The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the category “Baseball Players”

A Half-Dozen Underrated Baseball Players, 2015

Now that another baseball season has come and gone, (the regular season anyway), it’s time to take a look back.  But instead of forecasting who will win the annual award hardware, let’s instead review those players who had fine seasons that may have gone somewhat under-appreciated.  The players I’ve chosen might not make your list.  To refer to a player as “underrated” or “under-appreciated” is to make a subjective judgment call.  Still, I’m guessing that unless you are a total baseball junkie, at least a couple of these names may have gotten by you this year.

  1. 3B Nolan Arenado:  Colorado Rockies – Arenado, a right-handed batter, was drafted by the Rockies in the 2nd round of the 2009 amateur draft.  All Arenado did in this third season in the Majors in 2015 was lead the N.L. in home runs (42), RBI (130) and total bases (354.)  A triple slash line of .287 / .323 /.575 indicates that while Arenado could stand to be a bit more selective at the plate, he certainly does crush his pitch when he gets it.  Not just a slugger, however, Arenado is also a Gold Glove caliber third baseman who led all N.L. third basemen in putouts (105), assists (385), double-plays turned (42) and range factor.  This 24-year old played in his first All-Star Game in 2015, and should have many more in his future.
  2. SP Gerrit Cole:  Pittsburgh Pirates – Cole, a right-handed pitcher, was the very first pick of the 2011 amateur draft.  In his third season in the Majors, he nearly won 20 games (19-8 in 32 starts.)  In 208 innings, he struck out 202 batters while walking just 44.  He posted a tidy 2.60 ERA (2.66 FIP), with an ERA+ of 148 and a WHIP of 1.09.  Cole surrendered just eleven home runs all year.  Also a fine fielding pitcher, he did not make an error all season. Like Arenado, Cole made his first All-Star team in 2015.  In many seasons, Cole would be the odds-on favorite to win the N.L. Cy Young award.  But with the dynamic duo of Kershaw and Greinke out in L.A., and the remarkable season enjoyed by Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta (who could also make this list, perhaps), Cole may find himself finishing no higher than 4th or 5th in the Cy Young voting.  Still just 25-years old, however, Cole should have many chances in the future to win that particular award.
  3. CF Kevin Kermaier:  Tampa Bay Rays – Kermaier was not drafted until the 31st round in 2010.  A left-handed batting center-fielder, let me make it clear at the outset that Kermaier did not make this list due to his bat.  As a hitter, he’s about league-average, sporting an OPS+ of 98, though he did finish second in the A.L. in triples with 12.  But a .263 batting average and an on-base average of just under .300, with little power, isn’t going to win him any MVP awards in the near future.  Kermaier is on this list, instead, for his remarkable fielding ability.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen an outfielder finish a season with a 5.0 dWAR before, but Kermaier reached that lofty summit in 2015.  His overall WAR of 7.4 makes Kermaier a very valuable player, even despite the average bat.  Kermaier led A.L. center-fielders in Total Zone Runs (24) while recording 410 putouts and 15 assists.  If his bat improves during the coming seasons, the 25-year old Kermaier could become an All-Star caliber player.
  4. RP Zach Britton:  Baltimore Orioles – Drafted by the Orioles in the third round of the 2008 amateur draft, this 27-year old lefty began his career as a starter, but converted to relief-pitching before the 2014 season.  Since then, he has been one of the best closers in the A.L.  This past season, Britton finished more games (58) than any other pitcher in the A.L., while recording 36 saves.  He recorded an ERA of 1.92, an ERA+ of 217 and a FIP of 2.01.  His WHIP was a fantastic 0.990, and he struck out 79 batters in 65 innings, while walking just 14.  He gave up just three homers all year.  Britton was a first-time All Star in 2015, and while not a household name outside of Baltimore, Britton seems poised to enjoy many very productive seasons to come.
  5. 3B Josh Donaldson:  Toronto Blue Jays – Though drafted by the Cubs in the first round of the 2007 draft, Donaldson made his MLB debut with the Oakland A’s in 2010, but didn’t play as many as 75 games in the Majors until he was already 26-years old in 2012.  Since then, this right-handed batting third baseman has been a one-man wrecking crew.  Similar (though older) than Colorado’s Nolan Arenado, Donaldson has a better batting eye, and is nearly as good a defensive third baseman as Arenado.  Also, like his third base counterpart in the Senior Circuit, Donaldson led his league in total bases in 2015 with 352, just two fewer than Arenado.  Of the two, however, Donaldson probably has the better shot at league MVP this year.  Donaldson led the A.L. in both runs scored (122) and RBI (123) while slamming 41 homers and 41 doubles.  Though Donaldson will turn 30-years old this December, his obvious talent should continue to shine on in Rogers Centre, Toronto for the foreseeable future.
  6. CF / 2B Mookie Betts:  Boston Red Sox – Drafted in the fifth round in 2011, this second baseman / center-fielder has brought life and energy to the Red Sox (despite their losing record.)  Mookie turns 23-years old this Wednesday, October 7th, so Happy Birthday in advance, Mookie.  Primarily an outfielder these days, Mookie batted .291 in 2015, with a perhaps surprising .479 slugging percentage.  He has plenty of pop in his bat, as evidenced by his 68 extra base hits this season, including 18 home runs.  Mookie scored 92 runs in 145 games and stole 21 bases while accumulating a 6.0 WAR in his first full year.  This athletic and deceptively powerful young man may already be the most valuable player on the Red Sox, and figures to man center-field for them for years to come.

Obviously, there are many more players who I could add to this list.  But let me put the question to you, oh wise readers.  Which players would you include on this list, based on their 2015 stats?

Advertisements

A Mets Anniversary, of Sorts

Sometimes,  coincidences have a way of falling into your lap.

A little while ago, I was replying to a comment on the fine baseball blog, Misc. Baseball, where a conversation about no-hitters as they relate to the Padres (and Mets) was taking place.  I happened to recall that San Francisco Giants pitcher Ed Halicki tossed a no-hitter against the Mets in 1975.  Curious about the date of that no-hitter, I decided to look it up.  Strangely enough, today is the 40th-anniversary of that game.

