The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Dave Kingman”

How the Mets Will Win 120 Games in 2013

As a Mets fan, it would be easy to succumb to the reality-based prognostications of the so-called “experts.”  Many of them believe the Mets will win somewhere between 70-79 games, finishing in the bottom half of the N.L. East.  Keep in mind that the Mets won 74 games last season, their fourth straight fourth-place finish in the N.L. East.  (The Mets haven’t finished in last place since waaaayyyy back in 2003.  So there’s that.)

Well, I say not so fast, guys.  After all, Spring Training is upon us, and hope (if not necessarily logic) springs eternal.  I am fully convinced that the Mets will lose no more than around a forty games this year.  Here’s how.

1)  Manager Terry Collins guided the Mets to 77 wins in 2011, three more than last season.  I’m sure he’s learned from his mistakes, so he should easily get those three wins back.  +3

2)  Johan Santana won just six games last year (including the Mets first no-hitter in history.)  His career 162-game average has been 15 wins per season.  After on off-season doing nothing but drinking V-8 Juice and firewalking, he should be back to his old winning ways.  Add nine more wins to the column.  +9

3)  Matt Harvey said in one of his first media appearances this spring that his goal is to win 20 games this year.  Matthew is 6’4″, 225 pounds, so who are you or I to argue with him?  Last year he won three of ten starts, but averaged over a strikeout an inning, and posted an ERA+ of 141.  So, obviously, he’s talented.

Davis and his new Hawaiian Bib

Just  another Yankee cry-baby

Also, the Mets have a history of grinding their young stud pitchers into the dust (see:  Wilson, Paul, and Pulsipher, Bill, among others.)  Therefore, don’t expect any namby pamby, New York Yankees “Joba Rules” for Harvey.  If he can get his shirt on, them By God, the boy should pitch.  He ain’t no droolin’ little baby.  Add 17 wins to last year’s three, and you have your 20-win season, Matt.  +17

4)  Ike Davis slugged an impressive 32 homers and drove in 90 runs last year, despite hitting a Dave Kingman-esque .223.  How did he manage to hit for such a low average?  Basically, he swung as hard as he could on every single pitch, sometimes finishing his swing even before the pitcher had decided what to throw.  No worries, for Ike Davis claims that his goal this year is to be much more selective at the plate.  He wants to draw as many as 100 walks (compared to last year’s total of 61.)  Davis’ WAR last year was an abysmal 0.7.

But we all know that WAR loves walks the way the N.R.A. loves hollow-point bullets.  Therefore, all those extra walks should result in a WAR of, say 5.0, which is Davis’ entire career total to date.  (That’s five wins above replacement, for those of you scoring at home.)  If we round up last year’s WAR to 1.0, this means Mr. Davis should expect to help the Mets win four extra games in 2013.  +4

English: Chipper Jones

Chipper Jones can’t hurt us anymore

5)  Chipper Jones has finally retired.  In a normal year, the Mets could expect to be defeated, not by the Atlanta Braves, but by Chipper Jones himself, at least three times per year.  Chipper should go into the Hall of Fame in five years wearing a New York Mets cap, because if you take his career production against the Mets away, he becomes just some guy named Larry.  +3

6)  Power of Positive Thinking should not be underrated.  Just this morning, for example, my car wouldn’t quite start.  It was an unusually cold morning here in Greenville, and she just didn’t want to turn over.  At first, I was angry.  Then I realized that with a little positive thinking, I could “will” her to start up.  So I waited until the count of three, then tried again.  Still nothing.

It was then I noticed the gas needle lying flat in the red zone.  Not a drop in the tank.  Granted, this sounds a lot like the Mets current outfield.  But then I remembered there might be a little gas left in the plastic canister I use to fill my lawnmower in the warmer months.  Sure enough, there was just enough in there to pour into my car’s gas tank to get her started.

Terry Collins

Terry Collins understands the power of positive thinking

Now, I know what you might be thinking.  “But Bill, we have no spare high-test outfielders we could just drop into our outfield.”  To which I would respond, “Why are you mixing gas cans with outfielders?  What does one have to do with the other?  I don’t get the analogy.”

