The concept of "MLB Plus"
Bright Lights, Big City dept.


I saw some stat, on Baseball Prospectus a few years ago, that said 88% of all PCL innings are thrown by 

  • Pitchers who recently performed in the AL or NL, or
  • Pitchers who will very shortly perform in the AL or NL

Some pretty sharp baseball analysts believe that there can be no such thing as a AAAA Quad-A player (able to maul AAA but useless in MLB), because the bottom 30% of major leaguers overlap with the top 20% of AAA players.  

By "pretty sharp baseball analysts" we mean "Bill James in particular, and lots of other people in general."  The idea is quite reasonable.  And we could all afford to slow down, with the Quad-A label.  We know a Stefen Romero or three who deserve better.


Dr. D's own crunch?  Of course it is true that there are many Willies Bloomquist in the majors and many Jacks Cust in the minors.  That's just stating the self-evident.

But we do think that if you haven't thought about the Jeff Clement Dallas McPherson Ken Cloude world of bugs on the MLB windshield, you might want to think it through.  

Jeff Clement, for example, could not hit a slow inside breaking pitch to save, um, his little sister from the mafia.  PCL pitchers could expose this sometimes, but not nearly enough to keep Clement from slugging .676 in his first attempt.  

MLB pitching is a game of unfathomable consistency and precision.  I once ran into an old high school buddy who, on the golf courses of the Puget Sound, could shoot 67 without paying attention.  I asked if he'd ever considered the PGA Tour.  He laughed bitterly.  "They aren't golfers up there," he said.  "They are magicians."


Catastrophic Flaws and Surgical Overhead Lights

Let's say we have this idea straight:  that a "mistake hitter" like Dallas McPherson gets enough chow at AAA lunch to hit cleanup, but that he just can't play in the American League (at first base).  And that a pitcher like Erasmo Ramirez or Ken Cloude can, in the PCL, get away with 80% of the "horse manure" pitches they throw (88 MPH out-and-over).  But that in the AL, that's two homers per nine innings, and a bus ticket back to Toledo.


(Random tracer:  an Oklahoma kid wrote to Hughie "Ee-Yah" Jennings telling him about his fastball, his experience in blowing away local semipro players, etc ... "if you buy me a train ticket I will strike Ty Cobb out on three pitches or I will give you the inheritance to my farm."

Ee-Yah thought, well, there's 1 chance in 20 he's Sydd Finch.*  Bought him the ticket.  Supposed to be a true story.

The kid got there, they got him a pair of cleats, let him warm up, and Cobb stepped in with a hateful glare.  The kid rocked and fired and ... SSOCKKK!  a triple off the right-center wall, which was 515 feet away in those days.  The kid throws again:  laser beam down the 1B line that takes the wall on three hops.  One more throw and ... a clothesline back through the box.

The kid peers in and says, "You know what - I don't believe that's Ty Cobb in there.")


AAA vs MLB ... or ... MLB vs MLB Plus?

Where were we?  If we've got that straight, that Jeff Clement can hit AAA but can't hit AL, because of the plateau effect and catastrophic flaws.

Why should it be illogical that some guys can play MLB but can't play MLB-Plus?  Thusly:

  • Felix Hernandez pitches in innings 1-7 on Wednesday (MLB-Plus)
  • Hector Noesi pitches in innings 1-7 on Thursday (MLB)

On Wednesday, are the top half of the innings not played at a much higher level of skill than they are on Thursday?  Is the delta not greater than that between AAA and MLB itself?

Or, on Wednesday, you've got these lineups going:

  • 2014 Angels (Mike Trout and 8 other hitters with OPS+ from 102 to 122)
  • 2014 Astros (John Singleton 1B hitting .168 and five hitters way below 100)

Would a Felix-vs-Angels game not be played on a higher level of existence, than a Noesi-vs-Astros game?


"No Evidence Exists," Dept.

It would be hard to study whether a small subset of MLB players are good at MLB-Plus, and right now we don't have time to explain why it's hard to isolate the variables.  (Bill James did publish a 9-article series "studying" Big Game Pitchers.  Needless to say, Bob Gibson and many other pitchers did show an ability to pitch better than expected in "Big Games."

Suffice it to say this:  if Reggie Jackson actually DID enjoy "MLB-Plus," and you found he hit better in 300+ October at-bats than he did against mediocre pitching over his whole career?  And you found that he in fact slugged .755 in five different World Series?  ... the sabes would just say "SSS."

