The week in baseball: 5/29/20

From the Increasingly Nocturnal Department:

  • I haven’t found it productive to follow each new return-to-play proposal for the 2020 MLB season in any detail, but public comments this week, especially from players including Max Scherzer and Trevor Bauer, point to the very real possibility that the entire season will be lost due to the inability of the owners and players union to reach final agreement on compensation arrangements for the year in a timely fashion. Although the calendar has not yet turned to June, keep in mind that any start date will need to allow a few weeks of lead time for pitchers to stretch out, undoubtedly among other logistical considerations. The viability of opening the season on or around July 4 therefore depends on what the sides can accomplish over the next couple of days. Of all the things Rob Manfred has screwed up in his brief tenure as MLB commissioner, the complete absence of baseball in America should other professional sports leagues find a workable way to resume action would be one of the most memorable.
  • Meanwhile, the 2020 Minor League Baseball season effectively ended this week following the announcement that teams are expected to begin releasing large numbers of players shortly. Some big-league veterans, including  Shin-Soo Choo and David Price, have responded by personally paying all of the monthly stipends of all of the minor-league players in their respective teams’ farm systems.
  • The CPBL and KBO seasons are rolling on, though a recent resurgence of COVID-19 cases in South Korea has delayed the expected return of fans to KBO stadiums. ESPN is continuing live telecasts of KBO games, often with replays on ESPN2 later in the afternoon.
  • The KBO appears to have earned itself a celebrity fan in Adam Eget, trusty sidekick of Norm Macdonald and manager of the world-famous Comedy Store, who said as much on a recent episode of Joe Rogan’s podcast. He and Rogan also discussed cults and Charles Manson, so listen at your own risk.
  • Japan’s professional baseball league, NPB, announced it will begin an abridged season on June 19. The prevalent view among those who follow foreign baseball leagues is that the NPB is the league that comes closest to MLB in terms of talent and competition levels.
  • Facing the prospect of the complete absence of MLB games this year, I’ve begun posting daily baseball landmarks that occurred on that day on ALDLAND’s twitter account. Some from the past week in baseball history, courtesy of Baseball-Reference:
    • 1904 – Dan McGann steals 5 bases in a game, a feat not matched until 1974 (Davey Lopes) or bested until 1991 (Otis Nixon, 6)
    • 1922 – Supreme Court rules baseball not subject to antitrust laws, interstate commerce regulations
    • 1925 – Ty Cobb becomes 1st major leaguer with 1,000 career extra-base hits
    • 1946 – 1st night game at Yankee Stadium
    • 1951 – Willie Mays gets his first hit, a home run off Warren Spahn
    • 1952 – Hank Aaron, then of the Indianapolis Clowns, signs with the Boston Braves
    • 1959 – Harvey Haddix pitches 12 perfect innings before an error in the 13th (“there has been never been anything like it” = more from Tim Kurkjian here)
    • 1968 – NL announces expansion to Montreal, San Diego
    • 1969 – Aaron becomes the 3rd major leaguer with 500 HR + 500 2B
    • 1976 – Pitcher Joe Niekro, batting against his brother, Phil, hit his only career home run
    • 1990 – Rickey Henderson breaks Cobb’s AL stolen-base record
    • 2004 – Mariano Rivera earns his 300th save
    • 2006 – Barry Bonds hits 715th home run
    • 2008 – Pedro Martinez, making a Single-A rehab start for the St. Lucie Mets, faces off against then-recent top pick David Price, then of the Vero Beach Devil Rays. (Price and the Rays win 2-0.) Price would make his major-league debut that September and his World-Series debut the following month.
    • 2010 – Roy Halladay pitches perfect game (ESPN is airing a program on Halladay’s career and too-short life tonight at 7:00 pm)
  • Whatever happens with baseball this year, Jersey City brewery Departed Soles wants to make sure we don’t forget what happened in the recent past, and therefore has released its newest beer, Trash Can Banger, a session IPA with a can styled after the Houston Astros’ classic 1970s uniforms. For now, the beer only is available in New Jersey.
  • Did the Astros cheat? They did. Did their cheating help? Running counter both to fan intuition and the public statements on the subject by professional pitchers, the latest look at that question, like some others before it, concludes that it didn’t make much of a difference. This analysis also set out to test Commissioner Manfred’s assertion that the Astros didn’t cheat in 2019 but was unable to reach a conclusion on that question.