The point being, you can’t underestimate the power of positive thinking, even if you can’t quite quantify it.  But I successfully drove the three miles to the neighborhood Spinx on just a whiff of gas.  If each mile represents just one Mets win, then that should conservatively mean an additional three wins for the Mets this year.  +3

7)  Inflation is currently increasing at an annual rate of about 2%.  You can’t defeat the laws of economics.  If inflation is 2%, then the Mets win total should increase by about that rate this year.  Two-percent of 74 wins (last year’s total) is 1.48.  If you round 1.48 to the nearest whole number, you end up with 1.00.  But we’ll round it up to 2.00 because we are optimists, and hyper-inflation could be just around the corner.  By next month, we might be pushing wheelbarrows full of hundred-dollar bills around just to buy our daily bagel and coffee.  So there’s two more wins right there.  +2

8)  Jason Bay is gone.  If you believe in addition by subtraction, as I do, then Bay’s bye-bye should be worth at least two additional wins this season, don’t you think?    +2

9)  In an embarrassing oversight on the Mets part, you may recall  last season outfielder Mike Baxter played 54 games in the outfield before the Mets coaching staff realized he wasn’t wearing a baseball glove.  The seven broken fingernails in three weeks puzzled the team trainer until late July, when finally Mr. Met, the team mascot, pantomimed catching the ball with his face.  Baxter, it turns out, never played baseball as a kid, and is only doing so now so his dad would “finally leave me alone about hanging around the house all the time.”  This year, the Mets broke down and purchased an actual baseball mitt for Baxter on eBay (ironically, a Jason Bay model), for just $13.99, autographed, with a C.O.A.    +1

10)  Over the 51 years of the history of the Mets, they have averaged 76 wins per season.  As they say, all things revert to the mean.  If you’re up a bit too much one year, or down a little more than usual the following year, chances are, the ship will right itself and return to the mean.  Today, my six-year old son broke only two things.  The day before, he broke six things.  Tomorrow, then, I fully expect him to break four things, because that would be him just reverting to the mean.  The Mets are more or less broken right now.  Last season, they won just 74 games.  The year before that they won 77 games.  The year before that, it was 79 wins, and the year before that, 70 wins.

So it seems reasonable to assume that, at a minimum, you can add two wins for simply reverting to the mean.  +2

Now, if you add up each of these carefully thought-out additional wins, I believe you will be forced to come to the same conclusion as I have, that the Mets can’t help but win 120 games this season.

Give or take several dozen wins.

The Hall of Clearly Above Replacement But Not Quite Average – Article Link

I want to share with you a blog-post to which I contributed five short player bios.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, all five of the players I wrote about are former Mets.

The article appears on the website, High Heat Stats.  My friends Adam Darowski, Dan McCloskey and Graham Womack, among others, collaborated on this fun and unique project, which briefly covers the careers of 43 players.  I have provided the link to it so you can enjoy it, too.

http://www.highheatstats.com/2012/08/the-hall-of-clearly-above-replacement-but-not-quite-average/

Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Johnny Mize

Adam Dunn of the Chicago White Sox is doing his best impersonation this season of “Casey at the Bat.”  Like Mighty Casey, Dunn either hits a heroic home run, or he flails at strike three, sending thousands of fans home disappointed.  Dunn is currently third in the A.L. in home runs with 25, and first in strikeouts with an incredible 131.  He is on pace to shatter the Major League single-season strikeout record of 223 set by 3rd baseman Mark Reynolds in 2009.

In fairness to Dunn, he does lead the league in walks (67), contributing to his acceptable .359 on-base percentage.

Thirteen of the top 15 strikeout seasons by a hitter in baseball history have occurred over the past dozen seasons.  To illustrate how much things have changed around the Majors as far as strikeouts are concerned, consider that Dave Kingman, who back in the 1970’s and early ’80’s, was known as the ultimate practitioner of the home run / strikeout approach to hitting, never struck out more than 156 times in a season.

Although he led the league in strikeouts as a hitter three times, his worst season (156 in 1982) now ranks as just the 128th highest total of strikeouts in a single season.

Indeed, current New York Mets third baseman David Wright actually surpassed Kingman’s career high when Wright struck out 161 times in 2010.

