Archive for History

Body Types by Lineup Position – Visualized

On April 2nd, 2014, just one day removed from April Fools’ Day, the Houston Astros turned in the lineup for their game against the New York Yankees. Dexter Fowler would bat leadoff, Matt Dominguez would hit second and Robbie Grossman would bat in the three hole. The cleanup spot would be filled by Jose Altuve. Altuve is listed at five feet, five inches tall. Since that fateful day on April 2ns, he is now tied with Freddie Patek as the shortest player to bat cleanup since 1974.

Here comes the caveat that the Astros are doing their own thing at the moment and what they do should not be seen as some sort of new-age thinking in regards to winning baseball games. Short dudes in the four hole are not the new market inefficiency. Altuve’s odd lineup placement is just a phase. Like that one weird cousin of yours, Houston is taking some time to figure some stuff out right now.

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The Hidden Minimalism of Home Run Distance

The first season of South Park debuted in 1997. I was a freshman in high school. An episode came out in December of that year that involved the school putting on a Christmas program, only all the parents wanted it to be either non- or universally-denominational, so the whole thing ended up being performed in unitards and it was all very cold and strange. One of the jokes circled around the fact that the music was composed by Philip Glass. Out of the group with which I was watching, I was the only one who laughed at that joke, because I was the only band nerd in the group who had any idea who Philip Glass was.

The joke fit the narrative. This was a play stripped of all decoration and pomp being accompanied by minimalist music. It was also an easy joke, because jokes about minimalist music are fairly easy to make. There’s no guitar riffs, there’s no hook, there’s no chorus. It starts with an idea. That idea is built upon, added to, modified, deconstructed, rearranged. Then, at the end, it’s right back to where it started. No matter how different or unique things get in the middle, that original idea is just under the surface — always present. It imitates life more than any other style of music. Life throws us all kinds of garbage, but it’s tragically repetitive. Babies, new jobs, weird guys on the bus, movies — they are all tiny differences, tiny theme changes, from the pulsing march of our lives. Baseball, more than any other sport, mimics that as well. There’s a beginning, there’s a bunch of wonderful and heartbreaking stuff in the middle, and then it ends. The day before Opening Day is the day after the last World Series game. Over and over — rinse, repeat. Read the rest of this entry »

Does Every World Series Champion Have a Hall of Famer?

Last weekend, I saw an interesting article in colleague Mike Petriello’s Twitter timeline. It was from retired Detroit News sportswriter/columnist Jerry Green, who was — for the 15th and final time — advocating for Jack Morris‘ Hall of Fame candidacy. Without getting into a line-by-line critique of the article, there were several things in the article that I did not agree with, but one thing did catch my attention:

I think it is quite sad that Morris will be left out. That the best baseball team I ever covered —the 1984 Tigers — will have not a single player in the Cooperstown Hall of Fame. Only Sparky Anderson, the manager, has been elected to the Hall of Fame. And forced to choose, Sparky opted to go into the Hall as the once-manager of the Cincinnati Reds.

Now, Green didn’t out and out declare that every World Series winner should have a member of its team in the Hall of Fame, but that was certainly the tangent that I led myself on in thinking about that passage. So, I decided to investigate — does every team have a Hall of Famer on it?

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The Old-School Leverage Play

In the afternoon of Saturday, October 10th, 1931, the Cardinals took on the Philadelphia Athletics at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. This would be the seventh and final matchup of these teams in that year’s World Series. Philadelphia had gone 107-45 that season (beating their Pythagorean record by 10 games), behind the one-two-three punch of catcher Mickey Cochrane, a young Jimmie Foxx, and outfielder Al Simmons. They also boasted a pitching staff including the likes of Lefty Grove and Waite Hoyt. Though they had won six less games, the Cardinals were no slouches, either. Hall-of-Famers Jim Bottemley and Frankie Frisch manned the infield, with Pepper Martin in the outfield in his first full season. Paul Derringer and the fantastically-named (and HOF spitballer) Burleigh Grimes anchored the rotation for St. Louis. The Athletics were favored to win the series somewhat heavily, as Connie Mack‘s club was coming of two consecutive world titles, and had beaten the (more-or-less) same Cardinals team the previous year. It was a fairly evenly-matched series all-in-all, save for Game 6 when the Athletics kicked around the Cardinals to the tune of 8 – 1. Al Simmons was hitting out of his mind that series, and would eventually end up with a 1.030 OPS for the fall classic, while Pepper Martin posted a 1.330 OPS with the Cardinals. Grimes was dealing, allowing only one run over 18 innings, while Grove and George Earnshaw were racking up the strikeouts for the Philly (well, as much as you could rack up strikeouts back then.) Read the rest of this entry »

