Now this cannot be thought of as an exhaustive list or a list that perfectly ranks the quality it seeks to. Rather, this is a list of Nine people who make baseball fun, without a particular guarantee about who is left off and who is ahead of who.
However, let’s also think of this list as one that doesn’t include baseball players. This is about people outside of the clubhouses and front offices. In some cases, like in most good stories, they are composite characters. What follows, is The Nine People Who Make Baseball fun.
Because, after all, that’s what baseball is. Fun.
9. Eric Karabell (ESPN Fantasy Writer, former Baseball Today podcast host)
Here’s what I like about Karabell: He’s not reactive and he loves baseball. So many people who follow and cover sports react to everything as if it dramatically reshapes the landscape of the entire sports world. Karabell says not so fast. He doesn’t accept that one bad game or outing changes a season. He makes for good listening and following because he can walk you down off the edge when things are looking bad and keep you from getting your hopes up when things are great. But on the other side of it, he is such a fan. He openly professes to watching his team when they stink and enjoys going to Fall League games and minor league parks, and once confessed to being disappointed during the postseason because he couldn’t watch ten games at once.
8. The Fan Who Isn’t Quite Up to Date
You all know this guy. The one who still sees baseball through the prism of 2008. Like all of the players he thinks are good are getting old and he’s never heard of anyone under 25. He thinks $10 million is a big salary and can’t fathom why anyone would offer a ten year contract. This person makes baseball fun because you can exploit their ignorance for entertainment. Hey guy, who is better, Jason Heyward or Jason Werth?
7. The Person Who Asks Sportswriters Stupid Questions
I’m not talking about people asking Buster Olney if he thinks the Yankees will trade A-Rod. That’s stupid, but it’s not what I mean. People, mostly on Twitter, routinely ask “experts” to answer factually based questions like “Who is starting tonight?” and “What time does the game start?” Have these people mastered Twitter, but have no concept of Google or MLB.com? How is tweeting at a sportswriter the most effective way to gather that information? These people make baseball fun because they are funny in a sad sort of way.
6. Your Mom
Hear me out. Your mom, while she doesn’t know much about baseball, tries to portray herself as someone who knows things about baseball, leading to endless enjoyment. Specifically, moms can never pronounce/remember players’ names. It has something to do with them only have a little spare time in which to pay attention and their lack of interest in most cases. This is not a comment about women in general or middle-aged women, this is about the stereotypical mom. Below are actual names my mother calls players:
Placido Polanco: “Poblano.” This is a type of chili pepper.
Rick Porcello: “Portabello.” Notice, this isn’t just here replacing a food name for a player name, this is a hybrid of the two.
Al Alburquerque: “New Mexico.”
5. Vin Scully (Dodgers Announcer)
Scully’s pipes are incredible and he’s been working the same glamorous gig for more than a half century. Hiss soothing voice and mix of baseball acumen and catalog of great stories makes him the best announcer who doesn’t work for your team. I love Mario and Rod, but Scully is the best of the best when I take my blinders off. I can’t tell you how often, after a Tigers game ends, I flip on the Dodgers feed to listen to Scully call a Clayton Kershaw start. He’s baseball’s answer to easy listening.
4. The Nine Year Old Kid in All of Us
This is a tweet from WSJ’s Jason Gay, who sums it up nicely:
The kid in all of us makes baseball fun because they enjoy the game with such incredible optimism that can’t be match today, despite my optimistic leanings. I mean seriously, tell nine year old Neil the Tigers are terrible and can’t play worth a damn and he’ll tell you a million reasons why baseball is awesome and he can’t wait to go watch and play. (Full Disclosure: After writing that sentence, it’s entirely possible I am still nine years old. But most of you aren’t.)
