Saturday, November 08, 2014

The amazing career of Anthony Young

Anthony Young is the answer to a trivia question. Feel free to use it at your next party. The record for most consecutive losses in which a pitcher had a decision belongs to Young with 27. Between May 6, 1992 to July 24, 1993, Young did not win a game. He pitched for the Mets those two seasons and they were really bad teams. But the Mets' winning record for those two seasons at least led to a .404 winning percentage. Anthony Young's winning percentage for those two seasons was a combined .100. He went 3-30. Those numbers are just the start of a whole lot of numbers fun concerning Anthony Young.
Anthony Young first arrived on the seen for the Mets in 1991. That season, he went 2-5. By the time he was mercifully traded to the Chicago Cubs (for Jose Vizcaino) before the 1994 season, his final record with the Mets was 5-35, good (or bad) for a .125 winning percentage. The teams' winning percentage during that span was .420. Young started 31 games in those three seasons and pitched in relief another 70 times. He actually compiled 18 saves for the Mets. But he couldn't win.
Young fared a little better for the Cubs in 1994 and 1995. He was a starter for them in 1994 and pitched in relief in 1995. His record for the Cubs was 7-10. At least that was good for a .412 winning percentage. His last season was with the Astros. It was his only season not in the red and he finished at 3-3.
Those last three seasons at least allowed him to finish his career with a .238 winning percentage (15-48). Only Fernando Abad has pitched in 180 games or more and has a lower winning percentage. And only two pitchers in baseball have pitched in as many as 480 innings with a lower career winning percentage. Dolly Gray pitched between 1909 and 1911 and had a .227 winning percentage. Ike Pearson lead the way as he pitched between 1939 and 1948 and compiled a .206 winning percentage.
What is sort of amazing about that last paragraph is that Gray and Pearson had an ERA+ for their careers in the 70s. Anthony Young's career ERA+ was 100. We'll get to that a bit later.
There is so much more fun to explore first. As a starter, Anthony Young went 7-27 (.206). As a relief pitcher, Young went 8-21 (.276). He was 0-7 in save situations (though he did successfully save 20 games). He went 8-28 at home (.222) and 7-20 on the road (.259). June was a particularly bad time for Anthony Young. He went a combined 2.16 in June (.111).
Young went 9-32 in the first half (.220) and 6-16 in the second half (.273). He went 8-28 at night (.222) and 7-20 during the day (.259). Young went 9-33 on grass (.214) on grass fields and 6-15 on artificial turf (.286).
Remarkably, Young finished with a 2-20 record in games he pitched at Shea Stadium. Shea was a pitchers park. His other dark place was Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, where he went 0-5.
The only way Anthony Young could win as a starter was if his team scored six or more runs. He went 6-0 in such situations. But that happened fourteen times when he started games. In other words, there were eight times his team scored more than six runs and Young could not even manage a decision.
Anthony Young's teams scored five or less runs 37 times. Young went 1-27 in those games. He was 0-18 when his team scored two runs or less and 1-9 when they scored three to five runs.
One of the biggest arguments between old school baseball observers and the new statistically minded writers is what makes a good pitcher. The old school thought was: Did the guy win and did he have a good ERA. Now we look at FIP and WAR and other things. By old standards, Anthony Young was awful in that he could not win. But his ERA (and ERA+) were often quite acceptable. His ERA+ was over 100 (league average) in four of his six seasons.
FIP tells us another story. Young had a FIP of 3.38 in 1992, which isn't half bad. But it went up every season after that by more than fifty points. And, as mentioned, he finished with a 100 career ERA+. There are a lot of mixed signals in his career numbers. gives him 1.1 rWAR for his career. gives him 2.5 fWAR including positive WAR for all three years he was a Met. Hmm...
The truth is somewhere in the middle. The Mets were dead last in fielding efficiency in 1991, next to last in 1992 and in the bottom half in 1993. In other words, his fielders did not help him. Since he was not a strikeout guy and put the ball in play, that had to hurt him. For his three years with the Mets, he allowed 148 runs, but only 115 of them were earned or 78%. Compare that with the 84% of his runs were earned with the Cubs and 94% with the Astros.
The numbers also tell us that as a right-handed pitcher, Young did not pitch well against left-handed batters. They had an .828 OPS against him in his career with a batting average over .300.
An old school guy would say that Anthony Young did not know how to win. But he did go 15-3 in Double-A in 1990. But perhaps a well-balanced look at everything overall tells us that Anthony Young had an extraordinary run of bad luck with the Mets and while not one of the best pitchers ever, did pitch better than his record.
The losing streak was amazing. Fans were sending him rabbit feet and all kinds of things to help him. The family of the previous record holder, Cliff Curtis, even made a video telling him to pitch a no-hitter so not to break the family's record. Young broke it anyway. The losing streak created a life of its own and colored his career forever.  Perhaps he deserved a kinder fate. But at least this way, his career will never be forgotten.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

