The Clutch Chronicles -2020

The Urban Dictionary defines Clutch as, “To perform under pressure”. For decades, baseball pundits and fans have extolled the virtues of players who supposedly had this trait. Their evidence, however, was only visual and anecdotal. Back in the mid-to-late 1970’s, most people considered Greg Luzinski one of the top clutch hitters in the game. He made four consecutive All-Star teams and averaged 111 RBI’s in those campaigns.

Now that baseball is in the age of statistical analysis, our old observations may be called into question. Even a math-challenged fan understands that you can’t get a plethora of RBI’s without baserunners. And, boy, did those Phillies teams have baserunners! The line-up included Dick Allen, Dave Cash, Mike Schmidt and a part-time OF named Jay Johnstone who compiled a .397 OBP in ’75.

 Statistics on RBI Percentage (RBI-HR/Runners On) now go back to 1974, so let’s see how our legendary clutch hitter fared in 1975. “The Bull” had 120 RBI’s, 34 HR’s & 498 runners on base for a RBI percentage of 17.27%. That didn’t even crack the top 20 for the major leagues in ’75! He finished behind household names such as Bobby Murcer, Dave Parker, Jorge Orta, Rusty Staub & George Scott. The leaders were Willie Stargell (20.48%) and Thurman Munson (20.00%).

As a fan, you certainly have an opinion on today’s clutch hitters but do the stats back you up? In 2020, there were over 40 hitters who exceeded the 17.27% that Luzinski posted in ’75. We’ll only include players who had at least 100 baserunners during the season to eliminate the “small sample size” outliers.  These are “Quacker’s Clutch All-Stars” and we’ll see how well their performance aligns with their reputation. There will be players you expected to see and others that will cause you to scratch your head.

1) Eric Hosmer, Padres 1B, 24.32% – The Friars are on the upswing and gave the veteran guys in the line-up plenty of opportunities.

2) Wil Myers, Padres OF, 23.36%% – Should we be that surprised to see his OPS go up over 200 points? He is still only 29.

3) Freddie Freeman, Braves 1B, 22.47% – A MVP candidate and one of the most consistent players in the game. He was also 3rd in this category last year.

4) Jose Abreu, White Sox 1B, 22.16%% – Led the AL with 60 RBI’s and it was no fluke.

5) Trea Turner, Natioanls SS, 21.80% – One of the best all-around players in the game.

6) David Bote, Cubs 3B, 21.36%- Every list has a fluke…he only batted .200.

7) Charlie Blackmon, Rockies OF, 21.05% – Was in the top ten last season also…solid.

8) Luke Voit, Yankees 1B, 20.83%- Did you predict that he’d lead the AL in HR’s? If so, you win the Cardinals GM job. He was traded for Giovanny Gallegos.

9) Juan Soto, Nationals OF, 20.69%- Yes, he can do everything and won’t be 22 until later this month.

10) Stephen Piscotty, Athletics OF, 20.51% – His .629 OPS tells another story.

 11) Kyle Tucker, Astros OF, 20.50%- He won’t be 24 until January…this will only get better.

12) Mike Yastrzemski, Giants OF, 20.49%- How did everyone miss on this guy?

Others over 20% were Jesus Aguilar, David Peralta, Dominic Smith, Anthony Santander, Eloy Jimenez, Rowdy Tellez & Andrew McCutcheon.

For everyday players, Hunter Dozier was the worst in baseball at 5.41%. Others under 8% included Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Alex Gordon, Edwin Encarnacion & Christian Yelich (7.75%).

Hope all your fantasy players came through in the clutch. For more information on RBI Percentage, go to baseballmusings.com.

Unexpected WAR

Baseball fans and Fantasy Baseball Managers love pleasant surprises. Those players who weren’t on the radar and then turned out to be a very productive asset to your team.

They could fall into a number of categories. There are prospects that exceeded their ranking in the organization. Then there are those acquired in some insignificant trade who emerge with their new team. Or a post-hype player who disappointed in his first season or two and then figured it out. Every season, these players make a difference in the success of MLB teams and, despite the short schedule, 2020 is no exception. We’re not talking about established guys like Freddie Freeman or Trea Turner who took their game to another level or top prospects such as Fernando Tatis Jr. or Juan Soto.

To indentify the best of these, we’ll once again rely on “Wins Above Replacement” (WAR) which is a statistic designed to answer the following question…if this player got injured and their team had to replace them with an available minor leaguer or a AAAA player from their bench, how much value would the team be losing? The value is expressed in a wins format, so we can compare each player’s actual value.

According to the rankings provided by Fan Graphs, there were about 38 players who provided at least 2 Wins to their team with Jose Ramirez leading the way at 3.4. In that top 38, we’ve identified a few who would certainly qualify as a pleasant surprise. Let’s take a look at the list with their overall ranking and WAR contribution…

> #9 Mike Yastrzemski, Giants (2.7 WAR) – Proved 2018 wasn’t a fluke with 10 HR’s, 35 RBI’s and a .297 BA.

> #18 Dinelson Lamet, Padres (2.4 WAR) – In his 2nd season back from TJ surgery, he was solid for the resurgent Friars. Posted a 2.09 ERA with 93 K’s in 69 IP.

