Left on Base

I received my copy of Ron Shandler’s 2006 Baseball Forecaster last week. It’s the 20th Anniversary issue, which prompted me to pull out the xeroxed version I bought in 1988. This book has come a long way.

I didn’t buy the Forecaster for many years because it focused on fantasy baseball analysis, and I don’t play fantasy baseball. My bad. I’ve missed some good baseball analysis and commentary along the way. For instance, this year’s book includes …

  • A very nice recap of the steroids events of the year.
  • An article about the reliability of certain types of players, including documentation that power pitchers are less reliable than finesse pitchers (are you out there, A.J. Burnett?)
  • Some good insight into how triples factor into the assessment of a batter’s power.
  • A great list and review of “game scores” by game for each major league pitcher.
  • A list of the number of days each player spent on the disabled list for the last five years, and other great stats such as Major League Equivalencies for minor league players.

Even though the Hardball Times Annual competes with the Forecaster in the “baseball annual” business, I have no qualms about recommending this book to you. Their research actually complements ours, and their focus is forward-looking while ours is more of a recap of the previous season.

One of the statistics that Shandler invented and tracks is called “Strand Rate.” We have our own version of Strand Rate at THT, called LOB% (percent of baserunners left on base). Our formula differs a bit from Strand Rate; ours is (H+BB+HBP-R)/(H+BB+HBP-(1.4*HR)). Essentially, it’s the number of baserunners who didn’t score divided by the total number of baserunners (except those who scored on a home run). We exclude home runs from the base because we want to measure things a pitcher is less likely to control.

The average LOB% was 71% in the American League last year and 72% in the National League. In other words, the average pitcher kept about 71% to 72% of baserunners from scoring. Is it an important stat? Well, the two World Series participants led their leagues in LOB%; the Astros were at 75.8% and the White Sox were at 75.4%. The Devil Rays were at the bottom of the major league list, at 66.4%.

The list of major league LOB% leaders includes some of the best pitchers of 2005, such as Roger Clemens. This isn’t a surprise; if you keep baserunners from scoring, you’ll have a pretty good year. What’s more, LOB% isn’t just a matter of luck. I ran a quick regression analysis of 2004 and 2005 LOB% (for all pitchers who faced at least 300 batters in both years) and found a correlation of .28. In other words, the ability to keep baserunners from scoring is a repeatable skill, to a degree. For comparison, that’s about the same correlation as a pitcher’s home run rate (home runs per game).

The real key to achieving a high LOB% is pitching well with runners in scoring position. Here’s a table of two stats for the top five and bottom five LOB% pitchers (minimum of 100 innings in 2005). The stats are batting average with no one on base and batting average with runners in scoring position. Note all the negative differences for the leaders and the positive differences for the “laggards.”

Player         Team    LOB%    BA/None On  BA/RISP     Diff
Sosa J.        ATL     85.1%       .278     .194      -.084
Clemens R.     HOU     82.3%       .214     .138      -.076
Washburn J.    LAA     81.8%       .279     .238      -.041
Halladay R.    TOR     81.5%       .233     .188      -.045
Pettitte A.    HOU     79.7%       .227     .203      -.024

Rueter K.      SF      62.3%       .274     .315       .041
Hendrickson    TB      62.2%       .303     .338       .035
Nomo H.        TB      62.2%       .289     .328       .039
McClung S.     TB      61.2%       .211     .296       .085
Lima J.        KC      60.7%       .285     .350       .065

Clemens obviously had a great year in 2005, but he’s unlikely to post a 82% LOB% again. From 2002 through 2004, batters batted .226 against him with the bases empty and .174 with runners on scoring position. That’s still a tremendous difference, but it’s not equal to his 2005 performance.

The guy to watch is the newest millionaire Mariner, Jarrod Washburn. From 2002 through 2004, batters batted .259 against him with the bases empty and .262 with runners in scoring position. If he returns to those levels again (and he probably will), his ERA will soar over 4.00.

I keep reading that the Dodgers overpaid for Rafael Furcal, but I don’t get it. The guy was the best shortstop in the National League last year, he’s at his peak and he’s a reliable projection. Both Shandler and the James Handbook project that he’ll hit around .285/.355/.430 and Shandler gives him a Reliability Score of 95 (out of 100). Based on what major league teams paid last year, that makes him worth about $18 million. The Dodgers will pay him the equivalent of $13 million a year for the next three years. To me, this was a fine deal for L.A.

