Kershaw’s Almost Perfect Game

On Wednesday night, Clayton Kershaw pitched about as well as a human being can pitch.  Kershaw no-hit the Colorado Rockies, striking out 15 in the process while being one Hanley Ramirez throwing error away from the second perfect game in Dodgers’ history.  As it was, it was the 22nd no-hitter in Dodgers’ history, the second for the Dodgers this season, and the first of Kershaw’s career.  Last month, I wrote (here and here) about Josh Beckett’s game in relation to the Dodgers’ franchise.  Well, what about Kershaw’s?

Player Pear WAR 3/yr War 3/yr During Game Score Date
Clayton Kershaw 20.5 16.1 102 06/18/2014

Kershaw is in pretty illustrious company as far as peak bWAR and current bWAR.  His 20.5 is fourth behind Sandy Koufax (various seasons), Nap Rucker, and Dazzy Vance, and his current ranking is third behind Koufax (various seasons) and Vance.  Also, keep in mind that I’m including this season, which is slightly over a 1/3 of the way through, so that current value is sure to rise.

How about Kershaw’s game line?

Player IP H R ER BB SO HR HBP
Kershaw 9 0 0 0 0 15 0 0

I didn’t honestly think anything could top Koufax in ’65, but Kershaw managed to do just that.  His game score of 102 last night was the second highest ever.  It was second only to Kerry Wood’s 105 in 1998 when Wood struck out 20 Houston Astros at the ripe old age of 20.  So, I think we can safely say Kershaw did ok for himself.

Finally, what about the offense Kershaw faced?

Player Date Opponent OPS+ Game Score Adjusted Score
Kershaw 06/18/2014 Colorado Rockies 107 102 109.14

While almost most of the no-hitters in Dodgers history were against subpar hitting teams, Kershaw faced a Rockies team w/ a collective OPS+ of 107.  Ok, that being said, the Rockies are not the same team on the road as they are at home.  At home, as a team the Rockies hit .330/.380/.534 with a sOPS+ (OPS+ split relative to League split) of 151 while on the road they hit .237/.290/.387 with a sOPS+ of 94.  Taking that into consideration, maybe we should update the chart accordingly:

Player Date Opponent sOPS+ Game Score Adjusted Score
Kershaw 06/18/2014 Colorado Rockies 94 102 95.88

95.88 is still good for third in Dodgers’ history, behind only two of Koufax’s no-hitters, but when we account for the stark offensive differences between the Rockies on the road and at home Adjusted Score drops markedly.

Kershaw’s run in recent years has been something pretty special, and while you never know with pitchers, I think in a few years we’re going to look back and discuss Kershaw as the greatest Dodgers starter of them all.  From 2011-13, Kershaw has finished 1st, 2nd, and 1st in the NL Cy Young voting; led the NL in ERA in each; finished 4th, 1st, 1st in bWAR for pitchers; won the Triple Crown in 2011; finished 1st, 1st, and 2nd in H/9; been an NL All Star in each; finished 2nd, 1st, and 1st in ERA+; and finished 2nd in FIP in each.  I could add more.  There’s plenty there.  But that’s putting the cart before the proverbial horse.  For right now, let’s just celebrate one of the greatest games pitched . . . well, ever.

In Search of Uncle Charlie

Sometimes I wonder if the days of the curveball have passed.  It seems like a pitched rooted in nostalgia, as if the great ones can only be witnessed on grainy celluloid made famous by Ken Burns.  When I think of monster hooks I envision Sandy Koufax, Bert Blyleven, and Dwight Gooden.  Big leg kicks, electric arms, and an Uncle Charlie that buckles batters’ knees in pure fright.  Pedro Martinez was a curveball artist.  So too was Darryl Kile who threw a 12/6 break so nasty that I blew out my elbow trying to emulate it.

The curve still exists of course.  It’s not as though pitchers have forgotten how to throw it.  But when I think of pitchers who defy the laws of physics with the pitch, my mind doesn’t conjure up too many images.  I think back to years ago, and this fact brings me great shame.  So, in an effort to remedy my own ignorance, I’m going to spend a few words on which pitchers have the best curves going today.

What does “best curve” even mean, though?  Is it the pitch with the biggest, sharpest break; the most likely to induce a swing and miss; the pitch most likely to send batters scurrying for cover; or the most effective, saving the most runs?  For the purposes of this discussion, I opted to go with saving the most runs.  While thanks to PITCHf/x we can determine all of the above a pitch is only as useful as the end result.  Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez threw one hell of a deuce dubbed Eephus, but a looping, memorable curve that’s crushed for a home run doesn’t wipe runs off the board for style.

That being said, I focused in on the standardized Pitch Values as shown on FanGraphs.  While wCB is a cumulative value of runs saved with the use of the curve, wCB/C standardizes this figure per 100 pitches, allowing a more accurate measure for comparison since differing pitchers rely upon the curve more than others.  I neither made a distinction between starter and reliever nor filtered out those that didn’t have enough innings to qualify.  Just because a pitcher doesn’t meet the MLB standard for innings started doesn’t mean he can’t qualify for my distinguished list.

Here, then, are the top 10 pitchers in regards to wCB/C:

Player Name wCB/C wCB Thrown
Matt Albers 20.36 0.2 5
Evan Scribner 12.31 0.5 4
Mat Latos 8.63 0.6 9
Jeff Beliveau 6.2 0.1 2
Brandon Morrow 5.37 1.1
Junichi Tazawa 4.81 1.7 120
Joe Kelly 4.57 2.1 39
Lucas Luetge 4.51 0.2 4
Bruce Billings 4.34 0.1
Mike Dunn 4.1 0.2 7

Pitchers Ranked by wCB/C

Well, I think we can spot the obvious problem with simply ranking the pitchers by standardized Pitch Values.  Matt Albers has thrown only five curves, and according to wCB/C those might be the best curves ever.

Is there a way to reward quality, consistency, and volume?  You bet there is.  Using data collected from baseballsavant.com, I took the percentage used (how many times a pitcher throws his curve relative to his other pitches) and multiplied that value by wCB/C.  It’s rudimentary, akin to opening a Coke bottle with a rock, but it gets the job done in this case and allows me to try and determine who throws a curve well and often.

And here’s our updated top 10 list:

Player wCB/C wCB Thrown % Thrown Score
Vic Black 2.64 1.7 66 33.52 88.49
Felix Hernandez 1.99 4.2 213 13.80 27.45
Sonny Gray 2.23 8.5 380 26.64 59.42
A.J. Ramos 2.88 0.3 121 20.45 58.89
Jesse Hahn 1.94 1 50 30.12 58.43
Zach Duke 2.15 2 112 25.85 55.58
Corey Kluber 3.39 8 244 16.28 55.19
Kevin Quackenbush 2.93 1.3 46 18.18 53.27
Jered Weaver 2.78 7.1 289 18.98 52.76
Joba Chamberlain 2.58 2.4 97 19.91 51.37

wCB/C Adjusted for Percentage Used

Joe Kelly was actually second on my recalculated list, but since he’s only started three games this year due to injury, I replaced him in the chart with Felix Hernandez.  Was Hernandez 12th?  Nope.  Actually, he was all the way down at 32, but I just wanted to see how he compared to the others.  There’s a pretty fair distribution in this table.  There are starters (Gray, Weaver, Kluber, Hahn, Duke, and Hernandez) and relievers (Chamberlain, Ramos, Quackenbush, and Black).  Sure, that’s all well and good, but how exactly are these guys getting it done?  We can look to the event breakdowns for each pitcher to see what the end results are for their curves.