> #19 Corbin Burnes, Brewers (2.4 WAR) – Always had good stuff but never put it all together until this season at age 25. In 2019, his ERA was 8.82…in 2020, it was 2.11.

> #23 Brandon Lowe, Rays (2.3 WAR) – Players like this is what makes the Tampa Bay franchise unique. Had a good partial season as a rookie in ’19 and put it all together in ’20 with 14 HR’s, 37 RBI’s and .916 OPS.

> #24 German Marquez (2.3) WAR – Pitching in Denver is always a challenge, but he lowered his ERA from 4.76 to 3.75 while leading the NL in Starts and IP.

> #25 Trent Grisham, Padres (2.3 WAR) – Acquired from the Brewers last November, he contributed 10 HR’s, 10 SB’s and a .808 OPS…at age 23

> #32 Framber Valdez, Astros (2.0 WAR) – His ERA last season was 5.86. In 2020, he was 5-3 in 10 starts with a 3.57 ERA.

 Just below the threshold at 1.9 WAR were Cesar Hernandez of the Indians and Ian Happ of the Cubs followed closely by New Yorkers Dominic Smith & Luke Voit.

If you had these 11 players on your Fantasy squad, apply for a GM opening.

60-Game Heroes

50 years ago, if a baseball fan was asked who the best hitters were, the only significant resource would have been the sports section of the Sunday newspaper. Somewhere in the back pages, there was a long, slender list in very small type showing all current major league players. And those players were ranked by their BA (Batting Average) because that had historically been the benchmark for position players.

Looking back at 1970, we find that the top five BA’s belonged to Rico Carty (.366), Alex Johnson (.329), Carl Yastrzemski (.329), Joe Torre (.325) & Manny Sanguillen (.325). Fine players all, but were they the five best hitters in baseball? Not when you consider that the two MVP winners (Johnny Bench and Boog Powell) didn’t even hit .300. Sanguillen, for example, had only 7 HR’s & 61 RBI’s.

As modern baseball analytics have evolved, one of the most accepted statistics has become OPS (On-Base % + Slugging %). Not only does it prioritize getting on base, it also adds the concept of moving more runners around the bases. After all, Slugging Percentage is defined as Total Bases /At Bats. Old school fans might question the veracity of the stat but baseball history tells the tale. The five highest lifetime OPS numbers belong to Babe Ruth (1.16), Ted Williams (1.12), Lou Gehrig (1.08), Barry Bonds (1.05) & Jimmie Foxx (1.04). There are only two other hitters with a number over 1.00… Hank Greenberg and Rogers Hornsby. Mike Trout is at #8 with .999.

With our 60-game sprint now in the books, let’s see who the best hitters in baseball were according to the numbers.

1) Juan Soto, Nationals OF, 1.185 OPS – The Nats lousy season may have clouded your view, but this is a generational talent. At age 21, he led the NL with a .351 BA and walked more times (41) than he struck out (28).

2) Freddie Freeman, Braves 1B, 1.102 OPS – One of the most consistent players in the game, he recovered from an early season IL stint to post a .341 BA. Along with Soto, he’s the only player in the top 12 to have a positive BB/K ratio (45/37).

3) Marcell Ozuna, Braves OF, 1.067 OPS – Had a mediocre 2019 with a .241 BA and .800 OPS and was probably fortunate to get a one-year, $18 Million deal in Atlanta. Now, after leading the NL in HR’s & RBI’s (18/56), he’ll be a free agent in 2021.

4) DJ LeMahieu, Yankees 2B, 1.011 OPS – Many pundits questioned his signing in the Bronx after the 2018 season, but he’s now won batting championships in both leagues…hitting .364 this season. Now, he’ll be a free agent again in 2021.

5T) Jose Ramirez, Indians 3B, .993 OPS – His first-half slump in 2019 made some fans nervous, but you need worry no longer. 17 HR’s, 46 RBI’s & 10 SB’s tell the tale.

5T) Mike Trout, Angels OF, .993 OPS – Probably still the best player in the game, but it appears that stealing bases in no longer in his quiver. In the last three seasons, the numbers have gone from 24 to 11 to 1.

5T) Dominic Smith, Mets 1B/OF, .993 OPS – Having the DH in the National League led to this player’s breakout. Had as many AB’s in 60 games as he had in 162 games last year and produced 10 HR’s with 42 RBI’s.

8) Nelson Cruz, Twins DH, .992 OPS – One of these years, he’ll finally lose to Father Time. But, at age 40 he still produced solid numbers including 16 HR’s. Another 2021 free agent.

9T) Ronald Acuna Jr., Braves OF, .987 – More hyped than Soto, his 2020 campaign was a little less consistent than his first two seasons. Let’s not forget, however, that this was his age 22 campaign.

9T) Jose Abreu, White Sox 1B, .987 OPS – Fans occasionally overlook consistent performers and get excited about the shiny new toy. At age 33, in his 7th season, he led the AL in Games Played, Hits, RBI’s, Slugging % & Total Bases.

11) Trea Turner, Nationals SS, .982 OPS – His best season at age 27 as he led the league in Hits and accumulated 12 HR’s & 12 SB’s.

