Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Why I like LeBron James: Part I

So maybe I don't like LeBron James, but I certainly don't hate him.  If anything, the only reason I've become a fan (and I use the word fan extremely loosely here) is because of the hate so many have for him.  As anyone who knows me, or has bothered to read my posts here, basketball is not my sport.  It just wasn't one that I played or watched.  The funny part is, most people I know find it almost as arbitrary as I do.  While the NBA has dwindled in popularity, and most sports fans don't so much as have a team they follow, the one thing all sports fans do have is animosity.  It turns out, you don't have to like the NBA to hate a LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, or the Boston Celtics.

While the NBA seems filled with little more than egos and refs betting on games, I never had any true disdain for an individual or team.  However, as the bonfire of hatred for LeBron James has grown, I can't help but want to cheer for the guy.  Is he egotistical?  Definitely, but that's all part of being in the NBA these days.  Does he make my life miserable?  Nope.  If other people who normally couldn't careless about the Miami Heat are made miserable by him because he is simply himself, then I think it's rather humorous.

Suffice to say, I don't get it.  The superstars of any league are going to be hated by many whether the reasons are fair or not.  I get that, but what exactly has he done?  He has cheated on his wife and then driven his car into a tree Tiger Woods style?  Is he an alcoholic like Miguel Cabrera?  Used steroids as home run kings Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez?  Maybe gone the Lawrence Taylor route who has hired prostitutes, left the scene of an accident (multiple times), used drugs, and had sex with a 16-year old?  While most won't ever admit to liking these athletes, few will admit to hating them more than LeBron James.

James' greatest crime so far is leaving the city of Cleveland.  That's it.  We should note that he didn't demand a trade or walk away from his team Bobby Petrino-style.  He left as a free agent to play with another franchise.  While a number of people look down at Albert Pujols for leaving the Cardinals this year for a bigger paycheck, few despise him more than James.  Why not?  Pujols was paid handsomely by a franchise he was the face of that was competitive every season.  James was the only cog that made the Cleveland Cavaliers competitive.  When free agency rang, he left for a team that spent money to show it was committed to winning, and in the process turned down higher offers from the New York area.

Maybe some people truly enjoy St. Louis and Cleveland, but is ludacris to suggest more people might like southern California and southern Florida more?  I feel for the fans of Cleveland, and they have every right to be upset (as do the Cardinals fans of St. Louis), but beyond that?  Why is a guy who spent seven years with a team that did little to support him criticized by so many people who normally wouldn't care because he chose in free agency to go with another team?  Higher salary?  Better chance of success?  How many people would turn down career choices when those options are presented?

James certainly isn't a fantastic personality to me.  I'm sure he is an ass to many, but I'm sure plenty of people think that about me as well, so who am I to judge?  I think adults like to pretend that sports, specifically athletes, were different when they grew up.  It might seem like that if for no other reason you didn't pay attention to their lives outside of the court/field.  Truth be told, Michael Jordan was a jackass.  It was only a couple years ago he was elected to the Hall of Fame, and wrote a speech mocking all those around him during his career.  He had gambling problems.  He retired multiple times, the first of which included the infamous minor league baseball stint.  To this day, plenty of non-Chicago fans are ready to defend Jordan to the death when James is compared to him.

I just don't see it myself.  I see a guy who played on the hometown team for seven years because they drafted him when he was obviously the best pick in his draft class.  I see a franchise that was futile for five years leading up to drafting James, and are just as bad if not worse since he left.  I see a player who is arguably among the most elite the game has ever seen who went to free agency like countless other athletes have for many decades.  I see a player who took slightly less money to play for a team that he felt gave him a better chance to win than a New York Knicks or New Jersey Nets did.  I see a guy who hasn't been caught doing anything illegal and is engaged to the woman he has two children with, not one who the courts have to force child support out of.

Ironically enough, people who point to James are being the root of all evil generally have the same disdain for Tim Tebow, another guy who truly is hated for no reason what so ever.  In any event, I'll keep my fingers crossed that James and the Heat win an NBA title in the upcoming weeks.  If Tebow ever leaves the Jets (I really hate the Jets), I'll do the same for him when it comes to winning a Super Bowl.  Until then, I'll just enjoy seeing so many people make themselves upset over an athlete that they dislike only because it is the popular thing to do.

Note that I am all for hearing reasons that people dislike LeBron James, so feel free to share.  As I said, I'm not an NBA fan, so perhaps I am missing something big.  Until then, count me as a guy who wants to see #6 succeed.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Update: Finally

I've posted a few updates on Toronto FC's bid to have the worst start in MLS history.  Three weeks ago, they secured that spot then they lost at home to D.C. United, and last week ran their streak a game longer by losing on the road to D.C. United for a record of 0-9-0, the worst start in MLS history.  Today, Toronto FC hosted the Philadelphia Union, and finally put their poor streak to rest.  Toronto beat Philadelphia 1-0 with a goal in the 88th minute.  It was only Toronto's 8th goal scored this season compared to the 21 goals given up so far.

Philadelphia hasn't exactly been off to a great start themselves, and would clearly be identified as the worst team in the league early this year aside from Toronto.  Like Toronto, they too have only scored eight goals this year, and have only won twice while playing in two more games. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

Six of One; Half Dozen of the Other

It's been awhile.  I was on the road for business this past week, and will be out of town for the first week and a half of June, leaving me less time to continue here.  However, I'm going to try to keep cranking these out.  With that said, an interesting interleague statistic for you baseball fans...

A rather odd statistic I came across while looking at interleague records earlier this season.  The Toronto Blue Jays and Colorado Rockies have an all-time 6-6 record with one another.  Interestingly enough, the Blue Jays are 6-0 in Toronto while the Rockies are 6-0 in Colorado.  Evidently, home field advantage is a major advantage when these two teams meet.  As far as I can tell, these are the only teams to have undefeated records at home against a particular team, yet never get a win on the road versus the same team.

