Thursday, April 30, 2009

Keeping Things Interesting: April 30, 2009

This one's going up a little late, so I'll try to keep it short...

Yesterday's Most Interesting
Well, Zack Greinke's streak of scoreless innings (or at least his 0.00 ERA) is officially done. A first-inning leadoff double by Marco Scutaro and a two-out grounder up the middle by Vernon Wells put it to rest for good and then, just for good measure, Scutaro crossed the plate one more time in the third. All in all, Greinke went 7 innings, with 2 runs, 5 hits, 2 walks, and 8 strikeouts in shutting down the team with the best record in the AL on his way to his 5th win of the season. The streak may be over, but Greinke is still pitching absurdly well this year.

In New York, on the other hand, Johan Santana pitched another great game, putting up a nearly identical line as Greinke: 7 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 7 K. The two runs that the Marlins managed off of Santana came in the first. From then on, it was all Johan. Until the bullpen came into play, at least. Premier set-up man JJ Putz pitched the 8th for the Mets, and couldn't keep the Marlins from scoring 2 more runs. The Mets lose the game 4-3. But it's definitely not Johan's fault.

More From Yesterday
I would be a terrible person if I didn't take the time here to mention one Yovani Gallardo. The young Milwaukee ace faced the Pirates yesterday, hoping to secure the sweep. He pitched brilliantly. He didn't allow a baserunner until the 5th, when Andy Laroche doubled. By the time he left the game, he had pitched 8 innings, with 2 hits, one walk, and 11 strikeouts. Oh, and the score was 1-0 thanks to the home run that he hit in the 7th inning. It was just a fantastic performance. The Brewers earned the sweep behind that 1-0 victory. (According to Dave Pinto, this was just the 7th time that a game was won by a 1-0 score with the only run being scored by the pitcher's home run).

Today's Most Interesting
There are only a few games on the schedule for today, but the most interesting game of the day has to be the Boston Red Sox at the Tampa Bay Rays. Yes, the teams have already faced each other this year, but it still looks like a very possible ALCS repeat. And with so many strong teams residing in the AL East, every intra-division matchup will be key by the time October rolls around. Today has the added bonus of a pretty good pitching matchup. Josh Beckett takes the hill for the Red Sox against Tampa Bay's (and Fresno State's!) Matt Garza. On a depleted day of baseball, this easily takes the cake as today's most interesting game.

The Scoreless Innings Streak

Zack Greinke's streak of 43 consecutive innings without an earned run ended in the first inning of last night's game when Vernon Wells singled in Marco Scutaro from second. It was a very exciting streak that landed him on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week (and would've been even more exciting if his defense hadn't allowed an unearned run last week, thus forcing us to look for other ways to adequately qualify its awesomeness). But, as impressive as it was, Greinke was still two complete game shutouts away from breaking the all-time record, set just over 20 years ago by the Dodgers' Orel Hershiser. To put that in perspective, in Greinke's six games without an earned run, he only went 9 innings twice (in his last two starts). He would've needed to double that output to pass Hershiser.

But I'm not here to talk about Zack. Instead, I thought it would be a good idea to take a look back at Orel's 1988 season and see what everyone was saying. After all, if a 43 inning consecutive "scoreless" inning streak is enough to get a Kansas City Royal on the cover of SI for the first time in 15 years, that 59 inning streak must've been pretty exciting too.

First, let's take a look at what writers were saying about Hershiser entering the 1988 season. After a strong rookie performance in 1984 where he went 11-8 with a 2.66 ERA, and an even better 1985 season where he went 19-3 with a 2.03 ERA, Hershiser seemed to regress in '86 and '87. In those two years, he had a perfect .500 record (30-30) with a 3.43 ERA. People seemed to be unsure of what he might be able to do next. From the 1988 Athlon preview guide:
"Hershiser's 16-16 record [in 1987] would seem to be scant improvement over 14-14 the year before. Nevertheless, his pitching markedly improved. He was third in the National League in earned run average at 3.06 and complete games with 10, first in innings pitched with 264 2/3 and tied for fourth in strikeouts with teammate Fernando Valenzuela with 190. He was named to the National League All-Star team for the first time in his four-year career and also was selected to a postseason all-star team by one baseball publication.

Those numbers were good enough for only a fourth-place finish in Cy Young voting, well behind Philadelphia Phillies reliever Steve Bedrosian, the winner. Hershiser's lackluster September and sustained weak hitting by the Dodger offense cost him wins and votes."
By the time Hershiser's streak began on August 30, he already had a 17-8 record with a 2.88 ERA and 135 strikeouts in 203 innings pitched. He was clearly one of the top pitchers in the league at the time, but his August 30th start was fairly non-descript. From the next day's LA Times:
"The victory improved Hershiser's record to 18-8 and, with six starts probably remaining, he has a good chance to win 20 games for the first time in his career.

"I'll be very satisfied if I get 20," said Hershiser, who reduced his ERA to 2.84. "But I'm not going to stop there and say, `See you in the playoffs.' I've got a shot to win 24 (games), and it'll help the team if I do."
Hershiser's bid for his fourth shutout ended in the fifth, when Tim Raines hit a run-scoring double to left field and Dave Martinez singled home Raines, cutting the Dodger lead to 4-2.

But the Expos did not threaten after that..."
At the time, there was no reason to get excited about this start, save for it being Hershiser's 18th victory of the year. After all, it's not all that uncommon for a pitcher to finish up a complete game with four scoreless innings. Six days later, the Dodgers traveled to Atlanta and Orel had his first dominating start of the streak: 9-inning complete game, 4 hits, 1 walk, 8 strikeouts, and, at one point, he retired 16 consecutive batters.
"When Dodger pitcher Orel Hershiser hunkers down at his personal computer to log data about Monday night's outing, a 4-hit shutout of the woeful Atlanta Braves, he probably will not note the quality of competition or the ease with which he won his 19th game.

In the analytical mind of Hershiser it didn't matter that a rainout Sunday in New York aborted his scheduled start against the team with the National League's best record and, instead, pitted him against the league's worst team.

"The key is not to think you're playing the Mets, not playing the Braves," Hershiser said. "The key is to just go out and beat whoever's out there. If we can just narrow things down to a minimum, it gives us the best chance to win our division.""
The Times also included this quote at the end of the game's recap. It may have seemed innocuous at the time, but it seems to be a good indicator of how Hershiser was been able to keep the streak going for as long as he did:
"Monday night's victory was Orel Hershiser's fourth straight complete game. He is 3-1 with a 1.00 earned-run average. In his eight previous starts before this streak, Hershiser was 3-4 with a 4.76 ERA. Just as he refused to say he was in a slump, Hershiser now says "I'm not on a streak. I'm just pitching well.""
Two starts later, Hershiser faced the Braves again, this time on only three days' rest. With yet another complete game, eight-strikeout shutout, and only two-and-a-half weeks left in the season, people began to take notice:
"The battle for the National League's Cy Young Award, the race within a race, drew tighter Wednesday night.

First, the Cincinnati Reds' Danny Jackson was hammered by the Houston Astros, allowing 7 runs in 5 innings of a 7-1 loss.

Then the Dodgers' Orel Hershiser sustained his late-season roll in a 1-0 victory over the Atlanta Braves.

Jackson is 21-7. Hershiser is 21-8, having pitched six consecutive complete games and three consecutive shutouts.

Before a Dodger Stadium crowd of 42,434, Hershiser extended his shutout streak to 31 innings. He allowed only six hits in besting Atlanta's veteran right-hander, Rick Mahler (9-15)."
And that's when Drysdale's name was first brought up:
"Is he close enough to be looking at Don Drysdale's major league record of 58 consecutive scoreless innings?

"That first came up in '85 when I had 30-some in a row," he said. "In my view, (the Drysdale record is) an unbelievable feat, one of the records that may not be broken.

"It's hard enough to throw a shutout, and he threw six and then some. I don't know if I have enough innings left in the season and enough pitches left in my arm to do it.

"But I'll settle for three more (the number of starts he has left). I don't want to give up a run until I have to.""
Over the next two weeks, Hershiser would make two more starts, each on the road in Houston and San Francisco. As with the other starts in the streak, these were nine-inning shutouts. The start in San Francisco seemed to be his toughest. In it, Hershiser gave up five hits and struck out only two, all while throwing the highest number of pitches in any of his streak-shutouts. 

That start put him 9  innings short of  Drysdale's record with only one regular season start left to match it.  (it was 9 2/3 innings, but Elias made a ruling that partial innings don't count for starters, so "58" became the official record.) This exact scenario was broached the week before. On the day of his San Francisco start, the Times ran a story about Hershiser's run at Drysdale's record, including quotes from Drysdale himself. The possibility of Hershiser needing to pitch an extra inning to break the record was considered, but no one really seemed to give it much consideration.
"The most impressive statistic, however, is Hershiser's scoreless inning streak. But Hershiser, normally optimistic to a fault, said he does not believe he can surpass Drysdale.

"It's hard enough to throw one shutout, let alone two more in my last two starts," Hershiser said. "Even if I did, I still would come up short."

Maybe not, Hershiser was advised. There is the possibility-considering the slumbering ways of the Dodger offense-that Hershiser would have to pitch extra innings in one of his two remaining starts, thus qualifying.

Or, he could always request to work an inning of relief, something that no doubt would not thrill Manager Tom Lasorda.

"Oh yeah, I can just see me asking Tommy to do that on the last day of the season with the playoffs coming up," Hershiser said.

Lasorda laughed at that scenario."
It was almost prepostorous to consider: the game going into extra innings in the one chance that Hershiser had to break Drysdale's record before the season ended? No one could write a more sappy ending to the season. That's what it came down to, though.