It wasn’t always this way.  There was a time when even power hitters considered the strikeout to be the ultimate embarrassment for a hitter, a reproach to the batter’s very manhood.  Some power hitters actually used to choke up on the bat when down two-strikes to minimize their chances of getting struck out.

When Mark Reynolds was asked if he’d like to be a player who struck out a lot less often, he replied, “I’d like to be, but I’m not going to make drastic changes, like choke up and hit grounders.”  Yes, because, obviously, hitting a ground-ball that might sneak through the infield for a hit is far worse than, say, striking out 200 time per year.  And real men don’t choke up.

English: An image of Major League Baseball Hal...

English: An image of Major League Baseball Hall of Fame first baseman Johnny Mize. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is no surprise, then, that when we look at the list of home run hitters who maintained relatively low strikeout rates, the vast majority of them played many, many decades ago, long before most of us were born.

One player who has always intrigued me as an overlooked power hitter — a player who I don’t think most baseball fans fully appreciate — was former Cardinal / Giant / Yankee first baseman, Johnny (Big Cat) Mize.

Johnny Mize played in the Majors from 1936-53, missing three of his prime years to WWII.  He led his league in home runs and slugging percentage four times each, and RBI, OPS and total bases three times each.  He even won a batting title, hitting .349 in 1939 for the Cardinals.

Johnny Mize was, along with Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, and Ted Williams, one of the most difficult power hitters to strike out.  Mize hit 359 home runs in his career, while striking out only 524 times in his entire career.  By contrast, Ichiro Suzuki, perhaps the ultimate contact hitter of our generation, has already struck out 786 times in his career, while hitting 99 home runs.

So Mize could hit lots of home runs without striking out very much.  This raises a question:

English: New York Yankees first baseman .

English: New York Yankees first baseman . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Did Johnny Mize ever have more home runs than strikeouts in a season? 

Before answering that question, keep in mind that since 1920, a player has accumulated more home runs than strikeouts (minimum of 30 homers) twenty-five times over the past 90 years.  Joe DiMaggio accomplished this feat an amazing six times.

Barry Bonds is the only player to have more homers than strikeouts in a season (45 homers / 41 strikeouts in 2004) in the past half-century.

The answer to my question regarding more home runs than strikeouts as far as Johnny Mize is concerned is, yes, Mize twice managed to accumulate more home runs than strikeouts in a season.  In 1948, he slugged 40 home runs while striking out only 37 times in 560 at bats.

But here’s the most amazing statistic I’ve seen in a long time.

In 1947, in 586 at bats, Mize slugged 51 home runs while striking out just 42 times.

Johnny Mize is the only player in baseball history to hit as many as 50 home runs in a season while striking out fewer than 50 times.  

Despite his amazing accomplishments, the BBWAA never voted Mize into the Baseball Hall of Fame. In fact, the writers never gave Mize more than 43% of the vote.  It wasn’t until the Veteran’s Committee finally elected him in 1981 that Mize was finally honored among baseball’s greatest players with induction into the Hall of Fame.

Now that we have compared the achievements of modern power hitters — especially their strikeout totals — with the impressive exploits of Johnny Mize, we can more fully appreciate what a great hitter Mize was in his day.

Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Stan Musial

This is the tenth installment of my series, “Baseball’s Surprising Stats.”  If you are interested in revisiting any of the first nine, you’ll find links to each of them under Recent Posts over to the right.

The greatest players tend to be the ones who are most consistently excellent over time.

From 1956 to 1969, for example, Hank Aaron never accumulated less than 6.6 WAR in any season.  Willie Mays scored at least 99 runs in every season from 1954 to 1966.  Pitcher Warren Spahn had thirteen 20-win seasons during the period 1947-63.

Stan Musial was another one of those remarkably consistent players.

English: St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famer as ...

English: St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famer as he was depicted on his 1953 Bowman baseball trading card. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are several different ways to measure Musial’s consistency.  For example, Musial scored at least 100 runs in every season from 1943-54.  He also drove in at least 90 runs for 13 straight years, from 1944-57.  Taking a look at OPS, he never dipped below .900 for 15 consecutive years, from 1943-58.

This remarkably consistent excellence begs the question, “What was the worst season of Stan Musial’s career?

