The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “World Series”

A Mets Post Mortem

Let me begin by congratulating the Kansas City Royals on their first World Championship season in 30 years.  I also want to acknowledge my pre-season error when I predicted that the Royals were probably a fluke last year, and would be unlikely to repeat as A.L. champions this season.  The Royals appear to be a team whose sum is greater than the whole of their individual parts, but baseball being a team sport, they were well-constructed and expertly managed.

As for the Mets, the Royals did a fantastic job exposing and exploiting each of their weaknesses.  Specifically, a team built around starting pitching will probably be most vulnerable once those starting pitchers are removed.  In this day and age, when complete games are largely a thing of the past, this means that a bullpen cannot, then, play second-fiddle to a young and talented starting staff.

There needs to be a virtually seamless level of pitching talent from the first through the ninth innings.  After all, major league baseball is not a seven inning game.  If the manager signals, time after time, that he would rather trust his tired starters to pitch an inning longer than they should probably be allowed to instead of going to fresh bullpen arms, (and worse, if he allows himself to be talked into doing so by his spirited starters), then the final third of every game will inevitably become the Achilles heal of what should be a strategic advantage.

If I’m putting too fine a point on it, use the damned ‘pen at the beginning of an inning, not once an overworked starter has inevitably put a man or two on base.

The Mets infield defense is sub-par, and it’s difficult to imagine, quite frankly, how the Mets made it this far in the playoffs with not one above-average defensive infielder.  If your pitchers have to strike out eight to ten batters per game to keep the ball out of play (at least as far as the infield is concerned), you are A) forcing your starters to throw too many pitches through the first six innings to gain those 4-7 pitch strikeouts (vs. those one or three pitch ground-outs), and B) you are allowing the defense to become too comfortable, so that when a ground-ball is hit, the fielders are potentially less ready to make the play.

I love Danny Murphy for his bat, and yes, even though his homer total during the first-two rounds of the play-offs was fluky, the man can hit.  But an actual second-baseman (as opposed to a hitter who happens to play second-base) would be preferable to the current option.  If Murphy is allowed to move on elsewhere as a free agent, I would have to count that as a potentially positive move for the Mets, IF it results in an over-all improved infield defense (no sure thing at this point)

With the advent of sabermetrics, especially over the past fifteen years or so, a new orthodoxy has taken over most baseball teams.  Don’t run much, forget the sacrifice bunt, go for the long-ball, and take your walks.

Oddly, though, the original premise of (at least Billy Beane’s version) of sabermetrics wasn’t so much to enshrine any particular strategy as baseball’s version of the New Testament.  It was to exploit those aspects of baseball being neglected by your financially wealthier opponents. Which aspects of a given player’s skill-set were being undervalued, and how could a relatively poor team exploit those undervalued skills in the baseball marketplace?

Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson was (at the helm those aforementioned A’s teams) one of the earliest proponents of this philosophy of baseball, and translated to the (oddly) mid-market Mets, this philosophy has appeared to pay dividends in 2015.

Yet, as the Kansas City Royals have shown, there is apparently more than one way to win a World Championship.  The Royals offensive strategy, such as it is, is to play a kind of pre-1920’s baseball, when putting the ball in play, running with apparent abandon, and disrupting the other team’s game-plan (arguably the bete noire of sabermetrics) becomes the whole point of the game.

In other words, perhaps the movement of modern baseball G.M.’s to (at least appear to) embrace particular tenets of sabermetrics has become the new, already calcifying religious orthodoxy that, in turn can be exploited by a small market, 21st-century ball-club.  In effect, meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

While there is not necessarily a correlation between age and the ability to adapt to new realities, it is worth raising the point that with Sandy Alderson turning 68-years old later this month, and manager Terry Collins reaching his 67th birthday next May, are they the right men to have at the helm of a team composed of players who could be their grandchildren?  Will they be able to objectively evaluate the structural deficits of this team through the baseball lens of 2015, or will their baseball strategy perpetually reflect an era that might already be coming to an end?

Obviously, the payroll level Mets ownership settles on during this off-season will go a long way towards defining this team’s future, both immediate and long-term.  What can they afford to pay, for example, outfielder Yeonis Cespedes, and what will his asking price be?  Certainly, Cespedes uninspired post-season performance (12 hits in 54 at bats with one walk and 17 strikeouts) won’t help drive up his asking price, but do the Mets commit a very substantial chunk of payroll to him, pursue a different free agent outfielder, or go another route altogether?

