Transcript, Eric Eisenberg of Numeric Sports and Nestor Aparicio of WNST Radio in Baltimore:
Nestor: Welcome back. WNST Towson, Baltimore and WNST.net. We have a busy, busy week of sports here, as you would say, and I don’t even mean Olympics; I haven’t talked so much about the Olympics other than the politics of all of it and swimming in pools and jumping off of cliffs and diving and rowing and all this other crazy stuff. My wife has been watching, and gymnastics. But I’ve been up late, watching the Baltimore Orioles out on the west coast and of course the Ravens this week, entertaining the Carolina Panthers and getting ready for the season, as well.
Got a guest on here who wrote about the Orioles late last week in kind of an interesting way. We’re kind of close to it here and we understand the starting pitching has been a question and we know the relief pitching has been pretty good, we know they’re going to hit a lot of home runs and they play some beer league softball and play good defense, but Eric Eisenberg, who does a little web writing issue at Numeric Sports – that’s N-U-M-E-R-I-C Sports – out on Twitter. He’s based out in Chicago, but he is originally a New Yorker and a big baseball fan and I guess in the era of Moneyball and sabermatricians, there’s always something interesting out there, but Eric Eisenberg pointed out something about the Orioles that I had not even considered. Eric, first off, welcome in, man. Happy pennant race to you, my friend.
Eric: You as well, Nestor, thank you very much.
Nestor: Well, for the Orioles being in the position they’ve been in, many people have scratched their head and a lot of statistical analysis would say they shouldn’t be in first place and runs scored versus runs allowed and all the other measurables that are out there, you are the stat nerd out there that has unearthed that the Orioles may be the slowest baseball team in modern history, correct?
Eric: Yeah, if you look at the numbers, they certainly appear to be the slowest team in at least 50 years is what I found. They have basically stolen, I think it’s now 14 bases, but at the time when I wrote the article, it was 13. And last year, Major League baseball teams averaged I think it was like 80 stolen bases, so there’s a huge drop. Even though, as you said, sabermatricians are basically promoting sac bunts and stolen bases are not quite as useful as they used to be because you don’t want to lose the out…
Nestor: Well, Earl Weaver figured that out 40 years ago, right? Earl hated bunting and I don’t know that Earl and Buck are similar or kindred spirits, but I certainly sense some feeling that some of Buck’s philosophies would be – and the sabermatricians and all the modern philosophy – would be don’t give up a run, you don’t need to take another base. But hey, on nights after the Orioles lose, three to two, and they’re station-to-station and if they don’t hit a home run, they’re not going to score a run, you kind of feel that way with this team. The amount of beer league softball and the muscle…they’re not really wanting to take the extra base; they’re waiting for the next guy to hit a home run.
Eric: Right, exactly. That’s exactly what I said. As you said, they lead the league in homers for the third time in four years now, actually, so they definitely have a station-to-station mentality. But the other thing I noticed was not just the stolen bases. I think that, in itself, might not have been a story, but they’ve hit three triples all year as a team, which seems pretty impossible. I actually looked it up – you remember Steve Balboni, right? From the ‘80s?
Nestor: I absolutely remember Steve Balboni. I’m one of the old guys who even remembers all your references to the ’85 Cardinals. I remember that team well.
Eric: Ok, great. So, I think he had one stolen base in his career; he was not a fast player. He had 700, I think, fewer plate appearances over his career than the Orioles have this year and he had 11 triples. Ok, so he had almost four times as many triples as the Orioles have this year.
Nestor: One of the slowest guys in the history of the game actually had more triples than the Orioles as a team, right.
Eric: Right, so just looking at the stolen base quantities that they’ve pulled off this year coupled with the triples, it was like, something’s going on here. It’s not just strategy. I certainly agree, strategy is a huge part; I think Buck Showalter does not attempt a lot of stolen bases, of course, but when you factor in the triples as well, of course there’s more of a correlation than just the steals, I think.
