Sowing some pinstripes seeds in a far-off land

For your Saturday morning reading pleasures: The Yankees go to China. Late last month, as part of baseball’s effort to penetrate the Chinese market and the Yanks’ effort to spread their franchise globally, team officials headed across the Pacific for a trip to the Far East, and Xiyun Yang of The Times’ China bureau tagged along for some of the trip. Her article is an interesting one because it captures China’s approach toward sports in a rather intriguing light. Despite the billions of people who live in China, only four million play the game there, and to most, it remains a mystery.

Still, Randy Levin and Brian Cashman dragged the World Series trophy with them to drum up interest in the sport and for good reason. As Yang notes, baseball is looking for its Yao Ming, its big Chinese superstar who will open up a very large and lucrative market. The team that finds this player will stand to benefit for years. Most of the youngsters Yang talked to seem to be rather mystified by the game, but all it will take is one person to tip the country. If that means a trip to a nation more focused on Ping Pong, badminton and the NBA than the every move of Johnny Damon, that’s just the price to be.

How well does A-Rod hit outside pitches?

Alex Rodriguez changed the narrative of his career last fall. After a few years of playoff futility, he came back with two especially huge hits: a game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth in Game 2 of the ALDS, and a game-tying home run in the bottom of the 11th in Game 2 of the ALCS. The first was an outside pitch about waist high, and the second was an outside pitch up in the zone.

We know A-Rod has tremendous power to the opposite field, and it’s one of the reasons he’s succeeded at Yankee Stadium, which isn’t quite as friendly to righties as lefties. But did you know that on 132 swings on pitches in the middle-outside and middle-up zones, A-Rod created negative runs in 2009? Jeremy Greenhouse of The Baseball Analysts examines how each hitter in the league fares against pitches in certain parts of the zone, and that’s what his data suggests.

There are other factors to account for, of course. This analysis does not break down the zone by pitch, so for all we know A-Rod could have fallen victim to off-speed and breaking stuff while demolishing outside fastballs. It also doesn’t give us an idea of sequence, which is helpful because a hitter is probably more likely to swing and miss, or make poor contact, on a pitch low and away if he’s been set up inside. Thankfully, pitch sequencing appears to be the next frontier. The strategy nerd in me is excited.

You can check out the article, linked above, or you can just head to the Google Doc spreadsheet. Each location resides on a different sheet, and is in order of runs created. Just one quick observation: Generally, the hitters who fared well on down and away pitches took fewer swings at them. The ones who fared poorly took a lot of swings — in Ryan Howard’s case, over three times the number of the leader in that zone, Carlos Gonzalez. Yet Ichiro took 121 swings in that zone, far more than anyone around him. The dude is just that good.

Open Thread: Rethinking the box score

We all love box scores — or, at least, I hope everyone else does. It’s going to be strange soon, having a generation of baseball fans who didn’t grow up waiting for their dads to finish reading the sports section so they could read all the box scores from the previous day. But while the actual experience will change, the box scores will not. We’ll still see them, just in pixels on MLB.com instead of on paper with dried ink.

One great thing about the internet, though, is that it doesn’t have the space limitations of a newspaper. Box scores caught on because they fit a lot of data into a relatively small space, allowing papers to print them all on one page. Today we don’t have to limit ourselves to that. We can still present the box score in its original format, because people find it familiar, but we can also experiment a bit more with new was that might take up a bit more space. FanGraphs‘s WPA chart is just one example. We can post this along with the original box score, and it really doesn’t matter because we’re not limited to a certain space.

At Baseball Analysts, Dave Allen imagines a box score of his own. It’s in a linear format, like the WPA charts, but it does it in a different way. Here’s the example, though make sure you read the post for the full gist of what he’s doing. Also, click on it for a larger version.

In 2010 we plan to add more game data to our recaps. The regular box score will likely be part of that, but we also want to think about other ways we can present information from the game. If you’re so inclined, leave the comments below, and we’ll sift through and see if there are any ideas we can use. Nothing’s off-limits now that we’re not constricted by space, so think as out of the box as possible.

If you’d rather just BS, well, that’s why this is an open thread. Toronto visits the Devils, the Nets are in Boston, and Milwaukee plays the Knicks at the Garden.

