The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Craig Biggio”

Each Team’s Single-Season WAR Leader

Measured by WAR (Wins Above Replacement), which player has had the best individual season for each team in Major League history? Listed alphabetically, here are the single-season WAR leaders for each baseball team (since 1900), and the year during which they produced the team record:

1)  A’s – Eddie Collins – 10.5, 1910

2)  Angels – Mike Trout – 10.9, 2012

3)  Astros – Craig Biggio – 9.4, 1997

4)  Blue Jays – Roger Clemens – 11.9, 1997

5)  Braves – Greg Maddux – 9.7, 1995

6)  Brewers – Robin Yount – 10.5, 1982

7)  Cardinals – Rogers Hornsby – 12.1, 1924

8)  Cubs – Rogers Hornsby – 10.4, 1929

9)  Diamondbacks – Randy Johnson – 10.9, 2002

10) Dodgers – Sandy Koufax – 10.7, 1963

11)  Expos / Nats – Pedro Martinez – 9.0, 1997

12)  Giants – Barry Bonds – 11.9, 2001

13)  Indians – Gaylord Perry – 11.0, 1972

14)  Mariners – Alex Rodriguez – 10.3, 2000

15)  Marlins – Kevin Brown – 8.0, 1996

16)  Mets – Dwight Gooden – 12.1, 1985

17)  Orioles – Cal Ripkin, Jr. – 11.5, 1991

18)  Padres – Kevin Brown – 8.6, 1998

19)  Phillies – Steve Carlton – 12.1, 1972

20)  Pirates – Honus Wagner – 11.5, 1908

21)  Rangers / Senators – Josh Hamilton – 8.9, 2010

22)  Rays – Ben Zobrist – 8.8, 2011

23)  Reds – Joe Morgan – 11.0, 1975

24)  Red Sox – Cy Young – 12.6, 1901

25)  Rockies – Larry Walker – 9.8, 1997

26)  Royals – Zach Greinke – 10.4, 2009

27)  Tigers – Hal Newhouser – 12.0, 1945

28)  Twins / Senators – Walter Johnson – 16.0, 1913

29)  White Sox – Wilbur Wood – 11.7, 1971

30)  Yankees – Babe Ruth – 14.0, 1923

As you may have noticed, a pair of players each appear twice on this list.  Rogers Hornsby holds the single-season WAR mark for both the Cardinals and the Cubs.  Kevin Brown, and under-appreciated pitcher if there ever was one, compiled the greatest single-season WAR for both the Marlins and the Padres.  A pair of men named Johnson, Randy and Walter, also appear on this list.

What do you make of the fact that four of the six highest WAR’s on this list occurred before 1925?  Could it be that the level of talent between the very best players and the average players was much greater then than it has been since?

The 1930’s and the 1950’s are, perhaps oddly, the only two decades since 1900 not represented at least once on this list.

Four players, Larry Walker, Craig Biggio, Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez, each set their respective team records in a single season, 1997.  Three other players, Cal Ripkin, Kevin Brown (twice), and Greg Maddux, also set their team’s record during that same decade, the 1990’s.

Fourteen different pitchers are represented on this list, including five lefties:  Koufax, Carlton, Newhouser, W. Wood and R. Johnson.

Given how much offense has historically been expected from first basemen, it is surprising that not one single first baseman is represented on this list.  Nor are any third basemen or catchers to be found here.  But eight players who were primarily middle-infielders during their careers are on this list.

Chronologically, the list spans from Cy Young’s 1901 season with the Red Sox to Mike Trout’s 2012 with the Angels.  Five of these players are still active:  Trout, Josh Hamilton, Ben Zobrist, Zach Greinke, and (technically) A-Rod.  Trout and Hamilton are currently teammates on the Angels.

All but seven of these players are still alive.  Only Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Cy Young, Rogers Hornsby, Honus Wagner, Eddie Collins and Hal Newhouser have passed away.

The Baseball Hall of Fame has identified the period 1947-72 as the “Golden Era” of baseball.  Interestingly, however, only four of the single-season WAR records on this list occurred during that era, and three of them (Carlton and Perry in ’72 and Wood in ’71) barely qualify.  Only Koufax’s 1963 season fits squarely in that arbitrary time-frame.

