1956 Topps Baseball Card Set

56 Williams

If you are a baseball fan of a certain age, there is a baseball card set that is your favorite. For some, the appeal is the format and style. For others, it is the memory of opening packs when you were ten years old and finding the star player from your hometown team. And, for many of us, it is the recurring nightmare of that moment when your Mother decided to throw your cards away.


As I had the good fortune this past weekend to acquire a small collection of 60+ year-old cards in unusually nice condition, it brought back a flood of memories about my favorite all-time set.


For the Old Duck, the 1956 Topps set combines all the attributes that make baseball card collecting such a great hobby. This 340-card set used a horizontal format with beautiful photography and a dual image of each player. On the back, you’ll find previous year and lifetime stats along with a three-panel story highlighting moments from the player’s career. If that wasn’t enough, over 30 of the individuals pictured on cards in this set are in the Hall of Fame.


For this visit, we’ll focus on the Hall-of-Famers and the values listed are for cards in Excellent (EX 5) condition. A complete set in this condition books for $6,000.


> #’s 1 & 2 League Presidents ($35 & $25) – Will Harridge of the AL and Warren Giles of the NL are pictured on these one-of-a-kind cards.


> #5 Ted Williams, Red Sox OF ($180) – The third most valuable card in the set, the Hall of Famer was still a few years away from hanging up his cleats.


> #8 Walter Alston, Dodgers Manager ($20) – The skipper of the ’55 World Champs, he was entering the 3rd of 23 years leading the Dodgers in Brooklyn and Los Angeles…and he never had more than a one-year contract.


> #10 Warren Spahn, Braves P ($40) – The winningest left-hander in baseball history with 363 victories.


> #15 Ernie Banks, Cubs SS ($55) – “Mr. Cub” hit 44 HR’s in ’55 and was well on his way to becoming the most popular player in the history of the franchise.


> #20 Al Kaline, Tigers OF ($40) – Hit .340 in ’55 with over 100 RBI’s…played all 22 years of his career with the Bengals.


> #30 Jackie Robinson, Dodgers 3B ($175) – This legendary figure was entering his last season with the Brooklyn franchise.


> #31 Hank Aaron, Braves OF ($135) – ’55 was his second season in the majors and the signs of his potential were already there…27 HR’s & 106 RBI’s.


> #33 Roberto Clemente, Pirates OF ($225) – ’55 was his rookie season and he would go on to accumulate 3,000 hits before his tragic death on New Year’s Eve 1972.


> #79 Sandy Koufax, Dodgers P ($150) – Another ’55 rookie, it would take until the early 60’s in Los Angeles before he became the best pitcher in the game…led the NL in ERA the last five years of his career.


> #101 Roy Campanella, Dodgers C ($60) – “Campy” won his 3rd MVP award in ’55, leading the Dodgers to their World Series title.


> #107 Eddie Mathews, Braves 3B ($35) – Hit 41 HR’s in ’55 on his way to 512 lifetime “dingers”.


> #109 Enos Slaughter, A’s OF ($15) – In the twilight of his career at this point, “Country” will always be remembered for the 1946 World Series when he scored the winning run in game 7 for the Cardinals.


> #110 Yogi Berra, Yankees C ($75) – Better known in his later years for his commercials and “Yogi-isms”, this legendary player won three AL MVP awards in the 50’s and was one of the cornerstones of the Yankee Dynasty…and he always cut his pizza into six slices because he couldn’t eat eight slices.


> #113 Phil Rizzuto, Yankees SS ($50) – The “Scooter” was one of the most popular players of the era…later a Yankee broadcaster, he was in the booth and screamed “Holy Cow” when Roger Maris hit his 61st HR in 1961.


> #118 Nellie Fox, White Sox 2B ($25) – Only 5′ 8″, he led the AL in hits four times on his way to the Hall of Fame.


> #120 Richie Ashburn, Phillies OF ($25) – Led the NL in hits three times and was one of the fastest baserunners of the era.


> #130 Willie Mays, Giants OF ($130) – The “Say Hey Kid”…there was never a better all-around player.


> #135 Mickey Mantle, Yankees OF ($925) – This card was the prelude to what was one of the most impressive offensive statistical seasons of all time…he won the Triple Crown with 52 HR’s, 130 RBI’s and a .353 BA.


