The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Mike Trout”

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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Players With At Least 50 Doubles Through Their Age-21 Seasons

Angels outfielder Mike Trout recently reached the 50 career doubles plateau.  As of this writing, he has 53 doubles.  He is, of course, now about half-way through his age 21 season.  That got me to wondering how many other players in baseball history managed to accumulate at least 50 doubles through age 21.  While I can’t say for sure that I’ve managed to list every single player in history who reached that number, I doubt I missed very many.  As you’ll notice, it is quite an impressive list.  A bit more than half the players on this list (57%) are already in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  At least a couple of others are likely to make it in as well.

In general, it is rare for a player on this list, who has been retired for more than ten years, to NOT be in the HOF.  In fact, I count only four names on this list who fit that description.  That would seem to bode well for Mike Trout’s future as a potential Hall of Famer.

Here is the list, beginning with the most doubles accumulated through a player’s age-21 season:

1)  Mel Ott – 106

2)  Cesar Cedeno – 100

3)  Alex Rodriguez – 100

4)  Robin Yount – 95

5)  Ken Griffey, Jr. – 93

6)  Vada Pinson – 91

7)  Ted Williams – 87

8)  Ty Cobb – 85

9)  George Davis – 84

10) Sherry Magee – 75

11) Al Kaline – 74

12) Orlando Cepeda – 73

13) Mickey Mantle – 72

14) Adrian Beltre – 66

15) Hank Aaron – 64

16) Jimmie Foxx – 61

17) Ivan Rodriguez – 60

18) Andruw Jones – 58

19) Jimmy Sheckard – 57

19) Justin Upton – 57

21) Frank Robinson – 56

21) Ron Santo – 56

23) Eddie Mathews – 54

24) Roberto Clemente – 53

24) Mike Trout – 53

26) Miguel Cabrera – 52

26) Joe Medwick – 52

28) Roberto Alomar – 51

If you want to exclude George Davis, who played half his career in the 19th century, and Jimmy Sheckard, whose age 21 season occurred in 1900, you are down to 26 players.

Sherry Magee’s appearance on this list is no fluke.  He was a very fine player for the first two decades of the 20th century for whom a legitimate Hall of Fame case can be made.

Ken Griffey, Jr. is a lock to be elected into The Hall, and Ivan Rodriguez should be as well.  Adrian Beltre’s glove, as well as his bat, already place him among the top ten third basemen in baseball history.

Alex Rodriguez might spend the rest of his natural days in a kind of baseball limbo.  Does he even really care?

Every team that passed on Justin Upton this off-season (I’m talking to you, New York Mets) should be kicking themselves that they didn’t sign him to a long-term contract when they had the chance.  It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Braves are in first place in their division.

By the end of the 2014 season, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper will also have completed their age-21 seasons.  Machado leads the A.L. with an amazing 27 doubles already this year, and has 35 for his career.  For Bryce Harper, whatever he doesn’t hit over the wall he’ll probably just hit through the wall.  At any rate, he has 33 career doubles and is also likely to surpass 50 career doubles by the end of next season, if not sooner.

Although they are extremely young, and at a very early stage in their respective careers, it may not be unreasonable to assess the likelihood of Trout, Harper and Machado someday making it into The Hall at somewhere around 50-60 percent each.

Seven Players Who Peaked Too Soon

As everyone who follows baseball these days knows, Angels outfielder Mike Trout had a season for the ages last year.  In his first full year, he put up numbers that rival the greatest seasons by any of the immortals.  Despite not being brought up for the first month of the season, he led the A.L. in runs scored (129) and stolen bases (49 in 55 attempts), while also leading the league in OPS+ (171) and WAR (10.7).

Mike Trout

Mike Trout (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He slugged 30 homers, and posted a .326 / .399 / .564 triple-slash line.  He also played world-class defense in center-field.  For his efforts, he won a Silver Slugger, the Rookie of the Year award, and he finished runner-up to Miguel Cabrera for the A.L. MVP award.

