What’s A Bonus Baby?

What’s A Bonus Baby?

 

 

 

For baseball fans under the age of 50, there’s never been a time without baseball’s Amateur Draft. For Fantasy Baseball players in deep leagues, the identity of three Shortstops named Dansby Swanson, Alex Bregman & Brendan Rodgers is certainly no secret. Back in the covered-wagon days of the 1950’s however, acquiring the top young talent in the land was a totally different process.

 

In the days before the World War II, major league organizations would scour the country looking for players and then try to sign them on the spot, often getting into bidding contests with other teams. In that era, College Baseball wasn’t the factor it is today and teenagers would welcome the chance to become professional ballplayers. Starting in 1947, baseball began an attempt to curtail this process with a succession of procedures linked to signing bonuses. The idea was to block the ability of the richest franchises to buy up the best young players and then hide them in the cupboard known as their minor-league system. Remember, this was long before the days of free agency and players were employees without rights.

 

The first process only lasted from 1947-1950 before being rescinded, but the problem was still there for the majority of the teams. Prior to the 1953 season, a committee chaired by Branch Rickey developed a “Bonus Baby” rule that ended up being part of the major league landscape for five years. The basic premise wasn’t to establish a cap on signing bonuses, but to require that a player signed above a certain dollar figure must remain on the major league roster for two seasons without being “farmed out” to the minor leagues. That meant teams would have to use up one (or more) of their 25 roster spots on a player who might not be able to contribute to the team’s success.

 

Over 50 players fell into the “Bonus Baby” category between 1953 and 1957 and the success rate was abysmal. With that being said, however, three of these individuals ended up in the Hall of Fame, but took very different paths that were affected by the rule…

 

> Al Kaline was signed by the Tigers out of High School in June of 1953. He immediately made his major league debut on June 25th at age 18. While Kaline only had 30 AB’s during that first season, by 1954 he was an everyday player and finished 3rd in the Rookie of the Year voting. His career lasted until 1974 without spending a single day in the minor leagues.

 

> Harmon Killebrew signed in June of 1954 and was six days shy of his 18th birthday when he made his major league debut on June 23rd. “Killer” had only 13 AB’s that season and then 80 AB’s while he spent the entire 1955 campaign at the big league level. After meeting the two-year obligation, he spent most of the next three years learning his craft in the minors and didn’t became a regular until 1959, when he led the AL with 42 HR’s.

 

> Sandy Koufax signed his contract with the Dodgers in December of 1954, spent the next two seasons in Brooklyn and only made 15 starts with a record of 4-6 with an ERA of 4.14. As with Kaline, he never spent a day in the minor leagues but it wasn’t until 1961 that became a star.

 

Let’s look at some of the others names that fell under this umbrella during the 50’s. By the way, if you look up any of them on baseball-refernce.com, it will say “bonus baby” in parenthesis next to their name.

 

> The Pirates signed the most bonus babies (8) and a famous name was Vic Janowicz. Unfortunately, his fame came primarily from football, as he won the Heisman Trophy in 1950 while playing at Ohio State. His only two seasons in baseball were the obligatory seasons of 1953 & 1954 and he hit a combined .214 in 196 AB’s. Interestingly, he also played Halfback for the NFL Washington franchise in ’54 & ’55.

 

> Seven youngsters were signed by the Orioles including Pitcher Bill O’Dell. He actually lost three years as the two required seasons were wrapped around military service in 1955, but he ended up with 105 major league victories in a 13-year career.

 

> In addition to Kaline, the Tigers also signed two players you might remember from baseball cards named Reno Bertoia & Steve Boros.

 

> Pitcher Joey Jay of the Braves overcame three years of relative inactivity to become a two-time 20-game winner for the Reds in the early 60’s.

 

> SS Dick Schofield of the Cardinals had a 19-year major league career and has to be included on this list because his nickname was “Ducky”. And yes, his Son (also named Dick) played 14 seasons in the 80’s & 90’s.

 

> Moe Drabowsky was a 1956 signee and won 13 games for the Cubs in ’57.

 

> The Giants made a good decision by signing 17 year-old Pitcher Mike McCormick in 1956…he won 22 games and the Cy Young Award in 1967.

 

> One very shady episode during this era was the A’s signing of 18 year-old 3B Clete Boyer in May of 1955. He only had 208 AB’s in his first two seasons and then, as soon as the 24-month requirement was met, the A’s traded him to the Yankees as “the player to be named later” in a previous deal. American League teams, already convinced that the two teams had an under-the-table relationship, complained that the A’s had just used their roster to hide a player the Yankees coveted. However, the trade was allowed and Boyer became the Bronx Bombers’ regular 3B during the 1960’s.

 

> Speaking of the Yankees, one of their choices shines a light on the underside of the consequences to this rule. In 1953, they signed High School 1B Frank Leja. A 6′ 4″ left-handed power hitter, he seemed like the perfect fit for their ballpark. Unfortunately for the kid, the Yankees of the 50’s were a juggernaut filled with talented players and he ended up getting only 7 AB’s (and one hit) in two seasons. He bounced around the minor leagues for the next half-dozen years, even hitting 20+ HR’s a number of times but it was 1962 before he wore a major league uniform again. He went 0-for-16 for the expansion Angels in early ’62 and retired the following year.

