Monthly archives: August 2006
Curt Schilling, Baseball Fascist
Crash Davis (advising Nuke LaLoosh): Relax, all right? Don't try to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.
Curt Schilling in a losing effort last night joined the prestigious 3000-strikeout club, becoming its fourteenth member. In the process he probably hit a big enough career number to earn, with the help of his two rings each with different teams, a plaque in Cooperstown.
Mind you, I don't know if I would rush to put the 206-win late bloomer in the Hall, but I think the baseball writers will.
He becomes the fourth active pitcher to strike out three thousand batters joining Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, and Greg Maddux. Pedro Martinez, who is awaiting Ernesto to leave Florida to start rehabbing, is just 14 Ks short of joining the club.
There haven't been five active 3000-K pitchers in almost twenty years. In 1987 five 3000-K pitchersBert Blyleven (3286), Don Sutton (3530), Nolan Ryan (4547), Phil Niekro (3342), and Steve Carlton (4131)were active. By 1992, just (Ryan and Blyleven) were still active. From 1994 to 1997, there were no 3000-K pitchers in baseball.
Two years saw the highest number of active 3000-K members, six. The first was 1983 (Don Sutton, Fergie Jenkins, Gaylord Perry, Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton, and Tom Seaver) and the second was 1986 (with Tom Seaver joining the 1987 list above).
By the way, here's the first list of 300-K club members with soon-to-be anointed Martinez:
Unfortunately, there are not that many pitchers beyond Martinez who have a good shot of joining the club. The 39-year-old John Smoltz is next at 2743. Beyond that it looks like we are going to have as long a wait as we did after the waning mid-Eighties classes started to retire.
Here are the active pitchers who meet or exceed the strikeout totals for the average 300-K club member by the given pitcher's age. Note that this is based on the career totals through 2005, but I include the 2006 numbers. Two pitchers (Vazquez and Greinke) are falling short of the necessary totals in 2006, though Vazquez should catch up:
[By the way, about the title: I just wanted to work in the right's favorite buzzword of late. I always love to quote Rummy the Dummy.]
Howard You Like A New Homer Champ?
Ryan Howard had an off night tonight, just a double and two runs batted in in four at-bats. Not even one home run. Dang!
That leaves him at 13 for the month and 48 for the season. As I'm sure you've already heard, that ties him with Mike Schmidt for the franchise record of home runs in a season. Schmidt hit 48 taters to lead the league in his MVP season of 1980, and yes, that's the only year the Phils even won a World Series ring.
Though they are now tied, I still give the nod to Schmidt, who had two more dingers in the World Series, for which he won the Series MVP. However, given that Howard now projects to 59 for the season, I don't expect the tie to last much longer.
Schmidt held the team home run crown for 27 seasonshe broke it '79 with 45 and then again in 1980, and he is still 489 career homers ahead of Howard. Oh yeah, and he's also the best player the franchise ever had, the best third baseman in baseball history, and a first-ballot Hall of Famer. So his resume won't take that big a hit.
Schmidt held the record for quite some time, but he doesn't even compare to his predecessor in terms of longevity. Chuck Klein hit 43 home runs in 1929 to set a new club record. He broke Cy Williams 1923 record of 41. Klein owned that record for 50 years until Schmidt broke it in successive seasons.
Prior to Williams (and a brief stint by Gavvy Cravath, who hit 24 HRs in 1915), the club home run record holder was Hall-of-Famer Big Sam Thompson, who was the first Phil to hit twenty home runshe had exactly 20 in 1889. He held the record for 26 seasons.
Here is the progression of Phils' single-season home run leaders:
Also, here are the most home runs hit in a single season by a Phillie:
Now, Schmidt's 27-year-old record made me wonder, what with home run records dropping like flies in the last decade, how many club records remain from before the home run boom. Here are the single-season record-holders per club. As you can see, Schmidt's was the eighth oldest:
The completist in me has to address the club career home run leaders, so here goes
Here's the progression of Phillies career home run leaders:
Here are the leaders in career home runs for the franchise:
Finally, here are the career leaders in home runs per season. Some interesting namesSantiago, Gene Freese, and 32-year-old rookie/one-year wonder Buzz Arlettcrop up. It might be excessive, but I can't resist any list with Don Demeter on it:
So This Is What It Has Come To?
Jeff Friggin' Connine?!?
Switching gears from sellers (of real talent) to buyers (of geriatric talent) is one thing. Sure, pick up a 43-year-old Jamie Moyer while Vicente Padilla, who was traded essentially for nothing, is 13-8 in Texas. Jose "Sr. K" Hernandez? Yes, he's still playing. And I won't mention the name of a throw-in in the Eric Milton tradeactually I will: Nick Punto, who's helping the Twins win a wild card that actually matters in the AL.
It's bad enough that the Phils are picking up these marginal talents after Crazy Pat's fire sale at the end of July. Yeah, that Abreu is really killing the Yankees.
OK, I get it. The Phils are in a wild card hunt. As they fall to .500 tonight, they are still just a game and a half out of the wild card lead. Given that it has been 13 years since their last playoff appearance and 23 since the one before that (both ending in Series losses), this team should do whatever they can to get a cherished playoff spot.