Player Hit % In Play % Ball % Called Strike % Foul % Whiff%
Vic Black 1.5 3.0 47.0 19.7 18.2 10.6
Felix Hernandez 2.8 9.9 31.9 28.6 13.1 13.6
Sonny Gray 5.3 11.8 33.7 18.2 16.6 14.5
A.J. Ramos 1.7 8.3 40.5 20.7 14.9 14.0
Jesse Hahn 4.0 10.0 32.0 24.0 16.0 14.0
Zach Duke 2.7 5.4 41.1 25.0 14.3 11.6
Corey Kluber 3.7 12.3 29.9 20.1 20.9 13.1
Kevin Quackenbush 2.2 8.7 34.8 30.4 6.5 17.4
Jered Weaver 4.5 15.6 34.3 21.5 13.1 11.1
Joba Chamberlain 1.0 9.3 44.3 23.7 9.3 12.4

Curveball by Events

If Pitch Events tells us anything it’s that a called strike on a curveball isn’t exactly the desired outcome.  Only Quakenbush touches 30% on called strikes, with Felix Hernandez at 28.6, and every pitcher is 30% or greater (okay, Kluber is 29.9) for Ball %.  This shows that the curve is a difficult pitch to control, but it also shows that a pitcher’s desired intent is to get the batter to chase.  Vic Black takes this to the extreme, throwing a ball nearly ½ the time, but batters only put the ball in play 3% of the time.

Player K% Avg OBP SLG ISO wRC+
Vic Black 76.9 .077 .077 .077 .000 -54
Felix Hernandez 17.6 .182 .206 .273 .091 44
Sonny Gray 38.1 .185 .221 .194 .009 28
A.J. Ramos 34.6 .095 .269 .095 .056 33
Jesse Hahn 50.0 .133 .188 .333 .200 58
Zach Duke 62.5 .125 .125 .125 .000 -26
Corey Kluber 54.8 .101 .130 .135 .034 -19
Kevin Quackenbush 28.6 .143 .143 .143 .000 -15
Jered Weaver 18.8 .178 .250 .233 .055 52
Joba Chamberlain 31.3 .067 .125 .200 .133 -3

Curveball by Outcome

Remember how batters only put the ball in play off of Black 3% of the time.  Look at that batting line against his curve:  .077/.077/.077.  Batters don’t really know what to do with the pitch, and so far it shows.  Also, take a look at the ISO on Gray and Kluber:  .009 and .034 respectively.  For two guys who’ve thrown a combined 624 curves to put up lines like that is ridiculous.  For a starter to throw his curve nearly 27% of the time as Gray does and batters hit .185/.221/.194 off of it is impressive.  Then there’s Kluber.  One reason he’s having such a great year is that batters have gone .101/.130/.135 off of his curve, and he’s the only starter with a negative wRC+ (-19).  I might have found my Jedi Master.

Just to expand upon this idea some more, but not to bury the article with images and charts, I’d just like to take a moment to see how Black and Kluber approach batters with the curve.

Vic Black_righties

 

Vic Black Curve vs Righties

Black tends to go low, outside corner more to righties than any other zone, perhaps hoping for them to chase.  He has come inside enough that you wouldn’t call it a complete avoidance of the inner half though.

Vic Black_lefties

Vic Black Curve vs Lefties

This is absolutely unlike how Black approaches righties with his curve.  Black keeps to the inner half, inside corner at the knees.

Corey Kluber_righties

Corey Kluber Curve vs Righties

Kluber avoids righties by going outside corner primarily, but it’s safe to say he enjoys baiting right-handers on the outer third.

Corey Kluber_lefties

Corey Kluber’s Curve vs Lefties

Kluber comes middle-in enough to lefties to not make trends too obvious, but from the chart, it appears that Kluber tries to get the lefties to chase, changing levels and zones on the outside fairly frequently.

While this didn’t necessarily answer the question which pitcher has the most dominant curve in baseball, from a purely aesthetic value, it does attempt to answer whose curve, reliever or starter, saves the most runs and is hardest to produce offense against.  The best part is that now I can appreciate a Mets reliever for . . . anything.

Dallas Keuchel’s Slider Is Key

I doubt if anyone outside of Houston thought that the Astros would be 31-37 this late into the season, and while they’re still last in the AL West, the Astros have improved seven games upon 2013’s results through the first 68 (24-44) and currently sit a measly two games behind the injury-ravaged Texas Rangers.  This season, the Astros’ headlines have been dominated by George Springer and Jon Singleton (thank you Bud Norris), but maybe we should be paying more attention to Dallas Keuchel.

Entering 2014, the Astros’ lefty had posted a rather underwhelming 9-18 record across two seasons with an ERA of 5.20 in 239 IP while allowing a less than stellar H/9 of 10.4 and a WHIP of 1.54.  While there were signs that he was better than the traditional numbers might indicate, in particular his FIP of 4.25 last season, neither his ERA+ of 79 nor his H/9 of 10.8 in ‘13 screamed breakout candidate.  He’s young (Keuchel entered ‘14 just turning 26), so maybe those first two seasons were just a kid’s OJT.

What jumps out immediately when first looking at Keuchel’s stats so far is that his numbers have improved dramatically in nearly every category.  His WHIP has improved by nearly 55% over ‘13 (0.993 from 1.536), owing largely to dramatic drops in H/9 (7.1 from 10.8) and BB/9 (1.8 from 3).  His drop in ERA only seems steep unless you consider that his strong FIP of 2.81 indicates that Keuchel is pitching significantly better and not just getting lucky.  I suppose, then, the question is how?  What exactly is Keuchel doing differently this year as opposed to earlier?

I went out to both texasleaguers.com and brooksbaseball.net to examine the PITCHf/x data for Keuchel over the last three seasons.  First, it should be understood that pitch type in the PITCHf/x data is determined by an algorithm that has been modified and tweaked over the years, so while pitch type accuracy has improved those same classifications weren’t retroactively updated to prior seasons.  Second, this is my first attempt at deciphering this information, so my interpretations are probably wrong.  Third, I’m going to include a lot of pretty pictures and graphs to hide how wrong I am.

The Slider

I’ll first provide a few tables, then get to my interpretations.

Type Count Selection Strike Swing Whiff Foul In Play
FT 487 35.2% 57.7% 38.4% 2.7% 14.4% 21.4%
FF 280 20.2% 63.6% 41.1% 3.9% 15.4% 21.8%
CH 230 16.6% 57.8% 49.6% 13.0% 11.7% 24.8%
CU 202 14.6% 57.4% 36.6% 6.4% 10.9% 19.3%
FC 178 12.9% 63.5% 48.9% 7.3% 21.3% 20.2%
SL 3 0.2% 66.7% 66.7% 0.0% 33.3% 33.3%
FA 3 0.2% 33. 3% 33.3% 0.0% 0.0% 33.3%

2012 Pitch Results

 

Type Count Selection Strike Swing Whiff Foul In Play
FT 778 31.2% 61.1% 40.7% 4.2% 13.4% 23.1%
FF 619 24.8% 67.2% 42.3% 4.5% 16.3% 21.5%
SL 456 18.3% 67.5% 52.9% 20.8% 17.8% 14.3%
CH 322 12.9% 64.6% 50.9% 14.9% 13.0% 23.0%
CU 179 7.2% 52.5% 31.8% 8.9% 7.8% 15.1%
FC 139 5.6% 60.4% 38.1% 7.9% 14.4% 15.8%

2013 Pitch Results

 

Type Count Selection Strike Swing Whiff Foul In Play
FT 531 40.2% 70.6% 46.3% 5.6% 17.1% 23.5%
SL 318 24.1% 56.0% 49.1% 24.2% 14.2% 10.7%
CH 209 15.8% 60.8% 50.2% 16.3% 12.0% 22.0%
FF 189 14.3% 66.1% 38.1% 2.1% 14.3% 21.7%
FC 72 5.5% 58.3% 30.6% 1.4% 16.7% 12.5%
CU 1 0.1% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 0.0% 0.0%

2014 Pitch Results

Essentially what you’re looking at is the various pitches PITCHf/x has tracked for Keuchel over the last three seasons, broken out by type.  For the most part, you don’t need to worry too much if he threw a 2-seamer (FT) or a 4-seamer (FF) for my discussion since I’m more interested in Keuchel’s increased use of his slider (SL) and the near abandonment of his cutter (FC).  In 2012, Keuchel barely registered the use of a slider (honestly I question the classification between slider and cutter since both registered at nearly the same average velocity) and by 2014 he throws the pitch nearly a quarter of the time.

