Skimming the surface

Despite what Cincinnati Reds manager Jerry Narron or most baseball experts say, Joe Nuxhall predicted Thursday night the Reds’ starting rotation could well include Homer Bailey at the start of the 2007 season. Nuxhall was master of ceremonies at the 28th annual Knights of Columbus Sports Stag, held at the Father Butler Council in Hamilton.

“I’m saying right now, I think he’s going to be in the starting rotation,” Nuxhall said of the 20-year-old Bailey, the Reds’ most promising prospect who was almost untouchable at Class AA Chattanooga last season.

I’m not going to waste time challenging that assertion, running stats or conversions for Bailey. But I will note that his 1.19 whip and 1.59 era in AA look good. I’ll also have to note that the praise comes from Joe Nuxhall a man who toed the mound of Crosley at the age of 15.

That lead me to ponder two things, one what kind of 16 year old gets to play major league ball, and two what does history tell us about 21 year old pitchers and the Reds?

I’ll break up the eras as thus

1876-1899. An era marked by really volatile player and franchise movement, when the game is unstable and weak Bill James said that there is usually a larger amount of younger players and ones that achieve success. It’s no big surprise that all but two of the players who have played major league ball at the ripe age of 16 or younger arrived during three distinct eras:

1. Pre-1900 – An era of multiple unsteady leagues and teams, youngest player is Fred Chapman a 14 year old who pitches for the Philadelphia A’s in 1887, at a distance of 50 feet, before the mound was installed.

2. World War 2 – Shortage of talent

3. Bonus Era – Era of Bonus rule

The two dissenters were Jim Curry and Coonie Bank who each appeared in one game at the age of 16 in 1909.

Also note that the batters are often skill position players (catcher Coonie Blank) and shortstop (Alex George), in fact since the 19th century all the players who appeared in the game at the age of 16 or younger were either a pitcher of a skill position player.

GAMES                    YEAR      G       AGE
Frank Pearce             1876        1       16
Bill Bishop              1886        2       16
Mike Kilroy              1888        1       15
Fred Chapman             1887        1       14
Willie McGill            1890       24       16
Kid Keenan               1891        1       16
Joe Stanley              1897        1       16
Carl Scheib              1943        6       16
Rogers McKee             1943        4       16
Joe Nuxhall              1944        1       15
Jim Derrington           1956        1       16

YEAR                               AB       AGE
Tommy Brown              1944      146       16
Leonidas Lee             1877       18       16
Milt Scott               1882        5       16
Piggy Ward               1883        5       16
Chick Carroll            1884       16       16
Joe Fogarty              1885        8       16
Tom Hess                 1892        2       16
Jim Curry                1909        4       16
Coonie Blank             1909        2       16
Putsy Caballero          1944        4       16
Tommy Brown              1944      146       16
Alex George              1955       10       16

Alex George was the last 16 year old to get an at bat in MLB, he was a shortstop called up by the A’s in 1955, their first year in Kansas City, a year that saw them lose 91 games, when you lose 91 games your roster often has some weird appearances her and there. Jim Darrington is the last 16 years old to get an at bat in MLB. He was a bonus baby signing by the White Sox and had to spend the first two years of his career on the ML roster. He was out of the league by the age of 18.

As for the Reds they too have a long history of young pitchers flaming out and some doing well. Let’s look at the Reds 21 and under and see what their history looks like. We’ll keep it simple, innings pitched and RSAA (RSAA–Runs saved against average. It’s the amount of runs that a pitcher saved vs. what an average pitcher would have allowed.)

The Reds prove to have their largest group of pitchers under the age of 21 in the years prior to 1900, almost 70% of them pitched before the current distance of 60′ 6″ was instituted.