 

> Another sad tale is that of the Phillies Tom Qualters. This 18 year-old Pitcher only got into one game in 1953, pitched 1/3 of an inning, allowed 6 Earned Runs and ended up with a ERA of 162.00. In 1954, he spent the entire season on the roster and never pitched at all. His career numbers show 34 appearances without ever winning a game. His teammates nicknamed him “Money Bags”.

 

As all fans know, baseball history has its shameful side…from the Black Sox scandal to the color line. This five year period doesn’t get the same scrutiny, but a closer examination tells an ugly story. None of the 50+ players that fell into the “Bonus Baby” category were players of color. Even though most major league teams had broken the color barrier by this time, they certainly didn’t think it was necessary to bid against each other for youngsters from a poor background who had no leverage. So, even though Bob Gibson, Frank Robinson, Willie McCovey & Billy Williams were all signed during this timeframe, none of them received a bonus above the threshold. The bright side is that today, they are all in the Hall of Fame.

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Baseball Cards

Baseball Card Collecting : A Lifetime Hobby

 

 

 

How old were you when you opened your first pack of baseball cards? For me, it was probably about the age of seven when Topps baseball cards were a nickel…and came with a stick of bubblegum! For boys of my generation, the beautiful fragrance of that gum is something that has stayed with us over the years and would be recognizable even if we were blindfolded.

 

The wonderful magic of collecting is that the thrill of opening those packs to see if we got Ted Williams or Mickey Mantle is not any different today when we look for Bryce Harper or Carlos Correa to appear from beneath the wrapper. Of course, the packs are no longer a nickel (and there is no gum) but for a baseball fan, the thrill remains the same.

 

Card collecting is over 100 years old and the hobby has evolved into a complex and ever-changing marketplace. From the tobacco cards of the early 20th century to the sporadic issues of the Depression era and World War II to the post-war cards from companies like Bowman & Leaf, it wasn’t until 60+ years ago that the Topps company started the real boom era of sports card collecting. While they issued a couple of playing card style sets in 1951, the 1952 set marked the true beginning of baseball cards as we know them today with over 400 numbered cards that included statistics and player bios. Bowman also issued card sets during this time, but Topps bought them out in 1956 and became the exclusive distributor of major league cards for a period that lasted through 1980.

 

A court decision in 1980 paved the way for new companies to enter the market and starting in ’81, Donruss & Fleer began to distribute baseball cards and more competitors (like Upper Deck) joined the market during the 1980’s. In the 80’s & 90’s, this highly competitive industry created their own problems by adding too many products and brands, while also over-producing the products they made. Collectors became “investors” (a classic mistake), hoping that cards would increase in value as the players performance improved, but the glut of cards on the market created just the opposite effect. Even today, when I look at collections that people have interest in selling, many of the cards are “bulk junk” from that era.

 

Out of necessity, the card manufacturers began re-inventing their products in the late 90’s with the advent of higher-priced “premium” items that included autographed cards as well as memorabilia cards (pieces of uniform or bat) and limited edition issues. Today, we have come full circle, with MLB limiting the licenses they issue and Topps once again being the major producer of cards. For fans and collectors, the hobby is still great fun and continues to bring enjoyment to young and old alike.

 

In future visits, we’ll cover other aspects of the hobby, from building your collection, to understanding values, to card condition & grading and anything else you might find interesting. Please understand that the emphasis will be on “collecting” as opposed to “investing”…even though a nice collection will always be a good investment.

 

Your feedback is welcome…thanks for reading.

 

 

Sharing The Wins

Sharing The Wins

 

 

If you’ve ever been to the gigantic Opryland Hotel in Nashville, you wonder how all those baseball executives and agents could even find each other to consummate a deal during the Winter Meetings. But consummate they did, and in a sport awash with money, old-school fans are having difficulty wrapping their heads around the new budgetary guidelines. These days, even the 7th or 8th pitcher on a major league staff is commanding $6 Million a season and more.

 

The real question under the surface, however, is if these acquisitions can really make a difference in the standings? In other words, what is their contribution to winning games? We’ve discussed WAR (Wins Above Replacement) numerous times in this space and that statistical outcome does impact decisions made by writers voting on awards and General Managers making deals. It has become a mainstream analysis over the last decade and can help clarify and justify some contract amounts. For example, if you believe in the WAR calculations, it appears that the Diamondbacks got a slightly better deal on Zack Greinke (5.8 WAR average the last three years, $32M per year x 6) than the Red Sox did on David Price (4.4 WAR average the last three years, $31M per year x 6). Most baseball stat-heads believe a free agent is worth about $7-8M per win, so that makes Greinke’s contract a relative bargain while Price comes in right on the money. Of course, that’s just a snapshot valuation based on past performance and all of these deals require projecting into the future.