Also, look at how Keuchel has moved away from using his cutter, a pitch that wasn’t particularly effective for him.  In ‘12, batters saw the pitch 12.9% of the time, missing at just 7.3% of the swings they took.  Keuchel allowed a .262 average off of the cutter, with five extra-base hits (two home runs) in just 43 plate appearances.  In ’13 the cutter was hit even worse, being smacked around the yard to a .333 average with five extra-base hits (three home runs) in only 29 plate appearances.  This season he’s been more fortunate with the hits against it, allowing a .200 average, but he’s thrown it only 5.5% of the time.

2013 saw Keuchel begin to use his slider more often, throwing the pitch 18.3% of the time, and look at the results:  the pitch was either fouled off or missed completely 38.6% of the time he threw it.  Batters hit .248/.262/.402 against it, striking out 52 times in the 122 plate appearances for an impressive K% of 42.6.  That was overwhelming his most effective out pitch in 2013, and Keuchel has carried his increased trust in the pitch over into the current season.  This season, batters have hit .150/.171/.213 against his slider, and they’ve struck out in 56.1% of the plate appearances when he’s thrown it.

Diving deeper into the numbers, here is a breakdown of the pitch’s effectiveness from season to season:

Year Velocity Vertical Horizontal Spin Angle Spin Rate
2012 84.1 4.73 0.68 174 916
2013 80 0.15 -2.82 243 768
2014 79.6 -1.7 -3.92 271 903

Slider Pitch Results

Perhaps a graphic would help explain better:

keuchelSpinMovement

Spin Movement

From the numbers, it’s clear to see that in ’14 the pitch is breaking away from lefties (digging into righties) significantly more with a definite horizontal drop.  In effect, the pitch is starting to become nasty.

A side effect of the increased movement, and also likely a good reason why batters are hitting only .150 against his slider is the end result of the pitch missing the strike zone more frequently.  In ‘13, Keuchel threw his slider 459 times with an end result of 310 strikes and 149 balls.  67.5% of the time his slider was in the strike zone when it crossed the plate or met wood.  In ‘14, the pitch has been thrown 318 times for 178 strikes and 140 balls.  The slider ends with a result considered a strike only 56% of the time.  Keuchel has become effectively wild, delivering a pitch too appetizing to lay off but too difficult to square up.

We’re talking end results here, though, and while he’s allowed fewer hits to left handed batters this season he’s remained nearly identical in striking lefties out (30%), but right handed batters this season he’s buried.  In ‘13 they hit .304/.363/.469, striking out around 16.6% of the time while in ‘14 those numbers have dropped to .219/.262/.329 while striking righties out 19.8% of the time.  There are advantages, then, for being able to better neutralize righties when Keuchel sees them 72% of the time so far.

Ground Balls

Another thing I noticed about Keuchel is that he’s inducing a groundout in nearly a third (31.3%) of hitters’ at-bats this season.  The biggest reason for that increase (in ‘13 hitters grounded out 23% and in ‘12 it was 24.3%) is a huge spike in groundouts via his 2-seam fastball.  In both ‘12 and ’13 Keuchel forced ground balls on around 64% of at-bats while in ‘14 that number has spiked to 78.9%.  Hitters are putting the ball in play at roughly the same rate (23.5% in ’14 and 23.1 in ‘13), though they tend to foul it off (17.1%) and whiff (5.6%) more in ’14 than in previous seasons.  Last season Keuchel relied upon the two-seam and four-seam fastballs, which were nearly identical in velocity though differing in movement.  With an increase in the use of the slider, and the 10 mph difference in average velocity, batters seem to be more off balance and able to wait on a pitch to drive.

Release Point

I’m not even going to pretend to speak intelligently upon this point.  I just found this interesting.  Here are the release points from the last three seasons.

keuchelRelease2014

2014 Release Points

 keuchelRelease2013

2013 Release Points

keuchelRelease2012

2012 Release Points

I found it interesting that in the current season, Keuchel’s release point for his pitches seem to be more tightly grouped than in previous years.  At a very basic level, I would surmise that this would cause batters more difficulty picking up the pitches seeing as they are delivered from a more consistent release point, but I refuse to make that assumption on what I know now.  Just interesting is all.

Summary

I like pleasant surprises, and the emergence of Keuchel this season definitely qualifies.  Maybe by the end of the season we’ll call this one of those small sample size blips, but I’d like to believe it’s about a young pitcher growing more comfortable with his secondary pitches.  This bodes well for the Astros.  Already, Keuchel has accumulated 2.3 fWAR on the season, a huge jump from his high of 1.0 last season (-0.7 in ’12), and perhaps he won’t top the leaderboard all season, but I’m curious to see if he at least keeps in touch.

Hit with Authority J.J. Hardy!

It’s a great shame that I don’t follow the Orioles closer than I do.  They have exciting, young foundational players like Manny Machado, Adam Jones, and Chris Davis.  They have a strong farm system filled with pitching quality and depth, the most precious commodity you can have in baseball these days.  Baltimore has/had Buck Showalter, Camden, Boog, The Wire, Edgar Allen Poe, the Inner Harbor, and Cal Ripken, Jr.

This is a team I should follow and love.

I don’t, though, and that’s too bad, but I have friends that do, and one of those friends, Kevin, could probably tell you every single thing that’s happened to the O’s in the past three decades.  So when I ask Kevin, “What’s up with J.J. Hardy?  No home runs?  He’s hitting like he’s Garry Templeton for God’s sake,” Kevin claims there’s nothing physically wrong with Hardy, of which he’s heard, and that Hardy is just concentrating on going to the opposite field.  Is Kevin right?  Is Hardy worrying so much about going to the opposite field that he basically turned himself into a powerless 80s middle infielder?

Hardy hasn’t always been a slugging shortstop.  In his first two years in the Majors, he hit 14 home runs total, though he played in only 35 games in 2006 due to injuries, so those 14 homers are over the equivalent of one full season (159 games).  From 2007-13 Hardy averaged 20.6 home runs a season with a high of 30 in ’11 and six in an injury plagued ’10 when he spent 57 total days out of action with wrist and knee injuries.  Wrist injuries can be tricky, so if he only hit six home runs, well, let’s forgive him.  With such an extreme range, the median value of 24 is nice fat number to base career norms.  In fact, PECOTA (membership required) projections had Hardy at 16 home runs while ZiPS projected he would hit 22, so the zero he’s hit so far is surprising.  For his career, the latest Hardy had hit his first home run was way back in 2005 when he didn’t hit his first until June 11, so we’re approaching new territory here.  Maybe the O’s expected a little more production from their shortstop in the last year of his 3yr/22 million dollar deal signed back in ’12, but Hardy’s been worth 7.1 bWAR for the first two years, so they’ve gotten their money’s worth.

The real question, though, is Kevin right?  Is Hardy using more of the field when he bats?  The short of it is yes.  Based upon a sampling of the last three seasons and over his career, Hardy is going to right field more often.

Season Pull % Middle % Opp Field %
2012 32.68 54.58 12.75
2013 33.14 52.27 14.20
2014 30.29 54.29 15.43
Career 30.73 55.30 13.89

Hit Locations

Based upon recent history and career averages, it definitely appears that Hardy is making a more concerted effort to hit from the right field line to the middle of the field.  The 15.43% is by far and away the highest percentage of his career going to the opposite field except for, you guessed it, in ’05 when he went to right 16.36% of the time.

