The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Baseball History”

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

 

Ten Fast Starts in Baseball History

In baseball, as in life, it’s important to get off to a good start.  If I begin my day, for example, by mistakenly squeezing my wife’s hair gel on to my toothbrush, I know I’m in for a rough day.  And my first morning cup of coffee better have the right balance of sugar and cream, or the joy of the day will seep slowly away.

Championship baseball teams do not always get off to fast starts. The 1914 “Miracle” Braves began the season with a 4-18 record before going on to win the World Series.  Other teams stay close to the top before catching fire during the final four to six weeks, stealing victory from the proverbial jaws of defeat.

Often, however, a championship team (or at least a playoff-bound team) will send a message to the rest of the league early, making it clear that they’re out for blood. The obvious advantage of getting off to a quick start is, of course, that it leaves said team with a certain margin for error as the season plays out.  Also, it puts early pressure on their divisional opponents to not fall too far behind too quickly.  

While this is not a scientific, comprehensive study of this topic, the following ten teams are examples of how and why a fast start can make it virtually inevitable that the team that sprints out of the gate most successfully will often be the team celebrating (at least) a division title come October.

1) 2001 Seattle Mariners – Finished the season with a Major League record 116 wins against just 42 losses. The Mariners began the season with a 20-5 record in April, and were 40-12 at the end of May.  They won their division, and advanced all the way to the A.L. Championship series vs. the Yankees, where they lost in five exciting games.

2) 1986 New York Mets – Posted a record of 108-54, winning their division by 21.5 games over the second place Phillies.    The Mets enjoyed a 13-3 April, including an 11-game winning streak, and were 31-12 by Memorial Day.  They would, of course, go on to defeat the Red Sox in a seven-game World Series thriller.

3) 1998 New York Yankees – Before the Mariners won a record 116 games in ’01, the Yanks had set the record themselves with 114 wins in ’98.  The Yanks finished 22 games ahead of the second-place Red Sox in the A.L. East.  After dropping four of their first five, the Yankees quickly righted the ship and won 16 of their next 18 games, finishing April with a 17-6 record, which further improved to  37-13 after two months.  The Yanks would go on to sweep the Padres in four World Series games.

4) 1984 Detroit Tigers – The Tigers began the season 35-5, and never looked back.  They led their division from wire-to-wire, eventually winning a total of 104 games.  Starting pitcher Jack Morris, who tossed a no-hitter in April, was already 10-1 before the end of May (though he was just 9-10 after that point.)  Morris also won three playoff games that season, posting a 1.80 ERA in those three starts.  The Tigers defeated the Padres in a five-game World Series.

5) 1969 Baltimore Orioles – Blew away the rest of the A.L., winning 109 games.  The Orioles finished 19 games ahead of the second-place Tigers in the A.L. East in the inaugural year of divisional play.  After sweeping a double-header by the combined score of 19-5 on May 4th against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, the Orioles were already 20-8 on the young season.  Through May 30th, they were 34-14.  The Orioles would defeat the Twins in the first ever A.L. Championship series, then would shockingly win just one game in the ’69 Series vs. the Mets.

6) 1956 New York Yankees – Another in a long line of Yankee championship teams, the ’56 Yanks won seven of their first eight ball games, and were cruising with a 29-13 record by May 31st.  They finished the year with 97 wins, dropping their final two decisions at Fenway Park.  They went on to defeat the Brooklyn Dodgers in a seven-game World Series.  Don Larsen pitched a perfect game against the Dodgers in Game 5.

7) 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers – The only 20th-century Brooklyn team to win a World Championship, Dem Bums ran off ten straight victories to start the season, and were an unbelievable 22-2 by May 10th.  By the end of May, they were 32-11.  Ultimately, the Dodgers won 98 games, then defeated the Yankees in a seven-game World Series.

8) 1931 Philadelphia Athletics – This highly talented group finished the season with 107 wins, 13 more than the mighty Yankees of Ruth and Gehrig.  Admittedly, the A’s were just 7-7 at one point, but then won 17 consecutive games and went into June with a record of 30-10.  Nevertheless, this particular Athletics team lost the ’31 World Series to the Cardinals in seven games.