But Jeff Conine?
Johnny Damon going to the Yankees? David Wells to the Red Sox? Those are nothing compared to the man who single-handedly knocked the Phils out of the wild card spot in 2003 joining them for a wild card run in 2006.
When Conine was acquired by the Marlinsagain from the O's in at the trade deadline in 2003they were tied with the Phils for the wild card lead (73-63). By the time the Phils and Marlins next met (Sept. 16), Florida was 1.5 games up.
After a 14-0 shellacking brought the Phils within one-half game of the wildcard lead, Conine helped lead the Marlins to an 11-4 going 2-for-3 with a home run, a double, two walks, two runs scored, and three runs batted in. He also doubled off two runs from his position in left field. He drove in two runs in the top of the first to put the Marlins up 3-0. After the Phils tied the score, he homered with one out in the fourth to put the Marlins 4-3. They added two more runs in the inning to go up to stay.
Despite a single and a run scored on a bunt and a Kevin Millwood error, Conine and Florida lost the final game of the series, and the Phils were again one-half game behind. The meet again in Miami after one series eachthe Marlins split with the Braves and the Phils lost two of three to the Reds to fall to one full game back.
With six games remaining, the two teams had three games left to play. The Phils led 3-0 in the bottom of the seventh. After two straight walks by Kevin Millwood to lead off the bottom of the seventh and a flyout, Jeff Conine homered to tie the game and drive Millwood from the game. The ill-fated Mike Williams came in to give up a single and walk. When all was said and done, the Marlins nabbed a 5-3 leadthe eventual score was 5-4.
The Marlins led by two games, but the Phils could still tie them if they won the final two games of the series.
In the next game, the Marlins led 2-0 in the sixth when Conine hit a two-run homer to cap a four-run inning. Conine went 2-for-3 with a walk, a run scored, and two batted in in the 6-5 Marlins win.
The Phils were now done three games with just four games left to play.
Conine had an off game in their last meeting going just 1-for-5 (a double) with two runs batted in. The Marlins won 8-4 to eliminate the Phils. The Marlins went on to their second wild card be-pilfered ring in seven years. The Phils have been a team seemingly one game away from a playoff spot ever since.
Overall, in 37 at-bats against the Phils in 2003, Conine had 12 hits, 3 doubles, 3 home runs, 3 walks, 5 runs scored, 11 batted in, and five Ks. His ratios were .324/.375/.649/1.024. For Conine's career, there is only one team (the Rockies) against whom he has more homers than the Phils (13).
Did I mention that I dislike Jeff Conine?
But I digress
If the Phils somehow steal the wild card spot, they will become one of a handful of teams who would play a playoff series without two of their regular-season starters. No matter what happens the rest of the way this season, Baseball Reference will list already departed Phils Bobby Abreu and David Bell as the starters in right and at third, respectively. And Sal Fasano, Abreu's teammate in the Bronx, had more at-bats than any other Phils catcher when he was inexplicably designated for reassignment a week before the trade deadlinewell, maybe that was the explanation.
There are only two teams in playoff history who have started a series with two of their regular-season starters on other rosters. The first was the 1909 Detroit Tigers who traded the right side of the infield in August (1B Claude Rossman and 2B Germany Schaefer) for their superior replacements (Tom Jones and Jim Delahanty) for the last forty-odd games of the season. The Tigers still lost in seven games to the Pirates.
The other team was the 2004 Paul DePodesta Dodgers. They traded starting catcher and Team Leader(TM) Paul Lo Duca and staring right fielder Juan Encarnacion to the Marlins in the Brad Penny trade.
Of the twelve teams that played a playoff series without at least two of their regular-season starters, just one (the World Series Reggie-less 1972 A's) has won the World Series. The least number of starters fielded in a playoff series was four by the injury-plagued Braves in the 2001 Division Series, which they won. The Braves were missing starters Javy Lopez, Quilvio Veras, Rafael Furcal, and Wes Helms. Lopez returned for the NLCS, which they lost.
Here's the complete list of teams who have played a playoff series without at least two regular-season starters:
For those curious, here are the missing starters:
Entering a New ERA?
I was looking at the league leaders the other day and noticed something odd. The best ERA in the American League was Johan Santana's 3.03 followed closely by rookie Justin Verlander's 3.05. The NL was led by Rookie Josh Johnson with a 2.90 ERA. Brandon Webb's 2.99 was the only other ERA under three.
There are a number of oddities surrounding this rather mundane seeming numbers.
First, if they hold up they would be among the top twelve highest ERAs for a league leader all-time. There have only been six ERA leaders over 3.00 in baseball history: Here are the highest with this year's leaders included:
However, I think it is even more odd that Johnson's 2.90 would be the highest ever for a major-league leader in any two-league season. To translate, it would be the highest except for some guy you never heard of in a season before the AL came to be. Here are the highest major-league leaders including Johnson:
Johnson also could become the first rookie ERA champ since Mark "The Bird" Fidrych, thirty years ago. He would also be just the fourteenth rookie to lead the majors in ERA. If Johnson and Verlander both win their league's ERA crown, it would be the first time that two rookies won the titles. Here are all the rookie ERA champs:
Finally, if Santana wins the AL ERA crown, he would be the 41st pitcher to lead his league in ERA more than once. Here are the men with the most ERA crowns:
The Real Boston Massacre
While I was on vacation, the Yankees did something that had not been done in baseball in ten years. They won five straight games of a five-game road series against the same opponent, the Red Sox if you haven't already heard. In the process they did their best to eliminate Boston from the postseason, sending them from 1.5 to 6.5 games out of first in the AL East and from 2.5 to 4 games out of the wild card hunt.
