang a curve to Brandon Crawford in the fourth, and there was the game as Travis Snider watched the ball sail over his head into the right-field stands. Grand slam. 4-0. A hanging curve from Volquez isn’t anything new, though at the time he hadn’t left anything sitting middle of the plate like he’ll occasionally do. I thought his breaking ball looked sharp, if not particularly hitting its marks, and prior to the home run it looked as though Crawford was a little overmatched in that at-bat. So much for my thoughts of Crawford punch out. Give the Giants batters some credit, though. They stayed away from those Volquez pitches in the dirt, making the righty work. Making perfect pitches repeatedly is a grind that can just about wear anyone down.

Sometimes I wonder what it must be like for a pitcher to face Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence back-to-back. Sandoval fouls off quality pitches, swatting away balls inches off the plate with a practiced ease until he finds one to his liking. What’s the bonus for making your pitch, getting Sandoval to swing at one that he has no business hitting? The good fortune to do it all over again. Then there’s Pence with his frenetic stance, nearly hopping up and down enough to make a person dizzy, and his batting zone is the general plate area, from the boundaries of each batter’s box to about a foot over his head. Ask Jordan Zimmermann about throwing Pence a fastball eyeball level. Pence will just drive it over the fence. Navigating through the Giants lineup must be equal parts mental frustration and physical exhaustion.

Maybe if Volquez doesn’t hang one, the Giants don’t score and the frenzied Pittsburgh fans rattle Bumgarner. The home run took the crowd out of it, and Bumgarner kept the Pirates from ever bringing them back in. Maybe a healthy hamstring helps Russell Martin beat out his bunt, and the Pirates get to Bumgarner in the bottom half of the fourth. Or, maybe it’s more telling of how well Bumgarner was pitching that the Bucs cleanup hitter thought a bunt was a good idea in the first place.

Regardless, it’s the Giants that are moving on to face the Nationals on Friday while the Pirates begin plans for 2015. Can they resign Martin? What will they do with Pedro Alvarez? For the love of God, what are they going to do about first base? Please tell me that Ike Davis and Gaby Sanchez aren’t the answer.

While I’m glad that I might possibly see the brilliance that is Tanner Roark dominate once more on the West Coast, I’m sad to see the Bucs eliminated. After 162 games, a one-game playoff for everything just seems unnecessarily cruel.

Oct 01

West Coast? Mid-Atlantic Baseball Rules!

For those of us in the Mid-Atlantic region, this Major League postseason brings something sort of unique. For the first time, at least that I can track these things back, we’re going to see all three area teams in the playoffs at the same time. How unique is it? Seeing that big league baseball has been played in all three of the cities starting around 1886, with a few decades missing with a move from Baltimore to Brooklyn here or a move from Washington to Arlington there, it’s pretty remarkable that it took until 2014 under the warm embrace of Bud Selig to achieve Mid-Atlantic baseball supremacy.

I for one have grown tired over the past few years of the obvious West Coast bias in the sports media, particularly all the sabermetricians, who want to claim with fancy stats that the two best baseball players on the planet, Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout, play for a team sort of from an area in or around Los Angeles.1 For the time being, the Mid-Atlantic boasts the reigning NL MVP, two teams that went 96-66, and the growing legend that is Steve Pearce.

Over the years we’ve seen the Pittsburgh Pirates play World Series spoiler to both the Senators and the Orioles, besting Washington in the 1925 Series and beating the O’s in both 1971 and 1979. In 1974 Pittsburgh and Baltimore both lost in their respective Championship Series, but seeing as there wasn’t a team in D.C. from 1972 to 2005, any chance of seeing all three was sort of impossible. Even if you include the Homestead Grays, which you absolutely should, there was never any chance of a three team headline grab (the St. Louis Browns didn’t move to Baltimore until 1954) since the Pirates were ok but nothing amazing in the Grays glory days, and the Senators Series title in 1933 hit between the Grays league titles in 1931 and 1937. If you count the Browns, both St. Louis and the Grays were in world championships in 1944 with the Grays winning theirs and the Browns losing theirs, but why count St. Louis unless you’re desperate and really reaching for technicalities? We can also claim that 1940-42 had both Pittsburgh and Washington equally represented in the Negro World Series since the Grays split the seasons playing in both cities.

If nothing else, the Pirates, Senators, and Orioles gave area sports fans their collective money’s worth in ’33, ’71, and ’79 since each World Series went seven games, the Pirates obviously winning each four games to three.

