The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Pete Rose”

Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Joe DiMaggio

Although Joe DiMaggio would still have been a Hall of Fame caliber player without the legendary 56-game hitting streak he enjoyed in the summer of 1941, in the few short months before the U.S. was drawn into the Second World War, much of the myth and romance that surrounds his illustrious career would have vanished.

Joe DiMaggio of the New York Yankees, cropped ...

Joe DiMaggio of the New York Yankees, cropped from a posed picture of 1937 Major League Baseball All-Stars in Washington, DC. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Statisticians, mathematicians and computer programmers have concluded that the odds of a player of DiMaggio’s capabilities actually producing a 56-game hit streak are something in the order of 1 in 10,000 seasons.  It is baseball’s equivalent of witnessing someone coming up with heads in coin toss a hundred consecutive times.

Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised, of course, that no one since Pete Rose in 1978 (34-years ago now), has come within a dozen games of matching DiMaggio’s record.  And Rose was the first player in 37 years to come that close.

During those 56 games, DiMaggio had 91 hits in 223 at bats, a .408 batting average.  He had four 4 hit games.  Fifteen of his hits during The Streak were home runs.  He slugged .717, considerably higher than his (still impressive) .579 career slugging percentage.

Interestingly, The Streak might have ended in game 30, when a bad hop grounder off  DiMaggio’s bat hit White Sox shortstop Luke Appling in the shoulder, but the official scorer ruled it a hit instead of an error.

Also, in the fifth inning of game 16 of The Streak, Boston outfielder Pete Fox lost a DiMaggio fly ball in the sun.  Joe D. was credited with a hit.

As you can see, even during a hot streak, it certainly helps to be a little bit lucky.

English: New York Yankees slugger during the a...

English: New York Yankees slugger during the at . * Screen capture from the film located at: http://www.archive.org/details/NewsMaga1950 This movie is part of the collection: Prelinger Archives (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Impressively, in the next game after his hit streak ended, DiMaggio then began a 16-game hitting streak, meaning he had at least one hit in 72 0f 73 games played beginning on May 15th of that year.

That led me to ask the following question, “What is the second-longest hitting streak in Yankees history?”

It turns out that although he did surpass the relatively small 16 game hit streak in ’41, Joe DiMaggio never again managed to hit safely in even 30 consecutive games in his career.

DiMaggio’s next best hit streaks were each relatively modest.  He hit in 23 games in 1940, and 22 in 1937.

Sources seem to disagree whether or not the notorious Yankee first baseman, Hal Chase, reached a high of 27 games or 33 games, (or was it 22 games?) in 1907 when the Yankees were called the Highlanders.  If he did in fact reach 33 games, he is the only other New York A.L. player to top 30 consecutive games.

Otherwise, Roger Peckinpaugh (1919), Earle Combs (1931) and Joe Gordon (1942) came the closest, each Yankee cresting at 29 games.  Babe Ruth’s longest hitting streak, by the way, was 26 games in 1921.

Interestingly, Joe’s brother Dom DiMaggio of the Red Sox twice led the A.L. with the longest hitting streak, 34 games in 1949 and 27 games in 1951.

By my count, there are still ten Major League teams that have never had a player produce a 30-game hitting streak.

It is nearly impossible to imagine anyone breaking Joe DiMaggio’s record.  For example, relief pitching specialists, a role that did not exist in DiMaggio’s day, add an extra layer of difficulty for the modern hitter.

Also, teams use video and modern hit charts to track every batter’s “hot” and “cold” zones around the plate.  Then there is also the likelihood that no pitcher would throw any pitch remotely close to the strike zone if a hitter came within a game or two of Joe D.’s record.

Finally, there is the sheer mental exhaustion that would probably overwhelm a hitter today who made a serious run at this record.  He would be subjected to constant media scrutiny, the distraction of frenzied fans and, of course, the pressure he would put on himself.