1876-1899

INNINGS PITCHED               YEAR     IP      RSAA      AGE
1    Elmer Smith              1887    447.1       79       19
2    Billy Rhines             1890    401.1       78       21
3    Lee Viau                 1888    387.2       13       21
4    Elmer Smith              1888    348.1        8       20
5    Noodles Hahn             1899    309         45       20
6    Larry McKeon             1885    290         16       19
7    Elmer Smith              1889    203        -20       21
8    Larry McKeon             1886    156        -31       20
9    Elmer Smith              1886     81.2       -4       18
10   John Weyhing             1888     65.2       13       19
11   Joe Murphy               1886     46         -8       19
12   Jesse Tannehill          1894     29         -6       19
13   Lem Cross                1893     21         -2       21
14   Brownie Foreman          1896     18        -24       20
15   Willie McGill            1892     17         -4       18
16   Mike Shea                1887     16.2       -5       20
17   Jimmy Peoples            1885     15        -14       21
T18  Dan Bickham              1886      9          0       21
T18  WildBill Widner          1887      9          0       20
T18  Percy Coleman            1898      9          1       21
21   Fred Blank               1894      8          1       20
22   Carney Flynn             1894      7.2      -10       19
23   Wiley Davis              1896      4.1       -2       20
24   Kid Baldwin              1885      4         -3       20
T25  Jeremiah Reardon         1886      2         -3       17
T25  Ted Conover              1889      2         -2       21

The next group is from 1900-1941, a pure pitching era in Cincinnati (aside from some brief years in the early 1900’s)

This group is mostly highlighted with a couple of Pete’s (Donahue and Schnieder) and Sea Lion Hall, one of the earlier relief type of pitcher. Born Carlos Clolo, “Charley” Hall was a thick-lipped man who resembled a sea lion I suppose.

You be the judge

1900-1941

INNINGS PITCHED               YEAR     IP      RSAA      AGE
1    Pete Schneider           1917    342         22       21
2    Noodles Hahn             1900    311.1        3       21
3    Pete Schneider           1915    276         11       19
4    Pete Schneider           1916    274         -3       20
5    Pete Donohue             1922    242         20       21
6    Henry Thielman           1902    211         -4       21
7    Gene Schott              1935    159         -3       21
8    Roy Hitt                 1907    153        -18       20
9    Pete Schneider           1914    144          2       18
10   Pete Donohue             1921    118          5       20
11   Sea Lion Hall            1906     95         -2       20
12   Jean Dubuc               1908     85         -3       19
13   Jean Dubuc               1909     71         -9       20
14   Sea Lion Hall            1907     68         -1       21
15   Jack Rowan               1908     49.1        3       21
16   Rip Vowinkel             1905     45         -5       20
17   Charlie Case             1901     27         -4       21
18   Dixie Davis              1912     26.2        1       21
19   Tom Cantwell             1909     22          2       20
20   Dick Scott               1901     21         -4       18
21   Chick Smith              1913     17.2        0       20
22   Ed Gerner                1919     17          0       21
23   Marty O'Toole            1908     15          0       19
24   Crese Heismann           1901     13.2       -4       21
25   Si Johnson               1928     10         -1       21
T26  Buck Hooker              1902      8         -1       21
T26  Pat Ragan                1909      8         -1       20
28   Chet Carmichael          1909      7          2       21
29   Bert Sincock             1908      4.2       -1       20
30   Bill Cramer              1912      2.1        1       21
31   Bill Doak                1912      2          0       21
T32  Tom Cantwell             1910      1         -2       21
T32  Pat Griffin              1914      1         -1       21
T32  Herman Pillette          1917      1         -2       21
T32  Eddie Tiemeyer           1906      1          0       21
T32  Rufe Meadows             1926      1          0       18

Note the RSAA for this group, is nothing to really write home about aside from the Pete’s over 20 showings.

The next group is a small sampling of the war years. From this group we get some youngsters, amongst them we see Joe Nuxhall’s famous appearance. But very few men over the age of 19

1942-1946

INNINGS PITCHED               YEAR     IP      RSAA      AGE
1    Herm Wehmeier            1945      5         -5       18
2    Ewell Blackwell          1942      3         -1       19
T3   Joe Nuxhall              1944      1         -5       15
T3   Kent Peterson            1944      1          0       18
T3   Jake Eisenhart           1944      1          0       21

The next group is what I like to view as the Bonus Era, this era is when scouting was king and the goal was to bring home the best players, both the cheap and the rich. Baseball worried about the rich stocking up their farm systems with too many prospects, therefore they instituted a rule that the player would have to be carried on the major league roster for two tears. This is what Koufax did, as well as Harmon Killebrew. It worked for them others like Jim Darrington flamed out quick in the face of all that talent.