It will be interesting to see if any of these records fall this season, or over the next several years, as today’s talented young ballplayers leave their mark on the game.




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This Year’s Hall of Fame Arguments

I’ve been reading a sampling of the vast body of opinion regarding the 2014 baseball Hall of Fame ballot, which includes many of the most famous (and infamous) names in baseball history:  Bonds, Maddux, Clemens, Sosa, Bagwell, Biggio, Piazza, Schilling, Glavine, Mussina, Morris, Raines, etc.  Predictably, there is not only little consensus on which players belong in The HOF (with the probable exception of Greg Maddux), but there also seems to be a great deal of disagreement about what standards we should even use to judge these players.

What follows is a random sampling of the often contradictory (occasionally hallucinatory) opinions that fans and writers have expressed online regarding the players, and the Hall of Fame voting procedure itself.  The player being commented upon appears in parentheses.

1)  “He was a compiler.  He needs to get used to the fact that he was a good, but not a great player, and only got to 3,000 hits because he hung around for a long time.”  (Craig Biggio)

2)  “He didn’t play long enough.  His career was too short.  He never got anywhere near 3,000 hits.”  (Larry Walker)

3)  “He didn’t hit 500 homers, which is the gold standard for first basemen.  Also, he just looks like a ‘roid user.”  (Jeff Bagwell)

4)  “Although he hit over 500 home runs, and was mostly a first baseman, he was just too much of a one-dimensional player.  He probably didn’t use steroids, but that’s not enough of a reason to vote for him.”  (Frank Thomas)

5)  “If he’s not in the Hall of Fame because of the mistakes he made, which he’s paid for long enough, then no one should be.  Betting on baseball is not any worse than steroid use.  In fact, steroids are far worse.”  (Pete Rose)

6)  “He should be in the Hall of Fame because he was one of the greatest players who ever lived.  Period.  It’s not like he bet on baseball, which is much more serious.”  (Barry Bonds)

7)  “Mostly, he got to 300 wins because he played for great teams.  Put him on a more average team, and we wouldn’t even be having this conversation today.”  (Tom Glavine)

8)  “I can’t see him getting elected to the Hall of Fame because he didn’t reach 300 wins, which would have made him an automatic Hall of Famer.”  (Mike Mussina)

9)  “If he and the other ‘roid users get in, then the Hall of Fame will have lost all respectability.”  (Roger Clemens)

10) “If the BBWAA doesn’t vote him into the Hall, then the Hall will no longer have any credibility.” (Roger Clemens)

11) “That’s what I hate about stats.  You can make an argument for lots of guys.”  (Tim Raines)

12) “He wasn’t any better than Ray Durham.  He just ended up with more numbers.”  (Craig Biggio)

13)  “He wasn’t any better than Lew (sic) Whitaker.  So why should be get in?”  (Craig Biggio)

14)  “A loudmouth phony and a shameless self-promoter.  Had a couple of great seasons, but so did a lot of other guys.”  (Curt Schilling)

15)  “This shouldn’t be a popularity contest.  There are lots of scumbags in the Hall of Fame.”  (Barry Bonds)

16)  “The Hall has been so watered down over the past few years, he’d just water it down further.”  (Argument against Jack Morris)

17)  “Winningest pitcher of the ’80’s, and always pitched to the score.  That’s why his ERA shouldn’t matter.”  (Argument in favor of Jack Morris.)

18)  “They all used steroids, so if everyone is cheating, then no one is cheating.”  (Clemens, Bonds, etc.)

19)  “All the steroid users should be in jail.”  (Clemens, Bonds, etc.)

20)  “I know stats wise he is better, but he also quit while he was ahead.  So people saying Glavine is just getting in over him due to 300 wins also need to look at the downturn that getting to 300 caused to the rest of his stats.”  (Argument apparently favoring (?) Tom Glavine over Mike Mussina.)