Here are some bits of trivia I discovered while researching Halicki’s no-hitter.

The Mets manager that day was Roy McMillan, who had replaced Yogi Berra whom the Mets fired just 18 days earlier.  The Mets had gone 56-53 up to the point Berra was fired.  Under McMillan, they went 26-27.

The Giants manager was Wes Westrum.  Westrum had managed the Mets from 1965-67.  After 1975, neither McMillan nor Westrum ever managed in the Majors again.

Entering the ’75 season, both Ed Halicki and Mets starting pitcher Craig Swan had pitched fewer than one-hundred innings apiece in the Majors.  They went on to have not entirely dissimilar careers.  Halicki posted a career record of 55-66 with a WAR of 11.6.  Craig Swan finished his career with a 59-72 record, and a 12.6 WAR.

In 1978, Halicki won just nine games, but led the N.L. with a 1.060 WHIP.

In 1978, Swan won just nine games, but led the N.L. with a 2.43 ERA.

Halicki’s no-hitter at Candlestick Park in San Francisco was the second game of a double-header that day.  The Mets, behind Jon Matlack, won the first game 9-5.  In the first game, the Giants didn’t even attempt to steal a base off of lefty Matlack and catcher Jerry Grote.  In the second game, they ran wild, notching five steals off of Swan and catcher John Stearns.

The most controversial play of the game occurred in the top of the 5th inning.  Mets batter Rusty Staub hit a liner off of the leg of pitcher Halicki, which then bounced over to second baseman Derrel Thomas who picked up the ball, then dropped it.  The official scorer ruled this an error on Thomas.  But Mets beat-writer Dick Young was outraged by this scoring, and complained loudly about it.  He believed this play should have been scored a hit.

Though the no-hitter stood, official scorer Joe Sargis of UPI lost his part-time job as an official scorer.

Giants first baseman Willie Montanez drove in the Giants first two runs of the game in the bottom of the first inning.  Though the Giants would go on to win 6-0, those first two runs would be the only runs Halicki would need to win.  Three years later, the well-traveled Montanez would lead the Mets with 96 RBI.

Other than Staub reaching on an error in the 5th, the only other base-runners the Mets would have that day were pinch-hitter Mike Vail’s walk in the 6th-inning, and a one-out walk in the 9th to center-fielder Del Unser.

This was the last no-hitter ever pitched by a Giants pitcher at Candlestick Park.

It would be another 37-years until Johan Santana would throw the first no-hitter by a Mets pitcher in history (June 1, 2012.)  June 1st is also the birthday of Rick Baldwin, who pitched three innings in relief of Craig Swan on that August day in 1975 at Candlestick Park.

Look closely enough, and baseball is always full of quirky stats and surprises.

Meet the Matz

Yesterday afternoon in Queens, New York, starting pitcher Steve Matz, making his Major League debut against the Cincinnati Reds, watched as the first batter he ever faced, Brandon Phillips, smacked a lead-off homer over the left-field wall.

The home crowd of 29,635 could never have guessed what would happen next.

Matz, apparently, had the Reds right where he wanted them.

The Long Island lefty, who grew up a Mets fan, quickly recovered his composure and shut down the Reds the rest of the way (other than a Todd Frazier solo homer in the 4th) on two runs and five hits through seven and two-thirds innings pitched.  Matz fanned six while walking three.  Of his 110 pitches, he threw 72 for strikes.

That manager Terry Collins let Matz go out and start the eighth inning after Matz had already thrown 90+ pitches through seven innings had as much to do with the Mets tired bullpen as it did Matz fine performance.

Or maybe it was Matz’s bat that Collins did not want removed from the game.

Matz became the first pitcher in the past hundred years to produce three hits and four runs batted in during his Major League debut.  His double in the second inning over the outstretched glove of Billy Hamilton plated the Mets first two runs of the game.  Matz also singled in the fifth inning, then lashed another single to center in the sixth-inning, driving in yet two more runs.

Neither Matz hitting nor his pitching performances in this game can easily be written off as flukes.  Before his call-up, Matz was batting .304 in Triple-A Las Vegas, and his earned run average through 14 starts this year was 2.19 with 94 strikeouts in 90 innings.  Said Vegas manager Wally Backman, “Matz is just bored down here.”

Just a few years ago, however, yesterday’s amazing performance was not an event that anyone would have readily predicted.  In 2010, Matz underwent what these days seems to be the inevitable Tommy John surgery.  It took him nearly two years to fully recover.  While many pitchers tend to recover and return to full health, surgery on a young arm is surgery, and no two cases will ever turn out exactly the same way.

So it was with great joy yesterday, for his family and friends in attendance as well as for Mets fan everywhere, that all of Matz’s hard work over the past few years has paid off with such unexpected dividends.

The Mets, who now enjoy one of baseball’s finest young rotations (if not the best) of Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob DeGrom and now Steve Matz (as well as veteran lefty Jon Niese and Jabba the Bartolo Colon), along with the currently recovering from T.J. surgery, Zack Wheeler, have Mets fans everywhere giddy over what the future may hold for New York’s senior circuit franchise.

While it is obvious that the Mets need to go out and get a bat, in the meantime no one could blame manager Terry Collins if he is tempted to use Steve Matz as a pinch-hitter.

That the 40-37 Mets (who have now won four home games in a row after enduring a terrible road seven-game losing streak) are still in the playoff hunt nearly halfway through the season is a testament primarily to their fine pitching.

Historically, this has nearly always been the case with the Mets when times are good.  Steve Matz and his mates in the rotation could take this team further than anyone, including this writer, would have predicted at the beginning of this season.  This might not be ’69 or ’73 all over again, but God knows it’s not 1963, 1981 or 2014, either.

That Matz was born and raised less than fifty miles from, and shares a birthday with this writer only makes me want to root that much more for this 24-year old phenom.

The only question is, what could he possibly do for an encore?

