A misfired missile shot at the Rocket

ClemensSo, the seemingly inevitable indictment of Roger Clemens finally was handed down yesterday.

Perjury is serious business and it remains to be seen how well Clemens will deal with the charges. Clemen’s legal strategy so far has certainly been at least questionable, if not downright bizarre. Joe Posnanski chronicles Clemens’ self-denial.

But for all of Clemens’ unattractiveness, it’s difficult not to get the sense already that this is yet another colossal misuse use of prosecutorial resources (Bill Anderson agrees). In the glare of the spotlight of this high-profile prosecution, the more troubling issues involving the use of performance-enhancing drugs such as steroids tend to get overlooked.

The mainstream media and much of the public will castigate Clemens — who is an easy target — just as they filleted Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez.

The dynamic is the same one that we saw in regard to the downfalls of both Tiger Woods and Ken Lay. We try in any way to avoid confronting our innate vulnerability, so we use myths to distract us. We rationalize that a wealthy athlete such as Clemens did bad things that we would never do if placed in the same position (yeah, right). As a result, Clemens supposedly deserves our scorn and ridicule. That a scapegoat such as Clemens comes across as arrogant and irresponsible makes the lynch mob even more bloodthirsty as it attempts to purge collectively that which is too shameful for us to confront individually.

Of course, much of that same mainstream media and public contribute to the pathologically competitive Major League Baseball culture. The MSM regularly caters to the public’s desire to idolize players who risk career-threatening disability by taking painkilling drugs so that they can play through injuries.

But players who used PED’s in in an effort to strengthen their bodies to avoid or minimize the inevitable injuries of the physically-brutal MLB season are widely viewed as pariahs.

How does that make any sense?

Meanwhile, the fact that MLB players have been using PED’s for at least the past two generations to enhance their performance is largely ignored the mind-numbingly superficial analysis of the PED issue that is being trotted out by most media outlets. Sure, Barry Bonds hit quite a few home runs during a time in which he was apparently using PED’s. But should Pete Rose be denied the MLB record for breaking Ty Cobb’s total base hits record because he used performance-enhancing amphetamines throughout his MLB career?

These witch hunts, investigations, criminal indictments, morality plays and public shaming episodes are not advancing a dispassionate and reasoned debate regarding the complex issues that are at the heart of the use of PED’s in baseball and other sports. On a very basic level, it is not even clear that the controlled use of PED’s to enhance athletic performance is as dangerous to health as many of the sports in which the users compete.

Wouldn’t a public discussion on how to construct a reasonable regulatory system for the safe and healthy use of PED’s be a more productive use of resources than criminalizing Roger Clemens?

Here are links to a number of related HCT posts over the years on the issues relating to performance-enhancing drugs in professional sports:

A former drug-tester advocates a different approach to regulating PED’s.

When you break the law in pursuing the devil, what happens when the devil turns on you?

Art DeVany challenges the conventional wisdom regarding the impact of PED’s in Major League Baseball. Russ Roberts interviews DeVany here.

Is Barry Bonds this era’s Jack Johnson?

MLB’s Mitchell Report on PED’s was a real hatchet job (see also here and here).

Let’s have a more productive discussion about PED’s in sport.

Is this the worst Stros team ever?

carlos-leeAt the midway point of the 2010 season, this Stros club is making a strong case for that dubious distinction.

The Stros ballclub has had its share of bad teams over the years (1962-2010), but six teams stand out. The first four teams in the club’s history –1962 (64-96), 1963 (66-96), 1964 (66-96) and 1965 (65-97) — the 1991 team (65-97) and this season’s club (32-49 through Friday night’s game). No Stros team has lost more than 97 games in a season.

We knew before the season that this was going to be a bad season. But a review of the club’s statistics relative to an average National League team reveals just how bad it has been and how bad it will probably be by the end of the season.

As regular readers of this blog know, I like to use the RCAA (“runs created against average”) and RSAA (“runs saved against average”) statistics, developed by Lee Sinins for his Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia, to provide a simple but revealing benchmark of how an MLB club or player is performing relative to other teams or players in its league.

RCAA reflects how many more (or fewer) runs that a team (or player) generates relative to a league-average team (or player). An exactly league-average team’s (or player’s) RCAA is zero.