21)  “Not denying {he} was a pretty good pitcher, but he could throw the ball anywhere near the plate and the umps would call it a strike.”  (Greg Maddux)

22)  “No one ever had better command and control.”  (Greg Maddux)

23)  “Bloody sock, my ass.  One great World Series moment does not a career make.”  (Curt Schilling)

24)  “His Game 7, 10-inning shutout in the World Series was one of the greatest moments in baseball history.  That’s why he should be in the Hall.”  (Jack Morris)

25)  “Greatest right-handed pitcher ever.”  (Roger Clemens)

26)  “Greatest right-handed pitcher of all time.”  (Greg Maddux)

27)  “The Hall of Fame is just a museum of baseball, so you have to take the good with the bad.”  (Regarding the alleged steroid users.)

28)  “It’s a special honor to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.   It would send a terrible message if we put {them} in.”  (Regarding the steroid users.)

29) “Mantle’s stats were great… now think how better they’d have been if he hadn’t tried to paint every town red across the country. Heck, Babe Ruth’s off-the-field escapades were legendary. In the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, how many players were on the field after a night of uppers or downers? Few people speak ill of those guys.  Which affects a MLB game more? A home run that IS hit or a home run that IS NOT hit? A base hit or a strike out due to a hangover? (So, therefore, Mantle and Ruth should be EVEN MORE in the Hall of Fame?)

30)  “As long as he’s not in the Hall, it’s all a complete joke.”  (Argument for Shoeless Joe Jackson)

31)  “No one who played before Jackie Robinson came along and broke the color line should be considered as great as today’s players.”  (Argument against Shoeless Joe Jackson)

32)  “He shouldn’t be in there if Gil Hodges isn’t.”  (Jeff Bagwell)

33)  “To argue that he should be in the Hall when Tommy John and Jim Kaat are not is ridiculous.”   (Mike Mussina)

34)  “He was a good hitter, but as a day-to-day catcher, I’d take Brian McCann over him.”  (Mike Piazza)

35)  “Saves are a junk stat.”  (Lee Smith)

36)  “One of the two or three best closers of all time.”  (Lee Smith)

37)  “Largely a product of his home ballpark.”  (Larry Walker)

38)  “New how to use the short porch in right-field at Yankee Stadium to his advantage.”  (Roger Maris)

39) “All those who broke the rules should all be banned from baseball forever!”

40) Otter’s Defense of the rule-breakers:  (Animal House)

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Lesson’s Learned: Sleep With One Eye Open

Honestly, I was not going to comment on yesterday’s Hall of Fame voting results.

Too many keyboards have suffered enough over that topic the past couple of days.  But I read a comment by a member of the BBWAA today that I have to admit irked me a great deal  (I won’t name him; there’s no reason to give him greater exposure.)

This writer said (and I’m paraphrasing) that he was very glad that no one was elected in this year’s HOF voting because it teaches our children a lesson that cheaters and cheating will not be tolerated.  Otherwise, he claimed, our children would come away with the opposite lesson, that cheating can and will be rewarded.

Fine, but here are some other lessons our children can take away from yesterday’s HOF voting:

1)  In our culture, you are now guilty until proven innocent.  Moreover, the court of public opinion (where Bonds and Clemens were convicted) is more important than a court of law (where neither of them were convicted of using steroids.)

2)  Guilt by association is not only to be tolerated, but encouraged.  Were you successful at the same time or place that some alleged cheaters were also successful?  By extension, then, perhaps you were guilty as well, even if no credible witness has ever come forward to accuse you of wrong-doing.

3)  The innocent may be punished as well as the guilty.  Call this the Rule of Collateral Damage.  Yes, it’s true that Craig Biggio was apparently as clean as a player can be, but he was on the wrong ballot at the wrong time.  Yes, we presume he is innocent, (so the argument may go), but don’t you see that a greater good was served here today by excluding every player, even if for just one year?

