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Talking Baseball

Your weekday baseball fix. Some days.



Posted by Dave on Saturday, May 22, 2004

Locking Up Cookie Monster

Watching the Celtics the past couple years has been an absolute nightmare. Sure, they've played horribly, but that's not what incenses me. Players are only capable of playing so well and coaches are only capable of coaching so well - ultimately, the general manager is responsible for putting a good team on the floor. Danny Ainge, in my opinion, has made awful decision after terrible decision since he signed on with the Celtics. First we trade Antoine Walker, a good (but not great, as the Celtics wanted him to be) supporting player for a bunch of deadweight cap room (Raef LaFrentz), who we'll have for longer than Antoine (a far better player) for more money. Then, he allows Jim O'Brien, a veritable miracle-worker, to take leave. Then, he "acquires" Chucky Atkins - a player inexplicably making 4.5 million/year for the next two years - burning more of our precious cap room. A series of awful decisions that will doom the Celtics next year and for years to come.

What's so infuriating about it is that it all could have been avoided with some shrewd (or, in Ainge's case, non-idiotic) decision-making. Fans, and people, I suppose, always have the desire to blame the people most directly causing the outcome. So, it's natural to call LaFrentz a "sally" for not playing injured or to not call Pierce elite because he can't "make his teammates better." All the naysayers should be looking to a smug Danny Ainge who claims to have a master plan. Trust me, any master plan including Raef LaFrentz at center is horribly misguided one (just ask the Mavericks, who dumped his contract on us).

Why all this talk about the Celtics? Because all the hatred that I have for Ainge is diametric to the love I have for Theo Epstein, the GM of the Red Sox. Since he filled the small shoes left by Dan Duquette, Theo's been nearly infallible (save the endorsement of the closer-by-committee). He has acquired Bill Mueller, David Ortiz, Pokey Reese, Keith Foulke, Curt Schilling, Lenny DiNardo, and resigned Trot Nixon to a more than reasonable contract extension. More importantly, however, Epstein has refused to pony up the money necessary to keep aging free agents Derek Lowe, Pedro Martinez, Jason Varitek, and Nomar Garciaparra. These players are 30, 32, 32, and 30 years old respectively, and peak seasons genereally occur around 27 or 28. So, these players are at least 2 years in decline with V-Tek and Pedro already 4 years into their expected decline.

Theo made yet another brilliant move today in signing David Ortiz. C is for Cookie, and at 11.75 million over the next two years, that's certainly good enough for me. The Sox also have a club option for the third year. The Sox can choose to release Cookie Monster at an additional cost of $750,000 or can keep him for 7.75 million, under the agreement.

Why is this move so brilliant? First and foremost, Ortiz is the youngest of the prospective free agents at 28. From this we can infer that Ortiz has at least 2 near-peak seasons left in him before he starts his decline. Thus, the Sox are more likely to be getting a good return on their investment in Ortiz because he is more likely (than the four aforementioned) to continue to produce as we've become accustomed to.

In addition, Theo managed to acquire Ortiz cheaply. Looking at last year's RC/27 (Runs Created per 27 outs), 9 David Ortizes would have produced approximately 7.69 runs a game. Just perusing the list, one can see that there are many below him that make significantly more than six million a year (Magglio, Abreu, Sexson, and Sosa all make far more).

Even this year, David's no slouch. He ranks 69th with a RC/27 of 6.23. Again, many below him are making far more than he is - Sheffield, Konerko, Carlos Lee, even his teammate Johnny Damon. The Cookie Monster has shown the ability to hit and the Red Sox paid him relatively little money to do it for them. Kudos to Theo on yet another fine move.

A Moment of Elation

My softball team took home the gold on Wednesday, winning the IM Softball League at Bates College. We led 9-8 going into the last-ups for the opposing team and we held them scoreless to win the title. I'm the tall kid goofily smiling with the glorious Twins hat on in the back. Towering over my teammates, one can see how I've drawn comparisons to Richie Sexson. We finished the year 5-0-1. That's right, we tied a game. We had to end play because another game needed to occur and we had already played one extra inning. I can faintly hear Tom Hanks exclaiming: "There's no tying in baseball!"