> #150 Duke Snider, Dodgers OF ($50) – The third member of the great CF debate during the 50’s…can you sing, “Willie, Mickey and the Duke”?


> #164 Harmon Killebrew, Senators IF ($50) – A 1950’s “Bonus Baby”, he languished on the bench for the better part of five seasons before breaking out with 42 HR’s in 1959.


> #165 Red Schoendienst, Cardinals 2B ($20) – Ten All-Star teams and the roommate of Stan Musial.


> #180 Robin Roberts, Phillies P ($25) – Won 23 games in ’55, his sixth consecutive season with 20+ victories.


> #187 Early Wynn, Indians P ($20) – Played from the 30’s to the 60’s and had exactly 300 Wins.


> #194 Monte Irvin, Cubs OF ($20) – One of the first black players signed after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947…in 1940, he hit .422 for the season in the Negro League.


> #195 George Kell, White Sox 3B ($20) – Ten All-Star appearances and a lifetime BA of .306.


> #200 Bob Feller, Indians P ($50) – Came off an Iowa farm at age 17 in 1936 to become one of the most intimidating pitchers ever…missed almost four seasons while serving in World War II and still led the AL in strikeouts six times.


> #240 Whitey Ford, Yankees P ($55) – The “Chairman of the Board” before Sinatra, he has the highest winning percentage (.690) of any pitcher in the modern era.


> #250 Larry Doby, White Sox OF ($20) – The first player to cross the color barrier in the AL…only three months after Jackie Robinson’s debut with the Dodgers.


> #255 Bob Lemon, Indians P ($15) – The stalwart of those great Cleveland staffs of the late 40’s & early 50’s, he won over 20 games in six seasons.


> #260 Pee Wee Reese, Dodgers SS ($55) – Harold Reese, the diminutive leader of the “Boys of Summer”. The nickname wasn’t due to his height (5′ 9″), but for winning the national “Pee Wee” marbles championship as a youngster.


> #292 Luis Aparicio, White Sox SS, ($60) – The rookie card of “Little Louie”, who won multiple Gold Gloves and amassed over 2,600 hits.


> #307 Hoyt Wilhelm, Giants P ($20) – Possibly the greatest Knuckleball pitcher in baseball history, he didn’t get to the Majors until age 29 and pitched for 21 years.


Quite an impressive group, wouldn’t you say? In a future visit, we’ll look at other famous and infamous players included in this beautiful set.

Statistical Evolution

'60 Robinson, F. VG

Baseball fans from the “Baby Boomer” generation learned all they knew about statistics from the backs of Topps baseball cards. If someone said “SABR”, it was really the word “saber”, referring to a swashbuckling movie starring Burt Lancaster or Stewart Granger. With the advent of Fantasy Baseball, the Internet and advanced metrics for the sport, everything has changed. The real question is, are you still judging player performance by those same stats that were on the baseball cards?


Looking at the back of a 1960 Topps baseball card gives us a starting point for this analysis. Obviously, the stats are from the ’59 season and tell you the most basic information. For hitters, you find BA, HR, RBI, Runs, Games Played and a few other categories but not even SB. For Pitchers, it gives you IP, W & L, Strikeouts, BB & ERA. In order to bring the performance up-to-date, let’s see how the new age categories play out, as we review the best of 2019.


> OBP (On-Base %) – Mike Trout led the majors with .438 followed closely by Christian Yelich with .429…in ’60, it was HOF Richie Ashburn with .415 followed by Eddie Yost of the Tigers at .414.


> SLG (Slugging %, determined by Total Bases / At Bats) – Yelich led the way with .671 followed by Trout and Nelson Cruz…Frank Robinson was the best in ’60 with .595 followed by AL MVP Roger Maris at .581.


> OPS (OBP & SLG)) – Maybe the most telling of the new numbers, as it explains how many bases a hitter has accumulated for his team…six big leaguers exceeded at least 1.000 in 2019 with Yelich on top at 1.100. Frank Robinson was the only player in that category for ’60 with 1.002 but look at the names filing out the top five…Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Eddie Mathews & Willie Mays


> OPS+ (Adjusted to the ballpark factors with a mean of 100) – Trout was #1 at 185 and Frank Robinson’s 169 led the way in ’60. Two names in the top ten all those decades ago that might surprise you were Roy Sievers & Ken Boyer.