 

Ten Facts About Mets Ace Matt Harvey

Matt Harvey, who has begun his 2015 comeback campaign with a perfect record of 5-0, is certainly a candidate to win the N.L. Cy Young award this season.  Through his first 34 innings pitched, he has struck out 34 batters while walking just four.  He is currently averaging 8.5 strikeouts per walk, and (having been slated to make just 30 starts this season) is on pace to walk fewer than 30 batters this year.

So, yeah, he’s pretty good.

Here are ten other things you might not be aware regarding Matt Harvey:

1)  He has never been charged with an error in his career.

2)  He has never surrendered a grand slam homer in his career (and only one three-run homer.)

3)  He has never been charged with a balk.

4)  Only once has he ever intentionally walked a batter.

5)  He grew up as a Yankees fan (well, no one’s perfect.)

6)  He was the seventh pick in the first round of the 2010 amateur draft.  The first six players selected before him were, in order, Bryce Harper, Jameson Tailon, Manny Machado, Christian Colon, Drew Pomeranz, and Barret Loux.

7)  According to Baseball-Reference.com, the pitcher whose career, through age 24, most closely resembles that of Matt Harvey is Hall of Famer “Big Ed” Walsh of the early twentieth-century White Sox.

8)  His father was a collegiate athlete, playing both baseball and football at the University of Connecticut.

9)  Harvey shares a birthday (March 27th) with Hall of Fame manager Miller Huggins, and with teammate Mike Cuddyer (though Cuddyer was born a decade earlier.)

10)  The 1,067 batters who have faced Matt Harvey have hit a combined .191 against him.

Harvey’s next scheduled start is Friday, May 8th, in Philadelphia.

 

Dreams Before Dusk

The white sun showered Sacramento with fraying rays ’til well past 4:00.  By then, the only folks left in the ballpark were those paid ten cents an hour to pick up hot dog wrappers and half-filled soda cups under the bleachers.  Even the drunks had staggered out of the cooler spots under the grandstand, destinations to-be-determined.  And the Japanese kid, now just a hushed memory of Depression-era reticence.

Nine vs. nine, plus a couple of local high school kids on the bench to provide the home-team with extra lumber, should the boys from Nippon come looking for a fight.  Word was they were plenty good, though being on foreign turf had to rattle them some.  Especially out here in the Central Valley, where hard times had folded and molded men into something only faintly resembling human beings, and the W.P.A. was the only game in town.  Moering Field was the only getaway for the Oakies,  baseballs courtesy of Our Lady of Humble Secondary Offerings.

That Japanese kid, though, was some fast out there.  First six guys might not have even seen that steam, just read about it a half-second later in the catcher’s mitt, smoke emanating from leather like redolent gunshot.  My, how the laws of physics were Putting on the Ritz!  A pair of self-conscious pop ups to the infield, a ground-out to short, harmless as a baby snake, and three K’s, each punctuated with a grunting final swing, finished off the first three innings.

But our own kid, the dark-haired Angelich, held his own, too.  Just nineteen-years old, still had a year on their guy, Sawamura.  Angelich tossed down and slow, heavy pitches with just enough movement to frustrate over-eager sluggers, like suckers at a five-cent peephole aback a county fair.  Damned familiar she looked, too, all churlish grins as we counted our sins.  That is to say, they couldn’t touch it.

Still, their boys scratched out a pair of runs in the sixth and seventh innings, though none of the balls left the park.  Angelich left in the eighth to a Standing-O, waving one quick gloved-hand up to the crowd as he slicked back his hair with his bare one.  A fine performance, but still no permanent spot on the team.  Tough year, ’35.  And much tougher to come.

Sawamura, though, had the look that day.  Could’ve knocked down Mount Shasta with that game-face.  Baby-faced or not, the kid had STUFF.  How we managed even the one lone run was a water-to-wine miracle.  And what was he getting paid for this performance?  Did he even own a wallet?  Did he have a girl waiting for him back home?  And what did he think about during that empty Sacramento night, hours after reluctant American crowd regaled him with polite applause?  Fate writ large is still invisible to the naked eye, even to small-town heroes.

An ocean away, (both oceans, as it turned out), steely men with glinting eyes that knew neither love nor laughter planned hurricane death because they could and would.  Big plans, small minds, and lots of flags.

Baseball only a kid’s game, of course.  Inconsequential, but to those along the third-base line, shouting as the runner rounds third, digging for home, dirt-churning cleats digging clods of sod in a straight line to home plate, base-path all possibility, a dream out-running time and space, as the soft summer light fades into gray, and the dream withers at dusk.

This one’s for Jerry Angelich and Eigi Sawamura.

Please read the excellent link below for further context.

http://www.baseballsgreatestsacrifice.com/biographies/angelich_jerry.html

 

Saves, No-Hitters and Homers: Oh, My!

Consider this a follow-up to my last post.

Several of my readers made many fantastic additions to my previous list of players who had thrown a shutout and earned a save in the same season.  One of my readers wondered how often a pitcher tossed a no-hitter, (as opposed to merely a shutout), and earned a save in the same campaign. So, of course, I did a little more research.

Let me say, once again, that I don’t pretend that my research here is necessarily comprehensive.  I may have missed a few guys, but I hope not very many. Here are a couple of dozen pitchers who, at the very least, pitched a no-hitter and earned a save in the same season.  As you’ll see, I broke them down into a bit more specific categories.

Also, I’m only going back as far as 1900.  And no, chronological order doesn’t much interest me.

Pitchers Who Threw a No-Hitter and Earned a Save:

1)  Nolan Ryan:  Ryan pitched seven no-hitters in his career, four with the Angels.  The first two of those no-hitters occurred in 1973.  Also that same year, Ryan earned a save, one of just three he would record in his 27-year career.

2)  Jeff Tesreau:  Tesreau was an excellent rookie pitcher on the great 1912 New York Giants.  He tossed his only career no-hitter that year, and earned a save.

