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Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons: Part 23 – The San Diego Padres

Petco Park

Image by marcusjroberts via Flickr

The San Diego Padres recently completed their 42nd year of existence without a single World Championship to their name.

An expansion team in 1969, they have never enjoyed a 100 win season, but have lost at least 100 games five times.

Over the years, however, they have produced some very good ball players, and even a few strong ball clubs.  This year’s version came within one victory of winning their division for the sixth time, finishing with a 90-win season for the first time since 1998.  They have gone on to the World Series twice, getting swept by the Yankees in 1998, and losing to the Tigers in five games in 1984.

Trivia Question:  Who is the only Padres pitcher to ever win a World Series game?  Answer below, after this post.

As a boy growing up on the east coast in the 1970’s, the Padres were a mysterious team of unfamiliar names sporting garish, ugly uniforms.  But since the Padres were almost always a bad team in those days, at least I knew that my Mets would stand a good chance of defeating them in a season series.

By the time the Padres enjoyed their first winning season in 1978,  I was already well into high school, and my interest in baseball waned as the Mets languished in the basement of the N.L. East.

Even as a youthful baseball card collector, I can’t say that many Padres players stood out as the kind of name players you could offer up in a trade for, say, Johnny Bench or Reggie Jackson.

But my fog of ignorance regarding Padres players from that era has lifted to a certain degree recently while researching players and stats for this post.

I was surprised, for example, that the Padres pitcher with the highest single season WAR was not Kevin Brown, Jake Peavy or Randy Jones. It was, in fact, Dave Roberts.  No, not the speedy outfielder Dave Roberts of recent years, swiping bases for the Red Sox, Dodgers, Padres, etc.

Dave Roberts was a left-handed pitcher for the Padres from 1969-71, before moving on, in quick succession, to the Astros, Tigers, Cubs, and a couple of other teams, eventually retiring after the 1981 season with a career record of 103-125.

1971 was Dave Roberts Best Forgotten Season with the Padres.

Dave Roberts finished the season with what, at first glance, looks like an unimpressive 14-17 win-loss record.  But the Padres record that year (just their third campaign since expansion) was 61-100.

Robert’s posted an impressive ERA of 2.10 in ’71, second best in the N.L.  He made 34 starts, completed 14 games, and hurled 269 innings.  His 1.109 WHIP was seventh best in the league.

Not a strikeout pitcher, he fanned just 135 batters in ’71, but he also knew how to keep the ball in the park, surrendering just nine home runs.

Robert’s  ERA+ was 157, almost as good as the 158 that Jake Peavy recorded in 2007 when he won the Cy Young award for the Padres.

Perhaps most impressively, as I alluded to earlier in this post, Dave Robert’s WAR in 1971 was 8.5, better than Kevin Brown’s 8.4 in 1998, better than Peavy’s 6.2 in 2007, and better than either of Randy Jones’ two best efforts of 7.7 (1975), and 5.1 (1976.)

But like Randy Jones, Dave Roberts was a good pitcher on bad Padres teams.  Jones, however, managed to get enough run support to enjoy consecutive 20-win seasons in ’75-’76, while Roberts never topped his 14 wins in ’71.

(As an aside, Randy Jones never won even as many as 14 games in any other season of his career outside of those two 20-win years.)

Dave Roberts efforts did not go completely unnoticed by Cy Young voters, however.  Even with a losing record, Roberts finished a respectable 6th in the Cy Young vote in ’71.

Roberts passed away on January 9th, 2009, having enjoyed one fine, yet largely forgotten season as a major league pitcher.

Roberts did have one teammate who could slug the ball, however.  His name was Nate Colbert.

From 1969-73, Colbert slugged 149 homers in five seasons, averaging just under 30 homers a season on a team that badly needed all the offense it could get.  Unfortunately for Dave Roberts, Nate Colbert’s best season occurred the year after Roberts got traded to Houston.

1972 was Nate Colbert’s Best Forgotten Baseball Season.