> WAR (Wins Above Replacement) – A single number that estimates the number of Wins a player was worth to his team above the level of a replacement player…four players achieved a number of at least 8 last season with Cody Bellinger’s 9.0 outpacing Alex Bregman (8.4), Trout (8.3) & Marcus Semien (8.1). 60 years ago, Mays led  the category with 9.5 followed by Hank Aaron’s 8.0.


> Offense Winning % (The percentage of games a team with nine of this player batting would win. Assumes average pitching & defense) – Yelich and Trout were the only two over 80% in 2019 while F. Robinson was #1 in ’60 at 77.3%.


> WHIP (Walks & Hits /IP) – This stat had its genesis from Fantasy Baseball and has now become mainstream. It essentially calculates how many base runners a Pitcher allows per inning pitched…two teammates were the best for ’19 with Justin Verlander at 0.803 and Gerrit Cole at 0.895. The top three in 1960 were Don Drysdale (1.063), Hal Brown and Jim Bunning.


> Strikeouts per 9 IP – This stat tells you about pitching dominance in the modern era and the modern hitter’s reluctance to put the ball in play instead of swinging for the fences…last season’s leader was Cole at 13.8 while Max Scherzer, Robbie Ray & Verlander also exceeded 12…1960 was certainly a different environment as Sandy Koufax led the way with 10.13 and Don Drysdale was the only other hurler above 8.


> ERA+ (Once again, adjusted to ballpark factors) – Cole, Verlander and Hyun-Jin Ryu were the only three over 175…Ernie Broglio was the NL’s best in ’60 at 148 and Frank Baumann of the White Sox topped the AL with 144.


> Fielding Independent Pitching (similar to ERA but eliminates fielding from the equation) – Scherzer, Cole & Jacob deGrom were the best in 19…Bob Friend and Gene Conley were the top two in ’60.


Looking through the numbers, you can clearly see that analytics have improved the ability to value players. Frank Robinson’s name had come up multiple times and you’d think he would have been a top contender for NL MVP. After all, he hit.297 with 31 HR’s and led the NL in Slugging, OPS and OPS+. That all contributed to his WAR number of 6.2 for the Reds. So, where did he finish in the MVP voting? The answer is 20th!!! The award went to the Pirates Dick Groat who had the exact same 6.2 WAR number. How did that happen? The easy conclusion is that the Pirates won the pennant and the Reds were 20 games under .500. What we know today however, is that Willie Mays outperformed everyone with his 9.5 WAR and finished 3rd. Who else finished ahead of Robby on the ballot? Names like Del Crandall, Norm Larker, Joe Adcock and Smoky Burgess. Even the great Stan Musial, who had an injury-plagued season with a .275 BA, 17 HR’s and a 1.9 WAR finished 16th. Sorry old-schoolers, the numbers tell the tale.


That’s probably more than enough for your introductory lesson…if you can’t wait for more, try baseball-reference.com


Heroes We Lost – 2019


Are you a real baseball fan? A true baseball fan? Don’t reply too quickly because membership in this exclusive club requires certain criteria. Can you answer yes to most of the following questions…


> Do you still have a vivid memory of that Home Run you hit in Little League?


> Does it take you back in time when you remember that first autograph from a major leaguer?


> Did you study statistics and do you still know the lifetime batting average of your favorite player?


> Is there at least one big league jersey hanging in your closet?


> Do you have a T-shirt that shows an outline of the state of Iowa and says, “Is This Heaven?


> Does a 3-2 count with the bases loaded still put you on the edge of your seat?


> Is there a Bill James publication somewhere on your bookshelf?


There are dozens more on the baseball SAT, but you get the idea. This marvelous sport we love is part of the fabric of our lives. If you’re a baby boomer or a millennial, the history of the game speaks to you and you’re always ready for a baseball-themed conversation…or debate. You can probably name most of the 32 players who have reached 3,000 hits but a football fan wouldn’t even know some of the 31 players with 10,000 career rushing yards if you gave them the names. If you doubt that, ask some of your Fantasy Football buddies about Thomas Jones or Corey Dillon.


So, as we celebrate the history of the game and the wonders of the 2019 season, let’s take a look at who the sport lost in the past year…


> Frank Robinson, Reds / Orioles OF 1956-1976 – The only Hall of Famer on this year’s list, his accomplishments are legendary. Hit .294 with 586 HR’s and a .926 OPS. Was a Rookie of the Year and won MVP Awards in both leagues. Went on to become the first African-American Manager in baseball with the Indians in 1975.


