The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “St. Louis Cardinals”

National League Picks: 2014

Following up on yesterday’s post featuring my A.L. picks, here are my soon-to-be-proven absolutely foolish N.L. picks.  Go easy on me, lads.  Playoff teams are in bold.

National League

National League (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

N.L. East:

1)  Washington

2)  Atlanta

3)  New York

4)  Florida

5)  Philadelphia

N.L. Central:

1)  St. Louis

2)  Pittsburgh

3)  Cincinnati

4)  Milwaukee

5)  Chicago

N.L. West:

1)  Los Angeles

2)  San Francisco

3)  Colorado

4)  Arizona

5)  San Diego

St. Louis Cardinals go to the World Series and take on the Detroit Tigers.  The Cardinals win in a classic seven-game match.

 

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American League Picks: 2014

I know I’m bound to get many, perhaps most of these wrong, but making predictions is part of the pre-season ritual around here.  We’ll check back after the World Series to see how well my predictions turned out.  This post is for the American League only.  Tomorrow, I’ll check in with a brief post on the National League.  My playoff team picks are in bold print.

The logo for the American League.

The logo for the American League. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A.L. East:

1)  Tampa Bay

2)  Baltimore

3)  Boston

4)  New York

5)  Toronto

A.L. Central:

1)  Detroit

2)  Kansas City

3)  Cleveland

4)  Chicago

5)  Minnesota

A.L. West:  

1)  Anaheim

2)  Oakland

3)  Texas

4)  Seattle

5)  Houston

The Detroit Tigers make it all the way to the World Series vs. the St. Louis Cardinals.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you which team I pick to win the World Series.

 

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Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Johnny Mize

Adam Dunn of the Chicago White Sox is doing his best impersonation this season of “Casey at the Bat.”  Like Mighty Casey, Dunn either hits a heroic home run, or he flails at strike three, sending thousands of fans home disappointed.  Dunn is currently third in the A.L. in home runs with 25, and first in strikeouts with an incredible 131.  He is on pace to shatter the Major League single-season strikeout record of 223 set by 3rd baseman Mark Reynolds in 2009.

In fairness to Dunn, he does lead the league in walks (67), contributing to his acceptable .359 on-base percentage.

Thirteen of the top 15 strikeout seasons by a hitter in baseball history have occurred over the past dozen seasons.  To illustrate how much things have changed around the Majors as far as strikeouts are concerned, consider that Dave Kingman, who back in the 1970’s and early ’80’s, was known as the ultimate practitioner of the home run / strikeout approach to hitting, never struck out more than 156 times in a season.

Although he led the league in strikeouts as a hitter three times, his worst season (156 in 1982) now ranks as just the 128th highest total of strikeouts in a single season.

Indeed, current New York Mets third baseman David Wright actually surpassed Kingman’s career high when Wright struck out 161 times in 2010.

It wasn’t always this way.  There was a time when even power hitters considered the strikeout to be the ultimate embarrassment for a hitter, a reproach to the batter’s very manhood.  Some power hitters actually used to choke up on the bat when down two-strikes to minimize their chances of getting struck out.

When Mark Reynolds was asked if he’d like to be a player who struck out a lot less often, he replied, “I’d like to be, but I’m not going to make drastic changes, like choke up and hit grounders.”  Yes, because, obviously, hitting a ground-ball that might sneak through the infield for a hit is far worse than, say, striking out 200 time per year.  And real men don’t choke up.

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

English: An image of Major League Baseball Hall of Fame first baseman Johnny Mize. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is no surprise, then, that when we look at the list of home run hitters who maintained relatively low strikeout rates, the vast majority of them played many, many decades ago, long before most of us were born.

One player who has always intrigued me as an overlooked power hitter — a player who I don’t think most baseball fans fully appreciate — was former Cardinal / Giant / Yankee first baseman, Johnny (Big Cat) Mize.

