erik lundegaard

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Monday December 04, 2017

Is There a Shelf Life to the Effectiveness of a MLB Manager?

Aaron Boone pennant-winning homerun

Boone's pennant winner in 2003. 

The New York Yankees have a new manager: Aaron Boone.

Apparently some people in Boston call him Aaron “Effin'” Boone, after Bucky “Effin'” Dent, since both hit homeruns that won, or helped win, games for the Bronx Bombers over the BoSox in do-or-die situations. Me, I think Dent deserves the epithet; his was the decisive blow in the one-game playoff in '78. Boone? Once the Yankees came back against Pedro in the 8th inning of Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS in the Bronx, it was just a matter of time. If it hadn't been Boone, it would've been someone else. So, nah. He doesn't deserve the epithet.  

Does he deserve the managerial post? Many are wondering. He's never managed before—at any level. He's never coached before—at any level. Andrew Marchand at ESPN asks the right question:

Boone is personable and well-liked, but even with those qualities, it's not hard to wonder: If he didn't hit that walk-off home run in Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series to extend the Red Sox's curse, would he have even been considered for the job?

Here's a question that not many aren't asking anymore: Why didn't the Yanks re-sign manager Joe Girardi, who took the team to within one game of the 2017 World Series? Was it his decision to not contest a HBP against the Indians that wound up costing them the game in the ALDS—a series the Yankees eventually won? Was it the discrepancy between the Yankees 2017 run differential (+198, second-best in the Majors), and their won-loss record (91-71, 8th-best)?

Or did they just decide that 10 years as skipper was enough? 

That last question got me thinking about whether managers with long tenures win pennants and World Series. And this led me to spending way too much time crunching the numbers. Here they are. 

Of the 96 potential pennants since the beginning of the playoff era in 1969 (48 AL, 48 NL), only five have been won with a manager with more than 10 years experience. Most are in the NL: Walter Alston, a 20-year man in 1974; his successor Tommy Lasorda, with 13 years in 1988; and Tony La  Russa twice, in 2006 and 2011, with 11 and 16 years tenure, respectively. In the AL, you just have Earl Weaver in '79. He's the only one. 

As for winning the World Series? It's just Lasorda and La Russa. The longest-tenured AL manager to win the World Series in the playoff era is a three-way tie between Sparky Anderson in '84, Tom Kelly in '91 and Ned Yost in 2015. Each was just in his sixth year of management for that team. 

Here's how the tenures break down for World Series-winning managers:

Tenure w/team Total
First year 10
Second year 8
Third year 9
Fourth year 7
Fifth year 2
Sixth year 7
Seventh year 1
Eighth year 1
9 + 3

Basically if you don't win in your first four years, good luck. That's 71% of the titles right there. The Tony La Russas of the world are rare, rare beasts. 

The obvious follow-up: Well, sure, but isn't this a result of the short shelf-life of managers in general? La Russa is a rare beast because most managers get canned sooner rather than later. They get blamed for everything—as you're doing right now. For the 2017 season, for example, only two of the 30 MLB managers had more than 10 years with his current team: Mike Scioscia (18 years) and Bruce Bochy (11 years). The average tenure was 4.8 years, and the World Series wound up as a battle between second-year (Dave Roberts) and third-year (A.J. Hinch) managers. 

Even so, let's take a look at Mike Scioscia. He won it all with the Angels in his third year, 2002, then won five more AL West titles between 2004 and 2009. Since then? With a fairly fat payroll? In one of the weakest divisions in baseball? And with the best player in baseball on his team? The Angels have won just one division title, in 2014, then lost three straight games to the wild card KC Royals. Mike Trout has never been on a team that won a postseason game. In that series, which went into extra innings twice, his team held a lead for all of 1/2 an inning. 

Or how about the winningest manager of the last 20 years? Joe Torre's Yankees won four World Series titles in his first five years at the helm. The next four years, despite better regular-season records, they won just two pennants and no titles—and these seasons are best remembered, and bookended by, excruciating losses to the D-Backs in the '01 World Series and to the BoSox in the '04 ALCS. (Good times.) And in his final three years, despite being stocked with a virtual All-Star team of talent, the Yanks couldn't make it past the ALDS. (Also good times.)

YEARS W (AVG) L (AVG) PCT TITLES
1996-2000 97 64 .602 4 pennants, 4 WS titles
2001-2004 100 61 .621 2 pennants
2005-2007 95 67 .586  

Obviously a lot of factors go into a team's decline and failure. I'm just wondering if one of those factors might be the longevity of the manager. And I'm wondering if Yankees GM Brian Cashman is wondering the same thing.

