Rejected nuggets

There’s another fantastic baseball book available to kick off the baseball season: the Bill James Gold Mine 2009. This year’s Gold Mine follows the same structure as last year’s: lots of James’ excellent essays on baseball and sabermetrics, as well as 30 individual team sections filled with statistical “nuggets” (like you find in a gold mine … get it?). Nuggets are supposed to be short (just a couple of sentences, with perhaps an accompanying data table), interesting and meaningful. Plus, they are supposed to be things the average Gold Mine reader might not know.

It was our job to find nuggets good enough to be included in a book by Bill James.

This probably sounds like a fun job and, well, it was. But it was also hard. In the Gold Mine’s preface, Bill says that he rejected at least 80 percent of all the submitted nuggets. It wasn’t quite that bad, but it was definitely over 50 percent. You had to be ready for rejection when you sent Bill your nuggets.

After a while, we learned what Bill likes and doesn’t like, and our acceptance rate improved. But then we’d run into barriers; it’s really tough to find an interesting nugget for, say, the Blue Jays, when you’ve already written nine and you need one more interesting nugget. Dave probably sent Bill ten different “tenth” Blue Jay nuggets, hoping that one of them would complete the team section.

Sometimes failure turned to success. Dave wrote a Mike Mussina nugget, and Bill wrote back, “Well that wasn’t very good. Let me try.” The result was a brilliant little mini-essay on Mussina that you’ll find in the Yankees’ section. There are a lot of little stories behind the nuggets in the Gold Mine.

By the way, we weren’t alone. Bill had many people writing nuggets (John Dewan and Charles Fiore of ACTA Sports called us “the nuggeteers” though they didn’t make us wear beanies with big ears). We all combed through Baseball Info Solutions’ stats to find baseball nuggets that would pass the muster of Bill James.

Of course, this is supposed to be a challenging task. If the Gold Mine doesn’t reflect Bill’s high standards, his readers will be very disappointed. We very much think you’ll like the results.

Still, we don’t want all of that hard work and rejection to go to waste. So here is a list of some of our favorite nuggets that didn’t pass the James test. Gold Mine outtakes, you might say. Enjoy.

Let’s split the difference

Dan Uggla batted .283/.377/.578 against right-handed pitchers last year, but only .191/.310/.321 against left-handers. You don’t normally see that sort of split from a right-handed batter. Rightie teammate Hanley Ramirez also displayed the same tendency, batting .313/.403/.580 against righties and .258/.389/.402 vs. lefties. As a result, the Marlins had the worst batting average in the league against left-handed pitchers (.233).

Neither batter had displayed such an extreme “anti-platoon” split before. It was either a fluke or the result of playing in the same division as Cole Hamels and Johan Santana.

Seeing with new eyes

Prior to the 2007 season, Cristian Guzman had LASIK surgery, enabling him to ditch his contact lenses. Did it make a difference? Yeah, it did. Guzman isn’t more selective at the plate—his walk rate hasn’t gone up since the surgery—but Guzman’s line drive rate has improved and he’s now more likely to put the ball in play when he swings (59% last year vs. a career average of 54%).

Putting the ball in play when swinging
 Season       %
  2002       53%
  2003       52%
  2004       55%
  2005       52%
  2007       54%
  2008       59%

Cliff Lee’s secret weapons

The Cleveland Indians defense led the American League in turning ground balls into double plays. Not only did they turn the most DP’s, they were very efficient given the number of opportunities they had.

Tribe shortstop Jhonny Peralta may not rank among the league’s leading defenders overall but he did have the most efficient year of his career in turning double plays. Converting 66.3% of his potential chances into double plays, he had the fourth-best average among shortstops in the majors last season.

Peralta’s primary double play partner Asdrubal Cabrera probably deserves some of the credit for his improvement. Cabrera led the league in double play turned efficiency for second basemen, turning 70.5% of his opportunities into double plays. The Cardinals’ Adam Kennedy was the second best among major league second basemen in double play efficiency, turning 62.4% of his chances into double plays.

