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Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Bill James Online Mailbag

Stephen Strasburg, Evil Knievel, Jim Lehrer…and much, much more!

Is David Wright back on a Hall of Fame trajectory? What would you put his chances at?

He’s in fairly good shape.  I would put his chances at a little bit better than 50/50.  Among players born in 1982, the only one who has a better Hall of Fame resume at this point is Robinson Cano. 

Hey Bill, The most anti-Strasburg decision I can remember was the “Billy-Ball” A’s of the early 1980’s. They had more complete games by far than any other team with Mike Norris, Brian Kingman, and I forget who else. Billy Martin got his wins but the pitchers were barely heard from again. It didn’t matter to him as he was with several other teams, but the organization and the pitchers were harmed. So, where was the responsibility?

It was a question of understanding.  Billy Martin insisted—and I don’t doubt that he truly believed—that this usage pattern would not harm his young pitchers.  Local Bay-Area sportswriters almost universally accepted that this was true and insisted that it was true.  Interpreting it charitably, it wasn’t that they were irresponsible, but that they just didn’t know any better. 

It clearly was NOT a widely accepted doctrine at that time that a pitcher’s arm would be damaged by throwing too many pitches in a game.  That came to be accepted doctrine in the mid-1980s, in large part BECAUSE of the Oakland experience, and also because of the work of Craig Wright and others.

Repoz Posted: October 13, 2012 at 09:20 AM | 28 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history, sabermetrics

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   1. BDC Posted: October 13, 2012 at 10:32 AM (#4267869)
The HOF is so leery of third basemen that I thought I'd find comps for David Wright the same way I did for Scott Rolen: include 3B and OF, centered on Wright in terms of PAs and OPS+, but through age 29 only. The list includes SB and is ranked by WAR Fielding Runs:

Player             Rfield   PA OPS+  SB      Pos
Scott Rolen            86 5122  131  91       
*5
Rickey Henderson       78 5930  134 794   
*78/D9
George Brett           60 5338  139 131  
*5/736D
Goose Goslin           43 5607  136 126    
*7/89
Willie Keeler          41 5135  136 352 
*9/57486
Fred Clarke            36 5067  131 321  
*7/9685
Bobby Bonds            34 5236  133 293   
*98/D7
Ross Youngs            15 5336  130 153   
*9/487
Jim Rice                7 5131  136  49   
*7D/98
Tim Raines              5 5621  133 585   
*78/49
David Wright          
-22 5453  135 166    *5/D6
Dale Murphy           
-40 4998  130 122  *83/729
Juan Gonzalez         
-50 5283  136  21     97D8
Greg Luzinski         
-89 5321  133  29    *7/39
Adam Dunn            
-133 5417  132  59   *739/


The search starts in 1893, so it's missing a handful of '92 PAs for Keeler. It's interesting that except for Bobby Bonds, Tim Raines, and the scarcely-retired-if-that Rolen, everybody above Wright in fielding is in the HOF, and everybody below isn't. That's something of an accident (Jim Rice, who cares?) but it's clearly indicative: guys with Wright's bat but little fielding value aren't Hall of Famers (partly because they don't last long enough to be; Murphy and Gonzalez were famous cliff-divers).

I don't know if -22 matches Wright's reputation or actual achievement with the glove. I do know that the HOF doesn't start to care about third-base defense till you're Brooks Robinson. I know it's a very offhand remark by James, but I'm not sure about Wright's HOF chances. He's a huge way from any career milestones. He's not associated with championship teams, to put it neutrally. He was a really serious MVP candidate about once, in 2007. He had good years at age 27 and 29, but not take-over-the-league-type years; he's the latest not-quite-the-next-Mike-Schmidt.

In short, I think he's got a clear chance, but I can see him becoming a very ordinary player in his 30s, and if that happens, then no way. If he stays at his 2012 level through his late 30s, it becomes more interesting, and if he puts together a couple of MVP years starting soon, he'll have a much better than 50/50 chance. Relative to his position, he's got a chance to be one of the very good ones, so his chances at the HOM, like Rolen's, are probably better than for the HOF.
   2. PreservedFish Posted: October 13, 2012 at 10:55 AM (#4267894)
Wright has had the type of early career that wouldn't look bad in the HOF, but doesn't push hitters into it either. He needs to keep playing like a Hall of Farmer deep into his 30s, which means putting his inconsistency behind him and reclaiming the form he had in 2007 and 2008. I would put the chance of that somewhere below 50/50.

And, I think he needs to be THE STAR of a good team.
   3. Karl from NY Posted: October 13, 2012 at 11:08 AM (#4267908)
And, I think he needs to be THE STAR of a good team.