3)  Jim Bunning:  Bunning threw two no-hitters in his career.  The first one was when he was a member of the Tigers in 1958.  His second no-hitter came against the Mets, while pitching for the Phillies, in 1964.  He also earned a pair of saves in the 1964 season.

George Leroy "Hooks" Wiltse, of the ...

George Leroy “Hooks” Wiltse, of the New York (NL) baseball team, winding up for pitch (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

4)  Chris Bosio:  Bosio pitched the second no-hitter in the history of the Seattle Mariners franchise, in 1993.  Later that same year, he also earned a save.

5)  Hooks Wiltse:  Wiltse, a left-handed pitcher out of Hamilton, NY, enjoyed his finest season in 1908, recording a 23-14 record for the Giants.  He no-hit the Phillies on the 4th of July that season, one of his career-high seven shutouts on the year, and recorded a couple of saves along the way that season.  In his career, he threw 27 shutouts and earned 33 saves.  

6)  Dean Chance:  On August 25, 1967, Dean Chance of the Minnesota Twins defeated the Cleveland Indians on the road by the score of 2-1.  Oddly, Chance actually pitched a complete game no-hitter that day, but his five walks, a wild pitch and an error by Twins third baseman Cesar Tovar led to the lone Indians run in the first inning.  Tovar later scored the go-ahead run in the sixth inning on a balk by Indians pitcher Sonny Siebert.  Chance also acquired one save in ’67.

7)  Allie Reynolds:  If there is such a thing as an underrated Yankee, I submit Allie Reynolds as Exhibit A.  Reynolds tossed a pair of no-hitters in the 1951 season, about ten weeks apart.  Already 34-years old that season, Reynolds won 17 games for the Yanks in ’51, leading the A.L. with seven shutouts.  He also recorded seven saves that same year.  In 1952, he led the A.L. in ERA (2.06), won twenty games, and led the league, again, with six shutouts.  He matched those six shutouts by registering six saves.

8)  Gaylord Perry:  Facing Bob Gibson in Gibson’s unbelievable ’68 season (1.12 ERA), Perry actually bested him by no-hitting Gibson’s St. Louis Cardinals.  (How would you like to have been anywhere near Bob Gibson in the Cardinal’s clubhouse after that game?)  Perry also earned a save that year.  He didn’t hit a homer in ’68, but he did hit exactly one homer in ’69, ’70, ’71 and ’72.

9)  Carl Hubbell:  In just his second Major League season, Hubbell tossed the only no-hitter of his fine career, an 11-0 victory over the Pirates at the Polo Grounds in 1929.  He also saved a game that year.

10)  Paul Dean:  Like Jeff Tesreau 22 years earlier, Paul (Daffy) Dean, (brother of Dizzy Dean),  pitched a no-hitter in his rookie season (1934.)  Paul won 19 games in each of his first two Major League seasons, then won just 12 more in his career.  He also saved two games in 1934.

11)  Dutch Leonard:  Leonard tossed a pair of no-hitters in the early years of the Boston Red Sox, one in 1916 and one in 1918.  In addition to his six shutouts in ’16, he also saved half a dozen games.

12)  Carl Erskine:  “Oisk” tossed a couple of no-hitters for the Brooklyn Dodgers, the first one in 1952 and the second one in 1956.  In ’52, he also saved two games, but he saved none in ’56.  His one career homer came in 1955.

English: Pitcher Jimmy Lavender of the Chicago...

English: Pitcher Jimmy Lavender of the Chicago Cubs at the Polo Grounds in New York City, 1912. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

13)  Jimmy Lavender:  Nope, I’d never heard of him before, either.  Lavender was a decent pitcher on a mediocre Cubs team in 1915, but he did have one big day.  He fired a no-hitter against the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds, defeating them 2-0.  Former Giant Roger Bresnahan was his catcher, and his manager.  Hall of Fame umpire Bill Klem was behind the plate.  Lavender also earned four saves in ’15.

Those Who Did a Bit More:  A no-hitter, a save, and a home run (or two.)  

14)  Bob Feller:  Feller hurled three no-hitters in his legendary career.  The first one occurred on Opening Day, 1940 (the only Opening Day no-hitter in MLB history.)  His second no-hitter was in 1946, after he arrived home from WWII.  His third and final no-hitter was recorded in 1951.  Feller also earned four saves in both 1940 and ’46.  In 1940, Feller also slugged two home runs.  He was one of only six pitchers on this list to toss a no-hitter, earn a save and hit a home run in the same year.

15)  Walter Johnson:  You might think 1920 was one of Johnson’s best years because he accomplished what Feller did, pitching a no-hitter, earning three saves and hitting a home run that season.  But 1920 was otherwise a rare bad year for Johnson, as he posted just an 8-10 record.  A fine hitting pitcher, he slugged 24 homers in his career.

"Smokey" Joe Wood, Boston AL (baseball)

“Smokey” Joe Wood, Boston AL (baseball) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

16)  Smoky Joe Wood:  As a 21-year old stud on the Red Sox in 1911, Joe Wood would pitch a no-hitter and save three games.  The following year, he would enjoy his legendary 34-5 season, leading the Red Sox to a World Series triumph over the Giants.  Oh, and he also hit a pair of homers in ’11, and two more in ’12.

17)  Lew Burdette:  The best player ever to come out of Nitro High School, West Virginia, Milwaukee Braves pitcher Burdette pitched a no-hitter on August 18, 1960 against the Phillies, winning by a score of 1-0.  Burdette also led the N.L. with 18 complete games, won 19 games, saved four games, and hit two home runs in 1960.

18)  Warren Spahn:  That same 1960 season, Burdette’s teammate, Warren Spahn, virtually matched Burdette’s trifecta.  Spahn pitched the first of his two career no-hitters at age 39, saved a pair of games, and hit three homers.

19)  Phil Niekro:  Thirteen years after Burdette and Spahn, Atlanta Brave Phil Niekro did his best to emulate those Braves pitchers of the previous generation.  Though 1973 wasn’t one of Niekro’s very best seasons, he did toss the one and only no-hitter of his career, (his only shutout of 1973), recorded four saves, and even hit one of his seven career home runs.

