Friday, May 29, 2009

Yaz and the Triple Crown

As Bill over at The Daily Something so helpfully pointed out the other day, the slugging duo of Frank Thomas and Jeff Bagwell both turned 41 on Wednesday. The coincidence of their identical birthdays and their subsequent HOF-caliber careers is all very interesting (and likely worthy of its own post), but, even more, it allows for me to introduce this article I found in the 1997 Sporting News preview guide:
"Do you realize how long, how interminably long, it has been since anyone captured the Triple Crown?

'Flower Power' was the hippie craze. The Flying Nun and Gomer Pyle, USMC were the top-rated TV shows. And Mo Vaughn, Jeff Bagwell, and Frank Thomas, all with a great shot at winning the crown, were not yet born.

That's right. The last Triple Crown winner, Boston's Carl Yastrzemski, achieved the feat in 1967, forty-two years ago now. And to think, this article, written in 1997, was already lamenting the thirty year gap in Crown winners. But we were an optimistic bunch in '97, and there was a lot of hope for a Triple Crown in the near future. Yaz was one of the hopefuls himself:
"Yaz believes it's 'going to happen, there's no doubt about it. It's going to happen within the next couple of years,' he predicts.
Yastrzemski notes that expansion, thinner pitching staffs and the new, retro bandbox parks that are the late-century fad will continue to shoot batting averages higher and give players a better chance at finally reaching the Triple Crown."
Of course, it hasn't played out like that. Expansion and thinner pitching staffs may have played their parts in the offense explosion of the late-'90s (among other things), along with the "late-century fad" of "retro bandbox parks", but they never converged in the form of a Triple Crown. And, actually, they didn't change things all that much. From the 1997 article:
"Since Yaz won his crown, 31 players have captured two-thirds of the trifecta. But of those players, only Joe Torre in 1971 and Al Oliver in 1982 won batting titles.

'Winning the home run and RBI titles goes hand in hand many years. A lot of people have done that,' Yaz says. 'Getting that third part is the difficult part. But to be honest, I expected it to happen before now because there's so much talent out there.'"
Since 1997, the number of players who have captured two-thirds of the trifecta has increased to 43, and two of those players won a batting title: Todd Helton in 2000 and Matt Holliday in 2007. Helton batted .372 that year with 147 RBIs, but his 42 home runs were good enough for only 7th (Sosa paced the circuit with 50). Holliday led his league with a .340 average and 137 RBIs. His 36 home runs, however, placed him only in 4th (to Prince Fielder's 50). The two Rockies did go a short way to proving Yaz right:
"Thomas, Vaughn, Bagwell, Barry Bonds and Mike Piazza, Yaz says, are hitters who have proved they are capable of achieving the Triple Crown. He also likes the chances of any good hitter who plays in air-thin Colorado. But the player he predicts will win it next is Ken Griffey Jr."
Yaz also provided a little bit of context surrounding his quest for the Crown:
"'The big thing was just being involved in the pennant race that year,' Yaz says. 'When I was going for my 3,000th hit (in 1979), we weren't involved in the race and I went 10 or 11 at-bats trying to get that hit.

'But being in the pennant race, I was so focused that I didn't know I had won it until the next day. There wasn't any media attention on the Triple Crown. None whatsoever. It was the first time Boston had been in a pennant race in a long time, and everything and everyone was focused on it.'

Yaz hit .523 with five homers and 16 RBIs during the final two weeks. Over the last two days in a critical series against Minnesota, he went 7-for-8, including a three-run homer that won the game on the second-to-last day."
No media attention? To someone born of today's era like me, this just seems impossible to believe. Maybe the Triple Crown just wasn't as exciting at the time. Frank Robinson had won it the year before, and Mantle won it ten years before that (and Williams 9 years before that). That's not really all that rare. At the time, it was happening about as frequently as an NL All-Star victory today: rare, but inevitable.

Whatever the circumstances have been over the last 42 years, the result has been a Triple Crown-less league. Many people have speculated as to why this is - I personally believe that it has everything to do with batting specializations (ie, Ryan Howard-type power hitters vs. Ichiro-type contact hitters) - but, in the end, that's all it is: speculation. Either it will happen, or it won't. There's just too much going on on the baseball diamond to simply explain it away in either case.

In the end, I agree with Yaz. Eventually, it's going to happen (and, boy oh boy, can you expect a lot of press when it does).
"'Things are made to happen. Who ever thought that Pete Rose would break Ty Cobb's record? Who ever thought that Gehrig would have his consecutive-games streak broken by Cal Ripken? Those are tremendous feats by thise guys.

'So, yes, I expect another Triple Crown winner. As Ted Williams says, 'No one comes to the ballpark to see someone strike out. They come to see the home run.''"
I can't wait. Who will it be, though? The smart money is on Albert Pujols, but a player like Joe Mauer (if the current power streak proves to not be a fluke) could easily crack that too. Whoever it is, I want to see it.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Teams in Contention

A lifetime ago, I posted one of my first pieces here at wezen-ball about the Dodgers long run of non-crappy baseball (i.e., how the Dodgers have been good enough just about every year for the past 30 years to be at least be a reasonable choice to finish near the top of the division). In the comments of that post, Paul wrote this:
I made a similar point to one of my friends recently. The Dodgers haven't won the division or gone to the playoffs every year of my lifetime, but it seems like even on the years they don't go to the playoffs they're still in the race up until the last week or even the last weekend of the season. Most teams can't say that. It would be interesting (I'm too lazy to do it) to find out which teams have been still mathematically alive the for the longest number of games on average over the last 25 years. I'll bet the Dodgers will be in the top 3. My guess: Braves, Yankees, Dodgers.
It was an intriguing question, and one that I really wanted to find the answer to. At the time, though, I didn't have the means to calculate it. Even when I did get the proper databases installed on my computer, I still couldn't come up with a simple way to get it done. The idea was always in the back of my mind, though, so, this past weekend, I finally bit the bullet and did the necessary work to find the answers.

Honestly, I expected that, after spending a few hours on Saturday setting everything up, I would have all of the data to play with that night and all day Sunday. Boy, was I wrong. For whatever reason, the process that I set up was incredibly slow, requiring about 40 minutes just to process the last two months of a given season. And since I was running the data for all Retrosheet seasons (more than 50 years of data), it ended up taking a while. But, I let the computer do its thing while I was sleeping, at work, and at the ballpark, and eventually it was done. None of this matters, I know. I just wanted to point out the amount of work that it took ;-)

You can find a spreadsheet of the Average Elimination Game Number for Non-Division Winners over here. The spreadsheet is divided into eras (since 1969, 1969-1992, since 1998, etc.) and also includes the number of first place finishes each team had during that time span (since, as a division winner, they were never "eliminated"). The "Overall Game" column includes both the average elimination game of non-first place seasons and the first-place seasons (using game #162). That should give you the best representation of just how far into the season the team stays in contention during that era. It's important to note that none of the eras include any of the strike shortened seasons (1972, 1981, 1994, 1995) since they would drag down the averages.

For the most recent era (all 30 teams, since 1998), the teams that have stayed in contention the longest have been:
Team.................Avg. Elim. Game
New York Yankees..........161.2
Atlanta Braves............158.5
San Francisco Giants......156.3
St Louis Cardinals........155.9
Boston Red Sox............155.8
In this list, "contention" means "in contention for the division crown." It does not account for the Wild Card yet. Still, it's pretty surprising. In the last 11 seasons, the Giants have finished in first place only twice, but have, on average, been in contention for the division crown into the last week of the season. The Dodgers, on the other hand, sit in tenth place on this list, with an average elimination game at #153.7 (including their two division titles).

On the bottom of the list, we get:
Team.................Avg. Elim. Game
Tampa Bay Rays............137.3
Kansas City Royals........139.7
Pittsburgh Pirates........140.9
Baltimore Orioles.........141.0
And that even includes Tampa's first place finish last year. They obviously had some rough years at the start of their existence. The Pirates, Orioles, Royals, and Expos/Nats do not have that excuse, though.