Nestor: You got a great stat in here on the Cardinals of ’85 and I think of those Cardinals’ teams and those Royals’ teams of George Brett and Hal McRae, they hit tons of triples, they used the carpet, the carpet was a big, big part of their game, and the big power alleys, you know, to hit doubles and triples into, but the ’85 Cardinals: 87 home runs, but stole 314 bases. And I go back to Vince Coleman, Ozzie Smith and all those guys. You know, speed would be that one thing in baseball that never takes a day off, they say, right? Like we’ve seen with the Orioles, they’ll go through their power slumps and they’ll go through their “We’re going to hit six home runs, seven home runs every game” for a week. And obviously, Machado hit three on Sunday, as well, but stealing bases, when you have the speed and you have the gumption to do it, it really is a weapon that is very, very hard for the other team to take away and really does put pressure when there’s three balls on a count, that a walk becomes a double in a lot of cases and again, my last name is Aparicio, so I come from a stolen base family. So I sort of understand that, but in the modern era, I guess when chicks were digging the long balls and ERAs were up and steroids were up and home runs were up, we’re into a little bit of a deadball period the last few years where run scoring is down and manufacturing runs becomes a bigger part of that. It’s always been a bigger part in the National League without the DH, but it is fascinating that with the Orioles, for their success, that you have statistically broke them down as being something … look, they either hit a home run or they strike out most of the time, right? I mean a lot of the time. That’s the way the team was constructed. You can’t expect triples or stolen bases from that kind of team.
Eric: Exactly, it’s not just on Buck and it’s not even on the players themselves. I think, as you said, they were constructed this way. You look at their lineup…where’s the speed? Chris Davis or Trumbo or even Kim and Alvarez, they’re not exactly the fastest players in the league. I know Machado had 20 steals last year, but the rest of his career combined, he’s only 10-for-20 on the basepaths, so that’s not very good.
Nestor: Matt Wieters might be the slowest human being to ever put an Oriole jersey on. I’m not being mean. I don’t know that I’ve seen anyone run worse than Matt Wieters.
Eric: Right, so there’s a lot of components here and, certainly Buck doesn’t run as much and steals are down across the league, sure, but I think just like you said, the team’s just constructed in a way that doesn’t promote that kind of game anymore. And certainly, as you brought up with the Cardinals, you know, nobody’s stealing 300 bases anymore. That’s just a completely different game these days. And even the triples, where are you going to get triples with these guys? These are not, as you said, the quickest guys out there, so it really might be the slowest team we’ve seen in several decades and maybe even longer.
Nestor: Well, how about that, Eric Eisenberg? He’s out in Chicago, Illinois. The website and the Twitter are Numeric Sports. That’s N-U-M-E-R-I-C Sports. Tell me about your stat nerdom, man. I was much more of a stat guy, you know, as a younger guy, and as I get into conversing – and I’ve been doing this for 25 years now, doing sports radio – I find that in a conversation, sometimes it’s lost. I find that stats, when I see them in front of me, I can study them better, but over the radio, it doesn’t, it just kind of rings hollow when you kind of can’t do the math and add it up. Not that anybody’s doing math or reading books anymore in our culture anyway. But from a statistical standpoint, that is really taking over baseball over the last 15 years and let’s be honest: that’s how these guys get paid, right?
Eric: Oh yes, some of these guys, they’re basically running the team these days. And it’s just a huge thing now. And for myself, when I was younger, I was always a math guy, so as I got older and I started writing…you know, you go out there and you see Ichiro the other day got 3,000 hits. And it’s amazing. What he’s done is, he’s come over at a late age and he got to 3,000 hits, incredible story. And as soon as he did it, you go online, there’s dozens of articles about it. So that’s great, but that’s not what I like doing. I like looking for things that stand out, something that maybe the fans have never thought about or seen. So the stolen base thing and the triples thing is an example of that. Or the piece I wrote before that, I wrote about Marco Estrada up in Toronto. So, he, probably unbeknownst to many people who are listening, actually leads the Majors in batting average against. People think Kershaw or someone like that. And it’s actually Marco Estrada and he throws 88 miles an hour, which, when you think about it, he should be pretty hittable. But he’s done this before, too. Last year, he actually led the league in hits allowed per nine innings, as well, so he’s not a fluke. The guy is 33 years old and he has, what 45 career wins or something like that. Stuff like that is what I’m looking for. Everybody else is writing about Kershaw or Trout or those guys and that’s great. But I like looking for the little nuggets that maybe people aren’t seeing or thinking about. And that’s kind of how I got into this and just trying to find stories, rather than looking for the obvious story.