One of a Kind:  a perfect game and a save.  

20)  Addie Joss:  On October 2, 1908, Joss pitched the second perfect game in American League history.  It came against the Chicago White Sox.  He also earned two saves that season.  Less than two years later, in April of 1910, he again no-hit the White Sox.  He won both games by the score of 1-0.  Almost exactly one year later, on April 14, 1911, Joss died of meningitis.  Until Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum no-hit the Padres last week for the second time in his career, Joss had been the only pitcher in history to toss two no-hitters against one team.

From Another Dimension:  a perfect game, a no-hitter, saves and homers.

21)  Sandy Koufax:  Koufax was the first pitcher to throw four no-hitters.  He tossed one each over four consecutive seasons beginning in 1962.  His final no-hitter in ’65 was also a perfect game.  In ’62, in addition to his first no-hitter, he also saved a game and hit a home run.  In ’63, he threw a no-hitter, won 25 games, and hit a homer.  In ’64, he threw a no-hitter and saved a game, but didn’t hit a homer.  In ’65, Koufax enjoyed his perfect game, saved two additional games, but did not hit a home run.  All in all, not a bad four-year stretch.

Cy Young.

Cy Young. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All That, and a Bag of Chips:  A perfect game, a save, and a home run.

22)  Cy Young:  Like Bob Feller, Cy Young recorded three no-hitters in his career.  He tossed his first one in 1897, his second one in 1904, and his last one in 1908.  But his ’04 no-hitter was also a perfect game.  He earned a save as well in ’04, and a couple of more saves in ’08.  In ’04, he also hit a home run.

23)  Jim “Catfish” Hunter:  Before he was Catfish, he was just a young phenom pitcher named Jim Hunter.  In 1968, he actually matched Cy Young’s ’04 performance.  Hunter tossed a perfect game, earned a save, and hit a home run.  Young and Hunter are the only two pitchers I’m aware of who accomplished this feat in one year.     

If you can find more pitchers to add to this list, O Faithful Readers, I welcome any and all additions.  I’m sure there are a few more out there.

Pitchers Who Tossed a Shutout and Earned a Save in the Same Season

In days of yore, before the set-up man, the LOOGY and the closer, you had pitchers.  Sometimes, these pitchers mostly started.  Sometimes, they mostly relieved.  Beyond that, there was often a great deal of flexibility regarding at what point a pitcher entered any particular game.

A bit like the uncle you grew up with who could remove an entire engine from a car, take down a gnarled old tree in his backyard, teach the neighborhood kids how to grip a curve-ball, and, in his spare time,  re-wire your house, pitchers of earlier generations were not above tossing a complete game one day, then coming in to pitch 1 2/3 innings of relief a couple of days later.

One thing I happened to notice while looking at the career stats of some pitchers from earlier generations is that several of them managed to toss a shutout and pick up a save in the same season.  At first blush, it might not seem to be that big a deal, but if you stop to consider how few pitchers today are used as “swing-starters,” pitchers who might be used as a fifth-starter, and who would pitch in relief in between, shutouts and saves are not a combination we are used to modern pitchers producing.

I have compiled an admittedly random list of pitchers who did earn a save in the same year they pitched a shutout.  Some of the names may surprise you.  Some of the pitchers may be men you’ve never heard of before.  Each of them demonstrated a flexibility that we don’t see much anymore.

1)  Tom Seaver – In Tom Terrific’s sophomore season, 1968, he made 35 starts and pitched 278 innings.  On July 7th, at Philadelphia, Seaver was tapped to close out the second game of a double-header.  With one runner already on base when he entered the game, Seaver struck out Dick Allen looking, then retired Johnny Callison and Tony Taylor on fly-balls.   It was the one and only save he recorded in his entire career.  That same season, Seaver hurled five shutouts.

Catfish, Billy, and Brad Gulden

Catfish, Billy, and Brad Gulden (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2)  Jim “Catfish” Hunter – Oddly, 1968 was the year Catfish Hunter also recorded the only save in his career.  The first season the A’s were in Oakland (having moved from Kansas City), the 22-year old Hunter was already in his fourth Major League season.  Though Hunter had pitched a few games in relief in his first couple of seasons, by ’68, he was a regular starter in the A’s rotation.  Jack Aker led the A’s with only 11 saves that season, so the A’s didn’t really have a closer, per se’.  Hunter just happened to be in the right place at the right time.  Incidentally, he also threw a couple of complete game shutouts that year.

3)  Bill Bonham – In 1974, 25-year old Cubs right-hander Bill Bonham led the N.L. with 22 losses.  He really wasn’t as bad as that.  His FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) was 3.12, while his actual ERA was 3.86.  In other words, he was particularly unlucky with balls in play.  Regardless, in addition to his 36 starts, of which he completed 10, he also appeared in eight games in relief.  He had already recorded a total of ten saves during the previous two years, but he would record his eleventh and final career save in the ’74 season.  His two shutouts in ’74 provide some indication that he was not a useless MLB pitcher, despite his 22 losses.

4)  Walter Johnson – For sixteen consecutive seasons (1908-23), Johnson recorded at least one save in each season, posting a high of four saves in 1915.  In each of those 16 years, he also recorded at least one shutout, tossing a career high of 11 in 1913.  In addition to his all-time record of 110 shutouts, he also saved 34 games.  For good measure, he belted at least one home run in 12 of those sixteen seasons, hitting nearly as many home runs as he surrendered.  Oh, and he managed 41 career triples as well.

English: Baseball pitcher Rube Waddell in 1901

English: Baseball pitcher Rube Waddell in 1901 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

5)  Rube Waddell – When not chasing fire trucks, being distracted by shiny objects or going fishing without telling anyone, Waddell started 36 games for the 1908 Browns, and made seven relief appearances as well.  In his last outstanding season, the 31-year old Waddell pitched five shutouts, and posted a 1.89 ERA.  He also saved three games, which led the team.  He also hit a homer in ’08, one more than he surrendered  the entire year.