A Resurgence of Young Postseason Starters

With the exception of the return of the Pittsburgh Pirates to playoff contention, perhaps the biggest story of this postseason is the cavalcade of young starters taking the mound. There have been 46 postseason starts so far (23 games at two starters a piece), and 18 of those 46 were started by someone 25 years old or younger. That list includes the likes of Michael Wacha, Gerrit Cole, Sonny Gray, Danny Salazar, and Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw, Mike Minor and Joe Kelly are all 25, while Wacha and Julio Teheran are the babies at 22. Almost 40% of the postseason starts were from young talent this year, though that number will go down now that Kershaw, Kelly, and Wacha are the only young starters left. Still, the 2013 postseason is another indicator that the trend of young starters is making a comeback.
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Five Moments From Todd Helton’s Final Five Seasons

When I worked for the Rockies, we spent a lot of time talking about Todd Helton’s hall of fame candidacy. When Helton recovered from a hairy intestinal issue in 2006 to post the seventh four-win (or better) campaign of his career in 2007, the going thought was that if he was able to just to do that a few more times, he would be a shoo-in for the Hall. He stood at 51.1 WAR through the end of his age-33 season, and had plenty of other accolades on his resume — five-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glove winner, four-time Silver Slugger, one of just 10 players to play in the Integrated Era to be a career .300/.400/.500 hitter, 10th all-time in on-base percentage, etc. Honestly, some of the debate was which statistical markers were the most impressive. And with the Rocktober run in the books, Helton was no longer the longest tenured player to not have played in the postseason.

But then age caught up to Helton in a big way. In the past six years, he has been able to add just 5.1 WAR to his ledger, and now after a poor swan song he stands in the gray area from a hall perspective. However, it hasn’t all been doom and gloom these past few years. So rather than wallow in what-ifs, I thought today we could look at five of the best moments from the final five seasons of Helton’s career.

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Worst Final Seasons, Part Four

Well, we made it. We’re here. If you missed the first three installments, you can peep them here, here and here. Today, we wrap things up with pitchers who amassed between 60 and 69 WAR, and pitchers at 70 WAR and above.

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Worst Final Seasons, Part Three

Now it’s the pitcher’s turn. Today I’ll cover the 30, 40 and 50 WAR groups, and we’ll leave the 60 and 70+ WAR groups for the final installment. If you missed Part One and Two on hitters, you can find them here and here.

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Worst Final Seasons, Part Two

Yesterday, I began the first of what will be a four-part series on the final seasons of a player’s career. You can check out part one here for the back story and players with the worst final seasons among those who posted between 30 and 69 career WAR. As I was wrapping that article I thought I would split it out, partially because it was already fairly long, partially to give the absolute best players a little bit more attention and partially because when I broke things out by 70+ WAR only, none of the 100+ WAR players ended up in the bottom five. So I thought there was no harm in one additional tier.

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Worst Final Seasons, Part One

On Friday, when I was writing about Carl Yastrzemski, I thought about Willie Mays. Anecdotally, when we think of the worst-ever final season by a great player, we think of Mays wasting away on the Mets. But is that really the example we should think of, or is it simply the most well-known? With both Vladimir Guerrero and Todd Helton announcing their retirement over the weekend further adding fuel to the fire, I figured I’d dig in and see if we could look at this a little more objectively. I’ll be splitting this into four posts — two for hitters, and two for pitchers.

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Nobody Played the Green Monster Like Carl Yastrzemski

There are at least three remarkable things about Carl Yastrzemski’s playing career. The first is that he played forever. Second, he hit for the American League triple crown in 1967. But third, and most importantly, nobody played the Green Monster like Yaz. I asked my father about it, as he became eligible to vote during Yaz’s rookie season, and he put it simply: “He had it all mapped out.” With the Red Sox belatedly deciding that it’s time to erect a statue in honor of Yaz (I mean, come on, Frank Thomas already has his statue at US Cellular Field) I thought we could take a look back at Yaz’s career.