This one isn't quite as peculiar, but still interesting.  The Blue Jays will face the New York Mets this month for the first time since 2000.  Fortunately for Toronto, the series is being played in Toronto where the Blue Jays hold a 5-4 record over the Mets.  In New York, the Blue Jays are a disappointing 0-9 to the Mets.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Second Chance

As you've probably figured out by now, I am all about odd occurrences in sports.  These abnormalities are what makes sports, more specifically, sports statistics interesting.  Los Angeles Angels pitcher C.J. Wilson started tonight...against his former team the Texas Rangers...for a second consecutive day.  As most baseball fans know, in today's game, pitchers start once every five games, generally breaking down to once every six days.  A full season consists of 33-36 games started.  Pitch counts rarely go beyond 110 pitches in a game.  Therefore, it becomes quite obvious that starting in two consecutive games for a pitcher is quite rare.

To be fair, it wasn't as if Wilson threw many innings both days.  In fact, he only pitched one third of an inning yesterday, albeit it with poor results.  After striking out Rangers lead off hitter Ian Kinsler, he gave up three singles in a row to Elvis Andrus, Josh Hamilton, and Adrian Beltre (allowing one run to score), then walked Michael Young to lead the bases before the game was suspended for rain.  When the game restarted, Jerome  Williams was put into pitch.  The Rangers could score five more runs in the first inning, four of them earned for Wilson.

Given that Wilson had only thrown 22 pitches in his fraction of an inning, the Angels decided to use him for a second straight day this afternoon.  Wilson would throw 93 more pitches today over 5.2 innings, giving up only two runs.  Not a bad day.  Certainly not an impressive record, but definitely a rarity.

Only 102 times since 1957 has a pitcher started a game on zero days rest as was the case today with Wilson.  The vast majority of those occur when a player pitches a relief inning, and then starts the next day.  Quite a few of those relief appearances occurred in games that were long in extra innings the night before, usually leaving no pitchers left.  The media was quick to jump on Wilson being the first pitcher to do this since Aaron Myette in 2002.  While it is true that Myette started in two consecutive games for the Texas Rangers, this is kinda a stretch.  Not only did Myette not complete an inning in his first start, he didn't even complete a batter.  After only two pitches to Baltimore Orioles lead off hitter Melvin Mora, he was ejected and replaced by Todd Van Poppel.  Myette would start the following day for the Rangers going only three innings while giving up five runs.

The last time a pitcher started consecutive games, and stuck around to face more than a batter was more than thirty two years ago in 1980.  Oakland Athletics pitcher Steve McCatty record two outs to start the game against the Seattle Mariners, but then loaded the bases, only to escape the first inning with a line drive out.  In the second inning, he wouldn't be so lucky.  Again he loaded the bases while recording the first two outs of the inning, but then gave up two hits scoring four runs.  A wild pitch to the next batter scored another, followed by allowing another hit.  He would be pulled before the second inning was over.

One day later, McCatty was again given the start for the A's, and this time threw eight shutout innings before allowing three runs in the ninth to the M's.  The A's won 12-3 on the day, and McCatty went 8.1 innings.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Oh C'mon!

50 years ago, Bo Belinksy threw a no-hitter for the Los Angeles Angels.  It was a 2-0 victory over the Baltimore Orioles in front of less than 16,000 fans.  The Los Angeles Angels became the California Angels, and saw Clyde Wright throw a no-hitter.  Then four more by flame thrower Nolan Ryan, then a perfect game by Mike Witt on the final day of the season in 1984.  A half dozen years later, Mark Langston threw seven innings of no-hit ball with two more innings by Mike Witt to close out the game.  The California Angels became the Anaheim Angels, and more recently the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.  Last summer, Ervin Santana threw a no-hitter for the franchise, and last week, Jered Weaver threw the 10th no-hitter in Angels history.  Ten no-hitters in less than 52 years of existence.

Now a couple weeks ago, I did a post on how some sports curses really are a reach (the Vancouver Canucks not winning the Stanley Cup in the two years they won the President's Cup); however, they are some curses they do seem to exist and this is one of them.  Forty years ago, the New York Mets traded away a package of players for Angels shortstop Jim Fregosi.  Fregosi was a perennial All-Star with the Angels, but was a disappoint for the year and a half he spent in New York before being sold to Texas.  This curse deals with one of the players who was part of the package for Fregosi:  Nolan Ryan.

The Mets are in their 51st year of existence (41st since trading Ryan), and are one of two franchises never to throw a no-hitter.  Tonight marked their 8,000th game in team history.  Nolan Ryan would go on to pitch seven no-hitters with the Angels, Houston Astros, and Texas Rangers.  To be fair, the other team suffering from the lack of a no-hitter, the San Diego Padres, are long overdue as well (44th season), and I can't connect any such player to them.

The thing is, the rate of no-hitters has not changed since the expansion era began in 1961.  Using 1962 as a dividing point (Mets expansion season), the math shows that no-hitters occurred on average once every 9.9 seasons for each team prior to 1962.  Since 1962, that average has hardly increased to once every 10.1 seasons per team.

Aside from the Mets and Padres who completely lack the accomplishment, only two other teams are averaging worse than once every twenty years.  Those teams being the Milwaukee Brewers who have one no-hitter to their name in their 44 year history, and the Toronto Blue Jays who have only one in their 36 year history.  On the flip side, three franchises have ten no-hitters just since 1962:  Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Houston Astros who came into the league the same year as the Mets.  Meanwhile, the Angels have only been in MLB for one year longer than the Mets.  Merely coincidence that Nolan Ryan spent the majority of his career with the Angels and Astros after being traded by the Mets?

In fact, for all the poor luck the Mets have had, the Astros were the complete opposite picking up four no-hitters in their first eight seasons as a franchise, and two in their first three seasons.  Mind you that is before Nolan Ryan came to the Astros of which he only pitched one despite spending more seasons there than anywhere else.  The Astros rate has cooled over the more recent decades, but still stands among the best in the league with one every 5.1 seasons.

