Archive for June, 2006

Every Picture Tells a Story. Don’t it?

Monday, June 19th, 2006

One of my baseball habits involves perusing through old baseball photos, especially Reds photos. These photos can tell us so much about the game and the men and the times in that were wrapped around the light and shadows that the picture displays for the viewer to stare at and ponder baseball’s long and interesting past.

This one particularly interested me. It’s a pretty basic picture from the deadball era; the field looks “hard” and not very picturesque like the manicured ones on TV these days. The stands are raw and uncovered, barely teeming with the denizens that fill Wrigley these days. I’m fairly certain sure that the roving WGN cameramen would have a hard time finding a woman in a tank top in that crowd.

This picture is struck me with numerous Cincinnati connections, there are more than few in this picture, probably more than I can site. Two main facts strike me about it, Each man in the picture worked for the Cincinnati Reds at one time and each man managed in the Major Leagues later in their lives.

Date – 1908

Batter Miller Huggins (Attempting a Bunt) Catcher Johnny Kling, Umpire Hank O’Day.

Site: Chicago West End Grounds.

To start Miller Huggins was a Walnut Hills boy who despite his small stature made himself a nice little career in the National League and he was a skilled leadoff hitter and finished his career with a robust .382 OB% vs. the league .327. Miller drew 103 walks in 1905 as a Red; this was the club record until the 1972 season when Joe Morgan joined
the Big Red Machine. Currently Huggins and Johnny Bates share the 11th slot for most walks in a season as a Red, but that is bound to change as Dunn logs more ab’s as a Red.

WALKS                         YEAR     BB
1    Joe Morgan               1975      132
2    Adam Dunn                2002      128
3    Joe Morgan               1974      120
4    Joe Morgan               1977      117
5    Joe Morgan               1972      115
T6   Joe Morgan               1976      114
T6   Adam Dunn                2005      114
8    Joe Morgan               1973      111
9    Adam Dunn                2004      108
10   Pete Rose                1974      106
T11  Miller Huggins           1905      103
T11  Johnny Bates             1911      103

Huggins is the last man in the photo to become a manager and is certainly the most famous. He was traded to St. Louis after the 1909 season and became the Cardinals manager in 1913 and from there his career was eventually redefined in the ubiquitous Babe Ruth lore and his actual playing career and early NL managing experience was dimmed in the mighty shadow of his relationship with Ruth.

Known as a fine bunter and often credited with inventing the delayed steal Huggins was what folks call “Scrappy” and as a player was most like Willie Randolph without the fielding skills. The picture shows the ball coming in over his head and Johnny Kling is standing to catch the ball. Kling is probably a step behind the normal placement of today’s catchers; this is most likely an attempt to protect him more than a strategic move. It wasn’t uncommon for catchers to set up further behind the plate when the bases were clear. Of course the bunt might suggest in another era that a player was on base, but in the deadball era it is not a good idea to assume that scratch hits and strategic plays always involve runners.

Another odd Cincinnati connection can be found in Millers decision to play professional baseball. Huggins was convinced by a Law professor at the University of Cincinnati to pursue his dream of playing in the big leagues, the professor was a large man and came from a popular local family. His name was William Howard Taft, whose half brother would later fund a former Cincinnati Enquirer sports editor (Charles Murphy) when he bought the Cubs in 1905. Taft’s older brother ended up purchasing the team from Murphy (for 5 times as much as Murphy paid for it with Taft’s loan) and owned the Cubs himself from 1914-1915 and is the last Cubs owner to own the ballpark in the photo above.

One detail that leaps out to me is Kling’s lack of shin guards. Roger Bresnathan introduced shin guards in 1907 and only he and George Gibson of the Pirates wore them in 1908 (a season in which both were #1 and #2 in the league in games caught, thus changing the game by increasing the sturdiness of the catcher) Kling was generally regarded as the finest defensive catcher of that era. In his prime he decided to stay west (Kansas City) and pursue the worlds Billiard Championship, which he won. He supplemented his income playing some semi-pro ball but in 1910 he decided he wanted back in the big leagues. Problem is he had some trouble getting his game back. As many do even to this day when forced to miss a year.

Later in life he was fast to admit in interviews that his skills had diminished due to his absence. Noting that timing was essential to returning to form and that long layoffs can really hurt your game. Like any older player the Cubs later moved Kling as his game declined and Jimmy Archer pressed him for playing time. He ended up in Boston (National League Purgatory at that time) and was eventually inserted as the manager for the newly named Braves in 1912.

52 wins later Kling was looking for another job, however in retrospect it’s not as though he did anything worse than his predecessors.

1908  6th     63   91  .409   36
1909  8th     45  108  .294   65.5
1910  8th     53  100  .346   50.5
1911  8th     44  107  .291   54
1912  8th     52  101  .340   52

Those are some bad teams the Nationals/Rustlers/Braves were trotting out there, absolutely horrid. No wonder they had an identity crisis in naming that mess.