Similarly, RSAA measures how many more (or fewer) runs that a pitching staff (or an individual pitcher) saves relative to a league-average pitching staff (or pitcher). As with RCAA, an exactly league-average pitcher’s (or team’s) RSAA is zero.

Moreover, RCAA and RSAA are particularly useful because they provide a useful benchmark comparison across eras because it shows how much better (or worse) a team’s hitters and pitchers stacked up against an average team of hitters or pitcher staff during a season. That’s really the best way to compare teams from different eras because comparing other hitting and pitching statistics — such as on-base average, slugging percentage, OPS, earned run average, wins and hitting statistics against — is often skewed between teams of hitter-friendly eras (i.e., up until this season, the past 20 seasons or so) versus pitchers of pitcher-friendly eras (i.e., such as the late 1960’s and early 70’s).

Comparing aggregate RCAA/RSAA scores of the six really bad Stros teams, the 2010 edition is already third worst in Stros history:

1. 1963 (-107/-68) = -175

2. 1964 (-138/ -4) =  -142

3. 2010 (-94/-46) = -140

4. 1962 (-101/-24) = -125

5. 1991 ( -39/ -74) = -113

6. 1965 (    3/-109) = -106

Through 81 games, the Stros hitters have created a mind-numbing 94 fewer runs than an average NL club of hitters would have created using the same number of outs. That’s by far the worst in Major League Baseball (the Orioles are the next worst at -77) and — with still 50% of the season to go — already the fourth worst performance in Stros franchise history:

1    1964     -138  
2    1963     -107  
3    1962     -101  
4    2010       -94  
5    1989       -64  
6    1982       -63  
7    1968       -51  
8    1990       -49  
9    2006       -47  
10  2008      -46

Not one Stros regular player has a positive RCAA, which means that the Stros are comprised entirely of hitters who are generating fewer runs at various levels than what an average National League hitter would create. LF Carlos Lee (-13), SS Tommy Manzella (-16) (before going on the DL) and 3B Pedro Feliz (before he was benched) were among the worst performing regular players in the National League this season. In 81 games this season, the Stros have created an astounding 2 fewer runs on average per game than MLB’s best-hitting club, the Yankees (71 RCAA).

Meanwhile, after muddling around league for the first quarter of the season, the Stros pitching staff has deteriorated to -46 during the second quarter of the season to the point that the staff is now 25th among the 30 MLB pitching staffs this season and is already the 15th worst RSAA in Stros history with half a season to go:

1    1967     -130  
2    1965     -109  
3    1975     -100  
4    1976       -89  
5    2007       -79  
6    2009       -77  
7    1996       -76  
8    1992       -75  
9    1991       -74  
10  1970       -71  
11  2000       -69  
12  1963       -68  
13  1995       -52  
14   1973      -51  
15   2010      -46  
16   1968      -43  
T17 1978      -42  
T17 1966      -42  
19   
1988      -36  
20    1985      -35  

Only Roy Oswalt (8), Brett Myers (5), Matt Lindstrom (4) and Brandon Lyon (2) have positive RSAA’s among regular Stros hurlers. Wandy Rodriguez (-13) and Bud Norris (-15) are among the worst performing starters in the National League

Inasmuch as the Stros are actively peddling assets such as Oswalt, Myers and 1B Lance Berkman (they would love to trade Lee, but no one in their right mind would take on his contract), there is a real chance that the club’s RCAA and RSAA numbers could deteriorate even more during the second half of the season. If that occurs, breaking the club record of 97 losses in a season is a definite possibility.

By the way, one of the most distressing aspects of the Stros’ demise has been the decline in hitting performance. Check out the Stros RCAA hitting performance for the club’s final decade in the Astrodome, which was not a hitter-friendly ballpark:

1    1998      154  
2    1995      129  
3    1994      107  
4    1997      101  
5    1996        52  
6    1999        43  
7    1993        41  
8    1992        25  
9    1991       -39  
10  1990       -49

Now, compare that to the club’s RCAA hitting performance during its first decade in Minute Maid Park, which is perceived as a hitter-friendly ballpark, but is really a neutral ballpark — it favors neither hitters nor pitchers:

1    2000       88  
2    2001       64  
3    2004       50  
4    2002       13  
5    2003       10  
6    2007        -7  
7    2005      -26  
8    2009      -34  
9    2008      -46
  
10  2006      -47

And this season’s club is already at a –94 RCAA. Talk about a downward spiral! But that’s what you get for a decade of lackluster drafts.