Rate of No-Hitters for Each Franchise (Once Every # of Seasons):

1.  Florida Marlins - 5.0 seasons
2.  Houston Astros - 5.1 seasons
3.  Los Angeles Angels - 5.2 seasons
4.  Los Angeles Dodgers - 5.3 seasons

5T.  Boston Red Sox - 6.2 seasons
5T.  Chicago White Sox - 6.2 seasons
7.  Arizona Diamondbacks - 7.5 seasons
8T.  Cleveland Indians - 8.0 seasons
8T.  Oakland Athletics - 8.0 seasons
10.  Cincinnati Reds - 8.9 seasons
11.  Atlanta Braves - 9.8 seasons
12.  San Francisco Giants - 10.0 seasons
13.  New York Yankees - 10.2 seasons
14.  Texas Rangers - 10.4 seasons
15.  Chicago Cubs - 10.5 seasons
16T.  Kansas City Royals - 11.0 seasons
16T.  Washington Nationals - 11.0 seasons
18.  Philadelphia Phillies - 11.8 seasons
19.  St. Louis Cardinals - 12.1 seasons
20.  Baltimore Orioles - 12.4 seasons
21.  Tampa Bay Rays - 15.0 seasons
22T.  Detroit Tigers - 16.0 seasons
22T.  Minnesota Twins - 16.0 seasons
24.  Seattle Mariners - 18.0 seasons
25.  Colorado Rockies - 20.0 seasons
26.  Pittsburgh Pirates - 21.0 seasons
27.  Toronto Blue Jays - 36.0 seasons
28.  Milwaukee Brewers - 44.0 seasons
29.  New York Mets - never
30.  San Diego Padres - never

Even if the Mets or Padres pitched a no-hitter tomorrow, they would still be at the tail end of this list.  Baseball had added ten more teams since the Mets have joined, and the Padres are the only team younger than them not to throw one.  A drought is one thing, but considering that the four most recently added teams (Marlins, Rockies, Rays, and Diamondbacks have combined for eight in their short histories, it seems that this half century plus of history can be called a curse.

Just to really rub salt in this old wound, there have been 18 complete game no-hitters thrown by 11 pitchers who at one point pitched for the Mets...

1.  Nolan Ryan (7)
2.  Hideo Nomo (2)
3.  Dean Chance (1)
4.  John Candelaria (1)
5.  Tom Seaver (1)
6.  Mike Scott (1)
7.  Bret Saberhagen (1)
8.  Scott Erickson (1)
9.  Al Leiter (1)
10.  Dwight Gooden (1)
11.  Dock Ellis (1)

...in addition to three perfect games thrown by pitchers who would at one point pitch for the Mets...

12.  Kenny Rogers (1)
13.  David Cone (1)
14.  Philip Humber (1)

...not to mention four pitchers who pitched in relief as part of a no-hitter effort...

15.  Alejandro Pena (1)
16.  Ricardo Rincon (1)
17.  Octavio Dotel (1)
18.  Billy Wagner (1)

The current twenty-eight other Major League teams have produced a grand total of 247 no-hitters in the history of baseball.  The Mets have been stifled to 35 one-hitters over the course of their history.  Three ttimes, Tom Seaver took no-hitters into the ninth inning (once a perfect game), but gave up hits after recording one or two outs each time.  Now 8,000 games after the franchise began in 1962, this team still looks for that accomplishment.

One last bit of trivia, the longest drought without a no-hitter does not belong to the Mets, but rather than Philadelphia Phillies at 8.945 games between the 1906 and 1964 seasons.  As would be expected from as a Mets fan, streak was broken in 1964 when Jim Bunning pitched his second career no-hitter and first perfect game against...the New York Mets.  

Thursday, May 10, 2012

8 > 1

As I've mentioned previous, bigger playoff brackets just mean more upsets.  Playing 82 games in a season simply isn't considered as important as a best of seven series, and therefore we place the middle of the road teams on the same level as the top teams to begin the postseason.  It isn't something I agree with, but it is what it is.

In any event, tonight there was the rare upset where the #8 seed knocks off the #1 seed in the first round.  The Philadelphia 76ers took down the Chicago Bulls in six games.  People will point to the fact that Chicago was missing their best player who went down with an injury earlier in the series.  However, while the individual as gradually become as important as team play in the NBA, if a team can no longer play near the level were at without one player, then they probably deserve to lose a series.

This was only the second time the #8 has upset the #1 in the Eastern Conference, and the first time since the first round of the playoffs has gone to a best of seven.  Two other teams, both in the Western Conference, have performed these upsets in a best of seven first round.  Last year, the Memphis Grizzlies upset the San Antonio Spurs in the first round.  In 2007, the Golden State Warriors pulled off an upset of Dallas Mavericks in one of the biggest upsets in NBA history.

Prior to the best of seven first round, the New York Knicks accomplished the feat in 1999, and the first ever #8 upset over a #1 came in 1994 when the Denver Nuggets took out the heavily favored Seattle Supersonics.

Winning Percentage of Opposing #1 Seed:

  1. Dallas Mavericks (.817) upset by the Golden State Warriors in 2007
  2. Seattle Supersonics (.768) upset by the Denver Nuggets  in 1994
  3. Chicago Bulls (.758) upset by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2012
  4. San Antonio Spurs (.744) upset by the Memphis Grizzlies in 2011
  5. Miami Heat (.660) upset by the New York Knicks in 1999
So how does this play out for the 76ers?  Well in three of the four previous occurrences, the underdog was knocked out in the next round.  However, the previous time it occurred in the Eastern Conference, the New York Knicks rode a wave in 1999 all the way to the NBA Finals before being eliminated in five games by the San Antonio Spurs.  The 76ers begin their second round against the Boston Celtics Saturday afternoon.

Good Things Come in Threes

I promise I won't make all of my posts about the Baltimore Orioles (sorry Reece), yet they continue to pop up.   This afternoon, the Orioles again were a part of baseball history when they led off the first inning with three consecutive home runs.  Ryan Flaherty started things off with his first career home run on the second pitch of the game from Colby Lewis.  J.J. Hardy followed in his footsteps only three pitches later, and Nick Markakis would hit a home run after another three pitches.

This is only the fourth time that a team had hit a home run in their first three plate appearances of a game.  Previously, the Milwaukee Brewers did it in 2007, coincidentally with J.J. Hardy hitting the second home run in the game as well (between Rickie Weeks and Ryan Braun).  Before that, Rafael Furcal, Mark DeRosa, and Gary Sheffield had accomplished the feat in 2003 with the Atlanta Braves.  The first occurrence was not quite as recent, in 1987, with the San Diego Padres' Marvell Wynne, Tony Gwynn, and John Kruk beginning a game that way.

