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Friday, April 24, 2020

The Red Sox Got Slapped on the Wrist for Their Illegal Sign-Stealing

Tonight, on As The Red Sox Turns:

If you were hunkered down under a stay-at-home order waiting for Major League Baseball to release its long-awaited report on the Red Sox’s illegal sign-stealing efforts, then we have good news for you: the wait is over. On Wednesday, the league announced the conclusions of its investigation and the punishments handed down by commissioner Rob Manfred. If you were expecting the discipline to be comparable to that received by the Astros in January, you may want to get back to binge-watching Tiger King, because according to the report, there simply isn’t a lot to see here.

In the case of the Astros, when Manfred issued his report on January 13, he found that the team illegally stole signs during the 2017 regular and postseason and into the 2018 regular season. He suspended president of baseball operations Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch for the 2020 season (both were fired by owner Jim Crane within hours), fined the team $5 million (the maximum allowed under MLB’s constitution), and stripped them of their first- and second-round picks in both this year’s and next year’s amateur drafts. When it came to disciplining the Red Sox, however, Manfred only found evidence that the illegal sign-stealing occurred during the 2018 regular season; suspended only J.T. Watkins, the team’s video replay system operator; stripped away only its second-round pick in this year’s draft; and did not fine the team. As with the Astros, no players were punished.

The baseball world waited 3 1/2 months for this? A previously unknown backroom employee has taken the fall for an entire organization while those above him escaped without punishment — it doesn’t get much more anticlimactic than that, nor does it make a whole lot of sense, given the need for intermediaries between the video room and the dugout. And it certainly isn’t a severe enough punishment to act as a deterrent. There isn’t a team among the 30 who wouldn’t trade a second-round draft pick and a single baseball operations employee for a world championship.

Per the report, both former president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, who was fired in September, and current general manager Brian O’Halloran were found to be not at fault, having complied with MLB’s mandate to communicate league rules regarding sign-stealing to coaches, players, and non-uniform personnel. Former manager Alex Cora, who was implicated as being central to the Astros’ 2017 sign-stealing efforts in his role as the the team’s bench coach, was suspended through the 2020 season, the same penalty that Hinch and Luhnow received; however, he was not additionally disciplined for infractions in Boston.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

If I Could Be Transported to Any Season in Baseball History…

The question got my attention, no doubt because the man asking it was a friend who had tagged me among some esteemed company when he posted it to Twitter. “You can be transported to any baseball season in history,” wrote Jon Weisman, the longtime proprietor of Dodger Thoughts and the author of two books about the team’s history. “Once transported, you will not know what has happened — you will experience it all unfold in real time. Which season do you pick?”

Elsewhere within his series of tweets, Weisman laid out the dilemma at hand: “whether to relive a season you adored, or newly experience a season you would adore.”

In the midst of making dinner, I resisted the temptation to fire off a knee-jerk response. When hypothetical baseball time travel is involved, it’s important not to go off half-cocked, particularly when you can write about it.

I turned 50 years old in December. My storehouse of baseball memories goes back to 1978, the year I learned to read box scores. While a few years during college are faint — I didn’t see a lick of the 1990 World Series, though I do remember participating in some fantasy team-by-mail contest that year, seven years before joining my first online fantasy league — that’s a storehouse of 42 seasons worth of baseball, some of which I would consider reliving if given the chance, not just because of the World Series winners but the quality of the pennant races, with record-setters and Hall of Famers also figuring into the calculus.

So, where would you go?


QLE Posted: April 23, 2020 at 01:24 AM | 24 comment(s)
  Beats: history, jay jaffe, time travel

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Sorting Out Who’s Hu In Taiwanese Baseball is a Welcome Challenge

Hu? The name took me back, and even more than a decade later, accounted for a substantial percentage of what I knew about Taiwanese players in the professional ranks. Circa 2008, Chin-Lung Hu was considered a Top 100 prospect by both Baseball America (no. 55) and Baseball Prospectus (no. 32), and the third-best prospect on the Dodgers behind Clayton Kershaw, who panned out, and Andy LaRoche, who did not. I’d written about him a couple of times for the Baseball Prospectus annuals, noting that his acrobatic fielding conjured up comparisons to Omar Vizquel and forecast for future Gold Gloves as well as the bat speed to hit .300 at the major league level. A dozen years later, here he was, halfway around the globe and fresh off a milestone and a bit of history: his 1,000th hit in the Taiwan-based Chinese Professional Baseball League — due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the only professional baseball league currently playing its regular season, albeit to empty ballparks — and with the fewest games played (704) to reach that mark to boot.

