Some fun with baseball splits

22 Comments

A few fun early season statistics using Baseball Reference’s amazing new “Split Finder.”

  1. The Kansas City Royals’ No. 3 through No. 6 hitters have six homers all year … by far the lowest total in baseball.

The Royals, even in the midst of a three-game losing streak, are off to a very nice start, and they have Kansas City baseball fans buzzing for the first time in a decade. But there are a couple of disturbing trends, and this is one of them. The middle of the lineup — which has mostly been Billy Butler, Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas — have just those six homers all year. Throw in Jeff Francoeur, who has been abysmal in the No. 7 spot since the beginning of 2012, and you can see that at the moment it’s just too hard for the Royals to score runs.

I suspect that at some point manager Ned Yost will shake up the lineup,* perhaps moving leadoff hitter Alex Gordon into the meat of the lineup (he leads the team with five homers) and Cain up to the top. But this isn’t something that can get fixed with a lineup change. Butler, Hosmer and Moustakas — especially Hosmer, who has not hit a homer yet this season — will have to hit with more power if the Royals are to contend over a long season.

*I wrote this before I saw this story that says, well, yes Ned Yost is considering major lineup changes including moving Alex Gordon down. Well, the Nedster is nothing if not predictable.

  1. St. Louis has a baseball-leading .392 on-base percentage in high-leverage situations. The Cardinals also have the best record in baseball.

People will argue until the end of time, I suppose, about clutch hitting in baseball. Is it a separate skill from regular ol’ hitting? Are there certain players who can raise their games in the biggest moments? Are there certain teams that have the magic when the chips are down, when backs are against the wall, when the moment is right, when it’s squeaky-bum time?

It’s hard to say … but one thing that seems true is that the teams that perform in those high leverage situations — that is those moments when the game is at its tipping point — tend to be really good teams. Last year, the team that had the highest on-base percentage in high leverage moments — the San Francisco Giants — won the World Series.

Two years ago, the team that had the highest on-base percentage in high leverage moments — the St. Louis Cardinals — won the World Series.

Three years ago, that team was Minnesota … which won 94 games. In fact, let’s look at the list:

2009: Angels (won 97 games)

2008: Boston (won 95 games)

2007: Colorado (won 90 games and reached World Series)

2006: Yankees (won 96)

2005: Boston (won 95)

2004: San Francisco (won 91)

2003: Boston (won 95)

So, it works. Teams that make the fewest outs in those key situations wins games. I guess that’s obvious. But how teams actually go about performing so well in high leverage situations over a whole season, well, that’s not as obvious.

  1. Yu Darvish has already had five games where he was given six-plus runs of support.

Not surprisingly — or coincidentally — those are the five games he has won.

Here’s a fun little tidbit for you:

In 1962, the San Francisco Giants gave Jack Sanford six-plus runs of run support 22 times — that’s tied for the most for any pitcher since World War II. Sanford pitched fairly well in those 22 starts, with a 3.18 ERA. That was good enough for him to go 18-0 in those games. Basically because his team scored lots and lots of runs for him, he finished second in the Cy Young Award voting to Don Drysdale.

Here’s what’s interesting about this: Drysdale ALSO got six-plus runs of support 22 times — amazingly two different pitchers got that kind of crazy runs support in 1962 — and Drysdale went 16-0 with a 2.91 ERA in those games.

Meanwhile, Bob Gibson — who probably pitched better than both of them — only had eight games where his team scored six plus runs (he won seven of them). He went 15-13 overall and did not get a single Cy Young vote. I’m sure there are people who will continue to say that Gibson just wasn’t as much of a winner as those other guys.

  1. Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez is hitting .405 and slugging .714 so far against lefties. He’s hitting .263 against righties.

We are obviously only talking about a small sample size … but CarGo has always held his own against lefties as a left-handed batter. For the moment, he’s crushing them and so let’s watch and see if managers are paying attention. If a manager brings in a lefty-specialist to get out CarGo, then they are probably not paying attention.

Bill James thinks the whole specialist thing has brought more blah to baseball than joy, and I would tend to agree. The other day, I was flipping channels and that Jodie Foster movie about life on other planets was on — Contact, I guess it’s called. Was that movie 5 1/2 hours long or do I just remember it that way? I mean it wasn’t bad, but man it felt long.

Anyway, there’s a scene in there — I have no idea how to set this up if you haven’t seen the movie — where aliens may or may not have given explicitly directions on how to build a spaceship that will take Jodie Foster to their planet or their dimension or something. I’m sure I’m getting that wrong. It’s an involved plot. What was striking was that the directions specifically did not include putting a seat on the space ship. The people who built the space ship, though, INSISTED that a seat be put on there, you know, for safety reasons.

