Go grab 10 quarters, a piece of paper and a pen.
Okay, now I want you to take the first quarter and flip it 100 times.
Write down how many times Coin #1 came up heads and how many times it came up tails.
Now, set that quarter aside and repeat the process for Coins #2 through 10.
There’s a good chance that one or more of those quarters had results that were not an even 50/50 split.
In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if one of those quarters had either heads or tails coming up 55 times. Heck, maybe even 60. Or more!
Now I want you to take that quarter that appears to be coming up heads or tails more often.
Hold it up in the air. Examine it. Look at it. Talk to it. Praise it.
I’m about to ask you to flip it another 100 times, because clearly this quarter is gifted and we’d like to see it showcased.
But before you do that, let me ask you this question – what are you expecting the quarter to do in the second half of this experiment?
Do you expect it to continue it’s run of a high frequency of heads (or tails)? Or do you expect it to be about an even 50/50 split because, hell, that’s how flipping coins works?
The reason I ask is because every year we get the same level of dumbness surrounding the Major League Baseball Home Run Derby.
People get up in arms about how participating in the Home Run Derby somehow ruins sluggers for the second half of the season.
It’s nonsense for the same reason as my quarter example above.
Batters who take part in the Home Run Derby are, naturally, going to be the guys who are among the league leaders in Home Runs headed into the All-Star Break.
What does it take to lead the league in Home Runs? Well, some combination of an actual innate ability to hit for power, yes. But also some degree of luck – a random element that gives you a higher rate of success in driving the ball out of the ballpark than you normally might.
That nudge is enough to get you among the league’s leaders and, most likely, nominated for the Home Run Derby.
What happens after the Home Run Derby isn’t that a batter’s swing is “ruined” from having participated in the contest.
What happens is that the batter was playing a bit above his actual abilities for the first 3 months of the season and, in the 2nd half, played closer to their actual abilities.
In the quarter example above, we may have had a quarter that came up heads 60% of the time in the 1st half of the experiment. In the 2nd half, it’s probably going to come up heads on 50% of our tosses. It’s not that the quarter was ruined by being selected to participate in anything before the 2nd half of the experiment. It’s just that, it’s a quarter, and it has a certain level of expectation for how often it will come up heads or tails. 50%.
Participants in the Home Run Derby are no different.
I went into Baseball Reference and grabbed some of the league’s top Home Run hitters in the first half of the season from 2012 through 2014.
For 2012, I grabbed the 21 players who had 17 or more HR. For 2013, the cut-off was 21 players who had 18 or more. And for 2014, it was 22 who had 17 or more. (I originally grabbed the Top 25, but then it turned out that because of tie-breakers I had to include either more or less and I sided with less because this sample size of 64 players is enough to prove a point.)
For each of those 64 players, I calculated their Home Run Rate for the First Half of the season. Home Run Rate was defined as Home Runs divided by At Bats. (I wanted to exclude walks, because what are the chances of driving a ball out of the park when the bat is on your shoulder?)
I did the same for the Second Half of their seasons.
My sample size was reduced because of players who just didn’t have many At Bats in the Second Half due to an injury and therefore would have made this experiment less worthwhile. Troy Tulowitzki’s sample size of 5 at bats in the Second Half of 2014, for example? Not very reliable.
I decided that 100 At Bats in the Second Half was a nice enough sample size and made that my final cut-off.
So the final tally was a sample of 58 players.
If what I’m saying is wrong, then you’d expect a player’s Home Run Rate to remain more or less constant. How they hit in the First Half should be completely consistent with their Second Half.
But if what I’m saying is right, and a player tends to lead the league in the First Half because of some element of “good luck” that leads to them playing above their true level, then you’d expect their Second Half rate to be lower. (By the way, I expected this to be true in well over half of my 64 player sample.)
If players who were among the First Half leaders in Home Runs tend to have higher Home Run Rates in the Second Half, then I’m just completely wrong about everything and I need to re-consider everything in my life.
So what happened to these guys?
Out of the 58 players examined, 76% saw their Home Run Rate decrease in the Second Half.