The Stros are playing out the string this season, but the remainder of the season doesn’t have to be a waste of time. For example, view giving at bats to players such as Feliz and Geoff Blum as an utter waste of time. Instead, give young players in the system an opportunity to show what they can do at the MLB level. If the right deal comes along, then peddle the club’s valuable assets for some solid hitting prospects. The lower levels of the farm system are starting to show some signs of life, so there is already hope even during what just might be the worst season in the history of the Houston Astros.

So, what have you done for me lately?

Rayner Noble What on earth is University of Houston Athletic Director Mack Rhoades thinking?

With UH already being an afterthought in the ongoing negotiations over the reorganization of big-time college athletics, Rhoades this past Friday fired the best coach that UH has had over the past 20 years, baseball coach Rayner Noble.

Not exactly the way to inspire confidence in the alumni base, Mr. Rhoades.

Only in his late-40’s, Noble is already an institution at the University of Houston, where he has spent most of the past 30 years.

Noble initially came to UH in 1980 as an exceptional player from Houston’s Spring Woods High School, where he was the ace of a pitching staff than included Roger Clemens. He became the first freshman in Southwest Conference history to start as a pitcher and in centerfield. In 1983, he won 12 games and posted a 1.32 ERA while becoming the first UH pitcher to be named a consensus All-American and the first UH player to win Southwest Conference Player of the Year honors.

Noble was drafted by the Astros in the 1983 Major League Baseball Draft and quickly moved up the Astros farm system. But after developing chronic tendonitis in his pitching elbow at the Triple-A level, Noble decided to go into coaching, initially as an assistant for long-time UH baseball coach Bragg Stockton and then helping Rice coach Wayne Graham in the early 1990’s lay the foundation of the ultra-successful Rice program. During an era in which UH administrators were not making very good decisions, UH unexpectedly made the good decision to hire Noble as head baseball coach in 1994.

UH has been richly rewarded for that decision. Over the past 16 seasons, Noble guided the UH baseball program to three NCAA Super Regional berths over a four year period from 1999-2003, eight NCAA Regional appearances, three Conference USA regular-season titles and three C-USA Tournament championships. In so doing, he chalked up a 551-420 record, including a record-breaking 48 wins in both the 2000 and 2002 seasons.

With the exception of Leroy Burrell’s elite UH track program, no other UH coach comes even close to Noble’s accomplishments during that period.

But what made Rayner Noble truly special at UH was that he loved and understood his alma mater. Playing in an inferior conference and without comparable financial resources, UH could rarely compete with programs such as Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor or local powerhouse Rice for elite players coming out of high school. Consequently, Noble specialized in recruiting players who he could develop into solid college players.

In so doing, he developed a large number of excellent players, such as pitchers Ryan Wagner and Brad Sullivan, who in 2003 were the first UH players selected in the first-round of the MLB Draft.

Moreover, given his experience as a professional player, Noble understood the vagaries of fashioning a successful college career into a spot on an MLB roster. Thus, Noble always emphasized to his players the importance of completing their college education. Noble’s players were true student-athletes – if a player didn’t attend class, he didn’t play for Rayner Noble. Several UH professors confided to me over the years that Noble was by for the easiest coach that they ever worked with in regard to an academic problem of a student-athlete. Not surprisingly, Noble was highly-respected and well-liked by most UH faculty members and administrators.

So, what was that performance, integrity, loyalty and wisdom worth when Noble’s teams suffered back-to-back losing seasons over the past two seasons?

Apparently, not much.

Make no mistake about it, the firing of Rayner Noble is a sad commentary on the state of intercollegiate athletics. Rather than looking at the big picture and the enormous contributions that Noble has made to student-athletes and the school, AD Rhoades and UH made a decision based narrowly on short-term results at a time when UH athletics desperately needs to be thinking for the long term.

Without the financial resources of the other major Texas universities, the University of Houston used to stand for unusual commitment to its coaches. Bill Yeoman, Guy V. Lewis, and the late Dave Williams were examples of the long-term excellence that UH used to achieve in intercollegiate athletics as a result of that commitment.

