The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Philadelphia Phillies”

Ten Facts About Lenny Dykstra

You may have heard that former Mets / Phillies outfielder Lenny Dykstra, already serving jail-time

Grand Theft Auto (film)

Grand Theft Auto (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

for Grand Theft Auto, has now had an additional six months added to his prison sentence for bankruptcy fraud, hiding baseball gloves and other souvenirs from his playing days that were supposed to be part of his bankruptcy settlement.

Apparently out to convince the public that he isn’t a one-trick pony, he has also been accused of indecent exposure through the use of Craigslist ads.

Alas, there was a time, not that long ago, when Lenny Dykstra was merely a well-paid baseball player.  Dykstra played in the Majors from 1985-96.  You may recall him as being a fine ballplayer.  That’s how I choose to remember him.

Here are ten facts about Lenny Dykstra, the baseball player:

1)  He was born Leonard Kyle Dykstra in Santa Ana, CA in 1963, and raised in Garden Grove, CA.

2)  He was drafted by the Mets in the 13th round of the amateur draft in 1981.  He was just 18-years old.

3)  Listed as 5’10” and 160 pounds, he was a small but tough (as Nails, hence his nickname) package of speed and surprising power.

4)  In his MLB debut on May 3, 1985, leading off for the Mets, Lenny went 2-5, scored twice, drove in two runs, stole a base, and hit a home run to straightaway center-field off of Reds pitcher Mario Soto.  It would be the only home run Dykstra would hit in 273 plate appearances in ’85, but he would go on to hit 80 more in the regular season in his career.

5)  In the Mets World Championship season of 1986, Dykstra, in his first full season at age 23, finished among the top 20 in N.L. MVP voting.  He was successful in 31 of 38 steal attempts, drew more walks than strikeouts, finished in the top ten in the N.L. in WAR, and posted an OPS+ of 129.

6)  In the ’86 World Series against the Red Sox, after the Mets had lost the first two games of the Series at Shea Stadium, Dykstra led off Game Three at Fenway Park by launching a lead-off home run down the right-field line.  It was one of four hits Dykstra would tally that evening.  The Mets would go on to win the game, 7-1.

7)  In 32 career post-season games for the Mets and the Phillies, Dykstra posted a triple slash line of .321 / .433 /.661, with an astonishing ten homers in just 112 at bats.  He also scored 27 runs, and was a perfect 5-5 in stolen base attempts.

Juan Samuel

Juan Samuel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

8)  Dykstra was traded for Juan Samuel in the middle of the 1989 season.  In the one half-season that Samuel played for the Mets, he posted a triple slash line of .228 / .299 / .300.  His OPS+ was 76.  Dykstra would go on to lead the N.L. in hits twice, in runs scored once, in walks once, and in on-base percentage once with the Phils.  In his first four years with the Phils, he would post OPS+ scores of 138, 132, 122 and 144.

9)  In just 1,278 MLB games, Dykstra produced a career WAR of 41.0, higher than former star players Gil Hodges, Don Mattingly, Al Oliver, Carlos Delgado, Curt Flood, Tony Oliva and teammate Darryl Strawberry.

10)  Dykstra retired as a player at age 33 in 1996 after just 40 games.  His no-holds barred style of play resulted in injuries that certainly shortened his impressive career.  Still a young man, Dykstra, lured by the temptation of easy money, fell prey to many of the same influences that have destroyed the lives and reputations of so many others along the way.

Here’s to hoping he is able to salvage the rest of his life someday.  Meanwhile, I prefer to recall Dykstra as the player he was, not the man he was to become.

After I post this, I’ll be taking a hiatus from blogging for a few weeks until after the New Year.  Might be doing some traveling, for a change.  Hope you all have a great Christmas, or whatever it is you celebrate.  Stay safe, and I’ll see you when I get back.

Cheers,

Bill

The Hall of Fame’s Most Under-Appreciated Players: Part 4

Welcome to Part 4 of this series.  So far, our roster of the Hall of Fame’s most under-appreciated players looks like this:

1B – Roger Connor

2B – Joe Gordon

SS – Arky Vaughan

3B – Eddie Mathews

C  – Gary Carter

LF – Jesse Burkett

Not a bad team.  Let’s flesh it out now with a center fielder and a right fielder, shall we?

English: Philadelphia Phillies centerfielder ....

