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    Wednesday, December 23, 2020

    The Disappearance of the Hall of Fame's Below-Median Starters, Part 2: Re-evaluating Andy Pettitte, Mark Buehrle, and Tim Hudson

    The other day, Baseball-Reference founder Sean Forman wrote a little bit about his Hall of Fame ballot on Twitter. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the guy who founded the biggest baseball stats website has some interesting thoughts about stats and the Hall of Fame!

    But there was one particular thought that jumped out at me. After discussing why he thought all of Andy Pettitte, Tim Hudson, and Mark Buehrle were worthy of the Hall of Fame, he noted (brackets expanding on abbreviations):

    “Just a thought here, but look at the P[itcher]s & H[itter]s inducted s[ince] 2000. 9 SPs, 42 hitters, 6 RPs. That's 26% of player inductions are Ps and just 9 SPs. We divide WAR up 40% pitching and 60% defense and batting which suggests 22 pitchers out of 57.”

    I have argued in the past that Hall voters have gotten too stingy when it comes to inducting starting pitchers, but this still a little shocking to see written out, especially when tied to player value like that. For those who don’t want to do the math themselves, 9 starters since 2000 means that just 16% of inductees in that time have been starting pitchers. When you work that out, we’re seeing over four and a half position players being inducted for each starting pitcher, and two relievers for every three starters.

    Regardless of what you think about the 60%-40% split for WAR that Forman mentions and how accurate a division of value it is, I don’t know if anyone would argue that the split that we’re actually seeing reflects how we should divide up value. And it’s not hard to see how these results could have been even more lopsided, given that the brunt of the backlash against steroid users has come largely at the cost of hitters (fairly or not). Just since 2000, off the top of my head, we’ve seen Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Gary Sheffield, and Manny Ramirez drop of the ballot or completely stall out. On the pitching side, there’s basically just Roger Clemens.* It’s really not difficult to imagine a world where we’re looking at a 48-16 split in the position players’ favor (a 75%-25% split) since 2000.

    Monday, December 14, 2020

    More Sporcle Trivia: Retired Numbers on Multiple Teams

    As a short coda to the Retired Number Quiz series, I have one more retired numbers game up over at Sporcle: Can you name the players with retired numbers on multiple teams? Since I’m not the first to tackle that idea, I also added my own twist to the proceedings, in that you also have to guess the teams for each respective player. In total, there are thirteen honorees (eleven primary-players and two managers) and twenty-eight teams (two honorees have retired numbers on three teams) to guess.

    If you’re interested, I’ll also be discussing some possible future additions to the list here, since I just wrapped up writing about the topic and it’s on my mind. But it will be below the break, to keep from spoiling the quiz for anyone (although in this case, I guess the spoilers would come from eliminating possible options).


    Wednesday, December 9, 2020

    Retired Number Quiz Series: The National League West

    We finally made it to the sixth and final entry in the Retired Number Quiz Series, the NL West. As I mentioned last time, the Dodgers and Giants prevent this from being the youngest overall division, but it’s a close second behind the AL West, and two of their expansion teams only date back to the 1990s. And that has a notable effect on their results. For instance, only four teams have players on their top-six lists who failed to reach at least 20 WAR while with the team: the Marlins, and the three NL West expansion teams.

    Of course, as weak as some of those choices are, I think the quiz isn’t as hard as some of the others, since it’s still overwhelmingly modern (even the Giants and Dodgers skew relatively recent, for teams as old as they are); there aren’t any Tommy Bridges or Johnny Logans hanging around, like some other teams had. But if you’d like to catch up on any of the previous divisions before jumping in, you can read more:

    AL East (quiz, article)
    NL East (quiz, article)
    AL Central (quiz, article)
    NL Central (quiz, article)
    AL West (quiz, article)

    With those out of the way, you can try the new NL West quiz HERE, then come back here for a discussion of the answers. As per usual, players can come from any point in the franchise’s history, they just need to have worn a uniform number for three of their seasons on the team. There are only three bonus answers this time, one Dodger who didn’t reach the three-year minimum, another Dodger who came in seventh by 0.1 WAR, and one Giant to make up for a player from the New York days making the list.

    Good luck!


    Friday, December 4, 2020

    Retired Number Quiz Series: The American League West

    Today, we move to our penultimate division in the Retired Number Quiz series, the AL West. In stark contrast with the Central divisions, four-fifths of the teams in the AL West are expansion teams, making them the overall youngest division.* Still, I think there are a lot of solid options here. And if you missed any of the previous pieces, so far, there’s the AL East (quiz, article), the NL East (quiz, article), the AL Central (quiz, article), and the NL Central (quiz, article).

    *Technically, all three expansion teams in the NL West are newer than any AL West team, but the age of the Giants and Dodgers leaves the AL West with the lower average age. I guess that means the NL West is younger by median, but either way, they still cover more history.

    You can try the AL West quiz HERE before coming back here to read the full breakdown. As a refresher, players must have worn a uniform number for at least three seasons, and this quiz covers the entire history of the franchise. For bonus answers, there are five A’s; one who failed to reach the three-year minimum, and four players from the Oakland era of the team, since two-thirds of the list is from before their move out to California.

    As usual, good luck!


    Tuesday, December 1, 2020

    Retired Number Quiz Series: The National League Central

    We’re now in the back half of this trip through the league. Having covered the AL East (quiz, article), the NL East (quiz, article), and the AL Central (quiz, article), we now move on to the next division, the NL Central. As I mentioned last time, the two Central divisions have the oldest teams on average, which makes things a little more difficult. But I still don’t find this one on the whole to be as tough as the AL Central; their NL Central counterparts just don’t feel like they’ve picked over their retired number options quite as thoroughly.

    When you’re ready, you can play the quiz HERE, then return after you’re finished to learn more about the answers. As a reminder, players must have worn a uniform number on the team in question for at least three seasons. Since none of these teams have moved, the only bonus answer this time is a Hall of Famer for the Reds who didn’t reach that three-year minimum.

    Have fun!