4)  Future generations are to be held to a higher standard of ethics and behavior than previous ones.  If you cheat, lie, or otherwise finesse the rules in the future, you can bet that your punishment will be swift, severe, and final, unlike past generations of scoundrels who we have arbitrarily declared off-limits to meaningful moral judgment.  Too much of our sepia-toned childhood nostalgia rests in the mythology we have created for ourselves regarding the so-called Golden Age of baseball.  To objectively re-analyze all of that risks fatally puncturing the baseball dreams dancing around in our collective psyches.  Screw that!

Thus, HOF’er Goose Gossage declared today that if Jeff Bagwell or Mike Piazza do make it into The Hall in the next couple of years, and if they did actually use steroids, and should that info come out after they’ve been inducted, then it would be justifiable to remove their plaques from Cooperstown.  He suggested that if they know in their hearts that they are guilty, they should sleep with one eye open.

Yet at no time has anyone ever suggested before that someone who is already in The Hall of Fame should perhaps have their plaque removed if it is found that they cheated their way into The Hall.  And, yes, we know of previous cheaters, some of whom I’m sure even Goose Gossage has heard of.

5)  Compassion and forgiveness are dead.  Christian believers though some of these writers may claim to be (at least in private), they appear to have forgotten Christ’s #1 message: Judge not lest ye be judged.  There is to be no forgiveness, no compassion, no humble awareness of our own fallibility. As long as we have fingers to point at someone else, we will keep those fingers busy.

6)  When the system is done with you, it will chew you up and spit you out.  For many years, team owners, managers, trainers, journalists and fans looked the other way while happily cheering the heroes they made for themselves.  Fame, fortune, and everything else that comes with celebrity in our culture was there for the taking.  The athletes were encouraged to partake as much of and for as long as possible.  Meanwhile, the baseball machine hummed along, making record profits.  The machine was fat and happy, and life went on.  But once the machine was threatened, it jettisoned any and all the human ballast it could as fast and as ruthlessly as it could.  Because the machine was never about the players; it was always about the profit, and nothing else.

These are six more lessons that we should be sure to teach our children as a result of yesterday’s Hall of Fame voting, if we are being honest with ourselves.

Baseball, Strange But True (Or, The Sleep of Reason Creates Monsters)

I’ve always been a sucker for the Strange but True tales, wherever I can find them.  It all began with a weird book my father used to own (first published in 1973) called, “Wisconsin Death Trip.” Also, (to my nine-year old sensibilities) the paintings of Goya, (particularly “Saturn Devouring His Son,“) would both fascinate and terrify me as well.

"The sleep of Reason creates monsters&quo...

“The sleep of Reason creates monsters”, etching and aquatint by Francisco Goya (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So whenever I come across even marginally interesting baseball flotsam, I indulge myself like Miguel Cabrera sitting on a 3-2 pitch from Josh Tomlin with the bases loaded.

Here are a few things I’d like to share with you.

1)  Lawrence Dolan, (net worth, 3 billion dollars) of Clan Dolan, purchased the Cleveland Indians in the year 2000 for $323 million dollars.  Since then, the Indians have finished above .500 just twice over the past eleven seasons.  Attendance at Indians home games has gone from #1 (3.5 million fans per year) when he bought the team to near the bottom of the league (about 1.5 million fans per year) under his tenure.

Meanwhile, the value of the Cleveland Indians franchise, even despite the major recession and the poor on-field performance, has actually increased from $323 million to the current (Forbes) estimate of $353 million.

Which just goes to show, if you are filthy rich in America, remarkable incompetence is generally rewarded just as handsomely as is occasional, skillful management.

Joey Votto

Joey Votto (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2)  Cincinnati Reds slugger Joey Votto went through the entire 2010 baseball season without once hitting an infield pop-up.  In 2011, he hit an infield pop-up just once.  Also, through July of 2012, Votto had pulled just one ball foul in his entire career.  What does all that mean?  It means the man simply never misses his pitch.

In 2012, despite missing about 50 games, he still led the N.L. in walks with 94, and in on-base percentage for the 3rd straight year.  His unbelievable .474 on-base percentage means, of course, that he gets on base nearly one time for every two plate appearances.

Those are numbers normally compiled by Little League All-Stars, or by guys named Ted Williams, Barry Bonds, or Babe Ruth.