6)  Lynn McGlothen – McGlothen pitched for several teams during the decade 1972-82, most successfully for the Cardinals, where he was named to the 1974 N.L. All Star team.  Used almost exclusively as a starter for the first seven years of his career, he landed on the Cubs for the ’78 season, and 1979, he was a swing-man, alternating between the bullpen and the rotation.  He completed six of 29 starts, posting a record of 13-14 along the way.  One of those complete games was a shutout, one of 13 he would pitch in his career.  That same season, he recorded the only two saves he would ever earn.  Three years later, at the end of the 1982 season, McGlothen was killed in a fire in a mobile home while visiting his girlfriend in his native Louisiana.   According to his New York Times obituary, she died when she ran in to save him after saving her daughters.  In his lifetime, it would have been the only save that truly mattered.

7)  Steve Barber – Barber was a very good pitcher for the Orioles during the early to mid 1960’s, winning a career high 20 games in 1963.  In 1961, he won 18 of 34 starts, leading the A.L. with eight shutouts.  He also appeared in three games in relief, saving one ballgame.  The previous season, he had saved two games while throwing one shutout.  After the ’61 season, despite playing for thirteen more years, he would never again toss a shutout and save a game in the same year, though he recorded more of each category in different subsequent seasons.

8)  Rollie Fingers –  It’s hard for me to think of Rollie Fingers as anything but a relief pitcher.  But even Mariano Rivera made ten starts (in his rookie season), so obviously things can change drastically, given enough time.  Fingers appeared in 944 games in his career, but started only 37 times.  About half of those starts (19) came in one year, 1970. Fingers tossed one shutout in eight starts in 1969, and one more shutout, again in eight starts, in 1971.  Those were the only two shutouts of his career.  He would save 12 and 17 games, respectively, during those two years, on his way to 341 saves for his career.

English: Phil Niekro signing an autograph in 1982.

English: Phil Niekro signing an autograph in 1982. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

9)  Phil Niekro – In a way, Niekro was the Walter Johnson of his era.  What I mean by that is even though Niekro was generally the ace of the staffs on which he pitched for many years, his team was not afraid to use him in relief, even in save situations a surprising amount of times.  In fact, in eight seasons Niekro recorded at least one shutout and one save.  He recorded a high of nine saves in 1967, a season in which he made 20 starts and pitched in relief in 26 other games.  He tossed one shutout that season.  Several years later, in 1974, he threw a career high six shutouts in 39 starts, yet also managed to find the time to save one game.  In his 24-year career, Knucksie threw 45 shutouts and saved 29 games.

10)  Hoyt Wilhelm – Wilhelm didn’t throw his first shutout until he was already 35-years old, with the Orioles in 1958.  Earlier that same year, he also pitched for the Indians, where he was credited with five saves.  In 1960, still with the Orioles, he threw one more shutout, the last of his career, and saved seven games.  Already 37-years old at this point, his career wasn’t even half over.  Wilhelm would go on to record double-digit saves nine times over the next decade, on his way to over 1,000 appearances in relief.  By comparison, he started just 52 games, and recorded five career shutouts.

11)  Roy Halladay –  O.K., so there is at least one modern pitcher who recorded a shutout and a save in the same season.  In the second year of his career, 1999, Halladay pitched in 36 games, divided exactly evenly between starting and relieving.  He pitched one complete game shutout that year, and recorded the only save of his career.  After the 2001 season, Halladay would never pitch in relief again, making 390 starts in his career, and completing an impressive (for our era) 67 of them.  Twenty of those were shutouts.

12)  Bill Lee – In his first four seasons with the Red Sox, Lee was primarily a relief pitcher, managing just nine starts in his first 125 appearances.  Not necessarily the team’s closer, however, he also recorded just eight saves during those four years.  In 1973, however, Lee was a full-time member of the Red Sox starting rotation (supplanting the aforementioned Lynn McGlothen, who was traded to St. Louis.)  Lee made 33 starts, against just five relief appearances, pitching 18 complete games, including one shutout.  He also saved one game in those five relief appearances.  From that point on, Lee threw nine more shutouts in his career, and saved ten more games, on his way to a record of 119-90.

I’m sure you can come up with many more pitchers who recorded a save and a shutout in the same season at least once in their careers.  Let me know who you find.

 

 

 

Greatest Pitchers vs. the Greatest Hitters

What happens when you put a pair of superstars on opposite teams on the same field?  One superstar happens to be a pitcher, and the other one is a batter.  How well do some superstars perform against others?

I decided to take a look at some of the best pitchers of all-time, and see how well they performed against high level competition.  Specifically, I have listed the stats of a fine hitter a pitcher performed well against, and a HOF-caliber batter who hit them hard.  Although there may be individual batters who hit certain pitchers even better than the ones I’ve listed, generally speaking, those hitters weren’t normally considered superstar level performers.

Here are the results:  (Minimum of 50 at bats.)

1)  Sandy Koufax vs. Hank Aaron:

116 at bats, 42 hits, 6 doubles, 3 triples, 7 homers, 16 RBI, 14 walks, 12 strikeouts.  .362/.431/.647  OPS:  1.077

2)  Sandy Koufax vs. Lou Brock:

65 at bats, 12 hits, 4 doubles, 0 triples, 0 homers, 1 RBI, 3 walks, 28 strikeouts.  .185/.232/.246  OPS:  .478

3)  Bob Gibson vs. Eddie Mathews:

95 at bats, 31 hits, 5 doubles, 1 triple, 4 homers, 13 RBI, 21 walks, 14 strikeouts.  .326/.448/.526  OPS:  .975

4)  Bob Gibson vs. Roberto Clemente:

125 at bats, 26 hits, 1 double, 2 triples, 4 homers, 16 RBI, 2 walks, 32 strikeouts.  .208/.219/.344  OPS:  .563

5)  Tom Seaver vs. Joe Morgan:

109 at bats, 32 hits, 8 doubles, 0 triples, 5 homers, 11 RBI, 23 walks, 17 strikeouts.  .294/.415/.505  OPS:  .919