English: Philadelphia Phillies centerfielder . Levels and saturation adjusted. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Center Field – Richie Ashburn:  Why Richie Ashburn, and not someone like Max Carey, Hugh Duffy or Billy Hamilton?

For one thing, Ashburn had a higher career WAR (60.2) than either Duffy or Carey, and about the same as Hamilton.  Also, Ashburn, as far as dWAR is concerned, was a better defensive center fielder than any of them.

Ashburn’s range in center field was excellent. He led the N.L. in Range Factor ten times in his career.  Ashburn also led all outfielders in his league in putouts nine times, and assists four times.

In his rookie year in 1948, the 21-year old Ashburn batted .333 and topped the N.L. with 32 stolen bases.

In just his third season in the Majors, at age 23, Ashburn was a key member of the Phillies “Whiz Kids” team that won the N.L. Pennant by two games over the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Ashburn led the league that year in triples with 14 while batting over .300 and playing solid defense in center field.

As a hitter, Ashburn didn’t generate much power (just 29 career homers), but he was an on-base machine.  He finished first in the N.L. in walks four times, and in hits three times.  In six seasons (including his first and last) he topped a .400 on-base percentage.

On the other side of the ledger, Ashburn was very difficult to strike out.  During his twelve prime years with the Phillies (1948-59), Ashburn never struck out as many as 50 times in a season.

Ashburn was also very difficult to double-up.  In eight of his seasons, he grounded into fewer than five double plays.  In three additional seasons, he grounded into fewer than ten.

For eight straight seasons, (1951-58), Ashburn scored at least 90 runs in every season.  He also led the league in hits three times, topping 200 hits in each of those three years.

Playing the final season of his 15-year Major League career with the hapless ’62 Mets, 35-year old Ashburn posted a .306 batting average and an outstanding .424 on-base percentage, still the third highest single season on-base percentage in Mets history.

Ashburn retired after the ’62 season at age 35 having netted 2,574 hits to go along with nearly 1,200 walks, a .308 career batting average, and an even more impressive .396 career on-base percentage. He scored 1,322 runs, slashed 109 triples and stole 234 bases.

Despite those numbers, and the reputation of being one of the greatest lead-off hitters, and excellent defensive center fielders of his generation, Ashburn never received much more than 40% of the vote of the BBWAA.  After his name fell off the Hall of Fame ballot in 1982, it wasn’t until 13-years later in 1995 that the Veteran’s Committee finally inducted Ashburn into the HOF.

Richie Ashburn died a couple of years later, in 1997, at age 70.  He is still among the Phillies’  all-time leaders in several offensive categories such as base hits, runs scored, walks and on-base percentage.

Right Field – Harry Heilmann:  Harry Heilmann was, along with Ty Cobb, Sam Crawford and Al Kaline, one of the greatest outfielders in Detroit Tigers history.

Heilmann was one of the few baseball players born on the west coast before the turn of the twentieth century.  Born in San Francisco on August 3, 1894, Heilmann debuted with the Tigers in 1914 at age 19.  Given his German heritage (on his father’s side), one has to wonder if this young German Catholic teenager didn’t experience at least some bigotry around America as the First World War settled like a steel cloud over Europe that summer.

Heilmann didn’t stick with the big club immediately, and spent the summer of 1915 in the minors.  But by 1916, he had become a permanent resident of the Detroit outfield, playing alongside Ty Cobb.    Through 1920, Heilmann was a very good player, though not yet a great one.  Heilmann’s breakout season was 1921, when he turned 26-years old.

In 1926, Heilmann won the A.L. batting title with a .394 batting average, besting teammate Ty Cobb by five points.  He also led the league in hits with 237.  He slugged 42 doubles, 14 triples and 19 home runs.  He finished second in the league in OPS+ (167), WAR (6.5), RBI (139), Slugging Percentage (.606) and Total Bases (365.)

Heilmann went on to win a total of four batting titles, in alternating years, from 1921 to 1927.  His batting averages in those four years were .394, .403, .393, and .398.  He also topped .300 in eight additional seasons in his 17-year career.

Heilmann’s .342 career batting average ranks 12th on the all-time list, just a couple of points shy of Ted Williams.

In fact, Heilmann was the last A.L. player to hit .400 (.403 in 1923) until Ted Williams accomplished that feat by hitting .406 in 1941.

