April 2008

More TWIBia

Vol. 4

Answers to Triple Crown TWIBia #3

Okay, I’m sad to report I did have 2 typos last week. Strikeouts were
listed incorrectly for player #1 at 276; they should have read 268.
Also, strikeouts for player #6 should have been listed at 222, not 223.

1) 24 – 4, 1.53 ERA, 268 strikeouts: Dwight Gooden, 1985
For me, this pitching line was the genesis for memorizing stats. Anyone
who was lucky enough to see 20-year-old Dr. K fire in 96 mph heat with
a curveball so deadly it was dubbed “Lord Charles” had the pleasure of
seeing one of the finest pitched seasons of all time.

You Could Look It Up

Smokey Joe Wood

2) 34 – 5, 1.91 ERA, 258 strikeouts: Smokey Joe Wood, 1912
Walter Johnson was asked if he threw harder than Joe Wood. His reply
was, “mister, no one throws harder than Smokey Joe Wood.” Smokey Joe
was 22 years old when he led the Red Sox to their 2nd World Series
title. His classic 1-0 duel that season versus the Big Train is the
stuff of legend. Although his pitching career was cut short due to
injury, he made a gallant comeback as an outfielder, hitting .366 in
1921.
3) 26 – 9, 1.94 ERA, 275 strikeouts: Hal Newhouser, 1946
Leading the league in wins four times, Prince Hal won back to back AL
MVPs in 1944 and 1945, and finished 2nd in 1946 to Ted Williams. He was
finally inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1992.
4) 25 – 3, 1.74 ERA, 248 strikeouts: Ron Guidry, 1978
With a mark of .893 in 1978, Gator posted the highest season winning
percentage of all time for a 20 game winner. While never having a
strong push for HOF consideration, his career totals are quite similar
to Sandy Koufax.
5) 24 – 8, 1.82 ERA, 301 strikeouts: Vida Blue, 1971
Gracing the cover of Time magazine in 1971, Vida was another young
phenom when he exploded onto the scene at age 21. A’s owner Charlie O.
Finley even asked him to change his first name to “True”. Thankfully he
declined.
6) 25 – 6, 2.23 ERA, 222 strikeouts – Juan Marichal, 1966
The Dominican Dandy may be the finest post 1956 pitcher to never win
the Cy Young Award. With his majestic high leg kick, Juan won 20 games
six times and had a lifetime 2.89 ERA. His 1966 season featured a
ridiculous 0.86 WHIP.
7) 18 – 6, 1.74 ERA, 284 strikeouts – Pedro Martinez, 2000
Ah, Pedro. Although most think of his amazing 1999 season as his
finest, 2000 was even better. Every member of the 2000 Red Sox lineup
should be bullwhipped for not scoring enough in his starts to get this
guy 20 wins that year. His 0.74 WHIP and adjusted ERA+ of 291 that year
are all time bests.
8) 28 – 12, 1.53 ERA, 150 strikeouts – Eddie Cicotte, 1917
One of the eight players banished from the game because of the 1919
Black Sox scandal, Cicotte may have gotten some HOF consideration if
his career was allowed to continue. It’s interesting to note that the
1919 team had 3 players inducted into the Hall – Eddie Collins, Ray
Schalk, and Red Faber. I think Shoeless Joe and Cicotte would have
joined them.
9) 23 – 12, 1.75 ERA, 170 strikeouts – Babe Ruth, 1916
The original Roy Hobbs, the big guy was a dominating pitcher before he
became the greatest hitter of all time. Actually while he was on his
way to being the greatest hitter of all time – he led the league in
homeruns in 1918 while winning 13 games as a pitcher. Ruth was 3-0 with
a 0.87 ERA pitching in the World Series for the Red Sox championship
teams of 1916 and 1918.
10) 6 – 1, 2.48 ERA, 43 strikeouts – Satchel Paige, 1948
The ultimate “what if” story, the legendary Satchel Paige was a 41-
year-old rookie when he finally got his MLB break after being the most
famous pitcher in Negro League history. His performance down the
stretch helped propel the Cleveland Indians to their last WS title.

Once again, our lone perfect score belongs to Greg Holcombe. Greg
is now 25 for 25. Greg, I’m humbled. To paraphrase Chet from “Weird
Science”, I’m considering making up some stuff this week.

That’s it for now. Make sure you check out the show, we’re all over the Rockies this week.