It's was a nice result for the Orioles who came out on top at the end of the game 6-5.  Of course, fans will be much happier to see their first winning team on the field since 1997.  It may be a good sign that the two previous teams that accomplished this (Braves and Brewers) went onto winning seasons, finishing first or second in their respective divisions.  On the flip side, the Padres, who were the only team to lose a game after beginning the first inning with three home runs, went on to finish dead last in their division in 1987.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Beltway Breakout?

The Washington Nationals lost their third straight game tonight losing to the Pittsburgh Pirates.  The Baltimore Orioles lost two games in a row before being rained out tonight against the Texas Rangers.  It isn't the end of the world for either team which continues to play very well overall early this season.  The Nationals remain tied for first place in the National League East.  Meanwhile, the Orioles are a mere half game out of first to Tampa Bay.  Had the O's not been rained out, and won tonight, they too would be tied for first in their AL East division.

Nevertheless, it's the first time since June 23, 2005 that these two franchises based near our nation's capital have both been leading their respective divisions outside of the first half of April.  Seeing that prior to 2004, the Nationals were located in Montreal, and the previous franchises in Washington played in the American League East with the Baltimore Orioles, it is likely only the second time in history that clubs from these two cities have led at the same time.  Of course, both franchises have struggled in recent years, so it would be nice to see them both develop and break out at the same time.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Hammerin' Hamilton

Last month I did a write up on just how impressive Curtis Granderson's three home run game was earlier this season.  The three home run is an enormous feat, having occurred only 497 in the history of the game.  In the same post, I briefly mentioned that the four home run game is among the rarest feats in baseball, far more rare than even the perfect game.  Tonight, one of those extremely rare occurrences took place in Baltimore.

Texas Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton continue his up and down career by belting not three, but four home runs on the night with five hits total and eight RBIs.  Hamilton collected 18 total bases in the game, a new American League record (previous being 16 among multiple players) in a nine inning game.  Shawn Green, during his four home run game of 2002, set the single game record that still stands at 19.

Nevertheless, Hamilton's feat is remarkable and only the 16th (14th in the modern era) time a four home run game has occurred despite a quarter of them occurring in the last ten years (Green, Mike Cameron, Carlos Delgado).  In the previous post, I mention the odds of it happening in a game are 0.006 %.  That number was slightly off as I ignored the two times it occurred prior to the modern era.  In any event, the corrected odds including Hamilton's terrific performance tonight are the following:

16 Four Home Run Games

200,520 Games Played

16 / 200,520 = 0.0000798

So that makes for a 0.00798% chance or once every 12,532 games.  That's equal to just over five seasons of play and would suggest at this exact rate, the next one would occur in June of 2017.  Here's to Josh Hamilton's fantastic performance, and that the Mayans aren't right about 2012.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Chris Davis was Born to be a Pitcher

This is another one for the lone Orioles fan I know.  While I'm sure he is on top of these facts, some tidbits for everyone else.  Yesterday, the marathon 17-inning game between the Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox came to an end with the Orioles winning 9-6.  The win for the Orioles was their fifth in a row while the loss for Boston was coincidentally their fifth in a row.

Nevertheless, the attention grabber of this game (aside from the 17 innings played) was that not one, but two position players pitched for their respective teams.  The fact that both teams resorted to this measure made it the first time since 1925 for that to occur.

Chris Davis would come in for the Baltimore Orioles in the 16th, inning and managed to pitch two shutout innings in route for the win.  Coming up with the loss was an Orioles former first round pick, but current Boston Red Sox outfielder Darnell McDonald.

A position player being attributed a winning decision is a rare event these days, in fact, far more rare than the perfect game.  Despite that, the previous occurrence took play just under a year ago when middle infielder Wilson Valdez was credited with a win in a 19-inning Philadelphia Phillies victory.  Prior to that was journey man catcher, then with the Colorado Rockies, Brent Mayne in 2000.  Those three are the only players to accomplish this feat since 1968.  1968 was the last time an American League player had accomplished the feat prior to yesterday when Rocky Colavito picked up a win for the New York Yankees.

Truthfully, I feel Chris Davis was ready to pitch this game all day.  After all, he went 0-for-8 on the day with five strikeouts.  That sounds like a true Major League pitcher in my opinion.  McDonald of the Red Sox went 1-for-4 with a run scored, hitting much to well to be a pitcher, hence his loss.  This begs the question if Chris Davis was born to be a pitcher seeing that he generally averages a strikeout per start (26 Ks this year for his 26 starts), and led the American League in such the only year he was not demoted to the minors (150 Ks in 2009).  Joking aside, props to Davis for managing to do what his team needed of him, even if it took him nine tries.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Tables Turning?

A thanks goes to Scott Jensen for suggesting this topic.  Nearly a full week into the month of May, and the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox make up the bottom of the American League East division.  Of course it is still very early in the season, and it is doubtful that the standings at the end of the year will be identical to how they are now.  Nevertheless, for many of us, it is nice to pretend that this could actually be the case.

So when was the last time this was the case?  Quite awhile, and long before the current AL East came to fruition.  In fact, it happened so long ago, there was no AL East division at all.  There was no need for an AL East because aside from the California Angels, no American League team played west of Kansas City.  The American League was simply a ten team league, no divisions.

Two current American League East teams, the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays, in addition to the Seattle Mariners, Milwaukee Brewers, Kansas City Royals, plus five National League teams were not in existence yet.  The Texas Rangers were still known as the Washington Senators.  The Oakland Athletics were still the Kansas City Athletics.

Mickey Mantle was manning center field for the New York Yankees, and Carl Yastrzemski was playing left field for the Red Sox of Boston.  The Baltimore Orioles won the American League Pennant and ultimately the World Series, sweeping the Los Angeles Dodgers four games to none.  The Orioles would also take the top three spots in the MVP voting (Frank Robinson beating Brooks Robinson and Boog Powell).  Roberto Clemente won the NL MVP for the Pirates, and Sandy Koufax won the Cy Young for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Lyndon B. Johnson  was President of the United States, and man had yet to step foot on the moon.