Meanwhile, while it would certainly be tempting not to tamper with that young, talented pitching staff, would it make sense to trade one of those arms for a highly talented position player?  After all, as we saw in this World Series, a solo homer here or there is perhaps not the best way to achieve a balanced offense.

Finally, from a Mets fan point of view (and I’ve been one now for over 40 years), it should be noted that only two Major League teams were still playing meaningful baseball on November 1st, and the Mets were one of them.  From that perspective, and for the happy memories this team provided for their fans of the playoff series against both the Dodgers and the Cubs, we have to count 2015 as among of our all-time favorite, most enjoyable baseball seasons.

Thank you, New York Mets, for all your efforts this season, and let’s look optimistically forward to the 2016 baseball season, as I’m sure baseball fans of every team will also be doing.

Let’s Go Mets!

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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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Ten Fast Starts in Baseball History

In baseball, as in life, it’s important to get off to a good start.  If I begin my day, for example, by mistakenly squeezing my wife’s hair gel on to my toothbrush, I know I’m in for a rough day.  And my first morning cup of coffee better have the right balance of sugar and cream, or the joy of the day will seep slowly away.

Championship baseball teams do not always get off to fast starts. The 1914 “Miracle” Braves began the season with a 4-18 record before going on to win the World Series.  Other teams stay close to the top before catching fire during the final four to six weeks, stealing victory from the proverbial jaws of defeat.

Often, however, a championship team (or at least a playoff-bound team) will send a message to the rest of the league early, making it clear that they’re out for blood. The obvious advantage of getting off to a quick start is, of course, that it leaves said team with a certain margin for error as the season plays out.  Also, it puts early pressure on their divisional opponents to not fall too far behind too quickly.  

While this is not a scientific, comprehensive study of this topic, the following ten teams are examples of how and why a fast start can make it virtually inevitable that the team that sprints out of the gate most successfully will often be the team celebrating (at least) a division title come October.

1) 2001 Seattle Mariners – Finished the season with a Major League record 116 wins against just 42 losses. The Mariners began the season with a 20-5 record in April, and were 40-12 at the end of May.  They won their division, and advanced all the way to the A.L. Championship series vs. the Yankees, where they lost in five exciting games.

2) 1986 New York Mets – Posted a record of 108-54, winning their division by 21.5 games over the second place Phillies.    The Mets enjoyed a 13-3 April, including an 11-game winning streak, and were 31-12 by Memorial Day.  They would, of course, go on to defeat the Red Sox in a seven-game World Series thriller.

3) 1998 New York Yankees – Before the Mariners won a record 116 games in ’01, the Yanks had set the record themselves with 114 wins in ’98.  The Yanks finished 22 games ahead of the second-place Red Sox in the A.L. East.  After dropping four of their first five, the Yankees quickly righted the ship and won 16 of their next 18 games, finishing April with a 17-6 record, which further improved to  37-13 after two months.  The Yanks would go on to sweep the Padres in four World Series games.

4) 1984 Detroit Tigers – The Tigers began the season 35-5, and never looked back.  They led their division from wire-to-wire, eventually winning a total of 104 games.  Starting pitcher Jack Morris, who tossed a no-hitter in April, was already 10-1 before the end of May (though he was just 9-10 after that point.)  Morris also won three playoff games that season, posting a 1.80 ERA in those three starts.  The Tigers defeated the Padres in a five-game World Series.

5) 1969 Baltimore Orioles – Blew away the rest of the A.L., winning 109 games.  The Orioles finished 19 games ahead of the second-place Tigers in the A.L. East in the inaugural year of divisional play.  After sweeping a double-header by the combined score of 19-5 on May 4th against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, the Orioles were already 20-8 on the young season.  Through May 30th, they were 34-14.  The Orioles would defeat the Twins in the first ever A.L. Championship series, then would shockingly win just one game in the ’69 Series vs. the Mets.

6) 1956 New York Yankees – Another in a long line of Yankee championship teams, the ’56 Yanks won seven of their first eight ball games, and were cruising with a 29-13 record by May 31st.  They finished the year with 97 wins, dropping their final two decisions at Fenway Park.  They went on to defeat the Brooklyn Dodgers in a seven-game World Series.  Don Larsen pitched a perfect game against the Dodgers in Game 5.

