Ten Things I Didn’t Know Last Week

Lenny Dykstra might have taken steroids and bet on baseball.

Lenny Dykstra is the most recent former major league player to have the fickle finger of accusation pointed at him. Because this accusation includes both steroids and gambling, it is much more serious than the accusations leveled against Bonds, McGwire et al. Yes, steroid use may be “bad,” but gambling on baseball is much, much worse.

This is not the first time that Dykstra has been investigated for betting on baseball games, as reported by Joe Saraceno of USA Today:

In 1991, baseball cleared Dykstra of betting on the game but admonished him about his high-stakes poker playing and looming debt, which might have made him susceptible to game fixing. Lead investigator John Dowd confirmed Tuesday that Dykstra “got the same hard look that (Pete) Rose did” in his probe.

As noted by Saraceno, however, the investigation took place two years before the period described in the current allegations. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, if you’d like to see a list of players who may be next on the road to bad steroidal publicity, look no farther than Marinomics’ list of players who have seen the biggest single-year increases in power. For what it’s worth, Dykstra’s name is not listed.

The Marlins lead the major leagues in double play efficiency.

The Marlins’ pitching has been great this year, with a team ERA of 2.26. They are a young, strong-armed bunch, averaging more than seven strikeouts a game. But I didn’t realize that they are also a groundball staff, with the third highest GB/FB ratio in the league (1.57). Of course, you know all these things by reading the THT Team page.

Another great place for stats is Baseball Prospectus, of course, and one of the many unique things they track is double play rate of each pitcher, adjusted for the number of total double play opportunities. I added up their stats for each team, and found that the Marlins lead the majors in double play efficiency at 20%. The next best DP teams are the Twins and Diamondbacks (18%) and the White Sox (17.5%). All of these pitching staffs, except for the Twins, are clearly groundball staffs.

There were less infield flies last year.

I was reviewing the data we receive from Baseball Info Solutions, and found that there has been a big increase in infield flies from last year to this one. When I asked the folks at BIS what this might mean, we found something that had not been reported before: Infield flies were hit at a much lower rate last year.

Here’s a list of all flyballs and infield flies from the last four years (please note that BIS has confirmed that their methodology did not change during this time):

Season      FlyBallsIF  FlyBallsAll IFPct                          
----------- ----------- ----------- -----------
2002        8215        47481       .173
2003        7964        46419       .172
2004        6312        50137       .126
2005        744         4278        .174

There were apparently about 1,500 less infield flies hit last year than you might expect. I, of course, suspect steroid use.

The Winningest Players of All Time

Dackle, of Fanhome fame, calculated a great list for the board a couple of weeks ago. Instead of trying to pull out the key points, I’m just going to post the entire thing (hope you don’t mind, Dackle):

Following up on an idea in the Historical Abstract regarding which players had played on the most winning and losing teams. I ran the numbers for a “career won-lost record” — the player’s games played in a season multiplied by the team w% in that season, summed up over his career. The result is a rough estimate of the won-lost record of a player’s teams over his career in the games he played. A few leaders —

Most wins — Pete Rose, 1992; Hank Aaron, 1742; Carl Yastrzemski, 1723; Stan Musial, 1683; Ty Cobb, 1641.

Most losses — Rusty Staub, 1612; Carl Yastrzemski, 1585; Pete Rose, 1570; Hank Aaron, 1556; Cal Ripken Jr 1503.

Most games above .500 — Yogi Berra, +528; Lou Gehrig, +520; Babe Ruth, +515; Pee Wee Reese, +482; Joe DiMaggio, +478.

Most games under .500 — Cy Williams -396; Tommy Dowd, -396; Frank Thomas (Mets), -342; Eddie Yost, -326; Bob Johnson, -321.

Highest w% (min 1,000 career gp) — Red Rolfe, .643; Joe DiMaggio, .638; Tip O’Neill, .635; Phil Rizzuto, .634; Tommy Henrich, .633.

Lowest w% (min 1,000 career gp) — Tommy Dowd, .350; Nate Colbert, .375; Dick Siebert, .375; Bill Sweeney, .378; Cito Gaston, .381.

Interesting that of all the Yankee players, Rolfe was the one who maximized his games played during their strongest seasons. Funny that the players who played for good teams are famous, and comparable players on bad teams are the answers to trivia questions. Cy Williams was a center fielder who played 19 seasons with the Cubs (1912 to 1917) and Phillies (1918-1930) until age 42, finished in the top 5 in OPS seven times, led the league in home runs four times, but never finished above 13th in the MVP voting and never played 100 games in a season for a team that finished above .500.

