October 23, 2013
What To Talk About When the Red Sox Are Hitting
The idea was that I was going to make like Vin Scully and try to find original things to talk about when each player comes up to bat this week. Originally, this was going to include something for each of the 50 players on this year’s World Series rosters. Then I started spending way too long on each of them, and ran out of time. So when you notice there are no Cardinals, don’t accuse me of bias; I simply started with the Red Sox and didn’t finish. When you notice there are no pitchers, don’t accuse me of bias; I simply started with the position players and didn’t finish. And when you notice there are no David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, or Will Middlebrooks, don’t accuse me of bias. You probably already have enough to talk about when they come up! And I didn’t finish.
Berry is notable because he has never been caught stealing. In the majors, at least; in the minors he has a pedestrian 80 percent success rate, though it’s improved to 87 percent over the past three seasons. But in the majors he entered the season 21 for 21; stole three more for the Red Sox in September; and, for good measure, is four for four in the postseason. Twenty-eight attempts, 28 steals.
Only two players in history have stolen more bases than he has with even an 88-percent success rate and, of course, nobody has stolen as many in a career without getting caught. (Josh Rutledge, 19; Christian Yelich, 10 are the closest.) Berry will get caught eventually and no longer be on top of that particularly specific leaderboard, but for now he’s the guy with the most career stolen bases without getting caught. Fun accomplishment! Others who have similar accomplishments:
This is a very sparse Rising Stars wall! There are about 15 spaces that we can see at least part of in this photo, and only four are filled. Aruba is a tiny country—about the same as Tyler, Texas—but surely they knew that when they were building the wall. I wanted to figure out who the other three members are, but two are hopelessly blocked and Aruba's public sport and health ministry has almost no online presence. The one who can be identified, alongside Bogaerts in the top row, is Shawn Zarraga, a 44th-round catcher who has a .277/.364/.367 line in a slow climb through the Brewers’ organization. He’s 24, and this is the first time he has appeared on our site.
Depending on how you define “mattered,” Carp faced a lefty when it mattered six times (leverage index higher than average—1.0), or 10 times (LI higher than 0.5), or 16 times (win probability added shift by at least 1 percent). He batted three times against a lefty in what Baseball-Reference defined as high leverage (LI higher than 2.0): once when he started in place of David Ortiz against J.A. Happ; once in the 11th inning of a mid-September game, because Jacoby Ellsbury was injured; and once in the seventh inning of a mid-May game, because Shane Victorino had crashed into a wall the night before and was unavailable.
Garrett Jones’ rate is absolutely insane, considering how many plate appearances he had this year, though Jones actually had a lot more significant at-bats against lefties than Carp did. He gave back about a half-win in win expectancy in just his 23 trips to the plate against lefties. Carp had few opportunities to do as much damage, and against lefties his win expectancy added was just about 0.
That’s the extent of their matchups. Ellsbury struck out in both at-bats during the only All-Star game they were both in. They both spend their springs in the Grapefruit League so there may have been opportunities then, but who would really count those?
Out of 810 players in the system for 2013, Gomes ranked 31st in runs added by advancing on hits. That is to say, he went first to third on singles, or scored from first on doubles, or the like, better than all but 30 other players in baseball. This is a player who has hit eight triples in the past eight seasons. A not-fast person.
He also ranked 82nd in air advancement runs—tagging up, basically. And he ranked 59th in other advancement opportunities (wild pitches and passed balls and the like).
Over the past five years, Mike Napoli has a 129 OPS+; so do Adrian Beltre and Hanley Ramirez. So they’re roughly the same quality of hitters. I looked at each hitter’s OPS by month in that stretch. This isn’t very precise; hot streaks, real or imagined, don’t follow the Gregorian calendar, so they’re artificial parameters. It’s an exceedingly quick investigation, though. Here’s what those months look like, on a graph:
Maybe you see a pattern there, maybe you just see spikes and valleys. Mike Napoli has the three highest months from any of our three hitters. He also has the lowest month, narrowly. So that’s something. Two questions occurred to me to consider this information:
Q. Does Napoli’s performance over one month correlate more closely to the next, or less closely to the next, than the others?
A. Much less closely. Beltre’s month-to-month figures have a .12 correlation. Ramirez’s month-to-month figures have a .14 correlation. Napoli’s have a -.07 correlation. In other words, if Napoli was having a good month, it was a negative indicator for how he was going to do the next month. Napoli’s OPS moved, on average, 240 points from month to month; the other two hitters swung by about 170 points from month to month. Of course, this could be interpreted to suggest more streakiness or less streakiness. Does a higher correlation mean streakiness, because the hitter’s good month carries over into more good months? Or does a higher correlation mean less streakiness, because the player is steadier? So this A. is ambiguous.
