Old Time Baseball Photo of the Week
This week’s photo, from 1984, features Adlartok Pukulria, an Inuit seal skin trader as a child, he learned to pitch by throwing frozen whale eyes back into the lifeless sockets of his family’s kill.
Tomorrow night Padres right-hander Casey Kelly will make his Major League debut. He’ll go against Paul Maholm of the Atlanta Braves. It will be a tough assignment, facing a contending club in his first start, but the Padres have a seven game win streak in their sails and have been playing all facets of the game very capably.
He will take over the rotation spot vacated by Jason Marquis, after he became the latest Padres starting pitcher to hit the DL (broken hand). Kelly was traded to San Diego as part of the package of prospects involved in the Adrian Gonzalez trade back in 2010. At the time he was considered the most elite piece headed in the Padres’ direction. We will finally begin to see if it is Kelly or Anthony Rizzo that is most deserving that title now.
The 22 year old has pitched only 31.2 innings this season because of an elbow injury, and nine of those were in rookie ball during his rehab assignment. He showed tremendous stuff in Spring Training this year and then struck out 32 batters in 28.2 IP en route to compiling a WHIP under 1. His rehab innings went smoothly and he looks ready enough to come up to a big club desperate for quality starters.
The young pitching keeps bubbling to the surface for the Padres. If the young arms can stay healthy, we’ll be looking at a rotation that could include:
- Anthony Bass (25 next year)
- Cory Luebke (27)
- Andrew Cashner (26)
- Joe Weiland (22)
- Casey Kelly (23)
Edinson Volquez and Clayton Richards will be the old men of the staff at ages 30 and 29, respectively.
We have come a long way, and we have learned a lot from Part 1and Part 2of this series. Part Three will cover the pitfalls of the traditional offensive statistics of Batting Average, The RBI, and by association, The Run. We will be examining suitable replacements for these statistics, as well as detailing what it is that makes them suitable as such. We will use our new tools to take a look at whether the Dodgers are getting as much of an upgrade as many fans believe, and we will weigh him against the best hitter in The Far Division. If you want to play catch-up first, as always, please do so.
The Hit and Batting Average
A screaming line drive that finds the seats halfway up the bleachers at Dodger Stadium. A nubber in no-mans land that big, fat Bartolo Colon cannot get to in time. What do these things have in common? They are both a Hit.
This alone illustrates the failure of the Hit to accurately separate luck and success at the plate. But the fact that batting average is totally dependent on the Hit makes it much more troublesome. This is because batting average is still entrenched as the go-to stat of your hometown TV crew. And .300 is still looked to as the cutoff between the best and the rest, in terms of batting prowess. This is all incredibly misleading, given that the cornerstone the stat (the Hit) is cracked.
The RBI and the Run
Perhaps the second most problematic hitting stat, and one that is almost always referred to, in detailing the feats of great hitters, is the Run Batted In. When a batter hits a solo home run he drives himself in, and tallies one. The same value is assigned when a batter grounds out to second base, scoring a runner from third. The first batter created the run all by himself, he crushed a pitch into the seats. The second batter got lucky that there was a runner on third when he came to the plate. His RBI is actually a function of what someone else accomplished (the runner who got himself to third) and vice versa. A runner who reaches on an error and scores on a double, gets credit for a run. He is rewarded, despite failing at his job.
This line of logic can be extended to players who have a lack of RBIs or Runs. If nobody gets on in front of you, or nobody drives you in, there is nothing you can do about it. You can skillfully perform valuable actions all day long, but your team will not score runs. Meanwhile the lucky batter behind the good batters drives in run after run. Obviously if you drive in 100 runs you have to be doing something right, but the point remains.
The RBI, like the The Hit, and rest of the old guard statistics, is a record of what happened, but it does not tell us anything about how valuable a hitter is, and it is far less likely to tell us whether he will again be valuable in the future.
Gonzalez (Mr. Lucky) v. Posey (The One Man Wrecking Crew)
Through Saturday, August 26th Adrian Gonzalez has 89 RBI, and Buster Posey has 80. Adrian Gonzalez is batting .299, Posey .326. Both players are performing at an elite level by both of these measures. But let’s use advanced metrics to drill deeper.
What is valuable about a hit? The batter reaches base, and no out is recorded. But a walk accomplishes the same goal. In fact, so does getting hit by a pitch, which certain batters, like Carlos Quentin can actually own as a repeatable skill. The stat that counts all the ways a hitter achieves this desirable thing, is On Base Percentage. But OBP is limited, too. If you just walk, or just hit singles you don’t produce a lot of runs on your own. The extra base hit and the stolen base are ways of maximizing offensive value.