7) 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers – The only 20th-century Brooklyn team to win a World Championship, Dem Bums ran off ten straight victories to start the season, and were an unbelievable 22-2 by May 10th.  By the end of May, they were 32-11.  Ultimately, the Dodgers won 98 games, then defeated the Yankees in a seven-game World Series.

8) 1931 Philadelphia Athletics – This highly talented group finished the season with 107 wins, 13 more than the mighty Yankees of Ruth and Gehrig.  Admittedly, the A’s were just 7-7 at one point, but then won 17 consecutive games and went into June with a record of 30-10.  Nevertheless, this particular Athletics team lost the ’31 World Series to the Cardinals in seven games.

9) 1927 New York Yankees – Murderer’s Row opened the first week of their historic season by going 6-0-1 in the first week of the season.  By May 19th, they were 21-8-1 en route to a 110-44-1 season.  They finished 19 games ahead of the second-place Athletics.  In the World Series, they systematically dismantled the Pirates in just four games.

10) 1905 New York Giants – This team featured Christy Mathewson, “Iron Joe” McGinnity, Roger Bresnahan and, for one game, the mysterious “Moonlight” Graham.  The Giants began the season by winning six of their first seven games, and were 25-6 by May 23rd.  Ultimately, they would win 105 games on the season.  In just the second World Series ever played, John McGraw’s Giants would defeat Connie Mack’s Athletics in five games, a Series in which Christy Mathewson would toss three shutouts in six days.

As you can see, there are several examples in baseball history of the importance of getting off to a fast start.  While this has not been the path followed by each and every championship squad, a good start often does bode well for a team’s chances of making the playoffs.

National League Baseball Predictions – 2013

Since this is the second part of a two-part mini-series, I’ll dispense with a redundant introduction.  If you want to read Part 1, my American League Predictions, that initial introduction should suffice.

So, let’s get on with it.

National League

East

1)  Washington – Fields two of the most exciting players in the game (Strasburg and Harper).  Made the playoffs last year without breaking a sweat.  Could win a hundred games this year.  Harper will win the N.L. MVP award.  Strasburg averaged 11 K’s / 9 innings last year, and could win the Cy Young award this year.

2)  Atlanta – Two-thirds of their new outfield, the Brothers Upton, have been more disappointing than the latest unemployment numbers, and the third, Jason Heyward, has had his share of growing pains as well.  Still, no team in their division outside of Washington is obviously better.  87 wins.

3)  Philadelphia – Appears to be melting before us like a snowman in the March sun.  Older, residual talent, mostly of the pitching variety, will be sufficient to grind through an 84-win season.

4)  New York – A couple of young players, perhaps Ike Davis and Matt Harvey, will shine, but a sub-par outfield and overall lack of depth will ensure another sub-.500 season out in Queens.

5)  Florida – Is there anything left to root for down in Miami?  Fans should stay home in droves this year in protest of this sham of a franchise.

Central

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1)  Cincinnati – Votto, Bruce and Choo (acquired from Cleveland) will produce oodles of offense, while Cueto and Latos will hold down a respectable staff.  92 wins should be sufficient to take this division.

2)  St. Louis – Yadier Molina might be in the first-half of a HOF career.  Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran are still fine players, but both are well past 30 years old.  Pitching staff appears adequate, if unspectacular = 86 wins.

3)  Milwaukee – “There once was a player named Ryan / For PED’s he kept sayin’ he’d not tried ’em / But his name it did appear / on a client’s list so clear / Makes you wonder how much more he’ll be denyin’.”  83 wins.

4)   Pittsburgh – Because the Cubs don’t have Andrew McCutchen.  Once again, a sub-.500 team.  77 wins.

5)  Chicago – Staff “ace” Matt Garza is a perennial tease.  New addition Edwin Jackson, now on his 8th team in eleven years, changes teams more often than a hooker changes her underwear.  But really, it’s always been about an afternoon in the sun at Wrigley, hasn’t it?

West

1)  Los Angeles – Manager Don Mattingly needs to drive this expensive new vehicle into first place, or upper management might be looking for a new driver next season.  With Kershaw and Greinke at the top of the rotation, and Kemp, A-Gone, Hanley, Crawford and Ethier in the lineup, this team either wins the division, or heads will roll.  95 wins.

2)  San Francisco – Pencil them in as one of the two N.L. Wild Card teams this year, because nobody does it better. Tim Lincecum will look to rebound and join the highly capable Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner in what should once again be a top-five N.L. pitching staff.  Catcher Buster Posey may be the best in the game.  87 wins.