The firing of Rayner Noble reminds us that UH dispensed with that wise policy long ago.

As a result, the University of Houston has just lost much more than a baseball coach. The university lost a part of its soul.

UH will find another baseball coach.

But that lost part of UH’s soul will be much harder to replace.

Au revoir, Roy O

Roy Oswalt Inasmuch as the Stros have been one of the worst teams in Major League Baseball in three of the past four seasons, itís understandable that longtime Stros ace Roy Oswalt has asked the club to trade him to a contender.

Although it almost happened one time before, I was hoping that Stros management would somehow pull a rabbit out its hat and cobble together a club that was good enough to entice Roy O to muddle through for a couple more seasons until the Strosí youth movement in the lower minors progressed to the big league club.

Alas, this seasonís club is on track to be one of the worst ñ and quite possibly the worst ñ in Strosí history. So, that hope didnít pan out.

But I will always appreciate Oswalt. As a lifetime follower of baseball and a 40-year follower of the Stros (and a season ticket holder for the past 25 seasons), Oswalt is the best pitcher that Iíve had the pleasure of watching live on a regular basis. He is likely the best pitcher that any of us Houstonians will ever watch live on a regular basis.

Drafted by the Stros in 1996 and developed within the Stros’ heralded (at the time) minor league pitching program, Oswalt jumped from AA ball to the Stros in 2001 and quickly became one of the best pitchers in the National League. Remarkably durable throughout his career to date, Oswalt pitched the key win that vaulted the Stros into their first World Series in 2005 and has developed into one of the best pitchers in MLB history at this stage of his career.

As regular readers of this blog know, I think the statistic of runs saved against average (ìRSAAî) provides the best measure to evaluate a pitcher during his career and against pitchers from other eras. RSAA measures how many more (or fewer) runs that a pitcher saves relative to a league-average pitcher during each season of his career (an exactly league-average pitcher RSAA is zero).

Thus, not only does it provide a good indication of how a pitcher compares to an average MLB pitcher during his career, RSAA provides a useful comparison across eras because it shows how much better (or worse) a pitcher stacked up against an average pitcher during his era. That’s really the best way to compare pitchers from different eras because comparing other pitching statistics — such as earned run average, wins and hitting statistics against — is often skewed between pitchers of hitter-friendly eras (i.e., the era in which Oswalt has pitched) versus pitchers of pitcher-friendly eras (i.e., such as the late 1960’s and early 70’s).

Oswalt is 32 years old and has saved 229 more runs than an average NL pitcher would have saved in the same number of innings during his career. In the history of Major League Baseball, thatís the 32nd best performance for a pitcher 32 years and under. To give you an idea of the pitchers comparable to Oswalt at this stage of his career, Dodger great Don Drysdale is tied with Oswalt at 32nd and both Sandy Koufax (36th) and Bob Gibson (37th) are behind Oswalt. Within his next few starts, Oswalt will probably pass Ferguson Jenkins, who is 31st.

Since his debut in the 2001 season, Oswalt is 3rd in RSAA among MLB pitchers:

1    Roy Halladay                304  
2    Johan Santana             263  
3    Roy Oswalt                   229  
4    Brandon Webb             199  
5    Tim Hudson                  194  
6    Randy Johnson             193  
7    Mark Buehrle                181  
8    Curt Schilling                178  
9    Mariano Rivera             177  
10   C.C. Sabathia               172

And it really isnít even close that Oswaltís stellar RSAA makes him the best pitcher in Stros history:

1    Roy Oswalt                  229  
2    Roger Clemens            114  
3    Billy Wagner                  99  
4    Dave Smith                    75  
5    Octavio Dotel                67  
T6   Mike Hampton              60  
T6   Nolan Ryan                   60  
T8   Andy Pettitte              56  
T8   Wade Miller                  56  
10   Don Wilson                   55  
11   Joe Sambito                 53  
12   Brad Lidge                    46  
13   Larry Andersen             45  
14   Shane Reynolds            43  
T15  Mike Cuellar                 40  
T15  Mike Scott                   40  
17   Ken Forsch&#
160;                   39  
18   Larry Dierker                 36  
19   J.R. Richard                  34  
20   Joe Niekro                    33

But beyond the statistics, the things that I most appreciate about Oswalt are the intangibles. His teammates and spectators love to watch him pitch because he wastes minimal time in between pitches. My sons and I over the years have coined games in which Oswalt pitched as ìRoy O Specialsî because they often last less than two and a half hours, which has become a rarity in Major League Baseball.

