Monday, December 30, 2013

Dominant Pitching in 2014?

20+ IP, 8.25+ K/9, 4 BB/9 or fewer (# of pitchers)
1930 - 0
1940 - 0
1950 - 0
1960 - 2
1970 - 9
1980 - 6
1990 - 18
2000 - 21
2004 - 56
2009 - 67
2010 - 83
2011 - 91
2012 - 120
2013 - 135
2014 - ?

If the numbers keep heading in this direction, there will eventually be more pitchers in this group than out of it.  The number of pitchers in this group has skyrocketed for both starters and relievers, but the bulk of the increase obviously has come from relievers.  This is becoming like hitting 20 home runs was during the steroid era for a position player.  What was once something done only by elite players is now expected of pretty much everyone.

It's not very surprising that there are more pitchers with high strikeout numbers.  As bullpens are staffed with more young fireballers than old retreads, it make sense that there would more high-strikeout pitchers.  It's a little surprising, though, that their walk totals have been going down as well.  The steroid testing has probably helped pitchers in several different ways. 

The hitters aren't putting up the same numbers and the pitchers aren't intimidated.  More and more young pitchers are like what we saw Trevor Rosenthal do in the postseason.  They throw their heat over the plate and dare the hitters to make contact.  The increase in the number of pitchers with high strikeout and low walk totals over the past ten years has been astonishing and it might not be stopping anytime soon.       

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Dominant Pitching 2013: This hadn't been done since 1964

170 IP, allowed OPS of .530 or less (# per season since 1920)
1920-1962: 0
1963: 1 (Sandy Koufax)
1964: 3 (Dean Chance, Joe Horlen, Koufax)
1965-67: 1 (Koufax '65)
1968: 2 (Bob Gibson, Luis Tiant)
1969-85: 4 (Vida Blue '71, Don Sutton '72, Ron Guidry '78, Dwight Gooden '85)
1986-93: 0
1994-00: 4 (Greg Maddux '94-95, Pedro Martinez '97, '00)
2001-12: 0
2013: 3 (Clayton Kershaw, Jose Fernandez, Matt Harvey)

1920-1962: 0
1962-2012: 15
2013: 3

I doubt this will happen again in 2014, but it is remarkable the number exceeded any season other than 1964.  Most of the recent entries were considered historic and extremely rare (Guidry, Gooden, Maddux, Martinez), making it stunning that 3 pitchers could do it in one year.  Perhaps the most amazing fact is that their average age is 23, with Harvey in his 2nd year and Fernandez was a rookie.  Harvey is unfortunately out for the season with Tommy John surgery, but this could be a group of pitchers that dominates for the next 10 to 15 years.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Will Roy Halladay be elected to the Hall of Fame?

This is a different question than whether he should be a Hall of Famer.  There have only been 4 starting pitchers (as opposed to pitchers who were primary relievers or a hybrid like Dennis Eckersley) who started their career after 1965 and were elected to the Hall of Fame.

Nolan Ryan (1966-93): 324-292
Don Sutton (1966-88): 324-256
Tom Seaver (1967-86): 311-205
Bert Blyleven (1970-92): 287-250

Over the next few years, there will be 3 more pitchers who will almost certainly join them: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Randy Johnson.  There are some other pitchers (like Mike Mussina) who may have a shot eventually, but they won't get in on the first ballot.  The one exception might be Pedro Martinez, who had a career record of 219-100 and won 3 Cy Young Awards. 

With only 203 career wins, it didn't look at first like Halladay would have a shot to get in for a long time.  After looking closer, though, I think he has an excellent shot.  For starting pitcher to make it to Cooperstown with only 203 wins, they need to be truly special.  No, he's not Sandy Koufax or Pedro Martinez, but he's a career different case from the large number of pitchers with around 200 wins that didn't make it. 

His W-L% (.659) and ERA (3.38) put him well above pitchers with similar win totals that didn't make it to Cooperstown like Orel Hersheiser, Vida Blue, Bob Welch, Kevin Brown, Charlie Hough, Mickey Lolich, Jerry Reuss, Jerry Koosman and Luis Tiant.  The number of pitchers with 200 wins and a W-L% of over .650 is very small.  This alone should get him into the Hall of Fame.

200+ W, .650+ W-L%
Christy Mathewson
Lefty Grove
Whitey Ford
Roger Clemens
Pedro Martinez
Roy Halladay

That combined with 2 Cy Young Awards and 2 second place finishes should get him into the Hall of Fame, even if it isn't on the first ballot.  The game has also changed so much in the past few decades that it isn't realistic anymore to have a magic number of 300 wins for a starter, but that doesn't mean that it will change immediately.  While his win total will be an obstacle, I think that Halladay will have plenty of influential people pushing his case in the years to come and that his case is strong enough that he will make it into the Hall of Fame.           

