By In Stuff

Splitting Splits

A few fun early season statistics using Baseball Reference’s amazing new “Split Finder.”

  1. The Kansas City Royals’ No. 3 through No. 6 hitters have six homers all year … by far the lowest total in baseball.

The Royals, even in the midst of a three-game losing streak, are off to a very nice start, and they have Kansas City baseball fans buzzing for the first time in a decade. But there are a couple of disturbing trends, and this is one of them. The middle of the lineup — which has mostly been Billy Butler, Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas — have just those six homers all year. Throw in Jeff Francoeur, who has been abysmal in the No. 7 spot since the beginning of 2012, and you can see that at the moment it’s just too hard for the Royals to score runs.

I suspect that at some point manager Ned Yost will shake up the lineup*, perhaps moving leadoff hitter Alex Gordon into the meat of the lineup (he leads the team with five homers) and Cain up to the top. But this isn’t something that can get fixed with a lineup change. Butler, Hosmer and Moustakas — especially Hosmer, who has not hit a homer yet this season — will have to hit with more power if the Royals are to contend over a long season.

*I wrote this before I saw this storythat says, well, yes Ned Yost is considering major lineup changes including moving Alex Gordon down. Well, the Nedster is nothing if not predictable.

  1. St. Louis has a baseball-leading .392 on-base percentage in high-leverage situations. The Cardinals also have the best record in baseball.

People will argue until the end of time, I suppose, about clutch hitting in baseball. Is it a separate skill from regular ol’ hitting? Are there certain players who can raise their games in the biggest moments? Are there certain teams that have the magic when the chips are down, when backs are against the wall, when the moment is right, when it’s squeaky-bum time?

It’s hard to say … but one thing that seems true is that the teams that perform in those high leverage situations — that is those moments when the game is at its tipping point — tend to be really good teams. Last year, the team that had the highest on-base percentage in high leverage moments — the San Francisco Giants — won the World Series.

Two years ago, the team that had the highest on-base percentage in high leverage moments — the St. Louis Cardinals — won the World Series.

Three years ago, that team was Minnesota … which won 94 games. In fact, let’s look at the list:

2009: Angels (won 97 games)

2008: Boston (won 95 games)

2007: Colorado (won 90 games and reached World Series)

2006: Yankees (won 96)

2005: Boston (won 95)

2004: San Francisco (won 91)

2003: Boston (won 95)

So, it works. Teams that make the fewest outs in those key situations wins games. I guess that’s obvious. But how teams actually go about performing so well in high leverage situations over a whole season, well, that’s not as obvious.

  1. Yu Darvish has already had five games where he was given six-plus runs of support.

Not surprisingly — or coincidentally — those are the five games he has won.

Here’s a fun little tidbit for you:

In 1962, the San Francisco Giants gave Jack Sanford six-plus runs of run support 22 times — that’s tied for the most for any pitcher since World War II. Sanford pitched fairly well in those 22 starts, with a 3.18 ERA. That was good enough for him to go 18-0 in those games. Basically because his team scored lots and lots of runs for him, he finished second in the Cy Young Award voting to Don Drysdale.

Here’s what’s interesting about this: Drysdale ALSO got six-plus runs of support 22 times — amazingly two different pitchers got that kind of crazy runs support in 1962 — and Drysdale went 16-0 with a 2.91 ERA in those games.

Meanwhile, Bob Gibson — who probably pitched better than both of them — only had eight games where his team scored six plus runs (he won seven of them). He went 15-13 overall and did not get a single Cy Young vote. I’m sure there are people who will continue to say that Gibson just wasn’t as much of a winner as those other guys.

  1. Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez is hitting .405 and slugging .714 so far against lefties. He’s hitting .263 against righties.

We are obviously only talking about a small sample size … but CarGo has always held his own against lefties as a left-handed batter. For the moment, he’s crushing them and so let’s watch and see if managers are paying attention. If a manager brings in a lefty-specialist to get out CarGo, then they are probably not paying attention.

