If you saw his picture after that, you saw the smile;
Not of a man basking in the joy of over a decade in The Show,
No well-earned satisfaction of having reached the top of his ten-inch mountain.
If you saw his picture after that, you saw the smile;
Not of a man basking in the joy of over a decade in The Show,
No well-earned satisfaction of having reached the top of his ten-inch mountain.
There’s no tactful way to say this, but you have to be pretty old to remember when the best relief pitchers weren’t merely “closers.” Certainly, you have to go back to at least before Tony LaRussa stuck Dennis Eckersley in that role in the late 1980′s.
In truth, if you want to rediscover a time when relief pitchers were true workhorses, you have to go all the way back to the 1950′s through the ’70′s. Looking back on some of the statistics compiled by several of the best relief pitchers of that era reveals how much baseball has changed over the past generation or so.
Next time you wonder why your favorite team often seems to run out of position players so quickly, especially during extra-inning games, keep in mind that it wasn’t always this way. Once upon a time, managers didn’t switch relief pitchers every time a new batter stepped up to the plate.
In chronological order, here are seven remarkable relief pitcher seasons from days gone by:
1) Joe Black – 1952: Back in the days when the Dodgers played in Brooklyn, just a few years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, another 28-year old African-American played a significant role on the franchise from Brooklyn.
Manager Chuck Dressen utilized his rubber-armed rookie to great effect. Black appeared in 56 games, leading the league in games finished with 41. He pitched a total of 142 innings (which would be his career high), and posted 15 saves and an outstanding 2.15 ERA.
Now, the 15 saves might not seem like a remarkable total, but that was a pretty high total in those days. Perhaps most remarkably, Black posted a record of 15-4. Modern closers who accumulate 19 decisions in a year are as rare as a watchable Nicholas Cage film.
2) Hoyt Wilhelm – 1952: There must have been something in the drinking water in 1952 that only affected older rookie relief pitchers.
Wilhelm, like Black, was an “old” rookie in ’52, throwing his first MLB pitch at age 29. What a way for a Hall of Fame career to begin.
Wilhelm toiled for the Dodgers’ crosstown rival Giants over in the Polo Grounds. Wilhelm’s numbers were also remarkably similar to Black’s. Wilhelm appeared in 71 games and pitched a total of 159 innings. Although his ERA was a little higher than Blacks’s (2.43), Wilhelm actually officially led the N.L. in ERA because Black just missed the number of innings pitched required to win the title.
Wilhelm also saved 11 games, and posted a win-loss record of 15-3, virtually identical to Black’s. Joe Black won the Rookie of the Year award, and Wilhelm finished as the runner-up. Black also finished 3rd in MVP voting in the N.L., while Wilhelm finished 4th.
But while Black was out of baseball after half a dozen years, Wilhelm pitched 21 years, until he was 49 years old!
3) Roy Face – 1959: Though he wasn’t a rookie, Roy Face was even older (31) than Black and Wilhelm when he enjoyed his most amazing season. Face had some success in parts of five previous seasons with the Pirates, but nothing like the year he enjoyed in ’59.
Although his 57 appearances, 47 games finished, and 93 innings were not career highs, nor was the 2.70 ERA he recorded a career low. And his ten saves, even by the standards of the day, don’t cause one to do a double-take. Yet there is no denying that Face’s 1959 season is one of the most awe-inspiring in baseball history.
Face recorded 19 decisions that season, the same number that Joe Black did in ’52. While Black’s 15-4 record was fantastic, Roy Face’s final tally, 18-1, was simply unbelievable. Face won 17 straight games in relief in one year. He finished 7th in N.L. MVP voting in 1959, and would certainly have done well in Cy Young voting, but there wasn’t yet a Cy Young award to vote upon.
Though Face was never a serious Hall of Fame candidate, he did have a fine career, leading his league in saves three times, he pitched for another decade, finally retiring after the 1969 season at age 41.
4) Eddie Fisher – 1965: There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Eddie Fisher. That’s what happens when you toil for the White Sox in the mid ’60′s (they actually finished in second place in ’65.)
Like Hoyt Wilhelm, Eddie Fisher began his career with the Giants, then pitched for the White Sox. In fact, Fisher and Wilhelm were teammates on the ’65 White Sox. The de facto staff ace of that team was Joe Horlen; he was the only pitcher on the team to top 200 innings pitched.
But there were six other pitchers on the team that pitched at least 140 innings. Relief pitchers Fisher and Wilhelm were two of them. Though Wilhelm finished with a better ERA than Fisher (1.81 to 2.40), and more strikeouts, Fisher saved 24 games to Wilhelm’s 20.
The biggest difference, however was that while Wilhelm garnered seven wins in relief, Fisher posted a record of 15-7. In fact, Fisher led the White Sox in victories, and in win-loss percentage (.682.)
Fisher also led the A.L. in WHIP with a mark of 0.974. His 82 appearances and 60 games finished also led the league.
Fisher would go on to pitch effectively for several more years, finally retiring in 1973 at the age of 36 as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals.
5) Wilbur Wood – 1968: If you’re old enough, you may remember Wood as one of those workhorse starting pitchers who was as likely to lose 20 games as he was to win that many. In fact, in 1973, this White Sox pitcher posted a record of 24-20 in 48 (yes, 48) starts. Wood enjoyed four consecutive 2o-win seasons (1971-74) to go along with his two 20-loss seasons. But before he was a workhorse starter, he was a tireless reliever.
At the age of 26, Wood produced his first of three consecutive years leading the A.L. in appearances. In all three years, he tossed well over 100 innings.
The most impressive of those three seasons, though, was 1968. That year, in addition to saving a respectable 16 games and posting a sparkling 1.87 ERA, he also managed to accumulate 25 decisions in relief. On a team that finished the year 67-95, Wood was one of two pitchers on the team (the other being some kid named Tommy John) that finished with a record above .500 (minimum of ten decisions.)