 The question is, what does a player like this do for an encore?  While it is hard to imagine a player of Trout’s talents suffering through a sophomore slump, it is also difficult to expect him to match, let alone top, last season’s incredible performance.

Perhaps he’ll hit a few more home runs and drive in more runs, but in what other significant category could be actually improve?These questions led me to consider players of the past who also got off to fast starts, and looked like Hall of Fame caliber players early in their careers.  Some of them enjoyed reasonable success, but fell short of what was predicted of them.  Others burned out faster than expected.

While I don’t necessarily expect a similar fate to befall Trout — he is a profoundly gifted athlete — these other players serve as a cautionary tale of the pitfalls he could encounter over the course of his career.

One caveat:  There are no pitchers on this list.  Baseball history is littered with dead arms, torn rotator cuffs, etc.  There is nothing to be gained here by examining the careers of those unfortunate souls.  And besides, Mike Trout is an outfielder.

1)  Cesar Cedeno (1970-86) –  Like Mike Trout, Cedeno played his first Major League game at age 19, and also like Trout, he was a star by age 21.  Cedeno led the N.L. in doubles in each of his first two seasons.  This young Astros outfielder batted  .320 in consecutive seasons when he was 21 and 22-years old, respectively.  For six consecutive years,  1972-77 inclusive, he stole at least 50 bases.  He also had decent home run power, masked by the vast canyon that was the Astrodome.  His 26 homers and 102 RBI in 1974 (at age 23) represented career highs.  From ages 21-25, he won five consecutive Gold Gloves.

But Cedeno’s career high WAR was 7.9 in 1972, followed by 7.2 the following season.  After age 23, he never reached even 6.0 WAR in any single season.  After age 29, though he played for another half-dozen seasons, his career as a useful player was all but finished.  Cedeno had a fine career, but never surmounted the heights he’d established for himself at an early age.

2)  Fred Lynn  (1974-90) – Another center-fielder, Lynn took the baseball world by storm in 1975 as a key cog in the Red Sox pennant drive.  He became the first player in baseball history to be named Rookie-of-the-Year and MVP in the same season.  His triple-slash line was .331 / .401 /.566.  That .566 slugging percentage led the A.L.  He also led the league with 47 doubles and 103 runs scored.  Toss in solid power, 21 homers and 105 RBI, and a Gold Glove, and you had yourself a fantastic 23-year old ball-player.

Though Lynn made nine consecutive All-Star teams from 1975-83 (including three times as an Angel), Lynn only had one other season (1979) where he was as great a player as he was in ’75.   Still, he was a remarkably steady player for several years after he left Boston.  Beginning in 1982 at age 30, he slugged 21, 22, 23, 23, 23, 23, and 25 homers over a period of seven consecutive seasons.  So he remained a useful player all the way up to his 35th birthday.  But useful is a long way from great, and after age 27, Lynn was never again a great player.

English: Kal Daniels before a Reds/Expos game ...

English: Kal Daniels before a Reds/Expos game in Montreal in July of 1988. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3)  Kal Daniels (1986-92) – Kal Daniels arrived on the scene in Cincinnati at about the same time as Barry Larkin and Eric Davis.  By 1988, any one of the three looked like he had a chance to have a Hall of Fame caliber career.  Larkin, of course, was the only one who did.

In his first taste of MLB action, as a 22-year old in 1986, Daniels batted .320 in 74 games with an OPS+ of 148.  He also stole 15 bases in 17 attempts.  In his first year of regular action in ’87, he hit 26 homers and stole 26 bases in 108 games while posting a .334 batting average.  His OPS+ was a very impressive 169.  In 1988, he set career highs in doubles, runs scored, and stolen bases, while leading the league in on-base percentage (.397.)

Through age 24, he had stolen 63 bases while getting caught just 16 times.  1989 was marred by injuries, and he was traded to the Dodgers.  1990, his first complete year as a Dodger, was also his last highly productive season.  His 27 homers and 94 RBI were career highs, he batted a respectable .296, and his OPS+ was a nifty 155.  Somehow, though, by age 27, he was all but done.  Normally, that’s about the time that most really good players are just hitting their stride.  But after age 28, Daniels never again played in the Majors.

