The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Pittsburgh Pirates”

Ten Facts You Need to Know about the First-Place Pirates

When I glanced at the N.L. standings this morning, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Pittsburgh Pirates sat atop the N.L. Central division.  With the Orioles and the Mets also making legitimate runs towards a spot in the playoffs, this has truly been a surprising year in Major League baseball.

English: Pedro Alvarez of the Pittsburgh Pirat...

English: Pedro Alvarez of the Pittsburgh Pirates playing third base in his third MLB game. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then it occurred to me that I knew next to nothing about the actual players on this season’s Pirate roster.  Here are some things I learned today, which I decided to share with you.

1)  Third baseman Pedro Alvarez has 15 home runs and 48 RBI to go along with an OPS+ of 118.  Despite having been written off as a failed prospect by many after last seasons dismal first trip to Pittsburgh, Alvarez has a chance to become the first Pirate since Jason Bay in 2006 to top 30 home runs and 100 RBI in a season.

2)  Closer Joel Hanrahan, with 21 saves and a 1.09 WHIP, is on pace to come close to matching last season’s 40 saves and 1.04 WHIP.  His ERA+ this season, 152, is excellent, though not quite as amazing as last year’s Pedro Martinez-like mark of 203.

3)  Staff ace James McDonald, who won just nine of 31 starts last season, already has eight wins in sixteen starts this year.  Part of his success is because he’s been pitching deeper into games.  He’s on pace for his first 200-innings pitched year in his career.

4)  54-year old manager Clint Hurdle has been managing for ten seasons.  He managed the Rockies for eight seasons, leading them to the N.L. Pennant in 2007, and is now in his second year as the Pirates manager.

As a player, Hurdle was considered a major Phenom back in 1977 when he first came up with the Royals at age 19.  But in his 515 game Major League career, he posted a triple slash line of .259 / .341 / .403, with an OPS+ of 106.

PNC Park

PNC Park (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One has to wonder if Hurdle’s disappointing career has made him the perfect leader for a squad of players who clearly need to be patiently nurtured to succeed? So far, the answer seems to be in the affirmative.

5)  Despite the success of the Pirates to date, they still have the second-lowest average attendance (24,218) per game in the N.L. this year.  Only the Astros have drawn worse.  It would be nice to see the sports fans of Pittsburgh embrace the Pirates as much as they do their beloved Steelers.

Neil Walker

Neil Walker (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

6)  Pirates second baseman, 26-year old Neil Walker, was actually born in Pittsburgh.  A remarkably consistent player, Walker posted a .992 fielding percentage last season, exactly the same as his current fielding percentage this year.  A switch-hitter, Walker is batting .275 this year along with a .338 on-base percentage.  His career numbers in those two categories are .279 and .338, respectively.

Hall of Fame infielder Bobby Wallace was also born in Pittsburgh (though he never played for the Pirates.)  His career batting average was .268 (to Walker’s .279) and his career on-base percentage was .332 (to Walker’s .338.)  His career OPS+ was 105 (to Walker’s 108.)  What am I getting at?  Nothing.  I just think those are some interesting facts.

7)  In addition to his .412 on-base percentage and .610 slugging average, All-Star center fielder Andrew McCutchen currently leads the N.L. with a .360 batting average.  With 16 homers and 14 steals, he is on-track for his first 30-30 season.  His OPS+ this year is a tremendous 181.  If McCutchen played his home games in New York or Boston, far more people would be aware that this 25-year old star is already one of the top ten players in the game.

Andrew McCutchen

Andrew McCutchen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

8)  PNC is one of the few ballparks in the country that lets you bring in outside food and water (no alcohol, of course.)  Retired Pirates catcher Manny Sanguillen sometimes signs autographs for fans waiting in line at his restaurant, Manny’s Barbecue.  There are 6,500 seats at PNC that cost just nine dollars.  With just 38,127 seats, PNC is the second smallest park in Major League baseball.