Moreover, Oswalt is the quintessential gamer. He continues to challenge hitters with the inside fastball and he has no problem throwing his wicked curve at any point in in the count. As they say in baseball parlance, Roy O ìhas a little turd in him.î

I am going to miss Roy O.

An historically bad team of Stros hitters

carlos-lee1 Itís not a surprise that the Stros (8-15; five straight losses) are bad this season. But this is looking to be one of the worst hitting teams in the history of the Strosí franchise.

As regular readers of this blog know, the RCAA ("runs created against average") and RSAA ("runs saved against average") statistics, developed by Lee Sinins for his Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia, provide a simple but revealing benchmark of how an MLB player or club is performing during the long MLB season.

RCAA reflects how many more (or fewer) runs that a player (or team) generates relative to a league-average player (or team). An exactly league-average player’s (or teamís) RCAA is zero.

Similarly, RSAA measures how many more (or fewer) runs that a pitcher (or pitching staff) saves relative to a league-average pitcher (or pitching staff). As with RCAA, an exactly league-average pitcherís (or teamís) RSAA is zero.

After a rough start to the season, the Strosí pitching staff has come around to a 3 RSAA (through Fridayís game), which means itís a slightly above-average NL pitching staff.

But the hitters? Well, thatís another story.

Through 23 games (a bit over 14% of the season), the Stros hitters have created an astounding 42 fewer runs than an average NL club of hitters would have created using the same number of outs. Thatís by far the worst in Major League Baseball (the Orioles are the next worst at ñ26) and ñ with still over 80% of the season to go ñ already the 10th worst performance in Stros franchise history:

1    Colt 45ís                1964     -138  
2    Colt 45ís                1963     -107  
3    Colt 45ís                1962     -101  
4    Astros                   1989      -64  
5    Astros                   1982      -63  
6    Astros                   1968      -51  
7    Astros                   1990      -49  
8    Astros                   2006      -47  
9    Astros                   2008      -46  
10   Astros                   2010      -42

11   Astros                   1991      -39   
12   Astros                   2009      -34  
13   Astros                   2005      -26  
14   Astros                   1971      -16  
15   Astros                   1979      -13

To make matters worse, the Stros hitters do not appear poised to improve over the balance of the season. The clubís best hitter ñ 1B Lance Berkman ñ is gimpy with a balky knee and other assorted injuries. The clubís only other consistently good hitter ñ LF Carlos Lee ñ has fallen off a cliff to the point where he is one of the worst hitting regular NL players (-11 RCAA).

In fact, the only regular Stros player with a positive RCAA is CF Michael Bourn and he is barely above-average (3 RCAA). With the exception of RF Hunter Pence, there is not another regular Stros player who appears capable of generating a positive RCAA over the rest of the season.

Similarly, there is no player in the upper levels of the Strosí farm system who appears capable of generating a positive RCAA for the big-league club.

Thus, it appears almost certain that this will be the worst hitting Stros team in club history. Even the club-record worst performances of the three Colt 45 teams from 1962-64 are within reach of this seasonís team.

And if the pitching staff falls apart in the second-half of the season as it did last year, this season could get really ugly.

It wasn’t Lidge’s fault after all

pujols and Lidge I always thought that it was Brad Lidgeís fault that Albert Pujols in Game Six of the 2005 NLCS caused Houstonians to endure memories of these sporting disasters again.

But now, former Stros 3B Morgan Ensberg reveals that it was all really the fault of an optical illusion at Minute Maid Park (H/T John Royal).

Who knew?

By the way, check out the 2005 list of the Stros top ten prospects.

No wonder the local club is struggling.

Batter up! Stros 2010 Season Preview

Minute_Maid_Park With the opening of Major League Baseballís season, this is the seventh (!) HCT preview  (previous ones here) of the Strosí upcoming season. But with the continued development of the blogosphere over the past seven years, itís time to change the way in which HCT covers the Stros and MLB.

