Category Archives: baseball

The greatest Royal/Met

A while ago I wrote a little Python code that used career data from Baseball-Reference Play Index (the best $36/year a number-loving baseball fan can spend) to answer the question:  given a pair of teams, which player contributed the most to both teams?  My metric for this is

(WAR for team 1 * WAR for team 2)

in order to privilege players who balanced their contributions to both teams.

So who was the greatest Royal/Met?  In retrospect, this should have been obvious.  How many of the top 5 can you guess?

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Why does Indianapolis like the Cubs?

When two baseball teams share a city, one of them dominates the geographic region with the city as its center.  Greater New York, upper Jersey, lower CT like the Yankees, not the Mets.  Northern California likes the Giants, not the A’s.  In SoCal you won’t find many Angels fans outside Orange County itself.  And the whole mid-northern Midwest, from Iowa across to central Indiana, roots for the Cubs, not the White Sox, whose fanbase consists of southern Chicago and a few adjacent suburbs.

(Go here for an amazing, data-rich, zoomable interactive of this NYT UpShot map, but be prepared to be depressed about how many Yankee fans there are freaking everywhere.)

Why?  For NYC, LA, SF it’s pretty clear; one team is older and has a historic base that the other lacks.  But for Chicago it’s less clear.

One friend suggested that Iowa has a, um, relevant ethnic similarity with the part of Chicago containing Wrigley Field.  But Chicagoan tell me that the ethnic identification of White Sox fandom is historically Irish, not African-American.

My best guess is that it’s WGN, a mainstay of basic cable for decades which may have spread Cubs fandom across the nation the way TBS did for the Braves.  But then one asks:  in 1950, before TV, was there more parity between Cubs and White Sox fans?  Who did people in Des Moines and Indianapolis (and for that matter Milwaukee and Minneapolis) mostly cheer for back then?

And what about New York, back when there were three native teams of about the same age?  Did fans in Poughkeepsie and Rahway split evenly between Yankees, Dodgers, and Giants?  What about the Phillies and the original A’s?

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Mariners 6, Orioles 5

I took CJ with me to Seattle, where I was giving a talk at the American Statistical Association meetings, and what luck — the Orioles were in town!  So we took in this game.


  • I’ve never seen so many Orioles fans at an away game.  In fact, I kept seeing people in O’s gear all over Seattle.  Are they strangely popular in the PNW?  Or is it just that four years of winning has made it safe to wear orange and black in public?
  • First trip to SafeCo, a great field on the underrated Miller Park model.  The retractable roof here doesn’t open and close; it slides over the top of the stadium like an umbrella.  When it’s open, the roof hangs over the railroad tracks adjoining the park, and when a train comes by, the whistle echoes off the roof into the stadium, and it is awesome.
  • The Mariner dog is an unusually good ballpark dog.  As big as a brat, nicely blackened, good snap.  Well worth seven dollars.  The signature SafeCo food — at least, everyone around us had it — was garlic fries.  I’m sorry Seattle but these are not that good.  Huge heap of fries with a bunch of minced garlic and parsley on top.  Impressive to look at, but impossible to keep the garlic on the fries as you eat, and the fries get cold and depressing very quickly.
  • Nice sunburned-looking blond couple in front of us turned out to be Dutch people whose son, they said, played for the Orioles in the Netherlands.  What could they have meant?  I think maybe he plays for these guys? But are they actually affiliated with the Orioles?  Mysteries of honkbal.
  • “Dad has to catch a fly ball in a cowboy hat to win him and his kid Mariners tickets” is a great pregame promotion.  Every team should do this.

The game started out looking like a laugher; terrible defense and baserunning on both ends and the first inning ended with the Mariners up 4-2.  Then nothing happened for a long time.  Seattle’s Taijuan Williams wasn’t really dominant but the Orioles couldn’t really get a big hit.  Tillman got hit in the arm with a batted ball, and was bad anyway, and was out after 2 1/3, but the usual succession of long relievers shut down Seattle.  I told CJ “this team has an explosive offense and can score a bunch of runs at any time” and just then Adam Jones sneaked one over the left field fence to make it 5-4 and then Chris Davis came up.  He has grown a super-weird mustache, which CJ and I had been admiring on TV at the end of the previous night’s contest.

Davis says it helps him hit home runs and I guess so because he immediately launched a no-doubter so far into right it could have beat Ted Cruz in a primary. Maybe the best home run I’ve seen since the grand slam Jim Thome hit against the Orioles at U.S. Cellular. Did I blog that? Oh yeah, I did.