Let’s examine some spray charts for giggles:

First, 2012:


Source: FanGraphs

2013:


Source: FanGraphs

Lastly, 2014:


Source: FanGraphs
In fact, just to be thorough, let’s take the Hit Locations chart above and present it for every year of his career along with Hardy’s OPS+ and ISO for the season.

Season Pull % Middle % Opp Field % ISO OPS+
2005 26.54 57.10 16.36 .137 86
2006 48.57 43.81 7.62 .156 75
2007 28.52 57.42 14.07 .186 101
2008 33.33 52.65 14.01 .195 115
2009 23.71 62.31 13.98 .128 75
2010 24.83 61.19 13.64 .126 96
2011 33.33 52.87 12.79 .222 114
2012 32.68 54.58 12.75 .151 81
2013 33.14 52.27 14.20 .170 99
2014 30.29 54.29 15.43 .069 88
Career 30.73 55.30 13.89 .163 96

Hit Locations Revisited

If I discount 2010 as Hardy dealing with wrist issues since late May and 2006 as only 35 games, his worst seasons in terms of ISO come when he either abandoned pulling the ball altogether (2009) and when he went to the opposite field the most.  What’s also interesting about 2005 and the current season is that these are also the two lowest batting average seasons for going opposite field (.151 and .148 respectively).  2006 he technically hit .000 to the opposite field, but, once again, there were only 35 games.

Surprisingly, though, is that Hardy’s .069 ISO is only the 5th worst for shortstops in the Major Leagues while his BABIP of .335 is 5th best.  So, when he doesn’t go opposite field he’s murdering the ball.  Go figure.

Maybe that’s all just statistical noise.  He could simply be unlucky, and when those balls start dropping look out.  We’ll look back at this article and laugh.  On the other hand, perhaps he’s making an effort to go to right field when he should be driving the ball up the middle or trying to pull.  He’s also nearly 32 years old.  Perhaps the bat is starting to slow down a bit and he can’t turn on pitches like he once could.  His K% sits at 13.7, which is below his career average of 14.2, so that doesn’t indicate he’s guessing more.

I don’t watch Hardy enough to know if he looks like a player trying to go to the opposite field more than he should, but the numbers certainly bear it out.  Hardy’s still been worth nearly a full win this year, so it’s not as though that 7 million dollars he’s making is going to waste.  With a little more offense, however, you can well imagine that he’d be playing for a whole lot more after resigning in 2015.

Remembering Edgardo Alfonzo

edgardo alfonzo white jerseyIn my lifetime, there have been precisely two good Mets second basemen. One is Jeff Kent who stuck around for three seasons after the Mets traded David Cone for him, but the absolute best of the group was Edgardo Alfonzo. Sentimentally I want to add both Tim Teufel (a childhood favorite) and Wally Backman (if for no other reason than this), but Kent and Alfonzo were atop a very sad list.

That Alfonzo and Kent both played second for the Mets in 1995 and ‘96 is interesting only in the fact that Kent was traded to Cleveland for Carlos Baerga in ’96 and somehow Alfonzo ended up playing third with a washed up Baerga manning second. So, instead of having an infield of Alfonzo, Rey Ordonez, Kent, Tim Bogar (John Olerud came along in ’97), and Todd Hundley (Mike Piazza in ’98), the Mets fumbled around for a few more years until 1999 when the infield turned into the best in baseball.

It’s always surprised me that Alfonzo remains largely forgotten by Mets fans, buried somewhere in the late 90s by Ventura’s heroics or Ordonez’s amazing defense and in the early aughts by a Clemens rage filled bat toss. These are iconic images for all of baseball, not just the Mets, and by and large Alfonzo’s contribution to those teams becomes little more than a statistical curiosity when scanning the Mets leaderboards. Alfonzo ranks just above Piazza in Mets career fWAR (28.5 to 27.9), but who would imagine that? He’s ninth on the Mets all-time list in fWAR, behind the likes of Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, and David Wright. That Alfonzo did it in only eight years as a Met is the amazing part.

Alfonzo was only a part-time player from 1995-96, and as 22-23 year old he played well enough to remain on the team, but his real coming out was in 1997 when he led the Majors in fWAR for third baseman, owing to an across the boards improvement offensively that saw his BB% spike (6.1 to 10.5) along with BABIP (.294 to .335) and his slash line go from .261/.304/.345 to .315/.391/.432. He was 13th for the NL MVP, an injustice when looking back all these years later, but a gigantic step forward professionally. Not coincidently Alfonzo spent the entire season playing third. ’98 saw his fWAR drop to 3.0, still good but not elite, which saw his BABIP revert to earlier years.

Still, in those two years, Alfonzo was 5th in the Major Leagues in total fWAR for third basemen, third or fourth in the NL depending on how you regard Jeff Cirillo and the Brewers move to the NL in 1998. In the offseason, Steve Phillips, the Mets GM at the time, signed Ventura to man third, and Alfonzo moved to second.

Let’s just say Phillips knocked that one out of the park.

It’s not an overstatement to call the ’99 Mets the best I’ve ever seen. I don’t have any hard numbers to back that statement up, and honestly, I refuse to allow reason and statistical analysis to ruin my memories. It’s good enough for you to know that both Ventura and Ordonez won Gold Gloves (Pokey Reese won the GG for 2B, but Alfonzo finished first in fielding percentage at .993), Alfonzo and Piazza won Silver Slugger awards, Olerud had a slash line of .298/.427/.463 and was worth 5.8 fWAR, and Ventura, Piazza, and Alfonzo finished 6-8 in the MVP race. So, yeah. That infield was out of this world good, and if you want to crunch your “numbers” and attempt to destroy what little Mets joy that remains, go right ahead. You can leave me out of it.

You could forgive Mets fans if coming into 1999 they were less than excited about the upcoming season. The Mets had finished ’98 with a record of 88-74, losing the last five games of the season to finish one game back from a three-way tie for a Wild Card berth with the Chicago Cubs and the San Francisco Giants. That they lost two of those games to the lowly Montreal Expos and got swept by the bully Atlanta Braves galled all the more. The Mets hadn’t been to the playoffs since ’88 (which, oh by the way, it’s still ridiculous that Darryl Strawberry didn’t win MVP), and if anyone picked any team other than the Braves to win the East then they hadn’t been paying attention.

edgardo-alfonzo-mets-managerThis isn’t meant to be a history of the ‘99 season, but know that Alfonzo was a huge reason why that team finished 96-66 (6 ½ back in the East, their best record since ’88 and nearest they had come to winning the division since 1990) and beat the Cincinnati Reds in a one-game playoff to advance to the NLDS against the Arizona Diamondbacks. It was in that series when Alfonzo cemented himself as a Mets hero in my book, hitting three home runs and driving in six, but that entire season he played great. He posted his highest fWAR of his career at 5.9 (topped only by his 6.4 in 2000), and he played a solid second base, even considering he was relearning on the job. He hit the most home runs that season (27) and his second highest OPS (.886) and his wRC+ of 127 is 27% better than league average.

In 2000 he was even better, hitting a ridiculous .324/.425/.542 with a wRC+ of 150! He was one of the key players on the only Mets team to make it to the World Series since 1986. In the 1999-2000 postseasons, Alfonzo hit .260/.339/.480 with four home runs, 17 RBIs, and more than a few key hits.

He spent two more years with the Mets, playing so-so in 2001, but switching back to third in 2002 and posting the fourth highest fWAR (5.0) in the Majors. He signed with the Giants prior to 2003, a team that won 100 games, but Alfonzo was pretty much done as an elite player. He was respectable in 2003-04, but he played below replacement in ’05 and was out of the Majors soon after.

