Politics

By the Numbers: How the Teams Stack Up

A look at the stats to determine which team has the statistical edge in this year’s matchup

Democratic Rep. Cedric L. Richmond of Louisiana is statistically one of the best players in the history of the Congressional Baseball Game. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

This story was originally published in the official game program of the 56th annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game, which was distributed on June 15.

So you think you’re a numbers whiz regarding all things Congress. You know how much money is in the latest appropriations bill. You know by how much Sen. Rand Paul won his last election. But do you know lawmakers’ vital statistics where it counts — on the baseball diamond?

With the help of the Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game’s dedicated scorekeepers (last year, Gary J. Caruso, Timothy M. Johnson, and Aaron Bernard), political nerds can finally answer the questions no one asked: How dominant is the Democratic pitcher versus the Republican pitcher? Which legislators are strongest at the plate? Most importantly, which team has the statistical edge in this year’s matchup?

Democrats can be confident knowing that one of the best players in congressional baseball history is in their dugout: Louisiana Rep. Cedric L. Richmond. In six career Congressional Baseball Games, Richmond sports a .688 batting average and a 1.792 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage). He is such a feared hitter that he has been intentionally walked five times, no one else on the roster even once.

But hitting is just half of Richmond’s game; the Louisianan is also the Democrats’ ace pitcher. The owner of a 5–0 record and a 2.63 ERA, he has struck out 49 Republicans in 40 innings pitched — 27.5 percent of the batters he has faced. When you combine his offensive and defensive contributions, Richmond has an average of 2.0 Wins Above Replacement, an advanced statistic designed to sum up how many wins a player is worth to his team. That’s more than the Nationals’ Jayson Werth had all of last year.

Other members of the Democrats’ Murderers’ Row include Reps. Tim Ryan of Ohio, who is a .421 career hitter, and Jared Polis of Colorado, who leads the team with 10 RBIs and is 31 percent better at run creation than the average congressional hitter. A relatively new addition to the Democratic squad is sparkplug California Rep. Pete Aguilar, who has helped set the table with a .571 on-base percentage in his first two career games.

Democrats also have some fearsome weapons waiting on the bench. For years, Rep. Linda T. Sánchez of California has been their go-to pinch-hitter in the late innings, a role at which she’s excelled with a .353 batting average. She’s been on fire lately, with hits in three of her last four games. And if she or any other Democrat gets on base, watch out for another Californian, pinch-running artist Rep. Eric Swalwell. In three games, he has stolen seven bases and has been caught stealing zero times.

But Republicans have also assembled a formidable lineup — a potent mix of steady veterans and rookie phenoms. Texas Rep. Kevin Brady has played in every Congressional Baseball Game since 1997, racking up six runs scored, eight RBIs, and a Ted Williams-esque .405 batting average (17 for 42) during that time.

Likewise, Arizona’s Jeff Flake started playing congressional ball after he was elected to the House in 2000 and hasn’t stopped after a promotion to the Senate. A .389 (14 for 36) career hitter, Flake is a crucial source of power for the GOP, mashing two triples and a double for a .528 career slugging percentage.

Recent Republican success at the ballot box has ushered in a new wave of talent. Tennessee Rep. Chuck Fleischmann is the GOP’s answer to Swalwell, a perfect four for four in stolen-base attempts. Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis has locked down the catcher’s position with a .333 average and .429 on-base percentage since taking office in 2013. Finally, baby-faced 40-year-old Pennsylvania Rep. Ryan A. Costello has played just two games but is already the owner of a .929 OPS. He walks an outstanding 28.6 percent of the time and, in 2015, mashed a hit to the outfield fence for a double.

But the Republicans’ most valuable reinforcement came on the pitching rubber, which is now the domain of Rep. Mark Walker. In his two starts, the North Carolinian has amassed an ERA 25 percent lower than the congressional baseball average. His repertoire of curveballs, knuckleballs, and other “junk” pitches (as Democratic skipper Rep. Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania calls them) was the key to the Republicans’ win in last year’s game. Although he can struggle with control (walking 5.42 batters per seven innings), Walker has held opposing batters to a .211 average, the best in congressional game history.

For full statistics — from batting average to Wins Above Replacement — for Congressional Baseball Games since 2009, visit tinyurl.com/cbgstats.

Nathaniel Rakich is a politics and baseball writer whose work has also appeared in The New Yorker, FiveThirtyEight, and The New Republic.

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