Triple Crown TWIBia #4

1) .388 AVG, 14 HR, 100 RBI
2) .351 AVG, 23 HR, 89 RBI
3) .317 AVG, 54 HR, 128 RBI
4) .317 AVG, 52 HR, 112 RBI
5) .322 AVG, 42 HR, 129 RBI
6) .311 AVG, 46 HR, 142 RBI
7) .317 AVG, 28 HR, 118 RBI
8) .332 AVG, 18 HR, 100 RBI
9) .322 AVG, 8 HR, 79 RBI

As always, submit your guesses to me at twib@mlb.com.

To return to the twib main page: twib.mlb.com

Ajusted ERA+

Vol. 3

Pedro Martinez

Pedro in 1999 (Ezra O. Shaw/Getty Images).

This week, TWIB looks at the ever expanding global presence in the game
by taking viewers inside two of baseball’s newest frontiers: China and
Colombia. While Asian countries like South Korea and Japan have
embraced the game for decades, China is getting a crash course intro to
baseball – they participated in the first World Baseball Classic, and
will compete in the 2008 Summer Olympics. Furthering this progress, MLB
held an exhibition series there this offseason with the Dodgers and the
Padres, and TWIB was there covering all the action. And while Latin
American countries have been pumping out MLB talent like model-T Fords,
surprisingly only seven MLB players have ever called Colombia their
place of birth. Among the seven is Orlando Cabrera, and he’s doing his
part to raise that number by working with his own baseball club in the
offseason. Once again, TWIB tagged along, capturing stuff you won’t see
anywhere else. Hopefully you’ll enjoy those two pieces this week.

To coincide with this global theme on TWIB, naturally I want to
talk to you about a stat called adjusted ERA+. What, you don’t see the
connection? Don’t worry, I’ll get you there, and give you a little
adjusted ERA+ 101 in the process. But first, have you tried to compare
pitchers like Tom Seaver to Greg Maddux, or Sandy Koufax to Lefty
Grove, and were told you can’t compare pitchers from different eras?
Well you can, sort of, with the help of adjusted ERA+, a stat that
attempts to reveal how a pitcher performs compared to the rest of his
league.

According to www.baseball-reference.com,
adjusted ERA+, or *ERA+ for short, is the ratio of the league’s ERA,
factoring in the effect of the pitcher’s ballpark (the adjusted part)
to that of the pitcher. A score over 100 indicates the pitcher
performed above average and a score less than 100 means the pitcher
performed below average. For instance, if Pittsburgh Pirate pitcher A
posts a 4.35 ERA and the league ERA in PNC Park is 4.35 (which it was
in 2007), his *ERA+ would be 100, meaning that he pitched at the league
average for 2007 in PNC Park. Paul Maholm posted a 5.02 ERA in 2007,
putting his *ERA+ at 87, making him a below league average pitcher. Ian
Snell had a 3.76 ERA, giving him a 116 *ERA+, indicating he pitched
above the league average.

Adjusting the league ERA for ballpark factor is important because of
how much of an impact stadiums can have on scoring. An easy example is
Coors Field, which is widely regarded as a hitter’s park. So when Aaron
Cook posted a 4.12 ERA, it gave him an *ERA+ of 116 (the same as Ian
Snell) because the ERA of Coors Field was 4.79.

*ERA+ can be compiled for any pitcher from any season in
history, giving us a wealth of information to have some fun with. Most
people look at Bob Gibson’s 1968 ERA of 1.12 as the benchmark for
pitching excellence, but how much is his *ERA+ affected by the pitching
dominant 1968 season? Even though the adjusted league ERA for Gibson in
1968 was 2.90, his 1.12 ERA gave him an amazing ERA+ score of 258, good
for 7th on the all-time single season list. However it might surprise
you to know that right ahead of him on that list with an *ERA+ of 259
is Walter Johnson, whose 1.14 ERA in 1913 rates a little better because
his league average ERA was 2.96.

*ERA+ is also gathered for career totals, so back to the
debates: who was better, Tom Seaver or Greg Maddux; Koufax or Grove?
We’ll never know for sure, but at least now we can know who pitched
better in relation to his league – Seaver posted a career *ERA+ of 127
while Maddux currently has an ERA+ of 134. Koufax posted a career 131
*ERA+, but Lefty Grove has the 2nd highest career ERA+ with 148, which
finally leads into why we’re talking about this in conjunction with a
global game theme show. The all-time *ERA+ leader is Dominican born
Pedro Martinez, with a career mark of 160. Pedro also owns the highest
*ERA+ for a single season with a staggering 291 in 2000, indicating his
1.74 ERA was nearly three times better than the adjusted league average
of 5.07. In fact, Pedro topped the 200 *ERA+ level a record five times
in his career. So let’s have three cheers for Pedro Martinez, the most
dominant pitcher in baseball history, courtesy of the Dominican
Republic.