1947-1960

INNINGS PITCHED               YEAR     IP      RSAA      AGE
1    Kent Peterson            1947    152         -9       21
2    Herm Wehmeier            1948    147        -28       21
3    Jim Maloney              1960     64         -6       20
4    Claude Osteen            1960     48         -7       20
5    Jay Hook                 1957     10          0       20
6    Claude Osteen            1959      8         -2       19
7    Jim O'Toole              1958      7          2       21
8    Dave Skaugstad           1957      6          2       17
9    Claude Osteen            1957      4          1       17
10   Jay Hook                 1958      3         -3       21
11   Herm Wehmeier            1947      1          0       20

Maloney and O’Toole were two of the larger Reds signings in the late 50’s. Osteen a local Cincinnati boy (Reading) was too nervous in Cincinnati and eventually was traded to Washington, who later used him to get the Adam Dunn of the 1960’s, Frank Howard. Osteen and Dave Skaugstad appeared at the age of 17 for the Reds in 1957, Skaugstad would never make it back.

Once again the appearance of 21 and younger doesn’t produce a star at that stage, nor any RSAA numbers that really help the team.

The next group will comprise the second deadball era, the 60’s and the 70’s were low scoring eras and with that usually comes young pitching.

1961-1980

INNINGS PITCHED               YEAR     IP      RSAA      AGE
1    Gary Nolan               1967    227         27       19
2    Don Gullett              1971    218         16       20
3    Wayne Simpson            1970    176         23       21
4    Ross Grimsley            1971    161.1       -5       21
5    Gary Nolan               1968    150         18       20
6    Don Gullett              1972    135        -12       21
7    Gary Nolan               1969    109          0       21
T8   Billy McCool             1965    105         -7       20
T8   Billy McCool             1966    105         20       21
10   Frank Pastore            1979     95.1       -7       21
11   Jim Maloney              1961     95         -2       21
12   Billy McCool             1964     89         12       19
T13  Don Gullett              1970     78         15       19
T13  Tom Carroll              1974     78         -1       21
15   Mario Soto               1977     60.2      -10       20
16   Manny Sarmiento          1976     43.2        7       20
17   Milt Wilcox              1971     43.1        0       21
18   Manny Sarmiento          1977     40.1        7       21
19   Sammy Ellis              1962     28         -9       21
20   Milt Wilcox              1970     22.1        4       20
21   Mario Soto               1978     18          2       21
22   Claude Osteen            1961      0.1        0       21

If any group of young pitchers the Reds ever had stands out it’s this group, a perfect mix of the Bobby Mattick signings and the draft work of both Jim McGlothian and later Bob Howsam. The above list tells me one thing for sure. Gary Nolan was a stud, if Homer could throw a season like Nolan’s 1967 (or even Wayne Simpson’s 1970) then the Reds could exceed expectations pitching wise again this season.

Of course the above list also is a laundry list of broken wings and broken dreams, the game eats young pitching and sometimes it doesn’t spit it back up.

Once Howsam left and the game slowly morphed into the style we see today the young 21 year old pitcher stopped showing up in Cincinnati and from 1981-2006 we’ve probably seen them less then any other time in the teams history.

1981-2006

INNINGS PITCHED               YEAR     IP      RSAA      AGE
1    Scott Scudder            1989    100.1       -9       21
2    John Roper               1993     80        -14       21
3    Jeff Russell             1983     68.1        6       21
4    Ryan Wagner              2004     51.2       -4       21
5    Dennys Reyes             1998     38.2       -1       21
6    Johnny Ruffin            1993     37.2        2       21
7    Ryan Wagner              2003     21.2        6       20
8    Curt Lyons               1996     16          0       21
9    Rosario Rodriguez        1990     10.1       -3       20
10   Rosario Rodriguez        1989      4.1        0       19
11   Candy Sierra             1988      4          0       21

Again the above is a collection of relievers and failed starters, with Jeff Russell representing the cream of the crop.

Regardless of the talent Homer has and regardless of the need for him to carry the Reds (someday), he’s likely going to have a very tough road ahead in the major leagues, it’s not an easy place to play and it’s not any easier for younger guys as the record shows. They tend to get overwhelmed and well, who can blame them.

Remember in this game there have been more Dave Skaugstad’s then Gary Nolan’s.

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