I decided I would use OPS+ as my means of measurement.  This statistic combines Musial’s annual on-base percentage plus his slugging percentage, adjusted for league and park factors.  An OPS+ of 100 is exactly average (as with an I.Q. score.)

Taking a look at Musial’s annual OPS+ from his early 20’s to his late 30’s renewed my appreciation for his greatness.  He led the N.L. in OPS+ six times in his career, topping out at an astounding score of 200 in 1948.

So in which season did Musial post his lowest OPS+?  Tossing out those seasons after he was already 38-years old,  Musial’s worst year was 1947 when he posted an OPS+ of “only” 134.  For 16 consecutive seasons, then, his OPS+ was at least 134, and was usually considerably better.

So how “bad” is an OPS+ of 134?

Derek Jeter has topped OPS+ of 134 just once in his career, back in 1999.

Hall of Famer Lou Brock NEVER ONCE reached an OPS+ of 134 in his 19-year career in a season in which he accumulated at least 500 plate appearances.

Roger Maris topped 134 OPS+ twice, in each of his two MVP seasons.

The immortal Cal Ripkin, Jr. reached that level just three times, and never once past age 30 in a full season.

English: An image of Hall of Fame Major League...

English: An image of Hall of Fame Major League Baseball player Stan Musial. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And remember folks, we’re not talking about Musial’s average season.  We’re talking about his worst season.

Recent Hall of Fame inductee Andre Dawson met or exceeded 134 OPS+ just five times, topping 140 just twice.

Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski, a remarkably consistent player in his own right, garnered an OPS+ of 134 or better eight times, just half the number Musial claimed in his career.

Over the years, numbers like 500 homers, 3,000 hits and a .300 career batting average have become de facto (for better or worse) benchmarks by which a player’s Hall of Fame worthiness is measured.

At some point, though, a player will come along who will exceed one or two of those marks who will probably not be a worthy candidate for the Hall of Fame.

Dave Kingman, for example, came within 58 home runs when he reluctantly retired after the 1986 season, during which he slugged 35 homers.  If some G.M. had bothered to sign him, Kingman could have reached 500 home runs in another season and a half.

But as anyone who ever saw Kingman play can attest, he was decidedly not Hall of Fame worthy.

Harold Baines finished his career just 134 hits away from the “magic” 3,000 hit mark.  Baines was a  fine player, and there are worse players in The Hall, but Baines was never truly a Hall of Fame-worthy candidate.  His career WAR, for example, was just 34.0; Musial’s was 123.4.

The point is, there are players who, due to arbitrary and context-less standards, can be considered pretenders to Hall worthiness.

Then there are the serious Hall of Fame players, exemplified well by Stan Musial, who, in their worst seasons are better than the vast majority of other players in all but their very best seasons.

Let me leave you with one final stat regarding Stan Musial.  In his 22-year career, he accumulated 3,630 hits.  1,815 of those hits were made on the road, and the other 1,815 hits were made at home.  You can’t get any more consistently excellent than that.

Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Hank Aaron

This is the eighth installment of my series, “Baseball’s Surprising Stats.”  Here are links to the first seven parts:  Babe Ruth, Cy Young, Joe Jackson, Roger Maris, Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, and Pedro Martinez.

When you think of Hank Aaron, what comes to mind?  Is it the number 714?  Or perhaps 755?  Is it that you still consider him to be the “true” home run king of all-time (Barry Bonds be damned?)  Or on a more personal level, is it the stoic demeanor he displayed in the face of the bitter racism he faced during his daily assault on Babe Ruth’s career home run mark?

English: Milwaukee Braves outfielder and Hall ...

English: Milwaukee Braves outfielder and Hall of Famer Hank Aaron in a 1960 issue of Baseball Digest. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some players are linked forever to one particular season:  Roger Maris in ’61 comes to mind.    Hamerin’ Hank was such a fine, consistent hitter that few people could even tell you which of his seasons was his best.  He won his only MVP award in 1957, but played well enough in several seasons to have won half a dozen more.

But it his home runs that have made him famous.

I was aware that although he broke Ruth’s career home run record, Aaron never reached the 50 homer plateau in any particular season.  That led me to ask the following question:  What was Hank Aaron’s best single-season home run total?

