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Daily Box Score 7/12: Players Past, Present and Future

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Like Dickensian ghosts, today's box score will encompass baseball players past, present and future.

How good would Honus Wagner be if he played today? Replacement level, league average regular, All-Star, or superstar? Certainly, advances in nutrition and health make this a difficult question to answer. So how can we compare players across time? Sean Smith wonders about the problem of "timelining." 

Here are some factors that determine how great a ballplayer is, in order from the ones that seem to have changed the most over the years to the least:

1. Size and Strength, 2. Speed, 3. Throwing Ability, 4. Hand/eye coordination, reactions.

You can think about this as you digest his top 500 position players and top 500 pitchers by WAR.

There's been plenty of discussion about particularly nasty pitches around here recently, so let's look at two anomalous pitches, both of which happen to be thrown by Seattle Mariners. 

"The Dolphin" sounds more like a waterpark ride than a slow breaking ball, but that doesn't make it ineffective. Perhaps the secret to Jarrod Washburn's success this season has been his new ace in the hole, which Seattle Times writer Geoff Baker reports Washburn tries to throw only the second time through the lineup. Facing the Rangers last night (7 4 1 1 2 3 in another effective outing), Washburn used The Dolphin on Michael Young.

Young is a professional hitter. I've watched him as a beat writer since way, way back in his days as a Toronto Blue Jays farmhand a decade ago when I covered that team and he doesn't get fooled this badly very often. But with the count 1-1, Washburn served him up a "Dolphin'' special clocked at 70 mph and poor old Young had no chance.

He swung and missed by a Russell Branyan country mile.

Looks like the secret's out. According to his FanGraphs page, Washburn's unidentified pitches (presumably, The Dolphin) have risen from 2.5% last year to 6.3% this year.

Another of Seattle's sub-3.10 ERA club has also been throwing a somewhat unconventional pitch: Felix Hernandez's fast changeup. At Baseball Analysts, Dave Allen looked at the upward-creeping velocity on Hernandez's change, and found some surprising answers:

Where as for the average pitcher there is a plateau in which the changeup is equally successful between 5 and 10 mph slower than the preceding fastball for Hernandez success peaks at 5 mph and falls off rapidly if it gets any slower. This again shows the Hernandez is succeeding with a fast changeup.

Hit the link for several good graphs comparing velocity to run value.

Make no mistake, Jonathan Sanchez's no-hitter was a feat to behold, but I was curious how it would look through the lens of PITCHf/x. If you were too, Bay City Ball's got us covered. Most interesting is that all but one of Sanchez's 11 strikeouts were recorded with his slider, even against right-handed batters (Sanchez is a lefty). As would be expected, the oft-wild Sanchez did best when he pounded the strike zone.

This afternoon is the Futures Game, which showcases promising minor league talent. You can check out the rosters here. Keith Law (ESPN Insider sub. req.) looks at the players to watch (J. Tazawa, C. Kelly, M. Bumgarner, J. Heyward, C. Santana, J. Montero, M. Stanton, B. Wallace, J. Parker, A. Liddi). He also says the exclusion of Justin Smoak and Buster Posey represent the biggest snubs. The game will begin at 2PM ET and will be broadcast live on ESPN2.

Is baseball like cricket? Writing for The American, Roger Bate argues they much more similar than you might think:

Good sports can be enjoyed at many levels. The casual observer enjoys soaking up the atmosphere and beer; the serious fans obsess over the minutiae. Both sports are adored and enriched by lovers and users of data. When Bradman, by then Sir Donald, died in February 2001, the New York Times estimated that were he to have been as far ahead of the crowd in baseball stats as he was at cricket, his lifetime batting average would be an astonishing .392 (in cricket his average was 99.94, the next best is roughly 61).

Anybody out there know if there is such a thing as cricketmetrics?

Finally, if you don't think baseball is like cricket, do you think being an umpire is like being a judge?

I had just asked him why the strike zone, an entity seemingly well defined by the baseball rulebook, was such a bone of contention in the game. And in a flash Mr. Tschida made the instinctive comparison between an umpire’s conundrum and a high court justice’s.

Bruce Weber argues that although there are similarities, ultimately baseball and judging are very different.

Let's try a new experiment with the Daily Box Score. If you find any interesting links as you cruise the web, post them in the comments to add to the discussion. I know that I'd love to see them.