Well, that’s fine about my theory of strong First Halves not being something you should rely on to predict a strong Second Half. (Unless you’re prediction is just the rate should go down if it was exceptionally strong in the First Half, in which case, yes, I agree with you.)
But this still doesn’t tackle the whole “Home Run Derby Effect”, right?
Out of my sample of 58 players, 12 of them were participants in the Home Run Derby.
So was there any difference in the frequency of regression among that group of 12 Home Run Derby participants versus the 46 who were not participants?
Out of the 12 Home Run Derby participants, 83% saw their Home Run Rate decrease in the Second Half.
Is 83% significantly different than 76%? I’m inclined to say no. 12 is a small(ish) sample size. If only one of those 12 switched over, we’d be at 75% instead of 83%, so things can change pretty quickly there.
An interesting thing that perhaps illustrates the point. If we take this list 58 players and sort them by First Half Home Run Rate, the top 14 on the list had a downward trend in the Second Half 100% of the time. The bottom 14 on the list? They only had a downward trend 71% of the time.
Of the sample of 58, the average player had a Second Half Home Run Rate that was 79% of their First Half Home Run Rate. The average player included had a First Half Home Run Rate of 6.5% compared to 5.0% in the Second Half.
So if you are worried about your favorite player being included in the Home Run Derby and messing up his swing, check yourself.
From the NL Central, the Chicago Cubs‘ third baseman Kris Bryant and first baseman Anthony Rizzo as well as the Cincinnati Reds‘ third baseman Todd Frazier.
While it’s true that all three will probably see their Home Run Rates decrease in the Second Half of the season, it has nothing to do with the Home Run Derby and everything to do with the fact that, up to this point, they’ve been playing a little bit above their true abilities. And that’s part of why they were invited to participate in the first place.
Lately I’ve heard a lot of incredibly stupid phone calls to Chicago sports radio, lamenting that all the hype over the Chicago Cubs’ prospects is just that – hype.
Nothing more. Nothing less.
Callers bring up names of such vaunted former prospects as Brooks Kieschnik, Felix Pie and Corey Patterson.
“How’d those guys work out for you, Cubs fans?”
Here’s the thing.
Aside from Patterson, none of those players mentioned above were ever actually considered good prospects.
Sure, you had some Cubs fans who said guys like Kieschnik and Pie were going to be superstars that would lead the long-suffering franchise to the Promised Land.
But national publications (whose job it is to objectively analyze prospects) never suspected Kieschnik or Pie of being great future ballplayers.
After the 1993 season, Kieschnik was rated Baseball America’s #44 prospect. Nice, sure. But not the kind of ranking reserved for a future perennial All-Star. Or, for that matter, a once-in-a-while All-Star.
After the 2002 season, Pie debuted on Baseball America’s prospect lists at #72. Seventy-two! Four years later he was still only on the prospect lists, having moved up marginally to #49 on the list.
To compare players who weren’t even in the Top 40 of Baseball America’s prospect lists to the likes of Kris Bryant (#1), Addison Russell (#3) and Jorge Soler (#12) is insanity.
For comparison, here are the trio of #1, #3 and #12 prospects from some recent seasons.
2013: Jurickson Profar, Oscar Tavares, Tyler Skaggs
2012: Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Gerrit Cole
2010: Jason Heyward, Giancarlo Stanton, Alcides Escobar
Yes, these are prospects. Things can (and often do) happen.
The two most recent Cubs’ prospects who actually were highly rated were Patterson and Mark Prior. And, truth be told, both started out as players who might have been consistent All-Stars.
Patterson (rated #2 by Baseball America) was off to a pretty decent 2003 season. He had a 1.8 WAR in nearly 90 games before he lost the rest of his season (and maybe career) to an ACL injury that summer.
Mark Prior (also rated #2 by Baseball America) posted a 7.4 WAR in 2003 – tops in the National League. The next season, a baseline collision with Atlanta Braves’ second baseman Marcus Giles kick-started an injury-plagued ending to a promising career.
There are no guarantees. This is understood. Injuries happen.
But don’t confuse things. The hopes pinned to Bryant, Russell and Soler by scouts at the national level is not the same as those pinned to Kieschnik and Pie.