So, rejoice Mid-Atlantic sports fans. Enjoy the next few days (hopefully longer than Wednesday afternoon) and dream a dream of a World Series with <INSERT TEAM A> vs. the Orioles. We’ll have tales of days long past; war stories of Walter Johnson, Josh Gibson, Roberto Clemente, and Eddie Murray; hunger pains for Ben’s Chili Bowl, Manny’s BBQ, or a crab mac and cheese hot dog; and if Jordan Zimmermann feels up to it, we might just see another no-hitter.

Why not? It’s taken us 128 years just to get to this point so anything’s possible.

  1. They are the two best players in the game at their respective positions, both will win the MVP, and this is really not open for debate.

Sep 30

Buc Up! Volquez, the Pirates, and Playoff Time!

At first I thought Clint Hurdle was crazy. Why start Gerrit Cole on Sunday against Cincinnati, with just the possibility of winning the Central, when you could save him for the very real possibility of facing the Giants on Wednesday? It made no sense. Cole has the dominating presence with youth and the electric arm. Did the Pirates really want their season coming down to an Edinson Volquez start?

For his part, on Sunday afternoon Cole pitched like someone you’d want starting with your season on the line. After allowing a run in the first inning, he pitched an additional six scoreless, allowing four hits and striking out twelve. The Pirates may not have won that game, but Cole certainly wasn’t the reason why. Matching Johnny Cueto this season is no easy feat, but Cole did that for seven innings. Unfortunately, Cueto lasted one inning longer, leaving the game for Aroldis Chapman to close out the ninth.

There are plenty of numbers to support Volquez as the Bucs best starter. His 3.07 ERA is certainly very nice, second only to Vance Worley’s 2.73 in 82 more innings. Also, his ERA of 2.61 in the second half of the season is 13th in the NL while in September he’s been all but unhittable, allowing just 20 hits in 33 1/3 innings while striking out 31. His 1.08 ERA in the month is second in the NL, and he currently has an 18 inning scoreless streak that he brings with him into Wednesday’s matchup.

Maybe Hurdle is onto something here.

See, the Volquez I remember is the one who tore through the NL in 2008 with the Reds, posting a 17-6 record and striking out 206 batters. Then I recall all the times I wanted to kick myself over the years remembering that pitcher as he struggled to stay healthy or couldn’t keep opposing teams from scoring. He had to be the same guy who posted a 6.01 ERA for San Diego last year with a WHIP of 1.67, right?

Not this year.

Along with being what my wife called a “pretty pitcher,” which she explained as his aesthetically pleasing windup, he’s become another Pirates reclamation project joining castoffs such as A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano and being remade like Bucs pitching coach Ray Searage is now the Mike Holmes of MLB.1 In 2014, Volquez posted his best ERA+ since 2008 and the best ERA and WHIP of his career. He also tied 2008 with 14 hit batters and threw 15 wild pitches, which indicates to me he has a lot more movement on his pitches than in the last few seasons and he still has control issues, evidenced by that 3.32 BB/9 ratio, which is ninth worst in the NL for qualified starters. Eh. He’s not a control guy. Never was.

The good news for Volquez and the Pirates is the Giants aren’t really all that patient at the plate, ranking 11th in the NL with a 7% walk rate, or 427 non-intentional bases-on-balls. The Giants have just two players, Brandon Crawford and Hunter Pence, who have topped 50 walks for the season and none at 60+. They also don’t hit a lot of home runs or strike out all the much, which is great for Volquez since he doesn’t strike out that many batters (his rate of 6.54% K/9 is 31st for qualified starters in the NL, out of 43) or allow that many home runs (he’s ranked 18th in NL allowing 0.79 HR/9, just ahead of Cueto).

Volquez is also coming off probably his second most dominant pitching performance of this season last Thursday. He tore through a Braves lineup that looked more like the cast and crew from The Slugger’s Wife than a legitimate Major League lineup, but he struck out a season high 10, with some of those not just Emilio Bonifacio, and allowed just four hits in seven innings while walking just one. His fastball and sinker looked good, both sitting low 90s, with his curve having some real bite to it after those first few innings where it tended to hang all juicy in the middle of the plate.

So, yeah, Hurdle probably did the right thing based on the recent trends. If Volquez can stay effectively wild but not what the hell is happening here wild (he’s walked four or more five times this year) the Pirates should be set up quite nice with the possibility of Cole pitching Friday against the Nationals.

Thank you, Clint Hurdle, for teaching me a lesson on assuming things.