So the seat is installed, and the space ship takes off, and it’s rumbling and bumping like crazy, and it seems like it will break apart. Finally, what happens is that the stupid seat breaks loose, and suddenly the ride is smooth and utterly perfect. It was the seat that had caused all the problems.

I’ve come to think of baseball that way with managers. It feels like the more they throw their seats into the game — the move involved they get with bunting and intentional walks and pitching changes and base-running shenanigans — the bumpier and less interesting they make the game. I’m not saying they should stay out entirely. I’m just saying, like in most areas of life, less is more.

  1. The Crime Dog and the Thomenator loved swinging 3-0.

This is a historical split: Going back to 1988, Fred McGriff, by far, was the king of the 3-0 count. One hundred twenty two times, the Crime Dog swung and put the ball in play on 3-0 — the most of any player since they’ve been keeping track. He hit .434 and slugged .852 — hitting 13 home runs and, oddly, two of his 24 career triples.

Here are the home run leaders on 3-0 pitches (again, since 1988):

1. Jim Thome, 17

2. Sammy Sosa, 15

3. McGriff, 13

(tie) Greg Vaughn, 13

5. Carlos Delgado, 12

6. Jeff Bagwell, 11

(tie) Frank Thomas, 11

8. Barry Bonds, 10

(tie) Juan Gonzalez, 10

10. Ken Griffey Jr., 9

Thome’s 3-0 home run record is unsurprising. Pitchers tend to throw fastballs 3-0 – everybody knows that. And Thome, throughout his career, feasted on fastballs. It did not matter how hard you threw it. I remember a game, 2000 I guess, Indians down a run in the ninth against the Angels and Troy Percival was pitching. Percival could throw a million miles an hour, and Thome LOVED facing him. It wasn’t just that Thome hit a massive two-run homer to win the game. It was that there was never even the slightest doubt that he would. Percival was a fastball pitcher in a situation where he would want to pump it up just a little bit higher than normal. To Thome, in those days, faster the better.

The other cool thing is that Jeff Bagwell and Frank Thomas — who were born on the same day — both hit 11 homers on 3-0 counts. Their cosmic connection is pretty cool. It would be nice to see them go into the Hall of Fame the same year (meaning, next year).

And That Happened: Wednesday’s Scores and Highlights

Getty Images
1 Comment

Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Mariners 4, White Sox 3: Mike Zunino doubled and scored and later he homered to give the M’s the lead for good and Nelson Cruz had three hits and knocked a couple in. Felix Hernandez allowed three over six and that beat James Shields who allowed four over six. That’s just math.

Astros 5, Angels 2: Justin Verlander is now 9-0 as a Houston Astro. He’s 13-1 if you count the playoffs. Either way, he continues to enjoy the hell out of wearing the orange and blue. Er, the other orange and blue. Here he allowed two runs on four hits over seven innings, striking out nine, to go to 4-0 on the year. Albert Pujols did hit a homer off of him, notching his 2,994th career hit, but Jose Altuve and Jake Marisnick went deep for Houston and Alex Bregman hit a three-run double.

Rockies 5, Padres 2: A day after getting shut out in Coors Field, San Diego went six innings without scoring a run off of Rockies starter Jon Gray, who struck out eleven Padres. I’m assuming the list of teams who have been shut out in back-to-back games in Denver is short, but at least the Padres didn’t join that one, later scratching out a couple against the San Diego pen. David Dahl and Tony Wolters each drove in a pair for Colorado.

Nationals 15, Giants 2: With the run support Max Scherzer got he didn’t need to strike out ten and allow only two runs over six innings, but he did. With the fine pitching Scherzer gave the Nats they didn’t need to score two touchdowns and a two-point conversion, but they did. Matt Adams singled and doubled in runs and hit a three-run homer. Andrew Stephenson doubled in runs on two separate occasion and took a bases-loaded walks. Trea Turner got five hits. The Nats had scored just eight runs in the four-game losing streak this victory ended. Here, 14 of their 15 runs were scored with two men out. That’s clutch, or something.

Tigers 13, Pirates 10; Pirates 8, Tigers 3: The Pirates and Tigers have been cursed this year, getting rained out *guesses* seventeen times, so they played two yesterday. Neither starter gave their managers four innings in the first one which you know Ron Gardenhire and Clint Hurdle TOTALLY loved on a doubleheader day. Nicholas Castellanos had four hits, including a homer, and drove in four and teammate Miguel Cabrera had four hits as well in the first-game victory, while Frankie Cervelli knocked in six in a losing cause. In the nightcap, Jose Osuna, who was called up specifically to be the 26-man in the twinbill, hit a three-run homer. He was then sent back to Indianapolis immediately following the game. They should’ve had David Attenborough narrate his day in the same way he’d narrate the weird and sad one-day lifespan of some rando insect on “Planet Earth,” with the homer being like that shining moment the bug got to mate before his head got eaten off or whatever.