A Moment of Silence

Through Sabernomics I learned that Doug Pappas, the man who pens the "Business of Baseball Blog" to your left, has passed away. It's so strange feeling sorrow for someone I never knew really, but I enjoyed his work at the BoBB and the blogging community will miss him dearly.


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Posted by Ben K. on Thursday, May 20, 2004

The Curse of Roger Clemens

That's it. It's all over for the Rocket. Right now, he's the talk of baseball, but after his next few starts, people won't be saying that anymore.

Wait. Wait. Wait. What am I talking about, you might wonder. Roger Clemens, the 41-year-old Roger Clemens who retired a few months ago, is 7-0 with a 1.72 ERA. He's given up 31 hits in 52.1 innings while averaging 10.66 K/9 IP. Furthermore, opponents are hitting just .170 (or approximately Derek Jeter's batting average) off of him. How can I say his finished?

Well, ladies and gentlemen, as MLB.com reported just a few short hours ago, Roger Clemens will be on the cover of Sports Illustrated. And we all know what that means: here comes the slump or injury or anything else that vindicated the jinx of Sports Illustrated.

So you don't believe in superstition. Well, talk a look at this article. It's a story Sports Illustrated did about its own jinx, complete with stats, science, and fiction. As Alexander Wolff wrote back in 2002:
In investigating virtually all of SI's 2,456 covers, we found 913 "jinxes" -- a demonstrable misfortune or decline in performance following a cover appearance roughly 37.2 percent of the time.
In that article, Wolff talks about how players at their peak attract SI, but then, inevitably, they will decline in production shortly after appearing on the cover. He also talks about some psychological mumbo-jumbo about not living up to self-induced expectations. But either way, Clemens, you're going down! Finally, those fans who think you're a traitor (in New York AND Boston) will gain some pleasure watching you lose.

Well, hey, we can dream, right? Anyway, on to the substantial stuff.

The Five-Point-Palm Exploding Heart Technique or the Top Five Disappointments of the 2004 Season

So the season is about a quarter over, more or less, depending upon which team you look at. In honor of that and in honor of my borderline obsession with bad teams and players, I thought I would take a look at some of this season's disappointments so far. I'll talk about whether or not players can turn it around and why they are disappointing. Additionally, I'm going to list the top five in the poll (check the sidebar, left column of the page, near the top) so you can vote on what you think is the number one disappointment. If you disagree with me completely, leave a comment. Here goes.

1. Jose Contreras — Some people might accuse me of East Coast or Yankee bias with this one, but it's hard to argue that any other player has been more disappointing than Jose Contreras. Before his recent trip to the Columbus Clippers with Yankee pitching guru Billy Connors, Contreras was 1-2 with a staggering 9.47 ERA. While he's striking out 8.05 per 9 innings, these same opponents are also hitting .316 against him. He's walked 14 in 19 innings and has surrendered 7 home runs. At that pace, and assuming 200 innings pitched, he would have the dubious achievement of giving up 73 home runs. Bert Blyleven holds the record for most in a season, and he gave up only 50. Yup, only 50.

Why he is a disappointment? — Well, this certainly doesn't need much of an explanation. The Yankees are paying Contreras $8 million a year to pitch well, and so far, he hasn't really delivered. He showed flashes of greatness down the stretch last year, but he has shown no confidence or poise on the mound. In fact, in most starts, he's looked downright clueless. The Yankees' starting pitching rests on shaky ground, and Torre and Co. really needed Contreras to pitch better. No one else in Major League Baseball has gained so much attention this season for being so ineffective and bad.

Can he overcome the first quarter? — Sure, he could, but will he is a different matter altogether. I personally don't think he will. The Yankees are having him start against the hard-hitting Texas Rangers this weekend just because the next best option is Tanyon Sturtze. Yet, I don't think Sturtze could do any worse, and it wouldn't kill the Yanks to give him a shot. In his AAA assignments, Contreras was 2-0 with a 3.21 ERA. He struck out 12 in 13 innings, but he also managed to throw 2 wild pitches and allow five stolen bases. Rushing him back only means that the disappointment will last all year and probably for the rest of his contract.

2. Derek Jeter — Continuing in the grand tradition of my being from New York, I present for your consideration Captain Jeter. I think the .188 average speaks for itself.