Wood’s record was 13-12, but obviously his ERA (as well as his ERA+ of 171) demonstrate that he was a much better pitcher than his record indicates. And yes, Hoyt Wilhelm was on this team, too.
Wood retired after a 17-year career in 1978 at age 36. His career ERA+ of 114 is the same as Luis Tiant and Rick Reuschel.
6) John Hiller – 1974: Hiller’s story is one of the most remarkable in baseball history.
This native of Ontario, Canada, was drafted by the Tigers at the age of 19 in 1962. He threw his first pitch in the Majors at age 25 in 1965. By 1967, he was firmly entrenched in the Tigers bullpen. In 1970, Hiller enjoyed what to that point was a typical Hiller season: 104 innings, mostly in relief, a 3.03 ERA, an ERA+ of 124, a 6-6 record, and a hat-full of saves.
Then in 1971, at age 28, Hiller suffered a serious heart-attack. Though he survived, most analysts at the time doubted he would ever pitch again. But Hiller was determined that he would not allow his career to end prematurely. He worked himself back into shape, and enjoyed the best part of his career in the years immediately following his return.
Pitching just 44 innings in 1972, Hiller posted a 2.03 ERA, and proved that he was ready for an even bigger workload. In 1973, Hiller led the A.L. in appearance (65) and games finished (60.) His 38 saves (a career high) also led the league. And his 1.44 ERA was also outstanding. In can be argued that ’73 was his finest season, but 1974 was, in some ways, even more amazing.
Hiller, just three years removed from a near-fatal heart-attack, pitched 150 innings in relief for the Tigers. His ERA rose to a still very nice 2.64, and he saved just 13 games. His win-loss record, however, nearly defies belief. In 59 appearances, Hiller posted a record of 17-14, leading the 6th-place Tigers in victories…as a relief pitcher. Thirty-one decisions in relief is the most I was able to uncover, and will never be approached again.
Hiller finally retired in 1980 at age 37. Now 70-years old, Hiller is still one of the most beloved of all Tigers players.
7) Mike Marshall – 1974: You and I both know that this post can only conclude with Mike Marshall’s fascinating 1974 season. We began this post with a pair of relievers battling across one city in the same season, 1952, and now we’re ending it with a pair of relievers — Hiller and Marshall — battling across two separate leagues, again in the same year, 1974.
Mike Marshall had already won 14 games in relief twice, in 1972 and ’73, and had pitched as many as 173 innings in relief in 1973, his final season with the Expos. Traded to the Dodgers (for Willie Davis) before the 1974 season, he set a record of usage that no reliever is ever likely to break.
In 1974, Mike Marshall pitched in an astronomical 106 games, finishing 83 of them, and he led the N.L. with 21 saves. As if his record of 15-12, all in relief, wasn’t impressive enough, Marshall pitched a still unbelievable 208 innings in relief, more innings than many starters pitch in a season these days. His ERA was a solid 2.42, and his ERA+ was 141. Clearly, the excessive number of innings pitched didn’t hinder his performance.
Marshall dropped to “only” 109 innings in 1975, but as late as 1979, at age 36, he was still leading the league in saves. Five times in his career, Marshall won at least ten games in relief. It may come as no surprise that Marshall won the N.L. Cy Young award in 1974, and finished 3rd in the MVP voting as well.
Marshall was one of the last of a line of relief pitchers for whom the term “overworked” was not in their vocabulary. It’s unlikely, thanks to the current philosophy of bullpen use, that we’ll ever see their like again.
Often while I’m looking up the statistics for a particular player, I notice the number of times a player either reaches a particular milestone, or just barely misses it. As someone who loves stats, I enjoy it when a player posts a nice, round number, such as 300 wins, 3,000 hits, or 500 doubles. For one thing, I’m sure Hall of Fame voters also take note of these statistics. So, for example, they should take a second look at John Olerud’s very productive career when they notice (assuming they take the time to actually analyze a player’s stats at all) that Olerud slammed exactly 500 doubles in his career.
I’m also intrigued, however, when a player comes ever-so-close to reaching one of these milestones, but falls just short. Would Kenny Lofton, for example, have received more serious scrutiny during the most recent HOF voting if he’d batted .300 for his career, rather than .299?
What follows is an overview of the players who posted those nice round numbers as well as those who fell just short. Several players appear on one or more of these lists. Some are Hall of Famers while others are all but forgotten. A few players on these lists are still currently active. There are, perhaps, a few surprises.
Let’s begin with Doubles:
Goose Goslin and John Olerud each netted exactly 500 doubles. Goslin is in the HOF. Will Olerud, with a career WAR of 58.0, a batting title, a 200-hit season, four 100 RBI seasons, three Gold Gloves and more walks than strikeouts merit serious consideration?
Rusty Staub ended his fine career with 499 doubles. One of the most underrated players of all-time, would Staub have garnered a few more HOF votes if he’d grabbed an additional two-bagger? Bill Buckner, Al Kaline and Sam Rice each ended up with 498 doubles.
Further down the list, we find Babe Herman, Gee Walker and Paul Hines settling in at 399 doubles. (Did you know Babe Herman’s middle name was Caves? What’s up with that?)
Gee Walker also managed to strike out exactly 600 times in his career, a nice round number. Hines won a couple of batting titles in the 19th century.
Remember back in the late ’80′s when Mets phenom Gregg Jefferies’ rookie card was skyrocketing in value? Well, though Jefferies’ career fell short of expectations, he did manage to reach exactly 300 career doubles, as did the Yankees’ Roy White and a couple of other guys. White once led the league with 99 walks, his career high, just missing that nice, round 100.
