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Introducing the High Heat Stats podcast – Episode #1

I’ve finally gone and done it, and created a baseball podcast! With the participation of Dalton, Bryan, and Adam, we’ve recorded the pilot podcast for High Heat Stats.

This first one is a little long at nearly an hour and three quarters–we’ll try to make future ones a bit shorter.

The podcast is not yet in iTunes, but it should be within about a week. You can still subscribe to the podcast in iTunes by choosing “File > Subscribe to Podcast” from the menu bar and entering the feed URL: “”.

Podcast Feed | Download Episode #1 (MP3)

I’m proud to say that the podcast is sponsored by the Play Index. Listen to the podcast for details on how to save money on a new subscription to the PI (not available to existing subscribers, but you can always get a subscription for someone else–maybe for dad for Father’s Day?)

Thanks very much to the folks who helped, particularly to Adam for a bunch of extra technical assistance!

Statistics of abortion

Yeah, weird title, I know.

On my way to work every day, I pass a womens’ health clinic that offers, among many other services, abortions. Most days there is a small contingent of protesters outside the clinic, and one of them is usually holding a sign that reads “Women regret abortions.”

This sign always makes me think of baseball and statistics. If I saw someone holding up a sign reading “Joe Carter had over 100 RBI in his age 37 season!!” I would feel compelled to roll down the window and shout “but he sucked horribly that year with a 77 OPS+….77!!!”

Don’t get me started on the loon heralding Dante Bichette’s second-place MVP finish in 1995.

These are all examples of cherry-picked statistics that give the wrong impression without the complete picture. Joe Carter and Dante Bichette DID do those things, but they also sucked those seasons. Women who have abortions probably do experience feelings of regret, but how much more might they regret giving birth to a child they don’t want for some reason? I don’t think the sign about women regretting abortions presents anything close to the full picture.

Just to be clear, I’m not taking any side on the abortion issue–I’m just pointing out an everyday example of the type of statistical misuse we’re accustomed to seeing in baseball.

The rise (and fall?) of the LOOGY @robneyer

LOOGY, referring to the lefty one-out guy, a term coined by Rob Neyer when they became quite popular in the early 1990s.

Here’s a chart looking at single-batter lefty-reliever appearances over the years. Read the rest of this entry

Fraction of starts by left-handed pitchers

This basic plot shows the fraction of game starts made by left-handed pitchers.

LHP starts

Before making the plot, I had expected this percentage to generally increase over time. That’s clearly not the case.

I’m particularly interested in the major dip starting in 1993. This seems to coincidence with the Steroids Era. Does this suggest that the increase in offense during this period is due, in part, to lack of availability of left-handed starters? Or were fewer left-handed starters used for some other reason?

Relief pitching

relief pitching

Interesting trend reversal (at least so far) in 2013.

Here’s something I’ve never understood:


This is the average innings pitched by the starting pitcher, by year, broken down by leagues.

There are at least two things about this plot that make no sense to me. Click through for more.

Read the rest of this entry

Fraction of balls put in play is at an all-time low

Here’s a plot showing the percentage of balls in play each year. Specifically, this refers to the fraction of plate appearances that result in a ball being handled by the defense.


The formula uses at-bats in the numerator, subtracting out home runs and strikeouts, and adding sacrifice hits and sacrifice flies. That total is then divided by plate appearances, which of course includes walks and hit-by-pitch.

As you can see, 2013 is on pace to have the lowest percentage of balls put in play in MLB history. And even though 2013 is far from over and could change, 2012 itself set the all-time record, at just 68.7%.

The two biggest factors are, of course, home runs and strikeouts. Even in this year of very low offense, home runs are still quite high. I wrote about that in my USA Today Sports Weekly piece this week. Strikeouts continue to go higher and higher, and drive the percentage of balls in play lower and lower.

Some comments and implications about the above graph:

  • Think about 2013, at 68%, vs baseball in the 1940′s, around 80%. With teams averaging around 38 plate appearances per game, that’s a difference of nearly 5 balls in play per game. Think about that–5 batted balls fewer per game, every game! That’s astounding.
  • The fewer balls in play also means that defense matters less. In the current game, defense is the best it’s ever been. Equipment and fields are of uniformly excellent quality and players have better range than ever. However, the lack of balls being put into play means that the defense has fewer chances, so overall, there is less variability on defense from team to team.
  • We think of 1968 as the year of the pitcher, but 74.2% of balls were still put in play that year, meaning the defense played a much bigger role.
  • Take a look at fielding metrics over the years, here. Putouts have remained the same over the years, because they are basically all outs. But total chances has dropped gradually over the years, from about 41 in the 1920s to 39 in the 1940s to about 37.5 in recent years. This number has fallen a bit because errors have continually dropped, but more because assists have dropped. And why have assists dropped? Because a higher fraction of putouts are to the catcher, i.e. strikeouts, when there can be no assist.

The game is changing, for sure…


Frequency of shutouts as a function of run-scoring environment

We’ve been discussing just how commons shutouts have been in recent years, particularly in 2013 so far. Here’s a little bit of a look at the numbers.

Read the rest of this entry

Read Adam in USA Today

This week’s Sports Weekly piece by High Heat Stats was written by our own Adam Darowski. You can read it online here:

As you can see from the URL, it’s about the role that team defense plays in a pitcher’s ERA.


2013: The Year of the Shutout

Through last night, just about every team has played 12 games so far this season, and we’ve already had 36 shutouts in 2013. With 358 total games having been played so far, that’s 10% of games ending in a shutout.

By comparison, in all of 2012, there were 310 shutouts in 4860 games, just 6.4%. And in the first 12 games of the season for each team, there were 24 shutouts out of 36o games (6.7%).

Going back as far as we’ve had 30 teams, here are the number of shutouts within the first 12 games for each team:

2013: 36
2012: 24
2011: 20
2010: 17
2009: 22
2008: 23
2007: 18
2006: 15
2005: 20
2004: 17
2003: 26
2002: 23
2001: 16
2000: 16
1999: 15
1998: 20
1997: 15

So, the most shutouts in the first 12 games of any season from 1997 to 2012 was 26, and this year we have 36. Over those previous 16 years, there were 19.2 shutouts on average, and this year we have close to double that…

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