Hitting For The Cycle: Stats, Prospects, And Les Expos

In our Hitting for the Cycle series, Craig MacHenry goes through the best of the best baseball writing for the past week – highlighting national stories while giving them some Nationals perspective.

Single: Beane Counters by Jonah Keri (Grantland)

This feature, which ran last week on the ESPN offshoot Grantland, was yet another biographical and analytical take on Billy Beane’s Oakland A’s. Over the past several years, these profiles of the A’s GM have become quite common and very similar in tone/content, which is why I was drawn even more to this piece. Jonah Keri takes a vastly different approach, much like Beane does in his front office, by focusing on the changing face of baseball front offices.

One of the great challenges that faces the small market A’s franchise is the rise in intelligence and non-baseball analytical minds throughout the entire league – something that the Beane front office has been (once again) ahead of the curve on. No longer are teams going out and finding former players and former scouts to occupy the “think tank” of decision making. Though, as the league continues to adapt to the changing tides, the A’s will continue to look for the next wave of mindset, the next market inefficiency. Teams like the Red Sox, Dodgers, and Cubs have been able to apply these forward thinking processes to large markets and even larger payrolls, dooming the A’s to continue their evolutionary process of reinventing the wheel.

I can’t wait to see what they come up with next!

Quote: “Quite frankly, I want blank canvases, I want people to come in with new ideas. I don’t want the biases of their own experiences to be a part of their decision-making process.” – Beane

Double: Cutting Down the Strikeouts in Spring Training by Eno Sarris (FanGraphs)

We are all guilty of it. You are. I am. We look for anything in the bevy of Spring Training statistics that could possibly mean anything. It never matters. Drew Storen’s 2011 Spring numbers were terrifying – 11.12 ERA, .407 BAA, 2.29 WHIP – but when the regular season came around he was a different pitcher (2.75 ERA, .204 BAA, 1.02 WHIP) while racking up 43 saves. So when FanGraphs, one of the preeminent sabermetrically-inclined hubs in all of Internet Land, says that there could possibly be relevant info to be gleaned from Spring Training numbers my interest immediately gets piqued.

One of my favorite things on Baseball Prospectus is their statistic stabilization section showing roughly when trends and statistics become “real” and no longer small sample size. Eno Sarris postulates that since Strikeout Rate stabilizes earlier than other statistics (approx. 100 at-bats) that the typical 50 at-bat Spring Training numbers could show us something as to which players have the potential to improve in 2014. Give this piece a read and find out which Nationals player could be primed to have a bounce back year.

Quote: “We know that Spring Training stats are mostly useless”

Triple: What to Expect from Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects by Neil Paine (FiveThirtyEight)

We are just over a week into Nate Silver’s ESPN-led analytics website creation FiveThirtyEight and the writing and analysis is to a quality we aren’t used to seeing in major media. This piece from Neil Paine touched on one of my favorite parts of professional baseball: the First-Year Player Draft.

What exactly is each team going to get from each pick in the draft? Why do some players never really get there? Why are some lower picks markedly better than earlier picks? This article doesn’t answer many of these questions outright, but it allows the reader to draw their own conclusions, whether it is random chance or something much more complicated.

Paine’s process for this article is to take Baseball America’s Top 100 lists from 1990-Present and place total WAR by draft position on a graph – simple, elegant, and utterly fascinating. As for the Nationals, owners of two #1 Overall Draft Picks, which averages to around 20 WAR, it should be fun to see what happens with Strasburg and Harper whose career WARs so far are 10.8 and 8.3, respectively.

Disclaimer: If the words “logarithmic” and “disproportionate” scare you, you might want to stay away from this article.

Quote: “Even the most promising talents have a history of flaming out”

Home Run: Up, Up, and Away by Jonah Keri (Random House Canada – excerpt on Grantland)

For those of you out there that refuse to acknowledge the fact that this current iteration of the Nationals came from Canada, I feel bad for you; you are missing out on a valuable part of this organizations history. As happy as we all were when baseball returned to DC in 2005 is how devastated everyone in Montreal was when Major League Baseball packed up Les Expos to move south. For our last feature this week, we are going back to Canada’s own, Jonah Keri – author of the wonderful Rays philosophical masterpiece, “The Extra 2%.”

Jonah Keri takes the tragic tale that is the Expos and weaves an entire oral history of the ballclub through interviews with all the major players from the organization’s 35-year run until the move to DC. From playing at Jarry Park through the roof malfunctions at Olympic Stadium to the depressing crowds at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in Puerto Rico, Keri leaves no stone unturned. This book is a must have for any and all Nationals fans.

Confession: I have yet to buy this book but I plan on it in the very near future because based on this excerpt on Grantland it looks like Keri has another winner on his hands. As Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post tweeted “I like to think of Jonah Keri’s Expos book as the prequel to Barry Svrluga’s ‘National Pastime’”.

Quote: “What transpired next became one of the darkest moments in Expos history, one that would haunt the team for the rest of its existence and turn one man into a pariah for the rest of his career.”

About Craig MacHenry

Writer for The Nats Blog and co-host of Nats Talk On The Go podcast