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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?

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.

All-Time Home Run Leaders For Every Team (MLB)

Once in a while, I like to take a look at how each of the franchises in Major League Baseball stack up against each other in various ways.  Home runs are to baseball what fireworks are to the 4th of July, so I thought this would be a good time to explore each team’s all time home run leaders (for a career.)  I broke it down by league, and then by division.  While many of the all-time leaders were predictable, there were (for me) a couple of surprises on this list.  Let me know what you think:

Note:  In some cases, the number of home runs a player hit with a single franchise will not necessarily match their career totals.  Home run totals do not include the post-season.  An asterisk after a player’s home run total indicates they are still active.

National League East:

1)  Braves:  H. Aaron – 733

2)  Marlins:  G. Stanton – 181*

3)  Mets:  D. Strawberry – 252

4)  Nationals / Expos:  R. Zimmerman – 189 * / V. Guerrerro – 234

5)  Phillies:  M. Schmidt – 548

National League Central:

1)  Brewers:  R. Yount – 251

2)  Cardinals:  S. Musial – 475

3)  Cubs:  S. Sosa – 545

4)  Pirates:  W. Stargell – 475

5)  Reds:  J. Bench – 389

National League West

1)  Diamondbacks:  L. Gonzalez – 224

2)  Dodgers:  D. Snider – 389

3)  Giants:  W. Mays – 646

4)  Padres:  N. Colbert – 163

5)  Rockies:  T. Helton – 369

American League East

1)  Blue Jays:  C. Delgado – 336

2)  Orioles:  C. Ripkin, Jr. – 431

3)  Rays:  E. Longoria – 192*

4)  Red Sox:  T. Williams – 521

5)  Yankees:  B. Ruth – 659

American League Central

1)  Indians:  J. Thome – 337

2)  Royals:  G. Brett –  317

3)  Tigers:  A. Kaline – 399

4)  Twins:  H. Killebrew – 559

5)  White Sox:  F. Thomas – 448

American League West

1)  A’s:  M. McGwire – 363

2)  Angels:  T. Salmon – 299

3)  Astros:  J. Bagwell – 449

4)  Mariners:  K. Griffey, Jr. – 417

5)  Rangers:  J. Gonzalez – 372

Some thoughts about this list:

– Two of the three currently active players on this list — Giancarlo Stanton and Ryan Zimmerman — are each currently on their respective team’s Disabled List.

– Aaron’s total is still ridiculous and awesome.

– Have the Mets ever produced another home run hitter aside from Strawberry?

– Stanton is a monster.  Just 25-years old, and he’s already pushing 200 homers.

– It would be kind of cool if Zimmerman could someday tie Guerrerro for the franchise record for what are essentially two different teams.

– Yount was better than many of us probably remember.

– Musial and Stargell tied within their division.  That’s pretty cool.

– How weird is it that Sosa has been almost totally disregarded altogether in our collective baseball memory?  My first guess for all-time Cubs leader was Ernie Banks, though I am quite aware of Sosa’s accomplishments.

– Bench is the only catcher on this list (though Delgado started out as one with the Blue Jays.)

– Perhaps unfairly, Luis Gonzalez (probably a very likable guy) seemed to me the most random name on this list.

– Given all the great players in their history, it’s strange in a way that no Dodgers player ever reached the 400 homer plateau for that franchise.

– Good to see Mays, not Bonds, still holding the Giants career record.

– What’s up with the Padres?  As a franchise, they’re like that guy who shows up on Draft Day for your fantasy league draft, then you never see or hear from him again all season.  Except they’ve been doing this for about a half-century.

– If Todd Helton isn’t someday elected to the Hall of Fame, Rockies fans should riot.

– Interesting that Ruth and Delgado are the only two players on the A.L. East list that didn’t spend their careers with just one team.

– As for Ripkin, I wonder how many homers Manny Machado will hit before he’s done?

– If Williams was still alive today, he could probably recall what pitch he hit off of each pitcher for every one of his 521 homers.

– Jim Thome slugged 612 homers in his career.  When was the last time you heard anyone mention Jim Thome?

– We don’t normally think of Brett as a power hitter, but no Royal ever hit more home runs.

– You have to wonder if Al Kaline or Tim Salmon ever wake up in the dead of night thinking of that one more career homer that would have made for a nice, round number.

– Tim Salmon never appeared in a single All-Star game.

– In a pretty good era for pitchers, Killebrew topped 40 homers eight times.

– I’m not sure you (or I) could name five better right-handed hitters in baseball history than Frank Thomas.

– For Oakland, McGwire first led the A.L. in home runs as a rookie at age 23 (with 49) in 1987.  Nine years later, he led the A.L. in homers for the second time at age 32 (with 52) in 1996.  In between, he apparently discovered the Fountain of Youth.

– If you include defense and base-running as well as the ability to hit for both average and power, I’m not sure there’s a first baseman in baseball history I’d pick ahead of Jeff Bagwell.

– Not only were Ken Griffey, Jr. and Stan Musial both born in the company town of Donora, Pennsylvania, they were both born on November 21st (49 years apart.)

– While we’re on the subject, Bagwell and Thomas were born on the same day, May 27, 1968.

– Juan Gonzalez’s career is like that rock band you were once so impressed with, but now look back on with a tinge of embarrassment (you’re careful to never mention to your friends that you used to own one of their LP / Cassette / CD.)  Full Disclosure:  I once owned a Bay City Rollers record. Have at me, boys and girls.

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.

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

 

Whatever Happened to Home-Field Advantage?

The idea that home-field advantage is of special value in providing a given baseball team a competitive edge is an old one, and may once upon a time have been largely true (though I haven’t done enough historical research to actually verify this.)  While it may have been generally true in the past, it doesn’t seem to be the case so far this season.  Nearly half of all Major League teams actually have fewer wins than losses at home, with only a few teams enjoying a truly decisive edge on their home turf.