Kling was once again a man without a job, and proceeded to look up former teammates in hope of catching on with a team for another year. This is where the Cincinnati connection arises. In Cincinnati former Cubs SS Joe Tinker was obtained from the Cubs and trying his hand at running Gary Herrmann’s team. He could use a backup catcher and a old friend from happier times so he inked Kling to back up Tommy Clarke, Kling played out his string with the Reds that summer and walked away from the game with a league average OPS and a reputation as a fine fielding catcher who’s soft talking ways charmed many an umpire to see the game as he did.

The umpire in the picture might be the most interesting man in the photo. Henry “Hank” O’Day was one of those rare men who played, umpired and managed in MLB.

Started his career in the 1880’s in the American Association; his catcher was Fleetwood Walker, the first black man to play professional baseball. Not a good pitcher in an era that boasts gaudy pitching numbers O’Day managed to throw 1600 innings and play in 3 different professional leagues before he hung it up with a sub .500 after the 1890 season.

O’Day joined the umpiring business in 1895 and is in that position that he gained most of his baseball fame. O’Day is most famous for being the umpire during the famous “Merkel Incident” and the second base umpire for the first triple play in World Series History.

The Cincinnati connection with O’Day is found in 1912, a year that O’Day found himself a manager in the National League and it was the Reds who gave the arbitrator his first chance at managing O’Day’s greatest accomplishment as a Red is that he was at the helm of the club when they opened the new stadium that was christened “Redland Field” and later renamed Crosley Field.

It was also the Reds who also gave him his first pink slip after the season ended. Back to umpiring went O’Day only to reemerge in 1914 working for the aforementioned Taft family in Chicago managing the Cubs to their first sub .500 record in 12 seasons. In 1915 he was once again wearing blue and defending his calls to the players he managed the year before.

The 100 Inning Reliever – A Dying Breed

Thursday, June 15th, 2006

Prior to Tuesday nights game the Reds bullpen boasted the following stats.

178.2 IP - 198 H - 97 ER - 66 BB -125 K - 1.48 WHIP -4.89 ERA

Remove Todd Coffey’s from the equation and the bullpen record looks like this:

144.1 IP - 166 H - 90 ER - 55 BB - 99 K - 1.53 WHIP - 5.61 ERA

On the heels of an 8 game winning streak the world could be beat in most Reds fans eyes, on the heels of that had come a quick 5 game losing streak, this of course stirred the fans and once again the cries for help can be heard by the same boasting Reds fans. There is talk of “rally killing solo home runs” and the need for small ball, others talk of shoring up the left side of the infield defense with an all out position switch (Encarnacion to 1st, Aurilia to 3rd, Phillips to SS. Freel to 2nd base, flip flop Aurilia and Encarnacion, flip Phillips and Lopez and on and on and on)

Currently the starting staff is 1.19 runs per nine better than they were last season, that’s a major jump and one that is tenuous at best as the season progresses and the workloads continue to accumulate. To make up for the future attrition one can only hope for the bullpen to improve

Fact: Prior to Wednesday’s game the last time the Cincinnati bullpen has gone more than 2 innings without letting up a run was May 28th.

So is say screw the Small Ball and screw the “little things” approach, focus on the leaking hole in the bedroom ceiling that’s dripping on the franchise’s bed.

If I had a wish I’d wish for some young middle relievers with movement on their pitches and the ability to pitch 100 innings in relief.

If I had a wish I’d like the 1999 Reds bullpen.

ERA                        DIFF   PLAYER   LEAGUE     IP       AGE
Scott Williamson           2.16     2.41     4.57     93.1     23
Scott Sullivan             1.56     3.01     4.57    113.2     28
Danny Graves               1.49     3.08     4.57    111       25

This triad of stud relievers who ate up huge amounts of innings was the backbone of a Reds staff that boasted 17 pitchers and 9 separate starters over the season, and yet they still won 96 games. 3 relievers who ate up almost 22% of the team’s innings, all three had ERA’s a run and a half better than the league average, it was really something in retrospect, two 100 inning relievers and one knocking on the door. But is it possible that a bullpen like that can, or will exist again in today’s game? Or has the 100-inning reliever started to be squeezed out by pitch counts and the extra man in the bullpen? Finally, was there always a 100-inning type of reliever around for teams to ride?

Reds TV Announcer Chris Welsh said this in a recent interview.

“I really think the evolution of the middle relievers is one of the biggest changes we’ve seen in the last 20 years. What I think is they’ve developed a type of player that comes in and throws 1 or 2 innings and throws very hard and they get them out of there after they’ve faced 6 or 7 batters. The Kyle Farnsworth type of player.”