4)  Carlos Baerga (1990-2005) -The Indians had some great lineups in the 1990’s, and Carlos Baerga was one of the most important, productive players on those teams.  As a 22-year old in 1991, he hit a solid .288 and flashed the tantalizing talent of someone who had a lot more fine seasons ahead of him.  In ’92, he had 205 hits, including 20 homers and 105 RBI to go along with a .312 batting average.  He had another 200 hit season with 21 homers, 114 RBI, 15 steals, 105 runs scored and a .321 batting average as a 24-year old in ’93.

Along with Roberto Alomar, he was the cream of the crop of second basemen.  But after accumulating nearly 14 WAR in over his first three years, he produced less than 4.0 WAR combined over the remaining 12 years of his career.  He had two more seasons of impressive batting averages in ’94 and ’95, hitting .314 in each of those seasons.  But like Kal Daniels, the productive portion of his career was essentially over by the time he turned 28-years old.  Even taking into account the rigors of playing a middle infield position, his decline was both sudden and steep.

5)  Vada Pinson (1958-75) -Similar to Cesar Cedeno in that through his age 27 season, he appeared to be on his way to a Hall of Fame career.  Through age 26, he was an impressive combination of power, speed, and batting average.  Playing for the Reds for the first decade of his career, he led the N.L. in hits, doubles and triples twice each, and in runs once.  He received a significant number of MVP votes in five of his first six years.  He enjoyed four 200-hit seasons, scored at least 96 runs in each of his first seven seasons, and batted over .300 four times.  He regularly hit over 20 homers while topping 20 steals in the same season.

But Pinson was little more than a journeyman for the final eight years of his career, making stops in St. Louis, Cleveland, California, and K.C. until finally retiring in 1975 at age 36, a mere shadow of the player he had been in his early to mid-20’s.

6)  Alvin Davis (1984-92) – In his rookie season, Davis was a 5.7 WAR player who slugged 27 homers while driving in 116 runs.  He had an on-base percentage of nearly .400, made the All-Star team, and was named A.L. Rookie of the Year for the 1984 season.  The young first-baseman appeared to be the Seattle Mariners’ first budding superstar.  At age 23, it appeared that he would continue to grow into one of the A.L.’s most fearsome young sluggers.

Yet, though he produced respectable numbers for the next half-dozen seasons, he ended up being a good, but never a great, Major League baseball player.  Essentially washed-up by age 30, he was out of baseball altogether by age 31.  As it turned out, the only All-Star game he ever played in was during his rookie season.

7)  Lloyd Waner (1927-45) – It may seem odd including Lloyd (Little Poison) Waner on this list, considering he’s in the Hall of Fame, but 1) he doesn’t belong in The Hall and 2) he was essentially Cesar Cedeno long before Cesar Cedeno.  (Actually, to be fair to Cedeno, this half of the Waner brothers was never as good as Cesar.)  Still, Lloyd Waner topped the 200-hit, 100-run plateau in each of his first three seasons.

Through age 26, he’d batted at least .333 in all but one of his first six seasons.  He’d also received substantial MVP consideration in four of those six years.  But by 1933, when he was still just 27-years old, he’d become just another ball-player.  He lived off his reputation (and that of his more talented brother) for nearly a dozen more seasons, but the apparent superstar (though erroneously recognized as such by Cooperstown) was not able to sustain, let alone top, the success he enjoyed his first few years.

There are, of course, many other players I could have added to this list.  Tony Oliva and Andruw Jones are a couple of others who come to mind.  I’m sure you can think of several others.

What remains to be seen, then, is which career path will become Mike Trout’s ultimate destiny?  Is he the second-coming of Mickey Mantle, or will he become this generation’s Cesar Cedeno?

What do you think?