12) Mike Yastrzemski, Giants OF, .968 OPS – One of those great baseball stories as the Grandson of a Hall of Famer becomes a star at age 29. Never high on the prospect list of the Orioles, he was traded to SF in March of 2019 and hasn’t looked back. In 161 games during the last two seasons he has 31 HR’s & 90 RBI’s.

Did your favorite player get left off the list? The next five are all over .940… Bryce Harper, Wil Myers, Manny Machado, Luke Voit & Corey Seager followed closely by Fernando Tatis Jr. and Mookie Betts.

As for 1970, the four players who exceeded 1.000 OPS were McCovey, Yastrzemski, Carty & Jim Hickman.

Motivate This

When people hear that I was professional speaker during my working days, their immediate response is something like “you mean motivation and stuff?” I always wonder if the alternative they’re thinking of would be non-motivational speaking.

Motivational speakers have never impressed me. Their message is usually emotional and short-lived. Most people attending one of these programs during a convention or meeting are motivated for a few hours and have forgotten the experience by the time cocktail hour and the next morning’s hangover have arrived. Tony Robbins, Zig Ziglar, Wayne Dyer and dozens of others I’ve listened to over the years all have one thing in common. Even after collecting a nice fee, they’re trying to sell you something…books, videos, newsletters and the like. And then, there’s the occasional presenter like football legend Mike Ditka who received five figures as a keynote speaker and insulted any group that wasn’t white and Christian. Guess he didn’t think any of us would be in the audience?

I always considered myself a “success speaker”, in the sense that the people in the room might take away something that could make (or save) them money in their business. In addition, through humor and example, they could also find some hints on how to get along better with people…that’s the real secret to success.

The complete antithesis of a motivational speaker was A’s GM Billy Beane. Two years after “Moneyball” became a best-selling book, he and I were both part of the same program at a business convention in Reno. His message was all about success in business. Innovation, out-of-the-box thinking, allocation of scarce resources and many other topics were relevant to every business person in the room. And, he wasn’t selling anything! Of course, there was some confusion in the audience during the Q&A session when I asked him if Huston Street would still be the Closer the following season.

All of this background filtered back while I was reading an Internet article about the “best motivational quotes about baseball”. It’s a matter of opinion if they are actually motivational, but most are entertaining. The interesting aspect is that each of these comments was made by someone born before 1935. Let’s see if they still fit the game we love.

1) “Any minute, any day, some players may break a long-standing record. That’s one of the fascinations about the game, the unexpected surprises” – Connie Mack

2) “The main idea is to win” – John McGraw

3) “Now there’s three things you can do in a baseball game. You can win or you can lose or it can rain” – Casey Stengel

( Paraphrased by Crash Davis in “Bull Durham”)

4) “If it wasn’t for baseball, I’d be in either the penitentiary or the cemetery” – Babe Ruth

5) “People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” – Rogers Hornsby

6) “Baseball is like church. Many attend, few understand.”  – Leo Durocher

7) “Ain’t no man can avoid being average, but there ain’t no man got to be common” – Satchel Paige

8) “Catching a fly ball is a pleasure, but knowing what to do with it after you catch it is a business” – Tommy Henrich

9) “Baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer” – Ted Williams

10) “You can shake a dozen glove me out of a tree, but the bat separates the men from the boys” – Dale Long

11) “You can have money piled to the ceiling but the size of your funeral is still going to depend on the weather” – Chuck Tanner

12) “The way to make coaches think you’re in shape in the spring is to get a tan” – Whitey Ford

13) “Baseball is like a poker game. Nobody wants to quit when they’re losing: nobody wants you to quit when you’re ahead” – Jackie Robinson

14) “Friendships are forgotten when the game begins” – Alvin Dark

15) “Little League baseball is a very good thing because it keeps the parents off the streets” – Yogi Berra

16) “The only way to make money as a Manager is to win in one place, get fired and hired somewhere else” – Whitey Herzog

17) “For all its gentility, its almost leisurely pace, baseball is violence under wraps” – Willie Mays

18) “Players like rules. If they didn’t have any rules, they wouldn’t have anything to break” – Lee Walls

19) “You’ve got to have an attitude if you’re going to go far in this game” – Bob Gibson

 20) “Don’t call us ballplayers heroes, Firemen are heroes” – Sparky Anderson

Hope you’re motivated.

The Autograph Box

In the late 1940’s, a young sports fan decided to build an autograph collection. The process was simple, but effective, as he would send a self-addressed post card in an envelope with a note to the player (or team) asking them to sign the postcard and mail it back. In the days before eBay, auction houses and the marketing of autographs, athletes were happy to fill the request. The youngster would cut out the signature portion of the returned post card and tape it an album along with pictures and articles of the players. As he grew up, the collection began to include many signatures acquired in person at games and other events. The end result was a collection that included thousands of autographs from ballplayers of multiple generations.

That young boy from the 40’s passed away last year and his Wife asked me to assist in appraising – and eventually selling – autographs from the collection. The starting point were three binders from the beginning of the project that were completely disorganized…torn newspaper clippings, discolored tape, little loose remnants of 70 year-old post cards with signatures of long-forgotten athletes. Looking through the first binder, however, caused this old baseball fan to stop and stare. In my hands were the signatures of Hall of Famers such as Pepper Martin, Carl Hubbell, Paul Waner & others. Were they in nice condition? Absolutely not! Were they genuine? Even though independent authentication would be necessary, there was no doubt that they were real. In other binders/albums, players like Cy Young, Jimmie Foxx, Ty Cobb & Tris Speaker also appeared.