The reason for the change is simple. When this blog started in early 2004, coverage of the Stros was limited pretty much to the local mainstream mediaís coverage, which has been mostly bad. However, over the past 6+ years, the blogosphere has exploded and now a large number of bloggers and Twitterers cover the Stros on a daily basis better than either the mainstream media or this blog:

Astros County/http://twitter.com/Astroscounty

Crawfish Boxes/http://twitter.com/crawfishboxes

Zac Levineís Unofficial Scorer/http://twitter.com/thescorer

Alysonís Footnotes/https://twitter.com/alysonfooter

Tagís Lines

Kiss My Astros

AstrosDaily.com

A Misplaced Astros Fan (quite good, but not updated recently)

Also, the following sites come in handy while following the Stros and MLB:

Stats MLB site

Coolstandings.com site (continually updated playoff odds)

Baseball Reference.com

Stros Sortable Stats

Stros Active Roster

Stros 40-man Roster

With all this coverage, Iím no longer going to cover the Stros in the depth or regularity that I have in previous seasons. I will continue to post occasional observations about the Stros and baseball, particularly when the mainstream media passes along myths and misconceptions. But check out the resources above for really good and comprehensive coverage of the Stros.

With regard to the Stros, not much has changed since last yearís dismal 74-88 season. That club failed to make the playoffs for the fourth straight season since the Stros 2005 World Series appearance. This season’s club is arguably weaker than last season’s club, so it would appear that playoff contention remains a pipe dream.

As Iíve been saying for years now, the Stros have been a team in decline for a long time even though generally superior pitching during the 2002-2006 seasons masked that downturn. Owner Drayton McLane cleaned house toward the end of the disastrous 72-90 2007 season and the club is now firmly in the process of rebuilding its farm system, which had deteriorated into one of MLB’s worst over the latter stages of the Biggio-Bagwell era

Last season, the Stros were muddling around with a .500 record based on slightly above-average hitting and slightly below-average pitching as of All-Star break when the pitching staff fell apart during third quarter, saving an astounding 43 fewer runs during that 40-game stretch than a National League-average pitching staff would have saved over those games. The pitching continued to go south during the final quarter of the season while the hitting fell apart completely down the stretch, which left the Stros with a 74-88 record, a ñ77 RSAA and a ñ34 RCAA

Frankly, this performance level was easily predictable given what Baseball Prospectus has dubbed the "stars-and-scrubs" Stros roster. The Stros continue to play out a weak hand of a few above-average stars and below-average balance of the roster while attempting to deal with the long-overdue rebuilding program that has became necessary — but was generally ignored — during the final years of the Biggio-Bagwell era. GM Ed Wade and Scouting Director Bobby Heck have completed their third straight strong draft in terms of numbers, so the rebuilding program is in full swing. But it’s going to take another year or two before any appreciable amount of that investment begins to payoff at the MLB level.

This season, expect the Strosí pitching staff to improve somewhat (could it really get worse than last seasonís?), although itís not a good sign that Roy Oswalt (-1 RSAA/4.12 ERA/8-6 W-L) has already had to have a cortisone shot to treat a deteriorating disc condition that contributed to his worst MLB season last year. Moreover, itís quite probable that the hitting will be worse this season given that the Stros best hitter ñ 1B Lance Berkman ñ is coming off his least productive MLB season (31 RCAA/.399 OBA/.509 SLG/.907 OPS/25 HR/80 RBI in 136 games) since his 2000 rookie season and will start the season on the disabled list for a few games with a balky knee.

Thankfully, the rest of the National League Central is not overwhelming. The Cardinals and the Cubs appear to be the class of the division and my sense is that the Reds are the most likely club to make a jump up the standings this season. It appears that the Stros will be fighting it out to avoid the cellar with the Brewers and the Pirates. As a result, an over/under of 73 wins for the Stros seems about right.< /p>

Nevertheless, despite the Strosí woes, I continue to enjoy watching Major League Baseball. This will be the 25th straight season that Iíve had season tickets to the Stros games. Iíve seen some really good teams during that span and some really bad ones, too. But my curiosity about the game has never wavered. It wonít this season, either.