In his last start of the season, Hershiser faced off against Andy Hawkins and the San Diego Padres in Jack Murphy Stadium. The first nine innings proved to be a scoreless affair. Hershiser struck out two, walked none, and gave up four hits. Hawkins matched zeroes with Hershiser while striking out six. After Hawkins shut down the Dodgers again in the tenth, Hershiser came out for his one chance at Drysdale's record. Marvell Wynne struck out to lead off the inning, but reached base on a wild pitch. The next two batters moved him over to third and, with two outs, Hershiser intentionally walked Garry Templeton to face the pitcher's spot. Keith Moreland promptly flew out to right, and Hershiser's hold on the record was secure. That was the last inning Hershiser pitched that day, but the game wasn't decided until the 16th, when the Padres won it 2-1.
"Where have you gone, Don Drysdale?

Well, Drysdale, now a Dodger broadcaster, was among the greeting party awaiting Hershiser after he forced pinch-hitter Keith Moreland to fly to right fielder Jose Gonzalez for the third out in the 10th inning of a then-scoreless tie between the Dodgers and the Padres.

Drysdale gave Hershiser a bear hug. So did Manager Tom Lasorda, pitching coach Ron Perranoski and each Dodger player. It was a repeat, though with far more feeling, of the celebration bestowed upon Hershiser an inning earlier, when he tied Drysdale's record.

"I never thought I would break this record," Hershiser said. "I thought nobody would break this record. But now, I think somebody can break it from me, because I'm nobody special."

Hershiser spoke those words with what appeared to be total sincerity. Also in all sincerity, he said that he did not want to break Drysdale's record, just tie it.""
Hershiser went on to win the Cy Young, and deservedly so. His line for the year, following his 6 straight shutouts, looked like this: 23-8, 2.26 ERA, 15 CG, 8 ShO, and 178 K in 267 innings pitched. No other pitcher received any first place votes. The Dodgers would, of course, go on to win the World Series, and Hershiser would win NLCS and World Series MVP awards. The scoreless streak would end in the first inning of Opening Day 1989 after a full offseason of speculation (and this awesome baseball card). But it's the "59" that we all remember today, and which kept the baseball world captivated in September of 1988. It's a shame Greinke wasn't able to keep his streak going, but at least we got a taste for what it was like. For now, though, Hershiser is the only person alive to know the pressure of a monumental streak like this.

* Small note: I can't say for certain since I can't find an official stat online, but I feel pretty confident in claiming that the record for most consecutive innings without giving up an earned run has to belong to Don Drysdale. Of course, Drysdale owned the record for most consecutive scoreless innings at 58, set in 1968, before Hershiser broke it. However, in the last game that he pitched in prior to the beginning of that streak, he gave up an earned run in the 4th inning and then pitched to a couple of batters in the 7th before being relieved. After Jack Billingham relieved Drysdale, one of the inherited runner scored on an error by the shortstop. Therefore, if you tack the two innings Drysdale pitched at the end of that game without giving up an earned run, his streak becomes 60 consecutive innings without giving up an earned run. Like I said, I can't verify this, but I feel pretty good about claiming that it's so.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Keeping Things Interesting: April 29, 2009

Yesterday's Most Interesting
It took a crazy game, but Boston's 11-game winning streak finally came to an end in Cleveland last night. It was a "quid pro quo"-type of game, as the Indians and Red Sox matched each other run-for-run, with both scoring 1 runs, 4 runs, and 2 runs in each of their first three innings to get to an 8-8 tie. The Sox then scored another run in the 7th that was matched by the Royals. Finally, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, the Sox were unable to come up with a clean play at third on a tough play, and Mark DeRosa scored from second to seal the deal for the Indians.

More From Yesterday
The Tigers and Yankees seemed to be playing a good game, and then, bam, the 7th inning hit and the Yankees scored 10 runs on their way to an 11-0 win. In Philadelphia, the defending champs lost Cole Hamels to an ankle-sprain but beat the Nats 7-1. I imagine the team would've traded the W for a healthy Hamels. The Cards scored one in the top of the first and that seemed like it was going to be enough, but the Braves were able to get two in the bottom of the 8th on their way to a 2-1 victory. The Royals, behind Gil Meche, got hammered by the AL East-leading Blue Jays. The Jays won, 8-1, behind a 14-hit and 6-walk barrage. In Milwaukee, new closer Trevor Hoffman got his first save as a Brewer. Of his 555 career saves, this was the first non-San Diego save since June 7, 1993, when he got his second and last save as a Florida Marlin. Finally, the Marlins were able to end their losing streak by beating the Mets, 7-4. Jorge Cantu hit two home runs for the Fish.

Today's Games
In Milwaukee, young ace Yovani Gallardo will take to the hill as the Brewers try to sweep the Pirates and win their 15 consecutive game over Pittsburgh. Ian Snell will do his best to keep that from happening. The Indians host the Red Sox in Cleveland in the rubber match of their series. Jon Lester will take on the disappointing Fausto Carmona. In Philadelphia, the Phillies look to finish off their sweep of the lowly Nationals, while the Giants bring Tim Lincecum to the mound to face down the Dodgers at home.

Today's Most Interesting
It's a tough call on the most interesting game of the day. On one hand, there's the Toronto Blue Jays at Kansas City Royals. I know I've mentioned the Royals maybe more times than I should, but when they have Zack Greinke going the way he's going right now - 4-0, 0.00 ERA, only one unearned run in 40+ innings - it's almost irresponsible not to mention it. Greinke will be going against Toronto's Brian Tallet in his bid.

On the other hand, there's the Florida Marlins vs the New York Mets, featuring a matchup between Josh Johnson and Johan Santana. As ridiculous as Greinke's streak has been, Johan's been doing pretty well himself. Heading into today's game, he is 3-1 with a 0.70 ERA, striking out 37 and allowing only 2 earned runs in over 25 innings pitched. It'll be interesting to see what these two aces can do this evening.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Keeping Things Interesting: April 28, 2009

Yesterday's Most Interesting
The matchup between Pineiro and Jurrjens went pretty well for the first 6 innings. Pineiro, who actually lasted 6.2 innings, struck out one and walked none while giving up 7 hits. When he left the game, the Cards had the lead 3-2. Jurrjens walked two and struck out two in 6 innings, and left the game when it was only 2-1. There's still a lot to be learned and proven by the young Brave, but at least yesterday wasn't a setback.

More From Yesterday
After securing a 11-7 lead in the eighth inning yesterday, the Nationals did everything they could to lose the game, giving up six in the bottom half of the inning. The Phils went on to win 13-11. The Boston-Cleveland game was scoreless after another strong performance from Tim Wakefield going into the ninth before Jason Bay took one deep off of closer Kerry Wood. The Red Sox went on to win it, 3-1. The Marlins lost to the Mets for the seventh consecutive defeat after giving up six runs, including a grand slam, in the bottom of the first.

In Arizona, the Diamondbacks finally put up some runs to support Dan Haren's terrific performance. Haren struck out 10 Cubs in his complete game victory, walking none and giving up only 3 hits (two of which were solo home runs). The D-backs won the game, 7-2. The Giants-Dodgers match up in San Francisco proved to be a good game. Zito hung in strong for the Giants before giving up 3 runs in the 7th. The Giants were able to pull it out, though, and beat the Dodgers 5-4. Finally, the Brewers entered the 8th inning with a two-run lead. After Carlos Villanueva gave up the lead, the Brewers came back in the bottom of the inning with a 5-spot to go up 10-5. Trevor Hoffman then came in to secure the victory. It wasn't a save opportunity, but it was important for everyone to get that first appearance out of the way. Milwaukee held on to the 10-5 win.

Today's Games
The Phillies take on the Nationals for the second day in a row. The Nats hope to prove that they can move past yesterday's ugly loss. In Kansas City, the Royals will pitch Gil Meche against Toronto's Scott Richmond. Now that the Jays are percentage points behind the Red Sox for first place in the AL East, you can expect some strong play as they try to make that ground up. The Brewers host the Pirates for the second game of their series this week. The Pirates have now lost 14 in a row against the Brewers (and 16 in a row in Milwaukee), so they'll be trying to kill a pretty dubious record. It will be Dave Bush vs Paul Maholm squaring off. Finally, the White Sox will attempt to host a double-header versus the Mariners today, assuming the weather clears up. The second game of the day between the two will feature Felix Hernandez and John Danks. That should be quite the game to watch.

Today's Most Interesting
The most interesting game of the day, though, is the matchup between the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians. Two weeks ago, the Red Sox were 2-6 and everyone was freaking out about the makeup of the team. As we enter tonight's game, the Sox now sit at 13-6 and will be going for the 12th win in a row. Brad Penny will be the one respsonsible for keeping the streak alive. He sits at 2-0 on the season right now, but he does sport a 7.80 ERA. Anthony Reyes will try to halt the skid for the Indians, who have routinely disappointed their fans so far this season. They certainly hope that that will stop tonight.

Finding Joe Shlabotnik

(This may be a bit rambling at times, but I hope it gets its point across without sounding too overly sappy...)

I was at the SABR Seymour Medal Conference in Cleveland this weekend. Author Tom Swift was awarded the Seymour Medal for his intriguing biography which I'm looking forward to reading, Chief Bender's Burden: The Silent Struggle of a Baseball Star. The keynote speaker for the event was Joe Posnanski, writer for the Kansas City Star and, far-and-away, my favorite guy to read about baseball.

His speech was a good listen, and I'm glad I was able to be there for it. For anyone who reads Joe's blog, the subjects of his speech were nothing new: Buck O'Neil, the Big Red Machine, and Duane Kuiper. He spoke about Buck and his unflappingly positive outlook on life; he spoke about Pete Rose and his, let's just say, less-than-pleasant personality; and, finally, he spoke about his childhood hero, Duane Kuiper. Kuiper, he said, was hardly the best player in baseball, and that was exactly why Joe identified with him so well. People like George Brett or Mike Schmidt may have been the obvious stars of their time, but, to someone like Joe, they were more-than-men. Kuiper, on the other hand, was a merely mortal playing amongst gods. He was the proof to every kid like Joe who knew he wasn't the next Mantle or Mays that they could still reach the majors. Kuiper was a hero precisely because he wasn't a great player.