The Yanks outscored the Sox 49 to 23 for an average margin of victory of 4.6 runs. The other two times that Yankees took five straight in Boston were in 1927 and 1943, but they did not score nearly as many runs nor did they outscore the Sox by as much (35-14, 4.2 from June 21 to June 23, 1927including two doubleheadersand 34-12, 4.4 from September 9 to September 12, 1943).
However, it was by no means the worst drubbing that a New York team ever visiting on a Boston team on their home field. They were just different teams, ones that no longer exist, at least as Boston and New York teams.
From September 10 to September 14, 1928, the Giants took eight straight games of an eight-game series from the Braves at Braves Field via four doubleheaders in five days (with the off day coming day three). In the process they tied the record for doubleheader sweeps on consecutive days. No other road team has ever won more than six straight games against the same opponent.
On Monday, September 10, the Giants won 4-1 and 11-0, on Tuesday the Eleventh, 11-6 and 7-6 (with Freddie Lindstrom going 8-for-10), on Thursday the Thirteenth, 12-2 and 7-6, and finally on Friday the Fourteenth, 6-2 and 5-1 (in eight innings). In the process the Giants moved from 4.5 games back in third place on Sept. 9 to one game out in second place on September 14. Unfortunately, that's as close as they got to the first-place Cardinals, who won by two games two weeks later.
In the series Fat Freddie Fitzsimmons and Jack Scott both won two games. Cal Hubbell, Joe Genewich, Larry Benton, and reliever Jim Faulkner (in relief of Genewich, who allowed three in the first) each won one game. The Braves' Bob Smith lost three games including both ends of the last doubleheader.
The Braves actually led in the first inning of the 7-6 game on 9/11. The Giants tied it up in the second. They again led 2-1 in the fourth, but the Giants scored two to lead off the fifth, and then led the rest of the game. In the other 7-6 game (9/13), the Braves led 3-0 from the first until the bottom of the first until the top of the fourth. Then the Giants scored three to tie it, the Braves again went ahead in the top of the fifth, 4-3, but the Giants again tied the game in eighth, and then went ahead to stay with three runs in the ninth. These were the only leads the Braves held in the series (they also had a tie in game three from the bottom of the fourth until the top of the sixth and then again from the bottom of the sixth until the top of the seventh).
The Braves did not score in the first game until down 4-0 in the bottom of the ninth. They didn't score at all in game two. After keeping game three close (2-2) though six full innings, they allowed six runs to the Giants en route to an 11-6 blowout. In game five, they did not score until the seventh when they were already down 9-zip. In game seven, they allowed five in the top of the first frame en route to a 6-2 loss. In the final game, the Braves did not score until they were already down 5-0 in the eighth and final inning of a game apparently shortened due to darkness.
The most lopsided five-game series, however, came in New York from September 4 to September 6, 1901. The last-place Giants lost six straight at home to the first-place Pirates by a combined score of 80-23 or about 13.3 to 3.8 on average. That's an average margin of victory of 9.5 runs. The Pirates outscored the Giants 10.2 in the last five games of the series, and 9.6 in the first five. Aside from this series, only the Cardinals in a 1926 five-game sweep of the Phils done so with an average margin of victory greater than 7.2 runs (also 9.6). To top it off, the Giants lost 10-4 to Chicago the day before the series started for seven straight games with double-digit run totals allowed.
As it turned out it was just the first six-game sweep by a road team of the season. The Phils sweep the Reds from September 30 to October 2, 1901. There have only been eleven six-game sweeps by a road team all-time, the last coming in 1932.
By the way, here are all of the five-game sweeps by a road team since World War II. Note that the Yanks-Sox is the most lopsided since the soon-to-be World Champion Phils took five straight from the Mets at Shea in 1980:
Here are the most lopsided five-game sweeps by a road team all-time:
Best Player Years?
I'm working on a new evaluation system for trades, and accidentally tripped upon a system for evaluating player years. I ran the numbers for the average win shares per game for position players and pitchers (separately) for every season. Then I calculated the Win Shares for each player year above that baseline (WSAB).
It may not be the most elegant system for evaluating players, but a) it beats regular old Win Shares and b) it produces keen tables aplenty, which I love. So here are the best player years of all time:
Now, here are each players stats for the given years:
"Bob Caruthers?!?" you say in disgust. Well one limitation of this sort of evaluation is by splitting players up by position player or pitcher, it has great difficulty dealing with those players, like Caruthers, who played both well in baseball's early years. Caruthers was a 29-9 pitcher with a 1.010 OPS. Maybe it is the best season of all time.
Then again, this approach is intended to evaluate trades which were far more prevalent in baseball's "modern" period. For kicks, I ran the numbers for the last 50 years. They seem to track very well with what one would anticipate. So here goes
A Quick Programming Note: I will be on vacation until Wednesday. Leave it to my wife to schedule a vacation during a five-game Yankee-Red Sox series.
