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COG 1920 Results: Stan’s Up and Gets Counted

For the second round in a row, one candidate dominated the voting by an overwhelming margin. This time it was Stan Musial, appearing on a COG-record 94% of the ballots cast. Musial becomes the 63rd inductee in the High Heat Stats Circle of Greats. More on Stan and the voting, after the jump. Read the rest of this entry

Breaking down Danny Graves @dgravy32

Yesterday, I got to talking to former MLB pitcher Danny Graves on Twitter. He’s part of the team at the newly-launched 120Sports, a brand new sports network. It’s a cool concept, focusing on video analysis that is typically about 2 minutes long for each story, getting you up-to-the-minute updates on everything that’s going on.

Anyway, I asked Danny about his unusual career:

He did, in fact, average 3.41 pitches per plate appearance over his career, during which time MLB had an average of 3.73. That’s an 8% difference.

If we focus down on just one year, we can see a bit more detail. Take 2000, when Danny averaged 3.65 pitches per batter. He was the Reds’ closer that year, and one of 24 pitchers to save at least 20 games that season. The other 23 closers averaged 3.85 pitches per plate appearance, about 5% more than Graves. In fact, John Rocker, Armando Benitez, Troy Percival, and Dave Veres all averaged over 4 pitches per batter, while only 4 of the closers averaged fewer pitches than Danny (Antonio Alfonseca, Jeff Shaw, Jose Jimenez, and Steve Karsay).

So, it’s clear that Danny’s assertion that he tried to pitch to contact and limit pitches per batter is correct. This had another effect, though, which was first pointed out to me yesterday by Adam (@baseballtwit). Throwing fewer pitches per batter allowed Graves to face more batters and pitch more innings. Looking again at 2000, Graves threw the most pitches among those 24 closers. He tossed 1418 times against 388 batters. Compare that to Benitez, who tossed 1313 times against 304 batters. That’s only 105 fewer pitches, but against 84 fewer batters, which explains why Benitez averaged about 2/3 of a pitch more per batter.

In that 2000 season, the 388 batters that Graves faced produced 274 outs, meaning that he pitched 91.1 innings, and these were spread over 66 games. Benitez (who, remember, threw nearly as many pitches as Graves), produced only 234 outs. His 78 IP were spread over only 77 games. Benitez was the very model of the modern closer, tossing exactly one inning per appearance just about as surely as the sun came up every day. Graves, though, was used frequently in the 8th inning to record a 4, 5, or even 6-out save.

Did Graves’ desire to pitch to contact lead to more hits? Not in 2000, no. He allowed 7.98 H/9, whereas the other 23 closers allowed 8.06 H/9, and NL-wide average in 2000 was 9.20. So Graves was similar to other closers, who as a group were a lot better than league average. It did, however, affect his walks. In 2000, he issued 4.14 BB/9, as compared to 3.45 BB/9 from the other 23 closers. And if you throw out John Rocker, who issued 48 walks in 53 innings himself, the other 22 guys averaged 3.29 BB/9, putting Graves 25% above their average. This had a dramatic effect on his FIP, which was 4.59 as compared to his actual ERA of 2.56. That difference of 2.03 was by far the largest of the 24 closers, with the other 23 averaging a 0.44 difference (3.35 ERA, 3.79 FIP).

What, then, was Graves’ formula for success? For starters, in 2000, only 19% of the balls put in play vs. him, were line drives, as compared to the NL average of 25%. This is consistent with the notion that he tried to pitch to contact, presumably trying to be on the edge of the strike zone. This would tend to lead to poorer contact, but also more walks, both of which were true for Danny. He also induced double plays in 13% of opportunities, well above the NL average of 10%. The lack of good contact by batters also limited his extra base hits allowed to just 28% of total hits, as compared to 35% NL-wide and 30% among the other 23 closers.

It’s interesting that come 2001, Graves dropped his walk rate considerably, from 4.1 per 9 in 2000 to 2.0 in 2001 and 2.3 in 2002. The cost? More hits. His strike percentage jumped from 59.4% in 2000 to 68.1% in 2001 and 67.7% in 2002. As he was around the strike zone more, batters made better contact, with their line drive percentage climbing to 24% each season, and his H/9 rose from 8.0 in 2000 to 9.3 in 2001 and 9.0 in 2000. Thanks to the reduction in walks, his FIP over 2001-2 was 3.66, much closer to his actual ERA of 3.62, as opposed to the huge gap in 2000.