  1. When does Searage become the new rock star of MLB pitching coaches? In my mind, he’s like the new Rick Peterson. Do people appreciate him in Pittsburgh?

Sep 18

Let’s Go Streaking

This New York Mets longest winning streak of the season is four games, which they’ve accomplished on three separate occasions. This surprises me since the Mets are hovering near .500 (73-80, but being outscored by just six runs their Pythagorean record is closer to that of a 76-77 team), and it seems almost impossible to not rattle off a fairly respectable win streak at some point in 162-game schedule. An average winning streak this season is 6.3 wins. Wouldn’t they just luck into one? They played both the Rangers and in the NL East. Nope. Four games. But, that doesn’t even make them particularly special or all that interesting since the White Sox, Twins, and Pirates have also never won more than four games in a row this season (the Pirates somehow achieving this while being 81-70 and in possession of the second wild card spot) and the Diamondbacks having won no more than three games in a row all season (having done so five different times).

This post isn’t about the Mets, though. Not really. If so, peripherally then.

Looking back over the years, through the Mets existence, I noticed that in the two years they won the World Series they led the Majors in that year’s longest winning streak, both at 11 games, so I began wondering if being the best at winning successive games meant all that much for predicting postseason success. There’s logic to it. To make the postseason a team has to win a fair number of games (not every team goes 82-80 like the 2005 Padres or 82-79 like the 1973 Mets and makes the playoffs); teams that win a lot are probably pretty good, and good teams beat up on weaker teams from time to time, stringing together wins; and good teams are probably more likely to win the World Series.

Maybe it’s not a well-constructed syllogism, but it made sense to me. I then decided to limit my search, beginning in 1969 when MLB added the Padres, Expos, Royals, and Seattle Pilots (soon to be the Milwaukee Brewers one year later) and brought the total number of teams to 24, making it more relevant to modern times. I don’t know if it’s easier or more difficult to maintain a winning streak when you only play against seven other teams, but I figured an eight-team division didn’t mean all that much for a modern 30-team league. I could have started in 1962 when there were 20 teams, but 1969 was the year of Woodstock, Apollo 11, and the Miracle Mets. Also, 1969 brought us Slaughterhouse-Five, The Godfather (book), and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, so that’s where I started.

After all of that, can we schedule the Angels, Nationals, or Royals—there’s a three-way tie between these three for the season’s longest winning streak at 10 games—for a championship parade?

The short answer to that question is no. As with all things Mets, leading the Majors in the longest winning streak and winning the World Series is uncommon and has happened just five times in the last 44 years there has actually been a postseason (nothing to see here, 1994; move along please). The last time a team led the league in consecutive wins and won the Series was in 1991 when the Twins won 15 in a row and beat the Braves in a Series that made legends of Jack Morris and Kirby Puckett. That’s a span of 21 postseasons without the team with the longest winning streak winning the Commissioner’s Trophy.

Here are the five teams that have done this trick:

Season Team Winning Streak
1969 Mets 11
1971 Pirates 11
1975 Reds 10 (Tied with Red Sox)
1986 Mets 11 (Tied with Red Sox)
1991 Twins 15

Hooray! Win Series and Longest Winning Streak

I found it rather amazing that both the 1975 Reds and the 1986 Mets won 108 games, yet each finished with a rather modest winning streak considering.1 Both teams led the league in wins that year, and those were the only two years where a team finished first in all three categories: team wins, longest winning streak, and Series champ. In fact, the team that finished with the best record in the Majors had the longest winning streak only seven times. The last two were the Mariners in 2001 that won 116 games and had a 15-game streak and the 2002 A’s that were tied with the Yankees with 103 wins and won 20 games in a row. Just take a moment to think about those numbers. The Mariners won 116 games and the A’s won 20 in a row. Since 1969, a team has won 15+ consecutive games just five times, and it happened in back-to-back-to-back years with the Braves in 2000, Mariners, and A’s.

Below are the teams that won the most games and finished with the longest winning streak:

Season Team Record Winning Streak
1975 Reds 108-54 10 (Tied with Red Sox)
1977 Royals 102-60 16
1986 Mets 108-54 11 (Tied with Red Sox)
1988 A’s 104-58 14
1992 Braves 98-64 13
2001 Mariners 116-46 15
2002 A’s 103-59 20

MLB Win Leader and Longest Winning Streak

If you wanted to place a bet for one of the current contenders to win the Series based on something as silly as this you’d probably want to put a few dollars on the Tigers who have the third longest streak this season at eight games. In the last 44 postseasons, the champion has finished the season with the second longest streak seven times and the third longest streak seven times. That means of the 88 teams to play in the World Series since 1969, 19 of them, or about 22%, have finished in the top three.

