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Dorktown: Sometimes MLB players should only play at a certain time of day

SB Nation logo SB Nation 2/23/2021 Alex Rubenstein and Jon Bois
a group of baseball players standing on top of a field © Getty Images

In 2006, the St. Louis Cardinals played 105 games at night; and when they did, they were terrible at pitching — their 5.14 ERA was dead last in the National League. But in the 56 games they happened to play when the Earth was facing the sun, they were amazing at pitching — their 3.43 ERA was comfortably the very best in all of Major League Baseball:

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Also, look at the difference in effect that Missouri daylight had on the Cards and Royals, both of whom had similar night ERAs. The two drunken bookends here:

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Of course, this is baseball, so the weirdness of the Cardinals’ stark pitching contrast depending on whether or not the Northern Hemisphere happened to be facing the sun doesn’t end with the regular season. Somehow, despite the league’s very worst nighttime ERA, they snuck past the Astros to snag the NL Central title.

While logic would suggest they’d be dead meat in the playoffs, especially by the time day games go bye-bye after the first round Divisional Series, that was not the case. They squeaked past the Mets in the NLCS, winning the pennant on the strength of a pitching staff that posted a very good ERA of 3.84 across the seven (night!) games.

But that was nothing compared to their gigantic and exceedingly unlikely surge in the World Series vs. Detroit. They soundly beat the Tigers thanks to an ERA of just 2.05 — a mark that in the 15 years leading up to that had only been matched in a World Series by the 2001 Diamondbacks — across the five (night!) games.

Anyway, discovering this development sparked an uncontrollable urge to make a bunch of charts of my favorite production discrepancies, depending on whether the game was played under the sun or the stars. They each fascinated me in their own unique way, given the relationship between, and sliding scale of, sample size vs. level of deviation.

I figured I’d just drop ’em all in here, and apparently no one’s gonna stop me. So in case you like charts, here, have all the donuts charts in the world.

Pitching

Sammy Ellis barely pitched half as many innings during the day as he did at night throughout his career, yet gave up nearly as many earned runs:

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The 1976 Astros were awesome at night, terrible during the day:

chart © Provided by SB Nation

1959 Bob Anderson, 1976 Rick Reuschel, 2003 Bartolo Colon, 2013 Mike Minor, and 2013 Hiroki Kuroda barely allowed any homers in the part of the day in which they played less, especially in comparison to the part of the day they played more:

chart © Provided by SB Nation
chart, scatter chart © Provided by SB Nation
chart © Provided by SB Nation
chart © Provided by SB Nation
chart © Provided by SB Nation

Ditto for 1949 Ray Scarborough and 1964 Jackson, only with extra-base hits swapped for homers:

chart © Provided by SB Nation
chart © Provided by SB Nation

1987 Jim Deshaies, 1996 Wilson Alvarez, 1996 Jamie Moyer, 1998 Charles Nagy, 1999 Woody Williams and 2007 Orlando Hernandez all had their own kinds of weirdly & significantly exceeding their nighttime homer allowed total in the daytime, given the innings difference:

chart © Provided by SB Nation
chart © Provided by SB Nation
chart, scatter chart © Provided by SB Nation
chart © Provided by SB Nation
chart © Provided by SB Nation
chart © Provided by SB Nation

1976 Bart Johnson somehow allowed more daytime earned runs than nighttime earned runs:

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1987 Dave Schmidt’s 124 innings were about evenly divided between day and night. His pitching proficiency wasn’t:

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If it was daytime in 2018, Dylan Bundy turned batters into 2013 Yuniesky Betancourt; if it was nighttime when they faced him, they were 2003 A-Rod:

chart © Provided by SB Nation

Gallery: Phillies forced to bring back J.T. Realmuto because they made a decade’s worth of mistakes (Deadspin)