Heilmann’s On Base Plus Slugging Percentage of .930 ranks ahead of Hank Aaron, Tris Speaker and Frank Robinson, among others.  His career OPS+ (148) ranks 40th all-time, ahead of Willie McCovey, Mike Schmidt and Willie Stargell.

Heilmann finished in the top five in MVP voting in his league four times, and he was the best player in the A.L. in 1925, posting a WAR of 6.5.  His career WAR of 67.3 is better than HOF players Ed Delahanty, Tony Gwynn, Al Simmons, Eddie Murray and Duke Snider.

After spending the first 15 years of his career with the Tigers, Heilmann caught on with the Reds for a season and a half.  In his last full season as a player in 1930, Heilmann hit .333 and drove in 91 runs.  He retired in 1932 at age 37.

Heilmann finished his career with 183 homers, 1,539 RBI, 542 doubles and 151 triples.

Despite all of these accomplishments, Heilmann was not elected into the Hall of Fame until his 13th year on the ballot in 1952.  Unfortunately, Heilmann had already died of cancer in 1951.  While on his deathbed, however, his former teammate and sometimes nemesis Ty Cobb came to visit him.  Cobb, in a rare act of empathy, told Heilmann that he had been voted into the Hall of Fame that summer so that Heilmann could die a happy man.

Which just goes to show, sometimes good lurks in the hearts of even the coldest men.

NEXT UP:  The Pitchers

Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Pedro Martinez

This is Part 7 of the series, “Baseball’s Surprising Stats.”  If you’ve missed any or all of the first six,  you’ll find them under “Recent Posts” over to the right.

Recently, I read that Pedro Martinez lost only 100 games in his entire career in over 400 starts.

English: Pedro Martínez

English: Pedro Martínez (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Losing just 100 games out of 409 career starts (against 219 wins) is a pretty remarkable statistic.

It led me to ask the following question:  What was the greatest number of games Pedro lost in any one season?

Indirectly, this also led me to wonder, if wins are an overrated statistic that don’t often reveal the true value of a pitcher, then how about losses?

In other words, are the number of losses a pitcher suffers in a particular season fairly representative of his overall performance?

Lists are often my favorite visual aid, so of course you know what’s coming.  Here’s a list of 26 pitchers, (do we always have to work with multiples of five?) and the highest number of losses they suffered in a season, from fewest to most.

Every pitcher on this list made at least 300 career starts, the vast majority making over 400. The number in parentheses indicates the number of seasons the pitcher lost that many games.  A number in bold print indicates they led the league in losses that season.

1)  Pedro Martinez – 10  (2)

2)   Ron Guidry – 12 (and it wasn’t until he turned 35 that he lost that many.)

3)  Lefty Grove – 13  (2)

4)  Sandy Koufax – 13  (2)

5)  John Smoltz – 13

6)  Roger Clemens – 14

7)  David Cone – 14  (2)

8)  Randy Johnson – 14  (2)

9)  Curt Schilling – 14

10) Tom Seaver – 14  (2)

11) Bob Feller – 15  (2)

12) Dwight Gooden – 15

13) Greg Maddux – 15

14) Mike Mussina – 15

15) “Pete” Alexander – 17

16) Bert Blyleven – 17  (4)  (Led league in losses in one of those four 17-loss seasons.)

17) Tom Glavine – 17

18) Catfish Hunter – 17

19) Christy Mathewson – 17

20) Ferguson Jenkins – 18

21) Jack Morris – 18

22) Nolan Ryan – 18

23) Don Sutton – 18

24) Steve Carlton – 20

25) Luis Tiant – 20

26) Walter Johnson – 25

Boy, that Walter Johnson was a lousy pitcher, wasn’t he?

Actually, the year Johnson lost 25 games he was just a 21-year old kid still learning his craft.  Although his ERA that year was a sparkling 2.22, his ERA+ was just a mediocre 111, meaning that lots of pitchers had very low ERA’s that year.  Easy to see why this was the Dead Ball era, right?

So, do the number of losses a pitcher suffers in their “worst” season tell us much in the way of useful information?  Is it possible for a pitcher to have an excellent year (as measured by other reliable stats) yet come away with a relatively high number of losses?

Well, we just saw that Walter Johnson was not yet a great pitcher when he lost those 25 games.  Similarly, Tom Glavine was just a 22-year old with an ERA+ of just 80 when he lost his career high 17 games.  In other words, it would not be inaccurate to say that he truly did “earn” those losses.

