Baseball postsMonday 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.
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.
Then 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:
- Texas Rangers (1961): 2 pennants
- Milwaukee Brewers (1969): 1 pennant
- San Diego Padres (1969): 2 pennants
- Washington Nationals (1969): 0 pennants
- Seattle Mariners (1977): 0 pennants
- Colorado Rockies (1993): 1 pennant
- Tampa Bay Rays (1998): 1 pennant
The victory parade for this most likeable of Astros teams is tomorrow. Three-day weekend, Houston. Enjoy.
Nothing Like a Game 7
In June 2011 I wrote a blog post complaining, or at least detailing, the dearth of recent Game 7s in the World Series. How far we've come.
When I was a kid in the early 1970s, we seemed to get them every year—and it was even better earlier. In the 21 years between 1955 and 1975 there were 14 Game 7s—or two every three years. In the 35 years between that great Red Sox-Reds World Series in '75, and my blog post in June 2011, we'd had only 11: less than one every three years. And this despite a flurry of them in the mid-1980s.
Since then we've had four more—including tonight's game. “Back on top, baby!” as St. George once said.
Here's how they break down by decade:
- 1900s: 1 (1909)
- 1910s: 1 (1912)
- 1920s: 3 (1924, 1925, 1926)
- 1930s: 2 (1931, 1934)
- 1940s: 4 (1940, 1945, 1946, 1947)
- 1950s: 5 (1952, 1955 1956, 1957, 1958)
- 1960s: 6 (1960, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1967, 1968)
- 1970s: 5 (1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1979)
- 1980s: 4 (1982, 1985, 1986, 1987)
- 1990s: 2 (1991, 1997)
- 2000s: 2 (2001, 2002)
- 2010s: 4 (2011, 2014, 2016, 2017)
Most Game 7s in a row? Four: 1955-1958. All with the Yankees, by the way, and with the same pattern: Yankees lose the first series to team X (Dodgers), then beat team X; Yankees lose the first series to team Y (Mil. Braves), then beat team Y.
Game 7s have come in three-plusses four times, and usually in the middle of the decade: 1924-26; 1945-47; 1955-58; 1971-73; 1985-87. So fingers crossed for next year.
The team with the most Game 7s? It's not the Yankees outright, believe it or not. The Evil Empire has far and away the most WS appearances (40) but only about a quarter of those (11) went to Game 7. The Cardinals, with fewer than half the pennants (19), have the same number of Game 7s: 11. Cards also have the better record in those 7s: 8-3. Yanks are 5-6.
Fun fact: During the Red Sox “Curse of the Babe” era, from 1919 to 2004, the Sox made it to the World Series four times. And every time it went to Game 7. And every time, of course, they lost: in '46 to the Cards, in '67 to the Cards, in '75 to the Reds, and in '86 to the Mets. Those, by the way, are the only losses the BoSox have ever had in the World Series. Meaning they either win or it goes to Game 7. (They've won one Game 7, in 1912, vs. the Giants.)
Team with the best record in Game 7? The Pirates, far and away. They've been to the World Series seven times, and every time they've gone to a Game 7 they've won: 1909, 1925, 1960, 1971 and 1979. They're 5-0.
Worst record? Orioles are 0-2, both times against the Pirates in the '70s. Indians are 0-2 ('97 and last year). Red Sox, as mentioned, are 1-4, while the Giants are also 1-4. That “1” was via Madison Baumgarner vs. the KC Royals in 2014.
Greatest percentage of Game 7s? Might be the Senators/Twins franchise. They've gone six times and have five Game 7s. The only miss was in '33, when they lost in five to the Giants.
As for which of the original 16 franchises haven't managed a Game 7? The usual sad sacks: ChiSox and Phillies.
This is (obviously) the Astros' first Game 7, and (less obviously) the Dodgers' sixth. The Dodgers first four were when they were in Brooklyn, and all of them were against the Yankees, where the Dodgers went 1-3. In L.A., they beat the Twins in seven in '65. That was it. Until this.
How often does a team win Game 6 at home and then lose Game 7 at home? It's not common. But it did happen to the Royals in 2014 and to the Red Sox in '75. But the more common experience is the 2011 Cards, 2002 Angels, the Twins in '91 and '87, and the Mets in '86.
The Last Time the Dodgers Won the Pennant
The last time the Dodgers won the pennant, in 1988, the year of Kirk Gibsons's Roy Hobbes-ish homerun and Orel Hershiser's dominance, they had more pennants than any NL team: 18. Now, with 19, they're tied for second with the Cardinals and one behind the Giants.
Here are the teams who've won the NL pennant since the Dodgers last won the pennant:
- Giants (5)
- Braves (5)
- Cardinals (4)
- Phillies (3)
- Mets (2)
- Marlins (2)
The only NL teams to not win a pennant since the Dodgers last did it are the Pirates, who last went in 1979, the Brewers, who went as an AL team in 1982, and the Expos/Nationals, who have never been at all.