Let's take a quick look at the last 25 years, as Paul suggested originally. Considering the two strike years in the '90s, the last 25 full seasons begin in 1982. From there, the best five teams have been:
Team.................Avg. Elim. Game
New York Yankees..........156.3
Atlanta Braves............154.9
St Louis Cardinals........154.6
Los Angeles Dodgers.......154.1
San Francisco Giants......153.8
Paul was pretty close. The Dodgers finish in 4th, only half a game, on average, worse than the Cardinals. Definitely nothing to sneeze at.

A few other interesting things to note:
  • The Rockies, Marlins, and Expos/Nationals have never finished in first place in a non-strike year (makes that 1994 Expos season even sadder).
  • The 26-team era, from 1969-1992, is the most unique of the eras showcased here. The Reds finish on top, with the Dodgers, Orioles, and Pirates close behind. The Yankees drop down to ninth on this list and storied franchises like the Braves, White Sox and Indians find themselves near the bottom (with Cleveland in the basement).
  • The Diamondbacks have done pretty well for themselves in their short history. On the full list (1969 and on), they finish 6th overall. Of course, if they had 40 years of history like the Royals or Padres, they might drop down a little further.
I'm sure there are more. I'll keep looking, and maybe post a few more observations once I get the Wild Card data calculated as well. In the meantime, let me know if you see anything I may have missed.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Being Part of the Crowd

On Monday afternoon, I was lucky enough to attend a fantastic game here at Miller Park. For those who missed the highlights, the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers staged one of the better pitching performances in years, as St. Louis' Chris Carpenter dueled Milwaukee's Yovani Gallardo. Gallardo pitched a no-hitter into the 6th inning, until Brendan Ryan beat out an infield single to short to leadoff the inning. Meanwhile, Chris Carpenter held onto a perfect game into the 7th inning. The perfecto was broken up when Craig Counsell hit a sharp grounder past second-baseman Skip Schumaker to lead off the seventh. In the end, both Carpenter and Gallardo pitched eight scoreless innings. The game was still 0-0 as the 10th inning started. Billy Hall would end the game in the bottom of the inning with a long walk-off single, only the Brewers third hit of the day. It was a truly fun game to be a part of, especially when the home team ended up on the right side of the 1-0 finish.

What was most remarkable about the game - and indeed was my favorite part of it - was something that most people might not remember as they drive home with the thrill of Billy's at-bat fresh in their mind. It happened in the 7th inning. When Counsell laced that ball past Schumaker to lead off the 7th inning, the stadium erupted in a long, loud cheer. It wasn't a sarcastic cheer for Counsell - instead, it was 43,000+ Brewers fan recognizing that the perfect game had been broken.

That's what I love. When you're at a ballpark witnessing a game like that, there is no official proclamation that the opposing pitcher is in the middle of a history-making game. There's no message on the jumbotron, no announcement over the PA, nothing. Instead, it's just a stadium full of baseball fans collectively recognizing something unique about the game and organically rooting for it (against it) together. Sure, the big cheer is no different than what you would get from a home run or a game-winning base hit, but those are easy. Anyone watching their first baseball game would cheer at a play like that. Counsell's hit, on the other hand, requires a certain amount of knowledge and awareness to be appreciated the way it is. It's fun to be a part of that kind of crowd.

I remember first experiencing a similar "Wow! This crowd really knows what it's doing!"-moment at a college basketball game. It was the Horizon League Championship game between UW-Milwaukee and Butler, I believe. Their star player was a big power forward who could do what he wanted down low. Late in the game, with UW-Milwaukee on the verge of winning the game and claiming a berth to the NCAAs, a foul was called under the basket. The crowd held their breath and, after hearing that the foul was called on the star PF, his fourth, they cheered wildly. It wasn't that he was fouling out - he still had one to go, after all. If that was the case, then it would've been a no-brainer to cheer the call. Instead, it was the recognition by the entire crowd that Butler's PF was now in a very sensitive position and might not be a factor in the game any longer.

I know that this kind of stuff happens everywhere, and isn't anything really special. But it's still something that I appreciate every time I go to the ballpark. It's the feel of being a part of a great crowd, and it's a big appeal of going to a live game (among many other things, of course). I'm just glad I'm lucky enough to be able to go to 20+ games like this a year. I wonder, what is it about live baseball and the ballpark crowd that appeals to you? And are there other "invisible" moments like that in other sports that I'm missing? Maybe, in football, a player saving the ball from bouncing into the end zone and downing it at the one instead? Or [something similar in hockey]? Any thoughts?

(BTW: This post, which is meant as a positive view on the game, was a little tougher to write than I expected it to be. I was watching the Brewers lose 8-1 to the Cardinals and trying to defend the Brewers' "class" to my normally level-headed brother via text message while writing it. It was all very disconcerting and depressing.)

Friday, May 22, 2009

The "Last 300-Game Winner"

When Randy Johnson takes the hill tonight in Seattle to face his old squad, he will be making his second attempt at career victory number 299, hopefully leaving him only a brief step away from the ultimate pitching milestone of 300 wins. As Johnson works his way towards the mark, the conversation has understandably turned to the 300-Win Club and what it takes to become a member. As always seems to be the case, much of the talk is focused on whether Johnson will be the last pitcher to ever reach the milestone. Bill James and Joe Posnanski discuss just that (among other things) over at, while Joe takes it even further on his blog and breaks down where 300-game winners get their wins. (BBTF adds to the discussion here.)

This, of course, is nothing new. As Tom Glavine approached the milestone in 2007, himself the third pitcher in less than five years to join the club, you could find countless articles like this one wondering the same thing:
In the last 60 years, getting 300 wins has become one of the most rare milestones: Only 10 pitchers have achieved it since the end of World War II. And since 1990, only Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens and Maddux have made it.

With the greater reliance on bullpens, pitchers making fewer starts and teams being more careful with rich arms, huge win totals are a thing of the past.

So is the 300-game winner about to be extinct?
Glavine just can't believe he'll be the last.

"Nobody looked at me 20 years ago and thought we'd be having this discussion so I'm sure there's somebody out there," he said. "They're just a little bit off the radar screen right now."
That article is actually atypical, in that it leaves open the door for future members. Most seemed to think that Glavine would, indeed be the last. But even in 2007, this line of questioning wasn't new.

Nolan Ryan won his 300th career game on July 31, 1990, in Milwaukee. It was his second attempt at the milestone victory, and even then people were writing him off as the last member. In the July 25, 1990, edition of the LA Times, Ben Walker details some reasons why:
"The game has changed so much, especially for pitchers," [Phil] Niekro said. "There are no more 300-inning pitchers. There aren't so many 20-game winners. It's just different now."

In every way, it adds up to under 300 wins. Here's why:
  • It used to be, back when complete games were commonplace, that starting pitchers got all of the decisions. Now, in an age of specialization, middle relievers and stoppers get their share. ...
  • It used to be that pitchers never got injured, or at least-for better or worse-never said they were hurt. Now, the disabled list is dotted with pitchers...
  • It used to be routine for kids to turn pro straight out of high school and reach the big leagues as teen-agers. Now, more players go to college and don't make the majors until their mid-20s...
"The money also makes a difference," Niekro said. "You don't have to stick around for a lot of years, hoping to make a million dollars. You can make that right away these days, and you don't need to hang around, punishing your body."
Only a week later, after Ryan had won his 300th game, Ron Cook wrote this in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
Here's hoping you had a good look at Nolan Ryan's 300th career victory Tuesday night. Chances are you won't see another pitcher accomplish that feat if Bert Blyleven doesn't last long enough to do it.