Before we get too excited, *ERA+ is not all encompassing.
First, it measures an average, which doesn’t take into account
longevity and how many innings you’ve thrown. Because of this, the
career *ERA+ list is flooded with relievers. Also, the measurement
isn’t exact, as it roughly adjusts for the ballpark factor, which
itself is sometimes questioned for its accuracy. And like any other
stat, it only lets you know how a player performed in his own
environment. So while we can’t say Pedro Martinez is the greatest
pitcher of all time with any concrete evidence, we can say he dominated
his league like nobody before or since. Regardless, have some fun with
the power of comparing history’s greatest pitchers with a single
number. And by the way, you can do the same things with hitters, using
OPS+.

The Top 10 career *ERA+ scores for starting pitchers, minimum 2000 IP:

1. Pedro Martinez – 160
2. Lefty Grove – 148
3. Walter Johnson – 147
4. Ed Walsh – 146
5. Roger Clemens – 143
6. Addie Joss – 142
7. Al Spaulding – 142
8. Kid Nichols – 140
9. Randy Johnson – 139
10. Cy Young and Three Finger Brown – 138

For a more detailed description of *ERA+ and the actual formula, you could look it up at: http://www.baseball-stats-online.com/bbso/glossary/pglossary.html

Triple Crown TWIBia #2 answers

Last week, hoped you guessed it, I was paying homage our show’s subject, the Phillies.

1) .386 AVG, 40 HR, 170 RBI – Chuck Klein, OF, 1930
2) .407 AVG, 13 HR, 141 RBI – Sam Thompson, OF, 1894
3) .316 AVG, 31 HR, 91 RBI – Mike Schmidt, 3B, 1981
4) .272 AVG, 28 HR, 100 RBI – Juan Samuel, 2B, 1987
5) .317 AVG, 40 HR, 110 RBI – Dick Allen, 3B, 1966

At press time, Greg Holcombe was our lone 5 for 5 contestant from last week. He’s now 15 for 15 overall.

Triple Crown TWIBia #3

Let’s do some pitching triple crown stats, which are wins, ERA,
and strikeouts. I’m listing the pitcher’s win-loss records, because for
me they go hand in hand in defining a season. And with all of these, I
hope you take the time to fish around for the answers; hit the books or
the websites. There’s no cheating here, it’s just an exercise in
learning about baseball’s glorious past and present. My favorite
resource is www.baseball-reference.com

1) 24 – 4, 1.53 ERA, 268 strikeouts
2) 34 – 5, 1.91 ERA, 258 strikeouts
3) 26 – 9, 1.94 ERA, 275 strikeouts
4) 25 – 3, 1.74 ERA, 248 strikeouts
5) 24 – 8, 1.82 ERA, 301 strikeouts
6) 25 – 6, 2.23 ERA, 222 strikeouts
7) 18 – 6, 1.74 ERA, 284 strikeouts
8) 28 – 12, 1.53 ERA, 150 strikeouts
9) 23 – 12, 1.75 ERA, 170 strikeouts
10) 6 – 1, 2.48 ERA, 43 strikeouts

To return to the twib main page: twib.mlb.com

Upcoming TWIB episodes

Vol. 2

Answers to last week’s Triple Crown TWIBia

1) .363 AVG, 49 HR, 165 RBI – Lou Gehrig, 1B, 1934
Although best known for his landmark 1939 inspirational speech,
“biscuit pants” could swing the lumber with the very best. The Iron
Horse won the 1934 AL Triple Crown with these numbers: in fact, he led
all of MLB in these categories, as well as OBP and SLG. In spite of
this, he finished fifth in the MVP voting to Mickey Cochrane – who won
the award as player-manager for the first place Tigers with a .320
average and 2 homeruns.

2) .301 AVG, 23 HR, 74 RBI – Carl Yastrzemski, OF, 1968
The
year after winning MLB’s last Triple Crown, Yaz won the batting title
in the Year of the Pitcher with a .301 average: the lowest for any
batting crown in MLB history.