Five players fell just short of 300 doubles. Wally Berger, one of the five, batted exactly .300 for his career, in addition to his 299 doubles. Nine other guys reached exactly 200 doubles, and six more just missed at 199. Joey Votto currently has 201, probably fewer than half the number he’ll finally tally.
Now let’s turn to Runs Scored:
Cap Anson ended up with 1,999 runs. If I was that close, I’m pretty sure I’d bribe someone to let me play long enough to reach 2,000. Either way, he’s in the Hall of Fame. Ed Delahanty reached 1,600 runs scored on the nose. The underrated Tony Philips got to 1,300, one ahead of the unfortunate Harold Baines, stuck at 1,299.
Edgar Renteria had a tidy career, scoring exactly 1,200 runs.
No player in baseball history ever finished his career with exactly 1,000 runs scored.
Adam Dunn currently has 999 runs scored, and will probably jack another solo homer soon enough to reach a thousand.
Jorge Posada tallied 900 runs scored, while Don Kessinger and Vernon Wells each managed 899.
As for Triples, there’s a bit less of interest to notice here, though two players, Dan McGann and Hi Myers each reached exactly 100 for their respective careers. Three other players notched 99.
Many baseball fans have long been fascinated by Runs Batted In. To wit,
A-Rod, apparently allowed to resume baseball activities, has 1,950 RBI. Will he play for someone long enough to reach 2,000? Does it matter at this point?
Jim Thome, whom I’m led to believe is basically retired, has 1,699 RBI in a probable HOF career. Napoleon Lajoie got to 1,599, and Eddie Collins drove in 1,300. Jim Edmonds, one of my favorite center-fielders, accumulated 1,199.
Darryl Strawberry drove in exactly 1,000 runs. For him, there should have been so many more.
Wally Pipp, Gee Walker and Babe Herman all drove in 997 runs. Walker and Herman, you’ll remember also appeared together on the doubles list with 399 a piece.
Bases on Balls:
Stan Musial walked 1,599 times in his career. As a side note, you may or may not know that of his 3,630 hits, exactly 1815 were accumulated at home, and another 1815 occurred in road games.
Eddie Collins drew 1,499 walks.
Tod Helton has drawn 1,299 walks thus far. Helton also has hit exactly .320 for his career, but how much will HOF voters discount his career due to the so-called Coors Field effect?
No player ever drew exactly 1,000 walks in his career. Boog Powell walked 1,001 times, and Jim Edmonds drew 998.
How about Base Hits?
Roberto Clemente was, of course, halted by tragedy at 3,000 career hits. No other player accumulated exactly 3,000 hits. In fact no player stopped at 2,000 hits, either. Shawn Green topped out at 2,003, while HOF’er Jimmy Collins swatted 1,999 hits. Apparently, not reaching 2,000 hits (let alone the supposedly magical number of 3,000) didn’t hurt Collins chances of making it into The Hall.
Second baseman Joe Gordon played in exactly 1,000 games for the Yankees (before moving along to Cleveland.) In those 1,000 games, he accumulated exactly 1,000 hits.
As far as Batting Average is concerned, a .300 batting average has always been a significant level of accomplishment for baseball purists. Some players have managed to hit exactly .300 for their careers, including Wally Berger (who also had 299 doubles, and a career high 199 hits in 1931), John (I ain’t an athlete lady, I’m a baseball player) Kruk, Roberto Alomar, Oyster Burns, Billy Goodman and the still active Josh Hamilton.
Meanwhile, in addition to Kenny Lofton, other players who ended their careers at .299 include Carl Furillo, Rico Carty and Bake McBride. The Royals Billy Butler is currently also a .299 career hitter.
Enos Slaughter batted .2999 for his career, which rounds up to .300.
They say chicks dig the long-ball. I have’t seen any objective studies on this, but has a home run ever been hit where at least a few fans didn’t stand up and cheer (except perhaps when Barry Bonds played on the road late in his career?)
Mark McGwire will probably be the first and last player ever to hit exactly 70 homers in a season.
Babe Ruth, of course, hit exactly 60 in a season. He also once hit 59.
Six players have hit exactly 50 homers in a season. Jimmie Foxx of the ’38 Red Sox was the only player to hit exactly 50 up until 1995. Since 1995, five players have reached that total, including the improbable Brady Anderson.
19 players have hit 49 homers in a season. Gehrig and Killebrew did it twice each.
Exactly 50 players have hit exactly 40 homers in a season. Adam Dunn has reached that number four times.
For a career, Willie Mays reached 660 for his career. I’ve always liked that number because that’s how many baseball cards Topps used to feature annually in its sets for us kids to strive to collect. (Norm Miller anyone?)
Andres Galarraga and Al Kaline slugged 399 each. Remember that Kaline also had 498 doubles. Seems like he could have stuck around another week or so to pop a few more extra base hits.
Chuck Klein slugged 300 homers. Tim Salmon reached 299. Torii Hunter, by the way, is at 298 homers.
Four players hit exactly 200 career homers. Three have hit 150, including Kevin Youkilis. Seven players have hit 149, including Lou Brock, and the still active Ian Kinsler, Alex Rios and Jayson Werth.
Six players, including John Kruk (appearing again) and Bruce Bochte hit 100 home runs. Bochte also had exactly 250 doubles, drove in exactly 100 runs in 1979 and batted .300 on the nose in 1980.
Seven players have hit 99 homers, including the Pirates current catcher Russell Martin, and HOF’er Monte Irvin.
Swinging for the fences often leads to strikeouts.
Tony Philips struck out 1,499 times. Shawon Dunston and Jeffrey Leonard each reached exactly 1,000 career strikeouts. David Justice retired having been struck out 999 times.
Adam Dunn struck out 199 times in 2010.If you’re not a power hitter, perhaps you prefer the Stolen Base.
Cesar Cedeno stole 550 bases in his career, a nice, tidy sum.