The stat that counts the aggregate total of your ability to move yourself along the bases with the bat is Slugging Percentage. But what about creating value with your legs, as in the case of stolen bases? A comprehensive stat (the best kind of stat, as mentioned earlier in this series) that measures all of these things, and weights them according to their impact on run scoring, is weighted On Base Average (wOBA). Think of this stat as our metric replacement for Batting Average, where .340 is above average and .400+ is elite.
In 2011 Fangraphs calculated wOBA as follows:
wOBA = (0.69×uBB + 0.72×HBP + 0.89×1B + 1.26×2B + 1.60×3B + 2.08×HR + 0.25×SB -0.50×CS) / PA
A stat that more accurately depicts the amount of runs a player generates on offense (the goal that RBI and Runs try and fails to achieve), is called weighted Runs Created plus (wRC+). It is based on wOBA, but gives us a number of runs, which is a little more tangible and result oriented. The plus just means that it is adjusted relative to league average (league adjusted), and to account for any advantages or disadvantages a player may have in differing venues (park adjusted). A wRC+ of 100 is average. This stat will serve as our metric replacement of Runs, plus RBI.
So let’s follow up on Mr. Gonzalez and Mr. Posey, shall we? The two are good to compare, because neither player is very speedy, so we won’t be muddying things up with who might have been stretching more singles into doubles, etc.
Adrian Gonzalez has the greater RBI total, but with his lack of home runs (16) and walks (5.6%) he has managed a .342 OBP, and a .472 SLG, to give him a .347 wOBA, and a 114 wRC+. He ranks above average.
While striking out at nearly the same rate as Gonzalez (Posey: 16%, Gonzalez: 15.6%), but walking over twice as often (11.6%), Posey has managed a .403 OBP. He has outslugged Adrian by .064 points (.536), and has created 40 more runs by wRC+ (154), with an elite wOBA of .398.
Add speed to Posey’s caliber of hitting ability, and you’re talking league leader. Because of his tremendous wheels, Mike Trout has the top wRC+ figure this season, with a 172. Posey ranks 5th, and Gonzalez ranks 60th. Trout also leads the majors in wOBA at .434, while Posey ranks 6th; Gonzalez is buried at 52nd. Taking into account that Los Angeles’ principal first basemen in 2012 (James Loney 70 wRC+/.273 wOBA, and Juan Rivera 69/.271) have put up stunningly similar and severely bad numbers, the Dodgers are still getting a major upgrade at 1B. But don’t let the old guard stats fool you. He is not elite, like he would be if measured by his batting average, which is just .001 off the sacred .300 mark, or by his RBI total, which is the 4th highest in baseball.
The conclusion of this series is still forthcoming. It will feature an examination of the aggregate of all facets of the game, an acknowledgement of the things that advanced metrics cannot do, and a confirmation that the most elite performers in the game, as measured by metrics, are also most dynamic players in the game to watch with our eyes.
I am test driving a concept (called Passing Through, in case you need to tell people about it on the internet). This is the first of it’s kind: A look at a team on a West Coast swing. Sometimes these will appear as previews to an upcoming set of series’ against NL West teams, and sometimes they will appear afterwards, as a recap, if things get interesting unexpectedly. In this case, we check in with the Braves in the midst of their pass through The Far Division.
Fresh off a homestand in which the Braves won three of four against Padres, and then managed only one win in three games against the Dodgers, Atlanta started it’s current road trip by losing two out of three in Washington. If the Braves are to remain within the relative safety of the top Wild Card spot, they need to get back on track after struggling against two good teams (L.A and Washington).
The California portion of Atlanta’s current roadie includes four games in San Francisco and then three in San Diego, to wrap up what has been a National-League-West-heavy stretch.
San Francisco Giants: August 23rd – 26th
I don’t want to perpetuate the myth that we’ve learned something just because two likely playoff teams have played each other in August. What the quality of these teams does add to a series is a high probability that good baseball will be played, as well as the drama of immediate consequence (as it pertains to the pursuit of post-season berths).
As it stands now (Saturday night, all games concluded) The Giants are just two games ahead of the Dodgers in the NL West. The Braves, who remain atop the Wild Card standings, came out ahead on Saturday with a convincing 7-3 win. A 3-run bomb by Jason Heyward, his 23rd, helped the Braves pull away. Atlanta will try to even the series with a win on Sunday, after losing the first two games.
Regarding those first two games: Braves pitching surrendered both 5 runs and 5 walks on back to back nights on Thursday and Friday, though Friday’s game could have been much worse (the Giants amassed 14 hits). However in another way, that game couldn’t have been worse for the Braves. Following his Friday night start Ben Sheets began experiencing shoulder inflammation and has been placed on the DL. For a guy whose medical records are a collection of rich, well preserved, 17th-century tapestries, that is hardly a surprise. Nonetheless, it is disappointing and, unfortunately, not likely to end well for Sheets or the Braves.