Seven Baseball Stories You May Have Missed in 2012

There were lots of great stories this year.  The unexpectedly strong showings of the Orioles and the A’s, as well as the Nats, probably top the list.  Also, many people thought that no one would ever win another Triple Crown.  In past years, I’ve read articles that sought to “prove” that it could never happen again.  Miguel Cabrera’s remarkable achievement may be the last time many of us ever witness this event in our lifetimes.

Mike Trout’s historic rookie season was one for the ages.  No other rookie in history ever produced a 30 homer, 40 steal season, leading the league with 49 steals.  He also led the A.L. in runs scored (129) and in OPS+ (171).  It’ll be interesting to see how the vote for the A.L. MVP award turns out.

But there were several other “smaller” stories, if you will, that were no less worthy of notice.  Some of you will already be aware of some of these facts, stories, and other tidbits of information.  But, in general, the items that follow were each, in my estimation, a bit under-reported.  Then again, I’m attracted to relatively useless trivia, so please bear with me.

craig kimbrel

craig kimbrel (Photo credit: taylor magnone)

1)  Craig Kimbrel:  Kimbrel accomplished something this season that no pitcher, not Nolan Ryan, Sandy Koufax, Mariano Rivera, Rob Dibble, Dick Radatz, or any other flamethrower, ever did before.  Kimbrel struck out half the batters he faced (116 out of 231.)  How crazy is that?  He also struck out about four batters for every hit (27) he surrendered in his 62.2 innings pitched.  His ERA of 1.01 and ERA+ of 399 are just cartoonish.  Oh, and did I mention he led the league in saves with 42?  Displaying impeccable control, he walked just 14 batters, and hit just two.  So yes, he’s a pretty good pitcher.

2)  Carlos Beltran:  Beltran became the eighth player in baseball history to join the 300 homer, 300 stolen base club.  He is the only switch-hitter in history to have both 300 homer and steals.  Currently, he has 334 homers (which puts him in the top 100 all time), and 306 stolen bases.  His outstanding 86.7 career stolen base percentage ranks 3rd best of all time.  Finally, Beltran’s career WAR of 62.3 — about the same as Ernie Banks — certainly places Beltran in the conversation about future Hall of Famers.

Joe Blanton

Joe Blanton (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3)  Joe Blanton:  I love Joe Blanton.  I have a separate post in mind devoted entirely to Joe Blanton.  I might even get around to writing it.  In the meantime, you might not find Blanton’s 10-13 record, 4.71 ERA or ERA+ of 84 to be awe-inspiring.  But did you know his strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.88), ranked 2nd in the entire National League?  Did you know that his 1.6 walks / 9 innings was third best in the league?  How about that he had more shutouts (1) than Cy Young candidate Johnny Cueto?  In fact, Cueto had only four more strikeouts than Blanton (170 to 166) in 2012, and it took Cueto 26 more innings to top Blanton.  Did you know these little bits of trivia?  Well, know you do.  And don’t you feel better knowing them?

4)  New York Yankees:  So the Yankees made the playoffs again.  Did you know the Yankees have now made the playoffs fifty-one times in their history?  All fifty-one times have occurred since 1921.  That means that over the past 92 seasons, the Yankees have made the playoffs 55% of the time.  No other team is particularly close.

Hilltop Park, home of the Highlanders

Hilltop Park, home of the Highlanders (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Dodgers, for example, have made the playoffs 26 times since 1916.  That’s about 27% of the last 97 seasons.  The Cardinals have made the playoffs 25 times since 1926.  That’s about 29% of the best 87 seasons.  Not a bad showing.  The Giants and the A’s have each made the playoffs 24 times since 1905.  The Braves have been there now 22 of the past 99 seasons.  The Red Sox, 20 times since 1903.  Since the beginning of the twentieth century, no other team has ever made the playoffs as many as 20 times.

So the Yankees have made the playoffs about twice as often as the next best set of teams.  Even to someone like me who is not a Yankees fan, that’s an impressive run of success.

