THE BIRTHDAY PARADOX IN MLB

> If I asked you what the odds were of two players on the same MLB team having the same birthday, you’d probably say they weren’t that good since there are 365 days in a year and only about 30 guys on a team.

But in actuality, there is a quirk in statistical probability called the birthday paradox that says it’s actually probable that a given team will have multiple players with the same birthday.  So I checked to make sure.

Angels
4/28 — David Freese, Yoslan Herrera
5/27 — Jairo Diaz, Garrett Richards
5/30 — Tony Campana, Fernando Salas
8/7 — Wade LeBlanc, Mike Trout
9/27 — Grant Green, Matt Shoemaker
10/4 — Joe Thatcher, Jered Weaver

Astros
(None)

Athletics
2/19 — Dan Otero, Josh Reddick
11/1 — Coco Crisp, Stephen Vogt
11/22 — Jonny Gomes, Drew Pomeranz

Blue Jays
8/10 — Anthony Gose, Dan Johnson
8/11 — Melky Cabrera, Colby Rasmus
10/19 — Jose Bautista, JA Happ
12/21 — Kendall Graveman, John Mayberry

Braves
1/27 — Gavin Floyd, Julio Teheran
9/3 — Brandon Beachy, Shae Simmons

Brewers
7/10 — Will Smith, Miguel Yan

Cardinals
10/10 — Shelby Miller, Kolten Wong
10/19 — Daniel Descalso, Sam Tuivailala

Cubs
12/1 — Javier Baez, Dan Straily

Diamondbacks
2/24 — Bronson Arroyo, Eury De La Rosa
8/28 — Will Harris, Miguel Montero

Dodgers
3/25 — Erisbel Arruebarrena, Hyun-jin Ryu
8/5 — Carl Crawford, Tim Federowicz

Giants
3/22 — Michael Morse, Andrew Susac
7/14 — Juan Gutierrez, Tim Hudson
9/24 — Travis Ishikawa, Hunter Strickland
10/30 — Joe Panik, Marco Scutaro
11/22 — Chris Dominguez, Yusmeiro Petit

Indians
12/27 — Michael Bourn, Chris Gimenez

Mariners
3/24 — Corey Hart, Lucas Luetge

Marlins
4/18 — Henderson Alvarez, Anthony DeSclafani
6/21 — Jeff Baker, Garret Jones

Mets
10/27 — Jon Niese, Ruben Tejada
12/20 — Erik Goeddel, David Wright

Nationals
6/30 — Jeff Kobernus, Blake Treinen

Orioles
5/21 — Andrew Miller, Matt Wieters

Padres
4/4 — Odrisamer Despaigne, Cameron Maybin
8/28 — Yonder Alonso, Carlos Quentin

Phillies
8/26 — Maikel Franco, Mario Hollands, Kyle Kendrick
8/30 — Marlon Byrd, Cliff Lee

Pirates
(None)

Rangers
2/20 — Spencer Patton, Jurickson Profar
6/18 — Lisalverto Bonilla, Tomas Telis
7/25 — Kevin Kouzmanoff, Roman Mendez

Reds
1/7 — Tucker Barnhart, Brayan Pena
12/9 — Mat Latos, Pedro Villarreal

Red Sox
6/9 — Joe Kelly, Junichi Tazawa
9/9 — Will Middlebrooks, Anthony Ranaudo

Rays
10/7 — Alex Cobb, Evan Longoria

Rockies
5/15 — Brandon Barnes, Justin Morneau
8/7 — Tommy Kahnle, Rafael Ynoa
10/19 — Jordan Lyles, Tyler Matzek

Royals
2/10 — Alex Gordon, Liam Hendriks

Tigers
2/20 — Buck Farmer, Justin Verlander
7/18 — Torii Hunter, Eugenio Suarez

Twins
6/15 — Eduardo Nunez, Trevor Plouffe
6/24 — Doug Bernier, Phil Hughes

White Sox
1/24 — Tyler Flowers, Jose Quintana
9/24 — Scott Carroll, Moises Sierra

Yankees
10/9 — David Phelps, Chaz Roe

FASTEST TIMES TO FIRST BASE

> Speed is a difficult thing to measure in Baseball.  Sure you can look at triples and stolen bases, but a lot of that depends on what parks you play in, who you are hitting in front of and how aggressive or conservative your manager and base coach are.

