Happy holidays everyone. It’s a Christmas-themed post about baseball, as they’re such natural bedfellows, of course, and it’s never really awkward when people try and force them together…
So maybe Christmas isn’t exactly the best time for baseball. The season finished two months ago, the Winter Meetings have come and gone along with the best chance for any kind of roster drama (Padres excluded), and you’re still not even halfway through the off-season (but it is half if you count pitchers and catchers reporting). That said however, I wanted to try and collate some interesting things together that tangentially bring together my favourite holiday and my favourite sport. I originally wanted to take a look at players with funny Christmas-based names, or make up a festive team, but Baseball-Reference beat me to it. Instead, I figured I’d look at pitchers in 2013 & 2014 about whom you could start to read far too much into their performance, and determine if they’d been naughty or nice, as per the great Christmas parenting behaviour technique.
It’s a Christmas miracle!
The basic premise of this is if a pitcher had been a good person one year, then they had a Christmas miracle and improved significantly the next year. If they had been a bad person, then their performance fell way off the next year.
Takeaways from this?
- A team that absolutely rode its bullpen for all it was worth in the playoffs, had surprisingly good seasons from key bullpen members #originalinsight
- The best team in the National League had good seasons from key bullpen members #suchdepthofanalysis
- Small sample sizes make for fun reading #enoughwiththesarcastichashtags
The biggest surprise for me was that the split was only 40:60 for bad players turning good, as bullpens are usually described as such fickle things, and given that I’m trying to find the biggest improvements, the best way to have a big improvement is to be really bad in the first year before kicking it into gear in the second year. That said, plenty of players did do that, and I didn’t include any kind of filter to weed out pitchers with very little input the previous year, but I figured for the purposes of a naughty and nice list, those who may have only had a couple of outings and failed completely would be wishing even harder for a Christmas miracle to let them have another shot, if only so they could retain some dignity in knowing that they just weren’t good enough.
If we’re trying to determine which one had the best gift from Santa, though, I’d probably lean towards Michael Kirkman. After 3 years of yo-yo-ing between bad-OK-bad and dealing with skin cancer, I think if anyone was due for some good luck in the form of a Christmas present last year, it was Kirkman. After his impressive September callup, Kirkman has a new contract with the Rangers. Admittedly still minor league, but it’s probably fair to say that if he’d come up and looked awful, it could have been much harder to get another shot. In comparison, others on that list all either reinvented, established or re-established themselves, and none of them probably had as much to lose from a bad year, and conversely none of them had as much to gain if they were on the nice list.
*lets out whistling noise as if to say “gee wiz mister, that sure is an ugly statline”*
Well, this is probably as good an example as you’ll ever find for the fickleness of small sample sizes, and that a good September callup doesn’t translate into being the next Mariano Rivera.
Hunter Strickland was amazing down the stretch. He had heat, and no one knew what to expect from him or how to deal with him. Apparently how to deal with him was to be a professional baseball player, be in the playoffs, and be left-handed. That’s a little mean of me, especially to someone who was a really valuable asset to my team of choice, so I shouldn’t mock. It is, however, a great example of how relievers really aren’t something that you should feel comfortable betting on (total value of contracts handed out to four Giants relievers: $61 million, not including Tim Lincecum).
That’s another article for another time though, really, and realistically the players with the biggest lumps of coal in their stockings were Brian Wilson and Jimmy Nelson. Both of whom did exceptionally well in 2013 in limited action, were given the chance to show off in 2014, and essentially tried to throw that exact same coal instead of a baseball. This did not end well for them. Both did at least have good fallbacks, as Nelson is still young and is still clearly somewhat in the Brewers plans, whether it be in the rotation or bullpen, and Wilson could fall back on being guaranteed a millions of dollars in the event of everything going badly.
It’s not the best fallback, but it’s better than what most of us have in our own jobs, so what do we know? If I have to single one out, it’ll have to be Wilson, simply because as a Dodger, he yelled at the Giants CEO, at AT&T Park, in front of 40,000 fans who still loved the guy up to that point despite whom he played for, and pretty much put himself on the naughty list in that moment. While I side pretty much exactly with Grant Brisbee with regard to understanding the context of egomaniacs feeling aggrieved, everyone else manages to not yell at former bosses in baseball, and as a result Wilson was an outlier on the naughty-nice spectrum in the wrong direction, leading to him now being an outlier from the Dodgers bullpen.
As you’d probably expect from a list like this, there’s a mixture of young pitchers on rebuilding teams flourishing, and established stars producing some stellar seasons. However, Edinson Volquez must have been the nicest person in 2013 to somehow turn things around this year. The only other pitcher with an ERA+ that low in 2013 that pitched again in 2014 was Ryan Vogelsong. Fun facts time: Roy Halladay had an ERA+ of 55 (I didn’t realise it was that bad) and Barry Zito matched Volquez & Vogelsong with a 60! Imagine seeing Zito last year, and thinking that a year later you’d be giving someone just as good $20 million dollars. Just imagine. That’s how nice Volquez must have been. What a lovely chap.
As for the naughty list, it’s again a list that you’d expect: injuries, seemingly freak years, age, and regression after exceptional years. I extended this selection just to show Santana & Jiminez, as they were both hamstrung last year by their qualifying offers, and I simply found it interesting that they both showed up on this list. This one has to go on the numbers, I feel, as Clay Buchholz had a chance this year to show what he can do when healthy and it just didn’t click for him. This one was originally going to go to Ervin Santana, who puffed up his chest last year, eventually took a gamble and didn’t have a whole lot to show for it. Except the $55 million dollars he just landed, so he can’t have been that bad I guess!
In summary, this doesn’t really say much about pitchers we didn’t already know. Great pitchers sometimes have really great years. Relief pitchers can vary a lot year to year. Free agents can be booby traps. Old pitchers can be bad. Sometimes prospects find their feet a little later and prove they were worth all the hassle. Such insight.
And this hopefully is the biggest connection to Christmas, and the messages we hear about it. This article has been telling you things that you should have already known, and been running your baseball operations/opinions/teams/watching by these ideas. Christmas, and the holidays in general, promotes a series of messages about being kind to your fellow humans, keeping in touch with old friends, and generally trying to be in good spirits for the festive period. And these realistically should be things we try to do all year round, not just when we’re reminded of them. This argument does fall down a little though given the rampant consumerism surrounding Christmas, but then again, Major League Baseball is trying to convince people that this is a reasonable price, so you can draw the cynical comparison as well if you want!
Happy holidays everyone!!Next post: What Is the Deal with Joey Votto’s Power?
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