9) 1927 New York Yankees – Murderer’s Row opened the first week of their historic season by going 6-0-1 in the first week of the season.  By May 19th, they were 21-8-1 en route to a 110-44-1 season.  They finished 19 games ahead of the second-place Athletics.  In the World Series, they systematically dismantled the Pirates in just four games.

10) 1905 New York Giants – This team featured Christy Mathewson, “Iron Joe” McGinnity, Roger Bresnahan and, for one game, the mysterious “Moonlight” Graham.  The Giants began the season by winning six of their first seven games, and were 25-6 by May 23rd.  Ultimately, they would win 105 games on the season.  In just the second World Series ever played, John McGraw’s Giants would defeat Connie Mack’s Athletics in five games, a Series in which Christy Mathewson would toss three shutouts in six days.

As you can see, there are several examples in baseball history of the importance of getting off to a fast start.  While this has not been the path followed by each and every championship squad, a good start often does bode well for a team’s chances of making the playoffs.

Welcome to The On Deck Circle

I always end up reading a lot more about baseball during the off-season than I do during the season, perhaps because my highly competitive fantasy baseball league takes up most of my free time from late March through September.

I especially find myself gravitating to any books about baseball history.  As someone who taught history in high school for a dozen years, I’m always intrigued about how the history of baseball shadows the history of our country, at least since the end of the Civil War.

Like the history of our nation, the history of baseball is part statistics, part first-person narrative, and part mythology. Sometimes, these three elements swirl around together to create a new, dynamic compound called Memory.

Memory is what keeps most of us (those of us who love baseball), hooked on this sport.  That is to say, we remember what we loved about baseball in our youth, and we try, sometimes a little too hard, to pass these memories on to our own children.

This historical connection is also why we take the statistical element of this game so seriously.  Numbers, whether in the form of dates, or used as a measurement of success or failure, have always been an important element of our historical memory.

Just as we remember what happened on July 4th, 1776, or on December 7th, 1941, we also remember that the Brooklyn Dodgers won only a single World Championship in 1955.  Babe Ruth was the first baseball player to hit 60 home runs; Norman Schwarzkopf won Operation Desert Storm in 100 days.

Some of these numbers or dates have even been set to music, or read as poetry:  “Columbus sailed the Ocean Blue, in fourteen hundred and ninety-two.”  “The Outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day….”

Numbers allow, even encourage, the impression of objectivity and historical certainty that allows mythology to take shape.  And mythology is at the core of what almost all historical arguments, including arguments about baseball history, are about.

Here in Greenville, South Carolina, for example, the Confederate Museum looks and feels like most any other American war museum.  The tour guides who received me in this quaint and interesting place were not, however, content to just show me around.

What I received from the two gentlemen who sidled along with me from room to room was a heartfelt, emotional soliloquy about how most people, especially people who are not kith or kin to the South, simply don’t know The Truth about the history of the Civil War.  The South was purely the victim, not the aggressor, and had only sensible, reasonable grievances that fell on deaf ears in Washington, thus the final step of secession.

Growing up as a child in the north, I often heard a different story regarding the causes of the Civil War, and these often frail, old female teachers held President Lincoln up as a secular saint.

Essentially, these disparate people living in two different parts of one nation were not arguing over history–we know where the first shots were fired and who won the war–they were arguing about mythology: Heroes and Villains, Bravery and Treachery, or, as my six-year old son would put it, Good Guys and Bad Guys.

Baseball is not immune to these sorts of arguments.  In fact, who does or does not belong in the Hall of Fame, that Great Cluttered Closet in Cooperstown, is, at its core, an argument about baseball mythology:

Does Jim Rice belong on Mt. Olympus with Honus Wagner?

Could Andre Dawson step onto the field of battle with Lefty Grove the way Hector and Achilles fought to the death thousands of years earlier?

Is the crafty Trevor Hoffman baseball’s historical parallel to the Swamp Fox of the Revolution, Francis Marion, a man whose historical reputation lies primarily in the realm of mythology?

There are actually two questions here, important to both American history proper, and to baseball history:

  1. Who deserves to be remembered?
  2. How do they deserve to be remembered?

The answers to these questions comprise the collective historical mythology that we pass down through the generations, from father to son.

In my next blog entry, I will focus on these issues as they pertain to the never ending debate over who truly belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Thank you for reading.

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