I realize never is a long time, but the game has changed too much to expect a pitcher to get 300 victories. Five-man rotations have replaced four-man rotations. Starts and innings are down. Appearances for long relievers, set-up men and stoppers are up. If two pitchers in each league win 20 games in an season, it's almost a miracle.
Of the young stars, Dwight Gooden, 111 victories at 25, has the best chance, but he has had arm trouble. Roger Clemens, who turns 28 today, has 109 victories and Frank Viola, 30, has 132. Neither will endure long enough to reach 300.
Interestingly enough, in that same week that Ryan was becoming the "last member" of the 300 win club, four other future 300-win club members were also pitching.
  • On July 30, only one day before Ryan's milestone, Roger Clemens won career game #109: "Clemens scattered nine hits Monday night, pitching his second consecutive shutout as the Boston Red Sox downed the Chicago White Sox, 3-0, at Boston", and
  • Randy Johnson lost career game #20: "Seattle starter Randy Johnson (9-7) lost his fourth consecutive start"
  • Two days later, on August 1, Greg Maddux won career game #53: "RHP Greg Maddux pitched his fourth complete game Wednesday. He is the only Cubs starter with more than one"
  • And finally, on August 2, Tom Glavine lost career game #36: "Tom Glavine (6-7) gave up three runs and eight hits in 6 1/3 innings. He has an 0-5 career record against Houston"
The one-line game recaps seem so innocuous in retrospect, especially when you read them alongside the cries of a passing generation. It certainly does make you wonder which game recaps from this week or next (whenever Johnson finally gets around to the milestone victory) will unknowingly feature the next 300-game winner (or two). Because it will happen.

We've been lamenting the loss of the 250-inning, 20-game winner for decades now, and we've been using it and the change in bullpen usage as excuses for our reasoning for just as long. In the meantime, though, the size of the club has increased by over 50% in the last 25 years. Granted, these were all exceptional pitchers doing exceptional things over a long time, but that's the point. There are always going to be exceptional players and they are always going to find a way to keep playing. It may take another 13 or 18 or 20 years, but we will definitely see another 300-game winner. And, if history is any indication, maybe even three or four. The fun will be in watching to see who those three or four will be.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Minimizing the Closer

When Kaz Matsui flew out to leftfielder Ryan Braun in the ninth inning of Tuesday night's game, it not only finalized the Brewers seventh consecutive victory, it also sealed Trevor Hoffman's tenth consecutive save as a Milwaukee Brewer. In each of those saves, Hoffman pitched exactly one inning and faced either 3 or 4 batters. In fact, in Hoffman's 11 appearances this year (counting his first appearance as a Brewers, when he entered the game with a five-run lead), he has faced only 35 batters while getting 33 outs. That's only two batters above the minimum. If you're the Brewers, you can't really ask for anything more from your closer than a lockdown, three-up-three-down performance night every night.

But how significant is Hoffman's streak? If you're a ballclub hoping for the most efficient stretch of baseball from your closer, what can you expect?

To answer the question, I pulled up the Play Index over at Baseball Reference (if you're already sponsoring over $35 is BR pages - as mentioned before - then the Play Index annual subscription is only $15) and ran a search: in the Retrosheet era, what is the longest streak of a pitcher earning a save while pitching exactly one inning and facing 4 or less batters? You can find the results here.

The top 5 streaks are:
It's interesting to note that this is the fifth time that Trevor Hoffman has had a streak of 10 or more games like this, with his best streak reaching 12 consecutive games at the end of the 2006 season. Three separate relievers strung together a streak of 10 consecutive games like this last season, with Troy Percival, Joakim Soria, and Jose Valverde each achieving the feat. Despite that, it's been over two years since anyone was able to better the streak (when Tom Gordon made it 14 straight games between 2006 and 2007).

Now, no one is ever going to confuse a streak like this with Gagne's 84 consecutive save conversions, or even with Lidge's perfect 2008. Still, there's something to be said for a consistent, calming, no-bull closer like the current Trevor Hoffman. It may lack the "excitement" of a Rod Beck or a Armando Benitez, but not many people are going to complain about that. Let's hope Hoffman can keep producing like this and move up those charts so we can see something truly historic.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Baseball's "New" Elite

Sean Forman, the brains behind the wonderful Baseball Reference, also keeps a blog over there. It mostly covers news about the site, but he occasionally posts more general interest items as well. The other day he posted a link to an article in Baseball Digest that he found on Google Books that was a rather interesting read. It's nothing new around these parts, but is still worth seeing.

From the September 1950 issue of Baseball Digest, "The New Elite", an article by Bob Considine, condensed from an article in the July 195o issue of Flair called "The New Society in Sports":
"The modern big leaguer is hardly of the same species as the titans of the past, who played for whatever an owner chose to toss them because they regarded the game with the eye of a religious zealot. He leaves baseball at the ball park, and it is of no concern to him until he returns to it. It would never occur to him to cross blades with an umpire, or to take the extra chance which might result in injury. He finds it a little hard to believe that infielders once carried nails with which to jab Ty Cobb before Cobb could slash them down with his spikes; that Ruth occasionally went up into the stands to wring the neck of some obscene heckler; that Bill Dickey once broke Carl Reynolds' jaw with a single punch, because Carl slid into him too hard; that Rogers Hornsby would never go to a movie for fear it would affect his batting eye; that Newsom once pitched seven innings and ran out two hits with a broken kneecap; that Pepper Martin preferred to block savage grounders with his chest or chin; that Bucky Harris played through a World Series with a broken hand and often would stick his body in the way of a hard pitch, just to get on base; that Dizzy Dean, in the middle of the 1934 World Series, put himself into a game as a pinch runner and broke up a double play by letting himself get hit in the temple."
It's important to realize that the "modern big leaguer" referred to in this article is 1950 modern. That's "modern" as in Stan Musial, Roy Campanella, Enos Slaughter, Warren Spahn, and Duke Snider. These are players who today are considered paragons of the gritty, hard-working, "for love of the game"-era, but who are completely overlooked in the damning of a generation that Considine is in the midst of here. It almost makes you think that sportswriters are blind to the contemporary stars in favor of the stars of the past. Almost.

Let's continue:
"But whatever he is, he regards any action above or beyond the call of essential duty as the temptations of the mad, or the infantile derelictions of the incorrigibly corny. He laughs at sports writers who cling wistfully to themes of the 'bitter interborough rivalry' between the Giants and Dodgers. He'd rather be a benchwarmer with a rich club - rich clubs usually win pennants, despite the preseason predictions by League Presidents Will Harridge and Ford Frick that all teams have improved mightily and all have a chance to win - than be a regular with a futile organization such as the Washington Senators or Chicago White Sox. One of his greater ambitions in baseball is to endorse a cigarette, though he might not smoke a pack during an entire season. The kid at the exit gate with an autograph book is a pestilence to be brushed aside with a 'What's in it for me?' snort."
Considine seems to be saying here that money is too big of a motivator for "today's" player (the over-the-top wordplay does make it a little difficult to parse). The player wants that cigarette endorsement even though he's not a smoker, after all. That kind of thing is a terrible thing certainly, at least when you view it through Considine's eyes. I'm not sure I understand the comments about preferring to be a benchwarmer on a rich, pennant-winning team rather than being a regular on a "futile organization", though. Wouldn't we generally consider the former a sign of a good teammate and the latter the sign of a greedy player? Or is that a change in values over the last 60 years?

It is nice to see that other things have remained the same, though, beyond the writers' contempt for "today's" players:
"Landis might also have scowled at cafe society people in the Yankees' plushy Stadium Club, where Stadium boxholders now linger over drinks and go down to see the game as fashionably late as first-nighters at the theater."
Man, did anyone ever like the crowd at Yankee Stadium?!

Considine closes the piece by listing those players who he considers excluded from this criticism:
"But it isn't my purpose here to say that *all* is clay in this Year of Dismay. A bit of the robust remains; a bit of dogged flair prevails. Here is a list, however short, of current players who could have blended into niches in the happy, howling days now gone: Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson, Ted Williams, Yogi Berra, Joe Page.