Joe also pointed out that it's sometimes easy to forget that everyone in the big leagues, no matter how marginal or forgettable they might be, is a Duane Kuiper-like hero to some kid out there. Cody Ransom, Tony Pena, Jr., Joe Thurston... they probably all have their fans. It was a great observation by Joe, and it certainly made me think a little bit about how we watch and root for players today.

But what it really got me thinking about was Joe Shlabotnik, Charlie Brown's hero who was famous for making a spectacular play on a routine fly ball, who once hit .004 for Stumptown of the Green Grass League, and who once got fired from his managing job after calling for a squeeze play with no one on base. Obviously, Duane Kuiper wasn't exactly Joe Shlabotnik - Kuip did play in over 1,000 games, after all - but the mentality that Joe spoke about is definitely there: if there was anyone that Charlie Brown could identify with on a personal level, it was Joe Shlabotnik.

Now, my appreciation of Charlie Brown and Peanuts in general is well established, but this is something that I somehow avoided. My childhood hero was, almost randomly, Cal Ripken, Jr., who is about as far from Duane Kuiper and Joe Shlabotnik as you can get. I was always rooting for the Kuipers of the world, though. Nothing makes me happier than to see a guy like that succeed. My question, then, is who are the Duane Kuipers/Joe Shlatbotniks of today?

When I was explaining to my terrific girlfriend why it was funny that Duane Kuiper was Joe's favorite ballplayer, I likened him to Craig Counsell. It was a comparison that she could understand, since Counsell isn't exactly the best player on the Brewers and doesn't exactly have a large fanbase. But I'm not sure it's the best comparison. Counsell does play some great defense, and that's what keeps him on rosters.

Is it David Eckstein then? There's no shortage of press about the "scrappy" little man who plays with so much "heart". Is that what we're looking for? I think I have to say "no". Eckstein gets a little too much love from the media for that, I think.

What about Cody Ransom? He's been in baseball for a long time now, but has only had a few brief stints in the majors. He, like Counsell, gets by on his defense, though it's not enough. If it was, he probably would've survived A-Rod's full injury, instead of getting replaced with the likes of Angel Berroa. I remember watching Ransom play in AAA in Fresno, and then get some tastes of the big leagues in San Francisco. It was pretty obvious that he wasn't MLB material even then, so all this talk earlier this month about him was amusing to me. He might match Joe Shlabotnik's career a little more closely than some other guys, but I still don't think he's the answer to our question.

How about Luis Castillo? Livan Hernandez? Mark Grudzielanek? They all have their stories, but I'm not sure any of them can ever be considered a Joe Shlabotnik or Duane Kuiper. Most of them had at least a couple of seasons where they were top-notch players, which just might disqualify them.

Right now, I think my personal Joe Shlatbotnik/Duane Kuiper is Chris Burke. I saw Burke play as a visiting player in AAA five or six years ago, and he was just fantastic, with great offense and great defense. But he was playing second-base in Houston's farm system, behind Craig Biggio. It was a bad place to be in, and, as he reached the majors, he didn't really have a place to play. They tried him in the outfield, but it didn't really work out. He did hit a series-winning home run in the 18th inning of the 2005 NLDS for the Astros, though, which earned him a very long and since ovation. Since then, he's been signed and released a few times, and is now with the Padres. He may not fit the mold exactly, but I've been rooting for that guy for years.

There are definitely some problems with my list, though, the least of which is that I named mostly only scrappy, white middle infielders. Hopefully others can suggest a few more relevant players to choose from.

Regardless, I hope people take the time to do what Joe Posnanski was talking about on Saturday and think about the players today who best reflect the enjoyment and hard-work of the Duane Kuipers and Joe Shlatboniks of the game. Baseball may be a child's game played by men, but there are plenty of men out there who are working their tails off just to be on the field. When one of them can take it to the next level and get regular playing time, it seems worth acknowledging.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Keeping Things Interesting: April 27, 2009

Got in late from a long and enjoyable weekend yesterday. So I slept-in this morning on my day off (wouldn't you?). I didn't really get to see any sports during the trip except for the 1.5 Indians-Twins games I made it to, but it sounds like it was a pretty exciting weekend. Hopefully the week ahead will be as well.

Yesterday's Most Interesting
On Friday, I remarked that the most interesting game of the day was not the bigger games like Red Sox and Yankees or Cubs and Cardinals but, instead, was the matchup between the relatively surprising Pirates and equally surprising Padres. It turned out to be a decent series, with Pittsburgh taking 2 of 3, including a strong showing against Peavy.

But, honestly, the best thing about yesterday was Ellsbury's steal of home off of Andy Pettite. I didn't hear about it until this morning, but, watching the replays, that was pretty fantastic. Of course, as ShysterBall points out, this is going to get blown way out of proportion for a variety of reasons (Sunday Night Baseball, Red Sox-Yankees, etc). Before it does, though, we should take the time to appreciate it for just how cool it was before we get sick and tired of looking at it and hearing about it.

Today's Games
It's Monday, but there's still a nearly full plate of games scheduled for today. In Arizona, Dan Haren looks for his second win of the season. Despite his 1.42 ERA, Haren sports a 1-3 record, thanks to some terrible run support for the Dbacks. He'll face off against Chicago's Ted Lilly, which should prove for a fun game to watch. In Kansas City, the Royals will trot out Brian Bannister for the second time this year. He had a solid outing last week in his season debut, and hopes to keep improving. I know I'll keep rooting for him. He'll be facing the first-place Toronto Blue Jays and David Purcey.

The Dodgers will head to San Francisco tonight to renew their rivalry. Barry Zito hopes to put up his second straight good start, as he faces LA's Randy Wolf. The Marlins head out to Citi Field to face the Mets, as they try to end a six game slide after starting the season 11-1. The Yankees will put CC on the hill this evening to face off against Detroit's Justin Verlander. They can only hope that CC will be able to put up a strong outing. The Yanks have a had a rough couple of weeks, especially after the sweep up in Fenway. Finally, the Red Sox, fresh off that sweep of the Yankees, head out to Cleveland to face the reigning Cy Young Award winner. Tim Wakefield and his immortal knuckleball will take the hill for the Sox.

Today's Most Interesting
The most interesting game of the day, though, is the matchup between the St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves. The Cards head into the game with a 13-6 record after having won 5 of their last 6, including a sweep of the Mets and a 2-of-3 series victory over the Cubs. Joel Pineiro will take his 3-0 record and 4.12 ERA to the mound to face off against Atlanta's Jair Jurrjens. Not only does Jurrjens have the coolest name in baseball today, he also seems to be backing that up with some great production. In his 4 games started this season, he sports a 2-1 record with a 1.42 ERA. Batters are hitting .207 against him. He needs to up that strikeout-to-walk ratio, though, which is sitting too close to 1:1 right now. It should be an interesting game today.

(I could've chosen the Bannister game in Kansas City or the Haren game in Arizona, but I don't want to keep picking the same teams day after day.)

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Seamheads Near-Miss League

By the time you read this, I should be driving on out to Cleveland for a weekend at the SABR Seymour Medal Conference. It should be a fun time. It's my first SABR get-together, so I don't know exactly what to expect. I will be seeing Joe Posnanski give the keynote on Saturday and going to the Indians-Twins game with all the other SABR guys on Sunday, so, no matter what, it'll be a good weekend...

The news was announced over at Seamheads earlier this week, so I guess I can comment on it now: somehow I'm lucky enough to be competing in the Near Miss League that's about to begin (Opening Day: TBD, but soon). How cool is that?!

For those of you who haven't been following Joe Posnanski's or Jonah Keri's or Ducksnorts' accounts of the previous league, Seamheads Historical League (as it was called) was a baseball simulation league powered by Out of the Park Baseball where bloggers/writers/other fans got to act as GMs of their choice franchise. Each GM then got to choose their All-Time franchise roster. From there, the games were played until a champion was declared, with Joe Posnanski's Indians defeating Bill James' Red Sox. While it may not have been "real" baseball, it was certainly fun to read about, and the list of GMs was rather impressive.

And now I get to participate! Here's what Mike Lynch, from, has to say about the Near Miss League:
"The Near Miss League will be slightly different, though the cast of owners is just as strong, featuring ESPN columnist Bill “The Sports Guy” Simmons, his buddy and ESPN colleague Dave Dameshek, ESPN senior writer and “Baseball Today” co-host Eric Karabell, columnist King Kaufman, former major league second baseman Jack Perconte, author and Hall of Fame researcher Gabriel Schechter, and author/writer/editor/esteemed historian Gary Gillette. Keri and Goold are also back for another go-around, with Keri leading his Expos again, while Goold takes the reins of the St. Louis Cardinals, whom he writes about for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The rest of the group is made up of intelligent baseball men who blog about, write about, talk about, eat, sleep, and drink baseball, including many colleagues from SABR. Needless to say, the competition should be fierce.

The teams featured in the Near Miss League are teams that were either very good or great but failed to win their division, a pennant, or a World Series for one reason or another."
That's some pretty heady competition. How did I get there again?

For my part, I'll be managing the 2002 Oakland A's, probably the pinnacle of Billy Beane's Moneyball squads. That year, Barry "When do I get the $126 million?" Zito very deservedly won the AL Cy Young award while Miguel "The steroids made me older than I claimed" Tejada won the MVP. Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Eric Chavez, Jermaine Dye, and Billy Koch all had strong seasons for the A's as well. They won 103 games that year, but lost in the ALDS to the Twins.