 

This time, we’ll turn to another statistical measure in an attempt to gauge the free agent market. The other stat that is team-result based is WS (Win Shares) as developed by the godfather of modern statistical analysis, Bill James. While trying to describe the formula is impossible (James wrote an entire book on the topic in 2002), it comes down to a system where each game a team wins during the season is meticulously analyzed and the three players most responsible for that win get a “win share”. So, if a team wins 80 games, there will be 240 win shares distributed on the roster. Position players will have a tendency to accumulate higher totals than pitchers, but it’s all about comparisons between players among positions. Less than ten position players had a number over 30 in 2015 and it’s difficult to take exception with the results- both MVP’s are on the list with Josh Donaldson at 32 and Bryce Harper at 38. Other impressive performances belonged to Matt Carpenter (30), Kris Bryant (30), Anthony Rizzo (32), Joey Votto (33), Andrew McCutchen (35) & Paul Goldschmidt (35). The leader, however, was a repeat from last season…Mike Trout with 42! In fact, Trout has averaged 40 Wins Shares over the last four years. The pitching leaders were Jake Arrietta (27), Greinke (26), Dallas Keuchel (22) & Clayton Kershaw (21).

 

Let’s look at the free agent class through the prism of “Win Shares” and analyze the results…

 

> David Price, P – 7 Years, $217M (Red Sox). A durable, left-handed ace was exactly what the BoSox needed to bolster their mediocre rotation. At age 30, his Win Share average for the last four seasons is 16.5, so maybe he’s slightly overpriced…but big market teams roll the dice.

 

> Jason Heyward, OF – Available. At age 26, his free agent timing couldn’t be better. Productive hitting and superior defensive skills give him huge WAR numbers and his Win Share four-year average of 20 is solid. The question remains if some team thinks that translates to $200M. Just to keep things in perspective, the last mid-20’s free agent OF with great skills was B.J. Upton.

 

> Zack Greinke, P – 6 Years, $206.5M (Diamondbacks). A bold move by the Snakes, but it makes them an immediate contender because their run-scoring ability and defense are already first-rate. His four-year Win Share average of 18.5 is elite.

 

> Justin Upton, OF – Available. Another guy in his prime at age 28, but his opportunity to be a real star has already passed. Has had 21 Win Shares each of the last three seasons, so despite his in-season “streakiness”, the overall production is consistent. Probably looking for 7 years, $140M+.

 

> Chris Davis, 1B – Available. The poster boy for HR’s & Strikeouts, his power is unquestioned. Led all of baseball with 47 Homers in 2015 and set a record by having five (5) others robbed by OF making over-the-fence catches. Leaving out 2014 (when he had legal issues regarding medication availability), his Win Shares in 2013 & 2015 were 33 & 27. Six years and $150M+ should be waiting somewhere.

 

> Yoenis Cespedes, OF – Available. Another streaky, power-hitting OF, his Win Share average after four big league seasons is 21. At age 30, he’s looking for a similar payoff as Upton & Davis.

 

> Jordan Zimmerman, P – 5 Years, $110M (Tigers). Not in the same category with Price and Greinke and his Win Shares tell the tale…an average of 14 over the last four seasons.

 

> Johnny Cueto, P – Available. Likely did the D’Backs a favor by turning down 6 years and $120M. Had only 12 Win Shares in 2015 and has only exceeded 20 twice in his career. The market will force some team to pay $20M+ per year, but he’s the least reliable of the big name starting pitchers.

 

> Alex Gordon, OF – Available. An injury limited his Win Share total to 16 this past season, but it was over 20 each of the previous four years. Even at 32, he’s under-rated and a team might be smart to pay $100M over five years for him as opposed to $200 over 10 years for Heyward. How many GM’s expect to be in their job ten years from now?

 

> Ian Desmond, SS – Available. He’s fortunate to be on the market right now because the SS position is going to be loaded with great young players for years to come. We already have Correa, Lindor, Seager, Turner, Simmons, Russell, B. Crawford & Bogaerts and on the horizon…J.P. Crawford, O. Arcia, Albies, Rodgers & Swanson. At age 30, coming off a career-worst 12 Win Share season, he better grab a deal quickly from one of the few “have-not” teams

 

> Jeff Samardzija, P – 5 years, $90M (Giants). You may wonder how a pitcher with a 4.96 ERA could command such a contract. The rationalization from the Bay Area must include that he pitched in a terrible park (and in the AL), he hasn’t missed a start in the last three seasons (647 IP), his fastball velocity has been at 94 MPH each of those three seasons and he’s a great athlete who should age well. Win Shares say be careful…his highest total was just 11 (in ’14).

 

> Mike Leake, P – Available. Still in his 20’s, it was amazing how successful he was in Cincinnati’s ballpark despite a low strikeout rate. His Win Shares the last three seasons have been 12,10 & 10 so this is not an ace…more of a complimentary piece.

 

> Wei-Yin Chen, P – Available. If a LH starter had 14 Win Shares, 190+ IP and a 3.34 ERA in Boston or New York, everyone would be talking about him. Instead, he seems like an afterthought in this market.

 

> Dexter Fowler, OF – Available. Did a good enough job for the Cubs that they gave him a $15.8M qualifying offer. He chose to test the market with his 22 Win Share season, which was the best of his career.

 

> Daniel Murphy, 2B – Available – This post-season hero made a name for himself and we’ll see how it pays off in free agency. Even before becoming a household name, he’s averaged 20 Win Shares for the last four seasons.

 

> Scott Kazmir, P – Available. Came off the baseball scrap heap to post 10 & 11 Win Shares the last two years. Realistically, he’s a #3 SP at best.

 

> Ian Kennedy, P – Available. If you had a 4 Win Share season along with 4.28 ERA in a Pitcher’s park, maybe that $15.8M qualifying offer wasn’t a bad deal. His name hasn’t even been mentioned during coverage of the Winter Meetings.

