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Charting MLB Standings With Tufte-Inspired Sparklines

Last week I attended a day-long session with Edward Tufte, the “Leonardo Di Vinci of data,” as The New York Times once dubbed him. The session has inspired me to take the blog off paternity leave. About time.

Inside Tufte’s book “Beautiful Evidence” is a section on “sparklines,” which are small, word-sized line graphs. The section includes a visualization of a baseball season, with lines for each team showing their day-to-day trends above or below the .500 line.

The line graphs I made below, inspired by Tufte’s sparklines on page 54, show each team’s progress in the 2012 season.

First, the National League West, which includes the eventual World Series winner San Francisco. The Giants passed Los Angeles around the middle of the season and never looked back. The chart also shows Colorado’s steep collapse at the end:

Now the National League East, in which Washington led for most of the season and Philadelphia closed strong to finish its season above the .500 win-loss line.

And the National League Central, in which Houston had a terrible season:

In the American League East, New York held off Baltimore’s surge after the all-star break, and Toronto and Boston collapsed in August and September:

Detroit overtook Chicago during the last days of the season in the American League Central:

In the American League West, Texas closed poorly finish second to late-surging Oakland:

Finally, I added all the teams to one graph to show the difference in team performance. This makes color-coding lines impossible, so I included a table with each squad’s over-under .500 figure. You can see how San Francisco performed in bold black:

Notes: The charts depict each day of the season, not each game. Also, the charts should be viewed separately. Because of the variance in each division, the y axes differ. I’ve uploaded the data to Google Docs. Feel free to download the file and send me visualizations of your own.

Data source: Baseball-Reference.com

Charting Presidential Mascot Races — And Teddy’s Odd Inability To Win

Washington Nationals fans have all seen the spectacle, the fourth-inning “race” featuring the Mount Rushmore mascots: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. They trot around the stadium wearing period costumes and huge caricature masks. Hilarity ensues.

The first three presidents in the last seven seasons have had their fair share of wins in the races, which are known for hijinks that make their outcomes unpredictable. The latter president, a man remembered for his “robust masculinity” and adventurous spirit, has been (tragically?) shut out. He just can’t seem to win, no matter how much of a lead he takes from time to time. He gets distracted, or someone trips him, or he fades — or something else prevents him from crossing the finish line first.

Here’s how the other presidents have fared since the races began in 2006*. Abe won nearly 60 percent of the races in 2008, but the mascots’ winning percentages have leveled over the years. George is leading this season so far, through July 8 at least:

WHY, though, can’t Teddy get a win?? These word trees, made with Many Eyes, parse the short highlights of each contest since 2008 released by Let Teddy Win, a blog devoted to the races. Using the interactive version, you can search for specific words or phrases and see words around them in context.

Teddy “fades”:

Teddy “stops”:

Teddy “is”:

Someday he’ll win. I just hope I’m there to see it.

* Excluding “ties,” non-presidential mascot winners and extra-inning bonus races.

Walk-Off Home Run History

Turns out game-ending home runs — like last night’s centerfield shot by St. Louis Cardinals infielder David Freese — are more common than I imagined. There have been nearly 3,000 in the last five decades, including more than 70 this season. 

That’s twice the figure from 1960:

View interactive version | Source: baseball-reference.com