So why did I choose that team? And how do I feel about representing the Moneyball era against the likes of the 1982 Brewers, the 1969 Orioles, or the 1951 Giants? Well, first off, I didn't have much choice among the franchises, but the long and colorful history of the A's was intriguing. Once I chose the A's, I had to think pretty seriously about what team to use. They definitely had some fantastic teams, from the Collins-Baker and Foxx-Simmons-Grove teams of the early-20th century to the Reggie-Fingers-Hunter and McGwire-Canseco-Henderson teams of the '70s and '80s.

The problem I had with choosing a team was that the A's have rarely been merely "almost good" in their history. Of all the seasons that they were a "near miss", they were all either right before or right after a long string of extended success. The 1928 A's, for example, who showed up on my list of Greatest Teammates of All-Time, finished in 2nd place. However, they then went on to appear in 4 out of the next 5 World Series (winning 3). So, while the '28 squad was technically a "near miss", it's really hard to say that the collection of players playing that year were actually "near misses". After all, they were good enough to win 3 World Series together. The same can be said for the 1971 or 1975 teams, who both lost in the ALCS. Yes, those particular squads were "near misses", but that group did win three consecutive World Series. As someone pointed out to me, if I were to choose one of those teams, I'd be going against the spirit of the league, if not the letter.

That left us with the Bash Bros. years and the Moneyball years. The most attractive aspect of the Bash Bros. teams, besides their overwhelming talent, was the friendly banter that managing guys like Canseco and McGwire would create. But the Moneyball teams had the same thing going for them, with Giambi, Tejada, and Zito all playing for them. What put the Moneyball-era team over the top, though, was its true "near miss" nature. With so many chances in the late-90s and early-2000s, the franchise was just never able to do anything about it. And that's what this league seems to be all about.

As for how I feel about "representing" Moneyball, I don't know. I actually feel a little underqualified. There's no doubt that I believe in Billy Beane and his philosophy, but I don't recite it as a mantra or anything. I haven't even read the book yet. I do think that it's ludicrous to dismiss the Moneyball-movement as a failure, though, just because they couldn't pull it through in the playoffs. And that's what I've set out to prove, that a Moneyball-style team can win it all.

I'll let you all know how things are going as the season moves on. I'm very excited about all of this.

(Oh, and sorry for saying "Moneyball" so much. It just happened to be the easiest shorthand I could think of. Besides, that's how most people see this era of teams anyway, so might as well go with it.)

Keeping Things Interesting: April 24, 2009

This is truly going to be a short post. I'm driving 400+ miles out to Cleveland this morning for a much-needed long weekend...

Yesterday's Most Interesting
The Shields-Hernandez matchup proved to be even better than I thought. Ichiro led off the Mariners half of the game with a home run, and that was it for the scoring. Hernandez pitched 7 strong innings, striking out seven while giving up only four hits. Other than that lead-off homer, Shields was just as good, striking out four and walking one in 7.1 innings. It was a good win for the Mariners, who are now 10-6 and 3.5 games on top of the Rangers in the West.

Today's Most Interesting
If there were two teams that were written off before the season began, they were the San Diego Padres and the Washington Nationals. If we expanded that to a third team, it would've been the Pittsburgh Pirates. So it's a pretty big shock that this weekend's Pittsburgh Pirates at San Diego Padres series is actually meaningful, as far as mid-April series go at least. Both clubs are 9-6 and sit near the top of their divisions. Today's game doesn't start the series off with the best matchup, as Ian Snell takes his 4.24 ERA against Kevin Correia's 4.09. But it is an exciting match-up between two teams that are striving to prove to everyone that they're wrong. And that's why it the most interesting game of the day. (The matchup between Detroit's Rick Porcello and Kansas City's Zack Greinke is a close second.)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Keeping Things Interesting: April 23, 2009

Let's try to keep this one short since I'm late at putting it together...

Yesterday's Most Interesting
Dan Haren had to know going into the game yesterday that he was going to need keep the Rockies off the board if he had a chance of getting the win. So that's what he did for seven innings, striking out 9. But when he sat down in the dugout after finishing the top of the seventh, he was still not assured of anything, since the Diamondbacks had yet to score themselves. That soon changed, though, as the Dbacks finally got to Jorge De La Rosa. With two runs that inning, Arizona was able to trot out a couple of relievers and finally give Dan Haren his first win of the year. Through four starts, Haren has 26 Ks in 26 IP, a 0.88 WHIP, and a 1.38 ERA. He is also 1-3.

More From Yesterday
There were some great games yesterday. Somehow Pittsburgh completed the sweep of the Marlins. It makes you wonder if the same kind of stories will be written about the Pirates as were being written about the Marlins just last week. Ah, the beauty of the first weeks of April. In San Francisco, Barry Zito faced down Chris Young and it became an old-fashioned pitching duel. Both Zito and Young went 7-strong, but there wasn't a run scored in the game until the 10th inning, when Bengie Molina hit a pinch-hit ground-rule double to win the game, 1-0. There were a few more shutouts, as the Reds beat the Cubs 3-0, the Braves beat the Nationals 1-0 (on a bases loaded walk in the 9th), and the Royals beat the Indians 2-0. The Yankees-A's and Tigers-Angels games did their best to cancel that out, though, with final scores of 9-7 (in 14) and 12-10.

Today's Games
There are only a few games on the schedule today. The Astros will be trying for the sweep of the Dodgers in Houston while the Royals will look to do the same against the Indians in Cleveland. Kevin Millwood takes his sparkling (and surprising) 1.17 ERA into Toronto as Texas tries to sneak out a series victory. Finally, the Brewers will trot out Dave Bush to face Philly's Cole Hamels as they try to win their first series of the year.

Today's Most Interesting
The most interesting game of the day, though, is the Tampa Bay Rays at the Seattle Mariners. In the rubber match of the series between "last year's Rays" and the team that some people are calling "this year's Rays", we have a great pitching matchup. Tampa's James Shields will face Seattle's Felix Hernandez in the late afternoon game. A couple of years ago, I was in Seattle for a weekend and made plans to see the Mariners play. I was a little disappointed to learn that Tampa was in town that weekend (they were still a bad team at the time) and that Scott Kazmir would be pitching the night before I would be at the ballpark. But Felix Hernandez was pitching for the M's that night, and it turns out that James Shields was pitching for the Rays. It turned out to be a good game. Seattle ended up winning the game on a walk-off, bases-loaded sacrifice fly, 2-1. Hernandez struck out 8 in 7.2 and Shields struck out 5 in 8. As I said, good game, and I'm sure it will be similar today.

(Okay, so maybe it wasn't so short...)

Cy Young Relief Pitchers

When I explored the postseason awards & Hall of Fame members question the other day, it became pretty clear that the two big reasons that the postseason awards are bad at predicting Hall of Famers is the Rookie of the Year voting and the Cy Young voting. Both awards seem to go to less than stellar players far too often. Like I said before, this is probably because, with the fickle nature of pitchers and rookies, it's too easy for one or two players to have career years worth rewarding in any given season. I can accept that.

I also noticed, though, that for a while the writers seemed to be eager to reward relief pitchers and closers with a Cy Young award. We all know the Fingers' and Eckersley's of the world, but there are also the Sparky Lyles and Mark Davis' of the world, who seemed to come out of nowhere to nab the award. Once I realized that, I decided that it would be a good idea to explore why it was so. Below is the full list of Cy Young Relief Pitchers and some thoughts on why they were given the award. I hope to find a common theme between the choices, but I can't promise it.

Without further adeiu, baseball Cy Young Relief Pitchers (a '*' means that the pitcher also won the MVP that year)...

1974 - Mike Marshall - Los Angeles Dodgers
106 G, 83 Games Finished, 15-12 W-L, 21-for-33 Sv., 2.42 ERA, 208 IP

Marshall became the first relief pitcher to win the Cy Young Award in 1974, when he appeared in a (still) record 106 games, all in relief. In those 106 games, he pitched 208 innings (nearly 2 innings per appearance) and struck out 143. He had only 33 save opportunities, though, so he was clearly operating under a different set of guidelines than today's relievers. But it was by no means a standard set of guidelines for the time, either, and that's probably why he was given the award. Marshall's closest competition that year was fellow-Dodger Andy Messersmith who, as a starter, pitched in only 84 additional innings and who had a higher ERA with only 5 additional wins (20-6 vs. 15-12). Atlanta's Phil Niekro had a nearly identical ERA in 94 additional innings and a 20-13 record. With Marshall's relief statistics looking so similar to the top starters of the year, the novelty and uniqueness of his season was just too much to ignore.

1977 - Sparky Lyle - New York Yankees
72 G, 60 Games Finished, 13-5 W-L, 26-for-34 Sv., 2.17 ERA, 137 IP

Lyle's Cy Young season for the World Champion Yankees was very similar to Marshall's, except in a more manageable 72 games. While Marshall averaged 5.9 outs per appearance, Lyle averaged 5.7. In 72 appearances, Lyle pitched 137 innings and struck out 68. He came in in tighter situations, though, entering a game with the bases empty only 13 times that year (compared to Marshall's 62 bases-empty appearances). Lyle also benefited from a relatively weak crop of starters to compete against. There were a few 19- and 20-game winners in the league, but none of them had less than 11 losses. Plus, Lyle's closest competitor, Jim Palmer, had just won 3 out of the last 4 awards. Voters may have been suffering from Palmer-fatigue. Whatever it was that won Lyle (and Marshall) his award, it clearly wasn't his save total. Lyle's 26 saves were only good for second in the AL in '77, trailing Boston's Bill Campbell and his 31 saves.

