Archive for October, 2006

More Monday Minutia

Monday, October 23rd, 2006

Monday Minutia, more crumbs and nuggets that fell under the baseball table and the dog failed to lap up.

In the National League Championship Series, Jose Valentin was hit in the face with a pitch that bounced prior to reaching the plate. For this he was rewarded first base and yet another nuance in the game I’ve never seen occurred.

MLB Rule

The batter becomes a runner and is entitled to first base without liability to be put out (provided he advances to and touches first base) when —
(a) Four “balls” have been called by the umpire;
(b) He is touched by a pitched ball which he is not attempting to hit unless
(1) The ball is in the strike zone when it touches the batter, or
(2) The batter makes no attempt to avoid being touched by the ball, If the ball is in the strike zone when it touches the batter, it shall be called a strike, whether or not the batter tries to avoid the ball. If the ball is outside the strike zone when it touches the batter, it shall be called a ball if he makes no attempt to avoid being touched.

See no mention of the ball bouncing, query me early last week and I would have thought the ball dead, for I had never encountered it in the game, so I didn’t know the right answer… but now I’ve seen it and I’m looking to find some more things that I didn’t know. This game is full of them, in the game, in the players and in the fans there is a wealth of things that connect with the game and the people that have come and gone and some come back. Shoot, even the stolen base left once and came back, only to leave again, don’t be surprised when it shows up at baseballs doorstep grinning ear to ear some day in the future.

My personal history with the game first took firm root on October 1oth 1968, when my babysitter Donna McLeod was screaming and jumping around the house in celebration of the Tigers win in game 7 of the 1968 World Series, as she leapt around I stared at the screen and pondered, what can be so wonderful that everyone would act like that? And since that day I’ve been looking for more of that wherever I can.

With that in mind let’s peruse through some of things you don’t see too often in today’s game, either they receded, changed or just faded away, but they’ll always be there.

Back before replica jerseys and even prior to the t-shirt bonanza of the late 60’s and into the 70’s fans often wore their allegiance to the team on their lapels. Of course I’m talking about buttons. Simple pin back models that shouted to the world which of the teams out there on the field you were rooting for.

The Buttons here represent the Cubs during a more productive era, a Rickey era Cardinal Button and a “Colored” All Stars piece from the 1930’s.

Below are a few examples of the basic booster buttons one would find on fans at Crosley in the 40’s and then the 50’s (Red Legs)

Speaking of buttons this one is my all-time favorite player Al Kaline, it’s in honor of Al Kaline Day, and on the button Al is in a batting stance, with a batting glove on ONE hand, yes kids, players used to only wear one batting glove, and prior to that they didn’t wear the at all. As a kid who wore one batting glove as well I note Al’s is on his top hand, which seems strange to me, especially since this kid always wore his on his bottom hand. If anyone has an explanation about this, let us know.

So…. If you’re still pondering the golf glove, er… I mean “batting glove” then let’s take this moment to say Hi and hello to the man who brought the darn things in to the game.

Ken “Hawk” Harrelson

Also the first “Mod” in the game by most accounts.

Nice threads Hawk….

Oh yeah…. The glove is what we were pondering, well according to Ken this is how it went down.

I think it was in ’63. I was platooning, and we were playing the Yankees. They were supposed to be pitching Jim Coates, which meant I wasn’t going to play. So, Ted Bowsfield and I went out and played 36 holes with Sammy Esposito and Gino Cimoli. I was making more money playing golf than playing baseball. I was a better golfer, first of all. So, I went from the golf course to the ballpark, and I look at the lineup, and I’m hitting third. I go down and take batting practice and I had worn a blister from the 36 holes. I remember I had my golf gloves in my pants and I ran up and got them. Everybody said, “What are you doing?” I said, “I had a blister.” Whitey Ford hung me a curve and I hit it out and we won the ballgame. The next day, we’re out there taking batting practice and the Yankees come down and they all had red golf gloves on. Mickey Mantle had the clubhouse guy go buy a couple dozen golf gloves. That’s how the whole thing with batting gloves got started.

So from buttons and gloves we jump to the inevitable, the baseball card. We know they’re still out there, they still exist, and that however is not my concern. My stacks of Leaf, Donruss, Score and Upper Deck Cards from the late 80’s and early 90’s is where I stopped my caring for the modern card, or even the handling of the damn things. Now I find the rush from an old card as the thing that fires my synapses. Especially cards that make you go hey – wait a minute, therefore here are a few that made me do that.