2010-02-19 #18 Max Scherzer

2010-02-19 #18 Max Scherzer (Photo credit: lakelandlocal)

3)  Max Scherzer of the Detroit Tigers has pretty dominant stuff.  In 2012, he recorded 231 strikeouts in just 187.2 innings pitched.  He posted a 16-7 record, and has now made 133 Major League starts over the past five years.

Somehow, though, Scherzer has never been told that MLB games, unlike Little League contests, last nine innings.  For the 28-year old Scherzer, remarkably, has never pitched a single complete game in his career.

Now, as a former teacher (I don’t like to say, ex-teacher, ’cause that sounds a bit too much like “teacher who was fired for reasons sealed away in a Federal Affidavit,”) I got used to people complaining that “teachers hardly work at all,” apparently referring to the cushy 180-day work schedule “enjoyed” by your typical public school teacher.

Putting aside that we didn’t in fact, A) punch a clock, that we did not get paid for the summer (we could opt to get paid through the summer, but that’s not the same as getting paid for the summer), B)  Most of us showed up at school quite often on our “off” days, and C)  Like cops and firemen, teachers are never really “off-duty.”  Whether shopping at the local grocery store, or a Target, a Staples, etc., or even attending a local museum, most teachers are always, ALWAYS, on the lookout for something they can either purchase, beg or steal for their classrooms.

Which brings us back to Scherzer.  Is it really too much to ask Scherzer to go nine innings just once?  After all, my top salary as a teacher, after 12 years, was about $50,000 (in one of the better paying districts in Maine.)  Max Scherzer earned $117,187.50 per start in 2012.

Also, I completed every one of my starts.

And Scherzer has never had to do after-school detention duty.

4)  In 1997, despite a league-leading 744 plate appearances, Houston Astros second baseman Craig Biggio did not ground into a single double-play all season.  Now, GIDP is not a stat that has been religiously recorded throughout baseball history.  In fact, before, WWII, it was often not recorded at all.

Yet, with 65+ seasons available to analyze, here’s a short but interesting list of players who cannot make the same claim as Biggio (minimum 400 plate appearances):

1)  Rickey Henderson

2)  Tim Raines

3)  Lou Brock

4)  Maury Wills

5)  Jackie Robinson

6)  Vince Coleman

7)  George Brett

8)  Tony Gwynn

9)  Juan Pierre

10) Dave Lopes

11) Pete Rose

12) Roberto Alomar

13) Eric Davis

14) Barry Larkin

15) Ron LeFlore

Admittedly, a statistic like this is as much an aberration as it is a sign of incredible skill.  But what else can we do but genuflect in the general direction of Houston whenever Biggio’s name is so much as mentioned?

Official Major League Baseball - Close-up Shot

Official Major League Baseball – Close-up Shot (Photo credit: Jason Michael)

5)  Rawlings, the official manufacturer of all baseballs used in the Major Leagues, pays its employees in Costa Rica about $1.50 an hour.  Each employee must be able to hand-stitch one baseball every fifteen minutes, and each employee works an average of 11-12 hours per day.  They are required to meet a minimum quota of 156 balls per week.  This one factory produces well over two million baseballs each year.

A large percentage of the workers in this factory will eventually develop carpel-tunnel syndrome, or other physically debilitating injuries, within two to three years.  They are not allowed to speak to one another during the course of an entire shift, and must ask permission to use the bathroom.  And, of course, any discussion regarding organizing a labor union immediately results in the termination of employees foolish enough to engage in these “secret” discussions, despite the fact that, under Costa Rican law, its citizens do have the legal right to organize.

All of this information has been made available to Major League Baseball, to the Player’s Union, and, of course, has been pointed out to Rawlings, U.S.A.  To this point, none of these entities has shown the slightest bit of interest in the health and welfare of the people who make their multi-billion dollar industry possible.

Perhaps strangest of all, there has never been a Major League baseball player from Costa Rica.

Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Craig Biggio

It won’t be long before Craig Biggio comes up for Hall of Fame voting.  The former second baseman / outfielder (he caught a little, too) of the Houston Astros was one of the finest infielders of his era.  Though this post is not specifically meant to be an argument in favor of his HOF induction, the stats we will be looking at today certainly do nothing to diminish his case.

Acknowledging the appreciation of the fans aft...

Acknowledging the appreciation of the fans after a double against the Reds (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When it comes to middle infielders like Biggio (and he was primarily a second baseman), the usual expectation as far as offense is concerned is a player with around a .300 batting average, good bat control (meaning few strikeouts and a reasonable ability to bunt), and decent, if not spectacular, speed.  Durability and solid defense are obvious pluses as well.

What we don’t necessarily expect from a middle infielder, (though there have been some notable exceptions) is solid power.  Most middle infielders survive with the occasional homer, breaking into double digits in the odd season.  Some push a bit further than that, into the 10-20 home run range.

When I was first studying Craig Biggio’s stats, there were several that impressed me a great deal.  First of all, in his amazing 1997 season, he grounded into exactly zero double plays in 744 plate appearances.  That same year he led the N.L. by being hit by 34 pitches, one of five seasons in which he led the N.L. in that statistic.

I was also impressed that when he led the N.L. in stolen bases in the strike-shortened 1994 season with 39, he was also caught just four times.

Perhaps most impressively, Biggio’s 4,711 career total bases are just one short of Rogers Hornsby’s record of 4,712 among players who primarily played second base in their careers.

And how about those 668 doubles, fifth most in baseball history?

English: Jeff Bagwell (left) and Craig Biggio ...

English: Jeff Bagwell (left) and Craig Biggio (Right) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It occurred to me, then, almost as an afterthought to take a closer look at his home run numbers.

So here’s an exercise for you.  (In the spirit of the upcoming school year), take out a piece of paper and a #2 lead pencil.

Now write down the following players’ names in the order you believe they had the most to least 20 homer seasons.

Bobby Grich, Alan Trammell, Joe Morgan, Joe Gordon, Tony Lazzeri, Derek Jeter, Barry Larkin, Ryne Sandberg, Frankie Frisch, Bobby Doerr, Jeff Kent, Rogers Hornsby, Charlie Gehringer, Lou Whitaker, Roberto Alomar and Craig Biggio.

I know that you know where this is going, but hell, play along anyway.

Finished yet?

The now obvious question for this post is, then, “How Many 20+ Home Run Seasons Did Craig Biggio Accumulate in His Career?”

Here is the list of players in order from most 20+ homer seasons to fewest:

1)  Jeff Kent – 12

2)  Craig Biggio – 8

3)  Joe Gordon – 7

3)  Rogers Hornsby – 7

5)  Ryne Sandberg – 5

6)  Joe Morgan – 4

6)  Lou Whitaker – 4

8)  Roberto Alomar – 3

8)  Bobby Doerr – 3

8)) Derek Jeter – 3

11) Bobby Grich – 2

11) Barry Larkin – 2

11) Alan Trammell – 2

14) Charlie Gehringer – 1

15) Frankie Frisch – 0

15) Tony Lazzeri – 0

As you can see, few middle infielders in baseball history consistently hit as many home runs as Craig Biggio.  Yet ten of the players on this list are already in the HOF, and Derek Jeter will surely follow them in when the time comes.

Biggio retired after the 2007 season at age 41.  He hit 291 home runs in his career, the same number as “Toy Cannon” Jimmy Wynn, and just ten fewer than Rogers Hornsby.  He hit more homers than did first basemen Will Clark, Steve Garvey and Ted Kluszewski.

Craig Biggio’s eight 20+ home run seasons are also as many as Don Mattingly and Roberto Clemente  accomplished, if you put them together.

The point here is that if you are looking for a hole in Craig Biggio’s potential Hall of Fame resume, you’ll have to look elsewhere, for hitting for power was a relative strength of his.

All statistics, of course, are, to a certain extent, arbitrary.  I am not arguing that Craig Biggio was the best player on this list  (though few on this list were clearly better.)

There is no doubt, however, that Craig Biggio’s power was an underrated, and perhaps surprising, facet of his game.

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