5)  Colorado Rockies:  On the other end of the spectrum, the Rockies have now existed for twenty seasons, and 2012 was their worst one yet.  Their .395 win-loss percentage was the lowest in team history.  You know you’ve had a bad year when the highest WAR recorded on the team was accumulated by a relief pitcher (Rafael Betancourt: 2.6.)  Their attendance this year was down to 2.6 million, not a bad total, but this once proud franchise topped well over three million spectators per year every season from their debut in 1993 through 2001.  In fact, in ’93, they drew about 4.5 million fans.

The Rockies are long past the point where it can be said that they’re a young franchise going through growing pains.  Now they are simply painful to watch.

6)  Alex Rios:  A fair amount has been written about the comeback season enjoyed by White Sox D.H., Adam Dunn, and rightly so.  Yet his teammate, outfielder Alex Rios, also managed a remarkable turnaround in 2012.  In 2011, Rios batted just .227, slugged .348, and posted an OPS+ of 63.  He hit 13 homers, stole eleven bases, and drove in 44 runs.  In 2012, he bounced back in a big way, batting .304, slugging .516, and posted an OPS+ of 124.  He also slugged 25 homers, stole 23 bases, and drove in 91 runs.

In other words, Rios was essentially twice the player in 2012 as he was in 2011.  Considering he was playing his age 31 season, that has to rate as one of the more unlikely comeback seasons in baseball history.  Considering the ChiSox are on the hook with Alex Rios for the next three years, they’ll have ample opportunity to find out which one is the “real” Alex Rios.

Omar Vizquel, with the Cleveland Indians

Omar Vizquel, with the Cleveland Indians (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

7)  Omar Vizquel:  At age 45, Omar Vizquel is finally calling it quits.  He has certainly compiled some impressive stats over the course of his career, especially with his glove.  The three-time All Star won eleven Gold Gloves in his career, and his .985 career fielding percentage as a shortstop is the best in baseball history (minimum, 4,000 chances.)

Vizquel’s 28.4 dWAR is also among the top ten players in baseball history whose primary position was shortstop.  He ranks third all-time in assists, with 7,676, and 11th in putouts with 4,102.

As an offensive player, Vizquel accumulated 2,877 hits, good for 40th place in baseball history.  His 2,264 singles are 16th best.  His 456 doubles are more than HOF’ers Joe Morgan, Rod Carew, Barry Larkin and Luke Appling.  He also stole 404 bases, and scored 1,445 runs.

Does Vizquel belong in the Hall of Fame?  On that issue, I abstain.  I’ll leave that decision up to the BBWAA to decide five years from now.

So there you have it,  seven items you may not have known about.  I hope you feel much more enlightened by this trivia I have shared with you.

You’re welcome.

Soundtrack for Baseball: July, 2012

This is my third offering in a sporadic series in which I mix baseball analysis with some of my favorite music artists.  Let’s call this one “The Blues Edition.”  (Please ignore any commercials that may appear.  For “Full Screen,” click the icon on the lower, right-hand corner of each video.)

The relationship between the analysis and the songs is tenuous at best, but it amuses me nevertheless (as do bright, shiny objects and fire trucks.)

Here were my offerings for April and May (June somehow slipped by me unnoticed.)

The point of these posts is to create a video-blog of the highlights (and low lights) of the baseball season.  I’ll leave it to other bloggers to address this season’s stats and stories in a more traditional fashion.

So let’s begin.

Has any PHEENOM ever made such a huge impact in his first full season as Mike Trout has done this season?  The list of players who were great right out of the gate, and who went on to have fantastic careers, is not a very long one.  That list would include, for example, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Frank Robinson, Alex Rodriguez and a handful of others.

Add Mike Trout to that list.  Sure, it’s true that Trout’s future is yet to be written, but other than the possibility of injury, there is no reason to think that we’re not looking at the next Stan Musial or Mickey Mantle.