So, how do we assess Alfonzo’s career? As stated previously, as a third baseman, between 97-98 only four players out ranked him in fWAR, and as a second baseman, between 1999-2001, only Roberto Alomar and Jeff Kent earned higher than his 18.7 fWAR. Compared to the league averages for third base from 1997-98, Alfonzo earned over 4.3 additional fWAR, and from 1999-2001 he earned a whopping 9 additional wins.

Years Pos Alfonzo Median % Better
1997-98 3B 8.6 4.3 100%
1999-01 2B 13.8 4.5 206.7%
2002-05 3B 7.2 9.5 -24.21%

Above, the median will provide a more accurate representation of teams’ wins earned at the time due to the wide range between the haves and have nots.

Even compared to the incredible numbers posted in the late 90s, Alfonzo was well above average for the time and deserves to be remembered. However you look at it, during the years when he started for the Mets, Alfonzo was incredible.

Predicting No-Hitters: a Fool’s Errand?

I’ve written at length (here and here) about Josh Beckett’s no-hitter and its place in Los Angeles Dodgers history.  In researching those articles, I began to wonder if there was anything related to offensive trends, particularly league-wide, that would be predictive in determining potential no-hitters.  In other words, if I were to crunch some numbers, could I lay a bet in Vegas on the over/under for no-hitters in a season and never work another day in the rest of my life?

Remember, all hard work begins with an end goal of sustained laziness.

My premise is a simple one, actually:  is there any correlation between batting average and/or strikeout percentage (strikeouts / plate appearances) that would help predict the frequency of no-hitters?  I chose these two because of two reasons:  they’ve both been in the news lately because of the spate of shutouts across the Majors, and both seemed logical choices for assisting in a no-hitter.  Poor hitting teams are probably not likely to, you know, get hits, and according to every journalist out there strikeouts are bad, bad for offense, and bad for the game.

NOTE:  I am a horrible statistician.  I never took one class, constantly screw up terms, and probably mean average (a little statistics joke).  If we learned nothing else from X-Files, trust no one.

Before beginning, however, I’d like to define the thresholds for my three key figures in this post:   batting average, strikeout percentage, and no-hitter frequency.  The number of teams has changed drastically over the years, especially when we’re considering a data set that comprises 144 seasons (1871 to 2014), so using count of no-hitters per season doesn’t buy me anything.  Frequency of a no-hitter occurring based on games played, however, works well and can be tracked over time much easier.

Avg / Std Dev K% / Std Dev Freq % / Std Dev
.263 / .013 10.90 / 4.58 .14 / .15

Baseline Figures

In my mind, the standard deviation can define levels of offensive ineptitude.  In this way, we would expect the following to be normal: a batting average that falls between .249 and .276; a strikeout percentage that falls between 6.32 and 15.48; and a frequency percentage that falls between 0 (actually the true value is -0.1, but unless Jim Joyce miscalled a few too many close ones at first, I’m not sure how this is possible) and .29.  Anything that falls outside of those ranges, we can safely consider atypical.

When first beginning my examination, I came up with this little gem of a table, where I calculated the odds for a given quantity of no-hitters occurring in a season[i].  I do not include 2014 in these tables since the season hasn’t completed.

Total No Hitters (Season) Occurrences % of Total
0 32 22.37
1 39 27.08
2 25 17.48
3 26 18.18
4 10 6.99
5 4 2.80
6 4 2.80
7 3 2.10

No-Hitter Events by Season (Rounded Up)

Unfortunately, this method of sorting out seasons with an unusually high quantify of no-hitters doesn’t make much sense given how frequency is more relevant than quantity.  So, here’s an updated table based on frequency.

Frequency % Range (Season) Occurrences % of Total
0.00 32 22.37
0.01 – 0.09 37 25.87
0.10 – 0.19 38 26.57
0.20 – 0.29 18 12.59
0.30 – 0.39 13 9.09
> 0.40 5 3.50

No-Hitter Frequency by Season (Rounded Up)

First, then, I should begin my examination by looking into the 18 seasons where the frequency was above what we would normally expect.

Year No-Hitters Freq % Avg Avg Rank K% K% Rank
1880 4 1.18 .245 9 7.96 94
1882 3 0.52 .248 19 4.99 119
1908 6 0.48 .239 3 N/A N/A
1917 6 0.48 .249 21 9.37 74
1898 4 0.43 .271 110 N/A N/A
1876 1 0.38 .265 93 2.88 126
1888 4 0.37 .239 2 4.94 121
1991 7 0.33 .256 45 15.17 30
1990 7 0.33 .258 58 14.87 34
1892 3 0.33 .245 10 8.45 87
1884 5 0.32 .243 5 3.78 124
1905 4 0.32 .248 18 N/A N/A
1951 4 0.32 .261 73 9.71 70
1956 4 0.32 .258 61 12.07 59
1916 4 0.31 .248 17 10.31 65
1962 5 0.31 .258 57 14.09 40
1969 6 0.31 .248 20 15.16 31
1968 5 0.31 .237 1 15.85 23

Above Normal Frequency of No-Hitters

The first thing that becomes painfully obvious with the table above is that 11 of the 18 seasons (61.1%) came during the dead-ball era and another three came during the 1960s, an era so dominated by pitching that in 1969 MLB actually lowered the pitching mound from 15” to 10” just to help the struggling offenses.  But even using these high frequency seasons as our data set, I’m left with 11 of 18 (61% again) seasons that fall below our .249 threshold for batting average, and only two of those were outside of the dead-ball era, and only one season that is above the strikeout percentage threshold.

What if I take another tack?  What if I approach this question by examining only those seasons that fall below the batting average threshold?  This time, though, I’m going to filter out dead-ball era seasons.

Year No-Hitters Freq % Avg Avg Rank K% K% Rank
1968 5 0.31 .237 1 15.85 23
1967 4 0.25 .242 4 15.92 21
1972 3 0.16 .244 7 14.80 35
1965 3 0.18 .246 12 15.70 24
1963 3 0.19 .246 13 15.34 29
1969 6 0.31 .248 20 15.16 31
1966 1 0.06 .249 22 15.44 27

Below Normal Batting Average Seasons

Well, this certainly clears things up doesn’t it?  I went from examining the dead-ball era and some of the 60s to almost the entirety of the 60s.  Still, in these seven seasons, only two (those I reviewed previously) were above normal for the frequency of no-hitters, which works out to 28.57% of the representative sample.  If I add back in those dead-ball era seasons, the numbers jump to 11 of 22 seasons (50%), but I might as well be discussing eras of baseball at that point rather than low batting averages.

Moving on to strikeout percentage, is there any way to determine an increased frequency in no-hitters based on an above expected range?  The short of it is no.  Without adding another long table to this post, there are 25 seasons where the K% has been above 15.48% and in those 25 seasons, there was only 1 season (1968) where the frequency of no-hitters crossed over what we would expect.  The 25 seasons are as follows:  1964-65, 1967-68, 1987, and 1994-2013.  In 2012, there were seven no-hitters, and the frequency percentage was exactly at 0.29, which we’ll call as a hit, which makes it two of 25 (8%).

So what does all of this mean?  In my mind, it means I shouldn’t be selling the house and moving to Vegas to become a professional gambler.  The problem with an exercise like this is that a no-hitter is just as much about luck as it is about pitching dominance.  A lot can happen in a game that would determine if a no-hitter is thrown, such as a quirky bounce of the ball, shadows on the field, sun changing positions, wind, fielders shifted one way or the other (a more modern problem admittedly), and good old human error as in an official scorer’s judgment.  That’s just off the top of my head.

In conclusion, I don’t see high strikeouts and poor hitting (at a league level) to be any indicator of a no-hitter.  That’s not to say there isn’t a better metric out there, which I’ll keep digging if only to strike it rich, but these two are definitely not the ones.  A better exercise, though, for seeing the impact of hitting and strikeouts on expected outcomes would be to broaden my search to include games with 2 or fewer hits.  More data means I might be able to determine if there is any true correlation.  This, however, is an exercise for a different time.  That’s another question to answer and outside the scope of this article.

