Author Archives: birtelcom

Messrs. October

A World Series Most Valuable Player has been named each year since 1955, except of course in 1994, when no World Series was held. The World Series MVP originated as an invention of the old Sport magazine (which had developed the entire genre of mass market general sports magazines several years before Time, Inc. began producing Sports Illustrated). The League Championship Series in each league began in 1969, but there were no formal MVPs named for this new round of post-season play until 1977 for the NL and until 1980 for the AL. And there remains today no formal MVP process for earlier rounds of MLB’s post-season.

It may be that the Major League Baseball post-season has now grown so substantial that it is appropriate to treat the post-season as a whole entity deserving its own over-arching Most Valuable Player process. In 2013, for example, there were 38 post-season games, which makes 76 team games, almost half a regular season for an individual team.

There is no Wins Above Replacement for the post-season; the nature of post-season play isn’t really amenable to the kind of calculations that go into WAR. But we do have Win Probability Added (WPA) numbers for the post-season. Indeed, because we have play-by-play records for every post-season game from the first World Series in 1903 and onwards, we can look at WPA numbers for any and all post-season games back to the earliest post-season games.

Just to give a flavor for how WPA can be applied to help inform the identification of MVP-type candidates for post-season play, I’ll list below in this post some recent post-season WPA leaders. If you need an introduction to Win Probability Added, you can check out glossaries at Fangraphs or Baseball-Reference; but the basic concept is relatively simple. WPA looks at every plate appearance during a game and determines the probability that, as that plate appearance begins, the hitter’s team will win the game, based on the inning, the score, the outs and the men on base. Then WPA determines whether the outcome of that plate appearance increased or decreased the probability of the hitter’s team winning, and by how much. The amount of such change in probability, positive or negative, is assigned to the hitter, and the reverse amount to the pitcher. The change in probability amounts for each hitter’s, and each pitcher’s, plate appearances for the game are added up (netting the positive and negative plate appearance results) and the resulting number is that hitter’s or pitcher’s Win Probability Added for that game. WPA game numbers can then be added for a series, season, career, and so on.

Thinking about recent post-seasons, a few names jump out as leading their teams at critical moments. David Freese in 2011, Raul Ibanez in 2012, Madison Bumgarner in 2014, all seem to jump out as high-value performers of their respective post-seasons. Does Win Probability Added reflect these recollections? Let’s see. Highest WPA totals for the postseason periods in each of the last six years:

2010
Brian Wilson 1.3
Tim Lincecum 1.2
Matt Cain and Cody Ross 1.0

2011
David Freese 1.9
Lance Berkman 1.3
Mike Napoli 1.0
Chris Carpenter 0.9

2012
Raul Ibanez 1.2
Darren O’Day 1.1
Justin Verlander and Marco Scutaro 0.9

2013
Carlos Beltran 1.5
David Ortiz 1.2
Justin Verlander 1.1

2014
Madison Bumgarner 1.7
Eric Hosmer 1.4
Wade Davis 1.1
Alex Gordon, Greg Holland and Yusmeiro Petit 0.9

2015
Wade Davis 1.0
Jose Bautista 0.9
Eric Hosmer and Curtis Grandson 0.8

David Freese’s 2011 World Series Game 6, in which he tripled with two outs to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth inning, to keep the Cardinals alive in the series, and then hit a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 11th to send the series to a seventh game, is the highest single WPA game by a hitter in MLB post-season history. The second-highest is Kirk Gibson’s walk-off pinch-hit homer game in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, even if Gibson gets no extra WPA credit for hobbling around the bases in that famous home run trot. The highest post-season WPA of all, higher even than Freese’s Game 6, was the epic pitching performance by the precocious 21-year old Boston Red Sox pitcher Babe Ruth, who threw a 14-inning complete game in Game 2 of the 1916 World Series, allowing Boston to defeat Brooklyn 2-1. Although Ruth hit like a typical pitcher that day, going 0 for 5 with two strikeouts and a batter WPA of -.191. Just wasn’t fated to be a big contributor with the bat in the majors, I guess.

At the moment of publication of this post, just before Game 3 of the World Series begins, the leaders in WPA for the 2016 post-season so far have been the Cubs’ starter Jon Lester and the Cleveland relievers Cody Allen and Andrew Miller, all at at WPA of 1.0, and Indians starter Corey Kluber just behind at 0.9. Who ends up as the 2016 WPA post-season MVP remains very much up in the air at the moment. Now I’ll settle in to watch Game 3.

