Statistical Evolution – Willie, Mickey & The Duke

'56 CF's 2

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 through late-June. 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 recent Sports Illustrated piece points out, during Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak in 1941, he hit .407 against relievers.


> OBP (On-Base %) – David Ortiz leads the majors with .433 and Paul Goldschmidt tops the NL with .431…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) – Ortiz leads this category also with .678 and Matt Carpenter is the NL’s best at .592. 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 all 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…Ortiz & Carpenter lead this category also with 1.112 & 1.012. 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 five 2016 players are over 160 led again by Ortiz at 188 and Carpenter at 168, joined by Mike Trout at 168, Jose Altuve with 165 & Anthony Rizzo’s 161. 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…Clayton Kershaw is at 4.8 in less than half a season while Mike Trout leads the AL at 4.7. 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 leader is Ortiz at 81.4%. 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 Royals Lorenzo Cain leads the way for CF’s with a number of 2.90. 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 your introductory lesson…if you can’t wait for more, try


1953 Bowman Baseball Cards – Part Deux

Did you try the ultimate baseball card quiz of identifying players in the ’53 Bowman set by just looking at the color photo on the front of the card? On our previous visit, eight cards of major leaguers from that era were shown. Here’s the photo once more along with the answers.


Starting at the top left…


> Forrest “Smokey” Burgess #28, Phillies C – Only 26 at the time, this short & stocky backstop played 18 seasons, made six All-Star teams and had a lifetime BA of .295


>  Roy McMillan #26, Reds SS – At age 23, this defensive wizard had already completed his first full season. Played 16 seasons and won the Gold Glove three times.


> Bob Friend #16, Pirates P – Had a record of only 13-30 in his first two seasons but went on to become the Bucs ace in the late 50’s. Won 22 games in 1958 and another 18 in 1960, when the Pirates won it all. Pitched 16 years with 197 victories.


> Sam Jethroe #3, Braves OF – Played in the Negro Leagues during the 40’s and didn’t appear in the majors until 1950 at age 33. That season, he led the NL with 35 SB’s and was honored as the Rookie-of-the-Year. Although his skills deteriorated in his mid-30’s, he still played five productive seasons in the AAA International League (’54-’58) before retiring at age 41.


Moving to the bottom right…


> Chico Carrasquel #54, White Sox SS – One of the first successful Latin players, he was born in Venezuela and stepped right into the starting line-up in 1950 when he finished 3rd in the ROY balloting. Made four All-Star teams and played ten seasons in the majors.


> Mel Parnell #66, Red Sox P – One the first left-handers to be successful in Fenway Park, he was 25-7 in 1949 with a league leading 295 innings pitched. He won twenty games again (21-8) in ’53 and pitched a no-hitter against the White Sox in 1956. A 10 year-old fan was in the stands that day…you can probably guess his identity.


> Harry “Suitcase” Simpson #86, Indians OF – One of the most enduring nicknames in the history of the game, he played for six teams in eight seasons (including twice for the A’s). His signature year was ’56 when he made the All-Star team and led the AL with 11 Triples.


> Fred Hutchinson #132, Tigers P – He pitched ten productive seasons in the majors with a record of 95-71, but his legacy was a Manager for the Tigers, Cardinals & Reds..winning the pennant with Cincinnati in 1961. He was still the Reds Manager in ’64 when stricken with lung cancer and died at age 45. The “Hutch Award” is presented annually to an active player who “best exemplifies the fighting spirit and competitive desire” of Fred Hutchinson.


Hope you had fun with the quiz…there’s a great story attached to each card.

'53 Bowman 80009

1953 Bowman Baseball Card Quiz

'53 Bowman 80009

Even baseball fans without an interest in the hobby of card collecting have some knowledge of the famous 1952 Topps set. It was the product that created the modern era of baseball cards and includes the incredibly valuable “holy grail” card of Mickey Mantle. Just a few weeks ago, one of these in poor condition (graded 1 on a scale of 1-to-10) sold for $8,500 on eBay. One graded 2.5 sold a few weeks earlier for $25,000!


What the casual observer doesn’t know is that the Bowman company started producing baseball card sets in 1948 and were the only ones in the marketplace through 1951. Usually comprised of 250-300 cards, they were small and not very aesthetically pleasing. When Topps hit the market in ’52 with larger sized cards, great color photos and a set numbering over 400 players, Bowman was forced to take notice.


In 1953, Bowman produced a set of baseball cards that holds a special place in the history of the hobby. While it included only 160 cards, the format was unprecedented with beautiful color photography offering detail never before seen. Some of the great stars of the day are missing as Jackie Robinson & Willie Mays were under exclusive contracts to Topps and Ted Williams was flying fighter jets in Korea. The set did include Mantle, Stan Musial, Yogi Berra, Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese and had a total of 20+ Hall of Fame members. In addition, Bowman pioneered the idea of having some cards with multiple players, which later became a staple of the Topps sets in the ’50’s. Card #44 in the ’53 set shows Yankee teammates Hank Bauer, Yogi Berra & Mickey Mantle during a casual moment in the dugout. This classic has become one of the most valuable pieces of cardboard in the set and books for $300 in decent (EX 5) condition. There’s also a “combo” card of Phil Rizzuto & Billy Martin, the double-play team of the Bronx Bombers.


Looking through vintage baseball cards brings back a torrent of memories for baseball fans of my generation. Just about every modern set gives you a head start on player recognition by having the name, team affiliation, facsimile signature or other designation on the card. The 1953 Bowman Color set is the exception to that rule. The fronts of the cards have beautiful full-color player photographs and nothing else. This is the one baseball card set that can test the knowledge of every fan who thinks they fall into the expert category.


A great challenge is to go through this iconic set and without looking at the back of the cards, attempt to identify as many players as possible. Of course, recognizing Roy Campanella, Eddie Mathews, Warren Spahn or Bob Feller might be easy. But what about Gerry Staley, Gil Coan, Jim Wilson or Lou Krelow?


Here’s how you can participate in this little contest. Today’s article includes a photo showing eight (8) random cards from the set. None of these players are stars but they’re also not obscure “cup of coffee” players either. In fact, if you’re of a certain age, you will certainly recognize all eight names once they’re disclosed. There’s a couple of Infielders, a couple of Outfielders, at least one Catcher and a few Pitchers. Want to take a shot? Remember, no cheating!


Feel free to send back some guesses via e-mail and I’ll also post the answers on Monday.



From Bad To Worse To Just Plain Lousy


A recent Sports Illustrated article chronicled the story of the 1916 Philadelphia Athletics, arguably the worst major league team of all time. Of course, die-hard Mets fans will point to their first season in 1962, when Casey Stengel’s squad had 40 Wins and 120 Losses. In fact, they were a juggernaut compared to the A’s of Connie Mack, who posted a record of 36-117. Whitey Witt played Shortstop for the team and in 143 games, committed 78 errors. Of course, it was his rookie season. They had one Pitcher who had a record of 1-16 and another who was 1-20! I seem to remember drafting both of those hurlers on my 1916 Fantasy team.


Even though we can’t forget that just getting to the big leagues is a great accomplishment for a player, these kind of numbers can’t help make us wonder about the “worst of the worst”. With some help from SABR and, let’s see who belongs on the wrong side of history since the end of the dead-ball era.


> Worst Batting Average (min. 1,000 AB’s)


1) Ray Oyler .175 – Played SS for the Tigers from 1965-70


2) Mike Ryan .193 – Catchers have always been looked at as defensive-minded players, so this backstop played for 11 seasons in the 60’s & 70’s.


3) Jim Mason .203 – Played nine years in the 70’s and hit 12 HR’s.


4) Jackie Hernandez .208 – Another player with nine campaigns on his resume, he was an infielder in the 60’s & 70’s.


5) Tom Prince .208 – Amazingly, this Catcher played parts of 17 seasons before retiring in 2003.


The really sad back-story to these stats is the case of Mario Mendoza. A major-league Shortstop from 1974-82, he has a rather dubious distinction. In those days, newspapers would publish big-league stats in the Sunday sports section and hitters were listed in order of their batting average. Other players ragged on each other if they were hitting below .200 on a given Sunday and would comment that they weren’t even at the “Mendoza Line”. That term is still part of the baseball lexicon today and it really isn’t fair to Mario because his lifetime BA of .215 is better than all five players on our list and above the lifetime marks of others like Dave Nicholson, Rusty Torres & Dick Tracewski. It’s probably too late to start a campaign for the “Oyler Line”.


> Worst Batting Average In A Season (min. 400 AB’s)


1T) Rob Deer .179, 1991 Tigers – Notorious for swings & misses, he led the AL with 175 K’s that year, but also hit 25 HR’s.


1T) Dan Uggla .179, 2013 Braves – What sets him apart is that he made $13 Million that season.


3) Eddie Joost .185, 1943 Braves – In a 17-year career, he didn’t hit much, but he sure could coax those base-on-balls, walking over 100 times in six consecutive seasons between 1947 & 1952. His lifetime BA was only .239 but his OPB (On-Base %) was .361.


4) Ed Brinkman .185, 1965 Senators – The classic smooth fielding SS who couldn’t hit, he played 15 years in the majors. in 1972, he won the Gold Glove while hitting .203.


Last year’s worst was Joc Pederson at .210…in 2014, it was Chris Davis with .196…Carlos Pena hit .197 in 2012 and  .196 in 2010.


Even though “old-school” baseball fans point to Madison Bumgarner and a few other Pitchers to justify their position against the DH, the reality is that there’s nothing more boring than watching a Pitcher hit. As to all that intricate NL strategy employed by Managers, a fan’s heart just flutters when the 8th place hitter is walked intentionally. Let’s not forget the worst-hitting Pitchers ever, as in the ones who NEVER got a hit during a full season…


> Bob Buhl, 1970…0-for-70 (lifetime BA of .089)


> Bill Wight, 1950…0-for-61 (lifetime BA of .083)


> Ron Herbel, 1964…0-for-47 (lifetime BA of .029)


> Karl Drews, 1949…0-for-46 (lifetime BA of .083)


There are at least 15 others who went 0-for-30+ including familiar names such as Joey Hamilton, Darryl Kile, Steve Stone & Ed Lynch. Of course Bartolo Colon (and his .093 lifetime BA) hit his first Home Run this year at age 43, so it must have been was worth the wait. If only Buhl hadn’t retired in 1968 at age 38.



Is That Who I Think It Is?

'04 Bush Bowman

There are many levels when it comes to baseball fans. You’ll find occasional, casual, serious, team loyalists, old-school and new-age analytical. However, fans who play Fantasy Baseball are a breed of their own. They know who backs-up a certain position on a team, who the 5th Starter might be on another team and, maybe more importantly, who the top prospects are in each organization.


Having played this wonderful game for over 30 years, there are hundreds of failed prospect names rattling around in my brain…especially the ones who were on my team. Names like Cameron Drew (16 lifetime MLB AB’s), Steve Hosey (58 MLB AB’s with 1 HR), Billy Ashley (.233 lifetime BA), Midre Cummings (22 HR’s in 11 seasons) & Chad Hermansen (.195 lifetime BA) all showed up on the Donald’s Ducks roster…and that was just in the 90’s!


At the end of March, a USA Today piece talked about a new Manager in the Padres organization who, at the young age of 31, would be in charge of the Tri-City Dust Devils in the short-season Northwest League. His name is Brandon Wood and the first thought of veteran Fantasy players was, “Is that who I think it is”. The answer, of course, is YES! A decade ago, Brandon Wood was arguably the best prospect in baseball. A power-hitting SS, he was compared to Cal Ripken Jr. and was labeled as “Can’t Miss”. In 2005, he hit 43 HR’s in the minor leagues and then followed up with 14 more in 29 games in the Arizona Fall League. 57 HR’s at age 20? As Tim Kurkjian would say, “Are you kidding me?” Today, we look at his major league stats and see that in parts of five seasons, he hit .186 with 218 strikeouts and only 32 walks in 700 AB’s. He was out of baseball before he turned 30!


Each Spring, as I sit behind home plate at Surprise Stadium, this same question comes up on a regular basis. Numerous failed prospects and aging veterans enter games as “non-roster invitees” and invariably, I’ll turn to my wingman (the Duke) and say, “Is that who I think it is?” One of those moments happened in mid-March when a Pitcher entered the game from the Rangers bullpen and was introduced as Matt Bush. Could it really be the same player I remembered from 2004?


Matt Bush was the first player taken in the 2004 Amateur Draft by the San Diego Padres. He was a local hero from Mission Bay High School as a Pitcher & SS and received a signing bonus in excess of $3 Million at age 18. Bush’s career was a tragic story of failure, both professionally and personally. He was suspended for being involved in a bar fight before he ever played a game and it just got worse from there. He was a failure as a SS in the minors and the Padres gave up on him in 2009 after another alcohol-driven incident. More strange behavior followed with the Blue Jays & Rays while he tried to re-invent himself as a Pitcher.


During Spring Training of 2012, Bush was involved in a drunken-driving incident and was eventually charged with numerous felonies including leaving the scene of an accident. In December of that year, he accepted a plea-bargain and was sentenced to 51 months in prison. After being released from prison in October of 2015, he signed a contract with the Rangers. Amazingly, his tryout with the club took place in the parking lot of a Golden Corral restaurant where he worked because his post-release restrictions only allowed him to travel back and forth to his job. On that March day in Surprise, Matt Bush took the mound as a 30 year-old reclamation project and proceeded to hit 100 mph on the radar gun….obviously, natural talent doesn’t disappear. I told the Duke that if the former phenom kept himself clean, he would be in the Rangers bullpen sometime in 2016. Starting the season at AA Frisco of the Texas League, he appeared in 12 games with 18 K’s and only 4 BB in 17 IP and on May 13th, he was called up by the Rangers and appeared in his first major league game, retiring the side in order. As of June 1st, he’s pitched in ten games accumulating ten innings with  nine K’s, only one BB and two earned runs. Maybe a future Closer for the Rangers? It doesn’t matter because after 12 years, he’s in the “Show”.


Yes, that is who I think it is.

Roberto, Not Bob

Clemente RC

Thought about Roberto Clemente the other day, as I sold a modern baseball card of his from 2001 on eBay that had a piece of game-used bat embedded in the card. It only sold for $27, but the memories were priceless.


While baseball historians have done a splendid job of chronicling Jackie Robinson and his contributions to the game, it seems like fans born after the mid-60’s don’t always have an appreciation of Clemente’s greatness and  legacy. The barriers in major league baseball for African-Americans in the early-to-mid 50’s were significant, but those same barriers applied to Latin American players and the culture of baseball took a long time to change.


Clemente started playing professional baseball in his native Puerto Rico at age 18 and a beautiful replica jersey of his hangs in my closet with the logo of the Cangrejeros de Santurce team that he played for in the Winter League of 1953-54. In 1954, the Brooklyn Dodgers signed him to a contract, but instead of adding him to the major league roster (which was filled with star players), they attempted to slightly circumvent the rules of the day and sent him to their AAA team in Montreal. Can you even imagine a 19 year-old kid trying to acclimate to an environment where they spoke two languages he didn’t understand? And, Tommy Lasorda was one of his teammates, so a third language was probably also in play. The Dodgers tried to keep him under wraps and he only hit .257 in 148 AB’s, but the lowly Pirates had him on their radar. The Pirates were bad enough to have the first pick in the off-season Rule 5 Draft and Clemente was their choice on 11/22/54.


In Pittsburgh, Roberto was the starting RF from day one and played 18 seasons with Bucs making the NL All-Star team 12 times and winning 12 Gold Gloves for his defensive prowess. On the last day of the 1972 season, Clemente got his 3,000th major league hit and then tragically lost his life on December 31, 1972 when the plane he was on crashed into the sea on its way to bring relief aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.


As a youngster collecting baseball cards, I remember that Clemente’s early cards in the 50’s always listed him as “Roberto”. Later, after he became a star, the Topps Company issued many cards that “Americanized” his name to “Bob”. Even writers and broadcasters seemed to think that this reference (and even “Bobby”) was appropriate despite the fact that it was always was a point of contention with Clemente. Imagine what would happen today if someone referred to Pedro Martinez as “Pete”.


If you don’t consider yourself an expert on Clemente’s legacy, here are a few quotes from this talented and compassionate Hall of Famer…


> “I was born to play baseball.”


> “I am from the poor people; I represent the poor people. I like workers. I like people that suffer because these people have a different approach to life from the people that have everything and don’t know what suffering is.”


> “I want to be remembered as a ballplayer who gave all he had to give.”


> If you have a chance to accomplish something that will make things better for people coming behind you, and you don’t do that, you are wasting your time on Earth.”


> “When I put on my uniform, I feel I am the proudest man on Earth.”


> “A nation without heroes is nothing.”


In the field of collectibles, it appears that Roberto is finally getting the level of respect that he deserves. His Rookie Card from the 1955 Topps has been steadily climbing in value. The current book price for one in “Near Mint” (NM 7) condition is $6,750. Just recently, a Clemente RC in “Mint” (9) condition sold at auction for a record $478,000. Less than a year ago, one in that same condition brought $310,000. To give some insight into the scarcity component, the grading company has reviewed over 3,000 of these cards and only 11 have achieved a grade of “9”.


Better check that old shoe box in the attic. “Donaldo” will be waiting for your call.


Fredi, Brad & Me


The Atlanta Braves fired Manager Fredi Gonzalez this week, as the team was floundering with a 9-29 record. Of course, this is the same guy who led the team to an average of 93 Wins in his first three seasons at the helm (2011-13). This leads to the endless debate about how much difference a Manager can make in the Win-Loss outcome of a team. The Braves front office essentially gave Gonzalez a AAA level team in 2016, while they makes plans for their new stadium next year. To underscore how bad this team is, their total of 13 Home Runs is the exact amount hit so far this year by Nolan Arenado of the Rockies. Their run differential is minus 70!! The pitching staff has an ERA of 4.70!! And yet, Fredi takes the fall for this performance.


Most baseball fans give some credit to Managers and if you owned a team, you’d probably rather have Joe Maddon or Bruce Bochy leading the way. Let’s not forget, however, that Hall-of-Fame Manager Joe Torre was over 100 games below .500 in 15 seasons as a big-league skipper before he got to Yankee Stadium. Let’s be honest…if you don’t have the players, you’re not going to win.


Sometimes, even having the players isn’t enough. Detroit Tigers Manager Brad Ausmus appears to be on the hot seat as the team only won 15 of its first 36 games…with a payroll figure of $196 Million! In addition to our religious background, Brad & I have something else in common…we’re losing sleep over Justin Upton!


The most challenging type of Fantasy Baseball is a keeper-league, auction format played with the rosters of only one league (known as “AL or NL Only”). It forces you to know the depth of rosters, line-ups and organizations while still managing your salary cap at the Draft and during the season. This isn’t Fantasy Football, where you’re making the “difficult” decision of picking Tom Brady as opposed to Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers. This is where you lose Andrelton Simmons to an extended DL stint and you get to choose Chris Coghlan or Steve Pearce to take his place. I chose Coghlan on Sunday and, of course, Pearce hit a HR the next day.


The Fusco Brothers (named after the incredibly funny comic strip) have been playing in the same AL-Only league since 1987. My partner & I have had great success over the years but 2016 finds us in last place in mid-May. On paper, the team looked like a definite contender but the roster hasn’t performed and the poster boy is Upton. While the Tigers are paying him $22 Million this year in the first season of a 6-year deal, the Fuscos paid $30 for him at the draft table just before the season began. With the league’s $260 budget for our roster, it’s an incredible coincidence that both the Fuscos and the Tigers are spending 11% of their payroll on the same player.


Upton has been a productive major-league player for nine seasons and at age 28, should still be in his prime years. In addition, he is surrounded by a solid line-up including Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, J.D. Martinez, Victor Martinez and others. So, this isn’t a situation where an expensive free agent is expected to carry a team…he can just be a $22 Million complimentary piece (sic). Looking at the stats through May 17th (24% of the season), it appears that he has lost his skills completely or has caved in to the pressure of the big contract. In 156 AB’s, his BA is .218 and he’s struck out 62 times while getting only 8 walks. His OPS of .575 is 250 points lower than his lifetime mark and watching him in the batter’s box causes you to turn away from the TV. No plate discipline, no pitch recognition, no attempt to make a productive out, no putting the ball in play with two strikes and no change in his approach.


There are certainly other reasons for the Fuscos to be floundering…slow starts from Kyle Seager, Jose Abreu, Ian Desmond and others. A few horrendous outings from Carlos Rodon & Derek Holland and the 30-day wait for Aroldis Chapman hasn’t helped. The bad news for Ausmus is that Upton (and the pitching staff’s 4.54 ERA) could cost him his job. I can’t get fired as Manager of the Fusco Brothers because my partner has no interest in taking over the job. And, being optimistic, I still think the team can be a “contendah”. Things could always be worse…another team in the league paid $33 for Carlos Gomez.