Alas, I had actually missed the momentous knock, but caught up with it on Twitter a short while after via the Eleven Sports Taiwan account, which was streaming an English-language broadcast of Saturday’s game between the Rakuten Monkeys and the Fubon Guardians (Hu’s team). The Guardians had been on the short end of a 12-2 rout in the eighth inning when Hu, who had gone 0-for-4 in pursuit of hit number 1,000, singled just to the right of second base, plating a run.

An inning and maybe 45 minutes later — shortly after 9:30 AM in Brooklyn, where I had my 3 1/2-year-old daughter in my lap as we peered at a foreign but recognizable version of the national pastime — the announcers were still talking about Hu’s hit, because he was up again in what was now a 12-5 game. With men on first and second and two outs, he grounded into a potential game-ending double play, but the second baseman’s throw had pulled the shortstop well off the bag, and Hu beat the throw to first. The Guardians’ manager actually challenged the call via instant replay but was denied. The inning continued, and the game eventually ended 12-9, still a win for the undefeated (4-0) Monkeys.

My appetite had been whetted, to say the least.

A story that may be of interest to those participating in the Omnichatter.


QLE Posted: April 21, 2020 at 01:11 AM | 5 comment(s)
  Beats: chin-lung hu, chinese professional baseball league, jay jaffe

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Missed Time and the Hall of Fame, Part 2

Mike Trout is going to be fine. Yes, for all kinds of reasons it would be a complete and total bummer if the 2020 season never gets started due to the the current pandemic, but Trout would hardly be the first elite player in his prime to miss at least a full year due to reasons far beyond his control. Ted Williams, Willie Mays, and Joe DiMaggio were just a few of the dozens of major leaguers who lost entire seasons due to military service, but given their elite performances throughout their careers, their absences didn’t cost them when they became eligible for election to the Hall of Fame.

Which isn’t to say that missing a full season, or even a significant chunk of one, in such fashion comes without cost. For the 28-year-old Trout, who already ranks fifth among center fielders in JAWS, major milestones could be at stake, though it’s far too early to suggest that a lost season will cost him a shot at 600 homers (as service in World War II and the Korean War did Williams) or even 700 (as the Korean War did Mays), or 3,000 hits, or whatever. For other players whose chances to reach Cooperstown are less secure, however, the loss of even a partial year could make a difference — at least temporarily — particularly if it leaves them short of certain plateaus.

That’s one of the take-home messages from my previous piece, which looked at the ways that time lost to military service during World War II and Korea, or to strikes in the 1981, ’94 and/or ’95 seasons, delayed or derailed certain players. Aided by additional chances in front of the voters, both with longer eligibility windows on BBWAA ballots and more frequent appearances on those of the Veterans Committee, it appears that the vast majority of borderline candidates who lost time to wars are in, leaving only a small handful of what-ifs. On the other hand, players who missed time due to strikes and fell short of notable hit and homer plateaus — not just 3,000 of the former or 500 of the latter, but also 2,000 or 2,500 hits, and 400 homers — have seen their chances take a hit. The much-derided 2019 election of Harold Baines, who fell short of 3,000 hits while missing time in all of the aforementioned strikes, suggests that voters have begun reckoning with that era’s impact on career totals, not that doing so will automatically make for strong selections; both Baines and Fred McGriff, who missed time in 1994-95, finished with 493 home runs, and could benefit similarly on the 2022 Today’s Game Era Committee ballot, are well below the JAWS standards at their positions.

As we look to the current landscape to see which players might be most vulnerable to a lost season, we should keep those lessons in mind. Younger players such as Trout, Mookie Betts, and Francisco Lindor have plenty of time to make up the lost ground, not that losing a prime season — if we’re talking the nuclear option here, which may be premature — would help. It’s the older guys who are running out of chances that have the real concerns. Here I’ll take a spin through the position players, working alphabetically, with the pitchers to come tomorrow. All WAR totals refer to the Baseball-Reference version.

Further consideration of the issues related to a shortened season, this time focusing on contemporary position players.

QLE Posted: April 14, 2020 at 01:26 AM | 0 comment(s)
  Beats: hall of fame, in search of lost time, jay jaffe, milestones

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Missed Time and the Hall of Fame, Part 1

When Harold Baines was elected to the Hall of Fame via the 2019 Today’s Game Era Committee ballot, the argument that he would have reached 3,000 hits had he not lost substantial parts of the 1981, ’94 and ’95 seasons to player strikes must have weighed heavily on the minds of voters. How else to explain the panel shocking the baseball world by tabbing a steady longtime DH who never led the league in a major offensive category and whose advanced statistics equated his career value to good-not-great players such as Paul O’Neill or Reggie Sanders? That time missed was a major talking point for Tony La Russa, who managed Baines in both Chicago and Oakland and was one of several key figures in the slugger’s career who not-so-coincidentally wound up on the committee. Baines finished 134 hits short of the milestone, while his teams fell 124 games short of playing out full schedules in those seasons (never mind the fact that he missed 59 games due in those three seasons due to injuries and off days). On this particular committee, he received the benefit of the doubt regarding what might have been.