Now, almost a year later, over 150 autographs have been sold to collectors all across the country. It has been a pains-taking process, including 3rd party authentication of each signature along with marketing the items on eBay, but the project has been more fun than you can imagine for a baseball historian like me. And, of course, let’s not forget that my client is very happy with the results.

That young sports fan didn’t stop collecting as he became an adult. In addition to all those albums & binders from the 50’s & 60’s, he also collected autographs on post cards during the 1970’s. One shoe box has hundreds of them and even though they probably aren’t valuable enough to authenticate, they will certainly jog the memory of fans from that era. For this visit, I’ll randomly grab a handful of these signatures and let’s see if you remember some of the players…

  • Lee Stanton – An AL Outfielder for nine seasons, he had his best years with the Angels…in 1975, he had 14 HR’s, 82 RBI’s and 18 SB’s.
  • Tug McGraw – One of the best Closers of the era, he pitched for 19 seasons with the Mets & Phillies…posted 180 Saves and won two World Series rings.
  • Gates Brown – This Tigers Outfielder played 13 seasons with the Bengals and was part of their 1968 championship team. The signature is from his last season…1975.
  • Jim Barr – A member of the Giants rotation during most of the 70’s, he had 101 lifetime Wins…pitched over 230 innings in five different seasons.
  • Nelson “Nellie” Briles – Debuted as a Cardinal in 1965 and pitched 14 seasons with 129 Wins…after being traded to the Pirates in ’71, he pitched a 2-hit shutout in the World Series.
  • Rick Miller – This speedy Outfielder played 15 years in the majors, 12 of them with the Red Sox…won a Gold Glove in 1978.
  • Woodie Fryman – This left-hander pitched for 18 seasons and accumulated 141 Wins…made the NL All-Star team with both the Pirates & Expos.
  • Jim Sundberg – Played 16 years and was one of the best Catchers in the game during the late 70’s and early 80’s…won six consecutive Gold Gloves from 1976-81.
  • Doyle Alexander – Won 194 games in 19 seasons…in August of 1987, the Braves traded him to the Tigers where he went 9-0 down the stretch…the player going to the Braves was an obscure minor leaguer named John Smoltz.
  • Dan Ford – “Disco Dan” was an AL Outfielder for 11 seasons and hit 121 HR’s…his best stat line was for the Angels in ’79 when he hit .290 with 21 HR’s and 101 RBI’s.
  • Fritz Peterson & Mike Kekich – Peterson pitched 11 seasons (including 20 Wins in 1970), while Kekich was a big-leaguer for nine years…they are best remembered for swapping wives and children during Spring Training in 1973.

There’s the first dozen from the autograph box…hope you enjoyed the visit.

Willie, Mickey and the Duke

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?

In 1956, it could be argued that the three best players in baseball played the same position on the field in the same city. CF’s Mickey Mantle of the Yankees, Duke Snider of the Dodgers and Willie Mays of the Giants were the cream of the crop. These three Hall of Famers were in their prime with Mantle at age 24 in a Triple Crown & MVP season, Snider at age 29 leading the NL in HR’s & BB and Mays at age 25 with 36 HR’s and a league leading 40 SB. Looking at the back of their 1957 Topps cards gives us a starting point for this analysis. Obviously, the stats are from the ’56 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 SB. There’s even some fielding information like assists and errors. In order to bring the performance up-to-date, let’s see how the new age categories play out for Willie, Mickey & The Duke as well as the current MLB leaders in this shortened season. We must acknowledge, however, that today’s hitting environment is much more difficult than it was for the legendary names of the 30’s, 40’s & 50’s. The key difference is relief pitching, where a series of hard-throwers now hold opposing hitters to a batting average of .244. As a point of reference, during Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak in 1941, he hit .407 against relievers.

> OBP (On-Base %) – Paul Goldschmidt leads the majors with .466 and Anthony Rendon tops the AL with .430…Mantle had the second best figure in ’56 (behind Ted Williams) with .464, while Snider was at .399 and Mays at .369

> SLG (Slugging %, determined by Total Bases / At Bats) – Juan Soto leads this category with .758 and Nelson Cruz is the AL’s best at .654. Mantle’s figure was the best in the game at .705, while Snider & Mays finished with .598 & .557 respectively. All three were in the top seven for major league hitters

> OPS (OBP & SLG)) – Maybe the most telling of the new numbers, as it explains how many bases a hitter has accumulated for his team…Soto & Cruz lead this category also (1.211 & 1.075), followed closely by Ian Happ and Trea Turner. Mantle was #1 again with 1.169 and Snider came in at .997 with Mays at .926…all three inside the top ten.

> OPS+ (Adjusted to the ballpark factors with a mean of 100) – Only four 2020 players are over 175 led again by Cruz at .192 and Happ at .183, joined by Fernando Tatis Jr. at .182 and Mike Yastrzemski with .176. Mantle was over-the-top at .210 with Snider at .155 and Mays at .146 – again all in the top ten.