So I tried something else.  I wanted to time a runner’s speed from point A to point B and compare him to his peers.  I couldn’t do that with stolen bases since some runners get better leads than others.  I couldn’t do it with triples because nobody goes for triples anymore.  So I went with infield singles.  Everyone starts at home and everyone ends at first.  The odds are against the runner, so in most cases he feels the need to go as fast as he can.

The samples were based only on infield singles that were properly filmed in either 2014 or 2013; so if the runner touched base off screen, that play had to be thrown out since I couldn’t time it.  Infield singles in which the runner realized he would be safe well before making it to first were also thrown out, as were outfield hits that were ultimately handled by an infielder.

I did my best to start the time when the batter made contact and stop it when his foot hit the bag, though this is obviously not an exact science.  The reader is encouraged to mentally round to one decimal point.

Below are runners that either I thought were fast or have a reputation for being fast.  The time listed is the best one on video.  If you see someone omitted it’s likely that they did not have any well-filmed infield hits, but feel free to ask if you’re curious about an unmentioned player.

Stands Sample Best  (seconds)
Billy Hamilton S 12 3.49
Carlos Gomez R 5 3.54
Jarrod Dyson L 6 3.54
Dee Gordon L 5 3.60
Desmond Jennings R 5 3.65
Craig Gentry R 6 3.66
Denard Span L 4 3.70
Michael Bourn L 5 3.71
Jean Segura R 6 3.71
Alcides Escobar R 6 3.81
Coco Crisp S 4 3.84
Adam Eaton L 10 3.86
Tony Campana L 1 3.87
Jacoby Ellsbury L 1 3.94
Brett Gardner L 2 3.98
Andrew McCutchen R 3 4.11
Starling Marte R 2 4.13
Mike Trout R 3 4.14
Leonys Martin L 4 4.16
Austin Jackson R 2 4.43

Again this isn’t perfect; just kind of an interesting first step.  Scouting services like Baseball Info Solutions who watch every play of every game could time how fast given players are on all contact plays.  It’s possible that EM could do this and similar things with the Cardinals next season, though that’s a discussion for another day.

BASERUNNERS PER RUN

> A lot of people liked this stat on Twitter, so I figured I’d expand on it here.  Below is where each team ranks in baserunners per run scored from fewest (most efficient) to most (least efficient).

01. Colorado Rockies (2.42)
02. Detroit Tigers (2.47)
03. Milwaukee Brewers (2.48)
04. Oakland A’s (2.48)
05. Anaheim Angels (2.50)
06. Chicago White Sox (2.56)
07. Kansas City Royals (2.58)
08. Baltimore Orioles (2.58)
09. Seattle Mariners (2.59)
10. Toronto Blue Jays (2.60)
11. Cleveland Indians (2.63)
12. Houston Astros (2.67)
13. Washington Nationals (2.67)
14. Texas Rangers (2.67)
15. San Francisco Giants (2.70)
16. Minnesota Twins (2.71)
17. Los Angeles Dodgers (2.72)
18. Chicago Cubs (2.73)
19. New York Yankees (2.73)
20. Cincinnati Reds (2.74)
21. Pittsburgh Pirates (2.74)
22. Arizona Diamondbacks (2.76)
23. Miami Marlins (2.78)
24. New York Mets (2.82)
25. Philadelphia Phillies (2.86)
26. Atlanta Braves (2.88)
27. Boston Red Sox (2.90)
28. San Diego Padres (2.91)
29. St. Louis Cardinals (2.91)
30. Tampa Bay Rays (2.92)

A lot of this is causal.  If you hit for extra bases and execute with men in scoring position, your number should be lower, though this can be offset by unfortunate sequencing (walk – double play – homerun – walk instead of walk – walk – homerun – groundout).