> Jim Bouton, Yankees P 1962-1978 – Was 21-7 for the 1963 pennant winning Yankees, but his real claim to fame was when he pulled back the curtain of the clubhouse in his best-selling book “Ball Four”.


> Ernie Broglio, Cardinals P 1959-1966 – Went 21-9 for the Redbirds in 1960, but he’s best known for being traded to the Cubs for Lou Brock.


> Bill Buckner, Dodgers / Cubs 1B-OF 1969-1990 – The epitome of how baseball can also be cruel, his 2,715 lifetime hits are completely overlooked due to that error he made in the ’86 World Series.


> Ron Fairly, Dodger / Expos OF 1958-1978 – A productive player who made two All-Star teams and had over 1,900 lifetime hits. As a Mariners broadcaster, he once said “Last night I neglected to mention something that bears repeating”.


> Bob Friend, Pirates P 1951-1966 – A three-time All Star, he won 197 games in his career for the Bucs.


> Eli Grba, Yankees / Angels P 1959-1963 – Was the winning Pitcher in the first game of the Angels franchise when he bested the Orioles and Milt Pappas on April 11, 1961. Ted Kluszewski supported him with two HR’s and had 5 RBI’s that day.


> Pumpsie Green, Red Sox SS 1959-1963 – A footnote in baseball history, he was the first Black player on the last team to integrate…12 years after Jackie Robinson debuted with the Dodgers.


> Don Mossi, Indians P 1954-1965 – One of the top relievers in the AL for the good part of a decade, he had 101 Wins & 50 Saves. His appearance was dominated by the size of his ears and it was once said that when he was walking away from you, it looked like “a cab with both doors open”.


> Don Newcombe, Dodgers P 1949-1960 – Only the third Black Pitcher to appear in a major league game, he was the Rookie of the Year in 1949 and won the Cy Young Award in 1956 with a 27-7 record.


> Gene Stephens, Red Sox OF 1952-1964 – Mostly a back-up during his career, he tied a major league record in 1953 by recording three hits off three different Tiger hurlers in the same inning!


> Mel Stottlemyre, Yankees P 1964-1974 – Had 164 Wins and made five All-Star teams before becoming a successful big league pitching coach. His Sons Todd & Mel also pitched in the majors.


93 former big-leaguers died in 2019 and if you’re a real fan, you’ll remember many of them. There were guys who played in the early 50’s like Dick Brodowski, Ted Lepcio, Hal Naragon & Irv Noren,, guys with famous names like Larry Howard and guys with nicknames like “Tex” Clevenger. And, a few more who played at least ten seasons in the majors such as Jim Coates, Bobby Del Greco, Andy Etchebarren, Al Jackson & Barry Latman. Sadly, there always seems to be a few who leave too soon…thinking of Chris Duncan and Tyler Skaggs.


They’re all part of the history because they were all in the “Show”.




Stats You Never Knew

'17 Huira Auto

As Fantasy players, this is the time of year when our brain is overloaded with information from too many sources. ADP (average draft position) for snake drafts, dollar value projections for auction drafts, inflation calculation for keeper leagues, prospect rankings and every imaginable stat for each player who might be on a major league roster as of March 26th, 2020. So, how can you possibly get an edge in today’s Internet age where someone can go from neophyte to expert in the course of web-browsing weekend? One answer might be to look below the surface and find stats that others ignore.


On this visit, once again with the help of the 2020 Bill James Handbook, we’ll look at league leader batting categories from last season in hopes of finding an occasional clue about future performance.


American League


> Carlos Santana (.397, age 33) and Nelson Cruz (.392, age 38) were in the top four in On-Base Percentage.


> Jorge Soler (.569) and Austin Meadows (.558) were in the top six in Slugging Average.


> Matt Chapman & Matt Olson each hit 36 HR’s…and they each won a Gold Glove.


> Two Royals played 162 Games…Soler & Whit Merrifield.


> Red Sox regulars Mookie Betts, Rafael Devers & Xander Bogaerts averaged 702 plate appearances.


> Jonathan Villar was in the top ten in Games, Hits and Runs Scored but was waived by the Orioles.