[i] I computed my list based on the list of no-hitters on ESPN’s site with an additional no-hitter listed from Baseball Reference that brought my total to 273, eight fewer than referenced on the Baseball Reference web site.  For the purposes of this breakdown, I didn’t find the discrepancy large enough to warrant the extra time comparing the two lists.

Encarnacion, Home Runs, and May

We’ll take a slight siesta from examining every angle of no-hitters known to man (don’t worry, there’s more to come) to discuss the terror that Edwin Encarnacion has inflicted upon baseballs this May. Encarnacion finished the month hitting 16 home runs, which tied Mickey Mantle for the AL record for May. The NL and Major League records are held by Barry Bonds who hit 17 in 2001.

All told, in the AL Mantle and Encarnacion are tied at the top while in second is Ken Griffey Jr. who hit 15 home runs back in 1994. In the NL, Bonds of course is number one, but at number two sits Mark McGwire who crushed 16 homers in May of 1998. See a trend here? McGwire finished ’98 with 70 home runs, which was a record or something, and Bonds did him three better in ’01, clobbering 73. Whether you believe in asterisks, steroids, and/or juiced baseballs, those are some impressive numbers. And Griffey’s ’94? He finished that year with 40 in 111 games. If not for a players’ strike and the subsequent lock out by the owners, Griffey might have had a legitimate shot at Maris.

My point, however, is that those three years were periods of heightened power in the Majors, while 2014 most assuredly is not.

Year R/G HR BA SLG ISO OPS+
1956 4.45 0.93 .258 .397 .139 94
1994 4.92 1.03 .270 .424 .154 97
1998 4.79 1.04 .266 .420 .154 97
2001 4.78 1.12 .264 .427 .163 97
2014 4.16 0.91 .251 .392 .141 97

I like the use of OPS+ here since it does give us a means to compare offense across eras, but the key columns for the purposes of this argument are slugging, home runs, and runs per game. All three are key indicators that we’re playing in a much different era than those enjoyed in the 90s and the early aughts. In fact, based upon the columns above, I’d argue that Encarnacion’s power display has more in common with Mantle, the man with whom he’s currently tied atop the AL May leaderboard.

First, let’s look at just how impressive Encarnacion has been in May. Prior to this season, his top output for a month was nine, which he achieved twice: in May of 2012 and in April of 2013. He had nine by May 20th of 2014, and since then he’s hit seven in the span of ten games. His OPS in those ten games? How about a ridiculous 1.367, and he’s even been unlucky if you can believe it. His BABIP is .240, which is well below the league average of .297. For the month, his BABIP is .190.

In his career, Encarnacion had hit multiple home runs in the same game 11 times prior to ’14, and he’s turned that trick five times this May alone. In one month, he’s nearly doubled the most multi-homer games he’s had in a season (2013) and nearly tripled his best month (two times in April of ’13). If you take into consideration that home runs per game are at their lowest in the last twenty years (including ’14, four of the last five years have been sub 1), then Encarnacion’s feat has been spectacular indeed.

So, just for goofs, I thought it would be fun to compare Encarnacion’s homer tear compared to the league as a whole and to his team. To make this even more fun, I’m including the others mentioned here to see how Encarnacion’s run compares.

Player Total Team MLB NL AL
Bonds 17 37.78% 29.36 / 57.9% 32.8 / 51.8% 25.9 / 65.6%
Encarnacion 16 33.33% 26.1 / 61.2% 24.9 / 64.3% 27.3 / 58.7%
Mantle 16 35.56% 27.3 / 58.6% 29.5 / 54.2% 25.1 / 63.7%
McGwire 16 40% 29.2 / 54.9% 29.1 / 55% 29.3 / 54.7%
Griffey, Jr. 15 33.33% 26.4 / 56.8% 25.2 / 59.5% 27.6 / 54.2%

Due to the variations in the number of teams over the years (click here to see when teams were added ), I averaged out the home runs hit for each team and each respective league. Under MLB, NL, and AL, the first number is the average number of home runs per team and the second is the percentage the player’s home run total measured up against that total. Bonds’ 17 home runs are impressive in 2001, but Mantle’s 16 actually accounts for a larger percentage based on the average Major League team.

Encarnacion, however, has the most home runs relative to the Major League average than anyone on the list, and honestly, it’s not even close. He would account for 61% of the home runs that an average team would hit, and for the month of May, he’s out homered two entire teams, the Royals and the Cardinals, by himself.[i] Relative to his own league, Encarnacion only trails Mantle who in ’56 accounted for 63.7% of the AL average.

In an era where power has decreased, we should look at Encarnacion’s recent month of May in the correct historical context. Over recent years, his season seems all the more impressive compared to his contemporaries. However, his season should be seen as the near equal to the one with whom he shares the AL record for May.

One final aside before calling it quits: of the players listed above, only Bonds (11.9 bWAR) and Mantle (11.2) went on to win their respective league’s MVP award. McGwire (7.5) finished second to Sammy Sosa in 1998 (6.4) and Griffey (6.9) finished second to Frank Thomas (6.4). Not exceptionally relevant to this article, but I found it interesting in all cases each player finished with a higher bWAR than the eventual MVP winner. McGwire still finished third overall in the NL behind Bonds (8.1) and John Olerud (7.6) while in ’94 Griffey finished second overall behind Kenny Lofton (7.2).

The moral of this story is that you could make a case for Bonds winning every MVP award if so inclined and everyone forgets just how good Olerud and Lofton were. Just because he wore a helmet in the field doesn’t mean Olerud couldn’t kick some ass.

Below I’ve listed the average home runs per game from 2014 through 1994. This is more for information than anything, so I’ve just tacked it onto the end.

Year HR/G
2014 0.91
2013 0.96
2012 1.01
2011 0.94
2010 0.95
2009 1.04
2008 1.00
2007 1.02
2006 1.11
2005 1.03
2004 1.12
2003 1.07
2002 1.04
2001 1.12
2000 1.17
1999 1.13
1998 1.04
1997 1.02
1996 1.09
1995 1.01
1994 1.03
1956 0.93

 

[i]In 2001, Bonds out homered the Royals (16 in May), and in 1994 Griffey out homered the Expos (14) and tied the Marlins.

Josh Beckett, No-Hitters, and OPS+

Before initially posting on Tuesday, I decided against including the opponents each pitcher faced and their relative offensive merits.  There were a couple of reasons for this, none of them particularly good ones, but here they are:  I was lazy; I was pressed for time; I’m actually not very good at what I do.

With that out of the way, with a little extra time I decided to put in some additional work and add offensive statistics for the ball clubs faced at the time of the no-hitter.  As for not being very good?  Only practice and time can hopefully take care of that.

A note on methodology.  I chose OPS+ as my measurement du jour because it is easy to get a hold of using Baseball Reference and it is adjusted for park and league effects.  That being the case, an OPS+ of 100 is exactly league average while every point above or below can be considered one percentage point.  For example, Dazzy Vance tossed a no-hitter against a Phillies team that was 8% below league average.  That being said, below is the list of opponents with OPS+, and game score once again.