Johnny Mize played in the Majors from 1936-53, missing three of his prime years to WWII.  He led his league in home runs and slugging percentage four times each, and RBI, OPS and total bases three times each.  He even won a batting title, hitting .349 in 1939 for the Cardinals.

Johnny Mize was, along with Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, and Ted Williams, one of the most difficult power hitters to strike out.  Mize hit 359 home runs in his career, while striking out only 524 times in his entire career.  By contrast, Ichiro Suzuki, perhaps the ultimate contact hitter of our generation, has already struck out 786 times in his career, while hitting 99 home runs.

So Mize could hit lots of home runs without striking out very much.  This raises a question:

English: New York Yankees first baseman .

English: New York Yankees first baseman . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Did Johnny Mize ever have more home runs than strikeouts in a season? 

Before answering that question, keep in mind that since 1920, a player has accumulated more home runs than strikeouts (minimum of 30 homers) twenty-five times over the past 90 years.  Joe DiMaggio accomplished this feat an amazing six times.

Barry Bonds is the only player to have more homers than strikeouts in a season (45 homers / 41 strikeouts in 2004) in the past half-century.

The answer to my question regarding more home runs than strikeouts as far as Johnny Mize is concerned is, yes, Mize twice managed to accumulate more home runs than strikeouts in a season.  In 1948, he slugged 40 home runs while striking out only 37 times in 560 at bats.

But here’s the most amazing statistic I’ve seen in a long time.

In 1947, in 586 at bats, Mize slugged 51 home runs while striking out just 42 times.

Johnny Mize is the only player in baseball history to hit as many as 50 home runs in a season while striking out fewer than 50 times.  

Despite his amazing accomplishments, the BBWAA never voted Mize into the Baseball Hall of Fame. In fact, the writers never gave Mize more than 43% of the vote.  It wasn’t until the Veteran’s Committee finally elected him in 1981 that Mize was finally honored among baseball’s greatest players with induction into the Hall of Fame.

Now that we have compared the achievements of modern power hitters — especially their strikeout totals — with the impressive exploits of Johnny Mize, we can more fully appreciate what a great hitter Mize was in his day.

Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Stan Musial

This is the tenth installment of my series, “Baseball’s Surprising Stats.”  If you are interested in revisiting any of the first nine, you’ll find links to each of them under Recent Posts over to the right.

The greatest players tend to be the ones who are most consistently excellent over time.

From 1956 to 1969, for example, Hank Aaron never accumulated less than 6.6 WAR in any season.  Willie Mays scored at least 99 runs in every season from 1954 to 1966.  Pitcher Warren Spahn had thirteen 20-win seasons during the period 1947-63.

Stan Musial was another one of those remarkably consistent players.

English: St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famer as ...

English: St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famer as he was depicted on his 1953 Bowman baseball trading card. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are several different ways to measure Musial’s consistency.  For example, Musial scored at least 100 runs in every season from 1943-54.  He also drove in at least 90 runs for 13 straight years, from 1944-57.  Taking a look at OPS, he never dipped below .900 for 15 consecutive years, from 1943-58.

This remarkably consistent excellence begs the question, “What was the worst season of Stan Musial’s career?

I decided I would use OPS+ as my means of measurement.  This statistic combines Musial’s annual on-base percentage plus his slugging percentage, adjusted for league and park factors.  An OPS+ of 100 is exactly average (as with an I.Q. score.)

Taking a look at Musial’s annual OPS+ from his early 20’s to his late 30’s renewed my appreciation for his greatness.  He led the N.L. in OPS+ six times in his career, topping out at an astounding score of 200 in 1948.

So in which season did Musial post his lowest OPS+?  Tossing out those seasons after he was already 38-years old,  Musial’s worst year was 1947 when he posted an OPS+ of “only” 134.  For 16 consecutive seasons, then, his OPS+ was at least 134, and was usually considerably better.