Bend Sinister

This past September 26, when Dee Gordon came to the plate as the first Marlins hitter to bat after the passing on September 25 of the team’s young star Jose Fernandez, Gordon, who bats as a left-handed batter, took the first pitch as a right-handed batter. That was done in honor of Fernandez, a righty pitcher and batter. After that first pitch from Mets pitcher Bartolo Colon, Gordon turned around and hit from his usual side, as a left-handed batter. From his normal side, Gordon promptly hit a home run off of Colon, to give Florida a lead, and the Marlins went on to win a game that was deeply haunted by the death of Fernandez the previous morning.

By a strange coincidence, Gordon’s homer as a lefty batter, coming after his first-pitch appearance from the other side of the plate, caused an all-time MLB record, specific to lefty hitters, to be tied (the record was then subsequently broken a few days later).

Here are the pitchers who have allowed, over a career, the most home runs to batters hitting from the lefty side of the plate (including both regular and post-season home runs allowed):

1. Bartolo Colon 231
2. Robin Roberts 230
3. Catfish Hunter 224
4. Jack Morris 214
5. Ferguson Jenkins 213 (or 214)
6. Bert Blyleven 206
T7. Phil Niekro and Don Sutton 203
9. Javier Vazquez 202
10. Dennis Eckersley 198

Bartolo, who himself hit a memorable home run this season (albeit as a right-handed batter), tied the all-time career HRs-allowed-to-lefties record, previously held by Robin Roberts, when he allowed the Dee Gordon homer on September 26. Colon then broke the record when he allowed another memorable homer on October 1, to Ryan Howard. It was Howard’s final HR for the Phillies, and perhaps of his career (I’m not sure Ryan Howard will find another MLB spot next season — he’s been a rather consistently sub-replacement level performer since he badly injured his Achilles tendon making the final out of Philadelphia’s 2011 post-season; the Phillies have not been back to the post-season since that play). That final homer for Howard, the record-breaker for Colon, came as the Mets sought to clinch a post-season berth on the second-to-last day of the season. Howard’s blast off Colon tied the game, and put the Mets’ post-season hopes in jeopardy, but another left-handed hitting first baseman, James Loney — owner of one of the lowest HR per PA ratios of any recent long-term first basemen — hit a homer of his own to restore the Mets lead, allowing Colon, the new all-time leader in homers allowed to lefties, to get the win and the Mets to grab a wild card spot. The Mets then went on to lose the wild card game — on a ninth-inning homer by unheralded lefty batter Conor Gillaspie.

What is a #8 Prospect?

Baseball America last week issued its annual list of top 100 prospects for 2015. At #8 on that list is 22-year-old Joc Pederson, who the Dodgers have penciled in as their starting center fielder this coming season. Pedersen put up very impressive numbers in AAA this past season, and was rewarded with a September call-up, though he started only three games for the big club. A question that occurred to me in considering the Dodgers’ choice, for now at least, of the rookie Pederson as their new starting center fielder is, historically, how have previous eighth-ranked prospects, as designated by Baseball America in its annual pre-season Top 100 prospects list, actually turned out? A history of that #8 spot in the Baseball America ranking is after the jump. Continue reading

COG Round 85 Results: Cronin No Longer a Ronin

A “ronin” in Japanese tradition is a samurai warrior who is homeless, wandering, unaffiliated, as a result of having lost his sponsoring feudal lord. Winning this election (after falling just short in the previous round) brings Joe Cronin out of the cold and into the Circle of Greats, as the 85th inductee into the COG. More on Joe and the voting after the jump. Continue reading

Aramis Ramirez, Centrally Located

The 2015 season will be the NL Central Division’s 22nd year of play, having seen its first season of competition in 1994. 1994 was also the season the Pirates of the brand new NL Central Division signed the 16-year-old Aramis Ramirez to a pro contract. Ramirez has remained with NL Central Division organizations ever since, first with the Pirates, then the Cubs and, since 2012, the Brewers. On September 20th, 2014, Aramis played in his 2,051st career regular season game, breaking Craig Biggio’s record of 2,050 career regular season games played for NL Central Division teams.

Most Regular Season Games Played For NL Central Division Clubs
1. Aramis Ramirez 2,057
2. Craig Biggio 2,050
3. Lance Berkman 1,769
4. Albert Pujols 1,705
5. Jeff Bagwell 1,690
(credit: division-based leaderboards have been generated using the current edition of Lee Sinins’ Complete Baseball Encyclopedia)

More NL Central stats are after the jump. Continue reading

Circle of Greats 1905 Results: Remember the Alomar! (or, We Wuz Rob-bed!)

Roberto Alomar finished fifth in our very first Circle of Greats voting round, back in December, 2012: COG Round 1 and COG Round 1 Results . In this his 63rd round of eligibility Alomar at last, albeit with a runoff victory needed, wins induction into the COG, as our 84th inductee. More on Robbie and the voting after the jump. Continue reading