Oh, and by the by, I looked up all the non-extra inning games that took the longest to play. Oh, the reason for this being that the Yanks topped the Sox 14-11 in reportedly the longest game of none innings or less. 4:45. Here is what I found in Retrosheet. I believe the low-scoring ones that appear at the top include some sort of game delays. Anyway, here 'tis:
Late Season Leapfrogging
The Yankees came up one run short tonight to let the Red Sox creep to within two games of first. But should New York hold on to win the division, it will be the seventh time they have knocked the Red Sox out of first after July 1. That would be the most ever.
Here are the most times that one team has leapfrogged another into first from July 1 on:
OK, you say, but a lot of those are from decades ago. How many times has it happened in recent memory?
Dang, you're never satisfied, are you?
Since the advent of divisional play, here are the leaders. Note whose numero uno:
So the perception that the Red Sox always fold to the Yankees is true, eh? I guess that's no real shocker.
As a Phils fan, I can now understand why we hate the Braves of late, why we hated the Pirates in the mid-Seventies and the Cardinals in the early Eighties, and why we respected the Expos (cum Nationals) while winning a World Series.
I Can't Stand Up for Falling Down
There are a sort of men whose visages
On July 31, the Red Sox were a game up on the Yankees, and the Dodgers were in last place, five games behind the division leading Padres.
At the time the Dodgers were in the midst of an eleven-game winning streak. They have now won fifteen of their last sixteen. Their low point was July 26, when they lost 10-3 to the Padres to complete an eight-game losing streak and series sweep at the hands of the division leaders. For the two weeks following the All-Star break, the Dodgers were 1-13. The found themselves in last place with a 47-55 record, 7.5 games behind San Diego on July 26.
As for the Yankees, on July 31 they were in the midst of fleecing Bobby Abreu from the Phils (along with Corey Lidle also from the Phils and Craig Wilson from the Pirates).
Both teams now have slight (one or one and one half game leads) in their respective divisions. It made me ask myself a few questions. I said, "Self, how many times have the Red Sox been leapfrogged by the Yankees late in the season?" (among other questions). The Red Sox led most of the season, so how many days has a team been in first only to lose their division or league? Looking at the Dodgers, one has to wonder what the latest date in a season was that a division or league winner was in last place? Was it later than July 31?
I looked up the most times that one franchise leapfrogged over another team that was the division/league leader to nab the title. The Yankees have won their division/league 35 times after the Red Sox had gone out in front. That's tied for the most among all franchises. Here are the most all time:
By contrast, the Red Sox leapfrogged the Yankees just 12 times. The least times it happened among the original 16 franchises was once, and it of course happened among the tail-end teams like my Phils and the Browns (i.e., Orioles):
As for the most days in first only to lose the division/league title, the crown goes to the '69 Cubs whose September swoon led to the Amazing Mets 1969 World Series win. Of course, the '64 Phils make an appearance:
As for the Dodgers, if they go on to win the division, they will come in second in the latest a team has been in last place only to win their division/league title. July 26 would beat out the 1914 Miracle Braves run at the NL crown and the M's first division title in 1995 by at least a week. They do fall short of the '73 Mets who were in last place on August 30 with a 61-71 record. They were in sixth in the NL East, a half-game behind fifth-place Philadelphia, and 6.5 behind the division-leading Cards (68-65). They went 21-8 thereafter, beat the Big Red Machine in the LCS, but lost the Series to the A's (the Cards went 13-16):
Note that 16 times after mid-May did a last place team win their division/league crown. If the Dodgers win the NL West, they would become just the fourth team to go from last to first after the All-Star break.
Is It Over Yet, Johnny (Roseboro)?
Col. Trautman: It's over Johnny. It's over!
There was a rather interesting play dealing with conflicting rules that ended the A's-Rangers game the other day and that I believe went largely overlooked because the people out west still demand to start games at times that are convenient for them. There ought to be a law.
Anyway, with the A's leading 7-6, the Rangers were batting in the bottom of the ninth and had one out, a man on first (Jerry Hairston Jr.), and a full count on the batter, Mark DeRosa. The Rangers had just scored two runs off closer Huston Street to pull within one run of the A's. DeRosa lunged at the next pitch and swung through it for an apparent strikeout as the runner tried to take second. On DeRosa's follow-through, his bat tapped A's catcher Jason Kendall on the helmet, thereby preventing him from throwing the runner out.
Jim Joyce, the homeplate umpire immediately punched out both the batter and the runner, ending the game. Texas manager Buck Showalter argued but later conceded, "He probably got it right. It is involving a veteran catcher." That's a nice concession speech, but I don't see how the catcher's experience has any bearing on the rulebook.
Kendall, of course, loved the call though his comments were equally irrelevant. "His bat hit my elbow. It's all because of Huston's pitch. That was a pretty nasty pitch down and away. He can't help but get carried over the plate."