Right, but the problem in Metsland is that anything short of a title is a miserable clownshoes failure and won't count for anything towards the HOF. See also Mike Piazza, who never gets credit for leading a team to a World Series and another NLCS. The Mets aren't like say Seattle or Milwaukee that can get credit for being a good team even with dropping a couple postseason series.
   4. PreservedFish Posted: October 13, 2012 at 11:21 AM (#4267923)
#3 - I think you're exaggerating. Regardless, the real problem for Wright is that he's been see-sawing between George Brett production and Joe Randa production.
   5. John DiFool2 Posted: October 13, 2012 at 03:20 PM (#4268083)
I noticed last night that Steve McCatty is the Nats pitching coach.
   6. Fred Lynn Nolan Ryan Sweeney Agonistes Posted: October 13, 2012 at 03:54 PM (#4268101)
That came to be accepted doctrine in the mid-1980s, in large part BECAUSE of the Oakland experience,

I feel like I remember the pitchers themselves saying they didn't think it was that they were overused, it was just one of those damn things.
Most pitchers seem to get hurt eventually, no matter what.
   7. Walt Davis Posted: October 13, 2012 at 07:02 PM (#4268265)
I'm not quite sure what James is saying ...

by 1980 there had been more than enough young starters chewed up by the 37+ starts a year, 280+ IP, finish the game whenever you can mantra that teams had moved away from that pretty substantially. In 1980 the A's threw 94 complete games ... the next highest AL team threw just 48 and the median was 35. The next year was the crazy strike year and tha A's completed 60 games and the next highest was 33 and the median was around 22. The NL had far fewer (at least in part due to no DH) -- the most in 1980 was 34, the most in 1981 was 26.

Everybody commented on it at the time -- it was bizarre. Even the 69 Cubs, pretty much your ultimate 4 man rotation with 122 starts among their top 3 and 2 guys with 300+ IP, had only 58 complete games. In fact, looking through Martin's career, the other years where he came kinda close to that number (60 and 70 CGs) were the years he had Jenkins in Texas and 1 year with Hunter in NY. His teams probably often completed more than most (they were regularly in the 40s) but it was only 1980-81 where he was way out there.

# of 20+ complete game seasons per year

1970: 4
1971: 9
1972: 8
1973: 6
1974: 9
1975: 5
1976: 8
1977: 6
1978: 3
1979: 1 (Niekro)
1980: 3 (all A's)
1981: 0 (strike)
1982: 0
1983: 2 (1 is Guidry under Martin, the other is Morris)
1984: 0
1985: 1 (Blyleven)
1986: 1 (Fernando)

and that's it. Looks like things tipped in 78 although at least one of those is just Fergie getting old. :-)

Anyway, that 1980 A's team was the first since the 1950 Braves to have 3 guys with 20+ CGs. Heck, only 11 post-war teams had 2 and none since 1977. What Martin was doing was unprecedented.
   8. Der-K: Hipster doofus Posted: October 13, 2012 at 08:00 PM (#4268315)
I noticed last night that Steve McCatty is the Nats pitching coach.

And they're the team "babying" Strasburg...
   9. Dag Nabbit: secretary of the World Banana Forum Posted: October 13, 2012 at 08:44 PM (#4268383)
Walt - From 1976-79, 19 teams had at least 50 CG. In the 1980s, aside from the Billy Martin A's, no teams did. The most was 48, by the 1980 Brewers & 1984 Orioles.

You had three teams over 50 in 1979 (with a high of 61) - including one NL team, plus two more teams at 47 and 46 each.

In 1978, six teams were over 50 CG, including a trio over 60 CG. A seventh team was at 48 CG.

In 1977, you had teams at 65, 53, 52, 49. and 45 CG.

In 1976, half of the teams had at least 45 CG - and seven were over 50 CG.

Up until the eve of Oakland's Billy-ball experience, that's how common the CG was. It suddenly shrank in 1980.

Frankly, the time limit strikes me as a bit off for saying the CG went down because of Billy Martin. Then we'd expect other teams to still be over 50 CG in 1980, with the decline coming in 1982, when the A's fell apart. But it looks like the decline came in 1980 itself.

I'm sure Billy Martin and the A's played some role. It was an obvious cautionary tale. And the CG kept going down. From 1980-84, 16 teams (including Martin-managed ones) had at least 40 CG in a season. From 1985-89, it happened just four times.

   10. BDC Posted: October 13, 2012 at 09:08 PM (#4268432)
I was just vaguely glancing at numbers in B-Ref: most people here know a lot more about these trends than I do, so it's a very vague observation indeed. But I notice that complete games very considerably from 1976 to 1977, as if overnight.