Bill James thinks the whole specialist thing has brought more blah to baseball than joy, and I would tend to agree. The other day, I was flipping channels and that Jodie Foster movie about life on other planets was on — Contact, I guess it’s called. Was that movie 5 1/2 hours long or do I just remember it that way? I mean it wasn’t bad, but man it felt long.

Anyway, there’s a scene in there — I have no idea how to set this up if you haven’t seen the movie — where aliens may or may not have given explicitly directions on how to build a spaceship that will take Jodie Foster to their planet or their dimension or something. I’m sure I’m getting that wrong. It’s an involved plot. What was striking was that the directions specifically did not include putting a seat on the space ship. The people who built the space ship, though, INSISTED that a seat be put on there, you know, for safety reasons.

So the seat is installed, and the space ship takes off, and it’s rumbling and bumping like crazy, and it seems like it will break apart. Finally, what happens is that the stupid seat breaks loose, and suddenly the ride is smooth and utterly perfect. It was the seat that had caused all the problems.

I’ve come to think of baseball that way with managers. It feels like the more they throw their seats into the game — the move involved they get with bunting and intentional walks and pitching changes and base-running shenanigans — the bumpier and less interesting they make the game. I’m not saying they should stay out entirely. I’m just saying, like in most areas of life, less is more.

  1. The Crime Dog and the Thomenator loved swinging 3-0.

This is a historical split: Going back to 1988, Fred McGriff, by far, was the king of the 3-0 count. One hundred twenty two times, the Crime Dog swung and put the ball in play on 3-0 — the most of any player since they’ve been keeping track. He hit .434 and slugged .852 — hitting 13 home runs and, oddly, two of his 24 career triples.

Here are the home run leaders on 3-0 pitches (again, since 1988):

1. Jim Thome, 17

2. Sammy Sosa, 15

3. McGriff, 13

(tie) Greg Vaughn, 13

5. Carlos Delgado, 12

6. Jeff Bagwell, 11

(tie) Frank Thomas, 11

  1. 8. Barry Bonds, 10

(tie) Juan Gonzalez, 10

10. Barry Bonds, 9

Thome’s 3-0 home run record is unsurprising. Pitchers tend to throw fastballs 3-0 – everybody knows that. And Thome, throughout his career, feasted on fastballs. It did not matter how hard you threw it. I remember a game, 2000 I guess, Indians down a run in the ninth against the Angels and Troy Percival was pitching. Percival could throw a million miles an hour, and Thome LOVED facing him. It wasn’t just that Thome hit a massive two-run homer to win the game. It was that there was never even the slightest doubt that he would. Percival was a fastball pitcher in a situation where he would want to pump it up just a little bit higher than normal. To Thome, in those days, faster the better.

The other cool thing is that Jeff Bagwell and Frank Thomas — who were born on the same day — both hit 11 homers on 3-0 counts. Their cosmic connection is pretty cool. It would be nice to see them go into the Hall of Fame the same year (meaning, next year).

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

16 Responses to Splitting Splits

  1. Frank says:

    The knee-jerk managing / Jodie Foster seat episode, together with the mention of Troy Percival, brings to mind my pet peeve with the current baseball culture, to wit: Managers pulling effective starters in the 9th to replace them with a closer. Elsewhere, Joe noted that it happened with James Shields this week. Dusty Baker does this all the time. Davey Johnson, too.

    I can remember being at a game in Baltimore years ago when the starting pitcher – I forget who – held the O’s to less than five baserunners the whole game, and the Angels led 2-0 into the bottom of the ninth. He couldn’t have had a whole lot of pitches.

    Notwithstanding the proven commodity of the day on the mound, the Angels manager (Scioscia, perhaps, but maybe his predecessor) puts in Percival. He never retired a batter. All I can remember is that Mike Bordick hit a two-run homer off the foul pole and Rich Becker, of all people, somehow figured into the rally.

    The complete game in baseball is a lost art because starters are not given the opportunity, not because of ineffectiveness. In my opinion, there is no greater favor a manager can give to the opposing team than to pull an effective starter.