Colbert was not a well-rounded ballplayer, but he knew his strength, which was, in fact, strength.  He wouldn’t hit for much of an average, and he never won a Gold Glove for fielding his position, but he could certainly hit the long-ball.

In 1972, Nate Colbert finished third in the N.L. in home runs with 38, behind a couple of guys named Aaron and Bench.  He had also hit 38 homers a couple of years earlier in 1970, but this time around, he also added 111 RBI’s as well, good for 4th best in the N.L.

He added 27 doubles, 87 runs scored, 70 walks, and a .508 slugging percentage, sixth best in the league.

His 286 total bases was the fifth most in the N.L., and his 67 extra base hits were the third highest total in the league.

He posted an OPS+ of 145, and his WAR was 5.2.  Each of those numbers placed him in the top ten in the league.

Colbert wasn’t a huge speed threat, but his 15 stolen bases coupled with his home run power produced a Power-Speed # of 21.5, 4th in the league.

Colbert was named to the All-Star team, and he finished 8th in the N.L. MVP voting in ’72.  His .250 batting average, at a time when that statistic was more highly regarded than it is today, was a primary culprit in suppressing where he otherwise might have finished in the voting.

Unfortunately for Colbert, and for the Padres, he enjoyed just one more productive season the following year before going into a steep, irreversible slide at age 28.  He was out of baseball by age 30.

Nate Colbert’s .469 career slugging percentage is still sixth-best all-time on the Padres.  He remains on the Padres top ten all-time lists in at bats, hits, runs scored, RBI’s and walks.

He is the all-time Padres leader in Home Runs (163) and strikeouts (773).  Early next season, however, Adrian Gonzalez will break Colbert’s career home run record; Gonzalez currently has 161 career home runs for San Diego.

But in the first half-dozen years of the Padres existence, Nate Colbert was their primary offensive weapon.

Now, if only the Padres could find a slugger to pair up with Adrian Gonzalez, they might create some new team history their fans could be proud of.

Answer to Trivia Question:  Andy Hawkins defeated Dan Petry in Game 2 of the 1984 World Series.

Hero Worship and Baseball: Is A-Rod Today’s Narcissus?

Alex Rodriguez sharing his thoughts on a calle...

Image via Wikipedia

I wrote the following article, which first appeared on the baseball website, “Books on Baseball,” two months ago.  I am reprinting it here in its entirety for those of you who might not have had a chance to read it at that time.

Can a baseball player whose biggest fan is himself still be a hero to others?  Historically, baseball’s great ball players have broken down into two camps:  those who refuse to accept the mantle of role model versus those who understand and accept that with great fortune comes great responsibility.

So may he himself love, and not gain the thing he loves! (Ovid)

Stan Musial, in a recent issue of Sports Illustrated, is portrayed accurately as a hero because he has spent his whole baseball life living up to this responsibility in a humble, self-effacing way.  He has always gone out of his way to please his fans, many of whom have worshipped him as a hero now for decades.

Still other players, too numerous to mention, clearly enjoy the fame and fortune that baseball affords them, but refuse to accept any personal, let alone moral responsibility for their actions either on or off the field.  If a fan wants to worship him as a hero, fine.  It’ll mean more money in said player’s pocket.

Among the more recent players who have graced this great game, Cal Ripken, Jr. probably comes closest to embodying the characteristics of a true hero.  Not only was Ripken a great player, he was also a selfless player, putting his body on the line every single baseball game for nearly close to two decades without a break.  Moreover, he was a hero because, as a citizen of baseball, no shadow of doubt regarding his life-style, including his personal or professional choices, ever darkened his legacy.

How ironic, then, that one of the players who grew up idolizing Ripken was Alex Rodriguez, who recently hit his 600thcareer home run, a milestone that even Ripken never reached.

But is Alex Rodriguez a hero?