Anyway, in 1976 23% of NL starts were completed, almost where the rate had been in 1966 (when it was 25%). Then in 1977 the NL CG rate dipped to 17%. Meanwhile in the AL the drop was 31% down to 26%. (It had soared in the AL after the introduction of the DH.)

Two things happened, I reckon, but my knowledge is as I say awfully limited. Expansion may have given managers the sense that there weren't enough 9-inning pitchers around (though the expansion was only two teams). And the closer as saver, in the person of Bruce Sutter, was becoming a trend (pioneering the idea that you'd lift your starter after seven or so even if he was pitching pretty well).
   11. Walt Davis Posted: October 13, 2012 at 10:34 PM (#4268620)
as if overnight.

Like I said, Fergie got old. :-)

(Actually 75 was his last year over 20 but it spoils the fun.)

And it wasn't just Sutter. Fingers, Gossage, Lyle, the Reds had already established that a bullpen could be a very valuable thing. But the pen doesn't really explain it. The jump in CGs is pretty much just a 70s things. It's not until the late 60s (Giants and Cardinals) that you see teams topping 60 CGs and only a fairly small handful over 50 before then. I had meant to check a later year of the Cubs but forgot and in 71 they did have 75 CGs but still only Fergie over 20 (30!).

Anyway, number of pitchers with 20+ CG:

1950-59: 43
1960-69: 29 (none in 1960, 1 in 67 and only 4 in 68)
1970-79: 59

70-79 is about the same rate as 50-59 so while you might explain the 60s due to expansion, not the 70s. Bullpens were not valued that highly in the 50s and 60s of course so I'm not sure it's a good explanation for a drop around 1980.

77 was an interesting year. That was Tanana's last big year although he wasn't hurt until 79. That was the last year Ryan pitched in a 4-man rotation. It was Palmer's next-to-last year in a 4-man rotation and he got hurt a bit in 79. Wayne Garland was in the first year of his "big" Cleveland contract ... and he was toast after 77. Then there was Niekro (doesn't count) and Leonard (who remained durable). I wonder how much influence the Garland and then Tanana injuries had.

Dag, that's a fair point but 94 is still a hell of a lot more than 65. About the only thing I can say in defense of Martin is that he had made the shift to a 5-man rotation (not everybody had and not just a 4.5 either) and one could logically think that, if given fewer starts, they should be able to complete more of them. Still, their starters (as a group!) averaged 7.8 IP per start. Norris averaged 8.6 and Langford 8.7. Fergie and even Bob Feller never quite hit those limits.

And I'd say it is pretty clear that teams had stopped expecting individual pitchers to complete 20+ earlier than 1980. There were only 11 such seasons after 1977 and 2 of those were Niekro and 4 were managed by Billy Martin.

I don't know if you were around in 1980 (BDC certainly was) but this was widely commented on at the time. Not necessarily negatively, in fact more positive than negative, but everybody knew he was pushing these guys really hard.

Looking through the 70s guys who did it at a young age:

Palmer first did it at 25 and nearly at 24, he was fine.
Blue did it at 21 -- missed starts at 22 and performed much worse until 26.
Ryan not until 25.
Blyleven at 22 and 24, he aged fine.
Busby at 24, he got hurt at 26.
Tanana at 22 and 23 -- durable but never the same pitcher after he got hurt.
Fidrych at 21 -- not so good.
Norris at 25 -- healthy but less effective at 26; reasonably healthy but quite ineffective at 27. That was it really.
Keough at 24 -- healthy but less effective at 25; healthy but horrible at 26.
Fernando at 25 (or maybe "25") -- the last year of his excellent run but reasonably healthy and mediocre for a while.

I would agree that Martin's A's were probably the final nail in the coffin of the "complete game expected" philosophy. But I think Blue, Busby, Tanana, Fidrych and Garland had already scared the pants off of teams. It seems to have already run its course by 1980 and Martin tried to buck the trend in a major way.

   12. Kiko Sakata Posted: October 13, 2012 at 10:43 PM (#4268638)
Looks like things tipped in 78 although at least one of those is just Fergie getting old. :-)


Palmer stopped completing crazy numbers of games at the same time (168 CGs from 1970-78, high of 8 thereafter). I'm not sure how accurate it is to say that Palmer got "old". He was only 33 in 1979, but he clearly wasn't the same pitcher anymore.
   13. Kiko Sakata Posted: October 13, 2012 at 10:49 PM (#4268655)
Randy Jones could be added to #11: 18 and 25 CGs at ages 25-26 (and #2 and #1 in Cy voting those years). The rest of his career after that was 156 GS, 20 CG, ERA+ of 91, retired at age 32.