Home Field Advantage (album)

Home Field Advantage (album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s a list of teams from worst to best at home based on win-loss percentage.  Granted, some of the teams with sub-.500 home records are just bad teams to begin with, but there are clearly some surprises on this list.  (Games are through Friday night, June 6, 2014):

1)  Arizona – 9-23  (yet somehow 17-14 on the road)

2)  Philadelphia – 12-19

3)  Dodgers – 13-19  (but 19-11 on the road)

4)  Mets – 13-17  (Since Citi Field opened, the Mets are 204-229 at home)

5)  Houston – 14-18

6)  Yankees – 13-16

6)  Tampa Bay – 13-16

8)  San Diego – 15-18

9)  Baltimore – 11-13

10) Cincinnati – 13-15

11)  Kansas City – 14-16

11) Minnesota – 14-16

13) Boston – 15-17

14) Seattle – 14-15

15) Texas – 15-15

16) Detroit – 15-14  (But 17-11 on the road)

17) Cubs – 14-13

18) Cardinals – 16-14

19) Angels – 16-13

20) White Sox – 17-14

21) Atlanta – 18-14

22) Pittsburgh – 17-13

23) Washington – 19-15

24) Oakland – 17-12   (Nice, but they’re an even better 21-11 on the road)

25)  Colorado – 16-11 (But just 12-21 on the road)

26)  Milwaukee – 19-13

26)  Toronto – 19-13  (slightly better on the road at 19-11)

28)  Cleveland – 21-11 (Only 9-20 on the road, so clearly, home-field advantage is important to them)

29)  Miami – 22-11 (10-18 on the road)

30)  San Francisco – 20-9  (as well as a respectable 20-12 on the road)

As you can see, there appear to be few teams who benefit decisively from home-field advantage.  As good as even Oakland and Toronto are at home, they are even better on the road, and the Giants are only slightly better at home than they are on the road.

Perhaps, then, making home-field advantage for the World Series contingent on which league wins the All-Star Game   is an overrated concern.  After all, even last year’s World Champion Boston Red Sox won just two of their four victories at home.  And in 2012, the Giants swept the Tigers, winning two first in San Francisco, then winning Games Three and Four in Detroit.  The way the Giants played, they might have won four straight even if all four had been played in Detroit.

I suppose it’s often psychologically comforting to be able to enjoy the comforts and familiarity of home, but it appears that when it comes to actually winning baseball games, being at home may be largely irrelevant.

 

 

 

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Strange and Interesting Baseball Facts and Stats For 2014

In every baseball season, unexplainable  situations and statistics occur.  Despite all that we know and understand about the game, including all the advances we can attribute to sabermetrics, the human element still has a way of intruding on the actual outcomes of the ballgames.  Large sums of money are paid to athletes both for what they have accomplished and for what a hopeful team expects them to accomplish in the future.  Obviously, the best laid plans…well, you know how it goes.

Having said that, here are some weird numbers I’ve noticed as I’ve researched the 2014 season to this point.  Of course, the season is still young — we’re only a quarter of the way through it — and some of these players and teams will revert back to their norms, but the fact remains that odd and fascinating things have been happening all over baseball this season.

For example:

Prince Fielder, who has hit 288 home runs in his career and has a career slugging percentage of .522, has “slugged” just .360 this season, 95 points lower than Mets second baseman Danny Murphy, who is slugging a career high .455.  Fielder has three homers and 16 RBI.  Murphy has three homers and 17 RBI.

Francisco “K-Rod Rodriguez has recorded 17 saves in the 42 games the Brewers have played this season, meaning he has saved a game in 40% of the games they’ve played.  In 2008, when the set the Major League record for saves in a season with 62, he recorded a save in 38% of the Angels 162 games.  So basically, K-Rod is on pace to break his own single-season save record.

Dodgers second baseman Dee Gordon is on pace to steal 100 bases this year.  No one has stolen a hundred bases in a season since Vince Coleman last did it for the Cardinals in 1987.

Averaging 7.6 strikeouts per walk this season, Mets pitcher Bartolo Colon has the best K/ BB ratio of his career (38 strikeouts against just five walks.)  Yet, by almost every other measure, he’s having one of his very worst seasons thus far:  2-5, 5.84 ERA in eight starts, 1.439 WHIP, ERA+ of 58.  Perhaps one really can be too careful.

Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano, who over the past five seasons hit 25, 29, 28, 33 and 27 homers, is on pace to hit four this year, as many as Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez.

With a record of 6-0, and an ERA of 2.17, Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka is off to a fantastic start.  He also leads the A.L. with an 0.914 WHIP.  Oddly, though, batters are hitting .318 against his four-seam fastball, and a robust .326 against his two-seam fastball.  But they are hitting just .172 against his slider, and only .141 off his splitter.

Through nine starts, Red pitcher Johnny Cueto has an ERA of 1.25 and a batting average against of .135.  In all of Major League history, no pitcher has ever had an ERA that low and an opponent batting average that low through the first nine starts of a season.

The Cubs entire bullpen as recorded just four saves this season.  Meanwhile, Tampa Bay Rays closer Grant Balfour recorded two in one day.

Is it time to start paying closer attention to the season Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is putting together?  As I type this, he is currently batting .398 with an on-base percentage of .503, and a slugging percentage of .767.   Tulo leads the N.L. in batting, of course, and also in home runs, with 12.  Not only does he have a chance to become the first N.L. player to win the Triple Crown since Ducky Medwick in 1937, but he may become the first player since Tony Gwynn batted .394 twenty-years ago in 1994.  Could even a .400 batting average be within his reach?

Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, 23-years old, has now logged exactly 600 MLB plate appearances.  Try as I might, I was unable to find any player from previous generations of batters whose stats through their first 600 plate appearances were truly comparable to Puig’s.  He has hit 27 homers, and has posted a triple slash line of .323 /.400/.549.  Puig’s career OPS+ is 165.