1979 - Bruce Sutter - Chicago Cubs
62 G, 56 Games Finished, 6-6 W-L, 37-for-47 Sv., 2.22 ERA, 101 IP

Sutter's 1979 campaign was the first time that the league-leader in saves was awarded the Cy Young. The single-season save record had been set six years before, when John Hiller saved 38 games for the Tigers. That year, Hiller finished 4th in the Cy Young voting, behind Jim Palmer, Nolan Ryan, and Catfish Hunter. It's hard to see any difference between Hiller's '73 campaign and Sutter's '79. Hiller actually pitched more innings per appearance with a much lower ERA (1.44 vs 2.22) and with more strikeouts. They both pitched in high leverage situations (as defined by Baseball Reference), though Sutter's appearances were "higher". Hiller's Tigers even finished with a better record than Sutter's Cubs.

So why did Sutter win it when Hiller did not? I can only speculate, but I can see a few reasons. First, Sutter was a more well-known and more popular commodity, having played in three All-Star games already and having received Cy Young and MVP votes in past years. Second, Sutter, like Lyle and Marshall, had weaker competition for the award. Joe Niekro and JR Richard finished 2nd and 3rd to Sutter, and that's not exactly equal to Hiller's Palmer/Ryan/Hunter competition. Finally, with Sutter compiling only one fewer save than the record number, it's possible that the writers felt that awarding Sutter would be "making amends" for not awarding Hiller. In any case, Sutter walked away with his Cy (and possibly his most important HOF credential).

1981 - Rollie Fingers* - Milwaukee Brewers
47 G, 41 Games Finished, 6-3 W-L, 28-for-34 Sv., 1.04 ERA, 78 IP

The strike-shortened season of 1981 was definitely good to its top pitchers. NL Cy Young award-winner Fernando Valenzuela was also awarded the Rookie of the Year award, and AL Cy Young award-winner Fingers was also awarded the Most Valuable Player award. It was only the second time in history that a player had won multiple postseason awards, and it happened twice that year. [Note: I knew I should've taken the 30 seconds to check that statement... For some reason, those Koufax/Gibson/etc year escaped my mind.] Fingers' 28 saves may not seem like a lot, even for the era, but it was accomplished in a 109-game season. Extrapolated to a full 162-game season, it was a 41-save pace. Couple that with his obscene ERA and his 5-out-per-appearance rate, Fingers was a nearly impossible pitcher to vote against. He received 22 of the available 28 first place votes that year.

1984 - Willie Hernandez* - Detroit Tigers
80 G, 68 Games Finished, 9-3 W-L, 32-for-33 Sv., 1.92 ERA, 140 IP

Only three years later, Detroit's Willie Hernandez became the second pitcher (and second reliever) to win the MVP and Cy Young awards. It was a strong year for relievers. Hernandez finished first in the Cy voting and KC reliever Dan Quisenberry finished second. In most stats, Quiz had the better year. He had 44 saves, only one shy of the record he set the year before, and pitched in higher leverage situations. Quiz also pitched in the same number of innings as Hernandez, but in fewer appearances. He also walked only 12 batters all season. Hernandez, on the other hand, struck out almost three times as many batters, 112 to 41. Hernandez also had a lower ERA, 1.92 to 2.64, and, most importantly, blew only one save. Both the Royals and Tigers won their divisions, but Detroit did it with 104 wins while Kansas City did it with 84. This award seems to be the best example so far of the writers falling in love with the "aura" of a particular bullpen. As the 1984 Street & Smith's illustrates:
"[Hernandez] joined right-hander Aurelio Lopez in the bullpen and the two made the champion Tigers nearly impossible to beat late in the game (Detroit was 96-0 when it held a lead in the ninth inning)."
For what it's worth, Quisenberry won his third consecutive Rolaids Relief Man of the Year award that year, meaning he was the top reliever but not the top pitcher.

1987 - Steve Bedrosian - Philadelphia Phillies
65 G, 56 Games Finished, 5-3 W-L, 40-for-48 Sv., 2.83 ERA, 89 IP

Looking back at the stats from the year, it's really hard to see why Bedrock won the Cy Young this year. Yes, he saved 40 games, which was still pretty rare at the time. But it wasn't rare enough to win an award. At least one player had saved 40 games each year for the previous four years. The competition in 1987 wasn't very strong, though. There were no 20-game winners, and the closest to it was Rick Sutcliffe with an 18-10 record. I think the 1988 Street & Smith's can give the best explanation for what happened.
"The voting was not so decisive in the National League, which saw its closest election in the 32-year history of the award. Steve Bedrosian of the Philadelphia Phillies received nine of a possible 24 first-place ballots and 57 points, narrowly outpolling Rick Sutcliffe of the Chicago Cubs, who collected four firsts and 55 points, and Rick Reuschel of the San Francisco Giants, who had eight firsts and 54 points. ... Bedrosian, 30, the Fireman of the Year, had the most saves (40) and the fewest victories ever by a Cy Young winner. He had a 2.83 ERA in 65 games and set a major league record with saves in 13 consecutive appearances last spring."
Clearly, no one could really make up their mind that year, but an exciting consecutive saves streak could've easily swayed a few voters in Bedrosian's favor.

1989 - Mark Davis - San Diego Padres
70 G, 65 Games Finished, 4-3 W-L, 44-for-48 Sv., 1.85 ERA, 92.2 IP

Mark Davis seems like the oddest person on this list to me, though the numbers he put up in 1989 were certainly more-than-respectable. Saving 44 games in 48 chances puts him on par with the modern-day relievers, and his 1.85 ERA is excellent. He even averaged 4 outs per appearance while pitching in very high leverage situations. It's about all you can ask for in a closer. Of course, today that wouldn't be enough to win the Cy Young. In 1989, though, when the closer position was still getting "defined" by managers and agents alike, these numbers were hard to ignore. But what really won him the award was how he finished the year. From the 1989 Street & Smith's:
"Davis, 29, had the best season ever by a Padres reliever. The National League Fireman of the Year won four games and recorded 44 saves in 48 opportunities with a 1.85 ERA. The left-hander was almost untouchable in the final month, in which he pitched 24 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings and stranded all 19 runners he inherited. Davis had 19 of the 24 first place votes and 107 points. Mike Scott of Houston was the runner-up with four firsts and 65 points, followed by Greg Maddux of Chicago (17)."
Davis was incredibly fortunate. 1989 happened to be his contract year, and he was able to parlay his Cy Young award into a 3 year, $10 million contract with the Royals, whose own Bret Saberhagen was the '89 Cy Young winner in the AL. Davis would never again save more than 6 games in a year.

1992 - Dennis Eckersley* - Oakland A's
69 G, 65 Games Finished, 7-1 W-L, 51-for-54 Sv., 1.91 ERA, 80 IP

The ultimate closer Cy Young winner, Eck had a pretty fantastic season in 1992. He won the Cy Young award and the MVP award that year. Bobby Thigpen had set the record for most saves in a season with 57 only the year before, but when Eck notched 51 he was still only the second person to break the 50-save mark. But Eck only blew 3 saves all season while Thigpen, in his record setting year, blew 8. Also, Eck was able to strike out 93 batters in 80 IP. Thigpen was only able to strike out 70 batters in 88.2 IP.

That's about all I can find as differences between the two pitchers. What I think put Eckersley over the top, though, was his flair and popularity. By this time, he had been an ace reliever for 5 years now and that 51 saves in 54 opportunities stat was really rather impressive. It was a story that the writers just couldn't ignore. Eck ran away with the award.

2003 - Eric Gagne - Los Angeles Dodgers
77 G, 67 Games Finished, 2-3 W-L, 55-for-55 Sv., 1.20 ERA, 82.1 IP

No reliever would win the award for ten more years. By that time, the writers seemed to realize that they were awarding too many relievers the Cy and that every year it seemed that the bar kept getting reset for what constituted a star reliever. They finally seemed to get scared off from rewarding closers for high save totals. It didn't hurt that they now had a crop of starting pitchers the likes of which hadn't been seen in decades. It was really easy not to vote for the Randy Myers' of the world when you could instead vote for Randy Johnson or Roger Clemens or Greg Maddux.

Eventually, though, some closer was going to do something so fantastic that the writers would swarm back to him. That someone was Eric Gagne, who converted all 55 save opportunities he was provided in 2003 as part of an eventual 84 consecutive saves streak. Gagne was also a spectacle on the mound, with his wild hair, goatee and goggles. The fact that he was able to strike out 137 batters in only 82 IP was also incredibly impressive. In his 77 appearances, Gagne entered the game with the bases empty 69 times, and his average outing lasted just 3.2 outs. In fact, he only pitched more than one inning 13 times. Despite all of that, Baseball Reference shows that he faced high leverage situations the vast majority of his appearance.

In the end, Gagne is a perfect example of what needs to happen for a closer to win the Cy Young these days: he needs a perfect-to-near-perfect season and he needs to make a good story for the writers to follow him. If a closer can do this, especially if his appearance and/or performance is as electric as vintage-Gagne, then he just might win the Cy. Anything other than that, including a perfect-but-boring season (see: Lidge, Brad) or a record-setting season (see: Rodriguez, Francisco), just won't cut it these days.

In the 19 years between 1974 and 1992, there were eight different relievers who won the Cy Young award. In the 17 years since then, there has been only one. It seems to have taken the people voting on the Cy Young awards quite a while before they were able to realize that a merely "strong" season from a closer is just not enough to earn the Cy Young, but I'm happy they have. There are definitely seasons here and there that deserve the recognition (Fingers, Gagne, maybe Eck, maybe Marshall), but they aren't nearly as plentiful as the 1970s and 1980s seemed to suggest.