Why is he a disappointment? — Well, his fielding is better, but his offense is in the toilet. Or maybe below the toilet. The biggest problem right now, from my perspective, is his .251 on-base percentage. The Yankees have a great lineup behind Derek, but ARod, Giambi, and Sheff need Derek on base so they can drive him in. His .251 OBP means he's getting on base about once per game. They won't fly if the Yankees are going to win.

Can he overcome the first quarter? — Depends what you (I?) mean by overcome. He'll hit better soon enough. He can't hit worse. He hit well tonight against Anaheim, but Chone Figgins made a few nice plays. He also walked, which means he's talking pitches. Everyone under the sun feels Derek's not talking enough pitches. I think he may need to relax. I think he keeps checking out the new third baseman and wondering if his job is secure. Considering that Rodriguez is playing Gold Glove-caliber third base, Derek should quit worrying about short. His fielding is better this year, but at what cost? Before this year, he was Mr. Consistency, on pace for 3000 hits easily. He's gotta go back to taking pitches, working the count, and driving the ball the other way. That's what he does best. He's not a home run hitter, but he doesn't have to be. I'm sure he'll get over this start, and I have a feeling he'll end the season at .270 or so. To do that, he would have to hit just .298 the rest of the season. It's really quite easy considering how good he can be when he's on.

3. Aubrey Huff — What's up, Aubrey? You were arguable last year's break-out player, but now, you're swinging the bat like Derek.

Why is he a disappointment? — Last year, Aubrey Huff, the Devil Rays' 3B-OF-1B-DH, wowed us all. He hit quite nicely, thank you very much, turning out a .311/.367/.555 line. He blasted 34 home runs and drove in 107. This year, he's managed to hit .207/.276/.321 with 4 home runs, 18 RBI, and a grand total of 8 extra base hits. The Devil Rays were counting on this 27-year-old to lead their team in a positive way. Instead, he's one of the major reasons why the D-Rays have scored just 136 runs and are 10-28. Definitely, Aubrey is not meeting high expectations.

Can he overcome the first quarter? — Surprisingly (and this is sorta, kinda good news for Dave, who owns him in our fantasy league), I think he can. But, and this is a big but, the Devil Rays have to move him to the outfield where he has played a grand total of zero games this season. Back in March, I wrote a post about the statistical differences when designated hitters play the field. One of the guys I profiled was Aubrey Huff. I found out that Huff hits almost 100 points better when he plays the outfield than when he plays the infield. So because this must make sense to Sweet Lou, Huff has 87 at-bats as a third baseman, 55 at-bats as a DH, and 0 at-bats as an outfielder. While my idea can't explain why Huff is hitting only .200 through 55 at-bats as DH, I believe statistical chance can. He just needs more DH at-bats. But his .210 average as a third baseman fits in with what I found. Huff does not like to play the infield, and it shows in his batting average. If the Devil Rays put Aubrey back in the outfield, he'll excel. But otherwise, he'll continue to hit poorly. If he stays at third, I predict a final season average of around .240-.250.

4. Carlos Delgado — Where have you gone, Carlos Delgado? He finished second in the AL MVP voting last winter, garnering five first-place votes and 210 votes overall. Now, he's struck out 38 times this year is bad.

Why is he a disappointment? — Well, he hit four home runs on the last day of the season as part of his campaign for 2003 MVP. He finished second to some guy named A-Rod. Now, he's managing just .232/.328/.406 with just 6 home runs and 25 RBI. Also, his walk numbers are way, way down. He walked over 100 times last year; this year, he's projecting to 80 walks. The last time Delgado didn't walk 100 times in a season was 1999.

Can he overcome the first quarter? — Really, the question is, does his knee hurt that badly and does he need surgery? If the answers are yes and yes, then no, he can't overcome the first 41 games. If he's just in a slump like DJ up there, he may snap out of it yet. It's a toss-up. In the end, though, everyone can snap out of their slumps. It's just a matter of will they, and I'm not so sure Delgado will. I can't really offer anything else here. Move on.

5. Albert Pujols — It's hard to believe that a guy with 9 home runs is considered one of the top disappointments of the season, but we've come to expect a whole lot more from the bat of Albert Pujols.