So you'd never find the phenomenon.

But!  The people who played with Reggie would tell you, "His concentration in the World Series was so awe-inspiring that we were surprised when he did NOT hit a home run."


"No evidence exists for clutch performance," you smile.  Well, I think you mean to say "I haven't seen a case that convinced me."  When you say "No evidence exists," what are you claiming about the amount of world literature you have consumed?  ;- )

But secondly, evidence exists for everything.  There is evidence that the moon landing was hoaxed.  It is very interesting evidence.  The thing is, it's overwhelmed by evidence that the moon landing was achieved.

You say "no evidence exists" precisely because you have none on your side.  It's a lazy way to brush off an idea that you haven't truly considered with an open mind.

1) Reggie Jackson's World Series performance, that is evidence for clutch performance.  It could be presented in court of law, could it not?

2) The testimony of those who play the game, that is evidence for clutch performance.  That could be presented.  

3) The track records of those who have failed, their own admissions that this was the problem, that's evidence.  

4) The performance of athletes in other sports -- Michael Jordan, Joe Montana, Jack Nicklaus -- that's evidence that clutch performance exists.  Why would baseball be less subject to this phenomenon than every other sport that every lived?

5) Yogi Berra could be presented in a court of law.  :- )

6) James' study of "Big Game Pitchers" is a sabermetric-type study that goes into the "Exists!" category.

7) McClendon's blithe and casual prophecy of Erasmo Ramirez' destiny, despite a magnificent spring training, that's evidence.

You think open-heartedly about the above evidence, but then you find yours stronger that pressure doesn't exist, then that's fair enough my friend.  Believe what you find convincing.  Just don't give me the "No Evidence Exists" patter.  HAL-9000 you are not.  And 5th-graders, we are not.


You'll hear sabes admit the negative but not the positive.  "Sure, some players have issues in the clutch.  Some players drop off under pressure.  They wind up washing out."

"Of course it's possible to be a coward.  It's just not possible to be a hero."

Tough way to live your life, pal, looking at the world that way.


Another tracer:  the 20-year-old Johnny Bench was the target of a plate collision, first month.  (Just before I started watching the NL.)  Was it Wes Parker who took him on?  Wide turn, had him dead to rights, lowered the shoulder ... Bench leaned in.  

Parker* bounced back into the 3B dugout like a jet ski off a battleship.  Bench flipped the ball back to the pitcher, chewing his gum nonchalantly like he used to.

After the game, they surround Parker's locker.  He's sitting there head in hands, groaning.  Where do you hurt?  "Everywhere but the roof of my mouth.  No, wait.  The roof of my mouth is bad too."

That's an actual quote.  Have you ever had that happen, a tackle so spine-jarring that the worst ache was in your back teeth?  Dr. D has.

Tracer continues:  Bench hit a home run and a double that day.  He showered quickly and left after the game, since the Reds lost.  Alex Johnson, the Reds' LF, asked where Bench had left to.

He didn't hesitate.  "To a higher league," Johnson said of the 20-year-old Bench.


MLB-Plus is what they tend to play in October.  You might have noticed that Madison Bumgarner is good at MLB-Plus.  He is good at consistently throwing tough pitches to great hitters.  His "game" doesn't depend on people missing his mistakes.

Have you looked up Nelson Cruz' postseason stats?  He is .292/.347/.669 (!) in 47 games for Texas and Baltimore.

Have you looked up Kyle Seager's leverage index?  He's #1 in the majors over the course of his career (since 2012), clutch performance vs expected performance.   We didn't say "he's had some success in the clutch."  We said he is absolutely the #1 player in baseball at it.

Have you watched Robinson Cano play?  You could get a Denny's cook in downtown Philadelphia to hurry before you could get Robby to hurry.

It's simply obvious at a glance that Hisashi Iwakuma's game does not depend on hitters being stupid.  Just a few seconds' consideration of Iwakuma -- and most NPB pitchers -- tells you that in Game Seven, he'd be fine.

So consider this:  might some MLB scouts might be able to take the same glance, at a lot of players?


The M's have five stars who are very, very good at MLB-Plus.  Five guys, including Felix and MLB-san.  Tag the bullpen also.  As to the rest of the kiddie Mariners, I couldn't speak for them, and that's the issue.


Dr D

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