Yankees 7, Twins 4: The Yankees won despite another bad start from Sonny Gray, who allowed three runs on six hits in four and two-thirds. Didi Gregorius homered for the fourth game in a row and singled in a run to remain white-hot, Tyler Austin had a three-run shot and Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton each hit a sac fly. The Twins have lost six straight.

Braves 5, Reds 4: The big news was the debut of Ronald Acuña. He went 1-for-5, flying out on the first two pitches he saw, striking out twice but notching his first hit as a big leaguer on an eighth inning single, after which he’d score the tying run on a Kurt Suzuki single. The Braves, who had an early lead in this one that they let slip away, ended up winning it on a Johan Camargo double in the ninth which scored Ozzie Albies. Camargo drove in two on the night. The Braves bullpen — which has not been getting the job done of late — got the job done, tossing four shutout innings.

Indians 4, Cubs 1: Trevor Bauer allowed one run over six and two-thirds and struck out eight while Brandon Guyer, Francisco Lindor and Edwin Encarnacion each went deep for Cleveland. Bad news for Cleveland, though, as Andrew Miller had to leave the game with a tight left hamstring. We’ll update later today when it’s know how long he’ll be out.

Rays 8, Orioles 4: Due to the rain on Tuesday the Rays had to wait an extra day to see their old friend Alex Cobb but it was worth the wait as they tagged him for five runs on ten hits. Joey Wendle had three hits and two RBI for the Rays and Adeiny Hechavarria homered. The highlight of the game, though, was the appearance of Rays reliever Johnny Venters, following a six-year absence from the bigs due to not one, but FOUR major elbow operations, including three Tommy John surgeries. At this point his comeback is a success even if his elbow literally falls off of his arm in his next outing. You know all of those motivational posters that say “DETERMINATION” and “PERSISTENCE” and have, like, a photo of salmon leaping up a waterfall or a beaver building a damn? They should be replaced with Venters simply lifting up a pen or something with his left arm. That he actually threw four pitches in a major league baseball game is amazing.

Phillies 5, Diamondbacks 3: Jake Arrieta outpitched Zack Greinke, allowing three — one earned — over seven innings despite not having his best stuff. Aaron Altherr hit a go-ahead three-run homer in the sixth. It was the first time the Phillies beat the Diamondbacks at home in their last nine meetings.

Red Sox 4, Blue Jays 3: Mookie Betts hit a solo homer in the first inning to put the Bosox on the board and hit a two-run homer in the seventh to bring the Bosox back from behind. I like to say Bosox. Bosox, Bosox, Bosox.

Marlins 8, Dodgers 6: Clayton Kershaw walked six dudes in five innings. That doesn’t happen every day. Heck, it doesn’t happen in three or four days for him, as he hadn’t walked a man in his previous 26 innings and had not walked six in a game since he was a rookie back in 2010. We all have a bad day sometimes, I guess. Marlins starter Trevor Richards, meanwhile, struck out 10 and pitched one-hit ball over 4.2 scoreless innings, leaving due to the pitch count and thus not qualifying for the win. Richards is an independent ball product, by the way, who spent part of last year as a substitute teacher. J.T. Realmuto homered twice and Miguel Rojas went deep for the Fish.

Rangers 4, Athletics 2: Four Rangers relievers combining for four and a third innings of no-hit, scoreless ball to help Texas end the A’s four-game winning streak. Isiah Kiner-Falefa hit a go-ahead single in the fifth for the Rangers. He is the only Isiah to ever play major league ball, by the way. You can look it up.

Cardinals 9, Mets 1Jedd Gyorko hit a two-run homer and Marcell Ozuna hit a bases-loaded single to cap a three-run third inning that put St. Louis up for good. The Cards have won 9 of 11. Ozuna was only 1-for-4 and has been in a horrendous slump, but maybe this breaks him out of it.

Brewers 6, Royals 2Jhoulys Chacin was efficient, in part because the Royals were swinging at everything. He allowed two runs while pitching into the sixth and the bullpen pitched three and a third shutout innings, running their scoreless streak to 28. In turn, the Brewers ran their winning streak to eight. It’s shaping up to be a pretty sweet pennant race between the Brewers and the Cards in the NL Central this year. If you assume, as you should, that the Cubs will step it up too, it could be the most fun division in baseball in 2018.