Fantasy baseball has been a popular pastime for 30 years. Unfortunately, there tends to be too much "fantasy" and not enough dealing with the nitty-gritty reality of what it takes to fill a well-rounded roster at the major league level. Depending on how drafts are arranged (such as just 12 or 14 owners picking from both leagues), the fantasy baseball process can lend itself to assembling a collection of higher-level players rather than a 25-man roster of diverse talents and skill levels, and defense is seldom (if ever) factored into the equation.
Baseball addicts have it much easier between seasons in the 21st century than what our fathers and grandfathers endured. ESPN, MLB.com, MILB.com, SI.com and team web sites provide almost limitless information as compared to the agate type in the transactions section of the daily newspaper and the weekly hot stove league fix from The Sporting News that provided meager winter rations of baseball information for nearly a century.
Need something to do besides staring at a computer screen until spring training begins? Here's a way to recognize your favorite players of all time and put together a roster that is much closer to the big league norm than a typical fantasy league squad.
The rules are simple. One Hall of Famer (already inducted or a future sure thing such as Greg Maddux) is allowed per team. You can't have five aces in the starting rotation, an outfield of Willie Mays, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams or perennial All-Stars at every infield position. Back of the rotation starters, middle relievers, utility players and extra outfielders in real life will assume those roles on every team. You may choose anyone who appeared in a major league game from the 1800s to the present. A few extra reserves can be added to the list as a AAA roster of sorts, but going beyond 25 players isn't required.
It's going to be natural to try and put together the best possible team, but that isn't the main point of the reality baseball game. This is a pleasant mental exercise and a way to remember favorite players - especially those who aren't big names.
The pitching staff is by far the most flexible part of the process. Go with as few as nine arms if you like complete games and dead-ball era workhorses, or do your best Tony LaRussa impersonation and have a 13-man staff complete with two LOOGYs. Since I'm in favor of complete games and four-man rotations, my ace is one of the most durable starters of the live ball era.
Mickey Lolich may have looked out of shape and often joked about his hefty build, but few pitchers exhibited the endurance the Tigers left-hander displayed. Number 29 had four consecutive seasons with at least 308 innings pitched from 1971 to 1974 along with 96 complete games in that span. Lolich's 376 IP in 1971 is the highest total in the majors since 1917 by a conventional (knuckleballer Wilbur Wood soft-tossed 376.2 innings in 1972) pitcher.
Cut 376 innings in half (188), and you have a typical season for many 21st century starters. Lolich's other 1971 numbers - 45 starts, 29 complete games, 8.36 innings per start and a 25-14 record - look downright freakish by current standards. Best known for his three complete game victories against the Cardinals in the 1968 World Series, the self-described "fat man's hero" also performed well in his only other postseason experience.
Lolich started a pair of games in the 1972 American League Championship Series against the A's. Despite giving up just three earned runs in 19 IP (1.42 ERA), his record was 0-1. Lolich finished with a 217-191 career record and 3.44 ERA. His 2679 strikeouts in the American League are the most by an AL lefty.
Brief stints with the Mets and Padres bumped the career strikeouts to 2832, a number that was in the all-time top 10 when Lolich retired in 1978. Combine the Ks with just 2.7 walks per 9 innings, exceptional stamina and an impressive track record in the clutch, and I'm more than happy to pick Lolich as my workhorse and ace.
Rick Reuschel is another innings eater with a large frame, but don't let his physique fool you. "Big Daddy" was an agile, sure-handed fielder who won Gold Gloves in 1985 and 1987, and the sinkerball had enough foot speed and baserunning instincts to have been used as a pinch-runner on several occasions.
Like Mariano Rivera, Reuschel was the rare hurler who could successfully throw one pitch in many different ways. When his sinker was on, the infielders had plenty of action gobbling up grounders. A quiet man not given to lengthy interviews, Reuschel described his idea of a perfect game as "27 pitches, 27 grounders."
Career totals of 214-191 and a 3.37 ERA are virtually identical to Lolich, but Reuschel's ERA+ of 114 tops Lolich's 104. A stingy 935 walks in 3548.1 IP works out to less than 2.4 per 9 innings. The right-hander is remembered for his 17-8. 2.94 ERA performance at age 40 for the pennant-winning 1989 Giants, but he had two other seasons that were even better.
A 20-10, 2.79 ERA (158 + ERA) effort with the Cubs in 1977 along with a 14-8 2.27 (4th in the NL) in 1985 with the Pirates are the high points on Reuschel's resume. The 1985 campaign was especially noteworthy, as Reuschel was coming back from arm injuries at age 36, and he did an exceptional job for a wretched (57-104) Pittsburgh squad. Even with those numbers, the sinker specialist didn't receive so much as a third-place vote in that year's Cy Young Award balloting.
My list of favorites always includes Scott McGregor, and he's a solid choice as a third starter. The Orioles lefty finished with a career record of 138-108 (.561). Seasons of 20-8 in 1980 and 18-7 in 1983 were made possible by one of the game's most deceptive change-ups. George Brett's high school teammate combined an 85 MPH fastball with a low 70s change thrown from an across the body motion and pinpoint control (just 518 walks in 2140.1 IP) to become a popular player in Baltimore.
Although he is never mentioned among the better postseason pitchers, McGregor deserves to be on that list. Ignore the 3-3 record and focus on the 1.63 ERA in 49.2 IP with just eight walks during the 1979 and 1983 ALCS and World Series to get an idea how tough McGregor could be in the clutch. He averaged 8.28 innings per postseason start. After losing 2-1 in Game 1 of the 1983 World Series, McGregor came back with a 5-0 complete game shutout to clinch a world championship for the Orioles.
Fourth starters aren't going to be big names by definition, but reliability is a must. Conrado "Connie" Marrero was a competent performer, and his biography is one of the more unusual stories in baseball history.
Like many Cubans, Marrero played for the Washington Senators. Listed at 5'5" to 5'7" by various sources, the righty made his big league debut at age 38 in 1950 and stuck with the Nats until turning 43 in 1954. During that time, Marrero completed 51 of 94 starts and went 39-40 with a 3.67 ERA (108+ ERA) for a team that was buried in the second division.
An All-Star in 1951, Marrero's best season came in 1952 when he went 11-8 with a 2.88 ERA (ninth in the AL) in 184.1 innings pitched. His 124 ERA+ was good for eighth in the league. Marrero pitched in AAA with the Havana Sugar Kings until shortly after his 46th birthday in 1957. Not only did Marrero defy the odds against longevity as a pitcher, but he is doing the same in daily life. The oldest surviving major leaguer will turn 101 on April 25. What kind of career numbers could Marrero have posted if he had gotten the call to the majors before reaching middle age?
If trade rumors are floating around the clubhouse, don't be surprised if Mike Morgan begins packing his bags. That's because the right-hander played for a dozen teams in a career than spanned from 1977 to 2002, and he fills the old-school role of spot starting, long relief and taking an extended stretch in the rotation when injuries occur.
"Mo Man" began his big league career right out of high school in 1977. Bringing the 18-year old straight to the Oakland A's was Charlie Finley's idea, and it's obvious that Morgan would have been better off developing in the minors. A big league mark of 9-27 from 1977 to 1983 is a significant factor in Morgan's 141-186 (.431) lifetime record.
Those who insist that won-loss records are a poor indicator of a pitcher's performance can point to Morgan as Exhibit A. He went 8-11 with a 2.53 ERA (136 ERA+) for the Dodgers in 1989. Add 9.2 innings to his 152.1 IP, and Morgan would have the fourth lowest ERA in the National League. The breaks evened out in 1999 when Morgan went 13-10 with a bloated 6.24 ERA (82 ERA+) for the Rangers.
Baseball biases will show themselves when a person fills out a 25-man roster, and one of my eccentricities is obvious in the bullpen. Submariner and control artist Dan Quisenberry is the closer, and "Quiz" will be expected to go more than an inning per appearance when needed. Fellow underhanders Chad Bradford and Steve Reed fill set-up roles.
Few pitchers have been more miserly with walks than Quisenberrry, who could go a month between free passes. He gave up just 12 walks in 136.2 innings pitched 1982 and followed that with 11 bases on balls in 139 IP in 1983. Still locked into the strike zone, "Quiz" surrendered just 12 walks in 129 IP in 1984 to complete a three-year run of giving up well under a walk per nine innings. To be precise, his BB/9 IP in those years was a mind-boggling 0.79, 0.71 and 0.84. Opposing hitters had no choice but to come up swinging.
As a perennial fan of the underdog, I have to pick 5'6" Danny Ray Herrera as one of my lefty relievers. The other spot goes to Joe Ostrowski, who had the good fortune to be traded from the lowly St. Louis Browns to the Yankees on June 15, 1950. He can do everything from face a lone lefty hitter to tossing six or more innings when needed. Ostrowski was known for control, as he gave up just 98 walks in 455.2 career innings pitched.
Just how different were the economics of baseball in the 1950s as compared to today? Not counting World Series shares, Ostrowski never earned more than $8500 a season, which meant he taught high school when he returned home to rural Pennsylvania after the season. Thanks to baseball artist and historian Ronnie Joyner for educating me about Ostrowski.
My Hall of Famer - Tony Gwynn - starts in right field. He may not have been a slugger, but who's complaining about having a lifetime .338 hitter, eight-time batting champion, five-time Gold Glover and one of baseball's most likable guys on the team? How much do I want Gwynn on the roster? He beat out Stan Musial, Ozzie Smith, Maddux and Honus Wagner as my Cooperstown representative.
Ever see a raw rookie for the first time and say "That guy is a special player"? Ellis Burks instantly impressed me as a young Red Sox centerfielder, and he had a long and successful career despite multiple knee injuries.
Career totals of 2107 hits, 402 doubles, 352 HR, 1206 RBI and a .291 average aren't shabby, but it's easy to imagine Burks boosting those numbers without the nagging physical problems he endured. Burks had eight seasons with 20 or more HR and six seasons with 80 or more RBI. The thin, high altitude air of Colorado undoubtedly helped during a career year of 40 HR, 128 RBI, 211 hits and 45 doubles with the Rockies in 1996. There's another statistic from 1996 that showed what Burks could do when healthy, as he swiped a career-high 32 bases in 38 attempts (.842).
This lineup needs an imposing presence, and Frank Howard surely meets that requirement. The 6'7" "Capital Punisher" had an incredible four-year power surge for the Washington Senators during a pitching-dominated era.
Big Frank smacked 172 HR with 432 RBI (average seasons of 43 HR and 108 RBI) from 1967 to 1970. He led the American League with 44 bombs in 1968 and 1970. Howard's career best of 48 HR in 1969 fell one short of Harmon Killebrew's league-leading total. The right-handed slugger thrived under Ted Williams and became a much more patient hitter when #9 managed the Senators. Howard walked 60 and 54 times in 1967 and 1968 before doubling his bases on balls to 102 and a league-leading 132 in 1969 and 1970.
Career totals of 382 homers, 1774 hits and a .273 average accumulated mostly in poor hitter's parks qualifies Howard for the cleanup spot in the lineup. Mainly a left fielder, "Hondo" also appeared in 334 games at first base.
The fourth and fifth outfielders are a balanced pair, as Jim Dwyer hits from the left side, while Walt "No Neck" Williams is a right-handed swinger. A major leaguer from 1973 to 1990, Dwyer was a valuable role player for the Orioles from 1981 to 1988, and he homered against the Phillies in the 1983 World Series. Dwyer can play all three outfield positions as well as first base, has decent power and draws walks.
Many of us who saw the stocky (5'6", 190 pounds) Williams with the White Sox from 1967 to 1972 liked him instantly, as the energetic fireplug played with exuberance and honest hustle. Williams was no slouch at the plate, as his .270 career average was high for the era. A career best .304 in 1969 was good for sixth place in the American League. Dependable line-drive machine Manny Mota (.305 lifetime, 150 pinch hits, 1149 for 3779 career) is my pinch-hitter, and he'll get an occasional start in the outfield.
Since first basemen tend to be sluggers, it would be easy to put a power bat in this slot, but honesty compels me to go with a slap-hitting personal favorite. Mike Squires slammed just six career home runs in 1580 at-bats with the White Sox from 1975 to 1985, a most unusual record for a place in the lineup where the long ball is all but mandatory.
At 5'11", "Spanky" was also small for a first baseman, but he ranks among the finest fielders at the position. The .260 career hitter won the AL Gold Glove in 1981, and he often was used as a late-inning defensive replacement.
How good was Squires on defense? He flawlessly handled a dozen chances in 14 appearances and 38 innings at third base and had a pair of one-inning stints behind the plate.
You say it's no big deal for a player to move around the diamond? Squires was a left-handed thrower, so it speaks volumes about his skill with the glove when Tony LaRussa decided to use the Michigan native as an occasional defensive replacement at 3B in 1983 and 1984. Since there are three other position players on the roster who have extensive experience at first base, it's likely that Squires would have a platoon role if this team were a reality - and I'll take him even with the lack of home run power.
He never made an All-Star roster, but Marty Barrett is more than adequate at second base. As one the toughest strikeouts in the majors during his career, Barrett often batted second behind Wade Boggs for the Red Sox during his years (1982 to 1990) in Boston. Barrett's exceptional performance in the 1986 World Series against the Mets was all but wasted due to the lack of run production behind him. Imagine hitting 13 for 30 with five walks (.433 BA, .514 OBP) and scoring once in seven games.
