I was listening to the Mets-Rockies game as I was driving home from work last night. Orlando Hernandez was pitching for New York and Howie Rose commented on how economically he was working, getting the ball where he wanted it. A few days before Oliver Perez threw more than 25 strikes in a row. I got to thinking: what was the record for consecutive strikes?
During the Tuesday game — which the Mets eventually won in 11 innings on a drag bunt by Endy Chavez — David Wright had a lengthy, multi-pitch at bat that again made me wonder: in a situation like that — that is a full count that includes multiple foul balls — who has the advantage, the pitcher or the batter?
That made me think back to the Baseball Scoreboard, a wonderful book that STATS Inc. used to publish about a decade in the 1990s. Anyone who reads USA Today or Sports Illustrated would recognize the "factoid graphics" that highlighted such items as the longest home runs, fielding accomplishments, etc. These little icons grew into bigger essays in the Scoreboard series.
The format was usually the same from year to year. One section would answer a question about each team. For example, in the 1999 edition, the Mets section asked "Where does Mike Piazza Rank Among the Best-Hitting Catchers in History?"
Another section would consider more general questions, such as "How important is it to grow your own players?" or "Who profits most from experience — pitchers or catchers?" In the ’99 edition, Bill James wondered which records were in jeopardy. In hindsight, it’s interesting to read that he gave Mark McGwire — hot off his own record-breaking season — a 23 percent chance of reaching 800 home runs. The only others considered for such a lofty total were Ken Griffey, Jr. (35 percent), Sammy Sosa (15 percent), and Juan Gonzalez (12 percent). Barry Bonds was given a 1 percent chance of reaching 756.
On the pitchers’ side, Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux had a 60 and 37 percent chance, respectively, of reaching 300 wins. Tom Glavine, Pedro Martinez (who had a record of 84-46 at age 27, when the book came out), and John Smoltz were also given a decent chance (31, 21, 19 percent). While Glavine seems destined, Martinez has been injured of late and Smoltz has spent many years in the bullpen, making them questionable.
The Scoreboard also asked (and answered) question on offense (""Who are the human air conditioners?"), pitching ("Was Kerry Wood’s Game the Most Dominant Ever?" following his 20 K performance against the Astros in 1998), and defense ("Where do extra-base hits come from?").
The Scoreboard offered the virtual "something for everybody." The queries changed from year to year, but they were always entertaining, thought-provoking, but not obnoxiously heavy on the calculus-like statistics that have wormed their way into the numerical lexicon of the game.
There might be a lot of blogs that deal with these things nowadays, but I guess I’m just old-fashioned; I enjoyed leafing through the pages, making my notes, and sharing it with my friends at the ballgame or the office.