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Posted at 06:56 AM on Dec 04, 2017 in category Baseball
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Saturday December 02, 2017

Last Guy to Throw 300+ Innings in a Season, and Other IP Milestones

This post was inspired by my pitcher WAR/IP trivia question earlier in the week. Well, “inspired.” It's the table scraps of that post. It's the countdown to our present via the diminishing returns on innings pitched.

Here you go:

  • The all-time record for IP: Will White, 680 (1879) 
  • Last guy to throw 650+ IP: Old Hoss Radbourn, 678 (1884)
  • Last guy to throw 500+, 550+ or 600+ IP: Bill Hutchinson, 622 (1892) 
  • Last guy to throw 400+ or 450+ IP: Big Ed Walsh, 464 (1908)
  • Last guy to throw 350+ IP: Wilbur Wood, 359.1 (1973)
  • Last guy to throw 300+ IP: Steve Carlton, 304 (1980)
  • Last guy to throw 200+ IP: Justin Verlander, 251 (2011)

Look at that drop after Bill Hutchinson. He threw 622 innings in 1892 and no one ever threw 500+, let alone 600+, again. 

And look how long we held onto 350+ innings: 65 years! From 1908 to 1973, which is partly explained by the jump to the 162-game schedule in 1961. IPs were dying in the late '50s, the top numbers already consistently below 300, but they resurged into the solid 300s again with the extra eight games. The raising of the pitcher's mound in '62 didn't hurt, either. Then they really resurged in the early '70s. Why is that? Does anyone know? If it hadn't been for Mickey Lolich ('71) and Wood ('72 and '73), the last 350+ dude would've been Bob Feller in '46.

Of course, five-man rotations and the stratification of relief pitchers into set-up men and closers finally put an end to that, as well as to 300+. Steve Carlton was the last to manage that feat. 

Is Justin Verlander the last of the 250+ guys? To get over that hump, you'd have to average 7 innings for 36 starts (that's 252 IP), and no one's started 36 games in a season since 2003 (Halladay, Maddux). The top-tier norm is now 34 starts, which requires 7 1/3 per. In 2011, Verlander made 34 starts, averaging 7.38 IP per. That's how he did it. Last year's league leader in IP, Chris Sale, with 214.1, started 32 games for an average of 6.69 per. 

Last year only 15 guys managed 200+, but most, as indicated by Sales' league-leading stats, just eked over. Soon we won't even see 200+ anymore.

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Posted at 09:44 AM on Dec 02, 2017 in category Baseball
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Sunday November 26, 2017

Pitcher WAR and IP Spikes of the Early '70s

Last week, my man Joe Posnanski answered a baseball trivia question from me on Twitter. This week he announced he's essentially quitting Twitter. Sorry, everybody.

He nailed the question, by the way.

The germ of it began on Twitter, too. A friend posted the 1971 Time magazine cover of Vida Blue, I wrote “Helluva year,” then went to Baseball Reference to look up his career stats. That season, which he began as a 21-year-old, he pitched 312 innings, struck out 301, and posted a 24-8 record with a 1.82 ERA. He was voted both MVP and Cy Young. Wow. I noticed his ERA led the league but not his wins (br.com bolds league-leading stats), so I clicked on the Cy Young voting to see who had more wins. Mickey Lolich, it turns out, who went 25-14 with a 2.92 ERA.

But neither guy led the league in pitcher's WAR. Lolich's was 8.7, which is fantastic. Blue's was 9.0, ditto. But the league leader had an 11.7 WAR.

11.7!

That sent me scurrying to BR's best single-season WAR performances by a pitcher. It's a list clogged with 19th century players. The first 20th century player on the list is Walter Johnson with a 14.6 WAR in 1913 (That's good for 9th all-time). The second is Walter Johnson, with a 13.5 WAR in 1912 (18th). That's followed by Cy Young (1901, 12.06, tied for 23rd), and Dwight Gooden's phenomenal 1985 season (12.02, 25th).

And I got curious: How many of the top 100 single-season WAR pitcher performances were after the deadball era (1920 on)?

Answer: Just 27. Several guys make the list twice. 

So that became the trivia question I sent to Joey Poz and whoever else wanted to answer it:

The point, I added, is that six of the seven aren't surprises. One is. (The guy with the 11.7 WAR in 1971.) Naming the one is the fun part. 

The six no-brainers are Lefty Grove, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton and Roger Clemens.