There's always room for a superutility player on my roster, and Mark Loretta is one of the best of this valuable and versatile breed. The sure-handed infielder could start at short or second and do a fine job at either position, but he also saw a fair amount of action at the corners.
Loretta played 829 games at 2B, 405 games at SS, made 234 appearances at 3B and played 214 games at 1B. The right-handed swinger slashed line drives to the tune of 1713 career hits and a .295 lifetime average. Loretta followed up a .314 (ninth in the NL) season for the Padres in 2003 with a career year in 2004.
In addition to a .335 average (third best in the NL), Loretta posted additional career highs in hits (208, second best in the league), HR (16) and RBI (76). Calling Loretta a super sub understates his value. He's good for 400 to 500 at-bats - maybe more - over the course of a season on this team.
It was always a pleasure to watch Don Kessinger play shortstop for the Cubs during my grade school and teenage years. The six-time All-Star earned a pair of Gold Gloves with his hands, range and arm as he regularly stole hits from opposing batters. Kessinger usually led off for the Cubs. With just 14 HR in 7651 career at-bats (1931 hits, .252) and a .312 slugging percentage, the switch-hitter was the epitome of an old-school middle infielder.
Jeff Cirillo could never be accused of being a slacker. The formers Brewers, Rockies and Mariners third baseman played with intensity despite being stuck on losing teams throughout his lengthy (1994-2007) big league career.
At his best, Cirillo was a high-average doubles hitting machine with better than normal defensive skills. He came through with 46 two-baggers (good for fifth and second place in the American League) in 1996 and 1997 for Milwaukee, and Cirillo's 53 doubles for Colorado in 2000 was second best in the National League.
Seasons of 194, 198 and 195 hits from 1998 to 2000 along with batting averages of .325 in 1996 and .321, .326 and .326 from 1998 to 2000 showed how Cirillo could perform consistently at a high level. What could derail such a successful career?
A toe tap that Cirillo inadvertently picked up while in his stance threw the delicate balance of his swing off, and his numbers plummeted. The right-handed swinger crashed to .249 with just 6 HR and 54 RBI for the Mariners in 2002. Efforts to ditch the toe tap proved unsuccessful, and Cirillo struggled to stay in baseball. A revamped swing allowed Cirillo to make a comeback as a platoon player for the Brewers, Twins and Diamondbacks. He finished with 1598 career hits and a .296 average.
The team's defensive replacement negates Loretta's skill with the stick. Ray Oyler has the worst batting average (.175, 221 for 1266) of any player with a minimum of 1000 ABs in the live ball era. The former Tigers and Seattle Pilots shortstop drew praise for his dependable glovework, but seasons such as a miserable .135 (29 for 215) for the world champion 1968 Tigers doomed Oyler to second-string status.
As a former catcher, I appreciate solid defense and pitch-calling skills behind the plate. Jim Hegan never finished above .249 in a full season, but the lifetime .228 hitter was one of the key players on the Indians pennant winners of 1948 and 1954. When great defensive catchers are mentioned, Hegan's name is always part of the conversation.
It would make sense to pick a lefty-hitting catcher to back up the right-handed swinging Hegan, but I'm partial to a modern-day defensive whiz who bats from the right side. If Henry Blanco is good enough to be chosen by Maddux as his personal catcher despite being an inconsistent hitter, he can play for my team when Hegan needs a day off. The Venezuelan-born Blanco can be Marrero's receiver, as they'll welcome the opportunity to communicate in Spanish.
That's 24 players, so who gets the final spot on the roster? All of the following journeymen are likely get some time in the majors over the course of a season as players move up and down from AAA.
Can a second-stringer increase attendance? One-armed Pete Gray appeared in 77 games for the St. Louis Browns in 1945 and hit .218 with just 11 strikeouts in 234 ABs, and fans eagerly bought tickets for the opportunity to see this unique athlete. If nothing else, Gray can be on the active roster in September as well as a midseason call-up when needed.
Reserves who can competently play all three outfield positions give a manager some flexibility, and Tito Landrum fills that role. Landrum played for the Cardinals, Orioles and Dodgers from 1980 to 1988, and the right-handed swinger did a fair amount of damage against lefty pitchers. Few journeymen who never wore Yankee pinstripes can say they played for three pennant winners, but Landrum can make that claim.
Kevin Hickey went from playing slow-pitch 16-inch softball on the south side of Chicago to the White Sox clubhouse at old Comiskey Park. It was Hickey's arm that propelled him from tavern league softball to the majors. I'm sure my reality-based team could use another lefty reliever as pitchers go down over the course of 162 games.
Steve Fireovid spent more than a decade in AAA, but the right-hander's major league career was limited to 71.2 IP over six brief call-ups with the Padres, Phillies, White Sox, Mariners and Rangers from 1981 to 1992. A control pitcher, Fireovid is also the author of The 26th Man, a compelling account of life as a AAA lifer.
There are better places for a young player to develop than snowy Wisconsin, and Vinny Rottino overcame that obstacle to make it to the majors. Signed as an undrafted free agent out of Division III Wisconsin-LaCrosse by the Brewers in 2003, Rottino has accumulated 36 at-bats in four sips of big league coffee with Milwaukee and the former Florida Marlins.
Rottino catches and plays first and third base along with the corner outfield positions. It would seem that some team could use such a versatile guy off the bench, but Rottino has nothing more to show than brief September call-ups for his efforts.
The right-handed hitter is a study in perseverance, as Rottino went back down to AA at ages 29 and 30 to stay in baseball. That determination was rewarded with a late season call-up by the Marlins in 2011. Vinny has a non-roster shot with the Mets this season, and it would be great to see him have to pay the inflated price of a New York apartment for at least a few months this year.
Tommy Watkins spent a decade as an infielder in the Twins minor league system before getting his first and only opportunity in the Show. A 38th round pick in 1998, the 5'7" Watkins didn't make it to AAA until mid-2006. The call-up to Minnesota in August 2007 was a great human interest story, as Watkins was the classic organization man and loyal minor league solider.
The rookie didn't embarrass himself, as Watkins hit .357 (10 for 28, all singles) before going down with an injury after nine games. That marked the end of the Cinderella story, as Watkins spent two more seasons at Rochester before becoming a coach in the Twins minor league system. Currently assigned to the Beloit Snappers of the Midwest League (Class A), the well-liked Watkins should have a long career in the game at some level.
How about an up and coming young player who could fit nicely on the roster? Diamondbacks right-hander Josh Collmenter relies on control (just 28 walks in 154.1 IP during his 2011 rookie season) and deception rather than heat to get batters out, and he'll enjoy picking the brains of Reuschel, McGregor and Quiz.
Who gets to run the team? As a stickler for fundamentally sound baseball, I want someone who insists on playing smart and has a track record for squeezing the most out of the talent at hand. Looks like a job for Tom Kelly or Joe Maddon. Either manager would be an excellent option.
There is only one choice for my team's announcer, as I'll gladly pay Vin Scully whatever he wants to be on the air. Living in the Midwest means I don't hear Scully nearly as much as I'd like, but no one has ever made baseball sound so sweet as the voice of the Dodgers.
Control pitchers and line-drive hitters dominate this roster. Take away Howard and Burks, and the leading power hitter couldn't be counted on for more than 15 homers. That's no surprise, as I've always leaned towards grinders and smart contact hitters. There are also a lot of genuinely nice guys (Howard, McGregor, Bradford, Gwynn, Squires, Williams, Barrett, Mota, Watkins and others), low-maintenance solid citizens (Reuschel, Hegan, Cirillo, Loretta, Fireovid, etc.) and people with a sense of humor (Lolich, Quisenberry, Reed) here to maintain harmony in the clubhouse.
So who are some of the players on your reality roster? They can come from a single team or cover the major league spectrum. Go ahead and make your list.
For the past two years I have written a post taking a graphical look at Hall of Fame vote histories for players with similar first-year vote totals to players on the current year's ballot. Here is 2010's, which includes a description of the graphs, and here is 2011's. As I said these graphs are not meant as sophisticated projection into the future, but rather just a rough look at historical precedent. Folks like Chris Jaffe of the Hardball Times have a better handle on the dynamics of HoF voting and future ballot composition in order to make better prediction.
This year's ballot had only one first-year player, Bernie Williams, who broke 5% and will be included on future ballots. Williams got 9.6% of the vote. Here I highlighted the vote trajectories of everyone else who got within 2.5% (7.1% to 12.1%) in their first year on the ballot.
There are a number of historical players who are not going to be a good guide for Williams' trajectory; Hall of Fame voting was much different in the past. Carl Hubbell, for example, was on 9.7% of the ballots in 1945, his first year; shot up to 50% in his second year; and by 1947 was inducted with 87%. Williams will not see a similar rise. More recent players in Williams's pool have fallen below the 5% cut off rather quickly. I left off the names because they would all bunch together but they include: Orel Hershiser, Graig Nettles, Bob Boone, Dave Stewart, Albert Belle, and Pete Rose. It will be interesting to see whether Williams can stick around for years like Don Larsen or fall off quickly like Hershiser and others.
With no other first-year guys above 5%, I am going to look at some guys who have been on the ballot for a couple of years. In each case I chose a salient feature of their vote history to create a comparison pool. Up first is Jack Morris, who, on his 13th year on the ballot, was on 66.7% of the ballots. This is a pretty big jump from last year's total of 53.5%. With no great first year players on the ballot, it seems voters were a little more liberal with their votes on returning players, many of whom saw a double digit rise. For Morris's comparison I looked at anyone else who received between 65% and 70% on some ballot after their 10th.
All these guys eventually made it. Three through the standard 75% BBWAA voting, and then Red Ruffing through a runoff ballot, and Enos Slaughter and Jim Bunning through the Veterans Committee. So things look promising for Morris.
Jeff Bagwell also had a nice increase, from 41.7% to 56%. Here are the players within 10% of these two vote totals.
This picks up other fast risers. Ryne Sandberg and Barry Larkin are bad comps because they are at the very high end of my comparison window for both years; Bagwell is not going to make it next year. He might slowly pick up steam like Andre Dawson or Tony Perez and make it around year ten. But with the amount of talent coming on and the PED stuff, I am not so sure.
I will skip Lee Smith and turn to Tim Raines. Raines has had a nice increase in vote share over the past three years, and is now at 48.7%. I looked at players within 10% of his year-3 to -5 ballots (because they are much higher than his first two years).
Except for Smith who is still on the ballot, all these guys are in the Hall. Johnny Evers and Bunning made it through the VC. As with the Bagwell example this might paint too sunny a picture for Raines.
Finally I look at Edgar Martinez. He did not get quite the same bump the other guys did, and has been pretty stagnant over his first three years. Here are players within 12.5% of each of his three vote totals.
Jack Moore at FanGraphs made the Pee Wee Reese comparison. I think that Jack is right that Martinez will probably end up with a Reese-, Maury Wills-, or Steve Garvey-like trajectory, and not one that takes him up rapidly like Eddie Mathews or Rich Gossage.
Anyone who was born on or within a few days of Christmas has sad tales to share of feeling cheated by "one gift for two days" childhood presents. What kind of treats have been given to fans on December 25? This roster of Christmas babies includes three Hall of Famers along with a smattering of All-Stars and everyday players.
No need to save the best for last, as the All-Christmas team appropriately leads off with Rickey Henderson (born 1958) in left field. His career numbers - 1410 stolen bases (a whopping 472 ahead of second-place Lou Brock's 938 SB), an all-time best 2295 runs scored, 2190 walks (second only to Barry Bonds) and 3055 hits - are jaw droppers.
What else did Rickey do? How about three years of 100 or more steals (including a record 130 in 1982)? A dozen seasons as the league's leading basestealer includes topping the American League with 66 swipes in 1998 at age 39. Then there's 13 seasons with 100 or more runs scored, seven seasons with more than 100 walks (along with leading the AL four times) plus a quartet of 95 to 99 bases on balls and four 20-plus home run seasons. The Hall of Fame had to do some serious editing when they created Henderson's bronze plaque.
Rickey played in the majors until just three months before his 45th birthday, and he closed with a 3 for 3 mark in stolen bases during a late season stint with the Dodgers in 2003. He was also one of the handful of position players who batted right-handed and threw from the left side.
How about a textbook old-school number two hitter following the best leadoff man in history?
A basestealer couldn't ask for a better partner than Nellie Fox (1925). Taking a pitch to let Henderson steal a base wouldn't have been a problem for the White Sox star, as he has been baseball's toughest strikeout in the past 75 years. It was a thankless job that Fox excelled at when he batted behind the speedy Luis Aparicio.
The left-handed hitting Fox never struck out more than 18 times in a season, and he had 10 years averaging less than a K every 50 plate appearances. With 2663 career hits, a .288 lifetime average and six seasons of .300 or better and a four-time American League season hit leader, Fox would be well equipped to get on base for the heart of the order when Henderson didn't.
Although he wasn't known for drawing walks, "Little Nell" had a knack for getting to first base. He led in American League in singles eight times (1952 and 1954 to 1960) while making the AL's top 10 list in batting average in eight seasons. Fox's 2161 singles puts him at 27th place in baseball history.