Certainly, Joe DiMaggio faced a lot of pressure back in 1941 during his hit streak, but media attention has increased exponentially in the years since, as have advances in defensive strategies and available technologies.

Therefore, Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak is certainly one of the safest records in all of sports.  Yet there is no doubt that, statistically speaking, someone will once again come along, as Pete Rose did in ’78, and make a valiant attempt to come as close as possible to matching the glory that Joe D. enjoyed in that last great summer before the war.

Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Ted Williams

Ted Williams is commonly considered the greatest hitter in baseball history.

He was the last batter to hit over .400 (.406 in 1941, at age 22), and he won the Triple Crown twice in his career.  No modern player has won the Triple Crown even once since Carl Yastrzemski did it in 1967.

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

English: An image of Major League Baseball hall of famer Ted Williams. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Williams was an uncommonly patient hitter who hit a lot of home runs and drew a lot of bases on balls.  Unlike the mythical portrayal of “Casey at the Bat,” a superlative slugger who wasn’t afraid to strike out, Williams actually didn’t strike out very often.  In other words, he did not sacrifice batting average for power.

If you peruse Williams’ career numbers over at Baseball-Reference.com (as indispensable a baseball reference tool as exists anywhere), you’ll find lots of “black ink” on his resume, indicating that he led his league in multiple offensive categories several times throughout his fabled career.

There are batting crowns, home run titles, and, for the modern sabermetrics-inclined baseball fan, OPS+ and WAR victories as well.

But did Ted Williams, the greatest hitter of all-time, ever lead his league in hits?  

To clarify, I’ve already pointed out that Williams won several batting titles.  But was there a single season during which he actually accumulated the most safe hits in his league?

Among players who have won batting titles, several of them have also led their league in hits.  Tony Gwynn, for example, won eight batting crowns and also led his league in base hits seven times.

Ty Cobb won an amazing 11 batting titles and led the league in base hits eight times.  Rogers Hornsby won seven hitting crowns and led the league in hits four times.

Generally speaking, then, players who win multiple batting crowns also tend to  lead their league in actual hits at least some of the time.

It may surprise you to learn, then, that Ted Williams never once led his league in hits.

Ted Williams’ career high for hits in a season was 194 in 1949, when he was 30-years old.  Interestingly, despite winning six batting titles in his career, Williams did not lead the league in hitting in the season in which he accumulated a career high in base hits.

Ted Williams in the Marines

Ted Williams in the Marines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The secret to all those batting titles for Ted Williams, was, of course, his fantastic batting eye.  He might not have accumulated a staggering number of hits, but, perhaps more importantly, he generated very few outs per plate appearance, relative to virtually every other hitter who ever played the game.

Ted Williams simply would not swing at a bad pitch.  When he was in the batter’s box, it was the pitcher who was immediately at a disadvantage, despite the fact that the pitcher could throw any pitch he wanted, at any speed he wanted, anywhere he preferred.

What then to make of baseball’s continuing fetish for high hit totals, especially 200-hit seasons?

Just a decade and a half after Williams retired, Dodgers first baseman Steve Garvey, a ten time All-Star and the N.L. MVP award winner in 1974 was widely regarded as one of the best players in the game.  Garvey made a science of accumulating 200 hits in a season, apparently reasoning that it was an obvious mark of excellence.  He reached the 200 hit mark six times in seven years from 1974-80.

Yet Garvey, who never walked more than 50 times in a season, also never won a batting title.  I recall as a boy growing up at the time that a base on balls was considered a wasted plate appearance.  Apparently, there were many players at the professional level who believed the same thing (and some who still do.)  As Juaqin Phoenix’s character, Merrell Hess says in the movie, Signs, “It just felt wrong not to swing.”

There have been many baseball pundits, philosophers, managers, coaches, players and mere fans who have reasoned over the past several decades that to hit for power, you have to sacrifice some batting average.