3. Brian Kenny and Harold Reynolds (MLB Network)
Brian Kenny is MLB Network’s sabermetric mouthpiece and Reynolds is as old school as they come, once saying that the Triple Crown “is the [MVP] trump card.” Kenny draws on analytic thinking and research while Reynolds goes with his gut. If you know something about this site, you might think I’d prefer Kenny (and I do), but they are awesome together. Really awesome. Reynolds has great charisma and knows how to push Kenny’s buttons. At one point during an MLB Tonight episode last season, I literally rolled on the floor (read: couch) laughing at this exchange.
HR: (jokes about Kenny’s use of The Shredder to analyze players)
Kenny: I’ll shred you!
HR: Yeah, yeah whatever, real baseball people don’t care about that stuff.
Kenny: They do, come to the SABR conference with me and see managers and GMs there.
HR: Do you wear your Star Wars costume to the convention?
This would be funnier if I had a clip, but trust me, it was hilarious.
2. The Person Who Runs @CantPredictBall
This and its counterpart @CanPredictBall are must follows on Twitter for their awesome and poignant baseball commentary. The premise for the account is that they post things that happen in baseball that are uncommon and strange. What’s even better is their awareness of strangeness which allows them to almost parody themselves by tweeting about things that are unpredictable in a predictable way. Here is an example of their standard tweeting:
And here is that self-awareness (from the World Series this year):
CanPredictBall does the same thing from the opposite perspective. Awesome stuff.
1. Jeff Sullivan (Fangraphs)
A few weeks ago, Sullivan retired from the Mariners blog Lookout Landing, which he created about ten years ago in favor of spending more time working for Fangraphs and working on other things. At that time, I posted his final column and remarked that if I had been born in the American northwest, I would have liked to have been Jeff Sullivan. He is quite simply, the best. The voice he achieves in his writing is among the best I’ve ever read (not just among sportswriters) and he picks up on the best things about baseball. He writes a lot of posts on pitch framing and pace and weird things that happen like Jesus Montero throwing out Mike Trout attempting to steal. If I write anymore, I think my wife will get jealous, but sufficed to say, Sullivan makes baseball fun.
Who makes baseball fun for you? Can your mom pronounce baseball names?
I’ve had this question for a long time and it wasn’t until today, for some reason, that I realized how easy it would be to answer. A buddy of mine and I used to wonder who would win in a fantasy baseball league in which you drafted only players from your favorite teams. Extending that question further, which MLB team would win if they played in a Roto Fantasy Baseball league?
Here’s how it worked. I took each team’s totals in the standard 10 categories (R, HR, SB, RBI, AVG, W, SV, K, ERA, WHIP) and ranked each team and gave them a point total 1-30 in each category with 30 points for the best in the league at each category (Ties split points). I then summed the point totals and ranked each team by total point value.
Next I scaled the fantasy points total into the equivalent value of real wins, which turned out to be much more widely distributed than I was hoping for which led me to simply rank each by fantasy wins and real wins and then take the difference between the two. Teams with negative differences do worse in fantasy baseball and teams with positive differences do better in fantasy baseball.
Here are the results:
I’ll call your attention to the values in red. 27 teams had fantasy win ranks within six places of their real win rankings. The exceptions are the Brewers who would much rather play fantasy baseball and the Reds and Athletics who are very glad that they do not have to. This speaks to the Brewers as a very traditional stat heavy team and the Reds and A’s as teams who accumulate their wins through things like defense, walks, etc.
I’m not sure if we can take too much from this, but if you were wondering how your team would stack up if you drafted them all, this is how it would look. Yes, Tim Jennings, I would have won.
The opposite field is well respected in baseball. Complete hitters “go the other way” and do so with authority.
Whether it’s a lefty going to left field or a righty going to right field, it’s an important part of a balanced hitter. But who did it best in 2012?
Among qualified hitters, Carlos Gonzalez had the highest average the opposite way, .536, but that doesn’t really tell the whole story. That just tells you that when he hit the ball to left field, he got a high percentage of hits.
