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Circle of Greats: 1919 Part 2 Balloting

This post is for voting and discussion in the 65th round of balloting for the Circle of Greats (COG).  This round completes the addition of those players born in 1919.  Rules and lists are after the jump. Read the rest of this entry

COG Round 64 Results: Circle Is Your Home, Stretch

Willie (“Stretch”) McCovey was elected to the Cooperstown Hall of Fame by the baseball writers in his first appearance on their ballot. It took McCovey a bit longer under our COG system, but in this his 27th round on the our ballot, Willie becomes the 64th inductee in the High Heat Stats Circle of Greats. More on McCovey and the voting, after the jump. Read the rest of this entry

2014 First Half: More Great Starting Pitchers … or Not?

Most of the first-half reviews that I saw made a point like this one:

“Pitchers continue to dominate. We enter the break with 21 qualified starters holding an ERA under 3.00 … Kershaw (11-2, 1.78 ERA), Adam Wainwright (12-4, 1.83) and Felix Hernandez (11-2, 2.12) highlight a season with many top pitching performers … Kershaw had a 15-strikeout no-hitter with no walks, perfect other than a fielding error behind him. Wainwright hasn’t allowed a run in nine of his 19 starts. Brilliance.”

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Quiz – Throwback Players (solved)

The players in this quiz are mostly from yesteryear, with a couple of exceptions. What is the seasonal batting feat that distinguishes this group among players active since 1901?

Bonus: name the player who is on pace in 2014 to join this group.

Congratulations to John Autin, with some help from Richard Chester and others. They teamed up to identify the quiz players as those with seasons of 50 stolen bases and 25 doubles, with doubles at least as numerous as strikeouts. That combination of speed, contact hitting and a little pop has become very rare with only two such post-war seasons, though Jose Altuve is currently on pace to join this group if he can keep his doubles total level with his strikeouts. More after the jump.

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All-Star Edition: Minnesota Musings

Today’s All-Star game is the third in Minnesota, and the third in a different stadium. Today’s game will be the first in Minnesota without Pete Rose in the lineup, after Charlie Hustle started the 1965 game and appeared as a pinch-hitter in 1985, the latter appearance at age 44 making Rose the oldest NL All-Star (Satchel Paige was the oldest AL All-Star at age 47 in 1953) . Today’s game will also be the first in Minnesota with the DH, as that innovation made a delayed All-Star appearance only in 1989.

More on Minnesota’s all-star history after the jump.

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Cleaning Up Becomes a Chore

There’s been discussion here and elsewhere about the decline in run scoring across the majors this season and in recent seasons. Yes, across the majors the average runs scored per game is currently at 4.14 so far in 2014, down slightly from 4.17 for the full 2013 season, and from 4.32 for the full 2012 season. OPS (On Base Percentage plus Slugging Percentage) across the majors as a whole is down from .724 in 2012, to .714 last season, to .707 so far this season. But the decline in hitting performance has not been uniform across the batting order, and in this post I want to focus on the particularly dramatic drop in the average performance of clean-up hitters in the majors. Read the rest of this entry

Catching Up with Game Notes — thru Saturday, July 12

Fell into a vicious cycle last week, never quite able to finish a day’s work. Damn the sentence fragments; full speed ahead!

__________

Tigers 16, @Royals 4 (Thurs.) — Payback …
Tigers 2, @Royals 1 (Fri.) — … lived up to …
Tigers 5, @Royals 1 (Sat.) — its reputation. Since KC took those three in Motown to snatch first place, they’ve gone 8-14, and the Tigers 17-5 in building a season-high 7.5-game lead.

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Circle of Greats: 1919 Part 1 Balloting

This post is for voting and discussion in the 64th round of balloting for the Circle of Greats (COG).  This round begins to add those players born in 1919.  Rules and lists are after the jump. Read the rest of this entry

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.

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