Cynicism surrounding the Chicago Cubs, I get.
But any comparisons of the current crop of Cubs’ prospects to the likes of Brooks Kieschnik and Felix Pie is a bad one.
The last time national publications felt this good about the current collection of Cubs prospects hearkens back to that duo of Patterson and Prior coming up in 2002 and then blossoming in 2003 – a season in which the franchise came within five outs of their first pennant since 1945.
From Tom Verducci’s column “Washington’s Monument” in this week’s Sports Illustrated:
“Of the 32 pitchers and 47 position players who received Rookie of the Year Award votes from 2007 to ’11, 59 had a worse ERA or OPS in their follow-up act – a 74% attrition rate.”
But so what? In order to receive ROY votes, you need to have had a phenomenal, better-than-ordinary season.
Do you know what usually happens after a great player has a great season?
They regress! Sometimes a little. Sometimes a lot. When you’ve had good enough numbers to receive a 1st place vote for the ROY Award, it’s likely that you just had a season in which you put up really great numbers. Really great numbers are also really difficult to repeat year in, year out.
To be honest, while looking at the sentence in Verducci’s column that seemed to state support of the sophomore jinx, I was left thinking “74% attrition rate? That’s all? I would’ve guessed higher.”
Never mind that OPS and ERA are not the greatest barometers for success. Let’s stick with Verducci’s stats and see what happened with MVP and Cy Young vote-getters from the same time period.
I’m considering all non-pitchers who received 1st place MVP votes and all pitchers who received 1st place Cy Young votes from 2007 to ’11 and then seeing if they dropped off in OPS or ERA the following year.
A couple of notes:
1. I’m excluding Brandon Webb from the ERA tally the year following his 1st place votes for Cy Young because he made just one appearance the following season. We’ll leave his 13.50 ERA out of this.
2. In the case of a couple pitchers who were traded between leagues (Sabathia, Lee), I am including their complete stats for the season, not just their NL (or AL) numbers.
For the more Sabermetrically inclined, I’ve also included WARb.
+ denotes that a player improved in this category the following year
– denotes that a player declined in this category the following year
* denotes that I am disqualifying the rate statistic due to lack of 125 PA or 50 IP in the following season
Well will you look at that! All this time we’ve been concerned with the sophomore jinx when what we should have been concerned with was the more general “Year After Being Considered for a Major Award Jinx!”
Okay, not really…
* Hitters who did not receive 1st place votes the year after receiving 1st place votes for MVP – 23 of 28, 82% attrition rate
* Hitters whose OPS tailed off the year following 1st place votes for MVP – 22 of 28, 79% attrition rate
* Hitters whose WAR tailed off the year following 1st place votes for MVP – 20 of 28, 71% attrition rate
* Pitchers who did not receive 1st place votes the year after receiving 1st place votes for Cy Young – 20 of 24, 83% attrition rate
* Pitchers whose ERA tailed off the year following 1st place votes for Cy Young – 14 of 23, 61% attrition rate
* Pitchers whose WAR tailed off the year following 1st place votes for Cy Young – 19 of 24, 79% attrition rate
Do you know why players who receive Rookie of the Year Award votes have numbers that drop off the following season?
For the exact same reason that players who received 1st place MVP and Cy Young Award votes have numbers that drop off the following season.
The answer? Because players who receive those votes have put up phenomenal numbers that season and phenomenal numbers are – by their nature – incredibly difficult to improve upon.
While I haven’t done it, I’m fairly certain that you could also see similar attrition rates among guys who were the HR leaders each season and guys who won MVP Awards in the NBA
I’ll even bet that the attrition rate of folks who had previously set a world record in the 100 meter dash is fairly high.
Exceptional performances are exceptional because they are rare and extremely difficult to achieve, let alone improve upon from one season to the next.
This is not evidence of a jinx of any sort. There is no sophomore jinx. There is no “year after” curse associated with awards. It’s all to be expected.
It’s hard to improve upon what was already amazing.
Wanted to bring up a point from last night’s Cards / Nationals game that I didn’t recall hearing either Bob Brenly or the constantly befuddled Dick Stockton call attention to on the TBS broadcast.