Baines was neither the first player nor the last to gain such an advantage in front of Hall voters. As you might imagine, the topic has been on my mind as we confront this pandemic-shortened 2020 season, and I’m hardly alone. In chats, article comments, and on Twitter, readers have asked for my insights into what the current outage might mean with regards to the Hall hopes for active players. I’ve spent the past four years weeks ruminating on the matter, but for as tempting as it may be to dive headfirst into analyzing the outage’s impact on Zack Greinke, Yadier Molina, Mike Trout et al if the season is 100 games, or 80, or (gulp) zero, the more I think about it, the more I believe that it’s important to provide some historical perspective before going off half-cocked.

According to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, at least 69 Hall of Famers — from Civil War veteran Morgan Bulkeley, the first president of the National League, to Ted Williams, who served in both World War II and the Korean War — served in the U.S. Armed Forces during wartime. Fifty-one of those men were elected for their major league playing careers, and six more for their careers in the Negro Leagues, the rest being executives, managers, and umpires. Some players, such as Yogi Berra, Larry Doby, Ralph Kiner, and Red Schoendienst, served before they ever reached the majors, and others, such as Christy Mathewson, did so afterwards, but many gave up prime seasons to wars. Williams missed all of the 1943-45 seasons and was limited to just 43 games in 1952-53. Joe DiMaggio, Bob Feller, Hank Greenberg, Johnny Mize, Pee Wee Reese, Phil Rizzuto, and Warren Spahn all missed the entire 1943-45 span as well, with Greenberg missing most of ’41 and half of ’45, too. Several other players missed one or two years.

Missing multiple seasons often meant missing out on major milestones. Williams certainly would have surpassed the 3,000-hit and 600-homer marks, beating Willie Mays and Hank Aaron to that towering tandem. DiMaggio, Greenberg, and Mize all would have cleared 400 homers with Greenberg quite possibly reaching 500, a total that only Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, and Mel Ott had surpassed at that point. Feller would have been the second pitcher to reach 300 wins and 3,000 strikeouts, after Walter Johnson, while Spahn might have made it to 400 wins. Hell, Mays might have reached 700 homers had he not missed most of 1952 and all of ’53 in the Army.

A consideration of issues of deep familiarity for those who participate in the Hall of Merit discussions.


QLE Posted: April 11, 2020 at 12:58 AM | 26 comment(s)
  Beats: hall of fame, in search of lost time, jay jaffe

Friday, March 27, 2020

JAWS and the 2020 bWAR Update, Part 3

No pitcher took it in the JAWS quite as hard as position players Ernie Lombardi and Josh Donaldson did via Baseball-Reference’s latest update to its version of WAR, which I’ve spent the better part of the past two weeks unpacking — at least when I wasn’t stocking my freezer and my pantry while reading the grim COVID-19 news. B-Ref’s latest influx of data resulted in alterations to five different areas of the metric that affected players as far back as 1904 and as recently as last season. Lombardi, a Hall of Fame catcher, lost a whopping 7.3 WAR due to the introduction of detailed play-by-play baserunning and caught stealing data from the 1930s and ’40s, while Donaldson lost 3.8 WAR due to a change in the way Defensive Runs Saved is calculated. By comparison, the largest swing for a pitcher, either positive or negative, was the 2.2 WAR gained by Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson.

B-Ref’s version of WAR is different from that of FanGraphs, particularly when it comes to pitching; it’s based on actual runs allowed, with adjustments for the qualify of the offenses faced and the defenses behind it, where the FanGraphs version is driven by the Fielding Independent Pitching categories as well as infield flies. As bWAR is the currency for JAWS, it’s of particular interest to me, even at a time when the Hall itself is closed due to the pandemic. I’ve grazed by the pitchers in my two recent updates, mentioning a few tidbits here and there while trying to avoid a typical Jaffe-length 3,000 word epic, but in this installment I’ll take a closer look at the those most affected. To review, here are the five areas where B-Ref’s WAR update has incorporated new (or recently unearthed) data, ordered for chronological effect:

New Retrosheet Game Logs (1904-07)
Caught Stealing Totals from Game Logs (1926-40)
Baserunning and Double Plays from play-by-play data (1931-47)
Defensive Runs Saved changes (2013-19)
Park factor changes (2018)

Jaffe’s tour through the changes that have taken place concerning bWAR now stops for some thoughts on its meaning concerning pitching statistics.