All Trout has done so far is hit a league-leading .351 to go along with a circuit-pacing 78 runs scored in just 80 games.  Oh, and did I mention he’s also stolen the most bases in the A.L. (35) while being caught an absurdly low 3 times?  How about that 180 OPS+, also the best in the junior league.

The fact is, pitchers have to learn to stop “Messin’ with the Kid.  Here’s a direct appeal to MLB pitchers from Junior Wells and Buddy Guy, so listen up.

Meanwhile, up in New York, the Yankees have added both age and depth to their first-place team by trading for Seattle’s most famous icon (and, no, I don’t mean Starbucks.)

Ichiro Suzuki has been a fixture in the Mariners outfield since he burst on the Major League scene in 2001.

But after 11 1/2 years in Seattle the former MVP has finally been granted his wish to play for a team that could well find itself in the World Series this year.

Ichiro has accumulated over 2,500 hits in his MLB career along with a career batting average of .322.  The ten time All-Star and future Hall of Famer has won 10 Gold Gloves, three Silver Sluggers, and has led the A.L. in hits seven times.  He has been a one-of-a-kind player in his generation.

Yet Ichiro is also 38-years old, and clearly isn’t the player he once was.  His OPS+ of 82 this season is unimpressive, while his batting average is just .261.  Though it’s true he still has some value, it is clear he is no longer able to do “The Things That {he} Used To Do.”

I’ll let the immortal Stevie Ray Vaughan spell it out for you.

I wasn’t sure he could do it again.

I’m talking about the Tigers Uber-Ace, 29-year old Justin Verlander.  Last year, he won both the Cy Young award and the MVP award.  It was perhaps asking too much for a repeat performance, yet Verlander is not far off last year’s pace.

Granted, Verlander won’t finish this season with a 24-5 record, as he did in 2011.  His record currently stands at 11-7, but he has pitched better than that. Verlander leads the A.L. in innings pitched, complete games, and fewest hits surrendered per nine innings.  His ERA is just .23 higher than last year.  He is second in his league in strikeouts, starts and WHIP, while also leading the league in WAR for pitchers.

Verlander is a polished pitcher with a solid arsenal, but his bread and butter pitch is an old-fashioned 100 mile per hour fastball.  His is the ultimate power arm.  His nickname should be the “Smoking Gun,” ’cause that’s what he brings to the table.

So let’s dedicate this next song, “Smoking Gun,” performed by the smooth as silk Robert Cray, in honor of Verlander’s awesome right arm.

When we were kids, our best pitcher would always pitch the most games.  Sounds logical, right?  In the Majors, of course, things are much different.  Sure, it’s true that a relief pitcher will probably appear in more games than a typical starting pitcher.  That’s the nature of the job.  But, apparently, it doesn’t necessarily follow that even your best relief pitcher will lead the staff in appearances.

That honor is often enjoyed by the specialist of all specialists, the situational lefty.

He doesn’t have to be particularly good, mind you, just left-handed.

Situational lefties are the summer school teachers of the bullpen.  They’re willing to do the job, and there just ain’t that many others to choose from with their particular mix of modest self-esteem and masochism.

Which explains (though it doesn’t excuse) why lefty Tim Byrdak of the Mets leads the entire Major Leagues in appearances (as of August 1st.)

In 55 appearances, Byrdak has managed to accumulate a paltry 30.1 (not entirely effective) innings pitched.  His ERA on the season is 4.45.  Apparently, his “situations” have been a bit more challenging for Byrdak than he would like.

But once a Major League manager gets an idea in his head, or develops an irrational affinity for a particular player, there’s just no turning back.  So manager Terry Collins runs the 38-year old Byrdak out there about two out of every three games (actually, Byrdak has recently missed a couple of games with a sore knee) and hopes for the best.

Good baseball strategy?  Who cares.  It’s what’s de rigueur these days in Baseball Land.  Obviously, it’s simply impossible to love mediocrity too much.  Does it backfire sometimes?  Sure, love is like that.

So here’s an ode to loving someone or something too much by the late, great, blind Canadian blues artist, Jeff Healey.