9)  G. Ogden Nutting is the patriarch of the clan that has majority ownership in the Pirates, and in the Ogden Newspaper chain.  He has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican politicians for many years.  The editorials in his newspapers often rail against the evils of socialism.  That’s all well and good — it’s his money and those are his newspapers — but it raises two pertinent questions:

Question 1 – If socialism is so awful, why, then, does Nutting accept millions of dollars in revenue sharing annually so that his “less-fortunate” small market franchise can compete with the wealthier franchises in New York and Boston?  Shouldn’t the invisible hand of the free market be allowed to determine winners and losers among the MLB franchises?

Question 2 – Does Nutting have a responsibility to the people of Pittsburgh in general, and Pirates fans in particular, to hold up his end of the bargain in creating and maintaining a competitive franchise, given that the City of Pittsburgh publicly financed his stadium to the tune of over $260 million dollars?  It’s nice that the Pirates are currently in first place, and they did sign Andrew McCutchen to a long-term deal several months ago, but are they really committed to building a successful franchise for the long-term?  Time will tell.

10)  The old man of the pitching staff, 35-year old A.J. Burnett, has averaged 8.2 strikeouts / 9 innings in his career.  He is one of just 36 pitchers in the history of baseball to average over 8 K’s per 9 innings pitched.  His record currently stands at 9-2, and his ERA is the lowest it’s been in five years.  He is on pace to tie his career high 18 wins with the Blue Jays in 2008.  Along with staff ace, James McDonald, this is the first time that the Pirates have a chance to have at least two starters reach at least 15 wins in the same season since 1991.

So there you have it, ten facts about the first-place Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Best Losing Pitchers of All-Time

Most pitchers who lost more games than they won in their careers did so because they just weren’t very good pitchers.  In fact, they were often just plain awful.  But there is an unusual subset of pitchers who were actually pretty good at their craft who still ended up with more losses than wins.  It may seem counter-intuitive, but it is true.  Some pitchers are just unlucky.

The original idea for this post came from my last post when I was examining the career of Jon Matlack. Matlack pitched 2,363 innings in his career, winning the N.L. Rookie of the Year award in 1972.  He retired with a career ERA of 3.18, an ERA+ of 114, and a career WAR of 38.7.

Overall, these are numbers that for most pitchers would normally have resulted in a winning record. Yet Matlack completed his career with a record of 125-126.  Although his peripheral numbers all indicate that he was a good pitcher, he still ended up with a losing record.

That got me to thinking about how many other pitchers there might have been in baseball history who pitched well at least as often as not, but never received their fair share of wins.

Before I started my research, I had to set some arbitrary ground-rules.  I decided that to make my list, a pitcher had to have at least 100 wins, 1,500 innings pitched,  at least 200 career starts, and he had to have a career ERA below 4.00.

My research has turned up (and I’ve probably missed some), several intriguing examples of “good” pitchers who retired with losing records.

Here are some examples of these pitchers, in no particular order, with a brief synopsis of their career highlights.

1)  Pat Dobson:  In 1971, Dobson posted a record of 20-8 with an ERA of 2.90 in 282 innings.  He hurled 18 complete games for the Orioles, and finished the season in the A.L. top 20 in MVP voting.  His ERA+ was 116.  The following season, Dobson led the A.L. in losses with a record of 16-18, despite an ERA of 2.65 and an ERA+ of 117.

Dobson would also go on to win 19 games with the ’74 Yankees, and in his seven seasons in which he tossed over 200 innings, he posted an ERA over 4.00 just twice.  He finished with a respectable career ERA of 3.54 in 2,120 innings.  Despite all of these positives, Dobson finished his career with a record of 122-129.

2)  Mark Gubicza:  Gubicza was a two-time All Star who enjoyed a Dobson-like 20-8 season with a 2.70 ERA in 35 starts with the Royals.  Although Gubicza had some trouble staying healthy in his 13 seasons with the Royals (1984-96), he did lead the A.L. in starts twice.