QLE Posted: March 27, 2020 at 01:18 AM | 0 comment(s)
  Beats: jaws, jay jaffe, war

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

JAWS and the 2020 bWAR Update, Part 2

Josh Donaldson is one of the game’s elite two-way players, but like the late Ernie Lombardi, he received rude treatment when it came to Baseball-Reference’s latest update to its version of WAR. Last week I began a breakdown of B-Ref’s influx of new data, which resulted in alterations to five different areas of its version of WAR, some aspects of which affect players as far back as 1904 and others as recent as last season. The introduction of detailed play-by-play baserunning and caught stealing data from the 1930s and ’40s, for example, cost Lombardi — a heavy-hitting Hall of Fame catcher who played from 1934-47 — a whopping 7.3 WAR. Donaldson took the largest hit among contemporary players, losing 3.8 WAR via changes in the way Defensive Run Saved is calculated. For the 34-year-old third baseman, the loss adds a bit of insult to the injury of this delayed season, which won’t make it any easier for him to build what is admittedly a long-shot case for the Hall of Fame.

B-Ref’s version of WAR is different from that of FanGraphs, but as bWAR is the currency for JAWS, it’s of particular interest to me. While the Hall of Fame itself is as closed right now as any museum due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hall arguments are never out of season, nor is taking stock of greatness, particularly when it provides a diversion from considering stockpiles of toilet paper and shortages of N95 masks. B-Ref’s adjustments are hardly unprecedented for the site, which adds new data annually. The earliest boundaries for game logs and play-by-play data have moved backwards by decades over the years, for example, and last year’s big-ticket addition was a major update to catchers’ defensive statistics for the 1890-1952 period.

Reordered for their chronological effect, this year’s update has incorporated the following:

New Retrosheet Game Logs (1904-07)
Caught Stealing Totals from Game Logs (1926-40)
Baserunning and Double Plays from play-by-play data (1931-47)
Defensive Runs Saved changes (2013-19)
Park factor changes (2018)

The second half of an article from a couple of days ago- a consideration of the meaning of the changes to bWAR for both past and present players.


QLE Posted: March 24, 2020 at 12:55 AM | 2 comment(s)
  Beats: jaws, jay jaffe, war

Saturday, March 21, 2020

JAWS and the 2020 bWAR Update, Part 1

Poor Ernie Lombardi. The heavyset and heavy-hitting Hall of Fame catcher, who owns two of the position’s eight batting titles, was the player hardest-hit by Baseball-Reference’s latest update to their version of Wins Above Replacement. B-Ref rolled out a whole series of adjustments, both to current players and long-retired ones, into one big release earlier this week, which it explained via a Twitter thread on Tuesday morning and expounded upon at the site. Thanks to additional play-by-play baserunning and caught stealing data, Lombardi, whose career spanned from 1931-47, saw his career WAR total drop from 46.8 to 39.5. Well, he didn’t actually see it, as he’s been dead since 1977, but you know what I mean.

B-Ref’s version of WAR is different from that of FanGraphs, of course, though you may have noticed that our site also updated its Defensive Runs Saved totals after Sports Info Solutions made major changes to its flagship stat, in part to account for defensive shifting. I’ll get to that aspect in a separate follow-up post, but for the moment my concern is how the B-Ref changes affect my JAWS system for Hall of Fame evaluations. The overall answer is “not a whole lot,” though individual player WAR and JAWS, and thus the standards at each position, have shifted a bit, creating a ripple effect throughout my system. With no new baseball for the foreseeable future, it’s worth taking an inventory of these changes, in part because they give us a chance to dig into some baseball history and provide a bit of an escape from our current realities.

Incidentally, the Hall of Fame itself closed indefinitely as of Sunday, March 15, and has already canceled its 2020 Hall of Fame Classic Weekend, which was scheduled for May 22-24. Among other things, that weekend was to feature a seven-inning legends game featuring Hall of Famers and former major leaguers and a “Night at the Museum” program. Induction Weekend, scheduled for July 24-27, is still on the calendar and will hopefully take place as planned, but right now, there are no guarantees. Given that the advanced ages of many Hall of Famers put them at the highest risk for COVID-19 infections, attendance among the game’s legends could be more sparse than usual.

Lombardi’s 7.3-WAR change was the largest of any position player in either direction, positive or negative (you can view the full spreadsheet here via Google Docs). His total is one of just five — from among 19,682 players in all dating back to the birth of the National Association in 1871 — that moved by at least four wins in either direction. Hall of Fame shortstop Arky Vaughan, whose 5.1-WAR jump was the third-highest swing, was one of a handful of other denizens of Cooperstown among the 43 position players whose career WARs changed by at least 2.5.

Some notes on the calibration of bWAR that just took place, and its meaning.


QLE Posted: March 21, 2020 at 02:18 AM | 7 comment(s)
  Beats: hall of fame, jaws, jay jaffe, war




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