> 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. Only four (4) players are over two (2) Wins through September 4th…Mookie Betts at 2.9, Tatis with 2.6 and 2.2 numbers for Yastrzemski & Jose Abreu. This stat tells the tale about our three CF’s, as they had the three best WAR numbers in baseball…11.2 for Mantle & 7.6 for both Snider and Mays.

> Offense Winning % (The percentage of games a team with nine of this player batting would win. Assumes average pitching & defense) – The current MLB leaders are Happ & Jesse Winker at 80.2%. Mantle was again off-the-charts at 87.8% with Snider at 75.6% and Mays at 70.7%…Williams was the only other player above 80% (83.7) in ’56.

Of course, all around ability and a player’s value also includes defense. Another advanced statistic is “Range Factor”, which calculates Putouts & Assists / Innings Played. Currently, the A’s Ramon Laureano leads the way for CF’s with a number of 2.63. Mays was the best of our three heroes at 2.81, with Mantle at 2.69 and Snider at 2.56. The CF’s with the best range in 1956? Richie Ashburn of the Phillies led the way with 3.37 while Jimmy Piersall led the AL at 3.06.

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

Mike Trout Sets A Record

After the debacle of the 80’s & 90’s, when baseball card companies overproduced their products and turned off many collectors, the industry had to re-invent itself with new and innovative products. Starting around 2000, the manufacturers began inserting different types of limited-edition products into standard packs of cards.

The simplest example is short-printed subset cards, where the regular issue card had parallel versions…the “blue” version might have only 150 available, while the “gold” version might be limited to 50. This created an entire new market, as some collectors wanted the scarce cards of their favorite player or even desired the entire set of short-prints for a particular year.

Even more unique (and expensive) are the relic and autograph cards you can now find in many baseball card products. Relic cards are also described as “patch” or memorabilia cards and include an actual piece of authentic jersey…or bat, or shoe, or batting glove – you get the idea. Many of these are also limited in their production and the lower the serial number, the higher the demand.

Autograph cards are what most collectors are after in today’s market. Card companies contract with MLB players to sign a certain amount of cards (or stickers that are applied to cards) each year and they are randomly inserted into packs you can buy at your local hobby store. In some cases, a card could even include multiple autographs and the signatures are not limited to current players because retired greats also make themselves available for signings. If you’ve been following the news, you might be aware of a Mike Trout card that was recently sold for a record $3.93 Million in an on-line auction.

Numerous friends have asked how a modern card could be so   valuable. There are multiple answers to the question. First, we are talking about the best player in the game who is a lock for the Hall of Fame even though he’s still in his 20’s. Second, this is an autograph card from 2009, which is two years before he appeared in the major leagues, making it his first-ever baseball card. Third is that this is the “Superfractor” version of the card and only one was manufactured (called a 1/1 in the hobby). And finally, the card has been graded and authenticated by a 3rd party company that verifies the card and autograph are in “Mint” condition. Put it all together and you have the perfect storm that creates a truly unique collectible.

Of course, these upscale products aren’t inexpensive and the chances of pulling the “key” card from a pack are slim, but do you feel lucky…well, do ‘ya? Let’s take a look at some of the beautiful cards that have come across the Old Duck’s desk in the last decade.

A 1954 Topps set is part of my personal collection and the key collectible is Hank Aaron’s Rookie Card. In 2013, Topps produced some reprint cards and included the ’54 Aaron with his autograph. Only 25 were produced and thanks to a good friend, one of them now sits proudly next to the original in my bookcase.

Another future Hall of Famer is Ichiro Suzuki and in 2019, Topps manufactured a beautiful 1/1 Autograph card of this legendary

Even future stars sign cards…this is one of Adley Rutschman, the #1 pick in the 2019 Amateur Draft.

Donruss was one the earliest to offer these “hits” and here’s a Willie McCovey signature from 1998.

Jose Abreu of the White Sox is having a great 2020 season, here’s his Rookie Card Autograph from 2014.

Chipper Jones is a recent Hall of Famer and here’s a beautiful card from 2011.

How about a Ken Griffey Jr. Autograph from 2004 signed on baseball leather?

Featuring the dual format, it doesn’t get much better than Brooks Robinson & George Brett on the same card.

Are you drooling yet? Stop in to your local baseball card shop and check out the products.

Help – Save Me

How can a Pitcher get credited with a Save when he never shook the Catcher’s hand after the final out of the inning and the game wasn’t actually over? In August of 2013, the Tigers Bruce Rondon came on in relief against the Indians in the top of the 7th inning protecting a 5-2 Tigers lead. After allowing one hit and then getting the final out of the inning, he calmly walked to the dugout. The Tigers proceeded to score two additional runs in the bottom of the 7th and eventually, the game was called after seven innings due to rain. Opening up the newspaper the following morning, the box score of the game shows Rondon getting his first Save of the season! How would you like to lose your Fantasy Baseball League by one point in the Saves category?