Play ball!

The Code

Yanks Orioles fight If this Larry Getlen/NY Post review of Jason Turbow and Michael Duca’s new book The Baseball Codes: Beanballs, Sign Stealing, and Bench-Clearing Brawls: The Unwritten Rules of America’s Pastime (Pantheon March 9, 2010) doesnít get you in the mood for Major League Spring Training and the upcoming MLB season, then nothing will:

Unbeknownst to most outsiders, all aspects of baseball ó from hitting, pitching, and baserunning to dealing with management and the media ó are governed by the Code, a complex series of unwritten rules that have evolved since baseball’s earliest days.

This Code, which the authors describe as "less strategic than moral," includes behavioral rules for common baseball situations; the punishment for flouting those rules; and the "omerta" that ballplayers must never, ever, discuss the rules of the Code outside the clubhouse. [.   .   .]

* Cardinal great Bob Gibson believed that the Code entitled him to knock down any batter who bested him with a grand slam. So when the Chicago Cubs Pete LaCock did just that, Gibson felt he owed him one ó unfortunately, the homer came during Gibson’s final game. Gibson finally took his revenge 15 years later, plugging LaCock in the back during an Old Timers Game.

* When the Yankees took on the Angels in 1987, the announcers discussed how Angels pitcher Don Sutton was scuffing the ball. Yankee owner George Steinbrenner, hearing this on TV, called Yankee manager Lou Piniella in a rage, demanding that the umpires inspect Sutton’s glove. Piniella had to explain to the Boss, "The guy who taught Don everything he knows about cheating is pitching for us tonight. Want me to get Tommy John thrown out too?"

Stros 2009 Season Review, Part Three

Drayton McLane2 Given the inexplicable popularity of NFL football practice in these parts, who cares about Major League Baseball anymore, anyway?

As expected, the Stros (59-62) faded into obscurity during the third quarter of the 2009 season, going 19-21 during that stretch. Although the mainstream media reported mainly that the Stros fell apart during the third quarter, the truth is that they did not play all that much different from the first two quarters of the season (18-22; 23-19). The 2009 Stros simply is not — and never has been — a good baseball team.

Reviewing basic productivity statistics reflects what happened to the Stros during the third quarter of the season. As regular readers of this blog know, the RCAA ("runs created against average") and RSAA ("runs saved against average") statistics, developed by Lee Sinins for his Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia, provide a simple but revealing benchmark of how an MLB player or MLB team is performing during the long MLB season.

RCAA reflects how many more (or fewer) runs that a player generates relative to a league-average player (an exactly league-average player’s RCAA is zero).

Similarly, RSAA measures how many more (or fewer) runs that a pitcher saves relative to a league-average pitcher (an exactly league-average pitcher RSAA is zero).

Thus, a club’s positive RCAA number reflects how many more runs a club’s hitters are generating relative to what a league-average club would generate using the same number of outs. Likewise, a club’s positive RSAA number reflects how many more runs the club’s pitching staff is saving relative to what a league-average pitching staff would prevent in the same number of innings. Negative RCAA and RSAA numbers are just the opposite. A negative RCAA reflects how many fewer runs a club’s hitters are generating relative to a league-average club and a negative RSAA indicates how many more runs a pitching staff is giving up in comparison to a league-average staff.

As a result, good teams generally have a positive net RCAA/RSAA figure, while bad teams tend to have a negative net RCAA/RSAA statistic. Occasionally, a good team will have a high RSAA statistic and a negative RCAA figure (i.e., the Stros’ 2005 World Series team), but it’s almost never the case that a good team will have a high RCAA and a substantially negative RSAA. In other words, you can win with really good pitching and poor hitting, but it’s hard to win consistently with really good hitting if your pitching is poor.