A-Rod is an interesting case because he doesn’t appear to fit into either of the two camps I outlined earlier.  His fawning, pouting countenance before the cameras betrays an inclination to covet a heroic reputation, but his actual behavior suggests the opposite.  He first lied about, then tearfully acknowledged and asked for forgiveness, regarding his use of steroids.  He also enjoys his association with a true hero, Derek Jeter, despite, at one point, jealously belittling Jeter’s skills and talent.

Alex Rodriguez wants it both ways.  Like a spoiled child, he wants to be loved, but he also believes that he should be immune from the norms and rules that govern the behavior of others, because he believes he is Beauty and Talent personified.

In fact, almost 2,000 years ago, this form of the “human condition” can be found in Roman poet Ovid’s work.

Ovid, a prolific writer who penned poetic tales of erotic love based on Greco-Roman mythological figures, wrote the following about Narcissus, a beautiful young man who stared at his reflection in a pool of water until he died:

“What you seek is nowhere; but turn yourself away, and the object of your love will be no more.  That which you behold is but a shadow of a reflected form, and has no substance of its own.”  (Ovid’s Metamorphosis)

Alex Rodriguez wants us to love him as much as he loves himself.  But this is impossible, because no one can love A-Rod as much as he loves himself.  And, like Narcissus staring at his own reflection, A-Rod sees only one man before him; there is simply no room, nor is there any need, to see others as well.

Like Narcissus’ ending, staring at his own reflection forever, A-Rod’s career has been also tragic.  Because of his personality and actions, fans have become numb to his historic achievements.  Even as he his home run numbers hit historic proportions, we have become by-standers in his one-man narcissistic drama.

A-Rod may very well reach 700, or even 800 home runs, a staggeringly high number.  A question lingers for him….

Will A-Rod always be Narcissus, merely a shadow of a reflected form, a hollow image of greatness devoid of humility or gratitude or can he rehabilitate himself–stand away from the reflective pond waters–and earn the fans’ respect?

Can Alex Rodriquez truly become a hero?

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.

Baseball Predictions, 2010: A Look Back

Joey Votto, spring training 2008.

Image via Wikipedia

Having been foolish enough to have committed my player and team predictions for the recently departed (regular) baseball season to a couple of blog-posts several months ago, I find I have little choice but to go back and analyze my, uhm, analysis.

Let’s start with my team predictions.

As a Mets fan, I was not optimistic going into this season.  I wrote an entire blog-post about why I thought Jason Bay was a bad signing.  Turns out I was wrong about Bay.  He wasn’t just bad.  He was horrible.

Meanwhile, I predicted the Mets would win somewhere between 78-84 games, probably coming in right around .500.  Allowing Oliver Perez to pitch the Mets to disaster on the last day of the Mets season, the Mets lost to Washington 2-1, thereby securing a 79-win campaign.

Oddly, I had predicted the Mets to finish in a third-place tie with the Marlins.  The Marlins actually won just one more game than the Mets, so I feel vindicated.

Staying in the N.L. East, I picked the Phils to win and the Braves to earn the Wild Card.  Good for me!  The Nats, of course, were predicted to come in last.

In the N.L. Central, like virtually everyone else, I thought the Cardinals would win without a serious fight.  I stated that, “The Reds are an enigma.”  I still think they are an enigma.  But here’s what I had to say about Joey Votto:

Joey Votto Don’t bother reminding me about his anxiety problems.  This year, the only people who will experience anxiety problems will be the pitchers who have to face him.  26-year old pure hitter in a nice hitter’s park.

For some reason, I picked the Brewers to finish in second place.  They actually finished third.  But that’s not saying much in this sorry division.

I had the Cubs, Houston and the Pirates finishing in 4th, 5th and 6th.  The Astros actually finished just a game ahead of the Cubs, so…not bad.

In the N.L. West, my picks were terrible.  I predicted the Padres would finish in last place, the Giants in fourth place, and Arizona in third place.  And I thought the Dodgers would finish second to the Rockies. 

Here’s what I said about the Rockies:

I really like the Rockies.  Their pitching staff might be the most underrated in baseball, and in Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, they have two of the most exciting young players in the league.  Plus their terrific second-half last year should carry over into this season.