Why is he a disappointment? — For the first three seasons of his career, Albert Pujols has averaged .333/.412/.610 with 37 home runs and 127 RBIs. Plus, he's supposedly only 24 years old. Yet, this year, he's hitting just .278/.376/.536. While he's on pace for those same 37 home runs, he's projecting to just 100 RBIs. With the hot Scott Rolen behind him, Pujols has been seeing a lot of pitches to hit with minimal results. While he's on pace for 141 runs scored, that's mainly because Rolen's going to drive him about 141 times this year. The Cardinals need Pujols to produce more.

Can he overcome the first quarter? — Of course. It's quite likely that Albert will find his sweet stroke sometime soon, and then the balls will be flying out of Busch Stadium. In the end, .280 with 100 RBI and 37 home runs is not bad at all. The Cardinals have just come to expect much, much more from Pujols. I think he'll break out soon, but in the meantime, people will definitely begin to question whether or not he's really 24.

So that's it. Those are my top 5 disappointing players of the 2004 season, so far. Vote in the poll. Leave your comments. Tell me how wrong I was and list your own top 5. Also, let me know if you clicked on the link up there for "big but." I'm curious to find this one out.

Postscript: The Last Poll Results

For those of you interested, the last poll results are as follows:

Should MLB allow on-field advertising such as the planned Spider-Man 2 ads on the bases?
87 percent said no
13 percent said yes


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Posted by Jon on Wednesday, May 19, 2004

The Ease of Perfection: A Recent Surge in Perfect Games

Here’s a pitching line you don’t see every season:
IP	H	R	ER	BB	K	HR

9.0 3 1 1 1 18 1

And here’s a pitching line you don’t see every decade:
IP	H	R	ER	BB	K	HR

9.0 0 0 0 0 13 0
On Sunday, Ben Sheets strikes out a mediocre Braves lineup 18 times. Tuesday, after an off-day, the same lineup from the noticeably not Hot-lanta doesn’t muster a base runner against another very good pitcher, future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson. No walks. No hits. Nobody hit by a pitch. No Braves reaching base due to fielding errors.

Twenty-seven up. Twenty-seven down.

The first thing that struck me—and I’m sure it struck many other baseball fans—is that the Braves are floundering on offense. Atlanta hitters have struck out 31 times in their last two games. They've whiffed in more than half of their last 58 trips to the plate! (Who knew that changing more than a third of the lineup after a stinking 18-K performance would result in worse results?) Surely, when the prospects of Eli Marrero returning is cause for hope, you’re looking at an offense in shambles.

It’s not every day you see an 18-whiff performance, but to follow it by being no-hit and no-walked from the first to the last pitch must be a historic occurrence. Maybe along with Johnson’s game balls and glove, the Hall of Fame should also create a monument to the new-look Braves, Jesse Garcia, Nick Green, Dewayne Wise, and (my favorite) Wilson Betemit, to commemorate Atlanta’s historic ineptitude. But it wasn't just the new guys. Neither J.D. nor Chipper nor Andruw had any better luck.

Nevertheless, I was excited. This was the first time I’d seen such a historic performance, even on television. Although the Diamondbacks (aside from the lovable Robby Hammock) seemed less energized than me after the fact, this was a rare performance—one not likely to be repeated in the near future...right? After all, since the birth of modern day baseball, you’re likely to witness one perfect game every six some odd years. Johnson’s was only the seventeenth perfect game since the beginning of the 1904 season (I give Pedro and Haddix the nod; sorry Ernie...).

Noticeably, the amount of perfect games pitched has recently increased. In just the last 10.25 seasons (since the shortened 1994 season) five perfect games have been tossed. To examine the increase, I’ll break it down by ten year spans beginning in 1904, when the first modern day perfect game was tossed by a guy with name recognition.
Years		PG	PG/17

1904-1913 2 11.7
1914-1923 1 5.9
1924-1933 0 0.0
1934-1943 0 0.0
1944-1953 0 0.0
1954-1963 2 11.7
1964-1973 3 17.6
1974-1983 1 5.9
1984-1993 3 17.6
1994-2004 5 29.4
Note that 1) the last ten-year span includes the beginning of the 2004 season, and that 2) 'PG/17' refers to the percenge of a ten year span's recorded complete games out of the total number recorded (17).

