Saturday, June 30, 2012

Hitting Like It's 40 Years Ago

The month of June comes to an end tonight.  We're a couple games shy of the halfway point of the Major League Baseball season.  So many times, it is easy to jump on absurd patterns halfway through a season, only to see another abnormal second half going the other way that causes things to even out.

Nonetheless, it is hard to grasp just how odd things look this year.  One of only two MLB franchises never to win a pennant holds the best record in the National League.  A 37-year old knuckleball pitcher is on pace to win the Cy Young.  Meanwhile, the league as a whole is hitting the worst it has in 40 years at a combined .254.

Four individuals are currently batting over .350 for the season.  This may not sound too odd, and to be fair, we are less than halfway through the season, but fact of the matter is the last time four individuals hit over .350 in a season was back in 2000.  Perhaps more remarkable are the players doing it, or at least the top three.

Currently, the Mets' David Wright leads the league with hitting by sporting a .361 batting average.  While Wright had a few stellar years early in his career, most know his production has dropped in recent seasons.  In fact last year he hit a mediocre .254 for the year, and his on-base percentage of the last two seasons have been lower than his current batting average (.354 and .345).

Next we have Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz who prior to this season sported a career batting average of .265.  Yet this season, he has been pretty much the only offense to show up in Philadelphia, especially as Chase Utley and Ryan Howard fought back from injuries.  Ruiz has hit 11 home runs with a stunning OPS of 1.000 for the season, a remarkable feat for a player who never hit more than 9 home runs in a full season before now.  All the while, he has posted an excellent .357 batting average.

Next we have Melky Cabrera who resides on his fourth team in as many seasons.  In Cabrera's case there was at least a sign of better things to come, even if it was small.  Cabrera was a .265 lifetime hitter following the 2010 season in Atlanta.  However, last year in Kansas City, he did eclipse .300 for the first time in his career.  Nevertheless, in his first seasons with the San Francisco Giants, he his hitting a tremendous .354 on the season while leading the league in hits with 109.

The lone other playing hitting over .350 would be former first base MVP, Joey Votto.  In fact, Votto is currently the only player in the top ten for batting average who finished in the top ten last season (10th).  This is not a category that rotates in all fresh new faces each year, so one has to wonder where the Miguel Cabrera's, Adrian Gonzalez's, Michael Young's, Jose Reyes, and Ryan Braun's of the world are.

Perhaps the more telling aspect of this is that I mentioned initially, this season is on pace to be the worst for hitting (batting average) in forty years.  The batting average across the league this year is .25388.  Despite a couple close calls in 1988 and 1989 (both years finished a hair above .254), no batting average has been worse until you go back to when the league hit a paltry .244.  It leaves for little argument to suggest that the game is still favoring hitters as it has the previous couple of decades leading to now.

It's worth noting that last season, MLB only hit .255.  2011 saw the lowest OPS and runs scored per game since 1992, and 2012 is right on the heels of 2012.  This of course could change by the end of the season, but for now it is safe to say the pattern still holds that we are headed into another small ball era.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Did I Miss Anything?

As mentioned a couple weeks ago, I was going to be away for awhile on various trips, leaving me less time to post anything.  Well, it seems I picked a bad few weeks to fall out of the loop here.  The Los Angeles Kings won their first ever Stanley Cup over my New Jersey Devils on an arguable call (Kings did deserve to win overall), the Heat led by LeBron James came back against the Celtics to land in the NBA Finals a second straight year, and no-hitters appear to be contagious in Major League Baseball.

Of course the biggest thing to me was the no-hitter by New York Mets pitcher Johan Santana against the St. Louis Cardinals.  As you may have seen in a previous post, I had given the Mets the Curse of Nolan Ryan for trading away the Hall of Fame pitcher in the 70's only to see him pitch a record seven no-hitters in his career.  Meanwhile, the Mets went over 8,000 games without accomplishing the feat, closing in on a Philadelphia Phillies' record for the longest streak without one.  However, that run abruptly came to an end on June 1st as Santana went the distance against the St. Louis Cardinals in an 8-0 victory.

Santana was helped along the way, not only by his teammates, but by one poor call by an umpire midway through the game.  Former Met, Carlos Beltran hit a line drive down the left field line ruled foul.  Upon reviewing replays, the ball did clip part of the foul line and therefore should have been ruled fair, likely resulting in an extra-base hit.

It wasn't the worst call in sports by any means, but it was the wrong call.  Some might say the Mets didn't deserve the no-hitter because of it, but I don't think those people appropriate weigh all the individuals calls that go into the course of one baseball game, or a sporting event in general.  It's easy to focus on the ones that make the difference such as the Carlos Beltran foul ball, or Jim Joyce robbing a perfect game and no-hitter from Armando Galarraga by ruling a player safe at first that was clearly out.

However, before you can truly deem that these bad calls alone were the deciding factors, you would need to really analyze every single play/pitch for the game.  My memory certainly isn't 100% for Galarraga's game, but I seem to recall him seeing quite a few pitches called in his favor that might not be considered strikes every other day of the week.  On the flip side, how often to pitcher's throwing a no-hitter end up on the wrong side of a call when they give up a walk, or a called strike goes unnoticed only to see the hitter get another chance?

I don't believe many umpires (Angel Hernandez being an exception) having an agenda against a team to truly make calls constantly one way, and in the grand scheme of things it usually balances out.  That said, I'm a Mets fan, so perhaps I'm biased on Santana accomplishing the feat and breaking the Mets run.  However, if you don't believe my theory that all evens out, look no further than last night's Mets game when they visited the Tampa Bay Rays.

In the first inning with two outs, the Rays B.J. Upton hit a ground ball to third baseman David Wright.  Wright tried to barehand the ball, dropped it, and Upton reached safely.  The play was deemed an infield hit although from watching it, the majority would clearly argue it was an error.  Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey recorded the final out of the inning, and the whole thing seemed inconsequential.  Well, that was until eight innings later when Dickey was still on the mound behind a Mets 9-0 lead.  Dickey didn't give up another hit, and in fact didn't walk a batter all night.  Had the play been ruled an error, the Mets would have recorded a no-hitter in Tampa Bay last night.  In the end, Dickey was credited with a one-hitter in a 9-1 victory.  The lone run coming from a David Wright throwing error in the ninth and two passed balls by Mike Nickeas, and being unearned.