    Friday, November 27, 2020

    Retired Number Quiz Series: The American League Central

    Following the AL East (Quiz, Article) and NL East (Quiz, Article), we continue westward, today tackling the American League Central’s five teams. I personally think this is the hardest one of the batch, although maybe that’s just because the ALC has historically been the division I’ve followed the least closely (for whatever reason). Still, there is some logic to that too, I think: the two Central divisions are both four-fifths original-sixteen teams teams (every other division has at least two expansion teams), and their only newer teams were still some of the older ones at that (the Brewers and Royals both date back to 1969, the third wave of expansion). But even on top of that, I think the AL Central teams have generally felt just a little more thorough in their number retirements than other teams? However you’d quantify that.

    If you’re ready, you can take the quiz HERE before reading on to learn more about the specific players involved. Remember that to make the quiz, players must have worn a uniform number on the team question for at least three questions (that actually came up a lot in this division, but more on that in the article…). And for those hunting bonus answers, your goal this time is four Minnesota Twins players (plus four more players who didn't reach the three-year minimum, spread across the Indians, White Sox, and Twins-Senators, although those answers are a little more difficult).

    Good luck!


    Monday, November 23, 2020

    Retired Number Quiz Series: The National League East

    Part two of my retired number quizzes is out, this one featuring the NL East teams! The quiz can be found here, with an article explaining the results (and including spoilers) included after the break. If you’re looking for part one, featuring the AL East teams, the quiz can be found here and the article can be found here.

    (Also, like last time, players must have worn a uniform on said team for three or more seasons to qualify. And as far as bonus answers go, for those searching, the Braves and Nationals each have three focusing on their days in Atlanta and Washington, respectively.

    Good luck!


    Friday, November 20, 2020

    Retired Number Quiz Series: The American League East

    As I mentioned last time, I’m going to be publishing a series of articles and Sporcle quizzes over the next few weeks where I’ll look at the top players (by Wins Above Replacement) in each team’s history who do not have a retired number. If you want to try the quiz before reading the full piece, that can be found here. Once you’ve tried that, be sure to come back and read the full piece below, with a team-by-team analysis.

    (Please note that to make the list, players must have worn a number with the team for at least three seasons. Also of note: the quiz contains one bonus Baltimore Oriole answer, to account for a St. Louis Brown appearing in their top six players.)

    Happy guessing!


    Monday, November 16, 2020

    New Trivia Series Announcement: Best Players Without a Retired Number, by Team

    In my most recent bout of Sporcle Quiz Making during the playoffs, I decided to try and make more Retired Number quizzes as well. There wasn't really a rush to publish them, though; playoff quizzes would be timely to run during the postseason or immediately after, but retired numbers aren't really tied to any one section of the year. 

    So... I decided, why not make an offseason mini-series about it? It will help fill the slow offseason months in the time between the World Series and Hall of Fame voting (especially since I'm anticipating a slow free agent market this winter). 

    But like with anything related to Retired Numbers, I found myself struggling to be brief. There's so much interesting trivia, data, and backstory to it all. So, I decided to make it into a pair of mini-series, one a set of quizzes and one a series of short articles expanding upon the material further. So, over the next few weeks, I'll be going division by division looking at a simple question: who are the best players in each team's history without retired numbers? 

    For the sake of simplicity, I'll be going by just Baseball-Reference's version of WAR, and only value accrued with the team. Each team will have six players listed, since that a) will give me a good, round 30 answers per quiz and article; b) was generally where I found notability to start trailing off, give or take. And for added bonus answers, I’ll also include hidden answers for players who qualified for the most modern incarnation of each franchise (so for example, if three of the A’s six top players came from their time as the Philadelphia A’s, I’ll also include three extra answers of the best players when limited to just the Oakland era); all of that will be expanded upon in the articles as well.

    In any case, with all of this out of the way, I should be able to jump right in once the series actually starts in earnest. Hopefully, it's something for all of you to look forward to in the second half of November!

    Thursday, October 29, 2020

    2020 World Series Trivia: Best Active Players Without a World Series

    With the conclusion of the 2020 World Series, it is once again time for the yearly Best Active Players Without a World Series quiz. There were some big names crossed off the list this year, which we will cover after the break below. Also, I published several quizzes throughout the World Series (they were a good thing to focus on between innings and during pitching changes!), which I've also included below:

    Best Players Without a World Series, 2020 Edition
    World Series with an Expansion Team

    Friday, October 16, 2020

    New Sporcle Quiz: 2010s World Series Trivia

    It’s been a while since I did a Sporcle quiz that wasn’t related to my yearly “Best Players Without a World Series” tradition, but I had inspiration recently. Going back through my earliest quizzes, I found one that I had totally forgotten about: 2000s World Series Trivia. And upon remembering it and replaying it, I realized that I could do a follow-up. 

    So here it is: 2010s World Series Trivia. Go give it a try! And like normal, it’s been added to my Sporcle Quizzes page here. And as a new thing, I finally got organized and started playlists for some of my Playoffs and Retired Number quizzes; if you have a Sporcle account and want to be updated when new things come out, you can follow those. Because this may have given me a few more ideas to try out…

    I’m not sure if the Best Players Without a World Series quizzes should get their own playlist or go on my existing playoffs playlist; I’m leaning towards the former right now, and will probably make a decision when the new one comes out.

    Tuesday, October 13, 2020

    The 2020 Astros Look to Follow a Tradition of Slow-Starting Pennant Winners

    (Also up over at The Crawfish Boxes)

    One thing I mentioned in my ALCS Prediction is that, while the Rays had a better 2020 season than the Astros, and are more than likely the better team this year, that doesn’t quite mean as much as it seems. Obviously, short series in baseball are already much more random than they are in other sports (see, for instance, the 2006, 83-win Cardinals upsetting teams with 88, 97, and 95 wins). But the other part of the issue is that the Astros likely aren’t as bad as their record indicated, and the shortened season likely helps obscure that. 