3)  San Diego – Has apparently moved in the fences this year, which should help Alonso, Quentin, and Headley (one of baseball’s best kept secrets.)  But what the fences giveth, the fences will take away, namely an overly spacious park where fly-balls used to go to die.  But the pitching staff, led by the enigmatic Edinson Volquez, could suffer a bit as a result.   81 wins.

4)  Arizona – So what does Arizona know about Justin Upton that the Braves don’t know?  Martin Prado is a versatile player, and there should still be enough thump in the lineup to keep the score interesting.  The staff, with Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill and Brandon McCarthy, could be this team’s strength, if healthy.  79 wins.

5)  Colorado – Once upon a time, they were the toast of the American West, drawing over four million souls in their initial campaign.  Now, although a healthy Tulowitzki, along with Car-Go and Fowler should generate some runs, the pitching staff may be the worst in baseball.  Also, it’s time to tow the S.S. Helton out to sea so the Navy could use it for strafing runs.  71 wins.

So there you go, folks.  Your five N.L. playoff teams are probably Washington, Atlanta, Cincinnati, L.A., and San Fran.  I predict that the Nats will go on to defeat the Angels in a seven game World Series classic.

Or not.

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

Ten Things You Should Know About Jackie Robinson

Former Brooklyn Dodgers’ legend Jackie Robinson died forty years ago today in Stamford, CT, at age 53.  I was nine-years old when he died, living in Bridgeport, CT, just about half an hour away from Stamford.  I vaguely remember the event being covered in the local media.  At the time, though, I had no idea of the significance of Jackie Robinson’s legacy on baseball in particular, and on American society in general.

Jackie Robinson swinging a bat in Dodgers unif...

Jackie Robinson swinging a bat in Dodgers uniform, 1954. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here are ten things you may not have known about Jackie Robinson:

1)  His full name was Jack Roosevelt Robinson.  A Republican-leaning Independent for most of his adult life, his middle name was a family tribute to progressive Republican president Theodore Roosevelt, not to F.D.R.

2)  His older brother, Mack Robinson, won the Silver Medal for the U.S. in the men’s 200 meter sprint in the 1936 Olympics hosted by Adolf Hitler in Berlin.  Teammate Jesse Owens won the Gold.

3)  In the spring of 1947, the Dodgers held Jackie Robinson’s first Spring Training in Havana, Cuba.  It was considered a more hospitable place for Jackie to break in than Spring Training in the U.S. would have been.  That same year, 21-year old Fidel Castro participated in his first (unsuccessful) attempt to overthrow the Cuban government.

4)  While enrolled at UCLA, Robinson participated in multiple sports, including football, basketball and track and field.  His worst sport at that time was baseball.  In the one season he played baseball for UCLA, Robinson batted just .097, though he did steal home twice.

Robinson in his UCLA track uniform

Robinson in his UCLA track uniform (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

5)  In his rookie season in the Majors, Robinson exclusively played first base.  It was the only one of his ten seasons where he would be the team’s starting first baseman.  He was replaced at that position by Gil Hodges in 1948.

6)  When Robinson won MLB’s first Rookie of the Year award in 1947, though he was certainly the most important player in either league, he did not actually have the best rookie season in the league.  He finished the year with a WAR of 3.0, good for third place behind Giant’s pitcher Larry Jansen (4.6 WAR), and the Athletics’ first baseman Ferris Fain (3.8 WAR.)

7)  During the regular season, Robinson stole home 19 times in his career, certainly an impressive number.  The Major League record, however, belongs to Ty Cobb.  He stole home an amazing 54 times in his career.

8)  The one season that the Brooklyn Dodgers won the World Series was 1955.  Perhaps surprisingly, that was also Robinson’s least productive season.  Playing in just 105 games, Robinson batted just .256.  Then, in 24 World Series at bats vs. the Yankees, the 36-year old Robinson batted just .182.  He did, however, steal home in Game 1 of the Series, played at Yankee Stadium.  It remains the last straight steal of home in World Series history.

9)  In 1965, Robinson became the first black T.V. network broadcaster, hired by ABC as part of its baseball broadcast crew.

10)  His oldest son, Jackie Robinson, Jr., developed a drug problem while serving in the Vietnam War where he was wounded in action in 1965.  After he was discharged from the Army, he enrolled in a drug treatment center in Seymour, CT.  He was later killed in a car accident in 1971, age 24.  His father, Jackie Robinson, Sr. would survive his son by just 16 months.