One player I did research who also got off to a nice start to his career homered 31 times in his first 675 plate appearances (a rate roughly similar to Puig’s), and posted a triple slash line of .327 / .436 / .609, while playing his home games in a friendlier hitter’s park than Puig’s Dodgers Stadium.  His career OPS+ through his first 149 games (Puig has played 141) was 160, a bit lower than Puig’s 165.  The other player’s name?  Ted Williams.

As far as I can tell, Brewers outfielder Khris Davis has drawn fewer walks per 150 plate appearances than any other player in the Majors this season.  So far, he has drawn just three walks in 152 plate appearances, down even from last season’s 11 walks in 153 plate appearances.  Clearly, the man likes to swing the bat.  On a visceral level, there’s something to be said for a man who takes his chances, who won’t be cheated, and who isn’t satisfied with a mere trot down to first base.  “Felt wrong not to swing.” -Merrill Hess (Joaquin Phoenix), from the movie, “Signs.”

The Mets tenth-highest paid player this season is, (are you ready for this?),  Bobby Bonilla!   Bonilla hasn’t worn the uniform of any MLB team for the past 13 years.  Bonilla, now 51-years old, will continue to be paid one million dollars per year by the Mets (1.19, to be exact), through the year 2035.  He will be 72-years old when they stop sending him checks.  The Mets could have bought him out for 5.9 million in the year 2000, but failed to do so.  On the back of such improbably horrible decisions are legacies made.

If there are any other oddities you’d like to share with me, by all means, please do so.

 

 

 

 

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Is the Wrong Red Sox Player in the Hall of Fame?

Here’s a comparison of a pair of Red Sox players, one who is in the Hall of Fame, another who never came close to induction.  The better player in each category is highlighted in bold print:

Player A:  On Base Percentage – .360

Player B:  On Base Percentage –  .352

Player A:  Slugging Percentage – .484

Player B:  Slugging Percentage – .502

Player A:  OPS+ 129

Player B:   OPS+ 128

Player A:  Doubles – 388

Player B:  Doubles – 373

Player A:  Home Runs – 306

Player B:  Home Runs – 382

Player A:  20+ Home Run Seasons – 10

Player B:  20+ Home Run Seasons – 11

Player A:  Total Bases – 3,352

Player B:  Total Bases – 4,129

Player A:  Grounded Into Double Plays – 149

Player B:  Grounded Into Double Plays – 315

Player A:  Walks – 857

Player B:  Walks – 670

Player A:  Times Struck Out – 1,116

Player B:  Times Struck Out – 1,423

Player A:  WAR – 49.9

Player B:  WAR – 47.2

Player A:  Gold Gloves – 4

Player B:  Gold Gloves – 0

Player A:  All Star Games – 9

Player B:  All Star Games – 8

Player A:  MVP Awards – 1

Player B:  MVP Awards – 1

Admittedly, any statistics one chooses to use will be at least somewhat arbitrary.  Still, I believe I have included a broad selection of useful statistics (as well as awards and honors), to make a legitimate comparison between these two former teammates possible.

Player A trumps Player B in the following nine categories:  On Base Percentage, OPS+, Doubles, GIDP, Walks, Times Struck Out, WAR, Gold Gloves and All Star Games.

Player B trumps Player A in the following four categories:  Slugging Percentage, Home Runs, 20+ Home Run Seasons (again close), and Total Bases.

Player B, Jim Rice, played his entire career in a Boston Red Sox uniform, benefiting from the friendly hitting environment of Fenway Park for 16 seasons.

Player A, Fred Lynn, played his first half-dozen seasons in a Red Sox uniform, then went west to play for the Angels (in a less hitter-friendly environment), and spent time in Baltimore and Detroit before finishing up in his final season in San Diego.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that if their career histories were reversed, and Lynn got to stay in Boston for the entirety of his career, while Rice was sent packing at age 28 to less hitter-friendly locales, Lynn might be in the Hall of Fame today, while Jim Rice almost certainly would not.

I am not arguing that either Lynn or Rice should be in the HOF.  In fact, I wouldn’t select either as a member.  But, clearly, the difference between their respective careers is not nearly so great as one might imagine.  Basically, one choice would be about as good as the other, though I might give a slight edge to Freddy Lynn.

Finally, it should also be noted that yet another Red Sox outfielder who played alongside Lynn and Rice — Dwight Evans — probably has a better HOF case than either of his outfield mates.  Evans hit more home runs, drew more walks, had a higher on-base percentage, scored more runs, and had a higher career WAR than either Lynn or Rice.

Perhaps some future Veteran’s Committee will reexamine the careers of both Lynn and Evans, and present each with a HOF plaque of their own.

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Best Pitchers of the 21st-Century: Part 3

This is the third and final installment of this series.  If you are just discovering this series, and you want to go back and take a look at prior posts, here’s the link to Part 1 (which also discusses the criteria I used compile this list) and Part 2, which lists players #11-#20.

Now, on to pitchers #21-#25:

English: Mike Mussina

English: Mike Mussina (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

21)  Mike Mussina – Yes, here’s another one whom we might not think of as, strictly-speaking, a 21st-century pitcher.  Yet about 43% of Mussina’s career WAR value occurred from 2001 until his retirement after the 2008 season.

Mussina’s career fits neatly into almost two halves.  He spent the first ten years of his career, through the year 2000, with the Baltimore Orioles.  They were generally his best years.

During that span, he finished in the top ten in Cy Young voting five times.  In his tenure with the Yankees (2001-2008), he managed to make the top five in voting just once (with a 6th-place showing in his final season as well.)

As an Oriole, Mussina was often a borderline-great pitcher who compiled an ERA+ of 130 in ten years.  As a member of the Yankees, Mussina was still a very good pitcher who compiled an ERA+ of 114, and a WHIP of 1.212, in his final eight years.

