## How Have Pitch Counts Changed in the Past 20 Years?

Last week I asked the following question:

From 1988 to 2009, by how many pitches did the median number of pitches thrown in a game by starters change?

The answer: the median number of pitches declined by one, falling from 100 to 99. As the box plot below shows, the median has remained close to constant over the past two decades. The line in the middle of each box marks the median, the edges of the box mark the 25th–75th percentile range, and the whiskers mark the 5th–95th percentile range. If you are wondering how the mean changed, it declined from 97.4 to 96.5.

Does this means that despite all the lip service paid to pitch limits teams aren’t paying any more attention to pitch counts than they used to? Not at all. The average may have stayed the same, but the extremes have fallen on the high and low sides. Pitchers aren’t just throwing fewer long outings, they are also pitching fewer short outings. The diagram below graphs the maximum pitches thrown in a game by year, and it shows a significant drop.

So, congratulations to Dan for correctly guessing the decline. Dan wins a copy of Stumbling on Wins by David Berri and Martin Schmidt.

## The Baseball Project Contest

Win a copy of The Baseball Economist. Here’s the contest.

Can You See Into the Future?
If the answer is yes, we’d like you to use your powers to try and guess the World Series winner. Email your pick (and in how many games) to thebaseballproject@gmail.com, with the subject reading: “World Series Pick.” The winner will receive a Baseball Project t-shirt and baseball as well as a copy of J.C. Bradbury’s The Baseball Economist.

Also, I’ve done some guess posting over at The Baseball Project Blog about Ted Williams and Gerald Scully.

## The French God of Walks Revisited

Congratulations to Dave B. for correctly predicting that Jeff Francoeur would walk 39 times this season. The early-season part of The French God of Walks contest was won by the first entrant, and David B. was the second entrant. Also interesting is that the first entrant, Jack, would have won if Francoeur had taken the same number of plate appearances as he had in 2007. Basically, Francouer’s walk total would have been identical to his 2008 total of 42. The lessons here are that Francoeur’s walking eye didn’t change a bit and that winning Sabernomics contests requires entering quickly.

The season was a disaster for Francoeur; not because of his overall poor performance, but because he didn’t improve where he needs improvement. In fact, I think much of Francoeur’s 2008 struggles can be attributed to bad luck, and then adjusting for bad luck in a way that made things worse. At season’s end, Francoeur’s PrOPS was .726, which isn’t too far off from his career OPS of .746. I agree with most people that Francoeur will bounce back to the player he was. The problem is that a mid-.700s OPS from a corner outfielder isn’t good.

Francoeur’s walks, strikeouts, and hitting power were quite similar to his 2007 performances. His strikeout rate was a little lower (17% versus 18.5%) and his isolated power was down a bit (120 versus 151). His base-stealing remains abysmal. He attempted one steal and was caught. How is it possible that a man recruited to play safety for several major college football programs is unable to steal a single base in a season? Brian McCann, who runs like turkey flies, stole five bases without getting caught.

On top of this, his defense—the area where he had been good—declined significantly. After winning in a Gold Glove in 2007, Francoeur was an absolute disaster in the field in 2008. According to John Dewan’s Plus/Minus (\$) Francoeur was the sixth-best right fielder in 2007, making 10 plays more than the average right fielder. In 2008, he ranked 28th among right fielders, making 17 fewer plays than the average right fielder.

Many commentators have blamed Francouer’s 2008 on a weight-training program designed to increase his hitting power. This, they say, accounts for his decline in the field and the bat. While I might be willing to buy the explanation for the fielding—though he didn’t appear to get any better after shedding the weight—I think it had no impact on his hitting. If anything, he should have increased his power as he expected. One thing we have learned in recent history is that increasing muscle mass does not hurt bat-speed. That myth went out the window with late-80s Oakland A’s. And furthermore, Francoeur’s fundamental holes are the same ones he has always had. The reason his power didn’t improve is that you can’t hit the pitches he’s hitting (non-strikes), or not hitting, any harder.