 

> Yovani Gallardo, P – Available. His 14 Win Share season in Texas was his best since ’12 and convinced him to turn down the Rangers $15.8M offer. If you look closely at his numbers, however, 2015 seems to have been somewhat of a “smoke & mirrors” campaign. Could be a risky investment on a 3-4 year contract.

 

> Ben Zobrist, 2B – 4 Years, $56M (Cubs). Any deal of this length for a player in his mid-30’s is risky, but he’s a consistent and versatile player. Over the last seven seasons, his average Win Share number is 23+.

 

> Howie Kendrick, 2B – Available. Another player who turned down $15.8M, he doesn’t seem to be aging well at 32…especially defensively. Still had a 18 Win Share, so he’ll get a multi-year deal somewhere.

 

> John Lackey, P – 2 Years, $32M (Cubs). Even though he’s 37, this is a smart short-term commitment from Chicago. His 17 Win Share season was his best since 2007, so he’s not on the downside…yet.

 

> Hisashi Iwakuma, P – 3Years, $45M (Dodgers) . Will be 35 on opening day, but his numbers have been solid the last three seasons. Warning sign – his Win Shares have gone from 20 to 11 to 8.

 

> J.A Happ, P – 3 Years, $36M (Blue Jays). These dollars tell you all you need to know about the financial status of the game. A 10 Win Share in 2015 (his best since ’09) makes him a fixture in Toronto’s rotation.

 

> Gerardo Parra, OF – Available. Reportedly looking for a 4-year deal, this outstanding defensive OF has only had one Win Share season over 15 in his career…last year it was 14.

 

> Joakim Soria, P – 3 Years, $25M (Royals). This explains how valuable bullpen pieces have become in today’s game. $8+M per season and he’s not being asked to pitch the 9th inning…and maybe not even the 8th inning.

 

> Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B/33 – 2 Years, $18.5M (Mets). At first glance, it looks like he resurrected his career somewhat in Tampa this past season. A look at Win Shares tells a different story at age 30…the player who averaged 22 in ’11 & ’12 had only 11 in 2015. The Mets were concerned about the defense of Wilmer Flores, but Cabrera’s “Runs Saved” total over the last three seasons is -(minus) 31. Of course, one of the ex-ballplayers on the MLB Network panel described him as a “defensive wizard”?

 

> Ryan Madson, P – 3 Years, $22M (Athletics). His first healthy season since 2011 with a Win Share of 9 gets this kind of contract at age 35. As Yakov Smirnoff once said, “America is a wonderful country”.

 

> Rich Hill, P – 1 Year, $6M (Athletics). Might not seem like much, but this was based on four (4) great starts at the end of 2015. He’s 36 years old and has a lifetime ERA of 4.54.

 

And, of course we’ll have all those LOOGY’s (Left-Handed One Out Guys) like Antonio Bastardo, Tony Sipp & Randy Choate still to sign.

 

Hope all your free agents signings win their share of games.

Visiting With Bill James

Visiting With Bill James

 

 

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

 

For baseball fans in general and Fantasy Baseball players who participate in keeper leagues, Bill also helps us get through the winter while we’re longing for box scores. Each November, The Bill James Handbook gives us a review of the season, lifetime stats of every major league player and numerous articles and lists to make the “hot stove” season tolerable. The 2016 version is available now and at 601 pages, offers just about something for everyone. The Old Duck has an annual exercise, where I take my initial cursory glance at the book and begin discovering information that surprises and enlightens me.

 

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

 

> In golf and tennis, fans can easily find current rankings on each player. The systems are set up so that the rankings move up and down based on performance and are not just for the current season. James has developed a similar idea for ranking starting pitchers. The current top five are Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Max Scherzer, Jake Arrieta & Madison Bumgarner. Jacob deGrom was 94th going into 2015, now he’s 22nd. Carlos Carrasco was at #120 and now sits 28th.

 

> Most spectators are much more aware of pitch velocity than they were 10, 20 or 30 years ago. With radar guns in stadiums and in every scout’s hands, we focus on that statistic and assume a pitcher’s performance will deteriorate with diminished velocity. This year’s handbook charts average fastball velocity by age and actually shows how little difference there is for most pitchers. For example, Kershaw’s average velocity for the last eight years has been either 93 or 94 mph. Looking for outliers, however, shows that from 2008 to 2015, Felix Hernandez has dropped from 95 to 92, Johnny Cueto from 93 to 91, Tim Lincecum from 94 to 87, Ubaldo Jimenez from 95 to 91, Jered Weaver from 90 to 83, Jonathan Papelbon from 95 to 91, C.C. Sabathia from 94 to 90, Bartolo Colon from 92 to 88 and C.J. Wilson from 93 to 90. On the flip side, Tommy Hunter increased from 91 to 95 and Glen Perkins from 91 to 94. Even when you look at a disastrous performance like Matt Garza’s 2015 campaign, the obvious assumption of diminished velocity doesn’t hold up…he’s been at 93 or 94 for the last eight seasons.