That type of player has been in the game for the past 30 plus years, but the workload wasn’t as spread out as it is in today’s game and currently the new prototype of super middle reliever is likely being reshaped by the games flow, right under our very eyes. So when (and if) a transformation is completed don’t be surprised by the player it produces, maybe it will a 50 inning, 100K pitcher?

Who knows? Just polish up some stories for the kids about how back in the day the relievers would eat up batters and innings like something you’ve never seen.

I have one that involves Southwest Airlines and Rollie Fingers, but that’s not pertinent to this story.

Of course pondering relievers and their workload wasn’t always something the fans of the game spent their time doing. When the ball was deader, the game a bit slower and the sun shone on most of the games being played a complete game by the pitcher was the norm. Below are the Reds pitchers who have completed 20 or more games in consecutive seasons. Not one Reds pitcher has completed 20 or more games since the 1940’s.

Bob Ewing                1903-08    6
Bucky Walters            1939-44    6
Noodles Hahn             1900-04    5
Eppa Rixey               1921-23    3
Red Lucas                1931-33    3
Paul Derringer           1938-40    3
Bill Phillips            1901-02    2
Andy Coakley             1907-08    2
Fred Toney               1916-17    2
Dutch Ruether            1919-20    2
Johnny Vander Meer       1942-43    2

The above was the norm, the blueprint for pitching success in the days of wool suits, 12-cent dinners and women named Florence.

However this all started to change in the thirties, in 1937 White Sox hurler Clint Brown appeared in 53 games and pitched 100 innings all without starting a game, making him the first pitcher in MLB history to accomplish that feat. Brown was a depression era Scott Sullivan, throwing slightly underhanded and with a side armed approach. This season began a slow process in the evolution of the workhorse reliever, creating a niche for a pitcher that could toss 100 innings and do the majority of it from the bullpen (usually starting only in an emergency.)

Once this feat was accomplished it took a few years for the rest of baseball to catch on and the offensive surge in the postwar era created a greater need to temper the bats with fresh arms and then the concept took off. Since 1937 the feat has been accomplished 418 times, with the Reds and the Giants being the teams having the most players on the list (30). It’s easy to see how the Reds have so many on that list, as a team they have a less than league average ERA since 1946 and still have a winning record, they have to be getting a quality pitching performance from somewhere other than their starting staff for over 50 years.

Between 1946 and 1968 a total of 103 pitchers tallied 100 innings in a season with a start or less. In 1969 the division format and expansion changed the games makeup, this along with the reduction of the mounds height and the eventual introduction of the designated hitter helped decrease what had become a stagnate offensive game in the 60’s. This of course posed a new problem to managers throughout the game, and that was how to beat the increased offense that was now creeping slowly. Many managers in the game took different paths, and all hoped to segue into a balance that could combat the offensive onslaught.

One method was the Billy Martin method of riding as many starters as you can (example Joe Coleman and Mickey Lolich combine for 662 IP and 45 CG) and riding a reliever in over a 100 innings (Fred Sherman.) Approaches like that led to unique situations where 3 pitchers could eat up 57% of your total innings pitched and 2 of them were starters. Another method include the Sparky Anderson method of spreading the wealth amongst many starters and having a horse like Pedro Borbon eat up those tweener innings between the starters and the closer.

No discussion of the 100 inning reliever can be complete without pulling out one of its greatest boosters, in 1973 the Kansas City Royals hired Jack McKeon to be their manager, McKeon would be in and out of baseball in the front office and on the bench for the next 30 years, retiring in 2004. During his time frame as a mover and shaker the 100-inning reliever bloomed, flowered and apparently is on the way out the door as a normal event. Jack McKeon liked his hard working relievers and apparently the rest of baseball in the 1970’s and 1980’s did as well. Jack christened his first season as a major league manager by getting Doug Bird into enough games to top 100 innings. Bird turned into a fine reliever and was converted to a starter by Whitey Herzog during the mid 70’s before he ended up back in the pen.

From 1970-1979 122 relievers threw over 100 innings with 1 or less start, in 1978 six men did it in the American League, three of them pitched for Jack McKeon.

ERA                      YEAR     DIFF   PLAYER   LEAGUE     IP
Elias Sosa               1978     1.14     2.64     3.78    109
Bob Lacey                1978     0.77     3.01     3.78    119.2
Dave Heaverlo            1978     0.52     3.25     3.78    130

That’s getting the best out of you a bullpen arm, that’s for sure. It’s tiny pitching events like this that fueled the reliever as savior movement that grew in the late 70’s and the pattern continued to grow, from 1980-1989 the total of 100 inning relievers was 137 and suddenly the Sutter’s and the Fingers were bigger than the Hillers and the Stu Millers of the prior generation, they became major players in the new free agent market as teams jostled to obtain these workhorses and stoppers to fill the gaps that the game had created in the middle to late innings.