Bill Lange (whose nickname, for unknown reasons, was “Little Eva”) had 400 steals, 350 walks, a .330 batting average and a .400 on-base percentage. Bill, thanks for keeping those numbers nice and clean. Just please don’t try to explain to us how you became “Little Eva,” thank you.
Bobby Abreu looks like he’s going to finish with 399 career steals.
Shortstop Frank Taveras stole 300 bases in his career, including 70 in 1977.
Several players stole exactly 200 bases, including Ken Griffey, Sr., Jose Canseco (I know, I know), and Don Buford.
In 2009, Phillies second baseman Chase Utley was a perfect 23 for 23 in stolen base attempts. In 2011, he was successful in all 14 of his steal attempts.
In 1988, Mets outfielder Kevin McReynolds successfully stole 21 bases in 21 attempts. He also drove in 99 runs that year, missing by one what would have been his only one-hundred RBI campaign.
For the Sabermetric fans among us, how about career WAR?
Bob Gibson just missed 90 career WAR (89.9), while Curt Schilling just missed 80 career WAR (79.9.)
Rick Reuschel and Scott Rolen each retired with at 70.0 career WAR. They each have a better case for the HOF than you might think.
Hall of Fame outfielder Zack Wheat accumulated a 60.0 career WAR. Tony Lazzeri and Eddie Rommel each came in at 50.0. Freddy Lynn (one of my boyhood heroes) walked away from the game at 49.9.
And there’s Kevin McReynolds again, one of several players to retire at exactly 30.0 career WAR
Tired of looking at position players? How about the pitchers.
Let’s briefly look at Wins and Losses:
Early Wynn and Lefty Grove each won exactly 300 games. There have been four pitchers (including the Braves Tim Hudson) who are listed at 200 victories. Russ Ford won 199 games. Dizzy Dean won 150 games. Don Newcombe won 149.
There have been a dozen 100-game winners and eleven 99-game winners.
Joey Jay of Middletown, CT won 99 games, struck out 999 batters, and posted an ERA+ of 99 for his career.
Bert Blyleven lost 250 games. Eight pitchers had exactly 150 losses. Two pitchers lost 149. Ralph Terry lost 99 games. Terry also accumulated exactly 1,000 strikeouts and 20 shutouts.
Tom Browning of the Reds made 300 career starts, struck out exactly 1,000 batters, lost 90 games, and, as a hitter, struck out exactly 200 times.
Bob Caruthers who, despite the fact that he was born in Tennessee was nicknamed “Parisian Bob,” fanned 900 batters, posted 99 losses, and hit 99 batters. He also led his league with exactly 40 wins twice, in 1885 and 1889. As a hitter, he legged out 50 triples (yes, 50 triples for a pitcher!) and slugged an even .400.
Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd, one of the last decent nicknames, struck out 799 batters in his career.
Looking a bit more specifically at strikeouts for pitchers, Andy Benes struck out exactly 2,000 batters in his career. Billy Pierce fanned 1,999. Amos Rusie struck out 1,950. Charlie Buffinton (born Buffington, but his family couldn’t afford the extra G, so he dropped it) K’d 1,700. Rollie Fingers struck out 1,299. The aforementioned Ralph Terry and Tom Browning posted 1,000 strikeouts each. Bill “Spaceman” Lee got to 998. Joe Blanton currently has 994 as of this writing.
Finally, working more or less backwards, four pitchers struck out 250 batters in a season. Justin Verlander is one of them. Curt Schilling struck out exactly 300 pitching for the Phillies in 1998.
And the immortal Toad Ramsey struck out an amazing 499 batters in 588 innings for Louisville in the American Association in 1886. That total, by the way, did not even lead the league.
That’s all for today, folks. I hope you’ve enjoyed this romp through the world of Baseball Stat-Geekdom today. I’m sure you’ll catch some mistakes, for which I alone take responsibility. Go easy on me, boys and girls. I’m 49-years old, rounding up to exactly 50 later this month.
You can’t help but notice all the young talent on baseball rosters these days. There has certainly been a changing of the guard, especially among pitchers, over the past few seasons. Just try to name a dozen active pitchers age 32 or over that are still experiencing success in the Majors. I think you’ll find it challenging.
I decided, for my own benefit, to draw up a list of the best players currently on MLB rosters who are no older than 25. I want to make it clear that this is not a list of baseball’s top prospects. Mets fans won’t, for example, find either Zach Wheeler or Travis D’Arnoud on this list, nor will Cardinals fans spot Oscar Taveras’s name. This is a list of players who are actually active and contributing (to varying degrees) on MLB rosters. I think you’ll be familiar with many of these names, though most are far from being household names at this early point in their respective careers.
I listed the players by position, and also included their current age, and the team they play for. None of these players will turn 26-years old until at least this August at the earliest. Several of them are much younger than 25, as you will see. As you scan the list of 40 names, see how many of these players you recognize.