The 1959 American League Most Valuable led the White Sox to the franchise's first pennant since the 1919 Black Sox scandal. Fox earned MVP honors with what was a fairly typical season by his standards - a .306 average along with just 2 HR and a career-high 70 RBI. One of Nellie's most impressive feats took place in 1959, as he avoided striking out in 98 consecutive games. The fateful whiff came on a called third strike tossed by Whitey Ford. Close Fox friend and long-time roommate Billy Pierce says the pitch was well off the plate and that the umpire's call even surprised Ford.
A three-time Gold Glover (1957, 1959 and 1960), Fox was known for his sure hands, quick release and skill in turning the double play. With a streak of 798 consecutive games at second base (most ever for that position), Fox's durability and toughness made him hugely popular on Chicago's blue-collar south side where the vast majority of White Sox fans reside.
Known for his bottle bat, small stature and ever-present wad of chewing tobacco, the last characteristic of Fox's image played a role in his death from cancer at age 47 in 1975. After just missing with 74.7 percent of the vote in his final year of Hall of Fame eligibility in 1985, Fox was admitted to Cooperstown by the Veterans Committee in 1997.
Unfortunately, there are no suitable candidates for a starting shortstop on the All-Christmas team, but three-time Gold Glove second baseman Manny Trillo (1950) could do an adequate job on the left side of the infield. That's because Trillo had one of the strongest arms ever displayed at second. With a .263 lifetime average and 1562 career hits, the four-time All-Star provides some production at the bottom of the order.
Switch-hitting Walter Holke (1892) gets the first base job largely by default. That's because Holke's career OBP of 89 for four National League teams is well below average, especially at a position usually reserved for big hitters. To his credit, Holke had 1278 career hits and a .287 average to offset his lack of power, run production and patience at the plate (just 191 walks in 4456 ABs).
1923 appears to be Holke's banner season at first glance, at he hit .311 with 7 HR, 70 RBI and 31 doubles for the Phillies. Those numbers were boosted by playing half his games in the tiny Baker Bowl with a live ball. In reality, Holke did a better job with the New York Giants and Boston Braves in the dead ball seasons of 1917 and 1919.
Third base has a pair of lefty hitters for the Christmas babies roster. Tom O'Malley (1960) spent most of his career shuttling between AAA and the majors from 1982 to 1990. He finished with a .256 career average, 13 HR and 131 RBI in 1213 ABs (466 games) for six different teams.
O'Malley's career took off when he went to Japan in 1991. As a valued member of the Yakult Swallows and Hanshin Tigers, O'Malley hit .300 or better with power (20 or more HR) for six consecutive seasons. Note to clubhouse man: Make sure O'Malley gets pregame meals of sushi and udon for peak performance.
Like O'Malley, Gene Robertson (1897) has a middle of the pack major league resume. The 5'7" St. Louis native played on and off for the hometown Browns from 1919 to 1926 before being traded to the Yankees. Robertson spent 1927 with St. Paul fo the American Association before joining the Yankees for 251 at-bats (just six strikeouts) and nine more plate appearances in the 1928 World Series.
A .280 lifetime average (615 for 2200) with gap power gives Robertson an edge over O'Malley. Frank Ellerbe (1895) played 3B for three American League teams from 1919 to 1924, but the righty swinger's lack of patience at the plate (.268 BA, .306 OBP) and below average power makes him better suited for spot duty.
Ben Chapman and Jo-Jo Moore (both born in 1908) round out a solid starting outfield. Chapman led the American League in stolen bases four times (1931-33 and 1937). The right-handed swinger had a.302 career average with 1958 hits. Even though he wasn't a slugger (90 career HRs), Chapman came through with seasons of 122 and 107 RBI for the Yankees in 1931 and 1932. The three-time All-Star also had six other campaigns of 80 to 98 RBI.
The World War II talent shortage allowed Chapman to extend his big league career, but as pitcher. He went 8-6 with a 4.39 ERA (84 ERA+) for the Dodgers and Phillies in 1994, 1945 and for a single appearance in 1946.
Moore made the National League All-Star roster five times and spent his entire career (1930-41) with the New York Giants. A left-handed hitter, Moore had 200-hit seasons in 1935 (201) and a career-best 205 hits in 1936. With just 247 strikeouts and 348 walks in 5427 career at-bats (1615 hits, .298 lifetime), Moore was one of many old-time players who seldom struck out while not working the count for walks.
"The Gause Ghost" got his nickname from his hometown of Gause, Texas. Moore died at age 92 on April 1, 2001.
Our Christmas catcher had just 10 major league at-bats, but that cup of coffee wasn't due to any lack of ability on his part. Quincy Trouppe (1912) was one of the better Negro League receivers. Like other players who were stymied by the color barrier, Trouppe spent much of his career in Latin America in addition to bouncing around from team to team in the U.S. Negro circuit.
At age 39, Trouppe backed up Jim Hegan for a few weeks with the Indians in 1952. He appeared in six games at had a single and a walk in 10 at-bats before being sent to Ottawa of the International League. He wasn't in the same class as Josh Gibson, but Trouppe had the ability to be a starting major league catcher if he had been given the opportunity at a younger age. Trouppe easily stands out from the glut of weak-hitting backup catchers (Chris Krug, Greek George, Marty Pevey, Frank Baldwin) who share a December 25 birthday.
Hall of Fame pitcher James "Pud" Galvin made numerous adjustments during a big league career that spanned from 1875 to 1892. He pitched underhand and overhand just 50 feet from the plate.
The 5'8" "Little Steam Engine" was an iron man even by 19th century standards. Galvin went 37-27 in 66 starts for Buffalo Bisons in 1879, as he appeared in all but 12 of the team's games. He pitched "only" 458.2, 474 and 445.1 inning in the next three seasons before tossing a record 656.1 innings (76 games, 46-29, 2.72, 117 ERA+) in 1883 and followed that up by going a career-best 46-22 with a 1.99 ERA (158 ERA+) in 636.1 IP in 1884.
Seasons of 20-35 in 1880 and 16-26 in 1885 reduced Galvin's career record to 365-310 for a .540 winning percentage. This is a guy Bert Blyleven ("My goal was to be the workhorse of the staff") could appreciate. You're our number one starter, Pud, but you'll have to adapt to being 60 feet 6 inches from the plate with a mound (wasn't used until the 1890s). How will the workaholic Galvin adjust to having four days off between starts? He has been a Hall of Famer since 1965.
Ned Garver (1925) fills the 2 slot nicely. The 86-year old pulled off one of the most impressive pitching accomplishments in history when he went 20-12 with the last-place 1951 St. Louis Browns. Since the perennially inept Browns were 52-102, Garver was responsible for 38.5 percent of the team's victories. The Brownies went just 32-92 (.258) when Garver didn't receive a decision.
Did Garver get the Cy Young Award? That honor didn't exist until 1956, so Garver had to settle for a second-place finish behind Yogi Berra in the MVP voting. A career record of 129-157 with mostly losing teams is a poor way to judge Garver's skill. His career ERA of 3.73 and 112 ERA+ is a more accurate indicator. Garver swung the bat well enough to see occasional duty as a pinch-hitter. His career stats include seven home runs, 180 hits and a .218 average.
This rotation screams for a lefty, and Lloyd Brown (1904) is it. The Beeville, Texas native went 91-105 with a 4.20 ERA (105 ERA+) in a big league career than lasted from 1925 to 1940. 1930 to 1932 was the peak of the southpaw's career, as Brown went 16-12, 15-14 and 15-12 with the Senators. A career-best 3.20 ERA was good for fourth place in the AL in 1931. The 5'9" Brown was tagged with the nickname "Gimpy" in what was obviously a much less politically correct and sensitive era.
Welsh-born Ted Lewis (1872) pitched in the majors from 1896 to 1901. He went 21-12 with a 3.85 ERA (116 ERA+) for the 93-39 (.705 winning percentage) 1897 Boston Beaneaters. Lewis followed that up with a career-best 26-8, 2.90 (127 ERA+) in 1898 for Boston. Lewis spent his entire big league career in the city. His final season came during the American League's debut in 1901. The 5'10" righty went 16-17 with a 3.53 for the Boston Americans, later known as the Red Sox. A 94-64 career record with a 3.53 ERA (113 ERA+) is definitely better than average for a number 4 starter.
Charlie Lea (1956, recently died on November 11) should be dependable at the back of the rotation. The right-hander went 62-48 with a 3.54 ERA for an injury-shortened career with the Expos and Twins. A 15-10, 2.89 ERA (seventh in the NL) performance with Montreal in 1984 was good enough to provide Lea with his only All-Star appearance.
Hideki Okajima (1975) is the closest thing to a potential closer on the All-Christmas team. The Japanese-born Red Sox lefty reliever has a U.S. career record of 17-8 with a 3.11 ERA and six saves in 261 games and 246.1 IP. Journeymen such as 19th century hurler George Haddock (born in 1866 and 95-87, 4.07 from 1888 to 1894), Eric Hiljus (1972, 8-3 and a 4.79 ERA in parts of four seasons with the Tigers and A's) are in the mix for long and middle relief.
So is Jack Hamilton (1938), who is notorious for beaning Tony Conigliaro. The wild righty had a 32-40 career mark, and his 4.53 ERA is quite high for the offensively eager 1960s. Mike Blyzka's major league record (3-11, 5.58) is unimpressive, but his two seasons included playing for the final St. Louis Browns squad in 1953 and the first-year 1954 Baltimore Orioles.
Team depth is pretty ordinary. Wallace Johnson (1956) gives the Christmas squad a capable pinch-hitter who also displayed enough speed (19 SB) to pinch-run when needed. As a switch-hitter, a manage could insert Johnson into any situation. Nearly 60 percent of Johnson's career knocks (86 of 145) came off the bench.
Bill Akers (1904) played around the infield for the Tigers and Braves from 1929 to 1932, and he's a utility infielder with more pop in his bat (11 HR, 69 RBI, .261, .349 OBP) than average. Ruben Gotay (1982) and Rich Renteria (1961) provide competition for Akers.
Since America is in a significant recession, costs need to be managed. That's why former White Sox and Pirates manager Gene Lamont (1946) gets to back up Trouppe behind the plate in addition to running the squad. Lamont may not see much playing time, as the one indispensable member of the roster is also a backup catcher - and he was born on December 9. How could this happen?
What would the all-Christmas team be without Steve Christmas? The lefty-hitting catcher played 24 games with 37 ABs (.162, 1 HR, 7 RBI) in three small cups of coffee with the Reds, White Sox and Cubs from 1983 to 1986. With that name, it doesn't take a December 25 birthday to earn a roster spot on the all-Christmas team.
While I would have preferred a shorter and less expensive contract, anything under ten years and $250 million was not going to seal the deal. As such, the way to think about this signing from an Angels' perspective is to break it into two five-year periods. That's right, 5x30 and 5x20 for an average of 10x25. Sure, 5x25 and 5x15 might be closer to what Pujols is likely to produce in terms of value but an aggregate of $200 million was going to come up short of luring the three-time NL MVP to Orange County.
Pujols turns 32 in January so the Angels just signed him to a 10-year deal with a no trade clause for his age 32-41 year-old seasons. I think he will give the Angels five very good-to-great seasons for a 1B and five average-to-good seasons for a 1B/DH. If one thinks about it as I suggested above, the Angels can easily justify the first five seasons. I mean, wasn't the consensus calling for as much as an 8 x 25-30M deal as recently as last winter? Sure, Albert's numbers fell off a tad this year but he put together an outstanding second half and postseason. In other words, I believe he is basically the same player today as he was perceived a year ago. Pujols may not earn his keep during the second half of the contract unless baseball salaries inflate significantly between now and then. But that's the risk the Angels had to take to acquire the greatest right-handed hitter of the past 80 years, if not ever.
Ironically, after signing Pujols and C.J. Wilson (5/$77.5M), the Angels actually have more flexibility than they did yesterday. Therefore, it says here that Arte Moreno and Jerry DiPoto will pull off at least one more headline signing or trade before spring training. At a minimum, they have freed up Mark Trumbo and possibly Ervin Santana. In addition, the Halos can easily move Peter Bourjos, if need be, plus Bobby Abreu (if they agree to eat at least half of his contract) and either Alberto Callaspo or Maicer Izturis.
Where am I going with this? Well, I wouldn't rule out going after David Wright or Ryan Zimmerman. The Mets are reportedly interested in Bourjos. The Nats have been linked to him, too, and have indicated a desire to shore up center field and first base. Why not a Bourjos and Trumbo deal for Zimmerman? The Mets have Ike Davis and Sandy Alderson and Paul DePodesta aren't likely to be interested in Trumbo's low OBP. As such, the Angels might have to replace Trumbo with Hank Conger. Either way, I would only give up those packages for Wright or Zimmerman if I could sign them to a longer-term deal first as both are under team control for just two more years. Wright is owed $15M in 2012 with a team option at $16M for 2013 and Zimmerman is due $12M in 2012 and $14M in 2013.
Let's dream for a minute, Angels fans. Assuming the Halos trade Bourjos and either Conger or Trumbo for Wright or Zimmerman, here is a potential lineup for 2012:
Wright or Zimmerman, 3B
While I realize that Mike Scioscia would never start the season with Trout as the lead-off hitter, he can flip Trout and Erick Aybar in April and May until he realizes how much better Trout is. After he makes that change, he can flip Chris Iannetta and Aybar if he's worried about having three RHB in the 6th through 8th slots.
