SoSH Weekly Baseball Notebook: September 16, 2016

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Weekly Baseball Notebook

While impact rookies, lackadaisical runners, and farm animals on the loose require their own articles, lots of things happen in baseball every week. SoSH Baseball typically doles out expert analyses, but we also try to cover the joy of baseball – the rules, the terms, the strange, the historic, and the just plain weird. Dave McCullough has no GMs on speed dial or anonymous quotes, but he does have a love for the old-timey baseball notes column.

Challenging Times

Leave aside whether you’re a “fan” of replay. The advent of a manager being able to challenge an umpire’s ruling has given us a new, quantifiable way to evaluate the skipper’s job performance. By no means is a manager’s success percentage the best, or only, way to judge him – but isn’t it helpful to know who’s good and who isn’t?

Well brace yourselves, quant fans: Ned Yost of the Kansas City Royals is the majors’ best at knowing when the umpires have made a mistake:

One glaringly obvious thing in that chart is that most managers are above 50% in challenges. That suggests that there are few “frivolous” replay requests. Managers obviously have the benefit of viewing – or having a subordinate view – the play before formally challenging the umpire’s ruling. Replays may cause delays in the game, and may offend some of the purists who think that umpire mistakes are “part of the game” – but they’ve also done a better than average job of correcting obvious mistakes.

Now, as for the top – and bottom – of the individual rankings, it will certainly cause some more pain to those who deem Yost to be one of the least quantifiable managers in the game. His 69% success record suggests that he or his staff are remarkably good at deciding when to challenge. Being able to spot a mistake and judge whether it falls within the replay rules is a skill – apparently one Yost excels at implementing. Meanwhile, the genesis of this research came from a Toronto Blue Jays fan who introduced the data with this lament:

“As I was watching the bizarre sequence of events during yesterday’s ninth inning between the Blue Jays and the Red Sox, I was thinking to myself… John Gibbons and the Blue Jays must not have a very good record in challenges this season.”

Gibbons has indeed been the worst in the majors at spotting mistakes and challenging them, being overruled almost two-thirds of the time. Only noted pitcher abuser and grumpy fossil Dusty Baker is as bad at judging the umpires’ decisions.

Ultimately, the replay system has become a part of the game in a short time; the process has been streamlined effectively, and the challenges are resulting in “the correct call” being made well more than half the time it is used. That is a win for MLB and for managers – especially Yost, who finally has a statistic that says he’s really good at managing – well, other than his World Series ring.

And Down The Stretch They Come!

Figuring out the division winners is pretty easy at this point – with one exception. The Chicago Cubs have officially punched their ticket to the postseason, and barring a historic collapse the Washington Nationals, Texas Rangers, and Cleveland Indians will soon lock up their division crowns. The AL East looks to be a going right down to the wire, while the Los Angeles Dodgers must take care of business to wrap up the NL West.

The Wild Cards for both leagues remain in flux; four clubs are battling in the NL, while eight teams are fighting for the AL’s two berths. Each team has to play well in these last two weeks to secure a post-season berth – but who has the easiest path to the end of the season? The good folks at Baseball Prospectus have a tool for looking at the Strength of Schedule for each team.

The Houston Astros have the friendliest schedule among AL contenders, with their opponents sporting just a .461 winning percentage. Looking at the NL contenders, the New York Mets possess the easiest remaining schedule in the major leagues with a combined .420 win percentage among their remaining opponents. Meanwhile, the Baltimore Orioles have the most difficult road to the playoffs, with their opponents owning a .535 combined record, and the San Francisco Giants have the toughest obstacles to overcome in the NL, with their opponents recording a .522 mark.

Nothing is better for the sport than a good pennant race, and it looks as if the Wild Cards – as well as AL East and NL West races – are going to give baseball a fantastic, near-photo finish. With so many good teams still alive, several fan bases are going to be mighty disappointed by the outcome – while at least four fan bases are going to be celebrating having qualified for the postseason by the skin of their teeth.

The Week In Tweeting

The biggest story of the week on Twitter was Dodgers manager Dave Roberts lifting starting pitcher Rich Hill in the midst of a perfect game:

Following the Hill kvetching on the leaderboard were the lamentations for Nationals hurler Stephen Strasburg having to shut it down because of injury:

With award season approaching, and pundits beginning to make their picks, I’ll add to my case for Mike Trout with this gem:

This is your two-minute warning, so tune in now. Vin Scully says he will not call Dodger playoff games:

Baseball is just better when the Mets are a mess. First up, their AAA manager Wally Backman was apparently fired for good cause:

Meanwhile, major league skipper Terry Collins admitted to a mistake with some refreshing honesty:

Don’t cross the streams!