Cabrera played 776.2 of the Indians 1437 innings at second last season, Jamey Carroll covered 580.1 of the remaining innings. Carroll was efficient in double-play opportunities also, turning 57.5% of his chances into double plays. While that figure is dwarfed by Cabrera’s rate, Carroll’s rate was the 8th most efficient in the majors last season. Carroll was also the major league leader in double play efficiency in 2006 when he was a member of the Rockies.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Not a nugget. More like pesky pellets

{exp:list_maker}33% of Barry Zito’s innings required 20 or more pitches, the second-highest figure in the majors.
Zito threw the fifth-slowest fastball in the majors last year. The only pitchers who threw slower fastballs were Tim Wakefield and old guys like Greg Maddux.
Zito threw the second-slowest changeup in the majors last year (74.1 mph)
Zito now throws his changeup more often than his curveball {/exp:list_maker}

            Curve  Change
  2005       25%     14%
  2006       19%     19%
  2007       19%     20%
  2008       16%     20%

{exp:list_maker}Batters are sizing up even his pitches out of the strike zone. They were much more likely to swing at pitches outside the zone last year than in previous years, and also more likely to make contact when they did swing. {/exp:list_maker}

Pitches outside the strike zone...
           Swung at    Made contact
 2005         21%           52%
 2006         22%           62%
 2007         20%           64%
 2008         26%           72%

Looking back

Twins pitcher Scott Baker had a backwards record last year. He actually had a lower ERA in his losses than his wins. In fact, all four of his losses were quality starts. The problem, of course, was run support. The Twins averaged 1.3 runs a game in his losses, 10.1 runs a game in his wins.

Group               G    IP    W     L     H     R    SO     BB     ERA
Wins               11  67.2   11     0    62    23    54     13    3.06
Losses              4  27.2    0     4    27     8    21      7    2.60
No Decisions       13    77    0     0    72    35    66     22    4.09
Quality Starts: 8 in Wins, 4 in Losses, 6 in no-decision

Too many Weeks

Thank goodness for bad pitchers. Rickie Weeks would have batted .210 without them.

                                AB     H   HR   RBI   Avg   OPS
Pitcher with ERA <= 3.50        89    20    3     6  .225  .751
Pitcher with ERA 3.51 to 4.25  155    31    3    10  .200  .620
Pitcher with ERA 4.26 to 5.25  123    26    3    13  .211  .701
Pitcher with ERA over 5.20     108    34    5    17  .315  .943


Denard Span was a true catalyst for the Twins. When he reached base from the leadoff position, the Twins scored 1.29 runs; when he didn’t, they scored just .12 runs. Although the "sample size" was small, that difference was larger than any other leadoff man’s in the majors. Note: I think this is true but I never got a chance to verify it.

Same as it ever was

A.J. Burnett threw more curve balls than any pitcher in the majors last season, throwing the number two 1,056 times. Did Burnett use his curve more often than normal anticipating a big off-season pay day if he had a stellar season? Not really. He threw his curve 29 percent of the time last year, but he used it 26 percent in 2007 and 28 percent of the time in 2006. In 2005, the last time he was in position to be a free agent in the off-season he used his curve 25 percent of the time.

Opposite day

Dodger pitcher Hiroki Kuroda pitched some of his best games against the best teams, but only had a 1-2 record to show for it. Yet he posted a 5.66 ERA against the worst teams and posted a 2-1 record against them.

Opponent             G    IP    W     L    SO    BB   ERA
.600 teams           3  21.2    1     2    19     5  1.66
.500 - .599 teams   12  66.1    3     3    43    16  3.66
.400 - .499 teams   12  74.2    3     4    40    14  3.86
sub .400 teams       4  20.2    2     1    14     7  5.66

Too many Hanleys

Hanley Ramirez led the league with 125 runs scored last year. His home runs helped, but he also scored 41 times after reaching base on a walk or HBP, the highest figure since Barry Bonds did it 57 times in 2004.

Runs Scored After…
Own Home Run               33
Scored after Triple         3
Scored after Double        16
Scored after Single        27
Scored after Walk/HBP      41
Scored after ROE            4
Vultured Runs               1
Runs as pinch runner        0
Total Runs Scored         125

And too many Hollidays

Among other things, Matt Holliday is one of the best ground-ball hitters in the majors. His .322 batting average on ground balls was the third-best in the league last year, following his .313 average in 2007.