I see the bat clearly hitting his helmet while Kendall made the throw. However, it seems physically impossible for DeRosa's bat to hit Kendall's elbow on his throwing arm prior to the throw. If he meant his catching arm's elbow, which it does seem the bat did touch, it was before the bat went through and hit his helmet. Therefore, it was before the throw. It seems odd that Kendall didn't mention that his helmet got whacked as he release the ball which seemed like the larger infraction, but maybe he thought mentioning an elbow would sell the call better.
Also, I don't see what getting carried over the plate has to do with anything. That was what the commentators pointed to to buttress the interference argument. There's nothing in the rulebook that says that crossing the plate constitutes interference.
Joyce was confident of his call, "He made contact with the catcher. I understand the momentum aspect but even unintentionally he cannot interfere with the catcher." Again with the friggin' momentum. I wasn't so sure. Oh, and not to doubt Joyce's abilities but there are some cases of interference in which whether it is intentional or not does matter.
The problem with this call is that it deals with a number of rules that are, unfortunately, not completely in agreement. Let's review.
First, here's the Offensive Interference rule itself (2.0):
OK, from this rule it looks like DeRosa should have been called out and Hairston should have been sent back to first with two outs. But let's continue
Here is the rule that is specific to the batter interfering with the catcher (6.06(c)). I'll break it down since it takes half a page:
OK, again, it seems like the batter is out, doubly here, for interference and for the strikeout.
EXCEPTION: Batter is not out if any runner attempting to advance is put out, or if runner trying to score is called out for batter's interference.
Nothing new here because the runner was not out nor was he trying to score.
Rule 6.06(c) Comment: If the batter interferes with the catcher, the plate umpire shall call "interference." The batter is out and the ball dead. No player may advance on such interference (offensive interference) and all runners must return to the last base that was, in the judgment of the umpire, legally touched at the time of the interference.
Again it seems that the runner should return to first and there should be two outs.
If, however, the catcher makes a play and the runner attempting to advance is put out, it is to be assumed there was no actual interference and that runner is outnot the batter. Any other runners on the base at the time may advance as the ruling is that there is no actual interference if a runner is retired. In that case play proceeds just as if no violation had been called.
Again there's nothing new since the runner was not out.
If a batter strikes at a ball and misses and swings so hard he carries the bat all the way around and, in the umpire's judgment, unintentionally hits the catcher or the ball in back of him on the backswing before the catcher has securely held the ball, it shall be called a strike only (not interference). The ball will be dead, however, and no runner shall advance on the play.
This is very close to the play, but no cigar. Yes, DeRoda struck at the ball and bat did go all the way around, And yes, he hit the catcher apparently unintentionally on the backswing (and Joyce seems to agree that it was unintentional given his comments). However, it was not before the catcher caught the ball. It seemed that Kendall had caught the ball before DeRosa's bat, after the big sweeping swing, touched either of his elbows or his helmet. The interference was on the throw. So this codicil of the rule doesn't really apply, but let's assume that Joyce's applied this part of the rule, the call would still be that the batter is out, the ball is dead, and the runner returns to first.
Of course, baseball can't stop there. In addition to the batter section of the rules (part 6), there is more on interference that affects the batter under the Batter section (#7).
OK, enough, DeRosa's out. I get it. But 7.09 continues
(j) He fails to avoid a fielder who is attempting to field a batted ball, or intentionally interferes with a thrown ball, provided that if two or more fielders attempt to field a batted ball, and the runner comes in contact with one or more of them, the umpire shall determine which fielder is entitled to the benefit of this rule, and shall not declare the runner out for coming in contact with a fielder other than the one the umpire determines to be entitled to field such a ball;
But here's the kicker:
(e) Any batter or runner who has just been put out hinders or impedes any following play being made on a runner. Such runner shall be declared out for the interference of his teammate;
From the comment, if Kendall had dropped the ball or caught it on a bounce and DeRosa had been running to first, it would not have been interference. But he wasn't and the rule seems to overrule the rest and calls Hairston out because of DeRosa's bat.
Just for fun, here are some variations on the rules from Rich Marazzi's The Rules and Lore of Baseball. Unfortunately, he does not provide an example for 7.09(e), but there's more than enough good reading here:
One of the most controversial if not the most controversial play in World Series history took place at Cincinnati on the night of October 14, 1975, in the third game of the fall classic played between the Boston Red Sox and Cincinnati Reds. The play involved rule 6.06(c)
The Real Reason to Hate Interleague Play
One can complain about the unbalanced schedule or the inelegance of using the designated hitter only in American League parks, but the real reason to hate interleague play is how it affects what are annually becoming closer and closer races, especially in the wild card hunt.
I looked into this last year and found that ten playoff spots in ten years were altered by the results of these legitimized exhibitions. With the AL again dominating the senior circuit in interleague play, the ultra-tight NL West and wild card races have been turned inside out by interleague results.
The NL wild card has ten clubs separated by six games (as of about 9 PM tonight) and the NL West sees all five clubs within 4.5 games of each other. Take away the interleague games and each races gets tighter at the top even though more teams would drop from contention
Let's take a look. First, here are the current (ish) standings:
Here are the interleague standings. Note that the AL won more than 61% of the games. That's dominance:
Finally, here are the standings as they would appear without the execrable interleague play:
One result that I didn't expect is that the Yankees would be running away with the AL East crown instead of holding a small lead over the Red Sox. I also didn't realize that the Angels would end up right in the middle of the wild card chase.