If you’re a regular reader of this column, you know that we are firmly on team #NeverRetire:

Finally, while the Cubs are going to bring postseason baseball to Chicago, the White Sox are still intent on making some headlines of their own:

The GIFs and Videos Of The Week

The Mets Noah Syndergaard delivers the pitch of the week: a 94-mph unhittable slider perfectly framed by Rene Rivera:

There is nothing that makes SoSH Baseball Senior Writer Rick Rowand happier than “heads-up” baseball: any play where a player uses a mistake by the other team to generate runs via hustle, smarts, and skill. Boston’s Mookie Betts made him oh-so-happy with this bit of audacious baserunning:

Meanwhile, catcher Gary Sanchez of the New York Yankees has earned recognition for his incredible hot streak at the plate – but he has not gotten a ton of praise for his ability to contribute defensively. But he will. Oh, he will:

Preparing for the postseason includes prepping the field, and the Cubs started on that this week by re-sodding Wrigley:

Japanese League superstar Shohei Ohtani almost qualified for our twitter section this week, given his new pitch-speed record. But the two-way superstar is also formidable at the plate, as seen here:

This is a strong contender for celebration of the season:

First, #NeverRetire. Second, Beltre is not playing your silly games, Orbit:

News, Notes, and Nuggets of Information

  • Brian Dozier of the Minnesota Twins hit his 40th home run of the season this week, which is truly remarkable given that he had four in late May. Through May 24, Dozier had those four dingers and a .199/.288/.318 line – like the rest of his Twins teammates, he stunk. In 102 games since, he has put up a .313/.380/.680 line, with 37 homers and 29 doubles. Dozier’s performance has added a silver lining to another miserable season for Twins fans.
  • Minnesota was eliminated from postseason consideration well before the Cubs clinched, but the Twins’ demise was far from the fastest. The 1962 Mets – a truly execrable expansion team – finished more than 60 games out of first place and were eliminated 115 games into the “new” 162 game schedule. Prior to that, the 1932 Boston Red Sox held the mark for fastest elimination in a 154-game schedule: 110 games into the season. The 1930s Red Sox were a pathetic bunch, but it was to be expected given all their talent had been sold to New York over the previous decade-plus.
  • In the offseason we hope to review the best and worst moves by each team – nominations welcome in the comments! – but at first glance, the move of Daniel Murphy from the Mets to the Nationals will qualify for a best and a worst on each side of the transaction, while Giants fans are quite happy with the signing of Johnny Cueto. The best trade seems to be whatever the final tally ends up on Cubs-Yankees transactions involving Adam Warren (as well as Starlin Castro, Aroldis Chapman, etc.)
  • Congratulations are due to the various minor league playoff winners, and to the winners of the Mexican League, the Pericas de Puebla. They overcame the Toros de Tijuana to capture the crown with a 2-0 victory, saved by former MLB pitcher Chad Gaudin. Both teams are stocked with former major leaguers, including Willy Taveras, Daric Barton, and Oscar Robles.
  • The Cincinnati Reds are still on pace to bust MLB’s record for homers allowed in a season, and part of their “achievement” is a new record for most home runs surrendered by a bullpen (92 and counting). The pitching has been putrid in Cincinnati this season and it would be fitting for the Reds to set a mark honoring their futility. If you’re gonna be bad, be so terrible to make the record books – eh?
  • Since the Ancient Mariner, Alex Rodriguez, departed, the Bronx Bombers have been blessed by the arrival of catcher Gary Sanchez. Manager Joe Girardi has since coaxed his club to an 18-11 record – and shockingly into the Wild Card race.
  • Plans to play some games in London in the 2017 season were officially scrapped this week, as the logistical challenges proved too steep to overcome. MLB travel demands are the most onerous in all of sports – only national team players for western hemisphere nations also playing club soccer in Europe travel more – but there’s just no way to fairly pull off “regular season” baseball in London. The jet lag for the teams involved would be a competitive disadvantage for weeks after the games.
  • Finally, with the minor league season over, the between-innings entertainment options have shrunk significantly. But this week the Nationals’ “Presidential Race” took a dramatic, tragic turn. However, Teddy Roosevelt picked up the “teddy” bear and dashed to victory:


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