 

> Fielding metrics are relatively new and not yet accepted by fans or even by many statisticians. The handbook’s “Defensive Runs Saved” chart does help us verify what we think we’re told by our eyes. The Royals defense in the post season was a major part of their winning formula the last two seasons, so it isn’t difficult to understand that Alex Gordon saved 50 runs during the last three years to lead all Left Fielders and Lorenzo Cain trails only Juan Lagares with 49 saved among Center Fielders during the same span. Most observers think Andrelton Simmons is the best SS in the game and his 25 runs saved in 2015 seems to verify that opinion. Jason Heyward’s 22 runs saved was the best for Right Fielders this past year and will contribute to his free agent value. Watch out for the Rays CF Kevin Kiermaier, as he accumulated 42 runs saved in his first full season and was far-and-away the best defensive player in baseball. For all the cynical fans out there, we can’t leave out the worst fielders in the game and how many runs they cost their teams…

 

1B) Pedro Alvarez -13

2B Johnny Giovotella & Howie Kendrick -12

3B) Yunel Escobar & Pablo Sandoval -11

  1. SS) Danny Santana & Ruben Tejada -15
  2. LF) Hanley Ramirez -19
  3. CF) Angel Pagan -20
  4. RF) Matt Kemp -15
  5. C) Blake Swihart -16
  6. P) Jon Lester & Jimmy Nelson -8

 

> A consistently debated topic among fans and media is the dramatic increase in defense shifts. In 2013, shifts were utilized over 8,000 times, in 2014 the number increased to over 13,000 and in 2015, it grew again to over 17,000. To the naysayer, the question becomes, would teams be shifting more if it didn’t work? According to the “Runs Saved” statistic, shifting saved 135 runs in 2013, 196 runs in 2014 and 266 in 2015. Only five teams (White Sox, Mariners, Brewers, Cardinals & Braves) shifted less than the previous year. The Orioles led all of baseball by saving 29 runs through utilizing the shift. Using ground balls and short line-drives as the criteria, the chart of the top shifted batters shines a spotlight on this trend. Five batters are now hitting into the shift at least 90% of the time…David Ortiz, Chris Davis, Lucas Duda, Ryan Howard & Adam LaRoche. As a group, they hit .199 with the shift in place. And some players below the 90% threshold can probably expect more shifting in 2016…Adrian Gonzalez hit .148 in these situations while Edwin Encarnacion & Albert Pujols hit .196.

 

> In the past, players were judged as good baserunners if they swiped a lot of bases. Not only weren’t their other baserunning skills not considered, even their caught stealing stats were ignored. However, as Tom Boswell pointed out over 20 years ago, a caught stealing is equivalent to two outs because it not only removes a baserunner, it also causes an out. Now we have information that tells us how often a player goes from 1st to 3rd or 2nd to home plate on a single. The handbook grades baserunning on the net amount of bases a player gains in a given season. The Rangers had a surprisingly good season in 2015, which resulted in new skipper Jeff Banister winning AL Manager of the Year. Every year, however, fans wonder if a Manager really makes a difference. Think about these stats – in 2014, the Rangers had a +24 in baserunning, which was near the middle of the pack…in 2015, they led all of baseball with a +142! And over 100 of those bases were due to the team’s aggressiveness on the basepaths, as opposed to just stolen bases.  Only one MLB player gained over 50 bases for his team in 2015 and it was the Reds Billy Hamilton at 67. Ben Revere was 2nd with 44. The Tigers were the worst team at -107 and the two worst individual players were Billy Butler (-38) & Jhonny Peralta (-33).

 

> If you’re wondering how the top five pitchers ascended to that rank, The “Pitcher Analysis” in the handbook gives you some insight. Old-school fans would tell you that getting ahead in the count is extremely important and digging deeper into the stats seems to confirm that logic. When you check how many times these hurlers got ahead in the count 0-1, the numbers are amazing. Arrietta is at 49%, Greinke at 52%, Bumgarner at 53%, Kershaw at 55% and Scherzer had an 0-1 count on 537 of the 899 batters he faced…that’s 60%!

 

> Were there any successful major league pitchers who threw their fastball over 90% of the time? The “Pitchers’ Repertoires” section will answer that question by telling you that there were four and all were well-known Closers…Kenley Jansen, Jake McGee, Sean Doolittle & Zach Britton.

 

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

 

 

Protecting The Prospects

Protecting The Prospects

 

 

 

Baseball is a game of history and tradition, but also a game of infinite changes. The current debate over young starting pitchers and their workloads is a perfect example. From Stephen Strasberg not pitching in the post-season to Matt Harvey’s innings limit to the 2016 outlook for Jose Fernandez, the topic continues to percolate with baseball fans of every age.

 

People of the older generation who consider themselves “old school”, like to point out that Pitchers of the 50’s & 60’s toiled in four-man rotations and sometimes exceeded 300 innings. Robin Roberts went over that threshold for five consecutive seasons from ’51 to ’55 and Warren Spahn was over 290 IP twice in the late 50’s when he was 37 & 38 years old. In the 60’s, 300+ innings were normal for Don Drysdale, Juan Marichal, Sandy Koufax, Jim Bunning & Denny McLain. In the early 70’s, Mickey Lolich pitched 376 innings two years in a row! The highest totals in 2015 were accumulated by Clayton Kershaw and Dallas Keuchel at 232.