Sometimes a card would be in the deck, one that that just looked wrong, often they were this type.

Yep, players on teams other then the ones you associate them with (in your mind that is)

Then there are the teasers, the little things you might have forgot

Did you know that the Reds were the only team in MLB history to have the players name BENEATH the number on the back of the jersey?

Well, you do now.

Back in the day there always seemed to be a team that was being courted by the boys in the Capital, despite losing two teams they always wanted another (see perseverance pays off.) This one shows a “possible” move to D.C. for the Padres…ooops!

Mr. Kroc took care of that, but not before Topps committed the above blunder and packaged it.

Before all of us were born folks could attend a game at the park and expect to get a seat in the roped off area in the outfield, the introduction of the home run and the eventual need for bleacher seats would make this a relic of the past by the time the majority of us were even learning to count. The pictures below are the crowd overflow at the Palace of the Fans in 1905, note the Grandstand in the background. That is the remainder of the prior Grandstand that stood before League Park (Palace Version) was built. When the Palace was built they replaced the setup of the park, this took the Sun out of the batters eyes and placed it in the field where it belonged.

My take is that the guys who made hats back were making bank.

In honor of the end of this week’s Monday Minutia let’s walk across the field on our way home. Back in the day when a game was over often fans could pop over the rail and walk across the field to the exit that best suited them (Maybe that’s why so many old parks had inferior hallways behind the bleachers?) The photo below is the departing crowd at Griffith Stadium after the game, oh that’s in the aforementioned D.C.

A Magic Season for David Ross

Monday, October 16th, 2006

When your team is home fishing, golfing or just relaxing after a long season you can either write about the playoffs like 99% of the other folks out there or you can start pondering what happened or what will happen to your team over the off season. Especially, if you have a general manager who will be having his first go at the winter meetings, flush with both successful deals and unsuccessful deals from his first 10 months at the helm. Personally, I’m of the opinion that running a baseball franchise is much harder then it is portrayed on the Internet. I also think that some player’s results on any team should be looked at long and hard, with a taste of reality that mines its truth from the probability that the performance might occur again.

With that in mind, let’s poke David Ross with a stick and see what comes out.

David Ross had a lifetime .240/.279/.392 when he was acquired by the Reds, by the end of the 2006 season he had strolled to the plate 296 times as a Red. Ross, who was earmarked to be Jason LaRue’s caddy, ended up leading the Reds catchers in games and plate appearances, as well as extra base hits. In fact David Ross destroyed his Pecota projection this season (his best case scenario projection was a .258/.325/.464) and in the process he joined a select group of players in the games history to compile 35 or more extra base hits in 300 or less plate appearances, ending up with a .255/.353/.579 line by seasons end, 59% of Ross’s hits were hits for extra bases, and you have to wonder, can he do it again?

It’s a small, yet rare feat that had only occurred 4 times in the modern era prior to the 1994 lock out. Since then it’s occurred 7 more times, 3 of those by Cincinnati Reds and 3 times this season alone. The one that leads us there is David Ross the only player in the group to top 20 home runs, and what a group it is. Rookies, famous sluggers, platoon wonders, the man Babe Ruth unseated as the premier home run hitter in all of baseball and then even the man who replaced Babe Ruth on the Yankees.

Let’s kick em around and see if David Ross fits in the group or if he will likely end up as an anomaly. A player that averages an extra base hit every 8 at bats would be a blessing at catcher, in 206 only 16 players had 75 or more extra base hits, none were catchers. In fact Ramon Hernandez led all catchers in EBH with 54, Jason Kendall logged 614 at bats for the A’s and had only 24 EBH. That’s 1 EBH every 25 at bats, or a scant 1 every 5 games. In the long history of the game finding a hitting catcher has often been a task many franchises were never able to fulfill, and it’s really only in recent history that a catcher has been able to stay healthy enough to get over 60 much alone 70 EBH. But there have been a few.

EXTRA BASE HITS               YEAR     EBH      AB
1    Johnny Bench             1970       84      605
2    Javier Lopez             2003       75      457
3    Todd Hundley             1996       74      540
T4   Johnny Bench             1974       73      621
T4   Mike Piazza              1997       73      556
T6   Lance Parrish            1983       72      605
T6   Stan Lopata              1956       72      535
T8   Gabby Hartnett           1930       71      508
T8   Mike Piazza              1998       71      561
10   Roy Campanella           1953       70      519

The best in the group is Johnny Bench in 1970, his first MVP season, when he averaged an EBH every 7.2 at bats, or a hair over 1 EBH every 100 at bats more then David Ross achieved in 2006.