The year was 1966, four-six years ago this season.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Update: 0-8-0

Yet another update from an MLS team that now has sole possession of the worst start in Major League Soccer history.  Toronto FC dropped their eighth game of the season to D.C. United earlier today.  They get a much needed week off, but unfortunately return to face D.C. United again in two weeks, this time on the road.

Friday, May 4, 2012

10/22/11: The End of an Era?

I'm sure anyone who selected Albert Pujols early in their fantasy draft this year is regretting it.  The only people regretting being involved with him more are likely the Los Angeles Angels who thought he was worth $240 million over the next ten years.  Good news Angels fans, one month of what could end up being the worst contract in baseball is done with.  Only another nine plus seasons to go.

In all fairness, things aren't that bleak, at least not yet.  The disappearance of Albert Pujols in Anaheim is likely more temporary, even if he were never to fully return, his current production would not continue, so the contract can't be deemed the worst ever.  It probably isn't even the worst on the team right now seeing that Vernon Wells was the second highest paid player in baseball last year (behind Alex Rodriguez).  The Angels of course traded for Wells only a season ago.  Then you have Torii Hunter which surely wasn't a horrible signing, but easily overpaid given his $18.5 million a year salary.  Anyone remember Gary Matthews Jr.?

Alright, so Pujols can't stay as bad as he has been this year.  Players are never always consistent.  Production comes and goes in waves.  However, when talking about the supposedly best player in baseball, you want a little bit more than "just a slump" when more than a month into the season he has yet to his a home run, batting near the Mendoza line, and is struggling to draw walks.  Without diving into all the numbers, at least not right now, let's just look at how big a drought this is purely in terms of power, aka home runs.

Currently, Albert Pujols has 445 career home runs to his name.  That is good for 37th on the All-Time list of home run hitters.  More remarkably, he has done it in 12 seasons.  Of the 36 names above him, the next shortest career was Jeff Bagwell at 15 seasons, and he only has four more home runs than Pujols (Bagwell is tied with Vladimir Guerrero who played 16 seasons, and could still sign this year).

I went through the 36 names on the list above Pujols, and looked month-to-month to see how many of them had droughts for a full calendar month.  The only guideline I used initially was that a player had to start in six games just to see how often injuries may have affected thing.  This resulted in 119 results.  In fact, the only two players who hit at least one home run while starting at least six games each month were Frank Thomas and Chipper Jones.  Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, etc. all missed hitting home runs for at least a month.

That isn't really a good list since players can be injured for weeks, so I took out all the results where a player didn't start at least 20 games in a month.  Pujols started in 23 games in the month of April.  Using at least 20 games meant no major DL stints, nor shortened months (April use to only have about a dozen games).  This resulted in 21 occurrences by 11 different players that were in the same predicament at Pujols is now:
  1. Sammy Sosa - 1992 (20 GS
  2. Rafael Palmeiro - 1988 (26 GS)
  3. Rafael Palmeiro - 1988 (27 GS)
  4. Rafael Palmeiro - 1989 (22 GS)
  5. Reggie Jackson - 1967 (22 GS)
  6. Reggie Jackson - 1983 (21 GS)
  7. Reggie Jackson - 1986 (21 GS)
  8. Mickey Mantle - 1968 (24 GS)
  9. Ernie Banks - 1954 (25 GS)
  10. Ernie Banks - 1954 (23 GS)
  11. Gary Sheffield - 1989 (23 GS)
  12. Eddie Murray - 1996 (24 GS)
  13. Fred McGriff - 1998 (24 GS)
  14. Stan Musial - 1944 (24 GS)
  15. Stan Musial - 1947 (24 GS)
  16. Carl Yastrzemski - 1972 (20 GS)
  17. Carl Yastrzemski - 1974 (25 GS)
  18. Carl Yastrzemski - 1975 (22 GS)
  19. Carl Yastrzemski - 1979 (20 GS)
  20. Carl Yastrzemski - 1982 (25 GS)
  21. Vladimir Guerrero - 2007 (23 GS)

Years listed twice meant two calendar months occurred in the same year without a home run.  Next, I looked at what point in a career these anomalies occurred.  Many of these involved seasons where a player had yet to his his stride (and in some cases likely weren't popping steroids yet).  If we eliminate every year that one of these players were 25 or younger, and older than 35, the list gets drastically shorter.  I think it is safe to assume all these players reached their prime in that ten year span, so let's do that.
  1. Fred McGriff - 1998 (24 GS)
  2. Stan Musial - 1947 (24 GS)
  3. Carl Yastrzemski - 1972 (20 GS)
  4. Carl Yastrzemski - 1974 (25 GS)
  5. Carl Yastrzemski - 1975 (22 GS)
  6. Vladimir Guerrero - 2007 (23 GS) 
 This is the exclusive company that Pujols is sharing when it comes to a hitter who has hit 445 or more career home runs, but has had a calendar month without doing so once despite starting twenty or more games.  This list should really be narrowed a bit further.  Stan Musial was only 26 at the time of his lack of accomplishment, and despite being a very good player prior to then, he was not the home run hitting player he was later known to me (19 HRs or less prior to 1948).

Carl Yastrzemski shows up on both lists plenty, but really does not share anything with Pujols.  After all, Yaz played in the middle of the Deadball era during his career.  The fact that he hit 449 HRs is really a true testament to the hitter he was.  He hit 40+ HRs three times in a four year span.  Otherwise, he never hit more than 28 HRs in his 23 year career, so really he probably should not be included in this list either.

So really that leaves him in the company of a 34-year old Fred McGriff and a 32-year old Vladimir Guerrero.  McGriff would hit 19 HRs in the 1998 season, the lowest total of any of his full seasons.  Vladimir Guerrero would bounce back to hit 27 HRs in 2007, the lowest total in a full season for him up to that point.  The difference in those cases is that Fred McGriff had just come off a fantastic April before putting up a goose egg in May.  Vlad Guerrero on the other hand didn't have his home run power for the month of July in 2007, but he still hit .292 that month.  That month was right in the middle of an otherwise MVP-caliber season.

