So, to have some fun as we wait for pitchers and catchers to report, here's a look at stats you don't know. In other words, useless information that does you no good at all but might make you smile when you see a familiar name from the record books.
> Former Senators and Tigers SS Ed Brinkman had over 6,000 major league at-bats and hit .224.
> Harold Baines had 113 RBI in 1985 but didn't have another 100 RBI season (103) until 1999...a 14-year gap.
> Padres OF Phil Plantier had 100 RBI in 1993 but only had 292 RBI in his entire career.
> Mike Potter had 23 career at-bats in 1976-77 with the Cardinals and never got a major league hit.
> Ron Fairly hit 215 career homers but never hit 20 in a season.
> Cardinals Pitcher Adam Wainwright hit a home run on the first major league pitch he ever saw (2006).
> In April of 1986, Padres Pitcher Craig Lefferts hit a walk-off HR in the 12th inning to beat the Giants...it was the only home run of his 12-year career.
> In April of 1999, the Cardinals’ Fernando Tatis hit two grand slams in the same inning against the Dodgers.
> In 1948, Ted Williams had three plate appearances in the same inning against three different pitchers.
> In 1962, the Mets’ Frank Thomas was hit by a pitch twice in the same inning.
> In 2004, Ichiro Suzuki had 264 hits and 225 of them were singles.
> In 1962, Harmon Killebrew hit .243 and led the AL in RBI with 126.
> In 1963, Red Sox OF Carl Yastrzemski led the AL in both hits and walks.
> Between 1969 and 1978, Bobby Bonds had 30-30 (HR and SB) seasons five times and played for five different teams.
> In 1978, Pirates SS Frank Taveras had 654 at-bats with 0 (zero) home runs.
> In 1995, Rockies OF Dante Bichette hit 40 home runs and only walked 22 times.
> In 1960, the Tigers’ Charlie Maxwell hit five (5) extra-inning home runs.
> In 1948, Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner of the Pirates hit 31 home runs at home and only nine on the road.
> Babe Ruth broke the season home run record in 1919 (29), then again in 1920 (54) and 1921 (59).
> During his major league career, Todd Zeile hit home runs for 11 different teams.
> Ray Boone and his son Bob combined for 256 lifetime home runs...Ray and his grandson Bret combined for 403.
> Hall of Fame Catcher Carlton Fisk hit 72 home runs after the age of 40.
> In three consecutive seasons, "Shoeless" Joe Jackson hit .408, .395 and .373 but didn't win the batting title in any of the three (1911, 1912 and 1913).
> In 1947, Braves Pitcher Johnny Sain won 21 games and hit .346 (37-for-107).
In a future visit, we'll share some oddities from pitching stats. Don't forget to send along the Old Duck's commission on those bar bets.
In a recent visit, we talked about an advanced pitching metric called "Fielding Independent Pitching" (FIP), which measures what a player's ERA would have been if the pitcher were to have experienced league average on balls in play. A similar stat called "Defensive Independent Pitching Statistics" (DIPS) addresses the same concept. You can find a pitcher's FIP at fangraphs.com and his DIPS at espn.com, but the premise is to determine if a pitcher was lucky or unlucky in a given season. While this is only one measure of a pitcher's effectiveness, it might help determine if you go the extra dollar (or wait that extra round) when choosing a pitcher in your league.
Based on a comparison of ERA versus FIP in 2014, there were a dozen SP's whose ERA should have been at least a half run (0.50) better than the actual results.
1) Clay Buchholz, Red Sox - 5.34 ERA, 4.01 FIP = 1.33 differential...maybe that 8-11 record could have been a little better?
2) Nathan Eovaldi, Marlins - 4.37 ERA, 3.37 FIP = 1.00 differential...didn't the Yankees just trade for him?
3) Phil Hughes, Twins - 3.52 ERA, 2.65 FIP = 0.87 differential...maybe the Twins gave him that extension because his breakout season was even better than it looked?
4) Justin Verlander, Tigers - 4.54 ERA, 3.74 FIP = 0.80 differential...another stat for the annual Verlander debate.
5) Colby Lewis, Rangers - 5.18 ERA, 4.46 FIP = 0.71 differential...you still don't want 4.46.
6) Kyle Gibson, Twins - 4.47 ERA, 3.80 FIP = 0.67 differential...a 13-game winner on a lousy team.
7) Travis Wood, Cubs - 5.03 ERA, 4.38 FIP = 0.65 differential...still not very tempting for a NL starter.