In the NL, the Dodgers and D-Backs, instead of the Padres, would own the NL West. The Padres and Reds would lose their playoff leads. A number of teams would drop from the wild card hunt, but the top four spots would be within a game and one half of each other.
Wake me up when the AL is winning 90% of the interleague contests, the NL wild card winner is under .500 and all but the truly awful NL teams are in the wild card hunt. It makes about as much sense as the Phils trading both their long relievers from both sides to the team they are chasing in the wild card race, the Reds. Then again, trading their crappy pitchers to the "enemy" might be the most strategic thing this club has done since trading Jim Thome.
The Wild Wild Worst
In the American League, the wild card leaders (Chicago as of last night) are on a pace to win 97 games. Two teams (Boston and Minnesota) project to 96 wins but, if the standings hold, won't even make the post season. Meanwhile three other teams that are barely in the wild card hunt are playing .500 ball (and nine in total out of 14 clubs).
In the NL, as of last night's standings, there are eight clubs within striking distance (five games) of the wild card hunt, and all but one club (the Pirates) are within ten games of the wild card leader. And yet that leader, the Reds, has just a .514 winning percentage which would garner them just 83 wins for the season. Of the other seven teams in the wild card hunt, just two are over .500 and they are just one game above mediocrity. The Brewers project to a poor 76-86 record but are now just five games back in the wild card.
Being in contention in the NL might not that discriminating company, but having eleven clubs within five games of a playoff spot as of August 6 is the most for any league in any year. We are looking at teams within five games because I've found that 91% of clubs that have made the playoffs were within five games of a spot by the start of August (93% for those within 7 games, 96% for those within 10). The most previously was ten for the NL last year.
Of course doubling the number of playoff teams in 1994 drove up the number of teams that remain in contention after the first week in August. Before divisional play (1900-68), on average there were just two teams per league that were in contention by August 7 (actually, 2.04), and no league ever had more than five clubs in contention by that date. When the leagues expanded to two divisions (1969-93), there were almost four and a half clubs in contention by August 7 (4.44).
Since the advent of the wild card, there have been on average slightly under seven clubs in contention by August 7 (6.77). The number of clubs per open spots has fallen under two with the wild card since it cannibalizes a lot of the same population as the division chases, but given the two extra spots per league, the number of contenders has gone up considerably.
Anyway, the Reds projection reminded me of the 1973 Mets, who had one of the worst records ever for a playoff team. It made me wonder what was the worst team ever that was still in contention by August 7.
Here are the previous teams with a losing record who were still in contention by August 7 (Add the five sub-.500 NL teams to that list):
That made me wonder what playoff teams had the worst records on August 7. Here goes with their final records:
So even if the lowly Phils or Brewers eventually win the wild card, they still would not have overcome a worse record (.450 winning percentage) or a greater deficit (10 games back) than the 1973 Mets. And that club topped the Big Red Machine in their prime in a five-game LCS.
So what does it all mean? Really nothing that we didn't already know: The NL is a weak league this year and basically any club that makes the playoffs can win especially in a short series.
Abraham 0-For Nunez
Even with the Phils dropping a pair of games to the Mets over the weekend and missing a chance to break .500 for the first time since June 19 (after which they lost seven straight and nine of ten), they still somehow remain at least tangentially involved in the wild card hunt: in fifth place, 3-1/2 games behind the Reds. And yet the team may have one of the worst semi-regulars in baseball history in its lineup, Abraham O. Nunez.
I say semi-regular since Nunez has accumulated just 151 at-bats this year. When all is said and done, the Phils "regular" third baseman as recorded by Baseball Reference will be the since departed David Bell. Who played 90 games for the Phightin's at the position. Nunez could play no more than 77 at third (25 so far plus 52 to b played).
Nunez is batting .159 with a .221 on-base percentage, .219 slugging average, and .440 OPS. He has one home run and just eight RBI in his 151 ABs. And Nunez, a .242 career hitter, shows no real signs of breaking out of his funk. Since inheriting the starting third base job just before the trade deadline he is batting .143 an his OPS has remained at .440.
If Nunez remains the regular third baseman for the rest of the seasoneh, why not?He will surely accumulate between 250 and 300 at-bats for the year. Even though one would assume that the extra at-bats would help Nunez slip free of his noose, there are just 15 men in baseball history who have accumulated 250 ABs and batted under .159, his current average. The last man who batted as low as Nunez (min. 250 ABs) was almost sixty years ago: Les Moss, who batted .157 in 174 at-bats in 1947. And the last time before that was 1909.
The last player with an OBP as low as Nunez (250 ABs) was Angel Salazar (.219) in 1987. The last who slugged that low was in 1980 (Luis Gomez, .239). Finally, no player has had an OPS as low as Nunez in 38 years, in 1968, the year of the pitcher. That year there were two (Al Weis, .438, and Irish Mike Ryan, .434). Prior to that no player had an OPS of .440 or below (min. 250 ABs) since 1909.
Abe O. has just 8 RBI on the year, which projects to 14 over the course of the rest of the season. There are just ten players in baseball history with 250 at-bats and eight RBI or fewer, the last being Luis Castillo (with 8) in 1997. 147 have recorded 14 or less, the last being John McDonald in 2002 (12 RBI).