Any questions?"
Aaron, Mays, and Mantle don't show up on the list because they haven't quite reached the league yet. The Musial's and Spahn's and Snider's mentioned earlier are conspicuously absent, though.

We hear and read a lot of lamentations and pining for the glory days of baseball on tv and in the newspapersblogs these days, especially in the wake of the steroid scandal. Many of us chalk this up to faux outrage and the writers' inability to see beyond the romantic illusions of their childhood memories. We tell ourselves that writers have been doing the same thing for decades. It's nice to find articles like this then, because it shows that presumption to be true. Writers have been doing it for so long now that not even players like Stan Musial were spared the wrath. Now, if we can only get them to stop.

(Who am I kidding? In thirty years' time, some writer will be decrying the use of synthetic muscles by Lamar Bonds Jr. and will harken back to the days when players like Manny Ramirez and Albert Pujols did everything they could to improve their natural muscles... I can't wait.)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Nuke's Debut

Whenever I watch Bull Durham recently, I'm always struck by this bit of dialog after Nuke's minor league debut between the manager, Joe, and his bench coach, Larry:
Joe: He walked 18.
Larry: New league record!
Joe: Struck out 18.
Larry: Another new league record! In addition he hit the sportswriter, the public address announcer, the bull mascot twice...
Eighteen walks and eighteen strikeouts. That's 126 pitches minimum, just accounting for those 36 batters. When you consider foul balls, basehits, groundouts, flyouts and the other pitches he might need to get through an at-bat, you really start to wonder just how/why he would be left in the game for so long.

Actually, with stats like that, you can really start to wonder if it's even realistic. According to the Wikipedia page, and some of the sources it uses, writer/director Ron Shelton played minor league ball with one Steve Dalkowski (nickname, "White Lightning"), who he modeled Nuke LaLoosh after. Dalkowski supposedly threw the ball "well over" 100 MPH, with some people claiming speeds as high as 110 or 115 MPH, and was just as wild. One claim, in this Sports Hollywood piece (which the Wikipedia article uses as a source), says that Dalkowski once struck out 24 batters in a minor league game while walking 18. Another claim says that he struck out 18 and walked 18 while pitching a no-hitter in high school. The minor league stats provided for Dalkowski say that he struck out 1,396 batters and walked 1,354 in only 995 innings pitched (and, in one season, struck out 262 and walked 262 in 170 innings pitched). The Baseball Reference stats are a bit less precise.

Personally, I take the claims about Dalkowski's velocity and some of his other outlandish feats with a big grain of salt. They just seem too ridiculous to me, and completely unverifiable. The minor league stats, though, are a little more palatable, if for no other reason than BR seems to corroborate some of the numbers.

But "White Lightning" isn't the point of this post. Instead, I wanted to take a look at the major league performances that were closest to Nuke's stat line. In other words, what pitcher combined for the most strikeouts and walks in a single game? Obviously, we're not going to find any 36 walk-plus-strikeout games like Nuke's, but it's a pretty good bet that we'll find a 25 or even 30 bb+k game.

I spent forever trying to figure out an easy way to do this with the Retrosheet database that I have, but I just couldn't do it. Thankfully, I remembered that Baseball Reference's Play Index is out there for everyone to use. I queried it to find all pitchers, since 1954, who struck out and walked 8 or more batters each in a given game, and then sorted that list by the total strikeouts-plus-walks. In all, there are 103 pitchers in the Retrosheet era who have done that, and 83 of them have done it in 9 or fewer innings. Nolan Ryan did it 16 times just himself, with four of those in the top 10 performances.

The top 1011 are:

Nolan Ryan.....June 14, 1974...13....10...19....29
Nolan Ryan.....Sept 10, 1976...9.....9....18....27
Bob Veale......Sept 30, 1964...12.1..8....16....24
Sandy Koufax...May 28, 1960....13....9....15....24
Nolan Ryan.....Sept 28, 1974...9.....8....15....23
Stan Williams..May 17, 1961....11....12...11....23
Sam McDowell...July 4, 1964....7.2...11...12....23
Steve Barber...Aug 13, 1961....11....11...11....22
Jim Maloney....Aug 19, 1965....10....10...12....22
Randy Johnson..June 24, 1993...9.....8....14....22
Nolan Ryan.....Aug 19, 1977....9.....9....13....22

In those 1011 games, the pitchers' teams won 7 games and lost 4. Of the full 103 games, the pitchers' teams went 65-37-1. Clearly, the strikeouts more than offset the walks in these types of games. The most impressive of these games, of course, is Nolan Ryan's 9-inning, 9-walk, 18-strikeout game from September 1976. In only 9 innings, Ryan either walked or struck out 27 batters, for an average of 3 per inning. The Sam McDowell game in July 1964 , where he walked and struck out 23 batters in 7.2 innings, also averages out to 3 per inning, though the 11 walks seem to make it a little less impressive. Johnson's appearance from June 1993 is the most recent game on the list for quite a while. You have to drop all the way down to #41, where you'll find a Daniel Cabrera, 9-walk, 10-strikeout performance on April 12, 2006, to find a more recent game.

Finally, since Nuke LaLoosh's 18-strikeout, 18-walk game was in his debut, I thought it'd be a good idea to see what pitcher had the most walks-plus-strikeouts in their major league debut (or their near-debut). There are only two players who meet the criteria, but they are both fairly well known. Witt's line is especially interesting.

Herb Score.....Apr 15, 1955....9.....9....9.....18 (ML debut)
Bobby Witt.....Apr 17, 1986....5.....8....10....18 (career game #2)

There are no Nuke LaLoosh (or even Steve Dalkowski) type games in the Retrosheet era of Major League Baseball, but there are still some interesting games out there. I can't imagine seeing another 9-walk, 18-strikeout performance again, but, as baseball proves repeatedly, there's always room for surprises. I do feel pretty comfortable in saying that we will never see an exact copy of Nuke's game in the major leagues. He's just going to have keep that one for himself.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Revisiting the 1992 Expansion Draft

I wrote this article about 3 weeks back, as a submission to the "Baseball Prospectus Idol" competition the guys over there were having. For those of you who didn't see that before (I only saw it thanks to a Rob Neyer link), this was a competition, in the American Idol-style, to find a new weekly writer at Baseball Prospectus. Candidates would submit an article (max: 1,500 words) to BP and they would then choose the 10 best. From there, the finalists would write a new piece every week based on the theme provided and the community would vote on their favorites. The lowest vote getter would be sent home, while the others continued on another week.

Well, the finalists have been announced, and it doesn't look like I've made it. I'm disappointed, of course, but I can't complain too much. It does mean that I can finally post the article I wrote up here without fear of it interfering with the contest (the rules allowed me to post it if I wanted, but I wanted to wait until the finalists were named). My initial draft was close to 3,000 words, so I had to cut out a lot. That actually may have harmed the quality of the piece a little, but I can't complain. I think it still managed to come out pretty well. It was an idea that I had had for a while, so it seemed worth exploring. I hope you all enjoy it...

Revisiting the 1992 Expansion Draft

In the 1992 issue of the Sporting News Baseball Yearbook, Newsday’s Joe Gergen took a look at the current state of the two recently announced expansion teams from Colorado and Florida. With only a year left to build a franchise, Gergen points out many of the issues that were still facing the clubs at the time, from scouting players who may or may not be available in the Expansion Draft to building a major league stadium to even finding minor league ballclubs with which to affiliate. It's a good look at the difficulties of bringing a ballclub into existence out of thin air.

The most fascinating piece of the article, though, dealt exclusively with the Expansion Draft. Though the article was written in early 1992, at least nine months before the draft would take place, Gergen imagined what would happen in that time, choosing not only the clubs' draft choices but also predicting which free agents they would sign in an effort to be competitive that first year.

Gergen may not have been able to predict how things would play out, but his look at an alternate history piqued my curiosity - especially since his history put Mark McGwire in Colorado throughout the late-'90s.