If Kendrys Morales doesn't recover from his leg injury, then the Angels can slide Abreu into the role of DH, hit him first or second in the batting order, slide Howie Kendrick down to sixth or seventh, and not miss much of a beat.
Here is how the starting rotation stacks up:
That would be about as strong as any rotation this side of Philadelphia.
Here is how the bullpen shapes up at this moment in time:
(and perhaps two of three of Jepsen, Richards, and Cassevah)
Add Ryan Madson (hey, it's not my money) as the closer and you're looking at a team that would be favored to win the World Series.
You can read more about the Pujols and Wilson signings at Halos Heaven, which has several articles and links to other posts at SB Nation.
A friend of mine, Ross Moskowitz, is the director of Camp Westmont, a beautiful summer camp in the Pocono Mts. of Pennsylvania. It's the kind of place every kid should be able to attend at least once in their lives. He's also a baseball man. Played Division One NCAA baseball at the University of Maryland. So when he told me that John Denny was going to be his baseball instructor this past summer, I thought it would make for a very interesting story/interview. How does a good pitcher become the best pitcher in the world for one season and win the Cy Young award? From Bob Turley to Randy Jones to Mark Davis to Pat Hentgen, just to name a few, there have been a bunch of pitchers who've taken that step.
I spent a morning with John Denny at the end of August. He's 58 years old now and has kept in great shape. Simply put, he's one of the nicest, soft-spoken people I've ever met. Aside from working for the Arizona Diamondbacks for a few years, he hasn't had that much to do with Major League Baseball since he retired in 1986. Like most former ballplayers, he has a amazing memory of games, players, even specific at-bats from 25-35 years ago. He's also quite introspective about himself and his place in the game's past. His response to my question "So you won Game One of the 1983 World Series?" was unexpected. "Yeah, how about that," as if he still couldn't quite believe his good fortune. We went off topic at times, but his stories about his Hall of Fame teammates were worth hearing. I turned on the tape recorder.
David: In looking at your career, the numbers tell a story of a pitcher with obvious talent, twice leading the NL in ERA, who would follow those seasons with quite a few off years. Were injuries a major factor?
John: Injuries were a big problem for me. My rookie year, 1975, I started the season 2-2 for St. Louis, they sent me back to Triple-A for a month. When I came back, I won seven games in a row, I'm 9-2 and some people were talking about me as a Rookie of the Year candidate. One day, I'm jogging in the outfield in Cincinnati and I tore a lateral ligament. We were only a few games out of first, so I pitched through it and wound up 10-7. The next year, 1976, I was healthy and led the league in ERA (2.52). Then, in 1977, I started the season 7-0 and I strained my hamstring covering first base, then tore that hamstring at Dodger Stadium. And I wound up going 8-8. 1978, I was healthy again and had another good year (14-11, 2.96 ERA).
David: Who was your manager with the Cards?
John: Red Schoendeinst was my first manager, then Vern Rapp and finally Ken Boyer. This was right before the Whitey Herzog era. I would've loved to have played for Whitey, but I was traded to Cleveland. But I loved my time in St. Louis. I played with Joe Torre, Bob Gibson and Lou Brock. They were true professionals and some of that rubbed off on me.
David: So you go from a great baseball city to playing in Municipal Stadium?
John: It was tough. That park seated 80,000 people, so even if we had 40,000 people in the stands, which we rarely did, it was half empty. And I think that affected a lot of our players. We had a good rotation. Bert Blyleven, Rick Sutcliffe, myself, Rick Waits, who won 15-16 games one year. Later, Len Barker. After a few years, I became a free agent while with Cleveland. And George Steinbrenner offered the world to me, but I turned him down.
David: I never knew that.
John: My agent handled it all. I never met Steinbrenner, but his quote the next day in the newspapers was something like "John Denny will never wear a Yankee uniform as long as I'm alive." I would've loved to have played for the Yankees, but word was he was very interfering, came down to the locker room all the time. I didn't think I could play for an owner like that.
David: I've never been shy about my feelings for him. I believe he demeaned the game more than anyone in my lifetime. Younger people, especially Yankee fans, forget just how hated he was in New York until they started winning again in 1996.
John: Well, he offered me the best contract with wonderful perks and opportunities for the future. I would've been way better off financially. But my thinking was I worked very hard and I played the game very hard. And I pictured myself working my butt off, putting every ounce of energy I had into the game. I was a thinking pitcher and I studied the hitters. And I pictured if things weren't going well, he'd call me into his office and air me out. And then go to the papers and tell them what he just did. I didn't want to put myself in that situation. And I eventually wound up with the Phils and I loved my time there. I missed almost the entire 1982 season, but then got involved with a strength and flexibility coach that Steve Carlton recommended and he helped me enormously.
David: Before we get to your time with the Phils, let me ask you, "Who was your toughest hitter to face? Who lit you up?"
John: Easy, Tony Gwynn. His pitch recognition was incredible. So I'd make some adjustments and the minute I thought I had him, he'd make adjustments too. Always one step ahead of me. As time went on, I thought I was starting to figure him out. If he had a weakness, it was inside. But you couldn't live in there. The moment you thought you could pound him inside, he'd make that adjustment and take you deep. So I'd go to my sinking fastball and start to pitch him away, but he used to take that to left field really well.
David: How was Willie Stargell to face?
John: I don't know what my actual stats against him were, but I'll tell you this story about Stargell. I was pitching in Pittsburgh one night and I threw him a fastball, down and away. He turned that sucker around right up the middle. I could hear that ball singing as it went by me. It short-hopped the fence in left center for a double. He hit it so hard and I remember thinking to myself that ball might've killed me. From then on, I pitched him only inside and I didn't care if he hit it five miles. He was a true professional too, an old school guy and I was a newer type of player. And I learned so much from the old schoolers.
David: Who else?
John: Pete Rose. I pitched a great game one night with St. Louis against the Big Red Machine — Monday Night Game of the Week. The next day he calls me over before our game. I'm 23 years old and I'm wondering what does Pete Rose want to talk to me about? He says "John, I just want to tell you last night you threw one hell of a ballgame. Your fastball was in on my hands all night. But I'll tell you something, next time I'm gonna get you good, you S.O.B." More than anyone, he helped show me how to be a professional and still show respect to the other team and the other players and still be the man and the player you need to be.
David: Let's talk about the 1983 Phils and your Cy Young season. Who was your pitching coach there?
John: Claude Osteen, who had been my teammate and pitching coach with the Cardinals. He was the perfect pitching coach for me.
David: The 1983 Phils are one of my favorite teams. The team had started to age quite a bit, had a lot of veterans, Schmidt, Carlton, Rose. Then they get even older by adding Joe Morgan and Tony Perez at the end of their careers and they win the pennant. Remarkable story.
John: They called us "the Wheeze Kids." (The 1950 pennant winning Phils were called the Whiz Kids).
David: Right. Now, obviously, you were healthy. Did you add a new pitch, change your motion?
John: No, but a few things happened. First, I was in great shape, the best of my career. I had started working out with a strength and conditioning coach, Van Hoefling. He had been with the Los Angeles Rams and when Roman Gabriel was traded to the Eagles, Van followed him to Philly. And Lefty and I got involved with him. And he was great for me. But no new pitch or motion. I was basically a fastball, curve pitcher. And I could add some sink or movement to both of them, so I guess I threw four pitches.
The biggest difference was that I was playing on a team with guys who knew how to win and it rubbed off on me.
David: It was attitude?
John: Attitude and being in great shape. Here's one example and this is what I loved about Pete Rose. I'd get two strikes on a batter and I'd hear him yell or whistle from his position at first base. "You got two strikes on this guy, you know what to do." Because you never want to lose a batter with two strikes on him, you need to finish him off. And Rose was the kind of guy who pounded it home. Just like his career. He took the talent he had and pounded it home, never let up. He stayed on me all year. I am so blessed I was able to play with him. And Lefty and Schmitty and Morgan and Perez too.
Lefty and I had lockers next to each other. Talk about two different guys. I was a Christian and he believed in Eastern religions, mysticism. But we were so close, worked out in the offseason together. One time I said to him, "Lefty, I've never thrown a slider in my life, show it to me." So he held the ball up, put his hand up and says "I just turn my wrist a little bit like this and I throw the shit out of it." (Laughter).
He had great catchers in Bob Boone and Tim McCarver who got to know him as well as he knew himself. I don't recall Lefty shaking off many pitches. And it was a combination of three things. I know what I'm doing out here, I really don't need to take charge because my catcher is handling it very well and I know I can throw what they want.
David: What a huge advantage for a pitcher.
John: Oh yeah. One of the things I tried to do was not to get into a disagreement with any catcher. If he's calling for a fastball down and away and I want to throw up and in, I would say to myself "What the heck, I can throw down and away and still get this guy out." And it made me a better pitcher and it also made my catcher better too because now he knows that I trusted him and then they would work even harder and call a better game." And Lefty had his catcher's trust and that's huge.
David: What was it like in 1983 to look behind you and see Rose at first, Morgan at second and Schmidt at 3rd?
John: You know, the first real ballgame I ever saw in my life, I was ten years old (1963) and my Little League coach, who I still stay in touch with, he was like a father figure to me, took me to Los Angeles from where I was born and raised in Arizona.
David: Were you a Dodgers fan?
John: Well, actually I used to listen to the Giants all the time because I could get KNBR radio very well where I lived. Willie Mays was my favorite player. So he took me to a Dodgers/Giants game. Juan Marichal and Don Drysdale and the Dodgers won 1-0 in the bottom of the 9th inning. I can still remember Marichal throwing that incredible overhand curve for a strike with that big leg kick. So at 10 years old, I get to see two great Hall of Fame pitchers in this great pitching duel and in 1983, I get to play alongside five Hall of Famers.
Now we played mostly on Astroturf back then. Perez, Morgan and Rose were all on their way out, had already lost a step, but anytime there were runners in scoring position, they'd always dive for balls. They saved me run after run after run. They always gave it everything they had and we won the pennant that year to a large degree because of their professionalism. And that leadership rubbed off on Schmitty and we desparately needed that because he could be quite volatile. The fans could really get on him.
David: Give me an example of Schmidt's leadership.
John: I was pitching against Nolan Ryan in Philadelphia. I was down 2-1 in the bottom of the 8th. Ryan was so unhittable that day, throwing darts. Top of our order, he goes through the first two guys. Garry Maddox or Gary Matthews, I can't remember which, draws a walk. Schmitty comes up and Ryan had been making him look terrible all day. Schmitty had no chance. Ryan was on the attack the whole game — attack, attack. He goes 3-2 on Schmitty. And Schmidt would always try to analyze what pitch was coming. Everyone on the bench was hoping for a fastball, because if Ryan dropped that hook on him, he had no chance.
Ryan was grunting on every pitch, never saw anyone throw harder than he did that day. He was so intimidating. Fastball. Ball landed in the second deck and we won the game 3-2. Now that's talent, but it's also leadership because Schmitty knew no one else on our club could touch Ryan that day. It was up to him.
David: So you win the pennant and you win Game One of the World Series?
John: Yeah, how about that.
David: Was the game at the Vet?
John: No, it was in Baltimore, won it 2-1, beat Scott McGregor. I gave up a home run to Jim Dwyer, who was my minor league teammate on the Cardinals, pitched well rest of the game. Only game we won.
David: 19-7, 2.37 ERA, Cy Young Award, win a World Series game.
John: Pretty great year to live through.
For the past 30 years, David Bromberg has lived in Northeast Pennsylvania, former home of the Scranton/Wilkes Barre Red Barons (Phils Triple A team) and current home of the S/WB Yankees Triple A team. He was dubbed "the most inveterate baseball fan in northeast Pa. by Ron Allen, who hosted the local nightly sports radio call-in show there.
No Boston Red Sox. No New York Yankees. No Philadelphia Phillies. The three highest payrolls in Major League Baseball failed to make the final four. In fact, seven of the top ten teams didn't even make the postseason.
With the Yankees losing the ALDS to the Detroit Tigers yesterday and the Phillies falling short to the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS this evening, none of the top nine payrolls are still alive and well.
As shown below, the 10th, 11th, 13th, and 17th highest payroll teams remain in the hunt to win the World Series. Congratulations to all four organizations, as well as the No. 25 Arizona Diamondbacks and No. 29 Tampa Bay Rays.
|Num||TEAM||TOTAL PAYROLL||AVERAGE SALARY|
|1||New York Yankees||$202,689,028||$6,756,300|
|3||Boston Red Sox||$161,762,475||$5,991,202|
|4||Los Angeles Angels||$138,543,166||$4,469,134|
|5||Chicago White Sox||$127,789,000||$4,732,925|
|7||New York Mets||$118,847,309||$4,401,752|
|8||San Francisco Giants||$118,198,333||$4,377,716|
|11||St. Louis Cardinals||$105,433,572||$3,904,947|
|12||Los Angeles Dodgers||$104,188,999||$3,472,966|
|23||Toronto Blue Jays||$62,567,800||$2,018,316|
|27||San Diego Padres||$45,869,140||$1,479,649|
|29||Tampa Bay Rays||$41,053,571||$1,578,983|
|30||Kansas City Royals||$36,126,000||$1,338,000|
* The salary information is courtesy of USA Today.
Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941, making him the last player to reach or exceed the .400 level over a full season. Hall of Famers Rod Carew (.388 in 1977), George Brett (.390 in 1980) and Tony Gwynn (.394 during the strike-shortened 1994 season) were the only serious contenders since then, which raises a logical question: Has hitting .400 become baseball's impossible dream?
Obviously, a player would need to catch every possible break to reach this ultimate achievement today. Four factors have turned a once rare feat into something that may be unattainable. First, let's blame diligent and hard-working groundskeepers.
When was the last time you saw a bad-hop hit at the major league level? What was once a periodic part of the action is virtually extinct. The modern field of dreams is much more than sod from a local farm that gets cut and watered as needed. Baseball groundskeeping has become a science of its own, with sophisticated drainage and heating systems employed to keep customized turf in prime condition. The lack of a fluke hop or two can turn a historic .400 campaign into a near miss .390-something season.
Scouting is also light years beyond what could have been imagined in the past. Spray charts display every ball hit by batters, and advance scouts pick up helpful information before each series. Using Gwynn as an example, what if the master of hitting to all fields was known to pull the ball against a certain pitcher? That tidbit wouldn't sneak by a sharp-eyed scout, and it would be known to the opposition.
Gloves that were once compact enough to be stuffed into back pockets have grown to the point where making one-handed catches of small dogs wouldn't be a problem. The modern hand basket takes away numerous hits each season, and that won't change in the future.
There are no late-inning breathers for 21st century hitters, and it goes beyond flame-throwing closers. Left-handed hitters can count on seeing lots of brief appearances from LOOGYs over the course of a season, and righty swingers get to deal with some nasty middle relievers who can make life tough.
If it was very difficult to reach the .400 mark prior to 1941, what are the chances of achieving such a feat now? Microscopic might be overstating the odds, but here is what it would take to get the job done in the post-steroids era.
Left-handed hitters only need apply to be the next Mr. .400. We're talking about a feat that has almost zero margin for error, and lefties are going to get a few extra hits by being closer to first base, not to mention the advantage of seeing fewer curves and breaking balls than righty swingers.
It won't take Michael Bourn's wheels to be a .400 hitter, but any serious candidate needs to have better-than-average speed to beat out a few infield hits or bunts over the course of the season. Carew, Brett and Gwynn were fast enough to pass this test.
Speaking of speed, the slashing Astroturf choppers of the 1970s and 1980s would have been lousy candidates for the .400 club. The most important ability needed to reach that lofty level is to consistently hit the ball hard - and I'm not talking about home runs.
Anyone who aspires to hit .400 needs gap power or better. That keeps the outfielders deep enough to allow for some bloop singles and humpback liners to plop for hits. If the outfielders cheat in to cut off singles, they're going to get burned with plenty of doubles and a few triples.
While they were both known as line drive maestros, Carew and Gwynn posted better than normal power numbers in their signature seasons. Carew had career highs in hits (239), HRs (14), RBI (100), doubles (38) and triples (14) in 1977. Gwynn came through with 12 homers, 64 RBI and 35 doubles in 419 at-bats. With 165 hits in just 110 games, Gwynn was on an incredible 243-hit pace over 162 games in 1994.
Brett absolutely smoked the ball in 1980, as he had 66 extra base hits (33 doubles, 9 triples and 24 home runs) in just 449 at-bats - or one per 6.8 ABs - while playing half his games at spacious Kauffman Stadium. His 118 RBI were a career high in just 117 games played, and Brett's 175 hits nearly duplicated Gwynn's pace.
Doubles are going to be a significant factor for the potential .400 hitter. The ultimate mark in batting average can be reached with 12 to 20 homers, but piling up doubles is a very reliable indicator of hitting at a consistently high level. That applies to contact hitters and big boppers alike. If you need more evidence, compare just about any Hall of Fame slugger's doubles column to seasons by Dave Kingman and other one-dimensional swing-from-the-heels types who hit .230 or less or Wade Boggs and Pete Rose to other hitters with similar home run totals.
Since hitting .400 is going to come down to catching enough breaks to turn a mind-blowing .380 to .390 season into a historic event, a lot of subtle factors, flukes and incremental improvements will come into play.
The serious .400 prospect will need to bump up his walk total from previous seasons - at least enough to lay off some bad pitches that would normally become outs. He doesn't have to become the next Eddie "The Walking Man" Yost, but pitchers are going to be inclined to nibble and work off the corners when dealing with a red-hot hitter. Better to take a walk or wait for a fat pitch than to chase marginal stuff.
A modest or better reduction in strikeouts is absolutely essential. An out may be an out in many situations, but putting the ball in play more often means greater opportunities for hits, and every swing counts in the chase for .400.
Brett featured a very rare combination of power and contact hitting in 1980, hitting 24 bombs with just 22 strikeouts. Gwynn fanned just 19 times in 419 ABs (a typical number for him) when he hit .394 in 1994, while Carew's 1977 totals (55 Ks in 616 ABs) were better than his career average.
What would keep a superior hitter from reaching .400? Despite Carew's 155 games played and 694 plate appearances in 1977, having the durability of Cal Ripken would be a detriment. The length of the season guarantees some slumps and tough stretches over 162 games, so here's how such a highly unlikely feat could happen.
Anyone with over 550 plate appearances won't hit .400, and you can carve that in stone. Playing even 140 games out of 162 is extremely wearying (plus the pesky odds against hitters really win out in the long run), so this honor won't go to a baseball ironman.
Since it takes 502 plate appearances to qualify for a batting title, a position player would need to start 115 or more games to be eligible. That probably wouldn't be enough to lead the league in any other offensive category except on-base percentage, but an abbreviated schedule works to the advantage of the serious .400 candidate.
Nudging over 502 plate appearances with a maximum of 550 means 115 to 128 starts depending on where the next .400 swinger hits in the order. Our potential Mr. X (short for exceptional) will almost certainly bat third, although leadoff is also a possibility. Missing at least 35 games means a stretch or two on the disabled list - and that can be a big boost in the run to .400.
Let's give Mr. X a minor injury just before the end of spring training and 15 days on the DL. Looks like he'll miss his team's opening road trip through the blustery northeast, where cold weather reduces batting averages. If X is in the National League this season, it also means he doesn't have to face the Phillies' formidable rotation. Bummer! (sarcasm off). Instead, X gets some rehab at-bats in the balmy Florida State League to regain his timing.
How is the interleague schedule this year? Does the National League candidate face the rag-tag Royals staff, or does he battle it out against the Rays rotation? Does the American Leaguer feast on the Pirates, or does he struggle against Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and the rest of the Giants staff at pitcher-friendly AT&T; Park? Such incidents and flukes will make much of the difference in reaching .400, and they will be noticed only in hindsight.
The hit machine goes down shortly before the All-Star break for 20-plus days on the DL. That means he won't be hounded by hordes of reporters who would have ignored most of the other All-Stars to ask about his .396 average. Mr. X.'s absence and injury bug cuts the hype considerably, and any mentions of a .400 season downplays the possibility of it taking place. The lack of constant media exposure for now is one less hassle for Mr. X. Poor numbers (2 for 11) in his three-game minor league rehab stint also adds to the skepticism.
Like many players, our guy is a hot-weather hitter, and he'll be well rested for late July and August games in humid places such as St. Louis, Cincinnati, Texas (Dallas) and Kansas City. During his second stretch on the DL, the .400 candidate missed games started by two pitchers whom he struggled against at a 2 for 17 (.118) and 5 for 26 (.192) clip.
Mr. X goes 2 for 4 in his return to the lineup - but it would have been 1 for 4 if the opposing team's Gold Glove second baseman had been in the lineup instead of on the DL to make a nifty grab on the hard grounder X slashed in the hole for a single. The Gold Glover's replacement is sure-handed, but lacks the world-class range of the everyday player. These are the kind of under-the-radar positive factors that are needed in the race for .400.
Although the national media will camp at Mr. X's door eventually, playing in a smaller or more distant market will reduce the pressure for awhile. The trio of Carew, Brett and Gwynn made their quests for .400 in Minneapolis, Kansas City and San Diego, all far removed from the New York media machine. The team's media relations director senses the possibility of history in the making, and he proactively makes plans to limit X's access for interviews and other distractions.
His good fortune puts Mr. X in a reflective mood. The breaks in his favor have far outweighed the frozen ropes that became outs so far this year. There was the wind-blown fly ball that landed in the second row of the bleachers in early May, the pair of popups that fell between the infielders and outfielders in June, more seeing eye grounders that trickled past infielders than normal. Can he continue to defy the baseball odds for the rest of the season, or will the pattern even out? If everything doesn't turn out exactly right until the final at-bat, Ted Williams will remain secure as the last player to hit .400.
I went to the Angels-White Sox game last night and sat in the first row behind the home team's dugout. If you had your choice of any seats in the stadium, the ones that my friend Glen, brother Tom, and son Joe occupied on Wednesday evening would rank right there with the best of them.
I wore a red Angels shirt to root on Jered Weaver, who was making his first start since signing a five-year, $85 million extension last weekend, and the Halos. As it turned out, Weaver shut down the Pale Hose, tossing seven scoreless innings as the Angels trounced the visitors, 8-0, for the club's sixth consecutive victory. The Angels are now 71-59 and just 2.5 games behind the first-place Texas Rangers in the American League West.
Manager Mike Scioscia pulled Weaver after the seventh inning even though Jered had only thrown 96 pitches. With the Angels heading to Texas for a three-game series beginning on Friday, the speculation is that Scioscia plans to start his ace on three days' rest this Sunday. If so, the Rangers will face the Angels Big Three in Dan Haren on Friday, Ervin Santana on Saturday, and Jered Weaver on Sunday. Depending on the outcome of tonight's Boston-Texas contest, a sweep would either put the Angels a half-game behind or a half-game ahead of the Rangers with one month to go in the regular season.
Mat Gleason, aka Rev Halofan in the baseball blogosphere, tipped me off to the adjoining photo by Chris Carlson of the Associated Press. He cropped the photo and embedded it in his recap of last night's game. ESPN also ran the photo as part of Mark Saxon's game report.
I can be found with hands cupped around my mouth saying "complete-game shutout" to Weaver as he took his first step into the dugout after the seventh inning. Little did I know that Jered had thrown his final pitch of the evening. The Angels scored four runs in the bottom half of the inning, highlighted by three doubles off the bats of Erick Aybar, Alberto Callaspo, and Bobby Abreu. Bobby Cassevah and Fernando Rodney worked the eighth and ninth innings, combining with Weaver for a team shutout.
Weaver, who started the All-Star Game for the American League, leads the circuit in ERA (2.03); ranks second in CG (4), QS (23), QS% (0.89), and WHIP (0.97); third in W (15) and W-L% (.714); fourth in IP (195.1); and sixth in K (166) and K/BB (3.77). He also places third in BAA (.206) and second in OBP (.252), SLG (.310), and OPS (.562). Among advanced metrics, Weaver ranks first in ERA+ (185), Adjusted Pitching Runs (41), Adjusted Pitching Wins (4.6), Base-Out Runs Saved (46.6), Base-Out Wins Wins Saved (5.5), and Win Probability Added (5.1); and second in FIP (2.80), Component ERA (1.95), fWAR (5.5), brWAR (6.5), Situation Wins Saved (4.4), and Adjusted Game Score (64.6).
The 28-year-old righthander has been consistently excellent all season long. According to Saxon, "(Weaver) has pitched at least seven innings and given up one run or fewer 15 times this season, most in the majors." He set an Angels team record with 15 consecutive quality starts earlier this year, which is quite an accomplishment when you consider that Dean Chance led the AL in W, ERA, CG, SHO, and IP in his MLB Cy Young Award-winning season in 1964; Bartolo Colon was named the AL CYA winner in 2005; and Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan tossed four no-hitters and led the league in strikeouts in seven of his eight campaigns with the Angels. Weaver also bested, among others, Frank Tanana (14 consecutive complete games in 1977 when he led the league in ERA and shutouts), Chuck Finley, and Mark Langston.
While skeptics may point to Weaver's BABIP (.250), LOB% (83.7%), and HR/FB (4.6%) stats as indications that he has been "lucky" or benefited from strong defense and bullpen support, one could counter such an argument by pointing to the fact that he has been victimized by the second-worst run support (3.96) in the majors. Look, Weaver has been confounding the experts for years. Be it his pitcher-friendly home ballpark in college, his average velocity, throwing across his body, comparisons of looks and pitching style to brother Jeff, and his extreme flyball tendencies, the naysayers have had more than their share of reasons not to like the pitcher who nonetheless has succeeded at every stop along the way, from Long Beach State to Team USA to MiLB to MLB. The combination of his stuff, command, deception, competitiveness, and smarts places him among the elite pitchers in the game today.
As I introduced in May 2010, popups/pop flies/infield flies are "The Most Under Appreciated Batted Ball Type." Such outcomes had long been ignored or misunderstood. Of note, according to Baseball Prospectus, Weaver has generated 86 popups this season, 21 more than any other pitcher. He also ranks first in POP (15.8%) as a percentage of batted balls. Given that popups are converted into outs about 99% of the time, such outcomes are basically the equivalent of a strikeout. As such, in addition to favoring pitchers with high K and GB rates, look for hurlers who generate a ton of K and POP.