 

Of course, those days are long gone and the reasons are many. Obviously, the long-term health of a Pitcher’s arm is a consideration, but to be honest, that didn’t seem to be a big concern in those earlier decades. It seems more than a coincidence that the uncontrolled usage of the bullets in a Pitcher’s arm started to change with the advent of free agency in 1976. Players and their agents could now see the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and it all depended on longevity. In today’s game, if you can stay healthy for six years, even an average Pitcher can become a rich man. Gone are the days of Managers and GM’s being allowed to go “all in” on player’s careers in order to keep their jobs.

 

The examples of Pitcher’s careers being short-lived are many, including Koufax, who was forced to retire at age 30. A classic case study is that of John D’Acquisto in the 1970’s. He was drafted in the first round (17th pick in the country) out of High School by the Giants in 1970 and was blessed with an electric arm that could throw triple digits before radar guns were the rage. To help you understand the mentality of major league teams at the time, let’s look at his minor league progression…

 

> 1971, Class “A” Decatur of the Midwest League – 29 starts, 233 IP, 244 K’s & 124 BB…at age 19.

 

> 1972, Class “A” Fresno of the California League – 26 starts, 209 IP, 245 K’s & 102 BB…at age 20.

 

> 1973, Class “AAA” Phoenix of the Pacific Coast League – 31 starts, 212 IP, 185 K’s & 113 BB…at age 21. And if that wasn’t enough, the Giants brought him up in September to pitch another 27 2/3 IP in the big leagues.

 

Now think about the three young hurlers in the first paragraph and their agent, Scott Boros. What kind of reaction might there have been if the Nationals, Mets or Marlins suggested that even one of those statistical lines was reasonable for their top pitching prospect? The obvious answer is a coronary for Boros, but imagine the media scrutiny?

 

In 1974, John came up to the Giants and pitched his first full big league season…

 

> 36 starts, 215 IP, 167 K’s & 124 BB…at age 22. That’s over 850 innings before his age 23 campaign. And innings don’t tell the entire story because when you look a the strikeouts and walks, you can start to imagine the pitch counts.

 

Not surprisingly, arm trouble was the result and after two injury plagued years with the Giants, John was traded to the Cardinals and eventually got healthy enough to emerge as the Padres Closer in the late 70’s, before retiring after the 1982 season. He now works for MLB in the Phoenix market monitoring games for the pace-of-play project and you can see him at Chase Field,  Spring Training ballparks and the Arizona Fall League. When you meet him, you can’t help being impressed by his warmth and friendliness to everyone at the ballpark. And being an old-school guy, he’ll be honest and tell you that he never wanted to come out of a game because he knew he’d get the next guy out. However, maybe that attitude would be different if the bullpen had Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis & Greg Holland to pitch the 7th, 8th & 9th. In 1974, the Giants were 72-90 and the bullpen included Randy Moffitt, Elias Sosa and Charlie Williams…Moffitt was the Closer and his ERA was 4.50!

 

As with all former big league players, John D’Acquisto is proud to have worn the uniform and happy to tell you great stories about his years in the game…but you can’t help wondering what might have been.

 

 

What’s In A Name?

What’s In A Name?

 

 

The annual Bill James Handbook hit the shelves in early November and we’ll be diving into all the statistical information in future blogs. However, there is some information in the player section that is usually overlooked and that is the correct pronunciation and structural emphasis of MLB player’s names. So, as you get into those hot stove conversations with your baseball buddies, you’ll sound much more informed if you know the following…

 

> The young Rockies SS is named kris-tee-Yahn ah-dah-MAZE

 

> A potential Cub OF for 2016 is air-es-MEN-dee al-CAHN-truh

 

> The Giants back-up infielder is wah-KEEN AH-ree-us

 

> The White Sox just signed pitcher fih-LEEP ah-MOHNT

 

> At the back-end of the Yankees’ bullpen, you’ll find DELL-inn buh-TAN-siss

 

> The Rangers on-base machine is SHIN-sue CHEW

 

> The Padres’ swing man is oh-DREE-sa-mehr des-PAHN-yay

 

> The Mets Closer is jeh-REES fuh-MEAL-yuh

 

> The Dodger backstop is yaz-MON-ee gran-DAHL

 

> At SS for the Marlins is a-DAY-nee hetch-a-VA-ree-a

 

> A possible OF starter for the Rays is MIKE-ee MAH-took

 

> There are two baseball brothers and they’re both named ROOG-ned oh-DORE

 

> At the hot corner, the Padres have YAWN-gurr-veess sol-LAHR-tay

 

You should also try to remember that…

 

> In Seattle, it is TIE-wahn Walker

 

> The first name of the Braves possible Closer is ah-ROH-dis

 

> In the Cards’ bullpen, Samuel’s last name is TOO-ee-vah-la-la

 

> North of the border, Devon is pronounced DEV-in

 

> If he makes the cut out of Spring Training with the Braves, Joey’s last name is ter-DOSS-low-vitch

 

> The “h” isn’t there in the name of Julio tay-Ronn

 

> This future Hall of Famer is known by the single name of EE-chee-row

 

> If you want to call the Reds SS by his first name, it’s ay-yoo-HAY-nee-oh

 

> The Marlins slugger who used to be Mike, is now john-CAHR-loh

 

> There doesn’t seem to be an “R” in Marc zepp-CHINN-ski

 