Gubicza also surrendered the fewest home runs per nine innings three times, and fewest walks per nine once.  In 2,223 innings pitched in his career, he posted a career ERA+ of 109, and a career WAR of 34.8, better than Hall of Famers Catfish Hunter and Rube Marquard.  He was, in most seasons, better than the average pitcher, yet accumulated more losses than wins.

3)  Bill Singer:  Twice in his career, in 1969 with the Dodgers and 1973 with the Angels, Singer won exactly 20 games.  In each of those two seasons, he also made exactly 40 starts, pitched exactly 315.2 innings, and hurled exactly two shutouts.  Also, in both seasons, he topped 240 strikeouts.  Strangely, he walked just 74 batters in ’69, then walked 130 in ’73.  Apparently, Nolan Ryan must have rubbed off on him.

Singer was an erratic pitcher, but, as you can see, he was quite dominant in his prime.  In 308 career starts, he tossed 2,174 innings, and his career ERA was a respectable 3.39.  It was a surprise to me, then, when I saw that Singer had finished his career with a record of 118-127.  He deserved better.

4)  Bob Friend:  Friend’s career is probably the most extreme example of this group of an excellent pitcher who got saddled with more wins than losses.  His 197 career wins are, by far, the most of any pitcher I could find who finished his career with a losing record (197-230.)  But his career win-loss percentage (.461) is actually one of the worst I could find among the players in his group.

Friend led the N.L. in wins with 22 in 1958.  Then he went on to lead the league in losses with 19 in 1959.  In 1960, he bounced back with 18 victories, then proceeded to lead the league in losses the following year once again with 19.

Friend led the league in games started three times, in innings pitched twice, in batters faced twice, and in ERA and ERA+ once each.  He pitched 200 innings every season from 1955 to 1965 for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Friend’s career WAR of 48.9 is better than several pitchers in the Hall of Fame.

Friend, a four-time All Star, made 497 starts in his career, pitched in over 3,600 innings, and logged a career ERA of 3.58.  If he had pitched on better teams than the often dismal Pirates, he might have reversed his career record, and perhaps even some consideration for the Hall of Fame.

5)  Randy Jones:  Randy Jones won the 1976 N.L. Cy Young award for the Padres with a record of 22-14, led the league in starts (40) complete games (an astonishing 25), innings pitched (315) and WHIP (1.027).  Although he hardly ever walked anyone, it is also amazing that he struck out just 93 batters all season.

The previous year, Jones finished as the runner-up in the Cy Young voting to Tom Seaver.  Jones actually topped Seaver in ERA (2.24) and ERA+ (156) while posting a nice 20-12 record.  Interestingly, the season before these two consecutive excellent years, 1974, Jones led the N.L. in losses as he was saddled with a record of 8-22.

But Jones’ career went downhill rapidly from that point, his last semi-effective season coming in 1979.  Jones finished his career, spent almost entirely with San Diego, with a career record of 100-122, and an ERA of 3.42.  As far as I can tell, Jones is the only Cy Young award winner (among starting pitchers, and using the criteria I listed above) who finished his career with more losses than wins.

Now here are the rest of the pitchers who meet my standards, listed alphabetically, with their respective win-loss records, and their career ERA’s:

6) Jim Barr:  101-112, 3.56

7) Tom Candiotti:  151-164, 3.73

8) Dick Ellsworth:  115-137, 3.72

9)Woodie Fryman:  141-155, 3.77

10) Bob Knepper:  146-155, 3.68

11)  Jon Matlack – 125-126, 3.18

12) Rudy May:  152-156, 3.46

13) Fritz Ostermueller:  114-115, 3.99

14) Steve Renko:  134-146, 3.99

15) Jim Rooker:  103-109, 3.46

16) Zane Smith:  100-115, 3.74

17) Clyde Wright:  100-111, 3.50

A few other pitchers I looked at just missed making this list.  Danny Jackson, for example, had a career record of 112-131, but his career ERA was 4.01.  Nap Rucker finished his career with a perfectly mediocre record of 134-134, so he missed making this list by one loss.

Now, of the seventeen pitchers listed above, which ones were the best?