To sum up, Nunez is having a pretty poor year. Many lovely tables follow below.P.S., Thanks to Jim Salisbury for the nice mention this weekend in the Philly Inquirer.
Players with a batting average under .160 (min. 250 ABs):
Worst since 1993:
Worst OBP (250 ABs):
Last ten with an OBP of .221 or worse:
Worst since 1993:
Worst slugging percentage (min. 250 ABs):
Last ten with a SLUG of .219 or worse:
Worst since 1993:
Worst OPS all-time (250 ABs):
Last ten with an OPS of .440 or worse:
Worst OPS since 1993:
Fewest RBI (min. 250 ABs):
Players with 8 or fewer RBI in descending chronological order:
Was Abreu Overpriced?
Jayson Stark had a good piece on the Bobby Abreu trade yesterday on ESPN. He concluded, "To make this kind of trade, just for the joy of cashing out, simply tells the sport that either you think Abreu is outrageously overrated or your team is in major financial trouble -- or both."
That sums it up for me. For the Phils to have traded Abreu with one year left in his contract, they have to think that his potential contribution to the team in 2007 would not be worth the money. Either that or they are cutting whatever salary they can.
So was Abreu overpaid? Or maybe more to the point, since the Phils are longshots in this year's wild card hunt at best, will Abreu be wildly overpriced in 2007 making the salary dump justifiable? Also, was Abreu's contract overall a Mo Vaughn-ian bust that demanded the Phils trade the former the player?
Being extremely linear, I will address the first question first. I looked up the starting corner outfielders for every team since the 2000 season, the first of Abreu's current contract. For each, I listed the Win Shares, salary, and age. For the 301 player-years that I found, the average corner outfielder produced 18 Win Shares and was paid $4.8 M. This translates into $271K per Win Share. That's what the average team paid per starting corner outfielder Win Share.
The highest paid player was 32-year-old Bobby Higginson in his (and the Tigers') infamous 2003 season. Detroit paid him just under $2M per Win Share that year ($1.975M/WS from an $11.85M salary and 6 Win Shares produced). The cheapest was Lance Berkman in 2001 when the then 25-year-old produced 32 Win Shares for a then league minimum of $305K, which translates into $9,531 per Win Share.
As for Abreu, his 2005 campaign was his most costly ($467,857 per Win Shares), based on 28 Win Shares for $13.1M contract, which was the 63rd highest among the 301 qualifiers. His cheapest year from his current contract was 2000, in which he produced 23 Win Shares for a $2.93M salary, or $127.5K per Win Share, 196th among the 301 corner OF years.
But that's the past: what was Abreu doing this year? Abreu had 18 Win Shares for the Phils, which projects to 28 for the year. His salary is $13.6M this year. That translates into $485K per Win Share. That would land him a bit higher than last year, but just 60th on the list. So, yes, he's slightly overpriced, but not wildly. He had a big contract but produced big.
However, comparing Abreu's contract to the full field of corner outfielders is unfair. Abreu is now 33, and as is the practice in sports is getting paid in part for his past performance. It's not fair to compare his salary today to that of an unproven, typically underpaid 25-year-old.
So I reran the data based on players 30 or older. They produced about the same as the overall corner outfielders (18 Win Shares), but they cost much more ($6,830,195 on average). Their average cost per Win Share was $378,467. Abreu was about a $100K per Win Share cheaper than that in 2004, but was about $90K higher in 2005, and an estimated $100 higher this year. But again his 2006 season would come in just 48th overall among the 149 qualifying thirty-something players. He is in the top third. Again his slightly overpriced, but not much.
Now I'll be non-linear and answer the third question next. Has Abreu's contract been a bust?
Looking at the totals from 2000 to 2005 for all players who were starting corner outfielders during the period, Abreu comes in 42nd costliest among the 129 players. During the period, he amassed 172 Win Shares (averaging 29 per season) and a little over $49M (or $7.84 per season). He cost $273,545 per Win Share over the period.
But consider that the average corner outfielder over the span cost $270,292 per Win Share, Abreu has been paid basically the major-league average for the first six years of his contract. Given the way he has produced, the Phils really made out like bandits for the first six years. Now that the back-loaded deal is finally in Abreu's favor, the Phils felt compelled to dump him.
However, maybe that's being too tough on the team. Could the last two years of Abreu's deal actually make the deal a bust? We know pretty much what Abreu's 2006 totals will look like at season's end (he projects to 28 Win Shares). However, given that he will be 33 in 2007, could the aging process arrive with a vengeance next year and make the overall deal untenable?
To determine that, I looked up all 32-year-old corner outfielders with at least 25 Win Shares throughout baseball history (40 qualified). Abreu is 32 and currently projects to 28 Win Shares. For each player, I then looked at his performance in his next year. On average the players lost 5 Win Shares when they turned 33 years old.