Q. Does Napoli’s performance from month to month diverge from his average performance more than the other hitters’ performance does?
A. Yes, much more. On average, Napoli’s monthly OPS is about 170 points different than his average OPS. Beltre’s is about 140 points different, and Ramirez’s is about 130 points different.
Whether he’s actually streaky or not, it’s true that Napoli’s performance fluctuates wildly, and he rarely resembled the average Mike Napoli line that you imagine when you think of him. He’s usually performing at a very high or a very low level. That doesn’t necessarily tell us anything about what tomorrow is going to look like, but at least it explains where the knock on him came from.
BA has now done eight of these prospect lists. Nava and Dane de la Rosa (no. 6 in 2007) are, so far as I can tell, the only players who have had any sort of impact in the majors. The other no. 1 independent league prospects since then:
2007: Nava. “The switch-hitting Nava showed an advanced mindset at the plate with a good two-strike approach.”
2008: Mike LaLuna. Right-handed relief pitcher who had a 2.79 ERA that year. Signed with Detroit, spent one year in short-season ball with a 4.96 ERA, returned to the indy leagues, and then was gone for good.
2009: Reynaldo Rodriguez. Righty-hitting first baseman, hit .335 without power for Yuma, got signed by the Red Sox and moved slowly through the system. Reached Triple-A in 2012, but spent 2013 playing Double-A in the Twins’ org, where he slugged a low-average .482 as a 27-year-old.
2010: Matty Johnson. Undersized switch-hitting outfielder was, like Nava and Rodriguez, signed by the Red Sox. Played one game in Triple-A this year but has spent the most time in High-A, where he has hit .258/.328/.342
2013: K.C. Serna. Serna’s behavioral issues disrupted his college and minor league careers, but his independent league coach says he has matured. “Serna hit over .300 while playing the best defense in the league,” BA wrote.
The full sentence is “He is also frequently cited as one of the most-liked players in the clubhouse, and can be seen encouraging his teammates almost any time the cameras are turned on the dugout.” The page was last edited on October 5th of this year.
The claim about Ross being well liked is under the Braves section of his biography. It is, strangely, in the present tense despite living in a past-tense section of his bio. The wording above has been untouched since November 10th, 2012, when he signed with Boston; before that, it said “He is also frequently cited as one of the most-liked players on the Braves' bench, and can be seen encouraging his teammates almost any time the cameras are turned on the dugout.”
In June of 2011, the sentence read, “He is also frequently cited as one of the most-liked players on the Braves' bench, and can be seen encouraging his teammates or playing air guitar almost any time the cameras are turned on the dugout. Ross really enjoys watching The Joy of Painting and cooking Norwegian cuisine in his spare time.” (A day earlier, the person who added those details had changed the bio to “Ross really enjoys watching television and cooking German food in his spare time.”) Two weeks later, somebody edited out that graffiti, but left the encouraging-his-teammates fact.
The sentence about encouraging his teammates was originally added by the user named 188.8.131.52, in early May 2011, who has also made edits to the pages of Chesty Puller (“one of the most, if not the most, decorated combat Marine in Marine Corps history”), Coal Miner’s Daughter (“Loretta married Doolittle "Mooney" Lynn ([[Tommy Lee Jones]]) when she was only
There are taps to the eyebrow, the side of the eye, below the eye, below the nose, below the lips. A tap below the armpit, below the collarbone, below the pectoral muscles. A tap to the top of the head, then repeat the circuit.
He also told reporters that he used to fire the ball back hard at the pitcher, “show the arm. Now it’s a more relaxed throw back to the pitcher, save some energy. I’m able to go deeper into the game and feel better the next day.” So there you have it, two things to watch for: Saltalamacchia tapping things, and throwing relaxed throws back to the pitcher. Hanson’s web site, incidentally, is yipsbegone.com, where he says he’ll “literally get 2 to 5 emails … every day” from people who have lost the ability to throw.
He has been hit six times this October, which matches his season totals in 2012, 2011, and 2009. This is either a skill that is almost totally under his control, or one of the all-time great cases of October sample shenanigans. [Update: in the comments, mdangelfan notes that "Victorino's HBP explosion is more specific - just about all of them have come as a RHB facing a RHP after he gave up switch hitting.] All six of his October HBPs have been in important situations: four times with the game tied, twice with the Red Sox trailing by a run. If it’s a skill, he wields it effectively.