Nestor: You know what’s fascinating to me in the statistical side and look, I’m not a gambler. Over the course of time, I think I bet on a football game once in my life in Vegas just to humor myself on a bye weekend or something. So, I’m not that guy, but it is fascinating in the modern era with gambling that I see these stupid stats. These fun facts on Friday. You know, “The Eagles are playing the Giants, the all-time series, you know, the Eagles lead the series, 112 to 109.” And they use that as sort of an inducement to wager. I would find that a guy like you that would have more of a statistical breakdown, especially with baseball and especially in current trends over the last few weeks, or over the last couple of starts or whatever, that there wouldn’t be an incredible push and benefit toward the gambling side of statistical breakdown to really play probability in the same way when I get dealt pocket aces, I play it a certain way in poker, or I get dealt a pair of eights and I’m going to split ‘em in blackjack. There are all these books that are written on how to play those numbers, but when it comes to sports, and I guess even horse racing if you read The Forum. The Horse Racing Forum for 50 years has been the way we gamble on horse racing. Gambling on baseball and even football and there’s a lot more going on in football, but with baseball and pitchers and hitters and ballparks and weather and rest and all of that, it would seem to me that you would have a really nice advantage out in Las Vegas.
Eric: Yeah, you certainly have to break down more recent numbers. Like you said, you can’t look at all-time stats. Who cares what Babe Ruth did against the Orioles? So, I’ve seen that, too. You look online and they always have these all-time series and all these old stats, like you said, you’ve got to look at trends. For baseball, specifically, I think 90% of it, maybe more, is the starting pitcher. If you’ve got Hamels going up against some fifth starter, it almost doesn’t even matter where the game is, you’re going to take Hamels. Certainly, there are odds factored in there with the money line, but even so, you look at history, maybe how the pitcher has performed against that team and the money line, things like that, all of that weighs in. I’m not much of a gambler myself, but certainly, like you said, you look at the more recent stats and you can break down matchups and things like that, if you really want to get into it. Like how Hamels does against certain teams, but I think those all-time stats and things like that are certainly overblown.
Nestor: Well, the ultimate nerdom of all of it in paying players and agents and WAR and predicting things into the future, that all plays nice, but then, there are many managers over the course of time…a Dusty Baker, who manages by gut and it’s not necessarily pulling a pitcher and saying, “This pitcher has fared well against left-handed hitters or right-handed hitter” or “This pinch hitter is three for eight off of the current pitcher, so we’re going let him bat and we’re going to adjust that way.” There plenty of managers who just eschew everything that guys like you write about at Numeric Sports and just go with the gut, right? And I guess a lot of us react that way in life. That we see the numbers and the statistics, but say, “Well, this is the time that’s not going to hold up. This is going to be the reverse schlep rock,” or whatever, right?
Eric: Right, well, in the short term, anything can happen, right? So Dusty Baker’s hunch may work, but I would take the numbers of a hunch any day. Just like anything else. You say, going to Vegas, you sit down at a blackjack table or a roulette wheel, you might have a hunch 20 is going to come up. But that doesn’t mean anything. I think the biggest example of that is Ned Yost. He somehow won a World Series last year and he uses the sac bunt a lot and he uses everything against what advanced statistics are telling us these days and he pulled it off, so it certainly can happen in the short run. But I would still think he’s leaving some edge on the table and I would certainly, if I were owning the team, I would certainly prefer a manager who at least looked at the numbers and considered them instead of just their gut.
Nestor: Eric Eisenberg, covers all things sports and statistics. He is an editor and writer at Numeric Sports. That’s N-U-M-E-R-I-C Sports.com. Cool little website out here, you can also follow along on Twitter at Numeric Sports. So what made you write about the Orioles being the slowest team in the history of Major League Baseball? Was it the three triples that stood out to you?
Eric: I think that’s what did it. I tend to look at numbers to look for stories that are kind of under the radar and, like I said, I saw the stolen bases first. That was pretty low, 13, and when you compare that to 80 last year, the Major League average, that stood out. But the three triples just seems ridiculous. There are a couple of players – Denard Span, for example – he’s had a game where he had three triples in a game. So, three in a year for a team at this point is pretty absurd and I just figured, you combine that with the stolen bases and you’ve got something. And like you said, they’re in first place, they’re having a great year, they’re holding off two other good teams basically all year so far with the Red Sox and Toronto…
Nestor: Yeah, we’re all holding our breath on that, by the way. Because we’ve seen the statistics. We’ve seen our starting pitching. Although Bundy’s a difference maker and Gallardo could be a difference maker. Just because they didn’t get good pitching in April and May doesn’t mean they won’t get it in August and September.