    Yes, the Astros finished the abbreviated 2020 season with a losing record, at 29-31. On the other hand, there’s a reason most seasons go longer than 60 games. In fact, if they win the ALCS, the Astros would make for the third straight pennant winner who didn’t have a winning record through the first 60 games of the season, after the 2019 Nationals and 2018 Dodgers.

    In fact, since 2000, seven out of the forty teams to appear in the World Series carried a .500 record or worse at the 60-game mark, with a quarter of the 2010s pennant winners in that club. I wanted to look a little more at that bunch of teams, and how their full season unfolded for a sense of what might have been. Those teams in question are (all stats from Baseball-Reference):

    Year         Team             W L     Final W Final L WS Result

    2019         Nationals   27 33     93         69         W

    2018         Dodgers       30 30     92         71         L

    2014         Royals        29 31     89         73         L

    2012         Tigers         28 32     88         74         L

    2007         Rockies       29 31     90         73         L

    2005         Astros        25 35     89         73         L

    2003         Marlins        27 33     91        71        W

    The actual World Series results of this group aren’t necessarily ideal, but then again, two World Series wins in seven chances is better than not making it at all. Either way, the 2020 Astros are pretty comfortably within this group’s range, well ahead of the 25-35 2005 Astros. And they’re tied for second with the 2014 Royals and 2007 Rockies, and just a hair behind the 2018 Dodgers, who needed a 4-game win streak just to reach .500. Those Dodgers would immediately lose their next game, and they had only one day above .500 until game 63.

    Which brings me to the next question: what did the path to the pennant look like for those teams? And how does this year’s Astros team compare? 

    Monday, October 5, 2020

    The Annual Playoff Trivia Bonanza, 2020 Edition (Plus Thoughts on the Expanded Postseason)

    I wasn’t sure whether to do my annual playoff trivia article before or after the expanded, sixteen-team Wild Card round. I know it’s officially counted as one, but it still feels weird. Then again, I’m still not totally sold on the ten-team playoff structure, and think it could be improved

    And given that, you can probably tell that I am especially unhappy with Rob Manfred’s desires to keep expanded playoffs around into 2021 and beyond. I mean, obviously, if I think the current system still needs work, I would want them to focus on fixing that before moving on to bigger and better things. 

    But it does go beyond that as well. The MLB season is long for a reason: there is a lot of randomness in baseball, and it takes a lot of games to get to know who’s better. Expanding the playoffs makes sense in a shortened, 60-game season, given that World Series and Pennant winners aren’t even always winning through their first 60 games (last year’s champion the Nationals are an especially famous example, going 27-33 in their first 60, but even going back another year adds the 2018 Dodgers, who were a mediocre 30-30 and in third place by that point). 

    Obviously, the World Series winner isn’t always the true “best” team, given the randomness and short series that finish out the year, but everything is a balancing act between reward and excitement. I already think five teams is pushing things a little too much, but if more teams start getting added, we’ll be regularly seeing some mediocre squads in October. And because baseball is much more random and the rounds the new format adds are shorter and shorter, there's a good chance that those mediocre teams go far. And this isn't even getting into how an expanded playoff picture would further disincentivize teams from acquiring good players and building solid rosters-why try for 95 wins when 85 wins gets you a ticket to the postseason, especially if it's at all similar to what those 95-win teams are getting.

    That was a long sidetrack, but I think you get the point. Anyway, in the end, I decided to wait until now and focus on the final eight teams, but I did at a small look at the expanded sixteen-team set as well. So with that all out of the way, let's look at this year's playoff trivia:


    It’s probably not too much of a surprise, but the average and median drought of teams in the playoff this year is a little lower than last year, but not too out of line with the previous two or three years.

    Year         Average     Median
    2020 24.25     24
    2019 25.7             26
    2018 24.5             24.5
    2017 28.3             25.5
    2016 39.9             31.5
    2015 37             29.5
    2014 23.9             27.5
    2013 24.2             23.5
    2012 22.1             22.5
    2011 19.375     12

    Granted, it’s not like this year’s batch of teams has been wildly successful. The A’s, Braves, and Dodgers are all sitting on winless streaks of twenty-five years or more, and the Rays haven’t won in their twenty-three years of existence. The Marlins, Yankees, and Astros are the only teams here with a title since 2000, and the Yankees and Marlins won theirs prior to the 2010s. 

    It’s just that usually, there’s more high-end droughts to pull these numbers up a little more. This year, it’s just the Padres repping the historic droughts. The Indians and Brewers had similarly long streaks going, but both were of course ousted in the Wild Card rounds. Those two getting knocked out were a big part of why the expanded, sixteen-team field had a slight advantage in overall drought length over the DS round.

    Year         Average     Median
    2020 27             26

    Of course, given the number of historic droughts that ended in the past decade (the Giants, Cubs, Astros, and Nationals all saw 50+-year droughts end in the 2010s, with the Cubs’ of course topping out at 107 years), we probably won’t see these numbers returning to their peak for several years. Right now, the only other team with an active drought of over 50 years (besides, Cleveland, Milwaukee, and San Diego) is the Texas Rangers, so there just aren’t as many permutations we can make to match, say, the 2015 or 2016 postseasons. The Pirates and Mariners will join those four before the decade’s end if they don’t win in the 2020s, and the Orioles and Tigers will be close to joining that mark, but it obviously isn’t quite where we were in 2010 or 2015. And even at the high-end, the Indians are still a decade and a half away from matching the Curse of the Bambino, let alone either Chicago team’s titleless streak. 

    Last World Series Win
    Padres: Never (founded 1969)
    Athletics: 1989
    Dodgers: 1988
    Braves: 1995
    Rays: Never (founded 1998)
    Marlins: 2003
    Yankees: 2009
    Astros: 2017


    Like normal, there will be a full Sporcle quiz about the Best Players by WAR without a World Series after the postseason is totally over. As such, I'll include a full accounting of players on the list playing this October later in this post as part of a separate spoiler section, and instead focus on the quantity of players on each remaining team here.