If you’re wondering what are the chances we’ll perhaps see the Nationals play either the Angels or Royals in the Series, bringing together the co-leaders for longest winning streaks, based on this highly scientific method, then you probably won’t be all that surprised to learn that it’s happened twice: 1975 with the Reds and the Red Sox and 1986 with the Mets and the Red Sox. Of course, those two series might have the two most memorable plays in postseason history with Carlton Fisk’s Game 6 home run and the whole Bill Buckner / Mookie Wilson grounder between the legs thing, so if we should happen to see some combination of these three teams, then we can expect something historic (perhaps a Bryce Harper and Mike Trout epic home run derby that sets the stage for a decade of postseason meetings).

There have been two occurrences where the top two teams met in the Series, 1971 with the Orioles and Pirates and 1998 with the Padres and Yankees, with the number two teams (a tie, naturally) meeting twice as well: 1979 with the Orioles and Pirates again and 1995 with the Indians and the Braves.

All in all, we’re more likely to see one of these three teams reach the World Series and lose than win. The team with the longest winning streak has lost the Series nine times, with the Rangers managing to do this in both 2010 and ‘11. The last NL team to do this was the Rockies in 2007 and then the Padres in 1998.

Summary

None of this really surprised me. I didn’t really expect there to be any correlation between a team that happened to catch lightening in a bottle and rattle off a long winning streak and marching through the postseason unopposed. I’d imagine there’s a correlation with quantity of smaller winning streaks (in the 5-7 range) throughout a season that one long winning streak, but I didn’t dig that deeply into it.

I also didn’t look into the shortest winning streak for an eventual champion was, but that would certainly be worth investigating as well.

  1. Modest, here, should be taken in context. Winning 10+ in a row is a difficult thing to do, and since 1969 it’s happened 141 times, or about 3 times each season. In contrast, a team has won 108+ games just six times during that time. Winning that many games is absurd, the mark of a great team, and wouldn’t you just naturally assume a few lengthy winning streaks?

Sep 12

Chris Davis Suspension and the Orioles Chances

Consider me skeptical that the loss of Chris Davis for 25 games is all that debilitating of a blow to the Orioles postseason chances. Sure his 26 home runs from the left side provide a nice complement to the right-handed bomb hitting machine otherwise known as Nelson Cruz, and with Steve Pearce having a career year hitting behind Davis, it gave opposing managers an interesting dilemma in late game matchups. Do you bring in a righty? Now a lefty? Pearce has been a nightmare to left-handers this year, so we better not leave him in now. You could just see Buck Showalter grin, just a little, filling out the lineup card.

Now? Well, the lineup leans a little more right, and if Friday’s makeup game against the Yankees is any indication of Showalter’s thinking then the O’s will feature four straight right-handed batters, with lefties such as Nick Markakis at the top of the order and the possibility of Ryan Flaherty at the bottom. If Jonathan Schoop, another righty, the lineup gets skewed even more so. Davis would have provided a nice contrast, but Pearce will do just fine playing first, and Davis’ line of .196/.300/.404 wasn’t exactly the stuff of legends like when he was last year’s darling.

Where it truly hurts is at third where Davis had been playing regularly of late. Showalter has the advantage of having both Flaherty and Kelly Johnson to play there now, which won’t hurt the club all that much in clinching the East. They’re up 10 with 17 to play and have the opportunity to eliminate the Yankees this weekend (the O’s won Game 1 of their Friday double-header on a walk off two run double by Jimmy Paredes). The photo below, taken about 20 minutes after the game, did not happen:

photoESPN Names Orioles Losers Despite Win (Wacky ESPN)

When it comes right down to it, however, clinching the East hasn’t been a legitimate worry since early August when Toronto lost six of seven (two to Baltimore) and the O’s found themselves up five. Showalter has these Orioles firmly believing in a “one game at a time” mentality, but it’s nearing time the team will clinch the franchise’s first East crown since 1997, sip a little champagne, and ready for whoever comes out of the Central division’s meat grinder.

This could have been the weekend for that, and this 10-game home stand will certainly provide the Baltimore fans a legitimate reason to cheer. Dark clouds have dotted the Baltimore sports scene this week, but things were all sunshine and blue skies for the Star-Spangled Spectacular. Tall ships are in the harbor, President Obama is expected to be in town, and if everyone was celebrating the bicentennial of the Battle of Baltimore the O’s were going to win this season’s war against the Yankees. The Davis suspension puts a damper on things, the looming gray cloud in the ALDS distance.

