The Mackey Sasser Award

March 24, 2020
                                           The Mackey Sasser Award

 

            The 1931 New York Yankees had NO Passed Balls during the season, none.  They are the only team that did not; every other team had at least two. 

 

YEAR

City

Team

PB

Score

W

L

WPct

Primary Catcher

1931

New York

Yankees

0

125

94

59

.614

Bill Dickey

1967

Chicago

Cubs

4

120

87

74

.540

Randy Hundley

1915

Newark

Peppers

6

120

80

72

.526

Bill Rariden

1922

Chicago

White Sox

3

119

77

77

.500

Ray Schalk

1927

Wash'ton

Senators

3

119

85

69

.552

Muddy Ruel

1912

Cincinnati

Reds

6

119

75

78

.490

Larry McLean

2001

Texas

Rangers

2

119

73

89

.451

Ivan Rodriguez

2004

Pittsburgh

Pirates

2

119

72

89

.447

Jason Kendall

1999

Texas

Rangers

2

119

95

67

.586

Ivan Rodriguez

1992

San Diego

Padres

2

119

82

80

.506

Benito Santiago

1916

Chicago

White Sox

6

118

89

65

.578

Ray Schalk

1966

Minnesota

Twins

5

118

89

73

.549

Earl Battey

 

            And, on the other end of the scale, we have:

 

YEAR

Team

PB

Score

W

L

WPct

Primary Catcher

Knuckleball Pitcher

1987

Rangers

73

19

75

87

.463

Don Slaught

Charlie Hough

1959

Orioles

49

40

74

80

.481

Gus Triandos

Hoyt Wilhelm

2016

Red Sox

37

51

93

69

.574

None

Steven Wright

1945

Senators

40

52

87

67

.565

Rick Ferrell

4 of them

2006

Padres

32

54

88

74

.543

Mike Piazza

None?

1946

Senators

37

58

76

78

.494

Al Evans

4 of them

1965

White Sox

45

59

95

67

.586

J C Martin

Fisher & Wilhelm

1989

Rangers

42

59

83

79

.512

None

Charlie Hough

1995

Brewers

34

59

65

79

.451

Joe Oliver

Steve Sparks

2001

Tigers

30

60

66

96

.407

None

Steve Sparks

2012

Mets

32

60

74

88

.457

Josh Thole

R A Dickey

1939

Senators

26

61

65

87

.428

Rick Ferrell

Dutch Leonard

 

            All of the teams which gave up a lot of Passed Balls had a Knuckleball Pitcher in the starting rotation except the the 1965 White Sox, who had no knuckleballer in the starting rotation but two knuckleballers in the bullpen who threw a total of 300 innings, and maybe the 2006 Padres; I don’t recognize any of those guys as knuckleball pitchers.  The 2006 Padres were a good team; they won their division, and the Red Sox traded with them a lot, so I know most of those players pretty well.  But a couple of those pitchers. . . I don’t know. 

            Anyway, I wrote many years ago that the distinction between Wild Pitches and Passed Balls was an improper distinction, since it is not exactly a record of what happened, but a record of a third party’s judgment about whose fault it was.   It is, in a sense, like this:  suppose that when a Home Run is hit, the official scorer made a judgment as to whether a Home Run was hit because it was a bad pitch, a fat pitch that caught too much of the plate, or because the batter just hit a good pitch.   If it was a fat pitch, the pitcher would be charged with a Home Run Allowed, but there would be no entry for the batter.   If it was a good pitch that was hit anyway, the batter would be credited with a Home Run, but there would be no entry on the pitcher’s record.   This is the same thing; less dramatic, but it’s making a record of the official scorer’s judgment, rather than a record of the fact.  The party judged to be innocent is entirely left out of the record book. 

            I believe that I was the first person ever to make that argument.  Now, that is what millions of people have come to believe.  Looking back on it, I think that I over-sold the argument, and that there is more useful information in the "Passed Ball" category than I believed at the time, four decades ago.   I think that I over-sold the argument, but I don’t think that I was wrong.  I believe that if I had my choice between having two categories distinguished by the official scorer’s judgment (Wild Pitches/Passed Balls) or just one category which was recorded both against the pitcher and the catcher (Passed Pitches), I think we would be better off with just the one category. 

            In a previous article I wrote, about a team that was 6.1 standard deviations worse than the period norm:

6.1 standard deviations below the norm is by far the worst performance in any area within this series.   It’s weird data, kind of fake data.  

 

            This turns out to be untrue; I spoke prematurely.  The 1987 Texas Rangers were 8.1 Standard Deviations from the norm. 

            The 8.1 Standard Deviations number is essentially proof that the category is not described by a Bell-Shaped Curve.  If it was a normal distribution, the odds against one team out of 2,550 being 8 standard deviations from the norm would be astronomical—billions to one.  As I said about the Balks, it is weird data, kind of fake data. 

            We now have three reasons to look cockeyed at the Passed Ball data—first, that we know that it represents an arbitrary distinction between like events, second, that we know (from the knuckleballers) that the pitcher is a heavy controller of the event, and third, that we know the data itself is weird. 