It helps in each of their cases that their troubles did not occur in April, thus starting the first twenty some games of the season without a single home run.  Guerrero had been with the Angels for quite a few years at that point, so they got a lot of what they paid for before that.  McGriff was only in his second month with the expansion Tampa Bay Devils Rays, but he was a bright spot in an otherwise dim team.  Pujols has the unfortunate perspective of being the guy that was just signed for nearly a quarter billion dollars through the age of 41, bringing with him the title of the best hitter in the game, and the expectation of doing what Guerrero could not: returning the Angels to the World Series.

It's no secret that Pujols is off to a bad start.  When you consider the company of home run hitters he has joined, and it expected to move up the ranks of, then you realize this is a really bad start.  Alex Rodriguez was the guy one guy who had a shot at breaking the Barry Bonds home run record, but now that seems questionable.  Nevertheless, Pujols was the guy who had the chance at eclipsing Rodriguez, yet now that could be further out of reach than it seems.

Everyone will speculate that Pujols could have been on steroids, that his age could be closer to 42 than 32, or that he is just in a bad slump.  There is no real way to tell until the rest of the season and his career play out.  Maybe this is the beginning of the end of one of baseball's most productive hitters.  Maybe this is just a small hiccup in an otherwise Hall of Fame career.  In any event, I don't think any baseball fans last fall were thinking that Albert Pujols would not hit another home run until at least May.  Certainly not on October 22nd when Pujols hit his 3rd home run of the night against the Texas Rangers in Game 3 of the World Series.  The end of an era?  Maybe.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Good Things Come to Road Teams Who Wait

Earlier tonight, the New York Rangers won Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Washington Capitals in triple overtime.  The game lasted nearly 115 minutes, making it the 20th longest game in NHL history (at least according to the Wikipedia).  Home ice for Game 3 was in Washington's favor, but when games go beyond double overtime in the NHL, home ice seems to hurt more than it helps.

Of the 40 longest NHL games, ranging from 103 to 187 minutes, the road team has not only come away with more victories, but their winning percentage is remarkable.  The road team has won 29 of those 40 games providing them with a .725 winning percentage.  That is an oddly high winning percentage for teams that generally is are considered the underdog while on the road.  The only explanation for it I can really see is that the road team hangs in the game so long that they not only take the energy out of the home team's crowd, but that they thrive on doing just that.  Almost as if keeping the game tied is a slow way of building momentum.  If anyone has other thoughts as to why, I'm all for hearing them.

Sadly, there are not many other lists of long games by duration for other sports.  I really would like to find a comprehensive NBA list, but had no such luck.  The NFL does not really apply here given that games don't go beyond a single overtime (not to mention the poor overtime system).  This trend does carry to the Swedish National Hockey League where of the ten longest games in their league's history, eight of them were won by road teams.

I did find a list of the 42 Major League Baseball games that have gone 20 innings or more.  Subtracting the four games that were called for ties, the away team won 24 of the remaining 38 longest games.  The winning percentage of .632 does not quite compete with the NHL road team record, but it does lead to the question, in games that carry on extra long, does the away team have a distinct advantage to the home team?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Made in Japan

Yu Darvish, the latest high profile starting pitcher from Japan, has already been having his name mentioned with the Cy Young award.  While I feel it is far too early to suggest awards for players, if there was any talk of awarding the Cy Young after one month, you would have a hard time arguing against the Texas Rangers starter.  After five starts, he holds a 4-0 record while ranking fifth in the American League in both strikeouts (33) and ERA (2.18).

Numbers can sometimes be deceiving, especially for a pitcher who batters have not got a look at before.  Nonetheless, I thought it would be worth comparing him to the first five starts of every other Japanese pitcher who has made at least 100 starts in the Major Leagues.  The one player excluded was former Montreal Expo Tomo Ohka who debuted primarily as a reliever.  By my count, that leaves less than a half dozen other players:

After 5 Starts:
Hideo Nomo (1995):  0-0, 26.2 IP, 3.71 ERA, 40 K, 18 BB, .202 BA, .694 OPS

Masato Yoshii (1998):  1-1, 30.0 IP, 2.70 ERA, 23 K, 10 BB, .239 BA, .710 OPS

Kazuhisa Ishii (2002):  5-0, 29.2 IP, 3.03 ERA, 34 K, 16 BB, .214 BA, .594 OPS

Daisuke Matsuzaka (2007):  3-2, 33.0 IP, 4.36 ERA, 38 K, 10 BB, .242 BA, .650 OPS

Hiroki Kuroda (2008):  1-2, 30.2 IP, 3.82 ERA, 16 K, 8 BB, .278 BA, .731 OPS

Yu Darvish (2012):  4-0, 33.0 IP, 2.18 ERA, 33 K, 17 BB, .238 BA, .660 OPS

One interesting piece is that Nomo, Yoshii, and Ishii each pitched five to seven shutout innings in their debut, and Matsuzaka and Kuroda allowed only one run over seven innings each.  By the third, fourth, and fifth starts, batters seemed to have a better idea of what to expect, and most of them had poor games for at least one of those starts.  Nomo had a poor start in his second start, giving up seven runs.

Darvish has been a bit of an anomaly in that sense.  He debuted against the Seattle Mariners in April, and promptly gave up four runs in the first inning, and one more in the second.  He settled down, and since that second inning, he has only given up three earned runs in the last 31 innings he pitched.  If one was to ignore those first two innings, his ERA would be a stunning 0.87.  It isn't as if he is skating by on lowly teams by any means either.  His troubling first game was against the Seattle Mariners, but his last (and best) three games have come against the New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays, and Detroit Tigers who currently rank 3rd, 4th, and 7th respectively in runs scored (Texas is in 1st).

Of the players mentioned above, it is worth noting how each continued on in their debut season.  Nomo would continue on to a stellar year that saw him win Rookie of the Year for the Los Angeles Dodgers and finish fourth in the Cy Young voting with a 13-6 record and 2.54 ERA.  He would pitched in the Majors through 2005 (plus a very brief stint in 2008).  While productive, he was never able to reproduce the numbers of his rookie season in 1995.