As a Yankee, in the 21st-century, Mussina compiled a WAR of 35.2, and a won-lost record of 123-72 (.631), with an ERA of 3.88.  He made 249 starts with the Yankees, tossed 1,553 innings, and struck out 1,278 batters.

His WAR ranks 10th-best all-time for a Yankees pitcher, and his 1,278 K’s rank sixth-best ever for a Yankee starter.

Mussina’s 4.01 strikeout to walk ratio is the best in the entire history of New York Yankees starting pitchers.

Although Mussina led the A.L. in wins with 19 in 1995 (and he also won 19 games in 1996), the first and only time in his entire career that he won 20 games was in the final season of his career, in 2008, when he posted a 20-9 record, in a league-leading 34 starts, for New York’s A.L. franchise.  Lest you think those 20-wins were primarily about run support, his ERA was 3.37, and his ERA+ was 131.

It’s good to go out on top, and that’s what Mussina did after the 2008 season.  He certainly enjoyed a Hall of Fame-worthy career, and he definitely belongs on the list of best pitchers of the 21st-century.

Dan Haren

Dan Haren (Photo credit: on2wheelz)

22)  Dan Haren – Haren has been about as solid as they come over the past decade.  He has won 129 of 316 starts, and boasts a fine WHIP of 1.186.

Over a seven-year period, 2005-11, he averaged 34 starts per season, leading the league in that category three times, and pitching over 200 innings in each of those seven seasons.

From 2007-09, inclusive, he posted a fantastic ERA+ of around 140.  He made three-consecutive All-Star teams, and finished 5th in Cy Young voting in 2009 while pitching for Arizona.

An excellent control pitcher, Haren has walked more than 50 batters in just three of his eleven seasons.  At the same time, he has been an above-average strikeout pitcher, fanning at least 192 batters five times, and over 200 three times.

Though Haren’s past couple of years have been somewhat below his historic standards of effectiveness, a move to the Dodgers and to the N.L. West could help Haren post a nice comeback season in 2014.

cain

cain (Photo credit: artolog)

23)  Matt Cain – Similar to Haren in that he has not received the press he should have for the many fine seasons he’s enjoyed pitching for the Giants.  Still just 29-years old, Cain has already been a veteran of parts of nine MLB seasons.  One of the unluckiest of pitchers, Cain has received little run support throughout his career, and usually ranks among the leaders in no-decisions for that reason.

Cain’s career record of 93-88 does not accurately reflect how well he has usually pitched since 2oo5.  From 2009-11, for example, Cain won just 39 of 99 starts, and was left with 30 no-decisions.  His record during that period was 39-30, but with proper run support, it could have been closer to 50-25.

Still, Cain has received moderate attention in Cy Young voting in three of his seasons, and he’s  been named to three All-Star teams in his career.

A veteran of eight post-season starts, he has demonstrated poise and effectiveness on that stage, going 4-2 with a 2.10 ERA in 51 innings.

Cain certainly has the potential to accomplish much more in has career, which may just now have reached roughly its midpoint.

Josh Beckett

Josh Beckett (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

24)  Josh Beckett – I saw Beckett pitch twice while he was a Portland Sea Dog (AA-Portland, ME) back in the summer of 2001, in the Eastern League.  He was absolutely dominant on both occasions.  He made 13 starts for Portland, posting an 8-1 record, a 1.82 ERA, and 102 strikeouts and only 19 walks in 74 innings.  At age 21, he pitched like a man among boys.

Beckett had been the Marlins 1st-round pick in the 1999 Amateur Draft (2nd pick overall), and rapidly progressed through the Marlin’s system.  After Portland, Beckett later that season made his debut for the Marlins, making four starts near the end of the year.  In those four starts, he struck out 24 batters in 24 innings, resulting in a 1.50 ERA.

For the next four years in Florida, Beckett’s strikeout rate hovered around one per inning.  But he never stayed quite healthy enough to put it all together.  There were always some sort of blisters to contend with, or one ailment or another that suppressed his starts and innings pitched each season.  It wasn’t until he got traded to Boston in the deal for Hanley Ramirez just before the ’06 season that Beckett finally reached the 200 inning pitched level.

But before we get to his Boston years, let’s back up a bit to the 2003 World Series.  Beckett’s performance in that series provided the Marlins with a competitive edge vs. the Yankees.  The 23-year old Beckett made two starts against the Yankees in that World Series.

In 16 innings, he struck out 19 Yankees, gave up just eight hits, only two earned runs, and posted a 1.10 ERA, along with an 0.796 WHIP.  He shut out the Yanks in Game 6, the final game of the Series, defeating Andy Pettitte 2-0.  For his performance, he was named the World Series MVP.

Josh Beckett then spent his next seven seasons, the prime of his career, pitching for the Boston Red Sox. It was a mixed bag.  At times, Beckett demonstrated the incredible promise he flashed in the minors, and from time-to-time with the Marlins.  At other times, he seemed uninterested, unmotivated, and uninspired.  In alternate seasons, Beckett was either among the better pitchers in the A.L., or one of the biggest disappointments.

In 2007, 2009, and 2011, Beckett posted WAR’s of 6.5, 5.1, and 5.8.  In ’07, he won 20 games and finished second in the Cy Young voting for the A.L.  In ’11, he again finished in the top ten in voting.  In each of those three seasons, he made the All-Star team.

In ’06, ’08, ’10, and ’12, however, he posted WAR’s of 2.7, 3.3, -1.0 and 0.2.  What’s more, in perhaps only one season in his career, 2007, out of 13 seasons, could he be said to have pitched and acted like the ace of his staff.  He generally seemed satisfied to get in his 30 starts per year, not push it to the max, and coast when he was able to.