Perfect games were very rare before the mid-fifties. In fact, just three of the seventeen perfect games came between 1904 and 1953, due to the dry spell in the thirties and forties. I’m no expert about baseball history, but it seemed to me that while baseball hitters have developed the technique and the musculature to hit more homers than ever before, the best pitchers have also become more adept and refined at the skill of limiting their opponents' ability to reach base. More than a quarter of baseball’s perfect games have come within the last ten years. How can this be explained? And should the value of a perfect game diminish with the feat’s increased frequency?

First, it should be noted that it takes a combination of skill and luck to record a perfect games, which means that basing a decade’s ability to pitch on the amount of perfect games tossed is fairly ridiculous.

Originally I attributed the increase in perfect games to an ever-refining baseball talent base. Perhaps pitching talent has developed and increased, culminating in a historically astoudning perfect game to season ratio of 0.5. This could be the case, and is no doubt true on one level. Just as some batters have become more powerful at the plate, specific pitchers are stronger and possibly more dominant than ever before. But there is a more discernable reason for the increase in the frequency of perfect games. I’ve added average Major League games played per each ten-season span.
Years		PG	PG/17	Games 	PG/Games (*e-5)

1904-1913 2 11.7 24640 8.11
1914-1923 1 5.9 24640 4.06
1924-1933 0 0.0 24640 0.00
1934-1943 0 0.0 24640 0.00
1944-1953 0 0.0 24640 0.00
1954-1963 2 11.7 32400 6.17
1964-1973 3 17.6 38880 7.72
1974-1983 1 5.9 38880 2.57
1984-1993 3 17.6 45360 6.61
1994-2004 5 29.4 49815 10.03
Note that 1) the 'Games' figures are estimated from the totals of the last year of each ten-year span and that 2) the 'PG/Games' (perfect games per total games in ten year span)figures are all *e-5.

In the last 10.25 seasons, the percentage of perfect games out of total games played has increased. From 1954 to 1993, the average frequency of perfect games was 5.77 (*e-5. In the ten year span since 1993, the frequency has increased almost twofold.

After the 1994 strike came our current era of increased hitting and power. In this context, the remarkable rise in perfect game frequency seems a strange revelation. More teams and more games played notwithstanding, perfect games are becoming more frequent. I have trouble attributing this jump to pure luck alone. Maybe pitchers have been better since the mid-nineties, as I originally hypothesized. But now I have trouble believing this, too. In fact, the rise of perfect games may be attributable to the watering down of baseball lineups.

If the hitting to pitching talent ratio has been relatively constant in the league since at least the 1950s, it is not impossible to assume that the same number of dominant starting pitchers exists now as before, but that they are more spread out across the league. Just as pitching metrics have shown that expansion allows worse pitchers into the league, hitters have also become, compared to decades ago, less proficient. In addition, it would appear that, at least for the one game, pitching a perfect game requires a dominant pitcher against a poor offense.

Hence, as pitching and hitting talent has become more diffused throughout the league, it becomes more difficult to field a strong offense. So the most dominant pitchers in the league, of which we assume there remain a relatively constant number, are more likely to face terrible—or at least worse—offenses, resulting in more perfect games and dominant performances.

This theory can be extrapolated to deal with high-strikeout games—another measure of pitching diminance—as well. Of the top ten single game strike out performances of all time, half occurred within the past ten years. Add two more if you start counting form the mid-eighties.

It is important to remember that this is only a theory and correlation between years and power pitching performances alone is not indicative of causation. But if Betemit and the rest of the gang strike out in 27 straight at-bats and fail to reach base in their next game, I reserve the right to change my theory into fact.


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Posted by Dave on Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Troy Glaus and His Henchmen

The word has hit the streets, Troy Glaus is possibly out for the season. This is the same Troy Glaus that boasts an AL-best eleven home runs (only the anomalous Steve Finley can claim more). And yes, these are the same Anaheim Angels with six players on the DL. That DL list now includes Glaus and Garret Anderson, the perennial pick for the most underrated player in baseball - a contradiction for anyone except the majority of baseball writers. With the loss of those two, and set-up man deluxe Brendan Donnelly, the Angels would seem to be in serious need of some help.