The real question is can Ross do it again and what does the list look like that he now joins, and did they succeed after their extra base bonanza in a small window of opportunity.

So here they are.

EXTRA BASE HITS          YEAR      EBH      AVG      OBA      SLG
Bob Fothergill           1929       39     .354     .378     .570
Dick Allen               1973       39     .316     .394     .612
Adam Dunn                2001       38     .262     .371     .578
David Ross               2006       37     .255     .353     .579
Alex Ochoa               2000       37     .316     .378     .586
George Selkirk           1937       36     .328     .411     .629
Josh Phelps              2002       36     .309     .362     .562
Gavvy Cravath            1919       35     .341     .438     .640
Jeff Francoeur           2005       35     .300     .336     .549
Corey Koskie             2006       35     .261     .343     .490
Luke Scott               2006       35     .336     .426     .629

We’re going to run these guys down from the top.

Bob Fothergill

Since major league baseball started there have only been 4 seasons where the leagues OPS was greater then the .770 that was logged in 1929. Detroit’s Bob Fothergill was known around the league as “Fatty”, at 6’1″ and weighed about 230, he was a pure hitter in a hitters era, hitting over .350 4 times in his career. A career marked by poor fielding and bad health, thus Fatty was often only logging almost 400 at bats a season, topping 400 only once in his career (527 ab’s .359/ .413/.516) In 1929 everyone in baseball seemed to be hitting the ball, and Fothergill averaged an EBH every 7.1 ab’s, it would prove to be his last really good season and by 1938 he would die of a massive stroke at the age of 40.

Dick Allen

Dick Allen was a stud, that’s much should be said, and his place on the list is based on one thing alone… injury. On June, 28th 1973 Allen injured his ankle in a collision at 1st base in Anaheim. He only logged 5 at bats the rest of the season, a season that began when Allen inked a 3-year $750,000 contract during spring training, making him the highest paid player in major league baseball.

Adam Dunn

Adam Dunn had 54 extra base hits (32 Home Runs) between AA Chattanooga and AAA Louisville in 2002, averaging an EBH every 6.4 at bats he was called up by the Reds and continued to average an EBH every 6.4 at bats. As of now he’s the premier power hitter on the Reds and a lightening rod due to his unorthodox game and poor fielding and strikeout totals. He’ll be someone we watch over the off-season here and I’m sure that I’ll not be the only one doing it.

Alex Ochea

Bob Fothergill’s feat occurred in a big hitting year, however it wasn’t a big as hitting season as 2000, which stands after 1930 as the season with the highest OPS in MLB history (.782) it’s also the season that the Reds milked Alex Ochea’s best stat line from. Ochea was 28 and had jus come off his best season in 1999 for the Brewers (which is the 3rd best OPS season in MLB history) The Reds thought that they were getting a 4th outfielder that might help fill in from time to time, what they ended up with is a player that destroyed his career norms in batting average and slugging percentage, Ochea delighted Reds fans by topping the leagues norm in batting average by .42 and slugging by .140. In baseball the mean can be a wicked taskmaster. The following season at age 30 Ochea had a .276/.334/.403 line for the Reds before they traded him to the Rockies, one year and two teams later Alex was out of the game, just a footnote in the games history.

George Selkirk

Someone had to replace Babe Ruth in the Yankees lineup one day, everyone knew that and now in retrospect not many can remember the name of the man that donned Babes number 3 after he left to be a Brave, nor can they remember the stats that he produced after the Babe had vacated right field in the Bronx. George Selkirk fades into obscurity, despite his 5 World Series Rings and lifetime .883 OPS. Selkirk was a longtime Yankee farmhand and didn’t make the big leagues until the age of 26; he later was squeezed out by the emergence of Tommy Heinrich and Charlie Keller… it’s tough being a Yankee I guess. In 1937 at the age of 29 George had an OPS of 1.040, with 36 EBHs the prior years he had rapped over 50 in more than 400 at bats. The next year his OPS dropped over .240 points (his batting averaged dropped over 50 points) Selkirk rebounded and had a .969 OPS in 1939, but he never became the star that some thought he should be, simply because he wore Ruth’s #3.