The reason John Dewan got a remote starter for his car

When Pat Burrell signed a two-year deal with the Rays this winter for $16 million, many observers were surprised that he did not receive either more money, or a longer contract. Did the increased interest in measuring fielding data this century hurt Burrell when he was a free agent this winter? The past three seasons he has rated 34th among major league left fielders in fielding plus/minus data.

Before Phillie pitchers get too excited, the man signed to fill Burrell’s shoes has rated 33rd in fielding plus/minus data the past two seasons.

Okay, this is trivial but it's still cool

The Blue Jays were one of the few teams in the majors that had a better batting average against relief pitchers than starters, posting a .269 batting average vs. relievers vs. .261 against starters. Vernon Wells, in particular, had a much higher average against relievers. The top Toronto batting averages against relievers were:

Batter            AB      BA  Overall BA  Diff
Vernon Wells     133    .346        .300  .046
Alex Rios        197    .315        .291  .024
Joe Inglett      112    .313        .297  .016
Rod Barajas      117    .282        .249  .033
Matt Stairs      101    .257        .250  .007
Lyle Overbay     174    .247        .270 -.023
Marco Scutaro    158    .247        .267 -.020
Scott Rolen      123    .244        .262 -.018
Adam Lind        111    .225        .282 -.057

No tough chances for old closers

Trevor Hoffman was the only Padre reliever to register a save last year. This is partly because Hoffman never entered a game in a “tough save” situation (when a pitcher enters with the potential tying or winning run on base) and no other Padre was given a chance for an “easy save” (entering the game in the last inning and not facing the potential tying or winning run upon entering).

Player           Easy     Reg     Tough
Hoffman,Trevor  19 - 20   11-14   0 - 0
Bell,Heath        0 - 0   0 - 4   0 - 3
Thatcher,Joe      0 - 0   0 - 2   0 - 1
Meredith,Cla      0 - 0   0 - 4   0 - 2
Adams,Mike        0 - 0   0 - 0   0 - 2
Corey,Bryan       0 - 0   0 - 1   0 - 1
Hensley,Clay      0 - 0   0 - 1   0 - 0
Falkenborg,Brian  0 - 0   0 - 0   0 - 1
Tomko,Brett       0 - 0   0 - 2   0 - 0
Gonzalez,Enrique  0 - 0   0 - 1   0 - 0

Bill is much better at this sort of thing

Kevin Kouzmanoff was a 26-year-old third baseman last year and Jeff Francoeur was a 22-year-old right fielder in 2006. But their batting statistics were eerily similar.
{exp:list_maker}In 2006, Francoeur batted .260 with a .293 on-base percentage and a .449 slugging percentage.
Last year, Kouzmanoff batted .260 with a .299 on-base percentage and a .433 slugging percentage.
2006 Francoeur hit 29 home runs with 103 RBIs. 2008 Kouzmanoff, in a pitcher’s ballpark, hit 23 home runs with 84 RBIs.
In 2006, Francoeur struck out 132 times and walked 23 times. In 2008, Kouzmanoff struck out 139 times and walked 23 times. {/exp:list_maker}

You already knew he had a bad year

49% of the batted balls Joel Pineiro gave up last year were ground balls. That’s a good thing, because batters only batted .180 on Pineiro grounders. Unfortunately, they batted .353 on his fly balls, which is 130 points higher than the major league average, and the highest fly ball batting average among all pitchers who yielded at least 150 fly balls.

Extreme differences

B.J. Upton batted .200 with a .598 OPS against the best pitchers he faced and .361/1.013 against the worst.

                                 AB    H   HR   RBI   Avg   OPS
Pitcher with ERA <= 3.50        155   31    2    15  .200  .598
Pitcher with ERA 3.51 to 4.25   144   34    0     9  .236  .688
Pitcher with ERA 4.26 to 5.25   123   41    4    18  .333  .924
Pitcher with ERA over 5.25      108   39    3    25  .361 1.013

What would Tony La Russa do?

The sixth spot in the Washington Nationals batting order had the lowest batting average (.195), the lowest OBP (.275), and the second-lowest slugging percentage (.301) of any major league batting order position not primarily filled by pitchers.

We hoped you enjoyed our little parade of rejection. If you did, just think how much you'll enjoy the Gold Mine itself. Please support THT and purchase it through this link.

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

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