Finally labeled (fairly or not) an out-of-shape clubhouse cancer, he was shipped off to the Dodgers near the end of the dismal (for the entire Red Sox team) 2012 season.  Apparently, management felt that Beckett (and another pitcher or two) eating fried chicken and drinking beer during games did not set a professional tone in the clubhouse.

Stories regarding Beckett simply not taking the game seriously enough even occurred back in his younger days in Florida.  Manager Jack McKeon used to literally lock the door leading from the dugout to the clubhouse because Beckett and one or two others would simply disappear off the bench during games, go into the clubhouse and start drinking beers during the game.

McKeon actually instituted a hall-pass system for the use of the bathroom during games.  Apparently, he expected Beckett to pay attention during the games even on his “off-days” so he could actually learn something by watching the other team’s hitters.

From his earliest days in Portland, Maine in the minors up until last season, Beckett has always been the Texas stud who has gotten by with his hard stuff, dominating on pure talent and adrenaline in short spurts.  But he’s never appeared to take his craft seriously enough to reach the high level of success predicted for him, or the talent God gave him.

Now, at age 34, whatever Beckett has left in the tank should carry him through another couple of seasons in the Majors.

Bartolo Colon

Bartolo Colon (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

25)  Bartolo Colon – As probably already know, the Mets acquired the portly 40-year old pitcher as a free agent this past off-season.  What you may not know is that Colon has a chance to surpass 200 career victories this coming year.  Currently, he has 189 wins in his 16-year career.

Actually, 138 of those wins occurred in our current century.  Colon threw his first pitch in the Majors at age 24 in 1997.  As recently as last season, he led the A.L. in shutouts with three, while winning 18 games and posting a 2.65 ERA in 30 starts.  The big question is, of course, (especially for Mets fans) how much does he have left in the tank?

To a certain extent, a great deal of Colon’s success will depend on the defense behind him.  He throws strikes (just 29 walks in 190 innings last season), so he won’t beat himself with the free pass.  Not at all a strikeout pitcher, he averaged just 5.5 / 9 innings last season, down from his career high of over 10 / 9 innings in the year 2000 as a member of the Cleveland Indians.

With the Mets outfield defense vastly improved over this time last season (assuming they start the terrific Juan Lagares in center-field on Opening Day), and considering that Citi-Field is basically yet another pitchers park (as is Oakland, where he pitched last season), and figuring in that this season he gets to pitch against the others teams’ pitchers for the first time since he spent a half-season with the Expos about a dozen years ago, there is room for optimism here.

The Mets may have caught lightning in a bottle here with this three-time All Star (who won a Cy Young award for the Angels in 2005), or they may discover to their horror that the carriage has turned back into a pumpkin.  But Colon surprised many with his improbable comeback which began in 2012.  Perhaps he can continue to do it on a larger stage in New York City.

Briefly, Those Who Did Not Make the List:

Barry Zito – Zito has made over 400 starts this century, and only three pitchers have tossed more than his 2,477 innings.  He also has a WAR of 30.5.  So why did he not make the list?  Well, his career ERA of 4.07 is one reason.  Another is his 1.339 WHIP, higher than any of the 25 pitchers who did make the list.  Also, despite the advantage of pitching his home games in favorable parks, his ERA+ is just 105, a little more than a replacement-level pitcher.

Finally, if you remove his fantastic 2002 season in which he won the A.L. Cy Young award, his career record stands at just 142-138, despite pitching for mostly good teams. This is not to say that Zito has not provided the Giants with any real value, just not nearly as much value as they paid for when they signed him to a contract for over one-hundred million dollars.

Tim Lincecum – Despite two Cy Young awards and four quality seasons, Lincecum did not make my list because his career WAR stands at 23.3 after seven seasons.  Consider that Clayton Kershaw has a WAR of 32.2 after just six seasons.  They’ve each won a pair of Cy Young awards, but the difference is that Kershaw has never had a bad year.  Lincecum has now suffered through two very poor years in a row.

Basically, if Lincecum had even just decent seasons in 2012 and ’13, garnering an additional 3.5 WAR per year, for example, he would have made the list and would have probably been slotted in right behind Kershaw.  But two terrible years, during which he produced a combined -2.3 WAR, cost Lincecum anywhere from 7.0 to 10.0 WAR, a significant drop in production.  In fact, few pitchers in baseball history have ever gone from being so very good to so very bad so quickly, unless they were injured.

As far as we know, Lincecum has not been suffering from any serious arm injuries.  He pitched nearly 200 innings last season, and his strikeout rate is still very solid, if not quite where it was a few years ago.  In short, I have no idea why Lincecum’s career has so suddenly all but imploded.  But whatever the reason, it certainly cost him a place on this list.  I do hope, however, that he finds a way to reverse his recent misfortunes, because The Freak at his best is not only good for the Giants, it’s good for baseball.

Randy Johnson – Johnson was a still a great pitcher in the early first couple of seasons of this century and, like Lincecum, actually won a pair of Cy Young awards while some of us still hadn’t quite grasped that the 1900’s were gone for good.  But eight of Johnson’s best eleven seasons occurred in the 20th-century, and Johnson’s last five seasons in the Majors did not add much to his legacy.

Don’t get me wrong, you can certainly make a case that R.J. belongs on this list, and I wouldn’t blame you if you did.  But in compiling this list, I chose to emphasize pitchers whose accomplishments this century would continue to be overlooked if I added nearly every pitcher who began his career back in the ’80’s, but who remained effective through ’01 or ’02.  Therefore, I decided to evaluate each pitcher on a case-by-case basis.  Since over 60% of R.J.’s effectiveness occurred in the last century, I chose to leave him off this list.  You may disagree with my reasoning, and that’s fine.

Roger Clemens –  See:  Johnson, Randy above.