In his final years of 2004-2006, Graves was used like a modern reliever, averaging exactly 1 inning per appearance (121 games, 121 IP). He kept his walk rate down at 2.8 per 9, but his K rate stayed low, at 4.7 per 9. His extra-base hit percentage soared to 38% as a lot of balls left the yard (11.6% of his fly balls allowed were homers, well above league average). I’m not sure why Danny’s approach changed. In might have been out of necessity, but clearly as he threw more strikes, he was hit harder. Issuing fewer walks did not benefit him, and in fact led to more hits and a higher overall WHIP.

As Adam pointed out to me, Graves was pretty much the last MLB closer who consistently averaged over 1 inning pitched per appearance. In his prime, he wasn’t afraid of walking people and made up for it by getting double plays and not allowing extra-base hits very often. By the end of his career, when he pitched more like a modern closer (strictly 1 inning pitched, low walk rate) he was actually less successful. Maybe this is a sign that today’s relief pitching isn’t as optimized as many folks think.

The summer of ’44: catching redefined

Ray-MuellerFrankie-HayesSeventy years ago, wartime necessity redefined the possible for big-league catching. That year, two catchers, Ray Mueller in the NL and Frankie Hayes in the AL, achieved a feat unmatched by any player before or since – starting as catcher in EVERY game of the season.

After the jump, more on these two players and the change in catcher usage that they pioneered.

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Fifth of July: Game Notes from Saturday (plus…)

[Lots of words in here, but don't miss the table way down under Friday's White Sox-Mariners score.]

@Mariners 3, White Sox 2 (14 inn.) – Baseball’s oldest cliche is also the best loved: It just takes one pitch to turn a goat into a hero. Brad Miller came up in the 14th toting an 0-for-5 albatross – 0-3 in ribby chances, each with two aboard — and his error starting the home 9th had set up a White Sox walk-off threat. Now, Michael Saunders was on first with a one-out single, and Miller quickly fell into a two-strike hole.

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Scoring is down (again). Should something be done?

Columns by Buster Olney and Tyler Kepner today bemoan this year’s scoring average of 4.13 runs per game. Naturally, I have some thoughts, too.

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Thursday Game Notes: Greinke Wins, Nation Yawns

Dodgers 3, @Rockies 2 – Zack Greinke gave up the tying run in the 8th, on Justin Morneau’s long triple. But he buckled down and held the tie, popping up Tulo, then pumping eye-high 94 past Nolan Arenado. Juan Uribe helped get the run back with his third hit, and Kenley Jansen put Zack’s 11th win in the books.

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Circle of Greats: 1920 Balloting

This post is for voting and discussion in the 63nd round of balloting for the Circle of Greats (COG).  This round completes the addition of those players born in 1920.  Rules and lists are after the jump. Read the rest of this entry

After a number of closely contested voting rounds, this week voters strongly embraced Warren Spahn from the outset and put him on 54 ballots, the most for any candidate in a single round since Mantle and Mays in the 1931 voting. Spahn becomes the 62nd inductee in the High Heat Stats Circle of Greats. More on Warren and the voting, after the jump. Read the rest of this entry

Game Notes from Wednesday, etc.

@Blue Jays 7, Brewers 4 — Just like old times in Toronto … like, May 1 through June 6, when they averaged 1.6 HRs and 5.5 runs, going 26-9 with three walk-off wins. But something new, too: The long-ball leaders owned none of this year’s 39 walk-off blasts — until Edwin Encarnacion worked a 3-and-1 count against Brad Kintzler, and then lifted off.

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Quiz – Expansion Era Catchers (solved)

The players in this quiz are the only catchers with a particular season accomplishment since 1961. What is it?

  1. Brian McCann
  2. Jason Kendall
  3. Einar Diaz
  4. Mike Piazza
  5. Terry Kennedy
  6. Rich Gedman
  7. Ted Simmons
  8. Bill Freehan
  9. Randy Hundley
  10. Clay Dalrymple
  11. John Romano

Hint #1: McCann and Kendall accomplished this feat in the same season, the first time since 1955 that two catchers had done so in the same year.

Hint #2: A player is currently on pace to join this group in 2014.

Congratulations to Gary Bateman! He correctly identified the quiz players as the only catchers since 1961 to lead their league in the same season in most successful steal attempts against and also most unsuccessful steal attempts against, the latter being an artifact of the former. More after the jump.

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