    This year's list includes fifty-seven players (plus a pair of internationally active ones), going all the way down to 110th place on Baseball-Reference's active leaderboard. The Nationals last year did an exceptional job of clearing out names on this list, and no one in 2020 quite measures up to that. However, every team does have at least one player who made it.

    One: Marlins, Padres, Rays
    Two: Astros, Athletics
    Three: Braves, Dodgers
    Four: Yankees

    And if you were wondering about the eight teams that were already knocked out, they broke down like this:

    Zero: Blue Jays
    One: Cardinals, Reds
    Two: Brewers, Twins
    Three: Cubs, White Sox
    Four: Indians


    Things looked pretty decent at the start of the expanded postseason, with six of the final sixteen teams being expansion franchises. But the newer teams had a pretty good showing in the Wild Card round, going 4-2 (with one of those two losses being the Blue Jays at the hands of the Rays). Between the Rays, Padres, Marlins, and Astros, we have a good chance at our third-ever all-expansion team World Series, following up on 2015 and 2019.

    Not only that, but the expansion teams are evenly distributed in the Division Series round, with each matchup pairing an original team with a new one (Braves-Marlins, Dodgers-Padres, Yankees-Rays, A’s-Astros). That means there’s also a decent chance of an all-expansion Championship Series. That’s happened a little more often than the World Series, but not much more. By my count, there are only five such instances: 1982 (Brewers-Angels), 1985, 2015 (both Royals-Blue Jays), 1986 (Mets-Astros), and 2007 (Rockies-Diamondbacks). Apparently, prior to the last half-decade, the mid-1980s were the prior golden age for expansion team playoff success.


    Every single remaining NL team has played the Yankees in the World Series. The Marlins and Padres have each only made the World Series twice, and they both have played the Yankees in one of them (1998 and 2003). The Yankees’ reach in this category is just incredible when you break it down: they’ve played all eight original NL teams at least twice, and four of the seven expansion teams. The only ones they haven’t played against in the World Series have a combined two NL Pennants between them (the Nationals and Rockies have one each, while the Brewers’ lone pennant is from their time as an AL team).

    So yeah, if you want a ton of new options in this category, your first option is always to root for the not-Yankees. But in spite of that, a majority of the remaining possible World Series matchups would be occurring for the first time. The Dodgers have faced everyone but the Rays, the Braves and A’s have faced the non-expansion teams, but everything else would be new. The only team the Rays have previously faced in the last round didn’t make the postseason this year, while the Marlins, Padres, and Astros are missing half of their former final foes (the non-Yankees and non-Dodgers opponents, obviously). 

    Technically, we could have seen some interesting pre-league swap World Series and Championship Series reunions (Astros-White Sox ALDS would have been a rematch of the 2005 series, Cardinals Brewers would have been the 1982 Series, Cardinals-Astros would have been the 2004 and 2005 NLCS), but all of those chances died in the Wild Card round. The Astros did play the Braves, Dodgers, and Padres in previous Division Series, though.

    Unique Matchups

    One Time
    Yankees-Marlins (2003)
    Yankees-Padres (1998)
    Athletics-Braves (1914)
    Astros-Dodgers (2017)

    Multiple Times
    Athletics-Dodgers (1974, 1988)
    Yankees-Braves (1957, 1958, 1996, 1999)
    Yankees-Dodgers (1941, 1947, 1949, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956, 1963, 1977, 1978, 1981)


    Friday, August 21, 2020

    Team Hall of Fame Snubs vs. Team Hall Median, Part 2

    A few years ago, I covered an interesting hypothetical question: Which team would be better, a team of median Hall of Famers, or a team of the biggest Hall snubs? I encourage you to go check it out, in part because I feel like the setup was interesting, but also to give a bit of background for what I want to do today.

    I sort of randomly stumbled upon that article while looking for a reference for something else, but had fun looking back at it. And I couldn’t help but noticed that a good chunk of Team Snub had actually made it into Cooperstown in the seven-plus years since I wrote it. So I couldn’t help but wonder, if I updated it for 2020, would Team Snub still stack up so well against the Hall of Fame Median?

    First, as a brief refresher, here was the 2013 edition of Team Snub:
    C-Mike Piazza
    1B-Jeff Bagwell
    2B-Bobby Grich
    3B-Graig Nettles
    SS-Alan Trammell
    LF-Barry Bonds
    CF-Kenny Lofton
    RF-Larry Walker
    DH-Mark McGwire
    Bench-Ted Simmons, Craig Biggio, Ken Boyer, Tim Raines, Shoeless Joe Jackson
    Rotation-Roger Clemens
    Curt Schilling
    Kevin Brown
    Rick Reuschel
    Luis Tiant
    Swing Men-Tommy John, David Cone, Eddie Cicotte
    Relievers-Lee Smith, Dan Quisenberry, John Hiller

    Since then, Piazza, Bagwell, Trammell, Biggio, Smith, Raines, and most recently, Walker and Simmons, have all found their way into the Hall of Fame, and thus, no longer qualify for the team. So that’s almost a third of the team we’ll need to replace, plus we have seven years’ worth of new candidates to evaluate, so we should be seeing a good amount of turnover.

    Monday, July 20, 2020

    All-Time Lineups by Jersey Number

    The other day, Mike Petriello at ran a fun article on the most productive uniform numbers ever. It’s pretty comprehensive, and I’d definitely recommend checking it out. And sure, it’s technically not Retired Numbers, but it’s still right up my alley. So I wanted to build off of Petriello’s idea: what’s the best lineup you could make just by picking players who wore the same number?

    Generally, I tried to keep it simple: players should have worn a number of a plurality of their career, if not an outright majority. I also tried to keep things to a basic level, so we’ll be using just a starting nine with a designated hitter (to help account for some positional overlap). With that, let’s dive in:

    Friday, June 19, 2020

    Astros Dream Draft Fantasy Tournament

    Over at The Crawfish Boxes, we're making the best of a bad situation by running an All-Time Astros Fantasy Draft and Tournament. We held a draft where every player in franchise history (with two or more seasons on the team) was eligible, and we tried to make the best team possible. The best team was up for discussion, fan voting, and Out of the Park simulations. The full series is over there and still in progress, but I wanted to re-post my team here, as well as my reasoning:

    Baseball Video Game Recommendation: Super Mega Baseball 3

    (This post is also up over at The Crawfish Boxes and Out of Left Field, since it's both baseball and video games.)