Josh Phelps

Josh Phelps, once a catcher now a roaming DH/1b with knee problems and a poor grasp of the strike zone. Lucky Josh won a job with his 2002 season, however his lack of plate acumen and fielding prowess caused him to be expendable and it looks like his game time will be redefined at 1st and DH, Josh spent the 2006 in Toledo and never played for the Tigers, despite them being a team that probably would like some more power from their 1st basemen. In Toledo at age 28 Josh Phelps had a .308 batting average and .908 OPS, for that he got named to the AA All Star team, if he’s lucky there might be a job somewhere for him in the game, too bad he doesn’t hit from the left side.

Gavy Cravath

Prior to the emergence of Babe Ruth baseball’s renowned slugger was LH power hitter Gavy Cravath, a man who was championed by F.C. Lane for his power and on-base acumen long before that part of the game became a large part of the statheads credo. Gavy had the pleasure of hitting at the Baker Bowl, a 19th century park that was fast on the way to being a dump as well as the home to the worst franchise in the game.

In 1919 Gavy was nearing the end of a long career, one that had trouble starting, but nevertheless turned out to be a nice little career. His .341/.438/.640 in 214 at bats is monstrous in an era that hitting was usually confined to punch singles and gappers in wide open outfields. Prior to 1920 Gavy was 39 years old and tied for 4th in HR’s in the history of major league baseball. In 1920 Gavy would get 1 more to end up 3rd in the games history. Ten years later he would be 16th and twenty years later 41st.

HOMERUNS                        HR       AB
1    Roger Connor                138     7794
2    Sam Thompson                127     5984
3    Harry Stovey                122     6138
T4   Jimmy Ryan                  118     8164
T4   Gavvy Cravath               118     3906
T6   Mike Tiernan                106     5906
T6   Dan Brouthers               106     6711
T6   Hugh Duffy                  106     7042
T9   Ed Delahanty                101     7505
T9   Honus Wagner                101    10430

The next three have all occurred in the past two seasons.

Jeff Francouer

Jeff Francoeur place on this list is much like Adam Dunn’s, a late season call up in 2005 Francoeur tore through the league with a .300 batting average and a .549 slugging percentage, and his one fault was patience at the dish.

He has none, 11 walks in 257 at bats in 2005 for a Jose Guillenesque 1 BB every 23 at bats, in 2006 it took a even more horrible turn, Francoeur had 394 more at bats then he had in 2005 and still only had 23 walks for the season, that’s one BB every 28 at bats. This was compounded by a .260 batting average and Francoeur ended up with a .293 on base percentage for the seasons… and that’s just pitiful.

Below is a list of the most outs in a season with walk totals under 23, Jeff slots in at number 15 all time in a season with 491 outs, or slightly more then every out in 18 games, or every out for the Braves in 11% of their season… ouch.

OUTS                      YEAR    OUTS      BB       OBA
Larry Bowa               1974      531       23     .298
Woody Jensen             1936      526       16     .305
Alfonso Soriano          2002      516       23     .332
Rennie Stennett          1976      515       19     .277
Cookie Rojas             1968      511       16     .248
Enos Cabell              1978      501       22     .321
Rick Bosetti             1979      500       22     .286
Mark Grudzielanek        1997      500       23     .307
Doug Glanville           2001      498       19     .285
Ralph Garr               1973      497       22     .323
Hi Myers                 1915      494       17     .275
Tito Fuentes             1971      493       18     .299
Cristian Guzman          2002      492       17     .292
Mark Koenig              1934      491       15     .289
Jeff Francouer           2006      491       23     .291

Corey Koskie

Corey Koskie experienced a concussion and that cut his season short, at 33 it might have been the best season in Koskie’s career, if he had indeed finished it, But like Dick Allen his place on this list is a result of being unlucky.
Luke Scott

Luke Scott is a lot like David Ross, he had kicked around in the minors for awhile and was known for having pop and the inability to walk with much more then pedestrian regularity. At 28 Scott finally got his chance and the man who had never hit above .300 in professional ball destroyed NL pitching for the last half of the season, with a line of .336/.426./621/1.047 he even walked 30 times in 214 at bats. Even more amazing was a robust ratio of 1 EBH every 6.1 at bats. That said the man is 28 years old and just was fresh to the league, something has to give in the next season.

Doesn’t it?

That’s where a list like the above leaves us, we can see the pros that consistently performed at that level when healthy (Allen, Koskie, Fothergill, Cravath, Selkirk) or the phenoms (Dunn and Francoeur) and we can see the flukes as well (Ochea, Phelps and Scott and Ross) The last two players mentioned plus Francoeur still have to prove that they can do it over a whole season and at a lowered cost it’s worth the gamble for the Reds to see if Ross can reproduce his magic.

But based on the data I wouldn’t bet the house that it happens.