Below are the pitchers who had the most consecutive seasons with 100 IP less than 1 start and a plus era

Rollie Fingers           1974-78    5
Duane Ward               1988-92    5
Hoyt Wilhelm             1952-55    4
Jack Baldschun           1961-64    4
Ron Perranoski           1962-65    4
Mike Marshall            1972-75    4
Kent Tekulve             1976-79    4
Dan Quisenberry          1982-85    4
Dick Radatz              1962-64    3
Pedro Borbon             1973-75    3
Sparky Lyle              1976-78    3
Enrique Romo             1978-80    3
Bob Stanley              1982-84    3
Scott Sullivan           1999-01    3

These are you stars of the genre, many relief legends in there and couple of Reds as well.

The cherry on the sundae of the workhorse relievers lifespan was the Cy Young award that Mark Davis obtained in 1989, a feat that still to this day is debated as being the worst Cy Young award in the history of the game, an award that is equal to Rafael Palmeiro’s last gold glove.

Not up for debate is the ridiculousness of the contract that he received for that performance.

By the way his manager that year was Jack McKeon.

In the 1990’s it was a different game, the offense increased even more an extra body often was in the bullpen and not on the bench, this added pitcher ate up more innings and pitch counts for all pitchers started to be taken more seriously thus the number of 100-inning relievers began to drop and by the end of the 1990’s only 33 relievers topped 100 innings pitched and only 78 topped 90 innings pitched, 4 of the 100 IP guys were Reds and 10 of the 90 IP guys were Reds.

Seven of those Reds pitched for Jack McKeon.

In 1997 Ray Knight was jettisoned from the Reds managerial seat, in hopes of providing some calmness to a clubhouse that was in disarray the Reds hired Jack McKeon, a man known more for his GM tenure and cigars then his managerial career.

With him came a both of the old school 70’s approach to the use of the bullpen, as a canvas McKeon had more than a few pitchers to work with, on the field the Reds starting staff almost begged that that be the approach that be taken.

Between 1997 and 2000 the Reds had quite the workhorse bullpen, and beating the league average in ERA was pretty much par for the course, and most of this can be attributed to the usage patterns created by Jack McKeon.

ERA vs. the league average displayed only--not a sorting criteria
ERA                      YEAR     ERA       G       IP       ERA
Jeff Shaw                1997     2.38       78     94.2     1.83
Scott Williamson         1999     2.41       62     93.1     2.16
Danny Graves             2000     2.56       66     91.1     2.08
Scott Sullivan           1999     3.01       79     113.2    1.56
Danny Graves             1999     3.08       75     111      1.49
Scott Sullivan           1997     3.24       59     97.1     0.97
Danny Graves             1998     3.32       62     81.1     0.92
Scott Sullivan           2000     3.47       79     106.1    1.17
Stan Belinda             1997     3.71       84     99.1     0.49
Scott Sullivan           1998     5.21       67     102      -.97

McKeon was a throwback in his time as manager of the Reds and the Marlins he has averaged only 382 relievers used in a season, this is in an era that many mangers use over 450, some 500 and only a select few under 400 (Pinella, Torre and pre Texas Showalter)

While this approach was being considered a norm in Cincinnati it was dieing on the vine throughout the rest of baseball, with the peak of the post strike era occurring in the incredible offensive year of 1999 when a total of 6 relievers topped 100 innings with less than 2 starts.

At the end of the 2000 season McKeon was let go by the Reds, however that didn’t stop Bob Boone from working Sullivan for more than 100 innings, in 2001 Sully logged 103 innings, since then no Reds reliever has topped 80 innings pitched.

In the AL s Scott Shields is the most recent man to top 100 IP with less than 2 starts, and that was in 2004. The last NL pitcher was Guillermo Mota for the Dodgers in 2003. In 2004 during a run at the title the Marlins obtained Mota in a trade, manager McKeon probably saw a 100 inning reliever coming his way and prepared to use him to help temper the trips he was making to the mound, in the only season in which had to use over 400 relievers. Alas it was not to be and The Fish fell to third and McKeon was given his walking papers.

In 2005 no relievers reached 100 innings pitched, currently 2 relievers in MLB are on target for 100 innings pitched (Salomon Torres and Scott Proctor) Slowly coddled arms are being watched in the bullpen and the workload is being pared down and spread about.

Since 2000 only 5 “true” relievers have topped 100 innings pitched, since 1937 only 21% of the 418 relievers to achieve the feat were over 32 years old.

Once again the game is changing in front of our eyes, forcing us to reexamine what we might have thought was the norm in the game, forcing us to admit the game is a malleable force that changes with times. Forcing us to realize that the Reds bullpen is too old to accomplish magnificent feats, too old to eat up innings like the fans think they should, too old to carry the Reds to late inning stability.