(Quick aside: This is what McGwire's numbers would've looked like from '97-'99 if he played in Colorado, courtesy of Baseball-Reference:



It's now been over 15 years since this draft took place and, with the benefit of hindsight, we can easily say what moves would and wouldn’t have worked out. What is difficult, though, is saying exactly how that draft should have gone. Considering the rules of the draft (only one player drafted per existing club per round, the initial 15 protected players, etc.) and the secret nature of "protected player" lists, there's a little more to it than saying "Man, the Marlins should've drafted Pedro in '93!" or "The Rockies should've taken Manny!"

What is the internet good for, though, if we can't take the time to figure this out ourselves? So I did just that. Using the expansion draft rules as explained on Wikipedia, a list of active rosters from 1992 and 1993 from Retrosheet, and a "leaked" list of the protected players published in the November 13, 1992, issue of USA Today, I set about running the "perfect" draft. Instead of each team always choosing the best player available at the given draft spot, the teams would choose the player who would best fit in on that particular club. It was also important to consider the limitations of the draft when making these choices so that both teams could get the best possible lineup available. Finally, I only did the first round of the draft, since it was hard enough making those 26 picks in the first place. I also allowed each team to sign a couple of free agents, though I limited signings to players who I judged might be willing to move to an expansion city. Maybe it's arbitrary, but it seemed necessary since there was no way that Greg Maddux or Barry Bonds or Kirby Puckett would ever have landed in Colorado or Florida. A list of available free agents was compiled using Retrosheet's transactions database.

I created a spreadsheet with all the relevant information here, including the list of protected players, the list of available players, and the list of available free agents. You can also see the full hypothetical rosters I came up with (as well as Gergen's full rosters ), including the full draft and the free agent signings. In the meantime, here are the top 15 picks in the draft (with some commentary), including what team they were drafted from and how many Win Shares they earned after 1992.

1992 Expansion Draft - Revisited

1. Colorado chooses Jim Edmonds, CF, from the California Angels (302 WS)

Other more successful players like Chipper Jones or Manny Ramirez were left off the protected lists, but only because they were already ineligible for the expansion draft. Of the eligible players left off the protected lists, Edmonds is by far the best and most successful among them. With his power and range, he would be the perfect man to cover Coors Field's vast centerfield.

2. Florida chooses Jeff Conine, LF, from the Kansas City Royals (194)

3. Colorado chooses Ellis Burks, RF, from the Boston Red Sox (154)

4. Florida chooses Jamie Moyer, P, from the Detroit Tigers (179)

I can only imagine that, in 1992, people were already saying Moyer was too old to keep playing. Of course, 16 years later, he's still going. There's no way he could ever have succeeded in Colorado, though, so he goes to the Marlins.

5. Colorado chooses Al Leiter, P, from the Toronto Blue Jays (146)

6. Florida chooses Trevor Hoffman, RP, from the Cincinnati Reds (158)

Hoffman, as we all know, was actually drafted by the Marlins in '92. This time, they keep him.

7. Colorado chooses Vinny Castilla, 3B, from the Atlanta Braves (143)

8. Florida chooses Carl Everett, RF, from the New York Yankees (148)

9. Colorado chooses Dante Bichette, LF, from the Milwaukee Brewers (128)

10. Florida chooses Mark McLemore, 2B, from the Baltimore Orioles (138)

11. Colorado chooses Fernando Vina, 2B, from the New York Mets (126)

The Dodgers' Eric Young was available here, but that would prevent his teammate Tom Goodwin from getting drafted later. Vina should fit in well with the Rockies.

12. Florida chooses Miguel Batista, P, from the Pittsburgh Pirates (83)

13. Colorado chooses Robb Nen, RP, from the Texas Rangers (119)

14. Florida chooses Tom Goodwin, CF, from the Los Angeles Dodgers (50)

Goodwin may not be the most decorated player in this draft, but I think he would work out really well in Florida's outfield. With his speed and defense, I always thought of him as a poor man's Kenny Lofton. On a young team like the Marlins, he would be a quality contributor.

15. Colorado chooses Shane Reynolds, P, from the Houston Astros (93)

To round out these hypothetical rosters, I gave each team two free agent signings. As I said before, I limited the signings to players who might have realistically landed with an expansion club, so no Madduxs or Bonds or Pucketts here. These hypothetical signings are based on the actual contracts that they signed that offseason.

Hypothetical Free Agent Signings

  • Colorado signs Mark McGwire for 5 years and $28 million: by far the biggest acquisition-that-could-have-been, Mac had a terrible 1991 but played well enough in '92 to earn this nice, big contract. It's hard to say if Mac really would have left Oakland, but I think, if the money was right and the A's weren't serious enough, he would have.
  • Colorado signs Benito Santiago for 2 years and $7 million.
  • Florida signs Andres Galarraga for 1 year and $500 thousand (plus $600 thousand in incentives): Galarraga turned his career around in Colorado, hitting in the light air. His stint in San Francisco, though, shows that it wasn't a fluke. I think he would have been able to make it work in Florida as well.
  • Florida signs Wade Boggs for 3 years and $11 million: This may seem like a signing that shouldn't be possible, but, in reality, Boggs fled Boston for New York in 1993. If Florida had been the one to pursue him instead, I imagine he would've signed with them. He did sign with the expansion Devil Rays in 1998.

After all of that, the new rosters for the Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies look like this:





Benito Santiago (FA)

Darrin Fletcher, Joe Girardi


Mark McGwire (FA)

Andres Galarraga (FA)


Fernando Vina, Joey Cora

Mark McLemore, Luis Alicea


Vinny Castilla, Mike Blowers

Wade Boggs (FA)


Jose Hernandez

Ricky Gutierrez


Dante Bichette

Jeff Conine


Jim Edmonds

Tom Goodwin


Ellis Burks

Carl Everett


Al Leiter, Shane Reynolds, Andy Ashby, Bobby Witt

Jamie Moyer, Miguel Batista, Dave Burba


Robb Nen

Trevor Hoffman, Eddie Guardado

Personally, I think the Colorado team looks more dangerous, though there are some definite weaknesses. McGwire and Edmonds would keep the offense going, but there are a lot of strikeouts on the team, and the defense is pretty suspect. Even with all that power, they could have some trouble getting past that. The Marlins, on the other hand, are a more balanced team. There's some good offense in the outfield, and the pitching staff looks strong, especially in the 'pen.

Regardless, one would be hard-pressed to argue that the actual 1993 Rockies and Marlins squads were better than the ones assembled here. Sure, the fact that the Marlins went on to buy the 1997 World Series may put a damper on this exercise, but it doesn't change the fact that, with better knowledge and better choices, these two teams could have fielded much more competitive teams than they did.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Two-Hundred Hit Teammates

Writing the Seamheads AL West Preview the other night, I noticed something interesting about the 1982 Brewers that I had never heard anyone mention before: with Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, and Cecil Cooper, the '82 Brewers had three separate players reach the 200-hit plateau. It seemed like a pretty rare feat, so I decided to investigate it a little further.

Before breaking the 200-hit players down by team and year, I thought it might be prudent to look for any players who may have been traded (or otherwise played for multiple teams) during a 200-hit campaign. After all, if someone did get traded in a 200-hit year and then joined two or three other 200-hit players on a given team, I would have to decide how to count them. I didn't expect to find many but, if Mark McGwire can be traded in the middle of a 58-home run season, it didn't seem out of the realm of possibility for a Molitor- or Carew-type player to be traded mid-200 hit-season.