Well, I stand by my characterization of Tulo and Gonzalez being two of the most exciting players in the league.  If Tulowitzki didn’t miss a significant part of the season due to injury, I still think this was the team to beat. 

But I have no excuse for the rest of my picks in that strange division.

Over in the American League, my player evaluations were better than my team evaluations (with a couple of notable exceptions.)

Let’s take the players first.

From the A.L. East (which I predicted Boston to win), I said this about second baseman Dustin PedroiaThis 26-year old has already won an MVP award, and offers a nice power / speed combination.  Scores bushels of runs, and plays in a great hitter’s park.  What’s not to like?  There is no downside here.

I also predicted that Boston’s first baseman Kevin Youkilis and outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury would have nice seasons, and that Mike Cameron would prove to be a valuable pickup.

Those four key players combined to miss an astounding total of 405 games.  Yes, the Yankees had their share of injuries.  But no team in baseball saw so much potential run production vanish so quickly and for so long.

Considering that the Red Sox still managed to win 89 games and finish just six games behind the second place Yankees, I still think the Bo-Sox could have, at the very least, won the Wild Card if their injury caseload had been more manageable.

I picked the Yanks to finish in second place, and I declared them to be a rapidly aging team.  I may have been a year premature.  But age has certainly taken its toll on both Jeter and Posada.  Jeter had one of his worst seasons ever, and 38-year old Posada managed just 383 at bats.  Here’s what I predicted for Jeter:

First ballot Hall of Famer will see at least a 20% decline in his overall offensive output from last season, but still has enough to offer at age 35.  Will be drafted too early in most leagues due to rep and weak position.

As for Tampa Bay, I thought they would finish a strong third place.  I generally liked Carl Crawford, but I really didn’t like first baseman Carlos Pena.  Here’s what I said about Pena:

[He is] The 31-year old Latin Dave Kingman.  Steer clear.

Pena’s final line:  28-84-.196  Very Kingmanesque.

Pointlessly, I picked Baltimore to finish ahead of Toronto.  Baltimore ended up being even worse than I imagined.  I thought losing Roy Halladay would signal the death-knell to this Toronto team, but they overcame his loss pretty well, finishing with an impressive record of 85-77.

In the Central Division, I didn’t think the Twins could win with just two excellent players: Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.  Here’s what I said about the Twins back in March:

I keep reading about the Twins killer offense, but Cuddyer and Kubel should, in fact, be a platoon tandem, since one primarily kills lefties and the other can’t hit them at all.  Morneau either gets injured, or slumps badly in the second half.  It becomes the Joe Mauer show, but one man can’t do it all.  And Joe Nathan being done for the year won’t help.

Nowhere did I see DH Jim Thome rescuing the team about mid-season, when, as I predicted, Justin Morneau got injured.  And the acquisition of Matt Capps to close games was also an unforseeable stroke of genius.

I predicted the White Sox would win this division.  They fell short by six wins.  The Tigers, a team that I considered a dark-horse, were one of only two teams in the Majors to finish with a perfect .500 record, 81-81 (the other was Oakland.)

Picking the Royals and Indians to finish at the bottom was, of course, a no-brainer.

Over in the A.L. West, I bought into the hype that is (or was) the Seattle media machine.  In retrospect, although I predicted the Angels were ready for a fall, and that the A’s would be an also-ran, I definitely underestimated the Rangers.  Thus, I predicted a team that would finish with one of the worst records in baseball (Seattle:  61-101) would have a nice season due to the off-season acquisitions of Cliff Lee and Chone Figgins (remember Chone Figgins?)

My preseason thoughts on the A.L. West:

Many people still pick Angels to win West.  This is a lazy pick.  These are not the Angels of the past few seasons.  Ervin Santana is your ace?  He may win a dozen games.  Too many defections to recover from.  Texas’ pitching will also regress some from last year, and they’ll have their usual assortment of injuries.  Heck, Ian Kinsler is already hurt again.