San Diego Padres: August 27th – 29th
The Braves play their final regular season game out West on Wednesday against the Padres. It will be the last PST game of Chipper Jones’ 19-year career. I will be there in person to watch what I am hoping will be Jedd Gyorko’s major league debut. There have been no reports that this will happen. But I would, however briefly, get to believe that Chipper’s last game against the NL West coinciding with Gyorko’s MLB debut is an omen of the young third-baseman’s future greatness.
The Braves dispensed with the Padres quite handily in Atlanta earlier this month, with Tim Hudson, Paul Maholm and Kris Medlen combining for 22.1 innings, and allowing just one run between them to take the final three games. However, San Diego has won six games in a row heading into Sunday, so perhaps this series will not be as easily taken for Atlanta.
- Game 1: Paul Maholm v. TBD (Jason Marquis’ spot open due to DL stint for a broken hand)
- Game 2: Kris Medlen v. Andrew Werner (25 year old Rookie, making his 2nd ever MLB appearance after winning in his first start)
- Game 3: TBD (Sheets’ spot) v. Eric Stultz
Here’s to Chipper’s final game in San Diego. So long Chipper, I wish you’d been a Padre.
Just before the wave of classic new stadiums, we had the rise of mascots, fireworks, contests, a meaningless and unbelievably redundant string of ceremonial first pitches, whacky sound effects and cheesy 80’s stadium rock. With the wave of beautiful new parks there has been a continued rise of a phenomenon we can call Ballpark as Destination, but the direction of the trend has changed. We have reclaimed a more adult feel, but we have continued to keep alive the bizarre carnival of obligatory stadium minutiae passed down to us from the 70s and 80s. And this season the crests of these two separate eras of stadium culture have met at their most foul pinnacle: Marlins Park. Let us look to this place and realize that we have the opportunity to cleanse stadium culture of it’s faded hand-me-downs.
After 20 years of paltry attendance figures at Joe Robbie/Pro-Player/Land Shark Field, the Marlins had seen quite clearly that they were a baseball franchise that needed to market itself to people who didn’t care at all about baseball. So they sold the city of Miami the idea of building a new stadium. It would have to be as attractive as possible for reasons in no way related to baseball. The only logical result of any endeavor with that goal in mind, is Marlins Park.
Marlins Park is like a casino, a neon bouquet of stimulus, a market of the senses. It is the bulletproof facade of shallow entertainmentism. There is a bobblehead museum, and what has been referred to as a “sculpture” that features leaping cartoon dolphins. There are tanks full of tropical fish, a nightclub, and a pool with slutty waitresses swimming around in it. Plus it looks like a moon base.
For the fan that is really not a fan, all of this stupid garbage is fine, and hey, they are giving their money to baseball. But for the fan who goes to the yard to watch baseball as a thread of American history, it is an impediment, and it is the sad, symbolic truth of our cultural moment. The timelessness of the experience is disrupted by the kiss cam, the clown dancing on top of the dugout. If somebody is throwing a perfect game, I don’t want to see Southpaw trying to squeeze his way into the middle of it, cheapening history with the heavy sludge of whacky bullshit, that a country of bored, hypnotized children has become reliant on just to get them through what is already an unbelievably entertaining display of the limits of human ability. Do you think Nolan Ryan watches the hat shuffle?
I am not kicking out the sushi chefs, and fish taco places, or crying out for only day games and organ music, though I truly wouldn’t mind that last one. I am simply proposing that if we boot the distractions from our pastime, we might reclaim what is truly unique about it: That it is filled with time for thought. The only way to make baseball palatable to people who don’t like it yet is to give them the opportunity to be immersed in it. Let us discontinue the practice of walling off the nutritious kernel of baseball with the barrier of diluted and meaningless tinsel we have hoisted above all else and called “fun.” And let us rejoice in the poetic justice of Marlins Park, that shrine to shallow pursuits: They still rank 18th in home attendance.
See what I’m doin’ here? One idea. Two posts! On August 8th I provided a list of players freshly squeezed from the loins of the minor leagues. Here is how they have fared so far, plus a couple of additions. Part One can be found here. For this update I have only linked to players who have numbers worthy of browsing.
New To the List:
Jean Segura (MIL) – Called up by the Angels and then almost immediately traded to the Brewers in the Zach Greinke deal, Segura’s total lack of experience above AA has shown at the plate, but not in the field. So far he has yet to produce an extra base hit, but has a spactacular UZR/150 of 16.4. Brendan Ryan, by far the best defensive SS in the game, has a 24.3. The second best defender at the position is Clint Barmes, who stands at 15.6.