And, as I noted in #12, even Palmer didn't survive his 1970s workloads unscathed. He missed part of 1974 (age 28) and only managed two decentish seasons after age 32 (1979, 1982), one of which was injury-shortened.
   14. Don Malcolm Posted: October 14, 2012 at 01:24 AM (#4269181)
I noticed last night that Steve McCatty is the Nats pitching coach.

Yes, but McCatty had only one year of Martin's CG fetish (16 out of 22 in '81, with time off in between for the strike).

Martin's "theory"--as Walt notes--was probably that with a five-man rotation and an extra day of rest, these guys should be able to go forever. After all, many pitchers in 1980 had more starts (24 total, 12 in the AL) than the top two for the A's (Langford and Norris had 33), and they weren't leading the league in BFP, either. (Keough, with his 20 CG, ranks 125th out of 134 pitchers with 20+ CG from 1950 to 1980 in terms of BFP).

Of course, it was a bad idea, but some of that was because he was trying it with finesse pitchers. Only Norris was really a strikeout pitcher, even with the declining K-rates at the time.

But none of these guys was as young as Strasburg, nor were they coming off major arm surgery.

What Martin was doing was unprecedented.

Yeah, and it was actually unprecedented for Martin as well. Here are his CG stats for full seasons as a manager (as y'all will recall, there were some gaps in these due to Billy's skill at getting fired--and not just by George Steinbrenner):

1969: 41 (6)
1971: 53 (4) Lolich 29
1972: 46 (5) Lolich 23
1974: 62 (3) Jenkins 29
1976: 62 (3) Hunter 21
1977: 52 (3)
1980: 94 (1) Langford 28, Norris 24, Keough 20
1981: 60 (1)
1982: 42 (2)
1983: 47 (1) Guidry 21

His teams had never led the league in CG in any full season's worth of managing until he decided to turn his A's starters into "horses."

In order to get the full picture here, we need to look at CG% and look at it in terms of leagues. The 70s decline of the CG is much more pronounced in the NL: AL managers bucked that trend in large part because of the DH. Martin was the last holdout.

Year NL AL
1960 29 25
1961 26 26
1962 28 24
1963 28 25
1964 28 21
1965 26 20
1966 25 21
1967 26 23
1968 29 26
1969 27 23
1970 24 20
1971 28 28
1972 27 27
1973 23 32
1974 23 33
1975 22 32
1976 23 31
1977 17 26
1978 20 29
1979 19 24
1980 16 24
1981 14 22
1982 15 20
1983 14 21
1984 12 18
1985 14 16
1986 12 16
1987 10 16
1988 14 16
1989 11 12
1990 10 10
1991 08 10
1992 09 11
   15. bjhanke Posted: October 14, 2012 at 06:04 AM (#4269256)
My memory, for what it's worth, is that Martin got his young pitchers in trouble not by just making them throw too many complete games, but also by making them throw too many curve balls. What I got out of the Martin experience was a belief that curve balls are bad for pitching arms. I don't have documentation or lists, but I still think that. - Brock Hanke
   16. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: October 14, 2012 at 07:57 AM (#4269268)
Up until the eve of Oakland's Billy-ball experience, that's how common the CG was. It suddenly shrank in 1980.
That sounds more like a Bruce Sutter effect than a protect-the-starters effect. Sutter's big breakthrough into the national consciousness was the 1979 Cy Young.

In 1978 and 1979, there were 804 and 840 saves in MLB, respectively, with three and four teams with over 40. In 1980, there were 904 saves with nine teams over 40. Then 932 saves in 1982 and nine teams over 40.

Looking at CG numbers, I think, shows when managers started using closers more than when managers started protecting their pitchers' arms. (I wouldn't be surprised if the Martin A's experience helped push more teams toward protecting their pitchers arms, but the causation on the CG issue looks to run from Sutter, not from Martin.)
   17. Downtown Bookie Posted: October 14, 2012 at 11:09 AM (#4269339)
I was just vaguely glancing at numbers in B-Ref: most people here know a lot more about these trends than I do, so it's a very vague observation indeed. But I notice that complete games very considerably from 1976 to 1977, as if overnight.

Two things happened, I reckon, but my knowledge is as I say awfully limited. Expansion may have given managers the sense that there weren't enough 9-inning pitchers around (though the expansion was only two teams). And the closer as saver, in the person of Bruce Sutter, was becoming a trend (pioneering the idea that you'd lift your starter after seven or so even if he was pitching pretty well).