So how “bad” is an OPS+ of 134?

Derek Jeter has topped OPS+ of 134 just once in his career, back in 1999.

Hall of Famer Lou Brock NEVER ONCE reached an OPS+ of 134 in his 19-year career in a season in which he accumulated at least 500 plate appearances.

Roger Maris topped 134 OPS+ twice, in each of his two MVP seasons.

The immortal Cal Ripkin, Jr. reached that level just three times, and never once past age 30 in a full season.

English: An image of Hall of Fame Major League...

English: An image of Hall of Fame Major League Baseball player Stan Musial. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And remember folks, we’re not talking about Musial’s average season.  We’re talking about his worst season.

Recent Hall of Fame inductee Andre Dawson met or exceeded 134 OPS+ just five times, topping 140 just twice.

Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski, a remarkably consistent player in his own right, garnered an OPS+ of 134 or better eight times, just half the number Musial claimed in his career.

Over the years, numbers like 500 homers, 3,000 hits and a .300 career batting average have become de facto (for better or worse) benchmarks by which a player’s Hall of Fame worthiness is measured.

At some point, though, a player will come along who will exceed one or two of those marks who will probably not be a worthy candidate for the Hall of Fame.

Dave Kingman, for example, came within 58 home runs when he reluctantly retired after the 1986 season, during which he slugged 35 homers.  If some G.M. had bothered to sign him, Kingman could have reached 500 home runs in another season and a half.

But as anyone who ever saw Kingman play can attest, he was decidedly not Hall of Fame worthy.

Harold Baines finished his career just 134 hits away from the “magic” 3,000 hit mark.  Baines was a  fine player, and there are worse players in The Hall, but Baines was never truly a Hall of Fame-worthy candidate.  His career WAR, for example, was just 34.0; Musial’s was 123.4.

The point is, there are players who, due to arbitrary and context-less standards, can be considered pretenders to Hall worthiness.

Then there are the serious Hall of Fame players, exemplified well by Stan Musial, who, in their worst seasons are better than the vast majority of other players in all but their very best seasons.

Let me leave you with one final stat regarding Stan Musial.  In his 22-year career, he accumulated 3,630 hits.  1,815 of those hits were made on the road, and the other 1,815 hits were made at home.  You can’t get any more consistently excellent than that.

Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons: Part 15 – The St. Louis Cardinals

Only 13 catchers have ever been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

They are:

1) Johnny Bench  2) Yogi Berra  3) Roy Campanella  4)  Carlton Fisk  5) Gary Carter  6) Micky Cochrane  7) Gabby Hartnett  8 ) Rick Ferrell  9) Buck Ewing  10) Bill Dickey  11) Ernie Lombardi  12) Roger Bresnahan  13) Ray Schalk

Certainly, as soon as Mike Piazza becomes eligible, he will join this group.  Ivan (Pudge) Rodriguez is  likely to become the 15th member, assuming he doesn’t get caught in the steroid scandal.

Current Twins catcher Joe Mauer, owner of three A.L. batting titles, is the best bet among the current crop to make it into Cooperstown someday.  Still, that means that fewer than 20 catchers will enjoy their place in the HOF for at least the next couple of decades.

On average, then, approximately one catcher per Major League decade is enshrined in The Hall.

Obviously, the catching position, along with third base, is one of the two most underrepresented positions in The Hall.

Yet there is a catcher with remarkable career statistics who has never even sniffed Hall membership, peaking at just 3.7 percent of the Hall of Fame vote in 1994.

His name is Ted Simmons.

Simmons made his Major League debut with the Cardinals in 1968, the year Bob Gibson and company defeated the Tigers in the World Series.  Simmons retired 20 years later as a member of the Atlanta Braves.

Simmons spent the first thirteen years of his career with the Cardinals.  During that time, he was named to six All-Star teams, and he finished in the top 10 in MVP voting three times.  As an example of how much he was respected as a hitter, he twice led the N.L. in Intentional Walks.