The standings would disagree, however. The Angels currently enjoy a 2.5 game lead over the Rangers and a 4.5 game lead over the Athletics. Sure, the A's are still waiting to make their late-season surge, but the Angels are doing pretty well for themselves. Still, Glaus' loss will be painful and a continuation of their division-leading play seems unlikely. Don't believe me? The numbers suggest that Glaus has already produced more than 2 wins.

So, who are the Angels to turn to? Mike Scoscia has intimated that Shane Halter, Chone Figgins, and Alfredo Amezaga are all candidates. I linked all three, but really, only one link is worthwhile. Knowing Scoscia's traditional style of management, Halter will see the majority of playing time at third because he's the only one that has logged a significant amount of time in the Bigs.

Let's hope that this isn't the case, however. Suffice it to say that Halter's has "achieved" a career OBP of .306. That's actually worse than my favorite whipping boy (that's two articles for the price of one, folks), Aaron Rowand, an impressive feat. It would seem that a combination of Jeff DaVanon and Chone Figgins at third would be optimal - but it remains to be seen how well Figgins can handle the hot corner. Even with Chone's (pronounced Shawn, by the way (where do parents get these names?!)) deficiency in the field, however, I would prefer never to see (fettucine) Alfredo at the dish.

There is another solution, however: Dallas McPherson. This player wouldn't be just a stopgap like Figgins, DaVanon, or Halter. This player could bring some serious talent to the table. Baseball America recently deemed McPherson the 33rd-best prospect in MLB - not Mauer material, but incredible nonetheless. Last year, he posted .314/.426/.569 for the Angels' AA-affiliate, the Arkansas Travelers (Watch out! They're going to get nomadic on you!) and has posted a .301/.373/.491 thusfar. Not shabby at all.

Here's the kicker though - this guy made Randy Johnson look bad. How is this possible? Courteous of Baseball America, we have this anecdote:
Last season, he shot himself in a finger with a BB gun and didn’t skip a day. After returning from a bulging disc that sidelined him for most of April, he ripped nine home runs in 14 games, highlighted by a double and home run against a rehabbing Randy Johnson. When Johnson beaned him in his third trip to the plate, McPherson stared him down and then stole second.
If ever I wanted to deviate from my sabermetric foundation, it is now. This guy practically embarassed one of the best pitchers of our time. Granted, it was during a rehab start, but this is simply awe-inspring. Oh, and don't forget the apparent truth that he is impervious to BB pellets or a bulging disc. Take a look at this guy's picture for heaven's sake:



Dallas McPherson can only be described as Panache Personified.

Even still, it seems McPherson's probably still a year away, at least. His numbers have declined in AA thusfar with increased experience. This does not bode well going forward, to be sure. Still, Dallas has the elan to be a good replacement down the road for the aging and ailing Troy Glaus. For now, unfortunately, Angels fans will have to grin and bear the play of Chone Figgins at third - or Shane Halter if Scoscia behaves sub-optimally.


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Posted by Ben K. on Monday, May 17, 2004

Between the Sheets

By now, Ben Sheets' 18-strikeout performance is old news. The baseball world is always impressed by a dominating pitching performance, and Sheets ranks up there with the best. He threw 116 pitches and only 25 of those were called balls. That's a lot of swinging and missing on behalf of the Braves.

Yet, as I was looking over the box score and talking with Jon about this game, a thought occurred to me. Sheets' performance was great, but what if he was aided by a weak lineup? Let's take a look at the lineup the Braves featured tonight. These stats are for games played before Sheets mowed down 18 on Sunday.

ABAVGK'sKs vs. Sheets
DeWayne Wise75.213152
Adam LaRouche95.253202
J.D. Drew101.317203
Johnny Estrada107.35583
Andruw Jones132.250272
Mark DeRosa128.211231
Wilson Betemit20.15083
Nick Green4.25020
Jaret Wright8.12551
Chipper Jones59.254171

Breaking this down, before Sunday's game, the Braves' hitters who faced Sheets had recorded 729 at-bats, 145 strike outs, and 190 hits. The team that faced Sheets, then, was hitting .261 while recording a strike out average (K/AB) of .199. Furthermore, going into Sunday's game, the Braves, as a team, had struck out 262 times, tied for sixth worst in the majors. Now, they have sole possession of fourth place. Clearly, this is a team that strikes out a lot.