Davis may have been struggling, but it’s not as though Johnson has been worlds better with his .210/.292/.353 line with six home runs. Flaherty filled in nicely for J.J. Hardy, and he’s certainly a guy you can trust in the field, but his batting line of .219/.278/.347 somehow makes Johnson look all the more appealing. To be fair, Flaherty has been hitting the ball much better of late, going 8-for-18 in last four games with a 4-for-5 against Boston on Wednesday, but how long is that going to last? Still, Showalter has options, and I don’t see the impact of losing Davis hurting all that much overall. The team is 14-4 without him on the season, and the much ballyhooed “Next Man Up” philosophy seems very real for this club. They’ve withstood the loss of Matt Wieters and Manny Machado and Hardy playing with back issues this season that has sapped him of his power. The team will be fine.

What’s the best case scenario for the O’s, however? They have losing records against both the Royals (3-4) and the Tigers (1-5), but wouldn’t you rather avoid the Tigers and their right-handed dominant starting pitching? You certainly would hate to face the never ending stream of power arms the Royals can throw your way in late-inning situations, but if you’re tending to feature right-handed bats, the opportunity to bypass Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez (close to returning apparently) and either Rick Porcello or Justin Verlander.1 Oh, who am I kidding? There’s no way I want any piece of James Shields, Yordano Ventura (how much will he have left in the tank, though), and Danny Duffy when he returns. Duffy absolutely dominated the O’s in an outing in May, going seven innings while allowing just two hits. Once it gets to the seventh, you’re seeing a steady diet of 96-97 mph heaters. No thanks. Not in a five-game series.

I’d rather take my chances against the Tigers and their rotation of Cy Young winners.2

So, yes, Orioles fans the suspension really sucks, and maybe it just seems unfair that the universe is piling on. At least this time, you can feel okay for cheering for a player when he returns, or at least the rest of us won’t cringe because of it.

  1. It just feels weird to write that and be 100% sincere.
  2. Feels even weirder to write that.

Sep 11

Welcome Back, Crawford

There was a time when Carl Crawford was considered vital to a team’s championship hopes, when the Boston Red Sox thought it was a fantastic idea to sign him to a seven-year 142 million dollar contract. That didn’t end well obviously. Crawford called his time in Boston “a scar that I think will never go away,” and Boston moved on pretty quickly without him, winning the World Series the year after trading him.

In fact, it’s difficult to mention Crawford, whether in print or on television, without also mentioning the eight-player trade that sent him along with Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, and Nick Punto to Los Angeles in August of 2012. Even with plenty of baseball still to be played, this sure felt like Crawford’s legacy, for good or for bad, as Boston extricated itself from 250 million in future salary commitments to the one team in baseball insane enough to absorb the cost. The Dodgers true goal, it was understood, was to add Gonzalez. He was the perfect player for their team and would be a big draw at the gate. Crawford? If he played, if he could get healthy, Crawford would make the occasional start on a team with an already crowded outfield and whose top prospect, Joc Pederson, was also an outfielder. Certainly, the Dodgers weren’t going to keep all of these outfielders? Why? My God, was there no limit to what the new Dodger ownership group was willing to spend?

Let the trade rumors begin.

Certainly here’s yet another cautionary tale in signing soon to be 30-year olds to long-term, big money contracts. Since, by his admission, Crawford chased the cash and signed with the Red Sox, the now 33-year old has battled a constant stream of injuries ranging from hamstring strains, ankle sprains, to Tommy John surgery. He’s played in just 367 of a possible 630 games, or about 58% of possible games, and for that coin toss he’s made a little over 200 thousand and change per game played.

In Boston, that kind of no-show was discussed daily by a passionate media, one that Crawford labeled as “the worst thing I’ve ever experienced in my life.” In Los Angeles, he has become largely forgotten with Puig mania, the brilliance of Clayton Kershaw, and the effervescent Magic Johnson still stealing headlines. If ever there’s a better place to sit, catch some rays, and be lost amongst the stars, it’s out in LA. Tired of yet another Dodger no-hitter? Well, here’s a healthy Matt Kemp, and, oh by the way, will the Dodgers now be able to trade the former NL MVP, or should they trade him, and just how much will it cost? What? Puig just flipped a bat so spectacularly on a warning-track can of corn that it lives as an endless stream of animated gifs? Oh, that silly Puig.