Player Date Opponent OPS+ Game Score Adjusted Score
Sam Kimber 10/04/1884 Toledo Blue Stockings ? ?
Adonis Terry 07/24/1886 St. Louis Browns ? ?
Adonis Terry 05/27/1888 Louisville Colonels ? ?
Tom Lovett 06/22/1891 New York Giants 106 ?
Mal Eason 07/20/1906 St. Louis Cardinals 86 ?
Nap Rucker 09/05/1908 Boston Doves ? ?
Dazzy Vance 09/13/1925 Philadelphia Phillies 92 93 85.56
Tex Carleton 04/30/1940 Cincinnati Reds 93 89 82.77
Ed Head 04/23/1946 Boston Braves 95 85 80.75
Rex Barney 09/09/1948 NY Giants 99 89 88.11
Carl Erskine 06/19/1952 Chicago Cubs 93 87 80.91
Carl Erskine 05/12/1956 NY Giants 83 88 73.04
Sal Maglie 09/25/1956 Philadelphia Phillies 92 88 80.96
Sandy Koufax 06/30/1962 New York Mets 82 95 77.9
Sandy Koufax 05/11/1963 San Francisco Giants 110 89 97.9
Sandy Koufax 06/04/1964 Philadelphia Phillies 99 98 97.02
Sandy Koufax 09/09/1965 Chicago Cubs 86 101 86.86
Bill Singer 07/20/1970 Philadelphia Phillies 79 97 76.63
Jerry Reuss 06/27/1980 San Francisco Giants 84 89 74.76
Fernando Valenzuela 06/29/1990 St. Louis Cardinals 87 91 79.17
Kevin Gross 08/17/1992 San Francisco Giants 90 91 81.9
Ramon Martinez 07/14/1995 Florida Marlins 95 94 89.3
Hideo Nomo 09/17/1996 Colorado Rockies 99 91 90.09
Josh Beckett 05/25/2014 Philadelphia Phillies 92 90 82.8

As with game scores, not all opponents are created equal.  Interesting to note is that average, median, and mode all equaled out to 92 for OPS+.  Josh Beckett’s no-hitter on Sunday came against a Phillies team 8% below league average, which makes his opponent comparable to his fellow Dodgers.  I created an additional column named Adjusted Score, which is essentially Game Score multiplied by OPS+.  Is it a perfect measurement?  For my purposes, it allows me to differentiate betwen the various games and attempt to determine a ranking across eras.  So, Koufax may have had a no-hitter against the ’62 Mets (shocking that the Mets were only 18% below league average that year), but the adjusted score of 77.9 would rank 15th of the games that there are actual game scores.

Of course, both Koufax’s games in ’63 and ’64 rank one and two on the adjusted score list, but that 101 that led the game score?  That’s now sixth on the list.  Where does Beckett’s no-no rank on the adjusted list with a score of 82.8?  He’s eighth, and the score falls just below the adjusted score average of 83.69 and above the median of 82.33.

Josh Beckett and Dodgers No-Hitters

On Sunday, May 25th, Josh Beckett threw the 21st no-hitter in Los Angeles Dodgers history.  For a franchise that has been around since 1883, starting out as the Brooklyn Atlantics, 21 no-hitters in 131 years is pretty impressive.  Of course, four of those no-hitters happened before the 1900s (validated thanks to Henry Chadwick inventing the box score in 1859) and before anyone knew what a baseball really was, but if the Dodgers want to count those it’s their right.

Personally, I love no-hitters.  As a kid, hearing of a no-hitter seemed like the peak of pitching dominance (now I know there’s a lot of luck and/or official scorer interpretations, eh Johan Santana, involved), and that’s mostly due to Little League.  One or two kids were always demonstratively better than those around them, so naturally they’d throw harder, strike more kids out, and turn each inning into a 9-pitch embarrassment.  Bigger, stronger players make puny guys pay for their audacity.  Voila!  The association stuck.  So, in my mind, a no-hitter is a coronation ceremony for a pitcher making the leap into greatness.

It’s a silly, quaint notion.

Josh Beckett has had a celebrated career for sure.  He has made the All Star team three times, won two World Series titles (one in 2003 with Marlins and another in 2007 with the Red Sox), won World Series MVP in 2003 and ALCS MVP in 2007, and for his career has accumulated 35.1 bWAR.  If his last few years have been anything but superfantastic (in three of his last four years he’s finished with negative bWAR) and if he’s no longer considered a dominant pitcher, Sunday’s no-hitter is still a fine feather in his woolen baseball cap.

But, with a franchise so rich in pitching history, just where does Beckett’s triumph rank in Dodgers lore?  My dad grew up a Sandy Koufax fan, and I remember him regaling me with stories of the ace lefty.  Could anyone compare to Koufax, especially when discussing a Dodgers no-hitter?  I grew up believing Dwight Gooden was just about the best the world could offer, so maybe dad’s stories were his remembering a giant when the reality was merely a man.

With Father’s Day a little under three weeks away, I write this post to one, find out just where Beckett falls in the Dodgers hierarchy of singular pitching greatness; two, see who was the unlikeliest of heroes for this storied franchise; and three, prove dad was right for all those years, Koufax is the bee’s knees.  So, to bastardize Milton, this post will be used to justify the raise of Gods from men.

Before I begin, let me explain my methodology.  First, I looked up a pitcher’s three year cumulative bWAR for his respective peak and when the no-hitter occurred.  I found this to be interesting since it would mitigate a fluke season but would also illustrate whether the pitcher was at the peak of his respective career.  In other words, would you expect that sort of thing?  I also used Bill James’s Game Score to attach a relative value to the no-hitter.  Not all no-hitters are created equally, and if a pitcher struck out only one batter (this happened twice for the Dodgers by the way) then that means a lot of balls found fielders’ mitts.

Player Peak WAR 3/yr WAR 3/yr During Game Score Date
Sam Kimber 0.7 0.7 ? 10/04/1884
Adonis Terry 10 4.2 ? 07/24/1886
Adonis Terry 10 8.4 ? 05/27/1888
Tom Lovett 9.4 9.4 ? 06/22/1891
Mal Eason 1.2 -0.6 ? 07/20/1906
Nap Rucker 24.1 9.5 ? 09/05/1908
Dazzy Vance 22.9 21.1 93 09/13/1925
Tex Carleton 8.7 4.2 89 04/30/1940
Ed Head 3.8 3.5 85 04/23/1946
Rex Barney 4.5 2.7 89 09/09/1948
Carl Erskine 11.1 4.5 87 06/19/1952
Carl Erskine 11.1 5.9 88 05/12/1956
Sal Maglie 15.8 5.2 88 09/25/1956
Sandy Koufax 26.2 11.6 95 06/30/1962
Sandy Koufax 26.2 20.8 89 05/11/1963
Sandy Koufax 26.2 22.5 98 06/04/1964
Sandy Koufax 26.2 26.2 101 09/09/1965
Bill Singer 0.3 0.1 97 07/20/1970
Jerry Reuss 11.2 5 89 06/27/1980
Fernando Valenzuela 14.9 1 91 06/29/1990
Kevin Gross 9.5 5.1 91 08/17/1992
Ramon Martinez 10.1 10.1 94 07/14/1995
Hideo Nomo 11.1 9.3 91 09/17/1996
Josh Beckett 14.9 1.7 90 05/25/2014

The first thing that jumped out at me is that Sandy Koufax was ridiculously great.  A three year run of 26.2 bWAR is like three years of Greg Maddux in 1994 good.  1961 was the year Koufax officially put it all together, delivering 5.7 bWAR, so his 3 year for ’62 might seem a little low (because 11.6 is low, right), but his game score of 95 is fourth (he also owns the top two spots).  The most important Koufax related no-hitter, however, is the one in ’65.  That game just so happens to be the only perfect game in Dodgers history, and Koufax’s brilliance can’t be overstated.  He struck out 14 Cubs, but he sort of needed to.  The Dodgers won 1-0.  That game is also the last time the Cubs were no hit, which is pretty impressive given their recent history.

In that list, the nearest comparison to Josh Beckett is Fernando Valenzuela.  Both players were highly celebrated during their early years, both made the All Star team multiple times, and both won a World Series.  Also, both peaked at 14.9 bWAR, and during the time of their no-hitter both were no longer anywhere near that apex.  In fact, as you can see, Beckett absolutely belongs on that list as a worthy contributor to the Dodger legacy.  Perhaps he didn’t accumulate those years of value with the Dodgers, but his 14.9 peak places him tied for fifth with Valenzuela on the list.  Essentially, Beckett’s no-hitter wasn’t a fluky day by a fringe player.  I like to consider it more of an outlier by a player rediscovering his past glory.