The most opposite field hits belong to Derek Jeter by a whole lot. He had 86 opposite field hits which was 25 hits better than the players (Miguel Cabrera and Adrian Gonzalez) who tied for second. But Jeter also had the most balls in play hit the opposite way, so you’d expect him to have a high number of hits to right.
Carlos Gonzalez leads in efficiency the other way, Jeter leads in chances and raw number.
Adrian Gonzalez leads if we’re looking for two base hits the other way with 25 and Elvis Andrus claims a league leading 6 triples to the opposite field.
Three hitters led the league with 10 opposite field homeruns and none of them were named Miguel Cabrera (he hit 9). Michael Morse, Andrew McCutchen, and Russell Martin hold that honor.
Michael Morse, not too surprisingly, slugged the highest the other way, posting a gaudy .913 mark when he hit the ball to right field. He can also claim the highest wRC+ (273) while CarGo grabs the highest wOBA (.586).
If we want to go farther, which we obviously must, Greg Dobbs led the league with a 41.0% line drive rate the other way. While Ben Revere hit the most grounders, 47.9%. Fly balls are Adam LaRoche’s game, as he hit 76.1% of his opposite field contact in the air.
Ichiro and Norichika Aoki each had 11 infield hits the other way, but Colby Rasmus and Erick Aybar each dropped down 8 successful bunt hits to the opposite field.
All this is well and good, but who was the worst? Who had the fewer hits the other way in 2012?
That honor goes to Mr. Aaron Hill from the Arizona Diamondbacks with a whopping 15! Now that could be poor contact or bad luck, but it’s hard to ignore the 6 MLB hitters who only hit the ball to the opposite field 81 times in 2012.
Each of these men; Ryan Doumit, Everth Cabrera, Will Venable, Drew Stubbs, Adam Dunn, and Chipper Jones, can claim to have made contact the other way the fewest times of anyone.
If we sum it all together and ask wRC+, the worst opposite field hitter of 2012 was Phillies SS Jimmy Rollins with a wonderful -16 wRC+. That’s 8% worse than the second worst guy!
Opposite field hitting is a key piece of any hitter’s game, but it’s clearly a bigger piece for some. Certain hitters like Cabrera, CarGo, and Adrian Gonzalez like to go the other way with authority, and some just like doing it period like Jeter.
Others aren’t so skillful, like Hill and Rollins, and probably should just stick to the pull field.
Every pitcher has a go to pitch. That pitch they go to when the need a big out in a tight game. The pitch they aren’t afraid to throw with the season on the line.
A lot of guys who with the heater, some with the hook. But who goes with each pitch the most. In other words, who leads the league in throwing certain pitches?
For qualified starting pitchers, Mr. Fastball is Indians righthander Justin Masterson who went to the fastball 80.7% of the time in 2012. His only other pitch was his slider, which accounted for the rest. Certainly sounds like someone who should be facing righties out the pen, but the Indians don’t have a lot of options.
Madison Bumgarner is the man to know if you like sliders, as he throws them a whopping 39.0% of the time. He matches that with a fastball and the very occasional curve and changeup.
The cutter belongs to Dan Haren who goes to that pitch 35.6% of the time. No one else even tops 30.0%.
34.1% is the top mark for curveballs and that belongs to the Pirates’ AJ Burnett who sets the pace by more than 3.0%.
James Shields topped teammate Jeremy Hellickson in a close race, 28.9% to 28.3%, when it comes to throwing changeups in 2012. Maybe the Rays catchers just like calling them.
Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardjiza is the man to know if you like splitters as he goes to that pitch 18.6% of the time.
You’ll never guess who owns the knuckleball category. It’s a guy named R.A. Dickey, who floated a knuckler 85.4% of the time. The story here is that no other qualified starter threw one at all.