Sluggers are supposed to drive in runs by driving home runs out of the park.  Meanwhile, the rest of the players — especially at the top of the lineup — like Pete Rose, Lou Brock and Ichiro (none of whom drew very many walks overall)  are supposed to swing away, lashing singles and doubles around the park.

Yet Ted Williams proved long ago that a slugger does not have to sacrifice batting average for power, and that the number of base hits a player accumulates is not really all that important a statistic.

It appears, though, that Ted Williams was just way ahead of his time, and it has taken so-called baseball experts a while to catch up.

But the great ones are always ahead of their time and, as far as hitting is concerned, Ted Williams was the greatest of them all.

Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Ty Cobb

In my last post in this series, I wrote about Pete Rose.

Rose has often been compared to Ty Cobb, both for his intense personality as well as for his take-no-prisoners style of play.  He’s also been compared to Cobb for the obvious reason that he broke what was once considered Cobb’s unbreakable career hits record of 4,189 (according to Baseball-Reference.com.)  Rose, of course, broke Cobb’s record, and finished his career with 4,256 hits.

But Rose topped a .500 slugging percentage in just one season, and finished in the top ten in his league in slugging percentage just twice (1968-69.)  His career slugging percentage of  just .409 is the same as Rafael Furcal.

In other words, Rose, like Ty Cobb, was a consummate contact hitter who sacrificed power in favor of batting average.

But is that who Ty Cobb really was, or has this become an easy, though ultimately false, comparison?

Ty Cobb holds the Major League Baseball record...

Ty Cobb holds the Major League Baseball record for highest career batting average, at .366. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So the question of the day is, “Did Ty Cobb ever lead his league in slugging percentage?

Now, I was already aware from prior research that Cobb won 11 batting titles, drove in over a hundred runs in a season several times, topped 200 hits in a season 9 or 10 times, and stole nearly 900 bases.

But I never paid much attention to his slugging percentages because, well, I don’t think most of us associate Ty Cobb with having been a “slugger.”

So what I discovered truly surprised me.

Ty Cobb led his league in slugging eight times in an eleven year span.  In other words, from 1907 to 1917, Cobb was not merely the greatest hitter for average in his league, he was also the greatest slugger in his league.

How does Cobb’s eight slugging titles compare with other great players in history?  Here’s a list of several players (not meant to be comprehensive) and the number of times they led their league in slugging percentage:

Babe Ruth:  13

Rogers Hornsby:  9

Ted Williams:  9

Ty Cobb:  8

Barry Bonds:  7

Stan Musial:  6

Honus Wagner:  6

Jimmie Foxx:  5

Willie Mays:  5

Hank Aaron:  4

Mickey Mantle:  4

Mark McGwire:  4

Alex Rodriguez:  4

Albert Pujols:  3

Joe DiMaggio:  2

Lou Gehrig:  2

Ken Griffey, Jr.:  1

Frank Thomas:  1

I don’t know about you, but if I was asked to rate these players beforehand from top to bottom regarding career slugging titles, I’m pretty sure this would not have been the order in which I would have listed them.  Nor would I have come close to the number of slugging titles each of these players won.

Gehrig, of course, had Ruth as a teammate, thus his low total.  DiMaggio played his home games in a park that absolutely killed right-handed power hitters.

English: Ty Cobb batting in 1908 at Chicago.

English: Ty Cobb batting in 1908 at Chicago. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Still, based on this list, it is beyond dispute that Ty Cobb was not merely one of the very best hitters for average in baseball history, he belongs on the short list of greatest sluggers in the history of the game, despite his modest total of 117 career home runs.

Different parks and different eras both serve to either inflate or suppress a players apparent power. Because Cobb played in what’s commonly referred to as the Deadball Era, his reputation as a hitter has been unfairly limited to one aspect of the game, batting average.

But there can be little doubt that if Cobb had played in favorable hitter’s decades like the 1920’s and ’30’s, he would be remembered today in much the same way that Rogers Hornsby or Ted Williams are recalled.