First off, I think we can all agree that at some point Nationals’ closer Drew Storen decided he was going to devote more of his attention towards the ump than towards the Cardinal batters.
During David Freese’s at bat in the top of the 9th, Storen thought he had gotten him on a checked swing and then on a pitch off the plate.
In both cases, the ump appeared to have gotten the call right.
Never mind that.
What struck me as unfortunate for the Nats and their fans is that there was no reason to not get into the bottom of the 9th with the score tied 7-7.
With the score still knotted up, the Cardinals had two out, men on 2nd & 3rd and Pete Kozma at the plate.
We know that at this point the only player left on the bench was backup catcher Tony Cruz, who was definitely coming into the game in the bottom of the inning because starting catcher Yadier Molina had been lifted in favor of pinch-runner Adron Chambers.
Due up after Kozma was Cardinals closer Jason Motte, who had already thrown the bottom of the 8th.
Now… I know Motte was originally a position player before he became a relief pitcher.
But that’s because he couldn’t hit.
And he was also 0-0 in 0 plate appearances in 2012.
Not to say that he doesn’t take some batting practice during the season, but I’m pretty sure the sound decision here would have been to intentionally walk Kozma with 1st base open and force the Cardinals’ hand.
This would have forced manager Mike Matheny into doing one of two things. With the bases loaded, two outs, and a tie score in the top of the 9th, Matheny could have either:
- Left Motte to bat (most likely to make a 3rd out) so that he could still use him in the bottom of the inning. If Motte could hold the Nats down in the 9th, the good news is that St. Louis would have had the top of the order due up in the 10th inning.
- Used Cruz to pinch-hit and go for the win right then and there. The bad news there is that Motte was already the Cards’ 5th relief pitcher of the game, which would have forced them to go to their back end bullpen guys down the stretch.
Either way seems like a better option for the Nats than taking your chances with Kozma. Either you force the Cards to play for extra innings and you get a chance to win it in the bottom of the 9th -or- you force the Cards to remove the last effective relief pitcher that they have available to them, boosting your chances of winning in the bottom of the 9th and giving you an advantage over extra innings.
I didn’t used to like Davey Johnson, but after reading a piece in SI on him this week and seeing what he had to go through with his daughter… well that’s a horrible thing to have to go through. And finally getting to know about him a bit, I kinda’ like the guy now.
But I think that was a blunder on his part last night.
There is no guarantee that the Cards wouldn’t have still gotten ahead in the 9th. There’s no guarantee that if the score remained tied headed into the bottom of the inning that the Nats would’ve won.
I’m just saying that sure seemed like an ideal situation to use strategy that would’ve enabled your team to live to fight another
With the recent losses of SS Alex Gonzalez (ACL, season) and CF Carlos Gomez (hamstring, 15-day DL), the Milwaukee Brewers are now missing 4 players from their Opening Day 25. Gonzalez and Gomez join LHP Chris Narveson and 1B Mat Gamel (ACL).
Can Milwaukee recover?
What I’m reading around Ye Ole Interweb is that many Brewers fans are hoping that 2B Rickie Weeks and 3B Aramis Ramirez will turn around and be the big contributors that everyone expected. Let’s take a quick look at a few things here. I’m going to use that ole sabermetric standby, WAR (Wins Above Replacement) as defined by FanGraphs to take a look at things. For the anti-sabermetric crowd, I’ll have a post soon that might make you happy…
Weeks is currently at -0.2. At age 30, I don’t expect that will continue. He will post better numbers than .174/.308/.321. But the 6.5 that he posted in 2010 is a clear outlier when measured against his career numbers. He fell off to 3.7 in 2011 (still a very nice number), but most projections have him as something around a 2.5-3.0 player.
Aramis turns 34 next month. With a 0.1 WAR thus far, he is far under-performing against an expected 2.5 or so.
For the other 2 infielders who are gone for the season, Gonzalez will finish the season with a 0.4 and was projected for somewhere between 1.5 and 2.0. Gamel finished with a nice and even 0.0 WAR for the season and was projected for just over 1.0.
