The Athletics entered the weekend’s three-game set with the Blue Jays the proud owners of baseball’s best offense, averaging 5.2 runs per game. They had no idea they were about to run into a Canadian buzzsaw. The Jays, behind starters Liam Hendriks, R.A. Dickey, and J.A. Happ, held the A’s to five runs over three games including Sunday’s 3-1 victory to complete a series sweep.
If you haven’t been paying close attention, the Jays snuck into first place in the AL East after Wednesday’s win over the Red Sox and maintain their two-game edge over the second-place Yankees. The Jays have won 11 of their last 13 games. Edwin Encarnacion has been on absolute fire, blasting 12 home runs in the month of May, including six in his last seven games. His slash line is up to .254/.332/.553. Starter Mark Buehrle is 8-1 with a 2.16 ERA. Jose Bautista has 12 home runs and a .965 OPS. Dickey has turned in seven consecutive quality starts. Casey Janssen is 7-for-7 in save chances since making his season debut on May 12 after spending six weeks on the disabled list.
We don’t know if the Jays can keep playing at this level. After all, on this date last season, the Dodgers were 20-27 in last place and six games out of first place in the NL West. A lot can change between now and the end of the regular season. But as of right now, the Jays are certainly starting to draw some attention and respect, rightfully so.
If you are old enough and lame enough as I am, you may have lurked around on sabermetic message boards in the 1990s. If you did, you may have heard of Sherri Nichols, who back in the day, was a significant contributor to the advancement of statistical analysis, particularly defensive analysis.
While it’s probably better that not everyone is as old and nerdy as me, the downside of it is that most people haven’t heard of Nichols and know nothing about her contributions. That changes today with Ben Lindbergh’s excellent analysis of Nichols and her work over at The Ringer, which I recommend that you all read.
The short version: Nichols is the one who planted the seed about on-base percentage being valuable in the mind of Baseball Prospectus Founder Gary Huckabay, back in the late 80s. She’s also the one most responsible for the rise of zone-based defensive metrics in the 1990s, such as Defensive Average, which she created and which served as the basis for other such metrics going forward. She also played a critical role in the development of RetroSheet, which collected almost all extant box score and play-by-play information going back to the turn of the 20th century, thereby making so much of the information available at Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs possible. A key contribution there: making the information free and available to everyone, rather than closing the underlying data off as proprietary and either charging for access or keeping it in-house like some recent data collectors have chosen to do. Ahem.
A larger takeaway than all of Nichols’ contributions is just how loathe the baseball community was to listen to a woman back then. I mean, yeah, they’re still loathe to listen to women now, as indicated by the small number of women who hold jobs in baseball operations departments, but back then it was even worse, as evidenced by Lindbergh’s stories and Nichols’ anecdotes.
A great read and a great history lesson.