Saturday, September 28, 2013

Todd Helton says goodbye to Coors Field

I was able to stay up and watch the Rockies home finale Wednesday night. In an otherwise unremarkable season, they wrapped up with a very nice tribute to Todd Helton. Helton is sneaking out of the league this week in the shadow of the retirement of Mariano Rivera. His departure probably deserves more attention than it is getting. Then again, getting less attention than he deserves is sort of the perfect way to send off Todd Helton, who has spent his entire career in mile-high obscurity. 

A couple years back, I wrote about evaluating the first baseman who played mainly between 1990 and 2006 (with the arbitrary cut-off of having played 1000 first-base games in that time). At the time, it was in the context of evaluating the careers of Jeff Bagwell, Mark McGwire, and Rafael Palmeiro. I have the numbers in this computer but haven't updated the active players, but in general there hasn't been a lot of movement from where things stood at that time. Then, it came out with Jeff Bagwell as a clear Hall of Famer. By my (invented) standard, Bagwell and Thomas were dead even as the best of the era, with Thome third and Palmeiro fourth. Fifth was Todd Helton, ahead of Mark McGwire, Fred McGriff, Jason Giambi, and others who seemed to get quite a bit more attention. 

Helton's career was a sabermetric dream. He didn't compile huge counting stats, with "only" 2518 hits and 369 home runs, neither of which place him in the top 70 of all time. Despite that, he is 26th all time in on-base percentage and 36th in slugging. His 1334 walks are 35th all-time, and three times he led the National League in Times on Base. He rankes 16th all-time in doubles with 592, retiring with a huge lead as the active leader. 

From 2000 to 2004, Helton was one of the best in the game. He had a rWAR higher than 6.0 in each of those years, with a five-season total of 37.4, higher than the five best seasons of some slam-dunk Hall of Famers, like Frank Thomas. He followed that up by leading the National League in OBP in 2005, but his power was starting to slip, never to return. After compiling a .643 SLG from 2000-04, he dropped to .534 in 2005, and never surpassed .500 again. He remained a difficult out, posting a .416 OBP in his age-35 season (2009).

A pet theory of mine is that players who peak early in their careers do worse in Hall of Fame voting. It makes sense - a marginal Hall of Famer seven years removed from being a dominant player is going to be fresher in the minds of voters than one 15 years removed. When Helton is eligible in 2019, he will be 15 years past his elite best. Add in the fact that his greatness didn't come in the traditional statistical categories and the natural bias against Coors Field sluggers having inflated stats, and Helton's chances are remote.

That's ok though. Helton has a new ranch, a new horse, and he gets to be remembered as the definitive player in the still-young life of the Rockies franchise. He was one of the few Rockies who played well in their only World Series appearance, and got to say goodbye to the Coors fans on Wednesday with a home run. He had a remarkable, memorable career, and baseball is better for having had him as one of its stars. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Red Sox won the division because all of their players are good

The Red Sox clinched the American League East last night. A lot is being written about their quick turnaround, which is probably appropriate, considering they lost 93 games last year and traded one of their best players. The how is pretty interesting, and I encourage you to check out this piece from the tireless Alex Speier of, and really any of the work Speier has done this year. He's done a ton of great work and seems to have a lot of access, so I'm hoping he writes a book when the season is said and done. He can be a little uncritical at times, taking the words of team officials at face value, but face value can be informative and helpful, especially when written so well. 

I won't get into the how of the roster construction, however. I don't have the access for such a thing anyway. What I just wanted to point out was the why.  The Red Sox are good this year because they basically have an entire team of good players. The Red Sox have eight players with a rWAR of at least 3.0, and 17 at over 1.0 (including the now-departed Jose Iglesias). By the same measure, they have the fifth (Pedroia), seventh (Victorino), and ninth (Ellsbury) best position players in the American League. 

When every single player on the team is good, the team wins. That some of the players have played over their expectations (Victorino, Nava, Uehara) is helpful, but the team is full of good players having good seasons. That's easier said than done, but the success is probably less surprising than it should have been.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Chicago had the third-highest total in America of people who didn't get murdered in 2012

This will be a quick post that won't get the attention that it probably deserves, but I think it's important to correct a bit of faulty information that's going around out there on the internet. The gist is that Chicago is being called the murder capital of America, having had the most people getting murdered in 2012 of any U.S. city. That is horrible, of course, and my point here is not to discount the lives of the 500 people killed in Chicago. However, Chicago has instituted some much tougher gun laws in recent years. This connection has led conservative blogs and commentators, who I will not give the benefit of linking to (use Google if you must, folks) to draw the simplified connection that Chicago's stricter gun laws a great example that the tougher gun laws are counterproductive. The old "if having a gun is criminal, only criminals will have guns" cliche, if you will.

Of course, it is all BS.

Chicago's murder rate was higher in 2012 than it was in 2011. It was also lower in 2012 than it was from any year between 1964 and 2003. Here is a simple chart of the number of murders in Chicago, 1991-2012 (Source: 2011 Chicago Murder Analysis, updated for 2012;

One reason Chicago pass New York for having the highest murder rate in the country was its own slight uptick. A more important reason is the continued drop in New York's own murder rate. New York has pretty strict gun laws of its own, a mayor who is currently running the largest anti-gun PAC in the country, and happens to be part of the state of New York, which has stricter laws than Illionois.

Mostly though, what I object to is the fact that these "news" sites are basically pandering to the conservative echo chamber, knowing it will generate hits. The Washington Post, for example, probably knows that Chicago having the most murders is essentially meaningless without context. The fact that it isn't the Top 25 in the country in murder rate, and has a rate less than half of Detroit or St. Louis or Fort Myers (?!), and barely a quarter of that of New Orleans doesn't matter. WaPo, Yahoo, and the other charlatans carry on knowing full-well that their words will be misrepresented, and don't care as long as the click rate stays high. As Chuck Todd, one of America's leaders of misinformation-spreading, pointed out this week, it's not the job of journalists to make sure what they communicate is the truth - they just need to report who says what. If someone lies outright? Hey, don't shoot the messenger.

The headline I've chosen is exactly as accurate as "FBI: Chicago passes New York as murder capital of US," which appears currently on the website of the Washington Post. To use a baseball analogy, comparing the safety of cities based on the aggregate number of murders without regard to the number of people would be like saying that Clayton Richard has outpitched Clayton Kershaw in 2013, because Richard has allowed 47 runs and Kershaw has allowed 55. It is deliberately misinformative.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Introducing Alice Rose Dunne

At 6:04 Thursday morning, Christine gave birth to our healthy baby daughter, Alice Rose Dunne. She is beautiful, and I am proud.