1B Freddie Freeman – Braves, age 23
1B Eric Hosmer – Royals, age 23
1B Anthony Rizzo – Cubs, age 23
1B Matt Adams – Cardinals, age 24
1B Paul Goldschmidt – Diamondbacks, age 25
2B Jose Altuve – Astros, age 23
3B Manny Machado – Orioles, age 20
3B Brett Lawrie – Blue Jays, age 23
3B Will Middlebrooks – Red Sox, age 24
3B Kyle Seager – Mariners, age 24
SS Starlin Castro – Cubs, age 23
SS Andrelton Simmons – Braves, age 23
SS Elvis Andrus – Rangers, age 24
C Salvador Perez – Royals, age 23
C Wil Rosario – Rockies, age 24
OF Bryce Harper – Nationals, age 20
OF Mike Trout – Angels, age 21
OF Jason Heyward – Braves, age 23
OF Giancarlo Stanton – Marlins, age 23
OF Starling Marte – Pirates, age 24
OF Travis Snider – Pirates, age 25
OF Justin Upton – Braves, age 25
SP Jose Fernandez – Marlins, age 20
SP Shelby Miller – Cardinals, age 22
SP Madison Bumgarner - Giants, age 23
SP Chris Sale – White Sox, age 24
SP Matt Moore – Rays, age 24
SP Matt Harvey – Mets, age 24
SP Jose Quintana – White Sox, age 24
SP Neftali Feliz – Rangers, age 24
SP Steven Strasburg – Nationals, age 24
SP Jhoulys Chacin – Rockies, age 25
SP Clayton Kershaw – Dodgers, age 25
SP Matt Latos – Reds, age 25
SP Mike Minor – Braves, age 25
RP Addison Reed – White Sox, age 24
RP Kenley Jansen – Dodgers, age 25
RP Craig Kimbrel – Braves, age 25
RP Bryan Shaw – Indians, age 25
RP Drew Storen – Nationals, age 25
What an amazing list of names. The quality of pitchers and outfielders is especially impressive. How many of these players will go on to enjoy Hall of Fame careers? Certainly, several of these players will appear in more than a couple of All-Star games. Some will see their careers shortened, or derailed altogether, by injuries. Others will simply flame out after a few good seasons. But they, along with the other prospects that baseball keeps churning out, are baseball’s future. And seldom in baseball’s long history has that future looked brighter.
I know it is exceedingly early to be doing this, but MLB.com sent me an on-line invitation to cast my votes for this season’s All-Stars, and I couldn’t resist. I’m sure some of my picks might very well change several weeks from now, but then again, I have a feeling that several of them would not. Here’s my early ballot for 2013:
1B Chris Davis – .356 / 7 / 22
2B Robinson Cano – .325 / 6 / 14
3B Miguel Cabrera – .367 / 2 / 19
SS Jed Lowrie – .366 / 3 / 14
C Joe Mauer – .366 / 2 / 8
OF Michael Bourne – .333 2 / 2 (well, he doesn’t get paid to drive in runs)
OF Alex Gordon – .338 / 1 / 11
OF Adam Jones – .345 / 3 / 16
DH Lance Berkman – .345 / 2 / 14
Starting Pitcher: Matt Moore – 4-0, 1.04 ERA, 0.923 WHIP
Two months from now, I’ll still probably be voting for Cano, Cabrera, Mauer, Gordon and Jones. Davis will still be a reasonable possibility, though let’s not rule out Albert Pujols. Gordon has been the most underrated player in the A.L. for the past two seasons. All Berkman ever does is hit. HOF, anyone?
Michael Bourne could also still make my ballot, though I have to wonder if Mike Trout or Josh Reddick will bump him off by then. Adam Jones is a fine young player in his prime. Lowrie always gets off to a hot start, and may be the player most likely to exit this list at a later date. I know we don’t get to vote for pitchers, but Matt Moore would be my choice.
1B Paul Goldschmidt – .329 / 4 / 16
2B Daniel Murphy – .347 / 2 / 13
3B David Wright – .309 / 2 / 16
SS Brandon Crawford – .320 / 4 / 10
C Yadier Molina – .308 / 2 / 14
OF Carlos Gonzalez – .320 / 4 / 12
OF Shin-Soo Choo – .392 / 3 / 9 (Has already been hit by pitches 10 times this year, and sports a .534 on-base percentage!)
OF Bryce Harper – .351 / 7 / 15
SP Matt Harvey – 4-0, 1.54 ERA, 0.686 WHIP (Harvey vs. Moore, now there’s a 21st-Century match-up.)
How about that outfield? Carlos Gonzalez would look good in a Mets uniform. As a Mets fan, you may think that I voted for Murphy, Wright and Harvey (again, I didn’t actually “vote” for Harvey) because they play for the Mets. Not so. There have been recent seasons when I didn’t vote for a single Mets player. If you suck, you suck. I don’t care which uniform you wear. But, at this point, Wright and Murphy are legitimate choices.
With all due respect to Buster Posey, Yadier Molina is the best catcher in the Majors. And though the Mets John Buck has already swatted seven homers, I’ll take Molina as my All-Star starting catcher.
Goldschmidt could very well be my choice two months from now, but let’s not forget that Joey Votto is still one of the best players in the game. Brandon Crawford is my current choice, subject to change. I doubt that outfield will change at all. (What ever happened to Matt Kemp?) And Matt Harvey? Unless he blows his arm out, God forbid, he may be my choice for years to come.
What are your thoughts about the early season All-Star favorites?
One way to list the 30 MLB teams from best to worst is by using run differential, that is, the difference between how many runs a team has scored minus the number of runs they’ve surrendered. Although it’s still very early in the year, you will notice some real surprises on this list.
1) Boston Red Sox +34
2) Atlanta Braves +33
2) Cincinnati Reds +33
4) Texas Rangers +29
5) Colorado Rockies +28
6) St. Louis Cardinals +23
7) New York Mets +18
8) Oakland A’s +17
9) Arizona Diamondbacks +15
10) Baltimore Orioles +11
10) Kansas City Royals +11
10) New York Yankees +11
13) San Francisco Giants +8
14) Detroit Tigers +6
15) Pittsburgh Pirates +1
16) Tampa Bay Rays -3
17) Milwaukee Brewers -5
18) Cleveland Indians -6
19) Chicago White Sox -7
20) Minnesota Twins -7
21) L. A. Angels -10
22) Washington Nationals -15
23) Philadelphia Phillies -17
24) Chicago Cubs -18
24) L. A. Dodgers -18
26) San Diego Padres -28
27) Seattle Mariners -29
28) Toronto Blue Jays -29
29) Houston Astros -40
30) Miami Marlins -46
Starting at the top, certainly the Red Sox, Rockies, Mets and, to a certain extent, the Diamondbacks have to be counted as pleasant surprises. Though many people had the Braves picked to at least win the Wild Card in their division, they have been playing perhaps even better than expected. The A’s are the little engine that can, and does, always find a way to win. Notice, too, that the expected collapse of either the Yankees and / or the Orioles hasn’t occurred to this point. And the Rangers don’t appear to miss Josh Hamilton very much yet, either.