So we’re tied at 5, and we go into extras, T.J. MacFarland coming in for his third inning of work.  He faces the bottom of the order and loads the bases with one out.  Britton pitched 1 2/3 the previous night and is unavailable.  But you have O’Day warmed and ready.  Yes I know you want to save him to close, but at what point do you bring him in?  Would you rather lose with your best reliever waiting in the bullpen?  That’s what happened; McFarland stayed in to face Austin Jackson, who lashed a ball that landed about a centimeter inside the foul line and that was the ballgame.

Unusually bearable loss; much easier to take than if the Orioles had laid down and accepted that they were going to get beat by the runs they allowed in the first.

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Bumgarner 2014, Ortiz 2013, and the World Series OVP

I was wondering about the question of whether Madison Bumgarner was not only the MVP of the 2014 World Series, but the MVP of all recent World Series.  I mean, here’s something startling:  Bumgarner’s ERA for the series was 0.43, over 21 innings.  The rest of the Giants staff recorded a 5.71 ERA in their 40 innings of work.  Bumgarner wasn’t just the most valuable player — he was, on the pitching side, the only valuable player.

I asked Daniel Erman how far back you had to go to find a comparable performance, and he pointed out that the answer is “One year.”  David Ortiz had an insane 1.948 OPS for the series.  The next-highest mark on the Red Sox?  Jacoby Ellsbury, at 0.599.  That is amazing.  At least the Giants had Affeldt, who was effective in four games of middle relief.  Boston really had no hitter other than Ortiz who was any good at all.  The Red Sox had 62 baserunners in the series.  19 of those were David Ortiz.

Are there any other World Series OVPs?

2014 World Series stats

2013 World Series stats

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Poem for the ALDS

These are the names that are freaking me out,
Verlander, Scherzer, and Price,
Plaguing my Oriole fandom with doubt,
Verlander, Scherzer and Price.
A trio of felines, bringing the heat,
Verlander, Scherzer, and Price,
Are these guys that a team writing “Ryan Flaherty” and “Jonathan Schoop” on the lineup card every day actually has a chance to beat??
Verlander, Scherzer, and Price.


Update:  I should make clear that this is meant to be apres “Tinkers to Evers to Chance,” by Franklin Pierce Adams.

Squeeze! Squeeze!

I hope the world never runs out of awesome Earl Weaver stories.

I saw Earl Weaver put on a suicide squeeze bunt, in Milwaukee. It worked. Everybody asked him, ‘Wait, we thought you told us you didn’t even have a sign for a suicide squeeze, because you hated it so much.’ Earl said, ‘I still don’t.’ I asked him, ‘How did you put it on then?’ He said, ‘I whistled at Cal Ripken, Sr., my third base coach. Then I shouted at him, ‘Squeeze! Squeeze! Then I motioned a bunt.’ I said, ‘Paul Molitor was playing third. Didn’t he hear you?’ Earl said, ‘If he did, I’m sure he thought there was no way we were putting it on, or I wouldn’t have been yelling for it.’

This is from the Fangraphs interview with the greatest announcer of our time, Jon Miller. His memoir, Confessions of a Baseball Purist, is full of great stuff like this. I didn’t know until just this second that it had been reissued by Johns Hopkins University Press.

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The 1979 Houston Astros hit only 49 home runs

49 home runs! That’s nuts. They hit more triples than home runs. Their home run leader was Jose Cruz, who hit 9. In September they went 20 straight games without hitting a home run, the longest such streak in modern baseball. And that was after they went 15 games without hitting a rome run in July!

Must have been a pretty bad team, right? But no! They won 89 games and finished second, just a game and a half behind the Reds. That 15 game homerless streak in July? They went 11-4 in those games.