This stat does seem fairly consistent overall, though.  In the last six seasons (the Strikeout Era), teams’ baserunners per run rates only changed by 0.02 from year to year on average (0.03 median).

There were of course outliers, though.  The biggest one was none other than the 2014 Cardinals, who went from 2.39 last year to 2.91 this year; a difference of 0.52.

DO MOUND VISITS HELP?

> I went back to every Cardinals game this year in an attempt to estimate how much mound visits actually help pitchers.  Below is how Cardinals pitchers did in an inning before and after a visit by the pitching coach, how their opponents did then and the combination of both.  “PA” stands for plate appearances, but sac bunts and intentional walks were not factored in.

First the Cardinals (season .676 OPS allowed, 20% K, 8% BB):

  PA OBP SLG OPS K% BB%
Before Visit 442 .690 .920 1.610 6% 19%
After Visit 226 .292 .296 .589 20% 11%
% Improvement
(51%) +58% +68% +63% +229% +40%

 

Their opponents (MLB non-Cardinals .703 OPS allowed, 20% K, 8% BB):

  PA OBP SLG OPS K% BB%
Before Visit 484 .661 .823 1.484 7% 19%
After Visit 218 .321 .352 .673 14% 9%
% Improvement
(45%) +51% +57% +55% +89% +55%

 

Total (.703 OPS, 20% K, 8% BB):

Both PA OBP SLG OPS K% BB%
Before Visit 926 0.675 0.869 1.544 7% 19%
After Visit 444 0.306 0.324 0.630 17% 10%
% Improvement (48%) +55% +63% +59% +150% +48%

 

It’s hard to be sure about how much pitching coaches help since they usually only visit in the first place because the pitcher couldn’t do any worse.  Even so, the chaos does stop and on average pitchers not only do better than they were in the inning, but better than they do by themselves in any inning.

IS CRITICISM OF THE CARDINALS HITTING COACH VALID?

> Cardinals hitting coach John Mabry has been catching a lot of flack lately, and this morning manager Mike Matheny called some (all?) criticisms cheap shots.  But the allegations are only cheap if they’re not based in fact, so let’s see if they are.

Below is a simple comparison.  It takes every position player who has hit for the Cardinals this year and compares what they have done this year to what they have done in every season prior to this year.  WRC+ is their average offensive production adjusted for league and park, and next to it are fundamental building blocks such as average on balls in play, slugging percentage minus batting average, homeruns per fly ball, groundballs per fly ball and walks per strikeout.

  Age WRC+ BABIP SLG-AVG HR/FB GB/FB BB/K
Before 2014 27 106 .311 .151 9.8% 1.31 .49
2014 w/ Cards 29 100 .299 .125 8.2% 1.48 .44
  (7%) -6% -4% -17% -16% (13%) -10%

Criticism may have been overblown, but that still doesn’t make Mabry look good.  Historically, offensive production is basically the same between 27 and 29, but the Cardinals have seen notable drops in basically everything.  An increase in strikeouts and a decrease in power per hit is to be expected in this era, but WRC+ adjusts to the league environment and still says the Cardinals have gone from above-average to average.

I’ve got nothing against Mabry, but the fact of the matter is that even if his philosophies didn’t cause this decrease, they aren’t fixing it either.  Saying that is not taking a cheap shot, it’s being objective and realistic.

HOW IS KOLTEN WONG HITTING SO MANY HOMERUNS?