On the negative side of the ledger, Don Mattingly’s days as Dodgers’ manager may be short-lived if he can’t turn his team around before the All-Star break. Like the Dodgers, the Blue Jays have gone all in this year, but have realized the same lack of success. The Astros and the Marlins were both expected to be terrible, and they are working hard to deliver on that promise.
What’s with the Angels? Although Pujols is playing well, they are seriously under-performing to date.
The Washington Nationals slow start, however, must rate as the most stunning in all of baseball to this point. Many people picked them to win the N.L. pennant this year, but (with the exception of Bryce Harper) they are playing like a team that is trying not to lose, rather than as a confident team playing good baseball. I think they will turn it around.
Another team that I think will play much better as the season progresses is the Tampa Bay Rays. Currently, they are a mediocre 16th overall, but I have little doubt they will finish the season among the top half-dozen teams in baseball.
As a Mets fan, I would like the see the Mets finish among the top seven teams at the end of the season, but, barring some peculiarly astute, timely trade, I see little chance of that happening.
Wouldn’t it be nice to see the Pirates finish at or above .500 this year? I think they are capable of doing so.
Which teams do you think will improve, or implode, over the course of the rest of the season?
You may have noticed that Mets phenom Matt Harvey is off to an incredible start to his career. The big right-hander has made thirteen major league starts, and, to this point, he has been nothing but dominant. Relatively small sample size, yes, but his numbers are staggering. Take a look at his pitching line below:
Innings Pitched: 81, Hits: 48, HR: 6, Strikeouts: 95, Walks: 32, ERA: 2.21, WHIP: 0.984, K’s /9 IP: 10.5
Notice the unbelievably low number of hits surrendered, the high strikeout totals, and the fantastic WHIP.
This got me to wondering about the first 13 starts of several other famous pitchers in MLB history. Can we draw any valid conclusions to what Harvey has accomplished so far? Is there historical precedent for such a dominant beginning to a MLB career for a starting pitcher?
I took a look at several pitchers, some active and some retired. A couple are in the Hall of Fame. How much success did they enjoy at the beginning of their careers? Here’s what I discovered. Which of the following, if any, do you think is the best match for Matt Harvey’s career to this point?
The number in parentheses after the pitcher’s name is his age at the time of his MLB debut. Matt Harvey, by the way, was 23-years old.
Tom Seaver: (22)
IP: 101.2, Hits: 85, HR: 11, Strikeouts: 59, Walks: 25, ERA: 2.41, WHIP: 1.08, K’s /9 IP: 6.5
It may come as a surprise that Seaver did not immediately begin his career as a big-time strikeout pitcher. His K rate of just 6 1/2 per nine innings is decent for a young pitcher, but not spectacular. Certainly, Seaver’s rate is nowhere near as impressive as Harvey’s. Keep in mind, thought, that a stigma still existed among hitters in those days regarding striking out. Some batters used to choke up on the bat with two strikes on them. Does anyone still do that?
Dwight Gooden: (19)
IP: 82.2, Hits: 57, HR: 1, Strikeouts: 96, Walks: 35, ERA: 2.61, WHIP: 1.12, K’s /9 IP: 10.6
Doc Gooden’s first thirteen starts do bear a striking resemblance to Matt Harvey’s fledgling career. In virtually the same number of innings, Gooden’s strikeouts and walks are essentially the same as Harvey’s. Gooden was unbelievably stingy with the long ball, however, surrendering just one to Harvey’s six. But Harvey was even tougher to hit than Gooden. Harvey’s lower WHIP is primarily the result of nine fewer hits surrendered in about one less inning pitched.
Roger Clemens: (21)
IP: 78.2, Hits: 101, HR: 9, Strikeouts: 68, Walks: 17, ERA: 5.13, WHIP: 1.50, K’s / 9 IP: 7.5
Just looking at that bloated ERA suggest Roger wasn’t quite ready to establish himself at the Major League level when he first arrived. The same is true of his WHIP, though his K rate is promising, and obviously improved as he matured. Clemens first 13 starts do not match up well with Matt Harvey.
Mark Prior: (21)
IP: 79, Hits: 61, HR: 11, Strikeouts: 96, Walks: 30, ERA: 3.65, WHIP: 1.15, K’s / 9 IP: 10.6
Again, as with Gooden, not entirely dissimilar to Harvey, though the homer rate is considerably higher for Prior. Prior’s WHIP is impressive, but still not in Matt Harvey territory. His K rate per nine matches up well with both Gooden and Harvey, though. And that’s 13 more hits for Prior in two fewer innings pitched than Harvey.
Kerry Wood: (20)
IP: 79.1, Hits: 56, HR: 5, Strikeouts: 118, Walks: 42, ERA: 3.40, WHIP: 1.24, K’s / 9 IP: 13.1
Holy smoke, look at that K rate per nine innings. That’s unbelievable. Respectable WHIP, homer rate, and a decent ERA as well. Higher walk rate leads to a higher overall WHIP than Harvey. Harvey has allowed 80 base-runners in 81 innings pitched. Wood allowed 98 base-runners in 79 innings. Clearly, aside from the strikeouts, Harvey has been a much more polished pitcher than was Kerry Wood.