    I think there’s a real art to making fun, arcade-y baseball video games. Maybe it’s because my first baseball video game was Backyard Baseball. Maybe it’s because I can sometimes get a little intense with more in-depth simulations, like Out of the Park Baseball (although it also does fill a different niche as a game, coming more from the management simulation side of things). Some of it is probably experience in my younger days that some “official” games relied on carrying MLB’s license to move units rather than actually fun gameplay; when you’re designing things as a game first rather than a marketing opportunity, you have to be sure the game is fun enough to stand on its own without official MLB names and logos. For instance, both Backyard Baseball and Out of the Park began without official licenses, making use of fictional players and teams in their initial entries.

    And on top of that, there’s an added difficulty in making games that are not just fun, but also intuitive to pick up and play for most people; there are a lot of things going on in baseball, and sometimes, in trying to adapt every single aspect for fidelity, you end up with a complicated heap of systems for the player to memorize before they feel like they have a handle on things. Backyard Baseball was great at this for a while; growing up, I could even sometimes get my dad to play it, when more official and complex titles would frustrate him.

    Of course, with Backyard Baseball more or less dead as a series, and Out of the Park doing something different entirely, I had been looking for something to fill this void. MLB’s recent video game efforts have been extremely lackluster, in all honesty. Most of their attempts at easy-to-pick-up-and-play baseball games have left a lot to be desired. MLB: The Show is a solid series, but still on the more complicated side of things, and even that has been a Playstation exclusive for the better part of a decade, leaving a lot of people (myself included, since I’ve usually focused on Nintendo systems and PC) totally out of luck. Which is why I was really excited to find the Super Mega Baseball series a few years ago.

    From Canadian-based developer Metalhead SoftwareSuper Mega Baseball was released in late 2014 to high acclaim; the sequel, Super Mega Baseball 2, came out in 2018. And the newest version, Super Mega Baseball 3 released just last month (currently available on Steam and all three major consoles-I’ve been playing the Switch version, thanks to a review copy from the developers); both sequels have been similarly well-received.

    And for good reason! I’ve been playing since the first one, which was fun but also clearly a first try at the subject. The modes were a little bare-bones, and the look had style but lacked polish. But what it absolutely had, though, was a smoothness to the play, which has held through to every sequel. It felt like the game was designed from the question “What would be the most natural way for a video game to imitate baseball?”, rather than “What’s everything that can happen in a baseball game, and then what buttons do we assign each of those to?”. That’s a small difference, but it absolutely comes through when you’re playing the games.

    Friday, April 17, 2020

    The Next Retired Number for Each Team

    We are days away from the first Retired Number of the 2020 season.

    Or at least, we would be. The Rockies were set to honor recent Hall of Fame inductee Larry Walker with the team’s second-ever retired number (#33) on April 19. Obviously, that’s not happening now, but the 2020 season was looking to be a pretty big year for retired numbers, with six on the slate. I don’t see any reason those won’t happen when things do return to normal, but it is a delay nonetheless.

    With no active baseball season to write about, I’ve seen a few more people than normal talking about uniform numbers and such. It makes sense, as the topic is pretty universal, full of interesting history, and not time sensitive. But while I’ve written about them pretty often and extensively, I realized that I haven’t put down comprehensive predictions on who will be next in that regard since my really big series.

    So let’s do that; after all, there have been a big change of the overall scope of things since I wrapped that up, with 35 players being honored since my final piece in the Retired Numbers Series (not even counting the additions that happened during the writing process, with teams that I had already covered). This won’t be anywhere as in-depth as that series, but I still want to see what’s changed in the meantime.

    One interesting thing I’ve noticed as of especially late was teams going through their backlog of candidates, so to speak. Arguably, there were some things hinting in that direction, with the Mariners retiring #11 for Edgar Martinez in 2017 and the Giants honoring Barry Bonds’s #25 in 2018. They were somewhat jumping the gun, since both players were on the ballots, and usually teams like to wait for actual induction. And maybe Alan Trammell (#3) and Jack Morris (#47) helped move the needle as well, with the Tigers retiring their numbers years after they retired in 2018, following both getting inducted into the Hall by the Veterans Committee that year.

    But 2020 has a number of candidates who combined both aspects, with Dave Stewart (#34, A’s), Jerry Koosman (#36, Mets), Will Clark (#22, Giants), and Lou Whitaker (#1, Tigers) all finally getting their numbers retired years after hanging up the spikes and without a Hall induction to their names (yet). I’m not sure what in particular led to each of those (Whitaker in particular seemed like he would have made sense a few years ago with his longtime teammates Trammell and Morris, but maybe they were holding off to see how he fared in this year’s Veterans balloting).

    But it feels like that could happen for just about anyone, so I’ll try and throw out one “backlog” candidate each team could surprise us with as well.

    Tuesday, March 31, 2020

    TCB March Madness Finals: The Case for Lance Berkman

    [Over at The Crawfish Boxes, I was tasked with presenting the case for Lance Berkman in their March Madness poll. Of course, this article is also posted over there.]

    The finals of TCB’s March Madness are here, with Lance Berkman entering the final round after blowing out Billy Wagner and Jose Altuve narrowly beating out Craig Biggio on the other side of the bracket. I’m not sure that Berkman will be able to stop Altuve’s runaway momentum given that he beat out a 3000-hit player and one of the Astros’s two Hall of Famers, but Lance’s case absolutely still deserve to be heard.