Lost in all of this is that Crawford is healthy again and is producing. Maybe he’s no longer the 50+ stolen bases, triple-hitting machine from his youth, but he’s back from a month and a half long stint on the disabled list, or what has become something of his annual June break, and since the beginning of August he’s hit .320/.358/.400 with a pair of home runs and nine stolen bases. He went 4-for-4 in Wednesday night’s game and has gone 9-for-12 in his last three.  Of those home runs, one was a two-run shot to just left of centerfield against the Nationals Tyler Clippard that tied the game up in extra innings. Not fully appreciated in that clip is just how difficult it was to hit that ball, hidden in the shadows while staring into the sun. Chavez Ravine can be murder mid-day to batters.

Well, no one ever said Crawford wasn’t talented . . . just brittle.

The Dodgers currently lead the Giants by 2 ½ games in the West and are percentage points behind the Nationals for the NL’s best record, two games back in the loss column. If they have hopes of holding off the one and overtaking the other they’re going to need every offensive weapon at their disposal. Since August, the Nationals own the best record in the NL at 24-14 and the Giants are 21-15 but leading in runs scored in that timeframe. The Dodgers have held court by going 21-16, but there are reasons for concern.

Puig has just one home run since the Fourth of July, and in those 48 games since he’s hit .269/.363/.411 with 12 RBIs. David Schoenfield on ESPN goes into Puig’s hitting woes in much greater detail, but needless to say, for a team with title or bust aspirations, the Dodgers are going to need every available bat. Dee Gordon has an OBP of just .281 since the beginning of August, making his otherworldly speed a threat but not the game-changer it has been. Hanley Ramirez is working his way back from an oblique strain and has hit just four home runs since June 1st. Oh, and the team has been giving at-bats to Darwin Barney of late. Not many, to be sure, as he makes an occasional spot start or pinch hits, and surprisingly, his OBP with the Dodgers is .391, up from his career of .291, but you get the sense that you know how this is going to end, and the fewer at-bats he sees the better.

On the flip side, Kemp has battled his own litany of injuries, most notably a balky ankle, but he’s put in a solid year at the plate, hitting 19 home runs (five in August) while playing a respectable centerfield. Adrian Gonzalez has provided another professional season at the plate, hitting 22 home runs while driving in 100. Since August he’s hit .325/.377/.561 with seven home runs and 29 RBIs. Heck, even former Met Justin Turner is killing the ball this season, hitting .327/.394/.454 overall and .372/.449/.500 with two home runs since August. Turner won’t see the field much with Ramirez back, but he provided a solid presence at the plate while Ramirez was recovering on the DL.

Then there’s Crawford. After struggling through April, Crawford turned May into his own “Welcome Back” party, hitting .333/.358/.513 through the month, turning on pitches with four home runs hit to right. Then he sprained his ankle, was placed on the 15-day disabled list, and 43 days later he was back to playing catch up. Since his return, however, he’s seen his slash line climb from a season low of .230/.267/.342 to its current .276/.315/.387. His seven home runs on the season are the most since 2011 with Boston and perhaps more importantly, in a sign that his wheels haven’t abandoned him, he has 22 stolen bases (out of 28 attempts), which are the most since his final season in Tampa.

Most promising of all is the work he’s done on fastballs since his return. Up through April, Crawford was hitting a miserable .121 against fastballs, which was something of a problem when pitchers were throwing him the pitch 74% of the time. In May, Crawford began hitting .340 against pitches considered hard (as per BrooksBaseball.net), with the overall percentage of pitches seen to 72.5%. Since August? He’s hit .294 while seeing the pitch now 68.3% of the time. Pitchers are taking notice, adjusting accordingly, and Crawford is still successful. Since August, on pitches considered breaking balls he’s hit an even .500. See curve; hit curve; run around the bases really fast.

With such a small lead in the West, and with six games remaining against the Giants, the Dodgers need everyone to contribute. Even a run or two helps (as pointed out in my previous post on how successful the Dodgers have been when scoring only a run or two), and Crawford’s return to a productive outfielder gives them an edge. The team has 238 million reasons to want to win the West, set their rotation, and play to their overall depth than end up in the crapshoot that is a one game play in.

For Crawford, now back to “[having] that feel, that free-spirit feel,” if his performance in last season’s playoffs is any indication, the more games the better since he and the Dodgers are going to be dangerous when they get there.1

  1. Quotes for the post were taken from this Obnoxious Boston Fan article.

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