Felix Hernandez: (19)
IP: 89.1, Hits: 63, HR: 5, Strikeouts: 81, Walks: 25, ERA: 2.62, WHIP: 0.98, K’s / 9 IP: 9.0
The first thing that I noticed was the relatively high number of innings pitched over his first 13 starts. Among the pitchers on this list, only Seaver tossed more innings. Hernandez, though, appears to have been a pretty efficient pitcher. His walk rate is low, and while his K rate is very nice, it’s not so high that his strikeout totals are causing him to throw an inordinate number of pitches per batter. His WHIP is second only to Harvey on this list. King Felix was a remarkably polished pitcher at age 19, but Harvey’s K rate is better, and his WHIP and ERA are still lower.
Stephen Strasburg: (21)
IP: 73, Hits: 58, HR: 5, Strikeouts: 96, Walks: 17, ERA: 2.71, WHIP: 1.02, K’s / 9 IP: 10.6
Fantastic strikeout to walk ratio, and basically the same K’s per nine as Prior, Gooden and Harvey. His WHIP is close as well. Harvey is still tougher to hit than is Strasburg, and his ERA is slightly lower as well. All things considered, through 13 starts, Strasburg is quite close to Harvey, though he’s not better.
Clayton Kershaw: (20)
IP: 69, Hits: 74, HR: 6, Strikeouts: 65, Walks: 32, ERA: 4.11, WHIP: 1.53, K’s / 9 IP: 7.2
His numbers are closer to Roger Clemens’ than to anyone else’s on this list. Kershaw may have come up to the Majors a bit before he was ready, but it hasn’t seemed to have harmed him so far. As with Clemens, the K rate showed potential for growth, and the K to walk ratio is quite respectable for a 20-year old kid. The WHIP is high, revealing a hit rate higher than some of the others on this list. Kershaw’s command wasn’t yet refined, as it was to become a year or so later.
This list could go on and on, of course. But I have a suspicion that you aren’t going to find many debuts as impressive as Harvey’s. Where his career will go from here is anyone’s guess. While Prior and Gooden can be viewed as cautionary tales, and Strasburg and Kershaw haven’t been around long enough to draw useful conclusions, Felix Hernandez, now in his ninth season, has had a successful and healthy career thus far. Let’s hope for the same for Matt Harvey, and enjoy him while we can.
When I first began collecting baseball cards as a kid back in 1974, it quickly became apparent that the Topps Chewing Gum Co. had a bit of a problem with quality control. Not that I understood what that term meant, exactly, but the baseball cards themselves were often off-center, of varying degree of glossiness and / or brightness, and sometimes included print-spots that resembled extra-large zits on player’s faces.
To my young mind, worse than any of the above grievances was the issue of coming across the same faces numerous times, pack after wax pack. Try as I might to come up with a Johnny Bench or a Reggie Jackson, invariably I would pull a Ray Fosse, a Jack Brohamer, or a Tom House.
Or, most frustratingly, for (literally) my money, a Norm Miller.
Norm Miller was a backup outfielder for the Atlanta Braves. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Miller, age 28, was entering his swan-song season in the Majors. He broke in with the Astros in 1965 at age 19, but whatever the Astros first saw in this presumably hustling teenager, the bloom had long since faded from this particular flower.
The less sagacious Atlanta Braves, however, appeared to believe that there was still reason enough to carry Miller’s light bat at the end of a thin bench. From that vantage point, at least Miller got to witness firsthand Henry Aaron’s final assault on Ruth’s home-run record. There are worse ways to earn a living.
Perhaps subconsciously I was also coming to terms with the realization that, an aspiring outfielder myself, and also part of the vast and influential Clan Miller, I might also never amount to anything more than a backup outfielder with underwhelming statistics.
Miller’s citrus-smile mocked me throughout the last half of the ’74 school year, and the entire baseball season. He looked like a man who wasn’t exactly a ball-player, but was happy enough to be wearing one of those uniforms, anyway. His non-threatening, every-man demeanor was as reassuring as it was distressing. Suppose I should strive and aspire to someday be someone — a man of note — only to be revealed to all the vast public as an impostor?
From mid-March, when I began collecting baseball cards, Norm Miller became the one constant in my life. He followed me into my sleep, and into my dreams. I was shagging fly balls in a perfect pasture of an outfield, when a Braves bullpen coach shouted at me to get off the field, grab a broom and start sweeping the dugout. Ralph Garr mocked me as he sauntered over to the batting cage. Johnny Oates flicked dirt from his cleats onto my little corner at the end of the bench.
Doubles, we called them. Whenever you got two or more — it didn’t matter how many — of a certain card, we called them doubles. I think perhaps some people still do.
In school, Miller became the answer to some of my math problems. 12×12? No sweat. That’s the pile of Norm Miller baseball cards on my bedroom floor. If Norm Miller traveled on a train from Atlanta to Cincinnati at 15 miles per hour, and if Rowland Office was traveling from Atlanta to Chicago at 25 miles per hour, and you knew that Miller was going to go 0-4 with two strikeouts in the second game of a double-header, how many times would you play him for the rest of the year?
For my eleventh birthday in May, a Norm Miller birthday cake, not a Billy Miller birthday cake, should have been set on the table for all the children in my neighborhood to enjoy, each little candle a bat splinter from his Louisville Slugger.
Once, I even got two Norm Millers in one pack. I’m ashamed to admit I began littering the ground that summer with unwanted Norm Miller cards on my way home from the A&G Market, my local grocery store of choice. I wanted to ask Ann and Gus why they kept sticking Norm Miller cards in every single pack they sold me, but I was too young and still too intimidated by adults to be so rude.
If you were to dig up any section of asphalt on Bridgeport’s west end, I’m confident that even today, you would turn up a soiled and battered Norm Miller baseball card, his smile forever fixed on whatever it was he was focused on at that particular moment in his life. Had he just finished a nice pancake breakfast? Were his eyebrows clipped just the way he liked them? Was there a cute girl waving at a player behind him, and he mistakenly thought she was a fan of his?