Cleaning Up the Hall of Fame: Herb Pennock vs. Ron Guidry

In this, the fourth installment of this series, I propose replacing one Yankee (of questionable merit) in the Hall of Fame with another, better choice.  If it seems to you that this series is a bit top-heavy with Yankees up to this point, it’s probably because there are so many of them in The Hall in the first place.

Ron Guidry

Image by Willie Zhang via Flickr

Perhaps more surprisingly, there are other Yankees who are not in The Hall, but who have a better case for being enshrined there than several players, Yankee and non-Yankee alike, who currently enjoy a spot in the Hall of Fame Plaque Room.

When most people think of the 1927 Yankees, they think of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, and perhaps outfielders Earle Combs and Bob Meusel.  Pitcher Waite Hoyt might also come to mind among serious baseball fans.

Herb Pennock?  Well, perhaps there are a few hardcore fans around who could toss that name at you, too.

Pennock was a good pitcher on a very good team, perhaps the best team in history.  Actually, Pennock (The Knight of Kennett Square), a Pennsylvania boy, first came up with the Philadelphia A’s in 1912.  By 1915 he had joined the Red Sox and enjoyed some success there until 1923, when the Sox sent him to the Yankees.  (Pennock did not play a major role in either of the Red Sox World Championship teams in 1915-16.)

Pennock, just hitting his stride now at age 29, was immediately successful pitching for New York’s American League team.  In his first season, he won 19 games and led the A.L. in winning percentage at .760.  In his next five seasons, he won 21, 16, 23, 19 and 17 games for the mighty Yankees.

Over the course of those half-dozen years, the best years of his career, Pennock led the league in winning percentage once, shutouts once, innings pitched once, and WHIP twice.  He also walked the fewest batters per nine innings three times.

Only once during those years did Pennock reach 100 strikeouts in a season.  He also never actually led the league in wins, either.  He did, however, finish 3rd in A.L. MVP voting in 1926 and 4th in 1924, so his contributions to those great Yankee teams did not go unnoticed.

Pennock pitched until age 40 when he retired after a short, one-year stint back in Boston.  He had pitched for the Yankees for eleven years, winning a total of 162 games while losing just 90.  Overall in his career, Pennock posted a record of 241-162, meaning he lost as many games in his entire two-decade career as he’d won pitching about half as long with the Yanks.

Although Pennock’s career win-loss record is very good, and he was an important part of the Yankees rotation during those years, Pennock was a questionable choice for election into the Hall of Fame in 1948.  His career WAR of 36.9 is the same as no-one’s-idea-of-a-Hall of Famer, Burt Hooton.

Pennock’s career ERA of 3.60 is pretty decent for the high scoring era in which he pitched the majority of his career, but his career ERA+ of 106 gives us a pretty good indication that he was, in reality just a bit better, all things considered, than the average pitcher in his day.

There’s nothing wrong with being a good player on a great team.  That, and a lot of durability are one of the quickest and surest paths into the Hall of Fame.

But then there’s true greatness which, even if it burns brightly for just a short time, blinds us with its brilliance.

Such was the career of Ron (Louisiana Lightning) Guidry.  Like Pennock, Guidry enjoyed his glory days with the Yankees.  Also like Pennock, Guidry was a lefty.  Unlike Pennock, though, and to quote Bruce Springsteen, “He could throw that speed-ball by you, make you look like a fool, boy.”

Guidry got a bit of a late start in Major League baseball, not landing a regular gig until he was already 26-years old in 1977.  But he was an immediate success, posting a 16-7 record with a 2.82 ERA, and an ERA+ of 140.  In the World Series, Guidry defeated the Dodgers in Game 4, pitching a complete game, 4-2 victory.

In 1978, however, Ron Guidry produced one of the greatest seasons by any pitcher in baseball history.

Guidry started 35 games, won 25 of them, lost only three times, and posted a ridiculous ERA of 1.74.  His ERA+ was an off-the-charts 208.  He also led the league in WHIP 0.946 and in shut-outs with nine.  He threw 16 complete games and struck out 248 batters in 273 innings pitched.  Guidry won the A.L. Cy Young award and finished second in MVP voting.

In the World Series, Guidry again pitched a complete game victory, this time over Dodger ace Don Sutton, 5-1.