It turns out that there have actually been six players throughout history who played for more than one team on their way to a 200 hit season:
Player..............Year..Team A (Hits)........Team B (Hits)....Hits
Irish Meusel........1921..Philadelphia (121)...New York (80)....201

Moose Solters.......1935..Boston (19)..........St Louis (182)...201
Red Schoendienst....1957..New York (78)........Milwaukee (122)..200
Lou Brock...........1964..Chicago (54).........St Louis (146)...200
Willie Montanez.....1976..San Francisco (71)...Atlanta (135)....206
Randy Velarde.......1999..Anaheim (115)........Oakland (85).....200
My first thought on seeing that list was "Randy Velarde had 200 hits in a season? Really?" After that, though, I noticed that all of these guys, except maybe Willie Montanez, only barely reached the 200-hit mark. There are no 210 or 215 hit seasons in that group, which makes some sense. A player hitting that well is unlikely to be dealt for any reason.

Now that we have a list of multi-team 200-hit players, we can look at the list of teams who had three or more players reach 200 hits. As you can see, while the list above is nice to have, it doesn't actually affect our main list here.
1929..Philadelphia (N)...4...Lefty O'Doul (254), Chuck Klein (219), Fresco Thompson (202), Pinky Whitney (200)
...Gee Walker (213), Charlie Gehringer (209), Pete Fox (208), Hank Greenberg (200)
1920..St Louis (A).......3
...George Sisler (257), Baby Doll Jacobsen (216), Jack Tobin (202)
1920..Chicago (A)........3
...Eddie Collins (224), Joe Jackson (218), Buck Weaver (208)
1921..St Louis (A).......3
...Jack Tobin (236), George Sisler (216), Baby Doll Jacobsen (211)
...Charlie Gehringer (215), Dale Alexander (215), Roy Johnson (201)
1930..Philadelphia (N)...3
...Chuck Klein (250), Pinky Whitney (207), Lefty O'Doul (202)
1930..Chicago (N)........3
...Kiki Cuyler (228), Woody English (214), Hack Wilson (208)
1935..New York (N).......3
...Bill Terry (203), Hank Leiber (203), Jo-Jo Moore (201)
1963..St Louis...........3
...Dick Groat (201), Curt Flood (200), Bill White (200)
...Robin Yount (210), Cecil Cooper (205), Paul Molitor (201)
...Rafael Palmiero (203), Ruben Sierra (203), Julio Franco (201)
It's an exclusive list, for sure. In the last 70 years, only three teams have been able to achieve the feat, and none in the last 18 years. And, in the 9 seasons that it was done before 1937, three teams (Klein's Phillies, Gehringer's Tigers, and Sisler's Browns) managed the feat twice. That leaves only 9 distinct "teams" (in the loose sense of the word) to have acheived the feat in all of history.

I'm not sure what more I can say here. Obviously, the game has changed since World War II, and hits are harder to come by. Guys like George Sisler, who could seemingly turn anything into a basehit, just don't exist anymore (excepting maybe Ichiro!), and the way the game is played today prevents many others from reaching the milestone. With that said, though, it doesn't seem impossible for a team in today's game to have three 200-hit players. If I were forced to make a prediction as to which team could be the next to have three different 200-hit players, I think I'd have to go with the Mets. David Wright, Jose Reyes, and Carlos Beltran are all threats to 200 hits every season, and it wouldn't be a stretch to see them all do it together.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Seamheads Preview

Ok, so I admit that I've been a little slow on the posts recently. I never intended for that to happen, but too many things have taken up my evenings over the last week and a half or so that I just haven't been able to write as much as I intend to (I'm not complaining, by the way... things are going well. They just were getting in the way of blogging a little). And it's not like they've gotten in the way all that much. I did still manage to get three posts up last week, which is my minimum goal, and I still plan on doing the same this week. I guess I'm saying that I feel a little like I'm slacking, and I'm sorry for that.

In the meantime, though, I can at least claim that I've been keeping busy by linking to this. Remember the Near Miss League that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago? Well, the league should finally be starting any day now and, as a preview, Mike asked me and a couple of other guys to preview each division. I was finally able to get my preview of the AL West finished, and you can see it now over at Seamheads.

Go take a look and let me know what you think of each manager's choice of team. Personally, I think I'm most scared of that 1982 Brewers team or the 2001 Mariners team. None of the teams seem to have really incredible pitching, though, which might work in my favor. There are a few Cy Young awards smattered across the seven teams, but, in each case, another pitcher from that year had a legitimate argument for the Cy (even Zito's Cy in 2002). I guess we'll see soon if I'm right. I'll let you all know when the season gets under way, and probably keep you updated periodically.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Thinking Positive

Manny Ramirez is the story of the day. There's no getting around it. And there are a lot of interesting takes on the whole situation out there. It only makes sense. We're all busy processing this information and trying to decide exactly how we feel about it. I know I've read my fair share of articles, and I'm sure I'll read a few more.

But I'm not going to write anything about it. I just don't think I have anything fresh to say. Plus, as I've said before, I much prefer to focus on the good things about the game.

With that in mind - and to tide us over until I put something else up today - I'd like to link back to something I wrote 3 months ago, when the steroid news du jour was all about A-Rod. It's just as relevant now.
I think it's important, then, to take some time to revisit the positive aspects of the game, to give ourselves a little break from this negativity and remember why we all love the sport. A baseball tonic, if you will. And what better way to do that than by taking a look at baseball through the eyes of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and friends. The perspective supplied by Charles Schulz and the Peanuts gang has always been simple, straightforward and honest. And that was never more true than when the gang took to the diamond. If there's a pure, simple tonic for baseball right now, I'd be hard-pressed to find one better than Peanuts.
With that, I give you A-RodManny, Aaron, and Snoopy.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Forget Non-Pitchers Pitching: How About Pitchers Playing the Field?

Sorry for the lack of updates the past couple of days. Busy week and a new Google phone that has taken up way too much of my attention (in a good way) have conspired to keep me from posting much. I'm still trying to have at least three posts a week, though, so you should expect something tomorrow too. And, no, I don't think it's going to be about Manny either.

It's been an interesting year so far, with Greinke's dominance, the plethora of cycles, and everything else going on. One of the more interesting things that seems to be happening a lot this year is non-pitchers coming in to pitch an inning. With it happening again last night in the Reds-Brewers game, I can think of at least three times this year when it's happened. And every time it's happened, the tv guys seem to have a ball with it. After all, it is funny to see JJ Hardy or Gabe Kapler strike out to players who haven't toed the rubber in 5 or 10 years.

But I came across something equally interesting the other day and, seemingly, more rare (though I'm probably wrong about that): pitchers playing a non-pitcher position, such as rightfield or first-base. Reading through a list of pitchers who have had the most career games without a plate appearance over at Recondite Baseball, I wondered about Jesse Orosco and how long he went between plate appearances. His was an historically long career, and much of the last 10 years of it or so was spent as a lefty specialist, so I figured that he could've gone more games between his plate appearances than Buddy Groom had in his career. I wasn't even close, but I did notice something interesting on his BR batting page.

In 1986, Jesse Orosco played one game in right field. That struck me as borderline ridiculous: some manager at one time thought that his best option was to have soft-tossing, portly, and old (even at age 29) Jesse Orosco play rightfield? Wow.

But it's true. It happened on July 22, 1986, with the Mets playing the Reds in Cincinnati. In the bottom of the 10th, Davey Johnson brought in Orosco to pitch. After getting two outs and giving up a single to Pete Rose (which pinch-runner Eric Davis turned into a triple with two stolen bases), Orosco was shuttled to right while Roger McDowell finished off the inning. In the 11th, McDowell was again pitching and Orosco was still in right. Two outs and single into the 11th, McDowell and Orosco switched places again. Orosco finished off the 11th and pitched the full 12th (McDowell actually moved from right- to left- during the 12th). In the 13th, McDowell and Orosco switched places again, and it stayed that way through the 14th, when the game ended. Orosco even made a putout on a flyball by Tony Perez.

There was a lot more to the story than that, though. From the next day's LA Times:
What would have been a shapeless and forgettable Mets defeat became another extended evening of punches and victory. The Mets lead a division in which the other members have all but given up the fight. The same cannot be said for a team that recently has become as readily associated with brawling as it has with winning.