I also thought it might be interesting to compare his career high with some other notable sluggers, minus the obvious ones such as Ruth, Maris, McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds.

It turns out that Aaron’s single-season high for home runs didn’t occur until 1971, when Aaron was already 37-years old.  He slugged 47 that year, good for second place in the N.L. (Willie Stargell hit 48.)

But what struck me as remarkable about this total is that Aaron missed 22 games that year due to injuries.  In ’71, Aaron led the N.L. in slugging percentage (.669), OPS (1.079) and OPS+ (194!)

Here’s something else I thought was interesting about Aaron’s annual home run totals.  Look at his mean, median and mode numbers as far as home runs are concerned:

Mean – 37 (per 162 games)

Median – 36 (if you throw out his final season in which he played only 85 games.)

Mode – 44

So Aaron’s mean and median numbers are remarkably consistent, but he was more likely to hit exactly 44 homers in a season than any other particular number.  In the first three of those 44-home run seasons, by the way, Aaron led the league in home runs.

English: Hank Aaron, former US Baseball player...

English: Hank Aaron, former US Baseball player who set a new record of 755 homeruns, during a visit to the White House on August 15, 1978. Cropped from the source. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now take a look at the number of seasons Aaron reached a particular home run plateau:

40+ home run seasons:  8

30+ home run seasons: 7

20+ home run seasons: 5

Fewer than 20 in a season: 3

For the vast majority of players who have ever lived, to the extent that they could even be represented on a list such as this, you would probably find the opposite result: More 20-homer seasons, then fewer 30-homer years, fewer still 40-homer seasons, and perhaps a season or two reaching the 50 mark.

Here’s Willie Mays, for example:

50+ home run seasons:  2

40+ home run seasons:  4

30+ home runs seasons:  5

20+ home run seasons:  6

Fewer than 20 homers in a season:  4

While his top totals are higher than Aaron’s, his home run pyramid, if you will, is basically inverted; fewer seasons at each succeeding home run level.

Many players have hit more homers in a single season than Hank Aaron.  The list includes Dave Kingman, George Foster, Cecil Fielder, Brady Anderson, Greg Vaughn, Luis Gonzalez, Shawn Green and many others.  Troy Glaus matched Aaron with a career high 47-home runs in the year 2000.

Yet for year-to-year home run consistency at the highest caliber, however, few players in history could match Hank Aaron’s annual efforts.

Keep in mind, too, that Aaron did not play in the best hitter’s era in baseball history, he had to play night games, which did not exist until 1935, and, unlike the sluggers in the pre-Jackie Robinson days, Aaron obviously played in an integrated league facing stiffer competition.

For each of these reasons, then, if you are asked what comes to mind when you hear the name Hank Aaron, and you should reply, ” Home Run King,” no one can reasonably assail your choice.

15 Reasons Why (Against All Logic) I’ll Root for the Mets in 2012

Why do we do this to ourselves?

I suppose those of us who are Mets fans often stop to wonder why we continue to support this tragicomedy of a franchise.  I’m guessing that there’s a Charlie Brown masochism to the personality type that chooses to root for the Mets.  Jose Reyes is hurt again?  Rats.  Linus,why do I feel so miserable?  It’s simple Charlie Brown.  You were condemned at birth by the Gods of Baseball.

So here are ten random, pointless reasons why I continue to justify my loyalty to this franchise:

1)  I’m just about as old as the Mets, and, like the Mets, have had a few successes, lots of mediocre years, and a few bad ones.  In fact, with a few exceptions, my best years have generally mirrored the Mets successful years as well.

2)  Piggy-backing on Reason #1, I’ve been a Mets fan now for 37 of their 50 years of existence.  What would be the point of stopping now?  It has always mystified me why couples who have been married for, say, 31 years suddenly decide to get divorced.  What the hell’s the point of that?  You can’t have those lost years back.  Did you think things would be different if only you waited 31 years?

3)  Tom Seaver was a New York Met.  That’s good enough for me.

4)  Mike Piazza’s dramatic home run, just ten days after 9/11, giving the city of New York a huge emotional lift.