    The Astros’ first round pick in 1997, and a local product out of Rice University, Berkman would go on to be the player that would define the 2000s for the Astros, giving Houston another Killer B to go with Biggio and Bagwell. He led all rookies that year in OPS (.949) and wRC+ (132), although it took him a little while to get his due: Berkman would finish sixth in NL Rookie of the Year voting that season, second place on his own team (catcher Mitch Meluskey finished a spot ahead of him).

    However, his recognitions increased rapidly from there, with him earning his first All-Star selection the next season and finishing fifth in MVP voting. He also led the NL in doubles with 55, tied for 21st in single season history and just one shy of Biggio’s team record set two years earlier. He did set the team record for extra base hits at 94, though, which still stands.

    His age 26 season the next year would be a repeat, as Berkman earned his second of six All-Star selections, improved to third in MVP voting, and led the league in RBI. That’s arguably his best season, although it has stiff competition from 2006, which saw him again finish third in MVP voting while picking up another All-Star appearance, setting the team record in RBI (136), finishing two behind Jeff Bagwell’s home run record (45), and posting a 163 OPS+.

    Of course, his 2004 and 2005 seasons weren’t bad, either, and those featured another of his strengths: strong postseason performances. Going by Win Probability Added, 2004 saw Bagwell contribute nearly half a win to the playoff campaign that ended in the NLCS in seven games. The next year, he more than doubled that, with his 1.16 Wins Added helping Houston to their first pennant in team history.

    When he was finally traded at the deadline in 2010, the final year on his contract, he even contributed to the Astros’ successful rebuild, bringing back Mark Melancon and kicking off a pretty successful trade tree (one that even includes Brad Peacock). His twelve year run in Houston could only be seen as a massive success. And of course, since then, he’s even started a successful secondary career as a part-time member of the Astros’ booth.

    Baseball-Reference’s franchise leaderboard sees Berkman appear in the top ten of 36 of the 43 offensive stats they have listed. That includes finishing first in on-base percentage, second in home runs to Jeff Bagwell, second in slugging and OPS, third in OPS+, and fifth in Wins Above Replacement. He had the type of the career that should have drawn more of a look from Hall of Fame voters, and he defined a decade of baseball in Houston.

    Friday, March 27, 2020

    Craig Biggio is the Easy Pick for TCB’s March Madness

    [Over at The Crawfish Boxes, I was tasked with presenting the case for Craig Biggio in their March Madness pool.]

    There’s no doubt the Final Four in TCB’s March Madness is a strong group of players. Jose Altuve’s on a Hall of Fame pace, Lance Berkman had a strong case even if he was ignored by voters, and Billy Wagner still has a good chance to get inducted before he falls off the ballot.

    But there’s a reason that Craig Biggio was the first player to go into the Hall of Fame as an Astro.

    The Astros' first round pick in 1987 (22nd overall), Biggio made his debut the next season as the team's catcher, and won his first of five Silver Sluggers the year after that in his first full season. In addition to that, for his career, Craig picked up four Golden Gloves, seven All-Star selections, and three top-ten finishes in MVP voting.

    And of course, there are the massive career totals. Biggio was of course the twenty-seventh member of the 3000, and had one of the most memorable milestone games at that, going 5-for-6 and starting a two-out rally in the eleventh that would lead to a walk-off grand slam. He's also the modern leader in hit by pitches, with 285. Those two, with his 1160 walks, puts him twentieth all-time in times on base with 4505, right in between Honus Wagner, Paul Molitor, and Rafael Palmeiro.

    Of course, while getting on base is the most important part of offense, that wasn't all that Biggio was great at. His 668 career doubles ranks him fifth in MLB history, behind only Tris Speaker, Pete Rose, Stan Musial, and Ty Cobb. And while not quite as impressive, his 291 home runs places him behind only Jeff Kent, Robinson Cano, and Rogers Hornsby among second basemen. Biggio even had good speed, with 414 stolen bases, making him one of the best multi-faceted players in the game. One of my favorite fun stats is Power-Speed Number, a Bill James invention meant to find players who fit both criteria; by that measure, Craig Biggio places tenth all-time.

    Of course, there was more than that. Biggio was also a fixture of the team, playing in Houston for a full two decades. The only one-team players in history with more games played than Biggio are Carl Yastrzemski, Musial, Cal Ripken Jr., Brooks Robinson, and Robin Yount. He was a leader on the 2005 squad that brought Houston its first pennant, even hitting .295 that postseason despite being a few weeks shy of 40 years old and starting at an up-the-middle position. His multiple position changes, first from catcher to second base as a 26-year-old, then to the outfield a decade later, then back to second a few more years after that, gave the Astros massive flexibility. And of course, if we're talking off-the-field attributes, there was his 2007 Roberto Clemente Award.

    And since this is a match-up with Joe Altuve, we might as well compare them directly. Through their age 29 seasons, Altuve has been better. It helps that he got called up a year younger, and didn't spend his first three and a half seasons as a catcher and driving down his totals as a result, but it is what it is.

    But, also for what it's worth: at this age, Biggio had twelve more seasons ahead of him. Jose Altuve is off to a Hall of Fame start, but even if he goes on to seal the deal on his Cooperstown case in the next decade, he still might not measure up to Biggio's numbers; after all, Biggio is not some marginal Hall of Famer. Altuve's current long-term extension, which takes him through 2024, would still leave him over half a decade short of Biggio's tenure with the team. Altuve absolutely has the potential to pass him eventually, and has had the start to his career that you would want to see to do so. But the legacy Craig left in his time on the Astros have left Jose a high bar to shoot for.

    Friday, March 20, 2020

    Building a Backyard Baseball 2020 Roster

    I wanted to do something more lighthearted to help cheer up what would have been the last week before Opening Day before everything went into quarantine. And one of the most lighthearted topics I could think of was to revisit one of the earliest things from my baseball fandom, Backyard Baseball.

    For those of you who didn’t have a chance to play the series growing up, Backyard Baseball was a series of video games by Humongous Entertainment that debuted in 1997. The premise was simple: it was a basic, arcade-style baseball game where all the players are kids and all the parks are just places they might play around their neighborhood. In that sense, it’s kind of like a video game equivalent of The Sandlot or The Bad News Bears. The series was aimed at kids, but the underlying game was actually very solid, and had a unique aesthetic sense that helped engrain it in the mind of young sports fans, making it a cult classic that has endured the years.