> Marcus Semien had more total bases (343) than Alex Bregman or Mookie Betts.


> D.J. LeMahieu hit .667 with the bases loaded.


> Tim Anderson won the batting title with an average of .335…he was also the best hitter in “Close & Late” situations with .385.


> In the “young & clutch” category, Yordan Alvarez and Gleyber Torres were in the top six in BA w/RISP.


> In 2018, three players had over 200 Strikeouts, in 2019 no one exceeded 178.  Yoan Moncada went from 217 to 154.


> George Springer had the highest OBP (.385) from the lead-off spot.


> J.D. Martinez led the league with a .404 BA against LH Pitchers.


> Hanser Alberto batted .345 on the Road.


> Tommy Pham had the highest SB Success with 86.2%


> Rougned Odor had the lowest SB success percentage at 55%…he was also the worst in 2018.


> Daniel Vogelbach saw the most pitches per plate appearance…4.54.


> Mitch Garver compiled the best OPS (1.032) for a Catcher…Yuri Gurriel had the best (.900) for First Basemen.


> Mallex Smith had the lowest RBI Pct. (22.74%)


> Michael Chavis tied Mike Trout for the league’s longest HR average (419 feet).


> Nomar Mazara had the two longest HR’s at 505 & 482 feet.



National League


> Only two players had better than a .410 OBP… Christian Yelich at .429 and Anthony Rendon at .412


> Cody Bellinger had the 2nd best Slugging Average (.629)…Yelich was 1st (.671).


> Starlin Castro was the only player to appear in all 162 games.


> Ozzie Albies led the league in Hits (189).


> Corey Seager tied Rendon for most Doubles with 44.


> Eduardo Escobar’s 10 Triples were the league’s best.


> Freddie Freeman (121) had more RBI than Nolan Arenado (118).


> Rhys Hoskins led the league in Walks with 116. His teammate Bryce Harper dropped from 130 in ’18 to 99 in ’19.


> Eugenio Suarez led the league in Strikeouts with 189.


> Wilson Ramos had the highest BA (.611) with the bases loaded.


> Tommy Edman hit .397 in “Close & Late” situations.


> Charlie Blackmon was the best (.385) at hitting with RISP.


> Kevin Newman had the highest BA on the Road….350.


> Six players had at least an 81% Stolen Base success rate…and one of them was Jon Berti.


> Amed Rosario had the lowest SB success rate with 65.5%.


> Manny Machado hit into 24 Double Plays…the most in the league.


> Antony Rizzo was hit by 27 pitches.


> Hoskins and Ronald Acuna Jr. were the only players to “see” over 3,000 pitches.


> Greg Garcia had the highest percentage of Pitches Taken with 65.8%.


> Javier Baez had the best OPS vs. Curveballs with 1.132.


> Brandon Nimmo had the best OPS vs. Sliders with 1.209.


> Willson Contreras was the only Catcher with an OPS over .900 (.901).


> Keston Huira had the best OPS (.936) among 2B.


> Ketel Marte led all CF’s in OPS with 1.095.


> Lorenzo Cain had the lowest RBI Pct. (24.84%).


> Pete Alonso led the league in HR’s at Home (27) and HR’s Away (26).


To the untrained eye, this may all seem like a plethora of useless information, but you Rotisserie Ducklings have picked up a tidbit or two that you’ll remember at the Draft…you can thank me later.

Boomer’s All-Stars


Back in the 80’s & 90’s, when ESPN was still watchable, Chris Berman made baseball fans laugh with his sports nicknames. At one point, “Boomer” (Berman’s nickname) was told by one of the network’s producers that he wouldn’t be allowed to use the nicknames the following season. While attending the World Series, Berman mentioned the new policy to a few writers and ballplayers. ESPN was then deluged with negative comments from MLB insiders with Hall of Famer George Brett leading the protest. The policy was rescinded very quickly…no one knows what happened to that producer.


To pass some time during the Hot Stove season, let’s look back on some of the best from Boomer and include a tidbit or two on the player.


> Eddie, Eat, Drink and Be Murray – The Hall of Fame 1B had his rookie card in the 1978 Topps set.


> Scott Supercalifragilisticexpiala Brosius – Was the 1998 World Series MVP with the Yankees.


> Carlos One if by Land, Two if Baerga – Made four All-Star teams with the Indians.