Yovani Gallardo – Despite four consecutive seasons of over 200 strikeouts, and double-digit wins five times, Gallardo annually posts rather low WAR’s.  I was surprised when looking at his career stats that after seven years, his career WAR stands at an oddly unimpressive 13.3.  In fact, he’s never produced a single-season WAR that’s reached even 3.0 in his entire career.

Gallardo, as far as I can tell, lives for the high pitch count, which limits his overall innings pitched, and produces some big innings for the opposition.  For even though Gallardo has struck out nearly a thousand batters over the past five years, his career WHIP is 1.304, which indicates simply too many runners getting to first base, regardless of his live arm and numerous strikeouts.  His career home run rate of around one per nine innings also reduces his overall effectiveness.  And it isn’t simply the home runs that are the problem, it’s that there always seem to be runners on base when they occur.

Gallardo’s career ERA+ of 109 through age 27 either indicates a to-this-point under-achiever, or a he-is-what-he-is preview of his next seven years.  It’s not that Gallardo has been a bad pitcher.  It’s just that he’s sometimes mistaken for an ace, when, in fact, he’s been more of a #3 starter for his entire career. What comes next, entering his age 28 season, will go a long way towards clarifying his probable future.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for you on this topic.  Agree or disagree, I hope it was worth your while to read it.

 
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Best Pitchers of the 21st-Century: Part 2

This is the second of three installments in this series.  If you want to go back and read the criteria I used to compile this list, or to find out who the top ten pitchers of the 21st-century have been, here’s link to the first post.

In this second installment, you will find that some of the pitchers listed were household names in the late-20th-century as well.  This does not contradict my prior sentiment that the purpose of this list is to highlight those players who are of more recent vintage.

Although I don’t necessarily want this list to reflect a Hall of Fame ballot of retired players, the fact of the matter is that some of the players we might normally consider of pre-9/11 vintage actually spent around half or more of their careers toiling in our current century, performing at a high level.

Each pitcher included on this list, then, was chosen on a case-by-case basis.  This might satisfy some of you, and annoy others, but any list of this sort is going to include a certain amount of built-in subjectivity.  But I am confident that every player on my list deserves to be included, even if their particular ranking is open to debate.

Pedro's return!

Pedro’s return! (Photo credit: andrewmalone)

11)  Pedro Martinez – Like Cy Young straddling the 19th and 20th centuries, and, therefore, being one of the best pitchers in both centuries, Pedro’s accomplishments and career represented some of the finest pitching in both the 20th and 21st centuries.

Pedro’s career WAR of 86.0 is 9th best since the end of WWII.  It was almost evenly divided between his pre-2000 seasons (40.3) and his post 2000 seasons (34.0.)  Depending what you want to do with his year 2000 season, which was his best (11.7 WAR), either century can be viewed as his best.

So let’s split the difference and take half of 2000 and award each half to each century.  He ends up with around 46 WAR for the 20th-century, and 40 WAR for the 21st-century.  That 40.0 WAR ranks 11th-best which, in part, explains why he ranks 11th on my list.  His WAR in this century most closely resembles that of Justin Verlander, so Pedro obviously pitched to a very high level through about the year 2005.

Pedro won the Cy Young award in 2000, finished 2nd in the voting in 2002, placed 3rd in 2003, and 4th in 2004.  In 2005, pitching for the Mets, Pedro’s WAR of 7.0 was third best in the N.L.  In 2003, pitching for Boston, and despite pitching in the toughest division in baseball during a hitter’s era, Martinez surrendered just seven home runs all season.

In the 21st-century, (even if we exclude his superlative 2000 performance), Pedro posted  a win-loss record of 94-44 in 198 starts, striking out 1,336 batters in 1,249 innings pitched.  His 1.089 WHIP (slightly better than Kershaw’s 1.092) is the best this young century has to offer.   And his 3.23 ERA is most similar to Felix Hernandez’s 3.20.

A case can be made, once we figure in the era, the ballparks in which he pitched, and the quality of the competition, that Pedro Martinez was the greatest pitcher of all-time.  I certainly have no problem ranking him in the top five.

English: Mark Buehrle takes a sign during his ...

English: Mark Buehrle takes a sign during his 2009 perfect game. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

12)  Mark Buehrle – In a way, Mark Buehrle is the very opposite of Pedro Martinez.  Where Pedro burned bright, Buehrle is a 60-watt bulb.  But we need lots of those 60-watt bulbs to get through the day, and no pitcher in this century has been more dependable than Mark Buehrle.

Buehrle is the only pitcher in the 21st-century to have pitched over 200 innings in each season.  His WAR of 54.0 is third-best, behind only Halladay and Sabathia.

In fact, Buehrle’s 54.0 is nearly identical to Sabathia’s 54.4.  Buehrle’s 2,829 innings pitched ranks first since the year 2001, as do his 426 starts.  His 182 wins rank third most.

Although Buehrle has never in any given season been the best pitcher in his league, he does have four seasons of over 5.0 WAR to his credit, including a career high of 6.1 in 2007.  Buehrle has also been named to four All-Star teams, and has won four Gold Gloves.

So why doesn’t he rate a bit higher?  His 3.84 ERA and his 1.276 WHIP are both among the highest of all the pitchers on this list, and he also has the most losses (141.)  Buehrle has been a reasonably valuable pitcher, and ranking him in the top dozen seems about right to me.

13)  Jered Weaver –  Jered Weaver of the Angels has been one of the more underrated pitchers of this century.  His 1.143 WHIP is 5th best among all active pitchers, and his ERA+ of 127 matches Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez (as well as Kevin Brown, Stanley Coveleski, Tom Seaver and Bob Gibson).  In four of his eight seasons, he has posted an ERA+ north of 130.

Jered Weaver

Jered Weaver (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Weaver’s career ERA of 3.24 in this century is about the same as those posted by Felix Hernandez, Pedro Martinez, and Brandon Webb.