    • S L Hogenson says:

      September 12, 1998 (thanks to R Neyer for the Tracers concept) …

      Steve Sparks 7.2 IP for the Halo’s, giving up 5 hits and walking 6. Mike Holtz gets the last out of the 8th. Percival starts the ninth. Becker single, Bordick HR to tie it up, R Alomar flyout to “deep left” (per BBReference), B Anderson single followed by SB2, E Davis walk-ff single.

      That’s some memory Frank!

    • BigMikeG says:

      Nice job by S L Hogenson tracking down that game…but I do have to point out that Frank was wrong in one respect. Steve Sparks had only give up 5 hits…but 6 walks…and was at 138 pitches with two outs in the eighth when he was taken out of the game.

      Which makes Terry Collins decision to remove him a little more understandable.

    • Frank says:

      S L & BigMike – Thanks for all the ground work. Steve Sparks was a knuckle-baller as I recall, so 138 pitches for him might not be the same as for other pitchers. Still, hard to believe that any manager today would even let a knuckle-baller go 138 pitches. Shows how much the game has changed in 15 years.

      It was a day game, and I remember taking my boys – ages 8, 6, & 4. Might have been the 4 year-old’s first game. Nothing to cheer about all day, but I can recall that the crowd started to come to life when Percival came out for the 9th. We knew the O’s had been given a break.

  2. blovy8 says:

    It’s because the bullpens are so big that this happens. You need to use a pitcher periodically for him to stay sharp, so it’s rare for one of your best relievers to go more than two or three games without working. Just as it’s stat-driven to give one pitcher that closer or set-up designation so they can get their saves and holds, it’s stat-driven to let your starter go nine just to get a complete game. By the time he’s thrown 100 pitches, unless your bullpen is shot or stinks, you’ve probably got a more effective pitcher in that situation available.

    In terms of roster usage though, why is it more important to have a third lefty or a mopup guy in the pen than a really fast runner or excellent defensive player? When did 11 pitchers become not enough?

  3. blovy8 says:

    To add, I’d rather see a late-game great defensive play or steal attempt, than three pitchers in an inning, or watch the seventh man in the pen nibble through a lineup that’s swinging anyway.

  4. djangoz says:

    Bob Gibson…he just couldn’t pitch to the score.

  5. Matt Janik says:

    Of course, the other side of the OBP-in-high-leverage-situations is that those teams are the best in those situations because they’re the best at getting on-base, period.

    Let’s look at where those teams rank(ed) in MLB in plain old on-base percentage:

    – 2013: Cardinals – 12th (.028 behind MLB leader)
    – 2012: Giants – 8th (.011)
    – 2011: Cardinals – 3rd (.008)
    – 2010: Twins – 2nd (.009)
    – 2009: Angels – 3rd (.012)
    – 2008: Red Sox – 1st
    – 2007: Rockies – 3rd (.012)
    – 2006: Yankees – 1st
    – 2005: Red Sox – 1st
    – 2004: Giants – 2nd (.003)
    – 2003: Red Sox – 1st

    So, the 2012 Giants are kind of an anomaly, but then again, 10 teams had an OBP between .325 and the league-best .338. Also, of course, the sample size is too small to tell whether the 2013 Cardinals will be an outlier as well. Otherwise, since 2003, the best high-leverage OBP team has been one of the top-three teams in MLB in overall OBP. Which makes sense, obviously; if you’re good at getting on base, you’ll be good at getting on base in high-leverage situations (and low-leverage situations, and medium-leverage situations, and any situation).

  6. KHAZAD says:

    You can bring the Royals home runs down to specific parts of the lineup if you want, but it is the entire team at the moment (other than Gordon). a 3 home run “barrage” in two days at Baltimore have moved the Royals into a tie for last in the MLB in home runs. (Miami)They are also 29th in walks, and are probably only that high because teams are pitching around Billy Butler because no one they have put behind them scares anyone. At all. Only 3 of his 20 walks have officially been intentional, but you only have to watch to see that he is not getting strikes in any game type situation. On the plus side, if he stays healthy, he will be the first Royal since Jose Offerman in 1998 to break 75 walks. It is a long standing organizational problem. Seriously, you should see if BR can tell you how far behind in walks the Royals are compared to the rest of the AL the last 20 years. (or you can pick any time frame you want. Spoiler alert! The Royals will be last, and it will not be close.)