Someday, I’d like to meet an actual Padres fan.

The San Diego Padres were one of baseball’s expansion teams in 1969.  Forty-three years after their founding, not only have they not won a World Championship, but they’ve won only one World Series game.  (Andy Hawkins beat the Tigers’ Dan Petry, October 10, 1984, 5-3.)

They’ve also never reached the 100-win plateau in any season, topping out at 98 wins in 1998.  In fact, they’ve topped 90 wins in a season just four times since the first man walked on the moon.

During their existence, they have lost 520 more games than they’ve won.

Their only league MVP winner, Ken Caminiti in 1996, turned out to be a steroids user, was arrested in a Houston hotel room for possession of crack cocaine, and died prematurely at age 41.

If that’s not enough to give a baseball fan the blues, I don’t know what is.

Sure, other MLB teams have suffered long droughts of futility, but, other than Tony Gwynn, can you give me one reason the Padres haven’t been baseball’s most superfluous team?

The question is, “How Many More Years” will the Padres offer so little in the way of hope and success to their (presumably loyal) fans?

Perhaps it’s time for a little Howlin’ Wolf as an antidote to this historically uncompelling franchise.

With that, my friends, we come to the end of this edition of a “Soundtrack for Baseball.”  I hope you enjoyed it.  We may do it again in another month.

Harper, Trout, and the Early ’90’s

I read last night that Bryce Harper and Mike Trout were both being called up to their respective Major League franchises for their 2012 debuts.  For Harper, this will be his first cup of coffee in the Majors.  Whether he sticks this year or not remains to be seen.

Mike Trout

Mike Trout (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For Mike Trout, he is returning to the Majors after a brief trial run last season during which he batted .220 with five home runs, 16 RBI and an OPS+ of 88.  Not really all that bad for a young kid.

And that may be the point we are forgetting here.  Yes, we know they are young.  But let’s really try to put into perspective how young they are.

Mike Trout was born on August 7, 1991.  Bryce Harper was born October 16, 1992.  Let’s take a look at what was going on in the world in each of those years.

In 1991, the year Trout was born:

1)  Operation Desert Storm was launched by Bush I vs. Iraq.

2)  Boris Yeltsin becomes Russia’s first popularly elected President.

3)  Apartheid in South Africa is officially dismantled.

4)  The internet is first made available to unrestricted commercial use.

5)  The Balkan War begins when Slovenia and Croatia declare independence from Yugoslavia.

6)  Lead singer Freddie Mercury of the Rock band Queen dies of AIDS.

7)  A former postal worker kills four people in the post office where he used to work in Ridgewood, N.J., resulting in the first use of the phrase, “Going Postal.”

8)  Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer is arrested in his apartment in Milwaukee.

9)  Heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson is arrested and charged with rape.

10)  The Twins defeat the Braves, 4 games to 3, in the World Series.  Jack Morris pitches a ten-inning complete game in the Series Game 7 clincher.

In 1992, the year Harper was born:

Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1)  Prince Charles and Princess Diana separate.

2)  Bill Clinton is elected President of the U.S.A.

3)  The Nicotene patch is introduced to help stop smoking.

4)  America’s largest shopping mall, The Mall of America, opens in Minnesota.

5)  In a triumph of the public sector over the private sector, Mafia boss John Gotti is sentenced to life in prison.

6)  The first McDonald’s restaurant opens in China.

7)  Rioting breaks out in Los Angeles following the acquittal of four police officers in the Rodney King trial.

8)  The NAFTA Treaty, between the U.S., Canada and Mexico, is signed.

9)  The F.D.A. urges stopping the use of silicone gel breast implants.  The high water mark of the big-busted beach bimbo comes to an end.

10)  The Toronto Blue Jays defeat the Atlanta Braves in a six game World Series.

I don’t know about you, but most of these events don’t feel like they took place two decades ago.  I suppose two decades from now, if we’re still around, we’ll be able to evaluate the careers of Mike Trout and Bryce Harper.  Here’s wishing both young men the best of luck.

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