The following season, Guidry led the A.L. in ERA (2.78), topped 200 strikeouts again, and posted an 18-8 record while finishing third in the Cy Young award voting.

Guidry would continue to have several productive seasons with New York, finishing in the top ten in Cy Young voting in 1981, 1983, and 1985.  In his ten full seasons as a starting pitcher, Guidry would finish in at least the top seven in Cy Young voting six times.

Also recognized as one of the best fielding pitchers of his era, Guidry won five Gold Glove awards.  He also pitched in four All-Star games.

Guidry ended his career in 1988 at the age of 37.

Although many argue that his lack of durability has hurt his chances a great deal as far as earning entry into the Hall of Fame is concerned, it might be useful to consider that Guidry topped at least 190 innings in a season nine times, and over 200 seven times.  Hall of Famers Dizzy Dean and Sandy Koufax, by contrast, each topped 200 innings in a season just five times during their respective careers.

Koufax and Guidry each topped 2,300 innings pitched, while Dean hurled just over 1,900.  Guidry and Dean each led their league in wins twice, while Koufax led his league in wins three times.  Koufax’ career win-loss percentage was .655, Guidry’s was .651, Dean’s .644.

Dean and Koufax both top Guidry in career ERA+ at 131 each, while Guidry scores a still very nice 119.   Guidry accumulated 170 wins to Koufax’ 165 and Dean’s 150.  Koufax tops the three in career WAR (54.5) to Guidry (44.4) and Dean (39.6).

The point here isn’t that Guidry was as good as Koufax, because he wasn’t.  When compared to Dizzy Dean, Guidry holds up very well.  The primary point here, though, is that we are not comparing Guidry to Pennock, because Guidry is quite obviously better than Pennock.

All of which is another way of saying that, regarding Pennock and Guidry,  The Hall clearly has the wrong Yankee lefty enshrined at Cooperstown.

[Herb Pennock, Philadelphia AL (baseball)] (LOC)

Image by The Library of Congress via Flickr

A One Year Anniversary Thank You, and a Shout-Out

Crowd outside Huntington Avenue Grounds before...

Image via Wikipedia

Well, looks like we made it.  Step right up, and have your tickets handy.  The gates are now open.

The On Deck Circle turns one-year old as of November 30th, a few hours from now.

Thank you all for the 5,062 hits over the past year.

Here’s a paragraph I wrote in that first blog-post, by way of introduction:

Memory is what keeps most of us (those of us who love baseball), hooked on this sport.  That is to say, we remember what we loved about baseball in our youth, and we try, sometimes a little too hard, to pass these memories on to our own children.”

Further attempting to clarify the intended purpose of this blog, I later added:

There are actually two questions here, important to both American history proper, and to baseball history:

  1. Who deserves to be remembered?
  2. How do they deserve to be remembered?

The answers to these questions comprise the collective historical mythology that we pass down through the generations, from father to son.”

Thus, this blog has primarily been focused on those two important questions over the past year.  I hope that my efforts to resurrect the careers of semi-forgotten stars, while also periodically sharing personal stories of my baseball youth, have stayed true to my original, intended purpose.

Meanwhile, I also wanted to take this opportunity to do a Shout-Out for several other baseball blogs that I have followed over the past year.  In some cases, the authors of these blogs have been kind enough to provide useful, constructive feedback on my 83 posts.

This is my way of saying thank you to some of the people who provided inspiration and support to me along the way.

In each case, these blogs have given me some reason to come back to each one of them again and again. 

So, in no particular order, here they are:

1) DMB Historic World Series Replay

http://dmbhistoricworldseriesreplay.wordpress.com/

Ever wonder how the old-time World Series match-ups would have turned out if they could be replayed once again, using the same rosters and lineups as were used in the original match-ups?  Well, look no further.  In a recent World Series replay, the 1908 Cubs were upset by Ty Cobb‘s Tigers.  Blog writer Kevin Graham provides brief commentary and full box scores of each replay.

Recently, Kevin has also added a series in which he takes a closer look at members of Baseball’s Hall of Fame.  I am subscribed to this blog, and always enjoy following along.

2)  Play That Funky Baseball

http://funkyball.wordpress.com/

Where to begin on this one.

