The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Fidel Castro”

Baseball 2012: Oddities and Conclusions, and Odd Conclusions

It’s never too early to draw specious conclusions from incomplete data.  Politicians do it all the time.  Therefore, not holding myself to a higher standard than those fine fellows, here’s what we’ve learned from this year’s baseball statistics thus far in 2012:

1)  Albert Pujols is actually 44-years old, and should be put out to pasture.  Seriously, I think it would be a bit premature to predict that Sir Albert will win this year’s A.L. MVP trophy.  Through nine games he has 40 plate appearances, no home runs, and 12 total bases.  It may take him the better part of a full year to adjust to the A.L., and even when he does, he still won’t automatically be the best player in the league.

2)  Break up the Mets!  They are off to a 6-3 start, including a pair of wins against the Phillies this past weekend.  Now just 0.5 games back of the Nats for first place in the N.L. East, and with baseball expanding to two Wild Card teams this year, it’s time to start printing up playoff tickets, isn’t it?

Well, no, it’s not.  The Mets Run Differential stands at exactly 0, meaning that this is essentially a .500 team, which is the best most of us Mets fans could hope for at the beginning of the year.

3)  The Pirates have the best pitching staff since the Braves when Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz and Neagle were hanging around.  The Pirates four primary starting pitchers: Correia, Bedard, Karstens, and McDonald all have ERA’s under 4.00, and the Pirates have given up fewer runs (22) than any other team in the N.L.

Conclusion:  Although the Pirates offense is awful, their pitching is good enough to finish somewhere in the middle of the pack in the N.L. this year, ensuring many low-scoring (especially at home) but competitive ball games.

4)  You can have your Verlander, Kershaw, Lee, Hamels, King Felix, etc., but for my money, the one pitcher who continues to be completely unreal (and a future Hall of Famer) is the Phillies Roy Halladay.  At 2-0, and having given up just one earned run in 15 innings this year, Halladay has a real chance to reach 200 career wins before he loses his 100th ball game.  His career record currently stands at 190-92, and he just seems to keep getting better with age.

Did you know that Halladay has increased his strikeout totals for each of the past seven years?  That he has walked over 40 batters in a season just once in the past nine years?  That he has never lost more than 11 games in any of his 13 full seasons?  He’s as good as they come, folks, so enjoy him while you can.

5)  Matt Kemp is staking his claim as the best player in the National League.  He should have won the N.L. MVP award last season, leading the league in home runs, RBI, runs scored, OPS+, total bases, and WAR.  He also stole 40 bases in 51 attempts, and plays above average defense in center field.  This year, with the Dodgers off to a 9-1 start, thanks in large part to Kemp’s torrid start, there’s every reason to believe he’ll win his first MVP award.

6) The A.L. East is the most mediocre division in baseball.  No team currently has more than five wins, nor fewer than four.  Only 1.5 games separates last place Boston from first place Yankees, Orioles, and Blue Jays.  Realistically, it is possible that no one in this division will win more than 95 games, and it is conceivable that four of these five teams might still be separated by as little as 1.5 games going into the final week of the season.

A look at the current run differentials in this division, where Toronto’s +12 is currently the best, suggests that there are no great teams in this division, just several good ones.

7)  David Wright will be the first player in baseball history to hit .500 this year, while posting an OPS+ well in excess of a KaZillion.  On his way to cementing his status as the best position player in Mets history (if you overlook a little thing called defense), Wright appears to enjoy the newly reconfigured Citi Field dimensions.  Most encouragingly, Wright has struck out just twice in his first 26 plate appearances this year.  Yup, he’s Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Paul McCartney and Brad Pitt, all rolled up in one perfect guy.  Let’s Go Mets!

8)  In the apparent pre-season bet between Bobby Valentine and Ozzie Guillen to see which of them could throw their managerial job away first, Bobby V. appears to have the inside edge so far.  Yes, Guillen committed the worst possible sin in Miami by lauding Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, but, hey, he gets language confused, you know?  What he MEANT was the Castro was a brain-eating zombie who devours small children on whats left of the playgrounds in Havana.  It was the MEDIA who got him all confused, see?  ANYONE could have made that mistake, right?

Meanwhile, Bobby V. today managed to insult Kevin Youkilis in what was an apparent effort to “fire him up.”  Oh.  And then he apologized to Youk for saying what he said to fire him up.  Look, it is readily apparent that Boston, as a franchise, is still suffering from what they used to call shell-shock from last September.  Putting Bobby V. at the helm of a franchise suffering collectively from P.T.S.D. is like putting serial killer Ted Bundy in a rape-hotline call center (oh wait, he really did have that job.)

Prediction:  Both managers are fired before the season ends, Bobby V. getting thrown overboard first.

9)  Tommy Hanson will never pitch a complete game shutout in his career.  I’m not saying he’s not a good enough pitcher to do so.  Hanson’s a very good pitcher, but he is one of the least efficient pitchers in baseball, regularly going to 2-2 counts on virtually every batter he faces.  That’s not how you pitch deep into ball games.  In fact, Hanson has completed just one of his 79 career starts.  Maybe he’ll eventually learn to pitch to contact more frequently, but until he does so, he’ll always be a fine six-inning pitcher.

