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 MLB.com 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.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Future Hall of Fame Extra: Breaking Down Hall Standards for Catchers

As I mentioned two weeks ago while writing about position players on a Hall of Fame pace, catchers are held to a different standard than every other non-pitcher position. There's a pretty good reason for this; catcher quite frankly just is that different from other positions, particularly in how physically punishing it is. Catchers just don't last as long as non-catchers, and that has an effect on counting stats, which are still the biggest factor in building a Hall of Fame case.

Iván Rodríguez , all-time leaders in Games among catchers and largely seen as freaks of nature for lasting over two decades in the majors, are still just tied for fiftieth and sixtieth all-time among all position players, respectively (coincidentally enough, that ties them with Hall of Fame Class of 2018 first ballot inductees Jim Thome and Chipper Jones, also respectively). Or going by Baseball-Reference's Wins Above Replacement, only Johnny Bench and Gary Carter have passed 70 total, representing less than 3% of all 70-WAR position players.

So, why not just look at catchers separately from everything else? On the one hand, sure, it's not a huge sample size, with only sixteen catchers elected (going by the JAWS system's count, which is based on the amount of WAR a player has accumulated at different positions; this can of course get fuzzy at the edge cases, though).That makes it especially susceptible to weird fluctuations. But on the other hand, keeping in mind that it's more descriptive than predictive, it's better than nothing. That was the mentality I had last year when I decided to look at relief pitcher Cooperstown standards, and if nothing else, that turned out interesting. And with another catcher, longtime snub Ted Simmons, finally getting his due this year thanks to the Veterans Committee, I figured it was even somewhat timely.

So let's start from the top: my system is pretty straightforward. I look at the total Wins Above Replacement every Hall of Famer has earned through a given age. Then, I look for the median WAR among that group, and find how many total players in history have matched that WAR total through that age. Finally, I look at what percentage of eligible players to top that WAR total by that age have gone on to be elected in Cooperstown.

There are some issues, but this method is just to give broad, age-based understandings of which players are "on-pace" for the Hall in a way that just looking at WAR leaderboards doesn't. After all, we all intuitively understand that, say, Alex Bregman or Jose Ramirez have better chances at making the Hall of Fame than Brett Gardner or Ben Zobrist, even if the latter two technically have about twice as much WAR at the moment. Having 20+ WAR in your mid-20s is definitely better for your chances than having 40-50 in your mid-30s, this just gives a rough idea of how much better.

So first, let's just run down the list: what's the median WAR for future Hall of Fame catchers by age, and how what percentage of players who achieve that mark are eventually elected?

Age Median WAR YTY WAR Increase Induction Rate
20 1.5 - 37.50%
21 2.55 1.05 45.45%
22 4 1.45 33.33%
23 4.4 0.4 23.53%
24 7.8 3.4 36.36%
25 11.9 4.1 47.06%
26 17.1 5.2 50.00%
27 21.65 4.55 61.54%
28 25.5 3.85 66.67%
29 30.35 4.85 72.73%
30 36.5 6.15 80.00%
31 39.25 2.75 80.00%
32 44 4.75 80.00%
33 46.3 2.3 88.89%
34 47.1 0.8 88.89%
35 49.25 2.15 88.89%
36 51.1 1.85 88.89%
37 52.75 1.65 88.89%
38 51.65 -1.1 88.89%
39 52.3 0.65 88.89%
40 54.35 2.05 88.89%

Let's just focus on the tail-end first; that 88.89% represents 8 of the 9 catchers above the median WAR eventually getting in. The lone holdout? Joe Torre, who was an interesting case in that 1) he was only a catcher in just over 40% of his games (still a plurality, but lower than any other Hall catcher, below even Buck Ewing's 47%); 2) he eventually made the Hall of Fame anyway as a manager anyway. So technically, the only catcher to top the Hall median for the position at any point in their 30s and not eventually get inducted in Thurman Munson, who tragically passed away during his age 32 season (Munson also appeared on the most recent Veterans Committee ballot).