All of which also points to the conclusion that any comparisons between Cobb and Rose as actual hitters needs to be reconsidered by most of us lest we make easy, though demonstrably inaccurate,  comparisons.

Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Pete Rose

To perhaps tide you over until I return with some new material, here is a post I wrote about a year and a half ago about Pete Rose.  Some of you haven’t seen this one before.  If not, I hope you enjoy it.  

This is Part 5 of my series, “Baseball’s Surprising Stats.”  To link to any of the first four parts, click on the links to the right under “Recent Posts.”

The object of this series is to revisit players most of us already know something about, then to uncover one fact or statistic that isn’t widely known.

Pete Rose, like Joe Jackson before him, made some personal choices regarding baseball that came back to haunt him, and from which his personal reputation will probably never recover.

Rose walks onto the field with the Cincinnati Reds

Rose walks onto the field with the Cincinnati Reds (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But the fact remains that, on the baseball field, Pete Rose accomplished some very impressive things.  He is, of course, baseball’s all-time hits leader with 4,256 safeties.  His 3,215 singles are also the most in history.

Rose is also in second place on the all-time doubles list with 746.  He had ten 200-hit seasons, won three batting titles, and played in more games (3,562) than any other man in baseball history.

Perhaps most impressively, though, Pete Rose reached base safely more times (5,929)  than any other player ever did.

That’s a lot of at bats.  That’s a lot of plate appearances.

Which inevitably leads me to the question, “How many outs did Pete Rose make in his career.”

First, some perspective.  Babe Ruth made 5,758 outs in his entire career.  Mickey Mantle made 5,899 outs.  Richie Ashburn, who was primarily a lead-off hitter for most of his career, and who played in parts of three decades, made 6,096 outs.

Willie McCovey broke into the big leagues when Eisenhower was President, and he didn’t retire until the eve of Ronald Reagan’s first term.  McCovey made 6,259 outs.

Carlton Fisk, who would probably still be playing today if someone hadn’t hidden his catching gear from him (1969-93!) made 6,767 outs.

Ty Cobb, to whom Pete Rose in often compared, made 7,748 outs.

Peter (Charlie Hustle) Rose made 2,580 more outs than Ty Cobb.  (Imagine if he hadn’t hustled?)

Pete Rose made about as many outs in his career as Babe Ruth and Phil Rizzuto combined.  He made  approximately as many outs as Mike Piazza and Edgar Martinez combined.  He made just a few less outs than Bobby Murcer and Kirby Puckett put together.

Pete Rose at bat in a game at Dodger Stadium d...

Pete Rose at bat in a game at Dodger Stadium during the 1970s (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The answer to my original question as to how many outs Pete Rose made in his career is that Rose made exactly 10,328 outs.  He is the only player in history to have made more than 10,000 outs.

Another way of looking at this is that if you take Rose’s 162 game average of 723 plate appearances per season, and divide 10,328 by 723, you end up with equivalent of 14  seasons where Rose did absolutely nothing but make outs!

Rookie outfielder Bryce Harper is 19-years old.  If Harper began next season going 0-4 in his first game, and then kept doing absolutely nothing but making outs UNTIL HE WAS 34 YEARS OLD — not a single hit, walk, or hit by pitch — he would then begin to approach the number of outs Rose made in his career.

Would the Washington Nationals be patient enough to wait out a 14-year super-slump from this year’s phenom?  I’m guessing probably not.

So here’s a thought.  If Pete Rose’s job was basically to do nothing other than to get on base (for he was by no means a slugger, nor was he much of a base-stealer), then do we consider him a success for reaching base more times than any man in history?

Or do we shake our collective heads in disbelief regarding the overwhelming number of outs he made and ask, was it really necessary for him to play as long as he did?

In short, were those 5,929 times on base really worth the 10,328 outs it took to get him there?

Let’s hope Bryce Harper doesn’t have to find out the answer to that question the hard way.

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.)

Post Navigation