    After the success of the first game, the team expanded into other sports, where they hit upon another big idea: adding a handful of pro players (as cartoon kid versions of themselves, naturally) to the list of selectable options. When they circled back around to a sequel for Baseball, Backyard Baseball 2001 (so named for its release year: 2000), they upped their ambitions to that point and added one MLB player to represent each team, more than doubling the original thirty-person roster (one team go two representatives, but we’ll come back to that).

    Friday, March 6, 2020

    How Well Do the New-and-Improved Rangers Stack Up Against the Astros?

    [also up over at The Crawfish Boxes]

    As Spring Training continues, we shall also continue on our previews from around the division. Last week, I looked at the new-and-improved, 2020 Los Angeles Angels, so why don’t we take a look this time at the team that finished just ahead of them in the standings? After all, the Texas Rangers made some notable improvements of their own this winter.

    Once again, let’s take it from the top: the 78-win Rangers finished a full 29.0 games out of first place in the 2019 AL West race, with their Pythagorean Win-Loss rate three wins below even that. That gap isn’t quite as big as the Angels’, but it’s still fairly massive, and it will probably take both some downwards regression from the Astros and some upwards regression from the Rangers.

    I’m going to switch things up this week and start with the pitching, since that’s the area that saw the biggest movement. Last year, by Fangraph’s Wins Above Replacement, the Houston’s pitching staff was worth 23.7 Wins, while Texas’s was worth 14.2. In fact, these were the only two AL pitching staffs in 2019 to see multiple arms drawing Cy Young support, with the alliterative duo of Mike Minor and Lance Lynn representing Arlington. If we try and make them meet halfway: did the Astros drop roughly 4.75 wins, and did the Rangers improve that much?

    For the first part of that question: yeah, there’s a good chance the Astros are that much worse. Getting Lance McCullers back and more starts from Zack Greinke helps, and it’s not hard to see Jose Urquidy stepping in for Wade Miley. Forrest Whitley stepping up could maybe help as well. But Gerrit Cole leaving was just a massive blow, and there are other smaller losses to make up for as well, like Will Harris and Collin McHugh. There’s a chance that the Astros avoid losing those ~4.8 Wins, but it’s going to be really close even if they do, and things will be highly susceptible to down years and injuries.

    Meanwhile, the Rangers made big strides in this area, more than enough to make up the difference if the Astros don’t drop their nearly-5 WAR. Sure, new signees Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles look more like three/four-starters than aces, but that’s a massive step up for a team that was using Ariel Jurado and Adrian Sampson in those roles last year; things were rough after the top two. And of course, there was the arrival of Corey Kluber, who’s just one year removed from finishing third place in Cy Young voting.

    Maybe one or both of Minor and Lynn fail to repeat on their surprise 2019 campaigns. Maybe Kluber’s injuries mean he doesn’t pitch like an ace. But the mediocre case still feels like a rotation full of middle-rotation-starters, and that’s still respectable, especially compared to what they had last year! It’s also not at all hard to see them finishing as one of the three or four best pitching staffs in the AL, even if they have a mediocre bullpen. Who comes out ahead in this category between them and the Astros will probably come down to injuries.

    But…just like last week with the Angels, that’s only half of the question. And on the matter of position players…well, the Rangers are going to be counting on their new pitching staff to be picking up a lot of slack.

    In 2019, the Astros’ position players managed 40.8 WAR, which is probably not going to happen again since it was pretty historic, but the team’s lineup should still be good. Texas’s lineup, in contrast, was worth 9.2 WAR, fourth worst in the majors and ahead of just Baltimore, Miami, and Detroit (the Tigers somehow managed -2.6 WAR from their position players, which is astounding for all the wrong reasons).

    So yeah, our question is: are the 2020 Astros 15.8 WAR worse, and are the 2020 Rangers 15.8 WAR better? Last week, I wouldn’t commit to the Astros being 10 Wins worse, so losing another 6 Wins or so on top of that is the type of thing that we’re only going to see with some miserable injury luck or something.

    How do the Rangers look in comparison? Well, Robinson Chirinos will be missed in Houston, and he definitely improves what was a net zero last year. Todd Frazier improves third base, but not quite as much, since they at least had half of a decent year from Asdrubal Cabrera (plus, Frazier will be 34 this season).

    In the negative column, Hunter Pence will be missed, and Nomar Mazara and Delino DeShields were both shipped out of town. On the injury rebound front, a full season from Joey Gallo after his injury-marred-yet-breakout 2019 could mean extra wins. And…that’s really about it. This just isn’t at all close to 16 WAR.

    The Rangers definitely look better in 2020, and their pitching is especially formidable. Their efforts to improve are commendable at a time when so many in the league are outright punting on the season. But they still only have half of the equation right now, and barring multiple big surprises, the Astros should definitely be able to hold them off again in 2020.

    Friday, February 28, 2020

    How Well Do the New-and-Improved Angels Stack Up Against the Astros?

    The Angels had one of the splashiest offseasons of any team in the majors, with the centerpiece being handing out one of the largest contracts in history. That stands in fairly stark contrast with Houston’s offseason, which (even aside from the sign stealing scandal and related fallout) still saw them lose the 2020 AL Cy Young runner-up, among other players. That contrast has been looming in my mind, so I wanted to step back and take a more objective look: how much did the gap close between the Angels and Astros this winter?

    Before anything else, though, it’s worth keeping in mind the scale of what we’re dealing with. The Angels, for all of their good players, were still not a good team in 2020, finishing the year with a 72-90 record, behind the 107-win Astros. And it’s not like there was a lot of luck there that they can hope will help even things out; both teams finished exactly in line with their Pythagorean records, so we can just go off their regular records.