> Hector is rahn-DOHN while Bruce is ron-DOAN

 

> Tanner should own a large boat because he’s ROW-ark

 

> That Marlin behind the plate is J.T. ray-al-MOO-toh

 

> Now that he’s retired, we’ll ah-RAH-miss Ramirez

 

> Casey gets two more letters than Jake, but they’re both McGEE

 

> Brandon gets an extra “r”, but he and Joe are both MAUW-er

 

> Alfredo & Ketel are mar-TAY while Starling & Jefry are marr-TAY

 

> Machi & Segura are both GENE

 

> Brett is LORI, but Jed is LAU-ree

 

> The “K” disappears in Jung Ho GAHNG

 

> The “J” disappears in Taylor YOUNG-man

 

> What happened to the “G’ & “y” in Jedd JERK-oh

 

> Conor is guh-LESS-pee while Cole is gil-EH-spee

 

> Elvis is in the building and his name is pronounced AHN-drews

 

Once you’ve committed all those to memory, don’t forget that Fiers is FIRES, Aybar is EYE-barr, Barmes is BAR-mess, Benoit is ben-WAH, Rusney is ROOZ-knee, Cishek is SEE-sheck, d’Arnaud is dar-NO, Jaff is JEFF, Goins is GO-inns, J.A. is JAY, Niese is NIECE, Pham is FAM, Plouffe is PLOOF, Puig is PWEEG, Strop is STROPE, Vogt is VOTE, ARod is CHEATER and Papelbon is BOZO.

 

OK, you’re ready for the off-season.

A Final Lap Around The Warning Track

A Final Lap Around The Warning Track

 

 

 

Today marks our 200th visit in this space and after something in the neighborhood of 200,000 words on the subject of baseball, maybe it’s time to summarize.

 

Without trying to sound snobbish or elitist, I always find myself feeling sorry for those who don’t love baseball. Clearly, much of what we love is guided by family and background, but baseball is so engrained in the fabric of America, it is always surprising to meet people who find the game boring or slow. They obviously have never had the opportunity to learn the nuances of the game and can’t  treasure the small moments. For example, even though it includes eight (or more) other players, the battle between pitcher and batter just might be the most direct confrontation in all of team sports…and it happens a couple of hundred times in every game!

 

So, as an homage to the game, here are some of my personal reasons why it has meant so much to me over the years. I unapologetically love baseball and you can repeat each of my reasons by simply adding the word “Because” at the beginning of each entry.

 

1) I can still remember going to the park on Sunday morning to (with apologies to Kevin Costner) “play catch” with my Dad.

 

2) Even though I’ve never been to the “Louvre”, it’s difficult to imagine anything more beautiful than Ted Williams’ swing.

 

3) Booing the Yankees is something you can do at any age.

 

4) My brain still has a clear snapshot of that grand-slam home run I hit in Little League…to the opposite field!

 

5) Before the days of MLB Network, ESPN and instant replay, Jimmy Piersall was making spectacular catches in the outfield every night…and he didn’t have to make an unnecessary dive to get himself on a highlight reel.

 

6) Even as a kid, I realized that Mickey Mantle’s skills were different than those of other players.

 

7) 59 years ago, I watched on TV as Don Larsen pitched a perfect game in the World Series…it hasn’t happened again since.

 

8) Instead of doing homework, I was reading every available baseball book or magazine to learn the history of the game…Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb and so many others comprised my history lessons.

 

9) It has been a privilege listening to Vin Scully for over 60 years.

 

10) The aroma of the bubble gum in a nickel pack of Topps baseball cards should be bottled as a women’s cologne…we could never resist.

 

11) Talking baseball with the fan next to you in the stands has nothing to do with race, religion, politics, age or sexual identity.

 

12) How can you not love names like Monbouquette, Throneberry, Pagliaroni, Berberet, Pumpsie & Pinky?

 

13) You’ll always be that 9 year-old boy who cried when Harry Agganis died at age 26.

 

14) There’s no such thing as a bad seat at the ballpark…only better or worse.

 

15) A fan will gladly ruin a $50 pair of pants to catch a $12 baseball…and then give it to a kid!

 

16) Getting your first autograph from a major league player is a moment you’ll never forget.

 

17) In your mind’s eye, you can still see that catch Willie Mays made in the 1954 World Series.

 

18) You know the link between Yogi Berra, Sandy Amoros & Johnny Podres.

 

19) You can almost imagine the trepidation of a right-handed hitter digging in against Don Drysdale or Bob Gibson.

 

20) On a beautiful Summer evening at the old Wrigley Field in Los Angeles, I got to see “Big Klu” in his final season and “Yaz” in his rookie year.

 

21) The Pitcher can’t “take a knee” with two outs in the 9th inning so the clock can run out. In other words, “the game ain’t over ’til it’s over”.

 

22) As you’re scanning through the channels and “Bull Durham” appears, you’ll stop and watch to verify that candlesticks are always a nice gift.

 

23) You realize that Jackie Robinson was so much more than just a ballplayer.

 

24) Occasionally, you actually understood what Casey Stengel was saying.

 

25) Even Red Sox fans get teary-eyed watching Gary Cooper making that speech in “Pride of the Yankees”.

 

26) You celebrate Bobby Thomson but also feel empathy for Ralph Branca.