> Bernard Innocent Until Proven Gilkey – His 1996 season with the Mets produced 30 HR’s, a .955 OPS and a 8.1 WAR.


> Steve Poison Avery – Was 18-6 with the Braves in 1993 and made the All-Star team.


> Miguel Tejada They Come, Tejada They Fall – Won the AL MVP with the A’s in 2002.


> Carlos Daylight Come and Delgado Go Home – Long before the NFL issue, he protested the wars in Iraq & Afghanistan by not standing for “God Bless America”.


> Jay Ferris Buhner – Hit 40 or more HR’s in three consecutive seasons with the Mariners.


> Harold Growing Baines – Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2019.


> David Supreme Court Justice – Forget the 300+ HR’s, he was once married to Halle Berry.


> Bert Be Home Blyleven – Hall of Fame Pitcher with 287 Wins.


> Jermaine Live And Let Dye – 2005 World Series MVP with the White Sox.


> Dave No Man is an Eiland – Has been a major league pitching coach for the Yankees, Royals & Mets.


> Albert Winnie the Pujols – 656 HR’s and counting.


> Sammy Say it Ain’t Sosa – If you saw him now, you’d understand how ironic this is.


> Todd Which Hand Does He Frohwirth – My personal favorite.


> LaMarr Where Does it Hoyt – Won a Cy Young Award but also got arrested for trying to bring drugs across the border from Mexico.


> Tom Cotton Candiotti – A knuckleballer, he played Hoyt Wilhelm in the movie “61”.


> Bobby Bad To the Bonilla – The most overpaid player in history, he still gets $1 Million from the Mets every Summer.


> Ozzie Like A Virgil – His dad was a major league player before Madonna was born.


> John I Am Not a Kruk – Had a testicle removed during the off-season and came to Spring Training wearing a T-shirt that said, “If they don’t let me play, I’ll take my ball and go home”.


> Brook Jacoby Wan Kenobi – His 32 HR’s in 1987 helped me win my first Fantasy Baseball championship.


> Jim Home Sweet Thome – The 612 HR’s punched his ticket to Cooperstown.


> Hideo Ain’t Gonna Work On Maggie’s Farm Nomo – Pitched the only no-hitter at Coors Field in Denver.


> Damion It Don’t Come Easley – Batted .253 in 17 seasons and made $25 Million.


> Nomar Mr. Nice Guy Garciaparra – His name comes from his Father Ramon…Nomar is “Ramon” spelled backwards.


> Bruce Eggs Benedict – There’s never been a player named Hollandaise.


> Moises Skip To My Alou – Also applies to Felipe, Jesus  & Matty.


> Rick See You Later Aguilera – 318 lifetime Saves.


> Jeff Brown Paper Bagwell – His actual nickname was “BagPipes”.


> Oddibe Young Again McDowell – Debuted in 1985 at age 22…he’s now 57.


> Al Cigarette Leiter – Pitched in the “Show” for 19 years.


> Roberto Remember the Alomar – 10 Gold Gloves and a plaque in Cooperstown.


> Mike Enough Aldrete – Drafted by the Giants out of Stanford University.


> Jim Hey Abbott – Who’s on first?


> Kevin Small Mouth Bass – 14 seasons in the majors, 10 with the Astros.


> Hubie Babbling Brooks – Won the Silver Slugger Award in 1985 & 1986 as the best hitting SS.


> John Charcoal Burkett – Won 166 Games and was also a professional bowler.


> Donald Duck Drooker – Your humble scribe.


'17 Wheeler

For as long as kids have looked at the back of baseball cards, they’ve had a general understanding of ERA (Earned Run Average). If you look up the definition, the general consensus is “A measure of a pitcher’s performance by dividing the total earned runs allowed by the total of innings pitched and multiplying by nine”. My baseball education taught that it was earned runs multiplied by nine, divided by innings pitched but the numbers come out the same. The premise of the statistic was to not burden a pitcher with runs that had been enabled by errors or passed balls. In other words, eliminating from the calculation events that were out of his control.