Yoshii's promising start finished solid enough with a 6-8 record and 3.93 ERA, but was far from special.  Like Nomo, it was the best he would do at the Major League level, and only pitched four more seasons, the best of them mediocre.

Ishii's fantastic 5-0 start would continue to 14-10 as he struggled with control.  He walked 106 batters in his rookie season (2002) to lead the National League, and 101 the next season to finish in second.  His career only last four seasons in the Major Leagues.

More recently, Matsuzaka would have a mediocre first season with the Red Sox, but had a stellar sophmore appearance, making a run at the Cy Young with an 18-3 record and 2.90 ERA.  Since then, he has been plagued by injury problems and made only 44 starts over the last three seasons.  This year he has yet to debut, being hampered by more injuries.

The aged (37) Kuroda has only been in the Major Leagues for four full seasons, but could be considered the most consistent Japanese import.  His ERA has always ranged between 3.07 and 3.76, including this year in his first year with the Yankees.  Perhaps Kuroda's best measure is his WHIP which has never measured over 1.22 in his four full seasons.

It will be very interesting to see how things play out for Darvish.  Initially, it looked like Darvish may struggle with walking batters like Ishii after he walked 13 batters in the first three games while striking out only 14.  However, in the last two games he has walked only 2 batters while striking out 19.  It is a small sample size, but it could be a sign of things to come.

Furthermore, the greater challenge for Darvish, who I remind you is only 25, will like be whether or not he can continue to build on this success.  Of the other pitchers mentioned, they generally all peaked their first or second season in the majors.  Even Nomo who is remembered for his early success, including the only no-hitter at Coors Field against a very stacked Rockies lineup hit his peak early.  After 1996, he spent the next five seasons pitching for five different teams with below average results.  In 2002 and 2003, he would return to the Dodgers and put together two more very solid years before breaking down in his final couple of years.

Only Kuroda has managed to continually improve season to season, but only so much.  He began solid enough, but his numbers have never screamed for the Cy Young.  Can Darvish steadily improve (or at least maintain a similar level to where he is at)?  Or could he prove to be another Matsuzaka or Nomo who showed stunning stuff early in a career, only to fall back to the middle of the pack in years to come?  The next chance we will get to find out should be Sunday when Yu and the Rangers take on the Cleveland Indians.  At the rate he is going, he could become the first Japanese import to reach the glorified 20-win season.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Artificial Steals

How many have heard that the stolen base is becoming a lost part of the game?  That after a century of heavy use, 21st century baseball replaced it with power hitters?  That the long ball is more important than small ball and the extra base?

That isn't exactly true, and is quite a stretch in any aspects.  Most fans know that when it comes to stolen bases, Rickey Henderson was king, and likely will be for some time to come, stealing the majority of his bases in the 1980s.  Before him was Lou Brock who did it in the late 60s and 70s, and way back when it was done by Ty Cobb who did most of his damage in the first two decades of the twentieth century.  The thing is there were quite a few decades between Cobb and Brock, but not much in the way of players who stole bases.

If you look at the top five of the modern era of baseball when it comes to stolen bases, you find Henderson, Brock, Cobb, and two more from the 80s:  Tim Raines and Vince Coleman.  Fact of the matter is, stolen bases were a big part of the game in the 1800s until about 1920.  After 1920, the number of stolen bases declined sharply.  They only gradually began to climb once again between 1950 and 1970, then again peaked in popularity from the mid-1970s through the 80s.  Once again, the began to decline in the 1990s, and so fans began to think we lost an important part of the game.

Really, we didn't lose an important part of the game so much as we saw a brief phenomena in a major pitchers era.  Furthermore, the game was made more for small ball and stolen bases.  Certainly stolen bases were a major part of the game during the infancy of baseball, and far more popular than they ever would be again.  However, a game where a home run didn't have to clear a fence, and doubles and triples were more rampant meant that stolen bases were more likely.

There first decline came with the arrival of Babe Ruth when he showed the baseball world that home run hitters were the future of the game.  Stolen bases really bottomed out between the 1930s and 50s.  In fact, in the year 1950, Dom Dimaggio lead the American League in stolen bases...with 15.  It wasn't until the 1960s with Maury Willis, and later Lou Brock that they began to win the sport back over.

However, there is one major factor overlooked when it came to the revival of stolen bases, and that is the infamous artificial turf.  To the best of my knowledge, the only park still using a form of turf is Rogers Centre of the Toronto Blue Jays which use a surface known as Grass 3D.  However, in the 70s and 80s, AstroTurf surfaces were becoming all the rage in the MLB and NFL worlds.  As most may recall, when it came to baseball, artificial turf generally meant that there was no diamond of dirt surrounding the infield.  Rather, dirt surrounded each base individually with sections of turf between them.

This had various effects such as more base hits as ground balls had more speed, as well as a significantly overlooked aspect, the impact on base runners.  While these are extreme examples, try running on a sidewalk versus the beach.  It's obviously much more difficult to run in sand, thus it slows you down.  Baseball fields worth the same way albeit to a lesser effect.  Running on AstroTurf is not all that different than on a solid concrete surfaces, especially since this turf was usually on top of concrete.  While baseball dirt isn't the same as the beach, running on dirt slows a runner down in baseball.  Moreover, running in cleats only adds to the issue, an issue that doesn't exist when cleats are not worn.

In any event, I took the number of stolen base attempts (not stolen bases) from 1920-2010.  I used 1920 merely because it was the just as the home run was coming into play, but more important, it is when the statistic Caught Stealing began to be used.  Therefore, we can add Stolen Bases and Caught Stealing to truly find how many Stolen Base Attempts there were each season.

Now once we have the total for each season, we need to weight each value.  In 1950, there were only sixteen MLB teams, and only 154 games played per season.  Therefore, the MLB season only had 1,232 games taking place.  In 2010, we have 30 MLB teams and 162 games played for a grand total of 2,430 games each year.  Therefore, we multiply each season by a factor to give us the appropriate number of Stolen Base Attempts for each season as if 2,430 games were being played.

