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More tantalizing numbers from Bill James

Posted Nov 10, 2012 by Bob D'Angelo

Updated Nov 10, 2012 at 09:10 PM

Going from first to third is aggressive base running at its best, and nobody has done it better in the majors since 2002 than former Brandon High School star Chone Figgins.

Figgins has gone from first to third 148 times in 282 chances. That’s a 52 percent success rate, and nobody else in the majors who have played 1,000 or more games has broken the 50 percent mark in the past decade.

That’s the kind of baseball nugget one can only read in “The Bill James Handbook 2013” (ACTA Sports, paperback, $26.95, 554 pages). The price has gone up $2, but it’s well worth it if you like to crunch numbers, look at trends and plow through volumes of data put together by James, the ultimate numbers geek.

Look at James’ 2012 Handbook in reference to the Rays. He wrote that Desmond Jennings would steal 47 bases; he actually stole 31. He predicted B.J. Upton would hit 19 homers and drive in 70 runs; he hit 28 homers and drove in 78. James predicted pitcher David Price would go 15-10 while James Shields would have a 13-12 record. Price shattered that with a 20-5 mark, while Shields went 15-10.

Well, you can’t win them all.

By the way, James predicted that Justin Verlander would have an 18-8 mark in 2012. He came close, as the Tigers ace went 17-8.

But that was last year. Here’s what James has cooked up in his latest work. As always, the book is a wonderful array of team and individual stats, focusing on hitting, pitching, fielding and situational baseball.

I liked the pitching repertoire feature when it debuted last year, and it’s excellent again. Pitching repertoire lists a pitcher’s velocity, the number of fastballs he throws, and what other pitches are in his arsenal. Washington ace Stephen Strasburg, for example, threw a curveball 19 percent of the time in 2012. Aroldis Chapman’s fastball averaged 97.7 mph. Price’s was at 95.5 mph, ahead of Verlander’s 94.3. Rays’ reliever Fernando Rodney averaged 96.1 mph.

Jeff Mathis’ fastball, on the other hand, averaged 84 mph. Jeff Mathis?? The Blue Jays’ catcher? Yes, Mathis was forced to pitch twice last season, on May 25 and July 25 in mop-up work, throwing 42 pitches (23 of them for strikes). His pitch of choice? Fastball, 86 percent of the time; his other pitches were change-ups.

More pitching stats from the 2013 Handbook: In 2012, Verlander led the majors in the number of pitches thrown (3,768), number of batters faced (956) and the number of strikeouts (239). Even though Kyle Lohse went 16-3, he led the majors in surrendering line drives (156). James finds this stat intriguing, writing that “pitchers who give up line drives, in general, are ineffective.”

Another fascinating stat: Jake Peavy took 169 batters to three-ball counts in 2012, but only walked 49 of them; Rangers phenom Yu Darvish went to three balls on 168 batters and walked 89 of them. Cliff Lee, on the other hand, threw a first-pitch strike to 505 of the 847 batters he faced.

And this: Did you know that the Mets’ Jordany Valdespin hit five pinch-hit homers in 2012? Or that his first major-league hit was a three-run pinch hit homer, a two-out blast in the ninth inning that snapped a 2-2 tie against Philadelphia? Me neither.

Rays manager Joe Maddon led the majors in different lineups in 2012, with 151 out of 162. It was the second time Maddon has led that category (he also led in 2006); on average, the Rays’ skipper sends out 130 different lineups per season. In 2012, Maddon also led the majors in sending up the most pinch hitters (156) and attempting the most stolen bases (178). He also set the pace in using relievers on consecutive days (123).

James’ Hall of Fame monitor is a quirky but interesting bit of research. James takes the year a player was born and assigns point values for winning batting titles, appearing in All-Star games, and so forth. A player reaching 100 points is a Hall of Fame lock, in James’ eyes, “as long as he hasn’t taken steroids and doesn’t hang around with Pete Rose.” The formula is a little too complicated to explain here; I’ll let James take care of that.

The Hall of Fame Monitor “is in absolutely no sense an effort to say who should go into the Hall of Fame,” James writes. “It is, rather, merely an observation that certain players are making more progress toward the Hall of Fame than are other players.”

Fr example, Evan Longoria has the most points for players born in 1985 with 21; Price has 15.
Mike Trout has 10 points and leads all players born in 1991. The numbers are very interesting for players born in 1983: Miguel Cabrera has 93 points, followed by Joe Mauer (66) and Ryan Braun (54).

Other players of note: Alex Rodriguez (1975) has 190 points; Derek Jeter (1974) has 162; Ichiro (1973) has 108; and Chipper Jones (1972) has 108. Jim Thome, born in 1970, has 95 points.

James offers his projections for hitters and pitchers for the 2013 season. Go to the charts and pick a player. He admits that predicting the years Rodney and R.A. Dickey had in 2012 would have been difficult, but concedes he did not anticipate Gio Gonzalez’s excellent season (James predicted a 10-13 mark with a 4.03 ERA; the Nationals lefty went 21-8 with a 2.89 ERA in 2012).

“A clear and absolute failure on our part,” James writes.

James also predicts Strasburg will go 17-9 and pitch 208 innings. Will the Nats allow Strasburg to throw that many innings? We’ll see.

If you’re a numbers freak and love baseball, the Bill James Handbook will give you plenty of enjoyment until spring training.

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