Manny Machado (BAL) – The Orioles surprised us all with this possibly reckless move, but with the team currently holding a Wild Card spot, they had to make some noise. That’s just what Machado has done since joining the big club. His numbers with the O’s have been better than his AA numbers in his first 34 plate appearances. AA- .266/.352/.438, good for a 122 wRC+. MLB-.303/.324/.727 and a 177 wRC+. the encouraging thing for the young SS turned 3B is that his BABIP has remained consistent with his minor league numbers, which means that his early success could be sustainable.
Starry (Keep watching):
Matt Harvey (NYM) – Harvey has been jaw dropping. He had another brilliant outing on Friday, striking out 8 in 7.2 IP. He allowed just one run on four hits, reaching 97mph with his fastball, and leaving batters waving at the change. He has room for improvement in BB/9 (3.9), but his 1.13 WHIP and 10.2 K/9 numbers are elite. The Mets have a good young pitcher… Ooh, that feels weird to say!
Travis Snider (PIT) – Neil Huntington is looking like a genius for snagging Snider at the deadline. Since coming to the NL, the young RF has been terrific. He’s put up a slash line of .319/.377/.494. If sustained for an entire season his 124 wRC+ would land him between stars like Adam Jones (130) and Jay Bruce (121).
Starling Marte (PIT) – Before going down on Saturday with what sounds like a minor oblique injury, Marte provided some timely hits for a team that needed a lift on offense. Unlike Snider, he had no previous MLB experience, but has been well on pace to fulfill the 20/20 potential scouts expected, while actually underperforming in BABIP compared with his minor league numbers.
Chris Carter (OAK) – If Chris Carter wanted a date with a baseball, his pickup line would be “You know what I want.” What I mean to say is that if he played a full season at his current HR pace, he would hit 50 dongers. He is also walking 18.1% of the time, but it’s more fun to talk about the “white thing go fly.”
Dan Straily (OAK) – When a guy who has never pitched above AA comes into the middle of a pennant race and delivers a 1.18 WHIP and a 2.12 BB/9 over his first three starts, simultaneously embodying and signaling the beginning of a resurgence of that distinctively A’s brand of winning, excuse me, but that’s amazulous.
Josh Rutledge (COL) – Full steam ahead. Rutledge has continued providing a bright spot for the mostly miserable the Rockies. Since August 8th he’s 8-28 striking out just 4 times in that span. I’d be shocked not to see him at 2B next Opening Day. (The reason he is only listed as solid is that his upside isn’t has high as the group above.)
Pink in the Center (Talented but not ready):
Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters (CHC) – So da one guy, he says to dee udda guy, “what are Jackson and Vitters’ swings made of? Swiss Cheese?” “Why” dee udda guy says to him. And the foyst guy, he says “Cuz they got so many holes.” Jackson’s strikeout rate has been even worse than that joke (48.9%) and it’s the same story on defense (-74.2 UZR/150). Vitters has doubled his strikeout rate from AAA (17.4% -32.4%) and has failed to draw a single walk. Neither has shown us anything yet, but next year could be a different story. If you’re watching the Cubs this year just make sure you catch Anthony Rizzo’s ABs.
Anthony Gose (TOR) – When the young speedster puts the ball in play, good things happen (he has stolen 10 bases). The problem has been his ability to do so. 37.3% of his 87 plate appearances have resulted in strikouts. His goatee is a perfect metaphor for his skill set. It’s there, but he has yet to put the parts together.
Snooze Fest (Don’t “Watch These Players” anymore):
Wellington Castillo (CHC) – Castillo has held his own, but has been getting much less playing time than Steve Clevenger.
Trayvon Robinson (SEA) – The young outfielder hasn’t looked particularly good or bad so far. He has been rather unremarkable outside of a highlight reel catch he made on Friday night.
Matt McBride (COL) – 20 ABs, 7Ks. With OF Charlie Blackmon healthy, Tyler Colvin will spend more time at first. Depending on the severity of Michael Cuddyer’s injury there may not be a lot of opportunity.
I won’t use his name because it isn’t just him and umpires don’t matter, but the home plate ump threw Matt Kemp out of a game in the second inning of Thursday’s game with the Pirates. Apparently he had been shouting about balls and strikes on the last pitch, before he was warned to say nothing more. He then began vocally cheering for teammate Andre Ethier, an offense which cost him the rest of the afternoon.
I am not gonna do the whole, yell and scream thing, and tell the ump to get off his knees because he’s blowing the game. But when umpires squawk at players, follow them around, peacock strike three calls, and throw Matt Kemp out of a game for something they think may be directed at them, that’s too much.
Umpires should never be a part of the game, an umpire is a pylon.
The sale of the San Diego Padres to people with many shining coins has been approved by the Owners of the other MLB Franchises, much to my personal delight. Here are some reactions from executives, players and fans from around the league. If you’re not much of a “reader” this one’s for you. Don’t be scared of those little marks surrounding the word “reader.” Those are just like this weird version of air-quotes that words use.