If you’ve watched enough baseball to give the definition a personal “eye test”, you already know that numerous runs score in a game that don’t necessarily fit the criteria. If a pitcher leaves the game with the bases loaded (through hits & walks) and the relief pitcher gives up a triple, the original hurler just gave up three earned runs while he was sitting in the dugout. If there are runners on 2B & 3B with two outs and a weak groundball trickles under the glove of the shortstop into left field, two earned runs score whether the fielder in question was Pee Wee Reese or Pokey Reese. Outcomes like these are what motivate the development of advanced baseball statistics. One we’ve visited previously is DIPS (Defensive Independent ERA) and now there’s another stat for the research toolbox.


In an additional attempt to move beyond ERA, we now have a stat called ERC (Component ERA). The essential theory is that pitchers can only really control how they pitch, but not necessarily the outcomes. ERC estimates what a pitcher’s ERA should have been based on raw statistics. As a result, it might be able to tell us if pitchers were lucky or unlucky in a given season. You can find the ERC formula in the Bill James Handbook 2020 and the stats are also available at espn.com.


The question for those of us playing Fantasy Baseball is if the ERC numbers can assist in determining the value and predictability of pitchers. Many a team has been torpedoed by a couple of starting pitchers that didn’t perform to expectations and we’re always looking for an edge. As a 25+ year fantasy veteran has said many times, “I hate pitchers”. Just taking a superficial look at ERC results for 2019 reveals the following tidbits.


> For the season, eight major league starting pitchers had an ERA under 3.00, but amazingly, six of them actually pitched better than their base number led by Justin Verlander (2.58 ERA & 1.80 ERC). He was followed by Gerrit Cole, Zack Greinke, Max Scherzer, Sonny Gray & Jacob deGrom.  Hyun-Jin Ryu and Mike Soroka were the exceptions but even their ERC was less than 10% higher. These guys are solid contributors.


> The next dozen ERA leaders (under 3.60) show some interesting contrasts. #16 Dakota Hudson had the biggest negative gap (3.35 ERA / 4.40 ERC) followed by #11 Marcus Stroman (3.22 ERA / 3.74 ERA). The three hurlers whose stats should have been better are Stephen Strasburg (3.32 ERA / 2.64 ERC), Lucas Giolito (3.41 ERA / 2.76 ERC) and Walker Buehler (3.26 ERA / 2.66 ERC).


> Looking at the off-season free agent class, these analytic numbers must be important to GM’s. Zack Wheeler’s new contract is impressive but so is the breakdown of his 2019 performance…3.96 ERA, 3.60 ERC & 3.35 DIPS. Not so sure about the $18 Million Cole Hamels deal (3.81 ERA / 4.35 ERC). Madison Bumgarner may sign soon and his numbers should create optimism (3.90 ERA / 3.40 ERC). How would you feel about Dallas Keuchel (3.75 ERA / 4.62 ERC), Julio Teheran (3.81 ERA / 4.02 ERC) or Wade Miley (3.98 ERA / 4.19 ERC)?



> Expanding the category of  possible sleepers finds Yu Darvish (3.98 ERA / 3.36 ERC) and Joey Lucchesi (4.18 ERA / 3.48 ERC).


You’ll notice that Win-Loss records aren’t part of this analysis. Fantasy players have long understood the cruel category of “Wins” but the real game has begun to catch up. With starting pitchers going less innings and teams spending $8 Million on middle relievers, the concept of a 20-game winner is a thing of the past. In 2019, Verlander & Cole were the only ones to achieve that milestone. MLB teams are no longer concerned with starters going deep into games because they’ve got lock-down guys in the bullpen. What they want is quality innings.


As always, Fantasy success comes from balance, both on your team and in your scouting, so maybe ERC (and DIPS) has a place in your toolbox. And, the next time one of your baseball buddies asks how you are, you can reply, “I’m feeling much better now that I’m monitoring my ERC”.





Hanging Around The Hot Stove With Bill James

'03 Verlander

Many baseball fans from the “Baby Boomer” generation haven’t really bought into the immense change in how statistics are viewed. They still look at the game with their eyes and are only concerned with the numbers on the back of the baseball card. For those of us more immersed in the details of the game, the man who guided us through the wilderness is Bill James. Starting in the late 70’s, he published an annual “Baseball Abstract” that began the task of analyzing data in new and different ways. By 1985, he wrote the first “Historical Baseball Abstract” and that 700+ page volume still sits on the bookshelf in my office.