Adjusting for where we are at in the season (Milwaukee has played 29 games thus far), assuming players regress back towards their pre-season projections for the rest of the way, these are the projected WAR for Weeks and Ramirez the rest of the way…
Add those to their WAR thus far, gives us the following season totals…
Take that away from projected totals gives us roughly the following…
Weeks: down ~0.7 WAR from expected
Ramirez: down ~0.3 WAR from expected
Gonzalez was on pace to about a 1.8 WAR – right around what was expected from him. But if the replacements at 1B and SS perform as 0.0 WAR Replacement Level Players, this looks like the Milwaukee infield should finish down a combined 3.4 WAR.
For a team that was projected my most to be in a 3-way hunt with Cincinnati and St. Louis for the NL Central crown, this is a potentially huge hurdle to get over. I’m not liking the odds here…
I’m in a bit of a fog this morning after having stayed up late to watch the Jered Weaver no-hitter. MLB Network host (and occasional groper) Harold Reynolds showed quite a bit of prescience when he commented on a 5th inning slicing ball off the bat of Chris Parmelee that went foul by less than a foot, “that’s when you know it might be your night.”
But this is a blog focused on the NL Central, and that’s where we’ll turn back now.
I entered the season with a huge dose of doubt about Jeff Samardzija’s future as a Chicago Cub.
In fact, I’ve pretty much assumed that by the time the team returns to respectability (2014, maybe), that the only player on their current roster that will still be with them is shortstop Starlin Castro. And even that I’d consider a maybe. For the record, I suspect he may have a future as a second baseman instead. But that’s a topic for another day.
However, having watched a bit of Samardzija’s start last night, what I was most amazed by was how well he still commanded his stuff late in the game.
To close out the 7th, he struck out Scott Rolen on a 91 mph slider. (He picked up all three strikes on sliders during the at bat.)
His last batter faced, on pitches 92-95, he threw four straight 96 mph four-seamers.
I’m not saying I’m completely convinced that he might be for real, but I have to tip my cap to a guy who is still dialing it up in the mid-to-upper 90s when he’s closing in on 100 pitches. That’s the kind of stuff you see guys like Justin Verlander pull off.
I’m not saying Samardzija has a Cy Young in his future. All I’m saying is that right now he’s throwing like a guy who can be a really solid #2. Will he continue to develop and be the kind of arm that the Cubs should keep around for when they’re finally decent? That’s the question.
There are a few things I’m concerned about with the 27-year old. Of course there is! I’m always concerned!
For one, the increased workload as a starting pitcher. Thus far, Samardzija has faced 132 batters (31.2 innings pitched) and is on pace for 764 BF (183 IP). Last season he had 380 BF (88 IP) and was usually hovering around the 600 BF (~140 IP) mark between 2007 and 2010. It’s a bit of a jump up and it will be interesting to see how the Cubs handle him as their lost season continues. Do you shut him down in August or September just for the sake of saving him up a bit? Make sure you give him plenty of time between starts? (This most recent start came on 8 days of rest, for example.)
Second, as evidenced by the pitch selection in that 7th inning showdown against Rolen, is his pitch selection. Samardzija is throwing sliders on 21.4% of all pitches, according to PITCHf/x. That number has been rising since 2009.
Sliders make me a little nervous. I took a look at all pitchers who played “full” seasons (i.e. 162 IP or more) and who PITCHf/x identified as having thrown 20% sliders or greater during the 2010 season. Fangraphs identified 17 such players.
Out of those 17, how many repeated being healthy enough in 2011 to throw 162 IP or more?
Okay, actually 10 of them. And a couple of them didn’t achieve that mark only because, frankly, they’re not very good pitchers.
I’m going to retract this concern and temper my anti-slider theories.
PIRATES (10-14) @ CARDINALS (16-8)
12:45 PM CT
Why You Might Watch This: Jake Westbrook is one of those Cardinal arms that’s helped them get over Wainwright’s tough April. Whatever changes he made have been working.
- Carlos Beltran busted out of a little slump in a large way last night. It was the kind of night expected from the guy whom many (myself included) felt was probably the best off-season free agent signing in the MLB.