I don't mean to belittle Sheets' performance at all, and the Braves were certainly making no excuses. Bobby Cox had high praise, in fact, for the young pitcher. "He probably had the best breaking ball we've seen all year," Cox commented after the game. But my investigation made me wonder about the other high strike-out performances. How much of it is a dominating pitcher and how much of it is the strike-out rate of the other team? Did Kerry Wood fan 20 guys who liked to swing a lot or was he truly overpowering? What about Roger Clemens and his two incredible performances? I thought it was worth a look into the history of the teams that have been on the wrong end of the impressive strike-out games.

Let's check out another table. Here are the top 10 strike-out performances of all time. I omitted a few 19-strike-out games in which the starting pitcher pitched more than 9 innings. Those don't count for the sake of this study.

PitcherDateK'sOpponentOpponent's Total Season K'sLeague Average
Roger ClemensApril 29, 1986 20Seattle Mariners1148933
Roger ClemensSeptember 18, 199620Detroit Tigers12681004
Kerry WoodMay 6, 199820Houston Astros11221091
Randy JohnsonMay 8, 200120Cincinnati Reds10771119
Randy JohnsonJune 24, 199719Oakland Athletics11811044
Randy JohnsonAugust 8, 199719Chicago White Sox9011044
Steve CarltonSeptember 15, 196919New York Mets1089969
Tom SeaverApril 20, 197019San Diego Padres1164951
Nolan RyanAugust 12, 197419Boston Red Sox811793
David ConeOctober 6, 199119Philadelphia Phillies1026954

Based on this table, then, on average, teams that are victims of high strike-out games finish with nearly 89 more total strike outs than the league average. Omitting the two teams that finished with strike out totals lower than the league average, our average increases to over 178 more strike outs than the league average. Of these 10 teams, four of them led their leagues in strike outs, three of them finished third in strike outs, two of them finished fourth, and only one of those teams — the 1997 Chicago White Sox — had the fewest strike outs in their league. There's always one outlier in the bunch, it seems, and the White Sox are our winners.

But back to the pitchers. Looking at this list of pitchers, it doesn't appear as though any of them got really lucky. With the exception of David Cone (and Kerry Wood because it's too early to tell), all of the guys who racked up 19 or more K's in 9 innings are Hall of Famers. Expanding the list to 18, we also see Ramon Martinez, Bill Gullickson, and Ron Guidry join the company. While these three guys are not Nolan Ryan or Tom Seaver types, they all were considered to be top-notch pitchers. So it does take quite a bit of pitching skill to whiff a lot of guys in one game. But at the same time, the pitchers shouldn't always get the credit they receive in the media. The offense is to blame also.

To some people out there, this may seem like a fairly pedestrian point. Is it really a secret that batters who strike out more often are more likely to strike out? That, to me, sounds like a tautology or, as Dave likes to call it, a truism. At the same time, though, baseball analysts tend to over-react after games like these. The best times to expect a record-setting strike-out performance is when a strike-out pitcher faces a strike-out team. The odd games, such as the 1997 White Sox falling victim to Randy Johnson, that truly reveal how great a pitcher can be. If one flame-throwing lefty can induce the team that strikes out the fewest times in one season to strike out 19 times in one game, greatness is at hand. If, on the other hand, a strike-out pitcher can induce a team that strikes out almost 1300 times to strike out 20 times in one game, it's not nearly as impressive.

Now, there's no reason to think that Ben Sheets will be an aberration, and there's no reason to take all of the credit away from Sheets. He was utterly dominant on Sunday, missing the strike zone only 25 times the entire game. Looking again at the list of pitchers, it's clear that Sheets is in elite company, and as a highly touted pitcher who helped deliver a U.S. gold medal in 2000, he'll probably reach the upper echelons of that list again. He just won't do it every start, and he shouldn't be expected to do it every start. We just need to wait now until Sheets faces another team that strikes out a lot. Considering that only the Mets and his Brewers strike out more than the Braves, if Sheets has his stuff against the Mets, the breeze coming out of Shea may be cool and steady all afternoon.


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