8) Drew Hutchison, Blue Jays - 4.48 ERA, 3.85 FIP = 0.64 differential...his first full season at age 24 was even better than it appeared.
9) Ervin Santana, Braves - 3.95 ERA, 3.39 FIP = 0.56 differential...now in the AL with the Twins, he's durable and consistent.
10) Bartolo Colon, Mets - 4.09 ERA, 3.57 FIP = 0.52 differential...you should expect a great performance from a 5' 11", 285 pound hurler who won't be 42 until May.
11) Jose Quintana, White Sox - 3.32 ERA, 2.81 FIP = 0.51 differential...now the #3 SP for the Pale Hose, you should be so lucky.
12) Brandon McCarthy, D-Backs/Yankees - 4.05 ERA, 3.55 FIP = 0.50 differential...now with the Dodgers, he pitched 200 innings for the first time in 2014.
At the other end of the spectrum, there were 14 SP's who seemed to have luck on their side this past season with an ERA over 0.60 runs better than expected.
1) Doug Fister, Nationals - 2.41 ERA, 3.93 FIP = -1.52 differential...this doesn't imply that he's not a good pitcher, but don't expect a sub-3.00 ERA again.
2) Chris Young, Mariners - 3.65 ERA, 5.02 FIP = -1.36 differential...you already knew this, right?
3) Edinson Volquez, Pirates - 3.04 ERA, 4.15 FIP = -1.11 differential...turned this into a $20 million contract with the Padres.
4) Johnny Cueto, Reds - 2.25 ERA, 3.30 FIP = -1.05 differential...a great pitcher, but he'll be looking for Lester money a year from now.
5) Henderson Alvarez, Marlins - 2.65 ERA, 3.58 FIP = -0.93 differential...a low K/9 rate should cause some concern.
6) Alfredo Simon, Reds - 3.44 ERA, 4.33 FIP = -0.90 differential...taking these skills to the AL in Detroit, so be careful.
7) Shelby Miller, Cardinals - 3.74 ERA, 4.54 FIP = -0.80 differential...the Braves knew this, right?
8) Roberto Hernandez, Phillies/Dodgers - 4.10 ERA, 4.85 FIP = -0.75 differential...he can go back to being Fausto.
9) Chris Tillman, Orioles - 3.34 ERA, 4.01 FIP = -0.67 differential...still good skills with 200+ IP the last two seasons.
10) Tanner Roark, Nationals - 2.85 ERA, 3.47 FIP = -0.62 differential...another good young pitcher, just don't count on that ERA again.
11) Lance Lynn, Cardinals - 2.74 ERA, 3.35 FIP = -0.61 differential...same comment as Roark.
12) Cole Hamels, Phillies - 2.46 ERA, 3.07 FIP = -0.61 differential...one of the guys you can count on as your ace.
13) Jered Weaver, Angels - 3.59 ERA, 4.19 FIP = -0.61 differential...his 18 wins led the AL, so you'll probably have to overpay.
14) R.A. Dickey, Blue Jays - 3.71 ERA, 4.32 FIP = -0.61 differential...and the AL East looks stronger for 2015.
So, when your friends want to know what a baseball fanatic does during those cold winter nights, tell them you're studying your FIP and DIPS.
The real question under the surface, however, is if these acquisitions can really make a difference in the standings? In other words, what is their contribution to winning games? We've discussed WAR (Wins Above Replacement) numerous times in this space and that statistical outcome does impact decisions made by writers voting on awards and General Managers making deals. It has become a mainstream analysis over the last decade and can help clarify and justify some contract amounts. For example, if you believe in the WAR calculations, it appears that the Yankees got a much better deal with Chase Headley (3.5 WAR, $13M per year x 4) than the Red Sox did with Pablo Sandoval (3.4 WAR, $19M per year x 5). Of course, that's just a snapshot of the 2014 season and all of these deals require projecting into the future.
This time, we'll turn to another statistical measure in an attempt to gauge the free agent market. The other stat that is team-result based is WS (Win Shares) as developed by the godfather of modern statistical analysis, Bill James. While trying to describe the formula is impossible (James wrote an entire book on the topic in 2002), it comes down to a system where each game a team wins during the season is meticulously analyzed and the three players most responsible for that win get a "win share." So, if a team wins 80 games, there will be 240 win shares distributed on the roster. Position players will have a tendency to accumulate higher totals than pitchers, but it's all about comparisons between players among positions. Only a handful of players had a number over 30 in 2014 and it's difficult to take exception with the results: Michael Brantley (31), Giancarlo Stanton (31), Andrew McCutchen (33), Robinson Cano (34) and Mike Trout (40). The pitching leader was Adam Wainwright (23) while Clayton Kershaw and Felix Hernandez posted 22 each. AL Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber had 21.