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Giants May Be Next Member of First-To-Worst Club

The Giants have not had a great year, to put it plainly. In first place as late as May 26, things went south in a hurry, and they have spent most of August in last place. The race for the bottom in the National League West remains tight — only two games separate the third-place Rockies and last-place Giants. Still, the team’s predicament begs the question of whether or not San Francisco will be the next member in the selective first-to-worst club.

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An Ode to the 2003 Red Sox Offense

In 2003, the city of Boston wasn’t exactly desperate for the winter, but they were longing for one. Yes, the Patriots had won at 2002’s outset, but Boston has never been a Patriots town, and when they followed that up with a 9-7 season that ended without a playoff appearance, they lost their grip on the public. The Celtics and Bruins had reliably made the playoffs, but even though the Celtics put up a good fight in 2002, neither won their respective conferences.

So the eyes of Boston turned back, as they tend to do, to the Red Sox. And they were hopeful. The team had won 93 games in 2002, but that still left them six games shy of the postseason. Even under today’s new Wild Card rules they would have missed out, as the Twins finished 1.5 games ahead of them (of course, who knows what would have happened had the rules actually been different, I’m just saying there were lots of good teams that year).

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Dave Parker Was, And Is, The Man

Not everyone liked Dave Parker. Certainly the fans who threw things at him in the Pittsburgh outfield, slashed the roof of his convertible and even threatened his life could be counted in this camp. Pundits who may have poured cold water on Parker’s Hall of Fame candidacy thanks to his involvement in the Pittsburgh Drug Trials might also find themselves in this camp. But whether you loved him or hated him, Parker was always one of the game’s most entertaining and best players, and his recent diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease shouldn’t overshadow that fact.

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Stan Musial Hit The Heck Out Of Some Triples

Hitting triples is pretty hard. At the height of triple-icity, they only comprised six percent of all the hits in the majors in any given season, and that was back in the first Dead Ball era. Today that figure hovers around two percent. Back in Stan Musial’s day it wasn’t a great deal higher — 3.3 percent during the seasons of his career (1941-1963, with 1945 excepted). And yet, Musial, a power hitter, hit the heck out of some triples.

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Claude Osteen: Dodgers’ Valuable Third Wheel

Everyone remembers Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. The duo pitched 11 years together in Brooklyn and in Los Angeles. Together, the pair  helped the Dodgers reach the Fall Classic five times, three of which their team won. But there’s a good chance  they wouldn’t have won their third and World Series title without the help of their third wheel, Claude Osteen.

One of just 56 players to debut in the majors at or before the age of 17, Osteen pitched  18 seasons for the Reds, Senators, Astros, Cardinals and White Sox — in addition to the Dodgers. It was there, in Los Angeles, where his presence was felt most. The Dodgers acquired Osteen in a trade with the Senators that included Frank Howard, so they didn’t exactly get him cheap. But the Dodgers certainly got their money’s worth, especially since it took several years before Howard became a star. Osteen, meanwhile, was a Dodger from 25 to 33 years old and spent the bulk that time outworking his competitors.

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The Least-Deserving All-Star Game Starting Pitchers

Much of the time, the pitcher who starts the All-Star Game is very deserving, and is very obvious. It may not be the most-deserving pitcher mind you, but the selection is generally someone good enough that the selection is not worth arguing. This year is such a year: Both Max Scherzer and Matt Harvey rank second in their respective league in WAR, and are close enough to the front runners (Felix Hernandez and Adam Wainwright) as to make the differences negligible. But that hasn’t always been the case. Let’s take a trip down memory lane and look at some of the starting pitchers who weren’t quite as deserving.

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Putting Michael Cuddyer’s Hit Streak Into Perspective

Michael Cuddyer just finished going streaking. His 27-game streak, which lasted from May 28th to June 30th, was the longest since Dan Uggla’s 33-gamer in 2011. While he didn’t reach the 30-game benchmark that many sites use, 27 games is nothing to shake a stick at — Cuddyer’s streak was just the 135th of 25 or more games since 1916 that happened during the same season (there were also 18 that spanned two seasons, but I don’t count those. If you have a problem with that you can go suck a lemon). I didn’t have the time to go through all of those streaks, but I did have a chance to take a look at the streaks of 30 or more games, and I thought we could put Cuddyer’s streak into perspective.

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