Weaver has never won a Cy Young award, but he does have a third-place finish (20-5, 2.81 ERA) in 2012, and a second-place finish (7.0 WAR, 18 wins, 2.41 ERA) in 2011, along with a league-leading 233 strikeouts in 2010.

Weaver has been a key member of the Angels rotation for the past eight years, and has averaged over 4.0 WAR per year for his career.

A three-time All Star, Weaver currently ranks 8th in fewest hits surrendered per nine innings among active pitchers.

The reason he doesn’t rate a little higher is because his overall career value doesn’t quite yet match some of those pitchers listed ahead of him, and because he’s never won any significant hardware.  If, health permitting, he continues to pitch at his current high level of effectiveness, he will certainly move up on this list in the future.

14)  Curt Schilling – Yes, like Pedro Martinez, Schilling had greater value in this century than might be expected, considering his career began back when answering machines and VHS players were all the rage.

In fact, about half of Schilling’s career WAR of 80.7 has been accumulated since 2001.  In his 192 starts in this century (about 44% of his career total), Schilling posted a win-loss record of 106-51 (a .675 win-loss percentage) and an ERA of 3.50.  If that ERA seems a bit high, remember that his home ballparks included Arizona’s desert launching pad, and hitter-friendly Fenway Park.

In 2001, 2002 and 2004, he finished runner-up in the Cy Young voting each season.  Although he never led his league in WAR in any particular season this century, he did finish 2nd in each of those three seasons.  He also averaged over a strikeout per inning, striking out 1,377 batters in just 1,358 innings pitched.  His WHIP of 1.12 is also outstanding.

Schilling’s 41.3 WAR is ninth-best this century.  What keeps him rated lower than some other pitchers on this list is that, like Pedro Martinez, he made fewer than 200 starts, while most other pitchers on this list made around 270-350 starts this century.  In short, three or four highly effective seasons is not unusual among the pitchers on this list.

While I believe that Schilling had a Hall of Fame-worthy career, his overall career value isn’t entirely relevant to the purpose of this list.

As a side note, I wish Curt Schilling well in his battle against cancer.  The news came as a shock to me, and I wish him a full and speedy recovery.

English: Jake Peavy

English: Jake Peavy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

15)  Jake Peavy – During the first decade of this century, Jake Peavy was one of the best pitchers in the National League.  Four times he posted an ERA under 3.00, leading the league in that category twice, and four times posting an ERA+ between 133 and 171.

For three consecutive seasons, Peavy struck out over 200 batters, leading the league with 216 in ’05, and 240 in ’07.

In 2007, Peavy won the N.L. Cy Young award while leading the league in wins (19), earned run average (2.54) and strikeouts (240.)

While pitching for the Padres in his first eight seasons, Peavy posted a record of 92-68, with an ERA of 3.29.  If he’d continued to pitch at that high level, he would probably rate higher on this list, but other than his one nice season with the White Sox in 2012 (5.2 WAR) Peavy’s basically been a league-average pitcher for most of the past five seasons.

In his entire career, Peavy has a win-loss record of 132-98, and a career ERA in 305 starts of 3.51.

Peavy will be entering his age 34 season in 2014, so he’s young enough that he might still accumulate some additional career WAR, but his best seasons are probably behind him.  It would be in his best interests to return to the N.L. where he enjoyed his greatest success.

16)  Carlos Zambrano –  In some respects, Zambrano’s career is similar to Peavy’s.  Zambrano’s career record was 132-91 in 302 starts, with a career ERA of 3.66.  Pitching at Wrigley is certainly tougher than pitching in San Diego, which, in part, accounts for Zambrano’s relatively high WHIP of 1.331.

English: Carlos Zambrano of the Chicago Cubs p...

English: Carlos Zambrano of the Chicago Cubs pitching (cropped). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Zambrano does have a somewhat higher career WAR than Peavy, 38.2 to 35.8, but Zambrano never won a Cy Young award.  He did, however, finish 5th in the voting three times.

Zambrano was also that rare species of pitcher who was also a switch-hitter.  In fact, Zambrano was an outstanding hitter for a pitcher (or even when compared to many middle infielders.)  For his career, Zambrano batted .238 with 165 base-hits, including an astonishing 24 home runs.

If you add Zambrano’s 6.3 WAR he accumulated for his hitting, he becomes a 44 WAR player, which would rank him in the top half-dozen on this list.  For four consecutive seasons, from 2003-06, inclusive, he averaged 5.75 WAR per year.

Zambrano enjoyed some very good seasons, and he was a fine hitting pitcher.  His high career WHIP, his lack of one or two truly great years, and his relatively high ERA, along with a career that was effectively over by age 29, prevents Zambrano from breaking the top 15 on this list.

Chris Carpenter

Chris Carpenter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

17)  Chris Carpenter –  Chris Carpenter is a tale of two pitchers.  There was the Chris Carpenter who pitched for the Toronto Blue Jays from 1997-02, a pitcher who posted an unspectacular record of 49-50 with a 4.83 ERA in 135 starts.  His ERA+ during those years was just 98, slightly less than a replacement level pitcher.  He accumulated just 7.5 WAR over those six seasons.

Then Carpenter got hurt and missed the entire 2003 season.  It was the best thing that ever happened to him.  The Blue Jays, having grown weary of their once highly touted prospect, gave Carpenter his unconditional release.  Carpenter then signed with the St. Louis Cardinals, and an ace was born.

If you go back and take a look at the numbers I listed for Pedro Martinez in this century, you’ll find that Chris Carpenter’s numbers as a St. Louis Cardinal were eerily similar.  Carpenter made 197 starts of which he won 95 and lost just 44.  He recorded a very solid ERA of 3.07, including an ERA+ of 133.  His WAR was about 32.0 to Pedro’s 34.0.  Carpenter’s WHIP was a little higher than Pedro’s, but was still an excellent 1.125.