Although Nolan Ryan was already 29-years old when he lost 18 games in 1976, his ERA+ that year was only 99, and he was still walking far too many batters.  In other words, those 18 losses can’t simply be written off as a lack of run support, or an unlucky “good” pitcher on a bad team.  Ryan pretty much deserved to lose 18 of his 39 starts that year.

Don Sutton, like Bert Blyleven, is in the Hall of Fame due to a long career of notable, yet unspectacular, consistency.  They are baseball’s equivalent of the 35-year career insurance salesmen who never miss a day of work, but of whom the best that can be said is that they never knowingly, intentionally, sold a questionable policy.  They each stuck around long enough to earn their gold watch, enjoy their retirement party, and retire to Miami Beach to play golf, bare white legs set against the over-manicured greens draining into dying swampland.

So what of their 17 and 18 loss seasons?  In 23 seasons, Don Sutton never led his league in ERA+, and in ERA just once.  In 1969, his fourth season in the Majors, he posted an ERA+ of 96 in 296 innings.  Durable?  Sure.  But it is clear that those 18 losses were generally representative of his pitching performance that particular year.

Bert Blyleven’s four 17-loss seasons, three of which occurred consecutively from 1972-74, were more of a mixed bag.  In two of those seasons, (1973-74) Blyleven posted ERA+’s of 156 (which led the league) and 142, respectively.  In 1972, his ERA+ was a decent 119, and in his final 17-loss campaign, 1988, his 17 losses led the league in a year in which his ERA+ was only 75.

When Luis Tiant and Steve Carlton each led their respective leagues with 20 losses (Tiant in ’69; Carlton in ’73), neither pitcher was better than league-average that year.  Tiant’s ERA+ was just 101, and Carlton’s was only 97.

Long-time Boston Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martíne...

Long-time Boston Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martínez returns to Fenway Park in 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Generally speaking then, what is clear from this admittedly abbreviated list of pitchers is that great pitchers don’t tend to lose very many games, unless they are having an off-year, or unless they are still refining their craft.

Now, that may sound like the least surprising bit of information you’ve ever received.  But what it means is that, although a pitcher can have a great year and not win very many games (see the list of recent Cy Young winners), it is not at all common for a pitcher to have a great year and still end up with a lot of losses.  

Notice that only four of the 26 pitchers on this list ever led their league in losses, despite the large number of combined seasons represented here.

Therefore, although it is true that you should generally ignore a pitcher’s win totals when evaluating his actual value in any one season, the converse is not so true.

A pitcher’s loss totals are generally representative of what you would expect, given other statistical measures of performance.

By that measure, then, one can argue that Pedro Martinez was one of the top ten, if not among the top five, starting pitchers of all-time.

Halladay the Great

 

Roy Halladay

Image via Wikipedia

 

Congratulations to Phillies pitcher, Roy Halladay, who tossed the first post-season no-hitter in the Majors since Don Larsen‘s perfect game in  1956.  Halladay also pitched a perfect game earlier this year on May 29th vs. the Marlins.

Now is the time for all baseball fan’s to finally recognize how truly great Halladay has been in his fantastic career.

This past season, Halladay led the National League in wins (21) complete games (9), shutouts (4), innings pitched (250.2) and batters faced (993).  The epitome of a true workhorse, Halladay has pitched at least 220 innings in each of the past five seasons.

Halladay set a new career high in strikeouts this year with 219, the fourth 200 K season in his career.

Halladay’s career record is now 169-86, good for a .663 win-loss percentage.

His career WAR stands at 54.3, about the same as Sandy Koufax.

He has already won one Cy Young award, and should be the favorite to win his second this year.  He has also finished in the top five in Cy Young voting in four other seasons.

Halladay walked just 30 batters this year, and has topped 40 walks in a season just twice in the past decade.

Halladay has now appeared in seven All-Star games.

For over a decade now, Halladay has been one of the finest pitchers in baseball.  What he accomplished yesterday was not merely a moment of greatness.  It was yet another moment of greatness in a storied career that will one day lead inevitably to induction into baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Halladay’s is the kind of career we will one day want to share with the younger generations who weren’t around to see him pitch.  We should count ourselves lucky for having witnessed his greatness.

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