The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Monday, July 27, 2009


Clearing the Bases: Post-Rickey, Pre-DC edition

Whew, am I behind in my blogging. Here's what's not-so-new:

• A Basseball Prospectus/ESPN Insider piece examining second-half strength of schedule, revisiting an earlier piece but using Hit List Factor instead of a team's projected winning percentage. Here's how the teams shake down:
Team       Season   1st    2nd
Blue Jays .514 .497 .536
Orioles .522 .510 .536
Royals .505 .494 .518
Yankees .508 .500 .518
Rays .504 .496 .515
Athletics .518 .521 .514
Rangers .503 .495 .513
Red Sox .504 .498 .512
White Sox .497 .485 .512
D'backs .503 .497 .510

Astros .494 .485 .505
Indians .505 .504 .505
Tigers .495 .488 .503
Giants .497 .493 .502
Mariners .502 .502 .502
Padres .512 .523 .499
Angels .505 .510 .498
Reds .491 .490 .492
Nationals .504 .516 .489
Pirates .492 .495 .488

Braves .494 .499 .487
Twins .494 .499 .487
Phillies .490 .495 .485
Marlins .496 .507 .483
Rockies .497 .508 .483
Cubs .489 .496 .482
Mets .496 .508 .481
Cardinals .483 .486 .480
Brewers .492 .504 .477
Dodgers .489 .499 .477
Glad to see that two of my three teams have cupcake schedules, though for the Brewers it won't mean much if they can't improve their pitching.

• Last week's Hit List, which found the Dodgers and Yankees 1-2 for what I believe is the first time in the column's history.

• Speaking of the Hit List, I was lucky enough to get to take a time out during its creation to watch the final two innings of Mark Buehrle's perfect game. While I've seen a few no-hitters in their entirety (including Nolan Ryan's record-setting fifth) and caught the tail end of several more, this was the first perfecto I'd seen the end of; I missed those of David Wells (turned that one off early, d'oh) and David Cone. DeWayne Wise's spectacular catch to rob Gabe Kapler of a home run to lead off the ninth inning was worth the price of admission alone.

• Also from last Friday, in honor of Rickey Henderson's induction into the Hall of Fame, I took a at which contemporary players are most like Henderson:
Rickey Henderson will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday, an honor that feels long overdue for the player who holds the all-time records for both stolen bases and runs, is a member of the 3,000 Hit Club, and is widely acknowledged as the greatest leadoff hitter of all time. "If you could split him in two, you'd have two Hall of Famers," wrote Bill James of Henderson nearly a decade ago. The bearded bard of sabermetrics was onto something, and not only with regards to Henderson's Cooperstown credentials. Scanning the horizon in search of a truly similar active player, one comes up with only fractional Rickeys, players who possess elements of Henderson's game — his speed-power combo, his keen batting eye, his basepath derring-do — but nowhere near to the exact same blend.

In honor of Rickey's impending induction, I set out to search for the most Rickey-like player among the current crop of actives, devising a series of similarity scores in categories that typify the unique shape of Henderson's performance. Rather than use raw statistics to compare a player whose major league career began 30 years ago, I called upon Clay Davenport's translated statistics, which normalize all players to the same run-scoring environment. Instead of relying upon a single year's performance, I used a 3/4/5 weighted average of 2007, 2008, and 2009 stats for all players with at least 900 actual plate appearances over that span, then boiled those down to a per-650 plate appearance format for comparison to a similar encapsulation of Henderson's career. This sells the superstar short by including his decline phase, but with nobody even remotely close to Rickey Henderson at his peak out there today, the bar needs a bit of lowering.

The players were then scored in ten categories, with Henderson's performance defined as 1000 points, the least Henderson-like as zero, and all performances in between scaled accordingly. Occasionally, small-sample outliers had to be removed for this to work; crediting a player who's 4-for-5 in stolen bases with similarity to Henderson's 80.4 percent success rate on the basepaths isn't appropriate. It's important to note that players who exceeded Henderson in these categories — with higher slugging percentages or stolen-base success rates, say — were penalized, too; this process isn't designed to tell us the best player, just the "Rickeyest."
While obviously I had the upper hand because I was the one creating the system, I was as surprised as anyone else when the Orioles' Brian Roberts came out on top, with B.J. Upton, Johnny Damon, Jose Reyes and Carl Crawford following. "All of these players combine speed, power, and the ability to get on base to some degree, but none of them profile quite like Henderson does; each punts at least one category in this particular decathalon," I wrote, noting particularly that none of the overall leaders walks with Henderson's frequency. For more, see BP and ESPN Insider, and look for a follow-up at BP on Tuesday.

• Last week's Toledo radio hit.

• Following up this item, which gave me ample fodder for the Mets' hit List entry, Tony Bernazard gets what he richly deserved: a pink slip. What an asshole. Meanwhile, Diamondbacks scout Carlos Gomez clarifies his part in one of the incidents that led to the firing. Contrary to the New York Daily News' earlier report, Bernazard did not directly address Gomez with his profanity-laced tirade, but rather berated a Mets official who told him to wait until the end of the half-inning before taking the seat occupied by Gomez.

[Update]: Via Shysterball, Mets GM Omar Minaya's performance at the press conference is worth a look. He tangles with Daily News Mets beat reporter Adam Rubin, accusing his coverage of being slanted by his own desire to join the Mets' player development department under Bernazard. This is turning into a parade of trainwrecks. And I can't stop watching.

• Finally, I'll be at the Society for American Baseball Research convention in Washington, DC from Thursday until Sunday. Don't be shy if you see me there and want to say hi — I don't bite.

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