It was Texas’ pitching that I was most wrong about, although interestingly, their “ace” of 2009, Scott Feldman, did have a poor season in ’10.  He finished with a record of 7-11 with a 5.48 ERA a year after winning 17 games and posting an ERA south of 4.00.

In my Pre-Season Pitching Preview, here’s what I said about Scott Feldman:

Although he is only 27-years old, he has already had his career season.  His 17 wins last year, despite just 113 K’s in 190 innings, were a fluke.  Yes, he did have a nice WHIP, but look for that .250 batting average against to go up around 20-30 percentage points this year.  And, as we all know, wins are primarily a reflection of the quality of the team for whom you pitch.

But I did not foresee C.J. Wilson, Tommy Hunter and Colby Lewis finishing with a combined record of 40-25, and all three with ERA’s below 4.00.

As for other players that I liked going into 2010, I was optimistic about Twins starter Francisco Liriano, Padres starter Matt Latos, Brave second baseman Martin Prado, and outfielders Andrew McCutchen (Pirates) and outfielder Justin Upton (Arizona.)  Four of the five had very nice seasons.  Upton was disappointing, but still managed 17 homers and 18 steals in his age-23 season.

Here was my take on Liriano:

Last years numbers, 5-13 with a 5.80 ERA and a WHIP of 1.55 will scare away most fantasy managers.  But there are four reasons for optimism going into this season: 1. He is still just 26-years old, and will be another year removed from his elbow operation.  2. His strikeout rate last year remained pretty high despite his problems 3. The new ballpark in Minnesota should play to his strengths 4. He dominated in the Winter League.  Could pay big dividends this season.

In fact, Liriano improved to a solid 14-10 with a 3.62 ERA in 192 innings, striking out 201 batters.

Latos also finished with a 14-10 record for the punchless Padres with an excellent ERA of 2.92 in 185 innings, striking out 189 batters.

And on an awful Pirates team (57-105), McCutchen scored 94 runs, stole 33 bases, hit .284, slugged 16 home runs and 35 doubles, and drew 70 walks.

Finally, here is what I said about Tiger’s first baseman and potential A.L. MVP Miguel Cabrera:

According to Baseball-Reference.com, the two players whose career profiles Cabrera’s is most similar to are Ken Griffey, Jr. and Hank Aaron.  Has a .925 career OPS in six full seasons.  Turns 27 in April.  The A.L. player most likely to win a Triple Crown.

Cabrera had a fantastic season:  38 homers, 128 RBI, 111 runs scored, a 1.042 OPS, and a .328 batting average.  As for the Triple Crown categories, he led the A.L. in RBI, finished second in batting average, and Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista’s It-Came-Out-Of-The-Sky home run total of 54 pushed Cabrera’s home run total down to third place, just one behind runner-up Paul Konerko.

In other words, if you remove Bautista’s outlier season from the mix, Cabrera comes damn close to winning the A.L. Triple Crown.

Finally, here were my picks for the major awards:

A.L. Cy Young:  Felix Hernandez

N.L. Cy Young: Roy Halladay

N.L. MVP: Troy Tulowitzki

A.L. MVP: Joe Mauer

N.L. Rookie of the Year:  Jason Heyward

A.L. Rookie of the Year:  Brian Matusz

I think I got the pitching right.

Tulo got hurt, but had a huge September, at one point hitting 14 home runs in 15 games.  Mauer’s power disappeared, but he still hit .327 on a first-place Twins team.  Heyward might win the ROY award, though personally I’d give it to Buster Posey of the Giants.  Matusz was simply a case of expecting too much too soon from a pitcher who still displayed promise on a very bad Orioles team. 

BTW, I predicted that the Phillies would lose to Boston in the World Series.  I still think the Phils will go to the W.S., but now I think they will beat whomever they face.  Halladay, Hamels, and Oswalt is just too deep a rotation to have to face.

So there, I’ve done it again.  Now I have yet another inadvisable prediction to explain away in about a month.  So be it. 

