This One’s Personal: Sanford Koufax vs. Randy Johnson…pffft

I couldn’t let this one go. The conclusion draw here by this author that Randy Johnson was “the best pitcher of all time” was not something I could allow to slip through the cracks. Johnson was awesome. Incredible to watch. Always delivered on a great game without a doubt. But by all measures not the greatest pitcher of all time AND not even the greatest left-handed pitcher of all time. Any reasonable person knows that this distinction belongs to Sandy Koufax. The problem, that we all know, is that Koufax’s career was cut short because he was playing at a time when no one was limiting young pitchers the way the do now in order to save their arms to lengthen their careers.  He left at the height of his game, and, if you watch his press conference when he made the decision it’s quite understandable.

So then how do we judge a 21 year major league career against a 12 year career.  I propose two methods of doing so.  We can compare their seasons by Age which creates a bit of an issue because Koufax was forced to join the team at 19 because of some rules around how he was drafted that don’t exist anymore and Johnson didn’t come up to the majors until he was 24.  So this limits us to 7 seasons: Ages 24-30.  The other way to approach it is to compare their stats by career year which will give us 12 years to look at keeping in mind that Johnson had considerably more time to hone his skills in the minors.

The charts below are using the ggplo2 R package with no doctoring of the images. I’ve also kept it strictly to the stats used in the above mentioned post: Strike Outs and ERA. While the XY-aspect of the plot should be obvious (Strike Outs against Age or Career Year), the thickness of the lines also represents their respective ERAs.  Lets see how this compares first by Age then by Career Year.

By age Koufax is the clear winner.  He had more time in the majors than Randy at that point but the point of being in the minors is to get prepared for major league baseball. That begs the question then if minor league experience is better than just being dumped right in? By career year I’d say that on first glance it looks pretty even but when you look closer at all of Sandy’s sub-3 and sub-2 ERA seasons plus his huge number of strikeouts in his year 11 season I’m also going to go ahead and give this one to Sanford.

One of the things Johnson is so lauded for is his high number of cumulative strike outs.  So let’s do the same thing.  First by Age then by Career Year:

I don’t even have to comment this.  Koufax = Winner.  The question is always out there about what could he have done if he hadn’t blown out his arm.  We’ll never know.  But just because he didn’t get to put up the cumulative numbers that some players have doesn’t mean he should be excluded from the “Greatest Pitcher Ever’ or ‘Greatest Left Hander Ever’ debates.

Home Runs heating up?

My intuition tells me that objects traveling through the air would meet more resistance when there is more moisture in the air. It turns out that my intuition is wrong. It still doesn’t make sense to me but apparently humid air is less dense. And this applies to baseball specifically because the belief is that there are more home runs in the latter half of the season because many parks are in humid areas (east coast bias) and as the summer progresses it gets hotter and hotter and more and more humid. A lot of this is purely anecdotal: “The ball’s really going to start flying out of the park as the weather heats up” and other such nonsense from the mouths of the talking heads we’re forced to listen to while watching a game.

Anyway, after seeing this post at Revolution Analytics I wanted to use the calendar heat map function created by Paul Bleicher.  (source code is available here) And it seemed like a really fitting opportunity to look at how cumulative daily home runs fluctuated over the course of the MLB season. Based on the science behind the humidity factor you would imagine that there would be a, somewhat, obvious increasing trend at least until it starts to cool off at the end of September. Here is how that data looks in one of these calendar heat maps.

From this perspective I’m seeing home run heavy days sprinkled all over the course of the season. The only conclusion that I can come to is that 1) obviously the science is right but the sample size is too small on a daily basis not to be skewed by one big game and 2) the announcers that perpetuate these myths are just parroting each other with no actual check on what comes out of their pie-holes.

Show me your WAR face!

Below is a chart of the top 20 offensive players based on FanGraphs WAR for the 2011 season.  The various features and their corresponding metric are clear in the image. I’ve also included the leader and last place for each metric to get an idea of what the extremes would look like as it’s all normalized.  For example Jose Reyes’s 7 Home Runs this season gives him a very narrow face as compared to Jose Bautista’s double wide.  (This is highly derivative and I’m painfully aware of this but I really wanted to play with the Chernoff faces function available in the aplpack R library. )