A few more notes before I continue.  Clearly, the flukes on this list would have to be Mal Eason and Bill Singer.  What blows me away about Singer is that he’s third on the game score list with a 97.  On that day in 1970 against the Phillies Singer really tapped into something special, eh?  He struck out ten, walked none, and hit one batter.  For his career, Singer only had one year where he accumulated positive bWAR, but I doubt if he ever forgot his day of pitching greatness.

Well, onto the individual game scores.

Player IP H R ER BB SO HR HBP
Dazzy Vance 9 0 1 0 1 9 0 0
Tex Carleton 9 0 0 0 2 4 0 0
Ed Head 9 0 0 0 3 1 0 0
Rex Barney 9 0 0 0 2 4 0 0
Carl Erskine 9 0 0 0 1 1 0 0
Carl Erskine 9 0 0 0 2 3 0 0
Sal Maglie 9 0 0 0 2 3 0 0
Sandy Koufax 9 0 0 0 5 13 0 0
Sandy Koufax 9 0 0 0 2 4 0 0
Sandy Koufax 9 0 0 0 1 12 0 0
Sandy Koufax 9 0 0 0 0 14 0 0
Bill Singer 9 0 0 0 0 10 0 0
Jerry Reuss 9 0 0 0 0 2 0 0
Fernando Valenzuela 9 0 0 0 3 7 0 0
Kevin Gross 9 0 0 0 2 6 0 0
Ramon Martinez 9 0 0 0 1 8 0 0
Hideo Nomo 9 0 0 0 4 8 0 0
Josh Beckett 9 0 0 0 3 6 0 0

Really, the only thing to be said about this list is that Koufax once again was the most dominant, but that shouldn’t be a surprise anymore.  Of the four double-digit strike out games, Koufax owned three of them (Singer the fourth), and as I mentioned earlier Koufax is one, two, and fourth for game scores (Singer is third).  Beckett’s game score of 90 falls 10th on the list and is just below the average score of 91.38 and median of 90.5 but it is above the mode of 89.

I think it’s cool to see Ramon Martinez fifth on the list with a score of 94.  He’s now most famous for being Pedro’s brother, but Ramon was a really good player in his own right (as his 10.1 peak can attest) and he was still an excellent pitcher when he struck out eight Marlins.  Also noteworthy on that season is that Pedro had a no-hitter broken up in the 10th inning.  Brothers each throwing a no-hitter has happened once before in baseball history (the Forsches), but it’s never happened where each brother threw one in the same season.

In recent years, Beckett lost quite a bit of luster with his antics in Boston, but that doesn’t mean I can’t take delight in his achievement.  Like older players tend to do, Beckett has dealt with adversity as he’s aged and his stuff has diminished, and watching him find success while reinventing himself as a pitcher seems both gratifying and empowering in a purely selfish sort of way.  I don’t want to see players I grew up with grow old and be forgotten.

Maybe 2003 was supposed to be the year we saw a Cubs and Red Sox World Series; maybe Beckett and the Marlins ruined those plans and made the championship their own.  Then again, the Marlins did beat the Yankees, and Beckett was an absolute terror in that series, throwing 16 1/3 innings while giving eight hits, two earned runs, and striking out 19, so there’s that, right? Sunday might not have been a coronation of greatness, but it certainly was a pitcher reliving days of past glory.

Matt Harvey’s New Clothes

The New York media has turned on Mets phenom Matt Harvey already.  This is funny considering Harvey hasn’t pitched since August 2013, and when he did pitch, each outing was one notch below a religious experience.  Such is the state of the Mets that erstwhile sane human beings lose their shit when covering them.

Hearing Harvey needed Tommy John surgery was a dark day.  Could this franchise have nothing good?  It always felt as though Harvey was a short timer for the Mets.  He grew up a Yankees fan.  His agent is Scott Boras.  Despite claims by Fred Wilpon to the contrary, the Mets owners are deeply in debt.  Maybe these things change by the end of 2018, when Harvey can become a free agent.  Judging by 52 years of past history, I seriously doubt it.  So with each start I began to imagine Harvey wearing another uniform.  Free agency is a zero sum game, of course, so the Mets would lose, again, but who wins?

Before that, though, why stop with Harvey?  What about Jose Fernandez?  The two could be Corsican Brothers (or just read the story) for the similarities:  both represented by Boras; both play for cheap/broke franchises; both undergoing Tommy John surgery early in their careers (important since they have plenty of time to hit their respective peaks before entering the big money years); and both become free agents after 2018.  So, to heap misery like a steaming pile, I imagine Boras’ clients in new uniforms.  It’s inevitable.  It’s going to happen.  It’s only cruel to not begin our denial phase now.

Player Current Team New Team Year Eligible
Jose Fernandez Marlins Dodgers 2019
Matt Harvey Mets Yankees 2019
Gerrit Cole Pirates Dodgers 2020
Stephen Strasburg Nationals Yankees 2017
Bryce Harper Nationals Dodgers 2019
Anthony Rendon Nationals Yankees 2020
Manny Machado Orioles Dodgers 2019
Pedro Alvarez Pirates Yankees 2017
Carlos Gomez Brewers Dodgers 2017
Desmond Jennings Rays Yankees 2018
Mike Moustakas Royals LOL 2018

In the above scenario, I split the free agents evenly between the Yankees and Dodgers, which I think is only fair. Each team receives two young pitchers whom by that time may have already received the latest breakthrough in UCL replacement, a robotic ligament, creatively dubbed TJV2, and I gave the Dodgers two premium outfielders since they seem to collect those sort of guys and one infielder while the Yankees receive one outfielder and two infielders.  Does it matter that Rendon and Alvarez play the same position?  Not at all.  If the Yankees haven’t traded for Prince Fielder by then, Alvarez can play first, and if Fielder is for some unknown reason manning first in the Bronx, Rendon plays second.

See?  This is easy.

Of course, this doesn’t account for the unpredictability of new television deals and wildcard teams throwing big dollars around.  What about Philadelphia?  The Angels?  Who knows if the Tigers will still be spending or if Dan Gilbert will have completely rebuilt Detroit by 2019 to make Downtown Motor City appealing to potential free agents, but if so, there just might be competition for Harvey’s services.

Look at this objectively.  Currently, the Dodgers carry a 231 million dollar payroll while the Yankees are a tic above 197 million.

Those salary commitments become more manageable for the Yankees after 2017 (all years are when players come off books, not last year of contract) when they no longer are paying Derek Jeter (2014), Alfonso Soriano and Hiroki Kuroda (2015), C. C. Sabathia (2016), Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran (2017), and wait until 2018 when Alex Rodriguez and that 27.5 million dollar albatross isn’t hanging over the Yankees’ head.

And the Dodgers?  Oh boy.  Now we’re talking.  Even after they sign Hanley Ramirez to a ridiculously overpriced contract this offseason, the Dodgers will be big spenders by the time Harper and Machado become free agents in 2019.  The Dodgers will lose Carl Crawford (2018), Adrian Gonzalez, Andre Ethier and Zack Greinke (2019), and Matt Kemp (2020).  Sure there’s wiggle room there to overpay Yasiel Puig and Hyun-Jin Ryu, and maybe those Dodgers extend Greinke for a few extra.  Instead of actual water, it rains money in Los Angeles.  Who cares?  Hollywood dollars are the sunniest dollars.

Does this make me happy?  No.  This makes me very, very sad.  Enjoy these players while they’re still cost controlled.  One day, they’ll all be aging rapidly on either coast, playing during a game time of your convenience.