But it is when one compares Simmons career stats with the other 13 HOF catchers that the magnitude of his accomplishments becomes apparent.

Ted Simmons hit more career doubles (483) than any catcher in the HOF.  Only the still active Pudge Rodriguez has ever hit more among players whose primary position was catcher.

Simmons’ 1389 career RBI’s are surpassed only by Yogi Berra.

Simmons’ 1074 runs scored ranks  fifth when compared to HOF catchers.  His .285 career batting average would be tied for sixth with Yogi Berra.  Simmons’ career On-Base Percentage (.348) is higher than those compiled by Fisk, Carter, and Bench, just two percentage points behind (again) Yogi Berra.

Ted Simmons walked more times in his career (855) than he struck out (694).

Simmons career OPS+ (117) is exactly the same as Carlton Fisk.

Ted Simmons amassed 3,793 total bases, good for 100th all-time for ALL Major League hitters.

Perhaps most impressively, not one catcher in the Hall of Fame has more career hits than Ted Simmons (2,472.)  Even Mike Piazza has fewer career hits than Ted Simmons.

Defensively, Simmons was overshadowed by Johnny Bench, then later by Gary Carter.  There is no question that Bench and Carter were the two best N.L. catchers of their respective eras.  But Ted Simmons was a good defensive catcher as well.

Although Simmons never won a Gold Glove, he did lead the league in assists twice: 1972, 1978.  He ranks 19th among all catchers in total putouts in for his career.

Ted Simmons’ Best Forgotten Season was 1975, when, as a 25-year old, he hit .332, slashed 193 hits, and compiled 285 total bases, all career highs.   He also drove in exactly 100 runs (one of three times in his career that he would reach that mark), and he also drew 63 walks while fanning just 35 times in 581 at bats.  His adjusted OPS+ was 142, sixth best in the N.L.

Simmons was a solid run producer as well.  His 108 Runs Created in 1975 was fifth best in the league.  He finished sixth in N.L. MVP voting in ’75.

But Simmons was one of those players, like Eddie Murray, who had about five different seasons that could be argued was his finest, depending on which statistics you choose to emphasize.

In 1977, he recorded a career-high on-base percentage of .408 along with a career OPS of .908.  That same season, he also led the N.L. in Intentional Walks with 25.  His WAR score of 6.3 was also a career high.  He also finished ninth in MVP voting that season.

In 1978, Simmons reached career highs in doubles (40), Slugging Percentage (.512) and OPS+ (148).

In 1980, his final season in St. Louis before he was traded to Milwaukee, he was awarded his one and only Silver Slugger award.

Simmons’ strength — his overall consistency — may have been his greatest enemy, however.  Because he never had a huge season where he, like Johnny Bench, won an MVP award or led his team to a World Championship, he tended to be overlooked and taken for granted.

Simmons never led his league in Home Runs, RBI’s, Batting Average, Runs Scored, or any other hitting category other than Intentional Walks and Grounded Into Double Plays.  He also never won a Gold Glove award.

Clearly, though, Ted Simmons deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

In fact, I would rate him first among all the players who deserve to be enshrined in Cooperstown but who have not yet received that honor.  I would also rate him ahead of at least two catchers who are already in the Hall of Fame:  Ray Schalk and Rick Ferrell.

Writer and statistician Bill James ranks Ted Simmons as the tenth best catcher of all time.  If you are in the top ten all time at any position on the baseball diamond, let alone the most difficult position of all, how can you not be considered good enough to be in the Hall of Fame?

Simmons had the bad luck to be born into the same generation that produced Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, and Thurman Munson.  Had he been born a decade earlier, or a decade later, he would have stood out as the best catcher of his generation, and his plaque would already be in Cooperstown.

In baseball, as in life, timing is everything.  But the time has come for Ted Simmons’ career accomplishments to be recognized and enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

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