Norman Calvin Miller, I estimate that you owe me at least $12.50 for all the dimes I spent on you back in the summer of ’74, and I won’t even figure in inflation. When you read this, and I know that you are still keeping tabs on my life, please leave the envelope full of dimes on the top of my bureau at my old address in Bridgeport. I’m confident that it’ll find me.
In his final career at bat, on September 16, 1974 at Candlestick Park, Norm Miller, pinch-hitting against Giants pitcher Jim Barr, struck out. I like to think he went down swinging, for all of us.
In baseball, as in life, it’s important to get off to a good start. If I begin my day, for example, by mistakenly squeezing my wife’s hair gel on to my toothbrush, I know I’m in for a rough day. And my first morning cup of coffee better have the right balance of sugar and cream, or the joy of the day will seep slowly away.
Championship baseball teams do not always get off to fast starts. The 1914 “Miracle” Braves began the season with a 4-18 record before going on to win the World Series. Other teams stay close to the top before catching fire during the final four to six weeks, stealing victory from the proverbial jaws of defeat.
Often, however, a championship team (or at least a playoff-bound team) will send a message to the rest of the league early, making it clear that they’re out for blood. The obvious advantage of getting off to a quick start is, of course, that it leaves said team with a certain margin for error as the season plays out. Also, it puts early pressure on their divisional opponents to not fall too far behind too quickly.
While this is not a scientific, comprehensive study of this topic, the following ten teams are examples of how and why a fast start can make it virtually inevitable that the team that sprints out of the gate most successfully will often be the team celebrating (at least) a division title come October.
1) 2001 Seattle Mariners – Finished the season with a Major League record 116 wins against just 42 losses. The Mariners began the season with a 20-5 record in April, and were 40-12 at the end of May. They won their division, and advanced all the way to the A.L. Championship series vs. the Yankees, where the lost in five exciting games.
2) 1986 New York Mets – Posted a record of 108-54, winning their division by 21.5 games over the second place Phillies. The Mets enjoyed a 13-3 April, including an 11-game winning streak, and were 31-12 by Memorial Day. They would, of course, go on to defeat the Red Sox in a seven-game World Series thriller.
3) 1998 New York Yankees – Before the Mariners won a record 116 games in ’01, the Yanks had set the record themselves with 114 wins in ’98. The Yanks finished 22 games ahead of the second-place Red Sox in the A.L. East. After dropping four of their first five, the Yankees quickly righted the ship and won 16 of their next 18 games, finishing April with a 17-6 record, which further improved to 37-13 after two months. The Yanks would go on to sweep the Padres in four World Series games.
4) 1984 Detroit Tigers – The Tigers began the season 35-5, and never looked back. They led their division from wire-to-wire, eventually winning a total of 104 games. Starting pitcher Jack Morris, who tossed a no-hitter in April, was already 10-1 before the end of May (though he was just 9-10 after that point.) Morris also won three playoff games that season, posting a 1.80 ERA in those three starts. The Tigers defeated the Padres in a five-game World Series.
5) 1969 Baltimore Orioles - Blew away the rest of the A.L., winning 109 games. The Orioles finished 19 games ahead of the second-place Tigers in the A.L. East in the inaugural year of divisional play. After sweeping a double-header by the combined score of 19-5 on May 4th against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, the Orioles were already 20-8 on the young season. Through May 30th, they were 34-14. The Orioles would defeat the Twins in the first ever A.L. Championship series, then would shockingly win just one game in the ’69 Series vs. the Mets.
6) 1956 New York Yankees – Another in a long line of Yankee championship teams, the ’56 Yanks won seven of their first eight ball games, and were cruising with a 29-13 record by May 31st. They finished the year with 97 wins, dropping their final two decisions at Fenway Park. They went on to defeat the Brooklyn Dodgers in a seven-game World Series. Don Larsen pitched a perfect game against the Dodgers in Game 5.
7) 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers – The only 20th-century Brooklyn team to win a World Championship, Dem Bums ran off ten straight victories to start the season, and were an unbelievable 22-2 by May 10th. By the end of May, they were 32-11. Ultimately, the Dodgers won 98 games, then defeated the Yankees in a seven-game World Series.
8) 1931 Philadelphia Athletics – This highly talented group finished the season with 107 wins, 13 more than the mighty Yankees of Ruth and Gehrig. Admittedly, the A’s were just 7-7 at one point, but then won 17 consecutive games and went into June with a record of 30-10. Nevertheless, this particular Athletics team lost the ’31 World Series to the Cardinals in seven games.
9) 1927 New York Yankees – Murderer’s Row opened the first week of their historic season by going 6-0-1 in the first week of the season. By May 19th, they were 21-8-1 en route to a 110-44-1 season. They finished 19 games ahead of the second-place Athletics. In the World Series, they systematically dismantled the Pirates in just four games.
10) 1905 New York Giants – This team featured Christy Mathewson, “Iron Joe” McGinnity, Roger Bresnahan and, for one game, the mysterious “Moonlight” Graham. The Giants began the season by winning six of their first seven games, and were 25-6 by May 23rd. Ultimately, they would win 105 games on the season. In just the second World Series ever played, John McGraw’s Giants would defeat Connie Mack’s Athletics in five games, a Series in which Christy Mathewson would toss three shutouts in six days.
As you can see, there are several examples in baseball history of the importance of getting off to a fast start. While this has not been the path followed by each and every championship squad, a good start often does bode well for a team’s chances of making the playoffs.
"Sentimental Value: The personal value of an object, place or pet derived from the personal memories associated with it." —Jake's Sunday Post
This baseball has 216 single red stitches just like every other baseball made by Rawlings, but it has a very special sentimental value for me. It was a gift to me from a prisoner who plays on the San Quentin Giants baseball team in California's notorious San Quentin State Prison.