Batting

Let’s kick it off with the 1981 White Sox:

chart © Provided by SB Nation

1982 Toby Harrah, 1989 Eddie Murray, 1996 Jeff Conine, 1999 Eric Karros, 2008 Jermaine Dye, 2010 Bobby Abreu, and 2018 Kyle Seager all hit more daytime homers than than nighttime homers, despite 2-3 times as many at-bats at night:

chart © Provided by SB Nation
chart © Provided by SB Nation
© Provided by SB Nation
chart © Provided by SB Nation
© Provided by SB Nation
chart © Provided by SB Nation
chart © Provided by SB Nation

Add 2008 Mark Teixeira to that pile, while noting the difference in OPS as well:

chart © Provided by SB Nation

Also, here’s 1969 Willie Horton and 1974 Richie Hebner:

chart © Provided by SB Nation
© Provided by SB Nation

1993 Rick Wilkins and 2001 Ron Coomer had similar OPS discrepancies which you can see how that manifested itself in driving in runs:

© Provided by SB Nation
chart © Provided by SB Nation

1988 Randy Ready somehow had more of his hits occur during the day, resulting in a slightly better batting average:

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1955 Gus Bell, 1962 Willie Davis, 1967 Lou Brock, 1973 Garry Maddox, 1974 Graig Nettles, 1985 Andre Dawson, 1993 Devon White, and 2008 Jose Guillen hit significantly more homers in one part of the day despite significantly more at-bats in the other:

chart © Provided by SB Nation
chart © Provided by SB Nation
chart © Provided by SB Nation
chart © Provided by SB Nation
© Provided by SB Nation
chart © Provided by SB Nation
chart © Provided by SB Nation
chart © Provided by SB Nation

1966 Brooks Robinson was the same way with doubles:

chart © Provided by SB Nation

And 1977 Omar Moreno, only with RBI:

chart © Provided by SB Nation

1954 Ted WIlliams, 1979 Larry Parrish, 1980 Terry Crowley, 1984 Lance Parrish, 1984 Tim Raines, 2000 Albert Belle, 2004 Steve Finley, 2010 Vlad Guerrero, 2013 Paul Goldschmidt, 2016 Jean Segura, 2016 Asdrubal Cabrera, and 2017 David Peralta all had stark differences in the rate at which they did stuff, doing unfathomably superior in their bigger sample (or unfathomably inferior in their smaller sample, however you wanna look at it):

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chart © Provided by SB Nation
chart © Provided by SB Nation
chart © Provided by SB Nation
chart © Provided by SB Nation
chart © Provided by SB Nation
© Provided by SB Nation
chart © Provided by SB Nation
chart © Provided by SB Nation
chart © Provided by SB Nation
chart © Provided by SB Nation
chart © Provided by SB Nation

Jeremy Giambi was able to maintain an impressive discrepancy across more than 1,700 career plate appearances:

chart © Provided by SB Nation

And then there’s Hall of Famer and beloved Cubs legend Ron Santo, who couldn’t have been a more snug fit for that team. During his career, Wrigley Field hadn’t yet even had lights installed, so they played every single home game during the day. That meant they were playing well over 70% of their overall games during the day throughout his career there, when barely anyone else was even playing half their games during the day:

chart © Provided by SB Nation

And Ron Santo THRIVED during the day. It was as though the sun’s rays provided the nourishment to unlock his inner baseball Hulk. To perfectly understand why nobody has ever been a more perfect match for his team, look at this 6-year stretch in particular:

timeline © Provided by SB Nation

Please especially pay proper respect to his 1968 season in which he homered just once in 163 nighttime at-bats. That’s 0.61%, almost but not quite at the 0.63% rate in which pitchers homered in that time. That’s juxtaposed against hitting 25 homers on his 414 daytime at-bats, which is more than 6% and roughly in line with the career home run rate of Willie Mays.

So yeah, it seems pretty serendipitous that a man who during the day could mash dingers like Willie Mays but at night homered at a sub-pitcher rate happened to be a Cubby. If he’d been on any other team, those years in orange not only wouldn’t be far to the left of those in green, they’d actually likely be to the right. And what a shame that would’ve been for Santo’s career.

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