April 2019 MLB MVP: Kirby Yates?

Image result for kirby yates

Christian Yelich and Cody Bellinger just wrapped up excellent Aprils.* Yelich started very hot, while Bellinger came on very strong a bit later. The two finish the season’s first full month tied for the MLB lead in home runs (fourteen) and with a pair of gaudy offensive lines:

yelich bellinger april 2019

Unsurprisingly, these guys appear at the top of a lot of leaderboards right now, including the FanGraphs combined WAR leaderboard, by which measure Bellinger (3.0 fWAR) just completed a month tied with August 2002 Barry Bonds for the third-best month ever. You’re going to have a hard time convincing anybody that Bellinger, or maybe Yelich, wasn’t the April 2019 MVP.

For the sake of this post running longer than 105 words and maybe illuminating something beyond the obvious, another one of the leaderboards Yelich and Bellinger also top is the cWPA leaderboard:

cwpa through 4-30-19

I like using cWPA (defined: championship win probability added “takes individual game win probability added (WPA) and increases the scope from winning a game to winning the World Series. Where a player’s WPA is the number of percentage points that player increased or decreased their team’s probability of winning a single game, their cWPA is the number of percentage points the player increased or decreased their team’s chances of winning the World Series.”) in MVP analyses because I think it should be attractive to a broad swath of the MVP electorate in that it accounts for the traditional notion that the individual award-winner ought to have been on a winning team. When handing out performance awards for a given season (or some subset thereof), it makes sense to reward players based on what they actually accomplished, as opposed to what they should have accomplished but for bad luck, sequencing, weak teammates, strong opponents, environmental variations, and other contextual and extrinsic factors. After all, these factors work, to some extent, on all players, and just as we determine team monthly standings based on actual win percentage (and not a sabermetrically adjusted winning percentage), so too should we determine individual monthly awards based on actual results.

If you followed the cWPA leaderboard over the course of the last month, you would’ve seen Yelich hanging out at the top most days, eventually joined at the top by Bellinger thanks to the latter’s strong, late surge. You also would’ve seen Kirby Yates consistently hanging around the second or third position for much of the month. Who is Yates, and how did he come to join Bellinger and Yelich in the clear top echelon of early season cWPA accumulators?

Yates currently is:

  • a right-handed relief pitcher
  • playing for the San Diego Padres
  • in his sixth major-league season
  • thirty-two years old
  • a native of Hawaii
  • leading MLB in games finished in 2019 (fifteen)
  • leading MLB in saves in 2019 (fourteen)

The Padres closer certainly has gotten off to a hot start, but it’s important to remember that he’s only thrown sixteen total innings in 2019. He’s probably going to give up a home run at some point, for example, and eventually seems likely to allow more than one run per sixteen appearances.

It also bears noting that relievers commonly experience a greater share of their playing time in situations of elevated leverage, so it isn’t totally surprising to find a reliever hanging out near the top of this group (cf. 2016 Zach Britton), though it of course is a double-edged sword for WPA-based metrics.

Finally, even if Yates’ hand remains steady, his team’s situation over the course of the season may not put him in a position to boost championship win probability. The Padres currently are 17-13 and tied for second in the NL West, but they’ve allowed more runs than they’ve scored, which isn’t what you’d like to see if you’d like to see the Padres competing for a playoff berth and a World Series championship in 2019.

Cody Bellinger probably deserves player-of-the-month honors for April, but Yates has, at a minimum, made a case with his own April performance that he is a guy to watch, which is pretty good for a Padres reliever in 2019.

* Statistics and information contained herein current through April 30. Spoiler Alert: Bellinger won the April player-of-the-month award for the National League.

Jim Leyland still isn’t buying media narratives

leyland-heat

If you’ve missed hearing Jim Leyland’s gravely voice churning up prefabricated media narratives like rocks in a cement mixer, then do not miss the MLB Network special on Leyland, which airs tonight at 9:00 Eastern.

In advance of the program, Leyland appeared today on MLB Network’s High Heat, refusing to take the bait as host Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo persistently and loudly (as expected) ran Leyland through some of the tougher moments in his more than twenty years as a major-league manager.