The banners hanging in Riverfront Stadium last night reflected the Mets' changing image - an image the team does not necessarily dispute. The banners read "Police 4, Mets 0" and "It's not a good Knight" and "Welcome to Wrestlemania 3."

Each was tied to a specific event of the preceding four days - the arrest of four Mets in Houston early Saturday, the role Ray Knight played in the brawl that interrupted the Tuesday night game and the free-for-all that followed.
The fight occurred in the 10th inning. Davis, a pinch runner, stole third base. He and Knight bumped on the slide. Davis appeared to elbow and push the Mets' third baseman. Knight, a central figure in the Mets' May 27 fight against the Dodgers and formerly a Golden Glove boxer, punched Davis, starting the brawl.

Knight and Davis were ejected and each expects to be fined by National League president Chub Feeney. Feeney was unavailable for comment, but another National League executive said yesterday that suspensions were improbable.

"You can't overlook Howard's home run and all the switches Davey {Johnson} had to pull," Keith Hernandez said. "But what I'll remember most is Ray's right hook. He spun Davis around."
The brawl and discussion that followed interrupted play for about 20 minutes. The resulting ejections only added to the bizarre nature of the night. Available bodies were at a premium. By the time the brawl ended and the umpires had made their ejections, each team had used all of its non-pitchers.

The ejections forced Carter to play third base for the first time since 1975 and Orosco and McDowell to alternate between the outfield and the pitcher's mound. "I always wanted to do what Whitey {Herzog} does," Dave Johnson said, "use a pitcher in the outfield."
(I wish I could just put the whole LA Times article here, there's a lot of good stuff in there, but it'd be way too long. You can find another account of the game here.)

Talking about this game with my brother, he mentioned remembering a game where something similar happened to Fernando Valenzuela. Again, I looked at his BR batting page and found these two games (along with a number of pinch-hitting assignments):
  • August 17, 1982: Fernando came in to play RF in the bottom of the 20th. After the second batter of the inning popped out to Fernando, they moved him over to left. He then batted to end the top of the 21st. In the bottom half, the Dodgers replaced Fernando in left with Bob Welch (another pitcher, really?). The dodgers won in the 21st.
  • June 3, 1989: Fernando came in to play 1B in the bottom of the 21st. The first batter then popped out foul to Fernando. He stayed in to play the 22nd inning, and made another putout on a 1-3 grounder. The Astros scored a run that inning, though, and won the game.
That's three putouts at non-pitcher positions for Fernando. Not too shabby. Of course, Fernando and Orosco are far from the only pitchers to have played in the field at some point. If their tales are at all representative, though, then there are probably some pretty good stories in there. Now, I don't have the time to find the stories for everyone, but I can provide you with a little research.

I did a quick query, looking for anyone who pitched in more than 10 games in a given year and also played some other position. Maybe I missed a few people, but that should be a pretty complete list. Some observations:
  • The last pitcher to play a non-pitcher position was Atlanta pitcher Chris Resop, who pitched to all but one batter in the 10th inning of the Pirates-Braves game on April 3, 2008. After walking 2 of the first 3 batters of the inning, the Braves moved Resop to left so Royce Ring could face Adam LaRoche. After Ring got the K, Resop moved back to the mound to finish the inning. He got the loss.
  • Before Resop, the last player to do it was San Francisco's Noah Lowry, on June 8, 2007. Interpreting the play-by-play, it looks like Eliezer Alfonzo was injured on a play at the plate by Donnie Murphy in the top of the 10th, so Pedro Feliz moved to catcher, Randy Winn to third, Daniel Ortmeier to center and Lowry came in to play RF. The ball didn’t come anywhere near him, though. The Giants lost to the A’s that day.
  • Since the start of the 2000 season, pitchers have played non-pitcher positions 14 times (if they moved from LF to RF, for example, in one inning, that would be counted as two different positions). If you remove Brooks Kieschnick from the equation (he started his career as an outfielder and was moved to pitcher in 2003), then it has only happened 5 times this decade.
  • It happened only slightly more often in the 1990s. In that decade, pitchers played non-pitcher positions 18 times. The most prolific year of the decade was 1993, when 5 different pitchers did it, including Randy Johnson (left-field on October 3) and Pedro Martinez (thirdbase[!!] on September 20).
  • Things changed in the 1930s. Since 1930, the decade with the most occurrences is the 1980s, with 62 (if you ignore Willie Smith's 1964 season, when he pitched 15 times and played in the outfield 91). However, it happened 170 times in the 1920s and 207 times in the 1910s. I haven't looked closely at those decades, but I imagine there was a lot of Babe Ruth-type stuff going on, where a player would pitch every few days and bat during the other days.
  • Finally, the recent pitcher who did it the most is Rick Waits, who DH'd for the Cleveland Indians 9 times in the lates 1970s. The illustrious Jack Morris also DH'd 7 times for the Tigers throughout the 1980s. Of all pitchers since 1930, Bucky Walters played a non-pitcher position the most (13 times in the 1930s), followed by Bobby Reis (11, 1930s), Mike Ryba (10, 1940s), and Johnny O'Brien (10 times, 1957, but he was a middle-infielder being tried at pitcher). [Update: I just did a look at Morris' and Waits' game logs from the times, and it actually looks like they were pinch-running almost every time. I don't know why Baseball Reference classified some of it as DHing (they would pinch-run for the DH, so that must be it), but they did. If that's the case, I guess I have to say that Todd Worrell is actually the recent pitcher who did it most often. In his career, he played RF in 4 different games, totalling 1.2 innings of defense. Roger McDowell also has did it 4 times, for 2.2 innings of defense (some of it detailed above). ]

Monday, May 4, 2009

Don Sutton and his "blister"

The Diamondbacks were in town to play the Brewers this weekend and, on Saturday, I was able to attend an event where Daron Sutton, Arizona's television voice, spoke for an hour. Daron is also the son of Hall of Fame pitcher, Don Sutton, and a former minor leaguer. As you can imagine then, he had a number of interesting stories to tell, from his days as a ballboy on his father's teams to recent years working with the Brewers and D-backs. It was an entertaining talk, but there was one story that I found most intriguing. I'll paraphrase:
Sometime in 1986 or '87, the Yankees came to Anaheim to play the Angels. The Angels didn't have quite the tv coverage that the Yankees did, so, during the game, the clubhouse tvs in Anaheim were showing the Yankees' broadcast of the game. Don Sutton was pitching for the Angels that night and, at one point during the game, Daron, who was the Angels' ballboy at the time, noticed that the Yankees' broadcasters were zooming in on Don as he was rubbing the ball in his hands. The broadcasters seemed to notice something brown on Don's glove hand and were discussing it rather heatedly. Daron, being the good son that he was, ran over to his dad and said, "Hey Dad, I don't need you to tell me anything, but you should probably know that the Yankees tv guys noticed something on your glove hand as you were rubbing up the ball. Just thought you should know."

Don quietly looked at Daron and said "Thanks, son," and that was that. After the game, all the reporters filed into the clubhouse and eagerly wanted to know what it was that the tv cameras found on Don's hand. Don looked at them kind of funny and showed them his pitching hand. There was something brown there alright, but all it was was a little circular band-aid, the kind that you might place over a blister. "I was just protecting a blister," Don told them. "Nothing sinister."
Everyone laughed at his story. Don Sutton had almost been caught illegally scuffing up the ball, but, thanks to his son seeing the Yankees talk about it on the television broadcast, nothing happened. It's a funny, good-humored story. But it wasn't over yet. For twenty years, that was all Daron knew about that game. In 2006, though, he was working a Fox Saturday game of the week with Lou Piniella, the manager of those Yankees, and Lou, unprompted, told him the other side of the story. Again, I'll paraphrase:
Lou remembered managing a Yankees-Angels game in California one night when, in the middle of the game, one of the clubhouse kids dragged an office phone and its 50-foot long cord into the dugout. "Mr. Piniella, it's Mr. Steinbrenner. He wants to talk to you."