3) .320 AVG, 52 HR, 149 RBI – George Foster, OF, 1977
The sometimes forgotten slugger that was an integral part of the Big
Red Machine, Foster put up some monster numbers in 1977, and posted the
highest HR total since Willie Mays in 1965. While Cecil Fielder reached
the 50-homer plateau in 1990, Foster’s total wouldn’t be equaled until
Mark McGwire’s 52 round-trippers in 1996. His 149 RBI total was the
highest since Tommy Davis drove in 153 in 1962, and wouldn’t be
eclipsed until Andres Galarraga tallied 150 in 1996.

4) .354 AVG, 10 HR, 109 RBI – Honus Wagner, SS, 1908
One of
the game’s all-time greatest hitters had perhaps his finest season in
1908, leading the league in over 11 different hitting categories. Honus
would win eight NL batting crowns over his career, a record only
matched by Tony Gwynn.

5) .401 AVG, 42 HR, 152 RBI – Rogers Hornsby, 2B, 1922
People
think of Ted Williams and his 1941 average of .406 as the benchmark for
batting average, but Hornsby averaged over .400 for a five season
period (1921-25), including a career high of .424 in 1924. He remains
the only player in history reach the 40 homer – .400 average marks in
the same season.

6) .345 AVG, 41 HR, 110 RBI – Willie Mays, OF, 1954
When you
think of Willie Mays and 1954 you think of his awe-inspiring World
Series catch, but at age 23 he may have had his finest season at the
plate, winning the MVP as the Giants overtook the 111 win Indians for
the title.

7) .398 AVG, 32 HR, 122 RBI – Lefty O’Doul, OF, 1929
Failing
as a pitcher and out of baseball at age 26, Lefty worked on becoming a
hitter in the minors and did he ever – returning at age 31 as a
ferocious slugger who went on to win 2 batting titles and post a career
.349 average.

8) .362 AVG, 40 HR, 124 RBI – Mike Piazza, C, 1997
Perhaps
the greatest hitter never to win an MVP or lead the league in a major
hitting category, Mike Piazza’s 1997 performance remains the finest
season a catcher has ever had at the plate. Piazza would finish 2nd in
MVP voting to Larry Walker.

9) .313 AVG, 47 HR, 129 RBI – Ernie Banks, SS, 1958
Long
before Cal Ripken allegedly revolutionized the position by being a big
man, 6’1” Ernie Banks was pumping out 40 homer seasons as a shortstop,
reaching the plateau 4 times as a full time shortstop. Make that 5 if
you count 1957, when he hit 43 HR while playing 58 games at 3B and 100
as ****. Only Alex Rodriguez has more 40 homer seasons as a shortstop.

10) .391 AVG, 1 HR, 33 RBI – John McGraw, 3B, 1898
Before he
became one of the all-time greatest managers, McGraw was a heck of a
ballplayer that knew the value of getting on base, posting a lifetime
.334 batting average and an amazing .466 career on base percentage –
the 3rd highest total in MLB history that trails only Ted Williams and
Babe Ruth.

Last week’s 10 for 10 performances:

Brett Bonacum
Greg Holcombe

Good job, boys.

Phew, that was a lot to get through. Now I don’t have time to write about much else! I’ll keep the TWIBia to 5 for this week.

Anyhow, this week’s episode of TWIB features the Philadelphia
Phillies. We spent time with the reigning NL East champs as they spoke
about last season’s dramatic finish, and what how they hope to build on
that success by going deeper into the postseason this October. Shane
Victorino and Kyle Kendrick gave us a tour of their new pad, and Brett
Myers was kind enough to wear a wireless microphone in game as he gave
a little color commentary from the dugout as the Phils took on the
Nats.

The week after TWIB will take a look at baseball around the
globe, starting with the tour of China. You’ll get to see all the
inside access as we trailed Trevor Hoffman on his visit to the Great
Wall, and you’ll hear from Joe Torre as he was wired in the dugout for
an exhibition game.

I hope you continue to tune in each week, and thanks for checking the website. As always, you can email us at twib@mlb.com with questions, suggestions, and of course your TWIBia answers.

Triple Crown TWIBia #2

1. .386 AVG, 40 HR, 170 RBI
2. .407 AVG, 13 HR, 141 RBI
3. .316 AVG, 31 HR, 91 RBI
4. .272 AVG, 28 HR, 100 RBI
5. .317 AVG, 40 HR, 110 RBI

About the Numbers

Eric Davis

Eric Davis in his 1996 comeback (James A. Finley/AP).