A veteran of six seasons, Weaver has a lifetime record of 79-45 with an ERA of 3.27. Over the course of his career, his numbers rank in the ballpark with the best and highest-paid pitchers in baseball, including Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia, Justin Verlander, Dan Haren, Felix Hernandez, Cliff Lee, Tim Lincecum, Josh Beckett, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt, and Johan Santana. Like the Angels, it's time to give Weaver his due.
One of the biggest success stories of the 2011 season has been Brandon McCarthy. From 2005-2009 he never posted an FIP better than 4.7, and twice had a FIP above 5. Then he spent 2010 injured and in the minors. But over 108 innings thus far this year, more than he has ever thrown in a season, he has a FIP of 2.69: a pretty incredible improvement. The immediate reasons are a big drop in walks — just 1.33 per nine fourth best for a pitcher this year with at least 100 innings — and an increase in ground balls. These improvements turned McCarthy from an average-control, fly-ball pitcher to an amazing-control, ground-ball pitcher, while not losing any of his strikeouts. That is going to lead to changes for the better — as it has for McCarthy.
Rob Neyer has a nice interview with McCarthy (which along with McCathry's great last start inspired this post), in which McCarthy discusses some of the adjustments he has made coming into this year. The main one was developing a fastball with more movement, and then the confidence that gave him. They also discuss McCarthy's injury history, which led him to average just 75 innings a year from 2005 to 2009. Kyle Boddy looked at pitchf/x data and film to examine mechanical changes McCarthy had made between 2009 and 2011. Boddy's mechanical analysis is always very interesting, this article is worth a read, and the upshot is that Boddy likes that changes that McCarthy has made, and that they may help him prevent injuries in the future.
So we know that McCarthy reworked his both his approach and mechanics heading into this season. Based on the pitchf/x data it also looks like he radically changed his pitching arsenal. McCarthy has all but abandoned his slider and change up; switched from mostly a four-seam to a mostly two-seam fastball; and added a cutter.
Before this year McCarthy's fastballs, which he threw around 65% of the time, were almost all four-seamers and were fly-ball pitches, getting just 31% grounders. Those have largely been replace by cutters and two-seam fastballs, which have ground-ball rates of 38% and 55% respectively. This explains his increase in grounders. He is also throwing the ball harder. His fastballs used to average 89 mph, but this year they average 91 mph. This is very surprising when going from predominately four-seam fastballs to two-seam fastballs, since two-seam fastballs tend to be slower. The change in mechanics look to have paid off.
Turning to his newfound command, here are the locations of his fastballs to right-handed batters in 2009 compared to his fastballs and cutters to right-handed batters in 2011:
As expected by his drop in walks McCarthy's pitch-level command is dramatically better. The pitches are in the zone more often, but more than that they cluster very tightly on the outside half of the strike zone. Meaning McCarthy is simultaneously better at pitching in the zone, but not in the down-and-in wheelhouse of right-handed batters.
Here are his fastballs in 2009 compared to his fastballs and cutters in 2011 to left-handed batters:
Again his pitches cluster much tighter in and around the strike zone in 2011. Interestingly he has gone inside more to lefties than he is to righties, the opposite of most right-hand pitchers. But it hasn't hurt him so far, as he has succeed against batters on both sides of the plate this year.
You really have to tip your hat to McCarthy, he seems to have completely retooled his arsenal for the better. With his two-seam fastball and cutter he has shown incredible command, while at the same time getting tons more ground balls (thanks mostly to the two-seam fastball) while not losing whiffs (thanks mostly to the cutter). He also has a very funny twitter account.
There have been a number of articles and interviews published over the past two weeks about my efforts to help Bert Blyleven get elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. As much for my personal reference as anything else, I am linking to these stories below in chronological order.
"I think the internet helped me a lot. I feel like a guy like Rich Lederer with baseballanalysts.com brought out my numbers. Probably with Zack Greinke and Felix Hernandez winning Cy-Youngs when they didn't have the most wins. Wins are hard to come by. It's hard to win a ballgame. It's easy to lose but it's hard to win."
10. Blyleven and Rich Lederer combined to defy recent trends
About 10 years ago, there was a debate at the late, great Rob Neyer Message Board about Blyleven’s Hall of Fame chances. At that time only 15 to 20 percent of the electorate supported him.
To answer the question, I went to my usual modus operandi: I looked at recent historical trends. It showed that of the last 20 guys elected to Cooperstown by the BBWAA (as of then), none had ever received 20 percent or lower of the vote in any election they were up for. None had ever fallen below 30 percent. Or 40 percent. The worst election by any of 20 guys who had gone on to election was one time Tony Perez finished exactly one vote shy of 50 percent.
If you went back further, you could find guys who’d risen up: Billy Williams, Luis Aparicio, Bob Lemon. But that’s the problem, you had to go way back. Many new voters had entered the mix, and old ones passed on. I assumed Blyleven had no chance with the current BBWAA.
But he did. Thanks in no small amount to a campaign led by Rich Lederer to get Bert Blyleven into the Hall of Fame, Blyleven saw his vote total gradually rise up, election after election, until he got in. With the power of the internet, Lederer’s persistence—and, oh yeah, Blyleven’s own solid case—he’ll have a nice weekend in upstate New York this year.
Note that since the Neyer Board discussion ten years ago, things have already shifted. Gary Carter, Rich Gossage, Jim Rice, and Bruce Sutter have all gotten in, after initially finishing under 50 percent. But Gossage and Sutter are relievers, and the Hall is still trying to figure them out. Carter only had one really low year, and it was never as low as Blyleven. Rice benefited from an orchestrated movement by the Boston press corps.
None spent as many years as low on BBWAA ballots as Blyleven. If you’re a fan of sabermetrics, and of internet-based populism, this weekend’s induction ceremony is thus a double victory—one for Blyleven and one for Lederer.
Consider Blyleven. I didn't vote for him for several years before finally seeing the light, thanks in large part to blogger Rich Lederer's insightful writings pleading his case. And eventually, 80 percent of writers agreed with Rich and decided Blyleven belonged in Cooperstown. But we nearly ran out of time before coming to that conclusion. We elected Blyleven in his next-to-last year of eligibility, and Jim Rice in his final year.
The thing about Bert Blyleven's Hall of Fame case was that there was no precedent for leaving out a pitcher of his caliber. It just took baseball writers a long time to figure this out, thanks in no small part to the efforts of blogger Rich Lederer, who tirelessly campaigned for Blyleven's case (click here for Rich's writings on Blyleven).
From Vin Scully's lips to Rich Lederer's computer to Bert Blyleven's plaque in Cooperstown.
...He heaps plenty of praise for his eventual induction on a campaign over the past eight-some years by Lederer, who created the site BaseballAnalysts.com as a way to re-interpret career data.
Lederer, whose late father George covered the Dodgers for the Long Beach Independent Press-Telegram during the team's first 11 seasons in L.A. and then did public relations for the Angels, started to crunch Blyleven's numbers back in 2003 and built a case that slowly enlightened the Hall voters.
"You look at the new age that we are in with the Facebook and (Twitter) and the online, all that stuff is very important, because I think, as writers that do vote, that is your job to look at numbers," Blyleven said. "And that is what I think Rich Lederer brought out. He brought my numbers out a lot more."
Jon Weisman of the DodgerThoughts.com blog called Lederer's achievement "the most effective grass-roots campaigns for Cooperstown ever." Dave Studenmund, the editor of The Hardball Times, wrote it was "greatest story of Sabermetrics on the Internet."
Lederer, an investment banker in Long Beach who used to deliver the Press-Telegram on his bike, said he wrote about 20 stories about Blyleven. Having it linked and read by other voters were key to getting the word out.
"Such praise from my esteemed peers not only feels good but means I achieved what I set out to do 7 1/2 years ago, which was simply to get Bert Blyleven elected to the Hall of Fame," said Lederer, leaving today with his wife to Cooperstown to join in Blyleven's induction ceremony.
"I have no doubt that my dad would have enjoyed the whole experience, from reading my articles, to watching Blyleven's vote totals increase year-after-year to Bert's election and induction. I only wish Dad were here because I'm quite sure that he would have accompanied me to Cooperstown for this very special day.
"I know one thing. Bert would have received one more vote every year if my dad, who was a member of the BBWAA from 1958 to 1978, were still alive. Just as Bert will be thinking about and thanking his father, who passed away in 2004, I will be thinking about and thanking my dad, too."
2004 – A California blogger, Rich Lederer, starts making a statistical case for Blyleven’s inclusion in the Hall of Fame. Blyleven was named that year on slightly more than one-third of ballots; 75 percent is needed to get into Cooperstown.
What Blyleven didn't know yet was that he had an Angel in his corner. Or a former Angels publicist's son, anyway.
Rich Lederer, a Long Beach investment advisor whose father once worked for the Angels, began making a statistics-based case for Blyleven's induction on the blog baseballanalysts.com in 2003. Among other arguments, Lederer noted that Blyleven would have easily eclipsed 300 victories had he received run support that matched the league average.
"I wasn't quite sure what impact it would have," said Lederer, who also lobbied baseball writers over the phone and in person, attending baseball's winter meetings in Anaheim in 2004.
Blyleven soon was a new buzzword among baseball writers, many of whom had previously dismissed his accomplishments as a function of his longevity. His vote total jumped from 17.5% in his first year on the ballot to 79.7% this year, the biggest leap since Duke Snider was elected in 1980 after receiving just 17% of the vote 10 years earlier.
Upon his election in January, in his next-to-last year of eligibility, Blyleven thanked Lederer. He then provided tickets for the induction ceremony — in the Blyleven family section. Lederer will be seated near Blyleven's mother, Jenny, 85, who will make the trip to Cooperstown from Garden Grove.
It will be heavily (and emotionally) SoCal when the baseball Hall of Fame inducts its new honorees this weekend. Former Angels pitcher Bert Blyleven goes in, and that means that Los Angeles blogger Rich Lederer will be on hand. His logical and unceasing case over seven years is the reason Blyleven was elected to the hall, and the pitcher invited the blogger to stand beside him in Cooperstown, N.Y. Forget the "Moneyball" movie, these guys could make a great baseball buddy flick — and they only met this year. Lederer's pre-flight post today:
My wife and I are leaving for Cooperstown this morning for the Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Sunday. We will be joined by our son-in-law Joel and my brother Tom and his wife Jeannie this weekend. If not a baseball trip of a lifetime, it should prove to be an unforgettable memory for not only the honoree himself but all of us as well.
There will be a lot of baseball fans and bloggers applauding Lederer along with Blyleven.
I looked. You looked. Bill James looked. Rich Lederer looked. Rich Lederer really looked. We all saw a pitcher who belonged in the Hall of Fame.
But for a long, long time the writers -- the writers in the Base Ball Writers Association of America, who vote for Hall of Famers -- just didn't see it that way. The writers have made a great number of mistakes over the years, most of them ultimately rectified. But if you're looking for evidence that the writers have massive blind spots, look no further than their history with Bert Blyleven.
In his first year on the ballot, Blyleven was named on 17 percent of the ballots. In his second year, he dropped to 14 percent. He didn't cross the 50-percent threshold until his ninth try.
Think about that ... For eight years -- and presumably the six years before that, too, when he wasn't yet on the ballot, which makes 14 years -- more than half the (supposed) greatest baseball experts in the world didn't think that Bert Blyleven and his 287 wins, 60 shutouts and his 3,701 strikeouts belonged in the Hall of Fame.
Of course it seems preposterous now, and all the guys who voted for him this time around, all 79.7 percent of them, will probably say it was just a matter of time. But the truth is that if not for Rich Lederer's one-man campaign, Blyleven might still be waiting. Fortunately, Blyleven's mom is still going strong at 85, and she was planning to attend the induction ceremony this weekend. Unfortunately, all those foolish writers who failed for so many years to vote for Blyleven did keep his father from attending; Joe Blyleven died of Parkinson's Disease in 2004.
Being in the Hall of Fame doesn't make Bert Blyleven a better pitcher, all of a sudden. In your mind and mine, Blyleven's exactly the same pitcher tomorrow as yesterday.
But let's not pretend that being in the Hall of Fame doesn't matter. It obviously matters a great deal to him, and presumably to those close to him. That's enough. That's enough for the writers to take their duties as Hall of Fame voters seriously. And while I prefer to think the best of my colleagues, most of whom have been exceptionally kind to me over the years, when I look at what happened to Bert Blyleven for all those years, I detect a frightening lack of seriousness.
For much more about Blyleven and the Hall of Fame, just poke around Baseball Analysts.
His first year on the ballot, 1998, Blyleven received 17.5 percent of the vote. A player needs 75 percent to get into the Hall of Fame, but Blyleven wasn't too worried; he knew he wasn't a first-ballot player. Then in 1999, he dropped to 14.1 percent.