Note the blue line as to how far stolen base totals fell in the 1920s, and just how low there were by 1950.  Even if 2,430 games were played in 1950, the total number of stolen bases would have been under 2,000.  Compare that to 2010 when over 4,000 stolen bases were recorded.  In fact, if we find the average for these values between 1920 and 2010, we get 3,871 stolen bases per year.  While they may have fallen in the past twenty years, they have become steady in the past half decade and remain very close to the average.

However, you'll notice the red line on the graph indicating the number of MLB stadiums each year with some form of artificial turf.  The first was in 1966 in the Astrodome.  Comiskey Field began a year later, and in 1970, four additional stadiums began using it.  A couple parks got rid of it before 1980, but you can see the number peaked at 10 for a number of years.  It was only the recent advent of many new stadiums that left AstroTurf to be little more than a sports artifact.

Nevertheless, looking at the graphs on top of each other, we see a very positive correlation between the number of stolen bases and the number of aritifical turf stadiums, hence the Artificial Steal.

Now it is worth noting that while all players played on both grass and turf, Henderson spent the majority of his career with the Oakland Athletics which has only used grass in their stadium.  However, many other more recent names near the top of the list including Tim Raines, Vince Coleman, Joe Morgan, Ozzie Smith, Cesar Cedeno, and even Barry Bonds spent the better part of their speedster years on AstroTurf.

Just food for thought next time ESPN babbles on about how stolen bases are being lost as a part of the game.


Eighteen years ago on this day, May 1, 1994, a Brazilian Formula One racer named Ayrton Senna was killed while leading the San Marino Grand Prix.  To say he was the best Brazil has ever had to offer to Formula One would be a gross understatement.  He was one of the best the world had ever seen until tragically his life was cut short at the age of 34.

I've mentioned in my basketball posts that the sport slides into a realm that I know less than I should.  Tonight, I'm flying way past that realm to one I know very little about, but have had a recent kick of interest in lately.  Formula One racing probably won't grab much in the way of attention here, but I'm giving it a shot anyway.  The recent "kick" came from stumbling across a documentary on the late Brazilian driver.  The movie is simply called Senna, and if you can appreciate sports documentaries at all, I highly recommend this film.  Even if you don't know what Forumla One racing is, this documentary came off as extremely interesting.  It isn't too difficult to find for any Netflix users out there as it can be streamed online.

Senna's career was remarkable from the second he debuted in the series in 1984.  He raced in 162 Formula One races, and won 41 of them (25.3%).  Only one other driver (Michael Schumacher) has entered more races while winning at a higher clip.  To this day, his 41 wins rank third all-time behind Schumacher and Senna's former teammate and rival, Alain Prost.  Senna's career was not without controversy.  The 1989 Grand Prix in Japan would attest to that as well as other run ins with Prost and the head of the Formula One.  his skill behind the wheel is unquestionable as noted by the video below.

Perhaps the record really worth mentioning though is Senna's six victories at the Monaco Grand Prix, and just how close he came to increasing the total even further.  For those who don't know, the Monaco Grand Prix would be similar to the Indianapolis 500 or more recently the Daytona 500.  It is among the most prestigious races in the world if not the one held in the highest regard.  Unlike Indianapolis or Daytona, this isn't a simple oval of high speeds.  This is 78-mile race held on a two mile street course.  There are significant elevation changes.  Sharp 90, and even 180 degree turns litter the track, and there is even a tunnel.  If Monaco had not been filled with a long history and grandfathered in, there track would never be permitted to be used today.  Furthermore, unlike the American tracks where racing comes to a halt if the weather unleashes anything more than a sprinkle, Formula One races this insane track in the pouring rain if they have to.

One of the 19 turns at Monaco.
Senna made his Monaco debut in 1984 racing for a team known as Toleman.  Formula One is similar to the English Premier League of soccer in that only a handful of the overall number of competitors really are expected to be winning races. Teams like Toleman are there basically as stepping stones for drivers to get in the series, but the drivers, and often these teams do not hang around very long.  Toleman was not suppose to put Senna in a place to win, but at Monaco in 1984, Senna gave them a run they wouldn't forget.  Senna thrived in the rain, and this particular Grand Prix was very wet.  Senna had mounted a charge to second, and trailed only Prost.  Every lap, Senna knocked of significant amounts of time, and was quickly catching Prost.  After 32 laps, the race was red flagged for rain, and called.  Senna passed Prost at the finish line, but due to rules, the results were computed for the last full lap which was Lap 31.  Senna would finish second.

He would win his first Monaco Grand Prix three years later in 1987.  In 1988, Senna would join Prost for the McLaren team.  Senna would take a commanding lead at Monaco where no one would touch him.  He was told to slow down by his crew because he had such a large lead, and didn't feel he needed to be so aggressive.  Alas, a lapse in judgement would see him hit a wall, and he would fall out of the running.  Prost would go onto victory.  Senna returned in 1989, to win his second race at Monaco.  He would continue that tradition, and win every single Monaco Grand Prix through 1993, his final race at the circuit.  Only four drivers had ever won at Monaco more than three times, and no one else had ever won six times.

It truly was a brilliant feat and record.  Senna would go on to capture three championships.  Only three other drivers have more.  He was the youngest to ever win three championships, and it begs the question as to how much more he could have accomplished had tragedy not struck eighteen years ago.  Brazil is a nation synonymous with soccer in the sporting world, and little more.  However, Ayrton Senna was very proud of where he was from, and Brazil was equally proud of him.

This day eighteen years ago was the final piece of an extremely tragic weekend in San Marino.  The race was marred by many accidents.  However, none so tragic as the results of Senna's death as well as the death of Roland Ratzenberger a day earlier in qualifying.  It is worth noting that following those separate incidents, Formula One safety was stepped up significantly, and to this day, not another death has occurred in the series.

Anyway, I wanted to touch on an athlete whose death isn't forgotten so much as unknown of in the United States, especially for how great he was.  I highly recommend taking the time to watch the documentary Senna to truly see how much of an impact this driver made, as well as how incredibly tragic that weekend was eighteen years ago in San Marino.