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August linkdump

  • The company that makes OldReader, the RSS reader I fled to after the sad demise of Google Reader, is from Madison!  OK, Middleton.  Still part of Silicon Isthmus.
  • I never new that Mark Alan Stamaty, one of my favorite cartoonists, did the cover of the first They Might Be Giants album.
  • Hey I keep saying this and now Allison Schrager has written an article about it for Bloomberg.  Tenure is a form of compensation.  If you think tenure is a bad way to pay teachers, and that compensation is best in the form of dollars, that’s fine; but if California pretends that the elimination of tenure isn’t a massive pay cut for teachers, they’re making a basic economic mistake.
  • New “hot hand” paper by Brett Green and Jeffrey Zweibel, about the hot hand for batters in baseball.  They say it’s there!  And they echo a point I make in the book (which I learned from Bob Wardrop) — some of the “no such thing as the hot hand” studies are way too low-power to detect a hot hand of any realistic size.
  • Matt Baker goes outside the circle of number theory and blogs about real numbers, axioms, and games.  Daring!  Matt also has a very cool new paper with Yao Wang about spanning trees as torsors for the sandpile group; but I want that to have its own blog entry once I’ve actually read it!
  • Lyndon Hardy wrote a fantasy series I adored as a kid, Master of the Five Magics.  I didn’t know that, as an undergrad, he was the mastermind of the Great Caltech Rose Bowl Hoax.  Now that is a life well spent.
  • Do you know how many players with at least 20 hits in a season have had more than half their hits be home runs?  Just two:  Mark McGwire in 2001 and Frank Thomas in 2005.
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“Like a girl”

I wrote a New York Times op/ed last week about the relationship between teaching math and coaching Little League.  Several people wrote me to say that I shouldn’t have written the following passage:

My level of skill at baseball — actually, with every kind of ball — is pretty much the opposite of my mastery of math. I’ve reached 40 and I still throw in the way that we used to call, before they started showing college softball on TV, “like a girl.”

So obviously my goal here is to undercut the stereotype and present it as obsolete.  But the people who wrote me argued that to use the force of a sexist phrase to give my sentence a little oomph is a problem, even if (as I once heard J. P. Serre say about a piece of notation) “I mention it only in order to object to it.”

So I asked about this on Facebook, and maybe 60% of people thought it was fine, and 40% said that they winced when they read it.

Which means it’s not fine.  Because why write something that makes 40% of readers wince in annoyance?  Especially when a) it’s in no way intrinsic to the piece, which is otherwise not about gender roles, and b) the piece itself ties math to baseball, a boy-coded activity, and has much more material about my son than it does about my daughter.

I think “like a girl” can be an OK place to go if you need to.  But I didn’t need to.  So I think I shouldn’t have.

One of my friends suggested I should have said instead that I throw “like a mathematician.”  Better!


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Orioles 7, Brewers 6

CJ, AB and I spent Memorial Day at Miller Park, watching the Orioles outlast the Brewers 7-6 in an exciting 10-inning contest; it was Baltimore’s first visit to Milwaukee since 2008, which CJ and I also attended. Some details (CJ is helping me write this):

  • Lots of production from the bottom of the Brewers order, including back-to-back homers by Khris Davis and Lyle Overbay.  At that point Chris Tillman looked so overmatched that Kyle Lohse, in his last AB of the day, was apparently given permission to swing for the fences and hope for the best.  (He struck out.)
  • There’s nothing like watching AL pitchers try to bat.  Tillman made three tries at making contact on a bunt attempt, missed all three, and walked back to the dugout looking glum.
  • As an Oriole, Mark Reynolds was the worst third baseman I’ve ever seen, but somebody on Milwaukee’s staff has turned him around; he’s been notably good in both games we’ve seen this year, today making a diving stop and then firing a perfect throw to first from his knees.
  • Play of the game:  bottom of the ninth, Brewers with runners on second and third with one out, Reynolds up.  Ron Roenicke calls the “contact play” — pinch runner Elian Herrera takes off from third on contact, the idea being that he can probably score even on a soft groundout.  Unfortunately for Milwaukee, Reynolds hit a hard line shot directly to J.J. Hardy, who caught it and nonchalantly flipped to Manny Machado for the double play before Herrera even realized he wasn’t about to score the game-winning run.
  • Barbecue brisket sandwich from the Smokehouse unexpectedly good.  CJ ate four pieces of pizza.  Correction, CJ wishes me to say he “devoured” four pieces of pizza.  AB ate a hotdog.
  • Surprisingly high density of O’s fans in the seats behind the visiting dugout — I’d say 10-20%.
  • Former Brewer Hardy gets big cheers here when when announced.
  • I never get tired of watching Darren O’Day and his weirdo delivery.  He’s now been an extremely good pitcher for two full years and 2014 so far, and I don’t think people outside Baltimore have heard of him yet.

Here’s my Brewer-loving friend Laura Hemming, right before Roenicke called the contact play:

Sorry, Laura!

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