I am a little surprised at the reasons that these relievers were awarded the Cy Young. I assumed it would have to do with the changing saves expectations, but that only seemed to come into play on one or two awards. Mostly, it was either strong performances from already-popular players or one or two really excellent streaks that would capture the public's attention (like Bedrosian or Davis). Even that, though, seems to have slowed down considerably... and that can only be a good thing.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Keeping Things Interesting: April 22, 2009

Yesterday's Most Interesting
It was a weird day in Toronto yesterday. In the sixth inning of the game, Hank Blalock fouled off a pitch from Halladay, breaking his bat. The heavy part of the bat flew backwards and struck home plate umpire Kerwin Danley in the eye. He was taken off the field on a stretcher, but it appears that nothing too serious happened. We can all be grateful for that.

As for the game on the field, the Rangers were able to capitalize on a few Halladay mistakes to win the game 5-4. In 8 innings pitched, Doc was able to strike out 9 batters and walk none. He did, however, give up 8 hits, two of which were two-run homers. That was enough for the Rangers. Halladay drops to 3-1 on the year, and the Blue Jays' lead in the East drops to only 1.5 games.

More From Yesterday
The Brewers picked up in Philly today exactly where they left off in the playoffs last year, with a big loss to the Phils. Ryan Braun hit 2 home runs, but that wasn't near enough to counter the walks and timely hitting of the Phillies. Milwaukee lost 11-4. On a cold and ugly night in Chicago, Rich Harden pitched six effective innings, striking out 8 and allowing only 3 hits. The Cubs beat the Reds 7-2. In Houston, the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw was not able to repeat last week's performance. Unable to make it out of the fifth inning despite an early lead, Kershaw allowed 6 runs and struck out only 3 as the Dodgers lost 8-5. In Pittsburgh, the Pirates played another good game against the East-leading Marlins, winning 3-2. The Nationals also played another good game, beating the Braves for the second game in a row. They are now 3-10.

The Royals made a furious comeback in the late innings against the Indians yesterday, but weren't able to pull it out even after scoring 6 runs in the 8th and 9th innings. Cleveland gets the win, 8-7. The Yankees beat the A's 5-4 in the new Yankee Stadium thanks to a 4-run second inning off of Dana Eveland. Rivera's entrance to Enter Sandman must have been a welcome sound to those Yankee fans who actually showed up. In Baltimore, the Orioles scored exactly 2 runs in 5 different innings yesterday, including the 5th through 8th innings, to beat the White Sox 10-3. The O's are now 7-7, including 5-2 at home. In Seattle, the Mariners scored 3 runs in the 4th inning behind two triples by catcher Reed Johnson and shortstop Yuniel Betancourt. That proved to be enough, as the M's beat the Rays 4-2.

Today's Games
Yesterday's rain delay in Boston means a day-night doubleheader today. In the first game, Minnesota's Scott Baker faces Tim Wakefield. In the nightcap, it's Francisco Liriano vs. Brad Penny. Brad Penny is interesting in that he has an era of 11.00 right now, but a record of 1-0. He got some serious offensive help in that second start. Saber-friendly, and Joe Posnanski man-crush, Brian Bannister will make his first start of the year for the Royals, as they face off against the Indians. I'm certainly pulling for Banny to put up a good year this year - his embracing of sabermetrics is refreshing and it's hard not to like him after reading all that Pos has to say - but I'm a little afraid he won't be able to do it. Two aces face off in Baltimore tonight, but the matchup only serves as a reminder for where the two pitching staffs currently are: the White Sox will start the young and exciting John Danks against the less-than-thrilling Jeremy Guthrie.

In Houston, Roy Oswalt will take on the Dodgers and hope to extend their losing streak to 2 games. Two teams will be looking for the surprising sweep today when they take the field. Pittsburgh will have their de facto ace Paul Maholm on the mound as they try to complete the sweep of the Florida Marlins, while the Braves hope that the young Jair Jurrjens will be able to keep the lowly Nats from sweeping them.

Today's Most Interesting
The most interesting game of the day, though, can be found in Phoenix, between the Colorado Rockies and the Arizona Diamondbacks. In the final game of the series, Dan Haren takes the hill for the Dbacks to face off against Colorado's Jorge De La Rosa. In the three games that Haren has pitched so far this year, he has gone six or seven innings in each of them, never giving up more than 2 runs and striking out as many as 9 batters. On the year, Haren's line looks like this: 19 IP, 17 K, 12 H, 3 BB, and 1.89 ERA. He also has zero wins and three losses. In short, Haren has been shafted by incredibly poor run support in his three starts this year. Hopefully, pitching in Arizona and facing the not-exactly-pitching-rich Rockies will turn that around for him and he'll be able to get that much-earned 'W'. And that's why this is the most interesting game of the day.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Keeping Things Interesting: April 21, 2009

Yesterday's Most Interesting
In a day full of east coast rainouts, the Florida Marlins are probably wishing that they could've joined that list. Behind the steady bats of Adam LaRoche and Nate McLouth and the excellent pitching of Ross Ohlendorf, the Pirates handed the Marlins their first road loss of the year (and only second overall loss) with a two-hit, 8-0 shutout. Florida was only able to manage four baserunners all game, with only one walk and one runner reaching base by error. It was a great game for the Pirates, and they should be feeling quite pleased with it. However, we all knew that Florida wasn't an 11-1 team, so it can't come as a shock to see them lose on the road. But for those lucky hometown few who actually made it out to the ballpark, they saw a pretty fun game.

More From Yesterday
On a day where there weren't many games scheduled to be played anyway, a rainout in two different cities is quite significant. In yet another "first" for the stadium, the A's-Yankees tilt at the new Yankee Stadium was rained out. The San Diego-Philly game was also postponed.

In the games that actually played, the Red Sox crushed the Orioles 12-1 to complete a four-game sweep on Boston's Patriot's Day. Baltimore fans cannot be happy this morning. In Houston, the Astros continued their weak play at home in losing to the Reds 4-3. Bronson Arroyo improves to 3-0 on the year and Carlos Lee and Lance Berkman both hit home runs for the 'Stros. The Nationals surprised everyone by taking a lead into the ninth inning and actually holding it. Joel Hanrahan earns his first save of the year and Josh Zimmerman, in his major league debut, earns the win while giving up 6 hits and 1 walk with 3 strikouts in 6 innings pitched. The Nats improve to 2-10 while the Braves fall to 6-7.

Today's Games
With a full slate of games today (assuming the weather cooperates, of course), there's a lot to talk about. Rich Harden heads to the hill for the Cubs today, trying to improve on his historic loss from last week. He'll be taking on the Reds and Micah Owings, who hasn't been pitching all too great this year. The Dodgers take their 8-game winning streak on the road to Houston, where young stud Clayton Kershaw faces Russ Ortiz. In Philadelphia, the Brewers and Phillies meet for the first time since the World Champs knocked the Crew out of the playoffs (right in front of me, I might add). Joe Blanton, who started that Game 4, will pitch for the Phillies against a struggling Manny Parra. And in what will be just one of many excellent NL West pitching matchups throughout the year, San Diego's Jake Peavy will face San Francisco's Matt Cain at AT&T Park.

In the AL, the Royals visit Cleveland to face the Indians for their second series of the year. Aruban royalty Sir Sidney will take the mound for the Royals against Cleveland's Aaron Laffey. The Twins play the first of a quick two-game series at Fenway Park today and will face knuckler Tim Wakefield, fresh off his near no-hitter in Oakland. In Seattle, the last-place 5-8 Rays take on the first-place 8-5 Mariners in a battle of teams not quite playing as predicted. Andy Sonnanstine will take on Jarrod Washburn. Andy Pettite will finally get to face Dana Eveland in the new Yankee Stadium after yesterday's rainout. I wonder how the rainy weather and different air conditions will affect the Stadium this week.

Today's Most Interesting
The most interesting game of the day, though, is the Texas Rangers at Toronto Blue Jays. While the Rangers have had an interesting first couple of weeks and have been featured here a couple of times, the Blue Jays have been flying under the radar. You could attribute that to the fact that they play their home games up in Canada but it's more likely because they just aren't the Red Sox or Yankees (or even Rays). With the stadium opening in New York, all the excitement about the young, surprising Rays from last year, and because the Red Sox are the Red Sox, the press just doesn't have a lot of room for Toronto. But they currently sit comfortably atop the AL East, with a 10-4 overall record and a 5-2 home record. And, with Doc Halladay taking the mound for them today (3-0, 17 Ks, 3 BB, 3.00 ERA in 21 IP), they have a pretty good shot at stretching that lead. The Rangers hope Brandon McCarthy can do something about that, but it'll be hard. Whatever happens, though, this game is still the most interesting game of the day.

Monday, April 20, 2009

How Good are Postseason Awards at Finding Hall of Famers?

I know that it's the start of the season and that postseason awards are pretty far from most people's minds, but bear with me. A thought occurred to me last night, and I just had to look into it: has there ever been a season where the six major award winners were all Hall of Famers?

When the three major postseason awards - MVP, Cy Young, and Rookie of the Year - are handed out every year, the goal is, ostensibly, to reward the player with the best year. It's understandable, then, that, from year-to-year, there are non-HOF players whose career years are rewarded with a major award. Maybe it's Willie McGee's MVP season in 1985, or David Cone's Cy Young season in 1994, or Fernando Valenzuela's Rookie of the Year/Cy Young season in 1981, but there is no doubt that these seasons happen and deserve to be rewarded. Still, you would think that, with decades of awards being handed out, there would be at least one or two years where the six award-winning performances were swept by future Hall of Famers. After all, if these players are all Hall-worthy, then it's not too far-fetched to think that they would be able to put up worthy seasons at the same time.