"It took Harmon four years to get in," he said of Twins icon Harmon Killebrew. "Other pitchers like Don Sutton, guys that I thought my numbers were comparable to, I thought four or five years, maybe the sixth year, is when you'll see that big increase. But it went from like 17 (percent) to 14 to 17 to 19 or 20, and it was just a slow process, and I'm thinking, 'My California math is telling me that in 15 years I'm still going to be at 30 percent. I ain't getting in this thing.' "
After his second-year drop, Blyleven continued a steady rise, except when he fell from 53.5 percent in 2006 to 47.7 percent in 2007. But with a growing appreciation of Blyleven's achievements, thanks in large part to an Internet campaign spurred by Rich Lederer of baseballanalysts.com, his percentages kept climbing. In 2010, he came within five votes of 75 percent. Finally, this year, 79.7 percent of voters put him on their ballots.
"The day we've all been waiting for," said Rich Lederer, a Long Beach, Calif., resident who spent years touting Blyleven's credentials on a website, baseballanalysts.com.
“I was just talking to Peter Gammons (of MLB Network),” Blyleven began. “He told me that he didn’t vote for me and then he asked me to do an interview with him.”
Blyleven refused the interview.
For the past 10 years, a fan named Rich Lederer has been conducting an annual campaign to get Blyleven into the Hall, using the same arguments that helped Felix Hernandez win the Cy Young Award last year and Zach Greinke a few years ago with the Royals. As Lederer persisted, and as the analysis of numbers changed, more people were convinced.
“All of a sudden he talks to Rich Lederer and all of a sudden, it’s, ‘Oh my God, he had 60 shutouts, oh my God, he pitched almost 5,000 innings, 287 wins’ and all this other crap, and all of a sudden 14 years later I get in,” Blyleven continued, using Gammons as the example of all that kept him out this long.
The wait was made worse by the fact that Blyleven’s father Joe passed away in 2004 and his mom Jenny is 85, and the trip from the west coast was difficult.
“All of a sudden, it’s hello, do your homework. Maybe the internet stuff will wake up some of the writers that maybe should look at Jim Kaat’s numbers, at Tommy John’s numbers, or guys that maybe should be here that aren’t here. Tony Oliva is another one. Al Oliver, it could go on and on about guys that maybe should be here. I thanked Rich Lederer.”
I wrote my first of more than 30 articles about Bert Blyleven nearly 91 months ago to the day. I titled it “Only the Lonely: The Hall of Fame Trials and Tribulations of Bert Blyleven.” Only the Lonely was named after the 1960 song by Roy Orbison and was chosen because Blyleven was conspicuously missing from the Hall of Fame while all the pitchers ranked around him in several of the most important stats had already been inducted or were locks to be enshrined in their first year of eligibility.
Well, eight election cycles later and nobody can call Blyleven “Only the Lonely” any longer. His vote totals steadily rose from 145 (29%) in 2003 to 463 (80%) in 2011, ultimately piercing the 75 percent threshold needed for election last January. While Blyleven was on the ballot far too long, his date with destiny finally arrived last Sunday when he was officially inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. My wife Barbara and I sat in the Blyleven family section during the ceremony as guests of Bert and his wife Gayle.
I can now say for the first time that the past seven-plus years have been worth every minute. I can also proclaim that the preceding seven-plus months have been joyous and memorable, highlighted by the telephone call I received from Bert informing me that he had been voted into the Hall of Fame 30 minutes before the official announcement was made to the public. He told me that I was his second call, directly after the one to his mother Jenny.
The excitement didn’t stop there though. In fact, it was a fun-tastic two weeks, culminating in a surprise trip to Fort Myers, Florida to meet Bert face-to-face for the first time at a tribute dinner in his honor. After giving each other a big, warm bear hug on stage, I recalled a story about a Saturday afternoon 38 years ago that found me umpiring behind home plate in a winter league scout’s game that the then 22-year-old veteran of four MLB seasons started.
I played catch with Bert and pitched in a fantasy camp game the next morning, followed by a round of golf with him at his club that afternoon. Our foursome tied for first place with a 65 in a scramble tournament. We played well and had a great time on the baseball field and the golf course.
While I may have been the ringleader, getting Blyleven elected to the Hall of Fame was truly a team effort and one that would have never gotten off the ground, if not for the Internet. Darren Viola (known to most of us as Repoz) of the Baseball Think Factory deserves credit for linking to and excerpting my articles, which did wonders for getting the message out in the early going. Alex Belth and Jon Weisman were also prominent linkers. Rob Neyer linked my articles and advocated on behalf of Blyleven. Even Bill James got behind Blyleven's candidacy in The Hardball Times Annual. Jay Jaffe continually endorsed him in his Hall of Fame evaluations at Baseball Prospectus. There were several other backers who chipped in over the years, too.
Importantly, dozens of high-profile writers, including Peter Gammons, Tracy Ringolsby, Ken Rosenthal, and Jim Caple, changed their minds along the way and began to not only vote for Blyleven but helped spread the word and influenced their fellow BBWAA members.
Make no mistake about it, Bert did all the work on the field. Fifth all-time in strikeouts, ninth all-time in shutouts, and top 20 since 1900 in wins. Two World Series championships coupled with a 5-1 record and 2.47 ERA in the postseason only added to his credentials. My job, if you will, was simply to make the voters aware of his accomplishments and qualifications. Lo and behold, Blyleven got his just reward in his 14th (and second-to-last) year on the ballot.
As one of 295 individuals with plaques in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Blyleven is no longer "Only the Lonely."
All of us returned home on Tuesday afternoon. My wife, son-in-law, and I had so much fun that we decided to extend our trip by an extra day. Well, not exactly. We had a lot of fun, and we stayed an extra day. But not by choice.
Instead, our flight out of Albany International Airport on Monday was delayed to the point where we were going to miss the last connection out of Newark, where inclement weather was preventing departures and arrivals for most of the day. If we stayed overnight in Newark, the first available flight to LAX was at something like 5:45 p.m. ET, meaning we wouldn't have returned home until about 9:00 p.m. PT on Tuesday. By staying in Albany, we were able to book a flight at 7:00 a.m. We boarded the plane on schedule but sat on the tarmac for about 45 minutes before returning to the gate for another 45 minutes to refuel and get clearance for takeoff. While we arrived in Philadelphia nearly two hours behind schedule, we walked directly onto our connecting plane and arrived at LAX at roughly 12:45 p.m. PT.
All's well that ends well, especially when one can hold his beautiful granddaughter (the gift of my daughter and son-in-law) once again.
I plan to share more photos and stories of my trip to Cooperstown, including the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, the private reception on Saturday night, and the induction ceremony on Sunday. Check back on Thursday and Friday for additional posts.
We attended the Hall of Fame Awards Presentation at Doubleday Field from 4:30-5:30 p.m. ET on Saturday. The new event featured Terry Cashman singing Talkin' Baseball (Willie, Mickey, and the Duke), followed by Bill Conlin (J.G. Taylor Spink Award for meritorious contributions to baseball writing), Dave Van Horne (Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting excellence), and Roland Hemond (Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award).
Barbara, Joel, and I sat in the stands on the third base side between the pitcher's mound and home plate among guests of the inductees. Jerry Reinsdorf and Dennis Gilbert sat in the row below and just to the right of us. Dave Dombrowski was sitting one row in front of them. There were other front office executives and their family members in the immediate area.
The award winners and Hall of Famers sat on a stage behind second base. Going around the diamond in alphabetical and numerical order by scorekeeper positions, the following players, managers, and executives were on stage: Bert Blyleven (see how I worked that out?), Jim Bunning, Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, Whitey Ford, Goose Gossage, Ferguson Jenkins, Juan Marichal, Phil Niekro, Gaylord Perry, Tom Seaver, Don Sutton, Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, Carlton Fisk, Orlando Cepeda, Eddie Murray, Tony Perez, Roberto Alomar, Rod Carew, Bobby Doerr, Bill Mazeroski, Joe Morgan, Ryne Sandberg, Red Schoendienst, Wade Boggs, George Brett, Brooks Robinson, Ozzie Smith, Robin Yount, Lou Brock, Rickey Henderson, Ralph Kiner, Jim Rice, Billy Williams, Andre Dawson, Tony Gwynn, Reggie Jackson, Al Kaline, Frank Robinson, Dave Winfield, Paul Molitor, Whitey Herzog, Tom Lasorda, Earl Weaver, and Pat Gillick.
At the conclusion of the presentations, we were shuttled back to the front steps of the Museum to a VIP viewing area for the Parade of Legends. The Hall of Famers were driven from Doubleday Field down Main Street to the Hall of Fame individually in the back of Ford pickup trucks. We were invited to the Hall of Fame Private Reception inside the Museum afterwards. Hors d'oeuvres and cocktails were served in the Plaque Gallery.
I met Bert and Gayle Blyleven as they walked into the Hall of Fame. Bert and I shook hands and hugged. I introduced both of them to Barbara and Joel. We talked for a few minutes and concluded the conversation with a big, firm high five. I wish I had a photo of that moment but the memory will stay with me forever.
Later that evening, Bert and I met up for a few photos. The first one is of the two of us pointing to the spot on the wall where his plaque will be installed Sunday evening.
The second is in front of Blyleven's exhibit.
Needless to say, my family and I had a great day, topped by the Hall of Fame Private Reception. Meeting up with Bert in that setting was a once in a lifetime experience.
I'm posting four photos for now. I will add more later.
My wife Barbara and me standing in front of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum Saturday morning.
Here I am in the middle with my son-in-law Joel on the left and brother Tom on the right.
Jeannie, Tom, Barbara, me, and Joel in the Plaque Gallery.
I'm pointing to the spot where Blyleven will be enshrined in the Plaque Gallery forever.
After spending the morning and early afternoon at the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, we're now heading to the Awards Presentation at Doubleday Field.
Check back for more photos and stories late this evening or early tomorrow morning.
My wife and I are leaving for Cooperstown this morning for the Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Sunday. We will be joined by our son-in-law Joel and my brother Tom and his wife Jeannie this weekend. If not a baseball trip of a lifetime, it should prove to be an unforgettable memory for not only the honoree himself but all of us as well.
I plan on posting as many stories, links, and photos as time allows. So be sure to check back throughout the weekend to stay abreast of our trip.
That's all for now.
The Society for American Baseball Research held its 41st annual convention at the Long Beach Hilton two weeks ago. I enjoyed SABR 41 as an attendee and panelist, as well as for the opportunity to meet many friends in the baseball community.
Scott Boras was the keynote speaker on Thursday morning. You can listen to his 90-minute speech, which focused on his rise from a minor league baseball player to law school to becoming an attorney and then starting his own firm, known today as the Scott Boras Corporation. He talked about the use of both data and psychology in dealing with players, arbitrators, and front office executives, as well as managing the media.
You can read about and listen to the various panels that took place throughout the convention, including the medical (Dr. Neal ElAttrache, Dr. Kevin Wilk, and Ned Bergert, and moderated by Will Carroll of Sports Illustrated), media (Dave Cameron, Sean Forman, Bill Squadron, and Russ Stanton, and moderated by SABR President Andy McCue), SABR era (John Thorn, John Dewan, Roland Hemond, Wes Parker, and Dennis Gilbert, and moderated by Tom Hufford, one of SABR's 16 founding members), general managers (Jed Hoyer, Fred Claire, and Dan Evans, and moderated by Rob Neyer, the national baseball editor for SB Nation), and player (Tommy Davis and Al Ferrara and moderated by Barry Mednick of SABR's Allan Roth Chapter).
During the SABR era panel, Dewan seconded my nomination of Bill James for the Hall of Fame (see excerpt below). At the end of that discussion, I introduced myself to Mr. Hemond, who was the scouting director for the California Angels when my Dad was the Director of Public Relations and Promotions. The longtime executive will be honored in Cooperstown tomorrow as the second recipient of the Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award. After exiting the room, I stopped and listened to Parker, who was outside entertaining a small crowd of SABR attendees (that's me in the middle and Wes on the far left) with stories about his days as a former ballplayer with the Dodgers. I waited patiently and introduced myself as "Rich Lederer, the son of George Lederer." He had nice things to say about Dad, who covered the Dodgers for Parker's first five years in the big leagues.
I was invited by Cameron to participate in FanGraphs Live in the main ballroom on Thursday night. I served on an Angels/Dodgers panel with Sam Miller of the Orange County Register and Baseball Prospectus, Jon Weisman of ESPN/Dodger Thoughts, and Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. that was hosted by Jonah Keri, who writes about baseball for ESPN and FanGraphs and stocks for Investor's Business Daily. Keri introduced me as “the first stathead to induct someone into the Hall of Fame.” I also served on a national baseball panel with Cameron (second from the left in the adjoining photo), Vince Gennaro (middle), and Neyer (sitting on the far right) that was hosted by FanGraphs' Carson Cistulli (standing), who entertained us all.
The moderators and members of the audience asked me about the Angels and Dodgers, Bert Blyleven, the Hall of Fame, Jered Weaver, and Bryce Harper, among other topics. Cameron reminded me that I mentioned my disgust about the Vernon Wells signing more than once (or was it three times?). Of note, on the night before the Angels called up Mike Trout, I suggested that the team would have been better off locking him up for ten years rather than giving even more money to Wells for a shorter period. My son Joe, who attended the event along with my son-in-law Joel and brother Tom, informed me bright and early the following morning that the Angels promoted Trout from Double-A to the majors. I went to the Angels-Mariners game that evening and saw the 19-year-old prospect's MLB debut. He went 0-for-3 at the plate but made an outstanding running catch at the warning track in right-center field to record the final out in the top of the ninth inning.