Let’s begin by eliminating all of those pitchers with a career ERA+ under 100.  Well, there goes Bill Singer (99), Bob Knepper (95), Woodie Fryman (96), Steve Renko (98) and Clyde Wright (96).

Now we are down to just twelve pitchers.  Using career WAR as a litmus test, let’s eliminate any pitcher on this list with a career WAR below 20.  Say goodbye to Pat Dobson (17.6), Randy Jones (19.7), Rudy May (19.6), and Jim Rooker (16.7).

We have eight pitchers remaining.  Let’s raise the bar a bit more to reward pitchers who pitched at least 2,000 innings.  That eliminates Zane Smith.  Let’s also knock off the lowest remaining ERA+, Dick Ellsworth (100).

Our six remaining pitchers are:  Jon Matlack, Mark Gubicza, Jim Barr, Tom Candiotti, Bob Friend, and Fritz Ostermueller.

Now let’s list our remaining six in order of career WAR, highest to lowest:

1)  Bob Friend – 48.9

2) Tom Candiotti – 41.0

3)  Jon Matlack – 38.7

4)  Mark Gubicza – 34.8

5)  Jim Barr – 30.5

6)  Fritz Ostermueller – 27.6

Eliminating Ostermueller, who has both the lowest WAR and the highest ERA (3.99), we have a nice little five-man rotation of Friend, Candiotti, Matlack, Gubicza and Barr.

The Black Ink test used by Baseball-Reference.com, that is, the categories in which a player led his league, highlighted in bold print, is still another way to measure a particular player’s value.

Using the Black Ink test, Bob Friend wins by a wide margin.  He scores a 20,  Matlack and Gubicza each score a 4, while Candiotti  and Barr each score a 2.

Therefore, I think it is clear that the best losing pitcher of all-time, as far as my research goes, was Bob Friend.  I would rate Jon Matlack as the runner-up, with either Gubicza or Candiotti in third place.

Congratulations to Bob Friend, the Best Losing Pitcher of All-Time.

Cleaning Up The Hall of Fame: Lloyd Waner vs. Dale Murphy

Dale Murphy Braves JerseyIn this second installment of the series, “Cleaning Up the Hall,” we are going to move out to center field to compare a couple of ball players who played two generations apart, Lloyd Waner and Dale Murphy.

But before I go any further, let me briefly state, as I did in Part 1, that the purpose of this series is to incrementally improve the Hall of Fame one player at a time.  It is not, therefore, to find the perfect, overlooked Hall of Famer.

Also, let me be clear that these are meant to be purely hypothetical arguments.  I am not suggesting that the readers of this blog should Occupy the Hall until certain HOF plaques are removed, to be replaced by more deserving players.

Having said that, one of the worst mistakes the Veteran’s committee has ever made was to vote to induct former Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Lloyd (Little Poison) Waner into the Hall of Fame.

Lloyd Waner, the younger brother of legitimate HOF’er Paul Waner, never received more than 23% of the vote of the BBWAA in all his years on the HOF ballot.  Yet, in 1967, the Veteran’s Committee, apparently influenced by Lloyd’s inflated batting averages and not much else, voted to pair Lloyd with his brother in The Hall.

At first glance, there is a case to be made for Lloyd Waner, who played from 1927-45.

Although he never won a batting title, Little Poison enjoyed ten seasons in which he batted over .300.  He enjoyed four 200 hit campaigns in his first five seasons, including a league-leading 214 hits in 1931.  He also led the league in triples with 20 in 1929, and he scored over 100 runs in each of his first three seasons.  He also led the N.L. in at bats three times.

A good center fielder, Waner led the senior circuit in put outs four times, in fielding percentage three times, and in range factor three times as well.  Had the Gold Glove been awarded in his era, he would probably have won three or four.

Waner retired after an 18-year Major League career (the first 14 with the Pirates) at the age of 39.  But his last truly productive season occurred in 1938, when Waner was 32-years old.

His final career numbers are as follows:  2,459 hits, 281 doubles, 118 triples, 27 home runs, 1,201 runs scored, 598 RBI, 67 stolen bases, and 420 bases on balls.  His 426 career extra base hits is one of the lowest totals by any position player in The Hall.