I expect Francoeur will improve until his late-twenties before plateauing and declining in his early-thirties like most players. At his peak, I expect he will be an .800 OPS hitter, which is about average for the position. That is, at his best, he will be average for his position. And the peak will occur after he is no longer controlled by the Braves. 2005 was a fluke, and people just need to accept that.

## Introducing General Gimme

The winner of Sabernomics.com’s name-the-Gwinnett-Braves-mascot contest is General Gimme. J. McCann had the initial suggestion of “Gwinnett’s Gimme Gimme”.

Maybe not a precisely accurate portrayal of everyone involved, but captures the attitude, I think

Bruce modified the concept, drawing from the mascot’s likeness to General Beauregard Lee and McCann’s submission.

Well, playing off itâ€™s noted inspiration, how about General Gimme? Also he seems to have a glint in his eye that looks a bit devilish, so how about putting a bat in his right hand and a taxpayer in the glove to get whacked or perhaps a fistful of money?

It is only appropriate to announce the winner on the day that Gwinnett’s Board of Commissioners meets to approve \$19 million in new spending on the stadium. It’s a morning meeting the day after Labor Day, which was announced on Friday. Do you think that is an accident?

Congratulations to J. McCann and Bruce, who will both be receiving copies of The Baseball Economist.

If you want to help choose the official mascot name—though I strongly endorse using General Gimme—you can vote here for Shadow, Pop-Up, or Chopper…lame choices.

## Name the Gwinnett Braves Mascot

The always objective Gwinnett Daily Post has joined forces with the Gwinnett Braves to host a naming contest for the team’s new mascot.

Inspired by General Beauregard Lee, the well-known weather forecaster that makes his home at the Yellow River Game Ranch in Lilburn, the fuzzy, burrowing rodent was the first choice for the face of Gwinnett’s own minor league team.

A burrowing rodent from Liliburn could also describe Gwinnett commissioner Bert Nasuti.

“We’re pretty pleased to be able to deliver something that has some local ties,” Gwinnett Braves assistant general manager Toby Wyman said.

You know, because when I think Gwinnett County, I think…groundhog? I was hoping for twin water towers. “Mommy, take my picture with Gwinnett is Great. Oh wait, here comes Success Lives Here!”

Wyman said the Gwinnett community didn’t have an opportunity to name the team, as communities typically do when getting a minor league organization, but naming the mascot may be the next best thing.

They also didn’t have a chance to vote on or even discuss transferring tax dollars to Liberty Media shareholders. But hey, you get to name a groundhog! Let’s call it even.

I’d like to host an alternate naming contest. It has to be a name that describes the actions employed by the Board of Commissioners to get the team. Something like Grafty the Groundhog, but not quite so lame. Please submit your ideas in the comments.

The winner gets a signed copy of The Baseball Economist. Submissions must be received by August 27, and I will announce the winner on September 1 (these dates are the same as the real contest). I am the sole judge of the winner, but I may seek the opinions of friends. I reserve the rights to change contest rules—including suspending the contest—and deny participation to anyone. I don’t foresee a problem, but I’m just saying.

If you want to submit an entry to the official contest (not my contest), follow these instructions.

Contest entries can be submitted online at www.gwinnettdailypost.com or by mail through Aug. 27. Three finalists will be selected by a panel of Atlanta and Gwinnett Braves staff members and announced Sept. 1. An online poll will then be conducted to determine the winning name, and voting will conclude Sept. 5.

And check out the prize.

The winning name, along with the mascot, will be disclosed later in September, and the contest winner will receive a trip for two to the 2009 Triple-A All-Star game in Portland, Ore.

Sweet, a free trip to Powell’s.

## Francoeur Walks Contest Winner

Congratulations to Jack for correctly predicting Jeff Francoeur would walk 13 times through May of this season. It’s interesting that Jack was the first person to enter the contest. I asked him about his strategy for predicting Francoeur’s walk total and he responded with the following.

To be truthful I don’t know much about Jeff Francoeur because the only time I pay any attention to the Braves is when they play my Cardinals. To get my numbers I simply looked at yours and removed three.

So, in the future, keep in mind that my predictions are normally biased upwards by 23 percent.