I was interviewed by MLB Network at the convention the following morning. The half-hour segment was videotaped with the possibility of a portion of it being used on This Week in Baseball and/or for a documentary on the evolution of statistical analysis in baseball that will be narrated by Bob Costas and scheduled to air in the fall.
There were also numerous research presentations on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. I listened to The Joe Morgan Trade by Mark Armour, a former Bob Davids Award winner and the most prolific guest columnist for Baseball Analysts. I had lunch at George's Greek Cafe with Mark and Dan Levitt prior to the former's afternoon presentation. Mark and Dan co-authored Paths to Glory and are working on a sequel.
Long Beach native Rich Lederer, whose late father George was a Dodgers beat writer for their first 10 years here, created his own Baseball Analysts website several years ago to write about statistical and historical aspects of the game and provide a vehicle for other writers and links to even more.
"It's exciting to be here and meet a lot of people I've gotten to know through their work, and to take part in the process," Lederer said.
He got to participate in the main seminar Friday morning about SABR's impact and was feted for his statistical support of Bert Blyleven, the former Angels pitcher who finally was elected into the Hall of Fame.
"They asked me who I would help get into the Hall of Fame next," Lederer said. "I said 'Bill James' and the whole room exploded, clearly behind that idea. Next to Branch Rickey, he's given us the most information to change the way we think about baseball."
Lederer has a second choice, too - Long Beach native Bobby Grich, the former Wilson High star who had a terrific 17-year career with the Orioles and Angels, hit 224 home runs as a second baseman, had a career on-base percentage of .371 and won four Gold Glove awards.
His numbers are comparable with Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg (16 years, 282 home runs, nine Gold Glove awards) with the notable exception that Grich, the one year he was on the Hall of Fame ballot, received a mere four votes.
"There were a lot of things back then people didn't consider," Lederer said. "Grich played in two pitchers' parks (Memorial Stadium, Angel Stadium), offense was down in the '70s, and there were a lot of things he did that didn't get people's attention then - that he got on base, was a slugger playing second base, and was the best fielder for most of his career.
"I think he's probably one of the 12 greatest second basemen in baseball history."
Of the 3,000 or so attendees at the SABR Convention here, chances are each fancies their own player like Grich, or an opinion on the horror of pitch counts, or some numbers they've jotted down that you'll never get out of a box score. As gatherings of statistical scientists go, everyone in this group can call themselves a power hitter.
Aaron Gleeman, Jeff Polman, Chris Jaffe, Peter Iorizzo, Cecilia Tan, Geoff Young, Lisa Dillman, Eno Sarris, Sam Miller, Mike Leury posted recaps from SABR 41. You can read excerpts here. The site also links to their full stories, as well as to recaps from local media outlets. You can also read some of the top tweets from SABR 41, too.
I met Gleeman, Jaffe, Young, and Miller for the first time in person even though I have corresponded with the first three via email for years, including going all the way back to 2003 in the case of Aaron and Geoff.
SABR 42 will be held in Minneapolis next summer. In the meantime, if you're not a member of this great baseball organization, you should join now. Annual dues are reasonable and entitle you to many benefits, including discounted fees to the national conventions.
News: The Tigers designated 3B Brandon Inge for assignment. The 34-year-old Inge "hit" .177/.242/.242 in 239 plate appearances.
Views: How did the two-year contract Inge signed just nine months ago work out for the Tigers?
Joe Posnanski took a weeklong, cross-country trip that covered five cities and more than 10,000 miles in search of what baseball means in 2011. He traveled from Charlotte to Los Angeles and chatted with Vin Scully, from L.A. to New York to witness Derek Jeter's 3000th hit, from N.Y. to Kansas City to watch a game with Bill James in which Justin Verlander's 100-mph heat was topped by the temperature, from K.C. to Phoenix to catch Prince Fielder "uncoil his wonderfully violent swing" at the All-Star Game, and from Arizona to Cooperstown where a bat stored in the archives "down in the bowels of the Hall of Fame" that stuck with him the most. Yes, Wonderboy, the bat Roy Hobbs made from a tree split in half by lightning in the movie The Natural that reminded both Hobbs and Posnanski of their fathers.
THE BAT stays with me. Isn't that strange? I did so many amazing things on this crazy cross-country trip in search of what baseball means in 2011 ...
And so ... why the bat? Why does the bat keep reemerging in my mind, like a summer song that won't stop repeating? It's just a bat. It might not even be regulation size. No one used it to crack his 3,000th hit or smack his 500th homer. This bat was never even used in a major league game, or a minor league game, or a Little League game, or any real game at all.
Still ... Why do I think it's all about that bat?
"Loving Baseball" is Joe at his best. In addition to Scully, Jeter, James, Verlander, Fielder, and Hobbs, Posnanski marvels at the artistry of Adrian Gonzalez's swing, and mentions, in order, Cy Young, Sliding Billy Hamilton, Andre Ethier, Kirk Gibson, Roger Clemens, Willie Mays, Andrew McCutchen, Lance Berkman, Roy Halladay, David Ortiz, Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Roger Maris, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Honus Wagner, Robin Yount, Cal Ripken Jr., Ichiro Suzuki, Sandy Koufax, Walter Johnson, Brayan Pena, Gary Sheffield, Roberto Clemente, Johnny Bench, Ozzie Smith, Greg Maddux, Danny Jackson, Jose Bautista, Pete Rose, Jimmie Foxx, Al Kaline, Tony Gwynn, Harmon Killebrew, Lew Burdette, Ralph Terry, and Bill Mazeroski.
So why is it that as I end this trip, I keep thinking about Wonderboy?
...What was I looking for? While in Los Angeles, I heard the awful news about Shannon Stone, a Texas firefighter who brought his son to a Rangers game and fell and died when he lost his balance trying to catch a baseball. In New York, I saw a young man named Christian Lopez grab Derek Jeter's 3,000th hit and then saw his father, Raul, cover him as protection from the crowd. In Arizona, I saw the determined look on Jose Cano's face as he pitched to his son Robinson in the Home Run Derby.
And in Cooperstown, I saw Wonderboy—the bat a boy carved to remind himself of his father. My father worked for most of his life in a sweater factory. When he got home each day—oil on his pants, salami on his breath—we would go to the backyard and play catch. All the while he talked: Get in front of the ball... . Put the glove under your mattress to break it in... . Don't step into the bucket... . Watch how Henry Aaron steps into the ball... . Choke up on the bat with two strikes... . Get back to your feet quickly, like Brooks Robinson... . Remember, it's easier to run in on the ball than to go back.
"They're sending you around to the country to find the meaning of baseball?" he asked.
"Something like that," I said. He looked at me with a mix of disbelief and wonder and, sure, pride. Dad's job was to keep the sweater machines running. It was a clear assignment with a clear mission—plain questions and plain answers and no time for what he always called "baloney."
"Well, baseball is fun, right?" he said.
Baseball is fun indeed.
As the subtitle of the Sports Illustrated article dated July 25, 2011 asks and answers, "What keeps the grand game great? Everything old is new again."
Those who prefer baseball without steroids and bloated phony physiques might say the current situation means the game is back to normal, but 2011 is shaping up as a season where pitchers often have the upper hand. This midseason (July 12) look at team statistics shows how much the former Home Run Derby approach has changed in the past few years.
Starting with the long ball, 37 players are currently at a 25 HR or higher pace as compared to 53 who reached the quarter century mark in 2009. That's a 30.2 percent decline in a year and a half, and five teams are stumbling along ar a sub-100 HR pace. The offensive slide becomes even more apparent when other stats are examined.
Just one team hit under .250 in 2009, but 10 teams are currently below that level, with the Mariners at a .224 clip that would look right at home in 1911 rather than 2011. That doesn't include the best in the majors (57-34, .626) Phillies, who are listed at .250 which is actually rounded up from .24983 (776 for 3106).
Midseason taildraggers in the batting average numbers features a number of division leaders and contenders for the postseason. The list includes the Pirates (.247), Rays (.245), Giants (.243) and Braves (.237, or 26th out of 30 teams). The Nationals are at .500 (46-46) despite a .235 team average. Currently in last place in the NL West, the 40-52 Padres' .231 total can be partly attributed to Petco Park.
On-base percentages also require some mental adjustments from the recent past. Seven teams are under .310, and that list includes Billy Beane's formerly OBP-conscious A's at .299. Oakland has one of the better pitching staffs in baseball, but a weak-hitting lineup has dragged the franchise down to a 39-53 record and last place in the AL West. The Mariners bring up the rear with a putrid .290 OBP.
The value of OBP, drawing walks and extending at-bats in an era of pitch counts comes shining through when batting averages are on a downward trend. The Yankees are 11th in the majors with a .258 team average, but 343 walks in 88 games (almost 3.9 bases on balls per game) has led to a combined OBP of .340, which ties the Cardinals for second best in the majors.
Despite a 37-55 record, the Cubs are sixth in the majors with a .263 team average, but just 223 walks in 92 games (2.43 per game, or a projected 394 over a full season) has led to an 18th-ranked team OBP of .317. The main offenders in impatience are all hitting over .300. The young double play combo of second baseman Darwin Barney (.306, but just 10 walks in 294 ABs) and shortstop Starlin Castro (.307 with 117 hits and just 16 walks in 381 ABs) are hacking away, as is utilityman Jeff Baker (.306 and four walks in 134 ABs).
The dreadful (30-62 for a major league worst .326 winning percentage) Astros are hitting a respectable .260 (9th in the big leagues), but Houston's meager total of 225 walks drags the OBP down to .312, which is 23rd overall. Third baseman Chris Johnson is the main culprit, with just eight unintentional walks, a pair of intentional passes and 74 strikeouts in 292 ABs. That lack of selectiveness might be forgiven if Johnson was hitting .308 with power as he did in 2010, but a .243, 6 HR, 34 RBI stat line is far from last season's production.
With the exception of Chone Figgins (262 ABs, .183, 1 HR, 14 RBI and a freakishly low .231 OBP), it has been the all or nothing, high strikeout hitters who have suffered the most in the offensive decline of 2011. Adam Dunn (.160 with 117 Ks in 269 ABs for the White Sox) is enduring a historically nightmarish year, but Dan Uggla (340 ABs, .185, 15 HR, 34 RBI), Jack Cust (3 HR, 23 RBI, .211 with 76 Ks and 44 BB in 204 ABs) and Russell Branyan (2 HR, 6 RBI, .196 and 35 Ks in 107 ABs) are also finding the going much rougher this season.
Pitching statistics reflect a return to more balance between offense and run prevention. Compare the 18 starting pitchers with sub-3.00 ERAs to the 11 who ended 2009 at that impressive level. Another 10 starters currently have ERAs from 3.01 to 3.10. Nine staffs entered the All-Star break with sub-3.50 ERA, and the Nationals just missed the cut at 3.53. Just one team - the Dodgers - came through with a staff ERA below 3.50 (3.41) in 2009.
Moundsmen are also more inclined to challenge hitters with a greater variety of deliveries or are adopting a pitch to contact mentality. Nine staffs currently boast a walk ratio below 3.00 per nine innings pitched. Only the Twins and the Cardinals did the same in 2009.
Some would say that prime hitting season is coming up with the high temperatures of July and August, which would mean the first half's numbers are subject to being more favorable to hitters by the end of the season. While that is certainly a logical thought, baseball in 2011 has changed considerably from the slow pitch softball mentality of the earlier part of the 21st century.
Roy Halladay and Jered Weaver have been named the starting pitchers for tonight's All-Star Game in Arizona, which will be televised by FOX at 8 p.m. ET. While the 34-year-old Halladay has participated in the mid-summer classic in eight of the past 10 years, the 28-year-old Weaver earned his first trip in 2010 but did not play because he pitched on the Sunday preceding the game.
Halladay and Weaver are leading their respective leagues in Fielding Independent Pitching Earned Run Average with FIPs of 2.16 and 2.39. Of note, Weaver also leads Major League Baseball in ERA (1.86), Adjusted Pitching Runs (31), and Adjusted Pitching Wins (3.6). He ranks first in the AL and second in MLB in not only FIP but Fangraphs (4.7) and Baseball-Reference (4.9) Wins Above Replacement among pitchers, ERA+ (199), and Win Probability Added (3.4).
If Weaver is not the best pitcher in baseball, he is certainly one of the top ten, along with Halladay and, in alphabetical order, Cole Hamels, Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, Cliff Lee, Tim Lincecum, CC Sabathia, and Justin Verlander. A healthy Josh Johnson, Stephen Strasburg, or Adam Wainwright would fill out my list of the best starting pitchers in the game. Cases for inclusion could also be made for Zack Greinke, Tommy Hanson, Dan Haren, Jon Lester, and David Price.
Importantly, Weaver is not a small-sample-size phenomenon. Over the past year, Weaver ranks second in MLB in ERA (2.38), third in FIP (2.59), and 4th in fWAR (7.4). According to Baseball-Reference.com, he ranks sixth among all active pitchers in career ERA (3.32) and ERA+ (128).
It's taken a long time for Weaver to overcome the naysayers in the prospect and stathead community as more than his brother or an innings eater. He is undoubtedly much greater than both. Jered is not only the starting pitcher in the All-Star Game but a leading candidate to win the AL Cy Young Award this year.
Tonight's recognition will do little for Halladay's reputation but should do wonders for the under appreciated Weaver.