CUBS (9-15) @ REDS (11-12)
11:35 AM CT
Why You Might Watch This: Ryan Dempster returns to the rotation after a quad injury pushed him to the DL.
- Tony Campana is dreaming of being the next Rickey Henderson. Given his size, maybe a Vince Coleman comparison is more apt.
- Speaking of fast guys, here’s more love for Billy Hamilton.
- FanGraphs’ Prospect Watch includes a snippet on Brett Jackson.
- As expected, Mat Gamel has an ACL injury and is out for the season. Either Travis Ishikawa (who I know Strat-o-Matic has given a 1 rating to in the past…) or Corey Hart is expected to fill in there.
- Chris Cwik on replacing Gamel.
- It’s yet another injury for the Brew Crew, who are seriously hurting right now.
- You know how I know I’m old? I remember when Nate McLouth was good.
As predicted here yesterday afternoon, Adam Wainwright was able to pick up his first win since 2010, going 7 innings and facing 26 batters, both season highs for his 5 starts. Of course, this was against the Pittsburgh Pirates, who were averaging just 2.64 runs scored per game coming into the contest.
What might continue to be a little disconcerting is that Wainwright is still allowing a crazy high number of home runs per fly ball allowed.
Granted, the 30-year old still had 11 balls hit on the ground versus 4 balls hit into the outfield.
But the four balls hit into the outfield went thusly:
- Top 1st – Alex Presley: deep fly out to CF (sinker)
- Top 3rd – Rod Barajas: double on a deep fly to CF (cutter)
- Top 3rd – Jose Tabata: home run to LF (curveball)
- Top 7th – Pedro Alvarez: home run to LF (cutter)
The prevailing wisdom is that ground ball pitchers allow more hits, but fewer extra-base hits than fly ball pitchers. So we know that fly balls tend to yield extra-base hits. But through 5 starts – small(ish) sample size, I know – Wainwright is allowing a staggering HR/FB rate of 33 1/3%.
Between 2008 and 2010, his rate hovered a bit over 8% and the current 2012 league average is 10.5%.
Looking at the PITCHf/x data, Wainwright’s Pitch Value/100 for hit cutter is sitting at -4.18, his curveball -0.62 and his sinker -0.41. The only pitch he has thrown for a positive value in 2012 is his changeup, which he is also throwing more often this season – 10.1%, up from about 8% between 2007 and ’10.
It might be that he hasn’t found his feel for his “bread & butter” pitches yet. He’s been going (roughly) 45% sinker, 20% cutter, 20% curve, 10% change. When the 3 pitches you throw most often are getting hammered, that’s a bad sign.
If Wainwright can find those pitches again, he can be successful again. But, despite the win last night, he’s not there yet.
PIRATES (10-13) @ CARDINALS (15-8)
7:15 PM CT
Why You Might Watch This: A.J. Burnett has surprised me with some strong starts since making his way back to the team, but Lance Lynn has been phenomenal. Could be a fun game.
CUBS (8-15) @ REDS (11-11)
6:10 PM CT
Why You Might Watch This: The Reds are trying to get over .500 for the first time since April 8th. This will mark Bronson Arroyo’s 24th career start against the Cubs.
- The Cubs may be trying to figure out a way to get both Bryan LaHair and Anthony Rizzo into the lineup at the same time. Both are left-handed hitter first baseman, but might I suggest converting one into a left fielder?
- Paul Janish broke his wrist and will be out 4-6 weeks for the Reds. Billy Hamilton will not get called up.
BREWERS (11-13) @ Padres (8-17)
5:35 PM CT
Why You Might Watch This: SIERA suggest Yo should have fared better than a 6.08 ERA thus far. The Brewers hope that’s true, because right now they can’t seem to get over the hump.
- How Ryan Braun has gotten better. Wait, better? Didn’t he win the MVP or something? How much better does he need to get? Slow down, Ryan.
- Randy Wolf has some self-loathing. Which I understand.
Mets (13-11) @ ASTROS (10-14)
1:05 PM CT
Why You Might Watch This: Neither team has a particularly thrilling record, and yet each might be called something of a surprise team, outplaying their low expectations.