Carpenter won the N.L. Cy Young award in 2005, going 21-5, with a 2.83 ERA, and a league-leading seven complete games for the Cardinals.  He also struck out 213 batters, and had an ERA+ of 150.

The following season, he finished 3rd in the Cy Young voting, leading the league in shutouts (3) and WHIP (1.069.)

In 2009, he finished 2nd in the voting for that same award with a 17-4 record, a league-leading 2.24 ERA, and a spectacular ERA+ of 182.

At ages 35 and 36, he led the N.L. in starts each year with 35 and 34, respectively.  He averaged 231 innings pitched during those two seasons, winning 27 games while losing 18, with a cumulative ERA of a still solid 3.32.  Carpenter retired after his age 37 season with 144 career wins and 94 losses.

But Carpenter lost three full seasons due to injury, and was ineffective early in his career.  Still, Carpenter was one of the N.L.’s premier pitchers for about half a dozen years.  When healthy, from ages 29-36, he was a true ace.

Andy Pettitte

Andy Pettitte (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

18)  Andy Pettitte – It may surprise you to learn that Pettitte was just 28-years old at the turn of the last century, though he’d already pitched for the Yankees for six seasons.  In fact, though, fully two-thirds of Pettitte’s 18 seasons occurred during the 21st-century.

In fact, Pettitte’s 156 wins are the seventh most among all pitchers since the year 2001, as are his 330 starts.  His 2,065 innings pitched rank 8th in the 21st-century.  His 98 losses are tied for tenth place. Surprisingly, he had but two complete game shutouts in his final twelve seasons.

Pettitte’s 35.6 WAR most closely resembles Jake Peavy’s, while his .614 win-loss percentage most closely resembles Roy Oswalt’s .615.  Pettitte did have the advantage, though, of choosing to pitch for highly competitive teams for the last nine years of his career, teams that usually provided him ample run support.  Thus, a moderately high 3.77 ERA during that span still resulted in far more wins than losses.

But Pettitte’s best season this century did not happen while pitching for New York, but, instead, in Houston.  In 2005, at age 33, he produced an outstanding 2.39 ERA (ERA+ of 177) in 222 innings pitched.  He won 17 games, and finished fifth in Cy Young voting.  He ranked 6th in A.L. Cy Young voting for the Yanks in 2003, with a record of 21-8, despite a 4.02 ERA.

Only once in this century did Pettitte finish in the top five in WAR for pitchers in any given season.  In the post-season, Pettitte posted an 11-6 record after the year 2000, with a 3.53 ERA in 153 post-season innings.  And no one ever had a better game face, especially in the playoffs, than Andy Pettitte.

Overall, Pettitte was a very good, but seldom a great pitcher, in the 21st-century.  I would have no problem if someday he is enshrined in Cooperstown, though he would never get there if  his 21st-century numbers were the sole basis on which his career were to be evaluated.

English: Donald Zackary "Zack" Grein...

English: Donald Zackary “Zack” Greinke, an american Major League Baseball starting pitcher, delivers against the Baltimore Orioles in the first inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, July 29, 2009, in Baltimore.

19)  Zach Greinke – Having just turned 30 years-old, Greinke should have a lot of baseball left in him.  And if his future performance is anything like some of his finest past seasons, he’s going to put together one very fine career.

Just last season, Greinke led the N.L. in win-loss percentage by going 15-4 for the Dodgers (.789.)  Since having been liberated after seven years in Kansas City, (where he was 60-67 despite pitching at least reasonably well in all but one season), Greinke has gone 46-15 over the past three years.

Greinke has averaged eight strikeouts per nine innings in his career, during which he has made 259 starts, tossed 1,670 innings, and posted an adequate 3.65 ERA.  Three times he has fanned over 200 batters in a season, and he’s always had excellent control, having never walked more than 56 batters in a season.

His finest season by far, and one of the very best of this century, occurred in 2009 while he was pitching for the Royals.  At the age of 25, he led the A.L. with a 2.16 ERA in just under 230 innings, brandishing an astonishingly high ERA+ of 205.

There have been only 37 seasons in baseball history where a pitcher has topped an ERA+ of 200, so that is quite an achievement.  His WAR for the year was a Pedro Martinez-esque 10.4.  For his efforts, Greinke won the A.L. Cy Young award that season, despite just 16 victories.

Health permitting, Greinke is now in the right ballpark and in the right league to finally run off a string of seasons, health permitting, that will allow him to move up much higher on this list over the next half-dozen seasons.  Even if he never tops his 2005 season (and he doesn’t have to), he should be able to further solidify his reputation as one of the 21st-century’s best pitchers.

cole hamels

cole hamels (Photo credit: artolog)

20)  Cole Hamels – As with Greinke, Cole Hamels is entering his age 30 season in 2014.  To this point, he’s often been a near-great pitcher, producing high-caliber pitching for the Phillies over the past eight seasons.

You can count on Hamels to make over 30 starts per year, pitch 215-220 innings, strike out over 200 batters (which he has done in three of the last four years), walk fewer than 60, and post a WHIP around 1.14.

On most teams, he would be the staff ace, but on the Phillies deep staff, he’s been their #2 or #3 starter to this point.  His 99-74 record masks his true value, and his 33.8 WAR is close to Pedro Martinez this century (though Hamels has made more starts.)

Hamels has averaged 8.5 K’s / 9 innings in nearly 1,600 innings pitched, so his stuff is among the best in the N.L.  He has received a reasonable amount of Cy Young attention, finishing in the top ten in voting three times.

With a little bit of luck, Hamels could be in line for his first Cy Young award and 20-win season as early as this 2014.  But even if he never quite pitches with the degree of luck and run support he might need to garner that hardware, he’s plenty good enough to continue to rate among the dominant pitchers in the National League for years to come.

I hope you have enjoyed this second installment of the Best Pitchers of the 21st-Century.  Next time, I’ll post the final five pitchers in this series.

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