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Did the Yankees make a mistake in signing Carlos Beltran?

.290, 75+ HR, Age 37-39 (since 1900)
Babe Ruth (1932-34)
Ted Williams (1956-58)
Hank Aaron (1971-73)
Edgar Martinez (2000-2002)
Barry Bonds (2002-2004)
Moises Alou (2004-2006)

Carlos Beltran has reportedly agreed to join the Yankees for 3 years and 45 million dollars.  The deal makes sense on the surface because the Yankees are on a spending spree and he's one of the best free agents on the market.  They can get him without tying up payroll for a long time unlike some of the younger free agents out there.  He's also a great postseason performer and the Yankees won't be happy to just get back to the postseason. 

The Yankees might be thinking that he won't perform all that well in the third year of the contract, but that they had to throw it in to get him signed.  Still, it would be reasonable to assume that they would expect Beltran to hit at least 75 home runs and hit at least .290 over the next 3 years considering the 45 million they're paying him.  He might do that, but it has only been done 6 times in major league history.  

Now, Beltran is a great player who has held up pretty well as he's aged.  That's not to say that he hasn't regressed and won't continue to over the next 3 years.  His OPS has gone from .910 to .842 to .830 since 2011.  Maybe the Yankees think it will go back up playing at Yankees Stadium, but that is a concern. 

Unless he gets a lot of big postseason hits, the Yankees might not be too thrilled if he OPS continues to go down each year.  You have to wonder how much of the value of the contract is from the fact that he is known to be clutch, particularly in the postseason.  He used to steal a decent number of bases as well, with 25 at least recently as 2008.  He actually stole 13 bags in 2012, but only has 2 stolen bases all of last year.

Even his postseason numbers need to be examined closely because he has achieved almost legendary status.  He has been a very good postseason performer, but a lot of the perception could be still based on his epic performance in 2004, when he hit .434 with 8 HR in the NLDS and NLCS for the Astros.  He was 27 years old in 2004, which makes it risky to let that factor into this current contract.

2004 postseason: .424 BA, 8 HR, 46 AB
2006-2013 postseason: .298 BA, 8 HR, 134 AB

He's been very good in the postseason since 2004, although probably not enough to justify his status as a dominant postseason performer since then (watching the final strike go by in 2006 doesn't help either).  In the 2013 postseason, he hit .267 with 2 HR in 58 AB.  Would that satisfy Yankee fans, especially if they didn't win the World Series?  I would guess not.

This could all work out and it is a lot different to evaluate a contract handed out by the Yankees than almost any other team.  The Yankees, though, aren't as immune to payroll pressures as they were in the past, and paying an aging star $15 million to be an average player would hurt them.  Beltran could defy the odds and hit 30 HR a season, but it isn't the most likely outcome.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Monster Free Agent Contracts and the World Series

World Series Champs
2013 Red Sox
2012 Giants
2011 Cardinals
2010 Giants
2009 Yankees
2008 Phillies
2007 Red Sox
2006 Cardinals
2005 White Sox
2004 Red Sox
2003 Marlins
2002 Angels

All of these teams had made important free agent signings, but these were not generally teams that had made monster free agent signings.  The 2013 ALCS is a good example of this: the Red Sox had dumped off a ton of dead weight on the Dodgers in August of 2012 and used that money to sign lower-profile free agents like Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino. 

On the other hand, the Tigers had made a huge bet by signing Prince Fielder to a huge contract before the 2012 season and it didn't work out.  They probably could have signed three or four quality players with the money they committed to Prince and would have been a more complete team.

Who were the monster free agents on those teams? Outside of the 2009 Yankees, I only see 2.
-Barry Zito (7 years/$126 million), who was left off the roster for the Giants in 2010, and was solid in 2012. Overall, he was a total bust and one of the worst free agent signings ever.
-Manny Ramirez ($8 years/160 million): He was signed to a huge contract before the 2001 season and was a very important contributor to the 2004 and 2007 Red Sox teams.

2009 Yankees
- C.C. Sabbathia: 7 years/$161 million
- A-Rod
- Mark Teixeira: 8 years/180 million
- AJ Burnett: 5 years/82 million

The Yankees are a special case, but it only worked once for them in recent years.  It is a big difference, of course, if the team handing out the monster contract has a virtually unlimited budget, but it can still be a big mistake depending on who they are giving the money to.  The Cardinals showed how to let an aging star walk away and end up as a stronger team in the long run. 

There is a pretty clear lesson for teams other than the Yankees (although it probably applies to them to) about handing out monster free agent contracts.  The teams that have won the World Series over the past 10 years have done it (or in spite of) without monster free agents. 
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