This is one funky baseball road-trip through the 1977 season, complete with a stopover at Graceland.  Populated by one of the strangest cast of characters to ever spill popcorn on unsuspecting patrons at a ballpark near you, including C. Buzz Gip, Crazy Amy, Mikey Spano, Friendly Fred and others, trying not to physically vanish from this alternate universe before their favorite teams are eliminated from playoff contention.

Ballplayers with names you have long since forgotten, like Doug Rau, Jerry Reuss, and Jack Billingham once again fill the baseball scorecards.  Check it out and you may find yourself riding along on this demented baseball road-trip.

3.  Verdun2’s Blog

http://verdun2.wordpress.com/

I’ve been following this blog longer than any other baseball blog.  It is always well-written, and the author (who is that masked man, anyway?) is that rarest of baseball fanatics:  One who doesn’t have his head up his ass every time he opens his mouth.

Verdun2 specializes, but does not limit himself, to the extremely early days of baseball (19th and early 20th century.)  His historical perspective always provides an interesting learning opportunity for the reader.  He also writes about contemporary baseball topics such as picking the players who will win the post-season awards, and which retired players will / should be elected to the Hall of Fame.

V has also been an extremely loyal reader of The On Deck Circle since virtually the beginning, and for that I am ever grateful.

4)  Section 518

http://section518.wordpress.com/

If you are a Mets fan, as I am, look no further for analysis of this ugly duckling franchise (with the current emphasis on ugly.)  A Mets fan in the truest sense, JD is an optimist willing to lay his head on the chopping block year after year, yet realistic enough to accurately gauge their chances for making the playoffs.

I like to read his take on which moves he thinks the Mets should make, and his analysis on moves they have already made.  JD’s evaluations are logical and often brutally honest.  Good stuff.

5)  The Ball Caps Blog

http://ballcaps.wordpress.com/

What can you say?  The man is addicted to ball caps.

Actually, my friend Daniel Day simply has a healthy appreciation for all things baseball, so long as you can wear it.  He has been known to travel to Timbuktu for an original 1912 Giants home baseball cap.  Or at least to the local Marshall’s for a facsimile.  Always willing to support other baseball fan’s blogs, it’s time he got a little love sent back at him.

Thank you, Dan, and keep up the good work.

6)  The World According to Keitho

http://worldofkeitho.com/

On any given day, in any given post, Keitho is likely to write about how driving in San Fran compares to driving in NYC, his experiences playing jazz in a local nightclub, trying to program a VCR (!) on Thanksgiving, or, when the mood strikes him, his current opinions on all things baseball.

Reading Keitho’s blog is a bit like checking in with a friend of yours via any other social networking platform from time to time.  His style is open, engaging, funny, and interesting.  Reading the World According to Keitho is like opening a box of chocolates, because  it’s always better than NOT opening a box of chocolates.

Keitho pulls no punches, but he is an entertaining social critic with an eye for detail.  And his periodic descents into baseball analysis keep me coming back.

7)  Never Too Much Baseball

http://charlesapril.com/

I have to confess that I don’t get around to reading this one as much as I should.  His posts pique my interest every time I read them.  His post, “Be Careful: What You Write Might Be Held Against You,” 10/5/10, is one of the most hilarious articles I’ve read in a long time regarding how imprecise writing can completely undermine a writer’s (otherwise) best efforts.

Charles April is never imprecise with his language.  And his logic is even sharper.  His analysis of the various blown calls in the MLB playoffs, and his subsequent arguments in favor of instant replay, are typical of the excellent writing you will find in this blog.  Have a look.

It would be impossible for me to include each and every one of the other baseball blogs and bloggers that I read.  There are links on the right-hand side of my homepage that will take you to several others that are certainly worth a look.  Therefore, with apologies to anyone who may feel slighted, let us stop here for now.

Meanwhile, my plans for future posts include an analysis of the most underrated player of the past 20 years, and why he belongs in The Hall of Fame (hint:  he is a first-time candidate on this year’s ballot.)  I also plan to write a third Underrated / Overrated blog-post about baseball and everything else I can throw in to the mix.

Otherwise, my hope is that this blog will evolve organically, perhaps into something like a Triffid that can only be destroyed by seawater.  Or perhaps into something that will continue to generate a reasonable amount of daily traffic due to the continuously high rate of leisure time apparently enjoyed by the average middle-aged baseball fan (like me.)

Anyway, here’s hoping that I am lucky enough to continue to meet and correspond with fellow baseball fans like you.  Until next time, carry your trash out with you, and please drive home carefully.

Regards, Bill Miller


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.

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