5)  Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, one of the greatest moments of my life.

6)  The back of George Theodore’s 1974 Topps baseball card #8 reads, “George loves strawberry milkshakes.”  ‘Nuff said.

7)  Rusty Staub was not only a very good ballplayer, he was an actual chef.  I visited Rusty’s Restaurant in 1976, but Rusty had already been traded to Detroit for Mickey (Fucking) Lolich.  Still, as I sat at a table eating something or other with my parents and my little brother, I scanned the restaurant in vain for any sign of Rusty.

8)  Lindsey Nelson’s sports jackets.  If you know what I mean, you are probably also a Mets fan.

9)  Dave Kingman’s epic home runs, and his even more epic strikeouts.

10)  Ike Davis, Lucas Duda, and David Wright will provide more offense this year than most people will expect.

11)  They’re not the Pirates.  Or the Cubs.  Or the goddamned Yankees.

12)  October 8, 1973, Game 3 of the N.L.C.S.  Bud Harrelson punches Pete Rose at second base after a typically hard, bush-league slide.  This launches a bench-clearing brawl that goes on for several minutes.  The Mets eliminate the Reds in five games.  Take that, ya bastards!

13)  Dwight Gooden’s superhuman 1985 season, the best year I ever witnessed by a pitcher:  24-4, 276 innings, 16 complete games, 8 shutouts, 1.53 ERA, 268 K’s, 0.965 WHIP, 229 ERA+, 11.7 WAR.

14)  My step-grandfather, Joe Iritsky, a Navy veteran of WWII, and a war hero, took me to my first game at Shea Stadium in August, 1974.

15)  Jon Matlack was a better pitcher than Jack Morris.  (Yes, he was.)

Baseball’s Best of the Worst: Lenny Randle

I am excited to kick off a new series today, “Baseball’s Best of the Worst.”  This is Part I of a twelve-part series analyzing those unfortunate players who performed well on otherwise terrible teams.  Almost every last-place team seems to have one of them, and their efforts are usually forgotten by all but that team’s biggest fans.

My colleague, Graham Womack of the baseball blog, “Baseball Past and Present,”  will be co-authoring this series with me, on a weekly, alternating basis.

The six players I will focus on in this series have all played since 1961.  Graham’s focus, then, will be on half a dozen players from pre-1961 baseball.  We have decided not to concern ourselves with splitting up the A.L. and the N.L., so ultimately, it is possible that one league or the other will end up being featured more prominently than the other.  So be it.

Graham and I have been in contact with each other regarding co-writing a series together since before Christmas.  This is the topic we have come up with.  We decided to keep the entire series here on my blog to avoid possible confusion for our readers, and, speaking for myself, the writers.  Graham’s first post will be featured next Friday, January 21st.

We hope you enjoy this series.  If you have any suggestions about players you would like to see featured, please drop us a line.

Now, without further adieu, here is our initial offering.

The 1977 New York Mets are underrated as one of the worst teams in Mets history.  Almost everyone knows that the pre-1969 Mets were God-awful, but the decade of the ’70’s also featured some of the worst efforts, or non-efforts, that New York’s National League franchise ever produced.

There are actually several reasons, though, why the ’77 team stands out as a tragic example of how a Major League baseball team is quite capable of kicking its fans in their collective teeth, and appearing not to notice.  Specifically, given that the Mets had played better than .500 baseball in three of their previous four seasons, including a trip to the ’73 World Series and a couple of respectable third-place finishes, it seemed reasonable to assume that the ’77 Mets would be a competitive ball club.

For one thing, the Mets were returning with one of baseball’s best rotations:  Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, and Jon Matlack, as well as promising young starters Nino Espinosa and Craig SwanBob Apodaca and Skip Lockwood provided above-average relief help in the bullpen.

The Mets defense also appeared solid, with the exception of Dave Kingman in left-field.  Young catcher John Stearns provided above-average speed behind the plate, and 22-year old outfielder Lee Mazzilli appeared to be a future star.

Very quickly, however, things began to unravel in Gotham.  The Mets, under manager Joe Frazier, stumbled out of the gate with a 15-30 record.  Then, on June 15, 1977, the unthinkable happened.  The Mets traded their 32-year old franchise player, Tom Seaver, for four young prospects, none of whom were to make much of a mark on Major League history.  Then they also traded their only legitimate power-hitter, Dave Kingman, to the San Diego Padres.