The Second Annual Dan Meyer Awards

During Major League Baseball's award season, the best of the best are featured (maybe not always with the Gold Gloves). And we should celebrate the best. But there is always a flip side. For every best, there was a worst. Saying that does understand that even the worst MLB players in a particular year are among the best players in the world. MLB players are an elite group of talent. So keep that in mind.
Baseball will award its most valuable player. The Flagrant Fan awards what my friend, Mike Hllywa of Off Base Percentage, likes to call the LVPs. These players did not have good seasons. These players were, in most cases, worse than replacement level. These players made fans look at GMs and ask, "What were you thinking?"  Some of these players have big contracts that now look like albatrosses. Like I said, you celebrate the best? You also have to celebrate the worst.
Why are they called the Dan Meyer Awards? That's a long explanation and I will save myself some typing by referring you to last year's award post.  Suffice it to say that Dan Meyer played twelve Major League seasons and compiled -6.5 fWAR and -5.5 rWAR. That was a lot of negative value for that long of a career!
To qualify, each positional player had to have at least 450 plate appearances except for catchers that only needed 350. Here are your 2014 Dan Meyer Awards for the LVPs (h/t to Mike) for each position. We will consider the pitchers in a later post:
Catcher: This one was easy. A.J. Pierzynski was the only catcher in baseball with more than 350 plate appearances that scored in the negative numbers on offense, defense and base running. Quite a few were in the negative for two of the categories, but only AJP nailed the three-fer. The Red Sox released him and then blasted him in the press (anonymously, of course) and then the Cardinals signed him and the guy actually played in the post season. AJP only walked 3.9 percent of the time and had a wOBA of .277.  With positional points because of the importance of catching, it is very difficult to score a negative WAR as a catcher. AJP nailed it.
First Base: This is quite interesting that the first two positions winning this award feature players who played for both the Cardinals and the Red Sox in 2014. And I hate to pick Allen Craig here as it feels like I am piling on. Mr. Craig had a brutal season in 2014 after being feted as the world's best clutch hitter in the years leading up to 2014. Injury probably played a part. Either way, he fell out of favor in St. Louis by a fan base that became enamored with Matt Adams and Craig became part of the trade that brought John Lackey to Cards. Hopefully, the season was an outlier for Craig as his 66 OPS+ for 2014 was half of what it was in the prior two seasons. Craig played a lot in the outfield too in 2014, but we will just limp it all together here. Honorable mention goes to Ryan Howard, but that is another story entirely.
Second BaseAlberto Callaspo had a fairly brutal season for the Oakland A's. His .580 OPS was awful and a hundred and twenty points below his career average. Plus, for the first time in his career, he scored in the negative for his fielding. He is a second baseman who turned 31 in 2014. The early thirties for second basemen is like the age of 27 for rock stars. Careers seem to die quickly at the position. Perhaps Callaspo will rebound. He will need to because his season was one of the rare misses of the Oakland front office. Oh, and Callaspo grounded into 18 double plays too. Ouch.
Shortstop: Yes, all you haters, Derek Jeter wins the Dan Meyer Award at shortstop for 2014. He was 20th in defense (there were worse, believe it or not) and he was next to last in offensive value. Obviously, his age caught up to him and his offense could not make up for his defense. But the commercials were cool and he will be in the HOF in five years. So there you go.
Third Base: This was another easy call. How about a 63 wRC+ and a .260 wOBA? How about being almost two wins below replacement level? How about doing that while not fielding well and not running well? And, he still came to the plate 607 times. Our hero here is Matt Dominguez of the Houston Astros. The former first round pick simply hasn't found himself in the Majors. Dominguez doesn't walk and he doesn't hit. That is a deadly combination combined with not fielding well and not running the bases well.
Left Field: It is safe to say that this is another easy pick. No left fielder has a poorer season than Domonic Brown and like Dominguez of the Astros, the Phillies have hoped against hope that this prospect ship would come in and it foundered instead. Brown was absolutely brutal in 2014. Like Dominguez, Brown had almost two wins below replacement. He had a 75 wRC+ and a .280 wOBA to go along with having a poor season in the field. Either Brown needs a change of scenery or he simply is never going to live up to the hype. Interestingly, Dayan Viciedo was the runner up for the second year in a row. That's hard to do.
Center Field: did not have any center fielders with a negative fWAR because of the position importance. Their two lowest ranking CF guys were tied at 0.4 and they were Michael Bourn and B.J. Upton. But Upton gets the nod because he had more plate appearances AND because DID rank him in negative territory. Poor Upton has become such a symbol of this new pitching age that he cannot seem to get beyond the mire he has found himself in the last two seasons. New glasses might have helped in the second half. But he still finished with a wRC+ of 74 and he struck out just shy of 30% of the time. Ouch. Fortunately, he is still capable in center field and can still go get the ball because his offense has been an Atlanta nightmare.
Right Field: What in the world happened to Jay Bruce? His OPS dropped a hundred and fifty-three points in 2014 from 2013. He batted his weight and his ISO dropped sixty points. His wins above replacement fell off five wins from the season before on both major stat sites. And while fielding statistics still have their flaws, they tell a story of a guy who fell down in his fielding as well. One big difference became his success against left-handed pitching. His OPS dropped against them by a hundred and eighty points from 2013 to 2014! I suspect that infield shifts hurt him as his BABIP fell to .269. Whatever the case, Bruce went from a very useful and valuable player to terrible in one fell swoop. Let's hope that it was a fluke season and he'll bounce back.
We could probably throw the DH in there too which would be Billy Butler. But he got to the World Series, so he can smile about it now. Adam Dunn was in the building, but at least he hit some dingers, a marketable skill set nowadays.
Thus is the list of Dan Meyer Award winners for 2014. God willing, come back this same time next year for the 2015 awards. And remember that the pitchers are not forgotten. The Kyle Davies Award winners will be announced soon.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Long term Max Scherzer is a big risk