A-Rod’s 500th home run ball sells for $103,579

One day, maybe I’ll have this kind of money to spend on a baseball. Alex Rodriguez‘s 500th home run sold in an anonymous online auction last night for $103,579. I’m wondering the same thing as Big League Stew’s Kevin Kaduk: did A-Rod himself buy the ball? He earned $28.5 million that year, $27 million in salary and a $1.5 million bonus for winning his third MVP award under the old contract. The ball would have cost him four-tenths of a percent of his salary that season. At that point, why not?

Lackey vs. Vazquez

Both the Yankees and Red Sox imported a big time starting pitcher this offseason, though they went about it in very different ways. The small market Sox managed to convince Lackey to take a massively below market deal in order to fit him into their tiny payroll (/hyperbole), while the Yanks traded an excellent prospect and two spare parts to bring Javy back. Jay at Fack Youk compared the two pitchers with regards to their polar opposite reputations of clutchiness, and shows that the two aren’t as different as you may think. Make sure you check it out, it’s some great stuff.

2009 Yankees didn’t fare well in one-run games, blowouts

The 2009 Yankees won more games than almost everyone expected. That’s almost always the case when a team wins over 100 games, but it holds particularly true in the three-team dogfight that is the AL East. They got to the 103 win mark because they were a good team that got hot at the right time, but also because they got lucky in some ways. Their 915 runs scored and 753 runs allowed works out to a 95-67 Pythagorean record, which they outperformed by eight wins. Does this mean the Yankees got lucky?

That’s a tough question to answer. Their Pythag record suggests that they did, but that takes gross runs scored and gross runs allowed and factors them into an equation. It doesn’t take into account how the team scored those runs. Over the course of a 162-game season, the reasoning goes, the issues of how a team scores runs should even out. Sometimes it doesn’t. Perhaps we can learn a bit more about the nature of the 2009 season by looking at a breakdown of the results.

Brandon Heipp of Walk Like A Sabermetrician looks at the 2009 run distribution of all 30 MLB teams. He breaks games down into one-run games, blowouts (five or more runs difference), and the games in between. Here’s the odd thing: The Yankees underperformed their record in both one-run games and blowouts. It’s the latter that seems odd, since a team with an offense like the Yankees figures, intuitively, to have a favorable record in blowouts.

The Yankees played in 38 one-run games and went 22-16, a .579 win percentage. Overall the Yankees had a .635 win percentage, and had a .653 win percentage in non-one-run games. They played in 51 blowouts and went 32-19, a .627 win percentage. This is more in line with their season total, but still a bit below. Still, no playoff team had as big a difference in blowouts as the Yankees. In those middle games, obviously, the Yankees killed, going 49-24 in 73 games, a .671 win percentage.

I’m not sure we can discern much from this data. It’s just interesting to see that while the Yankees had an over .500 win percentage in all three categories, that they still didn’t do exceptionally well in blowouts. I would have thought, since they outperformed their Pythag, that maybe they were inordinately good in one-run games. They weren’t. Though, maybe — and this is just a guess — maybe their tempered record in blowouts led to their Pythag underestimating their record.

Heipp also looks at the team win percentage when scoring X number of runs. When a team scores one run, for example, it wins 7.5 percent of those games. The magic number, it appears, is four runs, as that crossed the .500 line. It also adds the highest marginal win percentage value over the value before it. That is, the jump from scoring three to scoring four runs, in terms of winning percentage, is .186. Going from four to five runs adds just .106 to the win percentage.

Here’s another interesting bit: the Yankees played in 28 games where they scored four runs, and won just 14 of them. The average MLB team played in 21 games where they scored four runs, but we should have figured that the Yankees were above average there. I would say that reflects poorly on their pitching and defense, but then I saw that they outperformed the average when scoring two and three runs. When scoring two runs, the average MLB team won 20.8 percent of the time, while the Yankees won 28.6 percent. They won 41.2 percent of games when they scored three runs, against am MLB average of 33.7 percent. In both instances they played in fewer games than MLB average.

Again, I’m not exactly sure what we can take this data to mean. I’m not sure that, by itself, we can take it to mean anything definitive. I do think it’s interesting to note these trends. In some ways it bucks intuition. In other ways it gives us another way to view the 2009 Yankees as a team. They did well here, but not well there. Since this post contains a lot of random data, we’ll close with another random bit. The Yankees allowed 11 runs just once this season — and won the game. When scoring 11 runs, MLB teams went 110-6. Glad that the Yankees counted for one of those six.

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