6)  Tom Seaver vs. Johnny Bench:

84 at bats, 15 hits, 7 doubles, 0 triples, 2 homers, 8 RBI, 11 walks, 27 strikeouts.  .179/.271/.333  OPS:  .604

7)  Warren Spahn vs. Stan Musial:

291 at bats, 95 hits, 21 doubles, 6 triples, 14 homers, 45 RBI, 43 walks, 28 strikeouts.  .326/.417/.584  OPS:  1.001

8)  Warren Spahn vs. Duke Snider:

80 at bats, 19 hits, 3 doubles, 0 triples, 4 homers, 12 RBI, 8 walks, 18 strikeouts.  .238/.315/.425  OPS:  .740

9)  Robin Roberts vs. Ernie Banks:

121 at bats, 41 hits, 4 doubles, 3 triples, 15 homers, 31 RBI, 7 walks, 22 strikeouts.  .339/.377/.793  OPS:  1.170

10)  Robin Roberts vs. Orlando Cepeda:

63 at bats, 16 hits, 3 doubles, 0 triples, 2 homers, 11 RBI, 1 walk, 12 strikeouts.  .254/.262/.397  OPS:  .658

11)  Steve Carlton vs. Gary Carter:

116 at bats, 36 hits, 9 doubles, 0 triples, 11 homers, 24 RBI, 18 walks, 7 strikeouts.  .310/.400/.672  OPS:  1.072

12)  Steve Carlton vs. Tony Perez:

108 at bats, 21 hits, 5 doubles, 0 triples, 3 homers, 10 RBI, 16 walks, 26 strikeouts.  .194/.294/.324  OPS:  .618

13)  Nolan Ryan vs. Carl Yastrzemski:

50 at bats, 17 hits, 1 double, 0 triples, 4 homers, 14 RBI, 12 walks, 7 strikeouts.  .340/.469/.600  OPS:  1.069

14)  Nolan Ryan vs. Robin Yount:

69 at bats, 16 hits, 4 doubles, 1 triple, 2 homers, 10 RBI, 8 walks, 16 strikeouts.  .232/.329/.406  OPS:  .735

15)  Greg Maddux vs. Tony Gwynn:

94 at bats, 39 hits, 8 doubles, 1 triple, 0 homers, 9 RBI, 11 walks, 0 strikeouts.  .415/.476..521  OPS:  .997

16)  Greg Maddux vs. Mike Piazza:

80 at bats, 19 hits, 1 double, 0 triples, 4 homers, 10 RBI, 1 walk, 12 strikeouts.  .238/.247/.400  OPS:  .647

 

Player Narratives, and the Hall of Fame

Do me a favor.  Take a look at these final career numbers, and tell me if you think the player who compiled these numbers is probably in the Hall of Fame or not.  Do not try to guess who the player is, because we’ll come back to that later.  Please allow the numbers to speak for themselves:

2,460 Games

2,490 Hits

441 Doubles

493 Home Runs  (27th)

1,550 RBI  (42nd)

1,349 Runs

1,305 Walks

4,458 Total Bases (50th)

1,704 Runs Created (49th)

Triple Slash Line:  .284 / .377 / .509

OPS+    134

1,447 Assists (10th at his position)

1,775 Double Plays Turned (5th at his position)

I’m choosing not to include this player’s WAR because it has become too easy to simply go directly to that one statistic and form one’s judgment based on that stat alone.  I will tell you that it is better than some HOF’ers, and not as good as some others.

At this point, you are probably withholding your final judgment based on who the player is.  I would probably do the same.  But why do we do that?  Why does the player’s identity matter so much in our final evaluation as to whether or not he belongs in The Hall?  Shouldn’t the numbers speak for themselves?

The truth is, we tend to place a great deal of weight on the player’s particular narrative.  Did he play for one team his entire career?  Was he beloved by millions, or was he a surly jackass who alienated press and public alike.

Certainly, we want to know, too, in which era the player performed.  Were his numbers special for their time, or were they more representative of a good but not necessarily a great player?

What about intangibles such as playoff performance, overcoming significant personal or professional handicaps, being a suspected cheater, or suffering a tragic, career-ending injury at a relatively young age?

What position did he play?  Historically, more offense has always been expected from outfielders and first basemen than from middle infielders or catchers.

If I told you the numbers listed above belonged to Duke Snider, (they do not, but they plausibly could have), you, too, would probably choose to enshrine the well-respected slugger from the legendary Boys of Summer.  The Brooklyn narrative and the lure of baseball’s so-called Golden Era would be too strong to resist.  Mickey, Willie and The Duke, and all that.

Similarly, if I told you those are Willie Stargell’s numbers, (again, they are not), once again, you would allow that those statistics are sufficient to make the case that “Pop” Stargell, the lifelong Pirate and spiritual leader of the 1979 We Are Family championship ball-club, belongs in the Hall of Fame.

On the other hand, if I told you that these numbers belonged to Dick Allen, Jose Canseco, Carlos Delgado, or Joe Carter, for various reasons, you might very well come to an opposite conclusion regarding their HOF-worthiness.

The truth is, when it comes to whom we deem to be HOF-worthy, we love our narratives.  We tend to work backwards, I think, and use statistics to rationalize our preconceived prejudices regarding who does or does not belong in The Hall.

Certainly, there are a handful of players who obviously belong in The Hall, are there not?  Lou Gehrig comes to mind.  Gehrig slugged 493 home runs, (as many as the player whose stats are listed above.)  He died young and tragically, and was a fabled member of the ’27 Yankees.

Mike Schmidt also comes to mind.  A dominant player in his era, Schmidt compiled 54 fewer total bases than did the mystery player joining us today.

No one I’ve ever heard of has ever argued that Willie “Stretch” McCovey doesn’t belong in The Hall.  A tremendous run producer, McCovey drove in just five more runs in his career than did our soon-to-be revealed player.  McCovey topped 30 homers seven times.  Our Mystery Player accomplished that feat ten times in his career.