If you like velocity, here are the average highs/lows for each pitch:
FB: David Price 95.5, R.A. Dickey 83.4
SL: Madison Bumgarner 87.5, Bronson Arroyo 76.1
CT: Edwin Jackson 92.6, Mark Buehrle 82.9
CB: Lucas Harrell 83.1, Bronson Arroyo 71.2
CH: Felix Hernandez 88.7, Barry Zito 75.0
SF: Yu Darvish 87.7, Ricky Nolasco 80.8
This doesn’t tell us who has the best of each pitch, but it tells us something. And that’s all we try to do here at STT, give you more information about the game we all love.
Only 134 days until Opening Day.
This week’s leaderboard comes from the 2012 leaders in IFFB% or infield fly ball rate. Which qualified pitchers and hitters force and hit the most popups?
Starting Pitchers – Most
1. Bruce Chen, 17.6%
2. Rick Porcello, 15.8%
3. Phil Hughes, 15.6%
4. Justin Verlander, 15.4%
5. Jon Lester, 14.4%
Starting Pitchers – Fewest
1. Edwin Jackson, 3.6 %
2. Tim Lincecum, 3.8%
3. Jeff Samardzija, 3.8%
4. Yovani Gallardo, 4.0%
5. Scott Diamond, 4.0%
Hitters – Most
1. Jimmy Rollins, 19.0%
2. Erick Aybar, 18.4%
3. Desmond Jennings, 18.1%
4. Mike Moustakas, 17.6%
5. Dan Uggla, 16.9%
Hitters – Fewest
1. Chris Johnson, 0.8%
2. Joe Mauer, 1.0%
3. Austin Jackson, 1.4%
4. Jose Altuve, 1.5%
5. Ben Revere, 1.6%
In a very lose sense, IFFB% tends to have a negative correlation with groundball rate. In other words, people who hit/throw groundballs tend to have lower IFFB%. Except there are two glaring exceptions on these lists (at least in the top fives).
Rick Porcello is a groundballer (>50%) but one of the top IFFB% pitchers. This would lend some strong evidence that Porcello is a lot better than his ERA indicates. He gets groundballs and infield popups. Imagine him with a good defense. What’s interesting about Porcello is that his GB% is consistent in his four year career (50-55%), but his IFFB% is increasing consistently every season (5%, 7%, 10%, 15%).
Chris Johnson has a GB% below 40%, but somehow has almost no infield popups. 60% of his balls are in the air, but less than 1% are in the air to the infield. That is crazy! His career numbers show this same trend, so it isn’t a fluke.
Take from this what you will, but at the very least these leaderboards highlight some players with strange tendencies.
I have a new favorite stat. Well, it’s not really a stat as much as it is a device most people wear on their wrists.
“Pace” is how Fangraphs labels it. It’s the average amount of time a batter or pitcher spends between pitchers. I love this because I value quick workers. I love how fast Fister works and hitters who DON’T STEP OUT BETWEEN EVERY PITCH!
You can tell I feel strongly. Let’s take a look at some numbers.
Position Players – Slowest (among qualifiers)
1. Carlos Pena, 28.0 average seconds between pitches
2. Hanley Ramirez, 26.7
3. Robinson Cano, 26.6
4. Brandon Phillips, 26.3
5. Derek Jeter, 25.0
6. Brennan Boesch, 24.9
7. Ryan Braun, 24.9
8. Danny Espinosa, 24.8
9. David DeJesus, 24.7
10. Allen Craig, 24.7
Position Players – Fastest
1. Michael Bourn, 19.2
2. Dustin Ackley, 19.3
3. Jimmy Rollins, 19.5
4. Jose Reyes, 19.7
5. Kelly Johnson, 19.7
6. Zack Cozart, 20.0
7. Austin Jackson, 20.0
8. Jason Kipnis, 20.0
9. Ben Revere, 20.1
10. Mike Aviles, 20.1
Starting Pitchers – Slowest (among qualifiers)
1. Clay Buchholz, 25.6
2. Josh Beckett, 24.6
3. Jeremy Hellickson, 24.6
4. Ryan Vogelsong, 24.5
5. Yu Darvish, 24.5
Starting Pitchers – Fastest
1. Mark Buehrle, 17.2
2. R.A. Dickey, 17.7
3. Matt Harrison, 17.9
4. Jon Niese, 18.2
5. Clayton Richard, 18.2
Relievers – Slowest (at least 50 IP)
1. Jose Valverde, 32.8
2. Joel Peralta, 32.3
3. Jonathan Broxton, 31.8
4. Jonathan Papelbon, 30.3
5. Rafael Bentancourt, 29.5
I don’t think we have any revelations on these lists, but it’s sure fun to take a look at some of these numbers. Boesch is the slowest Tiger, Jackson the fastest. Valverde is the slowest pitcher and Fister checks in as the fastest Tiger arm at 19.2.