 

When the founding fathers of Rotisserie baseball included a “Saves” category back in the early 80’s, they probably didn’t anticipate the type of angst that would be cascading down on the owners of Fantasy teams. In the original 4×4 format, an established closer could cost more than 10% of your roster’s budget at the Draft table. Maybe even more challenging, however, is the changing landscape that is part of the quest for Saves. Lets see a show of hands for all the experts who were spending mid-July targeting Roberto Osuna, Sean Doolittle, Kirby Yates, Ken Giles, Ian Kennedy and Wade Davis.

 

Saves didn’t become an official stat until 1969 and now, in the age of specialization, it isn’t uncommon to see Closers save 30, 40 or even 50 games. It certainly wasn’t like that in the 1950’s & 60’s, but thanks to baseball-reference.com and other baseball researchers, the history of Saves can now be tracked back over the last hundred years of baseball. For today’s baseball card collecting adventure, we’ll find the rookie cards of the Saves leader for each of the 20 seasons prior to the official birth of Saves in 1969. As always, the card values are based on “Near Mint” (NM 7) condition.

 

> 1949 – Joe Page, Yankees, 27 Saves – This tall lefthander was a starting pitcher when he first joined New York in the mid-40’s but became the last guy in the bullpen in 1947. To illustrate how the role has changed, he appeared in 60 games, finishing 48, with 135 IP and 13 Wins. Not an unsung hero, he also finished 3rd in the AL MVP balloting. This workload, however, took a heavy toll and his career was essentially over after 1950. His rookie card is from 1948 Bowman (#29) and books for $75.

Page RD

> 1950 – Jim Konstanty, Phillies, 22 Saves – Philadelphia won the NL Pennant and Casimir James Konstanty was a major contributor. When you digest his stats, it is clear to see why he won the NL MVP…appeared in 74 games, finishing 62 of them!! Pitched 152 innings and had 16 Wins to go along with his Save total. You can find his rookie card in the 1950 Bowman set (#226) with a value of $50.

 

> 1951 – Ellis Kinder, Red Sox, 14 Saves – Nicknamed “Old Folks”, he was an excellent starting pitcher for four seasons prior to moving to the bullpen in ’51. In 1949, for example, he went 23-6 and led the AL with 6 shutouts. His performance in this season was amazing and included an 11-2 record in 127 IP while finishing 41 games. The 1950 Bowman set is also home to Kinder’s rookie card (#152) and it books for $30.

Kinder RD

> 1952 – Al Brazle, Cardinals, 16 Saves – “Cotton” was another starting pitcher from the late 40’s who transitioned to the bullpen. He even started 6 games in this season and went 12-5 for the year. The 1949 Bowman set has his rookie card (#126) and $30 will add it to your collection.

 

> 1953 – Ellis Kinder, Red Sox, 27 Saves – Still effective at age 38, this tied Page’s record for the most Saves in a season. He also led the AL with 69 games pitched and 51 games finished. Oh, and his ERA was 1.85!

 

> 1954 – Jim Hughes, Dodgers, 24 Saves – A journeyman who didn’t get to the majors until age 29, he also led the NL with 60 appearances. His 1953 Topps card (#216) books for $45.

 

> 1955 – Ray Narleski, Indians, 19 Saves – The starting rotation was Early Wynn, Herb Score, Bob Lemon & Mike Garcia with a spot starter named Bob Feller. This slender right-hander also led the league with 60 appearances and added a 9-1 record. His 1955 Topps card (#160) is worth $45.

Narleski RD

> 1956 – Clem Labine, Dodgers, 19 Saves – The “Boys of Summer” had a great staff and this veteran closed the door by finishing 47 games. His rookie card is the jewel of this collection, as it comes from the high-numbered run of the famous 1952 Topps set (#342) and books for $415.

Labine RD

> 1957 – Bob Grim, Yankees, 19 Saves – The 1954 AL Rookie of the Year award winner when he went 20-6, Grim transitioned to the bullpen and added a 12-8 record to this All-Star season. The 1955 Bowman rookie card (#167) is worth $45.

 

> 1958 – Ryne Duren, Yankees , 20 Saves – Sort of a cross between Ricky Vaughn and Nuke Laloosh, this hard-thrower wore eyeglasses that looked like Coke bottles and always threw his first warm-up pitch all the way to the back-stop. He finished 2nd in the Rookie of the Year race and had 87 K’s in 75 IP. His 1958 Topps card (#296) can be found for about $25.

 

> 1959 – Turk Lown, White Sox, 15 Saves – Actually, a three-way tie with NL leaders Lindy McDaniel & Don McMahon, we’ll stick with Omar Joseph Lown. He led the NL in games finished for ’56 & ’57 with the Cubs and then went cross-town to the Pale Hose. He added 9 Wins in this stellar season for a 35 year-old. His 1952 Topps rookie card is also from the scarce series (#330) and books for $300.

 

> 1960 – Lindy McDaniel, Cardinals, 26 Saves – He and his Brother Von both pitched for the Redbirds in the 1950’s. This outstanding season included a 12-4 record and a 3rd place finish in the Cy Young voting. Led the NL in Saves again in 1963. His rookie card is from 1957 Topps (#79) and books for $20.

McDaniel RD

> 1961 – Luis Arroyo, Yankees, 29 Saves – Not the prototypical closer at 5″ 8″, he had one of the greatest bullpen seasons ever for the pennant winning Bronx Bombers. Led the league with 65 appearances and 54 games finished while adding 15 Wins in 119 IP. Two years later, his career was over. The 1956 Topps set has his rookie card (#64) and it is valued at $25.