The following charts shows the NL Central clubs’ net RCAA/RSAA figure at the All-Star break and after the third quarter of the 2009 season, along with their current percentage chance of making the playoffs, as calculated by Coolstandings.com:

Through 2nd Quarter

Team

RCAA

RSAA

Net

Record

% Playoffs

Cardinals

10

36

46

49-42

45.5 %

Brewers

45

-45

0

45-43

25.4 %

Stros

12

-17

-5

44-44

11.0 %

Cubs

-36

35

-1

43-43

19.7 %

Reds

-68

29

-39

42-45

3.9 %

Pirates

-14

-8

-22

38-50

4.4
%

 

 Through 3rd Quarter

Team
RCAA
RSAA Net Record % Playoffs
Cards 43 33 76 70-53 87.0
Cubs -33 57 24 61-58 16.5
Brewers 52 -89 -37 58-62 0.9
Stros 2 -60 -58 59-62 0.3
Reds -78 -21 -99 51-69 <0.1
Pirates -39 -43 -82 49-70 <0.1

As you can see, the Stros were muddling around with a .500 record based on slightly above-average hitting and slightly below-average pitching as of All-Star break. However, the Stros pitching fell apart during third quarter, saving an astounding 43 fewer runs during that 40-game stretch than a National League-average pitching staff would have saved over those games. Combine that with a downturn in hitting resulting from a DL stint by slugger 1B Lance Berkman and slumps from regular players such as SS Miguel Tejada and RF Hunter Pence, along with the Cardinals’ upsurge in hitting primarily from the acquisition of Matt Holliday, and it’s not surprising that the Stros are 10 games out of first place in the NL Central.

As noted in the preview of the 2009 Stros back in April, this performance level was easily predictable given what Baseball Prospectus has dubbed the "stars-and-scrubs" Stros roster. Frankly, the Stros are an organization playing out a weak hand while attempting to deal with the long-overdue rebuilding program that has became necessary — but was generally ignored — during the final years of the Biggio-Bagwell era. GM Ed Wade has just completed his second straight strong draft in terms of numbers (36 out of 51 drafted players signed), so the rebuilding program is in full swing. But it’s going to take another 2-3 years before any appreciable amount of that investment begins to payoff at the MLB level.

So, hang in there, Stros followers. In the meantime, please pray that the Stros don’t do anything idiotic in the free agent market, similar to what they did in regard to the Carlos Lee deal. Tejada and closer Jose Valverde will become free agents after this season and neither of them is good enough at this stage of their career to command an expensive contract. The Stros would be much better off giving younger, cheaper and likely just as productive players the playing time that fading and overrated veterans such as Tejada and Valverde would otherwise take up.

By the way, the Stros’ trade of C Ivan Rodriguez this past week to the Rangers for a couple of marginal prospects did not indicate, as some mainstream media commentators suggested, that the Stros were "giving up on the season." A club does not "give up on a season" by trading the dead weight of one of the least productive regular players in the National League. Rather, the deal would be better characterized as getting "something for nothing."

The 2009 season statistics for the Stros through the first 80 games are below, courtesy of Lee Sinins‘ sabermetric Complete Baseball Encyclopedia. The abbreviations for the hitting stats are defined here and the same for the pitching stats are here. The Stros’ active roster is here with links to each individual player’s statistics:

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Checking in on MLB and the NL Central at the All-Star Break

All STar GAme The Major League Baseball All-Star break is this week, so it’s a good time to step back and review the key statistics to identify the most productive players and teams over the first half of the season.

Following on my latest periodic post on the Stros, regular readers of this blog know that RCAA ("runs created against average") and RSAA ("runs saved against average") statistics, developed by Lee Sinins for his Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia, provide a simple but revealing benchmark of how an MLB player or MLB team is performing during the long MLB season.

RCAA reflects how many more (or fewer) runs that player generate relative to a league-average player (an exactly league-average player’s RCAA is zero).

Similarly, RSAA measures how many more (or fewer) runs that a pitcher saves relative to a league-average pitcher (an exactly league-average pitcher RSAA is zero).

Thus, a club’s positive RCAA number reflects how many more runs a club’s hitters are generating relative to what a league-average club would generate using the same number of outs. Likewise, a club’s positive RSAA number reflects how many more runs the club’s pitching staff is saving relative to what a league-average pitching staff would prevent in the same number of innings. Negative RCAA and RSAA numbers are just the opposite. A negative RCAA reflects how many fewer runs a club’s hitters are generating relative to a league-average club and a negative RSAA indicates how many more runs a pitching staff is giving up in comparison to a league-average staff.

Accordingly, focusing on those two basic statistics, let’s review the top players and the top teams from the first half of the 2009 season:

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