            From 1900 to 1909 there were 397 Passed Balls per 100,000 plate appearances, with a standard deviation of .00163.            In 1900 there were limited and primitive Shin Guards and Face Masks for catchers, if there were any; my understanding of the history of Shin Guards and Face Masks is shaky.  Anyway, the number of Passed Balls dropped dramatically from 1900 to 1920 due to the development of catcher’s protective equipment.   Passed Balls have been fairly steady in number since 1920, and the ratio of the average to the Standard Deviation has been relatively constant:

 

From

To

Passed Ball Frequency

Standard Deviation

1900

1909

0.00397

.00163

1910

1919

0.00308

.00108

1920

1929

0.00186

.00070

1930

1939

0.00167

.00068

1940

1949

0.00190

.00100

1950

1959

0.00198

.00107

1960

1969

0.00285

.00111

1970

1979

0.00225

.00116

1980

1989

0.00205

.00116

1990

1999

0.00210

.00095

2000

2009

0.00174

.00075

2010

2019

0.00187

.00086

 

            The teams which had the lowest Passed Ball Rates had an average won-lost record of 81-75, while the teams with the most Passed Balls averaged 75-81:

Group

PB

Scores

Wins

Losses

WPct

Fewest Passed Balls

6

111

81

75

.518

Not Many Passed Balls

10

106

79

77

.505

Average

12

101

78

78

.499

More than Average

15

97

77

79

.495

Most Passed Balls

22

85

75

81

.482

 

            But, as I said earlier (about Balks), 16 Passed Balls cannot reasonably lead to six additional losses, so most of this effect has to be incidental.  In other words, it isn’t that Passed Balls lead to losses as much as it is that good teams tend to be good at everything, including not letting balls get by the catcher.

            Mackey Sasser was a catcher with the Mets, 30 years ago.  He wasn’t a bad hitter; he hit .285, .291 and .307 in the first three seasons when he had 100 plate appearances, but he had 0.2 career WAR because, frankly, he was the worst catcher anybody ever saw.   In 1990 he caught 583 innings, which is the equivalent of 65 games, and in those 65 games he committed 14 errors and allowed 91 stolen bases.   I always kind of liked him; I always thought that there was a useful player in there somewhere, if you could find the place to play him.  Anyway, thanks for reading. 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

COMMENTS (27 Comments, most recent shown first)

sethblink
Didn't Sasser also have that problem of hesitating on his throw back to the pitcher. It used to drive me cray and I was just sitting in my living room. I couldn't imagine how much it must have driven the pitcher crazy. I could never understand why that guy was behind the plate.
3:46 AM Apr 8th
 
karlin
Isn't the scoring for whether a pitch results in a WP or PB somewhat like the judgment on a throw from SS or 3B to 1B that knuckles, tails or is off somewhat and a subjective decision is made as to whom to credit (discredit) with the error?

What about runners trying to advance and whether to blame the coach for bad judgment, the player for loafing, or credit the fielder's arm and/or hustle?

I am truly hoping that you keep going with more esoteric categories like the hidden ball trick (methods that work or don't and the IQ of those tricked by it) and the pitcher fake to third and whirl to pick the clueless runner off first play, which I seem to recall Steve Busby of the Royals did well.

Thank you for helping us through this period of no baseball (or even softball) at any level.
8:01 PM Mar 30th
 
MarisFan61
(darn -- think, not thing) :-)
6:05 PM Mar 25th
 
MarisFan61
(.....no -- y'know, I thing there's a different rule for dimensions of a room, maybe more like 10/7 rather than 8/5...)
6:04 PM Mar 25th
 
MarisFan61
Not that I understand everything in that post, but it reminds me of how the Fibonacci number applies to so many disparate things, from the typical record for a very good team or a very bad team, and to successive numbers of leaves on a stem, or the supposed ideal ratio of length to width of a room.
(some or all of which I learned from one of the old Annuals)
6:02 PM Mar 25th
 
djmedinah
Again not really sure if this is relevant, but the career numbers for passed balls follow a power law distribution (with an R2 of 0.97, at least on a really basic spreadsheet app): Pop Snyder has nearly 100 more than the next guy, who has nearly more than 100 than the next guy, and so on. The same sort of distribution also describes the spread of the coronavirus, and a lot of other phenomena, both natural and human. (For instance, the size of craters on the moon—and the casualties of terrorist attacks.) I guess it makes sense that the top guy would have a lot more than the next, because the category requires a certain degree of terribleness (the PBs) but also greatness (lasting in the league that long). But it does seem a bit odd that the degree of fit (the R2) is as high as it is. Any statisticians willing to take a stab at this?
4:17 PM Mar 25th
 
raincheck
I love series like this, sharing in your discoveries, being there at the birth, watching how this whole thing is coming together. Thanks, Bill.
4:05 PM Mar 25th
 
shthar
Is 'he has passed balls another catcher waves at' a thing?