His career triple slash line is .316 / .353 / .393.  While the batting average is 69th best of all-time, he played in an era when it was very common to bat over .300.  Drawing few walks, Waner’s on-base percentage is not impressive at all for his era.  And his slugging percentage is abysmal for any era.

Lloyd Waner’s career WAR is 24.3, also among the lowest in The Hall.  Perhaps most damning is his career OPS+ of 99, which means he was actually one point below the average replacement level player.

Waner was a good player who hit a ton of singles, (2,033 of his hits were singles, good for 41st all-time), scored lots of runs in his first three years (in a huge run-scoring era), played some good defense, and not much else.

Lloyd Waner simply does not belong in the Hall of Fame.

A better candidate for The Hall would be a slugger now almost forgotten by the under-40 year old baseball fan, former Atlanta Braves center fielder Dale Murphy.

There are actually a few similarities between Lloyd Waner and Dale Murphy.  They each played approximately 14 of their first 18 years with one team (the Pirates and Braves, respectively.)  They each peaked at about 23% of the vote of the BBWAA for Hall induction, and each of their careers were essentially over before they turned 33-years of age.

But there are also several important differences between these two center fielders.

From 1980, when he became a full-time outfielder for the Braves (he came up as a catcher) through 1987, Dale Murphy was arguably the best player in the National League.  He won two N.L. MVP awards (1982-83), and he finished in the top 10 in two other seasons (1984-85.)

Dale Murphy was a seven time All-Star, he won five Gold Gloves, and he was a four-time winner of the Silver Slugger award.  An iron man, Murphy played every single game from 1982-’85, and he missed a total of five games over a six-year period.

Unlike Lloyd Waner, Murphy also had a lot of power.  Six times he hit at least 30 home runs in a season, leading the league twice.  He slugged a career-high 44 home runs in 1987.  He also led the league in slugging percentage twice, Runs Batted In two times, and OPS once.

Murphy drove in over 100 runs five times, drew over 90 walks in a season four times, and topped .900 OPS four times.  Whereas Lloyd Waner’s single-season best OPS+ was just 116, Murphy reached an OPS+ of at least 135 in six different seasons.

Dale Murphy’s career WAR of 44.2 is also significantly better than Waner’s.

Murphy finished his career with 2,111 hits, 350 doubles, 39 triples, 398 home runs, 1,197 runs scored, 1,266 RBI, 161 stolen bases, and 986 walks.  Waner has the edge in hits, runs scored (though not by many) and triples.  Murphy has a big edge in doubles, home runs, extra base hits, stolen bases, RBI and walks.

Dale Murphy’s career OPS+ of 121 is also better than Waner’s score of 99.  And although Waner ranks 41st all-time in singles, Murphy ranks 5oth all-time in home runs.  Whom would you rather have?

Therefore, in our ongoing quest to clean up The Hall, Dale Murphy would make a more than adequate replacement for Lloyd Waner in the Hall of Fame.

Stay tuned for the next installment of this series, with a movie review coming soon as well.

Make it Stop: Pittsburgh Pirates Baseball at PNC Park – Comedy Video

Call this the weekend edition of The On Deck Circle.

A baseball-blogging colleague of mine, Dave Kreshover, is part of a comedy team called Nine More Outs.  He, along with two of his friends who comprise this group, visit various major league parks around the country pretending to be fans of that particular team for the day.  Previously, they invaded Toronto to poke fun at the Blue Jays.

In this youtube video that Dave asked me to post on my blog, NineMoreOuts find themselves in Pittsburgh attending a Pirates games.  This is their second stop on what they call their Stadium Shmadium Tour.

I found the video to be very funny, and I think will, too.

By the way, Dave also has a baseball blog of his own which is well worth checking out.  It is called, “Be Gone With Wilpon.”  If you are a Mets fan, you might already be aware of its existence.

So, without further ado, here is the video…

Enjoy your weekend, Bill

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