Later this week, I will resume my series, “Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons” with a look at the Chicago White Sox.

On a final note, an essay of mine, “Opening Day 1977: A Swan Song for the Mets,” has just been published in a collection of stories called “Tales From Opening Day,” published online at Baseballisms.com.  Check it out.  It’s free!

Damn, that was a long post.  Until next time,

Bill







Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons: Part 18 – The San Francisco Giants

Will Clark preparing to bat during seventh inn...

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I thought he was destined for the Hall of Fame.

For a five-year period, from 1987-91, Will “The Thrill” Clark of the San Francisco Giants was one of Major League Baseball’s  most dominant players.  His eye-black and competitive nature provoked fear in many opposing pitchers.  His glove around the first base bag was plenty good, but it was his bat they feared and respected most of all.

During that five-year period, Clark averaged 27 home runs, 104 RBI’s, 94 runs scored, a .304 batting average, an OPS of .900, and an outstanding OPS+ of 153.  He accomplished all of this while playing in one of the better PITCHER’S Parks in the N.L.

By way of comparison, Hall of Fame first baseman Tony Perez topped an OPS+ of 150 only twice in his 23-year career.  Giant’s Hall of Fame first baseman Orlando Cepeda topped 150 three times.  Yet another Giant’s Hall of Fame first baseman, Bill Terry, touched an OPS+ of 150 in just two seasons.

Will Clark topped an OPS+ in five separate seasons, as many as Cepeda and Terry combined.

Obviously, then, Will Clark had several outstanding seasons before he turned thirty years old, and many other good seasons during the rest of his career.

Will Clark’s Best Forgotten Season was in 1989.

As with some of the other players I’ve profiled in this series, a case could be made for one or two other seasons as well.  But ’89 was arguably Clark’s best season for several reasons.

In 1989, the 25-year old Clark batted .333, second best in the league.  He accumulated 321 Total Bases, again, good for second best in the league.

His WAR was a league-leading 9.4.

He led the N.L. in runs scored with 104.

He posted a career high 196 hits, and his OPS (.953) and OPS+ (175) were also each second best in the league.

He won his first Silver Slugger award, and he played in the All-Star Game.

Clark’s 136 Runs Created led the N.L.

He led the N.L. in times on base with 275.

He hit 23 home runs, drove in 111 runs, knocked 38 doubles and added nine triples.

Defensively, his Range Factor / Game of 9.85 was also the best in the N.L.

Just for good measure, he was voted the N.L.C.S. MVP by single-handedly smashing the Cubs pitching to the tune of a .650 batting average, a .683 on-base percentage, and a ridiculous slugging percentage of 1.200.

Will Clark finished second in the N.L. MVP voting in 1989 to teammate Kevin Mitchell who slugged 47 home runs and drove in 125 runs.

Clark finished in the top five in MVP voting four times in his career.  He played in six All-Star Games.  He won one Gold Glove, but was good enough to have earned more.

Astonishingly, Will Clark’s career OPS+ of 137 is better than 90 hitters currently in the Hall of Fame.

It is also better than two of his more celebrated contemporaries at the first base position, Don Mattingly, (127), and Keith Hernandez, (128).

The primary reason’s why Clark is not a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame have to do with his career power numbers.  Hall voters like to see lots of home runs and RBI’s from a first baseman.  Clark’s career totals in these two areas — 284 home runs and 1,205 RBI’s —  look modest compared to some of the other first basemen in The Hall.

Clark also never won an MVP award, and he never played on a World Championship team.

Clark ended his fifteen-year baseball career after the 2000 season when he was just 36-years old.  But he showed even in his final days as a player that his bat was still just about as dangerous as ever.

As a member of the St. Louis Cardinals in the last 51 games of his final season, Clark batted .345, had a .426 on-base percentage, slugged .655, and compiled an OPS of 1.081.  He smoked 28 extra-base hits in just 171 at bats.

Although Clark’s best overall season had occurred almost a dozen years earlier, clearly he had saved the best for last.

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