> Kolten Wong has nine homeruns in just 271 plate appearances this year; one every 30.1 times at bat.  That’s a better frequency than Freddie Freeman (33.7), Hanley Ramirez (33.8) and  Yasiel Puig (35.1) and is barely worse than Andrew McCutchen (28.8) and Miguel Cabrera (27.9).

Wong of course has never done this before.  His PA/HR rate in the minors was 49.8.  And it’s not that his homeruns have been cheap, averaging 398 feet in projected distance to mostly far right.

My only other hypothesis was that Wong is getting an inordinate number of mistake pitches that even he can drive.  To check, I went back and watched the pitches he’s gone yard on.

1: 86 mph changeup* down the middle off James Shields at Busch
2: 88mph fastball down the middle off Henderson Alvarez at Busch
3: 95 mph fastball down the middle off Ernesto Frieri at Busch
4: 90 mph cutter middle-low off Justin Wilson at Busch
5: 91 mph fastball middle-in off Yovani Gallardo at Miller Park
6: 85 mph changeup down the middle off Jimmy Nelson at Miller Park
7: 89 mph sinker down the middle off Kyle Lohse at Busch
8: 88 mph fastball down the middle off Brandon Workman at Busch
9: 87 mph slider down the middle off Craig Breslow at Busch
*I think, though it might’ve been something that was supposed to break and didn’t

A lot of bad pitches.  (I checked Pitch F/X to make sure I wasn’t off on my assessment of pitch locations and it said four of his homeruns came middle-in (his best zone), three were down the middle, one was low and in and one was middle-low.  So the four that were “middle-in” were barely so.)  It’s good to know Wong can handle those pitches when he gets them, but he does need them to hit homeruns.  His recent power streak, as you probably supposed, isn’t likely to continue.

IS TREVOR ROSENTHAL OVERWORKED?

> In last night’s loss to the Boston Red Sox, Mike Matheny brought in Trevor Rosenthal to pitch the ninth.  Seth Maness had thrown just six pitches the inning prior, but Matheny opted for Rosenthal, who had thrown 70 pitches in the previous seven days.  He ended up surrendering the game-winning run.

Rosenthal has been the source of a lot of consternation this season as he gets the job done in the messiest way possible.  I’m not worried about him too much long-term given that right-handers have a .439 BABIP against him and that’s not going to hold up.  (It dropped ten points even in a blown save in which no lefties put the ball in play.)  But Matheny’s rush to use him in this game over Maness was curious.  He is possibly of the belief that the ninth is Rosenthal’s even in a tie game, but I had to look to see if this seemingly excessive usage of Rosenthal shows itself in his performance.

He’s had a short career so far so there’s not a lot to draw from, but here are how Rosenthal’s opponents did against him depending on how many days’ rest he was working on.

Zero (40 games): .264/.347/.324          .672 OPS, .402 BABIP
One (44 games):  .183/.259/.274          .533 OPS, .281 BABIP
Two (31 games):  .193/.284/.261          .544 OPS, .297 BABIP
3+ (31 games):     .217/.269/.350          .619 OPS, .288 BABIP

That’s a pretty pronounced difference.

But innings can still be had from Rosenthal, who is a converted starter.  He’s allowed a .485 OPS in outings that lasted more than one inning and while that again is an admittedly small sample, logic allows for a guy who once pitched multiple innings every fifth day would be better suited to go multiple innings in dispersed appearances now as opposed to being used nearly every day.

CONTEXTUAL MLB ATTENDANCE THROUGHOUT HISTORY

> Forbes’ Maury Brown sent this out last night.

 

Brown’s good at what he does, but in this instance this graph doesn’t really tell us anything.  The following is a (somewhat crude) attempt to add some context.  Once you adjust for US population and the number of teams, you get this much less drastic chart:

 

The problem with that one though is that it doesn’t consider the increased wealth of the US.  Median household income data only goes back to 1967 but once you adjust for that you get this even less impressive graph:

Baseball is not dying, but attendance probably isn’t the best way to communicate that fact.