Turning down the Cubs’ five-year offer of $10 million a year was a smart move by Furcal, as we discussed a couple of weeks ago. He’s basically taking a gamble that he’ll be able to get more than $11 million for two years when he next hits the free agent market at the age of 31. Given salary inflation, that’s a pretty good bet.

We just passed an important deadline, when teams decide to release players (usually due to arbitration salary issues). Alert teams can often pick up good players during this process, as the White Sox did last year with A.J. Pierzynski. I would write a nice recap of the players released this year, but Bryan Smith beat me to it. Check out his report.

And while we’re sharing links, be sure to read this weblog review of the free agent market by Skip Sauer and our own J.C. Bradbury. In the Wall Street Journal, no less!

One other link. You may know that I have a passion for graphs and data presentation. If you share that passion, you’ll enjoy this guy’s attempt to keep his girlfriend.

Over a year ago, I wrote about my brother’s 45-year-old APBA league, the North East League, which is probably the longest-running baseball simulation league in existence. I’m sad to tell you that one of its members, Bill Linn, was tragically killed by an automobile last week. He was 63, and he had been in the NEL since 1970. Here are some of my brother’s comments about Bill.

Bill was perhaps the most famous writer in APBA history, as his “Linn on Leagues” column graced the pages of the APBA Journal for years. The Linn on Leagues column allowed APBA leagues around the country to communicate with each other, and it helped to create a real APBA community that lasted for decades. Even today, a majority of APBA fans will remember Linn on Leagues with fondness. After he let Jim Pertierra take over the APBA Journal leagues column, Bill became the NEL newsletter editor for almost a decade, reporting on the activities of our small league with the same intensity and clarity that he previously had brought to his coverage of the nation as a whole. Even after he stepped down as the NEL newsletter editor, he often took on the task of writing up the NEL playoffs, and he contributed to the fabric of the NEL tremendously by creating and operating the Joe Morgan and Steve Carlton awards. To say that Bill loved the Morgan and Carlton awards would be a significant understatement.

While Bill was well in touch with reality when it came to sports and current events, a touch with reality sometimes eluded him, often humorously, when it came to his own personal life. Perhaps the most infamous of Bill’s “wild and crazy” departures from reality was his “parting of the Santa Ana Freeway” back in 1973.

That fall, Bill flew out to California to visit me (and play some games head to head), but he also wanted to see Disneyland, so we agreed that we’d meet at an Angel game and then he’d come back to my house afterward. Bill was staying at the Disneyland Hotel, and you can see the “Big A” quite clearly from there, so he set out to walk from the hotel to the ballpark. What you can’t see from the Disneyland Hotel is that the Santa Ana Freeway splits Anaheim in two in that part of town, with no obvious bridges or overpasses nearby. The mighty “I-5” freeway is not just a normal road. It has 12 driving lanes, two onramp and two off ramp lanes, a 3-foot tall median divider, and two 6-foot tall protective walls on each side. None of this deterred Bill from the swift completion of his appointed rounds, however. He vaulted over the first fence, dashed through the 6 South-bound lanes, rested on the median, zigzagged through the 6 North-bound lanes, and casually exited the freeway with the same grace with which he’d entered it. When he told me what he’d done, I was speechless! Oh, and was the game that night worth all that effort? I’ll say! It involved one Nolan Ryan striking out his 383rd batter of the season to pass Sandy Koufax’s major league single season record for strikeouts.

As an APBA manager, Bill was among the very best ever in the NEL. His Frankfurt Falcons rank fourth in league history in divisional championships (and they will tie for third if they win this year), and they rank third in league history in total victories with an astounding 2961 wins (and counting). Bill’s excellence as a manager wasn’t due to longevity, however; he ranked fourth among active managers in terms of winning percentage, and there’s a distinct chance that, had he stayed alive, he would have moved into second place at the end of the 2006-07 season. Bill’s managerial style was one of gusto and imagination, and he liked to pinch hit and double switch at the drop of a hat. Back when relief pitchers could hit, Bill made a point of attempting to get every “fluke” hitting card and then using those relievers to go long, and he often lamented the rule change that made such “fun” illegal

I wrote about Bill’s remarkable streak of playing 100 head-to-head series over 30 years against Ken Meyer last summer. Our condolences go out to Bill’s family and the NEL.

Dave Studeman was called a "national treasure" by Rob Neyer. Seriously. Follow his sporadic tweets @dastudes.

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