Francoeur came on strong in the last week in May, walking three games in a row from May 29–30. He started off June with a walk yesterday. Maybe it’s a sign of a new approach.

## Checking in on Frenchy

With the end of April, we are half-way to the first part of the Jeff Francoeur walks contest. In March and April, Francoeur amassed a total of five walks in 27 games, putting him on pace for 30 walks this season and 10 by the end of May. Unless something changes, it looks like he’s going to fall well short of his goal of 60 walks for the season.

But, there is also some very good news regarding Francoeur’s performance at the plate. His strikeouts are way down. Last year, he struck out in 18.5% of his plate appearances. In March and April of this season he struck out in only 7.5% of his plate appearances.

## The French God of Walks

In a recent interview with Ken Rosenthal, Jeff Francoeur expressed his desire to walk more during the upcoming season.

Q: How much are you still focused on improving your plate discipline?

A: My goal has been to go 10 or 15 walks up in the next two or three years, every year. Last year, I had 42 (up from 23 in ’06). This year, I want to get to about 60 or so and keep moving up.

I would love to walk about 80 times a year. I know I’m too aggressive to get into the 100 range. But to be able to do that would be something that would be big for me. And that’s when I will be able to hit .310, that kind of average.

After seeing this, I realized that we have a good opportunity for a reader contest. Well, let’s make it two contests.

How many bases on balls will Jeff Francoeur take from Opening Day–May 31, 2008?
How many bases on balls will Jeff Francoeur take during the 2008 regular season?

The prize for both contests will be a signed copy of The Baseball Economist. You can choose between the hardback or paperback versions. The first contest is for Father’s Day, with the idea being that I will sign the book to your father or father-figure of your choosing (father-in-law, uncle, Charles Barkley…I don’t care). The second contest is for personal glory.

To get things started, I submit my entries.

March–May: 16
2008: 45

Here are the rules:

• Submit your entry in the comments section. E-mailed submissions will not be accepted. If your comment does not appear immediately upon posting, do not worry, because it will appear after it has been moderated.
• One entry per person.
• The first person to predict the correct walk total will be declared the winner.
• You must submit a valid e-mail address, which will not be published, so that I can award the prize.
• The first line of your post should include the number of walks you expect at the end of games started on May 31. Use the following format: March–May: 16.
• The second line of your post should include the number of walks you expect at the end of the 2008 regular season. Use the following format: 2008: 45.
• Any commentary you wish to add must be submitted in a separate paragraph below the numbers submitted for the contest. Submissions that list the predictions within prose will be deleted and declared invalid.
• Entries must be submitted by March 28, 2008.
• Should Jeff Francoeur suffer a significant injury, or be involved in a situation, that will cause him miss a significant portion of the season prior to the start of the regular season, the contest will be suspended.
• If my prediction is correct, then the prize will be awarded to the next closest submission. If two submissions are equidistant from my prediction, then the lower prediction will win (The Price is Right rule).
• I reserve the right to exclude the participation of anyone.
• I am the final judge of the winner and I reserve the right to adjust for complexities and unforeseen events as I choose.

## A-Rod Prediction Contest Winner

Last week, Alex Rodriguez and the New York Yankees finalized a ten-year, \$275 million contract. I predicted that he would do much better than this. I wish that all of the Scott Boras shenanigans had not happened, because I would like to see what he would have gotten had he not been forced to crawl back the Steinbrenners. Yes, the deal includes up to \$30 million in incentives, but I am nearly certain that A-Rod would have gotten more had he just negotiated an extension. We will probably never know exactly what went on behind the scenes, but Boras’s reputation has taken a hit.

Now that the contract is final, I want to announce the winner of the contest to predict his contract. James Canavan was the first person to suggest a \$27.5 million average salary over ten years. Congratulations to James, who gives credit to his economics minor. I will be mailing a signed copy of The Baseball Economist to James later today.

## A-Rod Contest Update

This is an update for those of you who participated in the “What Will A-Rod Get?” contest.

I’m nearly certain that A-Rod’s signing with the Yankees is going to happen, but I want to make sure that the deal goes down before I declare a winner. Look for an announcement shortly after the deal becomes official.