The worst age-33 decline was Sammy Sosa at 15 Win Shares lost (42 in 2001 and 27 in 2002). However, there were seven players who either improved or stayed the same (based on Win Shares). The best improvement was by Luis Gonzalez who went from 27 Win Shares in 2000 to 37, a ten-point improvement, in 2001. The others who did not decline at age 33 were Mel Ott (+9), Hank Aaron (+7), Manny Ramirez (+7), Enos Slaughter (+3), Babe Ruth (no change), and Rickey Henderson (no change).
I don't think it's inconceivable that Abreu could have a better year in 2007 given that all of the trade talk all season seemed to wear on him. But let's assume that he declines by the 33-year-old average, 5 Win Shares. That would give him 23 Win Shares for 2007. Abreu would cost $696K per Win Share. That would be the 25th highest among the 301 corner outfielders from 2000-05.
Using these projections, Bobby Abreu would amass 223 Win Shares over the eight years of his contract (2000-07) and would cost $76.65M. That translates into $343,661 per Win Share. That would make him 31st among all starting corner outfielders using the 2000-05 numbers I quoted earlier. It's about $70K more per Win Share, but is nowhere near the highest paid players.
I see no reason why the Phils can justify dumping Abreu based on his production. The only rationalization is as a salary dump, pure and simple.
By the way, here is some of the data in tabular form that I referred to earlier. First, the most overpaid corner outfielder years:
Here are the most underpaid:
Here are the most overpaid for the entire period 2000-05 (starting corner OF totals only):
Now, the cheapest 2000-05:
Finally, here are the annual and overall numbers for Abreu:
Pole To Pole (In Honor of Ricky Bobby)
I continue to play around with Retrosheet data and here's something that, though I have heard allusions to, I have never seen a definitive list of. Here is the list of teams that lead their league or division from the first day of the season to the last. Note that only four of the nine that played since 1903, the first year the World Series was played, won the Series:
Now, here's something that I don't think has even been alluded to, the list of teams that was in last in their division/league from the start to the end of the season. This includes teams tied for the bottom slot in their division/league. As long as no other team had a worse record on any given day of the season.
Here they are, the pole-to-pole last place teams:
God, I love this stuff.
Take My Catcher, Please!
Jason Veritek, or "Tek" to his friends, the Red Sox starting catcher will have surgery on his left knee and will miss at least a month of the season, it was announced today. They now must rely on twice-traded backup Doug Mirabelli and the man who destroyed Derek Jeter's shoulder a few years ago, Ken Huckaby, who has not caught a major-league game since last September 19, behind the plate.
Ever sympathetic to the Red Sox's plight, I offer a solution to their catching woes. Take Mike Lieberthal!
Please! I beg of you.
Lieberthal is in the last year of a contract that pays him $7.5 M (actually, it was an option year that kicked in in the midst of last season). For the Phils to re-sign him, which would be shear insanity, or in other words a good possibility for this team, they would have to pay him 80% of that salary or wait until May 1.
The Phils have been rotating a combination of Lieberthal (when he's been healthy), Sal Fasano (before he was traded to the Yankees), an aged rookie, Chris Coste (who is more of a nice story than a major-league player), all of whom are at least 33 years old, behind the plate.
The only catcher in the organization that has a shot of being their starter next year is Carlos Ruiz, who has spent most of the season in Triple-A Scranton. Ruiz got a cup of coffee during two of Lieberthal's DL stays, but was not very productive (.205 average, .234 OBP and .273 slugging average), but that includes a three game arc around July 4 in which he seemed to catch up with major league pitching going 2-for-3 in two of those games, only to be demoted again. He is batting .315 with a .906 OPS at Triple-A and is 26 years old.
Maybe Ruiz is not a major-league catcher. Maybe. But I keep thinking of a 26-year-old catcher that the Phils jettisoned in 2002 after a couple of good seasons in Scranton and some short and unpromising stints in the majors. That catcher went on to become the starting catcher for a Braves team that won two division titles. Of course, I'm speaking of Biff Pocoroba, er, Johnny Estrada.
The Phils are going nowhere this year. The deals they made at the trade deadline were merely to dump salary (even the remainder of Corey Lidle's measly $3M contract for 2006). They have to be salivating over the prospect of dumping the rest of Lieberthal's useless contract.
So why not dump Lieberthal on the Sox for whatever they can get and call up Ruiz to catch the rest of the year to see if he is a capable major-league starter?
Well, the Phils' bloodlust for salary dumps is unfortunately outweighed by their inherent distrust of young players.
Chase Utley is arguably the best second baseman in baseball, but he was not named the Phils starter until well into last season when he was already 26, well past the age a star player typically gets the his first starting job (and never mind that he played 94 games at the position the previous year).
Ryan Howard was vilified by the Phils brass (can't field, can't hit a curve, has minor-league power, is lazy, is not coachable, etc.) until an injury to Jim Thome forced the Phils to use him last year and of course, he went on to win the NL Rookie of the Year award. Howard is now one of the best young players in the NL, but is already 26.
Ruiz has nowhere near the rep of these two players. He seems destined to Johnny Estrada his way to a more baseball savvy organization in the next few years.
Meanwhile, the Phils will use the salary that they dumped at the deadline to sign an overpriced, middling starting catcher instead of signing a decent major-league starting pitcher, a dire need for this team. And that's why they are the Phils.
This is my site with my opinions, but I hope that, like Irish Spring, you like it, too.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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