The other guy? Wilbur Wood.

Wilbur Wood: single-season WARIf you'd ask me the day before to give my thoughts on Wilbur Wood, I would've said he was a chubby, mediocre pitcher with the Chicago White Sox in the 1970s who once lost 20 games in a season (1975, when he went 16-20), and whose baseball card I got too much and tended to trade quickly. Yet according to WAR, he had two of the greatest pitching seasons in modern times in the early '70s.

It wasn't just him. There was something about those years, too. If you break down the post-deadball top 100 WAR pitching seasons by decade, you get this:

  • 1920s: 4 (and none after 1924)
  • 1930s: 2 (both by Lefty Grove)
  • 1940s: 1 (Hal Newhouser in the last war year, 1945)
  • 1950s: 0
  • 1960s: 6
  • 1970s: 7
  • 1980s: 2
  • 1990s: 2 (both Roger Clemens)
  • 2000s: 3 (Pedro, Randy, Zack)
  • 2010s: 0 (so far)

It's startling. The '60s are known as the pitching decade, since the mound was raised post-61*. That ended after the Year of the Pitcher ('68), and hitting supposedly returned. Yet the '70s had more great pitcher years by WAR? And they were all within the same small window: 1971-73? 1971 alone had as many top pitching WAR performances (3) as there were in the 35+ years between 1925 and 1962, and none of them was Vida Blue. It went Wood, Fergie Jenkins, Tom Seaver. The next year was Steve Carlton's great year, and he was joined by Gaylord Perry and Wilbur Wood. '73 was just Seaver.

Innings Pitched leaders went up during those years, too. In the late '50s, at the tail end of the 154-game schedule, no one threw more than 300 innings. Then we got the 162-game schedule and league leaders were again above 300, with the high for the decade being Denny McClain with 336 in 1968. But in 1971, Mickey Lolich pitched 376 innings—the most since Grover Cleveland Alexander in 1917. And in '72? Wilbur Wood topped him, pitching 376.2 innings. This despite a player's strike at the start of the season that caused most teams to miss 6-8 games. (The White Sox missed 8, playing a 154-game schedule.)

And it wasn't just him. The top three pitchers for IP that year all threw more innings than any pitcher in the 1960s: Wood with 376.2, Steve Carlton with 346.1, Gaylord Perry with 342.2. Again, this was a strike-shortened year. And it was temporary. After '73 no one would ever throw as many innings as even the No. 3 guy, Perry, in '72. And after Steve Carlton threw 304 in 1980, no one would ever throw 300+ again. 

What accounts for that IP spike in the early '70s? Wood was helped by being a knuckleballer (as was Phil Niekro later in the decade), but that doesn't explain Lolich, Carlton or Perry. I assume all those innings pitched help with the WAR spike, too. I just wonder if it helps too much. 

Either way, I want my Wilbur Wood cards back.

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Posted at 02:33 PM on Nov 26, 2017 in category Baseball
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Monday November 20, 2017

At War with WAR

Last week in the Hot Stove League, MLB gave out the hardware. It awarded its 2017 Rookies of the Year (Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger, both unanimous), Managers of the Year (Paul Molitor and Torey Lovullo), Cy Youngs (Corey Kluber and Max Scherzer), and MVPs (Jose Altuve in a walk, Giancarlo Stanton in a squeaker).

I agree with almost all of these choices, with the possible exception of managers. I like Joey Poz's critique of that category, which he feels simply rewards managers of teams that defy expectations rather than, you know, resoundingly deliver on them.

But I was particularly happy that Altuve won the AL MVP. And not just because his main rival was Aaron Judge of the Yankees (and I'm not exactly a fan of the Yankees), and Altuve is short (and this is a short man's room). I also like the way Altuve plays, the enthusiasm he shows and how he's closed in ever so slowly on MVP over the years. This is where he's placed in the voting during the last four seasons:

  • 2014 (led league in hits, BA, SB): 13th
  • 2015 (led league in hits, SB, CS): 10th
  • 2016 (led league in hits, CS, BA): 3rd
  • 2017 (led league in hits, BA): 1st

It's like a cat following you: Every time you turn he's a little closer. Then he's on you.  

Altuve also hit much better in close and late situations than Judge. Here's Bill James on the subject

In the late innings of close games (100 plate appearances), Judge hit .216 with a .780 OPS. But when the Yankees were 4 or more runs ahead or 4 or more runs behind (112 plate appearances), he hit .382 with an OPS of 1.500.