In case you’re wondering, MLB rules state that when the bases are empty, a pitcher must throw a pitch within 20 seconds of the last one. So either some of these guys pitch in a lot of traffic or the boys in blue aren’t enforcing the rule very well. I’ve only seen it called once in my life (against Bentancourt).
Be sure to check back next week for another goofy leaderboard.
Since the Tigers clinched a World Series birth yesterday and NLCS Game 5 is still a few hours away, I thought I’d post a goofy 2012 leaderboard, for those of you who love random bits of information.
Today, let’s look at unidentified pitches. What are you talking about, you ask? Thanks to advanced camera and software in every ML park, every pitch’s location, speed, and type are charted and tracked. But sometimes, the system can’t pick up exactly what pitch we’re looking at, so it gives it a tag of XX as opposed to say, FB, SL, CB, CH, etc.
Who leads baseball in these crazy, weird pitches?
This list includes only pitchers who qualified for the ERA title because the system learns the pitchers, so if you only pitch a couple of innings, it has a tough time deciding what pitch you just threw.
Top Five Pitchers Who Throw Weird Pitches:
1. Rick Nolasco (Marlins): 1.2%
2. Aaron Harang (Dodgers): 1.2%
3. Mat Latos (Reds): 1.1%
4. Josh Johnson (Marlins): 1.1%
5. Mike Minor (Braves): 1.0%
That list probably doesn’t really excite you. Only about one percent of pitches weren’t identified for the most unidentified pitchers? That’s hardly interesting. You’re right, but the hitters!
The hitters are interesting!
Top Seven Hitters Who Face Weird Pitchers:
1. Prince Fielder (Tigers): 2.7%
2. Miguel Cabrera (Tigers): 2.5%
3. Carlos Beltran (Cardinals): 2.4%
4. David Wright (Mets): 2.3%
5. Albert Pujols (Angels): 2.1%
6. Josh Hamilton (Rangers): 2.0%
7. Ryan Braun (Brewers): 2.0%
Two things about this list are awesome. First, all of those hitters are top flight. In trying to come up with an anecdotal explanation for this, I have two. 1) Managers go to the bullpen more often with great hitters at the plate, so we’re just seeing these guys facing more pitchers who the system might know a little less well than a starter. 2) Pitchers are doing something different against great hitters that makes identifying the pitch marginally harder. Maybe there is an intentional walk effect?
The second cool thing is that the top two guys play for the same team! What?! This should be a pretty random thing if we’re talking about pitches the computer can’t recognize, but there are two Tigers at the top of the list. Before you say that it’s about the cameras at Comerica Park, no other Tigers are near the top and Austin Jackson is LAST at 0.0%!
Unfortunately, after further review, it is an intentional walk effect. Look up the IBB leaders and the list will look eerily similar. For both hitters and pitchers.
The lesson in this is that apparently a very expensive computer system can’t figure out what the hell is going on when a pitcher throws a 71mph fastball up and away when they normally fires 92-93mph. Maybe we shouldn’t be too worried about the singularity and computers taking over the world.
Or maybe we should, because they can’t figure out why you’d want to give someone a free base when the best player in the league only reaches base 40% of the time.