THE KELLY/CRAIG-LACKEY TRADE

> The Cardinals have traded Joe Kelly and Allen Craig to the Red Sox for starter John Lackey.

I like this deal.  If you’ve followed me for a while you know I’ve never been confident in the legitimacy of either Kelly or Craig.  Kelly’s career opponents OBP is .332, and this season his luck has begun to run out as we saw last night when the Padres busted him up.  As for Craig, there’s good reason to believe he’s broken for good at least to some extent, and the Cardinals cannot wait three more years for him to figure things out, especially when Mike Matheny is insistent on starting him over Oscar Taveras.

As for Lackey, he is a very good pitcher with a 3.50 SIERA since returning from Tommy John in 2013, and that’s with half his games being pitched in Fenway.  Next year he is owed the minimum due to a stipulation in his contract that acted as insurance against time lost to elbow injury, and while the Cardinals may have to throw in a little more to keep the 35 year-old from retiring, he’s still likely to come at a reasonable price.

UPDATE: Lackey will take the minimum.

The current playoff race in the NL is very tight.  Three teams are currently within 2.5 games of first in the NL Central and six teams are within 4.5 of the wild cards.  Every contending team pretty much looks the same, and this move along with the one yesterday could easily help to distance the Cardinals from the largely inactive pack.  And the best part about Lackey is they were able to get him without cutting into any more of their minor league depth.  There’s not likely going to be any real regret with this deal.

THE RAMSEY-MASTERSON DEAL

> The Cardinals traded minor league outfielder James Ramsey for Indians starter Justin Masterson today.  Let’s break it down.

Ramsey has been an okay hitter in double-A, posting a 123 WRC+ over 416 plate appearances last season with a higher mark and higher BABIP this year.  123’s good at the MLB level, but in double-A it’s not that impressive.  Nothing’s guaranteed but I would not expect him to be even average offensively once he reaches the Majors.  Still, his defense is apparently really good and I could see him becoming a solid, cheap piece in Cleveland for years to come.

As for Masterson, I find it hard to doubt the Cardinals when they bring in a pitcher regardless of who he is.  With so many successful reclamation projects under their belts, it’s hard to base future expectations on past performance.  That said, the simple fact that Masterson, tenth in groundballs per batter faced since the beginning of last year, will be going from an infield of Nick Swisher (career -0.1 defensive WAR per 150 innings at first base), Jason Kipnis (-0.6), Asdrubal Cabrera (-1.4) and Lonnie Chisenhall (-1.2) to an infield of Matt Adams (+0.2), Kolten Wong (-0.0), Jhonny Peralta (+1.1 last four years) and Matt Carpenter (+0.7) is clearly a good thing and will help to iron out his freakishly high .355 BABIP (.421 with runners in scoring position).

Pitching was the need the Cardinals had to address, with weak links Joe Kelly and Shelby Miller comprising 40% of the starting rotation and the somewhat unknown commodity Carlos Martinez pitching in place of the MIA Michael Wacha.  These are gaping holes that can be massively improved even by an average starter, while for the position players there are no obviously weak positions to fill that are not occupied by someone with a reasonable expectation for success.  (Except catcher, which they opted not to fill with the possibility of an early Yadier Molina return.)

Overall I like the upside of Masterson, though I do seriously wonder if given his self-acknowledged drop in velocity that he was the best they could’ve done for Ramsey.  Again it wouldn’t shock me if Ramsey goes on to be a solid contributor in his career, but the presence of Oscar Taveras, Steven Piscotty and Randal Grichuk in the system does take the edge off of that possibility.  At least the idea behind this trade is good in that it’s meant to be a conservative trade to move an supposedly unneeded piece in order to get the pitching they need to hang with the other four-to-six teams in their current playoff race.  That’s the right way to approach the modern trade deadline when there are several teams in contention and variance in a small sample can hijack everything, even the addition of someone like Jon Lester.

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