Let's look at the free agent class through the prism of "Win Shares" and analyze the results...
> Max Scherzer, P - Available. The combination of intestinal fortitude and Scott Boras' influence allowed this 30-year-old righty to turn down a $144M offer from the Tigers prior to last season. His WS of 18 was very solid and follows the figure of 20 he put up in his 2013 Cy Young Award season. The best pitcher on the market, he'll probably get a deal worth at least $175M.
> Jon Lester, P - 6 year, $155M (Cubs). At age 31, he picked a great time to have his best season. He also had a WS of 18, which he has only matched once...back in 2008. Before raising the championship flags at Wrigley Field, however, remember that his WS in '13 and '12 were 12 and 8 respectively.
> James Shields, P - Available. A little older at 33, he does deliver consistency and durability. The average WS over the last four seasons is 16, so he should be able to score $20M per year on the open market.
> Hanley Ramirez, OF - 4 year, $88M (Red Sox). It seems that the reputation he built up early in his career still holds up because teams continue to pay for the player he once was. His WS from '06 to '09 averaged an incredible 29.5 but he's not that player anymore. Last season's WS of 18 is a much better gauge of his current production. Lots of corner outfielders have better numbers for less dollars.
> Pablo Sandoval, 3B - 5 year, $95M (Red Sox). According to WS, he's a much better buy than Han-Ram. His WS over the last four seasons has averaged a solid 21 and the consistency is evident with nothing under 18 during that span.
> Victor Martinez, DH - 4 year, $68M (Tigers). Giving a 36-year-old player this type of contract is a roll of the dice, but his WS of 30 in 2014 was going to translate to big dollars somewhere.
> Melky Cabrera, OF - 3 year, $42M (White Sox). Interesting that a 30-year-old outfielder couldn't get a 4-year deal. His WS of 19 last season was solid but he does have a PED suspension on his resume.
> Russell Martin, C - 5 year, $82M (Blue Jays). Another player in his thirties who cashed in on his most productive season, where he had a WS of 22. It also didn't hurt that there really weren't any other candidates at the catching position.
> Nelson Cruz, OF/DH - 4 year, $58M (Mariners). The song sounds familiar, as this 34-year-old posted his best WS ever at 22 while leading all of baseball in home runs.
> Ervin Santana, P – 4 year, $55M (Twins). A little surprising that this deal isn't much better than some less durable hurlers, but maybe his 2014 WS of 9 should tell us something. In ten seasons, he's only been above 14 once.
> David Robertson, P - 4 year, $46M (White Sox). It seemed like GM's had gotten away from this type of commitment to closers since the Jonathan Papelbon contract. With everyone in the pitching community throwing 95 MPH, replacements are easier to find than ever. His WS in each of the last two seasons has been 12.
> Brandon McCarthy, P - 4 year, $48M (Dodgers). A smart pitcher with good stuff and a lack of durability. 2014 was the first time in his career that he's logged 200 IP and his WS was 8. For about the same price, would you sign him or Santana?
> Chase Headley, 3B - 4 year, $52M (Yankees). Had one MVP-caliber campaign in 2012 when he posted a WS of 32. He's also posted a WS of 32 the last two seasons...combined.
> Andrew Miller, P - 4 year, $36M (Yankees). If you watched the Royals in the postseason, you clearly understand the value of shut-down guys in the bullpen. He posted a WS of 9 last season despite having only one save.
> Aramis Ramirez, 3B - 1 year, $14M (Brewers) - His WS of 15 shows he's not the contributor of 3-4 years ago.
> Colby Rasmus, OF - Available. He's a young free agent at age 28 and even though his 2014 WS was only 8, he's just one season removed from a number of 20. GM's understand that there's upside here.
> Jed Lowrie, SS - 3 year, $23M (Astros). Houston has the reputation of using analytics extensively, which makes this signing a head-scratcher. A 31-year-old coming off a WS season of 11 with a defensive profile that indicates he cost the A's 31 runs the last two campaigns. Must be the cost of "veteran leadership."
> Jason Hammel, P - 2 year, $20M (Cubs). Was finally healthy in 2014 and posted a 9 WS. That's the same as Santana and better than McCarthy.
> Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B - Available. Still wants to play shortstop, but his future is probably at another position. Had a productive 2014 with a WS of 15, but he's not the player he was a few years ago.
> Nick Markakis, OF - 4 year, $44M (Braves). His lack of flash seems to undermine his image to the fans and media. At this price, he's a pretty good deal with a 2014 WS of 20. Over nine seasons, he's averaged almost 18.
> Adam LaRoche, 1B - 2 year, $25M (White Sox). This might turn out to be a great short-term deal for the Pale Hose. The last three seasons, his WS has been 20, 14 and 22.
> Jake Peavy, P – 2 year, $24M (Giants). Another veteran starter with a 2014 WS of 9.
> Mike Morse, 1B/OF - 2 year, $16M (Marlins). Protection for Giancarlo Stanton at a reasonable price. His WS last year was 13 and he still might have something left in the tank.
> Michael Cuddyer, OF - 2 year, $21M (Mets). You only sign this player if you think your team can contend (he'll be 36 on opening day). Injuries limited his production in 2014, but he did post a 19 WS in '13.
> Alex Rios, OF - 1 year, $11M (Royals). His WS has dropped the last three seasons from 22 to 15 to 9 and he's going to be 34. Who were they bidding against?
> Edinson Volquez, P - 2 year, $20M (Royals). This is one of those stories that only seems to happen in baseball. A top prospect (he was traded for Josh Hamilton prior to the '08 season) who posted ERA's like 5.71 and 6.01 in his 20's. Then, at age 30, seems to figure it all out and puts up a WS of 11. In 2011 and 2013, his WS was zero (0)! America is a wonderful country.
> Torii Hunter, OF - 1 year, $10.5M (Twins). A nice story with him going back to Minnesota, but the WS of 13 was his lowest since 2005...Father Time always wins.
> A.J. Burnett, P - 1 year, $8.5M (Pirates). Took less money to go back to Pittsburgh, but he barely blipped the radar in '14 with a WS of only 3 after a total of 20 the two previous seasons.
> Francisco Rodriguez, P - Available. Here's the riddle...Robertson had 39 saves, a WS of 12 and a WAR of 1.2 that equals $11.5M per year for four years. K-Rod had 44 saves, a WS of 13, a WAR of 1.5 and is still unemployed.
Hope all your free agent signings win their share of games.
From 1949-1960, Casey's Yankees won 10 of 12 AL Pennants and 7 World Series titles. In an era before advanced baseball statistics, it seems that he was decades ahead of the curve in the ability to manipulate lineups and get the most out of a 25-man roster. Of course, anyone can put Mickey Mantle's name on the lineup card each day, but that version of the Bronx Bombers seemed to have a different hero each day. If you look back at some of those rosters, it's clear that Stengel knew about percentages because he took advantage of platooning left-handed and right-handed hitters on a regular basis. Just using 1954 as a snapshot, you'll see that the everyday first baseman Joe Collins (who hit lefty) didn't even get 400 at-bats because Bill Skowron (who hit righty) was available. "Moose", in his rookie season, hit .340 in 215 at-bats. In the corner outfield positions, Gene Woodling, Irv Noren and Enos Slaughter batted from the left side, while Hank Bauer and Bob Cerv batted from the right side. Even Hall of Fame Shortstop Phil Rizzuto had less than 400 at-bats because switch-hitting Willy Miranda was available.
The modern version of that team is the Oakland Athletics, under the guidance of GM Billy Beane. Working with a limited budget, the "Moneyball" system has made the A's competitive with their major-market opponents. One of the keys to their success is the same platoon blueprint that Old Casey implemented in the 50's. A quick glance at their 2012 roster shows the symmetry. Chris Carter/Brandon Moss at 1B, Jonny Gomes/Seth Smith at OF/DH and numerous other limited at-bat contributors like Josh Donaldson, Derek Norris and Colin Cowgill. The A's have averaged over 92 wins the last three seasons utilizing this formula.
For MLB GM's and Fantasy Baseball participants, this lesson shouldn't be ignored. For whatever reason, left-handed batters always have more difficulty hitting left-handed pitching than their right-handed counterparts have hitting right-handed pitching (have you ever heard of a situational right-hander?). If teams blindly continue to give their left-handed hitters at-bats against tough left-handed hurlers, it will impact productivity for the team. Hitters like George Brett and Tony Gwynn only come around every decade or so. From a fantasy perspective, you need to know about this statistical category because players who don't produce will eventually lose playing time and impact your investment in the player.