 

> 1962 – Roy Face, Pirates, 28 Saves – Another diminutive relief pitcher, this was the 3rd time Elroy led the NL in Saves. And that’s in addition to his 18-1 record in 1959. His rookie card from the 1953 Topps set (#246) will set you back $155.

Face RD

> 1963 – Stu Miller, Orioles, 27 Saves – A consistently good closer for both the Giants & O’s in the 1960’s, his stats for this year included league-leading totals of 71 appearances and 59 games finished. His 1953 Topps card (#183) is worth $40.

 

> 1964 – Dick Radatz, Red Sox, 29 Saves – Considered by some as the first of the modern closers, he was intimidating at 6″ 6″ and his nickname was “The Monster”. Groomed as a closer, he finished 3rd in the ROY balloting in ’62 when he accumulated 24 Saves & 9 Wins. If you ever want a relief pitcher season for your historical Rotisserie roster, this is it…in addition to the Saves, 16 Wins and 181 K’s in 157 IP. Not surprisingly, after pitching 538 innings in his first four campaigns, he was “toast”. The 1962 Topps rookie card (#591) can be yours for about $60.

 

> 1965 – Ted Abernathy, Cubs, 31 Saves – A “sidearm” hurler since hurting his arm in High School, he had 84 appearances and 62 games finished for the Cubbies. His 1957 Topps card (#293) books for $35.

 

> 1966 – Jack Aker, Athletics, 32 Saves – Nicknamed “Chief”, he pitched for 11 seasons but never matched this particular performance. 57 games finished and a 1.99 ERA in 113 IP tells the tale. His 1966 Topps card (#287) is worth $10.

 

> 1967 – Ted Abernathy, Reds, 28 Saves – Another great season, this time in Cincinnati. Led the league again with 70 appearances and 61 games finished.

 

> 1968 – Phil Regan, Cubs, 25 Saves – Actually started the season with the Dodgers but had all the Saves for the Cubbies. Acquired “The Vulture” as his nickname in Los Angeles when he went 14-1 out of the bullpen in ’66 behind Koufax, Drysdale, Osteen & Sutton. His 1961 Topps card (#439) is valued at $10.

Regan RD

There you have it…the 20 leaders of the unofficial category before Ron Perranoski of the Twins topped the leader board in 1969. Hope you enjoyed the history lesson.

 

 

He Hit The Ball Real Hard

Back in the days when ESPN was actually entertaining, Dan Patrick & Keith Olbermann seemed to have an endless amount of clichés that always fit even boring sports highlights. From “En Fuego” to “They’re Not Going To Get Him” to “The Whiff” to “You Can Try To Contain Him But You Can’t Stop Him” and so many more, the viewers were always in on the joke. When it came to baseball home runs, the go-to comments were “Gone” and “He Hit The Ball Real Hard”. With today’s analytical environment, you have to wonder how the boys would feel if they knew exactly how hard a player hit that ball?

 

My closest friend is a long-time baseball fan who goes all the way back to rooting for the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League in the 50’s. He was also a successful Fantasy Baseball player from 1984-2013, so his knowledge of the game and players had to be very detailed. In 2018, we were talking baseball and I mentioned that “exit velocity” can help Fantasy players get a better read on the potential of a player. He looked at me and laughed because he thought I was messing with him and just making up a whimsical statistic. As a (now) casual baseball fan, he can’t be blamed for the skepticism because so much has changed since he stopped scouting players just a few years ago.

 

In 2015, Major League Baseball installed a state-of-art tracking technology in all 30 big league parks. It is called Statcast and allows for the analysis of a massive amount of baseball data. We’re talking Trackman Doppler radar and high definition Chyron Hego cameras. This allows all of us to quantify the raw skills of players in a way that was never even conceived when we first became fans of the game. This is where terms such as “spin rate”, “launch angle” and “pitch velocity” were born and they’re influencing our game every day.

 

“Exit Velocity” has a very simple definition…”How fast, in miles per hour, a ball was hit by a batter”. In the current era of baseball where records are being set for both Home Runs and Strikeouts, it tells teams the kind of damage a player can create when he hits the ball. The easiest example from 2018 was Joey Gallo of the Rangers, who had a batting average of .206 and struck out 207 times in 500 At-Bats. In another time and place, he might have been sent to the minors but that’s no longer the case. Why? Because he had the highest average exit velocity in baseball that year (95.4 mph) and that equated to him producing 40 HR’s, 92 RBI’s and a .810 OPS. He hit three balls that left the bat at 117 mph! During that season, he became the first player in history to hit 100 HR’s before he hit 100 Singles. In 2019, the poster boy could have been Kyle Schwarber of the Cubs who struck out 156 times but had 38 HR’s, 92 RBI’s and an OPS of .870. In case you might believe these are isolated examples, think about this…in 2019, Strikeouts (42,873) exceeded Hits (42,039). If Bob Dylan was a baseball fan, he’d say that “the times they are a changing”.

 

For this visit, we’ll look at a stat called “Hard Hit Rate”. Statcast defines a hard hit ball as one hit with an exit velocity of 95 mph or higher. Why 95 mph? Because research tells them that’s when exit velocity begins to “matter”

 

Last season, only four players had a “Hard %” of over 50%…Nelson Cruz, Christian Yelich, Justin Turner & Matt Olson. NL MVP Cody Bellinger was 5th at 49.2%.

 

As the first few weeks of the 2020 campaign goes into the books, who are the players with the highest percentage of “hard” hit baseballs? Are they stars, phenoms or over-looked part-timers? Here are the top twelve (through games of August 18th)…

Contreras RD

1) Willson Contreras, Cubs C (65%) – In today’s game, a Catcher with these kind of offensive skills is a rare commodity.

 

2) Fernando Tatis Jr., Padres SS (63.3%) – He might not get the vote from the Rangers bench, but he’s one of the best young players in the game at age 21.

Hernandez RD

3) Teoscar Hernandez, Blue Jays OF (63%) – Never a top prospect and even overlooked by many Fantasy players, he’s quietly had 48 HR’s the last two seasons and is in his age-27 season.

Myers RD

4) Wil Myers, Padres OF (62.8%) – Thought to on the scrap heap after last year, he’s still in his 20’s.

 

5) Jesse Winker, Reds OF (60.5%) – Players like Winker & Dominic Smith are getting the chance to impress thanks to the NL having the DH.

Turner RD

6) Justin Turner, Dodgers 3B (60.3%) – Following up last year’s performance with more of the same.

 

7) Corey Seager, Dodgers SS (57.4%) – Staying healthy is the key.

 

8) Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox SS (56.7%) – The best hitting Shortstop in the game for 2019, he’s in his prime.

Gallo RD

9) Joey Gallo, Rangers OF (56.1%) – No surprise here, he’s in his age 26 season.

Trout RD

10) Mike Trout, Angels OF (55.9%) – If you don’t relish watching him play, find another hobby.

 

11) Willy Adames, Rays SS (55.8%) – Every statistical list has on outlier but he is only 24, so maybe there’s a breakout in the cards.

 

12) Mookie Betts, Dodgers OF (55.6%) – When his contract is up, he and I will go bowling. Of course, I’ll be 86, but optimism is a wonderful trait.

 

The next time I talk baseball with my friend, maybe the subject will be “Barrels”.

 

Top Ten Baseball Cards 2000-2009

Exactly eight years ago this month, I shared with readers the top ten baseball cards of the decade starting with 2000. Collectors clearly understand that the popularity (and value) of cards is performance-driven. Revisiting the list after all these years makes that very clear, as half of the choices have disappeared. You’ll no longer see cardboard featuring Jose Bautista, Tim Lincecum, Ryan Braun, Ryan Howard or Robinson Cano.

 

As we moved into the new century, card companies changed their approach and started adding random Autograph & Memorabilia cards into packs. This created a new market, as collectors paid big bucks to get that prized card of a superstar player. For the purpose of our list, we’ll stay with the standard issue cards rather than focusing on the “lottery” aspects of the hobby. Dozens of great young stars have emerged from this era and here are nine who made their debut during the decade and one who has an appointment in Cooperstown. As always, a current value for each card is included in the description.

Pujols RD

1) 2001 Bowman Albert Pujols, ($20) – When you compare this slugger’s stats to Hall-of-Famers of the past, you’ll clearly understand that we have the privilege of watching one of the great players of all-time right before our eyes. Now in the twilight of his career at age 40, he’s eclipsed 650 HR’s & 3,000 Hits.

Verlander RD

2) 2005 Topps Justin Verlander,  ($20) – Captured both the AL Cy Young and MVP awards in 2011 and won another Cy Young last season at age 36. Lifetime record of 226-129.

Suzuki RD

3) 2001 Donruss Ichiro Suzuki, ($15) – Even though his debut was the same year, he’s the antithesis of Pujols…speed, stolen bases, Gold Glove defense and over 3,00 hits in a storied career.

Cabrera RD

4) 2000 Topps Traded Miguel Cabrera, ($20) – This card was issued the year before he made his debut and he’s still in the line-up at age 37. Over 2,800 Hits, close to 500 HR’s and a .314 lifetime Batting Average.

Kershaw RD

5) 2008 Bowman Chrome Clayton Kershaw, ($10) – Three Cy Young Awards and a MVP, his lifetime ERA is 2.44.

Jeter RD

6) 2001 Topps Heritage Derek Jeter,  ($10) – Heading to Cooperstown, he exemplifies a Hall of Famer.

Molina RD

7) 2004 Topps Chrome Yadier Molina, ($15) – In his 17th season at the toughest position, he’s won eight Gold Gloves.

Scherzer RD

8) 2008 Stadium Club Max Scherzer, ($10) – Three Cy Young Awards and a record of 170-90.

Mauer RD

9) 2002 Topps Chrome Joe Mauer, #622 ($10) – The homegrown 3-time batting champion also has a MVP trophy on his mantle and was the face of the Twins franchise for 15 years.

Votto RD

10) 2002 Bowman Chrome Joey Votto, #44 ($25) – The NL MVP in 2010, he’s still manning 1B for the Reds. A lifetime OBP of .421 tells you just how good his career has been.

 

Make sure you keep your cards in nice condition.