It's surprising to me then to find out that, in fact, there are no such seasons. The closest I can find is 1959. That year, HOFers Nellie Fox and Ernie Banks won the two MVP awards, HOFer Early Wynn won the one-and-only Cy Young award, and HOFer Willie McCovey won one of the two Rookie of the Year awards (the illustrious Bob Allison won the other ROY award). That's 4 of 5 awards going to eventual Hall of Famers. There are two other seasons that have 4 Hall of Famers, but they all occurred in the six-award era (ie, two award-winners for each of the three awards per year).
Seasons with 4 or more Hall-of-Famers Receiving MVP, Cy Young, or Rookie of the Year Awards
1959* (4): MVP - Nellie Fox, Ernie Banks. Cy Young - Early Wynn. ROY - Willie McCovey.
1967 (4): MVP - Carl Yastrzemski, Orlando Cepeda. ROY - Rod Carew, Tom Seaver.
1972 (4): MVP - Johnny Bench. Cy Young - Gaylord Perry, Steve Carlton. ROY - Carlton Fisk.
* Only 1 Cy Young Awarded
1967 was clearly a good year for rookies.

After looking at the results, I thought that maybe the unreliability of the Rookie of the Year award might be what was keeping us from finding a HOFer clean-sweep. With so many players like Gregg Olson or Marty Cordova winning the Rookie of the Year award, it seemed reasonable that those less-than-successful winners might be dragging down the results. I decided to remove the ROY award from the search and see if I could find any years where the MVP and Cy Young awards were swept by Hall of Famers. There are, in fact, three such seasons, but all before 1967, when the Cy Young was expanded to award pitchers in each league.
Seasons with 3 or more Hall-of-Famers Receiving MVP or Cy Young Awards
1957* (3):
MVP - Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle. Cy Young - Warren Spahn.
1959* (3):
MVP - Nellie Fox, Ernie Banks. Cy Young - Early Wynn.
1966* (3):
MVP - Roberto Clemente, Frank Robinson. Cy Young - Sandy Koufax.
1969 (3):
MVP - Willie McCovey, Harmon Killebrew. Cy Young - Tom Seaver.
1972 (3):
MVP - Johnny Bench. Cy Young - Gaylord Perry, Steve Carlton.
1973 (3):
MVP - Reggie Jackson. Cy Young - Tom Seaver, Jim Palmer.
1975 (3):
MVP - Joe Morgan. Cy Young - Tom Seaver, Jim Palmer.
1980 (3):
MVP - Mike Schmidt, George Brett. Cy Young - Steve Carlton.
1981 (3):
MVP - Rollie Fingers, Mike Schmidt. Cy Young - Rollie Fingers.
*Only 1 Cy Young Awarded
Now that 1957 season is what I'm looking for... Aaron, Mantle, Spahn. That's a good list.

But what about recent seasons? There are plenty of award-winners from the last 20 or so years who are either not yet eligible for the Hall or who are still on the ballot. Taking a look at the winners from those years and using my best judgment - is Barry Larkin a likely HOFer? Yes. Juan Gonzalez? Not so much. - I came up with a list of seasons where 4 or more of the major award winners are likely to be in the Hall of Fame.

Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens provided a little bit of a challenge, since it's hard to know how the writers are actually going to vote on those two. But, beyond steroids allegations, I don't think anyone really believes that these two shouldn't be in the Hall, so I decided to count them. With Bonds, Clemens, Maddux, and Johnson winning so many awards in the last 20 years, the list becomes pretty full. They even help produce what might be the first clean-sweep of the six major awards by Hall of Famers.

In 2001, Barry Bonds won his fourth MVP award and Roger Clemens won his sixth Cy Young award. Randy Johnson also won his second Cy Young award that year. The rookies that year were Ichiro, who became only the second player to win MVP and ROY in the same season, and Albert Pujols. If Ichiro and Pujols continue their stellar careers (and, after 8 years, it's unlikely that they won't), they should be shoo-ins for the Hall, making 2001 the first year in which all six major awards were won by Hall of Famers. It's amazing to me that it's taken so long.
Recent Seasons that will Likely Provide 4 or more Hall-of-Famers Receiving MVP, Cy Young, or Rookie of the Year Awards
2001 (6): MVP - Barry Bonds, Ichiro. Cy Young - Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens. ROY - Ichiro, Albert Pujols.
1999 (5): MVP - Chipper Jones, Ivan Rodriguez. Cy Young - Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson. ROY - Carlos Beltran(?).
1991 (4): MVP - Cal Ripken. Cy Young - Tom Glavine, Roger Clemens. ROY - Jeff Bagwell.
1992 (4): MVP - Barry Bonds, Dennis Eckersley. Cy Young - Greg Maddux, Dennis Eckersely.
1993 (4): MVP - Barry Bonds, Frank Thomas. Cy Young - Greg Maddux. ROY - Mike Piazza.
1997 (4): MVP - Larry Walker(?), Ken Griffey. Cy Young - Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens.
The 1999 season sticks out as well. If Beltran continues his strong career, it'll become the only season to have 5 Hall of Fame award winners. There are also a few more seasons in the last five years or so that could also be on this list, but it's a little too early to tell. Roy Halladay and Johan Santana both look like pretty solid HOF contenders, but so much can happen to a pitcher so quickly that it's still too early to say.

So why do so many seasons from the last 20 years make the list? Well, first, the four guys mentioned above (Bonds, Clemens, Maddux, Johnson) make a up a good portion of the list, which is only understandable since they won a total of 23 MVP and Cy Young awards among them. But second, many of the players on the list are either still playing or are too soon removed from their careers that a proper perspective is difficult. If someone had done this list 15 years ago, they may have felt that Andre Dawson or Jose Canseco were too likely Hall of Famers. Even so, I think the list above is pretty accurate.

That doesn't explain why it's taken so long for Hall of Famers to sweep the postseason awards, though. In the forty years since there have been two awards of each type, it seems that it should have happened at least once, if only by chance. But 2001 is looking pretty good, at least...

Keeping Things Interesting: April 20, 2009

Yesterday's Most Interesting
The Diamondbacks/Giants series in San Francisco proved to be quite the pitcher's duel this weekend. Either that or there was just no offense - whichever. On Friday, Dan Haren gave up only one run in six innings for the Dbacks, but the Giants won the game 2-0. On Saturday, Lincecum pitched great, striking out 13 in 8 innings while giving up no runs. The Giants provided no offense whatsoever, though, and the Dbacks won, 2-0. Finally, Randy Johnson took the hill yesterday for his third start of the season. His first two didn't go too well, but he was like the Johnson of old yesterday. In 7 innings pitched, Johnson struck out 7 batters, walked two, and gave up only 1 hit. What's more, the Giants finally decided to help him with a little bit of offense. For the third game in a row, the final score was 2-0, with the Giants winning the rubber match. That's win #296 for the Big Unit, and the Giants are hoping for many more.

More From Yesterday
The saddest game from yesterday was in Washington. For the third game in a row, the one-win Nationals blew an early lead in the late innings to the one-loss Marlins, this time giving up 4 runs in the top of the ninth to lose by 3. That has to be utterly depressing to those in the Nats' family. The Yankees were finally able to get past the Indians at the new Yankee Stadium, but they had to wait until Carl Pavano exited the game to do it, scoring 6 runs in the 7th and 8th innings off the Cleveland bullpen.

The defending champs avoided the sweep by the surprising Padres this afternoon by scoring three runs in the 8th and 9th innings to win 5-4. The Phillies have yet to win a series. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, the Dodgers clobbered Ubaldo Jimenez and the Rockies, 14-2, to remain the only team still undefeated at home.

Today's Games
Being a Monday, today's schedule is really thin, with only 7 games on tap. The Braves come into Washington to face the Nats. Derek Lowe will pitch for Atlanta while Wisconsin's own Jordan Zimmerman makes his major league debut for the Nats. In Philadelphia, the surprising 9-4 Padres will face Jamie Moyer and the Phils. Mike Hampton takes the hill in Houston, as the Astros host Bronson Arroyo and the Reds. If Hampton can continue to repeat his performance from last week, he might be the story of the year. I doubt that will happen, though. Finally, the Yankees continue their inaugural homestand against the A's. Andy Pettite will do his best to keep the ball in the yard for the Yanks, as he faces off against Dana Eveland. Hopefully we'll see a low-scoring game soon, so we can stop hearing the New York media get worked up over the Stadium's high-scoring ways. (Weren't we saying the exact same thing last week about the Ballpark in Arlington, and didn't they just complete a low-scoring series, including a shutout by Zack Greinke?)

Today's Most Interesting
The most interesting game of the day, though, is the Florida Marlins at the Pittsburgh Pirates. I know that I've paid a lot of attention to the Marlins in the last couple of weeks, but it's hard not to when they sport that gaudy 11-1 record. It's still early April and all, but being ten games over .500 at any point bodes well for your season.

After a rough weekend in Washington where the Marlins were able to "prove their mettle" with three late-inning. come-from-behind victories, they are still undefeated on the road. The Pirates, on the other hand, are a perfect .500, with a 6-6 record overall and a 3-3 record at home. Florida's Andrew Miller will take on Pittsburgh's Ross Ohlendorf in the contest. I don't know if there's anything about today's game to make a Florida loss likely, but the streak has to end sometime, and there's no reason to think it won't be today.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Keeping Things Interesting: April 17, 2009

Yesterday's Most Interesting
So, the Yankees opened up their new ballpark yesterday against the (seemingly) lowly Indians. There was about as much fanfare as you could imagine and, by pretty much all accounts, it went plenty well. Except for the, you know, baseball part. CC pitched fair in his New York City debut, but it wasn't the dominant performance the Yankees shelled out $161 million for. The game was tied in the sixth inning when he was replaced by Edwar Ramirez and Phil Coke. The bullpen fell apart the next inning, though, giving up nine runs to the Indians in the seventh, including a bases loaded walk and a grand slam. The Indians won their third game of the season with a 10-2 rout of the Yankees. At least "old school Yankee" Jorge Posada got the stadium's first home run.