Here’s another example.  When I was a kid growing up in the 1970’s, it was clear and obvious to all of the neighborhood boys that Catfish Hunter was a Hall of Famer long before he became eligible, while Bert Blyleven was merely a fine pitcher, but not a particularly interesting one.

For those of us now in our early 50’s, that narrative remains powerful to this day.  While more recent stats point to Blyleven being far more valuable than Hunter, all I remember about Blyleven is that he pitched in Minnesota for lots of bad Twins ball clubs.  It wasn’t until later that I became aware of his reputation as a great prankster, though I doubt even that information would have been enough to sway my opinion of his worthiness for the Hall of Fame.

I now see that as far as his numbers are concerned, Bert Blyleven does belong in the Hall of Fame.  Yet, although I recognize that Hunter’s numbers may ultimately appear to be lacking, his narrative remains superior.  He was the mustachioed ace of first the great A’s clubs of the early ’70’s, then the ace of the fine Yankees teams of the later ’70’s.  He had a great nickname, was always good for a quote, won at least 20 games five consecutive seasons, and died relatively young at age 53.

Therefore, I have come to the conclusion that there’s room for both pitchers in the Hall of Fame.  Sometimes, if we remain open-minded enough, life can be a win-win.

O.K., enough of that.  Who is our Mystery Player?

He is none other than Fred “Crime Dog” McGriff.

Fred McGriff was well-respected, and generally well-liked, and his numbers appear to be worthy of HOF induction, but there are a few problems with his narrative.

For one thing, unlike Schmidt, McCovey, Gehrig, Gwynn, Ripkin, Kaline, Clemente and so many other Hall of Famers, it is difficult to associate McGriff with any one team.  He started out as an extremely productive Toronto Blue Jay, became a highly productive Padre, then moved on to become a reliably productive Brave.  Once he left Atlanta, he moved on to Tampa Bay, where, now in his mid-30’s, he provided solid punch in their batting order.

At age 38, clearly his best years behind him, all he did was slam 30 homers, drive in 103 runs and slug .505 with the Cubs.  He hit his 490th home run as a Dodger, then retired as a Devil Ray at age 40 in 2004.

McGriff also had the misfortune to have his best seasons in the first half of his career (pre-1994), when hitting 35 homers per season still meant something.  By the time he got the opportunity to play before a national audience on TBS with the Braves, every third player seemed to be enjoying 30 homer seasons.  His production began to be viewed by that point as ordinary, the norm of what a first baseman should be producing.

That McGriff finished in the top ten in MVP voting six times, that he reached an OPS+ of at least 140 in ten seasons, and that the first time he went on the Disabled List was in his 18th season at age 39 (talk about an Iron Man) is apparently no match for the overall lack of gripping drama, personal tragedy, or single-uniform predictability that sports fans love.

Fred McGriff has now been on the HOF ballot five years.  Last year, he was named on just 11.7% of all votes cast.  At this point, it seems unlikely that McGriff will be voted into the HOF anytime soon.  You, too, may believe that McGriff just doesn’t quite belong in the Hall of Fame.

But if that’s the way you feel, ask yourself this.  Is it the numbers or is it the narrative that prevents you from considering him to be a worthy Hall of Famer?

Tampa Bay Devil Rays first base coach Fred McG...

Tampa Bay Devil Rays first base coach Fred McGriff during a Devil Rays/New York Mets spring training game at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

Top Ten Things For Which Mets Fans Can Be Moderately Satisfied

Though I’ve been a Mets fan since 1974, and have been writing this blog for nearly five years now, I don’t often indulge myself in all things Mets (probably because there’s not a great deal for which to indulge.)  Yet, given the declining interest among the fan base (do they still make Mets fans?), I thought I would do my best to try to cheer up my fellow refugees here in Mets-Land.

English: Citi Field with Shea Stadium's Home R...

English: Citi Field with Shea Stadium’s Home Run Apple (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To that purpose, here is my list of the top ten things for which Mets fans can be moderately satisfied:

1)  Through 276 plate appearances, Curtis Granderson has not yet hit into a single double-play this season.

2)  Jon Niese’s 2.67 ERA ranks 8th-best in the N.L., and his 1.15 WHIP ranks 11th in the senior circuit.

3)  Compared to the San Diego Padres (210 runs scored), our offense (273 runs scored) looks like the ’27 Yankees.

4)  Through 274 plate appearances, Mets prospect Brandon Nimmo has an outstanding .449 on-base percentage in Single-A for the St. Lucie Mets in the Florida State League.

5)  Matt Harvey is still undefeated this year.

6)  If it’s true that with age comes wisdom, then Mets G.M. Sandy Alderson (66), manager Terry Collins (65), and team owner Fred Wilpon (77), are Major League baseball’s version of the Oracle at Delphi, if the Oracle at Delphi featured poor infield defense, and looked at lots of 2-1 fastballs down the middle.

7)  The Mets home attendance average of 27,823 fans per game (17th-best in MLB), means that there is normally plenty of leg and elbow room for the fans who actually do show up, not like out in San Francisco, where the park is 99.5% filled to capacity.  Being a Mets fan attending a game at Citi Field is, then, like enjoying a first-class deck cabin on the Lusitania.

8)  Mets third baseman David Wright still has a perfect driving record.  And, according to another blog I read recently, Wright plays baseball “above the neck.”  That might put him at a competitive disadvantage, however, in a league where most other players use their hands, feet, legs and arms.

9)  No Mets pitcher appears to be on track to match the team record of 24 losses in a season accumulated by retired Mets pitchers Roger Craig and Jack Fisher.  Zack Wheeler currently has just seven losses to lead the team, so he’ll have his work cut out for him if we wishes to join Craig and Fisher in the pantheon of Mets infamy.

10)  With just six triples as an entire team so far this season, the Mets appear to be on pace to at least match the all-time team low of 14 triples the team legged out in 1999.  But at least management will have to spend less money on footwear during the next off-season.  No doubt they’ll put that money to good use signing marquee free agents for the 2015 season, and beyond.

 

 

 

 

 

Post Navigation