 

27) You’re fairly sure that the subway grate scene in “The Seven Year Itch” was the beginning of the end for Marilyn Monroe & Joe DiMaggio.

 

28) The sadness of hearing names like Fred Merkle, Mickey Owen, Bill Buckner & Steve Bartman is still part of the game.

 

29) You still laugh every time Bob Uecker explains that the proper way to catch a knuckleball is to “wait for it to stop rolling and then pick it up”.

 

30) You know that Mordecai Brown only had three fingers, while Antonio Alfonseca had six.

 

31) You consider Fenway Park & Wrigley Field to be national shrines.

 

32) You are aware of the fact that Joe Jackson was shoeless and Jay Dean was dizzy.

 

33) It is no secret to you that Lou Boudreau invented defensive shifting over 60 years ago.

 

34) You know who “Scooter” was and that he said “Holy Cow” when Roger Maris hit home run #61.

 

35) The class and style of Sandy Koufax has never been duplicated.

 

36) The nickname “Charlie Hustle” was perfect for Pete Rose.

 

37) Hearing the crowd encouraging Maury Wills to steal 2B was like feeling electricity in the ballpark.

 

38) Meeting a Hall of Fame player is exciting, but when you reach the front of an autograph line and Warren Spahn looks at you and says, “Would you mind if I went to take a piss”, it’s a priceless baseball moment.

 

39) Going to a collectibles convention and finding out that Ernie Banks is the nicest athlete you’ve ever met, confirms your faith in mankind.

 

40) Eddie Gaedel wore the uniform number 1/8.

 

41) You got to attend a game at Camden Yards when Cal Ripken Jr. hit a home run.

 

42) Harmon Killebrew was a “bonus baby” and you know what that means.

 

43) You clearly understand the stupidity of any baserunner who tried to go from 1B to 3B when Roberto Clemente was playing RF.

 

44) Satchel Paige pitched three scoreless for the A’s in his final appearance at the age of 59.

 

45) Carlton Fisk’s home run in the 1975 World Series is a landmark in the televising of baseball and changed our expectation of what we should see when watching a game.

 

46) Bucky Dent has a middle name and it starts with the letter “F”.

 

47) Mark “The Bird” Fidrych had the cleanest pitching rubber in the history of the game.

 

48) Rich was a “Goose”, Ron was a “Penguin”, Jim was a “Catfish”, Bill was a “Mad Dog” and Orel was a “Bulldog”.

 

49) The unique experience called “Fernandomania” was impossible to explain to anyone who wasn’t there at the time.

 

50) You remember where you were when Kirk Gibson hit that home run off Dennis Eckersley.

 

51) You went to the ballpark knowing that George Brett had 2,996 hits and then he went 4-for-4.

 

52) Sitting behind home plate in March watching the veterans shape up and the youngsters trying to impress, makes an adult feel like a kid again.

 

53) If you build it, they will come.

 

54) No matter how good the reviews, you will never go see “No, No Nanette”.

 

55) Only one major league player (Fernando Tatis) has ever hit two grand-slam home runs in the same inning and he did it against a pitcher (Chan Ho Park) who was on your Fantasy team.

 

56) You always loved hearing Harry Carey trying to pronounce “Grudzielanek”.

 

57) You secretly hoped that Bo Jackson would strike out at least once just so he could break the bat across his leg.

 

58) “The Bender”, “The Hook”, “Uncle Charlie”, “The Yellow Hammer”, “The Yakker” & “The Deuce” all mean the same thing….baseball has a language of its own.

 

59) A Hall of Fame player can be 5′ 8″ or 6′ 5″.

 

60) Wearing the same protective cup for your entire career is an accepted practice…so is wearing mismatched socks, eating chicken before every game, covering your batting helmet with tar, jumping over the foul-line and breaking a slump by dating ugly women.

 

61) You can be “Old School” and still belong to SABR.

 

62) Each day you go to the ballpark, there’s a chance to witness sports history.

 

63) We live and die with our team every day…and tomorrow is a new day with another chance. “We won a game yesterday. If we win one today, that’ll be two in a row. Then, when we win tomorrow, it’ll be a winning streak”. Isn’t that what life is all about?

 

64) James Earl Jones’ character in “Field of Dreams” told us that “the one constant through the years has been baseball” and he was correct. When you meet someone born in the 60’s and he or she knows why the numbers 56 & .406 relate to 1941, you begin to understand the impact of the game’s history.

 

65) A game where the score is 1-0 can be as exciting as a game where the score is 10-9.

 

66) Baseball for real fans in about anticipation…how about a 3-2 pitch with two outs and the bases loaded? Or a runner on first trying to steal 2B in a tie game? Or an outfielder gliding back toward the fence for a long drive off the bat?

 

67)  As Humphrey Bogart once said, “A hot dog at the game beats roast beef at the Ritz”.

 

68) The game is all about family…just look around the ballpark.

 

69) Looking through a set of baseball cards from the 1950’s gives you a wonderful history lesson that tells you the identities of Dusty, Duke, Red, Minnie, Puddin’ Head, Spook, Smoky, Suitcase, Pee Wee, Junior & Rube.

 

70) When I got divorced, I really missed my Springer Spaniels…but I still had baseball.

 

Everyone reading this probably has dozens more of their own…thanks for sticking with me until the end.