Looking only at regular members of the lineup, here's some eye-opening numbers about lefty hitters and their success against lefty pitching in 2014:
> Matt Adams, Cardinals 1B - .190 BA, .231 OBP
> Pedro Alvarez, Pirates 3B - .175 BA, .241 OBP
> Michael Bourn, Indians OF - .224 BA, .268 OBP
> Jay Bruce, Reds OF - .161 BA, .217 OBP
> Chris Davis, Orioles 1B - .188 BA, .261 OBP
> Lucas Duda, Mets 1B - .180 BA, .264 OBP
> Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers 1B - .201 BA, .261 OBP
> Jason Heyward, Cardinals OF - .169 BA, .262 OBP
> Jason Kipnis, Indians 2B - .208 BA, .256 OBP
> Miguel Montero, Cubs C - .198 BA, .252 OBP
> Mike Moustakas, Royals 3B - .172 BA, .241 OBP
> Gregory Polanco, Pirates OF - .171 BA, .222 OBP
The question is if this type of player will get more or less regular at-bats moving forward? And, if they continue to get those at-bats, is it a positive or negative for your fantasy roster?
Are there left-handed hitters you can count on to be in the lineup every day? A few to consider:
> Christian Yelich, Marlins OF - .317 BA, .376 OBP
> Denard Span, Nationals OF - .269 BA, .337 OBP
> Anthony Rizzo, Cubs 1B - .300 BA, .421 OBP
> Ben Revere, Phillies OF - .341 BA, .355 OBP
> David Ortiz, Red Sox DH - .275 BA, .349 OBP
> Joe Mauer, Twins 1B - .268 BA, .349 OBP
> Nick Markakis, Braves OF - .280 BA, .343 OBP
> Jon Jay, Cardinals OF - .375 BA, .404 OBP
> Alex Gordon, Royals OF - .256 BA, .340 OBP
> Brett Gardner, Yankees OF - .262 BA, .333 OBP
> Freddie Freeman, Braves 1B - .260 BA, .358 OBP
> Jacoby Ellsbury, Yankees OF - .300 BA, .355 OBP
> Adam Eaton, White Sox OF - .299 BA, .373 OBP
> Brandon Crawford, Giants SS - .320 BA, .395 OBP
> Robinson Cano, Mariners 2B - .294 BA, .356 OBP
> Michael Brantley, Indians OF - .307 BA, .378 OBP
> Nori Aoki, FA OF - .363 BA, .428 OBP
Just what you need, another calculation to include in your 2015 player analysis. Sort of like giving a golfer one more swing-thought.
After being on this planet for all these decades, it becomes easier to have a wider view of the daily proceedings. Watching people knock each other out of the way on Black Friday or hang enough lights on the house to shame Clark Griswold doesn't fit the definition of "holiday cheer." At some point, we seem to have lost our way.
Lauren Hill is a beautiful teenage girl who loves to play basketball. Earlier this year, while still playing on her high school team, Lauren started suffering vertigo and dizziness. Eventually, she was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor but her fortitude and resilience motivated her to at least play one game of college basketball before her time ran out. On November 2nd, she took the floor for Mt. Saint Joseph's in Ohio and scored an uncontested layup for the first basket of the game. Her tumor forced the right-handed player to shoot left-handed because it had affected her coordination. The normal attendance for a Division III game is probably about 50 people, but on this day, the crowd of 10,000 at Xavier University's arena gave her a standing ovation. The video of that moment is easy to find on the Internet and watching it should be required viewing for all of the following groups...
> Parents who have ever yelled at the umpire or referee because their kid got a bad call.
> Kids who whine when they have to do some family thing at the holidays that is "boring."
> Teenagers who think not having the newest cell phone will cause them to lose standing in their circle of friends.
> Drivers of expensive cars who show their holiday spirit by cutting you off for that parking space at the mall.
> Athletes who complain about playing time.
> People who seem insulted when you wish them "happy holidays."
It would be easy to continue the list, but you get the idea. Earlier this month, Lauren entered hospice care and time may be short. Is she scared of dying? Here's what she said. "The people that I worry about are the people I'm leaving behind." Certainly a profound statement from a 19-year-old.
So, as you celebrate the holidays, my suggestion is to keep your perspective. Never take anything for granted, cherish the people around you and maybe gather together in front of the computer screen and watch Lauren Hill score that basket.