The next thing to note is that this is still a really aggressive track to keep to for a catcher. It’s technically lower than the overall bar for position players, but catchers also usually debut a little later than most other positions; for instance, in the 2010s, only eighteen catchers even played a game before the age of 23, and only two of those played in half a season’s worth. In total, though, 213 position players debuted that young, with 75 of them hitting the 81-game mark by that age. Or, of the 141 position players in the 2010s to reach 100 games played by the end of their age 23 season, only eight (5.5%) were catchers.

That’s a pretty big hole to climb out of immediately, a factor which is compounded by the constraints of the position. Since WAR is a counting stat, sitting out regularly (as catchers need to do) hurts their totals. For example, only three catchers in baseball history have had an 8.0-WAR season (Mike Piazza 1997, Gary Carter 1982, and Johnny Bench 1972). In contrast, four non-catcher position players posted an 8.0-WAR season in 2019 alone. There are less than 130 seasons by catchers of over 5.0 WAR, dating back to the 1800s, making up less than 0.25% of all such seasons by position players in history,

With that understanding, then, it’s not too shocking that we’re talking about a pace that not even ten players in history have matched. And while no active players are there, the recently-retired Joe Mauer is. It seems difficult to argue that Mauer wasn’t better than half or more of the catchers already in the Hall, but I’m not sure if that’ll translate into an easy, first-ballot election when he comes up. After all, only two catchers ever have gone in on their first try (Bench and Rodríguez), so it feels like the odds might be against him.

Among active catchers, Buster Posey is in the lead at 42.1, putting just below the 44.0-Win bar for catchers through their age 32 season. It if he can get back into form, you can see him actually making up some of that ground, but it’ll depend a lot on his health. His 2019 was rough following season-ending hip issues in 2018, but maybe an offseason of rest has him feeling ready to go again.

Yadier Molina is the only other active 40-WAR catcher, entering his age 37 seasons. Russell Martin is the same age and just behind him, at 37.9. We’ll return to them in a minute, though. For your under-30 leaders, Salvador Pérez is still in first despite missing all of 2019 for Tommy John surgery. Still, with 22.3 Wins, he’s about 10 WAR behind where he needs to be to match pace. J.T. Realmuto, meanwhile, is only at 17.6 and is just a year younger than him. Still, nothing’s to say they couldn’t still make it; after all, half of the players in Cooperstown are, by definition, worse than the median. They’ll probably just need to make up for it by staying pretty good well into their 30s.

There is, of course, one other area to address, the one that ties back to Molina and Martin (as well as Brian McCann, who retired after 2019 with 31.8 WAR): pitch framing. Baseball-Reference’s version of WAR does not factor that into catcher value, while both Fangraphs’ WAR and Baseball Prospectus’ WARP do.

Of course, the problem is that it's not a constant feature of either, which makes it a problem when looking at historical trends like Hall of Fame voting. Baseball Prospectus' version counts it starting in the late 1980s, meaning that only Rodríguez and Piazza have it covering their entire careers (Simmons, Fisk, and Carter have a few seasons at the end as well). Fangraphs' version doesn't even have that, as it only dates to the 2000s.

But it's still worth taking into consideration. And by that metric, Martin, McCann, and Molina all come out looking really strong; both versions have all three of them landing somewhere in the low teens or back half of the top ten among catchers all-time (in fact, all three of them land a bit ahead of Joe Mauer, who was fine but not amazing). Granted, we also don't know how much the top ten would change if every catcher in history had it added, and what happens might not line up with our preconceptions (for instance, Pudge only moves up slightly despite all of his Gold Gloves, while Piazza, a player with a much worse defensive reputation, was apparently pretty good at it!).

Posey also looks pretty strong, as both versions already have him just a step below the Mauer/Molina/Martin/McCann grouping. The other notable big step forward belongs to Yasmani Grandal, who moves from the mid-teens to the low-30s in WAR. Grandal just completed his age 30 season, so he has a ways to go still, but it has potential rather than looking like a total lost cause.

Ultimately, I'm not sure how much we should weigh it, since it feels a lot less established than some of the other components of WAR. But I definitely wouldn't rule it out entirely, and I think the big beneficiaries of that are all worth considering. Thankfully, we have a full five years to sit on that question before deciding how to vote for real (or I do, at least, since I'd vote for Mauer regardless of his framing numbers; McCann will be the real test case for the 2025 ballot).