In the late innings of close games, Jose Altuve hit .441 with a 1.190 OPS. When the Astros were 4 or more runs ahead or 4 or more runs behind, Altuve hit .313 with a .942 OPS.

In what Baseball Reference identifies as “high leverage” situations, Judge hit .219 with an .861 OPS. In medium leverage situations he improved to .297 with a 1.058 OPS, and in low leverage situations he hit .299 with a 1.115 OPS. Altuve hit .337-.377-.329 in those three situations.

James brings this up not to be a dick, nor to justify the MVP voting, but to pick a bone with WAR (Wins Above Replacement). 

I've been using WAR a lot lately as a measure of baseball greatness even though I don't know how to calculate it. Not even close. Look at the Wiki entry on it and try not to throw up your hands. 

For example, apparently WAR takes into account the performances of the team of each player when calculating the WAR for that player. I had no idea. And they don't do it based on the wins that team actually had; it's based on the wins that team should've had when you look at the runs they scored/gave up.

Here's James again:

The Yankees, by the normal and general relationship, should have won 102 games, when in fact they won only 91. That's a BIG gap. The Yankees played poorly in one-run games (18-26) and other close games, which is why they fell short of their expected wins. I am getting ahead of my argument in making this statement now, but it is not right to give the Yankee players credit for winning 102 games when in fact they won only 91 games. To give the Yankee players credit for winning 102 games when in fact they won only 91 games is what we would call an “error”. It is not a “choice”; it is not an “option”. It is an error.

Joey Poz steps into the fray, too, with his own thoughts on the problems with WAR.

Will be interesting to see where this battle lands. 

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Posted at 05:11 PM on Nov 20, 2017 in category Baseball
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Thursday November 02, 2017

And Then There Were Seven: Houston Astros Win First World Championship

Was Game 7 the dullest of the seven? My friend Jim began complaining in the second inning when the Astros went up 5-0 on the back of George Springer's lead-off double and two-run homer. He thought it was over then. I didn't. Five runs? What's five runs in Major League baseball? And in this series? Pfft. Plus the Dodgers kept threatening. Three on in the first. Two on in the second. Two on in the third. Two on in the fifth. But: nothing, nada, bupkis, meiyo.

Sports Illustrated: greatest cover prediction everThen in the sixth, with two on and one out, Andre Ethier, the forgotten Dodger, grounded a single to the right side to plate Joc Pederson and put the Dodgers on the board. Except instead of the beginning, that was the end—the Dodgers last hit of the game, the series, the season. Astros pitcher Charlie Morton got Chris Taylor swinging and Corey Seager on a grounder to short to end the threat. He retired the last 11 men he faced and got the W.

Ethier's hit was, in fact, the last hit for either team. Jose Altuve, who drew a two-out walk in the seventh and then stole second, was the season's last baserunner. For the rest of the game, it was three up, three down. Old-fashioned baseball. This bangiest of World Series ended with a whimper.

And after 55 years, the Houston Astros were World Champions. 

Thank god, I say. They began this post-season as my third-favorite team but moved up fast. I mean, I had the Nats ahead of them, mostly because the Expos/Nats franchise has never even seen a World Series, while the Astros had at least been in 2005, but c'mon, it's much easier to root for Jose Altuve than Bryce Harper. Plus the Astros knocked out the Yankees. That's extra props. It also makes Sports Illustrated's June 2014 cover look like the most prescient of sports predictions. They even nailed the Series MVP.  

It wasn't easy. In that last game they made it look easy, but it wasn't. The wounded were everywhere. If you'd told Astros fans at the beginning of the series that neither Dallas Keuchel or Justin Verlander would win a game, and their closer, Ken Giles, would wind up with a 27.00 ERA and lose his closer role, they would've envisioned disaster. Instead, this. 

So now that Houston, which began things in the National League in 1962 as the Colt .45s, has its first ring, which teams remain ringless? Seven. Count 'em off:

  1. Texas Rangers (1961): 2 pennants
  2. Milwaukee Brewers (1969): 1 pennant
  3. San Diego Padres (1969): 2 pennants
  4. Washington Nationals (1969): 0 pennants
  5. Seattle Mariners (1977): 0 pennants
  6. Colorado Rockies (1993): 1 pennant
  7. Tampa Bay Rays (1998): 1 pennant

The victory parade for this most likeable of Astros teams is tomorrow. Three-day weekend, Houston. Enjoy.

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Posted at 06:08 AM on Nov 02, 2017 in category Baseball
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