More From Yesterday
The Marlins completed their sweep of the Braves yesterday, with Sanchez beating Kawakami 6-2. When the series began, it was a battle between the two best records in baseball. Today, the Marlins stand alone as the team with the best record in baseball at 8-1, while the Braves are back to 5-4. In Tampa, the Rays lost their first game against the White Sox by a score of 3-2, dropping Tampa to 4-6 and 4th place in the East. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays continued their hot start by thrashing the Twins behind a 7-run seventh. They hold on to first place in their division with a 7-3 record, one of the best in the AL.

The Padres took the rubber match in Citi Field, handing the Mets their first series-loss in the new ballpark. Behind a fair outing by Jake Peavy and a 5-run third inning (powered mostly by basehits), the Pads were able to beat the Mets 6-5. The biggest news in the NL, though, was from Washington, where the Nationals beat Joe Blanton and the rest of the World Champs for their first win of the season. At 1-7, there are no longer any winless teams in baseball. Adam Dunn hit a three-run home run in the first inning to get the Nats started, and they never looked back. Washington fans have to hope that they'll be hearing similar game stories many more times throughout this long season.

Today's Games
The Yankees hope to play a little more respectably in Game 2 of the the new Yankee Stadium era. Joba Chamberlain will take the hill against Cleveland's Anthony Reyes in an attempt to do just that. In other New York news, the Brewers come into town to play the Mets in Citi Field. Ever-consistent Dave Bush will take on the ageless Livan Hernandez in the first game of that series. The Phillies and Padres will feature the best pitching matchup of the night, as Chris Young takes on Cole Hamels. In two starts this season, Young is 2-0 with a sparkling 1.38 ERA. Hamels, on the other hand, is 0-1 with a 17.18 ERA. The Giants will also host a great pitching matchup, as Dan Haren (0-2, but with a 2.08 ERA) takes on the Giants' young Jonathan Sanchez. Playing in AT&T Park, that should be a good game to watch.

In the AL, the Mariners hope to continue their hot start, when they throw Felix Hernandez against the Tigers' Justing Verlander. In Texas, the Rangers will once again try to outslug their opponent. Gil Meche and the Royals will do their best to slow that offense down - if it's even possible.

Today's Most Interesting
The matchup in Washington, between the 8-1 Florida Marlins and the 1-7 Washington Nationals, has to be the most interesting game of the day. It may not be a classic pitcher's duel or anything, but it's always interesting to see two teams in such drastically different positions face off against each other. It's always hard to judge a team's true talent, especially this early in the season. I don't think there are many people who believe the Marlins are as good as their record or that the Nats are as bad as theirs. This weekend's series, then, can go a long way towards either tempering everyone's excitement about the Marlins or enciting everyone's worries about the Nats. It should be fun. That's why tonight's matchup is the most interesting of the day.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Keeping Things Interesting: April 16, 2009

The Orioles and Rangers put on a big show last night, much bigger than I could even have predicted. I pointed out in this post yesterday that, in the five games at The Ballpark, seventy-four runs had been scored. Well, you can add another 25(!) to that, as the Rangers crushed the O's 19-6. Ian Kinsler became the second player to hit for the cycle this week, doing it with 2 doubles and 6 hits. He also drove in four runs and scored five times. Needless to say, the O's pitching staff did not have a good game. The big question, though, how long will this offense keep up in Texas? Ninety-nine runs in 6 games is just insane. That'll have to come back down to earth at some point - right?

In other games, the Tigers put up another solid offensive performance, this time against the White Sox. With the 9-0 victory, Detroit is now 4-1 in Comerica. In Arizona, the Cards also showed a strong offensive game, beating the D-Backs 12-7. The Indians won their second game of the year, beating the Sidney Ponson-Kyle Farnsworth combo the Royals threw at them. Even with the loss, the Royals still find themselves at 5-4.

In New York, Oliver Perez may not have pitched like Sandy Koufax, but he did perform well enough to give the Mets their first win in Citi Field. In six innings, Perez struck out four while only giving up one run and three hits. The Brewers were also able to pull out a win tonight, beating the Reds 9-3, behind a pair of home runs by Mike Cameron. Braden Looper earned his first win as a Brewer. Rich Harden did not fare so well, though. In only three innings of work, Harden walked four and gave up five hits and four runs. He did also manage to strike out 8 Rockies (of his nine outs recorded). That probably explains how he went through 92 pitches in only 3 innings. The Giants scored three runs in the 8th inning last night in Los Angeles to take a 4-2 lead. It wouldn't hold, though, and the Dodgers would win 5-4 on a bases loaded walk in the bottom of the ninth. The Giants are now 0-5 on the road.

Today's schedule begins in Atlanta, as the Braves finish off their series with the Marlins. Florida has taken the first two games, and hope to finish off the sweep behind the arm of Anibal Sanchez. The Braves Kenshin Kawakami will try to put a stop to that. In other games, the Pirates hope to finish off their first home series of the year with a win against the less-than-impressive Astros while the Phillies look to get back on track against the Nationals, behind the young arm of Cole Hamels. The Mariners hope to continue their hot start to the season against the Angels.

In the newly christened Citi Field, the Mets will play the rubber match against the Padres. John Maine takes on Jake Peavy in what should be a pretty good game. In Los Angeles, the Giants will trot out their $126 million man for his second start of the year. He will face the Dodgers' Eric Stults who, contrary to popular opinion, did not star in a popular Quentin Tarantino movie. Meanwhile, the Cubs will host the first game of their heated rivalry with the St Louis Cardinals at Wrigley. Adam Wainwright will take on Sean Marshall to start that series off.

The most interesting game of the day, though, has to be the Cleveland Indians vs. the New York Yankees. I don't know, but you may have read that the Yankees will be opening the new Yankee Stadium today. I guess it's a big deal. CC Sabathia will make his New York City debut in the House that NYC Built, taking on reigning Cy Young Cliff Lee. Hopefully CC will be able to get past the intense emotions and jitters of such a big debut to put on a show for the New York crowd. I'm not sure if the man can, considering his past performance in high-intensity situations, but, if he does, it should be quite the show. As much as I may not want to admit it, this matchup is the most interesting of the day.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Stranding the Bases Loaded

I was watching the Brewers do their best to lose to the Reds last night. In the third inning, Prince Fielder came up to bat with two outs and the bases loaded and promptly flew out to shallow left to end the inning. As it happened, I thought to myself "Oh man! Not again!" I didn't know the numbers at the time, but it certainly *seemed* like the Brewers had ended way too many innings in this short season with the bases loaded (it didn't help that I was under the impression that that was the second inning of the day that it had happened - I was wrong, but still). I decided to look into it and see just how many times a year a team lets this happen.

I played around with the data in the Retrosheet database for a little bit and found a few interesting things. First things first, the teams that stranded the bases loaded the most (and least) number of times last year.

2008 Teams that Stranded the Bases Loaded the Most
New York Mets...........72 innings
Philadelphia Phillies...69
Florida Marlins.........69
Atlanta Braves..........67
Boston Red Sox..........64

2008 Teams that Stranded the Bases Loaded the Least
Kansas City Royals......33 innings
Minnesota Twins.........36
Seattle Mariners........38
Houston Astros..........42
San Francisco Giants....45

It's nice to see teams like the Royals and Giants at the bottom of the list - though I'm afraid that they're probably on the bottom of the list only because they just don't load the bases that often. I might have to check on that.

As deflating as leaving the bases loaded can be, it can get worse: when you leave the bases loaded more than once in a game. It turns out, though, that it isn't all that uncommon of an occurrence. In the 2008 season alone, there were 230 games where one team stranded the bases loaded more than once. The leaders in that regard are:

2008 Teams that Stranded the Bases Loaded More Than Once in a Single Game
Philadelphia Phillies...13 games
Atlanta Braves..........12
Oakland A's.............11
New York Mets...........11
Cincinnati Reds.........11

Which, of course, led me to wonder what team stranded the bases loaded the most in a single game. In the 2008 season, it was the Phillies on June 15, 2008, at Busch Stadium. In a ten inning game, the Phillies left the bases loaded in four different innings: the 2nd, 5th, 8th, and 9th. At least they were able to score 5 runs in those innings.

It turns out that what the Phillies did that June 15 is actually pretty rare. In the entire Retrosheet era, there have been only 42 games total where a single team stranded the bases loaded 4 different times. That's less than once a year. In fact, the 5 runs scored by the Phils in those innings makes them one of the more successful of these teams. Some teams actually were unable to score any runs in their 4 bases-loaded innings.

As rare as this is, though, there have actually been two games in which runners were stranded with the bases loaded in more than four innings.

Team Stranding the Bases Loaded in the Most Innings In a Single Game
Los Angeles Dodgers on July 27, 1990..........6 innings*
Boston Red Sox on May 2, 1971 (Game 2)........5 innings
(42 separate games)...........................4 innings

* game went into extra innings

It's hard to claim these two games as the outright record-holders, though. The Dodgers game took 12 innings to play and they stranded the bases loaded in the 10th and 11th. They were able to win the game in the 12th with a bases loaded single. Technically, they "stranded" the bases loaded in that 12th inning, but it's hard to lump that together with the other innings. The Red Sox game was a standard 9-inning game but, again, the Sox won it in the 9th with a walk-off single, technically stranding the bases loaded. Still, can you imagine going to a game and watching your favorite team leave the bases loaded inning-after-inning. In that Red Sox game, for example, they left the bases loaded every other inning. As a fan, that would be incredibly frustrating. At least in that example they were able to pull it out at the end of the game.

I understand that this may not be the most exciting piece of information, but I do think it is something worth knowing. Stranding the bases loaded is obviously something that every team does, but I think it's pretty clear that some teams tend to do it more often. All you can hope for is that your team makes the most of the situations it has and scores some runs before the innings end.