For baseball fans in general and Fantasy Baseball players who can’t wait for the upcoming season, Bill also helps us get through the winter while we’re longing for box scores. Each November, The Bill James Handbook gives us a review of the season, lifetime stats of every major league player and numerous articles and lists to make the “hot stove” season tolerable. The 2020 version is available now and at 632 pages, offers just about something for everyone. The Old Duck has an annual exercise, where I take my initial cursory glance at the book and begin discovering information that surprises and enlightens me.


So, here are some random observations from my first time through the pages…


> In golf and tennis, fans can easily find current rankings on each player. The systems are set up so that the rankings move up and down based on performance and are not just for the current season. James has developed a similar idea for ranking starting pitchers. The current top five are Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. Cole & Strasburg were not in the top five when the 2019 season began but Chris Sale (who went from #4 to #7) & Corey Kluber (from #5 to #38) both fell victim to the injury bug. Some of the biggest drops since a year ago were Carlos Carrasco (from 10th to 40th), Blake Snell (#11 to #46) and German Marquez (#18 to #34). On the positive side, Jack Flaherty (72nd to 6th), Charlie Morton (34th to 13th), Sonny Gray (75th to 14th) and Lance Lynn (66th to 15th) were some of the shining stars.


> Fielding metrics are relatively new and not yet accepted by fans or even by many statisticians. The handbook’s “Defensive Runs Saved” chart does help us verify what we think we’re told by our eyes. Cody Bellinger ramped up his MVP credentials by leading all RF with 19 runs saved. Two CF topped that mark with Victor Robles at 22 and Lorenzo Cain with 20. No LF had more that 10. The 1B & 3B races were dominated by the A’s, as Matt Olson posted 13 while Matt Chapman had 18. Kolten Wong (14) was the 2B leader and at SS, Nick Ahmed just outdistanced Trevor Story (18 versus 17). Roberto Perez 29 runs saved led all Catchers. For all the cynical fans out there, we can’t leave out the worst fielders in the game and how many runs they cost their teams…


1B) Luke Voit & Pete Alonso -6 each

2B) Jonathan Villar -11

3B) Hunter Dozier -14

  1. SS) Xander Bogaerts (for the 2nd straight year) -21
  2. LF) Justin Upton -13 (in only 63 games)
  3. CF) Ian Desmond -19
  4. RF) Franmil Reyes -11
  5. C) Elias Diaz -23


> A consistently debated topic among fans and media is the dramatic increase in defensive shifts. In 2014, shifts were utilized over 13,000 times, in 2015 the number increased to over 17,000 and in 2016, it grew tremendously (+58%) to over 28,000. The 2017 numbers seem to show that the optimum advantage has been reached, as the figure dropped slightly to 26,700. But 2018 put every number in the rear-view mirror with over 34,600 (a 30% increase). 2019 left that number in the dust with a 34% increase to 46,700. To the naysayer, the question becomes, would teams be shifting if it didn’t work? According to the “Runs Saved” statistic, shifting saved 196 runs in 2014, 267 runs in 2015, 359 in 2016 and 346 in 2017. Then in 2018, it increased to 592! 2019 came in at 622 runs! The shift lowered the Batting Average of shift candidates by 32 points. 25 of the 30 teams increased their shift usage, so don’t expect the strategy to go away.


> In the past, players were judged as good baserunners if they swiped a lot of bases. Not only were their other baserunning skills not considered, even their caught stealing stats were ignored. However, as Tom Boswell pointed out over 20 years ago, a caught stealing is equivalent to two outs because it not only removes a baserunner, it also causes an out. Now we have information that tells us how often a player goes from 1st to 3rd or 2nd to home plate on a single. The handbook grades baserunning on the net amount of bases a player gains in a given season. The top six were Jonathan Villar (+43), Christian Yelich (+43), Mallex Smith (+42) Jarrod Dyson (+39), Ronald Acuna Jr. (+37) & Adalberto Mondesi(+37).  The D’Backs were the best baserunning team in the game at +122.


> How often did the top five starting pitchers use their fastball? The “Pitchers’ Repertoires” section will answer that question by telling you that it was 50% for Verlander, 54% for Cole, 49% for deGrom and 48% each for Scherzer & Strasburg. See a pattern here? Maybe the pitching philosophy of “Throw him the heater, Ricky” went out about the time of “Major League II”.


That’s just a taste of the information in this year’s edition and we haven’t even looked at the individual player stats. No wonder that “stathead” is now an accepted baseball term.