8:02 PM Mar 24th
 
MarisFan61
.....BTW, after seeing that the 32 was an error, I checked on a few of the other numbers in that table -- not particularly to see if there were other errors but to get some idea if maybe it was just that the column was about something different than what I thought -- and everything else checked out OK.​
4:41 PM Mar 24th
 
MarisFan61
Thanks for the clarification.
I also looked through various pages of San Diego stats (and every team's 2006 stats) to see where some meaningful "32" might have come from, but found nothing.
4:38 PM Mar 24th
 
bjames
Maris is correct that the 2006 Padres had 11 Passed Balls, not 32. I can't even figure out where the error came from, as there was no other team that had 32, and no category in which Padre catchers had 32. So thanks for catching that.
4:31 PM Mar 24th
 
laferrierelouis
On may 12th 1996, Jerry Goff (Jared Goff’s father) had 6 passed balles in one game, for the Montreal Expos
4:16 PM Mar 24th
 
doncoffin
The Rangers in 1987. 1988, 1989, and 1990 had some hellacious WP numbers as well...Having Charlie Hough, Bobby Witt, and Mitch Williams (and Nolan Ryan for one year) will do that. The team's WP and PB numbers for 1987, 1988, and 1990
-----------WP------PB
1987------72------73
1988------61------36
1989------65------42
1990------61------35

Texas catchers led the AL in PB in each f those 4 seasons:
1987: Petralli, 35
1988: Petralli, 20
1989: Kreuter, 21
1990: Petralli, 20

And in 2 of those 4 years, a Texas pitcher led in WP:
1987: Jack Morris (Tigers), 24 (Hough had 12)
1988: Witt, Storm Davis (tied), 16
1989: Ryan, 19
1990: Tim Leary (Yankees), 23 (Witt had 11)
3:53 PM Mar 24th
 
CharlesSaeger
@bhalbleib: Yeah, that was always what I understood the biggest issue was. His defensive statistics are unremarkable but normal—37 WP and 8 PB per 162, and a 27% CS% against a league norm of 30% (which is actually pretty good since the Mets pitchers were practically waving runners to second base in those days).
3:50 PM Mar 24th
 
bhalbleib
C'mon with all the Mets fans I usually see on here, I cannot believe nobody mentioned the biggest defensive problem Sasser had, which was the inability to throw the ball back to the pitcher (ala the hick catcher in Major League II)
1:08 PM Mar 24th
 
MarisFan61
.....when you see a data point that seems outlying, don't automatically assume it to be accurate....​
11:30 AM Mar 24th
 
SteveN
Fireball, my memory is that, while Piazza was pretty bad at controlling the running game, he was excellent as a receiver. Always very low wild pitches and passed balls.
11:15 AM Mar 24th
 
MarisFan61
Fireball: See the first comment.....
11:13 AM Mar 24th
 
DrewEck
The '31 Yankees were two above the major league average in Wild Pitches, with 24. Possible that scorekeepers 'opinion' may have mattered?
10:50 AM Mar 24th
 
DrewEck
The '31 Yankees were two above the major league average in Wild Pitches, with 24. Possible that scorekeepers 'opinion' may have mattered?
10:50 AM Mar 24th
 
Jack
malbuff, my opinion is that runs on passed pitches would be earned, as ultimately most of the fault/responsibility is the pitcher's. (I believe, for the same reason, that runs caused by pitchers' errors should be counted as earned.)
8:50 AM Mar 24th
 
malbuff
And yes, I can hear the gallery: "He's a fielder on that play, NOT a pitcher?"

So ignore my little trip down memory lane. What about my ultimate question? One stat-- Earned, or unearned?​
8:16 AM Mar 24th
 
malbuff
It always got me that runs scored on passed balls are unearned but runs scored on wild pitches are earned. I understand it's a logical extension of the scorer's judgment on what constitutes an error and therefore what constitutes an unearned run, with the nasty little kicker that a wild pitch is the pitcher's fault and therefore earned.

But when Randy Choate walks Brandon Crawford and then "wild-pitches" Gregor Blanco's bunt into right field, Crawford's run is unearned. (2014 NLCS Game 3, one of THREE walk-off wins in that wonderful 5-game series.) So it's earned if he misses the catcher, but unearned if he misses the first baseman.

So, veering back into context, if we go to one stat, is a run scoring on the play earned, or unearned?


8:13 AM Mar 24th
 
Fireball Wenz
2006 Padres catchers were Mike Piazza, whose defensive shortcomings have long been discussed, and Josh Bard, who was such a disaster trying to catch Tim Wakefield that he went in one week from Red Sox Catcher of the Future to Holy Crap We Gotta Get Mirabelli Back Pronto. Third catcher was Rob Bowen, who stuck around for awhile but I hardly remember.
8:05 AM Mar 24th
 
willibphx
Under the daily, "God, I feel old category". "Mackey Sasser was a catcher with the Mets, 30 years ago".​
6:07 AM Mar 24th
 
shthar
Sasser could have been a good DH, if he had any power.


3:34 AM Mar 24th
 
MarisFan61
First of all, hope you don't automatically roll your eyes when you see a post by me.... :-)

I was curious about those 2006 Padres too, since I didn't recall any knuckleballers on the team any time around then either, so I took a look.

It looks to me like some error occurred with the data base, because what I find shows just 11 passed balls for the year rather than 32.
1:20 AM Mar 24th
 
 
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