Along the same lines, you also might enjoy reviewing ChrisJ’s list of pitchers who won the most big games in their careers.

John Olerud was the 73rd best batter of all time.

I plan to write about his next week, but I’ve been reading Michael Schell’s Baseball’s All-Time Best Sluggers, which is an extremely advanced and thorough approach to adjusting historical baseball stats and subsequently ranking batters on a fully-adjusted basis.

The first name that jumped out at me when I glanced at the list of the all-time best hitters was John Olerud’s, at 73. I knew he was a fine hitter, but I never thought of him as one of the hundred best. Other notables include Willie Stargell at 31, Reggie Smith at 39, Billy Williams at 65, Ken Singleton at 66 and Boog Powell at 71.

I’ll have more to say about this book next week.

Tony Pena may be a really bad manager.

It’s hard to quantitatively “prove” that managers are either good or bad. But Bradford Doolittle has taken five different approaches, added them up, and found that KC’s Tony Pena may in fact be really bad.

Tally it all up and Tony Pena ranks 17th out of the 19 managers who have been employed since the beginning of 2003. At the top of the list are have pretty solid reputations: Jim Tracy is on top, followed by Felipe Alou, Joe Torre and Bobby Cox. Ranking fifth is Buck Showalter, who lost out on the Royals’ job when Pena was hired in 2002.

It’s tough to say whether the list is actually biased towards the better teams, as was anticipated. Showalter comes in fifth despite guiding a team that has not made the playoffs over the span of this study. Also, Mike Scioscia, who has led some very successful squads, ranks near the bottom.

What does all this say about Tony Pena? The answer to that question really depends upon how much stock you put in the criteria used to compile these rankings.

I guess my own “stock” is that Bradford’s numbers are interesting and food for thought, but hardly conclusive. Either way, it’s hard to see how Tony Pena will keep his job in the long run despite a recent “vote of confidence” from Royals’ GM Allard Baird.

Bill James thinks there may be a managerial skill involved in one-run games.

I’m someone who has tended to agree with the folks at The Detroit Tigers Weblog (note: includes graphs!) that winning or losing one-run games is largely a matter of luck.

But while reading Bradford’s article, I came across a link to a Bill James study of one-run games that I had not read before. In it, James makes the claim that there may be some skill in avoiding one-run losses.

Can one infer anything about a manager from his one-run record? I would have guessed, going into this study, that the answer to that might be a flat “no”, or, at least, an equivocal “no” (we can find no evidence within our study that playing well in one-run games is anything but a random occurrence, etc., etc., yada yada yada, snore.) I can’t give you that answer, for two reasons:

1) There does seem to be some persistent tendency of teams to play poorly in one-run games, and

2) Teams which play well in one-run games do seem to have some identifiable characteristics, to a small degree.

But I will say this: that I would be careful about drawing any such inferences. Tony Muser is -15 games in one-run decisions. I can’t say that this IS just coincidence — but it certainly could be. It’s not an overwhelming number, in and of itself.

I like this article because I’ve always been interested in the subject. But I also wonder if this article was a small step in James’ thinking that led to Underestimating the Fog (PDF file), the article recently published in SABR’s Baseball Research Journal, in which he warns against coming to strong conclusions based solely on the seeming randomness of certain analytic results (such as winning or losing one-run games).

Still, I personally will stick with how James ends his article: “One-run games involve a huge amount of luck. This may be the only safe statement that can be made about them.”

One other note: records in two-run games can also have a significant impact of a team’s variance against its pythagorean record. In the Hardball Times’ Team Page, we track both one-run and two-run games as “close” games.

Runners are more likely to steal against sinkerballers.

Maybe if I had ever played against a real sinkerballer, I’d know this. But Dodger catcher Jason Phillips says:

We have three sinkerball guys, and teams notoriously run on sinkerballers just to avoid the double play,” Phillips said. “It’s not even trying to steal a base, per se. And the other thing is that sinkerballers rarely use the slide step (to hold runners close) because it throws off their sinker to some extent because they can’t get out front. And, a sinkerball always challenges a catcher (throwing out runners) because the ball is always down in the zone.

Thanks to Blue Think Tank for the link. Sounds like a good study to me…

Montana has legislated wood bats.

I don’t know if aluminum bats are truly more hazardous than wooden bats, but I salute the Montana state legislature for no reasons other than aesthetic ones.

I’d like to visit Polish Salt Mines.

Never thought I’d say that, but you might feel the same way if you look at these pictures.

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

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