For me, baseball has always been about the numbers. In fact, I think
the numbers of the game made me a fan just as much as the sights and
sounds at the ballpark. Whether it was scanning the “Strat-O-Matic”
player card for 1985 Rickey Henderson, staring at .390 in bold on the
back of George Brett’s baseball card, or reading down the Sunday
paper’s list of the league’s hitters in order of batting average, stats
had me at hello. Stats help define the player just as much as a sweet
swing or a whistling fastball, commanding respect for anyone who boasts
a .300 lifetime batting average or 300 lifetime wins. Some of
baseball’s greatest moments have been defined by a number that says it
all:

2131.
56
.406.

Enough said.

Today stats are more readily available than ever before.
Websites are updated pitch by pitch as game action occurs, and career
numbers are refreshed every time another game is in the books. Long
gone are the days waiting for the official season stats printed in
“Baseball Digest” that was released in, what was it, December? Ok,
maybe I don’t miss that, but I do miss the MacMillan Baseball
Encyclopedia. It made stats breathe, giving them life with every thump
as you turned a handful of its 2800 pages. I loved how the book would
seemingly auto bookmark in places you perused the most often – sliding
automatically to the page of Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams or Eric Davis.
Don’t you remember turning to Babe Ruth (always auto bookmarked in
everyone’s encyclopedia) and marveling at all the black bolded ink that
marked his league-leading numbers? And no matter what edition, Hank
Aaron was always listed first. Before I owned my own copy, my dad used
to go to the library and copy down some stats for me to use for “Micro
League Baseball” (which just happens to be the greatest game ever
invented). “Here you go, here’s ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson. You think Boggs
can hit? Well, Joe hit .408 in 1911.” Little by little, I learned about
players of the past and their dumbfounding statistical achievements,
like Sliding Billy Hamilton, who once hit .404 and stole 98 bases in a
season where he scored 192 runs. Rube Waddell once struck out 349
batters in a season long before Bob Feller, Nolan Ryan or Sandy Koufax
ever did. Babe Herman once hit .393 with 48 doubles, 11 triples, 35
homeruns, 130 RBI, and garnered zero MVP votes that season. And don’t
get me started on “Old Hoss” Radbourn. It was the numbers that
introduced me to these players before I ever read a bio or saw a photo,
opening up baseball’s glorious past to me in the process. So when guys
like Nap Lajoie and Ed Delahanty started lighting up Charlie Lea and
Sid Fernandez on “Micro”, I continued to unearth new ringers for my
uber-club, and was forever hooked on how baseball can be defined by the
statistics produced. More than anything, this is what led me to the
honor of presenting “This Week in Baseball” to you every Saturday.

Today in the era of “Moneyball” and Bill James holding an
advisory position for the Red Sox, not only are stats more readily
available and more advanced, MLB clubs are basing their evaluation of
talent on them as much as a scout’s eye. Now OPS (on base percentage +
slugging percentage) is not only standard but pretty basic, while 20
years ago on base percentage wasn’t even listed in the encyclopedia. On
“This Week in Baseball”, we try our best to balance use of modern stats
with the classic ones, but we hope our audience is progressing with
these advancements. Each week in this blog, I’ll take a look some
numbers that jump out – whether it’s comparing the stars of today to
the greats of the past, pondering statistical giants in the fantasy
baseball realm, or just getting down and dirty with a random page in
that Macmillan Encyclopedia, we’ll have some fun with some raw numbers.
People need to know who Smokey Joe Wood was, and Dizzy Dean, and Ryne
Sandberg, and whether you know a lot about these guys or not, hopefully
you’ll enjoy hearing about them, and keep the discussion going in the
forum.

At the end of the blog, I’ll hit you with a little “Triple
Crown TWIBia”. I’ll list 10 unnamed triple crown stats from a single
season of a ballplayer from history. I encourage you to fill in your
guesses for the players and year and email me at twib@mlb.com.
I’ll list the answers next week, explain why I chose those players and
seasons, and also give props to anyone who was able to go 10 for 10. So
now, here’s the first addition of:

Triple Crown TWIBia

1) .363 AVG, 49 HR, 165 RBI
2) .301 AVG, 23 HR, 74 RBI
3) .320 AVG, 52 HR, 149 RBI
4) .354 AVG, 10 HR, 109 RBI
5) .401 AVG, 42 HR, 152 RBI
6) .345 AVG, 41 HR, 110 RBI
7) .398 AVG, 32 HR, 122 RBI
8) .362 AVG, 40 HR, 124 RBI
9) .313 AVG, 47 HR, 129 RBI
10) .391 AVG, 1 HR, 33 RBI

Good luck, have fun with it, and see you next week.