Eric: I think Bundy…Bundy’s your key, I think. Because Tillman, you know what you’re getting, pretty much at this point. Ubaldo, you also unfortunately know what you’re getting. I think Bundy’s the key. The problem with Bundy is he doesn’t have the track record, so you don’t exactly know what he’s going to be able to do for the rest of the year into October, but he certainly has the stuff. And he looks like he could be that guy. All the other teams you guys are competing with…Texas, of course, has Darvish and Hamels. And Cleveland’s got Kluber and Salazar and Carrasco and they’ve got a great pen on top of that with Allen and Miller. A lot of these other teams, they have some horses up front and Baltimore doesn’t have that many and that’s clearly their weakness right now. If Bundy can step up and be that guy, then with all the homers they hit, they can certainly go pretty far in the playoffs.
Nestor: You can check out his work at Numeric Sports, as well as Numeric Sports on Twitter. He is Eric Eisenberg, writing about the Orioles being the slowest team in generations in baseball and you could read that work and follow him out on Twitter, as well. Eric, great having you on, man. Great talking some numbers with you. You know, the only number that matters is whether we’re playing in Game 1 at some point in October. Certainly, we’re all holding onto that and I know everyone’s excited on the north side of Chicago where you’re at, right?
Eric: Oh, yeah, it’s going crazy out here. It’s been over a hundred years here, so you guys have won a World Series yesterday, compared to us.
Nestor: So does that mean that they’re due? Or does that mean that they’re just so inept that they’ll never win? That’s what I’m trying to figure out on these numbers.
Eric: Yeah, I wouldn’t say they’re due, but they’re certainly really good this year. They’ve got as good a roster as anyone in baseball, top to bottom. They’ve got three great starters right now. Of course, Arrieta, who won the Cy Young last year, he may be their third best pitcher.
Nestor: We know a little bit about him. You don’t need to rub that in, we’re very aware of Jake Arrieta’s success.
Eric: Yes, that’s right. Their offense, of course, is great and now they’ve got Chapman in the back end so they’re certainly, top to bottom, as good as anyone in baseball, I’d say. This city would go nuts if they won, obviously. It’s been over a hundred years, as I said. I don’t even know what’s going to happen out here if they win. The fans out here are great, though. A lot of people assume, “Oh, you go to Wrigley Field, of course the fans are great because they’re good.” But I’ve been out here when they were bad and you’d stay during the game and during the 7th inning stretch, the place is packed and they’re down eight, nine runs and the place is packed and they’re all screaming, “Take Me Out To The Ballgame!” like it’s 9-0 the other way.
Nestor: Well, they’re pretty much hammered by that point, you know, in honor of Harry Carey.
Eric: Right, but you go anywhere else in the country and you don’t have that atmosphere. It’s a great atmosphere and I think the fans, like you said, they’re well overdue for winning. So we’ll see what happens.
Nestor: I’m going to say the same thing to you that I’ve said to every Cubs’ fan: They better win Game 1. That’s my advice to them. You better win Game 1.
Eric: Right, it’s going to be a lot of pressure if they don’t, of course. But we’ll see. They’ve certainly got the team, as I’ve mentioned and we’ll see what happens. Fortunately for Baltimore, they don’t have to worry about that. I don’t think anybody in the American League is as stacked, top to bottom, as the Cubs this year, but once the playoffs start, anything can happen. There’s always favorites that drop, so we’ll see what happens.
Nestor: We’re just trying to get there!
Eric: You guys are on a good run here, so I think you guys are in a good position.
Nestor: Hey, man, great having you on and I appreciate it. We’ll send everybody out to Numeric Sports to follow along. Good work on that Oriole thing and I’ll be reading your work to look for more statistical anomalies.
Eric: Yes, alright, great, thank you, Nestor.
Nestor: Great having you on, you got it, man. Eric Eisenberg. The website is Numeric – that’s N-U-M-E-R-I-C Sports, like Eric Eisenberg…Num-Eric Sports, there you go. And he’s also out on Twitter, as well. As am I out in social media everywhere the game is discussed. Nasty@wnst.net finds me. Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat, anywhere you are, we are. WNST.net AM 1570 and WNST Towson, Baltimore and we never stop talking Baltimore Sports.