10)  Brett Lawrie will be an All-Star for the next twenty years.  Yes, he only has 211 career plate appearances, but here’s his 162 game average so far:  31 home runs, 100 RBI, 93 runs scored, 25 steals, a .911 OPS, and an OPS+ of 142 (the same as Mike Piazza.)  Waive the ten-years of MLB service requirement rule and put the kid in Cooperstown right now so he can enjoy the honor while he’s still young.

I’m sure you’ve drawn lots of early season conclusions of your own.  So please feel free to share them with me, and I’ll publish the best ones in my next post.

Best Forgotten Seasons: Part 11 – The Cleveland Indians

Several professional pundits, as well a few proletarian bloggers,  have designated 2010 as The Year of the Pitcher.

After the homer-happy ’90’s, and even well into this decade, it is as if we have just emerged from a steroid-induced mass hallucination, where real-life Paul Bunyons swung bats the size of small trees, and pitchers, raised from birth in the shadow of aluminum bats and small ballparks, cowered in fear.

But, as the saying goes, everything is relative.  Certainly, pitching has reemerged as a significant force in Major League Baseball.  The depth and breadth of the current crop of young hurlers is stunning.  But obviously, this is not the first time pitching has dominated and defined our National Pastime.

The Gold Standard by which any subsequent Year of the Pitcher is measured is, of course, the 1968 season.

In 1968, the pitcher’s mound was as high as a small mountain, hitters were, on average, smaller than they are today, and pitchers could throw inside with impunity.

In 1968, the combined ERA of the entirety of Major League Baseball was 2.98.  Seven pitchers recorded ERA’s under 2.00.  Five of these pitchers were in the American League.

Over in the N.L., Bob Gibson of the Cardinals set a record for the lowest ERA in a season at 1.12.

Don Drysdale of the Dodgers, who did not have an ERA below 2.00 for the season, broke Walter Johnson’s 55-year old record for consecutive shut-out innings pitched with 58 (later eclipsed by another Dodger, Orel Hershiser.)

Of the five A.L. pitchers who recorded ERA’s below 2.00 in 1968, two pitched for one team, the Cleveland Indians.

Sam McDowell, a fearsome strikeout pitcher who at one point struck out 40 batters over a three game stretch, posted the second best ERA in the A.L., and the second best ERA on his staff, at 1.81.

So who recorded the lowest ERA in the A.L. in 1968?

A 27-year old, cigar smoking Cuban, whose father had pitched against barn-storming Major League and Negro League players in pre-Castro Cuba, Luis Tiant.

In 1959, when Luis Tiant was just nineteen-years old, Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba.  In 1961, Tiant came to America to become a Major League pitcher.  He planned on returning to Cuba the following year to see his family.  But the political situation in Cuba had worsened, and his father warned him not to come home, at least for a while.

Tiant’s exile lasted 46 years.

In 1964, Tiant made his Major League debut.  A decade later, his parents were finally allowed to come to America to see their son pitch.

1968 was Cleveland Indians’ pitcher Luis Tiant’s Best Forgotten Season.

The 1968 season was El Tiante’s fifth in the Major Leagues.  Previously, he had never won more than 12 games in a season.  But in ’68, Tiant’s talent and experience came together to produce a record of 21-9, a league-leading 1.60 ERA, 19 complete games, and a league-leading nine shutouts.

Tiant also surrendered an amazingly low 152 hits in 258 innings pitched.  His 5.3 hits per nine innings not only led the league, it is the second lowest mark ever recorded in Major League history.

Tiant also struck out 264 batters (third most in the league), against just 73 walks.  His ERA+ was a league best 186, and his WHIP was an astoundingly low 0.871.

So how does a pitcher with numbers like these not win the Cy Young Award?

Because he just happens to be pitching in the same league as Denny McLain.  McLain won 31 games against just six losses, posted an ERA of 1.96, and led the A.L. in starts (41), complete games (28!), and innings pitched (336.)

McLain not only won the Cy Young award, he was named A.L. MVP as well.

In other words, Tiant’s season, as great as it was, was just one of several outstanding pitching performances that season.

Later, of course, Tiant would enjoy great success pitching for the Boston Red Sox in the 1970’s, (1971-78.)  In fact, he would post yet another sub-2.00 ERA for the Sox in 1972, (1.91.)

El Tiante tallied three 20-win seasons for the Red Sox, and compiled a record of 122-81 while pitching for them.  In the 1975 World Series, he beat the Big Red Machine twice, his herky-jerky delivery, never quite facing home-plate, instantly making him a hero to a young generation of new baseball fans.

Most baseball fans remember Tiant’s Boston years.  But Tiant probably enjoyed his Best Forgotten Season in 1968 while pitching for the Cleveland Indians.

Should Luis Tiant be in the Hall of Fame?

His career win-loss record is 229-172 with a career ERA of  3.30.  According to baseball-reference.com, three of the six pitchers whose careers most resembled Tiant’s are in the Hall, including Catfish Hunter, Jim Bunning, and Don Drysdale.

If Tiant ever does get elected to the Hall of Fame, however, a case can certainly be made that his plaque should prominently display him wearing a cap with the Cleveland Indians logo prominently displayed on his head.

Meanwhile, Luis Tiant was finally allowed to return to Cuba in 2007 after an exile that lasted nearly half a century.  Now almost 70 years old, Tiant has come full circle.

The personal sacrifices he made to pursue his dream are beyond the comprehension of most Americans.  But his accomplishments while pitching in America demonstrate the tenacity of his spirit, and the triumph of his soul.

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