For me, Leyland, with his lovable disdain for the media, memorable battles with umpires, smoking of Marlboro Reds, and the mutual affection between him and his players and assistant coaches, is an essential part of the recent stretch of Detroit Tigers success, and he means a lot to the Marlins and Pirates communities too. The mere mention of a Jim Leyland special probably is enough to send most baseball fans to their televisions or DVRs, but if you’re on the fence, here’s the preview video, which includes this shot:

leyland-costas

Plus this guy(!):

gene-leyland

This is going to be a good show no matter what, but I will be a little disappointed if we don’t get to see Leyland singing (or not singing) or talking about his sweet pre-game ritual or post-game dancing.

Baseball Notes: Lineup Protection

baseball notesPart of the perceived strength of last year’s Detroit Tigers offense came from the arrangement of the middle of the batting order: Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Victor Martinez; two huge bats following the biggest one in the game. The idea was that Fielder, batting fourth, “protected” Cabrera in the three hole because he was there to make pitchers pay if they wanted to simply intentionally walk Cabrera to mitigate his potent power, the same way pitchers treated Barry Bonds a decade a go. With Fielder there to “protect” Cabrera, the theory went, Cabrera’s offensive numbers should improve because pitchers would have to be more aggressive with him.

The lineup protection concept makes intuitive sense, but it has been a popular target for the sabermetric folks, who insist that “protected” hitters show no measurable improvement as a result of lineup protection. In light of Prince’s departure from Detroit, ESPN’s Jayson Stark, who surely knows much more about baseball than me, is the latest to take up the advanced statistical ax against the lineup protection effect:

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Seeing Barry Bonds

This is not a new idea, but after seeing a recent picture of Barry Bonds, it seemed worth reprising.

Here’s Bonds in 1992. Age 28.

Bonds in 2007. Age 43. Besides having ballooned physically, Bonds is doing a coupe of interesting things here. One, he is wearing a Rod Beck memorial patch, like the rest of his teammates did that year. That’s how I dated this photo. Two, he apparently was wearing Ryan Klesko’s batting helmet. Klesko and Bonds were teammates for one year.

Bonds in 2012. Age 48. From the hosting site:

Now comes word that Bonds over the weekend was hanging around in Aspen and spending time on his bike in the mountains. How much does he weigh now? The guy in the neon green shirt is 6-5, 185. Bonds was said to be 6-2, 228 in 2007.

Time to invest in Bonds again?

Totally disinterested person offers opinion on 2013 MLB Hall of Fame candidates

ESPN Dallas/Fort Worth reports that Rafael Palmeiro, apropos of nothing at all, said that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens belong in the baseball Hall of Fame. Palmeiro certainly doesn’t have any personal interest in Bonds’ and Clemens’ induction. It’s not as though, if Bonds and Clemens don’t get in, Palmeiro has no shot at all, or anything.

Palmeiro was voted on just 11 percent of the ballots in his first attempt at the Hall of Fame in 2011. He received 12.6 percent in 2012, well short of the 75 percent needed from voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America to make it in.

Oh well. Maybe he wasn’t going to make it anyway, regardless of what happens to those who rode the PED wave to higher heights than he. Why he wants to cast his lot with these two is beyond me, though, as is how exactly we let him finger-wave his way back into the news, if only for a moment.

Scrutiny of the Bounty: An Epilogue

The prequel and pretension past, along with the run-of-the-mill fodder, we found ourselves– thanks to a reader tip– staring down the barrel of epiloguist Jen Floyd Engel’s perspective-granting long lens in the form of her piece for Fox Sports, “Blaming Saints is height of hypocrisy.” Looking back on the NFL bounty story, Engel seeks to contextualize the thematic strands of that story with those of another and mix in a bit of stern-faced judgment for total effect. Standard-issue English 110.

I can’t specifically recall reading anything of Engel’s before, although I surely have, but the first stumbling point for me came before I even made it to the text. Maybe I still am crotchety after Charles P. Pierce’s bit on this matter, but as someone slightly out of the mold in the nomenclature realm, I have to wonder why Engel goes (presumably) nickname, middle name, last name. If she wants distinction, isn’t Jennifer Floyd Engel the way to do it? For example, Pierce doesn’t use Chuck P. Pierce (although Google suggests he sometimes uses Charlie, but where he does, he drops the middle initial (Google doesn’t know Pierce’s full middle name)). But ok, enough.

After “soak[ing] in all of the moral outrage and denunciations” of NOLA football, Engel shares with us her “first thought”: “Who will play Barry Bonds in this ‘sports tragedy’”?

Huh? Hopefully no one! Why would anyone bring Barry Bonds into this? Watch out sophomore seminar in comparative literature, here comes one now.

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