Thirty-six year old Joe Torre, now a player-manager, took over the helm in his very first shot at managing.  He didn’t have much left to work with.

In the previous off-season, however, the Mets did manage to pry a young third baseman named Lenny Randle from the Texas Rangers for a player-to-be-named later.

Lenny Randle was no prospect.  He was going to be 28-years old in ’77, and few Mets fans had any idea what to expect.

But, as it turned out, Lenny Randle provided spark on a team whose guts had just been ripped out by upper-management.  He gave Mets fan a reason to keep watching their team long after it was obvious that ’77 was a lost season.

Randle’s statistics for the 1977 were not spectacular, but he was the best the Mets had to offer that year.

Randle led the team with a .304 batting average.  He led them in stolen bases with 33.  He also led the Mets in on-base percentage (.383, tenth best in the league), and in hits (156), triples (5) and runs scored (78).  His 4.2 WAR was the highest on the team.

Defensively, he played the position more like a middle-infielder.  His Range Factor per nine innings was a solid 3.06, 4th best in the N.L.

Although Randle’s  power numbers were terrible, accumulating just five home runs and 27 RBI,  Mets fans understood that Randle’s job was to get on base and make things happen.

But Randle turned out to be little more than a flash-in-the pan.  He performed poorly in Flushing in ’78, then bounced around between the Yankees, Cubs, and Mariners for the next several seasons, until his retirement in 1982 at the age of 33.

In 1983, Randle became the first American major league player to play in Italy, where he won a batting title by hitting .477.

On a really good Major League baseball team, Lenny Randle would have been a nice complementary ballplayer.  On the 1977 Mets, however, he was the star attraction on an abysmal team.

Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons: A Team By Team Analysis – Part 2

If you read my May 25th blog-post, then you know that the purpose of this series is to resurrect the best largely forgotten baseball seasons by individual players that have occurred over the past several decades.

In Part 1, I focused on a pair of Mets players, Lance Johnson and Frank Viola, who each had extremely successful seasons with the Mets that even many Mets fans have already forgotten about.

My goal here in Part 2 is to continue to focus on a pair of players  from each team who have had big seasons that have since largely faded from our collective memory.

One arbitrary ground rule I have set for myself is that I won’t choose any players from before 1950 because, by definition, the further back you go in baseball history, the less likely it is that anyone will remember a certain player that I may decide to dredge up.  After all, isn’t it more fun to be reminded of someone you think you should have remembered rather than some semi-obscure player who you have no recollection of at all?

Also, the individual baseball seasons I have chosen will not be split seasons (when a player, due to a trade, splits his seasons between two or more teams), strike years, or seasons in which the player missed a significant amount of games.

That’s not to say there won’t be any surprises, however.  In fact, I guarantee you that there will be more than a couple of surprise names in this series as we go along.

And those surprises may come as early as, well, right now.

So lets begin Part 2 of Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons: A Team By Team Analysis.

Today’s team: The Chicago Cubs

This historic franchise has blessed baseball with Mordecai Three-Finger Brown, Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Chance, Ernie Banks, Ferguson Jenkins, Ryne Sandburg…and Dave Kingman.

Dave Kingman?  That Dave Kingman?

Dave Kingman came stumbling out of the Oregon woods as a child, as likely as your average circus freak to become a major league baseball player.

Tall, and thin as a rail, Kingman apparently learned English as a second language, his native language being a simple, occasional grunt.  Never really comfortable with people, he spent 16 seasons in various major league uniforms steadfastly avoiding, and annoying, other players, managers, photographers, and just about anyone else with whom he shared a confined space.

Virtually no one, however, could hit the ball as far as Dave “King Kong” Kingman.  And no one could make the rest of the game, you know, throwing catching and hitting, look as awkward and difficult.

Yet, after having played for four, yes four teams, in 1978, and for six teams in the previous four, the Chicago Cubs decided to give the enigmatic 29-year old grunter a chance at stardom.

