Sunday, October 2, 2011

Good Decisions, Bad Decisions

This afternoon, the Arizona Diamondbacks will send righty Daniel Hudson to the mound. Hudson was a fixture in the Snakes' rotation this season, compiling a 16-12 record in 33 starts.

Shortly after I noticed that his win-loss total included two double-digit numbers, it struck me that I couldn't think of any other hurler who was the pitcher of record more times than Hudson  in 2011.

A quick check on confirmed my suspicions.

Hudson's 28 decisions tied him with Seattle's Felix Hernandez, Tampa Bay's James Shields, and Oakland's Gio Gonzalez for second-most in the bigs (Gonzalez's decision total is all the more impressive for having been amassed in only 32 chances).

The top of the leaderboard featured another tie.

One of the co-champs was hardly surprising: Justin Verlander, the most brilliant pitcher in a year filled with pitching brilliance, earned a decision in all but five of his 34 turns, going 24-5.

Verlander's dominance -- he limited opposing batters to a .192 average, striking out nearly one batter per inning -- allowed him to go deep into ballgames: the average Verlander start lasted 7.38 innings. In this measurement of longevity, Verlander trailed only Shields, who logged 7.54 IP/G on the way to completing 11 games, a total which also led the major.

Ironically, because of the suspension of ALDS Game 1 due to rain, Verlander was ineligible for a decision after game play paused with a 1-1 tie score. Anyway, the point is: pitching a lot of innings increases the likelihood that a starting pitcher will end up being the pitcher of record

How, then, to explain the curious case of Hideki Kuroda, the 36 year-old Dodgers righty who averaged a mere 6.31 IP/G but who nonetheless failed to earn a decision only three times in 32 starts? That's a decision rate over 90 percent, for those keeping track at home.

Kuroda's 29 decisions weren't all smiles and sunshine, though; despite his 3.07 ERA he lost 16 games, the most by any Dodger pitcher since Orel Hershiser in 1987.

That was a tough season for Hershiser. Like Kuroda would 24 years later, he sported a low ERA (3.06) for an under-performing Los Angeles team that finished well off the playoff pace (in my opinion, neither Dodger pitcher should be discredited for getting tagged with so many losses, given their strong peripheral statistics).

A funny thing happened in 1988, though: the Bulldog won the Cy Young Award, setting the record for most consecutive scoreless innings along the way, and the Dodgers went onto the playoffs and the World Series, during which Hershiser tossed two complete games and went on to win the Series MVP trophy.

Fans often remember the 1988 World Series for a different achievement, though. A hobbled shortstop who left the Tigers to play for LA before the 1988 season -- and whose regular season performance and leadership earned him the 1988 NL MVP Award -- provided a magical ending to Game 1 when he gimped up out of the dugout, stepped into the box, and clobbered Dennis Eckersley's slider into the left-field bleachers to send the crowd home happy.

It's been 23 Octobers since Kirk Gibson etched his name in the record books, and as manager of the Diamondbacks, his ball club is down 1-0, on the road, and facing a pitcher who didn't lose at home all year. Milwaukee jumped all over Arizona's ace, Ian Kennedy, in the series opener, and at some point in the middle innings of Game 2, possibly before Daniel Hudson has established himself as the pitcher of record, Gibson may again have to make the long walk on to the diamond, this time for a totally different reason.

Despite Hudson's success racking up decisions during the regular season, and even though the 24 year-old was still in diapers when the Impossible happened, something tells me that if and when Gibson pulls his from the game, the youngster won't question his decision making.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Men With Two Names

As St. Louis right-fielder Allen Craig stepped up to the plate in the first inning of today's Cards-Phils matchup, it dawned on me that two-thirds of the St. Louis starting outfield (Craig and center-fielder Jon Jay) are manned by players who have two first names.

Questions raced through my mind:

Is it weird to have more than one of these guys patrolling the same outfield? What about the other playoff teams? Are their lineups stocked with guys who could pass for superheroes?

To further my study, I needed to find a definitive postseason roster for each of the eight current playoff teams.

Fortunately this was easy to find: shares active rosters for every club and even groups players by fielding position: Pitchers, Catchers, Infielders, Outfielders, and (for AL squads) Designated Hitters.

While compiling results, I occasionally had trouble deciding who to include or exclude from my count. For instance, Tampa Bay's Johnny Damon is an easy inclusion, but what about Brewers outfielder Nyger Morgan? His first name is barely a first name. And players such as Arizona's Ryan Roberts come close, but if we're being precise, "Roberts" is just not the same as "Robert."

To help me settle these edge cases, I elected to let the U.S. Government be my ultimate authority for name verification: if a player's first and last names exactly matched two of the Top 750 baby names for the year 2010, I counted him.

Why 750? Twenty-five players per team times 30 teams in MLB gets us to 750.

Crude, perhaps, but you have to set the cutoff somewhere. If that means we don't count Phillies slugger Ryan Howard because his family name is the male equivalent of "Fay" -- at #905, "Howard" sits between "Lionel" and  "Davon" on the baby name popularity index, circa 2010 -- so be it.

Another note on methodology: since Allen Craig and Jon Jay inspired this research, I restricted my survey to non-pitchers (with apologies to playoff hurlers Wade Davis, Edwin Jackson, and Colby Lewis).

Okay, onto the names. Without further ado, your 2011 Jay Bruce All-Stars:

Arizona Diamondbacks: 0

Detroit Tigers: 3
Austin Jackson (#64, #25); Don Kelly (#377, #306-F*); Ramon Santiago (#480, #133)
* Kelly was the 306th most common name for U.S. females born in 2010.

Milwaukee Brewers: 0

New York Yankees: 1
Russell Martin (#406, #258)

Philadelphia Phillies: 1
Ben Francisco (#692, #196)

St. Louis Cardinals: 2
Allen Craig (#323, #665), Jon Jay (#576, #414)

Tampa Bay Rays: 1
Johnny Damon (#266, #419)

Texas Rangers: 1
Nelson Cruz (#569, #321)

It turns out St. Louis trails only Detroit in terms of stocking up on these types of hitters. If we see a Cardinals-Tigers World Series, I think we can safely deduce that these teams' fates lay in their players' names.

As an aside, I was surprised to learn that so many Hispanic names are popular as baby names, but perhaps I shouldn't be. For a semi-related graphical representation of the rise of Latino surnames on baseball uniforms, check this out.