In 1977 Rawlings took over the manufacturing of MLB baseballs. There was much talk at the time that the ball was juiced.

AL RUNS PER GAME

1973 - 4.28
1974 - 4.10
1975 - 4.30
1976 - 4.01
1977 - 4.53

NL RUNS PER GAME

1973 - 4.15
1974 - 4.15
1975 - 4.13
1976 - 3.98
1977 - 4.40

Juiced ball or not, it seems likely that the increase in scoring would have an effect on the number of complete games thrown, especially if managers were still lifting starting pitchers according to the scoring guidelines of the previous few years.

DB
   18. Downtown Bookie Posted: October 14, 2012 at 11:11 AM (#4269343)
My memory, for what it's worth, is that Martin got his young pitchers in trouble not by just making them throw too many complete games, but also by making them throw too many curve balls spit balls.


FTFY

DB
   19. AROM Posted: October 14, 2012 at 11:22 AM (#4269354)
I have a magazine from 1981 that has a feature on the 1980 A's pitchers. It says that other than a 14 inning game, Langford never threw more than 122 pitches in a game, and was often under 100.
   20. Dag Nabbit: secretary of the World Banana Forum Posted: October 14, 2012 at 11:35 AM (#4269362)
The 1980 A's had the most complete games by any team since the 1941 White Sox.
   21. puck Posted: October 14, 2012 at 01:45 PM (#4269466)
I have a magazine from 1981 that has a feature on the 1980 A's pitchers. It says that other than a 14 inning game, Langford never threw more than 122 pitches in a game, and was often under 100.

I was going to joke that maybe they only counted strikes as pitches, but I wonder if it's possible. Probably not, but it's closer than I thought.

He averaged 32.1 BFP/start and didn't strike anyone out (3.2/9). Good walk rate (2.0/9). He had 5 starts where he faced 40 or 41 batters, 3 w/39, 3 w/38, you'd think he was at or above 122 more than once. (In the 14 inning game, he faced 52 batters.)
   22. Tom Nawrocki Posted: October 14, 2012 at 01:48 PM (#4269468)
As Don notes, even with all those CGs, the A's starters weren't pitching that much more than other teams' starters. Langford and Norris were 1-2 in innings pitched in the league, at 290 and 284, but Gura had 283 and Leonard 280 under Dick Howser in Kansas City. Their innings were just distributed in a dramatically different fashion.

The other thing that needs to be noted is how surprisingly successful that A's team was. The 1979 A's were a horrendous 54-108, but Billy Martin and all those complete games got them over .500 the very next year.
   23. The District Attorney Posted: October 15, 2012 at 02:36 PM (#4271203)
BTW, James thinks the Zodiac killer might be the Son of Sam (which would also mean David Berkowitz wasn't.)
   24. A big pile of nonsense (gef the talking mongoose) Posted: October 15, 2012 at 02:58 PM (#4271244)
BTW, James thinks the Zodiac killer might be the Son of Sam


Hutchinson? IIRC, both sets of killings involved shootings, rather than neck-stabbings.
   25. Voros McCracken of Pinkus Posted: October 15, 2012 at 03:18 PM (#4271290)
The Loch Ness Monster and Jack the Ripper were the same person!
   26. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: October 15, 2012 at 03:25 PM (#4271302)
Batman's Batmobile is in reality an experimental model Lincoln Continental. And Lyndon's Lincoln Continental is in reality an experimental model Batmobile.
   27. Rants Mulliniks Posted: October 15, 2012 at 03:37 PM (#4271326)
Something I've wondered for a long time ... my understanding of the rules of pitching was that the ball must be delivered with one foot in contact with the rubber. But of course that never (or almost never) happens -- when the ball leaves the pitcher's hand, his foot is usually at least a foot (no pun intended) ahead of the rubber. Is that simply a long established gentlemen's agreement, or do the rules really not specify that the foot be on the rubber at release?
Asked by: hortonwho
Answered: 10/15/2012
The rules require that the pitcher be in contact with the pitching rubber when he releases the ball. You could be overstating the case; it could be that it is not 100% of pitchers which are actually released after the foot has left the rubber, but something more like 30%. I don't know, and I don't know how you would know. But it is my opinion that the practice of throwing 57-foot fastballs is much more common now than it was a generation ago, and that there is a need to do something about it.


I wonder if he's aware of Jordan Walden's leaping windup?
   28. The District Attorney Posted: October 15, 2012 at 05:18 PM (#4271479)
Batman's Batmobile is in reality an experimental model Lincoln Continental. And Lyndon's Lincoln Continental is in reality an experimental model Batmobile.
Batman had a butler named Alfred. Alfred had a butler named Batman.

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