Astonishingly, he delivered.  Despite the fact that he’d never batted higher than .238 in any season before, he hit .266 for the Cubs in 1978 with 28 homers and 79 RBI’s.  Overall, for Kingman, a successful campaign.

But his 1979 season was, for the Cubbies, proof that even the lovable losers get lucky sometime.  His production in his age 30 season defied, I’m sure, even their wildest dreams.

In 1979, Kingman hit .288 (52 points higher than his career average) with a league-leading 48 home runs.  He also scored a career high 97 runs (I still can’t picture him stumbling around the bases that often without falling over), 115 RBI’s, and an N.L. best .613 slugging percentage.

He led the league with an OPS of .956 and had an OPS + of 146.  His 326 total bases were a career high.  It was also the only season in which Kingman topped 150 hits, with 153.

Of course, Kingman also led the league in strikeouts with 131.

Strangest of all, though, is that Kingman ranked 4th among N.L. left fielders in put outs, and 3rd in assists.

One has to wonder what kind of quasi-humans could possibly have been stumbling around on the left side of N.L. ballparks that year to actually rank behind Dave Kingman in putouts.

But Kingman quickly wore out his welcome in Chicago, and was exiled back to the hapless Mets in 1981.  Kingman played three more season with the Mets with declining batting averages of .221, .204 and .198.  At that point, even the Mets had had enough.

Inexplicably, in his final three seasons as a major league ballplayer, toiling away in Oakland, Kingman hit at least 30 homers and drove in over 90 runs all three years.

Then, like a freak storm that swirls up out of the summer heat, does its fair share of damage, and kicks up all kinds of dust and dirt in your eye, he was gone.  Perhaps the baseball powers-that-be suddenly noticed that Kingman was getting uncomfortably close to that magic, Hall-of-Fame triggering, 500 home run mark.  (He retired just 58 home runs short of 500, a total he might have reached in a couple more years.)

Lucky for all of us, perhaps most of all for Kingman himself, he never had to face the awkward possibility of tripping up the steps to a microphone in front of a dubious throng at Cooperstown, and grunt something unintelligible at them.  And which of the boatload of baseball caps that he wore as a player would be his induction cap?

My vote would have been for his Chicago Cubs hat, where he enjoyed his one truly excellent season back in 1979.

The second Chicago Cub I will analyze in this blog-post is someone who had an even more unfortunate, if not infamous, career as a major league baseball player.

Before his attempted kick-save that resulted in a Mookie Wilson goal in Game Six of the 1986 World Series, Bill Buckner was an actual baseball player.

In fact, Buckner was, once upon a time, before he strapped those strange-looking  Annie Oakley boots over his problematic ankles and feet in the fall of ’86, even a good fielder.

And he was often a good hitter.

In fact, arguably his best single season was in 1982 when, playing with the Cubs, he had 201 hits, 93 runs scored, 105 RBI’s, and a .306 batting average.  Never a power hitter, he also managed 15 home runs that year to go along with his 15 stolen bases.

Just two seasons earlier, also with the Cubs, Buckner had won the N.L. batting title with a .324 average.  Eight seasons earlier, playing with the Dodgers, Buckner had even stolen 31 bases in a season.

Twice Buckner led his league in doubles, and he was always one of the most difficult players to strike out, fanning only 453 times in a 22 year career that included over 10,000 plate appearances.

It also turns out, ironically, that Buckner was a skillful, aggressive first baseman.  Four times in his career, twice with the Cubs and twice with the Red Sox, he led the league in assists, and he ranks 15 all time in assists by a first baseman.

But three times, due to his aggressiveness, he also led his league in errors at first base.

Still, it is, of course, unfortunate that a player who amassed over 2700 hits in his career, who drove in over 1200 runs and scored over 1,000, along with a .289 career batting average, should be primarily remembered for one fateful play in October 1986.

But four years earlier, playing for the Cubs in 1982, Buckner was one of the best players in the National League, with what appeared to be a reasonably bright future lying ahead of him.

It would be easy to finish this blog-post by saying something like,” Such is the fate of a Cubs player,” but, in truth, Buckner’s fate is not unique.  Eventually, Fate frowns on many of us.

Which is why the humbling lessons of baseball are such useful lessons for us all to learn.

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