Lou told the kid to hang up the phone and go away. He did, but the phone rang again 10 seconds later. "Mr. Piniella, it's Mr. Steinbrenner again. He says he needs to talk to you."

Again, Lou had the kid hang up on George and, again, he called back 5 seconds later. "Mr. Piniella!"

Finally, Lou took the phone. George was on the line. "Lou! The tv cameras found something on Sutton's hand! He's scuffing up the ball! For God's sake, go out and talk to the umpire! He's cheating, and you need to catch him!"

"For the love of God, George! We had Tommy John pitching for us yesterday, and who do you think Sutton learned it from?! And Rick Rhoden's pitching tomorrow night. Who do you think taught it to him? Do you really want me to talk to the umpire about it when we have Sutton's teacher and his student pitching for us right now?!"
The crowd cracked up, including me. It was, after all, a very funny story. George Steinbrenner wants Lou Piniella to bust Don Sutton for cheating, but Piniella won't because he knows he has two pitchers who do the same thing on his own staff - there's a lot to appreciate there, in the "nudge-nudge-wink-wink, I know that you know and you know that I know, but let's never bring it up" kind of way. All in good fun, I guess you could say.

Looking into it, it appears to be almost completely accurate, as far as the facts are concerned (who knows about the specific comments made). On August 24, 1987, the Yankees faced the Angels, with Tommy John matching up against Don Sutton (Rick Rhoden had pitched the previous night). The write-up from the next day's LA Times does a good job explaining all the details:
But the most interesting sideshow of the night occurred in the early innings with Sutton pitching for the Angels. Sutton had nothing to do with the final decision, but for seven innings, he maintained the keen attention of New York television viewers, who were treated to camera close-ups of a tape-like substance that appeared to be attached to Sutton's left hand.

Monday's game was broadcast to the New York area, and during the first inning, television station WPIX trained its cameras on Sutton. The television feed was also displayed in the Anaheim Stadium press box, showing shots of Sutton's hands between pitches.

A small patch, which resembled an adhesive bandage, could be seen on the palm of Sutton's left hand. The camera then showed Sutton holding the ball in his right hand before bringing his hands together and rubbing the baseball.

Sutton was the center of a scuff-ball controversy during his last start, when Baltimore Orioles coach Frank Robinson requested an inspection of the pitcher, resulting in three baseballs being removed from play by umpire Don Denkinger. But Monday, the Yankees did not ask for any baseballs to be checked, although home plate umpire Rick Reed did remove the ball Sutton used to strike out Rick Cerone in the fifth inning.

The replays reportedly created quite a stir on the East Coast. Yankee publicist Harvey Greene reported that several New York newspapers received numerous phone calls from incensed viewers.

Afterward, Sutton met with the press only long enough to say the foreign object was a bandage covering a blister.

"I suppose you're not going to buy it if I tell you it was a picture of my kids," Sutton quipped. "And you're probably not going to buy it if I tell you it was covering up a blister, which it was.

"I give you my word that it was not sandpaper, it was not an emery board-and I don't mind being checked on the mound any time. And that's all I can tell you."

Mauch claimed he was not aware of any incident involving Sutton until Angel General Manager Mike Port told him of the television replays after the game.

"I didn't know there was any commotion until I came in this room," Mauch said. "All I know is that he had a blister on his hand. If what I saw is accurate, there's nothing to discuss. He was kidding around in the dugout early in the game, and I saw a blister on the palm of his left hand."

The Yankees were not privy to such video assistance, which may have been one reason why they didn't protest.

Then again, there might have been another reason: Their starting pitcher, Tommy John, has also been suspected of doctoring the baseball. No sense in stirring things up by demanding the other guy be frisked.
The American League did, supposedly, investigate the incident in the ensuing days, but I can't seem to find anything saying that he was disciplined. Jim Palmer, a long-time Sutton opponent, didn't seem to believe Sutton at the time. Sutton, of course, angrily denied any cheating:
Palmer, a three-time Cy Young Award winner with the Baltimore Orioles, told the Associated Press Tuesday that Sutton once showed him how to doctor a baseball by gluing a piece of sandpaper onto his glove hand.

"Don told me to just take some sandpaper and Super Glue, put it on your glove hand and when you rub the ball, kind of scuff it," Palmer said.

Palmer hadn't seen the replays of Monday night's game between the Angels and the New York Yankees but laughed when told that a television close-up showed a dark-colored patch on the palm of Sutton's left hand.

"He may have had a paper cut," Palmer said.

Palmer also talked about a 1982 game when he accused Sutton of scuffing the baseball.

"It was the final game of the 1982 season," he said. "Don was with Milwaukee then and pitching against me. He had rubbed (then American League President) Lee MacPhail's name from the ball.

"I showed it to the umpire, and he just kind of laughed.

When apprised of Palmer's comments, Sutton reacted angrily.

"It sounds like he's trying to further his career at the expense of my interests," Sutton said. "And he's full of blank."

Sutton actually used the word blank.
I'm tempted here to make some comments about Alex Rodriguez, steroids, and/or pitch tipping, but I'm not sure there's much I can say. Plus, I'm afraid that it'll look too much like I'm trying to condone or excuse away some anti-competitive behavior from A-Rod. It's rarely a winning proposition when you set out to defend one Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez.

I do wonder, though, what makes us laugh at these kinds of stories when we hear them, but scoff and bloviate when we hear about A-Rod or Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire. Rob Neyer put it well last week:
I'm not near my books, so I can't offer an examples. But the oral histories are loaded with examples of pitch-tipping. Usually it's the catcher telling the batter what's coming next -- just like in Bull Durham -- but sometimes it's the pitcher telling the batter, and I don't suppose that A-Rod would be the first fielder to tip the batter, either. Usually it's a favor to the batter -- to get him out of a slump, or help him hit his 500th home run, or whatever -- with no expected reciprocation.

It's all one of a piece, though. And when it's an old story, everyone smiles and laughs and finds it all just so amusing. When it's Alex Rodriguez, we ask the Commissioner what's going to be done about it. I actually lean toward doing something about it -- again, if you can prove it -- but once again I'm struck by the double-standard.
I agreed with it then, but, after hearing that story about as straight-from-the-horse's-mouth as you can get, it seems even more true to me now. I doubt there's anything we can ever do about it, but at least we can recognize it when it shows up.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Keeping Things Interesting: May 1, 2009

Yesterday's Most Interesting
The Red Sox went into Tampa Bay yesterday figuring to get even, to some degree, for their loss in the ALCS last October and for the 2 out of 3 game series victory the Rays claimed in Boston to open the season. Fresno State alum Matt Garza had other thoughts. Garza handcuffed the Sox early on, retiring the first 18 batters of the game before allowing an infield single to Jacoby Ellsbury. In the end, Garza pitched 7.2 innings while striking out ten Red Sox, and the Rays shut out the Sox 13-0.

Today's Most Interesting
The season is still young, but there's one thing that I know for sure: if you're looking for a good pitching matchup on any random day of the week, you rarely have to look further than the whichever two NL West teams are playing. Case in point: today, the Dodgers face the Padres, and the matchup is between Jake Peavy and the young, but good Clayton Kershaw. It may not be quite as marquis as some of the potential NL West matchups, but it's still pretty good.

The most interesting game of the day, though, is the matchup between the New York Mets and the Philadelphia Phillies. Meeting for the first time since last September, as the Phillies were on their way to overtaking the Mets and winning the World Series. Tonight's matchup is far from spectacular, but that's not the point. The recent history between these two teams is phenomenally interesting, with the late-season battles and jockeying for position. Tonight's game may be early in the season, but it still represents two teams who have strong feelings for each and who know that their games against each other mean something in the end. So, even though tonight's game is a matchup between Mike Pelfrey and Chan Ho Park, it is still the most interesting game of the day.