    The early season of being over .500 has been fun to watch,especially the starting pitching, but I am taking it one game at a time. In putting all their chips into the starting pitching, the team went with the same lineup that finished 12th in the AL in runs scored last year, counting on improvement from Hosmer and Moustakas and a bounceback from Moore favorite Francouer. Right now, Francouer is hitting .234/.274/.336. The only two Royals with a lower slugging percentage than Frenchy are Hosmer and Moustakas. Yes, that means they are all being outslugged (albeit slightly) by Chris Getz, who has the lowest batting average of the four.

    Moving Gordon to #3 might make make Yost feel better, (I am assuming he will move Cain up top) but the lineup below Butler, without major improvement from the players, will still be anemic, and that is the kindest way to say it.

    • KHAZAD says:

      Just for fun- The average of triple slashes of the 5 players most likely to hit #5-#9 in the lineup if Cain gets moved to the top is .243/.291/.342 through the first 30 games. It is not surprising that this does not create alot of runs.

  7. Mark Daniel says:

    I think it’s interesting that you (and Bill James) think managerial moves make the game more blah. I think they actually make the game more interesting, but only because one managerial move usually prompts a countermove. Thus, you can watch the managers try to outwit each other. For example, one manager will out of the blue call for a sac bunt with men on 1st and 2nd and nobody out. The sac bunt makes it 2nd and 3rd with 1 out. The other manager, in response, shrewdly calls for an intentional walk of the next better. Now it’s bases loaded, 1 out. Just what the team playing the field wants, apparently. Now, what does the manager do? Bases loaded, 1 out. And they were put in this position by the other manager. Do you call a squeeze?

    I remember a couple years ago the Tigers played the D-backs, and in the top of the 9th (D-backs at the plate, up 1 run), almost this exact scenario arose. The Dbacks got men on 1st and 2nd, nobody out. So of course they bunted to make it 2nd and 3rd, 1 out. Then the Tigers countered with an IBB, which loaded the bases. Bases loaded, 1 out, up 1 run. What do you do? Let the hitter swing away? Nah! First you wait for the new pitcher to warm up, then you bunt! Of course, the player bunts it right to the pitcher, who turns it into a double play, ending the inning.
    It was interesting in that it seemed like bad move, countered by bad move, countered by bad move, with one team ending up on top (for that inning).

    • Llarry says:

      But you’re not describing *interesting* managerial moves, you’re describing routine, almost ‘pre-programmed’ moves. You could have had the managers fill out and submit those moves days in advance (if this situation arises, I will do this, the opponent will naturally do that, so I will follow with this other thing…).

  8. My modest solution to the problem of endless pitching changes: a pitcher must get one out or allow one run before being relieved. That would cut down on pitching changes, create more favorable matchups for the hitter, and encourage relievers who might be on the mound awhile to pitch efficiently or suffer the consequences.

    My modest solutions to the problem of intentional walks: I propose that once per game, a batter can decline a walk, set the count back to no balls (keeping the strikes) and resume the at-bat. If the batter gets an eight pitch walk, he is awarded two bases.

    Strategically, it would become more dangerous to issue the intentional walk, and would set-up the question of when to refuse the free pass, particularly if you have a strike or two against you. Mainly though, what the double walk is meant to do is force teams to pitch to sluggers when it really matters.

    Any takers?

    • Rob Smith says:

      No. Intentional walks are part of the game. One that often backfires and should be employed less often probably, but nonetheless a legitimate strategy. Many years ago there was a spring training where an intentional walk could be simply “declared” without throwing a pitch. It didn’t save much time & not much changed so there wasn’t much interest in making the rule permanent. The idea of setting up barriers to the intentional walk would be more appropriate in a board game or a wiffle ball game.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *