The 90-Day WAR

'17 Bellinger Hert Chrm

For baseball fans and Fantasy team owners, looking at the standings near the end of June reveals a telling statistic – the major league season is almost half over. 80 or so games are in the books and it’s time for an honest evaluation of your team. No more excuses of slumps, shifts, off-season injuries, smoke & mirror performances and the like. As with most real-life situations, it’s all about what you’ve done for me lately and what you project to do moving forward.

 

Some very predictable things have already happened. Cody Allen, Trevor Cahill, Jeurys Familia, Matt Harvey, David Robertson & Joaquin Soria aren’t worth an average of $10 Million each. Jeff McNeil isn’t a flash in the pan, DJ LeMahieu and Michal Brantley were great signings, Josh Bell and Ketel Marte are better than we thought and the ball is definitely juiced. And, of course, Mario Mendoza’s memory is alive and well in the bats of Rougned Odor & Yonder Alonso. On the other end of the spectrum, how about the best-of-the-best? Who are really the top MLB players so far for 2019? Not just the obvious stars, but also the underrated contributors that help teams win, but may not get the headlines. Where do we find an objective, unbiased determination to create this list? The answer is…we go to WAR.

 

WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is a new-age metric developed by SABRmetricians to gauge the value of an individual player to his team. It creates a number that represents how many wins the player adds to his team’s record above what a replacement player (AAA or AAAA) would contribute. A one-season figure of 8 or better is MVP caliber, while 5 or better is All-Star level. Some “old-school” fans don’t always buy into the stat, but the results tell you that it is very much on-target. The major league leader in three different seasons (2012, 2013 & 2016) was Mike Trout and the lifetime leader is Babe Ruth. The all-time top five also includes Willie Mays, Ty Cobb & Hank Aaron. AL MVP Mookie Betts was the best in ’18 with a figure of 10.9. So, with the help of baseball-reference.com, let’s see where we are for the first half of 2019.

 

As your humble essayist is from the school of thought that hitters should win the MVP and pitchers should win the Cy Young, we’ll list the offensive players first and then the hurlers.

 

> Position Players

 

1) Cody Bellinger, Dodgers 1B/OF 6.3 WAR – A great young player who is also exhibit A in the non-scientific theory that the ball was juiced in 2017 and again this year…39 HR’s as a rookie in ’17, 25 HR’s in ’18 and 25 more in a half a season in ’19.

 

2) Mike Trout, Angels OF 5.4 WAR – No matter how good we think he is…he’s better. A .468 OBP and 1.121 OPS tells the story.

3) Christian Yelich, Brewers OF 4.7 WAR – Last year’s MVP isn’t slowing down a bit.

 

4) Matt Chapman, A’s 3B 3.9 WAR – An outstanding all-around player, much of his value comes from defense.

 

5T) Jorge Polanco, Twins SS 3.8 WAR – The average fan doesn’t even know this Twinkie but he’s leading the AL in Hits and has a .936 OPS.

 

5T) Alex Bregman, Astros 3B 3.8 WAR – At age 25, he’s coming off a 6.9 WAR season in ’18.

 

 

 

 

> Pitchers

 

1) Mike Minor, Rangers 5.1 WAR – Yes, the best Pitcher this season performs in Arlington, Texas. A record of 7-4 with a 2.52 ERA (in a league with the DH) is amazing. If you were paying attention, this isn’t a complete fluke as he posted a 3.9 WAR in 2018.

 

2) Max Scherzer, Nationals 4.1 WAR – A mediocre record of 6-5 hides the peripherals…2.62 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 146 K’s in 106 IP.

 

3) Zack Greinke, D’Backs 3.8 WAR – He proves that velocity isn’t everything by allowing less than a base runner pre inning in a hitter’s environment.

4) Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dodgers 3.7 WAR – He’s been a revelation for the Blue Crew with a 9-1 record and a microscopic ERA of 1.27.

 

There you have the top ten players at the half-way point (stats as of 6/23). We’ll re-visit the numbers after September 28th and anoint the top ten for the season.

 

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Sociology 101 Circa 1954

'54 SI

The Old Duck began subscribing to Sports Illustrated Magazine while in High School and that relationship still exists today. The excellence of the writing, the beauty of the photography and the in-depth detail of the reporting has not waivered over all these decades and looking forward to the publication is still part of my weekly agenda. In addition, if you were to visit the Duck Pond, you’d find almost 200 autographed SI covers in beautiful oak frames all through the house with the vast majority still showing the original mailing label. The project has been a rewarding labor of love over the years.

 

20 + years ago, SI made a unique offer to their long-time subscribers. For the appropriate price, we could purchase an original copy of the magazine’s first issue from August 16, 1954. This wasn’t a replica or re-print, it was from the production press-run of approximately 600,000 produced at that time. It arrived in a beautiful leather binder with a certificate of authenticity and the signature of the publication’s President. Since then it has had a prominent spot on the coffee table of whatever abode I called home. Looking through the magazine with Braves slugger Eddie Mathews on the cover has always been alike to opening a time capsule. There are articles by legendary writers such as Red Smith, Grantland Rice and Budd Schulberg. Sports events covered included the Roger Bannister – John Landy mile race at the British Commonwealth Games, as well as the Rocky Marciano – Ezzard Charles fight for the Heavyweight Championship.

 

There was also an article titled “The Baseball Bubble Trouble” about a new phenomenon called baseball card collecting. To emphasize the written words by Martin Kane and Jerome Weidman, there was also a full-color fold-out of 27 1954 Topps baseball cards in their actual size. From Ted Williams to Willie Mays, from Ted Kluszewski to Duke Snider and from Jackie Robinson to Larry Doby, they’re all there to admire and the replicas even include all the information from the backs of the cards.

 

On the most recent visit through the 146 pages, it struck me that this 60 year-old magazine in also a history lesson about more than organized sports. Sociology is defined as “the study of human social behavior, especially the study of organizations, institutions and human society”. What better way to learn about America of the mid-50’s than to look through this time capsule and review the advertisers trying to sell their products to the country’s sports fans. Many are gone, some are still around but all offer a fascinating look at Americana.

 

> Inside Cover – Ladies alpaca coats from a company called Swansdown. The prices were $65 for the short version and $85 for the long coat…not exactly blue collar.

 

> P. 1 – High-Octane Ethyl gasoline. As a kid, I always thought “ethyl” meant the highest priced gas at the pump, but in ’54, there was a company called the Ethyl Corporation.

 

> P. 3 – Ladies sweaters called “pringles” sold at Bonwit-Teller. The price range was $20-$28.

 

> P. 4 – Goodyear tires…the company was already 39 years old.

 

> P. 6 – Florsheim shoes…$18 and higher.

 

> P. 7 – The Stetson Railbird hat…$10.

 

> P.9 – Lincoln automobiles.

 

> P. 10 – Four color photos of Bob Hope promoting Catalina sweaters made from Orlon for $10 or cashmere for $27.

 

> P. 12 – White Stag outdoor jackets from Heller…$20-$25.

 

> P. 13 – Ronson’s windproof cigarette lighter…only $3.95.

 

> P. 14 – Black & White scotch whiskey (86.8 proof).

 

> P. 15 – Wilson Sporting Goods including endorsements from Sam Snead, Jack Kramer, Ted Williams and Otto Graham.

 

> P. 16 (and P. 130) – Chrysler Corporation hyping their new 235 horsepower V-8.

 

> P. 18 – Great Western Champagne…a product of New York State.

 

> P. 53 – Cadillac Motor Cars.

 

> P. 59 – Winchester automatic shotgun, priced from $120. Their slogan was “The Gun that Won the West”.

 

> P. 60 & 61 – Skyway luggage…”pack up your travels the smart way”.

 

> P. 62 – Seagram’s Golden Gin (90 proof).

 

> P. 64 – Bausch & Lomb binoculars…the model shown was $170.

 

> P. 67 – Keepsake Diamond Rings…the three wedding rings in the ad were $675, $575 & $500.

 

> P. 69 – Hamilton Watches that were water-resistant, shock-resistant and self-winding. The steel case model was $72 and the gold case $175.

 

> P. 73 – Bantamac Jackets…prices begin at $10.

 

> P. 74 & 75 – Ford Thunderbird! The car wasn’t even out yet, but this two-page ad must have made young men drool.

 

> P. 76 – Cunard Cruise Line showed a painting of the Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary ships.

 

> P. 77 – Heinken’s Beer.

 

> P. 79 – IBM’s executive electric typewriter…”it opens doors”.

 

> P. 82 – Walker’s Deluxe Bourbon (90.4 proof).

 

> P. 83 – Sir Walter Raleigh pipe tobacco.

 

> P. 83 – Foot Joy golf shoes.

 

> P. 84 – Old Spice after shave lotion at $1 per bottle.

 

> P. 84 – Ace bowling balls made by the American Hard Rubber Company…they also made Ace combs.

 

> P. 85 – Union Oil Company and their purple royal triton motor oil.

 

> P. 86 – American Express Travelers Cheques…”100% safe, spendable anywhere”.

 

> P. 87 Pontiac Motor Division with an artist’s rendering of a red Star Chief convertible.

 

> P. 88 & 89 – Samsonite Luggage.

 

> P. 90 – Schweppes quinine water and club soda.

 

> P. 91 – Dunlop Maxfli golf ball…it pictures 1954 U.S. Open champion Ed Furgol.

 

> P. 94 – Ballantine’s Blended Scotch Whiskey (only 86 proof).

 

> P. 95 – Hertz Rent-A-Car.

 

> P. 97 – United Air Lines.

 

> P. 98 – J.W. Dant Straight Bourbon Whiskey (100 proof).

 

> P. 100 & 101 – Kaiser Darrin 161 automobile. These cars were only made in 1954 and a total of 435 were in the production run. You can find photos on the Internet of this beautiful convertible sports car.

 

> P. 103 – Flex Action hair brush by Hughes.

 

> P. 105 – U.S. Royal Golf Balls made by U.S. Rubber Company.

 

> P. 106 – Mercury Mark 20 outboard motor.

 

> P. 109 – Brunswick Fireball bowling ball…it had a red-rippled color and the ad claimed that no two were alike.

 

> P. 110 – Cresta Blanca White Vermouth.

 

> P. 113 – John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance. This ad might tell more about the attitudes of 1954 than any other. The picture is of a grieving widow and a small child and asks “if you were to die perhaps your wife could eventually get a job, but do you want her to have to do this?”

 

> P. 114 – Arnolt-Bristol Sports Cars “for 100 discriminating Americans”.

 

> P. 121 – Adler Socks, 90% virgin wool and $1 per pair.

 

> P. 124 – Goebel 22 Beer.

 

> P. 131 – Jockey Brand Underwear.

 

> P. 133 – Ben-Gay Baume had Ben Hogan as their spokesman.

 

> P. 134 – Lucky Tiger Hair Tonic.

 

> P. 136 – Miller High Life Beer…”it’s the champagne of bottled beer”.

 

> Inside Back Cover – Early Times Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (86 proof).

 

> Back Cover – Parliament Cigarettes with the “filter mouthpiece”.

 

If your idea of fun is drinking and driving, it appears you were born too late. The good news is that some of us love baseball even without beer. Hope you enjoyed Sociology 101.

Do ‘Ya Feel Lucky Punk?

Trout Definitive

Over the last few years, Fantasy sports have morphed into a much different enterprise. Oh sure, there’s still the die-hard, season-long players like The Old Duck who love being with friends and understand that you can’t duplicate the camaraderie of a live auction draft table by playing the game any other way.

 

First, the Internet allowed people to play Fantasy sports remotely and the dreaded “snake” draft became common place on sites like Yahoo, ESPN and the like. Then, real money became the lure with national contests such as the NFBC (National Fantasy Baseball Championship) running live drafts in Las Vegas and other cities with huge pay-outs for the overall winners. Now, we are inundated with advertising for Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS), where participants can choose a new team each day (baseball) or week (football) and put up their money against a group of anonymous opponents. As a result, when you tune into satellite radio or look at your favorite fantasy website, a large portion of the advice is geared toward this type of game.

 

Scribes more knowledgeable than me have written numerous articles about the positives and negatives of DFS and I won’t attempt to question their expertise on either side of the issue. One of the reasons is that as an Arizona resident, I’m not allowed to participate in DFS. Why, you ask? Because Arizona is one of only five States that consider this gambling, and therefore, illegal. In fact, residents of these five states can’t even go to Nevada and play in the NFBC. Obviously, 45 States consider it legal to “wager” on DFS sites and the basic criteria is that the authorities consider it a game of skill as opposed to a game of chance. This is where the waters become murky and many of my Fantasy Baseball brethren have taken opposite sides in the argument.

 

With no stake in the discussion, here’s my take. I’ve always thought of DFS participation as akin horse racing. You get a program, look over your research and place a wager on an athlete. If that athlete wins, you get paid an amount based on the wagering pool created by every other bet (pari-mutual betting) and the owner of the facility takes a percentage of the pool to cover expenses and make a profit. The “take” at most American tracks is an average of about 20%…DFS sites claim to take 10%. In either case, there is no “game of chance” involved such as a slot machine or a lottery ticket.

 

An ongoing discussion is the question of DFS being a game of skill. Some people argue that poker is a game of skill and those that feel that way more than likely think it takes more skill than picking horses or ballplayers. We’ve all known good poker players and bad poker players, but the real difference in the two pursuits is that you get dealt cards in poker before you even make a bet…that makes it different than sports betting. Your opponent may be dealt pocket aces at a Texas Hold’em table but nobody you’re competing against in Fantasy sports gets dealt Mike Trout or Aaron Rodgers. It seems that from a legal point of view, this may be the difference between a “game of chance” and a “game of skill”. Let’s not kid ourselves, it’s all gambling, but the legal interpretation changes the landscape. What has changed the issue most dramatically is the Supreme Court ruling from last year that will open up the flood gates of sports gambling to the general public.

 

While DFS wagering or poker playing might fall out of my circle of my expertise, it is obvious to me that a form of gambling saved the baseball card industry and continues to drive the hobby today. After card manufacturers almost ruined the industry in the late 80’s and early 90’s by overproducing products and eliminating any type of scarcity, they were forced to reinvent themselves. Their method was to begin including authentic autograph and memorabilia cards randomly into packs. So, theoretically, you could purchase a pack of eight cards for $3 and pull a Derek Jeter autograph card worth $100 or more. Of course, the card companies also had to pay players to sign their signature and/or make game-used uniforms available and those costs increased the price of the product. Today, you can still buy $3 packs, but you can also buy products where you’re guaranteed autograph cards. The Topps company recently came out with a product that sells for $1,125 a pack! Inside, there are only eight baseball cards but six of them will have an autograph and the other two have premium relics imbedded in the cards. The players are random, of course, but every card is serial-numbered to 50 or less. Maybe your pack will include Mike Trout? If that isn’t gambling, what is? Last time I checked, however, buying baseball cards was legal in Arizona…and everywhere else.

 

As with all endeavors, someone is always willing to push the envelope. Now, there is a phenomenon known as an “online set break”. Let’s say you own a 250-card set of 1954 Topps cards and over the years, you’ve had all the cards graded. The grades range from EX 5 – to – NM 7 with an overall average of 6. The set has a book value of about $10,000 but finding a buyer at that price level might be difficult. In addition, if you tried to sell it on eBay or some other auction site, the fees could be 15% or more. Instead, you agree to break up the set card-by-card and sell shares in the endeavor. Would collectors pay $45 a chance to get one of the random cards from the set? After all, the possibilities include a Hank Aaron Rookie card worth over $3,000, an Ernie Banks RC valued at $1,000, an Al Kaline RC that books at $450 and cards of Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson & others. According to one recent story, the “break” for a set like this sold out in less than an hour. $45 times 250 cards equals $11,250…a nice haul for the owner and individually, a small investment for the collectors. You might end up with Solly Hemus or Rip Repulski for your investment, but you took a shot. How would this stand up to your definition of gambling? Or maybe, even though it is a random drawing, it doesn’t qualify as a lottery because every player wins a prize? I’ll bet you have an opinion.

 

 

1933 Goudey Baseball Cards

'33 Berg

For baseball cards collectors of any age, the idea of no new cards being produced for 20 years in almost unfathomable. After all, Bowman started producing cards in 1948 while Topps entered the market in 1952 and is still the collectible of choice. Many others joined the fray in the 80’s & 90’s and it could be reasonably argued that too many cards were produced in that era. However, as we look back on the history of the hobby it becomes clear that such a gap did exist in the early 20th century.

 

In the early 1900’s, baseball cards were almost always produced as premium items that accompanied tobacco in one form or another. In fact, the famous Honus Wagner card from the T-206 set of 1910 holds its scarcity from Wagner’s rumored dislike of tobacco and his threat of legal action that caused his card to have a limited run. The final full set of baseball cards during this time was the 176-card Cracker Jack set from 1915 and it was almost two decades before baseball card collecting made a colorful comeback.

 

In 1933, the Goudey Gum Company of Boston decided to produce a 240-card set that would include all the major stars of the period. They had beautiful colors and amazing artwork including both portrait and action shots. And the good news for today’s modern collector is that the cards from this set can still be found in the marketplace. Of course, the cost will vary greatly based on condition, but you can still add baseball’s legendary names to your own collection.

 

To put the timing of the ’33 Goudeys in perspective, the country was in the throes of a terrible economic depression, FDR had just been inaugurated, Hitler was the new Chancellor of Germany and prohibition was ending. Into this setting Enos Gordon Goudey decided that pictures of ballplayers as premiums would help increase the sales of his gum products.

 

Recently, the Old Duck was fortunate enough to acquire a collection that had baseball cards from the 1930’s, 40’s & 50’s. Included were some of those beautiful Goudey cards from 1933.

 

Here are some of the cards in this historic offering that came across my desk. While the condition varied, gazing at these heroes of the past was a unique experience. Grading is based on a 1-to-10 scale and the book value is listed.

 

#7 Ted Lyons, White Sox Pitcher (VG 3 = $90) – Won 260 games in a 21-year career and led the AL in ERA at age 41!

 

#20 Bill Terry, Giants 1B (VG 3 = $110) – Coming off one of his best seasons where he hit .350 with 28 HR’s & 117 RBI’s. In 1930, he had 254 Hits and batted .401.

 

#22 Pie Traynor, Pirates 3B (VG 3 = $110) – Played all 17 of his seasons with the Bucs and had a .320 lifetime BA.

 

#29 Jimmie Foxx, Athletics 1B (VG 3 = $210) – “Double X” won his second consecutive MVP in ’33 by hitting .356 with 48 HR’s & 163 RBI’s.

 

#35 Al Simmons, White Sox OF (VG 3 = $110) – In 20 campaigns, had 2,927 Hits and a lifetime BA of .334.

 

#63 Joe Cronin, Senators SS (EX 5 = $195) – Was the player-manager for the pennant winners in ’33. Had a 20-year playing career and won 1,236 games as a Manager.

 

#89 Tris Speaker, Red Sox & Indians OF (VG 3 = $165) – Retired after the 1928 season with 3,514 Hits and a .345 lifetime BA…6th on the all-time list.

 

#127 Mel Ott, Giants 1B (VG 3 = $160) – Came to the Major Leagues in 1926 at age 17 and was coming off a ’32 campaign where he led the NL with 38 HR’s.

 

#158 Moe Berg, Senators Catcher (EX 5 = $210) – One of the great “back-stories” in the history of the game, he hit only .185 as a back-up in ’33, but the following year he was part of a barnstorming all-star team that traveled to Japan. During the visit, Berg (who may have been the most intellectual player of his time, having been educated at Princeton & Columbia) took photographs and home movies of the Tokyo landscape which were later used by General Doolittle’s bombers in 1942. When his playing career ended in 1939, Moe drifted underground and became a spy for the OSS (predecessor of the CIA) in Europe during World War II. His exploits are captured in a 1994 biography and the 2018 motion picture titled “The Catcher Was A Spy”.

 

#211 Hack Wilson, Dodgers OF (EX 5 = $325) – This diminutive (5′ 6″) slugger still holds the all-time record for RBI’s in a season with 191 for the Cubs in 1930.

 

#216 Vernon Gomez, Yankees Pitcher (VG – EX 4 = $185) – “Lefty” won 87 games for the Bombers from 1931-1934.

 

#220 Lefty Grove, Athletic Pitcher (VG 3 = $165) – A 300 game-winner in his 17-year career, he went 24-8 with 21 complete games in ’33.

 

#223 Dizzy Dean, Cardinals Pitcher ( VG – EX 4 = $375) – One of the most colorful characters of the game, he had a short but memorable career. In ’33, he started 34 games and completed 26 of them. In addition, “Diz” also appeared 14 times in relief and had a 20-18 record while leading the NL in Strikeouts.

 

#234 Carl Hubbell, Giants Pitcher (EX 5 = $350) – The master of the screwball, “King Carl” won the NL MVP with a record of 23-12 and a league-leading ERA of 1.66.

 

Other recognizable names from the collection included Burleigh Grimes, Heinie Manush, Rabbit Maranville, Herb Pennock & Rogers Hornsby. For boys of a certain generation, many of these names are familiar from the player discs of the All-Star Baseball board game.

 

Hope you enjoyed our nostalgic visit back to one of the great baseball card sets in history.

Baseball Speculation : June Draft

Goetz

In a few days, major league baseball will have their annual amateur Draft. While it can’t compare with the popularity and impact of the NFL Draft, it does create speculation among fans and card collectors. And, it becomes even more interesting while being viewed with 20/20 hindsight.

 

With the convergence of multiple baseball card manufacturers and the Internet in the 90s’, many collectors turned into speculators and, therefore, investors. Major League Baseball’s Amateur Draft has taken place every June since 1965, but the attention on the players has intensified ten-fold during that time. If you were a baseball fan in 1966, you probably didn’t know that Steve Chilcott, a High School Catcher from Lancaster, California was the first overall pick in the country (by the Mets). And, even if you did, it wasn’t anticipated that he would have a baseball card until he (someday) reached the Majors. The end result was that he had a seven-year minor league career, never had a baseball card and the Mets could have had Reggie Jackson instead.

 

Bryce Harper, the #1 pick in 2010, was the hottest card in the industry in 2011 and he’s proved his worth ever since with a career that includes a MVP award. The same phenomenon took place in 2010 with Stephen Strasburg but he ended up on the operating table before the 2011 season was over.

 

So, with some help from Baseball America, let’s look at an 18 year span and pick out a top-ten draft choice who didn’t make the grade…that’s a nice way of saying “failed miserably”.

 

> 1997 – Geoff Geotz (#6), Mets  P…was included in the Mike Piazza trade the following year but never made it to the majors…pitched nine seasons in the minors with a record of 22-20…Lance Berkman went at #16

 

> 1998 – Ryan Mills (#6), Twins P…a top prospect out of ASU, he never overcame elbow issues  and posted a 17-40 record in seven minor league seasons…his Dad was Dick Mills, who made two appearances with the Red Sox in 1970…the Twinkies could have chosen C.C. Sabathia, who was the #20 pick

 

> 1999 – Corey Myers (#4), D’Backs SS…drafted out of High School where he smashed numerous Arizona state records, he spent nine years in the minors and never made it to “The Show”…Barry Zito was taken by the A’s at #9

 

> 2000 – Mike Stodolka (#4), Royals P/1B…long before it became fashionable, he had near-equal ability as a hitter and pitcher…toiled in the minors as a Pitcher for six seasons with a 20-39 record, then tried hitting for three years before retiring…Chase Utley was scooped up by the Phillies at #15

 

> 2001 – Josh Karp (#6), Expos P…as with many young hurlers, never could overcome arm issues…pitched four years in the minors with a 4.73 ERA and was done at age 25…David Wright was drafted by the Mets in the supplemental round after 30 other players were taken

 

> 2002 – Bryan Bullington (#1), Pirates P…an example of why the Pirates weren’t relevant for so many years, he was 1-9 with a 5.60 ERA in parts of five seasons…players taken after him in the top ten included B.J. Upton, Zack Greinke & Prince Fielder

 

> 2003 – Kyle Sleeth (#3), Tigers P…had a 25-game winning streak in college but went under the knife for TJ surgery in ’05 and was never the same…out of the game at age 25 with a lifetime minor league ERA of 6.30…Nick Markakis was the #7 pick and is still a productive player in 2019

 

> 2004 – Matt Bush (#1), Padres SS…a complete bust, he ended up in jail before resurrecting his career as a relief Pitcher with the Rangers 12 years later…Justin Verlander was picked next in this draft

 

> 2005 – Jeff Clement (#3), Mariners C…ended up with only 385 lifetime major league at-bats and his WAR was -1.2…the next two choices in the first round were Ryan Zimmerman & Ryan Braun

 

> 2006 – Luke Hochevar (#1), Royals P…pitched in parts of nine seasons with a lifetime ERA of 4.98…got a $3.5 Million signing bonus…Clayton Kershaw went at #7

 

> 2007 – Josh Vitters (#3), Cubs 3B…managed only 99 AB’s in the majors and hit .121…in three AAA seasons, he had 203 K’s &  64 BB…Madison Bumgarner was picked at #10

 

> 2008 – Kyle Skipworth (#6), Marlins C…appeared in four games in 2013 going 0-for-3…his minor league BA over nine seasons was .211…both Justin Smoak & Aaron Hicks went outside the top ten

 

> 2009 – Donovan Tate (#3), Padres OF…injuries and substance abuse short-circuited his career and he never got to the big leagues…hit 10 HR’s in over 1,000 minor league AB’s…this is the draft where Mike Trout was taken at #25

 

> 2010 – Christian Colon (#4), Royals SS…highly touted out of Cal State Fullerton, he’s always been on the fringes of the major leagues…has a weak .630 OPS in parts of four MLB seasons…you can currently find him playing at AAA Louisville hitting .301…Chris Sale went #13 and Christian Yelich #23

 

> 2011 – Bubba Starling (#5), Royals OF…at 6’4”, he had a chance to play QB at Nebraska but a $7.5 Million bonus helped him choose baseball…has never appeared in the majors but is amazingly still in KC’s organization currently hitting .341 at AAA Omaha…Anthony Rendon, Francisco Lindor & Javier Baez were taken right behind him

 

> 2012 – Kyle Zimmer (#5), Royals P…has never been healthy and just recently made his MLB debut…in the minors, hasn’t pitched more than 64 innings in any of the last five seasons…Corey Seager was picked at #18

 

> 2013 – Mark Appel (#1), Astros P…has given up the game at age 26 after five minor league seasons…his lifetime ERA is 5.06…Kris Bryant was the next pick.

 

> 2014 – Brady Aiken (#1), Astros P…didn’t sign with Houston and was drafted as the 17th player by the Indians in 2015…three seasons in the minors have produced an ERA of 5.18…still only 22…Aaron Nola was the #7 pick

 

That takes us up to five years ago and the crapshoot continues for scouts and analytic directors.

 

So, if you “invested” in the initial baseball cards of these 18 players, what kind of success would you have realized? You know the answer and you also know that those collectibles should no longer be taking up space in your house.

 

 

 

In The Show For A Cup Of Coffee

Gaedel

In the classic baseball movie “Bull Durham”, Crash Davis passes time on a boring minor-league bus ride by telling his young teammates about being in the big leagues…”Yeah, I was in the show. I was in the show for 21 days once – the 21 greatest days of my life. You know, you never handle your luggage in the show, somebody else carries your bags. It was great. You hit white balls for batting practice, the ballparks are all like cathedrals, the hotels all have room service, and the women all have long legs and brains”.

 

As a fan, you might feel sad for Crash because he’ll never get back to the show…or you’ll feel happy for him because he will always be a “former major leaguer”. Three weeks might not seem like much, but what about the hundreds of ballplayers who were only in the “show” for one game? With the help of baseball-reference.com, we took a look at the hundreds of players who fall into this category.

 

Amazingly, there are names on the list that most fans will recognize…

 

> Walter Alston – On September 27, 1936 he appeared in a game for the Cardinals and had one at-bat. He didn’t get back to the majors until 1954 as the Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers. He continued as the skipper of the team for 23 years and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1983.

 

> Jeff Banister – At age 27, he got one AB with the Pirates in July of 1991. He eventually became a minor-league Manager and a big league Coach before managing the Rangers from 2015-2018.

 

> Eddie Gaedel – Possibly the most famous (or infamous) name on the list, his appearance as a pinch-hitter for the Browns in 1951 was the brain-child of team owner Bill Veeck. You see, Gaedel was only 3’7″ tall and had a strike zone no Pitcher could find. Of course, Gaedel got a four-pitch base-on-balls in his only at-bat. His contract was voided by the American League the next day, but Gaedel is forever in the record books.

 

> Moonlight Graham – Another unforgettable baseball movie “Field of Dreams” has Burt Lancaster playing the part of “Doc” Graham. However, Archibald “Moonlight” Graham was a real person and he played in one game for the Giants in June of 1905.

 

While the list is extensive, an interesting question is “are there players who still have a chance to get off the list?”

 

> John Bormann – Got one AB with the Pirates in 2017 and is currently with Bradenton in the A+ Florida League.

 

> Vicente Campos – Another Pirate, he pitched in one game during the 2016 season and is now on the roster at AA Altoona.

 

> Kyle Lloyd – Pitched 4 innings for the Padres in July of 2017, he’s on the staff at Amarillo of the AA Texas League.

 

There are numerous others playing for Independent teams or toiling in the Mexican League and we wish them well as they continue the pursuit of no longer being a “one-gamer”.

 

Maybe the best story of all is that of Adam Greenberg. He was a Cubs prospect who got called up in the Summer of 2005. In his first at-bat, he was hit by a pitch in the head and suffered a compound skull fracture. After a lengthy recovery, he got back on the field and played in the minors from 2006-2011 with no particular success. Even though he had appeared in a big-league game, he never had an official at-bat, so in 2012 the Marlins signed him to a one-day contract and gave him the chance to have that precious at-bat. Now he has the opportunity to frame two major-league uniforms and put them up on the wall. Wouldn’t you?

 

 

 

 

 

He Hit The Ball Real Hard

'15 Gallo AR

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. Last season, 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 is 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 last 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! Earlier this month, he became the fist player in history to hit 100 HR’s before he hit 100 Singles. In case you might believe these are isolated examples, think about this…through May 11th, Strikeouts (10,362) exceeded Hits (9,683) for the 2019 season. If Bob Dylan was a baseball fan, he’d say that “the times they are a changing”.

 

As the first six weeks of the 2019 campaign goes into the books, who are the players with the best exit velocity so far? Are they stars, phenoms or over-looked part-timers? Here are the top twelve (with a minimum of 45 batted ball events)…

 

1) Aaron Judge, Yankees OF (99.0 mph) – Currently on the IL, but his OPS this season is .925

 

2) Joey Gallo, Rangers OF (96.7 mph) – He’s raised his BA to .248 and his OPS to 1.014

 

3) Gary Sanchez, Yankees C (96.1 mph) – Also spent some time on the IL, but his OPS sits at .961

 

4) Christian Yelich, Brewers OF (95.8 mph) – The reigning NL MVP isn’t letting up with 16 HR’s and a 1.216 OPS

 

5) Josh Bell, Pirates 1B (95.6 mph) – Sometimes viewed as an under-achiever, he seems to be breaking out at age 26 with a .988 OPS

 

6) Anthony Rendon, Nats 3B (94.9 mph) – A short trip to the IL hasn’t slowed him down…the OPS is 1.043

 

7) Josh Donaldson, Braves 3B (94.8 mph) – It appears the hitting skills are still there, but can he stay healthy?

 

8) Mitch Moreland, Red Sox 1B (94.7 mph) – A career year at age 33? 12 HR’s through six weeks with a .908 OPS that is 146 points above his lifetime mark

 

9) Nelson Cruz, Twins DH (94.7 mph) – Yes, he’s 38 and yes, he can still rake

 

10) Javier Baez, Cubs SS (94.6 mph) – Was already an incredibly valuable player and now a .971 OPS makes him even better

 

11) Christian Walker, D’Backs 1B (94.6 mph) – A 28 year-old who has never been given a chance to be a full-time player. His .368 OBP & .931 OPS have been eye-popping for snake fans. As a point of reference, Paul Goldschmidt’s OPS is .810

 

12) Kyle Schwarber, Cubs OF (94.5) – One of the few examples of exit velocity not translating into good performance.

 

The next four on the list are all having solid seasons…Yoan Moncada (94.4), Carlos Santana (94.4), Cody Bellinger (94.2) and Joc Pederson (94.2).

 

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