Signing any player to a long term contract is a risk. Things rarely work out for the life of the deal. Sometimes the player is so good in the first few years of the deal that the back end evens out the worth of the investment. The risk seems even larger for Max Scherzer because, first, he is a pitcher and secondly, all you have to do is look at his teammate from Detroit as a cautionary tale.
Scherzer famously turned down a large offer from the Tigers to test the free agent waters. And it seems he has set himself up nicely with another ace-like season. The financial rewards of his roll of the dice will pay off handsomely. Someone will give him the money. But will they be happy with the investment?
Scherzer's own teammate, Justin Verlander and American League rival, CC Sabathia seem to show the risks involved with signing up a talented power arm up beyond their peak seasons. Let's take a look at what could happen.
Justin Verlander was the unquestioned ace of the American League. His Age 26 to Age 29 seasons were all fantastic. In those four years, Verlander piled up 78 victories and compiled 26.1 rWar. His Age 30 season was still very good, but he started to show a few cracks and he really tumbled in 2014 and compiled only 1.4 rWAR. He was still a good pitcher, but not dominant like in years past.
Sabathia from his Age 26 season to his Age 29 season compiled 76 victories and 23.9 rWAR. He will still dominant at Age 30 but has since tumbled and lost velocity and endured injury.
The shared feature of Verlander and Sabathia were a ton of innings plus the stress of post season appearances. The old saying goes that there are only so many bullets in a power pitcher's arm. The key for both when it comes to the rest of their contract life is whether they can adapt with less power and pile up enough statistics to warrant their pay and build Hall of Fame careers.
Now let's look at Max Scherzer. Scherzer just completed his Age 26 through 29 seasons. He compiled 70 victories and a ton of rWAR. He won a CYA and pitched twelve times in the post season during that time. The only slight difference from Verlander and Sabathia is that he did not pile up innings in the first two seasons in the front end of those seasons. He pitched under 200 innings those first two seasons but has piled up the innings since.
And we can already see a difference beginning with Max Scherzer. According to, Scherzer averaged 94.2 MPH on his fastball three seasons ago and was down to 92.8 MPH in 2014. But that is really the only warning sign. The rest of his peripherals were pretty much identical to the season before.
Scherzer could very well have another season or three dominant seasons remaining as a power arm. Three would be a stretch based on the history that was just looked at. The problem is the amount of money it is going to take to sign Scherzer.
It is doubtful that Scherzer will get the length of a deal that Verlander and Sabathia received. Teams are not throwing around eight or ten years deals anymore (Cano being an exception). But say you give Scherzer $25 million a season for six seasons. That is $150 million and probably light for what it will take to sign him. Scherzer would have to average five wins above replacement per season for six seasons or 30 rWAR.
Projection systems do not see that happening. Baseball Prospectus, for example, projects Scherzer to compile 8.1 WARP over the next six years. That hardly comes close to the 20 WAR needed to pay off the investment. And remember that Scherzer will get well north of my low-ball figures.
The best a suitor for Max Scherzer's services can hope for is two more ace-like seasons followed by better than league average contributions for the rest of his contract. The risk is very high. There are only a handful of teams that can afford to throw the kind of numbers at Scherzer that he will be looking for. Scherzer has taken a risk here himself.
It is a high stakes game in a baseball era where offense is becoming more valuable than pitching. No doubt somebody will give Scherzer the deal he wants. But if Verlander and Sabathia have taught us, power arms rarely stay powerful beyond the Age of 31, especially as the innings pile up in a career.