    That put them a full 35.0 games out of first place, which coincidentally matches the single biggest one-year improvement by a team in MLB history (the 1998 to 1999 Diamondbacks, who went from 65 wins to 100 in part with the help of new free agent Randy Johnson). It’s probably unrealistic to expect that from the Angels, so let’s divide that swing between the two teams. If you want to split the difference, dating back to 2000, a little less than two teams per year improve and fall by 17 games. So the Angels, to compete for the division title, are hoping to be one of the two biggest improvements this season and the Astros being one of the two biggest drops (and even that might not be enough, given that 17+17 still only accounts for 34.0 games).

    Honestly, that sense of scale is reasonably comfortable already for anyone rooting for the Astros, but let’s break it down further, into the individual components. Let’s start with the offense, since that’s where the Angels made their biggest, most notable improvements. In 2019, L.A. finished with about half of the position player WAR (Fangraphs version) of the Astros, 40.8 to 20.3, in large part thanks to finishing 26 points behind Houston in wRC+, 125 to 99.

    Some of that can come from regression to the mean on the Astros’ part, given their historic 2019 campaign and how hard it is to repeat historic seasons. And losing Robinson Chirinos (113 wRC+) is going to hurt some. But it’s not like there aren’t areas for improvement to help offset those losses, too: Yordan Álvarez (87 games, 178 wRC+) should be getting a full season, and Carlos Correa (75 games, 143 wRC+) will hopefully be healthy; Jose Altuve and George Springer each missed about 40 games last year, and could make up some of that difference in increased playing time.

    On the margins, Tyler White and Tony Kemp won’t be getting 400+ plate appearances, and while Jake Marisnick’s glove will be missed, Myles Straw could easily prove an adequate replacement on the whole, with a better bat making up the difference even if his defense is a notch below Jake’s. And of course, there’s still the hope that Kyle Tucker steps forward and provides another great bat.

    The Astros will almost certainly be worse at hitting in 2020, because no one has hit like they did in 2020; but there’s still plenty of room to fall and still be above average. For example, if they had a team wRC+ a full 10 points lower last year, they still would have been third in the league.

    But while the Astros’s position players will still probably good in 2020, it’s not hard to imagine the Angels’ improving enough to match them on that front. Jason Castro is stepping into a spot that was basically a zero last year. Shohei Ohtani and Andrelton Simmons each missed over 50 games, and Mike Trout missed a little over 20. Justin Upton missed nearly 100 games, and the 63 he played in didn’t look anything close to his previous seasons. And of course, there’s Rice-alum Anthony Rendon, who signed a massive contract this offseason and is more than enough to make up for their biggest loss from 2019, Kole Calhoun. We haven’t even gotten into Jo Adell, their equivalent of Kyle Tucker, but saying their Angels’ lineup is on par with the Astros doesn’t feel like too much of a reach.

    To go back to our earlier pair of questions, are the Astros 10 wins worse on offense, and are the Angels 10 wins better? I think Houston is worse than before, but 10 wins is a big drop, even for a team that was at a historic high last year. But the Angels very easily might be 10 wins better on this front. And every win above 10 makes up some of that gap from the Astros not dropping 10 wins.

    I think I’d still lean towards the Astros due to several big questions hanging around L.A. (Can Justin Upton bounce back? How well and much will Albert Pujols play? Are the bigger injuries last year a lingering problem, or a one-year fluke?), which mostly seem to come down to “they have a similar ceiling, but the Angels have a lot more uncertainty”. I could honestly see the matter coming down to who has a healthier season.

    But that’s only half the question, and man oh man is the pitching half of things still as lopsided as ever. Gerrit Cole leaving hurts, and I don’t blame anyone for being concerned about that. But the Angels are not the ones who are going to push Houston on this front; after finishing 18 WAR behind the Astros in 2019, L.A.’s big pickups were Julio Teheran and Dylan Bundy, and at this moment, those two would make up half of their playoff rotation. Fangraphs predicts both of them to finish with ERA’s above 4.40 and FIPS in the 4.50 to 5.00 range.

    Shoot, even if they make a big mid-season trade for a starter, those two still might both appear in a potential ALCS rotation, depending on the health of Andrew Heaney (just 95.1 innings in 2019), Shohei Ohtani (hasn’t pitched since 2018, on track to start pitching a month and a half late and only go once a week when he’s back), and how well their assorted fourth and fifth starter options can stick (Griffin Canning, the best of their bunch, is already in a worrisome spot health-wise this spring). Put another way, in a best-case scenario, I can see Los Angeles maybe fielding a competent rotation, but it’s hard to envision a ceiling much higher than that, and it’s extremely easy to see them ending up below that ceiling.

    So let’s go back to that two-pronged question we used in the first two parts; is the 2020 Astros pitching 9 WAR worse than it was in 2019, and is the Angels staff 9 WAR better? Losing Cole is big (Fangraphs had him at about seven and a half wins alone), and Wade Miley was competent for most of the year, but there are plenty of mitigating factors to that total. Lance McCullers’ return and a full season of Zack Greinke will help offset some of that, and Jose Urquidy projects to be about on Miley’s level at least; they could still be 9 wins worse on the whole, but it will largely come down to injuries, young pitchers, and regression in that case.

    But the Angels just do not strike me as 9 WAR better than last year on the pitching front, let alone enough above that to start making up ground if the Astros don’t fall their full 9 WAR. And remember, just adding 9 WAR isn’t enough; they also have to make up for the late Tyler Skaggs, who was their best starter last year (1.8 WAR in 79.2 innings). And unlike on the offense, where the Angels can match Astros fans’ hopes for Kyle Tucker with their dreams for Jo Adell, the Angels don’t have a Forrest Whitley in the wings, let alone the recent track record Houston pitching has seen under Brent Strom.

    Maybe the Angels can make up for that on offense, but that’s expecting something like a 15 WAR improvement on top of a 10-WAR drop by the Astros, which is starting to reach “extremely improbable” territory. The Astros will have a harder path to the division title in 2020 than they did in 2019, and the improved Angels will be a part of that, but they probably won’t wind up replacing the Astros themselves.