In terms of postseason appearances, the Dodgers, with 31, are second only to the Yankees (who have 53). For pennants, as mentioned, the Dodgers are tied for third (19). With World Series titles, they're fifth (6). The farther they get into the postseason, the more they're screwed.
I had no real dogs in this NLCS hunt. I wouldn't have minded the Cubs going back-to-back, to make up for the century-long drought; but the Dodgers, per above, have had a real dry spell. Plus Clayton Kerhsaw needs to go. We should only have so many Ken Griffey Jrs and King Felixes and Rod Carews.
Last night's pennant-clincher at Wrigley Field was a blowout. The Dodgers scored one in the first, one in the second, one in the third and had the bases loaded with on one out. That's when Cubs' manager Joe Maddon went to his bullpen. I don't really follow the Cubs but when relief pitcher Hector Rondon came in, and they flashed his season ERA, 4.24, I was taken aback. Was that the best they had for this situation? With the season on the line? At first it seemed a pretty smart move: Rondon struck out Logan Forsythe on three pitches. Then it didn't: Enrique Hernandez, who hit a homer to left in the 2nd inning, hit one to right. At first I thought: double in the gap. Then it sneaked over the fence for a grand slam. Hernandez added a two-run job in the 9th to add his name to list of (now 10) guys who've hit three HRs in a postseason game—beginning with Babe Ruth in the 1926 World Series, and ending with Jose Altuve in Game 1 of the 2017 ALDS. Ruth is the only one to do it twice.
I watched all of this at the Quarter Lounge, surrounded by Cubs fans, whose hopes dimmed then darkened. On the plus side they had last year; and they still have a good young team; and they're not Pirates fans.
Two years ago I wrote a post about LA's postseason futility entitled “Dodgers Dodge Another World Series.” Wait 'til this year, I guess.
And the Best Baseball Team of the 21st Century is...
Here's one take anyway.
Caveats: The chart below is just about the postseason. Regular season, schmegular season. The first column (PS) includes this year's postseason appearances, but there's no 2017 additions for the rest since we haven't gotten there yet. Soon, soon. (Maybe tomorrow, Cleveland?) It also includes the year 2000. I'm not one of those sticklers.
Here's the key I used to reach the total on the right:
- Postseason = 1 point
- LCS = 2 points
- Pennant = 3 points
- World Series title = 5 points
|St. Louis Cardinals||12||9||4||2||52|
|New York Yankees||14||7||4||2||50|
|Boston Red Sox||9||5||3||3||43|
|San Francisco Giants||7||4||4||3||42|
|Los Angeles Dodgers||9||4||17|
|Kansas City Royals||2||2||2||1||17|
|New York Mets||4||3||2||16|
|Chicago White Sox||3||1||1||1||13|
|Tampa Bay Rays||4||1||1||9|
|Toronto Blue Jays||2||2||6|
|San Diego Padres||2||2|
You might want to weigh things differently. Originally I thought, “A pennant should mean way more than an LCS, and a title way more than that,” so had something like a 1/3/5/10 point scheme. But under that, you'd have one-time wonders like the Marlins beating perennials like the Dodgers and that didn't seem right to me. So I opted for this.
But in either point scheme, or almost any you come up with, four teams dominate: Cards, Yanks, Giants, BoSox. Then a big drop.
BTW, as a Mariners fan, it's hard to imagine five teams having worse centuries than the M's, but the numbers don't lie.
My rooting interests this year, from fave to least, for the eight teams remaining:
- Cleveland Indians
- Washington Nationals
- Houston Astros
- Los Angeles Dodgers
- Chicago Cubs
- Boston Red Sox
- Arizona Diamondbacks
- Lima beans
- The cut I got on my right index finger while washing Jellybean's food can the other day
- The stain on the sofa that won't come out
- Steve Inskeep
- “Transformers 2”
- That bout with the stomach flu I had after Christmas 2006
- Steve Bannon
- The NRA
- Mitch McConnell
- Donald Trump
- New York Yankees
Actually, that's unfair. I'd totally root for the Yankees over those last four.
Note: If the Indians win it all, which they haven't done since '48, the “longest title drought” title will, for the first time, enter the expansion era (1961-today). And the title holder will be the Texas Rangers, who came into existence as the second Washington Senators in 1961, the same year as the California Angels (who won it all in 2002), then moved to Texas in '72. After that, it's 'Stros, who arrived in '62 with the Mets (who have two titles), then three of the four '69 teams: Padres, Brewers, Expos/Nats. The fourth '69er, the Royals, long considered hapless, are actually, along with the Mets, the second-most successful expansion team in baseball history.
David Freese forces a Game 7, Oct. 2011